That’s Not a Drink, This is a Drink

Diagram: a plain glass of water vs. a drink with ice, fruit, herbs....

Because Jessica has been on call over the weekend (office job, not a surgeon or anything) she couldn’t drink, so we both decided to do the whole thing dry, which got us thinking about what constitutes a Drink, capital D.

On Fri­day night, need­ing to put a full stop on the work­ing week some­how, we gath­ered the mak­ings of ‘mock­tails’ from the shops and spent a cou­ple of hours exper­i­ment­ing.

Sourc­ing or devis­ing recipes was was absorb­ing; work­ing with ingre­di­ents – zest­ing lemons and limes, pound­ing mint leaves, crush­ing ice, salt­ing the rims of glass­es – was fun; and there was a real plea­sure in behold­ing the pret­ty end prod­ucts, even before we got to taste them.

It was the gin­less ton­ic that real­ly got us think­ing, though. What made it look, feel and taste like a real, com­posed Drink, even though it was most­ly just ton­ic and ice? A big, stemmed glass helped. The twist of lemon peel added some mag­ic, as did the table­spoon of gin­ger beer, tea­spoon of elder­flower cor­dial, and squeeze of lemon juice. But real­ly it was about the fact that we’d tak­en care and a lit­tle time, treat­ing these sim­ple com­po­nents with a lit­tle care, express­ly intend­ing to fool our­selves.

Of course this even­tu­al­ly made us think about beer.

Beer, you might think, is a sim­ple drink. You don’t add ice, and the habit of drop­ping chunks of fruit into wheat beer feels like some rel­ic of the 1990s. But we keep think­ing of a phrase Alas­tair ‘Mean­time’ Hook uses when describ­ing how beer is treat­ed in Ger­many: “uni­ver­sal rev­er­ence”.

You can dump warmish beer into the first scratched, half-clean glass you lay your hands on. That’s cer­tain­ly a beer. Or you can spend a few sec­onds choos­ing just the right ves­sel, clean­ing it until it sings, and fill­ing it to achieve the cor­rect degree of clar­i­ty, with the per­fect head of foam. That is a Beer.

It why sparklers are debat­ed so end­less­ly – their use, or not, is a choice, and an act of rev­er­ence. It’s why, what­ev­er the prac­ti­cal­i­ties, the pint as a mea­sure is so irre­sistible. It’s why even mediocre Bel­gian or Ger­man beers seem to taste that lit­tle bit bet­ter than they might in blind tast­ing – because chal­ices and doilies announce the arrival of some­thing spe­cial. It explains mar­ket­ing-dri­ven pour­ing rit­u­als, too: because they make you wait for it, a pint of Guin­ness retains a cer­tain mys­tique, even when your head tells you it’s a point­less per­for­mance.

A pint of Courage Best served in a pub that has been sell­ing the same beer (or at least the same brand) for 50 years and is proud of it, with spot­less brand­ed glass­ware and tast­ing as good as it ever can, is a Beer, even if the prod­uct and set­ting are hum­ble and it costs less than £3.

Giv­ing beer the VIP treat­ment isn’t free – sexy glass­ware gets stolen, and care­ful staff ought to cost more – but it is, in the grand scheme of things, cheap, being most­ly a state of mind.

* * *

  1. NAIPA – 1 part Brew­Dog Nan­ny State NA beer, 1 part apple juice, one slice very fine­ly pureed banana, squeeze of lime juice, ice.
  2. Spicy Thing – one part gin­ger beer, one part soda water, table­spoon maple syrup, one slice green chilli (crushed), ice.
  3. Gin­less Ton­ic – ton­ic, ice, twist of lemon peel, squeeze of lemon juice, table­spoon gin­ger beer, tea­spoon elder­flower cor­dial, ice.
  4. Fauxji­to – soda water, juice of 1 lime, sug­ar syrup to taste, crushed mint leaves, crushed ice.

One thought on “That’s Not a Drink, This is a Drink”

  1. You’re right to iden­ti­fy care as the key ingre­di­ent. Whether it is a bar­tender serv­ing you with con­sid­er­a­tion, style and skill, or being mind­ful when pour­ing your­self a drink at home, the end result is more plea­sure, even lux­u­ry. Per­fect every ele­ment of prepar­ing, pour­ing and drink­ing a brew and even beers you think you know well will reveal more of them­selves. Height­en­ing our atten­tion to detail makes us more present, and there­by more sen­si­tive.

    There is a per­cep­tion that mock­tails, because they lack alco­hol, are less seri­ous and mer­it less effort than cock­tails. You get out what you (or your bar­tender) put in. Just-picked mint; fresh­ly-zest­ed oranges and their mist of oils; basil; rose­mary: these are intox­i­cat­ing scents with seri­ous impact when used skil­ful­ly.

    You’ve inspired me to get the cit­rus and herbs in and see if I can’t rus­tle up a few killer-tast­ing drinks, minus the killer hang­over.

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