Saturday, October 10, 2020


I sniff in contempt myself running across an article about a "true insider's" drink, Fernet-Branca. These wink-wink, nod-nod stories are irritating, aimed at posers.  As I read them occasionally myself, I have to wonder what this says about me. Occasional poser? I recall one years ago about how a man who was in the know ordered a Cuba Libre with some special qualification, perhaps the type of rum, so that the bartender would Know this was one cool dude.  He considered himself suitably rewarded when the bartender made his rum-and-coke and a touch of lime very carefully, giving him an impressed nod when serving it. No, it's just a rum-and-coke with some lime.  Though if you really like rum-and-coke but don't like the sidelong glances you get ordering it, you now have a method of disguising it.

That's a very smart bartender, recognising when he can free up considerable tip money with little effort.  The poser seemed not to understand that this is what bartenders do for a living.

So the reference to a liqueur that is "The Bartender's Handshake," given in recognition to other bartenders as a sign of hail-fellow-well-met amused me greatly. Oh, really? I did get the hook caught in my cheek when I saw the ingredient "gentian root," though.  That is a primary ingredient of Moxie, a cult favorite in New England despised by most but treasured by a few.  Including me.  I'm not entirely sure why.  I didn't like it as a child, but got irritated as a dad when my sodas all got quickly scooped by others in the family when we went camping, so picked something that they wouldn't like. That worked for a year, maybe two.  My two oldest, perhaps desperate for any soda after theirs were gone, developed a taste for it and are now members of the Moxie Congress. Gentian root is the usual culprit for Moxie-hating, but I don't hate it, I'm quite fond of it.  The description mentioned that there are other flavorful herbs involved.  I should have read the fine print.

The NH Liquor outlets do have some, scattered about the state, but I wasn't going to plunk down over $30 for a bottle of something that risky.  After all, I've already established that I don't digest even Drambuie all that well and have to go cautiously. There were some half-bottles on closeout sale, but only in Colebrook, on the Canadian border.  Two stores, one in Lakes Region and one on the coast, had miniatures for a few bucks.  My daughter-in-law agreed to pick one up on her way to visit her parents in Jackson.  I asked her to get two.

There's still one on the counter, a couple of week's later.  The stuff is vile.  It is in the true medicinal tradition of the old herbal liqueurs, where they threw in whatever flowers and roots that grew in their valley in Italy, or France, or Germany. In this case it's got aloe, which I believe is now used as a medicine only externally. Also myrrh, and angelica, from a plant the Sami people use for food, medicine, and to make a musical instrument. 

It is extremely rare for me to pour good food or drink down the sink, so I did gradually sip my way through the 2 oz bottle over the course of 48 hours. I am hoping that a friend occurs to me who might like this, but none so far. I have plenty of friends who are adventurous enough to try it, but that's not the same thing.


Donna B. said...

Thanks for the 'heads-up' but I didn't really need it. I can be a snob about scotch and bourbon, but that's because I like them straight. Price is not always an indicator of quality.

Douglas2 said...

I've a colleague who lived in France and always brings absinthe to parties. I always decline, and then I don't suffer overnight and the next day the way those who partake do. He makes a great ceremony of dispensing it 'correctly'. I'm half suspecting that the suffering from it is psychosomatic.

I did recently need to 'educate' some young friends that the references to "mountain dew" in some songs (Such as Fairytale of New York are to poitín and not to an American soft-drink. No, I haven't had it, and I don't think I need to -- just like Absinthe.

When we lived in EUland my wife and I vacationed once on Gibraltar and became friends with a barmaid at a spot where we stopped for a pick-me-up a few times over a few days. On the 3rd visit she gifted us each a shot of the local stuff -- I have no recollection of what it was called, nor of how we got back to the hotel, nor anything else that day. I guess that has helped give me self-control on the issues of absinthe, poitín, terva snapsi, and other things as they've been offered.

I'm trying to go more into scotch as a carb and calorie free drink in place of the copious red wine that is my custom, so knowing what Donna B suggests as a good value proposition would be appreciated.


