Beer Wars

A few months ago, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation, signed by Governor John Kasich, to eliminate the alcohol limit on beer brewed in the Buckeye State.  A few weeks ago, local breweries were permitted to start selling the more high-octane suds to customers.  Breweries had been restricted to beer that was no more than 12 percent alcohol by volume.  Now, the sky’s the limit.

cookies-9Interestingly, the change was made to try to make Ohio more competitive in attracting craft breweries.  The beer business has been booming, and although Ohio already is home to many excellent breweries, lawmakers were worried that some companies were limiting their operations here because of the brewing restrictions.

When the bill was passed, its sponsors emphasized that the high-alcohol beer wasn’t designed for sale to people who wanted to chug, saying it was a “sipping beer” that was an “extension of an art form.”  According to press reports, one of the beers that is now brewed and available for sale is a triple oatmeal Russian imperial stout, which is 13.8 percent alcohol.

I like to have a beer now and then, and when I’m ordering at a brew pub I pay attention to the alcohol information about the available options.  My tastes tend toward lighter, lower alcohol beers, because I’m looking for refreshment and particular kinds of taste.

I don’t think I would even want to try a super dark beer that was 13.8 percent alcohol — which would really pack a punch.  It doesn’t sound like the kind of beer you’d drink while eating a cheeseburger.  But if eliminating the alcohol limit allows Ohio breweries to cater to people who do crave that kind of concoction, I’m all for it.

On The Bourbon Trail

9a8b74fa-da18-4735-870c-d27f65c1a73dEvery year Kish and her high school friends take a trip together.  This year they decided to hit the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky.  Today the merry band visited the Woodford Reserve Distillery, where Kish snapped a few photos and sent them along.

Interesting, isn’t it, how alcoholic drinks seem to wax and wane in popularity?  One year everybody’s drinking scotch, another year it’s vodka, and once in a while it’s tequila.  Bourbon seems to be a hot choice right now, with lots of artisanal bourbons being aged in special barrels and people sipping high-end bourbon on the rocks.  Bourbon is not really to my taste — I’m more of a wine and beer guy — but the distilling process is interesting, and ancient, and I can think of worse ways to use wood than building fine barrels.

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Searching For A Hangover Cure

Anyone who’s ever been much of a drinker knows how painful hangovers can be — and they’ve probably come up with their own theory about the best way to dodge them while still enjoying the simple, warming pleasures of a few adult beverages.

If you ask your friends what they do to avoid the dreaded hangover, you’ll find that people swear by all kinds of different folk remedies, with an almost religious intensity.  Never drink on an empty stomach.  Take two aspirin before going to bed.  Quaff lots of water while you’re out on the town.  One of our college friends contended that eating a plate of french fries covered with gravy was a sure cure, and another insisted on going out for chili dogs.  And then there are the assorted “next-day” remedies, ranging from munching dry Excedrin (to maximize its impact), to guzzling an entire pot of coffee (to allow caffeine to counter the lingering alcohol effects), to downing a large breakfast of pancakes (to soak up the remaining alcohol in your system), to sampling the “hair of the dog that bit you” (to start working on tomorrow’s hangover, today).  I’m a big believer in drinking lots of water, myself, and I am convinced that if you wake up with a hangover it’s too late to do much about it other than ride it out and swear you’ll never be so stupid again.

Now scientists have weighed in.  A study conducted by researchers from Canada and the Netherlands looked at 826 students (a perfect control group for hangover analysis if there ever was one) and examined their food and water intake, their alcohol consumption, and their resulting hangovers.  The study concluded that neither food nor water consumption had any impact on the severity of the throbbing next-day headaches and the listless, befuddled feeling that inevitably accompanies them — although those that drink lots of water feel better than those that don’t.  (Told ya!)

Instead, the study concluded, the only surefire way to avoid a brain-crushing hangover is simply to consume less alcohol.

What?  Drink less?  That’s no fun!  You know, pancakes sound pretty good right now.

Dennis And The Dictator — Continued

Dennis Rodman returned from his ill-advised trip to North Korea and promptly checked himself into a rehab facility, saying that his behavior was due, in part, to excessive consumption of alcohol while in the land of Kim Jong-Un.

