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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Drinking Through the Longest Election Season

Dec.02.16

Drinking Through the Longest Election Season

by Alexa van Sickle

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Grüner Veltliner in London

Welcome to Austria’s longest presidential election season. In May, far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer successfully challenged his razor-thin loss to independent candidate, Dr. Alexander Van Der Bellen over the handling of mail-in votes. The long-awaited do-over is on Sunday.

I’ve spent the last few months in Vienna, watching the country I was raised in fall down its own 2016 rabbit hole. Across the street from my flat, Hofer’s latest campaign posters included the Christian phrase ‘So Help Me God’, scandalously breaking the long-held taboo of mixing religion and politics with an attention-grabbing dog-whistle against Muslims (and by extension, refugees) that he couldn’t resist.

Now I’m back in London for the closing days of the campaign, drinking wine at Kipferl—a slightly overpriced Austrian café showcasing Austria’s more pleasant exports of apple strudel and cheese-laced sausages—fretting over the news out of Austria and pounding our signature crisp white wine. The international press has already decided what it means if Austria elects Europe’s first far-right head of state since World War II this weekend: it’s the next wave of a populist revolt against the global elite. Or, from the more left-leaning papers, Austria will either be a small bulwark against creeping nationalism—and illiberalism—or the next domino to fall.

The notion of rejecting elitism would be a lot more compelling if the leaders parroting this line weren’t quite so steeped in bullshit. First, there’s gold-chair enthusiast Donald Trump. Then there’s Britain’s Mr. Brexit, Nigel Farage, a privately educated former stockbroker who rarely strays from his VIP pen. France’s Marine Le Pen was spawned from an abhorrent political dynasty. And Norbert Hofer is a long-time higher-up in a party that, when it did get a shot at actual governing in the past, either went back on its populist platforms, caused some major financial corruption scandals, or praised Hitler’s employment initiatives.

But there is a slightly different brand of bullshit at work in Austria: the Freedom Party is not playing the noble outsider as much as it is trying to camouflage itself as a new mainstream center-right, with Hofer as the doe-eyed, charming salesman of its new respectability. But the party still has ties to far more unsavory right-wing groups, and it’s unlikely they’ve actually drained that swamp. Oh, and Hofer himself also happens to be a consummate liar. He seems to have invented a Muslim terrorist incident in Israel that he supposedly witnessed from 30 feet away. He said he doesn’t know anyone from Austria’s Identitarian Movement (Europe’s alt-right) nor does he want to. (So, naturally, here’s a photo of him at a ball with one of its members.) He said that each asylum seeker would cost Austrian taxpayers 277,000 euros—conveniently not mentioning that this is the cost spread over 45 years.

Then, there’s what he might do when he gets his Glock-wielding mitts on some power. The role of president in Austria is more ceremonial, but Hofer has threatened to use the office to dissolve the government—as is the president’s prerogative—if it fails to get a handle on immigration. This would bring forward the scheduled 2018 Parliamentary elections at a time that his party is still riding high in the polls from its exploitation of the refugee crisis. His party also has a not-so-secret affinity for other right-wing parties in Central and Eastern Europe. (How bad could this get? Just take a picturesque trip down the Danube to Viktor Orban’s Hungary.)

Going into the final days with polls too close to call, it feels gut-punchingly like Hofer has the momentum. A few days ago, Van Der Bellen’s campaign posted a video of a Holocaust survivor warning young Austrians that the rise of the far right, and its rhetoric, feels disturbingly familiar: just substitute Muslims for Jews. The video went viral with three million views on YouTube.

Let’s hope that’s enough.

Every Friday, we bring you an angry rant about something terrible fuelled by alcohol.

Showing Basic Decency, And Other Reasons to Take to the Streets in Poland And Beyond

Jul.28.17

Showing Basic Decency, And Other Reasons to Take to the Streets in Poland And Beyond

by Annabelle Chapman

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White wine in Warsaw

“The Poland that will emerge from this will be completely different to the one before,” said the stranger at the table next to mine, pouring wine from the carafe into my empty glass. “The one we knew will be gone forever.”

It was midnight and I had come in from the protest nearby. For the past week, tens of thousands of people across Poland had been protesting against a new law that would enable the right-wing government to sack the Supreme Court’s judges. Night after night, they had gathered outside the parliament, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court in Warsaw, the capital. Candles raised, they had sung the national anthem. The city was thrumming.

