The most realistic story ever told.

Category: announcement (page 1 of 5)

Behold – the salmon of time

Any keen and diligent readers of this blog will no doubt remember last year, when I was given the opportunity to write about the utterly splendid Drinks By The Dram Whisky Advent Calendar.  It’s a truly wonderful product, which ties up the three concepts of having an opportunity to try a selection of different high quality whiskies without breaking the bank, sampling whisky from a diverse range of styles you might not necessarily naturally think of, and getting a nice little surprise each day.

When the splendid folk at Drinks By The Dram contacted me this year, they said “Would you be interested in something a little different this year?”.  Well, how could one say no.  And a few days later a mysterious parcel arrived…


The format was familiar, to be sure – but what could they possibly mean by “The Surreal Advent Calendar”?  Last year’s calendar held 24 different tasty samples of whisky – ranging from classic well-known and loved household name single malts, to quirky new craft distilleries, some very, VERY tasty blended whiskies from both famous blending houses and more bijou specialist outfits, and there was even an incredibly old single grain whisky in there as a Christmas bonus!  What would this year have in store?

Reasoning that we’re popping away for a holiday just before the fat man in the red suit comes hurtling down our chimney I could probably get away with opening the first couple of doors ahead of schedule…


Based on last year’s calendar I half-expected a sample of some sort of incredibly rare blended whisky – perhaps made from specially selected casks from some now-closed distilleries…  But behind door number one was: TINSEL.  2 metres of the bloody stuff.  I guess tinsel’s always handy – especially around Christmas time.  Didn’t seem particularly surreal, now I think of it.  But it did give me some appetite to popping door number 2.


A flathead screwdriver?!  I can’t help but think Drinks By The Dram have steered a little bit off-brief with this calendar.  I mean, I know I chose not to go for a whisky one.  If I had I’d probably have been enjoying a dram of some sort of lovely spicy sherry-casked Speyside whisky by now: an ideal whisky for this time of year!  But no…  I’m the proud owner of a new tool.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a lovely screwdriver.  I guess I didn’t know what to expect.  Hey ho.  But surely there’s got to be some booze in here somewhere, right?  Maybe door 3.


OK, that does it.  A nice 30mL sample of some delicious youthful yet sophisticated whisky from a burgeoning farmhouse distillery on Islay (for example) would have been just the ticket by this point in the evening.  Instead of a banana.  But apparently this version of the calendar doesn’t work like that.

My attention was momentarily caught by a sound – I held my ear up to the box, and inside I could swear I heard the rapidly approaching sound of horses’ hooves.  This had potential to get quickly out of hand.  There was only one solution.


Sorry Surreal Advent Calendar, you were just too weird for me.  I don’t even like bananas that much.  Why oh why didn’t I go for one of the many other calendars they do – be it Whisky, Premium Whisky, Old & Rare Whisky, Single Cask Whisky, Japanese Whisky, Irish Whiskey, Gin, Rum, Bourbon, Tequila, Mezcal, Cognac, Armagnac, Absinthe or Vodka.  Or, Drinks By The Dram’s sister company That Boutique-y Whisky Company had their own advent calendar as well – which I even saw at a whisky festival a few weeks ago!


Looked ace!  I guess the important thing is that those other options are all still available from a number of good retailers (including from the magnificent chaps over at Master of Malt).  They’ve even (this is awesome) got a Glenfarclas Advent Calendar: 24 distinct and different expressions from one of Speyside’s most distinctive and well-regarded distilleries.

I realise we’re a few days into December as I write this – but it doesn’t really matter…  these great boxes are still very much available, and I think they make a particularly excellent gift; advent or otherwise.  They’re made out of a quite sturdy and recyclable (and, as it turns out, handily flammable) cardboard, so you could get a marker pen out and use the little doors as a sort of encouragement to teach your burgeoning computer science student pal how to count to 30 in base-8.  For instance.

Look, the point is… well, I’m not sure I know the point any more.  Buy an advent calendar.  Get one with whisky in.  Not bananas and screwdrivers.

Quality Whisky Content – please give generously

It’s fair to say that the Internet’s full of people who want you to hear what they have to say about whisky.  I can’t always say I find them interesting.

