Imbibe with Flair : Manskills to Know – Epicurean Expertise

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Imbibe with Flair

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Open a Bottle of Champagne

You are not crude. You are a gentleman, who knows that opening a bottle of champagne is one of those subtle, refined skills that are the exact opposite of crude. Subtle being the key word. You will not, in other words, be popping that cork with the sound of a Fourth of July cannon. Nor will you be letting it fly around as a ricochet missile threatening life, limb and property, or at the very least scaring the Hell out of the cat.

No, you have manners. You have style. And you have the good grace to open a bottle of champagne the way a sommelier would. You tear the foil from around the tip of the bottle, exposing the delicate wire cage locked over the cork. Dispose of the foil discreetly. Draping a napkin (preferably cloth) over the top, you unwind the key to that cage, loosening it enough to be removed, but holding it in place just in case the cork decides to suddenly pop without any help— always a possible side effect of the joyous effervescence contained within a bottle of bubbly. In any case, the cork in a bottle of champagne should never be pointed in the direction of another person. Safety and sophistication go hand in hand.

Grip the cork—vis-à-vis the wire cage—tightly, and turn the bottle (not the cork) in one direction until you feel the cork slowly begin to release from the bottle. Rotating the bottle back and forth can break off pieces of cork. Control the release. The cork should come out with a whisper rather than a bang, and all the wine will remain inside, instead of half flowing out in a foaming stream.

Deftly remove the napkin, cage, and cork, and pour a glass of heavenly, fizzing nectar to celebrate your polished presentation skills. Serve in tall flutes to preserve the bubbly goodness.

Decant Fine Wine

If you’re going to drop a healthy chunk of a week’s pay for that “spectacular” bottle of 40-year- old Cabernet, you should treat it with the respect its age and asking price deserve. Get every bit of flavor out of the wine, without any nasty sediment, by decanting that vintage syrup.

Let the bottle stand upright for an hour or so to ensure that the sediment falls to the bottom. Set up a short taper candle in a candleholder and get your decanter ready. Decanters are essentially chic glass pitchers with long, thin necks and squat, almost-flat bowl-like bodies.

Light the candle. Open the bottle of wine and pick it up. Hold the decanter with the other hand, gripping it by its neck. Now begin pouring wine slowly from the bottle into the decanter, tipping both slightly, so that they form an inverted V. The candle flame should be a couple of inches below the neck of the wine bottle. It’s there to shine a critical light through the neck and allow you to see any sediment that might have risen from the bottom. If, at any point in the decanting, you see sediment in the neck, stop and set the wine bottle down. Let the wine settle for another half hour before continuing.

In addition to making sure the wine you serve is sediment-free, the decanting process introduces oxygen as the wine splashes around in the decanter. This releases the flavors and aroma of the wine, making for happy noses and happy tongues at your dinner party table.

Decanting is a must for older wines, but newer wines are filtered as part of their processing, so they don’t actually need to be decanted. Even so, decanting a young wine will still release its flavors. Besides, the whole process just looks cool.

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Pop a Beer Without an Opener

You’ve got the flat screen all warmed up, your special spot on couch ready and waiting, and a half-rack of your favorite microbrews on ice. But those bottles aren’t twist-offs and your opener is nowhere to be found. Never fear! All you need is a piece of paper and you’ll be good to go. Fold the paper in half, turn it, and fold it in half again. Continue folding it in half in the same direction until it’s the width of a stick of gum or thinner. Make each fold crisp by smoothing it down completely. Last, fold the paper in half lengthwise to create a V. Pound the point of the V flat with your fist.

Hold the beer with your fingers around the neck and the web between thumb and index finger pressing down on the cap edge opposite where you’ll pop it (this provides leverage). Wedge the opener in between the top of your index finger where it curves around the neck and the underside of the cap’s lip. In one smooth movement, lever the opener up, keeping your index finger tight as the lever point, and exerting downward pressure on the skin web covering the far edge of the cap. With some practice, you’ll be able to do it consistently. The opener, however, will only hold up for one beer.

But wait. What if you’re out at the lake with a bunch of your beer-drinking peeps and nobody brought an opener or a piece of paper? Pull out your keys and use the ragged, tooth side of one as a pry to bend the edges of the cap out one section at a time. Work halfway around the cap and it should pop off without any trouble. Just make sure your keys find their way to the designated driver.

