Cocktail Hour: The Fortunato, inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”

An illustration of poor Fortunato that appeared with the 1919 publication of Poe's short story.

Last month, my wife and I went as Poe characters to a Halloween party — she as the Raven and myself as Fortunato, the poor sap who gets bricked up in the catacombs in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Before the big night, I reread the source material to make sure I hadn’t omitted anything from the costume. After all, it’d been a couple decades since I’d last taken a look at “Cask.”

Turns out, I should reread Poe more often. While I vividly remembered the story’s creepy atmosphere and swelling sense of dread, I didn’t recall “The Cask of Amontillado” having such sharp dialogue.

As writers, we sometimes fall into the trap of writing dialogue that’s too transparent, too truthful to the characters’ real motives. For one, it’s tricky to capture the subtle obfuscation we engage in during everyday conversation. Also, we tend to underestimate readers and assume they’ll take untruthful dialogue at face value.

In “Cask,” neither of Poe’s characters speaks the truth. They verbally mislead each other (or at least attempt to) from the opening to the point when Fortunato’s fate is literally sealed. And it works because Poe, master that he is, gives us cues to guess what lurks beneath the characters’ lies, boasts and half truths.

It’s a lesson any writer could learn from.

The nobleman Fortunato presents himself as an expert in wines and spirits, yet Poe provides us enough hints to show he’s simply a blowhard. Early on, for example, he derides another purported connoisseur for being unable to “distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.” Amontillado is, in fact, a type of Sherry.

Montresor, the revenge-minded rival who bricks up Fortunato, guides his victim to doom by appealing to his ego and falsely extolling his expertise. Even though Fortunato should pick up on countless hints something ghastly lies in store, he can’t resist the lure of Montresor’s flattery.

When Fortunato raises a toast, Montresor’s response drips with both irony and menace. It’s clear his response, like so much of the story’s best dialogue, has a dreadful double meaning.

“Thank you, my friend. I drink to the dead who lie sleeping around us.”

“And I, Fortunato — I drink to your long life.”

Bravo, Mr. Poe! I raise my Fortunato cocktail to the long life of your work.

This installment’s “Cask”-inspired mixed drink is a twist on the Teenage Riot, originally devised by New York bartender Tonia Guffey. In honor of poor Fortunato, I increased the amount of Amontillado and substituted the bitter and citrusy Italian aperitif Campari for the original’s Cynar, another Italian liqueur.

While the Riot’s Cynar imparts a nice herbaceous quality, the Campari used here plays against the Amontillado’s raisiny sweetness with bitter orange-peel notes. (Isn’t revenge supposed to be bittersweet?) The sherry and Campari, combined with the rye, create the sensation of scarfing down a really boozy slice of fruitcake.

The Fortunato

1 1/2 oz Rye Whiskey
1 1/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Lustau Dry Amontillado Sherry
1/2 oz Dry Vermouth

Stir with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a slice of orange rind.

Cocktail Hour: The Springheel Jack

The Springheel Jack, inspired by Stephen King's "Strawberry Spring," features... wait for it... strawberries in a starring role.

I first read Stephen King’s short story “Strawberry Spring” more than 30 years ago, back when he’d released just one short-fiction collection, Night Shift.

I’ve reread it multiple times since then, impressed by the economy of its prose (it’s a scant 3,500 words) and its masterful twist ending — one of those that makes you slap your forehead, grin and say, “Dammit, I should have seen it coming.”

“Strawberry Spring” opens with an unnamed narrator reflecting on events that transpired eight years ago, when he attended a small New England college. March 1968 brought a strawberry spring, a “false” spring much like an Indian summer, to the area. That early warmth ushered a thick fog onto the campus, and along with it a serial killer locals dubbed Springheel Jack.

The narrator recounts the paranoia that gripped the college and the way the killings ceased when winter returned. As the story closes, though, we learn the killer has picked up his bloody work where it left off. And…

Let’s just stop there.

When I reread “Strawberry Spring” recently, the thing that struck me most was its pervading feeling of melancholy nostalgia. That same longing for a disappearing small-town New England runs through much of King’s work, but it seems especially profound here and works through with just a handful of deftly painted passages.

“The unwary traveller would step out of the juke-thumping, brightly lit confusion of the Grinder,” King writes, “expecting the hard clear starriness of winter to clutch him . . . and instead he would suddenly find himself in a silent, muffled world of white drifting fog, the only sound his own footsteps and the soft drip of water from the ancient gutters. You half expected to see Gollum or Frodo and Sam go hurrying past, or to turn and see that the Grinder was gone, vanished, replaced by a foggy panorama of moors and yew trees and perhaps a Druid-circle or a sparkling fairy ring.

