Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Berlinsterdam Booty Part 1: Wynand Fockink Rogge

Good evening. Thanks for joining me for part one of a new 5 part series in which I report on the spirits I brought back from Amsterdam and Berlin. The first edition focuses on a brand of jenever that is local to the very heart of Amsterdam, Wynand Fockink, and this particular variety is known as Rogge, or ‘rye’ – though it is flavoured with juniper and has been distilled from both rye and barley. You can read a bit more about it in the earlier post that I linked to a couple of lines further up, there. This post is for the evaluation; I don’t want to get all bogged down with facts, so I’m not gonna.

This product was 18 euros 99 for 50cl, and it clocks up 38 ABVs. It comes in a nice shaped bottle – the Bruichladdich style that I’m so fond of, but the label looks like it might have been produced by a teenager on a bedroom printer. It is sealed with a small cork stopper.

In the glass, there is no denying it has a tinge of urine, in terms of colour. I’m not sure what it is that makes the appearance of some spirits better than others, but not looking like urine, you would think would figure quite highly.

I thought it was a little uninteresting on the nose at first, but it really opened up to be luxurious and fragrant after the bottle had been open a few days. It might have helped also that I chose to drink from a brandy glass that second time instead of from the glencairn.

In terms of flavour, it’s a bit tart but I’m also detecting vanilla – no doubt from the short ageing process - and buttery crumpets.

Given that jenever was the spirit that gave us gin, I have to say it is surprising that there isn’t much of a gin-like element in this bottle. It was described to me as ‘more like bourbon’ at the original tasting and, while I don’t think that is particularly accurate either, it does suggest that the distiller is clearly trying a few different things out, and not limiting itself to more traditional styles.

All in all, I never really got to enjoying this all that much. I’d say it was more pleasant than its descendant, gin, but this variety had a not entirely pleasant bite, that in whisky I would put down to youthfulness. In jenever that might be a good thing, and it isn’t really fair to judge spirits from other cultures against ones of our own (despite having done so before), but in the end I can only represent my own opinions and on this one… it’s worth a try. Would I buy this brand and variety again? Probably not. But if I were in Belgium or Holland, then would I buy another bottle of jenever? Absolutely. It’s another genre of the spirit world to explore… and it’s not entirely unpleasant.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Alcohol and the Creation of Life

When I started this piece, Mrs Cake and I were just embarking on the journey of a lifetime; the journey from being carefree, irresponsible but borderline perma-bored people to being creators of life, parents, teachers of the next generation. So, at that point I think it’s safe to say we both had our reservations about what the future might bring and, from a drinker’s perspective, I was wondering how my habits might be affected. What follows is a process of transformation as the piece is written over an entire period encompassing conception, pregnancy and birth. I think that comes across in the writing. I hope you enjoy it.

It’s probably a bit rich doing a piece about the effect of the procreation process on one’s alcohol consumption, but it is a real thing, and that’s what this blog is about – real things through an alcohol-shaped lens.

I can empathise with the ladies, who have to give up drinking for the whole term of pregnancy (barring the odd glass of wine) plus the duration of any breast feeding (though some people tell you that drinking while breastfeeding is fine) but, while I, as a man wouldn’t have to endure anything of that magnitude, there are still some interesting things to note. Here we go.


You see it on lame tv shows all the time – sitcoms and soaps – but I never wanted conception to be a mechanical affair where Mrs Cake goes, “I’m ovulating”, and I’m expected to make a salty deposit. That’s not romantic and it’s not the kind of love I want my child being borne of. Luckily we didn’t have to resort to that level of organisation. Mrs Cake did download an app that gave her a window of fertility, but we just used that to loosely plan er… occasions?

You don’t want to know too much about that anyway. Nevertheless, some regulation of alcohol intake looked like it would be required because alcohol affects male fertility – which is a shame because it can also help make sex uninhibited and adventurous – you know, the kind that you do want to conceive from.

So anyway, we used the app to help decide when I’d cut down on the drinking, and even factored in some time for some good old fashioned heavy indulgence.

I wasn’t fond of the idea of abstaining, but didn’t do too badly – on one work night out I had just two small beers (followed by a whisky), and didn’t drink until 1am the next day (Friday), when Mrs Cake went out. I promptly forgot on Saturday and Sunday, but it just shows, as long as there’s a reason and something to occupy me (FIFA), I don’t need to have a drink.

Soon after this came our Berlinsterdam adventure and predictably, abstinence went out of the window. Nevertheless, it was here that the er… seed was implanted, so to speak, and no longer would I have to abstain in order that my swimmers might not get cramps and fail to make it all the way to the promised land. It’s quite lucky really – it could’ve taken months and as a result this post might have turned into one of those 3000 word monsters I’m so useless at avoiding (- I think it did anyway).

So began a second phase in the alcothusiastic male’s experience of pregnancy…

Drinking alone (a bit more often)

As is the norm, as soon as Mrs Cake had peed on that little stick and the result showed “pregnant” she started researching what she can and can’t do/eat/have… alcohol, unsurprisingly is right out. That’s sad for her – especially with Christmas and New Year approaching, as it was at the time, and all manner of dos and get-togethers to attend – even more so given that you can’t really announce the happy news for three months, so at this stage a lady kind of has to be cryptic about the whole thing:

No, I’m fine for a drink thanks; I’m driving.

No, I’m not feeling well. Not drinking tonight.

