Tavern Fare of the Flanaess | by Rachel Lyndstrom | From the Oerth Journal Vol.1 #6 December 05, 1997; the Council of Greyhawk
Wherever you go throughout the Flanaess and whatever your travels or adventures, you are sure to be able to find a tavern in which to relax at the end of the day. Taverns are places to rest, to reflect and unwind after the events of the day. However, no two taverns are the same. Each has a bit of local color that will distinguish it from its fellows leagues distant or next door. The most certain differences are really the most obvious. What is there to drink and by whom will it be served?
With clean, safe drinking water not always available, (usually due to poor sanitary conditions or other pollutants), beer, wine and liquor are the drinks of choice for the majority of adults in the Flanaess. The brewing, aging or distilling process filters out impurities in the water, making for a safe but potent concoction that hopefully tastes good as well. In some places, drinking is not only a social pastime but a matter of health. All taverns serve beer. Many brew their own on the premises or purchase it from a nearby brewery. This makes for highly individualized brews. Some taverns actually develop a reputation for their particular style or variety of beer.
However, leaving the finest of beers to one side, there is a certain sameness to
home brews from a given area. Most beers found in the average tavern, while
satisfying, are hardly high examples of the brewer's art.
Though the majority of all taverns claim to serve wine, what actually passes for it is another matter entirely. Most taverns will have a single local vintage and perhaps another from a nearby village. Here again, the vintner's art is hardly on display. Wines available in an average tavern in an average locale will be suitably average. Wine, like beer, may be of good quality, more so for being welcome after a hard day's work, but they are rarely exceptional.
It is only when we consider stronger liquors that we find, even in the most out of the way places, truly distinguishing local features. Because liquors contain a more potent concentration of alcohol than either beer or wine, they are often more impressive in their fiery power to incapacitate, even if distilled without great skill.
While the average tavern will not stock the fine liquors enjoyed by the Overking of Aerdy or the Kings of Furyondy, Nyrond or Keoland, the local distillate may still have a rough, coarse appeal, unsophisticated and indelicate, but demanding attention and worth drinking nonetheless.
It is largely locally-available ingredients that set the liquor of one area apart from that of another. While beer is made from barley and hops and wine from grapes, liquor knows few such staples.
The following list presents but a sampling of some of the rural wonders found in taverns across the Flanaess. The tastes compiled below are not fine brandies and the like, but local produce intended for the farmer and the shopkeeper, not the king.
Slivovitz: The hardy natives of Geoff and Sterich produce this plum brandy of 80 to 100 proof. The drink is popular over the border in Keoland in Flen, Cryllor and even Longspear. Slivovitz is sweet when first drawn off but grows sour with age. Drinkers commonly argue over which taste is better.
Bosq: As a melting pot of at least three distinct cultures, Ket produces many beverages worthy of comment. Bosq, a sweet honey vodka, is perhaps the most popular exported drink and it has gained much popularity in neighboring Bissel and the Gran March. Bosq is between 70 and 80 proof, and can be cut with water without harming the taste. The vodka travels and stores extremely well. If allowed to age it gradually forms an amber-like substance that can be liquefied by heating or adding water.
Steinhager: From the slopes of Perrenland comes Steinhager, a variety of gin between 60 and 70 proof made from extremely concentrated juniper berries. The gin's taste is so distinct that even the olvenfolk of the Vesve and Highfolk Valley enjoy it. Steinhager is also popular throughout northwestern Furyondy. Perrenlander merchants export Steinhager, but local varieties exist wherever juniper trees can be found.
Borovicka: Another gin-like beverage, Borovicka also bears a resemblance to vodka in its raw form. The drink is popular in Tenh, though it seems to have originated in Stonehold, where a wilder and more potent version is produced. In both nations, drinking contests involving shots of Borovicka are tests of toughness. Borovicka is between 70 and 80 proof and 100 to 120 proof in its two varieties.
Corenwijn: In the immense open plains of Nyrond, Corenwijn is the local distillate. At 80 proof, it has a strong schnapps-like character. The best Corenwijn is actually produced in distilleries in Oldred, where the rural staple takes on a new sophistication in a proper distillery. Corenwijn is also popular among the demihumans of the Flinty Hills, a rarity for a human beverage.
Strega: Thanks to its excellent river and road systems, few areas of the Great Kingdom are without access to excellent wines, beers or liquors produced by skilled hands. This has all but wiped out eccentric local concoctions. Strega is one of the few still produced in quantity. Distilled from 70 different herbs, Strega is 80 proof and has a sweet spicy taste, unlike any other type of liquor. It can most commonly be found in rural Medegia, along the Rel Astran coast and along the banks of the Mikar River.
