I’ve always believed that the most confident men are those who don’t need to prove anything with our drinking. I bring this up because this time of year is the perfect moment to take stock of our collective imbibing, and how we go about mixing and consuming our favorite beverages.
We recently made it through a week where temps climbed towards the triple-digits, where the thought of Gatorade was far more appealing than a “dry” martini, at least for me. (Call me crazy, but I’m no fan of being hungover after the first drink, without the benefit of having been gently inebriated first.)
For all of us, maybe this is a good time to take our booze cues from those who came before us, and who knew that the most successful drinks are those that actually appeal to our palates and not just our livers.
To that end, I heartily recommend diluting your spirits a bit.
Christopher Hitchens, the great essayist and public intellectual who passed away late last year, is a good example to start with. After all, whether or not you agree with his politics, his capacity for drink was unassailable. He was a legendarily passionate lover of Scotch whisky, especially Johnny Walker Black…and not afraid to admit that he preferred not to drink it straight-up. “At about half past midday,” Hitchens reports in his memoir Hitch-22, he would partake of “a decent slug of Mr. Walker’s amber restorative cut with Perrier water (an ideal delivery system) and no ice.”
There’s an important lesson here–and not just that Perrier is an excellent addition to any number of spirits, the bubbles brightening up the flavors and throwing them into sharper relief, the subtle minerality of the water lending it all a sense of gravitas. Good spirits are about flavor (not so much vodka, but more on that later), and unblended or undiluted, their alcohol often overwhelms the nuances that make them interesting. What Hitches did with Johnny Walker and Perrier, the Scottish regularly do with single malts: When my father and I visited St. Andrews in 2009, we were never served single malt with ice, just a small side pitcher of water. A splash was all it took to open up the nectar in the glass and really allow its character to sing through.
Same with gin, arguably one of the more complex spirits we consume. One of my favorite cocktails in town right now is the “4:31pm” at Hop Sing Laundromat, which brings together two gins, two vermouths, and ice, allowing them all to meld together for a bit as the cubes start to melt. The resulting concoction is a miracle of subtlety and deliciousness.
And then there’s vodka, and what may be the most ridiculous modern drinking proclivity I can think of: The “very dry martini.” And not dry as in “just add a bit less vermouth than normal.” I mean dry as in that faux-charming line we all hear at the bar now and again: “Oh, just stand the shaker next to the vermouth bottle–that’s all it needs.”
No, it is not.
Many of us, as a result of this inexplicable tendency, grew up in a world where “vodka martini” really just meant “straight-up vodka, ice-cold, served in a martini glass with some olives.”
The real deal, the classic one, is arguably anywhere between 3-to-1 and 5-to-1 (vodka or gin to vermouth, that is). Maybe the problem is that, for a long time, most bars just stocked bottles of mass-produced, slightly stale vermouths. Or maybe it had something to do with a real-men-only-drink-boozy-cocktails problem. Whatever it is, now is the time to start manning up…and watering down your drinks once in a while, whether it’s with actual water or some other lower-alcohol component. They’ll generally taste a whole lot better. And they won’t necessitate a fistful of Tylenol midway through the night at the bar.
FOR PROPER DRINKS: