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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Shandy for the Wine-Lover’s Soul


A Shandy for the Wine-Lover’s Soul

by Charukesi Ramadurai

Tinto de Verano in Andalusia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Arkangel

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


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

by Eli Meixler

Ale in Yangon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Cole Whitaker

Vodka in Poland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Anthony Elghossein

Moscow Mules in Beirut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Steele Rudd

Ginger Beer in Sydney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Slice of Pure Manchester


A Slice of Pure Manchester

by Alec Herron

Bitter in Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Chris Malloy

Visciolata in Italy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Adee Braun

Suze in Paris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Russ Rowlands

Kalik Lager on North Bimini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had not known that.

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Cynthia Sularz

Tatransky Vietor in Slovakia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Viareggio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Jo Turner

A Toast! To Democracy


A Toast! To Democracy

by Pauline Eiferman


Pastis in Marseille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Jaime Jacques

Coquitas in Capilla de Guadalupe

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subverting Brexit with Negronis and Spontaneous Bhangra Sessions


Subverting Brexit with Negronis and Spontaneous Bhangra Sessions

by Henna Zamurd-Butt

Negroni in Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Jackie Bryant

Under the Counter in Grenada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Maxime Brousse

Tsipouro in Sifnos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More of a Capitalist Parasite Than a Fascist, TBH


More of a Capitalist Parasite Than a Fascist, TBH

by Aleks Eror


Bourbon in Belgrade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Lazara Marinković

India’s Dying Breed of Raspberry Soda Purveyors


India’s Dying Breed of Raspberry Soda Purveyors

by Rohit Inani

Raspberry soda in Bombay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Bursting with Flavor, But Goes Nicely with Impeachment Celebrations


Not Bursting with Flavor, But Goes Nicely with Impeachment Celebrations

by Mitchell Blatt

Beer in Seoul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Rob Kunzig

Kvass in Riga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course,” he says.

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


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

by Saba Imtiaz

Wine in Amman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Living in a World of Absurdities, Try Whisky


When Living in a World of Absurdities, Try Whisky

by Niren Tolsi


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Dave Hazzan

Ruda in Ljubljana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Bella Peacock

Beers in Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Chloe Olewitz

Hierbas in Ibiza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everybody Seems to be Eating Brains These Days


Everybody Seems to be Eating Brains These Days

by Evangeline Neve

Chhang in Patan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ordering the Wrong Drink at Al Capone’s Favorite Bar


Ordering the Wrong Drink at Al Capone’s Favorite Bar

by Anna Hiatt

Gin and tonic in Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Syrupy Toast to Calcutta’s Revolutionaries


A Syrupy Toast to Calcutta’s Revolutionaries

by Shirin Mehrotra

Sherbet in Calcutta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Brian Petit

Kubuli in Dominica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Rachael Martin

Cañas in Almería

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drinking Whiskey All Day Is Harder Than It Looks


Drinking Whiskey All Day Is Harder Than It Looks

by Jake Emen

Whiskey in Tiburon, California

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s Drink to the Oldest Elevator in Egypt


Let’s Drink to the Oldest Elevator in Egypt

by Andrea Valentino

Wine in Cairo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Gaynor Barton

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


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

by Efraín Villanueva

Refajo in La Calera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Underestimate the Refreshing Properties of Churned Cream


Don’t Underestimate the Refreshing Properties of Churned Cream

by Ranjini Rao

Buttermilk in Coimbatore

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Wine Bar for People Who Only Drink Soda


A Wine Bar for People Who Only Drink Soda

by Mel Plant

Soda in Istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searching for the Hungary I Loved in the Budapest of Today


Searching for the Hungary I Loved in the Budapest of Today

by Ryan Andrej Lough


Pálinka in Magyarország

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tried Every Whisky in the World? Start on Rum.


Tried Every Whisky in the World? Start on Rum.

by Jake Emen

Rum in Barbados

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Jackie Bryant

Mezcal in Guatemala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Michael Tatarski

Beer in Cu Lac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Dave Hazzan

Hot whiskey in Kilkenny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People Have Learned To Drink Early in Duterte’s Philippines


People Have Learned To Drink Early in Duterte’s Philippines

by Shirin Bhandari


Rum in Manila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon


A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

by Abby Sewell

Almaza Beer in Tripoli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Celine

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


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

by Dave Hazzan

Pastis in Casablanca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Jo Turner

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


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

by Sarah Morlock

Beer at Everest Base Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Sabra Ayres

Beer in Minsk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Brendan Hoffman

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


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

by Cara Parks


Guinness in New York City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

by Amrita Das

Cocktails in Kolkata

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a roll, I tried the other Kolkata-specialized drink on the menu: the Old Fashioned at Camac, named after the street where Monkey Bar is located. The bold whisky cocktail had a mix of bitters with praline, and was very potent. It made me crave the refreshing gin, so I switched back to my first choice for the next round.

I ended the evening with three Toast to Calcutta cocktails on my bill. I walked out, mildly intoxicated, into Kolkata’s streets.

