Thursday, September 5, 2013

Phantom of the Apero



            A couple of days after posting about beer, we made a trip to one of our favorite supermarchés and I found myself standing in the spirits aisles contemplating the many hip and sophisticated ways a guy in France could get plastered, or buerré. I suppose most of this stuff is available in the States but an early brush with Southern Comfort coupled with a 21st birthday celebration gone awry made me steer clear of anything stronger than wine ever since. While living in San Diego I discovered my inner Casanova through tequila but my skills went mostly unappreciated so I sacrificed margaritas for the economy of beer.

             This reminds me of something I've always wondered. What happy accident lead ancient man to discover that some vile tasting liquid made a hard day of hunting and gathering seem not so bad? Or did some cave woman, after a couple of belts of the same stuff, find herself thinking, "Hmm, Gronk over there's smellin' pret-ty damn not awful tonight?" Either way, his first thought was definitely, "I gotta figure out how to make more of this!" This being France, it probably wasn't too long before the first argument about what went best with mastodon. 
            Anyway, in the time we've been here, I've strolled down this aisle dozens of times, past of the same bottles of Suze and Cointreau and Poire William and wondered what all this was like. The Poire William is especially attractive since some makers of this fruit liqueur actually grow pears inside the bottles. And they're called apéritifs and digestifs, not booze. It's so civilized and dietary related. Apéritifs tend to be sweet and stimulate the appetite, so you have one before a meal.  Digestifs are stronger and taken after the meal.  I mean, when you put it that way, how could it hurt? (No lectures, please. I know all about the other side.)
             None of these liqueurs seem to come in anything smaller than a 750 ml bottle, so buying something just to try never gets past my waste not, want not side. Then I thought, you know, I did that post about the beer here, and it was kind of like, ah, educational sort of, I mean, I checked Google and stuff. So what if, say, every once in a while, not too often, just once in a while, I maybe picked up a bottle or two of something, you know, just to try so I could post about it so if, ah, someone was, like, coming here or something, or even if they weren't, but saw it in a liquor store and thought, "What's this?", well then, yeah, I could try it and tell them and they'd know. Right.
                        A few of these I've already researched and can jump right in without having to spend a eurodime. So the first official BG taste test result will be my personal favorite, at least up to now, Bénédictine.
Palais Bénédictine
          I got hip to Bénédictine a few years ago during a trip to Normandy when my wife, the architectural historian, suggested a visit to this beautiful neo-gothic palace in Fécamp that coincidentally, and possibly of some interest to me, housed a distillery. Even better, the price of admission included a sample or two of the liqueur produced therein. The factory claims that Bénédictine was invented in the 19th century by Alexandre Le Grand, who discovered the recipe of a local 16th century monk among documents in his collection. One of his descendants, however, has said that, like every good hawker of elixers, Le Grand thought that a good way to sell his creation would be to imply that it came from monks. Apparently monks represent the gold standard of firewater makers, so naming it for an un-copyrighted monastic order and stamping every bottle with said order's motto, D.O.M (Deo Optimo Maximo-To God, most good, most great) turned out to be a pretty good marketing ploy. It might have gone just as well if he had just poured some into a glass and said, "Here, try this"- it worked on me. In any case, this is liquid, 80 proof honey that will have you wondering what flavor ice cream it'd be best on. But don't just take my word for it, ask the Burnley Miners' Club in Lancashire. Wikipedia claims, and, again, as a descendant of coal miners I see no reason for dispute, that this worthy organization is the world's largest consumer of Bénédictine and the local football club serves it on game day to, obviously, the UK's most cultured fans. After all, when's the last time you heard anything about hooliganism in Burnley? Precisely.
            When I get around to this subject again I'll probably cover pastis, since it won't require any cash layout either. And if you've been here before, you know I try to end things with a relevant video. I couldn't find anything about Bénédictine that wasn't in French or boring. So here's a short film from the Benedictine University Police Department about alcohol poisoning.                     

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