Loving the Alien: a David Bowie Tribute In Cocktails
Hot tramp, we love you so! Bowie-inspired drink recipes from around the world to close out January, his birth and death month.
“I'm happy, hope you're happy too
I've loved all I've needed, love
Sordid details following…" - David Bowie, “Ashes to Ashes”, 1980
People joke that David Bowie, a.k.a. the “Starman”, was an actual alien. It sometimes doesn’t seem possible that he could have been human. He was so insanely artistic, talented, charismatic and stylish that he made any person who wasn’t David Bowie look bad. It didn’t help that he was able to pull off such alien-like features—the pale (almost light green) skin, thin nose, eyes of different colors with their funky stretched almond shape, sparse eyebrows, snaggly teeth (although those were later fixed), sinewy body—and make it look HOT, even as he reached his 60s. After dabbling in decades of public ambisexuality, in his middle age, he married someone who is inarguably one of the most beautiful women to ever walk the earth. One of my favorite links of all time is this collection of photos of David Bowie doing normal things. Someone took the time to compile it because he was just so freakishly exceptional that it’s hard to believe he ate, drank, pissed and slept in the same realm as the rest of us. The Brits may not have made the best voting decisions of late, but one thing they did correctly decide in 2018 was that David Bowie is the greatest entertainer of the 20th century.
Born David Robert Jones (changed to Bowie in the 1960s) on January 8, 1947, he had a career that spanned four decades, during which he recorded 27 studio albums, starred in as many films and released over 100 singles, while also touring, acting on stage, painting, becoming a successful tech entrepreneur, investing in meaningful causes and raising a family (he has a child from each of his marriages to Angela Barnett and supermodel Iman). He is known for his character transformations, from Dorky Space Oddity to Ziggy Stardust to Thin White Duke to Crossover Funk Bloke In Tweed to Tanned Blonde Hunk to Industrial Hipster (yes, before it was cool) to Gracefully Aging Rock God. He made it safe to be weird. His crossed sexual and racial boundaries like regular people cross the street. He was a role model for people around the world who felt like they were on the fringes, and provided a community to let that freak shine in whatever manifestation it needed to. He maintained a productive recording and touring career and helped forge new ones for other talents. He showed up in movies and TV series, dropping snark like he’d invented that variety of humor. After a health scare in the early 2000s, he went into what was assumed to be retirement, only to release a surprise record a decade later (so much for never doing anything out of the blue, right?) and impress us all over again by writing a Broadway musical. He seemed to be a constant light, a continuous source of productivity, imagination and art, even if only from the sidelines.
Yet he was indeed a human, very much so. As a New Yorker, I’m disappointed that I never saw my “neighbor” in the wild, although you probably would have had to scrape me off the floor or pavement if it happened. I know plenty of lucky people who did spot him, and typically in very mundane settings. He simultaneously mastered being a huge celebrity and an active New Yorker without making a big deal of it.
That’s how fucking good David Bowie was at being David Bowie.
And then he was gone.
The guy even made dying artistic. His final album, Blackstar, dropped on January 8, 2016, his 69th birthday. The record explores familiar, dark terrain, once again through the lens of an alien-like being observing and judging society. It sounded different this time, though, eerier, more dystopian, more omniscient. It feels very much like something surrounding us in the ether, rather than floating above us in space as before. His death from cancer was announced two days later, surprising even long time friends and collaborators like Brian Eno. Most people who discover they have a terminal illness will go into bucket list mode. He instead stayed put in New York and left a living will, the benefit—a last work of music. “This way or no way, you know, I’ll be free. Just like that bluebird—ain’t that just like me?” he sings in the track “Lazarus.”
“Millions weep a fountain, just in case of sunrise…” -David Bowie, “Aladdin Sane”, 1973
I’m not alone in feeling like the world cracked a little when it happened. Since then it really does feel like people are spitting on children who try to change our world. Bowie got to me, as he got to so many of us. He was a presence. It was a loss I could physically feel because he was someone I had been aware of since I was 7 or 8 years old, after attending a slumber party at a friend’s house and seeing (and already admiring him) on Saturday Night Live (it was Connecticut in the ‘70s. The kids were tucked away in the family room with no supervision in front of the TV while all the adults were partying downstairs, and now I know why there was a big bowl of keys in the foyer).
So much more can be said, and now I’ve gone and made my own damn self cry again, so it’s time for a drink. Bartenders and drink enthusiasts from all over the globe created the recipes , and there are more than usual for one of these lists, because how can you choose? So “Drink, drink, drain your glass, raise your glass high.”
