Anthony Hoffman's The City That Raised Me - Liquid Art
I read recently that in 2020 during lockdowns and pandemic response, sales of alcohol have risen by a colossal forty percent.
Now, we can spend all day speculating, unpacking implications, finger-wagging and engaging in all sorts of ping-pong rhetoric that seem to replace honest conversation today.
But when I sat with that number, I went back into my monthly budget and spending spreadsheets for 2020 and — yup, my booze spending also increased in 2020, by around, predictably forty percent.
Before you start patronizing, laughing or maybe, nodding knowingly, let me share what my liquor spending looked like throughout the last year. As some of my readers know, I love trying new and interesting cocktails, often posting them to social media.
For that, my home bar requires a diverse and wide-ranging assortment of bottles, syrups, liqueurs and juices. Like an artist buying paints, this interest required stocking shelves with the right tools. With more time at home in 2020, many of us had more time to pursue hobbies. Stop laughing.
I’ve spent the last five years studying (and tasting) the history and science behind both the dizzying variety of spirits available in a liquor store and the combination of ingredients that, together, end up making something better than the sum of its parts.
I remember one of my first experiences with a well-made cocktail. It mirrored the time I first tried a great Scotch whisky. The name of the place escapes me, but you’ve probably been somewhere similar. Low-lit, some sort of jazz-trance music playing through the din of packed tables.
That kind of hipster’s joint that probably makes their own charcuterie cheeses. Looking to appear fancy, I ordered a classic pre-Prohibition cocktail, The Aviation — that’s gin, lemon, maraschino liqueur, and a bit of crème de violette.
It showed up looking like a strangely appealing Monet painting. Then, the sip.
The constellation of flavour stars had come into clear view. Pushing pause on the moment and slowing down the music while everything around me melted into the strange violet-tinged liquid in front of me.
What. Was. That?!
I was both excited and devastated because I knew this was about to become a very expensive hobby.
It could be the first glacier-cold sip of the right beer at the right summer moment. Or maybe the wine that seems to somehow elevate the entire meal loosens conversation and brightens the room.
That perfect ‘bar moment’ is often the background to the world around us and the narrator for many of life’s moments. Wine with dinner, a cocktail with friends, beer at a baseball stadium; it can become the art on the walls of our life, enhancing, accenting and rendering beautifully.
During my study, I realized what a science, but more appropriately, an art every form of alcohol creation is. The choosing of botanicals for a unique gin, switching the barrel type to impart certain flavours into a whisky, the length of time aged, the type of pot still used in distillation; it’s a craft in every sense of the word. Just as for me is its consumption.
As with all good things, it can often be misused. I’m not looking to get into some long sermon on alcohol, but I think determining its role in our lives is fundamental to our enjoyment of it. For me, elevating it to an art form has helped in preventing any type of misuse.
Taking courses in wine tasting, bartending and learning to make wine at home has made it more an expedition in flavour than it is about alcohol content or consumption. Touring distilleries has given a true appreciation for these often-misrepresented creators.
I think living intentionally means having a life tuned in to beauty, both the immersion of ourselves into the aesthetic of every day or becoming the pioneers of beauty.
Those who chase it in their craft. Artists, musicians, distillers, and designers of every shape and kind. It’s not about luxury or excess; it’s about perfection.
The very intentional crafting of moments. About conviviality which means the joy of being together. Good drinks, good times and good people. Sharing these experiences with those you love, plumbing the depth of experiences, making memories like it’s your job and having a proper whisky to provide the background music.
Photo: YMM Columnist Anthony Hoffman shares his artistic methods and learnings in mixology. Photo by Anthony Hoffman