“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland)

Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin

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31 December 2009

ANGOSTURA EXTRA BITTER IN BANK CRASH
















THE STATION HOTEL, KUALA LUMPUR, TODAY

Cocktail Shakers Tremble Horrors Securing Stocks Tiny Trinidad Saves World

by PHILIP WHITE - A version of this appeared in The Independent Weekly

A ripple of horror recently swept the cocktail bars of Earth. The sudden disappearance of all the money had one unforseen effect: the Angostura Bitters company went bust. Sharp sommeliers and betuxed shakers everywhere suddenly struggled to secure the last stocks of an ingredient which they’d always taken for granted.

Johann Siegert, Bolivar’s surgeon-general in Angostura, on the Orinoco in Venezuela, invented this efficacious and astringent tonic in 1824. All too aware of the savagery jungle diseases

SIMON BOLIVAR ADDRESSES THE CONFERENCE OF ANGOSTURA, 1819




wrought to wounded troops, he worked desperately to find a blend of local herbs and plants that would ease the pain of nearly everything. His rum-based aromatic bitters was the result. His sons eventually took the factory to Trinidad, which was more politically stable. But, like the Australian wine business, it was entrepreneurs’ greed, and not rogue dictators that eventually brought the company to its knees.

Appropriately, your correspondent first collided with Angostura in the tropics. During a stay in the Station Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, in 1970, he revered the bamboo Lounge on the first floor, where corpulent Englishmen with linen safari suits and tobacco-stained moustaches sat in the gloom, reading six week old copies of The Times, drinking Pink Gins. This is a simple concoction to build: simply swirl a short glass with a few dashes of Angostura and tip in two shots of Plymouth gin. Some add water; if one adds an ice block it becomes a Coaster Cocktail.

The Bamboo Lounge was an astonishing room from a past era: the furniture was of course bamboo; punkah wallahs stirred the air, circulating the cigar smoke; an unwatched black and white television broadcast snow and white noise through three layers of sub-titles, and if, betwixt bouts of snoring, one engaged another in conversation, it became apparent that none of the said gentlemen had ever set foot in England.

RAILWAY STATION, KL, TODAY; IN 1970 IT WAS TRAINS BELOW; BEDS AND BAMBOO LOUNGE UPSTAIRS


Weather like we’re enduring tends to sway the thirsty ginwards, and this writer finds intense pleasure playing with cocktails based on the savoury juniper-steeped spirit. There are countless gin-based cocktails in the two true mixmaster bibles: The Savoy Cocktail Book, compiled in London in 1930 by Harry Craddock, the Savoy Hotel’s cocktailor, and Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, by Harry MacElhone, in Ciro’s Club in London in 1919. Harry went on to take over Clancey’s New York Bar at 5 rou Danou in the Opera district of Paris, eventually renaming it Harry’s New York Bar.

This tiny cathedral to the maintenance and destruction of thirst is as evocative and atmospheric as the long-gone Bamboo Bar. A battered red pair of what purport to Hemingway’s boxing gloves hang above France’s first hot dog machine; downstairs resides the battered piano at which Gershwin wrote American in Paris; the air is steep and dark with the ghosts of regulars like the Duke of Windsor, Jack Dempsey, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott and Zelda, Dietrich, Coward, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Prevert, and other great brains like Janet Flanner, who famously wrote of Hotboy Hemingway “what stands out in my memory is the fact that his heroes, like Ernest himself, were of outsized masculinity even in small matters”.

ERNIE ENGAGES IN THE SMALL MATTER OF BOXING HIMSELF

The Bloody Mary, the Sidecar, the Blue Lagoon and the White Lady were all invented in Harry’s Bar. And one pertinent to our vicious summer: the Champagne Cocktail. This is a wine glass into which is put a sugar cube saturated in Angostura Bitters. Add five dashes of Cognac and an ice block, fill it with champagne, and squeeze some lemon zest over the top.