Photo courtesy of Monkey Bar

Just Some Turkish Soap Opera Stars and a Very Cool Mom Knockin’ Back Drinks


Just Some Turkish Soap Opera Stars and a Very Cool Mom Knockin’ Back Drinks

by Diane Zahler

Raki in Turkey

It was midnight in Foca, Turkey. December, but not at all cold, especially after three days in ice-crusted Cappadocia. The lights from the seafood restaurants lining the semi-circular harbor were reflected in the dark Aegean waters as wooden fishing boats bobbed at their moorings.

My 24-year-old son and I strolled along the harbor, looking for a tavern where we could have a raki before bed. We’d been introduced to raki in Cappadocia. A strong, aniseed-flavored brandy, it’s mixed with ice or water, turning it milky. (It’s also known as Lion’s Milk.) We’d taken to having one as a nightcap every night. But my husband had retired to our hotel with a sinus infection, so tonight Ben and I were on our own.

We found the right kind of dive and settled in a booth, ordering our raki. Almost immediately we noticed the couple to my right. It was hard not to notice them: they were both astonishingly good-looking. We drank slowly and took sidelong glances as often as we dared. The woman was exquisite, with long sable hair, luminous dark eyes, skin like silk.

The man—well, more of the same, but with shorter hair and a chiseled jaw. They could almost have been brother and sister, though they were holding hands under the table. They drank red wine in large, expensive-looking goblets—not at all what you’d expect in a place like that.

When we were nearly finished with our drinks, the man leaned toward us. “Are you American?” he asked, his English barely accented. When we said yes, they began to chat with us. We learned they were Turkish soap opera stars, on hiatus from their show. The excess of beauty began to make sense.

When they told us that they played newlyweds on the show, my son asked, “Are you married in real life?” The man replied, “Not yet,” and the woman looked startled. “I’m going to ask her to marry me,” he confessed, and she blushed and cried, “Oh my God!” Unless it was all an act, we were present for what was more or less a proposal. We bought another round in congratulations.

After we toasted their happiness, the woman asked us, “And how long have you two been married?”

There was a long silence before I burst out laughing. Ben choked on his raki and turned bright red. The couple were confused, then embarrassed. They apologized for assuming we were married, and amended the question: “How long have you been together?”

At this point I was nearly weeping. “Twenty-four years,” I finally managed. “I’m his mother.”

Admittedly, the lights were low in the tavern. Still, there were well over three decades between my age and my son’s. I attributed the error to the raki, which, I assumed, had somehow made me look as good as it made me feel.

We left soon after, promising to look up the couple’s show (the name of which we immediately forgot), and walked a little unsteadily in the direction of the hotel.

“You’ll never mention this again,” Ben said grimly to me, and I promised, as solemnly as I could between snorts of laughter.

Reader, I lied.

A Dispatch From Iran in the Age of Trump


A Dispatch From Iran in the Age of Trump

by Cameron Zeyd Lange

Doogh in Tehran

On Valiasr Avenue, the great spine of Tehran that runs north to south from the foothills to the plains, there is a place called the Lorca Café. Its patrons drink French press coffee under pictures of the Spanish poet, and the floating shelves hold translations of his plays.

Today Leonard Cohen is singing I’m Your Man on the speakers, and I’m drinking doogh, a salty yoghurt drink popular in Iran since the time of ancient Persia. It typically accompanies the country’s famous lamb kebabs, and can be garnished with cucumbers or mint.

I come to the Lorca every afternoon to study my Persian lessons, and spend a few hours dedicated to the sound of my father’s language. So many words strike me as at once simplistically literal and naturally poetic. One translation of the verb ‘to weep’ is to spill tears. ‘To pray’ is to want from God. And in fact, the word for God (khoda) is almost the same as the one for the self (khod), hinting at the streak of mysticism that animates the Iranian heart.

But I’m distracted and I can’t study. The previous day, Trump’s now-disgraced national security advisor Michael Flynn had held a press conference officially putting Iran ‘on notice.’ I had no idea what that meant, but it had stirred the old specter of war, dormant since the nuclear deal in 2015, and suddenly the city seemed at once prouder and more fragile, and its peace more precious.

I have come to love Tehran for its energy and resilience, but it is no easy place to be. The air is almost permanently soured by smog and smoke, which often masks the Alborz mountains only a few miles to the north. There are dozens of half-finished towers across town, bronzed over with rusting steel. During the years of devastating sanctions, construction was one of the only self-contained industries, and they built things for the sake of it—to give the workers something to do, to keep the cement factories open. These buildings are unlikely to ever be completed. Most days I can’t see anyone working on the sites, then I glimpse some solitary worker shoveling dust from corner to corner.

Yet I’ve been happy here. When it snows, the flakes settle like grains of salt on the veils of passing matriarchs, and spires of roasted beetroot fill the doorways of the grocers. Outside Lorca’s there is a street musician playing an electric violin fashioned out of a broomstick, and beside him a man sells pastries from the trunk of his car, and if you say the word he procures new-born puppies from a cardboard box and urges you to take one home.

