I’m getting old, and I can tell. “How?” you ask. Well, it’s not that my beard is greying rapidly, it’s not that the music is too loud and I can’t make out the words, nor is it that I’m about to become intimately acquainted with my physician’s middle digit. It’s alcohol. Allow me to explain; like most people my drinking career began at 16 with beer, usually a little too much, but even at the height of my powers, never more than the average touring Australian rugby team. Whisky followed eventually, blends at first and as my palate developed I moved on to single malts, which, whilst much more expensive at least have the virtue of not being designed to be imbibed for effect. Another virtue of whisky is that it is the only vice which allows you to express a preference for 12 year olds without the risk of being lynched.
I assume that this is the way of things; as one ages, one’s palate becomes more sophisticated, drinking becomes much more of a social lubricant and less of an end in itself and the quantity is inversely proportional to quality. So it is with me. When I was dating regularly, I found myself in plenty of establishments where beer was not the main option, and over time I developed tastes that I had never expected; cocktails. Yup. I grew up in an environment in which Gin and Tonic was a “Woman’s drink”, and that was about as exotic as drinks came, except for the occasional Port and Lemon, Rum and Peppermint or Rum and Coke, so you can imagine my social dissonance at finding myself selecting from a list of drinks completely alien to my drinking past. It doesn’t go down too well in certain circles to be seen drinking a pint, even if that is what puts you most at ease, and much against expectation I developed a taste for Manhattans and other such exotica.
Fast forward to last month. I decided that given the propensity for cocktails in this part of the world, I had better get myself into gear and set myself up with the requisite mixology accoutrements. This may not sound like a big step to most people, but let me explain by saying that when married, the main requirement of a drink was that it’s creation be silent. There were times when the sound of ice dropping into a glass would be enough to wake one of the kids, and by the time we sat down a drink was sorely needed, so nothing that could interrupt the process could be considered.
This is why I sat down one day with four cocktail books and picked out a dozen recipes that appealed to me and constructed a spreadsheet to track which spirits and mixers I would need to buy. Simple enough, but the tough part was the shopping. Glassware is hideously expensive, and having to buy six of each style – Collins, High Ball, Martini and Marguerita put a dent in my budget all by itself before I’d bought so much as a single bottle. Rather than go into detail, suffice it to say that the staff at BevMo! must have thought all their Christmases had come at once when I finally pushed my heavily laden cart to the checkout and began unloading. Needless to say, when I saw the bill I needed a stiff drink there and then lest I pass out from shock. However, I made it home intact and my sweetie and I indulged ourselves in an evening of sampling. I have to admit that for a first timer, I didn’t do too poorly ( not for the first time), but little did I know that I was about to face the moment of truth.
Ramos Fizz. Sound familiar? Not to me it didn’t. My sweetie has a penchant for this drink, being a big fan of New Orleans, and she insisted that I make some. She provided me with a list of ingredients that at first glance looked more like a recipe for a cake than a cocktail. Still, I took it all in good humour and I have to say that I passed the test! The end product, which tastes like melted vanilla ice cream with gin in it was met with approval from the person whose opinion counts, and my evening was saved.
Having recently returned to the world of home cooking, this wasn’t too dissimilar and had the advantage of being quicker and involving booze. I think I’m hooked. I much prefer my own Manhattans to bar made ones, and whilst I have no intention of turning into a snob, or the type of host who brags about his mixing ability or shows off in front of guests, I think that a classic cocktail is something that will become a regular part of my drinking experience. I have no intention of giving up beer, but there are times when something other than an IPA is called for. Now, for instance. All this typing has made me thirsty and I feel a need for something to calm my nerves. If only I could remember where I put that bottle of bitters….. Chin chin!