by Hazel Anna Rogers for the Carl Kruse Blog
We begin our strange obsession with alcohol when we are young, for the most part. Prohibition, as we know, brings yearning, and alcohol is no different. It begins with a taste, which most likely brings disgust. Then comes perseverance. You have to drink a little more to see if you like it, which you still don’t, but you try again anyway because adults drink and you want to be like an adult. Then comes the first hint of drunkenness. Mine was at my best friend’s birthday, with her parents and grandparents. She couldn’t drink her glass of champagne, and so I had both mine and hers, and there came the warmth, the flushed red, the laughter. And it is funny to see a 12-year-old a little tipsy because she is not supposed to be.
Then comes secrecy. It comes in many forms. Mine came at parties in fields and hipflasks filled with mixed white spirits and passing around bottles of whisky and beer, then sneaking back into the house to the wrath of my father (rightly so). Then comes abuse. Mine came at university; nights of euphoria then sudden blackness and waking at first light with no legs to stand on, night after night, morning after morning. Then comes abstinence. You are bored of drinking for drinking’s sake, and you seem to see through it all; you are sober at a pub, watching the players roll around on the floor, and you wonder why you ever drank at all.
Then comes the first taste, all over again. The first taste where suddenly your mouth has changed and the alcohol tastes good, it tastes good! And then you wonder if you are an adult, now, because alcohol tastes good, or whether it’s just because you drank so much in the years before that you’re used to the taste, like how your parents made you eat lentils over and over again until you ended up looking forward to them. But yes – that first taste. And then you start to wonder…what is YOUR drink? Like how James Bond drinks martinis and Father Christmas drinks brandy and the Dude drinks White Russians. But what is YOUR drink?
I started with sweetness, because sweetness is easy. It was a double vodka blackcurrant and soda, most likely in a pint glass. Not too sweet, and barely tasting of alcohol. Then gin and tonic; an easy drink, easy and predictable. Then wine; wine of all shades, wine of all prices, wine snobbery, wine tastings, wine realisations. Then came that fateful night in Biarritz, with my friend Fraser, where we had our first taste of a Long Island Iced Tea. A deceptive name, and a deceptive drink.
Long Island Iced Tea
1⁄2 a fresh lemon juice
1⁄2 a fresh lime juice
The Long Island Iced Tea we had tasted was like all of the alcohol had cancelled itself out because there was so much of it and what we were left with, in that strange, loud Irish pub on the lower west coast of France, was a drink so deliciously moreish that we were staggering about like fools when we left the place.
When we returned home, we made a plan to eventually purchase all of the equipment necessary to recreate the Long Island Iced Tea. But, as is the way, the bottle of liquor we purchased each week to add to our supply would end up being drained in a week or two. Cocktails were our new mode of fun, in those Covid days.
Fraser ended up creating a new cocktail for me – a simple affair, soft on the palette, which I liked back then.
200ml good-quality orange cordial/orange juice
In the end, our alcoholic fun was getting expensive, and we surmised that it was perhaps not so good to go to bed drunk every night. So, we stopped purchasing hard liquor for a time (though not before we had got our hands on a small, thin bottle of absinthe – a dangerous game, I’ll say).
Then the pubs opened again. All opened again, and we ventured out with our masks and our hand sanitiser and our fear of strangers. And then, I moved to London, and a new phase began: the bitter phase. Prior to this phase, I had still been leaning on the sweeter or simpler edge of alcohol; gin and tonics, a little cider here and there, perhaps a dash of wine at times. At some point after I moved to London, I was introduced to the Aperol Spritz. A wondrously bright-coloured drink with a certain summery temperament, born of hot, heady Italian summers, featuring the sunset-toned Aperol, a liquor made in the early 1900s by brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri.
(Exact amounts are at your discretion. I have had Aperol Spritzes with no sparkling water at all – a recipe for disaster, but most enjoyable all the same.)
