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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Love Is Easier With Alcohol and Boiled Eggs

Oct.18.16

Love Is Easier With Alcohol and Boiled Eggs

by Sachin Bhandary

Palmyrah arrack in Jaffna

A slow eight-hour train ride had brought us from Colombo to Jaffna, the capital of the island’s northern province and the cultural capital of Tamils in Sri Lanka. The civil war between the Sri Lankan state and the LTTE, a militant outfit that fought for a separate country for Tamils in the north and east, ended in 2009, but tensions between Tamils and Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority endure.

Diren, my friend from Colombo, had to convince his parents to let him take the trip. They were worried about him going on a photography assignment in the region where most Tamil rebel movements, including the LTTE, were born.

That evening, I was in search of arrack. Sri Lanka is known for coconut arrack, a spirit distilled from the fermented sap of the palm tree. But Jaffna is known for palmyrah palms, not coconut ones. It made sense to try palmyrah arrack, and I had promised myself that I would drink it where it’s meant to be drunk: in a cheap, local bar.

Neither of us spoke Tamil, and as a Sinhalese from the south, Diren had some concerns about encountering potential hostility. But despite his misgivings, he decided to come along.

Ravi Bar & Restaurant was about a hundred yards off the A9, the famous highway that connects Jaffna with Kandy in central Sri Lanka. I entered first, Diren a few steps behind. There was a barricaded counter and three tables. A young man spoke with me in broken English and offered me a bottle with a green-and-yellow label. He suggested I try it with a local brand of sparkling water. We also got two boiled eggs to go with the arrack.

Nuances are sometimes lost on me, but the palmyrah arrack looked a shade lighter than its coconut counterpart, and it definitely tasted different. Coconut arrack has more than a hint of sweetness: this did not. It was like whisky, but with the dry and flavorful taste of the palmyrah. The bar was noisy, and groups of friends were back-slapping each other while making jokes.

I was almost through with the quarter bottle when a man came pacing towards me. With his left palm on my right shoulder, he yelled, “Jaffna is the city is the heart of love!” He had probably realized I was not Sri Lankan and wanted me to feel welcome, despite the language barrier. I thanked him and nodded.

By then, Diren had warmed to the place, and I ordered another bottle. Maybe love is a tad easier with amber-colored palmyrah arrack for company.

There’s No Un-Hearing This Scientist’s Explanation of Fermentation

May.17.17

There’s No Un-Hearing This Scientist’s Explanation of Fermentation

by Steele Rudd

Ginger Beer in Sydney

I’ve been to maybe half-a-dozen tastings in my life. A flight of whiskies at a Scottish distillery; a beer sampler at a brewery in Sydney; and a couple of cellar-door wine evenings.

Most of them have been shambolic affairs, although there’s a pattern to them. At first everyone’s a gourmand, sincere about the early vanillin note on this one and the woodruff aftertaste on that one. But after you’ve gone through 10 or 12 varieties of shiraz, it’s a bit different. Your teeth are redder than a betel addict’s, everything tastes like second-hand tea leaves, and you might as well have gone to the pub.

I’m hoping this one will be a little different, partly because it’s ginger beer on show tonight but mostly because my host is kind of a mad scientist. Dr. Cain is a microbiochemist with an alarmingly Biblical name and a sideline in brewing moonshine. (This ginger beer is not sweetened, carbonated soda, but the boozy kind, made from fermented ginger, yeast, and sugar.)

She’s agreed to talk me through her latest concoction. Apparently, there’s a connection between her day job and her beer job. “Being in the lab is very much like cooking,” she tells me, “and a lab protocol is kind of like a recipe.”

Except, of course, that home brewers are a less pedantic bunch than microbiochemists (without insult to either). “The first thing I did [when beginning to brew] was take a bunch of protocols, extract the relevant information, worked out the formulas and wrote my own.”

