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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Cold Beer Is Cold Beer, Just Drink It Already

Jun.07.17

Cold Beer Is Cold Beer, Just Drink It Already

by Efraín Villanueva

Costeñitas in Colombia

We arrive at La Popular in Barranquilla. The decoration, the chairs, the tables and, of course, the name of the bar, are meant to emulate the ambience of the traditional tiendas–-street corner stores that also serve beers. If it weren’t for their night-club-like prices and their location on the ground-floor terrace of a shiny new mall in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods, they might have pulled it off.

My friend, El Flaco, asks us what we want to drink, but before we can reply he orders a bucket of Costeñitas.

“Just for starters,” he says.

Ever since I can remember, this brand has been marketed as a beer for women. It’s 4 percent ABV, but comes in small, green bottles, just 6 ounces. When I was a kid, my mom would drink no more than three whenever we went to the beach. But about four or five years ago, everybody on the north coast started drinking Costeñitas. I know El Flaco from high school—around 25 five years ago—and he has lived in Barranquilla his entire life. I figure he must know how this trend started.

“I don’t know. I just like it. I love the taste, it’s unlike any other.”

I take a very cold one from the bucket, let the water of the ice slide down the bottle. It’s been many years since the last time I had one. I take a sip, El Flaco is right: it tastes like no other. I remember why it was never my favorite. It’s like they tried a to combine bitterness and sweetness but failed to balance the two. At least it’s really cold. El Flaco and I await the opinion of my German fiancé.

“It tastes rusty,” Sabeth proclaims.

I take her bottle and clean its top with a napkin. With the warm weather it’s not unusual for the cap to rust a little. A Barranquillero knows that. She tries again and grimaces with disapproval.

“I’m not sure. It tastes like… I don’t know. It has a weak flavor. Also, the bottle looks like a lemonade bottle.”

For the next round, El Flaco sticks with Costeñita. I order Águila, a beer created in Barranquilla in 1913 that has been produced here ever since–the bestselling brand in the country. Sabeth orders a Golden Club Colombia, a stronger, premium version of Águila. All three brands are produced and distributed by the same company: Bavaria. There is no way of deciding which beer is the best, and as soon as the alcohol kicks in we forget all about it.

Potentially the World’s Least-Fun Beach Beer

Jun.28.17

Potentially the World’s Least-Fun Beach Beer

by Julian Hattem

Heineken in Cox’s Bazar

Outside, the Indian Ocean was the temperature of bath water, lapping gently at the shore. The dull murmur of the waves was barely audible above the incessant horns of passing rickshaws and motorized three-wheelers scooting through Cox’s Bazar, a burgeoning tourist town in Bangladesh’s southeast corner. The beach runs unbroken for 75 miles, allegedly the longest in the world, and in the evening the sun dips gently into the Bay of Bengal.

But I was inside, at a hotel across the street, through the lobby and behind two unmarked doors in a dimly lit room reminiscent of my grandparents’ basement. Lounge chairs surrounded a few low-lying wooden tables, but I was alone. A single recessed lightbulb shone over one corner of a bar top, reflecting dully in the wine glasses and champagne flutes hung stem-up over the bar.

I came here to get a beer.

Bangladesh is a mostly Muslim country, and alcohol is more or less illegal nationwide. But hotels and clubs that serve foreigners can sometimes obtain special government licenses to sell liquor. In Cox’s Bazar, alcohol is relegated to a few dark corners such as this one, advertised mostly by word-of-mouth to tourists.

Once I found my way inside, the bartender looked me up and down before pouring a cold, six-dollar glass of Heineken. We sat in silence, the mechanical hum of the air conditioner providing the only soundtrack.

For now, Cox’s Bazar mostly attracts domestic tourists from elsewhere in Bangladesh. Locals say business is booming, and the scores of skeletal half-finished hotels under construction suggest that optimism for growth is high. Plans are underway to expand the local airport and bring in international flights. There’s no reason why Cox’s Bazar couldn’t compete with the world-renowned beaches in Thailand or Vietnam, locals claim.

