Fifth Edition, originally posted January 23, 2012
Happy belated New Year! Booze News is back for its fifth installment. This time, The Economist provides a pair of articles on the wonders of Belgian and British beer, some thoughts from an Atlantic contributor on an increasingly popular herbal liqueur, and finally, some information on why drying out after the holidays is just a waste of time.
I’ve previously written about Belgium’s fantastic Trappist ales. And it’s not just those seven specific brewers. Generally speaking, Belgian beer is some of the best anywhere. The Economist agrees, but supports the conclusion with a bit more analysis. In addition to reputation, “Belgium is also home to the world’s biggest brewer. Anheuser-Busch (AB) InBev, based in Leuven, a small university town half an hour by train from Brussels, turns out one in five of every beer sold around the world.”
Belgium’s geographic location also doesn’t hurt: “the climate and the land are excellent for growing barley and hops, the basic ingredients of beer. Belgium is also known for its high-quality water, vital for turning out good beer.” Furthermore, “at one time or another most of Europe’s great powers have held sway over Belgium; many have left behind influences and flavours.” No doubt then why Belgian beer is just so incredibly tasty.
Looking north and homeward to the British isles, The Economist next considers Britain’s long history and culture of binge drinking. In his upcoming book Intoxication and Society, Cambridge historian Philip Withington argues it “was the educated elite who taught Britons how to drink to excess.”
However, these elites were forced to booze responsibly: “Men were to consume large quantities of alcohol in keeping with conventions of excess. Yet they were also supposed to remain in control of their faculties, bantering and displaying wit. Students and would-be lawyers formed drinking societies, where they learned the social—and drinking—skills required of gentlemen.” Thus, copius drinking was permitted so long as one could still think sharply and cleverly.”
And perhaps things haven’t changed so much from the past. “Although intoxication was a classless pursuit in the 17th century, it was the privileged who turned it into a cultural phenomenon. The affluent are still boozy… The wit is still there, too—although it is likely to seem funnier after the listener has had a few drinks as well.”
From Belgium and Britain, we head now to Argentina, home of fernet, “the liquor for all occasions. Grandparents swear by the herbal libation; the young heading out into the night mix fernet with cola and then order it en masse at bars and clubs; and no one would dare organize a barbecue, which are called asados in Argentina and are very regular affairs with friends or families, without fernet.”
What is this mysterious liqueur, you might ask? I’ll let Karina Martinez-Carter explain: “For the first-time fernet drinker, the popularity of booze that tastes like black licorice devoid of sugar might be confounding. The botanical, 80-proof fernet is no innocuous vodka. It is made from bitters and herbs, and though it goes down relatively smooth, the aftertaste kicks and lingers. It is, as almost everyone describes it, an acquired taste.”
After picking up a bottle of Italian Fernet Branca last week, I’m still attempting to acquire a taste myself. Good luck acquiring your own.
And finally, we return once again to Britain, where scientists at the British Liver Trust give us another reason to just keep on drinking after the holidays. “Giving up alcohol or going on a detox for one month is pointless, especially after the excesses of the festive season… Experts agree that a short period of complete abstinence will not improve liver health,” reports the BBC.
Instead, Andrew Langford, the British Liver Trust’s chief executive recommends “making a resolution to take a few days off alcohol a week throughout the entire year than remaining abstinent for January only.” A few days a week rather than an entire month off – that’s certainly much more reasonable.
Fourth Edition, originally posted November 8, 2011
It’s time for another edition of Booze News. This time around, I’ve collected a number of news items from across the drinking spectrum – beer, wine, and liquor. And for good measure, I’ve included a fifth item discussing a new book on fine dining. Plenty of info to keep you distracted from the decreasing amount of daylight.
Although Americans drink far more beer than wine, there aren’t many beer guides for introductory drinkers. According to Clay Risen, great books to help new beer drinkers are “few and far between — and, to put it as kindly as possible, not exactly aimed at the mainstream, non-beer-obsessed public.”
