Friday, 21 December 2012

Christmas Dos, Christmas Don'ts

As I said last week, it is indeed the Christmas period, and while the last post was something of a general rumination on Christmas and the importance of booze, I thought it might be worthwhile to give you a bit of an update on what’s been going on this festive season.

Well, I’ve had four Christmas dos already (official and otherwise) and one more to come tonight. It’s proving to be an expensive time of year – more so than usual.

The first one this year was the Christmas curry night that I have with the group of lads I play football with. I don’t always go, but there was an especially good reason this year, in that it was an easy excuse for getting out of one of my main work Christmas dos – the one that all the top brass go to. Yes, it was on the same night. I actually managed to come in under budget on that one, and it was good.

I’m still waiting to hear if “Colin” had another mishap at this year’s work do – or indeed, if anyone else made a spectacle of themselves. Let’s hope so, eh?

Then there was my office’s Christmas lunch, which again I came under budget on, as my line manager managed to claim it on expenses.

On Friday I was invited to attend the Christmas do of the people at my new job, which I don’t actually start until January, but I thought I’d better show my face. I didn’t get the chance to show myself up, because I needed to get to town and pick up my new suits before Slater’s closed. That was ok though; I managed to get three pints and a bottle in during the one and three quarter hours that were available.

Real ales in fancy tankards
Next up was a double header – an old skool Christmas meal with friends at The Wharf in Castlefield where every single round of two drinks I bought for myself and Mrs Cake was £8.50… outrageous! That was on Saturday afternoon. The evening saw us heading out to Stockport for a medieval themed Winter Wassale. Basically, that was a beer festival in the market hall that some very generous friends gave us tickets for, so that we could hang out with them drinking real ale from special tankards.

There was an element of fancy dress, but we didn’t partake in that. It turned out to be the least busy beer festival I’ve ever attended, so that was a bit of a relief. There was still plenty of beer and cider available as well as the usual (for Christmas) mulled wine and, most interestingly for me, two types of mead – of which I tried one.

beer menu
It was the first time I’d ever tried mead. Available in thirds of a pint for £3.50, but at 14.5% ABV, it was certainly worth a go. It wasn’t what I was expecting; sweet with a slight taste of feet, and a consistency and colour not unlike brandy. It’s definitely one for sipping and enjoying slowly.

I also decided to conduct a further experiment into the dubious marriage between beer and chocolate, being that there was a ‘triple chocolate stout’ available. It was nice, but I still contend that beer and chocolate is a combination that just isn’t required – it just tasted like stout to me. My companions all assured me that it smelled very chocolatey, but for some reason I couldn’t smell anything. I have no idea why that was, because the next day I could smell an orange on Mrs Cake’s hands, when she had merely touched one some time before. Do I have a blind spot to the smell of chocolate and beer? Maybe the combination actually works, but it is simply the case that I am unable to taste it. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know, though presumably someone enjoys these flavours and gets something out of them.

Triple chocolate stout
Now, I actually finished work on Tuesday this week, but I still had one more work related drinks reception to attend. This would be the good one – the one that all my work friends go to. That was yesterday. It got a bit weird when we started getting all existential and discussing the universe and heaven and hell, and also the impending apocalypse, which I’m sure you’re aware, is due today. It was good, though.

An that just leaves tonight, which I suppose you could call my golf Christmas do, since it’s the golf people that are meeting up. Mind you, I had a text from Chris yesterday, asking who else was coming. I didn’t ask anyone else, I replied, was I supposed to?

stamp on the back of yer hand
It’s getting ridiculous really; the more things you do, and the more groups of people you know, the more Christmas dos you end up having. Come to think of it, my first this year was actually with my main group of friends, but I didn’t count that one, since it took place in November.

Mrs Cake has had three dos of her own this week also – but two were with the same people; a sedate one for those who have kids, and a more debauched one for those who want to get messed up. She still came back from the sedate one in a right state.

Why do people wait for Christmas to decide it would be fun to go drinking with their acquaintances/colleagues? It could be just as much fun at any other time of year – perhaps even more so, since presumably it won’t be as cold and wet. Perhaps that can be your new year resolution this year – go out drinking with people more often. Come to think of it, it’s easier to wriggle out at other times of year, but there’s an obligation at Christmas, and people are suspicious of you if you never attend, like you might be a terrorist or something. I wouldn’t like to stretch the obligation throughout the rest of the year because, I suppose, your colleagues and acquaintances aren’t always friends, they are merely colleagues and acquaintances, so you don’t really want to go out with them.

Well, we’re fast approaching my last post of 2012, and not long after that the anniversary of my first ever post. I’ve enjoyed  doing it – the drinking and the writing, so let’s hope there’s plenty more to come. I might even combine the drinking and the writing next year, like Charles Bukowski but with less loose women and violence.

That’s it for now, then. See you next Friday, hopefully.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas! It's the most booze-fulled time of the year!

Christmas is a weird time - if you don’t count all the Jesus stuff… what is it all about? How has it managed to last so long? How has it come to be so all-consuming? The first time there was a Christmas, someone probably said, “don’t get me wrong; I like receiving presents, but this’ll never catch on”. How wrong can you be? Alexander Graham Bell once famously said that he could foresee a time when there was one of his new telephone contraptions… in every town. To predict Christmas would never catch on would be more wrong than that.

The telephone’s a great idea though, isn’t it? Can you imagine before there were telephones? Someone would have to think, “wouldn’t it be great if I could talk to someone in a completely different place, in the present moment, without having to be there? Perhaps I could send a voice down a wire.” You’d have to be a genius to even imagine that.

I strongly suspect that the idea of Christmas was conceived to give us something to look forward to in the midst of those cold, dark and damp winter months that, here in the UK, last forever – even into the summer it seems sometimes. Yeah, maybe, maybe not, but either way, that’s probably why it has caught on and lasted. Funny that Christmas isn’t so big in the Middle East, where it all began…

You know what else isn’t so big in the Middle East? Booze. Christmas is a special time in the booze calendar, so even though I normally fall into the ‘bah humbug’ category when it comes to embracing Christmas, there are still things I need to write about. I was going to say that you could think of this as the Drink it How You Like it Christmas Special, if you wanted to, but it isn’t going to be that special.

Just before Mrs Cake reads this and dies a little inside because she loves Christmas, let me just say, I don’t hate Christmas altogether. There are some things that I like about it very much. I like for example, how most people seem to be more cheerful than they might normally be. I like the goodwill to all men thing. I like giving and receiving presents. And I like pigs in blankets. Sure, there are probably more things I could think of, but that’s not the point of these posts – and I could start a list of the things I don’t like, but I’m trying to maintain a positive outlook.

So instead of focusing on boring Christmas things like mulled wine and Christmas markets, let’s have a good laugh at the fun, debauched side.

The real highlight when it comes to drinking at Christmas is the Christmas Do. It might be awkward, it might be embarrassing, but it will be very funny. People are going to get very drunk, and a certain amount of chaos is going to ensue – all to the tune of free booze provided by your employer, if you’re lucky like I am. If you’re unlucky, your employer might make you pay for it.

For me, Christmas dos always walk the fine line between awkward and fun, because I find social situations with anything other than good friends very stressful, and seeing work acquaintances in casual circumstances is akin to seeing a cat on a lead, or a dog in a suit. It’s just weird.

type "dog in a" into google, and "suit" is the first thing it comes up with
Go limp!
Speaking of weird things; I went to my football Christmas curry last night, and when I got there I didn’t recognise anyone because they were wearing normal clothes instead of football kits.