13417398_269515983438925_7110735978184751972_nHOWEVER… back in January a fella appeared on my Facebook feed courtesy of another whiskychum’s posting, with what sounded an interesting challenge.  Ben Bowers has set himself the task of sampling and reviewing 366 whiskies in a year and tying it all up under the fairly neat label of A Dram A Day.

The goal of this escapade is that it’s a fundraising challenge, with him aiming to raise £5000 for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund though getting people to sponsor him for publishing 10-15 minute videos every day of the whiskies he’s tasting.

I’ve got to say – I really like his style.  Ben generally seems to be a bloke who does his research (although occasionally loses the bit of paper that tells him what the samples he’s been sent are) and he’s tasting these drams sight-unseen, so the reaction you’re seeing is pretty real.  A good example of this is his tasting of Haig Club: a whisky which I maintain is targeted for a particular audience and purpose, but which Ben I think fairly provides an honest response to.

You’ve got to admire him sticking with it – often these sorts of things sink without trace 20 or so posts in. However as I write this he’s well over half way and almost at #210.  I’m enjoying the way that they’re clearly shot at night time in hushed tones so he doesn’t wake his wife up, although periodically he ventures outside of the kitchen into other rooms – so it’s sort of like a really protracted tour of a house somewhere in the North of England.  With many, many drinks breaks.

Earlier in the challenge he was courting donations of whiskies (I sent a few across – including the Berry Brothers & Rudd Glen Mhor that he seemed to quite enjoy) however now he’s got all he needs so it’s just a case of making it through to Burns Night 2017!

I’d urge anyone reading this who’s interested in whisky to have a look at a few of these and perhaps make your way through a few.  Having previously worked at The Whisky Shop in York Ben has quite a good vocabulary while at the same time speaking very approachably.  And perhaps if you’d like to say thanks for the research and effort by flinging his Justgiving page a few quid then I’m sure that wouldn’t be a bad thing.

On the 1st day of Awesome the whisky fairy gave to meeee….

It makes sense, doesn’t it – sending an advent calendar to an atheist who has a famously shady grip on time…

But if there’s one way to ensure that THIS little black duck knows exactly what day it is during the month of December then Drinks By The Dram have come up with the perfect tool – the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar (2015 version)! They sent me one for having been a particularly good boy this year (I assume that’s the reason…), and since it arrived the main challenge has been not breaking into it already.

Friends of mine have gotten this year’s calendar already and being mad whisky nuts they’ve already pitched into it to sample/review the lovely drams (DVDBloke Jon has plumped for the Armagnac version, in his typically contrarian way)- however I’ve had to manfully restrain myself in the spirit of doing the advent thing “properly” this year. Although I won’t pretend that curiosity hasn’t tried to get the better of me.

We know from the published information that this year’s calendar contains, among other things, a dram of The World’s Best Blended Whisky (decided at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards), “an award-winning Japanese whisky”, and a 50 year old whisky from an unnamed distillery. But do you tear through and liberate all 24 drams at once, or enjoy the surprise day by day? Or, try to use gnarly brain magic to try to foresee what’s in there?


In a sense it’s a bit like having a tiny Christmas surprise each day – except that there’s no risk of getting a pair of socks or a new tie, because you know it’s gonna be WHISKY! Unless of course you’re not a whisky fan – in which case you can punt for one of the other MANY varieties of calendar that those geniuses at Maverick Drinks have put together… there’s also a gin one, a vodka one, rum, cognac, armagnac, mezcal, bourbon, absinthe, and if the standard whisky version isn’t promising enough but whisky’s definitely your thing there’s also the Premium Whisky Calendar, and for those who REALLY deserve a treat every day for a month (and have £999 to spare) there’s the Old and Rare calendar.

And for absolute total perverts they’ve also got a Naga Chili Vodka Escalation Calendar.  As if weaning yourself daily upwards in 10,000 Scoville increments on insanely hot vodka was some sort of festive treat.

One beautiful aspect of this calendar though is that it doesn’t have to be used at Christmas – you could spraypaint the whole thing black and save it til January!

