Imbibe Hour


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes the season... just doesn't click for beer...

When I am out looking for new things, sometimes I grab a beer style I don't normally buy. I do this because I am all for:
1) good beer, 2) new imbibing experiences.

I am a big fan normally of Belgian Tripels, and a style of Belgian Ales called Saisons (seasonals) was what got me curious.

I was in a store and saw a well known, obscure, not to mention "expensive" seasonal release known as Phantôme Hiver (winter). I decided to try it out, pairing another Saison known as Urthel with it.

The results and experiences below, probably will forever etch my memory... to never have this style of beer more than likely EVER again.

Watch to find out why:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

This bird has fight in it, and Old Grand-Dad has a few tricks still up its sleeve

I don't like old Grand-Dad. No honestly, I tried the 86 and found it weak and pointless, the 100 was marginally better but had a taste of cigarettes and ashes mostly. Looking in to Old Grand-Dad hadn't been fun.

However, many bourbon fans seemed to point out that the 114 (the last of the OGDs) was the best one and worth trying. Worth trying? I was skeptical. This whiskey nevertheless has been around for a long time. It had been taken over from National Distillers in 1987 by Jim Beam and the Old Grand-Dad has had a long history. When I thought back about it... it didn't seem right trying only 2 of the 3 and not all of them, so why not!

I had to make a comparison of course and the perfect one I though of was Fighting Cock brand made by Heaven Hill. It's a slightly lower proof bourbon at 103, and I always wanted to have it but couldn't find a reason. Now I had a perfect pairing to compare.

Both these bourbons tasted better when cut slightly to 95 proof. Their noses opened up and certain tastes came up. Fighting Cock I think is a perfect cigar bourbon, and the Old Grand-Dad when cut to 95, while being a bit too wet and not much body brings out a surprising honey finish.

To see more about it, watch the video reviews below:


Friday, November 19, 2010

Hunting close to home, DC dusty hunt brings up treasure and history

When I got in to tasting and enjoying bourbon and exploring it more, I discovered many people in the same boat. As times have changed and the Internet has made the world a smaller place, we can all get online in numerous forums to talk about our same joys. Those joys can be anything, cars, beer, paintings, movies, music... you name it there is an Internet forum you can find to talk about it. You can even get more specific... there probably is a forum for toy collectors, but I'll even take a wild guess there is a forum for toy DOLL collectors... even more how about toy doll babies? How did I do? I haven't googled it yet.. but I am guessing I am close... but I think you understand what I am saying.

There is a forum called "Straight Bourbon" I frequent often. I spend much time there reading up and talking with other bourbon imbibers, mostly reading than posting. It's a good community which on the Internet is rare. Luckily there aren't a lot of egos and jackasses giving their moronic opinions in the blunt form and justification of "you suck", which seems so ubiquitous on the Internet these days.

However, I discovered something that I hadn't heard before while reading the forum. Many bourbon fans were doing something called "dusty hunting". Dusty hunting? What is that I wondered? Suddenly my mind flashed back to Ted Haigh's Vintage cocktail book. That book was filled with numerous pictures of old bottles of liquor that he collected. They looked really neat I thought as he talked about ingredients made in classic cocktails that don't exist anymore. What if you could actually find these things?? and then it hit me... Old bottles in liquor stores are called "dusties" because they exist usually in old stores that have been around for decades, products that went on the shelf and never got sold. They went back in a box, or most of the time sat in a shelf somewhere never to be seen again... and normally... collected a lot of dust.

Before I get in to how I acquired these items, I will tell you about what I found first:
  • A simple bottle of I.W. Harper bourbon 80 proof including old Maryland tax stamp
  • small Hiram Walker bottle of Crème de Noyaux
  • small Marie Brizard bottled in France, Crème de Cassis 40 proof
  • small Marie Brizard bottled in France, Menthe (probably crème de Menthe) 60 proof
  • small half bottle of yellow Chartreuse (I love Chartreuse MAKE ME A BIJOU!)
  • Bottle of 20 year James Martin's Fine & Rare scotch whisky
  • small bottle of Dekupyer Creme de Menthe (probably white but since turned to yellow)
  • Large red ornate bottle of Trave cherry liquer a former Jim Beam product
All these items are unopened and contain their original existing contents.

These items were all found in a nearby liquor store in my area, sitting on a shelf, no joke... collecting a huge amount of dust (except the bourbon which is probably not even that old, and was in a packaged box to keep the dusties away).

