Food & Drink » Food & Wine

Home Spirits and Vintage Memories

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Last weekend, a friend and I made the 420-mile drive to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We both wanted to swim, bask in some sunshine, and check out from reality for a few days, but the main reason for the trip was to visit my mother, who lives a few miles from the beach on the Bon Secour River. The weekend was full of surprises — my dog managed to lock himself in the workshop next to the garage, and on the way home, we blew a tire while driving at 70 mph — but most of the time, we relaxed regardless.

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I had my first drink — a vodka and tonic — when we arrived late Thursday night, after a somewhat white-knuckled drive over the Mobile Bayway. On Friday, I hit the vodka bottle once again, immediately after the locksmith sprung the dog free for a $75 fee. Saturday night, we drank white wine on the back porch while comparing sunburns and waiting for the barbecue shrimp to come out of the oven. Sunday, I longed for a cocktail while waiting for the AAA representative to rescue us on the side of the highway outside Meridian, Mississippi, but as the driver of said vehicle, it would've been irresponsible to drink.

Otherwise, we enjoyed penny drinks — a Tequila Sunrise apiece for me and my friend Jenny, and a Cosmopolitan for my mom — at Ginny Lane, one of our favorite restaurants at the Wharf.

Beach traffic was a nightmare, so we skipped the blackberry mojitos at one of my favorite restaurants, the Gulf in Orange Beach. Likewise for the margarita menu at Lulu's. We discussed heading to the legendary Flora-Bama Lounge in Perdido Key for a round of Bushwackers, but the situation with the locksmith derailed us. Too bad — my brain could've benefitted from the numbing power of the frozen Bacardi, Kahlua, and coconut milkshake after that drama.

Thankfully, my mother was generous with her home bar. She even sent me home with a few unopened bottles of booze that have sat, full, since they were purchased by my father over a a decade ago. Truthfully, they're nothing too special — just a bottle of Christian Brothers brandy and a bottle of Tribuno vermouth — but they make me feel close to my dad, who died in December 2007.

My father loved to drink just about any kind of liquor, but alcoholism didn't get him like it did others in our family; he was felled by Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma instead. He was a south-Louisiana-born airline pilot who frequently brought home beers and bottles of booze from exotic places. In the 1970s and 1980s, I remember him downing cans of Stroh's after a day of yard work, or cutting up bowls of fruit to make homemade batches of sangria. In fact, I'm sure that's why he'd purchased the bottle of brandy I brought back to Memphis.

Sometime in the mid-1980s, my dad discovered Frangelico, the Italian liqueur that comes in a bottle shaped like a monk. For years, every time we had dinner guests, we'd end the evening with Frangelico Affogato served in my grandmother's crystal. The dessert drink — a splash of Frangelico, a shot of coffee, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream — was my first taste of hazelnut, years before I enjoyed a spoonful of Nutella.

He loved discovering a liqueur or a wine and making it "his." One of my proudest adult moments was when I uncorked a bottle of cheap Chilean wine, Concha y Toro's Casillero del Diablo. We drank the peppery white wine with takeout barbecue from Cozy Corner, and my dad declared it so delicious that immediately after dinner, he drove to my neighborhood liquor store to purchase a case.

The Tribuno, I know, was a key ingredient in another of my dad's favorite cocktails, the Manhattan. The whiskey-based drink isn't one I particularly enjoy, but the tall green bottle, which retails for well under $10, now occupies prime real estate in my home bar. Purchased in the early aughts, it's now aged to a particularly rare vintage never intended by the distiller. It's too precious to drink, and so the screw top stays sealed tight.

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