The A - Z of Drinks

A concise and occassionally irreverent collection of drinks related blog posts that I hope will inform, entertain and illuminate those with a thirst for knowledge of the what, where, and why, of drinks. 

I'll be posting at least one new post a week, the latest one can be seen on the right.

AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) – a salutary starting-point, in case one should get carried away with what follows. Conceived by Bill ‘W’ in 1934 on a rainy night in Akron, Ohio – and who, in truth, might not succumb to strong drink on a rainy night in Akron, Ohio? – ‘the club’ now has around two million members belonging to about 100,000 groups throughout the world. Iceland has one for every 1,250 people (the highest), while Britain has the same ratio of pubs per head of population – a much more sensible idea. The ‘Twelve Steps’ – although it sounds like an Aussie Chardonnay – is in fact the core programme of the ‘fellowship’, which strives to maintain the anonymity of its adherents and encourages sober members to mentor new ones via one-to-one sponsorship. The first step requires the subject to recognise rock bottom and their powerless- ness over alcohol; the final step exhorts them to carry the message of AA to other alcoholics. Controversy surrounds the quasi-religious terminology used by the organisation and its insistence that total abstinence is the only solution; however, their results are impressive (at least they have been for a few members of my family). Aberfeldy – the flagship distillery (Highland) of Dewar’s whisky (itself owned by Bacardi and the biggest-selling Scotch whisky brand in the USA). Unusually, markets just two single malts: a twelve-yearold and a twenty-one-year-old.


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Aberlour – speyside distillery making a range of classy single malts including excellent cask-strength A’bunadh, arguably the best of the Pernod Ricard-owned whiskies and particularly popular in France.


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Abona – I know next to nothing about this small, demarcated wine region in the south of Tenerife (nor, indeed, had I ever heard of it until happening upon the fact that within Abona lies Europe’s highest vineyard, at over 1500m). I have never tasted any of its wines and – as none are apparently available in the UK – I am unlikely ever to do so without going to some trouble. Were you to develop a fondness for them, remember never to say, ‘Oh, yes, I do like Abona.’ There are hundreds of little appellations like this dotted around the wine world, many of which have within them at least some conscientious producers whose output would be deserving of attention had we but world enough, and time. My apologies, then, both to those producers and to those inquisitive, wine-loving souls who’ve recently holidayed in the south of Tenerife.


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absinthe – (aka la fée verte – the green fairy), a highly alcoholic (50– 75% abv), foul-tasting grape-spirit-based liqueur originating from Switzerland, flavoured with wormwood (artemisia absinthium), anise, fennel, etc. Its notoriety among the demi-monde of fin-desiècle Paris, a consequence of its highly alcoholic nature rather than the hallucinogenic properties that continue to be erroneously attributed to it, nonetheless led to a ban in Europe and the USA in 1915. (After a decent interval, replacements appeared in the guise of what we know as anis and pastis – including that of the original absinthe producer, Pernod – minus the wormwood, in the 1920s.) Nerdism seems to accompany consumption of the modern versions from producers such as La Fée, François Guy, Pontarlier and Trenet, produced first in the Czech Republic in the early 1990s but now widespread, and the contemporary absinthe bore is more likely to be found in the suburbs banging on about the superiority of his method of preparation than baying at the moon in the Place Pigalle. (Poured over a cube of sugar held by a perforated spoon resting across the rim of a small, stemmed glass; ignited and, when the sugar has melted, topped up with water to taste). If you must, try using the Jade brand made by the obsessive American Ted Breaux, who creates his absinthe to original specifications using nineteenth-century equipment at the Combier distillery in Saumur.


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abv – acronym for ‘alcohol-by-volume’ the most sensible of the various systems for measuring alcoholic strength, as the percentage of the volume of liquid that equates to pure alcohol. Most beers are in the range 3.5–6% abv; still wines 8–15% abv; fortified wines 17– 22% abv; and most spirits 35–50% abv.


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Acapulco – five parts light rum, two parts each lime juice and egg white, one part Triple Sec and simple syrup to taste shaken with ice, strained from a convenient clifftop in to a cocktail glass and garnished with a sprig of mint.
Additives – a list of additives as long as your arm is allowed in the ingredients of beers, wines and spirits. Some are necessary for regulating acidity and sweetness or as preservatives (sulphur dioxide, also known as sulphite, is ubiquitous and essential to prevent oxidation in wine). Various types of clay, egg white, milk products and isinglass (made from the swim bladders of fish) are used for fining (clarifying) and filtration – they don’t sound very nice but they do the job and are not present in the finished product. The line is blurred between necessary additives and those used to disguise defects and alter the apperance of a product and though it is easy to say the fewer the better there is seldom any indication on labels of what has been used.
African beer – love is all around, says the song, and so is beer. Good beer, too – unto the four corners of Africa where East African Breweries’ famously elephantine Tusker, Brasseries du Maroc’s Casablanca, Namibia Breweries’ estimable Windhoek, and Nigerian Breweries’ Star – sometimes using sorghum in the mash – slake some serious thirsts.
Aglianico – aristocratic red-wine grape variety and one of the best of Campania, a region of southern Italy, where it makes their best dinner-party reds. A double-decant an hour ahead helps (as does a fine roast beast on the table).


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Airén – unspectacular white grape, the most widely planted of any variety (the equivalent of every square inch of Surrey) in Spain, and therefore, by acreage, the world (with some three-quarters of a million acres), making a sea of Spanish brandy and an ocean of Valdepeñas, which can be perfectly decent with a nice bit of fish on a southern Costa. Gradually being supplanted by more characterful varieties – could be ‘goodnight Airén’? Alabama Slammer – shake equal parts sloe gin, amaretto and Southern Comfort with two parts fresh orange juice and ice and strain in to a highball glass. Or not.
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