Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cocktail anyone?

"Whiskey and vermouth cannot meet as friends and the Manhattan is an offense against piety."

Today I'd like to put a quirky classic, lovingly reissued by Tin House Books, on your radar: The Hour, a Cocktail Manifesto by Bernard DeVoto (with a witty introduction by our neighbor Daniel Handler).

From Handler's intro:
Bernard DeVoto's name may not ring a bell now, but people were certainly listening in his time. DeVoto was an historian and a journalist, a scholar and a polemicist, a novelist and a soldier. He curated the papers of Mark Twain and edited the journals of Lewis and Clark. He wrote a column for twenty years at Harpers' Magazine, incurring the ire of the FBI and the state of Utah. He won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and his immense, three-volume history of the American West is still in print and still read.

So now that you know roughly who the author is, here's a taste of the book:

There are only two cocktails. One can be described straightforwardly. It is a slug of whiskey and it is an honest drink. Those who hold by it at 6:00 p.m. offend no canon of our fellowship. Scotch, Irish, rye, bourbon at your will--but of itself alone. . . .
To make a slug of whiskey, you pour some whiskey on ice. (Lately the fashionables have been saying "whiskey on the rocks"; suffer them patiently. But do not let tolerance get out of hand. A few months ago in Chicago, at a once respectable bar, I was offered "Whiskey on the Blarney Stone"--the ice was colored green. Let the place be interdicted and its proprietor put to the torture.) The slug of whiskey is functional; its lines are clean. Perhaps the friend for whom you make it will want two or three drops of bitters. Fine: there is no harm in bitters, so long as they are Angostura--all others are condiments for a tea-shoppe cookbook. If he wants fruit salad in it, remind him that cocktails are drunk, not eaten, but go along with him as far as a thin halfslice of orange or, better, one of lemon peel. Deny him pineapple, cherries, and such truck as you would cyanide. If he asks for sugar, tell him you put it in to begin with, and thereafter be wary of your dealings with him. For sugar means he is backsliding and will soon cross the frontier to join the heathen, with bottles of grenadine and almond extract in his pack. But before you give a slug of whiskey to anyone be sure that it is cold. Cocktails are cold.

Sure, there is some dated stuff in here (the book was published in 1951): DeVoto is NOT a feminist, and his distaste for olives in a martini can be a bit precious. But overall, this a thoroughly amusing polemic about that magical hour when day turns into night, work ends, and the best meal of the day is on the horizon. Thank you, Tin House Books, for keeping me from having to pay $100 online for an out-of-print edition of this quirky gem of a book.

Want to know the other cocktail? You'll have to buy the book here.

1 comment:

KB said...

Stellar. So very, very great.