Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

Nominative Determinism Strikes Again

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Bitterman's Field Guide to Bitters and Amari

This young fellow should count himself fortunate that he was not descended from the Liqueur or Cordial families—or, heaven forbid, the American Schnappses.

I’ll Be Home Soon, Dear – First I Must Stop in at the Library

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Naturally, the Designated Drinker has been seen, at various times, in all of these fine establishments. Let your own tour begin.

Sanchez on Professionalism

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

“You’re an amateur drinker—you drink in public places. Noah is a professional. A professional, he drinks alone. He doesn’t need an audience.”

— Thomas Sanchez, American Tropic

Crushed Expectations

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

I have a dumb technical question: how do you crush ice from cubes for stirred drinks? I’d hate to take a hammer to it. — Wolf

Young fellow, in the past, I have done exactly that–wrapped ice cubes in a dish towel and hammered away until it was limp and soggy and my latent aggressions were satisfied. Now, however, I use a second-hand electric ice-crusher that makes a small drawer’s worth of ice. It’s just enough for two shrubs or one mint julep, but one can’t really keep crushed ice on hand too long anyway.

The Ins and the Outs

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

I like to drink — a lot — and I’m good at it. I’m not so good at talking about drinking. But more and more often I find myself at parties stuck talking to guys who want to discuss where the grapes were grown or what grain goes into which whiskey. My general inclination is to say, “Who cares? Let’s watch the game!” — but then I feel like a rube. Where can I learn enough to fake it? — Bill

Young fellow, while you must know that I don’t condone lager-fueled hooliganism, you may be surprised to learn that my natural tendencies lie closer to yours than to your allegedly erudite party cohorts. They have undoubtedly watched too many James Bond movies in which 007 astonishes his tablemates and humiliates the waiter — before ultimately bedding the girl — by identifying not only the vintage and the grape but the precise acre upon which the grape was grown. This is, of course, balderdash. In reality, every man jack at the table (the vixen, too) would instantly write our man James off as a pretentious toff.

I am all in favor of acquiring a taste for the finer things, and of examining any fact which may pass over the transom. If drinking is one’s hobby, it’s only understandable that one would develop a voracious thirst for learning all the fine points of potage. Yet this way lies a madness known to model train builders and trainspotters alike.

But, really, my distaste for learning why ale is bottom-fermented and lager is top-fermented comes from a different reason: I can’t be bothered. I know a great deal about the tastes that lie within different bottles, but very little about how those tastes come to be. Why should I? I am financially comfortable, and have no need to make my own beer, wine, or spirits. I drive a car; does that mean I should also know how to gap my own spark plugs? Of course not. I have a man to do that for me.

My dear Bill, don’t become a slave to another man’s obsession. If you drink because you like the taste, that’s good enough. If he drinks because he is enraptured by the physical processes by which vegetable matter becomes our friend alcohol, God go with him.

The Fire Inside

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

Why do Americans insist on taking their beer so cold that it kills off half the flavours? Could it be that some of the American beers taste so bad…? — I. C. Double

Your name seems familiar to me. Perhaps you come from the Hampstead Doubles? Surely you’re not Makeit A. Double’s son? Well met, young fellow, well met.

Though I find your diplomatic ellipses – and the pretense of phrasing your opinions as questions – quite charming, let’s speak plainly. Despite great advances in the past twenty years, the majority of the beer sold in America is still so bad that it is rendered palatable only by excessive refrigeration. Only with numbed taste buds can one drink any quantity of “Bud,” “MGD,” or “Natural Ice Lite.”

But the American penchant for cold beverages is not limited to their depressing lagers. Remember that they also like their ice-water glacial, and their soft drinks Arctic, and that it was necessary for them to coin the term “brain freeze” to convey the chilling side-effect of drinking “Slurpees” and “Slush Puppies.” They are a people in every way extreme, and though I live among them and find them often charming (the way one still loves a puppy who wets the floor), I still struggle to explain this phenomenon. I can only hypothesize that, because Americans burn too bright, too hot, they struggle daily to put out the fire inside. And they do it with very cold drinks.

Keeping Regular

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

How do I become a regular at a bar? — Dave

Young fellow, I should skewer you for the sheer dunderheadedness of your question. Americans, however, are wont to say that “There is no stupid question.” That assertion is patently false, but in the spirit of happy society I’ll instead answer the subtext of your question, not the logical child’s play writ in the words.

