Men are from Uruk, Women are from Assyria

The Devil Drink
Thank you all, for failing to point out the other week that the story of Moses’ communication with God through the medium of a burning bush is not actually in Genesis, but rather in the book of Exodus. Hurrah for modern Scripture, I say.

In this edition, Dylwah gets anthropo-theologico-literary, Kirsty looks curiously at the cooking sherry, and Zoe has two bites of the cherry, asking about cocktails and the proper place for homebrew.

Shaken or stirred?

Ah, now this is both a recipe question, and an espionage question.

As it relates to the dry martini, Bond was on his own. It’s generally a stirred drink—two parts gin, one part dry vermouth, pop in an olive or two on a stick and you’re done—but what’s not often remembered in the early 20th Century it was often made in large jugs to be shared, making shaking a technically impossible task. That form of the drink doesn’t often survive in these contemporary days of showy Tom Cruise bartendering and polished cocktail shakers, and when Ian Fleming’s hero asked for his to be shaken, it was supposed to be to read as a clear signalling of his individualism, difference and deviance. Modern readers and viewers tend only to get the first implication of the drink order. With what we know about the author’s… peculiarities, it’s probably best to leave 007 there.

As British spies go, I’m far more a fan of George Smiley, who enjoyed his claret at his club while he considered Cold War paradoxes and German baroque poetry, of outright despicable liars and traitors like the real-life scumbag Kim Philby, and of Graham Greene’s confidential agent, protagonist of a book written over the course of a benzedrine-fuelled, debt-driven six weeks or so. (I read it in the author’s foreword, so it must be true.) But then, I’m a traditionalist like that.

I don’t do Conrad or Dostoyevsky, but I’ve been known to enjoy Dumas… and with what you know about this author’s peculiarities, it’s probably best to leave the subject there.

In the Mesopotamian epic, Gilgamesh, Enkidu is introduced to us as naked and wild. He is ‘tamed’ through a combination of beer and the erotic arts of a temple priestess. My questions are these, is being tamed an unavoidable consequence of drinking beer or are the attentions of a highly trained priest or priestess also necessary for the taming process? will i avoid being tamed by sticking to wine and spirituous liquors? and finally, does the elevation of filthy lucre to godhead status mean that accountants are the new priest and priestesses, and should i let my children date one?

It’s hard to tell, Dylwah, given that there have been so few examples of the act. We’re really generalising from a sample of one—and certainly people in our contemporary days who drink lots of beer show little signs of taming. However, your magnificent question illustrates precisely why I’m a strong supporter of the ordination of women, and the equal participation of women in all religion.

Put simply: I don’t know whether beer and priestess sex correlate with taming, but by all means, let’s find out.

Christ chose Peter to be the rock upon which he built his Church, and from that sound basis, we got the Arian Controversy, the Councils of Nicaea, the split between Roman and Byzantine Churches, the Medieval Popes, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, furious Calvinist iconoclasm, the Spanish Inquisition and the Conquistadors in Latin America. We got Puritans with pillories, the metaphysical poets, Cathars in castles, Billy Graham, Fred Nile, Cardinal Newman, G.K. Chesterton and and Evelyn Waugh. We got Gregorian chant, Bach, Andrew Lloyd Webber, gospel music, and nuns with guitars. Sure, it was two millenia of fun, but (Medieval Popes, Evelyn Waugh, and gospel music apart) there wasn’t a lot of drunken priestess sex, now, was there?

It’s not too late to turn society, ecumenically, around. From what we know about the attentions of erotically-trained Mesopotamian priestesses on ancient mythical epic heroes, we can certainly look forward to much more interesting religion if they’re hired in every suburban MegaChurch™. As Dylwah describes, Enkidu, wild man of the forests, gets drunk and is seduced, and as a consequence of his taming from the natural state, he has warlike and totally rad adventures with his best mate Gilgamesh across ancient Mesopotamia. (For those of you under thirty, imagine Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but less Californian, and with more sex and killing). Imagining that taming is an unavoidable consequence of beer drinking, is it really that bad? All I’m saying, is give Shamhat a chance.

As for accountants, well, I’ll let the joke about people who think they’re Gods just go without the telling.

I’ve just remembered a question that came up a while ago in discussion with dogpossum about the whole ‘only cook with what you’d drink’ debate. She was told by a bottle shop attendant that it was a myth, that you could put any old vinegar in your cooking.

I’ve heard both sides of this argument as well, Kirsty. For what it’s worth, I think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding about alcohol in cookery based on mutual good intentions. I don’t know on which sides of the argument you and dogpossum lie, but I know where I do. Let’s see if I can recap the arguments—please correct me if I’m wrong.

Watching her friend reach up on top of the fridge for the three-quarters empty chateau cardboard to start the evaporation over the arborio rice in her risotto, the connoisseur of fine wine and good beer points to the unpredictablity of life, the risk of waking up dead tomorrow, and points out in a reasonable tone that life’s too short to drink shitty generic cask white. Why wouldn’t you cook with what you drink, she asks, if her friend places as high a value on the quality of her cookery as on her erudite palate? In return, the risotto cook points out that as she does place a high value on the wine she’s drinking, she’s hardly likely to want to waste even half a glass of the $40 Barossa Valley riesling they’re drinking just to flavour onions, and anyway, what’s her problem with a decent, well-trusted and high-selling Australian brand of dry cask white like Coolibah, and whose house does she think she’s in anyway, and would she please keep chopping those fucking mushrooms she’s ignoring and shut her hard-face-bitch mouth?

(Well, you know, that’s how I picture debate over contemporary cuisine in Australia.)