It hurts even to imagine the country at war. All of this cowering, or gone.
I abandon my revision, finish my doogh, and slip outside to buy some phone credit. The kiosk is manned by a 10-year-old boy reading a book on the big cats of Africa. He hears my accent and asks where I’m from.


‘Where’s England exactly?’

‘It’s part of a big island in Western Europe.’

‘Do they have lions in England?’


‘Hmm, too bad.’
 And with that he lost interest in me and my faraway country.

We’re Going to Need Some Norwegians to Vouch for Us Because This Sounds Awesome


We’re Going to Need Some Norwegians to Vouch for Us Because This Sounds Awesome

by Adam Nace

Akvavit in San Francisco

I’ve never been to Norway, but I’ve been to the Norwegian Club.

Months earlier, I’d bumped into Erik in San Francisco’s Panhandle Park as I walked home from work. It took me a moment to recognize him in his formal wear, but his long red beard was unmistakable.

“I joined the Norwegian Club and I’m on my way to dinner. You should come some time! The food is great and don’t worry about being Irish. We don’t mind,” he said.

It took a few months to work out a suitable Thursday, but I recently found myself dressed in a sport coat and bowtie pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of a large Victorian mansion on the Panhandle’s northern side, waiting for the rest of our gang to arrive.

Once we’d all gathered, we entered the building. The dark wood and burgundy carpet of the foyer and front room gave way to a large dining hall swirling with busboys. We descended a flight of stairs into a cozy salon where an ancient Nord poured cocktails and other guests and members munched sugar-cured Gravlax, hard cheeses, and brown bread.

At 7:30 p.m., a bell chimed and everyone ascended the stairs to take their seats for dinner.

Promptly after being seated, bottles of ice cold Akvavit arrived at the table. Shot glasses at every place setting were filled. Once everyone had a measure of Akvavit, the hall went quiet and someone began the club’s traditional snapsvisa (a Scandinavian drinking song). Starting low and rising an octave each time, the group chanted a round of skål (a word for “cheers” that rhymes with coal) four times up and four times back down before shouting a ninth skål and drinking their shots. We would sing the snapsvisa many more times before the night was over.

We dined on soup, braised brisket, and steamed vegetables. As we enjoyed our main course, Erik stood and told the tale of California’s most famous Norwegian, a 19th-century volunteer postman and the godfather of California skiing, Snowshoe Thompson.

By the time we’d finished our fruit tart desserts, the crowd was well lubricated. I lingered in the front room and spoke to a member named Nick who invited me to come back any time. I explained my Irish heritage, but he didn’t seem bothered.

“All you need is a couple of Norwegians to vouch for you. We have an allotment of memberships for non-Norwegians and we could use more young blood around here. The rates are extremely reasonable.”

I said I’d think about it and that I’d certainly be returning as a guest to enjoy another evening in their company. I said my goodbyes and walked home in high spirits with a full belly. I was happy that I now knew about a secret clubhouse where I could enjoy a few tipples and tall tales in good company.

You Can Take Your Xenophobia and Shove It, Geert Wilders


You Can Take Your Xenophobia and Shove It, Geert Wilders

by Cyrus Moussavi


Raki in Athens

I drink raki in a squat in Athens and think of Amsterdam. Raki because it’s cheap and effective: your body slows down, your mind keeps going. My hosts, Iranian migrants trapped in Greece, are on a budget. They’ve been in the squat three months. Their conversation is, as usual, movement.

“Will they take us in Holland?” they ask me, “or should we go to Germany?”

These are questions to which I have no answers. Who is to tell what the asylum services will decide, or how my friends will be able to prove their case? Who knows if they’ll even make it there, with the borders closed and airports getting wise to all these fake passports? And what sort of country will they enter if they finally arrive?

This question is especially pertinent in the Netherlands, where a far right xenophobe with bad hair is poised to take a startling number of seats in the March 15 election. For years, Geert Wilders has promised to ban Islamic asylum seekers, revoke existing asylum documents, outlaw the Koran, leave the E.U., and generally “Make the Netherlands Ours Again.” This time, his words are catching on.

It sounds familiar. If you control for context, just one word separates Geert’s slogan from Trump’s trucker hats. “Ours.”

Whose? I’ve been asking this question for years. In the summers growing up, my family traveled from our home in Iowa to visit extended family in Iran. Amsterdam was our stopover. It seemed an oasis of civility—men and women in sensible yet stylish clothing riding bikes by pristine canals. ‘Who are these people?’ I wondered.

Years later, I studied immigration in the Netherlands. I interviewed first and second-generation Iranian migrants about life in what is supposedly one of the more tolerant corners of the world. Again, the question of “ours” arose—who owns this nation, this nationality?

“You can say you’re American and no one will think twice,” a young woman I interviewed in 2010 told me. “But even though I was born here and I speak the language, I will never say that I am Dutch. People just ask ‘But where are you from?’”

