Strange Brew

Let me say upfront that during my lifetime I have introduced my family members to addictive substances of one kind or another.  Son&Heir is addicted to Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles, Daughter cannot resist Fry’s Turkish Delight, and so on.

But probably no other addictive substance has been so fully embraced by the entire family as the beer shandy.  It’s never been an American thing, but all over the British Empire it is consumed by the gallon, especially in hot countries like in Africa, India or Australia — and in summertime Britishland, it’s a staple.

Okay, Kim, my Murkin Readers ask, what is this strangely-named beverage?

Literally, it’s quite sample:  lager mixed half and half with “lemonade” (actually, Sprite or 7-Up).

Now before everyone heads to the john for some upchuck, let me give you a little case history.

I was walking though Covent Garden with Connie lo those many years ago, and it was quite a warm day.  So we stopped at a corner store (7-11 equivalent) and were browsing through the drinks fridge when I saw this:

“You have to try this,” I said.
“What is it?” asked my American wife.
“Beer and… 7-Up.”
“Ewwwww.”
“Tell you what.  I’m getting one for myself.  Have a sip, and if you like it, I’ll get you one for yourself.”
[tentative sip], then “Oh my God!  Why have you never made one of these for me before?
And we ended up having two with our sausage rolls, and getting a six-pack for the hotel room.

When we introduced our kids to the shandy back home, there was much joy and praise-singing of how wonderful we parents were, and it became a staple drink whenever we went over to Britishland, as well as at home.  (Every time I went to out Brit food store, I had to bring back a six-pack or two — until that got too expensive and I started mixing our own.)

If 7-Up/Sprite is too sweet for your taste, then use ginger beer or even ginger ale instead.

The beauty of the shandy is a many-splendored thing, so to speak.  It has low alcohol content, and if you mix it yourself, you can alter its strength simply by changing the formula to suit your taste.  (I myself prefer a 30-40% beer mix, simply so I can drink more of it.)  And it is an excellent thirst-quencher on a hot day.

Anyway, I told you all that so I can tell you this.

Of course, in this age of recipe tinkering, to the extent where we now get strawberry-flavored beer and chocolate-flavored vodka (okay, now you can go and throw up), it would only be a matter of time before some assholes decided to screw with the venerable beer shandy.  And indeed they have:

Shandy is currently undergoing an unlikely revival: part of a boom in ‘nolo’ (ie no or low-alcohol) beers, wines and spirits that has seen sales rise 50 per cent on this time last year.
It didn’t take long for canny manufacturers to realise they had a lucrative market on their hands.

And you can read the results for yourself.  (My favorite:  “It reminds me of the inside of a grandmother’s handbag — a distillation of scented tissues, Parma violet sweets and talcum powder.”)

You’re better off sticking with the classic mix:  ordinary lager (or a darker beer like a red ale, if your taste runs that way), and 7-Up (Sprite is too sweet, even for me) or Canada Dry ginger ale.  And stay away from the so-called “light” beers, because they don’t need to be watered down any more.  Ditto any craft beers, because as with any premium drink, diluting it takes away most of its character.

Amazingly, the beer I’ve found that mixes best with 7-Up is an old favorite of many people, Pabst Blue Ribbon.  (I wouldn’t drink PBR by itself for a bet, but it makes a better-than-average shandy, and it’s cheap too.)  So go ahead:  have some fun.

And don’t come running to me if, like my family, you end up semi-addicted.

Breakfast Gin

From Longtime Friend & Reader Colly Wobble (his real name) comes a letter:

A friend is partial to gin & tonic drinks (my attempts at indoctrinating him into the benefits of Macallan, Glenmorangie et al. have failed miserably) and I’d like to offer:

  1. A good gin; I know enough “gin” to begin at Bombay Sapphire and work up from there, but I don’t know the increments, nor do I want to go broke appeasing this guy’s palate – he’s a friend, not a boss, neighbor or benefactor.
  2. A proper addition to the drink; “gin & tonic” implies a decent tonic water (Canada Dry is readily available and seems acceptable, but I’m open to suggestions) but seems bland and uninteresting to me (which may be the Macallan talking….). Plus, a bit more effort at “adding a bit of spice” to the drink is something a reasonable host should strive for.