Christmas time is extrawkward (new word, you can have that one) for me because I always seem to be working in two offices at the same time, so there’s always going to be at least two Christmas dos. On top of that, I work at a university, so there’s a faculty do as well as two school dos, and one of my offices has two dos instead of the regulation one. So the amount of time I spend standing awkwardly on my own, drinking far too quickly, and looking for someone I know to actually talk to increases exponentially at this time of year.

The worst case scenario of course, is that you find another lost soul who you might have spoken to once during the year, and end up talking to them. It’s actually a relief at first, but then you run out of things to talk about and need to find a way to leave without seeming rude… Argh! Why is it so hard to talk to people?!

Eventually the free wine kicks in, and things get easier. And I usually find a group that I can hang out with, so it all becomes fun after a while.

You probably knew all that already – you’re a person aren’t you? You’ve probably had a job, and I don’t think the recession has quite hit that badly yet. I suppose you might just be out of school, and new to the whole world of work thing.

Anyway, now it’s time for the interesting part. You can join in here, too. It’s time to talk about the things that happen at Christmas dos as a direct consequence of people drinking too much – because they will, and because mad things will happen. When people are exposed to free booze they do things they wouldn’t normally do. Like stealing, or allowing their lesbian tendencies to surface and making a pass at the boss…

ew... supposedly these belong to a politician
The cliché things of course are things like photocopying genitalia or someone shagging their boss in the car park… I think though that reality often proves to be better than cliché.

Here are a couple of stories about a senior colleague at one of the schools I work in. To protect identities, let’s call him Colin, and say he’s the ‘Senior Head’. That’s a completely made up title, but it represents his position in the organisation.

For the previous two years he’s been involved in incidents at one of the two school Christmas dos, so it will be interesting to see what happens this year. In fact, during the summer, he was involved in an incident where the girlfriend of one of his staff was lapdancing on him. Bizarre. He’s gay, which probably makes it ok, though that doesn’t seem fair. Like, how come gay guys are allowed to grope ladies’ boobies, and it’s not harassment or assault? I’m not saying we should all be allowed to, but the no groping rule should be universal. Just sayin’.

A-a-a-a-anyway… Two years ago Colin loaded up on far too much free wine, and a taxi had to be called. I was there when he was put into it, and somehow he couldn’t remember his address. How do you forget your own address?!? Someone had to call his partner to get it. That’s bad enough I suppose, but the real story is the part I played in proceedings. Colin had gone up to his office, and another member of staff had gone to get him, to help him to the cab. For some reason I was waiting for this other person so we could both join a group of people who had left for a pub a little earlier. The person I was waiting for came back and said, “Colin’s pissed in his office.”

Really? Blimey!”

So, come Monday morning, I went around telling everyone that Colin had been so drunk that he had had relieved himself in his office.

It was odd, though. No one had heard this from anyone else, and the rumour wasn’t really gathering pace. Colin’s office was just across the corridor from my team’s office, and no one had seen anyone make any attempts to clean the office. There should be a hell of a mess, shouldn’t there?

I decided I’d best get some validation for my story – after all, this was my boss I was slandering here! Eventually I managed to speak with the lady who had told me, “Colin’s pissed in his office”.

“Do you remember Friday night, when Colin had a piss in his office?”

“No. I didn’t know that had happened!”

“You told me! You said, and I quote, ‘Colin’s pissed in his office’!”

“Yeah, ‘Colin is pissed in his office’, not Colin has pissed in his office.”

“Oh. I’ve been telling everyone he had a piss in his office.”


“I’d best start quashing those rumours…”

Luckily the rumour didn’t take off to the extent it might have, so all’s well that ends well.

The second Colin story is from last Christmas. This do was at a club in Manchester, which will remain anonymous to protect anonymity, and involved a traditional style Christmas dinner, followed by some dancing. I left fairly early since it was on a Thursday and I was one of the few people who hadn’t booked leave for the next day. That was a relief, since it was a good excuse to get away from the predatory middle aged lady who was determined that I should bounce up and down with her on the dance floor, downstairs. By that, I mean ‘dance’ of course, not dry hump. Ew.

Nevertheless, it meant I left before Colin’s next alcohol fuelled faux pas. I learned the following Monday, when everyone returned to work that he had been so drunk he’d passed out in his chair and started to vomit turkey through his nose, all over the tables and in full view of diners from other parties. There’s no way someone could have misheard that one, is there? There’s too many witnesses and too much detail.

Aside from being very funny, this was actually a relief for one of my colleagues, as she’d gotten very drunk also and had been careening around the restaurant and club all night, falling over and into things, and aggressively asking academics if they thought she was a nob. So that she wasn’t the biggest disgrace at the school was something of a victory.

What fascinates me about people’s behaviour at Christmas dos is the clash between professionalism… and free alcohol. It’s not often you get free booze, so the temptation is to go a bit nuts, and get as much as you can before it’s too late – what I’m going to call the Booze Buffet Mentality. I think it leads to people remembering how much they used to drink as younger people, and thinking they can still do the same, even though they rarely drink anymore, and have been out of practice for years. If you’re going to fill your boots, it is essential you try to maintain some degree of match fitness during the year. And try eating something, too. That clearly didn’t work with Colin, mind.

So now it’s your turn. What are your funniest Christmas do related stories? I’d like to say there’s a prize for the best one, but there’s not. You just get the prestige of having the best one.

Friday, 7 December 2012

It's been a stressful week...

Aaaaah-AAAAH! Aaah-AAH-aah! DUM-DUM!
Good afternoon everybody! I’m going all current this week, and trying to fire off a post while it’s still relevant. I don’t normally like to post something so soon after writing it because all my best ideas come later – when the bulk of the post has been in existence for some time. This time, I’ll just have to hope I don’t get any better ideas. So here we go.

As I implied in my title, it’s been a damn stressful week, but today the light at the end of the tunnel has been reached, and no matter what happens, I’m in the mood for celebrating… at home… with the missus… in front of the telly… with a special bottle of something. More on that later.

See, a couple of months ago, I got wind of the possibility of a new job within my organisation – more responsibility, more money, more interesting and all that. I’ve been wanting all those things for a while so I figured that since my line managers told me I’d be perfect for it, that I may as well give it a go. And that’s where my problems began.

Looking at the job spec, I was perfect for this role, so the first obstacle was getting in an application. I don’t know about you, but I struggle so much with applications – in particular the ‘personal statement’ or ‘supporting information’ section. You’ll know from reading this blog that I can bang on and on about all kinds of things that are interesting to me, for thousands of words, but when it comes to writing about me, or rather the professional, employable me – someone I’m not that familiar with, I can barely construct a single sentence.

Needless to say, with only slight exaggeration, it took me about two weeks to get anywhere close. The problem this time, mind, was that I fitted the job too well – I had too much to say, and once I’d managed to crowbar it into sentences, then I had to go through five pages taking anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary out. And it all seemed necessary.

Mrs Cake was instrumental in helping with this, as usual. Also as usual, I didn’t agree or accept all of her changes, but she did keep me working on it until long after I’d lost the will.

So that’s all fine: application in, forget about it - until last Friday, when I received notification that I’d been shortlisted for interview. All right, fair enough, but not just interview. They also wanted me to do a test on Excel (easy), a prioritisation test (I can fake that) and a presentation.