Master the Martini

Nothing can put a man in a James Bond mood quite like fixing his best steely stare over the elegant rim of a martini glass. And to hold a martini glass, one should be drinking a martini. It follows that, if you’re going to drink the things, you should know exactly how to craft the perfect version.

A true martini is made with gin, the best money can buy. You can use vodka if you must, but you aren’t a purist and you’ll offend those who are. Gin, sir, is the preferred liquor of all double-Os, and those who would call themselves double-Os. And for a true classic martini, grab yourself a bottle of London dry gin (that dark green one or the light blue one or the one with the funny looking palace guard on the label all will do nicely, to name a few). Avoid the fancy, boutique gins that have notes of raspberry and other decidedly non-martini flavors.

Elegance is so often a matter of simplicity, and no more so than with the martini. It is both the most elegant and stylish cocktail, and the simplest. Only two ingredients in the whole thing. Combine four parts of the best gin available with 1 part vermouth. Mix these briskly in a shaker of ice—just long enough to chill the liquid, but not so long as to pollute it with water. (Shaken or stirred doesn’t really make a difference.) Pour the resulting elixir into the classic stemmed martini glass and drop in an olive.

Martini in hand, you are now sufficiently well equipped to pull off a rousing round of baccarat, romance that lovely who has captured your heart as well as your eye, and even drop the witty bon mot. However, do stay away from high-speed boat chases and hand-to-combat. You might spill.

Ace a Wine Tasting

At one point or another, the woman of your dreams is going to want to go on a mini-vacation to wine country. You’ll visit a slew of wineries and try a bunch of wines. This is your chance to present yourself as a worldly gentlemen, cultured and sure of your palate.

The wine-tasting ritual follows some basic guidelines. Get into the process, and you may even find it enjoyable. Always suppress the urge to gulp.

Someone will pour you a smidgen of wine. Swirl the wine around the bowl of the glass to introduce oxygen and release the aroma. Taste being mostly smell, a good sniff will tell you a lot about a wine.

Next, look at the wine. Watch how it washes down the glass and note its viscosity or thickness. Thicker wines are often more alcoholic and more full-bodied. Experts say these wines have legs. Study the color with the wine backlit. Older reds tend toward a brownish color, while older whites yellow with age. Deeper colors often connote a richer, more complex wine. Got it? Good.

Draw a small sip of the wine into your mouth and roll it around. Don’t make faces and don’t swallow. The idea is to discover all the flavors of the wine, as well as the general texture. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t noticing the “traces of pepper and blueberry” everybody else is yammering about. Just nod and look contemplative.

The winery will have supplied spit buckets, but nobody’s going to look sideways if you swallow. Just be aware that tasting a couple dozen wines a sip at a time can lead to some time in buzzville.

Everyone will discuss the wine, so pick one thing you noticed about the color and the flavor. Stay away from references to Boone’s Farm and you’ll do fine.

Pour a Black and Tan

No offense to the Queen, but England has never really been known for its cuisine. Bangers and mash, beef-and-kidney pie, and bubble and squeak don’t draw much fondness outside the borders of the Union Jack. But when it comes to manly beers and manly beer drinking, ah, that’s a different story.

The Brits are to thank for the tastiest beer “cocktail”, called a black and tan. It’s a classic mix of pale ale or lager and dark beer, such as a stout or porter. Knowing how to mix one is essential if you’re to be called the king among your mates.

Use a clean, refrigerated, pint glass and pull it out only when you’re ready to pour the drink. Use a pouring spoon, which you can buy from a specialty shop, or bend your own from a cheap piece of flatware. The spoon is bent nearly into an L, downward from the underside of the bowl.

Now pour your favorite pale ale (Harp is traditional) until the glass is half full. Hold the spoon with the bottom of the bowl facing up and tilted slightly. Slowly pour Guinness down over the bowl of the spoon. If it splashes, you’re pouring too fast. Pour steadily, and don’t worry if the two beers seem to be mixing. Once you’ve filled the glass, let the drink settle, and a clear separation will be apparent. The denser pale ale sinks to the bottom, while the airier structure of the Guinness allows it to float in a separate layer on top.

It’s a lovely drink to look at, but even lovelier to quaff. After a couple, you begin to see just how those people across the pond manage to throw down “cullen skink” and blood pudding. The right amount of black and tan can make anyone beautiful and anything tasty.

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Do a Shot

Throwing back a shot is much more than simply having a drink; it is, in fact, a time-honored tradition, one that draws men together in celebration. Celebration of what is not always clear, but that’s not important. What is important is that the ritual be performed correctly.

