Picture winding down after a long day with a Beyoncé in hand. No, not the actual multi-platinum-selling, Grammy Award–winning, and talented-to-the-point-of-unfair pop-culture icon who possesses the unparalleled ability to elevate a Coachella set into a life-affirming religious experience, but a shot of fiery bourbon topped generously with—what else?—lemonade. Or perhaps you’ve had the kind of day that only a bottle of your local liquor store’s most potent tequila can remedy. In that case, a Frida Kahlo—a hibiscus-flavoured margarita that references the prolific artist’s fondness of florals—may be more up your alley.
It’s all within the realm of possibility, thanks to Free the Tipple, a recently launched and beautifully illustrated hardcover by local writer Jennifer Croll and New York City–based artist Kelly Shami that offers a whopping 60 cocktail recipes, each one inspired by an influential, trailblazing woman from past or present.
As a book, the concept is kind of genius. I mean, who wouldn’t want to raise a ruby-red glass of rum, maraschino liqueur, and pomegranate juice to Canadian novelist and dystopian-fiction dame Margaret Atwood? Or toast to Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott with a twist on the Salty Dog that incorporates cayenne—a spice that’s, well, as spicy as the pioneering rap star—into the salted rim? Or knock back a few sprinkle-coated Champagne jelly shooters as a proclamation of love for Yayoi Kusama, the experimental Japanese artist who’s responsible for the infinity rooms you’ve doubtless double-tapped on Instagram in recent years?
A handful of the recipes in Free the Tipple are classic potions, but the majority of them were developed by Croll in her Mount Pleasant apartment. It was a task that proved both ridiculously fun and stressful for the cocktail fanatic, who, for the record, has no formal mixology training. However, this doesn’t make her libations any less tasty. “These are not necessarily bartenders’ drinks,” Croll tells the Straight by phone. “They’re home takes on cocktails.”
This humble approach to cocktail making means many of Free the Tipple’s concoctions are beginner-friendly—not to mention a joy to mix, shake, and sip. Croll did her homework before creating each recipe, delving into her subjects’ work, backgrounds, and personalities to ensure that the resulting beverages reflected them in some way. The Serena Williams is an updated Pimm’s Cup—the official drink of Wimbledon—made from strawberries, mint, and ginger beer, for instance, while the Naomi Klein uses a kombucha base and small-batch ingredients to honour the Montreal-born activist’s anticapitalist views. “That’s a good one if you just want something to sip on,” Croll says of the Naomi.
Those with experience around a cocktail shaker can look to the Zaha Hadid, an interpretation of the Ramos Gin Fizz that requires at least 60 seconds of vigourous upper-body movement because, in Croll’s words, “a woman whose buildings were impossible to build deserves a cocktail that is challenging to make.” And then there’s the Flo-Jo, a layered libation that’s served red, blue, and white—colours that Florence Delorez Griffith–Joyner, the decorated American athlete and fastest woman of all time, had painted on her fingernails when she sprinted her way to three gold medals at the 1988 Summer Olympics. “The Flo-Jo was crazy,” notes Croll. “That one was actually really difficult [to make] because it’s a lot about presentation.”
The list of women featured in Free the Tipple is as broad and diverse as the drinks themselves. In fact, tantalizing recipes aside, the book offers a compact, digestible way to acquaint (or reacquaint) oneself with some relatively lesser-known badass women from around the globe. Among these names are French writer Anaïs Nin; Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova; and Tanya Tagaq, the Inuk throat singer and Order of Canada recipient who won the Polaris Music Prize in 2014. All 60 women in the tome are people that Croll respects and admires greatly.
“I was looking at this as very much, like, when someone asks you what your dream dinner party is and who you would invite to that,” she explains. “It wasn’t about, like, ‘Oh, I have to include all the most famous pop stars.’ So there are some people—many people—who are left out, as you’ll see. But it was more about striking that balance.”
As for what kind of cocktail would embody Croll? “A spicy chocolate mezcal margarita,” the author shares after some deep introspection. “I’d infuse the mezcal with chili and replace the triple sec with crème de cacao. The smoky, earthy flavour of the mezcal ties into the musty smell of books….The chocolate notes hint that I am a known chocolate fiend, and the spice is there because I have an attitude.” We’ll drink to that.