Welcome to the Alcohol & chats, where we ask questions to interesting people in the alcohol world.
This week’s spotlight is on S. L. Klassen, who writes, attends Mennonite functions, and drinks cocktails in Toronto, Ontario. She has a PhD in history and a lifetime of experience with Mennonites. In 2013, she began a Mennonite humour and cocktail blog called The Drunken Mennonite. It has all been downhill ever since.
1) What spurred you to write the MENNO-NIGHTCAPS cocktail book?
I used to joke on Twitter about pitching the idea of a Mennonite cocktail book to a Church publisher. A lot of people urged me to do it and I wasn’t sure if they were joking, or if they thought of it as a practical joke to play on the publisher. After a while, a few people who knew something about publishing also joined in saying I should pitch it, but not to a Church publisher. So they convinced me that it had a chance; but even so, I wouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t known it would be fun to write. I’d already been writing about Mennonites and making cocktails for awhile already and even though I knew the book would be different from the blog I wrote, I had enough fun writing the blog that I knew I’d also really enjoy writing a book.
2) How did the blog Drunken Menno start? And did you ever expect it to be what it has become?
Back in 2013, I was working on a novel that featured a Mennonite protagonist but I found that I kept editing out the funny parts of being Mennonite and so I decided to start writing a blog that included more humor. One of my daughters was watching Drunk History at the time and claimed that it was the only thing that was any good on the internet. So I said I’d be the Drunken Mennonite. I’d also recently noticed the existence of cocktail blogs and saw that many of them were as earnest about cocktails as the Mennonite blogs I saw were about religious and social justice issues. This made me think it would be funny to bring the two genres together. So I started writing long rambling blog posts about Mennonite life and then created cocktails with clever Mennonite-themed names to accompany them. I didn’t really expect that people would make the cocktails but after awhile I heard that some of my readers were, in fact, making them so I started taking the recipes more seriously.
3) It seems you’ve always enjoyed writing. What is it that makes you enjoy it so much? Or what draws you to write?
When I was a kid, I think it was just vaguely an extension of playing make-believe. Now, I would say it is more about the pleasure of creation. In a way, creative writing is like mixing a cocktail — you start with raw ingredients (words) and put them together to create something new and hopefully beautiful, even if it’s something as mundane as a good sentence. When it doesn’t work, it’s a bit of a puzzle to try to work out how to remake it better. And then when it does work, there’s the satisfaction in creating something that does what you want and might even produce pleasure.
4) From the looks of things, you enjoy a good laugh. How has it been to write more from a satirical side with MENNO-NIGHTCAPS?
The challenge in writing the humor for Menno-nightcaps was in trying to reach both a Mennonite audience that would appreciate inside jokes and also an audience that doesn’t know anything about Mennonites at all. It was really important for me to have some early readers who let me know if the jokes weren’t reaching them. Some of my readers didn’t know anything about cocktails and so didn’t appreciate all of the cocktail names that were puns on classic cocktails. Others needed me to explain more about sixteenth-century Europe. Given the format of the book, I only had about 100 words per cocktail to both convey the information that these readers needed and to do it in an amusing way. But of course, I could pick and choose a bit in terms of the points of history, faith and culture that made it into the book so that helped.
5) From the Drunken Menno blog to the cocktail book, you enjoy a drink. What are some of your favorite cocktails?
It depends a bit on context. The French 75 is one of my all-time favorites — my book has a variation that’s called a (French) 75-minute service, referencing the length of Mennonite Church services. But it’s a deceptively strong drink so I save it for special occasions. A couple other current favorites include the New York Sour and the Last Word. I’m pretty much always up for having a Last Word. But then some days, I just feel so bound to tradition that I want an Old Fashioned. That’s if I’m home. If I’m out at a cocktail bar, I don’t have favorites but like to try something new and creative that puts together flavours I wouldn’t think of on my own.
MENNO-NIGHTCAPS is out now and available at https://www.touchwoodeditions.com/book/menno-nightcaps/. You can also enjoy an evening with S. L. on Nov. 12: S. L. Klassen & Andrew Unger: A (Virtual) Evening of Menno-Nightcaps.
Follow S. L. on social media: @TheDrunkenMenno on Twitter; @DrunkenMenno on Facebook; and @the_drunken_menno on Instagram.
Photo of S. L. is by Emma Klassen-Brulé.