I do confess to having a taste for the good stuff. Montrachet was recognised as AOC Grand Cru in 1937 and a bottle of 2001 Hannibal sells for a whisker under $7800 or, about $110 per millilitre or five hundred bucks a swallow. Heroin is cheaper. Perhaps I need to lower my sights a little bit.
Both tequila and absinthe are made from the most unlikely of ingredients; agave, which looks like a cactus, but isn’t and wormwood, a herb. Absinthe was banned in France until comparatively recently because it caused blindness, hence ‘blind drunk’. These, together with Jamaican rum and Jägermeister are the four most unpalatable drinks on the planet and even I have only ever tried them once.
Ernest Hemingway once drank, improbably, fifty-one, or perhaps fifty- three straight Martinis in the Ritz Hotel in Paris; losing count was almost inevitable. Whether or not this is true is a matter of conjecture but he was sufficiently well-known there that they named a bar after him. Cole Porter would spend up to nine hours a day in the Hemingway Bar; legend has it that he composed “Begin the Beguine” there. F. Scott Fitzgerald had his favourite seat; Hemingway and Gary Cooper made it their go-to watering hole, talking for hours and, in all probability, sliding gently off their bar stools.
Making a good Martini isn’t easy and the Ritz is coy about its prices. Just imagine eye-popping, then double it. A simple enough recipe, really. James Bond had it all wrong – vodka is far too harsh; good gin, redolent with juniper, is much preferred. In a metal cocktail shaker, Lillet or Noilly Prat first, then high proof Tanqueray gin (or Bombay Sapphire if you must) in a 4 to 1 ratio, stirred briskly for no more than ten seconds over cracked ice – never shaken, it dilutes it too much – poured into a chilled cocktail glass with either an olive, or better, a twist of Provençal lemon.
Let’s just say that mixing with the well-heeled and often famous comes at a premium. It’s on a lot of people’s bucket lists. Having visited both, my preference is for the Crillon, overlooking Place de la Concorde where I was once charged 20€ for a rather small portion of päté en croute. The wine list had nothing for under three figures and sometimes four, so I declined a drink there. Two of the high end suites were designed by the recently deceased Karl Lagerfeld.
Beer. American beer is appalling, bland and watery-looking and tasting like yesterday’s urine, chilled beyond endurance. Belgian Trappist beer is ridiculously strong, and since the abbot allowed them to drink eight pints of homebrew a day, the monks made the most of them, drinking as they did in silent contemplation. There are, of course all manner of brews in the middle in various states of alcoholic content and taste. If Foster’s is Australian for beer, then Crown Ambassador Reserve must be Australian for expensive beer, although not the most expensive in the world – that is reserved for a brew copied from an ancient Egyptian recipe and named Nefertiti. The Aussies are close behind, however. Aged in French oak barrels for a year and packaged in what looks like a champagne bottle, Crown pitches Ambassador as an alternative to wine, which speaks volumes for the Australian palate. The brewer has produced four iterations since 2008, each batch limited to 8,000 bottles with an ABV of 10.2 (this is high, people – be advised) and a price tag of close to $75 a bottle. Even this is modest compared to beers so rare that only eight bottles exist. You can buy one of them for $800 but it comes in a bottle made from a stuffed animal. There really is no accounting for taste. The Schorschbock 57, can claim to be the strongest beer in the world, with an insane ABV of 57, about the same as schnapps. The stuff probably tastes like cough medicine.
Why all this discussion about rare and exotic beverages which get you a tad squiffy and sometimes just a wee bit dysfunctional? The reason is, I have decided to treat my long-suffering liver to a well-earned vacation. Poor old girl, she was beginning to show signs of the metabolic equivalent of metal fatigue. For too long she has had to put in a lot of overtime on a zero-hours contract and she will not be troubled to have to process indecently large quantities of Uncle Johnnie Walker or Cousin Jack Daniels for some time. Instead I shall be squeezing fat blood grapefruit with Devin mineral water, very slightly pétillant, unlike Perrier which gives people indecently rapid flatulence. Stirred, not shaken.