Accidental Hedonist From a closed mind to an open book Tue, 26 Feb 2013 18:40:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Small Clue to the Latest Project Tue, 29 Jan 2013 18:14:24 +0000 Kate manet_absinthdrikkeren_1859_1

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What is the Holiday Spirit? Wed, 19 Dec 2012 17:06:07 +0000 Kate (Author’s Note: Yes, I’ve been away too long. No, this break up isn’t permanent. To demonstrate this, let me share with you a reading  I performed that was received quite well at my company’s Holiday party.

Also note – I’ve turned off comments. This is permanent, for reasons that I will gladly share with you. If you feel the need to respond to any of my thousands (!!!) of posts, feel free to e-mail me via the contact form.

- Kate)

All rights reserved by masahiro miyasaka. Used via Creative Commons License.

I’ve been doing Quality Assurance now for fifteen years. It is a very long time to be in that sort of job position, and it really begins to affect the way that one looks at the world.

To illustrate this, I would like to share with you a recent corrective action I wrote.


Dear Santa,

I am entering this corrective action against a feature that you had implemented upon your sleigh long after your initial design had been approved. I can find no documentation surrounding the implementation of your RLD, better known as your Rudolph Lighting Display. As you know, Section 21.93 of the Code of Federal Regulations defines a major change as a change that affects fit, form, or function. Adding a ninth reindeer whose primary function includes illuminating a relevant pathway to the aircraft, fits that definition.

I strongly recommend sitting with your  SME/DER to determine your best course of action in light of this finding. Perhaps documenting an alternative means of compliance? Regardless, I would expect at least you to be able to answer a question regarding what is the mean time between failure for reindeer.




I’m pretty sure I’m getting a lump of coal this year.

Before getting too much further into this, let’s take an opportunity to thank the members of the Employee Activity Committee. If you guys could stand up, lets take a moment to thank them for all the work they’ve done here tonight.

In discussing over the entertainment part of tonight with Norma, the initial thought was that I would read from one of my books. I understood where she was coming from, but the idea didn’t seem that…festive…to me.  So I suggested that I could write something especially for tonight. The question though, was what?  I asked Norma, and she said “I dunno, something that puts them in the Holiday Spirit.”

What is the Holiday Spirit?


It’s a simple question, really. One that is often asked in various holiday specials and sung in a multitude of songs found on light rock radio stations after Thanksgiving.


What is the Holiday Spirit?

My parents raised me agnostic, so I was raised under the holiday tradition of bright lights, family get-togethers,  and many awful songs. I didn’t have access to some of the more religious components of the season. When I was a child, I didn’t connect with the sanctity of the season. As such, it has taken me far longer to understand what the “Holiday Spirit” entailed.

As a child, everything I knew of this spirit, I gleaned from the various animated holiday specials that I watched on an annual basis. A Charlie Brown Christmas taught me that procuring a sickly tree was a just reason to be mocked. The Year without Santa Claus taught me that Christmas is best left to the professionals, and, as an added bonus, also  taught me that Global Warming and the Coming Ice Age is little more than a battle between the Heat Miser and Snow Miser. The Little Drummer Boy taught me that everyone digs a drum solo.

Let’s talk about The Little Drummer Boy for a moment, because it was my favorite Christmas Special. Sure, I recognized that the story was about the simplicity of the gift being appreciated by Mary and the Baby Jesus, but what had me enthralled was the fact that the drummer boy was able to connect with the animals with his drumming. The Ox and Lamb kept time! What a conceit!

The only time that I’ve been able to communicate with animals with music was when one time, when I was singing, my cat coughed up a hairball.

Anyways, somewhere in all of these shows resides the Holiday Spirit, but clearly I was too young to figure it out.

My misunderstanding was so bad, that, when in fourth grade, when asked by my teacher  to give an example of what Christmas means to me, I wrote:

 Christmas means to me, that even when someone steals your presents, trees, and roast beast, if you just stand in the middle of town and sing, the burglar will turn himself (and his dog) in, and we will hold a feast in their honor.

