Friday, 24 May 2013

The Devastating Power of the Hangover

If you’re under 30 and you’re reading this, you’re probably going to wonder what on earth I’m banging on about, but just heed this warning: you’ll find out one day, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.

To you, having a hangover probably just means lethargy, a slight headache, and a hankering for a fried breakfast and Lucozade. Just you wait, mi’laddo.

I was the same as you once. I didn’t get hangovers. Drinking too much just meant an extra long lie in the next day. Hell, I used to get drunk and get up at 7 for work – at least three times a week. Sometimes, for good measure, I’d get a helping of the giggles at some point during the day.

All that changes when you get into your mid thirties. Hangovers last two to three days, but after the first day they’re imperceptible, and you only realise you were hungover on the fourth day, when you feel normal again. My hangovers these days affect my whole outlook, perception of reality and conception of the future. And like it or not I’m wide awake at 7am, feeling like shit.

The first sign that your hangovers are increasing in severity is getting the anxiety. The anxiety is bad. Something isn’t quite sitting right. You’re not sure what it is, in fact, as far as you know everything is fine. You didn’t embarrass yourself or upset anyone, but for some reason you feel anxious, and the feeling won’t go away. It’s even worse if you did embarrass yourself or upset someone. Sure, at least then you know there’s a reason for feeling that way, but the import of the situation just gets blown way out of proportion until it seems like you’ve committed the most heinous crime imaginable, someone’s going to find out, and the whole world is going to come crashing down on you.

The final stage – or at least, the final stage I’m aware of so far (I hope it doesn’t get worse than this) – is the extended hangover. Usually it’s brought on by heavy drinking on two consecutive days.

The first hangover day will be more or less fine. You might be thirsty and anxious, though you could also have a headache and feel nauseous. The second day, you’re feeling physically better, but you’re just… so… tired. And because you’re tired, you feel heavily depressed, but that’s ok; it’s just because you’re tired.

The third day is the killer. By this time you’re not expecting to be hungover any longer and the drinking session(s) took place long enough ago that you’ve actually forgotten it/they took place. You have no physical symptoms whatsoever, but emotionally, you’re a wreck. Paranoid, forlorn, hopeless. Everything is crap, you don’t want to talk to anyone, you can’t get any pleasure out of anything. What is pleasure anyway? What’s the point in it? Why do you feel this way?

As I say, the day after that, it’s like you’ve been reborn. The world is normal again, there is a future after all. This is when you realise that it was all just a symptom of alcohol poisoning. You will resolve never to have two heavy sessions in a row again – some people might even vow never to drink again, but you’ll forget, and it will happen again. The only question is how many times will it take before you say enough is enough and mean it.

Because alcohol is poison, it’s just that alcohol poisoning’s early symptoms include a heightened sense of fun, increased confidence and the ability to be witty and charming. Then, when you enter the later stages, you have to experience not just the absence of these qualities, but a negative effect that isn’t just opposite, but disproportionate also.

I haven’t reached the quitting stage yet, and I’d better not or this blog is really going to suffer. Sometimes two days’ heavy drinking turns out to be necessary. Luckily, if you’ve gotten to this stage, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Here’s some knowledge for you.

First, you can moderate your drinking. I know, that sounds boring, but one day you’ll realise not only that you need to moderate your drinking, but also that you can – and I’m not talking moderate in line with what the government tells you, just more moderate than nuts out, kamikaze style drinking.

When you’re young it’s easy to spend the whole night chaining one drink after the next, but you’ll see it is possible to not have a drink in your hand sometimes, and it isn’t going to mean you have less fun. It’s just that sipping a drink is a good way to fill awkward gaps in conversation (should you be prone to these), and having to go and get another drink is a good way to get out of awkward conversations altogether.

Second, you can try to avoid consecutive heavy drinking sessions. As I say, sometimes it turns out to be necessary, but you can just try a little harder. When you’ve got a big Saturday night planned, and friends coming over in advance on Friday night, it’s very easy to make Friday night a big night, too. Just get your friends to come over on Saturday instead, or just have a couple of drinks on Friday. If you’re going on a three day (or more) stag do, or it’s the Christmas period where you’ve got so many friends and colleagues and so little time, just forget it. You’re going to have to prepare yourself for the worst.

Third, drink a big glass of water for every two or three alcoholic drinks you have. I know, this sounds a bit soft, but it will keep you going longer, and ensure your hydration levels are sufficient – and you’ll still have just as much fun, possibly even more. And you’ll be able to remember more of it.

If you fail to drink water periodically, the final thing you can do is make sure you drink at least two pints of water before you go to bed. Your body is going to be dehydrated the next day, and the only way to prevent that is to rehydrate before you go to bed. If you don’t, the next day you can drink as much water as you like, but it isn’t going to make you feel any better. The drawback with this one is that drinking two pints of water is difficult, and on top of that, it’s easy to say, I’ll be fine, I didn’t drink that much, or just black out and wake up the next day when it’s already too late. If you can remember though, you’ll be surprised at how effective this is.