I actually thought it would be fun to come up with some outlandish stories for why she wasn’t drinking, but that didn’t happen. Mrs Cake dealt with it for a while by ordering a soda and lime (50p), and telling people it was a gin and tonic.

From my perspective though, I’ve lost a drinking companion. I already miss making a drink and being able to ask her if she wants one too. I miss being able to offer her a taste of something that I’m enjoying immensely, or going down The Magnet on a Friday night after work for some distinct beers. Not to mention that full bottle of Gordon’s gin that’s sitting on top of the cupboard untouched. It just looks so… sad.

It had been suggested that maybe I could show some solidarity and stop drinking also but… I’m a booze blogger and, no matter how small my readership, it’s a good reason for continuing to drink the good drink – and some of the bad drink, too. And… 9 months! I doubt it

Anyway, I need to buy some credibility now, before the baby costs spiral out of control – once the childcare kicks in I’ll be reduced to writing about supermarket spirits all the time, instead of just occasionally, for fun.  I’m kidding. I’m sure I’ll find a way.

A little while later…

So we’re well under way now. Everything is normal and it looks like there really is going to be a Baby Cake. I’m secretly hoping for a girl so that we can give her the middle name Caol Ila, and Mrs Cake is feverishly waiting for the day she can have a guilt-free drink again.

For a while it was useful to have a designated driver every time we went out, but eventually we reached full-term, the period in which I might be expected to drive Mrs Cake to the hospital at any moment, so that meant one potential month in which opportunities to drink would be severely limited. I was ready though – something had been changing in me psychologically, somehow, and by that stage I was all prepared to be a dad, doing dad stuff, fixing things, you know – being responsible. I’d just deal with it, and build up a box of booze to consume when the armistice was over.

I’m going to turn you over now, to a diary I sort of kept throughout my “dry period”.

1st day of self-imposed alcohol exile

I deliberately had one or two more drinks yesterday than I normally would on a Sunday but, knowing that I had a stressful week ahead, I didn’t really push the boat out, wanting to make sure anxiety was at a minimum. So I’m feeling ok in that respect. Also, it’s only the first day and I’m literally not bothered so far.

Day 2

Tuesday. I would typically have this as a drinking day, and it would be nice to have that to look forward to today as I had a particularly stressful morning – my monthly management accounts meeting, followed by delivering a half-assed presentation to some GPs about how we’re going to have to arrange to pay them differently.  Then, just shedloads of work. Well, it is what it is. No drinking. Fine.

Day 3

It was a beautiful day, the kind of day in the UK that feels like a missed opportunity when you haven’t used it to sit in the garden, drinking. I thought about how nice it would be to have some grappa. Then I thought it would probably be ok to have a single beer from time to time, since that wouldn’t make driving impossible. Then I realised that one just wouldn’t be enough, so it would be better to have nothing.

Day 5

This was the one day on which drinking was to be allowed – Mrs Cake’s leaving do. I celebrated with three beers and then a large glass of Caol Ila to finish the bottle. I’ll be putting that bottle aside now to see if I can figure out how to make it into a lamp.

Day 6

An invite to Pablo and Veronica’s barbecue led to a few more impromptu drinks. I was reluctant because Mrs Cake was looking like she was about to drop, but she insisted I have a few. Our hosts had also got in some interesting beers, some fancy Polish vodka and a bottle of cider brandy which, once we got started, I wanted to try. I tried to stick to just a few centilitres of beer and a drop of the spirits, though my glass of brandy turned out to be more like a double. It’s hard to tell when you’re not drinking full measures, but I didn’t think I’d be ok to drive if it came down to it.

Day 7

Back to abstinence for the Sunday. No problems, but a busy day of visiting my parents and then Phil’s new baby had made me very tired and very grumpy. A nice glass of something would have been a welcome accompaniment to the Glastonbury coverage we were watching, but it wasn’t to be.

Day 8

Day 8 marks the official full term countdown – two weeks to the due date, so it literally could be any time now. I should probably have waited until today to start the whole debacle, but I must have been confused – I was trying to start off my own bat, rather than waiting to be told it was time to stop. I wouldn’t have liked that. Mrs Cake is hoping she holds out another 4 weeks so that she can enjoy some relaxing time at home before everything gets out of control. I’m hoping it is considerably quicker than that. I’m tired of waiting and I don’t want to fall behind in the Distinct Beers Challenge – which you’ll be able to read about in an estimated five or six weeks. I’ve also got a massive cigar and something special to open on the special day. Hoping the good weather holds out until whenever that turns out to be.

Day 8 is also a 5 a side night, this time played in pleasant summer evening heat. A shower beer would have been lovely afterwards, but I made do with a big bottle of Lucozade.

Day 9

Tuesday, a traditional midweek drinking night and the hottest day of the year so far, but no drinking in the garden will be partaken of this evening. Instead I’ll bring the bin in, do a circuit, post on the blog, play the guitar, watch some telly and stretch a perineum. Then a book and bed. Who says you need booze to have fun?

Day 10

Britain’s hottest day in 9 years. A bit of a drink would’ve gone down a treat, but one’s not enough and if the baby happened to come today – they come when they want, according to the midwife – I thought about how torturous it would be accompanying Mrs Cake through labour with an alcohol induced tiredness. It’s probably not worth it.

Day 11

That’s 5 consecutive days without enjoying an alcohol cuddle, a record for quite a few years. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle, but I felt really low today and the thought of a tasty grappa or special whisky might have cheered me right up and made another Thursday night in front of the telly less of a chore.

