JJ Lee is the author of GG-award nominated non-fiction book The Measure of a Man: A Father, A Son, and a Suit.
Merry Effing Christmas, or, Giving Rum Another Chance, or, Rum Gives Me Another Chance, by Jonah Campbell
Here is a simple winter cocktail: take equal parts Campari, Italian vermouth, and dark rum, with a few dashes of a reputable chocolate or mole bitters, if you have one on hand. Stir with ice, strain, garnish with orange. It is a good cocktail. It has depth and character without feeling overactive in the mouth. I am, as an oft-bent rule, not a great fan of rum, but here it plays well with the other ingredients, and the voices of the various spirits are harmonious. I have heard it called a number of names, I appreciate “Man About Town” for its evocation of the Boulevardier—one of my favourite cocktails—with which it has much in common, but it was first introduced to me as the Negroni Hivernal, and for me it will remain so named.(1)
The name feels both appropriate and counterintuitive. Gin, which would usually anchor a Negroni, has, in spite of its summer-drinking and British colonial associations, a wintry quality. Cold, clear, coniferous—at least, I often think gin and think winter, and vice versa. I also think gin and think of drinking it on the rocks at a long-ago staff Christmas party in a four-storey lesbian bar, because I had worn out my nerves on just about every other spirit available, and for the first time it occurred to me that gin might be a nice thing. Rum, on the other hand, is a hot Caribbean spirit that nevertheless thrives in the winter by virtue of its brown sugar/molasses/spice profile. If only because I don’t much like drinking rum in the summer, it feels right to make of this darker, deeper, spicier riff on the Negronia cold-weather friend.
The cocktail also makes me think of how I used to like rum. More specifically, it reminds me of what and of whom I most often think when I think of rum and liking it, and also of Christmastime and liking that (for underneath it al lI am a grossly, if intermittently, romantic fellow). Once upon a long time ago, I decided that it was worth attempting to befriend this person with whom I’d previously had some passing but pleasant interactions. We knew one another from parties and through mutual friends, and she had eyes that were kind of sleepy like a cat’s eyes, but precisely in the way that a cat’s eyes can be at once sleepy and burningly, terrifically alive. Intelligent, perceptive, tricky eyes. I called her up one day and she said yes, she would love to hang out, but unfortunately was moving to another country the following week, but I should come to her going-away party (she lived, it turned out, on the very same street as myself, but below the tracks, whereas I lived above). I did, and it was enjoyable, and I probably talked a lot about Frankenstein or maybe not much at all, and when next we spoke she said, hey, how about this, how about next time we see each other we just pretend we are already good friends, and then let the getting to know one another happen from there? What dispirited lump of a human could resist such a proposition? Not I, thankfully.
When she returned to the city for a visit many months later, around Christmastime, she invited me for a late-night walk “with a bottle of brown in the neighbourhood she once slept in and now misses in slight brown ways” (the invitation was couched in the third person for, I assume, poetic effect). I was appropriately stoked. The bell rang sometime late, and when I opened the door, before I could even greet her, she slipped on the ice and fell down the stairs, of which, thankfully, there were only three, but I assure you it made an impression. I’m not very good at telling stories, I realize, but this is important. She had with her a bottle of rum, and we sat on the floor in my dim, Christmas-lit living room, drinking brown liquor, eating snacks (I don’t remember what), talking about theory and listening to Björk (2) until we were very rum-warmed and somewhat drunk. Then we took an old saw and went into the touchingly, embarrassingly picturesque, lazily falling snow to steal a branch out of which I could make myself a modest Christmastree, in that neighbourhood where I too no longer sleep and also occasionally miss in what maybe I can call slight brown ways.
1. First served to me by Matthew Perrin, of Lawrence Restaurant in Montreal. Thanks, Matt.
2. The album Telegram, which always reminds me of Christmas. I must have been fifteen, in Prince Edward Island, at the big old house my parents have since sold and about which I am sometimes nostalgic. My older brother was home for the holidays, and someone (probably my mother?) was like, “Hey, why don’t you guys dress the Christmas tree? At least pretend to have some holiday spirit?” So we did, and listened to the just-released Telegram while doing so, and it was nice.
This excerpt from Jonah Campbell's Eaten Back to Life is published by permission of Invisible Publishing of Picton and Halifax.
With thanks to Leigh Kinch-Pedrosa.
© 2017, Jonah Campbell
Jonah Campbell writes about food and drink and the politics of knowledge production in the biomedical sciences; he also pours wine, drinks wine and thinks about wine in Montreal, and plays in a black metal band.