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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

We Are Really Going to Need a Copy of This Trippy Japanese Doo-Wop Album

Jul.21.17

We Are Really Going to Need a Copy of This Trippy Japanese Doo-Wop Album

by Patrick J. Sauer

Scotch in Sapporo

After exiting the Norbesa, a rooftop ferris wheel on top of the 7th floor of a building in Sapporo, my wife and I wanted a drink. (Our six-year-old daughter Molly wanted to ride again. No chance, kid. Even though, pro tip, they sell beer for the rides.) In most countries, this would be easy. Head to the nearest bar. But Japan can be tricky that way, even in the home of the country’s oldest brand of beer. The night before, I’d been turned away from a Japanese-only private club, and I’d skipped out on the two hostess bars I wandered into, which require spending yen for a female companion to laugh at my terrible jokes she probably wouldn’t understand in the first place.

Well domo arigato, laissez les bons temps rouler, there it was, right smack in front of us. A little slice of New Orleans in Hokkaido. And as soon as we opened the door, the owner of Café Gloria, Toshikazu Oyamada, let us know everyone is welcome in his little Japanese ode to the Big Easy.

Café Gloria has plenty of New Orleans flourishes, like a Louis Armstrong statue (surrounded by empty Campbell’s soup cans because Toshi also digs Andy Warhol), red parlor lamps, and various jazz-playing figurines. And while he didn’t know how to make a Sazerac—might have been a language thing so I went with a Glenlivet rocks—Toshi does serve gumbo, but we were full of Genghis Khan, a local grilled mutton specialty, so we just stuck to the booze. And a ginger ale.

The music in Café Gloria was definitely of a New Orleans style, but not in the brassy vein of Rebirth that usually comes to mind. It was more in the Clarence “Frogman” Henry “Ain’t Got No Home” and Ernie K-Doe “Mother-in-Law” style. Toshi sat down with us to find out where we were from, the usual stuff, and really perked up as I was singing along to Dion’s “The Wanderer.” I told him I was raised on 1950s music. My mom grew up in Philadelphia when it still hosted American Bandstand and all those wonderful harmonious bands were the backbeat to my childhood. It’s a tradition we’ve carried on with Molly because 50s songs are short, easy to understand, and the most objectionable content is having to explain what a “thrill on Blueberry Hill” might entail.

Toshi excused himself, changed the music, and sat back down. He handed us a CD and wouldn’t you know it? We were sitting with the lead singer for the Fabulous Apollos, the “Doo-Wop Band From Sapporo City.” Formed in 1992, the band was particularly inspired by Earl “Speedo” Carroll, lead singer of the legendary Harlem group, The Cadillacs. The Fabulous Apollos got Speedo to be the introductory MC on their self-titled 2010 release and in the ultimate homage to the now deceased lead singer-cum-public school custodian, Toshi goes by “Earl” on stage.

The album, which of course we now own, is fantastic. It’s a wild mix of rockers and ballads, doo-wop and mambo, English and Japanese lyrics, horns and guitars, and a song entitled “The Sound of Otaru Dream Beach” which is exactly that, all delivered in under 3:00 a pop. The kid and I even jitterbugged a step or two. Close your eyes and it was like being inside Happy Days, assuming the gave the mic to Arnold instead of that damn Potsie.

We signed the concrete wall, gladly accepted the gift of a Get Hip Records showcase CD, and said Loyasumi. Thanks to Toshi, we found our Nipponese thrill.

Nobody’s Itching for a Stiff Glass of Snake Wine at the End of a Long Day

Jul.20.17

Nobody’s Itching for a Stiff Glass of Snake Wine at the End of a Long Day

by Wes Grover

Rum in Saigon

It’s Friday night in Saigon and I’m at the WOO Social Bar. It’s chic, trendy —whatever you want to call it—and not exactly my style, but I’m here because of the man making drinks behind the bar: Roddy Battajon, enemy of my liver. To be more precise, I’m here to drink his rum, Rhum Belami, the first handcrafted cane spirit in Vietnam.

Deferring to his recommendation for a cocktail, he goes about muddling pineapple, burning a cinnamon stick and knifing off a few flakes into the glass, adding this and that, mixing in his dark rum and shaking it all up, garnished with rosemary. The artistry of it is a bit lost in my daze – I’ve sipped a few glasses of his gold rum before showing up – but the enjoyment of consumption is not. At first sweet and aromatic, the flavor takes a turn with traces of coffee and black pepper as it goes down, before ultimately leaving a smoky sensation in the throat and a warmth in the chest.

If you’ve been to Saigon, chances are the locally-made spirits you’re familiar with are such exotic elixirs as scorpion and snake wine. In my experience, the only reason to drink these is to say that you did, and when the novelty wears off nobody’s itching for a stiff glass of snake wine at the end of a long day. Unless, of course, you’re looking for an ancient antidote to boost your virility.

So when I heard a few weeks ago that there was a guy from Martinique making rum in his apartment here, I had to track him down and procure a bottle. In the name of journalism, I reached out to Roddy and arranged a time to visit his homemade lab and do some drinking.

This is when I realized he’s not just some madman making hooch in his bathtub, but has a nearby production facility and, amidst the rum lab that takes up a room of his home with various tinctures fermenting in glass vats, I learn that Roddy has in fact brought a family tradition to Vietnam.

Growing up in the Caribbean, his grandmother would craft the family rum, infusing local fruits and spices to the distillate, which she always made using fresh sugarcane juice and not molasses, as is the Martinique way. True to his roots, Roddy has amalgamated the technique observed during his youth with the flavors of Vietnam.

During my visit to his home, he first poured a glass of his dark batch and instructed me to give it a smell. I have a rather limited olfactory system ever since a concussion sustained several months back, but nonetheless picked up hints of cacao and coconut, black pepper from Phu Quoc Island, and Kopi Luwak coffee beans, though coming from Indonesia, the latter is among the few imported ingredients.

Smell test completed, I took a sip and rode the rollercoaster of flavors from sweet to smoky, without too much bite, leaving one warm and happy. Like a dessert that gets you drunk, except you can have it before, during, and after dinner.

Next, he asked how strong I think it is.

35 percent? I tried, given how easily it went down.

55 percent, he countered.

Yeah, this is going to be a problem.

Nothing Like Delicious Bar Snacks to Normalize Alcohol Consumption

Jul.19.17

Nothing Like Delicious Bar Snacks to Normalize Alcohol Consumption

by Dipti Kharude

Chakna in Mumbai

Growing up, my parents, with my younger sister and a 12-year-old me in tow, ritualistically followed up a seafront walk in our neighborhood with a visit to the restaurant and bar Sea Lord. This bar still knows my secrets, as do the bowls of complimentary chakna, or savory munchies, that accompany my drinks there.

I remember gin and tonic being my folks’ staple drink. After my parents placed their order, my sister and I squabbled over who would claim the first portion of the imminent cheeselings—petite and salty square cheese puffs. My impatient anticipation for the free snacks gave way to curiosity for conversations at adjacent tables, heaving with laughter and a sense of abandon. My otherwise coy mother, dressed in a sari, glass in hand, was a picture of defiance. Peopled by unaccompanied women, couples, families, and coworkers, the unshowy Sea Lord welcomed a middle-class crowd looking to drop their guard.

Over chakna came confessions and confidences. In this twilight period, bonds blossomed. Colleagues became friends. Even the most reticent ones grew bold, calling out to the waiting staff, “Boss zara chakna lana” (Please bring more chakna to the table). There was no shame in asking for more; it was your inalienable right as a regular. These dry pre-appetizers boasted enough starch to stave off hunger while lining the stomach for more drinking.

I would scoop up a handful of salted white peanuts, and the bowls would be promptly replenished like magical chalices. Though the literal meaning of the term chakna is “to taste,” the act of incessant nibbling was like freezing time—delaying dinnertime, prolonging the moment.

After working through a mound of roasted chickpeas, the lightly spiced, fried squiggles made of soya powder, tapioca starch, and black gram flour were next. Despite mild warnings from the parents about making a full meal out of chakna, I regularly rounded off my one-course dinner with symmetrical streaks of cucumber slathered with agreeably sour chaat masala, a blend of spices like black salt, chili powder, dry mango powder, and cumin seeds.

A year ago, I moved back to this neighborhood that I had called home for more than 20 years after a long stint outside it. One evening, when I sought a momentary salve for my exhaustion, I reached out to my comfort food in Sea Lord. I almost abandoned my drink when I was reunited with the crunch of the peanuts. The decor of the place stood resolutely unchanged. People still did not bother to photograph their food.

In a city where the nightlife is swiftly being shaped by Instagram-fueled, mercurial dining habits, the existence of this place that normalized alcohol consumption for me is reassuring. This untrendy neighborhood bar is once again a place of provisional peace, where the spread of chakna continues to spark the same joy.

Celebrating García Márquez and Underwhelming Lager

Jul.18.17

Celebrating García Márquez and Underwhelming Lager

by Barbara Wanjala

Beer in Aracataca

I found some Colombian pesos in my wallet recently. I should have changed the money in Bogotá, as it is unlikely that I will be able to change it here in Nairobi. Nevertheless, the weathered green bill bearing José Asunción Silva’s bearded countenance and piercing stare is a nice souvenir to have.
How to describe my literary sojourn? Estupendo. Take for example Aracataca, the town where Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez was born.

Because it was the 50th anniversary of the publication of his classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book was our guide during our fellowship—the theme of which was the interplay between journalism and literature. Aracataca, the inspiration behind the town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude, taught me that the world is a place of endless inspiration and infinite possibility.

Aracataca is a sweltering town on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Mangoes hang from trees by the railway station as train carriages file past. Townspeople get around on motorcycles or sit out on their porches, staring at strangers with curiosity. Dogs of varying breeds and sizes populate the clean, wide streets. Doors stay open into the night. At the nearby museum, on a wall bearing Gabo’s likeness and numerous signatures, one visitor has written, “A Aracataca, pueblo immortal” (Aracataca, the immortal town) and another, “Macondo existe en mi corazón.” (Macondo exists in my heart.)

We sat down for lunch at the Ristorante Gabo & Leo Matiz, named for the writer and the photographer who created of the country’s most iconic photo, Pavo real del Mar. I learned new Spanish words during my time in Colombia, things with which to imbue my journalism: sensacin, impacto, rareza, agilidad. But also words like cataquero, which describes someone from Aracataca. We ate an assortment of meals there over the course of two days: rice, fish, plantains, cassava, banana, cheese, arepas. Tropical fare all washed down with bottles of Club Colombia. It’s an underwhelming pale lager but I grew very attached to it, ordering a dorada at Bogota’s El Dorado airport as I waited for my flight to Amsterdam.

These days I watch the images from this distant yet now familiar land on my screen with great interest: Venezuelans crossing into Cucuta, social unrest in the predominantly Afro-Colombian city of Buenaventura, FARC’s demobilization. I muse about how a book opened up a new world to me, and I plot ways to return.

On Bastille Day, the Perfectly Aloof French Dismissal of an Utter Fool

Jul.14.17

On Bastille Day, the Perfectly Aloof French Dismissal of an Utter Fool

by Robert Kelley Ayala

Bordeaux Red in Paris

It’s Bastille Day Eve here in Paris, and… he’s here. “He” being the (I still can’t believe I’m typing these words) President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. Yes, that basic reality-TV-show clown. Time for a glass of wine.

I’ve lived here with my girlfriend for more than six and a half years now, and one advantage to living in Paris is that as two Americans can almost live our lives without thinking about Trump. Yes, it usually crosses our minds at least once a day, but it’s not forced upon us by our workplace or local restaurants blasting cable news from morning until night.

And then we had our own election in France, which went really well. The extreme-right-winger lost in humiliating fashion, and we feel pretty safe from the broader nativist trend sweeping the globe. So we don’t feel the daily crush of it. Honestly, escape from the daily crush of U.S. politics is one of the main reasons I moved here in the first place.

After Trump got elected, there were some protests here in Paris. They were significant, but not so much so that anyone paid attention. Although American ex-pats made up a majority of the crowds, it was the French protesters who ran the show. They have much more experience in protesting. We had a few chants, but they had dozens. France has a much broader and deeper culture of protesting than we do in the U.S. I’ve seen protests here in Paris made up almost entirely of little schoolchildren. Meanwhile, our students pledge allegiance to a flag every single morning! It took living in Europe for me to appreciate just how insanely fascist a ritual that is.

Which is to say, I expected French people to prevent this visit from happening. Press accounts suggest that Trump has at least twice postponed a visit to the U.K. because of the fear of massive protests dominating the media coverage. And the U.K. has nothing on France when it comes to street protests, right? So, given the circumstances, it seemed to follow that the French people would threaten to mount such an overwhelming demonstration that Trump would be forced to cancel his trip.

But they didn’t, and he came. He’s here. And, honestly, I’m feeling a little resentful towards the French. I suspect that they’re not protesting because it’s a holiday weekend, and their summer vacation plans take precedence over demonstrating against the biggest threat to world peace and global survival yet. Bastille Day falls on a Friday this year, so everyone’s booked long weekends in Burgundy or Normandy or the Riviera, and nobody, no matter how much they hate Trump, would want to give up their holiday weekend. It’s disappointing.

That disappointment, though, fades away after some drunken reasoning. Maybe the French aren’t so motivated to take to the streets because they don’t perceive Trump to be all that much of a threat. Maybe it’s become clear to them that Trump’s utter incompetence is going to prevent him from doing anything truly terrible. And maybe they’ve determined there’s about a 50 percent chance of most U.S. presidents starting a war, and that governmental attitudes ranging from hostility to indifference towards the poor, ethnic minorities, the disabled, LGBTQ communities, and other marginlized groups are the norm. Maybe they know better what the U.S. is than we progressives do ourselves. Because we are blinded by our own patriotism, we don’t see that Trump and his worldview have always been deeply ingrained in the American culture, and they will be until we stop denying it and admit it and actually do something about it.

What I’m trying to say is that the French might not be going all Hamburg-during-the-G20-summit in Paris on account of Trump’s visit, but maybe that’s because Trump isn’t as far outside of the American norm as we naive, patriotic Americans could ever really admit. His pretending-to-be-a-billionaire ass just isn’t worth passing on a few glasses of crisp rosé and the charms of southern France. It’s a perfectly aloof French dismissal of the fool.

By the way, it was a 2015 Chateau Haut-Mondain that fueled the above blabber. Purchased from a supermarket. Not usually the best place to get wine, but our tiny stash is down to only really nice bottles at home, and I got home too late to go to any of the quality wine shops on my street. The trick I use when I have to buy wine at the supermarket is to find a bottle that says mis en bouteille au château. This means it was bottled on the premises of the vineyards. By no means does it guarantee high quality, but it usually saves you from the worst of the bad bottles, the mega-industrial alcoholic grape juice industry. Tonight, I drink. Tomorrow, I protest.

Is a Well-Behaved, Polite Beer Festival Even a Beer Festival?

Jul.13.17

Is a Well-Behaved, Polite Beer Festival Even a Beer Festival?

by Dave Hazzan

Tiramisu Stout in Delft

It was the Netherlands Beer Festival in Delft.

It was unique because it was warm and sunny, as opposed to the usual Dutch weather, which involves rain, wind, rain, foul tempers, and more rain. Today, the forecast called for good cheer and alcohol-induced sunstroke.

The festival works like this. You pay four and a half euros for a wristband and a tiny glass, about 150 ml, with the words Nederlandse Bieren Festival emblazoned across it, yours to keep for the next time you’re doing shots of beer. Then you pay for tokens, two euros each, which are valid for one tasting of any of the beers.

I had never been to a beer festival like this. The ones I was used to were in East Asia, where they unleash thousands of people, locals and barbarians alike, upon the stands, to throw their won/yen/yuan at the flummoxed servers while barking their orders. “PALE ALE! STOUT! RASPBERRY IPA! THE MANGO-FLAVORED SHIT!”

You then rest on the concrete for 15 minutes, fry in the sun and drink, and then get back in line before your cup is half-empty, so as not to end up empty-handed. By dinnertime everyone is fire-engine red with sunburn and the bathrooms at the subway station are a Class 1A Health Hazard.

Here in historic Delft, there is none of that. The cobblestone streets remain cute and pristine. The locals are well-behaved and polite. The 12 breweries present are all staffed by the uber-chill, who are happy to pour you a glass and thank you for choosing Kaapse, Ciderhuis, or Emelise brewing.

The choices certainly are odd. You need some kind of beer-taster’s super-palate to figure out all the hints and nodes in the Gwynt Y Ddraeg Cloudy Scrupy, the Bertus Imperial Brown Ale Merlot, the Disco Bitch Gin & Tonic IPA, or the Cock of the Rock Chicha Morada Infused.

What vintage was the Kompaan 45 Cognac BA Porter aged in? What relationship does Name & No. 1 Dutch Pancake Pale Ale have with actual pancakes? And above all, how is the Zwarte Zee Imperial Oyster Stout related to our black-shelled friends–are they ground in the hops, added to the water, or pressed into the finished product?

The only way to get any idea is to try them all. That’s why they give you such a little glass. Another reason you get little glasses is because the average alcohol content for each of these beers hovers around 7.5 percent ABV.

Some are so high it seems like they were made on a dare. The Bertus Imperial Brown Ale Merlot is 11.5 percent. The Oh Buurman… American Barley Wine is 11.8 percent. And the Angel of Haarlem Sour BA Wild Turkey is a completely irresponsible 13 percent.

In the end, I found my favorite. The Tiramisu Stout, mysteriously unlisted on the tasting card, did taste of tiramisu. Thick, creamy, chocolatey, and boozy. A winner to go with the sunstroke.

Photo by: Jo Turner

A Solid Sarajevo Bar Option For the Brandy Inclined

Jul.12.17

A Solid Sarajevo Bar Option For the Brandy Inclined

by Kate Bartlett

Rakija in Sarajevo

It’s 10 p.m. on a Monday in Sarajevo. Down a dark, cobbled street at Kino Bosna, things are just gearing up.

It may be Ramadan in this Muslim-majority city—an old crossroads of civilizations that retains a heady mix of European and Ottoman influence—but the rakija is flowing.

The dilapidated bar’s clientele—students, artistic types, and a few aged bohemians—are downing vast quantities of the Balkan brandy in preparation for another night of live Bosnian folk music, all mournful vocals, guitars, and gypsy accordion.

Before the collapse of Yugoslavia, the cinema, built in the 1920s and the first in Sarajevo, showed everything from classics to blue movies. It kept holding screenings even through the war in the 1990s, although when the city was under siege it was regularly hit by shelling.

With a range of cinemas available in the city’s malls post-war, the old building was converted into a bar and music venue. The cavernous hall has been stripped of its cinema seats, but its peeling walls still have black and white pictures of silver screen stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando, and are strung with old reels of film. Most of the décor, though, is hidden behind the swathes of heavy cigarette smoke—in much of the Balkans, people still light up indoors.

As the band makes its way to each table of drinkers, rakija-fuelled excitement builds and patrons get to their feet, clapping along with the music and twirling wildly. Quite a few know the lyrics of the sevdalinkas, or Bosnian folk songs, and join in heartily.

The bar, which must boast one of the grubbiest toilets in Sarajevo, is a no-frills venue with a menu mainly limited to beer and rakija, which—to the untrained palate—is often indistinguishable from methanol.

As I wait at the bar, a man in his 60s—significantly older than the majority of patrons—offers to buy me my tipple of choice. This is communicated mainly through sign language, because he has no English and my Bosnian is limited to greetings and obscenities. I offer a greeting.

Our rakijas arrive and we clink the shot glasses, “Živjeli!” My drink sends a wave of warmth up into my cheeks and down into my chest.

Rakija is made from plums, and many Bosnians take pride in distilling their own, believing it can treat ailments from poor digestion to flu. Quite a few people here even start the day with a shot of it along with their espresso.

Rakija comes in many flavors, like pine, elderflower, pomegranate, honey and herb, but my favorite is the visnje—sour cherry. This ruby-colored version is more sippable than other variations, and sweeter, but, judging from my headache the morning after, just as potent.

An Icy, Sober Death Is No Way to Go

Jul.11.17

An Icy, Sober Death Is No Way to Go

by Dave Hazzan

Brennivin in Heimaey

The flight to Heimaey is a deeply unpleasant experience.

About four nautical miles south of mainland Iceland, Heimaey is Iceland’s largest inhabited island, and the only inhabited island in the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago. It’s a stunning place of green grass, black lava fields, dormant volcanoes, and a little town of 4500 souls. It also gets eight million puffins a year, including Toti, the resident mascot at the aquarium. It’s all very cute and bucolic.

But the flight here is a 25-minute experience that will send the most stringent atheist straight into the arms of Jesus.

When I asked if it was O.K. to bring water on the flight, the lady at the desk said, “Of course,” which was a pleasant surprise. It turns out it’s O.K. to bring an AK-47 on the flight, since there is literally no security. No one in their right mind would hijack this thing.

It’s a tiny plane—don’t ask me what kind—but holds about 15 passengers, though there were only six on our 7:15 out of Reykjavik Domestic. It also looks and sounds like it’s held together with duct tape and chewing gum.

It was clear going up, but the weather in Iceland can change in seconds. By the time we had reached some sort of altitude, the rain and wind began, and the plane began to rock, tilt, and fall. We were offered no assurance this was normal, or that everything was fine. The only staff on the flight, except for the pilot, was a dude in an orange vest who spat out commands in Icelandic. “Get on!” “Sit down!” “Buckle up!” “Shut up!” (I think that’s what he was saying; I have no way of knowing.)

I guess everything was O.K., because while my wife and I were shitting our pants, everyone else around us looked like all was normal. One lady flipped through a magazine. A guy readied songs on his iPod. Naturally, there was no drinks cart, and I wondered if it would be cool to crack open my bottle of Brennivin.

Brennivin is the national liquor of Iceland. A type of aquavit flavored with caraway seeds, it’s sometimes called “The Black Death.” I don’t know why. The real black death would be plunging 5000 feet into the North Atlantic Ocean without a drink in me.

I reached into my bag, which was resting between my legs. (None of this pansy-ass “bags under the seat in front of you, please,” on this flight. You put the bag wherever it will fit.) But I was disappointed.

Assuming there would be no liquids allowed on board, I had checked the Brennivin. Though I imagine it can’t be too hard to access your checked luggage in the back of the plane, I wasn’t about to unbuckle my belt and be sent hurtling through the plane. No, my nerves would have to wait.

In the end, we landed without incident, and when we arrived at the hotel, the Brennivin was there, ready. I had a long, clean shot of it.

Photo by: Jo Turner

The Goan Way of Life Can Be Yours For The Price of A Bottle of Rum

Jul.10.17

The Goan Way of Life Can Be Yours For The Price of A Bottle of Rum

by Rohit Inani

Cabo in Goa

On a beautiful, warm, and sweet April night, we sat on plastic chairs set on a wooden porch in a small village by the Arabian Sea. Drinking straight from the bottle, we talked about how quickly time seemed to be passing these days.

It was dark outside on the beach, and a strong wind blew sand in our faces, and once or twice, we could see the distant flash of a camera. For some time, we sat in silence and took turns drinking from the bottle.

In the south of Goa, days are wildly humid in summer, and even though nights are cooler, you can’t escape the heat and you have to run to the nearest bar for a cold beer. Or in our case, cabo. We emptied bottle after bottle of it—a local liqueur made with a perfect blend of white rum with 100 percent natural coconut extract—drinking it neat from the bottle in the afternoons, and filling up hip flasks for the evenings.

Cabo is made by the descendants of Alexio Diniz, who in the late 1800s began distilling feni—the Goan craft spirit distilled from cashew fruits —in the southern village of Quepam. The Diniz family still runs a boutique distillery out of the same house where Alexio Diniz made feni in the 19th century.

Goa, for many years an idyll, is now marred by mining projects, pollution, and rapid development. Most of northern Goa’s beaches and roadsides are a hodgepodge of plastic bags and broken beer bottles. Too many people. Too many clubs. Bad music blaring out of the bars and pouring onto the streets.
But, in the south of Goa, a lush band of coconut plantations, a touch of biodiversity, and spotless beaches retain some of Goa’s once-wondrous charm.

I went inside to fetch our last bottle of cabo. Closing the door behind me, I unscrewed the bottle, hovering the tip of my nose over it a few times over before taking a long sip. I passed it around to G. She held the bottle in her hands for a long time without drinking. I grabbed the bottle from her and drank, marveling at the sweet-bodied and sharp coconut taste that persists long after drinking it down.

Goa has long been associated with the concept of sussegad, a way of life rooted in its colonial history, meaning “a lazy enjoyment of life to the fullest.” To experience sussegad, all you need is a few bottles of cabo.

Watching Two Mentally Unstable Bullies Posture With Globe-Killing Slingshots

Jul.07.17

Watching Two Mentally Unstable Bullies Posture With Globe-Killing Slingshots

by Billeen Carlson

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Vodka in Alaska

I hunched over the edge of the bar, questioning my life choices in a line of other regulars who were probably doing the same. Have I spent my time in this world wisely? Do I have any regrets?

On Independence Day, North Korea claimed it tested a missile that experts said put the United States—specifically, Alaska—within firing range. HLN’s barrage of Trump tweets and images of a beaming Kim Jong-un rotated on an ancient television perched on a cabinet high enough to give me a crick in my neck. Looking down at a grimacingly strong Cape Cod cocktail gave me some relief.

Locals know, and visitors quickly realize, that at Homer, Alaska’s “World Famous” Salty Dawg Saloon, beer comes in 20-ounce cans and mixer is basically garnish. It is not unusual to see otherwise respectable-appearing individuals stagger out of the bar in the middle of the day looking a shade of green that has little to do with sea travel.

Having the luxury of being able to appear less than respectable at 2 o’clock on a Monday afternoon, I stabbed at the ice in my cocktail and wondered if the rail vodka or a creeping horror I hadn’t felt since adolescence was going to win the battle over my autonomic system. Here I sat, watching two mentally unstable bullies posture with globe-killing slingshots sticking out of their back pockets.

Scrape away Homer’s encrusted layer of gift shops and art galleries, and you find the rough wooden planking of the original commercial fishing village. Much of Homer’s settlers are taciturn fishermen of Scandinavian descent who migrated up the west coast from Washington and Oregon.

Homer was dubbed Alaska’s “Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea” in the 1970s by an honest-to-god guru, Brother Asaiah Bates, who was the leader of an honest-to-god commune, The Barefooters, living “off-grid” before there was such a term.

In the early 80s, at the height of the Cold War, the population of Homer voted to make itself a Nuclear Free Zone. A toothless resolution by a small-town City Council holding most of its meetings on bar stools didn’t mean much in the grand political scheme of things during the epically strained political climate of the day. For Homer residents, however, the sentiment was particularly on point.

Homer sits on a deep-water harbor that remains ice-free all year at the top of the Pacific Ocean. During World War II, the Army Corps of Engineers built Homer’s harbor, along with a radar installation to defend against the Japanese who were occupying territory 1500 miles out on the Aleutian Chain and headed toward the mainland. Quaint little Homer is, in other words, a militarily strategic location.

As a child, I would peer into the waters of Cook Inlet, stretched below our home that sat on a high bluff, trying to see the submarines, ours and Soviet, that were purportedly playing nuclear hide-and-seek in the deep and narrow channel. Every night the local news reported on games of tag that our fighters from Elemendorf Air Force Base were playing with Russian “Bears” over Alaskan air space. Our elementary school practiced duck and cover air-raid drills where our little bodies would cram under desks and tables and pretend that it would make a difference in the event of a nuclear strike. The Cold War was a concrete reality for us, even in the late 80s, and I was fairly certain I wouldn’t grow up.

I grew up at the end of the Cold War. Gorbachev was practicing glasnost and Yeltsin was waving red, white, and blue Russian Federation flags from Soviet tanks. Despite my childhood fears, there was a glimmer of hope on my horizon. But I know now, between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, how my grandparents felt, looking over the waters of the Gulf of Alaska, during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I wept when the Berlin Wall came down. I was 13. The Cold War was officially over. I’d live to take my first legal drink.

Despite the fog of cheap Russian vodka and panic (they’d apparently signed a mutual aid agreement), I didn’t have the luxury of weeping for joy or fear now. I am old, and the other fishermen were watching. Instead, I did what we do nowadays and took out my phone. I drafted a quick text message (“RESIST”) to my Republican congressional delegates in Washington, urging them to put a leash on their president, made some questionable retweets, and then called a cab.

Yeah, Why Aren’t Vodka Shots With Unripe Mango Juice Already a Thing?

Jul.06.17

Yeah, Why Aren’t Vodka Shots With Unripe Mango Juice Already a Thing?

by Shirin Mehrotra

Mango juice in Konkan

Aam meethe hon aur bohot hon.” Mangoes should be sweet and plentiful. So said the legendary Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib.

As someone who spent entire summers on her grandparents’ farm feasting on freshly plucked mangoes for dinner, I would say I completely relate to Ghalib’s sentiments. But my love for sweet mangoes does not dilute my fondness for the unripe ones.

Ripe mangoes leave you with sweet longing after only a few months, but the sour kairis (unripe mangoes) turn into pickles and chutneys that keep you company at meals through the year. The salted slices of unripe mangoes that my mother would keep in the sun to be dried for pickles became my late-afternoon snack. The enticing jars of mango pickles kept out of our reach were the first lesson in teamwork for my sister and I. As she daringly climbed up the shelves to steal a few slices, I was assigned the duty of doorkeeper.

And then there was mango panna—India’s answer to lemonade. This sweet, sour, and salty drink, made with kairis, was a mainstay in the kitchen, the key to fighting the killer heatwave of northern India. We would drink one before leaving the house and drink another after returning.
We had a concentrate sitting in the refrigerator at all times. The boiled mangoes would be pulped and mixed with pudina (mint leaves), sugar, rock salt, and cumin powder. This concentrate, with water poured on top, worked as an instant cooler.

In my adult life, these mixes became more age-appropriate. As a teen all I could do was top the concentrate with soda instead of water, but as an adult I could take the liberty of adding a shot of vodka, wondering why kairi panna and vodka shots weren’t already a thing.

In Mumbai, the recipe for panna is a little different. The sour-and-savory drink is sweeter, like a sherbet. The flavor changes, but the cooling effect remains the same. Last year, during a trip to the Konkan region of Maharashtra, I came across an aam panna recipe completely different from what I grew up drinking. The Konkanastha Brahmins—a community in this region—grate the mango instead of boiling and pulping it, and blend it with saunf (fennel) and sugar. There’s a raw taste to this version, taken a few notches up by the sharp taste of saunf.

A glass of aam panna will protect you from the heatwave, aid digestion, and cool you down. To me, aam panna is a superhero of drinks.

A Night of Cheap Vodka in the Land of Soju

Jul.05.17

A Night of Cheap Vodka in the Land of Soju

by Mitchell Blatt and Pato Rincon

Vodka in Seoul

On Friday nights in college towns across the United States, one is sure to find house parties, or bars full of collegiate youngsters getting down and unwinding at the end of a long week.

In Seoul, things are a little different. Seoul has a “private room” culture. Due to the lack of floor space in the typical Korean home, people will rent space by the hour, for specific purposes. For example, a PC bang is your standard internet café, with snacks and maybe even hot food on offer so that you don’t have to stop gaming. There are many other kinds of bang, including noraebang (karaoke room), DVD bang, and café bang (individual rooms in cafés).

When Korean students want to unwind (particularly at the semester’s end, as is the case all May and early June) in a more social setting, well-lubricated with alcohol, they will join in with a bunch of their friends and rent out an entire bar or club for the evening, and they will charge admission to recoup their losses.

One night we were wandering the streets of Sinchon, a university-laden part of Seoul. As we walked down the road full of bars and restaurants and noraebang, we noticed different colored ribbons taped to the road, marking the directions to various parties. Each color was for a different party, organized by a different group at a different university. Some of them included text in English and Korean: “Ehwa [University] Nursing.” We didn’t follow any of the arrows, but we let some girls hanging out at the front door of one of the clubs lead us down to a basement, where we took a seat at the bar and ordered Cass, one of the three ubiquitous local beers, in the midst of green and red lights and glowing Finlandia advertisements.

Most of the tables reserved for Ehwa students were set with Finlandia-labeled bottles of various vodka cocktails. Over at the bar, the fare was a little different. We could see a bartender mixing juice and vodka out of a bottle labeled “vodka” in big letters and “Barton” in small letters. Barton Brands is a major American distiller of whisky, gin, run, schnapps, tequila, and vodka. It’s part of the Sazerac Company, which also sells Fireball and Southern Comfort. Barton is the kind of vodka you’d find on the bottom shelf, the kind a cash-strapped college student would reach for without a thought.

We ordered two shots straight. When it went down, we had nothing to say of the flavor. The signage of the bottle had it right: it was simply vodka. So there we were in the land of soju, drinking a cheap American version of Russia’s national drink. Maybe Korean and American college parties aren’t so different after all.

Putting Milk in Turkish Coffee Is Completely Wrong

Jul.05.17

Putting Milk in Turkish Coffee Is Completely Wrong

by Martina Žoldoš

Coffee in Istanbul

I had come down with bronchitis on the Turkish coast two days before, so exploring the treasures of Istanbul in 100-degree weather was more ordeal than fun. The heat was unbearable, and the medicine I had been prescribed was taking its time to kick in. All I wanted was to sit in some shade, feel the breeze on my face, and do nothing.

As I daydreamed about the perfect rest spot, we saw an ancient cemetery with neat gravestones and bushy trees. The gate was open, so we entered, not so much to admire the architecture as to cool off. Then I heard distant chatter, a mixture of laughter and high tones, not the silent murmuring I expected to hear among the tombs. As we followed the sound, the gravestones started to thin out, replaced by trees and flowers. Folk music reached my ears and the smell of tobacco tickled my nostrils. We had stumbled upon a café, where people were enjoying tea, shisha, and chats in the company of the deceased. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world.

The place was formed out of one large terrace, without doors and windows, where ancient trees protected patrons from the burning sun. Apart from its unusual location, it was a typical café, with colorful carpets, low wooden tables, and no chairs. The mostly male clientele reclined on huge red pillows and sofas scattered around the tables. As we sat down, we received some quick, curious glances, probably because we looked out of place. It seemed like a place for locals.

We ordered Turkish coffee with milk. This is the way I used to prepare it at home in Slovenia: boil the water with sugar in a special pot, add two tablespoons of finely ground coffee, stir, and wait until the mixture starts to rise. Wait a little bit for the powder to sit, and serve—with milk.

Turns out, I’ve been doing it all wrong. The waiter repeated my order, somewhat incredulously.

“Turkish coffee with milk?”

“Yes, please.”

“We don’t serve Turkish coffee with milk.”

I asked him to bring me the coffee and a cup of milk separately, so that I could prepare it myself. He replied that Turkish coffee should never be mixed with milk, and that the only coffee you can drink with milk is instant coffee, which, incidentally, isn’t really coffee. I agreed to order the Turkish version.