“The jukebox played ‘Love Is Blue’ that year. It played ‘Hey, Jude’ endlessly, endlessly. It played ‘Scarborough Fair.'”

Great writing. Just the kind to inspire this week’s cocktail, the Springheel Jack.

"Springheel Jack" first appeared in the University of Maine's literary journal, but was later collected in King's Night Shift.

This drink is the kind that hits the spot when it’s warming up outside (even if it’s the warmth of a false spring). And strawberries get a starring role — here in a shrub, an easy-to-make concoction of fruit, sugar and vinegar. The shrub, which you’ll need to start on the day before, lends the drink a sweet and sour character not unlike the nostalgia King evokes in the story.

Be warned, though, after a few Springheel Jacks, you too may become lost in a fog.


3 oz. bourbon
1 oz. strawberry shrub (see instructions below)
½ oz lime juice
Fresh mint leaves
1 tsp sugar

Place 6-8 mint leaves in the bottom of a pre-chilled, 12-ounce cocktail glass. Add sugar and bruise the leaves with a muddler to release their flavor. Pack the glass with ice and pour in the bourbon and shrub. Stir briskly until the glass gets frosty. Garnish with a mint sprig.

To make the shrub:

Cut up a cup of strawberries and mash in a bowl. Pour a cup of granulated sugar over them and stir until the fruit and sugar are well integrated. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, add the contents to a saucepan, along with a cup of red wine vinegar. Cook over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Do not bring to a simmer, as you’re just looking for enough heat it to make sure the sugar is no longer grainy. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a glass storage vessel and allow to cool. Use the leftover mashed strawberries on your breakfast toast or over ice cream.

Cocktail Hour: In honor of Wes Craven, the Deadly Friend

This week's drink toasts one of Wes Craven's least successful, but still fun, flicks.

Last weekend, the horror world lost one of its heavyweights: director Wes Craven.

Craven gifted us with controversial early films such as Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes that pushed the limits on bloodshed and brutality. Later in his career, he turned out clever, self-aware and lucrative mainstream horror such as Nightmare on Elm Street, The Serpent and the Rainbow and Scream.

Of course, Craven also made some less successful films during his career. For my money, one of the most enjoyable of that bunch is Deadly Friend, his 1986 riff on the Frankenstein tale.

Teen genius Paul (Matthew Laborteaux) moves into a new town, along with a robot of his creation named Bee Bee. While Bee Bee is an amazing engineering feat, his artificial intelligence has a dark (some might say psychotic) side. It doesn’t take Paul long to fall hard for Samantha (Kristy Swanson), the wholesome girl next door. Problem is Samantha’s the victim of an abusive father, and during an argument, dear old dad pushes her down the stairs.

Samantha lapses into a coma after the fall, and Paul implants Bee Bee’s AI components into the girl’s brain to bring her back. Like you do.

Of course, reanimated Samantha — now buffed with a robot’s strength and walking in a stiff and Karloff-like gait — also inherits Bee Bee’s dark side. To Paul’s horror, she begins killing off all the townsfolk who treated her badly.

Robot Samantha delivers the game-winning shot.

The movie’s primary flaw is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be a slightly dark sci-fi kid’s movie or a gory terror flick. Reportedly, that’s the result of a conflict between Craven, who wanted to make a lighter PG-rated film, and the studio, eager to capitalize on the recent success of Nightmare on Elm Street.

Despite the confusion, Craven’s wit and dark humor shine through. The gore — including the film’s money shot: a beheading by basketball — is too campy to take seriously, and the director drops in some clever nods to reward attentive viewers. Look for the scene where one of Samantha’s victims dies as her television plays The Bad Seed, a movie about a little girl with a taste for homicide.

Is Deadly Friend a Craven masterpiece? Not by a long shot, but it’s a fun, largely forgotten slice of ’80s horror that (mostly) works despite the changes the studio forced on its creator.

It’s also the inspiration for this week’s cocktail, the Deadly Friend.

This drink is a spin on the similarly named Old Pal, a classic cocktail of rye, dry vermouth and the bitter, deep red Italian digestif Campari. I substituted another bitter Italian aperitif, Cynar, which is less sweet and hits a different array of aromatic notes. Watching Deadly Friend may leave you wanting something that feels less like kid’s stuff, and this cocktail’s bitter, savory qualities definitely satisfy adult tastes.


1 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. dry vermouth
1 oz. Cynar

Stir all three ingredients in an ice-filled glass until thoroughly chilled and pour into a cocktail or coupe glass. Optionally, serve garnished with a sliver of orange peel.