Stop whining: a new food and drink column by Arnot Birss


Writing is hard. Writing about drink is doubly hard. This is not because any significant consumption leads to intoxication and engenders either an excess of verbal effluence or a dearth of linguistic capacity. There is something intrinsically ineffable about the stuff, more so even than is the case with food. One cannot describe the experience of tasting a glass of wine or a tumbler of whiskey without sounding, at best, a little silly. However, if you are reading this, maybe that is because you already know how tricky writing about booze is and you want to delight as this journalistic car crash unfurls before you. Or maybe you are very forgiving.

Either way, I hope you will see past the pretension and around the abstruseness. I want to extol the benefits of a varied palate for alcohol, divulge insider information about where, when and what to drink and incite a healthy curiosity about what most of us overuse and abuse at least twice a week as part and package of a student lifestyle. Maybe, just maybe, a finer appreciation for C2H6O might lead to a tot of moderation and a snifter of good sense.

Spring is the perfect time to broaden the horizons of one’s bibulousness. As winter releases our corner of Fife from its chilly and dark bear-hug, the need for comforting and familiar flavours in our diet dissipates. I spoke to Callum Merr, bar manager at the Adamson and steward of their cocktail menu, to get a sense for what tastes and ingredients might work at this time of year. He was awash with intriguing suggestions, particularly regarding the marriage of fresh herbs with certain alcohols to impart drinks with a fragrant or aromatic quality. This is not an idle idea. Attempting to make cocktails at home is neither hard nor unenjoyable. The necessary apparatus is only really a decent sized jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add to that some booze, other tasty bits and bobs and some ice and you are ready to go. The only other requirement is a vigorous arm action to shake or stir the concoction into a fit state to serve. There is little else to it.

But back to Mr Merr. The soundest piece of advice he gave was regarding a reliable schematic for a beverage. Any trio of alcohol, citrus and sweetener is likely to be a winner. This ‘three good things’ logic underpins many popular and well known cocktails. A Moscow mule, a dark and stormy, a daiquiri, a pisco sour: they are all based on this fundamental flavour architecture and little else besides.

Mr Merr also recommended starting with something simple, like one of these examples, if you are keen to become a domestic bartender. For the eager or the experienced amateur mixologist, there is one resource in particular that can be a seam of inspiration. Difford’s Guide, who maintain a sterling website given the amount of drinking probably required for their work, have an inexhaustible online catalogue. Their recipes are well laid out and clear. The only risks are that you may get lost in the abundance of potable suggestions or become overenthusiastic and wake up some time next week feeling unusually awful with no recollection of the last three years of your life. To reiterate, I do not advocate drunkenness or excess.

So, equipped with a little knowledge and some derring-do, it is indeed possible to lift yourself out of cocktail ignorance and become the most popular person at the party, serving out little soupçons of something delicious and unique. If that does not sound appetising, then I think I have failed.

There is also the matter of wine. It would be deeply foolish to profess any expertise on the matter, but I do have a few opinions. Firstly, I do not think one can only develop a taste by opting for the expensive options. Even the most fearsome and cheap varieties taste different from each other. In fact, I am a believer in the general notion that one cannot develop an appreciation for anything without a good understanding of what is dreadful. Secondly, I think Tesco’s cheap range has improved markedly over the last few years. Maybe this is due to pressure in the sector from rivals like Aldi, who have won awards and generally outperformed in the alcohol retail business. Or maybe British palates are becoming more discerning and Tesco is keeping up. Either way, this is definitely the time to explore a new drink.

So put down the Pablo or the Tennants and reach for something to sip and savour abstemiously. So I exhort you to try that beer you have never heard of, order a glass of the wine that sounds intimidating and shake things up at home. The worst that can happen is a bad hangover.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.