Yup, 9 year old me, not only plagiarized  The Grinch who stole Christmas , but I turned it into an adorable story of felony breaking & entering with a touch of Stockholm syndrome.  This was something my fourth grade teacher explained to me later, after I read her note on my homework which read simply “Please see me after class.”

My understanding of this “spirit” became even more confused as I entered my teen years, where I was apparently under the belief that the Holiday Spirit meant that I was to get whatever music I desired, and that the failure to get said music provided just reason to throw an appropriate tantrum. This belief led to the “REO Speedwagon” incident when I was thirteen, the “Night Ranger” incident when I was fifteen, and the “Metallica” incident when I was seventeen.  While at the time I believed the change in my musical tastes illustrated some measure of maturity, in truth, all of the incidents are too similar in motivations to demonstrate any measure of understanding of what the Holiday Season is all about.

I would like to think that I grew in college, and to some extent I did.  Mostly I renounced my material ways, and understood that the Holiday season isn’t really about gifts, either in the giving or receiving. Unfortunately, I painted everyone with the same large brush, mocking anyone who participated in such a gross, materialistic way, and that even a simple purchase of garland or tinsel meant that one was complicit in the great Holiday-Industrial complex conspiracy, and that even humming “White Christmas” meant that you were brainwashed.

Luckily for my family, I spent most of the holidays with college friends, where I attended various anti-Holiday parties with various English and Theater majors of the university I attended, and consumed holiday feasts consisting primarily of Wild Turkey, and Cranberry and Vodka. This was when I first understood what wisdom was. Let me say that if I now have to consider a choice between  going to parties where their primary theme is “No one really understands how miserable the world is but us” against the option of oh, I don’t know….let’s say test witnessing, I’ll choose test witnessing every time. I have truly become older and wiser.

It wasn’t until my first year after college that I started to truly understand what the Holiday spirit meant. I was on my way to a family get-together, sharing a ride with my older sister. About halfway through the drive, long enough, mind you, to demonstrate that she had given full on consideration of what she was about to say), turned to me and said:

“Don’t be a fargle.”

Actually, she said more than that, to which I’ll get to in a minute, but I need to explain the word “fargle”.

You see, my family works blue. We curse, a lot. Not drunken trucker level of cursing, but certainly a level to which it would be appreciated by a drunken trucker. So when I say “fargle” ,  for the sake of decorum, I’d like you to fill in your own obscene gerund and/or  epithet.  The point I want to illustrate here is that my sister called me a fargle.

Actually, what she said was even more profound.  What she said was “Don’t be a fargle.  Christmas isn’t about just you. And…would it kill you to smile for the sake of the rest of the family?”

At the time, I took it as a personal admonishment, which it was. But upon reflection, I realized how much this correction to my behavior was an apt description of the Holiday Spirit.

We live three-hundred and sixty some odd days of misery, of stress, or of indifference to our fellow travelers on this planet. We live in our own tragic routine, a rote application of what we’ve defined to be our lives.  Thomas Hobbes once wrote that the state of nature is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. But the collective “we” have been able to create this holiday season that allows us to celebrate what we can be – Joyous, Peaceful, and full of friendship and love.

The Holiday Spirit is the embodiment of that understanding.  It’s a feeling where we understand that we’re all in this together, and that we share this planet with one another. And that for at least one day out of the year, we should try to smile with one another, or, at the very least, we shouldn’t begrudge another for striving for an uncynical joy. Because the holidays aren’t about you, or me. It’s about us.

And let’s face it: Our lives in this season would be far better off once we understand that we shouldn’t be such a fargle.

Happy Holidays Everyone! May you and yours have a full day of peace and joy.

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Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR Thu, 13 Dec 2012 17:25:55 +0000 Kate Archaeologists Find Ancient Evidence Of Cheese-Making : The Salt : NPR.

 As any cheese maker will tell you, it’s not that hard to make cheese. You just take some fresh milk, warm it up a bit, and add something acidic to curdle it. Then, once it has cooled, you drain off the whey— the liquid part — and you’re left with cheese.

But when did we figure out how to do this? According to a new paper in the journal Nature, at least 7,000 years ago. Since then, the process hasn’t changed much.

Take that, Kraft Singles!

