Hitchens On Drinking

For a brief moment, our dear prairie dog editor Stephen Whitworth was throwing around the idea of an August Reading issue, where I’m presuming we could’ve talked about all the books we’ve been loving all summer long. I came up with what I thought was a stellar pitch: using a medium to talk with Christopher Hitchens from beyond the grave.

See, I’ve been enjoying his memoirs, Hitch-22, immensely, but he also has a new book that just came out this week. Mortality is a collection of pieces he wrote for Vanity Fair as he was battling the cancer that eventually took his life. What better way to look into the book, in my mind, then to have someone contact one of the loudest and most adamant voices of the New Atheists in the afterlife?

All things considered, maybe it’s for the best that the August Reading issue never came to pass with ideas like that. But for the issue hitting stands tomorrow, I did get to write about another book, specifically How to Be a Person, a book from the staff of the Stranger full of no-bullshit and funny information on a lot of what a young person might encounter in life.

While reading a bit more of Hitch-22 last night, I came across a passage where Hitchens outlines his rules for drinking. (With the caveat from Martin Amis that “making rules about drinking can be the sign of an alcoholic.”) Drinking is definitely covered in How to Be a Person — they even prohibit some of the drinking habits of our own Whitworth — but, for the sake of contrast, here’s roughly half of Hitchens’ general edicts:

Don’t drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food. Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood. Cheap booze is a false economy. It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain. Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night. (If you really don’t remember, that’s an even worse sign.)

And on from there. How to Be a Person and Hitch-22 are both worthy additions to your bookshelves; I’m guessing Mortality isn’t too bad, either.

Old News: Calgary Beer Back In Calgary

As a precursor to our Drink! Issue, I dug up this story my girlfriend told me about a while ago and I forgot about until right now. And that fancy little Old News logo makes my tardiness okay. I’m never doing anything on time now!

For this year’s Calgary Stampede, Molson brought back Calgary Beer for a limited time in the city. It hasn’t been sold there for about 20 years, but for now, they’ve got the opportunity to drink 20,000 cases of it.

An article in the Calgary Herald article on the matter recognizes that Calgary’s been back in the prairie dog‘s fair province for a while now. They even quote a “local beer lover”, who says, “I don’t know why anyone in Saskatchewan would want it.”

I can’t speak for Saskatchewan as a whole, but I know a couple of reasons why I’m a fan of Calgary, the beer. For one, I’ve got fond associations with it, as it was the beer of choice at one of Regina’s late, great venues, the Manhattan Room.

Beyond that, Calgary is a decent, cheap beer with a taste that isn’t bland but isn’t foul. One of its main contemporaries is Lucky. Calgary’s about as inexpensive as that beer but still a cut above in terms of how palatable it is. (Funny enough, last time I had Lucky was in Calgary, and it’s fine enough once you’ve had enough. I still would’ve preferred Calgary, the beer, though.) Even a Boxer or a Minhas Creek isn’t quite as good as a nice, cold Calgary.

Wall Street Wonder

I have memories dating back to 2000 or so of going to a certain Scarth St. bar in downtown Regina on Saturday night and practically being the only person in the place except for a few people playing VLTs upstairs. The bar was called the Taverna then. Now, it’s O’Hanlon’s Pub. And with two expansions under its belt, it’s being written up in the Wall Street Journal as one of the leading purveyors of Guinness (pictured) in Canada.

It’s currently ranked third in the country. But with an influx of workers from Ireland expected in Saskatchewan in the next few years, owner/operator Niall O’Hanlon has his eye on becoming the #1 vendor of Guinness in Canada.

Read about it here.

Pick of the Day: Festiv-ale

Operative syllable being “ale” — as in booze. And not just beer and related beverages, either. But wine and spirits. So a true cornucopia of alcohol will be available for connoisseurs of the liquid arts to imbibe in and savour. The event runs tonight and Saturday night from 7-11 p.m. at Conexus Arts Centre. Tickets are $30, or $50 for weekend pass.

