Friday, August 26, 2011

Relying On Ritual: Why Coffee, Beer & Martinis are Better in America

It's a common perception that Americans aren't big on ritual. After all, this is the country that abandoned family dinnertime in favor of the TV dinner, then abandoned even that it favor of the drive-thru (and a plethora of meal options you could eat while walking down the street - hot pockets, anybody?)

But when it comes to things that count, Americans don't compromise. That's why there are certain things in this country that are generally infinitely superior to their equivalents in England.

Martini Cocktails

Considering the Martini Cocktail was invented in the Savoy Hotel, you'd think this would be something we Brits would have nailed; but we haven't.

In all my years in England, I only managed to get a decent Martini cocktail in three places - the Dorchester Hotel, the Hotel du Vin and some place on Park End Road, Oxford (my brother will have to help me out here.) Anywhere else, I was generally greeted with a blank look or a glass of lukewarm vermouth.

In America, however, you can go to the ropiest dive bar in the worst part of town and still be served a sublime Martini Cocktail.

American bartenders are just fluent in Martinis - and any of them can fix you a world class one in a few seconds. And what's so special about Martinis? The ritual.

A British Martini is an aberration. In America, they're elegant in their simplicity:
  • Get an ice-cold cocktail glass from the freezer.
  • Swill vermouth around the glass, then pour it out.
  • Shake gin or vodka over ice and pour it in.
  • Garnish with olives or lemon.
Job done.


The reason American coffee is so good follows the same pattern. There's a ritual to making coffee that Americans embrace, but the Brits spurn.

That's why most Brits at home use that disgusting instant coffee stuff; saving making 'real' coffee for breakfast or after dinner.

In America, serving instant coffee is as alien a concept as gun control and atheism. Fresh ground beans, coffee filters and a peculator are household essentials.

There's more effort involved, but it's that same thing as with the Martini Cocktail - a ritual. One no American will compromise on.


And this ritualistic approach is why I firmly believe American beer is superior to British beer.

Even if the beer is inferior - which it increasingly commonly isn't - there's a standard ritual to serving it that makes the pourmasters of Guiness look like amateurs.

For a start, beer in America is served practically ice-cold; barely above freezing. Secondly, it's normally poured into a frosty, chilled pint glass or tankard pulled straight from the freezer.

Those two details are that subtle nod towards ritual that makes every pint in America an occasion; whereas the closest we come in the UK is the cynical marketing ploy of having a shamrock poured into the head of your stout.

(The French and Belgians are also very good at ritual- next time you have a beer in France, watch them 'cleanse the chalice' with a squirt of water from a specially-designed spray tap behind the bar.)


We Brits often think we're so evolved; but like with the English language itself, there are facets of English culture and character that the Americans took, ran with and made their own; and now do far better than we do - despite being a nation that prides ourselves on that sort of thing.

What do you think? Do I have a point?

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