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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

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.

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.

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.

Supertramp on Repeat and Other Assaults On the Senses

Oct.13.16

Supertramp on Repeat and Other Assaults On the Senses

by Chris Cotonou

Les Nuages in Lyon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Courtesy of Look Bar.

Let’s Mix Bees and Shots and See What Happens

Oct.12.16

Let’s Mix Bees and Shots and See What Happens

by Natasha Amar

Medica in Slovenia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wining and Dining in Surreal Microclimates

Oct.11.16

Wining and Dining in Surreal Microclimates

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Chardonnay in Palm Springs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct.10.16

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

by Dave Hazzan

Chamisul Classic on the Karimata Straits

Alcohol control in the Islamic world runs a long gamut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Up in This Fancy Hotel, Eating Some Crazy Shit

Oct.06.16

All Up in This Fancy Hotel, Eating Some Crazy Shit

by Didi Kader

Cherry Mules in Seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct.04.16

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

by Natalie Kennedy

Lager in Uganda

Getting to Murchison Falls is no easy task.

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

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

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

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

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

Naturally, after all that, we missed the ferry.

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

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

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

Isaac met us back at the landing.

“Let me buy you a beer,” I insisted.

This time, he accepted.

The Bananawhacker and Other Florida Panhandle Necessities

Oct.03.16

The Bananawhacker and Other Florida Panhandle Necessities

by Christine Chu

Bushwackers in Pensacola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I carefully input the number and send the text.

“Great mural, Thomas.”

He never responds.

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

Sep.28.16

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

by Meredith Bethune

Rakia in Slavonia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Seriously Sweet Beer Speakeasy in South Texas

Sep.27.16

One Seriously Sweet Beer Speakeasy in South Texas

by Bonnie Arbittier

Kirsch Sour Cherry Gose in South Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Not a Party Without Unexpected Hot Air Balloons

Sep.26.16

It’s Not a Party Without Unexpected Hot Air Balloons

by Shawn Pearce

Beer in Bléré

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relearning the Art of Procuring Alcohol Legally

Sep.22.16

Relearning the Art of Procuring Alcohol Legally

by Saba Imtiaz

Wine in Jordan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fourteen,” he decides, somewhat arbitrarily.

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

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

The Dancing Faded, but the Drinking Endured

Sep.21.16

The Dancing Faded, but the Drinking Endured

by Harsh Mehta

Beer in Cairo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.20.16

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

by Russ Rowlands

Lager in Tahiti

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.19.16

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

by Katie Allie

Wine in Portugal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.15.16

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

by Frances Katz

Tiki Drinks in Atlanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Sam Howzit

Mastering the Semi-Pornographic Lexicon of Cincinnati Chili

Sep.14.16

Mastering the Semi-Pornographic Lexicon of Cincinnati Chili

by Craig J. Heimbuch

Bourbon in Cincinnati

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

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

This is a bourbon-evening kind of place.

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Skyline Chili

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

Sep.13.16

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

by Cher Tan

Riga Black Balsam in Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep.12.16

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

by Jake Emen

Mistela in Peru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Panty Remover,” he says.

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

Sep.08.16

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

by Samuel Patterson

Champagne in Champagne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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