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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Great Little Bar in Northeastern Lebanon

Mar.23.17

A Great Little Bar in Northeastern 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 square said they just wanted to live in a normal country, be part of the European community, and be led by people who were not thieves.

Romanians truly were bucking the far-right fascist trend. But their government was still letting them down. At the protests, you could see the children of ‘89 proudly waving banners again, grizzled pensioners, students, and young professionals. There were families with children; some had even brought pets. It was a resolute atmosphere of non-violence, and many said these protests had succeeded in uniting the country.

In the aftermath of these protests, the government has promised to rescind the decrees but will still try to pass them through a Parliament dominated by their own party. And of course, the PSD refuses to resign. Romanians continue to hit the streets on a nightly basis, cautiously hoping for better. As temperatures look to dive deep into negative Celsius territory, one thing’s for sure: more palincă will be necessary.

Photo by Jake Stimpson / Flickr Commons

Switching From Beer to Rum Ups the Stakes When Gunpowder Is Involved

Feb.09.17

Switching From Beer to Rum Ups the Stakes When Gunpowder Is Involved

by Jen Rose Smith

Beer in San Gil

The mountain air was filled with flying lead and clinking bottles, and sudden cracks of gunpowder made everyone jump. It was just another round of tejo, Colombia’s favorite drinking game.

We lined up to play, kicking a line on the cement floor, throwing lead pucks across the room into a clay-filled pan. Points were awarded for burying a puck in the center of the clay, or for crushing a mecha, a small paper packet filled with loose gunpowder. An evening of tejo was a welcome break after two weeks of hard riding, pedaling a loaded bicycle over Colombia’s dirt roads and mountain passes.

Since arriving in Bogotá, we’d camped in soccer fields, abandoned schools, and at the edge of train tracks, and we’d been overwhelmed by the generosity of the people we met. We had read about the war before leaving home, about the killings and disappearances, and we looked for signs of that trauma in the villages and highlands of the Colombian Andes. But every conversation turned instead to the country’s beauty, the women, the food—it was clear that the people we met were ready for the world to change the subject already, okay?

Before the end of the first tejo match, my beer bottle was smeared in red clay. After two, we’d racked up a line of empties along the fence, and my teammates were pouring rum straight into their bottles of Coke. It raised the stakes considerably and I kept my head up, ready to dodge the flying lead pucks that skittered across the cement and ricocheted off the wooden backboards.

Even that couldn’t distract the players next door, who weighed each throw with deliberation, landing their pucks in the center of the clay, snapping mechas every few minutes. We drifted to the adjacent lawn-bowling alley, where a couple of local guys practiced their throws beside an impressive collection of empty bottles. One man came over to the group to give my husband, Daniel, a beer, clapping him on the shoulder. “Welcome to my country,” he said, over and over. “Do you like it?”

“I like it very much,” Daniel replied. Our new friend beamed, pleased, and handed him another beer. “Yes,” he sighed, “Colombia is very beautiful.”

Listening to Willie Nelson on Repeat In a Strange Hotel Lobby Probably Does Feel Like Going Insane

Feb.08.17

Listening to Willie Nelson on Repeat In a Strange Hotel Lobby Probably Does Feel Like Going Insane

by Katherine Clary

Gazelle beer in Dakar

We arrive at our hotel around 10 p.m. on a Friday night, and though I was told we got the last room available, the place is a ghost town. We’re standing in the lobby of a dim, dusty, vaguely art deco hotel that looks like it’s seen better days. A sleepy receptionist seems alarmed we’re standing in the lobby. “How did you reserve?” “Online,” I say. He offers a sleepy smile, and pulls out a pad of paper. It quickly becomes clear that my name isn’t on it.

Ten minutes pass as he searches for a reservation I’m certain he didn’t receive. There’s a crackly song playing on repeat, seemingly coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Is that… Willie Nelson? You were always on my mind… you were always on my mind… Willie drawls on. Christmas lights flicker in the closed-down bar, which I’m eyeing desperately.

The receptionist has found us a room, and 20 minutes later we’re back in the lobby. “Possible une biere?” I manage to squeak. The bar is clearly closed, but it’s worth a shot. We have been traveling for approximately 18 hours at this point. A beer is in order. “Oui, deux Gazelle?” I happily accept his suggestion, knowing in the very least that Gazelle comes in a very big bottle.

Someone is sent out to retrieve our two beers, and we post up at the desolate bar and wait. And wait. I’m eyeing the sunken lounge, wondering who may have sat there and what they drank. Why they came. The pink-and-red furniture and soft flickering lights all contribute to the feeling of sitting in a musty brothel. I listen to the Atlantic Ocean rolling just outside and I want to dive in. The song continues to play, possibly 20 times before our Gazelles arrive. Is this what it feels like to go insane?

We’re eventually presented with wine glasses and have our first sips of Senegal’s famed beer. Willie goes on about all the little things he should have said or done, and eventually we’re singing along with him, I guess I never told you… I’m so happy that you’re mine

This Moonshine Drinking Newspaper Editor Is Living His Best Life

Feb.07.17

This Moonshine Drinking Newspaper Editor Is Living His Best Life

by Caroline Eubanks

Moonshine in Georgia

“Here you go,” the editor of the local newspaper said as he handed me a styrofoam cup full of clear liquid that had been poured out of a Mason jar. It was this peach moonshine, a patchy stray cat and a sign reading, “Greensboro: A Town of 3500 People and a Few Old Grouches” that welcomed me to Greensboro, Georgia. I didn’t ask where the hooch came from—in years past years it would probably have come from an illegal operation, but it’s hard to tell these days, particularly in rural Georgia.

I sipped it while he told me about the celebrities he’d met during his tenure and pointed to a signed photo on the wall of Kenny Rogers. Drinking the hooch, I didn’t have the choking reaction I expected, the one I remembered from my first tequila shot; this stuff was smooth. It wasn’t yet 4 p.m. and the staff of The Herald-Journal were already imbibing. I wondered to myself if they were hiring writers. Although I was in my home state, this was my first drink of Georgia moonshine, being a city girl. But it wouldn’t be the last.

If you grow up in the South, anytime you’ve got a number of men of a certain age together drinking, someone will pull out a jar of moonshine. It seems that just about everybody either has a family recipe or “knows a guy” who can get it. The corn-based whiskey is essentially what you get before barrel-aging bourbon, but there is a tradition of making it in copper stills on creeks and streams, away from the prying eyes of the ATF—the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It was usually offered in Mason jars used for canning vegetables, long before the jars became a mainstay in city cocktail bars.

This moonshine is common in the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. It was whisky bootleggers’ efforts to escape police—fitting out their cars to haul the contraband and then driving like hell to avoid getting caught—that led to the creation of stock car racing, which became NASCAR. Now, moonshine has evolved into a mass-produced item, but the glass in front of me wasn’t the unnaturally pink concoction you see at just about any liquor store. It didn’t have a label that said “Pappy’s” or “white lightning.” It was honest.

The next time I was offered the drink, I said no. It was 8 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I was at a mud bog with my dad, which involves driving specially outfitted trucks in a mud pit. The young guy who offered it had swigged out of the bottle plenty before we arrived. His eyes were blurry and his speech was slurred. I wasn’t sold on sharing. I bet he’d never even met Kenny Rogers.

What’s a Little Alcohol Taboo Between Friends?

Feb.06.17

What’s a Little Alcohol Taboo Between Friends?

by Maxime Brousse

Kasiri in French Guiana

Our five-month stay in French Guiana was coming to an end, and there was still one more visit we had to make before flying home. My girlfriend Johanna had formed a bond with an indigenous Palikur family from Norino. She would spend long afternoons with them, learning traditional basketwork. Once, she even brought some armadillo meat home.

We met with Jean; his wife, Rosania; and Sarah, one of their daughters, under the wooden shelter where women would make the baskets they would later sell to tourists. But this time, instead of eating there by the fire, we followed them to their home a few hundred yards away. We sat at the plastic table, surrounded by the whole family. We alone were eating: everyone else had eaten before we arrived. As lunch came to an end, Jean opened the huge chest fridge, one of the only pieces of furniture in the room, and took out a plastic soda bottle filled with a milky, grayish liquid: kasiri, he said.

We had only seen kasiri, commonly described as Amerindian beer, on two occasions: at the Kali’na games, a gathering celebrating Amerindian culture, and on our way to Trois-Sauts, a remote village a two-day boat-trip away from the closest road. At the Kali’na games, the kasiri was bright pink, very sour, smoky and slightly sparkling; a delight, frankly. On the second occasion, the skippers on the boat were drinking it and I was not offered any.

We asked Jean where his kasiri came from. We knew that most of the village’s inhabitants had given up their traditional beliefs about 20 years earlier and had embraced Evangelicalism, which forbids alcohol. Jean told us that, knowing we would be keen on trying it, he had bought a bottle from a neighbor. He poured some into our glasses and into his own. The three of us shared a drink, and then it was time to leave. Rosania had made us seed jewelry, and Jean had us try on the feather crown he once wore as the village’s chief. Those items, too, were taboo under their new faith, but fortunately, the desire to share a good time with new friends was stronger.

Canada Will Not Go Gently

Feb.02.17

Canada Will Not Go Gently

by Benson Cowan

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Cider in Ontario

It gets cold up here in Ontario. When this part of my country was first settled, the pioneers drank all sorts of terrible alcohol to make it through the winter. They drank whatever they could coax into fermentation. Spruce beer. Birch or maple wine made with honey and yeast. It offered only a mild buzz and soured quickly. Then came apples. Shortly after came cider. It quickly became synonymous with hospitality and conviviality. It was at the center of every social event. Traditionally, guests were provided with a bowl of apples and pitcher of fresh, golden cider. Beware, it was always said, of drinking cider alone.

I’m already through two pints and all I can think about is the names and faces of the six men killed in Quebec City on Sunday evening: Khaled Belkacemi, Azzedine Soufiane, Aboubaker Thabti, Mamadou Tanou, Ibrahima Barry, and Abdelkrine Hassane. These men were fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, civil servants, IT workers, businessmen, educators, and, of course, Muslims. They were shot in the back as they prayed.

In the days following the killings, Canada’s law enforcement, politicians, media, and citizens worked together to respond smartly and sensitively. And while we worked at that, the American political and media machine sucked us into their fetid swamp. The new American president’s shamelessly calumnious spokesman used the massacre to justify the new regime’s racist policies and rhetoric. Propagandists falsely blamed the shooting on a foreigner of Moroccan descent. And the New York Times, with the casual, distant arrogance with which they view everything outside of their ken, reflected on how this mass murder would make Canadians confront a new strain of intolerance.

Spare me.

None of this is new to us. Racial intolerance and ethnic hatred lies at the very foundation of Canadian democracy. We are not strangers to it. Far from being untouched by it, its scars run deep and are still raw. Our nation was founded by white men of property who restricted the franchise to others like them. In the early years of this province, these same men kept themselves in power through violence and fear. They jailed dissenters, hanged traitors, and worked to exclude others from the protection of the law. As explored in this recent piece in The Walrus, as the nation grew up, the same brutal, racist tendencies that motivated Canada to engage in a cross-generational genocide of its First Nations peoples visited indignities on the Irish, blacks, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Japanese, Sikhs, Jews, and Tamils who tried to settle here. We had our share of racial fear-mongering and riots, of racist bans and head-taxes. We worked to keep the others out. We made it hard for immigrants to succeed and thrive.

But, having just opened my third pint, I am now going to self-righteously assert that this has always been a country that was founded on a set of core legal principles, on strong institutions and a deep and stubborn commitment to the rule of law. Maybe it is the cold, but unlike the warmer climes to the south, we’ve tended to draw together to survive, to work to heal our wounds over time. And while our courts, our governments, our civic institutions, our public schools and our citizens, have had their weak moments, they’ve come to lead the charge against intolerance. They’ve been at the frontlines of fighting racism. I’m not saying its perfect here. I’m not saying we don’t have issues with racism and intolerance. I’m not saying there do not remain some painful and unresolved legacies. But we’ve developed the habit of working through them. Slowly, sometimes too slowly, but we work through them.

I’m not worried that there is a new, creeping intolerance that will confound what the Times thinks is nation of simple, naïve, and trusting souls. I am not worried that the vile white supremacist trolls will gain some new purchase here. Nor do I fear that the peculiar, sick Americanism of mass shootings will leech uncontrollably across our border. We’ve built a powerful and nuanced and socially responsible wall along the 49th parallel that keeps all those bad dudes out.

The import I truly fear is the erosion of faith in government that has taken hold in our southern neighbor, the zombification of politicians, the sensational whorification of the media, the triumph of narrow personal interests over the public good, the worship of celebrity over character. That’s what Canadians need to stand on guard against.

It’s cold this afternoon. It’s started snowing. I’m opening my fourth cider. And while I don’t mean to be rude, I’m going to buck tradition, folk wisdom, and all good sense and drink this one alone. I’m not going to spend any time worrying about all this political bullshit. I’m tired of it all.

Instead I’m going to think a little bit more about those six men whose lives were taken in a quiet suburban mosque in Quebec City. I’m going to think about the hole they left behind, in the lives of their families, their friends, their communities, and their country.

Take Your Tea in a Shot Glass Filled With Booze

Feb.01.17

Take Your Tea in a Shot Glass Filled With Booze

by Hsu-Ann Lee

Wuliangye in Sydney

I always feel disingenuous describing myself as Chinese, although I am of Chinese descent. I’ve never set foot in China and have spent most of my life in Australia. My Cantonese is rudimentary to say the least. More than four percent of my fellow Aussies share the same ethnicity and many are in the same boat as me; that is, we are far from fresh off that boat.

Certainly in Sydney, the most cosmopolitan city in the country, you get people from everywhere—every skin color, every language, every cuisine. It wasn’t all that surprising, then, that my housemates and I found a Chinese tea shop plonked in the middle of a busy strip of Thai restaurants.

The mustachioed proprietor got up from behind his laptop to greet us. We were the only customers. I debated whether his chong sam meant this place was legit, or if the outfit was a gimmick to fool the locals into thinking the place was legit. But when we sat down for tea, I stopped caring.
The time simply began to slip and slide away from us. Soon an hour passed. And then another. Infusion after infusion, accompanied by the gentle plucking of musical strings, was exerting its calming influence on us.

Just as my mind was relaxing to the point of melding into the ether and the zither, our host, Mr. Mao, decided to inform us that he had alcohol.

Did someone say booze? My ears pricked up. I guess I was still thirsty from my dry New Year’s Eve.

“Earlier today I was drinking with my friend,” he said. “And he likes his tea with liquor.”

I wondered if he was telling us because he was going to share some of his secret stash with us. Thus far I hadn’t been a fan of East Asian spirits; I don’t see the appeal in sake or soju. Too tepid. Too salty. Too much like bad vodka. However, I’m always up for trying a new drop.

My barely-there knowledge of the Chinese script recognized the wu in Wuliangye, the name of the drink.

“Five … something … something?” I bumbled.

“It’s called five grain drink,” said Mr. Mao.

“Multigrain booze!” I exclaimed. Made from corn, glutinous rice, regular rice, sorghum, and wheat, surely it had numerous health benefits.

Lifting the tiny glass to my nose, I sniffed the contents: fragrant. I set it back down. This was clearly a drink to be taken in sips, not in shots. I took a deep breath and brought the glass to my lips. At room temperature, the stuff was unexpectedly smooth and pleasantly sweet. The trickle of the 52 percent ABV spirit down my throat warmed my insides without burning through my bronchial tubes.

By this stage we were all nodding our heads, remarking on how nice it was and how the mild aftertaste cleansed the palate, making the next cup of raw Puerh tea taste even better.