But much of that expected growth is likely to come from foreigners, especially Europeans and Asians looking for a reasonably priced holiday without the crowds of bigger beach resorts. To attract them, local hoteliers acknowledge, the government will have to loosen its anti-liquor laws. Foreign tourists want to throw back a couple cold ones at a beach-side cafe or nightclub, they note, not sit in silence in an unmarked room deep in the bowels of their hotel.

In the meantime, Cox’s Bazar is better known for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who live in poverty on its outskirts, in flimsy huts and collections of muddy camps. A Muslim minority group from neighboring Myanmar, the Rohingya have been forced out by Buddhist nationalists in their home country and struggle to build their life anew in Bangladesh. Many locals distrust the refugees, claiming that they are criminals who degrade their country’s reputation and smuggle meth across the border.

One overpriced beer in a dark hotel bar was enough for me. I downed it quickly, paid up and left, passing back into the glaring florescent lights of the lobby on my way out. The bartender locked the door behind me.


Julian Hattem’s reporting in Bangladesh is being supported by the International Reporting Project.

Mastering the Magic Words For Cheap Beer

Jun.27.17

Mastering the Magic Words For Cheap Beer

by Russ Rowlands

Presidente in the Dominican Republic

“Dame una fria.” Gimme a cold one.

“Uno cien, amigo.”

“Gracias.”

I smiled and put a 100-peso bill on the counter, grabbing the ice-crusted bottle of Presidente pilsner.

Much power is invested in that little phrase, dame una fria. A Dominican friend told me about its significance on my visit to Buena Vista, in the Central Range mountains.

“Only Americanos say una cerveza,” Emmanuel explained.

A medium-sized bottle of Presidente should cost 100 pesos (just over US$2), as advertised on every bottle cap, but at most shops I was paying anything from 110 to 140 pesos. Emmanuel told me that if you look like an Americano, and sound like an Americano, then you can afford Americano pricing, and the clerk will add whatever ‘tax’ on top of the 100 pesos that he thinks you’ll pay without causing a stink.

“You don’t look like an Americano,” Emmanuel said, shrugging, “so you might as well not sound like one.” It was a good piece of advice.

A month later in Santo Domingo, the capital, someone recommended that I check out the ruins of San Francisco monastery, specifically by night, on a Sunday. San Francisco is an impressive pile of red-brick rubble that makes up part of Santo Domingo’s World Heritage Site within the Zona Colonial historical district.

I had already explored the Zona by day, soaking up 500 years of colonial history, contentedly sipping frosty Presidentes from a paper bag. Languid groups of tourists snapped photos while locals wisely went about their business indoors, out of the sun

But following the recommendation, I experienced a different side of the Zona as I set out to find the ruins of San Francisco one Sunday night. Every corner was thronged with jubilant Dominicans, chatting in circles on plastic chairs or standing around food carts waiting for steaming empanadas. I could hear a live band over the happy cacophony of the crowd, the rumbling bass undoubtedly doing damage to centuries-old mortar. A few tourists drifted through the streets, but the celebration was clearly not some pony show staged for visitors.

The press of sweaty bodies got tighter and tighter as I approached the ruins.
People were accommodating, happy to move out of the way if possible, but by the time I reached the last block I could have easily crowd-surfed my way to the front.

Colorful spotlights lit a stage in front of the massive, half-crumbled nave of the monastery. A brassy, 12-piece salsa band was blasting a high-pace tune at the crowd, who sang along as they danced on a platform built over the ragged old cobbles of the street. Food vendors hawking homemade tostones wandered through the plaza, which was book-ended with bright green Presidente tents. I pushed my way into a tent.

“Dame una fria!”

A Story About Love and Hops, from Scotland to Ghana

Jun.26.17

A Story About Love and Hops, from Scotland to Ghana

by Stacey Knott

IPA in Accra

Almost five years ago, I poured a pint of Scotland’s Black Isle Blonde for a Ghanaian chef who came into the bar I worked at in Edinburgh. We bonded over our love of the beer, and he told me all about his country, which I was, coincidentally, about to visit.

