Alice’s Drink (London and Oxford)

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Detail of Captain John Narbrough’s 1670 manuscript map of the Magellan Straits

LONDON

I visited London with the specific purpose of crashing a map lecture by Tom Harper at the British Library. It was not the only reason, but it was up there. I also planned to interview a globe restorer who recently wrote a lovely book called Globes. To see the Indigenous Australia exhibit at the British Museum, take the Tate-to-Tate ferry, sit in a box at the Royal Opera House to watch Falstaff. I cancelled my one beer adventure days before my departure because Meantime was purchased by SABMiller.

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Top floor view at Tate Modern, where they serve The Kernel IPA

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Yet I find beer travel to be inevitable. There I was in Tate Modern‘s top floor cafe, having just strolled through a collection that I kept comparing to the new Whitney‘s assemblage, when I turned to face the counter to order my coffee. Truly- I meant to order an espresso. It was before noon and I had a full day of walking London ahead of me. And who would have guessed that a major world class museum would carry a local small batch beer? Fortunately this is happening more and more often. The bottle selections were just beyond the server’s head at eye-level. Very clever.

My inner voice- an old man I call Sid- reminded me that vacations should be enjoyed in every way. My shoulders relaxed and I smiled involuntarily and probably a bit too broadly. “I’ll have The Kernel IPA please.” Not being American, the server did not raise her eyebrow, nor did anyone else. And so my impromptu beer tour of London began.

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My device was abuzz with advice. Stuart O’Dell of Teign Cellars in Newton Abbott made a quick trip to London to point out the finer brews of Craft Beer Covent Garden (I had already discovered the original Craft Beer Clerkenwell) including Soundwave by Siren. I was not completely surprised to learn from Shaun Hill that Siren’s brewer Ryan just joined Hill Farmstead, because everything I tried of theirs was more than good- it was special. Like your first Cigar City Humidor Series IPA is special. Or Shaun’s Flora. Or Yvan De Baets’ Brusseleir Zwët IPA.

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The Rake

Over the next week my tasty tour also led me to The Rake (above) which has a wonderful summer camp feel, Jerusalem Tavern where I ended up meeting a bunch of cool women drinking St. Peter’s cask beer and supporting a sculptor’s kickstarter campaign, the Holborn Whippet where a customer kept her dog on the counter and shared her beer with him, and a vermouth bar called Mele e Pere which is reviving the culture of sipping vermouth in London and soon will carry the elixirs of Carl Sutton.

 

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O’Dell informed me that The Kernel Brewery is open only on Saturday mornings, but definitely worth a trip. I had planned to spend that day in Oxford, but decided I had time before my train. I took an Uber (my one taxi experience was an expensive and rude disaster) to a funky area called Spa Terminus. A long row of what look like industrial garages house all kinds of artisanal shops- some also points of production- such as Monmouth Coffee Company, Little Bread Pedlar, and Neal’s Yard Dairy.  It’s got a groovy feel, and the aromas will keep your nose quite happy. I wanted to move there, although I did notice a threatening number of baby strollers.

What kind of person drinks beer at 9:00am on a Saturday? (Other than a beer traveler on holiday and people buying bottles.) Apparently single dads. The only other two drinking customers plopped their kids down at the interior picnic tables, handed them gaming devices, and ordered full beers. Who am I to judge? I ordered the Table Beer, a 2.9% tasty wonder, only because I had to be able to read the train schedule to Oxford and get off at the right stop.

OXFORD

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This is a cake. No really- completely edible.

 

On the 4th of July, I donned a red, white, and blue skirt- my subtle nod of approval for the recent Supreme Court decisions and President Obama’s moving lead of Amazing Grace– and struck out to visit maps at the Bodleian Library, where CAMRA member, Charlbury Beer Festival organizer, and author of The Gough Map Nick Millea is in charge of the map collection. Being a beer person himself, he gave me great tips on where to eat (King’s Arms, where I had aged cheddar and pickle on oat bread) and drink (Turf Tavern). As I strolled into town from the train station, I went into the first bookstore I saw, found a few gifts to take home, and went to pay for them.

