Vintage promotional booklet ‘Champagne Vine Country and Champagne Wine’, published by Charles Heidsieck, early 20th century

Ever wonder what exactly is champagne?

This vintage booklet, though published a century ago, still could give you answers to your two basic questions – where it is produced and how it is made. If you however are one of those who already knows this, there are also some interesting information to fill the gaps in your knowledge. For example, that the total stock of a champagne house corresponded to about 5 years shipment, that no cellar was damaged during the World War I or that pruning was generally performed by women that period.

Illustrated, with maps and photographs, the booklet is quite educational. Due to the absence of a publishing date, we can only make guesses that it was probably in 1921, since as last vintage is pointed the previous year. And though it was created for the promotion of Charles Heidsieck & Co champagnes presumably for the USA market, nowhere in the text is mentioned the house as advertisement. In an imaginary conversation with a visitor, a champagne merchant and a wine-grower explain him how this delicious drink was made starting with the history and finishing with advice how to store, serve and drink it in moderation.

I liked it and definitely learned something new.

If you want to download it, go to the source where I found it. It is free.

Source –

“The Art of Vintage Cocktails”

Danielle Kroll's illustrations from the book 'The Art of Vintage Cocktails'

Danielle Kroll’s illustrations from the book ‘The Art of Vintage Cocktails’

It is obvious that I have two passions – drinks and illustrations. And I am always happy to find something that combines them both.

Such beautiful example is the work of the food writer Stephanie Rosenbaum and the artist Danielle Kroll – the little book ‘The Art of Vintage Cocktails’. It is a small-format volume book that features only 50 recipes for classic cocktails from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s and each one of it is accompanied by information about the history of its creation and the gorgeous vintage style illustrations of the artist.

It is available for purchase here

Vodka Wars: Poland vs. Russia. The story behind the ‘famous’ court process in 1978

Have you ever seen the movie ‘Wag the Dogs’? If not – highly recommend it. The plot is quite interesting (not to mention the brilliant performance of Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro and all the other great actors).

In a nutshell, shortly before the election in the US, the president is caught in a sex scandal and it seems that it will seriously decrease his chance of being re-elected. In order to distract the attention it was decided to focus it to another direction. And thus it was fabricated a … fictional war. It was fully documented by media as a totally real event and the masses believed it. Almost nobody even called in question if it really happened. Covered by the veil of patriotically emotions, they all left to be easily manipulated.

I recall this movie when suddenly stumbled on information about a lawsuit filed by Poland against Russia (former USSR) claiming the origin of vodka. It is not a secret that there is such a long-standing contention, but, hey,… a lawsuit? Between two fellow countries in the era of the Iron Wall? A member of the Warsaw Pact would dare to bring the Big Brother, the Soviet Union, to a court? And not whatever court, but an international one! Socialist states entrusted their internal problems to be resolved by capitalist judges? It couldn’t be possible.

I was sure that was a joke. I have never heard about it and I have graduated law in one of those states. And yet, the lawsuit was everywhere in the web underlining the loss of Poland and the big victory of Russia. Almost to convince me that I should have to ask my law school for my money back, when fortunately I found the fabulous book ‘Vodka Politics’ by Mark Schrad. It revealed me the truth that it was just a hoax, created by one person, the Russian Vilyam Pokhlebkin, but embraced by his compatriots as an actual breakthrough in their history and turned it to a highly acclaimed event.

The story started in 1991 when was published Pokhlebkin‘s research ‘History of vodka’. The original was written in 1978 and according to the author’s words was entrusted by the government. The reason? A lawsuit filed by Poland against the Soviet Union for the exclusive commercial rights to the word ‘vodka’, claiming that it originated in Poland, not in Russia. Very inconsiderate move. As Mr. Schrad noted with humour:

          “Perhaps the Poles had not read the single-paragraph entry on “vodka” in their standard issue Big Soviet Encyclopedia, which clearly states that vodka “was first produced in Russia in the late 14th century.” What more debate could there be?

           For the Russians, this was a stab in the back—their socialist allies in the Warsaw Pact were not only threatening the Soviets’ lucrative international trade; they were also inflicting an emasculating blow to Russia’s cultural heritage”.

