Every time January 6th comes along,
one wishes to remember The Great Detective by celebrating his birthday.
But what is the best way of doing this?
One nice way could be reading some
of his great stories, but this is something that can be done any other
day of the year in the privacy of one’s home. We could also smoke a
pipe in his honour, but this again is something that is increasingly
frowned upon in today’s health-conscious world.
So, to truly celebrate, we should
perhaps down a peg or two—just small ones, mind you, you do not want
The Great Detective to be upset with you turning out to be a drunkard,
would you? But if you were to take a small one, you can be sure he wouldn’t
mind. And even doctors tell us this is good for the heart.
Now that we have decided to have
a drink (merely a thimbleful, you understand, and that too just to keep
the edge) we should look at what he would approve of. Now, we all know
that liquor has played a part in deduction—one remembers the rum from
BLAC and the three wine glasses in ABBE—but what did Holmes himself
Even in today’s modern world, with
its computers that can search for anything, this is not an easy task.
Hunting for words like gin and rum through the Canon is made difficult
by the fact that these words are used in other contexts—they are a part
of words like begin and rummaged—but with the other spirits, it is much
In BLUE, Holmes “ordered two glasses
of beer from the ruddy-faced, white-aproned landlord” while in SCAN
too he drinks beer. And before you assume that this is his favourite,
turn to SIGN, where he says that he knows his white wines. He has a
taste for rare wines too and in LAST, we have seen him sipping Imperial
Tokay that comes “from Franz Josef’s special cellar at the Schoenbrunn
Holmes doesn’t just drink; he is
also a gracious host and offers it to others. The Tokay mentioned above
he gladly shared with his good friend Watson—and had Von Bork not been
trussed up like chicken on the sofa, we can be sure that Holmes would
have offered this to him too.
This is not to suggest that Holmes
doesn’t show kindness to criminals. In matters of alcohol, he is good
to both the good guys and the bad ones, something that we have witnessed
in SIGN, when he offers whisky to both Athelney Jones and Jonathan Small.
Regarding the latter, Watson writes, “He stopped and held out his manacled
hands for the whisky and water which Holmes had brewed for him.” In
STUD, he offers this drink to Gregson, and in both NOBL and REDH, he
partakes of it himself.
All this is fine, you will say, but what
is the drink that he would offer you if you were to step into his home
on January 6th in order to wish him a happy birthday? In all probability,
it would be brandy. While he has been known to partake of this himself
in REIG, this seems to be the drink that he offers to most people—examples
include Huxtable (PRIO), Eccles (WIST), Ryder (BLUE), Murdoch (EMPT)
Phelps (NAVA) and Watson himself (EMPT). There is a reason for this—most
people come to Holmes when they are distraught, and brandy is the best
drink for such people under the circumstances. So, even if you ask for
Imperial Tokay—and Holmes, being the kind-hearted host, will give it
to you—don’t be surprised if, in the middle of the birthday revelry,
somebody staggers in and faints like Huxtable and is helped to his feet
by Holmes with a dash of brandy.
And since this is the drink that Holmes
himself keeps handy, maybe this is the right one for us Sherlockians
too (just a drop to keep the chill away on his birthday).
Writing this piece has made me thirsty.
Could somebody out there hand me a VSOP, please?