The forerunner to this fizzy wickedness was Harry Craddock’s Champagne Cup. In a big jug, mix a tablespoon of confectioner’s sugar, one glass of Cognac, two liqueur glasses of Curacao, one liqueur glass of maraschino, one liqueur glass of Grand Marnier with a quart of champagne. Add big ice, slices of orange and pineapple, a slice or two of cucumber peel and three or four sprigs of mint: glug glug.

Craddock’s Essence of Claret Punch is a long recipe which commences with “5 gallons of Claret; 2 ½ gallons Spirits ... ”, and goes on into a hole which best explored in the chill of winter. But, having been highly impressed by the new Lobo Adelaide Hills Apple Cider, I have discovered it perfectly suits Craddock’s Cider Cup No. 1. Into a jug, pour one liqueur glass of maraschino; one of curacao; one of cognac; three stubbies of Lobo cider; one of soda water; big ice and slices of apple, pear and orange; stir gently and serve.

Sangria is also good in summer: a bottle of red, maybe half a bottle of sauvignon blanc, a cup of brandy, a bottle of soda, half a cup of confectioner’s sugar, slices of orange, cucumber, apple, maybe fresh ginger, and big ice.

If any of these induce hiccups, MacElhone’s cure never fails: souse a slice of lime in Angostura and suck.

As if to show Barak Obama some financial perspective, the Trinidad government bailed out the bitters company. Whew.




















MODERN VERSION OF THE OLD-FASHIONED COCKTAIL - HARRY MacELHONE ORIGINALLY SATURATED A LUMP OF SUGAR WITH BITTERS, CRUSHED THAT IN A SPOONFUL OF WATER, ADDED BIG ICE AND A DOUBLE SHOT OF BOURBON, GARNISHED WITH LEMON PEEL

HIGH COURT HEADKICKS PROHO DRIES

THE AUTHOR AT THE EXETER ON A TYPICAL SATURDAY NIGHT: FAR TOO SMART FOR A VEHICLE WITH AN ENGINE

Judges Side With Publicans Shaft Of Welcome Wisdom How Much Is Not Enough?
by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this appeared in The Independent Weekly

When Nicholas Binns steered that bespoke East End drink emporium, The Exeter, he once refused a friend of mine more alcohol, for annoying other patrons with his eccentric conversation and behaviour. A hyper-intelligent gent of some years, my friend has a penchant for intriguing and unusual conversation, which he is quite capable of conducting when there are no listeners. He took his orders well, and strolled purposefully to the Crown and Anchor, just up the lane, where he drank until closing. Then he drank all night, completing a full twenty-four hour shift, before confidently re-entering The Exeter, where he ordered a malt whisky with a Coopers Stout chaser, which was promptly served to him. He had, he explained, drunk off the full head of steam which has caused the earlier, er, inconvenience. There would be no more trouble.

Publican Binns was never one for deciding how much anybody should drink. He refused to serve customers only when their behaviour irritated or concerned others, quite fairly including himself and his staff. Peace in the tills; peace in the valley. Upon his retirement, Binns was celebrated by Pat Conlon in the parliamentary grievance debate, and called “a river to his people” in a reverent piece by the great John McGrath.

I thought this line was taken from the lubricious character played by Ustinov in Spartacus, but it’s Roman in another way.

The Exeter is named after Exeter Hall in London, where the South Australian Company was set up. This hall was the home to the anti-slavery movement and housed hearty meetings of temperance activists, Protestants, and remarkable musical performances. Exeter, on the Exe River, takes its name from isca, the Roman mispronunciation and spelling of the Gaelic and Erse uisge, which means flowing water. And whisky.

EXETER HALL, THE STRAND, LONDON, 1905. THE HALL WAS DEM,OLISHED TWO YEARS LATER TO MAKE WAY FOR THE STRAND PALACE HOTEL..


