Vile Bodies

Bunky Mortimer’s Upper Class Guide to Drinking, Part II

November 17, 2010

Another reader wonders why I don’t talk about Scotch whisky, single-malts, etc. Because the brown liquid gives me a headache, I never touch the stuff. Chemists will tell you it’s “congeners” that give whisky its tincture. I’ll tell you what they give me: a squad of little jackhammer operators behind my forehead.

Back to my lecture. I’ll leave wines aside for the moment. A discussion of clarets, burgundies, and the inevitable introduction of wines from California, Long Island, South America, the Antipodes, and other places back of beyond is a minefield, with sniping wine bores behind every vine, nattering away about their hints of fruity this and that. It’s a subject better left for another time, if ever.

Let’s mop things up with some notes on after-dinner drinks of class. I’ve got no problem with port, but like wines, it’s a question of the vintner, year, and other variables that can disappoint. Forget Cognac; in France it’s a drink they give to Germans and other peasants. Your Froggy connoisseur drinks Armagnac.

Grappa is an Italian firewater that tastes like lighter fluid. First they make wine, then distill it into Cinzano. A further distillation produces STP, the valve-treatment additive. Finally there’s some horrible dribble left in the distillation column; out of that they make Grappa. Always order the cheapest in the house. It’s total piss, anyway.

Now to the apotheosis of after-lunch or after-dinner drinks—the kümmel. Found only in the poshest of clubs, golf ones especially, it is a clear alcohol flavored by caraway seed, cumin, and fennel. A couple of distillers, one in Hamburg, the other in Berlin, produce the genuine article. Best served in a tiny stem glass with a full circle of lemon rind over crushed ice, kümmel is the true nectar of the gods. It would have made Keats spit out his blushful Hippocrene. I’m not going to tell you who makes it or where you can get it, or even how it’s pronounced. It’s in very short supply.

I ended Part I with a drinker’s ditty. Why change a good thing? Here’s one from Benjamin Hapgood Burt:

One evening in October, when I was one-third sober,
  An’ taking home a “load” with manly pride;
  My feet began to stutter, so I lay down in the gutter,
  And a pig came over an’ lay down by my side;
  Then we sang, “It’s all fair weather when good fellows get together,”
  Till a lady passing by was heard to say:
  “You can tell a man who ‘boozes’ by the company he chooses”
  And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

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