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“I’m ombibulous,” H.L. Mencken famously wrote. “I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all.” Mencken wrote this, of course, during simpler times: Namely, Prohibition. In those dark days, a drink was a drink was a drink. Still, I’ve always appreciated Mencken’s notion of the “ombibulous” person as an ideal drinking companion, someone with an open mind and an open heart.

Nearly a century after Prohibition, we could really use more self-identified ombibulous drinkers. That’s because our era has become the domain of the specialist, the narrow-focused, the geek. In my years of writing about drinks, I have learned one bedrock truth: There are Wine People and there are Cocktail People. And the chasm between the two is wide and deep, with only a shaky rope bridge spanning the divide.

I will never forget, for example, being at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley. I’d been chosen as a fellow and I was anxiously awaiting my first book to be released within months. On the first day, I met one of the well-established wine writers after a panel he’d just led. Someone introduced me to this guy by referring to my book, which was about spirits and cocktails. “Cocktails?” said the esteemed wine writer, with a sniff. “I don’t drink cocktails. I’ve never had a good cocktail in my life. I stick with wine.” He literally waved away the idea of cocktails, banishing it from conversation.
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If I say “wine” and “cocktail,” most Americans will jump immediately to one thing: Sangria. In fact, they might even exclaim something like this: “Woohooo, sangria!” No discussion of wine cocktails can truly begin until we discuss sangria. So I may as well start with a full confession: I do not like sangria.

In fact, I do not like it so much that I actually may have put together an ebook on wine cocktails simply in order to convince people to leave their lame old sangria behind. But soon enough, I realized this was silly on my part. I mean, who am I to tell you not to drink sangria? If you happen to like soggy fruit soaked in cheap wine, by all means, enjoy yourself.

My problem with sangria is two-fold. First, it’s almost always made incorrectly. For the record, sangria is not simply chopped fruit dumped into wine. No, true sangria should always have a significant portion of brandy and also possibly a small amount of liqueur. Ask what they put in your sangria at your local happy hour and most likely it will make you sad.
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Booze

The Fruit Wars

The battle over fruit in Old-Fashioneds started right after Prohibition — and it still isn't over.

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TM_BZ_OLDFASH_AP_001As the spirits columnist for the New York Times, Robert Simonson is one of the leading chroniclers of the cocktail renaissance. In his new book, The Old-Fashioned, he explores the history of the drink as the “ur-cocktail,” from creation to ascension to corruption to its revival as the star of the contemporary cocktail movement. The Old-Fashioned will be available on May 13th from Ten Speed Press, but we’ve got a sneak peek with 3 recipes below – just in time to change up your Derby Day whiskey routine. Pre-order it today from Amazon or Ten Speed Press.

The post-WWII surge in the Old-Fashioned’s popularity among a new demographic of drinkers rubbed certain people — particularly ancient tipplers who could remember the before-times — the wrong way. By their account, there had been a falling off in quality. As cultural critic Gilbert Seldes put it, “Prohibition has created a nation of men and women who do not know what to do with the liquor they so hardly come by.”

“Consider, for instance, the old-fashioned cocktail,” began an ominous 1936 letter to the editor at the New York Times. “Nowadays the modern or ex-speakeasy bartender drops a spoonful of powdered sugar into a glass, adds a squirt of carbonic to aid dissolution, adds to that a dash or two of some kind of alleged bitters and a lump of ice, regardless of size. Then he proceeds to build up a fruit compote of orange, lemon, pineapple, and cherry, and himself pours in a carefully measured ounce and a half of bar whiskey, usually a blend, and gives one a glass rod to stir it with. Price, 35 to 50 cents. Profanation and extortion.”
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Take Your Child To Work Day gets a little dicey when one’s work involves writing about spirits. I can’t exactly take my two boys — 11 and 9 — out to a professional tasting or to interview the hipster mixologist at the latest, greatest cocktail bar. (“Daddy, why does that man with the weird mustache keep talking so much about mezcal and his homemade bitters?”) Besides, it’s a little boring for them to watch the writing part: Boys, go sit over there and play a game on your phone while your old man bangs out his column. I’ve not even let my children read my book, Boozehound, not that they’d have the slightest interest in it anyway.

