Follow Roads & Kingdoms on...

5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

The Only Liquor So Good They Named a Color After It

Feb.15.17

The Only Liquor So Good They Named a Color After It

by Zamira Kristina Skalkottas

Chartreuse in Voiron

Chartreuse is beautiful. It’s the only naturally occurring green liqueur in the world, according to its makers. It is also perhaps the only alcoholic drink to lend its name to a color. I can’t remember when and where I first tasted it, but it was definitely as a digestif, and I loved its “good bitterness,” a term they use at the Chartreuse distillery and something people either don’t like or really, really love.

My French friends joke that it’s medicine, which is actually true. The distillery says it was christened some three centuries ago as an “Elixir of Long Life” and was used to treat various ailments. The elixir was so delicious, however, that people began drinking it like a regular beverage, and so a sweeter, less potent version soon began to be produced for general consumption.

Mystery infuses the history of this florescent-looking liquor. It all began in 1605, when the Carthusian religious order outside Paris was entrusted with an alchemist’s recipe (at that time only a handful of monks and apothecaries really knew how to use herbs to treat illness). The recipe was subsequently sent to the Carthusian headquarters near Grenoble where the resident apothecary expert decoded the intricate instructions and began producing the tonic in 1737.

When I visited the idyllic monastery and Musée de la Grande Chartreuse a few years ago, I had one of those “Aha!” moments because the surrounding countryside of the Isère region is the same vibrant green as Chartreuse, as if the hills themselves were macerated and distilled to make that chlorophyll color. In fact, only 65 percent of the plants and roots are from the Chartreuse Mountains. The rest come from other parts of France and even the world.

Blended from over 130 different types of botanicals, the exact recipe is a carefully guarded secret. Only two monks at any given time know it. At the distillery in Voiron, a short train ride from Lyon or Grenoble, you can sniff different herbs and plants which might be in the mixture, such as marjoram, mugwort, wild thyme, hyssop, gentians, and fir shoots. But above the display is a sign that teases: “We do not know if these plants are among the 130 plants used to make Chartreuse….”

At the distillery, I also learned about different tributes to the cordial. My favorite was from Quentin Tarantino, when he played a barman in his movie Death Proof. After offering a round of Chartreuse shots and downing his own, he slams down his glass saying, “Chartreuse, the only liqueur so good they named a color after it.”

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

banner-5-oclock-2

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.

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

Mar.23.17

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

by Abby Sewell

Almaza Beer in Tripoli

As I passed under a stone arch bearing a simulacrum of the Hollywood sign and entered the narrow cobblestone walkway that hosts the few remaining pubs of Tripoli, I felt my nerves—on edge from a day navigating northern Lebanon on buses and shared taxis—finally calming.

I had trekked for three hours that afternoon from Beirut to Akkar in far northeastern Lebanon, where I had befriended a number of Syrian families when I was volunteering in a refugee camp near Halba last year. One of those families had just gotten word that they would be resettled in Italy, and I had gone to congratulate them on the news.

After my visit to the camp, I planned to meet a friend from the States who was performing with a circus troupe in Tripoli, a coastal city mid-way between Halba and Beirut.

There have been clashes in Tripoli in recent years between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. Although the situation has now calmed, many Beirutis continue to regard it as a no-go zone. Furthermore, as a predominantly Sunni Muslim and conservative area, Tripoli is not a place most people think of for night-life.

But in the seaside community of Al Mina, on Tripoli’s edge, home to a small Christian enclave, there is a row of pubs tucked away in the old city. My friend Mali and I decided to do a small pub-crawl there.

We began the evening at Timmy’s, where a stream of mostly young and well-heeled patrons buzzed a bell, to be ushered in by a silver-haired maître d’ who greeted many of them with cheek-kisses like old friends.

After a round of drinks in belated honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we headed around the corner to Mike’s, a cozier establishment with a row of bookshelves under the television on the back wall. The young man behind the bar, Wahib, turned out to be one of the proprietors. He was happy to tell us about the history of the neighborhood as we sipped a pair of submarines—a mix of light beer and tequila.

Raised in a Greek Orthodox family, Wahib was one of the few young men from Mina who had not departed for Beirut or abroad. Most of his patrons now are foreign aid workers, or Lebanese from towns farther down the coast. Years ago, he told us, there were 16 bars in the area, but their numbers had slimmed to five.

When Mali suggested that we should complete our pub crawl, Wahib—reluctant to lose a pair of customers—offered to give us a tour and bring us back, which he did, even buying a round of shots at the cheery restaurant-pub next door.

Back at Mike’s, Wahib’s brother entertained as with card tricks while we had one more round and congratulated ourselves on having successfully bar-hopped in Tripoli.

Photo by: Celine

View All 403 Drinks