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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Drinking Through the Longest Election Season


Drinking Through the Longest Election Season

by Alexa van Sickle


Grüner Veltliner in London

Welcome to Austria’s longest presidential election season. In May, far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer successfully challenged his razor-thin loss to Green Party candidate, Dr. Alexander Van Der Bellen over the handling of mail-in votes. The long-awaited do-over is on Sunday.

I’ve spent the last few months in Vienna, watching the country I was raised in fall down its own 2016 rabbit hole. Across the street from my flat, Hofer’s latest campaign posters included the Christian phrase ‘So Help Me God’, scandalously breaking the long-held taboo of mixing religion and politics with an attention-grabbing dog-whistle against Muslims (and by extension, refugees) that he couldn’t resist.

Now I’m back in London for the closing days of the campaign, drinking wine at Kipferl—a slightly overpriced Austrian café showcasing Austria’s more pleasant exports of apple strudel and cheese-laced sausages—fretting over the news out of Austria and pounding our signature crisp white wine. The international press has already decided what it means if Austria elects Europe’s first far-right head of state since World War II this weekend: it’s the next wave of a populist revolt against the global elite. Or, from the more left-leaning papers, Austria will either be a small bulwark against creeping nationalism—and illiberalism—or the next domino to fall.

The notion of rejecting elitism would be a lot more compelling if the leaders parroting this line weren’t quite so steeped in bullshit. First, there’s gold-chair enthusiast Donald Trump. Then there’s Britain’s Mr. Brexit, Nigel Farage, a privately educated former stockbroker who rarely strays from his VIP pen. France’s Marine Le Pen was spawned from an abhorrent political dynasty. And Norbert Hofer is a long-time higher-up in a party that, when it did get a shot at actual governing in the past, either went back on its populist platforms, caused some major financial corruption scandals, or praised Hitler’s employment initiatives.

But there is a slightly different brand of bullshit at work in Austria: the Freedom Party is not playing the noble outsider as much as it is trying to camouflage itself as a new mainstream center-right, with Hofer as the doe-eyed, charming salesman of its new respectability. But the party still has ties to far more unsavory right-wing groups, and it’s unlikely they’ve actually drained that swamp. Oh, and Hofer himself also happens to be a consummate liar. He seems to have invented a Muslim terrorist incident in Israel that he supposedly witnessed from 30 feet away. He said he doesn’t know anyone from Austria’s Identitarian Movement (Europe’s alt-right) nor does he want to. (So, naturally, here’s a photo of him at a ball with one of its members.) He said that each asylum seeker would cost Austrian taxpayers 277,000 euros—conveniently not mentioning that this is the cost spread over 45 years.

Then, there’s what he might do when he gets his Glock-wielding mitts on some power. The role of president in Austria is more ceremonial, but Hofer has threatened to use the office to dissolve the government—as is the president’s prerogative—if it fails to get a handle on immigration. This would bring forward the scheduled 2018 Parliamentary elections at a time that his party is still riding high in the polls from its exploitation of the refugee crisis. His party also has a not-so-secret affinity for other right-wing parties in Central and Eastern Europe. (How bad could this get? Just take a picturesque trip down the Danube to Viktor Orban’s Hungary.)

Going into the final days with polls too close to call, it feels gut-punchingly like Hofer has the momentum. A few days ago, Van Der Bellen’s campaign posted a video of a Holocaust survivor warning young Austrians that the rise of the far right, and its rhetoric, feels disturbingly familiar: just substitute Muslims for Jews. The video went viral with three million views on YouTube.

Let’s hope that’s enough.

Every Friday, we bring you an angry rant about something terrible fuelled by alcohol.

Who Needs Air Conditioning When You Have Watery Beer?


Who Needs Air Conditioning When You Have Watery Beer?

by Holly Robertson

Angkor beer in Cambodia

As I dodged vendors outside Siem Reap’s old market, one tuk-tuk driver called out with an enticing proposition. His vehicle, he joked, had free Wi-Fi and free air conditioning. In the muggy early evening heat, beads of perspiration pooling at my neck, I imagined for a heady second that it might be true.

Hours earlier, my friend and I had crossed from Thailand into Cambodia, through bleak border towns notable only for how forgettable they were. Fresh from a minivan that hurtled down the two-lane highway in semi-darkness, horn blaring at competing traffic, we were won over by the tuk-tuk driver’s enthusiastic sales pitch. We arranged to go with him to the temples of Angkor the next day.

Little did I know I was about to embark on my longest love affair. At this grand site, desperation soon drove me into the arms of the country’s watery national brew, Angkor. It was an unlikely coupling: a snobbish wine drinker with a much-maligned local beer. But I like to think it was fate.

Sapped of energy after a day spent traipsing around Angkor Wat under a baking sun, we asked the driver to make one last stop—for sundown—at a temple named in the guidebooks as Pre Rup. There, we bought some cans of Angkor, named for this architectural feat of the Khmer civilization, and drank them as we perched on the ancient stonework. There is something magical about sitting on a 10th-century archeological wonder built by a king to honor the gods, watching a giant red orb sink beneath the tree tops and knocking back a beer.

The drinks seller was canny and seized an opportunity. A second round, served from his orange cooler for less than a dollar, had me on my way to infatuation. A third, at a grungy club back in Siem Reap’s tourist trap district, sealed my new love of hops and barley.

It did not take long to move on to better brews, in different places. But moving on from this enigmatic country would take much longer. Sometimes, a sip of beer in a crowded, overheated British pub would transport me to those humid Cambodian nights.

Four years later, I was drawn back. An equally bewildering ride from Phnom Penh’s airport dumped me in the capital, where during my last visit an aging elephant had walked the riverfront with advertisements draped over its great hide. Motorbikes were being replaced by four-wheel drives in a newly moneyed city, but the drivers still had to dodge each other and the potholes that spring up overnight after heavy rains. Some tuk-tuks really do offer Wi-Fi now; air conditioning is yet to come. Angkor can be found on every street corner. I still haven’t left.

Last Call in Britain’s Brewing Capital


Last Call in Britain’s Brewing Capital

by Isaac Parham

Ale in Burton-on-Trent

You don’t find many pubs like Burton Bridge Inn anymore. Not in England; not anywhere. When I duck in, on a windswept autumn evening, it feels like I’ve stumbled into a scene from a bygone age: a pub full of flinty sorts sipping cloudy bitters and chestnut-colored ales. I take a seat in the corner, not really sure what part to play in this foreign diorama. At the bar, a clique of older men throw suspicious glances my way.

Thankfully, I have a guide. Moments earlier I had interviewed the pub’s owner, Bruce Wilkinson, in his office out back, about Burton’s long association with beer. “Burton is the brewing capital of Britain, being modest, and the world if you’re more expansive,” he had told me, before explaining that the mineral-laden local water is ideal for brewing, which is why brewers around the world refer to the process of adding sulfate to water as Burtonization.

Bruce also runs the attached microbrewery, Burton Bridge Brewery, and back in the bar he invites me to sample their Draught Burton Ale, while introducing me to everyone there. When they learn about my interest in Burton’s brewing history, their unease washes away. And so does mine. Soon, the room abounds with stories, laughs, and gripes. Beer is in the blood here, and locals can talk about it (and imbibe it) long after the bell of last call strikes.

I hear about the good days and the bad. Roger, an earnest, bespectacled and flat-capped man sitting alone, speaks fondly of his days working for Bass, formerly one of the biggest brewers in Burton and in Britain. Even now, well into retirement, Roger meets up regularly with former colleagues—the ‘Bass-tards’ as they call themselves—to exchange stories and reminisce. To work for Bass, he explains, was to have a job for life, in a company that not only cared for its staff but for the town.

Those days are long gone. Now, after a succession of takeovers, Burton’s storied wells are mostly in the hands of Molson Coors, the brewing behemoth behind Budweiser, Cobra, and Carling. Many of those jobs-for-life were killed off, that commitment to community forgotten. Pubs catering for real ale drinkers and brewing folk used to be ten-a-penny in Burton, but many are now boarded up. Burton Bridge Inn is one of the last of a dying breed.

The Draught Burton Ale skips down my palate, a balanced concoction that plays dry hoppiness against sweeter notes of malt and fruit. Bruce explains that it’s their take on a much-loved beer of the same name, formerly produced by one of the town’s big brewers (Ind Coope) before it was discontinued by Molson Coors. The drinkers around me agree that it is pretty much spot-on.

“Ay, you don’t want to buy the place do you?” a barman shouts as I stand up to leave. I raise my eyebrows. “Haven’t you heard? Bruce is selling.”

Actually, Post-Election Jäger Shots Make Perfect Sense


Actually, Post-Election Jäger Shots Make Perfect Sense

by Karolina Chorvath

Jägermeister in Warsaw

I had just arrived in Warsaw to report on the rise of far-right groups a few days after casting my ballot early for the U.S. election. I grew up with a father who fought against Communism in what was then Czechoslovakia, so I was drawn to the region.

After waking up to the news of a president-elect Donald Trump, followed by a day of reporting on the surge of neo-Nazi ideals, I figured I would find salvation only at the bottom of a shot glass. So my flatmate peeled me away from my keyboard and dragged me through the frigid cold to a local dive.

“I’m not drinking much,” I said as I sleepily stumbled over the uneven cobblestones. “Just enough to soothe the sting.”

Almost immediately after squeezing our way through the drunken dancers to find the smoking room, we met two young Polish men. They were designers. One had unkempt hair and metal-rimmed glasses. The other’s only memorable trait was his ability to sense an urgency for liquor. We tossed back shots of Jäger and exchanged “Na zdrowies” before dancing to 80s pop. People stumbled over each other and avoided the broken glass blended with beer that tiled the black floor.

During a slow song, I made a mistake I would make many times on this trip: I brought up politics with our new drinking buddies. In my defense, a man balanced on the edge of our table muttered something about Trump and the topic seemed inevitable. I rolled my eyes, and said something that I’m sure I thought was clever at the time.

Our otherwise-unmemorable drinking pal said, “What, don’t you like Trump?” in a tone that signified he couldn’t fathom the alternative. After repositioning my thoughts and my feet, which had stuck to the floor, I asked, “Well, do you?”

“Is that a trick question?” asked the wire-rimmed face.

Based on our drinking buddy’s perplexed expression, they couldn’t imagine that someone would support anyone other than Trump. I started to ask why, and quickly remembered my objective for being in the bar in the first place—to escape my feelings about the political climate in the U.S. We continued chatting, but mostly drinking.

The dance floor was a much more welcoming, politically neutral environment. I sang along to songs off records my father smuggled into his country as I shimmied away from the conversation.

I learned later that Mr. Nondescript, the more enthusiastic Trump supporter of the two, was dating a woman from Brazil who was attempting to overstay her visa to Poland to be with him. The whole night made about as much sense as choosing to drink Jäger on a weekday in Poland.

Thailand Must Look Goth AF Right Now


Thailand Must Look Goth AF Right Now

by Russ Rowlands

Warm Beer in Bangkok

“I shouldn’t have worn this YOLO shirt, eh?”

We looked down at my friend’s neon yellow tank top, then up at the mass of black-clad mourners crowding Bangkok’s streets. Lina had arrived the night before, only hours after King Bhumibol, Thailand’s much-revered monarch, had passed away. I’d been in the country for a week, staying on Sukhumvit Soi 4, one of the city’s red light districts. Being from a cynical generation in urban Canada, the concept of a genuinely beloved head of state was alien to us. We weren’t actively trying to be assholes; it was accidental.

Lina turned her shirt inside out and we carried on. A cab driver laughed at us when we asked for a ride towards Khao San Road and the area of the Grand Palace. At first we didn’t understand, but as we progressed westward it became clear. Traffic slowed to a crawl and the roads filled with pedestrians, Thais heading towards the Grand Palace where the first of the funeral proceedings would be held. The only shops doing any business were vendors selling black clothing; we’d later find out that the government had requested that all citizens wear black for a full month of mourning, and people were scrambling to fill their wardrobe.

We quietly picked at some fried chicken, purchased from a street vendor wearing a black t-shirt with a glittery Michael Jackson photo on it. The streets were silent despite the crowds, and the collective hush affected us. The contrast with the exuberant, humming city I’d experienced the previous week was stark. I attempted to describe the colorful vibrance of that Bangkok to Lina, but fell short, and we drifted into silence as we hiked west in a sea of black. Foreign news reports would later suggest that the country had been stricken with a wailing grief, but during our two-hour walk in that crowd of thousands we didn’t witness any such drama. People were subdued and reflective, sharing a sense of genuine, communal loss that was palpable even to us, but front-page-news hysterics were absent.

Passing the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, we veered north away from the mob. The patios of Khao San Road and Rambuttri Alley were mostly empty; we were unaware that a ban on alcohol sales had been declared for the period of the funeral that afternoon. In our ignorance we flopped down in the shade of one of the few open venues and requested two large Chang lagers.

“Only in a bucket,” the waiter told us, leaning in conspiratorially.

“No no, bottles please, not a bucket.”

He shook his head. “Only in a bucket.”

We looked at each other, confused, exhausted and sweating profusely in the sodden 90-degree heat.

“Ok, two buckets of Chang.”

The waiter smiled amiably and brought our drinks, and that’s how we ended up drinking warm, flat Chang from colorful beach buckets while Bangkok quietly mourned.

This Might Be One of Those Austrian Things We Don’t Totally Understand


This Might Be One of Those Austrian Things We Don’t Totally Understand

by Alexa van Sickle

Sturm in Vienna

A lot of Austrian food and drink is still seasonal. In the spring, menus start to fill up with white asparagus the sizes of leeks, and when the weather turns a little warmer, restaurants’ outdoor tables are lined with bright orange Aperol spritzes. In May, strawberries go into tortes, but also make a lethal strawberry punch. The autumn brings Ganslzeit (“goose time”) and the wine season.

The starting gun for the wine season is the presence of large green bottles of Sturm in markets and more traditional restaurants. It’s slightly fermented and unfiltered grape juice, suspended in the state before it becomes wine. Because it’s still fermenting, it’s sold in open bottles; usually there’s just a loose paper lid. You have to drink it pretty quickly. It’s only available for a few weeks, beginning in October. It can be as low as 1 percent ABV, but is often stronger. And Sturm is so rich that Austrians say Mahlzeit—a sort of German “bon appétit”—instead of Prost—the typical cheers when drinking—when they drink it.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with a friend’s family in a small farming and wine-making community in Austria’s Krems Valley. In the fall, we would help a local wine producer pick the grapes on their wine terraces. In the evenings, when the parents got into the wine, we would often explore the wine cellar and play hide and seek. This was not a basement-sized room where a family might keep a few bottles: it was a vast, subterranean labyrinth, several hundred years old, a musty monument to a community’s livelihood for generations. There were endless rows of car-sized wine barrels and spooky, ink-black corners. (None of us would have dared to spend time in there alone.) I remember the smell the most; damp stone, earth, and the lingering sourness of centuries of wine.

This year I was back in Vienna for Sturm season for the first time in several years, and I bought a bottle from my local deli in a fit of nostalgia. The pungent, damp smell when I lifted off the paper covering took me instantly back to those fall evenings playing hide and seek in a spooky wine cellar. But the flavor didn’t match its aroma at all. It was sickly sweet, like a cloudy grape soda. But with the next glass, it had already lost some sweetness, and tasted a little more like wine.

Our Faith in Humanity Has Been Ever-So-Briefly Restored


Our Faith in Humanity Has Been Ever-So-Briefly Restored

by Jake Emen

Whisky in Craigellachie

“Old” Joe Brandy has been behind the bar at Craigellachie’s Fiddichside Inn for 57 years, right in heart of Scotch country.

Joe, who turned 85 this year, took over the operation from his parents-in-law, who themselves had run the joint for some four decades prior. He’s seen it all, so when four Americans loudly stroll in without any form of legal tender to pay for a round, he’s having none of our shit. My wallet’s stuffed with dollars, and awkwardly no British pounds, and Joe tells us they don’t accept credit cards.

Ashamed at our failed attempt to get served in this hidden-away bar that houses all of this great history, we retreat. A sunny Scottish day awaits outside, as water trickles past in the adjoining River Fiddich, the namesake for Glenfiddich, and a tributary to the River Spey, a namesake to the entire Scotch region of Speyside. We’re here visiting an ambitious nine distilleries in a week, so there’s been no shortage of drinks to be had. Still, we were eagerly anticipating the opportunity to soak up some of Fiddichside’s lore, and perhaps nab a bit of hard-earned wisdom from Old Joe along the way.

It just wasn’t meant to be. Taking our time outside the inn with a few regretful photos, two passing couples start a conversation with us. We share the shame of our story, along with what we’re doing in Scotland, and we quickly learn that here in Scotch whisky’s heartland, there’s always a connection to the industry. The father of one of the women had been a stillman at Macallan, two miles from the Inn, and the family grew up next to the distillery. And these lovely folks would simply not accept the idea of our group leaving without a drink.

So one of the four, John Owens, leads us back inside and orders up a round of Macallans from the bar. John is a brandy-and-Coke kind of guy, but is happy enough to partake in the local wares on our behalf.

There was no way to pay John back for the drinks he bought us, and he wouldn’t have asked for it, either. I told him I’d write this story, though. Sláinte, John.

The Fine Line Between Terroir and Bullshit


The Fine Line Between Terroir and Bullshit

by Will Tomford

Wine in the Vipava Valley

It’s autumn in the Vipava Valley in western Slovenia and gusts from the Bora wind are pummeling the land. As I drive to the valley floor, I can feel my old Ford Fiesta start to shake. Another ominous sign: the roofs of the valley homes are dotted with big stones. I find out later that they protect the shingles from blowing away. Amusing, but the Bora is no joke. Last March, it overturned a semi-truck on the highway in nearby Croatia. It blows across Central Europe, but if it has an epicenter—here, speeds of 150 miles per hour have been recorded—it might be the lush Vipava Valley. A strange place then, I think, to be one of the best wine regions in Slovenia, where people have been making grape juice since Roman times.

I’ve always been fascinated, if a bit skeptical, about the idea of terroir that wine geeks hold in such esteem. That place—soil, climate, environment—can shape the final product in the glass is an appealing but questionable notion. Soil type, Bordeaux’s famous gravel for example, I get. Even a vaguer element, like the high altitude of the vineyards in Mendoza, makes some sense. But what about something as intangible as wind? I’m becoming more of an unbearable wine snob by the second, but I’m genuinely interested: is it possible that the mighty Bora could be expressed in the glass?

I decide to brave the wind and head to Sutor winery in Vipava. People say don’t judge a wine by its label, but Sutor’s pays homage to the Bora with a windy landscape print, so it seems like a good place to start. I arrive without getting blown off the road, and Mitja Lavrenčič, the man behind Sutor, guides me through his cellar and describes his process. Warm and humble, Mitja is the kind of winemaker who defies the snobbery of the wine world. When I ask him about the Bora, he flashes a look of pride. “The wind is so strong that we don’t need to spray the vines with pesticides,” he says. A definite plus, but does that really count as terroir? I question further as we begin to taste his wines, passing the spit bucket between us. Eventually, Mitja hits on something: “It acts as a natural selector, because the grapes have to withstand the high wind speeds. Lower yields, but higher quality.”

The first wines we try are international varieties: a blend of Merlot and Cabernet, a Chardonnay. As much as I want to impress Mitja and drone on about tasting the Vipava terroir, I can’t actually tell what gives them a sense of place. Then lastly he pours the Sutor White, a blend of the local grapes, Rebula and Malvazija. I swish the wine around in my mouth and swallow this time. Bracing, I think. Like a strong, cold wind blowing across my face.

Long Live the Everyman Bar, the Old-Man Bar, the Grasabar

Long Live the Everyman Bar, the Old-Man Bar, the Grasabar

by Sergio C. Fanjul

Cañas in Madrid

¡Viva el grasabar español! The grasabar is Spanish institution, the traditional everyman bars you can find in all Iberian cities. They are not places overly concerned with design and interior decorating; they have an aesthetic somewhere between retro, shabby, and sloppy. But they are the Swiss Army knife of the hospitality industry: in them, one can have a quick coffee and a croissant, eat a full breakfast spread, grab a sandwich with egg and squid in the afternoon, or dine on tapas and cañas—small glasses of beer—when night falls. The cañas are fundamental to the grasabar: icy cold, pulled perfectly from the tap by the wise hands of expert waiters. There are those that stay open all night to relieve the suffering of late-night taxi drivers and other mysterious creatures of the dawn as they emerge from bars and nightclubs. They serve everything to everyone.

The waiters are usually seasoned veterans, gentlemen in white jackets or black vests who stand behind the metal bar to promptly serve whoever enters. When you step through the door, the waiter shouts, “Young man, what do you want?” In the grasabares, you are always young and able to fulfill (almost) all of your desires.

Not only your gastronomic desires: here you can read the daily press (especially the sports pages), buy tobacco from a vending machine, watch the news or the football game—perhaps a Western in the afternoon—or throw your life away by gambling, immersed in the joyful lights and melodies of the slot machines. You can also talk to neighbors or strangers, especially about politics; even better, you can eavesdrop on the silly ramblings of others. Because in these places, people of all types, classes, and circumstances meet: the elderly enjoying a glass of wine, ladies coming from the market, young people looking for cheap cañas, and groups of friends meeting after work.

The grasabares are found mainly in villages or in working-class neighborhoods that were built in many Spanish cities during the 60s and 70s, a period of Francoist development. They were once common in city centers as well, but they have a powerful enemy who, like a cancer, spreads far and wide in large cities and metastasizes provincial capitals. This is the modern hipster bar, with its long wooden tables, its organic juices, its vintage light bulbs and armies of freelancers using the Wi-Fi connection to replace an office.

Many entrepreneurs in the restaurant world have very little imagination and are unwilling to take risks. They replicate this model until it is all that is left, overtaking entire neighborhoods, like the gentrified areas of Malasaña or Chueca in Madrid. This version of modernity is posh and boring. That’s why you have to defend the Spanish grasabar, the everyman bar, the traditional bar, the old-man bar. That’s why you have to go and eat piles of pork and drink beer in industrial quantities and forget about cholesterol levels. And that’s why the Spanish government must find a way to protect the few of these establishments that remain.

Journalism Won’t Make You Rich, But It Will Get You Drunk

Journalism Won’t Make You Rich, But It Will Get You Drunk

by Ignacio Peyró

Martinis in Madrid

Journalism may not garner much prestige or money, but it does make you want to drink. Since the time of Fleet Street, the newsroom has never strayed far from the tavern. And so every journalist must seek asylum in a hospitable bar, either to return in the afternoon with a triumphant headline, or to inaugurate the period of clemency—12 hours or so—that begins when the newspaper is finished for the night.

For many years, I was fortunate enough to find refuge at one of these bars. El Padre had the warmth of a slaughterhouse, but we did not need candles on the table or tasteful interior decorating. What we needed were cocktails that would go directly into the bloodstream and a nice cut of meat that perhaps made our cholesterol surge, but for a few hours contributed to keeping our bodies upright. They were unforgettable, endless nights of celebrating before returning home to ask for forgiveness for all our sins.

It was a sad day when El Padre closed. The local owners decided to move to Zamora—one of those Spanish cities where nothing has happened since the year 1200—to grow tomatoes. It was their decision to make; each is master of their own madness. But, for a while, we all walked crestfallen through Madrid, between warm martinis, meat that was too expensive or just bad, and the melancholy of those restaurants that close their kitchens at the ridiculously early hour of eleven o’clock at night. Maybe that’s why it didn’t take long for us to realize that the closing of El Padre had meant something deeper: it had symbolized the last round of our youth.

Literature loves tragic endings; life, however, loves happy endings, or better yet, stories with unresolved endings. After it closed, El Padre reopened, less contemptible and less unrefined, with more ambience and variation. It’s now called Angelita. But it’s still the same place, where lost youth lurks at the bottom of a martini.

The Best Cocktail Bar in Spain Is a Nameless House in the Middle of Nowhere

The Best Cocktail Bar in Spain Is a Nameless House in the Middle of Nowhere

by Joan Picanyol

It doesn’t have a name and it doesn’t have a telephone number or website, but it has an address: the junction of the local roads AS256 and VV5, more commonly known as “the curve of El Gobernador” in the east of Asturias. It opens randomly and it is, without a doubt, the best cocktail bar in Spain.

Some have agreed to call it Soda917 but if you ask the owner for the name of his temple, he will go “bah, no name” and change conversation or just do something else. Obviously, there is no sign outside. Just an outdated official “Tabacos” signal in a corner of the stone facade.

The place is literally in the middle of nowhere and it’s been owned by his wife’s family since ever. In the past, it was both a bar and a store where families and workers would stop in their endless journeys along the new roads of the old Franco days.

Very few of this kind of places remain nowadays and the ones still standing have become key community touchstones in areas of Spain that are so rural that they have no city center to speak of,just lonely houses and family farms scattered across fields of vivid Celtic green. Spain has the most bars per capita of any country in the world. You can find endless shitty bars, one next to the other, in any street, but there are also strange gems like this one.

The bar is the local for a heterogenous community that only makes sense as a group because all of them are equally convinced about the magic powers of the reverend and act accordingly. Lonely old villagers, with their cane and beret, who walk over from the very next valley, drink sophisticated vermouths in Riedel martini glasses next to a small group mums with their babies, a gang of retired French bikers who are touring the north of Spain and, maybe, the latest gastronomic adventurer who has landed there, as an UFO, and is taking photos of everything and burning the owner’s mind with questions and admired observations.

All of them are going to put themselves in the hands of the master, who will ask each one of them a couple of short questions and start his sorcery without saying a word about what’s to come; it could be classic, suddenly inspired or a simple shot of Japanese whisky. The house has one of the most amazing Japanese whisky collections in a country with the poorest whiskey culture in the world.

A famous Spanish songwriter who admires Leonard Cohen as much as me had the generosity and clarity to give this advice in a verse: “you should never try to go back to the place where you were once happy”. For this reason, among others, I will never get back to the curve of El Gobernador and it is a shame and a disgrace, specially today, day one after Cohen.

If it wasn’t a thousand kilometers away from where I write these lines, I would be there tonight and, for the first time, it would be me the one making the short questions to the owner: can you make me a Red Needle? Can you play “That don’t make it junk”?

I fought against the bottle but I had to do it drunk…

Locked Out of the Wine Party in the Garage Once Again

Locked Out of the Wine Party in the Garage Once Again

by Adam Nace

Vermouth in Palma

My wife and I passed La Sifoneria many times on the way to and from our accommodation in Palma’s Old City. It was always closed. For three days, we’d followed our host’s advice on where to eat and what to see in Majorca, with great success. A visit to the wine bar in a garage was the last box to tick, and we kept coming up short.

We left the house on our final night on the island and saw a dim light spilling from an open garage at the end of the street. We beelined for the entrance.

The ancient flagstone floor dropped into a low-ceilinged room. Chalk-scrawled barrels of vino tinto and cava were precariously stacked against the right-hand wall.

The owner turned out to be a middle-aged blond woman standing next to a battered vanity table, deep in conversation with an older German couple as my wife and I sat down amid a pile of empty Chianti jugs. When she eventually came over to us, she asked us in English what kind of wine we liked, and made recommendations. A younger, fruitier wine for my wife and an aged, dry one for myself. Both were excellent.

Other customers came and went around us. Most seemed to be regulars, because they were greeted enthusiastically with a brief kiss, and served right away. Some folks brought back glasses that they had liberated during previous visits, which were promptly replaced and refilled.

We had finished our first glass of wine long before we thought to ask for a second. It seemed rude to interrupt the owner in the middle of her conversations.

Two Spaniards came in and took seats near us. Without placing an order, they were served short glasses of brown liquid mixed with seltzer. I asked what they were having. It was vermouth, and the owner began to prepare the same mixture for us.

Light, sweet, and vaguely effervescent from the seltzer, the mixture was subtle and round. We lingered over our drinks and watched as the owner bounced from person to person, shifting seamlessly between Spanish, German, and English.

Two slowly sipped drinks were all we allowed ourselves. We had dinner reservations across the street, but we agreed to come back afterwards for a nightcap.

When we emerged from the restaurant into the evening air, the doors to La Sifoneria were closed. We saw light coming from beneath the door and heard voices inside, but the party wasn’t for us. The neighbors were enjoying themselves on their own terms—as well they should.

We Don’t Make Good Wine, We Make Wine For Drinking

We Don’t Make Good Wine, We Make Wine For Drinking

by Matthew Bremner

Wine in Villaveta

My girlfriend’s family has been making wine for as long as anyone can remember. The vines in the in their small vineyard in the village of Villaveta, near Burgos, are over a hundred years old.

The Callejas don’t profess to make great wine. It’s not sold in supermarkets, or swilled in thin-stemmed crystal glasses. It’s drunk in whatever’s available, in a chunky tumbler or a porron. It was, and still is, made for the family and close friends. Indeed, the only occasion in which it passed a stranger’s lips was when my girlfriend’s grandfather included a wine barrel in the contract for the seasonal laborers that worked the farm during the summer months.

But now that the farm is no longer working, and the village is all but abandoned, the Calleja’s wine fuels their weekly family lunches, their arguments, their nostalgia, their hare-brained schemes.

Villaveta is a handful of ramshackle houses all leaning on each other for support. A community dropped in the flat, fertile middle of Castilla y Leon. On the dusty streets and in mud-brick houses, life is slow and unchanging.

But this soporific aesthetic conceals a more diligent past. Villaveta was a working village, where life was tough and luxuries sparse. Running water has only been around for some 35 years, and before that the villagers drank wine because it was safer to drink than the often stagnant well-water. The wine harvest was a necessity.

This year was my first harvest. Among the vines, members of the family foraged ceaselessly; their curved backs bobbed above the foliage like rocks in a shallow river. At the side of the field a group of old men, their postures stooped, chatted through clouds of cigarette smoke.

We tore the grapes from their branches, keeping them as clean as possible from leaves, and threw them into large buckets located all over the vineyard. These buckets were collected and tipped into larger containers that were, in turn, picked up by a tractor making its way up and down the field.

Unlike vines in most commercial vineyards with stems trained up poles or around wires, these vines sprawled across the ground like giant spiders. The dark purple grapes were harder to see; they were lower down and required greater determination to get to. I cut my hands on the stems and was stung by lingering bees. My joints stiffened, and my nails tinged purple. But we labored unconcernedly under the autumn sun.

Around 11 o’clock, I wandered back to the family home to start lunch. I often cooked for their family and had been asked that day to cook for the pickers. In a large cauldron, hunched over a blisteringly hot stove, I prepared a simple stew with vegetables from the garden and some of the family’s chickens.

It took another four hours until the pickers finished. The grapes were carried to a shed to be machine-pressed (in the past they would have been stamped on by foot), and the pickers carried themselves to the house to be replenished. As they came, we opened and served bottles from the previous year’s vintage. People knocked back the red wine gladly, taking their minds off the fields.

And when lunch did start, it didn’t end. On a long table in my girlfriend’s family’s garden, full of callouses and cuts, we drank until the tablecloth was sodden and our lips were as black as our fingernails. We ate lunch until it was time for dinner.

Fired Up, Ready to Squirt Minced Meat Into Pig Intestines


Fired Up, Ready to Squirt Minced Meat Into Pig Intestines

by Alex Court

Palinka in Hungary

Thick chunks of flabby raw meat were slapped down onto the sturdy wooden chopping-board in front of me. A razor-sharp butchers knife with a worn blue handle was thrust into my hand.

As quickly as I could cut the slippery slices, a huge Hungarian chucked them into a hand-powered grinder and pumped the wheel to make sausage meat. The brutal task required elbow grease and grunt, so our team of five took it in turns to process the pork.

All around us were other sausage-makers dressed in colorful costumes, squarely focused on winning first prize at the Csabai Kolbászfesztivál, an annual sausage festival held in the Hungarian town of Békéscsaba, near the Romanian border.

Being a Brit with zero grasp of the Hungarian language, I buried myself in the sausage-making task at hand. Once we had minced 10 kilograms of the stuff, I sat down heavily on the wooden bench as a wave of fatigue passed through my body.

The Hungarian team leader, Zsolt, reached into a basket that lay on the table and fished out five tin shot glasses and an unlabelled glass bottle containing the Hungarian hooch called palinka. He dispensed the clear tonic and everyone stood up, shouted “egészségedre!” and downed the shots.

Sweet when it first touched the lips, this feisty fruity fusion was somehow less fierce than vodka or grappa, but it quickly turned to fire as it worked its way down my throat. That batch was made from plums and, even before the taste of the fruit faded, I felt fired up, ready to squirt the minced meat into pig intestines to produce a sausage-string fit for a king.

As we worked our way through the pile of meat (and the rest of the palinka) I noticed a tall, balding man with a wide smile moving through the crowd. He was in great demand, with every team trying to shake his hand, get a photo and stuff some sausage his way. This man was Pál Győrfi, one of the sausage judges, and a national treasure through his work as the spokesman for the Hungarian ambulance service.

Charismatic and handsome in a way that would work well on the nightly news, Pál stopped near our spot and I jostled through the crowd to meet him and explain that our team was composed of three Hungarians, an American from Philadelphia, and a Londoner.

“It is nice you are here,” he bellowed in English tinted with only a slight Hungarian accent. “Most other people are Hungarian, we should have foreign people, too.”

As the iPhone cameras snapped shots of the two of us I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. Was I a pioneer, an explorer of some kind, or was that just the afterglow of the palinka, ignited by a sprinkling of celebrity stardust?

A Night of Grain Alcohol and Sichuan Noodles That Almost Never Happened At All


A Night of Grain Alcohol and Sichuan Noodles That Almost Never Happened At All

by Kade Krichko

Baijiu in Jilin Province

Somewhere between the Pizza Hut and the KFC, disillusion set in. I’d put up with the hotel chains, the faux-Euro village, and the ski slope floodlights trapping the resort in an orb of artificial light 24/7, but American fast food had pushed me over the edge.

This was not China. Sure, we were at a Chinese ski resort in the cradle of China’s ginseng region, a crop indelibly linked with Chinese culture and medicine, but something was off. I was part of the problem. I came to northeast China to document the growing popularity of skiing, a Western practice, among China’s rapidly westernizing middle class.

Now, I wanted out. With my colleagues holed up at a Holiday Inn with an all-you-can-eat buffet, I escaped into the frigid night air. Just blocks from the hotel, the streetlights vanished, the only lights peeping from the foggy windows of tin shacks lining the road. I hesitated. Disenchantment had masked the relative safety of the resort, and now reality was setting in. I was out here. Alone.

I zeroed in on a shack with its door ajar. I made out the unmistakable sounds of laughter and clinking glass from the other side of a metal wall. I cracked the door open and slid inside. The burst of warmth felt good against frosty cheeks, and ginger-peppercorn steam hung thick in the humid air. The room was sparse, with bare metallic walls and a concrete floor occupied by a pair of circular plastic tables. A group of bundled Chinese men joked loudly at one of the tables with a big man in a yellow baseball cap.

“You hungry?” asked the man, pointing at the enormous spread of dumplings, Sichuan noodles, and soups interspersed with bottles of Tsingtao beer. He introduced himself as Kevin, an Arizonan contracted to build the region’s first water park. The rest were a mix of laborers, welders, and engineers from around the country. Only one spoke English. Kevin spoke no Chinese. It had been an interesting night. He said the baijiu helped.

