Woman and Drinks

"Accent on Living" monthly column illustration with cornucopia

THERE is something about the preparation of mixed drinks which seems to defy the mentality of an otherwise competent woman. It would be no exaggeration to add that a whiskey and soda, even whiskey and water, is too high a hurdle for the ordinary hostess. The choice and service of a simple table wine are more than she can think out or remember. To confront a woman with several of these matters in combination is to turn her tearful, fluttering, and quite useless.

This deep-seated failing of the sex is comparable only to a woman’s permanent determination to forget the values of poker hands, no matter how often the formula is jotted down. Each drink is an experiment. What is meant by “three of a kind” is always a conjecture.

Some women can plan and produce a handsomely decorated salmon-in-aspic, make piecrust, or accomplish a risky soufflé. They work cunningly in hors d’oeuvres. Their tables are elegant. Their cocktails are nauseating.

These observations are not offered as complaints, but simply as a report of facts. No one can change these facts. Neither does the author seek to impose his own recipes on the reader, even though he thinks this would be a fine thing to do. Women would ignore his recipes just as they do their husbands’ recipes. This is one of the facts. And it would be equally fruitless to belabor any of the other facts of the female drink-mixer: her belief that no one will know the difference between good liquor and bad; her faith in the staying powers of a recorked remnant of soda water; her fondness for colored highball and cocktail glasses (usually magenta); her constant fear that the drinks will never be sweet enough; her adventuring with additions of maple syrup, créme Yvette, grenadine, and what-all to almost any drinks made in a shaker. Her shaker, finally, is about one-fourth the proper size and it probably leaks.

Ice, as used by women, is as massive a difficulty as all these others put together. Women hoard it. They won’t put it into a shaker themselves in appreciable quantities and they won’t put it out in a bowl except in sample amounts. Cocktails for fifteen or twenty mean six cubes of ice; punch for fifty or seventy-five means a dozen. A barbecue-and-beer-on-tap picnic for a couple of hundred would bring forth, if a woman were running the show, the amount of ice normally found in the refrigerator of a kitchenette apartment — just enough to dampen the barrel-head.

Ice is cheap. It’s rather attractive. It sounds good when agitated in abundance. Yet many a man drafted to shake and pour, in a female establishment, finds himself shaking a lukewarm mixture, quite without noise because it is immediately quite without ice. It swishes up and down; instead of the honest crash and clatter of a coolant, one gets the impression of a rubber-tired silence. When poured, such a drink is usually at about body heat and strong enough to bring a cough from the hardiest bon vivant. A couple of rounds of them will set husbands to eying wives with some anxiety. Yet if the man doing the shaking asks for more ice, his hostess seems to count him an inexpedient fellow, a nuisance, given to inordinate caprice.

Consider the plight of a man who has agreed to help out a hostess by mixing her cocktails. She has asked him, she explains, only because he makes such wonderful drinks. The fact that he usually does this simply by sticking to well-tested recipes, using halfway decent ingredients and plenty of ice, means nothing to the hostess. Her implication, which he has no way of contradicting, is that his mastery of these things borders on the occult.

The man files his disclaimers. All that his hostess will need, he assures her, will be three bottles of rum, a third as much lemon juice, some granulated sugar, and plenty of ice.

For no particular reason, the time of the party is set for 5:00 P.M. The man finds that he must walk off on various office responsibilities, but he rushes out and arrives at 5:15. About a dozen people are already there. No refreshment is being distributed. They all look at him sternly when the hostess announces that they just couldn’t have anything to drink until he was there to mix what she insists on calling “his specialties.”

Two or three of the male guests are plainly skeptical, but our hero hurries through a few measurements and mixtures. Unable to find the sugar, he asks for some. The hostess hands him a huge bottle of colorless syrup which she says is much better than sugar. However this may be, the man has no way of gauging its values, so he hopefully dumps in a jigger or two. He has just enough ice to make a single floating layer in the shaker, but the company is restive and he concludes that he had better get a round into circulation. He goes ahead, the ice promptly melts, and he finds himself swishing to no purpose.

By this time, guests are crowding about with their glasses. The man takes off the cap from the shaker spout and tries to pour a drink. Enough of a cocktail comes forth to fill perhaps an eighth of the glass. From that point on, the stream is as if from a fountain pen filler. It takes a long time to fill the first glass. The second is getting nowhere, and the man recaps the shaker and gives it a hard shake. He gains enough volume to fill the second glass. Only about fourteen glasses to go.

He removes the cover of the shaker and finds what he had known he would. Its strainer is full of lemon pulp. Just then the hostess comes charging up.

“Here are all these people waiting for your wonderful drinks,” she begins gayly.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to strain the lemon juice,” the man replies.

This really annoys the hostess; and as he picks up the whole tray and bolts for the kitchen, the man can hear her saying, ". . . has to be so fussy about everything.”

While he is out straining, the man looks surreptitiously for ice, but he finds that the only tray in the refrigerator is full of tomato jelly. The other trays are dry, empty, and piled on top of the refrigerator. He never does get any more ice. His first batch of drinks is warm, strong, and astonishingly sweet. His second is even warmer, disagreeably sour. Nobody seems to want a third round.

The hostess now has a couple of bottles of rum on hand and about a pint of unnecessary lemon juice. She doesn’t hesitate to wind it all up by saying to the man, “Well, you were so afraid I wouldn’t have enough, and now look at all this.”

The situation is not likely to improve, but one cannot help theorizing as to why such things must be. My own guess is roughly as follows.

Women get along fairly well on the assumption that men are saps. As an infant is pleased by a bright-colored object, the woman reasons, so does the man enjoy the notion that he has a special aptitude for boiling eggs, tending a fire, and mixing drinks.

The woman knows, just as well as the man, that an eight-year-old child, able to read English, could make an excellent whiskey sour. If a man can be given the illusion that it requires some rare talent of his own, why not let him think so? Incidentally, if any woman wants a recipe for whiskey sours, here it is: —

1 part lemon juice; 3 parts bonded bourbon; granulated sugar to suit; shake well with 500 pounds of cracked ice.