Culture Clash

Breakfast of Champions

January 17, 2018


We live in an Ice Age of selective puritanism. You can bed who you like and cross-dress to your heart’s content, but God help you if you order a drink with lunch—or, for that matter, breakfast. I did just that recently in the bourgeois surrounds of St John’s Wood, London. I had a minor ailment, my policy for which is a steady stream of alcohol of the right quality, strength, and temperature. Breakfasting with the publisher of Standpoint magazine—Britain’s sine qua non of brainy conservatism—shouldn’t stand in the way of good health. So with some consternation the staff finally produced a glass of nice aged grappa and some hot water. We were off! Suffice it to say I woke up the next day cured of one complaint but having acquired another. Still, I’d rather have a hangover than be ill.

Of course—and here we come to the main point—you don’t have to be ill to drink when you wake up. And so, to atone for my sin of medicinizing the good grape, here is my guide to what to drink with breakfast when fit as a fiddle. Before embarking, remember this is not a practice for the neophyte. A decent 18th-century breakfast consisted of a haunch of pork and a pint of port. But you don’t have to be the Earl of Rochester to cull some lighter benefits from your drinks cabinet while the morning shadows are still long.

“Here is my guide to what to drink with breakfast when fit as a fiddle.”

Your choice should be tart and compact, and not invite too much repetition. Champagne, the ghastly mimosa—called Buck’s Fizz in Europe—and Bloody Mary are now so ubiquitous that they need no advertisement from me. Gin and tonic is the dressing-gowned choice of an oligarch friend in Moscow. Red wine should be avoided for its soporific and moreish qualities (I shan’t actively sanction you from opening a nice bottle of Montalcino; just don’t blame me for the consequences). Beer should be avoided unless activity of a nonsexual nature has already been undertaken; you are in a hot country; and you can smell the sea. That not always being the case, here are the top five for day-to-day life.

(5) Aperol Spritzer

I’ve started you off here as it is the only long drink on our list, defines the essential “pick-me-up” quality we are seeking, and is sure to be found in all but the most Spartan of drinks cabinets. You’ll need a bottle of prosecco (danger alert: Put it away again until lunch) and a round slice of fresh orange. The final dash of soda aids hydration—useful if exercise beckons—and the bright color is a great tonic to the mood, especially when, say, refracted onto the tablecloth of a nice Italian hotel.

(4) Retsina

This Greek white wine is stored in open barrels under a layer of pine resin, giving it full marks for tartness and a stirring peasant honesty. It is an ancient flavor, said to date back two millennia, yet can be so overpowering that even the most desiccated morning constitution would eschew a third glass (there speaks the realist in me). The Fermor-esque choice and—not unrelated—also the cheapest one. Yasou!

(3) Sherry

The perennial qualities of the breakfast drink are here in spades: tart, invigorating, short. Now, sherry is a broad church, and I am trusting you to choose well your denomination. Mine would always be a simple Fino or—if still transported by the night before—possibly a rich Oloroso. Remember to keep it dry, as it is well-known that taking sweet things at breakfast is not good for the health. Serve cold, with an optional small slice of lemon to aid well-being. Like the Retsina, two is the limit. I had a good mind to place it first; if you are in any doubt about how proceed, this is a safe choice.

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