“Your writing,” she stated, “is getting more and more biased and entrenched in reactionary fuddy-duddyism.” An excellent summing-up, I thought, of my contribution to the eighties’ cultural scene.
This is a difficult book for me to review.
On one hand, the subject is very important and should be given its full due. On the other hand, Amis is a wonderful writer and it’s difficult not to set the substance aside and quote him a lot.
I’ll try to split the baby.
The book is a collection of thoughts on drinking, cocktail recipes and related topics. There’s very little in this book that I disagree with.
For Amis, as for all right-thinking people, the necessities are:
3) Other brown liquors (bourbon, whiskey, rye)
The world of alcohol is full of many other delightful drinks, but these are more than drinks.
Scotch whisky is my desert-island drink. I mean not only that it’s my favourite, but that for me it comes nearer than anything else to being a drink for all occasions and all times of day, even with meals.
The ultimate cocktails (in order) are:
- 12-15 parts gin
- 1 part dry vermouth
- Lemon rind or cocktail onions
Old-Fashioned (“the only cocktail really to rival the martini”)
- 1 huge slug bourbon (say 4 fl. oz.)
- 1 teaspoon castor sugar
- hot water to dissolve the sugar completely
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 1 hefty squeeze of fresh orange juice
- 1 teaspoon maraschino-cherry juice
- 1 slice orange
- 1 maraschino cherry
- 3 ice cubes
I don’t mind an olive in my dry martinis, nor do I mind some extra vermouth if the vermouth is good.
The Old Fashioned made this way is excellent, but it takes a long time. You can get 95% of the way there if you make some simple syrup. To do so, put 1 cup of sugar into 1 cup of water and boil until the sugar is dissolved. Store it in the fridge and it will last a long time. However, store it carefully since it’s a nasty substance. Once this is done, add a 1-2 teaspoons of simple syrup to a couple shots of bourbon, a few dashes of bitters, and a dash of orange juice (cherry juice if you really want).
Amis disdains gin and tonics, but I think there’s a place for a couple quick, easy and refreshing drinks. My favorite are the gin and tonic and the bourbon and ginger beer.
The book is filled with other drink recipes, for example:
Evelyn Waugh’s Noonday Reviver
- 1 hefty shot gin
- 1 (1/2 pint) bottle Guinness
- Ginger beer
Put the Guinness and gin in a glass and fill with ginger beer. Drink.
Of course, in this brief description, you don’t get the full effect because you miss the style. For example, here’s Amis on vodka:
These local [i.e. non-Russia/Ukrainian] vodkas have two basic jobs. One is to replace gin in established drinks for the benefit of those rather second-rate persons who don’t like the taste of gin, or indeed that of drink in general. Anybody who calls for a vodka and tonic in my hearing runs the risk of that imputation.
On Pina Coladas:
Just the thing for a little 95-IQ female, fresh from a spell on the back of the bike, to suck at while her escort plunges grunting at the fruit machine.
Amis has extensive discussions on beer and wine. His advice is excellent but impossible to summarize.
His notes on “boozemanship” are excellent, for example:
First, a simply ploy with gin . . . Asked what you’d like to drink, say simply, “Gin, please.” Wave away any tonic, lemon, even ice, and accept only a little water – bottled naturally. Someone’s sure to ask you if that’s all you really want, etc. Answer, “Yes, I must say I like to be able to taste the botanicals, which just means I like the taste of gin, I suppose. Of course, a lot of people only like the effect.” Any gin-and-tonic drinkers in earshot will long to hit you with a meat axe, which after all is the whole object.
Later, switch to Scotch, saying in tones of casual explanation, “I get sick of these fully rectified spirits after a bit, don’t you?” That should draw a fairly blank stare. Then, “I mean I like a bit of the old pot still. Well, I just enjoy the touch of malt.” If that doesn’t clear things up much, say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” making it clear that you’re adding under your breath, “that I was talking to a bunch of peasants.”
His thoughts on the general philosophy of drinking are hilarious as well, for example:
Alcohol science is full of crap. It will tell you, for instance, that drink does not warm you up, it only makes you feel warm – oh, I see; and it will go on about alcohol being not a stimulant but a depressant, which turns out to mean that it depresses qualities like shyness and slef-criticism, and so makes you behave as if you have been stimulated – thanks.
Or, in the beginning of the section on diet and alcohol:
The first, indeed the only, requirement of a diet is that it should lose you weight without reducing your alcoholic intake by the smallest degree.
Finally, I would be remiss in not quoting something from his discussion of hangovers. He splits the hangover into a metaphysical part and a physical part. Here’s a bit of his advice on dealing with the former:
1. Immediately on waking, start telling yourself how lucky you are to be feeling so bloody awful. This, known as George Gale’s Paradox, recognizes the truth that if you do not feel bloody awful after a hefty night then you are still drunk, and must sober up in a waking state before hangover dawns.
2. If your wife or partner is beside you, and (of course) is willing, perform the sexual act as vigorously as you can. The exercise will do you good, and – on the assumption that you enjoy sex – you will feel toned up emotionally, thus delivering a hit-and-run raid on your metaphysical hangover (M.H.) before you formally declare war on it.
(i) If you are in bed with somebody you should not be in bed with, and have in the least degree a bad conscience about this, abstain. Guilt and shame are prominent constituents of the M.H., and will certainly be sharpened by indulgence on such an occassion.
(ii) For the same generic reason, do not take the matter into your own hands if you awake by yourself.
. . .
When the ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is, and there is no use crying over spilt milk. If this works, if you can convince yourself, you need do no more, as provided in the markedly philosophical
General Principle 9: He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.