As it became clear that we were all facing down the barrel of weeks, if not months, of self-isolation, I got to thinking.
The first thought was,”Oh good, this is a chance to sort out the drinks cabinet, paint it up, finally unpack all the boxes and put out the bottles.”
The second was, “Well, won’t this be a good chance to shake up my drinking habits and try a few unloved tipples? Oooh, I can also work through the beer collection, and have at any that have been sat about too long?”
And the third was, “If I don’t watch that second thought carefully, I’ll be dead drunk for the entire lockdown and I think I’d rather avoid liver cirrhosis, thankyouverymuch.”
That is to say, when the normal divisions of the week are all a bit hazy and indistinct, it’s good to keep in mind how much you’re actually throwing down your neck. I try to stick to a few days off a week, a few days with no more than a small drink or two and a night where I may put thoughts of units and the Portman Group to one side.
Fortified by such thoughts of performative virtue, my mind turned to what to have instead. Alcohol-free beer is a lot better than it was, and the efforts from such as Rothhaus, Brooklyn and Adnams are all very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the local supermarket was pretty bare.
So, to the humble lime & soda I gravitated. I tend to find cordial either expensive, or not great. Thankfully, citrus fruit hasn’t been affected by panic-buying in my neck of the woods, so rustling up a few fresh limes has not been a problem. Our Sodastream conked out the day before the lockdown was announced, which was rather less helpful. Anyway, with a quickly-sourced bottle of budget sparkling water in hand, I was ready to get to work.
Firstly, I was very struck by the dictum “process is outcome” when I read it in an article about government IT procurement or something and, despite the fact it was definitely not created in regards to making an acceptable sundowner, it’s stuck in my head for years. You don’t need to gussy things up, but take it seriously, even if only slightly, and you’ll get more out of it. This goes for most things I’m sure, but I’m writing about drink, so humour me here.
- Choose a nice glass, clean it up and stick some decent ice in.
- Squeeze the juice of a lime in and, if the idea doesn’t offend you, throw in the chopped husks for their lovely oils as well.
- A decent splash of Angostura bitters adds a lovely bit of complexity and, unless you must avoid all alcohol at all costs (in which case, good luck and best wishes), appears to contribute less to your alcohol intake than a burger bun will. If you have any, an additional splash of orange bitters are a lovely brightener.
- Seriously, those bitters make all the difference.
- A few fresh mint leaves are a natural partner to this drink, should some be lying about. Clap a few in-between your hands once to liberate the oils, then pop in the glass.
- A glug of simple syrup takes the austere edge off. As ever, you know your tastebuds, so pour accordingly.
- Gently pour over your well-chilled and unshaken fizzy water, give it the minimum stir required to mix, and enjoy.
Obviously, this isn’t going to hit you in the pleasure centres like [insert favourite drink here] might, but then, neither does a mid-morning cuppa, and we don’t use that as an excuse to day-drink, do we? Unless we’re at an airport (current odds: slim), at which point all bets are off.
It’s also a formula that lends itself to variation. Lemons, obviously – they sub in for limes no problem. Oranges and their kin tend not to stand up for themselves except at higher concentrations, but if you’re willing to squeeze a few more, then you’re onto a winner. Grapefruit is a good’un. Skip the citrus entirely and use generous amount of cucumber, in slices or ribbons? Why not? Chuck in some juniper berries and break out the celery bitters for the first time in who knows how long?
Now to see if I can do anything about the three pints of tea I drink each day…