Day 11

Friday. Usually a special day, a day of celebration that another week has ended and we’re another step closer to death. But how are you supposed to celebrate? What is going to set this evening apart from any other evening when there are no special drinks, nowhere to go and nothing to do? What do non-drinkers do on a Friday? Don’t say go to the cinema. I’m not going to the fucking cinema. I don’t think a single film has been made in the last 5 years I’d actually want to leave home and pay money to see.

I’ve also started thinking; what if I lose my interest in booze? What if I don’t have time to write the blog anymore? What if the miniature Cake is born, and I pour myself a drink, and taste it, and go… meh?

More pressing than that; what am I going to do tonight? And tomorrow night?

Well, those quandaries were answered by Mrs Cake picking up some cans of Holsten Pils for me and promising not to drop the baby on Friday night. So that was pretty special. As soon as the armistice was lifted I couldn’t help myself immediately make plans for getting smashed, and considered finishing off the Bushmills by tipping it into one of the cans. I soon reined myself in though, and set a limit of two cans and a glass of something special. I almost forewent the something special because with so many special bottles awaiting appreciation and only one opportunity, I was having trouble deciding. You don’t want to choose badly and waste your chance. It led me to conclude that, if I did want to cut down on drinking spirits, I’d just have to make sure I only kept one bottle of whisky at a time. That way there would be no compulsion to keep dipping into my collection – there would be no collection to dip into.

For the record, I didn’t enjoy the beer as much as I should because it wasn’t cold enough but the something special was Maxentia Grappa di Nosiola. I did enjoy that, and you’ll be able to read about it at some time in the future.

Day 12

After a long day out and almost sinking into despair at having to make dinner without alcoholic encouragement, I decided to allow myself one further can of Holsten Pils. That did the trick. And it’s back to abstinence for Sunday.

Day 13

Friday and Saturday’s relaxation of the rules had done the trick. I never even thought about having a drink on Sunday. I did allow myself a look at one of two unopened bottles in the collection, but actually drinking something never crossed my mind. One week to go now to the due date.

Day 17

Days 14 through 16 passed without incident, but Thursday saw Pablo and Veronica come over for tea. I’d put a couple of beers in the fridge for sharing, but Pablo only wanted to share one. No problems there then.

Day 18

Friday once again and B-Day gets ever closer. I decided it would probably be ok to have a beer and a special spirit, but I still had an anti-climax feeling about the whole thing. Mrs Cake sensed this and agreed that it would be a good idea if I were to have a few emergency Café Crème cigars.

Day 19

One beer after a long day out. And the last of the Café Crème.

Day 20

Sunday. I was happy to spend a whole Sunday without the perpetual thirst I often get from having overindulged on Saturday.

Day 21

The actual due date.

Day 22

Nothing to report. The fact that I never even thought about having a drink on a Tuesday – as you know, a usual drinking night – shows how much of my relationship with alcohol is habit. While I intend to return to usual behaviour after the birth, this is interesting to see. I would expect it to be much harder to break the habit as far as Friday and Saturday is concerned though.

Day 23

A couple of days ago I put a beer in the fridge, and wondered whether that would be the one that would celebrate the birth. I think that is likely given that it’s a large one and it’s 8% alcohol – and that the day is moving inexorably closer, though it doesn’t feel like it much of the time. Apparently Junior Cake is now 3/5 of the way engaged, so soon this nightmare can come to and end… and another one start.

Day 24

With Christopher coming over for band practice, I was thinking maybe we could crack open that beer and share it, but Christopher only wanted ice water, so it remains for another day. There probably won’t be a chance for another casual drink before the birth now.

Day 26

I put a small beer in the fridge to allow a safe Friday night drink. It actually turned out to be a 12 percenter, which gave me a nice buzz but made Mrs Cake worried that I wouldn’t be ok to drive.

Day 27

I wasn’t going to, but I ended up sticking another small beer in the freezer for 45 minutes. I checked first that it was only 5.4%. Still no progression, though by this stage the whole process has started to feel like when you’ve been queueing for two hours to go on a scary ride. Then, when you’re strapped in and staring into a dark tunnel that you could hurtle into at any moment, you realise you might not want to take the ride after all. Then, with Mrs Cake being nearly a whole week late at this point, there’s a delay, leaving you sitting, gazing into the abyss with no idea when the ride is going to start.

Days 28-29

We reported “reduced movement” to the hospital today (Sunday), and ended up going in for a few hours. Mrs Cake was hooked up to a monitor which showed fairly frequent “tightenings” that, along with the administration of a “sweep” led the midwife to send us home with the caveat, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re back here tonight”.

We went home fully excited and expecting labour to begin any moment. This continued into Monday, at which point we realised things weren’t progressing so quickly after all. Nevertheless, in terms of access to alcohol, I felt any drinking would be out of the question now until after the birth itself.

Day 31

Wednesday was my last day at work, and the day before Mrs Cake had an appointment for being induced. I was tempted of course to have a beer that night, but by this point... you just never know, do you?

And then…

At 11 Mrs Cake announced she was tired and going to bed. It would be an early start on Thursday to make it in time for our appointment, but I wasn't quite tired yet, and thought I might watch a bit of golf.

As Mrs Cake left the room, she made an odd, surprised sound and announced that she thought her waters had broken. On calling Triage we learned that we should go in. There still hadn't been any contractions, and the hospital told us they were busy, so we figured it would be fine to have showers before we went in - anticipating a long night.

