Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Booze

After last week, I thought I’d take a break on all the drinking. Eight Martinis is quite enough alcohol for the week.
Instead, I thought I’d take this week to write a nice little post full of twenty different things worth knowing about alcohol. If you’re an average person and not a bartender or cocktail connoisseur, some of these might be new information to you. Or, maybe you’re just that awesome and you know them all. It’s not like any of this is secret information.

So, read on, and maybe you’ll learn something. Or maybe you won’t, and you’ll stop reading this blog because it’s no fun anymore (damn, it only took two months for that to happen). But don’t worry, I’ll be getting drunk again next week — maybe with a Thanksgiving theme. Who knows?

 

Shooting Tequila

Do you know how to shoot tequila? If so, congratulations on being part of a sorority. If you don’t know, the order is salt, tequila, lime. First, pour the shot of tequila. Then, lick the back of your hand just below the index finger, and sprinkle some salt on it. Then hold the tequila in one hand and lime wedge in the other. Lick the salt, shoot the tequila, and suck on the lime wedge. It’s like a poor man’s Margarita — so poor that he couldn’t afford triple sec.

Malt Liquor

What the fuck is malt liquor? It’s essentially over proof beer. Because of the higher alcohol by volume (usually in the higher teens or low twenties), it cannot be legally called beer. But, it tastes and feels like (really shitty) beer. If you want the same experience, add a shot of vodka to your beer of choice. Then, feel like an asshole for adding a shot of vodka to your beer of choice. But at least this way you’re not the asshole drinking malt liquor.

Martini Glasses

Martini glasses have a stem for a reason. Hold the glass by the stem — that way, the warmth of your hand does not warm the drink, helping it to stay colder longer. In almost every movie or TV show where someone is served something in a Martini glass, it is supposed to help them look sophisticated. However, this usually fails, as most of the time the actor will hold the glass by the cup, and not by the stem. And thus, we learn, most actors are assholes who don’t pay attention to the easiest details.

Same rule goes for chilled wine. If you’re drinking your wine at room temperature, as you often do with red wine, then hold the glass by the cup so your hand will warm it and help release its bouquet.

The Tequila Worm

If there’s a worm in your tequila, either your liquor cabinet is infested, or (more likely) you’ve fallen for a marketing gag and bought bad booze. Tequila should never have a worm in it, and you’re an idiot for trying to impress your friends with that bottle you found across the border.

However, some mezcals — a liquor made from the maguey plant, which is type of agave — will have a the pickled larva of a moth that lives on the agave plant. But, it’s still a marketing gimmick with mezcal, too. Really, you just shouldn’t by spirits with animals in the bottle.

Though, snake wine does look an awesome decoration.

Filling a Glass with Ice

Whenever you go to a bar and order a drink on the rocks, you’ll find that your drink is pack with ice. Most likely, you’ll curse the bartender for robbing you of alcohol. Of course, if you do do that, you’re most likely an idiot.

Drink measurements don’t change depending on how much ice is used, and there are no (good) cocktails which instruct you to fill a glass with a certain alcoholic beverage after the other ingredients have been added. The mixer is always what’s used to fill. So, even if you ask for no ice, your bartender is still going to use the same amount of rum in that Rum and Coke, and the only thing that will change is the amount of soda.

One of the first things anyone learns when they start getting into mixing drinks is that you always, always, ALWAYS fill a glass with the glass with ice (with maybe a few exceptions). The more ice there is, the slower it will melt, and the colder your drink will stay. Your bartender isn’t robbing you of booze. The drink might be smaller, but there’s actually more alcohol by volume than if there was less ice.

Booze Not Bullets

When Magellan was stocking for his voyage around the world, he spent more money on sherry than on weapons. Really, more people should have this type of attitude, and certainly a lot of nasty Native American deaths could have been avoided if more explorers had had this attitude.

Keeping Wine

It’s a sad fact of mixing drinks that wine — even fortified wine — has a short lifespan once opened. Once opened, it oxidizes, and the flavor just isn’t as great anymore. It’s not harmful or anything — think of it as similar to soda going flat.

To prolong its life, keep it in the refrigerator and using a vacuum pump to get air out of the bottle. It still won’t keep forever, but you’ll have it for a bit longer.

