Thursday, 2 April 2020

Spirituous Liquor

So as one week lethargically follows the next, I find myself thinking about spirits a lot of the time, these days, what with one thing and another, mostly as a way to lighten the present burden. Gin, whisky. Whisky, gin. And sometimes, just sometimes, my thoughts are echoed by, say, this snippet which I come across from Luis Buñuel:

After the dry martini comes one of my own modest inventions, the Buñueloni, best drunk before dinner. It’s really a takeoff of the famous Negroni, but instead of mixing Campari, gin and sweet Cinzano, I substitute Carpano for the Campari. Here again, the gin - in sufficient quantity to ensure its dominance over the other two ingredients - has excellent effects on the imagination. I’ve no idea how or why; I only know that it works.

Talk about an intelligent use of one’s drinks cabinet. And gin as the great imaginative stimulant: of course. It always comes back to gin.

Then, a few days after my encounter with Buñuel, someone emails me with, among other things, another snippet, this time from that fake F. Scott Fitzgerald letter which was circulating a while back - the one about being quarantined during the Spanish ‘Flu epidemic - especially and not least the bit which goes:

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

I mean, if I hadn’t subsequently discovered that this started life on McSweeney’s, well, I’d still be musing on the exact quantities Scott and Zelda were planning. It still seems alarmingly plausible, even now. Plausible because, not least, of the absinthe. Gin and absinthe: I must try it one day, if I can ever get any absinthe. If I can ever get out of the house.

And then what do you know but a day later, on A Drinker’s History Of London, I find another piece of pandemic-themed invention:

The ‘Quarantini’ could consist of any remaining dregs of booze you’ve got left in the house after two weeks’ isolation (e.g. a mouthful of grappa, a half-drunk bottle of Nigerian Guinness, an in-flight Beefeater miniature, an ex’s Tia Maria gift set) mixed and chilled as appropriate and gently imbibed.

To which some bright spark has added a more specific Quarantini recipe in the comments section at the bottom:

4 Parts Deaths Door Gin
1 Part Killepitsch Liquor
Several Szechuan Peppercorns

The world is turning inwards as a result of Covid 19 and what it finds in this process of involution is that its collective mind is turning to spirituous liquor, as so often in the past. To put it another way, my mind is turning to spirituous liquor and I’m not alone. Wine won’t do it any more, it’s too frivolous. Wine can’t address the needs of the current ghastly situation. At the moment my own Quarantini is whisky and soda, which I reckon has powerful antiseptic and antiviral properties, especially if drunk in a seated position. Next thing is to try it lying down, as it might be, in bed, recovering. Then maybe walking around at a distance of two metres from passers-by. Then lying down again.

I admit this particular Quarantini isn’t new, nor exactly a recipe, more a statement of fact. Then again, that Red Snapper thing from a few weeks back was scarcely more complicated and it has its own fancy name, so I’ll stick with the elemental ur-pairing for now. Unless there’s something I could add to that whisky and sparkling water mix which would elevate it to the level of something something nameable without actually ruining the taste. I mean, no bitters or vermouth or anything like that. Actually I'm thinking: Paracetamol.


Thursday, 26 March 2020

An isolated problem

Well, this is a little bit annoying.

As the more perceptive (or less understandably preoccupied) amongst you might remember, I was away for my last post. Mrs K and I were in Amsterdam, and returned just as the world slammed shut behind us. So I see little point now in writing about the travel-sized bottles of wine I took, which you can no longer get out to buy to drink with a meal you can’t assemble to take on a train which isn’t running to a country which is closed. The very words “travel-sized” now seem as nostalgic as “cigarette holder”.

Instead, I am sitting inside, and blocking out larger worries by fretting about the order in which to drink my way through my cellar.

Full marks to those merchants who are continuing home deliveries of wine. But I would be embarrassed myself, when my neighbours are getting critical deliveries of food and medicines, by the appearance of a wine merchant’s van. Who wants to advertise that they’re still downing wine, when others are surviving hand to mouth? (Although hopefully they’re not actually touching their mouth with their hand…)

Perhaps wine merchants could avoid this by rebranding their delivery vans as something more currently acceptable? Berry and Citrus Fruits Bros, perhaps. Majestically Deep Home Cleansing. Laith Fitness Weights.

Despite the protestations of Mrs K, I have but a modest cellar. I realise, in fact, that I may have been aggrandising what now seems a meagre collection of wine by even calling it a cellar. And most of that is not meant for everyday drinking. It is reserved for grand occasions, like significant birthdays, which I now realise only happen every, oh, sixty, seventy years. For visits from members of the Privy Council, which for some reason never actually seem to occur. And are clearly even less likely than never to occur in the coming weeks.