I.W. Harper bourbon is no longer made anymore. This bottle is probably not that old and from talking to some bourbon hunters at 80 proof this is probably not their best product, since many hunters seem to prefer some of the higher proof Harper's that existed. However, that is up to personal tastes. It does have characteristics though of a typical dusty, particularly three things. One is that it has a paper seal on top. Two it contains a Maryland tax stamp. Three there is no "government warning" on the label.

Enjoy the bourbon? You mean people will drink this old product? The answer is yes.

Whiskey once taken out of the cask (barrel) and bottled never ages. Unless the bottle was maybe (and this is really stretching it...) sitting in the sun or perhaps exposed to extreme light and temperatures, the whiskey inside is unchanged and is drinkable. Whether it tastes any good is another story ;)

This is why dusty hunting is exciting for whiskey and particularly bourbon drinkers. This bottle of Harper is made (I think) from a distillery that used to belong to a company called Schenley. The label mentions Louisville Kentucky which notes that it came from the old Bernheim distillery, more than likely before it was acquired by United Distillers and Vintners (UDV) in 1987. To drink this whiskey (good or bad as it may be) is drinking a time capsule. Is it worth a lot of money? Probably not. Harper ironically in the day was a "gray market" bourbon, it was sold overseas in Japan for a high cost, but hardly distributed in the US and when it was it was not that expensive. Many people might recognize it, saying... that's what my DAD used to drink all the time...

Now you're thinking what about these other products? Well they are really more for the novelty but there is always the hope in my mind that you can find a product that is no longer made anymore that was used in vintage cocktails (such as bottle of obscure bitters). My mind flashed to being the Indian Jones of the cocktail world. I could find that bitter that no longer exists, or authentic Creme Yvette, resurrect it back from life to other fans and maybe someone could make it again by tasting it. My dreams were starting to get a little too big and grand, but one can still have joy and dreams right? Just for the record Creme Yvette is being made again...

So how was I going to find these things I thought? Well I did my research but also had a lot of misses. I started off... on the wrong foot

Finding dusties is a bit of a science, but mostly a lot of misses. I first tried it without thinking thoroughly first. To find these bottles you need to go to stores that have been around for some time. .

At first I didn't do this. I went off on my breaks in downtown DC usually during lunch hour to some of the downtown liquor stores. I went to one store that many times put overstocked items out on discount.

I saw the proprietor stacking bottles of wine, while I was eyeing the beer fridge. I figured this was a good time to ask him. I went up to him and said,

"Excuse me?" (he replied back yes? do you need help?) "Yes actually, I wondered if you had any old liqour bottles?"

He literally froze in his tracks as if the cooler went to liquid nitrogen and turned him into a block of ice. He stared at me (no joke) for about 3 seconds with icey eyes as if I was trying to score a bunch of drugs or something, then slowly opened his mouth saying...

"What....... do you.... Meeeeeann????"

I then explained that if he had anything in storage that had been around in the shop for a long time that he didn't sell. He then suddenly blurted out OH no naw we don't have any of that! Miss number one.

I realized that this store really wasn't a good candidate. As much as it put out old stock it couldn't sell, it was part of an office building. This didn't fit the profile but it never hurts to ask. I carried that same mantra to other stores in the area but stayed away from glass buildings. I had a feeling about some places near downtown in the gentrified neighborhood of Logan circle. Many of the old liquor stores still remain, but their original owners are gone, probably because they couldn't afford the property taxes as the areas real estate turned into condos and restaurants that now frequent the area. Logan circle used to be filled with prostitutes... those days vanished more than 10 years ago..

Trying my luck in these stores was no better, many of the stores were run by new immigrants who didn't have a clue what the heck I was talking about. I was beginning to give up... but I read that dusty hunters get LOTS of misses before they find anything.

My quest got more focused when I started thinking about my neighborhood. I bought a house 5 years ago, in a DC area that does not have a lot of the bells and whistles that many of the other gentrified areas of DC now have. There was a particular street not far from my house where a common characteristic of the businesses that adorned the sidewalk stood out. The sidewalk if you were to walk down it would repeat the same mantra every 3 blocks... it went... funeral home, check cashing place, box brick sized church, liquor store.. repeat.... There were lots of old liquor stores in my BACK YARD.

I'd occasionally walk to the closest liquor store from my house on the odd occasion out of necessity rather than desire. I would be disappointed knowing they'd never have craft beer, or decent wine stocked. I remember trying to talk to the Asian couple who ran the place who are nice people, but find myself repeating things too often. One time I was shouting numerous times at them behind bulletproof glass about beer they could get me. "FISH what you want a FISH BEER??" No I said "DOGFISH." "What's That! I got a Michelob Light.." To say talking and feeling customer appreciated was hard to accept.

