Dec 16, 2010

Bottles with memories

A says I have "a stash of alcohol in my wardrobe", but that makes me sound like someone with a habit.  True, I keep my bottles where it's cool and dark, not far from my bed, but a habit?  Had that been the case, I obviously would have drunk it all, long ago.   I'm supposed to be almost packing, clearing up, tidying, but instead I take my bottles out and have a look.  A census of sorts, but with more tasting involved.

This is after censoring the wines, the almost done whisky and the Tanqueray in the kitchen.   Some have been opened, some are safely shut.  They were picked up over the years:  mostly on travels of my own, sometimes on those of others.  These are my memories, stored in bottles.  (Remember the BFG?) 

So let's take a tour.  On the far left, we start with the strong stuff.   Oom Thys se Witblits.  Distilled on a neighbour's farm, this one is not for children.  Big and sharp, the alcohol content is eye-wateringly unkown: you are drinking on the edge of sanity here.  I arranged for its import as a result of Greek friends forever warning me of the potency of their raki.  The level of the bottle is a fair indication of the number of them who've been corrected.  When the shock subsides they invariably ask how I drink it - I don't. 

The losing, but significantly more palatable side of the contest is next - Cretan raki.  It comes in a plastic water bottle, airmailed in by their concerned family members from Athens. Home distilled, it is barely available commercially, mostly unregulated. I imagine the EU must be slightly uncomfortable.  It's very similar to grappa, possibly less aggressive, and without the sticky anise you find in Turkish and some mainland raki.  I find it highly enjoyable, sipped neat from the bottle, shared between friends.  When said friends returned to Greece, I also inherited the inevitable bottle of ouzo, tall with a blue label.  This time with the sticky anise.  When the mood takes me, and everyone is excitedly using their hands to emphasise their respective and irreconcilable viewpoints, I take it on ice.  But I have to be in the mood.

Then a bottle Verpoorten advokaat, pale egg yellow, acquired in my ramblings through Germany, followed the tiny Poire Williams and Messias port, both gifts from travelling family, now waiting for the right evening.  And pastis.  Gifted anise again, for my next Provencial phase.  I imagine late summer sun, drinks in the garden, old men with flat caps.   A small unit of sloe gin, bright red, from a day of driving through the Cotswolds. 

The next few are from Central Europe.  Slovakia provided me with demänovka  (herbal, as yet unopened), and the smaller bottle of borovička: a juniper brandy, similar to gin, but not as oily.   And with less pronounced botanical elements.  But it was cheap, so I shouldn't generalise.  I found both bottles in a small store in Poprad, on an endless wait for the train to Bratislava.  There were a lot of crows around.  And Soviet statues, war memorials, and more recent Coca-cola signs.

From Hungary came the two golden bottles of Tokaji, one sweet, one dry.  The former is Aszú, the mythical one.  Botrytis berries are pressed for an intensely sweet extract, but the sugar is balanced by enough acidity to result in a very complex taste experience.  The dry bottle is unknown: it fit in the Forints I had to dispose of at the airport.  Then a fat bottle of Unicum, that most unique of herbal bitters.  It's not for those who like their drinks to be submissive, but it makes an excellent digestif, as I discovered on a rainy night in a hotel bar.  St Hubertus is another unknown: Hungarian again, the usual secret recipe stuff, but references point to orange and herbs.  This one will become a gift.

At the back the tall bottle of manzanilla is filled with Spanish sun:  bone dry, very pale.  From when A was here, in June.  It stirs the need for tapas.  The last three bottles are palinka, the white Hungarian brandy.  Two based on apricot, one on pear.  Quite close to the Witblits again, but softer.  A reminder of fried chunks of goose liver.

Maybe it does look a bit like a "stash"?