When author, polemicist, foreign correspondent, and general-purpose raconteur Christopher Hitchens died last week, the world lost one of its clearest, bravest, most reliably irritating voices of comment and criticism. From contemporary literature to the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Henry Kissinger’s crimes, and the Iraq War, Hitchens was a scarred gladiator of words who covered political conflict ranging from civil debate to actual artillery fire.
That said, one of the first things that circulated upon the news of his death was his famous broadside on the “most overrated things in life.” These (in addition to “anal sex”) included the gastronomic trio of champagne, lobster, and picnics. But elsewhere among Hitchens’s writings were more substantial thoughts on food and, especially, drink.
Writing in Slate, Hitchens put together a thoughtful and rigorously waged argument against waiters’ “vile practice of butting in and pouring wine without being asked,” arguing that “not only is it a breathtaking act of rudeness in itself, but it conveys a none-too-subtle and mercenary message: Hurry up and order another bottle.” (Our own Helena Echlin saw his point but presented the opposing perspective that “refilling your glass is considered in the restaurant industry an essential part of good service,” and anyway, there are polite ways to convince a server to slow down or stop altogether.)
Hitchens was a legendary drinker, and he tackles that legacy head-on and imparts some booze-related wisdom in his memoir, Hitch-22. As quoted on Outside the Beltway and paraphrased here: no sweet after-dinner drinks, no mixing drinks (i.e., gin, then vodka, then Scotch), no cheap booze, and no getting used to the really, really good stuff, either. And don’t ever drink and drive. Pretty sage advice.
Finally (and most charmingly), Hitchens left us with detailed instructions on how to make a proper cup of tea, including how to fight for the proper use of boiling water, if necessary, to ensure that good tea is served in public establishments. I’d like to argue with him on the subject of milk (honestly, if you don’t add it first, it tends to scald), but unfortunately that’s no longer an option.