Me: “Wow.”

Large hairy male cashier busting out of an Alice in Wonderland costume, complete with blond wig: “I get a lot of that.”

I had accidentally discovered a party. It was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you see. And Alices were everywhere. I barely remember reading it, yet could not help but get caught up in it. No fewer than 22 venues had events, from readings and races to food fairs and a Hatter’s Cocktail Party. The lawyer in me loved “Alice’s Evidence” at The Story Museum, followed by dancing and the auction of the impossibly balanced cake above.

The trip was already worth it because of the maps and beer- stumbling on Alice’s Day made it unforgettable. In a fun yet weird science fiction sort of way.

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The Turf Tavern is a bit tricky to find. You will have to turn a corner at the end of a long passage- just like Alice- before you find the casks that say DRINK ME.

 

BACK IN LONDON

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My final beer stop was Camden Town, known for off-the-chart ridiculously delicious Helles. And for not playing well with others- but what do I know? Melissa Cole invited me- so off I went bearing beery presents from Russian River. The Helles (both filtered and unfiltered versions) was even better than I had hoped- so clean and refreshing, especially after a week of unintentional hop imbibing. (Isn’t that supposed to be an American thing?) And the company – lots of industry folks – was warm and welcoming.

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I even managed to meet a transplanted New Zealander, Stu from Yeastie Boys, who actually remembered my tweet about the beer he made with Dann and Martha of Pretty Things that I found at Hashigo Zake in Wellington. (See earlier post)

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Finding myself stuck in Gatwick airport for several hours waiting for the plane to the next leg of my trip (Amsterdam; post forthcoming) and having exhausted the Weatherspoon options, I found this quirky but surprisingly good beer at the sushi conveyor belt restaurant upstairs. It’s called Kagua. The fine print says it’s a Japanese craft beer. Brewed in Belgium. Huh? Regardless, it was terrific with the sushi. Between the sushi and the beer I could not find it in me to remain upset about my delayed flight. Very smart, Gatwick!

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And now for proof that I really did more than drink in England:

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Interior stacks at the British Library. Looks a bit like the Beinecke, eh?

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The ball attached to the Royal Opera House contains Yinka Shonibare’s fantastic ballerina- whose head is a globe made by Bellerby.

 

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Inside the British Museum

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Globe restorer Silvia Sumira in her studio.

 

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Inside the Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

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Bespoke Boutique Beer (Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington)

The most recognized opera house in the world
“I don’t fancy boutique beers.”

So said a man on a barstool in Sydney when I asked about local craft beer.  I thought it was brilliant. Finally- a better word than “craft” to describe small-batch, hand-made, artisanal beer. The other word I had been thinking about lately  was “bespoke”- which technically is closer to “custom” but in most FT contexts seems to have taken on a broader meaning- anything made with exacting standards, focusing on quality over efficiency, and uncompromising in materials, methods, and expertise.  What craft meant before it was highjacked by tax laws.

Vera and me at the parma place

Pardon the six-plus month interruption, dear readers. Clearing up some health issues. Suffice it to say that on the up side, I got to wear some cool wigs of all sorts; on the down side my taste buds were temporarily broken. All is right again! Where were we? Oh yes- in Australia with the newly-minted beer geek Vera. (See last post) Here we are – sharing a sampler and a pint.

The walk from Coogee Beach to Bondi Beach

Vera lives in Sydney, but this was the first time she was approaching her own town as a beer hunter. Our fist stop was her local, which happens to be called The Local.

The Local, Sydney

Sampler at The Local

It’s a small bar with a solid selection of Aussie beers. We had several by Bridge Road, which ended up being our brewery of choice by the end of the night- especially the Nieuw Bruin aged in cognac barrels. And while I learned to say things like “fair dinkum” and “dodgy as” we hit Bitter Phew (best play on words), Four Pines, Nomad, Young Henrys, Batch, the roof deck of the Sweeney Hotel for a Goat Mountain tap takeover, the Royal Alfred (excellent homemade dumplings and plenty of Doctors Orders), Lord Nelson, Quarrymans, Frankie’s Pizza, and a fabulous bottle shop called Oak Barrel.

