Do you ever have that slight out of this world feeling, the time when you look up and say to yourself, “How on earth did I get here”? I had one fairly recently and it lasted for ten days. I found myself onboard a cruise ship and I was one of the youngest guests; I’m 40, the average was closer to 70, and most fellow passengers seemed even older, some perhaps knocking on heaven’s door.
The ship may have been set on a course around the British Isles, but it was really a step back in time. The food, the décor, even the attitudes onboard could easily have been from the 1970s, although with fewer strikes1. This was all summed up during the last evening; for our dessert the menu simply said: “surprise”. We sat impatiently through our usual four courses, waiting for our surprise. The lights were dimmed, the chefs came out and we all clapped—then some up-tempo Russian folk music started to play. The waiting staff then skipped around us while holding huge puddings aloft and it was announced that this was the baked Alaska parade. Each of the gigantic Alaskas was jammed with huge sparklers and we sat open-mouthed at this surreal carnival of puddings. As much as I’d love to scoff and be urbane about the experience, I actually enjoyed it quite a lot.
The cocktail list, too, was 1970s inspired and you could easily imagine every drink being served at Abigail’s party2. I took this as a time to educate myself, each drink might have been made with mass-produced spirits, but they were made perfectly and were better than the sum of their parts. I ditched my usual Negroni and dived into the cocktail shaker time machine.
The Lady Di roused my interest: gin, Benedictine, orange juice and sparkling wine with a cherry in the bottom. Perfect for sipping on the night when formal wear was required, the Singapore Sling became a favourite amongst my shipmates—gin, cherry brandy, lemon juice and soda. But there was one cocktail that jumped out, one perfect for the onset of cold weather and a cocktail that has all but disappeared from menus. This is the Apotheke. A cocktail that also goes by the name of the Pharmacy.
The Apotheke/Pharmacy cocktail
- 1 part Crème de Menthe (vert)
- 1 part Fernet Branca
- 2 parts dry vermouth
Stir over ice and serve in a coupe.
The Apotheke is one of those cocktails that you wouldn’t drink all night, indeed you might not ever want another one. It’s unusual, the ingredients do balance, but the Fernet and the Crème de Menthe seem to jostle for dominance. It’s also black from the Fernet, and murky black at that, so it’s not much of a looker. But stick with it, let it play about on your tongue a bit; rather like your first Negroni, you have to make your mind up at the bottom of the glass. It’s not a drink for the faint of heart, but you will be rewarded if you are a fan of bitter flavours. Sip it gently and give this ugly duckling that time forgot a chance, you never know when Abigail will invite you to her next party.
Tasting the Apotheke: a photo essay
Andy Hamilton (Bristol, September 2015)
Andy had his first alcoholic drink at eight and has never looked back. He now works as a freelance drunkard and does many booze related things to earn a crust. These include taking people out into the woods and teaching them how to make booze from wild plants, writing about booze in his books, the bestselling Booze for Free, his in-depth treatise on beer, Brewing Britain, and more recently the book he is working on, Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails. He often writes for the Telegraph and occasionally for the Guardian. He’s also been know to help various establishments design their own signature drinks. Andy is known as one of the politest people in the drinks industry, he never swears and is always convivial and never an incompressible drunk. Honest. And he really is the editor at large for Alderman Lushington.