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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

What to Drink When It’s Too Late in the Day for Tequila

Jan.04.17

What to Drink When It’s Too Late in the Day for Tequila

by Russ Rowlands

Raicilla in Puerto Vallarta

“Dos tequilas, por favor,” I told the waiter, testing the functional limits of my Spanish.

He looked at us and shook his head gravely. “Señor, it is almost 3 p.m.” A delicate hand gesture towards the mid-afternoon sun baking the red rooftops of Puerto Vallarta proved his assertion. He paused, patiently, while we once again took in the impressive hillside view from the little restaurant, Banderas Bay winking azure at us from below.

“It is too late in the day for tequila,” he continued eventually.

“You do not want to ruin your appetite for dinner. I suggest you should have some raicilla instead. It is much better for your digestion,” he told us, patting his broad belly with a knowing wink.

Acquiescing to his much-evident expertise, we nodded. Manuel, or so his name tag said, returned from the bar with an unadorned bottle of clear liquor, and poured two sizable measures into blown-glass sipping cups.

“Raicilla is our local agave spirit here in Jalisco,” he explained, pulling up a chair to join us. I’d read about the drink but had never been properly introduced. I raised an eyebrow, inviting Manuel to continue.

After a seven-minute lecture on its merits, we lifted our glasses to sip the smoky liquor. Raicilla has a broader flavor profile than tequila or mezcal, and this first example had been home-distilled in the mountains behind the town. It tasted fruity, leathery, and like 120-proof moonshine.

My eyes watered a little, though Manuel was kind enough not to notice.
While periodically refilling our cups, Manuel spent the next hour or so telling us about his ranch up in the hills. Originally a small family holding, the farm had been greatly expanded by his father through the judicious application of government loan money. He took pride in assuring us that those millions of pesos would never be repaid to the government.

Taxes were subject to similar disregard by Manuel’s clan; “It was always our land,” he told us by way of an uncertain explanation.

The ‘traditional’ family business of raicilla distillation had been superseded by farming and cattle-ranching as the property expanded, but wild agave grew as abundantly as ever and they considered themselves boutique producers of the spirit.

“We’re quite rich now,” Manuel concluded his narrative with a humble smile.

“How do you like the raicilla?”

Without committing to an effusive answer, we ordered more. It was Semana Santa, the holy week leading up to Easter, and Puerto Vallarta was in full celebration mode, vibrant with music and color. A raicilla day-buzz gave perfect context to the nearby bells of Our Lady of Guadalupe, so we settled deeper into our chairs and reached for our cups.

Tried Every Whisky in the World? Start on Rum.

Mar.30.17

Tried Every Whisky in the World? Start on Rum.

by Jake Emen

Rum in Barbados

“Whole day we drinkin’, and we don’t need no chaser! Rum in our system, I’m a professional drinker!”

So sings Ricardo Drue in his impossibly addictive Bajan soca tune, dubbed “Professional.” Listen to the radio in Barbados and the song is likely to pop up just about every 30 minutes, and if that doesn’t get you in the mood to enjoy a couple of rums, well then, my friends, you’re lost and without hope.

The island of Barbados has roughly 280,000 residents, and across its 167 square miles of land there are approximately 1,800 rum shops. I’ll let you handle the math on that, but suffice it to say that they are ubiquitous, and an absolutely integral part of Bajan culture and lifestyle.

Really, they are the island’s take on the neighborhood Irish pub. It’s where you and your family and your friends and your neighbors all get together, day after day, to breezily pass away a few hours in the afternoon or evening. Share the latest gossip and tell a few stories, share a few drinks and even more laughs.

In concept, the rum shop straddles a line between bar and dispensary. There’s plenty of booze to be had, but there’s nobody really mixing up drinks for you. Instead, the system is simple and streamlined. Just buy your choice of bottle and a couple of mixers to go along with it, bring it back to your table with some plastic cups and a bucket of ice. You wouldn’t go wrong with Mount Gay Black Barrel or Mount Gay Eclipse as your selected bottle du jour.

