Whatever happens in this week's US election, give thanks for one American export enjoyed the world over: the cocktail

Even though I have been warned by the United States Department of Homeland Sobriety not to let politics intrude on a drinks column, I cannot help noting that my native country will be going to the polls in a couple of days' time. There they will elect, or not elect, or approximately elect, the next president of the US. I'll be watching the results in New York and, while I'm watching, I will also be thinking about what's happening later in the month. For, on 21 November, the first exhibition of the Museum of the American Cocktail opens in Las Vegas.

The museum is the work of a number of America's best bartenders and cocktail historians, including Dale DeGroff, Gary Regan, Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown. Most of those names might not mean much to you, apart from DeGroff (who spends time in London as a consultant to the Milk & Honey bar), but believe me, they're big wheels in US cocktail culture.

The Museum of the American Cocktail celebrates two centuries of America's unique contribution to alcohol culture in displays that come from the collections of the museum's founders. Books and ephemera, vintage cocktail shakers, glassware and other utensils are all featured and, closely allied with the physical displays, will be talks and demonstrations, which will become even more prominent when the museum moves to its permanent home in New Orleans (go to www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org for details).

Heaven knows how the museum will fare in the marketplace. London's wine museum, Vinopolis, is still in business after five years but I know it more as a place where tastings are held than as a tourist attraction. There are Continental museums devoted to the demon drink - such as Stockholm's Bolagsmuseet - but I don't think they would pay their way without state funding (which the cocktail museum is sure not to get). The American venture is more likely to make its way forward, if there is a way forward, as a venue for talks and demonstrations than as a display of curiosities.

This venture is launching at the same time as American bartenders (and cocktailery in general) raise their profile a notch or two. According to a recent New York Times report, a new generation of bartenders is starting to attract the same kind of attention that chefs have traditionally enjoyed: investors queuing up to back them in opening their own places, that kind of thing. Some of the whiz-kids call themselves "bar chefs", or "cocktail stylists", which I think rank with "mixologist" as silly terms for a job that already has a perfectly good name. I'm all in favour of seeing the cocktail bartender's craft getting as much recognition as the chef's. I just don't like to see silliness and pretension take over. Nor would I be happy seeing good bartenders opening expensive new bars simply because they have the backing.

It is not just the coincidence of openings (US election and US museum) that makes me connect the two events. American politics and culture give plenty of cause for unhappiness right now, and this week's election may aggravate that distress. So in times like these, it's worth remembering with emphatic determination the good things that America has given the world.

The cocktail is one of them. Like many uniquely American products, it exports well - just look at Britain's thriving cocktail culture for proof. Like many, it is also dangerous if misused. Whoever wins this week, the one thing I know for sure is that the cocktail will continue to serve its two great functions: celebration and solace. Let's hope there's more call for the first than for the second.

Top corks: Three from Bordeaux

Château Pierrail 2001, Bordeaux Supérieur £5.99, Booths and everywine.co.uk A Merlot-based blend with oak-coddled plum and cassis fruit. Shockingly good value. Snap it up.

Château Cambon La Pelouse 2002, Haut-Médoc £11.99, Waitrose This Cru Bourgeois consistently boxes above its weight, delivering superb balance at an exceptionally fair price.

Moulin de la Lagune 2000, Haut-Médoc £12.99, £11.99 if you buy two, Majestic Second wine of Château la Lagune, not hugely concentrated but all the class of the principal wine.

Comments