Needless to say, a light-bulb went off when I immediately thought of one place in particular. A few blocks away though was another store I remember trying to go to in the past that was literally older than DIRT. I remember the first time I walked in to it with its wallpapered old posters barely hanging on of bikini clad girls selling weak ass beer, surrounded by glass and locked grated doors. It was a lot like the other places but I was amazed that the building was even standing. The remarkable characteristic of this place was that it contained the old phone number still on the building, and it had nearly NO lights turned on inside, it was like walking into a dungeon. The few bottles on the shelf sat behind in dark recesses, you could barely read the prices in the darkness surrounded by glass and stale air. It felt like a prison in reverse.

The place was run by a VERY old but polite man. I knew this place had to have something. I made my appearance after returning from work and asked him what he had inside.

He told me he'd look around. He went in the back and pulled out the Harper bottle and a few other things. I told him that I'd come back and to let me know if he found any old bottles of bourbon.

I returned again another day, and he let me back behind the glass wall that separated himself from his clientele, where it was easy to show off the dusty shelves. I bought the bourbon from the guy to give him some decent business (I felt like nicknaming him Gramps), but then inquired what my mind was telling me. You need to scope this place out...

"Do you mind if I look around for a bit!??!" I said enthusiastically.

"Naw sure, go ahead I got all night", Gramps replied, only seeming slightly annoyed.

I knew this place had buried treasure. I went looking around and found plenty of dusty things. What I told you about already was more than likely only HALF of what was there. I really got excited when I grabbed and saw the back label of what said "La Chartreuse est encore milleure si on la déguste très fraiche mème glacée".

I held this bottle in my hand shaking... then slowly... cocking my wrist dreaming of what I thought this bottle had to be. I was correct in my guess as I found a very old small half bottle of yellow Chartreuse.

There were others that I found. Marie Brizard products such as a Creme de Casis, and a Menthe product which I am guessing was creme de menthe which once was green but had now vanished and turned in to a gorgeouse blue color. The bottle contents resembled Windex glass cleaner, and I wanted to drink it RIGHT THERE.

There were some other finds, including an old Dekupyer bottle which I think once was clear but now was a yellow. I was stupidly in another world as I bought all these things, relishing and giving them new life and appreciation. My mind raced as to how long a bottle of James Martin's 20yr Scotch had been sitting on the shelf, its label browned and faded barely held on by scotch tape so old you could never get it off.

The other thing that struck me about the cocktail liquor ingredient bottles were how small they were. Back in the day cocktails were not the grand drinks that are served and shlepped in to peoples faces today. Back then cocktails were smaller, and for a reason. The drinks were small, they stayed cold, and you slowly savored them. You weren't served a 12oz martini and drinking its warm soupy contents for 20 minutes. You got probably a 4 1/2 oz glass at largest, and it was 3 wonderful sips to imbibe and finish with much joy.

I found a small bottle of what is Crème de Noyaux which at first got me real excited. For a moment I thought I found an ingredient that is no longer in production. Turns out I was wrong Hiram Walker still makes this product, but the bottle I had in my hand was not a pink/red color of its more recent sibling, it had turned to an almond brown. Or was it always this color to begin with???? The other thing about the bottles is that they had recipes on the back for cocktails. The Hiram Walker Crème de Noyaux was to be used back in the day for a classic cocktail known as... "The Pink Squirrel", an after dinner drink as for the few of us cocktail fans know about. I normally see this drink made with what is now called Creme de Almond.

I pulled the bottle out and showed it to Gramps. "Yeah Pink Squirrel" he bellowed out, "Yeah I remember back in the day when people use to make those all the time! At one point they were very popular" he mentioned while helping someone get a pack of Coors Light. The irony was not lost on me.

We sat and talked about classic ingredients as I pulled each one off the shelf. The irony is I could have been with Gramps all evening with the things he found in the store, but he wanted me out of there so he could do other things.

I paid the guy and took my first dusty collection home. I remarked about how I was excited to take the bourbon home. "So.. you going to stick that in Ebay!?!" he said.. "HELL NO" I said... "I am going to drink it if I can!!" I remarked enthusiastically... Who knows I like the bottle and its bronze hue so much I think I'll just keep it as is for when I stock my home bar again.

"Well yeah I remember that bourbon from times ago," Gramps remarked leaving with me some final words that will stay with me more poignant than ever.

"Nobody drinks bourbon anymore..."

