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.

Artillery Punch – into a large bowl mix ten parts each bourbon, red wine and strong black tea; five parts each dark rum and orange juice; two parts each apricot brandy and gin; one part each lemon juice and lime juice and chill before adding ice and slices of lemon and lime. Serve (but don’t try this at home) by gathering your guests around the bowl and dropping a cannonball into the mix from a decent height.
Asian and Australasian beer – the beatitudes of beer brook no boundaries or borders and Australians (Coopers, Gage Roads, Malt Shovel, Matilda Bay) and New Zealanders (DB, Emerson’s, Mac’s, Tuatara, Twisted Hop) are now brewing good stuff that exposes the insipid big brands (VB, Foster’s, Tooheys). In Tahiti twenty years ago I was paying more for each beer (Hinano) than for my bed – but how many beds can you sleep in? The standards of south-east Asia are not to be sniffed at in Singapore and Malaysia (Asia Pacific Brewery’s Tiger has good bite), Indonesia (Multi Bintang, Bali Hai) and Thailand (Boon Rawd’s Singha). If conjuring the image of a condensation-covered bottle of Indian UB Group’s Kingfisher and the motto on its label ‘Most Thrilling Chilled!’ makes other people want to drink some as much as I do then the future funding of flamboyant owner Vijay Mallya’s IPL cricket and Formula 1 motor-racing teams is assured. Next door, Sri Lanka makes it on to the grid as well with Lion Brewery. Thirsty, de-stressing Japanese have enough post-work steam to make one of their beers, Asahi, the world’s tenth biggest and it’s a relief they’re doing less of the ‘dry’ beer thing, which turns all the sugar to alcohol and takes the taste away with it – and making proper beer (Hakusekikan, Hitachino Nest, Ise Kadoya, Kinshachi, Kirin, Yoho Brewing). I have felt at home with the beer I’ve had in every Chinese restaurant I’ve ever been into anywhere in the world – Tsingtao – pronounced ‘ching dow’ – but have yet to try Snow, which is on everybody’s lips indoors and which will soon be the biggest beer brand of all – and that’s sno’ joke.
Assyrtiko – svelte white-grape variety of Greece making mineral-rich wines such as those of Gaia, Hatzidakis, Sigalas, on Santorini; in Thrace with Biblia Chora and on Halkidiki with Tsantalis. All a good bet to help you wash down the meze platter.
Australian wine is very democratic – the best wines share the same genes as the crowd-pleasers, they’re made of the same stuff but the essence of many producers’ top wines such as Rosemount’s Show range , Hardy’s Eileen Hardy wines , Brown Brothers’ Patricia and many of Penfolds’ labels – at least as far as reds are concerned – is in their sheer concentration. Part of the impetus for making these dense, heavily extracted wines is the popularity of wine competitions. I once sat next to a leading Australian winemaker at a dinner to promote his multi-award-winning flagship range. After tasting through them, alongside his mid-range wines, our first course arrived and I noticed that he, like me, chose one of the latter to drink with it. After mustering a little Dutch courage I asked him if just possibly the showboaters might not be a fraction over-the-top? ‘Sure they are, but that’s what you’ve got to do if you want to win prizes,’ he smiled. ‘They’re not for drinking.’ Drink like a king with ...Andrew Peace, Brookford, Broken Shackle, Cranswick, Grant Burge, Marktree, One Chain, Runamok, St. Hallett, Trentham Estate ... for the price of just drinking. Australian viniculture began in 1788 with Captain Arthur Philip – founder of Sydney – and then abruptly stopped when his vines failed. Later, in the 1820s, commercial production got under way and the industrious James Busby did the first methodical work, trying out nearly 700 different vine varieties. Penfolds, founded in 1844, is the oldest winemaker, maker of the iconic Grange and arguably the best in Australia. Busby laid good foundations – Australia is the only southern hemisphere country with anything like a truly European diversity of established grape varieties and styles. The Big Three of those varieties are Shiraz with thirty per…
