Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tea and Whiskey

Water? Isn’t that the stuff they put under bridges?
~ unattributed

Must be my Irish blood that leads me to drink more tea and whiskey than water. The water is fine here—after all, I use it to brew the tea and, on occasion, to mellow and cool my whiskey—but drinking straight water is something I do almost exclusively at the gym or on long drives. Face it, during long drives, whiskey does not recommend itself.

How much iced tea do I drink? Made a gallon yesterday. It’s gone. Time for a new batch. Here’s how I make the quotidian starting off with an infusion strong enough to stand up to old-school alcoholic party punches.

Everyday Iced Tea

24 g (just shy of an ounce) black tea, such as orange pekoe, either loose or in bags
3 cups/750 ml water

Bring the water to boil in a non-reactive pot with a tight-fitting lid. Turn off the heat, add the tea, and cover. Let steep five minutes. Meanwhile fill a gallon pitcher ¾ full with cold water (you’re going to add very hot strong tea in a few minutes, so the cold water absorbs the heat and prevents the pitcher from cracking/melting).

After five minutes, strain the tea from the water (or lift out the tea bags, if using them) and pour the resulting strong tea into the cold water. Top off with more cold water to make a full gallon.

Pour over ice in individual glasses right away or refrigerate.

Sweet tea is another topic. We’ll tackle that some other day.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Distillers: Mike McCaw and Ian Smiley

Mike McCaw will be giving what I think may be a very well attended and exciting, interactive session, Artisan Still Design and Construction on July 17th, and I plan to be there. All of us out there, the hidden hobbyists, the tens of thousands of home distillers who frequent the distilling forums on the Internet, know who Mike is and hang on his every word about home distilling.

~ Jonathan Forester
Distiller and blogger

Artisan home distilling has evolved so much in the last ten years that distillers from our parents' and grandparents' era might not even recognize some of the standard equipment used in basements, garages, and kitchens around the country.

In just a few weeks, I’m going to be sitting down with two men who helped steer some of those changes. If you’re in or around New Orleans and have even a passing interest in the hows and whys of modern home distilling, come join us at Tales of the Cocktail (see below for details).

When Ann Tuennerman asked me to come to Tales this year, I was flattered, of course. I can talk about moonshine, regional variations among distillers, nano-distilling, very small batch distilling, and bootlegging all day. I’ve met more moonshiners and unlicensed spirits-wranglers, especially in the last five years, than popular books and recent articles suggested even existed anymore. But I didn’t think it would be fair to the people who will fly in to hear something special just listen to me yak on about the fruit jar trade.

See, I’m a storyteller. Some of the most engaging aspects of off-the-grid distilling for me are the tales and reflections of people making their own liquor—not just how, and with what, but why they would be driven to do such a thing, especially when spirits from around the world aren’t that hard to get.

But this particular audience—known to show a shade of obsession when it comes to creating homemade replicas of obscure spirits—I suspected would be interested in the practical aspects of distilling—that is, the legal ramifications and practice of crafting spirits—well as stories about how home distilling is shaking off some of its checkered past. With professional distillers (above- and below-board) in attendance, I knew the discussion had to be top-shelf.

Enter Ian Smiley and Mike McCaw.

Mike, along with Mike Nixon, is known among home distillers as one of The Mikes. He’s the co-founder of the Amphora Society which promotes distilling globally and, also with Nixon, is co-author The Compleat Distiller, a cornerstone text for any modern artisan distiller’s library. Mike advises and consults with startup distilleries around the world and is one of today’s foremost experts on microdistillery operations.

Ian Smiley, who’s been experimenting with stills since his teenage years, runs Smiley’s Home Distilling and will be joining us from Ontario. As Ian turned into one of the online go-to guys for distilling questions over the last decade, his email answers metastasized into multi-page missives and he realized that he’d been gestating a book.

Once fine-tuned and re-tooled, his library of distilling how-to answers turned into Making Pure Corn Whiskey, a solid book—a necessary book—for anyone interested in the practicalities of operating small stills.

