Prophecy: Tavern Fare

TAVERN FARE OF THE FLANAESS

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 silver.

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.