So, rule one: If you suggest the shot, you now own the ritual. Decide on the type of shot. Real men do real shots, which means bourbon, whiskey, vodka, and, if you’re within a thousand miles of the equator, rum. Mixed shots of kamikazes are for lunkheads who don’t know better, and bachelorette parties. Scotch, at least decent scotch, is sipped and therefore not suitable for shooting. Schnapps and Jagermeister are for ski outings only.

Rule two: Doing a shot means honoring something or somebody. As the shot caller, you make the toast. It can be short and sweet (the best toasts always are), but it should thoughtful, witty, or both. Gather your partners in crime and make your toast. Clink glasses, then down the poison in one gulp. The trick is to open your throat and convince yourself that you are simply tossing back water.

Rule three: Understand that if you refuse to do a shot for any reason short of alcoholism, you will be thought of as a lesser man in perpetuity. The same is true if you don’t finish the shot in one go, although that’s certainly better than refusing it outright.

Also be ready for repercussions. It’s only gentlemanly to buy a shot for someone who has bought a shot for you. If you bought several friends a shot, they will each, in their turn reciprocate. All of which can turn a pleasant evening of camaraderie into a short blur and a long hangover. But all in all, a shot well done.

Mix the Perfect Margarita

When the hot weather hits, you only need one swimming pool, one pair of trunks, one really good beach tunes CD, one bottle of sunscreen, and one pair of hip shades. Oh, and one incredibly refreshing, wonderfully intoxicating, stupendously sweetly sour cocktail. That cocktail is the margarita. Blending the perfect one is a way to make sure you’re the one man everybody absolutely has to have at their summer party.

When you think of a margarita, chances are that you’re picturing a blender drink, possibly pink or red, that’s made with crushed ice. Well, that kind of margarita is for TexMex restaurant chains and bachelorette parties. A real margarita is mixed straight up and served over ice cubes, just like Old Montezuma meant it to be.

A great—truly great—margarita starts with the ingredients. Use a top-shelf, aged, agave tequila; lesser quality (cheaper) tequilas not only bring down the flavor potential, they add to the hangover potential. Use Cointreau, not triple sec. Fresh lime juice only. And that’s all you’ll need. The secret is in how you mix them.

Fill a shaker half full of ice and add three parts tequila, two parts fresh squeezed lime juice, and two parts Cointreau. Stir or shake vigorously.

Prepare the glass by rubbing a lime around its rim, and dipping the rim in a saucer of coarse salt, like you would for a tequila shot. Fill the glass with ice (cubes, or crushed if you prefer, but cubes are manlier) and pour the mix into the glass. Garnish with a slice of lime, and make it a whole, silver-dollar shaped slice with a little cut to fit over the rim: you don’t want to skimp on the citrus. Now prepare to make many, many more of these fiesta favorites. For the moment you are the Man, and the Man must keep pouring. Cue the mariachis.

Drink Absinthe

The drinking man should be a daring man. And only a daring man will plunge into the ritual and myth of that jaded spirit known as the Green Fairy, absinthe. This drink first gained fame— actually infamy—in the late 1800s, in France. The liquor is a distinct emerald green, accounting for the nickname (okay, so ignore the nickname). Featuring a bitter, licorice flavor, absinthe is brewed from a variety of herbs including wormwood, which is thought to be responsible for the drink’s more heady qualities. Absinthe is a strong cocktail, as much as 70 percent alcohol. It has long been associated with bohemianism and debauchery, and is often credited with drug-like effects, including hallucinations and psychotic episodes. Still up for a sip, big man?

Take some comfort that its rumored psychoactive properties have never been clinically proven. Then dive into the ritual that fueled famous French philosophers to new heights of creativity.

To create the drink as those brave souls did, you’ll need a perforated spoon (flat absinthe spoons are available in specialty shops, but you can use a slotted spoon), a cube of sugar and 3 to 5 ounces of pure, chilled spring water.

Pour a shot of absinthe in a tall stem glass. Hold the spoon over the glass with the cube of sugar in the center of the spoon. Now slowly drip the water over the sugar, dissolving it into the glass. The sugar softens the bitterness and the water cuts the kick. The sugar water also changes the color of the drink from clear green, to an opaque, milky hue. When the sugar is all dissolved, sip the drink and wait for the visions to arrive. After all, you too, may be full of philosophy just waiting to pour out.

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