Nomad

 

At Nomad, Brooks Carretta, the brewer who is from Italy’s Birra del Borgo and also trained in the US, treated us to Sideways Pale and Jet Lag IPA. Assistant brewer Jack Thompson created Vera’s favorite- Long Trip Saison.

 

 

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I have a habit of crashing breweries that are technically closed. Every time, the welcome is warm and I leave humbled. When Vera and I opened the door with the large and quite clear “closed” sign (we did bring a beer present!) Batch brewer Topher Boehm gave us a beer before he even knew we’d brought him one. Cool logo, eh?

 

Young Henry's

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At the Sydney Fish Market, we picked up a couple of craft bottles (they leave an opener on a chain at the check out so you can consume your beer on the picnic tables with the oysters you just bought).

 

Quarreyman's

 

I am a sucker for rye in beer. It’s finicky for brewers, but the special tang it gives a beer is like no other. So when I first saw the sign outside Quarryman’s Hotel (not really a hotel- there are a lot of places like that here) touting the Payment Rye IPA, I was excited. But the fine print said the release was actually in the future, in fact the exact date that I would be returning from New Zealand to the states. With a six hour layover in Sydney. Plenty of time to leave the airport for a beer, right? While at Quarrymans, we enjoyed many beers- so many we started to draw hearts on the menu to indicate our favorites. Like the Bacchus Russian Imperial Stout aged in Shiraz barrels. I have a picture of us kissing the glass, but not everything should be posted on the Internet. Know what I mean, jelly beans?

It wasn’t all about beer. I got my State Library of New South Wales Special Collections library card (that’s how you get to see maps) and learned what an interrobang is- the love child of a question mark and exclamation point that serves as the SLNSW’s symbol. Strolled the Botanical Gardens, put my toes in the water at Bondi Beach (Vera, part fish, went for a swim), and had some ridiculous food and wine at The Duck Inn.

friends

Then it was off to Melbourne. We met Vera’s friends Jacquie and Runil at Mrs. Parmas (which I was told could not be missed by a former Mountain Goat brewer and fellow Bruges traveler). “Parma” is local for parmigiana, as a cooking technique. I think. The food was fine; the beer list absolutely special. Vera and I had it pretty posh- staying in a 29th floor penthouse apartment with people who keep a Porsche and a Lotus. The best part was that when we went anywhere with them, we had to take two cars because each car only holds two people. They offered to let me drive- and as much as I would have loved to, the combination of driving on the left + expensive car + beer is not a winning one.

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Mountain Goat had a special event on the one day we could have visited, but we made up for it with stops at Cookie Bar (far above), SlowBeer (immediately above), The Royston (across from Goat Mountain) Two Birds, Junction Station, and Dr. Morse for splendid hot chocolate and chilled local Vermouth from Yarra.

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Two Birds is a woman-owned brewery. They have a beer garden in the center of the brewery (below) with a live DJ spinning vinyl. We drank Taco and raved. If you only visit one brewery in Melbourne, make it this one.

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At this point of the trip, I headed to Wellington, New Zealand and Vera went home to Sydney. She planned to pick me up at the airport for our Quarrymans rye beer release layover excursion in a few days.

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The Wellington beer scene is quite organized. I crossed the street from my Airbnb pad and found this map (above) at the first bar I walked into. It’s a beer map of Wellington. I hit most of them over the next few days, in addition to visiting the Te Papa Museum, eating excellent local seafood (like octopus dumplings) at Bin 44, and learning more about cricket than I ever meant to.

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Imagine my surprise when I walked into Hashingozaki to find my local Cambridge Pretty Things collaboration with Yeasie Boys on draft. It was delicious! Cambridge is about as far as you can get from Wellington. Dann and Martha seemed as surprised as I was.