At 12 we loaded into the car, and it was then that the contractions started. Four and a half hours later Sylvie Cora was born. We debated whether to keep the intended middle name of Caolila but, cool as it would be, naming her after my favourite whisky just didn't seem like the right thing to do.

Nevertheless, I would finally get to drink that celebratory beer and have that massive cigar. And some grappa.

We didn't get home until 1930 on Thursday evening, and I'd managed precious little sleep in the hospital, so I'd intended to go straight to bed, but Mrs Cake encouraged me to stick it out until bedtime. I decided to have the celebratory beer.

I got a good sleep that night, with Mrs Cake taking care of parenting duties. Friday though was rainy and therefore not suitable for sitting out in the garden celebrating. I also didn't want to leave Sylvie for a second in case I could do something to relieve Mrs Cake from her duties. She had to do all the breastfeeding, which was almost constant, but if there was rocking or changing to do, I wanted to be able to. I still had a couple of beers and reacquainted myself with the world of spirits (Ballantine's 12) a little later on.

Saturday was much better. Sylvie slept for most of the day, we took her out shopping, and the weather was glorious, so it was time to get outside. As I sat out there, enjoying the Casimiro grappa more than ever before, I realised how much things had changed. I mean, we obviously thought she was the cutest thing we'd ever seen, but the first day in the hospital had just been surreal. We didn't really feel like it should be happening. We felt the same, and were apprehensive about the responsibility. Now though, I realised I'd gone from being worried about what the future might hold to eagerly looking forward to it. I can't wait to see her grow up, start interacting with things, smile, all that kind of stuff.

I had opened an email account for her as soon as we'd gotten her home, and started sending her e-mails so that later she'll be able to share the experience and see what a difference she has made to our lives. I'll be recording all the firsts, sharing funny stories and all the amusing things she says and does... but as far as the blog is concerned, it should be business as usual. I’ve always thought that people should retire from Facebook and the like as soon as they’ve had kids to save all their friends from endless baby photos and endless updates of uninteresting things that have happened so, while I’m not going to apply such a hardline stance to myself, the blog will continue to be entirely about booze but, as is the case with all our friends and family, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sylvie turns up in the stories from time to time.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Can you be a booze blogger and not have a drinking problem?

I knew this picture would come in handy one day
Veering away briefly from travelogues and product reviews, this week I’m giving you a sneaky (and probably slightly self-indulgent) peak inside the world of being a booze blogger. I have no idea if my experience is representative in any way of other booze bloggers (I’m thinking not, but wouldn’t want to assume I’m all that unique – you be the judge), but these are some things that I started thinking about and then tried to get down on a Word document.

Where am I and how did I get here?

So I’m ruminating this week on the difficulties of being a booze blogger – oh, poor me. Yeh, I know, it’s not actually hard or anything but it does raise certain dilemmas for a person like me who tends to think about stuff too much. All right, let’s think out loud and start on those two questions in the subtitle.

Where I am is a place where I spend quite a lot of money on alcohol and then write about it. What started out as a way to pass dead time – writing about something I had a burgeoning interest in – actually came to fuel that burgeoning interest. For some reason, though I didn’t have many readers at first (probably still don’t have that many), I soon felt obliged to keep writing and posting stuff on a regular basis. And if I was going to write about something, I needed something to write about. So I started spending more money on more expensive, exotic and unusual types of alcohol. I started taking part in activities that were alcohol related so that I could write about them. I started making alcohol a part of more activities, so that I could write about that. I realise that alcohol isn’t the most important thing in the world, you know. I also realise it can be very damaging and has ruined many lives. So do we need to talk about that?

We probably don’t need to talk about it too much (though I don’t tend to see booze bloggers acknowledging this issue), as long as one can keep a sense of perspective and operate within certain boundaries – such as not taking a hip flask around with you all the time just so that you can see everything through alcohol tinted glasses and create your own weekly Fear and Loathing serial. Do too much of that, and you’re an alcoholic. I have no intention of being an alcoholic, but I do intend to continue drinking alcohol. One day I’ll probably get bored of it. I get bored of everything eventually.

So let’s look at some of the issues that arise when drinking becomes an interest as much as a recreational or social pastime.

  1. funding the habit. A budget is needed, but people with a recreational or casual interest in booze might not face the same kind of difficulties a dedicated booze blogger does. They don’t have to consider that £70 bottle of scotch since for them, it’s all about drinking for fun. It’s good if it tastes nice, but are they looking for the pinnacle of distilled spirit? Probably not.

a typical supermarket visit
You, on the other hand are, and can’t get away from the fact that you are spending significant sums on booze for yourself – unless you’re getting freebies from distilleries and distributors (which I’m not – seriously, if you were in marketing, would you want to encourage the sort of writing I do? I doubt it). Despite the fact I’ve been doing this for a few years now, it remains an alien thing to me. I think that is left over from the time I’d buy a bottle of spirits for a specific occasion – to be consumed in one night or over a weekend. Back then I’d look at the [more] expensive spirits […in the supermarket] and think, who buys those? I didn’t even consider that they could be for me – or that there was an even more specialist market of spirits that you could order from the internet...

When you’re spending more signigicant sums on your booze though, it is more of an investment in long term enjoyment, and for some reason this makes it more acceptable. I do still get buyer’s guilt if I exceed a certain amount or if I decide to buy an extra bottle or two one month (though I think I’m starting to set my upper boundaries), but I do at least know that each bottle is going to last several months.