The waiter returned in a better mood, with two small, steaming copper pots and some sugar cubes. As I sipped the dark liquid crowned with rich foam, I decided that I prefer a plain cup of strong Turkish coffee to a fake one with milk.

Always Go on the Mid-Traffic Jam Wine Run

Jun.29.17

Always Go on the Mid-Traffic Jam Wine Run

by Susan Ekpoh

Palm wine in Nigeria

Under normal circumstances, alcohol on a wellness getaway would be a no-no, or counterproductive—the odd glass of wine with dinner is perhaps the exception. However, palm wine, or palmy, as locals affectionately call it, is a staple and a healthy part of life at Agbokim—Nigeria’s renowned seven-cascade waterfalls.

We landed in Margaret Ekpo Airport, Calabar, a little later than scheduled, but nevertheless in high spirits. While waiting for luggage, clusters of passengers in yoga poses adorned the carousel area as they attempted to rid their bodies of plane fatigue. Bags in hand, we finally set off for Agbokim waterfalls for a few days to relax in the People’s Paradise, as they call Nigeria’s Cross River State.

But the road to paradise, they say, is rarely smooth: a gravel truck had fallen ahead, spilling its all its contents and creating a gridlock. Humidity-induced restlessness soon spread throughout our bus. Layers of sweat-soaked clothing were peeled off bodies seeking respite.

The driver, Mr. G, suggested some palmy. “Not the adulterated version full of saccharine, bottled and sold in the big cites,” he scoffed. I opted to go with him—anything to get blood flowing through my legs again. Our search led us through muddy paths to a beer joint, housed in a thatched open hut with bamboo tables, where the palm wine sat proudly in a calabash. Mr. G and I were served the palm wine in a wooden gourd. He took the first sip, because he is older, then passed it on to me, eagerly watching, awaiting my approval. It had a sweet taste, accompanied by a sour one, replacing my nerves with a buzz. Smiling at Mr. G in approval, I eyed the cloudy whitish liquid settled at the bottom of the gourd.

“This one is freshly tapped,” the matron boasted in Efik, the local language. Tapping is done by skilled men who climb up palm trees, sometimes 50 feet high, multiple times a day. They use a machete to cut divots up the trunk, which serve as slots for both feet. The wine is extracted in sap form from a hole drilled into the trunk of the tree. No two batches are the same; the tapped liquid continually changes over the course of the day.

The group on the hot bus was more excited about the palm wine than about my safe return. Shortly after the bottles were passed around, the restless sighs faded. I slowly dozed off myself, dreaming of the weekend to come as the palm wine settled in my stomach.

We heard the waterfalls before we saw them. The thunderous voice of each cascade tumbling off the cliff began to wake us from our peaceful slumber. Even the air was different—fresh and clean, draped by mist rising from the torrent below. We were here at last, barely realizing six hours had gone by.

Potentially the World’s Least-Fun Beach Beer

Jun.28.17

Potentially the World’s Least-Fun Beach Beer

by Julian Hattem

Heineken in Cox’s Bazar

Outside, the Indian Ocean was the temperature of bath water, lapping gently at the shore. The dull murmur of the waves was barely audible above the incessant horns of passing rickshaws and motorized three-wheelers scooting through Cox’s Bazar, a burgeoning tourist town in Bangladesh’s southeast corner. The beach runs unbroken for 75 miles, allegedly the longest in the world, and in the evening the sun dips gently into the Bay of Bengal.

But I was inside, at a hotel across the street, through the lobby and behind two unmarked doors in a dimly lit room reminiscent of my grandparents’ basement. Lounge chairs surrounded a few low-lying wooden tables, but I was alone. A single recessed lightbulb shone over one corner of a bar top, reflecting dully in the wine glasses and champagne flutes hung stem-up over the bar.

I came here to get a beer.

Bangladesh is a mostly Muslim country, and alcohol is more or less illegal nationwide. But hotels and clubs that serve foreigners can sometimes obtain special government licenses to sell liquor. In Cox’s Bazar, alcohol is relegated to a few dark corners such as this one, advertised mostly by word-of-mouth to tourists.

Once I found my way inside, the bartender looked me up and down before pouring a cold, six-dollar glass of Heineken. We sat in silence, the mechanical hum of the air conditioner providing the only soundtrack.

For now, Cox’s Bazar mostly attracts domestic tourists from elsewhere in Bangladesh. Locals say business is booming, and the scores of skeletal half-finished hotels under construction suggest that optimism for growth is high. Plans are underway to expand the local airport and bring in international flights. There’s no reason why Cox’s Bazar couldn’t compete with the world-renowned beaches in Thailand or Vietnam, locals claim.

But much of that expected growth is likely to come from foreigners, especially Europeans and Asians looking for a reasonably priced holiday without the crowds of bigger beach resorts. To attract them, local hoteliers acknowledge, the government will have to loosen its anti-liquor laws. Foreign tourists want to throw back a couple cold ones at a beach-side cafe or nightclub, they note, not sit in silence in an unmarked room deep in the bowels of their hotel.

In the meantime, Cox’s Bazar is better known for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who live in poverty on its outskirts, in flimsy huts and collections of muddy camps. A Muslim minority group from neighboring Myanmar, the Rohingya have been forced out by Buddhist nationalists in their home country and struggle to build their life anew in Bangladesh. Many locals distrust the refugees, claiming that they are criminals who degrade their country’s reputation and smuggle meth across the border.

One overpriced beer in a dark hotel bar was enough for me. I downed it quickly, paid up and left, passing back into the glaring florescent lights of the lobby on my way out. The bartender locked the door behind me.


Julian Hattem’s reporting in Bangladesh is being supported by the International Reporting Project.

Mastering the Magic Words For Cheap Beer

Jun.27.17

Mastering the Magic Words For Cheap Beer

by Russ Rowlands

Presidente in the Dominican Republic

“Dame una fria.” Gimme a cold one.

“Uno cien, amigo.”

“Gracias.”

I smiled and put a 100-peso bill on the counter, grabbing the ice-crusted bottle of Presidente pilsner.

Much power is invested in that little phrase, dame una fria. A Dominican friend told me about its significance on my visit to Buena Vista, in the Central Range mountains.

“Only Americanos say una cerveza,” Emmanuel explained.

A medium-sized bottle of Presidente should cost 100 pesos (just over US$2), as advertised on every bottle cap, but at most shops I was paying anything from 110 to 140 pesos. Emmanuel told me that if you look like an Americano, and sound like an Americano, then you can afford Americano pricing, and the clerk will add whatever ‘tax’ on top of the 100 pesos that he thinks you’ll pay without causing a stink.

“You don’t look like an Americano,” Emmanuel said, shrugging, “so you might as well not sound like one.” It was a good piece of advice.

A month later in Santo Domingo, the capital, someone recommended that I check out the ruins of San Francisco monastery, specifically by night, on a Sunday. San Francisco is an impressive pile of red-brick rubble that makes up part of Santo Domingo’s World Heritage Site within the Zona Colonial historical district.

I had already explored the Zona by day, soaking up 500 years of colonial history, contentedly sipping frosty Presidentes from a paper bag. Languid groups of tourists snapped photos while locals wisely went about their business indoors, out of the sun

But following the recommendation, I experienced a different side of the Zona as I set out to find the ruins of San Francisco one Sunday night. Every corner was thronged with jubilant Dominicans, chatting in circles on plastic chairs or standing around food carts waiting for steaming empanadas. I could hear a live band over the happy cacophony of the crowd, the rumbling bass undoubtedly doing damage to centuries-old mortar. A few tourists drifted through the streets, but the celebration was clearly not some pony show staged for visitors.

The press of sweaty bodies got tighter and tighter as I approached the ruins.
People were accommodating, happy to move out of the way if possible, but by the time I reached the last block I could have easily crowd-surfed my way to the front.

Colorful spotlights lit a stage in front of the massive, half-crumbled nave of the monastery. A brassy, 12-piece salsa band was blasting a high-pace tune at the crowd, who sang along as they danced on a platform built over the ragged old cobbles of the street. Food vendors hawking homemade tostones wandered through the plaza, which was book-ended with bright green Presidente tents. I pushed my way into a tent.

“Dame una fria!”

A Story About Love and Hops, from Scotland to Ghana

Jun.26.17

A Story About Love and Hops, from Scotland to Ghana

by Stacey Knott

IPA in Accra

Almost five years ago, I poured a pint of Scotland’s Black Isle Blonde for a Ghanaian chef who came into the bar I worked at in Edinburgh. We bonded over our love of the beer, and he told me all about his country, which I was, coincidentally, about to visit.

This new favorite customer of mine, named John, raved about the hospitality of his fellow-Ghanaians, and how much I’d love it there, promising to connect me with his friends and family.

Fast-forward to June 2017, the chef and I are married, living in Ghana’s capital, Accra, and we’ve found something to rival that Scottish beer we both miss so much.

It’s a hot afternoon, and after being stuck in the usual Accra traffic, we turn down a pothole-riddled, dusty road on the outskirts of this sprawling city to meet brewer Clement Djameh, the owner of Ghana’s only microbrewery. Before we begin our personal tour of the Inland Microbrewery, which takes up part of the bottom floor of a residential house, Clement points out a small crop of sorghum growing outside.

It’s this grain that makes up his beers—it thrives in semi-arid regions—like Ghana’s impoverished northern region.

Clement wanted to use it in his beer to help farmers in Ghana, taking it from a subsistence crop to industrial use. His beers are brewed with 100 percent malted sorghum instead of the usual imported malted barley, commonly found in beers here and across the globe.

He sells his beers for private functions in Ghana, where people buy it by the keg and rent the equipment to serve it, including the dispenser and fridges.

With the tour over and the blazing sun setting on another day, we step outside and, with Oladapo Loto, a visiting brewer from Nigeria, we taste one of these sorghum brews.

Cool glasses of Clement’s IPA are handed out. The foaming top recedes and as John and I take that first sip, his eyes widen.“Whoa, this is so good. This reminds me of that Black Isle Blonde,” he says.

The IPA is smooth and full-bodied. It’s a golden caramel color and doesn’t have the harshness I often find with the local, commercial beers here in Ghana.

While we savor the brew, we talk politics, economics, and corruption—the usual fodder for a Thursday evening. Oladapo and Clement tell us about the 24/7 obsession commercial brewing becomes. But microbrewing gives Clement more freedom.

Interestingly, there’s nothing like this in Nigeria, Oladapo tells us.

“If it was in Nigeria, by now it would have exploded,” he says, to a chorus of “Then start one!”

After visiting Clement’s, he might just do that.

Sitting Outside of Mosul, Waiting for the Sugar to Settle

Jun.22.17

Sitting Outside of Mosul, Waiting for the Sugar to Settle

by Anthony Elghossain

Tea in the Nineveh Plains

The men stir their tea. They speak, stare, and listen. Then, they stir some more.

Some strangers—now fellow-travelers and, indeed, friends—and I have been traipsing around the Nineveh Plains all day. We’re on our way to Mosul. The Western journalists among us are covering the final act in the war to liberate the city, but I’m just here to understand how certain minority factions are positioning themselves for the politics of peace.

The exhilaration of the first few hours have faded, and I’m bored again. “Research” gets repetitive. Race down a road, wait at a checkpoint, sit in a circle, stir the tea, and listen to men with guns. Race up another road, wait at a checkpoint, sit in a square, stir the tea, and listen to more men with guns plot the future—without moving past the past.

I want to drink the tea. But I let it sit there, on a rickety table. They’ve brewed a pot of loose Assam tea: black tea, boiling water, a stick of cinnamon—but no mint, sadly. These folks have heaped mounds of sugar into tiny glasses, and now they’re stirring and stirring, but not sipping. I wonder briefly if the tea is poisoned.

Perhaps Louis, an Iraqi Christian with a soft spot for Saddam and the old Ba‘ath regime, will take the first sip. But he keeps stirring—and speaking.

“Baghdad can guarantee autonomy,” he tells the militiamen gathered in a tin tent outside a village that was home to tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians, before ISIS took over. Various forces—a U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi national army, Peshmerga, and the innocuously named “popular mobilization units”—cleared the area in October 2016. But folks have been slow to return. “You need to behave carefully over the next few months. Only Baghdad can give you what you want.”

Others aren’t so sure. “Jonathan,” a militiaman from the Shabak community, grimaces and confers quietly with a visiting lawmaker. A commander holds court. Meanwhile, a pair of prim UN staffers, with their pressed khakis and bleached shirts, take notes.

Across the tent, two Assyrians talk. I don’t speak Neo-Aramaic, but can tell they’re chatting about me: “Anthony,” “Lebanese-American,” “researcher,” and—to summarize—“what the fuck is he doing here?” A friend, who’s ushered me around Nineveh and Mosul, whispers: “Maronay”—meaning, Maronite, a largely Lebanese Christian sect. Surprisingly, the designation opens a door. The man smiles and asks me which of the rival Lebanese warlords I prefer.

I demur. He asks about the Mountain War of 1983. We’re outside of Mosul, where the man’s compatriots are fighting for their future, but he’s grilling me about Lebanon’s past.

“Don’t you have enough to worry about here?” I bite back, with a smile. He laughs.

I finally take a sip of my tea. Now I understand why no one is drinking it. This tea is as sweet as syrup. I add water, stir, and try again. I stir, clumsily, for an eternity. “You should let the sugar settle,” whispers a friend, “if you actually want to drink it.”

Too late. The commander’s watching. I keep stirring and begin to speak. “This is delicious, thank you.”

There Is No Period After the “St” in St Ives and Other Cornwall Stuff

Jun.21.17

There Is No Period After the “St” in St Ives and Other Cornwall Stuff

by Alessio Perrone

Cider in Cornwall

We had driven five hours from London to get to St Ives, on the western tip of Cornwall, England. On single-lane roads on which we were the only car, past cliffs looking over the Celtic Sea, under bridges with faded EU flags tied onto them, flapping in the wind—the last remnants of a referendum in which Cornwall voted overwhelmingly to leave.

In St Ives, we waited another 30 minutes to find a seat at the Sloop Inn, a small, crowded pub on the beach, established in 1312. St Ives is quiet; walk down its narrow alleys through the white houses, and you can even hear the wind blowing. But the Sloop Inn was noisy. Ale flowed, a busker played, a tourist took pictures of everything.

We ordered a local cloudy cider—a Rattlers Cyder, poured from a snake-shaped tap. Cornish cider isn’t much different from ciders you get elsewhere, just stronger. This one is fizzy and bitter.

We had just begun to taste it when Marshall arrived. A local man in his 20s, blonde, blue-eyed, with an incredibly round face and a blue hoodie.

“Mind if I sit with you, mate?” He’s had a few. “This is the best place in St Ives,” he said to nobody in particular. He started to ramble.

To Marshall, St Ives is the best place in the world: it has “the best” New Year’s celebrations, in which people dress up and head to the beach to watch fireworks (“Well, the best after London. And Edinburgh”); he thinks it has the best Cornish pasties, baked thick-crust pastries originally made for miners so they could eat their meals warm and with their hands (“Well, the best after the ones you get in the countryside”), and the best light to paint—a blade through your eyes when the sun is out.

“It is touristy, so you get all the shops and bars, but it doesn’t lose its Cornish identity, its character,” he said.

But it seems that Cornwall is changing. It’s still largely dependent on agriculture, but one by one, its sources of wealth have waned. Once, it relied on fishery and mining, but then, with foreign competition, those industries became unprofitable. Cornwall became one of the poorest areas in Britain. More recently, it has relied on tourism and EU subsidies. (Cornwall qualifies for poverty-related EU grants, but soon won’t be receiving those anymore.)

Tourism, though, doesn’t seem to be waning. In St Ives, the fishermen’s inns have given way to tourists’ residences and dozens of art galleries, as artists flocked here, lured by the light. Taverns have become bars and restaurants by the beach.

Some 45 minutes later, we still hadn’t had a chance to talk to each other. Marshall was telling us about an adventure he had in France with eight people in one car. Then he realized he’d finished his drink.

He mumbled something that must have meant “Nice to meet you and good-bye” and left us half-apologetically.

Our moment had gone. The busker had gone. The Inn was getting quieter, the wind chillier. The sun had disappeared behind the houses. We contemplated having another cider while we watched Marshall wobble away. Nah, not this time.

A Drink for Goa’s Hot Summer Nights and Torrential Rains

Jun.20.17

A Drink for Goa’s Hot Summer Nights and Torrential Rains

by Sonia Filinto

Urak in Goa

It was hot and humid. The monsoon season was still a few weeks away; just the right weather for downing a few pegs of urak.

Feni might be the more famous Goan brew, distilled from the cashew apple, but urak—the fruit’s first distillate—is the drink of choice for Goans in the summer months. Urak is distilled only from March to May, the cashew fruit-bearing season. It also has a short shelf life of four to five months. It has a fruity and mildly pungent aroma and flavor; it’s certainly an acquired taste. But it’s light and refreshing, and the cashew apple season coincides with the weather heating up, so it’s like the stars align to give Goans a drink to beat the heat.

One hot summer evening, a friend plugged in to the local bar scene suggested Joseph Bar. It’s an old hole-in-the-wall tavern in Fontainhas, the Latin Quarter in Goa’s capital, Panaji. Space is restricted, with patrons spilling into the narrow lane outside. The urak is excellent, so no one complains.

I happened to meet an acquaintance, who offered me his outdoor seat while my friend made himself comfortable on the curb. The waiter brought out our drinks. My friend drinks his urak with water, club soda, and a lime-flavored carbonated drink along with a sprinkling of salt and a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon. Old-timers like my father enjoy their urak the purists’ way—on the rocks or with water. I like both styles.

As I drank, a feeling of lightness took over—not to be confused with the alcohol-fueled light-headedness that feni might cause: urak is a milder brew. It absorbed all the tiredness from my day; I had been at work since 6 a.m. As the evening progressed, the conversations around us showed no signs of ending. The crowd—locals and tourists alike—spread across the road outside the bar.

The waiter brought us the last of the prawn rissois. I told him that he looked familiar. My instincts were correct: he had worked at Clube Nacional, a legendary old club and events venue in Panaji, which had for years been declining but still had a popular bar—until the building started to collapse and everything closed down. The waiter was himself somewhat legendary, both for his long tenure at Clube Nacional and for his knack for remembering his customers’ preferred drinks. After a few other gigs in between, he had ended up at Joseph Bar.

He promised to serve us hot snacks if we came in earlier the next day. I didn’t make it to Joseph Bar the next evening, but I will soon.

The Sahara, Johnny Cash, and Mint Tea Are a Surprisingly Good Combination

Jun.19.17

The Sahara, Johnny Cash, and Mint Tea Are a Surprisingly Good Combination

by Brian Fritz

Mint tea in the Sahara

We had been driving off-road through the Sahara near the Moroccan-Algerian border for what seemed like a day, but was probably closer to two hours.

Every bump along the landscape became more pronounced. The rattling of the truck grew louder, drowning out the odd yet satisfying mix of music—Johnny Cash, Enrique Iglesias and Sting—favored by our driver. The air in the truck was stagnant and humid—opening the windows was not an option unless you wanted a sand shower.

As bleak as it was inside the truck, outside did not appear much better. Whirling winds made seeing anything through the flying sand difficult. The only signs of life were a few roaming camels.

So you could imagine our joy when our driver told us there was an oasis up ahead—which turned out to be a small, mud-brick guesthouse.

We were greeted by three men in djellabas who sought shade on wobbly plastic chairs under a tree. On a table in the middle of them rested a familiar sight: a traditional Moroccan teapot. After exchanging salams, one of the men raised his glass to us and said, “tea?” In Morocco, greetings are synonymous with mint tea.

Mint tea—or “Moroccan whiskey”—is the official drink of Morocco. But it’s a bit of a misnomer—it’s actually green tea imported from China. The name comes from the bushel of fresh mint added to the teapot during the brewing process—along with an obscene amount of sugar. It’s alcohol-free, but it’s a sugar-spiked glass of deliciousness.

One of the men got up and hurried to find chairs for us. Another went into the guesthouse to retrieve two additional glasses. The last of the men went about making more tea.

When the tea finished brewing (and not a second earlier), we were each served a glass—poured high in the customary way of aerating the tea and creating foam at the top. The first sip revealed something different, though— the tea tasted stronger, less sugary than the tea we had drank in Marrakech.

“Not as much sugar?” I said while holding up my glass. The men laughed and one of them responded, “Berber whiskey!” The men told us proudly how the Berbers native to this area prefer their tea stronger, unlike the sugar-infused tea of the cities. We also learned they drink tea throughout the day as a way to quench their thirst in the desert heat.

We needed to get going before dark, so we finished our tea, said our goodbyes and continued our journey. Our bellies burned with Berber whiskey while Johnny Cash took us deeper into the desert.

Now Craving Mezcal Distilled Under a Raw, Skinless Chicken

Jun.15.17

Now Craving Mezcal Distilled Under a Raw, Skinless Chicken

by Allegra Ben-Amotz

Mezcal in Mexico City

Upon moving to Mexico City, my husband and I immediately set out to determine our happy-hour spot, a place to cut through the smog that stuck in the back of our throats and watch the brilliant, dusty sunset.

La Nacional is a casual mezcal bar, not hidden away, cramped, or trendy like some of the more written-about mezcalerias. They’re serious about the stuff: the menu is an intersecting web connecting agave varieties to over 100 mezcals. It’s easier to just tell your waiter what you’d like—something smoky, sweet, or smooth—and have them bring two or three bottles to sniff and approve before pouring.

We take every visitor to one of the outside tables to get a mezcal education and a front-row seat to the orchestra of the city’s street vendors: the clack clack clack of the man knocking metal canisters inside his closed fist to sell you electric shocks; the ghostly recording of a little girl’s voice pleading for pieces to be broken down for scrap metal; the high-pitched whistle of the camote vendor peddling roasted sweet potatoes and plantains.

When our friends Justin and Melanie come to visit, we sample smooth mezcal de pechuga, alternating it with sips of sour orange juice. Pechuga means breast in Spanish, and indeed, the finished liquor undergoes a third distillation underneath a raw, skinless chicken or turkey breast, with seasonal fruits, grains and nuts added to the mix. The vapors that emanate from the spirit cook the breast, and it imparts some of its savory flavor to balance the fruit’s sweetness and mellow the earthiness of the roasted agave. It’s less smoky than some of its counterparts, and tastes nothing like chicken.

We’re savoring our pechugas when we hear the piercing squeal of carbon escaping the metal pipe of the camote cart, like steam from a teapot, and I grab my wallet. “Be right back.”

The camote vendor opens the smoking drawer of his cart that sits above a flame, revealing skinned, melty bananas nestled together with roasted sweet potatoes. Sixty pesos for two potatoes, halved and thickly drizzled with condensed milk. I run back across the street and set our snacks down.

We dig in; the skin gives way to soft flesh. “This is perfectly cooked,” Justin remarks. “It tastes like Thanksgiving,” my husband says, and I nod, remembering my aunt’s marshmallow-topped side dish. The four of us are quiet for a minute, trading kisses of mezcal for bites of sweet potato, thinking of home.

If You Have to Have Ice In Your Whisky, Make it Antarctica Glacier Ice

Jun.14.17

If You Have to Have Ice In Your Whisky, Make it Antarctica Glacier Ice

by Lucy Sheriff

Whisky in Antarctica

In March, I boarded a ship to Antarctica to shoot a documentary on climate change. The Ocean Endeavor departed from Ushuaia, on the southernmost tip of Argentina, and sailed around West Antarctica for 10 days.

My fellow passengers were a strange mix of scientists, tourists, and climate-change campaigners. As I watched the ship fuel up in Ushuaia, I worried about my sea legs. The furthest I’d sailed so far was the ferry from Dover to Calais. Crossing the Drake Passage—the body of water between Cape Horn, Chile, and West Antarctica—has been described as similar to being inside a washing machine, as the rough waves of the Southern Ocean squeeze through the bottlenecked passage. But it was the only way through.

So, for two days, as the ship heaved up-and-down and side-to-side and my stomach followed suit, I told myself it was a small price to pay for visiting the driest, windiest, coldest place on earth. We finally reached calm waters, and Half Moon Island. Six days of landings on the South Shetland Islands followed. During our various trips from ship to island, which we made in tiny zodiac boats so we wouldn’t disturb the wildlife, the ship’s crew informed us that it was tradition to collect glacier ice from the sea. (Not for scientific reasons, but because it was nice to have glacier ice with your whisky.) We unfurled a small fishing net and hauled a nearby floating chunk onto the boat.

As the end of the trip approached, the return journey through the Drake Passage loomed. But before that, a rite of passage awaited: the Polar Plunge, for those who have made it to Antarctica by ship. All I had to do was jump from the boat into Antarctic waters. Without a wetsuit.

I was reluctant, but after some good-old peer pressure and the prospect of a post-plunge whisky I lined up, and dove headfirst into water so dark it resembled black ink. My body felt like it was being stuck by thousands of pins. When I surfaced, I took a gasp so big it felt like my lungs were bottomless. I clambered out and scuttled to the bar to meet my fellow plungers.

The Nautilus Bar was on the top deck, with almost-panoramic windows so you couldn’t forget you were drinking at the South Pole. It was busy. Fellow plungers in bathrobes toasted each other. And there, atop the counter on a plinth, was the glacier ice we’d fished out of the water, glistening under the light. It was about time to upgrade from my cranberry juice and test it out.

“Whisky, big. On the rocks.”

The barman duly chiseled a chunk off and plopped it in my tumbler. I took a sip. It was cold—and salty.

May Budapest’s Ruin Pubs Last Forever

Jun.13.17

May Budapest’s Ruin Pubs Last Forever

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Budapest

The “ruin pub” is a Budapest institution, and the place to be any night of the week in the Hungarian capital.

The premise is simple, smart, and sometimes illegal. You take a piece of ground that is abandoned and falling apart. You fix it up (but not too much), open a bar, serve drinks, and watch the money roll in. The trend began sometime around 2001, and continues today. It’s like capitalist squatting.

Some of them, like Szimpla Kert and Instant, are enormous, stretched out over hundreds of square feet of prime Budapest land.

In Instant, there are about 20 different rooms—some have bands, some have DJs, some are quiet. There is foosball and table hockey, and long couches and furniture lifted from the Salvation Army. Upstairs, there are hostel rooms, though I don’t know who could sleep in this place.

The most popular place to be, at least when the weather is clear, is the courtyard open to the sky. There, table space is at a premium even when the other rooms are empty. Trees grow through the floor, tripping up drinkers.

Cheap flights from England combined with cheap liquor here means there are gaggles of young Brits all over Budapest’s party houses, ruin pubs included. Visit only the bars, and you’d think you were in Ibiza.

In the Instant courtyard, a British bachelor party is falling-down drunk and obnoxious. One guy keeps at me for a few minutes, like he wants to kick my ass. Perhaps I should be concerned—he’s young and buff, and I’m fat and 41.

But he has trouble finding his sea legs, and within five minutes he’s doing Sambuca shots with his buddies, who are holding each other up and singing Oasis. No, it’s not what’s on the stereo.

Szimpla Kert is the better of the ruin pubs, and not only for its lack of bachelor parties. The original ruin bar, it’s been in its present location since 2004. They say it’s the most winterized of them all, staying open all year and in all weather. It’s also the most fun, hosting a cosmopolitan mix of tourists young and old, and Hungarians.

In the courtyard sits a Trabant, East Germany’s famously unreliable signature automobile. Trees grow here too, some strung with hammocks, and are pleasant to lean on when you can’t get one of the tables, though we lucked out.

Beer is the preferred tipple, not least because it’s the cheapest. There is also a long cocktail list, and they pour a lot of shots. But plastic cups of beer are the best way to enjoy your time in the dilapidated courtyard, up against the Trabant, chatting with the world.

How these places stay open is unclear—obviously they’ve made an agreement with the city, who must know their worth to the Budapest tourist industry. May the ruins last forever.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Huh, They Have Hoegaarden in North Korea

Jun.12.17

Huh, They Have Hoegaarden in North Korea

by Rebecca High

Beer in Pyongyang

After my first afternoon in North Korea, happy hour had never sounded better.

I was there with a group of runners for the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon. Since we landed, it had been a whirlwind of tension and adrenaline, beginning with an intimidating airport security check. Then, we were shown some carefully curated sights in the capital from the confines of a bus, overseen by government-vetted guides. First up: a whistle-stop propaganda circuit of Pyongyang. We also visited the city’s (larger) knock-off of France’s Arc De Triomphe—a monument to Korea’s resistance to Japan—and some captured U.S. military vehicles.

We were allowed to take photos, but only of monuments and war trophies, not of the North Koreans in dark clothing we saw from our bus, cycling or working the fields by hand. We also paid tribute to massive bronze statues of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, Great Leader and Dear Leader, grandfather and father, respectively, to current leader Kim Jong-un. Citizens are required to lay flowers at their feet; guests are encouraged to do so, and some of our group did.

We finally headed to a restaurant on the second floor of a nondescript building, above an empty bowling alley. A long table had been set with mysterious fried meats, rice topped with ketchup, and small golden piles of egg salad. There were no other patrons. We were offered beer, and eagerly accepted. It was served cold in chilled mugs, and tasted delicious: a rice lager, but rich, both in flavor and color. Our guide called it Golden Lanes Microbrew, and explained that it was local, brewed in the bowling alley underneath the restaurant. (Of course, local in this case means it’s owned by the state.)

The beer was the highlight of the meal, and we ordered a second round, learning that the word for “cheers” in North Korea is different to the one in South Korea: “Chook-bae!” instead of “Geonbae!”

After dinner, the manager offered to open the bowling alley downstairs. We never saw where they brewed the beer, but under a life-sized photograph of Kim Jong-il, we put on those universally clownish bowling shoes while our guides distributed warm cans of random import beer: Heineken, Hoegaarden, Beer Hanoi.

“Where’s that local draught, the microbrew?” I asked. But the guides didn’t answer. Instead, they encouraged us to choose an import. I settled for a Heineken.

A Very Special U.K. Election Drunken Screed

Jun.09.17

A Very Special U.K. Election Drunken Screed

by Roads and Kingdoms

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For this special edition of our weekly Drunken Screed, we at Roads & Kingdoms asked some of our favorite Brits to have a drink or five and weigh in on the surprisingly exciting U.K. general election. Grab a pint and join us as we rant, rave, and revel over last night’s vote.

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My Whole Brain Feels Like a Bottle of Champagne
Moët & Chandon in South London
By Sam Kriss

I had forgotten, almost, what this kind of sheer joy felt like: the sheer, giddy, terrified pleasure seething through my skull, fizzy and corrosive, dissolving everything, un-concatenating my words, melting through my interior monologue, leaving every considered and conscious thought broken up like a thin layer of scum floating over fathomless, impenetrable happiness. This was how it felt when I first saw the exit poll in last night’s British election. My whole brain felt like a bottle of champagne.

Everyone I knew was loudly insisting that something positive could happen, while quietly expecting the worst. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party was surging in the polls, but the polls had been wrong so many times before, and his message of solidarity and kindness and tremulous impossible hope was facing the dread certainty of a Conservative landslide.

This whole election had been a hideous contrivance: Prime Minister Theresa May had spotted an opportunity to massively increase her hand and give electoral weight to her project—hard Brexit, pitiless social sadism, covert racism bulging monstrously into fully-fleshed being—and she took it. The rest of us were just passengers, mute and helpless. Those of us who believed in something better were about to be crushed. Our enemies, the vultures of common sense and political reality, were laughing in their low, hollow sky. I had expected to stay up until sunrise watching the BBC, alone, inconsolable, mourning a future that never had the chance to be born.

The experts were wrong. The projected result showed a substantial gain for Labour: not enough for them to form a government, but enough to destroy the Tory narrative of inevitability, enough to prove that socialism really isn’t a cultish fringe interest, but the only way forwards. Instead of staring heartbroken at a lonely screen, I found myself speeding in a taxi to the South London headquarters of Novara, an insurgent left-wing media outfit. This was not what was supposed to happen. This is not the report I expected to write.

The whole place was fizzing with terror and excitement. In the foyer, a small group of people—friends, writers, commentators, activists, people who had been on the leftward fringes of British politics for years, but were suddenly discovering that they were right all along—clustered around laptops, smoked frantic cigarettes by the doorway, popped open cans of Red Stripe. Every Tory defeat brought a chorus of roars and a flurry of joyous swearing. A few of us would occasionally bound up to the studio upstairs, to channel our wordless joy into sober political commentary for the all-night live stream. It was impossible: grins kept bursting out on our faces.

Eventually, long past midnight, a few of us went on a booze run, jumping around in the empty London streets between the bright abyssal glare of the all-night KFC and the sullen tenebrosity of shuttered warehouses and silent shops. We must have wandered miles, chasing 24-hour off-licences on Google Maps, before we found one; it felt like a Homeric voyage. When we found one, I impulsively grabbed two bottles of Moët & Chandon I couldn’t really afford. “What are you celebrating?” another shopper asked. She grinned. She knew the answer.

We’d done it. Finally, when dawn broke, the sky was entirely clear. A faint, shining, impossible blue flooded over the city, and I really believed that there would be no more low and drizzly days in London ever again.

*

Fuck You, Theresa May. Signed, A Citizen of Nowhere.
Butcombe Bitter in Brentford
By Alexa van Sickle

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I had a very modest hope for this election. All I wanted was for Theresa May—and the Tories who got us into this mess—to have a bloody good scare.

It’s what they deserved for their vile campaigning, amplified by the even more vile right-wing press, for being so cocky they didn’t bother providing costing details in their manifesto, and for May calling this snap election to strengthen her grip on power. (In case you’re wondering, Corbyn isn’t my guy either. Among other concerns I have, his anaemic support for the Remain campaign was, I believe, a big factor in the vote to leave the EU.)

I voted in the Borough of Hounslow, my sometimes-home in the U.K. The polling station, in the squat clubhouse on the edge of a 1970s housing development, was empty apart from myself and two election volunteers. Afterwards, just past noon, the Magpie and Crown, a small Georgian-façade pub on the high street, was slightly busier. But all the customers were solo: reading papers, working, or stroking their chins over pints of ale.

In some ways, I got what I wanted. The Tories are rattled in more ways than we could have hoped for only a month ago. But I can’t help thinking about how my expectations have lowered so much in just one year that I’ve learned to accept, and expect, only crumbs from the political universe.

Here’s another example: I hated her politics, but I wanted to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt when she succeeded David Cameron when he resigned after the Brexit referendum. Friends who had worked under her in the civil service always said she was sharp; that she read all the materials in her red box; that she cared, that she did her homework. This sounded like a relatively good deal next to a certain orange-tinted bullshit purveyor, and even next to that consummate political dilettante, David Cameron, who made his government an extension of the Eton common room. Above all, I regarded May as a lucky escape from that monumental hypocrite, Boris Johnson—the original fake news merchant who shaped a generation of British EU-bashing as Brussels correspondent for The Torygraph by making up lies about EU directives on the straightness of bananas and the recycling of sex toys. (This illustrious journalism career was after he was fired from The Times for making up a quote, by the way.)

