At this time of the year, our thoughts (and deeds) often turn to excess. Sometimes I wonder whether I might eat or drink less if the regrets which accompany the January expansion to my waistline, or the pains from what might be my liver, were more clearly foreseen at the time of the indulgence.

Literature may assist. The hangover scene in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim is almost (but not quite) too famous to justify quotation:

‘[Jim] Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way… He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning… His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he’d somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.’

Less well known, but brilliantly (if chillingly) recognisable is Tom Wolfe’s account in The Bonfire of the Vanities:

‘The telephone blasted Peter Fallow awake inside an egg with the shell peeled away and only the membranous sac holding it intact. Ah! The membranous sac was his head, and the right side of his head was on the pillow, and the yolk was as heavy as mercury, and it rolled like mercury, and it was pressing down on his right temple… If he tried to get up to answer the telephone, the yolk, the mercury, the poisoned mass, would shift and roll and rupture the sac, and his brains would fall out.’  

I offer these passages for amusement and also possible deterrence, but chiefly as a substitute for a recipe for a non-alcoholic cocktail (I don’t know any). And if the recollection of Amis or Wolfe makes you refuse (say) the third Negroni, then surely this is a good thing?

Having the ‘Last Word’

I find the production of almost anything in writing (pleadings, skeletons, advices, birthday cards, shopping lists) an invariably agonising process. The problem recently arose in relation to my contribution to the chambers’ insolvency litigation book and which became an almost eschatological undertaking (not helped by the fact that I had literally forgotten that I was supposed to be doing it).

This instance of writer’s block reminded me of the (apparently true) story about Douglas Adams’s ‘difficulties’ in writing the fourth instalment of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pentalogy: So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish. This caused his publisher to lock Adams in a suite at the Berkeley Hotel for two weeks until he had finished the manuscript. I hope that this story is not too widely known to my solicitors.

My own difficulties may have reminded me of that story, but the parallels are few; Adams was engaged in an act of artistic creation whereas no humour or imagination was required by my task. So what was the problem?

Marcus Porcius Cato (The Elder), that austere exemplar of ancient Roman republican virtue who had quite a lot to say about the destruction of Carthage, once wrote: ‘Rem tene; verba sequentur’ – grasp the subject matter and the words will follow. 

There is no truer or terser expression of the preparation which is essential to the effective advocate. As a naturally idle lawyer, I had hoped that with (long) experience the need for preparation diminished. Indeed, a number of silks seem to live and breathe that dream, but it is just not true. As we become more experienced the cases get harder (how boring it would be if they did not) and for that reason the necessity for absolute mastery of the brief never lessens. The extent of one’s preparation can even make the difference to the result, at least in marginal cases.

In the circumstances, the Last Word – a classic pre-Prohibition cocktail – seemed appropriate to my much-belated triumph in submitting my chapter and this article and also, perhaps, to the art of the advocate too. After all, its name reflects something which we all like to have…

  • Shake:
    • 25ml gin
    • 25ml Green Chartreuse
    • 25ml Maraschino
    • 25ml lime juice
    • with ice.
  • Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and serve with a brandied cocktail cherry (which I did not have, but I am sure that you do).

A sweet drink but one with racy complexity.

Length, complexity and slow drinking – Sazerac

Another approach to relative abstinence is to drink more slowly. That is easier said than done, especially in social situations; we therefore need help. It is (or should) be true that we drink fine wine more slowly. Quite apart from the cost, it does (or should) taste more complex and interesting and for these reasons cannot (or should not) be appreciated in haste. The same can be true of cocktails where it is possible to achieve several dimensions and ‘length’ on the palate and thus a drink which it is difficult and certainly wasteful to hurry.

By these criteria the Sazerac is a triumph. Alleged to be the first American cocktail, it hails from New Orleans and was perhaps created by Antoine Peychaud (of Bitters fame).

  • Rinse an Old Fashioned glass/tumbler with a teaspoon of Absinthe. Set aside.
  • In a mixing glass/shaker of ice:
  • Dissolve a teaspoon of sugar in a little water/add 10ml sugar syrup (1.5 tsp)
  • Add: 
    • 50ml rye whisky (or Bourbon or whisky)
    • 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
    • 1 dash Angostura
  • Mix and strain into the Absinthe glass.
  • Serve with a twist of lemon peel. The zest is important.

The result is strong and dry; a relative of the Old Fashioned and perhaps inimical to ‘dry January’ (if that is your habit). Aniseed liquors are not to everyone’s taste but here the Absinthe is unmistakable but not invasive and adds a further layer of interest and complexity. The taste unfolds, neither sweet nor bitter but – if the proportions are right – in equipoise. Superb.

Seeing in the New Year (Gallic style) – French 75

Fizz still feels appropriate on New Year’s Eve (as on every other day of the year). One way to add interest (and a little extra alcohol) as well as save champagne is to mix your fizz. The French 75 really was invented in France and is said to have been named after a French 75mm field gun in the Great War. It is easy to make (although obviously more trouble than simply pouring champagne into a glass) and you probably already have the ingredients. Sugar syrup is easy to make.

  • Shake:
    • 50ml gin
    • 15ml lemon juice 
    • 5ml sugar syrup
    • with ice.
  • Strain into a flute and top up with fizz.
  • Serve with a twist of lemon.

Champagne is wasted, Cava is fine. If you use Prosecco then you might want to reduce the sugar syrup and of course there is also Crémant whose precise excellence and dryness depend on the relevant region of France but is finally being recognised for the great (and growing) quality and value which it generally offers. For an extra (unseasonal) flourish, add a dash of elderflower liqueur or even your favoured bitters. 

Dry January 2022: Dry January is the UK’s one-month alcohol-free challenge. Find out more here.

Want to reduce your drinking? Sources of help include:;;

Mocktails – not just juice: Mocktail recipes abound and the recent growth in the non-alcoholic spirit market is making them more interesting. A good place to start is BBC Good FoodOr try the Independent’s review of the ‘14 best alcohol-free spirits for mock-tails, shots and sipping on the rocks’.