A classic drink for heedless times

As I write this, it’s two weeks gone since Donald Trump shocked pretty much everyone in becoming the President Elect of what (I hope) continues to be the world’s most famous republic. Part of me feels compelled to make a few sapient remarks about this strange, concerning turn of events. But the better part of me is manifestly aware that the glut, the din, the tsunami of commentary about Trump and his rise is probably not helping matters.

And that reminds me: I need a drink. Not because I’m some escapist sot who reaches for the medicine any time the world seems to tilt off its axis. Instead, I draw inspiration from Chesterton: the “dipsomaniac and the abstainer are not only both mistaken, but they both make the same mistake. They both regard wine as a drug and not as a drink.” Which is to say that a drink – whether wine or whiskey – ought to serve a much more salutary function than merely dulling your senses, or being the font in which you drown your sorrows. A good drink should be a forum for reflection, whether in solitude or with others – the latter being preferred, even by this extreme introvert. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to put something else in your hand other than a stupid iPhone, aglow with Twitter or worse.

So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to instruct you how to make an Old Fashioned, which, I humbly assert, is the greatest of all cocktails. I don’t know if there’s ever been a cocktail recipe in these august pages, but if not, it’s overdue. We’re a Kuyperian lot, and if Jesus is Lord of every square inch, that certainly includes what goes in our glass.

For this season

An Old Fashioned starts with whiskey. Note the “e” in that word. That denotes American whiskey, not the “e”-less whisky of Canada or Scotland. You’ve got two classic options: bourbon, or rye. Bourbon is a leopard, smooth and powerful. Rye is a bobcat, feisty and peppery. (Again, please, no Canadian whisky: it is a kitten, and way too gentle for this application). Reserve two ounces of the spirit.

Grab a short glass, often called a “rocks” or “lowball” or – hey! – an “Old Fashioned” glass. Put a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom, and a dribble of warm water. Swirl the glass and watch the sugar dissolve. Now comes the only esoteric component: the bitters. Bitters are a strong, herbaceous concoction of Caribbean provenance, the most famous of which is called Angostura, and they’re available in the grocery store for some reason. Invert the little bottle over the glass and shake your wrist three or four times.

Fill the glass with ice, or preferably with one big ice cube. Pour over the 2 oz of whiskey, and stir. Strip some peel off an orange, and squeeze it over the glass. You can drop it in, if you like. That’s all there is to it. This is a drink that will evolve as you sit with it; the heat of the spirit may startle you initially, but the melting ice will soon take the edge off and you’ll feel its warm embrace.

It should be obvious from the name that this is not a drink for revolutionaries, which makes it a suitable countervailing sipper for this political season and its burn-it-all-down ethos. It sits uncomfortably with self-styled progressives, too, who think history is on the up and up. It was they who sought to “improve” it along the way, sullying it with excess fruit, or diluting it with 7Up. But don’t let the Old Fashioned fuel nostalgia, either, for nostalgia is a dangerous thing; it can build up like lactic acid and leave you hobbled. It will definitely not Make America Great Again. Instead, as you recline into your easy chair, glass in hand, let the Old Fashioned turn your thoughts to things venerable and distinguished. An ancient church, an ailing republic. Give thanks for the ways they’ve sustained us thus far, and resolve to protect them, for they are fragile and easily swept away.


  • Brian Bork

    Brian Is CC’s Review Editor and a CRC chaplain at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

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