Yeah, I know, if you’ve interviewed for jobs a little more high powered than me before, you’ve had to do all this, and what’s the big deal? Right? Well, I’ll tell you what the big deal is. I have heard (this is to be kept strictly on the down-low, by the way) that I’m the only applicant who was shortlisted. All right, no, I get it: they still want to be sure they’re getting someone that’s competent? Right? Fair enough, but get this. It’s only for a 6 month secondment , and by the time they recruit me (if I should be so lucky), it will only be 4 months. It’s a lot of jumping through hoops for a fricking four month secondment, and that’s for sure.

Seriously, I’ve never even had to do a presentation before, and while I know all about the subject that I’m presenting on, I was tearing my fricking hair out on Wednesday night. How do you do it? All I needed to do was explain a few things, which I could do if you called me up and asked me. But to then put it onto slides and form it into a cohesive presentation. It’s a fricking nightmare!

On top of that, I got an upset stomach on Sunday night and spent the night weeing out me bum and vomiting. After that it was a couple of days of feeling nauseous, tired and weak. Sure it got me a couple of days sick leave, but I spent the whole time worrying about the interview, and not being able to concentrate on actually preparing for it (recordings of South Park helped).

So anyway, the interview was this morning, and I felt it went ok. I could tell they were impressed with my presentation, and I know I did two of the three tests ok (it turned out there was also a written test that I didn’t have time to do properly). The interview itself seemed to go ok too. I floundered here and babbled there, but I managed to get a few good points in and got them to write a few things down – that’s always a good sign. They did throw me one question I wasn’t expecting though, and hadn’t prepared for, but after a few seconds hard thought, I managed to pull something out of the air.

Christ, don't you just want to climb inside this picture?
Presumably I’ll find out later whether or not they want me. They damn well better, given how much time I’ve had to put into this. Did I get to any time to relax last night? No. Play Football Manager? No. All right, I’m being a bit silly now, but I’ll tell you this for nothing: if they don’t offer me the job, I’m going to damn well explode. Are you fucking kidding me?! Give me my two weeks back! I want my two weeks back!

I am trying to keep looking on the bright side – it at least will be good practice for next time I need to apply for a job. That’s one good thing. The other good thing… is that it’s over. And to celebrate, I have a little treat planned. I managed to amass a significant amount in Amazon vouchers recently, and last week I made a special purchase; a bottle of Caol Ila 18 year old single malt scotch. I’m drooling just thinking of that peaty and salty goodness. The bottle isn’t as attractive as the 12 year old (it’s the same, but the colours are darker, to represent the light at a later time of day on Islay), but I can’t wait to see what the whisky is like. It immediately breaks my record for most expensive bottle I’ve ever bought, and oldest, so I’m hoping it’s worth it. Tonight I shall wait for the right moment and partake in some obscene scotch indulgence. I might even keep my suit on to make it more of an event. Maybe I’ll wear my suit every time I uncork a particularly special whisky… actually I just remembered we have a cat, and my suit is a cat hair magnet. Just step into a room where there was once a cat, and there’s hair all over it, it just sucks it out of the air. All right, the amount of cat hair floating on domestic currents isn’t that bad, but it does mean there is no point in me sitting down with a glass of scotch, and trying to get comfortable. You use those lint removers to get cat hair off clothes, right? Well, if you want to get cat hair off furniture, you use my suit. Just put it on and sit yourself down. That’s probably where the idea for Velcro came from. I can’t believe Word just capitalised Velcro on its own! Nope, this evening I’m going to have to go for the lounging wear – like every other evening.

Anyway, I’ve got nothing else to tell you for now, so wish me luck, and I’ll be back with something more alcohol related next week.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Poker Night part 2

Scant weeks after poker night at Dave’s, it was time for the annual end of season golf tournament. No drink involved there, but what did involve drink was the succeeding poker night. Only myself and Chris were present from the last time, but we were joined by Phil, John and Adam at John’s place in Lymm.

I’d been saving what remained of my Maker’s Mark for this occasion, and hadn’t touched it since that first poker night – half down, half to go.

That wasn’t the only hard liquor on the go. Besides each player’s choice of beer (Holsten Pils for me, as ever), I’d taken my new el Jimador tequila that I’d been waiting to open, as well as a bottle of Highland Park 12 Year Old for Chris – his groomsman gift. Adam brought along a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels and John supplied Jameson’s Select Reserve (which comes with a cork – we agreed that’s a good sign in a bottle of whisky) and some 3 year old Havana Club.

I also supplied the Cuban cigars, despite the fact it had been John who had just spent two weeks in Cuba.

We got down to the serious business of serious drinking and serious poker.

Everyone opted for Maker’s Mark to start off with, and professed a liking for it, but that proved to be the last I saw of it. I assume the others must have kept on drinking it, because the bottle was empty when I awoke the next day.

The first hand saw every one fold quickly, with the exception of John and myself. I had a pair of sixes, and opted to follow my usual strategy of staying in until it seems foolish. You don’t want to fold, and then find that you had a winning hand.

John upped the ante with a big raise. Figuring I’d at least got something, with two cards still to be revealed, it was worth matching.

When all cards were revealed, I still only had a pair of sixes, and John went all in. I hadn’t been expecting to be faced with this outcome so early. I’d already bet so much that folding now would reduce my chances of competing in the rest of the game significantly. On the other hand, I had to gamble everything if I wanted to stay in.

I felt a pang of anger at John’s action, but quickly suppressed it, and figured at least there were two more games to come after this, so being out of this one was no big deal. I also recalled seeing John do this before, one night during the golf holiday in Spain – betting big, to cover up the fact he actually had nothing. Chris and I had let him get away with it that time. I decided to play, and see what happened.

“I’m in.”

We showed our cards. John had nothing. He’d gambled on having an ace and a queen, and I won with a pair of sixes. He was out for the rest of the game, and in one fell swoop I had all his chips and a few more.

I also won the second hand with a pair of sixes, but after that it wasn’t plain sailing. I betted cautiously and lost a few before one hand where Chris and Adam had folded, leaving Phil and myself.

Feeling I had something that was good enough to win, I tried a big raise, and that was enough to convince Phil to fold. I wondered whether I shouldn’t have increased the betting slowly to take maximum advantage, and get Phil to bet more, but it turned out that Phil would have won the hand if he’d stayed in, so I’d inadvertently made the right choice.

Eventually every remaining player was dispatched, and I emerged victorious for the first time ever. My £15 winnings was eaten up straight away by having to contribute to the pizza order. Still; free pizza!

I moved on to trying each of the other liquors that were on offer. It felt a bit cheeky having a little of Chris’ Highland Park, since it was my gift to him, but no one else seemed to have reservations. It sure is a classy malt.

I can’t say I was impressed with the Jameson’s Select Reserve (£36 at The Whisky Exchange)  but I did enjoy the Havana Club. As for the Jack Daniels, it looks like my tasting skills are developing after all – this was the first time I’d ever tried it without ice, and I got a big hit of banana in there. Some reviewers go for ‘banana milkshake’, and it is almost like a soft drink, but I didn’t feel the need to be that specific. I like JD, so why does it taste of something I don’t like?