Michael Dietsch, writing at Blogging Tales of the Cocktail, has posted two (of three—one more to come) transcripts of a four-way Skype interview between us. Part One is here. Part Two is here. Apparently, I was doing my nails, watching cartoons, or taking out the spent grains while Dietsch was asking questions. He promises that I pipe up in part three…but if you plan to attend the sessions (or just want to know a little more about our backgrounds), check out Michael's postings for some in-depth discussion.

Oh, and Jonathan? I know exactly who built that still on your post. There will be some of his other customers in attendance, so you should be able to compare operation notes.

Goes well with:


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Scots Distilleries Go Dry

We've had to stop production for the past 10 days.

~ Mark Reynier
managing director
Bruichladdich Distillery

Penguins seem in good shape for our lifetimes, though I suppose I'll miss the polar bears, destined as they seem for extinction. I did not, however, expect to hear that climate change would have such an immediate effect on distillers. My friend and distiller Brooks Hamaker passed on a disturbing bit of news.

Over the centuries, famine has affected the distilling industry—even a casual reading of British legislation regulating grain since the 17th century reveals restrictions on how grain may be used in times of want. Nothing new there.

The twist this month in Scotland seems to be that there is a connection to global warming patterns. Uncharacteristically sunny and warmer days have meant that the rainfall is down enough to stop production outright at a number of Scotland's whisky distilleries and slow production at others.

My brother has inherited a taste for Scotch from our grandmother, an appreciation that has passed me by. Regardless of how much Scotch I may or may not keep around the house, I hate to see any artisans get hosed by circumstances beyond their control.

It is a sad day for these distillers and my heart goes out to them. See the Gaurdian's write-up here.

In penance for once having said an unkind thing, here's a nod to Scotland's dessicating distilleries:

Camper English and I were sharing drinks last summer at San Francisco's Bourbon & Branch, discussing some of our favored spirits with a local home distiller. Camper ordered a Scotch-based Blood & Sand cocktail and I must have pulled a face.

"You don't like scotch?" he asked, as if maybe I had claimed that I don't like cake, holiday bonuses, or long vacations.

"Feh. I'd rather lick an alleycat," I said, somewhat overstating the case.

"Well." He blinked. Paused. "You're wrong." And to prove it, the Scotch evangelist offered me a dose of his cocktail when it came.

For just a fleeting moment, in the dark recesses of the secluded loft, away from the ears of the other patrons, with Billie Holiday playing through the speakers, great conversation about unlicensed stills flowing, and perched on a chair in good company, it seemed as if I'd tasted heaven when my lips touched that glass.

Then the familiar peatreek taste came to me. If that's the taste of heaven, it's probably for the best that I'm headed to the other place.

The Blood & Sand Cocktail

1 oz. Scotch
1 oz. orange juice
3/4 oz. Cherry Heering (a Danish cherry liqueur)
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth

Shake with ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a brandied cherry.

Ok, ok, this is better than an alleycat. But I'm still waiting to try the Scotch whisky that will make me eat my words.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Smakatoa Cocktail

Wow. You’re old, but you’re built like a brick shithouse. That’s hot.

~ spectacularly unsuccessful Long Beach suitor

A story in which Rowley, weights, and rum come together. Rum wins.

Yesterday was the first real day back at the gym in a month. May’s trip to New Orleans got me out of a habit that used to find me there five days a week, usually before dawn. Oh, I’ve gone and hit the treadmill, desultorily moved some weights around a few days a week, but not really dug in like I meant it.

Yesterday afternoon, I very nearly dropped to my knees and hurled right there next to the pec deck. Maybe it’s the unusually hot weather we’ve been having, or the cold water I was drinking, but I was liking the gym a whole lot less than usual.