  1. when to drink. You have to drink (for the blog, not because you need it) and you want to drink (because the blog and booze are interesting to you), but you’re aware you can’t drink all the time – though I suspect there are some booze bloggers who do…

Ensuring there are days in the week that you don’t drink leads to having to designate actual drinking days – otherwise every day is a temptation that becomes tortuous. But having designated days, while amping up the anticipation, destroys the joy that being a spontaneous adult brings. But, alcohol is habit forming, so if I decide I want a beer after football on a Monday, I’m going to want one next Monday also, and I’m still going to want to drink on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It’s especially frustrating if you open a new bottle on Sunday, become intrigued, but then have to wait until Wednesday to sample it again. I don’t know how many people think about things like this, but when I ask around it usually turns out I drink more than most people. I don’t know what that means. There are probably far too many variables for that to mean anything. Moving on.

So, because I do drink quite a lot [let’s not sugar coat this – we’re all adults… though I’m not sure about YOU. You look young to me], I thought I’d look up the definition of alcoholism on the Wikipedia – you know, just to make sure. So…

One of the symptoms of alcoholism is “You spend a lot of time drinking, thinking about it, or recovering from its effects.”

Drinking and thinking about drinking are necessary aspects of being a booze blogger. Luckily, it doesn’t say “writing about drinking”. So if you are an alcoholic, you could just start writing about drinking, and that gets you off the hook…

The other alcoholism symptoms such as neglecting responsibilities (which I don’t do beyond having a very occasional beer at lunchtime followed by a lazy afternoon at work – and in all fairness, I’m just as likely to have a lazy afternoon without alcohol), using alcohol in situations where it is physically dangerous (you could argue that that is everywhere), experiencing repeated legal problems (presumably as a result of drinking, rather than being a crap lawyer), continuing to drink in spite of causing harm to relationships (this one is key, I feel), and drinking as a way to relax or de-stress – none of these are relevant to me, not even the one about relaxing or de-stressing. If I’m stressed or upset, the last thing I want is a drink. I drink when I feel good, not to feel good. SothatmeansI’mbetterthanyou.

On the final symptom, I do spend some time recovering from the effects of alcohol… because I do like to get hammered from time to time, and I do write about these incidences as a kind of gonzo journalism – but that makes it ok.

No, I don’t really go out and not drink, but I have done,on occasion. I just prefer not to. I do drink on my own, at home, but I don’t drink to excess on my own, at home. There is no chance for example, that I would polish off a whole bottle in one night – unless if was a one-off experiment for the blog (get that one in the notebook).

One thing I struggle to understand is how come alcoholics have to stop drinking completely? How come they can’t just have a few drinks now and then? Get slightly merry once in a while? That’s probably something you can’t understand until you are an alcoholic. So that looks good for me also.

I happen to have read what I’m going to call some alcoholic autobiographies recently – that is, autobiographies by alcoholics in which the alcoholism has been important, and the author has gone on to quit drinking altogether – these include Buzz Aldrin, Duff McKagan, Michael J Fox and Frank Skinner. I have to say though, in one case the subject just seems to be someone who likes to get smashed once in a while. The way it is presented, quitting alcohol altogether seems to be a bit of an overreaction.

At the other extreme, you have one subject who literally drank themselves to the edge of death, by drinking 10 bottles of wine a day (that is fucking impressive – even finding enough hours in the day to drink that many) – so quitting was clearly the best course. In one of the other cases… you just wonder whether they could have cut down a little bit. Or even a lot, just not necessarily altogether.

I don’t know, evidently I don’t currently have a drinking problem and I don’t really want one. I do have a bit of a nicoteine addiction – though I am largely in control of it. Many years ago now I stopped altogether – after a number of dismally failed attempts. A few months later though, I ended up buying a cigar on a stag do, and the floodgates opened – to an extent. The thing that works in my favour is that Mrs Cake doesn’t like me smoking, so I have a reason not to. If she wasn’t around, there wouldn’t be any such reason and I wouldn’t be able to stop myself taking up the hobby full time, but as it is I’m a very occasional smoker (but when I do smoke, it’s almost constant).  Alcohol has never been as addictive as that for me, but I suppose it’s only fair to assume that for other people it is.

Would my drinking habits be different if I wasn’t a blogger?

Interesting question that you thought of a mere few hours before your intention to post this blog, Neil. Where are you going to go with it? Well Neil, I’m hoping it will improve the post somewhat and lead me to making some funny jokes and observations that are sadly lacking from the rest of the text. So let’s find out.

Having had a micro-think about it, it’s almost impossible to say. I wouldn’t research booze so much, and wouldn’t know so much about it, though I probably would still be very interested in trying things and finding the pinnacle of distilled spirit – perhaps not quite so interested or dedicated to it, though. I expect I would probably spend a bit less on my habit and buy cheaper things more often.  I might still do booze tourism adventures, as they really give me something to look forward to and focus on, but I probably wouldn’t be as committed. Would I drink as much? Or more? Yes. I’d probably drink as much. Or more. Or maybe not… I wouldn’t have as many interesting bottles vying for my attention, so there might be less compulsion to dip into it midweek. I doubt it though. I’d just be able to enjoy it for what it is a lot more, instead of constantly asking myself how much I’m enjoying it and am I enjoying it any more or less than that other bottle.

