STIR CRAZY: Survival cocktail ideas for stormy winter nights

Seven bottles, no expiration dates, five drinks: Adam McDowell on stocking up for deepest winter

The eternally misguided members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences failed to include The Lighthouse in the best-picture nominees of 2019. Still, it really is a terrific film, and if there were awards for the best drinking movies, this one would be positively drenched in accolades.

The Lighthouse is essentially a movie about cabin fever: A pair of lighthouse keepers (or “wickies”), played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, develop a paranoid wariness of each other while stuck on a stormy rock off the coast of (I suppose) New England. They despise each other in every scene in which they are not drinking, and they’re pals in most of the ones in which they indulge.

Well well, I thought, watching the wickies get tired and emotional pounding straight spirit (I guess rum) outta their old-timey mugs: If this isn’t an analogue for Canadian relationship dynamics circa January, what is?

Yarr, here’s to failin’ the Bechdel Test!

Hate to spoil the best gag in the movie, but there’s a scene in which Dafoe persuades Pattinson to help dig up some emergency “provisions,” which turns out to be a crate full of more booze.

Which prompts me to ask: What’s your plan for being laid up by a storm? What should you keep in your pantry in case of emergency?

It’s nice to have booze around that can be consumed without any fuss or refrigeration, I mean, beyond the obvious red wine and whisky. My emergency cocktail kit consists of Benedictine, Cognac, creme de menthe, gin, Rose’s Lime Cordial, blended Scotch, Drambuie.

Stick them in the cupboard and you’ll survive many a stormy night. (Or, as my co-editor Christine points out, they’ll be handy in case of a nuclear incident; you can put them next to the iodine.) You won’t need fancy mixing gear, garnishes — you can even skip the ice if you’re too hard up to have any.

And while you’re waiting out the worst of winter (nuclear or otherwise), what will you make, and how? Read on!

Benedictine and brandy

Notes: Orangey-herbal Benedictine plus Cognac is a match made in heaven — or at least a monastic French setting. And come to think of it, if those monks can get along without killing each other, so can you and your partner, even in deadest winter, when you’ve run out of Netflix series you both like.

Method: Combine a 50-50 (ish) mix of Benedictine and Cognac in a snifter or rocks glass. Add ice, or a splash of water, and serve.

Benny and hot

Method: Another wintery use for Benedictine: Add about an ounce and a half of Benedictine to a mug or heatproof glass, and top up with an equal (or greater) amount of hot water to taste. Optional: add twist and/or squeeze of lemon or orange.

Notes: I might never have heard of this one, except as a young feller I worked in a pub in the English county of Lancashire, where the Benny and hot is a classic old-man drink. It’s a tasty concoction that’ll warm you down to the cockles of your heart. Heck, deeper, even — the sub-cockles.

Old-man drink, ye say? We be listening.


Notes: This one boasts actual nautical cred: No one can say for certain how the name originated, but the notion of combining gin with sweetened lime juice — Rose’s Lime Cordial specifically — seems to have originated with the (British) Royal Navy.

Anyway, a gimlet is what you prepare when you’re sad and an actual tropical drink seems like too much effort.

Method: Let’s go with Raymond Chandler's 1953 hardboiled crime novel The Long Goodbye. Detective Philip Marlowe strikes up a friendship with unfortunate Englishman Terry Lennox, who bemoans the difficulty of finding a proper gimlet in Los Angeles: "We sat in the corner bar at Victor's and drank gimlets. 'They don't know how to make them here,' [Terry] said. ... 'A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose's Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.’ ”

For sugar-averse 21st-century palates, I would say a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio of gin to Rose's will work better than Lennox’s fifty-fifty. Shake well with ice, strain, and serve in a chilled glass. Or just mix warm in a dented grog mug, whatever.


Notes: I am happy to discover that my National Post column on the beauty of the stinger is still online eight years later; I sang its praises well enough then.

– 2¼ ounces good brandy
– ¾ ounce crème de menthe

Chill a cocktail glass. Add both ingredients to a shaker filled halfway with cracked (broken) ice, shake hard, and strain into the glass. No garnish.

Rusty nail

Notes: Friends, I’m saving the best for last here. Consisting of Scotch (already great on its own) and Drambuie (which is, like, spiced Scotch), a rusty nail is a nuanced, if forgotten, pleasure — a cabin fever cocktail par excellence.

Method: An American of our acquaintance recommends 2 oz. good blended Scotch with 1/2 oz. Drambuie — combine with ice in a rocks glass, stir, add optional lemon twist.

Now relax, think of the coming of spring, and for goodness sake try not to kill anyone while you’re stuck in that bunker you call home.


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