It’s one of the busiest talks at Greenwich Book Festival. The El Dorado cocktail which each punter is greeted with as they enter the Queen Mary Court helps, but so does the vivacity and passion with which Alice Lascelles greets such a vivacious and passionate subject – drinking.
Reading from her book The Art of Convivial Drinking and peppering her talk with family tales, like that of the first time she met her husband-to-be’s grandfather and shared some ‘dark, brooding’ navy rum with him, and the run ins she has had regarding the perfect G&T, Lascelles also clearly demonsrates her extensive knowledge. The history of the cocktail is a long one, and she takes us back way before the Mad Man era to the days of prohibition, the first cocktail party in 1917 in Missouri (at 10am), to Charles Dickens’ passion for punch, the frisson Byron added to his rendezvous with the aid of a cocktail or two, and right back to 1600 and the Royal Navy’s penchant for rum, sugar and lemons in a ‘tot.’ She’s not worried about fashion, standing by her controversial preference for an olive on the side of her Martini, and describing punch as ‘party magic’ in the way it draws communities of revellers towards whichever table it rests upon.
Because really The Art of Convivial Drinking, whilst structured around ten cocktails and written by a drinks journalist is more about what surrounds the cocktails. As she says ‘I’d always rather have a bad drink with good company than a good drink with bad company.’