Review of “Everyday Drinking” by Kingsley Amis

“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:

1) Scotch
2) Gin
3) Other brown liquors (bourbon, whiskey, rye)
4) Beer
5) Wine

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:

Dry Martini
– 12-15 parts gin
– 1 part dry vermouth
– Lemon rind or cocktail onions
– Ice

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.

Warnings.

(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.

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19 Responses to Review of “Everyday Drinking” by Kingsley Amis

  1. Five Daarstens says:

    Great review, it’s been on my list of books to read for a while.

    I read recently “I drink, Therefore I am” by Roger Scruton. A book about wine and philosophy, a bit challenging, but a good read.

  2. Handle says:

    Another recommendation: “The Devotion of Suspect X” (“Yogisha X no Kenshin”) by Keigo Higashino. I think you’ll find Smith’s translation very Hemingway-esque.

    The book is a clever Colombo-style murder mystery where the detectives have a good idea of who the suspect is from early on, and the problem is proving it. What makes the book interesting is the inadvertent “battle of wits” between the mathematician and the physicist.

    There’s kind of a Jerry Maguire aspect to it (especially with the single mother) – and where both men and women can enjoy the same story but for different reasons – finding different elements appealing. At least that seems to be the formula for popularity these days. I’d read it with your girl and see if that’s true for you too. It’s always “X for guys, and Relationship Drama for the gals.” X can be sports, or war, or racing, or crime, or, in this case, some portrayal of what a male math-mind is like, and logical deduction conversations.

    I strongly encourage you to read and review Fifty Shades of Gray (LSOG), which I still insist is a much more important book than most people understand – both in terms of what will be an enduring social impact (for better or worse) and for the many Game / Evo-Psych / Sexual Selection Social Analysis (S3A) insights to be garnered from it. I’m convinced most men can up their game by learning a thing or two from this book.

    Think of all those female-written books of awful propaganda full of what we now know are lies, but which nevertheless had an outsized influence on shaping thought, opinions, and attitudes in the coming generations. A few come to mind immediately: Pearl Buck’s “The Good Earth.” Margaret Mead’s “Coming of Age in Samoa.” Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”. Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”. You can believe me or not, but I claim that LSOG will have a similar, almost stealth-underground, significant-but-undiscussed, type of impact on the minds and desires and choices of millions of Western women. And those who know how important the dynamics of the sexual marketplace are to the shape of culture and society will understand how important that is.

    In many ways, it’s an awful piece of “literature”, but its success is due to the shockingly honest way the author writes about her female fantasy. Look for the elements instead of the compound. There’s some gold to be mined out all that dross. Again, the best perspective from which a normal male can approach reading the book is in the Moldbugian sense of pretending you are an Alien scientist objectively studying the nature of human female sexuality in a 21st century Western context.

  3. CTD says:

    It should be noted that the section on “boozemanship” is for humorous effect only, and not actual advice. Unless you’re hanging out with someone who is already playing at that sort of thing, but in that case I’d tip the glass bottoms-up and leave.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Musn’t forget The Ombibulous Mr. Mencken:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=ukjBjFN3JGoC

    I wonder if reactionaries aren’t all drunks? State of the world, don’t you know…

  5. Borepatch says:

    Why do I hear Christopher Hitchens laughing with delight at this post?
    ;-)

  6. toppersbooks says:

    The hangover is just a lucky state of mind… This sounds like the perfect book for New Year’s!

  7. joetexx says:

    Bought the Kindle!

    You solved the problem of my Xmas gift to myself.

  8. Handle says:

    At the grocery store today they were selling “Fiscal Cliff Bars.” Ha ha … ah … meh. Anyway, I was wondering if you had anything interesting to say about the whole political-budgetary crisis of the century of the week.

    • Foseti says:

      Honestly, not really. I try to tune these things out. The whole thing seems so sordid. Some people really believe that knowledge of governance has progressed, and yet this is the political decision-making mechanism of the civilization that brought put a man on the moon. Knowledge really can be lost. Even in the modern era.

