Wednesday, 27 May 2015

a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing...

a generic tequila pic... not particularly relevant to the story
Hello everyone. Just a short anecdote this week. I can do brevity too, you know.

Have you ever ordered something you didn’t want as a result of a confusing or poorly thought out drinks menu?

Mrs Cake and I went out on a date on Saturday night, and called into a new tequila bar. We felt like getting hammered, so we thought we’d go for a cocktail and a shot each. So we picked our cocktails and I turned to a page of the menu that was headed, Blanco.

Now, maybe not everyone who might go out to a tequila bar would know, but I knew that unaged tequila is called blanco or white tequila. I did wonder why they didn’t have very many, and why I didn’t recognise any, but nevertheless I picked one and ordered two shots while Mrs Cake went and grabbed a table.

I was a bit confused when the bar man took a bottle from the fridge (who keeps their tequila in the fridge?), but not as confused as Mrs Cake when I arrived at the table carrying two cocktails and a large glass of wine… I’d been too embarrassed to correct my mistake, and the barman had obviously been too distracted to ask why someone would order two shots of wine, and just poured a large glass…

It turns out the tequila list is right at the back of the menu – the logical place, I suppose, if it’s a normal bar or restaurant menu, but this was a tequila bar; the tequila should be featured, right at the front, and the wine should be labelled white fucking wine, not blanco.

I suppose it’s true, sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

I'm off to see Babes in Toyland now then. I'll probably have a warm up drink before I go. I'm thinking of going hardcore, with the absinthe. Anyways, sorry for no posting this last week. I was very busy. I'll be back next week and I might be exploring some more of the products available at Aldi and Lidl. Until then, you know what to do.

Monday, 11 May 2015

The Agave Sting: el Jimador Reposado vs Jose Cuervo Tradicional

I like it when an impromptu booze conversation breaks out at your local supermarket. The place was Cheadle’s Sainsburys. A need for something reasonably priced but decent for my hip flask had led me there when bring a bottle showed they had the el Jimador Reposado for 20 quid.

I’d been out of tequila for a while, and keen to try this one, so I was thinking it would be good to accompany the Open Golf Championship at the Royal Liverpool. Sadly, less than 10 minutes after making the purchase I learned I’d be designated driver for that event so, not only would I not be able to wander around getting hammered all day, nor would there be a special Open Golf Championship themed post any time soon. Instead… shall we just talk about the tequila? (reader’s voice – “yeah, suppose so…”).

So, I was in the checkout line, and I noticed out the corner of my eye that the lady in front was giving me looks. Now, tequila was the only thing I was buying, I’m in Cheadle and I’ve pretty much gone out in me trackie bottoms, so I’m thinking I probably look a bit dodgy. So I decide to pretend I’m not noticing her, but she actually seems to want to start a conversation. Which was nice. She actually just wanted to know what I was buying. What did she say she thought it was… I can’t remember now. Anyway, she was off home to eat some chocolate and drink some wine.

The blanco expression was the first 100% agave tequila I ever came to try, and still sits proudly at the top of my tequila rankings table, so I’d been keen to try the reposado for a while. This one has been aged for between 2 and 3 months (depending on which website you believe), and at £20 it’s more than £5 less than I paid for the Blanco originally at Carrington’s.

No, it doesn’t have the most intriguing bottle or label, but you do at least get a full 70cl (though only 38 of those ABVs) and frankly, £20 for that much 100% agave tequila is a bargain. Even before trying this one, I’d recommend you stop buying the standard Jose Cuervos or the Sierra and get the blanco next time you have tequila requirements.

I can tell you now, I do like this tequila. It’s got that slight agave sting, but not quite so much as its younger, whiter brother, and for that reason I actually prefer the blanco – yeh, I like the rough nature of the unaged agave.

