Cheers to Churchill

A new book limns the famous British PM through his favorite alcoholic beverages.
Jennifer Basye Sander with a cognac at Camden Spit & Larder, drink inspired Churchill.
Jennifer Basye Sander with a cognac at Camden Spit & Larder. Photo by Aniko Kiezel.

It seems fitting that local author Jennifer Basye Sander and I should meet for cocktails at downtown’s Camden Spit & Larder to discuss her latest book: “Churchill: A Drinking Life.” (Skyhorse Publishing, $22.99) An oil painting of Britain’s legendary prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill, hangs on a wall at this British-inspired brasserie, and happy hour here is called “Winston’s Hour.” As we settle in at the table, Basye Sander tries to order Churchill’s favorite drink (Johnnie Walker Red and soda), but the server informs her he has only Johnnie Walker Black on hand. Keeping calm and carrying on, she agrees to the substitution.

Witty and well-researched, the Churchill book is filled with interesting historical tidbits, wild factoids (Churchill consumed more than 42,000 bottles of champagne in his lifetime) and gossipy anecdotes revolving around Sir Winston’s famed love for liquor. Basye Sander describes the book as “a drink with a side of history.” It is divided into chapters that look at what Churchill liked to drink, where and with whom. His favorite quaff was a weak Scotch and soda, which he nursed all day long, but he also drank champagne (Pol Roger, to be precise), white wine with dinner and, when visiting FDR at the White House, martinis made by the president himself. He imbibed seemingly everywhere: hotels, racecourses, private clubs and stately homes; in 1929, on a trip to California, he drank a “wellchilled” Chablis at BV winery in Napa Valley. Churchill was the Zelig of the booze world: His illustrious drinking companions included kings (both Edward VIII and his brother, George VI), aristocratic pals like Lady Astor and the Duke of Westminster, media moguls such as William Randolph Hearst and plain old famous folk like Mark Twain and Greta Garbo.

According to Basye Sander, the Venn diagram of people who might enjoy this book includes World War II buffs, fans of Churchill and anyone who loves a good stiff cocktail. It’s a handsome little tome that would not look out of place in a dimly lit, book-lined study, where it could be thoughtfully sipped from like a fine Mouton Rothschild Bordeaux. It would make the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite Anglophile.

I ask Basye Sander what a reader can expect to learn from reading her book. “How very human he was,” she replies. “This was a man who had many ups and downs in his career. But as the English would say, he just KBO: kept buggering on.”

She co-wrote the book under the “nom de cocktail” Gin Sander with her friend Roxanne Langer, a Carmel-based sommelier and wine judge. For material, they pored over memoirs and biographies of people whose lives intersected with the great man, and they conducted first-person interviews with experts such as Sacramento’s own Darrell Corti, who taught them the ins and outs of cognac (one of Churchill’s favorite after-dinner drinks). The book concludes with a selection of recipes for “Churchill-inspired” cocktails such as Old Etonian (gin, Lillet Blanc and Crème de Noyaux) and Wallis Blue (a gin-forward nod to the Duchess of Windsor). And, of course, it wouldn’t be a book on Churchill without a recipe for Whisky and Soda, very weak, just the way he liked it.

On Nov. 30 (Winston Churchill’s birthday), Jennifer Basye Sander will be at Brasserie du Monde (1201 K St.) from 4 to 6 p.m. to share a few stories from her book over some of Churchill’s favorite libations.