Cigar Aficionado

Sharp’ning Up Your Cocktail Talk

Every year dictionary publishers and language arbiters announce with some fanfare words that they have decided to add to the lexicon. Because of the relentless march of technology, many of them are terms that sprout from the conversation of computer buffs and other such electronically obsessed types: blogging, podcasts, texting, for example.

Seldom is proposed a word that is useful to the rest of us. “Sharp’ner” is one such word. It comes to us from London slang and refers to a quick and social drink at the start of the evening. Currently being championed by the makers of Beefeater gin (, it’s a term that seems much more useful in our everyday life than “metrosexual” or “youtubing”.

Beyond simply defining the time and setting, the sharp’ner further seems to foster a healthy attitude about drinking—as the name implies the point is to hone the mind after the dulling workload of the day. Unlike the preponderance of slang phrases for drinking—hammer some pounders, slam some shooters, etc.—having a sharp’ner doesn’t have a sense of inevitable inebriation. And that is what Beefeater is promoting.

“In America, meeting a friend for ‘a drink’ can mean committing to an entire evening,” says the brand director, Suzanne Freedman. “Londoners have the right idea with the sharp’ner as it offers a way to meet up with a friend for one drink and very little obligation.”

The Kennington
The Kennington
I applaud the spirit of Beefeater’s effort even while I have no idea if sharp’ner is actually London slang. (I have heard the term “cleanser” used variously by Australians to mean a quick alcoholic drink to cleanse the mind and as a non-alcoholic drink between a bout with the harder stuff as a way to cleanse the palate even if it’s too late to cleanse the mind.) The concept of the sharp’ner is a way to focus on the remedial aspects of drinking and take the emphasis off of overindulgence, in short, more quality, less quantity.

Beefeater’s support of that approach is suitable. It was one of the early premium gins—along with Tanqueray, Booth and Gordon’s—that regulated the quality of the stuff and so helped to quell the abuses in eighteenth century London that were so famously illustrated in Hogarth’s print “Gin Lane.” It referred to a time when the city was awash in cheap homemade gin, much of which bordered on poison. A ban on gin failed, but licensing of distillers promoted smooth, quality product and changed gin into the lofty quaff that it is today.

James Burrough, a pharmacist and creator of Beefeater in the early nineteenth century was one of the innovators, creating the recipe of botanicals—juniper, angelica, coriander, licorice, almond, orris root, Seville oranges and lemon peel—in 94 proof (not 80 proof as was mistakenly reported by me in the August 2007 issue of Cigar Aficionado) grain spirit.

If you read the Gin and Tonic article in the above-mentioned CA issue, you will also learn about the possible homeopathic qualities of gin, especially when it is combined with the quinine in tonic water.

Well, that’s enough for today. I’m off for a sharp’ner, but I’ll leave you with some recipes.

The BBC (Beefeater, Blueberi, Cranberry)
2 parts Beefeater gin
1 part Stoli Blueberi
3 parts cranberry juice

Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled martini glass.

The Kennington
2 parts Beefeater
1/2 part simple syrup
1/2 part fresh lime juice

Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into chilled martini glass.

The Piccadilly
1 1/2 parts Beefeater
4 parts orange juice
Splash of Grenadine

Serve in a tall glass over ice, garnished with two cherries.