Normally I wouldn’t comment on someone’s decision to seek treatment; that is their business. In this case, though, when Rodman went into rehab his agent issued this statement: “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer’ got the better of him.”

I’ve got news for Rodman’s agent — no one put any pressure on Dennis Rodman but Rodman himself. No one asked him to go to North Korea and pal around with a dictator. No one — and I mean no one — would ever expect that the dysfunctional Dennis Rodman would be “combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer.'” Indeed, we’re not even sure he’s capable of being a regular human, much less a super human. All we ask is that, if American citizens go to a foreign country that regularly issues anti-American statements and engages in repressive conduct, they at least keep their mouths shut and not make statements and engage in conduct that feeds the propaganda machine of that regime. Rodman couldn’t even meet that very basic standard.

If Rodman in fact has an alcohol problem, I hope he addresses it, sobers up, and becomes healthy. And then I hope we never hear of Dennis Rodman again.

Ancient Brews

I had no idea that a curious branch of archaeology is focused on reconstructing the hooch guzzled by the ancients . . . but it seems like a very worthwhile scientific endeavor.

Using high-tech chemical analysis of residues found at ancient archaeological sites — and some scientific guesswork — the researchers have developed the actual recipes that ancient civilization used in their brew.  In the town of Jiahu in China at approximately 7000 B.C., for example, the locals quaffed a beer-wine-sake concoction made of grapes, grain, hawthorne fruit, and more.  The Norsemen circa 3300, on the other hand, were tipping back a brew made of bog myrtle, honey, lingonberries, and bog cranberries.  (Hey, nothing like bog myrtle and bog cranberries to really add that extra kick!)

Of course, alcohol was an essential element in the development of human civilization.  Some archaeologists believe that the reason early humans stopped their hunter-gatherer lifestyle and decided to settle down is that they wanted to raise grain crops that they knew could be fermented in all kinds of interesting ways.  Studying the development and consumption of alcoholic beverages therefore seems like a good way to learn something meaningful about human civilization.

Interestingly, Dogfish Head Brewery will actually be producing some of these ancient recipes for our modern consumption.  That development will allow us to determine for ourselves the most important element of these antique cocktails:  how do they really taste?   And, upon careful reflection, would the ancients probably have rather cracked open a Budweiser?

 

When Churchill And Stalin Hit The Bottle

The BBC has an interesting story about a World War II summit meeting that tells us a bit about how the world has changed, and also, perhaps, about how it hasn’t.

The story took place in 1942, when Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, traveled to Moscow for a summit meeting with Joseph Stalin, the dictator who led the Soviet Union.  The two countries were new allies, brought together by their common foe, Nazi Germany.

The initial meetings between the leaders didn’t exactly go smoothly.  Churchill requested another meeting, which began at 7 p.m.  At 1 a.m. an under-secretary of the British Foreign Office was invited to join the proceedings and found Stalin, Churchill, and Russian Foreign Secretary Molotov sitting around the shredded remains of a suckling pig on a table covered with countless bottles of liquor.  By that time Churchill was just drinking wine and complaining of a headache, and Stalin made the bureaucrat drink a concoction that was “pretty savage.”  The meeting continued until 3 a.m., when the Brits stumbled back to their rooms, packed, and headed to the airport.

The drinking party was unconventional — although not unusual for the Soviets, whose reputation for long, vodka-saturated banquets continued for decades — but it did the trick.  Churchill and Stalin established a personal connection that helped the allies steer their way to victory over the Axis powers.

It’s hard to imagine our modern political leaders having drinking bouts and making bleary-eyed policy decisions at 2 a.m. after guzzling countless shots of booze.  We obviously wouldn’t want them to do so.  But the importance of making a personal connection remains as true today as it was 70 years ago during the dark days of a global war.  Summit meetings still make sense because we want our leaders to be able to take the measure of each other and establish relationships that can stand the stress when times get tough.

Cocktail Hour

IMG_2523It seems like every hour you are on a beach vacation is cocktail hour, but on Antigua — which is on Atlantic time, and therefore is an hour ahead of our standard Eastern time zone — cocktail hour is actually here.

