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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

We Don’t Make Good Wine, We Make Wine For Drinking

We Don’t Make Good Wine, We Make Wine For Drinking

by Matthew Bremner

Wine in Villaveta

My girlfriend’s family has been making wine for as long as anyone can remember. The vines in the in their small vineyard in the village of Villaveta, near Burgos, are over a hundred years old.

The Callejas don’t profess to make great wine. It’s not sold in supermarkets, or swilled in thin-stemmed crystal glasses. It’s drunk in whatever’s available, in a chunky tumbler or a porron. It was, and still is, made for the family and close friends. Indeed, the only occasion in which it passed a stranger’s lips was when my girlfriend’s grandfather included a wine barrel in the contract for the seasonal laborers that worked the farm during the summer months.

But now that the farm is no longer working, and the village is all but abandoned, the Calleja’s wine fuels their weekly family lunches, their arguments, their nostalgia, their hare-brained schemes.

Villaveta is a handful of ramshackle houses all leaning on each other for support. A community dropped in the flat, fertile middle of Castilla y Leon. On the dusty streets and in mud-brick houses, life is slow and unchanging.

But this soporific aesthetic conceals a more diligent past. Villaveta was a working village, where life was tough and luxuries sparse. Running water has only been around for some 35 years, and before that the villagers drank wine because it was safer to drink than the often stagnant well-water. The wine harvest was a necessity.

This year was my first harvest. Among the vines, members of the family foraged ceaselessly; their curved backs bobbed above the foliage like rocks in a shallow river. At the side of the field a group of old men, their postures stooped, chatted through clouds of cigarette smoke.

We tore the grapes from their branches, keeping them as clean as possible from leaves, and threw them into large buckets located all over the vineyard. These buckets were collected and tipped into larger containers that were, in turn, picked up by a tractor making its way up and down the field.

Unlike vines in most commercial vineyards with stems trained up poles or around wires, these vines sprawled across the ground like giant spiders. The dark purple grapes were harder to see; they were lower down and required greater determination to get to. I cut my hands on the stems and was stung by lingering bees. My joints stiffened, and my nails tinged purple. But we labored unconcernedly under the autumn sun.

Around 11 o’clock, I wandered back to the family home to start lunch. I often cooked for their family and had been asked that day to cook for the pickers. In a large cauldron, hunched over a blisteringly hot stove, I prepared a simple stew with vegetables from the garden and some of the family’s chickens.

It took another four hours until the pickers finished. The grapes were carried to a shed to be machine-pressed (in the past they would have been stamped on by foot), and the pickers carried themselves to the house to be replenished. As they came, we opened and served bottles from the previous year’s vintage. People knocked back the red wine gladly, taking their minds off the fields.

And when lunch did start, it didn’t end. On a long table in my girlfriend’s family’s garden, full of callouses and cuts, we drank until the tablecloth was sodden and our lips were as black as our fingernails. We ate lunch until it was time for dinner.

Canadian Rum: It’s a Thing

Jul.27.17

Canadian Rum: It’s a Thing

by Dave Hazzan

Screech in Logy Bay

For decades, Newfoundlanders have had to endure being the butt of jokes across Canada. An example: “How do you know a Newfie’s been using your computer? The screen is covered in white-out.”

No one knows why the denizens of Canada’s 10th province are the butt of these jokes. It might be that Newfoundland is far enough away that physical retribution against smug Ontarians is too difficult. Or it could be poor-bashing against a province with persistently high unemployment, which loses thousands of young people every year to the rest of Canada’s more prosperous climes. (Another joke: What do you call someone from Halifax? A Newfie who ran out of money on the way to Toronto.)

I think it’s because Newfoundland has a booming culture of music, dialects, literature, cuisine, and deep history. As opposed to the rest of English-speaking Canada, which struggles to explain how The Kids in the Hall and Rush form part of a greater Canadian whole.

And Newfoundlanders have their own drink—Newfoundland Screech. A dark rum, it has hints of caramel, dark chocolate, and molasses, but most people don’t know that since it is usually slammed back with velocity.

Though it’s bottled in Newfoundland’s capital St. John’s, it’s made in Jamaica and sent over in barrels. The reason Newfoundlanders became rum drunks has to do with one of the more upsetting parts of British Colonial history.

In the 17th and 18th century, European slave ships plundered the west coast of Africa for slaves. Though there are no exact numbers, it’s estimated that 9 to 11 million souls landed alive in the Americas—this doesn’t include the millions who died at sea, so it’s probably closer to 20 million, the greatest theft of human beings in recorded history.

After dropping the slaves off in the Caribbean, the ships would purchase vast quantities of sugar from plantations, mostly in the form of molasses and rum. Much of that went back to Europe, but plenty was left on the North American east coast, including Newfoundland, where it was traded for salt cod.

This puts paid to a smug Canadian myth—that Canada never had slavery, unlike our barbaric American cousins. This is a wholesale lie. Canada not only had slaves, they profited enormously on the proceeds of slavery in the Caribbean.

