What to Drink While Making Yourself Obvious in Switzerland.
Some drinks require the right environment; unless you are in Paris, absinthe is just weird. Planter’s punch requires a beach and palm trees. Kümmel always sneaks up on you in the alps, when you’re wearing those puffy overalls.
There you are in Switzerland think how very German the Germans are, how round the protesters have been this season, and how agreeable the Swiss banking laws. Suddenly you’re standing there with a glass of something called kümmel. It’s like aquavit, which is to say it’s like vodka, but it’s a liqueur. Which is like liquor, but mixed with plant extracts and with a confused spelling.
The plants in question are predominately caraway (kümmel, in German), cumin and fennel. It’s a sweet(ish), colorless liqueur that tastes vaguely like liquid rye bread. It’s not as bad as it sounds if you’re in a ski lodge. It might be if you tried to quaff down in a yacht club in Barbados. If you cut it with chilled vodka, you’ve got something called a silver streak.
The liqueur was first distilled in 1675 – and I only have one source for this – by one Lucas Bols in the Netherlands, where you expect this sort of thing to happen. It gained popularity in both Russia and Germany, and on the continent it rivaled gin in popularity. Because the caraway was a calmative, it didn’t trigger the gin madness that gripped London’s more gross population. A snort of kümmel also reduces flatulence and bloating after a heavy meal, which came in handy in Germany where the food has corners.
The environment issue is self-correcting, as it is very hard to even find unless you are in a place where you can say “chalet” without sounding ridiculous. Find an aquavit with caraway in it and you are mostly there.
If you are making yourself obvious in Switzerland, know the proper toast of the occasion: Zum wohl! means “to your health.” This is like Prost, but because of lingering olde worlde foolishness, somehow fancier. Prost is for beer, while Zum wohl is for wine and spirits. That’s the sort of thing that you need to know when trying to convince our collogues, or the smoke-show at the bar, that you are a leader in global finance.
Americans, of course, are more egalitarian: if you are skiing in Telluride, the simpler “Why aren’t you drinking bourbon?” will do.
To wit, the Silver Streak: When I asked the bartender, he said it was 25ml of chilled vodka, and the same of kummel. I had to retreat to my phone to see what that was in good ole Imperial units. Turns out it is equal to three quarters of a once. What the hell, the economy is about to go into the can, it has even made them blue in Davos, so let’s call in a once each. Pour it over some cracked ice and given it a whirl.
You’ll also need a turtleneck, I think.