Baijiu, China’s prized grain liquor, peels the paint off of any drink out there, so when somebody slid me a glass of yellow liquid, my insides instinctively shriveled. Gan-bei. Cheers. Laughter erupted as I tried to hide a poisoned grimace. Kevin gave me a pat on the back, and I quickly realized that I’d be the night’s entertainment. The baijiu flowed and food kept appearing, courtesy of the establishment’s round-faced hostess/cook/homeowner.

I asked the tireless chef if she liked the new construction happening in her once-sleepy village. She nodded. In all of the years she’d lived here (which happened to be all of her years) business had never been better, thanks to the overflow of tourists.

Two beers later, I announced my exit. On my way out the door, I bought some home-brewed baijiu from our hostess. She smiled and threw a ginseng root in before tightening the top. Stepping out into the night, I held the bottle up to the resort lights—the only reminder of a night that might never have happened at all.

Who Says the Fountain of Youth Can’t Be Found in a Recycled Gas Jug Full of Moonshine?


Who Says the Fountain of Youth Can’t Be Found in a Recycled Gas Jug Full of Moonshine?

by Michael Krumholtz

Guaro in Costa Rica

It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday and the 89-year-old man is threatening to open another bottle of guaro.

I look over at a mutual friend who shrugs his shoulders just before the old man pops open the cork. The humid morning soon plunges into a daze here on Napoleón “Don Polo” Arias’ front porch in Sámara, a beach town on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.

As a sort of living legend in the area, the universally adored Don Polo is known for two things: singing folk songs and drinking Costa Rican moonshine, known here as guaro. Don Polo, who says he has somewhere around 22 children, 85 grandchildren, 40 great-grandchildren, and four “of whatever comes next,” credits his old age and long-reaching family tree to drinking guaro every day.

“All this time and I’ve never had so much as a cold,” Don Polo says before taking another shot.

Essentially Costa Rica’s national drink, guaro is a clear-colored liquor made from sugar cane, produced by a state-owned company with a legal monopoly over the product. This technically makes any homemade production of the drink illegal, although it seems most authorities look the other way. Even the cops in Sámara come to Don Polo’s porch to take shots of el contrabando. He keeps it in gas jugs delivered to him regularly by his grandson. Don Polo then mixes in honey when he puts the guaro into bottles, giving the bland-tasting booze a sweeter kick.

With a taste like cheap vodka and an alcohol volume usually hovering around 30 percent, guaro is notorious for sneaking up on gringos who underestimate its strength. The contraband stuff is invariably stronger and makes me worry about where the rest of the day may lead. The anxiety subsides as more shots go down the hatch and Don Polo regales us with stories of his long, mischief-filled life.

Our friend Nago de Nicoya, a fellow folk singer, tells a story about how he came to Don Polo’s house years ago to play some music. When he walked towards the house he could see disco lights piercing through the open windows. A shirtless Don Polo opened the door and two naked women were behind him dancing. “Good ole’ Don Polo,” Nago says laughing.

As the hazy morning trudges on, Don Polo and one of his sons sing and play guitar together. I think about whether or not Don Polo was right: if his homemade concoction of illicit guaro and honey really was what had been keeping him alive all these years. If the fountain of youth really does exist, who’s to say it can’t be found in a recycled gas jug on an old man’s front porch?

Excellent Advice From a Drunk Former Geisha


Excellent Advice From a Drunk Former Geisha

by Russ Rowlands

Sake and Lager in Atami

“How does anyone get drunk in this town?”

Three of us were wandering around the eerily quiet bar district in Atami, a medium-sized seaside town on the Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo. I had been in the country for only a few weeks at that point. For company, I had Jeff, a fluent Japanese speaker originally from the U.S., and local resident Yugo. We were on a mission to cause shenanigans, but Atami was doing her best to thwart us.

“I think I heard something,” Yugo put his hand up to pause us in front of a little shop. A hoarse laugh burped out of the ancient restaurant, and Yugo looked back at us with a shrug before sliding the door open tentatively. Excited voices squawked out of the tiny establishment as he stuck his head in, happy greetings that required no translation.

Yugo looked back again, clearly reluctant to commit to whatever he saw inside, but far too polite to decline the enthusiastic welcome. He ducked his head and went in. We followed.

Just inside the entrance to the smoky restaurant, a small, ancient woman was warmly patting Yugo on the hand and waving at Jeff to come closer for a better look. When I stood up inside, she stopped and looked way up while a four-tooth grin spread across her face, then pushed the others out of the way to wrap her arms around my waist in a hug. I laughed and hugged her delicate shoulders.

The proprietor pulled us further into her shop and directed us to one of only two tables. Jeff, Yugo, and our host, who insisted we call her Aa-chan, fired off an exchange in Japanese that resulted in the table becoming covered in whisky, sake and beer bottles, followed by plates of local food.

Jeff and Yugo worked on the sake while Aa-chan drank whisky and I had a few classic-looking pint bottles of Sapporo lager. The conversation was mostly in Japanese and Aa-chan didn’t have time to wait for translations before moving on to the next question, but I was beerily content.

When our bottles emptied, Aa-chan got up to bring more, not asking for our input. She slid over to my side of the table and hooked her arm into mine, resting her head on my shoulder as she told stories. In her 20s, Aa-chan had been a nurse, before getting divorced at 26. Afterwards, she had become a geisha, and she gestured proudly around the restaurant to various mementos from her entertainment career.

Later, as we paid our much-too-low bill, Aa-chan became serious and asked if we were driving. We assured her no. So she smiled, and said something in Japanese that made Jeff blush and Yugo roar with laughter.

“What did she say?” I asked. Jeff just shook his head, unwilling to answer.

“She said,” Yugo chuckled, “Good. When you drink, you shouldn’t get in a car, you should get in a woman!”

With that piece of advice, she patted my hand with a toothy smile and shooed us out into the night.

A Beer is A Fitting Reward for Literary Struggle


A Beer is A Fitting Reward for Literary Struggle

by Barbara Wanjala

Lager in Uganda

This is my third visit to Uganda. What brings me here, to the pearl of Africa, is the search for literary inspiration.

The blue expanse of Lake Victoria dazzles beneath us as we descend into Entebbe. Daredevil boda boda operators weave in and out of standstill traffic with reckless assurance. Our driver names each stop along the way: Abayita Ababiri. Kajjansi. Zzana. Namasuba. Najjanankumbi. Kibuye. Katwe. The sun sinks behind rooftops and billboards as we head north-east and I think, it looks just like home: Kenya.

The following morning, I survey the verdant hills of Kampala from my hotel rooftop. A motley crew of contemporary African writers has descended on Kampala for the Writivism Festival, now in its fourth year. Youthful vigor abounds, exchanges are inspired and inspiring. Out of curiosity, I ask a random selection of attendees from different countries to name a Kenyan writer. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, they all respond, some reverentially. Ngugi’s shadow looms large, and with good reason. Back in my hotel room, I attempt to conjure the days when Kampala was a hotbed of independence-era literary fervor.

On the last day of the festival, I sit on a panel to discuss the book in which my work is included: an anthology of new creative non-fiction. We read excerpts and answer questions from the audience. It is a nerve-wracking but rewarding experience, as my foray into this genre commenced in Kampala, not very far from this very place. This is a homecoming of sorts, a return to the source. A comrade in the literary struggle buys me a celebratory beer, a Nile Special. The label says, “True Reward from the Source,” thus named because the beer is brewed in Jinja, the birthplace of the Nile. I take a sip of the frothy golden brew, and think that it seems especially fitting.

If You’re Drinking Something Out of a Paint Can, It’s Probably Strong


If You’re Drinking Something Out of a Paint Can, It’s Probably Strong

by Tyler McBrien

Umqombothi in South Africa

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to buy brandy. My friend and I were attending a Xhosa umbuyiso ritual, in which a recently deceased family member becomes a protective ancestor. The all-day ceremony, which started at 5 a.m., was taking place at my friend’s village outside of King William’s Town, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

When I got to the village, I took my place among the young unmarried men, and she joined the older women, who were busy preparing a meal. Meaty smells emanated from potjies, children chased dogs, and dogs chased children in and out of rondavel huts.

Even in this tangle of movement, certain lines were not crossed. Xhosa tradition demanded that divisions of age and gender separated the gathering’s many guests. Only one thing transcended these separate circles: umqombothi.

The other bachelors and I sat in a circle, perched on squat benches and half-buried tires. A dented, silver paint can, label removed, sat ceremoniously at the center of the circle. It’s safe to say that if you’re drinking something out of an old paint can, it’s probably alcoholic and probably strong.

Umqombothi, Xhosa traditional beer made from maize, didn’t resemble any beer I had ever seen. Thick and grey like oatmeal, but bubbling and churning, it looked alive.

Just as the seating arrangements followed form and ritual, so did the drinking procedure. After I deposited my bottle of Viceroy brandy in the middle of the circle by the umqombothi and a couple of mugs, the circle grew quiet. One man reached for the Viceroy and stood up. He removed his hat. Everyone followed suit. Hat in one hand, brandy in the other, he delivered a heartfelt speech, all the while pointing to the bottle.

His speech ended and another man rose with the mugs. The first of many regimented drinking rounds began. After each round only a few moments would pass before another speech. Then another round. Another speech.
But with the umqombothi, the young men did not stand on ceremony. During the constant, disciplined waves of speeches and brandy, men reached for the paint can at will. In between the swigs of Viceroy I also reached for the umqombothi; its muted sour taste helped cut the brandy’s tang.

More brandy. More umqombothi. I looked over at the circle of older married men, then younger women, then older women. Everyone seemed to pass around the umqombothi around as freely as we were. And as my vision started to blur, so did the social divisions. Paint cans passed from circle to circle as people exchanged places, everyone laughing and eating as one.

I looked back down at the effervescent brew in the paint can. The umqombothi looked different to me now, less foreign and almost regal, resembling champagne bubbles more than beer bubbles.

“If the umqombothi bubbles, the party is a success,” my friend told me.

We Are Defined Not By Our Clothes But by Our Ability to Face the Challenge of Free Wine Head-On


We Are Defined Not By Our Clothes But by Our Ability to Face the Challenge of Free Wine Head-On

by Robert Rubsam

Wine in Okinawa

The whole thing reminds me of a college formal, or a high-school prom after the adults have slipped outside for a smoke.

Welcome to hour five of Okinapa, Okinawa’s (and the Marine Corps’) “premiere wine-tasting, culinary and educational event,” held annually since 1997. Sommeliers line the walls of the Butler Officer’s Club, while in the center chefs are preparing crepes, pasta, and Okinawan cuisine, placing way too much food onto slippery plastic plates with a handy slot for our monogrammed wine glasses. They work you up to expensive bottles, conveniently available for purchase out in the lobby, and, for those unsatisfied with an endless supply of wine, there is a cash bar with a suspiciously long line.

From the start I’m out of place. Earlier that week I arrived in Okinawa to visit a friend stationed there and I have to borrow a shirt of his just to pass the “casually elegant” dress code, but between my physique and my scruff and the dirt on my sneakers I could not fit in any less with the toned, tanned men in three-piece suits and matching pocket squares. When I see a man with a Polo-branded t-shirt and jeans, I want to shake his hand. When another arrives with a ponytail and a full beard, I almost give him a high five.

As the night edges on and I slip into my wine-drunk, sleepy-eyed mode, things get stranger. The claws melt off the ice dragons, but the selfies do not stop. An American on drums leads an extremely smooth group of Okinawans in Kenny G-style fusion. A woman leans over from her table and pours my half-full glass to the top with a very, very different wine. Two officers fret over a Snapchat. I eat fried ravioli with chopsticks.

By the end, two spouses smash their monogrammed glasses while climbing up onto a giant tortoise. And as the Okinawan staff head home and we wait for a taxi, I have the ridiculous thought that maybe, beyond my clothes and my politics, I’m not all that different from these men and women out of uniform. After all, when presented with the challenge of this much gratis wine, we just buckled down and drank the place dry.

The Irish Pub: Local to Everywhere


The Irish Pub: Local to Everywhere

by Ashley Dobson

Cider in Copenhagen

There is a comforting familiarity to Irish pubs. From New York City to Nairobi, Kenya to Hong Kong, no matter where you travel or where you live, you are bound to find one.

Often named O’Flannigan’s or Murphy’s or, for a creative twist, The Harp, you can walk into any one of these establishments and order a proper pint of Guinness and a shot of whiskey without any fuss.

I try to experience the local culture when I travel, heading out to a local bar or one that, at the very least, features the drink specialties of the region. But when you’ve been away from home for a while, there is nothing like seeing a green, white, and orange flag waving and knowing exactly what to expect when you get inside. I’m not Irish, but for some reason these establishments always seem to give off a sense of home to me.

Most recently that flag brought me that sense of comfort in Kaiserslautern, Germany, where I moved last year. As I walked down the street two months into exploring my new town, a bar called The Snug caught my eye, proudly proclaiming itself an Irish pub and a distributor of Guinness. I walked inside. There was a sign advertising weekly karaoke and, as a full-blown karaoke addict, I knew immediately I had found my regular spot.

Since then, I have become a fixture there on Thursday nights and have made a new crew of friends. This pub helped me settle into my new home and learn to love it.

A few months later I traveled to Copenhagen. I had been walking around all day using my phone as my guide, and it was about to die. When I saw the sign for The Irish Rover, I knew I could go straight in, order a drink, and ask to charge my phone behind the bar.

While I was waiting for my phone to charge and enjoying a pint of Somersby cider, the bar manager asked me what I was doing in Copenhagen. I admitted I was a writer, but I wasn’t sure if I had found anything to write about yet.

He reached behind the bar and gave me nine pens with the bar’s name on it—all he could find at the time—and told me to start writing with them for inspiration.

“Just make sure you write about us now,” he said with a wink.

Nobody Knows Strong Liquor Like People Stuck in Cold Places


Nobody Knows Strong Liquor Like People Stuck in Cold Places

by Jake Emen

Whisky In Orkney

Seven tantalizing pours of Scotch are placed on a table mat in front of me at the Highland Park distillery, located in the town of Kirkwall, on Mainland, the largest of Scotland’s 70 Orkney Islands.

Highland Park has released a series of special-edition whiskies over the years honoring Viking culture and Norse mythology, with names such as Thor, Loki, and Leif Eriksson. It’s only when you visit Orkney that you realize the depth of its Scandinavian roots; you better cheers with skål rather than sláinte if you intend to stay in your host’s good graces.

Orkney was part of Norway until 1468, when Christian I, king of the recently united Norway and Denmark, pledged the islands to King James III of Scotland in lieu of a dowry for his daughter, Margaret of Denmark.

While I’m told that the day of our visit is actually quite mild, the gusts of wind are still severe enough that it’s difficult to walk around. The wind routinely gusts at more than 60 miles per hour on Orkney, and a smattering of wind turbines produce more than 130 percent of the island’s energy needs. With no way to return that energy back to the grid and the rest of the country, they simply turn off the turbines sometimes.

This is the kind of environment that would lead residents to develop a thirst for a ready supply of hearty, soul-warming drinks. It’s no surprise that Highland Park was founded in 1798, putting it on the shortlist of the oldest still-operational Scotch distilleries. In fact, despite having only a scant 21,000 residents spread across the 20 inhabited islands of the chain, Mainland has a second distillery: Scapa.

Orkney’s remote location and its weather don’t seem too inviting to those without Viking ancestry, even if the island is quite charming, particularly when guests have been properly fortified with Scotch. A vertical sampling from the distillery, taking us from the 12-Year-Old up to the 40-Year-Old, manages to soothe the soul just fine. The heavy hitters of the lineup, the 40-Year-Old and 30-Year-Old, aren’t the favorites, though. It’s the middle of the family, the 21-Year-Old and 25-Year-Old, that seem to have more fans amongst our group.

But it’s the 18-Year-Old that’s said to best represent the 218-year-old distillery. The whisky is rich with honey sweetness and heather, balanced with smoke and salt. “This is Orkney in a glass,” we’re told as we take our first sip, more ready than ever to head back out into that punishing wind.

You Can’t Take It With You, So Drink All the Wine


You Can’t Take It With You, So Drink All the Wine

by Courtney Brandt

Wine in South Africa

I enjoy drinking alcohol, and do so regularly. But there was a time when I couldn’t take it for granted.

We lived in Qatar from late 2011 through the end of 2013. Qatar’s mostly Sunni Muslim citizens aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, but there are different rules for its many expats. We could buy booze, but the country’s only liquor store—the Qatar Distribution Company (QDC)—was located on the outskirts of Doha, and shut down for the whole month of Ramadan. (Expats and tourists can drink in hotel bars, but the QDC is the only place to buy alcohol for home consumption.) Also, residents could not bring in alcohol of any kind. On our overseas trips, we got used to never buying booze to take home.

We felt this restriction most deeply when we visited South Africa.

In the spring of 2012, we went to a wedding in Franschhoek and, naturally, extended our visit so we could stop at some wineries in the Western Cape. With plenty to sample, we worked our way through the vineyards. There were stunning Sauvignons, superb Shirazes, and even better bubbles. And, after swirling the precious liquid and sipping glass after delicious glass, we would admit to our hosts that we couldn’t bring any bottles home with us.

This fact would spark a conversation, and eventually my husband would pull out a special card: the credit-card-sized liquor permit administered by the QDC that allowed us to buy alcohol in Qatar. It bore his name, picture, and an expiration date, in distinctive blue and gold coloring.

We explained that to get one of these licenses, you had to give the QDC a letter from your employer stating your monthly salary; based on this, the store would calculate the amount of money you could spend on alcohol each month. The limit was generous (and increased threefold just before the Ramadan closure.) Because of its inconvenient location—and Doha’s horrible traffic—a QDC run was typically a two-hour round trip to pick up obscene quantities of alcohol, to put off the next trip for as long as possible.

Still, there was a silver lining to our situation. Knowing we couldn’t bring anything back with us from South Africa, we enjoyed the wine all the more, confined to a particular place and time. And so, we would buy one bottle of what we liked best at each vineyard, drink it for lunch or back in our hotel room, and vow to return—after we left Doha.

Time to Hit the Wine Machine at the Breakfast Buffet


Time to Hit the Wine Machine at the Breakfast Buffet

by Olga Kovalenko

Wine in Basilicata

When we set off for our seaside vacation in southern Italy, I pictured small fishing villages and remote beaches. According to our guidebook, Basilicata and Calabria were the least-visited provinces in Italy. Mussolini had sent political dissidents into exile in Basilicata. Our book promised a beautiful seaside and unspoiled beaches. It also insisted that the roads in the area were the deadliest in Europe, and that the local mafia was still rampant. Accordingly, we expected tourist numbers to be comparatively low.

As we progressed along the crowded Amalfi coast and into the mountains of Basilicata, the roads didn’t get any worse. Also, there were no wild beaches and remote villages in sight. It was more like a large, drowsy resort area, with rows of hotels stretching all the way along the coast. We were exhausted and disillusioned, but determined to make the best of it, so we looked for a place to stay.

My husband found an incredible deal online: a five-star resort had dropped its prices six times, and we could get a room with a view, a private beach area, a pool, and a buffet breakfast for $100. When we got to our dream place next day, it fit the description perfectly. We put on our swimsuits and sprinted to the pool, but as soon as we spread out our towels, the first drops of rain started beating down on the bright umbrellas. After a few minutes, it was a deluge. We huddled in our room (with a view) and watched the rain wash away the dregs of our perfect vacation. The weather report promised rain and thunderstorms for the rest of the week.

There was nothing to do but explore nearby villages—and their wine cellars. Basilicata is famous for the Aglianico grape, on which the local Aglianico del Vulture wines are based. The area around our hotel was full of vineyards. There was even wine at breakfast: the machine that poured juice and water also had buttons for red and white wine. (As we expected, its quality was less remarkable than its presence at the breakfast buffet.)

We tried as many Aglianico wines as we could. We also learned that going to a store and asking for products “della zona” (local) would get you the freshest food: olives, scamorza cheese, and huge loaves of bread. And for dessert, nothing could beat the Aglianico grapes we picked from a nearby vineyard. Maybe our soggy vacation was perfect, after all.

When in a Crisis, Consider Better Wine


When in a Crisis, Consider Better Wine

by Michelle Arrouas

Wine in Alto Douro

The excavator ate its way into the side of the mountain. Slowly, the rocky slope took shape and began to resemble the rest of the well-kept vineyards that spread out in every direction. The Quinta do Vale Meão winery in Portugal’s Alto Douro wine region was planting new vines after an explosive and surprising demand had left its wine cellars empty. The region had been world-famous for its sweet port wines for centuries, but people had now discovered its dry reds and whites, too.

Francisco Olazabal, the owner of the winery, walked around the muddy fields, picking up handfuls of soil. He sniffed at the earth, exchanged a few words with the construction workers and gestured at me to get in his car.

“Get in, let me show you the old vineyards,” he said.

On the way to our next stop he told me about how the Portuguese wine trade had experienced surprising growth while the rest of the country had been on the brink of bankruptcy. The industry had invested in education—sending winemakers to train in France and Italy, and acquiring winemaking equipment from abroad—and it had paid off.

Francisco pointed at newly planted vineyards, all naked and new. “It’s expensive, planting new vineyards in mountains, but it’s our shot. I hope it’ll be worth the investment,” he said. Not long ago, the winery had been forced to reject prospective customers because it didn’t have enough bottles to keep up with the demand for dry Portuguese wines.

We drove back to the heart of the winery, a mansion in the middle of the vineyards. After a tour of the cellars, Francisco led me into a dining room, where winemakers, engineers, and architects involved in the expansion of the winery were gathered for a business lunch—with wine, of course.

I was a newbie reporter and an amateur wine aficionado, reading and writing about wines I couldn’t afford on my intern salary. Now some of them were right in front me, and Francisco kept topping up my glass.

The men were complaining about the Portuguese government, the European Union and the IMF, and lauding the wines being passed around the table.

I asked what had caused the sudden spike in sales in the wine industry at a time of countrywide crisis. Francisco looked at me, surprised.

“The wines got better. What other reason could there be?” he said.

I took another sip and agreed.

Relationships are Fleeting, But Lemon-Flavored Beer is Forever


Relationships are Fleeting, But Lemon-Flavored Beer is Forever

by Yvette Tan

Clara in Barcelona

I once fell for a guy from Sweden. He invited me to visit his hometown, and since we both liked to travel, we subsequently flew to Barcelona, where a friend of mine was based and we could stay for free. It was the first time in the Spanish city for both of us.

During our time in Sweden, I had realized that the guy I met in my country—the Philippines—was a totally different person in his, one that was so wrapped up in himself that he didn’t have the time or inclination to care for anyone else. But we tried to make the best of our trip to Barcelona anyway. After all, we were on vacation and in my heart of hearts, I was hoping that I was wrong, that we were good for each other after all.

My friend said that we should try the clara, a popular Spanish drink: a mix of beer and lemon soda. We both fell in love with the sweet, bubbly beverage. It’s usually thought of as a summer drink, but we ordered it as often as we could, enjoying it al fresco in the city’s many restaurants, even in the middle of winter. After all, winter in Barcelona doesn’t compare to the winter in Sweden.

We explored a lot of Barcelona, our constant movement keeping us from facing what was really in front of us, how things were breaking down, how, instead of declaring our love for each other, we declared our love for this fizzy alcoholic drink. The relationship fizzled out soon after. The guy was from the same town as the 80s duo Roxette, so I like to tell people that it must have been love, but it’s over now.

Though I don’t think about that guy anymore, I do think about the drink every once in a while, and of returning to Barcelona, this time in the summer. This time, I’d go by myself or with someone I truly love and who loves me back, and we would declare our love for each other over our lemon-flavored beer al fresco, watching people and watching each other in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Any Rum-Based Port in a Rainstorm


Any Rum-Based Port in a Rainstorm

by Aria Chiodo

Canchánchara in Trinidad

Two days into our trip to Cuba, my mom and I headed south from Havana for a short stay in Trinidad, a colonial, cobble-stoned town in central Cuba. On our second day, we set out after a siesta for a sunset walk through the cobblestone streets. But as we got to the plaza, only five minutes from our casa particular, dark clouds gathered and we were caught in a downpour. We waited for it to subside under the arcade of the Museo Romantico, along with a few tourist couples, a trio of local teenagers, and a lone dog.

As it subsided to a drizzle, we dashed around the corner to a restaurant: Taverna La Botija. The taverna’s heavy blue doors stood open to the street, and we ducked in to find a few damp locals and tourists sitting at thick wooden tables, escaping the weather within cool stone walls. It was a small yet open space with high ceilings and a friendly atmosphere. Strands of onions and garlic hung from the kitchen’s ceiling. The walls were decorated with old clocks and iron lanterns, ancient rum barrels and wine bottles, swords, rifles, and slave shackles.

Trinidad is famous for its canchánchara cocktail. It contains only light rum, lime, and honey, and is thought to be Cuba’s oldest cocktail. They say it was invented in eastern Cuba during Cuba’s Ten Year War (1868-78) by pro-independence guerillas trying to fend off hunger when food supplies were low. In the 1980s, some historians from Trinidad’s museum of architecture opened the La Canchánchara bar in one of the town’s landmark colonial buildings, and the drink became associated with Trinidad.

Seeing the canchánchara on our taverna’s happy-hour menu, my mom ordered one, while I went for a light beer. Both drinks came in brown earthenware (botija) mugs, all the better to keep them cold. After tasting my mom’s cocktail, I immediately knew I had made the wrong choice. I finished my beer and ordered a canchánchara.

The tables began to fill, and a band set up and started playing in front of one of the open doors. We stayed for some happy-hour tapas of corn fritters, fried shrimp, and crab with baked tomatoes. We might have ordered the lobster and stayed all night—the band was just getting started—but we stepped back out into the fading light for a last stroll through the colorful streets, that much brighter after the rain.

Love Is Easier With Alcohol and Boiled Eggs


Love Is Easier With Alcohol and Boiled Eggs

by Sachin Bhandary

Palmyrah arrack in Jaffna

A slow eight-hour train ride had brought us from Colombo to Jaffna, the capital of the island’s northern province and the cultural capital of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The civil war between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE, a militant outfit that fought for a separate country for Tamils in the north and east, ended in 2009, but tensions between Tamils and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority endure.

Diren, my friend from Colombo, had to convince his parents to let him take the trip. They were worried about him going on a photography assignment in the region where most Tamil rebel movements, including the LTTE, were born.

That evening, I was in search of arrack. Sri Lanka is known for coconut arrack, a spirit distilled from the fermented sap of the palm tree. But Jaffna is known for palmyrah palms, not coconut ones. It made sense to try palmyrah arrack, and I had promised myself that I would drink it where it’s meant to be drunk: in a cheap, local bar.

Neither of us spoke Tamil, and as a Sinhalese from the south, Diren had some concerns about encountering potential hostility. But despite his misgivings, he decided to come along.

Ravi Bar & Restaurant was about a hundred yards off the A9, the famous highway that connects Jaffna with Kandy in central Sri Lanka. I entered first, Diren a few steps behind. There was a barricaded counter and three tables. A young man spoke with me in broken English and offered me a bottle with a green-and-yellow label. He suggested I try it with a local brand of sparkling water. We also got two boiled eggs to go with the arrack.

Nuances are sometimes lost on me, but the palmyrah arrack looked a shade lighter than its coconut counterpart, and it definitely tasted different. Coconut arrack has more than a hint of sweetness: this did not. It was like whisky, but with the dry and flavorful taste of the palmyrah. The bar was noisy, and groups of friends were back-slapping each other while making jokes.

I was almost through with the quarter bottle when a man came pacing towards me. With his left palm on my right shoulder, he yelled, “Jaffna is the city is the heart of love!” He had probably realized I was not Sri Lankan and wanted me to feel welcome, despite the language barrier. I thanked him and nodded.

By then, Diren had warmed to the place, and I ordered another bottle. Maybe love is a tad easier with amber-colored palmyrah arrack for company.

Sunshine, Meat, Cocktails, Sleep, Coffee, Repeat


Sunshine, Meat, Cocktails, Sleep, Coffee, Repeat

by Claire Margine

Cafezinhos in Brazil

My in-laws talked about Itu with a relieved exhale. Here is rest, their warmed faces say, the gentle upturn of their mouths. Here is family. The cousins’ house in Itu was cool and sprawling.

Brazilian sunshine pours over limbs like honey. Sundays belong in Itu, built for gathering family to eat grilled steak rich with blood, plucked from grill to plate to mouth in minutes, a glass of cachaça stung with fresh mint for every hand.

My mother-in-law was brought here to meet the family when she was in her early 20s, wide-eyed and gorgeous, a Portuguese phrase on her tongue. My husband and I have been together for eight years, got married last year, and it is here, at the table with glasses sweating and heads lolled back in exhaustion, a mishmash of Portuguese and Hungarian zipping between chairs, that I feel properly in the fold.

Ritual is kind. It teaches us how to be when we are without a common language, surrounded by new spouses and new faces. We fall into the rhythm of gentle consumption and connection as we eat feijoada together at a long table in the sunshine. An orange slice on a plate, a spoonful of golden farofa, a shared dreamy expression as the pork fat hits the bloodstream. Black beans in the pot, cooked down to thin-skinned velvet guts, a myriad of meats carefully stewed, the warm spike of pepper, tender greens cut to ribbons and cooked briefly, so they tumble vivid and bright onto the plate.

Between day and night, we kick a half-deflated soccer ball back and forth, and slowly pace the outskirts of the pool, but never get in. A soccer game comes on and half of us disappear into glowing darkness. I take a nap and when I wake up the sun is fading, lingering bleary in the sky.

Caipirinhas make way for cafezinhos, strong Brazilian espressos. We break the crema with slim spoons, letting the night air permeate its tight barrier of foam. Our hostess glides through with a basket of warm, fresh-from-the-oven pão de queijo and buttery Hungarian crescent-shaped cookies twinkling with sugar.

As we drink our coffees on the porch, the stars glimmer across the Itu sky. The day was so rich it was like living two days in one, but the night is young.

We sit outside in the warm quiet and listen to the click and crumble of cookie, happy and sated. Our bellies rest, wobbly with salted pork fat, flesh and butter, our blood spiked with the quick snap of caffeine.

Supertramp on Repeat and Other Assaults On the Senses


Supertramp on Repeat and Other Assaults On the Senses

by Chris Cotonou

Les Nuages in Lyon

It’s 5 a.m. and I’ve been here before.

The Look Bar on the Quai de Saône might be Lyon’s most important drinking hole. It is the nucleus of the city’s gatherings, where you might spot a banker speaking to a fine arts student, with neither feeling the urge to throttle the other.

Lyon is often called “Paris with a hangover,” and the night before was almost certainly spent here, drinking the famous cocktails known only as Les Nuages, or The Clouds. They say you are never really Lyonnais unless you’ve drunk a few of these strange coffee liqueur, vodka, and (possibly) eau de vie concoctions at The Look. They also say that Mr. Herve, behind the bar, has created 40 variations, and only the most trusted clientele (or those so inebriated that they wouldn’t remember what they had in the first place) have tried close to all of them. Serge Gainsbourg was one such lucky patron.

The Look was once described to me as “a bordello designed by Lewis Carroll on acid,” and that’s about as accurate as you could get. An old record deck will play Breakfast in America at least 16 times (on my last count) between midnight at 6 a.m., and the imposing wooden balcony is carved into psychedelic shapes. The Nuage, too, is a wallop to the senses, often unpleasant. Yet it’s impossible not to continue down the rabbit hole for a few more, and then natter with strangers hysterically about the next one. Or how well you know the owner. Or whether you’ve tried the Nuage Rose.

Being a city famous for secret passages, it’s fitting that Lyon’s beloved drinking establishment doesn’t spill its cocktail secrets. Everything here is off-menu. The original version, the Nuage Noir, is great if you love coffee, vodka, and local moonshine mixed together (which can’t be everyone) but I hesitate to order anything else at the bar. Drinking a Nuage means getting a stamp of approval.

Outside, a small debate erupts in the haze of cigarette smoke over the variations of the drink. It’s between a jazz musician wearing bell-shaped trousers and a well-known Grenoblois criminal, but it’s a conversation I’ve seen every time I visit: people from different walks of life happily mixing over a shared appreciation of the cocktail. What is this obsession with the Nuage? After all, it isn’t a good bottle of Macon Villages or a slice of stinky Saint-Marcellin.

As an expat trying to find his place somewhere new, there’s something about The Look and knocking down a few Nuages that helps me feel more at home. It represents Lyon in a sugar-tipped glass: sickly sweet and yet quite sexy. Let’s hope that that doesn’t change.

Photo: Courtesy of Look Bar.

Let’s Mix Bees and Shots and See What Happens


Let’s Mix Bees and Shots and See What Happens

by Natasha Amar

Medica in Slovenia

Jože Veselič isn’t the subtle type. A few seconds after we’re introduced, in the Slovenian village of Čurile, he gets right to the point: “I have three eligible sons.” My left eyebrow rises involuntary and awkward seconds pass before I respond with an embarrassed smile, “Sorry, I am not interested.” A smile forms under his mustache. He shrugs. “Sorry, I have no daughters.” He breaks into a laugh.

Formerly a policeman, Jože takes care of Čebelarstvo Veselič, the family business of beekeeping, a common enterprise in the villages of Bela Krajina. Jože’s love for the bees is clear; one settles on his forehead as he welcomes us into his home, another on the collar of his T-shirt, and four others hover around him. Unlike me, he doesn’t have the impulse to shoo them away.

He motions to a honeycomb in a glass case and invites us to take a closer look at the industrious bees. Bees fly out of a tiny hole in the wooden frame to a nearby hive. “Relax,” he says, noticing my restlessness, “Carniolan bees don’t attack people.”

Five minutes later, we’re in a house with rows of wooden hives stacked against the wall. “It’s relaxing,” says Jože, gently shushing us as he opens the door to a hive. “Listen.” The rest of us exchange glances in silent disagreement. Next, he holds out a sticky honeycomb and explains the harvesting process. Then, he leads us into a tiny room where jars of acacia honey line the shelves.

Jože brings out something from the back shelf. “It’s good for your throat,” he motions to a bottle of yellowish gold liquid, “Medica, it’s medicine.” I’m a little embarrassed that he has noticed me coughing all morning. We sit on wooden benches in the leafy garden, the green hills of Bela Krajina in the distance sprinkled with red-roofed houses. His wife brings out a red tray with shot glasses. He pours the liquid into each glass and presents mine:
“Medica, honey liqueur.” I take a sip while he empties his glass. It tastes like cough syrup. I empty my glass.

We ask if he’s noticed the declining population of bees. “Yes,” he nods grimly. Then pours himself another glass. “It’s the pesticides and the radiation from cell phone communication towers—it affects their sense of direction. When the bees die, we will die.”

“And another?” he pours medica into my glass even as I begin to protest, “for your throat.” It’s 11 a.m. and I am a little tipsy. Three sips and my glass is empty again. The dryness in my throat has disappeared. I look around the table at my companions. We’re an unusual party: six of us, strangers before this morning, and the bees, buzzing incessantly.

Here in Jože’s garden, the storytelling has just begun as he refills our glasses with warm, sweet medica.

Wining and Dining in Surreal Microclimates


Wining and Dining in Surreal Microclimates

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Chardonnay in Palm Springs

When I drove out to Palm Springs this summer, I knew it would be hot. Hot, like pouring water over stones inside a sauna and laying down on the top berth and cooking until you can’t stand it anymore.

