The idiom “drown one’s sorrows” dates to the 19th century, but the concept of finding solace in drink was invented millennia ago. Sure, most of us would rather focus on its more celebratory attributes—as a marker of milestones, a fixture of communal gatherings the world over, a reflection of history, culture, ingenuity and craft. But sometimes—as in any time over the past eight months and especially right this second—the drink we are most concerned with is one that offers some consolation.
There are, of course, certain drinks that have the contours of comfort built into them. The shot and a beer, for instance: equal parts hard and soft, banal but still infinitely customizable, available wherever booze is sold. The solitary glass of spirit—no beer, no rocks—is even more direct: a rugged drink that fights pain with pain. These are pop-cultural tropes for good reason (if someone isn’t crying into a glass of whiskey in a country song, it’s not a country song), but if you really want to understand the comfort drink, you have to understand the person who sidles up to order one—or, as the case may be currently, makes one for herself. How we choose to drown our sorrows is deeply personal.
A quick survey of the PUNCH staff and some of our favorite drinkers is proof. For Talia, taking the shot and beer out of the bar and into one’s home is now imbued with a sense of longing for the days when comfort was found within the four walls of an actual bar, flanked by strangers. No matter what you choose, the combination is appropriately sorrowful and conciliatory at once. Leslie has been defaulting to simply constructed classics, most often perfect Martinis with a split base of dry and sweet vermouths to warm up the austere formula; it’s the sort of drink she would only order at a bar, an opening salvo to an evening out and about, but these days it’s become a balm at evening’s end. Chloe, meanwhile, turns time and again to the Old-Fashioned, whose purity of form and infinite mutability invite meditation (and obsession).
For New York bartender Jelani Johnson, it’s a Rusty Nail “now and forever.” Even in a “shitty hipster dive where you can’t get anything other than domestic beer,” he’ll order “the classic old man drink.” If he’s making it, it’s 4:1 Westward Whiskey to Drambuie, poured right over the rocks with two dashes of Angostura and a twist. Out in Seattle, by way of New Orleans, Abigail Gullo leans on her grandfather’s favorite drink, the Manhattan, “when I need a little comfort from my ancestors.” (As evidence of her leanings, we’ve got the Manhattan riffs to prove it.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, for Last Call author Brad Thomas Parsons, the Negroni is synonymous with comfort. Though it epitomizes “la dolce style of Italian drinking,” the three-ingredient recipe can be enjoyed equally “lingering at an al fresco cafe or standing at my kitchen counter.”
Sometimes it’s not about the drink at all, but the moment that defines it. As writer and editor Emily Timberlake puts it: “For me there’s comfort in the ritual of breaking for the day, fixing myself something tasty (that isn’t water) and stepping outside with glass in hand to enjoy the last hour or so of daylight.”