But it turns out, even asking only for a capable pair of hands was asking for the moon. The campaign revealed May is not capable at all. She seemed to have no vision. She repeated meaningless alliterative slogans—for several totally unrelated questions—like a string puppet. She lacked grace under fire. She also didn’t call out Trump when he attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan after the London Bridge attacks. And of course, her policies read like a Daily Mail editor’s wet dream. They probably are.

I got what I wanted. But as poetic as this electoral drubbing feels, it comes with some unintended potential disasters. If somewhere down the line this Tory snafu ends up ushering Boris Johnson back within sniffing distance of the leadership—he’s no doubt already licking his lips—to me that will have been one of her worst misadventures.

Also, the morning after, my gleeful fog of Schadenfreude gave way to another rude realization. May said she called this election to secure a stronger mandate for Brexit talks, which are set to start in 10 days. She’s persevering with the same cliff-edge Brexit, it seems, but her now weaker hand bodes ill for the flexibility and diplomacy required for the task. She has already needlessly antagonized her European partners. She mindlessly repeats that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” She has never explained this gibberish, so allow me: she is laying the groundwork for walking away, so she can blame everything—everything unpopular her party ever does in the future—on the intransigent 27 EU states who (how dare they?) are presenting a united front.

She also says she wants to guarantee the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and those of EU citizens in the UK—but how can that happen if she walks? She is openly disdainful of what she calls “citizens of nowhere”: the people who might—for many different reasons, perhaps even because of something called freedom of movement—call more than one place home. She said we don’t know what citizenship is.

I am a citizen only of the UK. But I was born and raised in what is now an EU country. I have spent most of my life outside the UK. My lack of dual citizenship, which I never knew I would need, (thanks, Brexit!) could certainly cause me some problems later.

But these would pale in comparison to the problems May’s “no deal” would cause for the millions of EU nationals who have settled in the UK, some for decades. Restaurant workers, joiners, bankers, musicians, cleaners, doctors, nurses, students. Not to mention the Polish bartender at the Magpie and Crown who served me my cheeky half-pint of Butcombe Bitter ale—and that Romanian baker who hit one of the London Bridge terrorists on the head with a crate. The same goes for the millions of UK nationals living in the EU whose futures are unbearably uncertain. Many on both sides are already leaving, because May has refused all opportunities to guarantee they can stay.

She says these millions of people are a priority when she starts to negotiate Brexit later this month. I don’t believe her.

*

Jez We Can!
Sam Adams at Newark Airport
By Yasmin Khan

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I’m sitting in bar at Newark airport, sipping a pint of Samuel Adams that is far too cold. (I never did understand why the Yanks insist on serving me ale the temperature of ice cream, but that’s another rant, for another time). My plane has been delayed and for once I’ve never been happier to prop up the bar in dreary and dank airport whilst clicking refresh on my iPhone every 30 seconds. Why? Because the exit polls in the British election are in and Jeremy Corbyn, the 68-year-old socialist and pacifist from north London has managed to create the biggest political upset in British politics in decades. And I’m over-the-fucking-moon.

Corbyn’s vibrant election campaign went against all of the establishment’s rules and yet still managed to secure a whopping 40 percent of the national vote, the highest share of the Labour vote in 20 years. Voter turnout was high, particularly amongst the under 25s who came out in droves to support his radical platform of redistribution, investment in public services, and peace. Theresa May, the Tory gremlin who pushed an ugly agenda of selfishness and greed, lost her overall majority and the UK is heading for a hung parliament. I gulp down another beer and take a moment to glance up from my phone to smile manically at no one in particular. My cheeks are flushed pink and I have butterflies in the pit of my stomach as I realise I feel something I’ve not for years. Hope. The torture of it is almost unbearable.

A hung parliament? How could that be a cause for celebration. I know us Brits are known for downplaying success, but surely we should have been hoping for better that that, right? Not quite.

The outpouring of electoral support for Corybyn comes in the context of him having faced the most unrelenting barrage of criticism from every section of the mainstream media, as well as most of his (back-stabbing) parliamentary Labour Party. All of them insisted that Corbyn was utterly unelectable and have spent the last two years putting every ounce of their energy into trying to destroy him. They ridiculed and mocked, claiming he was too old school, too unpolished, a dinosaur from another time that wanted to take us back to the 70s. They derided his claims that young people wanted a different kind of politics, insisting instead that the youth were simply apathetic and lazy. They scoffed at the premise that the electorate would ever support a radical programme of higher taxation, change to the economic system, investment in public services, free education, affordable housing, a living wage, abolishing nuclear weapons. Well, guess what? Corbyn and his team put it out there and people loved it. So who’s having the last laugh now?

Disclaimer: I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for 18 years. I first met him when I was student at Sheffield University when he came to speak about nuclear non-proliferation as a member of Labour CND, and when I moved to London and started getting involved in politics I campaigned alongside him in movements against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, in solidarity with Palestine, and against the sale of arms trade to repressive regimes. When I worked for the charity INQUEST that supported families who had lost loved ones in police or prison custody, Jezza, as he is affectionately known, was our local MP and someone we could always call upon to support our work. In short, he was one of us. Never interested in the Westminster career politics circus, he spent his time as an MP diligently and vociferously campaigning on issues of principle, not giving a shit if he was unpopular as long as he took a stand on matters of moral and political conscience. He was principled and honest. Kind and fair. Committed to fighting for equality. And it that my friends, that makes this election result so extraordinary. Because it is those principles that have won.

Never again can the political classes say that a radical left-wing platform isn’t electorally viable. Never again can they say that it’s unrealistic. That young people don’t care about politics. Turns out, they really do, when there is a decent alternative to the status quo being offered. All around the world we are seeing election results that show ordinary people are fed up with our broken political and economic system and want radical change. The grip of the corporate media on elections has been lost and through social media we are seeing that alternative narratives can be shared and be successful. The rules of the game have changed.

I move onto the plane and onto the hard stuff. Gin for me. Vodka for my traveling companion. We raise a toast to another world being possible. I sink back into my seat, still smiling manically and relishing the fact that a new kind of politics has been born in the UK. A new movement has been created and I’m thrilled to have been part of it. A movement for the many, not the few.

*

A Craft Beer Socialist in a World Where the Bastards Don’t Always Win
Pale Ale in Tuscany
By Craig Ballinger

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The exit polls are in and I crack a big bottle. I’ve got 750 ml of the finest Italian Pale Ale to see me through this thing. The fireflies are out and the silhouette of a Tuscan mountain looms beautifully in the moonlight behind my laptop screen.

The 2017 general election is a big deal for me. I’ve been charmed by the outsider Jeremy Corbyn, a decent man in a dirty game. I’ve been given the most fragile of feelings: hope. The idea that in this age where all of capitalism’s failings are exposed, that someone can take the reins, lead people through the mess, and bring a party back into power that represents the majority of Britain, is a dangerous one.

This surprise election went weird when it seemed the Conservatives didn’t want to finish the fight they started. Prime Minister Theresa May announced she wouldn’t participate in any TV debates. The Labour party went into campaign mode, many taking on the fight of their lives.

Corbyn, the Labour leader and life-long back-bench MP, stepped up and sharpened up, despite being maligned by the press and personally attacked by the government and his own party. Nobody likes a socialist, apparently. He gave fine speeches, engaged with the public, and oversaw a manifesto that gave the British public some ideas of what a different style of government could offer. I even tracked Corbyn at a couple of events and had a chat to reaffirm my faith. I can confirm he’s a top guy.

When in government, the Labour party lost support over the invasion of Iraq and from shouldering the blame in the financial crisis. When Tony Blair’s Labour was messing up the Middle East, Corbyn was on the streets with the anti-war protesters.

I’m busy doing some bourgeois shit, or at least facilitating it. I’m out in Tuscany catering a flower school, drinking pale ale watching election results roll in, a full Craft Beer Socialist. The most local brewery in Lucca, Tuscany is Bruton, brewing big modern flavours in big bottles. I’m working on it like someone’s going to take it away.

The ruling Conservative party surprised us with a ‘snap’ election, an attempted power grab when the polls were in their favour. Now, their leader is weaker than ever, a disheveled bird knocked from her high perch. The Brexit mess is one of Conservative making, but it’s also one they don’t seem capable of handling.

The party of the rich are generally hard to take on. Britain’s biggest tabloids, the Sun and the Daily Mail, with a combined circulation of over three million, ran a desperate smear campaign full of hatred and Corbyn smiled throughout. Now, we’re facing one of the most incredible turnarounds in political history. A man hounded by the media, undermined by his own party, loathed by the establishment, has changed the debate and set British politics on an entirely new course.

The truly shocking part of this election period so far has been that it has seen two significant terrorist attacks, one in Manchester and the other in London. The tabloids were quick to take aim at Corbyn, levelling accusations that he’s a ‘terrorist sympathiser’ due to his past as an activist and peacemaker. He is a divisive character and marginal wins do not make divisions disappear. But the voter who turns to racism, to hatred, to extremes is also the voter that can be easily influenced, and shown that the world doesn’t have to be ruled by fear.

Big bottles are celebratory; they usually contain champagne. This is a just-perfect 5.5 percent pale, no fucking about. I’d take beer over any other drink, at any point. I’m going to sleep optimistic, despite knowing that I’ll get paid less for this as the pound slides. Such is the nature of an uncertain world. But it’s nice to feel like it’s one where the bastards aren’t always winning.

Never Stop Honing Your Skills at Sniffing Out Alcohol in Unexpected Places

Jun.08.17

Never Stop Honing Your Skills at Sniffing Out Alcohol in Unexpected Places

by Ying Tey Reinhardt

Beer on Hatta Island

Pulau Hatta—Hatta Island—is a little island that the Dutch once named Rozengain that sits in the Banda Sea.

Brutal wars raged here during the 16th-18th centuries. Part of the larger Maluku archipelago of Indonesia, the Banda Islands—then infamously known as the Spice Islands—are home to one of that era’s most prized and fought-over commodities: nutmeg and mace. The British, the Portuguese, and the Dutch all fought each other for monopoly of the islands, massacring thousands of Bandanese in the process. In those days, just a small amount of nutmeg in Europe could make a man wealthy beyond his imagination.

Now, Rozengain has been renamed Hatta after Indonesia’s first vice-president, who spent time in exile in Banda Neira, the main island of the Bandas. These islands are remote and a pain in the butt to get to—which is precisely why we chose to come here for our honeymoon.

My husband and I are sitting at the verandah of our bungalow at Sarah’s homestay, peeling mace from sun-dried nutmegs. Ominous skies hang low over the raging sea. It doesn’t look good. The rain hasn’t started yet but the sultry air tells us an onslaught is coming. We can smell it.

On the beach, middle-school kids—girls in black and white headscarves and boys in long sleeved, striped yellow jerseys and brown jogging bottoms, amble around.

Instinctively I pull my scarf and throw it around my bare shoulders. Hatta Island, while a little more touristy than before—where 30 or so foreigners fill up the few homestays available—is still a conservative island.

That’s why we were delighted when we found out there was beer. The other long-time residents of Sarah’s homestay had let us in on the secret. Outside the only shop that sells Bintang—the national beer of Indonesia—hangs a sign: “We sell cold drinks.” It’s the shop owner’s clever way to hint to travelers about their alcoholic treasure chest.

The first time we went there, we almost didn’t find it. The little shop was inconspicuous and dingy. The dusty shelves stocked toilet paper, travel-sized Dove and Pantene shampoos, brandless toothpaste, tiny packets of washing detergent, and local chocolate wafer-and-caramel bars called Beng Beng.

When we requested a ‘cold drink’, the lady behind the counter asked, “Big or small?” A Bintang can of 330ml cost 30,000 Rupiah ($2.25) while a 500ml bottle cost 50,000 Rupiah ($3.76). Expensive by Indonesian standards. It was cold too. It was a mystery how these Bintangs could still be cold when electricity only buzzes from 6 p.m. to midnight, powered by generators.

Eventually, we get bored of peeling mace. “Hey, how about some of those cold drinks?” I ask my husband.

Cold Beer Is Cold Beer, Just Drink It Already

Jun.07.17

Cold Beer Is Cold Beer, Just Drink It Already

by Efraín Villanueva

Costeñitas in Colombia

We arrive at La Popular in Barranquilla. The decoration, the chairs, the tables and, of course, the name of the bar, are meant to emulate the ambience of the traditional tiendas–-street corner stores that also serve beers. If it weren’t for their night-club-like prices and their location on the ground-floor terrace of a shiny new mall in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, they might have pulled it off.

My friend, El Flaco, asks us what we want to drink, but before we can reply he orders a bucket of Costeñitas.

“Just for starters,” he says.

Ever since I can remember, this brand has been marketed as a beer for women. It’s 4 percent ABV, but comes in small, green bottles, just 6 ounces. When I was a kid, my mom would drink no more than three whenever we went to the beach. But about four or five years ago, everybody on the north coast started drinking Costeñitas. I know El Flaco from high school—around 25 five years ago—and he has lived in Barranquilla his entire life. I figure he must know how this trend started.

“I don’t know. I just like it. I love the taste, it’s unlike any other.”

I take a very cold one from the bucket, let the water of the ice slide down the bottle. It’s been many years since the last time I had one. I take a sip, El Flaco is right: it tastes like no other. I remember why it was never my favorite. It’s like they tried a to combine bitterness and sweetness but failed to balance the two. At least it’s really cold. El Flaco and I await the opinion of my German fiancé.

“It tastes rusty,” Sabeth proclaims.

I take her bottle and clean its top with a napkin. With the warm weather it’s not unusual for the cap to rust a little. A Barranquillero knows that. She tries again and grimaces with disapproval.

“I’m not sure. It tastes like… I don’t know. It has a weak flavor. Also, the bottle looks like a lemonade bottle.”

For the next round, El Flaco sticks with Costeñita. I order Águila, a beer created in Barranquilla in 1913 that has been produced here ever since–the bestselling brand in the country. Sabeth orders a Golden Club Colombia, a stronger, premium version of Águila. All three brands are produced and distributed by the same company: Bavaria. There is no way of deciding which beer is the best, and as soon as the alcohol kicks in we forget all about it.

Should the Revolution Be Fun?

Jun.06.17

Should the Revolution Be Fun?

by Bhavya Dore

Beer in Paris

The black-clad cops crouched and walked backwards slowly, their faces shielded, their bodies taut in readiness. The first line of marchers approached them, a 30-foot distance between the two groups. It felt like watching one of those iconic protester-cop face-off pictures come alive.

On May 1, when thousands of people marched from the Place de la Republic to the Place de la Bastille in Paris, they were upholding a hoary tradition of protest. But given that the presidential election was later that week, this year’s march came with a topical twist: lambasting Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the remaining candidates on the ballot. White vans slowly chugged alongside the slogan-shouting, placard-carrying men and women. One showed Le Pen as the devil, Macron as an alien. Another described them both as the plague.

A friend who had come to help translate as I wrote a story about the protesters stopped beside one of the slow-moving vehicles an hour after scurrying around talking to people.

“Time for beer,” said Audrey decisively as we jogged up to one of the vans. Heinekens were procured for two euros apiece. We cracked the tabs open, and the beer hissed back.

That rather slowed down progress on the reporting front. A beer in one hand and a notebook in another is not a good look. Neither is it a practical one.

After a few bracing swigs I passed my can back to Audrey, who was once again thrust back into translation duties. I caught up with a member of the feminist group Femen. Normally their style is topless protesting; today, they were fully clothed and fully shod. Their vocal game was still very good. “Le Pen promotes xenophobia and homophobia and is totally not a feminist,” said Sophia Antoine, 38, an activist with the group.

Further ahead, firecrackers periodically ripped through the air. Every now and then, a cloudburst of color would erupt; little plumes of pink and orange.

A Sri Lankan group walked past, urgently drawing attention to the violence in their country. A band of refugees trudged on. Balloons bobbed through the moving sea of humanity and soapbox-style histrionics surfaced from time to time on the marching route. There were rainbow flags and French flags and Europe flags.

From somewhere there was music, and despite the grimness of the political sloganeering, no one was going home without a party. And what a well-lubricated party it was. As we walked through the marching route all the way up to the Bastille, the trash kept gathering on the streets: posters, placards and discarded cans of beer.

“The revolution has to be fun,” said Audrey, when we reached Bastille and surveyed the mess around us, “or the people won’t come.”

How Come Our Travel Disasters Never End in Unexpected Food Tours?

Jun.05.17

How Come Our Travel Disasters Never End in Unexpected Food Tours?

by Martina Žoldoš

Pasita in Puebla

First it was cemita, a huge round sandwich that Poblanos, inhabitants of Puebla, are so proud of. Then it was cremita, a vanilla pudding, in a place called California that resembled one of those U.S. restaurants from the 70s that I had only seen in movies. By the time we stopped in a candy shop to treat ourselves to coconut rolls, I was so full I didn’t want any more food for the rest of the day.

But my gastronomic tour wasn’t over yet. “You’re going to try the best drink of your life,” Dario assured me after my faint objection. My feet were burning and the sweat was starting to leave stains on my shirt but I followed him without a word. After all, he was my hero.

My trip to Puebla had not started well. About half an hour before arriving at the bus station, I started sending messages to the guy who was supposed to be my Couchsurf host. “Hello, Martina here, I’m about to arrive to Puebla.” No response. After the third message I knew things were not going to go smoothly. By the time I was dragging my backpack to the waiting hall, he had turned off his phone.

Without a clue of how to get the center and where to look for a room, I messaged Fernando, who had hosted me two weeks before in Merida, asking him for advice. And that’s when Fernando’s friend, Dario, entered the story. Dario invited me to stay in his home and showed me all the sights. La Pasita was definitely the strangest one so far.

We entered a small, dim place without windows, tables, or chairs. It was the oldest still-operating bar in the city, and served an invention that was more than a century old: raisin liquor. “Until today the recipe remains a secret,” Dario said. “There have been some attempts to copy the original drink, but they all resulted in failure.”

I leaned over the counter and stared at the chipped souvenirs and old bottles, while the owner, a grumpy old man, carelessly served us the brown liquid with a cube of goat cheese. Strong but sweet, the liquor went down smoothly. We ordered another one, and while Dario shared anecdotes from his childhood visits to the bar with his grandparents, I thought to myself that it was probably nostalgia that drove people to drink pasita.

A Sour Wine That Pairs Well with Sausages, Jet Lag, and Depressing Elections

Jun.01.17

A Sour Wine That Pairs Well with Sausages, Jet Lag, and Depressing Elections

by Jackie Bryant

Apfelwein in Frankfurt

It was the first round of the French elections, and I happened to be in the Schengen Zone—the 26 European nations without border controls between them—fresh off the plane from the United States. Frankfurt, Germany, to be precise. After chatting with people and getting through the requisite rounds of “Congratulations on your new president!”—which was funny, but also not funny—I sought out an apfelwein tavern to drink off the jet lag.

Specific to Frankfurt and its environs, the apple wine tradition was something I knew nothing about before arriving. Taverns are built in traditional Hessian style, meaning they could almost look like tourist traps in Frankfurt, a modern city with one of Europe’s only skylines. But they turn out to be anything but a touristy experience—though they can definitely be a trap if you find yourself in the right conversation.

Traditionally served out of a ceramic jug called a bembel and nowadays out of wine bottles, the wine is tart. It’s made from mainly Granny Smith or Bramley apples, and is not carbonated. It tastes like flat cider. It clocks in at around 4.5-7.0 percent ABV, making it a decent alternative to beer. Locals love the stuff, and it’s easy to see why. It pairs well with sausages, potatoes and the local specialty, Grüne Soße, which is an all-purpose, viscous green sauce made from various herbs and sour cream or creme fraiche. Heading to an apfelwein tavern is a classic happy-hour activity and, as it happens, I was looking for just such a thing to do.

The majority of the apfelwein taverns are in the hip neighborhood of Sachsenhausen, just across the river Main from the city’s business district. I ducked into one next to a British pub loudly playing “November Rain,” which seemed like a good omen. There was a solitary television, occupied by Frankfurters anxiously watching live commentary on the ongoing French election.

Everyone there said they were horrified by the resurgence of fascism-disguised-as-populism that reminded them of their country’s history. They acknowledged that Brexit could cause a surge of business for Frankfurt, but commented that Germany’s problems at home were big, maybe too big to be solved. They took in too many refugees, two people thought. Nobody knew what to do about the fact that the 63 percent of Turks living in Germany—many of whom have been there for three generations—voted “Yes” in Erdogan’s recent referendum stripping the Turkish government of many of its democratic institutions.

We drank long into the night, eventually forgetting about the ongoing vote count and focusing on more mundane matters, like impending nuclear war and the hopeful existence of Kompromat urine tapes. Eventually, someone gasped. We all looked at the TV, where the results flashed on the screen: a run-off between Le Pen and Macron, who were in a dead heat at 21.53 percent and 23.75 percent of the vote, respectively. Someone walked out of the tavern, letting a cold breeze cut across the bar. Nobody had anything to say—an atmosphere I remembered well from last November—and so we all settled up and went our separate ways.

The Only Thing Better than Cheap Chinese Food and Stupidly Cold Beer

May.31.17

The Only Thing Better than Cheap Chinese Food and Stupidly Cold Beer

by Clare Richardson

Tsingtao in Lisbon

The only thing better than a greasy plate of cheap Chinese food and a stupidly cold Tsingtao is the mission to track these items down.

In a city awash with dining options, secret Chinese restaurants have become a favorite among students and tourists craving a break from Lisbon’s cheese boards and green wine. This kind of restaurant, known as a chinês clandestino, slings wontons and fried rice for even lower prices than its less covert counterparts. Many are family businesses run out of apartment buildings, where customers eat right in the living room.

The directions I’d received from friends were vague: a certain building number on a block known for its Indian restaurants, but the name of the street forgotten. Or, around the back of a shopping mall and up a twisting alleyway. Just ask around, they said.

Determined to find a clandestine Chinese restaurant on a rainy night this spring, I followed a winding cobblestone path up a hill in the immigrant neighborhood of Martim Moniz. I imagined arriving at the base of a dark stairwell and whispering into an intercom my intention to suck down bowls of noodles.

Instead, I stumbled upon a small square with a cafe, and slyly asked the barman where the clandestino might be. “The Chinese?” he responded, tossing his head toward an unassuming doorway on the other side of the street.

There was no posted sign to confirm this tip, but the door was open. I walked inside and ascended a graffiti-covered staircase leading into vast room. Inside it was light—glaringly bright, in fact, under rows of fluorescent bulbs—and spacious. Two front-of-house staff navigated long, canteen-style tables, couriering plates of food from a hidden kitchen on another floor. I took my seat among a few dozen other diners, none over the age of 40. Hiding in plain sight, I thought, as I ordered my coveted one euro Tsingtao.

The place had all the trappings of a “high-quality” restaurant: blown-out photos of dishes framed on the walls, black-and-white panoramas of New York City with the taxi cabs printed in yellow, and Europe’s favorite napkins—those useless squares of waxy, white baking paper that repel liquid and stains.

To my left, a Portuguese guy and his Brazilian friend split a single plate of four euro noodles. After some coy smiles and winking, they offered me a joint. On my right, tourists jabbered in Spanish.

But just how clandestine was this place? I noted with some dismay that they had Wi-Fi advertised on a large piece of butcher paper on the wall. I logged in to check if the place was listed on Foursquare. It was.

Perhaps this wasn’t the most clandestine of places, but it was enough to whet my appetite for more of Lisbon’s ‘secret’ restaurants.

Lamenting a Missed Moment for Turkish Wine, and Turkey

May.30.17

Lamenting a Missed Moment for Turkish Wine, and Turkey

by Nicholas Bredie

Assyrian wine in Istanbul

When we lived in Istanbul, my wife and I called it “the Last Supper wine.” It had a print of the Da Vinci painting on the label, not as a proclamation of its particular genius but because it was a communion wine made by Assyrians outside the city of Mardin. You can’t talk about this wine’s terroir; you have to talk about its dirt. The wine tastes like the earth of Eastern Anatolia, and also of its history. The grapes are put in sacks, stomped, and left out in the sun to ferment. But unlike the bathtub rotgut made by expats in Saudi, the Assyrians have been making this wine in the same manner since before Jesus was born.

One of the last times we had this wine—officially known as Süryanı Şarabı Levy Matiat—was almost four years ago. It was the day after protests over Taksim Gezi Park had exploded and our neighborhood was littered with juiced lemons, a tear-gas countermeasure. We walked past a couple guys manning a steal dumpster lined with empty beer bottles, some perhaps being readied as Molotov Cocktails, to our beloved wine purveyor La Cave in the Cihangir neighborhood. The Patron, as we called the shop’s owner, was bemused by the chaos.

Even though there’d been a riot the night before, these were good times for the country. Liberal and conservative youth were united against the big-money interests who wanted to develop the park they occupied. At the same time, persecuted minorities like the Kurds were making political strides while a truce held in the country’s southeast, where the city of Mardin is located. We took the wine over to some friends, thinking we might discuss the unfolding political situation at the park, but we ended up talking about the state of Turkish wine instead.

As a whole, Turkish wines aren’t bad. Sure there are some kopek öldüren, or dog killers, as the Turks call them. But most Turkish wine with a cork in the bottle is pleasantly drinkable. The problem, as we and our friends agreed over our bottle of Levy Matiat, was that the wine industry stifled diversity. Big producers were mostly content to churn out whites from Thompson seedless and reds from the charming local combination of ‘ox-eye’ and ‘throat-closer’ grapes. But in that moment, a few Turkish vintners were trying to revive the Greek and Armenian wine traditions, and we were seeing Assyrian wine more than we had. It seemed that things were opening up, and the country as a whole was ready to come to terms with its complicated history as heir to the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.

We were wrong. Things went in the other direction. You might still get a bottle of Levy Matiat in Istanbul. But just an hour south of the winery in Mardin is the town of Nusaybin. In the past year, Kurdish guerrillas and Turkish defense forces have leveled the place as they’ve fought over it, and the government has sentenced a painter to two years in prison for depicting the carnage. If I had some Assyrian wine now, it would be hard not to taste this bitter history in it as well.

A Shandy for the Wine-Lover’s Soul

May.25.17

A Shandy for the Wine-Lover’s Soul

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Tinto de Verano in Andalusia

It was lunchtime deep in the hills of Andalusia in the south of Spain and I was dying for something cold and refreshing. Naturally, sangria was the first thing that came to mind. But they had only red wine sangria at this tiny alfresco café in Ronda, and I could just see myself falling asleep—or wanting to—after a couple of glasses. And that tour of the bullring, one of Spain’s oldest, awaited.

As I vacillated, the waiter walked back into the café without waiting for my drink order. And then there he was, with a tall glass filled with something cold and pink. It was love at first sip for me; the Tinto de Verano had the perfect amount of booziness for a summer afternoon. I downed it in a few gulps and then asked for another.

Waiting for the food to arrive, I looked around to see glasses and pitchers of this drink on almost every table. The sun was climbing higher, the day was getting warmer. By the time we left, I was on a mellow high, combined with a mild sugar rush, ready to take on whatever Ronda had to offer.

Tinto de Verano means red wine of summer, and just as its name implies, is ideal for the scorcher months. It’s a wine spritzer served cold, equal parts red wine and sweetened lemon soda, sometimes with a slice of lemon. Yes, I can see purists purse their lips in disdain, even horror (ice in red wine!) but I am happy to leave them to their sniffing and swirling, as I continue to swig.

Tinto de Verano became my beverage of choice for that week-long drive through Andalusia. I began to think of it as the shandy for the wine-lover’s soul. One morning, I skipped my regular coffee for a glass of it during a 11 a.m. pit stop on the drive, and nobody raised an eyebrow.

Later, I read somewhere that the Tinto de Verano was born in Cordoba at the hands of a particularly creative pub owner, and soon became popular all over the country. Today, it is the drink that locals reach for in summer; ordering sangria marks you out as an outsider.

Back home to an Indian summer and the Spain holiday constantly in my mind, I reach out for that half bottle of red wine left over from a party and a bottle of Sprite.

Photo by: Arkangel

Is There Anywhere on Earth Where One Can Escape Craft Breweries These Days?

May.24.17

Is There Anywhere on Earth Where One Can Escape Craft Breweries These Days?

by Eli Meixler

Ale in Yangon

It’s a quarter to six in Yangon, and it’s finally getting cool enough to sit outside without sweating through my shirt. It’s April, the hottest month of the year, but the sun has mellowed into a fuzzy red orb and the mosquitoes have yet to marshal in earnest. There’s a breeze coming off the river, and the German-style Weizen in my hand is cold and sweet, with hints of honey and banana.

Two years ago, this warehouse-turned-brewery would have seemed like ill-fated venture: too much, too soon. But a lot has changed in Yangon recently. The streets are choked with traffic (steering wheel on the right), Uber has arrived, and the newest mall, with twin luxury condo towers, wouldn’t feel out of place in Bangkok or Singapore.

But not everything has changed. Since the earliest days of the military junta, the men in brass have kept a firm hold on brewing and distribution licenses. Despite dipping a toe in the tides of global trade, Myanmar’s thirst is still mostly slaked by the same few military-owned, watery rice lagers. The most common watering holes are curbside beer stations, where patrons pull up plastic stools, gesture at a waiter for a pint, and presumably try not to think about whose pockets they’re lining.

In a growing handful of upscale bars, foreign imports such as Singapore’s Tiger and Thailand’s Singha are starting to make an appearance alongside locally-brewed versions of international brands, which offer the same familiar swill behind a Heineken or Carlsberg label.

But tonight, I’ve abandoned my local beer stop to venture into North Dagon industrial zone, sit on the banks of Pazundaung creek and sip British and German-style ale. Burbrit (a portmanteau of Burma and Britain), Yangon’s new and only craft brewhouse, opened to nervous whispers earlier this year. How’d they get a license? Would it last? My fellow beer drinker takes a deep swallow of her Burma IPA, a rich, malty brew bursting with hops and floral notes.

Burbrit’s riverside patio, as well as the five varieties of ale, is a welcome respite from the congestion downtown, from the rising levels of air pollution and creeping disappointments in the democratically elected government. We sit in silence until our glasses are empty and order another round. The Irish Red Ale this time? Sure, why not.

Less Worried About the Blood Thinner Than the Bison Pee in This Vodka

May.23.17

Less Worried About the Blood Thinner Than the Bison Pee in This Vodka

by Cole Whitaker

Vodka in Poland

I had just finished a summer week at a winter resort teaching English to Polish business people outside of Wrocław, Poland and now, with the celebratory bonfire growing, it came time for my Polish students to teach me how to drink.

Vodka seems to be the only drink ever considered—the few beers on the end of the picnic table are ignored even by my fellow Americans. And Żubrówka Bison Grass the only vodka worth mentioning.

A couple of the English-learners have generously decided to show me and another native-speaker the ropes of Polish drinking. As any good teacher would, Emilia and Wojtek offer educational commentary while providing ample opportunities for hands-on learning, in the form of ceaseless refills from their stashes of vodka.

Emilia explains that real Żubrówka, the name bumbling off my lips before the drinking even starts, is produced only by the Polmos Białystok distillery, founded in 1928 in far northern Poland, and Wojtek, pointing at the bottle, cheerily adds: “This is not allowed in USA.” After some translation I learn that the liquor is outlawed—in its purest form—in the United States because it contains a natural chemical that acts as a blood thinner, which I deduce on my own translates to getting drunk fast.

The rye vodka is given its name, flavor, and slight tinge of color by filtering the vodka through the bison grasses native to the Białowieża forest of Poland, where the bison roam wild once again, having been hunted out of Europe in the early 20th century and successfully reintroduced in the 1950s. After the filtering process is complete and before the bottles are sealed, each one is decorated with the addition of a single slender strand of this mythical grass, which, according to Wojtek, “must be pissed on by real bison!” before being placed in the bottle.

I don’t have long to appreciate the earthy subtleties of the spirit itself, full of vanilla and almond flavors so rare for vodka, before everyone is drinking Apple Pie. While it’s been adopted and dressed up in bars around with the world, Szarlotka, as Emilia calls it here, is simple—Bison Grass
Vodka and apple juice. It tastes shockingly similar to sweet apple pie and goes down disconcertingly easy even as the vodka pours grow heavier and the apple juice pours grow lighter. I’m grateful for the slabs of bread, slathered thick with lard and topped with a pickle that my teachers hand to me regularly, to help keep me up for one more slice of Polish pie.

Tolerance, Tension, and Many Moscow Mules: A Dispatch from Beirut Pride

May.22.17

Tolerance, Tension, and Many Moscow Mules: A Dispatch from Beirut Pride

by Anthony Elghossein

Moscow Mules in Beirut

It’s 10:19 p.m. A woman honks her horn. (No reason.) A pack of young men, doubtlessly dreaming of conquests—or shawarma—guzzle beers outside of a store. In Mar Mikhael, a grimy district that has served as an enclave for Beirut’s pseudo-hipsters and garden-variety boozers since 2013, a familiar cacophony rises: beats, banter, horns, squealing tires, and roaring engines.

A crowd cheers. They’re at Radio Beirut—a bar, radio station, and performance venue—to celebrate Beirut Pride week, the first LGBT awareness campaign of this size and scope in the Arab world. An intrepid young man has scaled the balcony to hang the rainbow flag above the bar. Edging past a skeptical bouncer, I order an Almaza Draft—an unimaginative pilsner that means much to me emotionally, despite its generic taste. Comfort Brew.

This beer is weak. I order a Moscow Mule: vodka, ginger beer, and—in a Beirut twist—cucumber and basil instead of lime. Before I can take a sip, I spot Hadi Damian. He’s the frenetic, but friendly, Francophone who “initiated” Beirut Pride. “Are you having fun?” he checks, hugging me. “Alright, finish your drink. You’re coming with me.”

With his friend Danya, we race through half of the 23 bars flying the rainbow flag that night. At one bar, the flag seems to have gone missing. “It’s probably one of our younger folks,” Danya reassures me, though I’m more concerned about my next zesty beverage. “They’re all excited and keep asking about where they can buy a flag.” The flag causes some commotion at another bar. “The owner was incredibly helpful and supportive last night,” Danya explains, “but his staff, being macho men, huffed and puffed about it tonight.”

We careen down a nearby alley, stopping at another three bars—all owned by straight Lebanese men, all flying the flag and handing out bracelets. At Barclays, we order more Moscow Mules. Between asides on Paris, Seattle, and the merits of unisex fashion, Hadi explains that, “Beirut Pride is not a movement. It’s a platform. It’s collaborative, and is not affiliated with any political party or embassy. We don’t even take corporate money.”