But I do love this bone-dry heat, and there is a stark beauty to the place: big skies, mountains, and mid-century modern architecture. Besides, this is resort country, so a pool is never far away, the AC is always frigid, and miles of lush golf courses stand eerily empty in July. I had come for the fine galleries and museums, as well as the trendy restaurants and bars with cool terraces.

What I didn’t know was that I could take an aerial tramway up 8,500 feet to a completely different climate, almost 30 degrees cooler. In the wilderness of Mount San Jacinto State Park, fragile meadows of soft grass, wildflowers, and pine trees grow.

The tramway itself looks like something from the future, as imagined a century ago. It was the brainchild of an electrical engineer named Francis Crocker, who looked at Mount San Jacinto from the sweltering desert floor one day in 1935 and realized how nice it would be to be up there, where it was cool. It wasn’t until 1963 that his dream was realized. And, after a modernization program starting in 1998, passengers can now ride the largest rotating tramcars in the world. As you move up Chino Canyon, you slowly turn 360 degrees as the rock face becomes sheerer and the valley sweeps out below you.

Inside Peaks Restaurant, a wall of windows looks onto the expanse of the Coachella Valley and the glittering desert cities—Desert Springs, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Cathedral City—below. To the southeast, you can even see the Salton Sea, a vast inland salt lake even more surreal than the microclimate of San Jacinto. I sipped on a glass of crisp Chardonnay and watched the sky turn from persimmon orange to smoky purple and blue. Then lights winked on in the cities below, looking like some vast desert dragon’s lair.

The last tram left at 9 p.m. We went down in a full car, the crowd more raucous than on the way up. Some, like us, had wined and dined, others were coming out of days-long camping and hiking trips in the backcountry, carrying all their gear—a motley crowd, both rugged and glamorous. As we swooshed from the mountaintop in successive dips over the jewel bed below us, we could feel the cool air slowly giving way to the heat again, until we reached the valley floor and balmy desert night.

Drinking Warm, Gross Soju From a Box on a Very Long Indonesian Ferry Ride


Drinking Warm, Gross Soju From a Box on a Very Long Indonesian Ferry Ride

by Dave Hazzan

Chamisul Classic on the Karimata Straits

Alcohol control in the Islamic world runs a long gamut.

There are those countries that practice outright prohibition, like Saudi Arabia, where being caught with a bottle of whiskey is almost like being caught with a pound of heroin, no matter what your denomination, nationality, or excuse.

Then there’s the other end of the spectrum, like the former Soviet “stans,” where the prohibition on alcohol appears to have been left out of their version of the Quran, and vodka pours like water over Niagara Falls, morning, noon, and night.

Most countries occupy some kind of middle: it’s available but hard to find (Egypt), it’s heavily taxed (Malaysia), it’s only available in fancy hotels or madly regulated shops (Qatar), you have to prove you’re non-Muslim to get it (Pakistan), and so on.

Indonesia—the most populous Islamic country in the world, with 203 million faithful—is one of those middle grounders. In Hindu Bali it’s everywhere, in arch-Islamic Aceh it’s nowhere, and in most of the country it’s just expensive and you have to look for it.

And it is not available on Pelni, the network of ferries that transports millions of Indonesians between the Indonesian archipelago’s 17,000 or so islands.

Right now, I am on a 29-hour ferry, crossing the Karimata Straits, about two degrees south of the equator, from Jakarta’s port of Tanjung Priok (6.1321° S, 106.8715° E) to Pulau Batam (1.0456° N, 104.0305° E).

I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do this trip without liquor, and at the same time, I knew there wouldn’t be any liquor on this ferry.

I went to a bottle shop last night to figure what I might be able to smuggle on board, but the cheapest and most appropriate thing I could find, 200 ml of Black Velvet rye in a plastic mickey, was just too expensive, at $20. (If it had been 200 ml of Canadian Club, fine, but Black Velvet was what we used to drink as university kids in British Columbia, when the student loan money was really stretched to the limit.)

Luckily, I was staying with a Korean friend, and like any good Korean abroad, her shelves were packed with Korean worker gasoline: soju. She gave me a 200ml Tetra Pak box of my favorite, Chamisul Classic, and that’s what I’m drinking now, at 7:42 pm, in my cockroach-infested Kelas 1A cabin.

The soju is warm, it’s gross, it isn’t accompanied with the requisite grilled pig guts and kimchi, but it’s something to make this extremely boring trip a little less boring, books, beetles, cold mie goreng, and 200-decibel calls to Islamic prayer broadcast straight to your room notwithstanding.

All Up in This Fancy Hotel, Eating Some Crazy Shit


All Up in This Fancy Hotel, Eating Some Crazy Shit

by Didi Kader

Cherry Mules in Seattle

Despite its outdoorsy, mountain-climbing persona, Seattle has an upscale edge. It is, after all, the corporate birthplace of tech giants, airplane makers, and commercial coffeehouses of dubious quality.

There are a handful of hotels catering to that highbrow crowd—chiefly, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. Not everyone can afford to stay at the Fairmont Olympic, but many can afford the happy hour in its lobby and lounge.

On a late summer evening, I settled in the lobby next to one of the Corinthian columns that line the interior. A closer look at the column revealed it was made of wood, a cheeky marriage of European stateliness and Pacific Northwest forest. A few tables over, a hotel manager brought a bottle of prosecco to a table where a young woman sat with her parents. The manager poured the wine, and they started to plan a wedding that would take place in the hotel’s airy indoor courtyard.

I scanned the menu and settled on the Rainier cherry mule, made with cherry-infused vodka. Rainier cherries are one of Washington’s most beloved fruits, a yellow cherry with a pink blush. It has a fragrant sweetness, almost as though the cherry blossom itself had hidden a little love letter in the fruit’s flesh. Rainier cherries were developed in 1952 by researchers at Washington State University, who crossed the Bing and Van cherry varietals. The cherries usually appear in local farmer’s markets in July, an indication that the Pacific Northwest summer is in full swing.

The Rainier cherry mule was fizzy and delicately sweet. It was a deep red at the bottom of the highball glass that faded into a pink blush. Two brandied Bing cherries rested atop the drink on a spear.

When the waitress asked if I wanted to order happy-hour food, I hesitated before asking for totchos, the beautiful fusion of tater-tots and nachos. They felt incongruous in this ritzy lounge, but this was righteous bar food: the hotel’s way of saying hey, we cater to barflies and businessmen alike. The fried potato cakes rested on a generous helping of braised short-rib with a spoonful of guacamole. I also ordered a bowl of dirty olives: fried Castelvetrano olives with blue cheese and toasted hazelnuts. The result was an umami-bomb of briny, earthy flavor.

I washed down the last few olives with sips of the Rainier cherry mule. I finished off the brandied Bing cherries, paid my incredibly reasonable bill, and walked toward the hotel doors (which are always held open for you). I passed an older gentleman in a suit nursing a drink and taking a surreptitious snooze. I imagined he was waiting for his wife, getting ready upstairs in one of the posh rooms, fishing around in her makeup bag for a set of diamond earrings for the night out.

Even Considering the Beer, You’re Taking This All Really Well


Even Considering the Beer, You’re Taking This All Really Well

by Natalie Kennedy

Lager in Uganda

Getting to Murchison Falls is no easy task.

First, after getting various vaccines and anti-malarials, you need to fly into Kampala between the ungodly hours of 1 am and 4 am. Then, you have to spend a few days asking around until you locate someone like Isaac—a man with a roadworthy van. Then you need to depart by 6:30 am the next day to avoid most of the traffic on the five-hour drive north.

Our plan was to arrive at our camp in time to catch the last afternoon ferry to the Paraa game reserve. Weaving in and out between buses on their last legs and screaming past small roadside markets, Isaac made good on his promise to get us there as quickly as possible.

We pulled over at a large intersection for lunch on the go. Without ever removing his seatbelt, Isaac bartered for hot cassava and grilled mystery meat on a stick.

“Not for you,” he cautioned, waving the meat tantalizingly close, but doling out only roasted roots to the rest of us. We grumbled, but chose not to argue with the driver, knowing we still had 62 miles on bad roads to go.

We eventually turned off the main highway and spent the last hour of the trip on a red dirt track. We bumped along in stifled, paranoid silence with the windows rolled up, thanks to Isaac’s offhand comment about the prevalence of tsetse flies along this stretch of the journey.

Naturally, after all that, we missed the ferry.

Despite our planning and Isaac’s driving, we rolled into camp too late in the day to visit the game reserve. Our consolation prize was a trip on a smaller boat up the Victoria Nile towards Murchison Falls. We invited Isaac to join us on board the small craft, but he declined. “Meet you back here,” he answered firmly.

We skimmed along the Nile, oblivious to the near-constant rain, listening for the sound of the falls. As we circumvented a horde of surly hippos, the storm passed and the “bar” opened: the boatman fetched a tattered bag from under our seats and unzipped his improvised cooler. I spotted a few sad Heinekens among rows of gleaming Nile Specials. After hours on the road, the golden labels adorned with roaring lions were like shining beacons.

Nile Special is Uganda’s beer of choice. The simple lager is supposedly made with water from the source of the Nile, on the northern shore of Lake Victoria. We popped the tops off two large bottles and looked down at the river as we approached the cascade.

Isaac met us back at the landing.

“Let me buy you a beer,” I insisted.

This time, he accepted.

The Bananawhacker and Other Florida Panhandle Necessities


The Bananawhacker and Other Florida Panhandle Necessities

by Christine Chu

Bushwackers in Pensacola

I’m dragged into the Sandshaker Lounge during my boyfriend’s annual family vacation in Pensacola, Florida. I’m not sure what to make of it.

I’m Canadian, raised in the Northeast. South of the Mason-Dixon Line is a foreign country, and Florida is a state I was taught to mock. Now, I find myself in the Florida Panhandle: home of the Sandshaker and its infamous cocktail, the Bushwacker.

“When I first came to the Sandshaker,” says my boyfriend’s vivacious aunt as we navigate towards this parking-lot oasis, “it was about a quarter of this size.” You can still see the outlines of the small dive bar it once was. A buxom tin St. Pauli’s girl winks down at you from a busy wall of beer paraphernalia.

Frozen drinks may be gauche in the glossy bars of urban nightlife, but in the dense, sticky Pensacola heat, they are a necessity. We push past the throng to the three-tiered deck while one brave soul stays below to fight for our slushy Bushwackers. The deck is a veritable wooden fort, high enough for us to get a good look at the beach-ball shaped Pensacola Beach water tower.

Down below, a band plays and people bop violently to what the singer calls the “true country music, not the bullshit on the radio!” I spot a banjo, and a fiddle just biding its time until someone requests “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” The band also plays a twangy cover of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer,” in unintentional solidarity with my home state of New Jersey—like Florida, often mocked. I smile in appreciation.

The much-anticipated Bushwacker arrives, unceremoniously pierced by a plastic straw. It’s less sweet than I imagined, despite the Kahlua, cream of coconut, and several spirits, including vodka and rum. It’s not unlike a spiked milkshake, without the garnish and fancy glass. According to the bar’s website, the Bushwacker was born in 1975 in Pensacola, inspired by the Bushwacker from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. The Sandshaker variety comes with either ‘80 proof’ or ‘high-test 151’ (75.5 percent alcohol) rum, but none of us order the latter, because we are not fools. There’s also a blended fruit version. The most popular flavor is banana, perhaps because of its evocative name: the Bananawhacker.

As we leave, we notice a beach-themed mural brightening the remnants of the old bar. In the lower corner, the painter has signed his name—Thomas—in bold white strokes, along with his full phone number.

“I’m going to tell him I like his mural,” I announce. It just seems like the right thing to do.

I carefully input the number and send the text.

“Great mural, Thomas.”

He never responds.

Brandy on a Farm Sounds Good and All But It’s No Sparkling Adriatic


Brandy on a Farm Sounds Good and All But It’s No Sparkling Adriatic

by Meredith Bethune

Rakia in Slavonia

Stjepan and his wife Milena greeted our group enthusiastically at the door of their farmhouse, just outside the city of Osijek in Croatia. He held a tray balancing several small glasses of clear rakia, the plum brandy traditionally offered to welcome guests.

The wide expanse of green farmland behind their house wasn’t exactly the Croatia I had in my mind. In fact, the sparkling Adriatic waters of Dubrovnik were over 300 miles away. Most travelers never make it to this region, known as Slavonia. Here, the Danube forms part of the natural boundary between Serbia and Croatia. Our cruise had docked nearby in the riverside city of Vukovar, and lunching with a local family was part of the day’s excursion.

Slavonia has a rich cultural heritage that combines the influences of its many neighbors. This part of Croatia wraps like an arm around Bosnia and Herzegovina, its fingers just brushing Serbia. The Hungarian border is less than an hour’s drive to the north.

Unfortunately, this particular region also suffered horribly during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Vukovar was shelled, besieged, and overrun. Osijek also experienced heavy losses. The area’s ethnic communities are still deeply divided.

Despite their divisions, Balkan countries share a love of rakia. It’s consumed with gusto as a shot, and the perfumed liquid slides down the throat like fire, searing the sinuses. It didn’t matter that it was barely noon: Stjepan was generous with refills as we sat at their long dining room table.

We were treated to more than just rakia that day. Next came a pitcher of local red wine, and a full lunch that included bright tomato soup, beet salad, and pork and beef meatballs redolent of garlic and black pepper. Homemade sour-cherry pastries were the grand finale. The pleasant afternoon, made all the more convivial by the rakia and wine, concluded with a tour of their farm, complete with hogs, chickens, and a meat-curing cellar filled with hanging salamis, hams, and pancetta.

We got to know Stjepan and Milena through an interpreter. Stjepan was curious to know about the lives of all his guests, but we were much more interested in learning about them. Milena shared some photos of their adult son and their grandson. Stjepan talked about how he played soccer professionally for three years and also worked as a cook.

“Then the war changed everything,” he said. He didn’t expand on that, and then it was time to leave.

One Seriously Sweet Beer Speakeasy in South Texas


One Seriously Sweet Beer Speakeasy in South Texas

by Bonnie Arbittier

Kirsch Sour Cherry Gose in South Texas

At 8 pm in early September, South Texas is still light outside, and it’s the perfect time for a drink. I drove the five minutes from my house to the only known speakeasy in town. Its Facebook page states, “By appointment only.”

Driving up a small side street, I pulled up to Manny Villareal’s house. I had first met him the week before as he was unloading a 99-case of beer from an Austin Beerworks truck in his backyard. He waved me to the truck and welcomed me like an old friend. I was on assignment for the local newspaper, covering the South Texas Beer Connoisseurs Bottle Share Meet and Greet event. The venue caught my attention; after moving to Victoria, Texas, two months ago, it quickly became apparent that there was nowhere to order craft beer. I had moved from Philadelphia, where I could walk three blocks and try every beer from Belgium I could imagine. At the bars in downtown Victoria, the locals ordered Budweiser and Coors.

I hadn’t even realized it, but I missed craft beer. I missed the discussions of flavor and subtleties, and the sense of community that comes with those talks. I sent Manny a text, asking if I could come back the next week. He enthusiastically welcomed me back to his establishment, or, as he calls it, The Tap Shack.

When I arrived, I pulled him aside to hear his story. Manny poured himself a beer from one of the taps and started his tale. “A couple of friends of mine introduced me to craft beer when I was 22, eight years ago. My first craft beer was from Flying Dog. The Double Dog IPA. I fell in love with it. I love the dankiness, the aroma, the floral taste to it.”

He wanted to create a “man cave” for himself, and installed part of his now 2,000-strong tap handle collection on the walls and ceiling of a room outfitted with comfortable couches and neon lights. When he expanded his man cave to include an outside bar, he installed more tap handles and started serving from kegs in addition to bottles and cans. There are Sharpie signatures all over the walls and ceiling. Manny does not have a license, and he was never out to make money. “I’m a donation-based establishment. I’m a modern-day speakeasy open to the public, by appointment only. You don’t have to pay me anything. If you want to give me a dollar for five glasses, that’s fine.”

I told him that I loved Hefeweizen, and he poured me an Agave Saison Farmhouse Ale from 8th Wonder Brewery from his tap. It was light, fruity, yet not too sweet. I was hooked. I tried some incredible Hitachino Nest Japanese beer, donated by friends of Manny’s who make the trip to the Tap Shack from California regularly. I tried a Kirsch Sour Cherry Gose from Victory Brewing Company. I was in craft beer heaven.

Before I left, Manny gave me a silver Sharpie. “Now it’s your turn to sign your name, since we’ve been so lucky to have you,” he said. I signed in a corner on the right side of the outside bar, right next to a graffiti artist and a brewmaster from Austin.

It’s Not a Party Without Unexpected Hot Air Balloons


It’s Not a Party Without Unexpected Hot Air Balloons

by Shawn Pearce

Beer in Bléré

The French side of my family had a festive gathering this summer in a remote village called Bléré, in the Touraine region, right in the middle of France. The only things around us were two other houses and some large fields of sunflowers. It’s the perfect writer’s sanctuary: barely any cell phone reception, but an amazing view.

My wife’s grandparents were hosting a family reunion at their summer home with about 20 other family members, along with my wife and I. A giant fancy dinner was planned, complete with catering and a DJ for dancing, but before all that came the traditional apéro.

We arrived a bit late after setting up in a B&B beforehand, so the apéro started without us. I grabbed a chair in the shade to avoid the blistering sun. There were cheese cubes, saucisson, and peanuts available, and although there was lots of local rosé to drink, I chose a Belgian beer called Maredsous, which my wife’s family had brought from northern France. Maredsous Tripel is a strong 10 percent ABV. It didn’t do much to cool me off: the curse of a heat-sensitive ginger.

While we all relaxed around the table outside drinking, munching, and chatting, we saw in the distance a hot air balloon with a ladybug design; a delightful surprise. Soon, a couple more flew into view. More followed, until there were 11 hot-air balloons in view at one time. We looked up in awe, close enough to make out the silhouettes of people in the baskets. The balloons were descending quickly to landing spots in the empty fields ahead of us, and a couple of them hovered so close to the house we could see peoples’ faces as we waved to them. They could see us clearly too, because they waved back. I, being the oddball, was screaming in French, “You’re too close! Too close!”

While we were looking up, makeshift trucks with extended beds whizzed by to rendezvous with the hot air balloons where they landed. One of the trucks stopped close by, because a balloon had landed two fields away, just beyond the sunflowers. I noticed that the first balloon we had seen, the ladybug, was still in the air and soaring farther than all the others.

We saw the first truck drive by with a basket in tow at sunset, around the same time the ladybug floated out of sight.

Relearning the Art of Procuring Alcohol Legally


Relearning the Art of Procuring Alcohol Legally

by Saba Imtiaz

Wine in Jordan

It’s a simple task: Buy an inexpensive bottle of white wine to use in a risotto. But as a recent transplant from Pakistan—where prohibition is in its fourth, wretched decade—to Jordan, I’m not even sure how to buy wine. While most of my friends abroad can confidently rattle off their favorite wines from a menu, I rely on the drink choices I’ve memorized or whatever suggestion I can elicit from a bartender.

The art of delicately sipping wine has escaped me entirely. What I do know is the art of surreptitiously buying—and hiding—alcohol in Karachi: bargaining with bootleggers who conceal bottles in schoolbags and under their shirts to evade the cops, or shiftily standing on the pavement outside a dimly lit liquor store as the store’s runner/guard/longtime employee ferries bottles of licensed Murree beer from a barred storefront window that resembles a prison cell. The rapidly warming bottles arrive swathed in layers of brown paper bags and plastic bags, which I instantly transfer to an even larger bag I’ve brought along for the expedition, and thrust a pile of notes at the runner for having spared me the five-step walk to the window, a lecture from the city’s self-styled moral police, or arrest.

And so I walk into the liquor store near my house in Amman, large tote bag at the ready, passport safely tucked in my handbag in case I have to show ID. There’s a teenage kid sitting behind the counter, as if he’s been left to mind the shop. I look around as I enter the store, wondering if I am completely conspicuous, or if being a single woman in a liquor store marks me out as a foreigner.

It’s just a bottle of wine, I remind myself. But as I confront a series of labels and price tags, I am overwhelmed with the sheer amount of choice. Do I want sweet wine? Is local wine a better proposition? Why is red wine so much cheaper? Should I spend nearly $20 on wine?

But I’m hesitant to ask these questions. I speak classical Arabic; the colloquial Arabic I knew eight years ago when I last lived in Jordan is only slowly resurfacing.

Hal ai nabeed abyad arkhas min hadha?” The kid finally looks up. I realize my request sounds entirely ridiculous, like speaking Shakespearian English in a McDonald’s. What I’ve just said in Arabic translates to “Hath you any white wine that costs less than this?”

He strolls over, probably to take another look at the 31-year-old woman who can’t seem to choose a simple bottle. “White wine?” he says in English, lazily looking over the labels. “Red wine, 10 JD.”

I shake my head and point to a bottle of white wine made in Jordan. “There’s no price tag.”

“Fourteen,” he decides, somewhat arbitrarily.

I hand over the money. I am about to take the bottle and put it away in my bag when he reaches under the counter. Out comes the familiar sight of a brown paper bag, followed by a plastic bag. I could be back in Karachi again, making small talk with the runner about the local television reporter on a crusade against alcohol sales in Pakistan, nervously keeping a lookout for acquaintances who might be shopping on the street. Instead, this teenager is wrapping up my purchase. As I walk back home, I realize the top of the bottle is peeking out and I transfer it to my tote, hoping no one is looking. For the first time in years, I realize, no one is.

The wine, in the risotto, and in the glasses I savor over the next few days, is delicious. Now all I need to do is learn how to order wine without sounding like I emerged from the 16th century.

The Dancing Faded, but the Drinking Endured


The Dancing Faded, but the Drinking Endured

by Harsh Mehta

Beer in Cairo

It is a little past six in the evening when the call to Maghrib prayers goes out. A walk through Downtown Cairo is a walk through the city’s history: mosques and churches; run-down but iconic coffee houses; imperial-era buildings that haven’t been painted in years; graffiti cursing Mohamed Morsi, the ousted ex-president of Egypt. As we turn a corner, another run-down establishment catches my eye: a bar. Like all things in downtown Cairo, it has its charm. My friend hesitates, but I drag him inside.

El Horreya is a baladi bar. At one time, baladi bars and their live cabaret performances were the highlight of Cairo’s nightlife. Over time, the dancing faded, but the drinking endured. These days, El Horreya has no pretensions: it’s dedicated only to the twin vices of drinking and smoking.

The insides of the café are painted a pale yellow. Timeworn, rusted mirrors are mounted on its square pillars and long-winged fans hang from the high ceiling. Old, hand-written drink adverts decorate the walls. An Arabic menu on the wall lists Shai (tea), Kahwe turki (Turkish coffee) and Bebsi cola (Pepsi) among other non-alcoholic beverages.

We look around for a beer menu. It’s just a printout pasted on a pillar listing the beer options: Stella, Heineken, Meister, and ID. The round-faced, slightly round-bellied waiter has already made up his mind to serve us Stella and puts two bottles on our table. This is not Stella Artois. It’s Egyptian Stella: a mild lager, with just the perfect amount of bitterness for gulping down three or four (or more) on a warm Cairo day. No wonder the table next to ours is littered with 15 empty bottles.

Brewing beer is an ancient art in Egypt. Just a few hundred meters away, in Tahrir Square, the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities displays artifacts that attest to the importance of beer-making in Pharaonic times.

I take a look around, and the waiter sets two more bottles on our table. On our left, young men with long, beaded hair share tables with short-haired women. El Horreya has a reputation for playing a central role in Egypt’s high-adrenalin political life. Frequented by artists, thinkers, and liberals, it’s pretty much the place in Cairo for discussing politics. I finish my second beer and some of my inhibitions fade. On our right, three middle-aged people are engaged in deep conversation, an Arabic newspaper on their table. They stare unpleasantly at me as I take pictures of the bar. I wonder who is feeling threatened, them or me? I’m a little tense. We settle the bill. Before we leave, I take a last glance inside and see that the waiter, in a time-honored method of defusing tension, has grabbed a bottle himself.

What’s a Morning Hike to the Airport without A Beer Break?


What’s a Morning Hike to the Airport without A Beer Break?

by Russ Rowlands

Lager in Tahiti

Trudging uphill in the Tahitian sun with 30 pounds of gear on my back, I began to reconsider the wisdom of my decision to walk the three miles to Faa’a International Airport. Before setting out, I had told myself that I needed the cardio after three listless months on a sailboat. True though that may have been, the ambition of an hour-long hike in flip-flops began to outweigh my motivation as soon as I left the breezy shade of Pape’ete marina and the waterfront Pa’ofa’i Gardens.

Vehicles, mostly old Defenders and Land Cruisers, rushed by me on the left, along the ring highway. On my right, green-blue Nanuu Bay stretched out towards the coral reef that circled the island. I was tempted to risk the 15-foot drop down a rocky cliff to take an impromptu swim, but container-ship traffic reminded me that the bay was nigh flammable with diesel and jet fuel. I sighed and soldiered on.

Before getting off the boat, I had raided the icebox for two cold cans of Hinano Lager, the ubiquitous beer of Tahiti. We first encountered it when we touched land in the Marquesas five weeks prior. It’s the kind of light, inoffensive lager that sits well on a hot day. The thought of them gradually warming in my pack weighed heavily on me. It was 10:30 am on a Monday, and I still had two long miles left in my odyssey.

A line of shacks crested ahead of me, crowding the path haphazardly. They hung over the cliff, stitched together out of old wood and corrugated tin. Peppy Tahitian music drifted out of the nearest one and I could smell a wood fire burning. As I crossed in front of the open structure, a half-dozen disheveled local drinkers looked up from their mischief, smiling amiably.

“Hey America, come, join us. Cheers!” called their leader, gesturing with a glistening pint bottle of Hinano.

I laughed and paused. My flight wasn’t for a few hours.

“Cheers!” I called back, turning to join them. “But I’m Canadian,” I clarified in my clumsy French.

“Even better! Teva, get Canada a beer!” the leader told a sozzled sidekick who didn’t look particularly impressed with the thought of giving away his breakfast stock.

I waved him off with a thanks and set down my bags to dig out one of my still-cool cans of Hinano.

“Manuia! Cheers!” We quietly appreciated a sip before making a round of introductions.

The leader, Regis, who had his own name tattooed on his arm, explained that they were fishermen. I asked when they did their fishing, and was met with a round of humming and hawing and the international hand gesture for “well, you know…” I laughed again, and told them I was a writer on similar terms.

They liked that, and we raised our beers in a salute to Monday mornings under the Tahitian sun.

A Surprisingly Happy Ending for a Trip That Involved Lots of Vomiting


A Surprisingly Happy Ending for a Trip That Involved Lots of Vomiting

by Katie Allie

Wine in Portugal

When I suggested to some friends that we visit Berlenga, an island just off the coast of Portugal, I was picturing tan lines and Crayon-blue water. Getting there seemed simple enough: a bus from Lisbon, a ferry ride from Peniche, a walk from the harbor to the 300-year-old fort where we would be staying, and repeat the process in reverse the next day.

I should have known things might not go according to plan when each person on our ferry was handed a tiny plastic barf bag. We chuckled as we bobbed away from the harbor, but the retching of my fellow passengers soon made it abundantly clear that those bags were indeed being used. I watched a man holding a birthday cake on his lap empty the contents of his stomach to one side of me, while others behind me started to whisper Hail Marys in time to the duck and roll of the boat.

I’ll save you the suspense: we arrived safely. We walked from harbor to fort, where we filled our day and night with glowing blue-green water and more bottles of wine than I’m willing to admit. On top of the fort that night, I barricaded myself against the howling wind and took in the expansive starry sky. “Isn’t this nice?” I thought. “This is easy.”

The following morning, things were decidedly less great. The wind had picked up at an alarming rate. Questionable fort plumbing meant… a lot of bad things. Hangovers were in full swing, and barf bags were sure to follow. We trekked back to the harbor to discover no boats were returning to the mainland until the evening, if at all. “Does anything ever go to plan?” I sighed.

Exasperated, we ordered coffees. At this moment, a pot-bellied, white-haired angel named Julius appeared. He was a fisherman and spoke no English, but between hand gestures and my warbling Portuguese, he made it clear that he wanted to cook us lunch and would return us to the mainland in time for us to catch a bus back to Lisbon. We cautiously agreed.

Julius’s hut overlooked a cove with water so clear you could see to the bottom. When we arrived, he shoved a banged-up aluminum cup into each of our hands and waved us toward the jugs of homemade wine sitting on the terrace table. The wind whipped us into conversation as his fellow fishermen grilled salty, red chouriço and passed plates of crusty bread. Julius brought out a colossal plate of fried stingray that we ate with our fingers.

There was salad, more oozing chouriço, more bread. Somehow the plate of fish disappeared and a pineapple coconut cake appeared in its place. I couldn’t stop smiling. The wind began to die down.

I raised my tin cup with the last dregs of wine to toast the uncomfortable things and the unexpected: to Portuguese hospitality, getting stuck, to Julius, to the reasons we travel.

Ah, to Be Young and Drinking Mai Tais in the Basement of the Atlanta Hilton


Ah, to Be Young and Drinking Mai Tais in the Basement of the Atlanta Hilton

by Frances Katz

Tiki Drinks in Atlanta

The lobby of the Hilton Atlanta is vast and cold. The decor is circa 1972. Don Draper should be having a cigarette and a Scotch rocks on one of the mid-century couches. The only sounds you hear are the clank of the escalators and the steady hum of tourists asking the staff at reception for dinner recommendations. It is the most likely—and most unlikely—place to find Trader Vic’s, the hippest unhip Tiki bar in the city.

I had been planning to go to a new trendy Tiki lounge with some friends for my birthday. The waiters wear Hawaiian shirts and the drinks have names like Witch Doctor’s Orders and No Shrubs. I told a friend who had spent some time in Hawaii about it. He closed his eyes and shook his head. “You don’t want to go to a new ironic Tiki bar,” he said. “You want to go to an old un-ironic Tiki bar. You want to go to Trader Vic’s.”

To get to Trader Vic’s, you have to weave your way through the Hilton lobby to a very specific elevator to go down to the lounge. As we got into the glass elevator, we felt like Starfleet cadets stepping onto the holodeck. We got on in 2015 and we got off in 1965. The bar was dark and wood-paneled. There were a few people having drinks but it certainly wasn’t crowded. The bartender probably referred to himself as a bartender and not “head of the beverage program.”

The menus were well-worn and featured cheery 1960s typography and orange splotches from what I liked to think were happy, slightly tipsy guests spilling the first round as they ordered the second. We are mostly wine drinkers, so we found the cocktail menu intriguing. Our waitress suggested the Mai Tai, Trader Vic’s signature drink. We also ordered a pu-pu platter of Polynesian appetizers, out of nostalgia as much as anything else.

The Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s was one of the most memorable cocktails I’ve ever had. I still think about it and my birthday was in December. The Mai Tai is a dangerous mixture of rum, lime juice, triple sec and orgeat syrup (a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and rose water or orange flower water). It’s garnished with maraschino cherries and pineapple. It’s hopelessly kitschy and amazingly potent. After a birthday toast, I put my Mai Tai off to one side, dismissing it as too strong. Three cocktails later, I suspected the bartender was watering them down. Either that, or I was building up immunity.

Victor Bergeron, the ‘Vic’ in Trader Vic’s, claimed to have invented the Mai Tai. The story is that he created it in Oakland, California in 1944 for some friends visiting from Tahiti. One of the friends took a sip and exclaimed, “Mai tai roa ae.” In Tahitian this means “out of this world.”

But since that happy accident in Oakland, the Mai Tai has fallen on hard times. It has been sweetened, it has been boxed; it’s been flooded with pineapple juice and poked with parasols. It’s hard to imagine being a serious person in a serious place ordering a Mai Tai. Until they’re back in the mainstream, mid-century time travel to Trader Vic’s may become a regular journey.

Photo by: Sam Howzit

Mastering the Semi-Pornographic Lexicon of Cincinnati Chili


Mastering the Semi-Pornographic Lexicon of Cincinnati Chili

by Craig J. Heimbuch

Bourbon in Cincinnati

You don’t end up in this place because you’re thinking clearly. You don’t end up hunched over a plate of spaghetti covered in loose meat sauce and radioactive orange cheese piled three inches high because you just got out of church or knocked off from a day volunteering for Habitat for Humanity. You never step out of a yoga class and think to yourself, “you know what sounds really good right now? Skyline.”

No, to be sitting in this place, at the bar, breathing in the meaty steam-filled air, you need help; a Tenzing Norgay to your brain’s Edmund Hillary. Nowadays, it’s bourbon, usually with a friend. We start off with the good stuff, a nice Woodford or small batch something, and talk about work. We move to the Bulleit to talk about family. It’s a Jack Daniels and stories about college that usually precedes thinking that a run to the nearest chili parlor is a good idea.

This is a bourbon-evening kind of place.

Not being from Cincinnati, I didn’t grow up with the eponymous chili, which isn’t really chili at all. This isn’t the stuff that cowboys ladled from cast iron in the movies. It’s not thick and full of beans and big chunks of meat. It’s watery, the protein broken down into such microscopic morsels that it makes Sloppy Joe look like grandma’s pot roast. Locals love the stuff. It’s where families go after sporting events, where teenagers hang out. These parlors—they are always parlors, not restaurants—are as much a part of Cincinnati as the Reds and P&G. Everyone has a favorite. They are all local, but there are a couple of big chains—Skyline and Gold Star—that are differentiated because one uses cinnamon to flavor their meat and the other chocolate, but I can never remember which is which. And in the older neighborhoods, you can find some independents that are cherished as institutions.

I didn’t get it. Not for a long time. I didn’t understand the appeal, just like I didn’t understand that when people from Cincy ask you where you went to school, they mean high school, not college. This is the world’s largest small town and appreciating the chili comes over time, like making friends out of freshman-year roommates. It’s not instant. But eventually the dish, like the city itself, grew on me; or maybe I grew to be a part of it. I even mastered the art of ordering in the semi-pornographic lexicon of the parlors: three-way, four-way, five-way, inverted, hot. These words have different meanings in this pseudo-retro diner context of neon lights and paper hats.

And so the night ends, a slurred order of a three-way, a plastic bib tied around my neck, laughing with my friend and not really sure why. It will never be chili—not to me or others who aren’t from around here—but it can be damned good, especially after a few pops and a long evening. Just like the city itself, but I don’t really expect outsiders to understand.

Photo courtesy of Skyline Chili

A Drink to Cure Stomach Pain and the Monotony of Workday Drudgery


A Drink to Cure Stomach Pain and the Monotony of Workday Drudgery

by Cher Tan

Riga Black Balsam in Adelaide

The desire for an aperitif was unsettling. It was yet another afternoon before the inevitable beginning of another shift at work, and S and I were in the Adelaide Central Markets looking for something that would perk up our unimpressed minds. We set out, meandering until we stumbled upon The Latvian Lunchroom, a quaint little joint with a Baltic flavor. They had liqueur on the menu.

