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Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

Jan.06.17

Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

by Daniella Peled

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Israeli Merlot in London

Israelis don’t much go in for New Year’s celebrations. I spent this last one in a Tel Aviv flat with a handful of fellow media types and our assorted children.

We ate salty goat’s cheese and artisan bread and tried to last until midnight for form’s sake, indulging in typical left-wing ennui. The prospects for 2017 didn’t look good.

This year will mark half a century of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the potentially apocalyptic presidency of Donald Trump, both facts likely to be celebrated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

None of those present were fans of Bibi, as he’s popularly known. They sighed over my luck to be a British journalist based in London, and there was much talk of who had an additional European passport. Most had spent time living abroad and all planned to leave again.

But the wine was good: an Israeli-produced merlot. We drowned our sorrows, and I took a few bottles with me the following day when I flew home to London.

And, as I clanked my way through Ben Gurion airport, investigators from the national fraud unit questioned Netanyahu in his home under caution as part of an enquiry into a potentially massive corruption scandal.

Not a fun way for Bibi to start the New Year, but it would be very, very premature to predict his demise.

What’s particularly depressing to contemplate, even after half a bottle of the merlot I slogged home, is how disturbingly tolerant Israel has become of suspicions of wrongdoing.

The case against Netanyahu, who has already survived multiple police investigations during his career, remains unclear. To start with, he’s suspected of receiving gifts and favors from an array of multi-millionaire businesspeople, although just what these may consist of is unknown.

An additional investigation is also ongoing, with even fewer concrete details, although it’s rumored to be far more serious.

Nothing, of course has been proven, and no proceedings have been launched. But hard as it is to now imagine, there was a time in Israel when even the whiff of scandal was enough to herald resignation.

Most famous was the affair that toppled then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1977. At a time when it was illegal for Israelis to hold foreign accounts, it emerged that his wife Leah had $10,000 in a U.S. bank.

Even though she made clear that it was her account alone, her husband took responsibility for this relatively minor offense and stood down as premier.

The so-called dollar account affair is now seen in semi-mythical terms as a display of honor in public service unthinkable in Israel’s contemporary political culture.

Let’s not forget that Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is currently serving a 19-month prison for corruption. Nor that Bibi’s interior minister Aryeh Deri also served a similar term for accepting $150,000 in bribes during his tenure as—guess what?—interior minister in a previous government.

Israel ranks 37th out of 175 nations in terms of corruption, according to Transparency International, which at first glance doesn’t look too bad. But out of its fellow OECD nations, it comes 24 out of 34.

Self-serving officials, apparently enjoying the benefits of impunity, don’t provide leadership so much as pursue their own agenda. For a country like Israel, embroiled in a long-running military occupation as well as facing growing social tensions and a region boiling with violence, the consequences seem particularly dire.

Netanyahu heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, intent on strengthening the occupation and diminishing Israel’s democratic institutions. (In comparison to some of his cabinet, Netanyahu is quite a pussycat.)

Netanyahu has spun this whole affair as nothing more than a smear campaign by a leftist judiciary and media elites. He does seem to buy into a kind of messianic belief that he is the only Israeli leader who can save the re-born Kingdom of Israel.

But most of his maneuvers appear politically expedient rather than ideologically motivated.

Witness his reaction to this week’s hugely controversial conviction of Israeli soldier Elior Azaria for killing an unarmed and gravely injured Palestinian assailant.

A stiff drink helps as one contemplates the whole disturbing affair. Thank goodness for that Israeli merlot.

A poll last year indicated that some 65 percent of Israeli Jews supported Azaria’s actions, and the military court’s decision was accompanied by violent right-wing demonstrations and furious condemnation from Netanyahu’s rivals on the right. True to form, Netanyahu’s response was devastatingly cynical.

“I support a pardon for Elor Azaria,” he announced, going on to express sympathy for the soldier himself, his family, and all IDF soldiers, rather than backing the judicial process.

Amid a corruption scandal and with the right wing snapping at his heels, Netanyahu chose populism over statesmanship. He’s done it before; he warned on election day last year that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

He won that election, but who knows if such tactics will be enough to save him from his current woes. By the end of the week, police had questioned him once again. And I had drunk most of my Israeli wine, and 2017 still didn’t look too hopeful.


Photo by: Akash Mehra

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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