I was going to write about the Perfect Martini today. “One fun thing about the Perfect Martini is that very few people under 70 have ever had one.” That’s what I was going to write. I was thinking I’d chase it with a line about how its accessible esotericism will maybe appeal to hipsters; follow that with a line about how taking shots at hipsters is perhaps exposing oneself as slightly behind the times; relate that back to making a Perfect Martini; and then, finally, when I had finished shoved the whole intro paragraph up its own ass, I was going to get down to it — until I read the following passage in the New York Times this morning:
A funny thing happened on the way to the cocktail-book boom. Or not so funny: It became very hard to make a cocktail at home.
Many of the recipes in drinks manuals of the last few years resemble academic papers, with asterisks and footnotes and 'see page' references. To make a single cocktail, you have to execute two or three recipes: one for the drink, then maybe one for the special syrup needed in the drink, or an infusion.
And that just pissed me right off. To be fair, I skipped breakfast, and that always makes my internal monologue a little crustier than usual. I don’t think the author of the article is wrong — I think he’s right. That’s what bothers me. When did making decent cocktails at home become so incredibly complicated and intimidating? When did we become convinced that a quality cocktail requires 45 minutes of prep and a C+ or better in Organic Chemistry? Why do party hosts and hobby-drinkers think they have to hold themselves and their kitchens to the standard of local-celebrity bartenders who make hundreds of cocktails a night for a living instead of enjoying the simple pleasures of a well-made drink in the comfort of your own home?
The article, by the way, is about a book called “Shake. Stir. Sip.”, and it is a recipe book of entirely equal-parts cocktails. It’s probably a good book, more Mondrian than Berenstain Bears if I had to guess. If I get my hands on a copy, I’ll let you know.
If there is anything this column strives to convey, it is that it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort to produce good drinks in your own home and that, in fact, the ingredients outside of the glass are frequently more important than the drink itself. It doesn't take an industrial juicer and 27 different types of amari to make it all go. A good drink is part of the setting, an extension of your hospitality or your mood: a slippery, icy sip of martini between the blue notes of a Miles Davis record, or a pitcher of tangy punch to cut the heat at the family picnic and get the old folks telling funny stories from “the good old days.” A good drink is not an expensive parlor trick. It is elegant friendliness and good, clean fun.
Make a daiquiri this weekend. Or a martini, or a negroni — pick something to fit your mood. Go back and re-read those columns if you want, but then do this: Put down the phone, computer, the recipe book, walk barefoot into your kitchen and mix the drink. Don’t measure anything. Don’t stop to check the recipe, don’t second-guess yourself. Just be present and enjoy whatever it is you find compelling about the experience. The tinkling of the ice in the mixing glass, the little dance you do when you shake a drink, the way gin used to remind you of your grandfather, whatever it is. This is not a bar. This is your home. Yours. Own it.