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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

An Icy, Sober Death Is No Way to Go

Jul.11.17

An Icy, Sober Death Is No Way to Go

by Dave Hazzan

Brennivin in Heimaey

The flight to Heimaey is a deeply unpleasant experience.

About four nautical miles south of mainland Iceland, Heimaey is Iceland’s largest inhabited island, and the only inhabited island in the Vestmannaeyjar Archipelago. It’s a stunning place of green grass, black lava fields, dormant volcanoes, and a little town of 4500 souls. It also gets eight million puffins a year, including Toti, the resident mascot at the aquarium. It’s all very cute and bucolic.

But the flight here is a 25-minute experience that will send the most stringent atheist straight into the arms of Jesus.

When I asked if it was O.K. to bring water on the flight, the lady at the desk said, “Of course,” which was a pleasant surprise. It turns out it’s O.K. to bring an AK-47 on the flight, since there is literally no security. No one in their right mind would hijack this thing.

It’s a tiny plane—don’t ask me what kind—but holds about 15 passengers, though there were only six on our 7:15 out of Reykjavik Domestic. It also looks and sounds like it’s held together with duct tape and chewing gum.

It was clear going up, but the weather in Iceland can change in seconds. By the time we had reached some sort of altitude, the rain and wind began, and the plane began to rock, tilt, and fall. We were offered no assurance this was normal, or that everything was fine. The only staff on the flight, except for the pilot, was a dude in an orange vest who spat out commands in Icelandic. “Get on!” “Sit down!” “Buckle up!” “Shut up!” (I think that’s what he was saying; I have no way of knowing.)

I guess everything was O.K., because while my wife and I were shitting our pants, everyone else around us looked like all was normal. One lady flipped through a magazine. A guy readied songs on his iPod. Naturally, there was no drinks cart, and I wondered if it would be cool to crack open my bottle of Brennivin.

Brennivin is the national liquor of Iceland. A type of aquavit flavored with caraway seeds, it’s sometimes called “The Black Death.” I don’t know why. The real black death would be plunging 5000 feet into the North Atlantic Ocean without a drink in me.

I reached into my bag, which was resting between my legs. (None of this pansy-ass “bags under the seat in front of you, please,” on this flight. You put the bag wherever it will fit.) But I was disappointed.

Assuming there would be no liquids allowed on board, I had checked the Brennivin. Though I imagine it can’t be too hard to access your checked luggage in the back of the plane, I wasn’t about to unbuckle my belt and be sent hurtling through the plane. No, my nerves would have to wait.

In the end, we landed without incident, and when we arrived at the hotel, the Brennivin was there, ready. I had a long, clean shot of it.

Photo by: Jo Turner

The Rare Story in Which an Impromptu Beatles Serenade Doesn’t Fill One with Rage

Nov.16.17

The Rare Story in Which an Impromptu Beatles Serenade Doesn’t Fill One with Rage

by Anuj Juna

Beer in Kalimpong

He strums the guitar, eyes closed, and I watch this silver-haired old man bring the past alive. It’s an old Beatles number, and he hums just the way George would. The glass of beer is cold in my hands, and in a day or two I will be leaving the West Bengal mountain town of Kalimpong and riding my bike into Bhutan, where I will run out of money and make new friends.

But right now, Binod Onkle (the local pronunciation of “uncle”) has me mesmerized. His eyes are still closed, and the first few words of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” linger in the air. It’s not hard to picture a younger Binod, crooning on a stage, getting thrown out of boarding school, raising havoc in bars, falling in love, and falling out of love.

It was fitting that our meeting was so unplanned. With a bike that needed repairs, I had planned to spend a few days in Kalimpong. In the end, I spent close to two weeks there, most nights at Cloud Nine, Binod Uncle’s hotel.

During dinner at Cloud Nine, he would join me at the table, sharing wildly inappropriate stories with a poker face and twinkling eyes. Bottle of beer in hand, he would take a deep swig now and then, slipping into his memories. Nothing was out of bounds in our conversations, and the candor was wonderful.