There isn’t really anything you can do when the hangover has already kicked in. Some will tell you a greasy breakfast will sort you right out, but that always makes me feel worse. Having a beer might help, but you’re going to have to continue drinking after that, and it could make you feel nauseous and tired. Nor is it going to prevent days two and three of the hangover. Lucozade might help, but again, only for the first day. As for hard liquor, that just doesn’t taste very nice until you’ve recovered – so you’d be wasting it, and that’s worse still – and probably a fast-track to alcoholism, which isn’t the same as alco-thusiasm.

The all-consuming hangover is something you’re going to have to get used to if you’re going to stay committed to drinking, but you can take it. And if you can’t, you know what to do.
photo by Mrs Cake

 This week’s post is particularly relevant for me, since last weekend I attended my first three day music festival for quite a few years; Bearded Theory. At festivals you pretty much have to forget about considerations like moderation and drinking water, and just drink alcohol from the moment you wake to the moment you pass out face-down on your inflatable mattress – as far as I’m aware, it’s the only way to keep your energy levels up when you wake up on that first morning, at 7am, in a tent that’s so hot it makes your upper lip burn… and you need to go to the toilet so bad that you actually can’t move without feeling you’re going to burst. Oh, and your head weighs a ton.

Mrs Cake tried the practice of drinking water before bedtime (she’s become a real convert recently) and asked an official whether the water taps contained drinking water. He said he was 95% sure it was safe to drink, but that wasn’t enough for me.

So drink from morning till night was pretty much what I did last weekend, and boy did I pay for it earlier this week. Other circumstances didn’t help – such as the fact that we had to get up and leave the campsite at 6.30 on the Monday morning because we needed to be back home for 9 in case the guy from Parcelforce came to collect the piece of furniture we were returning to the supplier that early.

It’s a good job I wasn’t driving; I could barely keep my head up. On top of that, we’d been drinking Thornbridge Breweries' Jaipur IPA (5.9% ABV), which is fricking awesome, and it had turned both our insides to foul smelling mush.

On Tuesday morning when I returned to work, I thought I was ok, but I did that thing where you read an urgent e-mail… and panic. I just felt overwhelmed and couldn’t cope with all the e-mails that had come in on the two days I’d taken as leave. Then I had a high-powered finance meeting, and couldn’t remember the most basic thing from the week before that I definitely knew about.

‘I wouldn’t know about that £400,000 underspend’, I said. Oh shit, yes I would…. Too late.

You can’t say, 15 minutes later, “can I just interrupt? You know that thing we were talking about before? Yeh, I’m on it.” I mean, you can, but not when you’re the least senior person in the room.

For the rest of the morning I was chasing my tail around rabidly, overreacting to things, forgetting things, sweating like an 80s childrens’ tv presenter - until I had lunch, and equilibrium started to reassert itself. I remembered things aren’t so important, work’s not so hard, I work at a university. Aaaand relax.

By Thursday afternoon, it turned out that I hadn’t overreacted to one of the urgent e-mails, and I was actually in trouble, which wasn’t nice. For once, something I had worried about actually came to pass, but as on this occasion I had decided it was the hangover early on, I hadn’t wasted two days worrying about it – so that was good. I’m such a worrier normally.

I think the hangover kicked back in once I got in trouble and got back home. I decided to watch the Oh My Dayum Burger Song on Youtube, to cheer me up, and ended up crying tears of joy. I love that video.

Then I finished watching a documentary called Project Nim, where they put these chimps that had learned sign language into a medical testing facility. One of the scientists said that they noticed the chimps were signing, and wrote down what they were saying… and one of the things was “hug”… I started booing and laughing at myself at the same time.

“You’re such a sensitive soul,” said Mrs Cake.

Sure, you could go to a festival and drink sensibly, or not at all, but how are you supposed to have fun standing in a field all day? The real question here is was it worth it? And yes, it was. Mrs Cake and I had a terrific time. We drank a lot, watched some good bands (shout outs to Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and Asian Dub Foundation) and had a laugh rapping and singing our way back to our tents and hanging out with some very good friends.

I also learned not to bother buying Carlsberg again. I haven’t bought it for years anyway, but knowing I needed to buy in bulk, and seeing 12 cans at Aldi for £8, I thought a couple of cases of that would do. I forgot to check whether it met my usual requirement for at least 4% alcohol (preferably much greater), and realised there was no wonder I was fully compus mentus after downing cans for breakfast – it’s only 3.8! It’s a good job I’d also took some Sagatiba Cachaca (38% ABV), M & S White Rum (37.5% ABV) - but that’s a story for another time - and that there were two beer tents selling a selection of Thornbridge ales at very reasonable prices. Because you are allowed to take a ‘moderate’ amount of your own alcohol to the festival for your own consumption, there weren’t even any queues in the beer tents.

Let me leave the subject of hangovers and Bearded Theory then with a few sights and moments that I found particularly memorable:

-          A man in a motability scooter who had the biggest hip flask in the world… but couldn’t get the cap loose. I had to tell him his flask was awesome.

-          A mother of 5 dancing to New Model Army, whose kids seemed to be asking each other, “what’s wrong with mummy?”

