Friday, March 25, 2011

Foodstuffs II - Distilling

This post is a continuation, intended to describe various foods which I have found mentioned in my Colliers 1952 Encyclopedia, references upon which I have based my trade system.  The foregoing link will explain how these references fit into determining the relative value of goods from one location to another.  For a general idea of how many references for various goods might exist, I suggest the gentle reader have a look at this page from the Same Universe Wiki, and the links included there ... which may in turn be compared with this previous post I wrote last year on metals and minerals.

I certainly hope that the deep structure of my world can be gleaned from how these various elements fit together, from references of a random unfamiliar kingdom such as "Hoth" in the above linked metal and mineral reference pages, to the cities of which can be found here, which can then be compared with a history I wrote on the founding of Hoth by dwarves here and a reference to my offline party's fleeing to Hoth here.  I grant that these things can appear on the surface to be random collections of disconnected items, but I assure the reader that they have each been carefully thought out, pieced together and allotted their place as a single whole.  I have worked to create a clear, structured idea of every location, its production, its government, its people and its place in the whole milieu ... so that as I consider each element that might change the rules or the fabric of the game, I must further consider how those elements will also change the world I've created.

In the same fashion, each item described below serves its little part to enhance the fabric and intrisicality of the world - making the experience tangible, while rich in scope and emotional tone.  This cheese or that particular truffle may seem purposeless and easily dismissed in light of fighting dragons and rescuing princesses, but the very food that is served at the table of the local bar seems every bit as important to me as the number of plusses after the name of the sword in the player's scabbard.

So we begin.


Virtually every place on Earth has produced its own unique variety of distilled liquor, while at the same time spirits can be made out of anything.  My first wife Michelle, now passed away, told me once of how when she and her co-workers were teenagers and working at a food court bakery, they mixed sugar and yeast together with fruit juices in plastic cups and stored them up on the high shelves, where the managers did see and which were generally never cleaned.  Every six weeks or so they'd have a late night 'party' following the cleaning schedule the company insisted (where everyone had to stay and clean), without anyone knowing.  You see now why I married her.

This is something to think about when hearing that Islam countries, quote, "do not drink."  Yeah, sure they don't.

At any rate, locally there would always be liquor of some kind served at the local tavern, made of whatever fruit, grain, nut, wood or other vegetable material available.  I assume a price for this locally produced liquor, and it is generally lower than the price of any of the specific types listed below ... though the local stuff often resembles (poorly) the better liquors when made of the same root materials.  So please understand, if the reference is for, say, 'gin,' we are speaking of quality gin, not prohibition gin.  Liquor, more than most things, is a matter of taste.

Arak.  While Wikipedia describes this as a distilled wine beverage flavoured with anise, or dates in the case of Iraq.  I suspect the names Iraq/Arak have something to do with one another.  Arak is fairly strong, about the level of ouzo, and reminiscent of it - in that anise is an herb with a taste much like licorice.  The substance is widespread throughout the Muslim world, so there goes the no-drinking thing right out the window.  The gentle reader will no doubt hasten to mention that it is only certain countries which certain rabid right-wing Islamic governments that actually ban liquor ... let me say that I am aware of this.  I mention it here because no everyone is.

Pirates probably made due without the fruit.

Arrack.  This is an entirely different substance, produced in a different part of the world, created from coconuts, sugarcane and various other substances (whatever is convenient to mix into the mash).  Wikipedia explains the etymological association between Arrack and Arak, so I feel I need to specify that the difference between Arrack and araka, araki, ariki, rak, raque and so on is the difference between a quality liquor being made from coconut milk and the local varieties as described above.  I've never tasted Arrack, but if someone wants to send me a bottle, I'm open to it.  Will it ever replace mountain dew as a D&D staple?  Only if we try, children.  Only if we try.


