A Timely Translation Teaches Us Again How to Drink

The story is told of a student of philosopher and spiritualist George Gurdjieff, who approached him one day with wonderful news. “I’ve stopped smoking!” he exclaimed. “Great,” it’s said Gurdjieff replied, offering him one of his own long, thin, Russian cigarettes. “But, have you stopped NOT smoking too?”

This philosophy, moderation in all things–even moderation, is wonderfully and humorously espoused in the 16th Century book How to Drink by Vincent Obsopoeus (ca. 1498-1539). In a new release, Michael Fontaine, Professor of Classics at Cornell University makes the original Latin text accessible to 21st Century readers with an up-to-date translation that includes clever neologisms and familiar terms. As a bonus, the original Latin is included on the facing pages for those who wish to practice their classic language skills!

Obsopoeus was German humanist, Latin poet, and translator active in the Reformation. In Germany at the time, the climate had become uncharacteristically hot, and German grapes, usually low in sugar and hence capable of making only weak wine, were instead turning out fearsomely strong drink. As a result, it seemed to Obsopoeus, the entire nation had become a citizenry of drunks.

Now, according to Obsopoeus, taking a bit–and sometimes quite a bit–of wine is a perfectly fine passtime. But “if you drink in an uneducated manner, wine will hurt you.” On the other hand, “if you are educated about your drinking…wine is enjoyable and good.” Obsopoeus endeavors to educate his readers in good drinking practices.

Falarnian was the type of wine he most favored. This was an ancient Roman vintage, something akin to Sherry, with the grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Falernus in southern Italy. With a cult following at the time, it was a white wine, though produced from black grapes. Like Sherry, it was strong, as much as 15% alcohol. Harvested after late frosts, it was allowed to mature in amphorae for as long as 20 years, turning it amber to dark brown in color. Also like Sherry, it could vary from dry to sweet in flavor.

So enamored was he of this gift of the harvest that he writes a litany of praise to the god of wine, Bacchus and His power. “You make men rich, handsome and genteel! You alone, my lord, can gladden the gods of heaven.”

Vincent Opsopoeus

Vincent Obsopoeus

Obsopoeus offers hints and tips about how the gentleman should approach the indulgence of wine. Drink at home with your wife he recommends. Or drink moderately with friends and family, always being reserved and discreet. Honor the god Bacchus, and always be appropriately thankful and mindful of his gift of alcohol.

On the contrary, getting smashed and vulgar every day is a terrible sin, and an insult to the divine gift offered to humankind by Bacchus. Obsopoeus spends an entire section of the book describing in lurid detail the degradation and debauchery exhibited by his fellow citizens while under the terrible influence of their own self-poisoning.

But at this point Obsopoeus introduces a plot twist to his book. How to win drinking games: a skill he studiously practiced in his younger years! Evidently there was only one kind of 16th Century drinking game: take turns downing glasses of wine until all but one player passed out.

Obsopoeus offers his tried-and-true strategies for winning these drinking contests, including several methods of cheating. You’ll have to read the book to discover his secrets, but there is one worth mentioning up front: don’t try to compete with women! “The reason, you’ll find, is that women who indulge are equipped with a breathtaking ability to hold their liquor. They put Bacchus Himself to shame when they drink wine.”

And one more hint: to relieve a hangover, get yourself an amethyst crystal. The name of this sure-fire cure comes from the Greek a- (against) metfhyo (drunkenness.) Bet you didn’t know that!

Obsopoeus published this, his most famous work, in 1536. He was about 38 when he wrote the book, aimed in part at hard-drinking 19 to 25-year-old college students. He addresses bro/frat culture with the admonitions of experience. By 41 he was dead, having wished he had taken his own advice in his youth. Hopefully, very many medieval bros heeded his message; here we are today, with the benefit of hearing it anew. Enjoy your drink, but respect its power. To Bacchus he exclaims “For crying out loud, I’ll be damned if You can’t resurrect dead bodies with the juices that flow from Your vine!”

Robert Rivelle George is the author of “The Umami Factor: Full-spectrum Fermentation for the 21st Century”

HOW TO DRINK
A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing
By Vincent Obsopoeus
Translated and Introduced by Michael Fontaine
320 pages Princeton University Press $16.95

Robert Rivelle George Reveals Secret to Creating Full-Flavored Beverages

Umami-filled Nut Brown Ale

Umami-filled Nut Brown Ale

Have you noticed the proliferation of enticing labels in the craft beverage section of your grocery store or liquor outlet? Perhaps you’ve also noticed the breathtaking prices commanded by these handcrafted drinks. Fermentation master and author Robert Rivelle George certainly did, and decided to share his knowledge with those who enjoy craft drinks but balk at their cost.

