It always sounds fun, but I have been around long enough to see that drinking during the holidays is an activity fraught with peril. It is not just that an extra glass or two unleashes a year’s worth of simmering resentments, although it does, or that early drinking, coupled with the let-down after the present-opening, can lead to ill-conceived events like “Mandatory Family Dance Party,” which it may, or that at these parties an injury or two seems inevitable, which it is. I am much more concerned about the drinks people dare to call martinis.
Tin House has strong feelings about our house drink the martini, and anyone who attended our first writer’s workshop may recall the sloshy vigor with which we doled them out before getting a hold of ourselves in year two. Still, that year ushered me into a brief flirtation with the life of the martini, but it was really all about the glass. It’s such a dangerous little thing, so easy to spill, so elegant in its Art Deco way. It has none of the belled curvature of a delicate wine glass, nothing to suggest that this drink is a gentle lull, which is only fitting. A martini glass is both beautiful and unwieldy, slick but not sleek. It looks wonderfully cool to be holding one, but also requires some attention to prevent a bloody mishap. I imagine it is much like a pet ocelot in that way.
Anyhow, it’s no wonder that people try to serve all kinds of non-martini drinks in these glasses, just for the fun of hauling them out and peering at them in the twinkle of the Christmas lights.
And if you want to do this, great. It’s quite pleasant, if you cannot drink alcohol, to have some very tart N/A cocktail in a martini glass—I recommend one called, somewhat erotically, a Pink Pearl, made with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice and orgeat, an almond and rose-water syrup. It’s a bit fiddly to squeeze all that fruit, but given that the people stuck drinking the N/A drinks are either busy with the work of getting home alive, staying sober and contributing to society, or growing humans in their bodies, it’s the least you can do.
You will notice, however, that I do not refer to this drink as a martini. Just because it is served in a martini glass does not make it a martini. You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Yet I still recall the ignominious end of a New Year’s Eve when someone made me what he called a chocolate martini and which was an unholy mix of Bailey’s, something chocolatey and creamy—it may have been actual cream and Hershey’s syrup; the mixing took place in an undisclosed location—and vodka. It had the very flavor of a bad idea. I feel drunk and ill just telling you about it.
And unscrupulous people will do this to you every chance they get: apple-tinis and vanilla-tinis and cream-tinis and all other manner of crap poured into my beloved martini glass. I can’t even tell you the last time I had a real martini, and yet the abuse of their iconic glassware still cuts. I really feel that if someone had offered me a “Cream Choctail” or some other appropriately awful-sounding thing, I would have known even in my addled state to flee. But calling things a martini is always good, deceptive marketing. All I can tell you this holiday season is to stick with one path or another if you are polishing up your cocktail glasses: either call the drink whatever it really is, be it sugared citrus soda or creamy chocolate horror, or go with the classic, silvery, dangerous animal itself. And maybe if we drank from these lovely glasses more often we wouldn’t go so nuts every December.