I’ve never set foot in China but I’ll now be claiming that “we” invented noodles, ketchup, fireworks, tea—and the multigrain awesomeness that is Wuliangye.

Congratulations, You Have Discovered A Dive Bar

Jan.31.17

Congratulations, You Have Discovered A Dive Bar

by Ross Doyle

Lager in Toronto

Located in downtown Toronto, Wide Open is unintentionally distinctive among the pristine, trendy bars and clubs in the financial, fashion, and entertainment districts. The sign above the door is grubby, grotesque, and neglected.

The front section of the bar is closed off by an unstable glass window and a door with a handwritten “pull” sign scrawled on a scrap of paper hanging by a piece of tape. Inside what appears to be a rented garage, the bar is a claustrophobe’s nightmare; a dimly-lit narrow alley less than three feet wide. It’s lively and it’s loud. There is a small scattering of chairs at the front.

There are two screens showing darts behind the bar. The music veers from recent dance-pop hits to mid-90s punk, and the clientele offers a similar level of diversity. There are businessmen in suits enjoying a cheap after-work tipple, there are students tanking full pitchers of beer surrounded by empty shot glasses and spillage, teenagers with creative hair styles and hair colors, and a group of mid-20s friends in plaid shirts, drinking pints and talking politics.

A beer or a well drink is under three bucks, tax included; less than half the cost of a beer anywhere else nearby, and far less than the marked-up prices in local clubs. The ebullient bar staff eagerly accept a shot of rum as a gratuity.

The crowd grows rapidly post-5 p.m. I am relentlessly pushed and shoved when I get myself another drink, before I find somewhere to plant my feet and enjoy another glass of one of the home-brews on offer: amber or lager. Standing still is not an option as more people shuffle slowly in towards the bar.

While the nearby downtown area of Toronto continues to develop with shiny, brand-new, high-rise condominiums, chic fine-dining establishments, and indie coffee shops, Wide Open has survived 14 years in its unsightly state.

Wide Open refuses to budge from their hyper-budget menu prices, but the bar offers little else. There is no food menu, no jukebox, no pool table, no bar snacks, and the toilet is in what seems to have at one time functioned as a broom cupboard. But, as their website proudly and confidently proclaims, “No one tops this shit in the city—NO ONE.”

After one more shot of white rum shared with gleeful acceptance, the barmaid invites me to the weekend’s 14th anniversary party. “Is the beer still cheap?” I reservedly enquire. “Of course.”

All Scottish Ales Taste Alike, Even in Costa Rica

Jan.30.17

All Scottish Ales Taste Alike, Even in Costa Rica

by Jason Avant

Malacrianza in Costa Rica

The Scottish ale is good. Surprisingly so, all things considered. I ask the barkeep to pull one because it’s January and I want what the beer writers call a Winter Warmer. Robbie Vickers, the Irish guy behind the taps, doesn’t question my choice.

Scottish ales all tend to taste alike—thick, malty, sweet from the higher ABV. This one is no exception. Robbie asks me how I like it. “It’s really good,” I say. I don’t tell him that it’s maybe a bit colder than how it’d be served back home. The glass is sweating almost as much as I am; the path to this particular beer was through a jungle, at a damp 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A heavy Winter Warmer might not have been the best choice. But I’m in Costa Rica, sitting at the bar of the combination brew pub/surf shop/coffee house Olo Alaia, among racks of surfboards, the taps bookended by a pastry display and an espresso machine, steps away from an uncrowded beach with near-perfect waves, sipping on a tasty ale that I won’t find anywhere in the States. I’m going to complain?

I hadn’t planned on drinking beer at all, and certainly didn’t count on finding good craft beer in a jungle-covered country roughly the size of West Virginia. My intention was to drink whatever was local. Initial research came back with guaro. I asked my fiancé, who’d spent time in Costa Rica, about it, but she’d never heard of it. “Rum, Flor de Caña especially, mixed with fresh juice, pineapple or mango or watermelon, squeezed right at the bar. That’s what everyone down there drinks,” she’d said.

We tried both. The guaro didn’t impress; it’s an unaged cane liquor, thin and flavorless. Flor de Caña is made in Nicaragua, not Costa Rica. The watermelon aguas frescas were a particular pleasure, but a guilty one. I could get this drink back home. I felt like a tourist.

Back to this Scottish ale, and why I chose it. It’s called Malacrianza, and it’s a product of Costa Rica’s Craft Brewing Company. Robbie the barkeep owns Olo Alaia, and he tells me that the craft beer industry in Costa Rica is picking up. (There are about 40 craft brewers.)

Over the course of the week, we will sample other Costa Rican craft beers, from a sophisticated Saison Rosé to something called a Tropical Golden Ale. The only Costa Rican beer I’d heard of before my visit was Imperial, which I suspect is to tico beer aficionados what Foster’s is to Australians. “Yeah, that’s what most of the tourists drink,” Robbie says. “Stuff’s made to sit for months in the jungle, in an unrefrigerated storage bin. Tells you a lot, really.”

I’m a Muslim Immigrant in America and I Need a Drink

Jan.27.17

I’m a Muslim Immigrant in America and I Need a Drink

by Raad Rahman

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I scanned the list of countries from which President Trump plans to ban most refugees and immigrants, thinking of the friends I have in those mostly Muslim nations. As a Muslim and an immigrant to the U.S. myself, I worried about what would happen to them. On social media, these friends were clearly devastated. An Iranian friend worried about how he would see his brother, who attends college in the U.S. Journalist friends worried about being able to travel for work. Globally, everyone I know has been struggling since Nov. 8, but this has been a particularly bad week.

The prospect of a Muslim ban in any incarnation shakes the very foundation of the freedoms guaranteed to those in America seeking refuge from extremism. This must not be allowed if democracy is to survive. This ban is reductive and reactionary extremism in its own right that must be denounced whole-heartedly.

My friends went to New York City’s Washington Square Park to protest the executive order. They asked me to go. I wasn’t able to join, but that evening, I decided to console myself with a drink. That’s right, I drink. Muslims are not all the same!

“A mojito,” I said to the bartender after entering a Brooklyn bar. My choice felt like an appropriate homage to the Cuban leader who had the gall to antagonize the United States for his entire life.

As a Muslim, during the U.S. presidential campaign I have felt reduced to a single facet of my identity. A religion I rarely practice has taken center stage. I first wanted to visit the United States after reading Archie comics and listening to Madonna as a child in Bangladesh. What has become of that country that seemed so welcoming? I find it disturbing that a small group of ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorists have been allowed to take center stage in foiling the reputation of the majority of peace-loving Muslims. White supremacist ideology has infiltrated the highest office of the most powerful nation on earth, while people who are escaping violence and who oppose it are being wrongfully vilified.

I have lived on-and-off in the United States for thirteen years. I have never felt so unwelcome in my adopted home as I have these past few months. As I read the papers after the election, I wanted to leave the U.S. immediately. The “Fuck Islam” signs at Trump’s campaign rallies flashed back into my mind.

I took a sip of my mojito.

Trump has continually vilified and marginalized all those who oppose him. I wonder, what happens if Muslims defy him and speak up? What if he decides to escalate matters and put them in internment camps for resisting?

I took a bite of the mint leaves and chewed slowly, considering how such an extreme possibility has become even thinkable.

Isn’t becoming an immigrant in America difficult enough already? Don’t we already endure “extreme vetting”? As a South Asian from a Muslim country, I provide extensive banking information and credentials to secure a visa. At the airport, I let my mini-skirt and tank tops (which I regularly don for flights), speak for themselves. But the constant harassment is a regular assault on my dignity. I can only imagine things are about to get even worse.

I drank my mojito in silence. I am still shocked by what feels like creeping turns toward fascism. The system is not as broken as we are being told it is, but the growing intolerance and Islamophobia continues.

I felt suffocated in the bar, despite its sky roof and expansive wooden walls and floor. It appeared unreal among the brownstones surrounding it.

I ordered another mojito. When my glass was empty, I stepped out onto Fulton Street, where I shivered, though the night was unusually warm for January.

Photo by: Janine

Who Doesn’t Like Mangoes and Sticky Rice?

Jan.26.17

Who Doesn’t Like Mangoes and Sticky Rice?

by Revati Upadhya

Mangos in Bangkok

Sticky rice and fresh mangos didn’t sound particularly appealing at all. Sweet, fresh mangoes, perfectly cubed, perched delicately atop a little mound of glossy sticky rice, with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds? Perfectly lovely elements on their own, but which in my mind just didn’t belong together.

It wasn’t just a matter of seemingly mismatched flavors in a single dish; it was also the matter of texture. Cool, tingly, smoothness from the saccharine sweetness of the mangoes, placed alongside the textured, granular, almost-gloopy fattened feel of grains of rice held together by their own starch? No, I was really not feeling it.

But it was nearly 5 p.m. After a whole day out walking the streets of Bangkok, I’d just returned to Khao San Road, a short distance away from my B&B. The air was heavy, thick with muggy moisture, and the fatigue from a day of wandering had long-drained me of every ounce of energy. It was teatime, and my body expected tea. But, that day, I knew I needed a hit of something sweet. So in the name of eating local, striking off yet another dish from the must-eat list for Bangkok, I bought myself a serving of fresh mango and sticky rice and a bright, almost-neon yellow passion fruit and mango spritzer that called out to me.

I poured the little pot of white milky liquid onto the pile of rice, not knowing if I was doing it right. It was a shot of mildly sweetened coconut milk, I was told. In a corner of my brain, I felt the fixed notions I held about sweet vs. savory relaxing a little already.

I hungrily scooped up a bit of the rice and piled on two little squares of mango.

As soon as I tasted it, all my trepidation gave way to a most pleasant burst of flavor and a surprising mish-mash of contrasting textures. I chased it with large swigs of the icy, pulpy sweet-tangy drink, and all was well with the world again.

Sorry: Keeping Kosher is No Longer an Excuse Not to Eat Haggis

Jan.25.17

Sorry: Keeping Kosher is No Longer an Excuse Not to Eat Haggis

by Keren Landman

Haggis in Glasgow

The scene is about what you’d expect from any Jewish deli on a weekday afternoon: chopped liver, cream soda, old people talking loudly at each other over bowls of chicken soup. Which makes it all the more surreal when Mark Cohen gestures at a thimbleful of liquid on the table between us, then points at my plate. “That’s whiskey that you just pour over it,” he says. “To give it real Scottish flavor.”

This is Mark’s Deli, Scotland’s only kosher deli, which Cohen opened in 2007. On my plate is haggis—or at least, a special version of it.

In its original form, haggis is a rich hash of sheep’s innards, suet, oatmeal, onions, and spices, traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach. It’s been a potent culinary symbol of Scotland for centuries. Scots concede that it’s an acquired taste, but it’s ubiquitous at special occasions nationwide, and also at not-so-special occasions: many chip shops catering to late-night drinkers offer haggis pizza or haggis spring rolls.

Because the sheep parts in commercial haggis aren’t butchered according to Jewish dietary laws, the specialty was long out of reach for Glasgow’s small Jewish community. But today, I am sampling Cohen’s interpretation of haggis, which uses minced, kosher lamb, but none of the heart, lungs, liver, and stomach from the more traditional recipes.

Cohen’s family has been cooking for Glasgow’s residents since the 1930s, when his great-great-aunt ran a restaurant that fed, among others, Polish soldiers with nowhere else to go. His mother, Doreen, made her first kosher haggis for her catering clients in 1987. And although the city’s Jewish population is slowly shrinking, Cohen still turns out over 220 pounds of his haggis annually.

Most of this haggis production is for Burns Night, Scotland’s annual celebration of its national poet, Robert Burns, who wrote Auld Lang Syne. On or around January 25 at Burns Suppers nationwide, a host or a guest of honor will recite Burns’ Address to a Haggis to tables full of hungry people before ceremonially slicing open the haggis with a sword (or kitchen knife.) A grand meal follows, with the haggis usually accompanied by turnips, potatoes, (“neeps and tatties”) and whisky sauce.

The Burns Supper at Cohen’s synagogue always sells out because they can only seat 200. Cohen serves me his haggis the way he serves it at Burns Night: in a neat cylindrical shape under layers of neeps and tatties. The vegetables are a formality; the haggis is the star. It’s loose and lean as a pilaf, and has a toothsome, malty chew from the barley Cohen adds. A heady lamb perfume permeates every crumb, and while there’s none of the fat, silken mustiness of offal, in its place are the warmth of browned onions and black pepper. I eat it all.

At his synagogue’s celebration last year, Cohen had the honor of addressing the haggis. He recites the poem for me from memory and with gleeful drama.

Robert Burns is for all Scots, says Cohen, and a good delicatessen should be the same. “In New York City, deli food is just part of the culture—we’d like to develop that same ethos in Glasgow.”

Six Flat Beers and a Box of Mini Donuts, the Fuel of All Champion Hikers

Jan.24.17

Six Flat Beers and a Box of Mini Donuts, the Fuel of All Champion Hikers

by Russ Rowlands

Beer in Sapporo

Similar to Germany’s Reinheitsgebot beer laws, Japan has a strict classification system for what brewers are and are not allowed to label beer. I didn’t know this when I arrived in the country, so on my first visit to 7-Eleven to stock up for a night of Googling things like “holy shit what is going on here,” I was overwhelmed.

I landed in Tokyo with zero preparation. Like any Canadian, my first stop after finding a place to sleep was to seek out beer and food, in that order. I had been a fan of Japanese beers back home, finding them crisp and dry in the pilsner style, so I knew I’d be in for a treat once I got my feet under me.

The Japanese classification system comes down to the percentage of malt used in the brewing process; only brews with 67 percent or greater content of malt can be legally labeled beer. There’s a byzantine system of classifications for malt content below 67 percent, but generally comes down to happoshu, with some malt, or happosei, with no malt or with other added spirits. Staring at a wall of cans that on the surface appeared to be beer, I felt the giddy joy of true exploration spread through me. I just didn’t understand why one particular beer can cost twice that of another (short answer: taxes).

Fast-forward two months and 600 miles to Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. I had settled on a favorite ‘fake’ beer called Asahi Clear, a combination of a happoshu brew with other spirits. Sounds strange, but it was 5 percent ABV and tasted like a light, crisp lager and cost half what a traditional beer would have. In the 100-plus degree heat of Tokyo it was the perfect quaff. But in Sapporo, the home of the eponymous beer, I decided it was time to do a thorough quality control analysis between these two major brands.

With mini-donuts as a palate cleanser, I shifted back and forth between six Asahi and Sapporo brews (sorry Kirin and Suntory, another time), comparing beeryness, strength, dryness, and finish. While the brands’ flagship beers compared well against each other, Sapporo lagged in its ability to recreate a proper beer taste/feel with its lower-malt varieties, their flavors ranging from beer-water to toothpaste-water. I declared visiting-team Asahi the overall victor, with the caveat that the scientific validity of my experiment might have been compromised by the fact that I had hiked up Mount Moiwa with the six cans in a backpack and that they were all warm and flat by the time I got to taste them.

The view, on the other hand, was excellent.

Never Put Down to the Supernatural What Can be Explained by Booze

Jan.23.17

Never Put Down to the Supernatural What Can be Explained by Booze

by Olga Kovalenko

Cider in Dartmoor

Our hiking trip to Dartmoor, in southwest England, was a spontaneous affair. The winter was mild and no snow was forthcoming, so we grabbed our hiking boots, warm clothes, a flask of whiskey, and set off toward the wilderness of the moor, untouched by humans or a GPS signal.