But back to the people of Newfoundland. Screech, whatever its origins, is part of the Newfoundland fabric. They even have their own game they play on tourists, being “screeched in.” You go to a pub, they announce your name, you say a nonsense phrase, shoot the screech, kiss a codfish, and then become sworn in as an honorary Newfoundlander. (There are a few different nonsense phrases, but the most common involves the bartender asking, “Is you a screecher?” The answer is: “‘Deed I is me ol’ cock and long may your big jib draw.” It means, “Yes I am my friend, and good luck.”) Where possible, you kiss a fresh cod on the lips. If no fresh fish is available, a frozen one will have to do.

My friend Lauren shrugs when asked if Newfoundlanders consider this a part of their culture. “It’s a joke,” she says. “We’ve been the butt of your jokes for so long, it’s fun to play one on you.”

Photo by: Jo Turner

A Forgotten And Underrated Hungarian Grape

Jul.26.17

A Forgotten And Underrated Hungarian Grape

by Alia Akkam

Wine in Sopron

There are kangaroos in Hungary. Three of them—Shiraz, Sydney, and the baby, Peanut—reside behind a quaint farmhouse on the grounds of Pfneiszl’s vineyards in the equally picturesque city of Sopron. When taking a break from my late-afternoon tasting, and the artfully composed platters of bread, olives, and charcuterie that accompany the arc of glasses to visit the airy loo, through the window I catch a glimpse of these graceful marsupials cavorting in the backyard. I appreciate these playful yet elegant, organically made wines even more.

“They are easy-going animals,” Birgit Pfneisl tells me. The globe-trotting winemaker has worked harvests in Chile, Argentina, California, Italy, New Zealand, and Australia, and while living in the latter, she became fascinated by kangaroos, a bright spot in a place that she admits “wasn’t my best experience. My mind was already home.” How happy she was upon returning to Hungary, then, to read that her beloved kangaroos could also be found in Europe.

Sipping my way through Pfneiszl’s wines, from a perfect random-Tuesday-night-in-July rosé to the bold “Don’t Look Back in Anger” 2013 Kékfrankos—one of Hungary’s indigenous prized grapes—to the fittingly named “Kangaroo Jump” 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon to the exquisite red blend Távoli Világ, I listen to Birgit’s story of the progressive winery she runs with her sister Katrin, who oversees the company’s marketing and sales efforts. Like many a Hungarian tale, it is laced with history and politics.

Bilingual Sopron, located in the western part of Hungary, near Lake Fertő and minutes from Austria, has a beautiful, cobblestoned city center with street signs flaunting both Hungarian and German. First settled by Celts and Romans, it is the unlikely locale that helped along the demise of the Iron Curtain. In August 1989, the “Pan-European Picnic” symbolizing solidarity between the Austrians and Hungarians unfolded on the outskirts of Sopron, with the border opened for just three hours so residents could temporarily come and go freely. Yet when East Germans heard of this sliver of opportunity, those already camping out in Hungary came in droves to seek their coveted Western freedom. Three months later, the Berlin Wall fell.

Sopron is also one of Hungary’s (underrated) wine regions, and until the advent of Communism, when Birgit and Katrin’s grandparents fled to Austria, the family owned vineyards there. With the success of the Pfneisl (the z gets dropped outside of Hungary) estate run by the sisters’ father and his brothers in Austria, the Sopron grapes were forgotten—that is until 1993, when the family reclaimed their property. As a remarkable gift, it was granted to Katrin and Birgit, who showed off her first vintage in 2004.

“The land was always in our blood. Our playground was the vineyard and we were expected to help our parents,” says Birgit. “But as young teenagers, we didn’t like it so much. We’d rather go to the swimming pool. Later, I realized wine making was pretty cool.”

It Tastes Like Shit, But This Is What We Drink

Jul.24.17

It Tastes Like Shit, But This Is What We Drink

by Kristin Amico

Pelinkovac on the Dalmatian Islands

By the fifth day of clear skies, calm waters, electric-blue swimming holes, and fiery sunsets over the Adriatic, I questioned whether I chose the appropriate vacation. Initially, a week on a boat sailing the Croatian coast sounded perfect. The ideal way to soothe post-breakup blues, I thought. And it was perfect. The best week-long stretch of unblemished weather our captain had seen in years. That’s not what I needed. I longed for simply a wrinkle, the slightest tear, in the flawless façade to prove that the universe wasn’t mocking my misery.

Then on a small terrace bar on the Island of Vis, the most remote of all the Dalmatian islands, our captain Toni summoned the owner. The older gentleman who spoke no English returned minutes later with a tray of small glasses filled halfway with amber-hued liquor and garnished with lemon.

“It’s Pelinkovac. The most famous drink in Croatia,” Toni boasted.

The six of us, strangers just days ago, now cozy companions after living together on a small sailboat, raised our glasses for a toast. “živjeli.”

