James Joyce’s celebrated novel Ulysses takes place in Dublin over the course of a single day–June 16, 1904. Thus, on June 16 of every year, scholars and literature lovers celebrate a holiday called Bloomsday, after the novel’s protagonist, the nebbish-y cuckold Leopold Bloom. Often these celebrations involve readings from the novel–sometimes readings of the entire novel, which can take upwards of 48 hours. In some cities, Bloomsday celebrations have included plays based on Joyce’s work, music, and other types of performances.
Here in Birmingham, we saw it as a perfect occasion to bring together two of our passions, literature and cocktails. Joyce was known to imbibe, so that part is a no-brainer. If you search the internets, you will find recipes for a James Joyce cocktail that includes Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth, Cointreau, and lime juice. The proportions may vary from recipe to recipe, but we’ve never found one that tasted good to us. Basically, the lime juice doesn’t seem to make sense here. It simply doesn’t work.
There are also numerous references online for a Ulysses cocktail. We’ve seen several completely different cocktails using this name, but the most common recipe includes equal parts cognac, dry vermouth, and cherry brandy. This is not bad, but we find it too sweet even with the dry vermouth.
If you stretch your search to other works of Joyce, you might come across the Dubliner cocktail, which was invented by the great Gary Regan. This takes 2 oz Irish whiskey, 1/2 oz sweet vermouth, 1/2 oz Grand Marnier, and a dash of orange bitters (Regan’s brand, naturally). We like this cocktail, but it wasn’t going to make it as our official Bloomsday quaff. As a fairly pedestrian variation on a Manhattan, it just doesn’t have the pizzazz we were looking for.
We had to make up our own.
Enter the Molly Bloom. This is a cocktail that makes you say yes.
Though Joyce’s fiction takes place in his native Dublin, he exiled himself from the Emerald Isle in 1904 and rarely returned. He spent his later years mainly in Zurich, but earlier he had taught English in Treist (now a part of Italy) and in Paris. Ireland, Italy, and France are all associated with some of our favorite alcoholic ingredients, and the Swiss happen to make our favorite brand of absinthe (Kübler). Therefore, we wanted to pay tribute to all of these aspects of Joyce’s life while also keeping in mind the complexity and variety of Ulysses itself. We like what we’ve come up with, and we’ve gotten positive responses from friends who tried it. We’ll be serving it at a Bloomsday event we are hosting this weekend (9 days early, we know, but there were scheduling difficulties).
First–the base would obviously be Irish whiskey, but which one? There are, in fact, more choices than just Bushmill’s and Jameson, even with the limited options here in Alabama, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll concentrate on the two standards. Our choice based on flavor would be Bushmill’s because we like that earthy pot-stilled flavor. But that’s made in Northern Ireland, while Jameson is made in Dublin, whence our hero hails. What we would really like to use if we could get it here is Greenspot, an Irish whiskey that is pot-stilled AND made in Dublin. We are still going to go ahead and use the Bushmill’s, but if you want to try this at home, look into one of the premium Jameson styles like the 12-year instead of the regular. That will add to the complexity.
For the French component, we chose Lillet Blanc. This is a categorized as a dry vermouth, but it has more herbal notes than a standard. This is a drinkable vermouth. We would even drink it by itself. Look for it in your finer grocery stores and wine shoppes.
The Italian component is Campari, a bitter liqueur that we have talked up in the past. This gives the cocktail just the right amount of pucker.
We added just a couple of drops of Kübler absinthe to round it out.
Finally, to get the really sensual Molly Bloom yes from our drinkers, we made a honey syrup (equal parts honey and water).
The Molly Bloom
- 2 ounces Irish whiskey – see above for the complex decisions around which to use
- 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
- 1/4 oz Campari
- 1 teaspoon honey syrup
- 6 drops Kübler absinthe
Stir in a mixing glass 2/3 full of ice to the desired level of dilution. Strain into a coupe and garnish with a bit of lemon peel.