Whether you’re into cocktails, want to learn to make them or are looking for a gift for a friend, the new book Free the Tipple might be what you’re after.
Written by Jennifer Croll and illustrated by Kelly Shami, the book combines introductions to iconic women including Frida Kahlo, Joan Didion, Simone de Beauvoir or Hari Nef, with fresh, sometimes tongue-in-cheek (and delicious) recipes for 'tribute cocktails' inspired by their personalities and work.
In short, it’s a perfect little gift book to make your autumn pop with colour and fabulous drinks.
We emailed with Jennifer to chat Beyoncé, the best cocktails for beginners, celebrating highbrow and pop culture, and friends flocking to her house to test drinks.
Where did the idea of linking cocktails and iconic women emerge from?
At the launch party for my last book, Bad Girls of Fashion, I had arranged for the bar to serve cocktails inspired by a couple of women in the book. People were really into the drinks, and as I thought more on it, tribute cocktails just seemed like a really great way to celebrate women in a bigger way.
Can you explain how you took each women’s work, life, drink preferences, style and personality – and translated that into a drink? It sounds convoluted!
I approached each drink on a really individual basis. Before starting, I’d read as much as I could about the woman’s life and see what ingredients felt natural to associate with her.
So, for example, with Marina Abramović, so much of her art is extremely visceral, and I wanted to capture that energy with something really primal and almost bloody – and so she has a drink made with beet juice. But sometimes the tie-in is more obvious; Anaïs Nin has a really great quote about martinis, and so I gave her one. I had to pay attention to the overall balance of drinks in the book, too: I wanted varied ingredients, varied cocktails, not too much of one thing. As I worked I kept a little chart tracking the dominant ingredients, the type of glass, and so on, to ensure diversity.
I’m especially interested in the writers – I need to know what the Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith cocktails are! Was the process different for them than for someone like Beyoncé, where it’s more obvious that lemonade will be involved?
I created the writers’ drinks in the same individualistic way I did everyone else’s. Virginia Woolf’s drink is a spin on the classic cocktail called The Last Word, which seemed really appropriate given her writing on women’s space within the male-dominated literary world and the fact that it’s still an issue nearly a century later.
Zadie Smith’s cocktail is similar to a Sazerac, and it’s served in a teacup as a nod to the way she’s captured multicultural Britain in her novels. I really did go for the obvious crowd-pleaser with the bourbon lemonade for Beyoncé, but I could have gone in many different directions for her too. It would have been fun to make her something spicy – I mean, she loves hot sauce – or, thinking off the cuff here, maybe something with a jammy, berry-flavoured base to play with the “jelly” from “Bootylicious.” Or something more serious with French champagne, since the Louvre is now offering Beyoncé-themed tours. The woman has layers!
Lately, lots of books highlight 'sheroes' of history. Yours include 60 iconic women. I’d love to hear about some of the women that, perhaps, young UK readers aren’t that familiar with. Could you give me one or two examples of amazing women you’ve discovered or whose histories have surprised you while writing the book?
UK readers might not know a lot about Tanya Tagaq, but she’s an amazing, ferociously talented musician who has collaborated a lot with Bjork and has won the Polaris Prize, which is Canada’s equivalent of the Mercury Prize.
She does a modern version of Inuit throat-singing which is really intense and awe-inspiring. Another interesting one is Edith Head, because you’ve probably seen her work without ever knowing it was hers. She was one of the most prolific and powerful costume designers in Hollywood, and reigned over the fashion in films for more than 50 years.
Suppose someone has never made a proper cocktail in their lives (bar a mojito here and there). Which cocktail should they start with? I’m asking for a friend, of course…
I wanted the cocktails in Free the Tipple to be really approachable and simple to make, so most of them should be easy for beginners to master. You could start off with the Sofia Coppola; it’s made with prosecco, gin, and elderflower liqueur, and it’s really elegant and delicious without too much effort. And which would you say are among the most challenging among those in your book? For those wanting to take their cocktails to the next level.
One of the most challenging is the Zaha Hadid; it’s intentionally hard, because she was an architect who created really artful, complex buildings. It’s a frothy lavender-flavoured cocktail based on the Ramos Gin Fizz, which is a drink that makes bartenders angry if you order when the bar is busy because it requires so much shaking. It’s really delicious, though!
Have you made any of these cocktails for friends yet? Any memorable reactions?
'Invite me over to help test drinks!' was a pretty common refrain as I wrote this book – I couldn’t keep up with the demand, honestly. But I had my pal Lima over on a sunny afternoon to try out the Mindy Kaling, which is essentially a dark n’ stormy float. She was like, “Oh my god, why have I never done this before?”
Some of these women are radical, influential thinkers of the 20th century. I’m interested – did it come into consideration whether translating them into a cocktail and providing a short and snappy bio might dillute the power of their work? (It’s something that has been in discussion about a lot of illustrated, digested books recently.)
Oh, absolutely. But this book is meant to be fun – it’s not the defining biography of any of these women. If you’re seriously interested in, say, the life and philosophy of Simone de Beauvoir, Free the Tipple will not be your primary resource.
And it would be fairly arrogant of me to think that my little cocktail book could derail the legacy of the women in this book! But you’re also noticing something in the selection – I did intentionally pick intellectually challenging artists, writers, and thinkers and place them beside famous pop stars and actresses. Though they’re working (or worked) in different spheres, they’re all part of our culture, and they can influence and inspire us in different ways. Rather than a dilution, I think this book can be a starting point: I hope it introduces readers to women they might not know and inspires further reading or observation. That could mean going off and reading Maya Angelou’s memoirs for the first time, or doing a deep-dive into Beyonce’s albums and discovering their brilliance.
There has also been a lot of discussion about how feminism has become mainstream to the point that the word sometimes has lost its meaning. I’m curious as to whether you thought about this when you came up with, and wrote, the book. I noticed that the word 'feminism' is not included in it, which made me wonder if that was a conscious decision. Was that the case?
Yes, I’m amused that you noticed this. I did intentionally avoid describing the book as “feminist” (although many of the women I profile are feminists themselves, and I describe them within the book as such). And when we were working on the cover copy, I said to my editor, “The sales people are probably going to try to get the word ‘feminist’ in there, aren’t they.” To their credit, they didn’t. It just seemed silly to me to claim that my fun little gift book is feminist. Yes, it promotes women and their work, but it’s not going to dismantle the patriarchy.
Free the Tipple is out on 6 September from Prestel.
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