Or put it in a lead-lined box so that people definitely absolutely couldn’t cheat a sneaky peak at upcoming whiskies by using x-ray vision.  Just sayin’.

dbtd_ac2There’s 13 varieties of these things, so the absolute grandslam surprise gift for the person in your life who loves flavour experiences would be to buy one of each of these awesome calendars and spread them out across the whole year to give a consistent source of tasting joy.  Plus one real arsehole of a month where they had to drink Naga Chili Vodka.

Anyway – it’s such a groovy, benevolent, thoughtful and awesome gift that it seemed silly not to tell everyone about it.

Edit: Argh! This is what happens when you publish a post at 2am!  I forgot one of the coolest things…  Supposing you knew someone you loved SO much you wanted to give them a calendar filled only with samples of Speyburn and Fettercairn* (a kind of Good versus Evil theme), then YOU CAN DO THAT TOO BY DESIGNING YOUR OWN ADVENT CALENDAR!

  • full disclosure: when I tried doing this to prove it could be done my list only could have 6 Speyburns and 17 Fettercairns, so it’s not the totally balanced fight of Good & Evil that I make it out to be. Plus there’s one space left over so you could pop a 250,000 Scovile Naga Chilli Vodka dram in there to REALLY piss them off.

Time to face the hairy end of the year

Yes.  Movember is here.


This year marks a decade of me upsetting all around with the curation of yet another absurd-looking lip slug.  By November 30th 2013 I’ll have spent a total of 10 months putting dignity on the line in order to raise funds and awareness of mens’ health issues via the Movember charity: over the years variously depression, and testicular & prostate cancer care & research.

Blokes are rubbish at going to the doctor, and yet the annual crop of moustaches peeking out as winter draws in in the UK are now almost a subconscious cue to all of us to at least stop & think when the last time we had a checkup was.

Plus, it seems to irritate hipsters to ask them if they’re doing Movember – and anything that irritates hipsters is totally fine by me.

If you can spare £5 or so to help me in my fundraising effort this year, then I’d really appreciate it.  It’s been a lot of fun doing this over the last decade.


Many thanks.

£1000 worth of hair

I may have mentioned in passing (17 or 18 times) that this year I’ve been involved in the Movember charity cause…  So this year’s goal for me was to try to collect £1000 in donations, and to up the stakes a bit and encourage people into donating (because this is the 8th year in a row I’ve done Movember, so the whole moustache thing’s probably wearing a bit thin) I pledged that if I hit this 4-figure sum I would also get my head shaved.

Well, it worked!

On Tuesday night at Whisky Squad I was hovering around the £750 mark and the haircut was looking like a perilous reality, and when I awoke the next morning to see £841 staring at me on my MoSpace the realisation that baldness was now inevitable hit me.  Around Wednesday lunchtime the number ticked over into 4 figures, and so a quick visit to Murdock in Monmouth Street near the office and I’d scored an appointment with London barbering legend – Alex of Murdock Liberty!  No point in going to anyone but the best…

Accompanied by my colleague Jerome Jooste as photographer we high-tailed it down to Liberty’s and into the expert hands of Alex.  The last time I had any sort of drastic haircut was about 1998 when I went from having a mid-back-length Viking-style barnet into something a bit more sensible, and this moment held a similar sort of nervous frisson.  I mean sure, it’s only a haircut, but for a massively hirsute individual such as myself it’s a rare thing to see one’s own scalp.

Alex commenced with the clippering as Jerome buzzed about taking snaps, and Alex’s assistant offered me a drink – “what have you got?”, I enquired nervously (thinking that surely a place of the calibre of Liberty’s wouldn’t proffer me a cup of International Roast Caterer’s Blend with Coffee Mate).  “Juice? Coffee?  Whisky?”. “Whisky!”, I happily asserted, thinking with amusement that it was probably whisky that got me into this predicament.

