Welcome to “Recorded Conversations,” an occasional feature where all the Addison Recorder editors contribute their thoughts about a question, idea, or prompt. Everyone will chime in, and then we see where the conversation wanders. For today’s conversation, J. Michael Bestul looks forward to a few drinks over the Labor Day weekend, and wonders aloud what might be drinking.
Prompt: You’re at a bar, restaurant, or pub that you’ve never been to before. The place has a pretty good drinks list, and on it, you notice ____________. And because this is one thing you always have to try when you’re at a new place, you order it.
Question: What is ____________, and why is it the libation you order?
To explain my contribution to the conversation, I must pay due respect to three people who shaped my philosophy on ordering drinks in public places.
When I was developing my palate for alcohol, my parents allowed me to try anything and everything they were drinking. My mother has a taste which runs towards mimosas, Bellinis, cosmopolitans, etc., and I also attended many college parties where fruity and sweet mixers were in fashion. For a long time, I preferred incredibly sweet cocktails. But a couple months before I earned my master’s degree, I went out to dinner with my parents at one of the best restaurants in Chicago, ordered such a drink, and received a frown from my father.
(My father’s answer to this question, by the way, would be a martini, with Hendrick’s Gin if available, almost no vermouth, and a twist of cucumber.)
“Andrew,” he said to me, “you’re getting older, and drinks like this…they aren’t you.”
My cocktail tasted horrible after that.
From that day forward, such drinks have never been attractive to me. Well, I still love champagne and a drink with a bit of sweetness, but it has to be tempered with something darker, more straight up and forceful, something where the calories and impact primarily come from the alcohol itself.
My father’s opinion was seconded that same year when Esquire published one of their best articles of the decade: “A Letter To Men by Christina Hendricks.”
Among her pieces of advice to our befuddled gender was this:
“We want you to order Scotch. It’s the most impressive drink order. It’s classic. It’s sexy. Such a rich color. The glass, the smell. It’s not watered down with fruit juice. It’s Scotch. And you ordered it.”
I began to like Scotch and whiskey after that.
My last influencer is Michael McOsker, a doctoral candidate in classics at the University of Michigan and a lover of excellent food and drink, who put me and several friends up in his house for a night when we drove from Chicago to Cleveland for Mr. Bean’s wedding. He made us absinthe shots and a pitcher of Pimm’s cups infused with basil, and rhapsodized over them while we played a round of Kill Dr. Lucky. Amidst his reverie, he commented that when going out these days, it became harder and harder for him to order drinks because he only liked to order what he couldn’t make himself.
That thought resonated with me. I frequently buy good but inexpensive gin and vodka because I love mixing them with tonic and am pretty decent at it.
I stopped ordering gin and tonics at restaurants after that.
Put all of these thoughts together, and now when I’m out for the night and have the financial resources for a good drink, I want something strong, full-bodied, and with just the right taste. Something which will keep for a while and let me savor it over a period of time. Scotch and whiskey perfectly fit this bill, and I have a strong affinity for whiskey sours. But if any bar has a specialty cocktail involving whiskey, rye, or bourbon, I will always give it a try, knowing the potency will overcome anything which it is combined with, and in this manner I have been introduced to many types of mixers and brands which are now personal favorites. Similarly, I take a red wine over a white every time, and a dark beer, Guinness, stout, or porter, over a lighter ale or lager on a special occasion.
And when I’m with my father, we now share Gentleman Jack or Crown Royal with water…the perfect mix for us.
Although I still find martinis too strong…and I can never resist good champagne.
(Heck, I can go through an entire bottle like they used to in Victorian England if I get carried away.)