My grandfather would have been 94 today. He wasn’t much of a drinker, not opposed to it, he just rarely had a thirst. Sure, he’d have a beer on a hot day if one was offered, but he didn’t keep it at the house and the whiskey in the cabinet was mostly for sharing with others. The only real story I remember hearing of him drinking involved him trying to have a quiet drink while camping only to be given away by a telltale “glug-glug-glug” pouring sound coming from behind the truck. So, choosing a drink that reminded me of Pa was challenging. Well, that’s not exactly true, but none of you are interested in learning how to make sweet tea. So, with a grateful eye to the man who walked this road, only 50 or so years before me, won’t you join me now as we stand and make the Bourbon Smash.
Pa liked whiskey, on occasion and enjoyed a slice of lemon icebox pie anytime and this one has elements of both, so that’s where we are going. This drink comes to us from the hallowed halls of The Crunkleton, a private club in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Don’t get too uptight about its exclusive provenance, you can join the club at the door for a mere $10 and they are happy to have you While local alcohol laws require them to be a private club in order to serve you, they aren’t too specific about membership requirements; beyond being a decent, respectful human, obviously. This one sort of reminds me of a restrained Penicillin with an interesting Southern twist that I can’t wait to try.
Grab your tins and pop in 2 ounces of bourbon, I went with Four Roses; 1/2 an ounce of ginger syrup, 1/2 an ounce of fresh squeezed lemon juice, 1/2 an ounce of simple syrup and 1/2 an ounce of lemon curd, I chose Simplify, but only because I was out of Rose & Ivy Linda’s Lemon Curd. Which is a shame, since using Mom’s lemon curd would have been way more fitting. I should have planned better. Add some ice and give it a good shake to the beat of Freddie Fender singing, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls“. Pa used to play that cassette over and over while we were working on cars and tractors in the basement, to the point that when I grab a spark plug socket, this song starts playing on my internal jukebox. When well chilled, strain into a rocks glass. The recipe called for crushed ice, but I was feeling one big cube, so use your own judgement on the ice and garnish with a dehydrated lime wheel and maybe toss a hay straw in there.
That’s kind of amazing. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this one, but it works. You get that wonderful bourbon ginger thing as a base, with a rally lovely citrus top end. I’ve got to say that the addition of lemon curd is genius. Adding that fat to the drink beings a creaminess that I did not expect, but absolutely love. Think whiskey lemon ginger creamsicle. After all, lemon curd is just lemon juice, sugar, pectin, eggs and butter, why wouldn’t you want more of that in you?
I could see Pa enjoying this one. He’d take a sip and say something like, “That’s fine…just fine.” That would be praise enough. He’s been on my mind a lot lately, he always is. Mom and I were talking the other day about how much we wished we could talk to him and then we had to laugh because we both knew what he would say. He prepared us for the days when he would no longer be here better than anyone I know. So many little oft-repeated phrases, so many lessons hidden inside of those stories. so many times working together to solve a problem. He wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man. He’d get “just as rough as you need to, to get the job done, but no rougher” and he could be “rough as a cob” as he’d say, but you always knew where you stood with him. When he gave his word, you knew you could count on him to keep it, come hell or high water. Someone once told me that the best way to honor them is to “be the things you loved the most about those that are gone.” I wish I could do that. I truly do, but I fail most of the time. It’s a high standard.
Remembering him, what strikes me most is how he made me feel safe. He protected all of us, sometimes from the world outside, more often from ourselves. But it went deeper than that. I hated going to him when I had messed something up, not because he was going to be hard on me, but because I hated to disappoint him. Time and time again, I would come to him to ask for help or advice and rather than reproach, I would get acceptance. Sure, I had messed up. Yes, I need to do better, but he still loved me and believed in me. He’d talk me through things, let me know what he might have done, remind me that we all make mistakes and that the only ones who don’t are the people who don’t do anything. If it was an affair of the heart or my character, he’d let it go at that. If I had torn up a car or something else, we’d get to fixing it. No matter how terrible I felt or how bad I had been, he made sure I knew that he believed I could and would be better and then he’d help me fix things. I never went to him with a problem that he didn’t have an answer. Whether that was an old story with a nugget of wisdom in there or the knowledge of how to get a broken spark plug out of a block or just listening to me before asking if I had figured out what the right thing to do was yet, he always had an answer. Having him there to teach me went a long way toward the man I am today, for good and for ill. These days, I know what he’d tell me in most situations, but I sure would like to hear it from him one more time.
It’s hard not having him to turn to. Not for the answers, like he said I can mostly figure that out for myself, but having that guidance from someone you trust, who is looking out for your best interest and who truly believes in your goodness, or at least the potential for it. He knew who he was and that confidence made it easier for him to share, to cry when he was sad and to laugh when he was happy. I don’t recall ever feeling like he was competing with anyone in anything, so when I succeeded, he shared in that success by being proud. When I failed, he looked for ways to help me be better. I am trying to live up to that standard, working everyday to make sure my son has that same safe environment, where he can come to me even when he messes up and know that I’ll be there with some advice and a hug and to help fix things, if I can. I don’t always succeed but I am doing my best. “Be the things you loved” is good advice and like most things worth doing, it is hard, but I am trying and thank the gods, I had a great teacher. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends…you know how you are.