Well Gramps I got news for you....

yes they do my friend.... yes they certainly do.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Winter can be warm, with a good seasonal spiced Ale

Nothing beats beer sometimes. What has always surprised me the most about beer is how like cocktails, beer styles have just the perfect and right seasons. There are beers you should have in the Summer, beers in the Spring, beers in the Fall (Hello OKTOBERFEST!) and then a concept that was completely foreign to me... beers tailor made for a winter snug. Just like summer and winter cocktail drinks!!

There is a style of beer, spiced ales, which are known as Winter Warmers. These beers are spiced to some degree and have slightly high ABV, and are considered seasonal winter beers to have during that time. They are a great addition to curl up in front of the fire place, as your nose hits some possible malt, and tasty Christmas like spices.

Once winter disappears, these beers will be hard to find.

So how are they? Well I tried two of them. Fireside chat is from 21st Amendment Brewery in San Fransisco. Full Sail's Wassail is from Hood River Oregon.

Both are enjoyable, but I definitely have a preference for one over the other.

I don't know if it is winter yet where you are already, but I am getting a head start on the action! To find out watch the video review below of these two Winter Warmer beers.

One Beer.. One Scotch... Make that 2 Scotch Ales...

Would you buy a beer of a picture of winged hat warrior with the title of "Skull Splitter" standing before you???

That is what I was faced with having to try this beer. Scotch Ales or as they are know as Wee Heavy, are a fantastic beer to imbibe on.

I decided to pair this beer with a Scotch Ale from Fordham brewery in contrast.

Another important note for trying out a Scotch Ale is to use a good glass. Scotch Ale's are wonderful to taste in a proper glass known as a Thistle. It is tulip bulb shaped and looks very much like a thistle, but it wont prick you.

So how are these Scotch Ales? Check them out for yourself below!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Norwegian Beer Geek Breakfast

Beer for breakfast. What a great idea.

Having tasted Founders Oatmeal Breakfast Stout was a revelation. After tasting it more and more and quickly finishing off my 4 pack, my mind ran crazily about the idea that there could be more beers like this. Perhaps there could be a category of "breakfast beer". The dream was not far from reality.

Enter the beer from Norway Mikkeller. Mikkeller is a Norwegian brewery and they had a product called Beer Geek Breakfast.

Now my mind raced to this bottle and the joy that I could enjoy coffee beer again in the morning! Would my joy hold up? Would this beer give me another sense of wonder?

Well the results are in the video below, watch to find out!

Review of Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Oatmeal Stout.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review: Boozehound by Jason Wilson

When I first got in to cocktails and spirits, there were many sources I went to. Part of that had to do with moving to DC many years ago and reading the Washington Post. DC has been my home for almost a decade as I write this, and it has been an imbibing joy. One person who has made that much more enjoyable is the spirits columnist for the Washington Post named Jason Wilson. Many of his articles I enjoyed reading and still do as he writes stories about upcoming spirits and cocktails. I hold him personally responsible for making me like Plymouth Gin. That was a hard thing to do, since for many years I made many Gin and Tonics for my mother and never understood what the big deal was. I realized... there was much to learn (and no she didn't use Plymouth in them either...).

Jason has published a book called Boozehound, which I would describe as not a 'cocktail book' (although it contains recipes), but perhaps a first of its kind, a "spirit memoir".

Jason tells his tales in the past starting from his youth in Jersey with Sambuca, to traveling around the world chasing spirits of true Agave tequila, to great digestifs in Italy, to understanding rhum agricole and the wonder it can bring to a persons palate.

The book is not pretentious. A particular section I enjoyed a lot was about the "speakeasy" trend (or is it?) that has been happening with "cocktail nerds" and the conflicting feelings he has towards it. For many, the speakeasy trend has ushered in proper drinks and knowledge about how to drink and make true proper cocktails, but it has also created and elitist class and what I call a so called wine-snob effect. I can relate to this often myself particularly since I've been to many of the DC speakeasy places he mentions (there aren't many) and walked away with the same conflicting emotions.

The book is not a treatise on how one should seek out certain drinks, and that they should be forced to imbibe and like certain spirits. Jason walks us through many passages on his educational journey which many of us can relate to, the girl you fell for but wouldn't give you the time of day, the foreign bottle in your parents liquor cabinet and its mysteriousness, to finally breaking free making your own identity as a young adult, putting a drink/liqueur/spirit in your hands and tasting it... relishing it for the first time with joy.