Still, over the years I’ve found a few age-appropriate ways for them to join in. I’ve written, for instance, about their love of mocktails, using fresh fruits and juices. That mocktail column actually received a ridiculous amount of negative comments, which probably made me even more gun-shy to involve them in anything remotely drinks-related.

But a couple winters ago, I traveled with Wes and Sander to Brussels, where we spent three days gorging on frites, mussels, and of course chocolate. During that cold trip, all of us had a sort of hot chocolate epiphany. We’ve been trying ever since to create our own perfect version at home. What could be more innocent than that?
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It must get a little desperate in the marketing departments of booze companies after Christmas and New Year’s Eve. How else to explain the mix of half-baked party ideas and strange events that fills up my inbox every winter?

I know it must be January, for instance, when I receive invitations to three Robert Burns Night suppers as part of the Scotch distillers’ annual marketing campaign. Here’s what I can say about Burns Night (it was January 25, by the way): It settles once and for all the burning question “Does haggis really pair with Scotch?” Yes, but only if you’re a whisky or two in the bag, wearing a kilt and reciting a poem, in Scottish, entitled “Address to a Haggis.”
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Beware: Using your favorite wine in cocktails is a surefire way to scandalize the “serious” wine snobs in your life. Which, of course, is always fun. Mix up your wine routine with more than 40 new recipes from top mixologists in Planet of the Grapes Volume 3: Wine Cocktails, available now on Amazon. In this excerpt, author Jason Wilson explores the ever-underappreciated sherry.

Everybody’s talking about sherry these days. At least everyone snugly inside the bubble where sommeliers, bartenders, wine educators, and drinks writers reside. It’s the same place where grower Champagne, mezcal, and white whiskey are really popular, and ambergris (otherwise known as whale excretion) is used in cocktails. The other 99 percent of the world usually doesn’t get the memo. Which is sometimes just as well.

In the case of sherry, however, this lack of awareness beyond the bubble is truly a shame. Sherry is one of the most versatile, and best value, wines in the world. You can almost always find high quality for under $20, and often for under $15. Taken by itself, sherry has always been the perfect wine to pair with many difficult-to-pair foods such as olives, artichokes, nuts, asparagus, cured meats, sushi, as well as wine-unfriendly Chinese food.

Behind the bar, sherry has been a staple since cocktails first appeared in the 19th century. The sherry cobbler (sherry, fruit, and ice) was the Appletini of its day, and early 20th century classics like the Duke of Marlborough, the Bamboo, the Adonis, and the East Indian — all of which are varying combinations of sherry, vermouth, and bitters — wonderfully showcase the wine.
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Italy is one country where sparkling wine cocktails are part of everyday life. Go into any Italian bar during happy hour and you’ll find a big bucket full of chilling bottles of prosecco, a rail full of Aperol, Campari, and vermouth, and bartenders churning out a steady stream of spritzes.
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When I think about port, I think of my earliest, clumsy attempts at seeming — with requisite air quotes — “sophisticated,” or at least “fancy.” Back then, in my 20s, port seemed like the fast track to connoisseurship. “I’ll take a glass of the ’85 Fonseca,” I’d say to a waiter as everyone else was simply ordering dessert.

I admit I was kind of insufferable. But I did grow fond of port, and it did end up being the first wine I truly came to know, from drinking a lot of it as well as making several visits to the famed port lodges in Porto, the Portuguese city from which the wine takes its name. Yet over time, my love for port waned. Like everyone else’s, it seemed.
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Questionable Tastes

Pimm’s & Proper

Variations on summer's classiest daytime cocktail

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Pimm's, cucumber, and a Sorta Fussy Pimm's CupHot-weather drinks are always a mixed bag. Simplicity is both their virtue and their curse. Although these types of cocktails will never be considered “sophisticated,” they can, at the very least, approach the more aspirational “classy.”

It all boils down to choices. A rum and Coke can be, literally, bottom-shelf rum and Diet Coke poured into a Solo cup. Or it can aspire to be a true Cuba Libre, with a squeeze of lime, a dash of bitters, maybe a little gin and perhaps even Mexican-recipe Coca-Cola (with cane sugar instead of corn syrup). A gin and tonic can be Crystal Palace from a plastic jug and Canada Dry, or a Spanish-style G&T with higher-end (or homemade) tonic and muddled fruit. A mint julep can be a gross, pre-mixed disaster, redolent of mouthwash. Or it can be lovingly crafted to order, with gently bruised mint leaves and a good bourbon.