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The General Practitioner (beer list above), a lovely bar in a former physician’s house and office, has a serious list and good food. The Little Beer Quarter (above right) recommended Mike’s APA. Apparently he’s a local who fills the kegerators with his homebrew- it was so good I started looking for Mike’s name everywhere I went.

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When I entered the Fork & Brewer, I saw what looked like a homebrew setup half way in the dining area. This was a place for me. Kelly Ryan dashed across the room in a flash, mid-brew and doing three things at once. In the middle of juggling all that he let me try Big Tahuna IPA pulled from the bright tank. Let’s just say- he’s not just a pretty face.

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Of all the beers I tried (I stopped counting at 75- it just doesn’t sound good) the one I looked most forward to was the rye IPA that was scheduled to be released at Quarrymans in Sydney the very day I was returning to the states. Everything was ready- I was allowed to leave my luggage at the airport, Vera picked me up right on time, we got rock star parking in front of Quarrymans. Which was our first clue.

It was 10:00am, and Quarrymans was closed. They opened at 11- when I needed to be on my way back to the airport.

But Vera would not be deterred! After almost three weeks of beer geeking together, she ran at the window like a crazed bird when she saw something move inside and started pounding. I wasn’t sure if I should help or bolt- especially when we realized the thing moving inside was a cat. As I was still deciding, a nice chap came to the door- and in one breath she got it out: my-friend-was-here-last-week-and-came- back-during-her layover-just-to-try-this-beer and we’d be-so-grateful-if-you’d-let-us-in. And do you know? They did! It wasn’t even chilled yet- they’d meant to serve it in the afternoon. They set up a jockey box, tapped it, and the four of us were the first to try it.

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Thanks ever so much Adrian Evans and Josh Hover!

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People always ask me what my favorite beer is. I used to respond that it’s about more than a great beer, it’s the context in which you drink it.

But now I just say: Quarrymans Rye IPA on October 18, 2014 in Sydney.

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A Beer Geek is Born (Perth, Australia)

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Vera’s first beer at Little Creatures

Meet Vera.

Looks nice, right? She used to be a regular person. Well, a regular ER doctor who grew up speaking five languages- but she didn’t have any bizarre obsessions. And I assumed our overlapping evening at La Fine Mousse in Paris a couple of years earlier was just a wonderful one-off. (See Paris post).

Until we visited a special brewery together.

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Friendly service at the Hotel Subiaco

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Sampler by the sea under a tent at Black Salt

At the start of my three-city tour of her home country, we met in Perth on the left parenthesis (as I like to call the western coast) and stayed in the lovely home of her friend Margareta in Subi. We began direct from the airport sipping Aussie craft suds at an old haunt of Vera’s from when she lived there years ago called the Subiaco Hotel (lately of a facelift that had me longing for some comfy wrinkles) and at a new place she spotted on one of her beach runs called Black Salt Brewpub. (Both above) Most importantly, it would later turn out, is that my first beer in Australia was a Feral Hop Hog. Fresh, balanced, almost juicy- it set a high bar.

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One of many examples of “Kangaroo Paw” in Kings Park.

We did a few normal things- had brunch with her friends, toured a couple of museums, walked through King’s Park. I picked up a copy of Cloudstreet. Later that same day we visited Little Creatures, The Monk, and Sail & Anchor in Freo (as Fremantle is called). Little Creatures reminded me of Stone in San Diego: a lovely visit to an amusement park of beer.

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The beer is great, but the studied attempt at ensuring a particular experience was distracting. And just like at the end of every Disney ride is a store full of momentos, I confess that’s where I picked up the best beer gifts (other than beer) to take home. We enjoyed dropping off the first Wormtown Be Hoppy can (beer gifts I brought from the US) at The Monk and had a memorable Rye the Hop Not on engine by Mash Brewing at Sail & Anchor.

