31 MAY 1957, Page 13

Consuming Interest


AE Spectator readers as a group particularly partial to aperitifs? Or why should two sub- jects I haVe commented on recently—sherry and gin and tonic—have attracted (to judge by your letters) particular attention?

The latest developments in the tonic-water cam- tPaign are a letter from Mr. Graham Hutton in our correspondence columns, which I hope you Will read; and a visit which I made last week to an establishment known to all watchers of the Boat Race as `The Doves'—though the inn ,Sign is in the singular.

One of our party ordered gin and tonic and I Was presented with Clayton's Indian tonic water. Out of curiosity we tasted it, by itself, and found, jAts I expected, that it bore no resemblance to the gandard Schweppes version. It tasted more like lemonade. So we asked the barman for Schweppes instead. He replied that there was no Schweppes.

I asked, then, if we could have a word with the boss, who was across the other side of the bar. What I wanted to find out was why he stocked Clayton's—whether because he preferred it, or because his customers liked it, or because there was some financial tie-up between Clayton's and the owners of the dub. But the first question I asked was : 'Why can't we get Schweppes tonic?'

The boss looked at me in the weary manner 41 ,of somebody who is getting very tired of answering an often repeated question. 'You can,' he said.

hen you've got £20,000, you can buy the pub; „and then you can drink whatever you like.' And ,;With that he departed to serve his other customers. jco Now, this was fair enough. I would be delighted wic, as Mr. Graham Hutton suggests, all managers Alif all public-houses were allowed to decide what theY were going to stock. My quarrel is with owners of chains of public-houses who refuse to allow their managers freedom of choice or who iofluence them by giving them incentives (in the form of larger commissions) to sell particular brands of liquor.

And ii comes very close to fraud in some other cases I could mention, when the particular brand is a spurious imitation of the commodity which the public are ordering—whether it is liquor, or kippers, or clothes.

* * *

I referred to the problem of getting inexpensive but not undrinkable sherry the other day; since then I have had a number of queries on how to set about buying sherry when the cost, within reason, does not matter. I had an opportunity to put the question to an importer one morning last week, and his answer was that there are two golden rules : first, to choose a wine merchant you can trust; and, second, to go by the taste (yours, ad- vised by the wine merchant) rather than the label.

This might seem common sense, but it is sur- prising how many people are as ignorant as I confess I was on the mechanics of sherry making, blending and distribution—an ignorance which makes us cling to a familiar name like Amon- tillado which has no more meaning than, say, claret : that is, it covers a very wide 'range of sherries—it can mean almost anything a wine merchant wants it to mean.

The importer went further. Though his own label is a public-household word, he suggested that it is common sense not to buy any well-known brand of sherry from a wine merchant. The reason is not that such sherries are bad; on the contrary, some of them achieved their national status ,simply because so many individual cus- tomers have liked them that it has been considered worth while to market them more extensively. But other things being equal, they are more ex- pensive than the same sherry with no national name.

In pubs and restaurants, of course, the reverse is true; it is best to stick to a trade name—not the name of the sherry, but of the importer, distribu- tor or bottler. Less 'Amontillado, please,' and more 'X's Amontillado, please,' is needed. I shall be glad to recommend an X and, for that matter, a trustworthy London wine merchant, to any- body who wants them.

The importer went on to inveigh against popular fashions in sherry drinking, which mean that people are tending to drink a drier sherry than they really like because they think it is the right thing to do. And this also applies to martinis.

Few hostesses today would dare to serve a dry martini made up in the once-accepted fashion with two parts gin to one part French vermouth; and I recently encountered an Ameri- can woman in London who moved among her guests squirting small drops of Noilly Prat from a scent spray into their glasses of icy gin.

* * *

I suppose the increased .:ales of vodka in this country are' another sign of tr r times. There are two schools of vodka drinkers, those who main- tain it has a recognisable and individual taste, and who drink it in 'the Russian manner (gulping it down neat and very quickly before a meal and following it up with well-spiced herring, smoked salmon or caviare); and those who h-e.e found it the ideal cocktail booster. With confident abandon they will pour it into fruit juices, colas, tomato juice and even champagne, maintaining it has neither taste nor smell.

Both schools, however, argue that vodka has the unique attraction of leaving no hangover whatever, the reason—according to the London makers of a Russian-style vodka—being that after blending it goes through a complicated process of charcoal filtering which removes the acids and oils which cause the headache, nausea and all- round black despair of a high-grade hangover.

I am told by Mr. Edward Roche, the Polish- born director of a London wine firm, that he re- members his grandmother as an old lady drinking the fearsome 140-proof Polish spirit, which is similar to vodka, with no ill effects. The Polish variety, now available here at 36s. 6d. a bottle, is the most effective means I know of giving a cheap but festive party. It can be added with apparent impunity and dramatic success to all those summer `cups,' pale and wilting as Ascot frocks, which one must inevitably meet at so many parties for the next few months. If you are a more cautious host, I suggest you try first the 100-proof, which costs 28s. for half a bottle. If you would like recipes, I shall be pleased to forward them.

Beside Mr. P. S. H. Lawrence, who writes from Angelo's,.Eton College, I confess I am a novice picnic host. Prompted by my notes on some new equipment, he has sent me an account of ' the picnic gear he has assembled for family outings. He• recommends the Army and Navy's 30s. cane hampers and suggests these can be made more efficient if _two front-to-back partitions of ply- wood or, hardboard are added. Another sugges- tion is to buy all plastic ware in the same colour and paint handles of cutlery to match. This pre- vents picnic kit being lost among other kitchen items. Squash bottles, also marked in the same colour, are on hand too. Where there are young children, Mr. Lawrence suggests a thin green tarpaulin is better than a rug. It provides a better `table' surface and is also spongeable.