Friday, 29 June 2012

Shower Drinking

People who know me quite well know that sometimes I like to take a drink into the shower with me. I like to think of it as representing a kind of attitude, living the dream, doing it your own way. Yes, I am a maverick. I don’t really think of it like that; I just think it’s cool.

It started when I was at university. Sometimes I’d already be drinking a beer, but I’d need to have a shower in advance of going out and, not wanting to leave any dead space in the drinking, it didn’t take much imagination to conceive of the idea of shower drinking. Innovation – it’s what separates us from the animals.

These days it’s less about preventing interruptions in the drinking, and more about enhancing the experience of having a shower – just as having a drink might enhance the experience of sitting in the garden. It’s particularly good if you’ve just gotten in from some heavy exercise, or you’ve played a round of golf in sweltering heat. Let’s face it; there’s nothing better than having a beer when you’re proper thirsty, when you just feel like guzzling it down, until the bubbles burn your throat and you’re ready to stop, then you stop and go: Aaaaaaaaah! If you’re proper thirsty and need a shower: shower drinking. Essentially, it’s kicking back and relaxing - like having a whisky and a cigar on the patio - but you’re getting a job done at the same time, and it doesn’t feel like a job anymore. Afterwards you’ve got a proper beer buzz, because you drank it so fast.

You don’t have to limit your shower drinking to beer, either. You can take anything in there; it just helps to make sure the shower facilities are suitable. Beer is good because it comes in a can, so your liquid is protected from the shower water, and you don’t have to worry about breakages. At home we have a shower cubicle, so I can set the can down on one of the corners.

Stronger liquors are more of a risk, since you generally have to drink them out of a glass, so it means you have to weigh up the risk of breakage and possible injury. Also, if you take it with ice, you need to drink a bit quicker since the heat from the shower may cause it to melt into your drink too quickly. You could use a hip flask I suppose, but I prefer to keep those for covert, out of home drinking (perhaps the showers in the swimming baths?). Drinking from a hip flask around the house is just a bit weird. I suppose you could always innovate in other ways – sippy cups and the like.

Few showers are ideally equipped for shower drinking, but that’s part of the fun – the challenge of making it work, and coming out on top. When I was on a golf holiday in Spain, I’d take a glass of brandy (Cardinal Mendoza Solera Gran Reserva ) into the shower with me, and there were no shelves at all in there, not even one of those awkwardly shaped ones that are designed to hold soap. Luckily the shower space was fairly large, so I was able to set it on the edge at the bottom, far enough away from the cascading water to ensure that there was no contamination. You wouldn’t want any soap suds dripping in, would you? Perhaps that’s what those little cocktail umbrellas are for…

Try it. And tell me if there’s anywhere unusual that you like to take a drink. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Coming up this weekend... the Greater Manchester Cider and Perry Festival

This weekend of 22/23 June sees Manchester’s Palace Hotel hosting the Greater Manchester Ciderand Perry Festival. I’m highly likely to be there at some point - for however long - since I’m out on Saturday for an unofficial pre-stag do sort of thing - all for one of my ushers who can’t make the real thing.

The festival is organised by CAMRA, and is almost certain to be well attended. If previous CAMRA events are anything to go by, it will be wall to wall with beardy, middle-aged sandal wearers and thirty-something graduate types – among others, of course. It’s usually a good crowd. The only negatives can be just how busy CAMRA festivals do tend to get - combined with a lack of toilet facilities and compounded by the tendency to run out of product well before the allotted closing time. So get there early! It’s £3 on the door, or £2 if you’re a member. That represents pretty good value.

If you want to know more about ‘real’ cider and perry, check the ‘About Cider and Perry’ section of the festival’s website. It seems CAMRA have drawn up a number of requirements that need to be met if a beverage is to be considered real cider/perry. These include the stipulation that it must not be carbonated, pasteurised, micro-filtered or made from concentrate juice.