As the setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s spooky tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dartmoor always intrigued me, but local mysteries don’t end there. The region abounds with legends of the supernatural: pixies, a pack of spectral dogs, a headless horseman, a large black dog portending death, a beastly cat, a few restless ghosts, and a strange apparition called ‘hairy hands’ that likes to steer unaware drivers into ditches.

At first glance, Dartmoor seemed harmless. The moor was surrounded by cozy villages and attracted a large number of weekend hikers. If we were going to experience anything supernatural, we would not be alone.

Our first and only mystery occurred when we started putting on our hiking stuff. Instead of my favorite, high-quality, water-resistant boots, I discovered a pair of suede cowboy boots that I hadn’t worn since my university years. It was a real surprise to see them in the British countryside. Either I took the wrong shoe bag without looking inside, or the Dartmoor pixies had played a trick on me.

There was nothing I could do except go onto the moor in my everyday shoes, which got soaked in no time and made me look even more amateurish. The moor swarmed with serious hikers wearing knee-high rubber boots, water-resistant clothes and binoculars. I presumed they were out to spot a deer, or a Dartmoor pony, or a headless horseman. I hadn’t seen much wildlife except sheep.

The moor was even more beautiful than I expected. It became even more so when we put some distance between the wet grass and our feet, stopping at an inn. The fire was blazing and the landlady bustled around it. I changed into my dry cowboy boots. The bar was full of weathered, hirsute locals. There were a few bikers sporting leather pants and grim looks.

As the inn filled with hikers and their decidedly non-spectral dogs, we cradled our drinks by the fire. I had to try the cider. All the cider I drink in London comes from the West Country, and I was excited to sip the real deal in situ. This one was a local Devon cider, the bartender said. The amber liquid and was thick and pleasantly refreshing, not too sweet and not too dry.

There might well be a connection between drinking copious amounts of cider and having supernatural experiences, but unfortunately we weren’t there long enough to find out.

All the Drinks in the U.S. of A.

Jan.20.17

All the Drinks in the U.S. of A.

by Cara Parks

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Well, it happened. It really happened. There have been a lot of moments since Nov. 8, 2016, that have caused the world to stare, gobsmacked, at the smoking refuse that is public political discourse in the U.S. today, and each time, there was a sense, among some, that somehow this day would not come to pass. But of course it was going to happen, and now it has. There’s nothing much to say. There’s everything to drink.

So let’s raise a glass of wine and toast the demise of our democracy the Roman way. Vale! Let a single tear roll down your cheek. This is your mourning drink. Savor it. Let it trickle through the sandbox of depression that is your brain and fill the cracks in the empty plastic bag that was once your soul.

Mourning time is over. Move on to a shot of vodka. Toast our new Russian overlords in the style to which we will soon become accustomed. Ваше здоровье! Feel it burn away the vestiges of your belief in inevitable societal progress.

Now for a shot of baiju. Get it while you can, before the trade war with China really gets going.

Feeling a little better? No? Don’t worry, we’re just getting started.

Have a margarita before you can only get tequila by surreptitiously crawling over a border wall, Berlin-style. Ah, how we shall laugh when we tell our children of the days when tequila flowed freely and civil rights were respected and icebergs existed. Haha! Ha!

Now have a gin and tonic and cheers our fellow contestants in the race to the bottom of the political garbage fire in the U.K. Let the best pandering win!

Admit it, you’re feeling a littttttttle better now. Don’t.

Drink a martini in a wine glass filled with ice. Why would you possibly want such a thing? You don’t. But that’s what martinis look like in this brave new world. Drink it really fast, and you might not taste it. Good luck.

Perhaps you’re trying to stagger away now, but your legs won’t work. You shouldn’t have taken that shot of baiju! Now it’s too late. What are you going to do? You’re trapped in a foggy fugue state, filled with impotent rage and crushing sadness. Perfect! Now you’re ready.

Take a bottle of the alcohol of your choice and use it to crush a bag of Cheetos into a fine dust. Pour that dust into the alcohol and drink deeply. You have now consumed the essence of your opponents. Let the magic of this act imbue you with artery-clogging strength. Feel the courage of your enemies filling your veins.

Get a cup of coffee. Pour it into your eyes. Allow the caffeine to drag you away from the sweet, sweet void you were headed toward. Let one more tear fall. Farewell, sweet void. Farewell.

Get a bucket and fill it with coffee. Submerge your entire head in it. Let out a silent scream. It still happened. It will still be happening. It’s always happening.

Now stand up.

Photo by: Julia DeSantis

“Happy” Hour in D.C.

Jan.19.17

“Happy” Hour in D.C.

by Haley Gray

Beer in DC

In America’s capital city, nothing is more predictable than Happy Hour.

D.C. is not a city of politicos, necessarily, but rather of exceptionally motivated professionals. People put their work slacks on Monday-to-Friday, grind through their day, and rely on alcohol to return their body to a sustainable level of calm when their time in the office is done.

Tonight I’m drinking in Jackpot, a neighborhood dive, or so the bartender tells me. You can find it via an inconspicuous door off 7th Street in Chinatown, which leads down to a dim-lit basement. A warm glow emanates from low-hanging light bulb, but the contours of drinkers’ faces are mostly lit by blue glow of the three flatscreen TVs behind the bar (all playing sports). Bare walls are flanked by stacks of spent kegs. Drinkers gather and talk about their bosses and failed Tinder dates as they nosh on baskets of free popcorn. This is not a tapas crowd. This is a drinking crowd.

Not ready for hard liquor, I order a Gose from the ample beer selection. The bartender, his voice hoarse from shouting over the noise every day, tells me that today is slow.

“Happy Hour is usually off the chain,” the bartender tells me as I sip on a $7 Gose. (That’s not a bad pricetag for this city.) But today, Jackpot is far from full. I slid into a spot at the bar with no trouble.

I ask him if he thinks business will pick up tonight. It’s only 6 p.m., but he says he doesn’t know. “Most of our customers left for the weekend, I think.”

On the eve of Donald Trump’s presidency, Washington is not humming the same way it did last Thursday. The streets are flush with visitors, with fewer J Crew-clad paper pushers.

The buses crawl between motorists clogging the roads, clustered on a portion of the city’s throughways thanks to the guarded red and green zones–the areas shut down by security for tomorrow’s event. On foot, movement is much easier. Wide-open streets, bare enough to see strewn trash blow over their asphalt surfaces, funnel into the clogged corridors. Thirty-somethings in sports coats hold iPhones to their ears, commuter backpacks slung over just one shoulder as they strut. They command their route, I thought, as I made my way to 7th Street, with their familiarity and lack of regard. They know exactly what they’re doing.

I ask the paralegal ordering a drink to my left if she’s going to the ceremony tomorrow, and she says no. “I would have, because it’s, like, historical, you know?” she says. “But I heard it’s going to rain. Darn.”

She smiles.

Be Careful What You Say About Soccer After the Sixth Beer

Jan.18.17

Be Careful What You Say About Soccer After the Sixth Beer

by James Connolly

Mahou in Catalonia

It was half-time, and with the game poised at 0-0, beer was beginning to flow more quickly than before. For 45 minutes, Spain’s two best soccer teams had been engaged in a chess-like battle of wits. The atmosphere at my friend Mario’s family home in Reus, an industrial town around 60 miles from Barcelona, had grown tense.

When FC Barcelona play Real Madrid, there is much more on the line than three points. El Clasico, as the match-up has come to be known, represents a historic battle between two cities, two soccer philosophies and, some would argue, two political ideologies.

As the froth settled on yet another freshly poured Mahou, I remarked to my hosts that I had never tried this brand of beer—that I was more familiar with the locally brewed Estrella Damm or Moritz. As with seemingly every aspect of life in Catalonia, even one’s choice of beer can be a profoundly political statement.

The reason that we were drinking Mahou, explained Mario’s father, was that it is the quintessential brew of Madrid. “Everybody in the capital drinks this beer. It’s hard to find anything else down there,” he continued. “The Catalans have their beer and we have ours, but everybody knows which is better.”

By now I had figured out that this family of Madrid fanatics, who originate from Andalusia and today call Catalonia home, were proud Spanish nationalists. In recent years, the Catalan independence movement has gathered pace, with polls indicating widespread support throughout the region. Yet for the likes of this family, who have been in the area for generations yet maintain a strong connection to their roots in the Spanish heartlands, the question of independence is far from straightforward.

Next, it was Mario’s uncle who chipped in with an explanation: “When our parents came to work here in the 50s, Spain was still a very poor country.” He took another gulp of Mahou. “Thousands of people left the countryside and came north to work in industry. Their hard work helped turn Spain into the modern, wealthy nation we have today and without them, Catalonia would be nothing.”

The match resumed for the second half and conversation turned once more to the game. As I reached for yet another bottle of Mahou, Barcelona striker Luis Suarez scored, putting the Catalan side ahead just eight minutes after the restart. I made sure to refill everybody else’s glass before my own, sensing that they needed it more than I did.

As Madrid searched frantically for a retort, I decided to lift the mood with some more light conversation. “So this independence thing, what do you all think about that?” I asked, the sixth glass of Mahou lending an unintended arrogance to my tone.

This time it was Mario’s mother who replied first, a strong-headed woman who still carried a distinctly southern accent whenever she spoke. “It’ll never happen. We need to stick together, just like before, and things will get better.”

The rest of the family nodded in approval and with that, Real defender Sergio Ramos kicked a late equalizer for the team in white. As my hosts celebrated wildly, jumping, hugging, kissing, the cramped living room became drenched in sticky Spanish beer.

Everything Sucks But At Least There’s #SaltBae

Jan.17.17

Everything Sucks But At Least There’s #SaltBae

by Sara Nasser

Burgers in Istanbul

After a bloody start to the New Year and a currency weakening by the day, Istanbullus needed some respite. That respite came in the form of a handsome butcher: Salt Bae.

At first, it didn’t occur to me that Salt Bae was Turkish. But upon closer inspection, I found he was none other than Nusret Gökçe, who runs a wildly successful chain of steakhouses called Nusr-et. A man with the word for beef in his name (et in Turkish), Nusret Gökçe is a butcher from Erzurum, in Turkey’s east, with a flair for the dramatic. His Instagram videos of massaging, cutting, shaping, rubbing, and sprinkling salt on meat have gone viral. But it was the salt shower seen around the world—over five million views on Instagram so far—that put him on the map and got him Bruno Mars’s attention.

But what about the meat? I wondered. Could it match the hype of a meme?

As you walk into Nusr-et, mood music and mood lighting set the tone for you walk to a wooden table. The all-male waiters sport thick mustaches, some of them groomed and curled at the tips. Our waiter mentioned that it was a requirement: “No mustache, no meat is the saying here.” We asked him if there had been an uptick in customers since Salt Bae caught on, and he nodded yes, of course. Right behind us, a table full of tourists had just been seated.

I like beef, and meat in general, but I could never put away a whole steak. So we opted for the smaller, cheaper burger option. We ordered the nusret burger and the lokum burger (lokum is the Turkish word for Turkish delight). When the burgers came out, our waiter cut them in two over a wooden board, precisely, plopping each type of burger on our plates. The lokum burger was soft, with thin cuts of beef dissolving in our mouths. The nusret burger, outfitted with caramelized onions, a strip of pastirma, melted cheddar, and a toasted bun, was by far the best burger I’ve had for the quality of the meat itself. Unlike most American burgers, it was simple.

Around me, I saw a woman in a niqab, a South Asian family, and another family speaking loud Persian. A waiter with an especially curly and thick mustache was doing the Salt Bae sprinkle over a plate of meat for the tourists next to us. They clapped, wowing, as the salt danced down his arm, down the tip of his elbow. It’s a comforting thought in these times: the story of how a Turkish butcher with a bit of creativity brought such disparate people together in one place for a meal.

Doing Unspeakable But Delicious Things To Italian Espresso

Jan.16.17

Doing Unspeakable But Delicious Things To Italian Espresso

by Valerio J Farris

Manhattan Specials in Brooklyn

My Italian-American boyfriend and his Brooklyn family seemed to have an aversion to that final vowel sound that gave the Italian language its operatic cadence. Around their table, mozzarella became mozzarell’, prosciutto became prosciutt’ and ricotta became ricott’.

As the son of an Italian immigrant to the United States, I strained to accept this lexical reimagining. How could you take the names of such well-known foods and just chop off those syllables? My boyfriend explained that their disavowal of the vowels I so heavily associated with the end of Italian sentences was actually a central element of Italian American-ess—a way of taking Italian culture and making it theirs, equal parts Italian and equal parts American.

Over eggplant parmesan heroes and arancini at Ferdinando’s Focacceria, a Brooklyn mainstay for the local Italian-American population, we exchanged heritage narratives. I told him about my dad’s arrival from Sardinia in the early 90s. He described how his great grandparents met on a farm in Brooklyn after traveling across the ocean in the early 20th century.

With a stomach full of Sicilian-American specialties, I flagged down the waiter and asked for my usual post-lunch espresso. Instead, my boyfriend interjected and ordered us two Manhattan Specials. I watched as the waiter returned with two cups I had watched him fill at the soda fountain. The bubbly brown drink looked like something closer to a Coke. I opened my mouth to protest.

Try it, the waiter urged. He told us it was a recipe from 1895, and claimed they were the only restaurant in New York to serve it from the fountain. The Manhattan Special is espresso mixed with seltzer water—an Italian-American specialty.

The marriage of the bitter espresso with a syrupy taste and bubbly fizz was unorthodox, but playful. The seltzer water provided something distinctly new, something distinctly New York. I laughed, picturing my family across the Atlantic pouring their tiny cups of espresso into large plastic glasses of seltzer. My boyfriend tilted his cup towards me. Salut, I offered. Salut, he responded and downed the rest of his drink.

One Wild Night in Trump’s Moscow Kompromat Palace

Jan.13.17

One Wild Night in Trump’s Moscow Kompromat Palace

by Nathan Thornburgh

Vodka in the Moscow Ritz-Carlton

I, like my classy, soon-to-be President, once had a wild night at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. It was 2011, and I was in Moscow wrangling a profile of the mildly erotic, defrocked spy Anna Chapman. Good fortune (and connections, always a valid currency in Moscow) had gotten me a decent rate at the hotel, where most of my interviews would take place. But then somehow I, a working reporter with a canvas messenger bag and sensible shoes, was upgraded from the 1 percent to the .0001 percent. I was moved into the Club Level on the 10th floor.

Not that the rest of the Ritz is shabby. It sits on one of the most coveted lots in all Eurasia, second from the corner at the end of the magnificent Tverskaya Ulitsa. Cross the street and you’re at the Kremlin, where Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov once spent an afternoon with me chain-smoking Marlboro Reds and autocratsplaining democracy. A bit further and you’re on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, where opposition leader Boris Nemtsov once caught four bullets.

The lobby of the Ritz is as gilded as our new White House north, a delicate waiting room for petro-princes and coltish escorts. The standard rooms are suitably overstuffed: little music boxes of chiffon and chenille. But the real velvet touch is found on the 10th and 11th floors, where the rooms have tables and antechambers, where the pile of the rug is a touch deeper, the rustle of the curtains a shade more sensual.

In truth, I had been going to the Moscow Ritz-Carlton for years. On assignment in 2007 for TIME’s Putin Person of the Year issue, I went to the newly opened hotel’s O2 rooftop lounge and found it “mostly empty except for a few prostitutes in glinting lamé and spiky heels.” In subsequent years, I watched it mature into a hotel that catered more subtly to the predilections of both new money and old. The lounge kept its name, but replaced the syphilis buffet with $200 sushi platters. The commanding view of the Kremlin remained.

From all my years in and out of that hotel, I know one thing for certain: if some corner of the hotel had indeed been turned into a high-thread-count urinal by Drumpf, it would have been on the Club Level.

