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A Cultural History of American Drink

by William Grimes

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-76724-0
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 New York Times reporter Grimes's preface characterizes the cocktail as a quintessentially American invention that expresses our fluent, nontraditional, fun-centered culture, and that fits our role as the world's supplier of idle amusement and cheap thrills. His ensuing history of the cocktail is in the same spirit. Between an opening tribute to the ultimate cocktail--the martini (in which Grimes notes various affected variations on the ostentatious rejection of vermouth in the ritual of its preparation)--and a concluding observation on the current, yuppie- driven dominance of vodka (a development that has turned the cocktail into ``nothing more than a goosed-up fruit drink'' but that has also brought back the martini in a ``purer'' form), Grimes looks at American drinking habits from the Mayflower's passage on. (Typically, he cites that ship's impressive stores of beer without considering beer-drinking in historical context or distinguishing it from the imbibing of hard liquor.) Along the way, the author entertains with a parade of passing potables from the hot-rum juleps with which early Americans began their days to such ephemeral inventions as the Timber Doodle that Charles Dickens encountered on his 1840 US tour, the Blue Blazer that mixers actually set on fire and fanned into spectacular flames, and the silly Slippery Nipple that marked that Cocktail Age's decline. Grimes sings the praises of the elegant 19th-century saloon and its professional bartenders, and he mourns the degeneration of the art wrought by Prohibition, the Depression, WW II, and postwar commercial developments that led to liquor companies, not local bartenders, inventing new mixed drinks. Unlike last year's entertaining and scholarly analysis from German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch (Tastes of Paradise), 1992, this is a facile, frothy mix that goes down smoothly and proves diverting enough. (Twenty line drawings.)