I’ll Drink To That (Part II)

Sunday, 11 October 2009 06:48 by The Lunatic

Here’s a cute little nursery rhyme that my mother taught me when I was about five years old (it will take a few tries to get the pronunciation and cadence right):

  1. Starkle, Starkle, little twink -
  2. What the heck I are, you think?
  3. Up a high, the world so bove -
  4. Gee, you’d think I were in Love!
  5. The drunker I sit here, the longer I get.
  6. Why ossifer, what gives you the diarrhea
  7. that I’m under the affluence of incahol
  8. though some think’ll will peep I am!
  9. Hic.

My mother had a lot of these funny drinking poems up her sleeve, but she never drank. Ever. (At least, not after I was born – she did when she was younger).  And myself – I had my very first drink of alcohol on my 21st birthday; a very dear friend named Linda took me out for lunch and bought me a beer.  I remember it well – it was a St. Pauli’s Girl. I remember the place – Brick Oven Pizza in Brunswick center in Grass Valley, California. I remember looking forward to my first taste of beer. I remember that I thought it was the most disgusting thing I had ever tasted.

It was my first beer, and I was * pretty sure * that it was going to be my last.

But over the years, I came to appreciate beer, and other drinks as well. I like big, bold, strong beers – don’t give me no pansy ass, watered down cow piss colored brew like Budweiser or Coors or (heaven forbid) Miller.

I have a strong preference for Ales over Lagers.  I love Belgian beers (Leffe is one of my favorites), most wheat beers (Franziskaner, Widmere, Pyramid), IPA’s (too many to list), and most beers from exclusive producers like Dogfish Head (its very expensive, but you really need to try their “120 Minute IPA” at least once in your life – don’t accidentally get the 60 or 90 minute IPA, these are not the same thing). But my favorite line of beer would have to be from Unibroue, up in Quebec (they market it as Unibrew in the US). Their entire lineup is exquisite – La Fin du Monde, Don de Dieu, Maudite, Trois Pistoles. I’m now an avid home brewer, and I would be very happy if I could ever make a beer that came even close to the complex flavors of any of the Unibroue beers.

I’ve never acquired a real taste for Whiskey, however. I can appreciate a good Canadian Whiskey and I can usually tell the difference between Scotch Whiskey and Irish Whiskey. Jack Daniels is very good, probably the best American Whiskey. But much to the chagrin of my friends who are Scotch snobs, on the odd occasion that I do drink Whiskey, I usually mix it with Coke.  It ruins the whole thing, I know. A travesty, I've been told. Sorry, but it’s just not my drink.

Tequila, on the other hand is a different story.  There are a lot of really BAD Tequila’s out there – and one of the worst of all is Jose Cuervo.  What horrible rot gut! I’m astounded that people can actually drink that swill, yet it’s usually what you find in every bar across the world. They do have great marketing, that’s for sure (Budweiser as well). But as a result of Cuervo’s popularity, millions of people have never had a proper tequila and they don’t know what they’re missing! A good Tequila is sublime – it should be un-aged, which means that it is clear (it will be called “Silver”, “Plata”, “Blanco”, or sometimes “White”). Unlike Whiskey, Tequila does NOT need to be aged for the best product.  When you age Tequila, it will take on some of the flavor (and color) of the oak casks. Aged Tequilas come in “Joven” (young), “Reposado” (rested) or “Anejo” (old), depending on how long it has been aged. Note that if it has the word “Gold” anywhere on the label – like the good old rot gut Cuervo Gold – it is made by adding artificial coloring to the raw, un-aged spirits, to make it look like it’s been aged!

There’s nothing really wrong with aging Tequila, it’s just not really necessary if it’s made right in the first place.  Aging will make the spirit a little mellower, with more of an oaky flavor as I mentioned – which is a welcome touch for some people, but I think it just detracts from the pure Tequila flavor that they worked so hard to perfect.  Triple distilled is usually the best, but there are plenty of exceptionally good Tequilas that are double distilled.