Finally, the piece de resistance… I’d been waiting for this night to crack open the 100% agave el Jimador tequila. Adam was actually the only one interested enough to give it a try, but we both liked it. It sure tastes different to your bog standard Jose Cuervo. It’s less sweet, with (for lack of better tasting skills) a darker tone to the flavour. Adam said it had a smooth taste, but I think that’s something people say when they don’t really know what they’re talking about… like, it’s got a kick to it and that stuff gets you hammered!

Well, I’m sure it wasn’t related to the booze, but I lost the next two games of poker. I was fine with that nevertheless, since I had won a game for the first time ever. I’m getting into this poker lark now, and I think I’ll try to attend one of these nights as often as possible. I’ve actually been practicing a bit online (free though, not on the actual gambling sites), and I’ve developed a couple of new strategies that I can’t wait to try out on real people. Poker can be the new golf for the winter months. It sure is a good excuse to break out the fancy booze.

Friday, 23 November 2012

732 Words on Tequila, and then a few more

I’ve been amazed at the things I’ve learned (and found interesting) since applying myself to writing a blog about booze and, more importantly, taking an active interest in experimenting and investigating the delights it can bring. The most recent thing I have become interested in is tequila. I know, I’ve written posts on tequila before here, here and even here, but it has come to my notice that frankly, I have barely even scratched the surface because tequila is surprisingly underappreciated here in the UK.

this tequila wears a sombrero
It started innocuously enough; I thought that since I’d offloaded the last dregs of my Jose Cuervo Gold recently, I could see my way to getting a new bottle. The only brands you ever see in supermarkets are Jose Cuervo and Sierra, so I took a look at The Whisky Exchange, and found that there is actually a whole smorgasbord of different brands available – many for under £20 (plus P&P).

It was time to start working my way through. I had learned some time in the past that tequila is made by fermenting sugars found in the blue agave plant that grows above a certain altitude in Mexico (1500m), and then distilling the resulting wort twice (and sometimes a third time).

Ok, that’s not that interesting. In fact, a ten years younger me would have said, “boor-ring!”, like I did at that party 10 years ago when someone started telling me that whisky gets its colour from the barrels it is aged in. Actually, I didn’t say that out loud, I just found it really boring. No, what’s interesting to me is that cheaper tequilas like your standard Jose Cuervos only use 51% agave, and the rest of their spirit is distilled from cheaper things like molasses. I decided that it would be interesting to see what the real thing tasted like, so this time I would be more discerning, and get something that was 100% agave. To make choosing easier, I’d get the cheapest thing I could find that was 100% agave. All I needed was an excuse to get to a proper booze shop.

And that chance came one Saturday when frankly, I wasn’t feeling on top of the world, and the wife and I had a few jobs to do. I needed some cheering up, and decided we’d call off at Carrington’s in Didsbury on our way to one of our errands in Stretford.

Unfortunately, Carrington’s is more of a wine shop really, but they are still better stocked with spirits than any of your supermarkets. It’s a shame though, that they keep them all out of reach, behind the counter. I approached, and making plain my requirements found they had three bottles that fit the bill. I’d allocated myself a budget of £30 on this occasion, so that eliminated the first one that came in at £38, leaving two at around £25. One was 10p cheaper than the other, but that one was also 2% lighter in alcohol at 38%, so I went for the slightly dearer one until… I noticed that one was only 50cl against the cheaper one’s 70cl. I could have stood there all day, wondering what to do, so I reverted back to my original plan. The extra 20cl made the cheaper tequila significantly cheaper, so that would be my winner. And the winner was… el Jimador – named after the people who cultivate, select and pick the blue agave plants it is made with. To be fair, the other bottle was far more attractive but rules is rules.

£25 is a bit more than I’d been expecting to pay, given the prices at The Whisky Exchange but remember, you have to add £5.49 P&P to the £19.95 that they charge for this particular brand, so it only cost me a matter of pence more.

It was to be a while before I would crack it open as, being a little under the weather, I knew I wouldn’t be able to taste it - I’d been using the preceding evenings to lighten the load of my slightly less premium spirits. Still, the next weekend would be something to look forward to, since I decided I’d crack it open at the poker night that accompanied this year’s end of year golf tournament.

And you can read about that next week.

Before that, it’s the weekend. Tonight I’ll be staying in with the missus, having a drink and watching telly like we do every night, but this time we’re calling it a date, so that makes it special. We’re just excited for the weekend, so that’s fine. Tomorrow on the other hand, is the latest in the long line of pub crawls that could almost make the basis of a flimsy bestselling novel, or a romantic comedy starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Matthew McConaughey, if pub crawls were romantic. They aren’t; they're about a group of lads getting drunk and talking shit, so if you only see one movie this year, it isn’t going to be that one.  Why do so many movie trailers start with, “This year…”?

This year… Paul has planned a route along the canal that runs through Manchester, so that should be fun.

Whatever you’re up to, have a good one.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Excuses for Drinking... Poker Night! part 1

Oh, hello there. I was just doing a bit of work. What’s that? Yes, you’re absolutely right; it is time for this week’s booze blog post. This week, it’s part one of a two part poker night double-header.
The poker night is synonymous with drinking, so for me, this was an excuse to finally crack open that bottle of Maker’s Mark that my brother-in-law had brought me over from Canada. Maker’s Mark is Kentucky bourbon (45% ABV), so it seemed appropriate to an extent to be drinking some American whisky while playing a game that is widely associated with America – Mississippi steamboats, cowboys and the like.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity to offload a few bottles that were almost finished, but that I frankly didn’t need anymore, and would relish the opportunity to replace. I’d had a small bottle of Brugal gold rum sitting on the top of the cupboard probably for around two years, and I just hadn’t found much use for it. Too good to use in cocktails, but not quite suitable for drinking on its own, it just sat there stagnating. That one had to go.

great bottle, disappointing brandy
Then there was the Courvoisier VSOP, that I’d bought with high hopes, only to be cruelly disappointed every time I tried it, and finally there was the remains of my Jose Cuervo Gold, that had frankly served me quite well. Well, now it’s gone, and I’m looking forward to an opportunity to try a different brand – preferably something 100% agave, but I’m sure there will be more about that in some future post.

We met at The Bull’s Head (David, Christian, Chris and me) for a quick pint (bottle of Newcastle Brown, in my case) before heading across the road to book a taxi to Dave’s. He’d already bought a deluxe poker set and picked me up some bottles of Double Maxim (4 for £6 – bargain) from his local Morrisons. I unloaded my booze, and prepared to make a start.

First on the agenda, a round of absinthe, prepared in the Bohemian style. That’s the one where you soak a teaspoon of sugar in the spirit before setting it alight and dropping it into a glass that already contains absinthe. Finally, douse the flames with a shot of water.

On this occasion I was far more successful than on any previous occasion I’d tried this. There were one or two minor outbreaks of fire, but I made sure to stir each glass thoroughly, thus ensuring that the sugar was fully dissolved into the drink. I necked mine, and it was actually quite nice.

That bottle of absinthe is almost entirely spent now. There may be enough for one more go though. I think I did quite well to get seven servings out of one 20cl bottle.

I wasn’t the only one to bring some interesting booze to the party. Midway through the first game David unveiled a mystery Chinese spirit that no one knew anything about. All the writing on the label was in Chinese, with the exception of the volume and ABV numbers – it was 52%, which was an exciting prospect. He said it had been a gift from one of his students. David is an academic in electrical engineering, so most of his students tend to be foreign. He often tells them to bring him a bottle of something the locals go for, and this was the result of one such transaction.