The youngest of the group slammed his glass down after the first sip. “This is the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” he quipped while his face twisted as if in pain. At 22, I imagine there is much worse still ahead for him to taste.

I continued drinking. The astringent, herbaceous first notes gave way to hints of citrus and even a slight sweetness. It was strong, but not caustic. When I finished my glass, I threw back the remainder of my travel pal’s unfinished shot.

Pelinkovac dates back centuries. A concoction of wormwood and herbs from the Velebit mountains, its use was originally medicinal—a panacea predating prescriptions. Now it’s the drink of choice for the region.

Around us, locals of all stripes, from salty fisherman to Croatian women in impossibly high heels headed to the club, all put away an early-evening glass of the bitter liqueur.

D, the high-intensity guide who led us through the abandoned remains of the island earlier in the day sat down and took the last glass. In three or four gulps, it was gone. Curious about Pelinkovac’s appeal, I asked him why he drank it. He spoke as quickly as he drank. Born and raised on the island, which was closed to outsiders (foreign and domestic) until 1990, he didn’t mince words.

“Before dinner, after dinner, before going out, washed down with beer. You drink it always. It tastes like shit but this is what we drink.”

The rest of the group moved on to the crisp, Croatian white wine we had been sipping all week. It was smooth with a nose reminiscent of the nearby Adriatic. It went down easy.

I opted for one more glass of Pelinkovac. It was the bitter medicine I needed to balance out a week in paradise.

We Are Really Going to Need a Copy of This Trippy Japanese Doo-Wop Album

Jul.21.17

We Are Really Going to Need a Copy of This Trippy Japanese Doo-Wop Album

by Patrick J. Sauer

Scotch in Sapporo

After exiting the Norbesa, a rooftop ferris wheel on top of the 7th floor of a building in Sapporo, my wife and I wanted a drink. (Our six-year-old daughter Molly wanted to ride again. No chance, kid. Even though, pro tip, they sell beer for the rides.) In most countries, this would be easy. Head to the nearest bar. But Japan can be tricky that way, even in the home of the country’s oldest brand of beer. The night before, I’d been turned away from a Japanese-only private club, and I’d skipped out on the two hostess bars I wandered into, which require spending yen for a female companion to laugh at my terrible jokes she probably wouldn’t understand in the first place.

Well domo arigato, laissez les bons temps rouler, there it was, right smack in front of us. A little slice of New Orleans in Hokkaido. And as soon as we opened the door, the owner of Café Gloria, Toshikazu Oyamada, let us know everyone is welcome in his little Japanese ode to the Big Easy.

Café Gloria has plenty of New Orleans flourishes, like a Louis Armstrong statue (surrounded by empty Campbell’s soup cans because Toshi also digs Andy Warhol), red parlor lamps, and various jazz-playing figurines. And while he didn’t know how to make a Sazerac—might have been a language thing so I went with a Glenlivet rocks—Toshi does serve gumbo, but we were full of Genghis Khan, a local grilled mutton specialty, so we just stuck to the booze. And a ginger ale.

The music in Café Gloria was definitely of a New Orleans style, but not in the brassy vein of Rebirth that usually comes to mind. It was more in the Clarence “Frogman” Henry “Ain’t Got No Home” and Ernie K-Doe “Mother-in-Law” style. Toshi sat down with us to find out where we were from, the usual stuff, and really perked up as I was singing along to Dion’s “The Wanderer.” I told him I was raised on 1950s music. My mom grew up in Philadelphia when it still hosted American Bandstand and all those wonderful harmonious bands were the backbeat to my childhood. It’s a tradition we’ve carried on with Molly because 50s songs are short, easy to understand, and the most objectionable content is having to explain what a “thrill on Blueberry Hill” might entail.

Toshi excused himself, changed the music, and sat back down. He handed us a CD and wouldn’t you know it? We were sitting with the lead singer for the Fabulous Apollos, the “Doo-Wop Band From Sapporo City.” Formed in 1992, the band was particularly inspired by Earl “Speedo” Carroll, lead singer of the legendary Harlem group, The Cadillacs. The Fabulous Apollos got Speedo to be the introductory MC on their self-titled 2010 release and in the ultimate homage to the now deceased lead singer-cum-public school custodian, Toshi goes by “Earl” on stage.

The album, which of course we now own, is fantastic. It’s a wild mix of rockers and ballads, doo-wop and mambo, English and Japanese lyrics, horns and guitars, and a song entitled “The Sound of Otaru Dream Beach” which is exactly that, all delivered in under 3:00 a pop. The kid and I even jitterbugged a step or two. Close your eyes and it was like being inside Happy Days, assuming they gave the mic to Arnold instead of that damn Potsie.

We signed the concrete wall, gladly accepted the gift of a Get Hip Records showcase CD, and said oyasumi. Thanks to Toshi, we found our Nipponese thrill.

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.

Photo by: Romain Garrigue

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