Also … and this is important … only drink Tequilas that are “100% Agave”.  It only needs to be made distilled with 51% of the alcohol coming from the Blue Agave plant to legally be called Tequila, and there is a HUGE difference in the quality (and price, unfortunately) between regular and 100% Blue Agave Tequila.

Here’s a quick tip: there aren’t too many producers that make anything in between 51% and 100%, so if it doesn’t specifically say that it’s 100% Blue Agave on the label, then it’s probably only 51%.  Look a little higher up on the shelf, and you will find something suitable – but be prepared to spend a little more than you’re used to.

Good Tequila will never burn your throat, so you can sip it slowly – please don’t shoot it in one gulp, that’s just obnoxious and you’ll be missing all the subtleties of a fine drink. And the best thing about good Tequila – you will never get a hangover. Really!  All these people that say “I get sick whenever I drink Tequila” have probably only had crap like Cuervo.

I’ve done many “blind” taste tests, and among the commonly available high-end Tequilas; Don Julio always comes out on top, and Patron is usually a close second.

I’ve come to appreciate gin over the years as well. If you get the right ratio of gin and a good quality tonic, with just a hint of lime, it’s an excellent drink. Bombay Sapphire is the best in my opinion, it has a very complex and delightful flavor. Tanqueray is exceptionally good as well, and somewhat less expensive. But many of the cheap gins are actually ok – much better than cheap Tequila or Rum.

Rum?  Ah, that’s an interesting one.  As with most types of spirits, there are really good – and really, really, really, bad rums. You can find some good rums that are very inexpensive too, but many of them are only sold in limited quantities (or sometimes in their home country – not for export). For a mass-market product, Bacardi is quite good.

But the absolute best rum I’ve ever found is called “Stroh 80” and it’s made in ... get this: Austria! Yeah, you usually think of Rum as being a Caribbean drink, but somehow this hallowed nectar is flowing out of a still in central Europe. Not many liquor stores carry it, but if you ever see it on the shelf, do yourself a huge favor and pick up a bottle of Stroh 80.  Be careful, the “80” stands for 80 per cent alcohol (160 proof) – so it will knock you on your ass. Never use more than a single shot, and mix it with something nice. Actually, Coke will do fine in this case – Stroh 80 makes the best Rum and Coke on the planet. It has a wonderfully delicious almost butterscotchy aroma. You don’t really even need to drink it to enjoy it; just open the bottle and take a sniff now and then and the bottle will last a really long time!

Vodka isn’t one of my favorite drinks either, and I don’t really understand why it’s so popular. What’s the attraction to a spirit that is specifically produced to have no flavor, no color, no character and no aroma? Ok, I do enjoy a Bloody Mary now and then – maybe once a year – but other than that, I haven’t found much use for Vodka.

I have found one very good use for Everclear, however – I use it to sterilize my beer brewing equipment!  It works great, and unlike cleaning with bleach, I won’t completely ruin a batch of beer if something doesn’t get perfectly rinsed.

And let’s not forget about wine. Like beer, I prefer the more robust, complex flavors of “big” wines – Cabernet Sauvignons, Zinfandels, Bordeauxs, and the better wines from the Châteauneuf du Pape region of southern France (which is actually not too far from where I'm now living in Switzerland – I should take a jaunt up there sometime for a tasting tour!). Although I usually prefer red wines, I can (and do!) enjoy a clean, dry Chardonnay or Riesling now and then when the mood hits.

