The Search for the Gargle Blaster

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Pastey says the genesis of this article had something to do with Christmas. And alcohol. We believe him. We also sympathise with Mrs Pastey, if she helped him drink all this.

The Search for the Gargle Blaster

The Pan Galactic Gargleblaster.

The Earth variant of the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster has eluded mixologists and general alcoholics for many years. So, this Christmas break I decided to stop waiting for these so called "experts" and go and search for it myself. I pride myself on knowing Douglas Adams' work, and I certainly know alcohol. Armed with these two skills, some conversations with one of Douglas' old friends and a credit card, I sallied forth to the market to obtain supplies.

Given the recipe in the book, it's impossible to make a Gargle Blaster. Some of the ingredients don't exist.

Take the juice from one bottle of that Ol' Janx Spirit, it says.

Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V. Oh that Santraginean sea water, it says. Oh those Santraginean fish!!!

Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzene is lost).

Allow four litres of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy Hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia.

Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odours of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle sweet and mystic.

Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.

Sprinkle Zamphour.

Add an olive.

Drink … but … very carefully …
  – The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In fact, all of the ingredients except the olive don't exist.

So rather than trying to take the recipe at its word, I set out to work on an interpretation. A lot of the groundwork had already been done in this article in 2002, which surmised that the drink should contain at least gin, smell pleasant and slightly minty, taste a bit spicy, yet also sharp like a lemon, be light green in colour and served with an olive. It still left open to interpretation however what Ol' Janx Spirit was, Santraginean sea water, Fallian marsh gas, the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger and Zamphour.

I considered that a lot of Douglas' writing was a touch skewed, and therefore before setting out on this adventure we should look at the recipe in the same way. Once our route was set we immediately deciphered another clue, in the name. Gargle Blaster. Given the minty element that had already been derived, it's hard not to think that there shouldn't be an element of mouthwash to the drink and "Blaster" suggested a fiery element. Indeed the Hypermint extract suggested a minty aspect, and a sun itself is rather fiery, so a Suntiger tooth could well be fiery too, giving us the Blaster element. Having done some further research, by conferring with U5, I also found that Douglas liked martinis, so whilst inventing the drink, it's fairly safe to assume that a Martini could have been on his mind.

With this base I set off on my quest aided by the able assistance of my good lady wife.

Recipe 1: The Base Recipe

A martini, when you get down to it, is vodka and gin. Neat. For a dry martini you swirl the glass with vermouth, then empty it and throw the vermouth away. For the less wasteful there's the wet martini where you leave that extra alcohol in.

So, I thought I'd take this as the starting point. Vodka, gin and white rum. Vodka and gin being the main ingredients in a martini, and rum being added because there's a third spirit style ingredient mentioned, and it goes well with vodka and gin. I reckoned that one of the oldest possible spirits is indeed vodka, the old drink from the old country. And rationed out at sea was indeed rum, admittedly dark rum but white rum would mix better.

So these three were mixed and stirred with ice to chill them as much as possible. This also takes the "edge" off the flavour of the spirits. In a separate glass I mixed a splash of lemon juice and a dash of tabasco sauce and strained the white spirits into this. I poured half a measure of crème de menthe into a glass, and swirled it around to coat the inside as you would with vermouth, then poured it into the spirit mixture because I'm not the wasteful sort. This was then stirred vigorously before adding a bottle of tonic water, stirred gently to mix everything nicely and poured into the crème de menthe lined glasses.

The resultant drink was surprisingly very close to what I initially had in mind. There was a nice minty aroma with a hint of lemon. The taste was almost not quite unlike mouthwash, being rather minty, but very pleasant. The fieriness of the tabasco never really came out though, except in spurts here and there; it obviously didn't mix well enough.

Recipe 2: Moving on

Because the tabasco wasn't mixing well we decided to try ginger beer instead of tonic water. Hopefully this would give us a more stable fiery flavour. We also decided to put a bit more of a splash of lemon juice in as the mint was currently holding it at bay.

Immediately upon adding the ginger beer to this mix we noticed that it was a lot cloudier, which fitted in nicely with the idea of the swamp gas. The ginger beer was also a lot fizzier than the tonic water, which also fitted nicely and allowed the olive to float. However, whilst we also got more of the fieriness we were after, we lost most of the minty and lemon flavours.

Too much ginger beer we thought, but we were definitely on the right track.

At this point we took a short break to discuss the expedition so far and plan where to move next. We decided on less ginger beer and discussed the possibility of trying a side track, swapping the rum out for absinthe instead. We also decided that some provisions should be eaten to sustain us on the next leg of what was turning out to be a rather epic adventure.

Recipe 3: Upping the ante

Given the initial successes that we'd encountered we agreed to try the alternative method. We swapped the rum out, and brought absinthe in. The colour immediately became a more rich green and the overall mint aroma gave way to a touch of aniseed mixed with the ginger. Overall a rather pleasant assault on the nose. Then we hit disaster. The taste had changed far more than we anticipated and we weren't impressed. The aniseed flavours of the absinthe were too much. They blotted out everything else. This was a dead end, it was starting to get dark outside and we had to retrace our steps.