Australian wine - New South Wales. The Hunter Valley is where Australia’s love affair with wine started in 1828 and it still dominates any discussion of New South Wales (NSW) wine. A quick sweep through the arc of winemaking areas around Sydney will take us there. You would have to start in the small, southernmost area for the name alone: Tumbarumba (Penfolds’). Most of Canberra’s vineyards are in fact in NSW – they’re at very cool altitudes, ideal for Riesling (Helm ), and it was here that the craze for Shiraz-Viognier blends began. Good neighbours are moving in next door in Hilltops (Chalker’s Crossing , McWilliams ) but most grapes still go out to do that élevage thing of being blended to raise the standard of wines from some of the quality-conscious volume players (Casella , De Bortoli – including for their Noble One, probably the best Australian Sauternes-style sweet wine). The Central Ranges Zone comprises Cowra, for some excellent Chardonnay and Verdelho (Windowrie ); Orange, where, attracted by the coolness at 600m, top winemakers have been all over it like a rash recently (Cumulus , Logan , Philip Shaw ); and Mudgee, where good reds are made by some big names such as Rosemount and Tyrrell’s and some smaller ones such as Huntington and Poet’s Corner. For all that the upper part of the Hunter Valley is where Australia’s now rather stormy love affair with Chardonnay began (with Tyrrell and Rosemount) in the 1970s, the bit we’re most interested in is, officially, called the Lower Hunter Valley and, universally, just ‘the Hunter’. Its influence punches well above its puny three per cent weight of Australia’s output. It’s a hot, clammy, sub-tropical region with lots of rain but with Sydney only 80 miles to the south it’s very switched on…
Australian wine - South Australia. Even with about fifty per cent of the country’s total wine production, it’s stretching it to call South Australia (Red Fin, Tiddy Widdy Well ) – or that south-eastern corner of it below about 33ºS where the grapes are grown – Australia’s California. It is the heart of it though, with most vineyards within 70–80 miles of Adelaide, and only the relatively featureless Riverland and Limestone Coast beyond the easy reach of the wine tourist. In contrast, it’s impossible to avoid calling the Barossa Valley Australia’s Napa – it’s the biggest quality-wine region, the tourist side is admirably well-developed and as a result the big firms all need to be here – they dominate production, albeit often through prestigious subsidiary companies that seem to operate with an enviable degree of autonomy. (Penfolds – their Grange, Australia’s ‘first growth’, an icon for decades and traditionally a blend of wines from all over and is assembled in Barossa. The ultimate South-Eastern Australian? It may have the cult status, and a price to match, but its un-oaked sibling Saint Henri is the insider’s choice and a comparative bargain; Lion Nathan’s St Hallett , Jacob’s Creek , Wolf Blass and Hardy’s all have bases here. It’s the medium-sized firms, many of them independent, including Bethany , Charles Melton , Duval , Elderton , Glaetzer , Grant Burge , Greenock Creek , Kaesler , Langmeil (who have Shiraz vines from 1843), Maverick , Peter Lehmann , Rockford , Spinifex , Teusner , Torbreck , Turkey Flat , Two Hands and Yalumba that make most of the wines that maintain Barossa’s world-class reputation.) There are also lots of small farmers, some of whom, if they’re lucky enough to have old-vine Syrah and Grenache, are assiduously courted by bigger firms for their…
Australian Wine - Western Australia. The varied climates and terrains of the 350-odd-mile coast of ‘WA’ suit a wide range of grape varieties that make wine in a wide variety of styles, almost all of which have one thing in common: high quality. There are very few WA wines in super-markets and even the lowest-priced are well above average price. This is a good thing and reflects the fact that, refreshingly, the biggest producers (Houghton – pronounced ‘horton’, Plantagenet and Evans & Tate ) seem to make only good – and often good value – wines. The southernmost region of WA is Great Southern, where Antarctic Ocean currents cool coastal areas sufficiently for succulent Pinot Noir and racy Riesling while intense Shiraz and rich Chardonnays emerge from the warmer interior. Most wineries are brand-spanking but there are established role-models in the Mount Barker sub-region (Plantagenet , Forest Hill ) to give the tyros in Denmark (Howard Park, West Cape) and Frankland River (Alkoomi, Ferngrove, Frankland Estate) something to aim for. In the latter the Westfield Vineyard (Houghton) was where winemaker Jack Mann started the modern WA industry and the remaining two easternmost regions Albany and Porongurup have yet to hit their export stride. Heading west, the Pemberton region (Brookland Valley – also in Margaret River; Fonty’s Pool ; Picardy ; Seven Day Road ) is rapidly making a name for itself beyond its perimeters. The name of the beguiling Margaret River region is probably known to more people than that of WA itself. Cooled by the onshore Fremantle Doctor breeze, it’s not just a pretty face: there are over 100 producers, many of them adept with a wide range of varietals including Cape Mentelle , Evans and Tate , Marchand & Burch , McHenry Hohnen , Palandri , Suckfizzle/Stella Bella…
