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The joy of cocktails: Glen Mutel

Forget beer, wine and cider — the cocktail is the perfect companion for the discerning traveller

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You find me in excellent spirits today. I’m not sure why. It could be the fact that, as I write this, the sun is shining, utterly unencumbered by even the smallest cloud. Or perhaps it’s the unusually deep and decent sleep I enjoyed last night. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s something to do with the two elderflower fizz cocktails I downed at lunchtime. You know what, I think it’s probably that.

The older I get, the fonder of cocktails I seem to grow. It’s hard to imagine a circumstance where the promise of a Duo or Trio, Sour or Smash, Highball, Fizz, Punch or even a rough-edged Ancestral wouldn’t be enough to brighten up my day. There’s something so invigorating about them, so refreshing. They truly tickle the parts other drinks can’t reach.

When I was a younger man, I was discouraged by the price. The thought of paying £7 for a single drink appalled me. But these days, the price is a large part of the appeal, as it encourages slow, considered drinking.

Put it this way, I’d sooner spend an hour sipping a subtle, well-constructed, £7 cocktail, than knocking back two, boring £5 pints of flat lager. But I don’t expect Young Glen to understand this. To be honest, the boy lacks class.

But there’s so much more to cocktail drinking than mere sipping and spending. If you allow it, it can grow into an all-consuming pastime. You can study the history, buy the accessories, purchase the furniture, experiment with your own variations — and this surely makes it more than just a seedy habit. I prefer to think of it as a highbrow hobby.

And it’s a hobby I strongly associate with travel. When I’m abroad, I like to indulge, and the cocktail always seems like a great place to start. Perhaps its because they’re still associated with aristocracy — with the hedonistic, monocle-wearing toffs of the Roaring Twenties — but I always regard them as a bona fide luxury, and therefore just the thing to sip in the sun.

When travelling, it sometimes pays to do things differently, just to put some real distance between you and your ordinary life. And one way to do this is to drink in a way you wouldn’t normally dare, at unfamiliar times of the day. Cocktails facilitate this wonderfully, starting on the plane, when the purchase of a Bloody Mary or Bucks Fizz seems somehow acceptable, no matter what the hour.

This behaviour then continues throughout the trip, from morning pick-me-ups to fruity evening sundowners. Such is the cocktail’s versatility — if you’re so inclined, there’s one for every hour of the day. This is something those monocle-wearing toffs understood, whether they were imbibing eye-openers at breakfast, settlers with lunch, cobblers in the afternoon or early evening invigorators. The restaurant chain Hawksmoor has adopted this idea recently, resurrecting some choice Victorian categories, such as Anti-Fogmatics (morning), Pre- and Post-Prandials (before and after dinner) and Bridging Drinks (light afternoon drinks). It’s a move I warmly applaud.

The cocktail offers the holidaymaker more than just flexibility; it can also help the rusty traveller quickly gain a sense of place. After all, what’s the Deep South without the Mint Julep? What’s Peru without the Pisco Sour? What would Cuba be without its Mojito, or Brazil minus the Caipirinha? So many travellers’ tales are knitted neatly together by the regular consumption of a local cocktail. Is it any wonder these wondrous concoctions often loom large in our hazy memories of a distant trip?

But I’m getting carried away. After all, they’re only drinks. And, like just about anything in life, they aren’t for everyone. So go ahead, abstain, if you feel you really must. Go to Singapore and ignore its Slings. Visit Long Island and shun its Ice Teas. Explore Alabama, and stay away from its Slammers. But if you see me with my morning Appetizer, please try not to judge.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost dinner. Time for a swift Pre-Prandial.


Published in the September 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)