That probably doesn’t quite sound right – I did Movember last year and was happy to collect a solid total of £644 for the charities that Movember supports: in this case, The Prostate Cancer Charity.  To provide a bit of “value” to the generous donors, my delightful but long-suffering girlfriend Liz helped my to dye my moustache blonde, to then try to dye it purple (Billy Connolly style).  Only we didn’t quite have our preparation down, and the results were somewhat less than spectacular.  Unless you’re a fan of chemical burns.  However because I was quite active with my canvassing (or, “harrassment”, as some might call it) I thought I might have a fallow moustache year in 2011.

I had obviously failed to communicate this to whisky-fuelled idea-smith Darren “The Whisky Guy” Rook, because during a recording of our whisky video podcast thing, Village of the Drammed, he announced to our viewership that he, Billy Abbott and I would all be participating in Movember again, and not wanting to be a wet blanket I figured I was now in.  I didn’t want to bother everyone for more money, but I figured if I could get 100 people to pitch in with a tenner then £1000 was theoretically possible, although statistically unlikely… so offering up a denuded dome to the cause seemed like a decent lark.

I mused upon this while sipping the Glenfiddich 12 year old that the barber had handed me, and thought to myself that had making the grand seemed possible I might have thrown the remains of my bottle of Movember whisky (cask strength 9 year old Glenfarclas – delicious!) into the bag to toast the moment with.

Alex buzzed away with the clippers, providing various progress mohawk variations for our amusement and I watched the folds of my cranium peep into view.  The risk here was that I’d never had this procedure done, and some people have heads not designed for display purposes.  My brother Tim had his head shaved after being the owner of a fine set of dreadlocks for some time, which he used to tie back to stop them flagellating his face every time he turned to answer a question.  The constant localised pressure on his scalp resulted in some very peculiar folding and once de-forested it resembled one of those foldy dogs (is it a sharpei?)… what if that wasn’t the dreadlocks?!  What if it was a genetic predisposition?  I didn’t remember feeling many scalp-folds on hair-washing outings (well, innings), but it’s one of those things you probably don’t pay close attention to.

The hair piled up on the floor and the sight that greeted me was vaguely reminiscent of my 14 year old self – back when competititve amateur swimming was one of the things that kept me busy and a low-hydro-drag haircut seemed important – only… errm… expanded & detailed. And with a dirty great mo on the front. Thankfully there were none of the weird ridges my brother had to contend with, and as Alex stowed his clippers and reached for the straight razor my gratitude at the lack of foldyness was doubled.

Beginning on a small patch at the top it was amazing to see how much difference there is between a Number 1 shave and a razor shave.

The concentration in the room intensified, as Alex set to on my melon with his straight razor, and my eyes followed Jerome around as he snapped away, getting ready to bark a “get out of the way!” should Alex want to move to where he was standing. Being the consummate professional though Jerome nimbly dodged out of the way as appropriate and the gradual follicular cropping continued apace.

In what seemed a fairly short time the operation was complete, and being the master razor-wielder that he is, Alex had only inflicted one tiny nick on the vast lunar expanse of my noggin. Amusingly, a fellow customer had arrived with a massive mop of hair, demanding an urgent wash & style for a film shoot – he’d brought his own conditioner too… not a consideration I’d be having to make for a good while now. Again, being the consummate professional that he is, Alex didn’t register even a modicum of malevolence although surely he must have been thinking of the joy in dispensing a head shaving to that little oik as well.

And with that, we were done! And what a weird feeling it is. To start with, because of the balms and whatnot that had been used in the process my skin felt incredibly fragile and cold, and to touch it had the texture of a Vietnamese cold roll. And speaking of cold – when people have helpfully suggested the need for a beanie, they’re not kidding! Not even in the comparative mildness of this year’s London winter. It’s remarkable how sensitive it all is, and I can actually feel the heat radiating out of the fluro-tubes in the office. I haven’t explored in any detail yet, but I believe you can now see the little scar on the back of my head from when I was bitten by a chihuahua at the ripe old age of 2. Errm, I mean, great white pointer shark. Not chihuahua.