With thousands of rum shops, names are a bit scarce, so they carry titles in true, face-smackingly obvious Bajan fashion. It’s either the owner’s name—John Moore’s or Judy’s—its place—The Beach Bar or The Beach Shack—or most wonderfully, an aesthetic feature—Doorless, as in, the place has no doors.

Barbados is where rum is thought to have first came to life some four centuries ago, and today there are several rum distilleries on the island, with the aforementioned Mount Gay being the most widely known. They run community initiatives and host team-building exercises where they send out their staff to clean up and paint rum shops, along with other neighborhood areas which may be in need of rejuvenation.

For the rum shops, they adorn the exterior and interior walls with their imagery and slogans, in the same signature style that can be found at their visitor’s center in Bridgetown. In other words, the brand is everywhere, making for a cohesive decor theme across the island, as well as a blurry line between where official Mount Gay territory ends and the rest of Barbados begins.

Regardless of which rum shop you’re in or which rum you’re drinking, we’re told there’s one important rule you must abide by—once a bottle has been opened, it has to be finished before you can leave. The legitimacy of the rule may be questioned, but most seem to take to the task seriously enough, and you certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone, would you? After all, we’re all professionals here.

Don’t Let a Little Thing Like the Law Stop You From Opening Your Dream Mezcal Bar

Mar.29.17

Don’t Let a Little Thing Like the Law Stop You From Opening Your Dream Mezcal Bar

by Jackie Bryant

Mezcal in Guatemala

Even in daylight, candles are necessary at Café No Se. The bar is a bit of a vortex: a dingy-yet-charming cave with no natural light in Antigua, Guatemala. Following the path of Café No Se’s several windowless rooms and through a crawlspace door will eventually deposit the adventurer at yet another bar, where they serve only mezcal. In this room, I met with John Rexer, head honcho of not just the bar, but his own mezcal brand.

Yes, mezcal is still made in Oaxaca, Mexico, and not in Guatemala. And no, John Rexer is from neither. He’s originally from New York and migrated to Antigua around 2003, penniless and disillusioned with America and its politics after 9/11. Soon after arriving, he ducked into a closed-up doorway with a “for rent” sign during a rainstorm and subsequently found himself the new proprietor of an agave spirits bar. The only problem was that there were no agave spirits to be had in Guatemala and mezcal, Rexer’s elixir of choice, wasn’t yet legal for exportation out of Mexico.

Not one to be inconvenienced by technicalities such as laws, Rexer began a complex “creative importing” scheme from Oaxaca to Antigua that involved subverting borders, piloting moonlit barges down the Suchiate River, and occasionally dressing like a priest in order to get mezcal into Guatemala. Because of his efforts, Café No Se grew into a well-stocked staple of the city and Rexer, a local fixture.

When mezcal became available for legal export in 2006, Rexer and his consortium of mezcaleros in Oaxaca were ready. The brand name was obvious: Ilegal Mezcal. Now one of the largest producers out of Oaxaca, they promote sustainable economic and environmental practices. Ilegal also manages a socially-progressive marketing campaign in the United States, focused on combating Donald Trump and his policies. In particular, Ilegal donates proceeds from sales of its “Donald eres un pendejo” T-shirts to Planned Parenthood, the ALCU, and other organizations.

Antigua, Guatemala is a strange place. An idyllic-looking town under the shadow of three active volcanoes, it’s become a magnet for do-gooder and shady gringos alike, both of whom are in this impoverished and complicated country either running towards or from something. Most usually end up at Cafe No Se at one point or another—sometimes they’re carrying guns, and often they’ve had a lot to drink.

As we closed in on mezcal shot number five, sipped out of a candle votive identical to those lighting our corner of the bar, we were getting to that point in the conversation where one ponders the meaning of life and the future of humanity. Rexer and I recalled that not only were we from the same town originally, but we had attended the same Catholic high school, though 15-20 years apart. And here we were, clinking glasses of Mexican agave juice in Antigua, Guatemala.

