Function Over Fashion

By Keith B. Ho man
BROWN GOLD Precisely 3,000 years ago next Wednesday, a hungry Mayan was foraging deep in what is now known as Mexican coastal forest. A er a long morning of unsuccessfully hunting for deer, he sat down, slightly agitated, on a beautiful moss covered log. As he exhaled boredom and gazed up into the canopy, he noted the accid pods of a tropical cocoa tree. While scratching his le cheek he tentatively reached up with his right hand, yawned, and broke open a pod. He sucked on the beans and was surprised by their bitter yet oddly satisfying taste. He felt alert, renewed. Later that evening, he gave his wife some of the beans. She, like all women since, reacted quite favorably. Next came a breakthrough. With tartness still in her mouth she decided to grind up the beans into a paste and mix with water. e resultant drink was named Xocolatl (pronounced ‘shock-oh-latt-le’). is ‘bitter water’ was the rst form of what we now call chocolate. e beverage was instantly held in such lo y esteem that consumption of it was supposedly limited to nobles, high religious gures and other VIPs of the day. Now, of course, chocolate is available worldwide, and we buy four billion quid of it every year. e modern-day ancestors of that astute Mayan couple are currently experimenting with everything from bean roasting methods, to emulsi cation additives, storage systems and ‘tempering’ technology designed to enhance ‘mouthfeel’ via ‘a higher content of type-V crystals’. Meanwhile, scientists are busy exploring the antioxidant potential of chocolate avonoids, while new-age mystics jangle on about endogenous cannabinoids and serotonin e ects. Fear not, all you need to do is eat it. CHOCOLATE WITH YOUR WINE? Even if you answer no, many women would answer yes, so you might want to pay attention. e o -quoted rule is that the wines you pair with chocolate should be sweeter than the chocolate, otherwise the wine will taste bitter. One has to be careful, though, as chocolate can annihilate many wines. Don’t pair it with champagne unless it’s Andre (and you shouldn’t be drinking Andre unless you are still at university). Good champagne is too dry, complex and delicate to brutalise with chocolate. For pairings with chubby big reds like Zinfandels, Pinotages, Ports, or a serious Syrah or Shiraz, etc. try bittersweet chocolate. When consuming milk chocolate or white chocolate, best to go sweeter with the beverage, like an ice wine, Muscat or a lateharvest Riesling. But a Tokaj or a d’Yquem, both of which can keep for centuries, are best savored on their own. TASTING SUGGESTIONS Ask your chocolatier for Valrhona Guanaja Dark Chocolate Bar (70 percent), Schar en Berger Extra Bitter (70 percent), Ghirardelli Bittersweet, and/or related selections. You generally should avoid cocoa liquor percentages higher than 70 as bitterness and intensity can overwhelm the avors. You shouldn’t be eating milk chocolate unless you’re on a date with someone who wants something sweet and easy. Understand that holding a thick bar of Valrhona or Callebaut says, “I’m o eat, well-travelled and have excellent taste”. However, clutching a slab of Nestlé’s says, “I just le the Harry Potter convention”. ere are a few acceptable milk chocolates: Lindt has a creamy delivery and strong dairy avor, while Schar en Berger makes a ne milk chocolate that’s surprisingly complex given the

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low amount of cacao. Avoid Cadbury’s if you’re pairing with any wine other than a heavy port— the English tradition of using caramelised milk overwhelms virtually anything you’re drinking. John Selig was a key contributor to this article. LESS IS MORE Vodka is wonderfully popular considering it has no distinctive character, aroma, taste or color— no nothing. Just ethanol and water. Ponder that for a few moments as you walk into a bar with 30 ‘di erent’ vodkas strewn about in bottles from drab to the insanely ornate. Contemplate their staggeringly broad price range. Is this some worldwide marketing conspiracy to rid you of hard-earned cash in the guise of sophistication? An insane puppet theatre where we consumers are being strung around by bartenders, who, in turn, are being manipulated by bar owners and tarts in tube-tops plying beautiful bottle design? Are we all playing with one another here? Yes we are. Smirno , for example, launched Vodka into the collective psyche by the sheer force of advertising. No harm done. Absolut, however, is to blame for the idea that the bottle mattered more than its contents. In their defense though, I cannot imagine that Absolut had any idea of the pestilence such an epiphany could bring. Pandora’s bottle was cracked. Okay, yes, there are, possibly, some minute di erences between vodkas. Not, however, from what they are made from. e production of ethanol is designed to produce, you guessed it, ethanol. A simple compound that, a er the intense distillations used to produce vodka, looks,

feels and tastes exactly the same whether it was derived from the fermentation of potatoes, beets, grains, plain sugar or the juice of a Cornish pasty. Tiny di erences in vodka, theoretically, might be found in congener content. ese chemicals are aldehydes, esters, etc. that contribute to the taste of certain liquors, especially ones not thoroughly distilled. Congeners have been implicated in hangovers via far less than scienti c methods. However, most vodka you’ll nd on the shelves is a distillate that was 95-percent pure ethanol before being diluted with water and then ltered, hence it’s basically free of congeners. Does one need to lter 64 times, or is once enough? Once does it. So then, what is the di erence between the vodka brands you’re likely to select from? Dihydrogenated oxygen. Cripes! What’s that? Water. Yep, the di erence is water, or is it? Do you wonder about what ice cubes the bartender uses to shake your cocktail before decanting it into your glass? Do you enquire about the quality of their ice, its source, mineral content, etc.? No, you don’t. You don’t because it doesn’t matter. Same goes for the water in your Vodka. Care to examine the residues of soap and disinfectant le on the interior surfaces of those ‘clean’ glasses the barkeep pours your vodka into? Ever watch the typical ‘washing’ process? If you believe any di erences in vodkas made with glacial, holy, tap, or backwater remain relevant once its poured into that glass, well, you need a sti drink. Enjoy the ultimate mixer without being a chump. Drink your Coke straight. Save your big money for super premium Scotch, Tequila and wine. Nothing says “I don’t care about cash” as much as that Grey Goose and Cranberry.

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Organise a blind tasting with you friends. Invest in a wide array of vodkas and make sure to cover up the bottles and anything else that would give away the brand. Smirno , Gordon’s, etc. usually win against the Gooses, Skyys, Chopins, Ketels, Belvederes and whatever new sexy bottle comes out next.