I'll take a vodka martini. Make it dirty, and add a shot of Tabasco." The woman next to me had frizzy hair, wore a faux leopard vest, and smelled like she'd been sprayed down with dollar store perfume. She wasn't fashionable. But her drink proved to be.
It was a cold night in Oxford, Mississippi. Her audible call sounded soul- and belly-warming. Like an evening answer to a morning bloody Mary.
The fellow sitting next to her overheard the request and ordered the same. I nearly made the leap, but stuck by my Manhattan. The bartender smirked and said, "Don't know what that will taste like, but I bet the olives will shrivel."
She probably wasn't the first drinker to spike her tipple with Tabasco. Of late, the rash of flavored martinis, the one that began with the so-called chocolatini, has expanded to include beef jerky and bacon infusions. But those are, for the most part, stunt drinks. The Tabasco-spiked dirty martini strikes me as a drink with legs. So does the tea punch I've been making of late.
I got the tea idea from Dave Wondrich, author of the book Imbibe! From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to "Professor" Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar. Wondrich and I were at a party together. I needed a drink to serve in quantity. He surveyed my bar and prescribed a tea punch. In the months since, I have dumbed it down.
In the not-too-distant past, tea-based whiskey punches were de rigueur. They should be again. I'm not sure I could convince Leopard Woman to follow my lead. But I'm hoping you, dear reader, will.
1 gallon sweet tea, preferably Milo's (a pleasantly viscous brand, brewed in Alabama and distributed throughout the South)
1 fifth Tennessee whiskey or bourbon
10 splashes bitters, your choice
10 lemons, juiced
Stir and squeeze and splash and pour over ice. Serves a party.