One problem, however, is the lack of a timescale. How long does my cellar have to last? On the one hand, perhaps I should be rationing my consumption in order to stretch it out. But on the other, if this really is the end of days, then you can stuff your recommended daily units.

There’s one argument which says that if this could be my last ever spell of drinking – which, let’s face it, is more likely than it was last month – I should start on the good stuff, to make sure I drink it before I go. Never has the saying “Life’s too short to drink bad wine” seemed more potentially appropriate.

But would I enjoy it, imagining that each bottle could be my last? And what will it accompany? I was always a bit dismissive about “pairing” wines with my customary fish fingers, sausages et al, but at least I had fish fingers and sausages. Oh, to have the issue again of considering what to drink with baked beans!

And if I drink the good stuff, what would I then have to look forward to? Imagine coming out the other side of all this, with only a few bottles of grot? There must come a day when all of this clears – “unlock-down” perhaps they will call it – and what if I had nothing then with which to celebrate?

Worse, I may develop a habit of regularly drinking old clarets, top-notch Riojas and reasonable if not quite Super Tuscans. My finances could never sustain that full time. I could face a situation in which, after “the tide turns” (© Boris Johnson), I have existed on very basic food and very good wine, a pairing which it might be difficult to reverse.

But I am already beginning to run low on the supermarket stuff. And embarrassing as the arrival of a wine merchant’s van might be, worse still, surely, to emerge from a beleagured supermarket, passing a patient, socially distanced queue, pushing a trolley laden with budget booze.

So I have already drunk a suspect Italian red that someone must have left here as a gift. I am finding surprisingly appealing the sight of the acidic sauvignon blanc I had left in the fridge for cooking.

“And worse I may be yet: the worst is not/So long as we can say 'This is the worst.’”


Thursday, 19 March 2020

The Fifteenth Day Of The Plague

So in the light of the current crisis, I've drawn up a ten-point plan to help me and the wife get through it while we're stuck at home:

1) Make sure we have enough whisky. At present we have nearly two litres of industrial supermarket whisky, one unopened bottle of single malt and a single malt about two-thirds down. This lot should last at least a week, although anxiety may force us to drink it quicker than usual.

2) Don't read La Peste in translation or the original.

3) Also two bottles of gin plus a supply of tonic, sufficient for a week if I don't get out of hand.

4) Several loaves of bread in the freezer, plus unidentified pots of brown stuff which may or may not be stew. In the long days ahead we can eat our way through the latter and guess what it is we're eating. Actually, one is marked as a vegetarian sweet potato ensemble which will be the last to go, I'm guessing.

5) Wine is more problematic. I seem to be unable to drink red these days. Not sure why. But along with four now-awkward reds I've got five rosés, two bottles of champagne and a spare bottle of olive oil. The red thing is a bit of a mystery. I've only got to go near a red of any sort and I get a pounding headache. Age-related? Nature's way of telling me I've already reached a lifetime's consumption of the stuff and must now turn to other beverages? I'll be sad to see it go, but only slightly.

6) Oh, and a can of Guinness in the fridge.

7) On no account watch or listen to Nigel Farage or Donald Trump in any medium.

8) Keep tabs on the drink supply in the supermarket. Obviously, toilet paper, paracetamol, tinned sardines, they went ages ago. Wines and spirits, on the other hand, seem to be holding up. If this state of affairs persists, what with the loo paper and the sardines, we will be malnourished and despairing when the whole thing blows over, but we will also be 93% pure alcohol - effectively, living sanitary handwipes. We might even charge people to wipe their hands on us as a precautionary measure. 

9) Remember what point number nine was meant to be.  

10) Paint the bathroom. I've been talking rashly about this for weeks. Now there's no way out, literally no way out. So I've got the paint, I've got the brush cleaner, I've got the sandpaper and the dust sheets. What I'm currently short of is willpower, but by next Monday I'll be so brassed off with wandering fretfully around the house trying to decide if I feel ill or not, I'll do anything to break the monotony. Maybe I can try drinking some of the brush cleaner, can't be worse than that Lambrusco. If I'm not already dead. Now I think about it, I could usefully also start work on a fresh ten-point plan for the next stage of the plague, whatever that looks like. I have a feeling toilet paper is going to be at centre of it. Toilet paper and whisky and everything else will be a bonus. It's like living in Lerwick. Who knew?