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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

All Up in This Fancy Hotel, Eating Some Crazy Shit

Oct.06.16

All Up in This Fancy Hotel, Eating Some Crazy Shit

by Didi Kader

Cherry Mules in Seattle

Despite its outdoorsy, mountain-climbing persona, Seattle has an upscale edge. It is, after all, the corporate birthplace of tech giants, airplane makers, and commercial coffeehouses of dubious quality.

There are a handful of hotels catering to that highbrow crowd—chiefly, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. Not everyone can afford to stay at the Fairmont Olympic, but many can afford the happy hour in its lobby and lounge.

On a late summer evening, I settled in the lobby next to one of the Corinthian columns that line the interior. A closer look at the column revealed it was made of wood, a cheeky marriage of European stateliness and Pacific Northwest forest. A few tables over, a hotel manager brought a bottle of prosecco to a table where a young woman sat with her parents. The manager poured the wine, and they started to plan a wedding that would take place in the hotel’s airy indoor courtyard.

I scanned the menu and settled on the Rainier cherry mule, made with cherry-infused vodka. Rainier cherries are one of Washington’s most beloved fruits, a yellow cherry with a pink blush. It has a fragrant sweetness, almost as though the cherry blossom itself had hidden a little love letter in the fruit’s flesh. Rainier cherries were developed in 1952 by researchers at Washington State University, who crossed the Bing and Van cherry varietals. The cherries usually appear in local farmer’s markets in July, an indication that the Pacific Northwest summer is in full swing.

The Rainier cherry mule was fizzy and delicately sweet. It was a deep red at the bottom of the highball glass that faded into a pink blush. Two brandied Bing cherries rested atop the drink on a spear.

When the waitress asked if I wanted to order happy-hour food, I hesitated before asking for totchos, the beautiful fusion of tater-tots and nachos. They felt incongruous in this ritzy lounge, but this was righteous bar food: the hotel’s way of saying hey, we cater to barflies and businessmen alike. The fried potato cakes rested on a generous helping of braised short-rib with a spoonful of guacamole. I also ordered a bowl of dirty olives: fried Castelvetrano olives with blue cheese and toasted hazelnuts. The result was an umami-bomb of briny, earthy flavor.

I washed down the last few olives with sips of the Rainier cherry mule. I finished off the brandied Bing cherries, paid my incredibly reasonable bill, and walked toward the hotel doors (which are always held open for you). I passed an older gentleman in a suit nursing a drink and taking a surreptitious snooze. I imagined he was waiting for his wife, getting ready upstairs in one of the posh rooms, fishing around in her makeup bag for a set of diamond earrings for the night out.

Nobody’s Itching for a Stiff Glass of Snake Wine at the End of a Long Day

Jul.20.17

Nobody’s Itching for a Stiff Glass of Snake Wine at the End of a Long Day

by Wes Grover

Rum in Saigon

It’s Friday night in Saigon and I’m at the WOO Social Bar. It’s chic, trendy —whatever you want to call it—and not exactly my style, but I’m here because of the man making drinks behind the bar: Roddy Battajon, enemy of my liver. To be more precise, I’m here to drink his rum, Rhum Belami, the first handcrafted cane spirit in Vietnam.

Deferring to his recommendation for a cocktail, he goes about muddling pineapple, burning a cinnamon stick and knifing off a few flakes into the glass, adding this and that, mixing in his dark rum and shaking it all up, garnished with rosemary. The artistry of it is a bit lost in my daze – I’ve sipped a few glasses of his gold rum before showing up – but the enjoyment of consumption is not. At first sweet and aromatic, the flavor takes a turn with traces of coffee and black pepper as it goes down, before ultimately leaving a smoky sensation in the throat and a warmth in the chest.

If you’ve been to Saigon, chances are the locally-made spirits you’re familiar with are such exotic elixirs as scorpion and snake wine. In my experience, the only reason to drink these is to say that you did, and when the novelty wears off nobody’s itching for a stiff glass of snake wine at the end of a long day. Unless, of course, you’re looking for an ancient antidote to boost your virility.

So when I heard a few weeks ago that there was a guy from Martinique making rum in his apartment here, I had to track him down and procure a bottle. In the name of journalism, I reached out to Roddy and arranged a time to visit his homemade lab and do some drinking.

