OK, so it turns out that Anthony Burgess’s Hangman’s Blood cocktail is probably based on a drink that Richard Hughes described in his novel A High Wind in Jamaica.
I seem to think this book had a reputation among my teenage peers as being a “racy” read, but this may have been completely wrong. The poster doesn’t look exactly decadent, though the presence of Coburn and Quinn is surely quite spicy.
The passage in the Hughes novel runs, “He (Captain Jonsen) went onboard, and mixed several gallons of that potion known in alcoholic circles as Hangman's Blood (which is compounded of run, gin, brandy and porter). Innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort.
“This he poured into mugs, merely remarking that it was a noted English cordial, and gave it to the children to distribute among the crowd.”
I like the idea of a drink being “compounded,” and obviously it’s good that children learn a useful skill while they’re still young, but personally I think “The Bloody Hangman” would be an even better name for a cocktail.
There is also a drink known as the Bloody Motherf**ker. (I’m no prude but I don’t want to get one of those “content warning” things on the front of my blog). Not sure where this originates, but I first read about it in an interview with blues man R.L. Burnside on the website PerfectSoundForever.
RL: I like to make me a Bloody Motherf**ker, ya know. A lot of people like to drink a Bloody Mary. When I go to a bar they say, "don't you mean a Bloody Mary?" And I say, "no I'd rather have a Bloody Motherf**ker!" Tomato juice and Old Grandad. Cookin' with gas now.”
I can just about see substituting whisky for vodka – though it seems a waste of whisky. And I can definitely see substituting beer for tomato juice – putting a shot of vodka in a pint of lager – known as a snakebite in the pubs where I come from, I think, though not universally, it seems - (room for a long digression here).
But why would you substitute beer for vodka? I think we’re heading towards the Michelada, the Mexican “cocktail” made from beer and tomato juice, with all the Bloody Mary extras. But really … It is somewhat improved by having way a shot of tequila in it, or at least on the side. Here’s one I made earlier today, which actually tasted way better than I was expecting – but it is 88 degrees in Los Angeles today.
The Michelada, I suppose, is the opposite of the Hangman’s Blood. You drink one Hangman’s Blood and you’re smashed. Drink ten Micheladas and you’re still probably good to work in the agave fields, just so long as you leave out the tequila.
OK - and - if you read the comments on this post, you'll see that one of my readers points out the presence of a young Martin Amis in the movie of A High Wind In Jamaica - one of the kids who does the passing around. I think he's the little tyke on the left here, though I wouldn't bet the family fortune on it:
And here is in later years with Christopher Hitchens. It's not a very high quality picture, but are they really drinking whisky and Tab?