My drink of choice this vacation has become a pina colada, and tonight I’ll probably order another one, or two.  Kish is astonished that I’ve ordered them, because I almost never drink distilled spirits, particularly in fruity concoctions.  Here at the Cocobay Resort, however, the pina coladas are exceptionally good — well-blended, carefully made, and not knee-buckling in their strength.  They go down easy after a hard day of beach walking, snoozing in the sun, reading, and snapping a few photos.

A Signature Drink For The Evening (Cont.)

IMG_2216After much careful consideration, Kish has settled on a white cosmopolitan as our signature drink for this evening.  Thanks to niece Amy for the suggestion!

Ingredients: 2 cups citron-flavored vodka; 3/4 cup Cointreau, 1 cup white cranberry juice, 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, lime wedges, whole cranberries, ice

Combine the vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, and lime juice in a large pitcher filled with ice.  Stir and strain into martini glasses.  Garnish with whole cranberries and lime wedges.  (Ingredients make about 8 cocktails.)

Kish likes this drink because it is tasty and looks very festive.  With its red cranberries and green lime wedges, it has a definite holiday feel to it.  Here’s hoping  our guests tonight feel the same way!

Edited to add:  The white Cosmos were a huge hit.  Kish’s rep as a creative cocktail mixer continues to grow.

A Signature Drink For The Evening

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We’re entertaining this weekend, and we’ve got some decisions to make.

What should we serve for dinner?  What might we offer as interesting appetizers?  Does the house look even moderately presentable?  Should we kick Penny and Kasey out to make sure they don’t ruin the night?

The biggest question, though, is:  what should be the “signature drink” that we offer to our guests?

Some time ago Kish decided we should always have a signature drink at the ready when we entertain, and it was an inspired decision on her part.  Some offerings have been hugely successful, others less so.  (Cosmopolitan variations tend to earn rave reviews, but dirty martinis seem to be an acquired taste.)  Whether the signature drink is a hit or a dud, however, the availability of a special concoction adds a festive air to our special evenings.

Over the next few days, Kish will be pondering this crucial issue: what should be poured from the classic Dr. Grams’ Grandmother’s Medicine shot glass?  Any suggestions are welcome.

Vodka Shots In The Belvedere Ice Room

Last night we had an excellent meal at the Bearfoot Bistro in Whistler. Fine company, fine food — and also the unique opportunity to don winter parkas and drink chilled vodka shots in a kind of man-made ice cave.

The Bistro features a supercooled Belvedere Ice Room that is maintained at a constant 12 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit.  Inside, under ghostly blue light that somehow accentuates the cold, various vodkas are stored in little cubbyholes carved into walls of ice, and trays of shot glasses rest on a table made of ice.  The idea is that vodka should be kept at freezing temperatures, and if you drink fine vodka under such conditions you avoid “the burn” of the alcohol at the back of your throat and therefore can better appreciate the quality of the liquor.

I’m not a vodka drinker, but how can you turn down the once-in-a-lifetime chance to put on a parka, enter a frigid, ice-sheathed room, and taste vodka selected for you by an expert host wearing a mad bomber hat?  Our hardy band sampled vodkas that were potato-based, wheat-based, and even corn-based, from Russia, Poland, and Canada.  Our favorite (and the favorite of the host) was the last of the four vodkas, a Polish blend called Uluvka. The host said it tasted like pure water, and it did.  (Of course, this raises the question of why you would want to drink liquor that tastes like water, but that is a question we’ll have to leave for another day.)

Incidentally, the combination of the meat locker temperatures, blue light, ice-lined walls, freezing cold hooch, and fur-lined winter coat did seem to minimize the burn of the alcohol.  That may explain why vodka is the national drink of Russia.

A View From A Bourbon Street Balcony, April 18

Bourbon Street is a pretty amazing place.  An endless stream of humanity flows past, checking out the bars and strip clubs and oyster bars and other places to take a load off and sip an Abita and suck down an oyster with some lemon juice.  Loud music, mostly from cover bands, floods out into the night air.  Most of the passersby have that bright alcoholic sheen and stumbling step, and many are clutching an outsized beer bottle or a daiquiri glass.