As a result, they don’t consider pretty much any brand of cider you’ve heard of to be ‘real’ (sit down Aspall, Bulmers, Dry Blackthorn, Gaymer’s, Kopparberg, Magners, Scrumpy Jack, Strongbow and Woodpecker - all of which feature on their list of ‘ciders that CAMRA does not recognise as being real’ – in a qualitative sense rather than an existential one, I’m sure), but they do recognise that the marketing budgets of these artificial products have helped to raise the profile of real cider. I suppose if people try a Magners, like it, and then decide to try a different cider some time, and the one they pick happens to be a real cider, that’s all well and good. Whether they prefer the real cider, many of which have that special taste of the farmyard in my opinion, is another matter. Nevertheless, more real ciders are more readily available, so if you like booze, you’re winning.

I’m not sure where Stella Artois’ new Cidre figures with CAMRA, but I’m guessing: not real.

My own personal feeling about real cider is that I’m all for it. I don’t view the ‘artificial’ types with disdain as CAMRA do, but I do like a bit of alcoholic variety. How important is it that cider is made in the traditional way? To me, not very as long as an enjoyable drink is the result, and some ‘artificial’ ciders are enjoyable, even refreshing while some real ciders are heavy, pungent and hard to drink.

Is the issue that appley alcoholic drinks shouldn’t be allowed to be called cider if they don’t fulfil the criteria? Are those criteria nitpicking? Is it an obstinate attack on the power of marketing, globalisation, capitalism itself? Is ‘cider’ such an aspirational label anyway? These are rhetorical questions all. It is only CAMRA’s view that certain drinks shouldn’t be called cider. HM Revenue andCustoms aren’t quite so stringent, but in 2010 they decreed that to be calledcider, a drink must contain at least 35% apple or pear juice and have apre-fermentation gravity of at least 1033 degrees, in order to prevent cheap,high alcohol content drinks taking advantage of cider’s lower duty rates. I’ve no idea what pre-fermentation gravity is, and frankly it looks too complicated to bother getting my head round right now, but once again, thanks to Wikipedia for the factual information.

CAMRA certainly favours the small producer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good that there are people who are willing to promote and attempt to preserve traditional products and techniques. I just don’t think you need to get all snooty, and look down on things that don’t meet your standards – and that’s the impression CAMRA gives sometimes. Just because a drink has been, for example, artificially carbonated, doesn’t make it worse than another drink. Whether you prefer the taste or not is up to you. Nor do I think it is just marketing that makes people drink ‘artificial’ ciders. They wouldn’t continue to drink them if they didn’t like them.

A pint of real cider might not necessarily be as enjoyable as a pint of Magners (or it might be – that’s up to you), but it’s certainly more interesting. You wouldn’t go to a cider festival where ‘artificial’ ciders were all they had, would you? I wouldn’t – you only need one or two artificial ciders before you’ve run the whole gamut (if you’ll allow me to make a sweeping generalisation…) - so I’ll certainly be popping along to enjoy a few farmyard delights on Saturday. See you there.

Now, I know I promised to be more forthcoming with the booze porn this week, but I don't have any pictures of cider... nevertheless, here's a random picture from my file that probably won't fit in any other post, so enjoy. 

Have a great weekend, and see you next week. I'm not sure what I'll be posting then.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Booze Pawn

It’s been another busy week for me, but last week I intimated that I might tell you what happened in the boozy chess I’d had planned. Well, the least I could do is try to fulfil that… intimation.

I’d been needing to restock my booze collection for a while so, though times are hard, I budgeted to buy bottles of gin and dark rum for the chess match. The only dark rum on offer at Asda was Captain Morgan, so I was happy enough to go for that, since I need it for mixing (and necking) more than anything else. As for gin, I’ve perused the selections at a few supermarkets over the last few weeks, and gin is just something I can’t get excited about. Not even wanting to spend £12 on a bottle of Gordon’s, I decided to try some really cheap stuff – Richmond Gin. Less than £10. We’ll see how that works out. Again, it is primarily for mixing, so it can’t go too wrong.