That’s all great, though it sounds a tad rehearsed. Even so, people—gay, straight, Lebanese, foreign—must pursue self-fulfillment and self-expression under their state’s governing laws and society’s prevailing norms. Sure, Lebanese judges have sometimes interpreted laws progressively, but those laws, like Penal Code Article 534, which essentially criminalizes any sexual act that is deemed unnatural, make progress precarious—and subject to arbitrary and capricious courts.

Even in the Beirut bubble, far too many people—including activists, writers, and lawyers who should know better—often mistake consumerism, hedonism, escapism, or exhibitionism for liberalism. And they mistake separation for tolerance. Gathering in hedonistic hotspots, they put on liberal airs because, as my new-found friend “Q.I.” says, “they feel pressure to pretend like they’re open-minded. They want to drink and dance. But they’re not really liberal.”

S.P., the gay son of a Lebanese government official, chimed in: “Just look at the venues that agreed to host events, but cancelled under pressure, or for what they said were ‘commercial’ reasons. Garbage.” On May 14, under pressure for the League of Muslim Scholars, a hotel cancelled Beirut Pride’s launch—a full day of presentations and forums on LGBT issues and rights.

On the other hand, Beirutis enjoy and assert a robust sort of self-expression that just isn’t possible in most of the states and societies of the Middle East. Hundreds of people flooded Mar Mikhael—or turned up to events all week—to celebrate Beirut Pride. For all its faults, Beirut can be a tolerant place. It is, at least, a place that tolerates its tolerant spaces.

There’s No Un-Hearing This Scientist’s Explanation of Fermentation

May.17.17

There’s No Un-Hearing This Scientist’s Explanation of Fermentation

by Steele Rudd

Ginger Beer in Sydney

I’ve been to maybe half-a-dozen tastings in my life. A flight of whiskies at a Scottish distillery; a beer sampler at a brewery in Sydney; and a couple of cellar-door wine evenings.

Most of them have been shambolic affairs, although there’s a pattern to them. At first everyone’s a gourmand, sincere about the early vanillin note on this one and the woodruff aftertaste on that one. But after you’ve gone through 10 or 12 varieties of shiraz, it’s a bit different. Your teeth are redder than a betel addict’s, everything tastes like second-hand tea leaves, and you might as well have gone to the pub.

I’m hoping this one will be a little different, partly because it’s ginger beer on show tonight but mostly because my host is kind of a mad scientist. Dr. Cain is a microbiochemist with an alarmingly Biblical name and a sideline in brewing moonshine. (This ginger beer is not sweetened, carbonated soda, but the boozy kind, made from fermented ginger, yeast, and sugar.)

She’s agreed to talk me through her latest concoction. Apparently, there’s a connection between her day job and her beer job. “Being in the lab is very much like cooking,” she tells me, “and a lab protocol is kind of like a recipe.”

Except, of course, that home brewers are a less pedantic bunch than microbiochemists (without insult to either). “The first thing I did [when beginning to brew] was take a bunch of protocols, extract the relevant information, worked out the formulas and wrote my own.”

That kind of specificity doesn’t sound like my kind of fun, but I guess fun comes in different flavors—and I can’t argue with tonight’s. The good doctor cracks a bottle and decants it into a wide-bottomed glass like a brandy tumbler. The taste is definitely gingery without being overwhelmingly fiery; sweet but not sugary; sour but not in a scrunch-up-your-nose kind of way. There’s a very distinct flatness to it that I’m not used to, something syrupy that goes beyond the absence of carbonation. Another taster describes it as “not the teeth-fuzz variety of ginger beer.” It reminds me of nothing so much as a Spanish cider, and I could happily drink it all night.

“Being a microscientist,” Dr. Cain explains, “and being quite aware of sterility, winemaking is such an inexact process.” She uses the example of roasting lamb in an autoclave as illustration. She doesn’t agree that brewing is an art, calling that “flowery,” and is prosaic about fermentation. “When [the yeast] eat the sugar, they basically shit out the alcohol.” At this point I decide that Dr. Cain is the kind of brewer that puts the poetry in the bottle, not on the label.

When the ginger beer’s finished, we move on to wine (vermentino, a Sicilian white that’s been making headway in Australia) and the conversation spirals away. Dr. Cain tells me about Iberian grapes and Manuka honey; about the looming antibiotic apocalypse; about suicide genes in seedless fruit. We discuss transporting hazardous or delicate biosamples, and the cost involved; and enzymes that can slice themselves apart spontaneously or on command. It’s the most informative tasting that I’ve ever been to.

A Slice of Pure Manchester

May.16.17

A Slice of Pure Manchester

by Alec Herron

Bitter in Manchester

In 1819, sword-bearing cavalry charged a gathering of 80,000 political reform protesters on St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, killing 15 and maiming hundreds more.

The day, now commemorated as the Peterloo Massacre, would spur industrial unionism and inspire the creation of The Guardian newspaper.

Local legend has it that as thousands scattered the streets of Manchester in panic, one of the Peterloo wounded was carried into the Sir Ralph Abercomby pub, and lay dying on the bar.

Just shy of 200 years later, the Sir Ralph Abercromby has seen Manchester grow into the world’s greatest industrial city, survived a direct hit of incendiary Second World War bombs, watched the city fall into post-industrial rot and rise again to its current creative-industry led rebirth. It retains the countryside aura of a time when it sat on the edge of a burgeoning mill town.

At a circular oak table I sip a pumped bitter. The pub fills with Londoners-in-exile, there to watch their capital soccer rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in an FA Cup Semifinal on three plasma screens.

The walls are pure Manchester. Profiles of players from local side Manchester United are joined by a graffiti mural of the 2015 Stone Roses resurrection. In 2014, the Manchester United captain, Wayne Rooney, led the players’ Christmas party to the Sir Ralph Abercromby from an upmarket restaurant.

Now a pair of former United greats want to knock the pub down.
Gary Neville, known for his defensive prowess and astute decision-making, has transferred the skills that earned him captaincy of the England national team to the world of real estate. Along with Welsh winger Ryan Giggs, the pair have opened luxury hotels, upmarket nightclubs, and restaurants headed by Michelin-starred chefs.

Their latest project comprises two of the tallest towers in a predominantly low-rise city. Thirty-two stories of luxury apartments, ‘leisure space’ and a five-star hotel will be named after the patron saint of British police, St. Michael, alluding to the demolition of the Bootle Street Police Station next door. The pair have promised to retain the jobs lost from the Sir Ralph Abercromby, and will install the 1950s oak bar in an allocated ‘leisure space.’

But the pub’s locals have rallied on social media, and along with other citizens are voicing their complaints to the developers. Video visualizations show the towers imposing over the 19th-century Manchester Town Hall and surrounding Victorian and Georgian streets, underlining the opposition of Historic England, a British government heritage agency.

Neville announced that he has asked the local government council not to consider the St. Michael’s plans just yet, while they make “refinements to the project,” giving some hope to opponents of the plan.

Manchester recently bulldozed another early 19th-century boozer, the Smith’s Arms. That time, it was in a partnership between Manchester City Council and the Abu Dhabi royal family-owned Manchester City football club, Manchester United’s eternal rivals.

Intrinsically linked to radical politics, industry, and soccer, Manchester’s modern renaissance leaves a bitter taste, at a pub that carries all three in its heart.

Let’s Pick Garlic All Day and Drink Some Cherry Wine

May.15.17

Let’s Pick Garlic All Day and Drink Some Cherry Wine

by Chris Malloy

Visciolata in Italy

After sun-blasted days working the garlic harvest in a rural part of the Apennine Mountains in Le Marche, Italy, after hoeing bean plants or feeding pigs or husking barley or whatever we were doing that August, there was always visciolata.

“Christof!” the farm’s patriarch addressed me after my first day. Paolo was roughly 50, tan as a catcher’s mitt, short, and pure pazzo (crazy). “Have you ever tasted visciolata? NO!? You are in for A TREAT.”

The garlic was down the mountain in Paolo’s lowest field. With his blue tractor he dragged a blade through clay soil, freeing bulbs. For eight hours a day I followed with his sons and wife and others, lobbing garlic into the cart hitched to his ride. Sometimes he slit a bulb and we gave him shit.

Sometimes he pretended to fall asleep at the wheel as he careened down the slope. After a few lines of garlic we’d stop for a drink, looking across the expanse of low hinterlands down from Paolo’s fields at distant Mount Strega.

After work, after sausages made from his sheep and risotto flecked with zucchini from his field, after rivers of local Verdicchio wine, after the day had blazed out and the dusk had faded to deep night, it was time.

Vi-scio-la-ta. Cherry wine. The drink is legend in the western wilderness of Le Marche. Like so many Italian aperitivi and digestivi, visciolata occupies a zone somewhere between food, booze, and medicine. I have heard of vintners cutting visciolata with grape wine. Given the flavor of the visciolatas I tried, I’d be surprised if the bottles Paolo got from his neighbors were made from anything but 100 percent cherry.

Visciolata was poured at night. In the glass, the cherry wine is dark as liquid roses. Swirl it, and behold the surprisingly syrupy viscosity. The aroma of candied cherries and cinnamon and vanilla punches you in a distant part of the mind, in a zone of old travels and youthful dreams of the exotic and songs from past decades.

Stars burned over the mountain. Torches glowed around our outdoor table on nights we had a large crew done laboring on Paolo’s farm. A sip of visciolata melted the stress, but not the memory of the day’s work. The sweet, dusky cherry flavor had a narcotic effect. People savored their two fingers of cherry wine and relaxed, tired but happy, happy to be on Paolo’s farm and alive. People drank and joked. People watched the planets and shooting stars and galaxies. People slapped down briscola cards.

Cackling rang out from our clearing and through the mountains of Le Marche, black but for a few lighted farmhouses.

Listening to Strangers Fight About Politics While Drinking Alone Is Strangely Satisfying

May.12.17

Listening to Strangers Fight About Politics While Drinking Alone Is Strangely Satisfying

by Adee Braun

Suze in Paris

I had ordered a meal of two appetizers. “First the pumpkin soup, then the warm goat cheese salad?” the potbellied waiter repeated back to me, genuinely looking for direction in this new land of first-course dinners. “Yes, that’s it,” I assured him. I sat in the enclosed porch of a random Parisian cafe that was draped with string lights while the River Seine winked in the near distance. It was 5 p.m. and I was severely jet-lagged. All charm was lost on me.

As I ate, I flipped through that morning’s edition of Le Monde, which I had bought earlier when my phone battery was near death and I realized that eating dinner alone while staring at random people would not make me, or them, feel great. Page one featured the platinum-haired Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right party, the Front National. The French election, mere weeks away, was brewing in an eerily familiar way.

With my confusing but delicious dinner over, I ordered a glass of Suze—a gentian-based French aperitif. It came to me in a slim Collins glass stacked with three nuggets of ice. It was an inviting yellow, the color of French butter, and tasted like an uprooted lawn dusted with sugar.

Around the time I was down to one-nugget-and-a-half, I heard the hard “r”s of American English coming from a man whose back was turned to me a few tables down. His curly head betrayed the whispers of a balding crown. It took me a few minutes to realize that his dinner mate was speaking English as well. The words “political ideology” coated in a French accent burst from her corner several times. She was leaning in and gesticulating in a precise way. She seemed earnest and practical, like someone who bags her lunch each night before work.

The ice in my Suze began to melt under the robust space heaters, giving way to new flavors. Flowers and herbs now grew in the sugary lawn that was my drink.

I scanned the headlines of the latest election polls as my waiter went outside to shuck oysters for the bickering Franco-American pair. Two dozen half-shells later and the Franco-American pair was still going at it. I heard the word “Trump” a few more times from the American. More demonstrative pantomiming from the French contingent. I sipped my drink and decided that whatever they were arguing about, the European had a better perspective on fascism.

By now, the ice nuggets were nearly all melted, but my diluted Suze still had a bite.

Is There Anywhere in the World Hemingway Didn’t Drink?

May.10.17

Is There Anywhere in the World Hemingway Didn’t Drink?

by Russ Rowlands

Kalik Lager on North Bimini

The first section of my favorite book is called Bimini. Either I never noticed or the word simply hadn’t registered, despite my having re-read the book roughly every year for the past two decades. This becomes relevant, I promise.

I sat at a picnic table looking out at the azure Straights of Florida, appreciating the morning view from a random beach on the western edge of the Bahamas, on the island of North Bimini. We’d arrived by sailboat a few days prior but had, until that morning, been stuck in our marina as a severe storm blew through, frothing up the Straights into an angry green. Rains abated and calm restored, I’d ventured out in search of entertainment, something to salve the cabin fever of a half-week in a marina.

“Hey, skinny man,” called one of the locals clustered around a plastic table on a nearby patio. “Come over here and tell this woman that tattoos are perfectly safe and she’s crazy.”

I laughed and joined them. The woman was trying to tell their group that you can’t give blood after getting a tattoo; I did my best to set the record straight. We made a round of introductions and they asked about my various tattoos. I began telling stories, and the crowd laughed at the misadventures portrayed in my ink. Someone brought me a cold bottle of the local lager, Kalik, in an exemplary display of island hospitality.

“So what’s your favorite one then?” asked a less-skeptical woman, nodding to my tattoos.

I pushed up a sleeve and showed them the rolling lines of font that corkscrew up my left arm. “This is my favorite page from my favorite book, Islands in the Stream, by Hemingway.”

“What!?” Skeptical-lady wailed, arms thrown up in the air for emphasis.

“This here is the Island in the Stream, man, you know that?!”

I had not known that.

I had known that the book was set on one of the islands in the Bahamian chain but, being previously unfamiliar with the country, I’d never drawn a connection with the aforementioned section heading. It hadn’t seemed to matter what tropical rock Hemingway had been writing about.

Considering again the Straights, and the little towns dotting the east coast of the island, it was easy to see where the author had found his imagery for the novel. I could picture Hemingway swaggering down the late-night streets, drunk as a pirate between writing sessions, cursing, boozing and brawling whenever he thought he could win. Like a Winslow Homer painting, but with more daiquiris.

The friendly group of locals grew bored with my drifting reverie and drifted off themselves. It was just before 10 a.m., and another one of Hemingway’s quotes came to mind: “I nearly always drank beer for breakfast unless we were hunting lion.”

As I sat there with my Kalik, I wondered if the old curmudgeon himself had sat on that same beach, sipping a morning lager while thinking about writing. I was pretty sure there were no lions on Bimini.

How Can I Say No To the Worst Liquor in Slovakia?

May.09.17

How Can I Say No To the Worst Liquor in Slovakia?

by Cynthia Sularz

Tatransky Vietor in Slovakia

Hiking through the Tatra Mountains is a welcome escape. A small distance from Poprad, Slovakia, is Popradske Pleso, a glacial mountain lake between the mountain ranges. The hike isn’t difficult, but after living in a city for the past few months, the elevation and my lack of sleep makes me feel tired. It was Good Friday, and all I wanted was to be out of the city.

We stop briefly as the path levels off to take in the view. Snow begins to appear around us. Seeing my dismay, a man to whom I had just been introduced by a mutual friend reaches into his bag and pulls out a bottle, labeled Tatransky Vietor.

At this point I’ve been exploring the food and drink of Slovakia for quite some time. I’ve savored the plum aftertaste of Slivovitz before exploring the country’s mountain caves, and sipped on Slovak wines overlooking the castles of Bratislava from their famous UFO Bridge and Tower.

But Tatransky Vietor is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before.

With one shot, I feel two things instantly. The first is warmth. Hot and burning, it slides down my throat and ignites a spark that travels down to the tips of my toes. The second is the sensation that I have just imbibed highly alcoholic toothpaste. Excessively minty, with a thick, almost slimy texture.

My friend jogs over to us, a sly but worried expression on his face. He tells me that, in his opinion, Tatransky Vietor is the worst liquor in Slovakia. My stomach churns a bit as we start moving again. Smiles and laughter fill the conversation and the warmth soon returns to my hands.

We stop a few times, each of us to have small tastes of Tatranky Vietor over the hike. We mask the drink’s flavor with Korbáčik, a hard string-cheese smoked and woven into fine braids. We are told that there will be deer goulash at the lake. I chew a pine needle later on to get rid of the taste of the liquor.

As we hike, I listen. My companions tell stories of Slovak history and describe the geology of the mountain ranges. They compare these mountains to others they’ve seen around the world: the Alps, the Himalayas, the unpredictable snow in South Africa’s mountain ranges.

Reaching the lake is something special. No matter how short or long the hike, there is something magical about reaching the destination. The moment is shared, but it’s still unique for each person. I exhale, surrounded by the looming mountain-tops and the icy lake.

I feel a tap on my shoulder, and see that familiar green liquid being proffered, tempting me. This time, a sly smile tugs at my lips. How can I say no to the worst liquor in Slovakia on Good Friday?

Where To Drink in Tuscany If For Some Reason You Don’t Like Wine

May.08.17

Where To Drink in Tuscany If For Some Reason You Don’t Like Wine

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Viareggio

The place to be on Good Friday night in Viareggio, a small city on the Tuscan coast, is Birrificio degli Archi. Blocks back from the beach, it is the town’s only craft brewery. Blues band The Magic Bones is rocking the taproom, and a young and weird crowd spills out into the street and the parking lot across the road, clutching plastic pints, smoking, and yelling over the music.

If there are any neighbors, they must be going bananas. But the block appears dark and abandoned, the only light coming from the small taproom.

Birrificio degli Archi is one of about 1500 craft breweries in Italy, which have shoved this wine-sipping nation into the forefront of craft beer.

“It’s a new thing, but it is not to be underestimated,” says master brewer Michele Menchini, Birrificio degli Archi’s only full-time employee. He figures Italy is the third biggest country in the world now for craft beer, after the U.S. and Germany.

Though they have over 60 varieties of beer in bottles, Birrificio degli Archi can only produce three beers at a time, about six and a half brews per month. When we visited, it was the Maison Saison, Capitan Luppolo Pale Ale (Captain Hops in English), and Hempathy, a hemp-flavored pale ale.

It’s the Maison Saison Menchini is most proud of. He says it’s a classic style from Wallonia, in southern Belgium, an ancient beer that’s been passed down for generations. Bruegel the Elder’s 1567 painting, “A Peasant’s Wedding,” is one of the earliest surviving images of this beer—in the bottom left corner you can see a peasant pouring out great flagons of the stuff.

“It’s an old, country-style beer,” Menchini says. “Each farmer would make his own.” Until pasteurization, they did it without yeast, by growing wort in the oak barrels, where wild yeast would grow.

“It’s one of my favorite styles,” Menchinni says. He also notes it was nearly lost to history with World War II.

The Maison Saison is infused with red pear to sweeten it, but it’s still sour and very yeasty. “You need to take care of the yeast with the Saison,” Menchinni says. “It’s the most important part.”

Unlike pale ales, where you can experiment with a whole variety of flavors, alcohol percentages, and original gravities (how much sugar is in it), there is less room for experimentation with the saisons. But Menchinni has still managed to knock out a series of them, in pale golden, brown, red, and black. Some are as weak as 3.5 percent ABV; others are as high as 7.5 percent.

Birrificio degli Achi is owned by eight partners, but it’s more of a hobby for them than an investment. Viareggio is one of the few places in Italy that is booming, thanks to the yachts that pull into the ports here, and the businesses that serve their owners and workers. The rich keep getting richer, and they keep buying bigger boats.

Most of the rich folks stay on the beach though—the folks who work for them are the ones knocking back the saison blocks back, enjoying the music, and making this small taproom into Friday night party central.

Photo by: Jo Turner

A Toast! To Democracy

May.05.17

A Toast! To Democracy

by Pauline Eiferman

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Pastis in Marseille

On Wednesday evening, as I watched the debate between the two candidates for the French presidency, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I remembered feeling the same apprehension seven months ago in New York, pint in hand, when I sat down to watch Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s first of three horrifying debates.

Perhaps I still haven’t gotten over the trauma of the American elections, but I couldn’t help making the parallel. I had been anxious all day, hoping that Emmanuel Macron would convincingly face up to Marine Le Pen, who, lagging behind in the polls, seemed to have nothing to lose. Yet I soon felt a sense of relief. The centrist candidate was poised, confident and satisfyingly condescending while the far-right heiress ridiculed herself by hurling insults rather than discussing policy detail.

I had felt the same sense of reassurance after each of the Trump/Clinton debates: one candidate had clearly proved she was competent, the other had not. And yet if I have learned anything about politics in the last year, it’s that nothing is impossible. And this is why tonight, I am having a drink.

I’m in Marseille, a city that reflects many of the candidates’ talking points: immigration, Islam, unemployment. In the first round of the Presidential election two weeks ago, the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon came in first place here. But now that he is out of the race, as many as 65% of his supporters said they will abstain or spoil their ballot papers in Sunday’s second round. Sixty. Five. Percent.

I understand the aversion to Macron’s program. I understand the anger of those who have to vote for the lesser evil, election after election. But this call to abstain, especially strong among young people, is really freaking me out. I still remember, in 2002, when a million people marched in the streets to protest Le Pen’s father unexpectedly getting to the second round. Do I really need to explain why voting for her opponent is an absolute necessity?

No. I do not. They will see this. Meanwhile I will just drink this pastis and watch people walk by the Vieux Port, hoping that as many of them as possible will exercise their right to chose the future of their country. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, Marine Le Pen has clearly won something: she’s turned the Front National into a mainstream party.

Is This A Crime Against Tequila Or A Crime Against Coca-Cola?

May.04.17

Is This A Crime Against Tequila Or A Crime Against Coca-Cola?

by Jaime Jacques

Coquitas in Capilla de Guadalupe

We are driving around the quaint, cobblestoned streets of Capilla de Guadalupe, a tiny town in western Mexico. Around us, blue agave fields stretch out as far as I can see, and the sun is starting to dip behind the mountains. We both smile broadly as we catch each other up on our respective lives.

The last time I saw Isidro was nine years ago, when we worked together at an Italian restaurant in Toronto. I was a 30-year-old, broke, well-educated waitress and he was a 23-year-old Mexican working under the table as a cleaner. One night after work we sat in my dank, windowless basement apartment drinking a bottle of Jose Cuervo. “This isn’t real tequila,” he had said with disdain. He went on to explain in broken English that he was from a small town in the state of Jalisco, where blue agave grew everywhere, and pure tequila was enjoyed by all. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I had said. “Just shut up and drink!”

It’s almost a decade later and here we are. Now he speaks to me in perfect English and I am the one struggling with my broken Spanish. I find myself wishing I had been more patient with him back then, not just with the English but with other things too. He asks me if I want to stop and try the town’s famous libation, a coquita. I am game for anything, I say, already intoxicated with the excitement of seeing a familiar face in a foreign land. We pull up to a small tienda and get out of the car. Isidro’s friends are already there, hanging out on the corner.

Isidro goes into the shop and comes back out with a bunch of tiny bottles of Coke. He lines them up on a bench and then brings out a bottle of local tequila to carefully top each one off with the clear white spirit. Everybody grabs a bottle. “You have to drink it fast!” they all warn me. We down the coquitas and soon I am feeling the heady rush of caffeine, sugar, and booze. Glossy-eyed, I look around and wonder aloud why he ever wanted to leave such an idyllic town.

“When I was a teenager I got into trouble here, doing lots of little jobs for the narcos,” says Isidro. “It was mostly out of boredom, but one day I did something that really pissed them off. They chased me, pulled out guns and shot at me. I escaped in time but that was what made me decide to go to Canada to try and create a better life.”

By now the sun has long since set and the energy shifts from day to night. Isidro ducks back into the shop and returns with another round of coquitas. We drink them and soon we are all talking quickly and laughing loudly. The owner of the tienda brings us out a plate of chicharron and salsa and we gratefully dig in. In the middle of it all, Isidro turns to me, his blue eyes sparkling under the streetlamp, “I can’t believe you are actually here, in my town,” he says. “Me neither,” I respond with a goofy, coquita-drenched grin.

Subverting Brexit with Negronis and Spontaneous Bhangra Sessions

May.03.17

Subverting Brexit with Negronis and Spontaneous Bhangra Sessions

by Henna Zamurd-Butt

Negroni in Barcelona

Of course I’d learned how to order a drink in both Catalan and Spanish, just in case. “Make me your best drink!” I shouted to the bartender over Beyoncé. I recognized the quizzical expression and tried again, this time louder, slower, and in Spanish.

“I make a great Negroni,” comes the reply in thick Liverpudlian. This was simultaneously a relief and an annoyance, but I nod. He sets about making it slowly with the kind of seriousness that inspires confidence in the drinker.

Betty Ford’s—named after California’s famous rehab clinic—is tucked away in El Raval, a neighborhood of Barcelona close to the port. If there was a time when the bar was hip and counter-cultural, this has long since passed, but it’s still a nice mix of diner and gay bar. On Thursday night, the narrow room is busy, but not full, with music videos projected onto the wall making it seem livelier than it is.

Just off La Rambla, Betty Ford’s is more of an obvious gem than a hidden one. Every now and again servers appear from behind the bar laden with oversized burgers and fries, which I am told are some of the city’s best.

The Negroni comes strong and thick and bittersweet, with a perfectly curled piece of orange zest crowning it. Sitting at the bar I can spot all kinds of life happening around me, from first dates to weary tourists who’ve spent 12 hours walking around looking at Gaudi. My attention though, is caught by a movement just within my gaze nearby at the bar.

Three people have sprung up from their stools, hands raised to screw in invisible lightbulbs. I instantly recognize bhangra dancing—the apex of my parents’ cultural heritage—which, thanks to Punjab’s huge and highly dispersed diaspora population, seems to pop up in the unlikeliest of places.
Spotting my bemused brown face, behind the two locals he is teaching, I’m beckoned over by the chap who happens to be another brown Brit.

We work our way through the leg-to-leg hop, and the shoulder-shake too, as well as several of the bar’s cocktails; from a sweet-spicy Apricot Sour to the sake-laced Blue Oyster. Our host, now five years away from Liverpool, feels pressed to join too. He has his own views of how one of the UK’s national dances should be performed. I feel a bright glow from the rapid movement, the projector, and the drinks—but also from our small subversion of the Brexit story.

Centipede Hooch: Not the Most Offensive Thing I’ve Ever Consumed

May.02.17

Centipede Hooch: Not the Most Offensive Thing I’ve Ever Consumed

by Jackie Bryant

Under the Counter in Grenada

“Let’s take shots!” one of my hosts, Oddisa, said. We were at Patrick’s Local Homestyle, a well-known temple to Grenadian home cooking on the edge of the capital of St. George’s. Under multicolored neon lights, we were moaning and full after a 16-course meal of rabbit, callaloo, green plantain salad, conch, breadfruit, Grenadian chocolate cake, stewed pork, and more.

“Tequila,” she clarified, which made me wince. I spend a lot of time in Mexico and wasn’t interested in what was likely bad tequila, though I’m never one to refuse a host. Our waiter responded that they were fresh out of tequila, and the women wailed in complaint while I breathed a sigh of relief.
Without skipping a beat, Oddisa’s boyfriend Ron chimed in. “Under the Counter?”

“Oh, yes. We have Under the Counter,” the waiter responded as the entire table erupted in laughter and looked towards me. He turned and sped off, presumably to grab the hooch.

Alarmed, I asked, “What the hell is…Under the Counter?” Ron, who turned out to be something of an Under the Counter expert, explained that it’s a type of Grenadian moonshine. “Sometimes it has centipede, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he added.

Unsatisfied, I asked what else might be in it. This particular blend, special to Patrick’s, was a noxious combination of ingredients not usually found in the same recipe and included centipede, bay leaf, four different overproof rums, roots, deer horn, scorpions, nutmeg, lemongrass and marijuana.

Our waiter appeared and plunked down a half-full jug with a visible pile of leaves fermenting at the bottom. Ron poured the shots, each teeming with biodiversity. We clinked glasses and tipped them back. It was fine: strong, herbal, fiery, and faintly sweet. It wasn’t the most offensive thing I’ve ever consumed, though it was too spiced for my taste.

“You’re a real Grenadian now! Next time you come, I’m cooking you up some wild meat. Iguana or manicou,” he beamed. A quick Google search revealed that manicou was opossum and also a local delicacy. Google also informed me that Under the Counter routinely made people sick from contamination, due to an obvious lack of regulation in its production. I made a note to do research in advance next time around.

Besides Under the Counter, Grenada is an island full of other surprises. It’s not on the typical Caribbean tourist route, though it has a very successful medical college that takes American students, trains them on a fast track, and spits them out back into American hospitals. Too often, it gets written off as a Marxist paradise with a revolutionary bent, a hangover from being invaded by the United States in 1983. Finally, Grenada is often mistaken for a city in Spain.

The result of these misconceptions is a tourist-free paradise: the island has just 1,600 hotel rooms and its pristine beaches are relatively empty. Its government is stable and, while unemployment is high, the economy is better here than on other islands, thanks to the medical school and the chocolate and nutmeg industries. Any place with few tourists, balmy weather, 16-course meals, and specialized hooch is good in my book, so I began plotting my return as Under the Counter settled in my stomach.

First Shot: Not Good. Second Shot: OK. Third Shot: Yes, We Want More!

May.01.17

First Shot: Not Good. Second Shot: OK. Third Shot: Yes, We Want More!

by Maxime Brousse

Tsipouro in Sifnos

Nothing says Sifnos better than a bottle of tsipouro a Greek anise -flavored liqueur similar to raki. I downed countless number of shots during a ten-day trip to this Cyclades island, and most of them make for great memories.

My girlfriend Johanna and I had our first taste of it a few hours after setting foot at its port. Our host, Giorgos, drove us to his place inland, Artemonas, through a dry but breathtaking valley. We had found Giorgos on Couchsurfing.com and he was pretty sure we were the first couchsurfers ever to set foot on the island—not surprising, considering that Sifnos’ biggest income seems to come from hotels and guest houses.

Giorgos poured three glasses of his homemade tsipouro, and explained: “First one: not good. Second one: OK. Third one: yes, we want more!” But truth be told, we enjoyed the first one.

A few days later, he invited us to the island’s finest tsipouradiko, where we tried a mass-produced version of the beverage. A better one, according to him, as each bottles tastes the same, whereas the 20-something liters he produces every year can be worlds apart—from a sugary, fruity liquor to undrinkable moonshine. But then again, the homemade version was much more satisfying than the labelled one.

Everywhere you go on Sifnos, a glass of tsipouro is waiting for you. You come to think it’s the way to say pretty much anything you want to strangers. You may not share any common language with the Sifnians, but you’ll probably share a glass of tsipouro with them.

This was the case in Profitis Ilias, the monastery built on Sifnos’ highest point, at 680 meters (2228 feet) above sea level. Most Sundays, the monastery is filled with noises from a bunch of locals, renovating the place and getting it ready for the annual gathering in July. Dimitri, one of the volunteers, offered us a Greek coffee. Before we could finish it, he was back with glasses of tsipouro.

Two days later, at a potter’s workshop, we ate local cheese, crackers, and homemade tsipouro again, as we were taught how to work the potter’s wheel.

We ended up leaving the island with a full bottle of Giorgos’ batch, but didn’t drink much of it. As the Greek writer Nikos Kavvadias wrote in The Shift: “The best coffee I’ve drank, it was in Moka. The best tea, in Colombo… The worst coffee I ever brought back to my mother was bought in Moka. The worst tea I bought, it was in Colombo. In the very same shops where I drank them.”

The same could be said of tsipouro: have a sip on the Aegean, and it will be the sweetest thing you’ve ever tasted. Pour a drink of the same bottle back home, and it’s just an awful, strong liquor.

More of a Capitalist Parasite Than a Fascist, TBH

Apr.28.17

More of a Capitalist Parasite Than a Fascist, TBH

by Aleks Eror

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Bourbon in Belgrade

Earlier this month, Serbian citizens went to the polls to elect their new president. Reigning prime minister Aleksandar Vucic was more than just a clear frontrunner: he was already the president-elect in all but name. The election itself was a mere formality, and no one with a shred of political literacy truly thought that he could be denied the presidency. Instead, the vote became a referendum on Vucic himself and his five years in power.

Optimists saw it as an opportunity to build some momentum around a long-feeble opposition that could perhaps weaken his stranglehold on government at the next parliamentary elections. But the playing field wasn’t just uneven, it was farcical: the campaign period would last a mere 30 days–the absolute minimum allowed by law. In that time, each opposition candidate had to scramble together 10,000 signatures to get their name on the ballot slip, all while Vucic was out on the campaign trail.

I watched the results roll in from the comfort of my sofa in Berlin as I sipped on a bourbon, my standard evening ritual. The result was expected: a landslide victory for Vucic, totaling 56 percent of the popular vote. But despite its predictability, the outcome still outraged a sizable minority of the electorate, prompting thousands to take to the streets to protest “against the dictatorship.” The protests continued daily, reconvening every day at 6 p.m. to march through Belgrade and other towns and cities, demanding Vucic’s resignation. Their numbers grew steadily until Easter rolled around, and then… well… then they decided to take a break for a few days, drawing much condescension from cynics.

Labeling Vucic a dictator gives him too much credit. Dictators have an ideological grounding, whereas Vucic is a hollow man who believes in nothing but his own interests. He’s not a fearsome autocrat in the Putin or Erdogan mold—he lacks the vision for that. His main aim is to get rich, consolidate power, and construct a system that will remain subservient to him after he has left power so he stays rich and never has to do a day of honest work in his life. He’s more of a crony capitalist parasite than a fascist, and that’s not a redeeming quality.

Those that took to the street weren’t contesting the result; they were incensed by the nature of the victory. No candidate had ever won the presidency in the first round. Vucic’s effortless and unsubtle win reeked of arrogance and showed how little he fears his neglected populace. It pierced through the veil of plausible deniability that allows Serbs to avoid facing up to some uncomfortable truths.

The protests were rudderless, lacking direction and a tangible purpose. They were a howl of impotent rage rather than a coordinated campaign of civil disobedience. Many want to see Vucic deposed, but no one has any idea of who or what could realistically take his place. Vucic is the target of their anger, but he’s only an avatar that represents the dashed hopes of the post-Milosevic years. A former minister in Milosevic’s government, one who stood before the national assembly in 1995 and threatened to kill 100 Muslims for every Serb hurt in the Bosnian war, Vucic is a reminder of how little has changed 17 years on. The question is if things ever will.

Some three weeks later, I am back in Belgrade visiting family, and yet another protest had been scheduled on the evening of my arrival. The city is choked by a thick world-weariness that always seems to hang in the air, but the protest’s rallying point offered up a small oasis of defiant camaraderie. I can’t say I fancy their chances, but I’ll hope for the best as I sip on my bourbon in the evenings.