If I wasn’t a booze blogger, you can be damn sure I’d need something else to get obsessed about and channel money towards instead of that vintage Japanese malt or expensive mezcal. That could be sport, video games, music, films… maybe I’d get around to writing a novel or a stand up routine. You never know, but I do generally need some kind of creative outlet, and for the moment at least, it’s the Drink it how you like it blog. And music.

your author may or may not be drinking from a hip flask on the bus
So how are you supposed to take all this? As a warning against expanding your alcohol interest into the sphere of blogging? Not that I mind whether or not you do. As a means of self-justification? Really, who (other than me) would be interested in this anyway? Well, no one, but it’s my blog and it seemed like an interesting thing to write about at the time. Perhaps not, but since you’ve made it this far, I’m going to promise you that next week’s post will be good. I’m going to look at my journey into parenthood from an alcohol-related perspective. I promise, after that, I’ll get back to writing about products, and deciding whether they are any good or not. In the meantime, think about the sacrifice I make for you every week, wrestling with my inner demons, drinking to [moderate] excess, spending money on alcohol that could be spent on… other things... It’s a hard life and you do what you can. It’s nice to have a drink once in a while… or, regularly though.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Berlinsterdam part 2: Spirits

Following on from last week’s visit to Berlin and Amsterdam, here’s part two, focussing this time on spirits…


Jenever (pronounced “Geneva”, like the Swiss city) is the original juniper flavoured spirit that, one way or another, evolved into what we know today as gin. I can’t really remember how I found out about it now, but what started out as a vague plan to pick some up turned into an intention to incorporate jenever into the trip as, a few days prior to departure, an episode of Coach Trip involved a visit to a distillery in Rotterdam. You’ll know if you’ve visited these pages before that I’m not a massive fan of gin, but spirits are spirits and booze tourism is booze tourism so it would be rude not to delve.

Our Top Ten guide book was good enough to include an entry on Wynand-Fockink: a distillery in the heart of Amsterdam that incorporates a bar and a shop, but only does tours on Saturday afternoons which was when we flew in.

Bols Zeer Oude
Before getting chance to visit the WF shop, I picked up Bols Zeer Oude Genever in a liquor store close to our hotel for 11 euros 50 (you can pick up a litre of it at Master of Malt for just over £30). I’m not sure why some of these products are spelled with a G and some with a J, but I don’t think we can question Bols here since they are the oldest distillery brand in the world, and produced the first genever . It’s hard to say whether that is this one since, apparently Bols began distilling genever in 1664, but introduced a new recipe in 1820 which is considered the authentic flavour of genever. I don’t know, sometimes I can’t make head or tail of all this stuff I find on the internet. Maybe if I read everything properly instead of doing that F-reading thing that everyone does on the internet, and means that none of you will actually read this post… I’m going to have to start planning strategically around that one day.

There were other brands available, but they were generally 35% ABV or even less, so I selected the strongest examples available – or so I thought, the internet says this is 35%... I had thought it was more, but can’t prove that just now. There are versions from the 70s and 80s at 39% and 37.5%, but I doubt mine was one of those.

Contained in a clay bottle, Bols Zeer Oude is apparently best drunk refrigerated, but the fridge in our hotel room was very small and already had to contain 6 cans of Grolsch and 2 desserts. The Bols never made it into the fridge before it had been consumed.

I enjoyed drinking the jenever before going out in the evenings, but I didn’t notice the gin-like element until it was pointed out to me. This element that I consider to stand out in the flavour of gin – which I assume must be the juniper - is more mellow and muted in the Bols – making it easier for me to appreciate.

Wynand-Fockink Rogge
Here is some more detailed information about Bols that you might find interesting.

When we did make it to the Wynand-Fockink shop one afternoon, I was able to try a few of the varieties – one that was aged for three years and is said to be close to bourbon in character and a couple of others I forget now – but the one I chose to take home was Rogge, which means rye. I’ve since learned online that they do a cask strength version. If I’d been informed of that at the time, that would certainly have been the one I would have gone for. 50cl of the standard variety cost somewhere around 18 euros. Read a little more about the Wynand-Fockink Rogge at some undetermined time in the future (in a month or two, probably).


The experience of my last booze tourism adventure (Orlando), in which I’d relied on chance to find liquor stores had convinced me that a bit of research would be necessary on arrival in Berlin. We passed a couple of stores that looked like they held potential early on in the trip, but on close inspection, they just turned out to be newsagents with large and visible selections of beer and wine – so not necessarily the kind of place you want to focus your spirit purchasing energies on. I did a little online searching then, and found this site, which lists all the notable stores in the Berlin area – and it turned out that one was just down the street from our Schoneberg apartment.

First though, I scheduled a visit to Absinth Depot. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I first scheduled a visit to Whatever Spirituosen, which is on Torstrasse in central Berlin and is supposed to be open from 1pm to 1am if a standard listing on Google is to be believed, but that certainly didn’t turn out to be the case when we visited. Absinth Depot is a short walk from there though, so that’s where we went next.

It’s good to have a bit of knowledge about products before you walk into a store like this because then you can immediately convince the proprietor you’re not an idiot – which they seem to respect. Here’s another idiot to treat with disdain, can quickly change to this person actually wants to spend some money. I was able to give some specific characteristics that I was looking for, and a few samples were quickly produced. Brenda commented on the cloudiness, and that gave me the opportunity to show that I knew that that was known as the louche.