Aperol Spritzes remained at my table for a long while, partly because of their notable availability in most bars and restaurants, and partly because they were simply so darned delicious. Orangy, bitter, sweet, sparkling, crisp, cold – made for days of lounging, days of sitting about and daydreaming!
But I wanted more. Thus came the onset of the stronger bitter phase.
I am not sure where I first tasted a negroni. I believe it was most likely at The Horseshoe, a bar in Hampstead which used to do a deal on weekdays of two for one cocktails, or something of the sort. And, so, Fraser and I ordered two, and I tasted the famous drink of Florence for the first time. The negroni’s history suggests that the drink was born of the Count Camillo Negroni asking his bartender friend to replace the soda water in his Americano with gin to make a drink of pure unadulterated alcohol.
20ml sweet/red vermouth
My love story with negroni has endured, now, for the best part of two years. It is an ever enjoyable and fascinating drink; a different vermouth brings an altogether marvellous change to the drink; the replacement of gin with whisky or bourbon (making a ‘Boulevardier’) brings a warming quality; a dash of bitters makes the drink sit on the tongue a little longer; longer or shorter mixing periods alter the drinking experience entirely. It’s actually the only drink that I can comfortably enjoy whisky in (I’ve been trying for years to enjoy whisky on the rocks, because I think it is cool, and when I see my friend Alexa order double whiskies on the rocks, I think she is cool).
I drink most things now; a little beer here and there, a glass of wine, a negroni or two, a Campari spritz when the weather allows for it, a port at Christmas, a gin and tonic when nothing else appeals. But I am in the last phase, I think. I am not sure what to call this phase, but it is where a drink tastes good, but you can stop before it hits your skull too hard. It is where you can get a little drunk, but have the wherewithal to eat a good meal beforehand and have a couple pints of water afterwards to avoid a hangover. It is the strange realisation of adulthood, where you crave a drink when the day is done, where a drink sounds ‘good’, where you drink for the taste not just the feeling of imminent annihilation.
Last year, or perhaps this year, there was a trend, a rather positive trend, towards sobriety. Younger people were engaging with it most prominently, people even younger than I. Non-alcoholic beer adverts were plastered all over tube stations and bus-stops. Every bar began stocking non-alcoholic gin. Empty bottles of Lucky Saint were seen on pub tables. Maybe it was the New Year, and all that excess had gotten to people’s heads. Or maybe it was something different. The pandemic brought a fervour for wellness about, a fervour that was capitalised on by various different industries. It was a good thing, I think; people were thinking a little more about their health, which is always a good thing. But I think it also had something to do with how we are with things in the west, or at least here in the UK. When something is good, we don’t know how to stop. Deliveroo arrives, and we begin getting our dinners delivered, then our coffees, then our lunches, then our food shopping. Christmas arrives, and all we can do is stuff ourselves until we are bursting at the seams. We have little decorum, in this country. When we drink, we seem to drink only to drink. We do not do it how they do in Italy, where they drink a little, then eat a little, then drink a little more, but remain level-headed. We do not do it how they do it in France, where they chew on bread as they sip at wine. So, rather than simply drinking less, we felt we had to stop altogether, even if we weren’t alcoholics in the first place (which isn’t relevant to this discussion. Of course, should you suffer with alcoholism, then sobriety is an admirable route). In the case of one of my friends, total abstinence simply led to an alcoholic ‘binge’ once his month of sobriety was completed.
I love alcohol. I love to drink, to be a little merry, to share a few thoughts that might have been inhibited by a clear head. But I am happy to go without, I am happy to wake with a sunny head and a cloudless mind. For alcohol can be a most wonderful thing if we respect it for what it is, and what it is is poison. But don’t mention that to me while I’m sat here sipping on an ice-cold negroni.
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Other articles by Hazel include: Film Scenes I Wish I had Never Seen, What I Have Learned About Running, and Initiations.
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