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In Perth’s CBD (Aussie for “downtown”) by word of mouth, we found Northbridge Brewing and the rooftop Mechanic’s Bar, where I drank my first canned Aussie beer, Mountain Goat of Melbourne, and admired a fine cocktail list.

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On the deck of Mechanic’s Institute Bar.

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Between showers in Perth’s Central Business District (CBD)

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Inside Northbridge.

Compared to my usual beer travel, so far it had been pretty tame.

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Behold: Tasting paddle at Feral Brewing.

Until the morning when Vera suggested that we miss a planned visit to Rottnest Island, home to the cutest, happiest marsupials on the planet, so we could be sure to arrive at our first brewery stop in the Swan Valley at the moment it opened. I became suspicious. But given that morning rain was likely to keep the adorable critters in hiding anyway, it seemed like a good idea. The first stop was to be Feral Brewing.

And that’s where Vera’s geeky fate was sealed.

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The Swan Valley is essentially wine country, and as you get closer to the center spliced by the Swan River the signs pointing to wineries become more frequent. There wasn’t a sign to help us find Feral Brewing until we were practically pulling in the lot. There it sat, a large building away from the road with a big cleared area in front, some grass, outbuildings, chickens poking about. A wildish farm.

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But there was no mistaking the smell of mashing in that welcomed us. They didn’t mind that we were ten minutes early. By this point we had a routine. We asked for a tasting paddle and shared it, going one by one back and forth comparing our impressions and taking notes on our favorites. Feral has a set panel, but Vera noted most of the beers on it she could find in her hometown of Sydney. They sent us to a table with the full beer menu (15) and invited us to make up our own panel and then order more if we like.

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We are dazzled.

So we chose these:
White Hog
Karma Citra
Watermelon Warhead
Funky Junkie
Knuckles
Fantapants
Barrel Fermented Hog

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Vera’s nose in action!

Feral is one of only a handful of truly exceptional brewery visits in my experience (BFM in Switzerland, Montegioco in Italy, Mont Salève in France being others) where not only were we made to feel welcome (no contrived lines, an unfortunate trend in the US that self-proclaimed beer aficionados deign to wait in) but every beer was notably complex, fresh, different, and delicious. Made with love. It happened to both of us, Vera and me. We were on the fourth beer on the paddle when we declared our love for the creator of such beautiful tastes! Man or woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly- we were smitten. And our regard deepened as we continued sampling so that at the end of our visit, when we finally met one of the brewers, we were like a couple of silly Beatles groupies. It was at this point when our savvy server came up to us with two glasses of a “little something special” off menu for us to try. Cue swooning. And then brewer Will Irving handed us two bags full of beer, graciously posed in our selfies, and sent us off with hugs.

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Brewer Will Irving joins a selfie!

Although it wasn’t fair to them- nothing could compete with Feral that day- we managed two other breweries in the Swan Valley. Mash, which was more like a cafeteria catering to families, and Homestead, which was quite elegant set on the Mandoon Estate Winery, and where we ended up tasting some delightful old vine zins in addition to beer. (Both below)

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Inside Mash- home of the Why the Hop Not rye beer!

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Super elegant Homestead Brewery on the Mandoon Estate.

With the conversion of Vera to full-on beer geek complete, and a farewell impromptu tasting in Margareta’s kitchen to relieve our luggage of so much beer, we were all set to continue our adventure as joint beer travelers to Sydney and Melbourne.

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We had to make a dent in the stash before packing off to Sydney.

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Yes, we are indeed.

Up next – Sydney!

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Weekend in Lisbon (Portugal)

 

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San Francisco!
Nope. Cheaper to get to from Boston, similar climate, hip museums and fantastic food and music. Not as much craft beer. Or any, really.

But who cares when you can sip this delicious cherry business right in the middle of the cobbled streets?

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The tavern selling this small treat is really a dressed-up counter at the edge of the sidewalk called Ginja Sem Rival, which sort of means Best Cherry Liquor Ever. And if context is anything, it surely is.

