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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

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

Apr.20.17

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.

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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