That is part of the great experience in reading Jason's book. You don't just get his experiences of enjoying Cognac in France, or rustic adventures in Haiti, you get to relate and impart your own sense of joy of drinking and the places that your life took you along the journey. As many of the chapters conclude, a break in the action is taken with drink recipes. Some are standards, some are creations from other people, some are also his own, but they all make you reflect on what you just read with a sense of importance and make you want to drop what you are doing, and make the drink FIRST before you do anything further. A stinger is a simple great drink that is mentioned in the book, but when Jason suddenly gives a justification for a Stinger Royale (a stinger made with just a dash of Absinthe) after talking about his roaming in France you want to just drop what you are doing and make one on the spot.

Reading Jason's book was an incredible sense of deja vu and it should be for anyone who enjoys good drink. There were many places I had been in my life and drink was part of it, just as Jason's had been and that is the success with this book.

Boozehound isn't about drink, it isn't even about how to make drinks, or how to enjoy Cognac, or to understand why rhum agricole is a big deal. Yes that is part of it. But what Boozehound does so much for its readers is that it makes a memory of imbibing, without being grandiose, superficial or pig headed. Boozehound's greatest asset is that it connects the reader with the joy of drinking and imparts your own experiences with drinking on to his. When you read Jason's adventures as obscure, even outrageous as they might be, you're really experiencing your own joy of drink. This book isn't about him, it's about how the memory of drink, it's flavor, smells, texture, finishes, place in time of your life is so important, and why you drive and continue the same passions as he does.

You want to physically be there and wrap the glass in your hands, share his memory, and be there with him as you read the words, and dream of the tastes within the pages.

Cheap bourbon doesn't always mean bad, but tasting sometimes means dissapointment

After having tasted some nice bourbons, I decided it wasn't fair just yet to start jumping in to some of the more higher quality ones that I have to analyze just yet. Yes I have had nicer tasting bourbons, but the reality is if I want to appreciate bourbon I know I have to start at the beginning, and in many ways pay my dues. As Chuck Cowdery who writes about bourbon in his book Straight Bourbon and advocates often about learning to appreciate this whiskey simply states... there are no short cuts.

I appreciated this whiskey some years ago when I first was offered some Lot B Van Winkle from a friend of mine who is from Kentucky. When he knew I was in to cocktails and spirits, he brought out some Lot B for me to try. Long story short, the appreciation I had that night is why today I felt compelled to examine this great whiskey.

That said, I knew that it was important to go back to some old school roots first. When I was getting in to wine, there was no point jumping in to real expensive bottles right away ramming my nose in to Chateau Lafite Rothschild, 100 year German Reisilings, or 80 year aged Portuguese Tawny Ports most regular mortals like us can't afford on a daily basis. You had to start from the ground up... not just because of economics but because ... you wouldn't appreciate what was worked for you without tasting the basics of what came before then.

I set out to just grab three common bourbons to try that I hadn't had before.
  • Old Taylor (A Jim Beam product and now being distilled by Buffalo Trace)
  • Old Grand-Dad 100 (An old brand that once belonged long ago to National Distillers and was taken over by Jim Beam in 1987)
  • Old Fitzgerald 100 (A historic brand that used to be distilled at Stitzel Weller Distillery, but is now Heaven Hill, makers of Evan Williams)
It was hard to pick some of the inexpensive bourbons. Many inexpensive bourbons are made by the same people. Jim Beam makes, Old Crow, Old-Grand-Dad, Old Taylor. Many of the other the distillers make several inexpensive bourbons as well. But the bigger problem when trying to find a good inexpensive bourbon was what I call the liquor litmus test.

My very first inclination when I see a large bottle of alcohol spirit, sitting in a 1.75 liter jug, particularly plastic... for next to nothing... I usually want to run away screaming. Many of these bourbons I described fit into this category, and give me visions of cheap college nights and drunken young adults giving way to reckless abandon. Not that I (cough) speak from experience... (cough, cough).

The reality is though, some inexpensive bourbons are from what I hear a good value. I can attest that Evan Williams 7yr is fine for what it is and in a blind tasting picked it as a favorite among other low proof bourbons. A real simple go to bourbon. I have also been recommended others, but many are not available where I live.

Still instead of diving in to some bourbons that cost upwards of 50 dollars and then some just now... there will always be time to do it... but there is no rush. However, many times... you have to just pay your dues. So before I get in to some other more so called "higher shelf" products, I'll grab some cheap half pints if I can first.

I know that in the future... I will be rewarded...

Watch below to see my review of these three bourbon whiskeys.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Imperial IPA battle, Scotland vs America!

What was that phrase again of popular culture not so long ago regarding Scotland? If it's not Scottish... IT'S ****!!!

Well when I thought of Imperial IPAs I can say without a doubt that Scotland is not the first place I think of.

However, I was persuaded by some good inclination for some Imperial IPAs or Double IPAs as they are called and saw this on the shelf. "Oh this is quite good!" said the proprietor, it selling real well, pointing to the row that was nearly empty.

