There’s something to be said about the ritual and relief of cocktail hour. One of life's simple or even profound pleasures is arriving home from work on a Friday evening and fixing yourself a cocktail. The virtues of it being Friday evening go without saying, but the payoff of a well-prepared cocktail's first sip is a divine moment. The sip itself is one thing—the destination, if you will—but it's the “well-prepared” part that is the journey, and as we know, the value is nearly always in the journey.
The divinity of that first sip does not come from thin air. It doesn't happen by accident. That moment comes to be only when you have developed a taste for something, and that taste evolves into an appreciation by way of learning and experiencing. That appreciation allows you to distinguish what's worthwhile and what isn't, and this is the root of that single, satisfying moment.
Beyond the appreciation is the process. And this process is the journey in action—one of epic proportions, including a rich history, detailed techniques, a wide variety of equipment and, of course, the recipes themselves, which promise endless variation and possibility. The first moment I realized the level of nuance and detail possible was when I heard Jim Meehan explain the proper method for preparing a martini. The emphasis he placed on seemingly trivial details like using a footed mixing glass in order to prevent the heat from one's hand from warming the cocktail, or his desire to stir with such precision that he'd create no air bubbles made it sound like he was performing a medical procedure rather than preparing a drink. And I loved it.
For me, it isn't that the journey is better than the destination, it's the synergy of the two that I appreciate most. When cocktail hour rolls around and I decide to make myself a drink, I have a choice to make: It might begin with a hankering for a classic, an idea for an experiment, a search through a favorite cocktail book, or a scroll through the geniuses I follow on #drinkstagram. Next, I'll gather my ingredients, select and prepare my tools, choose my glassware and begin mixing. Performing the pour and executing the garnish are the final touches of the process, and then you get to check your work.
A drink is wonderful when it's made for you, but it is better when it's made with care and intention. And a drink is even better still when you're committing your own care and intention to the preparation. That is what makes the sip truly divine.
According to a 1958 New York Times article, the institutionalization of cocktail hour in American life can be dated precisely to Dec. 5, 1933, when the 21st Amendment made alcohol legal again.