Edumakate me, please.

With pleasure, Colly.

I’m going to say at the outset that I’m not as knowledgeable about gin as I am about Scotch, but I know enough, I think, to turn what is quite an ordinary spirit into something fairly unusual.

And as always, please feel free to add your favorite gin drink in Comments.  If you hate gin, feel free not to express your alternatives.  This discussion is about gin.

First off, let’s look at the simple things about gin.  In the main, the minute you add a strong mixer like tonic or similar, there’s no point in spending a lot of money on some premium brand of the lovely stuff (vodka is the same, by the way).  Gin is and always has been a working man’s drink, so don’t let the trendies start with their silliness:  keep to the program, which is “the simpler, the better”.

That said:  you have to be careful about gin, especially in countries outside the Anglosphere, because in those places there often aren’t controls on its manufacture.  Gin, in fact, can be made simply by taking any tasteless clear spirit — distilled from grain, sugar cane, potatoes, whatever — and adding a tiny amount of diesel fuel (!!) to the vat.  (I was told this by a very knowledgeable man from Gilbeys, and it was confirmed by a totally separate source.)  So don’t get super-cheap (budget) gin because there is always that risk:  stick to the known brands.  (That’s true of almost every kind of booze, by the way:  vodka, for example, can be made simply by taking the cheap distilled liquor as above and filtering it through activated charcoal a few times until a vodka flavor emerges.)

Basically, if you’re trying to save pennies I think you’re safe with the usual suspects (Gordon’s, Gilbey’s, Beefeater and so on) but I have to warn you that as you become accustomed to the taste of gin, as with Scotch, you’ll start moving up the food chain, so to speak, and that’s when you’ll start to prefer brands like Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire.  (I should also point out that a couple years ago I failed a blind taste test, preferring Gordon’s to Tanq, so there you go.)

I’m not going to go into serious detail about how gin is made, because other people have done it already, and much better than I ever could, so go there for background.

What I am going to go into is my favorites among this wonderful type of booze.  As with all my preferences, they have come after an inordinate amount of testing (oy) and over time I’ve come to settle on the following:

Sipping (i.e. drunk neat, mostly without ice, but preferably chilled in the fridge for a few hours beforehand):  Sipsmiths, Hendricks.  The latter is sometimes called “cucumber gin” for its strong cucumber flavor, and I find it quite refreshing, in very small doses.  I’ve ranted about Sipsmiths before, and it’s seriously wonderful stuff.

Many people find Plymouth Gin a better sipping gin, but I think it’s a little flat-tasting (but still good — just watch out, though;  the “Navy Strength” variety will kick you on your ass).

Mixed:  I’ll drink any of the following brands with Angostura bitters and 7-Up/Sprite (my thirst-quencher of choice) or with tonic, but in this order of preference:  Tanqueray (green bottle), Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s and Beefeater — mostly, whichever’s on sale at the time.

Before I go onto other mixer choices, let me make a quick detour.

I want to talk about tonic water for a moment, because while the right stuff can turn your G&T into a sublime experience, the wrong stuff will make your head ache and your taste buds disintegrate.

I have found that I prefer Schweppes over just about all other brands, with the exception of Fentiman’s, which will turn your G&T into something of a sublime experience as referenced above.  The only problem with Fentiman’s is that it’s super-expensive and not easily found.  Most other brands e.g. Canada Dry are somewhat watery for my taste and should be avoided.  There are quite a few exotic tonic waters out there — Fever-Tree Indian comes to mind, and it’s lovely but overpriced — so be my guest.

What few people understand is that tonic water, even when stored in the fridge, has a very short shelf life — something like three to four months refrigerated, less on the shelf — so when you buy it, check the sell-by date carefully because nothing will screw up a G&T quicker and put you in a worse mood than stale tonic.  Ugh.  Just the thought of it as I write makes my mouth screw up like I’ve been offered a quickie with Madonna.

Other mixers you can consider with gin — as per Mr. Wobble’s request above — are ginger beer* (which I love) and ginger ale (here, Canada Dry actually is the best;  walk away from all others, even  Schweppes).   Just stay away from all “light” or “sugar-free” mixers, and we can still be friends.

