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Jul 15, 2014 03:26 PM

Somerset Maugham cocktails

During these long hot summer days I have found myself sitting down with a volume of Somerset Maugham's "South Seas stories," with a gin and tonic properly by my side.

These veddy British stories were written immediately after WWI, at the beginning of the end of Britain's empire. His fantastically witty and dramatic stories are mostly about colonial types sent to Samoa, Malaysia, Borneo and other tropical places to share their part of the "white man's burden." (Mind you, these stories are nearly 100 years old.)

Pith helmet wearing colonial administrators at far flung, jungle clad outstations and their wives have all sorts of tragic romances and intrigues, doing battle with cholera outbreaks, scheming "Chinamen" and over zealous missionaries, as they wait for the English mail to be delivered by tramp steamers. Central to their lives, and to carrying on with civilization in the jungle, is to have their "boy" bring them cocktails at 6 o'clock sharp on the mosquito net-covered verandah.

And boy could they drink:

The "stengah," whisky and soda - which type of whisky is never indicated - shows up in "The Book Bag" and others, either as a nerve-calming agent or the choice of cigar smoking sea captains;

"Gin pahits" (gin and bitters) make their appearance throughout "Rain," "Force of Circumstance" and others, and seem to be the go-to cocktail;

The "Million Dollar Cocktail," apparently invented by the same guy who made up the Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel is mentioned in "The Letter." which apparently put the drink on the cultural map.

I can't remember the title of the last story I read, a comic one, about a helpless drunk reformed by a spinster, but the local governor in this one is Dutch and he drinks "Holland gin," which I had never heard of before - Apparently it tastes like something between London dry gin and whisky.

Finally there is zero mention of any ice anywhere. I don't know if in 1920 in remote places ice makers just didn't exist. Probably not, but I can't imagine gin not being served cold.

Just thought I'd share. Cheers.

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  1. Cheers to you!

    Nothing to add.
    Just something of a Maugham geek.

    1. In 1920 there was most probably ice available anywhere. 100 years before that ice was something seen only in temperate climates, but by 1840's it was slowly becoming available worldwide due to Tudor's efforts. By the late 1800's ice was the norm in cocktails.

      Nowadays I've had ice in drinks in the middle of Africa on safari, a five hour flight from the nearest civilization, and where water from a deep well had to be quadruple filtered before using, and the pump's and ice makers were diesel or solar powered.

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