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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

An American-Style Beer That’s Not for Americans

Jan.10.17

An American-Style Beer That’s Not for Americans

by Dave Hazzan

Barley wine in Brussels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by: Jo Turner

Local Beer Over Questionable Tapas Is Always An Easy Choice

Nov.21.17

Local Beer Over Questionable Tapas Is Always An Easy Choice

by Lauren Cocking

Tzotzil in Chiapas

We hadn’t done much in San Cristobal de las Casas, the cultural capital and tourist darling of Chiapas. It’s a city with a remarkably measured pace of life.

It’s also flush with travelers, at the heart of a poor state with a reputation for individualism and political rebellion. In the city center, there are no guerillas anymore, just harem pants-wearing tourists mingling with locals.

On San Cris’ central pedestrian walkway, Real de Guadalupe, international drinking options abound, coffee shop culture dominates the center, and tapas bars, for some reason, are all the rage.

One of the most popular tapas bars on the main strip, Viña de Bacco, pumps out tempranillo for 20 pesos and gives free tapas with every drink (which is nothing to write home about, as it goes; think tomato sauce smeared on untoasted bread with a soggy slice of ham slapped on top).

Crowds spill out onto the pavement, huddled over barrels-turned-tables, perched precariously on stools as they enjoy their imported wine, while locals walk past selling handicrafts.

Given the ebb and flow of activity surrounding the place, we were naturally sucked in, and opted to sit in the doorway when the mezzanine appeared off-limits. As it turns out, we’d picked the perfect spot to people-watch.

We declined the tempranillo and instead ordered a Tzotzil beer. Named for the indigenous Tzotzil people of Chiapas, the beer is produced by a Tuxtla Gutierrez-based brewery, allowing for an added layer of ‘craft beer’ smugness when ordering, not to mention far more flavor than many commercial alternatives.

It was delicious. Better than a glass of tempranillo any day. We’d only split one, but after trying it we wished we’d ordered another. In the heart of a city notorious for being overrun with travelers, the Tzotzil was a pleasant reminder that San Cristobal and Chiapas are still there underneath it all. Even if the beer doesn’t come with free tapas.

Photo by: Tjeerd Wiersma

The Rare Story in Which an Impromptu Beatles Serenade Doesn’t Fill One with Rage

Nov.16.17

The Rare Story in Which an Impromptu Beatles Serenade Doesn’t Fill One with Rage

by Anuj Juna

Beer in Kalimpong

He strums the guitar, eyes closed, and I watch this silver-haired old man bring the past alive. It’s an old Beatles number, and he hums just the way George would. The glass of beer is cold in my hands, and in a day or two I will be leaving the West Bengal mountain town of Kalimpong and riding my bike into Bhutan, where I will run out of money and make new friends.

But right now, Binod Onkle (the local pronunciation of “uncle”) has me mesmerized. His eyes are still closed, and the first few words of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” linger in the air. It’s not hard to picture a younger Binod, crooning on a stage, getting thrown out of boarding school, raising havoc in bars, falling in love, and falling out of love.

It was fitting that our meeting was so unplanned. With a bike that needed repairs, I had planned to spend a few days in Kalimpong. In the end, I spent close to two weeks there, most nights at Cloud Nine, Binod Uncle’s hotel.

During dinner at Cloud Nine, he would join me at the table, sharing wildly inappropriate stories with a poker face and twinkling eyes. Bottle of beer in hand, he would take a deep swig now and then, slipping into his memories. Nothing was out of bounds in our conversations, and the candor was wonderful.

He had an animated way of speaking, his hands moving around as the words rushed out. Every so often he would deliver a punchline without changing his expression, and there would be a few seconds of silence as I processed what I had just heard. Then, laughter, more laughter, and beer.

One night, he bought me a beer, impishly telling me that one of his guests had paid up, and he “had made a little money today.” That night, he picked up the guitar and began strumming away.

