Some Room for Squares – Part One

THESE DAYS, FROM MOST CORNERS of the fermented beverages business, you hear a lot of commentary about—and against—the concept of Dry January. It’s something the wine writer Miquel Hudin described recently as a “miserable celebration of abstinence” that, when this year’s calendar rolled into February, got left behind “like the desiccated corpse that it is.”

I enjoyed the colorful language, though the sentiment struck me as a bit dark. Our industry seems lately to be caught in a grip of fear that skipping a month of wine, beer, or cocktails is the gateway to teetotaling for the eleven that follow, particularly when it comes to twenty- and thirty-somethings’ habits. But I’m not losing too much sleep over it, consumption data about imbibers younger than I am notwithstanding. Wine and other fermented beverages have been around forever; in modern times, the attendant ebbs and flows to their popularity are subject to the need to constantly grow the industry around their production. “There isn’t any great statistical evidence yet that young adults have altered their drinking habits on a grand scale,” health correspondent Amanda Mull wrote in The Atlantic in 2019. “Many Millennials,” she guessed, “might just be tired of drinking so much.”

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Agua de Beefsteak: Of Taverns, Tomatoes, and a Taste of Summer ’20

THERE’S A WINDOW of time on my resumé in the early 2000s when it was my lot in life to run a romper room of a wine bar in San Francisco’s Civic Center. Occasionally, to avoid its semi-deranged, tinfoil-hatted owner, I’d pop across Hayes Street to Absinthe Brasserie & Bar for a nerves-soothing tumbler of Oban. Neither Rob Schwartz nor Jeff Hollinger, the head bartenders, knew me very well, but each poured a generous shot of the Scottish single malt, which I always thought of as a singularly kind gesture of hospitality.

Just a few years later in 2006, that pair partnered with the talented San Francisco food photographer Frankie Frankeny on a well-conceived cocktail recipe book, The Art of the Bar. In it, Rob and Jeff included a section on some of the classic drinks they served at Absinthe that butted up against current trends. “Die-hard devotees,” they observed with some amusement, “surely cringe at the idea of calling vanilla vodka mixed with Midori and a mélange of fruit juices a melon Martini.”

No doubt feeling reverberations of the 90’s vodka craze that spilled over into the new millennium, they wrote, “Nowadays, just about anything served in a martini glass is dubbed a Martini.”

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Daddy’s Timeout

Daddy's GC Berkeley (3)[One]

A FEW YEARS AGO, I flew into Houston for a work trip on a breezy October afternoon and cabbed straight to a sales appointment with a distributor colleague at a truly Texas-sized grocery store. No need to mention the store by name, though gourmet-minded residents of the city would know the place, which was high-end and located in a nice neighborhood. The lighting and space were bright and airy, and the shelves were very well-stocked. It reminded me of a saying I once heard: “Dallas has the flash, but Houston has the cash.” Indeed, there was a fossil fuel-enabled vibe of prosperity to this mammoth epicurean outlet. I was, after all, in the energy capital of the world.

Upstairs in a back office, the wine-related dealings came to a swift conclusion. The store’s merciless buyer was like the Astros’ J.R. Richard, circa 1978, shooting BBs past the Dodgers. Naturally, I was the Dodger—a strikeout victim. As I trudged back downstairs with my colleague, we encountered a wide stack of wine at the end of the “Gourmet to Go” aisle, the cases full of what turned out to be an Italian pinot grigio.

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