He had an animated way of speaking, his hands moving around as the words rushed out. Every so often he would deliver a punchline without changing his expression, and there would be a few seconds of silence as I processed what I had just heard. Then, laughter, more laughter, and beer.

One night, he bought me a beer, impishly telling me that one of his guests had paid up, and he “had made a little money today.” That night, he picked up the guitar and began strumming away.

The morning I finally left Kalimpong, he waved goodbye from the hotel door. When I turned one final time, he gave a sharp, little salute.

Months later, I would remember his twinkling eyes and that salute. When I heard of the civil unrest in the hills, it was Binod Uncle I thought of first. A crooning rock star, with a guitar in his hands, and a bottle of beer never too far away.

A Totally Avoidable Error in Drink Selection at an Italian Food Fair

Nov.15.17

A Totally Avoidable Error in Drink Selection at an Italian Food Fair

by Prathap Nair

Licorice mojito in Cesena

After overdosing on golden deep-fried arancinis and hearty, brown-spotted piadena stuffed with prosciutto and squacquerone cheese at a street food fair in Cesena, my drowsy gaze lands on a makeshift stall. I’ve just had a couple of plastic glasses of the local Sangiovese wine with which I could easily see myself becoming best friends, but when I spotted the licorice mojito, it stirred some memories.

Until I found this stall, I was under the impression that licorice was mostly a Scandinavian thing. In Denmark, licorice is introduced into beer, ice cream, chocolate, mints, fudge, and candy. When I visited Aarhus last year, my friend and his family force-fed me so many licorice-flavored sweets that my memories of Danish Christmas are now tainted with a strong licorice scent.

“To be fair, I haven’t given licorice a chance,” my partner says, jolting me back from my brief reverie. “Well, now is the time,” I say, emboldened by his vote of confidence. We buy a disposable plastic glass and decide to split the drink. This was fortunate.

Elbowing out of the crowd, we walk into a tiny, unpeopled piazza with tall mustard-colored buildings that close down on us. A sense of suffocation sweeps over us. Yet as my partner’s face grows unpleasant and he scrunches up his eyebrows, I deduce it’s the mojito. But it’s more than that.

“This reminds me of Wasai (in Mumbai) where my mom used to leave me with my extended family before going to work, when I was a kid. It’s depressing, let’s get out of here,” he says with a sense of urgency.

I sip the coffee-brown slush and realize even the heavy dose of alcohol couldn’t tame the assaulting flavor of licorice, an overbearing syrupy note with salty undertones.

The piazza is empty, save for a few restaurants waiting for their last-minute customers before they close for lunch and a food delivery guy fastening his delivery cartons around his bike’s pillion. A middle-aged woman eyeballs us suspiciously as she parks her bike.

We stir the plastic straw as the ice cubes release more water into the coffee-brown slush. It’s a beautiful, sunny day in Cesena. The after-kick from the alcohol stirs our memories and our consciousness slowly but steadily blurs. We silently meditate on the small failures of our travels, and decide to flavor-code each one of them as the plastic glass of licorice mojito passes back and forth between our hands.

We’ll Skip the Long Religious Hike But That Donkey Driver Sounds Like Quality People

Nov.14.17

We’ll Skip the Long Religious Hike But That Donkey Driver Sounds Like Quality People

by Kim Green

Red wine in Ponferrada

“Our position ist here,” said Martin the German policeman, pointing to a screenshot map of Ponferrada—a town best known for its 12th-century Templar castle, in the Bierzo region of northwestern Spain.

We teased Martin for his orderliness: his rucksack contents were meticulously sub-bagged and labeled in three languages. But we appreciated his geographical exactitude. He led us straight to a little grocery store attached to a Shell station, where we provisioned for 15.

