Read an Excerpt EVERYDAY DRINKING THE DISTILLED
By Kingsley Amis
BLOOMSBURY Copyright © 2008 The Literary Estate of Sir Kingsley Amis
All right reserved.
Chapter One DRINKING LITERATURE
ONE INFALLIBLE MARK of your true drink-man is that he reads everything on the subject that comes his way, from full-dress books to those tiny recipe-leaflets the makers tend to hang round the necks of their bottles. Never, by the way, despise the latter sort of thing as a mere commercial handout; on the contrary, the manufacturer knows more about his product than anybody else and, never mind from what base motives, will have tested out his recommendations with the utmost care. These days, too, off-licence pricelists can offer a lot of straight information.
This policy of unsleeping vigilance will bring you useful tips outside the common run: I have forgotten where I read that you can get much more juice out of a lemon you have dumped in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes than out of one straight from the fruit-bowl, let alone from anywhere cold, but it is true, and I always follow this advice myself when making a Bloody Mary (for instance) and have the time and patience. On the other hand, the books are full of lore that you will only very rarely, if ever, have the chance of translating into practice. I think of such attractive fantasies as the recipe given in The Art of Mixing Drinks (based on Esquire Drink Book) for Admiral Russell's Punch. This starts off by inviting the mixer to get hold of four hogsheads of brandy, and explains that a hogshead is 63 gallons-U.S. gallons: the equivalent is something over 50 British gallons, or 300-plus bottles. Included, along with such items as five pounds of grated nutmeg, is the juice of 2,500 lemons, warmth or coldness not specified. My calculation is that the totality (a lot of wine goes into it too) will serve 2,000 guests for a more-intensive-than-average evening party, or alternatively six people for a year-round piss-up. Try the latter some time and let me know how you get on, if you can. Pick your company with care.
More practically, you will waste a lot of time-unless of course you are simply using your drinks manual as dipsography, the alcoholic equivalent of pornography-reading about concoctions that call for stuff you simply have not got to hand. You may like the sound of a Grand Slam as prescribed in The Diners' Club Drink Book, with its jigger of Carioca rum, whatever that is, its half-jiggers of brandy and Curaçao, its dash of Kirschwasser and the rest, but, professional bartenders and fanatical booze-collectors apart, you are likely to have to read on in search of something you can make from stock. (A way of reducing this problem is outlined in my note on The Store Cupboard.)
Most drink-men, however, will like to feel they have on their shelves an authoritative and reasonably comprehensive encyclopedia of liquor, and the present little book, although needless to say frighteningly authoritative, is, for reasons explained elsewhere, not comprehensive, at least so far as its recipes are concerned. The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, by David A. Embury (Faber), scores high from this point of view, and is written in a pleasantly companionable style. It is also-inevitably-American, which slightly diminishes its usefulness in the British context, and the author is what I shall venture to call wrong here and there, but his book is without doubt your Best Buy. Of shorter guides of this kind, I would recommend 3 Bottle Bar, by H.i.-Yes, i. No, I don't know-Williams (Faber). Both are in paperback.
Neither Embury nor Williams has much to say about wine, except as regards its role in hot or cold punches and the like. Their business is with cocktails, coolers, cobblers, cups; with mixed drinks, in fact. Very few people who are proficient in this field know or care anything about wine as such, and the same applies in reverse to wine men. As the reader will see, I am not much of a wine man, but some of my best friends are, and I have called in expert assistance to guide me here.
The Easy Guide to Wine, issued free by the Wine Development Board (6 Snow Hill, London ECI), will tell the beginner most of what he wants to know in its couple of dozen pages of sound, well-chosen information and advice. For the more advanced, or more inquisitive, Alexis Lichine's Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits and all other alcoholic drinks too (Cassell) is very solidly professional and factual, laying much greater stress on wines than on spirits: it devotes more space to Gevrey-Chambertin, one of thirty wine-producing districts in part of Burgundy, than to gin. Wines and Spirits of the World, edited by Alec H. Gold (Virtue), is similarly comprehensive and equally wine-oriented, but with a lot of splendid photographs thrown in. A real dipsographic debauch, so much so that I had to struggle with my better nature for quite a few seconds before deciding to add, lifemanfully, that I did note one or two omissions: no mention is made of the wines of New York State, with their annual yield comparable to that of Cyprus ... But those who, like me, have tasted some of the wines of New York State will find it hard to care. Lastly, The Penguin Book of Wines, by Allan Sichel, is an excellent cheap guide: unpretentious, thorough (300 pages) and very practical, quoting plenty of names and up-to-date (1971) prices.
