Sunday, 19 January 2014

Poker Night... Part 3

Happy Sunday, everybody! You join me today as I reminisce on another poker night that I really should have told you about earlier, but life got in the way. So without further prevarication, I give you... poker night part 3.

Another Saturday, another poker event, another haze of drunken tomfoolery, and very good it was too – and not just because I won two of the rounds and finished second in the other. To be fair, I should have won that one too, but I got a bit carried away on the penultimate hand and betted when I should have gotten out.

Poker sure is fun, and we had a great old laugh, but one of the things I look forward to at least as much as the poker and the laughter… is the booze. I almost said there that it is an unwritten rule that you need to bring some special hard liquor with you, but frankly not everyone does. David brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate his new job appointment and a bottle of RuaVieja – which oddly enough has featured on these pages before (twice in fact) while Chris and Dave just took care of cider for themselves. I decided on a few bottles of whisky for everyone to try – Jim McEwan’s Symphony No 1, a blend which continues to go down very nicely, a Glenmorangie Original that I hadn’t opened yet, and… the one I’d been waiting to open for about a month… the Suntory Hakushu 12.

I’d also requested that Dave collect a few bottles of Double Maxim from his local Morrison’s, which he was kind enough to do.

So it was straight in with a beer, and the beginning of the poker.

The first game always seems to be a bit cagey, as the various players try to feel out the parameters – how cautious should you be? What effect are the specific blinds going to have? What are the playing styles of each player?

I won the first two or three hands, and it was looking good. We all betted cautiously, but I started to grow bolder as I saw that I seemed to be the only one getting decent hands. Chris was folding almost straight away every time, and Dave was bluffing when he had absolutely nothing. He won one or two like that though, and in the end it came down to me and him.

I’d almost finished my second beer by this point, had started a glass of the Symphony (no 1! 46% ABV), and was alternating sips of that with gulps of David’s champagne. So as we reached the closing stages of the first game, I realised I was on the way to being drunk – this was before dinner, of course. Three to four pints of water were in order.

That worked a treat, but not quick enough to prevent me betting big on the penultimate hand when I had nothing. A minute or two after that it was all over, and I knew it had all been my fault.

After popping out to the local curry house for tea, I went on to win games two and three [bit of poetry there for you]. I can’t recall any details about these, but I know there was a great deal of raucous laughter and smutty humour. I haven’t laughed so much and so heartily in a long time. David tells me that as we were clearing up afterwards, Chris mistook pictures of playing cards on the box of the poker set for real cards, and tried to pick them up. He then put on his glasses and went to sleep on the sofa. Dave and I joked that he had put on his glasses so that he could see his dreams better.

Game two was preceded by the opening of the Glenmorangie Original, which is 40% ABV, and 10 years old . I’d only tried this once before, and hadn’t been impressed, but there was a possibility the contents of that bottle had been compromised over time, since I was told the cork had atrophied. My bottle was an impulse buy when I saw it at £6 off on a trip to Tesco. I was never going to pay full price, and that discount gave me just enough incentive to give it a go. At first taste it seemed thin and uninteresting, but since the poker night in question was some time ago now, I can inform you that it became an example of another single malt that I came to enjoy more thoroughly by the glass.

It is fruity and sweet, and one that I’d encourage you to pick up if you see it on a £25 offer again. I probably will. It scores a remarkable 94 in Jim Murray’s 2013 Whisky Bible, though I wouldn’t quite rate it that highly.

The nose revealed pleasing orange notes while the palate brought sherbet and sweet, sweet barley. Far from being something to write off as an everyday drink, it came to be a treat that I actually preferred most times to the Talisker 10 (read more about that in the coming weeks), that I picked up the next time Tesco had some offers on. It doesn’t place all that highly on the all time single malt rankings, but for a malt at the very lower end of the price spectrum it punches way above its weight.

Back to the poker night, and finally it was the moment I’d been waiting for: the opening of the Suntory Hakushu 12 (43% ABV). I had toyed with the idea of not bringing this along at all, since my bottle of Maker’s Mark had lasted only two poker nights, proving so popular that people just inhaled it. Nevertheless, what’s the point in buying something a bit special if you keep it to yourself? (and anyway, the faster you drink it, the sooner you can buy something else…)

Suntory is the oldest Japanese distiller, and actually owns three distilleries – Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakushu – each producing their own highly regarded single malts. I’ve tried the Hibiki once before, but this was my first purchase of an actual bottle of Japanese malt, a decision I took based on reviews and scoring from a number of experts and review sites.

The bottle certainly looks the part, but I was a little disappointed to find that it is sealed by a screwcap – a better class of screwcap, I’ll grant you, than the standard one you get with a blended scotch, but still… this is a single malt -  and I was hoping to hear that sound I love so much – you know the one; the squeak and the pop.

Luckily, the contents make up for that one moment of denial. I know Japanese whisky is renowned for its quality, and here I can see why. It reminds me a little of my favourite malt, Caol Ila – though I don’t think it’s quite as good as that. Even so, it reaches a pretty high standard. There’s a lot going on, with a good deal of complexity and drinkability, so was looking forward to getting to know it a little better over the next few months before I come to decide what I’m going to get next.

If you’re looking for some amateurish tasting notes, I’d say it’s soft and fruity on the palate, with a little bit of peat and a slightly bitter finish – which is where it fails against the Caol Ila.

In the end, Suntory Hakushu 12 did not develop into the favourite dram that my over excitable anticipatory gland hoped it might be. Sure, it was fresh, clean and sweet but that bitter finish continued to let it down. It was however my second favourite out of 5 when it made an appearance at the Manchester Whisky Club’s Japanese Whisky Night. It remains to be seen what that says about Japanese whisky in general. I remain keen to try more and, as ever, look forward to the next poker night.

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