When a tribe of pilgrims comes together on the Camino de Santiago, everyone specializes; odd talents rise to the surface. My husband Hal sang and cooked; I did rudimentary translating and was best known for an ability to speed-pee without dropping the pack. Martin navigated and performed acts of gallantry: he once backtracked several kilometers to shoulder an
injured Swiss friend’s pack as she limped into Santo Domingo de la Calzada, a town best known for a poultry-related miracle.

Frida the Swede instigated wine drinking and merriment, and on one occasion, ministered to a friend laid low by wine drinking and merriment—the same Swiss pilgrim previously rescued by Martin. Providing opportunities for would-be rescuers was her specialty.

In the Ponferrada hostel kitchen, Frida took charge of pasta sauce-making; Heinrich, a cheerful German in a felt “Wander Hut” hiking hat, prepared salads, and I assembled tapas platters: sautéed mushrooms, cured meats, soft cheeses, and membrillo (quince paste). As we worked, we chefs sipped from a private stash of Mencía, a fruity varietal from the Bierzo.

After dinner, Frida and I headed outside with our second bottle of Mencía. In the courtyard, we met Ginés, an arriero—a person who transports goods by pack animal—who was walking from Bilbao to Santiago de Compostela and back with his burro, Marina, and a small dog named Escoti.

I’d previously learned the word arriero because of a Basque sandwich. At a town festival in Navarra, hundreds of miles back east, I ate a bocadillo piled high with Lajoarriero—literally, “muleskinner’s garlic.” It was a delicious dish I hoped to see more of, made from cod, garlic, tomato, and pepper, created long ago by Basque pack-mule drivers as a way to enliven the preserved salt cod they carried.

Now, here was a real live muleteer-peregrino. His dog sometimes, but not always, rode on the burro’s back. Ginés demonstrated this for us, setting Escoti delicately upon Marina with a blast of laughter.

Ginés the muleskinner sometimes, if not always, preferred his wine from a bota—a traditional leather canteen-bag. It is capable of dispensing any kind of liquid, but why would it? Spanish wine is delicious, and is often cheaper than bottled water—especially if you’re not married to any specific varietal. Ginés was not.

Bota-drinking lessons were Ginés’s specialty. He took charge of demonstrating proper bota usage to Frida and me: Open wide. Squeeze the bota. Aim haphazardly and from a great distance. Prepare for impact. Repeat.

We passed the wineskin around as Hal and the mule-driving bilbaíno sang “Adiós Muchachos,” an Argentine tango Hal’s mother taught him when he was little. “I love my burro!” announced Ginés when the song was over, a moment before the beast stomped his foot. “Joder, puta!” he shouted. (No translation needed.)

There Are No Polite Canadians When it Comes to Grape-Stomping Glory

Nov.13.17

There Are No Polite Canadians When it Comes to Grape-Stomping Glory

by Christina Newberry

Wine in Oliver, B.C.

As the grapes squish between my toes, I feel two things: slightly cold and very sticky. But mostly, I’m worried about the clock.

This is not exactly old-school winemaking, in which stompers tread slowly and carefully to avoid crushing the seeds, which can ruin the taste of the finished wine. It’s more like an episode of I Love Lucy.

I’m well past my ankles in a barrel of grapes, to be sure, but not at a winery. I’m on an outdoor stage in Oliver, Canada, with an orange feather boa wrapped around my neck as I stomp for glory, racing against time. The challenge? To coax as much juice from these grapes as possible in five raucous minutes, alternating with two other team members to stomp the grapes, catch the juice in a jug, and run it over to our team bucket. The music is blaring, the crowd is cheering, and the team of grandmotherly types next to us is bending the rules.

The competition at the Festival of the Grape is fierce—no polite Canadians here. My team pumps out 22 pounds of juice in the first round, ranking us second going into the final heat. But thanks to a few sneaky moves from the ladies next door, we fall to third in the finals—out-squishing 21 other teams.
None of this juice will be used for wine, of course—there are too many grimy feet involved for that (never mind the poor technique). It’s destined instead for the compost pile.