Photo by: Lazara Marinković

India’s Dying Breed of Raspberry Soda Purveyors

Apr.27.17

India’s Dying Breed of Raspberry Soda Purveyors

by Rohit Inani

Raspberry soda in Bombay

“VS Naipaul once said that Bombay is a crowd…” I began to say, but G wasn’t listening to me. She was looking out of the taxi window to the sea and, farther away, to the Bombay skyline. It was the end of February and it was an unusually hot afternoon, and a breeze was lapping her face, throwing her wild afro-curls out of the window.

We were battling a heavy hangover and decided to visit a bookstore in Colaba, an old British quarter still wearing the badge of colonialism with pride. Just a week before we downed a couple of beers each at Alps, a cheap bar with long hanging lamps just across the road from the Taj Mahal Hotel. Later, under the shade of tall, leafy trees in the backyard of a 19th century library, we sat on a concrete bench and listened to two men debating Donald Trump and democracy. Blah, Blah, Blah. TRAMMPP, one of them said. G looked at me and frowned. We left, looking bored.

It was a Sunday and the bookstore was empty. We bought a few books. In the evening we walked to Horniman Circle Gardens, a large, leafy park surrounded by India’s premier banks, high-fashion luxury brands, and a few iconic cafes. But that evening there were also two or three police vans, curious onlookers and paparazzi marveling at a possible high society party at the classic Town Hall. The building is also home to the Asiatic Society of Bombay, where the original manuscript copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy is preserved. In 1930, Benito Mussolini offered the society a million pounds for the copy but the society bluntly refused. Mussolini was furious.

G said she strongly felt it was a Page 3 party and walked up to a cop to enquire. Bollywood and Dante under the same roof? Hah!

We left the scene and asked a man at the next turn for Jimmy Boy. Located at a quiet and breezy street, Jimmy Boy is an old Irani cafe founded in 1920, and then known as Cafe India. In 1999, the family changed the name to Jimmy Boy, keeping in mind the changing times, and put Madonna and the Spice Girls on its evening playlist. Jimmy Boy is one of only a handful of Irani cafes—the once-ubiquitous canteens set up by India’s Zoroastrian Irani immigrants—still operating in Bombay.

We sat at a marble-top table looking out on the street and marveled at the trademark bent wood chairs, high ceiling and a slightly tilting crystal chandelier. G loves Irani cafes. Outside, it was turning dark now, and we asked for two raspberry sodas. A quintessential Parsi beverage, it is fizzy and plays havoc with one’s sweet tooth. Bottled by the Pallonji company since 1885, today it is on the brink of extinction, thanks to a lack of demand and the gradual decline of the Parsi community. Some still call it the Rose of Persia.

“How do you like it?” I asked. But G wasn’t listening. She closed her eyes in excitement and drank through the straw, grooving her head in slow motion, and outside, on the empty street, night fell.

Not Bursting with Flavor, But Goes Nicely with Impeachment Celebrations

Apr.26.17

Not Bursting with Flavor, But Goes Nicely with Impeachment Celebrations

by Mitchell Blatt

Beer in Seoul

The long, grassy square in front of Gwanghwamun gate was filled with people raising candles and waving signs. Some were sitting on the grass enjoying beer or soju and snacks. At the very front was a stage where rock and pop artists performed. “Alright, it’s a glorious day,” one singer crooned.

The cause for celebration? South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye had been removed from office that morning following her impeachment over a massive corruption scandal. It was the first time a Korean president had been removed by democratic means, and it was due in large part to the protesters at Gwanghawmun, who came out in the hundreds of thousands for candlelight vigils.

I was drinking a large can of Hite beer, mingling with the cross section of society reveling in their victory. Two men in their 40s, Kevin and Kyu, invited me to sit and eat street food with them.

The contrast between their youth and the scene in front of them couldn’t be greater. In the 1960s and 70s, activists who protested against the authoritarian abuses of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who rose to power by military coup, could be arrested and tortured. In 1980, Park’s successor, Chun Doo-hwan, sent the military to suppress an uprising in Gwangju, causing hundreds of deaths. After the sacrifices of so many, South Koreans finally won democracy for themselves in 1988. These past few months, the power of people exercising their democratic rights was on full display.

While Korean beer isn’t bursting with hops and flavor, it does have a nice smoothness that makes it cool and satisfying. Hite is the best-selling beer and has fueled American and Korean soldiers out on the town and democratic activists through the past half-century. Today’s Hite Brewery got started in 1933 as Chosun Brewery.

That night, with the music, the spirits, and the historic occasion, the beer couldn’t have tasted better. After three months pressing the legislature for Park’s impeachment, then three months more waiting for a ruling by the Constitutional Court, the mood of Gwanghwamun changed from one of anxiety to celebration.

A traditional Korean music troupe played the zither and banged drums and danced in a circle. Park’s critics posed for pictures in front of a papier-mâché statue of Park in prison garb. When the music stopped, Koreans gathered in the middle of the square held fireworks in their hands and set them off in a shower of red, yellow, and green.

Nothing Like a Little Unmediated Animal Flesh to Send You Running for the Fruit Pavilion

Apr.25.17

Nothing Like a Little Unmediated Animal Flesh to Send You Running for the Fruit Pavilion

by Rob Kunzig

Kvass in Riga

Step this way, into the Fish Pavilion at the Riga Central Market in Latvia, where the stench of fish oil and smoked flesh fills the room to its vaulted ceilings and immediately manifests as a metallic tang in the back of my throat. Vendors in rubber aprons smack around live carp, which smack back, gills heaving. I watch a bucket kick itself across the tile and catch a glimpse of wet black fin inside. And here’s a semicircle of severed pike heads, apparently decorative, vaguely conspiratorial.

If you’re someone like me, this is a strange place for an afternoon snack. But I’m here to sample two Latvian institutions under the roof of a third: smoked sprats and kvass, a sweet near-beer, all washed down under the roof of one of Europe’s largest bazaars.

Kvass seems to have its roots in Russia, though good luck selling that to a Latvian—they’ll say it’s a Baltic thing, or an Eastern European thing, and while we’re at it, the Russians didn’t invent pickles, either. Like prison wine, kvass is easily brewed at home: combine rye bread, sugar, and brewer’s yeast, and let ferment for a few days. The result is a sweet, mildly yeasty beverage that couldn’t get a toddler drunk. In the summer, Latvians sell it from drums by the roadside.

A half-liter pour costs 80 euro-cents (or 90 American cents) at the fish pavilion. There’s space nearby to stand and use it to wash down my plastic-bagged kilogram (2.2 pounds) of smoked sardines. It’s a little sticky on the lips, but not syrupy, with a pleasant fizz that almost makes me forget that this could have been brewed under someone’s bed.

Like kvass, smoked fish is a pillar of the Latvian diet. Much of the fish Latvians eat is caught, processed, and sold in Latvia. Plants line the coast, and Latvian expats will cut off a finger for a tin of Rigas Gold, a particularly famous brand of smoked sprats (small herring) preserved in vegetable oil.

I pinch apart the sprat’s gold foil skin to get to the dark, greasy flecks of meat inside. It’s pungent, salty, and meager. Like steamed crabs, this is a deliberately difficult meal, meant to be enjoyed slowly over conversation. It counters the lingering sweetness of the kvass, and I can briefly imagine having one more.

Far from the poise and polish of Riga’s old city, the market feels unvarnished, post-Soviet. Wide-eyed American tourists expecting a wholesome farmer’s market should prepare instead for Russians in tracksuits to flick cigarette ash on them. Inside the pavilion is a picture of abundance, even if it looks like a grindhouse flick: see the trays of jello-like livers, or the basketball-sized cow’s heart, or the various animal appendages impaled on meat hooks.

I’m an enthusiastic carnivore, but like most Americans, I’m used to a little mass-market mediation between me and my animal flesh. Seeing it—smelling it—makes me want to move on to the fruit pavilion. I manage one sprat, but I can’t do two, forget the full kilo.

I bring the bag to a Latvian friend and ask him if he likes sprats. He gives me a look I’m now familiar with.

“Of course,” he says.

The Universal Struggle to Get to the Bar Before Happy Hour Ends

Apr.24.17

The Universal Struggle to Get to the Bar Before Happy Hour Ends

by Saba Imtiaz

Wine in Amman

It is 5 p.m. in Amman, and I’m frantically dialing my bank in Pakistan to complain why a transfer hasn’t gone through. My Urdu seems accented and strange, as if I haven’t spent most of my life speaking the language.

I rush out of the house. It’s a Thursday night, the start of the weekend, and I want the same ritual as that of people working in offices everywhere–to get a drink. I emerge to the beginnings of rain, and shrug on a jacket and wrap my head in a scarf. It’s April, and yet I am still dressing like early winter.

I almost run to the stop for servees cabs: the shared-taxi service that runs in older Amman neighborhoods. There’s a queue stretching down the pavement. The servees cabs seem to be practicing their version of surge pricing. One servees says it won’t go downtown. Behind me is a guy dressed in head-to-toe workout gear, and incongruously holding crystal prayer beads.

We shuffle along in the queue. A guy passes by with a roll-on suitcase with a seemingly pregnant woman in tow, wearing a burqa and niqab. They ask for directions, and the queue is split between saying it’s a 10-minute walk and advising them to take a cab. They head off on foot. “Some people like walking,” says crystal beads man, to no one in particular.

I am itching to get going. What if happy hour is over and I have to pay full price—money I really can’t afford to throw away–for a drink?

A servees rolls up, and I don’t even care if it’s not going downtown. It’s going somewhere. Four of us pile in and pay the driver; a little over a quarter of a dinar for a ride that would cost four times that in a cab. I then take another servees to go to a different neighborhood. My head is throbbing slightly; I’m starting to wonder if the running around is worth it for a drink.

I disembark at Café de Paris in the Jabal al Lweibdeih neighborhood. Nine years ago, when I last lived in Amman, it was perhaps the only café here, a bare-bones place that served passable coffee, with large windows looking out onto a sleepy little neighborhood. Now this district is where the hipsters and expats hang out, and Café de Paris is now a bar—all dark wood and old-school stools. In the corner, a street artist sips his beer.

I strip off my jacket and ask the bartender: “Is it still happy hour?” “Until 8,” he says. I could have taken my time, I guess, but I’m here now. My glass of red wine arrives. I watch out the window. Other people come in and light cigarettes. The staff brings in what seems to be a week’s worth of vegetables.

I take a sip. It’s okay wine, but this is my sole luxury this week. I am glad to not be home writing another pitch or checking my bank account. It’s finally 5 p.m., and I’m like everyone else, trying to let go.

When Living in a World of Absurdities, Try Whisky

Apr.21.17

When Living in a World of Absurdities, Try Whisky

by Niren Tolsi

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South Africa’s largely peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy in 1994 was feted as a “miracle,” yet 23 years later, we are not Nelson Mandela’s “rainbow children”: race and class tensions bubble on the surface, often popping angrily into the nation’s eye like blobs of fat from a frying pork sausage.

The country’s new constitution is considered one of the most progressive globally, but the scandal-ridden administration of President Jacob Zuma appears increasingly authoritarian and unconstitutional. Zuma has also set up a shadow state of spies and intelligence networks while the repressive policing of grassroots communities who organize politically is pervasive.

These are the things we live with, but often try to drink away.

Drinking is something that South Africans—according to the World Health Organization, the 19th booziest nation in the world last year—do well. This tradition stems from celebrating life—especially when it could be taken so quickly by the apartheid state’s police and army in previous decades—by living hard. This inclination now often begins with “Phuza Thursdays” (Drink Thursdays) all the way through the weekend into “No Regrets Mondays.”

South Africans’ red eyes and the bleariness of the past few weeks have not been from a typical hangover, though. It started with the national mourning of Ahmed Kathrada, the anti-apartheid struggle veteran and Robben Island prison contemporary of Nelson Mandela.

At Kathrada’s funeral, politicians and activists held him up as a paragon of the anti-apartheid struggle, a non-racialist whose ethics and morality were disappearing from a new generation of politicians more interested in self-aggrandizement and conspicuous consumption. The president was criticized for destabilizing the economy by pursuing a kleptocratic agenda of “state capture.” This was to allow his network of businessmen cronies to gain control of government through their politician lackeys and then pillage the state’s coffers.

The country was on tenterhooks, expectantly waiting for Zuma to drop the hammer on the much respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, considered one of the few remaining people in the Cabinet standing in the way of widespread looting.

A few days after the funeral, Zuma did sack Gordhan. In the dead of night. He announced a Cabinet reshuffle that sent South Africa’s currency, the Rand, plummeting, and saw ratings agencies downgrade South Africa’s credit rating to junk status.

Borrowing, and drinking, was going to be a lot more expensive.

People were riled. Leaders of Zuma’s own party, the African National Congress, broke ranks and criticized his midnight reshuffle. Opposition parties took to the streets in protest, and even the chattering classes left their dinner tables for the barricades, all calling for Zuma to resign.

Public opinion was turning against a man more interested in the fortunes of his family than that of the country. But this just sent Zuma’s own spin machine into overdrive. “White monopoly capital” had to be destroyed, his defenders said, for “radical economic transformation” to happen: hence Gordhan’s sacking. Government was going to act in radically new transformative ways so as to address socio-economic inequality, the new finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, said. The ostensibly radical Black Land First movement, which had been chanting down capitalism while calling for urgent land redistribution, went off to defend the mansions of the notorious Gupta family—Zuma’s businessmen cronies—from protesters.

South Africa is a country of absurdities, my friend Master T agreed, pouring a double-shot of Glenmorangie whisky into a glass.

Absurdities, indeed. The kind that started to flow more easily than the amber nectar down our throats. The new buzzwords of “radical economic transformation” to destroy “white monopoly capital” was dreamt up by an anodyne-looking blonde working at a British publicity firm, Bell Pottinger, it was revealed. The campaign—paid for by the Gupta family—had extended to “paid Twitter” and “bots” trolling relentlessly on social media and the setting up of pro-Gupta online news sites (the family already owns a news channel and a newspaper). Even the Black Land First movement was allegedly nothing more than a Gupta front. Gigaba, the new finance minister, reprimanded one of his advisors for suggesting that the amorphous, yet to be defined, “radical economic transformation” could include nationalizing mines and the Reserve Bank and appropriating land. Then Gigaba jetted off to Western capitals to reassure investors that not much had changed.

Whisky brings warmth and lucidity, but there is never enough ethanol to act as an eraser for the absurdities of this life.

I took another glut, nevertheless, and asked Master T why he had also bagged us some 2M beers from Mozambique. “To drink to Zuma’s days in exile there,” he chuckled.

South Africa is a place of absurdities, but we have learned to laugh in the face of them. Whisky helps.

Asking for a Friend: Does This Slovenian Spirit Actually Exist?

Apr.20.17

Asking for a Friend: Does This Slovenian Spirit Actually Exist?

by Dave Hazzan

Ruda in Ljubljana

On our final night in Slovenia, our hosts asked us if we would like to try some of their ruda. It came in a clear, unlabelled glass bottle, with sprigs of grass and slices of lime inside. It was the color of mint-flavored Listerine. They said they’d made it themselves from a local herb they’d collected out in the hills. It tasted quite pleasant for a hard liquor, like a limey, herbal schnapps.

Slovenians are hard drinkers, even by Central European standards. They consume a respectable 11.6 liters (about 10 quarts) of pure alcohol a year, which places them 24th on the World Health Organization (WHO)’s rankings of the heaviest drinking nations.

They have two major beer breweries, Lasko and Union, both of which produce very little for export. What they do export, a lady at the Union brewery told me, mostly goes to Slovenians abroad, like Melania Trump. Plus there are all the local artisanal and microbreweries. (Which is not to say Melania drinks Lasko or Union. I’m pretty sure she’s blasted 24/7, but that’s just a theory.)

Slovenians are also incredibly proud of their wine, and boast 28,000 wineries around the country. This equals an astonishing one winery for every 71 people. Again, most of that is drunk happily at home.

Finally, on the spirits end, there’s a whole line of brandies and liqueurs to send you over the edge. Borovnicke is a special kind of nasty, a sweet, syrupy blueberry liqueur that tastes like Robitussin. On the other hand, there is Viljamovka Paradiso No. 4, a clear pear brandy that is mellow, slightly sweet, and a brilliant accompaniment to an evening watching Slovenians go about their business in the central market.

But there is no ruda on the menu. Our hosts told us you can’t buy it at a shop or find it on a menu. You’ve got to roll up your pants, get out there into the wild, and pick the ingredients yourself.

I went online to verify this information for myself, and I could find nothing. Ruda doesn’t exist at the Slovenian liquor store. It doesn’t exist on Google. It doesn’t exist on any websites dedicated to Slovenian liquor, country liquor, or liquor of any sort. Ruda is not real—except we drank it.

Had our hosts played a joke on us? I had double-checked the name and spelling when they gave it to me. Had they invented the stuff? Were they giggling away, because they’d really just fed us grass and lime ethanol?

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume ruda is all over Slovenia, just kept hush. It’s in the cities, in the hills. Ruda exists if I will it to.

The Surreal Historical Coincidences of Today’s Berlin, Plus Beer

Apr.19.17

The Surreal Historical Coincidences of Today’s Berlin, Plus Beer

by Bella Peacock

Beers in Berlin

Berliners are moths to the light, unanimously drawn outside by the first rays of sun. Joining the congregation, I grab a beer from the Spätkauf, the term for the iconic convenience stores run by cheerful Turkish men that speckle Berlin’s street corners. In summer, the stores become the city’s most vital institution, providing cheap, cold beer on warm afternoons.

I’m on my way to Tempelhof, to where the sky is wide open. Once an airport, the field is now Berlin’s biggest park, a flat grassy expanse that stretches the entirety of a city suburb. Completely cleared with two huge concrete runways rolling down the center, the area has changed little since the airport’s closure.

Riding down wide streets, I follow the curve of the airport terminal. The building is steely, with tall, narrow windows. It has the clean, masculine geometry typical of Nazi architecture. The airport, largely built and designed under the Nazi regime, was once at the heart of Hitler’s vision of ‘World Capital Germania.’ The terminal was intended to be the gateway to a Europe commanded by the Third Reich. Today, it has become Germany’s biggest refugee camp. That’s some serious irony to mull over a beer.

While I chase the best plot of grass, I watch a father fold himself into a miniature convertible Range Rover with his toddler, the pair squealing as they race down the runway. A man wearing only tiny green hot-pants and a pair of rollerblades spreads his bare skin over the ground, evidently also keen on catching the sun. I choose a spot inside the community garden, beside a shelf of plant-filled shoes and tomato vines staked on bed springs. On top of a makeshift crate platform, I crack open my beer.

The first sun of the summer is a sigh of relief. After months of hibernating in my bedroom, the air against my bare skin makes my body feel loose and shiny. Or perhaps its the beer. My friend tells me a story about how the giant dismembered eagle’s head at the terminal’s entrance was actually a part of a much bigger statue, now mysteriously missing in some kind of controversy. I’m not sure if it’s true, but certainly Tempelhof, like Berlin in general, has become a sort of myth. Between its Nazi past and the stories of candy bombers throwing sweets to the West Berlin kids below, there’s something surreal to the place.

An Ibiza Drinking Story That Won’t Make You Want to Start the Revolution

Apr.18.17

An Ibiza Drinking Story That Won’t Make You Want to Start the Revolution

by Chloe Olewitz

Hierbas in Ibiza

The DJs spinning Balearic beats along the coastline of Ibiza time their sets to play the sun down into the sea. Rhythm and blues vocals croon over the meditative bass drone of some remix or another, and the air perks up with the smell of licorice. I trace the wafting aroma like a cartoon character following my nose to treasure.

Licorice in the air is the mark of Hierbas Ibicencas, an aniseed-forward herbal liqueur that forms the backbone of local drinking culture. Far away from the resort mess of San Antonio—and still tucked into the corners of authenticity that remain there—Hierbas is hailed as the true taste of Ibiza. Its lineage has been shaped by the passing centuries, from medieval monks brewing medicinal potions to secret formulas crafted by famous island families.

Perched atop the sea-facing wall of a neighborhood beach bar, I nurse a Hierbas on the rocks. The sun is falling into the Mediterranean on Ibiza’s western coast, but on this side, further east, the colors of the sky gently tint my glass as they darken slowly into night. The Hierbas is thick and syrupy, like medicine. It coats my glass and catches the oranges and pinks and reds of sunset at the sea.

Some say Hierbas is an elixir inspired by the mysterious island of Es Vedra, a tiny rock formation believed to possess rare magnetic properties. The urban legend persists, the magnets and the magic, superstitions lingering in spite of a definitive lack of evidence that there is anything geologically special about this place. Others swear by the medicinal history of Hierbas.

There are at least as many experiences of Ibiza as there are ingredients in its local drink: thyme, peppermint, rue, rosemary, eucalyptus, lavender, lemon, orange, and fennel layered between an aniseed base and the rest of a secret recipe. This place can be sanctuary, a hedonist’s retreat, or an escape from reality. Then there are the locals, families descended from the ancient people of this land and the history of Carthage and the gods, the Moors and the Vandals, Muslims and Catholics and Jews.

The ice in my glass melts, diluting the color and the heft of what Hierbas remains. Parents call their suntanned children away from the receding tide and the emptying beach. Back inside the bar, an Ibicenco couple downs shots of Hierbas before dinner. Dos chupitos. They pay no mind to the summer tourists. Dos más.

Once this island gets its claws in you, there’s no escaping its pull. Ibiza clings to consciousness like the legs of that last Hierbas crawling reluctantly down the inside of a rocks glass. Many of us carve some sense of home into this rock. Maybe it’s the sea, maybe it’s the dark. Maybe it’s the aniseed.

Everybody Seems to be Eating Brains These Days

Apr.17.17

Everybody Seems to be Eating Brains These Days

by Evangeline Neve

Chhang in Patan

It was mid-afternoon, and we were gathered in one of the many nooks and crannies in the science laboratory where my boyfriend works, discussing what to do for Trevor’s goodbye. He’d been interning at the lab here in Kathmandu for several months now, and his flight was leaving just after 11 p.m. that night.

We tossed around ideas, some outlandish and others less so, but all tempered by the fact that he did, in fact, have a flight to catch. Interesting places were mentioned, cool bars suggested. Trevor was having none of it. “I want chhang,” he insisted.

So it was that five of us packed into a small car and headed into the back alleys of old Patan, just over the river from Kathmandu and one of the valley’s ancient three kingdoms. Experienced local foodie Raj led us through a maze of alleys in the falling darkness until we reached a door, and a restaurant.

Within minutes a plastic jug—the cleanliness of which certainly wouldn’t hold up to close scrutiny—landed on our table, filled with chhang. Metal bowls were placed in front of each of us, to be topped up at our leisure. Chhang is sometimes called Tibetan beer or sherpa beer, but in my opinion, that’s a bit of a misnomer. It’s a cloudy brew, sometimes thick with particles from the grain that birthed it, usually rice, and it can run the gamut from vinegary to sweet, carbonated to watery, and anything in between. It’s always homemade, and therefore not standardized. It’s also not highly alcoholic—usually, but who knows?—which means you can quaff large quantities.

We filled and re-filled each other’s bowls, and were soon enjoying the stream of local drinking snacks Raj had selected: creamy brain chunks, fried fish, spicy buffalo meat sekuwa (a local BBQ), and a plate filled with offal of an indeterminate nature.

Another plastic jug of chhang was ordered and duly dispatched, as the volume of our cheerful group rose to an embarrassing volume. I looked around apologetically at the locals who filled the other tables, cheerful and red-faced, to apologize for being those loud foreigners that I always make such an effort not to be. However, instead of being bothered, they were instead highly amused—clearly we were a great source of entertainment on a usually predictable Monday evening at the local watering hole. We nodded and smiled at them, and they laughed with us as Trevor—who had already expressed his distaste for eggs—tried the brains and proclaimed, unhappily, “They taste just like eggs!”

We turned down the suggestion of a third installment of chhang and finally headed into the night, filled with chhang and not a little tipsy, to make sure Trevor made his flight on time.

If you have to leave Nepal, I can’t think of a better sendoff.

Ordering the Wrong Drink at Al Capone’s Favorite Bar

Apr.13.17

Ordering the Wrong Drink at Al Capone’s Favorite Bar

by Anna Hiatt

Gin and tonic in Chicago

Al Capone drank here, back when Prohibition made liquor trafficking a risky and highly profitable business, best handled by mobsters. The Green Mill was a speakeasy, one of Chicago’s many. Capone did a damn good job keeping the city, and his favorite bar, wet.

The waitress came around, one of those petite servers you wouldn’t want to meet in a darkened alley. She carried a crammed tray of drinks and asked in the clipped, perfect way that bar servers do what we wanted. On the tip of my tongue was gin and tonic, and not wanting to upset the balancing act that was her shift, I went with it. I didn’t know until after our last round that Templeton rye had been Capone’s favorite.

The Green Mill’s walls are decked with blah landscapes. I sipped my gin and tonic and looked for anything remarkable about the art while we waited for the show, called Paper Machete, to begin. Rococo, my stepdad said of the ornate frames. I countered: mob-inspired rococo. By the looks of it, a table in the same aesthetic would shield you well in a throw-down gun battle, if you had the strength to flip it.

Paper Machete’s MC and self-proclaimed “empress and impresario” welcomed the Saturday afternoon drinking crowd. His ears were studded with diamonds. He was lean, lithe, bald, and utterly fantastic. Looking at him, you couldn’t help but smile. He arched his back and thrust his chest skyward as he belted out the afternoon’s rundown. This was the place to fight off a case of the gloomies.

Wholly unaware of what was about to happen, I imagined Moulin Rouge without the sex, plus millennials, puppets, and a possible hat tip to Capone.

Comedians from Chicago and New York, a journalist from the Chicago Reader, and a cabaret singer who crooned about living in Brooklyn rent free because he AirBnb’d his second bedroom every night got the crowd belly laughing. The millennials who performed were, true to form, rich with self-hate.

Intermission and the gin was wearing off. The server was preoccupied, winding ceaselessly between closely packed tables and booths on the other side of the room. I popped up and shimmied to the bar. Not an unnecessary word between the bartender and me: Gin and tonic and house rye, rocks. This was professional; this was the rush. In Chicago, I imagine this is what they’d call a packed bar.

A drunken couple nuzzled and made everyone around them violently ill in the booth across from us. They drank rounds of Manhattans and talked loudly, drawing hostile stares during the puppet’s food review of gummy bears.

The fun was over, my drink was gone. Back on the street on a dreary Chicago day. I kicked myself later for not having ordered Templeton rye.

A Syrupy Toast to Calcutta’s Revolutionaries

Apr.12.17

A Syrupy Toast to Calcutta’s Revolutionaries

by Shirin Mehrotra

Sherbet in Calcutta

The sun has just set when I reach Paramount Sherbet and Syrups on College Road with a friend who is graciously taking me around for a food walk through north Calcutta. I get a dose of history as I eat my way through some iconic places: a 172-year-old sweet shop, and a snack shop that was a favorite of famed Indian nationalist Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

Calcutta is a paradise for history lovers. Every corner of the city has a story to tell. When the British made the city their capital, they set up their residences and offices in central Calcutta, naming it “White Town”. Indians were pushed down to the northern part of the city. North Calcutta, specifically the area around Presidency College, became the hub of India’s freedom struggle. Freedom fighters and revolutionaries couldn’t meet in public. And so, to facilitate unhindered meetings, Nihar Ranjan Majumdar (a freedom fighter himself) opened Paradise in 1918.

On the face of it, Paradise was a small shop selling sherbet—a drink made from fruit or flower petals—but at the back, there was a hideout where freedom fighters and young revolutionaries would meet to discuss their strategies and plans. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose became a regular here, and his favorite chair still has a place of pride at the owners’ house. The shop was eventually renamed Paramount.

The daber sherbet—a concoction of coconut water, syrup, coconut pulp and ice—is the signature drink here, and has an interesting story.

“The founder of Bengal Chemicals, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, gave the recipe of this sherbet to my father, since it was affordable for students and highly nutritious,” says Mrigendra Majumdar, the 72-year-old son of the shop’s founder. The menu has grown over the years, adding fruit and chocolate shakes, but the daber sherbet remains the bestseller, and it’s a perfect cooler on a hot humid day. The new addition, imli—a tangy and sweet drink of tamarind—is equally refreshing.

I gulp down two glasses of daber sherbet as I listen to these stories and soak in the pre-independence vibes. The marble-top tables, wooden chairs, and antlers on the wall are the same as they always were. A board near the counter lists the the names of those who have visited the shop, a Who’s Who of Indian politics, literature, and art: Satyajit Ray, Dr. CV Raman, Arundhati Roy.

I leave the place completely fueled up for the rest of the walk, but not before promising to come back soon for another round of sherbet and more stories.

A Moderately Crisp Lager, With Just a Hint of Old Eggs

Apr.11.17

A Moderately Crisp Lager, With Just a Hint of Old Eggs

by Brian Petit

Kubuli in Dominica

There we were, my wife and I, reading the menu at one of the few restaurants open on a Sunday night in Roseau, Dominica. It was an opportunity to try the local beer. Those initial sips of Kubuli revealed a moderately crisp lager with an unexpected flavor—more funky than skunky—that I couldn’t place.

Dominica is known as the Nature Island, and nature’s dial was cranked to 11 the following day: a trough system arrived, bringing river-swelling, road-swamping storms. We wandered Roseau in the rain, shopping for produce at the market, and ducked into the tourism office. The crisply dressed woman on duty recommended against visiting waterfalls or other mountain destinations.

Desperate to explore, we headed to the sulfur springs outside of Soufriere village. Groundwater is pushed to the surface there by geothermal activity–heated, mineralized, smelling of old eggs. We entered the grounds to see a group standing near a rectangular pool. Two older women stepped gingerly into the steaming water. We chatted about the springs’ restorative powers before walking up the hill to the smaller pools. The rain resumed and we stashed our bags under overhanging rocks.

The warm, rust-colored water felt incredible in the cool, dark air of the forest. Ferns covered the ground and danced under the falling drops sent down from tall trees. We moved from pool to pool and the one at the bottom was the warmest of all, hot really. The group had left and we were the only people in sight. Frogs whistled in the premature dusk.

We pulled over at a roadside bar on the way back to town. I ordered a Kubuli and a Mackeson stout just before the bartender closed. Last call on a rain day. We sat on the seawall out back and watched the grey-green Caribbean. Frigatebirds flew overhead and looked for fish below.

By nightfall, Roseau was flooding. A tall man walked along a road wearing a blocky orange life vest over a long yellow slicker. In the Pottersville neighborhood, we walked a few doors down from our rental house to a small bar. The crowd on the porch watched the street and the rain. We squeezed inside and a woman followed to take our orders.

She introduced herself as Shirley and, when I ordered a Guinness, mentioned that the Kubulis were three for 10 East Caribbean dollars (about $4 USD). I liked the math and appreciated her hospitality. She told us about her love of Poughkeepsie in New York. We told her about our visit to the sulfur springs.

“Can’t you smell us?” I joked—and then I finally realized what Kubuli tastes like.

The sound system was blasting bouyon music and Shirley and I danced amicably in the narrow space. I drank one beer and took the others to go, bagged in the type of clear plastic the vendor at the market had used to package our oranges.

The sun eventually emerged and our final meal on the island was pitch perfect: curry chicken, red beans, plantains, ground provisions, salad. We chased it with two bottles of Kubuli, the kiss of sulfur kind of odd and completely delicious. It tastes like a volcanic island in the Caribbean.

When You Don’t Want the Day to End, Keep Driving

Apr.10.17

When You Don’t Want the Day to End, Keep Driving

by Rachael Martin

Cañas in Almería

It was five o’clock in the afternoon and while some were already drinking cocktails, we were sitting in a bar drinking cañas, small glasses of ice cold pilsner beer, on a street of low-roofed buildings leading up to the Alcazaba, the huge Moorish fortress that dominates the city. It was one of those typical Andalusian bars with tiles that reached halfway up the walls and a sign above the door reading tapas y raciones, or snacks and meals. It had small windows that were shaded by wrought iron grilles. There were a few plastic chairs and tables outside on a rather scruffy sidewalk.

Most people had fled indoors for a couple of hours’ siesta and it would be another hour at least before they came out again. In the meantime, it was just us, the owner, and a few youths playing video games and slot machines.

I don’t remember what beer it was exactly, Victoria from Malaga, or maybe it was Alhambra from Granada, typical local beers that are served with tapas, fish by the coast or sometimes a plate of simple olives. It went down smoothly, icy cold in contrast the heat.

We’d set off that morning with a vague intention of having lunch in the Alpujarras region, and we did, outside Bar Los Cazadores in a small village named Albondón. They served us the typical plato alpujarreño, a robust dish of fried eggs, fried potatoes, chorizo and morcilla, a sausage made from pig’s blood. It was one of those days that you don’t want to end, so we chose not to let it and kept driving, and ended up near Almería.

We took a detour to Las Salinas near Roquetas de Mar, with its long sandy beach with the obligatory camper van parked up along the edge. It should have been beautiful but was somewhat marred by scattered rubbish.

We continued along the coastal road carved into the mountain, round the corner and there it was: Almería, gateway to Africa with its cranes and mountains of salt. There was the ferry waiting to go. And where would it go? To North Africa: to Melilla, Nador, or maybe Al Hoceima.

That’s how we ended up with a couple of cañas and a now empty dish of olives in a bar in the middle of Almería under the shadow of the Alcazaba.

The owner was clearing away the remnants of the late Spanish lunch and was now wiping a cloth along the glass fridge filled with the usual tapas, including meatballs and a few clams. He served us more cañas and another dish of olives. They say that the tradition of tapas began as a way to ward off the flies. Put a plate of something on top and the beer is safe.

Time seemed to take on an almost eerie stillness. Or maybe that was just the heat.

Drinking Whiskey All Day Is Harder Than It Looks

Apr.07.17

Drinking Whiskey All Day Is Harder Than It Looks

by Jake Emen

Whiskey in Tiburon, California

Judging a spirits competition is hard work. Generally speaking, your friends and family don’t want to hear that, but drinking whiskey all day is an extremely challenging job. No, really, it is. I swear.

You better fill your belly with an early breakfast, because come 9 a.m., the drinking begins. It’s a damn good thing that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, too, because even the biggest brunch enthusiast out there has to perform some mental trickery to intelligently tackle this task. You’re not indulging in a few rounds of Bloody Marys or mimosas, as social decorum would suggest are acceptable morning libations. No, you’re drinking whisky. A flight of whiskeys. Eight or nine of them lined up in a row.

And they just. Keep. Coming. Before lunch, our table has churned through a handful of flights and dozens of whiskeys, and we’ve been the stragglers. We’ve only finished the first half of the first day of a four-day judging event, and after a quick lunch, it’s right back to the judging table for several dozen more spirits. We’ll clock out at 5 p.m., or really 6 or 7 p.m. because we’re taking too long—and then we’ll probably go to the bar for a beer to unwind from all of that drinking. Does that make sense? It does to us.