It was a completely clear liquid, and one that is clearly more suited to the far eastern palate than any of our western ones. I’ve tasted things like it before, but only things I’d picked up at random from the Chinese supermarket – specifically a can of bird’s nest soft drink, that I think was made with the spit of birds. I might have made that up at the time, having seen on a TV documentary once that a certain type of bird binds its nest together with spit. It has since become fact in my mind, so I’ll have to check it out next time I go.

Chinese spirit
The only picture that exists of this mystery spirit is provided by Dave. I’m afraid I didn’t think to take my camera, and the one on my phone doesn’t work. I’ve had a cursory search for “Chinese spirit” on Wikipedia, and it came up with this. There’s no real way of telling if this is the spirit in question, but it’s possible.

We did actually take the bottle with us to the Chinese takeaway that evening, to see if the people there could identify it. They couldn’t tell us what it was, but the lady suggested it may be worth around £200. I don’t think we can really trust that appraisal, given that she couldn’t identify it, but it was interesting nonetheless.

If the bottle was Baijiu, Wikipedia also reports that some brands go for as little as the price of a can of beer… so it could go either way.

We were already pretty smashed by the time we got to the Chinese, which made me having to play ‘guess which hand’ with the little girl there seem a bit weird, but you know, it was all fun.

After dinner (I literally just had salt and pepper chicken wings and salt and pepper spare ribs) it was back to the serious business of poker. We managed two games in all. I nearly won the first, but didn’t get anywhere near winning the second. I haven’t played many times in my life, and that’s how it always seems to go – nearly winning. We only played for a couple of pounds, so it was no great loss. In fact, I’m not even sure I paid my share because I didn’t have the right change.

After that it’s all a blur. I remember that we ended up walking part of the way back to town because we thought 45 minutes was too long to wait for a taxi. I don’t remember how we actually got to town, but I do know that Chris and I shared a taxi from town.

I also think I woke up in the night, feeling incredibly nauseous, but even of that I’m not certain. I woke up the next morning feeling like I weighed a ton. It’s not the worst hangover I’ve ever had, and in fact I was fairly compus mentus considering how much I’d had to drink. I was able to perform the day’s cleaning duties fairly well, but didn’t attempt much else.

Since that night, David has told me he’s come into possession of another bottle of the Chinese mystery spirit. He made the mistake of thanking his student, and saying it was nice. Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be polite.

Right! Well, I'm taking Mrs Cake out on a date tonight. Just dinner and drinks. We'll see where that leads (wink,wink) - probably to an argument and awkward silence! No. It'll be fun. We're looking forward to it. Good luck with whatever you have planned for the weekend, and see you next week!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Drinks with convicted killers, part 2: Scotch on the rocks with a twist

just one more thing...
Hey! Welcome to the second edition of Drinks with convicted killers. It’s a bit of a tenuous link this time, since the killer in question is fictional; it’s Vivian Dimitri from the Columbo episode, “Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo” (1990). In addition to that, I can't be absolutely sure that she was convicted. 

I’m a big fan of Columbo, so it’s nice to be able to feature it on my blog. The episode in question concerns a triple murder plot. First, our villain kills a colleague whom she holds responsible for ensuring her embezzling, murdering husband was locked away some years previously (by Columbo) then, while Columbo is investigating this murder, she plots to kill the elusive Mrs Columbo, because she wants the sneaky detective to understand the pain and loss she feels.  Assuming that all goes according to plan, she intends to finally kill Columbo himself.
Good luck with that! Our villain makes two basic errors in her assumption before making one really stupid error. First, she assumes she’s going to be able to get away with murder, and second that Columbo – a detective she’s already familiar with – isn’t going to be able to solve it, or even remember her from 8 years previously. Then, she assumes Columbo would accept a jar of homemade lemon curd from a murder suspect and give it to his wife – even after he has revealed that he knows who she is! Crazy! All he has to do is test it at the lab, and even if he can’t get her for the first murder, he’s got her for attempted murder.

Obviously Columbo isn’t the most tightly plotted show out there, and nine times out of ten his conclusive evidence isn’t going to stand up in court, but this time its flimsy logic may have been stretched just a little too far.

Well, after the first murder, but before the body has been discovered, the villain meets Lovejoy’s Ian McShane for dinner, and orders a ‘scotch on the rocks, with a twist’. My ears pricked up immediately on hearing this; interesting idea. I know I’m no whisky expert or anything, but scotch is supposed to be something you enjoy on its own (perhaps with a little water). I used to drink it with ice, back when I started, but it’s true: ice mutes all the various flavours and aromas. Drinking scotch with ice now is like drinking a mild scotch-flavoured ice water.

But… with a twist… interesting. It just so happened that I was watching this particular episode at a time when I’d got two cheap bottles of blended scotch on the go (Grant’s and The Black Grouse) - at least one of which I needed to polish off before I could justify opening a third (Dewar’s 12 Year Old) – and I’ve not been enjoying the Black Grouse. I certainly wasn’t averse to sticking a bit of lemon juice in there.

As expected, the ice dulled many of the Black Grouse flavours (though not all) and the lemon juice added a bit of a kick. I don’t really know if I’d recommend it, unless maybe you don’t like scotch, but if you don’t like scotch, why don’t you just drink something you do like? Eh?

Well, that’s that for this week. Writing for the blog has had to take a bit of a backseat recently, as I’ve been working on applying for a secondment. The amount of work it’s took has been mighty disproportionate, considering it’s only for 6 months, but it’ll be worth it if I get it – temporary pay rise, experience, change of scenery and… the chance to suit up on a daily basis. I don’t want to come over all Barney from How I Met Your Mother, but I’ve become a bit of  a suit fan since getting one made to measure for my wedding. If you would normally score yourself a 6 out of 10 let’s say, a good suit will nudge you up to a 36 out of 10. That’s you to the power of you. Sure, I could wear a suit every day in my current job, but I’d feel over-dressed.

Anyway, this weekend the little lady and I are entertaining the group of friends from work that I drink with from time to time. It’ll be all homemade curry and lots of booze, so it should be fun. I’m not looking forward to the washing up, but I am looking forward to the inevitable booze and food shopping. I’ll be needing cheap tequila for the margaritas, wine and enough cans of beer and cider for everyone, so let’s hope there’s some offers on at Tesco.

Whatever you’re up to; have a good ‘un and I’ll see you next week. Hopefully I’ll’ve had chance to work on some more stuff by then.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Weekend booze experiments: absinthe and Guinness

It’s been a while since I’ve done a ‘what I did at the weekend’ show and tell, but I figured this one was ripe for it. I went to see my friend Phil with a couple of ideas in mind, and we were able to give them a go. We emerged on Sunday morning wiser and slightly more fragile.

First on the agenda was cracking open that bottle of Fernando Ferrer Cardona absinthe I’d brought back from Ibiza. I mentioned it before in my honeymoonpost, and described some previous experiences with it – where I used the Bohemian Method – so it was high time to try the traditional French method, as described on Wikipedia.

I’ve also got a bit of a treat for you here – two high definition videos of the process. You’ll be able to hear us talking a bit of crap in the background (Phil swearing at the dog, for example), but try your best to ignore that.

The method then, is to pour a shot of absinthe into a glass, then place a sugar cube onto a slotted spoon, and hold it over the absinthe while dripping three to five shots of ice water onto the sugar cube.

