Sunday, 11 July 2010

Soccer ... absinthe ... what's the connection?

For the last month, hundreds of millions of people all over the world have been watching one of the biggest sporting events in the world: the FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

There may seem to be little or no connection between this and absinthe, but as the tournament has progressed I have noted links between one world and another.

Early on in the tournament I tweeted about the best absinthe distillers in the world (the Swiss) playing the best footballers in the world (Spain) and speculating that the half-time oranges should be replaced by absinthe. Evidently that happened, since, in one of the biggest upsets in the World Cup, Switzerland won (unfortunately that was their only victory).

If Switzerland was the birthplace of absinthe, then the French can claim to have made it popular during the 19th century. This resulted ultimately in the biggest hangover ever when the French went from feast to famine and banned absinthe in 1915. France suffered another major hangover when their soccer team self-destructed in the World Cup.

England was the birthplace of soccer, is home to at least one absinthe company (although very little absinthe is made in England), and has the distinction of one of the most famous cocktail books. The 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book has 104 cocktails which contain absinthe. As an Englishman, it pains me to say that their soccer team was swept away almost as comprehensively as the Savoy Hotel has moved away from absinthe over the years.

What of the USA? Well, they are clearly an emerging nation in both soccer and absinthe, and maybe 2010 will be seen to be the year in which soccer started to hit the mainstream.

And so to tonight's final. On the one side: Spain, who have always under-achieved in the World Cup before 2010 and whose absinthes have generally disappointed until recently with a preponderance of artifically coloured and sometimes gimmicky products. On the other side: the Netherlands, previously losing finallists and home to a small hand-crafted absinthe business.

The semi-final between Spain and Germany had been the first match I have seen which reminded me not of a cliched chess match, but of a real Spanish bullfight. Beautiful passing and then the clinical finish. The 2010 final started in a similar style but the Dutch forced Spain off the ball and out of their stride (somewhat too forcefully perhaps!). Difficult at times to see who was the matador and who was the bull.

So to the second half. A half of "what ifs." "What if" one of Robben's breakthrough runs had not been saved? "What if" the Ramos header had been a little lower? And more yellow cards, especially for the Dutch.

And then the drama of extra time. A Dutch sending-off .. and it could have been two. And then, deep into the second period of extra time, the matador's stab from Spain's Iniesta! Olé!

I have talked about the Spain-Germany semi-final and the final reminding me of bull-fights. Hemingway wrote about bull-fights in his classic book, Death in the Afternoon. Because of Hemingway's love of both absinthe and champagne, this has become the name of this classic cocktail. What better way then to celebrate Spain's victory?


Jean-Seb Michel said...

Bonjour Allan,

nice analogy between football and absinthe. You certainly are more thoughtful than me about this, the better I could do was watching one while drinking the other...!

I love the glass in which you drank the Death in the Afternoon as it reminds me of a Riedel Sommelier model almost only available in Europe now.

It has been a pleasure to meet you a few months back at The Lab for the launch of La Clandestine.

Best wishes from Montreal,


Alan said...

Hi Jean-Sebastien,

Many of the games were only bearable with 1/2 glasses!

The Death in the Afternoon glass is used by the Sky Bar at the Traders Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. I agree it's a beautiful glass: almost too beautiful to use!

I hope to be back in Quebec soon: I see the SAQ now have a better price point ($75.75).