Grab a drink. We’re about to get a little bit rambly. Might I suggest that you skip ahead, make a White Lady, and then relax while you (hopefully) enjoy this post?
It was only a matter of time until I could no longer resist writing a post on Phryne Fisher, lady detective, of the book and TV series. First among the many reasons that I love her is that charming, larger-than-life personality. Add a considerable dash of intelligence to the mix, and you’ve got a sort of James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes character. But you can’t forget that she’s a very feminine kind of feminist, a flapper through and through. Regardless of what is deemed acceptable for a lady in 1928, Phryne Fisher does whatever she damn well pleases. She has the skills of James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, but uses them in a way that only a clever woman could. All the while, she proves that women are valuable and capable because of what distinguishes them from men.
Source: fannyardant of a tart’s boudoir
Phryne also has a great deal of knowledge and experience. What else could you expect from a character with a colorful Great War background as an ambulance driver and a spy? Stir this into the cocktail, and the overall effect is a devastatingly witty woman who knows what she’s about. She offends a lot of people, but only through collateral damage. In fact, the people she offends come out looking pretty bad. They’re usually closed-minded and self-interested to the detriment of others. Phryne’s sometimes questionable activities only result in harm to people who really deserve it. She casts her discerning eye over the world around her, and tries to bring everything and everyone else up to her aesthetic and moral standards.
Source: Soup Souffle
Phryne is a lover of everything that makes my own heart sing—extravagant food, strong cocktails, beautiful clothing, perfect makeup, even reading comfortingly formulaic mystery novels. I love everything about her. I want to be her.
I also want to drink like her. I envy her perfect pairing of alcohol with every situation. She always carries a flask of brandy—cognac, of course—on her more daring adventures, because sometimes she needs to bolster her own courage with a little of the liquid variety. She appreciates the calming and clarifying effects of a good single malt on a soul in emotional turmoil. And she never overlooks the ability of the best champagne to elevate any occasion to a next level celebration. Above all else, she’s generous in one of the most important ways: she expresses her affection and compassion by sharing alcohol with those she loves.
Her butler, Mr. Butler, is as much a master of his surroundings as Phryne herself. Whether his employer is tired and depressed or flustered and angry, he finds a way to restore emotional balance with careful concoctions of gin, brandy, cointreau, various cordials, citrus, and the extensive stock of his cellar. He displays his own generosity by extending this consideration to each and every guest that enters Phryne’s household. Many of them are less than savory figures, but he never passes judgment, because he trusts his Miss Fisher’s judgment. She only interacts with unsavory types when her own values dictate the necessity.
Kerry Greenwood, Phryne’s creator and the author of the book series, clearly shares her characters’ enthusiasm for liquor, and generously shares suggestions with her readers. The author and her characters came into my life about a year ago, at a time when a fledgling interest in mixology was waiting to be nurtured. I have tried and loved nearly everything that Phryne imbibes, or Greenwood herself suggests, in the books. I keep a running Phryne-inspired drinking to-do list in the notes app on my phone.
Thanks to the book Cocaine Blues, I know that Benedictine is a great addition when my tea needs a boost. I’ve tried and fallen in love with Laphroaig single malt scotch whisky thanks to a mention in Death at Victoria Dock. I’ve learned to appreciate the wonder that is Green Chartreuse after it was repeatedly enjoyed in Queen of the Flowers, Unnatural Habits, and Murder and Mendelssohn. Greenwood was persuasive enough to convince this college student to spend $55 plus 8% Philly sales tax on a bottle of something I had never tasted. But, let me tell you something. Green chartreuse is LIFE CHANGING. Like a botanical bomb exploded in your mouth. You know, if a bomb exploding in your mouth was not only powerful and intense, but also enjoyable.
I’ve also found an unusual, but simple signature cocktail thanks to Greenwood’s books. Let me introduce the White Lady. It’s a classic and sophisticated gin-based sour, and the perfect cocktail for a lady to steal from the gentlemen. Trust me, the woman who orders a White Lady is miles more intriguing than the one who orders something made with Skinny Girl vodka and 8 different mixers.
1 1/2 oz gin (Tanqueray is always reliable, Hendrick’s adds some botanical complexity)
3/4 oz Cointreau
3/4 oz lemon juice
Shake all ingredients over ice. Serve in a cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon twist. Sip with as much sartorial elegance as you can muster.
Explore variations on this cocktail, and its very Phryne-relevant history, in this article by Esquire: http://www.esquire.com/food-drink/drinks/recipes/a3725/white-lady-drink-recipe/
While you’re finishing your White Lady, I suggest exploring Phryne Fisher’s world through her website. Also check out the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series on Netflix and read Greenwood’s books. If you don’t feel like beginning the 20-book journey just yet, get your hands on A Question of Death: An Illustrated Phryne Fisher Anthology. It’s beautiful to look at, features several mysteries in the form of short stories, includes biographical information about the character, and provides some insight into Greenwood’s own Phryne-esque mind.
I don’t want to give the impression that Phryne’s world is one entirely defined by decadence and extravagance, however. She is a wealthy woman, but a modest background and a lifetime of experience gained in a few short years—she’s only a mere 28 years old in the first novels—have kept her grounded. She can afford the best, and often enjoys the best that money can buy. But she also enjoys the simplest of pleasures, like beginning each day with an inky cup of strong coffee. That’s what makes her such a relatable character. Her world, at least the part of it that matters most, is a world within the reach of us all. And it’s a world worth getting lost in.