It’s a strenuous task, and your mind, palate, and liver will all become fatigued. You have to carefully score, judge, and critique each spirit you taste. You don’t know what they are, as you’re judging them blind, so your sensory skills better not have hit the snooze button. And you need to keep your wits about you and avoid getting plastered, too. So get acquainted with that spit bucket on the table, and be prepared to eat more plain crackers than you can count, serving as both mid-flight sustenance and palate cleansers.

Listen, I get it, I know—you don’t want to hear about it. It doesn’t sound difficult to you at all, and you’d quickly trade your spot at the quarterly sales meeting and PowerPoint bonanza for a seat the judge’s table, palate fatigue be damned. I’m not complaining and I’m certainly not seeking any sympathy, I’m just saying, it’s harder than it seems, alright? It was a four-day marathon that would push anybody to the brink. It may have been a labor of love, but it was also a professional undertaking, and truly, an exhausting grind.

So would I do it again, is that what you’re asking? Hell yes I would do it again, are you kidding me? I got to drink whiskey all day!

Let’s Drink to the Oldest Elevator in Egypt

Apr.06.17

Let’s Drink to the Oldest Elevator in Egypt

by Andrea Valentino

Wine in Cairo

Some people come to The Windsor just for the elevator. It’s the oldest in Egypt. A brass sign, in French, tells guests to ask the concierge for help. The staff helped secure the door, camouflaged as a rusty grill. This calmed me, slightly. But as we set off, the whole thing lolled and wheezed, like a cranky great aunt.

The whole hotel, founded in 1893, looks like this. You exit the elevator into a large, dim room with dusty posters on the wall. They show an Egypt of free drinking and short skirts. There is a wooden floor, the color of dark chocolate. Converted wine barrels serve as chairs. Lamps with fussy upturned shades provide most of the light: the Cairo streets below are blocked by thick curtains. As I arrived, the barman flapped a dozy hand and ignored my request for a menu.

I didn’t mind. Even when it isn’t Ramadan, Cairo can keep you thirsty. There are few bars, and most are like this one: tatty and sad. Tipplers prefer ordering alcohol delivered straight to their apartments. It gets dropped off in black plastic bags by shy men in motorcycle helmets. At least drinking at The Windsor has pedigree. Winston Churchill stayed here, and it used to be the British officers’ mess. Then, they probably imported claret. I settled for the local wine. The white was fine. The red wasn’t: it grated, like drinking egg shells. The whisky was even worse.

This is understandable. Egypt’s drinking culture barely holds on. Bars sometimes refuse to serve people with Muslim identity cards, even if they are not practicing. Shops selling beer are sometimes attacked. Egypt’s Christians are banned from buying alcohol during Ramadan. Not that most of them would ever drink in public anyway. In January, a Christian had his throat sliced for selling liquor in Alexandria.

The barman finally decided to pay attention. He claimed he had served beers to the British, before Nasser’s coup in 1952. His white hair and curved back made him seem old enough, like everything else at The Windsor.

Anyway, he was too old to understand credit: when I tried to pay by card, he howled, in dialect and English. “I can’t do this!” He could, really, but would need to pay tax. He recoiled behind the counter and ignored me as I left. Outside, I glanced at the elevator, but decided to walk instead.


Photo by: Gaynor Barton

Love Means Having to Share the Last Piece of Fried Pork Skin

Apr.05.17

Love Means Having to Share the Last Piece of Fried Pork Skin

by Efraín Villanueva

Refajo in La Calera

It’s our last day in Bogotá. We’re driving out of town to La Calera with my little sister and her husband. Yes, I still refer to her as my little sister. It doesn’t make a difference to me that she’s married and two years older than my girlfriend.

As we go up to the hills, I catch a view of the city. So fucking big, I think. From up here, it doesn’t look that bad. It is beautiful.

As a child, I visited Bogotá on vacation a few times. I moved here to go to college when I was 16. Despite a very long first semester of miserable homesickness, obligatory for a mama’s boy, I was mainly amazed in those early months. So much was happening in the city. There were mimes and clowns in the streets trying to make the city a better, healthier, more secure place to live by educating people on taking care of each other. A new bus system was under construction, promising to improve the traffic chaos.

Teachers, doctors, students, union members, and any type of workers took their complaints right to the president’s house, peacefully but forcefully. A sense of progress dominated the city around the turn of the century, and I learned that there were two Colombias: Bogotá and the rest of the country.

But nice things don’t last long here. Over the years, the capital’s bright future descended into a string of corruption scandals, insufferable traffic jams, and insecure streets. It is still a great city, the place to be, the city that offers more opportunities. You can live a good life here. But I will dispute anyone who claims that it can also be a happy life.

As we enter La Calera, my girlfriend, Sabeth, asks me what those things on top of some houses are. “What things?”

She points to the water tank on the roof of a yellow, one-story house. I laugh out loud. My sister and her husband do too when I translate for them. We’re not mocking her. It just never occurred to us that keeping a water reserve when you know the water system is not a 100 percent reliable is not a worldwide thing.

We finally get to El Tambor, a countryside restaurant, where we take a seat on some tree logs in the big garden. We order a parrillada with everything (chicken, beef, pork, chorizo, chicharrón, chunchullo, morcilla, longaniza, arepas, guacamole, yucca, potatoes, hogao, suero) and drink refajo, beer mixed with sweet, red soda.

I eat and drink knowing how much I will miss Colombian food once we return to Germany. I start feeling bad for having spent only one week in Bogotá, the place I called home for almost 17 years. I grab the last piece of chicharrón, my favorite. Sabeth looks at me and her smile reminds me that it is her favorite, too. I’m not sure if I want to give it away.

Don’t Underestimate the Refreshing Properties of Churned Cream

Apr.04.17

Don’t Underestimate the Refreshing Properties of Churned Cream

by Ranjini Rao

Buttermilk in Coimbatore

The raging heat at the onset of summer in Tamil Nadu was a clear sign that the worst was yet to come. There was no rain in sight, and the only saving grace in the magnificent campus of the Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore was its green canopy, even though the thick, sultry air was stifling most of the time. Cold showers were barely helpful, and even though the air-conditioned interiors of the simple cottage rooms seemed like the best refuge, we spent most of our time exploring the campus.

After having spent a couple of days there, we had become quite well-acquainted with the abundance of fauna (and flora) at every bend. Water snakes coiling and shimmying around the lotus pond, cats meowing and purring from behind brick-tiled compound walls, insects and crawlies of all ilk and order slithering underfoot—all on their own, doing their own thing. The cowshed was different. There was order there: milk being sorted and carried away in traditional receptacles, the immaculate cleaning and clearing of dung, which was in turn used to make manure. The indigenous cows and calves seemed people-friendly, visibly well cared for and happy.

On day three, at 5 o’clock, it was still just as muggy as it had been at lunch hour, when we were quietly worming our way past the cow shed after a visit to the Isha home school. We were headed to the Pepper Vine Café for tea and a snack, more by habit than by choice. But under a gazebo just a few yards ahead, a crowd was gathering in front of two volunteers with big earthen pots, dispensing some kind of drink.

Curious, we went closer and learnt that it was mor, or buttermilk: not the kind made from watering down thick yogurt, but rather, the remnants from churning big batches of butter from fresh, thick, milk cream. A closer look only roused a sense of mild aversion—the stuff in the pots was far from appetizing. It was a pale, diluted liquid, with little knots of cream floating about like unwanted dregs.

My husband, meanwhile, had crept ahead, gulped down a full glass and was in line for another, oblivious of his creamy mustache. We made eye contact for all of ten seconds and he seemed to convey that it was heavenly. I inched in gingerly, got a glass of it, and took a little sip, then another. It was a moment of inexplicable joy, in which I felt at once refreshed and reinvigorated. The hot sun streaming down onto my skin, and this marvelous, earthy drink that was flavored just so with salt and hints of ginger cooling my insides. I had forgotten all about the hot tea and deep fried vadas at Pepper Vine.

When the volunteer caught my animated expression, he knew better than to ask if I was up for some more and graciously offered a second serving. I had many more servings during my stay there—every evening—and the prospect of a hot caffeinated drink in the summer hasn’t appealed much since, regardless of where I am.

A Wine Bar for People Who Only Drink Soda

Apr.03.17

A Wine Bar for People Who Only Drink Soda

by Mel Plant

Soda in Istanbul

After three and a half years of living in Turkey on and off, it seemed as though lively, uninterrupted, and peaceful demonstrations had become a thing of the past, particularly after the violent police response to the 2013 Gezi Park protests.

But on March 8th—International Women’s Day—people flooded the street, dancing, drumming, banging on construction fences. We marched, too, down Istiklal Avenue in Istanbul’s central Taksim district. I didn’t see a single look of fear flash across any face. It went off without a hitch, untouched by the ever-increasing police presence.

All the shouting left my friend and I hungry and parched. After heading for a quick Adana kebab, we set off for a drink. I associate Taksim with long nights spent sipping beer and chatting, so I was looking for something alcoholic. However, my friend preferred a quiet cup of tea. It was the middle of the work week, after all.

We ended up with a compromise of sorts, at the cosy Avam Café. Covered in old movie posters, photographs, and paintings, it looks like a hoarder’s living room. What makes it unusual in the ranks of Istanbul’s hip, radical, and slightly overpriced cafés is the fact it doubles as a bar—for soda pop.

Since I first came to Turkey, I’ve nursed an addiction to Turkish sodas, and at Avam Café—with 31 options—I was spoiled for choice. Their menu gives each soda variety a history and place of origin, much like a wine menu.

In the early 20th century, Turkish companies started producing soda pop in little glass bottles. As Coca Cola and other America soft drinks came into Turkey, the number of domestic companies and flavors grew, as each vied to carve out a piece of the market share. Now, most shops might only stock a couple of brands, but tend to have a generous selection of flavors, ranging from sour cherry to pomegranate to standard lemon. Avam Café, however, searches the country for even the smallest producers, collecting all of Turkey’s soda bounty in one place. (Its penchant for nostalgic decor extends to the bathrooms, where the soap dispensers are old soda bottles.)

Raspberry sodas dominate the menu at Avam. A few brands, like lemon-ginger flavored Beyoglu soda (since 1890) are found all over Turkey. Others are more obscure. Some brands, like the sweet raspberry-flavored Elvan soda from Sanliurfa, date back to the 1970s or earlier but fell out of production—although in the last few years, some of these neglected sodas have been relaunched, capitalizing on people’s appetite for something a little nostalgic and very sweet.

This time, I settled on he banana-raspberry-lemon flavored Bade soda, made in Adana since 1928. It delivered the chilled, fizzy satisfaction of beer, but without the threat of a hangover.

Searching for the Hungary I Loved in the Budapest of Today

Mar.31.17

Searching for the Hungary I Loved in the Budapest of Today

by Ryan Andrej Lough

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Pálinka in Magyarország

Budapest. Late March, early evening. I return to the circus of the U.S. tomorrow. I spent most of the day on an industrial island of post-Soviet ruin, soaking up the rays on the sandy shores of the Danube. It’s been unseasonably warm, but that’s become common in our epoch. The warm sun pairs well with cold beer when you’re trying to slow time. As the sun began to dip, a sense of natural progression leads to a bar.

I’m in the city’s 13th kerület, or district, recounting the last week here over a tall, cool Pésci and a side of meggy pálinka, a sour cherry brandy. We’re at a dingy basement haunt I know well, Dongó. The two libations combined are still under 800 Hungarian forint at this joint. That’s less than five bucks for a half-liter of beer and a shot; an upside to Budapest that always brings a little joy.

Except for the prices, this basement haunt has changed considerably since I last visited, in August 2015. For many years, Dongó had been a haven: for the city’s literary types, socialist thinkers, musicians of the more classical ilk, and all those who sought refuge from a confusing world over a few fairly cold beers. Now, however, that intellectual and quasi-socialist spirit seems to have left. In 2017, the outspoken nationalist and nativist-leaning conversations of Dongó’s clientele fill the air, and there is a slight sense of unease. Throughout my last week in Hungary, I’ve noticed this shift, most pronounced within the confines of drinking and eating establishments, which, in my opinion, is where you find the beating heart of most societies.

I lived in Budapest for several months in 2015 while working on a film. I fell in love with the city, and the country, for all that it was, and is: a territory that has been consistently reshaped, physically and culturally, by several different empires and influences over the span of millennia. I tried to obtain a residency permit to stay. It was a 90-day process, but two weeks before it was finalized and I could call Budapest home, my visa processing was suspended indefinitely. Not because of my status, but because in August 2015, the flow of incoming refugees was seen as a crisis by the Hungarian government, and so anyone attempting to enter Hungary was denied official entry unless the person was of Hungarian origin. I was forced to leave immediately, as I had overstayed my time in the Schengen Area in order to complete the residency permit process.

I had the good fortune of having a country to return to at that time. Many others—the refugees that were attempting to enter the country, many from Syria—did not have this good fortune. As I was departing Budapest during the thick of the migrant influx in Europe, I witnessed the physical quarantine of refugees and migrants that the government had been rounding up. These humans, these families, were left to bake in the heat without water on the hot August asphalt near the central train station. This was the first time I really took notice of the current Hungarian administration’s policies.

Hungary has long been a battleground between eastern and western ideologies, and in many ways it still is. The monumental ruins, structures, and façades of empires past, grayed and cracked from time, give a sense of where Budapest, Pécs, and the other great Hungarian cities once stood within the world’s societal pecking order. Soviet monuments litter the country, in villages and urban centers, reminding many of the transitional and turbulent occupation during the Cold War. Despite the tumult, the Hungarian spirit persists. It’s a tough, resilient core, coated by a sour, humorously pessimistic shell, motivated by a need to retain a sense of cultural identity in a land that always seems to be shrinking. This uniquely Hungarian persona is charming, and it’s hard not to fall in love with an underdog. However, the party in power, Fidesz, and the current (and only) rival party, the ultra far-right Jobbik, have shamelessly used this need for a cohesive cultural identity while exploiting chinks in the social armor, and have ruled for the last several years with autocratic policies under the guise of making Hungary great again.

I asked several Hungarian citizens what they thought of the current political climate, both young, progressive intellectuals, and the more nationalist, nativist types that prefer a conservative approach. Many people from across the spectrum told me that they are worried about the influx of Muslim migrants because they don’t share Hungary’s western cultural values, specifically gender equality and gay rights. Others stated that unless Hungary focuses on helping Hungarians, the country’s economic and cultural influence will be perpetually stymied by outside influence and manipulation. But many other responses to my inquiries were barely responses at all: nothing to offer, or no interest in the details. How has an intellectual center of Europe become so willingly disassociated and ambivalent to their government’s actions? Even as the Hungarian government is setting up border prisons and rounding up “illegals” in a Gestapo-like manner, many citizens seem unaware or uninterested. As I prodded deeper, it became clear that a disproportionate percentage of Hungarians are unaware of what their government is doing.

Throughout the week, I traveled out of the city to neighboring towns. From the window of trains, as the concrete turned to foliage, I noticed a society crumbling into economic despair, a market slowly crumbling since the fall of Communism. I saw ramshackle villages and rusted out and abandoned industrial zones. Nationalism was fervent in these areas. Roma people are ghettoized as outsiders on the fringes of the cities and towns, and the “native citizens” commonly fly the flag of the old Hungarian Empire as a show of support for Hungarian Unity. Some municipal signage in these villages outside of city centers is written in the old runic Magyar language, legible only to Hungarians who proudly and actively support far-right nationalist traditions. One thing was clear to me in these towns: this rural population either does not know of or is not concerned by the allegations of autocracy being lobbied at the current government, or the criticism levelled at the nation’s reactionary response to the refugee crisis.

Over the last few years, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government and his political party, Fidesz, has absorbed or gained control of all Hungarian media. And the Hungarian media reports only propaganda that benefits the Fidesz government. There is no Hungarian coverage on the border camps, the immigrant beatings, the human rights atrocities, or the other authoritarian actions committed and enacted by the government. Several publications from around the globe cover these stories, when they can gain access or find a trusted lead, but that is becoming rare in a time where the Orbán government and its allies have strangled the media with an iron fist. These stories covered by large, reputable publications can be found as front-page news throughout the world, but not in Hungary. While I’ve been in Hungary, as the news of the border camps and the inhumane treatment and reports of tortuous methods employed by the guards within these camps are leaking out, I couldn’t find any information without searching five or six pages deep in Google search, and that only when using carefully selected key words. When using a Hungarian internet connection, typing “current news in Hungary” or something similar into any search engine produces only saccharin, weightless, feel-good blurbs and Hungarian national unity puff-pieces. There is absolutely no coverage from external sources if the stories casts any question about the policies of the current administration. Orbán, for a time, has succeeded in controlling the media and creating an uninformed and confused society.

There is a rising political and cultural counterbalance. Another political party, Momentum, has sprung up in Hungary in recent months. Momentum is a grassroots political party, started in a dingy basement by young activists weary of the authoritarian practices that have dominated the Hungarian parliament since the Soviet era. Their policies and agenda are an obvious rebuke to the Orbán regime, and they have gained a considerable following in the last few months throughout the country. Given the tight control of the media by Fidesz, Momentum spreads their information through social media: Facebook, Twitter, and smaller alternative news sites like the Budapest Beacon. For many in Budapest, and the whole of Hungary, Momentum brings hope. The wariness that most Hungarians carry as a badge of honor, however, doesn’t allow this hope to rapidly foment into rabid fervor. Instead, it’s a slow build. Something to keep an eye on. Additionally, assistance-related and fact-based sites, like Migszol, have begun popping up in Hungary in recent months, attempting to bring attention to the authoritarian practices of the Orbán regime, and providing information to a population that may be unaware of what’s happening behind the scenes, a common occurrence in areas outside large urban centers.

Things change, obviously, and we’re all a part of that change. This basement tavern isn’t as interesting to me as it once was. Maybe I was a bit foolish to expect that this place would’ve retained the same charm and character after nearly two years away. I’m going to head over to the outer neighborhood of the 8th kerület, known for its large population of Roma people, lower-income creative types, and young thinkers, and an exceptional café known as Csiga. My former neighborhood. It’s a dear friend’s birthday tonight, and we’re due to have a few more drinks in good company before I leave this confusing, pessimistic, wondrous, and beautiful city again. But certainly not for the last time.

Tried Every Whisky in the World? Start on Rum.

Mar.30.17

Tried Every Whisky in the World? Start on Rum.

by Jake Emen

Rum in Barbados

“Whole day we drinkin’, and we don’t need no chaser! Rum in our system, I’m a professional drinker!”

So sings Ricardo Drue in his impossibly addictive Bajan soca tune, dubbed “Professional.” Listen to the radio in Barbados and the song is likely to pop up just about every 30 minutes, and if that doesn’t get you in the mood to enjoy a couple of rums, well then, my friends, you’re lost and without hope.

The island of Barbados has roughly 280,000 residents, and across its 167 square miles of land there are approximately 1,800 rum shops. I’ll let you handle the math on that, but suffice it to say that they are ubiquitous, and an absolutely integral part of Bajan culture and lifestyle.

Really, they are the island’s take on the neighborhood Irish pub. It’s where you and your family and your friends and your neighbors all get together, day after day, to breezily pass away a few hours in the afternoon or evening. Share the latest gossip and tell a few stories, share a few drinks and even more laughs.

In concept, the rum shop straddles a line between bar and dispensary. There’s plenty of booze to be had, but there’s nobody really mixing up drinks for you. Instead, the system is simple and streamlined. Just buy your choice of bottle and a couple of mixers to go along with it, bring it back to your table with some plastic cups and a bucket of ice. You wouldn’t go wrong with Mount Gay Black Barrel or Mount Gay Eclipse as your selected bottle du jour.

With thousands of rum shops, names are a bit scarce, so they carry titles in true, face-smackingly obvious Bajan fashion. It’s either the owner’s name—John Moore’s or Judy’s—its place—The Beach Bar or The Beach Shack—or most wonderfully, an aesthetic feature—Doorless, as in, the place has no doors.

Barbados is where rum is thought to have first came to life some four centuries ago, and today there are several rum distilleries on the island, with the aforementioned Mount Gay being the most widely known. They run community initiatives and host team-building exercises where they send out their staff to clean up and paint rum shops, along with other neighborhood areas which may be in need of rejuvenation.

For the rum shops, they adorn the exterior and interior walls with their imagery and slogans, in the same signature style that can be found at their visitor’s center in Bridgetown. In other words, the brand is everywhere, making for a cohesive decor theme across the island, as well as a blurry line between where official Mount Gay territory ends and the rest of Barbados begins.

Regardless of which rum shop you’re in or which rum you’re drinking, we’re told there’s one important rule you must abide by—once a bottle has been opened, it has to be finished before you can leave. The legitimacy of the rule may be questioned, but most seem to take to the task seriously enough, and you certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone, would you? After all, we’re all professionals here.

Don’t Let a Little Thing Like the Law Stop You From Opening Your Dream Mezcal Bar

Mar.29.17

Don’t Let a Little Thing Like the Law Stop You From Opening Your Dream Mezcal Bar

by Jackie Bryant

Mezcal in Guatemala

Even in daylight, candles are necessary at Café No Se. The bar is a bit of a vortex: a dingy-yet-charming cave with no natural light in Antigua, Guatemala. Following the path of Café No Se’s several windowless rooms and through a crawlspace door will eventually deposit the adventurer at yet another bar, where they serve only mezcal. In this room, I met with John Rexer, head honcho of not just the bar, but his own mezcal brand.

Yes, mezcal is still made in Oaxaca, Mexico, and not in Guatemala. And no, John Rexer is from neither. He’s originally from New York and migrated to Antigua around 2003, penniless and disillusioned with America and its politics after 9/11. Soon after arriving, he ducked into a closed-up doorway with a “for rent” sign during a rainstorm and subsequently found himself the new proprietor of an agave spirits bar. The only problem was that there were no agave spirits to be had in Guatemala and mezcal, Rexer’s elixir of choice, wasn’t yet legal for exportation out of Mexico.

Not one to be inconvenienced by technicalities such as laws, Rexer began a complex “creative importing” scheme from Oaxaca to Antigua that involved subverting borders, piloting moonlit barges down the Suchiate River, and occasionally dressing like a priest in order to get mezcal into Guatemala. Because of his efforts, Café No Se grew into a well-stocked staple of the city and Rexer, a local fixture.

When mezcal became available for legal export in 2006, Rexer and his consortium of mezcaleros in Oaxaca were ready. The brand name was obvious: Ilegal Mezcal. Now one of the largest producers out of Oaxaca, they promote sustainable economic and environmental practices. Ilegal also manages a socially-progressive marketing campaign in the United States, focused on combating Donald Trump and his policies. In particular, Ilegal donates proceeds from sales of its “Donald eres un pendejo” T-shirts to Planned Parenthood, the ALCU, and other organizations.

Antigua, Guatemala is a strange place. An idyllic-looking town under the shadow of three active volcanoes, it’s become a magnet for do-gooder and shady gringos alike, both of whom are in this impoverished and complicated country either running towards or from something. Most usually end up at Cafe No Se at one point or another—sometimes they’re carrying guns, and often they’ve had a lot to drink.

As we closed in on mezcal shot number five, sipped out of a candle votive identical to those lighting our corner of the bar, we were getting to that point in the conversation where one ponders the meaning of life and the future of humanity. Rexer and I recalled that not only were we from the same town originally, but we had attended the same Catholic high school, though 15-20 years apart. And here we were, clinking glasses of Mexican agave juice in Antigua, Guatemala.

The Fine Art of Quietly Whiling Away An Afternoon With a Few Cold Ones

Mar.28.17

The Fine Art of Quietly Whiling Away An Afternoon With a Few Cold Ones

by Michael Tatarski

Beer in Cu Lac

Drinking in Vietnam is often a raucous affair. The nouveau riche head to flashy, deafeningly loud beer clubs to drink imported brews until they vomit, while older generations prefer to sit on plastic chairs on the sidewalk and joyously drink case after case of local lagers. The fine art of quietly whiling away a beautiful afternoon with a few cold ones hasn’t quite caught on yet.

Bomb Crater Bar, in the tiny village of Cu Lac in Quang Binh Province, offers just that. This region of central Vietnam was flattened by the U.S. military during the war, and even today it’s hard not to notice the remnants of the relentless carpet-bombing.

The bar sits between two such reminders: broad craters created by 2,000-pound bombs aimed at a fuel depot in 1971. But now, the area is peaceful. A cool breeze whispers through bamboo trees, water buffalo graze, and the placid Son River flows gently by.

Local residents Nguyen Thi Ngoc and Dinh Anh Tuan own Bomb Crater Bar. Up until last year the land it sits on was unused, and the couple decided the location was perfect for tourists in need of a cool drink during Quang Binh’s scorching summers.

They enlisted Lesley Arnold and Mark Heather, expats who have lived in a neighboring town for three years, to help create a watering hole. Bomb Crater Bar opened last July, and severe flooding forced it to close for six months starting in September. Ngoc and Tuan only reopened it in early March, while Arnold and Heather serve as freelance bartenders and expert storytellers.

The bar isn’t trying to exploit the area’s past; the craters just happen to be there. “We wanted something that respects the history of the area but also embraces where we are now, which is really about tourism,” says Arnold. The nearby town of Phong Nha is the epicenter of the province’s booming cave tours, focused on Son Doong, the largest cave in the world.

The setup is bare-bones, with a thatched roof covering the bar and a few seats. The drinks menu is compact, but Arnold hopes to get a craft brewer from Saigon to begin shipments at some point.

One doesn’t visit Bomb Crater Bar for a wide range of booze, however. The setting, especially for someone used to the nonstop insanity of Saigon, is unbeatable. Traffic on the old French highway which runs past the bar is light, and the view across the Son is gorgeous; a postcard-worthy vista of rice paddies, low mountains, and tiny hamlets.

Far away from the outrageous beer clubs of Vietnam’s major cities, Bomb Crater Bar allows one to nurse a cold bottle of Huda, brewed in the old imperial capital of Hue, and talk for hours while the river flows quietly by.

All Cold Remedies Are Lies But At Least In Ireland You Get Whisky

Mar.27.17

All Cold Remedies Are Lies But At Least In Ireland You Get Whisky

by Dave Hazzan

Hot whiskey in Kilkenny

As incurable diseases go, the common cold is particularly odd, because everyone seems to have a cure for it.

In my former home in Korea, it’s anything with ginseng in it. In my father’s Jewish world, chicken soup. On my mother’s home island of Trinidad, it’s drinking so much rum that the single bottle at the end of the bed begins to look like two.

And in Ireland, it’s hot whiskey, a concoction made up of hot water, lemon, cloves, and a liberal pour of Irish whiskey. The Irish, or at least all the Irish I’ve met, insist that it’s 100 percent effective.

They defend their claims with a vehemence usually reserved for global warming deniers or flat-earthers—despite a total lack of peer-reviewed evidence, drinking hot whiskey will not only cure your cold, but should enable you to run the four-minute mile, discover a new form of microbial life, or master The Goldberg Variations on your first piano lesson. “It is,” one Irishman yelled into my face, “a cure for everything!”

When I arrived in Kilkenny, what had begun as a minor scratching in the throat had exploded into full-blown man-flu, with a headache, muscle pains, and above all, a hacking, phlegmy, chest-rattling cough. Meanwhile, it was the nastiest day of the winter so far in Kilkenny, the Lord pelting the city with wind, rain, and freezing temperatures.

We’d been out all day exploring this normally lovely medieval city, and I felt like complete shit. We snuck inside the pub to try out this hot whiskey cure. When I ordered it, the bartender prepared it with a certain solemnity, like the pharmacist taking care to put exactly the right amount of medicine in the bottle—any mistake, and it could ruin the whole thing.

(This is the opposite of ordering hot whiskey in Germany. The man who introduced me to hot whiskey as a concept told me he was in Berlin a week before and had ordered it, only for the bartender to pour him a shot and stick it in the microwave.)

The concoction was presented to me with great seriousness, but I can’t say I drank it the same way. I was miserable and though it’s nice to have anything warm when you’re ill, watered-down Jameson’s is just watered-down Jameson’s, at any temperature.

So does it work? No, it doesn’t work. As terrible lies go, it’s not on par with much of what was said during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but like photoshopped Tinder pics and Democratic politicians, it offers false hope, and that is its own sin.

The cold did not disappear after the whiskey, or the next day. It abated a few days after that, but by then, the hot whiskey had run its course.

So until doctors figure out a cure for the cold, I’m going to go with the advice of my forefathers: chicken soup, followed up with a bottle of Trinidadian rum.

People Have Learned To Drink Early in Duterte’s Philippines

Mar.24.17

People Have Learned To Drink Early in Duterte’s Philippines

by Shirin Bhandari

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Rum in Manila

Manila is unforgiving in the summer. The densely populated city is stifling as temperatures soar. There is only the monsoon to look forward to. A refreshing mid-week beer is in order during the hotter months, but with the current string of vigilante killings, I feel the urge for a stronger drink.

The pub is along the seedier side of town in Malate, on the south side of Manila. I ask for a shot of rum on the rocks. The Spanish brought rum to the Philippines in the 19th century. The abundance of sugar cane here makes it an ideal place to produce the amber spirit.

The barkeep is preoccupied, skipping through the news channels to evade the gory images of people killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. He settles on a more wholesome choice: the Food Network.

Since his term began in June 2016, President Duterte’s campaign to completely eradicate drugs in the Philippines has resulted in over 7,000 killings, mainly perpetrated at night by gun-crazy police officers and vigilantes. None have been found guilty in court. Operation Tokhang (“knock and plead”) is a community-based program: each neighborhood produces a list of alleged drug dealers and users. Police go politely door-to-door and invite suspects to sign a waiver pledging to never use or sell drugs again.

Over four million houses have been screened. Homes cleared of drug activity get a shiny sticker and a thank-you note. The better-off 10 percent of the country—who live in posh gated communities—are not targeted. The rich and upper middle-class do, however, find the time to criticize the current administration online, while the rest of the country struggles to stay afloat.

It’s mainly the poor that have been the casualties of Duterte’s war. Wealthy drug lords are entitled to a meeting with the Chief of Police and a day in court. Often, tiny packets of shabu (methamphetamine) and guns are found near corpses. Some have been shot, gagged and bound, with cardboard signs around their necks reading Pusher ako (“I am a pusher”). It’s not clear if the killings are drug-related, or simply the work of a neighbor settling an old score.

“What happened to him?” people ask on the streets after a new body is found. The most common explanation is “Nanlaban” (“he fought it out”). This single word serves as a license for the police to kill a suspect during routine checks and arrests. It absolves them from everything. Case closed.

Citizens who already lack faith in institutions and the judicial system are more likely to turn a blind eye to vigilante-style violence. A succession of unreliable leaders and their failure to combat corruption and deliver basic infrastructure and security gave the public an appetite for a strongman.

The new normal is worrisome, but the locals are unfazed. Protests are staged throughout the country, but there is not enough noise to stop the killings. The nation is keeping mum. Duterte’s approval ratings remain high: 83 percent of Filipinos are satisfied with the current operations to eradicate drugs. But 78 percent of Filipinos fear that they themselves, or someone they know, could become a victim.

The bar has filled up. People have learned to drink early since Duterte’s term. I feel lightheaded but order another round. Now, after a double shot of rum, I try to imagine every day for the next six years.

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

Mar.23.17

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

by Abby Sewell

Almaza Beer in Tripoli

As I passed under a stone arch bearing a simulacrum of the Hollywood sign and entered the narrow cobblestone walkway that hosts the few remaining pubs of Tripoli, I felt my nerves—on edge from a day navigating northern Lebanon on buses and shared taxis—finally calming.

I had trekked for three hours that afternoon from Beirut to Akkar in far northeastern Lebanon, where I had befriended a number of Syrian families when I was volunteering in a refugee camp near Halba last year. One of those families had just gotten word that they would be resettled in Italy, and I had gone to congratulate them on the news.

After my visit to the camp, I planned to meet a friend from the States who was performing with a circus troupe in Tripoli, a coastal city mid-way between Halba and Beirut.

There have been clashes in Tripoli in recent years between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. Although the situation has now calmed, many Beirutis continue to regard it as a no-go zone. Furthermore, as a predominantly Sunni Muslim and conservative area, Tripoli is not a place most people think of for night-life.

But in the seaside community of Al Mina, on Tripoli’s edge, home to a small Christian enclave, there is a row of pubs tucked away in the old city. My friend Mali and I decided to do a small pub-crawl there.

We began the evening at Timmy’s, where a stream of mostly young and well-heeled patrons buzzed a bell, to be ushered in by a silver-haired maître d’ who greeted many of them with cheek-kisses like old friends.

After a round of drinks in belated honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we headed around the corner to Mike’s, a cozier establishment with a row of bookshelves under the television on the back wall. The young man behind the bar, Wahib, turned out to be one of the proprietors. He was happy to tell us about the history of the neighborhood as we sipped a pair of submarines—a mix of light beer and tequila.

Raised in a Greek Orthodox family, Wahib was one of the few young men from Mina who had not departed for Beirut or abroad. Most of his patrons now are foreign aid workers, or Lebanese from towns farther down the coast. Years ago, he told us, there were 16 bars in the area, but their numbers had slimmed to five.

When Mali suggested that we should complete our pub crawl, Wahib—reluctant to lose a pair of customers—offered to give us a tour and bring us back, which he did, even buying a round of shots at the cheery restaurant-pub next door.

Back at Mike’s, Wahib’s brother entertained as with card tricks while we had one more round and congratulated ourselves on having successfully bar-hopped in Tripoli.

Photo by: Celine

Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, And Antoine De St-Exupéry Walk Into a Bar

Mar.22.17

Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, And Antoine De St-Exupéry Walk Into a Bar

by Dave Hazzan

Pastis in Casablanca

Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, and Antoine De St-Exupéry walk into a bar. Inside Le Petit Poucet, in downtown Casablanca, they each order. An imported beer for Antoine, the pilot. A glass of wine—rosé, of course—for Mme. Piaf. And a fresh pineapple and coconut martini with a frilly umbrella for the absurdist Camus. They then each light each other’s Gauloise Noirs, those disgusting black cigarettes all French intellectuals once smoked.

Today, the Gauloise Noir is gone, and the Petit Poucet holds fewer famous agents. Camus, Piaf, and St-Exupéry have been feeding worms for over half a century. The bar may be a hold-out of French colonialism, but the clientele is most definitely Moroccan, particularly old Moroccan men, hunched over small bottles of Casa beer, smoking, talking among themselves.

They have a slight look of shame about their faces. Not only are they drinking, they’re drinking in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. A gloriously French way to spend a day, but an embarrassing one for most Moroccans.

It is all men—guidebook warnings abound about how bars are the preserve of men. But my wife, Jo, walks in confidently, eyes straight ahead, and mounts the bar stool like a seasoned drinker. She removes her sunglasses and rests them on the green countertop, said to be the original from colonial days. Then she orders a draft Heineken, even as the bartender looks at me to give her order.

