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October 31st, 2010

I drank France – part 2

I was in Burgundy for all of five minutes before I began plotting how I could move there for a few years, holing up in a little village with well-pruned grape vines and a Romanesque cathedral, drinking delicious, affordable bottles of some of the world’s best wine, eating pungent, oozy epoisse cheese after multi-course, farm-to-table lunches. The whole farm-to-table thing just happens naturally in the Burgundian countryside. They don’t make a big deal out of it. Another thing that happens: pastis (for about $2.50 a glass) with your morning coffee. How could I not embrace that civilized tradition?

Here’s proof of me enjoying a nice belt of the licorice-y national beverage at about 11:00 a.m. in the beautiful, medieval city of Cluny. Cluny was once the center of western monasticism and boasted the second-largest cathedral after St. Peter’s in Rome before the building was destroyed during the French Revolution.

Yep, the dude in the little white truck is guiding his flock of sheep into their pen at the end of a day of grazing.

If you go to Burgundy and don’t order escargots, go directly to jail. Plump snails bathed in butter, garlic and herbs — with a carafe of the house white, which will not cost you much and will be as solidly structured as the 11th-century stone cathedral across the street.

Another Burgundian delicacy that it is against the law not to eat as often as possible: epoisse, the local washed-rind cheese (washed in marc, the local unaged brandy, akin to grappa). When it’s perfectly ripe, it oozes out of its rind like honey. Stinky in the most wholesome possible sense. This photo was taken in Beaune, the capital of the Burgundy wine trade, where a well-dressed representative of that trade, just back from Japan, shared some of his Sancerre with us.

Oh, hi. Another kick-ass bottle of Burgundy. This was in a totally ho-hum-looking cafe in the town of Nuits-Saint-Georges where, like a good tourist, I ordered the Boeuf Bourguignon. They did not phone it in — it was luscious. This memorable lunch cost about $18.

On the way to Paris, we stopped at the stunning Fontenay Abbey. It was established by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the austere Cistercian order, in 1118. This is a view from the cloister.

Le Baron Rouge (the Red Baron) is one of those “hidden gems” that was outed a while ago by savvy Paris travelers, so I’m not going to feel too bad about writing it up. You can see above the riches to be found on its chalkboard menu. Also, one of its walls is adorned with wood casks from which you can fill a liter of wine to bring home for short money (i.e. about $5!). It was very quiet the day I visited, but I heard that Sunday afternoons are crowded with patrons enjoying really good wine and charcuterie without the tourist mark-up.

By far my biggest splurge while in Paris was at the fabled Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Hotel, located in the elegant Place Vendome. There I drank a $41 Manhattan with some fellow American ladies of the international cocktail scene: ex-pats Forest Collins, who works on tsunami-warning logistics for the U.N. and writes the 52 Martinis blog, and burlesque performer Gentry Lane; plus Vivienne VaVoom, another burlesque performer who was visiting from Denver. Yes, that’s more than I paid for most of my multi-course meals in Burgundy. But the head-spinning journey from drinking pastis in anonymous village cafes with a bunch of old guys to drinking cocktails in one of the most celebrated bars in the western world with a tsunami expert and two striptease artists? Priceless.

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April 11th, 2009

The grape and the grain

Beer crowd toastingIt appears that April 2009 is unofficially Beer and Wine Month in Boston. You’ve got the first Wine Riot (“This isn’t your parents’ wine event”) and the 10th Beer Summit happening on the same weekend, April 17 and 18. Tix are still on sale for both. And you’ve got the Craft Brewers Conference coming to town the following week, April 21-24. It’s all part of Boston’s long-hatched plan to be the best drinking town in America.

Wine tastingOK, maybe not, but it all adds up to some serious enthusiasm in the Hub for good drink. Note that the Craft Brewers Conference, an annual gathering of folks in an industry made up of thousands of small breweries and brewpubs, doesn’t just meet in any city. They aim for venues that offer attendees lots of places where they can find their chosen beverage. While most of the activity around the conference is industry-only and happens at the World Trade Center, breweries and beer bars around Boston are doing special events to take advantage of the influx of beer professionals from around the country.

Redbones is having a Smuttynose Keg Party on April 22 from 5:00-7:00 — 18 kegs of the Portsmouth, NH, brewery’s beers on tap at one time including vintage, short-batch and fan favorites. Also, brewers from the Cambridge Brewing Co. and Mayflower Brewing led the creation of a special beer for the conference, the Audacity of Hops, which will be available at Cambridge Brewing and some other local bars that week (and perhaps for a little while afterwards if supplies last).

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January 22nd, 2009

Inaugural insanity at Green Street

Dylan Black and the champagne towerTyler Balliet and the champagne tower

“Is it always this busy on a Tuesday?” unsuspecting customers asked upon entering Green Street last night. Yes, if that Tuesday happens to fall on the date of a historic U.S. presidential inauguration. And if drinkboston, BeerAdvocate and the Second Glass band together to invite everyone in the city to celebrate at this nicely stocked bar. And if presidential cocktails, inaugural craft beers, a champagne “tower of freedom” and $4 tacos are on the menu.

Obama inauguration party - Todd Alstrom

The crowd drank early and often, so that, by 7:30 p.m., the Ale to the Chief and Inauguration Ale (aka “Obamagang”), the Whiskey Punch (recipe below) and the Gruet Brut tower (built from specs by Martha Stewart!) were drained dry. But there was lots more good beer, sparkling wine and cocktails to be had, and bartenders Andy McNees and Emily Stanley served them up as fast as they could. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. I know I was.

