My favourite drink? Vodka soda on the rocks, no lemon. Unpretentious, dependable, easy to slap together, gets the job done. It’s basically the Ford F-150 of cocktails. And clear as rain, so it won’t stain my wife’s dress if some good-time Charlie slaps me on the back at a party. For years, it has been my odourless, tasteless, ten-ounce refuge of gastro-utilitarian sanity in a world full of foodies gone mad.
But those days are over: the vodka soda has gone the way of wine, Scotch, and gourmet hot sauce. Order one at any velvet-rope bar or restaurant, and the waiter follows up by asking your preferred brand of hooch — under the demonstrably false conceit that the human tongue can distinguish between what are effectively different varieties of windshield-wiper fluid.
Last month, when a waiter launched into an especially long list of unpronounceable Russian and Scandinavian words apparently corresponding to fashionable vodka brands, I felt as if I were in a scene from “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” I really can’t tell the difference. Just give me the cheapest one on the list were the words on my lips.
Of course, I said nothing of the sort, because I didn’t want to come off as a rube. So instead, I declared emphatically, “Oh, Grey Goose, please” — recalling at random the last brand I’d seen advertised in an upscale travel magazine.
Moments later, the waiter returned with my drink, and it tasted fine. Which is to say, it tasted exactly like every other vodka soda I had ever tasted — or, indeed, that had ever been tasted by any other human in the history of fermented spud juice.
This, more than anything else, is what I have come to resent about foodie culture: Not just that it is pretentious and expensive. Not just that it makes me feel guilty about the Cheez Whiz sandwiches I put in my kids’ lunch boxes. But that it turns us all into liars.
Jonathan Kay, “Lies My Waiter Told Me: Foodie culture has invaded my vodka soda. It’s time to fight back”, The Walrus, 2015-08-17.
March 29, 2017
March 17, 2017
I speak for every true potato-loving mick on the planet when I say that St. Patrick’s Day is a genuine Irish holiday that’s been corrupted into Amateur Drunk Day by us filthy Americans. Nobody in Ireland really cared much about it until dumb American tourists started going over there every March, demanding green beer and tunelessly bellowing “Danny Boy” out of their vomit-encrusted cakeholes. St. Paddy’s Day is fake. It’s Kwanzaa for white people.
Jim Treacher, “No True Irishman Loves St. Patrick’s Day”, The Daily Caller, 2016-03-17.
February 6, 2017
The received wisdom about the transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies is that clans or tribes stopped being nomadic in order to grow crops and secure their food supply more consistently … that growing grain for bread was one of the strongest underlying reasons for the change in lifestyle. That theory is being challenged by researchers who believe the real reason was to produce grains for brewing instead:
The story of humanity’s love affair with alcohol goes back to a time before farming — to a time before humans, in fact. Our taste for tipple may be a hardwired evolutionary trait that distinguishes us from most other animals.
The active ingredient common to all alcoholic beverages is made by yeasts: microscopic, single-celled organisms that eat sugar and excrete carbon dioxide and ethanol, the only potable alcohol. That’s a form of fermentation. Most modern makers of beer, wine, or sake use cultivated varieties of a single yeast genus called Saccharomyces (the most common is S. cerevisiae, from the Latin word for “beer,” cerevisia). But yeasts are diverse and ubiquitous, and they’ve likely been fermenting ripe wild fruit for about 120 million years, ever since the first fruits appeared on Earth.
From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.
To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”
Flash forward millions of years to a parched plateau in southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. Archaeologists there are exploring another momentous transition in human prehistory, and a tantalizing possibility: Did alcohol lubricate the Neolithic revolution? Did beer help persuade Stone Age hunter-gatherers to give up their nomadic ways, settle down, and begin to farm?