But frankly, I get frustrated with wines. I’ll find a bottle of something that I really like, and I get all excited about it so I’ll go out and buy a few more bottles (or a case) – and then find that I don’t like it nearly as much the second time I try it. And there are SO many choices that I always want to try something new – but it’s a crapshoot unless I’m able to taste it upfront or get a recommendation from someone. You will find good and bad wines in all price ranges, from all regions, from all grape varieties, from all years, with pretty labels and ugly ones. I’ve had excellent bottles of wine that were only $5, yet I’ve bought $60 bottles of wine that were so bad I was tempted to pour it down the drain (but I always manage to suffer through the bottle, somehow ... unlike my neighbor across the street when we lived in the Seattle area, he routinely dumped expensive bottles of wine down the drain if he didn’t like it after the first taste)

Other spirits?  I like Campari (straight), Galliano (in orange juice), Pernod (only occasionally), Southern Comfort (one of the few “sweet” spirits I like), Chartreuse (and not just because of the pretty color), Frangelico (and not just because of the pretty bottle), Bailey’s (who doesn’t?), and B&B (which stands for Benedictine & Brandy – not Bed & Breakfast, but this might just be the best place to enjoy one).  There’s an excellent liquor that I love from Ecuador called “Espiritu del Ecuador” (The Spirit of Ecuador) which is absolutely phenomenal – similar to Grand Marnier in some respects, but a much rounder flavor without the cloyingly sweet, annoying palate that sticks in your throat. It is blended from a combination of 20 exotic fruits native to Ecuador. But unfortunately, they have very limited distribution and I’ve never seen it outside of Ecuador.

I was actually wondering if I was losing my ability to metabolize alcohol when I lived in Ecuador. I would feel really drunk after only one or two drinks – my speech would start slurring, and I’d feel lightheaded, and just plain ... drunk. It turned out that this was just an effect of the elevation.  We lived in a city called Cuenca, which sits at an altitude of 8,214 feet (2,503 Meters) – about 50% higher than Denver (which is only 5280 feet/1609 meters). When we moved to Ecuador, it took me about three weeks to acclimate enough to breathe normally, and almost two months before I could do serious exercise or go jogging without felling like I was going to pass out. The only affect that the altitude had on me after that was when I drank. For two years, I was a really cheap date.  Luckily, once we moved back down to a more comfortable altitude nearer to sea level, I regained my normal ability to imbibe without making a complete fool of myself after one drink.

With all this talk about booze, you’d think I was quite the alcoholic.  But really, I am only a moderate drinker. I like to appreciate a good drink; and as I mentioned, I do brew my own beer as a hobby. But I do get concerned when I look back and realize that I’ve had a drink or two every evening for the past few weeks straight.

So, I have a cleansing routine that I do on a regular basis just to keep myself healthy: every three to four months, I do a full “detox week” where I don’t drink anything at all.  Not a drop. The logic behind this is twofold:

  1. 1. The liver is an amazingly resilient organ, and unless it is irreparably damaged from years of chronic alcohol abuse, it will completely heal itself in a week or so.
  2. 2. The problem with number one is that someone who is a real alcoholic can’t stop drinking for a week. Alcoholism is an addictive disorder.  An alcoholic can not easily break this addiction, and is not able to just completely stop drinking at will, even for a week or two. 

So if I can just stop drinking on a regular basis, without any serious effort, then I can give my liver a rest and honestly say that I do not have a tendency towards alcoholism. When I embark on my week of detox, I sometimes automatically reach for a beer to have with dinner for the first day or two, but it’s more out of habit than out of any real craving for a drink.  The few times that I felt that I did have a craving during a week of detox, I’d purposefully stretch it out to two weeks just to prove to myself that I could.

As I embark today on an all new week of detox (which is what made me think of writing this article in the first place) I’ll end my post with the recipe for the perfect Margarita:
   *  2 Shots 100% Agave Silver/Blanco Tequila (Don Julio, Patron, or similar)
   *  2 Shots Triple Sec (doesn’t need to be too expensive)
   *  3/4 Shot Sugar syrup, more or less to taste (mix 50/50 ratio of water and sugar, boil, and allow to cool.  Keep a small container in the fridge for emergencies.)
   *  Juice from two small limes 
   Serve over ice (never blended), salt the rim if desired

Alternately, if you’re in a hurry (or you want make a large quantity) you can substitute one shot of Roses Lime Juice for the sugar syrup and limes (it turns out that a 750mL bottle of Tequila, a 750mL bottle of Triple Sec, and a 375mL bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice make the perfect large pitcher – just pour them all together, stir, and serve over ice!)


