Lima, Peru–Pisco Sour, Pisco Shower! Sang the two French women. We were happy to be going out, finally. After long flights, an uncomfortable first night at our hostel and a long wait outside of a Mcdonald’s in a modest, Peruvian chill, our couch-surfing host arrived.
Miguel Angel was a man of many languages, but few words. When he finally arrived we tossed our backpacks into the trunk, and hopped in his little Fiat, which swung around the roads of Lima, past the endless coastline at night with illuminated crosses off in the distance. Miguel struck us as awkward. A man of home improvement, he was planning on constructing his own bar, dj booth, and living room.
“You sure you’ve done the measurements?” I thought as I scanned the little room, which could barely hold the four of us.
My hands ran across the smooth tiled floor. A clang struck our ears as he presented a bottle of Pisco, and four shooters. “What was this? Pisco?”
The national drink of Peru, a Liqueur distilled of Grapes, similar to a French Cognac, but colorless like Vodka.
“Salud!” The four of us took the shooters. Disgusted, the girls made faces, but I could handle it, I can handle it, I swear I can handle it, though I admit, Pisco burns. We exchanged stories about our pasts in three different languages, and I couldn’t help but feel a mixture of nausea and, what was it..displacement.
At the first bar, honestly more like someone’s kitchen than a bar, we tried the drink. “Pisco Sour!” The cocktail that puts Peru on the map, as mythical as the Andean condor, or ruins found in the overgrowth. The drink sat on a dark wooden table, fresh as a mojito, but dense from whipped egg white. Bitters like sprinkles on frosting. Like snow on a mountaintop.
After we consumed the drinks, we headed to a Salsa bar.
Feet of fury, I believe that’s what they say when someone can’t stop dancing, and Miguel wouldn’t sit down. The man pulled at one of the women, and it was all fun and games–at first. Truthfully, I wanted another Pisco Sour, so my attention was diverted. I walked to the bar. Tried to order in Spanish. Turned and looked with a smile. No smiles in return. Far too aggressively, our host was spinning and turning one of the women, the other was trying to interject. Sorry, I said to the bartender, and walked back towards them. One of the pitfalls of drinking. I inserted some American improvisational dance moves, (an advantage) and put on a mask like I was having a good time, but to be frank, none of us were.
Mr. Angel slept in a solitude on his mattress upon the floor, while the faucet dripped, and the three of us just sat there, pondering what to do next. Later in the trip I purchased and read Garcia Marquez’s book, which somehow left me feeling sympathetic for this man.
This experience is to take nothing away from the drink, it’s exotic, desirable, succulent. With its lime accents added to the strong liqueur, and the fizz restraining the drinker from being to hasty, this drink deserves a crown: The ideal drink.
-1 ounce of Lime juice
-.5 ounce of Simple Syrup
-2 ounces of Pisco
-1 egg white
Vigorously shaken, completely emulsified, and strained into a chilled glass. And there we have it–The Pisco Sour.
Thinking of the dreary nights, a nostalgic reverie, for I’m onto life in Paris with my Seattle days behind me. A second list of drinks and establishments feels in order for this occasion! The Backdoor Sazerac, from the Back Door, a Sergio Leone from Ocho, and a French 75 from Bastille are the special three. Sensuous and memorable, these drinks all manage to pull off what I hope for when I get a drink.
It was a humdrum Tuesday evening over Seattle, Washington. The rain flooded the streets and leaves clogged irrigation systems, cars pushed water from avenue to avenue up onto the sidewalks and driveways. My friend and I hurried through the backstreets of Fremont in search of a bible and a church. Kidding, a drink and an atmosphere, but closed signs, and a ghostly climate descended like a bog. Suddenly it hit me, ’I heard about this place from a co-worker.’ ( yeah you 😉 ) We shimmied through a parking lot toward a door that was lit in red lights like a burlesque… The Backdoor. The interior, an amalgam of Versailles and a circus, equipped with chandeliers, greco-roman statues, and mirrors upon mirrors, somehow strung together in a coherent fashion of bourgeoisie mockery. ‘Your house Sazerac.’ It arrived, and left in a seamless flow. Like being punched in the stomach by silk. My friend said he liked the place. He’s a hardy fisherman, they tell tales, but I trust his taste, and have to agree with him on this one. A Jazz Trio picked up the music to set the backdrop of our conversation. A table in front of us clapped and cheered along. What a place to be.
Spanish Tapas and drinks named after Italian Directors. A peppy bartender who obviously knows what he’s doing. For a fistful of dollars, I purchased ‘The Sergio Leone’— bourbon, lemon extract, ginger and liquor 43. Made an impression like the venerable director would. The creators of this joint obviously have divine taste.