The Fine Art of Quietly Whiling Away An Afternoon With a Few Cold Ones

Mar.28.17

The Fine Art of Quietly Whiling Away An Afternoon With a Few Cold Ones

by Michael Tatarski

Beer in Cu Lac

Drinking in Vietnam is often a raucous affair. The nouveau riche head to flashy, deafeningly loud beer clubs to drink imported brews until they vomit, while older generations prefer to sit on plastic chairs on the sidewalk and joyously drink case after case of local lagers. The fine art of quietly whiling away a beautiful afternoon with a few cold ones hasn’t quite caught on yet.

Bomb Crater Bar, in the tiny village of Cu Lac in Quang Binh Province, offers just that. This region of central Vietnam was flattened by the U.S. military during the war, and even today it’s hard not to notice the remnants of the relentless carpet-bombing.

The bar sits between two such reminders: broad craters created by 2,000-pound bombs aimed at a fuel depot in 1971. But now, the area is peaceful. A cool breeze whispers through bamboo trees, water buffalo graze, and the placid Son River flows gently by.

Local residents Nguyen Thi Ngoc and Dinh Anh Tuan own Bomb Crater Bar. Up until last year the land it sits on was unused, and the couple decided the location was perfect for tourists in need of a cool drink during Quang Binh’s scorching summers.

They enlisted Lesley Arnold and Mark Heather, expats who have lived in a neighboring town for three years, to help create a watering hole. Bomb Crater Bar opened last July, and severe flooding forced it to close for six months starting in September. Ngoc and Tuan only reopened it in early March, while Arnold and Heather serve as freelance bartenders and expert storytellers.

The bar isn’t trying to exploit the area’s past; the craters just happen to be there. “We wanted something that respects the history of the area but also embraces where we are now, which is really about tourism,” says Arnold. The nearby town of Phong Nha is the epicenter of the province’s booming cave tours, focused on Son Doong, the largest cave in the world.

The setup is bare-bones, with a thatched roof covering the bar and a few seats. The drinks menu is compact, but Arnold hopes to get a craft brewer from Saigon to begin shipments at some point.

One doesn’t visit Bomb Crater Bar for a wide range of booze, however. The setting, especially for someone used to the nonstop insanity of Saigon, is unbeatable. Traffic on the old French highway which runs past the bar is light, and the view across the Son is gorgeous; a postcard-worthy vista of rice paddies, low mountains, and tiny hamlets.

Far away from the outrageous beer clubs of Vietnam’s major cities, Bomb Crater Bar allows one to nurse a cold bottle of Huda, brewed in the old imperial capital of Hue, and talk for hours while the river flows quietly by.

All Cold Remedies Are Lies But At Least In Ireland You Get Whisky

Mar.27.17

All Cold Remedies Are Lies But At Least In Ireland You Get Whisky

by Dave Hazzan

Hot whiskey in Kilkenny

As incurable diseases go, the common cold is particularly odd, because everyone seems to have a cure for it.

In my former home in Korea, it’s anything with ginseng in it. In my father’s Jewish world, chicken soup. On my mother’s home island of Trinidad, it’s drinking so much rum that the single bottle at the end of the bed begins to look like two.

And in Ireland, it’s hot whiskey, a concoction made up of hot water, lemon, cloves, and a liberal pour of Irish whiskey. The Irish, or at least all the Irish I’ve met, insist that it’s 100 percent effective.

They defend their claims with a vehemence usually reserved for global warming deniers or flat-earthers—despite a total lack of peer-reviewed evidence, drinking hot whiskey will not only cure your cold, but should enable you to run the four-minute mile, discover a new form of microbial life, or master The Goldberg Variations on your first piano lesson. “It is,” one Irishman yelled into my face, “a cure for everything!”

When I arrived in Kilkenny, what had begun as a minor scratching in the throat had exploded into full-blown man-flu, with a headache, muscle pains, and above all, a hacking, phlegmy, chest-rattling cough. Meanwhile, it was the nastiest day of the winter so far in Kilkenny, the Lord pelting the city with wind, rain, and freezing temperatures.