These rooms presumably also would have been the most glamorously bugged of them all. I was not short on paranoia on my visit five years ago, given that I was in town asking peevish questions about Kremlin-backed startups and a former spy. And yet, on my first night on the Club Level, I did what any prole would do: I invited some old friends over to party.

I did it in part to share in my good fortune, and maybe also to gloat a little. My fortunes vis-a-vis my Russian friends had always been a shifting thing. I had brought them desperately desired Levis as a high-school exchange student, and later awed them with my Ralph Lauren cologne. But then, as we grew up, I became nearly penniless while at least some of my Muscovite friends had begun earning hefty petrodollars. So when I landed on the Club Level, I felt a sudden desire to be social. I called up Kirill A., who was a successful truck dealer in Siberia back in Moscow for the week, and Ivan S., a restaurateur who brought his wife and an unknown quantity of vodka.

To bring us back to the buzzword of the moment, there could certainly have been kompromat from that night. It would just not be exciting to any Russians. We drank riotously, laughed thunderously, toppled furniture and sang and shouted and smoked enough cigarettes to make our little corner of the Club Level look like La Cañada Flintridge during wildfire season. By the time I woke up the next morning, my suite smelled like the sweatband of Tom Waits’ fedora. But even though I proceeded to get prodigiously sick and then stumbled disgracefully through the blini bar in the Club Level Lounge, it was nothing special. Keep in mind that when the Kremlin tried to discredit married men in the opposition by filming them with prostitutes, everybody shrugged. So long as boys weren’t involved. So it went with my kompromat: to Russians, it was not a scandal, it was a Tuesday.

Nor did I receive as much as an arched eyebrow from the impeccably discreet hotel staff. Instead, I stayed out my week there, interviewing oligarchs and entrepreneurs and even managing to lure Anna Chapman herself for coffee on the rooftop lounge. That week also coincided with the end of the brief Medvedev summer. Putin had just announced that he was returning to the Presidency, and all the light went out of the reformers’ and the innovators’ eyes. I haven’t been back to the Ritz since.

Photo by: James Whatley

Get Ready to Spend Some Time Contemplating What a Birth Canal Hand Gesture Looks Like

Jan.12.17

Get Ready to Spend Some Time Contemplating What a Birth Canal Hand Gesture Looks Like

by Russ Rowlands

Craft Beer in Ontario

I’d been looking out my window at the seemingly limitless expanse of Ontario for 36 hours. The 2,700-mile train trip from Toronto to Vancouver takes four days and nights, approximately half of which is occupied by trying to get the hell out of Ontario.

Winter may have been receding down in the civilized part of the province,
but up in the north, temperatures remained well below freezing. I’d been treated to an Arthur Lismer vista of frozen lakes and snowy pines for long enough to forget what century it was.

Needing a change, I climbed into the observation car just before sunset, around 4 p.m. Three guys were sitting around one of the tiny, 1950s bridge tables at the front of the car, laughing rather more politely than you’d expect from three unsupervised boys.

I’d met Josh, an Australian, earlier, and he gestured me over to join them.

“Rusty, meet Waleed and Joe,” Josh said, indicating a curly-haired youth and a heavyset guy around my age, mid-30s.

“Want a beer?”

I acquiesced with thanks, accepting a can of Ontario craft beer, and squeezed into the booth beside Josh. Joe and Josh had been smart enough to pack a good selection of beers into their bags before boarding the train; the commissary downstairs only offered bland Molson Canadian.

We all cheers’d and made a round of introductions.

Four strangers on a train in the middle of nowhere have a lot of good stories to tell, and we each took a turn explaining why we’d opted for the train over a much more practical flight.

The backpack beers lasted another round or two, after which I went downstairs to buy up the train’s stock of Molson. Joe got drunk.

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever been drunk,” he told us unsteadily. We were incredulous. Here was a bearded Canadian in his 30s with a backpack full of beer, who claimed to never have been drunk.

“I used to be a preacher.”

Oh. That shut us up briefly while we considered it, before sparking an explosion of teasing that only fueled further beer consumption.

Joe eventually told a story about the joys of becoming a father, including a very detailed hand-gesture-wiggle-dance about the moment he first caught sight of his son emerging from the birth canal. We made him reenact it multiple times just to be sure we understood exactly what it was he was attempting to convey. There could be no mistake. Birth canal. My face hurt from laughing.

The next afternoon, Joe passed by my seat carrying his bags.

“This is my stop,” he said, holding out a hand to shake.

“It was good to meet you. When I recover from my first hangover and come to grips with our discussion last night, I think it’ll be very cathartic for me.”
I nodded solemnly and made the birth-canal hand gesture, then gave him a thumbs-up. He snorted coffee out of his nose and had to retreat to the washroom before the train pulled into his station.

A Beer That Is Mostly Foam: Interesting Idea or Absolutely Not?

Jan.11.17

A Beer That Is Mostly Foam: Interesting Idea or Absolutely Not?

by Laura Marie Tabor

Milk Beer in Prague

I’ve volunteered at beer festivals and I know what a terrible head of foam looks like. You opened the tap too slowly or you didn’t angle the glass right or the keg is about empty and now you’ve got one inch of amber and four inches of beige. That is what the milk beer looked like to me when I received it: like a bad pour.

I had been worried that the whole trip to Prague might be that way. My best friend suggested that I visit her friends there, but I’d never met them, and I had no idea whether or not we’d get along. I arrived in Prague at dusk and looked out to the frigid bus stop, where the stranger who had come to fetch me stood.

Prague outdoors felt like the setting for a daring mystery novel, all shadows and grey skies while I was there. But inside, I felt like everyone was my friend, even if I was only play-acting, because the spaces were warm and the chairs were close together and there was always a rounded mug of beer available.

The days were full of immediate choices: would we walk up the hill and talk about Kundera? Yes, I said, almost before I knew the choice was one among other options. Would we go see the many fountains and unique architecture? Yes, of course. Every question was answered with a yes in the way that travel must often imply an affirmative answer: if you liked it enough to offer it to me, I want to be a part of it.

On my last day, we went to a restaurant called Lokal, where my new friend ordered potato dumplings for me from the many hearty options available and then ordered me this strange beer, which came in a large clear mug and was almost entirely foam. “It’s called a milk beer,” he explained. “The foam is drinkable, real dense. Drink deep.”

Mlîko, or milk beer, is not a brand or type of beer, but a method of pouring that results in you drinking quite a bit less beer, but feeling far less heavy afterwards. It’s one of three ways of pouring beers that in Prague are intentional, done to achieve different kinds of effects: it’s not some kind of beer-festival mishap. I put aside my beliefs about how things should be done and what I thought I’d like.

The creaminess of the beer went down so smoothly that I saw at once where the name came from; it didn’t leave me with any of the swallowing-air feeling that a badly poured beer gives. You are supposed to drink it quickly, to get every drop of the foam before it melts back into ordinary beer. I wanted to take in everything that Prague had to offer, but right then, I just wanted another mug’s worth to down.

An American-Style Beer That’s Not for Americans

Jan.10.17

An American-Style Beer That’s Not for Americans

by Dave Hazzan

Barley wine in Brussels

Here in the undisputed capital of beer lies the undisputed capital of beer pubs, The Delirium Café. Like most pubs in Belgium, it calls itself a café, though coffee is in short supply.

At The Delirium Café, there are at any time between 2000 and 3000 beers on offer, which puts it in the Guinness Book of World Records as the pub with the most types of beer available—including one barley wine.

Brasserie Sainte-Helene Barley Wine, like all barley wines, is not a wine at all. It’s a very strong beer—12 percent ABV—that somehow got a fancier moniker. This is not a beer for knocking back during the baseball game or at the pub with your buddies. No, this is a beer for getting knocked on your ass.

Contrary to what’s going on in the rest of the beer world, Belgian brews are declining in potency, at least according to Belgian beer expert Luc De Raedemaeker. He says a combination of changing tastes and stricter drunk-driving laws are lowering the alcohol content in traditionally strong Belgian beers.

This makes them more like “session beers,” so-called because they are suitable for a session of drinking with your buddies. In England, where they typically drink low-alcohol beers, it’s common to go out all night and drink out of fat pint glasses. In Belgium, a drinker will typically only have a few beers out of small glasses.

But the whole point of a barley wine is that it’s strong; this is the only known definition of barley wine. And that definition doesn’t even hold all the time. Beer blogger Martyn Cornell says there is little difference between a barley wine and an old ale. He says the term is “effectively meaningless,” and doesn’t really apply even to strong beer, since strong imperial stouts are never classified as barley wines.

At the Delirium Café, however, there is such a thing as barley wine. When I asked the bartender if barley wine really is real, he looked at me with the kind of incredulous look you give someone before a strong slap.

It was indeed real, but they only had one of them available, and he had to dig through thousands of bottles in the back before he could produce the 375 ml bottle of Ste-Helene’s. Real, but not terribly popular.

Ste-Helene describes their barley wine as an American-style beer, but it doesn’t taste like any kind of beer I’ve ever had in America. It’s strong, malty, dry, and after finishing half the bottle, it feels like you’ve been clubbed across the back of the head.

By the time I finished, it was like I’d been sitting in the pub for an hour and a half. Barley wine, whatever it is, is not for wimpy North Americans. Only seasoned European drinkers should be allowed near it.

Photo by: Jo Turner

A Dispatch from the First Hours of Miami’s Post-Castro World

Jan.09.17

A Dispatch from the First Hours of Miami’s Post-Castro World

by Dara Bramson

Cuban coffee in Miami

I am late for the party.

Almost 15 hours late to be precise. Yet even before I see the celebration, I hear it, smell it, walking toward the epicenter alongside fellow attendees, flags and kitchenware in hand.

Tiny, empty styrofoam cups line 8th Street—Calle Ocho, if you ask a local—leading toward the iconic green sign framed by the glow of an orange sunset. Versailles Restaurant is—and has been since 1971—as much of a political emblem as it is a culinary one.

This is the place I insisted we battle an hour of traffic to get to for my birthday dinner last year. Butter-soaked white bread arrives before drinks do and eavesdropping on politicians is likely. In 1996, Bill Clinton was photographed here holding a t-shirt reading “No Castro/No Problem”; Donald Trump said their colada was strong during a visit on his campaign trail. Their ropa vieja is one of the few reasons I can’t honestly call myself vegan.

Almost everyone on the street outside the restaurant is holding something: tiny cups of black coffee, children, handmade signs, lit cigars, flags—Cuban, American, Trumpian—and dented saucepans-turned-noisemakers that clink inharmoniously from blocks away. The symphony of the senses is a celebration of culture; it’s a celebration of death.

I ached to be here since I read the news in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep was elusive. I was eager to observe this unfold in my own hometown, down the street from my alma mater. Since I was young I wondered about this day, knowing I lived 90 miles from a country I might never see. It was animated by stories from friends, their parents, the taxi driver who “made it over” eight years ago and whose dad spent two years in a Cuban jail in the 1990s after being caught miles from shore.

Impassioned chants of CUBA LIBRE! fill the air. Honking is suddenly a sign of solidarity—a reason to wave at and high-five strangers. Here, now, bumper-to-bumper traffic is a convenience, an opportunity to buy paraphernalia from sellers weaving through the traffic on foot. Stacked atop a makeshift cardboard box, a woman sells white t-shirts on the sidewalk reading VIVA! CUBA LIBRE! presumably printed shortly after the announcement, or perhaps long ago in preparation for it.

As the sun sets, the celebration shows no sign of slowing. Instead, a makeshift dance floor forms in the middle of the street, around speakers blasting Havana-born “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz, beside police cars and cops snacking on Cuban sandwiches.

The line at the coffee counter is steady; the celebration is far from over.

Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

Jan.06.17

Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

by Daniella Peled

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Israeli Merlot in London

Israelis don’t much go in for New Year’s celebrations. I spent this last one in a Tel Aviv flat with a handful of fellow media types and our assorted children.

We ate salty goat’s cheese and artisan bread and tried to last until midnight for form’s sake, indulging in typical left-wing ennui. The prospects for 2017 didn’t look good.

This year will mark half a century of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the potentially apocalyptic presidency of Donald Trump, both facts likely to be celebrated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

None of those present were fans of Bibi, as he’s popularly known. They sighed over my luck to be a British journalist based in London, and there was much talk of who had an additional European passport. Most had spent time living abroad and all planned to leave again.

But the wine was good: an Israeli-produced merlot. We drowned our sorrows, and I took a few bottles with me the following day when I flew home to London.

And, as I clanked my way through Ben Gurion airport, investigators from the national fraud unit questioned Netanyahu in his home under caution as part of an enquiry into a potentially massive corruption scandal.

Not a fun way for Bibi to start the New Year, but it would be very, very premature to predict his demise.

What’s particularly depressing to contemplate, even after half a bottle of the merlot I slogged home, is how disturbingly tolerant Israel has become of suspicions of wrongdoing.

The case against Netanyahu, who has already survived multiple police investigations during his career, remains unclear. To start with, he’s suspected of receiving gifts and favors from an array of multi-millionaire businesspeople, although just what these may consist of is unknown.

An additional investigation is also ongoing, with even fewer concrete details, although it’s rumored to be far more serious.

Nothing, of course has been proven, and no proceedings have been launched. But hard as it is to now imagine, there was a time in Israel when even the whiff of scandal was enough to herald resignation.

Most famous was the affair that toppled then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1977. At a time when it was illegal for Israelis to hold foreign accounts, it emerged that his wife Leah had $10,000 in a U.S. bank.

Even though she made clear that it was her account alone, her husband took responsibility for this relatively minor offense and stood down as premier.

The so-called dollar account affair is now seen in semi-mythical terms as a display of honor in public service unthinkable in Israel’s contemporary political culture.

Let’s not forget that Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is currently serving a 19-month prison for corruption. Nor that Bibi’s interior minister Aryeh Deri also served a similar term for accepting $150,000 in bribes during his tenure as—guess what?—interior minister in a previous government.

Israel ranks 37th out of 175 nations in terms of corruption, according to Transparency International, which at first glance doesn’t look too bad. But out of its fellow OECD nations, it comes 24 out of 34.

Self-serving officials, apparently enjoying the benefits of impunity, don’t provide leadership so much as pursue their own agenda. For a country like Israel, embroiled in a long-running military occupation as well as facing growing social tensions and a region boiling with violence, the consequences seem particularly dire.

Netanyahu heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, intent on strengthening the occupation and diminishing Israel’s democratic institutions. (In comparison to some of his cabinet, Netanyahu is quite a pussycat.)

Netanyahu has spun this whole affair as nothing more than a smear campaign by a leftist judiciary and media elites. He does seem to buy into a kind of messianic belief that he is the only Israeli leader who can save the re-born Kingdom of Israel.

But most of his maneuvers appear politically expedient rather than ideologically motivated.

Witness his reaction to this week’s hugely controversial conviction of Israeli soldier Elior Azaria for killing an unarmed and gravely injured Palestinian assailant.

A stiff drink helps as one contemplates the whole disturbing affair. Thank goodness for that Israeli merlot.

A poll last year indicated that some 65 percent of Israeli Jews supported Azaria’s actions, and the military court’s decision was accompanied by violent right-wing demonstrations and furious condemnation from Netanyahu’s rivals on the right. True to form, Netanyahu’s response was devastatingly cynical.

“I support a pardon for Elor Azaria,” he announced, going on to express sympathy for the soldier himself, his family, and all IDF soldiers, rather than backing the judicial process.

