For the debut cocktail on offer at the Key West Literary Seminar 2013, we went with no less loaded a Graham Greene project than "The Third Man". The connection to the drink? The citrus, black tea and English gin punch was certainly emminently British which always connects with Greene, but the ostensible hero of the movie is American. And the titular character, Harry Lime, played by Orson Welles in an epic eleventh hour cameo that informs the entire film, also seems to be American, or perhaps simply post-war mid-Atlantic thespian. But the essence of the concoction, sweet, smooth, even beguiling, and irresistebly seductive, matches Harry Lime's troubling charm nicely. Also, we wanted to really go full-on with the Greene connection when we served the punch to guests and authors as they streamed out of the auditorium after the opening night keynote adress. Sometimes a name is about expediency, another aspect that certainly fits the self-serving Lime. Sean Hoard and I and our lovely assistant Lauren served from punchbowls as the crowd streamed past, handing them plastic cups to sip from on their walk to the evening's actual party, several blocks away.
When I enlisted ('conscripted' might be more apt) Sean to work on this endeavor I gave him a long reading list of Greene books as well as the requisite Greene films like The End of the Affair (which he didn't like) and The Third Man (which he dug, of course--it's an inarguably great film). Sean took his research seriously and read several books, and I think The Third Man came at the end of the whole process--an unmitigated treat and a nice cherry on top of the boozy sunday that was this massive project. In the end I think he was more well versed in the Greene ethic and aesthetic than me--he was certainly fresher to the material. And the enthusiasm and focus he brought elevated the entire project in exactly the manner I'd hoped, bringing serious cocktailing technique, a refined palate and unvarnished enthusiasm.
The day of the opening party he spent hours zesting lemons and oranges and muddling with the cane sugar in a 15 liter Cambro, returning over and over to muddle the citrus in the sugar and shake it around, sort of hyper-melding the citrus oils and zest with the sugar and creating the foundation for the oleo saccharum syrup. You could smell the infusion start to take hold as the elements were made to dance with each other repeatedly--an almost alchemical process. With the addition of Irish Breakfast Tea the syrup was complete, and then it as simple as 2 bottles of Beefeater and 1 of Absolut, a neat mediating of the london dry gin citrus & juniper profile with a nice clean vodka to soften it up. Using the same citrus to get 32 oz. of fresh juice was the next move, and after pouring into a punch bowl and garnishing with lemon & orange wheels adding a final touch of fresh ground nutmeg, a la minute, moments before we served the punch. That nutmeg was really the crowning touch, adding a nutty, fatty layer and nose to the potentially-too-sweet concoction. There's a great thing that happens when someone takes their first sip of a drink and their pupils widen a bit and a little color comes to their cheeks--perhaps it the Cocktail Blush Response. We saw it over and over that night, and it's an incredibly gratifying experience all around.
KWLS Board Member Peyton Evans & Josine Hitchcock sampling The Third Man.
THE THIRD MAN
2 lbs cane sugar
Muddle peels of citrus in sugar and let sit for at least an hour, muddling periodically.
Brew 64 oz black tea (10 tea bags) 4 min.
Pour hot tea over muddled peels, stir until sugar is dissolved.
Juice citrus and add to mixture. If needed add more juice to taste goal should be around 32 oz citrus.
Add 2 bottles of Beefeater gin and 1 bottle of Absolut vodka.
Strain peels, add 3-5 liters of soda water and serve over ice.
Garnish with fresh nutmeg, lemons wheels, and orange wheels.
I think we got everyone in a jolly mood straight off that night, which was of course the whole point.
Edmund White and Carol Munder.
The Talented Mr. Hoard at the Oldest House & Garden Museum, in an expansive mood.
From The Third Man, Joseph Cotten as Holly Martins and Trevor Howard as Major Calloway or as Martins refers to him, Callaghan."It's English, not Irish" he retorts, setting him up as a snob and a bad guy, but one of the endlessly facsinating aspects of The Third Man'is how right & wrong seems to continually shift around and how good guys are revealed to be bad guys--and the other way around. A smart essay on Calloway's ulitmate role as moral guidepost in this film that is all about slippery morals by Rob White for BFI here, and Greene's screenplay in full here.
Poppa Bear Rowan, not in any way directly connected to the Seminar other than the fact that two of his sons work for the thing, was at most every party, a high grade party crasher with not moral qualms about it. Also one of our most appreciative customers. J.R.
Event photos by Nick Doll.
Coming next: Airstream Cocktails, The Power and The Glory & The Loud American.