Making the Grade, based on “Space Oddity”
1.5 oz Old Tom gin (Teague used Hayman’s for Major Tom, plus it’s British like David)
.5 oz Italicus Rosiolo di Bergamoto Aperitivo (earl grey, very British)
.5 oz blood orange juice
.25 oz lemon juice
.25 oz pineapple juice
1821 Earl grey tea bitters (Brits love tea!)
1 small egg (protein pill)
Flamed orange twist (check ignition!)
Served over pebble ice in a cleaned out Campbell tomato soup can (a reference to his song “Andy Warhol”)
Pour first 6 ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Add the egg white reserving the yolk. Add plenty of ice and shake VIGOROUSLY for 60 seconds. Strain into a pebble ice-filled soup can. Flame the oil from a long orange twist over the top and ornament with the twist. (Bonus if it’s cut to resemble a lightning bolt). Add a decorative reusable straw.
Frederic Yarm, Nahita, Boston
1 oz London Dry Gin
1/2 oz Campari
Stir with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon peel lightning bolt floated (or an orange peel star).
Max Pierson, The Wren, New York City
"Bowie’s lyrics in ‘Velvet Goldmine’ describe a lust that fulfills his every desire, so this is a lustful concoction with the texture of velvet and the color of gold. ‘Hibiki’ in Japanese means ‘sound’ or ‘echo’ (a tribute to the late musician), so I recommend Hibiki Harmony as the whisky in this cocktail [but you can also use another Japanese whisky].”
1 bar spoon bee pollen granules (available at health food stores or online)
3 pieces of fresh diced ginger
.5 oz honey
.5 oz lemon
2 oz Japanese Whisky
Edible flower, for garnish
In a shaker, muddle bee pollen with ginger. Add lemon and honey and stir. Add whisky, fill shaker with ice and stir until well chilled. Double strain into a rocks glass. Garnish.
Ándrea Pentabona, Variety Bar at the Comedy Studio, Somerville, MA
Pentabona says the artist has always been a part of her life, growing up with a mother who was a superfan. A numbered promo print of the “Heroes” cover that only went to radio stations hangs in her family’s living room.
1 oz London Dry Gin (Pentabona used Beefeater)
.25 oz DeKuyper Parfait Amour
.25 oz lemon juice
.25 oz vanilla syrup (prepare 1:1 simple syrup with a vanilla bean with seeds scraped out)
.25 oz vermouth blanc
Sparkling wine to top
Lemon twist for garnish (preferably cut into star shapes)
Shake all ingredients except sparkler with ice until well chilled. Strain into a chilled flute or coupe glass. Top with wine. Garnish. Let all the children boogie.
Aidan Lawlor, Bua, NYC
"It’s a riff on Hemingway’s 'Death in the Afternoon'. I used Champagne, inspired by the glitz of Bowie’s life and Hollywood acting [‘I’ve come on a few years from my Hollywood highs’ is the opening lyric, after all] , and absinthe for the crazy cracked aspect of who he really was behind it. And gin, well, he was English and was said to have loved gin."
.25 oz English gin (Sipsmith London Dry “will be knocking ‘em dead”)
Champagne, to top
Lemon wheel, for garnish
Add gin and absinthe to a Champagne flute. Top with Champagne and stir very lightly 5-6 times. Garnish with lemon wheel, cut slightly so as to be jagged.
Cory Miller, Sweet Afton, Astoria, NY
"This is a variation of a Zombie, using four different rums as a base to this tiki classic. I tried to incorporate some sweetness and counteract with bitterness. This was one of my favorite songs on ‘Diamond Dogs’ and immediately made me think of this [classic tiki drink].”
1 oz white rum (such as Cutwater Spirits Three Sheets)
.5 oz Velvet Falernum
.75 oz fresh lime juice
.25 oz grenadine
.25 oz pineapple gomme syrup
2 dashes absinthe
2 big dashes Angostura bitters
Mint bouquet, cherry and two cinnamon sticks, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Shake vigorously until well chilled. Strain into a tulip glass or tiki mug filled with crushed ice. Garnish.
Andrew Volk, Hunt + Alpine, Portland, Maine
1.5 oz London Dry Gin (gin loves to be looooved)
0.75 oz fresh lime juice
0.75 oz ginger syrup
0.5 oz blue curaçao
2 dash orange bitters
3 oz soda water
Shake all but soda together and strain into a chilled Collins glass. Fill with fresh ice and top with soda, slowly stirring. Garnish with an orange peel and cherry.
Gary Regan, author of the rereleased and revised Joy of Mixology
“I can't tell you how much I loved Bowie. Last time I cried spontaneously was the day that he died.”