“Sorry, you’ll have to order food as well. Our liquor license doesn’t cover plain purchase of alcohol, I’m afraid,” the lady at the counter said. I asked if they could muster up something on a mixed plate, anything they could recommend. I was interested in pirag, a traditional Latvian dumpling, essentially a tiny bun stuffed with bacon and onion. She suggested I accompany the pirag with Riga Sprats (tinned smoked skippers), and štovēti kāposti (a kind of sweet sauerkraut) and rasols (potato and beetroot salad) for my vegetarian friend. We were sold.

There is a small community of Latvians in Australia, many in South Australia. As the country opened its doors to European refugees after World War II, around 3,000 Latvians arrived in Adelaide. To pay for their passage, adults had to sign a two-year bond with the Australian government to work on the railways, in forestry, and waterworks. Today, Latvian culture in Adelaide endures in the form of the Latvian Association, a Latvian museum (the only one in Australia), a sports club, and a Saturday school playgroup where descendants of the first Latvians are introduced to their cultural roots.

The origins of Black Balsam are legendary. They say it was first brewed by a pharmacist in 1752 as a luxury elixir. It subsequently cured Catherine the Great of a stomach illness and it became well-known as a health-giving tonic, believed to help with digestion and to cure the common cold. Made of a blend of 24 secret ingredients—closely guarded and only known by a select few today—we know only that it contains traces of linden flower, pepper, ginger, and valerian root infused in vodka, which is then aged in oak. The rest of the recipe remains undisclosed.

Bitter yet sweet, the pitch-black liqueur tastes like a cough syrup that immediately warms up your insides. We swirled it around our mouths, taking slow sips from the tiny metal goblets it came in, then chased it with another shot, this time the Blackcurrant Black Balsam, which is combined with blackcurrant juice to take the edge off the liqueur. I wanted to try a slice of honey cake, but it was time to go to work.

The medicinal effects may also benefit the mental state. For a little while, Black Balsam tempered the monotony associated with another day of drudgery.

It’s Been a Long Day, Here’s Some Pisco


It’s Been a Long Day, Here’s Some Pisco

by Jake Emen

Mistela in Peru

Pisco reigns supreme in Peru. Walk into nearly any bar or restaurant in Lima and they’ll probably claim to make the best Pisco Sour in the world. The trick is not only to use the right pisco, but to create just enough foam with the egg white. And to make it plenty strong.

Ica is where much of the spirit’s grapes are harvested. It’s an arid city and region along the country’s southwestern coast, and it borders the Atacama desert, the driest non-polar desert in the world. There, the locals prefer to drink their pisco neat. Maybe when you live in one of the driest climates on the planet, there’s not enough time for precisely shaking egg whites for foamy cocktails. You’re thirsty, it’s been a long day, here’s some pisco.

The ritual is thus: a few buddies sit in a circle and pass around a plastic bottle of pisco they just purchased from a local distillery, or maybe they just made themselves. Either way, it’s a relaxed form of puff-puff-pass behavior; pour yourself a shot, sip on it at your leisure while chatting, then hand the bottle and glass to the next guy.

I walk into one such distillery, Lovera, and the place is entirely barren except for the few guys sipping on some pisco. There’s no pristine steel-and-copper machinery, no hard hats, no sparklingly clean floors. It’s all outdoors, with a perma-coat of dust and dirt, sun blazing down.

Even a tourist can jump in on a little drinking session. Although it helps that Peruvian celebrity Johnny Schuler, Pisco Portón’s master distiller, is there to make an introduction.

The locals are puff-puff-passing their pisco, and joking with the inquisitive foreigners getting in on their day drinking. Sitting on the counter are two big jugs, one filled with pisco, the other filled with sweet, unfermented grape juice, so apparently there’s more to be had here at Lovera than just pisco neat. The combination of the two is formally known as Mistela.

I’m passed a glass of the sugary but potent, purple-hued concoction, and after taking a sip my first thought is that it’s a Peruvian dead ringer for Manischewitz, with more of a kick. Hey, you can only compare with what you know.

It turns out that around here there’s another name for Mistela: quita calzón. “Hey Johnny, what does that mean?”

“The Panty Remover,” he says.

Teach Your Child to Love New Places, One Alcoholic Beverage at a Time


Teach Your Child to Love New Places, One Alcoholic Beverage at a Time

by Samuel Patterson

Champagne in Champagne

Once I turned six, my mother insisted that I accompany her every summer to Taissy, a hamlet on the outskirts of Reims, to visit my grandmother Brigitte and her second husband Jacques, as if we needed an annual renewal of our French heritage.

I felt like an idle prisoner counting down the end of a sentence, isolated physically by seven-foot walls around the garden, linguistically by not speaking French, and socially by my mother, who was closest to me there in age.

Time moved slowly, with little to punctuate the day save for meals. Jacques needed ample time to rest or recover from bouts of dizziness. Brigitte never strayed too far from her bed and French TV dramas. To stave off boredom in those long in-betweens, I read or played solitaire or stalked the cat.

But there was one structured activity I could predict with certainty. At 6 pm, the four of us would assemble around the living room table to prendre un verre (literally “take a glass”) of Dumenil Champagne, the same merchant to whom Jacques had exclusively been making château calls for decades. No bell would ring, no announcement would be shouted through the house. We just knew that 6 pm meant it was time to sit and drink.

Jacques would emerge from the kitchen with a plate of potato chips and a log of cured sausage. He would return to the kitchen once more to grab the champagne; then it was sit, drink, and kibitz for an hour, about old family members or how handsome my doting grandmother thought I was becoming.

The summer before my 13th birthday, I went from bystander to participant in the ritual. At my grandmother’s insistence and with her daughter finally relenting, Jacques poured me half a glass. It tasted terrible, coarse enough on the swallow that I grimaced almost to the point of gagging. But I kept drinking. It was what the adults were doing. It occupied my hands. And Brigitte said so.

Over years of returning, I progressed to a full glass at 6 pm, and then, if Mom was either distracted or charmed by the twinkle in my grandmother’s eyes, a second glass. That hour became the gateway to an appreciation for far-off family and a love for France, the initial barriers I had felt now flattened by a drink. I spoke to my grandmother, solidifying the family bond Mom had wanted to see continue to a third generation. I practiced mangled—but inhibition-diminished—French on Jacques. I interacted with champagne stripped of the status-symbolizing treatment it gets in contemporary popular culture. My eventual enthusiasm for the taste of the drink led to lazy drives along the rows of vines and a privileged seat in the car on Jacques’ trips to the Dumenil maison.

Jacques and Brigitte passed away a few years ago. I haven’t returned to Taissy since. But I instinctually look forward to the time when someone brings out champagne. It’s 6 pm somewhere.

The Exhilarating Realization That You Can Drink Whatever the Hell You Want


The Exhilarating Realization That You Can Drink Whatever the Hell You Want

by Ashley Dobson

Rhyzling in Prague

Telling a Czech sommelier that you live in—and love—the heart of Germany’s Riesling region is like issuing a challenge.

You see, the Czechs make “Ryzling” of their own and they are damn proud of it.

“We have more than 800 bottles here. We’ll have one you will fall in love with,” my sommelier Ondřej told me.

When I told people I was headed to Prague for the weekend—my first solo trip in six years—the comment I got most frequently was to make sure I drank lots of beer.

My husband and usual travel partner loves beer and had enjoyed his fair share on his own trip to the Czech capital years earlier. But without him by my side on this adventure, I planned to savor a different side of Prague’s drinking culture.

I simply prefer structured sips to sour suds.

So I headed to Vinograf Wine Bar my first night in town and pulled up a seat at the bar. It was on.

Ondřej poured me my first Czech Ryzling. It was crisp and enjoyable, but nothing special. It certainly didn’t live up to his lofty promise. My second pour was better with a delightful hint of apricots. Pleasurable, but not a bottle I would take home.

As I sipped, Ondřej explained to me that that art of winemaking has largely been lost in the Czech Republic. Under Communist rule, family-owned vineyards and wineries were pushed out in favor of beer, so recipes and techniques weren’t passed down through the generations like in other European countries. As such, today’s Czech winemaking styles are fairly new and are largely the result of trial-and-error.

Unfortunately, the third glass of Ryzling my sommelier poured tasted like one of those errors to me. He could tell from my face that I didn’t enjoy it, but I was embarrassed to say so. When he pressed the issue, I repeatedly apologized for not liking the wine selection.

He turned sharply to me and said, “You should never drink wine you don’t enjoy. Wine, especially Czech wine, should only make you happy.”

It was like he was voicing the theme of my entire weekend in Prague. Solo travel affords you the opportunity to only do the things that you want to do, when you want to do them. So, much like with Czech wine, I only did things while exploring the city that brought me joy: sunrise at Vyšehrad Castle, the John Lennon Wall, eating ice cream-filled trdelníks for lunch.

Ondřej poured me a glass of bubbly as if in celebration of my empowering realization.

And it wasn’t a Rhyzling, as he had originally hoped, but Ondřej had finally succeeded in finding my perfect Czech wine.

Smooth as a cremant and laced with the taste of levity, Kutná Hora winery’s Sekt Kuks Brut Nature 2014 will always hold a special place in my heart.

There’s Nothing Like a Well-Earned Hangover


There’s Nothing Like a Well-Earned Hangover

by Natalie Kennedy

Ožujsko pivo in Croatia

The white, floppy hat will always remind me of a horrendous Croatian hangover.

Fresh off the plane, and emboldened by the knowledge that we had a long weekend of beaches stretching before us, we had our first drink in Dubrovnik at Buža Bar. Buža means “hole,” and it is a fitting bar name, because you really do need to climb through a hole in Dubrovnik’s city walls to get down to the cliffside tables. But first you need to trust the sign that humbly advertises “Cold Drinks.”

From the street, it is difficult to assess what sort of chilled beverages in what sort of setting lay beyond because this particular drinking facility is located on the steep, rocky exterior of the barricaded city. After a day of public transport and budget airlines, those two simple words were too magical to ignore, and we took the risk of investigating further.

Stepping through the swinging metal gate, we entered an outdoor bar dotted with white umbrellas. Shown promptly to a table at the water’s edge. I managed to overcome my wonder at the view for long enough to order.

I started with a bottle of Ožujsko pivo, an unpronounceable but common Croatian lager that tasted like pure possibility.

Staring out at the sparkling Adriatic, I ordered another. And then maybe three more.

After that, wine with dinner sounded like a fantastic idea. Plus, we surely couldn’t go to bed without a vacation nightcap.

I woke up to my alarm in a room that seemed to be spinning. Mouth dry, I cautiously recalled thinking that booking a 35-euro, all-you-can-drink day cruise to the Elafiti islands was a good idea.

“I can’t go on the boat today,” I mumbled in the general direction of my boyfriend. When he responded with only silence, I slowly focused. It turns out that sober people are loath to pass up a pre-paid cruise to small Croatian archipelagos and I was about to be dragged along for the ride. As I was hustled out the door into the glaring sun, I realized the undeniable truth: I was going to need a hat.

Squinting at storefronts, I finally found a shop open before our 10 a.m. boat. Between dusty bottles of limoncello and stacks of novelty playing cards, I saw the straw hat.

Even in the throes of a hangover, I hesitated before forking over the amount on the price tag. At 30 euros, it rang up at nearly the cost of the boat ride itself. Shapeless and accessorized with seashells, it also made me look ridiculous.

Out on the water, I watched the entire boatload of cruise goers jump into the impossibly blue sea. I winced at their easy movements and their careless joy before gingerly pulling my shell-bedecked hat lower over my eyes.

As we ferried from island to island, the Croatian hangover gradually passed. The next day, I dutifully crammed the hat into my weekender bag and toted it home. There it remains in the back of my closet as a souvenir to my poor judgement, but also a reminder of the stupid good luck at having stumbled upon such a beautiful spot to accumulate such a well-earned hangover.

The Perfect Mom Drink


The Perfect Mom Drink

by Lela Nargi

Spritzers in Vienna

I’ve spent eight hours sitting rigid in an airplane seat, speeding uncomfortably through one night and a dawn. I haven’t slept, know I can’t sleep until the sun goes down if I want to stave off jet lag. But I’ve gone and done it: I’ve nodded off in the short-shorn grass of a Viennese park that’s flanked, eerily, by two enormous anti-aircraft bunkers built by the Nazis. In a few minutes, I’ll stumble 20 steps to a parkside gastropub called, fittingly enough, Bunkerei, to meet my friend Bernadette for a drink. The prospect is unwelcome. It seems likely that beer will be the drink of choice here, and after three sips of beer I know I’ll fall right back to sleep. This is no way to kick off the evening.

But amid all the glasses of bock and dark lager I see appearing on the tables of the pub when I finally make my way over, I spot something else: short, frosty glass mugs filled with pale, lemon-colored liquid.

“What are those?” I ask Bernadette as she flags a waiter.

“Spritzers,” she says. Then she clarifies: “White wine spritzers. There are red ones, too, but no one orders them. They’re weird.” Bernadette orders a Weisser gespritzer. Against my better judgment, I do, too.

For those of us Americans who experienced childhood in the ‘70s, a white wine spritzer is the epitome of the mom drink: a watery, vaguely sour-flavored beverage imbibed by women trying to keep the reins on public tipsiness. I’ve never drunk a whole one before, only a few sips of my own mother’s as a child, which were enough to put me off spritzers, I thought, forever, even (especially?) when I became a mom myself.

But when I taste the spritzer set in front of me this evening, I’m surprised. It’s not only welcomingly cold and fizzy, it’s actually flavorful: zesty, full-bodied, and yes, delicious. It goes down quick and easy and as soon as it’s gone, I order up another. All around me, Viennese parents are ordering second and third spritzers, chain smoking (smoking!) as their tots run amok in the park, laughing and sitting cross-legged on chairs and sharing plates of sausages. I lift my mug to Bernadette and smile. I am awake and unspeakably comfortable here.

Later in my trip, a drinks expert at another, fancier gastropub will explain the importance of mixing a high-acid wine like Grüner Veltliner with soda water in order to achieve a spritzer worth drinking. He’ll send out wine glasses full of elegant infusions: spritzers tinged with Suze and Nardini Rosso and named after Kaisers. I like these just fine. But I spend my week in Vienna trying to recreate that first evening at Bunkerei, when I knew I had found my own, perfect mom drink.

Photo by: Bernadette Reiter

A Simpler Time When Watery Beer Would Do


A Simpler Time When Watery Beer Would Do

by Dana Ter

Carlsberg in Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda is lit up in the distance, celestial gold peeking out from rows of palm trees. Except for a handful of skyscrapers in the distance, it’s low-rise residential buildings—simple structures resembling stacked matchboxes—surrounding me. I feel like a spy on this nondescript rooftop decked with shadow puppets. Except that spies drink bourbon on the rocks, not Carlsberg draft.

A week into my stay in the Golden Land, I had wandered 10th-century temples and learned how to tell real jade from fake, but I had yet to find a decent drink. My quest leads me and a friend to the Sapphire Lounge atop Yangon’s three-star Alfa Hotel, which, according to one TripAdvisor reviewer, conjures up the feeling of a “bygone era.” An elevator takes us up to the top floor and a set of rickety stairs leads the way to the rooftop.

Two guys in a tent mixing cocktails greet us. Everything on the menu sounds like it’ll taste too sweet. We place our orders: Carlsberg draft, the only available beer. Since launching my monthly column on the craft beer scene in Taiwan, my expectations have risen tremendously, and the unanimous response in Myanmar to my inquiries about craft beer—“What is craft beer?”—only added fuel to my fire. Even though I’ve come to eschew big commercial names, I tell myself that at least Carlsberg beats a watery Myanmar Beer.

We choose our seats, one of the many flimsy-looking plastic chairs and tables interspersed throughout the expansive rooftop. The bartender rushes to us with a cloth and dabs our chairs dry, apologizing; it’s monsoon season and the skies had broken loose on Yangon hours earlier. On the plus side, it’s a balmy 23°C outside.

My friend points out that the bartenders are connecting the cask for us. Apparently, all the other patrons had ordered cocktails. The bartender apologizes again, this time for the time it took to connect the cask and pour our pints. We tell him not to worry about it.

The pilsner isn’t exactly chilled but it’s decent, refreshing even. Earthy and citrusy with a slightly bitter hop finish, I can almost make out the Danish apples. Or maybe I was just content: with the weather, with my surroundings, with the fact that I had collected enough material to write my story about Mandalay’s jade industry over the previous few days.

I look again at the matchbox buildings and I’m overcome with déjà vu. Phnom Penh, 2005. It was a school trip and a couple classmates and I were on a very similar rooftop. There might or might not have been Angkor Beer. We were peering out into the cityscape, which at the time, comprised of mainly three-story buildings with colorful roofs. What would Yangon look like in 11 years? I push that thought aside.

My uppity beer preferences suddenly seemed so petty. These days, I write about my adventures for a living, but back then, I felt like a brave adventurer. It was a simpler time when a simple watery beer would do.

Liquor Is Medicine and We’re a Self-Medicating Nation


Liquor Is Medicine and We’re a Self-Medicating Nation

by Ishay Govender-Ypma

Nalewka in Poland

Poland’s beloved herb and fruit liqueur, nalewka, once the domain of women-brewers only, has been made famous by a man operating from his family’s garden.

The garden is resplendent in the glow of autumn. Thirty minutes outside Warsaw central, Karol Majewski, widely regarded the country’s top small-batch nalewka manufacturer is showing me around the production plant. And this is it – the compact, tidy suburban garden, with clusters of berries ripening on branches, bright yellow blooms and fat glass jars of percolating nalewki soaking up the sun’s warmth. The entire process of brewing the artisanal version of the liqueur that Majewski has become famous for, happens right here. His hefty walrus moustache lifts and his eyes crinkle in a smile at my surprise that the few meters we’ve walked cover the extent of the Nalewki Staropolskie empire. The staff consists of Majewski, his wife, and their two daughters.

“I’ve had some of the biggest commercial nalewka players sit here on my veranda,” he says. “They ask me: ‘Who would be interested in chopping up these ingredients, putting these things in bottles?’”

He laughs and smacks his chest gently. “I am. Here, I control everything. I never let a bad bottle go there,” he says, gesturing to the world beyond. There’s an ancient wooden table on which just-picked berries rest before being sorted, as do the fir-tree twigs he harvests nearby for his forest nalewka. In a room adjacent to the garden, cool and packed to the rafters, skinny bottles sit awaiting labels. Majewski’s nalewki takes roughly three years to mature from the start of the process.

Every Polish family has their secret recipe for nalewka, I’m told. It’s the age-old combination of alcohol, sugar, and seasonal fruit and berries or herbs and spices. And time. The nation shares a joke that nalewka is widely considered medicinal, a digestive. “And we are a self-medicating nation,” Majewski booms. For many families, brewing nalewka is seen as women’s work, or at least it was, Majewski says. He comes from a line of legendary women nalewka makers. “In my case, I was just one of those exceptions,” he adds.

At the dining room table, Majewski brings out a tray of delicate glasses. Some have been in the family since the 30s, treasures they’ve held onto, much like their nalewka-brewing secrets. “It used to be a special honor to be treated with a glass of nalewka, so you were always presented with a small glass, and it was a high-quality one,” he says, pouring a pale yellow-colored liquid. It’s undoubtedly lemon. There’s a secret ingredient, and he wants me to guess. I drain the glass slowly and contemplate telling him that I know the answer: I’ve played this friendly game at Atelier Amaro, the country’s only Michelin-starred restaurant. It’s milk. I feign surprise, and Majewski is pleased. Between 2014 and 2015 there was only one person who guessed correctly: a French chef with three Michelin stars under his belt.

Then Majewski pours a smoked plum and cherry nalewka, his signature brew. Nalewki glasses clutter the table as the afternoon sun dips behind the horizon.

A Mezcal-IPA Hybrid Does Sound Pretty Wince-Inducing


A Mezcal-IPA Hybrid Does Sound Pretty Wince-Inducing

by Kelsey Menzel

Beer in Ensanada

After walking across the border from California into Mexico, fumbling my way through the pandemonium of the bus terminal, and finally arriving in Ensanada, I was ready for a beer. It was what I’d come for, anyway, before my flight out of Tijuana the next day.

Maria, fabulous woman running my hotel, told me about a brewery close by. She’d love to come, she said, but there was a leaky toilet to attend to. I walked down the hill to Highway 1, the road I’d been paralleling on Amtrak since I left San Francisco a month before. The sun warmed my face, and I worried about wrinkles.

Like much of Mexico, Ensanada isn’t equipped for pedestrians. I tip-toed along the edge of the highway. Dusty white shuttle vans, or combis, loped their way into town, and unmarked 18-wheelers picked up speed going out. Throughout the spring and summer, this same road carries tons of produce up north to California. Shortly, I came upon a gutted-out warehouse with the signs of construction around it: piles of wood, fragrant sawdust, and forgotten tools.

From the building emerged Aquiles, a charming 30-something with an unkempt, I-don’t-care beard that quivered with his every word. The building was actually a collective of local restaurants and, yes, a brewery, which Aquiles worked for. He told me they’d just had their soft opening the night before, and he hadn’t quite rebounded from the fun. They’d be celebrating again later that night, though. I thanked him for the invite with promises to return after sunset.

My destination was a two-story warehouse with colorful paintings of the ocean, beer, and the Virgin Mary. There was plenty of room at the bar, and I sat within earshot of two brothers celebrating the elder’s visit from Mexico City. The sun dropped down over the ocean past the bar, the heads of far-off palm trees their own fixtures on tap. I surveyed the menu and landed on their special brew, a mezcal-IPA. If one needed a drink to represent weeks spent hovering around the California-Mexico border, this was it.

Midway and a few winces through my beer, a newly-familiar face appeared: Aquiles and his boss, Paul. Happy to see a familiar beard, I invited them to join me.

“What’d you get?” Aquiles asked with a glance at my sweaty pint. The mezcal one, I responded. With a shudder he whispered, “They missed it on that one.”

We ordered flights while Paul, Aquiles, and the bartenders fell into comfortable conversation about the local brew scene. Around us, the bar filled with Mexican tourists and Californian roadtrippers setting in for a late winter sunset.

Soon, my new friends had to go; it was Saturday night, after all, and business was calling. With a promise to swing by after a quick nap, I settled my tab, went home and ended up sleeping through the night.

The Taste of a Poison That’s Its Own Antidote


The Taste of a Poison That’s Its Own Antidote

by Michael Snyder

Amargo in Yolo

In the hills along the border between Oaxaca and Puebla states in southern Mexico, there’s a village called San Juan Yolotepec, it’s name most often abbreviated—I kid you not—to Yolo.

Yolo has been around long enough to go through three different names (so much for only living once). The most recent, San Juan, was bestowed by the Spanish. Yolotepec came from the Aztecs, who invaded these hills back in the 13th century. Before that, the indigenous Mixtec tribes called it Ñoo Iton. Both of the earlier names mean the same thing, Village on a Hilltop, which is an apt description.

Looking north from Yolo’s silent perch on a scrubby hilltop, you can, on a clear day, see the twin volcanoes that form Mexico City’s southern boundary. Look to the west and you’ll see the cone of the Pico de Orizaba, Mexico’s highest mountain in the neighboring state of Veracruz, hazily silhouetted against the sky. When cyclones come through the Gulf of Mexico 120 miles away, tropical winds blow clear across town, and when Schubert’s Ave Maria plays from the chartreuse churchtower down in the neighboring village, as it does, inexplicably, every afternoon, it bounces like sunlight off the dust-beige walls of Yolo’s tumbledown houses.

One of those houses holds a general provision shop that doubles as a bar, which is where I spent a significant amount of my time in Yolo (I was, I should say now, on assignment for a Dutch food journal called Sabor and drinking with sources is an essential tool of the food writer’s trade). The shop is run, appropriately enough, by an old man called Dionisio. Burlap bags of rice and dry beans and chiles line the counter, household items dangle from the ceiling, and a fridge in the corner holds dozens of bottles of Mexican Coca-Cola (made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup) and Victoria beer. Behind the counter, Dionisio keeps big jugs of two homemade liquors: anis (anise) and amargo (bitter).

Dionisio and his wife have made anis and amargo for the last 20 years. They purchase gallons of aguardiente—pure cane liquor, distilled in a town called Chilapa a few hours away—and infuse it with fennel seeds or, in the case of amargo, a plant called yerba maestra, a relative of wormword. The anis tastes more or less as you’d expect, while the amargo more than lives up to its name (Campari, by comparison, is as approachable as a glass of orange juice). The pale green of chamomile tea, Dionisio’s amargo is herbaceous and floral on the nose and spectacularly bitter, finishing with the mentholated burn of a Fernet untempered by the syrupy chocolate and coffee notes characteristic of Italian amari. It tastes like a poison and its own antidote, at once dangerous and therapeutic.

For the men who still work the fields in Yolo—the precious few who haven’t left in search of better work or higher wages—amargo is a constant companion. They drink it to fortify themselves against the afternoon sun and as a refreshment when they come back in from the corn fields. Out there among the agaves and spiny shrubs, they share their bottles around (a funny way to stay hydrated) and pour sips onto the parched earth as a gift to the spirits who live in the hills. Those spirits have a taste for the stuff, too.

One afternoon, Dionisio told me the story of a man called Benito Castro who, years ago, had taken his goats out to pasture near the Cerro del Tigre, or Hill of the Tiger, on Yolo’s northern edge. As he passed the chapel of San Isidro, two beautiful women, elegantly dressed and blonde, appeared out of nowhere. As Castro passed, they asked if he could spare them a cigarette. Unnerved, he ignored their request and continued walking, but they followed. Eventually they changed their tune and asked if he could at least spare them a drink. ‘Poor women,’ he thought, ‘they only want a drink’ (“He was already a bit tipsy,” Dionisio admitted). He realized then that he’d forgotten to bring his bottle of amargo, so he turned back and went to the shop to buy some. When he got back to the chapel, the women were gone. He never saw them again. “You have to carry a drink when you go to the fields,” Dionisio said, “enough to leave some for the spirits.”

I finished a cup of amargo, maybe my third. I was already a little drunk, but Dionisio took my glass and offered another. The others in the shop smiled and raised their glasses. One more for the spirits, I thought. When in Yolo.

Photo by: Felipe Luna Espinosa

Amazing the Results That Acting Like a Human in a Tourist Bar Will Get You


Amazing the Results That Acting Like a Human in a Tourist Bar Will Get You

by Wesley Straton

Mojitos in Habana Vieja

On my second day in Cuba, I find myself in the notoriously touristy Bodeguita del Medio at 1 pm, studiously avoiding a German backpacker’s attempts to catch my eye and sipping on an overpriced and mediocre mojito as the band in the corner plays yet another Buena Vista Social Club cover. It’s not my kind of place, not remotely, but I’m following Hemingway.

The bar is one of the many destinations on the Hemingway trail: the legendary alcoholic himself famously declared that this classic dive bar was his go-to for mojitos. A little digging suggests that Papa Hemingway was never actually a regular, but I won’t find that out until well after leaving Cuba. And you can’t blame the owners for capitalizing on the story.

The duo of paunchy, middle-aged bartenders—one named Rey, and one whose name I don’t manage to catch—are visibly bored by their work. They keep dozens of half-made mojitos under the heavily-graffitied wooden bar: tall glasses full of wilted mint, bottled lime juice, and sugar, just waiting for ice, a generous pour of Havana 3 Year Old, and a token splash of soda water. I have a drink in my hand less than a minute after I walk in.

“You must get tired of making these,” I say. The barmen shrug.

“No,” Rey answers. “It’s where the money comes from.”

Once they realize I speak Spanish, their dour expressions brighten a little and both bartenders turn out to be incredibly friendly. I ask them about the bartending scene in Havana and they tell me about the best rums (Santiago, not Havana Club) and the bars Cubans actually go to. The crowd of tourists waxes and wanes and they polish off over two liters of rum before I finish my drink.

“I prefer tequila,” the man who isn’t Rey tells me. “But it’s hard to get here.” He tells me about a friend of his, an American doctor, who always brings a bottle of 1800 when he visits. I make a mental note to do the same if I come back.

They’re surprised that I’m in Cuba alone. To be honest, it’s not the easiest place for it—after months of solo backpacking, Havana is the first place that actually makes me feel lonely—but Cuba is well worth a little social discomfort. “It’s not so bad,” I say. “I’m just excited Americans can finally come here.”

“We love Obama,” the tequila drinker says. “He’s the beginning of the end of this idiocy.”

He’s referring, of course, to the embargo and everything that goes along with it. The conversation drifts to the messy presidential race going on in my own country. Like nearly every Cuban I speak to over the next several days, both bartenders are praying for Hillary, horrified by the idea of a Trump presidency. The bad blood between our countries, as far as they’re concerned, is ancient history. “We don’t hate Americans,” the tequila drinker says. “We’re neighbors.”

This sentiment, too, is one I’ll hear throughout my stay. I finish my mojito as yet another wave of tourists hits and Rey starts doling out the next round of cocktails. I’m getting my wallet out to pay when he sets another mojito down in front of me. This one has a healthier sprig of mint in the bottom, though the taste is pretty much the same. “This one’s on us,” he says. “Welcome to Cuba.”

The Number of Drinks That Move Questionable Ideas to the “Good” Column


The Number of Drinks That Move Questionable Ideas to the “Good” Column

by Chris Schacht

Beer in Alaska

After a few days in the backcountry of Denali, eating dehydrated food and drinking filtered water, there’s nothing quite like a beer and a burger.

I found it a little upsetting, though, that I was enjoying that meal in sight of the Christopher McCandless bus.

It wasn’t the actual bus, but a reproduction used for Into the Wild, the film based on McCandless’s life. The bus ended up at the 49th State Brewery, which is not far outside the park. Now, I’m no worshipper of McCandless (I never read the book and thought the movie was fine), but I found it macabre for my two cousins and I to be gorging ourselves on sourdough burgers while tourists sat against the bus and snapped pictures, recreating the famous photo he took shortly before starving to death. I know McCandless said “happiness is only real when shared,” but I don’t think he was talking about Instagram.

No brooding over a bus could stop us from enjoying our drinks. With the first beer, I eyed the bus with disdain. By the third, I forgot it. They had a wide selection for one brewery, and between my traveling companions and I, we ordered only one dog of a beer.

And after those beers, we didn’t want to leave quite yet. We freed up our table to new diners and joined some guys building a bonfire in the courtyard. They were seasonal employees for the restaurant and for nearby guide companies. I’ve done my share of seasonal work, so we compared notes on Moab, the Adirondacks, and travels abroad. My cousins, one of whom lived in Fairbanks, had definitely been around, too.

Travelers and locals and seasonal bums, we all enjoyed our drinks together, and told stories around a fire that was only necessary in the sense that it gave us a place to gather near. Wilderness, like beer, provides us a means of escape. But more importantly, the two remind us that people matter, and that experiences really are better when shared.

Unfortunately, we had to get going. We had a long drive ahead of us, and our designated driver wasn’t keen on sticking around while we drank and the roads darkened. I took one more glance at the bus, which my cousin Eric must have noticed, because he nodded that direction. “Want your picture taken?” he said. He knew my feelings on the matter, so he was just ribbing me. Or he was acknowledging that we had reached the magic number of drinks that move previously questionable ideas to the “good” column. I passed on the offer. My cousins, the beer, the fire, our new friends; that was enough.

I recently asked my cousins if either of them had a picture from the brewery, maybe one of a beer, one of us, or one of the bus. They said no. On a trip otherwise fully documented with cell phones and SLRs, we hadn’t taken a single one.

Vive the People’s Drink


Vive the People’s Drink

by Jesse Dart

Spritz in Padova

In the middle of the piazza there are fruit and vegetable vendors with produce piled high. It’s late June. There are no students, the university has let out for the summer. It’s hot. Women in heels, however, are strolling along the stone paths walking their dogs. A few are chatting idly at tables with their friends over drinks. The octopus stand is just setting up for the evening. We are in Italy. We are in Padova.

Padova is like a snarky aunt 25 miles west of Venice. From the outside, you might think that she’s boring, provincial, but once you get to know her, you’ll be captured by her wit, her class, her style. Padova longs for people to fill her streets, her bars, her cafes and they do, without fail. Everyone here—men, women, children—can handle their drinks.

When I’m here, I always make time to go to Bar dei Osei in Piazza della Frutta in the center of town. The bar is small, with no inside seating. I’d say it’s an institution, but that’s too clinical: it’s a mainstay. It seems to have always existed. In their front window, you can see a large mortadella waiting to be sliced.

Here you drink spritz like you do in most northern Italian cities. In Padova, though, it’s the Spritz con Cynar that always gets my attention: bold, herbal, addicting. Cynar, is a bitter made primarily from artichokes, with a leafy green profile–different form the slightly sweeter Aperol. Bar dei Osei makes them the best, especially when combined with a Mortadella panino. I sit down and order one.

It’s rude to call Spritz a cocktail. It defies cocktails—it’s beyond them. Here, it’s the most democratic drink there is. A price hike could trigger protests. Spritz is the people’s drink, it’s for rich/poor, students/professionals. It has no class, no race, and no pretentiousness. Everyone drinks it, for better or worse, and that’s what makes it so great. If you’re not sure which bitter you want, at Bar dei Osei you can order the Spritz al Banco, which is a genius combination of Aperol, Campari, and Cynar with a splash of Prosecco. I drink one, two, three, and watch the ladies in heels with their dogs.

I’ve had spritz in grandpa bars, in fancy hotels, in cocktail bars. I’ve had them in London and in France, in the United States and in Australia. But none of them cut it. None of them have the expertise that comes with making them over and over, a thousand times a week, like the bartenders here do. Too watery, too much prosecco, too little bitters, too expensive or maybe they are just another cocktail on a list of 100. People here take this seriously: the price, the obligatory snacks (because you don’t drink without some kind of food), the atmosphere, conviviality, the democracy of it all. Politics aside, the spritz is an equalizer of people, of attitudes. The economy of the place depends on it.

The bartender brings over another round. “Six Euro” she says. We pull some coins out of our pockets. The line for octopus has grown, teenagers, families, friends have replaced the women in heels with dogs and the heat has finally subsided for the evening.

Day Drinkers, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


Day Drinkers, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

by Markus Bell

Soju in Seoul

Listless, middle-aged Korean women fan themselves atop up-turned beer crates, islands of refuge among pools of water that threaten to merge and flood the warehouse. Windows are boarded up and protests to the government against the market’s forced relocation are scrawled in red paint across the slats. A shy breeze carries with it a pungent, tangy smell from parts unknown.

It’s late afternoon in Seoul’s best-kept secret, Noryangjin Fish Market, and the temperature is pushing 100 degrees.

Record heat or not, it’s business as usual and fishmongers tout their wares to the early evening customers. The catch of the day is sea bass. “You foreigners love it,” a vendor who looks like he was born with the sweat beading across his brow informs me. We bargain for three kilos and he gifts us a plastic bag full of prawns.

With expert precision, the fishmonger’s wife exacts a fatal blow upon our prospective dinner. Switching tools, she guts it and strips the scales. A trail of blood drains into the communal gutter, joining decades of other marine life offal. She points down a damp alleyway, commanding, “First on your left. They’ll cook your prawns and get your drink.”

Cradling polystyrene plates of finely sliced raw fish, we dance our way around puddles of stagnant water to the area designated for on-site consumption of the market’s wares.

“Oe-seo-o-seyo!” call the staff, ushering us to our table. The day drinkers have been busy and tables are strewn with bottles of Hite beer and shelled crustacean. A red-faced salaryman is slumped in the corner; chin on chest, he defies the efforts of his party to wake him.