His new book The Umami Factor: Full-spectrum Fermentation for the 21st Century, takes on the task of instructing the aspiring or seasoned craftsperson in the secret to creating full-flavored, satisfying beverages at home, the way it was done for centuries.

Umami is the fifth taste, existing alongside the better-known sensations of sweet, sour, salty and bitter. It is the savory taste of amino acids ubiquitous in foods such as yeast, grains, fruit, and roasted meat and vegetables. By exploiting the taste sensation of Umami, a craft-beverage enthusiast can create savory, mouth-watering drinks of all types, hard or soft.

Released this May by Schiffer Publishing, Robert’s book The Umami Factor features a foreword by brew master Norm Chapman of Spencer Hill Cottage Brewery in Grand Forks, and more than 100 color illustrations. These accompany 75 original recipes for beverages spanning the gamut of soft drinks, beer, wine, sake, cider, mead, and even hard liquor. Mr. George explores ancient to modern techniques for producing these beverages, while offering a philosophical perspective to their creation and enjoyment.

“Robert’s philosophic approach to brewing in The Umami Factor is more of a lifestyle than a hobby,” says Maarten Lammers, owner of Nelson’s Art of Brewing. “He has a sense of humor that leaves you laughing out loud. I read with the eyes of a novice, and the eyes of a scientist, and I’ll certainly use the recipes, which are delicious.” Harry Davidson of HD Ventures adds “Like any good book there is drama, intrigue, inebriation, and sex. A complete reference guide to brewing, rich with recipes, menus, instructions and photographs, it leaves no stone unturned.”

The Umami Factor available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

The Umami Factor available from Amazon or Barnes & Noble

History includes a long tradition of brewing, vintning and craft pursuits of all types. The Umami Factor presents a unique way to follow those crafty impulses, and amaze and impress your friends. Robert’s recipes are complex, for you can’t create a complex flavor sensation without a complex recipe. But the book also suggests easy ways to improve even the most prosaic of concoctions. Beginner and expert alike can find very many ways to challenge themselves.

“These are the creations of a man who is a master of his craft. Read this book carefully and keep it by you. You will be a better brewer as a result.” — Norm Chapman, Brew Master, Spencer Hill Cottage Brewery

FAQ: AKA The Umami Factor Elevator Pitch

Umami Factor_front1w

WHAT IS THE UMAMI FACTOR?

It’s two things. It’s the title of my new book, and it is the principle for making fermented beverages that provide a complex, mouth-filling, satisfying flavor sensation by balancing multiple aromas with the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.

WHAT IS UMAMI?

Umami is the taste sensation of savory foods. The word is Japanese for “delicious” taste. It’s provided by receptors in your mouth, throat, esophagus, and even stomach that detect the presence of glutamates, which are derived from amino acids. The umami sensation is pleasant for the same reason that “sweet” is pleasant.

The body is cued to detect vital, high-engergy nutrients: carbohydrates with sweet taste, and proteins with umami taste. Natural, unfiltered fermented beverages are packed with umami-producing compounds from the fruits, grains, and yeast they are made of.

WHAT IS FULL SPECTRUM FERMENTATION?

Full-spectrum fermentation describes a process of techniques combined with intricate ingredient formulas that create complex flavor arrangements evoking the response “There’s so much going on there! How did you do that?”

Full-spectrum beverages are complex and improbable, but ultimately well-balanced drinks.

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WHY IS THIS BOOK DIFFERENT?

It takes a full-spectrum look at beverages from soft drinks to hard liquor. It thoroughly discusses the components necessary for flavor balancing. It examines related spectra, such as the inebriation spectrum and the commitment spectrum. It has a textbook approach to data, with a multitude of tables for ingredients and supplies. It provides recipes and detailed instructions, but more importantly it is a call to chefdom for aspiring fermentation artists. Tally Ho!

Buy The Umami Factor now for a substantial pre-release discount here.

Announcing! UMAMI Factor–The Book!

Now available for pre-ordering at a substantial discount!

Now available for pre-ordering at a substantial discount!

You’re about to be introduced to the UMAMI factor, the secret to sensational homemade beverages, including spirits, wine, beer, soft drinks, kombucha, and more. Chances are you may not have heard of umami, the taste impression created by certain amino acids in a food or beverage. Now you know. Starting the novice off right with a thorough understanding of “full-spectrum” fermentation theory,the book dives into the various preparation techniques and shows how umami-producing ingredients create beverages with a sensation of balance and roundness on the palate, tongue, nose, and even throat. More than 75 recipes, including all the beverages here, plus sharp insight, and handy tips help the amateur fermentation chef conquer the next frontier in beverage science. Even the most experienced of fermentation aficionados will discover a philosophical yet practical approach to further exploration. Pre-order now from Amazon.com and save 21% over the cover price!