I had also decided the chess might be a good chance to rid myself of some of the things I’d been in possession of for far too long so, along with the obligatory bottle of vodka (Red Square), I also took my Tesco Value Brandy and my crap bottle of scotch (Glen Moray). It would have been nice to take something of quality for people to try, but in boozy chess it’s all about necking shots, so you don’t want to drink anything you could actually enjoy; that would be a waste – and potentially an incentive to lose pieces.

The chess passed off fairly successfully, though it was interrupted at one point by a dog fight – in the same room that the chess was taking place in. I’m not getting into all that. Despite the fight’s proximity to our chess game, none of the pieces were disturbed. Gav and I were just discussing what a relief that was when the wagging tail of the victorious dog pugilist knocked four of our pieces off the board. Between us, I think Phil and I managed to put them all back in the same place, but that was a definite, slow motion “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!” moment.

To be fair, even accounting for those things, conditions weren’t ideal. While Phil and I duelled mentally, Gav was noisily playing on the Xbox and Phil wasn’t paying any attention to the chess etiquette that says players shouldn’t talk to each other once the game has started – and they especially shouldn’t say things like, “you can win this in two moves” – whether you can or not – which, for the record, I couldn’t.

So, I know what you’re wondering; how much did the alcohol affect the game? Well, I must say it affected the concentration a little, but it’s hard to say, what with all the other distractions and the fact that we didn’t start with a level playing field. My plan had been for both players to start from a base of complete sobriety, but by the time we got back to Phil’s I was thirsty and itching for a beer, and Phil was desperate for me to try the 10 Canes rum that he’d been saving a couple of shots of. So it was more of a rolling start, really.

I’d certainly be up for playing again – with or without the lubrication. It was a pretty fascinating game- I lost (drinking 11 shots in the process) due to failing to protect my left flank and trying to bolster an attack when putting my opponent’s king in check might have been more beneficial in the long run. I guess I won’t know that for sure. Needless to say, we both made mistakes, and there were points where it could have gone either way.

At five o clock, we were done. I immediately drank about 3 pints of water, knowing that a little stamina would be required for the remainder of the evening. We headed into town (Sheffield), and continued with the drinking.

If you are thinking of trying boozy chess, allow me to make just a couple of recommendations. First, do try to start with a level playing field, and second, have something to do afterwards – if you’ve loaded up on alcohol, it’s good to be able to head out with your booze buzz already active. You don’t get to town still needing to get up to speed because you’re already wa-a-a-ay ahead, and ready to lead the conga line all the way down West Street.

That’s it for this week. Apologies for the lack of booze porn. I didn’t feel inspired to take any photos during the chess, and I haven’t even got a picture of the Richmond Gin or Captain Morgan rum for you yet. I’ll try and do better next week, when I think I’ll be discussing the phenomenon of ‘real’ cider in lieu of the upcoming Greater Manchester Cider Festival. See you then.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Weekend Activities

Happy Friday, everyone.  I’m afraid this week’s post is going to be something of an unfocused affair. Why? Because things are happening. And because I’ve been very busy this week, so I haven’t had time to work on all the posts I would have liked to have been able to consider for publication.

So, what is it that’s happening? Well, for one thing, the 2012 European Championships start tonight, so that’s very exciting, even though anticipation here in England has been particularly muted. It’s almost like we’re not expecting to win, or something.

I had a massive post planned for the Euros, but it was long, rambling and frankly, nothing that hasn’t been said before, so all you need to know is that it’s happening and I’ll be watching as much as possible. Brenda, you’ve lost me for three weeks. Oh – and I’ve drawn Greece in the work sweepstake, so that’s £2 I won’t be seeing again.