-          Emerging from the portaloo to announce to Mrs Cake in song, “here I am/ the biggest douche in the universe!”

-          Serenading our friend Victoria for a long time with, “V to the I to the C to the T! O to the R to the I to the A! Victo-o-o-o-ria! Vic-to-o-o-o-ria!” and later, beatboxing my way through the campsite.

-          Asian Dub Foundation reminding me why I liked them so much in the 90s.

-          A girl floating around in a pool in one of those orb things, wearing a pair or red lacy knickers, and everyone watching in disbelief – the men thinking, is she old enough for this to be ok? And the women, I am shocked and appalled. At one point it looked like even the girl was thinking, why is everyone looking at me?

-          Finally, all the nice, happy people who made the whole thing so much fun.  
another pic by Mrs Cake
I strongly suspect we’ll be attending Bearded Theory again in the future. I might even get over my middle aged aversion to festivals and go to some others. To be fair though, Bearded Theory was a nice size and well organised – many others are branded, strict on alcohol rules, and have nasty toilets. So we’ll see.

In other news, it’s another bank holiday weekend. I’m thinking of pitting two cheap supermarket brands of white rum against each other tonight, and can’t wait to get some more whiskies inside me. It could be time to open that Suntory Hakushu 12. I’ve got golf on Saturday morning, a Jeffrey Lewis show on Saturday night and a housewarming party on Sunday, so it looks like it’s going to be good. I’m going to try to enjoy my extended weekend, I hope you enjoy yours. Check back next week for another post.


Thursday, 16 May 2013

Homemade flavoured vodkas... by Paul and Victoria

Shortly after the missus and I returned from honeymoon, we came across a copy of Maxim magazine that had been left behind by my new brother-in-law. In it were instructions on making your own flavoured vodka. Apparently it’s as simple as dropping fruit or spices (or whatever) into a bottle, and leaving it in a cool dark place for two weeks.

Now, I was never really interested in making my own flavoured vodka because I haven’t really worked out what the use of it is yet, but it definitely seemed like the right time for me to find out because one of the best presents the wife and I received on our wedding day was a selection of homemade flavoured vodkas from our friends Paul and Victoria. They were beautifully presented (as you can see), and came in lavender, rosemary, cinnamon and vanilla flavours.

“Well!” I said, “You’ve found the perfect gift for me! What have you brought for Brenda?”

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to start dipping into them, and waited only until the night after our wedding before randomly plucking the lavender one from the basket, and pouring it into a hotel-issue glass.

Lavender is a weird flavour though, isn’t it? Who eats lavender? Oddly enough, I’d had some lavender flavoured ice cream at Room just two days prior to receiving this gift, and that was a strange experience.

There were three scoops of different flavours, and the waitress had asked me if I wanted to know what they were before she brought them out. I said no, and it turned into a guessing game. Lavender was the first one I tried, and it just seemed so unusual that it fooled me into thinking I didn’t recognize it for a moment.
I suppose I had a vague recollection of what lavender at least smelled like because, when I was studying for my university exams, my mum heard lavender would help with concentration, and left a little glass of it in my room (to sniff!?). One day my dad saw it, and thought it was weed - which was funny because there probably was weed in my room, just not there. Funnier than that is that they found my stash, ripped Rizla packets and all twice and didn’t even realise what it was. My parents are old-school and believe all the government has told them about recreational drugs. Just like in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I think the “high and beautiful wave” of freedom and love in the 1960s broke and rolled back before it reached South Yorkshire…

Where was I?

The lavender here has turned the vodka a fascinating purple colour, but I have to say this is probably my least favourite of the examples.

It wasn’t long before I went on to try the other choices, and for drinking straight, the vanilla and cinnamon varieties were most successful in my opinion  - despite not being a particular fan of either flavour in general. It turns out that Paul is also of the opinion that these are the two best flavours.

I moved on to trying the two less successful flavours with tonic water – rosemary, then lavender – and the results were actually delightful – surprisingly the lavender performed particularly well and I got through it pretty quickly after that.

If you’d asked me in a general sense, which is my favourite flavour: vanilla, cinnamon, lavender or rosemary, I would have said rosemary – though I’d generally have that with meat. It’s interesting then, that vanilla and cinnamon make the best vodkas, while lavender mixes best with tonic. Still; rosemary is the winner when it comes to pork. In fact, I brought these out at a party recently, and someone said they tasted like gravy…

Later – I don’t know whether it was a result of oxidisation, or the state of my taste buds at that particular moment – the vanilla vodka started to taste bitter. I felt the Aldi product that Paul used to make these was probably starting to come through, though it hadn’t on previous tastings. It wasn’t unpleasant, but I did feel I needed to dull the edge slightly with a couple of ice cubes. That did the trick.

Why don’t you give your own flavoured vodkas a try, and let me know your results? As I said, Paul used the standard Aldi vodka for these, and I’d say they were successful attempts, so you don’t need to splash out or anything, and it might be a good chance to use up a brand you don’t like so much. A lot of brands sell various flavoured vodkas now, and the bar Revolution is almost entirely dedicated to flavoured vodkas, but why bother buying when you can make your own?