Intriguing packaging, and an in your face attitude. Does the Brew Dog Hardcore IPA measure up?

I paired it with another Imperial IPA I hadn't tried before and that was from New Holland brewers, trying their 2010 Mad Hatter which is part of their high gravity series.

So what happened? Was this a good worthy battle? Was this a cinch and no contest? Well watch the video below to find out more!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Bourbon tasting 3 means more joy!

Bourbon. It's like the gift that keeps on giving.

I was overdue for another tasting, and set out for another one.

My group this time was actually a little tricky to put together. I did however manage to scramble producers that I thought were different with one exception.

I found a bottle of Old Forester and thought it would be perfect for this group. I never see that whiskey around here at all. Only thing is pairing it with Woodford meant I was having whiskey made by the same producer (Brown Forman).

This was actually a plus though, I did some research and found online that they supposedly have the same mash bill and yeast content. So trying them side by side was just right. Also I was set to throw in a bottle of Blanton's but I found Elmer T Lee instead which was cheaper. I really like Blanton's but I wasn't ready to fork over a lot of money again for it right now. I also discovered that Elmer and Blanton's are made by the same distiller Buffalo Trace. Super! I was set, I'd throw in my Black Maple which I had around for awhile... and imbibing joy could begin.

I present Bourbon whiskey tasting group #3, the video is below in 2 parts.

The tasted Bourbons were as follows:
  1. Old Forester
  2. Woodford Reserve
  3. Bulleit
  4. Elmer T. Lee
  5. Black Maple Hill
The tasting notes are in the two videos below. Cheers!



Friday, November 5, 2010

One last imbibing trail ends as Turkey calls...

Turkey is a land of contrasts. On one side, it is part of Europe, on the other side just across the sea of the Bosphorus begins the entrance to the Middle East.

In my life Turkey is a land that I have always desired to visit. For once I have completed an important journey that I have wished since I was a teenager.

However, as I have grown older... wiser... traveled and lived and breathed the cultures of many places, my desires and goals of just being somewhere have taken over from desires to enjoy the simple passions of food, wine... and... DRINK!!

Are there things worth drinking in Turkey? Well the answer is Yes... and the answer is .. uh No. More importantly I had to drop my preconceived notions about a predominantly Muslim country when it comes to imbibing.

Turkey is a "secular" nation although predominantly Muslim, and my thoughts came to several things when it came to alcohol. One, that there wasn't any to be had in the country. Two transporting it across the border (from Bulgaria) would be a problem. Three that they didn't make such things and were forbidden.

Assumptions are bad things, ignorance... far worse. More important is the joy of imbibing in Turkey.. and many times... alcohol ... is not even needed. Praise be... that all my assumptions.. were DEAD wrong.

Let's talk about the two simple photos I have presented thus far. In the first photo is a drink of HaRe liquor. HaRe is a brand of digestif liquor that is made in Turkey. They have several flavors, mint, orange... many others. The one pictured here that I tried grabbed my attention because it was almond. My first thought immediately went to Amaretto, the common liqueur associated with Italy. I know someone who is fond of Amaretto and this is the only thing that they drink. I make sure to have a bottle around when they drop by...

I was very curious to try this version, that was not of the Italian variety. So... what was this to be? A really bad copy? a sugary mess??? Far from it. HaRe almond is much lighter in body than Disaronno, but I thought it had a NUTTIER taste. It was easy drinking, thoughts of easy mixing, nutty goodness, without the big syrup bomb taste that some Amarettos have. I still think of it now...

As for the beer... Well.. they need to still work on it. Efes Pillsner is nothing to write home about. I've had considerably better... but more importantly... I have had WORSE...

The reality is the things that made imbibing enjoyable the most did not always contain alcohol. There were plenty of Turkish wines to explore, some were actually kind of interesting. Unfortunately there was not much time to research it, and some were just rather ordinary.

Living in America means no products from Cuba, and I saw Havana Club rum everywhere on my journeys (Hungary and Romania included). I made sure to try the light rum out neat, comparing it to my first big light rum tasting. In the end it's a very solid rum, seems perfect for mixing, but it so far has had the weakest easiest profile of any light rum I've had. Everything was soft and simple from texture, to light cane taste, a perfect go to rum.

However one of the things that people do associate with Turkey, is turkish coffee. I ordered some at a well known restaurant and got a good imbibing lesson. When you order Turkish coffee your host should ask whether you want it with or without sugar (orta), and it will be added in the preparation. You don't add it yourself when it is served.

