Ira Kaplan is quite familiar with playing and listening to music in all kinds of different settings, from dingy bars to sitting at home and enjoying a glass of something while he listens to records. But drinking while traveling–whether you're in your hotel room or checking out the local bars–can be difficult. Yet Kaplan, who has grown a taste for finer spirits (it doesn't hurt that one of his brothers works in the wine industry) beyond the cheap beer concert promoters might have given him in lieu of payment early on since he formed New Jersey indie-rock band Yo La Tengo over 30 years ago, has a very simple plan for drinking when you're on the road: keep it as local as possible and you'll enjoy it more. "We're not the most imaginative people in the world," Kaplan says in a dry, self-deprecating way when talking of the band's shows and free time drinking in a place like New Orleans. "So obviously a Sazerac. I also associate New Orleans with the French 75."
He and the rest of the band including drummer Georgia Hubley (also Kaplan's wife) are by no means heavy drinkers on tour. Having defined a certain contemplative strain of rock music for decades, they're not exactly Motley Crue, but that doesn't mean that they don't like to have a drink or two before or after a show. Kaplan describes himself as more of a site-specific drinker. He learns by doing. He details drinks that evoke locales– without eschewing their cliches– and his tour travel: enjoying a cidre poured escanciado, or from very high up, in northwest Spain, enjoying the longstanding Trappist beer tradition in Belgium and making sidecars with the band’s tour manager for a full busload of friends in transit. The idea of 'When in Rome' really does apply to his drinking philosophy, and really, there are few people that know about these kinds of things quite like a traveling musician.
"We drank Cynar memorably one night in Italy," Kaplan says, recalling a night of tasting the country’s native artichoke-derived liqueur from almost 25 years ago. “If I’ve had it since, I don't remember. It wasn’t something where I just had to get a bottle at [the] duty-free [shops]… If we ever developed a taste for it, we would lose the memory of that night."
For Kaplan, it's all about the moment: time and place, learning as they go. He and the band bring that dilettante spirit of tasting and discovery to a pair of coaster sets packed with the vinyl pre-orders of Yo La Tengo's new album Stuff Like That There. They contain cheekily named cocktail recipes like The Blue Line Swinger, a rye whiskey-based cocktail from Chicago's Big Star (a Wicker Park hotspot just a stone's throw away from the closest CTA Blue Line platform) and Mr. Tough from Brooklyn cocktail bar Broken Land, both after Yo La Tengo songs.
Mr. Tough, in particular, lives up to its name with blended scotch and slap-yer-face muddled jalapeno and ginger beer notes, sure to make anyone who gets through whole drink feel like a tough guy. "Up the muddled jalapenos if you haven’t suffered enough," the recipe portends. Although you could ask your hotel's bartender to make you any of these drinks, we'd suggest saving them for when you get home so you can drink like the locals when you're on your trip.
Mr. Tough from Brooklyn's Broken Land
- Muddle a few cucumber slices and one fresh jalapeno slice with 2 ounces of blended scotch and .75 ounce of lime juice. Shake briefly with ice and double strain into a rocks-filled highball glass.
- Top with a quality ginger beer and garnish with a jalapeno slice soaked in overproof liquor and lit on fire. Up the muddled jalapenos if you haven’t suffered enough.
The Blue Line Swinger created by Ben Fasman from Big Star
- 2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
- 1/2 oz Amaro Nardini
- 1/4 oz Dolin Blanc
- 1 Dash Angostura bitters
- 1 Dash Coffee-Pecan bitters
- Build all ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir, strain into an old fashioned glass with ice.
- Garnish with an orange peel expressed and inserted into the drink.