The Girl's Guide to Bourbon

It's a funny thing to say to someone. It feels boastful and full of unearned pride.  Almost like an emotional masquerade. "I'm writing a book."

To which the other person in the conversation replies with any number of appropriately enthusiastic responses, and generally inquires as to the subject, how I got into it, who is going to publish it, when it's coming out... And I am left to piece together a reply that is factual, fair, succinct, and above all, something that doesn't make me sound as if I am an overinflated balloon of hot air and narcissism.

Invariably, it comes out something like this:

"Well, it's a book about whiskey. Sort of a guide book for women on how to understand and appreciate a spirit that is so rooted in masculinity." [Uh-oh. Feminist ideals seeping out. Do I sound pretentious?] "But it's just a work in progress!" [It is unfinished, and I don't have a publisher yet.] "Of course, I think it has so much potential, and there really is a huge market out there, I mean, there's just scores of women out there who feel so intimidated and unsure, and I really just want to help them." [What's that -- altruism in the midst of a violent flurry of self-consciousness?] "So, I'm in the organization and research phase." [Which is why I am drinking this lovely Whiskey Smash at two o'clock  on a Wednesday afternoon.]

In fairness to myself, I have been working on it. And it is progressing, picking up steam, taking off, take your pick o' clichés. I'm networking and talking to other writers and fellow industry professionals. I'm learning. And I'm feeling more and more, that cocktails and the spirits and ingredients behind them are just as fascinating and complex as wine and food.

Now, in the name of research, let's taste some vermouth and analyze which one goes best in the Rittenhouse Rye 100 Manhattan we are making.

The Dearth of Decent Dive Bar Wine: A Bit of a Rant

I relish the modern upscale wine lounge. A place where the list includes dozens of wines by the glass, where one can relax on a plush sofa or a charming bistro table with some friends or on a date. I also enjoy dining out at the bar in nicer restaurants where one may order a light meal and an interesting glass of wine, usually region-specific and almost always agreeable for the given price. And the sheer value of opening a lovely bottle at home and either sharing it with a few select friends or alone and in cosy pajamas is simply undeniable. But every once in a while, I just want to hang out in a place that's more casual. A place with an interesting mix of people, where the patrons are a cross-section of society and where you are guaranteed a cheap drink and a slightly sardonic bartender.

The dive bar is an institution probably  as old as wine itself. The tavern, the pub, the kneipe, the lokal, the taproom, the saloon, and countless others in all various forms and languages are all examples of this type of establishment. The dive bar is the modern incarnation of that age-old place where one can get a decent drink at a fair price and there are no real qualifications for admission, other than being of legal age and reasonable sobriety. Basically, if you can pay for a drink, you're old enough to do so, and you're not too drunk to stand, you'll fit in just fine.

Dive bars get a bad rap sometimes for being less than reputable, but they really are fascinating places to spend an hour or two on a lazy Tuesday evening. There isn't just one kind of patron; rather, there are all sorts of people from all different professions, backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, and education levels. No matter where you go in to world, the dive bar is a place where, if you know the general rules of common courtesy and have a mild-to-fair appreciation for alcoholic beverages, you can spend some time in a welcoming and oftentimes fascinating environment. At least it's never dull.

The one black mark of a dive bar is the utter lack of decent/tasty/quaffable wine. At least here in the states, I have noticed that it is next to impossible to acquire a drinkable glass of wine-- and I live in Northern California! There is a huge microbrew movement that has been pretty phonomenal in the bar and restaurant scenes for at least the past couple of decades. You can now go into just about any dive bar and have your choice from all manner of beers: from the humble Miller High Life or PBR, to the hoppy craft brew IPAs, to the elegant Hoegaarden white beers and Trumer Pilsners.  So why, pray tell, it is so enormously difficult to get a simple yet well-made glass of wine in these establishments?

If you don't believe me, please visit your local dive and notice the refreshing variety of beers. Then ask for a glass of wine. I can almost promise you that the response will likely be, " Red or White?" Then there will be two options: either a cheap chardonnay that has been aged with oak chips to give it that lovely sour-wood quality, or a cabernet sauvignon-based blend that tastes bittersweet in its undeveloped and saccharine nature.  Yuck.

I have asked various bar managers and owners, and all I seem to get for  a response is a shrug of the shoulders. Various reasonings supplied have run along the lines of, "no one is interested," or "it's too expensive," or "it doesn't fit with our vibe." To which I reply, Yes! We are interested! People don't ask for wine because they know it will be awful plonk and they'd rather not subject their taste buds to that drudgery. And No! Decent wine doesn't have to be expensive! There are plenty of bottles you can get that wholesale for $7-12, that you can turn around and sell for $6-8 per glass. You just need to put an ounce of effort to find them. And while you may claim it isn't in your bar's particular style, keep in mind that fancy microbrews hardly fit in with the vibe back in the 1980's, but they sure seem to be indispensible now.

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Needless to say, there are plenty of establishments that do cater to the needs of the wine lover. I love these places and have no wish for them to disappear. I would simply like to see the humble dive bar continue to display its welcoming and egalitarian nature by offering all its imbibers something to get excited about.