Booktails from the Potions Library with Mixologist Lindsay Merbaum
Embrace your inner detective with this smoky cocktail while reading Margot Douaihy’s “Scorched Grace”
In Margot Douaihy’s novel Scorched Grace, Sister Holiday is a tattooed, gold-toothed, cigarette-smoking, rock ‘n roll lesbian nun, a resident music teacher and latest addition to the dwindling order, the New Orleans Sisters of the Sublime Blood. When a series of deadly fires breaks out at the school, resulting in the death of a friend and colleague, Holiday becomes a prime suspect. Less concerned with clearing her own name than with stopping a serial arsonist and killer, Sister Holiday devotes herself to solving the crime, working in tandem with the one detective who doesn’t think she’s the culprit. “The devil isn’t in the details,” says Holiday. “Evil thrives in blind spots. In absence, negative spaces, like the haze of sleight-of-hand trick. The details are God’s work. My job is keeping those details in order.”
The true mystery underlying this story is who Holiday really is, and how her messy past–the ex-girlfriend and ex-bandmate she can’t stop thinking about, the estranged brother whose absence haunts her, and the many losses suffered–have brought her from Brooklyn to a convent in Louisiana where she wears gloves to cover the tattoos on her hands and surreptitiously smokes contraband cigarettes confiscated from foolish teenagers. Written in rich, evocative prose, Scorched Grace is a must-read for Pride this summer.
The Scorched Grace booktail is, as the author puts it, a “smoky sweet twisty trinity” of fruit, flowers, and Scotch. Many people have very strong feelings about Scotch whisky and its smokiness, which some have compared to cigarette butts. In this case, the peat works to our advantage. A symbol of Holiday’s whiskey-soaked memories, the Scotch is combined with apricot brandy for the ubiquitous sweet olive, a favorite in Southern gardens, including the school’s, which perfumes the story with its scent of apricot. Chicory pecan bitters are a nod to the sisters’ practice of bartering for chicory coffee, and for Sister T’s chicory root blend that Holiday enjoys so much. The booktail is served over ice made from jasmine tea for night-blooming jasmine, mixed with rose, a symbol of the Virgin Mary. The drink is garnished with a deliciously dessert-y bruleed apricot or peach, balanced with a sharply fragrant twist of lemon for Detective Riveaux’s homemade perfumes.
This booktail is presented against a very-gay-shade of purple that complements the book’s cover, with a mirrored base that distorts the precise rays of color on the cover into flame-like waves. The drink is served over ice shaped like a rose in a purple-sheened glass that looks like it’s been twisted by fire. A sexy, scorched apricot balances on the rim, decorated by a curl of lemon. The overall effect reflects Holiday’s inner life, which is full of passion, drive, and regret, juxtaposed against the exterior by which others judge her. The scene is spotted with flames of calendula, for the scent of the Mother Superior.
- Jasmine green tea
- 1.5 oz Scotch (choose level of peat/smokiness based on personal preference. Any will work, from Dewar’s to Bowmore. If you don’t like Scotch, sub in your favorite whiskey)
- 1 oz apricot brandy
- ¼ tsp rose water (or a pinch of dried organic rose petals, steeped with the jasmine tea
- 4-5 dashes El Guapo chicory pecan bitters
- Bruleed peach or apricot
- Lemon twist
Steep the tea until cool, then stir in the rose water and freeze in a mold of any shape, preferably a rose or large cube/sphere. Meanwhile, cut an apricot or small peach in half and sprinkle each side with ½-1 tsp brown sugar. Substitute white sugar if you prefer. If you don’t have a torch, set a small skillet on high. Cook each side of the fruit for a few minutes, until lightly caramelized. Set aside. Once solid, add the Scotch, brandy, and bitters to a mixing glass filled halfway with ice. Stir until well chilled then strain into a rocks glass. Add the jasmine rose ice. Garnish with a bruleed peach or apricot (or fresh if preferred), and a twist of lemon.