That kind of specificity doesn’t sound like my kind of fun, but I guess fun comes in different flavors—and I can’t argue with tonight’s. The good doctor cracks a bottle and decants it into a wide-bottomed glass like a brandy tumbler. The taste is definitely gingery without being overwhelmingly fiery; sweet but not sugary; sour but not in a scrunch-up-your-nose kind of way. There’s a very distinct flatness to it that I’m not used to, something syrupy that goes beyond the absence of carbonation. Another taster describes it as “not the teeth-fuzz variety of ginger beer.” It reminds me of nothing so much as a Spanish cider, and I could happily drink it all night.

“Being a microscientist,” Dr. Cain explains, “and being quite aware of sterility, winemaking is such an inexact process.” She uses the example of roasting lamb in an autoclave as illustration. She doesn’t agree that brewing is an art, calling that “flowery,” and is prosaic about fermentation. “When [the yeast] eat the sugar, they basically shit out the alcohol.” At this point I decide that Dr. Cain is the kind of brewer that puts the poetry in the bottle, not on the label.

When the ginger beer’s finished, we move on to wine (vermentino, a Sicilian white that’s been making headway in Australia) and the conversation spirals away. Dr. Cain tells me about Iberian grapes and Manuka honey; about the looming antibiotic apocalypse; about suicide genes in seedless fruit. We discuss transporting hazardous or delicate biosamples, and the cost involved; and enzymes that can slice themselves apart spontaneously or on command. It’s the most informative tasting that I’ve ever been to.

Another Reason to Hate Manchester United

May.16.17

Another Reason to Hate Manchester United

by Alec Herron

Bitter in Manchester

In 1819, sword-bearing cavalry charged a gathering of 80,000 political reform protesters on St. Peter’s Field, Manchester, killing 15 and maiming hundreds more.

The day, now commemorated as the Peterloo Massacre, would spur industrial unionism and inspire the creation of The Guardian newspaper.

Local legend has it that as thousands scattered the streets of Manchester in panic, one of the Peterloo wounded was carried into the Sir Ralph Abercomby pub, and lay dying on the bar.

Just shy of 200 years later, the Sir Ralph Abercromby has seen Manchester grow into the world’s greatest industrial city, survived a direct hit of incendiary Second World War bombs, watched the city fall into post-industrial rot and rise again to its current creative-industry led rebirth. It retains the countryside aura of a time when it sat on the edge of a burgeoning mill town.

At a circular oak table I sip a pumped bitter. The pub fills with Londoners-in-exile, there to watch their capital soccer rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in an FA Cup Semifinal on three plasma screens.

The walls are pure Manchester. Profiles of players from local side Manchester United are joined by a graffiti mural of the 2015 Stone Roses resurrection. In 2014, the Manchester United captain, Wayne Rooney, led the players’ Christmas party to the Sir Ralph Abercromby from an upmarket restaurant.

Now a pair of former United greats want to knock the pub down.
Gary Neville, known for his defensive prowess and astute decision-making, has transferred the skills that earned him captaincy of the England national team to the world of real estate. Along with Welsh winger Ryan Giggs, the pair have opened luxury hotels, upmarket nightclubs, and restaurants headed by Michelin-starred chefs.

Their latest project comprises two of the tallest towers in a predominantly low-rise city. Thirty-two stories of luxury apartments, ‘leisure space’ and a five-star hotel will be named after the patron saint of British police, St. Michael, alluding to the demolition of the Bootle Street Police Station next door. The pair have promised to retain the jobs lost from the Sir Ralph Abercromby, and will install the 1950s oak bar in an allocated ‘leisure space.’

But the pub’s locals have rallied on social media, and along with other citizens are voicing their complaints to the developers. Video visualizations show the towers imposing over the 19th-century Manchester Town Hall and surrounding Victorian and Georgian streets, underlining the opposition of Historic England, a British government heritage agency.

Neville announced that he has asked the local government council not to consider the St. Michael’s plans just yet, while they make “refinements to the project,” giving some hope to opponents of the plan.

