Booktails from the Potions Library, with mixologist Lindsay Merbaum
Explore the history of The American South and its musical roots with this complex, timeless cocktail
In Hari Kunzru’s electrifying novel White Tears, Seth is a socially awkward, nervous, and frequently desperate youth. His only friend is Carter Wallace, an affable trust fund kid who DJs all the best parties on campus. The unlikely pair are united by an all-consuming passion for recording music, taking clinical precision to a magical level: “There are ways you can use a studio. Things you can do that open up impossible spaces in the mind. You can put the listener in a room that doesn’t exist, that couldn’t exist. You can put them in an impossible room.” Seth and Carter open their own recording studio in New York City right out of college, all of it funded by the Wallaces and their empire of correctional facilities. As young white men who fixate exclusively on Black artists, they quietly persist in the belief that their love of the music entitles them to a piece of the culture that made it.
For Carter, that piece is records. He goes to great lengths and drops an obscene amount of cash on his collection. When Seth uncovers a mesmerizing song he unwittingly recorded while wandering the city, the search for the song’s origin leads both friends down a tortuous path. As Carter unravels, then languishes, Seth sets out on a road trip to Mississippi, following a trail laid out decades earlier by another hunter. But shadows close in, time begins to fold. Identities become porous, boundaries shifting or vanishing altogether: “There is no clear border between life and non-life. Once you realize that, so much else unravels.” This record is much more than a piece of music produced by a master musician. Pain and rage follow it and ruin comes to all those who try to possess it.
White Tears probes one tiny bud of slavery’s monstrous tree–the origin of a song. From there, a whole legacy of active and passive violence is exposed, one whose roots and leaves alike touch every part of US culture, so omnipresent as to be invisible to those afforded the privilege of blindness, or indifference. In turn, the novel reveals hatred and greed to be their own kind of spirits, and just as enduring as ghosts.
Bourbon serves as the base of this booktail, a nod to the juleps served poolside at Cornelius Wallace’s conspicuous consumption-themed promotion party. In contrast, Seth also orders bourbon he doesn’t want at a fateful morning meeting at a sticky bar supposedly famous for its piña coladas. The man he sees there tells a horrifying tale of a journey Seth himself will soon take into the South, with sweet tea along the way. Not too long after, one of the Wallace company lawyers sips iced tea as he expertly bullies Seth into signing his life away. Adding sweetness and a floral note that complements the tea, lavender syrup references the folding of timelines and experiences, and longed-for comforts: “In my stifling little room that does not smell of lavender.” Finally, charred cedar bitters add a smokey, bitter note for a rare, portentous cabin with a cedar roof.
This booktail is presented against an institutional-gray brick facade, with a textured white brick base. Set against this minimalist grayscale backdrop, the book title’s red lettering stands out, complementing the amber of the drink, served straight up in an elegant rocks glass. The glass is embellished with a simple white textured pattern that resembles a net. Both the book and cocktail are caught in the halo of a spotlight, suggesting a staged performance, pursuit and capture, or a secret, exposed.
- 2 oz bourbon
- 1 oz Earl Grey or other black tea
- 0.5 oz lavender syrup (see recipe below)
- 1 full dropper of Black Cloud charred cedar bitters
Prepare the syrup. Once cool, fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Add all ingredients and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a rocks glass. Serve straight up, or on the rocks if desired.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup dried organic lavender
Stir all ingredients together in a small pot, then bring to a boil. Simmer for 15-20, stirring occasionally. Once cool, strain and discard solids. Store in a glass bottle or jar. Keep refrigerated.