.5 oz (15 ml) Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao (for the hair)
.5 oz (15 ml) Danzig Goldwasser (Stardust).
Stir briskly over ice and strain into a plastic glass. “I mean, my plastic rock & roller [Ziggy] was much more plastic than anybody’s. And that was what was needed at the time.” -David Bowie. Regan suggests adding a little orange food coloring if the drink isn't quite orange enough.
The drink, based on a Vesper, was created for Record Store Day 2016 in partnership with Good Records, co-owned by Tim Delaughter and Chris Penn--co-owner and co-manager of the band Polyphonic Spree, who opened for David Bowie on tour in 2004. The name refers to Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy--the three albums recorded in Berlin between 1976-1979 starting with “Low” (1977), then “Heroes” (1977), then “Lodger” (1979). Says Solomon, “The flavor profile and mouth feel of the drink is evocative of the more atmospheric and ambient nature of this time period of Bowie's recorded output, especially found on ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes.’”
½ oz (15ml) Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
1/8th tsp (.5ml) Combier Kummel
¾ oz (22.5ml) Bols Genever
1 oz (30ml) Tito’s Vodka
1 drop (.025g) Angelica Extract
2 drops (.11g) Mineral Saline (dissolve 1 TB kosher salt in 9 TB mineral water)
Grapefruit peel cut into a lightning bolt shape (like the one across Bowie’s face for the “Aladdin Sane” cover), with one edge outlined in food safe blue marker, for garnish.
Express lemon peel skin side down over a coupe glass to release the oils and discard. Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into the glass. Garnish with grapefruit bolt.
Like Dolphins Can Swim, based on “Heroes”
Barbara Sibley, La Palapa, NYC
Inspired by the bold colors in photos of Bowie’s 1997 trip to Mexico City.
[Editor’s note: Don’t think a tequila drink fits this track written in ‘70s Berlin? Fine. “You, you can be mean, and I, I’ll drink all the time.”]
.25oz spicy ginger-lemongrass syrup (recipe follows)
.25 oz hibiscus concentrate (recipe follows)
.25 oz fresh lime juice
Splash Cointreau (silver medal, 2018 NYISC) for glass
chile serrano for garnish (optional)
Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled, salt rimmed, Cointreau-rinsed coupe glass. Garnish with a floating slice of chile serrano.
Spicy Ginger Lemongrass Syrup
1/2 cup chopped lemongrass
2T minced ginger
3 slices of Chile Serrano
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
Simmer ingredients for 15 minutes and allow to rest for an hour. Strain and store covered in the refrigerator. Keeps up to two weeks.
1/2 cup hibiscus flowers
1 cup boiling water
Place flowers in a non reactive bowl. Pour the boiling water over the flowers. Stir and allow to steep until water is cool. Strain and reserve in a non-reactive container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
This song was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis in 1957 for the film of the same title. Bowie was inspired to record it himself after hearing it performed live by one of his favorite musicians, Nina Simone, who released two versions in the 1960s. Bowie’s gorgeous, spare rendition was recorded for the 1976 album “Station to Station.” Says Josh Powell, “When I was thinking of wild flavours I thought about a mixed terrain cocktail to bring the terroir of many places into one drink. Each ingredient adds a touch of flavour from the land it’s produced in, and lends this drink character and depth.”
40ml (about 1.5 oz) Bruxo #2 Pechuga de Maguey Mezcal
20ml (about .75 oz) Vestal Blended Potato Vodka
15ml (.5 oz) white Port
5ml Mastiha Greek Liqueur
Stir all ingredients with ice until well chilled. Strain into chilled Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with lemon twist.
Abigail Gullo, Ben Paris, Seattle, WA
Gullo says she chose a younger cognac as the base of this cocktail because younger spirits “can be properly aged and still look glorious. Look at David Bowie!” She suggests any young, natural cognac or armagnac is perfect for the drink.
1 oz chamomile tea and honey infused blanc vermouth, such as Lustau Vermut blanco (recipe follows)
Dash of Orange bitters
Splash of dry sparkling wine for a touch of Stardust
Garnish with a lemon twist
Stir all ingredients except sparkling with ice. Top with sparkling. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Garnish.
Gullo’s instructions for chamomile tea and honey blanc vermouth: “Steep 3 bags of chamomile tea and 2 teaspoons of honey into one bottle of vermouth for 5-10 minutes. Remove tea bags and re-bottle and seal. Keep refrigerated and use within a month. The vermouth is lovely heated up as a toddy!”
Will Noland, Givers & Takers, Brooklyn, NY
2 oz smoky mezcal
.5 oz Rabarbaro Zucca
.5 oz lemon juice
.5 oz simple syrup
Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into cocktail glass rimmed with black lava salt (optional).
