This one was difficult.
I struggled with how to condense these meandering thoughts into a cohesive narrative. It’s not easy to fit 6 years of decision making into a well-edited manuscript, especially when you’ve been drinking gin.
In any life, there are a million reasons as to how we’ve arrived at a given moment in time. A million decisions, which altered, could have a drastic effect on where we are today. And where I am today is on my couch in Shannon’s and my living room, drinking gin and reminiscing. It’s a good life, but it hasn’t always been this way.
For example, I call to mind the spring of 2005.
The scene: Austin, Texas.
I was bartending and waiting tables at Chez Zee, a neighborhood bistro that made its money selling Crème Brulee French Toast by the truckload during brunch. To pack on the calories, we also gave away croissants with strawberry butter to every guest who walked through the door. By the end of a 350 cover Sunday it wouldn’t be strange to find strawberry butter covering your arms, in the folds of your shoes, and sometimes, on those very busiest of Sundays, inside of your underwear. I’m serious. That shit was disgusting.
The, “I have my degree in English Literature but I just found strawberry butter in the crack of my ass,” kind of drinking.
I was drinking a lot back then. But I wasn’t drinking in the whimsical, bartenderish, “I’m drinking because I love my job,” kind of imbibing everyone has grown to love about me. No, it was the, “What the hell am I’m doing with my life,” kind of drinking no one in Colorado has ever seen. The, “I have my degree in English Literature but I just found strawberry butter in the crack of my ass,” kind of drinking. I was a scene from the midst of a romantic comedy, the one in which Hugh Grant, Tom Hanks or Woody Allen loses at love and slips into a deep, dark place. Well, maybe Tom Hanks never drank himself to Sleepless in Seattle, but you get the picture.
And when I write my version of a romantic comedy, this next scene will be the beginning…
I wake up, confused. My head is throbbing and I’m in an unfamiliar setting, but I realize at once that I’m outside. The ground under me is concrete, my head is resting on a cold steel slab, which I sadly realize is a dumpster.
I struggle to my feet and catch a good whiff of the garbage bin that had been my pillow. I lean over and puke. I check my watch. 5:15 am. The hot Austin sun wasn’t helping my hangover, but it certainly had me up in time for my Sunday morning brunch shift. I start walking. And we flashback…
Her name was Nadia. We had met in our Shakespeare class over the summer at the University of Texas. Like one of the Bard’s great plays, we fell in love hard and fast and out of love with similar speed. Our year together was tumultuously powerful and, worn out with it all, we had ended it the day before. To blow off steam I had headed down to 6th Street with a couple of close friends. I was drinking heavily.
At some point in the evening, I had wandered off to smoke a cigarette and, blacking out, I had accidentally nodded off in the process. My friends left around two when the bar kicked them out.
Although I certainly had a lot of time to think on that wobble home, I couldn’t get my brain to do anything but pound.
Although I certainly had a lot of time to think on that wobble home, I couldn’t get my brain to do anything but pound. The thinking would come at work between tables when I began to question the choices I was making in life. Back in the kitchen, up to my elbows in strawberry butter with an unruly table of children out front, I stopped. The pounding in my head ceased. I heard myself say these words:
“Dear god in heaven…If there is any reason to keep me here in Austin, please show it to me. If there isn’t, just give me a reason to leave.”
Who had I become?
My last name, Melton, is English. It derives from a town approximately 105 miles North of London of the same name. Melton, established over 1000 years ago, is world famous for both its Pork Pies and its Stilton Cheese. Oddly enough, the phrase “Painting the Town Red” originated there in 1837 when some artsy rich kids, led by the Marquis of Waterford, went on a drunken painting spree in the center of town. At least I come by my habits honestly.
And what were those kids mostly drunk on whilst Picasso-ing?
You guessed it: Gin.
The roots of Gin can be traced back to the town of Schiedam in the Netherlands in the middle of the 16th Century where a spirituous substance filled with juniper and other botanicals was being consumed for its medicinal properties. This botanic spirit, attributed to the Dutch Dr. FeelGood (real name…Franciscus Sylvius) quickly gained a following as an abundance of aromatic ingredients being brought into the Schiedam port led to the development of several brands of Jenever, which is Dutch for Juniper
By 1580, the British and the Dutch were fighting alongside one another during the Eighty Years War with the Spanish, and in order to boost morale in both camps, both governments began to dole out this jenever, which was quickly labeled, “Dutch Courage.”