We’d been out all day exploring this normally lovely medieval city, and I felt like complete shit. We snuck inside the pub to try out this hot whiskey cure. When I ordered it, the bartender prepared it with a certain solemnity, like the pharmacist taking care to put exactly the right amount of medicine in the bottle—any mistake, and it could ruin the whole thing.

(This is the opposite of ordering hot whiskey in Germany. The man who introduced me to hot whiskey as a concept told me he was in Berlin a week before and had ordered it, only for the bartender to pour him a shot and stick it in the microwave.)

The concoction was presented to me with great seriousness, but I can’t say I drank it the same way. I was miserable and though it’s nice to have anything warm when you’re ill, watered-down Jameson’s is just watered-down Jameson’s, at any temperature.

So does it work? No, it doesn’t work. As terrible lies go, it’s not on par with much of what was said during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but like photoshopped Tinder pics and Democratic politicians, it offers false hope, and that is its own sin.

The cold did not disappear after the whiskey, or the next day. It abated a few days after that, but by then, the hot whiskey had run its course.

So until doctors figure out a cure for the cold, I’m going to go with the advice of my forefathers: chicken soup, followed up with a bottle of Trinidadian rum.

People Have Learned To Drink Early in Duterte’s Philippines

Mar.24.17

People Have Learned To Drink Early in Duterte’s Philippines

by Shirin Bhandari

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Rum in Manila

Manila is unforgiving in the summer. The densely populated city is stifling as temperatures soar. There is only the monsoon to look forward to. A refreshing mid-week beer is in order during the hotter months, but with the current string of vigilante killings, I feel the urge for a stronger drink.

The pub is along the seedier side of town in Malate, on the south side of Manila. I ask for a shot of rum on the rocks. The Spanish brought rum to the Philippines in the 19th century. The abundance of sugar cane here makes it an ideal place to produce the amber spirit.

The barkeep is preoccupied, skipping through the news channels to evade the gory images of people killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. He settles on a more wholesome choice: the Food Network.

Since his term began in June 2016, President Duterte’s campaign to completely eradicate drugs in the Philippines has resulted in over 7,000 killings, mainly perpetrated at night by gun-crazy police officers and vigilantes. None have been found guilty in court. Operation Tokhang (“knock and plead”) is a community-based program: each neighborhood produces a list of alleged drug dealers and users. Police go politely door-to-door and invite suspects to sign a waiver pledging to never use or sell drugs again.

Over four million houses have been screened. Homes cleared of drug activity get a shiny sticker and a thank-you note. The better-off 10 percent of the country—who live in posh gated communities—are not targeted. The rich and upper middle-class do, however, find the time to criticize the current administration online, while the rest of the country struggles to stay afloat.

It’s mainly the poor that have been the casualties of Duterte’s war. Wealthy drug lords are entitled to a meeting with the Chief of Police and a day in court. Often, tiny packets of shabu (methamphetamine) and guns are found near corpses. Some have been shot, gagged and bound, with cardboard signs around their necks reading Pusher ako (“I am a pusher”). It’s not clear if the killings are drug-related, or simply the work of a neighbor settling an old score.

“What happened to him?” people ask on the streets after a new body is found. The most common explanation is “Nanlaban” (“he fought it out”). This single word serves as a license for the police to kill a suspect during routine checks and arrests. It absolves them from everything. Case closed.

Citizens who already lack faith in institutions and the judicial system are more likely to turn a blind eye to vigilante-style violence. A succession of unreliable leaders and their failure to combat corruption and deliver basic infrastructure and security gave the public an appetite for a strongman.

The new normal is worrisome, but the locals are unfazed. Protests are staged throughout the country, but there is not enough noise to stop the killings. The nation is keeping mum. Duterte’s approval ratings remain high: 83 percent of Filipinos are satisfied with the current operations to eradicate drugs. But 78 percent of Filipinos fear that they themselves, or someone they know, could become a victim.

The bar has filled up. People have learned to drink early since Duterte’s term. I feel lightheaded but order another round. Now, after a double shot of rum, I try to imagine every day for the next six years.

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