A bit of improvisation and a bit more preparation proved necessary here. As you’ll hear me saying on one of the videos, the first problem was getting some sugar cubes. Most cafes these days provide those sugar sachets rather than cubes, and none of the ‘express’ supermarkets that it was most convenient for me to shop in have anything other than standard granulated sugar. It made a trip to the big Tesco in Burnage necessary, but that was fine (though I do refer to it as having been ‘a nightmare’ on one of the videos); they had sugar cubes, and it meant I was able to buy Phil his Best Man present while I was there; a bottle of Highland Park 12 year old – for my money the best value single malt scotch there is.

Sugar cubes procured, it was then a matter of finding something to use as a slotted spoon. I don’t have (nor have ever seen) anything quite like the examples shown on Wikipedia, but one evening while doing the washing up, I found a small sieve that Mrs Cake had been using for baking-related activities. I put that aside to take with me. For our North American readers, ‘washing up’ is what people who don’t have dishwashers do when they need to get their dishes clean.

Knowing that Phil has a propensity for forgetting things, I also made sure he made some ice cubes a good few days in advance.

On starting the experiment, we realised it would be hard to measure three shots of water poured from a jug (only having one jug), so Phil weighed in with a most impressive piece of improv; using a pipette that he normally uses to give his dog painkillers. He assured me that we wouldn’t be getting any painkiller residue with our absinthe, and away we went.

As Wikipedia led us to expect, the bright green absinthe started to turn cloudy as the sugary water brought out the oily elements that aren’t so soluble in water. You can see this in the second of the two films, which shows the process from below  - Phil has a glass table. The first film shows more of the method. I was also surprised to see the efficiency with which the ice water decimated the cube of sugar.

It wasn’t long before we had two glasses of absinthe, prepared in the French method. I’m not really sure whether you’re supposed to neck it or sip it at this stage, but given that I’ve taken to enjoying my spirits slowly and deliberately, I thought it would be good to try the absinthe in the same way.

I liked it at first, but that didn’t last. In future I think I’ll return to the more flamboyant Bohemian Method, which encourages you to just pour it down your throat like a character in an American film.

Despite adulterating the spirit to 17.5%, it was minging but we did feel a nice buzz. We grabbed a road beer, and headed into town to meet Gary for a bit of a pub crawl – but not before Phil insisted I try his Glenmorangie Lasanta, which I think was very nice – luxurious, nice body, pleasingly sour (just how I like my women!) – but it was hard to tell with the absinthe still casting its shadow over my taste buds.

Part two of the weekend experiment came during the pub crawl. While “researching” my Beer Glasses post, I had heard that there are people who can drink a whole pint of Guinness in three swigs. I don’t remember the exact wording, nor were there any specific instructions, but I am going to assume this means you are only allowed to swallow three times. It seemed like a good thing to have a go at.

I didn’t have any idea how easy or difficult this would be, so I entered the challenge with the attitude of a child for whom anything is still possible – you know; before the weight of the world has crushed your hopes and dreams. Well, I don’t really know now how this is done. I took the two biggest swigs I could, and the liquid consumed was frankly pathetic. I just downed the rest of the pint.

Gary used his turn to show us how he could pretty much pour a pint down his throat in under a second. It was mightily impressive, but clearly involved swallowing more than three times. Phil’s turn was more pathetic even than my attempt.

We forged ahead in a manner that only people who have downed a pint, and maybe a glass of absinthe can do – that is with reckless abandon and childlike exuberance. It was a fun weekend, and a good time was had by all.

This weekend is another big one for me, so hopefully there will be lots to tell you about afterwards. Tonight I have a Halloween party to attend, where I’ll be taking 8 cans of lager with me, in a proper old skool style, then tomorrow is the end of season golf tournament extravaganza. The weather won’t be ideal, but what that involves is one or two rounds of golf, followed (or divided) by a poker night (and hopefully some FIFA). It’s a good chance to dip into a couple of bottles of spirits, but I’m sure I’ll be covering that in some future post.

Whatever you’re doing, don’t forget your pumpkins, and have a good time.

Friday, 26 October 2012

What is it with whisky reviews? Part 2: Colour Classification

In a previous post I got all carried away with the phenomenon of whisky reviews; and by that I mean the way people dissect the flavour and scent of whisky and separate it into constituent parts – vanilla, cloves, red berries etc. If you didn’t see that post, you can have a shuffty here (it was only last week), or if you can’t be bothered with that, here’s a particularly evocative example from the Caol Ila website

Age introduces a golden colour and complexity to this mellow, amber Caol Ila. It starts smoky-sweet on the nose then drinks smoothly, showing a sweet yet sour character. The long-lived finish evokes a distant, smouldering beach bonfire.
Smoky bonfires, then soapy water and wet wool, with a smouldering beach bonfire in the distance. Hints of mineral oil, then wax. Develops scents of burnt pork sausages.
That one’s not actually that bad; it keeps the flavours listed to a minimum, and instead goes for more of a description, but still; you can see the sort of thing I’m getting at.

When I was writing the post, I was also ensconced in a book that you may have seen me make mention of a good few times already: Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. I remarked on how his reviews classify the colour of the whisky as well as the scents and flavours. So I thought it would be nice to follow up What is it with whisky reviews? by delving a little deeper into that.

colour charts
I am well aware, as I’m sure you are, that the colour of whisky can vary quite widely (within certain parameters – I mean, it’s never going to be green, is it?). What confuses me is how someone could look at one whisky, and say ‘that’s golden amber’, then look at another one and say, ‘that’s amber gold’.
Sure, the colour of some whiskies differ greatly from others, but it is also true that some are quite similarly coloured. ‘How does he do it?’ I asked myself. “Does he have a Dulux colour chart or what?

And thusly was an idea born. The next time I had a reason to go to B&Q (purchasing a blueberry bush for my sister’s housewarming present), I stopped by the paint aisle and collected all the colour cards that might represent the colour of whisky. These aren’t standard Dulux colours that you can buy in tins, but the ones you can have the staff mix up for you, and there were quite a serious number that might correspond to the colour of whisky. I ended up collecting 17 cards. Some were classed as yellows and some as reds. Oddly, the ones that were classed as gold weren’t anywhere near the colour of whisky. I say oddly because Buxton’s book has a good number of the whiskies classed as some form of gold or other. I stashed the cards in the pouch of my hoody, and took them home where they now sit in my booze cupboard awaiting any occasion I pour a glass of whisky.

I’ve never really found those B&Q colour swatches useful. Just as I find it impossible to taste a drink and say, “this tastes of cloves, fresh mown grass and mussels”, I have an inability to look at a 6.1 x 2.8cm block of colour and apply it mentally to a whole room. In addition to that, I’d contend that the paint looks a different colour on your walls than it does on the sample.

Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to apply an actual guide to help with classification. If I can also determine what the Dulux classification is for some whiskies that appear in the book; that will be great – of course it will ultimately be pointless, but nevertheless great. And maybe one day I can paint a room the same colour as one of my favourite whiskies, and maybe that will be all relaxing, and when I drink a glass of that whisky, I might feel like I’m swimming in it.

Actually, a few years ago, [I think it was] B&Q [who] ran an advertising campaign, the gist of which was that if you found a colour you wanted, you could take a sample of it, and they would mix up a paint of that colour for you. In one such advert, a woman liked the colour of a man’s hoody, and cut a chunk off of it with a pair of scissors. By that token, how cool would it be to take a bottle of whisky into B&Q, pour a glass, and say, “I want a paint in this colour”?