This is when I realized he’s not just some madman making hooch in his bathtub, but has a nearby production facility and, amidst the rum lab that takes up a room of his home with various tinctures fermenting in glass vats, I learn that Roddy has in fact brought a family tradition to Vietnam.

Growing up in the Caribbean, his grandmother would craft the family rum, infusing local fruits and spices to the distillate, which she always made using fresh sugarcane juice and not molasses, as is the Martinique way. True to his roots, Roddy has amalgamated the technique observed during his youth with the flavors of Vietnam.

During my visit to his home, he first poured a glass of his dark batch and instructed me to give it a smell. I have a rather limited olfactory system ever since a concussion sustained several months back, but nonetheless picked up hints of cacao and coconut, black pepper from Phu Quoc Island, and Kopi Luwak coffee beans, though coming from Indonesia, the latter is among the few imported ingredients.

Smell test completed, I took a sip and rode the rollercoaster of flavors from sweet to smoky, without too much bite, leaving one warm and happy. Like a dessert that gets you drunk, except you can have it before, during, and after dinner.

Next, he asked how strong I think it is.

35 percent? I tried, given how easily it went down.

55 percent, he countered.

Yeah, this is going to be a problem.

Nothing Like Delicious Bar Snacks to Normalize Alcohol Consumption

Jul.19.17

Nothing Like Delicious Bar Snacks to Normalize Alcohol Consumption

by Dipti Kharude

Chakna in Mumbai

Growing up, my parents, with my younger sister and a 12-year-old me in tow, ritualistically followed up a seafront walk in our neighborhood with a visit to the restaurant and bar Sea Lord. This bar still knows my secrets, as do the bowls of complimentary chakna, or savory munchies, that accompany my drinks there.

I remember gin and tonic being my folks’ staple drink. After my parents placed their order, my sister and I squabbled over who would claim the first portion of the imminent cheeselings—petite and salty square cheese puffs. My impatient anticipation for the free snacks gave way to curiosity for conversations at adjacent tables, heaving with laughter and a sense of abandon. My otherwise coy mother, dressed in a sari, glass in hand, was a picture of defiance. Peopled by unaccompanied women, couples, families, and coworkers, the unshowy Sea Lord welcomed a middle-class crowd looking to drop their guard.

Over chakna came confessions and confidences. In this twilight period, bonds blossomed. Colleagues became friends. Even the most reticent ones grew bold, calling out to the waiting staff, “Boss zara chakna lana” (Please bring more chakna to the table). There was no shame in asking for more; it was your inalienable right as a regular. These dry pre-appetizers boasted enough starch to stave off hunger while lining the stomach for more drinking.

I would scoop up a handful of salted white peanuts, and the bowls would be promptly replenished like magical chalices. Though the literal meaning of the term chakna is “to taste,” the act of incessant nibbling was like freezing time—delaying dinnertime, prolonging the moment.

After working through a mound of roasted chickpeas, the lightly spiced, fried squiggles made of soya powder, tapioca starch, and black gram flour were next. Despite mild warnings from the parents about making a full meal out of chakna, I regularly rounded off my one-course dinner with symmetrical streaks of cucumber slathered with agreeably sour chaat masala, a blend of spices like black salt, chili powder, dry mango powder, and cumin seeds.

A year ago, I moved back to this neighborhood that I had called home for more than 20 years after a long stint outside it. One evening, when I sought a momentary salve for my exhaustion, I reached out to my comfort food in Sea Lord. I almost abandoned my drink when I was reunited with the crunch of the peanuts. The decor of the place stood resolutely unchanged. People still did not bother to photograph their food.

In a city where the nightlife is swiftly being shaped by Instagram-fueled, mercurial dining habits, the existence of this place that normalized alcohol consumption for me is reassuring. This untrendy neighborhood bar is once again a place of provisional peace, where the spread of chakna continues to spark the same joy.

Celebrating García Márquez and Underwhelming Lager

Jul.18.17

Celebrating García Márquez and Underwhelming Lager

by Barbara Wanjala

Beer in Aracataca

I found some Colombian pesos in my wallet recently. I should have changed the money in Bogotá, as it is unlikely that I will be able to change it here in Nairobi. Nevertheless, the weathered green bill bearing José Asunción Silva’s bearded countenance and piercing stare is a nice souvenir to have.
How to describe my literary sojourn? Estupendo. Take for example Aracataca, the town where Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez was born.

