Booze News, 5th Edition

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.

Read the Economist article, Belgian Beer: Brewed force

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.”

Read The Economist article, England’s booze culture: Always with us

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.

Read Martinez-Carter’s Atlantic article, Fernet: The Best Liquor You’re (Still) Not Yet Drinking

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.

Read the BBC article, Detoxing in January is futile, says liver charity

Published in: on January 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm  Comments (2)  
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Hidden in Plain Sight

Connecticut Avenue runs the length of the northwest quadrant of Washington and is a central commuter artery between downtown DC and suburban Maryland.  It connects most of the city’s northwest neighborhoods, from Lafayette and Farragut Squares, through Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, to Chevy Chase in the north.  And along this avenue at the city’s northwest edge is a gem to which I have been recently introduced.

Chevy Chase Wine and Spirits lies just south of the traffic circle at Western Avenue, where the district becomes Maryland’s affluent Montgomery County.  A conversation with a colleague about hard to find Belgian beers led to us discussing the store’s extensive beer selection, numbering over 1,200.  While I know several excellent downtown beer and wine markets, this was new information.  Not surprisingly, I was unaware of the store because I spend little time in upper Northwest.

I was determined to visit the new store as soon as possible and took advantage of the light traffic over Thanksgiving weekend, when most city residents leave town.  The store’s selection – as well as the absence of city traffic – did not disappoint.

The store’s tiny and easily overlooked frontage hides its impressive and extensive selection.  Although small, the store contains a massive amount of beer from around the globe; rows of bottles line the walls, doorframes, and aisles.  It seemed every horizontal surface available held several microbrews or imports.

Inside I casually and carefully wandered the narrow aisles; I was in no hurry and slowly explored the geographically-organized selections.  Should I choose a few bottles from the Baltic countries?  Or perhaps a few from Germany?  Ultimately I decided upon a few Belgians: a small Chimay blue; an Achel Blonde; a large Saison Dupont; and for good measure, a Full Sail Pale Ale, an Oregon microbrew recommended during the earlier conversation from which I learned about the store.

The drive back home took me back south along Connecticut, just after sunset.  As I passed embassies, restaurants, and apartment buildings, the bottles rattled against one another, a pleasant reminder of my new source of rare international brews.

Published in: on December 12, 2010 at 6:34 pm  Comments Off on Hidden in Plain Sight  
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