From the Archive

Amateur mixology

May 18th, 2011 at 10:57 pm ET

Driven in part (but only in part), I admit, by The Best of Everything, and what seems to me an absurdly heavy amount of drinking that I had to put up with from the otherwise sympathetic characters therein, I’ve been experimenting with mixed drinks lately.  Cocktail mixing is something that I think largely skipped my generation (and it’s not just me I’m talking about, it just hasn’t seemed to be a particularly big thing to people I’ve known), but it’s starting to come back; and, more to the point, I’m curious about a social custom that was important to my parents and is meaningful to some of my younger friends.

When I was a child, my parents were not big drinkers at all — I’m pretty sure that I have never seen either of my parents even slightly drunk ever, although I confess there is photo evidence of my grandmother, in her eighties at the time, holding a cup of beer in Harvard Yard at my graduation – but even they had a wet bar in the house I grew up in, with stools under a counter facing the living room and a full stock of supplies and implements.  It was just something you did in 1973, if you could afford to.  (One of my uncles helped them with a bar renovation in the mid-70s; I remember mirrored tile with brass accents.)

I developed a taste for red wine some years ago, and some basic knowledge (thanks to my Argentinian ex-boyfriend), and have been known to indulge, especially as part of a good meal. I had a bit of experience with bourbons 15 years ago or so (thanks to another boyfriend), but not much. Now that I spend most of my time among people in their twenties who have drunk vastly more hard liquor in their lives than I (twenty years older) have done, I’ve decided it’s time for an education.

So I’ve made room for a bar of sorts (really a table) here in my apartment, and a stock of the liquors and mixers I’ve learned to like.  I also bought a shaker and a lemon squeezer, made up some simple syrup, and got some cocktail glasses. So I’m set up, and I’m playing around.

My fallback drink has always been gin and tonic, so I’ve been experimenting with gin-based cocktails. I never understood vodka, which (like any person who was ever gay and 23 at the same time) I had some experience with earlier in life; it always seemed to me to be embraced mostly by people who wanted to get drunker quicker, and I can’t tell a good vodka from a great one. While in England, I picked up a couple of gins you can’t easily get here (Sipsmith, and the novelty Hoxton Gin, which is so reminiscent of the appalling Malibu Rum that it has to be limited to sweet mixes), and once I returned I found a bottle of Plymouth sloe gin at the surprisingly well-stocked Astor Wines in Greenwich Village.

Mixed drinks are much more fun if you don’t give a crap what anyone thinks of the results.  I’m learning what I like, and making more of it, and working with ingredients on hand. I made a mean — what would you call it? gin orangeade? — when I realized I had a drawerful of clementines in the fridge.  I even made a martini, and discovered I liked it.  Who knew?

It turns out that (1) there are a lot of different combinations that go together; (2) if it tastes good, by definition it’s a success; and (3) any activity that tens of millions of people engage in on a daily basis is something I’m perfectly capable of handling.


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