Grappa: Grappa is a primitive brandy produced exclusively in Ahlissa. It is 80 proof and very smooth, almost oily, with a hearty, slightly woody or nutty taste. Straight, it is best sipped. A chaser often accompanies a glass, beer being preferable to wine. Grappa can be chilled to good effect or taken at room temperature. While considered a local and rural beverage by most, Grappa enjoys an excellent reputation in Ahlissa, where local nobles, peasant farmers and village shopkeepers alike enjoy its unique flavor.
Pulque: Pulque is not native to the Flanaess. It is a 70 to 80 proof distillate from the Olman Islands, fiery but friendly. First encountered by explorers, it has grown in popularity since its discovery, and is now imported along much of the southern coast. Scant and Gradsul are major centers for its importation. Pulque is unique in that it mixes extremely well with almost any additive, creating myriad variations.
Akavit: In the far north, Akavit is the 70 to 100 proof drink of the Suloise Barbarians. Ice, Snow and Frost barbarians each produce distinctive varieties of the drink, which is distilled from potatoes, caraway and an almost incomprehensible assortment of local herbs, which the barbarians feel give the drink a medicinal quality. Accordingly, most southerners find it distasteful, likening it to tasting fermented pine pitch. This disapproval pleases the people of Rhizia, where akavit means, literally, "water of life."
Often, the most important factor in a liquor's taste is the vessel in which it has been stored. Barrels and casks are universal storage vessels but too a long a time in one can give a drink an undesirable, woody taste. Skins, though less common, are actually preferable. Large skins, though relatively delicate, serve just as well as a cask but leave no lingering taste. The costrel, looking for all the world like a portmanteau, is another cask substitute, composed of either leather or earthenware. Leather costrels are to be found only in dives as they leave an aftertaste and are not as sturdy as a cask or barrel. They are, however, inexpensive and hence exceedingly popular. Glazed earthenware costrels, on the other hand, make fine storage containers, strong and without any aftertaste. Like storage containers, drinking vessels reveal a great deal about a given tavern. Not every cup is the same.
When ordered in quantity, most drinks are brought to the table via the flagon, a two-quart pitcher-shaped container with handle, spout and lid. Taverns at the lowest end of the financial spectrum offer drinks in a blackjack or "jack". Jacks are leather drinking vessels coated with tar to make them tight against leakage. They generally hold no more than a half pint. Jacks are common only in very primitive areas or the worst dives for no decent drink is had from one.
The drinking horn is slightly more evolved but not by much. Made of animal horn, each drinking horn will be unique to the animal from which it was taken. Better horns have metal feet attached at a balance point so that it is possible to set the horn down. Otherwise, the vessel must be held until empty. Some horns belonging to chieftains, their jarls or huscarls can be exquisite pieces of art, skillfully carved, decorated with metals and inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones.
The mug is a plain metal or earthenware cup with a handle but no lip. It is the
generic standard in drinking vessels. Mugs are mass-produced and cheap; those
fashioned from earthenware are even cheaper.
A stein is a variety of earthenware mug holding a full pint or more. Steins, however, are decorated, often richly and elaborately. The finer the decorations, the more prosperous and generally reputable the tavern. Steins are not mass produced. Each is a work of art and stein collectors are not unknown.
Tankards are even finer variations of the basic mug. Made exclusively of silver
or pewter, tankards all have attached lids that open by means of a foot
extending just above the handle. While tankards may be plain, often the metal is
worked with raised or incised designs. The meanest tankard is worth at least one
Glass mugs are known as bumpers and are generally quite large, holding anywhere from a pint to a quart. They are by tradition filled to overflowing, being ideal for heady beers. A bumper is also traditionally a celebratory drinking vessel, and an order of one is usually a sign of merriment and celebration.
Akin to the bumper is the rummer. A tall drinking glass without a handle, a rummer is ideal for drinking beer or wine. Larger rummers are for beer drinking, while thinner ones are used for wine. A rummer, however, has no particular associations as the bumper does. For drinking truly fine beers, a tankard or stein is a must, especially in high society. Wines in such surroundings are drunk from special wine glasses of which the balloon and tulip are the most common. Liquor is taken by the snifter. While closely associated with brandy, the snifter is ideal for any liquor as the glass is designed to hold the bouquet and allow for adequate palm warming.
When next you enter some out of the way tavern, if circumstances permit and you have the inclination, sample more than the local brew. The flavor and atmosphere you'll find will prove ample reward. The locals may also look more kindly upon someone who seems interested or knowledgeable about their ways.
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