Liquid Poetry: Variations on a Theme

When you’re young, you figure out the world by executing actions and then observing the ensuing consequences. Close your eyes, and everything gets dark. Drop a rubber ball, and it bounces. Pull the cat’s tail, and…well, let’s not do that again. That didn’t turn out so well the first time. The same goes for cocktails. […]


Liquid Poetry: Terroir

Whether you’re out enjoying a cocktail at a bar or mixing one up in your own home, it’s easy to forget the means in favor of the delicious end. That is, it’s easy to focus on the flavors in the glass and forget about the natural and human forces responsible for creating those flavors.

About Terroir

Go to any distillery, and they’ll be quick to educate you on the origin of their grain, the quality of their botanicals, and even the source of the water they use. Regardless of how much that might either bore or stimulate you, it’s important stuff! The flavors in the spirits we imbibe are influenced heavily by terroir, which is a French word that refers both to the land itself and to other natural processes like weather and climate.

Here are just some of the important aspects of terroir that impact the spiritous flavors in your glass:

Soil Type, Elevation, Water Quality, Water Availability, Water Table Depth, Air Temperature, Humidity, Wind, Air Quality, Sun Exposure, Proximity to Salt Water

Image of Terroir

From a scientific standpoint, terroir makes a lot of easy sense. All alcoholic beverages come into being as a result of chemical reactions, and chemicals are very particular things. Change something about the structure of the chemical, and you change the nature of the reaction; change the nature of the reaction, and you change the end flavor experience of the product.

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Liquid Poetry: Cocktail as Death Wish

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a poet friend of mine and we tried to figure out what exactly cocktails are. At one point, he turned to me and said, “in fact, cocktails are pretty bad for you…they’re sugar and poison.” And he’s right, which got me thinking.

Are those of us who revel in making and enjoying cocktails merely looking for ways to soften and speed along the process by which we arrive at death? You certainly wouldn’t like to think so, but when you start seeing your Martini as “sugar and poison,” a slightly dark feeling tends to creep over you. You feel almost like one of those sailors who ditched Odysseus on the Isle of the Lotus Eaters, except that happy lotus feeling has just worn off somehow and you think:

Huge Mistake

It’s important to admit that getting hooked on cocktails is at least a tiny bit self-destructive. Just ask your co-worker who comes in to work every morning with his green smoothie, still glowing from his hot-yoga-juice-cleanse-crossfit-spirit-run. He’ll tell you, and he’ll carefully mask his condescension with upbeat, generic concern and health food evangelism (oh boy!). More important than realizing that drinking to excess is bad for you, though, is finding a way to negotiate your relationship with alcohol so that it enhances your life, rather than shortening it.

Building a Ship of Death

In his poem, “Diet Mountain Dew,” Timothy Donnely’s speaker crafts a love letter to a beverage that is most definitely taking years off his life. Speaking to the eerie, lime-green liquid of his affection, he begins:

I have built my ship of death
and when a wind kicks up
I’ll cut it loose to do its thing
across the unnamed lake of you

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Liquid Poetry: The Problem with Recipes

Sometimes the most accurate definitions aren’t the ones we find in dictionaries, the most thrilling flavors not spoon-fed to us by recipe books. The great masterpieces that now hang on museum walls were not “paint by numbers” projects, which is why we know them as “Mona Lisa” and “American Gothic,” instead of “smiling lady” or “creepy farmer couple.”

Creepy Farmer Couple (Actually Entitled "American Gothic")

Creepy Farmer Couple (Actually Entitled “American Gothic”)

When something is special, we give it a name, and that is especially (sometimes dizzyingly) true in the world of cocktails. Not only are cocktail names mnemonic devices that allow both new and experienced bartenders to develop a single-phrase shorthand for a list of ingredients and combinatory techniques that comprise a drink, but they also become a repository for all the wonderful (or not) sensory experiences that we associate with a given cocktail. Read more


Liquid Poetry: A Taste of the Season

“I want it to taste like I’m drinking a cup of dirt,” my friend Sarah once told me, referring to her coffee preferences.

Most people wouldn’t phrase it this way, but Sarah has raised chickens. She has worked on a clam dredge in the Atlantic. She is a poet. I think Sarah knows exactly what she wants her coffee to taste like, and I think I know why. It has something to do with nourishment (which is going to be a recurring theme here in the Liquid Poetry series), something to do with internalizing and participating in nature’s rhythms so that we feel in sync with the world.

“Black Tea,” A Poem by Jane Miller

All of this reminds me of the remarkable poem, “Black Tea” by Jane Miller, in which we meet a speaker who is immersed in two very experiences at the same time: remembering a past lover and drinking a cup of tea.

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Directive: A Starting Out Point

We live in spaces where there is too much information all the time—information designed to get us to buy things, every statement a marketing pitch. The goal of what I am about to begin is to provide a retreat from all that noise propped up by dollar signs. At Embitterment, Ethan, Russell, and I have the good fortune to make a product that is fun to sell, so we don’t feel the need to spend every waking moment pushing our bitters. We think that there needs to be time for fun and for contemplation of what is good and beautiful in the world, so we’ve set aside space on our blog to do just that.

From here out, when you see one of our Liquid Poetry posts, take it as a signal to slow down, tune out, and read something that luxuriates in the beautiful space where flavor and art mingle. You can expect a healthy dose of poetry, a bit of humor, and some fresh spins on things we may tend to overlook or take for granted. In this first post, I look at a strange little poem by Robert Frost and explain how it acts as a sort of “tuning fork” for all the posts that will follow.

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