Olympic Drinking: Beer, Gin + Whisky
By now you're fully ensconced in the full-on drama of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, a global event featuring feats of human skill so thrilling that you're likely to have to endure a few marathon sessions yourself -- in front of the telly, that is, unspooling TiVo recordings hour after hour, devoting yourself to sports viewing with herculean stamina.
I can't predict the outcome, but I know one thing: All of this extra exertion is going to make you thirsty. It is fortunate then that the Games are being held in London, the greatest city in one of the greatest countries for drinking in the world, habitat of tipplers and hooligans, home to the flagon and the nonic, the hogshead and the dram. There are so many ways of imbibing the alcoholic beverages of the British Isles that we're forced, in the space of this column, to limit ourselves to three: beer, gin and whisky. Put everything on pause and stock up.
Britain's beer and ale output is inspiringly vast, from light lagers to stalwart stouts and virtually everything in between. They are rarely shy, these beers, with plenty of richness and flavor, and more than their share of alcoholic strength.
The best English beers and ales, to my mind, provide a bit of chewiness to their texture, whether it's a strong ale or an IPA from St. Peter's or Samuel Smith, or ambers and browns from the likes of Old Speckled Hen, Newcastle and Old Peculiar. I'm a sucker for the gorgeous creaminess of Boddington's Pub Ale, a toothsome brew from Manchester, but if you really want to express some civic pride you could do worse than Fuller's London Pride, a thirst-quenching pale ale. Failing that, there's always the pride of Dublin, the daily bread, the mother's milk for millions of Ireland's sons, Guinness.
To me, English gin and summer seem made for each other, the English version of the spirit tending to be crisp, clean and fresh, spicy without being overtly medicinal. For a classic martini gin I love Bombay -- I prefer it, in fact, for its succulence and approachability over its premium version, Sapphire. Choose Plymouth's for a more sophisticated, high-toned juniper spice, with its classic crispness and nerve. Finally Hendrick's, with its pronounced scent and flavor of cucumber, works especially well with summery drinks, whether a gin & tonic or a Tom Collins.
And, lest you forget, Pimm's Cup #1 is the gin-based aperitif spirit of choice for summer imbibing in old England -- served on ice or with a splash of soda and lime.
I'm told that English whiskies do exist -- there are three distilleries, evidently, and not a one of them imported. And there is plenty of fine, brawny Irish whisky coming into the country -- more premium bottlings from the big distillers, Jameson's and Bushmill's, as well as smaller artisanal products. So I apologize in advance when I say, why would you bother when the quintessential source for the water of life is Scotland?
There is such an embarrassment of riches in Scotch whisky in the American market at present that I hardly know where to start, so instead, I'll tell you what to avoid. For your summer dram you'll want to keep it light -- lighter blends from Cutty Sark or Ballantine are clean and reliable on their own or on the rocks. Among single malts, eschew the smokier, peatier iterations of the spirit -- save Islays and Highland Scotches for cool winter nights -- and for summer, pour one that's clean, unpeated and fruit-driven, like the Classic bottling from Auchentoshan, a triple-distilled Lowland spirit -- or better, a Speyside, from the northerly region whose Scotches are known for their beautiful, delicate fruit accents, like the Special Reserve from Glenfiddich, or the fine, delineated pear-scented 12-Year from Cragganmore.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Have a spirits question for a future column? Ask him. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.
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