Brandywine, not Brandy

BrandywineI will insist on using the older name, simply because it has round tones and is vaguely reminiscent of times gone by.  I remember when taverns actually used to list it as brandywine on the menu.  Brandywine is, of course, distilled wine, and most everyone has an easy opportunity to test it.  I have two specific kinds of brandywine referenced in my world: Cognac and Armagnac, both named after towns in France.  Armagnac certainly has the lower profile, but either are astounding if you can afford a taste.  Take note of the various 'rules' in the storage of brandywine, and how "damaging the stopper" positively destroys the beverage.  In other words, not something for the pack on one's way to the dragon lair.

Elixir de Spa.  Ha, the only wikipedia link I could find to it was in French.  I confess, i haven't the slightest idea what this tastes like - perhaps one of the Dutch, Walloon or German readers could enlighten us poor souls in North America.  I can say that the village of Spa is in Eastern Belgium, and doesn't appear on my D&D map of the region (which only means its very small, not that it doesn't exist).  It's not a bad cost ... perhaps I can order a bottle.

Gin.  Yes, it's here.  Being a heathen, my preferred brand is Bombay Sapphire, which I prefer to drink straight out of a short tumbler.  Most other gin tastes like swill to me, which must be mixed with tonic to be consumable.  Gin is made from juniper berries, and was developed by the Dutch.  It's prevalent use in English culture resulted from the necessity to take quinine to reduce the effects of malaria in equatorial regions, which represented a large portion of Europe's colonies.  Quinine tastes godawful horrible, much worse than tonic water, but gin cut the flavour nicely and made taking medicine a decent practice.

KirschwasserLiterally "cherry water," often called simply Kirsch, this is an example of my learning about and trying something specifically because I stumbled across it while making these lists.  And now I like it very much (star points for the filmophile who can name the movie referenced there).  It is a hard, strong flavour, not as reminiscent of cherries as the reader might expect, but highly addictive once the taste for it is gotten.

Plum Brandy.  Slivovitz is a popular Eastern European liquor, with a quality distribution reflecting the Germanic occupation of various parts of Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia.  My relatives on my mother's side, those who were women and old, used to sip this similar to the way English people will sip sherry.  I never developed a taste for it.  If you want a legitimate taste, find it from the old country - the stuff produced in North America and Western Europe is not the same drink, though it may be made from plums.

Rum.  I think I should pause here and point out that there are several large areas of the globe which I have not researched in terms of the production there: specifically, most of Africa, all of the Western Hemisphere and all of the Pacific Islands, including Australia.  So there are items which are not going to show up on my list because they are produced no where other than, say, the Congo.  It was a long time before I found anywhere that manufactured rum ... when I ever do get around to graphing out the Caribbean, I'll get a lot more references to it.  Rum is made from sugarcane, and has always held a special place for certain ex-British patriots.  As a Canadian once told me, if Jamaica had hockey, he'd go there and never come back.  I myself liked it as a kid.  Doesn't hold much interest for me now.

Perhaps it's the little cups?
Sake.  Obviously, this showed up on the list as I added Japan.  Sake is mistakenly thought of as a 'wine' because the term 'rice wine' apparently causes cognitive dissonance in the minds of some people.  No, seriously, I've had this argument with people twice.   Some people get terribly addicted to it, but it has never been extensively distributed here in Canada - the States may be different.  As a liquor, it is fairly meh ... along the lines of ordinary rye or scotch.

Speaking of which, although I combed through more than 300 city, county and regional articles in the aforementioned encyclopedia covering the British Isles, I did not find one single reference to a specific location producing either rye or scotch.  There were plenty of generally references to 'distilling' in this town or that, but none of the articles referred to either of these two distilled beverages by name.  Therefore, as much as it will probably anger a certain portion of the liquor-drinking gallery, neither rye nor scotch have any special notariety in my world.  Those who take umberance at this situation will please provide me a with a specific reference to either rye or scotch printed prior to 1650 (the date of my world) by a source other than one that derives from the British Isles, to prove that the non-English speaking world thought anything of these two rather common liquors.  As it happens, I was able to find a number of references to whiskey ... perhaps that might alleviate the concern that rye and scotch are not given their own special categories (irish or bourbon either, for that matter).  Not to worry, they can still be bought ... as 'local distilled liquor.'