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I Feel a Disturbance in the Force Tue, 13 Nov 2012 16:38:55 +0000 Kate It’s been a while, I know. But bear with me, as movement is afoot.

Stay tuned!

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Media Alert: Rick Steves Thu, 25 Oct 2012 16:49:54 +0000 Kate My interview with Rick Steves will be available this weekend on any Radio Station that plays Travel with Rick Steves (it was recorded back in June of this year). We discuss my book Sweet Tooth, as well as other travel items surrounding candy.


Listen in, and hear what happens when I’m interviewed on three hours of sleep and have a minor case of food poisoning.

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So, Where Have I Been? Mon, 15 Oct 2012 21:17:42 +0000 Kate For the past thirteen years, give or take, I would sit in front of my keyboard and type out items that popped into my mind.  Sometimes I approached this with great determination. Other times, I would do the literary equivalent of throwing pasta at the wall, and seeing what would stick.

Then I would click on a button, and publish the result in order for the world to read.

It’s a strange phenomena that this medium allows us. I could write about anything, and mere seconds later, a visitor from India, South Africa, or Akron, Ohio could consume it and consider it. This was magic made true by programmers and network administrators. For thirteen years, give or take, I took advantage of this and wrote with intent and joy. For the first few years, I wrote on another blog, where I could share/describe a medical issue to which I had to attend.  For the past eight-plus, I’ve chosen to write about food, with a dalliance in travel here and there.

The intent for the first blog was catharsis.  The intent for the second blog, the one you’re reading now, was unashamedly professional. I wanted to  publish a book with a major publishing house.

I’ve been lucky enough to now publish two .

Since then, or, more specifically, since accomplishing my intention, I could not come up with a new reason to write.  And so, I stopped.  I hadn’t just stopped writing on the blog. I stopped writing, period. No quick exercises at home, no notes in the margins of the books I was reading, not even a comment in any of the other blogs I was reading. Beyond a daily e-mail or two for my primary job, I barely mustered more than one-hundred words in the past three months.

What have I done instead? I’ve toiled at the said primary job, and took a week to go to Europe, again (this time to Vienna, Munich, and Prague), and half-assed some research on a beer book. But for the most part, I let the world wash over me, instead of trying to direct its tide to suit my needs.

The reasons for this were many. So many, that it was difficult for me to parse out the why’s surrounding this sudden and uncharacteristic behavior. As near as I can figure out, I should develop some new goals that exceed, but relate to, the previous professional goals. In other words, I wish to have more books published, but wish them to be “better”, for lack of a less-cliched word. What “better” means is an idea that is still being slopped around in my consciousness, and being played with every time something definable appears.

There is the rub. “Better”. How do I begin moving beyond the benchmarks of 99 Drams and Sweet Tooth? Writing about food history is a difficult field to break into, and I can count on my hands the number of people who are doing it well.   It’s just my luck that I have a passion that is the niche-iest of niches.

So, to those of you writing me and asking where have I been? I’ve been here, trying to create a new intent, and trying to better myself, and not really figuring out the hows surrounding it. Not yet, at least. But don’t consider this blog dead. It’s more dormant, until I can figure out where I want to gonext.



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The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Tue, 24 Jul 2012 13:22:10 +0000 Kate The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was initially a secret society, formed in 1848 in London and designed as a rejection of the art academy process. Rejecting the academic painting approach and what it stood for, these group of men ( William Michael Rossetti, James Collinson, Frederic George Stephens and Thomas Woolner) instead chose to approach art in the styles of late medieval and early Renaissance Europe. A time that was Pre-Raphael.

What that meant is their art, at first, had a  ”minute description of detail, a luminous palette of bright colors that recalls the tempera paint used by medieval artists, and subject matter of a noble, religious, or moralizing nature”. Their intent was to make art approachable to the common man, through themes and stories that recognizable to anyone, and not through subtext that was unapproachable by most.

They rejected hackery, any idea that showed  ”anything lax or scamped in the process of painting … and hence … any thing or person of a commonplace or conventional kind.” They initially focused on the familial stories of the bible, but soon turned to landscapes, heading out into the world with canvas and paints. This seems obvious now, but before them, an artist would sketch a landscape, take it back to the studio, and then recreate the colors from memory.  What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood did was to capture the colors as they saw them at the time that they saw them. The result? Paintings had more detail than ever before.

