Bartender Nate Brown asks why we try to cram our drinking into certain designated time slots but shun alcohol at all other times. That’s not how they do things on the continent. . .
Hemingway once said that drinking was a way to end the day. Clearly, old Ernest didn’t spend enough time in 21st century Europe, where Croatian fishermen begin their daily routines with a tall Karlovačko, or where French farmers drink Picpoul like water under the afternoon sun. To true Europeans, the ‘it’s 5 o’clock somewhere’ mentality is a grotesque excuse: the clock is not the gatekeeper of the gullet.
Besides, it isn’t much of a stretch to feel that Champagne was made for mornings and Martinis for lunchtime. When, if ever, is a Negroni an unwelcome addition to your day? A Highball in the afternoon, or a pastis at sundown, this laissez-faire timetable is when drinking is at its best, not crammed into a few blurry nighttime hours like Claphamites on the tube.
We’ve got to hand out to our continental friends, they know what to drink and when. A recent trip to southern Spain confirmed our differences. Not only do they actually have weather (as opposed to dreary old England’s perpetual grey), but they also know how to handle it. Siestas, two-hour lunch breaks, cafes that spill out onto the town square, and best of all, bucket loads of the grape and the grain to stave off the heat noon and night.
Alas, to the modern Brits anything more than a ‘cheeky’ glass at lunch is obscene. The sight of a lonely chap nursing his afternoon Boddingtons evokes feelings of pity and dread. There but for the grace of God drink I. Don’t believe me? Suggest a chilled Beaujolais over breakfast to your nearest and dearest and await the intervention.
It wasn’t always this way. The restrictive licensing structure as we recognise today was brought in to allegedly aid the war effort (I trust the terrible irony of Dutch Courage is not lost here). The Defence of the Realm act (which is not actually from Game of Thrones, who knew?) restricted the sale of alcohol in public houses to ‘luncheon’ and ‘suppertime’ as if the feast mentality of the barbarians still held true. David Lloyd George, the teetotal Chancellor of the Exchequer reportedly said that Britain was fighting “Germans, Austrians and Drink, and as far as I can see the greatest of these foes is Drink.” And so he more or less brought to an end the afternoons of whisky sodas that had lubricated decades of social affairs. The taboo is a recent fancy, I don’t think the men and women of Victorian England had any qualms with an afternoon’s tipple, mother’s ruin or no.
But since then we’ve learned to cram our drinking into designated time periods. No wonder most of us drink too quickly. I say it’s time to return to the past and slow down a bit. When in Rome, do as the Romans do: have a Negroni at 11.30am before embarking on a four hour lunch. And by slowing down, we can learn to recognise that what’s in your glass has been patiently grown, crafted, and rested (if it’s been rushed, don’t drink it).
Think about this. The years that it takes for an agave plant to reach maturity before catalysing into a spirit can be an astounding 10 years, often more. And we shoot it down like a penance to be paid en route to delight. The minimum three years of solitary silence endured by the Palomino grape in a sherry butt can only command prices of less than £15 per bottle. It’s madness. Fermentation can be aided, but there is no fast-forward button. These things take time, time that we cannot get back, time that is so rarely appreciated. The patience practised in alcohol creation is a virtue beyond parallel. Who’d be a producer, eh?
After all, time is the one vital ingredient that is almost always overlooked in the world of drinking. I dare say that if the hospitality industry began a campaign of education surrounding the time that goes into creating a spirit, a wine, or a beer, the world would be a better place; a place where we can drink cans of Mojito (or preferably something tastier) on the tube home, or where a glass of something sparkling can welcome the day, or where the awkwardness of meetings can be dissolved in a glass of gin. That’ll be the day.
Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.