Now, in case you don’t already know, the recommended practice for appraising colour is to pour a glass, and then gaze at it against a white background. Until I read the 101 whiskies book, I hadn’t realised the point was that you could then try to decide what colour it was. I thought it was just so you could go, “that looks nice”. It always looks nice.

My first experiment was with the Dewar’s 12 Years Old, double aged that I picked up in Ibiza Airport’s Duty Free shop. I saw the other week that you can get 70cl in Sainsburys for the same price that I paid for a litre there. That seems to be how Duty Free works, in the main; 30cl extra free. It’s just a shame that sometimes you don’t want the extra. I’ll be a little more careful in Duty Free next time.

I poured a generous glass, held it up to my kitchen cupboard and cycled through my various colour cards, attempting to see which one matched most closely.

Dewar's 12 yo, golden bark 3
I was initially a little sceptical that I would find any exact match, but I think I did fairly well. I may not be quite on the money, but I think its close enough. Take a look at the picture, and see for yourself. So Dewar’s 12 Years Old, Double Aged is Golden Bark 3. I can’t compare this one to the Dewar’s in the book, because I got the wrong Dewar’s. The one in the book is “Special Reserve”. Oh well.

While I’m on it, I may as well give you a brief first impression of the Double Aged Dewar’s; I was impressed at first. You know that I don’t know how to describe flavours, but my first reaction was, “oh yes, that’s a classy taste”, but then the familiar blended scotch taste took over (must be the grain), and each succeeding sip was an attempt to repeat the experience of the first sip – mostly unsuccessfully. It seems I had become desensitised to it already. If that’s the way it stays, it looks like being a frustrating whisky. Time will tell. And then it will probably tell all over again. Litre frickin’ bottle, I don’t know.
Grant's, sulphur springs 3

I moved on, and was able to try a swatch test with my bottle of Grants’ just before I finished it. It’s a good deal lighter in colour than the Dewar’s, and came out as Sulphur Springs 3, as you can see. At that point I decided I’d try a few more before publishing my findings. Here they are in order of experiment:

Courvoisier VSOP

I couldn’t find a match for this one, but that’s ok as I didn’t get brandy coloured colour swatches. I thought I might find a match though, as in the bottle it looks a lot like whisky. In the glass it actually has a much more red tint than the whiskies I’ve tried so far.

Maker’s Mark

Maker's Mark - no match
No match this time, either. Ian Buxton describes it as amber, but I’m afraid I couldn’t get anything even near to it from Dulux. Interestingly, the St Remy XO brandy that Brenda brought me back from Paris is described on the St Remy website as amber in colour, and Caol Ila is described as amber in the example at the beginning of this post, yet there is a world of difference between these three.

The Black Grouse

This time I had another success, and with another blended scotch. The Black Grouse came out as Earth Glaze 3. It’s always ‘3’ it seems, so far. I don’t know what an earth glaze is – I would have expected that to be more of a brown, but there you go.

Black Grouse - Earth Glaze 3
Finally, the testing has proved to be quite fun, so I’ll keep it up for as long as it continues to be so. I’m not sure yet whether that will mean another specific post, or whether I’ll just throw a result into any article where I happen to mention a new whisky. So we’ll see.

Mrs Cake thinks I’m doing this just to facilitate my growing obsession with whisky, but I continue to protest that I’m just being silly, and that it is entirely for fun. Which it is really. Anyway, it’s her fault: she bought me the 101 Whiskies book in the first place.

That's it from me for this week, then. I expect I'll be back next Friday with something else. Have a great weekend, and here's hoping for some fun alcohol fueled adventures to write about in the near future.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Being Daft: What is it with whisky reviews?!

In one of my earliest posts I asked the question: why is alcohol so fascinating? I didn’t really have an answer at the time, nor did I look for one. It was more of a rhetorical question that I used in order to ease my way into the new blog. Because alcohol is fascinating, though it is only a drink and there are lots of other types of drinks in the world that aren’t nearly so interesting. What makes alcohol so special, besides its capacity to alter mood, boost confidence and transform one into a witty raconteur?

Since I asked that eternal question, I’ve read a lot of comments and blogs about different drinks and it occurred to me that my palate is remarkably uncultured in comparison to most other people who write about strong liquor. They seem to be able to taste and smell all kinds of different things within a glass of whisky – a whole host of different flavours and scents in one glass, while I just know whether I like it or not – and sometimes it takes me a whole bottle to decide that. I can tell that all the different whiskies smell and taste distinct from one another, but I lack the ability to separate the flavour of any particular whisky into the constituent parts that experienced reviewers can.

That’s always been the main reason that I don’t write straight reviews of drinks – apart from the fact that reviewing something you drink seems pretty pointless to me. It’s like when you see reviews of things like airports on the internet. Airports! Who gives enough of a shit about airports to actually review them? 

I don’t particularly want to start taking careful note of everything I’m experiencing and I’d much rather focus on anecdotal stories and mindless ruminations about booze than provide a list of flavours.

I don’t even know if a list of flavours is useful to anyone, or whether it just satisfies a person’s need to classify things. It just seems to take a lot of the fun out of it for me, as well as seeming to suggest that you can’t really be enjoying what you’re drinking unless you’re able to describe the experience in minute detail, unless you have the right kind of glass, and you follow the correct routine.  I certainly don’t want to sit there deciding what I can taste in every glass I drink, but maybe as time goes on, that’s what will happen… Maybe I won’t have to decide – maybe it will become obvious…

the glass I used to drink whisky from
Incidentally, the best account I’ve found of why the glass you drink your whisky out of is important can be found here. Not so long ago, I replaced the standard whisky tumbler type thing I was using with a smallish wine glass… and I have to say that there was a definite improvement. I have now become quite picky about the glass when I order a whisky away from home. It makes ordering more complicated, but it also makes the drink more enjoyable – and if you’re paying bar prices, you want to make sure it’s worth it.
the glass I now like to use

The flavour of liquor can be very complex - so complex that enthusiasts separate the experience into stages; generally some combination of nose, palate and finish, and these can all be very different. I enjoy the experience and appreciate the differences, and that’s enough for me. Ian Buxton’s book, 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die also classifies the colour – golden amber, mellow gold, molested apricot etc... Obviously whiskies all differ in colour from each other, but how the hell do you describe that colour? Is he working from a Dulux colour chart?  

I think the tendency to intellectualise though, is a natural human trait. Just liking something isn’t enough. You have to know why you like it, describe it, critically evaluate it, and then look down on people who don’t agree with you. You can see that in all spheres of human creativity; music, food, film, it even starts to proliferate further and further down the scale, elevating everything to the status of art. So, theatre devolves to film, film to TV, literature to comics, pictures of ladies in the nude to pictures of sexy ladies in the nude… doing dirty things… art seemingly to the simple act of doing something merely to provoke a reaction. We need to be able to say ‘this is great, but that is rubbish for these reasons’.

And so it went (probably) for alcoholic beverages like whisky. Way back in the beginning, I suppose whisky was made because people took pleasure in drinking it (getting drunk – though apparently it was first consumed as a medicine), but somewhere along the way a need developed to be able to compare and contrast, and then describe – and presumably to make better ones.  So you have people ascribing a list of flavours to whatever they drink. Sometimes they even agree with each other. The tasting has become more important than the getting drunk – which is actually a good thing; I can have a drink for enjoyment now, instead of for the buzz multiple drinks provide.