So it only remains for me to once again thank everyone who’s offered donations and support for this lunacy. It’s still possible to make a donation if you’d like – I think the page remains open until some time in December. Thanks to everyone who’s donated whatever they could: I know there was a bit of jockeying to be the one who tipped me over the £1k mark, but when you think about it, EVERY donation pushed me over the £1k mark. It’s good to know I’m surrounded by caring people who both care deeply about prostate cancer research, AND who want to facilitate me making myself look a tit.

Big ups also to the rest of the Whisky4Movember team, in particular the instigator of it all – Darren Rook. Without his expert interference, there wouldn’t be an idiot walking around today looking like a former Victorian circus strongman who’d let himself go and gotten an office job. The team’s fundraising total so far stands at £2452, which smashes last year’s achievement for this excellent cause.

Also props to the team at Master of Malt for their support, and for joining our Whisky4Movember Network (along with the other whisky teams we’ve got on board) – bringing our entire group total to £9150 so far, which I think is a staggering effort.

Now, to see about getting this scalp-tattoo of a treasure map that I’ve always wanted…

The full gallery of shots from the afternoon can be found on Flickr for your viewing pleasure.

The mid-month mo update

It’s just past the middle of Movember, and you’ve had to endure my constant pleading for funds for a couple of weeks – so I thought I’d treat you all to a glimpse of how this year’s sub-nasal adornment is going…

After an initial gestatory Chopper phase, I brandished the precision tools this morning and the result is something which I’ve grown fond of addressing as “The Colonel”.

Thanks to your combined generosity so far we’ve managed to crack the £500 barrier, which is EXCELLENT!  As I mentioned previously if I can raise £1000 this year (and at the minute that means I only need another 49 people to donate a tenner each!), I’m going to shave my head.  I was a little surprised that some of the more vindictive of my friends hadn’t dropped large donations to ensure this happened quicker…  maybe they’re losing their touch?

The reason for these donations is to raise money and awareness for mens’ health charities – in this case, The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute for Cancer Research – which I feel are very important and the work that they do is fantastic.  It’s not just about me collecting donations from you guys of course: we’ve got a Movember fundraising whisky tasting coming up next week which I’m happy to report is fully booked out, and as well on the whisky front Master of Malt are selling their special Whisky4Movember Glenfarclas bottling of 9yo cask strength whisky for £39.95, with £10 from each bottle going towards Movember.

I’ve assembled a bit of a photo collection below of other friends of mine who are doing Movember this year as well – I just worked out I’ve donated about £260 to other people partaking in this shennanigans, which explains why I can’t afford to eat this month.

If you’ve not made a donation yet, then there’s still 13 days to go – anything you can spare at all would be greatly appreciated!  You can donate at my MoSpace:


Thanks so much, and keep the MOmentum going!



‘Tis the season for upper-lip hair – Movember Is Imminent

Mid October already?! Well, as anyone who’s known me for any length of time will be able to tell you, that time coincides with only one thing: the preparatory phases for…


Starting on October 31st with a clean-shaven face, then participants in Movember grow as much of a moustache as they can for the month of November (see – grow a mo, in November – Movember!), and whilst doing so we raise funds for mens’ health charities via the Movember movement.  In the UK this year it’s The Prostate Cancer Charity and the Institute of Cancer Research, however the charities vary from country to country.

It’s a great way to raise awareness of mens’ health issues (because blokes have a tendency to not really go to the doctor, even if they need to), to raise funds for much-needed research and treatment programmes, and – visibly – to look silly for a month.

I’ve grown a mo in Movember since 2004, and last year our Whisky4Movember fundraising team totalled £1749, which was a stellar effort, and thanks to everyone’s generous contributions my personal contribution to that total was a magnificent £644!  And to be able to raise that sort of money for charity it was worthwhile to spend half of the month looking like an angry German.

In fact, once I’d hit the £500 mark I thought I’d better crank the ridiculousness handle a little – because I felt that sacrificing my dignity was worth it for that sort of money – and attempted to dye my moustache purple.  Unfortunately it wasn’t an overly effective gambit, and I ended up with a normal-ish coloured mo with a blonde streak along the bottom, and a chemically burnt top lip.  C’est la vie.

However it got me thinking that raising the stakes may be a way to raise more money for the cause, so I put on my special idea-generating hat, and have come up with the following:

If my Movember fundraising total reaches £1000 during November, I will shave my head as well.

