Summer drinking. Part 2: reinforcement

The view from our luncheon table at Avignonesi.

This is the second part of a three-part feature. The first piece was about refreshment, this one is about reinforcement and the third will be about carrying on.

What is reinforcement?

In the summer you may be called upon to drink through long hot days and into the night. Any extended drinking session has a narrative, an ebb and flow, and timing and variation are important, especially when drinking in warm weather. So, if you carry on with refreshment all day without taking on reinforcement, in particular food, you’ll fall off a drinking cliff later. You don’t want to keep up fast-paced lightweight drinking all day; you move on to something more profound, possibly slowing for a spell, possibly not, before changing this again later. Your appetite demands an occasional adjustment of weight/style, just as you move between courses during a long meal; you perk up when a new course comes along and your dulled hunger reawakens. The Alderman would never encourage you to over-plan—nothing is more hopeless than a scheme of merriment, and you should be alive to whatever your intuition tells you as you go along—but you can be aware. When it comes to food, by the time it occurs to you to think about it, it may already be too late, you may miss your tide. This is when your refreshed self may be grateful to your unrefreshed self for earlier prep. The wise drinker knows what to do in advance, and this may involve having food to hand and lighting the barbecue before becoming overly refreshed. And it will involve having some prime drinks to hand.

Here’s some reinforcement. Next week: carrying on.

Eat! Preferably in a large-scale comradely way.
Eat. Preferably in a large-scale comradely way.

Hamilton’s summer reinforcement

taylor-eat-outsideThere’s something about the summer that suddenly makes us Brits go ever so slightly mental. We rid ourselves of our normal conservative attire and instead wear brightly coloured shirts, socks with sandals and often shorts that leave parts that shouldn’t dangle out dangling out. We also decide that we are masters of fire. Some primeval instinct kicks in and we think we can roast a whole chicken on a tiny metal disposable barbecue. We also forget that we have taste buds and drink vast quantities of cheap lager. The Alderman is concerned.

So go off and get yourself fitted for a nice linen suit, read up on how to eat outside properly with the help of Genevieve Taylor and sit back with a few drinks that are appropriate to hot weather and the smoke.

Barbecue booze

One of the things you have to remember about taste is that it works though a combination of smell as well as taste. The means that the smoke of the barbecue can often mute any subtle flavours from a drink. You need something with far more of a hit and for that I’d recommend matching smoke with smoke. Try a really peaty whisky, for example; indeed, try it in a cocktail.

The Smoky Rusty Reinforcer

  • 30 ml Gosling Black Seal 151 Rum
  • 15 ml sweet vermouth
  • 10 ml Asterly Bros Amaro
  • 10 ml Campari
  • 1 tsp of very peaty whisky
  • 4 dashes of tobacco bitters
  • 1 orange twist

Get a pint glass and fill with ice. Stir all the liquid ingredients together then strain into a cocktail glass. (Note: a martini glass is actually factually incorrect, we have just attributed that name to the glass with an inverted cone bowl on a stem. The Martini has just gotten so darn famous that it has become synonymous with the cocktail glass.)

Galaxy Saison, 5.4%, Partizan Brewing, Bermondsey, England

There’s a first hit of Galaxy hops, but this is entwined with the classic Saison hay-barn yeasty aroma along with wood shavings and vanilla. There’s a full mouthfeel rather like that of an American pale ale to start with, until it takes your whole mouth in a different direction—sour at first as if crunching on a lemon pip, then puckering to a crisp, dry, lime-zest finish. This is one that repeats itself every time you belch, and what a delightful belch it is, with a hint of banana and even sharp rhubarb. It’s a multi-layered Saison that seems to change from moment to moment as it lays in your mouth. Spot on with smoky meat flavours.

Note: Saison is a Belgian beer style that derives from Wallonia, one of the French-speaking areas of the country. The word simply means “season”. As with porter, the name comes from those who favoured it, in this case the seasonal migrant workers who came to help with the harvest. It is also known as a farmhouse. (This is ripped from my book, Brewing Britain, in case it seems familiar.)

Andy's been experimenting with putting meat directly onto the fire. He likes it so far.
Andy’s been experimenting with putting meat directly onto the fire. He likes it so far.

Fishman’s summer reinforcement

You’re refreshed. Perhaps you’ve been drinking the effervescent wine of the Basques, accompanied by some Mediterranean kickshaws. You’re fine, of course, but your friends have flushed faces and seem to be roaring out excited conversation. Look at the brutes. Unless reinforcements arrive you’ll be done for later. You need food and your appetite is demanding something more profound than light wine to drink.