Amid a corruption scandal and with the right wing snapping at his heels, Netanyahu chose populism over statesmanship. He’s done it before; he warned on election day last year that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

He won that election, but who knows if such tactics will be enough to save him from his current woes. By the end of the week, police had questioned him once again. And I had drunk most of my Israeli wine, and 2017 still didn’t look too hopeful.


Photo by: Akash Mehra

Somewhat Refreshing and Slightly intoxicating, But Not Much of Either

Jan.05.17

Somewhat Refreshing and Slightly intoxicating, But Not Much of Either

by Steele Rudd

Shandy in Sydney

By the time I get to the bar it’s already 6 p.m., but the sun is high overhead and the temperature’s a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius (72 Fahrenheit).

The streets are quiet, the air is still, and the rainbow lorikeets are cheerily grazing in the waratah shrubs across the road. It feels like summer.

This is the kind of afternoon that most Sydneians would pair with a fancy cider; or a craft IPA; or a fine Barossa prosecco. The Australian drinking culture may still be one wherein “women glow and men chunder,” but it’s no doubt an artisanally-crafted and very expensive vomit these days. We’re rich now. We like nice things, and we can afford the dry-cleaning.

I order a jug of cheap beer and another of lemonade and settle in at a table outside. The idea is to recreate an Australian classic and see how it’s held up over time. A mixture of beer and soft drink, the shandy has its roots in English colonialism (although there’s a German equivalent, the Radler, which usually employs a wheat beer instead of an ale or lager).

Like a gin and tonic, the shandy is meant to act as an antidote or accompaniment to hot summer days in exotic tropical locations. But unlike that enduring favorite, the shandy has fallen into sad ignominy: it doesn’t have the allure of class or conspicuous consumption that a branded beer or obscure cocktail might.

For this venture, I’ve chosen one of the crappiest pubs I know. Once upon a time this place—we’ll call it the Friendly Cockatoo—was an unpretentious little joint; a traditional Aussie pub in a quiet inner-city suburb. Now it’s just themed like one. Kitsch and crap hang off the walls and ceiling, tossed together in a mish-mash of Australiana and whatever was going cheap at the tourist markets. Bobbing-head Elvises and surfboards jostle with street signs and model airplanes. There’s a mannequin of a Native American chief.

There’s also a noticeable lack of backpackers tonight (they get trucked in on Wednesdays for the crab racing, the bartender explains). Most of the punters are stalwart regulars, pensioners discussing their impressive collection of health complaints. There’s a lonely Irish lad in the corner, who eventually tries to start a fight with an octogenarian over his orange shirt (and whether or not it means he’s of the Protestant faith). Later in the evening, one sad gentleman will turn up with a bag full of his worldly possessions and cadge a few beers off me. It’s all gently tragic.

I sip at my beer-and-lemonade mix. It tastes like beer and lemonade. Somewhat refreshing and slightly intoxicating, but not remarkably much of either.

What to Drink When It’s Too Late in the Day for Tequila

Jan.04.17

What to Drink When It’s Too Late in the Day for Tequila

by Russ Rowlands

Raicilla in Puerto Vallarta

“Dos tequilas, por favor,” I told the waiter, testing the functional limits of my Spanish.

He looked at us and shook his head gravely. “Señor, it is almost 3 p.m.” A delicate hand gesture towards the mid-afternoon sun baking the red rooftops of Puerto Vallarta proved his assertion. He paused, patiently, while we once again took in the impressive hillside view from the little restaurant, Banderas Bay winking azure at us from below.

“It is too late in the day for tequila,” he continued eventually.

“You do not want to ruin your appetite for dinner. I suggest you should have some raicilla instead. It is much better for your digestion,” he told us, patting his broad belly with a knowing wink.

Acquiescing to his much-evident expertise, we nodded. Manuel, or so his name tag said, returned from the bar with an unadorned bottle of clear liquor, and poured two sizable measures into blown-glass sipping cups.

“Raicilla is our local agave spirit here in Jalisco,” he explained, pulling up a chair to join us. I’d read about the drink but had never been properly introduced. I raised an eyebrow, inviting Manuel to continue.

After a seven-minute lecture on its merits, we lifted our glasses to sip the smoky liquor. Raicilla has a broader flavor profile than tequila or mezcal, and this first example had been home-distilled in the mountains behind the town. It tasted fruity, leathery, and like 120-proof moonshine.

My eyes watered a little, though Manuel was kind enough not to notice.
While periodically refilling our cups, Manuel spent the next hour or so telling us about his ranch up in the hills. Originally a small family holding, the farm had been greatly expanded by his father through the judicious application of government loan money. He took pride in assuring us that those millions of pesos would never be repaid to the government.

Taxes were subject to similar disregard by Manuel’s clan; “It was always our land,” he told us by way of an uncertain explanation.

The ‘traditional’ family business of raicilla distillation had been superseded by farming and cattle-ranching as the property expanded, but wild agave grew as abundantly as ever and they considered themselves boutique producers of the spirit.

“We’re quite rich now,” Manuel concluded his narrative with a humble smile.

“How do you like the raicilla?”

Without committing to an effusive answer, we ordered more. It was Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter, and Puerto Vallarta was in full celebration mode, vibrant with music and color. A raicilla day-buzz gave perfect context to the nearby bells of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so we settled deeper into our chairs and reached for our cups.

Make Your Local 7-Eleven Your Premier Drinking Destination

Jan.03.17

Make Your Local 7-Eleven Your Premier Drinking Destination

by Will Tomford

Beer in Seoul

As is often the case when discovering a new dive bar, I didn’t plan on going there. But on my walk home the itch for that proverbial last beer took hold and I went for the closest watering hole.

I saw a few people—some Korean businessmen (were these regulars?) in wrinkled blazers—sitting and talking outside, a cluster of Hite cans and the unmistakable green soju bottles on the table in front of them. That was a good enough sign for me, so in I went.

If dive bars are nothing else, they must be free from irony; this one passed that test. The lighting inside was harsh and fluorescent—no trendy Edison bulbs here—and the floor linoleum. An older guy in blue coveralls was hunched over in the back, slurping some instant noodles. The alcohol selection was sparse—Hite, Cass, a few exports, and the obligatory soju—but then, you don’t want to be making decisions at 3 a.m. I grabbed a can of beer and some spicy Sun Chips, paid and walked out. The businessmen were laughing amongst themselves and didn’t pay me any mind as I found an empty seat and drank my beer.

That’s a dive bar, I thought to myself. No dealing with a cocky bartender, no need to tip, and plastic chairs outside in which to sit and take in the city noise. As I walked away that first night and looked back at the businessmen, I knew that soon, I’d too become a regular at my neighborhood 7-Eleven.

I had been living in Seoul, Korea for a few weeks by then and had just started to grasp the abundance of drinking options: the fried chicken and beer tower spots, expat Irish pubs, or the ubiquitous karaoke bars. Each had its own merit, but my favorite drinking establishment turned out to be a convenience store. 7-Eleven ticked all the boxes of a great dive bar: cheap alcohol; snacks like kimchi instant noodles (hot water included), umami-packed crab chips, or gimbap (rice and spam rolls); indifferent, non-judgmental bartenders or cashiers; and outdoor seating.

It sounds petty, but of the many gripes I have with the U.S., I always go back to the so-called open container laws. There’s something emblematic about the fact that you can’t drink a beer outside in the Land of the Free. Outside my local 7-Eleven in Seoul there was no huge NO LOITERING sign, just some old, perfectly adequate plastic lawn chairs and a table. They were almost encouraging people to stay.

Eventually, as often happens, I had to share my local dive with my friends. After meeting up one evening, we couldn’t decide where to head for a drink. “I know a place,” I said. 7-Eleven wasn’t a stop on the way home anymore. It was the night’s only destination.

Perhaps the Longest, Most Awkward New Year’s Party in the World

Jan.02.17

Perhaps the Longest, Most Awkward New Year’s Party in the World

by Clare Richardson

Beerlao in Laos

High in the jungle of northern Laos, a rooster’s cry mingled with the thump of a bass that threatened to blow out the town’s only speakers. I’d arrived in a village of the ethnic minority Hmong group after trekking through the mountains for hours, just in time to celebrate the start of their new year with an all-night dance party.

The locals had toiled in the glaring heat on steeply sloping fields throughout the year to harvest their crops, and now I, too, was able to savor the fruits of their labor. I cradled a warm Beerlao, made from hops picked nearby, enjoying the crisp national brew in the remote and dusty town. The locals favored a cheaper alternative: half a dozen men sat in a circle on the ground, sipping homemade whiskey from a large jar through meter-long straws.

I watched other revelers swaying under a blue-and-white striped tarpaulin, where the makeshift dance floor was lit by a single fluorescent bulb.

“Is this a traditional dance?” I asked a young Hmong man, gesturing toward the crowd. The dancers shuffled around the perimeter of the venue, rocking almost imperceptibly from side to side and holding their hands limply at waist-level like an army of hamsters.

“No,” he said firmly.

Yet what was not a customary or inspiring dance was certainly an effective way to conserve energy, and soon the purpose of their endurance-focused circumambulations revealed itself. Throughout the night, the people danced in the light of bonfires and drank among howling dogs as Thai disco and Lao pop ballads pierced the walls of the village’s small bamboo houses, fueling a raging party until the speaker batteries finally ran out as the sun came up.

But that night turned out to be only a prelude to the biggest party of the year. Two days later, roughly 1,000 people from Hmong villages all over the region streamed down from the hills to celebrate together and meet new romantic partners in a wooded area on the outskirts of Luang Prabang.

The Hmong new year is a matchmaking extravaganza, where men are known to spend most of their year’s salary in the 10 days of the festival. Hmong families play carnival games, watch beauty pageants, and take glamor shots against painted scenic backdrops during a party that doubles as the ultimate speed-dating. Adolescents are primped, preened, and sent in their finest traditional costumes to the festival, where they squirm under the pressure of a year’s worth of anticipation.

One way to get the conversation flowing is a game called pov pob. Young men and women stand shoulder-to-shoulder in lines opposite one another and throw a small cloth ball back and forth in a courting ritual that elicits as much blushing and whispering as any slow song at a middle school dance.

Watching the scene unfold filled me with the dread of a pubescent, feeling by proxy the universal agony of attraction and repulsion in teenage love on full display for families and friends. It was a ritual they would repeat for 10 days, from morning to midnight.

The thought sent me straight back to the line for Beerlao.

A Warming Drink for When Your Country Might Not Be Falling Apart

Dec.29.16

A Warming Drink for When Your Country Might Not Be Falling Apart

by Pablo Medina Uribe

Canelazo in Bogotá

Back in October, after Colombians voted “no” to a historic peace deal that would have officially ended the longest-running conflict in the Western hemisphere, I felt like our country was beyond salvation. But the following week, I joined the thousands of “yes” and “no” voters who took to the streets to demand a solution. I had just moved back to Bogotá after three years living abroad, and the marches that flooded downtown took me back to Bolivar Square, the country’s center of political power, for the first time in many years.

People from all over the country joined the demonstrations, and some eventually decided to set up camp and stay in the square until a new deal was reached and approved. Seeing so many people coming together to rally for the rights of millions they didn’t know, I felt as if the country I thought was falling apart might have not been as divided as it seemed after all.

And in the square, I sensed a smell that instantly brought me back to Bogotá, to the memories of past political struggles and massive get-togethers. It was the smell of canelazo. This is a typical hot drink consumed in the parts of Colombia that we hyperbolically call “cold lands,” a staple of any mass gathering, political or not. It is made with aguapanela—basically unprocessed sugar (or panela) boiled in water, a favorite source of cheap energy for farmers around the country—, cinnamon (canela), lemon, and aguardiente—the national liquor made from sugar cane and anise.

Canelazo is used for energy, warmth, comfort and sometimes even to battle out a cold. It is common to see carts around Bolivar Square and other gathering points at night with big pots where the drink has been boiled. So, during those first marches after the peace vote, they were there, despite there being crowded by the demonstrators.

I couldn’t drink one then, but a few weeks afterwards I brought my friends who were visiting from the U.S. to see the square and the camp. There was a kiss-a-thon going on to promote a new peace deal and also LGBT rights. We bought canelazos from a guy with a cart who was looking on amusedly. He told us about his enhancement to the recipe (honey), and we kept going through the city with our drinks warming us and giving us a slight buzz. The place that just a few days earlier seemed to concentrate all of the country’s woes and frustrations now seemed hopeful.

In early December, Congress approved a modified peace deal, but the festive reactions many of us were hoping for since the peace talks became public four years ago didn’t materialize. There were no big demonstrations, no marches that flooded downtown like before. Our president now has a Nobel Peace Prize, and we now have a peace deal, but its approval seemed more like a technicality than a popular embracing of peace, which might undermine its validity. And we still have a long way to go. Many laws still have to be debated and implemented for the disarmament and demobilization of the largest organized violent group in the country to become real. And other groups still remain. But maybe soon we will be able to go back to the square and celebrate peace, actual peace, with a canelazo or two.

Even a Droplet of Good News Makes a Lack of Alcohol Tolerable

Dec.27.16

Even a Droplet of Good News Makes a Lack of Alcohol Tolerable

by Michelle Arrouas

Virgin Mojitos in Tehran

I stood in a corner of the gallery’s rooftop terrace, watching the locals and waiting for a concert to begin. All of the guests appeared to be in their 20s, and most of them seemed to subscribe to the same style-bible as the arty youngsters in hipster capitals worldwide: jeans, skinny; plaid shirts, crumpled; hair, messy.

Despite the familiar feeling of being the gallery’s least-fashionable guest, there was no doubt I wasn’t home in Berlin anymore. The women’s hair was covered—however creatively—by headscarves, which were discreetly being pushed back to reveal more hair. The drink in my hand was a virgin mojito, all lime and mint and not a trace of rum. And just behind the gallery, the Alborz mountains rose sharply, giving Tehran its dramatic backdrop. The polluted chaos of downtown Tehran, with its frenzied traffic, traditional bazaars, and morality police enforcing religious rules, seemed further away than the one-hour drive it had taken us to get here.

We’d been picked up by the organizer of that night’s concert, which was part of the SET festival for experimental music. He had invited my boyfriend to play when he’d heard we were traveling to Iran, and on the drive to the gallery he had told us about recent developments in the music scene. He said there were fewer restrictions, venues were getting fewer visits from the morality police, and female vocalists—who have been banned from solo performances for mixed audiences since the 1979 revolution—were being tolerated.

As I made my way to the bar for another drink, I struck up a conversation with a musician, Sara, who had performed at the gallery the night before. She looked like a rock star: short hair, small scarf, red lips, and golden glasses. “The independent scene is improving rapidly, and the audience is growing. It’s a very young, curious, open-eyed audience and a very lively, hopeful scene,” she said.

Babak Baharestani, the owner of the gallery, agreed. From behind the bar, he was watching the group of youngsters with a content look on his face. He’d opened the gallery to bridge the gap between the contemporary art scene and the public, and he had reason to believe he was succeeding. “When I was a student about 10 years ago there were perhaps five or six active galleries, some of them governmental. Today, the number of galleries in Tehran is around 40 or 50, and almost all of them are private,” he said.

Like other people on the art scene, he attributed part of its scene’s growth and energy to the easing of religious rules, and also, like others, he didn’t seem that surprised. The relaxation of the stifling rules had been cautiously expected. The relatively moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, was elected three years ago after pledging to ease political and cultural restrictions, and offering Iranians more liberties in their daily lives. Still, the reports that some religious rules were being relaxed, and Iran’s improved relations with the West following last year’s nuclear deal, were pleasant droplets of good news in a year that’s been a torrent of bad news.