In my mind this idea will conclude with a look that echoes the quiet dignity of someone like Sir Patrick Stewart, however somewhat more realistically I think what we’ll be seeing is something more akin to a moustacheod George “The Animal” Steele.  But, so be it.

If you’d like to make a modest donation to the Movember cause, you can do so on my MoSpace fundraising site:


Any and all donations gratefully accepted!

I’ll be keeping the site updated with progress photos (mo-gress?) of how this year’s lip slug is coming along, and of course if we do hit the magic £1k mark then I’ll have to think of some way of “rewarding” you commensurately.

As I mentioned – the Whisky4Movember team will be operating again this year: we’ll be running a couple of special Movember whisky tastings with proceeds going to the Movember charities…  first tasting to announce is the Whisky Squad Movember Tasting (for which there are still a few seats available) on Tuesday Movember 22nd!  Keep your eyes on the site (or the Whisky4Movember Facebook Page) for further info on tastings & soforth…

So yes – it’s a great cause.  Please give whatever you can, and I’ll do what I can to stretch your entertainment dollar further.

Incidentally – if you’d like to sign up and get involved in Movember, there’s still plenty of opportunity to do so!  As well as raising money for a great charity, there’s loads of prizes and incentives for fundraisers, free burgers, and of course if you join the Whisky4Movember team there’s also discounted whisky tasting opportunities as well!

Ticket help required

Hey wow, it turns out you can use your personal blog as a noticeboard.

So, as mentioned in my previous post, I’m in the US right now and will be here for a few weeks.  I’ve got a few tickets booked for things which I now can’t use, so I thought I’d mention it here and see if anyone’s interested in taking them over from me.

I realise this is another manifestation of my irritating habit of having extra tickets for things and optimistically hoping that my friends might want to make use of them, only in this case I’ve got single tickets for this stuff and the only reason for wanting to sell them is that I can’t make it to the gigs in question any more.

  • June 30th – Hayseed Dixie – 20:00 – The Half Moon Putney, 93 Lower Richmond Road, London, SW15 1EU – £16
    Hayseed Dixie are a very skilful & fun bluegrass band who started out doing covers of AC/DC songs (and Led Zeppelin, Motorhead, Aerosmith, etc.) and the like, and are moving more into originals.  Check ’em out on YouTube – aside from doing excellent covers, they’re top musicians.  I played them to Spiro and he liked them.  And he hates rock cover bands.
  • July 11th – Festival Of The Spoken Nerd (“Are you Pi-curious?”) – 19:30 – London New Red Lion Theatre, 271-273 City Road, City of London, EC1V 1LA
    FOTSN is a nerd comedy night  put together by Helen Arney, Matt Parker and Steve Mould, and features nerdy (science/maths) comedy as well as talks by science people & other interesting folk.  I can’t remember how much the ticket was (maybe about a fiver?).  Genuinely fascinating & fun night though. This one’s taken now!
  • July 13th – Primus – doors 19:00 – Brixton Academy – £25
    Not sure what to say about Primus, cos I’ve not seen them before.  I know that my mate Ben in Adelaide hates them, but apart from that all I’ve got to pass on is the Wikipedia content: “Primus’ musical style is difficult to define. Primus has been called everything from “thrash-funk meets Don Knotts, Jr.” to “the Freak Brothers set to music”, and has been variously termed alternative rock, alternative metal, funk metal, and progressive metal.  Les Claypool himself once described their music as “psychedelic polka”. Primus is the only band with its own ID3 genre tag, as extended by Winamp. Primus’ influences include Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, The Residents, Mr. Bungle, King Crimson, and Rush. Bands that have cited Primus as an influence include Deftones, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Incubus and Muse. “
  • July 18th – Paul Foot Edinburgh Preview – doors 7:30pm, show 8pm  – secret venue – £10
    A fairly unconventional comedian, Paul Foot is someone whose work I’ve wanted to check out for some time, and I bagged a ticket to his now sold-out Edinburgh Preview run via his Connoisseurs’ Guild (as he doesn’t have a Fan Club).  As reviews of his prior work suggest, what he does isn’t “stand up comedy”, per se – more seemingly random comical wanderings.  I think it’ll be a memorable night.

