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A Spirited Discussion

Let's talk cocktails, yeah?


"Beer lacked panache, and straight whiskey might have suggested an over-familiarity with the bottle. Martinis would come across as contrived and too rarified, and no pilot could ever pull out of the spiraling career dive that would result if he were to be seen with an umbrella drink. Thus, the military specified that at Houston get-togethers, astronaut candidates would be limited to "a tall highball, either bourbon or Scotch, and only one."

- Eric Felten. How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well

Show me a cultural pocket in Cleveland and I'll show you a culture steeped in a rich tradition of beer drinking. Holiday? Drink a beer. Football game? Drink a beer. Reached the turn on a golf course? Drink a beer. If beer indeed lacks panache, then the nonprofit staffer making $30 grand a year and the CEO earning $300 grand a year both drinking a Dortmunder in the same bar haven't yet received the memo.

In a country where even CEOs wear hoodies, panache has fallen swiftly out of fashion. While access to good craft beer has become a birthright in the region, many avoid cocktails and spirits altogether because they see them as the stuff of yuppies, douche bags, old men and hipsters. Or, to put it differently, they see cocktails and spirits as the exclusive domain of people who talk too much about cocktails and spirits, the type of people who scoff at bar patrons for ordering a shot called "Sex by the Dyson Hand Dryer."

It was certainly possible for a dilettante to fetishize something and ruin it for their friends before the advent of the Internet and 24/7 news media. But up to that point, having and sharing shallow but deeply-held beliefs about a broad spectrum of topics was still something of a black art.

Now, of course, it's easier than ever to learn about a hot new dish served by our favorite neighborhood chef, and easier still to fart out a poorly lit photo of our crudités.

As our access to information has grown, so too has the notion of joie de vivre, which now encompasses everything from fine conversation to fine food and drink, to making it all the way through a Huffington Post slideshow. The things we like used to inform our humanity; now, all too often, they distract us from what really matters. Sometimes our friends really do just need us to listen, as opposed to going on and on about the garnish on our $18 cocktail.

At their worst, cocktails, like food, are fodder for fetishists. At their best, cocktails are a natural extension of cooking. The act of preparing and consuming food is part of what makes us human – and the act of trying really hard at something, having it turn out well, and sharing it with our friends is the stuff from which memories are made.

We consume alcohol because alcohol makes us feel good. Likewise, we consume fussy, painstakingly prepared cocktails not because we want to trick our acquaintances into thinking we're interesting, but because fussy cocktails make us feel great. And we recognize that when we elevate food and drink to more than just sustenance delivered into our mouth-holes, we are not being pretentious—we are simply human beings in search of intensely human experiences.

To that end, certainly, there is more than one way to skin a cat. This is a column about one of them: the preparation and enjoyment of mouth-watering cocktails, and how to do it in Cleveland without being a dick.

Ryan Irvine writes about cocktails at Intoxicating Liquors (intoxicatingliquors.com) and is one of the new co-owners of Tremont Scoops.

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