Sunday, October 23, 2005

A shot of Moravia

A few hours ago, I got back from an overnighter in Lednice, a pleasant little agricultural town in the southeastern corner of the country. Myself and two Czech friends stayed with a Dutch/Czech couple we know; more precisely, we were guests at the vacation house of the Czech half's parents.

Lednice is a green, sleepy place and we did the usual weekend-at-the-cottage activities: walking around the woods, visiting the local attraction (in this case, a pretty old chateau) and, for the early risers this morning, engaging in low-impact exercise (i.e. ping-pong).

And drinking. Oh yeah, the drinking. To tank up during a weekend trip to the country is almost a requirement in a chata visit. Being a moderate, I limited myself to a pair of beers at the pub during the many hours we spent there last night, and only slowly drank the burcak (young, sweet wine) offered to me at the house before and after the pub trip.

But in the end, I couldn't escape what was waiting for me in the basement. In the afternoon, the three of us, packed and ready to leave, were standing on the small front yard of the house, several minutes away from saying goodbye and taking off in the car. Mr. Borov, our host, turned to me and asked, "so, do you want a shot of merunkovice"?

I didn't want a shot of anything. We were about to road-trip for two and a half hours back to Prague in a car. This is not usually a circumstance for which I need a few drinks.

But Mr. Borov was our host and he was proud of the various alcohols fermenting in his cellar. So an invitation like his was more of a summons. I probably didn't have much of a choice. He led me down into what he called - with an alarming chuckle - his "office." Basically the cellar belonged pretty much to him. The little rooms were either workplaces (he's a diesel mechanic) or storage spaces for food and drink.

Accent on the drink. There was a cluster of big glass vessels in one room, half-man sized jugs filled with various shades of red and white wine and burcak. The room was tiny, and those massive things nearly crowded out the two of us when he brought me in during the tour.

The merunkovice (literally, "apricot brandy") was across the hall in the pantry. The shelves, stocked with fruit compote and vegetables picked from the backyard garden, competed for floor space with yet more wine jugs, which looked to be threatening to take over the room.

Perhaps worried that there wasn't enough alcohol in the tiny space, Mr. Borov had stashed several bottles of brandy on the shelves as well. He produced a pair of shot glasses (what didn't he have on those shelves?), and poured drinks for he and I. "To your health!", went the usual Czech toast. Yeah, try telling that to my liver.

"52 percent!" he said proudly, reciting the alcohol content of what we just drank. "Do you want another one?"

Whew. Noooo.

"How about a little wine?"

Uhhhmmm. Again, that hospitality thing. This was the man's hobby, and he had just let us crash in his house overnight. Accepting offers of alcohol was a key task in the job of Good Guest, like rolling up the sleeping bag in the morning or not burping at the table.

"Sure," I said.

His jolly red Santa face glowed as he fetched a hose to siphon some liquid from one of the vessels. We went into the jug room. "Red or white?" he asked. Anything, pal, as long as it's not 104 proof brandy. I opted for white.

He filled a half-pint glass with the vino and gave it to me. He didn't take any himself. Instead, he told me stories of his life as an amateur vinter and his experiences building the chata I was getting plastered in. I noticed he was paying sly attention to my consumption of the wine, determining whether I genuinely liked it or not. I did, but I was worried that I'd end up cross-eyed by the time I finished it. That glass looked big, man.

Venda, our driver on this expedition, came down into the basement looking for me, perhaps worried that he'd have to drag my unconcious body upstairs into the car and somehow unload me in Prague. He needed to get back for a meeting with a friend in the city, and Mr. Borov and myself weren't helping matters with our little domestic pub crawl. "We have to go," said Venda accurately. I hurried with the rest of the wine, finishing it in a few clumsy gulps. Luckily, the stuff my host imposed on me was well made, fresh and natural. My buzz was surprisingly mild, I didn't feel dizzy or sick, and I was easy on my feet. I'd survived a round of Moravian homemade liquor sampling and didn't pass out. Yay!

We went outside, said our goodbyes, and took off. Mr. Borov said more farewells than the others. The last one, if I remember correctly (and it's very possible I don't) was something like, "come back some day. We'll drink more!". Whew, okay, but I think I'll stick to that two-drink limit next time.


mhg said...

Nice work, Eric. Good to see there's someone new posting interesting stuff (in English) from Prague.

Lynn said...

So how was the Merunkovice? I have been given a bottle and now knowing that it is a brandy, do you recommend just sipping or is it so volatile, a shot is necessary?