by Brian Pritchett
Do you work for a living? Have you seen the recent presidential polls? Has your life not gone entirely as you had planned? Or, are you holed up in your apartment as a category-twelve murder storm trawls its way toward you? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, I’d like to introduce you to a little drink that will make you feel soothed and mellow and lull you through any anxiety-related sleeping problems. Relaxation and sleep when you need it: this is the gift of Bear Milk.
I discovered Bear Milk in Prague, in 1995. I don’t remember all of the details, but that’s only appropriate, because we aren’t talking about a cocktail so much as a magic potion: an elixir for forgetting, and for deep, deep sleep. You don’t brew a batch of Bear Milk for hanging out and goofing around with your friends. You make Bear Milk when you need to go as soon as possible to the land of Nod, and to stay there for a full span. You make one portion per patient; you drink it while it’s warm, and you go directly to bed, where you can count on a long, deep, and satisfying sleep. Want to just skip Sandy’s wrath entirely, and hibernate until the sun is shining again? Try Bear Milk.
Here’s the origin story. My friend Cristin and I were on a European backpacking tour after college. We had a good time in Holland, and then a lousy time in France, where everything was so expensive. No offense, France: it wasn’t your fault, we were just dumb kids. With our travelers checks and morale running low, we fled to Prague, which, as you may have heard, was a wonderful place to be in 1995, particularly for the young and the broke. Czechoslovakia had split two years earlier, and we were in the new capital of a soon-to-be fashionable Western democracy. The young Czechs couldn’t believe their good fortune; a few years ago they had been looking forward to mandatory army service, and now they were rolling joints on the sidewalk and blowing kisses to indifferent cops. They seemed glad to meet foreigners. There were random thumbs up and hugs, and invitations to hang out from attractive strangers. I was a corny English major with a dog-eared copy of The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting in my backpack. I never wanted to go home.
As soon as Cristin and I got off the train, an old woman approached us and offered a lease on an apartment for a shockingly low price. We accepted right away, and she showed us to a warm and comfortable studio. It was early evening. A light snow was falling. We got dressed and went out to wander the pretty town like Hansel and Gretel. We bought dinner on the street: tasty sausages with mustard and good bread, for pennies. Then we ended up in a candlelit student bar, which is where we found Bear Milk.
As I said, my memory of this evening is hazy, but I don’t think the drink was some sort of Czech specialty, and I haven’t been able to find any evidence of it online. It was most likely the creation of some clever bartender with a gift for naming things while playing on a variation of an old theme: booze and hot milk. We had a portion each, and then we walked home in the snow and slept in a cozy pile. In Bear Milk, we had made a new friend. When I got home I started playing around with recipes, and eventually ended up with the following. It’s definitely open source and it’s hard to screw up, so feel free to improvise and let me know what works best in the comments.
Before we begin, turn off the television and put your phone on vibrate. Is the power still on in your home? If so, dim the lights. If you have any phone calls to make or patio furniture to bring inside then deal with that now, because you’re about to have eight hours of lost time. Put on some pajamas, and whatever music you prefer when you are unconscious. For me, sleep time music begins and ends with “Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny. Then maybe the great Astrud Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto specifically, or any of the good quiet techno records from her daughter, Bebel. Try Mezzanine by Massive Attack, or Channel Orange by Frank Ocean, but there’s a danger with any of the above that you might be spurred to attempt some sexy maneuver, one which Bear Milk will soon render you incapable of seeing through to completion. Leonard Cohen, obviously, is perfect for sleepy time, as is much of the Tom Waits oeuvre. Beth Orton is great, as is the most recent PJ Harvey. There are fabulous new sleepy albums from Grizzly Bear, Sharon Van Etten, The xx, and the Ravonettes. Whiskey For The Holy Ghost by Mark Lanegan is great and thematically appropriate, if a bit glum. When you’re ready to go totally comatose, try Brian Eno’s Music For Airports, or David Byrne’s soundtrack for The Last Emperor. Also, I know this sounds weird, but I love side two of Combat Rock by the Clash for this sort of thing. Go your own way, just set the scene for yourself. If it helps, here’s my personal Bear Milk playlist. If you make it all the way to “Death Is a Star” and you’re still up, you have my permission to brew up another dose of Bear Milk.
Here’s the recipe. My preferred ingredients, for two portions, are as follows:
3 ounces bourbon
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons honey
1 splash vanilla, preferably the good Mexican stuff
1 stick cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg, plus a little extra
3 whole cloves
Put an ounce and a half of your preferred booze into a mug for each person who wishes to be anesthetized. As a son of Kentucky, I usually fall back on bourbon, but Irish whiskey, brandy, cognac, rum and scotch are all equally right answers. Put all of the other ingredients in a small saucepan, and slowly bring them up to a subtle boil. Start on low heat and keep an eye on it, because milk boils over faster than you would believe, and when it happens your whole scene will get a lot less mellow. All you need to do is melt the honey and flavor the milk a bit. The whole operation should take under ten minutes. If you’ve got an espresso machine or some other means of foaming the milk, that would probably be even better.
Kill the heat when the milk gets to a light boil, and then strain the milk to get the cloves out of there. Top off each mug with the hot milk, stir, and then grate or sprinkle a bit of nutmeg on the top, for aroma. That’s about it. It should taste pretty good, but if you don’t like it try adding a bit more honey. If that doesn’t work and you just hate it put it down the drain, then pour another ounce and a half of whiskey onto an ice cube, and just drink that and go to bed. Pleasant dreams.
Previously in Falling Down: The Chisos Chimney