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On booze. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?
ARTICLE FOR CATALONIA TODAY (December of 2013)
As the Season of Good Cheer creeps up on us once again, a middle-aged man's fancy turns to booze. Ever since what used to be tweely dubbed 'the awkward age', I cannot recall a Christmas or a New Year in which liquor did not feature prominently. Back in London, however, my personal choice was limited both by income and the astronomical UK tax on drink. Once installed in Barcelona, I discovered to my joy that even a poorly paid job could keep you in alcoholic clover not only at Xmas but all year round. When clubbing, you could order just about anything, from Licor 43 - a sickly sweet yellow concoction from Cartagena served on occasion with equally sugar-laden Coke - to a lugumba (chocolate milk with cognac) or the more popular cubates (rum-colas) interspersed with vodka-and-tonic slammers, while, if you wished, occasionally sampling rifs (that is, cubates with gin instead of rum) or sol-i-sombres (cognac and aniseed liqueur). When feeling adventurous, you could test specifically Catalan drinks such as the herbal ratafia; the curious, quinine-based Calisay; or the indescribable Aromas de Montserrat. Meals might be digested with a cigaló (coffee with cognac) or even a trifàssic (white coffee with cognac). Above all, any kind of celebration at all would be drenched in what was once called xampany (champagne) until Spain's entry into the EU in 1985, when the less luxurious-sounding term cava became mandatory. And if you happened to visit Minorca, you could try a pomada (Minorcan gin with lemonade). In my case, as time wore on - and my resistance to alcohol, down - I eventually came to eschew everything except lager for nigh on two decades, with only the odd Bloody Mary breaking the liquid monotony. Let lager have its way, though, and it'll make the thinnest of men look heavy with child. For life. So half a year ago I said a permanent farewell to beer. What to do? Having lived in the land of the Penedès and the Terra Alta and the Priorat and the Empordà and the Bages and the Costers del Segre for 28 years, only now did I begin to discover the wines these areas produce (not to mention Basque txakolí, the Navarrese rosés, Galician albariño... but nothing from La Rioja as my perennial gout rules out red). Wine! There it had been all those years, and I had barely given it a thought. Wine: so varied and tasty. And unfizzy. I only hope that now that I've discovered it, I won't eventually – as time wears on etc. – have to give it up too, as has been the case with every other beverage that has proved so deliciously efficient when it comes to relieving the pain of living. Merry Christmas.