Bathtub Gin. Basement Gin. Cottage Gin. Hay Bale Gin. Baby Crib Gin.
In 1689, a Dutch Protestant, Wilhelm of Orange, rose to the English throne, and it’s safe to say that he didn’t think too kindly of Catholics. Wilhelm raised taxes on Catholic brandy while lowering all regulations and taxation on the production of Dutch Gin. Suddenly everyone was producing Gin. Bathtub Gin. Basement Gin. Cottage Gin. Hay Bale Gin. Baby Crib Gin.
At the height of this gin craze an estimated 22,700,000 gallons of gin were being consumed per year. That’s around 80 million bathtubs full of juniper distillate! Needless to say, the gin being made in someone’s bathtub probably wasn’t on the up and up. Often made with turpentine, people started dying by the cartload and the government cracked down. The Gin Act of 1736 imposed higher taxes on gin, but that led to riots in the streets and was abolished in 1742. The Gin Act of 1751, however, only enforced that distillers distribute to licensed (read: taxed) retailers. Suddenly an industry was born.
Founded in 1793, the Black Friars Gin Distillery started on the right side of 1751 and is one of the oldest distilleries in England operating today. The brand, which became Plymouth, owes all of its success to a very active port where the British Royal Navy, who felt the quality of the gin in Plymouth was far superior to the common swill everyone else drank. They took it all over the world and by the early 1900s, 1,000 cases a week were being exported to New York.
Today, Plymouth Gin is a product that can only be produced in Plymouth, England. The gin itself boasts seven botanicals, a beautiful blue bottle, an easily mixable flavor profile and is a staple on any self-respecting back bar. Plymouth Gin represents everything I have learned since moving to Colorado. The citrus forward and low juniper content of Plymouth makes it perfect for any mixed gin-forward cocktail or for putting yourself to sleep without crying. Just saying.
I’ve been slinging Plymouth-based drinks since 2009, but I left Austin in the spring of 2006 after my spastic kitchen prayer was answered in the form of a blonde ballerina named Jen.
On a stormy Monday morning, while on my way to work, I noticed a woman crossing the street in front of me. Blonde, beautiful, huddled beneath a checkered coat, wearing green galoshes, she was hustling to get out of the storm. She took a hop up from the street to the sidewalk, her boots splashing as her feet connected to the ground beneath her. That moment lasted a lifetime. I was mesmerized.
Like the redemption scene in my romantic comedy, the moment in time when that ballerina entered my life is one that would forever alter the path ahead of me. We made plans to move to Colorado together. We had rented an apartment just outside of Denver. I packed up all my belongings and said goodbye to my friends. My prayer had been answered.
But it was the choices I made between Gin and Jen that truly set the stage for who I am today.
I remember the first time when Mike Henderson grabbed for that bottle of Plymouth on the back bar. It was my second full day of work behind the stick after two years away, and I was just trying to tread water amidst all the cocktail recipes and the flood of information surrounding me. He poured a small sample and handed it to me.
As I tasted it, the thoughts came rushing back to me just as they are now. The essence of everything that I’d left behind, who I had been and what I was about to become could be found in every olfactory note in that glass. I saw Jen come home that Friday morning, sleepy eyed and guilty. I saw long nights tending bar in Boulder, sour first dates and heavy drinking. I saw days of snowboarding, rushing back from the mountain just in time for a 4 pm shift.
I saw friends and enemies, loves and losses. I watched myself land an internship with 5280 while teaching Freshman Composition at CU Denver. I saw myself pack and move to Denver. I felt the heartbreak as I was fired from Denver Magazine and the stress of my Master’s Examination. It was melancholic and beautiful.
And now, as I sit here drinking Plymouth, I get a similar sensation, a flood of thoughts trying to make its way onto paper, and then on to you. With each passing day it becomes more of a complex narrative and I become even less associated with the boy I used to be. And yet, as every present becomes a part of my past, the story always begins in the exact same way…
I see a young man waking in an alleyway, distraught and destroyed. And whether he liked it or not, he picked himself up and put one foot in front of the other.
And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
- 1.5 oz Plymouth Gin
- 3/4 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
- 3/4 oz Simple Syrup
- 2 Raspberries
- 2 Blueberries
- Small Hand-full of Mint
Muddle the raspberries and blueberries in a mixing tin. Slap your mint and add to the tin. Add all liquid ingredients and ice and shake well. Double fine strain over ice into a double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with blackberries and raspberries and a lemon wheel.