What you are really asking — let’s just say — is how do you choose the bar at which you wish your name to be known, your drink to be made correctly, and your knapsack to be left unmolested. This is a difficult matter. Save on the roughest or most exclusive of thoroughfares, bars are democratic institutions (that is not to say Democratic). If you keep showing up, odds are you’ll get served, and eventually remembered. They do, after all, want your money.

But one does not want to find oneself beloved in a public house which one does not love, and so you must choose with care. The process I recommend is rather Oriental, but please bear with me. I hold that you must visit one thousand bars — more is certainly acceptable, but please no less. Most of them will be unenthralling, many will be substandard, and quite a few will prove delightful. But one night, when you’ve forgotten that you’re looking for a home away from home, a place to gather your thoughts and scatter your wits, you will order your drink and it will be made just so. And the barman’s tie will be knotted in a full Windor, tucked neatly into his vest, and the barmaid’s bosom will be ever so slightly untucked, and you will know you have found it, a place you can return to again and again. Your bar will have chosen you.

On the other hand, the place ’round the corner will certainly do, too. One shouldn’t have to travel too far.

Sparkling Dialogue

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Some prick at my New Year’s party told me that I couldn’t call the stuff I was serving “champagne” because it didn’t come from France. Is he right? And if so, who the fuck cares? I still call my facial tissue “kleenex” even if it’s the store brand. — Darren

Young fellow, your guest was correct in his assertion — even if he behaved incorrectly in bringing such a small faux pas to the attention of his host. To be called Champagne, a sparkling wine must not only be French, it must come from the Champagne region (in the northeast corner, just west of pivotal Alsace and Lorraine).

There are other proprietary names for sparkling wines, too: Cava, which generally comes from Catalonia in Spain, and Prosecco, from Italy’s Veneto region and which is made from the grape of the same name. Both are delightful, less fizzy, alternatives to Champagne. (And please, if you mix a Bellini cocktail, use Prosecco, not Champagne!)

While it is a poorly behaved guest who corrects his host’s jubilant cry of “Champagne!” it is nonetheless vital that standards be maintained. And speaking of which: language, young fellow. Watch your language.

Using Your Noggin

Monday, December 19th, 2005

I don’t like egg nog. But it seems like everyone’s trying to get me to drink it. What do I do? — Kevin

Young fellow, the social contract has many clauses, and none of us wish to initial all of them. But we don’t get to pick and choose, and that is a fortunate thing. I might exempt myself from from such minor nuisances as “Casual Fridays” and “E-vites,” while another fellow — who wears tan chinos and blue button-down shirts and delightedly RSVPs online — feels constrained by society’s prohibitions against human trafficking and serial murder.

“Yes,” you say, “but that is a legal nicety.” Well, society is bound not just by laws, but by customs. Customs provide continuity from generation to generation. They tell us who we are, where we come from, and where we are going. Should you fill your holiday cup not with egg nog, but with “lite” beer or Coca-Cola, what would our sons and daughters think of us — and themselves? Exiled from the strong walls of history, they would wander aimlessly in the desert of not-knowingness.

The point, of course, is that society is a cooperative enterprise (how I wish my computer application allowed me to add an umlaut to that second o) and that what works for the group needs must work for the individual. The British Empire was not built without the sacrifice of eleven-year-old cabin boys, and your hostess’s party will not be a success if every guest brings their childhood dislikes to the feasting table.

So, for god and country, drink your egg nog!

Giving Wine the Bird

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2005

This is pretty last minute, but what kind of wine should I serve with Thanksgiving dinner? We’re having the usual stuff. — Todd

Young fellow, first be sure that, whether muscatel or Margaux, the wine is wine you like. There’s nothing sillier than running off and buying six bottles that some critic has anointed (even such an authority as myself), only to find that, to you, the stuff tastes like plonk. A holiday feast is a time for family and familiarity, not first-time meetings.

As for myself, I prefer to explore the dustiest alcoves of my wine cellar in search of lost treasure — I enjoy the childlike delight on my guests’ faces when I uncork a 1929 Latour — but the great Bordeaux and I are old, old friends.

Beyond all that, be sure that it’s wine you want, not something else. Wine is, of course, the only civilized mealtime drink, but perhaps you have only a passing acquaintance with civilized society. Nothing to be ashamed of! Many a trembling punter steels himself for a trip to the wine merchant, feeling only wine will do for the festive occasion. But if he loves beer, so be it — though a well-laid table deserves quality ale, not lager in cans.

And if, perchance, you find the cocktail hour extends through the dinner hour, and your guests clamor not for wine but for another Manhattan — well, a good host pleases his guests, rather than enforcing his will upon them. Enjoy your peculiar American holiday.