With all these books, as with any on the subject, do not expect to turn yourself into an expert via the printed word alone. You can commit to memory everything Lichine has to say about Gevrey-Chambertin and still have no idea whether you would like the wine. Reading must be combined with as much drinking experience as pocket and liver will allow.
One final recommendation. You need not take the slightest interest in any of these matters to get a lot out of Cocktail Party Secrets, by Vernon Heaton (Elliot Right Way Books). The title set me off on fantasies about martinis based on industrial alcohol, whisky sours spiked with LSD, etc. And I was hooked by the bold opening statement, offered by way of answer to the equally challenging question, "Why a Cocktail Party?" that serves as title of the first chapter:
Everybody, on occasion, (a) wants to, (b) feels they [sic] ought to, (c) or have [sic] reason to entertain their [sic] friends in their [sic] own homes [sic].
The author goes on to suggest reasons why people should get these ideas, such as that they enjoy parties, or want to return a part?' given by someone else at his home. In the same ground-covering style, he points out that parties can be small or large; that they require preparation but that bottles can be lined up in advance; that you must decide (a) who you want to invite, (b) who you think should come, (c) who you feel you must invite, (d) who you think it is politic to invite; that, where possible, cloakroom facilities should be available; and much, much more. My word, if these are secrets, what can be the like of the publicly available information on the topic that has been lying about unregarded all these years?
I must get hold of the same writer's Wedding Etiquette Properly Explained and The Best Man's Duties. I can see it now-"People get married because (a) they want to, (b) they feel they ought to, (c) somebody is pointing a shotgun at them ..."
To make cock ale: Take ten gallons of ale and a large cock, the older the better; Parboil the cock, flay him, and stamp him in a stone mortar till his bones are broken (you must craw and gut him when you flay him), then put the cock into two quarts of sack [sweet or sweetish white wine], and put it to three pounds of raisins of the sun stoned, some blades of mace and a few cloves; put all these into a canvas bag, and a little before you find the ale has done working, put the "ale and bag together into a vessel; in a week or nine days bottle it up, fill the bottles but just above the neck, and give it the same time to ripen as other ale. - Old recipe given in F. C. Lloyd's Art and Technique of Wine
To sweeten musty casks: Take some dung of a milking cow when it is fresh, and mix it with a quantity of warm water, so as to make it sufficiently liquid to pass through a funnel, but previously dissolve two pounds of bay salt and one pound of alum; then put the whole in a pot on the fire, stir it with a stick and when nearly boiling, pour it into the cask, bung it up tight, shake it about, and let it remain in for two hours, then give it another stirring and after two hours more it may be rinsed out with cold water. - Prescription quoted in E C. Lloyd's Art and Technique of Wine
Chapter Two ACTUAL DRINKS
I PROVIDE HERE only a selection. A complete account of all known drinks, from absinthe to the Zoom cocktail (brandy, honey and cream-not today, thank you) would be deadening to write and read. Completeness would also involve the rehearsal of a good deal of common knowledge. It would be rather shabby to take money for explaining that, for instance, a gin and tonic consists of gin and tonic, plus ice and a slice of lemon. However, this gives me occasion to remark that that admittedly excellent and refreshing drink gains an extra thirst-quenching tang from a good squeeze of lemon juice in addition to the lemon slice, and so to propound
G.P. 2: Any drink traditionally accompanied by a bit of fruit or vegetable is worth trying with a spot of the juice thrown in as well.
I confine myself, then, to giving recipes intended to offer something of my own, whether it be a modest tip like the one exemplified above, an attack on some received notion, or, as in some cases, a whole new formula-if there is any such thing in a field so extensively and intensively studied. What follows is the fruit of some dozen years' research; I started drinking much longer ago, be in no doubt of that, but had to reach a certain stage of affluence before I could risk spoiling even a mouthful of liquor by foolhardy experiment. My three categories are the Short and the Long and the Hot, an illogical but, there being no short hot drinks, practical mode of division.
If, as Philip Larkin observed not so long ago, the age of jazz (not the same thing as the Jazz Age) ran roughly from 1925 to 1945, the age of the cocktail covered the same sort of period, perhaps starting a little earlier and taking longer to die away finally. The two were certainly associated at their inception. Under Prohibition in the United States, the customer at the speakeasy drank concoctions of terrible liquor and other substances added in order to render the result just about endurable, while the New Orleans Rhythm Kings or the Original Memphis Five tried to take his mind further off what he was swallowing. The demise of jazz cannot have had much to do with that of the cocktail, which probably faded away along with the disappearance of servants from all but the richest private houses. Nearly every cocktail needs to be freshly made for each round, so that you either have to employ a barman or find yourself constantly having to quit the scene so as to load the jug. Straight drinks are quicker, and guests can-indeed, often do-help themselves to them.