Ocho is a grungy tavern, but it has trendy, techy clientele, an all too familiar scene in Seattle. That’s what makes this city somewhat false in a way. Like the drink is inspired by a real director, Seattle is inspired by a real city, and somehow the product comes out fresh, and oh so nice.
A table of 50 year old aristocrats sat laughing at a table next to us, we were the only others there. Monday, lovely Monday, when it’s basically a private bar for you. “French 75 please,” I turned to everyone, “In honor of my mother.” It’s her favorite, and I couldn’t sip it quick enough. My mother told me to never drink before 21, “you don’t want them to have something on you honey. And this way you’ll learn to appreciate it, as a privilege–a private pool, not an oasis.”
Gin, Champagne, and Lemon whipped into an easy to drink, celebratory special. Sending a toast home from Paris, Santé & A bientôt.
Somewhere in Northern Laos–The first experience I had with the stuff, was hardly into our first day. And it wasn’t optional. Our boat rested at the rickety wooden docks of a small village with huts that dotted the lush greenery of the Mekong riverbank.
A welcome committee to us Westerners, as we were allured into a restaurant with a sign advertising free whiskey, and a free shot given to us at dinner, and pretty much a free shot anytime the waiter passed our table. But no, scratch that, my first experience was our guest house at the moment of our arrival. We were basically forced to take a shot every time someone signed papers. I looked at a table surrounded by a bunch of smiles that said ‘get me outta here,’ and fake nods when she offered us more shots. It seemed innocuous. But after each of the six of us finished off an entire bottle with our host, our stomachs were burning and centers of gravity shifted. We decided to grab dinner to quell the burn, but couldn’t escape it, and I had the feeling that this ride had only just begun.
I’m joking, free alcohol is never too bad of a thing, maybe dangerous, but in this case I appreciated the gesture, I just didn’t want it to get sloppy when we had another day of boat travel ahead. Nevertheless, it was the friendliest welcome, from the most unfriendly whiskey I have ever tasted.
A chorus of roosters broke the spell on the dawn of the following day, and we were off. The last leg of our journey to the idyllic Luang Prabang. Emerald waters flowed smoothly, and the Dutch backpackers decided to take the lead, and get plastered while we dozed off in the back of the boat to the sound of riverwater and paddling oars.
The days in Luang Prabang were fruitful, serene and site-driven, often with a bottle of rice whiskey in hand. Draped in orange cloaks, the monks paced about with no need for hurry.
Relax, enjoy the aroma of french bread at dawn, and the lights and sounds of the night market at dusk as the Mekong river slowly slides by.
On our first night we discovered that a 750 ml bottle of the drink sells as low as $3 American. Some drink journalists say that in Vientiane, the nation’s capitol, and in other, less touristic cities it is the cheapest hard liquor in the world.
Dare I say that we over did it, one of my buddies passed out on the front steps of our guest house. We slapped him a couple of times, and luckily he rallied. Somehow, someway and after some amount of time we ended up at the local bowling alley, putting up strikes, and beating Dutch backpackers in our Californian past time–it was their King’s Day too, so the victory was twice as sweet (I’m kidding guys, I swear). Afterwards, we decided to search for something a bit more clandestine and potent, and I’ll stop there. One of the few times a drink got the best of us.
This Whiskey calls for a specific ratio of Whiskey Coke mix to make it palatable. As most versions of the well are poured at a 3:2 or 3:1.5 even, Lao Lao (its street name) deserves a generous pouring of Coke at a 4:1.5 ratio. Or, if you and your coterie feel the need to put some hair on your chest, go ahead, take it straight, and tell them Mr. Cohiba recommends it. 😉
As a student of the intricate hobby, art, or whatever one calls the Cocktailian, I’d like to think that I know my fundamentals. The basics. My Manhattan, and Old Fashioned, and even the modern day classic the Moscow Mule (recipes at the end of post). And these three happened to be the drinks that I tried last week. Only they were variations of the classics. Seattlite’s have a very quirky approach to things, and this includes drinking, it’s almost as if we took a wrong turn at the 60’s and decided that this time we want to do it differently.
Kate’s Pub was my first destination. A divey neighborhood bar right across the street from my family home in Wallingford. Wooden tables, a warm atmosphere, free pool, and an inexpensive happy hour are a few words with which I can confidently characterize the establishment. On game days this place packs them in, from recent graduate students to older couples, and Kate’s knows how to take care of everyone with amiable and speedy service. I ordered one of their gameday specials, an aged Rye Manhattan, with a Marachsino plopped at the bottom appropriately. The drink was spicy and robust, the flavor clung to my chest. I sipped it to the pace of the Seahawks preseason game, and the convivial nature caught up to me as I joined in on conversations with nearby strangers, met neighbors and cheered Russell Wilson through the first quarter.