There is a Dutch look that my furry Persian brethren cannot easily attain. Nationality in the Netherlands is by blood, not by birth like in the U.S. The young people I met that year are from the Netherlands, but it’s not home. Wilders was raging about “Our Netherlands” back then, too.

I think of my friend A., an Afghan who recently completed the journey from Greece to the Netherlands. He sits now in a former barracks near Amsterdam, awaiting his fate. He can’t sleep. He can’t think. I worry for him every day.

I almost feel guilty asking about Wilders.

“It’s scary, man,” he tells me, “But best not to talk about it on the phone.”

My friend A. is definitely not part of this “Ours.” Wilders promises to shut down the asylum camps.

We drink raki in a squat in Athens and I try to convince these guys Amsterdam is not some northern paradise. But what do you say to people who risked their lives and spent all their money to achieve a dream of safety and comfort? There’s no turning back.

In Amsterdam, I learned it’s a privilege to call the place you are born “home.” In Athens, I understood the massive privilege of not having to leave that home.

In the squat, we toast another round of raki. The mood is celebratory, but we drink to mask the bitterness. My friends leave in a few hours, sneaking onto a cargo ship past dogs and cameras. They’re heading north.

Starkbierfest: A Multi-Week Pre-Game to Easter


Starkbierfest: A Multi-Week Pre-Game to Easter

by Priscilla Totiyapungprasert

Starkbier in Munich

Friday, March 10 kicks off 2017’s Starkbierfest, which is like a multi-week pre-game to Easter. Starkbierfest, which translates to “strong beer festival,” always comes after Carnival as part of what people call Munich’s fifth season. A few different beer halls throughout the city host the event, but I’ll be trotting my way up the stone steps to Paulaner am Nockherberg—the original and rowdiest of the bunch.

I moved here from Texas five years ago. During these years, I’ve learned how to open a beer bottle with a wine bottle. I fell in love, and then I fell out of love. I changed jobs. I packed 3.5 liters of beer into a 100-pound body last Oktoberfest, stuffed in the corseted bodice of a dirndl. I became familiar with the languages of German, German English, British English; lately, when I talk to Americans I have to look up their slang on Urban Dictionary.

I also went to my first Starkbierfest four years ago, which led me to some of my dearest friends here. Being a foreigner suddenly got a lot less lonely, so there’s a reason why this festival has a sentimental place in my heart. And in a couple months, with the Munich chapter of my life likely coming to a close, what better send-off than one more taste of Bavarian history and my own slosh of fond memories?

Starkbierfest is no Oktoberfest. There are no rollercoasters and far fewer Australians losing their passports. There are a few similarities, however: brass bands playing Oompah songs. Lederhosen and the flirtatious men who roam the aisles wearing them. Wooden benches that can withstand weeks of dancing, stomping, and stumbling. But this much smaller-scale tradition has its own origins, thanks to the cheekiness of some 17th-century monks.

Just like its hometown, Starkbierfest has a monastic origin. The Paulaner monks began brewing beer as early as 1634. Since their ascetic lifestyle allowed them only meager food portions during Lent, they figured out a loophole: they could drink their calories and nutrients and it wouldn’t count as eating. In the mid-1700s, the serving of Starkbier became a public event, and the Paulaner brewery’s Salavator is still based on the original recipe by Brother Barnabas.

The malty doppelbock is called “strong beer” not because of its high alcohol content. One beer—served in a one-liter stein—should be the equivalent to eating loaves of bread, earning it the nickname “liquid food.” However, with a 7-8 percent ABV, the Salvator is still stronger than the normal local lager. You can’t be faint of stomach or liver if you plan on drinking Starkbier all day.

So if you come to Munich this March, come find me singing “99 Luftballons,” help yourself to a piece of our giant pretzel, and we’ll all trade a hearty “Prost!” between songs. There’s always room for one more at the table.

Too Much Tax-Free Beer In Europe’s Largest Duty-Free Shopping Mall


Too Much Tax-Free Beer In Europe’s Largest Duty-Free Shopping Mall

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Ordino

Andorra might be one of the world’s smallest countries, but it is Europe’s largest duty-free shopping mall.

Tourists claim to come here for the skiing or the scenery, but really, they’re here for the cheap shopping. As our Spanish AirBnB host told us in Escaldes-Engordany, Andorra is “a shopper’s paradise.”

Walking down Carretera De L’obac, the main boulevard that connects Escaldes-Endorgany to the capital, Andorra-la-Vella, bears this description out. Imagine the biggest duty-free mall you’ve ever been to in any airport. Now multiply it 100 times, and drop it in a pristine mountain valley.

That’s Andrroa-la-Vella. Multitudes of shops hawking miles of Samsonite luggage, Canon lenses, Cartier watches, Chanel perfume, and, of course, booze and smokes. Nowhere else in Western Europe can you get a carton of Marlboro Reds for 15 euros or a bottle of Laphroaig for 12. Nowhere else in Western Europe can you advertise those Marlboros on huge billboards.