The ancient site, Göbekli Tepe, consists of circular and rectangular stone enclosures and mysterious T-shaped pillars that, at 11,600 years old, may be the world’s oldest known temples. Since the site was discovered two decades ago, it has upended the traditional idea that religion was a luxury made possible by settlement and farming. Instead the archaeologists excavating Göbekli Tepe think it was the other way around: Hunter-gatherers congregated here for religious ceremonies and were driven to settle down in order to worship more regularly.
H/T to Tamara Keel for the link.
January 31, 2017
In the Nineties, a change began to take place. Reviewers and interviewers started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect, which we are, though by no means in the same way.
This is fine by me. Flashman is my bread and butter, and if he wasn’t an elitist, racist, sexist swine, I’d be selling bootlaces at street corners instead of being a successful popular writer.
But what I notice with amusement is that many commentators now draw attention to Flashy’s (and my) political incorrectness in order to make a point of distancing themselves from it.
It’s not that they dislike the books. But where once the non-PC thing could pass unremarked, they now feel they must warn readers that some may find Flashman offensive, and that his views are certainly not those of the interviewer or reviewer, God forbid.
I find the disclaimers alarming. They are almost a knee-jerk reaction and often rather a nervous one, as if the writer were saying: “Look, I’m not a racist or sexist. I hold the right views and I’m in line with modern enlightened thought, honestly.”
They won’t risk saying anything to which the PC lobby could take exception. And it is this that alarms me – the fear evident in so many sincere and honest folk of being thought out of step.
I first came across this in the United States, where the cancer has gone much deeper. As a screenwriter [at which Fraser was almost as successful as he was with the 12 Flashman novels; his best-known work was scripting the Three Musketeers films] I once put forward a script for a film called The Lone Ranger, in which I used a piece of Western history which had never been shown on screen and was as spectacular as it was shocking – and true.
The whisky traders of the American plains used to build little stockades, from which they passed out their ghastly rot-gut liquor through a small hatch to the Indians, who paid by shoving furs back though the hatch.
The result was that frenzied, drunken Indians who had run out of furs were besieging the stockade, while the traders sat snug inside and did not emerge until the Indians had either gone away or passed out.
Political correctness stormed onto the scene, red in tooth and claw. The word came down from on high that the scene would offend “Native Americans”.
Their ancestors may have got pie-eyed on moonshine but they didn’t want to know it, and it must not be shown on screen. Damn history. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen because we don’t like the look of it.
I think little of people who will deny their history because it doesn’t present the picture they would like.
My forebears from the Highlands of Scotland were a fairly primitive, treacherous, blood-thirsty bunch and, as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, would have been none the worse for washing. Fine, let them be so depicted, if any film maker feels like it; better that than insulting, inaccurate drivel like Braveheart.
The philosophy of political correctness is now firmly entrenched over here, too, and at its core is a refusal to look the truth squarely in the face, unpalatable as it may be.
George MacDonald Fraser, “The last testament of Flashman’s creator: How Britain has destroyed itself”, Daily Mail, 2008-01-05.
April 22, 2016
Last January, Harry Wallop attempted to match Winston Churchill’s daily intake of whisky, Pol Roger champagne, brandy, and sundry other “refreshers”. He found it a challenge beyond his ready ability:
One thing is certain: his fondness for kickstarting the day with what he called “mouthwash” — a weak whisky and soda, which he would take from about 9.30 onwards and keep continually topped up. But the whisky (simple Johnnie Walker, no fancy malt) would only just cover the bottom of the tumbler; the bulk of the drink was soda.
It’s a rather delightful way to start the day, as I discover. Especially, when consumed in bed. Churchill would frequently spend all morning in his dressing gown, under the covers, surrounded by papers and secretaries. He would also happily have meetings while taking a hot bath — a habit I did not attempt to replicate.
Lunch was when the serious drinking began. A whole bottle of champagne was the norm, invariably Pol Roger, a brand Churchill drank from at least 1908. His attachment was cemented in 1944, after meeting Odette Pol-Roger (the grand dame of the champagne house) at the British ambassador’s home in Paris, where the 1928 vintage was served in celebration of the liberation of France. She ensured he was never afterwards short of supplies.