John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shallot

More than anything else, the PRB moved the art world, begrudgingly at first, out of its traditions of the time. While the diversity of the Brotherhood’s work makes it difficult to tie it to one or two basic themes, what the PRB accomplished more than any other movement was to make the artist the driver of the work, not the ideals era in which they were born. What the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood fostered for more than any thing else was that artist had the right and the duty to develop their own identity and styles.  This belief would soon change the art world forever.

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Understanding Belgian Beer Mon, 23 Jul 2012 12:58:17 +0000 Kate

Let me work with a simple premise – A country’s beer culture is a reflection of that country’s history. It may not be a full reflection, but it does show enough to illuminate some important aspect of that country.

So why is it, that a country that’s the size of the state of Maryland, holds the rapt attention of most beer aficionados?  It’s not as if Belgium is a major European tourist destination – at least not in comparison to England, France, Italy, and Spain.  It’s certainly not a primary player in the history of Europe, having not even been a country until the 1830′s. So, why is Belgium so keen on beer?

The answer lies in its history. It’s a gross simplification, but the basis of the Belgian brewing industry lies in the fact that during industrial brewing’s formative years 1850-1920 , Belgium had other primary concerns than figuring out the level of regulations that dictated limited styles of beer. This lack of oversight actually made imports into Belgium cheaper than what they could brew in 1900.  The Belgian brewing scene was poor at this time.

Then, occupation in World War I set back the industry even further.  It wasn’t until the Belgian government banned genever from cafes and taverns that the industry started to take off.  The marketplace, demanding some level of inebriates, welcomed local beers into the fold.  New things were tried in order to differentiate one beer from another. Never having a Reinheitsgebot helped, and as well as a lack of a brewing “tradition”. Brewers were able to try different spices and herbs, even adding sugar to their drinks.  Add in the unique yeasts of the region, and a predilection for the taste of malt over that of hops, and the resulting melange of beers available to Belgians increased.

As breweries in England and the United States consolidated, and the industry shrank (in terms of breweries, not in sales), and as the Belgians rejected German beers (for obvious reasons) Belgium breweries soared with variety.  Yes, pilsners ended up on top as they did in other countries (Belgium’s most popular beer is a pilsner called Jupiler), but the marketplace was diverse, enough so that it became a source of pride for the region, quickly evolving into its state today.

Belgium’s brewing traditions are truly only about a century old, rather recent in the grand scheme of things. But this has worked in their favor, making them a “must visit” for any fan of beer.



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The Reader’s Choice Finals – Hendrick’s Gin versus No. 209 Gin Mon, 16 Jul 2012 14:00:42 +0000 Kate

This is it – the finals. Out of the initial sixteen gins selected, these were the two that you deemed best. Your final task here is to pick one over the other. Will be be the lesser known No. 209 gin from San Francisco? Or will it be the popular Scottish Gin, Hendrick’s?

The choice is yours.  You have one week to vote.

[poll id="18"]

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Video – The Pre-Raphaelites Tue, 10 Jul 2012 10:43:15 +0000 Kate

A nice intro to the Pre-Raphaelites from the BBC.  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of English painters, poets, and critics, founded in 1848 byWilliam Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ll discuss in further detail soon. Video’s are below the jump.

Episode 1 pt.1

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Episode 1 pt.2

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Episode 1 pt.3

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Episode 2 pt.1

[embedplusvideo height="388" width="640" standard="" vars="ytid=zJT5J_HaqHI&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=" id="ep2131" /]

Episode 2 pt.2

[embedplusvideo height="388" width="640" standard="" vars="ytid=yPo4YJkpj5k&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=" id="ep6852" /]

Episode 2. pt.3

[embedplusvideo height="388" width="640" standard="" vars="ytid=Nqt8wlliDk8&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=" id="ep5495" /]

Episode 3 pt.1

[embedplusvideo height="388" width="640" standard="" vars="ytid=LcuP0-pQ39E&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=" id="ep9882" /]

Episode 3 pt.2

[embedplusvideo height="388" width="640" standard="" vars="ytid=spp2IHpzcNA&width=640&height=388&start=&stop=&rs=w&hd=0&react=1&chapters=&notes=" id="ep3061" /]

Episode 3 pt.3

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The History of the Martini Mon, 09 Jul 2012 14:40:26 +0000 Kate

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia

 (As with any post or book dealing with Food History, the typical caveats, dealing with regionalism and incomplete records, apply.)