Because it was the 50th anniversary of the publication of his classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book was our guide during our fellowship—the theme of which was the interplay between journalism and literature. Aracataca, the inspiration behind the town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude, taught me that the world is a place of endless inspiration and infinite possibility.

Aracataca is a sweltering town on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Mangoes hang from trees by the railway station as train carriages file past. Townspeople get around on motorcycles or sit out on their porches, staring at strangers with curiosity. Dogs of varying breeds and sizes populate the clean, wide streets. Doors stay open into the night. At the nearby museum, on a wall bearing Gabo’s likeness and numerous signatures, one visitor has written, “A Aracataca, pueblo immortal” (Aracataca, the immortal town) and another, “Macondo existe en mi corazón.” (Macondo exists in my heart.)

We sat down for lunch at the Ristorante Gabo & Leo Matiz, named for the writer and the photographer who created of the country’s most iconic photo, Pavo real del Mar. I learned new Spanish words during my time in Colombia, things with which to imbue my journalism: sensacin, impacto, rareza, agilidad. But also words like cataquero, which describes someone from Aracataca. We ate an assortment of meals there over the course of two days: rice, fish, plantains, cassava, banana, cheese, arepas. Tropical fare all washed down with bottles of Club Colombia. It’s an underwhelming pale lager but I grew very attached to it, ordering a dorada at Bogota’s El Dorado airport as I waited for my flight to Amsterdam.

These days I watch the images from this distant yet now familiar land on my screen with great interest: Venezuelans crossing into Cucuta, social unrest in the predominantly Afro-Colombian city of Buenaventura, FARC’s demobilization. I muse about how a book opened up a new world to me, and I plot ways to return.

On Bastille Day, the Perfectly Aloof French Dismissal of an Utter Fool

Jul.14.17

On Bastille Day, the Perfectly Aloof French Dismissal of an Utter Fool

by Robert Kelley Ayala

Bordeaux Red in Paris

It’s Bastille Day Eve here in Paris, and… he’s here. “He” being the (I still can’t believe I’m typing these words) President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump. Yes, that basic reality-TV-show clown. Time for a glass of wine.

I’ve lived here with my girlfriend for more than six and a half years now, and one advantage to living in Paris is that as two Americans can almost live our lives without thinking about Trump. Yes, it usually crosses our minds at least once a day, but it’s not forced upon us by our workplace or local restaurants blasting cable news from morning until night.

And then we had our own election in France, which went really well. The extreme-right-winger lost in humiliating fashion, and we feel pretty safe from the broader nativist trend sweeping the globe. So we don’t feel the daily crush of it. Honestly, escape from the daily crush of U.S. politics is one of the main reasons I moved here in the first place.

After Trump got elected, there were some protests here in Paris. They were significant, but not so much so that anyone paid attention. Although American ex-pats made up a majority of the crowds, it was the French protesters who ran the show. They have much more experience in protesting. We had a few chants, but they had dozens. France has a much broader and deeper culture of protesting than we do in the U.S. I’ve seen protests here in Paris made up almost entirely of little schoolchildren. Meanwhile, our students pledge allegiance to a flag every single morning! It took living in Europe for me to appreciate just how insanely fascist a ritual that is.

Which is to say, I expected French people to prevent this visit from happening. Press accounts suggest that Trump has at least twice postponed a visit to the U.K. because of the fear of massive protests dominating the media coverage. And the U.K. has nothing on France when it comes to street protests, right? So, given the circumstances, it seemed to follow that the French people would threaten to mount such an overwhelming demonstration that Trump would be forced to cancel his trip.

But they didn’t, and he came. He’s here. And, honestly, I’m feeling a little resentful towards the French. I suspect that they’re not protesting because it’s a holiday weekend, and their summer vacation plans take precedence over demonstrating against the biggest threat to world peace and global survival yet. Bastille Day falls on a Friday this year, so everyone’s booked long weekends in Burgundy or Normandy or the Riviera, and nobody, no matter how much they hate Trump, would want to give up their holiday weekend. It’s disappointing.

