Drinking Like Winston Churchill

This week I’m reviewing John Kelly’s new book “Never Surrender” the story of Britain’s decision to fight on against Nazi Germany after the fall of France in 1940. Not only is this a fascinating historical topic, but it’s ripe for cocktail-themed tie-ins! According to this superb article from Warren Dockter in The Telegraph, Winston Churchill’s legendary appetite for alcohol was a bit overstated, but no less interesting. For instance, the “Churchill Martini” originated from Churchill’s distaste for FDR’s standard gin martini. Winston, whose favorite gin was Plymouth, countered an offer of a martini “I would like to observe the vermouth from across the room while I drink my martini.”

I’ve been working on gaining a better appreciation for spirits outside of cocktails, so the Churchill Martini was a good opportunity to drink gin straight. I’m sorry, I really like gin – sure, the taste is powerful and burns hard at the end, but that simmering, herbal, floral essence is something to behold. I sipped this for a hour and experienced the complexity and strength of gin, which is often lost in the mix of wacky cocktail ingredients.

  • 2.5 oz Plymouth Gin
  • Ice
  • Stare at an open bottle of dry vermouth

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Also on Churchill’s daily menu was “Papa’s Cocktail,” named by his children who observed their father drink it throughout the day. This was a great sipper, a simple combo that brings out the ultra-rich blended taste of the red label with some seltzer zest for refreshment.

  • 1.5 oz Johnnie Walker Red Label
  • Fill with seltzer

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Next up was a “Churchill” cocktail – not a bad drink at all, really interesting citrusy sweet and an aura of scotch on the front end, then a hard scotch burn through the rest of the drink. A powerhouse shot like it’s namesake, this is a good “I only have time for one drink after work” cocktail, enough for a good buzz and flavorful enough to make it interesting.

  • 2.25 Johnnie Walker Red
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • .75 oz cointreau
  • .75 oz sweet vermouth

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The final drink was the “Spitfire” from Tony Conigliaro and named after the marvelous WWII fighter plane that saved the world. This is a great cocktail, I had to use peach schnapps instead of creme de peche and champagne instead of dry white wine – I feel like champagne is more fitting, given the kinetic overtones of its name. A good cognac hue and power, great peach flavor, and a nice poppy aftertaste off the champagne. Lemon all over it, just the right sweetness off of the sugar syrup, and very soft texture from the egg. Love this one, would make this every day.

  • 1½ ounces cognac
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce egg white
  • ½ ounce sugar syrup
  • ½ ounce crème de pêche (I used peach schnapps)
  • ¾ ounce dry white wine (I used champagne)

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John Kelly’s new book on Britain in the summer of 1940 is riveting popular history that should entertain novices and experts alike. I’m fairly conversant in this period of European history, but Kelly’s narrative skills and research offer a fresh take, outlining the critical political debates and military clashes that ushered in the Churchill government. On the first topic, Kelly offers sober and insightful analysis: Chamberlain and his accommodation-inclined allies were not ignorant proto-fascists, nor was Churchill’s record unblemished. Kelly’s ably recounts the backgrounds of the major figures and the events that shaped their views on Nazi Germany and the desirability of a negotiated piece.

Where I thought the book was most effective was communicating the scale of the disaster and challenge that faced Britain in 1940. Everywhere, in Norway, in France, and at sea, there was only debacle and dysfunction; Kelly makes good use of internal British intelligence reports on public attitudes that relayed in harsh language the fear and desperation that gripped the British public this period. Kelly uses this disastrous backdrop to highlight the heroism of Churchill and relate how unlikely his eventual success really was. It is horrifyingly evident when reading Kelly’s lucid history how close Western civilization came to its death knell. Cheers to you Winston.

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