Now I don’t work out so I can have some fancy sculpted physique. Far from it. No, I go because I love to eat and drink. If gluttony were searching for a poster boy, I’d definitely get a callback. See, I go to work off the calories I consume from gumbo, roast pork, biscuits, duck confit, bacon, sausages, pancakes, carne asada, guisados from my favorite Mexican lunchateria, chicken-fried steak, and buckets of cocktails…why, if I didn’t, I’d be big as and noxious a FEMA trailer.

So it was with particular delight that I whipped up a tiki-inspired cocktail when I got home. To settle my stomach, you understand. After all, it was hot as blazes, a perfect day for a refreshing rum cocktail, and I’d just burned through a mess of calories. Time to tank up on more.

Why rum? About two months back, I’d visited the Puka Bar in Long Beach, California. Didn’t even know it existed and ended up having a fantastic time. Live rockabilly music, fun crowd, and—as my photographer buddy Jim Ezell put it—“authentic” tiki cocktails.

Now, we’ll set aside for the time being notions of authenticity and tiki. They did have some standards (scorpions, mai tais, zombies) along with newer concoctions such as the snow monkey (Cazadores tequila, banana liqueur, pineapple juice, and coconut snow) to catch the eye (and assault the liver).

It was a serendipitous dovetail with the tiki mulling I’d been having for the past several months—reading Jeff "Beachbum" Berry’s great books on tiki cocktails (see below), attending Paul Tuennerman's birthday party at Celebration Distillation (home of Old New Orleans Rum), drinking much rum at home, having an ancient mariner cocktail up at Dr. Cocktail’s (the Beachbum's recipe), and thinking tiki thoughts in general, so when I saw a half-gallon jug of mango puree at Costco a few weeks ago, I bought it and began adding rums in controlled experiments.

Named after the Indonesian island Krakatoa, but with an ability to smack your ass off the porch for its size if you indulge in more than one, I’ve dubbed this

The Smakatoa

4 oz Pyrat XO Reserve rum (Bacardi 8 or Appleton's are also nice)
4 oz Naked mango puree
½ oz falernum*
3 dashes Angostura bitters
1 oz seltzer

Mix the first four ingredients in a pint glass. Add ice cubes to within an inch of the brim, stir with a bar spoon, top with seltzer, give it a quick swirl with a spoon, and serve immediately.

I’m not a big fan of seltzer in cocktails, but this helps to lighten the thick mango puree admirably, making it better suited to leisurely summertime drinking.

* Falernum is a West Indies syrup that finds its way into many, many mid-century cocktails, but which is a little tricky to find today. Fee Brothers makes a non-alcoholic version, and there’s the 11% abv Bajan Velvet Falernum you can find in some liquor stores. But a lot of cocktail enthusiasts are making their own versions with infusions of lime, almonds, ginger, and other ingredients in overproof rum. Older cookbooks also include it under alternate spellings such as valernum and falerium. It pays to scan carefully.

Goes well with:


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wake Up, It's Time for a Brandy Milk Punch

[Spent a week recently back in one of my favorite cities in the world. Here’s the first of occasional post-New Orleans notes.]

In the wake of Katrina, New Orleans remains a broken, dysfunctional city—but, then, it was always dysfunctional and I mean that with a great deal of affection: it's a sultry, nearly tropical, city unlike any other in the nation, the social fabric heaving with open secrets and local scandals, an entrenched food culture that has lent any but the most incurious citizens a sophisticated and educated taste in bills of fare, and a climate that, for several months out of the year, practically demands alcohol at nearly any hour of the day just to escape hot air so freighted with water that might burst into rain if a door so much as slams shut.

Perfect weather for rum, bourbon, and brandy. Yes, even with breakfast, a habit in which I almost never indulge anywhere but there.

Now the city is growing, well, less broken, if not actually fixed. Houses are still abandoned, neighborhoods gone, shipping containers parked almost permanently on some streets packed with the contents of houses as yet unrepaired, and some restaurants may not stay open as late, or as many days, as they used to. But construction crews are everywhere; houses being re-sided, new roofs going up, sidewalks and driveways being relaid. The food is as good as it ever was. No, it ain’t back to business as usual. But it is coming back.