Australian wines - Tasmania. From a standing start in the 1980s, the wines of the island state have become the subject of Tas-Mania in the last few years. The industry is starting to mature as the vines themselves age and add the dimension of complexity. It is one of the most happening regions and change occurs at breakneck pace. Most activity is around Launceston in the north (Tamar Valley ), Pipers River to the east and the Coal River and Derwent Valley around Hobart in the south. Along with the newest, East Coast, they are at around the same latitudes as New Zealand’s winegrowing regions and it shows. In the south the Antarctic influence is more real than the somehow theoretical version that shapes things on the south and south-west coast of the mainland. The topography is as diverse as the climate, which can be cooler or wetter, warmer or drier than anywhere in Victoria and the result is a slow, steady ripening of the grapes, with naturally low yields – the perfect place for wine. Here at the margins, global warming may dictate exactly which grapes it’s perfect for, but for now, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are everywhere, but Pinot Gris and the other Alsace grapes are doing well. Some are also betting that rising temperatures may make the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz route the way ahead. Of the 250-plus wineries, most are tiny, but there is a show of muscleflexing at the next, entrepreneurial (rather than corporate), level among growers who have the experience to move nimbly to exploit the next big thing. The horse-trading over the best sites is dizzying – deals come and go in the blink of an eye. (Andrew Pirie: Tamar Ridge , Pirie Estate Freycinet and Pirie South ; Clover Hill ,…
Austrian beer – an Austrian brewer called Anton Dreher started the world’s love affair with clear beer with his red Vienna-style in the 1830s – up to then all beer had been more or less cloudy. He has worthy successors who make mostly medium-bodied Märzen lagers, which in most cases have evaded the attentions of the big beercos. Try these: Edelweiss, Heineken-owned Gösser, Stiegl, Trumer, Zipfer, and Schloss Eggenberg, makers of Samichlaus 14% abv lager. 
Austrian wine – in the twenty-five years since the Austrian wine industry splattered itself across the windscreen of the anti-freeze scandal (when unscrupulous merchants were using diethylene-glycol to artificially sweeten late-harvest wines, including some eiswein as I live and breathe) it has remade itself. To the vast majority for whom Austrian wine means anything at all, it means Gruner Veltliner (Angerer Felsner, Jurtschitsch, Sepp Moser, Loimer, Prager, Schloss Gobelsburg, Steininger, Domäne Wachau, Wess, Wieninger), the classy white grape unknown there fifty years ago but now accounting for over a third of plantings. ‘Groovy’ has rocked its way in to UK supermarkets and consumers’ affections with – when it’s good – cracklingly fresh acidity and its trademark twist of white pepper. Many of the best are from the Kamptal, Kremstal and Wachau areas of Niederösterreich, north-west of Vienna (and all of the wine regions are sprinkled around the eastern edge of the country) while simple ones are served up with a bit of bread and scrape in the charmingly basic Heurigen (taverns) run (and open on a rota basis) by the producers themselves. There’s much more to Austria than just Grüner, though, and there are world-class Rieslings (Alzinger, Bründlmayer, Eichinger, Hiedler, Hirtzberger, Nigl, Nikolaihof, Pichler, Salomon-Undhof), from their rich dry style known as Trocken in Germany and Smaragd in Austria, through to sweet wines as good as any from Germany, especially around the Neusiedlersee (Kracher), and international varieties as well (Tement, Velich). Reds from native varieties Blaufränkisch, the best from Burgenland on the opposite side of the capital: Feiler-Artinger, Heinrich , Nittnaus , Pittnaeur , Prieler , Schrock ; Zweigelt (Schreiner) and St Laurent (Pfaffi) – when you can find them, especially in restaurants – offer the sort of value that comes in sackcloth and ashes. The number of organic, biodynamic…
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