The USSR government authorities were in panic. They couldn’t find a document in their archive to prove the Russian origins of vodka, so they turned for help to Pokhlebkin – unquestioned local authority on food and drinks as the only man who could establish the Soviet Union’s legal rights and defend the national pride.

And like magic within a few months Pokhlebkin all alone succeeded to ‘collect’ an entire system of evidences which ultimately were presented to the court and were recognized by the legal experts and voila!… In 1982 Russia won the case.

Since the research of Pokhlebkin saved from a betraying foreign invasion such a national symbol, his achievement definitely was worth to be celebrated, but it would take 9 years before to be published in 1991 as a book with the title ‘History of vodka’ (Istoriya vodki)

           “Over the past twenty years dozens of popular books and hundreds of articles and webpages—in Russian, English, and other world languages—have recounted his research and findings, his stories and anecdotes from the pages of Istoriya vodki, almost verbatim.”

So far nothing disturbing though in the era of globalization and easy access to information no one ever bothered to verify Pokhlebkin’s affirmations and compare them with other sources.

Mr. Schrad however had a lot of doubts about the statements in the book and investigated the matter. And what he found out would be quite funny if were just an innocent joke.

Neither of the international courts (the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) knew anything about the case, nor the Russian or the Polish authorities have ever heard about any legal dispute between them on this subject. There was absolutely nothing mentioned in any media – global, Russian or Polish. Moreover, no one ever commissioned Pokhlebkin to undertake such research as he had claimed.

It turned out that it was just a fabricated fact.

As I said it would be funny, if so many wouldn’t believe in the words of Pokhlebkin. And why not? After all he had gained a status of a “cultural icon in Russia”. He was a controversial person but admittedly was recognized by the Russians as an expert. A prolific writer, he wrote through his entire life (1923-2000) numerous books – about the history of international relations, Scandinavian studies, culinary, history, heraldry and etc. Why then he needed to create this tale about a non-existing lawsuit?

Nobody could say; only guesses…His academic carrier took the down road in the 70s. It is supposed that the stepping-stone was his enormous culinary work – a collection of thousands of global recipes. The authorities judged that because the mentioned ingredients were widely unavailable in the Russian market, the recipes would throw a shade upon the Soviet system itself.

           “Branded a dissident, he was effectively unemployed (and unemployable) in a country that boasted a job for everyone.”

Probably searching for a way to get back his previous position he created the delusion about the discussed research on the origins of vodka and bearing in mind the notorious dispute with Poland about it, he included also the story of the lawsuit to lift up the national pride.

           “… Whatever reasons Pokhlebkin had for constructing and executing such an audacious deception, he certainly took them to the grave…. Most remarkable about Pokhlebkin’s fabrications is how they have been elevated to the status of legend: standing above serious scrutiny for two decades.”

According to the book, there was only one alcohol historian, Mr. David Christian, who then in the 90s, questioned the authenticity of Pokhlebkin’s allegations.

           “If you read this book keep a bottle of strong vodka by your side to stun the more thoughtful parts of your brain. The parts that are left should enjoy this eccentric collection of curious facts, crackpot hypotheses, phony statistics, anticapitalist polemics and stalinist snobberies without worrying if it all fits together.. Most frustrating of all, Pokhlebkin often does not bother to offer evidence for his sometimes fascinating claims. How can we know if he is writing fiction or fact?”

The last few years, more and more professionals put in question the story of Pokhlebkin. But even if they all finally conclude that this was “a grandiose mystification” (“Grand Deception: Truth and Lies about Russian Vodka” by Boris Rodionov, published 2011), it would take much more time to change the beliefs of Russians that all this was a big fraud.

This doesn’t mean that the dispute about the origins of vodka has been ceased. Currently Poland is a step ahead with a written proof, but who knows what Russians might dig tomorrow. I am neither Pole, nor Russian, and maybe not able to understand their national concerns but I am consumer, and honestly, since they both produce exceptional quality vodka is it really matters who first invented it?

And thankfully to researchers like Mr. Schrad it is a nice feeling that you are not fooled anymore.

‘Vodka Politics’ by Mark Schrad

For more about the story, you could read the whole chapter here.