A bottle, however, was for Churchill nearly always a pint-sized one, a fairly common measure until it was phased out by champagne houses in the 1970s. He would often drink it out of a silver tankard, still served this way in some gentlemen’s clubs.
A modern politico drinking like this would already have the horrified attention of his or her M.D., but Sir Winston’s liver may have been the most superhuman part of him:
I then spent the rest of the afternoon (or what was left of it), drinking more whisky and sodas while attempting to write an article — a task I found increasingly difficult. When I returned to it the following day, I discovered it was barely literate with every other word misspelled.
After dressing for dinner (bombs raining down on London was no reason to let standards slip), Churchill would often have a sherry. A glass of Amontillado failed to sharpen my jaded appetite. Worse, I was rather dreading the second pint of champagne over dinner.
I am aware this sounds churlish, but it became progressively joyless to get through all those bubbles. By 9.30pm I was slumped in front of ‘Death in Paradise’, working out if the plot or yet another glass was going to finish me off.
Churchill, by 10pm, would have been moving onto either port or his favourite 90-year-old brandy and at least four hours of hard work.
January 18, 2016
Joseph Bottum reviews Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol:
We all know the story: At the beginning of the 20th century, a handful of killjoys, prudes, and pinch-faced puritans began to campaign against liquor. And in 1920, against all odds, they managed to sneak through a law that banned alcohol in the United States. Thirteen years, it took, before we managed to rid ourselves of the absurd regulation, as the corrupting money of gangsters and the intransigence of true-believers — the famous pro-regulation combination of Bootleggers and Baptists — colluded to keep the nation in loony land.
At last, however, we did return to sanity. The forces of right-thinking liberalism in America finally shook off the influence of its nativist bigots and pleasure-hating schoolmarms, and Prohibition was overturned in 1933 to great celebration — celebration so great, so overwhelming, that never again have the conservative know-nothings and religious troglodytes succeeded in forcing the nation to take such an enormous step backward.
It’s a great story, both a cautionary tale in its beginning and uplifting proof of liberation in its conclusion. The only trouble is that it’s completely wrong. Is there another American story, another account of a major American era, that has been so completely hijacked and turned against its actual history?
The truth is that Prohibition, in its essence, was a deeply progressive movement. Thus, for example, the forces of women’s liberation backed Prohibition — and the suffragettes were backed in turn by the Temperance Union, whose support (in the certainty that women would vote to outlaw liquor) helped gain women the vote. The goo-goos, the good-government types, similarly aided Prohibition, seeking to purge the rows of rowdy saloons that cluttered the major cities of America — and they enlisted the help of the Prohibitionists to create a national income tax, ending the federal government’s dependence on liquor taxes.
The health fanatics, the social-service providers in the churches and city governments, the Protestant elite of the Social Gospel movement: Prohibition was supported by majorities in all the social groups who today would be faithful allies of the left. Combine that with rural Protestants, who saw the big cities as dens of Satan, and nativists, who saw drunkenness as an Irish sin, and Prohibition was a moral juggernaut rolling through the nation — as unfathomable as it was unstoppable.
December 29, 2015
Should we consider mandatory graphic warning labels on bottles of booze? Our science reporter Tom Blackwell reviewed various Canadian discussions of the idea in these pages yesterday, suggesting that it is being looked at behind the scenes by addiction researchers. Labels with colour images of diseased esophagi on liquor labels would, of course, mimic the approach Canada has already taken toward cigarettes. So, well, why not? They say if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail: by a similar token, if your field is addiction, no doubt everything that has addictive qualities looks like an unsolved problem.
But there is one very obvious way in which liquor is not like cigarettes: scientists are reasonably sure that light drinking has positive public-health consequences. If you don’t believe me, you can look up articles like the one I have in front of me here from a 2013 issue of Annals of Oncology: its title is “Light Drinking Has Positive Public Health Consequences.” As a layman I obviously can’t be certain I have summarized this editorial correctly, but you’ll have to trust me.