The wineries in this region—like most modern winemakers—use machines to crush the majority of their grapes, so being a prize-winning grape stomper gives me no inside knowledge of Oliver’s wine production. Still, with the competition over, I’m ready for some first-hand research into how the local wines taste.

I’m mentally sipping my first glass of full-bodied red when a bunch of grapes hits me square in the face. It’s the start of a good-natured grape fight, and you can guess who’s doing most of the throwing. When a particularly ripe bunch gets me right in the eye, I can’t help laughing despite the sting. I can only hope the sweet juice dribbling into my mouth hasn’t touched too many feet.

Plan Your Day Around the Afternoon Booze Harvest

Nov.09.17

Plan Your Day Around the Afternoon Booze Harvest

by Lindsay Gasik

Coconut Toddy in Malaysia

The old climber is dozing on a wooden bench, shirtless and shoeless, under a tin-roof shack surrounded by coconut trees. I can’t tell if he’s tired, too hot, or has been excessively rehydrating. Fat flies make his mustache twitch. A hefty, middle-aged man passes a bowl of deep-red wild boar curry over his head to a friend. They notice us getting out of the car, lift their glasses, and with the friendliest of Indian head-waggles, chug.

It’s a hot afternoon in April and I’m beyond parched. With little rain, temperatures in Malaysia have soared to roasting. My last grown-up beverage was four months ago in the United States, over an annual rendition of New Year’s Tipsy Scrabble. I could drink anytime I wanted—I’m older than 21 and not Muslim—but I fear the cheap local spirit, arrack, and am not about to pay the exorbitant government tax on beer, wine, and liquors. Local coconut toddy, only 3 ringgit a glass, is delicious, effective, and probably healthy. Over the past 16 Friday afternoons, I’ve only wished it was easier to find.

The barman emerges from the shed, wiping an assortment of beer-branded tumblers with an old rag. He recognizes me and head-waggles a greeting, his tidy white mustache and balding rim of hair shining paly against his dark skin. He sets the tumblers on a scratched metal table and nudges the skinny climber awake. Rubbing his face, he grabs a belt with the tools of his trade—a knife and a plastic bottle—and stalks toward the nearest tree. I’m gleeful. I’ve timed my visit perfectly for the afternoon’s alcoholic harvest.

The climber shimmies up the tree and removes a pot taped to the stem of what was a flower cluster, but is now a gaping wound oozing thin, sweet sap that, in this demented heat, turns quickly to alcohol. The alcohol content is unregulated—it ranges anywhere from 2 to 7 percent ABV, like a strong beer, depending on how hot the day is and how long the sap is left to ferment. When it’s cloudy and cool, the toddy stays sweet and bubbly like a kombucha tea. When it rains, the pots fill with water and the harvest is spoiled. On days like today, one sour sip of the morning’s harvest is strong enough to make my head buzz. I wait for the fresh, sweeter stuff, straight out of the tree.

“How do you know this place?” asks one of the men eating curry. There are no signs. This toddy bar sits on the third dirt road past the red restaurant, in a quiet row of small farms inhabited by Indian-Malays, an ethnic minority of mostly Hindus who comprise 7 percent of Malaysia’s population. I suspect that, like most toddy shacks, this one is unlabeled and tucked out of sight on purpose to avoid the Muslim-led government’s increasingly strict governance of alcohol production. It’s very unlikely that my Western friends and I would have found this place on our own.

“Local friends,” I reply.

On the ground, the climber hands over a full plastic jug and stretches back out in the shade. The barman pours the whitish-clear liquid, disturbingly like diluted bleach, through a sieve and directly into my glass, flicking aside debris and dead insects. Ignoring my squeamishness, I clink glasses with the two guys, their fingers stained red with curry. The liquid is like a sugared bread roll, yeasty and still warm from all that sun.

I hand my car keys to a friend who has more body weight than I do and settle onto the bench to drink.

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