Demon Rum

Demon Rum, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who knew one when he saw one, defined an alcoholic as ‘a man you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.’ And Mrs. Fred Tooze, president of the 250,000-member National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, a still flourishing outfit, tells us that ‘in every crisis Americans have turned to drink.’

“With these two pregnant reflections, I think we may have profitably get through the morning.

“It is generally accepted that Dylan Thomas died as a result of drink. He was a terrible drinker, would follow beer with creme de menthe, and that with rye. He drank with the clear purpose of getting drunk as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. His last terrible days were spent in St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village, New York, no more than a stone’s throw from some of his favorite bars.

“My own definition of an alcoholic is a man who allows the drink to notably affect the quality of his work. Some of my friends take a sterner view of the situation. They say an alcoholic is a person who lets the booze interfere badly with the conduct of his life, and specifically with the treatment of others.

“But there is a terribly hard question involved in accepting this broader definition. It is easy to enough to see the bad effects of whiskey and beer on the people we love. The insensitiveness, the childishness, the plain damned brutality. It is much easier to be a rotter when you have a bellyful. This is the part about alcohol that everyone, including Mrs. Tooze, knows about and talks about.

“A subject much less explored is how much genuine love for other people is liberated by the Demon Rum. Alkies are bound up people, usually little talented in the delicate matter of showing their feelings, especially the tender ones. They are suspicious of life because they feel, usually rightly, that it has not treated them well. They cannot give with ease.

“Yet somewhere within they usually want to give, and that is where the booze comes in. With all its acknowledged bad effects, a little ethanol tends to let you give and receive love.

“This is true of both the sacred and the profane kind. You may indeed want to have every chick in the place after the third martini; but you are also quite likely to say just the right things to just the right girl, which may result in something quite pleasant indeed for a period.

“So don’t rap anything too hard which provides a release from the prison of self. It has been estimated that the population of Ireland would be damned near the ideal proposed by the Zero Population Growth people, were it not for the emotionally liberating qualities of Guinness and Paddy’s and such. How many of my friends and relations would be around to tell the tale if the old man hyad not been fired up by Dutch courage provided by Irish booze.

“So, in balance, it is really quite hard to make a sound guess on the effects of booze on the feelings. These effects are indisputably good and indisputably bad, and it would require a sapient lad indeed, or some kind of damn4ed psychiatrist, to assign percentages and priorities to the good and the bad. There’s a little bit of each in it, as in everything.

“Whatever the point the good Mrs. Tooze was making in her WCTU statement escapes me now, and that surely is a bad thing, it is, it is.”

Should Bartenders Just Drink Cocktails

A couple weeks ago a friend, Jennifer Seidman, posted the following on facebook:

“I think its time all bartenders come out of the closet and admit we don’t drink cocktails. Truth.”

On the other hand, a while back there was a Class Magazine Interview with Sasha Petraske.

Sasha Petraske: I’m No Genius

(If you have an interest in modern bars and cocktails, I recommend reading the whole article linked above.)

Along with other things, the following quote seems to have generated a lot of controversy among the cocktail and bartender crowds.

“And he’ll always expect his staff’s passion for cocktails to be more than skin-deep. ‘Cocktail bartenders should drink cocktails. If you prefer a beer, you are a hypocrite and are morally wrong. You probably make bad cocktails too. It’s like being an acupuncturist and going to see a western doctor when you get sick.'”

Provocative statement, eh, from the person who opened (or helped to open) Milk & Honey, Little Branch, White Star, The Varnish, Dutch Kills, and Weather Up.

The two statements, though, seem to represent such opposite views, that they got me thinking.

First, I think Mr. Petraske’s use of the words “hypocrite” and “morally wrong” are sheer hyperbole, designed to fuel the Sasha Petraske hype machine.

In my opinion, words or phrases like “hypocrite” and “morally wrong”, should be reserved issues of some consequence in the world, not referring to whether a bartender has a beer or a cocktail after work.

Second, many bartenders don’t drink AT ALL. Either because they are recovering, or for health and/or cultural reasons. I should say, “Many GREAT bartenders I know and RESPECT, don’t drink AT ALL.” I am not sure what Mr Petraske would say about these people; but historically, it is interesting to note, that many of the bartenders who have actually managed to publish cocktail or bar books later in their lives, were the ones who did not drink.

Third, Bartenders, even ‘cocktail bartenders’, serve more than cocktails at bars. It behooves us to be familiar with Beers, Wines, Spirits, Soft-Drinks, coffee, tea, etc., not just Cocktails. We have to have opinions on everything we serve, not just the cocktails.

Thus, If a bar or restaurant has an interesting wine or beer that I’ve been dying to try, I might drink that instead of availing myself of their cocktails.

Not to mention, if I’m having food, I’m going to pick an appropriate beverage to complement my meal, not blanket order cocktails with everything.

On the other hand, if you’re going to seriously make cocktails for a living, and want the rest of us to take your cocktails seriously, you REALLY should be familiar with the flavor profile of most of the classic cocktails AND you should be familiar with what your compatriots in the field are currently making. You should be able to rock a Mojito, a Manhattan, a Negroni, A Martini, a South-Side, etc. and they should taste like those drinks are supposed to taste like.

Far too often, especially when tasting cocktails for competitions, I’ve wondered if some of the competitors have even tasted the spirit they are mixing with, let alone been familiar with the flavor profile of classic cocktails. More often than not, these cocktails will just taste like soft-drinks, gazpacho, or chilled fruit soup with a shot a booze. Not a cocktail at all.

Finally, after finishing a long shift of bartending, cocktail making, and then finally cleaning the bar, a lot of times the last thing you want is to make, or drink, another god damned cocktail.

Something far simpler is appealing. That IS the truth.