Spanish and French travelers pack their cars with these goodies, hoping that on the way out, the French or Spanish police don’t ask them to pop their trunks and explain how they didn’t believe 12 cartons of cigarettes and four cases of plonk were really over the limit.

How does this country pay for its roads? Does it have oil wells it’s kept magnificently hidden from the public’s view? Even the booze at the bar is tax-free, or at least it sure seems to be. You’re lucky to find a pint in France for five euros or less outside of a vermin-ridden hole. Here, you don’t find one over five euros.

When we arrived, it was mid-February, and the temperature in southern Europe had just made the leap into spring. In the beaming mountain sunlight, we ordered a couple Estrellas, neighboring Spain’s national brew. (We found no Andorran beers.)

We sat outside in beautiful Ordino, a magnificently medieval mountain village, a place where film crews go when the script calls for “IDYLLIC 15TH CENTURY EUROPEAN TOWN.” In front of us, a stone footbridge crossed a small canal. Behind us, a church, the French post office, and a series of apartments (we think) climbed up with the mountain.

There weren’t too many people around us, just a few youngsters drinking sangria, and the occasional family walking past in their ski wear. Weren’t they boiling hot? And where exactly is this mountain snow? The other side of the mountain? Granted, we did see snow on the way in. There are only two ways to reach Andorra by bus, east from Toulouse or west from Barcelona.

Maybe it’s the buses that are taxed in Andorra. They’re 34 euros per ticket, with no toilet, no wi-fi, and a unilingual Catalan driver who does not understand the words, “May we stop for the toilet please? I had too much tax-free beer.”

Photo by: Jo Turner

Don’t Fuck With the Alcohol


Don’t Fuck With the Alcohol

by Alex Court

Aperol in Turin

“Don’t fuck with the alcohol.” This was no casual barman chit-chat. This was a passionate command.

After a day of piazza peeping in Turino, my fellow thrill-seekers and I had arrived at a bar and I had ordered an Aperol Spritz.

Not being a regular drinker of this orange medicinal mix, which includes hints of rhubarb, I was unable to competently respond to the question of whether or not I’d like soda in the drink. I was being informed that the real deal is to just add prosecco, hold the fizzy water.

The person who had enlightened me was Tony. He had slicked-back black hair, glasses, and an entrepreneurial enthusiasm that made the crumbling walls and lime-green interior appealing. Between taking orders, mixing drinks, serving food, and hustling for customers on the busy Piazza Vittorio Veneto outside, Tony was the life of the establishment.

“If you’re good, then I’m good. We are friends and friends should be happy!”
Tony was our guide on the apericena experience—the pre-dinner drinking and eating which makes total sense while you’re doing it, but hits hard when sitting down to dinner shortly after.

After a few sips of the bitter cocktail Tony emerged from the kitchen and placed a scarred frying pan on the table and firmly reminded our party of four to share. Inside the pan was a pile of gnocchi—thick, soft, doughy dumplings—with a soft tomato sauce. Then followed a smorgasbord of cold sausage, sheep cheese, vegetables dripping in oil, and cured meats.

The table heaved under the weight of the riches, and there was a distinct lack of time pressure. Chat away, nibble when necessary, and knock back the aperitifs. This is the Italian way, and Tony was our Italian/American/Colombian host, making us all feel we’d found a home.

Guests came and went as we worked our way through another round of drinks, and eventually the topic of desert arose. Before we had a real chance to consider a sweet section to our pre-dinner preamble, a decision was made for us and Tony arrived with profiteroles encased in a thick chocolate drizzle.

“You’re gonna wanna change off the Aperol for this one,” went Tony’s advice. “The Alexander goes real well with that cream.”

There’s no way this barman of brilliance could have known my name is Alexander, and the coincidence seemed too good to pass up, so I accepted his recommendation and soon enough, I was served my namesake.

Gin, white creme de cacao, light cream, and nutmeg was presented and Tony observed as I took the first sip. It complemented the profiteroles perfectly. Before I even expressed my satisfaction, he nodded his head gently in approval before shrugging his shoulders and surrendering the only rule in the bar once more: “Don’t fuck with the alcohol.”

Finding Hope in an Old Fashioned Cocktail Garnished With A Pickled Mushroom


Finding Hope in an Old Fashioned Cocktail Garnished With A Pickled Mushroom

by Jen Rose Smith

Old Fashioned in Green Bay, Wisconsin

Order an Old Fashioned at a Wisconsin supper club, and the bartender will ask you two questions: Whiskey or brandy? Sour or sweet?

Get it sour, and your muddled fruit, booze, and bitters will come drowned in Squirt soda. Order it sweet, and you’re upgrading to Sprite for a sugary drink that’s a world away from the minimalistic versions served in bars on either coast.

Wisconsin’s supper clubs are pure nostalgia, at least for some. From the piles of butter mints by the door to the vinyl seats, soft rock, and menus of meat and sides, the sweetest parts of supper clubs are a time warp to the 1970s.