You’re good and intelligent people, so while you’ve been throwing down your refreshments and building an appetite you’ve assembled, ignited and stoked a barbecue to a pitch of cooking heat. Some of you have the fire-love in your eyes, with a few soot streaks and some extra flushing. You’re keeping things beautifully simple: no late fiddling or cookery capers. You need new drinks. In the UK and much of the English-speaking world we often slather barbecue food in marinades, rubs, etc, so our wine has to be able to match some big and mixed flavours, especially if it’s beef we’re having—spice, heat, smoke, umami and sweetness.

Because this about reinforcement, I’m going to concentrate on the big stuff. Red meat, and mushrooms for the vegetarians. It’s natural to look at places where beef and barbecues are supreme for your wine. People often serve Argentinian Malbec and Australian Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah elsewhere), and these can match the smoke, the sweetness of the caramelised outer layer of flesh and the spice of any seasoning you may have added. It’s a style of wine that is popular and easily approachable, though it’s by no means uninteresting if you wander a little from the supermarket shelves and the deals. If I look elsewhere this time, it’s not because I don’t like Malbec or Syrah (what they call Shiraz outside Australia), I love them like brothers/sisters, it’s because they don’t need their cushions plumping just now.

Jumilla Monastrell: a reformed thug

The Monastrell (Spanish) grape is better known as Mourvèdre (French), even though it’s probably Spanish in origin. In the Rhône valley it’s blended with Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault to make big and characterful wines, perhaps most famously Châteauneuf-du-Pape, while in Bandol it’s the main grape. The French used to call Mourvèdre étrangle–chien, the dog-strangler, because of its intense tannins. Barbecue wine wants tannins, Syrah and Malbec have notable tannins, so a little dog strangling is in order. Just so long as it’s done nicely, through kid-skin gloves.

Xenysel 100% Monastrell. Inky dark wine.

Until fairly recently, Monastrell was used in Jumilla (southeast Spain) to make hard wines with a reputation for being brutes, and this is still reflected in the price. Now it’s both fine drinking and excellent buying. This is good wine, and while it’s still a thumping big mouthful, it can also be unexpectedly complex and refined. Dark fruit; herbs and spice; some subtlety round the edges. Try it while it’s still premium value, it gives a prime return on your money. Note: Monastrell is sometimes blended, e.g. with Tempranillo (the Rioja grape), Syrah, Merlot, etc.

Buying Jumilla Monastrell

As with other wines that don’t yet have a popular following in these parts, most of the wine that’s imported is good. Why bother bringing over some rubbish if no one’s going to buy it carelessly on name recognition? It’s also more likely to be stocked by good merchants. Take a punt. Here’s a couple that I’ve enjoyed this year; both are a little over £10, price dependent on where you buy them from and what vintage they are.

  • Xenysel Pie Franco Monastrell
  • Mas Delmera, Monastrell Reserva

The most expensive wines are made by El Nido, and they have a high reputation; I’ve not had the pleasure yet. El Nido is a collaboration with Gil Family Estates, and the Juan Gil solo wines are also said to be good.

Serving Jumilla Monastrell

It’s normally served at 15–18º C. As a very rough guide, up the temperature for the more expensive wines. You can also decant it an hour or so before serving; not to leave sediment in the bottle, as you would with, say, an old claret, but to aerate it, opening and mellowing the flavours.

Another way

Tuscany is another wine-growing region with a strong meat/cooking by fire tradition. Most famously, there’s Bistecca alla Fiorentina: huge porterhouse steaks cooked over wood or coals. Their thinking, and their accompanying wine, is quite different to ours. They keep things simple, using the best possible ingredients and adding nothing but a rub of olive oil, salt and pepper, perhaps rosemary and/or thyme to their beef. The wine is typically Sangiovese-based (e.g. Chianti), and is relatively light, cherry rather than dark fruit in character, and dry, savoury, with a rasp of refreshing acid/tannins. It’s a majestic combination with rare beef in particular, and these wines are made to go with food. If you eat your barbecued steak rare this summer, try it with a bottle of good Tuscan Sangiovese. And look out for my feature on La dolce barbecue, coming to the Alderman shortly.

Lewandowski’s summer reinforcement

Summer eating and drinking is about comfort, nostalgia and easy living. I suppose it’s because summer is sort of an American tradition, we think of the past in terms of “the summer of…”, and many youthful memories inevitably come from those long vacations, the ones we’ll never see the like of again as working adults. Reflecting on summers past recently I was struck by an idea that life is like a mosaic of moments. And, maybe because I was quite hungry, I noted some of those moments involve meals. What is it about certain moments/meals that cause them to stand out from all of the surrounding tones and shapes, and recur as memories down the road?  One quite profound power of drink is its ability to turn a simple, everyday occasion into a celebration, or a moment into a memory.