My point of view is this: the connoisseur is entirely wrong, and the risotto cook entirely right and justified. As cooking is a means to an individual or social end—a meal—so is drinking a means to the wonderful, sought after end of being drunk. Certainly I’m prepared to believe that one can taste a risotto made with vintage white as opposed to one made with vinegary ends of a bottle or even with leftover vermouth, but even more certainly you can taste the difference between Veuve Clicquot and Mildura Spumante when you’re drinking the stuff as God and I intended: without rice.

If you can afford Yarra Valley pinots now that most of the Valley’s been burned and the prices have gone up, bloody well drink them, don’t pour ’em into your coq au vin. The chicken’s dead, it’s hardly likely to enjoy the stuff as much as you are. Did oenologists and viniculturists sweat into those barrels just for the benefit of the cheap Coles broiler? Would you pour that Hennessy XO into your trifle? Would you contribute a Margaret River red to your children’s spaghetti bolognaise along with the usual teaspoon of sugar and splosh of Worcestershire sauce? When cooking with alcohol, use cooking alcohol, and when drinking, drink drinking alcohol (which may, I rush to point out, depending on your budget and circumstances, also be cooking alcohol). That’s my rather intolerant verdict.

Cooking and drinking: equal, but separate.

how does one balance the intense pleasure of quantities of extremely fine home brewed beer available for the drinking at one’s pleasure with the many – MANY – accompanying hours of discussion on matters such as sparging, yeast harvesting and the colonisation of the small boy’s wardrobe for beer conditioning?

That’s your second question, Zoe, but since it’s your blog, I suppose you get your own way.

It seems that, like in physics, your problems relate to the interconnectedness of energy, space, and time. A carboy in a child’s wardrobe could be a sign of tremendous ingenuity, like the Chicago Pile-1 nuclear reactor built in the pioneer 1940s out of bits of timber and graphite in a Chicago rackets court, or it could be the sign of a runaway chain reaction of hops and malty brewing mass that could engulf your children in an explosion of warm, sticky, yeasty goo. Without considerable research and blind testing (ie. until blind) it’ll be hard to tell which it is. Or is it the capped sealed beer bottles slowly carbonating towards a drinkable state that lie in your son’s room amongst the clothes and toys? I hesitate to suggest that as he gets to be a teenager, this is a problem of storage that might solve itself.

If what you want is the relocation of the brewing process outside your house, what about a co-operative with its own shed or hired garage? It occurs to me that brewing’s just the kind of activity that would benefit from the sharing of tools and knowledge, and that could be made cheaper by the pooling of money to buy raw material. A group of brewers would be able to use space and energy together a lot more effectively, and they’d be able to share, as you describe it, their extremely fine home brewed beer. You’d get beer swapping, you’d get communal advice and learnings, you’d get all of the crap out of your own shed and into someone else’s.

I can offer no advice, I am sorry to say, about dealing with constant tedious bullshit from one’s spouse. I’m the Antichrist, not Dr. John Gray.

And for that, let us all be truly grateful.

The Devil Drink answers your curiosities, satisfies your disagreements, and lays down the law on drinkers’ etiquette. Your questions for the next, irregular, edition may be asked in comments below or anonymously to The sage advice of columns past can be found here.

8 thoughts on “Men are from Uruk, Women are from Assyria

  1. Ah, so there you go Zoe. I’m reminded of the old adage that if you buy a man a fish that’s dinner, but if you teach him to fish you get rid of him for the weekend. Only problem is that off siting the beer production might reduce your domestic capacity for kid wrangling. Oh, the perils of the modern domestic relationship!

    Thank you so much DD for the imagery, the Biblical references and for being quite right in answer to Kirsty that good alcohol must needs be served without rice in it. I shall never waste a moment’s guilt on that point again.

  2. Actually most of Greene’s spooks were scotch drinkers, most notably Maurice in The Human Factor who by the time he discovered the extent of Operation Uncle Remus, was biting off several fingers of the creature the moment he got home.

    Also the correct recipe for the Bond martini, “The Vesper” is:

    “A dry martini,” [Bond] said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

    “Oui, monsieur.”

    “Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

    Personally I prefer Bunel’s martini assembling directions.

  3. Dear Devil Drink
    I know animism ain’t your bag but the cooking dish is your friend.
    You offer it a drink at the start of dinner proceedings and in return it says “now off you go, finish the bottle, and enjoy yourself.”
    It’s not so demanding that it expects your best but you don’t want to take advantage of this by fobbing it off with any of that nasty cask shit either.

  4. thank you for your wise and kind words DD. fortified by your counsel i caroused deep into the night with two accountants, a clown and a nasho of ill repute.


  5. Anthony, what you’re describing is a libation, not an ingredient. Yes, it’s nice to be acknowledged with a splash of whatever’s going, and yes, it’s true, a libation should be respectful.
    But it doesn’t need to go into the pot. Across the floor and spattered over people’s boots does the same job.

  6. Shouldn’t that be “Men are from Uruk, Women are from Assur”, Oh Lord of Barflies?

    Also, re: shaken vs. stirred, ISWYDT. Very non-committal. I take it the answer is “yes”?

  7. some of the more modern priestesses have moved out of houses of worship and prefer to do their slow dancing with port and chocolate in the comfort of their own (or someone else’s) home. let’s face it, there’s not much of a welcoming reception at most McWorships these days… they aren’t dim, smoky and atmospheric enough to work any real magic 😉

  8. Wait – I’m still not sure. So the first rule is: don’t waste good plonk in your cooking. Does this then mean it’s _ok_ to use shitty drink in your cooking?

    I don’t drink alcohol, so I tend to use whatever’s in the house, or I buy especially for cooking, and then let whoever’s around drink the rest. So I tend to use decent stuff for cooking, but am too tight (and with too underdeveloped a palate) to buy exy stuff.

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