Also on tonight, the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame is having a fundraising dinner at the Delta Hotel. Special guests include Henry “Gizmo” Williams and Steve Sax (pictured). The former was a punt returner par excellence for the Eskimos in the late ’80s and through the ’90s and even played half a season in the NFL in 1989 with the Philadelphia Eagles under Buddy Ryan; while the latter played second base for the L.A. Dodgers in the ’80s and later saw action with the New York Yankees.

When Sax broke into the majors in 1982, he was named Rookie of the Year. The next year, though, he started having difficulty making routine throws to first base for outs. He committed 30 errors in 1983, and for several seasons after that continued to struggle with throwing. “Steve Sax Syndrome” is what baseball pundits dubbed it. And Sax didn’t find a cure until 1989. Now he’s a motivational speaker.  Tickets are $100. For more info call 780-9232 or visit www.sshfm.com/

Finally, this weekend the 20th annual Mid-Winter Celtic Festival is being held. It starts tonight at 5:30 p.m. with a gathering at O’Hanlon’s Pub. Then tomorrow, they’ll be performances (pipers, fiddlers, dancers) between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at Cornwall Centre. From noon-4 p.m., they’ll be a “kitchen party” offering a similar assortment of entertainment for the plus 19 crowd at O’Hanlons. The festival winds up with the traditional ceilidh at the Exchange (8 p.m.-1 a.m.) with the City of Regina Pipe Band and sets by the Scott Benson Band, Downbeat and Celtica. For more info visit www.reginacelticfestival.org

Pick of the Day: Taste of Cathedral

The 2012 Cathedral Village Arts Festival goes May 21-26. It’s largely a volunteer effort, and to help raise funds organizers are hosting a fundraiser tonight at the Italian Club (13th Ave & Connaught St.). The event includes  live music, a silent auction, a cash bar and gourmet food tasting with grub provided by the many fine restaurants, coffeeshops and other food-related businesses that operate in the neighbourhood.

The event starts at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20, and can be obtained by calling 569-8744.

My Fave Irish Pub Owner Is In QC

This Postmedia-owned/Leader-Post-operated fake indie insert-thing isn’t exactly my favourite Regina publication, but QC did something right with this profile on much-loved pint-pourer Niall O’Hanlon. Andrew Matte’s piece tells O’Hanlon’s story, starting in Ireland with his dad, then moves on to Niall’s tedious university days and happy pub nights. From there it relates Niall’s early experiences in the pub biz and finally describes how he met his future wife, moved to Regina and founded and developed the city’s best pub.

The writer gets out of the way and lets Niall’s story speak for itself. From the article:

“People thought we were crazy for opening up downtown. People told me ‘why don’t you go to the south end’ or ‘the east end is really going to take off.’” And I am sure that was true,” he said. “But I have always been a downtown kind of guy. And this was a different kind of venue.”

His gamble paid off. In the 11 years O’Hanlon’s has been open, it’s become more successful every year. He has expanded several times, hosts live music on the weekend and has been known as a place for all people. He estimates sales have increased 30 per cent every year. Today, O’Hanlon’s sells as much draft as biggest-selling pubs in Canada, and ranks second for sales of Guinness alone.

Now, I’m not sure Niall’s going to be thrilled by the fact that there are six — six! — photos of him in QC, including the cover, contents page and four-page story. It’s a little much.

But I’m glad QC published this piece about my favourite pub owner. Prairie dog — already downtown and O’Hanlon’s-centric — couldn’t have. It would’ve felt waaay too inbred.

A Party Appraisal

Journalists should be all about doing the work that the citizenry needs done. Digging in and getting those facts that the average reader hasn’t sussed out on their own.

Carillon writer Paul Bogdan did just that when, in the past month, he went over to the University of Regina on-campus residences to find where the party was at. Being the intrepid young man he is, he got to the bottom of it.

A taste:

“Anybody know if there’s anything going on tonight?” I ask with as little awkwardness as I can muster.

A gentleman with shoulder-length dreadlocks shrugs his shoulders and says, “We’ll find where the party’s at.”

Good work, Paul. Good work.

Go read the rest for yourself over here. Side question: Where else should Bogdan go looking for where the party’s at?