The doors to the concert space opened, and as I watched the energetic crowd fill up the space, I finished my second drink. I didn’t even mind that it wasn’t alcoholic.

One of the Few Places Feeling Cautiously Optimistic Right Now, Sort Of

Dec.26.16

One of the Few Places Feeling Cautiously Optimistic Right Now, Sort Of

by Russ Rowlands

Box Wine in Ontario

“Cheers!”

Eight be-mittened hands clinked glasses of box wine and cheap beer over a backyard fire pit in my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, not for the first time that evening. I smiled and sat back, watching friends and family chatter around the blaze, comfortable on an early winter evening with our breath barely visible above the rims of cups. The gang had ostensibly gathered to welcome me home from 10 months of travel but, in reality, it was the Christmas season in Ontario and we’d all have been huddled around that fire without any other excuse.

The conversation drifted to a pal’s potential run for municipal politics, then, with politics on the table, talk turned to the American election. Heads shook and the mood dampened as we all pondered the Mad Max future towards which our southern neighbor seemed to be careening. It was a conversation going on around the country as Canadians jokingly debated building our own wall or more seriously discussed how to vet the inevitable tidal wave of American emigrants.

Having spent most of the year out of touch, bobbing on a sailboat in the middle of the Pacific, I felt somewhat removed from the conversation. Canadians were clearly, if cautiously, smug, something that doesn’t come naturally to us. Our progressive, poster-boy Prime Minister was pushing policies to advance the sciences, protect the environment, and improve equality. The country was stable and our international reputation was on the mend. It occurred to me, though, that we were being too quick to forget the decade-long theocracy we’d self-inflicted under our previous P.M., or the tragicomedy of the Rob Ford circus in nearby Toronto. Maybe we weren’t ahead of America; maybe we were just entering our own Obama/hope phase. Canada could easily suffer the same reactionary revolt if ‘things’ didn’t keep improving for Canadians over the current term of government.

I burped and got myself a beer, then raised my glass for another round of cheers. Political chatter ceased, cups were clinked, and friends called for another story from the road. I had traveled some 40,000 miles through 2016 and my biggest revelation was how much I fucking loved Canada. Coming back for the holiday season was a highlight on my 2016 to-do list, and I was grateful to have this circle, this city, and this country to call home.

Hell Yeah, Wine and Bananas for Christmas!

Dec.24.16

Hell Yeah, Wine and Bananas for Christmas!

by Raquel Duarte

Moscatel in Braga

On the afternoon of December 24th, I was walking down Rua do Souto, a medieval-era street in Braga, Portugal, when I noticed a large crowd. One thing in particular caught my eye: a man holding a glass of wine in one hand and a banana in the other. The people around him were doing the same thing.

A glass of Moscatel with a banana is a Braga tradition that goes back around 30 years. At first, the Casa das Bananas was merely a warehouse for storing bananas from the island of Madeira until they ripened enough for delivery or wholesaling. The owner, to woo new customers, set up an improvised counter to sell glasses of Moscatel, produced in Setúbal by José da Maria Fonseca. Eventually, some of his wine-drinkers asked for something to “comfort the stomach”—a Portuguese expression for something to eat—so he would serve them, naturally, bananas. It may seem like an odd pairing, but the super-sweet Moscatel goes well with chunks of tasty banana.

Some of the owner’s friends started stopping by Casa das Bananas on Christmas Eve for a glass and a banana, and to wish their friends a Merry Christmas before heading home for dinner. The tradition grew, and now every December 24th, the Rua do Souto swells with people clutching bananas and a glass of golden wine for the annual Bananeiro toast.

The Bananeiro has become immensely popular, and the line to buy wine and bananas is huge, so people have started bringing their own bottles and bananas. Now, before people head home to celebrate Christmas, they celebrate the afternoon by getting drunk. One glass of Moscatel is never enough.

Absinthe, Sugar, and Fire For This Scrooge

Dec.23.16

Absinthe, Sugar, and Fire For This Scrooge

by Jennifer Neal

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In the past, I hated Christmas. Now, I counteract this feeling by doing Christmas-y things. That’s why I decided to hop around the Berlin Weinachtsmarkts, or holiday markets, taking pictures and vicariously soaking up festive, holiday cheer from people whom I, all things being equal, would probably dislike. There were Weinachtsbäckerei and chocolate-covered apples, fat German sausages and glühwein. Everyone seemed so happy and not at all concerned with the impending doom of the Trumpocalypse, with which I, as an ausländer—foreigner—am obsessed.

But then some motherfucker decided to confirm once and for all why I’m a Scrooge by hurting innocent people, driving a truck through a holiday market, killing 12 and injuring dozens more.

I am devastated for the families who will suffer through Christmas alone this year, without their partners or children. I was on my way to the Breitsheidplatz market—the scene of this horrendous crime—on the evening of the attack. As a result, I can’t help but analyze it more closely than those that came before.

Glühwein won’t help me out at a time like this. I’m drinking absinthe with water, sugar, and fire that I acquired from the Absinthedepot in Mitte. Two men helped me select a brew from Heidelberg. My drink is called Maldoror and it tastes like unsweetened black licorice.

Around me, other shoppers gathered around crudely cut oak tables discussing the potential for disaster in German while I fumbled around, picking out a fancy new slotted spoon. “Tolerance has backfired on us in a big way,” I heard one man say, and I yelled at him in heated, broken German. I don’t think he understood.

I’m disgusted by the attacks, but also the violent rhetoric being employed on both ends of the political spectrum in the aftermath. How will this hinder Germany’s ability to defend the very principles it’s fought for decades to get back? The blood on the ground hadn’t even gone cold before Angela Merkel’s critics began to pile the blame at her feet, attacking her open-borders policy with the kind of scapegoating that got Germany into that whole pesky axis-of-evil problem to begin with.

Marcus Pretzell (not to be confused with the delicious and undeniably more mentally sound bar-snack I’m eating right now) of the Alternativ für Deutschland party was quick to tweet (and do nothing else, as trolls often do). “It’s Merkel’s dead!” he declared. His party base noted that ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

But what I’ve noticed since Monday’s attack is that Berliners are getting on with the business of Christmas, even while others around the world figure out how to leverage this most recent attack to their advantage. Even while the suspect, Anis Amri, was still at large, Berliners were resolute in defending their progressive ideals, even if there is temptation to do otherwise.

But how will Germans as a whole likely respond to next year’s election, when Merkel runs for her fourth consecutive term as Chancellor?

And with mounting pressure to capitulate to her more conservative constituents in the wake of attacks in Ansbach, Würzburg, and Munich earlier this year, Monday’s attack won’t make victory any easier. So, naturally, she must respond.

Merkel recently called for a ban on the burqa. (France is the true OG of this policy, opening the legal door to the ban back in 2011.) And we can be sure that this is only the beginning, as she walks a tightrope between leading and pandering so that the baton isn’t passed to someone who doesn’t know the difference.

Western superpowers were never meant to function in a silo, and no one person can sustain democracy without support. But with President Obama leaving office, and the rise of rightwing leaders like Le Pen in France and everyone’s favorite Austin Powers villain look-a-like—Geert Wilders—in the Netherlands, Merkel demonstrates once again why standing up to fascist bullies, racists, and nationalists falls to a woman who’s more concerned with doing the right thing than being liked.

We are on a precipice. I am on the precipice of eating everything in sight right now, but we are also on a bigger, metaphorical precipice. As a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, I see this as a painful echo of something I’ve seen before. Terrorism incites political fear, which trickles down to the voting base, polarizes the parties, and turns people against each other. Now what you’ll see is more news about Islamic extremism and less about increasing rates of hate crimes (which nearly doubled in 2015) and attacks on asylum shelters. The words we once trusted, like freedom and justice, will become scary, and rhetoric will replace discourse, unless Deutschland can stand firm. Bottoms up.

Ah, the Beloved Holiday Tradition of Frantically Pounding Alcohol Before the Nutcracker Starts

Dec.22.16

Ah, the Beloved Holiday Tradition of Frantically Pounding Alcohol Before the Nutcracker Starts

by Dave Hazzan

Becherovka in Prague

It’s Christmastime in Prague.

The Christmas market is up under the Charles Bridge, with an enormous tree fit for a city with the largest castle complex in the world. Parents drink grog and kids stuff themselves with mittfuls of trdelnik (pastries), and everyone tries not to break their necks on icy cobblestones. Meanwhile, across the Vlatva River, it’s Nutcracker time at the Prague National Theater.

It’s the first time Petr Zuska, Artistic Director of the Czech National Ballet, has staged his version of the classic Christmas tale, so nerves must be on edge backstage. He’s conceived of something slightly different, likely to upset the purists, but innovation isn’t foreign to the city that gave us Kafka, Dvorak, and Mucha.

In front of the stage, you can tell the tourists from the locals by how everyone is dressed. The locals go all out—men in dark suits and ties, sometimes even tuxedos. The women are artfully coiffed and wear long backless gowns, or at least smart dresses with stockings and heels.

And this being the Nutcracker, there are the children. The girls have their hair curled, bows on their dresses, followed by parents brushing the creases off their backs. The boys are stuffed into slacks and sweater vests, sometimes with a striped tie they still haven’t figured out how to breathe through. The whole family poses for a selfie in the National Theater entrance for this year’s Christmas e-card.

The tourists, meanwhile, look like they’ve just marched in from the Salvation Army store, in jeans or khakis, sweaters with the stitching coming out, sneakers and hiking boots with the dust of Prague Castle still clinging to the tops, makeup applied on the tram over. It is the bane of the Prague theater class that they have to share these seats with loud and half-drunk North Americans whose hotels don’t have irons or shoe-shine brushes.

Upstairs in the balcony section, where they sequester the under-paying vermin, it’s time for a Becherovka in the salon. Thirty-eight percent ABV, Becherovka is a pale yellow herbal liqueur that tastes of aniseed and causes a mild afterburn when knocked back in a panic 45 seconds before curtain.

The Jan Becher Company, who exclusively manufacture the stuff in Karlovy Vary, claim only two people in the world know the recipe. Once a week, they enter a secret lab and mix together these secret ingredients, rumored to be a mix of imported and domestic herbs. I presume they then retire to their secret underground lairs, where they share a bottle with Colonel Sanders and the president of Coca-Cola.

Zuska’s Nutcracker is a smashing success, not least his decision to cast two children as leads rather than one. The boy’s nutcracker, rather than being shaped as a Swiss soldier, is just an enormous gadget like you’d buy at Kitchen Collection. He loves it because he can terrorize his sister with it—she gets a plush mouse. Around them, the dancers leap, twirl, and bound, like superhuman bird people.

The orchestra plays, the audience applauds, and it sounds like Christmas in Prague.

Never Be Ashamed of Ordering the Cheapest Wine on the Menu

Dec.21.16

Never Be Ashamed of Ordering the Cheapest Wine on the Menu

by Larissa Zimberoff

Txakoli in Getaria

As soon as I left the French vineyards, I dreamed of Spanish wine. No more big reds heavy in alcohol and residual sugar, transparent legs dripping down the inside of my glass. I yearned for whites––young, green, and herbaceous––local to the Spanish coast to which I was headed.

The drive from Bordeaux, France to Getaria, Spain, a fishing village south of San Sebastian, took only a few hours, but it was littered with enough tolls to make it drag. A peach tart sat on my knees and shards of flaky crust dotted my fingers, lap and lips.

We flew past Biarritz and skipped over San Sebastian in order to make our 1 p.m. lunch reservation at three Michelin star Akelarre. The rugged, winding road felt familiar, like Big Sur, the part of California I miss most when I long for the West Coast. I swiveled back and forth to take in the ocean and the hills, two key elements that form the terroir of Spain’s Basque region.

The restaurant was mostly windows, and felt like a tree house––a fancy one with white tablecloths. We chose our tasting menu and picked the wine. I zeroed in on the only region that mattered and pointed to a local Txakoli. “This one, please.” I wondered if they would judge me for picking the lowest priced wine on the menu. I decided not to care.

Three hours later, when I surveyed the bill, it was clear which was the bargain: Lunch, 500 euros. Wine, 35 euros. At any local market, or more casual food situation, that bottle of wine would have cost anywhere from five to 10 euros. Over half of the Txakoli produced is exported to the United States. In 2015, that was over 300,000 bottles. I love this wine like water. It’s light, refreshing, effervescent, and minerally. It’s not sweet. It’s never left me with a hangover. It’s cheap!

Later, on the farthest point of the rocky shoreline that hugs the small town of Getaria, I found a small local bar. Home to one of the primary Txakoli wine appellations, Getaria is neither off-the-beaten path nor mobbed by tourists.

The bartender lifted his arm up high, tilted the bottle down and poured––splashed actually––a small amount of Txakoli into a wide-bottomed, flat glass. Three ounces for three euros. The rustic version of aerating and decanting gives the wine the slightest prickly fizz; it’s an old-world habit for a humble wine.

It doesn’t taste quite as humble when I track it down in New York, but if I close my eyes I can feel the mist back in Getaria.

A Whisky Cathedral in the Japanese Alps

Dec.20.16

A Whisky Cathedral in the Japanese Alps

by Jake Emen

Whisky in Japan

The Hakushu distillery is tucked away in the Japanese Alps. A two-hour bus ride from Tokyo takes you to an increasingly more remote and beautiful landscape, passing by Mount Fuji en route to the lush, rolling mountainsides of the northwestern portion of the Yamanasahi Prefecture.

Hakushu is one of Suntory Whisky’s two single-malt distilleries. The other, Yamazaki, has the loftier reputation and greater name recognition among American drinkers. But Hakushu has its own hardcore devotees, enthusiasts who relish the distillery’s pleasantly smoky, fruity, and crisp whisky. It ages wonderfully well on its own and also ends up as a distinctive component of Suntory’s blended whiskies, such as Hibiki or Suntory Toki.

The entrance to Hakushu’s visitor’s center is a stunning auditorium-sized room, lined with nearly a dozen retired pot stills of assorted shapes and styles, their once vibrant copper now nearly black. A dark wooden paneled walkway leads you past this monument to the whiskies of yesteryear, with several large, bright, and impressive chandeliers hanging from the rafters. This gorgeous room is more whisky cathedral than visitor’s center.

As great as that may be, it’s all prelude, because where you really want to be is Bar Hakushu, the almost-hidden tasting room located in the gift shop at the distillery. A jaw-dropping stash of Japanese whisky waits within, with unbelievably cheap prices.

Rare, highly-sought after expressions from the distillery, such as the Hakushu 25-year-old, are readily available, costing just ¥2,900 a pour, or roughly $25 at current exchange rates. Keep in mind, it wouldn’t be unheard of for a bottle of the stuff to go for $2,900—that’s dollars this time—back home in the U.S.

Of course, if you haven’t had enough, you could always scope out the prices for bottles in the shop as well. You’d be surprised how much exquisite Japanese whisky you can jam pack into a suitcase for an intercontinental flight back home. Be sure to check behind the counter for some extra-special whiskies the shop stashes away from everyday customers. That is, if they restocked after we bought them out.

What Kind of Wine Goes With an Evening in Prison?

Dec.20.16

What Kind of Wine Goes With an Evening in Prison?

by Natalie Kennedy

Pinot Nero in Milan

Standing in the pouring rain at the end of the subway line in Milan, two taxi companies hung up on me.

With my imperfect Italian, I was trying to explain that we needed to get to Bollate—a medium-security correctional facility on the periphery of the city.
Finally able to convince a dispatcher I was serious, our cab eventually arrived.

“Ragazzi!” the driver yelled, “you’re going to prison!”

The end of the subway line had felt suitably remote, but we continued to drive into the night, with the driver laughing softly to himself. I was now mildly concerned and mentally confirming that I had dragged us into the middle of nowhere in order to voluntarily eat in a jail.