Coming from the buttoned-down, Bible-thumping Midwest, it’s a culture shock to be in a place where people flout open containers of alcohol and a fine restaurant can be found right next to a sleazy strip club.

Egg No

Kish got two quarts of egg nog for the holidays.  She did so because, some years in the past, one of the boys made the offhand comment that they had tried egg nog and it wasn’t bad.  That innocent remark probably means we will buy at least one container of egg nog for the holidays, every year until the end of time.  Mothers are just that way.

The egg nog has not been touched by anyone.  Perhaps the fact that the label describes it as “ultimate” egg nog is the reason.  Regular egg nog is intimidating enough without having to deal with the “ultimate” variety — whatever it may be.  Or perhaps it is because every rational person knows that egg nog is undrinkable.  Its grotesque thickness, cloying sweetness, and overpowering odor . . . could anyone have come up with any less appealing holiday drink?

Occasionally you will run across those egg nog defenders who look at you knowingly, lower their voices to a conspiratorial whisper, and say that everyone knows you need to spike the egg nog with, say, Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.  That’s how they drank it in the old days, such people will say.  Why do you think Old Fezziwig was so jolly in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

Such comments simply confirm that the long-dead Brits who came up with the idea of combining milk, sugar, eggs, and rum were seriously troubled individuals who probably, deep down, hated the holidays.  It’s bad enough to be left furry-tongued after a night of pounding rum; combine that rum with the awesome, near-permanent coating properties of egg nog and I’d be scraping my tongue for days.  No one who really wanted to celebrate the holidays would develop a drink that is just going to compound and prolong the morning-after awfulness.

Buckeye Booze

It turns out that the Utica Shale natural gas play isn’t the only boom that’s occurring in Ohio.  The Ohio alcohol industry also is growing like crazy.

During the first six months of 2011, Ohio handed out more permits for breweries, wineries, and distilleries than ever before.  There are now 164 wineries, 70 breweries, and 14 producers of spirits in the Buckeye State.  These businesses employ thousands of workers.  Some have been started by families and home brewers who’ve decided to take their hobbies to the next level; others are well-funded operations that seek to capitalize on the growing interest in locally produced food and drink items.

Kish and I seem to run across Buckeye booze everywhere we go.  At the Black Creek Bistro, which prides itself on its local sourcing, the bar serves Ohio-produced liquors.  At Ohioana events, we’ve sampled wines offered by Valley Vineyards, from Morrow, Ohio.    There’s even an “Ohio River Valley Wine Trail,” complete with promotional brochure, that allows the wine connoisseur to visit 10 wineries in the southwestern part of the state.

The local sourcing movement is great for the producer and for the consumer, too.  The locally crafted hooch is of good quality and is non-generic.  You get options that you wouldn’t get from a large, distant commercial manufacturer — and you’re helping your neighbors, besides.

When Rivalries Get Ugly

The San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders last night.  Although the two towns are separated only by the San Francisco Bay, they are fierce rivals.

Last night’s game was marked by significant violence.  Two guys were shot, and another guy was seriously beaten in a stadium bathroom.  The story on the violence also features a video of a slugfest in the stands between two big guys who probably had too much to drink and were mouthing off until things got physical.

I’ve been to Browns games where violence seemed to lurk just below the surface, and it is a scary scenario.  After all, when you go to a professional football game you are sitting with tens of thousands of strangers, many of whom have been drinking steadily as they have enjoyed the on the field violence.  It makes for a volatile situation.  It doesn’t take much to move things from taunting to brawling, and once a brawl breaks out it can spread easily.  And then, suddenly, you go from an orderly scene, where you are sitting with other fans watching a sports event, to a melee where the guy sitting next to you could decide he wants to punch you out because he doesn’t like your t-shirt or can’t figure out any other way to deal with the testosterone rush.

I’m convinced that the vast majority of sports fan fights are alcohol-related.  Sports teams could cut back on the fighting if they cut back on the beer service — but they don’t because that would cut back on the profits, too.