Thursday, December 31, 2015
A good year is like a good cocktail - containing the right balance of sweet, sour, and bitter. Pictured: the Aviation.
Today is the last day of 2015.
Forty years ago, on this very day, I met Dee - and less than two years later, we would be husband and wife. The story of our first meeting is entertaining enough in its own right that it merits its own post, but that it took place has led to our mutual histories being what they are today. Despite - or perhaps because of - all the water that has gone under the bridge since then, I cannot imagine not having met her. Our two daughters would probably agree.
Every year leaves a slightly different impression when one looks at it in the rear-view mirror - rolls it around on the tongue, so to speak - and as each calendar year surges to its inexorable close I always pause to savor its aftertaste, its peculiar blend of tastes and aromas. Years are like cocktails, I suppose: The best ones always have multiple layers of flavor. Months of sweetness are punctuated by dark, sour times, and once in a while an intense attention-grabbing moment of bitter grief comes along.
Leave it to Mister Debonair to work through his year-end maudlin moments by using bartending analogies. But, hey, it works. Let’s go with it...
We sit at the Great Cosmic Bar every year, and we order up our Tipple o’Life. Give us a sweet year, we say... but we don’t really mean it. (Would you order a simple syrup and soda on the rocks at a real-world cocktail bar?) It doesn’t matter what we ask for, though, because what we are served is what we’d get if we said, “Ohhh, the hell with it. Surprise me.” It’s always a surprise.
So let’s pick apart the waning year’s recipe, shall we? A warm base liquor of family and friends to provide a mellow and yet mildly intoxicating backdrop. Happy moments for sweetness. Throw in a disappointment here and a miscommunication there to provide acid notes: Unalloyed sweetness can be cloying. Then there are the bitters, the ingredient without which no cocktail is truly complete. Illness. Death. Pain. Loss. Without them, the sweetness becomes sameness. It loses its savor.
Most of us think we would be perfectly happy doing without all of that grief and suffering. Just give me a Kool-Aid, please! (Without the extra Jonestown touch.) So what if it’s a kid’s drink?
Cocktails, though - drinks for grown-ups - have bitters.
Proportions matter. You use a jigger for most cocktail ingredients. You use a dropper for bitters.
That’s because bitters are tricky. Strong. Too much, and what should be subtlety becomes intolerably in-your-face. And yet, without them, a cocktail is lifeless. Dull.
May your 2016 be the perfect draught for you, Esteemed Reader - the ideal proportion of base, sweetener, acid, and bitter. And may the Big Guy who mixeth your Cosmic Cocktail refrain from squeezing that bitters dropper too hard.
Happy New Year!