I’ve been coming to New Orleans for nearly twenty years. And I’ll keep coming back, for my friendships there are as thick as the air.

On a morning like today’s, when I’m still pulling kittens out of my mouth but have yet to get to the farmers’ market to lay in supplies for the family dinner tonight, a New Orleans breakfast drink is called for. I did say “almost” never for breakfast…

Ladies and gentlemen, Dammen und Herren, madames et monsieurs, I give you:

The Brandy Milk Punch

2 oz brandy
1 ounce simple syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (genuine, high-proof stuff)
1 1/2 ounces milk
Freshly grated or shaved nutmeg* for garnish

Pour brandy, simple syrup, vanilla, and milk in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass and fill with ice. Strain mixture into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with nutmeg and serve immediately.
* I shave my nutmegs with an old microplane that bigger-than-life Shirley Corriher gave me years before anyone else outside woodworking knew what they were. It gives a nice, almost filigree, texture that otherwise only the finest-grain graters would yield.

Goes well with:
  • Chris McMillian, plying his trade these days at the New Orleans restaurant MiLa, made a series of great videos for In this video, he demonstrates a BMP. The man's a pleasure to watch in action.
  • My buddy Pableaux Johnson kicked in a recipe for LSU Tiger's [sic] milk punch for a Times-Picayune piece a while back. For when just one won't do, here's a bourbon-based version that, with ice, yields about a gallon. Hmmm...maybe that's not a sic, after all. Maybe it's just one hammered tiger...In any event, here's his slightly different take on his own blog,

Friday, June 20, 2008

Museum of the American Cocktail teeters on the cusp of opening

It is part Museum, part bar, and part Victorian bordello!

~ Museum Curator Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh

Dr. Cocktail and Blake DeGroff (not at all affected by paint fumes).

The walls are painted, the cases installed, the objects are just about all set. MOTAC, the Museum of the American Cocktail, is about to open its doors. I was fortunate to spend a week last month sweating my ass off assisting curator Ted Haigh with a combination of grunt work and advising on collections management for the historical collections (that museum management degree comes in handy). I’m such a geek, I’m excited just thinking about it. Cocktails? Museums? How could I not be involved?

The New Orleans museum officially opens 10:30am on Monday July 21st, right after five days of rowdiness from the crowds visiting for Tales of the Cocktail. Me? I’m expecting the assembled cocktailians, bartenders, distillers, and cocktail laity to look a little green around the gills, but smiling nonetheless. Read the press release.

The museum’s mission
The Museum of the American Cocktail™ is a nonprofit organization founded by a group of cocktail historians and spirits experts, and dedicated to providing education in mixology and preserving the rich history of the American cocktail. Through its exhibit, educational seminars, and publishing program, the Museum advances the profession of mixology while stressing the importance of responsible drinking.

What might you see? The material culture of American cocktail history: art deco and mid century cocktail shakers, recipe books, vintage spirits in their original bottles, advertising, tiki ephemera, bartending tools, and more. Yes, there’s a moonshine section…well, prohibition, actually, but with a home-sized still diorama set up all 1920’s style.

Keep your eyes out as well for the history of the word "cocktail" itself. Competing theories abound about its origin and meaning, but so far nobody seems to have come up with an instance of the word in print before 13 May, 1806 when The Balance and Columbian Repository printed a tongue-in-cheek account balance of a politician's losing bid to gain office. The following week, the editor clarified what was meant by the word — Cock tail, then is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters it is vulgarly called a bittered sling...

So, 10:30 Monday morning. July 21st. Might need a hair of the bear that mauled me, but I'll be there. Will you?

Become a MOTAC member here. And check out Jill DeGroff's more recent pics of the build-out here.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Moonshine in the Mainstream

"Moonshine is the Amy Winehouse of the drinking set," Rowley said. "There is real genius afoot, but what a mess you have to crawl through to find it."

~ The Washington Post

The past few weeks have seen some growing mainstream interest in topics moonshiny.

