At Tin House, Alexander Chee reflects on his affinity for gin and how over the years, in various permutations alongside vermouth in cocktails like martinis and negronis, it has more than kept him company, becoming “almost a travel companion.”
My first taste of gin made me sick. I was fifteen or sixteen, and, on a night I’d been left alone, and for reasons now lost to me, I drank down a great deal of my parents’ Tanqueray. I remember specifically opening the exotic wood doors of their liquor cabinet as if it could admit me to some secret chamber of adulthood by virtue of its magic.
He was being polite, I think, when he agreed to come up to the party. I should mention that I was wearing a Viking helmet when I issued the invitation. He was not known to socialize with the visiting writers. He requested a gin martini, which I made for him. When he took the first sip, he said, “This is excellent.” He looked at me over the top of his glass, and his eyes were full of recognition. As if I was finally a real person to him.
For this member of the old guard, the taste of a correct gin martini is like a passport or a gang sign. We were friends for the rest of my time there. Our friendship always mystified others at the college, but we knew why we liked each other and I miss him still.
If, before this, my gin reveries were dreams of the future, and might-have-beens, they are now as often memories. If I really did enter adulthood, on that distant, almost forgotten day when I pulled open those liquor cabinet doors, it was not a single transformation ahead of me, but a life of transformations. Not one potion, but a life of them. Glass by glass.