Innovation for home cocktail enthusiasts

In the beginning of 2014 the French spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard in their attempt to attract more consumers and adapting to the new technologies introduced a gorgeous gadget called “the Gutenberg Project” (not to be confused with the non-profit organization ‘Gutenberg Project’ that digitizes books and allows a free access to all of them).

The concept behind this new product is to combine alcohol (physical product) and apps (services). It is designed for at-home consumers who enjoy parties and making cocktails. It consists of 6 containers shaped like books (hence the name) and set on a platform connected to a computer. Each of the containers is filled up with one of the company’s popular spirits brands (gin, vodka, rum, tequila, etc.) and has a slightly different hue of the main silver/grey/brown colour. Undoubtedly the external design is very stylish. Clean, sleek and minimal, the containers are really eye-catching. And of course also recyclable.

The internal design however makes the things even more interesting. The application controls what exactly amount of alcohol to be poured in the glass based on the chosen cocktail. Besides it has also tutorials about mixology, personalized offers on the client’s preferences, monitors the level of the containers, recommends a refill, and gives options for home delivery .

If you are hooked now willing to buy it, I will disappoint you that two years later it is still in an experimental stage and not yet available in the market. When it appears I guess it will change the business model of selling/buying alcohol (at least in the cocktail niche) and soon will be followed by others (as happened with Nespresso a decade ago).

Meanwhile one advice to Pernod Ricard (actually to their Breakthrough Innovation Group) … change the name. The current one just doesn’t fit well with the idea. I find it rather as an ‘attached’ than as an ’embedded’ to the concept.

TALL BLONDE – cocktail

We all know that cocktails all around the world have very strange and unusual names, but when I read the title of this one, I was smitten immediately – TALL BLONDE.

What it looks like? Difficult question because actually there is no unified recipe. Diving into the web for information I found that there are a lot of options, but in view of the basic ingredients, I could limit them to two versions.

The first one is sweet. Honestly, for my personal taste, it is quite ‘sweetish’, and more proper name I assume would be ‘the sweet blonde’ (if we keep the main theme 🙂 ). It consists of Grand Marnier, Baileys, Kahlua, Amaretto, milk, banana and ice (of course, not all in one mix). If you however like such a style – check this and this recipe for details how to prepare it.

The second one evoked my interest and I think it deserves totally its name., tall blonde cocktail, akvavit, caraway, Nordic European countries, wine humour – tall blonde cocktail

Let’s start with the main ingredient – Akvavit.

I bet that most of you haven’t even heard about it.

Akvavit (also written Aquavit) is an alcoholic beverage that comes from Northern Europe. Yes, you got it! Northern Europe is the famous region where ‘tall blondes’ live (and Santa Claus too). There are probably more tall blondes per square meter than anywhere else in the world.

And what their men, the Vikings, invented? A spirit with distinctive pungent flavour of CARAWAY (I would never stop admiring human’s imagination). Why exactly caraway? Just as there are plenty of juniper in northwest Europe (and they produce gin), anise – around the Mediterranean (here we have ouzo, pastis, sambuca), in the Nordic countries there is caraway. You produce from what you have available in abundance.

          Their achievement was only in the flavour not in the invention of the spirit itself. Though still there are reservations in this issue, generally that discovery is awarded to the prominent Arabic scientist Jabir ibn Hayyan, aka Geber (721-815) and thankfully to the Moors in Spain (8th-13th century) the production of the distilled alcohol gradually made its way into the life of the Europeans.

The name Akvavit (Aquavit) derives from the Latin ‘aqua vitae’ which means ‘water of life’.  However, it does not have the exclusive rights to that name. ‘Water of life’ was the common denomination attached to all important distilled drinkable alcohol in Europe (for example ‘uisce beatha’ which in Gaelic means ‘water of life’ gave the name to the modern ‘whiskey’). The term was borrowed from the Arabic poetry from the 9th century where the distilled wine was called ‘araq’ which translates as ‘water of life’. It was Arnaud de Ville-Neuve in 1310, who first coined the word ‘aqua vitae’ to the wine he distilled though actually he was searching for the 5th element, the universal panacea, the sought-after ambrosia of the Gods… (I am absolutely sure that there are supporters who will swear he succeeded)

         Looking back at history I may say that the title is quite an adequate one. The alcohol beverages were literally life-savers. Drinking water was contaminated and a carrier of many diseases. The only solution to survive was a drink with an alcohol content to kill the deadly bacteria. That is why most Europe was drinking a lot of wines and spirits those days which suggests that they were constantly drunk or put it more poetically … ‘in an intoxicating mood’ 😉

Officially  Akvavit is mentioned in a letter from the 15th century from a Danish noble to the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of Norway where is recommended for its medicinal properties.

