In 1996 I left the world of alcohol behind, for reasons I’ve discussed elsewhere. I never thought I would be able to return. Now that I have returned, it’s been a bit of a culture shock, to be honest.
Fifteen years ago, the world of alcohol was different. Partly because I was just out of college and couldn’t afford much of anything and partly because…well, there just wasn’t a great deal of product diversity. Or if there was, I simply wasn’t aware of it. I didn’t frequent bars, unless I was singing in them with my band. (And because I was the singer, I couldn’t drink a great deal lest my voice get screwed up–is that the reason they brought me on board, so they could drink more? Yes.) I didn’t have a lot of cocktails because things with multiple ingredients could be pricey even if you were making them yourself. So the extent of my experience with “exotic beers” was Killian’s Red and maybe, if I was feeling crazy, a Corona with lime. That’s about it.
[ad#longpost]But I don’t remember–and I have confirmed this with people who have been drinking during my interim–there being a great deal of choice out there. At least, not like we have now. Now my favorite beer is St. Bernardus 12 (the beer I had the first night I was “back” in the land of alcohol). It’s Belgian. Another favorite? Ayinger Oktoberfest, introduced to me by Storm. German. (The beer is German, I mean. Not Storm. Otherwise they would be Paul und Sturm or something.) Other beers parade themselves around: Dutch ales, and even…craft beers like Dogfish Head. Or Terrapin.
So yes… I’m basically the alcohol equivalent of Rip Van Winkle. “Holy crap, what happened to the world while I was asleep?”
I’ve decided from time to time to attempt to amuse you with my tales of wonderment. The world has indeed changed. Now I’m married, have a house, run a website and still can’t afford much of anything but…there’s an entire world of insane alcohol products out there that need to be sampled. Just like Dom’s talked about his Night of the Living Dead virginity and evrwrldBB talked about his Blade Runner virginity, let’s go on a journey of discovery into the world of self-medication…in the opposite direction than I normally would.
First up, let’s talk about mead. As anyone who follows me on Twitter can attest to, the world’s conspiracy to keep me unaware of the orgasmic delight that is mead has–as you must have known it would–failed. On an evening when I had also sampled some of the Rev. Maynard‘s vinyard (a column about my problems with wine is going to be an entirely different thing, I assure you) I also spotted mead on the dessert menu.
Mead? How quaint and weird. Mead. Whoever heard of such a thing? In the words of that immortal philosopher, Dr. Spengler: Yes, have some.
The result was a mind-expanding experience. If peyote is better than tasting mead for the first time then peyote must be pretty goddamn amazing. Close by is a picture of the mead that I tried: Dansk MjÃ¸d Viking Blod. That’s right: “Viking Blood.” Despite the name that implies a sort of Norse transubstantiation ritual, the only way this stuff could get any sexier is if Keira Knightley was spoon feeding it to Natalie Portman. (Red footie pyjamas optional.) Seriously. It’s literally as though someone made wine…with honey. Granted, your first clue is that the bottle itself describes it as “Nordic honey wine with hibiscus and hops added.” But still…that’s the most apt description I’ve ever heard, or in this case read. It’s so sweet and strong and good that every time you have some it’s a dilemma: on one hand, it’s like a dessert and three ounces of the stuff is plenty. On the other hand, it’s like a dessert and you want to drink it until your skull simply caves in. It’s 19% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) and is perfect for…anything, really. The sweetest little bit of burn you will ever taste.
Now that my thirst for mead was awakened–and all of you weasels out there were trembling as I started to cut into your supplu–I tried to do something a little different. That led me to “Honey Sun Iqhilika African Transkei Gold Coffee,” which is “Pure & Rich African Mead”–get this–“with coffee added.” Now, I think your mind has already raced ahead to the conflict that is in store. Having declared my undying devotion for mead–and, if you’ve been around this website at all and have half a functioning brain cell–you know that I already love coffee more than most of you love what passes for life. But can they co-exist? As I stood there in the middle of the liquor store, I asked myself: “Is this the alcohol equivalent of the old Reese’s commercial–you know, two great tastes that taste great together? Or is this some sort of franken-beast, set to destroy me and then run away–metaphorically, as it’s a bottle with no legs–into the frozen north, never to be seen again?”
Yes. It’s no joke. I actually think like that.
So it’s South African mead with rare African coffee infusion. And here’s the problem: it’s got the honey taste along with what feels like not the taste of coffee…but the aftertaste of coffee. You know what I’m talking about–your mouth about a half hour after you’ve finished your coffee and you haven’t been able to find a breath mint yet? In fact, it tastes like something that has gone off rather than an actual product because I’m not sure who wants to drink something like this. In fact, maybe the problem is that I don’t drink sweet coffee anymore. I drink my coffee black. If you had presented me with this back when I first started drinking coffee and embodied that line from the Beastie Boys (“I like my sugar with coffee and cream”) then I might have dug it a lot more. Actually, here’s a better way of describing it: you know how coffee candy doesn’t taste like coffee exactly? Imagine dissolving a hard coffee candy like that into a bit of watered down regular mead. And there you have it.
So. Don’t get me wrong: coffee liqueur? Is brilliant. Mead? It’s very brilliant. Would I want them together? Not as such. It tries to do two incompatible things and winds up doing neither very well. Is it undrinkable? Well, no. But when you consider all the stuff I’d rather drink than this, it might as well be.
Join me next time when we discuss port, my proclivity for nifty labels and I will divulge some of my difficulties with wine.