Monday, September 20, 2021

Adult Beverages in Sherlock Holmes Canon & Premium Tobacco Pairings Vol. 2 Whisky & Soda

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Adult Beverages in Sherlock Holmes Canon & (their) Premium Tobacco Pairings Vol. 2 Whisky & Soda

I'm back here on the second of three Mondays, where I'll be taking a brief look at alcoholic beverages that appear in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Each installment will include a bit of Sherlockian context, an overview of the booze, and finally, a recommendation as to premium tobacco (cigars & pipes) pairings. We began last week with Port Wine, next is Brandy. The twixt-now is Whisky & Soda. There is your orientation; here is your content...


"The gasogene is a late Victorian device for producing carbonated water. It consists of two linked glass globes: the lower contained water or other drink to be made sparkling, the upper a mixture of tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate that reacts to produce carbon dioxide. The produced gas pushes the liquid in the lower container up a tube and out of the device. The globes are surrounded by a wicker or wire protective mesh, as they have a tendency to explode." - Mixing it up: A Look at the Evolution of the Siphon-Bottle (via Wikipedia)

It is worthy of note that Sherlock Holmes kept a gasogene (& a tantalus) in his sitting room at 221B, such was his fondness for a good Whisky & Soda. We'll apply a particular and (near) singular bit of canon, if for no other reason than I am lazy and, if in need of another, it happens to be from a favorite case of mine; The Red-Headed League [REDH]. An adventure that is actually also a (second) favorite of Arthur Conan Doyle's, behind only The Speckled Band (1892). 

REDH first appeared in The Strand Magazine in August 1891. It also appears in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892). There is a delightful absurdity to the tale, some that even Holmes & Watson laugh at--poor Jabez Wilson, dumbly hand-writing out the entire A section of an Encyclopaedia in order to keep the cat away while the mice plan their play. At least he was paid four pounds a week. That is until famously: "THE RED-HEADED LEAGUE IS DISSOLVED,"

"You see, Watson," he explained in the early hours of the morning as we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street, "it was perfectly obvious from the first that the only possible object of this rather fantastic business of the advertisement of the League, and the copying of the Encyclopaedia, must be to get this not over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a number of hours every day. It was a curious way of managing it, but, really, it would be difficult to suggest a better. The method was no doubt suggested to Clay's ingenious mind by the color of his accomplice's hair. The 4 pounds a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was it to them, who were playing for thousands? They put in the advertisement, one rogue has the temporary office, the other rogue incites the man to apply for it. and together they manage to secure his absence every morning in the week. From the time that I heard of the assistant having come for half wages, it was obvious to me that he had some strong motive for securing the situation." - REDH


(& Tantalus) “Yes," said Holmes; "I think that both inferences are permissible. Was there any other spirit but rum in the room?" "Yes; there was a tantalus containing brandy and whisky on the sea-chest. It is of no importance to us, however, since the decanters were full and it had therefore not been used." "For all that its presence has some significance," said Holmes. "However, let us hear some more about the objects which do seem to you to bear upon the case." - The Adventure of Black Peter [BLAC] (1904). 

{SPOILER ALERT: only a sea-faring man would opt for Rum. "How many landsmen are there who would drink rum when they could get these other spirits? Yes, I was certain it was a seaman." - BLAC

A Tantalus is a locked table-or-bar-top cabinet, a "spirits case," as perhaps alluded to in A Scandal in Bohemia [SCAN] (1891) capable of securing two or three decanters or booze bottles. The point is to display the alcohol sans the risk of unwittingly 'sharing' it with unauthorized individuals. The name of the device references the Greek figure of myth, Tantalus, and his unsatisfied temptations. Tantalizing the uninvited to imbibe, BUT THEY CANNOT. See? 

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Necessity is the mother of invention. Victorian Era whiskies, in that time before Scotch fully came around, tended to be quite harsh. One might even say they were "shitty," if one were to be glaringly uncouth. The cutting with of soda water was a fix for that problem. But why soda water and not just water-water? Simply because sparkling bubbly carbonated water was all the rage at the time. 

BUT HOW MUCH (soda) WATER TO ADD? Many pros will tell you that up to a 1:1 ratio will still allow you to capture the essence of the brown stuff. Common sense will tell you to do as you enjoy. Everyone wants explicit directions. Rules. Regulations. Meh.

Did you catch: "The globes are surrounded by a wicker or wire protective mesh, as they have a tendency to explode." The Victorians really must have like-liked those bubbles in order to put up with an occasional, oh, chemical explosion. Bubbles were also quite the craze in the Colonies, but at the time, mainly relegated to the burgeoning Cocoa-Cola-type soft drink companies. These were served as dollops of syrup with soda water poured over into them.

REMINDER: check out I hear of Sherlock Everywhere HERE
The podcasts & show notes are entertaining and informative. 
(As well as used in parts of my research.)


Given the already mentioned variances of ratios to whisky:soda/water, it's pretty hard to make a really good recommendation. I suppose. So let's do this. Hear me out. No one pairs anything with water, be it bubbly or otherwise. So we must look at the whisk(e)y. This is perhaps an obvious if not foregone conclusion but I wanted to show my work. BUT WHICH WHISK(e)Y? I hate it here and want to go home now. Fine, Bourbon. Why Bourbon? 

Well, here is where we completely deviate from any Sherlockian scholarship to be sure--but the focus now is on cigars and pairing--making Bourbon the obvious choice for near fool-proof success. Want absolute fool-proof success? Light up a Nicaraguan puro with your Bour. pour. Notes from the hooch will include maple syrup, honey, caramel. Behind those, bracingly: spices, toasted wood, nuts, fruits... I mean really, it's almost too on-the-nose with Nica cigar palate expectations. But it works, simply-so & because-of. Bourbon will also level-out leathery dark grains which can turn pungent via progression in headier Nicaraguan puros. 

Ah, but pipe tobacco. Something hefty for sure and something with a rigid or at least staunch structure. But first a thought. Drink your pipe pairing whisk(e)y on the rocks. While I typically would never recommend or even condone ice cubes, they will offset well, the potential of dreaded tongue bite. Especially with what I'm about to recommend... Burley. With all its earthen, woodsy, caramel somewhat ham-fisted traits. As well as with its penchant towards biting. Finally--NO AROMATICS. Think along the lines of these offerings linked below:


(as adventuresome a pairing as the above guidelines permit.)