I get a pastis—the oversized bottle of Ricardo hanging upside down behind the bartender is too hard to resist. The bartender, dressed in a burgundy suit, white shirt, and bow tie, brings it to me with a bottle of mineral water. I mix the drink and sip, and the bartender rings it up on a cash register, probably also the original.

I drink my pastis and Jo drinks her beer, and the men try not to stare at Jo, though they can’t help it. She’s a beautiful woman, of course, but it’s more that she’s a woman of any kind, in a bar. We wonder if Edith Piaf ever got looks like this.

Once our drinks are finished, we put our sunglasses back on, thank the bartender in French, and walk out into the Art Deco cross-roads of Casablanca, at Rue Mohammed V and Rue Mohammed el-Qory.

It’s strange to get a drink at the corner of two roads named after a Mohammed. But then it’s also strange how hard it is to get a drink in Casablanca, a city made famous by a movie almost entirely set in a bar. But then, that’s fiction.

Photo by: Jo Turner

I Went to Mount Everest And All I Got Was This Beer Slushie

Mar.21.17

I Went to Mount Everest And All I Got Was This Beer Slushie

by Sarah Morlock

Beer at Everest Base Camp

Deep in the Himalayas, the great house of snow that runs like a backbone along the north side of Nepal, lies Everest Base Camp. For some, it’s the destination, but for others, it’s only the beginning of a higher adventure.

After seven days of cold, tortuous walking, I pull myself up to the EBC at 17,600 feet. I’ve finally made it. Catching my breath, I meet the eye of the other hiker at the top. He smiles. (Or I think he does; it’s hard to tell under his sunglasses and muffler.) Four other foreigners strike silly poses as their sherpa guides snap dozens of photos.

Sunny skies create a deceivingly pleasant atmosphere, but a hard wind blows down the surrounding snow-covered giants. Prayer flags wave here and there, and a pile of knick-knacks left by the hikers of days past takes center stage, nearly overshadowing the main attraction. Above us, Mount Everest calls.

It’s February 2015. Soon, this base camp will fill with hopefuls in the weeks leading up to the big climb. But for now, it’s too cold, and the path through the icefall hasn’t been set, a job reserved for the most experienced sherpas.

Standing in the shadows of the Himalayas, it’s hard to forget that tragedy struck just the year before. Sixteen sherpa mountaineers were killed in an avalanche while preparing the route. My guide told me his friend was one of them.

Shaking off a bit of melancholy, I dig around in my pack. With gloved hands, it’s a bit difficult, but I’m able to locate the can of beer I’d purchased for the occasion.

Back in Gorak Shep, the last accommodation point before Everest Base Camp, the innkeeper had asked if I’d like a can of Everest Beer to take with me. Her latest supply shipment had arrived yesterday by yak. I accepted her offer, ready to toast my accomplishment. Now, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake.

The altitude sickness, which my body has barely held at bay through the past 48 hours, is beginning to set in. Dozens of EBC hikers are evacuated every year, a fact made evident by the red helicopters we spot daily. For most, the sometimes deadly affliction begins with headaches and nausea, symptoms I’ve felt come and go for the past 48 hours. Altitude sickness is only exacerbated by alcohol.

Throwing caution to the wind and joining in the celebratory atmosphere, I revel in the refreshing snap of tin as the can peels open. Waiting for the sound of carbonation escaping its confines, I’m instead rewarded with an eruption of what can only be described as beer slushie. Elated, I slurp up a few sips as my exposed hand freezes against the can.

Quite suddenly, angry clouds gather around nearby peaks, and the mood shifts. The eyes of my sherpa guide dart around, assessing the situation.

“We must go. Snow is coming.” My guide is ready to leave. I glance down at my still full Everest Beer sitting among strings of colorful prayer flags.

“Leave it. The gods will enjoy,” the sherpa says.

The Only Place in Minsk More Popular Than the Restroom at McDonald’s

Mar.20.17

The Only Place in Minsk More Popular Than the Restroom at McDonald’s

by Sabra Ayres

Beer in Minsk

The place to meet up post-work in Minsk is the first floor of a communist-era grocery store called Centralnaya, or Central. There’s no bouncer, no bartender, no pretension here. The long hallway is lined with individual kiosks, where attendants in bland uniforms sell bottles of beer or cognac shots for about $1. At least one of the kiosks has local draft beer. Chandeliers dangle from the ceiling and socialist murals on the wall depict Belarusian collective farm workers stoically pulling in their harvest.

The Oscar is Centralnaya’s signature cocktail. It’s a mixture of coffee, cognac, and a raw egg whipped until it’s foamy, served in a paper cup.

A Formica countertop lines the other side of the hallway across from the row of kiosks, where customers rest their beverages, look out the floor-to-ceiling windows onto Independence Street and hash out the news of the day. Don’t expect a lot of bashing of the current president, Alexander Lukashenko, whom the George W. Bush administration once called “Europe’s last dictator.” After 22 years of Lukashenko’s autocratic reign, Belarusians have learned how to speak of him without actually naming him. Instead, they use terms like He, the Man in the Big Office, the Guy in Charge.

“You guys in the West have different political parties to debate about,” my friend Viktar Kontar says. “We don’t have real political parties. You either support him or you don’t.”

Kontar, 29, is known as the mayor of Centralnaya, a title he was given a few years ago when Foursquare was a popular social media sport in Minsk. He and his group of friends explained why they return to this unlikely stop, instead of one of Minsk’s more hyped-up venues.

“There’s chandeliers! Is that not luxury?” he says, pointing up to the ceiling, where the glass chandelier glimmers. “The thing is, you can show up here without any prior arrangements and always run into someone you know. It’s convenient, hassle free.”

Centralnaya opened in 1954 as Store No. 13, a grocery store German soldiers started when they were forced to rebuild Minsk after the Second World War. In 1977, the city government renovated the store and built the second floor. Groceries were moved upstairs, and first floor became a café area frequented by all walks of Minsk’s life. By the late 70s and into the 80s, the space was the hangout for Minsk’s alternative scene in a strictly controlled Soviet society: beatniks, hippies, artists, musicians, and writers.

Today, the nostalgic drinking hall is frequently a pre-gaming spot for some of Minsk’s young IT crowd. They gather here for a few hours before hitting the bigger clubs and bars. The software designers drink imported beer and rub elbows with pensioners drinking vodka out of plastic cups.

Later in the evening, talk briefly turned to making a move to another bar. Everyone agreed to stay for a few more beers. At 8 p.m. on a Friday, Centralnaya was packed with a cross section of Minsk society taking a load off.

“There’s only one bad thing about our Centralnaya: There’s no bathroom,” says Veronica, 26, who is chatting with Viktar and a few engineers and marketing strategists from Wargaming, the multimillion-dollar, Belarus-based company that designed the World of Tanks video game. “Luckily, McDonald’s has bathrooms next door, so we use theirs. So, it’s sort of the second most popular place, after Centralnaya.”

Photo by: Brendan Hoffman

St. Patrick’s Day Sucks But Dammit This Year It’s Sort of Great

Mar.17.17

St. Patrick’s Day Sucks But Dammit This Year It’s Sort of Great

by Cara Parks

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Guinness in New York City

Last weekend, I met my parents in Philadelphia. As we walked through the downtown area, we encountered a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Children were step dancing, the sound of bagpipes filled the air, and the crowd cheered as various anachronistic municipal associations marched past.

We rounded a corner and came across a crowd of green-clothed youths. And as I walked by with my smiling, red-haired mom, one of these happy-go-lucky kids proceeded to sit down and vomit all over himself. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I am largely of Irish descent, like many Americans; it is the second-most common ancestry in the U.S. My mom recently did one of those mail-in DNA tests and was more Irish than the average Irish person, because everyone in Europe is secretly from Denmark (because Vikings). So when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I dutifully drink whiskey and bake soda bread and eat cabbage and call my family, because that’s what you do.

But you know what? I’m ready to admit it: I fucking HATE St. Patrick’s Day. I hate it so much. I love a tipple as much as the next person, but the last thing the world needs is another excuse for mobs of white people to get shit-faced and take to the streets. Seriously, if these “parades” were mostly comprised of people of color, the National goddamn Guard would be called in. I live in New York City and this day rivals SantaCon for “most likely day to find someone peeing on my doorstep.” It’s like everyone decided that douchebags needed their own holiday and stuck it right in the middle of the worst month for extra impact.

This year is particularly noxious as it fell on a Friday, which somehow translated into TWO weekends of debauchery, as some celebrations were hosted the weekend before. In between them has been an entire week of exhortations to make corned beef, eat green food, stock up on whiskey, etc. And as happens every year, someone joyously wished me the luck of the Irish. We all know that to say someone has the luck of the Irish is to say that person is fucking CURSED, right? This is a European nation that is basically synonymous with famine and terrorism. Come on.

But hating St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean that I hate all things Irish. I love Ireland and I love Irish culture. When I was in Dublin on Bloomsday a few years ago, a group of drunk old men dressed as James Joyce characters serenaded my mom with traditional drinking songs. What is possibly not to like about that? It is the opposite of the college students I can hear drunkenly screaming at each other on the street right now.

And I love that today, Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach) of Ireland, decided to completely fuck with expectations about his ceremonial visit to the White House. Kenny took the opportunity not to joke with the U.S. president, as is customary, but to call for a path to citizenship for the roughly 50,000 Irish immigrants living illegally in the U.S. “All they want is the opportunity to be free,” he told the crowd.

So while I continue to hate St. Patrick’s Day, this year, I bought myself a can of Guinness. And as I drink it, I’m thinking of my own forbearers, who came to this country hoping for a better life. I’m thinking of a dear friend of mine, now living in Dublin, who worked and paid taxes and sent money home to his family and fell in love and generally built a life for years while living illegally in the U.S. I’m thinking of friends from around the world who are doing the same right now. I’m raising my glass to all of them, and thinking of the day when they, too, will be free to puke on street corners with impunity.

People, Stop Pretending You’re Just Stopping in for One Drink

Mar.16.17

People, Stop Pretending You’re Just Stopping in for One Drink

by Amrita Das

Cocktails in Kolkata

I looked at the panorama of Kolkata, lit against the dusk sky. I could see the historic landmarks that wrapped the city: the white marble dome of Victoria Memorial, the stout Gothic tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the incline of the famous bridge Vidyasagar Setu. Everything seemed close from my seat.

My mind was exhausted after two long work meetings. Further drained by Kolkata’s humidity, I patiently waited for my drink at the newly opened Monkey Bar in the heart of the city. Just a drink and then home, I tried to convince myself as I saw my cocktail gravitate towards me.

Because I was having only one drink, I had chosen carefully. My eyes moved through Monkey Bar’s signature drinks like Mangaa (vodka and fresh green mango juice) and Copper Monkey (a blend of whisky, orange juice and mint).

With help from my server, I decided on the Toast to Calcutta, because the name intrigued me. They told me it was made with local ingredients, and that it was an ode to the city. A surreal concoction of gin, basil, and Kolkata’s own gondhoraj (aromatic lime) cordial, Toast to Calcutta had surprising hints of sweetness. It’s made by lightly smoking the citrus, before infusing it with Kolkata’s famous jaggery (cane sugar) with the alcohol.

I lifted my glass for a sip and allowed the aroma of the fresh Bengal lime to fill my senses. I felt the exhaustion drain from my body. The refreshing mix of basil and lime relaxed my strained nerves. It completely absorbed the sweetness of the jaggery, leaving an aftertaste of cool gin.

In minutes, I felt alive with energy, forgetting my past exhaustion. Simultaneously the air outside felt lighter and breezy. All thanks to what was in my glass.

On a roll, I tried the other Kolkata-specialized drink on the menu: the Old Fashioned at Camac, named after the street where Monkey Bar is located. The bold whisky cocktail had a mix of bitters with praline, and was very potent. It made me crave the refreshing gin, so I switched back to my first choice for the next round.

I ended the evening with three Toast to Calcutta cocktails on my bill. I walked out, mildly intoxicated, into Kolkata’s streets.

Photo courtesy of Monkey Bar

Just Some Turkish Soap Opera Stars and a Very Cool Mom Knockin’ Back Drinks

Mar.15.17

Just Some Turkish Soap Opera Stars and a Very Cool Mom Knockin’ Back Drinks

by Diane Zahler

Raki in Turkey

It was midnight in Foca, Turkey. December, but not at all cold, especially after three days in ice-crusted Cappadocia. The lights from the seafood restaurants lining the semi-circular harbor were reflected in the dark Aegean waters as wooden fishing boats bobbed at their moorings.

My 24-year-old son and I strolled along the harbor, looking for a tavern where we could have a raki before bed. We’d been introduced to raki in Cappadocia. A strong, aniseed-flavored brandy, it’s mixed with ice or water, turning it milky. (It’s also known as Lion’s Milk.) We’d taken to having one as a nightcap every night. But my husband had retired to our hotel with a sinus infection, so tonight Ben and I were on our own.

We found the right kind of dive and settled in a booth, ordering our raki. Almost immediately we noticed the couple to my right. It was hard not to notice them: they were both astonishingly good-looking. We drank slowly and took sidelong glances as often as we dared. The woman was exquisite, with long sable hair, luminous dark eyes, skin like silk.

The man—well, more of the same, but with shorter hair and a chiseled jaw. They could almost have been brother and sister, though they were holding hands under the table. They drank red wine in large, expensive-looking goblets—not at all what you’d expect in a place like that.

When we were nearly finished with our drinks, the man leaned toward us. “Are you American?” he asked, his English barely accented. When we said yes, they began to chat with us. We learned they were Turkish soap opera stars, on hiatus from their show. The excess of beauty began to make sense.

When they told us that they played newlyweds on the show, my son asked, “Are you married in real life?” The man replied, “Not yet,” and the woman looked startled. “I’m going to ask her to marry me,” he confessed, and she blushed and cried, “Oh my God!” Unless it was all an act, we were present for what was more or less a proposal. We bought another round in congratulations.

After we toasted their happiness, the woman asked us, “And how long have you two been married?”

There was a long silence before I burst out laughing. Ben choked on his raki and turned bright red. The couple were confused, then embarrassed. They apologized for assuming we were married, and amended the question: “How long have you been together?”

At this point I was nearly weeping. “Twenty-four years,” I finally managed. “I’m his mother.”

Admittedly, the lights were low in the tavern. Still, there were well over three decades between my age and my son’s. I attributed the error to the raki, which, I assumed, had somehow made me look as good as it made me feel.

We left soon after, promising to look up the couple’s show (the name of which we immediately forgot), and walked a little unsteadily in the direction of the hotel.

“You’ll never mention this again,” Ben said grimly to me, and I promised, as solemnly as I could between snorts of laughter.

Reader, I lied.

A Dispatch From Iran in the Age of Trump

Mar.14.17

A Dispatch From Iran in the Age of Trump

by Cameron Zeyd Lange

Doogh in Tehran

On Valiasr Avenue, the great spine of Tehran that runs north to south from the foothills to the plains, there is a place called the Lorca Café. Its patrons drink French press coffee under pictures of the Spanish poet, and the floating shelves hold translations of his plays.

Today Leonard Cohen is singing I’m Your Man on the speakers, and I’m drinking doogh, a salty yoghurt drink popular in Iran since the time of ancient Persia. It typically accompanies the country’s famous lamb kebabs, and can be garnished with cucumbers or mint.

I come to the Lorca every afternoon to study my Persian lessons, and spend a few hours dedicated to the sound of my father’s language. So many words strike me as at once simplistically literal and naturally poetic. One translation of the verb ‘to weep’ is to spill tears. ‘To pray’ is to want from God. And in fact, the word for God (khoda) is almost the same as the one for the self (khod), hinting at the streak of mysticism that animates the Iranian heart.

But I’m distracted and I can’t study. The previous day, Trump’s now-disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn had held a press conference officially putting Iran ‘on notice.’ I had no idea what that meant, but it had stirred the old specter of war, dormant since the nuclear deal in 2015, and suddenly the city seemed at once prouder and more fragile, and its peace more precious.

I have come to love Tehran for its energy and resilience, but it is no easy place to be. The air is almost permanently soured by smog and smoke, which often masks the Alborz mountains only a few miles to the north. There are dozens of half-finished towers across town, bronzed over with rusting steel. During the years of devastating sanctions, construction was one of the only self-contained industries, and they built things for the sake of it—to give the workers something to do, to keep the cement factories open. These buildings are unlikely to ever be completed. Most days I can’t see anyone working on the sites, then I glimpse some solitary worker shoveling dust from corner to corner.

Yet I’ve been happy here. When it snows, the flakes settle like grains of salt on the veils of passing matriarchs, and spires of roasted beetroot fill the doorways of the grocers. Outside Lorca’s there is a street musician playing an electric violin fashioned out of a broomstick, and beside him a man sells pastries from the trunk of his car, and if you say the word he procures new-born puppies from a cardboard box and urges you to take one home.

It hurts even to imagine the country at war. All of this cowering, or gone.
I abandon my revision, finish my doogh, and slip outside to buy some phone credit. The kiosk is manned by a 10-year-old boy reading a book on the big cats of Africa. He hears my accent and asks where I’m from.

‘England.’

‘Where’s England exactly?’


‘It’s part of a big island in Western Europe.’


‘Do they have lions in England?’


‘No.’


‘Hmm, too bad.’
 And with that he lost interest in me and my faraway country.

We’re Going to Need Some Norwegians to Vouch for Us Because This Sounds Awesome

Mar.13.17

We’re Going to Need Some Norwegians to Vouch for Us Because This Sounds Awesome

by Adam Nace

Akvavit in San Francisco

I’ve never been to Norway, but I’ve been to the Norwegian Club.

Months earlier, I’d bumped into Erik in San Francisco’s Panhandle Park as I walked home from work. It took me a moment to recognize him in his formal wear, but his long red beard was unmistakable.

“I joined the Norwegian Club and I’m on my way to dinner. You should come some time! The food is great and don’t worry about being Irish. We don’t mind,” he said.

It took a few months to work out a suitable Thursday, but I recently found myself dressed in a sport coat and bowtie pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of a large Victorian mansion on the Panhandle’s northern side, waiting for the rest of our gang to arrive.

Once we’d all gathered, we entered the building. The dark wood and burgundy carpet of the foyer and front room gave way to a large dining hall swirling with busboys. We descended a flight of stairs into a cozy salon where an ancient Nord poured cocktails and other guests and members munched sugar-cured Gravlax, hard cheeses, and brown bread.

At 7:30 p.m., a bell chimed and everyone ascended the stairs to take their seats for dinner.

Promptly after being seated, bottles of ice cold Akvavit arrived at the table. Shot glasses at every place setting were filled. Once everyone had a measure of Akvavit, the hall went quiet and someone began the club’s traditional snapsvisa (a Scandinavian drinking song). Starting low and rising an octave each time, the group chanted a round of skål (a word for “cheers” that rhymes with coal) four times up and four times back down before shouting a ninth skål and drinking their shots. We would sing the snapsvisa many more times before the night was over.

We dined on soup, braised brisket, and steamed vegetables. As we enjoyed our main course, Erik stood and told the tale of California’s most famous Norwegian, a 19th-century volunteer postman and the godfather of California skiing, Snowshoe Thompson.

By the time we’d finished our fruit tart desserts, the crowd was well lubricated. I lingered in the front room and spoke to a member named Nick who invited me to come back any time. I explained my Irish heritage, but he didn’t seem bothered.

“All you need is a couple of Norwegians to vouch for you. We have an allotment of memberships for non-Norwegians and we could use more young blood around here. The rates are extremely reasonable.”

I said I’d think about it and that I’d certainly be returning as a guest to enjoy another evening in their company. I said my goodbyes and walked home in high spirits with a full belly. I was happy that I now knew about a secret clubhouse where I could enjoy a few tipples and tall tales in good company.

You Can Take Your Xenophobia and Shove It, Geert Wilders

Mar.10.17

You Can Take Your Xenophobia and Shove It, Geert Wilders

by Cyrus Moussavi

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Raki in Athens

I drink raki in a squat in Athens and think of Amsterdam. Raki because it’s cheap and effective: your body slows down, your mind keeps going. My hosts, Iranian migrants trapped in Greece, are on a budget. They’ve been in the squat three months. Their conversation is, as usual, movement.

“Will they take us in Holland?” they ask me, “or should we go to Germany?”

These are questions to which I have no answers. Who is to tell what the asylum services will decide, or how my friends will be able to prove their case? Who knows if they’ll even make it there, with the borders closed and airports getting wise to all these fake passports? And what sort of country will they enter if they finally arrive?

This question is especially pertinent in the Netherlands, where a far right xenophobe with bad hair is poised to take a startling number of seats in the March 15 election. For years, Geert Wilders has promised to ban Islamic asylum seekers, revoke existing asylum documents, outlaw the Koran, leave the E.U., and generally “Make the Netherlands Ours Again.” This time, his words are catching on.

It sounds familiar. If you control for context, just one word separates Geert’s slogan from Trump’s trucker hats. “Ours.”

Whose? I’ve been asking this question for years. In the summers growing up, my family traveled from our home in Iowa to visit extended family in Iran. Amsterdam was our stopover. It seemed an oasis of civility—men and women in sensible yet stylish clothing riding bikes by pristine canals. ‘Who are these people?’ I wondered.

Years later, I studied immigration in the Netherlands. I interviewed first and second-generation Iranian migrants about life in what is supposedly one of the more tolerant corners of the world. Again, the question of “ours” arose—who owns this nation, this nationality?

“You can say you’re American and no one will think twice,” a young woman I interviewed in 2010 told me. “But even though I was born here and I speak the language, I will never say that I am Dutch. People just ask ‘But where are you from?’”

There is a Dutch look that my furry Persian brethren cannot easily attain. Nationality in the Netherlands is by blood, not by birth like in the U.S. The young people I met that year are from the Netherlands, but it’s not home. Wilders was raging about “Our Netherlands” back then, too.

I think of my friend A., an Afghan who recently completed the journey from Greece to the Netherlands. He sits now in a former barracks near Amsterdam, awaiting his fate. He can’t sleep. He can’t think. I worry for him every day.

I almost feel guilty asking about Wilders.

“It’s scary, man,” he tells me, “But best not to talk about it on the phone.”

My friend A. is definitely not part of this “Ours.” Wilders promises to shut down the asylum camps.

We drink raki in a squat in Athens and I try to convince these guys Amsterdam is not some northern paradise. But what do you say to people who risked their lives and spent all their money to achieve a dream of safety and comfort? There’s no turning back.

In Amsterdam, I learned it’s a privilege to call the place you are born “home.” In Athens, I understood the massive privilege of not having to leave that home.

In the squat, we toast another round of raki. The mood is celebratory, but we drink to mask the bitterness. My friends leave in a few hours, sneaking onto a cargo ship past dogs and cameras. They’re heading north.

Starkbierfest: A Multi-Week Pre-Game to Easter

Mar.09.17

Starkbierfest: A Multi-Week Pre-Game to Easter

by Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

Starkbier in Munich

Friday, March 10 kicks off 2017’s Starkbierfest, which is like a multi-week pre-game to Easter. Starkbierfest, which translates to “strong beer festival,” always comes after Carnival as part of what people call Munich’s fifth season. A few different beer halls throughout the city host the event, but I’ll be trotting my way up the stone steps to Paulaner am Nockherberg—the original and rowdiest of the bunch.

I moved here from Texas five years ago. During these years, I’ve learned how to open a beer bottle with a wine bottle. I fell in love, and then I fell out of love. I changed jobs. I packed 3.5 liters of beer into a 100-pound body last Oktoberfest, stuffed in the corseted bodice of a dirndl. I became familiar with the languages of German, German English, British English; lately, when I talk to Americans I have to look up their slang on Urban Dictionary.

I also went to my first Starkbierfest four years ago, which led me to some of my dearest friends here. Being a foreigner suddenly got a lot less lonely, so there’s a reason why this festival has a sentimental place in my heart. And in a couple months, with the Munich chapter of my life likely coming to a close, what better send-off than one more taste of Bavarian history and my own slosh of fond memories?

Starkbierfest is no Oktoberfest. There are no rollercoasters and far fewer Australians losing their passports. There are a few similarities, however: brass bands playing Oompah songs. Lederhosen and the flirtatious men who roam the aisles wearing them. Wooden benches that can withstand weeks of dancing, stomping, and stumbling. But this much smaller-scale tradition has its own origins, thanks to the cheekiness of some 17th-century monks.

Just like its hometown, Starkbierfest has a monastic origin. The Paulaner monks began brewing beer as early as 1634. Since their ascetic lifestyle allowed them only meager food portions during Lent, they figured out a loophole: they could drink their calories and nutrients and it wouldn’t count as eating. In the mid-1700s, the serving of Starkbier became a public event, and the Paulaner brewery’s Salavator is still based on the original recipe by Brother Barnabas.

The malty doppelbock is called “strong beer” not because of its high alcohol content. One beer—served in a one-liter stein—should be the equivalent to eating loaves of bread, earning it the nickname “liquid food.” However, with a 7-8 percent ABV, the Salvator is still stronger than the normal local lager. You can’t be faint of stomach or liver if you plan on drinking Starkbier all day.

So if you come to Munich this March, come find me singing “99 Luftballons,” help yourself to a piece of our giant pretzel, and we’ll all trade a hearty “Prost!” between songs. There’s always room for one more at the table.

Too Much Tax-Free Beer In Europe’s Largest Duty-Free Shopping Mall

Mar.08.17

Too Much Tax-Free Beer In Europe’s Largest Duty-Free Shopping Mall

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Ordino

Andorra might be one of the world’s smallest countries, but it is Europe’s largest duty-free shopping mall.

Tourists claim to come here for the skiing or the scenery, but really, they’re here for the cheap shopping. As our Spanish AirBnB host told us in Escaldes-Engordany, Andorra is “a shopper’s paradise.”

Walking down Carretera De L’obac, the main boulevard that connects Escaldes-Endorgany to the capital, Andorra-la-Vella, bears this description out. Imagine the biggest duty-free mall you’ve ever been to in any airport. Now multiply it 100 times, and drop it in a pristine mountain valley.

That’s Andrroa-la-Vella. Multitudes of shops hawking miles of Samsonite luggage, Canon lenses, Cartier watches, Chanel perfume, and, of course, booze and smokes. Nowhere else in Western Europe can you get a carton of Marlboro Reds for 15 euros or a bottle of Laphroaig for 12. Nowhere else in Western Europe can you advertise those Marlboros on huge billboards.

Spanish and French travelers pack their cars with these goodies, hoping that on the way out, the French or Spanish police don’t ask them to pop their trunks and explain how they didn’t believe 12 cartons of cigarettes and four cases of plonk were really over the limit.

How does this country pay for its roads? Does it have oil wells it’s kept magnificently hidden from the public’s view? Even the booze at the bar is tax-free, or at least it sure seems to be. You’re lucky to find a pint in France for five euros or less outside of a vermin-ridden hole. Here, you don’t find one over five euros.

When we arrived, it was mid-February, and the temperature in southern Europe had just made the leap into spring. In the beaming mountain sunlight, we ordered a couple Estrellas, neighboring Spain’s national brew. (We found no Andorran beers.)

We sat outside in beautiful Ordino, a magnificently medieval mountain village, a place where film crews go when the script calls for “IDYLLIC 15TH CENTURY EUROPEAN TOWN.” In front of us, a stone footbridge crossed a small canal. Behind us, a church, the French post office, and a series of apartments (we think) climbed up with the mountain.

There weren’t too many people around us, just a few youngsters drinking sangria, and the occasional family walking past in their ski wear. Weren’t they boiling hot? And where exactly is this mountain snow? The other side of the mountain? Granted, we did see snow on the way in. There are only two ways to reach Andorra by bus, east from Toulouse or west from Barcelona.

Maybe it’s the buses that are taxed in Andorra. They’re 34 euros per ticket, with no toilet, no wi-fi, and a unilingual Catalan driver who does not understand the words, “May we stop for the toilet please? I had too much tax-free beer.”


Photo by: Jo Turner

Don’t Fuck With the Alcohol

Mar.07.17

Don’t Fuck With the Alcohol

by Alex Court

Aperol in Turin

“Don’t fuck with the alcohol.” This was no casual barman chit-chat. This was a passionate command.

After a day of piazza peeping in Turino, my fellow thrill-seekers and I had arrived at a bar and I had ordered an Aperol Spritz.

Not being a regular drinker of this orange medicinal mix, which includes hints of rhubarb, I was unable to competently respond to the question of whether or not I’d like soda in the drink. I was being informed that the real deal is to just add prosecco, hold the fizzy water.

The person who had enlightened me was Tony. He had slicked-back black hair, glasses, and an entrepreneurial enthusiasm that made the crumbling walls and lime-green interior appealing. Between taking orders, mixing drinks, serving food, and hustling for customers on the busy Piazza Vittorio Veneto outside, Tony was the life of the establishment.

“If you’re good, then I’m good. We are friends and friends should be happy!”
Tony was our guide on the apericena experience—the pre-dinner drinking and eating which makes total sense while you’re doing it, but hits hard when sitting down to dinner shortly after.

After a few sips of the bitter cocktail Tony emerged from the kitchen and placed a scarred frying pan on the table and firmly reminded our party of four to share. Inside the pan was a pile of gnocchi—thick, soft, doughy dumplings—with a soft tomato sauce. Then followed a smorgasbord of cold sausage, sheep cheese, vegetables dripping in oil, and cured meats.

The table heaved under the weight of the riches, and there was a distinct lack of time pressure. Chat away, nibble when necessary, and knock back the aperitifs. This is the Italian way, and Tony was our Italian/American/Colombian host, making us all feel we’d found a home.

Guests came and went as we worked our way through another round of drinks, and eventually the topic of desert arose. Before we had a real chance to consider a sweet section to our pre-dinner preamble, a decision was made for us and Tony arrived with profiteroles encased in a thick chocolate drizzle.

“You’re gonna wanna change off the Aperol for this one,” went Tony’s advice. “The Alexander goes real well with that cream.”

There’s no way this barman of brilliance could have known my name is Alexander, and the coincidence seemed too good to pass up, so I accepted his recommendation and soon enough, I was served my namesake.

Gin, white creme de cacao, light cream, and nutmeg was presented and Tony observed as I took the first sip. It complemented the profiteroles perfectly. Before I even expressed my satisfaction, he nodded his head gently in approval before shrugging his shoulders and surrendering the only rule in the bar once more: “Don’t fuck with the alcohol.”

Finding Hope in an Old Fashioned Cocktail Garnished With A Pickled Mushroom

Mar.06.17

Finding Hope in an Old Fashioned Cocktail Garnished With A Pickled Mushroom

by Jen Rose Smith

Old Fashioned in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Order an Old Fashioned at a Wisconsin supper club, and the bartender will ask you two questions: Whiskey or brandy? Sour or sweet?

Get it sour, and your muddled fruit, booze, and bitters will come drowned in Squirt soda. Order it sweet, and you’re upgrading to Sprite for a sugary drink that’s a world away from the minimalistic versions served in bars on either coast.

Wisconsin’s supper clubs are pure nostalgia, at least for some. From the piles of butter mints by the door to the vinyl seats, soft rock, and menus of meat and sides, the sweetest parts of supper clubs are a time warp to the 1970s.

But since American nostalgia for a whiter, straighter time swept a hateful and chaotic demagogue into the presidency, I can’t get much pleasure from my country’s heritage, even the bits that come spiked with whiskey. I skim right past the country music station on the radio, my love for twang and steel guitar overwhelmed by the bitter feeling that “heartland” culture is rotten at the core. It’s hard to imagine watching a classic Western when the ashes of the Standing Rock encampment are still smoldering.

Still, supper clubs offer a version of hope. Crack open the big, plastic-covered menus, and you’ll find a story more interesting than nostalgia ever was. Supper clubs are packed to the fake wood-paneled walls for each week’s Friday fish fry, a reminder of the days when Wisconsin’s Dutch and Polish Catholics abstained from meat on that day. And the best clubs—The Out of Town Club, Wally’s Spot—offer bars of pickled vegetables, fish, and turkey giblets that recall the region’s German and Scandinavian heritage. These days, Green Bay just seems like another white American city in the snowy north, but when my husband’s Dutch Catholic mother married his German Lutheran father, it challenged cultural boundaries (she converted before the wedding).

I wonder if his grandmother, who spoke German at the farm before she went to school, knew about the anti-German lynch mobs that formed in Wisconsin during World War I. Or if either side of the family—German or Dutch—were called “square heads” during recess, and what it was like for the children growing up in the Wisconsin towns of New Belgium, West Sweden, or Poland.

And did I say the bartender would ask two questions? After choosing the booze and the soda for your sticky-sweet drink, you still have one more choice to make: Wisconsin supper clubs garnish Old Fashioneds with a maraschino cherry, pickled mushroom, or pickled Brussels sprout—or even a funky combination of all three.

It’s a pleasingly weird selection that adds a bit of polka flair to the middle-American drinking scene. Even the cocktails are a reminder that culture, immigration, and xenophobia have always been thorny issues in the United States—but that sometimes we find a way to move on.

A Very Thorough Sampling of Ethiopia’s Booze Offerings

Mar.02.17

A Very Thorough Sampling of Ethiopia’s Booze Offerings

by Barbara Wanjala

Gin-Ambo in Addis Ababa

Macchiatos were not the only drink I would discover in Ethiopia when I lived there. There were moments which called for something stronger.

The sporting rivalry between Kenya—my home country—and Ethiopia is the stuff of legend. I remember in particular the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics. The two Kenyan contenders, Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot, were under pressure to deliver medals for the Kenyan team, whose performance had been lackluster. Cheruiyot proclaimed rather prematurely to the press that “Kenya will have its first gold today.” But it was Tirunesh Dibaba, also known as the Baby-Faced Destroyer, who won, giving Ethiopia its first gold. This victory dented my wallet and bruised my ego significantly. It was in moments like this, nursing a broken heart, that I turned to my favorite drink: gin-Ambo.

I believe that the exploration of a new—or in this case, a very old—country is not complete without a sampling of its alcoholic beverages. I imbibed endless decanters of tej honey wine, sipped the homemade brews araki, katikala and tella, guzzled the sweet red Axumit at the Sheraton Addis, shared crates of Bedele beer on Ethiopian New Year, made concoctions with the mysteriously green Supermint from Safeway supermarket, margaritas at Liquid Lounge, discovered tea corretto (tea laced with ouzo) at la Parisienne Café at Bole Olympia. My due diligence would not have been complete without St. George, the holy beer which I first drank on the terrace of the Taitu Hotel in Piassa. My favorite discovery, however, turned out to be gin-Ambo—simply gin, mixed with Ambo, a brand of naturally carbonated mineral water.

“Ambo is good for your digestion,” a colleague told me about the stuff that would become my favorite mixer. Ambo’s website explains that the water comes from thermal mineral springs in the Ethiopian Highlands. It also claims that as the “leading beverage” of Ethiopia, it is a true “Ethiopian Icon.”