First, there’s Jane Black’s piece Distillers Betting On 'Boutique' Versions of Hooch in the Washington Post that spotlights Joe Mahalek and his take on Carolina moonshine at Piedmont Distillers. Piedmont makes Midnight Moon, an homage to the moonshine of yesterear, backed with thumbs-up from Junior Johnson, one of NASCAR’s founding legends who earned his stripes running moonshine in the early days of stock car racing. They also put out Catdaddy, a spiced liquor that I’ve been playing around with lately.*

Second, there’s Robin Shulman’s take on an uptick in home distilling in New York: The Scene of the Crime Was an Upscale Suburb. I like the piece and found it completely in line with what I’ve experienced in the field meeting distillers from Europe and across North America. One quote, though, stuck out:

Enter the Brooklyn food blogger, who refuses to give his name for fear of legal repercussions, who mounts his still on top of his kitchen stove to take advantage of its steady gas flame.

He makes apple brandy from apple cider he fermented, distilling it to ramp up the alcohol content to 140 proof. He distills mead he first made from local buckwheat honey.

Hoping to pay back his college loans, he toyed last summer with the idea of making and selling absinthe, the "green fairy" long illegal in the United States, but his plans were stymied when he found out absinthe is now being imported legally.

I love this guy’s whole approach to products, including his plans to make a whiskey from “heirloom floor-malted Scottish barley” to the cast-iron grain mill he’s bought to crack the barley to the correct size. But I sprouted a tight-lipped smile at plans to sell his absinthe.

Moonshiners (those who make illicit spirits) and bootleggers (those who sell spirits—legal or not—under illicit circumstances) wouldn’t care one way or the other if someone wants to sell liquor…unless it’s in their stomping grounds, then there might be an anonymous call to the sheriff’s tip hotline.

But selling homemade liquor among the home distilling crowd? I can’t imagine something that’d turn a room of home distillers on you faster. Forget metaphors of red-headed stepchildren or having a raw steak tied to your head at a Michael Vick dogfight: the established hobbyists go bizooty when they hear newcomers planning to sell their makings and let the newbies know that they consider it a flagrant violation of an informal home distillers' code. I've seen it happen; it's quite impressive.

Sub rosa distillers don’t all talk to each other, though many of them do, and there’s still far from a common vocabulary to describe their equipment and products (no national moonshiner union to enforce standards, I suppose), but "don’t sell your makings" is one message that seems to have sunk in regardless of where I talk to them.

Of course, the article is ambiguous. Sell hausgemacht absinthe? Or sell legal licensed liquor? I like the sound of that. I’ve said it before: I can’t wait for the day when legal micro-distilleries are as common on the American landscape as craft breweries. In a trend that seems to grow more pronounced, yesterday’s home distillers are becoming licensed micro-distillers. Be patient with that homebrew, boys (and girls): You may get around to selling it eventually.

*Disclaimer: Piedmont Distillers is sponsoring a session I’m chairing at next month’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. You’ll notice, however, that there’s no advertising on my blog, other than the occasional plug for my book. If I mention a product, well, it’s because I want to, not because I’m being paid for it. I'd mention Jane's article if for no other reason than I'm quoted and I've been accused of being a media darling. Or was that "ho?" I get them confused.

Goes well with:

  • Tom Wolf's 1965 essay "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" Even if you don't care for NASCAR or car racing, it's a fun read even after forty-three years:
    In this legend, here is a country boy, Junior Johnson, who learns to drive by running whiskey for his father, Johnson, Senior, one of the biggest copper-still operators of all time, up in Ingle Hollow, near North Wilkesboro, in northwestern North Carolina, and grows up to be a famous stock car racing driver, rich, grossing $100,000 in 1963, for example, respected, solid, idolized in his hometown and throughout the rural South.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

M.E. Steedman's Bitters

A brief note today since I'm catching up on work after five days of houseguests.