Manchester recently bulldozed another early 19th-century boozer, the Smith’s Arms. That time, it was in a partnership between Manchester City Council and the Abu Dhabi royal family-owned Manchester City football club, Manchester United’s eternal rivals.

Intrinsically linked to radical politics, industry, and soccer, Manchester’s modern renaissance leaves a bitter taste, at a pub that carries all three in its heart.

Let’s Pick Garlic All Day and Drink Some Cherry Wine

May.15.17

Let’s Pick Garlic All Day and Drink Some Cherry Wine

by Chris Malloy

Visciolata in Italy

After sun-blasted days working the garlic harvest in a rural part of the Apennine Mountains in Le Marche, Italy, after hoeing bean plants or feeding pigs or husking barley or whatever we were doing that August, there was always visciolata.

“Christof!” the farm’s patriarch addressed me after my first day. Paolo was roughly 50, tan as a catcher’s mitt, short, and pure pazzo (crazy). “Have you ever tasted visciolata? NO!? You are in for A TREAT.”

The garlic was down the mountain in Paolo’s lowest field. With his blue tractor he dragged a blade through clay soil, freeing bulbs. For eight hours a day I followed with his sons and wife and others, lobbing garlic into the cart hitched to his ride. Sometimes he slit a bulb and we gave him shit.

Sometimes he pretended to fall asleep at the wheel as he careened down the slope. After a few lines of garlic we’d stop for a drink, looking across the expanse of low hinterlands down from Paolo’s fields at distant Mount Strega.

After work, after sausages made from his sheep and risotto flecked with zucchini from his field, after rivers of local Verdicchio wine, after the day had blazed out and the dusk had faded to deep night, it was time.

Vi-scio-la-ta. Cherry wine. The drink is legend in the western wilderness of Le Marche. Like so many Italian aperitivi and digestivi, visciolata occupies a zone somewhere between food, booze, and medicine. I have heard of vintners cutting visciolata with grape wine. Given the flavor of the visciolatas I tried, I’d be surprised if the bottles Paolo got from his neighbors were made from anything but 100 percent cherry.

Visciolata was poured at night. In the glass, the cherry wine is dark as liquid roses. Swirl it, and behold the surprisingly syrupy viscosity. The aroma of candied cherries and cinnamon and vanilla punches you in a distant part of the mind, in a zone of old travels and youthful dreams of the exotic and songs from past decades.

Stars burned over the mountain. Torches glowed around our outdoor table on nights we had a large crew done laboring on Paolo’s farm. A sip of visciolata melted the stress, but not the memory of the day’s work. The sweet, dusky cherry flavor had a narcotic effect. People savored their two fingers of cherry wine and relaxed, tired but happy, happy to be on Paolo’s farm and alive. People drank and joked. People watched the planets and shooting stars and galaxies. People slapped down briscola cards.

Cackling rang out from our clearing and through the mountains of Le Marche, black but for a few lighted farmhouses.

Listening to Strangers Fight About Politics While Drinking Alone Is Strangely Satisfying

May.12.17

Listening to Strangers Fight About Politics While Drinking Alone Is Strangely Satisfying

by Adee Braun

Suze in Paris

I had ordered a meal of two appetizers. “First the pumpkin soup, then the warm goat cheese salad?” the potbellied waiter repeated back to me, genuinely looking for direction in this new land of first-course dinners. “Yes, that’s it,” I assured him. I sat in the enclosed porch of a random Parisian cafe that was draped with string lights while the River Seine winked in the near distance. It was 5 p.m. and I was severely jet-lagged. All charm was lost on me.

As I ate, I flipped through that morning’s edition of Le Monde, which I had bought earlier when my phone battery was near death and I realized that eating dinner alone while staring at random people would not make me, or them, feel great. Page one featured the platinum-haired Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right party, the Front National. The French election, mere weeks away, was brewing in an eerily familiar way.