The stranger was twice my age, from a town in the east. I did not feel like talking. But I listened, curious to hear his take on the protests. Being a journalist, I’m used to listening.

Earlier that evening, I had stopped by the protest outside the house of Jarosław Kaczyński, the ruling party’s divisive leader. Protesters holding candles lit up the dark side-street. Dozens of policemen stood around, waiting. There was some confusion as to which house belongs to Kaczyński. Another correspondent, who had arrived earlier, had caught a glimpse of a cat inside one of the windows; possibly Kaczyński’s, who is known for his affinity for cats. In that spirit, one protester had brought along a pink cat balloon.

Back at the bar, the stranger was still talking politics. At some point, I excused myself, leaving my half-drunk glass behind. Walking home, I reflected on what he had said. One quote had stuck in my head: “People just want to show their decency, even though the protests can change little.”

He was wrong, it turned out. A day later, to everyone’s surprise, the Polish president announced that he would veto the law on the Supreme Court. It was a victory for the protesters, but only a partial one. Other controversial changes to the court system will be implemented. Poland’s judiciary remains at risk.

The following night, a fellow correspondent and I chanced upon an outdoor concert near the Palace of Culture, the Stalinist skyscraper that dominates the Warsaw skyline. Two violins, a cello, and a piano; later, a clarinet joined it. Under the colonnade, friends laughed and listened. A Pyrenean mountain dog wandered between our legs. It felt like summer. The situation in Poland remains fraught; it is unclear what will happen next. Still, this seems like a good place to stop.

Canadian Rum: It’s a Thing

Jul.27.17

Canadian Rum: It’s a Thing

by Dave Hazzan

Screech in Logy Bay

For decades, Newfoundlanders have had to endure being the butt of jokes across Canada. An example: “How do you know a Newfie’s been using your computer? The screen is covered in white-out.”

No one knows why the denizens of Canada’s 10th province are the butt of these jokes. It might be that Newfoundland is far enough away that physical retribution against smug Ontarians is too difficult. Or it could be poor-bashing against a province with persistently high unemployment, which loses thousands of young people every year to the rest of Canada’s more prosperous climes. (Another joke: What do you call someone from Halifax? A Newfie who ran out of money on the way to Toronto.)

I think it’s because Newfoundland has a booming culture of music, dialects, literature, cuisine, and deep history. As opposed to the rest of English-speaking Canada, which struggles to explain how The Kids in the Hall and Rush form part of a greater Canadian whole.

And Newfoundlanders have their own drink—Newfoundland Screech. A dark rum, it has hints of caramel, dark chocolate, and molasses, but most people don’t know that since it is usually slammed back with velocity.

Though it’s bottled in Newfoundland’s capital St. John’s, it’s made in Jamaica and sent over in barrels. The reason Newfoundlanders became rum drunks has to do with one of the more upsetting parts of British Colonial history.

In the 17th and 18th century, European slave ships plundered the west coast of Africa for slaves. Though there are no exact numbers, it’s estimated that 9 to 11 million souls landed alive in the Americas—this doesn’t include the millions who died at sea, so it’s probably closer to 20 million, the greatest theft of human beings in recorded history.

After dropping the slaves off in the Caribbean, the ships would purchase vast quantities of sugar from plantations, mostly in the form of molasses and rum. Much of that went back to Europe, but plenty was left on the North American east coast, including Newfoundland, where it was traded for salt cod.

This puts paid to a smug Canadian myth—that Canada never had slavery, unlike our barbaric American cousins. This is a wholesale lie. Canada not only had slaves, they profited enormously on the proceeds of slavery in the Caribbean.

But back to the people of Newfoundland. Screech, whatever its origins, is part of the Newfoundland fabric. They even have their own game they play on tourists, being “screeched in.” You go to a pub, they announce your name, you say a nonsense phrase, shoot the screech, kiss a codfish, and then become sworn in as an honorary Newfoundlander. (There are a few different nonsense phrases, but the most common involves the bartender asking, “Is you a screecher?” The answer is: “‘Deed I is me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw.” It means, “Yes I am my friend, and good luck.”) Where possible, you kiss a fresh cod on the lips. If no fresh fish is available, a frozen one will have to do.

My friend Lauren shrugs when asked if Newfoundlanders consider this a part of their culture. “It’s a joke,” she says. “We’ve been the butt of your jokes for so long, it’s fun to play one on you.”

