Booze News, 3rd Edition

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?

Read the Daily Mail’s article, Enjoying a beer outside ‘makes you more attractive to mosquitoes’

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.

Read Greenfield’s Atlantic Wire article, Is There Anything Red Wine Can’t Do?

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?

Read the Reuters article, Relaxation drinks see energetic growth in U.S.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 11:11 pm  Comments (1)  
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Quintessentially Christmas

This time last year Washington, DC was blanketed with over a foot of snow.  Activities ground to a halt, and following the usual grocery rush, residents hunkered down.  Outside the city was quiet and cold; yet inside was warm and cozy, thanks to a little stovetop experiment with wine, liqueur, and spices.  A short while later I had produced some tasty mulled wine and a new Christmas tradition.

You don’t need a snow storm or a winter holiday to make and enjoy your own mulled wine, but it helps.  With DC’s temperatures hovering at the freezing mark through this weekend, whipping up batch of the warming and spiced beverage is a perfect indoor pastime.

How does one “mull” wine?  Surely this requires expensive equipment and a sommelier’s knowledge of wine.  Fortunately not – mulled wine is possibly the easiest drink to make.  Recipes are flexible and general in nature, exemplifying my drinking philosophy of simplicity and fun.  And there’s no better way to make room in your bar for a few potential Christmas gifts.

Has company visited recently?  Mulled wine is an excellent way to use those gift bottles.  Now is not the time to find your most expensive bottle.  Remember, your creation is unique because it suits your tastes; the type of wine, liqueur additions, amount and number of spices, it’s all up to you.

Ingredients for basic mulled wine are a bottle or two of red wine, some water, orange or lemon zest, sugar, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, apple slices, raisins, or almonds.  Adventurous drinkers can include a splash of port, sherry, brandy, Lillet, or Grand Marnier – whatever you like.  Taste while you mix and add what you think tastes good.

So go to your wine rack or liquor cabinet and see what you can find.  Combine your choices and heat, but don’t boil.  An easier solution: use a crock pot instead.  It will warm your concoction and fill with the house with a wonderful winter fragrance.  It also makes serving a snap.

A mug of mulled wine keeps your hands warm.  Look outside and cross your fingers for the next big snow storm.  Just be sure to put your cup down first.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 12:10 am  Comments (3)  
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Wine at the Lowest Point on Earth

The road connecting Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the few resorts dotted along the Dead Sea’s eastern coast begins flat before turning southwest and sloping sharply downward through the barren plains of the Arabian Peninsula.  It is smoothly paved, equal to any American highway.  Picnicking families, camels, and tents belonging to Bedouin nomads sporadically appear along the shoulder and in the surrounding countryside.  The landscape is bare, aside from rocky gravel and patches of scrubby grass.

Upon arrival at our destination, I see a small sign near the resort’s entrance indicating the altitude at which you stand: 383 meters below sea level, the lowest point on Earth.

Through the open front doors and windows blows a cool breeze, dry and salty from the Dead Sea.  The air smells as ocean water does, only more acidic.  The opulent resort and its environs – lush gardens through which stone pathways snake and bubbling fountains within crystal-clear swimming pools – stand in stark contrast to the ravages of war-torn Baghdad, its pockmarked suburbs, and trampled countryside.  The stress of living in the presence of constant and indiscriminate danger feels strange in such a tranquil place.  But the peace is appreciated, if only for a few days, before returning to the chaos of Iraq.

Following a dip in the Dead Sea, whose concentrated salinity reeks of sulfur and allows one to bob like a cork, I prepare for dinner – a feast of Mediterranean cuisine.  More importantly, the meal is served with a half dozen local varieties of wine.  All of which is remarkably good.  And surprisingly, it is served with a dinner as a special: all you can drink of their Jordanian wines for about ten dollars.

A few bottles later, the sun sets over Israel, on the Sea’s west bank.  The desert turns cool and the night sky is filled with stars, then suddenly, fireworks.  The group laughs at one another for our collective panic at the noise.  Fireworks sound so similar to the explosions to which we have grown so accustomed.  Glass still in hand I gaze upward at the bursting colors.  Just down the hill a wedding party cheers wildly at the display; it seems the father of the bride spared no expense for this celebration.

My colleagues and I turn back inside to conclude dinner with a nightcap in an upstairs lounge.  It has been a good day, after so many that were not.  In a couple of days I will return to the anxiety of living amidst violence.  But for now, I focus on that delicious Jordanian wine and the haze and happiness it brings.

To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, this month I’ll reflect on my time serving in the Middle East.  This is the second in a series of three posts.

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 10:53 pm  Comments Off on Wine at the Lowest Point on Earth  
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The Morning Cocktail

Rising late on a Saturday morning and taking the time to start the day with the newspaper and a drink is one of life’s simpler pleasures.  A morning cocktail suggests a European laissez faire attitude towards the day, liberation from one’s professional constraints; a bold proclamation of the absence of schedule.

In years past drinking before the noon hour has long been frowned upon as the mark of excess.  Those partaking before mid-day either had too much the night before or a larger problem altogether.  However, the of-late popularity of weekend brunch and Mad Men has begun weakening this long held stigma. 

Outside the office a single malt for breakfast might still raise eyebrows.  Bloody Marys have all too obviously signified the discomfort following overindulgence.  The feminine staples – Mimosas and Bellinis – are far too sweet.  Other than coffee (black coffee, or espresso if one is so inclined), is there not a suitable beverage to appropriately begin the weekend?

A friend’s recent suggestion provided a solution to this quandary – adding a bit of champagne to his glass of red wine.

This mixture was a curiosity.  Other publications have advocated for a glass of wine with breakfast, but the thought of combining the two was indeed novel.  The champagne’s sweetness complimented the red’s bold and substantive taste.  Most importantly, it felt like a morning drink; light but full, sweet but not overpoweringly so.  It greets the morning gracefully, much like first light through partially drawn curtains.  Hazy yet renewing.

The only reference founded named the drink Royal Plush: half red burgundy, half champagne, served in a Collins glass on the rocks.  I prefer it with just a splash or two of champagne rather than the full fifty percent – it’s just a bit more potent.

So whip one up this weekend after a good long rest.  Then cancel your lunch plans, finish reading the paper, and take a walk.  Then consider starting your day.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 11:05 pm  Comments Off on The Morning Cocktail  
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