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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Night of Cheap Vodka in the Land of Soju

Jul.05.17

A Night of Cheap Vodka in the Land of Soju

by Mitchell Blatt and Pato Rincon

Vodka in Seoul

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Tastes Like Shit, But This Is What We Drink

Jul.24.17

It Tastes Like Shit, But This Is What We Drink

by Kristin Amico

Pelinkovac on the Dalmatian Islands

By the fifth day of clear skies, calm waters, electric-blue swimming holes, and fiery sunsets over the Adriatic, I questioned whether I chose the appropriate vacation. Initially, a week on a boat sailing the Croatian coast sounded perfect. The ideal way to soothe post-breakup blues, I thought. And it was perfect. The best week-long stretch of unblemished weather our captain had seen in years. That’s not what I needed. I longed for simply a wrinkle, the slightest tear, in the flawless façade to prove that the universe wasn’t mocking my misery.

Then on a small terrace bar on the Island of Vis, the most remote of all the Dalmatian islands, our captain Toni summoned the owner. The older gentleman who spoke no English returned minutes later with a tray of small glasses filled halfway with amber-hued liquor and garnished with lemon.

“It’s Pelinkovac. The most famous drink in Croatia,” Toni boasted.

The six of us, strangers just days ago, now cozy companions after living together on a small sailboat, raised our glasses for a toast. “živjeli.”

The youngest of the group slammed his glass down after the first sip. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” he quipped while his face twisted as if in pain. At 22, I imagine there is much worse still ahead for him to taste.

I continued drinking. The astringent, herbaceous first notes gave way to hints of citrus and even a slight sweetness. It was strong, but not caustic. When I finished my glass, I threw back the remainder of my travel pal’s unfinished shot.

Pelinkovac dates back centuries. A concoction of wormwood and herbs from the Velebit mountains, its use was originally medicinal—a panacea predating prescriptions. Now it’s the drink of choice for the region.

Around us, locals of all stripes, from salty fisherman to Croatian women in impossibly high heels headed to the club, all put away an early-evening glass of the bitter liqueur.

D, the high-intensity guide who led us through the abandoned remains of the island earlier in the day sat down and took the last glass. In three or four gulps, it was gone. Curious about Pelinkovac’s appeal, I asked him why he drank it. He spoke as quickly as he drank. Born and raised on the island, which was closed to outsiders (foreign and domestic) until 1990, he didn’t mince words.

“Before dinner, after dinner, before going out, washed down with beer. You drink it always. It tastes like shit but this is what we drink.”

The rest of the group moved on to the crisp, Croatian white wine we had been sipping all week. It was smooth with a nose reminiscent of the nearby Adriatic. It went down easy.

I opted for one more glass of Pelinkovac. It was the bitter medicine I needed to balance out a week in paradise.

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

Jul.21.17

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

by Patrick J. Sauer

Scotch in Sapporo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul.20.17

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

by Wes Grover

Rum in Saigon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, he asked how strong I think it is.

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

55 percent, he countered.

Yeah, this is going to be a problem.

Photo by: Romain Garrigue

Nothing Like Delicious Bar Snacks to Normalize Alcohol Consumption

Jul.19.17

Nothing Like Delicious Bar Snacks to Normalize Alcohol Consumption

by Dipti Kharude

Chakna in Mumbai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating García Márquez and Underwhelming Lager

Jul.18.17

Celebrating García Márquez and Underwhelming Lager

by Barbara Wanjala

Beer in Aracataca

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

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

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

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

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

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