Food News

Burning Question: How Much Do People Know About Their Drink?

So there we were, embedded amongst noisy inebriates from the monied set hanging out at Hully & Mo--and we mean noisy.

Foreigners will tell you few groups announce their presence as loudly as American tourists...although those who've endured a few moments within shouting distance of Brits on a stag party trip would likely differ on this matter. Still, there's a reason so many consider Yanks both obnoxious and ignorant--and it has nothing to do with an incident some time ago after the Burning Question crew found a cart selling cheap gluhwein at the Christmas market  in Nuremberg.

Where were we? Oh, yes--noisy ignorance. To wit: one of the six-figured folks at Hully & Mo insisted the martini was named for the glass. Therefore, he bellowed to the entire room, "you could have a water martini," because anything served in the V-shaped cocktail vessel counts. Shortly afterwards, a beer drinker in their midst informed the group that he won't drink wheat beers.

Never liked them, refuse to touch them, he added--while sipping on a second Blue Moon.

Now, these were adults and apparent veterans of many a bar. Normally they would be our type of people, but...well, their verbal antics bring up this week's question: how much do people really know about their drinks?

Not much, judging from this particular group. Blue Moon is brewed from several grains, including a large batch of wheat. And the martini, according to the most common legend, was a drier variation on the Martinez, a cocktail divined in the 1800s...and served in a normal tumbler.

Stemware followed in the wake of all this--in the guise of "cocktail glass."

"It's funny how you start to repeat stuff that you hear, without thinking about it," shrugs Ian Green, bartender at The Idle Rich, when told of the Hully & Mo fiasco. "We're all guilty of it."

True enough, but this affects our understanding of alcohol--a problem we consider serious. Because novices outnumber committed alcohol professionals [editor's note: known to most as alcoholics] and crave syrupy mix in their Margaritas, bars now almost exclusively serve poor imitations of the tart, complex and extremely potent original.

Yeah, we know--some of you think the popular Tex-Mex spots pour strong versions. Just try the real thing.

And then there's the habit of calling Grey Goose or other high end spirits to go along with cranberry juice or Red Bull or whatever--a practice most bartenders consider rather outrageous, to put it nicely.

"The trouble is you get five minutes of information and turn into a fucking snob."

Simply put, some people know their stuff; many more don't. But there's another question, maybe equally important: although the Burning Question crew spends hours slurring through discussions of this or that liquor and its nuances (we're in fact sampling bottle #92 of a 30 year old blended whisky as we type), is such in-depth knowledge really that important for the occasional drinker?

"Probably not," acknowledges Charlie Papaceno, owner of Windmill Lounge and an alcohol curmudgeon in his own right.

"But I don't know," he continues, shifting his tone. "Some people like to take pride in their drink.

"We need to start a slow drink movement."