Quin's Progress


Customer Service Is Not Dead a.k.a. My Lifelong Obsession with the Tom Collins

Chena Hot Springs Lodge

Chena Hot Springs Lodge

This past St. Patrick’s Day, I was sitting with my dad in the bar at the Chena Hot Springs Lodge, about 60 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska.  We had been together for a week already, and had kind of run out of small talk, so we were just kind of sitting there quietly, sipping our hot toddies, checking out the various taxidermied animals on the walls, and enjoying our post-hot springs soak state of relaxation.

I was wrong, it wasn't Schweppes, it was Canada Dry (Image courtesy of the bottlecapman.com)

I was wrong, it wasn’t Schweppes, it was Canada Dry
(Image courtesy of the bottlecapman.com)

I don’t really know why this occurred to me at that particular moment, but out of the blue, I said to my dad: “Hey Dad, remember that phase I went through when I was about eight or nine years old, when all I would drink was Tom Collins Mixer?”

My dad furrowed his brow and looked askance at me.  “Tom Collins Mixer?” he said, like he’d never heard of it.

“Yeah, the mixer for a Tom Collins cocktail.  It came in a green bottle, like tonic water.  I think Schweppes made it.  Remember, I used to ask for cases of it for my birthday?”

Then, he started to laugh, and said, yeah, he remembered something about that, and we proceeded to try to remember how I had been introduced to it in the first place (we think it was probably Uncle Frank’s doing), what a peculiar kid I was to get addicted to Tom Collins Mixer at age eight, and pondered if one could still buy the stuff, or if the Tom Collins had gone totally out of style.  It was really good, tasted kind of like carbonated SweeTarts.

That's the stuff!! (Image from Ebay.com)

That’s the stuff!!
(Image from Ebay.com)

As we were talking, the cute young bartendress (who didn’t look old enough to drink legally) went and sat in the corner with a tattered old bartender’s guide.  We didn’t pay that much attention to her, really.  But after a bit, she came over and set a tall glass of something fizzy and vaguely lemony-looking down in front of me and said “Let me know if this is it.”

The girl had gone and looked up the recipe for a Tom Collins in her book, and made me a glass of the mixer from scratch!  How sweet is that?  I was so touched, that I kept to myself that she had missed the mark entirely, and told her she had made it just right.  We have to reward effort, right?  That’s customer service — give your people what they want before they even ask for it.

See?  The vintage ads for Collins Mixer show a maraschino cherry in the glass (Image from Ebay.com)

See? The vintage ads for Collins Mixer show a maraschino cherry in the glass
(Image from Ebay.com)

Since then, I’ve been thinking I should lead a one-woman campaign to bring back the Tom Collins in time for Summer.  So, I hereby officially declare it the QP Cocktail of the Summer for 2013!  You’re going to love it.  It’s really quite light, zesty and refreshing.  I prefer the vodka variety to the classic with gin, but you do what you want.

As it appears that neither Schweppes nor Canada Dry makes Collins Mixer anymore, here’s a poncey British video on how to make a proper Tom Collins from scratch, which I chose mostly because I think the bartender demonstrating for the camera is super adorable — check out that sizzlin’ look at 2:14 when he pours the gin in the shaker!  I have to take issue with the lack of a maraschino cherry as garnish–that is an absolute requirement for a Tom Collins.  But, otherwise, this looks delicious, as does “Mauro”:

Sexy Latin Guy Makes a Tom Collins

Who’s with me?!

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One More Iceland Thing….

Oh, Dad, I almost forgot.  One night, while I was in Reykjavik, I went to dinner at a really nice, traditional Icelandic restaurant inside an old house.  It was a linen tablecloth and waiters-in-ties kind of place, that specialized in local seafood.  I didn’t have a reservation, so I had to wait for a bit for a table.  The bar was in the attic, up a narrow, spiral staircase.  The roof was pitched, so you couldn’t stand up all the way unless you were in the center of the room, and it was furnished with all this lovely, comfy, overstuffed furniture with lace doilies on the arms, like you’d see at your great aunt’s house.  It was small and cozy and warm, and kind of dim in the candlelight.  People were dressed nicely, sitting about sipping wine and cocktails, waiting for their tables for dinner downstairs.

There were no chairs available, so I squeezed in to a spot at the end of the big, blue velvet couch, next to an elegant elderly couple.  I had a touch of a cold, and my throat was a bit sore, so when the waitress came, I asked her for my daddy’s tried-and-true Texas cowboy cough syrup:  a double-shot of Jack and a sugarcube or two, with a good squeeze of lemon, which I swirled and warmed over the candle on the coffee table.  Oh, so good when you’re feeling a little off.  Goes down easy, and I don’t know if it really helps the cold, or if it just makes you not care about the sore throat, but either way, you end up feeling better, which is the goal.  It was so good, I had another one.

The next thing I knew, the waitress was shaking my shoulder and saying “Miss, Miss…your table is ready downstairs.”  I opened my eyes, and realized I was sprawled out across the couch, drooling and snoring like a pirate!  I sat up with a snap, and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and looked around.  The sweet, elegant elderly couple who had been sitting next to me were in chairs on the other side of the room —  I had chased them away!  Oh my god, how embarrassing!  And clearly, as they were there before me, the restaurant had obviously bumped me to the head of the line, just to politely get me up and out of the bar and sobered up!  Icelanders are very polite.

Well, far be it for me to refuse, so I just gathered myself up and slunk (it’s a word, I looked it up) out of the bar and downstairs to one of the best lobster dinners of my life.  And no, the dinner waiter did not offer me the wine list.  Haha!  Just as well.

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Taxidermy & Booze

Half a Bear Sticking Out of the Wall Over Our Table at the White Spot Cafe

Half a Bear Sticking Out of the Wall Over Our Table at the White Spot Cafe

Gentle friends, I know this will not come as a surprise to any of you, but can I just say for the record, it is frickin’ cold in Alaska!  Holy chilblains, people, I am pretty well insulated to begin with, and I look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man with all my thermal bundling, but I still get a full body ice cream headache every time I go outside.  Thankfully, we decided to start our Alaskan Adventure in Anchorage, where the mild coastal climate is a balmy 10 degrees Fahrenheit–a good stepping down place to adjust before heading to Fairbanks, where it is currently -17 (as in, 17 below zero, not counting wind chill).  Did I mention I’m from California?  We complain when it gets below 60.  Okay, thank you for letting me get that out of my system.  I feel better now.

Anchorage Skyline Across the Cook Inlet

Anchorage Skyline Across the Cook Inlet

Anchorage in March is kind of like an episode of the Twilight Zone.  During the day, the frozen streets are pretty much deserted, businesses with illuminated “Open” signs are empty, no one answers the phones, glassy-eyed taxidermy animals stare at you from every wall, and when you do encounter a human being, they assess you almost suspiciously before telling you that you should have come in the summertime instead.  It’s a little spooky.  It’s livelier at night, mostly because everyone seems to be bombed.  I know I was.

Peach Brandy Toddy--Delicious!

Peach Brandy Toddy–Delicious!

There was a bar next to our hotel where they made hot toddies with peach brandy, and it became our evening habit.  Definitely took the chill off!  Here’s the recipe for you, in case you are feeling a chill coming on, too.

Hot Peach Toddy

In a mug of your choice, add the following and adjust proportions to taste:

1.5 to 2 oz. peach brandy
A tablespoon or so of honey
A tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice
Hot water
Garnish with lemon wheel or wedge.