We sit crossed legged on the vinyl floor and the waitress unloads a stack of side dishes. We peel off slice after slice of sashimi with metal chopsticks, coat it in soy sauce and wasabi, and wrap it in sesame leaves. It has a bite that can only be chased by Korea’s green-eyed monster–soju.

As the afternoon bleeds into the evening the fish disappears and the table begins to groan under the weight of empty bottles. With each round we order the eyes of the waitress grow wider. Impressed? Concerned? No matter. We’ve switched to spicy gochu pepper sauce and this demands chasers.

“It won’t be the same, you know,” the waitress suddenly reflects. “When we have to relocate – higher rent, less space. It’ll be the end of us.” The man in the corner suddenly awakes and she scuttles over to help carry him out.

Emptying our shot glasses we crack another bottle. In most of Seoul’s marketplaces, day drinking is slowly disappearing, displaced by regulated hours and serious men in serious suits. But here, for now, we are holding out–staggering along, carrying the soju-fueled flame.

It’s Strangely Fun to Hear Cognac People Losing Their Minds Over Really Old Cognac


It’s Strangely Fun to Hear Cognac People Losing Their Minds Over Really Old Cognac

by Jake Emen

Cognac in Paradis

There’s a locked room beneath the Martell facility in Cognac, France, holding three centuries worth of secrets. A single dimly lit, nondescript hall, echoing with the faint whispers of passersby, offers its only means of entrance. Or escape.

It’s no prison, though: it’s the Paradis, the cellar where the oldest, finest eaux-de-vie are carefully kept as years, decades, and lifetimes continue to come and go above. Each producer has their own Paradis, but few can lay claim to one as magnificent as Martell’s, the oldest continually operational major Cognac house, founded in 1715. Here, Paradis is the Chai Jean Martell, or Jean Martell Cellar, and the oldest remaining eau-de-vie stretches back to 1802.

The eaux-de-vie, which isn’t known as Cognac until it’s blended, have been aged for exceedingly long periods before being transferred to nonreactive glass vessels known as demijohns, which stop the aging process and keep the spirit intact indefinitely. Kept within seemingly innocuous wicker baskets, which would otherwise be useful for no more than toting around laundry, they instead offer a time-bending, transformative journey to the lucky souls who encounter them.

Each demijohn holds a unique story, a moment locked in time for eternity. One’s story begins on May 30th, 1848, and I would find out later as I searched for some sort of historical significance to the time that was superior to simply stating that it had been over 167 fucking years since the stuff was made, that this is apparently the very same day that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, became effective, and that Wisconsin became the 30th state a day prior.

On that day, one particular eau-de-vie was distilled. It then spent 65 years maturing in the cask before being transferred to its state of dormant demijohn deep sleep. Something about this eau-de-vie was deemed worthy of safekeeping, of locking away in Paradis, until some lucky schmuck was able to stroll past in 2015 and attempt to ineloquently link it to something like the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Reading a book is supposedly a means of transporting you to the past, but it’s not sensory in any way, it’s entirely up to the imagination. A great author may be able to conjure up an immersive world for a reader, but nothing is ever actually experienced.

Raise a glass of eau-de-vie distilled in 1848 to your nose, though, and there’s no imagination necessary. Its smell and taste, its appearance in the glass, the feel of it along your tongue and cheeks, all of this came to be thanks to some craftsman’s hands 167 years prior and is now there for you, ready to deliver the innate imbibing pleasure which always rested within.

It’s musty and oaky, dry and spicy, but with fruity and floral notes as well, a delicate interplay belying its incredible age and the multi-century journey the spirit took until the day it was finally enjoyed as intended, November 4th, 2015. The room fills with a flowing, blissful energy, a crazy state of excitement and wonder passes from person to person, as a buzz created in 1848 comes to fruition and is brought to life 61,153 days later for you and your friends. Paradis.

Saturate Your Mind in Beer When the Obscenities of Mass Tourism Prove Overwhelming


Saturate Your Mind in Beer When the Obscenities of Mass Tourism Prove Overwhelming

by Matthew Bremner

Lukewarm Beer on La Rambla

Victor Ramos sat at a table in a terrace restaurant on La Rambla in Barcelona. He stared glumly into the distance. His eyes were clogged with tiredness and his back, bent by years of work, made sitting uncomfortable. His knees hurt, too, and at about this time of day, around mid-afternoon, the sun was always at its most overwhelming. Ramos felt his age only too keenly.

He was one of the few old things left on La Rambla, one of the few people remaining from a forgotten time. It was this small thing that kept him going, kept him making the short walk from his small flat in the Raval, where he lived alone, to one of the many cafes that line the famous street.

I met Ramos in the final few months of my time in Barcelona. I had moved to the city with my girlfriend in the hope of staying there permanently, but things hadn’t worked out, and La Rambla had become a Mecca-cum-metaphor for my frustration. I would go there and goggle at the sweaty sunburnt sight of modernity, drinking lukewarm Estrella Dams, until my mind was saturated by beer and boredom. Then one day, when the obscenities of mass tourism were becoming less fascinating, I sat next to him on one of the street’s many terraces. He was a crotchety old man, reminiscing about a glorious past.

I ordered beer, another lukewarm Estrella Damm, and Ramos sat murmuring over a milky coffee. As he babbled, he stared ceaselessly at the battered cardboard sign of a nearby shoe shiner: “5 euros for a polish” it read. The shoe shiner sat with his back to us, the worn chair in front of him empty and only the faint suggestion of his last client creased into its faux-leather. “Bet he doesn’t get many customers these days,” Ramos offered, as if we had been speaking for hours. “You know this whole street used to be lined with shoe shiners, back when it was beautiful, that is.” He went quiet again and resumed his staring.

It was odd watching them both: the crusty octogenarian and the hapless shoe shiner, both goaded by sun-oiled sinewy bodies and rubber flip-flops, and both overlooked by an age in pursuit of its own time and uses.

Ramos started to tell me what La Rambla was once like. It was a sinuous tree-lined expanse, full of theaters and markets. It ran from Plaça de Catalunya to the sea, he said. It was a street of fetid fish merchants, slick shoe-shiners, and solemn salesmen; of bombastic artists boozing in posh restaurants, and theatregoers out for an evening stroll. Work and leisure existed cheek by jowl. “It was a street full of its city. Now, it is a street full of the world… a world that doesn’t care about what the street once was.”

In front of us, people slouched over jugs of astringent sangria and shoveled soggy paella into their mouths. They packed the roadside terraces that in turn congested the street with a mass of plastic tables. Next to these establishments, more sightseers marched down the street in a sizzling miasma of beer, sweat, and sun lotion. Among them, half-naked men paraded their pectorals and sexual desires, and half-cut hen parties stumbled into bars and spluttered their drink orders.

I told Ramos that at any given moment around 80 percent of the people on La Rambla were tourists, and that this year anywhere between 8-9 million foreigners would visit the city. He shook his head. He knew that tourism wasn’t all bad, that the city had experienced a much needed lift after the 1992 Olympics. But somewhere something had changed, something had gone wrong. Economic success had converted central Barcelona into a theme-park, and it saddened and disgusted him in equal measure. But he knew his disdain didn’t matter. The street was changing, and he was too old and too poor to follow its lead.

“Every morning I wake up and wish I didn’t have to come here,” he told me, “yet, the street has always been part of my life, and I can’t stop living my life.” Ramos told me he had passed the time with his friends here, wooed his wife here, started long walks to the sea from here; he did things with people who, and in places that, no longer exist. He had only the outlines of his memories, and like a palimpsest, these recollections had been written over many times by the pressing needs of the present.

He frowned deeply, and began to organize himself to leave. He said he hadn’t talked to anyone for so long in months, and that he was happy to have told someone about his Rambla. He told me he’d return the next day, back on the street that dragged further from his past. As I watched him walk into the distance, I ordered another beer. Beside me a gaggle of giggly young women had taken over Ramos’s table. The party ordered a sangria and began Instagramming each other’s sunburnt feet.

Photo by: Josep Ma. Rosell

The Singular Experience of Drinking Beer in a North Korean Restaurant in Cambodia


The Singular Experience of Drinking Beer in a North Korean Restaurant in Cambodia

by Brent Crane

Beer in Phnom Penh

At the Pyongyang Cold Noodle Restaurant in Phnom Penh, one of a dozen plus eateries around the world owned by the North Korean regime, beer flows as freely as the blessed waters of the Kuryong Falls. An experience there is a grand show and, like any fiction, it is enhanced by alcohol, which is brought to you by spotless women in puffy joseon-ot dresses.

Pyongyang is so much more than a restaurant. It is a concert hall, a cultural variety show, a carnival of exported oppression (the North Korean staff cannot, of course, quit) and, most interestingly, a glimpse into a secret place. But it is North Korea as North Korea wants it to be seen: convivial, confident, and grand.

Look around: the place is packed with Chinese patrons, banquet style. Massive landscape paintings line the walls, LOTR-esque, with deep gorges and pristine waterfalls graced by majestic eagles and fierce tigers. Posters warn against the use of photographic devices. It smells like a Chinese fridge, the air icy with an artificial chill. The Dear Leader is suspiciously absent.

On stage is a spectacle. Women in white and red skirts dance to space rock. They step behind some traditional Korean drums and bang away to an increasingly intense soundtrack. Horns. Synth. Electric violin. Drum fill. Boom! Bang! Bop! Guitar solo.

One woman (they are all women) scuttles over to the biggest traditional drum and the other three take the other drums and suddenly it’s a drum battle. Then, before I can finish my first Chinese beer, they rush off stage and the violinist takes over with a beautiful singer. “Danny Boy, the Pipes…” melds into a techno version of Mozart’s Turkish March. The crowd eats it up like gourmet kimchi.

A new singer comes out and begins a solo performance. “What’s she saying?” I ask my friend Claire, a South Korean who’s joined me here with her Swiss-German husband Simon. She studies the karaoke screen. “…a bunch of birds flying around…Talking about a special flower: Moran. ‘The fragrant flower makes me wanna’…I don’t know. Dance or fly or something.”

A rock band appears. The guitarists are faking. You could tell during the key change.

Then the stage lights flash on. Mario-like music blares. Four identically dressed dancers with shiny, unblemished, robot faces come out and sing in perfect unison, “Under the bright sun we will prosper!” We all order another beer, then another and another, melting away the myriad ethical questions about coming here for fermented barley from Harbin. You couldn’t look at the tome of a menu without thinking of the famines.

A dancer with a fan and a red hat with a green peacock feather takes the stage with a revolutionary waltz. She starts spinning. The feather flutters in her inhuman torque. “That hat,” Claire belts over the music. “That hat is what the shamans wear.”

“I didn’t know there was shamanism in Korea,” I remark.

“Yeah. Shamanism is the deepest root. Then Buddhism, then Confucianism.” The music picks up, drowning Claire, and the dancer spins faster as the crowd erupts.

I ask Claire about growing up with such a strange neighbor. “You’re taught to hope for reunification,” she says. “You’re taught to love your people to the north. You think less about the dictator and more of the normal people. And then when a Westerner comes along and gets really political about it—I’m just like ‘okay okay,'” she says as she takes a sip of beer. “The weirdest part for me is that I could have been them.”

Everything Is Good, Everything Is the Same


Everything Is Good, Everything Is the Same

by Bhavya Dore

Beer in Mumbai

The second plate of naan arrives, flecked with strands of cheese and spots of black sesame. It’s 11pm on a Tuesday night at Gokul, the kind of night when a tall, cool glass of Kingfisher would do quite nicely.

I happen to have that tall, cool glass of Kingfisher right in front of me, and the sweet taste of bitter is exactly the kind of thing I need. Not just because it’s the kind of muggy night that merits beer-soaked fun, but also because I haven’t drunk here at Gokul in a year.

Personal prohibition was brought on by jaundice; no drinking for at least six months after recovering. The path to good health is lined with abstinence, but having ridden out that curve I am back now and Gokul—a habitual port of call since 2006—is as good a place as any for a beery comeback.

Tucked in a lane behind the Taj hotel, the vibe is equal parts seedy, iconic, cheap, convenient and comfortable. It is always in danger of passing from genuine dive into appropriated cool, but on balance it seems to do quite well, staying this side of pretentiousness.

There are bars like this one through Mumbai; dimly lit watering holes offering inexpensive liquor and crunchy treats like masala papad and chakli with Schezwan sauce. I have heard tell that even on dry days—holidays in the state when alcohol is prohibited—Gokul is the one place you have always been able to go to. It has moved through various iterations; as a tiny restaurant, an unofficial gay bar, a Lonely Planet recommendation. Its clientele demographic is all over the map.

Even though smoking indoors is prohibited, Gokul is free from the constraints of reality and the air-conditioned ground floor room is permeated by a tobacco fug. The pomfret arrives; a flat, red slab. We tear off hunks off it. All the while I remember it was probably a shady dish in a shady joint like this that gave me jaundice in the first place. But now is not the time to dwell on quibbles over hygiene; especially not when you’re after things like “character.”

I look around for familiar faces, but tonight there seem to be none. We are seated in one far corner, lit up by the iridescence of the television in a place whose approach to lighting is the less, the better. The show switches from kabbadi to Ian Botham stroking a boundary in a cricket highlights reel from 1981. There are ghosts everywhere, and not just on the television. The taste of Kingfisher is comforting, and it is good to be reunited with it. But nostalgia is the refuge of the unimaginative, and I am here to make new memories.

“What’s new on the menu since I met you last year?” I ask the man in charge, simply known as Anna to D, who invokes the authority of a regular.

A fellow with a standard-issue moustache, Anna is non-committal. “Everything is good, everything is the same,” he says, with a half-smile.

Glad to be back.

We’re Going to Need Some More Information on the Yakuza Club and the Strippers


We’re Going to Need Some More Information on the Yakuza Club and the Strippers

by Russ Rowlands

Mai Tais on Waikiki Beach

Four of us sat around a table on the posh waterfront patio of the Outrigger Waikiki in Honolulu, heads in hands. I was coming down from a solo day-drunk while also trying to drain the salt water from my sinuses after an ass-over-teakettle first attempt at surfing. The other three were recovering from a night on the town and being uncharacteristically taciturn about it.

It was 3pm. Around us sat a thin crowd of honeymooners, clearly second- or third-rounders who had overdone it on turtle tours and theme-park luaus. Despite their salty experience they were still putting in the effort, all dressed up in colorful shirts tucked into dockers and white dresses showing off more pink flesh than was strictly warranted.

A manicured waitress arrived and greeted us with a sunshine-bright aloha, to which I cannot say she received the deserved commensurate response. The other guys didn’t even look up. Undecided between the menu’s various elderberry-infused offerings, I asked her for four rum punches. The guys had flown all the way to Hawaii from Barbados, and I thought some home-town nostalgia would perk them up. The waitress stared at me blankly.

“You don’t have rum punch?” I tried, as politely as possible. The look on her face was the same one you get when you drunkenly order tacos at a late-night shawarma joint. At least one of the guys looked up when I said it.

“Hmm. Rum sours?”

“Ohhh sure, rum sours!” she said. I wasn’t reassured by the set of her eyebrows, though.

Four neon-green drinks arrived soon after, be-rimmed with limes and umbrellas. Unsteady hands, attached to noncommittal arms, reached out for the medicine. The drinks were consumed in silence, and had no apparent curative effects.

The waitress, undeterred and attentive, suggested the hotel’s specialty, a Mai Tai. Four ounces of varied rums, pineapple juice, and a slice of fruit. The boys didn’t offer an opinion. I hesitated. The famous, if faded, Mai Tai was not something I had ever seen on a menu in a non-ironic manner. Our waitress smiled brightly, patiently.

“Oh come on, give them a try – they’re delicious!” she said, putting her hand on my shoulder. I nodded, letting responsibility for the matter slough off me.

Our Mai Tais arrived in huge tumblers soggy with condensation. Thick layers of dark rum, pineapple juice, and then more white rum were somehow well delineated. Massive chunks of pineapple perched on the rim, glistening vibrantly in stark contrast to every other fruit rim in my long experience. Heads lifted.

Tentative sips were taken. Less tentative gulps were taken. Glasses were finished, ice ringing dully against a boozy pineapple pulp. We looked around at each other, guiltily. The Mai Tais were stunningly good.

The guys eventually loosened up, telling me about a debauched night of Yakuza clubs, suicidal strippers, and nearly-lost limbs. Despite our evident appreciation for the iconic drink, I don’t think Tourism Hawaii will be calling us anytime soon to request a promo.

What Sort of Monster Doesn’t Finish a Magical Dram of Scotch?


What Sort of Monster Doesn’t Finish a Magical Dram of Scotch?

by Jake Emen

Scotch in Islay

Islay, Scotland, with its 3,000 residents and 239 square miles, is home to eight whisky distilleries. There’s more on the way, too, with business booming and investors eager to get in on the world’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for the peaty, salty, briny, and all-around wonderful whisky that flows from the island’s stills.

That thirst was not always unquenchable, however, an unfortunate truth which came firmly to light in 1983. This was to become a year of mourning, one which would be eternally remembered with anguish and grief by whisky drinkers once Port Ellen shuttered its doors and mothballed its equipment. No more whisky was to be distilled there.

Whisky takes time to come of age, though, and great whisky often takes decades. So while new production ceased, the warehouses have remained ever-active, slowly but surely maturing their remaining contents.

Mammoth spirits company Diageo owns the facility and has been doling out the remaining stock from those warehouses in small, highly exclusive annual releases. Bottles fetch a few thousand dollars a pop, when they can be tracked down at all. The liquid is the stuff of legend.

But who needs a bottle, when you can sample it straight from one of those prized, mythical casks?

A celebratory tour of the island in honor of the Lagavulin distillery’s 200th anniversary (also owned by Diageo) included a visit to Port Ellen. Beyond the warehouses, a thriving malting operation also takes place, providing the bulk of the peated, malted barley used in Islay’s active distilleries.

Soon, murmurs were heard and rumors were swirling. A frantic energy was building. There’s still whisky in those warehouses, yes? Will we get to try any of it? No, no, let’s not get our hopes up. Certainly there was no mention of this on the itinerary.

The group wandered out of the malting house and down to the shore, along the southern coast of tiny Islay, overlooking the even tinier town of Port Ellen itself. The sun was shining across brilliant blue skies, betraying the island’s windswept and perpetually storm-battered reputation, and perhaps signaling that on this day, there would be no mourning, no eternal grief or anguish. No, on this day, the whisky gods had a gift to bestow.

The gift, of course, was that patiently matured Port Ellen distilled whisky. Produced in that fateful final year of production, the whisky itself was now 32 years old, having spent the entirety of its life, a life longer than my own, coming of age in ex-sherry casks. Glasses were passed out and admired, more sunshine emanating from the contents held within than from the bright blue sky above.

Standing next to that warehouse, with its instantly recognizable Islay aesthetics—whitewashed walls with bold, black lettering indicating your location, P O R T E L L E N—a Glencairn glass is passed into my hands. Drinking Port Ellen, one of the world’s most prized whiskies, at Port Ellen, one of the world’s most fervently mourned former distilleries, it’s a pour of whisky that cannot be conveyed via mere tasting notes. This isn’t a collection of specific flavor profile pinpoints, it’s a transcendental, joyful experience to be savored far beyond the moment when the final drop was cherishingly sipped down. Sure, there’s salt and peat and spice and sherry, but really, it’s hope and dreams and loveliness.

Revelry ensues, photos are taken, glasses are returned and the group begins walking away. What’s this? Someone put down their glass, with whisky still remaining in it? Who would dare? Is there a commission to report this foolish person to, some sort of task-force to ride in, sirens blaring, to escort this person to his or her fully-deserved imprisonment?

No, I have a better idea. Shh. I’ll make this my little secret. I pick up the glass and savor its remaining sip. Another gift from the whisky gods above on this absurdly beautiful day spent wandering this tiny, quaint island which conjures up just such magical moments for whisky lovers the world over.

Learning to Love the Exotic Cuisine of Upstate New York


Learning to Love the Exotic Cuisine of Upstate New York

by Pooja Makhijani

Beer in Buffalo

Like most American-born children of immigrants, I felt tension between the culture I was immersed in at school during the day, and the culture that my family kept alive within our home and in our community, which I returned to each night. In the late-1980s, after the passage of various immigration reform laws, my New Jersey township became home to thousands of migrants from China and India. We had South Asian neighbors, celebrated South Asian holidays, ate South Asian foods. My immigrant parents, to a large extent, were able to preserve their Old-World life, unlike, perhaps, immigrant families in less diverse parts of the United States.

My experience of American (read: non-South Asian) foods was largely limited to Kraft Mac & Cheese and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. It was only when my parents’ became established in their careers in the early-1990s that “exotic” American foods beyond the occasional Pizza-Hut pan pizza became affordable and ubiquitous for us. And as I began to enter more white spaces, my appreciation of and taste for “American” food grew.

A dozen years ago, I married an Indian-American man, like myself, who had grown up in a city that required his assimilation, or at least more so than mine. He grew up with football and chicken wings, and, having entered his family, I have learned to love these things, too. (OK, maybe not football. Yet.) We frequent Buffalo annually, and we always have wings.

Our family prefers Duff’s Famous Wings in Amherst, a quiet northern suburb, rather than Anchor Bar, in downtown Buffalo, where wings are thought to have first been prepared. Local lore tells the story of Teressa Bellissimo, co-owner of the bar, who, upon the unannounced arrival of her son with several of his friends, deep-fried chicken wings and tossed them in cayenne hot sauce. Anchor Bar’s wings are smokier than Duff’s, and the bar is only frequented by my family when they have visitors in town. Duff’s, on the other hand, attracts both college students from nearby University of Buffalo and locals like my own.

On our most recent visit, we avoid the evening rush, when hungry diners spill out to picnic tables outside, and settle into a cramped corner in the main dining room. The standard-issue tables and chairs are squeezed tightly into this space, and my knees knock against my husband’s. Not much has changed since Duff’s was founded in this location in 1946, he tells me. The ceiling is white stucco, the walls are dark wood-paneled, and the bar is small and crowded.

We order 30 medium wings and a pitcher of Labatt Blue. “MEDIUM IS HOT/MEDIUM HOT IS VERY HOT/HOT IS VERY, VERY HOT,” we are reminded. The beer is cheap, light, and easy-to-drink, and a reminder of his twenties, my husband tells me. “It was either this or Molson,” he says.

Wings are a conversation-less meal. Between dipping the wings into blue cheese or extra hot sauce, tearing off bits of meat with one’s teeth and downing gulps of beer to offset the bite, wiping one’s orange-tinged fingers with napkins, and discarding bones into a bowl or bucket, there is no time for pleasantries. Duff’s wings are plump and crisp-skinned, and I much prefer the wings over the drumettes. They have a vinegary note, and their heat lingers on our lips and tongues long after our meal is complete.

In Drinking, as in Life, End With Bad Wordplay


In Drinking, as in Life, End With Bad Wordplay

by Daisy Dee

This week, illustrator Daisy Dee is sharing dispatches from a week spent drinking in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail.

Single Malt Whisky at the Pharmacy Museum, 1 pm

My dress is heavy and dripping.

I’m scheduled to fly out in three hours and New Orleans (in typical fashion) wants to send me off with a drink and a downpour.

As I walk to my final seminar at the iconic New Orleans Pharmacy Museum in the Quarter, the sky erupts into a casual thunderstorm. Growing up in places that vacillate violently between weather patterns, I learned to always carry with me a tiny umbrella to shield me from intense sun and moderate rain. It’s more of a safety blanket than a functional umbrella, and when the rain turns torrential, it struggles pathetically to divert the deluge. When I arrive at the museum, I am only slightly drier than I would have been with no protection at all, and I’m dripping excessively onto the floor. Actually, most of us are. The rain stops as soon as we are all safely inside, of course.

The New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on Chartres is a beautiful and deeply historic space. The original storefront was the first accredited American pharmacy, run by Luis J. Dufilo, Jr., the first to pass the pharmacist’s licensing exam, in 1804. The museum is designed to look like an apothecary from that time, with bottles containing medicinal herbs and tonics lining every wall. There are pharmaceutical relics on display, illustrating the evolution of modern medicine with informative placards discussing the uses of leeches and ether.

There couldn’t be a more suitable location to have a seminar on Auchentoshan and bitters. Bitters were originally developed medicinally as a digestive aid, and to this day are a common (especially among bartenders) treatment for an assortment of maladies. Today’s workshop is run by Robin Nance, national Auchentoshan brand ambassador, and Tobin Ludwig of Hella Bitters. We start with a sparkling, slightly bitter single-malt cocktail. Tobin presents the history and methods surrounding the development of bitters, explaining how some bitters are created using a mixture of dry spices and aromatics steeped in a strong spirit, as one would make tea, but others are made using tinctures (a single ingredient extracted into an alcohol base) that are then blended into a final product.

Robin then explains to us the history of Auchentoshan single malt scotch. Unlike most distilleries in Scotland, which tend to be more remote, Auchentoshan was built near Glasgow. Despite being quite an old distillery—it was founded in the 1800s—their attitude towards making whisky embraces the experimental rather than emphasizing tradition. Due to their practice of triple distillation (an uncommon process in Scotch), Auchentoshan’s final spirit comes out of the still at 81% ABV (162 proof). Triple distilling strips away some of the heavier grain elements from the distillate, leaving a whisky that is lighter and more delicate.

It would make the perfect base for bitters, but unfortunately, due to shipping laws, it wouldn’t feasible. Instead, we use Auchentoshan American Oak as our base.

This workshop utilizes the tincture method of creating bitters. Using tinctures and adding to a base spirit by measured amounts is instantly gratifying. You can taste and predict what an ingredient will add to your recipe (as long as you don’t blow out your tastebuds on the bird’s eye Thai chili tincture). All of the flavors are broken down into categories like bitter, spice, fruit, floral. We take notes on our recipes and fiddle with the bottles, tasting and exchanging sweet almond and allspice tinctures.

I decide to focus on my favorite spice, cardamom, and build a bitters recipe around that core, adding some Madagascar vanilla, cassia, allspice, ginger and sweet orange for a chai effect, with a base of angelica root and some black pepper for spice and bitterness. It’s a nice mixture, warming with a bitterness like artichoke that makes my mouth water. But I ask others to taste it as well, as I went a little hard on that bird’s eye chili.

It’s time for me to head to the airport, and I have no idea what title to write on the label, but when in doubt, go with terrible wordplay:

“You’re not my cardamom!”

And with that, I’m ready to go home.

A Drink Fit for Royalty but Poured for a Crowd


A Drink Fit for Royalty but Poured for a Crowd

by Daisy Dee

This week, illustrator Daisy Dee is sharing dispatches from a week spent drinking in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail.

L’essence at Arnaud’s, 3 pm

I do things for silly reasons. The reason I became a bartender in the first place was because I wanted to taste spirits that were older than me. I was poor and young and didn’t know that it wouldn’t be that difficult to do. I figured working in a bar would provide me with a spirits education, and eventually I would get to drink something twice my age. Even though I’ve accomplished that tiny dream many times over at this point, I still operate on that prerogative. I suppose it’s just in my nature to seek out and taste history. This is one of those opportunities.

Beam Suntory, a spirits manufacturer, has rented out Arnaud’s, one of my favorite restaurants in all of New Orleans, for a hotel-themed party. I am ecstatic.

I check in with the “concierge” and he hands me a substantial, copper-colored bottle opener masquerading as a beautiful room key. The main dining area has been transformed into a breathtaking hotel lobby, with a large bar serviced by five bartenders pumping out classics quickly and efficiently: cognac-based French 75s, Penicillin Punches, Boulevardiers, and Hibiki Highballs are all on offer. I help myself to a highball and hunt down some snacks; the food is being provided by the restaurant and it is delicious.

There is a line forming to go upstairs, where there is an exclusive tasting room in which guests can sample the rarer spirits in the company’s catalogue. Upon entry I receive a small stemmed glass, etched with the iconic “A” of the Auchentoshan single malt whisky distillery. I love this room, especially the wallpaper, a blend of playful circus imagery and animals that look like they belong on family crests. People are milling about from one corner to another, discussing the nuances of the products that the brand ambassadors are serving up. El Tesoro’s Paradiso is being poured in one corner, while others are gathered around the Hakkushu and Yamazaki bottles. I’ve come upstairs for one thing, a tiny taste of by far the rarest and most delicate spirit in the room: Courvoisier’s L’essence.

The marketing department of the cognac industry as a whole has done very well in making cognac a luxury item in the U.S., thanks in no small part to the hip-hop community and the frequent mention of cognac alongside expensive jewelry, designer fashion, and high-end sports cars. L’essence is Courvoisier’s special-edition cognac, and is the essence, not only of all of their grand and petit champagne eau de vies (dating back to 1910) but of luxury as well.

I’ve found a seat close by, realizing that the line forming for such precious liquid will be the perfect opportunity to practice some face sketches. Word is spreading that the L’essence is being poured and everyone wants a taste. Of course they do, as the bottle retails for up to $3,200. These events are the most likely place to taste something so rare, unless you have a friend who also happens to be royalty.

The Courvoisier representative checks the glasses for cleanliness before pouring. The cognac is so delicate that if any other spirit still lingers in the glass, it will overpower the L’essence. It is indeed delicate and nuanced and very much appeals to my taste. It has a very smooth, nutty body with surprisingly floral notes for a spirit containing mostly century-old eau de vie. Its flavor lingers for a long time, and I savor the half-ounce of liquid in my glass slowly while watching everyone vie for a taste. I watch a man sneakily attempt to get seconds, but he’s turned away to give a fresh face the opportunity to taste.

Half an hour passes, and the decanter is empty. A few minutes later and my glass, which I’ve managed to stretch for this long, is finally empty, too. I take a deep breath of the remaining perfume and dream longingly of the next time I will taste something so exquisite.

The Best Damn Gumbo I Have Ever Had


The Best Damn Gumbo I Have Ever Had

by Daisy Dee

This week, illustrator Daisy Dee is sharing dispatches from a week spent drinking in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail.

Frozen Irish Coffee at the Erin Rose, 5 pm

It’s time for the Tales of the Cocktail tradition: Frozen Irish coffee at the Erin Rose, the unofficial cocktail of the convention. It’s a sweet, milky slush with a brandy base that lives in the industrial-strength daiquiri machines at the back of the bar. It’s garnished with coffee grounds, which are hands-down my favorite part of the drink. I slurp those up first and then hope they aren’t stuck in my teeth when I smile.

Sitting in the back room of the Erin Rose brings me back to a late night, two years prior, on a Tuesday around the same time of year. I am sitting with some friends after returning from an excellent show at the Maple Leaf. We’re drinking frozen Irish coffees, debating whether to walk to Verti Marte for po’boys or go to bed hungry. I’m barely drunk, but desperately hungry, almost too hungry to walk. But then, like a human room of requirement…

“NEVER FEAR, GUMBO MAN IS HERE,” a booming voice calls as a stranger bursts into the back room.

My eyes light up, and he catches my excitement and walks over to me. There is no gumbo in his hands, only a phone on which he shows me photos from his Instagram account, which is filled with pretty women kissing his cheeks. “Happy, satisfied customers,” he says.

“How much is it?” I ask. Eight dollars for chicken and andouille, ten for seafood, which includes chicken, andouille, shrimp, and blue crab.

I hear the words “shrimp and blue crab” and want it desperately, but I’m still hesitant. I haven’t seen any product, but I’m stupid with hunger so I ask the bartender, who is quietly watching the whole scene play out, “Can I trust this man?”

He nods dismissively.

Looking back on it, I might have done the same if I were him just to see how things would unfold.

But I am convinced. I fish a $10 bill out of my bag and hand it to my new friend. He walks out of the bar and my friends all stare at me blankly, shocked that I could be such a sucker. Only a few minutes pass, but it feels like forever.

I question my life choices.

My gumbo hero returns with the spoils. A steaming styrofoam cup filled with gumbo, generously chunky with all the promised ingredients. Spiced and a little earthy, rich and dark and so satisfying. I want to kiss his cheeks like the girls in his photos, but he has disappeared as abruptly as he’d arrived.

I don’t know if it’s the story surrounding the experience or just the fact that I was ravenous. But it was the best damn gumbo I have ever had.

Scenes From a Frantic, Week-Long Bar Crawl


Scenes From a Frantic, Week-Long Bar Crawl

by Daisy Dee

This week, illustrator Daisy Dee is sharing dispatches from a week spent drinking in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail.

Vieux Carrés at the Carousel Bar, 11 am

I’m sitting at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone drinking a cocktail and lazily spinning around the room while seated at the rotating circular bar. It’s crowded, and those who are not lucky enough to have a seat at the spinning bar are awkwardly shuffling along at the speed of the barstools to keep up with the lucky few. Its a fun experience, but disorienting. Not recommended for those who are easily motion sick.

The Hotel Monteleone serves as the epicenter of the week-long spirits industry convention, and people cycle in and out, looking for old friends. The bartender, Neil, is celebrating his birthday, and the entire carousel erupts into a rousing rendition of happy birthday while a woman presents a lit candle stuck into a bowl of their famously addictive bar-nut mix.

Despite the early hour (for me, at least) I’m drinking a Vieux Carré, which translates to Old Square, a moniker for the French Quarter. The Carousel Bar is historically recognized as the birthplace of this classic cocktail. It’s a variant of the Manhattan, with a base of bitters (Peychaud’s and Angostura, usually), rye whiskey, and sweet vermouth. In this version, however, half of the rye is replaced with cognac, the bitters are applied with a heavy hand, and a spoonful of Bénédictine, an herbal French liqueur, is added, giving the drink a smooth, buttery quality. Others must be excited to be in the cocktail’s bar of origin as well, because Neil is making a ton of them.

The bar takes about 15 minutes to make a full revolution. I sit so long I lose count of them, trying to capture the likeness of people constantly shifting seats while also trying to talk with friends that I rarely see.

In the end, hunger for fried chicken wins out and our group departs before I can finish my sketch. But this is Tales, a frantic, week-long bar crawl. Like the Carousel Bar, even when you’re sitting still, you don’t stay in one place for very long.

Nothing Beats the Monday Blahs Like a Party in the Streets


Nothing Beats the Monday Blahs Like a Party in the Streets

by Daisy Dee

This week, illustrator Daisy Dee is sharing dispatches from a week spent drinking in New Orleans during Tales of the Cocktail.

Soju at Yuki Izakaya

Hiroshi picks me up from the hotel lobby. We’ve planned to go down to Frenchmen Street to enjoy my favorite part of New Orleans, the constant stream of live music. I secretly hope that the Young Fellaz Brass Band will be playing on their corner like they do almost every night, but our plan for now is to eat dinner at Yuki Izakaya, a quiet, unassuming Japanese pub.

It’s a quiet Monday. The band that is playing is called Up Up We Go, a group with rotating musicians centered around founder Salvatore Geloso. Tonight, Shawn Meyers accompanies him with percussion. The music is smokey and dreamy, the vocals reminiscent of Amy Winehouse.

We make our way to the very back of the bar, close to the kitchen. Hiro introduces me to his friends behind the bar. I order soju and Calpis and Hiro chooses an Asahi Black. We order some takoyaki and other snacks, and settle into our stools to take in the band.