This new favorite customer of mine, named John, raved about the hospitality of his fellow-Ghanaians, and how much I’d love it there, promising to connect me with his friends and family.

Fast-forward to June 2017, the chef and I are married, living in Ghana’s capital, Accra, and we’ve found something to rival that Scottish beer we both miss so much.

It’s a hot afternoon, and after being stuck in the usual Accra traffic, we turn down a pothole-riddled, dusty road on the outskirts of this sprawling city to meet brewer Clement Djameh, the owner of Ghana’s only microbrewery. Before we begin our personal tour of the Inland Microbrewery, which takes up part of the bottom floor of a residential house, Clement points out a small crop of sorghum growing outside.

It’s this grain that makes up his beers—it thrives in semi-arid regions—like Ghana’s impoverished northern region.

Clement wanted to use it in his beer to help farmers in Ghana, taking it from a subsistence crop to industrial use. His beers are brewed with 100 percent malted sorghum instead of the usual imported malted barley, commonly found in beers here and across the globe.

He sells his beers for private functions in Ghana, where people buy it by the keg and rent the equipment to serve it, including the dispenser and fridges.

With the tour over and the blazing sun setting on another day, we step outside and, with Oladapo Loto, a visiting brewer from Nigeria, we taste one of these sorghum brews.

Cool glasses of Clement’s IPA are handed out. The foaming top recedes and as John and I take that first sip, his eyes widen.“Whoa, this is so good. This reminds me of that Black Isle Blonde,” he says.

The IPA is smooth and full-bodied. It’s a golden caramel color and doesn’t have the harshness I often find with the local, commercial beers here in Ghana.

While we savor the brew, we talk politics, economics, and corruption—the usual fodder for a Thursday evening. Oladapo and Clement tell us about the 24/7 obsession commercial brewing becomes. But microbrewing gives Clement more freedom.

Interestingly, there’s nothing like this in Nigeria, Oladapo tells us.

“If it was in Nigeria, by now it would have exploded,” he says, to a chorus of “Then start one!”

After visiting Clement’s, he might just do that.

Sitting Outside of Mosul, Waiting for the Sugar to Settle

Jun.22.17

Sitting Outside of Mosul, Waiting for the Sugar to Settle

by Anthony Elghossain

Tea in the Nineveh Plains

The men stir their tea. They speak, stare, and listen. Then, they stir some more.

Some strangers—now fellow-travelers and, indeed, friends—and I have been traipsing around the Nineveh Plains all day. We’re on our way to Mosul. The Western journalists among us are covering the final act in the war to liberate the city, but I’m just here to understand how certain minority factions are positioning themselves for the politics of peace.

The exhilaration of the first few hours have faded, and I’m bored again. “Research” gets repetitive. Race down a road, wait at a checkpoint, sit in a circle, stir the tea, and listen to men with guns. Race up another road, wait at a checkpoint, sit in a square, stir the tea, and listen to more men with guns plot the future—without moving past the past.

I want to drink the tea. But I let it sit there, on a rickety table. They’ve brewed a pot of loose Assam tea: black tea, boiling water, a stick of cinnamon—but no mint, sadly. These folks have heaped mounds of sugar into tiny glasses, and now they’re stirring and stirring, but not sipping. I wonder briefly if the tea is poisoned.

Perhaps Louis, an Iraqi Christian with a soft spot for Saddam and the old Ba‘ath regime, will take the first sip. But he keeps stirring—and speaking.

“Baghdad can guarantee autonomy,” he tells the militiamen gathered in a tin tent outside a village that was home to tens of thousands of Assyrian Christians, before ISIS took over. Various forces—a U.S.-led coalition, the Iraqi national army, Peshmerga, and the innocuously named “popular mobilization units”—cleared the area in October 2016. But folks have been slow to return. “You need to behave carefully over the next few months. Only Baghdad can give you what you want.”

Others aren’t so sure. “Jonathan,” a militiaman from the Shabak community, grimaces and confers quietly with a visiting lawmaker. A commander holds court. Meanwhile, a pair of prim UN staffers, with their pressed khakis and bleached shirts, take notes.

