Last week I lost myself in the world of The Bear and the nightingale by Katherine Arden. It made my commute an adventure; the time spent on crowded trains, wrapped in a big scarf and with damp feet, was a pleasure as I had this with me.
Between the covers there is a story about a girl by the name of Vasilisa, called Vasya, whose mother dies when she is born, and who grows up to be a bit of a wild child. It’s not just circumstance though, part of it is in her blood; she has inherited some of her grandmothers blood, a grandmother that was a witch according to gossip.
And thus Vasya sees more than others. She sees what is there, not just what she wants to see, for better of for worse. She makes friends with the domovoi, the household spirit, but also the Rusalka, a sort of aquatic nymph, that lives in the lake nearby. With out her knowledge The Winter king is keeping an eye on her, as is his brother, and at some point there will be a battle. Add to that mix a sexy priest with a taste for power. I don’t want to spoil it completely so I won’t say more, but think of it as Jane Eyre meets Russian fairytales and you have a fairly good description of what to expect. Katherine Arden has taken liberties with the language, and a tiny bit with historical accuracy, to create a more magical setting but it works for me. I mean really. I started to plan cocktails and outfits pretty much immediately.
In terms of ingredients vodka felt like a natural choice even though no vodka is in fact drunk in the book, that’s a spirit of later invention. They do drink honey wine, sometime called mead, throughout so I decided to include that somehow. It should be noted that there are many kinds of mead around, Systembolaget here in Sweden even has a Russian mead that’s organic and all, but I went with the German Imkergut for practical reasons. Several berries are mentioned and I went with blackberries, again with “replicability” in mind. Several version that included these ingredients were tried. As it turned out though, less was more, and a little creative license was needed too.
Part of this comes down to the mead, it’s got a honey taste for sure but there is also a fermented aftertaste. Not bad but it must be factored in when mixing. It didn’t work as a sour really so I went down the Martini/Martinez alley. Equal amounts of vodka and mead turned out really well but it needed a little something else. The blackberries were a good garnish. I ended up rinsing the glass in smokey whiskey as a reference to the stove in the kitchen where the domovoi sleep (and everyone else too during winter).
Finally, to balance the whole thing, I ended up using a barspoon of ginger syrup which has no justification in the text but it is the magic that makes the whole in this case. The name? I had a few suggestions and I asked friends and “The winter king cocktail” got most votes, and fair enough. He does have a bit of a feast at his house, with mead and all.
The Winter king cocktail; makes one cocktail
3 cl vodka
3 cl Imkergut honey wine
1 barspoon ginger syrup (from a jar is fine)
1 dash of Angostura aromatic bitters
Smokey whiskey, I used Caol Ila
a long slice of fresh ginger
- Stir the ingredients in a stirring glass full of ice. Rinse the coupette in the whiskey.
- Pour the drink into the coupette, no ice should be included.
- Put the berries and the ginger on a cocktail stick (see what I did there in the picture?)
- Put the cocktail stick in the drink, serve, enjoy responsibly.
So this cocktail should keep the domovoi of this house happy if there is one. I’m sure it lives off of high-end cocktails, expensive scented candles and pain au chocolate, drops of mead and scraps of bread isn’t good enough for the contemporary household spirit living in a big city I suppose (and there are more dangers to protect the household from so worth the investment, if you want to be superstitious).