This is especially hard with vermouth, as a lot of the more common drinks that use it (like the Martini or the Manhattan) use a very small amount proportional to the entire drink, which means you probably won’t use all of your product quickly enough. Your best bet is to look for a smaller bottle, but they can be difficult to find. If your vermouth does “go flat,” it’s still very usable, but don’t be surprised if you give it to a discerning guest and they don’t like it.

That’s Not a Martini

The word “Martini” has been bastardized, as has the suffix “-tini.” They are now most commonly used to describe any drink served in a cocktail glass. Thus, an Appletini is by no means an actual Martini, though it is very good, if admittedly rather frou-frou.

If a drink is obviously based off of the Martini blueprint, then using the term seems appropriate (and that opinion makes me a lot more lenient than a lot of Martini lovers). Otherwise, there’s probably a better name for those weird house cocktails at various restaurants. Perhaps if we all showed a little creativity, the Martini would remain its good old self, instead of a limitless list of mostly overly sweet specialty cocktails.

Is Vodka Flavorless?

No. Stop saying that it is. It’s not odorless, either. And not all of it is even colorless.
Vodka is, however, neutral. It is a spirit that’s been distilled to the point where there is no trace of what it has been distilled from — and as such it can be distilled from almost anything that contains sugar or starch. That being said, it’s definitely not tasteless. Different vodkas have different textures, different mouth feels, different aromas, and definitely different tastes. The differences are just subtle.

Keep that in mind, because there’s a segment of the cocktail community that hates vodka with a passion, despite it being the most popular spirit in the world. I’ve heard suggestions that one ought to buy a cheap vodka and keep it in the bottle of a more expensive vodka to trick the mind. Don’t do this. Vodka, like any other spirit, has a noticeable difference in quality depending on the price. If that cocktail enthusiast can’t tell that it’s a cheap vodka they’re using, then I doubt that they’re all that good at tasting drinks to begin with.

Sour Mix

Sour mix is a little silly, and I say this even having a bottle in my fridge. Sour mix is essentially sweetened lemon/lime juice. That’s it. In almost every recipe where you see sour mix, you can replace it with an equal measurement of lemon juice and simple syrup (or lime juice and simple syrup). It’ll probably be better this way, because if your drink is too sour or too sweet, you can add juice or syrup to taste. You can’t do that with a pre-made mix.

But, like I said, I have a bottle in my fridge, and I do use it sometimes (most often for a Lynchburg Lemonade), so maybe that makes me the douchebag.

Daiquiris

There’s nothing wrong with a frozen Daiquiri, but you should know that’s not what the original drink is. The original drink also contains no strawberries or strawberry flavoring.

The original Daiquiri is a mix of rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. I’ve got nothing against the frozen version you’ll often see on cruises or at resorts, but you should give the original a try. It’s pretty good. Respect.

Captain Morgan

In addition to being a brand of spiced rum, Captain Morgan was also a real person. Henry Morgan was a Welsh privateer hired by England to essentially fuck things up for the Spanish in the Caribbean. Even though those Captain Morgan commercials depict a suave and fun-loving party guy, the real Captain Morgan was more fond of murder, rape, torture, looting, theft, and arson. I don’t know if he liked rum or not.

And you thought the Redskins had an offensive mascot.

Common Phrases

A few common phrases allegedly have their origins in booze. Take “The Real McCoy,” for example. The theory behind this phrase goes that in the time of rum-runners, a lot of captains would mix their product with water to stretch their profits. And you expect rum-runners to be honest people, don’t you?

Well, old Captain McCoy was an honest smuggler, even if his contemporaries were not. He allegedly did not cut his rum with water, and thus we get the phrase “The Real McCoy.”

“Mind your P’s and Q’s” may also come to us thanks to alcoholic beverages. In old English pubs, customers would have their beer served to them in pints and quarts. However, being old English alcoholics, these patrons would often get rowdy and unruly. When this happened, the bartender would yell at them, telling them to mind their own pints and quarts. “Mind your own pints and quarts” became “mind your P’s and Q’s,” and thus many a grandmother eventually told their grandchildren to go drink some beer when trying to teach manners.

I’m not sure if either of those origins are true, but I like to think that they are.

Medical Spirits

As many of you may know, several cocktails and cocktail ingredients have their origins in medicine. This was back when a shot of whiskey would cure whatever ails you, so to be fair medical science hadn’t progressed that far. Really, it’s a miracle the human race didn’t die out.