However, that’s about to change with the publication of the Oxford Companion to Beer by Garrett Oliver. Although Risen spends most of his piece discussing the text’s omissions, he ultimately concludes that Oliver’s book, along with The Great American Ale Trail, by Christian DeBenedetti, are “similarly incomplete…yet still impressive in their overall depth and scope.”
Whisky – especially from Scotland – is usually considered a high-end selection. Considering that fact, would you drink whisky from a can?
WTOP, Washington DC’s local news-radio station, asks just this question. Scottish Spirits will begin selling their canned whisky in the U.S. in December, and the can is “designed to maintain the liquor’s taste.” The single grain scotch whisky “is a blend of malt and grain, with honey, vanilla, apples, butterscotch and pears.” A 12-ounce can will cost five dollars.
And speaking of whisky, Buffalo Trace Distillery recently announced they will be releasing several Pappy Van Winkle expressions later this year. The ordinarily difficult-to-find bourbon is aged between 10 and 23 years and enjoys something of a cult following. And rightfully so: Pappy’s “23-year-old bourbon was the 2010 ‘Spirit of the Year’ from Wine and Spirits Magazine.”
Good luck finding your own bottle!
Many people – myself included – feel intimidated, confused, or overwhelmed when buying wine. What type is best? How much should I spend? Do the words affordable and everyday mean undrinkable? Can you get a nice bottle of wine for under five or six dollars?
Brian Palmer argues that less means more – less money means more taste, that is. “In 1995, 59 percent of the wine purchased in the United States sold for less than $3 per bottle…Europeans seem perfectly comfortable cracking open a 1-euro tetra-pak of wine for guests. Germans, for example, pay just $1.79 on average for a bottle of wine.”
Speaking plainly, Palmer asserts: “Wine is not art. There’s no reason to believe that aligning your tastes with those of a self-appointed elite will enrich your life, or make you more insightful or sensitive.” Modern technology and falling market share has resulted in a simple fact: higher prices do not reliably reflect quality.”
Finally, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, has written a new book focusing on food, culinary traditions, and familial bonds; a celebration of “the full, old-school arc of an archetypal French dinner, from that first sip of Champagne to the final jolt of caffeine.”
Titled The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food, “Mr. Gopnik’s new book is largely about that myth and how it has influenced our conceptions of fine dining for roughly two centuries.”
Third Edition, originally posted July 20, 2011
Booze News returns for another round of entertaining and informative drinking-related news. This time, the focus is on several stories – both positive and (gasp!) negative – pertaining to your health as you drink during July’s dog days of summer.
Britain’s Daily Mail reports important information for those of us who enjoy a frosty cold beer outdoors: mosquitoes “are 15 per cent more likely to fly towards humans after they have consumed a pint or two.” French scientists tested their theory in the sub-Saharan African country of Burkina Faso, where “the team used 25 volunteers aged between 20 and 43. They gave them one litre of their local brew, Dolo, before seeing how many mosquitoes would fly upwind towards them.”
This knowledge of mosquitoes’ preference for boozers is being used to help fight malaria infections. “The increased attractiveness following beer consumption found here raises crucial issues regarding strategic planning for malaria control…and hence provides insights into the feasibility of targeted interventions.”
Who ever said drinking never solved any problems?
What’s better than a lazy, summer day? Drinking your way through a lazy, summer day, of course. And now, drinking red wine on those days might be a particularly good choice, as it “may be able to prevent the deleterious consequences of sedentary behaviours in humans.” The Atlantic’s Rebecca Greenfield summarizes a Daily Mail article (score two for the British tabloid!) reporting a new piece of positive information for wine drinkers, especially wine drinkers who are lazy.
Resveratrol, a chemical found in red wine, was found to reduce “the negative effects astronauts face when in the weightlessness of space.” Extrapolating the findings to less-active folk, the study concluded that “resveratrol may not be a substitute for exercise, but it could slow deterioration until someone can get moving again.” The take-away: another piece of information to haul out when your tee-totaling friends get down on you for your love of drink and a relaxed lifestyle.
