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.