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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.

Three Cheers for Vermouth-Drinking Italian Grandmas

Feb.23.17

Three Cheers for Vermouth-Drinking Italian Grandmas

by Luciana Squadrilli

Vermouth in Rome

I can remember, as a child, the guilty pleasure in taking a sip of vermut (Italian for vermouth) from my grandmother’s glass, leaving my tongue sweet and my head spinning.

Later on I got to have my own splash of the drink, watered down with ice, as an official initiation into the aperitif ritual. Growing up, I left behind home and vermouth, embracing at different times beer, wine, more beer, organic wine, and gin & tonics.

I was not alone. Although vermouth held on as a key ingredient in iconic cocktails—such as the martini—the flavored, fortified wine created in Turin in 1786 by Antonio Carpano seemed to lose much of its allure as a “pure” drink over the last 30 years.

Recently, riding the vintage trend and to foster national pride in mixology, some historic brands have revamped the old-fashioned drink. (Its name comes from Wermut, the German word for Artemisia absinthium, a main ingredient for both absinthe and vermouth.)

Still, I’d never have imagined that I would turn back to my grandma’s habits. Yet, as I enter the brand new Vermut Bar at Ercoli restaurant in Rome, I have to reconsider. The 108 different labels from all over the world hint that I have no choice. Bartender Federico Tomasselli hands me a tiny vintage stem glass over the wooden counter, and there is the refreshing aroma of lemon peel soaked in the clear mix of white vermouth and a splash of soda. This is the lighter, girlie version of vermuttino, the staple after-work drink in Turin until the 60s, a forerunner to today’s aperitivo.

Real men, apparently, drink it with less soda and less ice, to better capture the botanicals: elderflower, cinnamon, nutmeg, Artemisia–of course–and others, depending on the recipe.

There is still a world of vermouths to choose from and to decipher. There are the traditional white vermouths from Piedmont, the big brands such as Martini & Rossi, and even the “evening” versions such as the Cocchi Dopo Teatro, with a distinctive bitter taste from the double infusion of cinchona. “If someone comes in and asks for an evening vermouth, this means he knows his stuff,” Federico says.

I’ll come back to taste some of Federico’s signature drinks, such as the Bianco Conciato—a dangerous mix of white vermouth, bitter angostura, Marsala, crème de violet, and mezcal—and to experiment with his tips on food pairing, like matching spiced red vermouth to gratiné oysters, or maybe a refreshing white vermuttino with Parmigiano Reggiano.

After all, I’m a lady, and I’m sure grandma would be proud of me.

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

Feb.21.17

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

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Geneva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian

Feb.20.17

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian

by Russ Rowlands

Pale Ale in Toronto

The temperature on Toronto’s waterfront was that magical number where the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales cross, at -40. That’s the kind of number that makes you cringe just to read, so I wasn’t particularly happy to be walking 30 minutes in it to the docks district. But, being a trooper, I wrapped up in my warmest gear, strapped ski goggles to my face to prevent my eyeballs from freezing, packed an axe in my bag, and headed east.

For that cold night I was going to participate in my first session at the axe-throwing league.

Old warehouses hunkered in the gloom and the snow squeaked as it compressed under my boots. I turned down a dark alley marked only by a hand-painted sign indicating the league’s location. As I unwound my frost-crusted scarf and approached the metal door, I was struck by the muffled but familiar sounds of a bowling alley: raucous voices, rock n’ roll, and a heavy, repetitive clunking sound. I pulled the door open and was flooded by the cacophony.

“Shut the fucking door!” a dozen voices yelled in unison.

“Welcome to the league,” a young, pretty, tattooed woman smiled at me from behind a simple counter.

The interior space was exactly what you’d expect if someone described an axe-throwing league in Canada in the winter. Plywood and chicken-wire, bare concrete, plaid everywhere, beards, tattoos, ripped jeans, loud rock. I was in heaven.

After signing a million waivers, I wandered over to the Green section where my league was set to play. The building was divided into four quarters—Red, Black, Green, Blue—each with two ‘lanes’ made up of a pair of wooden targets. The Red and Black leagues had been running for about two years, and the players wore the grizzled, self-satisfied air of veterans. The Blue corner went unused that season. My Greens, though, were all noobs like me, and as I shuffled into the milling crowd I felt the peculiar, awkward unease mixed with vast potential that I felt on my first day of high school two decades ago.

It was obvious that most of the crowd felt the same, so I smiled at the first pretty girl I saw and made a joke about getting the location wrong and ending up in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. She didn’t get it, but was nice enough to laugh anyway.

In addition to its lanes, each league corner had a gallery for watching play and socializing, some table space, and a big ol’ white refrigerator. Because, counter to all sound reasoning, the axe throwing league was a BYOB affair. I hung up my coat, unpacked my axe, cracked a beer and cheersed the small group of Greens chatting around me.