This story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the greatest of all Ethiopian icons: Abebe Bikila, the first African to win an Olympic gold medal. And he did it barefoot. The story goes that Bikila was added to the Ethiopian Olympic team only at the last moment as a replacement for Wami Biratu, who had broken his ankle in a soccer match. Adidas, the shoe sponsor at the 1960 Summer Olympics, had so few shoes left when Bikila went to try some on, he ended up with a pair that didn’t fit comfortably. So Bikila decided to run barefoot, the way he’d trained. When asked why, he said: “I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.” And to that, I raise my glass.

Colombia’s Non-Alcoholic National Drink

Mar.01.17

Colombia’s Non-Alcoholic National Drink

by Tiffany Bateman

Limonada de coco in Medellin

The first time I tried limonada de coco was at a restaurant in Medellin. The refreshing, non-alcoholic drink won me over immediately. Since then I’ve sampled it from food-carts, high-end restaurants and trendy cafés all over Colombia.

Limonada de coco is a blended combination of lime juice, sugar, cow’s milk, coconut cream, and ice. It’s a simple recipe, yet one I crave.

My travel partner and I arrived in Medellin, ditched our bags and went in search of a patio with great food and drinks. Walking the tree-lined streets where tropical flowers filled pots and climbed the sides of shops and restaurants, the day of travel was making us thirsty. After following my electronic map to a closed vegetarian restaurant, we backtracked to a huge, welcoming patio. It stood out in my mind because of their large pig statue.

We were the only people on the patio, which, thankfully, didn’t deter us. Our friendly waiter spoke decent English, which was helpful as our Spanish wasn’t great. After sweating in Colombia’s southern, coastal, tropical heat, Medellin’s weather was refreshing. And we wanted something just as refreshing to drink.

Spying limonada de coco on the menu reminded me that I’d seen vendors selling it in bustling Cartagena. I was worried that it might be too sweet, but I ordered it anyway, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The sour lime mixed with coconut, sugar, and blended with ice was a perfect, frothy mix of tangy and sweet. I downed it before the waiter returned to ask me if I liked it. I was glad it was non-alcoholic.

We tried several variations of limonada de coco. My favorite version came with fresh grated coconut on top. A restaurant in the mountains used frozen sweetened coconut cream so the drink wasn’t diluted with ice. Street vendors often use canned coconut cream.

Sitting on the patio in Medellin, listening to the distant thunder and watching the dark clouds gather over the mountains, which is a daily occurrence, the ambiance was perfect.

Drinking Beer on the Border, a Few Miles and a World Apart

Feb.28.17

Drinking Beer on the Border, a Few Miles and a World Apart

by Jackie Bryant

Tecate in Tijuana

It was nearing five o’clock: dinner-service time. A blonde Russian couple chopped vegetables while Chris, originally from Seattle, scurried around the worn-in kitchen, collecting pots, bowls, and serving spoons. My hosts—the Tijuana chapter of Food Not Bombs—had invited me to see them in action, and were putting the finishing touches on the meal they had been preparing all day, something with broccoli.

The staff here cooks a vegetarian dinner twice a week for people in need, from those deported from the U.S. to Haitian refugees to local drug addicts to anyone else who wants a free meal. They have a strict policy of using only donated and found food, which in Tijuana means anything that was not sold that day at the Hidalgo and Abastos markets.

Food Not Bombs is housed in an old, slightly derelict hostel called Enclave Caracol, just outside Zona Norte, Tijuana’s red light district. This is the city’s northernmost point: from Enclave Caracol’s roof, you can see the fringes of San Diego mere hundreds of yards away.

While there, I heard whispers about a Haitian Poul nan Sòs, or Chicken in Sauce restaurant, on Calle Segunda, just a few blocks up from their headquarters. A small group of us set out, hunting for the Haitian chicken joint. Eventually, we found it: an enterprising Mexican couple servicing two storefronts on different sides of a corner. Inside, nobody was eating. Ten men sat together, hovering over their phones.

Since early October, when Hurricane Matthew devastated an already limping Haiti, refugees have been fleeing the island, with many ending up in Brazil. From there, they take buses towards the United States, where their journeys often end in Tijuana. With that, so do their dreams of ever making it across the border, so they languish in the city, trying to figure out their next move.

A Mexican woman appeared from the back of the chicken joint. She initially thought we were lost, but finally explained we could have one of two dishes: Chicken in Sauce with either white rice or Diri ak Pwa—rice and beans, Haitian style. Forty pesos, or two dollars. The chicken was baked and surprisingly spicy, with peppery skin and tender thigh and leg meat.

On the way back to Caracol, I walked into a tiendita at the edge of Zona Norte and bought a can of Tecate with my friend’s pesos. I arrived just in time for the end of food service, as a flurry of Mexican and Haitian men scooped up their bowls and disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived.

As I cracked the beer open, I thought about the next service, when they’d have to start all over and gather what they can from the markets. I also thought about the fact that, just 15 miles away in downtown San Diego, donating food directly to the indigent remains actively discouraged by police, restaurants, charities and lawmakers. Some restaurants pour bleach over their leftovers after tossing them in the dumpster. Is a plate of food ever just a plate of food? 








Photo by: Gordon Hyde

If You Think You’re Living Your Best Life, Read This and Then Reevaluate

Feb.27.17

If You Think You’re Living Your Best Life, Read This and Then Reevaluate

by Russ Rowlands

Chablis on Sagami Bay

Two red-faced older Japanese men crashed into the common room at the guesthouse I was staying at in Atami, south of Tokyo. They flopped bodily into bean-bag chairs and raised a beer to me, smiling broadly.

“Kanpai!” they chimed in unison.

“Hello, how are you?!”

I smiled back and raised my can of chuhi, a boozy soda lemonade. Their affability was a nice change from the more reticent Japanese tourists who were the primary occupants of the guesthouse. They introduced themselves as Yuki and Hiro. We got talking and they asked what a single Canadian traveler was doing in Atami, mostly popular with locals and families as a hot-springs destination.

I told them I had come to Japan on a slim chance to race sailboats, after cruising in the South Pacific. Their eyes lit up and Hiro choked on his beer.

“You’re a sailor? You sailed the Pacific?”

Only from Panama to Tahiti, I admitted.

“We’re sailors! We sailed from Tokyo to Atami today with our friends! We have to sail back in the morning, do you want to come with us?”

I couldn’t believe my luck. Atami had a marina and I had been planning to go down and attempt to make some sailing connections, language problems aside. But here were two exuberant locals eager to invite me along for a full day of sailing. I happily accepted and we agreed to meet in the morning.

The next day I ganged up with Yuki and his wife Fujiko, Hiro, and ten other Japanese sailors to head down to the docks. They were a varied group, ranging from their mid-30s to mid-60s, equally mixed between men and women. They were friendly and curious and hungover, a fact for which they profusely apologized to a comedic extent. Traditional Japanese hospitality blended with seemingly-genuine interest in my adventures, and everyone took turns introducing themselves, some in English, some in Japanese.

The boat was a slick, 40-foot racer-cruiser named Big Bird, with just enough room on deck for all 14 of us to find seats or hang our legs over the rails. I squeezed onto a space on the stern near the huge steering wheel and watched as Hiro and the primary sailing crew skillfully guided her out of the marina. It was a grey morning with enough wind to keep us moving but not to get us wet. We tacked northeast and she leaned over into the breeze as Atami drifted into the background.

For the next seven hours this amazing group of sailors plied me with beer and snacks and stories and questions. They were morning drinkers, the best kind of drinkers, and we cracked our first cans of Asahi as soon as the sails were set. At one point in the middle of the day an out-of-place bottle of Chablis made an appearance and was quickly demolished in cheap plastic cups. Hangovers were successfully slain, and good friends made. The day turned bright blue. I chalked it up to sailing serendipity.

An Arab-American Angeleno Gay Journalist Walks Into a Bar…

Feb.24.17

An Arab-American Angeleno Gay Journalist Walks Into a Bar…

by Massoud Hayoun

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Tequila in West Hollywood

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that I find myself at a West Hollywood gay bar having a drink—alone—at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

It’s a margarita—no umbrella, salt rim, zero bull—sipped from a less-than-ceremonious plastic chalice at Fiesta Cantina, a cavernous hole of a dive bar in Los Angeles’s West Hollywood, one of the United States’—nay, the world’s!—gay centers of gravity. Cheap well liquor, fast and nasty.

I am an Arab American Angeleno gay journalist. I am the child of a single mother and left handed. Today, for many reasons, I’d like a rare—certainly at this hour, but also in general—drink. As a journalist, I speak to both sides of the political spectrum and withhold my irrelevant value judgments. But these days, man, could I use a drink as I contemplate the state of our state, California.

An emblematic drink? Tequila comes to mind. This place was Mexico less than two centuries ago. Since the election in November, I’ve wondered if there are scenarios whereby Mexico would have us back. My thoughts in this direction have been flights of fancy, but others take the idea more seriously. Some have called for a long-shot battle to secede from the U.S. entirely.

The movement has just tens of thousands of likes on Facebook (in a state of 39 million); supporters are a mere fraction of the many Californians frustrated with the tumult of an administration banning people from Muslim-majority nations, planning to deport millions of undocumented Americans, chucking environmental protections, provoking political standoffs around the globe, backtracking on nuclear nonproliferation commitments, angling to strip long-besieged reproductive rights protections, denigrating the press as “an enemy of the American people.”

I have no real opinion on the #Calexit; I haven’t seen a lot of support for or even talk about Yes California. Its support from certain sectors of Silicon Valley and its perhaps inexplicable Moscow headquarters has been cause for consternation from some sources and acquaintances of mine aware that there is such a bid to put separation on the ballot. But as I work on my buzz, my thoughts turn once again to Mexico, less than 200 miles away.

I look around at my fellow day-drinkers. Statistically, according to a University of Southern California study from May 2013, there’s a pretty good chance someone at this bar is an undocumented immigrant: 10 percent of all of Los Angeles falls into that category. A little over a week ago, about 680 undocumented people were reportedly rounded up by immigration authorities, and about 160 of those detentions were right here, in southern California.

To grow up in Los Angeles is, for the vast majority of inhabitants, to have gone to one or nine quinceañeras; it’s to judge a restaurant by whether the tortillas are handmade; it’s to watch Sábado Gigante so you know what your friends are talking about; it’s to participate in a culture built by immigrants but now inseparable from this place and this time. Percolating under the surface what’s often perceived from afar as little more than window dressing for Hollywood—an unsatisfying, plastic place—is the Chicanx community, the Mexican-American community more broadly, the Salvadorean community, the Guatemalan community.

And so I find myself at Fiesta Cantina, day-drinking my feelings. There are about a dozen people here, staff included, also day-drinking; more signs of the times, perhaps. No one here is talking politics, or the fact that one of the helmsman of the current administration has expressed support for so-called gay-conversion therapy. Los Angeles—at least West Hollywood—is at times blissful, at times unnerving in its characteristic absence of political fervor.

But I sit here with my drink, in this gay bar, among the day drunks, thinking of the fate of the undocumented, and think of what it means to belong, and who gets to decide.

I stumble home in the blinding daylight.

Three Cheers for Vermouth-Drinking Italian Grandmas

Feb.23.17

Three Cheers for Vermouth-Drinking Italian Grandmas

by Luciana Squadrilli

Vermouth in Rome

I can remember, as a child, the guilty pleasure in taking a sip of vermut (Italian for vermouth) from my grandmother’s glass, leaving my tongue sweet and my head spinning.

Later on I got to have my own splash of the drink, watered down with ice, as an official initiation into the aperitif ritual. Growing up, I left behind home and vermouth, embracing at different times beer, wine, more beer, organic wine, and gin & tonics.

I was not alone. Although vermouth held on as a key ingredient in iconic cocktails—such as the martini—the flavored, fortified wine created in Turin in 1786 by Antonio Carpano seemed to lose much of its allure as a “pure” drink over the last 30 years.

Recently, riding the vintage trend and to foster national pride in mixology, some historic brands have revamped the old-fashioned drink. (Its name comes from Wermut, the German word for Artemisia absinthium, a main ingredient for both absinthe and vermouth.)

Still, I’d never have imagined that I would turn back to my grandma’s habits. Yet, as I enter the brand new Vermut Bar at Ercoli restaurant in Rome, I have to reconsider. The 108 different labels from all over the world hint that I have no choice. Bartender Federico Tomasselli hands me a tiny vintage stem glass over the wooden counter, and there is the refreshing aroma of lemon peel soaked in the clear mix of white vermouth and a splash of soda. This is the lighter, girlie version of vermuttino, the staple after-work drink in Turin until the 60s, a forerunner to today’s aperitivo.

Real men, apparently, drink it with less soda and less ice, to better capture the botanicals: elderflower, cinnamon, nutmeg, Artemisia–of course–and others, depending on the recipe.

There is still a world of vermouths to choose from and to decipher. There are the traditional white vermouths from Piedmont, the big brands such as Martini & Rossi, and even the “evening” versions such as the Cocchi Dopo Teatro, with a distinctive bitter taste from the double infusion of cinchona. “If someone comes in and asks for an evening vermouth, this means he knows his stuff,” Federico says.

I’ll come back to taste some of Federico’s signature drinks, such as the Bianco Conciato—a dangerous mix of white vermouth, bitter angostura, Marsala, crème de violet, and mezcal—and to experiment with his tips on food pairing, like matching spiced red vermouth to gratiné oysters, or maybe a refreshing white vermuttino with Parmigiano Reggiano.

After all, I’m a lady, and I’m sure grandma would be proud of me.

A Nuclear Fallout Shelter Stocked With Booze is the Best Place to Be Right Now

Feb.21.17

A Nuclear Fallout Shelter Stocked With Booze is the Best Place to Be Right Now

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Geneva

Every Swiss home has a nuclear fallout shelter. At least, every Swiss home is required by law to have a nuclear fallout shelter. Your choice on whether to comply or not depends on how thoroughly you think the inspectors are going to look at your new home.

Since 1978, any new residence built in Switzerland must have a room able to withstand a 12-megaton explosion—800 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb—at a distance of 700 meters (765 yards).

If you don’t live in an apartment, or your house happens to be built before 1978, there are plenty of communal bomb shelters, stocked full of emergency rations and fresh water. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, it appears the main survivors will be cockroaches and the Swiss.

Although the Swiss are required by law to keep their fallout shelters in good operating order, most have been converted into gyms, rec rooms, sewing rooms, and other sundry places. My friend Pete, a Canadian who works for an NGO in Geneva, has converted his into a music studio. After all, if the walls can withstand a 12-megaton thermonuclear blast, they can probably withstand your guitar amp.

“The only good man cave is one that is fully soundproofed and ready-stocked for the apocalypse,” Pete says. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I speak for at least a few when I say that when the bombs fall, I’d like to be good and drunk.

As a result, many of these down-home bomb shelters have been turned into places where you can drink, either informal places to crack a couple with your buddies, or full-blown bars, with stools, taps, and teak table-tops.

In Pete’s house, we relaxed in his music studio, careful not to upset the flamenco guitars, the microphones, or the Fugazi records, propped against the insulated grey walls and the long, ugly ventilation system.

We drank Calvinus Pale Ale, a Geneva beer named after the great Christian reformer and moralist John Calvin, who would have heartily approved of nuclear holocaust preparation, but might have been less enthused about having a beer named after him. It’s a mild session beer, good for whiling away long Geneva afternoons, no matter the weather or radiation levels outside.

In the event of Armageddon though, Pete prefers something stronger, and keeps a bottle of Barbancourt rum from Haiti behind the amps.

A final point to remember: if you find yourself getting drunk with a Swiss dude in his bomb shelter, try not to start any arguments or provoke him–along with the bomb shelter, Swiss men are required to keep a gun in their homes.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian

Feb.20.17

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian

by Russ Rowlands

Pale Ale in Toronto

The temperature on Toronto’s waterfront was that magical number where the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales cross, at -40. That’s the kind of number that makes you cringe just to read, so I wasn’t particularly happy to be walking 30 minutes in it to the docks district. But, being a trooper, I wrapped up in my warmest gear, strapped ski goggles to my face to prevent my eyeballs from freezing, packed an axe in my bag, and headed east.

For that cold night I was going to participate in my first session at the axe-throwing league.

Old warehouses hunkered in the gloom and the snow squeaked as it compressed under my boots. I turned down a dark alley marked only by a hand-painted sign indicating the league’s location. As I unwound my frost-crusted scarf and approached the metal door, I was struck by the muffled but familiar sounds of a bowling alley: raucous voices, rock n’ roll, and a heavy, repetitive clunking sound. I pulled the door open and was flooded by the cacophony.

“Shut the fucking door!” a dozen voices yelled in unison.

“Welcome to the league,” a young, pretty, tattooed woman smiled at me from behind a simple counter.

The interior space was exactly what you’d expect if someone described an axe-throwing league in Canada in the winter. Plywood and chicken-wire, bare concrete, plaid everywhere, beards, tattoos, ripped jeans, loud rock. I was in heaven.

After signing a million waivers, I wandered over to the Green section where my league was set to play. The building was divided into four quarters—Red, Black, Green, Blue—each with two ‘lanes’ made up of a pair of wooden targets. The Red and Black leagues had been running for about two years, and the players wore the grizzled, self-satisfied air of veterans. The Blue corner went unused that season. My Greens, though, were all noobs like me, and as I shuffled into the milling crowd I felt the peculiar, awkward unease mixed with vast potential that I felt on my first day of high school two decades ago.

It was obvious that most of the crowd felt the same, so I smiled at the first pretty girl I saw and made a joke about getting the location wrong and ending up in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. She didn’t get it, but was nice enough to laugh anyway.

In addition to its lanes, each league corner had a gallery for watching play and socializing, some table space, and a big ol’ white refrigerator. Because, counter to all sound reasoning, the axe throwing league was a BYOB affair. I hung up my coat, unpacked my axe, cracked a beer and cheersed the small group of Greens chatting around me.

“Hey, ha, look’it that,” laughed a tiny, black-haired girl who couldn’t have been much larger than a fire axe. “Kevin over there looks exactly like the guy on your beer can!”

We all paused to consider. She was right. Kevin resembled the Canuck, from Great Lakes Brewery’s Canuck Pale Ale, and the only more natural setting for him would have been riding logs down a river.

In A Place with Cheap Rum and Cokes, Nobody is A Stranger

Feb.17.17

In A Place with Cheap Rum and Cokes, Nobody is A Stranger

by Shelley Seale

Cuba Libres in El Salvador

The street was quiet in Suchitoto, a small town in northern El Salvador full of history and artists. We had been told about Café Bar El Necio; it seemed like it was the place to be in town, though the surrounding sleepy buildings gave nothing away.

Suddenly laughter and dim red light spilled out of windows at the corner. We had arrived, and the small bar was packed, both with people and with the Salvadorean Civil War and Communist memorabilia that filled every available space on the walls.

I grabbed a place at the end of a dark, pockmarked wood table while my boyfriend headed for the bar. I gazed around at the flags hanging from the rafters above my head; the posters and black-and-white photographs from many countries and decades lining the walls. There was Fidel Castro; there was Che Guevara. Artifacts, including rebel hats and guerilla guns, were displayed proudly. It was quite a collection.

My boyfriend returned with two Cuba Libres, the unofficial national drink of El Salvador. They were refreshing, very, very strong—and at just over a dollar a pop, a very good deal.

Sipping the cold Coca-Cola and rum amid the conversations around us and the bartenders bellowing from behind the gunshot-scarred wooden bar made me feel as if we were a part of it all, too.

Another Cuba Libre? Why not? The drink, along with cold, local beers such as Pilsener and Suprema, seemed to be the beverages of choice among most of the patrons. A couple of young men came in carrying instrument cases and began setting up in a tight corner with barstools and microphones. Couples and groups of friends, locals and tourists, young and old, crowded the bar and milled in and out of the wide, open-air double doorways.

As I sat in El Necio, cooled by the breeze drifting in and my Cuba Libre, I felt like I was woven into the tapestry of the Suchitoto community. It was a feeling I’d had all week, thanks to the gregarious host of my small inn, his friend who ran the art gallery across the street and ushered us into a private exhibition and party, and the theater director we ran into by chance who invited us to tag along to watch his newest production.

I realized that Suchitoto was one of those places where no one is a stranger, and here, sipping cold drinks in El Necio, I had discovered the heart of the place.

Rethinking the Unsophisticated Local Tipple

Feb.16.17

Rethinking the Unsophisticated Local Tipple

by Revati Upadhya

Feni in Goa

After weeks of passing the nondescript, yellow home with a little wooden double door, I decided I had to give it a shot. It had a narrow doorway that would make anyone taller than 5 feet 5 inches stoop to enter. I was intrigued by the plastic curtain separating the outside from the inside, and the dulled metallic single-letter signage on the wall outside. Pinto Bar, it read, with what looked like a top hat precariously placed to look like the dot on the I.

On the inside, Pinto is a humble little watering hole that should seat no more than 12 people, but with mismatched tables set snugly close, it can accommodate about 20. And therein lies its charm: while you sip the freshest feni—liquor distilled from the cashew apple—seated elbow to elbow with not just the buddies at your table, but the next table too, you meld into the atmosphere.

I seated myself at a table with a view of the small taverna. There was a dinky little refrigerator tucked away in a corner, stacked to the top with aerated drinks, soda, and tonic water. Beside it, a table was lined with bottles galore. A tray held empty glasses waiting to be filled, with a plate of fresh lemon, green chilies, and a saucer with some salt, speckled no doubt with years of dust and grime.

Feni is a distinct alcohol local to Goa, India. Legend (and some history) has it that it was popular among Goans as early as 1740. Feni is heady, with a sharp burn, and a taste that puts it in the league of some of the finest white spirits. It gets its distinct strong, pungent flavor from being distilled multiple times. It’s often called Goa’s local firewater, and has even been bestowed a GI (geographic indication), much like champagne in France or tequila in Mexico.

I always make it a point to drink feni, which is often mistaken for an unsophisticated local tipple. So I ordered a double. I enjoy it best with a lemony soda, lots of ice, a generous squeeze of lime, sprinkle of salt, and the crowning glory—a sliced green chili that doubles up as a stirrer. The drink is the best combination of subtle and punchy: the flowery effusion from the soda hits my tongue first, but when the feni slowly seeps in, I feel the distinct burn of chili on my lips.

Feni tastes best in a taverna, surrounded by others who are there because they’re loyalists. Loyalists of the bar, of feni, or their staples—perhaps fried fish or pork-sausage-stuffed buns. I sipped at my feni and waited for my order of prawns, dusted in semolina and fried to a crisp.

The Only Liquor So Good They Named a Color After It

Feb.15.17

The Only Liquor So Good They Named a Color After It

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Chartreuse in Voiron

Chartreuse is beautiful. It’s the only naturally occurring green liqueur in the world, according to its makers. It is also perhaps the only alcoholic drink to lend its name to a color. I can’t remember when and where I first tasted it, but it was definitely as a digestif, and I loved its “good bitterness,” a term they use at the Chartreuse distillery and something people either don’t like or really, really love.

My French friends joke that it’s medicine, which is actually true. The distillery says it was christened some three centuries ago as an “Elixir of Long Life” and was used to treat various ailments. The elixir was so delicious, however, that people began drinking it like a regular beverage, and so a sweeter, less potent version soon began to be produced for general consumption.

Mystery infuses the history of this florescent-looking liquor. It all began in 1605, when the Carthusian religious order outside Paris was entrusted with an alchemist’s recipe (at that time only a handful of monks and apothecaries really knew how to use herbs to treat illness). The recipe was subsequently sent to the Carthusian headquarters near Grenoble where the resident apothecary expert decoded the intricate instructions and began producing the tonic in 1737.

When I visited the idyllic monastery and Musée de la Grande Chartreuse a few years ago, I had one of those “Aha!” moments because the surrounding countryside of the Isère region is the same vibrant green as Chartreuse, as if the hills themselves were macerated and distilled to make that chlorophyll color. In fact, only 65 percent of the plants and roots are from the Chartreuse Mountains. The rest come from other parts of France and even the world.

Blended from over 130 different types of botanicals, the exact recipe is a carefully guarded secret. Only two monks at any given time know it. At the distillery in Voiron, a short train ride from Lyon or Grenoble, you can sniff different herbs and plants which might be in the mixture, such as marjoram, mugwort, wild thyme, hyssop, gentians, and fir shoots. But above the display is a sign that teases: “We do not know if these plants are among the 130 plants used to make Chartreuse….”

At the distillery, I also learned about different tributes to the cordial. My favorite was from Quentin Tarantino, when he played a barman in his movie Death Proof. After offering a round of Chartreuse shots and downing his own, he slams down his glass saying, “Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

The Best Drinks, Like the Best People, Are Often a Little Hard to Like At First

Feb.14.17

The Best Drinks, Like the Best People, Are Often a Little Hard to Like At First

by Melissa Locker

Vermut in Barcelona

It’s hard to avoid feeling like a tourist in Barcelona’s Barrio Gótico. According to the locals, you’re not in the Barrio Gótico at all, but actually in the Barri Gòtic, and unless you pick up some Catalan, your chances of passing as a local are slim.

If you’re lucky, as you wander down the centuries-old streets you’ll stumble across a brightly lit spot, its fluorescent lights shining anachronistically against the building’s old stones. The sign simply reads “Bar,” a word that acts as a beacon whether in Spanish, Catalan, or English. Step through the door, and no one glances up. Everyone is facing away from the bar, eyes glued to a television set broadcasting the soccer game that is taking place a few miles away at Camp Nou, Barcelona’s football stadium.

The bar offers a line-up of tapas, kept warm inside a glass-fronted counter that runs the length of the room. These are not the dainty, manicured version of tapas served in sleek, dimly lit restaurants, but honest fare for hungry laborers or late-night giggling drunks desperate to sober up over some fried food. Under the glowing lights of the warming unit sits a baseball-sized piece of fried bacallà, a large xoricets (chorizo) that could surely pack a wallop, and a bunyol d’albergina (eggplant fried with …something) that looks lethal whether you’re drunk or sober.

On the counter sits a ceramic crock with an oversized cork, and a handwritten label that reads vermut casero, one euro. I order some, and the bartender, formally dressed in a starched white shirt and black tie, nods and pulls out a glass from below the counter. He ladles a brick-red liqueur into the glass and garnishes it with an orange and an olive skewered together. He hands it to me with another nod and goes back to watching the game.

Vermut is a fortified wine, made by steeping botanicals in wine and then mixing in brandy or another high-proof spirit. There’s a dry version typically used in martinis, but it’s the sweet version that is favored in Spain, made from a white-wine base mixed with spices, such as cardamom, to give it its reddish color.

The first sip tastes like a Yankee Candle; overly spiced and reminiscent of the potpourri in a family restaurant’s wicker-lined bathroom. The second taste is floral and sweet like a sherry, with the brininess of the olive and acidity of the orange cutting through the sweetness. By the third drink, you’re hooked on the complex, herbaceous, clove-tinged fruitiness of the vermut.

While classic producers are still churning out barrels of the traditional sweet red vermouth marked either “basic,” or aged for a bit and labeled “reserva,” the next generation of vintners are innovating. New producers are experimenting with the old recipes, using different varietals of grapes as a base, aging them in large or small or red-wine barrels, or trying out biodynamic practices. Their vermut is subtle and complex and eminently drinkable.

This cup was not that. This was just an honest vermut casero, ladled from a crock into a dusky water glass. It wasn’t gracious or pretty, but it was pretty darn good.

The Trump Effect on America’s Food Chain (Spoiler: It’s Bad)

Feb.13.17

The Trump Effect on America’s Food Chain (Spoiler: It’s Bad)

by Laurie Woolever

Bloody Marys in Naples, Florida

It’s been a handful of days since the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States, the Dow has been closing on record highs, and the individuals leaving their Jaguars and Teslas with the valet staff at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort in Naples, Florida are, by all accounts, feeling really good about their futures.

They’ve paid $10,000 per couple to attend the live auction that is the signature event of Naples Winter Wine Festival. It’s one of the highest-grossing charity wine auctions in the U.S., having raised, since its 2001 inception, over $160 million for the Naples Children and Education Foundation, which makes grants to dozens of non-profits that address the health, educational, and cultural needs of the children of the working poor in Florida’s Collier County.

Naples has the second-highest concentration of millionaires in the United States; however, 15 percent of children live below the poverty line. In the state of Florida, there is no income tax. In Collier County, there is no sales tax. “There are no tax dollars going to children’s services,” said Denise Cobb, a co-chair and founding trustee of the event. “Naples is a rich community along the beach, but go 45 minutes east and it’s all migrant workers. Even in East Naples, more than half the kids are on subsidized or free lunch. The children here depend on us to raise as much money as we can.” In the end, the 2017 auction will raise over $15 million.

In addition to rare and valuable wines, the donated auction lots include a week in a Mexican villa with a private beach and full-time staff; a model year 2018 Audi R8 Spyder; six nights in the Caribbean aboard a yacht once owned by Malcolm Forbes; a 2017 McLaren 570GT; a flight with Judge Judy Sheindlin on her Citation jet, “the Queen Bee,” and a seat in her televised courtroom; a week at Richard Branson’s villa, on his private Australian island; two weeks aboard The World, a private residential ship that continuously circumnavigates the globe; and private flights to, and luxury accommodations within, four U.S. National Parks (pending their continued existence at time of redemption).

Out on the hotel lawn, before the bidding begins, I pick up little bites of tuna poke and black truffle risotto and crab cannelloni and raspberry macarons, and, of course, generous pours of wine, while a band of teenage girls in sequined costumes and pantyhose shimmies through, attempting to excite the crowd into bidding high and often.

I’m drinking Bloody Marys with chef David Kinch, who has brought a small team from his Los Gatos, California restaurant, Manresa, to help him cook one of 18 private dinners being held as part of the fundraising effort. It’s his first time at this festival, the invitation to which he accepted because of the vast amounts of money raised for children who need it.

Our conversation inevitably turns to national politics, and what the actions of the new administration might mean for the restaurant world. Two days ago, Trump floated the idea of a 20 percent tax on Mexican imports as a way to finance his nonsensical southern border wall; yesterday, it was the Muslim travel ban. As yet unbeknownst to us, but not wholly unanticipated, was H.R. 861, Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz’s proposal to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. Earlier in the day, I spoke with California winemaker Violet Grgich, who shared anecdotal observations about the ever-earlier blooming of mustard plants and plum trees and daffodils as startling evidence of climate change. Kinch concurred.

“I see it in the ocean—red tides and the availability of fish changing, becoming more scarce. There will be nothing but giant squid and seaweed in 50 years,” Kinch says. “But I think the thing that’s going to impact us most directly is the labor force. What’s going to happen with the wine industry? Who’s gonna pick the grapes? Who’s gonna do the work to feed the country? Immigrant labor is the backbone of the food chain.” He is careful to note that he doesn’t position himself as a politically outspoken chef.

“Everything we serve is sustainable, from small farms; I want that to be a given. It’s more about walking the walk. But I’ve always wanted my restaurants to be a little oasis of hedonism. I want people to come in and escape everything, turn off the phone, tune out. I don’t want to be misconstrued as giving [the president] a chance, because it’s past that for me. Right now I’m in a defensive crouch with my business. You say something political, you’re going to piss 50 percent of the people off. I may not necessarily agree with some people’s opinions, but I agree with their right to have it.”

A Fortifying Drink While Resisting Thieves and Scoundrels

Feb.10.17

A Fortifying Drink While Resisting Thieves and Scoundrels

by Alexander Lobov

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Palincă in Bucharest

During these past weeks, as many in the U.S. pondered the meaning of resistance, they may have missed the news of relatively effective resistance happening in Romania. The country has been experiencing nightly protests in the thousands since Jan. 18, peaking on Feb. 5 at over half a million.

That night, I was in Bucharest’s Piața Victoriei—Victory Square, where the government sits—and pretty much every Romanian I know was also in attendance. The square was completely full; roads were blocked and people were streaming in from every direction.

We were sharing a plastic water bottle filled with homemade palincă from a northern province, Maramureș, shipped into Bucharest to keep us warm. We took turns drinking the clear, sweet spirit, which is distilled from a fruit mash according to traditions dating from the 14th century. It fortified us while we braved the sub-zero temperatures in the square.

We were protesting corruption and wondering how it was possible that after all the progress Romania has made—putting corrupt politicians behind bars, enforcing laws–suddenly, the political situation seemed to be regressing.

After the country’s most recent elections, a new government was sworn in on Jan. 4. It marked a particularly strong showing for the Partidul Social Democrat (PSD): a nominally center-left party that many see as primarily standing for corruption and the enrichment of associated cronies. Politics in Romania have been complicated of late, with coalitions changing and cabinets resigning frequently. But this was the strongest showing for PSD in a very long time.

While Western media celebrated this as a victory for a traditional European center-left party in the face of a far-right populist onslaught, many Romanians knew better. The PSD came to power on the back of an older form of populism: tax cuts for pensioners, a higher minimum wage, and free public transport. But its appetite for corruption did not appear to have diminished during its period in the political wilderness. In fact, it seemed enraged by the striking success of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate—the body charged with rooting out and prosecuting corruption—which has a 90 percent conviction rate and has convicted hundreds of high-level politicians and members of the judiciary, many of whom were PSD cronies.

In a move Trump would be proud of, the government made known its plans to push policies weakening the penalties to corruption through as emergency decrees, rather than going through Parliament. This intensified protests that were already simmering after drafts of the law were published the week before. Jan. 29 marked the largest protest since Romania’s anti-Communist revolution in 1989: 90,000 took to the cities around the country, including 50,000 in Bucharest. This record would soon be broken repeatedly.

The government looked like it would back down at first, but then passed the decrees anyway the night of Jan. 31. Prisoners indicted under anti-corruption statutes would have their sentences halved, some would be freed immediately, and corrupt acts of up to 200,000 lei (US$47,600) would be decriminalized. Outraged at this brazen legalization of theft, 300,000 Romanians took to the streets on Feb. 1.

On Feb. 5, the government announced it would rescind the emergency decrees. But by that point, Romanians weren’t in a trusting mood: 300,000 protested in Bucharest alone. In the square, we were surrounded by cries of “Hoți! Hoți! Hoți!” (Thieves!) and “Demisia!” (Resign!). The Romanian flag was everywhere, either in its current form or the revolutionary flag with a hole in the middle. At one point, cardboard cut-outs of key members of government were wheeled out wearing striped prison garb.

Each swig of the palincă seemed to focus my mind on the meaning of these protests. Romania has seen tremendous gains since accession to the E.U. in 2007. It has enjoyed some of the best rates of economic growth in Europe, a substantial improvement in quality of life, and a litany of small victories against its endemic corruption. Nearly every Romanian I spoke to in the