The morning I finally left Kalimpong, he waved goodbye from the hotel door. When I turned one final time, he gave a sharp, little salute.

Months later, I would remember his twinkling eyes and that salute. When I heard of the civil unrest in the hills, it was Binod Uncle I thought of first. A crooning rock star, with a guitar in his hands, and a bottle of beer never too far away.

A Totally Avoidable Error in Drink Selection at an Italian Food Fair

Nov.15.17

A Totally Avoidable Error in Drink Selection at an Italian Food Fair

by Prathap Nair

Licorice mojito in Cesena

After overdosing on golden deep-fried arancinis and hearty, brown-spotted piadena stuffed with prosciutto and squacquerone cheese at a street food fair in Cesena, my drowsy gaze lands on a makeshift stall. I’ve just had a couple of plastic glasses of the local Sangiovese wine with which I could easily see myself becoming best friends, but when I spotted the licorice mojito, it stirred some memories.

Until I found this stall, I was under the impression that licorice was mostly a Scandinavian thing. In Denmark, licorice is introduced into beer, ice cream, chocolate, mints, fudge, and candy. When I visited Aarhus last year, my friend and his family force-fed me so many licorice-flavored sweets that my memories of Danish Christmas are now tainted with a strong licorice scent.

“To be fair, I haven’t given licorice a chance,” my partner says, jolting me back from my brief reverie. “Well, now is the time,” I say, emboldened by his vote of confidence. We buy a disposable plastic glass and decide to split the drink. This was fortunate.

Elbowing out of the crowd, we walk into a tiny, unpeopled piazza with tall mustard-colored buildings that close down on us. A sense of suffocation sweeps over us. Yet as my partner’s face grows unpleasant and he scrunches up his eyebrows, I deduce it’s the mojito. But it’s more than that.

“This reminds me of Wasai (in Mumbai) where my mom used to leave me with my extended family before going to work, when I was a kid. It’s depressing, let’s get out of here,” he says with a sense of urgency.

I sip the coffee-brown slush and realize even the heavy dose of alcohol couldn’t tame the assaulting flavor of licorice, an overbearing syrupy note with salty undertones.

The piazza is empty, save for a few restaurants waiting for their last-minute customers before they close for lunch and a food delivery guy fastening his delivery cartons around his bike’s pillion. A middle-aged woman eyeballs us suspiciously as she parks her bike.

We stir the plastic straw as the ice cubes release more water into the coffee-brown slush. It’s a beautiful, sunny day in Cesena. The after-kick from the alcohol stirs our memories and our consciousness slowly but steadily blurs. We silently meditate on the small failures of our travels, and decide to flavor-code each one of them as the plastic glass of licorice mojito passes back and forth between our hands.

We’ll Skip the Long Religious Hike But That Donkey Driver Sounds Like Quality People

Nov.14.17

We’ll Skip the Long Religious Hike But That Donkey Driver Sounds Like Quality People

by Kim Green

Red wine in Ponferrada

“Our position ist here,” said Martin the German policeman, pointing to a screenshot map of Ponferrada—a town best known for its 12th-century Templar castle, in the Bierzo region of northwestern Spain.

We teased Martin for his orderliness: his rucksack contents were meticulously sub-bagged and labeled in three languages. But we appreciated his geographical exactitude. He led us straight to a little grocery store attached to a Shell station, where we provisioned for 15.

When a tribe of pilgrims comes together on the Camino de Santiago, everyone specializes; odd talents rise to the surface. My husband Hal sang and cooked; I did rudimentary translating and was best known for an ability to speed-pee without dropping the pack. Martin navigated and performed acts of gallantry: he once backtracked several kilometers to shoulder an
injured Swiss friend’s pack as she limped into Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town best known for a poultry-related miracle.

Frida the Swede instigated wine drinking and merriment, and on one occasion, ministered to a friend laid low by wine drinking and merriment—the same Swiss pilgrim previously rescued by Martin. Providing opportunities for would-be rescuers was her specialty.