In their 10 November ruling that publicans have no general duty of care to protect patrons from the consequences of drunkenness, High Court justices French, Gummow, Hayne, Heydon and Crennan have struck a Christlike blow at generations of interferist wowsers who struggle to control humankind’s eternal propensity to self-medicate. Our drug policy is written by drug companies and people who don’t take drugs; our liquor laws are written by boozemongers and wowsers. No humans.

“Expressions like 'intoxication', 'inebriation' and 'drunkenness' are difficult to both define and to apply”, asserted justices Gummow, Heydon and Crennan. “The fact that legislation compels publicans not to serve customers who are apparently drunk does not make the introduction of a civil duty of care defined by reference to those expressions any more workable or attractive ... It is difficult for an observer to assess whether a drinker has reached the point denoted by those expressions. Some people do so faster than others. Some show the signs of intoxication earlier than others. In some the signs of intoxication are not readily apparent. With some there is the risk of confusing excitement, liveliness and high spirits with inebriation. With others, silence conceals an almost complete incapacity to speak or move.”

This is some of the most exquisite sense I have heard from above for a long, long time. The ruling is a beautifully-written analysis of a terrible event, and a sparse, crisp piece of logic it is. Look it up.

Of course the inebriated should take some responsibility for their state. My friend in The Ex realised this, and, having been confronted by a good publican, dealt with it in his own way. He broke no law.

SOBRIETY TEST FOR EXETER DRINKERS: IF YOU SEE TWO PAIRS OF LEGS SITTING ON THIS FENCE, YOU'VE HAD ENOUGH

Being a thirsty type who found it impossible to drive slowly, I removed my driver’s license from myself twenty years ago. Just sat there and watched it expire, before anything terrible happened, and somebody else had to take it away from me. This has made life difficult, and could be a cop out, as I cast the responsibility upon others. But other motorists should be relieved that I have become an expert at public transport systems, hyper-aware of how many empty cars travel in every direction at almost any time of the day or night.

Which is not to say I can wash my hands of transport accidents. I was recently hit by an unmanned car parked outside a pub. I was on foot. It was stationary. Having expertly rolled off its bonnet and presented myself at the bar for a very strong drink, I was refused by a polite young fellow who suggested I might like to try a glass of water, which he presented.

After a conciliatory pint on the veranda, I digested the responsibility for my prang, and withdrew from society.

I suspect the justices of our High Court are reasonably appreciative of the notion that publicans should be rivers to their people. That is the nature of public houses. Which our Lord understood when they said of him “Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/2009/47.html



CLASSIC SOUTH AUSTRALIAN CAR OUTSIDE A CLASSIC SOUTH AUSTRALIAN PUB. GOD DRIVES A VAL. THE DEVILS DRINK IN THE EX.

30 December 2009

JIM INGOLDBY, JEAN PAXTON DO A RUNNER

JEAN PAXTON IN HARRY WHO AT HER 100th BIRTHDAY PARTY, AT WHICH SHE ARRIVED BY BLACK HELICOPTER TO ANNOUNCE "I'VE TRAVELLED HERE IN ONE OF THOSE SELF-FLYING CRAFT". JEAN IS THE ONLY WOMAN EVER TO ASK FOR PHILIP WHITE'S HAND IN MARRIAGE! photo KATE ELMES, The Independent Weekly





Mighty Wine Characters Die
Missing Mates At Christmas
Much Else Has Gone Forever

by PHILIP WHITE - a version of this appeared in The INDEPENDENT WEEKLY.


“Do you know anything about finance?” Jim Ingoldby glowered.

“No,” I said.

“Good,” he said. “Now we can talk.”

I’d known Jim for twenty-five years. But this was a different day: I was suddenly there in his home as his fair daughter Jane’s partner. His wry opener was an indicator of his intention to hang on to the family coffers as much as his disbelief at what was happening to the wine industry.