Six centuries later it didn’t go too far from the Nordic shores. Still the biggest producers and consumers’ markets are in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and only a very few in Northern Germany, Canada and the US. Nowadays it is preferred mostly as a festive drink that invariably takes place at Christmas and Easter celebrations. It may not have expanded its fame outside these countries, but there it is praised as a symbol of their cultures.

Besides caraway, which continues to be the dominate flavour, other spices and herbs are also added to the blend. They definitely contribute to the final taste. Though kept in secret by the producers the most common are dill, fennel, cumin, coriander, cardamom, lemon or orange peel.

Usually it is released on the market unaged, but there are examples that stay for some time in oak casks. This inevitably changes the colour from pale golden to light brown. And speaking about the colour of Akvavit, that yellowish hue also sustains the ‘blonde’ trait…

The final touches to the cocktail image are framed by the glass – it is served in a highball, the second ‘tallest’ cocktail glass (the champion is the Colin glass).

Impressive name, interesting cocktail. If by chance you have on hand an Akvavit, give it a try.

And don’t forget to follow the Swedish tradition – SING while enjoying it!  If can not remember any song, I guess Swedes wouldn’t mind to use one of their traditional ones.

“Over the mountains, over the sea,

Millions of snapses are waiting for me.

Please go to hell with juice and tea,

Snaps is the drink for me!!”

‘Where good ideas come from’ by Steven Johnson

Ok, at first glance the title has nothing in common with the main themes on this site and yet it explains exactly how it was created (if we accept that its creation was a good idea 🙂 )

Watch this great illustrated video and will understand why sharing information in general might be of great help in finding the missing piece  to our ‘”eureka!” moments. “The chance favours the connected minds”, as the author says.

Highly recommend you to see also Steven Johnson’s TED talk. Here he explains in a funny way with a lot of examples from our history the key patterns he has identified that are behind genuine innovations (the GPS invention is quite an interesting story). To make it easier to understand, there is a ‘subtitle’ option and a lot of languages to choose from.

And of course, last but not least, buy the book.

The Free Bar on the Comet Lovejoy

There are four types of alcohol: ethyl alcohol, methyl alcohol, propyl alcohol and butyl alcohol.

The first one, the ethyl alcohol, or ethanol, is the type used in the production of alcoholic beverages. The other three types – methyl, propyl and butyl alcohol? Well, better to avoid even tasting them. They are not recommended for consumption as could cause serious injuries like blindness or even death.

Recently researchers announced that have found out that the lovely comet Lovejoy is giving away 21 different organic molecules in gas and among them… an alcohol. And not the harmful three types, but the real good stuff – the ethanol. Why it is such a big event? Because this is the first comet to be observed emitting alcohol.

“We found that comet Lovejoy was releasing as much alcohol as in at least 500 bottles of wine every second during its peak activity,” said Nicolas Biver of the Paris Observatory, France, lead author of a paper on the discovery published Oct. 23 in Science Advances.

Translated in figures this means that if the wine industry in the United States in 2013 has produced over 846 million gallons of wine which roughly means 5 bottles to the gallon, an average, the US wine industry produces about 134 bottles a second.

Great comet, isn’t it?

Comet Lovejoy Nasa image

Comet Lovejoy was discovered by the amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy of Australia in August of 2014. In January and February 2015 it was bright enough to be visible to the naked eye in the night sky. It is now formally cataloged as C/2014 Q2 and is one of the brightest comets since the comet Hale-Bopp in 1997.

I have already written about the Great Comets and especially their influence upon the wine vintages in the last two centuries, so besides the nice ‘alcohol’ surprise by the comet Lovejoy, should we have to expect that the 2015 will be the next incredible vintage?