Photo by: Jo Turner

A Forgotten And Underrated Hungarian Grape

Jul.26.17

A Forgotten And Underrated Hungarian Grape

by Alia Akkam

Wine in Sopron

There are kangaroos in Hungary. Three of them—Shiraz, Sydney, and the baby, Peanut—reside behind a quaint farmhouse on the grounds of Pfneiszl’s vineyards in the equally picturesque city of Sopron. When taking a break from my late-afternoon tasting, and the artfully composed platters of bread, olives, and charcuterie that accompany the arc of glasses to visit the airy loo, through the window I catch a glimpse of these graceful marsupials cavorting in the backyard. I appreciate these playful yet elegant, organically made wines even more.

“They are easy-going animals,” Birgit Pfneisl tells me. The globe-trotting winemaker has worked harvests in Chile, Argentina, California, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia, and while living in the latter, she became fascinated by kangaroos, a bright spot in a place that she admits “wasn’t my best experience. My mind was already home.” How happy she was upon returning to Hungary, then, to read that her beloved kangaroos could also be found in Europe.

Sipping my way through Pfneiszl’s wines, from a perfect random-Tuesday-night-in-July rosé to the bold “Don’t Look Back in Anger” 2013 Kékfrankos—one of Hungary’s indigenous prized grapes—to the fittingly named “Kangaroo Jump” 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon to the exquisite red blend Távoli Világ, I listen to Birgit’s story of the progressive winery she runs with her sister Katrin, who oversees the company’s marketing and sales efforts. Like many a Hungarian tale, it is laced with history and politics.

Bilingual Sopron, located in the western part of Hungary, near Lake Fertő and minutes from Austria, has a beautiful, cobblestoned city center with street signs flaunting both Hungarian and German. First settled by Celts and Romans, it is the unlikely locale that helped along the demise of the Iron Curtain. In August 1989, the “Pan-European Picnic” symbolizing solidarity between the Austrians and Hungarians unfolded on the outskirts of Sopron, with the border opened for just three hours so residents could temporarily come and go freely. Yet when East Germans heard of this sliver of opportunity, those already camping out in Hungary came in droves to seek their coveted Western freedom. Three months later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Sopron is also one of Hungary’s (underrated) wine regions, and until the advent of Communism, when Birgit and Katrin’s grandparents fled to Austria, the family owned vineyards there. With the success of the Pfneisl (the z gets dropped outside of Hungary) estate run by the sisters’ father and his brothers in Austria, the Sopron grapes were forgotten—that is until 1993, when the family reclaimed their property. As a remarkable gift, it was granted to Katrin and Birgit, who showed off her first vintage in 2004.

“The land was always in our blood. Our playground was the vineyard and we were expected to help our parents,” says Birgit. “But as young teenagers, we didn’t like it so much. We’d rather go to the swimming pool. Later, I realized wine making was pretty cool.”

It Tastes Like Shit, But This Is What We Drink

Jul.24.17

It Tastes Like Shit, But This Is What We Drink

by Kristin Amico

Pelinkovac on the Dalmatian Islands

By the fifth day of clear skies, calm waters, electric-blue swimming holes, and fiery sunsets over the Adriatic, I questioned whether I chose the appropriate vacation. Initially, a week on a boat sailing the Croatian coast sounded perfect. The ideal way to soothe post-breakup blues, I thought. And it was perfect. The best week-long stretch of unblemished weather our captain had seen in years. That’s not what I needed. I longed for simply a wrinkle, the slightest tear, in the flawless façade to prove that the universe wasn’t mocking my misery.

Then on a small terrace bar on the Island of Vis, the most remote of all the Dalmatian islands, our captain Toni summoned the owner. The older gentleman who spoke no English returned minutes later with a tray of small glasses filled halfway with amber-hued liquor and garnished with lemon.

“It’s Pelinkovac. The most famous drink in Croatia,” Toni boasted.

The six of us, strangers just days ago, now cozy companions after living together on a small sailboat, raised our glasses for a toast. “živjeli.”

The youngest of the group slammed his glass down after the first sip. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” he quipped while his face twisted as if in pain. At 22, I imagine there is much worse still ahead for him to taste.

I continued drinking. The astringent, herbaceous first notes gave way to hints of citrus and even a slight sweetness. It was strong, but not caustic. When I finished my glass, I threw back the remainder of my travel pal’s unfinished shot.

