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.

alcoholism – best defined for me by a close relative as his ‘morbid and insatiable craving for alcohol’; however, the spectrum of qualifying behaviours is broad, very broad. Many more millions would be defined as suffering from it by exceeding ‘guidelines’ for safe consumption than would be referred to as ‘functioning alcoholics’, though a non-functioning one is fairly easy to spot. It is undoubtedly a physical addiction and withdrawal symptoms can be severe even if judged only by the alternate substances people will consume in attempts to satisfy their cravings. Much debate relates to whether it is an affliction, a genetic inevitability or a choice. A consumption that exceeds the individual’s ability to deal with it either physically, psychologically or circumstantially is the common element but if the ‘problem drinker’ is recognised early, preferably by themselves, then – through intervention, moderation or abstinence – they can most often be kept from the park bench.


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alcopop – sweet, fizzy drinks in which the taste of alcohol is masked have always been around and, whether proffered by unscrupulous manufacturers in pursuit of profit or by unscrupulous individuals in pursuit of gratification of the flesh, they are often aimed at impressionable girls. In the 1970s Cherry B, Pony and Babycham worked well, as well as Snowball, and it is instructive to bracket them all as direct precursors of today’s alcopop. The popular ones manufactured by the largest vodka and rum brands are sudsy with flavours of bubblegum, bubble bath and boiled sweets and so disgusting even park-bench winos steer clear.
Algeria – of massive importance to the French wine trade in the middle of the last century with a million acres of vines providing bold reds to beef up all sorts of blended wines. The market plummeted after independence and in the early 1970s they were sending a billion bottles per year to the USSR. Production has fallen by ninety-five per cent and under a stricter Islamic regime more than half of grape production is destined for the fruit bowl.


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Aligoté – unobtrusive white-grape variety that would be much better known and regarded if it were not thought of as the Cinderella grape of Burgundy, perpetually in the shadow of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It has its own appellation (and its own base in the village of Bouzeron) and makes appetising wines with good acidity; best sipped on their own on golden summer evenings. It’s the wine the French mix with a little Crème de Cassis to make Kir.
Americano – pour equal parts sweet vermouth and Campari over ice in a rocks glass and finish with a splash of club soda and an orange (or lemon) twist. (Devised by Gaspare Campari and the first drink consumed by James Bond in the original Ian Fleming novel, Casino Royale.) Adding an equal part of gin makes it a Negroni.
Angel’s Tit – layer one part each white crème de cacao, cherry liqueur and single cream in a chilled liqueur glass, garnished with a maraschino cherry in the middle (at which point the name will become self-explanatory and mock the American bowdlerization to Angel’s Tip).
anis – (aka anise, anisette, pastis, raki, arak, ouzo); loose group of alcoholic beverages popular around a great swathe of the Mediterranean and which have in common the fact that they are aniseed-flavoured. Some are effectively flavoured vodkas; other sweetened versions are liqueurs. France’s leading brand, Pernod (see absinthe p. 4) is dry and less alcoholic than pastis, which is flavoured with both staranise and liquorice. Spanish anis (Mono, Chinchón) is sweet or dry (dulce or seco). French anisette liqueur (Brizard) is sweetened and similar to Sambuca in Italy. Usually served diluted with water (anywhere from 1:1 to 5:1). A rough Greek ouzo was responsible for one of my worst ever hangovers, although sleeping on a sandy beach facing windward didn’t help. The inevitable mouthful of sand and a steep climb back up to the bar where mein host informed me: ‘It’s still fermenting in your stomach’, finished me off.
appellation contrôlée (AC) – in full, appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) the French term for a demarcated region of production, originally for wine (the first was for Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1923) but now covering all manner of comestibles from cheeses to chickens. Portugal’s Douro claims to have had the first such system, devised in 1756; however, Hungary classified their vineyards in 1700 and Tuscany’s Carmignano had a go in 1716 and they both also claim the original honours. It’s the French term that has stuck and I use it rather than ‘controlled appellation’ which sounds daft (especially in the US – there is very little control of anything in the Appalachians, as anyone who has watched the film Deliverance will know). Most national systems are based on the French model and the regulatory authority will not only demarcate the geographical area but also stipulate which grape varieties may be used, maximum yields, parameters for alcohol content and so on; in general, the smaller and more prestigious the region, the more hoops must be jumped through. Fundamentally such systems are best thought of as having a purpose similar to the UK Trades Description Act and are designed to protect consumers from unscrupulous producers. Conversely, narrowness restricts the output of scrupulous producers – to the extent that some of the best wines in Europe have to call themselves vin de pays or vino da tavola. Apple Martini/Appletini – the cider of the gods is made with two parts gin (or vodka) stirred with one part apple schnapps and poured in to a chilled cocktail glass.
aquavit/akvavit/akevitt – it’s vodka really, from Denmark (Aalborg), Sweden (Absolut, OP Anderson), Norway (Linie) and Finland (Finlandia, as if), but let’s play along as it was probably the original version. All distilled from potatoes, flavoured with caraway and usually one or more of fennel, dill, aniseed, cumin and bitter orange.


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Ardbeg – peatiest and smokiest of all of Islay’s peaty, smoky whiskies, its long story, which started in 1815, reached its most dramatic chapters only in the late twentieth century: having lost money for many years the distillery was mothballed in 1981 and after spasmodic attempts to breathe some water-of-life back into it over the next decade and a half it was finally bought by Glenmorangie in 1997, when full production resumed. If the award of the Whisky Bible’s ‘World Whisky of the Year 2008’ makes misty-eyed, Whisky Galore-style fantasies cloud the judgement it should be remembered that Glenmorangie was itself acquired by LVMH in 2004 and the cockles of the hearts most warmed by this story are corporate ones.
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