Colby Cosh, “The real problem with liquor warning labels — there’s such a thing as good drinking”, National Post, 2015-12-17.
December 26, 2015
Aaron Carroll debunks some myths about booze and health:
Over the past year, I’ve tried to clear up a lot of the misconceptions on food and drink: about salt, artificial sweeteners, among others, even water.
Now let me take on alcohol: wine, beer and cocktails. Although I have written about the dangerous effects of alcohol abuse and misuse, that doesn’t mean it’s always bad. A part of many complex and delicious adult beverages, alcohol is linked to a number of health benefits in medical studies.
That doesn’t mean the studies provide only good news, either, or that the evidence in its favor is a slam dunk. You won’t be surprised to hear that, once again, my watchword — moderation — applies.
Research into how alcohol consumption affects health has been going on for a long time. A 1990 prospective cohort study included results of more than 275,000 men followed since 1959. Compared with those who never drank alcohol, those who consumed one to two drinks a day had a significantly reduced mortality rate from both coronary heart disease and “all causes.” Those who consumed three or more drinks a day still had a lower risk of death from coronary heart disease, but had a higher mortality rate over all.
A 2004 study came to similar conclusions. It followed about 6,600 men and 8,000 women for five years and found that compared with those who drank about one drink a day on average, those who didn’t drink at all and those who drank more than two drinks a day had higher rates of death. Results like these have been consistent across a number of studies in different populations. Even studies published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research agree that moderate drinking seems to be associated with a decreased risk of death over all.
However, alcohol seems to have different effects on different diseases. Almost all of the major benefits of drinking are seen in cardiovascular illnesses. In fact, with men, even consumption of a surprisingly large amount can seem protective.
November 24, 2015
Mark Galeotti on what happened when you combine the legendary appetite for alcohol of soldiers with the ramshackle repression of the Soviet system:
Soldiers love to drink. Russians love to drink. No wonder that Russian soldiers can be amongst the hardest-core boozers around. If anything, this was even more the case in Soviet times when the very difficulties of getting hold of booze acted as a spur to the ingenuity for which Russians are also rightly known. The same guys who could fix a tank engine with sticky tape or make the world’s toughest rifle were formidable and innovative in their quest for a drink.
Being assigned to the ground crew on a MiG-25 interceptor, for example, was a good gig. The supersonic fighter was nicknamed gastronom — delicatessen — because its nose-mounted radar and generator were cooled by more than 200 liters of water/methanol mix, which is a ghastly brew, but as a base not much more ghastly than the murderous samogon homebrew many Soviets turned to, especially during Mikhail Gorbachev’s well-meant but ill-thought-through anti-alcohol campaign. The usual rule of thumb was a single shot a day. Any more, and your chances of going blind were good.
As it should now be clear to you, dear reader, Soviet soldiers were not that discriminating when sourcing their sauce. When I was interviewing veterans of the Soviet–Afghan War for my doctorate, many and horrifying were the accounts of parties fueled by aftershave, rosewater, and rubbing alcohol. The military hierarchy denied the enlisted men legal access to drink, yet fighting a high-stress and — in the early years, at least — officially unacknowledged war, they were nothing if not committed to the quest.
November 15, 2015
Lester Haines on how and when the distinctive “Strine” accent originated:
Australians’ distinctive accent – known affectionately as “Strine” – was formed in the country’s early history by drunken settlers’ “alcoholic slur”.
This shock claim, we hasten to add, comes from Down Under publication The Age, which explains:
The Australian alphabet cocktail was spiked by alcohol. Our forefathers regularly got drunk together and through their frequent interactions unknowingly added an alcoholic slur to our national speech patterns.
For the past two centuries, from generation to generation, drunken Aussie-speak continues to be taught by sober parents to their children.
