How have we gotten this far without having a drink together?
I don’t necessarily mean alcohol. I’ve been nursing a continual series of hot beverages since this mess began, and it’s a comforting thing, having a mug to curl your fingers around, and steam to stick your snout in. Alcohol is dehydrating and messes with your sleep, and the immune system really wants to be hydrated and rested right now. And drinking is something with which many struggle; as AA meetings go virtual and we are challenged by this upside-down world, it is a potentially fraught and risky time. So, take care of yourselves.
That said, for me, alcohol has its place, a bit of festivity and ritual at the end of a long day of fragmented work, parental guilt, and failed attempts at online grocery ordering. (A smart thing I did right before we all holed up: bought a case of wine. A smart thing I didn’t do: buy two.) The days that end with our little family gathered at the dinner table, drinking a toast to one another, are the best days. (A. The kid gets milk. B. Many days end in much less domestically idyllic fashion.)
And getting together for Zoom happy hours has become a way for the socially distanced to connect. Recently I “gathered” with a group of friends in Boston, on the Cape, and in D.C. Some of us got dressed up for the occasion; some of us wore PJs. Some of us drank Boulevardiers; some of us had kombucha. We ogled one another’s snacks and talked about how we are doing. It was lovely. How seldom all six of us have been able to get together at once. And we said what I think many have been saying about these online connections: We could have been doing this all along. Why weren’t we doing this all along?
I miss restaurants, but I’m also enjoying cooking more often. What I can’t replace is the bar experience: squeezed in beside my fellow humans, shoulder to shoulder; exchanging pleasantries with the bartender; having someone make me a nice drink. I love the sound of a cocktail being shaken against a backdrop of laughter and conversation; it’s one of the best sounds in the world, convivial and gladdening.
We are all our own bartenders now. If you appreciate good cocktails, it’s a fine time to work on learning how to make them. Maybe you’re already kitted out with an array of bitters, esoteric liqueurs, syrups, and garnishes. But if not, don’t let it stop you. Some of the best drinks are the simplest.
Robert Simonson’s “3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon” might just be the bar manual for our times. It’s filled with formulas that are easy to execute using just a few things. Here are recipes from some of the major booze groups to get you started.
To your health! (And I mean that.)
Rye: The Manhattan (above)
2 ounces rye (you can also use bourbon)
1 ounce sweet vermouth
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Combine all of the ingredients in a mixing glass filled with ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with a cocktail cherry, if you’ve got one.
Bourbon: The Old-Fashioned
1 sugar cube (or a small spoonful of sugar or simple syrup)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 ounces bourbon (you can also use rye)
Saturate the sugar cube with bitters and a small spoon of water at the bottom of the glass. Muddle until the sugar dissolves. Add bourbon and stir. Add ice and stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. If you’ve got an orange, cut a strip of zest and twist over the drink, then drop it into the glass.
Gin: The Negroni
1 ounce gin
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Campari
Combine all of the ingredients in a rocks glass with ice. Stir until chilled, about 30 seconds. If you’ve got an orange, cut a strip of zest and twist over the drink, then drop it into the glass.
(If I had to drink just one cocktail for the rest of my life, the Negroni might be it. I’m also a very big fan of its cousin The Boulevardier. To make that, just substitute bourbon for the gin.)
Tequila: The Margarita
1 1/2 ounces tequila
1 ounce Cointreau
3/4 ounce lime juice
Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake until chilled, about 15 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe or a rocks glass filled with ice, rimmed with salt if you like.
Vodka: The Moscow Mule
2 ounces vodka
1/2 ounce lime juice
4 ounces ginger beer
Combine the vodka and lime in a mug filled with ice (copper and crushed are the traditional materials here, but use what you’ve got). Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Adapted from “3-Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon,” by Robert Simonson. Photo by Colin Price.
Other things to try
- Speedy chai: Fill a mug with half water, half milk. Pour this into a small pot with two teabags (I like PG Tips) or a heaping spoon of the loose black tea of your choice. Add a spoonful of chai masala or garam masala and sugar to taste. Stir together and bring to a boil over medium heat. Let the foam rise just to the edge of the pot, then cut the heat right before it boils over. Remove teabags or strain loose tea as you pour back into the mug. (If you’re looking for a local source for chai supplies, check out Boston Chai Party.)
- “Golden milk,” or the turmeric latte, became a trendy cafe staple in recent years. Before that, and forever after, it was haldi doodh, the Indian home remedy for what ails you. Learn how to make it here.
- I drink hot water with lemon on the regular. For an under-the-weather version, grate a lot of ginger into a mug, squeeze in half a lemon, dollop a generous spoonful of honey, and add as much cayenne as you can stand. Pour in boiling water and let steep for a few minutes, then stir and drink. Or, to make what we call DevQuil in my home, cut a wedge of lemon, stick two cloves in the rind, put it in a mug with plenty of honey and a slug of whiskey, and top with boiling water (you can also add decaf tea if you’d like). Stir, drink, and go to bed.
- When I want something lighter than a Negroni, I’ll often have a Campari soda: Pour Campari to taste in a glass, top with soda water until it’s the strength you desire, and add ice and a lemon wedge or orange slice. And a really delightful cocktail-esque option for when you’re not drinking is “bits and bubs,” a few dashes of bitters in soda water, with a citrus garnish if you wish.
Question of the day: Has social distancing changed your drinking habits? Are you drinking more or less, or have you quit altogether? What are your drinks of choice? And if you are in recovery, how are the circumstances affecting you?
Thinking of you, good people.