That disappointment, though, fades away after some drunken reasoning. Maybe the French aren’t so motivated to take to the streets because they don’t perceive Trump to be all that much of a threat. Maybe it’s become clear to them that Trump’s utter incompetence is going to prevent him from doing anything truly terrible. And maybe they’ve determined there’s about a 50 percent chance of most U.S. presidents starting a war, and that governmental attitudes ranging from hostility to indifference towards the poor, ethnic minorities, the disabled, LGBTQ communities, and other marginlized groups are the norm. Maybe they know better what the U.S. is than we progressives do ourselves. Because we are blinded by our own patriotism, we don’t see that Trump and his worldview have always been deeply ingrained in the American culture, and they will be until we stop denying it and admit it and actually do something about it.

What I’m trying to say is that the French might not be going all Hamburg-during-the-G20-summit in Paris on account of Trump’s visit, but maybe that’s because Trump isn’t as far outside of the American norm as we naive, patriotic Americans could ever really admit. His pretending-to-be-a-billionaire ass just isn’t worth passing on a few glasses of crisp rosé and the charms of southern France. It’s a perfectly aloof French dismissal of the fool.

By the way, it was a 2015 Chateau Haut-Mondain that fueled the above blabber. Purchased from a supermarket. Not usually the best place to get wine, but our tiny stash is down to only really nice bottles at home, and I got home too late to go to any of the quality wine shops on my street. The trick I use when I have to buy wine at the supermarket is to find a bottle that says mis en bouteille au château. This means it was bottled on the premises of the vineyards. By no means does it guarantee high quality, but it usually saves you from the worst of the bad bottles, the mega-industrial alcoholic grape juice industry. Tonight, I drink. Tomorrow, I protest.

Is a Well-Behaved, Polite Beer Festival Even a Beer Festival?

Jul.13.17

Is a Well-Behaved, Polite Beer Festival Even a Beer Festival?

by Dave Hazzan

Tiramisu Stout in Delft

It was the Netherlands Beer Festival in Delft.

It was unique because it was warm and sunny, as opposed to the usual Dutch weather, which involves rain, wind, rain, foul tempers, and more rain. Today, the forecast called for good cheer and alcohol-induced sunstroke.

The festival works like this. You pay four and a half euros for a wristband and a tiny glass, about 150 ml, with the words Nederlandse Bieren Festival emblazoned across it, yours to keep for the next time you’re doing shots of beer. Then you pay for tokens, two euros each, which are valid for one tasting of any of the beers.

I had never been to a beer festival like this. The ones I was used to were in East Asia, where they unleash thousands of people, locals and barbarians alike, upon the stands, to throw their won/yen/yuan at the flummoxed servers while barking their orders. “PALE ALE! STOUT! RASPBERRY IPA! THE MANGO-FLAVORED SHIT!”

You then rest on the concrete for 15 minutes, fry in the sun and drink, and then get back in line before your cup is half-empty, so as not to end up empty-handed. By dinnertime everyone is fire-engine red with sunburn and the bathrooms at the subway station are a Class 1A Health Hazard.

Here in historic Delft, there is none of that. The cobblestone streets remain cute and pristine. The locals are well-behaved and polite. The 12 breweries present are all staffed by the uber-chill, who are happy to pour you a glass and thank you for choosing Kaapse, Ciderhuis, or Emelise brewing.

The choices certainly are odd. You need some kind of beer-taster’s super-palate to figure out all the hints and nodes in the Gwynt Y Ddraeg Cloudy Scrupy, the Bertus Imperial Brown Ale Merlot, the Disco Bitch Gin & Tonic IPA, or the Cock of the Rock Chicha Morada Infused.

What vintage was the Kompaan 45 Cognac BA Porter aged in? What relationship does Name & No. 1 Dutch Pancake Pale Ale have with actual pancakes? And above all, how is the Zwarte Zee Imperial Oyster Stout related to our black-shelled friends–are they ground in the hops, added to the water, or pressed into the finished product?

The only way to get any idea is to try them all. That’s why they give you such a little glass. Another reason you get little glasses is because the average alcohol content for each of these beers hovers around 7.5 percent ABV.

Some are so high it seems like they were made on a dare. The Bertus Imperial Brown Ale Merlot is 11.5 percent. The Oh Buurman… American Barley Wine is 11.8 percent. And the Angel of Haarlem Sour BA Wild Turkey is a completely irresponsible 13 percent.

In the end, I found my favorite. The Tiramisu Stout, mysteriously unlisted on the tasting card, did taste of tiramisu. Thick, creamy, chocolatey, and boozy. A winner to go with the sunstroke.

Photo by: Jo Turner

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