Recipe 4: Are we nearly there yet?

Having backtracked and removed the absinthe we replaced the rum. This was better with slightly less ginger beer now, a small to medium dash depending on personal taste, and we thought we were just about there. A shot of vodka, a shot of rum and a shot of gin, mixed and then strained over ice. Added to this a shot of lemon juice and a few dashes of tabasco. Rinse a glass with crème de menthe, then mix the residual into the drink mix. Pour into the glass, and then add ginger beer to taste. By Jove, we thought we'd cracked it.

But no. The ginger in the ginger beer overpowered the rest of the flavours before the end of the drink. By the bottom of the glass it started to taste more like a ginger beer with a bit of toothpaste in. This wouldn't do, so onward and upward.

Recipe 5: Just the tonic

The ginger beer had to go. It seemed to work but didn't. So it was back to tonic. To increase the fiery flavour and replace what was provided by the ginger beer, we decided to give the tabasco another go by mixing it much more with the lemon juice. We also decided to mix this directly with the white spirits and the excess crème de menthe. By mixing it more fully here we hoped to keep the fiery flavour more stable. But how much tabasco to add? A shot (25ml) of lemon juice takes a few splashes of tabasco to give it a rich marmalade colour. This is fiery, but too much so. The level of mint was right, the level of fizz was better with a change in the brand of tonic water, the level of lemon juice seemed right, but the tabasco was too much. We were close, we knew we were close. We could almost feel the Gargle Blaster's minty alcoholic aroma. So we decided to press on. After a short break.

Recipe 6: Not so fiery

Once rested and fed from our provisions of cheese and biscuits we ploughed on with the experiment. Same recipe as before but less tabasco. Just enough to start the lemon juice turning a little orange and this time, success. Well, mostly success. I felt it was a touch not fiery enough so I added a couple more drops to the glass. But we had it. The aroma was minty, the initial taste was a combination of mint and lemon, and there was a fiery hit that continued through to the end of the glass.

Recipe 7: Something amiss

We were once again enjoying the heady success of our endeavours when once again we were brought low. Something was missing and it was stripes. Our recipe was a solid pale green, but we needed stripes.

Everybody knows that the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster should be stripy and yet we'd missed this most important of elements. We were so close however that we couldn't turn back and start again; we had to plough on and find that elusive ingredient that would turn our recipe into the recipe.

Using a knowledge of colour mixing gained from many hours of studying fluorescent cocktails, often from the bottom of the glass and occasionally the floor, we looked at ours and its greenness and decided to try adding some red. A fiery ruby red was called for. That'll be grenadine then. Grenadine itself may be sweet, but we had a plan. We mixed the Gargle Blaster as before, but we left the tabasco out. Then, before adding the olive we drizzled some grenadine in, and as it sank slowly to the bottom, we added the tabasco. The grenadine settled on the bottom, mixing ever so slightly with the lemony, minty mixture to remove its gloopy sweetness. The tabasco mixed slightly with both and provided a thin yellow layer between the two. We had stripes. The olive was added and settled in the middle of the drink, resting in the thin yellow layer, on top of the red. This looked right. But would it taste right? There was only one way to find out: we had to drink it.

The first sip was lemony and minty. A pleasant blend of the two strong flavours that really did remind one slightly of mouthwash. It took a strong will not to try and gargle this potent mix. As the drink went down we noticed that the two main stripes didn't mix either. This was indeed two drinks in one glass. We finished the green minty layer and made it to the red layer whereupon we found the tabasco. Some of the spirits had mixed into the grenadine and when layered with the tabasco provided a seriously fiery blast. The top of the drink was the gargle, the bottom was the blast. By jiminy we had it. The Gargle Blaster was in the glass in front of us.

Or rather, it wasn't. We'd drunk it.

Once we'd recovered from our research we decided to look at the recipe we'd come to and see how it compared with the original.

Ol' Janx Spirit translated nicely to vodka; this was a good start. The Santraginean sea water transposed well to rum. We know that nothing makes a Hiker happier than a gin & tonic and with a little skewed thinking the Fallian marsh gas fitted these ingredients pretty well. The Algolian Suntiger tooth sat nicely with our fiery tabasco and grenadine base and the Hypermint extract easily sat with crème de menthe. The only ingredient we hadn't matched was Zamphour. To help us ponder this missing ingredient we mixed some more. As with all the best discoveries fate took a hand. We were hypnotised by the layering of the Blasters we were mixing and the way the green olive floated in the upper green layer so upon a whim we added a cherry to see what would happen. It sank into the red layer. Not only did we have our stripy drink, but we had twin hors d'oeuvres floating majestically in it like the twin stars of a binary system. The Zamphour could be nothing but a cherry.


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