GraniteDad said...

I would like to point out that the two bottles together cost less than four dollars, so I am officially giving you permission to throw away whatever is left.

Donna B. said...

Douglas2 -- if you're relatively new to scotch, I'd suggest staying away from anything described as smoky or peaty for a while. Those are definitely an acquired taste. I have found Johnny Walker Black Label to please most, offend few. And it won't break the bank. I currently prefer Johnny Walker Green Label. The most disappointed I've ever been in a bottle of scotch was Lagavulin -- and that's where my caution about smoky/peaty comes in. That I didn't like it doesn't mean you wouldn't.

And don't be taken in by marketing of a distillery. Case in point is Isle of Arran/Lochranza. They are now advertising a 21 year old single malt and good for them -- I think it's the first year they can. I was fortunate to receive a few bottles of this relatively new distillery's 'Founders Reserve'. I got them because a relative who lives near there invested in the distillery. Their scotch is good, but the marketing is over the top. I'm not sure this particular brand is available in the US, but if it is you will not likely be disappointed unless it costs more than Johnny Walker.

Single cask and single malt do not mean the same thing. One is not automatically better than the other and I generally stay away from single cask as the price can get high. What I've found is that some distilleries are pricing their single malts as if they were single cask. Like everything, beware the marketing.

On subject of marketing, Tincup Whiskey (a rye) was a great disappointment. Not too expensive, but certainly not cheap. Great marketing, but tasted like gym socks smoked over a poorly attended peat fire, then boiled in dirty dishwater. I poured it down the drain. Then again, it's still on the market so some people must like it. I'll stick to Bulleit rye.

So, overall -- if you like the way it tastes, that's your scotch. Or your bourbon. It's unlikely these will be the most expensive. I'm generally happy with the upper row of the middle shelf.

Before you take any of my recommendations, you should know that I drink Franzia chardonnay from the box. That doesn't mean I have "NO" taste, as I will not drink any other Franzia box wine.

Donna B. said...

Douglas2 - on the subject of 'Mountain Dew', in 1972 a cousin gave me several quart jars of moonshine (made by an uncle on the other side of his family... of course). Had it been legally brewed, it would have been Everclear, though possibly more potent and definitely "smoother". It is perhaps relevant that I don't exactly remember what happened to that gift.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Granite Dad - that would be throwing away perfectly good liquor

Palinca in Hungary is an odd but highly respected drink - in Budapest. Anywhere else, and especially Romania, is is anywhere from 80-150 proof and made in a barn. We have seen 2 liters in a Fanta bottle sold for the equivalent of $3 by babushkas at tourist attractions in Transylvania.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

As for scotch, the closer to the islands you get, the more it tastes like they dropped a Cepacol lozenge in it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Donna B - Franzia Crisp White has gone on sale for $10.49 a box here. I stock up when that happens.

Donna B. said...

Franzia Crisp White isn't that bad, it's just that to me it has no "body". Whatever that means. And, yeah... I'll drink it especially at that price. Both the Crisp White and Chardonnay are near $19/box here.

Cepacol lozenge! Yes, a great way to describe the taste.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I got that from a brilliant neurologist (twice a Jeopardy! champion) who actually did buy expensive scotch but did not like the Isle of Skye and other varieties.

james said...

FWIW, my daughter described palm wine as tasting like hamburger drippings--quite accurate.

The description of it in wikipedia as "Fernet-Branca is branded as a tribal rite of passage drink for craft bartenders" seems to match your description--a rite of passage like scarification, perhaps.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Scarification. I spit out my Franzia crisp white over that, James.

Anonymous said...

Ah well, if Lagavulin is not to your taste, there are so many other fine scotches you will not like. It is kerosene to be sure, but very tasty kerosene, to many of us. ;)

I have a bottle of Laphroaig in my cupboard, but I drink so seldom these days, that its really for guests. I will have a drink with a friend, but not usually when I'm alone.