I had actually been saving the last drop of my Jose Cuervo Tradicional [which has previously featured in a post about mediocre alcohol - not because it was bad, but because I didn't have much to say about it] for a direct comparison with this and, while you might know the result already if you follow my twitter feed, let’s have a look now, shall we?



Let’s remind ourselves first of all, of the facts:

Cuervo – 100% agave, 50cl, £19.99, 40% ABV
Jimador – 100% agave, 70cl, £20, 38% ABV

Some calculations.

The Cuervo works out to nearly 40p per cl while the Jimador is a more generous 28.5p. Remember though, you’re getting an extra 2 ABVs with the Cuervo. We’ll see how important those are in the final verdict.


As with the blanco variety, the Jimador has gone for an uninspiring square but clear bottle and a simple label with an artist’s impression of a tequila farmer. It’s sealed with a screwcap and an annoying but unintrusive plastic insert – that I don’t remember being present with the blanco. Another thing I didn’t receive with the blanco is a little booklet hung around the neck suggesting one or two cocktail ideas. That’s always a bad sign – not necessarily that the spirit is bad, but rather that the distributor/manufacturer has chosen to target the mixing market.

On to the Cuervo then, which is presented in a narrow bottle with a classic style label that features a number representative of the number of years since founding that this bottle was made. A nice touch for those of us who appreciate these kind of things, but ultimately meaningless. The whole package is delightfully topped off with a sturdy stopper that makes a marvellous sound when you extract it.


Once again, not a massive consideration, but still a grounds for comparison. There’s little to choose with both brands exhibiting a pale yellow colour but if I had to choose, I’d say the Cuervo is slightly more in possession of the allure.


Having opened both bottles at the same time for the purpose of photographing, the sweet smell of agave soon filled the room. It was time to take the glasses into the lounge and appraise the noses independently. For context, I think we were watching Rocky iv, which I noticed is more or less just a series of montages – there’s at least like, four in it. Wi-i-i-i-in, in the end! I’m gonna win in the end! Wait, that’s Teen Wolf.

Results? I’m surprised to be saying this, but the Cuervo pretty much sweeps the board – though not by too much. It just has a slightly greater fragrancy on the nose leading into more complexity on the palate. Jimador is more subdued, nothing wrong with it, just if you’re comparing.

The Jimador still makes a good sipper and can be enjoyed in the various fun tequila ways. Because it’s good value I don’t mind sloshing it about a bit, so that’s a definite bonus. So if £20 is your budget, I’d base your purchase on this; if you want a tequila purely for sipping or impressing guests, get the Cuervo, but if you want that but you also want to fritter it away in a series of meaningless trysts, you can’t go wrong with the Jimador.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Spirit Log: Aberlour A'bunadh, Batch 47

“Straight from the cask”, is the enticing claim from the packaging of this highly renowned Speyside malt. That’s a bit misleading though, isn’t it? Because A’Bunadh is a no age statement expression, said (by Wikipedia) to be blended from spirit aged between 5 and 25 years. So what cask is it bottled straight from, then? Not the one it was aged in – I mean, I presume there was some kind of marrying process, otherwise they would’ve had to take a bottle round all the various casks, fill it up a little from each, then shake it up. I suspect it just means ‘no water added’ – so it’s just a fancy way of saying ‘cask strength’ that makes it sound like it is single cask. When it isn’t.

Well, let’s leave that aside. What else is there to know about this expression? It is released in batches, is non-chill filtered, aged exclusively in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, and bottled at a varying cask strength – this one a stroke inducing 60.7%.

My procurement matrix had determined that it was time to buy a cask strength Speyside malt, and Aberlour A’bunadh’s reputation and its inclusion in 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die gave it the edge. I paid just under £40 plus P&P from The Whisky Exchange.

It is presented in a cardboard tube, inside which you’ll find an elegant bottle that doesn’t actually look like it’s big enough to hold the full 70cl. It is topped with an oversized cork and sealed with a deep-red waxy seal. The contents gleam a beautiful deep red colour.