Across the tent, two Assyrians talk. I don’t speak Neo-Aramaic, but can tell they’re chatting about me: “Anthony,” “Lebanese-American,” “researcher,” and—to summarize—“what the fuck is he doing here?” A friend, who’s ushered me around Nineveh and Mosul, whispers: “Maronay”—meaning, Maronite, a largely Lebanese Christian sect. Surprisingly, the designation opens a door. The man smiles and asks me which of the rival Lebanese warlords I prefer.

I demur. He asks about the Mountain War of 1983. We’re outside of Mosul, where the man’s compatriots are fighting for their future, but he’s grilling me about Lebanon’s past.

“Don’t you have enough to worry about here?” I bite back, with a smile. He laughs.

I finally take a sip of my tea. Now I understand why no one is drinking it. This tea is as sweet as syrup. I add water, stir, and try again. I stir, clumsily, for an eternity. “You should let the sugar settle,” whispers a friend, “if you actually want to drink it.”

Too late. The commander’s watching. I keep stirring and begin to speak. “This is delicious, thank you.”

There Is No Period After the “St” in St Ives and Other Cornwall Stuff

Jun.21.17

There Is No Period After the “St” in St Ives and Other Cornwall Stuff

by Alessio Perrone

Cider in Cornwall

We had driven five hours from London to get to St Ives, on the western tip of Cornwall, England. On single-lane roads on which we were the only car, past cliffs looking over the Celtic Sea, under bridges with faded EU flags tied onto them, flapping in the wind—the last remnants of a referendum in which Cornwall voted overwhelmingly to leave.

In St Ives, we waited another 30 minutes to find a seat at the Sloop Inn, a small, crowded pub on the beach, established in 1312. St Ives is quiet; walk down its narrow alleys through the white houses, and you can even hear the wind blowing. But the Sloop Inn was noisy. Ale flowed, a busker played, a tourist took pictures of everything.

We ordered a local cloudy cider—a Rattlers Cyder, poured from a snake-shaped tap. Cornish cider isn’t much different from ciders you get elsewhere, just stronger. This one is fizzy and bitter.

We had just begun to taste it when Marshall arrived. A local man in his 20s, blonde, blue-eyed, with an incredibly round face and a blue hoodie.

“Mind if I sit with you, mate?” He’s had a few. “This is the best place in St Ives,” he said to nobody in particular. He started to ramble.

To Marshall, St Ives is the best place in the world: it has “the best” New Year’s celebrations, in which people dress up and head to the beach to watch fireworks (“Well, the best after London. And Edinburgh”); he thinks it has the best Cornish pasties, baked thick-crust pastries originally made for miners so they could eat their meals warm and with their hands (“Well, the best after the ones you get in the countryside”), and the best light to paint—a blade through your eyes when the sun is out.

“It is touristy, so you get all the shops and bars, but it doesn’t lose its Cornish identity, its character,” he said.

But it seems that Cornwall is changing. It’s still largely dependent on agriculture, but one by one, its sources of wealth have waned. Once, it relied on fishery and mining, but then, with foreign competition, those industries became unprofitable. Cornwall became one of the poorest areas in Britain. More recently, it has relied on tourism and EU subsidies. (Cornwall qualifies for poverty-related EU grants, but soon won’t be receiving those anymore.)

Tourism, though, doesn’t seem to be waning. In St Ives, the fishermen’s inns have given way to tourists’ residences and dozens of art galleries, as artists flocked here, lured by the light. Taverns have become bars and restaurants by the beach.

Some 45 minutes later, we still hadn’t had a chance to talk to each other. Marshall was telling us about an adventure he had in France with eight people in one car. Then he realized he’d finished his drink.

He mumbled something that must have meant “Nice to meet you and good-bye” and left us half-apologetically.

Our moment had gone. The busker had gone. The Inn was getting quieter, the wind chillier. The sun had disappeared behind the houses. We contemplated having another cider while we watched Marshall wobble away. Nah, not this time.

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