There are any number of gin cocktails (other than martinis, of course — stirred, not shaken because Ian Fleming didn’t know shit about martinis, or guns for that matter).

I’m particularly fond of gin & blood-orange soda, and gin & lemon (with just a dash of water or on the rocks, with just the tiniest dash of sugar because pure lemon makes my mouth screw up, as above).

 

*Ginger beer, inexplicably, is not a popular drink in these United States but it should be.  It’s a fantastic drink by itself — unlike tonic water, ugh — but there are only about three that I’ve found which make me want to drink lots:  Fentiman’s (UK), Bundaberg (Australia) and Reed’s (Jamaica).

I don’t have any ginger beer on hand at the moment, but just writing about it has caused a powerful thirst for the lovely stuff, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Total Wine.

Might as well get some gin too, while I’m there.  It’s gonna be a long four years…

Near-Calamity

On one of the days this past weekend, I wanted to serve Whisky Macs to my guests because a) it’s a warm, festive drink and b) why should I be the only one to suffer the next day?

For the uninitiated, one makes a Whisky Mac (back story is here) with these two ingredients:

Of course, the Scotch was no problem, but the Stone’s Ginger Wine…?

Nowhere to be found.  Some bastard must have crept into my house unnoticed and drunk it without my noticing him.  I had to resort to serving the usual (gin, single malt, wine, etc.) but I was mightily embarrassed, I can tell you.

Which is bad enough, but the thought of New Year’s Eve without a Whisky Mac… [shudder]

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the range — and then the liquor store.

Women Drinking

As the West descends further into Covid Madness, articles like this (via Insty)are becoming more common:

During the pandemic, alcohol has become an easy way to self-medicate, aided by the fact that liquor and wine stores were deemed essential services from the start. Many even offer delivery, with apps like MiniBar filling in the gaps. New Yorkers who ache for fresh air and company have been able to order cocktails to go from restaurants and enjoy them on the sidewalk.

[Aside:  sorry about the NYfT link, but it’s necessary this once.]

It’s not just New York, of course, which is suffering from pandemic alcoholism, as they call it.  (Much as New Yorkers like to think that they’re the only people on the world, or at least they’re the only people in the world who matter, they aren’t.)  In fact, this is happening in London, Berlin, Sydney, Paris and pretty much in all large cities suffering not only from fear of getting the Chinkvirus and dying, but from autocratic politicians who are intent on putting everyone under house arrest out of fear — fear that if lots of people start dying on their watch, they may be blamed for doing nothing.  (The more cynical may just think that assholes like MichGov Wilmer are doing this stuff just because they can, but let’s ignore that for the moment.)

Any time people are imprisoned, or feel like they’re being imprisoned, all sorts of bad behaviors start to emerge, of course, and boozing is just one manifestation;  rampant sexuality and domestic violence are two others.

Actually, the situation of women drinking too much has been going on for a long time — far earlier than March/April 2020, for sure.

New Wife and I have been watching modern Brit TV dramas — especially crime — for a while now, and if there’s one thing you can bet the house on, it’s that whenever the female lead or heroine arrives home in the evening after a long day of catching murderers / treating patients / dealing with sexual harassment at her place of work / [insert your favorite example of female superiority here], there’s going to be a glass or bottle of wine waiting for her when she walks in the door.  I know it’s fiction, but entertainment reflects the Zeitgeist, and women drinking alone or on a regular basis when coming home is pretty much ubiquitous.

These days, there is a general, distorted sense of what healthy and acceptable drinking is, Dr. Kirane said. “Responsible drinking is reinforced by structure in people’s lives — going to work, taking their kids to school, interacting and maintaining a home,” he explained. “The pandemic has turned such boundaries on their head and created more space for alcohol.”

I really have no opinion on this issue, because it’s one of those “If A then B” facets of the human condition.  Nor, of course, am I going to pass judgment on people who have become hopeless drunks, because there but for the grace of God, etc. etc.

