« Packing Problems | Main | 66 - Renovations »

Letter From America: Cocktail Capers

Ronnie Bray, a Yorkshireman living in Arizona, longs for the favoured carbonated drink of teetotal folk in his native county - Ben Shaw’s Dandelion and Burdock. Unable to regularly satisfy his thirst with the "Real Thing'', he has invented make-do cocktails. Meet the Castle Hill cocktail, the Yetton Rant cocktail, the Trolley Bus cocktail...

To enjoy lots more of Ronnie's fizzy words please click on Letter From America in the menu on this page. Enjoy also slices of his autobiography A Shout From The Attic.

Dan Holroyd’s Drink of Health went off the market, and I moved out of the Dandelion and Burdock zone, so finding something to ease my thirst that also pleases my palette has been more than a little challenging. It is not that my palette is hard to please. More than half of taste is smell, and as I am transported into rollicking raptures by the olfactory sensations emitted by squashed skunks, hot asphalt, oil paint, and turpentine, it ought not to be too hard to find something that I can quaff without demur and feel that I have been treated well.

Although Gay, my beloved heretic, insists that Root Beer (RB) is close enough to Dandelion and Burdock (D&B) to pass undetected and uncommented, I believe that she is mistaken, but I have not reported her to the Soft Drinks Inquisition. In the interests of strict accuracy, yet with a weather eye on international understanding in our home, I am compelled soberly and gravely to state that the closest Root Beer comes to anything English is Wintergreen Ointment, a commodity that persons above a certain age will recognise as the substance of which their grannies smelled when they felt the need to repel the common cold, influenza, and other unspecified but near fatal conditions, and granddads.

Although dissimilar in taste, it comes closer in hue, and is perhaps colourifically indistinguishable to those who have slight familiarity with D&B and RB. But to those upon whom fair fortune smiled and were thereby introduced to the ‘National Drink of Teetotal Yorkshiremen’ when the farthing was legal tender, it is immediately apparent that Root Beer does not to any degree approximate the mystical velvet of the King of carbonated beverages; not even ‘in the dark with the light behind it!’

Therefore, in my pressing need, I have become the mother of invention, and have formulated a raft of draughts that, while they do not resemble my beloved libation, provide something potable for my parched palate. To render these potions even more sufficient, I have given them names drawn from the geography of my early years. By this means I not only have an enjoyable drink – all the while complaining bitterly that it is not the "Real Thing" – but I am drawn back into scenes of my tender years when the Sovereign Substance was readily available – the streets of Huddersfield virtually flowed with it even in the midst of wartime shortages – and thus my surrogate sipstuff becomes both quencher and anodyne.

Three readily available drinks line my cocktail cabinet like soldiers pressed into service of national importance, and from them I make certain special samples substituting somewhat, albeit inferiorly, for the ancient and noble herbal concoction in whose presence all brews should make obeisance.

They are: Diet Root Beer (I use capital letters to avoid charges of Chauvinism, always a safe bet when comparing anything that is American in an unfavourable light), Diet Caffeine-Free Sprite, and Grape Juice. The proportions of the elements determine the nature, flavour, and name of the resulting blend. I will list them in order of my personal preference:

A fifty-fifty mix – I haven’t the heart to call it a shandy – of DRB and DCFS is a "Castle Hill Cocktail." If the DRB is lowered to one third, and the DCFS raised to two-thirds, it becomes a "Folly Hall Cocktail," while if the proportions are reversed, it is then a "Fartown Green Cocktail." Once a body is familiar with the nomenclature, these can be referred to by their specie cognomen, omitting the genus familial, ‘cocktail,’ although extreme caution is advised until one becomes accustomed to the genre.

Less favourite, but still highly acceptable is the "Greenhead Park Cocktail" that is five percent Grape Juice (with sugar content, hence the five percent), and ninety-five percent DCFS. Amazingly, this is extremely refreshing. If the GJ is increased to ten percent, the cocktail becomes a "Spring Grove" which could intoxicate the unwary by delivering a coup de sucre!

Two further combinations are possible, but are not recommended. GJ and DCFS mixed in equal proportions is a "Yetton Rant Cocktail" because once a year is often enough, and if the GJ content is increased to seventy-five percent, the result is a "Trolley Bus Cocktail" because it is guaranteed to send you off the rails! Gay delivered one of these to my bedside last night and I am still attempting to recover!

Although I am well satisfied with these, I suspect that further acceptable variations might be possible, and will look further into it just as soon as I hear whether I have been awarded a generous grant from the US Government to conduct original and much-needed study of the parlous state of the American soft drinks industry.

Naïve souls have suggested that I do something with cherry drinks because, as strange as it seems, cherry is America’s favourite flavour. I have tasted cherry and am not moved towards it. As a contingency plan in case the White House forces my hand by making cherry a ‘must use’ flavour as a condition of the four million dollar research grant I have requested, then I have drawn a name from the commercial pyrotechnic giant whose storage huts used regularly to explode with high energy high on the hills above Saint Luke’s Hospital: it would be the "Little Demon Cocktail." Veteran chumpers will understand the appellation.

Yet, despite finding substitutes that calm my longings somewhat, there is a mordant disquiet that will not leave my soul when I consider that I might never again lift to my lips a foaming bowl of Dandelion and Burdock until comes that joyous moment when I enter Heaven, where that which was known to the ancient Greeks as Nectar, is called by Celestial Beings by its true primordial designation, ‘Ben Shaw’s Dandelion and Burdock,’ where sorrow is fled, and where each overflowing gem-studded golden goblet is inscribed, "Avoid cheap imitations."

Copyright © 2006 Ronnie Bray

Other stories at:


Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.