Death in the afternoon – guilt free daytime drinking

A Bloody Mary or a beer. Or perhaps even both.

Sundays used to be simple. Afternoons called for a beer. Or if adventure beckoned, a Bloody Mary. One Los Angeles bar I frequented in my youth made their Bloody Marys with beer. Which might explain why it no longer exists. But those were the choices a man needed to make.

Then bartenders discovered fruit, fooling us into believing that as long as there was something to chew on besides a swizzle stick, the contents of the glass we held in our hands couldn’t possibly be lethal. For those who drew the line at a pina colada, there was the margarita, the caipirinha and the daiquiri and other assorted things that a real man wouldn’t be seen dead drinking.

Fortunately, after seven seasons of seeing spirits being knocked back in the middle of the afternoon on Mad Men, we’re going back to the basics. Yes, even bourbon.

One afternoon, desperately searching for a drink in a bar cabinet left bare by the previous day’s activity, I chanced upon a bottle of Campari, buried under the accumulated dust of a decade. I can’t remember the last time someone asked for it, let alone the last time I had any. But a slice of lime, some sprigs of mint and a healthy dose of tonic water added to an inch of the blood red liquid moved it well up the charts to my afternoon drink of choice.

When I mentioned this to another afternoon alcoholic, he was quick to admit that he too had rediscovered Campari, although he raised an eyebrow at the mint sprig. That’s fruit, he said. Not so, I replied. It grows in a vegetable garden which classifies it in the perfectly acceptable category. The argument ended once he tried my version. He now grows his own Sunday requirement.

For those made of stronger stuff, or just those in need of it, there’s the Negroni. Equal parts of gin, Campari and sweet Vermouth. Stick in a slice of orange and you’ve pretty much covered all the basic food groups.

Friends who’ve read Peter Mayle’s “A Year In Provence” wax lyrical about how likely they are to do the same thing, retirement permitting. Renting, possibly buying, a villa towards the south of France. Learning how to cook that fabulous cuisine. Having neighbours pop by for a friendly game of boules. To which I say, bollocks. The whole point of that life is summed up in one word. Pastis. That wonderful, aniseed flavoured drink that lets the summer sun shine through the darkest day. A couple of cubes of ice. A splash of water. And suddenly Eva Green is sitting by your side whispering French love songs in your ear. Don’t know who Eva Green is? You don’t deserve to drink pastis.

The Brits are hard pressed to compete with the Italian and the French offerings above, but there is something about mad dogs and Englishmen that makes the noonday sun the perfect time to break open that bottle of gin. Yes, I know, gin you’re going to say. Isn’t that the bottle that hides behind even the Campari because real men don’t drink it? Let’s bust that myth. Gin does not make you impotent. That’s an old wives tale like the one that said playing with yourself would make you blind.

If you’re going to drink gin, drink a good one. Save the tonic for Campari. You have the option of the lime slice, but I’m going with gin on ice with a stick of cucumber. Why cucumber? I’m damned if I know. But it brings out the flavours wonderfully. It’s also a great hangover cure. ‘Nuff said.

For those of us who see a bit of Don Draper in ourselves, there’s the brown stuff. For far too long, we’ve been told that drinking whisky in the day is the first sign of alcoholism. I don’t see why. Vodka, gin, rum, all the white spirits that are acceptable in the afternoon, have the same alcohol content as whisky. So why should the colour make a difference? Of course there is a fine line between being a real man and a real idiot. Choose a lighter whisky for the afternoon, perhaps even, gasp, a blend. In the malts, a Speyside would work well. I spent a very happy afternoon in Edinburgh with Whisky Magazine’s then roving editor Charlie MacLean drinking the Glenmorangie Port Wood. Or you could go the Dylan Thomas way and drink Irish whiskey. Just remember to rehydrate by looking at the pool, if not actually dipping a toe in it, occasionally.

And finally, while on authors, you could pay tribute to the late, great Ernest Hemingway, whose “Death In The Afternoon” remains a staple read. ‘Papa’ even came up with a drink he named after the title of the book. A jigger of absinthe in a flute, topped with chilled Champagne. His suggestion was to drink between three and five of these. Which might explain why it’s called Death In The Afternoon.

But if that doesn’t make you want to run with the bulls, nothing will.

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