When it comes to spirits, there’s the everyday and then there’s the special occasion. The splurge. Most days, I am more than happy with a well-made drink from a good-value bottle. As I have long preached, cocktails should be a modest, reasonable, end-of-the-workday sort of indulgence.
But then there are times. Oh my, yes, there are times. Times in the life of the spirits enthusiast when decadence beckons. Times when reason leaves the building. I described one of these moments in this space in 2011, when I uncharacteristically dropped $320 on a vintage bottle of 1957 Chateau de Laubade Armagnac.
It happened again in New York recently, when I stopped by the Experimental Cocktail Club, the Lower East Side outpost of the famed Paris cocktail bar. I saw a “vintage” Stinger on the cocktail menu for $150. For one glass. Ridiculous, right?
But then I started thinking about the Stinger, which was the first “real” adult cocktail I had ever enjoyed, and also about how much I still enjoy a Stinger as my go-to after-dinner cocktail when the weather turns cold.
And so. . . yes, yes, yes I paid $150 for a single drink. Everything in moderation, including moderation, right?
This Stinger was made with a green creme de menthe called Imperium that had been produced in Australia in the 1940s and Hennessy Bras Arme cognac from the 1960s. It was masterfully stirred by head bartender Nicolas de Soto, who, in a super-Frenchy touch, was dressed mimelike — tres Marcel Marceau — in a striped shirt and skinny suspenders.
Was it worth it? Well, the short answer is a resounding yes, though probably few of you will believe me. I could tell you that the green Imperium creme de menthe (which I also tasted straight) was fresher and more flavorful than any other creme de menthe (generally a joke of a spirits category).
In fact, I’ll say that this creme de menthe was among the finest liqueurs that I’ve ever tasted. I could tell you that the cognac from another era lent notes of mystery to the drink. But it doesn’t really matter, because my point here is not to convince you to spend $150 of your hard-earned money on something that intrigued me.
Instead, I want to encourage you, the spirits enthusiast, to let your hair down this holiday season and splurge on something that intrigues you. Define “splurge” in whatever way feels right.
Give in to those decadent dreams. Find some rare or obscure eau de vie or liqueur or whiskey you’ve read or heard about, or coveted but never tried. Maybe you’ve gazed longingly at that bottle of anejo tequila or vintage Calvados as you wander the liquor store aisles for your regular bourbon or gin. Or perhaps you’ve never bought that $50 bottle of green Chartreuse or that $40 bottle of pear Williams eau de vie because it’s felt just a little too far out of reach.
Remember, spirits are not like wine. Even if you drop $50, you’ll be able to keep whatever remains in the bottle for many, many years.
Thanksgiving is the perfect time to try something new, because you’ll be able rationalize whatever irrational purchase you make: If you’re ever going to need an after-dinner digestif, it would be after, say, a gigantic holiday feast.
I realize that most Americans have essentially given up on the tradition of an after-dinner drink. Few of us pour a little Armagnac or kirsch or even an Italian amaro to help digest a meal. And there are certainly solid reasons not to add another high-proof drink to the night. But if we’re indulging ourselves anyway, safely at home or staying over at a relative’s, why not bring a little decadence to the party this year?
Check out my recommendations for some special after-dinner drinks. I’d love to hear from readers on what decadent splurges they make this holiday season.