So, that’s what I’ve got – if you’re interested, ping me a note on Facebook, Twitter, Email, or via blog comments below, and we’ll figure it out.

At this point it’s probably necessary to reiterate that all of these shows take place in London, so in order to avail yourself of the tickets you need to either already be in London, or have some independent means of getting yourself to London.   None of these tickets come with a return airfare to London – which is a pity, I know, but I’m saving up for a new tricycle and just can’t throw money around like I used to.

Thanks in advance for the flood of responses.

PS A friend of mine’s also got a spare ticket for this Friday’s Hard Rock Calling Festival (£50) – the main lineup is The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs, and James.  Again, contact me if interested & I’ll put you in touch.

Made from unicorn sweat, plumbers’ tears, and 98% pure awesomeness: TIGER BLOOD!

A few weeks ago my learned colleague Billy “The Traffic Cone Marauder” Abbott and I got together, under the watchful supervision of Liz, and commenced an act of civil disobedience.   You see, the splendid folk over at Master of Malt Towers had launched a highly excellent Bloggers’ Blend challenge – whereupon whisky bloggers were called upon to create their own blended whisky out of a provided set of ingredients – and it seemed that we had been missed from the list of entrants!

Well, not being invited has never proven reasonable grounds for non-participation in the past.

To cause an impact on the judging panel though we’d need to draw inspiration from the one man whose work drives and guides us always.  I speak, of course, of Mr Charlie Sheen.

We would have to put our whisky brains into Go gear, and come up with something memorable – TIGER BLOOD.

Owing to a documented shortage of tigers in the Park Royal area, I instead had filled my bag with a selection of potions & libations from my Scotch arsenal and was confident that, armed with our expertise, experience, pure natural raw talent, and of course Adonis DNA, between the pair of us we could make a reasonable fist of creating the finest whisky blend ever produced.

Having learned a valuable lesson about whisky in the past – “Don’t try to stake your reputation on an exercise based on whisky you’ve never tasted” – it was imperative that we try each of the whiskies we’d collected together so as to have a good understanding of the source materials.

The decreasingly accurate notes we made

In hindsight, perhaps drinking 21 whiskies (and a beer or 2 – we’re not obsessed, you know) before commencing the project wasn’t the best idea ever had, but still.  ONWARDS!

Over several iterations, millilitres of fluid were painstakingly pippetted into blending vessels, and notes were meticulously taken.  There was much swirling, sniffing, nodding, conferring, and head-scratching.  But after 5 permutations I’d finally reached a recipe I was happy with!  Plus, we were running out of Clynelish, and Liz & I didn’t want to miss our train home.

We had made TIGER BLOOD.

Oh yeah. You know you want it.

“And what”, I imagine hearing you ask, “prompted you to pull your finger out and get around to writing this up only a few weeks later, instead of months or years like the posts you’re working on about your snow trip in February or your visit to the US in 2009?”.  That’s a good question!

The Master of Malt crew announced today that they’d tried the TIGER BLOOD, and have published rather a sterling post about it on their blog, which you should read.  However it seems proper to repeat their tasting notes, by way of padding out relevant content here.  Plus, we rather like them.  Behold.

Nose: Lots of barley on the nose, vanilla sweetness, dry sauna pine. It develops with hints of damp hay, Werther’s Originals and manuka honey. Overall, it smells like winning.

Palate: Very fruity palate, with a hearty dollop of apricot conserve on buttered croissants. After a time we also get blueberry compote on Greek yoghurt, and cola bottle sweets.

Finish: Good length, with an almost effervescent quality to it. In fact, it reminds us of Red Berry Fanta, and on the very, very tail end there’s a hint of chilli pepper.

Overall: There’s a new sheriff in town. And he has an army of assassins.

How do you like THEM apples?