Thursday Night Loaded: Soda’s So Dull? Not So!

Carbonated water, it seems so humble and yet it is a staple of all summer drinking. It can make Whiskey Fizz, Singapore Sling, and turn Robert E Lee Cooler. It can even take that otherwise sour gentleman, Tom Collins, and make him positively bubbly.

And if you’re wondering who you should thank for this magical bubble water, it was an English clergyman, Joseph Priestly, who lived way back in the 18th century.

Everything I know about Priestly, by the way, I learned from James Burke’s Connections documentaries and according to Burke, he was an amateur chemist, an incompetent pastor and apparently quite a jerk — upon discovering his wife had no money, for instance, he set about sponging off his brother-in-law for the rest of his life.

As for the soda, when he wasn’t boring his parishioners half to death with his dull sermons, Priestly was skulking around a nearby brewery. He discovered that in the vats, above the beer, there was a strange gas that would put out matches and kill rats (that he was discovering all this by conducting tests with actual matches and actual rats in actual beer kegs no doubt led to his being driven off by the brewer).

That gas was, of course, carbon dioxide, and Priestly also discovered that if you swish water back and forth between two glasses while in the presence of this gas, the water became all bubbly.

It was quite the discovery. There had to be a market for such a novelty, wouldn’t you think?

Well, creepy, boring Priestly, as it turns out, was also not much of a business man and was unable to make much of his invention. So to console himself, we went off and discovered oxygen.

Then, twenty years later, a German watchmaker, JJ Schweppe, developed a process to mass produce soda water and kicked off a massive fad for fizzy water and made himself quite famous into the bargain.

At the time, Schweppe’s miraculous bubble water was believed to have great health benefits, being able to invigorate tired muscles and tighten saggy skin. Soon, alpine spas were spraying their clients with it, bathing them in it, and even making them drink it.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A few tips on the use of carbonated water in cocktails: Don’t use too much. When a drink recipe says, “Top with soda,” it’s anticipating you’ll be adding an ounce to two ounces. The goal is to make the cocktail effervesce. You’re not trying to dilute it to the point of being flavourless.

Also, unless you intend to host a rather large party and anticipate handing around many fizzy drinks, you’re best to shy away from the big two litre bottles of club soda. It will start to go flat long before you can use it all. Better to keep some cans in the fridge and use them as needed.

And as for what kind of fizzy water you should go for, personally I prefer to go with a carbonated mineral water instead of club soda because I find the carbonation is a little more subtle in the former. It’s not quite so in your face.

If you wish to learn more about the role carbonation had in history, Priestly’s invention pops up in three episodes of Burke’s various series. I’ll embed the start of each below the fold. Enjoy

Continue reading “Thursday Night Loaded: Soda’s So Dull? Not So!”

Thursday Night Loaded: The Official Mixed Drink Of Summer In Regina 2011!

Okay, summer’s been in high gear for a couple weeks already and you’ve probably been wondering, “What the heck should I be drinking to cut this infernal heat? Pimm’s is so 2010. Where is Thursday Night Loaded when I need it?”

Never fear. When all seems lost, like the goddamn Batman I swoop in in the night to provide relief. A beat down on your thirst.

I have been deliberating for weeks. Weeks! And finally the white smoke is rising from the chimney of my alcoholism and I have made my summer drinking decision. To coincide with the release of prairie dog‘s second annual Drink! issue (which is on newsstands as I type), I will now announce the Official Mixed Drink Of Summer In Regina 2011.

But before I get to what you ought to be drinking this summer, I will look at what you can also be drinking….

2 oz Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
3 oz ginger beer
Build in an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Back when I polled the TNL readership (such as it is) about what they want to be 2011’s Official Mixed Drink (here and here), the Dark and Stormy was the clear favourite. And it is a worthy summer cooler. 100% delicious. I will definitely be revisiting it in a future column.

The only reason I didn’t choose it is because I found something even better….

The Official Mixed Drink Of Summer In Regina 2011: THE AMERICANO!
1 1/2 oz Campari
1 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
Mix in an old-fashioned glass. Almost fill glass with ice. Stir. Top with soda.

