Does the “manly drink” still exist? Bartender wisdom always used to hold that men gave pink drinks, sweet drinks, anything in a glass with a stem, a wide berth. And if they did take their cocktail served “up”, then it had to be heroic in some other way: a raspingly dry Martini, a high-proof Manhattan or a Daiquiri served, à la Hemingway, more than double the size.
Behind closed doors, it is a different story – or it has been, at least, in the past year. In 2020, the most searched recipe on diffordsguide.com wasn’t the Old Fashioned or the Mojito, it was the Porn Star Martini – a ’90s confection of vanilla vodka, champagne and passion-fruit liqueur. Just under half of the 800,000 page views the Porn Star Martini received were from cocktail-makers who identified as men. And sickly cocktails dominated the top 10; the Negroni was forced to rub shoulders with the Amaretto Sour, the French Martini and, horror of horrors, the Dirty Banana (a mix of rum, cream and coffee and banana liqueurs that oozed in at number 10).
Over at online spirits specialist Master of Malt, the picture was pretty similar. Sales of liqueurs soared 200 per cent in 2020 – and once again, around half of those shoppers identified as male. Disaronno amaretto, Aperol and Cointreau all did exceptionally well (the last of these boosted by the Margarita renaissance). Passoã passion-fruit liqueur, of the aforementioned Porn Star Martini, leapt 1,500 per cent.
“We are rapidly moving towards a place where gender stereotypes don’t exist in drinks – and beyond the gender binary,” says Kristiane Sherry, editor of the Master of Malt website, “which can only be a good thing.” (Try telling that to my friend Ben, who messaged me the other morning in a state of remorse after a night on the petal-pink Cosmos.)
But will that experimentation endure once we’re back in the bars? A report from Bacardi predicts that people of every persuasion will drink more playfully in the post-Covid age: “2021 will see a return to light-hearted drinks, inviting us to lose our preconceptions about, and serious attitude towards, cocktails,” it prophesies. “We will embrace cocktails that remind us of easier times, such as summer holidays and nights out.”
The last time the bar world went all-out escapist, the result was Tiki, a mid-20th-century movement that saw men the world over get comfortable drinking cocktails tricked out like Carmen Miranda. No one seemed to mind that the Mai Tai, the Zombie and the Blue Hawaiian had precious little provenance; that they were a mash-up of cultures thousands of miles apart. For a generation of men jaded by war and economic depression, drinks topped with pineapple leaves and hula-girl stirrers offered a Technicolor reprieve from the daily grind; one that was playful, fruity but deceptively strong. If a drink didn’t take your eye out en route to your mouth, well, it was hardly worth the bother.
And you know what? If that’s the way manly drinking is headed in 2021, I’m all for it. Dutch courage of the old kind – but armed with a cocktail umbrella.