All sorts of event invitations have tumbled through my email inbox recently, and when I saw an invitation to taste various whiskey single malt and cocktail varieties in celebration of author Kayleigh Kulp’s new book "Booze for Babes," I was intrigued. I know very little about whiskey, but I do enjoy booze, so I RSVPed in the affirmative. I had a great time and wanted to tell you about it, but this isn’t contractual advertising or anything like that. Besides, Kayleigh already gave me the book and got me drunk, so that’s a win-win for me.
Personal note: This is going to be about drinking. I am a drinker of alcohol, and though I’ve gone through long periods of not drinking it, for a variety of reasons, I presently enjoy a drink or three and I’m about to describe one such night. I understand that many of us do not drink at all, whether due to indifference or addiction or anything else on the spectrum between those extremes. I don’t want to alienate or trigger anyone, so I wanted to mention upfront that I’m aware that this is simply not of interest to some and I don’t want to perpetuate the notion that liquor is necessary for socializing, nor do I want to embody the sort of casual alcoholism I see in certain talk show hosts and network drama protagonists. OK, back to "Booze for Babes."
As I cracked the spine of my copy and thumbed through the pages, the “welcome cocktail” of Nikka Coffey grain whiskey, ginger liqueur, and club soda was already taking hold and I helped myself to multiple hors d’oeuvres in order to pace the tipsiness. To be completely honest, I was dubious about the book’s title. I’m a bit over being marketed to with shady kinda-sorta wink-wink feminism like the classic “Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.”
But as soon as I got the book and saw chapter titles like “Principles of the Palate: The Science of Tasting Booze,” “Cachaça 101: Rum’s Forgotten Cousin,” and “Choose a Good Armagnac Producer,” I knew Kayleigh meant business. She also drops history with stories of real life Prohibition Era ladies that I had never heard of, like Gertrude Lythgoe, and historical women behind bars, such as Alice Guest, who ran a successful Philadelphia public house in the late 1600s.
I enthusiastically (tipsily) introduced myself to Kayleigh right away, and she was affable and charming. As the evening went on and we stayed engrossed in our chit-chat while exchanging our empty glasses for full ones, I was apologetic for monopolizing her time at her own event. She was kind in her protestations when I said I was chewing her ear off, and we carried on. We talked about having fun vs. being “ladylike” (groan) and I shared that I like to take the liver supplement Milk Thistle after a night of heavy indulgence like this was turning out to be. We also reinforced for each other that healthy foods with a decent amount of fat are in order when drinking this type of strong booze, which meant that it totally made sense for us to suck down these bacon-wrapped dates every time the fella with the tray brought them by:
Cocktail culture can fall prey to the same BS gender codification that infects the rest of the world, with the silly stereotype of “girly drinks” being fruity cocktails and such, used both to diminish women and also mock men who may prefer a little produce with their alcohol. What you chose to imbibe should neither confirm one’s “girlhood” nor diminish one’s masculinity, as the case may be.
And yet, certain traditions persist, and since enjoying cocktails is often a part of socializing, there is often lots of copycat behavior and something ordered as a fluke one day can easily become one’s go-to order or signature drink if we don’t make the time and find the energy to branch out and explore.
I detest the taste of beer, and I have for as long as I can remember. Someone’s always got a new cider or lager for me to try that they insist will change my mind, but so far, none of them has done so. I enjoy wine, but not every bar has a great wine selection, so I’ve long been a booze drinker, even sometimes veering into Dark Liquor territory. I’ve gotten many strange looks when ordering a Cuba Libre instead of a “rum and Coke,” or a Chopin martini up with olives in a sea of Sam Adamses and Buds.
Kayleigh frames much of her conversation around shattering the intimidation factor with women learning about and enjoying hard liquor. While I am hesitant to paint women as more timid overall, I do think there are a number of factors that may add up to contribute to lack of specific knowledge in this area. Personally, I know there have been a number of times when I was with a large group ordering around a table and had questions about different drinks, but didn’t want to hold up the whole table or tie up the server for an inordinate amount of time. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t ask a question or two, but social graces dictate that it isn’t appropriate to bring an evening to a screeching halt for Pia’s Personal Q&A about How Liqueurs Are Made (which is covered in Chapter 11 of "Booze For Babes").
If I’ve found a willing bartender on a slow night and am with similarly curious companions or flying solo, (“How To Enjoy A Barstool for One” is on page 73 of the book, BTW) it’s awesome to ask questions and get recommendations and learn more about what seems to be an infinite selection of creative cocktails out there. But that requires the right set of circumstances, curiosity, and assertiveness.
Kayleigh and I were having the third of the single malt tasting selections when she suggested that I add an ice cube to it to see how that changes the flavor. I immediately turned to the bartender, who was within close earshot, and asked for an ice cube. Kayleigh chuckled and said, “I see you have no problem asking for things, but some of us do.” I completely understand that, particularly in social settings. I’m an extrovert and a performer by trade, but some of us are quieter by nature and might have trouble getting a bartender’s attention. And as I mentioned above, even I have remained mum at times, albeit out of a sense of propriety and not intimidation.
Maybe we order the same drink over and over again because it’s comfortable and easy. Or we say “I’ll have what she’s having.” Or we make a more “fashionable” or trendy choice, like the solid chunk of time I spent drinking Cosmos basically because "Sex and The City" told me to, which is time I’d like back by the way if that is at all possible, Universe, please and thank you.
Cosmopolitans aren’t bad at all if you truly like the drink, and they’re covered in Chapter 10, right up front in the second paragraph. But so are many other vodka drinks, as well as the history of vodka, the joy of aquavit, and even non-drinking uses for the popular clear booze. (Fun fact: when I first started working in theater, Febreze hadn’t been invented yet and wardrobe departments sprayed garments with vodka in spray bottles to deodorize them between shows. Many still do.)
When I added the ice cube to the third of the single malt tasting selections, it did indeed perk it up in a way that tasted more like bringing out an underlying fruitiness than simply lowering the temperature. Kayleigh pointed out that adding ice to a straight-up glass of this kind of whiskey wouldn’t produce the same watered-down taste that happens with many other beverages on ice. She couldn’t have been more right, since this particular whiskey was a Westland American Single Malt, weighing in at a whopping 92 proof. A little ice just chilled it out, but it remained a potent drink to sip. And sip we did.
I really enjoyed meeting Kayleigh and I left the event in a comfortable state of drunkenness and more knowledgeable about the whiskey in my belly and about liquor overall. You can find out more about "Booze for Babes" and order it here, and I’d love to hear about what you like to drink below!