Martini reading: There’s joy in the art of everyday drinking

January 23, 2010

Moac and Em are blessed with some very good friends; the sort who buy you really good books that they know you’ll enjoy.
Over the holidays I’ve been lucky to have friends who care for me and want to help me on my quest to build a good library of drinking books.

I’ve already mentioned, several times, the excellent Martini: A memoir, by the Australian writer Frank Moorhouse. His stories of martini-drinking and avoidance of the dreaded crazy drinks are a real pleasure.

I haven’t mentioned so often the great little book about whisky, Raw Spirit, by Scottish writer Ian M Banks. Banksy is usually known for his sci-fi, or humorous and fantastic novels, but his whisky book is a good read and a handy primer on some of the finer single malts available to the serious tippler.

Raw Spirit is as much a travel story as it is a serious guide to drinking good Scotch. Banks and his fellow-travelers move around the various distilling areas of Scotland in search of the perfect dram. They have fun doing it too.

But this summer my reading has been a little more eclectic courtesy of Kingsley Amis and Victoria Moore.

Amis is well known to most adults who’ve ever read a book in English. He was a British novelist and essayist of some note and one of his most treasured pass-times was sharing a glass with pals. Amis wasn’t a fussy drinker. He pretty much would drink anything, but he hated stingey hosts with a passion.

In 2008 three of his less famous texts on drinking were published together for the first time in one volume: Everyday drinking: The distilled Kingsley Amis. What I like about this book is that it is unpretentious. It’s not all about the most expensive French wines, or the finest Cognacs (though they do get a mention).

This is a book about everyday drinking: the sort we like to do with friends on a Friday after work, or on a weekend. In daylight hours, during the evening, late at night and into the early hours of the following day.

But of course, I’m not advocating binge drinking. Let’s remember, it’s not what you drink, but how you drink that counts.

Amis is advocating educated drinking, without it becoming a form of one-upmanship. Though his tips for how to shill your guests if they overstay their welcome is priceless.

The other great part of this book is the recipes, most of which are not available in modern cocktail books. One that I tried a few times over the Xmas period – with a dozen Clevedon oysters – was Black Velvet. This is a heady combination of champagne and stout. Delicious, refreshing and so, so good with ice-cold oysters on a warm summer evening.

I’ve never been one for self-help books, but Victoria Moore’s How to Drink, was on my Christmas list (thanks Moac) and I’ve really enjoyed it. How to Drink is an updated version of Amis for the noughties. It has recipes too, but the main difference is that it also has sections on coffee, tea and soft drinks. It’s not a soak’s progress, it’s a serious (well, semi-serious) guide to modern drinking etiquette and some historical stuff about gin, brandy, various teas and coffee blends and the all important Armagnac V. Cognac debate.

I don’t have a position on that yet, but I bought a bottle of armagnac this weekend and I’m sure I’ll be comparing notes with Ms Moore soon enough.

Just so you know how things have changed since Kingsley Amis wrote the material that has been collected in Everyday Drinking. If you want to keep up with Victoria Moore, you can join her Facebook page, or follow her blog at The Guardian.

Mr Amis would be growling into his porter, right about now…punk, soul brother, but that’s for later.

Tonight I’m having an Empire State of mind.


The new, slim Domestic – Voltz would be pleased

July 20, 2008

As this is a blog that makes claims to be about martinis as well as journalism, ethics, politics and whatever catches my eye now and again, it is time to embrace an aspect of martini culture that is often overlooked.

I’m talking about the martini glass; sometimes they’re too heavy, or otherwise clumsy. I may have found a good alternative.

Read the rest of this entry »


Taste Test: The Journalist

March 7, 2008

perhaps we can all go get one after graduation next friday as we will be qualified journos!
– bex

Hey, bex, xclnt idea to go for a drink. In our graduation drag?

But, I would recommend caution when it comes to The Journalist, or at least finding a bar with a v.good cocktail mixologist. This is not a drink to let loose around amateurs.

I had a couple earlier this week at a local bar (no names coz I don’t want to upset anyone at the Brooklyn) and to be honest, I was a tad disappointed.

When I say “tad” I been bloody disappointed. The colour was good; the ingredients were pretty much top shelf- Bombay, Cointreau and Martini vermouth(s)

[Is the plural of vermouth “vermine”?]

But the mixing was ordinary. The drink was warmish, while a great Martini is chilled beyond cool and I expected a great kick, but all I got was a sweetish, warm lolly-water drink. it lacked bite and even the addition of a triple-olive stick with a twist didn’t seem to lift it beyond the “gin ordinaire”.

I’m sure that Frank Moorhouse and his friend Voltz would strongly disapprove of The Journalist; it would rank alongside the other “fad” concoctions and “crazy drinks” that they both detest.

However, I am not easily deterred and I intend to persist until I can make this drink my own.

On a slighlty different note, I enjoyed Moorhouse’ “memoir” Martini, and at the time I thought it was a reasonably true account of some aspects of his life. So I was very disappointed to come across this old bit of news while I was googling him today.

It seems that the “memoir” may actually be a work of fiction, in the news story linked above Moorhouse refers to himself (or is it a character in the “memoir”) as “the demented narrator-author”.

That’s almost as disappointing as a lukewarm Journalist.


Summer reading, some are drinking

January 4, 2008


Ah, dear reader:
It’s been a long time between posts. I must say that there’s a small amount of guilt attached. If one is going to blog then one must do so regularly. To do otherwise is to leave the blogosphere to others and to render oneself invisible again.

I am to begin this new year as I intend to continue – by posting on a regular basis. I’m also keen to enlist the talents of others who share my interest in politics, media and martinis.

It’s also humbling to realise that the martini is more than the sum of its parts. A quick search on Amazon.com uncovers a whole genre of writing about martinis that I, a self-proclaimed afficionado, knew next to nothing about.

I stand in the shadow of some giant literary figures who have not only enjoyed drinking martinis (something I can honestly claim to share with them) but who have also written extensively of their passion.

One such is my new literary hero, Frank Moorhouse. I remember reading some of Frank’s novels while at university some 30 years ago; but I didn’t realise how important his work would be in beginning my own education into the rituals and rich history of the martini.

I bought my copy of Martini: A memoir, several years ago and intended to read it, but didn’t get around to it. However, prompted by a friend who’s just read it, I fished it out the box where it lay dormant for the past year and plunged in.

Like an ice-cold, fresh smooth martini it was pleasure from the first word. I drank in the opening essay and silently apologised to Mr Moorhouse for neglecting this masterpiece for so long.

I’m not really far into it yet, but Martini is a book to be savoured, sipped and coddled.

In the first piece, Martini City, we are introduced to Moorhouse’s drinking companion, Voltz; an expert on the history and passion of the martini. The two men discuss the ‘martini city’ – a place where the martini is well-made and appreciated. I like to think that some of my haunts in Auckland are such places: the bars and nightspots that make my new home (I’ve been here a year now) a delightful place to drink a martini and enjoy the lively ambience of this Pacific-rim town.
Moorhouse also includes this wonderful short ditty from Dorothy Parker:

‘I like to have a martini
Two at the very most
After three I’m under the table
After four I’m under my host.’

I clearly have a lot of learning to do and I’ll start by finishing Martini and then reading some of Moorhouse’s other books in which the martini is both a character, a lubricant and an anaesthetic.

Happy New Year, and “cheers”