But since American nostalgia for a whiter, straighter time swept a hateful and chaotic demagogue into the presidency, I can’t get much pleasure from my country’s heritage, even the bits that come spiked with whiskey. I skim right past the country music station on the radio, my love for twang and steel guitar overwhelmed by the bitter feeling that “heartland” culture is rotten at the core. It’s hard to imagine watching a classic Western when the ashes of the Standing Rock encampment are still smoldering.

Still, supper clubs offer a version of hope. Crack open the big, plastic-covered menus, and you’ll find a story more interesting than nostalgia ever was. Supper clubs are packed to the fake wood-paneled walls for each week’s Friday fish fry, a reminder of the days when Wisconsin’s Dutch and Polish Catholics abstained from meat on that day. And the best clubs—The Out of Town Club, Wally’s Spot—offer bars of pickled vegetables, fish, and turkey giblets that recall the region’s German and Scandinavian heritage. These days, Green Bay just seems like another white American city in the snowy north, but when my husband’s Dutch Catholic mother married his German Lutheran father, it challenged cultural boundaries (she converted before the wedding).

I wonder if his grandmother, who spoke German at the farm before she went to school, knew about the anti-German lynch mobs that formed in Wisconsin during World War I. Or if either side of the family—German or Dutch—were called “square heads” during recess, and what it was like for the children growing up in the Wisconsin towns of New Belgium, West Sweden, or Poland.

And did I say the bartender would ask two questions? After choosing the booze and the soda for your sticky-sweet drink, you still have one more choice to make: Wisconsin supper clubs garnish Old Fashioneds with a maraschino cherry, pickled mushroom, or pickled Brussels sprout—or even a funky combination of all three.

It’s a pleasingly weird selection that adds a bit of polka flair to the middle-American drinking scene. Even the cocktails are a reminder that culture, immigration, and xenophobia have always been thorny issues in the United States—but that sometimes we find a way to move on.

A Very Thorough Sampling of Ethiopia’s Booze Offerings


A Very Thorough Sampling of Ethiopia’s Booze Offerings

by Barbara Wanjala

Gin-Ambo in Addis Ababa

Macchiatos were not the only drink I would discover in Ethiopia when I lived there. There were moments which called for something stronger.

The sporting rivalry between Kenya—my home country—and Ethiopia is the stuff of legend. I remember in particular the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics. The two Kenyan contenders, Sally Kipyego and Vivian Cheruiyot, were under pressure to deliver medals for the Kenyan team, whose performance had been lackluster. Cheruiyot proclaimed rather prematurely to the press that “Kenya will have its first gold today.” But it was Tirunesh Dibaba, also known as the Baby-Faced Destroyer, who won, giving Ethiopia its first gold. This victory dented my wallet and bruised my ego significantly. It was in moments like this, nursing a broken heart, that I turned to my favorite drink: gin-Ambo.

I believe that the exploration of a new—or in this case, a very old—country is not complete without a sampling of its alcoholic beverages. I imbibed endless decanters of tej honey wine, sipped the homemade brews araki, katikala and tella, guzzled the sweet red Axumit at the Sheraton Addis, shared crates of Bedele beer on Ethiopian New Year, made concoctions with the mysteriously green Supermint from Safeway supermarket, margaritas at Liquid Lounge, discovered tea corretto (tea laced with ouzo) at la Parisienne Café at Bole Olympia. My due diligence would not have been complete without St. George, the holy beer which I first drank on the terrace of the Taitu Hotel in Piassa. My favorite discovery, however, turned out to be gin-Ambo—simply gin, mixed with Ambo, a brand of naturally carbonated mineral water.

“Ambo is good for your digestion,” a colleague told me about the stuff that would become my favorite mixer. Ambo’s website explains that the water comes from thermal mineral springs in the Ethiopian Highlands. It also claims that as the “leading beverage” of Ethiopia, it is a true “Ethiopian Icon.”

This story would be incomplete if I didn’t mention the greatest of all Ethiopian icons: Abebe Bikila, the first African to win an Olympic gold medal. And he did it barefoot. The story goes that Bikila was added to the Ethiopian Olympic team only at the last moment as a replacement for Wami Biratu, who had broken his ankle in a soccer match. Adidas, the shoe sponsor at the 1960 Summer Olympics, had so few shoes left when Bikila went to try some on, he ended up with a pair that didn’t fit comfortably. So Bikila decided to run barefoot, the way he’d trained. When asked why, he said: “I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.” And to that, I raise my glass.

Colombia’s Non-Alcoholic National Drink


Colombia’s Non-Alcoholic National Drink

by Tiffany Bateman

Limonada de coco in Medellin

The first time I tried limonada de coco was at a restaurant in Medellin. The refreshing, non-alcoholic drink won me over immediately. Since then I’ve sampled it from food-carts, high-end restaurants and trendy cafés all over Colombia.

Limonada de coco is a blended combination of lime juice, sugar, cow’s milk, coconut cream, and ice. It’s a simple recipe, yet one I crave.