These shops seem to be set up to give recommendations – you can’t really see exactly what’s behind the counter, and a few samples are available already, so it makes me wonder – presumably there’s a lot of stuff he doesn’t recommend so, is there some stuff he doesn’t sell any of? Is there some stuff he deliberately doesn’t stock? Because if you’re not going to recommend it, you’re probably not going to sell it unless it has a reliable market share in spite of your own feelings about it.

After debating whether 45 euro was a reasonable amount to spend on a litre of absinthe that I was buying purely to dole out at parties, I selected Maldoror on taste, though all three I tried were pleasant with water, which was a surprise following the glass in a glass experiment I’d tried with my Grande Absenta. I won’t be able to comment definitively until I’ve delved a little into the bottle however.

Maldoror is a German product, but the very first example of a blended absinthe – blended from a Czech, a French and a Swiss absinthe. Colouration is natural, and it is recommended to be consumed with a little sugar and 2-5 measures of ice water.

It is rumoured among online absinthe aficionados that the Czech contingent is Bairnsfather, which is very bitter and for this reason, it should maybe be tried with ice.

A discussion online suggested that, in spite of its winning an award, the finish is overly bitter, though in my limited experience, all absinthe has a certain bitterness. It was suggested that this appears on the finish, so potentially after judges opinions had been decided. Nevertheless, I tried it in the shop and wasn’t complaining of any bitterness later that afternoon.

Before heading to the local special liquor store we made a final stop at the nearby Kaisers Supermarket to pick up treats for colleagues at work, where I found Grappa Paganini for a too good to refuse 5 euros. I’d never seen nor heard of it before, but my predilection for grappa wasn’t going to allow me to pass this one by. I actually found it later online and then in a Sainsburys store (Urmston, I believe) at £14.50. The only other thing I’ve been able to find out about it online was that someone had bought it purely to turn the bottle into a bong. You can see why, though they hadn’t commented on the product itself at that point.
Ardbeg wall
Given my earlier purchases that day, by the time we arrived at Finest Whisky I’d resolved not  to spend too much, having already massively overspent on the absinthe, but I did still need to pick up something distinctly german. It was almost a shame really because Finest Whisky really is a collection of some very fine whiskies, that it was a pleasure just to have a look at. There was even an Ardbeg wall (pictured), which represented the fact that the store had just been selected as the official Ardbeg supplier in Germany… or Berlin… or something. I forget, but it was impressive nonetheless.

I’d tried a few varieties of schnaps during the trip – none of which were anything like the peach Archers that everyone is no doubt familiar with – and thought something like that might end up being the way to go. But no, the proprietor directed me towards korn, which is like german vodka. I had tried a few as a chaser to my beers in the last few days, but I’d never heard of it before and didn’t really know what it was.

What I was directed to then was Berliner Brandstifter, which translates as arsonist. In general, korn is supposed to be less vigorously filtered than vodka, but this one has been filtered seven times, leading to the claim that it reduces (or even fully eradicates) the possibility of a hangover. I doubt I’ll ever get to substantiate that claim, but nevertheless there was enough about it to make me want to take it home.

Only 1000 bottles are produced each year and all bottles are hand filled and hand-numbered. It clinked with the grappa when we put it in our bag leading to a slightly awkward moment when it looked like we might’ve helped ourselves to something else from the shelves while the guy wasn’t looking, but we hadn’t. It had been a pleasant visit in all, and Finest Whisky is a shop I’d warmly recommend you visit if you happen to be visiting Berlin.

Duty Free

I turned down the opportunities to make purchases at either Manchester or Amsterdam’s Schiphol airports because, in the first instance I figured I pick something up for consumption during the holiday in the city of Amsterdam itself, and in the second because there just wasn’t anything that made my wishlist – though I was tempted to get some 60% dark rum, before ultimately deciding that was out of scope this time around.

In Berlin though, and despite pretty much feeling my booze budget had been [over]spent by that point (one bottle consumed, four further bottles collected), one of my targets had always been a German brandy, so at less that 10E for 50cl, I couldn’t really turn down the chance of one last purchase. And this is it, Asbach Urbrand. The fact it reaches a full 40% in strength also worked in its favour. I’ve since learned that it proved to be popular with British troops stationed in Germany, and who am I to argue with a recommendation of that kind?


I’ve had to ban myself from buying anymore spirits for the next 2 months as a result of this little adventure, but that’s ok because I currently have 8 unopened bottles and I think that’s enough anticipation to hold in reserve for the timebeing. The only question now is what will I open next? Who’d’ve thought German booze could be so interesting? I certainly never did.


I have since found that there are even brands of German whisky. I’m quite glad not to have known that at the time, as it means there would have been other spirit types I was inspired to try, but it’s certainly one to bear in mind for the next time, and we had such a nice time that I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.

So thanks for sticking with me through this mammoth travelogue. I’ll be dipping into those various bottles in the coming months and the results will be vomited all over these pages, so check back if you’re interested. 

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Berlinsterdam... part 1

As the days grew short and the light grew dim on 2014, it was time for Mrs Cake and I to make one last booze tourism adventure – or “holiday” as most people call them. This time it would be a combination of stays in Amsterdam and Berlin – Amsterdam because Mrs Cake’s father and wife (there’s no un-clumsy way of describing that particular relationship) were rounding off a European river cruise and wanted to meet us there, and Berlin because I had promised to take Mrs Cake many months earlier in the year. I wasn’t that fussed about the Dam, having been there twice already, but that’s fine; it actually turns out to be cheaper to fly from Manchester to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Berlin, and finally from Berlin back to Manchester than it is to just fly from Manchester to Berlin and back again. And you get to take in three separate Duty Free opportunities that way… but more on that later.