  9. Drink This. One who Professes Constitutional Law Confesses we should “Get Rid” of it…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/31/opinion/lets-give-up-on-the-constitution.html?pagewanted=all

    • Handle says:

      Well – mostly he wants to keep the things he likes and change the things he doesn’t without having to go to the trouble of actually passing amendments. And he’s right – the founders did just scrap the Articles of Confederation in violation of its own amendment terms when they realized those amendments were too difficult to pass in their particular political context. Why shouldn’t we think the same?

      And, in terms of “getting rid” of it, well, maybe we should. Are you satisfied with the structure we’ve got? Think we can’t do much better? How about actually trying federalism and letting particular communities try and do better and see what happens? There’s a difference between advocating the rule of law in general, and insisting that we all stick to a virtually unchangeable charter.

      Being a Con Law Prof is not like being a Jesuit Priest or Talmudic Scholar. It doesn’t mean you worship the document you study and teach, or are ethically and professionally bound to extol its virtues and encourage obedience to the public (though as a lawyer you have an ethical obligation to not undermine public respect for the law in general, not like they actually do.) And it puts you in a particularly good position to assess whether the whole enterprise has run amok and gone past it’s sell-by date.

      Like Moldbug, I assess the Constitution as having serious engineering flaws the consequences of which were minimal for a long while, but which have become increasingly deleterious with time.

      I’d argue we haven’t passed a significant “structure of government” amendment since 1913 (or maybe 1920 from a certain point of view) – a hundred years ago, and in that century, the change in the life of the average individual, his relationship to his federal government, and the consensus interpretation of what the otherwise unchanged document demand, have all changed in such radically astonishing ways that, for all practical purposes, we (or more correctly, ‘they’) have gotten rid of it.

      Most of the early legal Progressives (Justices Hand and Frankfurter, for example) explicitly and overtly advocated in magazines such as The New Republic for such things as repeal of the 5th and 14th Amendments – saying that they got in the way of “economic reforms” (basically Socialism). They were serious about that “new republic” thing, (and, mostly, they’ve gotten it) but hadn’t figured out at the time that they’d be able to get away with it without actually, you know, rewriting the Constitution. If you want to read an excellent history of how this happened, David Bernstein goes over it expertly in his “Rehabilitating Lochner”.

  10. K_C says:

    Ha! Finally validation! I’ve been drinking Old Fashioned’s for years as my favorite, but they are cursed with a name that I guess *is* fitting for a reactionary, albeit completely un-sexy. And of course, gin martinis are *vastly* superior to vodka martinis but again, ‘vodka’ sounds sexier to english speakers than ‘gin’. A middle ground between a gin martini and a gin and tonic? Try a gin gimlet. More refreshing than a martini yet maintains more of the ‘ginny’ essence. 4 parts gin, 1 part Rose’s lime juice, squeezed lime wedge over ice. Hmm, I think I’ll have to have one of those tonight too!
    On a related note, don’t refrigerate your simple syrup as that will cause it to crystallize too quickly, and it won’t go bad sitting at room temperature.

    • Handle says:

      In parts of Asia they put creamer-cups, or even large pancake syrup dispensers, full of simple syrup, on the table in place of dry sugar packets. Even the open air containers don’t seem to go bad at room temperature and high humidity (don’t know how often they’re sanitized), but the syrup always dissolves better, especially in cooler drinks. On the other hand – good luck finding zero-calorie artificial sweetener.

  11. josh says:

    I just drink whatever puff daddy tells me to.

  12. Firepower says:

    Amis-is ok
    But O, how I miss a better concotor
    In Hitchens…

  13. [...] enjoys a fellow reactionary’s book about cocktails and [...]

  14. bedrich says:

    Hint for an improved Martini (from Charles McCarry, in one of his Paul Christopher novels): just before serving add a single drop of Absinthe

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