Jim died of long life a few months back, one of the last of the great post-war winemakers. He had stacked many a gift beneath the Christmas trees, allegorical or real, of his friends, family and employees through his amazingly creative life, and as I contemplate whether indeed to bother with a baubled fir on the occasion of Jesus’ 2009th birthday, I know Jim would ridicule my sentiment, but love playing with the wires and lights.

JIM INGOLDBY

Baubles are scant in the wine business firs this year. But if you could grant me just the one, another bottle of scotch with Jim would do nicely. We’d reflect on the staggering hubris of a business that had absolutely everything going for it fifteen years ago. I would suggest, as I do, that if it were the wool business, or the Australian Wheat Board, that had greedily overgrown itself by at least a third, and was now rotting in its own havoc and destruction, there’d be a Royal Commission into who was to blame. They’d be stood up, cross-examined, and locked in the stocks.

I’d recall asking Ian Sutton, Chief Executive of the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia, Wine Australia Pty. Ltd., Australian Wine Foundation and the Australian Wine and Brandy Producers' Association, which bits of the wine industry he’d consulted about his determined putsch to use $40 or 50 million of the taxpayers’ money to build the National Wine Centre in the Botanic Gardens. Sutton snarled "My job's not to consult the wine industry -- my job is to represent the wine industry". Great.


NATIONAL WINE CENTRE: AN UNFINISHED GRANDSTAND WITH ITS BACK TO THE PEOPLE? ADELAIDE UNIVERSITY NOW RENTS THIS FOR $1 A WEEK ...

That ugly pile in the Gardens is the perfect allegory for the way the whole business has gone crook. Those who put it there should be drawn to account, if not drawn and quartered. They should never be let near the levers of wine industry power, ever again. But still they hover. “This tax-payer-funded Xanadu will have little purpose beyond housing the bureaucrats who will be responsible for the next taxpayer-funded Vine-pull Scheme,” I wrote at the time. TouchĂ©?

I would recall with Jim his early days at McLaren Flat, where at Rycroft, in the seventies, he radically marketed McLaren Vale wines in bottles labelled according to the vineyards and growers whose wine glowered within – something that is finally, sensibly becoming vogue. I would recall his early adoption of the screw cap, and the ingenious machine he built to apply them. I would revel in his exquisite watercolours: always a new’un on the easel at the end of his bed. And we would roar with derisive laughter and rage at the squirming idiots who, until just a year and a half ago, were urging growers to plant more chardonnay, lay more irrigation pipes, and guarantee an endless supply of fruit at prices so low whole communities would inevitably collapse, along with the river that nurtured them.

If you could squeeze another gift beneath my tree, it should be one more bottle of shiraz with the amazing Jean Paxton, who also left us this year, at the grand old knock of 102. Jean, Mum of David, had watched their family business march bravely out of almond-growing and into viticulture. She saw her son move from an aggressive developer of inspired, but industrial vineyards, to become one of the first converts to biodynamic principles and sustainable natural practices, and eventually marry Ang, formally entwining “Them Paxtons” with the vinous blood of the great Tolley and Penfold families.

When she was a hundred, Jean proposed marriage to me: the only lass to ever do so. She mischievously joked that David would be annoyed at me “getting all the money”, and reassured me “ - but don’t worry – you wouldn’t have to put up with me for long.”

At 101 years, this mighty woman triggered a frisson of panic when she was found face down on the floor of her unit, looking all the world like she’d had a big stroke. There were ambulances, and drips and whatnot, and the usual jittery concerns. But when her family arrived at casualty, a good nurse relieved their fears. It wasn’t so bad. They’d just checked her blood alcohol: 0.13. Jean had been enjoying a bottle or two of the sublime Paxton Jean Shiraz, the pinnacle of her son’s endeavour, which had been named after her. She couldn’t understand the fuss.

I could go on with my festive cheer. But about forty per cent of the wine business won’t. It’s finished.