The waiter kindly placed the cup on my table of which you see here where I already had some tastes. It had a much lighter nuttier taste than most espressos I've had, very enjoyable. Surprisingly though, it wasn't very sweet at all, which made me think that if I didn't have any sugar in this how incredibly bitter the coffee may have been.

I was also told by the waiter that if I ever order Turkish coffee I have to make sure there are bubbles on top. No bubbles on the top of your coffee when served, means it wasn't prepared right and will not be good.

I did make one mistake... The dregs of the coffee (unknown to me at the time) are left at the bottom of the cup, and as I was enjoying my coffee getting closer to the end I noticed grit. I wasn't sure if I was suppose to drink this, my first instinct was no. However, when it comes to imbibing I like to try anything once... just once, but I somehow thought maybe I'd culturally offend someone leaving hardly half a cup of coffee just lying on the table unfinished.

I kind of gleefully decided to take some more. My mouth was filled with an icky paste that went everywhere, which went in to every crevice of my teeth and mouth it could find, echoing the words.... you stupid ass foreigner.

Luckily I still had water in my glass and a quick rinse and a few gulps washed away everything. Had it not been there it probably would have been a nasty sight, particularly if I smiled at a cute waitress across the hall. The waiter came by and I asked if you were to leave the cup like that and he said yes yes absolutely! apologizing for not telling me earlier. He also said that the way you are to drink it is to take very slow sips off the surface of the drink, slowly... until you hit the grinds, thus as taking the coffee in layers, not by tilting you cup so much and gulping.

That was a very fun time let me tell you for imbibing, and a great lesson! But one thing sets apart all drink in Turkey, more than wine and spirits, more than coffee even. It is the life of the country... and a day should never go by as far as I am concerned in Turkey without drinking it. That drink is simply... tea, or as they call it çay (chai).

Chai is not like the chai you may have at an Indian restaurant. The chai served in Turkey is very similar to a basic English Orange Pekoe and it is everywhere. Chai jockeys as I started calling them go through the neighborhoods and businesses selling tea to shop owners, and anyone who passes by. Or you can just sit at a place and have it. Tea is even served on the ferries that go along the Bosphorus, and it's also dirt cheap.

The cost of a cup of tea can vary, but a standard one goes for about the equivalent of 50 cents to 1 US dollar. However, if you are in a touristy area they will charge you five times that amount. Unfortunately on one ferry trip when I asked for chai I was ignored and wasn't served, but that was just a weird exception.

Traveling through Turkey, watching people carry ornate glass trays like little pyramids, sitting with chai in hand, cupping hot glass and watching the lives of its citizens go by was probably one of my favorite memories on this entire trip.

I am pictured here just enjoying the time to sit at a small drink stop outside Istanbul university. One of the great things about imbibing is it gives you the opportunity to just sit, relax, and stop and smell the roses. That's why I like drinking.. That's why I imbibe.

PS - Turkish chai is a black tea. My guess of Orange Pekoe was a good one (not sure if it was 100% spot on still). Orange Pekoe is considered a medium grade black tea.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Imbibing in Romania... after leaving the Magyars..

After spending some time in Hungary, Romania went by with a blur. Most of the time was spent just getting around from place to place hardly with time to settle in. Thus my chances for imbibing were far and few between.

However, I was in Sighişoara and there was a well known landmark. The old medieval village contains many famous sites that are UNESCO sanctioned, one being the house of Vlad Dracul. I am not going to spend details of who this person is cause I am sure you already know, but we were a bit tired and our thoughts wandered to the idea of putting our feet up and just having a drink. There was a place inside, and if we could ignore the Dracula figurine and reference to kitschy vampires that adorned the building we could at least relax and say well... we drank at Vlad's house.

I was told that in Romania you should have Black Beer. Black beer?? I thought? Sounds like a gimmick. What could be so distinctly different or unique about "black" beer? Well... really not much. I discovered on my travels that there were only two types of black beer. Both were literally identical to each other, cream colored heads, dark black in color, weak bodied, macro like produced. Not awful, but nothing truly different or memorable. They essentially tasted like typical Brown Ales without anything remarkable to write about. I was hoping I would be sinking my imbibing chops into something I never experienced beer wise... That... was wrong.

There are two known brands Ursus, and Silva. I suppose the Silva was slightly better not as alcohol palate tasting, but to say it was better than the other or a distinction that I would jump at the chance of ordering... that would be a big who gives a "****". Looking at the pictures the Silva has a lighter head color, if that means anything to you.

Ironically the most enjoyable and down right "whimsical" drink I had in Romania was courtesy of a cocktail that my wife ordered.

