What am I drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic? Everything.

It’s foolish to have a blog called, From My Seat at the Bar, and not provide insight into booze now and then. How, I as a leader of a company during this crisis, effectively self-medicate to improve moral and performance (my own). We now know, thanks to our government leaders, that liquor stores are considered an essential service. Something most of us have known for quite some time. Our instinctive drink choices give insight into how we cope with difficult or changing times. Why work so hard when every answer to every question can be found in your liquor cabinet? Let’s begin.

Booze = Medicine

In his wonderful book, Colonial Spirits, a Toast to Our Drunken History, author Steven Grasse properly reminds us in the first chapter that booze is medicine.

Early settlers were faced with bad water. Dealt with a host of diseases. Fought with hostile natives (now pronounced neighbors). Drinking in America was equivalent to health care; medicine designed to keep our early settlers and Revolutionary War heroes alive in a difficult climate.

As we attempt to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic are we not in a similar situation? Some of our favorite drinks or drink additives originated as medicine. Gin for example, “From its earliest origins in the Middle Ages, the drink has evolved from an herbal medicine to an object of commerce in the spirits industry.” – Wikipedia Bitters – “Numerous longstanding brands of bitters were originally developed as patent medicines,” – Wikipedia By drinking (in moderation according to Association Laboratory legal counsel), we are simply using time honored and tested techniques to maintain our mental and physical health during this pandemic. By staying healthy, we stay out of the hospital, creating space for our healthcare providers to treat the sick. By drinking, and I can’t state this clearly enough, We. Are. Heroes. So, here’s what I’m drinking during my favorite pandemic of the year (so far).

Drinks as Comfort Food

My simple home bar has a diversity of options allowing for all sorts of combinations. But during times of stress, particularly when the pandemic began, and the economy nosedived – I focused on the comfort food of drinks. For me? The Classics – the Negroni and the Manhattan. Since gin is a medicinal, I continued my nightly Negroni prescription. A Negroni is equal parts gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Insider tip? Invest in great sweet vermouth. The Negroni was apparently invented by an Italian, Count Camilo, in 1919 in Florence, Italy. Frustrated by the lack of booze in his Americano, he asked his physician err bartender, to replace the soda water with gin.  A classic was born that comforts us to this day. Bonus points at the time for drinking an Italian aperitivo in support of our Italian friends, suffering so much from COVID19. The Manhattan, 2 parts rye or bourbon to 1-part sweet vermouth with a dash of bitters was a brown liquor reminder of business travel. See my very first corporate insights on Why the Manhattan is a Great Metaphor for Strategy. Easy to make. Hard to wreck. Open to interpretation. Both the Negroni and Manhattan represent the stability and known quantity of comfort food.

Fine Tuning the Cocktail Classics

Eventually, too much of a good thing requires experimentation to make it a great thing. I started to think, if this is good, what might make it better, or at least different? Since variety is the spice of life, how can we add more spice when our life is defined by the four walls of our house? For me, it began simply. Take out one ingredient and add a different one. For example, if you use mezcal instead of gin in the Negroni you have a smokey Negroni. Sometimes called the Oaxacan Negroni. I enjoyed a take on the martini,  the Vesper. The Vesper was first referenced in print in Ian Fleming’s book Casino Royal in 1953. Ordered by a “secret agent”, it’s a great drink for people who like Martini’s but want to tone down the gin a bit. A good (no GREAT!) Vesper uses 3 parts gin to 1-part vodka and ½ part Lillet or St. Germain. After a nice round of stirring (NEVER! NEVER! NEVER! SHAKE IT DESPITE WHAT JAMES BOND DOES #STUPID) you end up with a crisp clean tasty cocktail. It tastes like victory. Bonus point? If you are running out of gin and think vodka is a waste of time (#flavorless alcohol) it allows you to preserve your gin inventory. Both drinks were subtle variations on a common delicious theme. A great reference for this type of experimentation is a book titled 3 Ingredient Cocktails: An Opinionated Guide to the Most Enduring Drinks in the Cocktail Canon by Robert Simonson. My confidence expanded with each successful experimentation. I moved into the next obvious phase – Experimentation.

Experimentation with Cocktail Horizons

Your minor experiments, so delicious, encourage true experimentation. Things you’ve never drunk. Combinations you’ve never considered. In defense, I should probably note that at this point, given my homeboundedness, my diminished liquor stock was forcing me to be more creative. Sure, it would have been easy to go to the liquor store (so so easy). Instead, I forced myself to innovate. Moving further afield, I used a recent (last year) trip to Greece to experiment with one of Greece’s most important exports. The liquor Metaxa. The result? The cleverly called Metaxa Manhattan. If you use this instead of bourbon or rye you get a more herbal, somewhat smoother take on the Manhattan. The downside is less alcohol (lower ABV) but a nice herbaceous drink that’s a bit different. Author note – finally got to use the word herbaceous. I began to play with different liquors, bitters and other ingredients. I enjoyed flights of fancy and moments of drunken whimsey. The result?

The Cocktail Dumpster Fire

If YouTube has taught us anything, it’s that people are stupid. They will try things they shouldn’t try. Just because you can do a thing, does not mean you should do a thing. Not every experiment is successful. Sometimes we allow our emotions and the momentum of the times to lead us astray. Thus, I descended into a harsh land where dogs and cats slept together. No. Lime juice and whiskey with 10 dashes of bitters is not good. Yes. There is reason you should measure and be conscious of ratios. No. Orange juice and orange liquor are not the same thing. Your commitment to the craft weakens. You stop measuring. You pretend to like things that you’ve never liked. So begins a sad descent. Your home bar enables you. Becomes part of the problem, not the solution. You try to make up with volume what you can’t solve with quality or competency. The terrorists win.

Cocktail Normalcy

Think about a time when you returned from an exotic overseas trip? What was the first food you had? You probably had a pizza or a hamburger. You returned to comfort food-at-home-life. Following a brief bout with cocktail dumbassery, I returned to the simple pleasures of my favorite cocktails made just the way I like them. As I sat on my front steps watching people walk or jog by, the world seemed normal. Once again, I was just a boy and his cocktail enjoying a pleasant Monday morning evening.

Cocktails = Leadership

Cocktails give you control in a time of uncertainty. One of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic is the loss of control. Will our family (or worse! US!!) get sick. Will we get enough clients to keep people paid? Will our friends be fired or furloughed? How long will all of this last? For my wine and beer drinkers, while the taste is delicious, all you are really doing is pouring liquid into a cup. You are a spectator not a participant. For the cocktail hobbyist though, you take creative and production control. You determine the desired outcome. Select the ingredients. Customize your drink to your taste, budget or emotional needs. You are part of the solution, not simply a spectator to someone else’s effort. So quit work early today, go to your liquor cabinet, a friend more faithful than any other, and make yourself a drink. Enjoy. Just some thoughts from my seat at the (home) bar.