Beginnings

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Until last year I lived in Paradise. Not the literal one, of course, with angels and the endless lounging around on clouds, but an earthly one more acceptable to a beardy bloke from the North of England.

I lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a compact capital city of half a million souls. It was the home of the Enlightenment, of philosophers, writers and economists. It has a medieval heart overlooked by a castle on a rocky crag, surrounded by bold Georgian architecture. More importantly, there are over 700 pubs. Scotland is also home to over 100 whisky distilleries, so good quality single malt is widely available.

A wet and windy city in the British Isles is not most people’s idea of an earthly paradise. Neither was it mine at the time, although I did enjoy it very much as a place to live, and I stayed there for 15 years. However, I have since moved to Istanbul. This is a great city. It’s huge, and energetic, and suffused with incredible history, as it was the seat of empires for a millennia and a half: Greek, Roman, Christian, Ottoman, Muslim. Its geography is spectacular, as the city is bisected by the Bosphorus and straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. The food is amazing, a diverse cuisine from all the corners of the old Ottoman empire, with an emphasis on good quality ingredients. There is one thing about living in Istanbul, however, that makes me nostalgic for my Scottish home.

It’s a terrible place to get a drink.

I miss decent beer. I’ve always been an ale drinker, and my social life in the UK tended to revolve around the pub. My favourite place to meet friends would be a traditional real ale pub, all dark wood and comfort and a selection of cask-conditioned, hand-pulled beers. I would normally start by picking one that I’d never tried before and then I would work my way along the rank of taps. Here, things are different. The beer market is dominated by two big brands, Efes and Tuborg. It’s not unusual to go to a bar and be presented with the choice of just one of these. You will get a glass of something cold and wet and meh.

I miss whisky. I was a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in the UK. They specialise in releasing single cask versions of rather fine whisky, and have two members only bars in Edinburgh where you can go and sample your way merrily through their catalogue. My wife and I had one of our first dates there (she turned out to be a keeper). Whisky is a rare and luxurious product here in Turkey. People are instead keen on raki, an aniseed-based spirit, which is not quite the same.

I miss fine wine. I thoroughly enjoy a glass of red from the Ribera del Duero, or the Cotes de Rhone. A bold Portuguese Douro, or a well-balanced Kiwi Pinot Noir. Maybe something white in the summer: a crisp Sancerre, a cheeky Picpoul de Pinet. Here in Turkey… let’s just say the wine industry faces some challenges.

However, the picture isn’t entirely bleak in my new life. There are rumours of craft beer, and brew pubs. Vineyards being coaxed into new life. Imported specialities appearing tucked away on shelves.

I will investigate.