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And just like San Francisco, there are steep streets…

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But then the old world charm of Europe takes over. In a lovely old Sunday park that doesn’t have silly American alcohol restrictions.

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And on the streets by fountains late at night where musicians and informal dancers have impromptu gatherings.

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But wait- there is beer! We stopped at La Crêperie da Ribeira for some of their ricotta, walnut, and honey yumminess, and found…

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More good-enough beer was found alongside excellent cold cockles at a restaurant known for seafood.

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But the best nibble and sip combo was at a little diner-ish place quite close to the cherry tavern. They served sparkling vinho verde with a meat sandwich called lombinho.

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These sips and sounds along the sea mean I’ll be back soon to explore some more… and perhaps open a decent brewery.

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Dad’s Bloody Mary

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Harvey Daddy! That’s what I called the beverage being passed around a sailboat on Lake George one summer when I was too young to know the difference between a drink and a Drink. It was really a Harvey Wallbanger- apparently quite the rage in the ’70s- but all I heard was Harvey. My Dad’s name.

My father and I became interested in wine at the same time. He had difficulty distinguishing among flavors and relied heavily on the descriptions of others. I would get so frustrated with him when he insisted on looking at a review before saying what he thought of a wine. Drove me crazy. Until one day I overheard someone ask him, “Harv- what do you think of that beer?” Not even a pause. “What does Kris think of it?”

I was my Dad’s Robert Parker of beer.

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People often ask me what my favorite beer is, but there’s no way to answer that without context. Where was I, who else was there, what was the view, the weather, the music? My father and I agreed on our favorite glass of wine though.

I took my parents to Spain in 2008. I did all the driving, including in Valencia when I accidentally turned onto a tram track- facing an oncoming tram. Horns sounded, people screamed, an armed police officer sprang out of nowhere- and I calmly backed up and continued on the correct route, pulling over to face the wrath of a very angry man. The officer was screaming at me in Spanish, my father was frantically looking up “I’m sorry” in the dictionary, and I think I caught my mother praying in the back seat. I kept giving my impish American smile and shrugging until he pounded on the car and motioned for us to just get out of there. I did not wet myself, but I had to think about it to be sure.

The next corner opened up to a giant screen of deep blue with a sandy stage. We stopped at a restaurant for our first authentic paella. And the best wine we ever had. I have no idea what it was.

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One morning a couple of months ago I was in my office in Boston talking to my Dad on the phone about an upcoming family vacation to Cape Cod. He had just come in from mowing the large lush lawn of the house I grew up in. After we hung up, he told my mother- his wife of 52 years- what he wanted for lunch and went back outside to finish the lawn.

The next day I was writing his obituary.

In addition to loving memories, his military service and career highlights, a few quirky lines that only those closest to him would understand- I knew it would not be complete without a mention of his Bloody Mary. Everyone who knew him knew of it. It was perfect, and had been for as long as I can remember. I tried- believe me- to improve upon it. He encouraged me! Pickled okra? tried it. Wasabi instead of white horse radish? Why not. Tabasco and dozens of other hot sauces over the years? Beef bouillon, artisanal tomato juice, more expensive vodka? Nope. We tried it all. But he’d nailed it already, and it’s still perfect every time.

I tucked a copy of his recipe into every thank you note I wrote after his service to those many people kind enough to make the trip, give me a hug, send flowers, or otherwise say sorry for your loss. I know it’s unconventional- but he would have loved it. The response was overwhelming. And so, on this day when Americans celebrate fathers, and I sip to the memory of mine, I give you Harvey Butler’s Bloody Mary recipe. Go ahead and tinker with it- I guarantee you cannot improve my Dad’s Bloody Mary.

Add ice to a tall glass and add in this order:
1 heaping teaspoon of horseradish
1.5 oz cheap vodka, like Smirnoff
2 dashes Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce
2 shakes of celery salt
1 shake salt
1 small can of original V8 juice (not any other brand; not low sodium)
1 generous grind of pepper
1 wedge of lime, squeezed and dropped into the drink
I stalk of celery to stir

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