In summary, the exercise was a lot of fun, and I’d highly recommend that anyone who’s interested in whisky have a go at it themselves!  Billy & I were lucky in that we had a fair amount of source material at our disposal (and were assisted, it must be said, by a small contribution from our good mate Rob at Berry Brothers & Rudd), however you only need small amounts to blend (we were using 1mL parts into a 10mL blending sample), and many of the candidates for the blend were Drinks By The Dram that I had on my shelf.

About the only regret I’ve got is that we weren’t able to make more of the stuff.  Although we’ve still got the recipe.

Finally. A British milk-based drink that doesn’t suck.

I am a South Australian, and as such the topic I now write is one of the utmost gravity and import.  For 7 years now I have optimistically purchased milk-based drinks in British and European supermarkets, hoping against all hope to find anything which might come within 400 miles of satisfying my craving for that nectar of the gods – Farmers Union Iced Coffee.

For nearly 2500 days now I have scanned every café, deli, kiosk and supermarket fridge with hopeful eyes and spent pound after futile pound on all manner of substandard concoction, in a bewildering array of unfamiliar packaging.  I’ve had fatty, powdery mixtures in clear glass, overly sweet drinks from slender tins, watery nonsense from foil-topped plastic cups, and repeated crushing experiences of thick syrupy tongue-coating awfulness from rigid plastic contoured bottles – whose very plasticity seems to cry “Here is a product designed for longevity rather than flavour.  This milk came from no Earth cow”.

And yesterday all that changed at the Bath Coffee Festival, when I met a man named Jimmy.

He seemed to find my urgency – or maybe it was the exaggerated waddle I performed upon spotting his stall – to taste his product comical, but it was a respectful recognition.  Here too was a man taken by the wonder of the contents of the iconic white, blue & brown cardboard carton which we all revere.

Jimmy said he’d discovered & fallen in love with iced coffee whilst in Australia and was despondent that nobody had produced a comparable product here within the confines of the Empire.  In particular – unsurprisingly, but then he seemed a man of taste & distinction – Farmers Union.  After rounds of what started as negotiating with the company, right through to begging, he couldn’t convince them to bring their product to the UK market, so he figured “I know, I’ll make my own!”.

The carton – a 500mL cardboard tetra with plastic screwcap – is comfortingly reminiscent of certain iconic colour schemes of the category.  It’s possible to muse over font choice and graphic placement, but what’s critical is the taste.

Let me be abundantly clear – this product is not better than, and nor is it a replacement for, Farmers Union.  I think to make claims to that effect where I’m from is tantamount to high treason.  It is however a fine, fine beverage.  Immediately, the flavour is less intense than FUIC.  This includes less sweet.  Fearing disappointment, I held it in my mouth a little longer and found immediately that the creaminess of the milk balanced well with the genuine coffee taste (beans sourced from Honduras).  The milk was pleasantly slightly thicker in texture than what comes out of a bottle of semi-skimmed, but not the evil viscous nonsense that hints of “powder in suspension” which other “shake” drinks provide.  It’s sweet without being saccharine and as the last mouthful left my palate I mused happily on the way that the taste of the 3 main components – milk, sugar and coffee – were present and identifiable, but also united.  At least, I mused on it until letting out a gargantuan sneeze on the train – scaring the shit out of about a dozen of my fellow commuters.

(Some post-consumption research showed me that Jimmy’s contains 1.1g of fat per 100mL and 6.0g carbohydrate, 5.2g in sugars – comparably, Farmers Union has 1.7g fat and 8.4g carbohydrate, 8.0g in sugars.  I think it said 8.  Might have been 6.  It was a little hard to read on the highly appreciated photo my brother hastily sent over to me.)

I think Jimmy’s created one hell of a drink here.  Distribution’s going to be his key challenge I’d say – he told me that his main London points of sale at the moment are The Australia Shop in Covent Garden, Harvey Nick’s, and Selfridges.  Apparently there were some negotiations afoot with a major supermarket group, however their recent comment was “It’s not thick or sweet enough for our market” (i.e. it’s not the same as the other horrible cr*p we’re already peddling).  They’re clearly idiots, and I can only hope that word of mouth ensures that Jimmy’s excellent product finds the demand it truly deserves.

The eponymous Jimmy

Get into it!

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