Perfectly Strange: Mixology History & Variation

It’s been far too long, dear readers.  Working at history museums during the spring field trip season sapped my desire to write over the past few weeks.  Fortunately, it’s also helped me realize I love studying history, be it academically, occupationally, or in this case, alcoholically.  Since joining this adventure I’ve researched, mixed, and sipped five types of drinks: the Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, gin & tonic, gin martini, and Sazerac.  All five drinks have competing origin stories stretching back to the 19th century, and all have the numerous variations you’d expect from recipes with a century-plus of history.  Reading these origins and spin-offs online has been almost as much fun as enjoying the drinks.  Almost.

In the comic book department, I’ve been slowly progressing through Marvel’s Essential Doctor Strange, Vol. 2.  The more I read, the more I knew Dr. Strange needed a cocktail to go with him: something intriguing, exotic, and full of history and lore.  That drink hit me taking in the menu during happy hour at The Sample Room a few days back: the Sazerac.  Rye whiskey (or if you want the chronological progenitor, cognac) sugar, Peychaud Bitters, and a lemon twist (squeezed into the glass then discarded, according to purists) strained into a chilled glass washed with absinthe and ice.

Problem is, Peychaud Bitters are hard to find.  They’re definitely not stocked at my three main liquor stores.  Neither is absinthe.  I finally found the closest thing on my 3rd try: Absente Absinthe Refined.  Made with real Artemisia Absinthium Wormwood, Absente is the right proof (over 90) for real absinthe, but boasts additional sugar and coloring, presumably in lieu of more complex traditional distillation methods.  Besides that, I’m not sure the Sazerac is the right drink to capture/pair with Doctor Strange.  While absinthe has the legendary history you’d expect from a figure like Strange, I’m not sure he’d be a big absinthe drinker.  He’s a modern American doctor, not some 19th century bohemian artist.  What’s more, he’s a New Yorker: Manhattan has been his home both before and after becoming Master of Mystic Arts.  But that’s too simple for an illustrious Master of Black Magic.  Surely Stephen Strange’s tastes must be more refined, more exotic, than the basic Manhattan.

Enter David Wondrich, cocktail historian and author of Esquire Magazine’s the Wondrich Take.  Classic cocktails, much like comics, have long histories complete with reboots and spin-offs.  And according to Wondrich, the Manhattan has plenty of spin-offs, including the Sherman.  The Sherman is a Manhattan, much like Dr. Strange, but modified with only one dash of Angostura bitters, a dash of Orange bitters, and three dashes of absinthe.  Just enough of the mystical powers of the over-proof green fairy to unlock its flavors. The Sherman feels right with Dr. Strange, but it’s still a Sherman.  Lucky for us, we haven’t varied from the traditional Manhattan vermouth formula.  To turn our Sherman into a Dr. Strange, cut your amount of sweet Vermouth in half and replace the other half with Dry Vermouth.  Now you have a Perfect Sherman, or better yet a Perfect Strange.  Garnish with a lemon twist if you can, but if you love Maraschino cherries knock yourself out.  Half of the fun of comics are the twists, and cocktails were made for improvising.  And yes, this drink does use every bottle currently in my cabinet.  So what?  What makes Dr. Strange Vol. 2 so interesting is its combination of superhero comic cliché, surreal art, and florid cosmic horror prose.  It’s the perfect amount of Strange: both the comic and cocktail are mutations on familiar traditions.  Enjoy responsibly, for as Lovecraft (Or perhaps Roy Thomas? Stan Lee?) warns on the opening page of Dr. Strange #183, “We live on a placid island of ignorance, in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far…”

Why yes, that is a lime you see garnishing this Perfect Strange. I used all my lemons in prototypes of this drink before I got to taking a photo. I was getting Strange and improvising, so sue me.
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