I think my next step will be to buy a flavoured vodka, and see what that’s like. I see from Proof that one or two of the flavoured Stolichnaya varieties (my favourite vodka brand so far) are rated higher than the standard variety, though I think I’ll be trying this 50% ABV one first. It’s interesting though, that the product description says “we are looking for an absence of flavour in vodka”. If it’s an absence of flavour we’re looking for, why is the standard Stolichnaya so damn tasty? Come to that, I saw a poster the other day for Grey Goose vodka, in which it claimed that it was the best tasting vodka. So does that mean it’s the tastiest, or that it has less flavour than other vodkas, and that presumably that is better?

Very confusing. Nevertheless there’s still plenty to learn about vodka, and as ever, my journey continues.

On to my weekend preview then, and speaking of Paul and Victoria, the missus and I will be seeing them this weekend at the Bearded Theory Festival. The weather forecast doesn’t look too good, but the alco-forecast is showing a 100% chance of getting hammered. You’re allowed to take a ‘moderate’ amount of booze for personal consumption into the site, so I’ve been procuring beers and spirits for the occasion, and am already looking forward to cracking open that first one. 9.30 am on Friday, anyone?

As ever, whatever you get up to, I hope it’s a lot of fun. I’ll be back next week, on my usual day (Friday) for some more alcohol-related guff. Don’t forget, if you can’t get enough of me, you can follow me on Twitter (@alcothusiast). See you then.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Glencairn glasses; I can smell things too!

well spotted. One of these is not a Glencairn glass. So?
I’d like to revisit a theme now that last cropped up in my Am I becoming a bit of a snob? post – the question of whisky glasses. I had started to bemoan the fact that whenever you order whisky in a pub, it seems to come in either what are known as ‘rocks’ glasses or even in small straight glasses – like what you’d normally expect to receive with a bottle of J2O.

Whisky though, is renowned for being a very complex spirit that can impart a huge variety of scents and flavours, yet the kinds of glass that most people seem to begin their whisky journeys drinking out of don’t facilitate the experiencing of this complex spirit to the full. Anyone who’s anyone in the world of whisky knows that there exists a glass that supposedly will help you make the most of your whisky tasting experience – the Glencairn glass, which first came into production in 2001, so quite recently.

This blog has up to this point been a journey of discovery for me, so that should explain some of my na├»ve questions and opinions. I’ve been somewhat sceptical of all those things people report experiencing in their whisky because I just enjoy whisky, and a part of me wanted to continue doing that without having to get all finicky about details like glasses and techniques, and am I tasting what you’re tasting and all that. The other part just felt like a teenager that had discovered a new favourite band and wanted to absorb all their recordings and discover their influences, and just immerse themselves in it.

When I heard about the Glencairn glass (£6.90 on Amazon – why are they not available in like, John Lewis or Debenhams or Ikea?), it didn’t really occur to me that there was any point in getting one, but then, as you might have read in previous weeks, I visited some distilleries in Islay, and not only did all the tastings involve Glencairn glasses, but also they were just throwing them at me, so I came home with five – branded with Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Caol Ila. Honestly, you get more of these in one day on Islay than you get napkins in two visits to a fried chicken joint – here’s your massive box of greasy chicken that you have to eat with your fingers, and here’s one single play napkin the size of a postage stamp.

Can I have some more napkins, please?


I decided it was time to put the glasses the test, and started using them. Now I can give you the results of my experiments.

So how good are they? Well, let’s get some aesthetic and practical considerations out of the way first. They are small, and they aren’t exactly masculine. Nor are they particularly comfortable to drink out of, since my nose gets in the way when I tip one back, which means I also need to tip my head back.

However, they are comfy to hold – they sit nicely between my index finger and thumb, and the base then sits pleasingly on my curled middle finger. You can swirl your spirit vigorously around the glass, and it doesn’t spill out the top as it might in certain other shapes and styles, and the bulb shape makes it easy to pour a suitably sized measure consistently without having to use a measuring cup; should you be concerned about such things, just pour until the liquid reaches the point where the curve begins to turn back on itself. And despite having to tip your head back a bit, the shape facilitates getting just the right quantity smoothly into your mouth for enjoying.

The important considerations though are:

                Is there any improvement in terms of nosing my whisky?
                Does it make the whisky taste any better?

I’m not going to keep you waiting here; the answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes. Seriously. They are not making this shit up.

I think there might be a tiny element of the immersion in scotch on the Island of Islay having a positive influence on my enjoyment of whisky overall, but I now feel that these Glencairn glasses really help me to enjoy my whisky to the fullest extent. Let me give you some examples.

Firstly, I’ve never really been able to identify any individual scents or tastes in the whisky I’ve drunk beyond smoky, salty, peppery – to me those are very basic. When it comes to blackberries, chocolate, honey - I don’t know, some people can find anything in there – I was all at sea. Straight away though, I started finding things.

The first whisky I tried on my return home from Islay was my Balvenie 12 year old, double wood (40% ABV), earlier impressions on which you can find here and here. Immediately, on the nose I detected liquorice and vanilla, while on the palate I could taste oak, mint and (later – not on the same occasion) strawberries. I went from being non-plussed about this malt to being im-pressed in just a couple of tastings.

