From Sly's Manager, Mandy Chinn:
I was contacted recently by George Yatchisin, food and drinks writer extraordinnaire for the Santa Barbara Independent, regarding a new cocktail challenge.
April is National Poetry Month, and George wanted me to choose a poem to base a cocktail on. He knows I love a challenge like this, so the dangling carrot of more media attention was secondary to the urge to create something new. The hard part was choosing a poem. Admittedly, it's been a while since I'd set out with the express purpose of reading poetry...as a mom and restaurant manager, I don't get to read as often as I'd like. I wound up selecting a poem that I remembered from a high school English class. I memorized it for class that year, and it had always kind of stuck with me. The poem was written by a woman named Stevie Smith, and is titled "Not Waving, But Drowning". It's a short poem... only a dozen lines or so, but very sort of spooky and melancholy. The mood of it stuck with me for a much longer time than the actual text. I guess it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine a seventeen-year-old girl liking poetry that lists decidedly to the melodramatic. The imagery of someone on a beach, thinking that a loved one was waving from the ocean while actually said loved one was drowning and crying for help...good grief!
Need a drink after all that?
So for the "Not Waving But Drowning" cocktail, I took my inspiration from an old drink of the '20s called the Negroni. (Naturally, it's on our cocktail menu at Sly's) I chose to riff on the Negroni because it's bittersweet, like the poem itself. To look at a Negroni, with it's fiery red color and sunny orange garnish, is to imagine Tuscan sunsets and lingering over cocktails on a palazzo somewhere- not the mood I was looking for. I needed something that looked a bit ominous, almost brackish. A drink that would be delicious, but rather seriously so, and not frivolous.
I kept the base spirit of gin from the Negroni, but instead of bittering the drink with beautiful red Campari, I chose to use Amaro, another bitter Italian liqueur that is dark brown and has much deeper herbal notes than Campari. Everything bitter needs a note or two of sweet, and in the Negroni, sweet Italian vermouth is used. In the "NWBD", I chose to use a wonderful Amontillado sherry. I like the "winey" notes imparted in sherry, as well as the hints of caramel. For good measure, the drink is finished with a few dashes of orange bitters.
My husband (Sly's Bar Manager, Chris Chinn) says that bitters are to cocktails as salt is to food: a means of elevating flavors that are already there. I tend to agree. As a garnish, instead of that jaunty orange slice, I've chosen to cut a swath of orange peel and place it into the chilled cocktail glass before pouring the drink in, effectively "drowning" the orange peel. Sort of a cheap shot at bringing the poem back into the cocktail, but I think it's honest. The flavors work really well together, marrying bitter and sweet with the herbaceous nature of gin and an orange finish.
Come try Not Waving But Drowning at Sly's if you're feeling melancholy. Think of it like Joni Mitchell's "Blue" album: It'll either improve your mood or just accessorize it!