The paper reckons that not only do Aussies speak at “just two thirds capacity – with one third of our articulator muscles always sedentary as if lying on the couch”, but they also ditch entire letters and play slow and loose with vowels.
Missing consonants can include missing “t”s (Impordant), “l”s (Austraya) and “s”s (yesh), while many of our vowels are lazily transformed into other vowels, especially “a”s to “e”s (stending) and “i”s (New South Wyles) and “i”s to “oi”s (noight).
The upshot of this total disregard for clear English is that our Antipodean cousins are poor communicators and lack rhetorical skills, something which could cost the Australian economy “billions of dollars”, as The Age audaciously quantifies it.
November 8, 2015
A breathalyzer company conducted a study to determine who are the drunkest fanbases in the NFL, and Buffalo turned in the highest overall score:
Apparently, losing does drive fans to drinking, at least according to a recent study done by BACtrack.
The Breathalyzer company spent the past six weeks anonymously collecting BAC samples and what they found is that Bills fans really, really, really like to drink.
According to the study, Bills fans had an average blood-alcohol level of .076 through the first seven weeks of the NFL season, which was the highest among all NFL fan bases.
If you’re wondering how BACtrack was able to hunt down the BAC level of random fans, they didn’t. The samples came to them.
The company used anonymous samples sent in by fans who were using the BACTrack app on their phone, an app that works as a Breathalyzer.
The company then collected data on Sundays between Sept. 13 and Oct. 25 to try and accurately gauge how much fans were drinking. Only samples sent in between 6 a.m. on Sunday and 5:59 a.m. on Monday counted toward the study.
The data was only collected from geographic locations that were hosting NFL games during the first seven weeks of the season.
There were probably plenty of flaws in the study, but based on what I’ve seen from Bills fans, it’s not surprising they’re No. 1.
I find it amusing that the NFC North’s drunk fan index exactly matches the teams’ relative standings right now, with Green Bay fans the most sober (at 0.042), followed by Vikings fans (0.046), then Bears fans (0.054), and finally Detroit fans (who definitely have reason to be drinking more this season) at 0.069.
But [the German] is no gourmet. French cooks and French prices are not the rule at his restaurant. His beer or his inexpensive native white wine he prefers to the most costly clarets or champagnes. And, indeed, it is well for him he does; for one is inclined to think that every time a French grower sells a bottle of wine to a German hotel- or shop-keeper, Sedan is rankling in his mind. It is a foolish revenge, seeing that it is not the German who as a rule drinks it; the punishment falls upon some innocent travelling Englishman. Maybe, however, the French dealer remembers also Waterloo, and feels that in any event he scores.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel, 1914.
October 31, 2015
At Compound Interest, a look at the making of cider:
On a hot summer’s day, the cool, refreshing taste of cider is hard to beat. But what are the chemicals behind this flavour?
Before we look at the chemistry, let’s briefly discuss how cider is made. Obviously, it starts with the apples being picked from the tree. The type of apples is, of course, a major factor in the taste of the finished cider. Bittersweet cider apples are low on acidity, but high on tannins, whilst sharp apples are the opposite. Sweet apples, meanwhile, are low in both departments, whilst bittersharp apples are high in both.
Once the apples have been picked, they’re left to mature for a time before then being scratted, or ground down, into a pulp. The pulp produced by this process is known as pomace. This pomace is then pressed to squeeze out all of the juice, which is collected into either vats or casks. At this point, it is then slowly fermented, and yeasts convert the natural sugars in the apples into alcohol. These yeasts can be the natural yeasts present in the apples, or yeasts that are added specifically for fermentation.
After fermentation is complete, the cider will often be left to mature for several months. At this point, extra sugar is sometimes added to the cider to allow fermentation to continue, and produce a small amount of carbon dioxide to carbonate the cider. However, commercially carbonation is often primarily accomplished via direct injection of carbon dioxide. In the manufacture of some ciders, they may be blended with other, older ciders, to ensure consistency of taste or to alter the flavour.