Obama inauguration party - Lauren Clark with Whiskey Punch

Whiskey Daisy (New School, 1910s)
From Imbibe! by David Wondrich

2 oz whiskey
Juice 1/2 lime and 1/4 lemon
1 teaspoonful superfine sugar
2 dashes (1 tsp) grenadine
2 dashes (1/2 oz) carbonated water

Last night, this recipe was batched up to make a large bowl of punch cooled by a sizable chunk of ice. The proper Daisy preparation, however, is as follows: “Use silver mug, put in above ingredients, fill up with fine ice, stir until mug is frosted, decorate with fruit and sprays of fresh mint and serve with straws.”

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January 14th, 2009

Come toast BHO … and Old Hickory, FDR & JFK!

Andrew Jackson inauguration

I know, the invitations to inauguration parties are piling up in your Facebook inbox. But will those parties take place at one of Boston’s best bars — Green Street — and feature a historic coming-together of presidential cocktails, specially brewed inaugural beers and a champagne toast? I think not. So gather all your friends and bring them to Central Square on the night of Barack Obama’s inauguration, January 20.

In the spirit of bi-partisan cooperation, Drinkboston will represent the cocktail community in co-hosting a celebration with the folks behind the world’s largest online beer community, BeerAdvocate. The wine wing of our commonwealth will also be represented; Tyler Balliet, who writes the Second Glass wine column in the Weekly Dig, will construct a champagne tower. Imagine: cocktail drinkers, beer drinkers, wine drinkers — even independents — in the same room, clinking glasses in honor of a new president and doing our part to move the country (or at least our psyches) in a new direction.

Check out the cocktail menu — it’s historically relevant and tasty.

Whiskey Punch
At the Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson inauguration of 1829, “common folk” showed up at the White House in droves to welcome their new president, whom they elected for his promise of change: less aristocracy, more democracy. To save the furniture from being totally destroyed, Jackson lured the unruly mob out on the lawn with huge tubs of whiskey punch. (Whiskey, citrus, and other special ingredients.)

Martini
The Obama presidency begins during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. That fact, along with Obama’s steadiness under pressure and ability to inspire people, have invited comparisons to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Several accounts name the Martini FDR’s preferred cocktail. He often mixed them himself for White House guests and was said to enjoy both a twist and an olive, not to mention Plymouth gin. (Plymouth gin, dry vermouth. Well chilled and straight up.)

Daiquiri
Barack Obama’s intelligence, youth and forward-looking ideas excited the electorate in 2008 much as John F. Kennedy’s did in 1960. Despite a couple of well-known tussles with Cuba, JFK’s favorite cocktail was said to be the Cuban-born Daiquiri. (Light rum, fresh lime, sugar. Shaken and straight up.)

Margarita
I do solemnly swear … our newest president enjoys the occasional cocktail, too. According to a Boston Globe article, Barack Obama always ordered a house Margarita at one of his fave Chicago restaurants, Topolobampo. (Tequila, Cointreau, fresh lime. Shaken and straight up, with or without salt — perfect with one of Green Street’s $4 tacos!)

And that’s just the cocktails. Two very special brews will also be featured: Ale to the Chief, a double IPA (India Pale Ale) from Avery Brewing in Colorado, and “Obamagang” (aka Inauguration Ale 2009 from the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, which specializes in Belgian-style ales). According to Appellation Beer, “the style lies between a porter and stout, with a bit of Kriek and a touch of chocolate blended in.”

This is a ticket-less, free-form party. Just show up and get your Hail to the Chief on. The kitchen’ll put out some killer free snax (homemade chips & dip, spiced nuts, etc.), plus really good tacos for $4 each. Festivities begin at 5:00 p.m. and end at last call. Hope to see you there!

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February 26th, 2008

Budometer

No, it’s not a tool for measuring how much Budweiser you drink, it’s a way to find out what kind of wines your taste buds prefer. Check out the Taste Budometer. “The Taste Budometer will ask you simple questions about salt, coffee and mixed drinks that are proven in many studies to align with taste sensitivities,” says the web site. Once you complete the survey, you’ll be assigned a classification based on your taste preferences.

According to the Budometer, I’m what’s known as a Tolerant Taster. “We demand intensity, plenty of oak and power. BIG is better! High alcohol wines often taste rich and delicious.” My supposed favorite white wines? “Reserve-style Chardonnays from around the world. Rhone-style whites. Frankly I’d just rather have red wine.” And my favorite reds? “Cabernet Sauvignon and blends. Rhone and Rhone-style blends. Old-vine Zinfandels. Brunellos, Super Tuscan, Barolo, and Amarone from Italy. Intensely flavored reds from France, Spain and South Africa.”

Based on my relatively limited experience with wine — my income allows me only a passing familiarity with a lot of the fancy stuff named above — those results are pretty accurate. But they’re limited. I like a much wider variety of whites, for example, as well as some lighter reds. Granted, the Budometer is still in its beta stage. As the web site explains, it currently takes into account only the “sensory discrimination” aspect of your wine preference, not its “aspiration value.” Huh?

“The founders of the Taste BUDOMETER postulate that people’s preferences in food, music, wine and all things ‘sensory’ can be best understood in two primary dimensions: Sensory Discrimination and Aspiration Value. While people are distributed all across these two dimensions, the deep genetic and cultural influences at work mean, in reality, that people are highly clustered into groups within the Flavor-Aspiration Matrix.”

Apparently, the prime-time version of the Budometer will feature a way to measure that “aspiration value,” the better to find out where you fall in the Flavor-Aspiration Matrix. Finally, a personality test for winos.

Thanks to Stan Hieronymus, author of Brew Like a Monk, for the Budometer tip. It happened to be part of a post on his Appellation Beer blog that mentioned my latest Ms. Mug column for Ale Street News, The Pink Elephant in the Room.

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