One Step Closer

Last week I ordered a martini after work – breaking news this is not.  But for me, the simple act of enjoying an ordinary martini has been impossible for quite a long time.  While sipping the icy cold cocktail with a colleague in a near-empty restaurant bar, I took a moment to reminisce about my drinking preferences: what led to my martini hiatus; my past attempts at reintroduction; and my current station, based on my new-found love affair with gin.

The story begins on a cold, winter afternoon over six years ago.  Low-hanging gray clouds blended with Washington’s stubby granite and marble skyline, which itself blended with dirty, soot-crusted patches of melting snow.  I was to meet several co-workers, as well as my girlfriend, for a Friday happy hour at a martini lounge that had recently opened in the lower level of a Capitol Hill row house.

Down the steps and into the darkly painted and dimly lit space, I wasted no time tying one on, as they say.  Only a short while later – say, about an hour – I was well into my third vodka martini and feeling tight.  Being a young man at the time, I had not yet mastered the delicate art of managing one’s buzz, manipulating time and drink to create the perfect combination.  Especially when consuming spirits, I would go from sober-as-a-priest to falling-down drunk.  Unfortunate yes, but nonetheless part of knowing your body’s chemistry, tastes, and faculties.  Thankfully my girlfriend was there in my hour of need, rescuing me from myself and along the way, witnessing things no young woman should ever have to see.

Weeks and months passed, then years, but I could not enjoy another martini following that experience.  Any time I so much as smelled vodka and vermouth together, my stomach would turn; the Garcia Effect had indeed taken firm hold.  Try as I might to reconstitute my taste for martinis, I was never able.

Years later, I found myself sitting at another bar with that same woman – now my wife – this time aboard a cruise liner touring the Caribbean Sea.  It was a special occasion and another attempt was in order; certainly it had been long enough for my body to forget the agony I have inflicted upon it.  But success was not to be.  Even the bar’s specialty martini – an Iceberg Martini, consisting of vodka, vermouth, and crème de menthe – could not fool my physiology’s memory.

Shortly after that trip I gave up trying to reacquire the taste: martinis would forever be crossed off my list of cocktail options.  I decided instead on whisky, the Manhattan being my cocktail of choice.  This was the routine until earlier this year, when I discovered the herbal wonders of gin.  This past February, I wrote about the Parisian Cocktail, an ordinary gin martini with crème de cassis.  It marked the beginning of my slow and cautious return to the classic martini.

Although as of late, the Negroni has been my cocktail du jour, it didn’t suit the hot weather last week and felt less than refreshing that afternoon with my colleague.  Why not try a gin martini?  This is, after all, as martini aficionados will inform you, the proper spirit with which to make the cocktail.  And the cold, crisp gin certainly sounded delicious on such a warm day.  Yet without a third ingredient to mask the taste and smell – menthe or cassis as in past attempts – I was afraid of embarrassing myself by viscerally reacting to the drink.  But after contemplating my choices for a few minutes, I thought what the hell? 

So, a gin martini it was.  And although it wasn’t an exact replica of the martini that so thoroughly entrenched my conditioned taste aversion, to me it represented progress.  Apparently, simply substituting one spirit for another was the key to appreciating this classic cocktail again.  Perhaps I’m closer than ever to a time when I can order a vodka martini without feeling immediately nauseous.  But let’s not push our luck.  No one wants to see that again.

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Published in: on August 17, 2011 at 10:10 pm  Comments (1)  
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I’ll Have a Cocktail

I’ve been able to get out of the house a bit more than usual during the last few weeks.  After the sun sets and the child is put to bed, I take a relaxing, short walk to one of the many neighborhood establishments to sit, alone, with a drink and my thoughts.

Drinking alone may not be for everyone, but it happens to be one of my favorite things.  In an appropriate setting – a dimly lit bar doing steady business, but by no means busy, serving stiff and classic cocktails – one can take company in their own solitude.  Sitting quietly, raising the glass slowly to your lips, slowly savoring the flavors and ingredients; deliberate and calm movements, made in the company of a few strangers and the bartender, while the ambient noise of conversations and music fill the air.

In this setting, I have found I prefer a cocktail rather than a beer or glass of wine.  And my reason for this choice is simple: bartenders are experts at crafting cocktails; I am not.  This is not to say I am incapable of performing the task, of course not; I certainly enjoy fixing myself a drink.  And creating your own beverage – just like cooking your own meal – does at times taste better because of the effort involved.

However, a cocktail prepared by an expert is likely to be of far higher quality.  Capability and expertise are therefore important distinctions.  Yes, I am completely capable of creating most cocktails in my kitchen; I own several books containing thousands of recipes, a decent set of basic bartending tools, and a moderate variety of top shelf liquors.  Yet my home bar has its limits and is lacking in several important areas, namely the absence of fresh fruit for juices or garnishes as well as rail-quality mixers.