For such a classic cocktail, the history of the Martini is murky, with various stories being thrown about as truths, when in fact most of these are half-truths at best, out and out fabrications at worst.  The most common story out there is that “Professor”  Jerry Thomas invented the drink in San Francisco, and documented it in one of the first book of cocktail recipes called How to Mix Drinks. While the historical aspect of this book should not be undervalued, the fact remains that it has little, if anything to do with the history of the martini.

There is no indication of the martini in the first edition of his book. The closest we get to the recipe is one called Gin Punch. The recipe is as follows:

11. Gin Punch
(From a recipe by Soyer.)
1/2 Pint of old gin.
1 gill of maraschino
The juice of two lemons.
The rind of half of a lemon.
Four ounces of syrup.
1 quart bottle of German Seltzer Water.
Ice Well.

This is the basis of what we know of today as a Tom Collins, but it’s no where close to a Martini.

He does add a recipe called the Martinez in his 1887 edition of The Bar-tender’s Guide or How to mix All Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks

Martinez Cocktail.
(Use small bar-glass.)
Take 1 dash of Boker’s bitters.
2 dashes of Maraschino.
1 pony of Old Tom gin.
1 wine-glass of Vermouth.
2 small lumps of ice.

Shake up thoroughly, and strain into a large cocktail
glass. Put a quarter of a slice of lemon in the glass, and serve. If the guest prefers it very sweet, add two dashes of gum syrup.

This is a little closer, but the maraschino makes it a little further away than what I’d like.  But due to the nebulous nature of recipes back then, it is a start. As far as the first documented use of the name “martini,” that comes from Harry Johnson’s The New and Improved Illustrated Bartenders’ Manual; circa 1888.

57 Martini Cocktail

(Use a large bar glass)

Fill the glass up with ice;
2 or 3 dashes of Gum Syrup;
2 or 3 dashes of Bitters; (Boker’s genuine only)
1 dash of Curaçoa;
1/2 wine glassful of Old Tom Gin;
1/2 wine glassful of Vermouth;

stir up well with a psoon, strain it into a fancy cocktail glass, squeeze a piece of lemon peel on top, and serve. (See Illustration, Plate No. 13.)

However, I came across this recipe for a Turf Club Cocktail, from book/pamphlet called How to mix drinks. Bar keepers’ handbook published in 1884. The recipe is straight-forward:

Turf Club Cocktail

Two or three dases of Peruvian Bitters;
One-half wine glass of Tom Gin;
One-half wine glass of Italian Vermouth;
Fill glass three-quarters full of fine ice, stir well with spoon and strain in fancy cocktail glass, then serve.

This recipe is closer to the martini, and was published three years prior to Thomas’ Martinez.

From The Hostess of To-day, by Linda- Hull Larned in 1899


1/2 c Tom gin,

1/2 c Italian Vermouth,

1 tsp orange bitters,

serve with a curled lemon peel in each glass or rub rim of glass with lemon zest then dip in powdered sugar .

A magazine called The Bachelor book, released in September1900, has a similar sweetened recipe for the martini in an article called The Soothing Syrup:

Martini Cocktail

A mixing glass half full of fine ice, three dashes of orange bitters, one half jigger Tom gin, one half jigger Italian vermouth, a piece of lemon peel.  Mix well and strain into a cocktail glass. Many persons add a half teaspoonful of sherry but this is a matter of individual taste

In the May 15, 1903 release The Mixer and Server, Official Journal of the Hotel and Restuarant Employee’s International Alliance and Bartenders’ International League of America, Volume XII No.5, page 64, there was printed this tidbit:

“Golf Cocktail”

Extra Dry

There is always something new under the sun in an up to the minute cafe. New drinks are constantly being launched upon the sea of popularit,y and the palates of the vast army of lovers of well compounded and refreshing beverages do not suffer as a consequence. Jake Didier, author of the “Reminder” has unfolded another drink, which he calls “Golf Cocktail.” A feature of the concoction is that it is “Extra Dry.” People who have delighted in imbibing in extra dry champagne have now turned to the extra dry cocktail. Competent critics declare the cocktail to be one of the best in Jake’s extensive repertoire.

