As I type these words, it is cold outside. Like, really cold. But then that’s what one should expect in January in Canada, I suppose. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, though.
Adding to the bleakness of this month is something called ‘Dry January,’ or if you prefer, ‘Dryanuary.’ It’s when people, including even award-winning beer writers like Pete Brown, decide for one reason or another to abstain from alcoholic drinks for 31 days. (Why they don’t choose the 3-days-easier month of February has always confounded me.) It’s supposed to ‘reset’ your drinking patterns, or something like that.
While I do not participate in ‘Dryanuary’ myself, preferring to take regular and shorter periods of abstinence throughout the year, neither do I scoff at those who do. To each their own, I say, so long as they don’t get insufferably self-righteous about it all.
There is, however, an alternative to ‘Dryanuary’ that I find much more interesting. It’s ‘Tryanuary’ and it highlights the joys of discovering new flavours through the course of the first month of the year. If you’re inclined to ‘Try’ more than you are to ‘Dry,’ then may I offer the following suggestions.
Mezcal: To explain mezcal as simply as possible, all tequilas are mezcals, but not all mezcals are tequilas. In other words, mezcal is sort of like tequila in that it is made from agave that is fermented and then distilled, the big difference being that mezcal may be made from over 30 varieties of agave, not just the Blue that is a restriction for tequila, and it can be made in far more regions. The production process also differs, a portion of which accounts for mezcal’s often smoky flavours. (Just as not all single malt is smoky, neither is all mezcal, but also like Scotch whisky it does tend to be a flavour trait.) Think of a fuller-bodied and at least lightly smoky tequila and you have a hint of what to expect from mezcal.
Spontaneously Fermented Beer: No, I’m not talking about kettle sours, but true ‘wild beers’ in the fashion of Belgian lambics and the global beers they have inspired. Proper gueuze lambics from Belgium’s Payottenland, with names like Cantillon, Oud Beersel, 3 Fonteinen and De Cam, can be hard to find, but are worth the search for the outstanding complexities they offer, as are certain domestic American examples from breweries like New Glarus and Allagash. (I know of no outstanding spontaneous fermentation happening in Canada, other than James Walton’s all-too-infrequent releases at Vancouver’s Storm Brewing.) Taste one beside your favourite kettle sour for a crash course in the intricacies of wild fermentation.
Malty Ales and Bocks: I know, hops are where the action is these days, but, dammit!, malt can be pretty nice, too. Particularly when the wind is blowing cold, a nice malt-bomb of a beer can be just the thing – rich, restoring, soothing, warming. Seriously, just put down the IPAs for a day or two and treat yourself to a doppelbock, Belgian style dubbel, British-inspired barley wine or other malt monster.
Gin: Gin can rub people the wrong way. For most, it’s the juniper, which is a requisite flavouring for gin and has a very distinctive, love-it-or-hate-it flavour. But if you’re a hater, there are two things you should know: 1) A new generation of gins, headed by Hendrick’s but including many, many others, de-emphasize the juniper aspect to the point that it’s a hint rather than a holler; and 2) I have found that if you turn logic on its head and try the most juniper-y gin you can possibly find, something like London No. 3 or even the quite common – and quite good – Beefeater, the intensity of the flavour can sometimes sway even the most juniper-phobic of drinkers.
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