After a week at the beach with friends, watching brown pelicans dive for fish in the surf each morning and evening, this most recent chapter of leisure came to an abrupt close. It was a Saturday, but felt like a day of hard work after waking early to pack, bid farewells, and sit eight hours in a car, navigating mid-decay, mid-Atlantic highways back to reality. If ever I needed a moment transformed into an escape—an extra inning or two of vacation—it was that evening.

Numero Uno and empanadas. Summertime.

So I sought summertime foods and alcoholic reinforcement. As lightly breaded chicken cutlets browned in the frying pan and corn-on-the-cob rolled in salted and sugared boiling water, I pulled a frosty bottle from a six pack of beer I had never before tasted: Numero Uno Summer Cerveza, crafted 50 miles away at Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Maryland. I’ve enjoyed Flying Dog brews for quite a while, and for reasons beyond the Ralph Steadman illustrations and Hunter Thompson-attributed “Good people drink good beer” adorning each bottle. With a quick search online I learned Numero Uno was released about two months ago and was born from a smaller, specialty batch of Agave Cerveza, included in last year’s Brewhouse Rarities collection.

Maybe Thompson would not find me to be a good person, as I do often find enjoyment in bad beers. And this is part of what I really like about this release from Flying Dog, the makers themselves saying “the artisanal answer to the easy-drinking, south-of-the-border slammers the younger versions of ourselves knew and loved.” Don’t get me wrong, this throwback is not at all a cheap, lowbrow beer, neither in price ($10.99 for a six-pack at my local grocer) nor in taste. But as I sipped my first Numero Uno I imagined the creators might have been inspired by nostalgia for youthful moments of craving cold beers on hot days, which I too appreciate.

The Mexican slammers of my misspent youth were often flat, watery, and skunky, and typically really unpleasant tasting—even in the context of cheap beer—without the addition of a lime. Numero Uno is in a different class entirely. Yes, it resembles a light Mexican lager and is not at all heavy or overpowering in flavor. Rather it quite elegantly arranges subtle flavors into an effective and balanced drink experience.

On the nose, the toasty corn is undeniable. My wife enjoys tortilla chips far more than beer and currently boasts a superhuman sense of smell, so I offered her a sniff. “It smells kind of like a beer, except not bad at all.” This is high praise, relative to her notes on other cerveza variations. It is smooth and light on the tongue with understated tanginess and sweetness involved in the crisp finish. At 4.9% ABV it would make a solid session beer, but can also serve to complement the sort of meals that go hand in hand with a day of summertime drinking: burgers, potato salad, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon. With its ample maize component, I especially enjoyed this beer with sweet corn drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled liberally with salt and black pepper.

The next day, with Numero Uno on my mind, I visited the Mexican bakers at the Sunday farmers market, purchased empanadas—crispy, hot pastry crusts filled with juicy chicken, soft potatoes, and a few plump raisins—and composed a taste of Mexico lunch from Maryland-made beer and pocket pies.

Moments of leisure can take many forms, but for extending a day of drinking or the feeling of vacation bliss, really nothing pairs better with a plate of simple summer fare than the humble, cold beer. And Flying Dog Numero Uno Summer Cerveza fits the role perfectly.

Andy Hamilton, Paul Fishman and Jeff Lewandowski (Bristol and Washington, DC, July 2015)

Gin in the morningAndy had his first alcoholic drink at eight and has never looked back. He now works as a freelance drunkard and does many booze related things to earn a crust. These include taking people out into the woods and teaching them how to make booze from wild plants, writing about booze in his books, the bestselling Booze for Free, his in-depth treatise on beer, Brewing Britain, and more recently the book he is working on, Wild Booze and Hedgerow Cocktails. He often writes for the Telegraph and occasionally for the Guardian. He’s also been know to help various establishments design their own signature drinks. Andy is known as one of the politest people in the drinks industry, he never swears and is always convivial and never an incompressible drunk. Honest. And he really is the editor at large for Alderman Lushington.

Twitter: @andyrhamilton Website: The Other Andy Hamilton

Fishman-bucketPaul is a freelance writer, editor and all-round ink-slinger; he’s also the managing editor of Alderman Lushington.

Website: Twitter: @fishmandeville


jeff-lewandowski-bylineJeff is a publishing professional by day. By moonlight he does baseball geek stuff and serves as US/Americas editor for Alderman Lushington. On Sunday mornings he wears a baseball player costume and seeks glory on the diamond. Jeff was born and raised in Massachusetts, but currently enjoys drink, drinkers and drinking near his home, about halfway between Baltimore and Washington, DC, and wherever else his travels take him.