October 25, 2015
David Warren admits he’s not welcome at a few local drinking establishments nowadays:
There are at least two tables, within pubs in the Greater Parkdale Area, where, notwithstanding I was once quite welcome, I am not today. Some think this is because of my opinions, which are those of a rightwing fanatic and religious nutjob. But no: it is because I am willing to express them. This is a form of incontinence, one might argue; and like other forms, it may accord with increasing age. Yet I do not think that silence is invariably golden.
To hear me tell it — and whom else were you expecting, gentle reader? — it goes like this. In years past, I would sit quietly and ignore nonsense, especially political nonsense, spoken by my fellow imbibers. I can still do this. Many of the most ludicrous remarks, on any passing issue, are not actually opinions of the speaker. He simply echoes or parrots the views of the media and his own social class. I’ve been absorbing this “background music” for years; why revolt now? The noise is anyway not arguments but gestures.
Say, “Stephen Harper,” and watch the eyeballs roll. Say, “George Bush,” and still, ditto. Say “Richard Nixon,” however, and you don’t get much of a rise any more, for memories out there are short, very short.
(A Czech buddy, in the olden days, once performed this experiment in a pub. “I just love that Richard Nixon!” he declared, in his thick, Slavic accent, loud enough to afflict the Yankee draft-dodgers at the next table, who’d been prattling about Watergate too long. “Gives those liberals heart attacks,” he added. … Some bottle-tossing followed from that, and we were all banned together, so ended up as friends.)
On the other hand say, “Barack Obama,” and they will focus like attentive puppies. Or, “Justin Trudeau” to the ladies, to make them coo.
It is a simple Pavlovian trick, and might be done in reverse in a rightwing bar, except, there are no rightwing bars in big cities.
Yet everyone knows there are rightwing people, even in Greater Parkdale. And they are welcome anywhere they want to buy a pint, the more if they’re buying for the whole table. The one condition is that they must keep their “divisive” opinions to themselves.
September 29, 2015
At Simple Justice, Scott Greenfield includes a poster from Southeast Missouri State University that nicely summarizes both the institutional infantilization of university students and the current double standard on booze and consent rules:
There is universal agreement that any female (though not male) who has passed out is incapable of giving consent to sex. But as the spectrum of reaction to alcohol or drugs comes closer to the sober end, it becomes increasingly problematic. The word used to describe a woman who cannot consent is “incapacitation.”
What is incapacitation? That’s impossible to say. It usually described by either specific instances of conduct (“if she’s puking her guts out, that means she’s incapacitated”), which offers no guidance when she’s not puking her guts out, or when she’s done puking her guts out, or before she’s puking her guts out.
The underlying rationale is that a woman who is so drunk that she cannot formulate knowing, intentional and voluntary consent, cannot consent to sex. This is a dubious standard, as the incapacity to consent doesn’t mean she would not consent, but that she cannot consent.
To put this in context, consider a person who fully consents, enthusiastically desires to engage in conduct, but wasn’t specifically asked beforehand. This person can truthfully assert that it was non-consensual under the Affirmative Consent standard, because she never overtly expressed consent.* The objective standard is not met, although the subjective standard is fully met.
The problem is reminiscent of drunk driving, which was determined by the objective inability to perform the tasks necessary to safely drive a car before the law turned to Blood Alcohol Content as a proxy, an inadequate measure but a convenient one for law enforcement to prove. Sexual incapacitation suffers from a lack of definition and no objective basis.
What is clear about incapacitation is that it’s not when there is “liquor in the cup,” or when “she has touched alcohol,” any more than it would be a crime for her to thereafter get behind the wheel of a car. Yet, the notion that any alcohol (or drugs, which don’t seem to find their way onto posters or flyers as much) per se vitiates consent is spreading and being used as the hard and fast line.