My preferred alcoholic beverage is beer. I love beer. I'm not sure exactly when my willingness to drink beer for the sake of being grown-up (and drunk) turned into a real enjoyment of beer for its own sake, but I don't think it took very long. And it really solidified when I discovered beers with more character than the standard American product. One instance of genuine progress in this country over the past forty years or so is the wide availability of imported and craft beers.
Cultured persons are supposed to like wine, and know something about it, but I've never developed any great enthusiasm for it. I actually made a deliberate decision years ago not to attempt to develop the taste for good wine, because I knew it would be an expensive one. But more fundamentally--and I don't care if this marks me as a bit of a clod--I just don't like it as much as I like beer. I'm not a connoisseur of beer, either, but I know what I like. My wife and I occasionally go out to dinner with another couple, and the three of them share a bottle of wine, while I drink Sweetwater 420. My standing order for birthday and Father's Day gifts is a six-pack of Guinness Extra Stout and a bag of Cheetos. (Someone remarked that that sounded like a vile combination, so I'll clarify: they are two separate indulgences.) But I'm happy with lesser stuff. I'll only drink "lite" beer if I really want a beer and it's the only thing available, but I recently had a regular Budweiser, which I hadn't done in a long time, solely because it was cheap, and enjoyed it.
As for hard liquor, I have over the years only rarely ventured far from bourbon and scotch, straight, or on the rocks, or with water, or, in the case of scotch, soda. Now and then I've experimented with mixed drinks, and I like one every now and then, but mostly they're not something I want regularly. A few years ago one of my sons brought back a bottle of Ron Barrilito rum from a trip to Puerto Rico and introduced me to the Dark and Stormy, which when made with that rum and Reed's Ginger Beer, is wonderful. But it's not something I want to drink regularly, and anyway Ron Barrilito is not available here, and the drink when made with Bacardi and ginger ale is not that different from other soft-drink-and-liquor combinations, which I generally dislike.
But over the past couple of years I've added another drink to my small list of staples: the martini. I don't think I'd ever even had one till eight or ten years ago, and that was only out of curiosity--it is, after all, a storied drink, though associated with a culture rather different from my own. Unlike my other experiments, this one kept drawing me back, and now I think I'm a confirmed fan.
I mainly like it in the summer. The summers here are very hot and humid, and the martini is cold and dry. Sweet drinks have a lot of initial appeal, but for a slow sipper like me they grow thin and warm before I'm finished. Conventionally, a summer drink is something sweet and tropical. But where the summers are brutal, the most desirable drink for the season is one that is the opposite of summer, a drink with the chill and clarity of a windless and cloudless winter day. There is absolutely nothing sweet about the martini as I make it, and I make very sure it's cold and will stay that way until I've finished it.
I've experimented with different approaches preached by various self-styled experts on the web, and what I've settled on seems to make me somewhat of a traditionalist, but also somewhat of maverick. On the traditional side, I refuse to use the unqualified term "martini" for any drink that does not include gin and vermouth. A vodka martini is just that--not a martini, period, but a qualified one. Nothing wrong with it, but it should be called what it is. Concoctions that are labelled as martinis just because they are served in a martini glass don't even deserve mention; vodka and apple juice may make a pleasant drink, but they don't make a martini.
I also observe the olive tradition, if only because I very much like olives, and love that finishing touch of salty gin-soaked olive at the end of the drink. One is not enough, but having read that a gangster was once identified to his assassins by the placement of three olives instead of two in his martini, I superstitiously limit myself to two. And four seems excessive.
On the other hand, my martini is not served in a martini glass, because I don't have one (I did, but it got broken), and, more importantly, because a normal-sized martini glass doesn't leave enough room for ice. Yes, I have it on the rocks, which seems to make it in some views not a true martini. I tried the crushed-ice-and-shaker technique, and the result is fine for a few minutes, but it gets warm long before I'm done with it. And I keep the gin and vermouth in the refrigerator, which seems to be frowned upon.
And I have no patience at all with the extreme dryness snobs, who seem to take it as some sort of a challenge to see how little vermouth they can use and still feel entitled to use the word "martini." You know the sort of thing: "wave an open bottle of vermouth back and forth several times over the glass", etc. If you want to drink straight gin, or gin with olives, go ahead. But why make a fetish of minimizing the thing that makes the martini something more? I don't measure, but I think my gin-vermouth ratio is about five to one.
I use inexpensive gin and vermouth. I actually prefer the cheaper and harsher Gallo vermouth over Martini, because the latter, while smoother, and better as a drink on its own, is a bit sweeter.
It's October, and of course that's still late summer here. This afternoon I came to the end of both the gin and the vermouth. There was a little too much of both for a single martini, but not enough to save for another day. So I made myself a martini-and-a-half, of which I enjoyed every sip, and which left me wondering how anyone could, as legends have it, drink three martinis at lunch and still be able to do useful work--or, in my case, even walk. Sometime around next May I'll replenish the supplies. Or maybe sooner. Maybe I'll try some kind of expensive gin; one always wants to make a good thing even better. But then again, that may not be a taste I ought to cultivate.
(Except for the number of olives, and maybe the amount of ice--I use less--this looks very much like one of my martinis, down to the style of the glass. This photo is from the Flickr account of Josh Ames; since code for embedding is provided, I assume it's ok for me to use it.
By the way, speaking of mixed drinks in general: five or six years ago I was at an event--I suppose it was a cocktail party, though that is a pretty foreign term to me--hosted by a consulting firm looking to be hired by my employer. A young lady came around taking drink orders, and I asked for scotch and soda. I thought she looked a little disconcerted, and she hesitated for a second, maybe as if she were about to ask a question, then decided not to. A few minutes later she brought me something that looked like scotch and soda, but I almost spat out the first sip: it was scotch and Seven-Up, or Sprite, or something of that sort. It was nasty.