The jailhouse restaurant at Bollate is a progressive work-experience program designed to allow prisoners to interact with the public and learn marketable skills in hospitality that they can use when they’ve completed their sentence. But standing at the security entrance in the dark, I was suddenly less sure of my plan to support the initiative.

Two volunteer high school students were perched in the waiting room, ready to escort us past police vans towards the looming concrete box that housed the inmates. On the prison grounds, we shed our umbrellas and coats at the door of the restaurant, InGalera, (slang for “in prison”) and stepped into a brightly lit modern space.

“Vino?” the waiter asked as we sat down and glanced around the dining room uncertainly. “A glass of red or white?”

A glass was not going to cut it. We were going to need a bottle. We were presented with an elegant leather-bound wine list.

A gourmet dining experience inside of a functioning jail (and fully staffed by current prisoners) made us think about balance. We needed a wine with balance. Red, but not too red. Italian, but not too Italian. A Super Tuscan, for example, would feel overt and brash. A southern Nero d’Avola on the other hand seemed too spicy for the somber northern setting.

My eyes were drawn to Alto Adige. Pinot Nero—known elsewhere as pinot noir—does well in the cool microclimate of southern Tyrol. High-altitude and drinkable: this was the wine we needed to ground us for the evening.

Almost instantly, I felt myself relax into the wine. The ruby liquid rolled over my palate and reduced my self-doubt about dining in this experimental restaurant.

We clinked glasses in front of a floor-to-ceiling poster of Escape from Alcatraz. The place had a sense of humor. And plenty of wine.

Longing for a Natural Catastrophe in a Year of Human Horrors

Dec.16.16

Longing for a Natural Catastrophe in a Year of Human Horrors

by Sara Nasser

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Raki in Istanbul

When a college friend decided to swing by Istanbul I thought, what better way to introduce him to the city than a meyhane (a Turkish gastropub) located in the trendy Kadikoy neighborhood on the Asian side of the city?

Mostly, I wanted to leave the European side. I needed an excuse to get out of my bubble, the Besiktas district, where two bombings had left 44 people dead and hundreds injured on Monday. I’d felt the explosions, a deep rumbling sound vibrating around me. After a year of terrorist attacks, tear gas, and an attempted coup, I’d hoped that what was happening was a long overdue earthquake. That’s sick, I know, but I’d have preferred a natural catastrophe in this year of human horrors.

We meet up at the Besiktas pier, exchanging warm hugs after some years, catching up about people we knew, places we’d been, jobs we’d tried. When the ferry comes, we go to the top though it’s cold. He has to see the scenery as we leave Europe: the Bosphorus Bridge (artfully renamed the 15th of July Martyrs bridge) is drenched in red light, like the Turkish flag draped from every building in every street.

We get to the meyhane and I decide that we must order raki, a strong, anise-flavored liquor that’s a lot like ouzo. I pour some of the spirit into our glasses over two cubes of ice, following it up with splashes of water that turns the drink into clouds of white smoke. The Turks call it aslan sutu (lion’s milk), and I normally don’t like the stuff. Some say raki makes for a silly drunk, but I guess it makes us political. We talk about the West, the East, Trump, Syria, Capitalism, Turkey, Journalism, Russia, and the “Kurdish Question.”

You know, you don’t really hear about the PKK back home. The Western media even glorifies them a bit, my friend says.

Everyone loves the underdog, especially if you’re going up against ISIS. But this is so personal for people here. Everyone knows a policeman, a soldier, a brother or father who died in this conflict, I try to explain.

I go on to rant about how this stuff is complicated: how there was a ceasefire until there wasn’t; how Turkish liberals did support a Kurdish political party until they couldn’t; how violence became so commonplace that one couldn’t think straight anymore. There have been dozens of terrorist attacks in the past year. Putschists killed civilians and flew F-16s so low they broke the sound barrier. Now, we’re in a state of emergency, and the push to change the country’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency is gathering steam.

You’re either seen as a state apologist or a terrorist sympathizer, I say to my friend. Living in Turkey, I’ve come to view nuance as a luxury afforded to you when the stakes aren’t a matter of life and death.

A child walks in at some point, pushing a packet of tissues into our face. We don’t pay him any attention; no one does. The hostess tenderly tells him to leave.

My friend and I say our goodbyes. Slightly drunk, my phone at ten percent, I take the ferry to the Golden Horn. It’s where the Boaz meets the Marmara Sea. Russian ships often pass through these straits which feed into the Mediterranean, possibly, probably, perhaps headed to Syria. The ferry rocks in the dark water. I’m looking over my shoulder, turning back with every sound, every movement.


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

We Love a Good Cocktail Origin Story, Even If It’s Not True

Dec.15.16

We Love a Good Cocktail Origin Story, Even If It’s Not True

by Thei Zervaki

French 75 in Paris

On my last visit to Paris, I had only one item on my to-do list, and it was a luxurious one: to drink a cocktail at the historic Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel, one of the world’s most famous bars. Ernest Hemingway spent a significant amount of time here, alternating between serious drinking and serious writing.

The bar is a cozy space at the back of the hotel, with wood-paneled walls, muted colors, and many photographs of the author. The drink selection on its newspaper-sized menu was overwhelming. The bar is famous for the Serendipity cocktail—Calvados, sugar, apple juice, and champagne—and for their version of the Sidecar, one of the world’s most expensive cocktails at 1,500 euros.

I got talking to Roman Devaux, the second head bartender, who revealed that the Sidecar’s hefty price tag comes from the very rare Cognac they use. Only a few people order a Sidecar each year, he said. I couldn’t afford one, so I opted for the French 75, an old favorite. A few minutes later, it arrived in a tall glass with a red rose propped in it, a generous portion of macadamia nuts and green olives on the side.

They say the Bar Hemingway story began in 1921, when a bar called Le Café Parisien opened in the hotel’s Cambon wing. At the time, women weren’t allowed in bars, so a small area opposite Le Café Parisien was created for the ladies waiting for their boozing husbands. In 1936, Le Café Parisien was renovated to accommodate women drinkers too, and the once ladies-only space was renamed Le Petit Bar—which became one of Hemingway’s favorite spots in Paris. (The bar eventually took his name in the 1980s during the hotel’s extensive renovations.) Devaux told me that Hemingway used to come in with F. Scott Fitzgerald, who usually picked up the tab because Hemingway was quite poor at the time.

As I sipped my French 75, Devaux told me the cocktail was invented in 1915 at Harry’s New York Bar—also in Paris—by barman Harry MacElhone. French and American soldiers used to celebrate their victories with this mix of cognac, Champagne, lemon juice, and sugar, and named the drink after the 75mm field gun.

But this is only one version of the story, said Devaux. Every cocktail has a story, often several. And the red rose in my glass? That’s a tradition honoring the days when women got a flower in their drink. I enjoyed this fact so much that it took the sting out of my 30-euro bill.

The Perfect Drink to Pair With Chicken Skin

Dec.14.16

The Perfect Drink to Pair With Chicken Skin

by Cher Tan

Lemon sour in Tokyo

The lemon sour is ubiquitous on menus in bars and restaurants across Japan. It shouldn’t be mistaken for a sour cocktail like the daiquiri or margarita; the lemon sour (or ramon sawal ‘レモンサワー’) exists in a shining league of its own. A lemon (or grapefruit, or plum) sour is also called chuhai, an abbreviated form of its proper name, Shochu Highball.

I first came across the lemon sour in Tokyo, in a tiny yakitori joint on Omoide Yokocho, Shinjuku’s popular yakitori alley.

The story behind Omoide begins in post-war Japan, when the devastated nation was struggling to find its feet again. Goods were scarce, and staples such as udon and wheat flour for making ramen noodles were strictly controlled, so people remade their businesses according to what was available, such as the entrails of cows and pigs brought by occupation troops. This marked the beginnings of the motsu-yaki shop—which served grilled animal organs—and the stalls soon became prosperous. The shops were (and still are) divided by single boards, huddled close to each other in narrow alleys such as Omoide. The cooks prepare yakitori skewers mere inches in front of you, popping them onto a coal-fired grill when they’re assembled. If you’re lucky (as we were), you get to sit in front of the flames, as the chef deftly cooks the yakitori to a perfect char.

I didn’t know what a lemon sour was, but I ordered it anyway. The drink arrived quickly in a tall glass. The taste was (naturally) slightly sour, yet dry. Made with a base liquor of shochu, the chuhai is mixed with Hi-Sour soda. A slice of lemon is added as a final touch. Some restaurants bring out a squeezer and half a lemon together with your drink so you can squeeze the juice yourself.

The lemon sours at this yakitori stall were weak, but fit perfectly with the food. Paired with motsu—chicken heart, skin, and liver; pork tongue, liver, and intestines—the flavor of the chuhai intensifies the taste of the savory meat. It neither overpowers nor taints, and leaves plenty of room for food, unlike beer.

Light and refreshing, chuhai converted me. I drank nothing else during my visit after that first encounter. Leaving Japan’s shores was difficult, my connection with chuhai severed until my next visit.

The Many Trials of Tracking Down the World’s Best Beer

Dec.13.16

The Many Trials of Tracking Down the World’s Best Beer

by Diane Zahler

Westvleteren 12 in Belgium

We were twitchy with excitement. We were finally seated in the café of the St. Sixtus Abbey in West Flanders, about to taste the Westvleteren 12. It’s a Belgian Quadrupel-style ale (very strong and dark), at 10 percent or higher ABV, and widely considered the best beer in the world.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy. Our attempts to order the two cases that people are permitted to buy every 60 days had failed, because the single phone line to the abbey, which allows calls only from 8:30 am to 11:30 am on Wednesdays, was permanently busy. Our first attempt to visit the café had failed because we’d gone on a Friday, when the Trappist monks close up shop.

But now it was Monday, and the café was open. We hadn’t managed to order cases, but we’d lucked out: the Westvleteren 12 was available on tap. The place was packed. Some visitors, many driving Porsches and BMWs, had gotten through on the monk-phone and had come to pick up their beer. One young soldier stationed in Germany told us that every 60 days his commanding officer made him drive to Belgium to get his two cases. A busload of elderly people disembarked, most in wheelchairs or on crutches. It turns out that the abbey has a grotto modeled on the one in Lourdes, where people go to be healed. The group had lunch and beers, and even before heading a bit unsteadily down the path to the grotto, they seemed well on the way to better health.

Our beer came. We drank. It was ambrosial. For all the extravagant hype surrounding it, the Westvleteren 12 really did taste extraordinary. It was dark, heady, strong but balanced, with hints of dark fruit, caramel, and coffee. I didn’t register the “brown bread and workbench dirt” or the “musty barnwood” flavors, but it was deeply complex and utterly delicious.

Our waitress told us that occasionally they sold a few bottles in the gift shop, but there were no extras that day. Undeterred, I accosted a waiter and asked him if maybe, possibly, there was a bottle of the 12 lurking somewhere that we could buy, as we had come all the way from America to taste it.

“Look!” he replied. “They’re selling some right now!” A line of people had suddenly materialized at the gift shop, which was offering a very limited number of four-bottle gift packs, including one 12 and a Westvleteren glass, for an outrageous price. Thrilled, we rushed to buy two gift packs and held them high, giddy with beer and the joy of achieving a near-impossible goal.

Once Upon a Time in a Bar in Mexico

Dec.12.16

Once Upon a Time in a Bar in Mexico

by James Murren

Beer in Tecate

At the end of the bar, two men sit and talk while popping peanuts into their mouths. A pinch of salt gets sprinkled over slices of lime. One of them picks up a wedge and sucks on it. He then takes a swig from his bottle of beer.

The bartender has the look of a musician, the kind that would play in a loud rock group. I’m curious, so I ask: Toca música, Usted?

“Sí.”

I ask what instrument he plays, learning that every day he plugs in his amp and practices bass and electric guitar. He tells me that he likes 1970s music along the lines of Deep Purple and Alice Cooper, but also that he really enjoys listening to Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” he says.

When I ask where he learned of those bands, that many people his age have no idea of that musical era, he tells me: radio, internet, friends. He adds that when he was five years old he saw a VHS of Glen Danzig and he knew in that moment that he wanted to be a musician.

I order another beer.

A man walks in and greets everyone with a “Buena Tardes” as he passes each of us. He makes a beeline to the bathroom. A minute or so later, he walks back out of the bar, giving a head nod to us, his cowboy hat dipping.

“That’s nice that you allow people to come in and use the bathroom.”
“We know them all,” the bartender responds. “He’ll be in later for a beer.”

It is midweek. The dusty, little border town is quiet, as is the bar. On the weekends, this place can be packed, with mariachis singing while travelers, local ranchers, and townspeople share the tiny space that’s been around since 1957.

Finishing up my beer, I encourage him to keep practicing and playing guitar, that someday maybe he will make a little money as a musician.

“I don’t want it to ever be about business,” he states, adding that he is enrolled at university so he hopefully will have a steady job in the future. For him, he says, playing guitar makes him feel good and he does not need other people to like how he plays for him to be satisfied. I suggest that he is an artist. He smiles.

I pay my tab, take the last swallow, and exit. Strolling through Parque Hidalgo, I see men sitting on park benches reading newspapers and carrying on conversations. Children sit with grandparents eating some kind of pastry. Mariachi musicians clean their instruments. Some strum strings, tuning the sound.

A beer buzz in my head, I walk down to El Mejor Pan de Tecate, the famous 24-hour bakery that many consider the best on the entire peninsula. The sun sinks. I have empanadas on my mind.

A Negroni, Per Favore, As the World Burns

Dec.09.16

A Negroni, Per Favore, As the World Burns

by Caterina Clerici

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Sbagliatos in Milan

The atmosphere in Milan on Monday was eerie: a mix of fog and the looming political void.

When the results of Sunday’s constitutional referendum started pouring in late the night before, it was immediately clear that the country had answered with a roaring NO. It wasn’t a “no” to the proposed changes to the constitution, but to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Approaching a thousand days in office, Renzi arrogantly thought it would be a good idea to turn this referendum into a validation of his time in office. The result? Renzi lost what had effectively become a midterm election, and I needed a drink.

Despite asking all my sources at the prime minister’s residence, the Palazzo Chigi—who surely had nothing better to do the day after their boss declared his intention to step down—I wasn’t able to discover Renzi’s favorite cocktail. So I opted for a negroni sbagliato (commonly known simply as a sbagliato). The negroni was invented in Renzi’s hometown, Florence, where he was mayor for five years until becoming Prime Minister, and ‘sbagliato’ means wrong, as in this version of the drink, brut spumante replaces gin. I figured it’s a bit like him: solid, does the job, but not something you’re excited about.

The occasion deserved the best possible sbagliato, so I headed to the place where, legend has it, the wrong mix was first poured, by mistake, here in Milan: Bar Basso, an Italian drinks Mecca and a safe-haven for professionals and elites on all sides of the political spectrum; to each his aperitivo, after all.

“Italy is ungovernable: we’ve been stuck for ten years and we’ll continue being stuck for the next ten,” was the first thing I heard as I walked in.

A group of men in their sixties and seventies, wrapped in their coats and scarves, were talking politics while looking at YouTube videos on their phones. I later found out one of them had been the head of the city’s health department for ten years in the late nineties. He voted no. “But it doesn’t matter—whatever happens, Italians land on their feet.”

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I would have never thought I’d vote for Renzi, and even the first sip of negroni sbagliato couldn’t soothe my guilt. He speaks like a know-it-all classmate who throws in a word or two of approximate English in every sentence, just because. But more importantly, Renzi is the man who ruined la sinistra, the Left, the people I remember marching in the streets chanting slogans from 1968 as I grew up.