Perhaps no drink illustrates this dichotomy better than the Pimm’s Cup. On one hand, it’s the snooty summer tipple of Wimbledon, garnished with borage leaves, cucumber, strawberries or mint. On the other hand, it’s one of the staples of New Orleans’ French Quarter, made with lemonade and 7-Up. Over a long weekend in the Big Easy, some friends and I once tried to collectively drink 100 of the latter. As I said: classy.
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When it comes to summer cooking, I often find myself falling into the same monotonous rut. Fish. Salad. Burger. Repeat. When it’s over 100 degrees outside, everyday tasks like making dinner turn tedious, and up until recently, very few things get me inspired enough to set up shop up in my tiny, poorly ventilated apartment kitchen.

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One day I hope to sit down with Heywood Gould — the novelist and screenwriter who wrote Cocktail, the movie — and have a drink with him. Maybe even a Cognac or Polish Martini. That’s what Heywood used to drink as a bartender in Manhattan during the 1970s. Definitely a few shots of Old Overholt Rye Whiskey. That’s what he drinks now.

The reason is simple. Despite having become a successful writer, Gould still speaks like a bartender, the type of bartender I’ve always enjoyed sitting across from: a raconteur, keen observer of humanity, and someone who understands that the reasons people enter a bar are varied, but rarely do they really have to do with flaming orange peels or flipping bottles. MORE

Booze

Cocktails for a Crowd

Don't get stuck behind the bar at your next party – here's how to craft perfect, hands-off, scaled-up drinks

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Every mixologist worth his or her shaker is trained to craft a delightful cocktail for one. But is it possible to duplicate that delight on a larger scale?

If you’ve ever been to one of the growing ranks of cocktail conferences, such as Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans or the Manhattan Cocktail Classic in New York, you’ll know the answer is a resounding yes! Every year, scores of talented bartenders flock to these conferences, where they go through the choreography of churning out great drinks for hundreds of cocktail enthusiasts at a go.

Behind the scenes, it’s like watching a buzzing beehive: all those frenetic bartenders pouring out bottles from both hands into enormous buckets, stirring with giant spoons that resemble canoe oars, and dipping straws into the buckets to (hygienically) get a taste, and a taste, and yet another taste as they go. When the drink is deemed ready, it’s decanted into dainty one-person servings that are garnished in a flash and delivered to the thirsty masses on serving trays. Despite the scale, each drink is held to the same standard as if it had been made individually.
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Why do people always order ginger ale when they fly? I almost always do, and many of my fellow travelers seem to do the same. It’s not a conscious thing for me, but rather reflexive. I don’t know what it is about being strapped into a cramped coach seat, browsing SkyMall, that makes me think: Canada Dry. When I’m on the ground, I rarely find myself saying, “Gee, you know what’d be great right now? Ginger ale.”
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Oh, poor vermouth. It’s been the brunt of an ongoing joke in the United States for some time. It was once an essential cocktail component but, following the lead of writers and statesmen from the mid-20th century, it was either swirled and dumped or left out all together, until finally, vermouth was relegated to a sad, crusty old bottle, abandoned on the shelf. Then, with the second coming of cocktail culture in the mid-2000s, it returned in spades. Bottles of Carpano Antica Formula, Dolin Vermouth de Chambéry and reformulated European varieties began populating the shelves. But, until recently, American vermouth had yet to stake its claim.
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More than creatures of habit, we are creatures of fatuous trends. Nowhere is this more plainly obvious than in drinking. Periodically, we see seismic shifts in the drinking fashions when a new movie or television show features a classic cocktail and the throngs of followers now have their golden fleece to pursue – whether it’s James Bond’s “shaken not stirred” martini or Don Draper’s old-fashioned. Of course, the trend is replete with era-specific costumes, and thus even more sad, because I’d like to think social mores march to progress over time, rather than falling back on era-specific rationales about when “men were men” and other such obsolete banalities.

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