While in the Dracul house, kicking our feet up on tables that were too small... having to listen to techno music pumped in from a downstairs basement cafe that sold tiny pastries, we were presented with a menu that consisted of many items, but an interesting "Dracula" inspired cocktail was one that jumped off at us to sit back and relax and well... take in a drink as the rain came down.

Well... this tourist kitsch just doesn't get any more impressive than that doesn't it???

My wife ordered a cocktail inspired Dracula drink known as the "Vampire's Kiss". When my wife first ordered it, our waiter.. a rather young lad of barely 16+ years of age, came by and said sure, however then referencing in his best English then remarked, "I get other person... make it." He was implying that in this mode of sophistication that he could not make such a drink, which made me think he just never tried. He got someone else to do it for him in his panic of handling such a sophisticated production.

Nevertheless, someone else took care of business... while the young apprentice looked on behind the bar, as the older gentleman produced the libation. Not all the ingredients to the drink where disclosed in the menu, when I pressed for more information, I was told the drinks contents..... were a secret.

As I passed by while I consumed our appetizer of polenta I think called "mamaliga" consisting of a memorable piece of giant pork fat back, practically salt pork, we received the drink cocktail to imbibe on pictured here before you.

I must admit this cocktail that was made consisting of simple fruit juice, cheap vodka, and some basic wine, was very creative. There it was adorned with a giant impaling skewer through a lemon, as if blood (the wine) flowed on top hanging there in it's depths while the fruit sat juice sat on the bottom. There was even a flare to the skewer as if it commanded authority from Vlad himself.

Taste. Basic. Vodka, carton orange juice, cheap wine, not exactly high class ingredients, but the combination wasn't one that made you get out your gag reflex. No complaints, nothing sophisticated in palate, but a presentation worthy of applause and it felt like some thought really went in to showing this drink off that many cocktail purists here couldn't even touch. The drink seemed to have more eye candy appeal and thought in to it, then high glass ingredient cocktails I've had back home that looked just boring in appearance.

As we sat and finished our drink, I wondered if there was more I could do to imbibe in Romania.

Well it seemed like time wasn't going to give me that opportunity, or the research needed to find out. I did have some local cheap wine with dinner, but it consisted of a Merlot that was the equivalent of your typical Yellow Tail.

Not much to get excited about, but it will do the job when it's only 7 dollars a bottle (in a restaurant no less.. cheaper in the grocery store even more so).

Still.... there would be more imbibing to do, and lots to learn about when visiting another country I had poor assumptions about when it comes to drink. For the next country on the trip was Turkey... and some things ... just throw you for a loop and surprise you when you think the world Muslim and alcohol which when it comes to Turkey is a very ignorant assumption (Turkey is a secular nation, although pre-dominantly Muslim, however this blog is about the joy of drink, not about divisive politics and/or religion. The point is... the point is moot.). Turkey was a pleasant surprise for imbibing, and note even because of alcohol which yes Ginger... does exist there and is widely available! Guess what.... SHHHH... they even make their own!

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Beer for breakfast! And not just because of oatmeal!

I had been drinking quite a few Imperial stouts of late and was really enjoying them. I came across something that sort of caught my attention many times when imbibing beer. I saw many stouts listed as containing oats, and calling themselves Oatmeal Stouts. It was time... to become acquainted with such drink...

I settled in on Founders and a curious item that was called a Breakfast stout. I thought this was an odd product but if my love of espresso and beer was good this should be a match made in heaven.

The other item that I had to try for comparison and highly recommended to me was Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout from Anderson Valley. A large bottle consisting of a label picturing an idyllic mountain background, western lettering, and California produced roots even equipped with a sunny yellow bottle cap with the adoring words "Solar Powered Brewery".

So what's the verdict? Well they are both two fantastic beers but they are also dramatically different from each other. The Founders is one of the only "coffee-like" beers I have had thus far that I really REALLY enjoy. This is a coffee lovers beer, and ironically with the malt and hop profile on it, it feels like fresh HOT brewed coffee. This is no joke... a breakfast beer, you could have this first thing in the morning. The bitterness from hops, that Founders uses in all their beers, is used to balance the sweetness of the malts and also used as a natural preservative, so mentioned to me by Head Brewer Jeremy Kosmicki.

I was wondering if hops were really what I detected in Founders, but I was correct in thinking so. I emailed Founders about their great product and discovered that they put hops in ALL their beers.

Barney Flats is very different. Big sweet Ovaltine like nose, coming in with a big fruit berry finish, well balanced. Highly drinkable.

Don't take my word for it, see the video review below. CHEERS!