Lotus Infused Makgeolli

MakgeolliWp

Until recently the Korean rice beverage makgeolli has been thought of as the working man’s mildly alcoholic lunch drink. It has long had its refined versions of course, but mostly it’s been “farmer’s wine.” Recently though, makgeolli has become trendy and sought after among young consumers in Asia for its refreshing and smooth tang.
Nurukw

The secret ingredient for makgeolli Korean rice wine is a blend of Aspergillus mold-inoculated wheat, barley and rice. Called nuruk, it can be purchased on line or in the bagged-ingredient section of a well-stocked Korean grocery store. One brand is shown here. The large characters in the middle of the package window say nuruk in Korean. The package also says “Enzyme” in English.

Historically, makgeolli has been little more than nuruk, yeast, rice, and water. The rice is carefully prepared as it is for all fermented rice beverages, by steaming to keep the grains intact. Nuruk and yeast starter are kneaded into the steamed rice. Water is added and the mixture is allowed to ferment.

But now, boutique-made versions have appeared that feature infusions of herbs which provide further aromatic depth. Makgeolli is suddenly hip. This recipe reflects the new makgeolli trend, using lotus petals to add flavor and a bit of mellowness. Drink it warm in the winter and cold in the summer. It is nicely effervescent, creamy smooth, tangy without being sour, and provides a real kick to accompany your Bulgogi beef barbecue.

Peach Melba Melomel

PMelbaW1Nellie Melba was one of the most famous opera singers of the Victorian Age. Such a colossal superstar was she that the esteemed chef Escoffier created for her a delectable dessert, Peach Melba, which he presented to the attendees of the Duke of Orléans’ grande fête for her on the back of a swan ice sculpture.

Peach Melba combines two flavors that are made for each other: peaches of course, and raspberry puree. Put these on vanilla ice cream, top with spun sugar, and you are in bliss of operatic dimension.

Peach Melba easily suggests itself to interpretation as a melomel, that is, mead flavored with fruit. It should certainly hint of sweetness, as Nellie Melba’s voice did, but not cloyingly, rather, surprisingly strong and clear.

As raspberries are intensely fragrant, they will dominate the nose of such a melomel, but will not overpower the taste of the peaches. The flavor of the honey should be something of an embellishment, as was the spun sugar atop Nellie’s dessert.

To this end choose a lighter honey, which can reliably be found among the selection of wildflower-based products from the Pacific Northwest. This example uses premium fireweed honey from western Canada, which had a lovely amber color and mildly caramel flavor.

The mead is lightly sweetened with wine conditioner to an off-dry state, leaving some tartness on the tongue, but with the very smooth finish created with three years of bulk aging. You can be sure this is going to come out for a spring celebration on the Vernal Equinox!

Bombs Away!

umami bombIt has been five years since the Wall Street Journal posted its virtually unnoticed article about “A New Taste Sensation.” It’s about umami, and the way that top chefs and food companies are taking advantage of the natural presence of glutamates and nucleotides to perk up foods from the $185 “Umami Bomb” by cuisinier Jean-Georges Vongerichten to the humble bag of Dorritos.

The sources of umami are equally diverse in their cultural significance. Ketchup has plenty of umami-producing molecules, as do the “diamonds of the kitchen” Black Périgord truffles. Vongerichten’s breathtakingly pricey appetizer uses truffles, along with a Parmesan cheese custard (also high-umami) to carpet-bomb the taste buds of his richly epicurean clientele.

With the ubiquity of its flavors and industry interest, why is the concept of umami still obscure in the mind of the average consumer? Part of the reason perhaps is the influence of the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (CRS) more impressively called “monosodium glutamate symptom complex.” But while many people claim sensitivity to MSG, and many more avoid it because they feel it is somehow an abominably unnatural additive, double-blind placebo-controlled experiments have found no relationship between glutamates and the symptoms of CRS.

Because of the bad rep associated with chemical-sounding words in consumer’s consciousness, the food industry looks to umami in an effort to deliver highly flavored foods while cutting back on other onerous ingredients: fat, salt, sugar and artificial substances. So the glutamates may be in there, but they’re provided by yeast extract, soy or Worcestershire sauce, cheese, mushrooms, anchovy powder and the like.

What’s the implication for the world of beer? While the average quaffer of “lawnmower beer“may not expect or desire the over-the-top richness of an umami bomb in his or her beverage, I believe that the days of water flavored with beer may be drawing to a close, at least in the large US market.

The commercial brands losing the greatest percentage of sales over the past few years have been the light, virtually tasteless lagers. Meanwhile America now has more breweries in operation than it did before prohibition. And while some of these are taking the addition of umami to what I consider a ridiculous extreme, there is no doubt that beer advocates are returning to the classic, full flavor of the beers from the past. This full flavor is in large part contributed by the umami-producing ingredients in their recipes.