The culture of American drinking is alive and vibrant
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
Besides farming, alcohol is probably the one thing humans in big societies do best; farming was largely employed to make booze anyways. It’s no surprise we’ve developed a metric ton of traditions and beliefs about alcohol, little semi-scientific superstitions that grow wherever we drink. This is especially true here in North America, where cultures met and alcohol in the US was completely illegal for a few decades. Modern-day bar culture on this continent is the result of centuries of American and global drinking rules. Trained bartenders are equipped with an arsenal of tricks and habits that have seeped into the general culture, especially over the last few years. Of course, during rush hours or casually at home, people will happily ignore these rules—they’re just well-known rules of thumb.
These traditions are easily seen with the construction of cocktails. Each one has a history and lineage, and making a cocktail means following specific rules, even if it never really impacts the taste of the drink. For example, we have the classic Old Fashioned. It’s supposed to be made directly in the glass, with one sugar cube ground with bitters at the bottom, piled high with ice, some whiskey added, and stirred for 45 seconds. This is actually one of the first recorded cocktails, and earned the name “Old Fashioned” way back in the 1860s. It’s said to have been created in its “official” form in Kentucky, in the 1880s, and those rules of construction are followed today. Realistically this could be made in a shaker with no impact on the flavour, but following those rules is half the fun of making classic cocktails.
But many of these traditions do serve a real purpose, too. Pouring beer at an angle against the tap will prevent it from foaming, because it allows the CO2 to escape less aggressively than just slamming against the bottom of the glass. Lighting a match under a citrus zest over a drink flavours it slightly with citrus, because the pores in the skin of the fruit explode in the heat and spray downwards, “expressing” the sharp flavour.
With a major resurgence in cocktail culture (probably thanks to Mad Men), a lot of these practices are making a comeback, and being revamped. Whether it’s the speakeasy practices from the American Prohibition era, or the alcohol-heavy drinks from a time when clean water wasn’t guaranteed in North America, the history of making and serving drinks is becoming more and more well-known through the traditions that get passed down.