In the Ponferrada hostel kitchen, Frida took charge of pasta sauce-making; Heinrich, a cheerful German in a felt “Wander Hut” hiking hat, prepared salads, and I assembled tapas platters: sautéed mushrooms, cured meats, soft cheeses, and membrillo (quince paste). As we worked, we chefs sipped from a private stash of Mencía, a fruity varietal from the Bierzo.

After dinner, Frida and I headed outside with our second bottle of Mencía. In the courtyard, we met Ginés, an arriero—a person who transports goods by pack animal—who was walking from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela and back with his burro, Marina, and a small dog named Escoti.

I’d previously learned the word arriero because of a Basque sandwich. At a town festival in Navarra, hundreds of miles back east, I ate a bocadillo piled high with Lajoarriero—literally, “muleskinner’s garlic.” It was a delicious dish I hoped to see more of, made from cod, garlic, tomato, and pepper, created long ago by Basque pack-mule drivers as a way to enliven the preserved salt cod they carried.

Now, here was a real live muleteer-peregrino. His dog sometimes, but not always, rode on the burro’s back. Ginés demonstrated this for us, setting Escoti delicately upon Marina with a blast of laughter.

Ginés the muleskinner sometimes, if not always, preferred his wine from a bota—a traditional leather canteen-bag. It is capable of dispensing any kind of liquid, but why would it? Spanish wine is delicious, and is often cheaper than bottled water—especially if you’re not married to any specific varietal. Ginés was not.

Bota-drinking lessons were Ginés’s specialty. He took charge of demonstrating proper bota usage to Frida and me: Open wide. Squeeze the bota. Aim haphazardly and from a great distance. Prepare for impact. Repeat.

We passed the wineskin around as Hal and the mule-driving bilbaíno sang “Adiós Muchachos,” an Argentine tango Hal’s mother taught him when he was little. “I love my burro!” announced Ginés when the song was over, a moment before the beast stomped his foot. “Joder, puta!” he shouted. (No translation needed.)

There Are No Polite Canadians When it Comes to Grape-Stomping Glory

Nov.13.17

There Are No Polite Canadians When it Comes to Grape-Stomping Glory

by Christina Newberry

Wine in Oliver, B.C.

As the grapes squish between my toes, I feel two things: slightly cold and very sticky. But mostly, I’m worried about the clock.

This is not exactly old-school winemaking, in which stompers tread slowly and carefully to avoid crushing the seeds, which can ruin the taste of the finished wine. It’s more like an episode of I Love Lucy.

I’m well past my ankles in a barrel of grapes, to be sure, but not at a winery. I’m on an outdoor stage in Oliver, Canada, with an orange feather boa wrapped around my neck as I stomp for glory, racing against time. The challenge? To coax as much juice from these grapes as possible in five raucous minutes, alternating with two other team members to stomp the grapes, catch the juice in a jug, and run it over to our team bucket. The music is blaring, the crowd is cheering, and the team of grandmotherly types next to us is bending the rules.

The competition at the Festival of the Grape is fierce—no polite Canadians here. My team pumps out 22 pounds of juice in the first round, ranking us second going into the final heat. But thanks to a few sneaky moves from the ladies next door, we fall to third in the finals—out-squishing 21 other teams.
None of this juice will be used for wine, of course—there are too many grimy feet involved for that (never mind the poor technique). It’s destined instead for the compost pile.

The wineries in this region—like most modern winemakers—use machines to crush the majority of their grapes, so being a prize-winning grape stomper gives me no inside knowledge of Oliver’s wine production. Still, with the competition over, I’m ready for some first-hand research into how the local wines taste.

I’m mentally sipping my first glass of full-bodied red when a bunch of grapes hits me square in the face. It’s the start of a good-natured grape fight, and you can guess who’s doing most of the throwing. When a particularly ripe bunch gets me right in the eye, I can’t help laughing despite the sting. I can only hope the sweet juice dribbling into my mouth hasn’t touched too many feet.

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