More importantly to note are my own shortcomings: I am not an expert when it comes to those intrinsic qualities that make a great bartender, such as creativity, knowledge, and finesse – the characteristics separating a modern, professional mixologist from a common bartender.  Because anyone can open a bottle of beer or wine, even me; on the other hand, it takes a certain expertise to create a perfect cocktail.

So I’ll leave the more simple drinks – a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, or a dram of scotch – to be prepared at home, where a clean glass and bottle opener are the only requirements.  I’ll leave the cocktailing to the experts behind the bar, where I can take full advantage of the skills and resources at their disposal.  And perhaps make a new friend along the way.

Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 9:22 am  Comments Off on I’ll Have a Cocktail  
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Drink Outside!

Metrocurean, “the go-to resource for all things food in the DC metro area – eating out, entertaining at home, cooking and enjoying the good life,” has been kind enough to post my second contribution, a list of my favorite 10 Places to Drink Outside.

From Alexandria to Arlington and all four quadrants of DC, this list will keep you busy drinking outdoors all summer long.  The venues range from swanky to laid back and everything in between.  Whether you prefer a swanky, stylish lounge or a friendly, casual beer garden, you’re sure to find a place you’ll enjoy time and again.

I also added Amanda, the brains behind Metrocurean, as an honorary Notable Drinker.  Be sure to visit her site and peruse her style and entertaining recommendations, DC events calendar, as well as numerous local picks for either dining out or cooking at home.

And of course, be sure to look out for additional drinking contributions by yours truly.

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Picture courtesy of Metrocurean.

Published in: on May 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm  Comments (1)  
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Out and About

7th Street NW in DC's Chinatown neighborhood

Although I much prefer to drink at home, I’ve managed to get out of the house a bit lately and enjoy some fine beers.  And based on those excursions, I’ve also managed to do a little extra writing outside of this blog.  Writing for other sites allows me to discuss a broad range of topics falling outside my simple tripartite philosophy about drinking.

While I am, of course, proud of this blog, I am just as proud of these guest posts.  But today is special – I have two guest posts appearing on the same day.

Neighborhood Brew Pubs: A Night Out, is my third contribution to Penn Quarter Living, a local blog covering Washington DC’s Penn Quarter and Chinatown neighborhoods. 

I also suggested Five Local Beers to Drink Now to Metrocurean, the “go-to resource for all things food in the DC metro area – eating out, entertaining at home, cooking and enjoying the good life.”

Links to these contributions are available on this blog’s House Specials page.  The page also contains links to several original series that have appeared on this blog: a three part reminiscence of my time in the Middle East; a four part series on Trappist beer; and a three part lamentation on the decline of modern drinking culture.

While I still prefer to stay in and enjoy my home bar, once in awhile it is indeed entertaining to wander about the neighborhood and relax in a quiet pub or tavern.

Published in: on March 9, 2011 at 3:07 pm  Comments (1)  
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New Year, New Beer

The new year has arrived and life is slowly returning to normal.  The holiday decorations have been packed away, pine needles swept out the door, and lights unstrung.  Holiday cheer has evaporated; only cold weather remains.  The year restarts and time continues its march onward.  But what does this year bring?  As we clear our heads from the season’s revelry, what do we see on the horizon?

New opportunities are waiting to be found: breweries to visit and brews to sample; undiscovered bars to try. and if lucky, inhabit; adventures to undertake.  2011 is only a few days old, full of possibilities, excitement, and plenty of beer.  So what might this year bring?

Brewery tours are an excellent way to discover fantastic new brews.  Luckily for me, Washington has several dozen small to medium-sized breweries in close proximity.  Virginia and Maryland alone are home to nearly 20 within an hour or so from downtown DC.  In addition to the craft and microbreweries dotting the mid-Atlantic countryside, regional breweries like Flying Dog are expanding their brewing and distribution operations.

If you’re willing to drive a little further, Pennsylvania and Delaware host larger, mainstream breweries such as Yuengling and Dogfish Head.  From a few minutes to a few hours, any number of facilities can be found, toured, and tasted; brews number well into the hundreds, mere minutes from my doorstep.

With so many breweries close by, the most difficult decision will be choosing which one to visit first.  Thankfully the year is young and months are waiting to be filled with quick trips to nearby locales.  A weekend comprised of a pleasant drive through the Piedmont’s rolling hills to taste some freshly crafted beer is an activity that can be undertaken in any season.  The only necessity is a tank of gas.  And good company.

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 10:39 pm  Comments Off on New Year, New Beer  
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