One of my buddies left for Italy this past week, so we decided to grab a last American meal with him to fully hear about his plans abroad. Smith, a restaurant on our list, (and everyone’s that I’ve talked to since) happened to be the perfect venue for such an occasion. With an eccentric decor that meshes the feel of a university library, and a congressman’s parlor, Smith served us up some immaculate hamburgers and drinks. I ordered their craft Masala Mule, a modern mix on the Moscow Mule, with Chai infused vodka, and ginger syrup, instead of the beer. Everyone at my table gave it a try, and were quickly converted to the Masala. The addition of infused liquors really adds another dimension to the drink. Think of the endless possibilities, a kaffir lime infusion in a Mandalay mule that gives it some zest, or coconut infusion in a Martinique mule.
After Salsa class, an old friend and I decided to cross the way, and we stumbled into the bar known as the Tin Table, a contemporary alcove, with transcendent class. The patrons looked as if they were from a classic movie, or the show Mad Men, and I ordered aptly. “Give me two Old fashioned, old fashioned’s,” somewhat of a paradox, as the drink is a new take on the legendary cocktail. A neon display of different drink-ware greets you at the entrance. I appreciated the decor of the brick walls, and dark wooden tables, as the establishment did have an air of a place you would find in a large metropolitan area, but we were in the cozy suburb of Capitol Hill. The drink went down. Classic ingredients of a Rye whisky, Angostura, and brown sugar accentuated by cherry and lemon zest. And, a cigar tincture. Something that I’ve never heard of, a tincture is actually a direct extract from the cigar, fired up over a harsh flame to add a ‘member’s only’ feel to the drink. I guess it gives a brazen attitude to the double named drink.
The Manhattan (classic):
- 2 ounces Rye
- 1 ounce Vermouth, sweet and Italian
- Angostura bitters to taste
- 1 maraschino, an anchor after the ship goes down
Build in a chilled glass.
The Moscow Mule:
- 2 ounces Vodka
- 3 ounces Ginger Beer
- 2 lime wedges for garnish
Build in a chilled glass over ice.
The Old Fashioned:
- 1 sugar cube
- 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 3 ounces of Bourbon or Rye
- 1 lemon twist
In a chilled glass, fill a sugar cube with bitters, muddle. Then add generous ice and the finest whiskey from your shelf. Ta-da!
Chiang Mai, Thailand–On a sticky morning near the beginning of Thailand’s Wet Season, the temperature hit 95 Fahrenheit, and was projected to continue climbing. Roosters awakened ahead of schedule, alarmed from the incoming heat. The cicada’s drone followed, disseminating through the air as one unchanging tone like lawnmowers on a day in spring. Air Conditioning was scarce, shade elusive, and after a brief tour of some of Northern Thailand’s marvels, we collapsed into our dorm room beds. Nothing compares to the midday reds. You stand up too quickly and boom, syncope, a blood rush to the head. Days like these are common, and can only be quelled by one thing, sitting back down. Sitting down, with an ice cold beer.
Thailand’s lagers, both famous and infamous in their own ways, are a convenient remedy ready to be plucked from your hostel’s refrigerator, or one of the thousand 7-11’s across the country. The beers are infamous because they aren’t anything close to what you’d call world class (see Chang-over), but famous as they do play a critical role in a traveler’s everyday life. They are a home base, a ceremonial siesta, where backpackers convene and stories begin.
Graduation stands as a landmark, a moment of liberation in my lifetime, and the night before, well that’s the crescendo. Our evening began with this symphonic mixture of a drink, a refreshing yet still affordable testament to the life we used to live.
Weekends, Wednesdays, Thursdays were nights to ravage the town. The soft Northwest skies stretched above like Grand Central’s Zodiac Tableau in Persian blues, and deep violets. The nights were promising. But cheap, watered down, coke-rum wells turned into long receipts, 15% tips turned into days without lunch. Enough was enough.
Curiously, the university social scene is one of a paradoxical nature. 4-year, in state universities average $9,000/year. Room and Board is about the same. The comedic turn of this tragic joke takes place in what’s labeled ‘Other Expenses.’ Essentially, its what is left in a students pocket. At the average of $2,100 per year we’re expected to enjoy the other side of academia, and divided by 9 months, 4 weekends, and 2 days, it seems the odds are against us.