This time around I was asked to create a signature cocktail for a pair of poetry readings given by none other than my older brother Dana. He’s something of a celebrity-poet, if there is such a thing, and has just released a book of new poems, Pity the Beautiful. He requested that I come up with a drink named after the title of one of the poems in the collection– “The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet.” That poem itself takes its title from Theseus’ speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My mission was to craft something to fit that name.
I began by experimenting with Parfait Amour, a liqueur composed of violet petals, the name of which translates into English as “perfect love.” That covered the love end of things. I used Navy-strength gin (114 proof– the minimum level at which gunpowder that is doused in gin will still ignite) as my spirit, as only a lunatic would drink something that strong. However, nothing seemed to add an element of poetry to the recipe. The best I could come up with was that the drink was light purple, and there is no word that rhymes with purple. A tenuous connection at best, that, so I scrapped the drink and started over.
I began researching old drinks, and found a not-very-good one named after the 19th Century poet Arthur Rimbaud. I sensed that the recipe had promise, and went to work on rebuilding it from the ground up. I eliminated, among other things, the egg white for which the recipe called. In its place I added some gum syrup I’d recently made. That allowed it to maintain some of the smoothness the egg white gave it, without the froth, and frankly, without the potential to scare the patrons of a poetry reading.
With my poet aspect firmly in place, I began adding the other elements of the title. What better than absinthe for the lunatic? And a spritz from an atomizer of rosewater across the surface of the drink to fulfill the promise of the lover. At last I had a finished product.
The drink was a hit at the reading. And so was the book! Dana attracted quite a crowd of locals and luminaries. I even spotted Tobias Wolff in the back row. Here’s a link to an online review of the reading that appeared the following day. I’m a little embarrassed by how much she focused on my drink and not the poems, but I reckon absinthe’ll do that to ya.
And finally, here is my favorite of the poems Dana read, after which I have included my recipe for the cocktail.
The Apple Orchard
by Dana Gioia
You won’t remember it–the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.
A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.
A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.
We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.
Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me . . . but I stopped.
What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point–
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.
The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet
1 oz. Bénédictine
1 oz. Aperol
1/2 oz. Absinthe
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz. fresh pineapple juice
1/2 oz. pineapple gum syrup
1 dash grapefruit bitters
Combine all ingredients and shake over ice until the drink is very cold, at least 20 seconds. Strain into a cocktail glass, then spray once across the surface of the drink with an atomizer filled with rosewater. Garnish with a twist of orange zest and serve.