I love to draw musicians because it’s one of the few times when I don’t seem like a complete creep for staring at strangers for uncomfortable lengths of time while seemingly taking notes in a tiny black book. Yuki’s is dark and we are seated quite possibly as far away from the band as we can possibly be, but there is enough light to make out their faces. Geloso’s bright, chandelier-style earrings stand out to me in the dim bar, as well as his striking silhouette, while Meyers moves a little too quickly for my eyes to track. I attempt several times to get a likeness but fail.

Halfway through their set, the Young Fellaz Brass Band can be heard outside, setting up for their nightly performance. They’re a large, rag-tag group of young street performers who take up musical residence almost every night on the corner of Frenchmen and Chartres. A tiny part of me wants to abandon this drawing and the dark bar to go dance in the streetlight to their high-octane performance. I’ve heard that some of the musicians who perform in venues on Frenchman are resentful of the brass band, as their high energy and volume penetrates right through the buildings, competing with the performers inside. The Young Fellaz Brass Band are a magnet, drawing people to an abandoned corner curb; the crowd can get so big it spills into and across the entire intersection.

To me, this is wonderful. This band brings their A-game night after night. They know how to entertain a crowd and they hustle, sometimes performing for hours. Sure, they are loud, but they’re a fucking brass band. Of course they’re loud. I can see how other musicians would view them as competition, but just as a rising tide raises all ships, the start of the set out on the street corner has forced Up Up and Away to raise their own energy levels as well. After their short break, they come back with a funky song that interacts playfully and competes for volume with the band outside. Their set becomes more kinetic and loses the lazy Monday vibes from earlier in the night. I’ve become consumed with covering up a tragic attempt at a face with a brick wall in my sketch, so I decide to stay at Yuki’s while finishing the drawing. I watch the rest of their set while enjoying the sounds of the chaotic party going on in the streets in the background.

Drinking Bootleg Beer in Bangkok


Drinking Bootleg Beer in Bangkok

by Craig Sauers

Thai Craft Beer in Thailand

A breeze blew over the brown water. Waves licked the beams beneath my feet. I had a cold pale ale in one hand and a notebook in the other. Sunglasses shaded my eyes. From where I was sitting, I could see vines growing wildly on a flood wall and a temple roof turning ochre in the late-afternoon sun. The distance between the other side of the river and me was no farther than 50 feet, and I was just a boat ride away from the one-room apartment I called home, but I felt so far removed from Bangkok I may as well have been in Boston.

My glass was empty. The man I was drinking with gave me another, an amber ale he was tinkering with in his free time. His name was Chit, and Chit Beer was his baby: a shack-turned-brewing academy and Thai-craft-beer bar on a speck of land called Koh Kret. He was lean and outspoken, with the relentless energy of a man well-seasoned in the art of throwing backyard barbecues. We talked about Bitcoins, the marathons we had run in New York, and how, while at Georgia Tech, he got hooked on home-brewing. I told him I couldn’t remember the last time I’d tasted a beer as flavorful as his in Thailand. He called me a VIP.

When Chit laughed, he looked like the Cheshire Cat. His eyes would shrink to the size of thimbles, the whites all removed, a barely visible web of wrinkles belying his youth. He laughed often.

We volleyed pleasantries and covered the basics. Then, casually, he revealed that he was a colonel in the army. What, how, but isn’t this whole set-up illegal? “It’s only illegal if the excise police catch me,” he said, and winked. Under Thai law, he couldn’t brew and sell his own beer unless he could produce 100,000 liters of it a year. Penalties ranged from small fines to jail time. That wasn’t stopping Chit. It wasn’t stopping the more than 200 other home-brewers in Thailand, either, I was told. Chit opened his bar only on weekends, when the police were off the clock and wouldn’t come knocking. When they showed up anyway, he paid the tea money. So did his home-brewer friends. And so did their home-brewer friends.

Craft beer was almost contraband in Thailand until five years ago, when seemingly overnight it became de rigueur to sip Rogue and Deschutes at Bangkok’s sexiest bars and clubs. The high society all drank imports from the U.S. and Europe. But, since 2012, when Chit opened his bar and began to teach the basics of brewing, the population of beer geeks and home-brewers has burgeoned. Suddenly, the flavors and philosophies of foreign craft beer cultures feel closer to Thailand than ever, and a legal domestic craft beer industry seems realistic.

“I dream of big change, but we’ll never see change unless we fight for it,” Chit told me, as he raced away to check on a batch of beer bubbling in his kitchen. For once, he wasn’t laughing.

An Utter Lack of Judgement Is a Bar’s Best Quality


An Utter Lack of Judgement Is a Bar’s Best Quality

by Boshika Gupta

Old Monk in Bombay

Where I’m from, you either choose to be a well-behaved Indian girl or a rebel who drinks. It’s black and white with little room for error.

I grew up in a fairly liberal home. However, as soon as I was old enough to start seeking adventure, I realized drinking in public and coming home sloshed was off-limits.

However, one of the best things about Bombay is that you can find a place for yourself, even if you’re a confused college student with little pocket money and a desire to be young, wild, and free.

This is how I found myself trekking to Sunlight three years ago on my birthday with a few friends. Sunlight is a dive bar located in what we refer to as “town,” the southern part of the city with its generous share of old money and an abundance of kaali-peelis (black and yellow taxis.)

I visited the bar again recently, three years later. Suffice to say, Sunlight, with its dim lighting, blaring jukebox, and mostly bare walls, was comfortingly the same.

I carefully trudged up the steep stairs and made my way to the nearest staff member. When I told him I was looking for a table, he looked at me dubiously. “A table just for you?” he asked. This sentiment was echoed by a kind stranger who offered to let me sit with her group of girlfriends.

I gratefully accepted the invitation and slid into the seat. “Do you booze?” the girl at the table asked me. “Of course,” I responded, ordering my faithful glass of Old Monk. Dark rum which has ruled the hearts of Indians since 1954, Old Monk is rather strong, with a distinctive flavor and a promise: you will feel the buzz in all its glory.

My companion for the night went out briefly to withdraw some cash from an ATM. She brought back with her tales of being stalked by a man whom she avoided by talking on the phone. Her friends defiantly finished their beer and declared that they don’t need men.

I left soon after and vaguely registered the cabbie staring curiously as I fumbled for money in my bag. I grinned, pretending I was back inside Sunlight’s familiar interiors, swaying to the music and soaking in the complete and utter lack of judgment.

Photo: Alan Levine

Agreed, Being a Wildebeest Would Totally Suck


Agreed, Being a Wildebeest Would Totally Suck

by Larry Keller

Kilimanjaro Beer on the Serengeti

In Tanzania, this is what is known as an “African massage.” It’s my third day of being launched side to side like a pinball in a Toyota Land Cruiser as we bounce and rock over rutted roads in the Serengeti. We stop not once, but twice, to change shredded tires.

The pop-up roof affords me an elevated, wide-angle view of the savannah and the incredible wildlife. There’s beauty, of course. Sleek lions prowling through tall grasses, golden in the warm early morning light. A sinewy leopard lazing on a rock. Impalas and gazelles bounding over the dry terrain, as if propelled on bionic legs.

But there is this, too. Opportunistic hyenas sitting alertly, watching and waiting. Three dozen zebras drinking from a shallow stream, suddenly bolting en masse, terrified when a stealthy lioness appears nearby. A baby zebra near the road, its flesh devoured except from its head. A bloated wildebeest, a gaping hole in its chest.

I’ve become fond of wildebeests. They look comical with their spindly legs, horse-like manes and tails, big chests and small hindquarters, but they are fast, sure-footed, and resolute in their relentless migration to water. Some have an endearing habit of making direct eye contact with us as if trying to figure out what we are.

We see hundreds upon hundreds of them galloping toward a stream trickling through the parched grasslands. The youngest are about four months old, gamely keeping up with the herd. One mom pauses 15 seconds to let her youngster nurse in the midst of the stampede.

It’s a hazardous journey. Lions and hyenas lie in wait on land, and crocodiles in the water. We see one wildebeest separated miles from its herd. It surely is doomed. Only a half hour earlier we had seen lions in the vicinity.

Late in the afternoon, we spot two scrums of vultures digging into dead wildebeests. The second carcass is near the road. We stop and watch. A dozen of the beady-eyed birds with tiny heads and long necks tear into its belly and into each other. Squabbling loudly, they flap their wings and attack each other whenever one snatches a coveted strand of guts. It’s a sordid end for the hapless wildebeest, ripped into and fought over, its paltry remains left to rot in the remorseless sun.

Two of the vultures, however, stand quietly to the side, throats bloodied in the feeding frenzy. If their wounds fester, their fate will soon be that of the wildebeest in the harsh cycle of life and death in the Serengeti.

We drive back to our lodge after a long and dusty day. I head to the bar. It has a wide patio with a small shimmering swimming pool perched above the expansive plains below.

I quaff a Kilimanjaro beer and ponder the dichotomy: Endless undulating grasses, dramatic acacia trees and charismatic wildlife on one hand; the undercurrent of fear and ferocity on the other. Tormented by tsetse flies and ticks, the Serengeti’s inhabitants constantly are prowling for prey, constantly wary of becoming prey.

I have no such worries. Nor do I have any epiphanies. Only this: thank goodness I’m not a wildebeest. Then I order another Kilimanjaro.

Photo by: Laurent de Walick

There’s Nothing Alcohol Can’t Solve Except Actually That Bathroom Situation Sounds Pretty Dire


There’s Nothing Alcohol Can’t Solve Except Actually That Bathroom Situation Sounds Pretty Dire

by Ying Tey Reinhardt

Myanmar Rum in Bagan

The magic of ancient Bagan, Myanmar, was fading slowly as the taxi driver drove away from the stupas and serene Buddha statues and towards the train station. At the entrance of the station where my husband handed him a handful of kyats, he nodded back as if to say “Good luck surviving the ride from hell.”

Except for another backpacker, there were no other tourists in sight. Only a handful of local women squatted next to their woven baskets and plastic bags by the platform. Two kids played catch, their flip-flops making clapping sounds against the concrete as they ran, and a weasley old man stared at us under his navy green wide-brimmed hat.

Back in the guesthouse, the staff had asked us of our plans. Upon hearing that we’d be taking the train instead of the bus to Yangon, his face scrunched up as he’d eaten something bad.

“Don’t. Even the locals don’t take the train anymore. Why not take the bus?” he’d smirked.

We know, we know. The overnight interstate busses running across Myanmar had undergone a massive upgrade, boasting wide-berth seats, personal screens, and a steward that walked up and down the narrow aisle, serving drinks and snacks. But these bus tickets were sold out and we had a flight to catch in two days.

Train travel was the only other alternative and according to a few blog posts, it was allegedly the craziest thing you could do to yourself. It was also the sort of thing you would do to test the mettle of your marriage. Not only the carriages looked as if they were dug right out of a train graveyard, there were also mentions of levitation, carriage derailment in the middle of the night, and unimaginable bathroom conditions. Reading all those experiences made us almost opt for third-class buses, but we didn’t. Instead, my husband gave me the ‘challenge accepted’ look. We then went on to buy, not just the 16,500 Kyat (about US$14) tickets for the Upper-class Standard Sleeper, but also a 175ml bottle of Myanmar Rum. Our experience told us that there’s nothing a little bit of local alcohol couldn’t solve.

The mustachioed train steward beamed when we climbed on board. The lack of passengers meant a full range of Sleeper cabins were available for selection and we chose one that had a filthy metal fan that worked. There were two narrow beds separated by a little cabinet in between. Apart from abundant space, there were also two wide-open windows to catch the passing scenery. The linen on our beds even seemed somewhat clean. We took that as a good sign. About a quarter after 5 p.m., the whistle blew and the train’s wheels screeched to start. That was when we took our first swig of Myanmar Rum. The liquid burned my throat for the first few seconds before it cooled down to a candy-sweet aftertaste.

When the train lurched and swayed sideways, expansively and sluggishly, we drank some more. When the sun descended and a dim moon slid through the clouds, we drank. When our bodies were slammed hard against all surfaces, and the fan stopped working, we scrambled about in the darkness for our trusty bottle and took another sip. Each time we returned from the toilet, we soaked our hands in anti-bacterial gel and gulped down more. Each sip unlocked a ray of hope and restored our faith in our journey. Were we so masochistic that we’d signed ourselves up for torture, deliberately defying all cautionary warnings about supposedly the worst train ride in the world? It was a little too late for regrets then as we hung on to our bunks for our lives. The night wore on until we passed out from heat and fatigue.

What was supposedly a 12-hour train ride stretched into a 19-hour one. By midday, we rolled into Yangon battered, zombie-like but triumphant. We toasted to our survival, our sanity, and our intact relationship with a final sip. Once the train slowed down, the train steward came around to collect our tickets. We thanked him by pressing the half-full bottle of Myanmar Rum into his hands, as if passing on a good luck charm. May this drink take care of you and your ordeals now.

Now That, Kids, Is How You Start a Drinking Story


Now That, Kids, Is How You Start a Drinking Story

by Stephanie d'Arc Taylor

Rosé on a Grecian Isle

I’m lying naked on a rock on a Grecian isle. I’ve waited my whole life to utter those glamorous words, and it feels fucking fantastic.

My boyfriend and I have found a secret turquoise cove tucked away from the main road after circumnavigating the island on our rental scooter. The paved road ended, and the dirt track was slightly too steep for the pitiful 50ccs of our chariot, so we got off and walked the rest of the way. Now we’re here, luxuriating in the silky water and early June sun, and I feel like I’m in a Lana del Rey music video.

We set out early that morning for Piraeus, the port town twenty minutes from Athens on the metro. We didn’t have a plan of which island to go to. We only knew we wanted to get in the water. There was also a rumor that you could drink extremely cheap wine on the islands nearest Athens. The ticket agent told us we could get to Aegina for 20€ roundtrip, so we bought our tickets and ran to catch the ferry.

An hour later, we were pulling into Aegina harbor accompanied by dozens of seagulls hoping for someone to drop their spinach pie overboard. Until now, our plan had been to wander around the port for a few hours, maybe check out a ruin or two, have a fish lunch and some rosé and then catch the ferry back.

My old roommate found it to be hilariously predictable that I, as an American, get so “turned on,” as he put it, by two-wheeled motorized vehicles. I’d just started seeing my boyfriend at the time, and we were having loads of fun roaring around town on the scooter he was borrowing from a friend who was out of town for a few months. I’ll not deny it: there is something sexy about clinging to the torso of a man, especially one you’re falling in love with, while zipping through traffic. Lana del Rey must have written a song about it. I guess my boyfriend liked it too, because now we have a sweet scooter of our own.

So when we saw the words ‘scooter rental’ come into focus as we pulled into port, we obviously had to get one. It opened up the island to us. After a few hours of basking in the sun in our secret cove, we zoomed to a taverna on the other side of the island. Only in Greece for a few days, we were fine with sticking to the taverna greatest hits: tzatziki, Greek salad, fried calamari, a grilled fish, and enough 3€ carafes of local rosé to get me feeling giddy.

On the ferry back to Piraeus, full of fish and still buzzed, we happily fell asleep on the banquettes of the lower deck, surrounded by old Greek people watching soap operas on wall-mounted televisions. It was only upon waking that the haphazard nature of my sunscreen application became painfully apparent. I bet Lana del Rey doesn’t get sunburned. But after a day like today, I’m happy being me, sun damage and all.

The Best Plastic Bag of Juice in Which to Pour Vodka


The Best Plastic Bag of Juice in Which to Pour Vodka

by Charline Jao

Mixers in Taiwan

Armed with nothing but a handful of cash from our various internships and a large bottle of vodka we picked up from 7-11, my friends and I embarked on a mission set in the Kenting Night Market in Taiwan: find out what night market drink makes the best mixer.

Taiwan is full of exotic fruits that I rarely eat in the United States: wax apples, dragon fruit, custard apples, and guavas filled the markets with their sweet smells. Vendors held out samples on toothpicks, calling out to and complimenting passersby. Some pick up on our chatter and yell out “Taiwan fruit! Sweeter than USA!.” We knew which fruits we liked from what our hosts and families fed us, but on a summer vacation whim we wanted to go a step further and figure out what fruits we liked best spiked.

The cold and fresh watermelon juice? Too watery. The market’s iconic papaya milk? Gross, which probably should have been obvious in retrospect. As we continued to try and mix various fresh juices and teas, we grew more and more discontent with the stream of perfectly fine beverages we were ruining and unhappily drinking out of guilt. That is, until we saw a vendor lift a bunch of tough and fiberous sugarcane stalks and put them through a loud machine that spit out juice, releasing the dense smell into the humid air.

Sugarcane thrives in the tropical weather of south Taiwan, despite not being a native crop. The country is filled with old sugar factories, remnants of the trade that became one of the countries biggest exports from the seventeenth century on. Nowadays, these factories are museums or “cultural parks” to house educational and artistic spaces. The old railroads that hauled stalks of sugarcane 3000 kilometers around the island in the twentieth century sit unused and abandoned, with a few still running as tourist attractions. Still, the abundance of sugar cane stalls in night markets have made them a reliable staple and reminder of an extensive history.

Our vodka, on the other hand, was nothing special. In my backpack was a moderately-sized bottle of Svedka that smelled like freshman year and a lack of restraint. Taiwanese drinking culture, or the lack thereof, meant it also smelled like disapproving looks from locals as we pulled out the Svedka and discretely poured some into the bag of juice. Luckily, we’re in Kenting, a popular destination for young people; judgement was minimal.

The combination makes the cheap vodka incredibly smooth and my friend, who’s working in environmental protection for the summer, explained to me that it’s common to make alcohol out of sugarcane in different parts of the world. I’m not entirely sure if this is a sufficient explanation, but we were thrilled at this new discovery. When we get back to Taipei, we tell everyone about this unexpected revelation, comparing it with the guy who accidentally invented Slurpees by forgetting soda in the freezer.

There’s No Better Way to Drink Than Like a Transylvanian Saxon


There’s No Better Way to Drink Than Like a Transylvanian Saxon

by Kristin Winet

Affligem in Bucharest

We’re in a pie place in Bucharest. The walls are covered with wooden kitchen utensils and stuffed chicken dolls with button eyes and the servers are dressed in white aprons with frills along the seams. It’s the best place in the city for pie, we’ve been told, pies that aren’t cherry or lemon meringue but pies that are filled with warm, savory meats and fresh cheeses. All around us, everybody is yammering away in Romanian and seems to know exactly how many small dishes to order. Everybody’s table is full of tiny round plates and crumpled napkins.

Our server, a young woman whose name tag says “Nina,” brings out a flat, round serving platter with a sheep- and goat-cheese pie, a Greek salad, and four full glasses on it. She sets the platter down on the edge of the wooden table and presents us with what we recognize first: two tulip-shaped beer glasses, filled to the brim with a deep golden-colored blonde ale and topped with light, foamy bubbles. Then, she sets down the two thumb-sized chalice glasses, the pie, and the salad.

My husband and I look at each other. What’s in the little glass, and what are we supposed to do with it?

Nina senses the pause. “It’s, like, the body and the soul,” she says, pointing at the tulip and then at the chalice. “We pay attention to the soul in Romania.”

We toast, we sip, and we think. It’s thicker, more like sweet bananas and yeast, smooth and grainy. It evokes the taste of bread.

As I’d come to learn, what we were actually drinking was Affligem, a Belgian brew inspired by the 1,000 year old Benedictine tradition of serving the yeast, the “soul” of the beer, in its own small glass. The idea is that the yeast—the magic ingredient that drives the fermentation process creation of beer—is its own delicacy, its own piece of the process worth celebrating. As it sinks, working its way down, it delicately enhances the flavor profile of the beer and finally clumps into a pile at the bottom. Instead of swirling it back in, however, the beer is served without it—as a bright, crisp, and clean lager—and the part at the bottom becomes a drink all its own, a viscous, sedimented testament to the life force of something greater. Though not everyone serves Affligem this way, the Transylvanian Saxons did, so it’s still the way today.

We pay attention to the soul in Romania.

A week before we boarded the plane for Romania, I had walked out of a job I hated for the very last time, the last heavy box of books in my arms. My first professor job, at a place I’d hoped to thrive in, was over. In the heat of the May summer on top of the mountain where the university was, no one said goodbye to me. As I drove over the mountain, I blasted the playlist I’d made of songs about bad jobs and cried.

Bucharest was the first stop of a two-week trip through Eastern Europe, a place that would come to represent a moment in my life characterized by the admittance of defeat and uncertainty. For the first time in my life, I had learned to say enough was enough. After this trip, we’d pack up all of our belongings again and move 3,000 miles away. We’d start over again, and we’d thrive.

Though there are three common ways of serving Affligem, I like Romania’s tradition. I like the idea of sipping the life force of a beer out of a tiny chalice. A tiny, thumb-sized chalice, a centuries-old tradition, where the discarded becomes the focus, where that which we pay no attention finally garners its much-deserved spotlight.

A Little Ditty About Staring Directly Into the Void While Drinking


A Little Ditty About Staring Directly Into the Void While Drinking

by Matthew Bremner

Old Fashioneds in Tokyo

It was midnight, and I walked down into a smoky cocktail bar in the basement of one of the thousand neon-lit buildings in Tokyo’s center. The decor was a mix between a corporate conference room and a 1920s cruise ship, all dimmed to a jazz club’s shadowy intimacy. Faux-leather chairs slouched in the darkness, and the pungent scent of the highly-polished table-tops cut through the acrid smoke.

The waiters bowed with stiff backs as I entered, their suits hanging off their slender frames, sagging at their shoulders, and lending them a boyish formality. They swept around the side of the bar to take my coat and wish me a warm welcome. They smiled professionally and moved almost imperceptibly, their black trousers swishing in the darkness.

I was in Japan to cover a story about kodokushi, or the “lonely death,” a phenomenon in which isolated, often elderly, people die from loneliness. That day I had witnessed my first case. The man was 60 years old and had no family—or at least, no family that wanted to know him—no friends, and no job. He had not committed suicide per se; he just chose not to live. He stopped eating, stopped washing, and he stopped leaving his apartment, until one day he died of a heart attack. I had seen his ignominious end, his urine-soaked bedsheets and his shit-caked carpets. And I had watched from his balcony as the rest of the world carried on obliviously below.

The waiter came and I ordered on an Old Fashioned. Not because I liked the drink especially, but because I had a very limited cocktail knowledge. I had been going to the bar every day for over a week, and every night I found myself smoking and sipping unenthusiastically at that pepped-up bourbon.

The bar was quiet as always. Five salarymen, regulars, lined the bar with their solemn expressions and empty glasses. They were all alone, separated from each other by the nebulous cubicles of cigarette smoke that formed around them. To the left of the bar were three more men, each one seated at a different table, each one drinking deeply from his glass. No one spoke, but everyone stared: into the dregs of their drink and beyond, into their thoughts.

My cocktail arrived, and I gulped it back quickly. I ordered another one, and I finished that one, too. I suppose I wanted to get drunk, to dull the sweet stink of putrefaction in my nose and the sadness in my mind. But I couldn’t.

Instead, I imagined the hundreds of thousands of small rooms like this one, piled on top of one another. I imagined the millions of lonely drinkers getting drunk, slumping into each other’s personal space like melting candles; close enough to touch, but too drunk to talk. Then, I imagined the man dying alone in his apartment, and how close his neighbors might have been at the moment of his death. I imagined a woman sitting in her chair reading, while the man lay ill in his bed. Back to back, they were separated only by a thin wall.

I looked around the bar, resting my drunken gaze on the temple of the man next to me, and willing myself into his thoughts. I wondered why, if every night he saw the same people, ordered the same drink, and did the same thing, he kept his loneliness to himself. I wondered why, in a city of millions, where people spill into to each other’s intimacy on a daily basis, this same man was unable to let physical proximity become familiarity. But how could I know anything? The boundaries that separate us from other people’s problems, however slight they may seem, the plaster of an adjoining wall or the skin of a human being, are in actual fact miles thick.

My thoughts were interrupted by the barman, who had come scurrying over to my table, and was nodding to my empty glass. I saw in his face his desire to talk to me. Up until that point, none of the barmen had spoken in English; we had instead survived on elaborate hand gestures and a global vocabulary of cocktail-related words. But for whatever reason, he had now summoned the courage to interrogate me.

With a deep, shaky breath, he asked, “What have you done so far in Japan?”

Photo: Erich Wagner

Why Does This Story About Gross Wine Make This Place Sound So Appealing?


Why Does This Story About Gross Wine Make This Place Sound So Appealing?

by Rosita Armytage and Markus Bell

Corked Prosecco in Palermo

Motley Sicilian men line the wooden benches outside the Taverna Azzurra, chain smoking and nursing cheap, frosty, high-alcohol beer. It’s Thursday in Palermo and the men have been here since at least 3 pm.

Nestled between major roads, among the street art imprinted on peeling concrete walls, the Taverna has seen better days. A confetti of cigarette butts pave the way to its dingy interior. The stink of sun-warmed garbage mingles with diesel fumes from the still running motor of a moped. The moped’s owner greets the drinking men with kisses on both cheeks.

We take our drinks outside by the fruit and vegetable sellers. One euro for a plastic cup of prosecco. It’s corked and smells like feet. We gulp it down anyway.

The music blasting from inside the bar shifts seamlessly from Jimi Hendrix into Italian ballads. Men are loitering by motorcycles and mopeds, watching teenage girls with bare midriffs and coy glances strut by, feigning imperviousness to the eyes that follow them. Rotund children wobble up and down the alley, part of the parade of pedestrians, on a catwalk flanked by fruit stalls and second-hand trinkets. The motor of the temporarily abandoned moped hums.

Scrawny young men lean self-consciously against walls, chatting with the older men. Boys learning how to be men. Muscles—and egos—taut and stretched. South Asian street vendors ply their wares up and down the narrow lanes, avoiding stony-faced locals adamant that they will not be bothered during the sacred hours of aperitivo. The streets buzz with genteel poverty, bravado, and teenage desire.

A neighborhood dog bats a rock back and forward across the cobble stones.

As the heat of the day starts to cool, nearby vendors fry up squid and prawns for the drinkers and the Taverna Azzurra crowd shifts, from middle aged and elderly men to a hipper crowd of men and women in their twenties and thirties.

Displaced, the older patrons drift away, down narrow streets to houses nearby. Their wives, a bar woman informs us, have already called them home for evening meals that are rapidly cooling on the table.

The benches running street side start to fill up, and we call out for Americanos. The bartender’s combover is fooling no one, but his mixing skills are admirable. Amber Campari joins Vermouth and tonic water: it’s called an Americano, but to us the sweet and bitter tastes like Sicily.

A Thousand Maggot-Like Grains of Alcoholic Rice


A Thousand Maggot-Like Grains of Alcoholic Rice

by Rob Armstrong

Burak in Long Semiyang

The people of Long Semiyang took me into their homes after inclement weather forced me and my motorcycle off the treacherously muddy jungle roads.

Beyond mountaintops that fade into a grey blanket of morning mist, an equatorial sun rises, unseen, over the heart of Borneo. My wooden spear, wrist-thick and tipped with pointed steel, thrusts into the charred ground rhythmically. Each impact sends up a puff of grey ash that swirls in the still air before dissolving into the predawn light. The deep green of the slope on the opposite side of the valley stands in stark contrast to the charred remains of the jungle that stood here only days before. Those responsible for this wasteland, a dozen men of the Kayan tribe, are strung out to the left and right of me in a staggered line. With eyes directed downwards, they, too, stab at the blackened earth with sharpened lengths of wood as long as a man is tall as they navigate the smoldering tree trunks that litter the slope of the valley.

The Kayan women follow us at a distance, hunched over as they feed handfuls of gabah, the husked rice grains saved from last season’s harvest, into the divots left by our spears. Without the tiny holes we create, this years’ harvest will be washed into the river by the first rains before it has a chance to take root. Working next to me, my host, Mathew, interrupts the call of a group of Bornean gibbons with his own call of “burak, burak, burak burakburak!” each repetition increasing in tempo and volume.

One of the younger Kayan boys scampers over and around the blackened remains of the forest towards us, a white pail in one hand, a stack of pink plastic cups in the other. The pail is filled with a raw and unfiltered rice-beer; burak in the local language. A product of the the fermentation of cooked rice with naturally occurring yeasts, clumps of the brew slide from the cup as it’s scooped out, falling back into the bucket with an audible smack. With the consistency of bubur, a rice porridge breakfast dish popular in parts of Southeast Asia, and a flavor reminiscent of the finest cask wines from my adolescence, it takes a moment or two to prepare my empty stomach for this onslaught first thing in the morning.

I attempt not to retch as a thousand maggot-like grains of alcoholic rice wriggle over my tongue and down the back of my throat. Throughout the morning, one draught follows another until I’m certain I can taste the burak in my sweat, which attracts the attention of a small swarm of Giant Asiatic honey bees. The bees become the ultimate test of my composure as I desperately try to resist swatting at their irritating advances as they search for a salty treat. They’re placid enough, but if threatened deliver one of the most painful bee stings in the world. Mathew tells me, “More burak is the solution. It will calm your nerves.”

When the field is planted, the drinking continues in a more civilized manner, back at the twin wooden longhouses of Long Semiyang. Clean clothes appear with a slightly more refined bottle of burak, still young with a milky white color and grainy texture, but filtered of rice grains, which makes all the difference. A good bottle of burak can take months to settle into the translucent final product and reach its full wine-like potency.

After a meal of chicken soup with garlic, ginger, chilies and native lemongrass, a hand-carved blowpipe appears from within the longhouse. The sharpened tips of a handful of darts, darkened with a lethal poison, are carefully removed and thrown into the fire to prevent accidents, as a jungle drinking game develops. A square of cardboard, crude concentric circles drawn on it, is placed some distance away. Glassy, bloodshot eyes take aim down the length of the smooth, dark, tropical hardwood cylinder as an alcohol infused breaths sends the disarmed darts, one at a time, towards the target. The shooter furthest from the bullseye is forced to drain his mug before the next round can begin.

As the empty bottles begin to pile up and the darts get lost in the long grass behind the target, the number of competitors dwindle. By mid-afternoon, the burak has been flowing for nine hours straight and we all need spare some strength for tomorrow. This is, after all, only the third day of a planting season that will last a full week, each consecutive day following the same routine: predawn alcoholic rice porridge for breakfast in the fields, a freshly cooked lunch, then drinking games before an afternoon nap. As I doze drunkenly on a rattan mat, I begin to understand why the Kayan had a book named Drunk Before Dawn written about them.

Joining Neptune’s Boozy Cadre of Adventurers and Miscreants


Joining Neptune’s Boozy Cadre of Adventurers and Miscreants

by Russ Rowlands

Wine on the Equator

“What day is it?”

“No idea”


“It’s Friday,” said Alan, the skipper.

“Where are we?”

I looked at the chart. “Eight minutes.”

That is, we were zero degrees and eight minutes north of the equator. Eight minutes, eight nautical miles. It was the only ‘where’ that counted. We had left Costa Rica in Alan’s 46′ sloop twelve days before, and it would be another fifteen days until we next sighted land in French Polynesia. Longitude was meaningless. We hadn’t seen another boat for a week.

“How long to the equator, navigator?” asked Alan.

I looked at the compass and our speed, then guessed. “Two hours?”

“Uno roundo!” he said in his Australian-pidgin-Spanish, kicking off our daily happy hour ritual. He trudged downstairs to round up three Costa Rican lagers from the icebox, and brought them up in their Australia-flag beer koozies.

We sat silently for the first round, as usual. After twelve days on a smallish boat, there wasn’t much left to say.

I brought up the second, habitually last, round. “This is my first time sailing across the equator,” I mentioned, somewhat self-consciously but supremely excited.

“No way!”

“A virgin! There’s a ritual for this!” Alan exclaimed. We finished our second beers as the two older guys told stories about their first time across the equator. Alan chugged the rest of his lager and ducked below.

“How much time left?” he yelled from the cabin.

“We’ll cross it in five minutes or so.”

“Shit, put’r in neutral!” he joked.

With a minute to spare, Alan climbed up out of the cabin wearing a conical paper birthday hat (for someone’s third birthday) and a pair of Elton John sunglasses. He had the six-foot boat hook under his arm and a magnum of cheap Chilean wine and some plastic cups in his hands. He quickly poured us all a pint of the red.

I sat at the helm, beaming in the golden-hour glow, our sails only half full. Alan held his glass aloft and began the ritual.

“As the representative of King Neptune, Lord of the Seas, I knight thee,” he proclaimed, touching each of my shoulders with the aluminum boat hook. “Arise, knight, and take your place at Neptune’s side!”

I stood, and he poured some of the red out onto my head. It dribbled down my beard and onto my Blue Jays sweater, where it left a permanent reminder of my induction into Neptune’s boozy cadre of global wanderers, adventurers, and miscreants.

How Do We Get Our Hands on This Cognac Made by Far-Right Georgian Nationalists?


How Do We Get Our Hands on This Cognac Made by Far-Right Georgian Nationalists?

by Charles Rollet

Cognac at Military Bar

At Military Bar, a dimly-lit watering hole for Tbilisi’s burgeoning far right, a group of young men with camouflage-patterned pants and black T-shirts are drinking beer surrounded by a strange medley of right-wing paraphernalia.

There’s the obligatory Confederate flag on the wall (given to the bar by a U.S. soldier, the bartender claims), but there’s also an array of flags and stickers from the Right Sector, the Ukrainian paramilitary group widely accused of harboring neo-Nazi sympathies. That’s not to mention the grenade-shaped ashtrays, the camo netting on the ceiling, and the ubiquitous “Smash the Reds” stickers.

How did I end up at a place no guidebook on Georgia—the tiny, picturesque Caucasus country—would mention? The reason is perhaps more bizarre than the bar itself. On May 29, a group of sausage-wearing “neo-Nazi” skinheads terrorized Kiwi Café, a vegan café in Tbilisi, by throwing meat at its patrons in an event that went viral around the world.

It was easily the most international exposure Tbilisi had received this summer, and the skinheads who masterminded the attack were believed to congregate at Military Bar. As a freelance journalist at the scene, I decided to go there to interview a nationalist figurehead. Once I showed up, though, I had to wait for a few hours for my interview, so I ordered a few drinks.

I was surprised to learn that Military Bar produces its own cognac, which is subtly emblazoned with an M-16. Even more interesting was the bar’s signature cocktail, a martini glass filled with a mysterious red liquid and rimmed with sugar. It’s called a “Russian’s Blood” cocktail, in dubious honor of Georgia’s longtime foe.

I spoke to a few of Military Bar’s patrons, who all professed virulent dislike of Russia, Muslims, Arabs, gays, and feminists. But not vegans.

“If I had a shish kebab I’m gonna eat it myself, I’m not gonna throw it at nobody,” Nick Bernadze told me in front of Military Bar’s sandbag-lined entrance.

The heavily-muscled Bernadze is the founder of Georgian Power, one of Georgia’s most prominent neo-far-right groups. In the wake of the vegan incident, he became a spokesperson of sorts for Georgia’s far right.

“Honestly, I haven’t seen a neo-Nazi in my life. I’m not sure how useful that ideology is. I’m a Georgian nationalist,” Bernadze said.

I wasn’t entirely convinced. (Georgian Power’s motto, Georgian Pride World Wide, is clearly modeled on a popular white nationalist slogan.) But Bernadze insisted that all the bar’s patrons—including a separate club of SS-loving hooligans widely considered to be behind the attack—had nothing to do with neo-Nazis or anti-vegan rampages.

