I went to an Xmas party last night where I had a small shot of warm grappa foisted upon me. Last week at the MT Christmas bash I had a sip of mezcal which tasted just about as bad as Hemingway’s aftershave, which the old lush downed when desperate for a drink.
This morning, as is customary at this time of year when alcohol consumption is at its height, we were given the news that hospital visits for alcohol poisoning have doubled in six years, with the highest rate among young women.
A friend sent me this BBC alcohol intake questionaire, which tells you which nationality your drinking habits match. To my shame, as measured over the last week, I got Belarus. I’m already looking forward to Lent.
In the UK what we have, we drink. But, as the appearance of that dusty grappa bottle showed, we’re also hoarders when it comes to the hard stuff. What is unusual about the averagely stocked British drinks cabinet is not its volume but how long most of the contents have been languishing there. Having bought spirits and exotic drinks home from holidays we hoard them like boozy squirrels and then forget they're even there.
When it existed way back when, two factors figured strongly in our devotion to duty free. The first was nostalgia. Returning to the UK and the trials of work after a holiday, we're great ones for trying to re-create the pleasure of foreign lands through native varieties of alcohol. Everyone knows, for example, that retsina is just about palatable in a taverna the full flush of holiday felicity. (You need something with a bit of edge to cut through most Greek food.) Somehow, though, retsina, never tastes quite so good when consumed on a wet Winter's evening in Watford.
A quick subjective survey of a number of friends and acquaintances who had clearly got very relaxed while abroad trawled up a remarkable range of exotica gathering dust. There was Fernet Branca, the Italian herbal digestif. "We tried it once in Florence but I can't remember what it tasted like. " (i’m told it’s now become The Hipster Tipple of the year.) Another had some Pineau des Charentes, a sweet aperitif from Cognac. "I think my mother in law brought us back that one. "
And there were also quite a few bottles of cassis - a delight nestling under a bone dry white of a Summer's evening in Provence, a bit out of place during a British December. "I was sure I'd get to use it in Summer pudding," said one sad owner.
Another had a miniature of "Mahon gin" from the Balearic island of Minorca, not known as a centre of spirit-making excellence. "It was the only excursion on the island. They blend it with different treacles. Mine must be twenty years old and still in the back of a kitchen cupboard." I can even lay claim to a bottle of Lebanese arak, unopened and certain to stay that way for the forseeable future unless a platoon of Druze militia comes to visit.
Anyway, do take it easy over the season because we want to see you back in January. And have a terrific Xmas.