Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Shots Are like a Bullet or a Bad Man

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Shots Are like a Bullet or a Bad Man

Article excerpt

Here I am, sipping Armagnac and pondering speed. My balloon, with a couple of inches of tawny nectar swirling within, will take me an hour to empty. Each swallow will be a little different, as the spirit opens like a flower to the welcoming air; bouquet and flavour expand and evolve, from butterscotch, to caramel, to orange blossom.

This brandy - a 1979 Castarede, since you ask - first encountered oxygen over 3o years ago, after distillation, while sitting in an oak barrel waiting to mature.

The reunion, like any good one, is both bitter-sweet and fruitful and I, the drinker, get to enjoy its rich development without doing any of the work.

No one in their right mind would down an Armagnac in one. But then, isn't the point of speed-drinking to escape one's right mind? Like most people who were ever students (and a fair few who weren't), I have downed shooters, dropped small glasses into pints and slurped up the overflow, layered spirits over the back of a teaspoon, then lit and necked the results. After my zest birthday party, my friends and I all walked round for days with circles on our palms, like members of some sinister secret society, thanks to someone's grand notion of lighting sambuca slammers, then clapping a hand over them, shaking and ... well, you get the idea.

Granted, all that was long ago, pretty infrequent even then, and the most potent ingredient in any of these heathen practices was peer pressure. Still, downing shots is just a distillation of a common failing: the tendency to do most things, including drink, too quickly. It's odd, when you slow down enough to think about it. Most countries call their strongest spirits some variation on "water of life": eau de vie in France (Armagnac is technically one of these); whisky, from uisge beatha, water of life, in Gaelic.

Life without water, of one kind or another, is impossible. …

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