Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Whence Zeitgeists? Why Cocktails Got Good

Good book
Good review of the book (my favorite line: "These passages will allow you to convince yourself, and perhaps even your spouse, that your interest in getting wasted is an academic pursuit.")

In the early 1990s, I knew exactly two people making super great cocktails. There was the main dude at Angel's Share, a new (at the time) backroom Japanese East Village cocktail lounge hunkering behind a Korean restaurant, and there was the legendary Dale DeGroff, who I respected entirely on reputation (I tried his stuff once under suboptimal conditions at a book party, and it was just okay, but I got the impression he'd be great in his natural habitat). And now I know a slew of places for cocktails at that level.
That's a viewpoint enabled by being old. Younger people can't make facile comparisons spanning three decades and requiring experienced discretion at both sides of the chasm.
Is this like the four minute mile, which was a daunting benchmark until Roger Bannister hit it and then suddenly everyone could? Has mixological talent and genius gone, like, viral? Whence zeitgeists?

I frequently return to a dandy framing I learned from my old friend Elliot, who taught me that an overly tannic wine is either overly tannic, or else it's lacking in everything else (so the tannins stick out). And this is that situation.

Until recently, crappy bartenders made crappy cocktails from crappy ingredients with a crappy attitude. Now, a bunch of them make an effort, and, surprise, when you try harder than a 7-11 clerk does with the hot dogs, the result tastes way better.

So the whole thing is a bit of a shaggy dog story. From my framing as an old guy able to offer then/now comparisons for a number of zeitgeists, I see that it's nearly always thus. It feels like a leap from "good" to "heavens above" when it's actually gone from "crap" to "good" - and we hadn't realized that our baseline was crap. So there's no electro-magical awakening, it's just about the arrival of fuck-givers.

"Mmmm!" is thousands, or millions, of times better than "Meh".


Anonymous said...

But I'm older than you, Jim, so I remember that it Bannister broke the four-minute mile.

Jim Leff said...

Thanks, meant to check it but forgot. I fixed it.

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