The Dry Martini and its variants have hung on longer than most. In this case it is possible to make up a large quantity beforehand and keep it chilled; but there are several snags to this procedure. The main part of the standard refrigerator is not cold enough to keep the drink cold enough for more than half an hour at the outside, and the ice-making compartment of such a refrigerator is not tall enough to hold any decent-sized jug. (You can muck about with teacups and such if you like, but this will take you about as long as mixing fresh.) A deep freeze will keep the drinks cold enough as long as anybody could want, but, again, you must put your jug back in it the moment you have finished pouring each new round, and this will probably involve you in a good deal of walking to and fro. And most experts will tell you that the bloom begins to fade from a martini as soon as it is first mixed, which may be pure subjectivism, but, in any drinking context, subjectivism is very important. No, I am sorry, but the only way to give your guests first-rate martinis without trouble to yourself is to take them to a first-rate cocktail bar. At home, you will just have to grit your teeth and get down to it, as follows:
The Dry Martini
12 to 15 parts gin 1 part dry vermouth Lemon rind or cocktail onions Ice cubes
A couple of hours before the party, get your glasses together. These should be on the small side-the second half of a too-large martini will have become too warm by the time the average drinker gets to it-and have some sort of stem or base to prevent the hand imparting warmth. (Like Glass No. 2 in Tools of the Trade, page 41.) Fill each with water and put it in the refrigerator.
With, say, fifteen minutes to go, make an honest attempt at the fiendish task of cutting off some little strips of lemon rind so thinly that you take off none of the white pith underneath. Fill-and I mean fill-your jug with ice and pour in the gin and the vermouth, enough for one round, i.e. about one bottle of gin for every ten guests. (You will soon learn to judge the proportion of vermouth by eye.) Stir vigorously for about a minute. Leave to stand for two to three minutes. The books are against this, remarking truly that you will be allowing the ice to melt further and so dilute the mixture, but it does make the result appreciably colder; which leads me straight to
G.P. 3: It is more important that a cold drink should be as cold as possible than that it should be as concentrated as possible.
While the jug is standing, empty the water out of the glasses and drop a bit of lemon rind in each. If you can face it, try squeezing the rind over the glass first to liberate the pungent oil within. There is a knack to this which I have never mastered. Partly for this reason, I prefer to substitute a cocktail onion for the rind.
Stir again for a few seconds and pour. If there is any liquor left over, you have my permission to put it in the refrigerator for use in the next round, provided you remove every particle of ice beforehand.
Notes. (i) Use Booth's dry gin, the yellow sort. White gin is for long drinks-with tonic, bitter lemon, etc.
(ii) Use Martini e Rossi dry vermouth. Noilly Prat darkens the drink, making it look less dry than it is, and is too strongly flavoured. (However, it is probably the best dry vermouth for drinking on its own.)
(iii) In pursuit of G.P. 3, stand by with ice cubes, to rechill the partly drunk drinks of any rotters or slackers who may opt out of later rounds.
(iv) Experts will say that I have described, not a dry martini, but its drier derivative, the Gibson, which does substitute an onion for the true martini's lemon rind. Well, yes, but few people, I think, who have sampled the formula I give, by which the vermouth flavour disappears as such and yet the total flavour is still not at all that of straight gin, will want to return to the 4:1 or 3:1 ratios prescribed by convention. And my version is stronger.
The Lucky Jim
12 to 15 parts vodka 1 part dry vermouth 2 parts cucumber juice Cucumber slices Ice cubes
For this derivative of the Vodka Gibson, proceed as for the Dry Martini where appropriate. The cucumber juice can be made quite simply, though not without some effort, by cutting off a chunk, or series of chunks, about two inches long and applying first one end, then the other, to an ordinary manual lemon-squeezer. Sieve the result through a coffee-strainer into your mixing-jug on top of the liquor and ice, give an extra thorough stirring, and serve. What you serve should be treated with respect, not because it is specially strong but because it tastes specially mild and bland. It looks unusual, rather mysterious in fact: faintly coloured and faintly cloudy, the green wine of the Chinese emperors come to vigorous life. For visual reasons, the cucumber slice you float on top of each glass should have its peel left on.
Excerpted from EVERYDAY DRINKING by Kingsley Amis Copyright © 2008 by The Literary Estate of Sir Kingsley Amis. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.