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A new book by Toronto-based journalist Adam McDowell, Drinks: A User’s Guide (TarcherPerigee, $20), offers a broad take on what to drink—cocktails, spirits, wine and beer—as well as when and how to drink them. The advice given is solid and offered with authority and humor.
Yet it’s easy to select a good drink when good options abound at a bar, a liquor store or your home bar. It becomes much harder, McDowell wryly observes, when access to the good stuff is sharply curtailed—at a poorly provisioned party, for example, or on an airplane.
He has even coined a new word for a drink made in such challenging situations: the ad-hoctail. “It’s a traditional cocktail dumbed down to two or three easy-to-obtain ingredients,” he says. “It may be less delicious, but it’s acceptable under the circumstances.”
These are clearly not meant to be mixology masterpieces. Rather, they’re cheerful, willfully down-market drinks that actually don’t sound that terrible. For example, McDowell presents the Manhattan On $15 A Day—Canadian whisky and cherry cola “consumed with perverse pride”—and the Dépanneur Daiquiri—dépanneur is Canadian-French for “convenience store,” and the drink includes white rum, lemonade and lime soda like Jarritos Lime).
There are two White Russian riffs. One variation, the Off-White Russian No. 1, is made of vodka and chocolate milk, while the other takes canned iced coffee with the vodka. And McDowell also presents the Un-Cosmopolitan, mixing vodka, Cherry Kool-Aid and orange soda.
“Though it may lack in the areas of flavor balance and sophistication, the ad-hoctail more than makes up for its deficiencies by offering convenience, ingenuity and sheer mixological moxie,” says McDowell. “It’s simplicity embraced with gusto. It’s the meeting place between thirst and a shrug.”
Scoffing at cocktail supply kits intended for in-flight mixology, McDowell instead advocates traveling with a mini bottle of Angostura bitters and sugar packets, ideal for transforming a midflight whiskey pour into an Old Fashioned or sparkling wine into a makeshift hotel room Champagne cocktail.
It’s a scrappy reminder to find a way to enjoy your drink, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. “By remembering your cocktail recipes, more or less, you can make out all right in all kinds of situations.”