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What to Drink, When, and How Much

Early into the life of 12 Bottle Bar, my wife mentioned the blog to one of the advisers her on her Gin book.  “What a clever allusion,” they said.  She thanked them and passed along the compliment.  “Allusion to what?” I asked.

In 1943, art director, painter, modeler of clay, photographer, elite bartender, and handy man, H.i. Williams set out on a quest to simplify classic cocktails for the home.  His conceit, 3 Bottle Bar, was to choose three key bottles — whiskey, gin, and dry white wine — and to deliver a couple of dozen drinks around them.  Huh, sounds familiar.  Not only was I astonished to see how close in thinking Mr. Williams and I were, it became readily apparent that the obstacles that affect the home mixer today also affected them nearly seventy years.  Rewind that another seventy years, and we can only wonder if  a Victorian Age progenitor was trying to solve the same problems.

I find Williams’ advice as sage today as it was then, and on the subject of what to drink, when, and how much, I turn the stage over to him…

“What you serve is, of course, a matter of personal taste.  Although my likes may not be yours, may not fit the habits of your family or the customs of your community, they may interest those of you who have been a bit bewildered on such matters as cocktails versus highballs and so on.

Of the many kinds of alcoholic drinks, those in this book fall roughly into two classes — short drinks like cocktails, and long ones like highballs and collinses.  They are often served interchangeably.  For my part I think a cocktail belongs before a meal or at an affair where food is to be served and that the longer drink is for an afternoon or evening group which sits around chatting or plays games for several hours.

Of all the many stories about the origin of cocktails I like the one about the doctor on the coast of South America who first mixed them to give to men who had lost their appetites.  Surely the prelude to a meal should provoke the appetite, should have a tantalizing effect to make the food taste better and a warming one to stimulate digestion.  Filling up with ten or twelve ounces of an icy highball or collins has the opposite effect.

My favorite cocktails are on the dry side… Sautinis or Whisky or Gin Sours… because anything too sweet doesn’t arouse my appetite.  And the hard liquor base must be disguised because hard liquor, almost straight, usually destroys your keen taste for food.

When the hostess is also the cook, I think serving cocktails a half hour or more before dinner is a gracious gesture.  Then she can sit down and enjoy this bit of sociability before her final sauce making and salad tossing.  No hostess can include both kitchen and cocktail rites during those last fifteen minutes before a meal appears on the table.

How many cocktails?  This is for you to judge.  Some like a second, others do not… and there will be an occasional guest who should not be offered a second.  A third?  That will dull the appetite, delay the meal past the point where the food is at its best, and may even get the party out of hand.

Never force drinks upon your guests.  Be grateful when they know their capacity.  The difficult ones are those who don’t.  What has little effect on one may be dynamite to another and the smart host senses this and thinks up a tactful way to pass by the latter.  Remember the fun of your party depends upon you.”


I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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