What else? It’s the weekend of Brenda’s hen-do, so I’ve been asked to vacate the premises for the weekend and allow all manner of girly things to take place – pillow fights in lingerie, probably. It means we can take a break from the DIY, and I can pop over to Sheffield to visit Phil for some drinking, maybe some golf and – more importantly from the perspective of this blog – boozy chess.

Yes, I’ve been planning it for a while, but it’s surprising how few people actually play chess, so this weekend will be my first opportunity to try it out.

I’m not immensely experienced at drinking games (just the drinking part), but it seems to me that they are based around the idea that games are fun, alcohol is fun and games are more fun when mental and physical capabilities are impaired by consumption of alcohol. It’s like fun to the power of fun.

Chess though, is a tough game, and I’m expecting it’s even more so when your brain wants to go to sleep under alcohol sedation. I’m not sure how this is going to work as yet – do you drink for the pieces you take, or when your pieces are taken? Well, I guess that will be up to me.

I think the ramifications for possible tactics are quite interesting. If your opponent is a more skilled player than you, and the rule is that your opponent drinks when you take their pieces, a good tactic might be to quickly take as many of their pieces as possible, and rely on the alcohol impairing their ability to coordinate attacks while effectively defending their king… but I guess you’d still need the basic ability to protect your own pieces… and build attacks. Such a kamikaze approach could just as easily backfire, since taking pieces willy-nilly invariably leads to losing your own pieces.

An interesting variation would be that you have to drink when you take a piece, such that taking a piece is both an advantage and a disadvantage.

I would expect that achieving a definitive outcome among two moderately skilled players who are taking the game seriously, quickly becomes impossible since chess is all about forward planning and coordinating attacks while ensuring your king is safe. It requires intense concentration, and because of that, I don’t expect we’ll play more than the one game. So for this first time, the rule will be drink when you lose a piece.

With most drinking games, you know roughly what is going to happen before you start – you just don’t know how much fun it’s going to be. With a game as fiercely tactical as chess though, I can’t really imagine what twists and nuances might result. It seems to me like the sort of drinking game that would benefit from repeated playing, since you could base your tactics on experience of how the alcohol affects the game. So this will hopefully be the first of many. My original idea was to have a four player knockout tournament – two semi finals followed immediately by a final, all played in one evening so how well you win your semi-final has a direct effect on your performance in the final. I’m still recruiting for that.

The chess game in this picture looks particularly impressive - all those different glasses representing the different pieces. In that scenario you have one side drinking white liquids, and the other drinking dark liquids. It does have a drawback though; in most chess games you have a number of pieces left at the end (unless you’re both completely crap at chess and end up with two pieces chasing each other round the board…), so you’re going to be left with some drinks that have been poured, but not drunk. Potentially the game could be over with very few pieces removed – I had a non-alcoholic game with Brenda recently, and I only lost 5 pieces in total, so that would have left me with 11 untouched drinks. And how are you supposed to remember which glass represents which piece when you're halfway through the game, you've had a few drinks and the pieces are all moved from their squares?

To deal with the practicalities and guard against wasted booze, I’ll be using ordinary chess pieces, though I haven’t decided yet whether to have different drinks relating to different pieces. Pawns could be a shot of vermouth, more valuable pieces could be a shot of rum, and the queen could be a double, I suppose. I think this time I’ll just stick with one drink, but maybe next time… you never know. Using ordinary chess pieces won’t look as cool, but you don’t need 16 identical glasses for your pawns and then 3 different sets of four and one set of two, all that fit onto a chess board – you don’t need a glass for the king, since that piece is never taken.

My plan is to get the boozy chess out of the way fairly early in the evening, so that we can ride the booze buzz into town for a few hours. Money is tight this month, but I think I’ve budgeted effectively enough for that… until one of those unexpected expenses pops up.

Next week I’ll be back with a new booze related post, and I’ll try to provide an update on how the chess turned out – if it’s interesting enough to talk about. I’ll leave you with a link to a variation on booze chess, in case you want to try that. It sounds pretty hardcore, so if you do, let me know how you make out.