Even those who know me casually know that, like any cocktail geek worth his/her salt these days, I've got a thing for bitters. I'm down with potable bitters such as Campari and Averno that you might drink on their own, add in large doses to mixed drinks, or hit with a splash of soda over ice for hot-ass muggy days.

Aromatic cocktail bitters, though, I hold in especially high regard. These are intensely-flavored and mouth-puckeringly bitter liquids that come in small bottles and dashers and are intended to complement and lift the flavors of other spirits. I have more than I need, but use all those in the bar larder. In fact, I scored two 10-oz bottles of Regans' orange bitters No. 6 from Hi-Time Wine Cellar when I was in Costa Mesa, California a few weeks back. More than enough to last me through year's end, but I'd been eking out what I could from the smaller bottle I'd gotten in 2006. You don't just walk into a grocery store and pick some up in these parts.

With my geeky affection for an old-timey ingredient, it's little surprise that I plunder old books and diaries for recipes to make one's own bitters. This simple bitters comes from a vest-pocket English publication (no date, but I'm guessing 1890's-1910 from the graphics and fonts):


Crush 1 oz. gentian root and half oz. of husked cardamoms together, and mix with 2 oz. of thinly pared Seville orange rind. Half fill some wide-mouth glass bottles with these ingredients, fill up with brandy, cork tightly, and infuse for a fortnight, then strain, and rebottle.

~ Home-Made Beverages and American Drinks
M. E. Steedman (nd) The Food and Cookery Publishing Agency, London.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Applejacked Hessians and a Jack Rose Cocktail

(HTML edited to fix formatting)

Last week when I posted an apocryphal tale about a Revolutionary-era Hessians getting done in by an overindulgence in applejack (New Jersey's famed moonshine apple brandy), I asked if anyone knew more or if this was just a local legend.

Leave it to Will Elsbury, Pre-Twenieth Century Military History Specialist at the Library of Congress, to take the bait. Will, a self-proclaimed military history geek, did some digging and found a story about the Bruen family close enough to what I had heard that it may be the source of the tale.

He writes in part and quoting from a 1916 history:

Equally interesting is a Bruen tradition concerning a party of Hessians that during the Revolutionary War, on a bitter winter day, stopped their horses in front of the Bruen house and rapped with their whipstocks on the front door. The head of the house, like many a good Patriot neighbor in Newark, with real diplomacy withheld all indication of "what side he was on."

"Welcome, gentleman, welcome!" he may have said, as cold gusts swept his hall; for he certainly invited his visitors in, according to Bruen traditions. The winter wind chilled him, and he thought of a little, hungry company of half-clothed Patriots not far away. It was through his foresight, keen appreciation of the situation, and expediency of action that this forlorn band of his countrymen was saved. "A bitter day it is abroad, but 'rest you merry.'" he probably remarked still more jovially, as the Hessians stamped in with such puffing and clanging of weapons. "I have that in my cellar which will warm you and send you on your way again -- new men and better able to withstand the elements.'"

Excellent applejack was stored in the Bruen cellar, and servants were summoned to tap a good keg, which they brought to their master. Generously he dispensed the amber beverage to his guests, careful all the while not to serve himself. Again and again he urged that glasses be drained. The soldiers lingered until, warm and drowsy, they went out into the cold of the winter day. Some of them sluggishly mounted, while others cut across the meadow behind the house in which they had quaffed the excellent applejack. Almost to a man, tradition says, they went to sleep on the meadow, and nearly all perished from the cold. The few who survived were captured by American troops."

Lots of maybes, mights, and could bes in there, but I'm beginning to warm up to the story. It's printed in a history of Newark, New Jersey called Historic Newark; a collection of the facts & traditions about the most interesting sites, streets and buildings of the city; illustrated by reproductions of rare prints & old photographs. (Newark, N.J., 1916, printed for the Fidelity trust company). It's no secret to historians of Mid-Atlantic potables that George Washington, the famous American distiller/president, requested information about the production of apple spirits from the Laird family still known the the quality of their applejack before 1760, so we know that applejack was flowing readily in those parts at the right time.

