The Columnist
art of Refreshments

I know a girl from the North once who came to work in Fleet Street on a magazine. There, one day, as work was ending, one of the men said:” Time for a drink, I think.” There was a chorus of approval, so my friend said: ”Great! I’ll put the kettle on!” She has never quite forgotten her embarrassment at the subsequent chorus of laughter till someone explained they were thinking of the pub.

So it is important to know in advance roughly what might be asked of you when it comes to a drink. The question usually comes as “What will you have, then?” and the worst possible answer you can give is: “Oh, I don’t mind – anything will do.” This is about as annoying as if you were to queue up in a butcher’s shop and when the butcher said “Yes, sir?” you said, “Oh, I don’t know – what do you think?”

Try and put yourself in your host’s place or, if you are the host, try and guide the guest. There are bound to be gaps in the host’s cupboard, and he doesn’t want to be asked for something he hasn’t got, especially if it is basic, like beer or tonic water. So ideally the conversation should go like this:

“What will you have, then?”

“Oh, I don’t know. What have you got?”

(MEANING: What have you got most of?)

“A glass of white all right?”

(MEANING: we’re low on beer, low on red wine, low on soda water, but I’ve found this bottle of wine in the fridge that the Hoskinses brought round to dinner the other night).

“That will be lovely.”

(MEANING: I don’t suppose that will be lovely, but I need a drink right now.)

Alternatively, you can avoid all hassle by creating a drink beforehand, or, in other words, choosing for your guests and not giving them the option. This can be done as follows:

“Do try this wine we found on holiday!”

“Have you ever had a Dark and Stormy?”

There are two things to be said here. One is that no wine found on holiday is by any chance any good on its return home. And two, there really is a drink called a Dark and Stormy. It’s the national drink of Bermuda, and it’s a mixture of rum and ginger beer. To taste, it’s exactly like a mixture of ginger beer and rum.

In Victorian days the host always decanted wines at dinner from the bottle to a decanter. People will tell you that this was to improve the taste, but they’re lying: it was to conceal the origin of the wine. An excellent idea, which should be revived, especially if you are serving the bottle that the Hoskinses brought round the other night.

Here, as stand-bys, are some useful remarks you can make when you can’t think what to say about drink:-

“Isn’t it amazing that Argentina is the biggest wine-producing country in the world, yet you never see any for sale?”

“This wine has got a basement all right, but it’s got no upstairs.”

“No, not that Michael Jackson – I meant Michael Jackson the beer expert.”

“ This wine has got a good nose, but no legs and no hair on its chest.”

“I tried mulled ale once. All the trimmings, nutmeg, everything. It was horrible

“This is the sort of stuff they sent admirals home in from the West Indies in the old days. When they’d died, of course.”

“This wine has got lots of character, but no plot”

“Hello, this is the same wine as I took round to the Hoskinses last week.”

A Hint

If someone says to you, after the meal, “A little Martell, or something?” go for the alternative. Say: “A large Martell, if you’ve got it.”

The Art of Entertaining Martell Cognac 1993

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