Dec. 6 A Feast of Seven Wishes
Last night was one of those nights. We had a new mug release at the bar, and I felt, for the first time in awhile, that sense of urgency, only a busy shift of making cocktails can bring out. One of my former chefs use to say “The beer is gonna taste extra good tonight,” on nights when we neared meltdown, the nights when, no matter how hard we tried, we could never get our heads above the water from the tidal wave of orders. I hadn’t felt that in awhile. The only difference now, is we are in a pandemic, the wave is less constant, and my glass is empty.
Hello thirst readers, and I sure hope I’m not too much of a “buzz-kill” today. I know most of you probably scroll past all of my nonsense, and head straight to the recipes. For that reason, I feel I should give a disclaimer now: TODAY’S DRINK CONTAINS NO ALCOHOL. There, now that we’ve gotten that part out of the way, lets take a little journey into how I got here. Are you still with me?
Since a young age, I’ve always had a fascination with beverage alcohol. Something about the way it brought people together just spoke to me. I had a pretty blue-collar upbringing, and my exposure to things like cocktails and fine dining was all but nonexistent. The few times we would dine out, I loved how we would just escape into another world, eating foods we never had at home, but most of all, I loved when the adults in my family would order cocktails.
One such memory was during a family vacation in the Outer Banks. All the extended family, my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, were on the trip as well, and one night, we all went to a Japanese steakhouse, you know, the teppanyaki style places where they cook your dinner on a flat-top grill at the table. I couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner that night, but I remember the adults in my family all ordered drinks that came served in ceramic Buddha mugs. In that moment, it became clear to me that drinks mattered, and they were a reason alone to embark on a night out.
As I became older, my fascination with drinks grew a bit more. Upon turning the legal age to consume, my fraternity brothers all took me out the bar, a lot. I tried every cocktail the bartenders knew in my little Pennsylvania college town. One thing kept becoming apparent, cocktails were terrible! Why had my family fawned over the exotic flavors of those cocktails, many years ago, if this was all they were. This was disappointing. I knew something was wrong. I knew there had to be more to learn, and I was going to seek it out.
I bought cocktail books, searched the internet, though in those days, options were pretty limited. All along the way, another conflict was beginning. I was indulging a bit too much. As a young undergrad, it was easy to dismiss. “Oh, I’ll stop partying so much after college,” was the usual remark. When you’re surrounded by heavy drinkers, it makes yours seem a little less severe.
By my mid-20s, daily drinking had become a pretty constant routine. The strange thing though, was alcohol seemed to affect me differently than everyone else. I felt like one of those people with a shellfish allergy, who can't resist having lobster. I was working full-time as a bartender, and once again, I had surrounded myself with people whose drinking habits mirrored my own. I was convinced I didn’t have a problem, and nobody would tell me any differently.
Years went by, and I still loved my profession. The funny thing about working with alcohol, and being a problem drinker, was I didn’t usually drink while I was working. There were the occasional staff-shots taking place, and my habits did get in the way at times. Overall though, my drinking was something I thought was under control. I was wrong, and it wouldn’t be long before the reality became clear.
I could bore you with the horrible stories of my behaviors in what I refer to as “the lost years,” but this is supposed to be a cheerful Christmas story after all. The short version is I lost friendships, relationships, and it even creeped into my career. One year, my over-consumption even got it's clutches on Christmas. I'll never see the holiday season the same way.
I woke up feeling depressed, as another relationship had just ended, thanks to my favorite hobby. It was Christmas morning, and I just wanted to be around people. I did what any thirsty person in seek of entertainment might do, and I looked for a bar that was open.
The next part of the story, my thirsty readers, is a bit harder to tell. I woke up many hours later, in the last place I ever thought I'd spend Christmas. I woke up in a jail cell. Apparently, i'd had too much, and my Uber driver didn't know what to do with me when I fell asleep in the car, so he called the police. After all the years of being lucky, of "functioning" in this cloud I'd created, I finally found myself spending Christmas in a jail cell, waiting to "sober-up."
Now don't feel bad for me, because this is one of the best things that ever happened to me. This was a moment I would never forget. This was a moment when I changed. I wasn't exactly a 'reformed man" like old Ebeneezer Scrooge. That moment wouldn't happen for a few more years, when a friend of mine sadly passed, prompting another self-evaluation. It was the moment the ball was put into motion. I could feel my life and myself changing.
I'm happy to say, as of today, that it's been two and a half years since I've had a drink. Shaker of Spirits? I know, the irony isn't lost on me either. I developed a new appreciation for things. I accepted that some people's bodies process substances differently. I found peace within myself. After all, if that moment hadn't happened, there's no way I'd be writing this for you today. I wouldn't had regained "me."
Since then, I've taken my work more seriously, often uttering the words "The party isn't for you," when training young bartenders. I have so many happy Christmases to look forward to. This is why I put so much emphasis on holiday cheer. I've made many apologies and amends over the years, while sadly accepting some of those will never be possible. Stepping away from the social aspect of my profession made me better able to give my attention to the social enjoyment of my guests. That's all I ever wished for in the first place, to take people somewhere that only exists in my mind. It's for this reason, my glass is empty.
A Feast of Seven Wishes
1oz Seedlip Spice 94
.75oz Cinnamon Syrup
.75oz Clove Syrup
.75oz Coconut Cream
.75oz Lemon Juice
1.5oz Orange Juice
1.5oz Apple Cider
Favorite Fishy Mug
Whip shake and pour unstrained.
Top with crushed ice.
Garnish with Rosemary, Orchid, and Powdered Sugar.
10g Whole Cloves
4 cups White Sugar
4 cups Water
In medium sauce-pot, bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar fully.
Remove from heat, and allow to steep for 1 hour.
Strain and serve.
Two and a half years, I know it probably doesn't sound like much, but it's always harder during the holidays. If you can, mix one of these up and raise a glass with me today. Though alcohol might not be your struggle, I'm sure you've overcome some serious obstacles in your life as well. Just look at this past year. We made it, and we are still here. There's no guarantee for tomorrow, but we still have today. As I look up at the beautiful snow falling around me, I see things differently, and I realize today is a good day. Love yourself, love those around you, and keep shaking.