StregaOnce again, something invented in the 19th century turns up in my world ... but I have already explained about the druids, and I like Strega.  So it stays.  Not a hard sell, I should think, since Don Corleone and the boys also drank Strega, and the Godfather is aped by most would-that-were-me fanboys.  It's a strong Italian liquor, but old Hollywood used to enjoy putting it in the hands of young actresses to show how European and worldly they were.  As it happens, I haven't had any in years.

Vermouth.  For the record, I detest vermouth.  It is a 'fortified wine,' which means that a quantity of distilled beverage has been added to it ... similar to Madiera, Marsala or Port.  But while I consider those others to be wines, I just can't bring myself to put Vermouth in the same category.  I know, I know, but sometimes we must fight the wind.  The fortifying liquor is typically Mistelle, which is excellent in Madiera but somehow produces an terrible concoction - to my palate - when creating vermouth.  My personal tastes aside (warped as they may be), I have a reference for vermouth, so it exists in my world.  That's how simple it is.

The reason sherry isn't on this list is simply because I have not yet added Spain.  Whenever I get the time, I will include it ... perhaps I will make space to write about new substances when that time comes.

And now, I am just exhausted.  It will take a long time to get through these lists, I can see.  But I'm in no hurry.  I don't expect to die soon.  And I'm sure people will wait.


James C. said...

As always, your scholarship and insights are much appreciated.

mike said...

Alexis, if you appreciate the jagged flavors and complexity of Armagnac, you may wish to check out an aged rum. They're under-appreciated, and as such, cheap(ish). The extra time in wood mellows the funkiness of rum and imparts a complexity on par with an Armagnac.

As an aside, gin and rum have a similar flavor profile; most gin coctails have rum equivalents, like a gimlet and a daiquiri.

Andreas Davour said...

Spa, you must have heard of, haven't you?

Don't everyone love motorsports? :)

Arrack is indeed very tasty, by the way.

Andreas Davour said...

...and aged rum is my favourite liquor...

richard said...

Maybe you know all this. If so, sorry to clog your comments with it. If not, you're welcome, I could talk about this all day.

The Hanafi maddhab, common in the eastern Islamicate (especially Turkey), takes Mohammad at his word that it is not the drinking of alcohol per se but merely drunkenness that is haram (forbidden): drinking responsibly is just fine for those who can distinguish the onset of drunkenness. So historically it's less of a question of right-wing governments and more one of the legal school of Islam that's locally prevalent (and Hanafis are not always easier to get along with than other schools). And yes, drunkenness is/was not unknown under Islam either, no more than war is unknown among Christians.

Confusingly what the Dutch call "brandewijn" we call "oude jenever" or "old-style gin" - an infusion of botanicals in grain spirit ("corn wine") that is subsequently aged in oak barrels. Many primary source references to "barrels of brandywine" after about 1680 are as likely to mean aged Holland gin as they are to mean Cognac.

The Batavia Arrack distributed in the US by Haus Alpenz is a truly alarming kind of rotgut - even I think so and I'm partial to Thai whisky. But it's traditionally (since the 18th century) used in chocolate concoctions, and for that it is delicious and irreplaceable. Arrack truffles must be experienced.
...but in SE Europe (I have direct experience only of Bulgaria, but I understand this applies more widely) Rakiya is more or less a synonym for eau-de-vie, and generally is further explained by the fruit from which it's made (eg Rakiya Slivovitza = plum eau-de-vie).

...if you're doing Strega, are you doing bitters? I find it a fascinating area where drinks-for-pleasure spill into patent medicines and therefore potions and herbals.

richard said...

my comment about brandewijn was badly phrased. Dutch brandewijn, korenwijn and oude jenever are all very closely related - barrel-aged, botanical-infused grain spirits