With the last of my Grant and MacPhail bottling of Scapa (43% ABV), I got tobacco on the nose and citrus on the palate. Sadly that was it, there was none left to analyse any further – but that’s still a massive improvement.

Next I moved on to my Woodford Reserve bourbon (43.2% ABV) and found caramel and dark chocolate on the nose, with sweet apple juice on the palate that actually took me right back to a school trip to the Jorvik Centre in York, where part of the tour takes you through a strong smell of apples that is supposed to represent the Vikings’ cultivation of orchards.

The most I’ve experienced in a single glass so far comes from a bottle of 10 year old Bladnoch (46% ABV). It’s a real delicate and mellow scotch that doesn’t give away its above average strength, and on the nose for that one I got something quite weird. It was incredibly familiar, but I couldn’t quite pin down what it was at first. Finally it came to me; ice cream cake, like your friend’s mum used to serve at birthday parties. I know, it sounds silly. Perhaps that’s the vanilla that everyone’s always finding. Then there was tobacco, and later, cheese – though not as strongly as Bruichladdich’sOrganic expression.

The palate was spicy and contained a hint of orange, followed by chocolate truffle.

Finally I was starting to see what everyone was talking about – not because I had to really strain and grasp in order to convince myself that I could detect these things, but because they were just sitting there at the top of my Glencairn glass, and (inexplicably) on my tongue. How the glass could possibly affect the overall flavour, I don’t know – perhaps this is the Islay immersion’s effect – but all I know is that I definitely noticed a difference.

Oddly though the cagiest whisky I’ve tried so far in terms of giving up distinct scents or flavours is my Caol Ila Distillers Edition that I’ve been enjoying immensely. It’s sweet like nectar, but I’m getting nothing familiar from it – excepting the mellow peatiness that causes it to act like God’s own room odouriser, and on my 6th or 7th tasting, a mild suggestion of sizzling bacon.

Previously I simply enjoyed whisky (among other spirits) very much, but the Glencairn glass has opened up a whole new layer of possibilities for me to explore, and that’s pretty exciting, so I’m not exaggerating when I say I’m delighted. However, in some small way, the universal laws of physics are reflected here, in that there have turned out to be drawbacks – perhaps not to the point of an equal and opposite reaction, but just drawbacks.

Firstly, you can forget about enjoying a nice glass of whisky on a night out anymore. You’ll just be throwing your money away, paying over the odds for something that you’re not going to get the full benefit from.

It’s getting a bit silly really. I was thinking about buying a half bottle in the Duty Free at Manchester Airport to take to Vietnam with me, and I started thinking, but they won’t have the right type of glasses in Vietnam… Honestly, what a geek.  Did it anyway.

Secondly, these glasses only seem to work with whisky. I’ve tried my 20 year old Armagnac, my 10 Cane rum ,and my Blanc e Neri grappa and neither of them has benefitted in the slightest, which only goes to reinforce the supposition that whisky is the most complex spirit there is. Previously I loved all kinds of spirits, but now I can’t help feeling that in some way they are all inferior to whisky, and that maybe this matters. And that’s no way to be!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I feel like so much of my whisky tasting up to now has been a waste of time, and that perhaps I need to try so many of them all over again – the Black Grouse, Aldi’s Highland Black, definitely the Highland Park 12 year old. Whether it’s because I think maybe I didn’t like them when I might have, or whether it’s a case of if it was that good, imagine how good it could be… it doesn’t matter; I’ve wasted so much time! And money! And words!

Ah, whaddaya gonna do? Life goes on, so get on with it. Whisky is awesome with or without fancy glasses. If you want to know exactly how awesome it can be though, just get one. Totally worth it.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Becoming a bit of a snob, am I?

When I started writing this blog I think my mission statement was to focus on the enjoyment of alcoholic drinks with none of the elitist snobbery that enjoying fine alcohol seems to bring. I’ve noticed though over the last few months, that my tastes and preferences are changing, and I’ve started to wonder; am I becoming a booze snob? Is booze snobbery just a matter of having accrued more knowledge and experience? Is it even anything to be ashamed of?

If the answers to the first two questions are yes and yes, then the answer to the third question must be… no. And that must mean that people who perceive others as booze snobs are just ignorant of the knowledge and experience others possess, and perhaps even slightly jealous of it. Oh christ; I’m totally a booze snob. But hang on a minute!

Let’s start in the same way I started every single essay I ever wrote and every exam question I ever answered at GCSE and A level – by defining the terms. It would normally go a little something like this:

How far it could be said that I am becoming a booze snob very much depends on how one would define the term booze snob. In order to do that, one must first determine the meaning of the word snob.

Let’s return to the present day now, and make a start with Wikipedia:

A snob believes that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellectwealth,educationancestryclasstastebeautynationality, et cetera. Often the form of snobbery reflects the snob's personal attributes. For example, a common snobbery of the affluent is the belief that wealth is either the cause or result of superiority, or both.

