In vino veritas, sure, but cocktails are the lubricant of gonzo story time: modern craft cocktails are like potable poems, and cocktail hour forever inspires tall, tipsy tales—muscles are bigger, words are wittier, girls are prettier. So in a kind of synergistic cutting-to-the-chase, Bartender Chris Self of Thirtyninehotel in Honolulu decided to save us a step and put the wild imagination into the cocktail itself. “I decided I would like to tell a story with a cocktail,” says Self, “have a narrative to go along while I made it.” Self's not just explaining how components come together, or who distilled or infused what. He’s mixing a layer of narrative into the drink, complete with story arc, component-as-character, and satisfying, in the delicious sense, denouement.
Cocktail-as-story isn’t as much of a departure as you’d think. Beyond clever drink names and artisan spirit bylines, craft cocktails derive a fair measure of romance from the basic logic of composition: e.g., the silky sheen of egg white after a dry shake; the flamed citrus peel, as much a pyromaniac wink as a necessary extrusion of essential oils; the sublime science behind the velvet weight of an Old Fashioned. Craft makes cocktails romantic.
Thus was born the Italian Geisha. And this, by way of Self, is her recipe-as-story:
But Self’s sippable story goes a Grimm Brothers-step beyond that, personifying cocktail components to explain how they came together (a kind of alco-anthropomorphist “birds and bees”). And not only does the drink tell the story Self wrote, it hints at the (much longer) story of Hawaii itself. “We have such a blend of East meets West,” says Self, who infused a basic Campari-Champagne aperitif with Hawaii’s pervasive Japanese culinary influence. “I started to research what they drink for aperitifs in Japan,” says Self, who found whisky and water, “and, of course, sake.”
The end, and maybe not the end, of cocktail story time.