Finally, the Reuters news wire reports sales of so-called relaxation drinks is on the rise here in the states. These beverages – with names like “Vacation in a Bottle” and “Just Chill” – don’t contain alcohol. Rather, their “main ingredients are melatonin, a hormone that is intended to induce drowsiness; L-theanine, an amino acid primarily found in green tea; GABA, a chemical that calms the mind; B vitamins, and chamomile – a plant that often winds up as tea that people drink to help them unwind.”
Their increasing popularity notwithstanding, others are skeptical whether these drinks will actually affect the drinker. Analysts at Zenith International, a beverage research group based in Britain (again!), believe “levels of ingredients in the drinks may be too small to be effective…if the consumer doesn’t feel the effect, then sales would drop off.” For me, I’ll avoid the fad drinks; alcohol has been enjoyed, in some form or another, since the dawn of mankind. So why mess with a good thing?
Second Edition, originally posted June 1, 2011
Last time, Booze News was Washington-centric. Now, it’s national! In what’s becoming a recurring monthly run-down of news articles and information of interest, here are a few news items for your craft beer and summer drinking pleasure.
Savor, Washington DC’s annual craft beer festival, has arrived and will be held this week on Thursday, June 2 and Friday, June 3. Thanks to limited availability and, in my opinion, an absurdly high ticket price, I won’t be attending. But have no fear: our friends the Lagerheads have cataloged all the other events outside the festival itself, so that “everyone has plenty of opportunities to taste many of the same beers being served and to meet several of the same brewery founders and brewmasters who will be at Savor.”
Frank Bruni of The New York Times wrote an overview of beer cocktails late last week that could well serve as an excellent Summer Drinking Guide. Bruni’s summary first provides the basic two categories of beer cocktails – the michelada and the shandy – and then identifies several variations and cocktails within each category. The result: a great short list of summer beverages certain to provide a creative and adventurous beer drinker with endless possibilities.
Another note: this was Bruni’s last piece for The Times’ Tipsy Diaries series. I will indeed miss his inspirational and informative articles.
Today, The Washington Post’s Jason Wilson penned an interesting article discussing the origins of Root liqueur, a member of the amaro family of bitter, herbal digestifs. Following his overview of root’s history – a history involving American Indians, Philadelphia’s Dutch settlers, and pharmacist Charles Hires (of Hires Root Beer) – Wilson provides several interesting recipes that combine root with rye whiskey, applejack, or brandy.
First Edition, originally posted March 30, 2011
Washington, DC is a great city in which to live, with its daily mix of news, culture, and politics, much of which involves drinking. And this week’s news has been chock full of drinking culture, from a local mixologist interview to Congressional lobbying on adult beverage legislation.
Let’s start this rundown from a favorite bar in my own backyard, DC’s Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood. The Atlantic’s Daniel Fromson interviewed DC’s own Derek Brown, co-owner of The Passenger, one of my favorite bars. Brown is widely regarded as “a leading voice in the new cocktail renaissance.”
Just down the street from The Passenger on Capitol Hill, the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) is in town this week to lobby Congress in support of the Community Alcohol Regulatory Effectiveness (CARE) Act of 2011 (H.R. 1161). If passed, the bill would greatly impede direct alcohol sales between producer and consumer. The NBWA, representing various wholesaler (i.e., distributor) organizations, wants the bill passed to maintain their profitable position in the alcohol distribution process. What do you think of the proposed law?
Finally – and in no way related to DC other than being reported in The Washington Post - AMC announced a mix of good and bad news about its “how to drink at work” instructional series, Mad Men – the show will indeed return for a fifth season, but not until sometime next year. For those of us who look forward to enjoying the show with a glass of whisky each Sunday, I suppose we’ll just have to wait a bit longer. So drink to celebrate the show’s eventual return, or drink to lament the new season’s delay – it’s your choice!