As ever, I made use of a little idle time in advance and determined there were some interesting things I could look out for in these destinations – jenever in Amsterdam and absinthe and brandy in Germany.

Just to keep this focused on booze, as it should be, I’m not going to start at the beginning and take you through the whole holiday. Instead I’ve decided to split it into 3 sections - beer, spirits and duty free. Let’s get started.

Stories of Beer and Various Bars

I tried a lot of beer on this holiday – 27 distinct ones in a week in fact, which exceeded my monthly average at that point by 10 and (combined with the Salford Independent Beer Festival that I attended, and started but didn’t finish writing about) brings that average up to 20. I considered writing a song, from the names of the various beers, based on Johnny Cash’s I’ve Been Everywhere… but I simply don’t have the time or talent to shoehorn a plethora of dutch and german words I can’t even pronounce into the song structure. I’m also bored with the prospect of going into detail in regard to all the various beers we were able to partake of. Instead, I think we’ll go with some general observations and comments.


The stay in Amsterdam was more of a sedate affair than Berlin was destined to be, and than it had been on my previous two visits when I was more than 10 years younger  – mostly because we were there with parental figures and while alcohol was very much on our collective menus, getting smashed was not.

 So of course Grolsch and Amstel were part of the experience, but not Heineken. Mrs Cake had suggested the Heineken brewery as a possible destination while we were there, but the thought of it bored the shit out of me. I think what sealed that was that the website described it as a brewery tour followed by the chance to have “a beer” in the bar. A fucking Heineken in a bar. Careful you don’t explode with excitement at the prospect of that.

Fair enough, the tour might be good, it might be worthwhile, but whatever. If you’re going to entice me to a brewery tour, you’re going to have to promise a tasting of several samples with a few free bottles to take home. Otherwise I’m not going.

There are of course more interesting beers available in Holland; wheat beers, bocks, various types of beer from all over Europe – including a Fuller’s Chiswick, which I  swear said in excess of 5% on the label, but only around 3-4% on Untappd. We even stumbled across de Bekeerde Suster, which is a brewery and a bar, where I tried a beer called De Blonde Barbier, though I only scored that one a three out of five.

The highest scoring beers in Amsterdam were Grimbergen Blonde (which is actually Belgian) and Amstel, both of which scored a 3.5. Not astounding scores then, but I’ve come to realise I rarely score more than a 3.5 and the vast majority score 3-3.5. It doesn’t mean I don’t like beer, it just means it’s all all right and not much of it is amazing.

Berlin – What would Pablo and Veronica do?

There was much more beer drinking going on in Berlin, though for some reason we struggled to find bars. We’d been given a list of great places from a friend of mine, but we didn’t manage to find any of them. Elsewhere, nowhere really looked like the kind of place you’d just go into to drink. That may be down to our perceptions, expectations and lack of experience in German things, but rightly or wrongly, it is indicative of what happened. We certainly didn’t find any of those stereotypical beerhalls where buxom wenches with plaits and pigtails serve steins while everyone sways and sings. Maybe we just didn’t know where to find it, but find it we didn’t – that’s more of a Bavarian thing, I’m told.

On the first night in Kreuzberg we found a rock n’ roll bar, which was good, but it had two rooms and both were showing football matches. That, at least, was recognisable to us as a pub.

One night, also in Kreuzberg, we were looking for a particular restaurant when we heard loud punk music coming out of one of the bars. Having previously chided ourselves for not being adventurous enough, we turned around and went in – it’s what Pablo and Veronica would have done. We were greeted by a 6 foot transvestite belting out tunes from just inside the door, and the rest of his ageing band that included a Vic Reeves lookalike on bass. The room was packed and it was jumping with similarly ageing punk rockers. And it was awesome. I couldn’t see the beer taps, but ordered a beer based on the insignia on other peoples branded beer glasses – finally I’ve found a reason for them. We left at the end of the set, satisfied and pleased we’d done something we hadn’t planned in advance. We followed it up with traditional fried chicken, more beer and schnaps at Henne, a restaurant that had been recommended in our guidebook.

cool beer label
The highest scoring beers in Berlin were Schofferhofer Kristallweizen (which I have since seen available in Aldi), Unertl Weissbier, Frankisches Landbier and Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel, all of which managed an impressive 4 out of 5. I’m pretty sure that all of these with the exception of the Unertl were picked up from a supermarket with five other fancy beers for around 10 euros.

It is notable that, while I consider a beer scoring 3 to be decent, anything below that is sub-standard and I did come across a few examples of unpleasant beer – the worst of which was Meckatzer Weiss Gold at a Christmas market. Hofmuhl Hell and Berliner Kindl fared slightly better than that but don’t escape a naming and shaming on these pages.

Generally though, there was a good selection of beers to be had. One thing that did confuse me though, was that every time I ordered a weissbier, the waiter would say, “that’s a white beer”, as if it wasn’t generally considered something I should be ordering, like: “are you sure?” Is there something I should know about weissbier? Well, from Wikipedia, it appears everything is above board. I already knew I liked weissbier anyway.

I think we’ll leave it there for this week. I don’t want you getting put off by the sheer volume of words. Next week I’ll be back to talk about the search for German and Dutch spirits, and it should be quite a bit more interesting than this has been. Join me then.