Or Thanks, Dad!
Every Sunday lunch since I was about six years old, my father poured me, my brother and my sister a couple of “fingers” of fine wine in old shrimp cocktail glasses. He would show us on a globe where the wine was from, what it was called, and what made it different to last Sunday’s wine. I have an indelible memory of that early education in wine, before my palate became corrupted with coffee, junk food, and hot sauce.
My father, one of the original Mad Men who was insatiably epicurious, also taught me how to make him a Martini when he came home from work. He showed me how to carve the perfect twist from a lemon, and the different taste profile when garnished with an olive or cocktail onion instead. My eleven year old self could judge the right proportions by smell, years before I actually got around to tasting a Martini.
Thanks Dad! It’s been a very useful life skill. I tended bar in Normandy during several teenage summers spent in France, and founded a Bartending school whilst at University in Philadelphia. The unique selling point of the school was social drinking. Offering an education not only in how to mix cocktails, but how to enjoy drinking intelligently, we deployed enormous spittoons to encourage responsible tasting. I spent a few post-university years working in Canada, where my frustration in finding palatable cocktails in the late 80’s is evident in the wall-plaque of my local watering hole honouring me as “The Best Damn Margarita Maker”. I did feel a little sorry for the resident bartender who had to go to work there every day tending bar in front of that plaque after I defeated him in a public contest for the title.
I have the good fortune to live in one of the best cities in the world for the confluence of culture and creativity. London. It is of constant amazement to me that the relatively tiny island nation of England was able not only to make English the primary business and trading language of the world, but to exert a profoundly English influence on its top tipples. Where would Madeira, Gin, Sherry, Rum, and Claret be today if not for the English? But according to David Wondrich in his book, Imbibe!, “the cocktail is the first uniquely American cultural product to catch the world’s imagination”.