Cocktail Musings: Labor of Love

Cocktail Musings: Labor of Love

I thought that December 31st was a good day to return to writing after a fall season filled will navigating certain time constraints, personal matters, and life changes. This past Friday, I worked my last shift behind the bar at Recklesstown. Although I will continue my creative role there, most of you will immediately recognize how different it will feel for me to no longer have a direct hand in making the cocktails that I create or the experience of watching people enjoy them, except when I myself sit on the other side of the bar as a customer. Nevertheless it’s time to have weekends free again and begin a semi-retired chapter of my life, one in which I can direct my focus and energy towards spending time with the people I love, doing the things that I enjoy most and exploring new possibilities. In the realm of what I would still call work, cocktails, writing this blog, and studying astrology all stand first in line, and as I prepared to return to my musings, I considered whether or not there might be a way to do a subtle combination of the three. Would it be possible to allow the upcoming week’s cosmic energy to drive my thoughts? Could I then subsequently offer them up to those reading not just as a reflection of what’s in my head, but also as a guide to what’s spinning around out in the ether? I wondered.

At the same time that I was working through this possibility, I happened to listen for the millionth time to a favorite song by Nick Cave called “Into My Arms.” I love it for so many reasons, not least of all because my son and daughter-in-law chose it as the song they danced to at their wedding, and it brings back so many memories of that day. In addition to the poignancy it holds for me, however, it’s also a song about love itself, and as such, it’s right up my alley. I know I’m not in the minority there. The lyrics to “Into My Arms” are simple, too much so in the minds of many critics, but it’s the simplicity that has always appealed to me so much. In the first two stanzas, Cave talks about not believing in an “interventionist” God or in the “existence” of angels, but by the final stanza, there is absolutely no doubt that he does believe in something else that is equally divine in his eyes:

But I believe in Love
And I know that you do too
And I believe in some kind of path
That we can walk down, me and you
So keep your candles burning
And make her journey bright and pure
That she’ll keep returning
Always and evermore.

My own personal interpretation of Cave’s lyrics is that he capitalizes the word love deliberately, so as to elevate it to its rightful place amongst God and the angels. For me, the path that he speaks of represents the active nature of love, and the way in which it does not simply come to us without agency, even though it may at times seem that way, especially at first, but if we are to hold onto it, we must do so in a way that often resembles work. If we stay true to the journey, love will reward us by returning again and again, masked as that force that seemingly spins out of easy nothingness, when in actuality it is a compilation of small steps down a path illuminated by effort and paved with intention, devotion, and commitment.

As luck would have it, this upcoming week’s astrology dovetailed right into this idea, but I find that this is what happens when we open our minds to what’s occurring in the cosmos: synchronicities appear that help us to understand life in a more insightful way. In the early morning hours on January 1st, the planets Venus and Saturn will come to rest at 90 degrees from one another, a phenomenon that will actually be visible in the sky just before sunrise. Since Saturn is the planet of lessons and boundaries, and Venus speaks to us of love and beauty, they have a number of issues to work through and much to discuss when they square off in this way. We can imagine Venus in some type of Cate Blanchett resplendency advocating for love, love, love, and Saturn, tall, lean, and dressed all in black, much like Nick Cave himself, holding out a hand and asking, “But where does the work need to be done?” And so this is the wisdom we are meant to glean from this encounter at the start of 2024. Which relationships in our lives need more attention and effort? Are we on a path with a friend or a partner where obstacles, difficulties, or uncertainties seem to be looming, or does it all feel as unencumbered as a walk in the woods filled with flowers, birdsong, and sunshine? And if the latter is true, do we realize that what seems easy is only so because we’ve navigated the harder places? The true nature of love is that it can be both these things in the span of an hour, or a day, and certainly a lifetime. Yet if we accept the connection between love and effort, if we see it as necessary, then we develop a kind of soft resiliency that allows us to weather and overcome the moments when we feel that love threatens to leave us because we know, with certainty, that we need only to yield and surrender to its return. The agency is always ours.

For today’s cocktail, I decided on a gimlet that contained only three ingredients and bitters. I wanted this simplicity because I felt as though it captured both the lyrics of “Into My Arms,” and the idea that love represents the ultimate juxtaposition between fragility and strength. In order to feel deep affection for another person, we must be willing to expose all of our vulnerabilities and risk being deeply hurt. At the same time, if we are to sustain that level of affection, a great deal of responsibility is also required of us. In this way, we become both love’s advocate and its reality check. We see it as one of the divine forces in our lives, but we know where the work still needs to be done. The base spirit in Love’s Labor is a beautifully delicate gin called Grey Whale that contains California botanicals that are immediately evident. I balanced this against equal parts of lemon peel simple and lime juice, both ingredients that could easily be overwhelmed by a more powerful gin. The Grey Whale grants these two ingredients their individual space, while providing just the right amount of structure that is the hallmark of a well balanced cocktail. With only these three components, the drink is almost ethereal and beautiful as is, but the theme of this post called for something weighty and grounded to remind us of that reality check. Bitters with a deeper flavor profile will almost always accomplish this, and so I used something from Bennett that I’d received as a Christmas gift called Exorcism Bitters. I finished off the cocktail with a lemon peel expression and a few grains of coarse black pepper. Cheers everyone. Happy 2024! I wish you a year filled with love, cocktails, and cosmic insights.

Love’s Labor

2.25 oz Grey Whale gin
1 oz lemon peel simple*
1 oz lime juice
2 dashes Bennett Exorcism bitters

Long shake over ice, double strain into a cocktail glass.
Express a lemon peel over the top and garnish with a few grains of black pepper.


*8 ounces sugar dissolved into 8 ounces water. Add the peel of a small lemon. Overnight steep.

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