What to drink this winter — according to Smithsonian

Smithsonian's Food and Think blog has a (Northern-hemispherically biased) list of ideal Christmas/wintertime drinks — along with some cool history about where those drinks come from and how they're made. For example, Imperial Stout beer was invented in the late 1690s as a way to help delicious English stout beer survive frigidly cold Russian winters. Raise the alcohol content — and bam! — beer fit for a czar.


  1. I live in an area where any beverage with an alcohol content greater than 5%–which includes most imperial stouts–can only be sold in a liquor store. For some reason this always amuses me. I kind of like having to walk past the wines and stronger spirits to that one special section where they usually keep the craft beers.

    The law has also resulted in the creation of some very oddly configured buildings with a thin wall and two entrances–one for the side that sells wine, liquor, and any beer with more than 5% alcohol, and the other for the side that only sells beer. It seems like a silly law, but I think it’s actually helped create specialty stores that sell more exotic beers that groceries and minimarts aren’t inclined to carry. So I can get in touch with my inner czar.

    1. PA by chance? They have some funky ABC laws up that way. I always get confused as to where the hell to go. And then there are the dry counties in places like North Carolina…

      1. Actually Tennessee, a state whose laws are probably at least as funky as PA’s. Unfortunately the laws mean some locally produced wines don’t get sold locally (unless you visit the winery itself).

          1. Ha… not unlike my favourite Mennonite joke – how do you keep a Mennonite from drinking all your beer on a fishing trip? Invite more then one. 

          2. Pretty much what @boingboing-40b9f8c3e03a8b4713e3d20376130e98:disqus  said. Most jokes about religious people end up as fill-in-the-blanks madlibs.

        1. That’s a bit effed up. Here in VA the government seems to go out of its way to support the local wine industry while still sometimes putting up roadblocks for breweries that wish to have tasting rooms (because the wineries are considered farms).

          1. The TN government does a lot to promote local products and to encourage people to buy local, but I think they’re hampered by the liquor distributors (who I’m sure have a solid majority of politicians in their pockets).

            My favorite local liquor law, though, is that you can’t buy Jack Daniel’s in the county where it’s made. They’re not even allowed to let visitors to the distillery taste it. I always laughed about how you could go there and see it made but you had to drive to the next county to buy it. 

        2. Unfortunately the laws mean some locally produced wines don’t get sold locally (unless you visit the winery itself).

          That’s exactly how the distributors want it.  If they can’t influence the laws they’ll just threaten to cut off their producers if they ever catch them selling to someone else.  There are a lot of winemakers who won’t sell their stuff on the internet because they’re afraid of pissing off their distributors.

      2. Shopping for liquor in PA is a pleasure now, compared to back in the 60’s and 70’s. I grew up in PA and I recall going to the “state store” with my dad.

        Imagine a virtual soviet-style storefront – totally devoid of all color and decor. The customer side had nothing in it: no liquor, no signs, just old chipped linoleum floors and dun-colored walls. There was a long empty counter, shelves on the wall behind it with a few dusty bottles on “display” and a bored clerk staring off into space. After standing at the counter for anywhere up to a minute, the clerk would eventually deign to notice your presence, grudgingly take your order, then disappear for 15 or so minutes in the back before emerging with your bottle. For this, you got to pay close to twice as much as in Maryland, where everybody went every year before the holidays to fill up their car trunks with booze.

        Oh boy, could my dad could get an awesome rant going about the state store system!

  2. A fun read. I wonder if it’s really Northern-hemispherically biased or if it’s just that there are typically heavier and darker (i.e., more winter-time friendly) drinks in the Northern hemisphere than in the Southern hemisphere. Most of the drinks I know of from down south tend to be lighter, but I’m sure there are exceptions of which I’m unaware.

    1. There’s a stout from Sri Lanka called Lion. Before I found it I only associated pale ales (and India pale ales, for obvious reasons) with that part of the world.

      It still seems a little strange to me that such a warm place produces a stout, and it’s the only beer of its type that I know of to come from the Southern hemisphere.

    2. Most traditional beer styles evolved to compliment the water from the local river.  Irish stout is black because the waters in Dublin are alkaline, and toasting the malt till it’s black lowers the pH enough to get a good fermentation.  In London the water is good for bitters, and in Burton upon Trent the water is good for IPAs.  If you tried to make an Irish stout or an ESB using water from the River Trent, you would get a beer that was unpleasantly astringent for the style.

      So it’s possible that some places don’t have the right water to make a good dark beer, at least not with the technology available to them.

  3. Bah… I don’t know if Imperial Stout was actually meant to survive frigid winters.  I’m a homebrewer, and my freezing point calculator tells me that even a 9% beer will freeze solid around 23 F.  The 7% brew that first traveled to the czar’s court would have frozen at 25.  (Current St. Petersburg forecast:  High of 5 today, and below zero all weekend.)

    1. I wondered about that. I am, however, going to put some of the recent steam beer I brewed up into the freezer to see about this ice beer stuff. (It came out a bit high in the alcohol department but Ima try it out anyway. If it doesn’t freeze, I’ll try another beer sometime. )

      1. Do it!  Remember, though, that it will concentrate everything, hop bitterness included.  It’ll freeze.  No worries about that.  Just don’t use glass bottles…

        1. Good point, thanks. I was considering a mason jar like I do for blackberry vodka, but that doesn’t freeze so won’t expand. I’ll take it straight from the keg into a plastic container.

  4. In freeze distillation, are there not dangers of concentrating the methanol and acetone and other nasties and sundries? The stuff that you get rid of in the heads and tails?

    1. Yes, the nasty stuff doesn’t freeze, so it gets concentrated along with the alcohol.  It’s mostly the fusel oils, not methanol that you’re trying to get rid of with the cuts though.  The potential for methanol poisoning is a bit of a myth.  You’d have to have some seriously weird fermentation going on to produce enough methanol to be harmful.

      There is the interesting idea that the fear of methanol poisoning came from torpedo juice. It was ethanol fuel denatured with methanol, and the sailors would drink it. Supposedly they would pour it through a loaf of bread to filter it.

  5. While I love craft beers, I’m honestly not a big fan of Imperial anything.
    This winter, I look forward to curling-up with a wee dram of Bunnahabain 12yo.

  6. What to drink this Winter? Don’t these people know what tomorrow is? I’m finishing all my beer tonight (Shock Top End of the World, naturally).

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