So a booze snob could be someone who thinks he is superior to someone else because of what he drinks or how he drinks it, and that this is important. Now, I wouldn’t say I’m inherently superior to anyone in any way (that doesn’t mean I like everyone), though you could say my earlier assertion about accruing knowledge and experience falls under the category of ‘real or supposed intellect …[or] education’. Nevertheless, just because I’ve learned one or two things that some other people may not have, it doesn’t mean a thing. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of what there is to know in any case, and if you haven’t learnt it already, it is still there to be learned – if you’re interested.

And I don’t think my alcohol preferences mean anything in particular. They’re just what I like. So what am I getting at? What has caused me to start asking these questions? I mean, does it really exist? Do people really sneer at people that drink (and profess to enjoy) Bells and Teachers? You shouldn’t really, because their booze budget is going to be a fraction of yours, and since they know what they like, they probably enjoy their drinks more than you enjoy some of yours. Do people laugh at you for taking your Laphroaig with ice? Do they look down on you because you don’t add water to your scotch? How would they react if you offered your guests a blended scotch at your special dinner party?

There are it seems, people who drink single malt scotch and consider blends to be substandard, though I have to say I’ve noticed a trend away from this kind of thinking of late. That could just be that I’m meeting the right people and reading the right blogs and books… but I would go so far as the say the blend is making a comeback – not that there haven’t been expensive, premium blends available all along, but when you first start getting into whisky, and you want to sound knowledgeable, you profess to like single malt. Later though, you learn that there are blends that are more expensive than any single malt you’re ever going to buy – unless you are a serious collector.

Where do I stand on any of these issues? Well, in terms of Bells and Teachers, I wouldn’t tend to buy either, unless I really wanted a whisky, and they were the only options available – like on a budget airline flight, or in a working men’s club -  but that’s just because I don’t particularly like them. But yeah, I also don’t think they’re particularly good. That’s purely personal opinion though.

My own personal feeling on blends in general is that they are a genre of whisky that is there to be explored, and I’m not done exploring it yet. I do consider some to be bad, but I’ve also experienced bad single malt. Since getting hold of a copy of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible however, and seeing the respect he gives the humble blend, I’m more inclined to withhold judgement until I know what I’m talking about. I suppose I probably prefer a nice single malt, but I always keep a blend in stock, and maybe one of these days I should make that blend that’s in stock a Bells or Teachers, and see what I think of them now. They were always the brands that old people drank (I inherited one when my grandma passed away), or that you drink as a teenager when you want to get pissed quick, so maybe they would benefit from the proper tasting procedure… Probably one of these days, I’ll find a blend that I absolutely love, however much it costs.

When it comes to ice, well I used to drink all my whisky with ice, and to give it its due, that was instrumental in getting me into whisky in the first place. I suppose for a couple of years I bought a bottle of whisky only occasionally and when I could afford it – rather than making sure I could afford it – and most frequently that bottle was Aldi’s Highland Black 8 year old blended scotch. It’s perfectly nice with ice, but I haven’t tried it since (another future post, I think).

As a result, I probably started telling people I liked whisky, and then I think my sister started buying me a bottle for Christmas. First it was a set of miniatures from M&S, then a Laphroaig, a Tallisker, a Balvenie… and I kept on drinking them with ice until I started enjoying them so much that I realised it was a shame that the flavour had to diminish as the ice melted and diluted the spirit. I didn’t know then that the temperature also masks some of the flavours in the whisky.

So for a while I tried tasting whiskies neat before adding ice, but I found making the decision too difficult, and eventually just started taking everything neat. And here we are, present day booze geek. I’ve even got a spreadsheet, though it’s only for assisting with the blog…

So how do I feel about other people taking ice? Well, how can I look down on it, when that’s where I came from? I might be a bit annoyed if I offered you a glass of my best, most expensive scotch and you asked for ice with it – I’d probably say you’d be better off having something cheaper – but if it’s your whisky, it’s your choice, and you can do what you want.

I suppose that is a bit snobby:

Me: Ere’y’are, try some of the good stuff.
You: Have you got any ice?
Me: Hang on. Maybe this would be more suited to your tastes [putting the good stuff back in the cupboard.] Actually I haven’t got a cheap enough blend at the moment. Here’s some Bacardi.

It might sound like I’m being a snob there, but really, there would be no point in you trying that special spirit with ice because you wouldn’t taste what it is that makes it so special, so you may as well just not.

Which brings me to adding water. I’m always telling everyone that I don’t add water to my whisky (unless it’s cask strength – and even then, sometimes not), because to this day I’ve never added water to a normal strength whisky, and not felt that it has made it worse, and therefore been a waste of all that good whisky. I don’t mind obviously, if people do take it with water, and maybe one day I will too. I keep trying, but no. Actually, I find this whole water thing a bit annoying. If it wasn’t for the Scotch Whisky Association, you distilleries could decide how much water ‘opens up’ the whisky to its optimum level, and just add it during the bottling process. In some cases it might bring the alcohol down to below the minimum 40% level, but I think I would prefer that, because the decision would be taken out of my hands, and I wouldn’t always have to wonder whether I should add water, and whether I’ve added the right amount, and then discover I’ve ruined a glass I was enjoying by adding it at all.

