Bit By a Fox! Isn’t it a delightful expression? Made all the more appealing, I happen to think, to know that it is an English tavern phrase dating back to the 16th century, meaning tipsy, a wee intoxicated, slightly inebriated, a tad squiffy…or as my mother likes to say, a little lit! Fox-drunk or foxed were also terms that were used more frequently during that time and into the 18th century. But these all eventually disappeared from our lexicon, taking with them other colorful phrases along the way, such as Cork High and Bottle Deep, and my new, personal favorite: Laughing at the Carpet. So much more elegant than shitfaced, no? Let’s bring them all back!
So, let’s say you ARE in England, in a tavern during the early part of the 16th century, and you really want to get Bit By a Fox…like SUPER foxed. Who would blame you? What with the Bubonic plague going around and raw sewage floating down the streets and an average life expectancy of 40….and all the rats, there’s no wonder alcohol consumption was at an all time high. The rats alone, gah! However, if you are hanging around a tavern, looking to get crunked, most likely you are a man (sorry, ladies – you are not a welcome patron…but if you’re the proprietor’s daughter, you probs get to bartend!), and while your average consumption of about 17 pints of beer and ale per week should be enough to get you Bit By a Fox on the regular, you don’t really have many other drink options. Some generic forms of aqua vitae may appear behind the bar, but at this time, drinking spirits is still largely used for medicinal purposes. And wine is rarely served here. You will have to wait a good two hundred years before it gets very interesting.
Sorry, dude. It was a grim time in the history of imbibing. Choices were limited, quality control was extremely lax and you were lucky if the only side effect of that warm, sour ale you guzzled just got you a little foxed and didn’t force you to have a week-long date with the chamber pot. Hello there, dysentery! Point being, there was no artisanal bitters, hand chipped ice, seasonal rosés or temperature controlled cask micro brews readily available. Even rudimentary cocktails were hardly a glimmer in that bar maid’s eye. Thankfully, we don’t live in the 16th century! Ladies are welcome on either side of the bar! And we have actual toilets that flush! (I’m seriously thankful for that, like every day.)
You guys, we are so spoiled! Forget about romanticizing the pre-prohibition era in America, we are living in the golden age of booze RIGHT NOW. From small batch distilleries and microbreweries popping up seemingly overnight in every nook of the country, to wineries in Arizona and Virginia and New York finally coming into their own, there is no question the United States is going through a boozy renaissance. And spirits and cocktails are at the forefront of this movement. The rise in popularity of small-batch distilleries coincides with the popularity of speakeasies and bars featuring classic and specialty cocktails. But it’s taken a while to get here. Although domestic wine and craft beer has been enjoying massive success for a number of decades, spirits production, on a small batch level, has taken longer to bounce back from that less than Noble Experiment. This is mainly because up until about 10 years ago, Prohibition-era liquor laws were Still. In. Place. You read that right. It took 70 years to start adjusting those laws that were clearly a FAILURE and an embarrassment to our country, in order to move forward to form the varied, booze-rich nation that we have grown so accustomed to these last few years. As you can imagine, this shift in legislature has been a huge hit! Since 2005, 200 micro-distilleries in 45 states have launched, and in 10 years time, we are projected to have over 1,000 small batch stills in operation. Yeah, AMERICA!
The people of this country are more sophisticated and enthusiastic than ever. Y’all are home brewing, infusing your own spirits with lavender and bacon, guiding wine tastings in your living rooms, tricking out your home bars with extensive bourbon collections and bitters and tonics and potions, oh my! It is arguably over the top. Pairing tequila flights with cupcakes probably shouldn’t happen. But, then again, maybe it should!
While we’ve come a long way from bathtub gin and warm, sour ale as our only option, it still seems like we may have a ways to go in terms of widespread knowledge about the good stuff. Skinny Girl Cocktails, which includes inferior alcohol and is loaded with preservatives, is the fastest growing spirit brand in America. People are still nuts about Red Bull and vodka. And there are entire Pinterest boards devoted to the most heinous looking, neon colored cocktails, with no root in anything remotely food-like. While I feel like the small batch, local and craft cocktail movement has reached a fever pitch because I happen to live in an obsessive (and occasionally, obnoxious) bubble surrounded by these kinds of businesses, (Brooklyn in the HOOOUUUSE!) not everyone is feeling it. And maybe they don’t want to get on board. Some people are perfectly content with and prefer their Boone’s Farm Wine Coolers and using Crystal Light as a mixer. Hey, I’ve spent entire summers worshiping at the altar of Gin and Fresca and I have my very own brief but ugly experience involving Boone’s Farm Fruit Punch “wine”. Those Pinterest boards filled with bright blue cocktails and bubble gum garnishes are appealing to a LOT of people (Disclaimer: I HAVE used Pixie Stix to rim a champagne cocktail). But I love the fact that there is a trend towards producing the good stuff, and that we are taking our knowledge of the past and building on it to create an exceptional, boozy landscape with more choices than ever before. In fact, there is so much out there, from new spirits launches to seasonal cocktail trends to the hand crafted mixers and bitters flooding the market, it’s difficult to navigate it all. Hopefully, that’s where this blog comes in!
Come along with me to discover the ever-burgeoning spirits scene that continues to sweep the country (and globe). Let’s figure out if any of the cocktail trends are worth practicing, the venues are worth dropping our dough on and what the difference is between a Daisy and a Flip! Let’s delve into the history of the stuff we’re pouring down our gullets and unearth rare cocktail recipes and get the stories behind them! And let’s also create original, seasonal cocktails with simple step by step guides while creating our own syrups, bitters, mixers and shrubs along the way!
Whether you’re a skilled mixologist, obsessing over ice and schooling (annoying) your friends on the history of the Sazerac or you’re someone who is brand new to all this mixing, shaking and stirring and just want to know what all the fuss is about…there should be SOMEthing for you here. Pretty drinks! No rats! I can guarantee at least that.
So, I welcome you to my first, (and longest ever, I promise,) blog post.
And I invite you to get Bit By a Fox!