"Tis the Season" for drinking and most of us might find ourselves attempting to drink away the woes of this past year. Western Civilization has a long and complex history with alcohol and most of it is quite fascinating. Here are some seasonal ideas on the history of the cocktail, associations with drinking and a few tips for dressing your bar or cocktail area at home (where, like it or not, most of us will be celebrating through the New Year).
Ancient civilizations appreciated the value of fermented grapes and grains and elevated their consumption to art. Often, crystals were used to bring out various properties in wine. For example, amethysts were associated with Dionysus, the God of Wine, and the ancient Greeks were known to create drinking vessels from amethysts. The word “amethyst” means “not intoxicated” (from Greek a- “not” + methystos “intoxicated”). Even today amethyst stones are thought to bring balance to wine.
In the recent past, some wineries and professional sommeliers rediscovered the tradition to enhance wine with amethysts and achieved amazing results. But nowadays, amethysts are no longer placed directly into the wine.
With this gem-water blend we bring this tradition to the next level. Vino features a twisted surface and as the amethysts are enclosed in the vial, it makes infusing wine so much more hygienic. The effect on wine is truly stunning. The tannins are usually perceived to be smoother and more pleasurable. Vino gives even great wines a very special 'tuning.'
Spirit infused drinks can first be traced back to the Renaissance period when humans consumed large quantities of ale and wine rather than taking a risk with plain water tainted with bacteria or lead. However, if the 16th century ushered in the notion of festive drinking, by the 18th century spirits and spirited drinking were all the fashion. The American colonists brought their habits with them and often consumed "Punches" or large bowls of spirits, often Rum from the Caribbean, infused with juice, sugar, spices and other flavors. Not just for parties, punches were served in Punch Houses both in America and England.
Fast forward to the late 19th century when American Jerry Thomas authored How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion which included recipes for a variety of drinks including ten recipes for “cocktails”. Just as cocktail glamour started to gain momentum United States’ Prohibition forced cocktail drinking underground and into “speakeasies”. During this time, sweet cocktails became fashionable: they proved easy to drink and the inferior quality of black market liquor was disguised by the flavoring.
After WWII, cocktails reached a period of enormous popularity and by the 1960s "the two Martini lunch" was de rigueur. Today we live with a cocktail culture where hipster mixologists use classic cocktails such as the old-fashioned for inspiration but also use novel ingredients and methods to create new drinkable masterpieces.
When working with bar designs, I try to keep in mind not only the actual bar as it is being built but also the contents going into the bar. My favorite bar that I designed was for a couple that collects wine and loves hosting parties. We chose a dark navy lacquer for the walls, a mirrored back splash and a gorgeous brass chandelier whose Moroccan-inspired chain reflects on the ceiling above. for hardware we chose horn and brass pulls and monogramed brass cabinet knobs. It was my dream come true!
I love these bar cabinets too:
And to stock the bar:
At the start of this Holiday Season, after I get my tree up and decorated (or maybe while decorating), I plan to sit back and enjoy my favorite seasonal libation - a plain, old-fashioned, Old Fashioned!
1/2 tsp of sugar - sometimes I skip the sugar (every calorie counts lol)
2 oz of Bourbon
3 dashes bitters
1 tsp water
Stir the sugar,bitters and water together in a rocks glass until the sugar is dissolved. Ass the bourbon, ice if you like and garnish with an orange peel. Sheer Bliss!