Pelinkovac dates back centuries. A concoction of wormwood and herbs from the Velebit mountains, its use was originally medicinal—a panacea predating prescriptions. Now it’s the drink of choice for the region.

Around us, locals of all stripes, from salty fisherman to Croatian women in impossibly high heels headed to the club, all put away an early-evening glass of the bitter liqueur.

D, the high-intensity guide who led us through the abandoned remains of the island earlier in the day sat down and took the last glass. In three or four gulps, it was gone. Curious about Pelinkovac’s appeal, I asked him why he drank it. He spoke as quickly as he drank. Born and raised on the island, which was closed to outsiders (foreign and domestic) until 1990, he didn’t mince words.

“Before dinner, after dinner, before going out, washed down with beer. You drink it always. It tastes like shit but this is what we drink.”

The rest of the group moved on to the crisp, Croatian white wine we had been sipping all week. It was smooth with a nose reminiscent of the nearby Adriatic. It went down easy.

I opted for one more glass of Pelinkovac. It was the bitter medicine I needed to balance out a week in paradise.

We Are Really Going to Need a Copy of This Trippy Japanese Doo-Wop Album

Jul.21.17

We Are Really Going to Need a Copy of This Trippy Japanese Doo-Wop Album

by Patrick J. Sauer

Scotch in Sapporo

After exiting the Norbesa, a rooftop ferris wheel on top of the 7th floor of a building in Sapporo, my wife and I wanted a drink. (Our six-year-old daughter Molly wanted to ride again. No chance, kid. Even though, pro tip, they sell beer for the rides.) In most countries, this would be easy. Head to the nearest bar. But Japan can be tricky that way, even in the home of the country’s oldest brand of beer. The night before, I’d been turned away from a Japanese-only private club, and I’d skipped out on the two hostess bars I wandered into, which require spending yen for a female companion to laugh at my terrible jokes she probably wouldn’t understand in the first place.

Well domo arigato, laissez les bons temps rouler, there it was, right smack in front of us. A little slice of New Orleans in Hokkaido. And as soon as we opened the door, the owner of Café Gloria, Toshikazu Oyamada, let us know everyone is welcome in his little Japanese ode to the Big Easy.

Café Gloria has plenty of New Orleans flourishes, like a Louis Armstrong statue (surrounded by empty Campbell’s soup cans because Toshi also digs Andy Warhol), red parlor lamps, and various jazz-playing figurines. And while he didn’t know how to make a Sazerac—might have been a language thing so I went with a Glenlivet rocks—Toshi does serve gumbo, but we were full of Genghis Khan, a local grilled mutton specialty, so we just stuck to the booze. And a ginger ale.

The music in Café Gloria was definitely of a New Orleans style, but not in the brassy vein of Rebirth that usually comes to mind. It was more in the Clarence “Frogman” Henry “Ain’t Got No Home” and Ernie K-Doe “Mother-in-Law” style. Toshi sat down with us to find out where we were from, the usual stuff, and really perked up as I was singing along to Dion’s “The Wanderer.” I told him I was raised on 1950s music. My mom grew up in Philadelphia when it still hosted American Bandstand and all those wonderful harmonious bands were the backbeat to my childhood. It’s a tradition we’ve carried on with Molly because 50s songs are short, easy to understand, and the most objectionable content is having to explain what a “thrill on Blueberry Hill” might entail.

Toshi excused himself, changed the music, and sat back down. He handed us a CD and wouldn’t you know it? We were sitting with the lead singer for the Fabulous Apollos, the “Doo-Wop Band From Sapporo City.” Formed in 1992, the band was particularly inspired by Earl “Speedo” Carroll, lead singer of the legendary Harlem group, The Cadillacs. The Fabulous Apollos got Speedo to be the introductory MC on their self-titled 2010 release and in the ultimate homage to the now deceased lead singer-cum-public school custodian, Toshi goes by “Earl” on stage.

The album, which of course we now own, is fantastic. It’s a wild mix of rockers and ballads, doo-wop and mambo, English and Japanese lyrics, horns and guitars, and a song entitled “The Sound of Otaru Dream Beach” which is exactly that, all delivered in under 3:00 a pop. The kid and I even jitterbugged a step or two. Close your eyes and it was like being inside Happy Days, assuming they gave the mic to Arnold instead of that damn Potsie.

We signed the concrete wall, gladly accepted the gift of a Get Hip Records showcase CD, and said oyasumi. Thanks to Toshi, we found our Nipponese thrill.

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