On Tour

Drinking Gin Martinis With Musician Amos Lee

The soul and folk rocker chats about drinking cocktails on the road.

Matthew Eisman/Getty

Amos Lee may be in the heart of bourbon country but his mind is on a different spirit, gin.

“I’m just a pretty straight gin drinker,” he admits almost as soon as we sit down to chat at the Bourbon & Beyond music festival in Louisville where he’s performing. Even when he orders a Martini, it’s basically gin with a hint of dry vermouth. “If I’m putting three ounces of gin in my Martini, which is generally how I go, I’m not even using half an ounce [of vermouth], I’m using maybe less than a quarter of an ounce. Very dry.”

The great benefit of that recipe is that he pretty much can find a good Martini no matter where he is performing. “I’m not that picky about it,” he says. “And honestly I’ll just drink gin in a cup.”

Just in case, he stocks up on gin before going on the road, “we have a case of St. George Gin for every tour,” he says. And that comes in handy, since usually after gigs the band doesn’t go out but instead “we just hang and listen to music.” While he’s sipping gin, his bandmates are drinking Irish whiskey, bourbon and wine.

He does sometimes get a bit of grief from his bandmates for drinking Martinis. “The Martini is always an interesting drink because it’s always one that people are like ‘oooh, fancy.’ I’m like ‘it’s just gin in a glass.’ It’s not fancy at all. It’s not seven ingredients with a frothy top.”

But he wasn’t always such a single-minded drinker. “I grew up just drinking beer and bourbon,” he remembers. “Like a beer and a shot.” As he learned more about spirits, he developed a real appreciation for whiskey. “I used to be a serious bourbon drinker. But I can’t do it man. My reflux just gets crazy. I love bourbon. I love Scotch. I’m just envious of people who can have a nice three-knuckle bourbon.”

In addition to the discomfort, the acid reflux wasn’t good for his singing career. So, he gave up whiskey. “The brown liquors, man they really get me,” he says woefully. He can still have wine and, of course, gin.

Now he has a small glass of gin before he goes on to perform. But just a bit. “I’ve definitely had shows in my past where I’ve had too much and it doesn’t usually go as well as I think it’s going. Especially the latter half of the set. I could just get a little bit too happy,” he says. So now, “just a nice, little taste and then a nice cocktail after the show and I’m good.”