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Comments (5) -

October 11. 2009 08:09

Very good post.  One thing, though, Mom was quite a drinker when you were a baby and continued to drink lightly for a couple of years after we moved to Spokane.  (She and Evelyn Elsworth used to sit in Eve's kitchen with a bottle of Scotch and get pie-eyed on a regular basis.)

She didn't stop drinking until she became a Baha'i, which was when I was about 15 or sixteen.  (Liam and I both became Baha'is before her, oddly enough, even though she spent so much time around the community.  I stopped considering myself one in my mid-twenties and made up for lost time, but always had reverence for the faith.)  

Her one regret, she always said, was a cold beer on a warm day.  When she found "Near Beer" she was in heaven, and drank it pretty much until the end.  No one could convince her that there was a small amount of alcohol in it.  She thought that was nit-picking.

Oh, and there is a HUGE difference between Scotch and Irish.  I much prefer a good Irish or Canadian, but a very nice Scotch is good, too.  


October 23. 2009 06:45

Well well well...quite the range of commentary on alcohol.  I am a tequila drinker myself and drink Don Julio Blanco...sipping usually.  Thanks for the commentary on how to cleanse my liver.  I dont drink much but got married recently to a woman who likes to have a beer after work.  She is concerned about calories (is their a woman who is not?) and so likes to drink low-cal beers.  I just discovered one that is not too bad so we can both drink from the same half-rack.  Becks has a 64 cal beer that is reasonably tasty.
Another drink I like is Martini & Rossi Blanco.........I noted that this particular type of alcohol  was not mentioned in your "I'll Drink to That (Part II)"...will their be a Part III? If so, would you please comment on this since I do not know anything about it's origins, content or manufacture..just that I like the taste?

The Dougster

October 24. 2009 03:23

Yeah, there's a bunch I neglected to mention - hard to list them all!  There's a book called "Big Shots, The Men Behind the Booze" (www.amazon.com/.../045120980X) which I think I've mentioned to you before.  The author is A.J. Baime, who was a long time editor for Playboy Magazine. It's a wonderfully written history of the major booze companies and biography of thier often colorful founders.  Johnny Walker, for example, was a tea blender who decided to use his blending techniques to bring out the best highlights of different whiskeys.

The Lunatic

April 3. 2010 18:19

There are some really good brandies being produced here in California and they are not that expensive especially when compared to the over priced stuff coming out of France.

Number 1 on my list is Germain-Robin http://www.germain-robin.com/. Their Anno Domini kicked butt on all of the top brandies in the world at a fraction of the price ($350 is worth it!)

Their XO at $120 is probably the best deal but even their plain old brandy at $48 is killer!

If we meet again I'll be sure to pour you a snoot.


November 5. 2012 13:16

Hi Dave.  Thanks for sharing your blog with me.  Amongst all these paragons of self control it's always nice to hear from at least one out and out alcoholic.  The consolation is that had I not been so afflicted I would have taken my own life long before you and I met.  I appreciate the advice about Tequila.  The blog reminded me of a funny experience I had in March, 2005.  I was packing up the house in San Jose to move a few miles away to Campbell, Ca.  At that time I had a voluminous bar.  Every single bottle I had ever been given or purchased pretty much.  From Rye whiskey to a Frangelica.  I decided some serious house cleaning was in order.  I put on a little show for my friend.  I explained how I started with an occasional nip of Creme de Cocoa after breakfast and slowly graduated to two bottles of Creme de Menthe a day as I made a big show of pouring the bottles down the drain.  Must have been a red letter day for the fish in the SF Bay!  

Stuart Bershtein

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