Sunday, December 02, 2007

Trollied Tuesday: the dry martini, FDR and other high points of American culture

Ever since the introduction of Trollied Tuesday I had intended to discuss the dry martini. The popular clamour that followed convinced me that nothing less than a full discussion of that noblest of quests – the search for the perfect version of the drink – would do. So it was that I sat down intended to consider whether the construction of the drink is an art or a science, or even a form of alchemy which transcends these disciplines.

I still may do so yet, but it would be remiss of me not to deviate from my good intentions and launch into a spontaneous wassail in honour of something that is well worth remembering.

Tomorrow is Repeal Day: the anniversary of the end of the 18th Amendment: America's ill-fated attempt to ban the sale and manufacture of alcohol. This wretched measure, which brought nothing but crime and misery to the States, ought to be a salutary warning to all those who believe that the full weight of the law and the moral force of the government are a good, or successful, way of altering human behaviour in the way that those in power see fit.

Of course, some canny drinks manufacturers have seen fit to use it as a marketing opportunity but, since I'm the last one to complain about people trying to get me to buy their drinks, I don't think we need dwell on the commercial aspects (though I've no doubt they helped convince the US Congress come to its senses; it's worth noting in this context that the egregious Joe Kennedy was one of the main beneficiaries). Rather let us see Repeal Day for what it really is: a blow for liberty, freedom of conscience and a damn good excuse for a drink.

In any case, this deviation from my original intention is no bad thing. Had I stuck to the issue of what makes the perfect martini, I might well have found myself teetering along that line between aestheticism and anal retentiveness. And, intoxicated as I would have been by the subject, it might have been all too easy to stagger over that line.

I don't mean to belittle discussions about what ingredients should be used– very cold gin and a splash of vermouth, basically; and I've nothing against vodka-based variants, though I abhor the pretension that the vodka martini is the same as the real thing (sex and love are both fine too, but it's equally wrong to confuse them) – and I'll doubtless return to the matter. However, no matter what care you make in choosing the ingredients, no matter how scientifically you chill them and no matter how fastidious you are in your measurements; you may never enjoy a martini quite so sublime as the first one enjoyed by President Franklin D Roosevelt after the end of prohibition.

I've long believed that FDR's first drink after the repeal of prohibition and, since my desultory attempts to verify that have fact drawn a blank, we'll remain true to this belief for now. The 32nd President was certainly a fan of the gin and vermouth combination – although this article does suggest he liked them rather vermouth-y, weak and sweet; the sort of thing you'd give to a girl who isn't overly accustomed to strong drink when you were trying to lower her defences.

I think we'll overlook this small fault in a great man. If you were sat in the White House in late 1933 faced with a crippling recession, uncertain health, the vagaries of political life and – if you were prescient about these things – an alarming new government in Germany, your first unimpeachable martini would be all the more sublime for the knowledge that you had, at least, managed to increase the sum of human happiness by signing the 21st Amendment. What celebratory drink could ever taste sweeter? One day, perhaps, they might even raise a statue of you for that.

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Blogger Glamourpuss said...

"the sort of thing you'd give to a girl who isn't overly accustomed to strong drink when you were trying to lower her defences."

Ah, that's how it's done. I did wonder.


11:35 am  

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