This is serious refreshment. It’s bitter and sweet and bubbly. Just like life! I’ve been drinking these nonstop since the summer hit and I want to share the Americano’s complex and difficult pleasures with everyone.

Story goes, this drink originated in Italy back in the 1860s and after a while, the Italians noticed it was very popular among American tourists. And that’s how it got its name.

Oh, how times have changed. A drink featuring Campari is not likely to be embraced so eagerly these days, I’ve discovered. I’ve tried this drink out on a lot of people in the lead up to writing this column and based on their reviews I can guarantee that this pick is not going to go over well. But I can’t help it. I LOVE the Americano.

Still… I confess I did at first fret over rejecting the advice of readers and test audiences. But then, in putting together my contribution for the Drink! issue (did I mention it’s on newsstands right now?) it came up that the Americano was one of the drinks that James Bond was known to imbibe (in Casino Royale and A View To A Kill) and that clinched it. How can you argue with James Bond? He’s liable to kill you.

Happy summer, Regina! I hope you enjoy your Americanos! See you next week.

Rosie’s Top Six Guaranteed To Embitter Even More Morning Show Radio Hosts (Unless They’re Dan Reynish)

1 SUN NEWSPAPER CHAIN PULLS OUT OF ONTARIO PRESS COUNCIL Do you honestly think this is the time to tell the world that your newspaper refuses to be held to any standards? (Winnipeg Free Press)

2 THE COLLAPSE OF RUPERT’S LAND … 9/11 widows are now demanding an investigation into Rupert Murdoch, (Politico) Media Matters For America is wondering why Hollywood isn’t as upset over the News of the World phone hacking as everybody across the pond is (and suggests a few reasons why) (Media Matters). Roger Ebert doesn’t like Rupert Murdoch, (Chicago Sun-Times) and neither does some half-cracked Republican Representative from New York who previously persecuted Arab-Americans and demanded the continuing use of waterboarding interrogation. (Google) That’s right, the guy that owns Fox News is losing the Republican Party. Just like he’s losing everything else. (The Globe and Mail) Including his iron-fisted grip on the British electoral system. (The Guardian)

3 SPEAKING OF THE MEDIA It looks as though Gerry Steen (or is it Jerry Steen?) is no longer doing the morning show on News Talk CJME. When a morning host gets bounced from the gig, it usually means that the ratings aren’t good, which probably explained the departure of Steen’s predecessor, Dave Arnold last October. (Air Checker) Of the two, I preferred Arnold: his on-air persona appeared to be of a guy who was knowledgeable, affable, and respectful of his audience. Unfortunately privately-owned talk radio stations are the domain of leather-lunged old white guys pushing the mantra of grouchy silverback exceptionalism in their own pity-party world. (CJME) Guess what Mitchell Blair’s calling will be in 2020? By the way, happy eighth anniversary to Dan Reynish at his job as Saskatchewan Weekend host at CBC Saskatchewan.

4 HOW STADIUMS PROMOTE AN ECONOMIC RENNASIANCE Take a look at what’s happened in Cincinnati district’s Hamilton County since the city poured millions of taxpayers’ dollars into the Bengals’ home stadium. Somewhere a former city financial controller is saying “As God as my witness, I thought this turkey could fly.” (Wall Street Journal) What lessons can we learn from this when the city and province talk about building a new Roughriders’ stadium? None whatsoever. As we all know, Saskatchewan is a special place.

5 THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE One of the most surprising thing about the spoiled upper middle class white evangelical tantrum-throwing pity party called the Tea Party is that they seem to think things will run fine, normal, just tickety-boo when they smash things up. It doesn’t work that way: the Minnesota Republicans/Tea Partiers seized up the state government’s budget debate like the transmission of a 70-year-old poorly maintained John Deere AR and now the state is running out of beer (Minneapolis Star and Tribune)

6 THE BIRTH OF A NEW MEME Someone with more time and imagination than me spliced a scene from George C. Scott’s “Hardcore” movie (wait a minute, that doesn’t sound right) with the trailer for the new Adam Sandler torture device