“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)





01 July 2012


Some Other Things To Drink Don't Fall Down The Stairs
But Try A Vodka In Your Think
words and photographs by PHILIP WHITE

The Finlandia's been getting a bit of nudge lately. Since the performance of my death-defying backwards headfirst plunge down some stairs five weeks back (one show only - last photo above), powerful anti-inflammatories have rendered the sensories a touch unreliable on the worst days.

On others, the sheer embarrassed grumps will do it alone. For those moments when a little self-medication is required, without any boring sensory analysis, there's little challenge in the vodka bottle.

The prime advantage offered by neat clean ethanol like Finlandia is the way it begs being flavoured at the drinker's whim, and you can actually put good healthy stuff in it without compromising any flavour or goodness.

A bottle of little challenge? Add some challenge.

Fresh ginger root's expensive since the Queensland floods. I munch it like most eat apples, and I love a few slices of it in a short chilled vodka. A squeeze of lemon juice might suit now and then, but those slabs of fresh, juicy ginger root make a lovely meal of your drink. You won't need ice if your vodka's straight out of the freezer. The snap chill it delivers the ginger seems to release extra bracing magic that refreshes.

Another favourite is to have the vodka on big ice, short, and grind fresh black pepper over it. Some lemon may add or detract, depending on the mood.

I use vodka in impromptu cocktails with slightly sweet rosés. I have it with cold green tea, with a teaspoon of Bickford's lime, with a dash of Angostura first twirled properly around the glass. I never waste cold coffee from the plunger: a dribble in the glass before adding the freezing vodka, and a splash of soda, and you have a delightful dry tincture that you can play with: a lemon slice can swim happily on that meniscus, or orange. Or a dash of Campari, as well. The bitter Curaçao orange peel flavour of Campari mixes well with a little vodka and coffee; you can also play with Kahlua liqueur here, if you find the plunger coffee a bit lean on.

As you drink your composition, toast the impending laws which will restrict the sale of kiddylikkers which combine ethanol with caffeine!

While I prefer the finesse of grain-based vodka, like the Finlandia, it can be made from almost anything which contains starch or sugar. Beets, potatoes, corn and grapes commonly find their way into distillations which eventually appear under the vague vodka appellation.

Sally Wickes - All In One - Palmer Sculpture country

I learned a lot about distillation from Phil Tummel, who was the boss stillman at the old Tolley distillery beside Penfolds at Nuriootpa. On Ash Wednesday in 1983, he was helping me taste about forty different rums with David Cleland. Once the Hills were ablaze and the damned rums were negotiated in that ridiculous heat, there wasn't much left to do but retreat to the cool of a pub, where highly volatile rum-riddled yarns emerged; a sort of desperately futile denial of the horrors we knew were exploding outside, and which would be there to face us in the morning. There was nothing anybody could do.

Tollana rep Mal Batkin took a call through the pub phone - no mobiles then - and came back to his mixed grill blanched. "I gotta go," he said, flatly. "That was the wife. Bushfire's comin' through the back yard." The roads were full. You couldn't drive. The phone lines were down or full of emergency. You couldn't call. You couldn't do much but sit and watch the hills burn down, knowing many who lived in them.

In the morning, only 28 were dead in these parts. 47 perished in Victoria. We were told to stay away. First thing, Kit Stevens MW creaked up the stairs to my office and entered, all 6'6" of him, dusting ash from his Savile Row suit and mighty Churches brogues and in his most pompous Charterhouse accent declared "Whitey, we saved Knappstein's vineyard."

Tummel, an ace spirits taster now long departed, joked nervously that day about his wide range of grape-based white spirits. Using the neutral grape distillate and various other ingredients, he made gins, vodkas and ouzos. If you couldn't afford the luxury of a still solely devoted to ouzo, gin came in handy to purge the common still of the residue of the anise and licorice used in ouzo. You couldn't go straight from making an ouzo to making a vodka in the same still, because the first few vattings of vodka would taste like ouzo.

A batch of gin, with its herbal additives, always helped clear and disguise the ouzo flavours. As with winemaking, a good foundation of science is much assisted by the application of nous, a good nose, and rat cunning. Having once missed a delivery of the "botanicals" he needed for a batch of gin, Tummel was known to take a drive around the Barossa, and pick the requirements from roadsides and gardens.

"It was good gin," he said. "Although I can't remember what I used in place of the coriander seed. Not much coriander up those ways."

Like chilli. I reckon I smuggled the first chilli into the Barossa in about 1987. Before that, garlic was the strongest flavour permitted. I never took it, like, into the Heartland, mind you. Nowhere like Tanunda. That would have been disrespectful of the heritage food, which was all white except for blood pudding and metwürst. Instead, I slunk around the borders with my deadly poison, letting little dollops escape in the Badlands past Truro, around Greenock and St Kitts, and along the Barossa Ranges. People whispered behind my back in the supermarket. My ranking tumbled quickly from Newcomer, through Tourist, to Infidel.

Chilli goes like stink in the right vodka cocktail. You can use Tabasco, or any of the thinner vinegar-based or barrel-fermented sauces at Chili Mojo at 381 Magill Road. Excuse the spelling discrepancy, please, but I'm determined - with about half a teaspoon of Angostura, and however much of your chilli you're confident about, wind both around the inside of a big fat-bottomed whisky tumbler. Bung in a whop of freezing vodka. Add your favourite tomato juice and spritz with soda. You can edge closer to a classic Bloody Mary by adding Worcestershire sauce, pepper, celery salt and stick of the same stalk.

Since things are so desperate at casa Blanco, I go to protonuclear lengths. A good gollop of Jock Harvey's Paddock Monkey Hot Damn Sauce is the foundation stone. It makes Tabasco look like baby cream. You might be able to get some through Chalk Hill Wines. Or an imported equivalent at Mojo. You need a vinegar-based sauce, without oil. You'll need the soda, but no tomato. A celery stick will come in handy. And, instead of ice, which dilutes all your good work if you consume at a responsible pace, add a serving spoon of frozen peas. You will need something to eat while the paint slides off the walls.

No comments: