2. "It’s something like St. Germain and elf berries."
    — Mrs. Toothpick Swords, as we discuss cocktail options for tonight’s dinner out. 

  3. In Defense of the Vodka Soda


    I plead ignorance on the vodka soda. I didn’t know it was a thing anyone regularly ordered until the people I drank around (or who drank around me) and I became calorie conscious.

    It seemed like a joke. Two, clear neutral liquids mixed together with a small bit of lime thrown in for what seemed like strictly cosmetic purposes. The vodka soda is for those noncommittal to taste. It’s for anyone who fears flavor, eschews adventure and would rather not learn to like the bitter bite of even the weakest mass-market tonic. It was a Bland Alcohol Delivery System for drinkers who wanted a buzz but lacked patience and taste. It’s a cocktail designed for refreshment and sold to people who won’t compromise by just not having a drink in the first place.

    But the things that make the vodka soda so milquetoast are also what make it worth drinking from time to time.

    Let’s turn the criticism around. The vodka soda is mildly-flavored, easy to make and refreshing. Its gossamer qualities make it easy to forget a bit later. It’s the drink for when you want a drink, but you don’t want to drink.

    Here’s the example. It’s afternoon on the first tolerable Saturday of a harsh winter. A friend asks if I want to meet quickly to catch up on a few things. The cafes are packed with undergrads on laptops. The beer bars are full of sports fans. My apartment is a mess. A bar after brunch is the only place we can talk. So we meet. But the options aren’t good. The Bloody Mary is a pre-mix. The beer list is mostly stouts. It feels unsavory to have a whiskey at two in the afternoon. We’ll be here for a bit, so I need something tall. And even though it’s above freezing, there’s too much snow on the ground for a gin and tonic to make sense.

    A club soda didn’t feel right. I tend to drink a lot of seltzer, and the waitstaff at this place could be very attentive, leading to constant refills and frequent trips to the men’s room.

    So I ordered a vodka soda and cringed.

    But I had compromised nothing. The flavor of the vodka came through the soda clearly. I was refreshed. I went home.

    I’m not turning to the vodka soda as a preference. It’s not something I’ll be making a home. Like all cocktails, it’s situational. The criticism of the drink’s biggest fans shouldn’t be that they lack taste, but that they seek to make all situations the same kind of situations, but that’s a criticism that can be levied at the consummate neat whiskey drinker or the APA aficionado. Sure, the situation for a vodka soda may not come often, but it’s a drink that shouldn’t be written off as something for those lacking imagination.

  4. The most popular cocktail recipes may not be in books. They may be printed on the hundreds of thousands of mixing glasses. You’ve seen these, they come in bar sets, the kind given for wedding, 21st birthday and housewarming gifts. This isn’t a knock on the bar set. There are two in the Toothpick Swords household.* 

    The gifted bar set is a right of passage. It’s a welcome to a new stage of your life. It’s also a good guide to a few classic drinks (and a few not-so-classic). 

    So here’s the challenge: Are there any bar sets that go beyond the…

    • Whiskey Sour
    • Manhattan
    • Margarita
    • Daiquiri
    • Tom Collins
    • Martini
    • Cosmopolitan


    I imagine the Cosmopolitan is a fairly recent addition. Does anyone have a mixing glass from before the 80s? Does it have another recipe, or is the type larger? Is this like the recipe books I’ve found from the 70s that have really gross-sounding instructions for making seafood gelatin, and I just shouldn’t bother?

    *Advanced technique: Get two bar sets of differing size and use the two metal shaker halves (one large, one medium) to shake drinks, rather than a glass. 


  5. "Walker Percy wrote that “bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust.” Distillers have been appealing to this feeling—something visceral and personal that transcends price points or mash bills—for years. It connects to the collective cultural consciousness: the myths of tax rebels sticking it to Alexander Hamilton; or outlaws at their stills, deep in the hollers of Kentucky; or Junior Johnson outrunning the law on the back roads of North Carolina, packing illegal hooch in the trunk. It is the stuff of cowboy saloons and city dive bars and a thousand country songs. This narrative, of course, is told in the codes of (largely white) masculinity—and aimed at and perpetuated by the kinds of drinkers, mostly men, I suspect, who hope that their poison of choice tells a story about them, and who are worried that it might not be the right one. Bourbon seems like a sturdy marker of a freedom-loving American identity, but that narrative is mostly a pleasant fiction. The truth of the tale lies in mergers and holding companies and transnational distribution rights. George Jones never sang about any of that. The real story of the modern whiskey industry is less romantic but no less American. The country’s “native spirit,” as bourbon is often called, is one of capitalization and consolidation."

    Jim Beam and the Myth of Bourbon : The New Yorker

    It’s branding. Delicious branding. 


  7. "Clear liquors are to be consumed before dinner, brown liquors after."
    — Me, reciting one of my ridiculous and arbitrary “rules for being a grown up.” 

  8. "An absinthe wash (also known as an absinthe rinse; the terms are interchangeable) is a method for coating the inside of a glass with absinthe, then discarding the excess liquid, and pouring the drink into it. You know how dry vermouth is swirled around the glass then discarded for a dry martini? Same thing, except with absinthe."