With my confusing but delicious dinner over, I ordered a glass of Suze—a gentian-based French aperitif. It came to me in a slim Collins glass stacked with three nuggets of ice. It was an inviting yellow, the color of French butter, and tasted like an uprooted lawn dusted with sugar.

Around the time I was down to one-nugget-and-a-half, I heard the hard “r”s of American English coming from a man whose back was turned to me a few tables down. His curly head betrayed the whispers of a balding crown. It took me a few minutes to realize that his dinner mate was speaking English as well. The words “political ideology” coated in a French accent burst from her corner several times. She was leaning in and gesticulating in a precise way. She seemed earnest and practical, like someone who bags her lunch each night before work.

The ice in my Suze began to melt under the robust space heaters, giving way to new flavors. Flowers and herbs now grew in the sugary lawn that was my drink.

I scanned the headlines of the latest election polls as my waiter went outside to shuck oysters for the bickering Franco-American pair. Two dozen half-shells later and the Franco-American pair was still going at it. I heard the word “Trump” a few more times from the American. More demonstrative pantomiming from the French contingent. I sipped my drink and decided that whatever they were arguing about, the European had a better perspective on fascism.

By now, the ice nuggets were nearly all melted, but my diluted Suze still had a bite.

Is There Anywhere in the World Hemingway Didn’t Drink?

May.10.17

Is There Anywhere in the World Hemingway Didn’t Drink?

by Russ Rowlands

Kalik Lager on North Bimini

The first section of my favorite book is called Bimini. Either I never noticed or the word simply hadn’t registered, despite my having re-read the book roughly every year for the past two decades. This becomes relevant, I promise.

I sat at a picnic table looking out at the azure Straights of Florida, appreciating the morning view from a random beach on the western edge of the Bahamas, on the island of North Bimini. We’d arrived by sailboat a few days prior but had, until that morning, been stuck in our marina as a severe storm blew through, frothing up the Straights into an angry green. Rains abated and calm restored, I’d ventured out in search of entertainment, something to salve the cabin fever of a half-week in a marina.

“Hey, skinny man,” called one of the locals clustered around a plastic table on a nearby patio. “Come over here and tell this woman that tattoos are perfectly safe and she’s crazy.”

I laughed and joined them. The woman was trying to tell their group that you can’t give blood after getting a tattoo; I did my best to set the record straight. We made a round of introductions and they asked about my various tattoos. I began telling stories, and the crowd laughed at the misadventures portrayed in my ink. Someone brought me a cold bottle of the local lager, Kalik, in an exemplary display of island hospitality.

“So what’s your favorite one then?” asked a less-skeptical woman, nodding to my tattoos.

I pushed up a sleeve and showed them the rolling lines of font that corkscrew up my left arm. “This is my favorite page from my favorite book, Islands in the Stream, by Hemingway.”

“What!?” Skeptical-lady wailed, arms thrown up in the air for emphasis.

“This here is the Island in the Stream, man, you know that?!”

I had not known that.

I had known that the book was set on one of the islands in the Bahamian chain but, being previously unfamiliar with the country, I’d never drawn a connection with the aforementioned section heading. It hadn’t seemed to matter what tropical rock Hemingway had been writing about.

Considering again the Straights, and the little towns dotting the east coast of the island, it was easy to see where the author had found his imagery for the novel. I could picture Hemingway swaggering down the late-night streets, drunk as a pirate between writing sessions, cursing, boozing and brawling whenever he thought he could win. Like a Winslow Homer painting, but with more daiquiris.

The friendly group of locals grew bored with my drifting reverie and drifted off themselves. It was just before 10 a.m., and another one of Hemingway’s quotes came to mind: “I nearly always drank beer for breakfast unless we were hunting lion.”

As I sat there with my Kalik, I wondered if the old curmudgeon himself had sat on that same beach, sipping a morning lager while thinking about writing. I was pretty sure there were no lions on Bimini.

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