Drink in your Heritage
Take a Sip Trip Around the World
By By Laurie Isola
Photography by Bob Kuzmeski
Island life in no way means isolationism, especially in Alameda, where experiencing other cultures is at the tips of your lips. Whether you find yourself in the West End, the South Shore or downtown, take time to raise a stein, a wineglass or a sakazuki and let the world’s libations take you for a whirl. So Sláinte, Kampai, Saude, tchim-tchim and Prost, which all mean cheers in other languages.
New Zealand’s temperate climate and varied landscape—dramatic snow-dusted peaks, rollicking rivers, and miles upon miles of ocean-licked beaches—not only lend themselves to spectacular sightseeing but also phenomenal wine making. A smidge smaller than Colorado, the country boasts 10 growing regions that produced 102 million liters of wine in 2005. Many rank New Zealand’s wines among the world’s best, and one of its most celebrated varietals is Sauvignon Blanc. The grape was first grown in an Auckland vineyard in the 1970s, close to 200 years after British settlers planted European vines in New Zealand soil. In the 30-plus years since Sauvignon Blanc took root, the wine has gained recognition for its peppery kick and gooseberry and passion fruit punch. New Zealand’s crown jewel is poured at the New Zealander, which also has a great selection of its namesake’s Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Shiraz. If wine’s not on your mind, shimmy up to the black kiwi, a pint glass of creamy Guinness floating atop a layer of New Zealander’s trademark beer, Steinlager.
Taking a sip of Irish whiskey, served neat, is to experience travel from the path’s perspective. You can feel the drink spread from a tiny slurp to sheet over the tongue and sense its heat as it sneaks between teeth before sliding down the throat in a warm rush that envelopes the stomach and brightens the cheeks. Made from barley, water and yeast, the amber liquor is triple distilled, a process that lends it a softer and more rounded taste than its Scottish counterpart. It’s also aged in wood casks. While once a leading producer of whiskey (spelled with an “e” in Ireland and the United States but without one in Scotland and Canada), Ireland is now home to only three distilleries. However, a true uisce beatha—the “water of life” in Gaelic—experience is still easy to obtain. Tip a bottle of Jameson over a glass full of ice, or douse a hot cup of creamy, sugary coffee with some Bushmills. Looking for pub life here on the Island? Enjoy the fragrant contents of a whiskey glass with the sounds of mandolin, fiddle, upright bass and banjo during McGrath’s Irish Afternoon on Sundays.
Sake walks a fine line—fermented from grains of rice, the nearly transparent liquid is brewed similarly to beer, yet it lacks carbonation and tastes more like wine. Perhaps sake’s definition-defying nature is what makes it such a versatile alcohol. Be it dry or sweet, served warm or cold, or used in cocktails, sake has pleased palates in Japan, where it’s the national beverage, and beyond throughout the centuries. One of the secrets to the drink’s crisp, delicate flavor is the seimai buai, the degree to which top-grade sake rice is milled. The more the grain is milled, the more complex, clean and light the sake’s taste. Brewing sake begins when washed and steam-cooked milled rice is mixed with yeast and koji, a mold and rice-paste mixture. Water is added, the batch ferments and eventually the mash is strained, often pasteurized and aged. To experience the final product, stop off at Sushi House, where an array of sweet and dry sakes are served by the bottle or in light-colored wooden boxes. For a treat sure to tantalize the eyes as much as the tongue, try the Tamon, a floral sake peppered with 24-karat gold flakes.
Saúde or Tchim-tchim
Sweet, heavy and oh-so-heavenly with a chunk of creamy blue cheese, port wine is by far Portugal’s most famous export. Made only from grapes grown on the steep terraced hillsides of the country’s northern Douro Valley, port has a higher alcohol content than other wines, thanks to the addition of grape brandy, which fortifies the port and halts fermentation. There are some 11 varieties of port, including ruby, a young, fruity mélange of grapes blended from wines of different years; and tawny, a woody, less-sweet version that turns a golden-brown during the aging process. Though port’s made in Portugal, it’s as much British as it is Portuguese. The drink became popular in Britain at the end of the 17th century when conflicts between the British and French governments curtailed the import of French wines. Desiring to fill the empire’s empty glasses, British merchants looked to Portuguese wines, to which they added brandy as a preservative for long sea voyages. Taste bud-wise traveling between Portugal and Britain is as easy as booking an Easy Jet flight from Lisbon to North London: just complement your port with “the king of cheese” Stilton, both of which are found at Farmstead Cheeses & Wines in the Alameda Marketplace.
Practice makes perfect, and the Germans have had ages’ worth when it comes to beer brewing. Aside from being renowned bier makers, Germans are also champion brew drinkers, sporting one of the highest per-capita beer consumption rates on the planet. Germans have hundreds of suds to choose from, thanks to regional breweries, which have developed distinct varieties over the years: fruity Hefeweizen, delicate Koelsch and coriander-infused Gose. Hands down, Deutschland’s signature beer is lager. Brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast, the smooth-tasting stew—which ranges from light gold to chocolaty brown—is stored at cool temperatures for weeks, if not months. In fact, the word lager stems from German word lagern, meaning, “to store.” You can taste your way through some of Germany’s bounteous beer selections at Speisekammer, which offers Deutsch and Austrian beers in the bottle or on tap. Can’t decide? Try the six-beer sampler, an amber, gold and dark brown wreath made up of three-ounce tastes of Bock, Hefeweizen, Pilsner and more.