My travel partner and I arrived in Medellin, ditched our bags and went in search of a patio with great food and drinks. Walking the tree-lined streets where tropical flowers filled pots and climbed the sides of shops and restaurants, the day of travel was making us thirsty. After following my electronic map to a closed vegetarian restaurant, we backtracked to a huge, welcoming patio. It stood out in my mind because of their large pig statue.

We were the only people on the patio, which, thankfully, didn’t deter us. Our friendly waiter spoke decent English, which was helpful as our Spanish wasn’t great. After sweating in Colombia’s southern, coastal, tropical heat, Medellin’s weather was refreshing. And we wanted something just as refreshing to drink.

Spying limonada de coco on the menu reminded me that I’d seen vendors selling it in bustling Cartagena. I was worried that it might be too sweet, but I ordered it anyway, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The sour lime mixed with coconut, sugar, and blended with ice was a perfect, frothy mix of tangy and sweet. I downed it before the waiter returned to ask me if I liked it. I was glad it was non-alcoholic.

We tried several variations of limonada de coco. My favorite version came with fresh grated coconut on top. A restaurant in the mountains used frozen sweetened coconut cream so the drink wasn’t diluted with ice. Street vendors often use canned coconut cream.

Sitting on the patio in Medellin, listening to the distant thunder and watching the dark clouds gather over the mountains, which is a daily occurrence, the ambiance was perfect.

Drinking Beer on the Border, a Few Miles and a World Apart


Drinking Beer on the Border, a Few Miles and a World Apart

by Jackie Bryant

Tecate in Tijuana

It was nearing five o’clock: dinner-service time. A blonde Russian couple chopped vegetables while Chris, originally from Seattle, scurried around the worn-in kitchen, collecting pots, bowls, and serving spoons. My hosts—the Tijuana chapter of Food Not Bombs—had invited me to see them in action, and were putting the finishing touches on the meal they had been preparing all day, something with broccoli.

The staff here cooks a vegetarian dinner twice a week for people in need, from those deported from the U.S. to Haitian refugees to local drug addicts to anyone else who wants a free meal. They have a strict policy of using only donated and found food, which in Tijuana means anything that was not sold that day at the Hidalgo and Abastos markets.

Food Not Bombs is housed in an old, slightly derelict hostel called Enclave Caracol, just outside Zona Norte, Tijuana’s red light district. This is the city’s northernmost point: from Enclave Caracol’s roof, you can see the fringes of San Diego mere hundreds of yards away.

While there, I heard whispers about a Haitian Poul nan Sòs, or Chicken in Sauce restaurant, on Calle Segunda, just a few blocks up from their headquarters. A small group of us set out, hunting for the Haitian chicken joint. Eventually, we found it: an enterprising Mexican couple servicing two storefronts on different sides of a corner. Inside, nobody was eating. Ten men sat together, hovering over their phones.

Since early October, when Hurricane Matthew devastated an already limping Haiti, refugees have been fleeing the island, with many ending up in Brazil. From there, they take buses towards the United States, where their journeys often end in Tijuana. With that, so do their dreams of ever making it across the border, so they languish in the city, trying to figure out their next move.

A Mexican woman appeared from the back of the chicken joint. She initially thought we were lost, but finally explained we could have one of two dishes: Chicken in Sauce with either white rice or Diri ak Pwa—rice and beans, Haitian style. Forty pesos, or two dollars. The chicken was baked and surprisingly spicy, with peppery skin and tender thigh and leg meat.

On the way back to Caracol, I walked into a tiendita at the edge of Zona Norte and bought a can of Tecate with my friend’s pesos. I arrived just in time for the end of food service, as a flurry of Mexican and Haitian men scooped up their bowls and disappeared just as quickly as they had arrived.

As I cracked the beer open, I thought about the next service, when they’d have to start all over and gather what they can from the markets. I also thought about the fact that, just 15 miles away in downtown San Diego, donating food directly to the indigent remains actively discouraged by police, restaurants, charities and lawmakers. Some restaurants pour bleach over their leftovers after tossing them in the dumpster. Is a plate of food ever just a plate of food? 

Photo by: Gordon Hyde

If You Think You’re Living Your Best Life, Read This and Then Reevaluate


If You Think You’re Living Your Best Life, Read This and Then Reevaluate

by Russ Rowlands

Chablis on Sagami Bay

Two red-faced older Japanese men crashed into the common room at the guesthouse I was staying at in Atami, south of Tokyo. They flopped bodily into bean-bag chairs and raised a beer to me, smiling broadly.

“Kanpai!” they chimed in unison.

“Hello, how are you?!”

I smiled back and raised my can of chuhi, a boozy soda lemonade. Their affability was a nice change from the more reticent Japanese tourists who were the primary occupants of the guesthouse. They introduced themselves as Yuki and Hiro. We got talking and they asked what a single Canadian traveler was doing in Atami, mostly popular with locals and families as a hot-springs destination.