“In Georgia we have so many problems, we have Russian troops 10 kilometres from Tbilisi,” he said.

Despite the denials of any links between Military Bar and the terrorized vegan café, I heard many rumors at Military Bar that a rogue Kiwi barista had vandalized their hotspot a few days prior to the widely-publicized attack. That would give Military Bar some probable cause, but since Georgian police haven’t arrested anyone, it seems unlikely there will ever be an official culprit. (Critics routinely accuse Georgian cops of ignoring hate incidents against gays, liberals, and now vegans.)

Either way, it seems clear which establishment has won. Kiwi Café’s embattled vegans have decided to move to a different location. Meanwhile, Military Bar seems to be doing very well; in fact, it just threw a bash to celebrate the Brexit.

Photo: Beth Ann Lopez

A Modern-Day Pirate Tells His Worst Story


A Modern-Day Pirate Tells His Worst Story

by Brent Crane

Singhas in Bangkok

The humanitarian mercenary, who I recently met for beers off Khao San Road in Bangkok, goes by “Doc” in the Middle East and, here in southeast Asia, “Fox.”

I showed up twenty minutes early to our rendezvous at the Rainbow Hostel. He was already there, eating naan, when I arrived. Fox chose the place, a cramped spot “run by an Indian Sikh, a friend of ours,” he had said over email.

The “ours” referred to his humanitarian group, a small outfit made up of former military men who specialized in delivering aid to war zones; “the world’s most fearless and dangerous charity,” he called it.

When I arrived at the Rainbow Hostel, there was an Indian family with several young kids screaming and running up the aisles, treating the place like a playground.

Fox was easy to find. He was the only one with an eye patch (ISIS mortar, Iraq 2015). He also had a bandana on his head, a scraggly goatee, and two missing teeth (rifle butt of a Karen mercenary, Myanmar 2013). By most definitions, he was a pirate.

Fox, 30, was short, skinny, and though he appeared older because of his injuries, he would seem younger than his age without them. But he was a serious man and after I sat down, he got right to business.

“This is most likely my final mission,” he explained to me. I had yet to order my first Singha.

Fox was in ill health. He had diabetes and felt that, by running humanitarian missions into some of the world’s most remote and dangerous areas—Iraq, Syria, West Papua, southern Myanmar—he was working himself to death. By the looks of him, I had no reason to doubt it.

“I am trying to get out of this field cause it’s killing me,” he said as my beer came. I had arrived in Bangkok less then three hours earlier and the cold brew felt refreshing in a way that only your first beer in a foreign country can.

Fox said he was tired of operating within a “gray state,” he put it, where he couldn’t speak openly of his professional escapades. But here he was spilling the beans to me, a virtual stranger who had reached out over email from Cambodia and flew over because I had nothing better to do.

I asked Fox about his missing teeth. Or rather, he brought it up and I asked to hear more.

They came out a year or two ago. He had just rescued 11 trafficked little girls from a “stateless land” in the Moei River between Myawaddy, Myanmar and Mae Sot, Thailand.

“We went back for more and our interpreter kind of sold us out,” he said. The next thing Fox knew, he was getting “butt-checked with a rifle to the face.”

“When I woke up, I was on the other side of the bank, in a parked truck on the Burmese side,” he explained as I sipped.

He came to to the sight of a gunman rattling three of his teeth in a little glass jar. Fox tried to move but his hands were handcuffed. The guard was chewing betel nut, Fox said, lots of it. Soon he was very high.

After a while, Fox got up, walked to the guard and waved his handcuffed hands in front of his face. The guard betrayed no recognition. Fox reached into his pocket, extracted the keys and freed himself. He then waded the twenty yards across the river (“it’s shallow in the dry season”) to the safety of Mae Sot.

“Drugs saved my life that day,” Fox joked. “But, honestly, it’s like the worst story I have.”

Three Hindu Women on One Bike in Search of a Drink


Three Hindu Women on One Bike in Search of a Drink

by Sharanya Deepak

Arak in Merita

It is noon in Amed, Bali and I have a motorbike that needs repair and a heart that is smitten. Pari is 27 years old, cynical, and has a face that appears to be constantly in thought. He is fixing my bike, making fun of Russian tourists, and is of the opinion that I need a drink.

“You have a bad day, yes? You need a drink. You go to Merita.” I bump and nod and think about things to talk about, but he makes it clear that the drink is not with him. “I don’t drink. You go to Merita for arak number 1.” I wait for my sister on a corner, yell something at her about following local footsteps, and we are off. Merita, a few miles from Amed, is on the East Coast of Bali. It is the hometown of arak, Bali’s drink of choice. There are three types of arak, arak number 1 being the finest, most sought-after, and difficult to find option. After three hours in Merita spent biking in hope and dehydration, we have almost given up. “Arak number 1?” I shout arbitrarily at people on the street, getting in response wide smiles and cheery shrugs. Finally, a middle-aged woman with red hair comes up to us. “You, arak?” she says. I nod aggressively. “Why?” she says. And I am stumped.

“You Hindu?” she says. “Yes! Hindu! Brahman!” I scream. She is pleased. I salute gods I haven’t acknowledged in years, and we are off once again, three Hindu women on one bike in pursuit of a drink. We reach a big house guarded by mango trees and a skeptical young woman named Amy. After initial reservations, she is happy that we recognize the inscriptions on her pillars, I compliment her jacket, and she agrees to let me in on her family secret.

Arak number 1 is made in a few houses in Merita, a village of about a hundred families. There are many kinds of arak in Bali, but they are what the people of Merita deem “impure” and “tasteless.” Amy’s family—the Mertas—have been making arak number 1 for more than a hundred years.

To make one liter, the palm flower (tuak) is distilled for four hours through a rusty metal pipe and allowed to settle for another hour. The result is a strong, pungent spirit that is ideally drunk in shots. People from all over the east of Bali come to Merita to buy from the family. Bartenders, hotel owners, young men like the one I met. But It is up to them to sell or to not.

“Sometimes we don’t sell our arak, we keep it,” Amy tells me, indicating that I am supposed to shoot my drink, not sip it. “It is special. It is not for ruffians.” I nod at her, proud to not be considered a ruffian. Arak number 1 is what the Lonely Planet will not tell you about Bali. Every time I take a shot, the drink tastes different, my mood elevates and falls with alarming suddenness, and here it is, the essence of Bali, devoid of simplification.

We are drunk and grateful, and my sister does a sudden curtsy, sending everyone into fits of laughter. They believe we are about to do a dance. And so we do.

A Hundred Ladies Stirring Chocolate Drinks


A Hundred Ladies Stirring Chocolate Drinks

by Ferron Salniker

Tejate in Oaxaca

I’m hot and sweaty, up against the crowd filing through the entrance to the Tlacolula market, and my boyfriend’s mezcal hangover looks like it might finally take him down. Live turkeys are dangling by the neck, the smell of freshly cut pineapple drifts past us, and then the streaming bulbs of chorizo part. There’s a woman standing behind a clay tub with a crowd of people drinking something around her. “We need to get some of that,” I say.

It’s tejate—a drink made by grinding nixtamalized corn, toasted cacao, mamey seeds, and rosita de cacao, a fragrant flower from the funeral tree (that actually has no relation to cacao). White curds sit at the top from kneading the wet dough to a grainy, light consistency. The woman asks us how much simple syrup to add and then she pours the light brown liquid into a jicara cup, a dried gourd from the calabash tree hollowed and painted cherry red.

“It’s very nutritious too,” she says, which I later repeat to myself when going back for two more cups of what tastes like cold, perfumy chocolate milk.

Drinking chocolate in Oaxaca dates back to pre-Hispanic times, and for the elite Mixtecos and Zapotecs it was a ritual during celebrations. Oaxaca was smack in the middle of the cacao trade route, which probably contributes to its diversity of chocolate drinks even though little cacao is grown here. There are about 12 recorded variations, more than anywhere else in Mexico.

These days, tejate is just another staple in the central valley still made by mostly Zapotec women, and, like mezcal, flexes flavors that are bold, ancient, addicting. They call it the beverage of the gods because it’s a genius combination of ingredients meant to keep us mortals going: the maize is cooked in ash or lime to retain its nutrients, the cacao provides a high, and serving it over ice paused our hangover sweats, at least for a minute.

I left the market that day with cheap hairbands, mangos, and a plan to return to learn more about tejate and the 4,000-year-old indigenous food traditions on Oaxaca’s street corners.

I got back to Oaxaca a month later, right before Easter, for the annual Tejate Fair in San Andres Huayapam, a town that’s grown the rosita de cacao since the sixteenth century.

“Esa madre?” a Oaxacan friend said when I told him I wanted to go to the festival (madre technically meaning mother, but in Mexican slang meaning something like “that thing?”) “It’s just a hundred ladies stirring chocolate drinks and selling the same thing.”

The evening before the festival, I walked behind the yellow church under the rosita de cacao trees as women carried buckets from the molino, the mill, where their ingredients are ground instead of the old-fashioned way of hand-grinding on a stone metate. But the tejateras, as they’re called, are still working hard: in the early morning, before the festival starts and the smells of barbacoa fill the streets they’re swirling the dough for hours and adding water until it thins.

All 150 of them. My friend is right: except for the few vendors with the coconut tejate, they’re all selling the exact same drinks. How one would choose who to spend their ten pesos on is beyond me.

I head towards a booth and meet Marisela, who says she’s been making tejate for 30 years, and her mom made it before that. I ask her what makes one tejate different from another.

“Each person has their touch. It’s all about how they roast the ingredients and the exact mixture,” she says.

I wander over to the booth on the corner of the church and buy a cup. It tastes about the same as the last one, but it’s still good and I drink it all.

A Cocktail Based on Soup That Supposedly Isn’t Gross


A Cocktail Based on Soup That Supposedly Isn’t Gross

by Barbara Adam

Phở Cocktails in Hanoi

“Where’s the unicorn?” my six-year-old asked as we stepped inside the dimly-lit Unicorn Pub, a short walk from Hanoi’s Truc Bach Lake.

The pub, famous for its phở cocktail, was the final stop on our eating, drinking and sightseeing blitz of Vietnam’s capital for an airline magazine. Our weekend of research had been hampered by the presence of U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, whose motorcades had slowed our progress around the city.

Making our final stop was a giant relief, for we had a plane to catch and really didn’t want to miss this mysterious drink that claims to capture the flavors of Vietnam’s national dish, phở noodle soup.

We settled into the small lounge area, sprawling across two sets of kindergarten-sized tables. Children are a relatively common sight in bars in Vietnam, so no one batted an eye at the smallest of our gang. Her presence was instead treated as a cause for celebration.

“Mummy, the unicorn,” Miss Six said.

That’s when I had to confess that it was possible there was no unicorn at the Unicorn Pub. A glass of lemonade wasn’t adequate compensation for the lack of mythical beasts, but she didn’t complain. I don’t think she really expected a unicorn.

We left a miniature Twilight Sparkles and a bamboo dragonfly in charge of our tables, and went to watch the adult drinks being prepared at the bar.

We were the only patrons. It was far too early for cocktail hour for Hanoi’s hipsters, who were either at work or still asleep. The staff-to-customer ration was four-to-three, and we had a great view of the action.

The barman lifted a tall metal tree onto the bar. Three of the tree’s branches contained small silver pots. The barman filled the first with star anise, the second with cardamom and the third with slivers of cinnamon. A generous slug of gin and another of Cointreau went into a jug, which was then lit on fire and poured into the highest pot. The order of the pots is important for faithfully matching phở flavors.

The flaming liquid trickled from pot to pot, generating a very phở-like aroma. I suspect the reason the lights are so low in the pub is to enhance the visual appeal of the cocktail. The thin column of blue flame rising above the bar is a spectacular sight.

The liquor, now tea-brown, was poured into a lowball glass. A second barman added chilled and shaken lime juice, sugar syrup and coriander.

The drink was then garnished with slices of lime and chilli, a star anise pod and a shard of cinnamon. Beside each drink was a little bowl of lime wedges and chilli, the traditional accompaniment to a bowl of phở.

One sip confirmed it: the drink contains the flavors of phở without tasting like cold soup. It was sweet and flavorful, with a kick of alcohol (I was worried the alcohol would have burnt off) and a tingle of chilli and coriander, as well as smoky notes of star anise and cinnamon.

There might not have been any unicorns at the Unicorn Bar but there was quite a bit of magic in the phở cocktail. We even had time for a second one before our flight.

Turns Out, You Can Make “Wine” Out of Just About Anything


Turns Out, You Can Make “Wine” Out of Just About Anything

by Melissa Locker

Cashew Wine in Belize

The driver was showing me around his village when he first mentioned it. He pointed at a young Mayan child pulling up carrots and handing them to an older boy who was putting them in a bag for storage, “They’re going to make carrot wine out of those.” I asked for details—or even better, a taste. “They haven’t made it yet,” he said, laughing. “The only thing that’s ready right now is cashew wine.”

They didn’t have many stores in the Mayan village set into the pine-covered mountains of Belize, just a tiny shop stocked with basic groceries and household supplies and a tortilleria selling warm corn tortillas out of a cut-out window a few hours each day. But my driver, Calbert, was sure he could find cashew wine elsewhere.

A few days later we were bumping along the dusty road that wind through the Cayo district in western Belize when Calbert told me that he had asked around his village about cashew wine. He found out that they were selling it at the gas station a few miles down the road. Of course, everything in Cayo is a few miles down the road and it usually takes an hour or two to get there because the dirt roads require careful maneuvering, especially after a rainstorm. “It’s like black ice,” said Francisco, a guide from San Ignacio. While he had never seen black ice in person—or snow, for that matter—he had seen it on TV and thought it was an apt comparison. “I watch Ice Road Truckers and the way they have to move their steering wheel back and forth while the wheels slide—it’s just like that.”

I still wanted to try the wine and since Calbert apparently had nothing better to do, we set out to find the gas station. An hour later, we arrived at the sun-bleached Superstar gas station that sat along the paved highway that lead to Belize City. Inside, the gas station looked like a typical truck stop. The back shelf was lined with liquor; there were tiny bottles of blackberry wine bitters made with palo de hombre (go ahead and Google that), soursop liqueur, craboo wine, locally-made one-barrel rums, Belikin beers, and, at last, cashew wine.

Cashew wine is not made from the cashew nut that sits alongside craisins and coconut flakes in a bag of trail mix. Instead, it’s made from the cashew fruit, which is sometimes called a cashew apple (adding to the confusion, the cashew nut is not actually a nut, but a seed, so basically, what we’ve been eating all these years is a roasted, salted lie).

Cashew fruit is highly perishable and extremely delicate, which might explain why they are incredibly hard to find in the U.S. Due to the dearth of fruit, few people in the U.S. seem to know that cashews grow from the bottom of a fruit and not directly from a tree like walnuts or almonds. In Belize, the so-called “accessory fruit” is plucked, separated from the nut, and fermented into cashew wine.

Because cashew wine is made from fruit, it’s very sweet, with a viciously tart kick. On first taste, the wine bore an unsettling resemblance to apple cider vinegar, which is understandable considering that pantry staple is made from fermenting apples. Fans of kombucha would recognize the sweetly acidic combination, too. The flavor took a little getting used to, but after a little experimentation with temperature it became clear that if the cashew wine was served cold and on the rocks, the ice cut through both the cloying sweetness and the sharp tang of the fermentation, making it almost drinkable, like a slightly off port.

It was also clear that if you sampled enough of it while experimenting, eventually you would give up caring how it tasted. It’s a dangerously slippery slope that unfortunately I am well acquainted with, so I stopped drinking despite only making a modest dent in the bottle. I didn’t want to have a headache the next day because there was too much I wanted to do during my time in Belize. There were waterfalls to climb, caves to swim through, Mayan ruins to see, and a jungle that I had only begun to explore. I didn’t want to waste a day in bed nursing a hangover from overdoing it on cashew wine.

Besides, Calbert told me there might just be a bottle of carrot wine languishing in his brother’s greenhouse.

The Ghosts of Drinkers Past

The Ghosts of Drinkers Past

by James Young/Culinary Backstreets

Tío Pepe in Mexico City

For every level of society inside and outside Mexico, cantinas serve as both toxin and tonic for drink, song, jocularity, wit, mayhem and mishap. Tio Pepe, now thought to be the oldest such bar in the old Aztec capital, has provided both in equal measure since way before it received its present name in 1878.

The cantina is nowadays a refuge for Mexican politicians, as the nation’s state department and the city’s supreme court sit in front of it. On a Tuesday at noon, we found a huddle of operatives gathered in a booth arguing amid cocktails.

We sat down with Don Sebastian Alvarez, who took up bartending at Tío Pepe in 1987, a witness to the ebb and flow of politicians, luminaries and troublemakers passing through the doors.

Alvarez, who admitted it was against the rules to name names, told us that one time, “A certain representative walked into the bar (roughly at noon). He asks for a drink.”

The bartender says, “As you know, by law we cannot serve to those already drunk.”

The lawmaker says, “I made that law, and I can unmake it. So give me a drink.”

Don Sebastian says he kindly escorted the elected official out of the bar. This is Mexican politics. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

As such, it is difficult not to place the cantina in a romantic light – but why shouldn’t we? To its advantage, the den is small, a half dozen booths and a couple of tables. But its people, veteran pourers, give it life.

Alvarez doesn’t drink, but suggests their Negroni – one part gin, one part Campari, digestive and orange peel (85 pesos, or roughly $4.50). “It’s good for a strong hangover,” says el Don.

Swinging saloon-style doors on the cantina’s north and west faces are inlaid with stained glass, in line with the frosted panels that bind the outer walls. Inside, the bar itself is backed by an elaborate, imported façade with wooden arabesques and mirrored panels. The moniker “Hennessy” arches above the centerpiece in colored glass, a temple’s gate.

Cantinas hold sway in Mexico as placeholders for the particular political, social and geographic context within which they were created, having provided little corners of free will that cut across the land for the men that ruled – and those drinking holes that only decades ago yielded to a more modern view with all allowed, women, children and vendors in tow. (Women were first allowed in 1982.)

The litany of literary figures that have gone through the place may well be exaggerated, but they nevertheless add to a visceral sense that ghosts still haunt the bar. And how fitting that Tío Pepe sits at the corner of streets Dolores and Independencia (literally “pains” and “independence”).

“I was in a cheap cantina off Dolores Street, Mexico City,” said William S. Burroughs in Junky. “The place was suffused with a dim yellow light. A moldy looking bullhead mounted on a plaque hung over the mahogany bar. Pictures of bullfighters, some autographed, decorated the walls. The word ‘saloon’ was etched in the frosted-glass swinging door. I found myself reading the word ‘saloon’ over and over. I had the feeling of coming into the middle of a conversation.”

The bull’s head and toreador pics are gone, but the swinging doors and “saloon” statements remain. And we feel that conversation.

Address: Independencia 26
Telephone: +52 55 5521 9136
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. noon-10pm; Fri. noon-11pm; Sat. noon-9:30pm; closed Sunday

This article comes from the Culinary Backstreets“Behind Bars” series—which celebrates classic drinking establishments from across the globe and, more importantly, the dedicated bartenders who pour drinks there.

The Ginjinha Whisperer


The Ginjinha Whisperer

by Célia Pedroso / Culinary Backstreets

Ginja Sem Rival in Lisbon

Abílio Coelho is a generous man, offering a smile to every customer while serving each of them the most traditional drink in Lisbon: ginjinha. He has spent 44 of his 63 years behind a counter serving the libation. Ginja Sem Rival, the bar he serves it in, like the best places, is a hole-in-the-wall, and the drink is made in-house.

Ginja is the actual name of the liqueur, which is made from a sour cherry of the same name. The fruit might not be so sweet but is fortunately well suited to being turned into this smooth drink, which is enjoyed both as an aperitif and digestif. Commonly known by its nickname, “ginjinha,” which means “small glass,” it was supposedly created by a Galician monk in Lisbon in the 19th century.

Ginja Sem Rival opened in 1890 and is still run by the same family in the same location, not far from its famous “rival,” Ginjinha do Rossio, the oldest ginjinha bar in Lisbon. Coelho is familiar to many of the bar’s regulars, as he’s been working there longer than any of his colleagues, and he knows exactly what to pour them without asking com ou sem elas?—with or without cherries?

During his tenure there, he has seen and heard a great deal. He recalled one Venezuelan pilot: “He drank 66 ginjas! He didn’t buy a bottle, he wanted to be served the 66 ginjas, and he still managed to leave the bar and walk to Bonjardim”—the nearby piripiri restaurant—“and ate so much chicken!”

The sour cherries with which ginja is made usually come from central Portugal and the mountains in the north, but sometimes the bar has to use fruit imported from Spain.

Besides ginjinha, the bar also makes the liqueur Eduardino from herbs, fruit and aniseed. Though sweeter than ginjinha, its alcohol content is a few points higher than ginjinha’s 23.5 percent. Ginja Sem Rival is the only place where you can find Eduardino. “This clown called Eduardino was a performer at the nearby Coliseu,” Coelho explained, “and was a good friend of the owner. He would mix different liqueurs here and would have a little glass before going on stage. One time the owner tasted this mix and liked it so much that he decided to produce it and named it in tribute to his friend.”

Coming into Ginja Sem Rival for a sip of ginjinha or Eduardino is no laughing matter, though. When in early 2014 the new owners of the building tried to close the bar permanently, there were loud demonstrations outside and many petitions to save it circulated on social media.

The new landlords clearly went too far: Ginja Sem Rival stayed open, to the great relief of many Lisboetas.

Address: R. Portas de Santo Antão 7, 1150 Lisboa, Portugal
Telephone:+351 21 346 8231
Hours: 8am-midnight

This article comes from the Culinary Backstreets“Behind Bars” series—which celebrates classic drinking establishments from across the globe and, more importantly, the dedicated bartenders who pour drinks there.

Photo by: Rodrigo Cabrita

History, in Bulk


History, in Bulk

by Paula Mourenza / Culinary Backstreets

La Bodega d’en Rafel in Barcelona

When Edu, owner of the Barcelona wine bar Celler Cal Marino, was growing up in the 1980s in the neighborhood of Sant Antoni, he would confuse Rafel Jordana with the iconic German soccer player and coach Bern Schuster (“Schuster is in the bar, daddy!”). Jordana, owner of the bodega that bears his name, is not so famous internationally, but he is undoubtedly one of the icons of Sant Antoni and of the old-school bodega-bar culture in Barcelona.

La Bodega d’en Rafel has served as a location for a number of films and television series (such as “Cites,” the Catalan version of “Dates”), a subject of many articles and profiles and an important touchstone for a larger community that connects Barcelona locals with their identity. If there’s one thing that characterizes La Bodega d’en Rafel – besides good cava, local wine, a well poured beer and the comforting traditional tapas – it’s the power that the team here has to make you feel at home, feel that you belong – that there will be always a place for you at the bar.

The origins of the bar are hazy, although this beloved bodega has seemingly always been a neighborhood institution, situated as it is between a big market, the old “red light district” of El Raval and the theaters and cabarets of Paral·lel. Some elderly neighbors say that the place was a high-end restaurant during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Evidence of this can be found in the amazing, irreplaceable old tiles on the walls that are hand painted as was once done by Valencian master artisans. These depict scenes from Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Jordana claims that these tiles could be 80 to 100 years old.

Sometime in the 1950s, the restaurant began its evolution towards becoming a bodega, which, in Barcelona, is a combination of tapas bar and bulk wine shop – though most of all it is the beating heart of the neighborhood. As La Bodega del Pau, it was well known as the headquarters of Los Castizos, the amateur choir of the Sant Antoni Market fishmongers, which used to meet there to drink, sing and generally mess around together.

In 1962, José García Jiménez, a native of Andalucia, came here with his wife from the Catalan village of Batea in Terra Alta, which is known for bulk wine production. He took over the bodega, changed the name to Bodega Terra Alta and ran it until he died in 1987. Jordana, who had previously been working in advertising, was by then married to Jiménez’s daughter, María, a nurse who sometimes also helped out in the bar. When Jordana took over, he updated the bar, refurbishing it a bit and moving the wine from old wood barrels to less charming but more sanitary plastic ones. He also improved the food offerings and the kitchen and updated the name in 2003. His idea had been to name it after the village of his birth in the Pyrenees, but María, who knew better than anyone the significant role he played in the bar, said, “No dear, the bodega has to take your name.”

Jordana, smart guy that he is, noticed how the neighborhood was changing before and after the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. Drinking habits were shifting from bulk table wine to more refined bottled wine – some with a protected designation of origination, some labeled by varietal – that customers would order by name. Instead of ten intense domino and card games each day, customers might play just one or two games on occasion, and the noisy gambling machines, so popular in the 1980s, began to gather dust in the corner. As for the customers themselves, the market stall vendors, car mechanics and blue-collar workers gave way to hipsters, musicians, journalists, writers and film industry professionals from all over the city who nowadays share tables and the bar with old parishioners, retired workers and young locals.

The only thing that remains unchanged – besides the Don Quixote tiles – are the classic tapas Rafel serves, such as mushroom, octopus or cod croquettes, esqueixada (a salad of cured cod and fresh vegetables), the house specialties cap i pota (cow’s head and leg) and callos (tripe) stews, Olot potatoes stuffed with pork and beef and the omelets. And while the vermut ritual has waxed and waned and evolved in the city, Rafel has long offered a good house vermut and all its beloved canned, marinated or pickled accompaniments (anchovies, cockles, olives, etc.).

As Rafel says with a smile, “This bodega is like the Rolling Stones: if you keep singing and doing concerts for so long, perhaps it’s because you’re not so bad at doing your thing.”

Address: Carrer Manso, 52. Sant Antoni
Telephone: +34 93 442 5624
Hours: 7:30am-midnight; closed Sunday

This article comes from the Culinary Backstreets “Behind Bars” series — which celebrates classic drinking establishments from across the globe and, more importantly, the dedicated bartenders who pour drinks there.

Photo by: Paula Mourenza

Getting Tight In Drunkard’s Alley


Getting Tight In Drunkard’s Alley

by Davey Young / Culinary Backstreets

Tight Bar in Tokyo

If it weren’t for the dozens of brightly lit signs and paper lanterns promising libations of every sort, you might mistake the two narrow alleys alongside the train tracks on the northeast side of Shibuya station for a derelict apartment block.

In reality Nonbei Yokocho (AKA Drunkard’s Alley) is one of Tokyo’s few remaining yokocho (side street) bar districts. Like the much larger and better-known Golden Gai in Shinjuku, Nonbei Yokocho is a collection of aging and tightly packed microbars.

Each watering hole is scarcely more than a few square meters, and if longtime regulars aren’t taking up the scant floor space, newcomers may try any number of doors before they find an empty seat. Among the several dozen cubbyhole bars in Nonbei Yokocho, there have only been about five vacancies in the last decade, and most of these changed hands through word of mouth or backdoor deals. Some of these cloistered rooms span generations. There is an undeniable in-crowd vibe here, and the generally gritty, windowless exteriors can intimidate the uninitiated.

Tight Bar, much to the contrary, is a lighthouse on the upper floor of the district’s northwest corner. A glance at its fishbowl window is enough to beckon the Nonbei Yokocho greenhorn up a steep and narrow set of stairs to partake and watch life unfold below. Owner Yosuke Kimura can be found tending bar most nights, his easygoing demeanor and t-shirts a stark contrast to the stereotypical Tokyo barman’s shirtsleeves and bow tie. But it’s a calculated casualness. The lean former salaryman walked away from a company job 12 years ago when he saw the “For Rent” sign hanging in the window and never looked back.

“Shibuya has few places where you can just drop by and have a drink,” he said. “You have to order food, or if it’s a bar, you usually have a table charge. Because there are few bars that allow customers to drink just one glass, I wanted to make a bar that gives such service. Customers can drink casually, and if they can talk to each other, it also makes this place interesting.” On our last visit, a steady rotation of expats who knew Kimura-san by name and a few curious tourists came through for a pre-dinner tipple.

“When I just opened my bar, most of the customers were my friends. Then regular customers from Nonbei Yokocho came in. Afterwards, more and more foreign tourists or foreigners started to come here and drink,” Kimura explained. This trend isn’t unique to Tight Bar. “Yes, the customers in Nonbei Yokocho have changed,” Kimura mused as he hand-chipped ice for a gin and tonic. “More young people come here now. In the past, there were mostly 40- to 50-year-old salarymen, but recently even university students have been coming here. The image of the old man’s Yokocho has shifted to a lighter image.”

Kimura-san is constantly tinkering with new cocktail recipes to keep pace with the changing customer base, and recently he’s been experimenting with different liquor infusions. On our most recent visit we sampled a gin and tonic with rosemary and black pepper, as well as an orange-infused brandy cocktail. These simple but eyebrow-raising flavor combinations are a rarity in Tokyo’s rather deficient cocktail scene. The bespectacled barkeep wants what any good craftsman does: to serve a truly unique product, though he’s happy to pour you a frothy-headed Asahi as well.

Despite its small size – just five stools – a lot of people can squeeze into Tight Bar. “Last night we had 15 or 16 people in here. But after 10 p.m. it’s hard to make room.” As the tiny bar began to fill up, we asked Kimura-san if he’s at all worried about the fate of Nonbei Yokocho. As Tokyo readies itself for the 2020 Olympics, rumors abound of old districts such as these getting torn down.

Kimura-san naturally has concerns, but he seems to have made peace with them. “This is a 65-year-old building. We cannot do any reinforcement work. We are allowed to use this building as it is by national law. According to the building code, this is an illegal building. But because this place was built 65 years ago before the code was implemented, it’s in the gray zone.”

He pauses to clear the bar of a few empty glasses before continuing. “I hope this place becomes a tourist destination. If this place becomes more popular, maybe the government will change their attitude.” We can raise a glass to that.

Address: 1 Chome-25-10 Shibuya
Telephone: +81 3 3499 7668
Hours: Mon.-Sat. 6pm-midnight; Sun. 6pm-2am

This article comes from Culinary Backstreets’ “Behind Bars” series — which celebrates classic drinking establishments from across the globe and, more importantly, the dedicated bartenders who pour drinks there.

By: Davey Young

Terminal Nostalgia


Terminal Nostalgia

by Paul Benjamin Osterlund / Culinary Backstreets

Mythos in Istanbul

In Istanbul’s iconic Haydarpaşa train terminal, the door of a crowded restaurant and bar opens to beams of sparkling light streaming across the Marmara Sea coast.

Trains haven’t departed Haydarpaşa for nearly three years while the station undergoes extensive renovations, but its restaurant Mythos is still open and popular as ever, a refuge for a faithful crowd of regulars who come to drink at a train station even though they aren’t going anywhere.

Built in the first decade of the 20th century by the Germans and gifted to Sultan Abdülhamid II, the station is a handsome and prominent icon of the city, occupying an imposing presence on the city’s Anatolian shoreline. Haydarpaşa was once the hub for eastward bound international routes that went from strategically crucial to evocatively romantic, lines such as the Taurus Express, which crisscrossed through Anatolia and the Mesopotamian hinterland, hitting Aleppo, Mosul and Baghdad, ultimately arriving in Basra. The route ran until 2003, when the outbreak of the second Iraq War forced it to shut down.

Haydarpaşa was still being used for suburban and long-distance domestic train routes, but in 2013 all services were halted as the renovations began. An initial plan to redevelop the station commercially, threatening to turn it into yet another Istanbul shopping mall, drew the ire of activists and railway employees, many of whom have assembled on Haydarpaşa’s steps every Sunday for the past four years, demanding that the station remain a transit center. Much to their relief, that plan was eventually scrapped and it appears that Haydarpaşa will resume train service within the next couple of years.

Amid all of the confusion and contestation, Mythos—also known as the Haydarpaşa Gar Lokantası (Haydarpaşa Terminal Restaurant)—has remained the terminal’s one constant. Our recent visit found the place packed to the gills on a Monday night.

Though Mythos is a fine meyhane with a fine selection of meze, buttressed by excellent seating options in the nostalgic dining room or outside in the station flanking the train cars, there is also a little corner bar boasting no more than six seats. Most of these are perpetually occupied by the regulars.

Behind the bar is 63-year-old Recep Gül, who has worked at Mythos since 1977, both as bartender and waiter. He prefers cracking open cold bottles of Efes, Turkey’s flagship beer, to working the floor: “You can’t chat while waiting tables,” Gül said.

The soft-spoken, white-haired Gül is the owner of a spontaneous, booze-fueled story that has shaped his entire life. As a 14-year-old in the Black Sea province of Ordu, Gül and his friends were instructed by a teacher of questionable judgment to fetch him a bottle of vodka. Watching their teacher pour himself a drink alongside appetizers of cheese and olives, their curiosity (and thirst) had to be quenched. “Until then, we didn’t know what alcohol was,” Gül said.

The boys bought the same vodka and snacks and sat down for a picnic in a nearby hazelnut orchard. As their first-ever buzz began to set in, they were ratted on by fellow classmates and the teacher in question tossed the teens in a storage room for several hours. Gül’s father eventually got wind of his son’s escapade and delivered a serious beating. “You’re a student, what are you doing drinking alcohol?” he said.

In a life-altering snap decision, the irate Gül hopped a bus to the city of Samsun, then to Ankara, ultimately winding up in Istanbul. He made his way to his older brother’s place in the district of Zeytinburnu, finding work and permanently establishing himself in the city. Gül’s father wrote him letter after letter begging for his son’s forgiveness, and while he eventually came back to visit, Gül’s home had become Istanbul.

“Somehow I couldn’t escape the confines of alcohol,” said Gül with a smile. He’s no binge drinker, but given that his inaugural brush with drink ultimately led to his exile and four-decade stint as a bartender, it has defined his existence.

Though said he plans to retire in two years when he turns 65, we wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up sticking around with his regulars, for whom he pours drinks with ease and comfort.

One of those regulars is Mustafa, sporting a blazer, a charmingly-disheveled salt and pepper mop and a serious mustache. He swigs Efes from a thin glass normally used to serve gin and tonics and other mixed drinks.

“I only drink Efes. I don’t smoke and I never drink rakı,” proclaimed Mustafa, who has been coming to the bar for 25 years, and says he shows up nearly every night of the week. We’ve never witnessed such loyalty to Efes, though we find it to be unfairly maligned and appreciate its merits on a hot summer afternoon. The season is of no importance to Mustafa, who put down at least four during our chat.

Continually going over the bar with a rag, Gül serves us small plates of salty peanuts and tart green plums, the first of the season. While some dusty bottles of gin and Malibu rum adorn the shelves, the anise-flavored rakı and beer are the poisons to pick.

On our second beer, Gül treats us to a slice of Rum böreği, one of Mythos’ specialties and a close cousin of Greek spanikopita. The gentleman to our right insists on buying us a glass of rakı before we leave. While inititally hesitant to go down that route after already having started with beer, we quickly realized our companion was not going to take no for an answer.

The bar at Mythos is not a place to drown one’s sorrows, so if you are planning on shedding tears in your beer, it’s best to stay at home. Gül and the regulars, combined with the nostalgia of a station in limbo and the soothing gaze of the glimmering sea cultivates a soulful yet invigorating atmosphere—even if the trains aren’t running.

This article comes from Culinary Backstreets’ “Behind Bars” series—which celebrates classic drinking establishments from across the globe and, more importantly, the dedicated bartenders who pour drinks there.