“Hey, ha, look’it that,” laughed a tiny, black-haired girl who couldn’t have been much larger than a fire axe. “Kevin over there looks exactly like the guy on your beer can!”

We all paused to consider. She was right. Kevin resembled the Canuck, from Great Lakes Brewery’s Canuck Pale Ale, and the only more natural setting for him would have been riding logs down a river.

In A Place with Cheap Rum and Cokes, Nobody is A Stranger

Feb.17.17

In A Place with Cheap Rum and Cokes, Nobody is A Stranger

by Shelley Seale

Cuba Libres in El Salvador

The street was quiet in Suchitoto, a small town in northern El Salvador full of history and artists. We had been told about Café Bar El Necio; it seemed like it was the place to be in town, though the surrounding sleepy buildings gave nothing away.

Suddenly laughter and dim red light spilled out of windows at the corner. We had arrived, and the small bar was packed, both with people and with the Salvadorean Civil War and Communist memorabilia that filled every available space on the walls.

I grabbed a place at the end of a dark, pockmarked wood table while my boyfriend headed for the bar. I gazed around at the flags hanging from the rafters above my head; the posters and black-and-white photographs from many countries and decades lining the walls. There was Fidel Castro; there was Che Guevara. Artifacts, including rebel hats and guerilla guns, were displayed proudly. It was quite a collection.

My boyfriend returned with two Cuba Libres, the unofficial national drink of El Salvador. They were refreshing, very, very strong—and at just over a dollar a pop, a very good deal.

Sipping the cold Coca-Cola and rum amid the conversations around us and the bartenders bellowing from behind the gunshot-scarred wooden bar made me feel as if we were a part of it all, too.

Another Cuba Libre? Why not? The drink, along with cold, local beers such as Pilsener and Suprema, seemed to be the beverages of choice among most of the patrons. A couple of young men came in carrying instrument cases and began setting up in a tight corner with barstools and microphones. Couples and groups of friends, locals and tourists, young and old, crowded the bar and milled in and out of the wide, open-air double doorways.

As I sat in El Necio, cooled by the breeze drifting in and my Cuba Libre, I felt like I was woven into the tapestry of the Suchitoto community. It was a feeling I’d had all week, thanks to the gregarious host of my small inn, his friend who ran the art gallery across the street and ushered us into a private exhibition and party, and the theater director we ran into by chance who invited us to tag along to watch his newest production.

I realized that Suchitoto was one of those places where no one is a stranger, and here, sipping cold drinks in El Necio, I had discovered the heart of the place.

Rethinking the Unsophisticated Local Tipple

Feb.16.17

Rethinking the Unsophisticated Local Tipple

by Revati Upadhya

Feni in Goa

After weeks of passing the nondescript, yellow home with a little wooden double door, I decided I had to give it a shot. It had a narrow doorway that would make anyone taller than 5 feet 5 inches stoop to enter. I was intrigued by the plastic curtain separating the outside from the inside, and the dulled metallic single-letter signage on the wall outside. Pinto Bar, it read, with what looked like a top hat precariously placed to look like the dot on the I.

On the inside, Pinto is a humble little watering hole that should seat no more than 12 people, but with mismatched tables set snugly close, it can accommodate about 20. And therein lies its charm: while you sip the freshest feni—liquor distilled from the cashew apple—seated elbow to elbow with not just the buddies at your table, but the next table too, you meld into the atmosphere.

I seated myself at a table with a view of the small taverna. There was a dinky little refrigerator tucked away in a corner, stacked to the top with aerated drinks, soda, and tonic water. Beside it, a table was lined with bottles galore. A tray held empty glasses waiting to be filled, with a plate of fresh lemon, green chilies, and a saucer with some salt, speckled no doubt with years of dust and grime.

Feni is a distinct alcohol local to Goa, India. Legend (and some history) has it that it was popular among Goans as early as 1740. Feni is heady, with a sharp burn, and a taste that puts it in the league of some of the finest white spirits. It gets its distinct strong, pungent flavor from being distilled multiple times. It’s often called Goa’s local firewater, and has even been bestowed a GI (geographic indication), much like champagne in France or tequila in Mexico.

I always make it a point to drink feni, which is often mistaken for an unsophisticated local tipple. So I ordered a double. I enjoy it best with a lemony soda, lots of ice, a generous squeeze of lime, sprinkle of salt, and the crowning glory—a sliced green chili that doubles up as a stirrer. The drink is the best combination of subtle and punchy: the flowery effusion from the soda hits my tongue first, but when the feni slowly seeps in, I feel the distinct burn of chili on my lips.

Feni tastes best in a taverna, surrounded by others who are there because they’re loyalists. Loyalists of the bar, of feni, or their staples—perhaps fried fish or pork-sausage-stuffed buns. I sipped at my feni and waited for my order of prawns, dusted in semolina and fried to a crisp.

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