My previous experience of Aberlour consists only of the 10 year old, which I remember was classy and luxurious in its composition, but a little disappointing in flavour. I always felt it could [should] have been so much more.

So what about this one?

This represents my latest delving into the welcoming waters of cask strength scotch, and having read a variety of online reviews, I was intrigued to find that some people prefer to drink this one unadulterated. The idea that a spirit of more than 60% can be at its best at full strength makes the heart positively palpitate in anticipation…

So I struggled with the seal (don’t trim your finger nails before reaching for this one), popped the cork and poured a glass.

…aaaaaaand, first impressions were that it does wear its extreme strength very well. I don’t feel dizzy from the nosing and my nose hairs [sadly] remain unburnt – no need to cancel that order for tweezers after all. And on the palate, yes there is burn, but it is indeed palatable in its natural state. There is burn, but it doesn’t taste burnt.

I began to add drops of water in any case. With each drop, more emerged, the solution sweetened and brightened and, ultimately, I ended up adding quite a lot of water before it reached the critical point at which I felt any more might be detrimental – in fact it is so strong and takes so much water that you end up with a really big drink – which is even better. So I wouldn’t say I agree that it is best without. You can drink it at cask strength, but only for a couple of sips per glass before I’d say you’re wasting it.

Where does it fit in though, in the general scheme of er… whisky?

Well, once again I find myself in the position of wondering why I’m not more impressed than I am. So many good reviews, so highly rated and yet… it’s all right, but it doesn’t blow my mind. There have been moments when I have enjoyed a glass very much, but those have been rare in comparison to moments when I’ve remained unmoved. Does this mean anything? Am I just expecting too much? It is only a sensory experience after all. I have to remind myself that my opinion of the Aberlour 10 and indeed Speyside malts in general has tended to be “nonplussed”.

A quick glance at my geeky spreadsheet reveals that in the simple “Like” column for the Aberlour 10, I’ve actually written ‘no’. It was a while ago, but I suspect my thinking was that while I didn’t actively dislike it, in a scale that included only the variables “like” and “dislike”, it seemed a bit unfair to belittle the efforts of malts that had genuinely impressed me by categorising it alongside them. I see I’ve also etched “no” next to the Glenlivet 12. I’ve then dismantled the scale altogether to register the fact that I hated the Glen Moray classic. I’m nothing if not inconsistent.

Elsewhere in terms of Speyside however, the Glenfiddich 12, Glenfiddich 15 Solera Vat, Balvenie 12 Double Wood, Mortlach 15 and Strathisla 12 have all met with a general approval, yet  in spite of that, in no single case have I been remarkably impressed.

It is hard to decide at this point where the A’bunadh would sit on the overall single malt hierarchy. It does have the potential to at least place higher than all the other Speysiders, but I am going to need a little more from it before I make a decision like that.

So can you take anything away from this? Certainly if you already like Aberlour or Speyside in general – and perhaps veer more toward the sherried stylings of the Balvenie or Strathisla, you can conclude that this is an avenue to divert some future pennies down. Let’s face it, it is beautifully packaged, it’s an impressive strength, and it’s terrific value. There’s also a chance of course that the next batch might be better – though there’s nothing about this one that would suggest it is a bad or even unexceptional batch.  No, my feeling is it just ain’t quite my thing, so it’s unlikely I’ll buy myself another one, but I’d definitely consider it as a gift for someone else. And that’s ok. What’s next?


Since writing that I have finished the bottle and would just like to add a note without impinging too much on the integrity of the prose above. I stand by everything I said up there but feel it is worth mentioning that the bottle seemed to outstay its welcome. And by that, I mean I was ready to be finished with it about four large glasses from the end, at which point I pulled it out of the cupboard more frequently and even chugged down the final glass. Oddly, I enjoyed that last glass quite a lot. I wouldn’t normally treat a glass of single malt with such abandon, but there you go.