The popular Gin and Tonic is one of those medicinal cocktails — though, in this case the alcoholic ingredient wasn’t the medical ingredient (as is the case with most of these cocktails), but the mixer. Back in the 1800s, malaria was a big problem in areas like India. However, it was discovered that quinine — an ingredient in tonic water — could be used as a treatment.

The problem was that the tonic water of the time was quite bitter — thanks to the medicinal quinine. So, the army of the British East India Company introduced a cocktail of water, lime juice, sugar, gin, and quinine to make the drink go down easier. Usually things were added to liquor to make it more palatable — not the other way around. Tonic water must have sucked two hundred years ago.

Today tonic water contains a lot less quinine and is usually sweetened, as it is no longer used as an actual tonic.

Smart Travelers Drink Beer

If you ever travel and you find yourself in an undeveloped or developing country, it might not be safe to drink the water. However, it should be safe to drink the beer. We have yet to discover a pathogen that can survive in alcohol. As long it hasn’t been contaminated with something else, you should be fine.

So, don’t worry about your travels. You might not stay that well hydrated, but chances are you’ll be too wasted to care.

Death by Wine

George Plantagenet was the First Duke of Clarence back in the 1400s. Unfortunately for old George, he was convicted of treason, as most people were back then. He was executed, but legend has it that instead of beheading or any other traditional type of execution, the good Duke was drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine.

There’s no way to know if this is true or not, but his body was eventually exhumed, and it appeared that Georgie boy had not been beheaded. Truth or fact, it’s an oddly romantic story — so much so that Shakespeare used it in Richard III. In the interest of a good story, let’s assume it’s fact, and go on believing that George got trashed one last time before he met his maker.

Mad at MADD

The founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is no longer associated with the organization. She quit, because she felt that the organization was becoming too anti-alcohol, rather than anti-drunk-driving. The lesson here? Don’t drink and drive, but do drink.

Don’t think that’s good advice, well let’s go ahead an uphold Godwin’s law: Hitler was a teetotaler and abstained form alcohol. He also got his ass kicked by FDR — who ended prohibition — and Winston Churchill — who was drunk pretty much all the time. So, I repeat: Don’t drink and drive, but do drink. It’s what freedom-loving non-Nazis do.

Delicious, Delicious Barrels

Do you like bourbon? Scotch? Do you like any type of whiskey? Well, then you might enjoy licking barrels. You see, whiskey is aged in barrels, and most of the flavor (and all of the color) comes from the wood of the barrel. Some other spirits like rum and tequila are aged this way, but most of their flavor comes from what they’re distilled from — sugar or molasses and blue agave respectively.

This is why aged liquors have richer flavors — they’ve simply been flavored longer by sitting in the barrel for longer. It’s a little gross to think about, but hey, if you like whiskey, I’m not judging.

Dangerous, Dangerous Equipment

Speaking of barrels, turns out distillation equipment also to blame for absinthe’s bad rap. About a hundred years ago, absinthe had a reputation as a terrible drug and hallucinogenic that would make you go insane — after all, absinthe gets as high as 150 proof, so it was a pretty easily-earned reputation.

Well, that reputation is not completely fair. A lot of the adverse affects were actually the fault of heavy metals that were introduced during distillation. In other words, the absinthe was poorly made and became contaminated. The contamination caused health problems, and temperance movements got it banned in a lot of countries.

Today, absinthe bans have been lifted in many of those countries, including the United States. In the United States, absinthe must be legally thujone-free (which only has trace amounts in absinthe anyway), but you can finally get absinthe that contains wormwood, and is a high-proof distilled spirit, as opposed to a replacement liqueur.

A Drunken Honeymoon

Turns out in ancient Babylon, wedding gifts used to be a lot more fun than a fatted calf. After a couple got married, the groom’s new father-in-law would provide the former with all the mead he could drink for a month — and in ancient Babylon, the calendar was lunar-based. And mead, of course, is a fermented honey beverage.

Thus, this period was known as the “honey month” or “honeymoon.” And now your mind is blown with ancient world trivia.

One bonus for the road about ancient Babylon: If you made a bad batch of beer back then, your punishment would be to be drowned in it. Serves you right.

 

Denouement
That’s it, my lovely folks. I hope you enjoyed this little adventure. I know I sure did. I’ll be back next week with some more drinks. See you then!


2 responses to “Twenty Things Worth Knowing About Booze

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