Story and Photos by John Nichols

I’ve been asking various friends lately the same question: “Do you want to keep drinking for the rest of your life?” Most have answered immediately, without thinking too hard, “Well, yes.”

That’s what I thought. I do, too. I think I might have found a way. It’s called Sustainable Drinking. I’ve been practicing it for the past few years and it works for me.

All I know about moderation fits on a cocktail napkin. I’ve transcribed some of the concepts of Sustainable Drinking and a few special tricks and recipes for your consideration. I can’t make specific recommendations as your age, health, body weight, genetics and psychology all factor in. My own personal drinking and eating history is more checkered than a racetrack flag. As I grew older, creep, creep went the waistline. Glug, glug went the pours before, during and after dinner. I eventually had to face my incrementally developing habits and make some healthy changes to my diet and exercise.

As I studied health and nutrition I was led to agriculture. Studying agriculture led to studying our food distribution systems and sustainability. As I studied the interdependent web of all existence I saw that I could apply the principles of sustainability to the rest of my life.

My personal food and alcohol distribution system was slightly out of whack. It was not broken and only took a few years to get back in balance. Balance, ratio and proportion. Moderation in everything, even moderation.

I began to study moderation one cocktail at a time.

Listen to what Dorothy Parker had to say on this issue. “I like a martini, two at the most. Three I’m under the table, four I’m under the host.” With Dorothy as my guide I began to limit myself to one cocktail per day. Knowing there can be one cocktail every day for the rest of my life is a comforting feeling.

When I’m mixing a cocktail I know I’m going to be getting a shot of alcohol but more importantly I’m going to be having an aesthetic culinary experience. I use the finest ingredients I can find and blend them with all the skills I have developed over the years. I rarely find a cocktail at any bar as good as what I serve in my own home.

I love history and the history of cocktails is fascinating. My copy of The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks by David Embury is falling apart and has notes in the margins going back to 1983. I learned from Robert Hess in The Essential Bartender’s Guide that my wife Leslie’s favorite cocktail, the Aviation, was first published in 1916. She thinks it’s a “girly” drink but it curls the hair on my chest.


The Aviation

Manhattan Perfecto

John Nichols opened the John Nichols Gallery in 1984 in downtown Santa Paula. The gallery specializes in vintage, vernacular and contemporary photography. It is open by appointment on the second floor of the Santa Paula Art Museum. John is one of the founders of the Ag Art Alliance, a member of the Ag Futures Alliance and the Fine Arts Committee of the Museum of Ventura County. He is a cookie judge at the Ventura County Fair and a stage manager at the Monterey Jazz Festival. His book on the St. Francis Dam disaster was published in 2002. In addition to gallery exhibits he has also designed and curated numerous exhibits for museums around Ventura County. Visit his website at

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