Serious Moonlight (based on “Let’s Dance”)
Nick Elezovic, co-owner, Diamond Dogs, Astoria
1.5 oz Pisco Caravedo Acholado
.5 oz Green Chartreuse
.5 oz honey syrup
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz egg white
3 drops Bittermens Burlesque bitters for garnish
Dry shake egg whites (no ice) in cocktail tin. Add all other ingredients and shake with ice until well chilled. Strain into chilled coupe glass. Drop bitters over top and swirl with toothpick or bamboo skewer to make patterns.
Shhhhhhhh (based on “China Girl”)
Carol Donovan, Intoxicatingly Fun Cocktails, Chicago
“There have been so many attempts to decipher the deeper meaning presented in the song [originally recorded by Iggy Pop]. Whichever you choose to believe (is it referring to drugs? To actual political unrest? To the patriarchy and privilege of the white male? Fighting racism and womanizing with a parody of such things?) the very fact that there was so much discussion about it would have made Bowie consider it a success. This simple tasty cocktail can be consumed while you ponder and decide what you think the lyrics are all about.”
1.5 oz hibiscus-infused vodka (such as Purity) (instructions follow)
.5 oz ginger syrup (instructions follow)
Powdered sugar (for rim)
Edible Orchid (for garnish)
Rim half of a Collins glass with the powdered sugar and allow to dry. Fill glass with ice and add hibiscus-infused vodka and ginger syrup. Top with club soda and garnish with orchid.
Hibiscus-infused vodka: place dried hibiscus flowers (these can be purchased at health food stores or online) in glass, cover with vodka, and soak for 1-3 hours. Strain out flowers and discard them, store in airtight container until ready to use.
Ginger syrup: boil equal parts sugar and water with slices of solid ginger root. Allow to cool, then strain out the ginger.
This is Not An Americano (based on “This is Not America”, co-written with Pat Metheny)
Michael Menegos, Athens, Greece
Build ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with an orange wedge.
The Power of the Babe, based on Bowie’s role in the 1986 movie Labyrinth
By Geoff Smith, On20, Hartford, CT
Smith uses Empress Gin “for its metaphoric properties” and a white bitter for the “thin white duke.” Then there’s ginger for Ziggy Stardust and “…some lavender bitters and yellow Chartreuse add subtle depth and complexity, like the man himself. Finally, once you’re halfway through the drink, be sure to add some tonic water to ignite the PH reactive gin for some cha-cha-cha-changes.”
1.5 oz Empress Gin
1 oz Luxardo Bianco
.5 oz ginger liqueur
Barspoon yellow Chartreuse
2 dashes Scrappy’s Lavender bitters
Lemon Twist expressed and discarded for garnish
Directionally frozen ice sphere of Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King (optional)
Stir all ingredients with ice until well chilled. Strain into rocks glass over ice sphere. Express lemon twist over drink and discard.
Rémy Charest, remyxologie, Québec
“I’ve always had a soft spot for Tin Machine, a late 80s Bowie diversion with brash guitars and lots of angst. In Prisoner of Love, the lyrics talk about drowning and coming up for air.. yet wanting to put love above everything else.” The contrasting elements in the drink “match the range of feelings you might go through as a prisoner of love.” Charest adds, “On a facetious note, having four major ingredients allows the drink to "‘just stay square’, as the last lyrics say, but that’s more accidental than deliberately thematic.”
Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with cherry.
Wellman says this is her favorite Bowie song. She incorporates all American ingredients, but the result is nothing to be scared of.
1.5 oz Bluecoat American gin
.5 oz American orange liqueur, such Leopold Bros.
.5 fresh lemon juice
Add gin, ginger liqueur, orange liqueur, bitter and lemon juice to cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, strain into Old Fashioned glass. Top off with pilsner. Garnish with lemon zest.
Amanda Schuster, Brooklyn, NY
In his later years, Bowie was spotted at his favorite, low key, East Village Italian coffee shop on Second Ave., now faded into history like the man himself. Here’s a coffee-spiked Negroni variation I like to think of him sipping if he felt like going for something more cheeky than a cappuccino.
1 oz dry gin
.5 oz Martini & Rossi Riserva Speciale Rubino (gold medal, 2018 NYISC)
garnish: star-shaped chocolate cookie, next to a solitary candle
Build in Old Fashioned glass (or We Are Happy To Serve You cup). Add ice (preferably a couple of quality cubes). Stir. Eat cookie while slowly sipping and remembering the “diamonds in [his] eyes.”