Jason Wilson on becoming a spirits aficionado

Jason Wilson's favorite cocktails from his new book, left to right: Viceroy, Livorno and Nordic Snapper. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)
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By Jason Wilson
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 12:58 PM

Excerpts from Jason Wilson's new book, "Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits" (Ten Speed Press, $22.99):

A few years ago, I was at a fancy party with several people who have successful careers in what's commonly called lifestyle journalism. We were drinking special cocktails made with a special gin that had been infused with cucumbers and rose petals, then mixed with rose water that had been specially imported from Lebanon.

I was chatting with a beautiful, sexy friend who wrote for a magazine that covers luxury spa vacations. She got that job, in part, because she wrote a travel book about bathing culture that one critic claimed "bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine."

As we chatted, I shared some good news with her: I had just been hired to write a column for this newspaper about spirits and cocktails.

You should really meet my friend," she told me. "He's the perfume critic at the Times."

"Really?" I replied. "Let me just see if I'm hearing this correctly. The luxury spa columnist would like the spirits columnist to meet the perfume columnist?"

Yes, she said, with a beautiful, sexy smile.

Wait, I said. Did you just hear that?


"Oh, nothing. I thought for just a second that I heard the sound of the Apocalypse."

I often said things like that at the beginning of my new job. I had grown up, after all, in a family of men who made their money packing fruit and vegetables. Real work. I knew what it was like to wake for work at 4 a.m., to haggle over crates of cantaloupe at the produce terminal before sunrise.

By 13, I knew what it felt like to unload a truckload of onions in the July sun; how your arms were ripped up by the 50-pound red-mesh bags. My father mangled his thumb in a machine that stitches bags of potatoes. I could imagine my grandfather saying, "Spirits and cocktail columnist? I'm spinning in my [expletive] grave."

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