Magic is wonderful. It can make us believe in possibilities, in a world that we have only glimpsed. A lot of the time, we know it is only a trick, that we are being fooled, but there is a certain pleasure in a little lighthearted deception. Oscar Wilde said that “The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure of being terribly, terribly deceived,” and magic, when it is done well, fits that bill. It is a funny thing, just how much we enjoy having the wool pulled over our eyes, so to speak. All entertainment relies on the willing suspension of disbelief. That wonderful ability to set your rational mind to the side for a bit and believe that heroes can fly or that we could create harmony on a planetary level before heading out into the stars to boldly go where no one has gone before. Magic takes another deeper level of disbelief. We know someone is trying to fool us and we are watching carefully to see how they are going to trick us, how they are going to appear to do that which we know is impossible and they usually succeed. Through years of practice and the careful application of science they are able to fool us, often using very simple tools. So let’s take a look at deception and a couple of the original tools of the trade. Won’t you join me now as we stand and make, Smoke and Mirrors.
This drink is a smoky scotch driven riff on the classic daiquiri that comes to us from Alex Day via New York’s wonderful Death & Co. If you are in LA, NYC or Denver, I highly recommend a visit, if not, check them out online. They have some wonderful gear and a couple of the best cocktail books out there. They also have a pirate tiki mug that makes me salivate anytime I see it, so if anyone is looking for gifts for your old uncle monkey… The point is, it’s a world class bar. I have their original cocktail book and it is a thing of beauty, the kind of stuff that just makes you cry yourself to sleep because the drinks are so beautiful. Check them out and then make this drink.
Grab our tins and pop in 4-5 mint leaves, 3/4 of an ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, 3/4 of an ounce of simple syrup and muddle lightly. To that add 1 ounce of Islay Scotch, I went with Laphroaig Quarter Cask; 1 ounce of blended scotch, I used an old bottle of my dad’s Dewar’s; and 2 drops of Crude Bitters Co. Sea Salt and Smoke. Add ice and shake well to the beat of the awesome Blackberry Smoke acoustic version of Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky“. I was watching MTV at a friends house when they hit the airwaves so yeah, I saw the Buggles, killing that radio star, but the first time I turned it on at my own house, the first video I saw and fell in love with was that wonderfully post-apocalyptic “You Got Lucky“. I still kind of want his low top hat from the video and that sweet hollow-body. Not sure why I remember that moment, but honestly who knows why some things stick and others are lost to memory. Anyway, double strain into a chilled coupe, spray the top of the drink with a spritz of absinthe, I used Corsair Red and garnish with a single mint leaf.
That is really nice. I expected the smoke from the Laphroaig to drown out everything, but the mint and absinthe keep it in check. It makes a really lovely base note for the brightness of the lime and a sweet finish that really pulls out some caramel notes. This one is actually quite a bit better than unexpected and I had high hopes. The mint is definitely pulling a little misdirection here and this trick works.
I used to spend a lot of time researching magic tricks. Learning how they worked, the science and philosophy behind concealing one thing here to reveal another thing there. It is truly fascinating and a subject that I would not suggest you look into too closely. Magic depends on mystery and once you know how the sausage is made, it kind of ruins things. You can appreciate the technique, but you can never not know what a thumb tip is or how to make the rings link. In its purest form though, magic is truly amazing. Misdirection, sleight of hand all those staples of classic magic. It is all about deception, smoke and mirrors were a way to hide the tricks of the trade. A little smoke in the air helps to conceal the wires lifting objects, angled mirrors create the impression of a background that is not there and give places to hide the rabbit or people or whatever you need to conceal. All in an effort to make sure people are looking where you want them to and, more importantly, not looking where you don’t want them to. It is a true craft and incredible amounts of skill are used in doing it well. That’s why I hate a shitty magician. There are people who study their whole lives and become masters at manipulating perception and expectation, so when you see a guy phone it in and not even do their audience the courtesy of trying, well, that is just poor craftsmanship. As an audience, we have an obligation to point out the wires when we see them or the false bottom in the box. If you are going to be fooled, make them work for it and don’t accept having to squint or look the other way for their tricks to work. This is not your nephew’s 8th birthday party, this is real life and you are going to pay the price, you might as well get a decent show out of it from someone who respects the audience. Of course, your mileage and tolerance for charlatans may vary. Stay safe, stay hydrated and stay sane, my friends.