The greatness of gin.

Wine, beer, and other potent potables.
June 4 2010 9:59 AM

A New Kind of Drunkenness

The greatness of gin.

(Continued from Page 1)

How to Booze: Exquisite Cocktails and Unsound Advice (Harper), whipped up by Jordan Kaye and Marshall Altier, employs the same gimmick as Peterson's, pairing cocktails with appropriate occasions. However, they suggest drinks that are drunk by people you actually might want to get drunk with, and their ideal reader is the aspiring sophisticate attracted by our ongoing cocktail renaissance. Kaye and Altier recommend a Gimlet for a second date, a Collins when striking up a conversation with stranger, and a Pink Gin for "cocktails with people you despise," and when they do so, they are speaking truth to power. The authors are professional bartenders, and the real meat of the book is in its supplements and sidebars. These supply the basic- and intermediate-level information (about bitters and muddling and aperitifs and on and on) that enable the reader to begin his journey toward mixing superlative drinks.

But the authors are decidedly not professional writers. It takes professionals years to master the science of padding out a flimsy story. These guys merely rely on cheerful empty patter to fill the space between recipes. Their conceit only takes them so far, as when they advise that a Negroni will facilitate three-way sex. "The Negroni doesn't ask you to choose. With aperitifs, as with sexual partners, you can have it both ways, and we encourage you to do so with this brilliant and iconic cocktail." This is a tawdry thing to say about a noble libation, a simple drink with a complex taste and perhaps the highest purpose that "My Lady's Eye Water" can be put toward. (Moreover, I have read elsewhere that a fifth of rye and an eightball will do the trick, no shaker necessary.)

Nonetheless, I embrace these authors in fellowship, not least because of their obvious affection for "the Cream of the Valley." There's a lovely illustration near the end of the book featuring a few of the botanicals that give good gins strong character—citrus peel, cardamom, coriander seeds, juniper, and orris root, which looks to be a cross between a shooting palm tree and a prehistoric tropical insect. All in all, How to Booze would be a good college-graduation gift for an easily amused, generally pleasant young man needing to be weaned off of Jager and Natty Light.

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By contrast, Old Man Drinks: Recipes, Advice, and Barstool Wisdom would be an appropriate present on the occasion of a 60th birthday or a second divorce. Written by Robert Schnakenberg and beautifully designed by Doogie Horner, it features 70 recipes for cocktails, each preceded by a capsule history or concise tribute, as if to provide a seed for an inexcusably long night of sitting on a barstool talking shit. In explaining the origins the Monkey Gland, Schnakenberg finds occasion to discuss the sexual potency of William Butler Yeats.

What makes the book a treasure are its many frank, fond black-and-white photographs. Shot by Michael E. Reali, these depict veteran boozehounds in their natural habitats. Some are hearty bon vivants, some sad old alcoholics, and most have pulled their glasses away from their mouths long enough to share some sagacity. Tom (age 62, retired golf pro) references French Symbolism: "No one said it better than Charles Baudelaire: 'Be drunk; be always drunk.' You can take that any way you like." Caesar (60, engineer and painter) is a dive-bar Zen master: "Most of us are afraid. When your fear comes to an end, then you discover the whole universe." Gary (65, retired marketing manager) gives a confident thumbs-up and quips like P.J. O'Rourke: "Scotch goes well with anything, especially marriage." I have only one serious complaint about Old Man Drinks, and it regards a serious abuse of "the Regular Flare-Up." Page 46 spotlights Gin and Milk—"a great way to polish off leftover milk that's reached the end of its lifespan." Combine the ingredients. Shake. Strain. Serve. Shudder.

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