Photo by: Paul Osterlund

For Love of God & Chacha


For Love of God & Chacha

by Paul Rimple / Culinary Backstreets

Wine of Kardenakhi in Tbilisi

It is 9 p.m. and we are packing our bags for a red-eye flight to Poland when I realize we have no chacha, Georgia’s otherworldly elixir of distilled fermented grape pulp. We never, ever travel without chacha, and there is no way we’re going to buy over-the-counter, factory-produced product—and not because it’s over-priced. Chacha is a potion brewed by the hands of masters over wood fires in hammer-battered stills sealed in a paste of dirt and ash. Without the human touch—the artistry—chacha is just a soulless, liver-grinding liquor. I make the call.

Andria deals in wine, chacha and religion from a devilish little cellar in Tbilisi’s old neighborhood of Sololaki. Like him, we have our sources from the wine region of Kakheti, but it can take days for us to get restocked, so when our well runs dry at home, we call Andria.

“I was born 62 years ago, up there,” Andria says, pointing to the ceiling of the cramped, dank cellar. “I came in a hurry. They didn’t have time to take my mother to the hospital.” He breaks into a wide grin and boasts that nobody is more of a Sololakeli than he is, for he was literally born in the ‘hood.

The red brick walls are covered in Georgian Orthodox Christian calendars, icons and pictures of the Patriarch, His Holiness Ilia II. There is a rack with religious books, cards and knickknacks he sells and stacks of newspapers, little plastic bags stuffed with more plastic bags and big plastic bags stuffed with used glass and plastic bottles are crammed all over the place. Nothing goes to waste here, even if it should. When his little black and white TV set is on, it is tuned only to the Patriarch’s religious channel. A long, low shelf along one wall holds glass jugs of amber-hued white wine and dark red Saparavi—all labeled in flowery Georgian script. Up along the back wall are shelves stacked with assorted chachas: walnut-infused, clear, old and young “cognacs” and bottles of something he calls “Georgian whiskey,” which is pretty good, but it’s not whiskey.

Georgians don’t buy a couple of bottles of wine for dinner, they buy a few five-liter plastic bottles—at the very minimum. Shops like Andria’s are in every neighborhood for people without a personal source in wine country, or for those of us who are in a pinch and need a quick fix. Some sell decent wine, others bad. Unfortunately, Andria often lets his wine oxidize in the big glass flagons and two-liter plastic bottles—but then his real trade is Georgian Christianity.

“I was born Anzor Naneishvili, but that’s not a Christian name. My priest gave me the name Andria,” he says, sitting on a child-sized stool he claims is 150 years old. He is an engineer/contractor by profession, but as the social system began to crumble around him in the early 1990s, Andria found himself in the midst of an existential crisis. Life had no meaning, he couldn’t even find sense in the nationalism of Georgia’s first post-communist president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, he says. Civil war in Tbilisi and the hard times that followed compounded Andria’s troubles, which peaked at the death of his mother. “I realized then that if I didn’t turn to the Church, I would never understand anything,” he confesses. Feeling the standards of his well-paying job were too unethical to endure, he walked out and began selling devotional items on the street.

Inebriants entered Andria’s professional life. In 2003, when a former colleague who made wine in the Kakhetian village of Kardenahki asked if he could help sell his wine. Andrei agreed under the condition that the man honestly sell only “natural wine, like a Christian,” and he opened up the cellar under his apartment.

“I didn’t know anything about wine, but I learned,” Andria says. His partner’s idea of righteousness, however, was to stretch the wine with water and spirit. He told Andria that it’s not cheating when everybody does it and assured him, “nobody will ever know,” but Andria would have none of that. Shortly after kicking him out of the shop, Andria was approached by two brothers also from Kardenahki, who said they heard what he had done to that fraudster and offered their wine and chacha, guaranteeing their quality. He continues to sell their products today.

We have better local sources for wine, but not a more reliable neighborhood dealer of hooch. There are philistine chacha makers who place strength before palatability and barbarians who put who knows what into their concoctions. A good chacha should have the taste of the grape it came from, and it should be sippable, like a good tequila, another earthy spirit. Buying chacha in an old Sprite bottle is a leap of faith. All the better that Andria Naneishvili loves Jesus, and if his shop happens to be closed, his phone number is posted on the door.

Wine of Kardenakhi
Address: Amaghleba St. 10
Telephone: +995 593 28 40 35
Hours: random
Delivery available

This article comes from Culinary Backstreets’ “Behind Bars” series—which celebrates classic drinking establishments from across the globe and, more importantly, the dedicated bartenders who pour drinks there.

Photo by: Justyna Mielnikiewicz

Unhinged, Hysterical, and Maniacally Hospitable


Unhinged, Hysterical, and Maniacally Hospitable

by Georgina Gustin

Pulque in D.F.

On a screamingly loud street not far from Mexico City’s fabled main plaza, next to a public bathroom and behind a couple sets of constantly swinging doors, I found myself clutching a smeared glass of something fruity, sour, and snot-like.

I have no idea who ordered or paid for this beverage, but I noticed a few things about it. First, that it was in a pint glass, and a menu on the wall—one of those striated plastic boards with moveable plastic letters—announced that jars and buckets were also optional conveyances. Then that the stuff inside the glass—pulque—had a vaguely buttermilk-like taste and the consistency of slime.

More pulque-filled glasses kept emerging magically out of the tottering, swaying crowd, and then, I also noticed, I was getting a little pulgue-high. All the better to enjoy Las Duelistas, the insane, friendly, sprawling bar—pulqueria, actually—where every college student in Latin America seemed to be getting drunk that day.

Pulque is made from fermented agave sap mixed with fruit or grains, usually oatmeal. The rim of the glass is lined with some sort of flavored salt, which is usually long gone by the time it arrives in your hands. Pulque is cheap and social and gives you a bizarre, loose-limbed buzz. The Aztecs concocted it first and were big fans, though after the Europeans entered the scene, cerveza became the country’s favored bargain tipple.

I saw a lot of young Mexico City residents (aka chilangos) celebrating the country’s pre-Colombian traditions, arms or necks bearing tattoos proclaiming non-European roots: brilliant, inky depictions of maize, the staple, pre-Spanish crop that Mexicans claim as birthright. Corn is in the blood.

Pulque, too. This is not a European import. It’s indigenous. Every inch of Las Duelistas blazes with multi-colored murals of Aztec cosmology, lest you forget the drink’s mythological origins. There’s a kind of biker bar defiance about it.

But the energy inside Las Duelistas is happy, if a little unhinged and hysterical. People wedge beside each other, sweaty and jostled, passing pulque around with a kind of maniacal hospitality. Try this. Now try this. Also, this.

Pulque-sharing will have the mystical effect of making your Spanish fluent, not that it will matter. All you really need here is a thirst for whatever gets passed your way. You don’t question the provenance. You just drink.

Photo by: ProtoplasmaKid

It Ain’t a Speakeasy, It’s a Hideaway


It Ain’t a Speakeasy, It’s a Hideaway

by Patrick J. Sauer

Pinot Noir in New Orleans

There is a New Orleans restaurant that quietly opened last winter that is, for lack of a better term, (and for lack of my imagination), so hipster that in describing it, one must evoke the spirit of Bill Hader’s beloved SNL character, Stefon. Deep breath, hands to face, back down into a clench, exhale, and: If you’re looking for the Big Easy’s hottest new restaurant then you want N7, a French place with no phone, no website, no celebrity chefs, no Snapchats, an address that doesn’t show up on Google Maps, your Uber driver won’t find it, the main delicacy is salty fished served out of a tin can outside like at a Great Depression hobo camp, and the waitstaff only communicates with guests through trombones.

Alright, the last one isn’t true—although that would be amazing—but everything else is more or less on the money. N7 is tucked back in a Ninth Ward alley, just off St. Claude Ave. Even in this smartphone age, it isn’t easy to find, as its nestled behind a tall wooden fence, its only signifier a small, spray-painted, red N7 stencil. It’s a French bistro, named for the old “Route des Vacances” that took Parisians from Notre Dame to the Cote d’Azur to summer away on the French Riviera. Housed in a former tire shop, N7 has a friendly backyard with Christmas lights, wooden tables, a large patio, and a Citroen car to hammer home the living-is-easy vibe.

No matter how romantic N7 was in early May under the first sunlight following a 72-hour thunderstorm deluge, after I was told by our companions—who had been multiple times and swore by it—that the menu was “can to table,” my stomach turned. And not because of the metal packaging, I’ve been eating StarKist since the early 1970s. It sounded like the most twee corduroy-suit-Wes Anderson-with-a-Snidely-Whiplash-mustache restaurant concept I’d ever heard of. Canned beer, sure. A speakeasy that serves sardines? I’m going to go find a Lucky Dog.

However, the goddess Fortuna, along with my friends who were making their third trip, spun me in the right direction. They were absolutely right. Can-to-table may sound silly, but I haven’t had a meal like that … well, ever. Who knew tinned food could be so damn delicious? (I mean aside from the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and people with much more sophisticated tastes than myself, apparently.) The people behind N7 trust you’ll dig the canned goods. And they’re right. The offerings were so tasty, getting us to order another go-round was like shooting fish in a very tiny barrel. We polished off a number of tins, including a spicy calamari, squid in ink, a lobster rillete with bread, and, my favorite, the tingling habanero smoked oysters. Add in a some olives, cheese, and a plate of yellowtail carpaccio and us too-old-to-be-cool-folk had ourselves a feast. Some of the cans are true delicacies, shipped directly to N7, and near impossible to find in the States. Others, like the Ekone Smoked Oyster selection, can be sent to your house, but it won’t be the same. You’ll miss out on the whole French On va prendre la bouteille and the Crescent City evening tranquility.

Befitting it’s French countryside ethos, N7 is a wine spot, primarily European, universally natural. There’s around twenty choices, including wines from some less-guzzled—at least to my limited oneophilic experience—regions like Germany’s Pflaz and Chile’s del Bio-Bio. We kept it homegrown and went with an Oregon pinot noir. Kicking back and soaking it all in, it becomes clear what N7 isn’t. There are no bartenders in suspenders checking their pocket-watches, no blocks of ice to be chiseled with a 19th-century tool, no sixteen-ingredient gin drinks, no egg whites, no passwords, no hidden doors. It’s not a faux anything. N7 is low-key and a bit hard to find because it wants to be unobtrusive, relaxing, an oasis. It ain’t a speakeasy, it’s a hideaway.

N7 has all the trappings of the worst of foodie culture, but it isn’t affectation. It isn’t ironic or self-aggrandizing. Whomever runs N7 isn’t after anything more than love of place, product, and people. The owners aren’t trying to disrupt, revolutionize, or upend the hot dog cart. Gimmicky? Perhaps. Although, every now and again, the hippest restaurant in town is actually the place to be. Now, about those trombones…

Is Halfway Around the Globe Too Far to Travel for Whisky?


Is Halfway Around the Globe Too Far to Travel for Whisky?

by Jake Emen

Whisky in Taiwan

It’s 5 pm in Yilan, Taiwan, an hour’s drive southeast of Taipei along the island’s northeastern coast. My body thinks it’s 5 am. Either way, it’s June 2nd, that much is certain. There was a journey to get here; there was the 15-hour and 50-minute flight from JFK to Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport, which came after the four-hour layover, which itself followed the flight from Dulles. That was on May 31st.

But it’s June 2nd now and we’ve arrived at our destination, the Kavalan Distillery. A walk through the distillery’s expansive grounds, past its shimmering copper-pot stills, through the warehouses and visitor’s center, has all led to this. A tasting flight of four new Kavalan whiskies is lined up on the table. They have each been aged in a different type of sherry cask, and none are yet available in the U.S. market.

Before me lies the whisky, to my right is Ian Chang, Kavalan’s master blender and head distiller. He takes a highly scientific approach to the creation of whisky, with little left to chance. It’s a craft born of both perfectionism and passion. A testament to, “how crazy I am about whisky,” as he says during the tasting.

Sherry-cask aging is one of the trademarks of Kavalan, which in a decade has taken the global whisky world by storm. Taiwan’s subtropical climate enables them to age their whisky quite rapidly, the heat helping them accomplish feats of maturation in a few years which the folks in Scotland need decades to equal. This does not make their Scottish competitors very happy. Temperatures in the top floor of Kavalan’s warehouse exceed 110 degrees, which means that even excitable whisky nerds such as myself can’t wander its halls for long.

The new additions to the Kavalan lineup have been aged in Amontillado, Manzanilla, Pedro Ximenez, and Moscatel casks, and will be released in the U.S. this fall. One sip and then another and 30 hours of travel is slowly cleansed from my soul.

A quiet, formal tasting soon evolves into a lively dinner. Heaping mounds of fresh seafood are passed around a large circular table as rows of mini shots are filled three at a time and knocked back in succession. One by one, Ian raises a glass in each of our honors, while we gratefully return the favor.

Is halfway around the globe too far to travel simply to taste whisky? Contemplating the question on the 14-hour and 50-minute flight back to JFK, there were no regrets.

Be a Local and Order Another Martini


Be a Local and Order Another Martini

by Susan Harlan

Gin at the Grand Central Oyster Bar

I used to live in New York City. After seven years in North Carolina, the city still feels like home, but it’s a different sort of home, one that is also strange. I may think that I live there for a few days or weeks, but then I realize that a particular pizza place has closed, or I have forgotten the stops on a subway line, and I know it isn’t mine, not really.

I get to go back most summers, and now I have rituals for my time there. These rituals aren’t complicated: many involve sitting in parks and watching people. But one involves happy hour in a train station. Some days, after reading at the New York Public Library, I walk down the front steps, past the lions, and two blocks over to the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station.

The Oyster Bar is located on the dining concourse, below the main concourse. From about 5:00 to 6:30 in the evening, this lower concourse is packed with commuters clutching their Two Boots pizza slices and Shake Shack burgers. The ceiling is low, so the space feels tucked away from the station above and perhaps less subject to its clocks and schedules, at least if you don’t have to go anywhere.

And Grand Central Station is hectic enough on a weekday evening to make you glad you’re not going anywhere. This is where the Oyster Bar comes in. I try to arrive shortly after five so I can get a good seat. I walk straight through the station, past everyone rushing around under the jade-green zodiac sky, and down to the OYSTER BAR RESTAURANT sign. The restaurant is through these doors to the left, and the cafeteria-style counters are to the right. The lounge is straight ahead, with its white Eero Saarinen tables and chairs. If you walk past the cafeteria counters and into the next room, you’ll find yourself in another bar that is darker and more tavern-like and decorated with paintings of ships.

I sit down at the right-hand corner table in the lounge and order a half dozen oysters and a gin martini with a twist. The last time I was there, this was $20. If the train station smells like the city, the Oyster Bar smells like the sea: salty and fishy.

The happy-hour oysters tend to be big. They’re not delicate, richly flavorful oysters like some other options on the menu, but they’re good oysters. Simple. I haven’t ever asked what kind of gin they use for the happy-hour martinis. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. It’s just gin, but it’s also good. And the martini is served in the kind of glass I like—a smaller glass—with a bit of extra in a small carafe. Some bars, especially hotel bars, prefer huge martini glasses that feel inelegant and all-American super-sized. A smaller glass fits in your hand. It doesn’t try to overwhelm you.

The Oyster Bar may seem like a touristy choice. It’s “iconic,” and this isn’t necessarily a favorable description: it suggests that the life of a place may be in the past and not in the present. It opened in 1913, so it has been a lot of things. And it still is a lot of things. Yes, there are tourists, but there are also commuters and New Yorkers and people like me who aren’t really anything at all, who are insider and outsider, who are just there. Sometimes I watch people check their watches. Maybe they have dinner plans and theater tickets. Maybe they’re waiting to catch a train home to the suburbs. I go to the Oyster Bar because watching people dash off to wherever they’re going makes me feel less like I, eventually, will also have to leave.

And so I drink my martini and eat my oysters and listen to strangers’ voices echo on the white-tiled vaulted ceilings. In fact, the tiles aren’t actually white at all; they just create an effect of white. They’re pale brown and taupe, with grooves along the length of them, like a rake run over sand. When I first realized this, I thought that I knew the place, and I felt good and like I lived in the city, and so I ordered another martini.

Photo: Leonard J. DeFrancisci

All Parts of the Cow (On the Grill)

All Parts of the Cow (On the Grill)

by Roads and Kingdoms

Tsugie in Osaka

Waste not, want not could be the unofficial motto of Osaka’s Horumonyaki culture. Here, all of the parts of the cow that normally get discarded are the star of the meal. Offal has long been a sought-after dish in the city known as “the nation’s kitchen”—an Osaka chef named Kitazato Shigeo trademarked Horumonyaki as far back as 1940. At Tsugie, one of the great Horumonyaki joints in Osaka’s Tenma district, we wanted for nothing. Along with our friend and guide Yuko Suzuki, we sampled everything from your standard flank steak and short ribs to cheek, raw heart, and grilled tongue—and a number of the cow’s different stomachs, all of which have a distinct and identifiable flavor.

Tsugie’s bar is structured around a charcoal grill, the centerpiece of the tiny restaurant. Working the grill was Tsugie’s owner, Takeshi Yamakawa, who looked like he could be one of the patrons, having the time of his life even as he had his hands full pouring drinks and cooking three plates at once. There are no seats in the place—you’re served standing up, a tradition called tachinomi (literally, simply: “drinking while standing”) whose increasing popularity in Japan is emblematic of a larger cultural shift away from formal dining. Chefs like Takeshi are at the vanguard of this shift, serving up bigger flavors for cheaper prices in a more casual setting.

At the bar, we made sure to keep to the literal meaning of tachinomi, washing down our meal with biru and sake. “In Kyoto, they’d throw this stuff away,” Yuko told us as dish after dish arrived. At Tsugie, they take it and dress it up with sesame oil and yuzu and ginger soy sauce and chili paste. Then, it’s served piping hot to the clusters of Japanese businessmen and women who head straight here after work—a testament to Tsugie’s ability to create a symphony with the most traditionally reviled parts of an animal. The end result: something so delicious you can hardly believe it was once part of a cow’s stomach.

Chopped Pig Head, a Substantial Abdominal Coating for All-Night Benders


Chopped Pig Head, a Substantial Abdominal Coating for All-Night Benders

by Shirin Bandari

Sisig in Manila

Drinking on an empty stomach is a bad idea. Everyone knows that. The less in there, the faster you feel the effects of alcohol. What to eat before a big night out? People have various theories, from eggs, avocados, and sardines on toast to lard-laden burgers. The common factor is the necessary fat content.

You need that lining of oil in your stomach before a full night of debauchery.

On this side of the world, the Philippines presents the ultimate drinking match: sisig.

Our regular haunt is in one of the seedier parts of old Manila. The humid, open-aired shack overlooks the busy street of Remedios. Before the night’s festivities, you can watch street vendors prepare for work and listen to a band’s sound check next door. Girls clad in extremely short school uniforms practice funny-sounding Filipino-Japanese cheers below.

You must order the Bucket Promo for a few pesos: six bottles of beer in a plastic or metal bucket filled with ice and your choice of pulutan (food eaten with alcohol), the sisig.

Our bucket was bedecked with the logo of a famous local motel.

Don’t get any ideas.

The head of a pig is chopped finely, sautéed with onions, chillies, and served on a sizzling plate. The bits and pieces of pork ears and jowl are charred to a black-and-brown crisp. It is meaty, tangy, and greasy. The bright red chillies and local green lemons add the needed kick. The sizzling plate brings out the extra oil and provides a substantial abdominal coating for a all-night bender.

The trademark dish has three phases. Boiling, grilling, and sautéing. The entire head of the pig is first boiled to soften and remove the hairy fuzz. It is then chopped in portions for broiling or grilling. Before serving, with two large cleavers it is hacked into unrecognizable parts and incorporated with onions, chillies, soy, vinegar and calamansi (local lemon).

Sisig originated in the province of Pampanga, Central Luzon, north of Manila. The literal translation means “to snack on something sour” like an unripe fruit. The word also refers to the method of marinating meat in a sour liquid, such as vinegar or lemon. In the mid 1970s, local residents bought unused pig heads from the American commissaries at Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga. The U.S. personnel stationed there did not use the heads in their meals, hence the abundance.

The enterprising restaurateur Lucia Cunanan has been credited with concocting the bizarre dish in 1974 in Angeles City. Eventually, even the U.S. servicemen began to order it with their beers in various night clubs in Pampanga.

Lucia Cunanan’s legacy is the most popular pulutan in the Philippines. Tragically, in 2008 she was found stabbed to death by her husband over a gambling row. Her small railroad shack—Aling Lucing’s in Angeles—still stands today.

Variations have evolved through the years: some add chopped liver or ox brains, and even top it off with a raw egg, pork crackling, and mayonnaise.

The artery-clogging pork massacre is far from refined. It is not for the faint of heart (palpitations included) but possibly the best thing you can have with an iced cold beer.

After a couple buckets down, does it really matter?

Only the next day’s hangover can tell.

Sometimes Paradise Goes Unpaved


Sometimes Paradise Goes Unpaved

by Rebekah Kebede

Red Stripes in Jamaica

We had assumed for years that Winnifred was dead. Fenced off, manicured, paved over. It couldn’t be helped. That’s the way of the world, we said. The little guy always loses.

My boyfriend, Sean, and I stumbled across Winnifred Beach on a backpacking trip to Jamaica nine years ago. We were on a tight budget; I was a grad student and he worked at a non-profit. The owner of Zion Country, a little hostel where we stayed, told us that Winnifred was free and the best beach around.

So we piled into a route taxi, whose driver dropped us at a small dirt road on the side of the main thoroughfare. We walked down the quiet road, rocks poking into our flip-flops. The path wound its way through the tangled bush, finally dropping steeply down to the coast.

We turned a corner and there was Winnifred. Bright aquamarine water and a shady, quiet beach. It’s hard to put into words what was special about Winnifred. Tucked away from the road, it felt like a hideaway. Whatever it was that the fences and fees at Jamaica’s many private beaches were supposed to keep out, it wasn’t at Winnifred. Sure, there were some people hawking trinkets, but theirs was a gentle hustle.

It was about the vibes as much as anything else. Winnifred is in Portland parish, on the far eastern side of Jamaica, both literally and figuratively as far away as you can get from the all-inclusives in Negril, on the other side of the island.

We whiled away hours on the beach, taking our cold Red Stripes into the warm water and reading under the shade of the trees.

But there was a cloud hanging over those good vibes. Locals told us there was a fight brewing over the beach. Someone wanted to build a resort on the beach and make it private. Sean and I looked at each other knowingly. Surely, they were screwed. But when they asked us for money for their fight, we donated anyway and wished them luck.

As we trudged up the path from the beach on our last visit, we turned and took a last look, knowing that Winnifred was not long for the world, but happy that we’d made it there.

Time and many other beach trips went by. “Remember Winnifred?” we’d say once in awhile, and shake our heads in silent mourning.

But life moved on. We got married and had a son. We moved across the world to Australia.

One day, we were watching television when suddenly, there was Winnifred on the screen. And there was Anthony Bourdain, slurping soup and chowing down while discussing Winnifred’s fate with Cynthia, a local restaurant owner.

“It’s WINNIFRED!!” we shouted. We were giddy. Winnifred was alive! The Free Winnifred Beach Benevolent Society was still fighting for their beach. A court ruled in their favor later that month. A few months after that, Sean’s employer assigned him to Jamaica.

“It was written,” a friend said. And it did feel like fate.

We headed out to Winnifred soon after we moved to Jamaica, driving along Portland’s narrow highways where tropical foliage pushes into the road.

Just when we thought we were lost, we turned the corner. There was Winnifred. Again.

A man waved hello to us. “Welcome to paradise,” he said.

We set up under a tree in the middle of the beach, right behind the man who sells beer and ice cool jellies, or coconuts. Our 18-month-old son, Luca, played in the sand and we cracked open a couple Red Stripes and ordered up some lobster from Cynthia’s place.

It was as though we had never left.

If Your Last Memory Is of a Bottle of Moonshine, You Probably Drank Some


If Your Last Memory Is of a Bottle of Moonshine, You Probably Drank Some

by Ollie Peart

Toffee Vodka in Somerset

We drove down a track with enough potholes in it to disable a tank. At one point, a misjudged bump scraped the bottom of the car so hard that it’s a small miracle it didn’t rip off, taking our legs with it.

We were, to put it simply, in the middle of nowhere. Or so it seemed. We were actually trundling through rural Somerset, just a few minutes from Glastonbury, home to the world famous festival. We pulled up outside a pub with an exterior more bland than a grandma’s sweater. Despite that, outside was a line of cars almost as long as the road itself.

What were they all doing here? From the outside the pub looked just about big enough for one man and half his dog, let alone a carpark full of punters. We eventually found a parking space and pushed at the door, a plastic milk carton full of water and bit of old rope acting as some kind of self-closing device.

Every little bit of shelf space had something on it. Old toys that bought back memories of my childhood, TV characters, old signs brandished with “Giant Haystacks” and “Big Daddy,” two English wrestlers from the 70s. The bar was busy pumping pints between several bits of taxidermy. Funk music blasted, drawing what seemed like everyone to the dance floor.

We sat down at our table. The waiter, who happened to be the manager, danced up to us, high-fiving another member of the staff en route, his energy leaving a wake of smiling regulars relaxed and content. It was our turn.

Rather than watch us point at something on the menu, he ploughed straight in like a true pro.

“What do you like? What are you in the mood for?”

The question stumped me. I wasn’t expecting it. I was expecting a vacant look while he looked at me until I made a decision.

He did no such thing. Like the indecisive dullard that I am I blurted out something along the lines of “I’m not sure.” He smiled. He knew I needed help and he knew he could help me. He expertly summed up exactly what I wanted even though I didn’t know myself. A starter, a main, and an utterly superb beer recommendation that was so good, I’ve forgotten what it was called.

The food arrived and needless to say it was sensational. We were in a pub, but this was anything but pub food. This was tasty, dripping with flavor, beautifully delivered food. The kind of food that makes you audibly grunt with satisfaction, muttering the words “Oh god” while you make a face that only your other half has seen you make.

After we’d eaten we thought that was that. It normally is when you eat in a pub. You go in, eat, then leave. But not in The Sheppey. The waiter came back.

“Right.” he said. “What do you want next?”

Not knowing that I wanted anything, he popped off and came back with a round of shots.

“On the house” he said, words which normally precede the shittiest of drinks. This didn’t. I downed it despite knowing nothing about what it was I was drinking.

“It’s a toffee vodka, we make it here.”

The last time I had toffee vodka I was sick in a urinal and headed home early, so I’m normally averse to such things, but this was delicious.

The place was alive with dancing, music, conversation and laughter and we were all part of what made it so fantastic. We were meant to be there, and we were made to feel like we were.

The night went on and my memory got vague. My last recollection of the evening was our waiter showing us a bottle of moonshine. I don’t know if we drank it, but as it was my last memory of the evening, I expect we did.

The Beauty of Blowtorched Tuna and Street-Corner Sake

The Beauty of Blowtorched Tuna and Street-Corner Sake

by Roads and Kingdoms

The Toyo experience in Osaka

From 9am to 5pm, it’s not easy to make friends in Japan. Not because the Japanese aren’t friendly or polite or open to your presence in their country, but both the language chasm and the duties of the workday mean that as a visitor, your main job is to stay out of their way as you go about yours. But once the masses of salarymen and women emerge from the gleaming steel structures that dot the country’s massive cityscapes, all bets are off.

In Osaka, a city known to shed the formalities of the workday with incredible ease, you have one of Japan’s greatest backdrops for striking up a fleeting tableside friendship. You’ll find it on an unsuspecting street a few hundred meters from Kyobashi Station, at what looks more like a garage sale or a homeless enclave than a dining-and-drinkng establishment. Nothing about Toyo makes sense: the kitchen is housed in the back of a pickup truck, the tables are made from stacks of yellow Asahi crates, and the hours are as erratic as the décor. But come most days after 4 pm and you will find a line of young Osakans clutching briefcases and fingering iPhones, anxious to take in the Toyo experience.

Look alive! You will never find a better perch from which to take in the dramatic transformation of the post-work Japanese. The same people who stood so quietly, so tensely in line behind you soon grow animated. Ties are loosened, hair let down, and kampais ring out in spirited choruses as rank and order dissolve with each passing sip. From soba to miso to raw-tuna red, the most aggressive transformers wear the stages of devolution on their faces. You want to be near this; this is the Japan that runs antithetical to the one you have constructed in your head. This is the beauty of Japan: It builds a set of beliefs and perceptions during the day only to destroy them once the sun goes down. Rigid? Reserved? Formal? Find a table, fill it with food and beer and new friends, and watch as all those stiff postures slacken.

Fueling this metamorphosis is Toyo-san, chef and owner of this beautiful mess, a short, muscular man in his late 60s with a shiny bald head and a wildfire in his eyes. He holds forth at the stovetop with a towel wrapped around his neck like a prize fighter, a lit cigarette dangling from his lips, and a full-blast blowtorch in his hand. Toyo trades in extremes. Half the food that he sends out is raw: ruby cubes of tuna dressed with a heaping mound of fresh wasabi; sea grapes the size of ball bearings that pop like caviar against the roof of your mouth; glistening beads of salmon eggs meant to be stuffed into crispy sheets of nori.

The other half gets the blowtorch treatment: Tuna is transformed into a sort of tataki stir fry, toasted, glazed with ponzu and tossed with a thicket of spring onions. Fish heads are blitzed under the flame until the cheeks singe and the skin screams and the eyes melt into a glorious stew meant to be extracted with chopsticks. Even sea urchin, those soft orange tongues of ocean umami, with a sweetness so subtle that cooking it is considered heretical in most culinary circles, gets blasted like a crème brulee by Toyo and his ring of fire.

Regardless if you opt for spanking raw or burning inferno, the most important part of the Toyo experience is to keep a constant supply of cold beer and sake close at hand. You’ll need it to share with the salarymen that inevitably approach your table trying to figure out how a foreigner found his or her way to their little slice of post-work paradise. Be ready with a bottle and a few words of spirited Japanese, because it will never be easier to make friends than out here under the cloak of the Osaka night, with the auburn glow of Toyo’s flame throbbing in the distance.

Tell them what they want to hear: That you’ve come for Toyo-san. That, of course, is why they’re here. Every so often he looks up, gives wide-eyed onlookers an enthusiastic thumbs up, but mostly he keeps to his food and his flame, laughing softly to himself at something we’ll never understand. In some corners of Japan’s culinary world, where restaurants have roofs and ingredients come with responsibilities, he might be crucified for his blatant disregard for convention and basic decorum, but in Osaka, where eating is a sport and rules are made to be blowtorched, Toyo-san is a hero.

Drinking Vodka, Making Pisco


Drinking Vodka, Making Pisco

by Wesley Straton

Screwdrivers in Chile

Pacán sells his pisco in repurposed vodka bottles. His tasting room consists of an old barrel upon which he sets as many or as few samples as he sees fit, in glasses that are best not carefully examined. His house is dilapidated, his property is a mess, and he is known in the area as el pisquero loco (“the crazy pisco maker.”)

He also happens to make some of the best pisco in the Elquí Valley.

I went to the valley specifically for the alcohol. I’ve had my fair share of Pisco Sours over the years, and I wanted to learn more about the grape brandy that both Chile and Peru claim as their national spirit. Unfortunately, my job in a local hostel was seriously getting in the way of my distillery visits. The hostel was beautiful and charming, as promised, but my agreed-upon schedule of half-day shifts had somehow stretched into a full-time job for which I did not get paid.

Frustrating, to say the least. So when the crotchety pisquero down the road invited me to come see his distillation process, my coworker Jenny and I conspired to get out of our usual hostel duties to visit our neighbor.

We arrived at Pacán’s place a little after noon. Our host was having a hard morning: his 94-year-old mother was in the hospital with a broken hip, and he was drowning his sorrows in some midday Screwdrivers. He poured glasses for Jenny and me, both decidedly light on the orange juice, and we drank vodka and chatted in Spanish until my head was spinning.

The portrait of Pacán’s life that I formed was built of small clues, casual asides. He’d had a wife once, a good job—there was even a mention of a son about my age. But now Pacán lived alone, selling a spirit he didn’t even drink himself to a thin trickle of tourists and imbibing unlikely quantities of vodka. I wanted to know more, but he was more interested in hearing about us: these wide-eyed young women with foreign accents and uncertain travel plans. “You’re very brave,” he said, over and over. “And very kind.”

After an hour or so we managed to convince Pacán to get started. The still, out of sight at the back of his property, was a mess of plastic drums, lumpy concrete, and blackened steel. It looked more likely to produce toxic waste than artisanal liquor. But I knew how good Pacán’s brandy was, and some minor aesthetic concerns were not enough to put me off.

Pacán began by setting his drink down and taking off his shirt, exposing his enormous and deeply tanned beer belly to the autumn sun. He opened the still’s boiling chamber and I shoveled out the pungent remains of the last batch’s mash, throwing them into the trash heap next to the still while Jenny hauled a fresh drum of fermenting grapes across the yard to take their place.

I resealed the chamber, tightening the nuts while Jenny filled the cooling chamber with water from a nearby stream and Pacán loaded a mixture of wood and garbage into the stove beneath. I cringed inwardly as I watched, but I was his guest and it was hardly my place to protest as the plastic coat hangers and grocery bags twisted in the flames.

The first liquid to come out of the still was cloudy and bright. The heads, as those first couple ounces are called, are seriously toxic, and Pacán poured them out into the dirt, then placed an empty wine bottle under the spout to collect the good stuff.

“And now?” Jenny asked.

“And now we wait,” Pacán said, and poured us more vodka.

By evening, Jenny and I had resorted to pouring our Screwdrivers out into the stream while Pacán wasn’t looking. It was bad enough that we’d left the hostel for the whole afternoon; we didn’t want to go back drunk, too. But his aggressive hospitality and bare stomach aside, Pacán had charmed us.

“Come back soon,” he told us when we finally left. And we did, stopping on our way out of the valley for a quick visit less than a week later. I hope it’s not the last.

Hoppy and a Shot of Shochu


Hoppy and a Shot of Shochu

by Selena Hoy

Near-beer cocktails in Koenji, Tokyo

We crowd into the izakaya after the jazz set, a grotty establishment on the second floor of an old building within sight of Koenji Station. Inside the bar, a heap of shoes lays higgledy-piggledy at the edge of the raised area where we sit, cross-legged, on tatami mats. If it were a nicer place the shoes would be lined up neatly or even secreted away in tiny shoe lockers with a wooden key, but in this bar such niceties are too frivolous. The guy sitting next to me has a grizzled beard covering jovial cheeks. He orders Hoppy with a shot, and it comes in a cold brown bottle delivered alongside a slug of chilled shochu poured into a frosty glass mug. He pushes it in front of me, the table crowded with bowls heaped with salted edamame and gobo-furai, strips of burdock root mandolined construction-paper thin and fried until crunchy.

Hoppy is a (mostly) non-alcoholic (0.8%) malt and hops-based brew that came onto the scene after WWII, when taxes on beer made the beverage a luxury out of reach for the average working person. It’s a drink born of ingenuity: Hoppy is usually taken poured over a shot of shochu, a domestic distilled spirit that was long known as a working class drink, but is actually more popular in Japan than Nihonshu (known abroad as sake), despite the international fame of the latter. Measured five parts Hoppy to one part shochu, the mix tastes remarkably close to beer, with a similar alcohol content.