Booze News, 4th Edition

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.”

Read Risen’s Atlantic article, The Problem With Guides to Beer Drinking: There Just Aren’t Enough

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.

Read the WTOP article, Canned Whisky?  Would You Drink It?

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!

Read the Louisville Bizjournal article, Buffalo Trace to re-release Van Winkle bourbons

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.”

Read Palmer’s Slate article, Drink Cheap Wine

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.”

Read the New York Times article, Adam Gopnik on the Days of Great French Dining

Read The Economist book review, The Meaning of food: Eat this book

Read a 2005 New Yorker interview with the author, Q. & A.: The Table Comes First

Published in: on November 8, 2011 at 12:32 am  Comments Off on Booze News, 4th Edition  
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Washington​’s Native Cocktail

The District of Columbia now has an official cocktail – The Rickey.

I learned this information on my drive into work early yesterday morning from Bob Madigan, WTOP Radio’s Man About Town.  Mr. Madigan’s brief story explained that “D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans will join cocktail aficionados to read a proclamation declaring the rickey as Washington’s native cocktail and declaring July as rickey month in the District.”

The Rickey, it seems, has been a District resident for some time now.  Mr. Madigan summarized the cocktail’s 130 years succinctly: “The rickey was invented in 1883 at Shoomaker’s, a bar once frequented by politicians and journalists. The J.W. Marriott hotel now sits on the Shoomaker’s site, across the street from the John A. Wilson Building, D.C.’s city hall.”

I hadn’t tried the drink before, which was described as an air-conditioner in a glass.  Its ingredients – at least in the recipe’s modern form – are simple enough: gin, club soda, and lime juice squeezed from half a lime (the lime half is also added after being squeezed).  It could be described as an older, more conservative cousin of the mojito.  And although the cocktail’s ingredients are straightforward enough, the drink’s history is just like the mojito’s preparation: muddled.

For a quick history lesson, I always turn first to David Wondrich, who concurs with Madigan’s story recounting the rickey’s birthplace: “Back in the Gilded Age, Shoemaker’s (sic), on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., was, as the 1893 Baedeker’s Handbook to the United States noted, ‘a drinking-bar frequented by politicians, journalists, etc.’”  Further research indicated that, prior to 1914, Shoomaker’s was specifically located at 1331 E Street, NW, amidst of a portion of E Street known as Rum Row.

Then the story becomes muddled: who, exactly, invented the rickey?

Some say it was created by its namesake, Colonel Joseph Rickey, a lobbyist and gambler who frequented Shoomaker’s.  The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Felten writes that each morning, the colonel enjoyed “two ounces of the bar’s finest Kentucky whiskey in a goblet with a cube of ice, and topped with fizzy Apollinaris water. His friends — and sociable fellow that he was, there were many — soon started asking for their whiskey highballs by calling for a ‘Joe Rickey drink.’”

Others, such as historian George Rothwell Brown, claim it was George Williamson, a bartender (and political power broker) at Shoomaker’s.  In his 1930 book Washington: A Not Too Serious History, Brown states that Williamson prepared a whisky and fizzy water drink for Rickey, but also included half a lime.  David Wondrich agrees with this bartender-centric history: “one day in the 1890s, a bartender at Shoemaker’s handed the colonel a little something he was working on — perhaps the one drink known to mixology that can cut through the Precambrian swamp that is the capital in summer.”

Regardless of creator, everyone agrees the cocktail’s recipe quickly changed.  By the 1890s – only about a decade later – Gin Rickeys had replaced the whisky-based rickeys as they were originally preferred by both Rickey and Williamson.  Not everyone agreed with the new gin fad of the late 1800s and early 1900s: “an aged acquaintance of Rickey’s wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post in 1925, lamenting that the colonel’s ‘name was brought to disgrace by being connected with a decoction of which gin is the component part of chief value in this degenerate age.’”

So, just under a century-and-a-half after its creation, the Rickey is now officially a part of Washington.  Thanks to the City Council for formalizing a long-standing piece of Washington tradition.

Picture courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Published in: on July 15, 2011 at 9:36 am  Comments Off on Washington​’s Native Cocktail  
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