'Menno-Nightcaps' Is a Hilarious Ode to Simple Pleasures

·3 min read
Photo credit: Christopher Michel
Photo credit: Christopher Michel

During the week I generally try to avoid drinking, but on Friday evenings, one of my favorite treats is to mix myself a sturdy cocktail and curl up on the couch with a good book.

Over the last few weeks, both the cocktail and the reading material have come from the same source: S. L. Klassen's Menno-Nightcaps: Cocktails Inspired by that Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons out in October from Touchwood press.

What could possibly be interesting about a book of cocktail recipes for (or about) a group that has a better reputation for abstinence than indulgence, especially to someone who isn't themselves a Mennonite? I'm glad you asked!

For one, if the title doesn't indicate, this book is hilarious. From the introduction to the acknowledgements, it's filled with a cordial wit that often made me laugh out loud. Acknowledging the book's absurdity from the get-go, Klassen writes: "You may [ask yourself] 'What kind of joke is this?' To which I answer, 'It's the best kind of joke dear reader—the kind that comes with cocktail recipes.' "

But Menno-Nightcaps is not just funny. It's actually informative. Klassen has devised cocktails that delineate dozens of important moments or people throughout Mennonite history, and given each one a pithy introduction that is educational and fun. And she's arranged the drinks in more or less chronological order so that if you read the book cover to cover, it acts as a series of tipsy history lessons.

Cover to cover is just how I've been reading it. When I first began to browse the recipes, I found myself so engrossed in the text I sat down to read it through, which is definitely not my typical approach to even the best cocktail books.

This brings me to the final quality of the book: In contrast to the humorous tone, the cocktails themselves are decidedly serious. As someone who loves mixed drinks, I've found that new ones have to hit a surprisingly narrow target to be successful. Too simple, and they're boring. Why even bother? But too complicated, and they become unmakeable. There are many beautiful-looking drinks I will never try because I simply don't want to track down four different hard-to-find bottles of liquor in order to decide if I'd want one again.

Klassen's cocktails hit this narrow middle ground amiably. Most often they are interesting variations on classic mixed drinks, with just one or two variations that make them uniquely interesting — and tasty, often with a nod to the Mennonite culture.

For instance, her "Menno Sidecar," is an homage to Menno Simons, for whom the Mennonites are named. It includes a homemade simple syrup made from molasses that not only lends the drink a rich mineral flavor that balances against the brandy, but is included because, as Klassen writes: "According to legend, Menno Simons once fell into a barrel of molasses while hurrying to escape prosecution." Brilliant!

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