As Elsbury writes, though, there is no attribution, so it's still unclear whether this is a family legend of a historical incident or actual events. The New Jersey Historical Society, however, does hold Bruen family record books. Those of Caleb Wheeler Bruen (1768-1846) include transactions for the sale of rum, cider, apples, and "spirits." It's not unreasonable to assume that his father (also Caleb Bruen) might have been the patriot in question since distilling seems so strongly to run in families.

Next time I get to Jersey, I'll have to do some more poking around on the subject. In the meanwhile, I might just have to pour myself a Jack Rose cocktail and mull it all over. Check out Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown's take on the classic applejack cocktail. And then try my version:

The Jack Rose Cocktail

1.5 oz Laird's bonded applejack
1 oz fresh lemon juice
a heavy dash of grenadine (made from actual pomegranate juice)*

Mix all together in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, then strain into a rocks glass (or a cocktail/martini glass if you crave fanciness). Some garnish this with lemon slices. I don't see any reason to garnish it with anything other than a pair of lips.

There is another school of drinks scholars that holds lime juice as the proper citrus for this drink. They are mistaken.

*See Scoffin' the Law for simple-ass directions on making your own grenadine.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Koma-Saufen: Coma Drinking

Saufen, grölen, pöbeln – wer das Pech hat, in einer britischen Urlaubshochburg zu landen, wähnt sich schnell in der Hölle. Kein Wunder, dass das Wort Koma-Saufen vom englischen „Binge-Drinking“ kommt. Das Saufen bis zum Umfallen ist eindeutig eine britische „Erfindung“.

~ Das Bild
2 June 2008

[My somewhat free translation since my German is only so-so: Drinking, bellowing, swearing—whoever has the misfortune to land in a British tourist stronghold quickly presumes himself in hell. No wonder that the word “coma-drinking” comes from the English "binge drinking." Drinking until you fall down is clearly a British "invention."]

British and German tabloids are having at each other over how unpleasant each others’ tourists are, spurred on when Briton David Barnish was granted an award against a travel agency that booked a trip for his family in a Greek hotel packed to the rafters with Germans. The Sun tabloid lays out the dirt here while Das Bild lashes back here with unflattering images of nekkid sunburned English women and insults to British national pride. For a splurge in sophomoric nationalism, it’s worth a peek.

Now, our family is largely Irish, so perhaps this is a bit of a pot/kettle discussion, but what gets me is the misguided notion that binge drinking is a British invention. Germans, noted as much for their sobriety as their vegetarianism, seem to be no strangers to consuming prodigious amounts of ethanol (Oktoberfest, anyone?).

In fact, one of my favorite anecdotes of American distillers is from the revolutionary war and involves Germans (notes? Of course I can’t find notes: it’s hours past my bedtime). As I recall, a band of Hessian mercenaries descended on a New Jersey farmstead en route to attacking American forces. The family, rebels that they were, proved their guile by inviting the soldiers to camp in their field and even provided them with a drop of applejack (that is, a local apple brandy) to warm themselves against the cold.

Well, more than a drop. The Hessians drank so much and got so hammered that they passed out and were summarily dealt with. Nein, Das Bild, es tut mir leid: Koma-Saufen seems not to be a British invention. Maybe American…

Does anyone know this story? Is it documented or just a bit of folklore? And, lest anyone think I'm slamming Germans, it's just a little familial ribbing: my great-grandmother, apparently, was named von Hassenberg.

[10 June 2008 edit: Will Elsbury, Pre-Twenieth Century Military History Specialist at the Library of Congress, takes up the gauntlet and digs up a source of the tale here]

Goes well with:
  • Starving Themselves, Cocktail in Hand, a New York Times piece on "drunkorexia... shorthand for a disturbing blend of behaviors: self-imposed starvation or bingeing and purging, combined with alcohol abuse." "Drunkorexia," it claims, "is not an official medical term." Yeah, I pretty much figured. Disturbing nonetheless.