Let’s think about another example. It’s generally thought that this (see left) is a whisky glass. I believe it’s also known as a ‘rocks glass’. It doesn’t take much to learn though, that that isn’t considered to be the right glass for drinking whisky at all (unless perhaps you do want to drink it ‘on the rocks’).


This (see right) is supposedly the right one, the Glencairn whisky glass. It is a completely different shape, and is fashioned so in order to help concentrate the aroma of the whisky and facilitate ‘nosing’ – which is something you might expect a snob to do. You don’t have to drink it from this glass – they can be quite difficult to come by – but if you want to get a similar (but not identical) effect, you can use a brandy glass or a small wine glass.

I mention this because in this last year I changed the type of glass that I drink my whisky out of, and I would contend that I enjoyed my whisky more out of the new kind of glass than I did from the other type. In fact, at a wedding in the summer I ordered a Laphroaig, and was a little too bashful to ask for it in a specific glass, so as a result it came in a small straight glass – like you might expect to receive with a J2O. I didn’t enjoy it.

I don’t really know if the glass was the real reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to, but I do like Laphroaig very much, and I was disappointed. Consequently, whenever I’ve ordered a whisky since, I’ve been specific about the glass I want it in.

The thing is – and this is where I start feeling like a snob – why don’t pubs provide a more suitable glass than a rocks glass for drinking whisky? The problem I think, is that people don’t know about it, so not enough of them are asking for their whiskies in suitable glasses. Quite a few of my friends have a passing interest in whisky, and they aren’t aware there is a more suitable glass. But why don’t they know about it? I’ll tell you now, there are certain of my friends who will look at me like I’ve gone mad when I try to foist a glencairn glass on them. Fo’ sho.

If I ask for my whisky in a different glass in front of people, they think I’m being awkward. The server doesn’t mind, but sometimes I feel like people think you should accept something rather than ask for it the way you want it. I would contend that, if I’m paying bar prices, I want to make sure I have the best chance of enjoying it. I’m already paying more for it than I would if I was at home, so am I supposed to enjoy it less, too? But, if you want your whisky in a rocks glass, that’s absolutely fine by me.

I’m going to tangentalise a little, here. See, I like cheeseburgers, but when I have one in a restaurant I like to have the cheese on the side, and then put it on the burger myself. I’ve written about this before and deleted it but no, I’m going for it this time. Where was I? Yes, my feeling is that it is pointless having cheese on a burger if you’re going to melt it on the grill, but that seems to be the accepted method. I can see why it’s the accepted method; cheese melts, put it on the burger while it’s still on the grill, so it melts onto it. I contend though, that you can’t really taste the cheese on your burger unless it’s unmelted. I don’t know why it is, but I have proven it to be fact to myself several times – I wouldn’t make it up, because really, it’s almost more trouble than it’s worth. Now at least, one or two people are starting to agree with me… including the missus, and I think it pained her slightly to admit it, bless her.

The problem is that it is so difficult to get a restaurant or burger place to serve my burger the way I want it, that it makes me think about not having a burger at all, when I really want a burger. And don’t even get me started on the availability of mustard…

I started with asking if they could ‘not put the cheese on the burger while it is on the grill, so that it won’t be melted’, but that was far too complicated. Sometimes I just don’t know how to simplify things. Then someone suggested asking for the cheese on the side, which is fair enough. Pretty simple, right? Well… not entirely. You’d be surprised by how often it still goes wrong, and how it still goes wrong, and frankly how rarely it goes right.

There was one occasion where I ordered a deluxe cheeseburger. My friend actually went to the bar to order it, but I’d given him explicit instructions, and explained them, and he understood. I could see though that the barmaid didn’t understand and my friend was just shrugging, so I went over. Now, you have to understand the deluxe cheeseburger is so called because there are four types of cheese on it. Four. So lots of cheese. The barmaid asks me, “do you not want the cheese?”

Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not mental! Would I order the burger that had the most cheese on it if I didn’t want the fucking cheese? No, I just want the cheese on the side!

The last time I ordered a burger, it was one that came with mature cheddar, but you could also have stilton as an extra. I decided to give it a go, and asked if I could have a burger with the extra cheese and bacon, but could I have the cheese on the side? The waiter asked if I wanted the stilton on the side. Does it come with the mature cheddar, too? Yes. Then I want both on the side.

Now, I can understand the waiter’s confusion, but why would I want one cheese on the burger and one on the side?

On other occasions, after explaining what I want and why, the burger comes without any cheese at all. I can understand that the “chef” has a routine, and that by having to remember not to put cheese on during the grilling, he might forget to put it on the side, but when you’ve had to explain what you want and why, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to at least get some cheese with your burger.
Sorry, I’m getting carried away. My point is, if you’re paying restaurant/bar prices for things, you should be able to ask for them how you want them without everyone thinking you’re being weird or awkward – unless you are! Christ, I think my requests are at least reasonable. I’m not asking that my burger be blessed by frickin’ Bono., or my whisky be served in a slipper.

