Published in The A - Z of Drinks

Arrack – booze was probably first formed in a gourd of palm sugar left out in the rain into which the right little speck of yeast landed, setting off a spontaneous fermentation. Whoever looked at it the next morning and wondered why their breakfast was bubbling should have stopped there. But they had a sniff . . . and then a sip – at which point all their instincts should have said, ‘Eeeuw!’ But the person who started it all (I suspect a direct ancestor of mine) thought, ‘Mmmm, you know, that’s really not bad,’ and then took a second sip – the first ever booze-up. Similar drinks are still made by primitive peoples in Java, Borneo, Sumatra, South London and Sweden, where it has evolved into what they call Punsch.

Published in The A - Z of Drinks

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.

Published in The A - Z of Drinks

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.

Published in The A - Z of Drinks

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.


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I have been writing about drinks since 2000, mainly for newspapers and magazines, and also through my blog, which is being updated alphabetically here (see below).

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The Knowledge: Red Wine.

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