I am, however, going to suggest that the motherfucking control-freak politicians and medical charlatans who are ultimately responsible for all this foolishness should be tarred and feathered, but that reason is just the latest in a long line of reasons, as appear on these pages on pretty much a weekly basis, for such an action.

Taste Test

I will confess that I am no longer the beer drinker I used to be.  [pause to let howls of rude laughter from The Englishman and the other regulars at the King’s Arms to die down]  Seriously, I have.

As I’ve matured in years, I’ve moved on to spirits like gin, Scotch and [list of spirits redacted because of length]. Nevertheless, I still enjoy a beer or two or three, depending on a) the beer and b) the company I’m socializing with.

My besetting problem is that I just cannot find a decent beer in the U.S. that can hold a candle to English beer, specifically ales such as Wadworth 6X, Fuller’s London Pride or even Boddington’s.  The last tastes completely differently Over Here compared to its regular domicile Over There;  I suspect it doesn’t travel well in cans — does any beer? — and although London Pride does not suffer the same fate, I either have to go rooting for it in divers liquor stores hereabouts — it does not have good distribution — or else head to The Londoner several miles away, which means I can’t drive back because, well, pints.

And I don’t want to drive all the way up to Boulder CO just to buy Wadworth 6X because quite frankly, it’s sold in cans and even 6X liketh the cans not (when I’ve drunk them Over There), and I’m not going to drive a thousand miles or whatever it is, only to find shit beer at the end of it.

Likewise, I’m not interested in touring the “craft” breweries around here (even though there are dozens) because in the past I’ve discovered that recommendations from others always fall short.  (Readers please take note before you offer up suggestions in Comments.)

I’ve often thought that Mexican Modelo Negro is the closest in taste to the English ales, but until now I’ve never bothered to test the hypothesis.  So as a public service, I set one up.  Here are the culprits:

As you can see, the Negro is considerably darker than the Pride, and drunk side by side, it has a harshly-bitter taste compared to the English ale.  (I should also add that I got rid of some of the Negro’s fizz, and let it warm up just a little from refrigerator temperature as I did with the Pride.  Don’t tell me I shouldn’t do that, by the way:  I loathe fizzy drinks of any kind, and dislike ice-cold beer unless drunk on a hot day in South Africa, when I drink Castle Lager in any case.)

The worst thing about the Negro (speaking from past experience) is that after just two or three of the things, my mouth starts to taste like I’ve been drinking vulture vomit and I’m forced to change to something better-tasting or at least a little sweeter (e.g. gin, dark rum & Coke or Southern Comfort), and we ahem  experienced drinkers all know where that action takes us.  That taste, by the way, never happens to me when I’m drinking beer in England and once embarked on a course of 6X or London Pride I stick with it, as many of the aforesaid denizens of Wiltshire and London may attest.

Mr. Free Market doesn’t frequent pubs all that often, as he doesn’t like getting “full” on beer, and drinking whisky at British pub prices makes too huge a dent in even his capacious wallet.  So when I go Over There, we end up drinking either in his garden (in summer) or his living room (all other times) and because there’s no driving involved, only stair-climbing (don’t ask how many stairs are involved in negotiating Free Market Towers), I end up getting a lot more shitfaced than I do at the King’s Arms, where I generally have to call time after only half a dozen pints so I can find my way home, wherever that is.  No such restriction exists at the Towers, which means I have, on occasion, had to sleep (okay, pass out) in one of the several living rooms or parlors that are scattered about the ground floor.

Anyway, what disturbs me in all this was a conversation I once had with Mr. FM, in which he confessed that he’d rather lost his taste for beer — and the awful thought occurred to me that perhaps I may be heading in that direction too.

So, Readers:  have any of you discovered a similar scenario in your drinking?  (As always, I’m not interested in hearing from casual drinkers or teetotalers:  your opinions are as those of a virgin on sex etiquette at an orgy.)  Let’s hear from The Well-Exercised Elbow Set.

Har Har Har

Responding to yesterday’s post about Glen Fohdry single malt, Reader Roy waxed rhapsodic about various single malt Scotches, ending with:

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I still like fine bourbon whiskey too.

…which reminded me of the old homo joke:  “Women are okay, but they’re not like the real thing.”

I feel the same way about bourbon.