It’s Truman Capote’s birthday. Yes, today is another episode of great writers that drank to excess, and Capote was certainly one of them. A flamboyant and unpredictable character fond of many spirits (and drugs), his ways ultimately did him in at the age of 59. But at least he left us two iconic novels and many other works. Today the Drink of the Day will be the In Cold Blood cocktail, eponymous to the title of one of his most famous works.
Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons in New Orleans, so no wonder he drank. A lonely child, he taught himself to read and write before he even entered school. Coming from a broken home he lived with relatives for several years but rejoined his mother and her new husband in New York at the age of eight. That’s how he got the Capote surname.
About his early days Capote said, “I was writing really sort of serious when I was about 11. I say seriously in the sense that like other kids go home and practice the violin or the piano or whatever, I used to go home from school every day, and I would write for about three hours. I was obsessed by it.”
He eventually dropped out of high school and began work as an office boy at the New Yorker until he was fired. By 1945 his stories started to appear in magazines and were widely admired. His first book, Other Voices, Other Rooms was published in 1948 and gained wide public attention. Capote’s successes continued, leading to increased social recognition. He quickly became a fixture at society parties, the hottest clubs and restaurants. His work Breakfast at Tiffany’s which followed shortly was heavily influenced by these experiences.
Capote reveled in the adulation he received. A slight man standing only 5’2”, he was a flamboyant dresser known for indiscreet comments and the parties he threw. He was also openly gay at a time when even a hint of that was enough to ruin careers.
In 1959 he was fascinated by an article in the New York Times that described the unexplained murder of a family in rural Kansas. He spent a lot of the next four years in the area doing research, interviewing countless people and socializing. This resulted in his epic piece In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and its Consequences. This pioneering work was perhaps the first “nonfiction novel” published. It was also Truman Capote’s last book.
His Drinking and the In Cold Blood Cocktail
According to Gerald Clarke in Capote: A Biography, by the time he was writing In Cold Blood he would have a double Martini before lunch, another with lunch, and a Stinger after lunch. He also carried a bottle of J&B Rare Scotch to every social gathering. He interspersed all of it with various combinations of prescription medications.
As Truman Capote put it himself, “I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m homosexual. I’m a genius.”
After In Cold Blood he drank more and more, and despite various stints in rehabilitation clinics it continued. It eventually culminated in his “orange drink”, a glass of orange juice with a large dose of vodka. What you would call a Screwdriver. In 1978 he was on a talk show and was asked “What’s going to happen unless you lick this problem of drugs and alcohol?” Capote responded, “The obvious answer is that eventually, I mean, I’ll kill myself…..without meaning to.” And eventually he did, passing away in 1984 where according to the coroner’s report his cause of death was “liver disease complicated by phlebitis and multiple drug intoxication.”
Fortunately, we have just the Drink of the Day to honor this troubled genius. It’s not going to be a Martini. Nor will it be a slug of J&B Scotch. Instead, we have a cocktail named after one of his works: the In Cold Blood cocktail. It first appeared in the Food & Wine 2016 Cocktails Book and is similar to some of the Negroni variations we examined for Negroni Week. Whatever you do in mixing it, don’t forget the pinch of salt.
In Cold Blood
- 1 oz Rye whiskey
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 1 oz Cynar
- Garnish: lemon twist and pinch of salt Use Maldon, kosher or sea salt here. Whatever you do, not iodized table salt.
- Add rye, vermouth and Cynar to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into ice filled rocks glass.
- Express twist over drink and garnish with the peel. Sprinkle pinch of salt over top of drink.
Very similar to the Little Italy by Audrey Saunders, but with different proportions (and that salt). Now I’m curious to do a side by side. 😉
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