Still, I somehow found reasons to stand with the ‘Scrapper,’ as Renzi famously called himself as he tried to reboot Italian politics. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the ‘elite’ that has become too disconnected from la cosa pubblica and the dire economic state of the homeland, but what scared me most was the thought of political paralysis. Our system is admittedly rusty, but it had just recently started working again, if not perfectly. And I feared—and still do—the international repercussions of a no vote, which will be twisted into the destructive narrative of a growing anti-establishment wave, destined to reshape Europe and the rest of the world.

The victory of the no vote in Italy is different from the Brexit and the Trump-astrophe: here, we’ve long been fans of the anti-establishment voto di pancia, literally ‘voting with the belly.’ We witnessed the rise of our own Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, as early as 1994, and with him we welcomed our homegrown UKIP, the Lega Nord, into the government for the first time.

Now, we’ve reached a new milestone in political thinking: reverse-reverse-psychology. If we wanted to vote against the usual political caste, we should have voted YES, since every familiar face in the country’s political landscape, from Berlusconi to the old roster of leftist leaders to the ‘anti-establishment’ Five Star Movement, supported NO. But we didn’t!

The antipathy for Renzi and the utter rage caused by high unemployment rates and poor economic growth overshadowed the fact that he was the closest we could get to change. Or maybe it’s the Italian habit of voting against the government, often oblivious of the repercussions abroad and at home. Not all Italians land on their feet, and the parties that backed NO have a pretty unsuccessful record of providing for those who don’t.

“I wanted to get rid of some seats,” said Renzi in his concession speech late Sunday night, “but eventually the one that blew up was mine.”

Back in the bar, the four men were cheering. “Viva Mattarella,” joked one, referring to the president, who must now form a provisional government before Christmas. The other three replied with Italy’s beloved all-purpose epithet: “Ma vaffanculo!”


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

Brown Cafés: Nicer Than They Sound

Dec.08.16

Brown Cafés: Nicer Than They Sound

by Alexander Lobov

Beer and Jenever in Amsterdam

I was two days into a mild but irritating bout of food poisoning, and the Dutch medical tradition of avoiding prescription drugs was a source of frustration. “Just drink plenty of fluids and rest,” said the receptionist. No point even bothering the doctor with my minor illness.

So I decided to deal with it in the same way as I deal with most ailments, physical or mental: I went to a bar. Perhaps beer wasn’t the exact fluid she had in mind, but it was undoubtedly a fluid. And since I was meant to be resting, where better to do so than my local brown café, Café Krom. Brown—bruine—cafés are Amsterdam’s answer to a British pub, and this one is a place so comfortable it feels like an extension of my living room.

I ordered the Dutch version of a boilermaker: a jenever with a beer chaser. This is known as a kopstootje—meaning ‘small headbutt’—though I hadn’t yet plucked up the courage to actually order it by that name. But the bartender understood immediately that I needed the kind of sustenance one draws from a nip of a strong spirit and an ice-cold beer, together.

Within minutes I was served. The jenever was poured at my table into a tiny tulip-shaped glass until it overflowed (as is customary, so one has to take the first sip without lifting the glass). It tasted herbal, sharp, and slightly sweet, bringing out the bitterness of the lager chaser.

Walk past it and you might think that Krom is a typical brown café. And it does have the classic features: brown color scheme, a range of beers and jenever, boiled eggs behind the counter, and a moderately surly proprietor. But it also has its quirks: Art Deco stained glass above the bar and bathrooms, a jukebox from the 1950s (the only occasional source of music), a resident cat, and a still-life painting of a skull, books, and a jug of wine.

My fellow patrons were neighborhood locals, mostly, no tourists in sight. Middle-aged couples enjoying a tea and an aperitif, the men almost universally silver-haired with ruddy complexions, small glasses, well-cut but artfully rumpled suit jackets and an air of ease that is the cornerstone of Dutch living.

The Dutch call it gezelligheid: a word that loosely translates to a combination of fun and coziness, but signifies comfort above all. This is the main criterion by which a brown café is judged. It is not the comfort of being tucked in bed, or of eating an entire pizza while binge-watching Netflix. It is the comfort-fun of a lively conversation with old friends while enjoying a beverage or two.

I left feeling refreshed and on the road to recovery. Perhaps that’s why Dutch doctors don’t prescribe pills for minor ailments. Gezelligheid can be the best medicine—and in Amsterdam, it isn’t hard to find.

Sticklers for Silly Whisky Rules Have Obviously Never Tasted This Shack Whisky

Dec.07.16

Sticklers for Silly Whisky Rules Have Obviously Never Tasted This Shack Whisky

by Jake Emen

Whisky in Rothes

The Back Burn stream meanders across the grounds of the Glen Grant Distillery in the town of Rothes, Scotland. All of those “Glen” names in Scotch whisky refer to a specific place: a glen is a swath of valley, and the latter portion of the name refers to the river that runs through it, or perhaps the town where a distillery is located.

When brothers John and James Grant founded their distillery in 1840, though, rather than calling the new operation the Glenburn Distillery, perhaps, they called it Glen Grant, giving it the family name, an exception to the industry’s naming patterns.

On the Glen Grant property, there is a garden and an orchard, and the quiet pathway through the pristine environs makes for a great strolling spot, even on a suddenly chilly, windy afternoon. We have a guide on this casual jaunt through the gardens, and we’re following along until we reach a wooden pathway taking us right over a bubbling little creek.

Hidden against the side of a rocky outcrop is a small wooden shack. It’s said that the space used to serve as a changing room for children as they went running around and playing in the stream. Thankfully there are no bathing suits or towels to be found in the shack these days, but instead, something much better: a safe.

Its precious cargo is 50-year-old Glen Grant whisky. The revelation sets in for this group of previously sleepy Scotch travelers as we slowly process the ruse to which we had just succumbed: this was no casual stroll at all, but a purposeful whisky walk, one which ended with each of us holding a glassful of a whisky that sells for about $11,000 a bottle once it hits the market in its fancy decanter and display case.

The whisky is spellbindingly copper-brown in the glass, a deep, rust-tinged color, and it offers robust earthy notes of leather and tobacco. It’s a powerful dram, particularly at 54 percent ABV, and it could benefit from a few drops of water, a common practice to help open up the flavors of a strong whisky. Luckily, we’re standing over the Back Burn, allowing our glasses to receive some of that cool and crisp, fresh stream water, building on the 50-year-old whisky with the very same water that gave it life.

Some people say that you shouldn’t add water to your whisky: that any adulteration to the spirit, be it water or ice, simply ruins it. That’s a pretentious, silly rule, and for any sticklers out there who still say otherwise, I suggest you make a visit to the Back Burn and see if you don’t come away convinced.

Photo by: Jared Paul Stern

This Is the Best Story You’ll Read All Day Just Trust Us

Dec.06.16

This Is the Best Story You’ll Read All Day Just Trust Us

by Russ Rowlands

Bordeaux in Toronto

“Hey, bartender,” the old guy gestured at me, almost whispering in a sonorous rumble. “See those gentlemen over there? Ask them if I can have two fingers of their wine.”

I looked over my shoulder to where a couple of brokers had just ordered a $700 bottle of Bordeaux, then back at Sonorous Rumble and hesitated, not sure how to politely tell him he was nuts. He looked a little nuts, all decked out in an admittedly stylish tweed in the middle of summer. Shrugging amiably, the old guy got off his bar stool and circled the big marble slab to go speak directly with the brokers. I watched the way you watch a shopping cart rattle toward a Porsche in a parking lot: morbidly curious, shoulders slightly hunched in a pre-loaded cringe.

“Kelly!” I called the other bartender over, compelled to share the scene.
“Dude’s mooching a hundo worth of red off Merrill Lynch there.”

Day bartenders didn’t get much excitement, especially in our fancy financial-district venue. Kelly slid closer and put a hand on my shoulder, trying to look like we had something to discuss other than Sonorous Rumble and the brokers.

“When I asked what he wanted for lunch, he said ‘You on a bun,’” she told me.

The brokers didn’t bat an eye when Sonorous Rumble sauntered up and shook hands. They gestured to Kelly and asked for another glass, then poured the old guy a full serving with a big smile. The three of them chatted quietly, with the usually-boisterous brokers manifesting more civility than I was accustomed to on a post-martini Thursday afternoon.

“Huh.” Kelly shrugged at me and we went about our work.

The restaurant was quiet and I could feel, more than hear, Sonorous Rumble’s voice from the end of the bar as he joked with the younger bankers. Drama avoided, my attention drifted back to my regulars and I leaned on the marble to gossip while Kelly served a young couple behind me.

“Another one of these, on my tab,” Sonorous Rumble rumbled at us an hour later, tapping the empty bottle of Bordeaux. I pierced the cork while Kelly polished three fresh glasses, all conversation paused during the ritual. The cork came out cleanly and I let out a silent sigh of relief while Sonorous Rumble waved off his taster. Spidery fingers of wine clung to the inside of their glasses as the old red settled. I had offered them a decanter, but evidently no one was standing on ceremony.

At the end of our shift, the bar manager came over to wrap up the afternoon’s cash-out. “How was Leonard Cohen?” she asked. “Nice guy?”

It’s Not Day Drinking If There is No Daylight

Dec.05.16

It’s Not Day Drinking If There is No Daylight

by Dave Hazzan

Vodka in Murmansk

Welcome to Murmansk, Russia, the northeast terminus of the Russian railway. From here, well above the Arctic Circle, the train from Moscow stops, with nowhere further to go but the ocean.

Up here on the Kola Peninsula, a few hundred miles from the Norwegian and Finnish borders, the scenery is magnificent, when you can see it. It’s night for 20 hours a day, and the remaining four hours can’t reasonably be called daylight: it’s more like a line of light on the horizon that turns everything an aquamarine blue.

They’ve built themselves a town up here, a functioning city the size of Pittsburgh, the largest human habitation north of the Arctic Circle. It’s exactly 100 years old—a port purpose-built by the Imperial Russian administration for use in World War I—but it looks brand new, with a mega-mall, a modern train station and airport, and new yuppie restaurants where the more fashionably dressed will push in front of you at the coat check because they’re melting under their furs in the indoor heat. (Another feature that makes it bearable: in the grand Russian tradition, they heat the shit out of everything, so you can hang around all day inside in a T-shirt and bare feet.)

But our faith that Murmansk was something other than a mini, northern Moscow was kindled by a roadside tavern. Propped in the snow by the railway station, it had no name that I could pronounce. Outside, it looked like a small log cabin, and inside it was a tribute to northern Russia’s favorite sport: the killing of animals. The bar was decorated throughout with dead bears, moose, reindeer, squirrels, grouse, crows, and other furry and feathered friends, stuffed and mounted. In a closed room to the side, a group of Russian men were gathered around a table, up to something I can only assume was illegal, or at least very private. Plotting the overthrow of the government, or another government, or gambling on this winter’s hunt.

The person in charge of the bar, a blonde woman in her 30s, left you with only one clear impression: that she was in charge of the bar. She brought us vodka and beer with a smile and a look that said in any language, “Don’t fuck with me.” We didn’t. We admired the checked tablecloths and told her so, though she didn’t understand.

After warming ourselves with vodka and beer, we decided to walk the mile back to our hotel. As a young Canadian, I was warned you shouldn’t drink when it’s freezing cold out, because that warm feeling you get with a drink is your mind playing tricks on you. Booze actually strips your body of warmth.

I’ll remember that next time I’m doing reconnaissance in the North Pole. But in this Paris of the Arctic, a few vodkas makes everything a lot warmer, and we got home plenty safe.

Drinking Through the Longest Election Season

Dec.02.16

Drinking Through the Longest Election Season

by Alexa van Sickle

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Grüner Veltliner in London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s hope that’s enough.

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

Who Needs Air Conditioning When You Have Watery Beer?

Dec.01.16

Who Needs Air Conditioning When You Have Watery Beer?

by Holly Robertson

Angkor beer in Cambodia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Call in Britain’s Brewing Capital

Nov.30.16

Last Call in Britain’s Brewing Capital

by Isaac Parham

Ale in Burton-on-Trent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Actually, Post-Election Jäger Shots Make Perfect Sense

Nov.29.16

Actually, Post-Election Jäger Shots Make Perfect Sense

by Karolina Chorvath

Jägermeister in Warsaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thailand Must Look Goth AF Right Now

Nov.28.16

Thailand Must Look Goth AF Right Now

by Russ Rowlands

Warm Beer in Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, two buckets of Chang.”

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

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

Nov.23.16

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

by Alexa van Sickle

Sturm in Vienna

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.22.16

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

by Jake Emen

Whisky in Craigellachie

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fine Line Between Terroir and Bullshit

Nov.21.16

The Fine Line Between Terroir and Bullshit

by Will Tomford

Wine in the Vipava Valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Sergio C. Fanjul

Cañas in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ignacio Peyró

Martinis in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Joan Picanyol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Locked Out of the Wine Party in the Garage Once Again

Locked Out of the Wine Party in the Garage Once Again

by Adam Nace

Vermouth in Palma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Matthew Bremner

Wine in Villaveta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fired Up, Ready to Squirt Minced Meat Into Pig Intestines

Nov.10.16

Fired Up, Ready to Squirt Minced Meat Into Pig Intestines

by Alex Court

Palinka in Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.09.16

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

by Kade Krichko

Baijiu in Jilin Province

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.08.16

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

by Michael Krumholtz

Guaro in Costa Rica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Excellent Advice From a Drunk Former Geisha

Nov.07.16

Excellent Advice From a Drunk Former Geisha

by Russ Rowlands

Sake and Lager in Atami

“How does anyone get drunk in this town?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beer is A Fitting Reward for Literary Struggle

Nov.03.16

A Beer is A Fitting Reward for Literary Struggle

by Barbara Wanjala

Lager in Uganda

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.02.16

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

by Tyler McBrien

Umqombothi in South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nov.01.16

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

by Robert Rubsam

Wine in Okinawa

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

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

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

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

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

The Irish Pub: Local to Everywhere

Oct.31.16

The Irish Pub: Local to Everywhere

by Ashley Dobson

Cider in Copenhagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody Knows Strong Liquor Like People Stuck in Cold Places

Oct.27.16

Nobody Knows Strong Liquor Like People Stuck in Cold Places

by Jake Emen

Whisky In Orkney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct.26.16

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

by Courtney Brandt

Wine in South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Hit the Wine Machine at the Breakfast Buffet

Oct.25.16

Time to Hit the Wine Machine at the Breakfast Buffet

by Olga Kovalenko

Wine in Basilicata

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

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

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

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

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

When in a Crisis, Consider Better Wine

Oct.24.16

When in a Crisis, Consider Better Wine

by Michelle Arrouas

Wine in Alto Douro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took another sip and agreed.

Relationships are Fleeting, But Lemon-Flavored Beer is Forever

Oct.20.16

Relationships are Fleeting, But Lemon-Flavored Beer is Forever

by Yvette Tan

Clara in Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

Any Rum-Based Port in a Rainstorm

Oct.19.16

Any Rum-Based Port in a Rainstorm

by Aria Chiodo

Canchánchara in Trinidad

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

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

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

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

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

Love Is Easier With Alcohol and Boiled Eggs

Oct.18.16

Love Is Easier With Alcohol and Boiled Eggs

by Sachin Bhandary

Palmyrah arrack in Jaffna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunshine, Meat, Cocktails, Sleep, Coffee, Repeat

Oct.17.16

Sunshine, Meat, Cocktails, Sleep, Coffee, Repeat

by Claire Margine

Cafezinhos in Brazil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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