I told them I had come to Japan on a slim chance to race sailboats, after cruising in the South Pacific. Their eyes lit up and Hiro choked on his beer.

“You’re a sailor? You sailed the Pacific?”

Only from Panama to Tahiti, I admitted.

“We’re sailors! We sailed from Tokyo to Atami today with our friends! We have to sail back in the morning, do you want to come with us?”

I couldn’t believe my luck. Atami had a marina and I had been planning to go down and attempt to make some sailing connections, language problems aside. But here were two exuberant locals eager to invite me along for a full day of sailing. I happily accepted and we agreed to meet in the morning.

The next day I ganged up with Yuki and his wife Fujiko, Hiro, and ten other Japanese sailors to head down to the docks. They were a varied group, ranging from their mid-30s to mid-60s, equally mixed between men and women. They were friendly and curious and hungover, a fact for which they profusely apologized to a comedic extent. Traditional Japanese hospitality blended with seemingly-genuine interest in my adventures, and everyone took turns introducing themselves, some in English, some in Japanese.

The boat was a slick, 40-foot racer-cruiser named Big Bird, with just enough room on deck for all 14 of us to find seats or hang our legs over the rails. I squeezed onto a space on the stern near the huge steering wheel and watched as Hiro and the primary sailing crew skillfully guided her out of the marina. It was a grey morning with enough wind to keep us moving but not to get us wet. We tacked northeast and she leaned over into the breeze as Atami drifted into the background.

For the next seven hours this amazing group of sailors plied me with beer and snacks and stories and questions. They were morning drinkers, the best kind of drinkers, and we cracked our first cans of Asahi as soon as the sails were set. At one point in the middle of the day an out-of-place bottle of Chablis made an appearance and was quickly demolished in cheap plastic cups. Hangovers were successfully slain, and good friends made. The day turned bright blue. I chalked it up to sailing serendipity.

An Arab-American Angeleno Gay Journalist Walks Into a Bar…


An Arab-American Angeleno Gay Journalist Walks Into a Bar…

by Massoud Hayoun


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


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


A Nuclear Fallout Shelter Stocked With Booze is the Best Place to Be Right Now

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Geneva

Every Swiss home has a nuclear fallout shelter. At least, every Swiss home is required by law to have a nuclear fallout shelter. Your choice on whether to comply or not depends on how thoroughly you think the inspectors are going to look at your new home.

Since 1978, any new residence built in Switzerland must have a room able to withstand a 12-megaton explosion—800 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb—at a distance of 700 meters (765 yards).

If you don’t live in an apartment, or your house happens to be built before 1978, there are plenty of communal bomb shelters, stocked full of emergency rations and fresh water. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, it appears the main survivors will be cockroaches and the Swiss.

Although the Swiss are required by law to keep their fallout shelters in good operating order, most have been converted into gyms, rec rooms, sewing rooms, and other sundry places. My friend Pete, a Canadian who works for an NGO in Geneva, has converted his into a music studio. After all, if the walls can withstand a 12-megaton thermonuclear blast, they can probably withstand your guitar amp.

“The only good man cave is one that is fully soundproofed and ready-stocked for the apocalypse,” Pete says. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I speak for at least a few when I say that when the bombs fall, I’d like to be good and drunk.

As a result, many of these down-home bomb shelters have been turned into places where you can drink, either informal places to crack a couple with your buddies, or full-blown bars, with stools, taps, and teak table-tops.

In Pete’s house, we relaxed in his music studio, careful not to upset the flamenco guitars, the microphones, or the Fugazi records, propped against the insulated grey walls and the long, ugly ventilation system.

We drank Calvinus Pale Ale, a Geneva beer named after the great Christian reformer and moralist John Calvin, who would have heartily approved of nuclear holocaust preparation, but might have been less enthused about having a beer named after him. It’s a mild session beer, good for whiling away long Geneva afternoons, no matter the weather or radiation levels outside.

In the event of Armageddon though, Pete prefers something stronger, and keeps a bottle of Barbancourt rum from Haiti behind the amps.

A final point to remember: if you find yourself getting drunk with a Swiss dude in his bomb shelter, try not to start any arguments or provoke him–along with the bomb shelter, Swiss men are required to keep a gun in their homes.

Photo by: Jo Turner

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian


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


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


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


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


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)


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


A Fortifying Drink While Resisting Thieves and Scoundrels

by Alexander Lobov


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


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


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


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?


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


Canada Will Not Go Gently

by Benson Cowan


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


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


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


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


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

by Raad Rahman


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?


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


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


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


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.


All the Drinks in the U.S. of A.

by Cara Parks


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.


“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


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


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


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


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 Trump, 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


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?


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


An American-Style Beer That’s Not for Americans

by Dave Hazzan

Barley wine in Brussels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Jo Turner

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


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


Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

by Daniella Peled


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

by Russ Rowlands

Box Wine in Ontario


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!


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


Absinthe, Sugar, and Fire For This Scrooge

by Jennifer Neal


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