‘Cheers!’ will celebrate and explore the world’s vast pantheon of beverages, from the quintessential (Absinthe! Manhattans!) to the unknown (Eierlikor!).
Editor’s note: Welcome to the debut of our new column Cheers!, a spirited exploration of drinks, drinking and drinking culture. It will alternate in Pacific NW magazine every other week with another fun new feature, Gather, a look at how, where and with whom we connect and build community, which debuts Jan. 20.
WE, AS A SPECIES, have always liked to have a drink.
This is not to say that we’ve always been good at it. Early man’s idea of happy hour was foraging under a tree for rotten plums and getting pleasantly sick while trying not to fall out of a tree.
THE BACKSTORY: ‘Cheers!’ to our new magazine feature about drinking
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Since then, humans have sought to repeatedly re-create that miracle by fermenting anything we could get our hands on, the results ranging from cognac to pruno and everything in between.
And while mixing alcohols is an ancient practice (grog, possets and fortified wine, for example, are all libationary chimeras), it was not until the early 1800s that the concoction of spirits, liqueurs and other ingredients was given the term we use today: a play on words referencing the practice by horse traders of plying their older stock with suppositories made of ginger to liven up the animals a bit, or “cock their tails.”
Since then, humans have enthusiastically employed cocktails for a similar purpose, though (usually) in a more palatable way.
There is much disagreement about who really invented cocktails (some historians think it was the Brits; others, the Americans), but it’s likely that the first drink given that moniker was probably something like a Sazerac: hard liquor smoothed out with a bit of sugar and kicked up by herbal bitters.
Early cocktails had a wealth of other names — like “slings” or “punches” or “rickeys” — and were mostly composed of ingredients that could be sanely found in bars, like citrus juices and liqueurs. But in the past 200 years, “mixology” has been elevated to an art form, and there is nothing that cannot make its way into a cocktail now, from bacon to hot sauce to an actual pickled human toe.
We should try them all.
The right libation is a crystallization of the moment, a wealth of feelings and atmosphere and milieu distilled into something that can be sipped. And they need not all be cocktails; my first alcoholic drink, ever, was a straight shot of Bacardi 151, lit on fire and downed in one gulp in a college dorm room.
It was not much more sophisticated than eating rotten fruit, but that drink, though harsh and acrid, was the right drink at the time — after all, I still remember it fondly.
Thankfully, these days I drink a little better: A cigar and a hot tub on a winter’s night call for a neat scotch; a hot Southern afternoon at the races begs for a mint julep; a day at the beach demands a session-style beer chilled to a frost. And a “drink” need not always involve alcohol — a sublime cup of coffee is the soul of a chilly morning, and a fizzy kombucha is as virtuous and as refreshing as a vigorous yoga session.
There is a wide world of liquids out there to be sampled; mixed; taken straight; and, if occasion calls for it, even lit on fire.
This column will celebrate and explore the world’s vast pantheon of beverages, one tasty dram at a time. We’ll highlight the quintessential (Absinthe! Manhattans!) and uncover the unknown (Eierlikor!) so that you, thirsty readers, can sample more boldly from the upper reaches of the bar.
I invite queries and suggestions for drinks you’d like to hear about or share. After all, somewhere out there, some poor soul is pouring straight rum into a shot glass when she could be making a mojito.