A goblet 2/3 full of cracked ice, 3 dashes of Hostetter’s bitters, 1/3 drink of French Vermouth, 2/3 drink of Gordon gin;  stir well, strain into cocktail glass put in olive, and serve.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a dry martini. it is the missing link between the Sweetened Martini recipes of the nineteenth century and the dry recipe of today.

By 1913, we see advertisements in various magazines differentiating between a martini and a dry martini. Somewhere in the previous ten years, the golf cocktail takes off, but is defined as a drier derivation of the more traditional sweet martini. But up until prohibition, the traditional martini used Tom Gin, rather than a London dry. The proliferation of faux “London Dry” gins during prohibition sounded the death knell for the sweetened martini, and its popularity waned. The dry version become the defacto defintion of “martini”.

So, the history of the martini in a nutshell? It started off as a sweetened cocktail in the late 1800′s, roughly around 1880, give or take. A dry version was introduced around 1900, and took off in popularity. Prohibition saw the end of production of Tom Gin, but the bathtub gins led to the popularity of the dry version of the drink, so much so, that when America came out of Prohibition, the martini was thought of as first, foremost, and only as a dry cocktail.

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The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #2: Bombay Sapphire vs. No. 209 Thu, 05 Jul 2012 14:18:24 +0000 Kate Vote!

[poll id="17"]

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The Reader’s Best Gin Semi-Final #1: Hendrick’s vs. Leopold’s Thu, 05 Jul 2012 14:16:13 +0000 Kate Vote!

[poll id="16"]

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The Lambics Tue, 03 Jul 2012 15:06:19 +0000 Kate


Out of the entire catalog of Belgian Beers, there is one category that mystifies me. And being born and bred in the United States, where beer ignorance is part of a national DNA, I hadn’t even heard of this style of beer until I was way past my thirties. I am speaking the Lambics, of course; a style of beer noted for its ties to beers historical roots, what with its emphasis on open-air, spontaneous fermentation, as well as the wacky notion that beer tastes better after it ages in a cask.  As we come from a culture where mega-breweries harp on the idea of “freshness dating”, the fact that there are good to great beers out there that requires 1-3 years of aging before it gets its optimal taste is unique in the worlds where Budweiser and Coor’s reign supreme.

What the lambics are, in my opinion, is evidence that the marketing arms of industrial breweries are full of it.  For every claim of freshness, for every claim of precision in brewing, lambics demonstrate an exception.

Their are several varieties of lambics out there, from the pure lambic and the fruit lambics, to krieks, and something called gueuze, an oddity so different from what one thinks of beer, that the folks at the Good Beer Guide to Belgium describes it thusly:

Your first encounter…(with oude gueze)…can be astonishingly awful. It may make you want to send it back immediately, but then persuades you to hold on for just another mouthful. Having soldiered through the bottle and awarded  yourself a gold rosette for adding painfully to your knowledge of  brewing history, it should make you vow neer to try it again. Then order another just in case you got it wrong….After your third you will never think about beer in the same way again.

It’s this sort of talk that gets me all hot and bothered about how it tastes and what it represents.  A well-made gueuze is seen as the apex of brewing; the golden fleece; the beer that’s kept in hiding until that one special moment in one’s life that calls for something  both wonderful and unique.

The beers are not just unique to the beer world, they’re unique to Belgium, with most coming from an area just to the west/south-west of Brussels, in an area called The Pajottenland, in a region of land that’s only a little larger than the size of Brussels itself. This is a theme we’ll run into again and again with Belgian Beers – namely, how can an area so small (Belgium is comparible in size to the state of Maryland) do so much with beer?

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