Cocktail Musings: Mea Culpa

Cocktail Musings: Mea Culpa

When my children were young, and I was filling their moral toolbox with all the items I thought they’d need one day in order to be good and decent human beings, I had a fairly clear idea of what it meant to ask for forgiveness. To me, the simple utterance of the words “I’m sorry” was never enough. I always stressed the notion that while the act of apologizing was a good place to start, it was impossible to undo the harm or damage that had been inflicted without asking “What can I do to fix this?” or “How can I make this better?” After all these years, I still feel the same way. When I wrote the Moral Skill Set post a few weeks ago, I became enamored with the thought of forgiveness being called an “art” because wording it as such implies that there is craft involved, and by further extension, mastery. It presents a bit of a moral conundrum though, right? In order for us to perfect any craft, we usually need lots of practice, and we certainly don’t want to spend a good bit of time hurting other people so much that we do indeed master this particular art. And yet still the idea intrigued me and left me wondering how I could elaborate on it further.

I suppose we could begin by examining what components are necessary in order for an apology to be considered great. Multiple sources agree that there are six important steps that must be executed if we’re going to sincerely and successfully ask for forgiveness. First, we must express deep regret: “I’m so very sorry that I muddled fruit into your old-fashioned.” Secondly, we need to offer an explanation for our behavior without thinking that it gets us off the hook: “I know this isn’t a good excuse, but I saw this recipe online for something called a new-fashioned and I thought you might like it. I should have known you better than that.” Step number three entails taking full responsibility for our actions: “It was totally my fault. I know you are a purist who believes that only in rare cases do classic drinks need any improvements.” In step four, we make an additional declaration of repentance, just in case: “I really am truly sorry that I ruined your drink and did such a disservice to a cocktail that epitomizes the craft of bartending.” For number five, we make an offer of repentance: “Allow me to fix this by making you another drink the way it’s SUPPOSED to be made.” And in the final step we request forgiveness: “Please, please, please can you ever forgive me?” It’s interesting that research also indicates that some of these components of forgiveness are more important than others. Topping the list is number three’s sincere acceptance of responsibility, and close behind is step five’s offer to make things right again. I knew I was on to something way back when!

Despite the obvious humor behind my example, I think we might readily agree that there is merit to having this set of guidelines for the perfect apology. In no way, however, does it solve our original dilemma of mastering something that remediates hurt that we’ve caused. Additionally, what do we think of the idea of having these hard and fast steps that are meant to help us manage something that should really be driven by heartfelt emotion? There’s a struggle there too, right? On the flip side of all this, we could certainly say that there is an art to accepting another person’s apology that can be perfected. The Buddhists maintain that suffering is at the root of all the harmful acts that we commit towards one another. Once we recognize that suffering, we are able to react empathetically and extend compassion, thus paving the way for forgiveness, whether we receive an apology or not. This leads me to believe that practicing empathy may just be the craft we should work tirelessly to master. Every day we experience things that affect us deeply, and yet we turn our heads. There is an animal lying at the side of the road, and we cannot look. We push the idea of it out of our minds, even though as a collective, we are the ones responsible for disrupting natural habitats. We see people who are struggling and refuse to help them out of fear or because it’s not our responsibility. We listen to our loved ones telling us a story about something that is weighing heavily on them, and we fill our responses with statements like “You should have done this!” or “Why didn’t you do that?” even though all they want us to do is listen. What if we began to react compassionately each and every time an opportunity presented itself? What would happen if we didn’t turn our heads and swallow hard when we saw an animal on the side of the road? What if we offered a small apology? What if we looked for suffering in the faces of all the people we meet each day, and tried in whatever small way we could to find empathy for their situation? What if we begin to practice the art of “holding space” for our loved ones when they are hurting, to borrow a phrase from a very good friend, and mastered the skill of just sitting, listening, and being present with them, rather than advising or fixing? We have developed hard edges as human beings, and when we brush against one another, or intentionally move with force, we are often very hurtful. By finding a way to practice compassion, even in the smallest of circumstances, we just might begin to soften those edges and allow ourselves to move together with far less emotional pain and injury. We would perfect the art of empathy.

For today’s cocktail, I had no choice other than to make an old-fashioned. I began with an American whiskey that had been aged in a barrel that previously held Pinot Noir wine. Because pinot grapes are far less tannic than many others, this treatment had the effect of giving the whiskey a certain lushness that spoke towards the idea of softening our own edges. I kept the Demerara sugar cube because it is part of the ceremony for me, but added a small amount of rosemary simple to represent the idea of never forgetting that we share space on this planet together, even if it is sometimes only for an instant. I also added two dashes of Spanish bitters that contain citrus peel, chamomile, orris, and angelica. I loved the idea of the chamomile as a soothing and calming herb, since that is exactly what happens when we forgive or are forgiven. Both the orris and the angelica allowed the cocktail to end on a lifting note, which was also very representative of the ideas in this post. There is a Greek legend behind the angelica plant that tells the story of an angel giving the plant to mankind so that it could be used as a healing force. It seemed so very fitting. Do I apologize for changing the ingredients in this old-fashioned? Absolutely not. Its structure is the same, as is the ritual behind preparing it. The shift in ingredients is meant to offer us the opportunity to expand, in much the same way as I hope this post does. Cheers everyone. Happy Saturday! Thank you so much for reading.

Mea Culpa

2.5 oz Kinsey American whiskey Pinot Noir cask
.125 oz rosemary simple syrup
.25 to .5 tsp Fever Tree club soda
2 dashes Dr. Adam Elmegirab’s Spanish bitters
1 Demerara sugar cube

Place the sugar cube on the bottom of a rocks glass.
Add the bitters, syrup, and club and muddle the cube until crushed.
Add the whiskey and stir.
Add one big iced cube and stir again.
Express an orange peel over the drink and drop in.


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