It does fascinate me though that those flavours that whisky experts are at pains to relate to us aren’t really there. They don’t put vanilla and cloves in whisky, but the flavours are there (apparently). Frankly, I should know. I’ve eaten cloves and cinnamon and a lot of those things that are used to describe the many flavours of whisky – and I don’t mean in food; I’ve eaten them whole, but I still don’t taste cloves in a glass of whisky. I wonder whether whisky reviewers have tasted them, or whether these terms are merely words that they have learned to apply practically. Or maybe my mind just can’t make the connection between a dry spice and an alcoholic beverage.

And how come a lot of these things are flavours that, in their actual state, are things I don’t like? Honey, butterscotch, citric zest…

One of the reviews I read (concerning Gibson’s Finest 12 Year Old Canadian whisky) reported the presence of crème brulee, oak, cedar, spicy pepper, cloves, citric zest, black fruits (?), strawberries and cream, fresh-cut wood, ginger ale, cinnamon, toffee, burnt sugar and molasses, while a review of Jura Superstition claimed to find mint and lightly smoked kippers.

Is this a competition to taste as many things as possible? Now I know for a fact that mint and lightly smoked kippers weren’t used in distilling. Lightly smoked kippers – not a slight taste of smoked kippers, but a taste of lightly smoked kippers! Is that even a good thing to be able to taste in whisky? “I’m a fan of the fishy malts…

These aren’t flavours that you grew up liking, so you have to develop an appreciation. Perhaps, once your subconscious is hooked, and you’ve started to like the flavours, this complexity that some people represent as a combination of so many commonplace (and some not so commonplace) flavours is what is so interesting.

Back when I started this blog I said that people don’t get obsessed with trying all the different colas that are available. Well, perhaps some people do, but I’ve never read a review of a cola that tried to dissect its flavours. Have you? It’s just cola flavour.

Well apparently, it does happen occasionally.

Check the entry for Virgil’s Cola – “With notes of vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, the cola smelled as good as it tasted”. Why is it always vanilla and cloves?!? If the flavour (and smell) of cloves is so desirable, why don’t we have a fizzy Cloveade drink? Why don’t we just make everything taste of cloves all the time, and we can all sit back and relax, revelling in the fact that everything tastes as good as it’s going to get, because it tastes of cloves? Who’d have thought cooking spices could make such tasty drinks? Forget your fizzy orange, make mine a fizzy cumin.

In order to put this practice of describing flavours and aromas to the test, I came up with a plan to make a list of a selection of the liquors I had available, and seek reviews of them. I made notes of the various flavours and scents they are supposed to impart, and the aim was to try each one with a copy of the notes on hand. As ever, I figured the method might develop as I went along, but my plan was to place a tick next to any taste or smell that I could detect from any of the reviews.

Unsurprisingly, this experiment was short-lived since the first time I sat down with my notebook and pen, I realised that this was the absolute antithesis of everything Drink it How You Like it stands for. It’s supposed to be fun, not meticulous! It’s supposed to be about enjoying alcohol, not classifying it. What am I turning intoooooo?!!

Did I detect any of these flavours? No, not really. Was I able to detect any single discernible flavour from whatever I was drinking? Again, sadly, no – unless you count whisky as one – does that count?  I could definitely taste whisky. Does that mean I am enjoying this whisky less than anyone else? I don’t think so. Maybe I can’t tell you exactly what you’re going to experience when you drink it, but why should you want that? You’re supposed to experience things for yourself, and take from them whatever you get.

Does it mean I’m not doing the tasting properly? Again, no – I’m not just knocking it back. I swirl it round the glass, stick my nose in there (I actually also like to breathe into the glass, through my nose to stir up the vapour before inhaling until my eyes water slightly – that way you get the taste in your nasal passages and your mouth at the same time), have a little think, take a sip, roll it around, enjoy it (I also like to suck a little air through the whisky on the front of my tongue), swallow, and enjoy it some more. Yes, I look like a twat when I drink whisky. It’s difficult to enjoy whisky with friends because you can’t talk when you’re tasting it. Someone asks you a question, and you have to mime, ‘hang on a minute, I just need to finish tasting this mouthful’, by which time whatever your answer is doesn’t seem relevant anymore. In general conversation with a person, have you ever thought of something that it would be possible to say, but you’re not sure whether to say it because a) it might not be funny or b) it might be misconstrued, and by the time you’ve finished deciding whether to say it or not, you realise that the moment in which you could have said it was very small, and has in fact expired already? You might wonder what would happen if you said it anyway, but you think about that too, and realise that for some reason it wouldn’t make any sense at all anymore. You might find this happening more frequently if you become a bit more considered in your whisky tasting.

You might say, ‘other people’s reviews give me an idea of whether I will like a whisky’. I don’t even think that’s the case. If someone says a whisky is good, I’m likely to give it a try, but you cannot deny that people’s tastes vary so much that what amounts to an unpleasant taste to one person is delicious to another – you see this anywhere that you find a number of reviews of one product from different people. And they say there are no right or wrong answers anyway…

So what’s the point? Is it just a vehicle for someone to feel more knowledgeable than someone else? Or is there actually anything useful about it? I can only tell you what I think, and at the moment I’m not bothered how many flavours people can taste in a whisky and what they are. I’m more interested in trying it for myself, and getting the visceral experience of enjoying a whisky immensely, enjoying every drop to its fullest extent. Reviews can act as a reference point to try and determine what your next purchase should be, and they can be interesting, but I tend to think that lists of flavours is overdoing it.

I guess ultimately, it’s not just a case of snobbery, or wanting to seem knowledgeable, or intellectualising something. Imagine if two people meet who both like whisky. Perhaps they want to talk about whisky. Well, if a language and culture develops around whisky, then they can. Conversation isn’t limited to, “I like this whisky, I don’t like this one.” They can actually go on to discuss the topic in depth, and we’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that this is worthwhile. Sharing experiences usually is worthwhile.

Irrespective of that, my point is when you find a new interest, it can seem like there’s a lot to take in, like there’s an exclusive club that no one wants you to be part of. But there isn’t. It just means there’s a lot to learn, and learning is a big part of the fun. Just don’t think you aren’t allowed to have your own opinions or to disagree. And don’t let it put you off.

I am starting to develop a more sensitive palate. I may have detected a scent of nuts in a glass of Highland Park 12 year old, and the other night I thought maybe I could smell pears in a glass of wine, so I guess it’s just practice – but there’s no pears in there! Or nuts! Let’s just hope I stop short of bombarding you with a list of random flavours.

classy bottle
Thanks for reading another rambling and ill-conceived treatise on the delights of strong alcohol. I might return to this theme once in a while just to humorously highlight the odd flavours people are finding in their booze – maybe I’ll even find some of my own.

Here’s a good one from Spirit Journal’s review of a favourite of mine, Bruichladdich Rocks:

Nose: fruitcake, banana nut bread, sweet malt. 7 minutes later, crispy pork rind, sweet oak, vanilla, red grapes and blackberry jam.

I love how specific some of those things are – crispy pork, and seven minutes later.

So moving forward, let’s not attempt to belittle or look down on this. Let’s celebrate it. Tell me what mad flavours you can find in your strong alcoholic drinks. And don’t make them up! I’m serious. Let’s see how creative and sensitive to flavour you are.