Why we drink

Paul Clarke’s most recent post on the New York Times Proof blog about why and how we cocktail writers and bloggers enjoy alcohol is very much worth reading. The most-used tag on Proof is, sadly, “alcoholism;” the focus there has been more about excess and abstinence than responsible drinking. Paul’s post remedies some of that:

I drink because I like it, and for reasons that usually place “effect” a step or three down the list. I love the spicy sweetness of whiskey and I’m a total sucker for the herbal ballet of a good vermouth; when tasting well-made spirits and cocktails composed from them, I can admire the skill of a talented distiller, along with that of a bartender who understands what they have. While plenty of spirits and cocktails are so artlessly made as to make me consider early retirement, there are great new things being done by bartenders and distillers, making this an exciting time to be a drinker.

Drinking also satiates my historical and culinary curiosity: as a fan of obscure and sometimes obsolete spirits and cocktail ingredients, I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time searching for liqueurs, bitters and other products that appeared in bar manuals from the 1860s through the 1950s, but which disappeared from bars decades ago. Recreating these drinks and having the chance to taste them gives me a richer perspective of other eras and places, an experience I usually find far more satisfying than the simple buzz I could get from something as pedestrian as a vodka and tonic.

Paul goes on to discuss why he drinks moderately at home in the hope that his young children will later follow his example, an approach he expects to be far more successful than banishing alcohol from the house entirely.

My own experience is similar to Paul’s (minus the children). Last spring I went dry for a week just to see what that would be like. It didn’t bother me at all. I didn’t miss drinking. I didn’t have any problem socializing with friends minus alcohol’s relaxing effects. I certainly didn’t miss getting drunk (not that there’s anything wrong with that on occasion). What I did miss was the experimentation and exploration of new spirits and cocktails. With a well-stocked home bar and a dozen cocktail books on the shelf, it was like having a giant box of toys and not being allowed to touch them.

Paul gets it exactly right. We could go without the drinks, but the intellectual engagement that comes with mixing them is much more addictive than the warming buzz.


5 thoughts on “Why we drink”

  1. I don’t mean to get off topic, but since you’re a mixed drink maven, what’s your take on a good rum punch?

    I don’t normally mix rum with anything. I usually have a glass with a good cigar a couple of times a week. Normally, I stick with Ron Zacapa, Flor de Cana, or Ron Matusalem…but I do like some of the cheaper rums and actually enjoy some rum drinks…

  2. Speak of the Devil and he may send me in his stead.

    There are so many good recipes for rum punches – they’re almost innumerable.

    I recently posted a punch recipe for Mixology Monday, Jeff “The Beach Bum” Berry has a bevy of recipes available in his books and on his site; the resources are limitless. They range from a few ingredients to what seems like dozens of ingredients (see the Zombie Punch).

    The most basic rum punch may be the famous (infamous?) Planter’s Punch, for which there are myriad recipes. I like the one touted by Tiare from A Mountain of Crushed Ice:

    Planter’s Punch

    4 oz White Rum
    4 oz fresh orange juice
    2 oz fresh lemon juice
    2 oz fresh lime juice
    1.5 oz grenadine
    1 tsp simple syrup

    Shake and pour over crushed ice. Add 1 oz float of aged or dark rum.

  3. Awesome. Thanks, Matt! I’m going to be making grenadine later this week and have been thinking about what cocktails to sample it in. I’ll give the Planter’s Punch a try some time.

  4. Giggity! Thanks a bunch!

    I would have never thought of mixing rum and absinthe…

    Your rum shelf is inspiring…I need to get it in gear and start collecting. I’ve never even heard of Temptryst…

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