One of my friends loves burgers, but he’s intolerant to wheat, and he still orders burgers - in fact, he still goes to McDonalds. I’ve seen him order burgers without the bun, and the waitress looks at him like he’s offered to bath her children. He doesn’t bother in McDonalds, to be fair. He just takes the bun off himself – it’s quicker that way. It’s funny, but there’s nothing wrong with it.

So; is liking something a certain way a sign of snobbery? No, as long as you don’t look down on people for liking it a different way, or for liking something different. I don’t care what you like or how you like it, it’s just interesting to me. I don’t mind if you want to drink your whisky with coke, just don’t drink my best whisky with coke. I keep a cheap bottle for things like that. Having said that, I do recoil a little whenever I hear anyone on the telly order a ‘scotch rocks’.

So when my bother-in-law came to stay in advance of the wedding, and kept drying our dishes, I wasn’t being snobby when I asked if she would not dry the glasses I drink whisky out of. Drying them with a cloth makes them smell, and I could tell as soon as I held the glass under my nose that it had been dried with a cloth (I did ask nicely).

The first time I had to pour it into a glass that hadn’t been used for a while, and therefore not washed and then dried, because I do nose my whisky these days. I’ve started looking like a right tit, and I don’t really know why. I think I was trying to detect all those things that seasoned whisky reviewers can smell, and it just caught on – I still couldn’t smell those things until I got a glencairn glass.

I like the smell of whisky, but for some reason I’ve taken to trying to extract every last piece of enjoyment I can possibly get from every glass – almost like it’s the last glass I’ll ever have, like there’s been a zombie apocalypse, and I’ve found a drop of whisky left in a bottle in an abandoned house, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. And conversely, the more whiskies I try, and the better the whiskies I try, the less able I am sometimes to generally enjoy whisky as a whole.

In the old days, I could be drinking a cheap whisky, and just enjoy the fact that I was drinking whisky. “Here I am, drinking whisky”, I would almost be thinking to myself. There was no need to know anything about it, no particular need for it to be any good. By contrast, now I’m aware that this one perhaps isn’t as good as that other one, and I might be sitting there drinking it, knowing I’m not particularly enjoying it and actually asking myself: do I actually like whisky?’ or thinking, ‘’I would have expected to be enjoying this more, given how much it costs…”

It’s fricking crazy. But it’s like anything you get interested in, I suppose. You might like music, and get right into it, and devour music like crazy, but once you’ve had the first few amazing experiences, those experiences become less frequent, and it’s all because you’re consuming more, and consequently the proportion of what you consume that is great is exponentially smaller than when you were consuming less, and it starts to make you think that there isn’t that much great music about, and maybe music isn’t so great after all, but you have to consume even more to get to the great stuff. Or maybe it’s just me. In case you can’t tell, I’m a bit of an obsessive. I develop an interest in something, and then I let that interest consume me until I overdose on it and suddenly I’m not interested in it at all anymore, and I have to move on to something else.

And that’s what my interest in booze is like now. I understand it’s not just me though; that’s what guys are like, and I am a guy after all. I was a music snob. For a while I thought the music I liked was superior to the music I didn’t like, and would expend giant swathes of energy trying to convince people that it was. One day though I just realised that people should be allowed to like what they like – even if it’s because Simon Cowell has told them to like it. It almost pains me to say that, but I’m in my mid thirties now, and I’m past caring. Just because you like something doesn’t make it good, just the same as if you don’t like something, it doesn’t make it bad.

So I asked at the beginning whether booze snobbery was anything to be ashamed of, and now I think I can answer. It is - because snobbery is about your attitude to others, not what you enjoy or how you enjoy it, so knowing a little more about booze, and being a bit more particular about booze has nothing to do with it. You can have a preference for a particular style of whisky out of a particular type of glass, and it doesn’t mean you’re a snob.

I think I still approach my subject with a certain wide-eyed wonder. Sure, there’s a little cynicism, but mostly wide-eyed wonder. So I think it’s time to move away from notions of booze snobbery. All these things that I might previously have taken as indicative of someone being a booze snob are actually signs of enthusiasm, a real, deep interest in their chosen field and there’s nothing wrong with it.

I suppose my conclusion was always going to be, “no, I’m not a booze snob”, just as Charles Manson would always conclude, “I am not a murderer” or Jeffrey Archer, “I am a talented writer”. So I suppose all this doesn’t mean anything. Why don’t you just tell me what you think? That might be fun. Is there anything you have to have in a specific way that makes life difficult when you go to restaurants and bars?

Blimey, do you know how long I’ve been working on that? I actually thought I’d never bother posting it, but there it is. Now I can stop thinking about it and move onto something else. Big sigh of relief.

That’s it for this week then. Join me next week, when I’m intending to be a bit less silly, and talk a bit more about glencairn glasses. As for this coming weekend, it’s a bank holiday, so most of Britain will be either jamming up the A roads on the way to the seaside, or going out and getting drunk. I’ll be doing a bit of both with a parental visit on Saturday afternoon, a sausage festival on Saturday night, and a music festival on Sunday. Maybe I’ll see you at one or the other – not the parents, unless you’re Mrs Cake.