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.
You knew they were there.
The keening and gulling was a distant but ever-present backdrop to the relative serenity of our balcony – punctuated sporadically by the rattle of a 35 year old exhaust train as the vehicle raspily exhaling through it ka-bomped over the speedhump placed thoughtfully outside the hotel.
We’d selected a “rock view” room, which I’d suggested based on the fact we’d seen ocean before – and our mountain-facing room in Cape Town had paid dividends. Cursory research would’ve revealed that it was less a rock view, and more a strategic/defensive concern, what with the cementlike face of the Rock of Gibraltar looming vertically on the other side of the road. Admittedly more interesting than a brick wall: although at least with a brick wall those bloody birds wouldn’t have been able to find purchase.
Friday – our first day in the curious little territory – we decided the best thing to do would be to get the bus from the stop immediately in front of the hotel (on top of the speed hump, now I look down at it) around to “town”.
As we stood on the footpath looking around wide-eyed at our new surroundings for the next few days the volume increased, and the air was transformed from the usual placid backdrop of the avian mob to a more urgent and frenetic sound. We looked up to the sight of thousands and thousands of seagulls taking wing. Whilst the normal scene might have a couple of hundred of them soaring and flapping listlessly and stupidly about, this was more like some sort of silent whistle had gone off to signal the start of a new seagull work day. Or a particularly charismatic one had just squawked the seagull equivalent of “WE RIDE!”, before leaping from the cliff face and sparking a chain reaction.
Whatever the cause, the air was now thick with the things – urgently flapping their way out to sea, then some turning back in to begin circling. There was no logic or pattern you could see. No unity of purpose, no sign of a goal. They must’ve covered a couple of thousand feet of height in airspace – their wheeling about very much making me think of the armada of winged monkeys in The Wizard of Oz.
I pulled out my phone and tried to think of the best way to document this poetic motion in photo form, when a rusty old pickup truck approached the speedhump, and as it slowed a weathered tradesman proffered his head from the window to issue some advice.
“I wouldn’t stand under ’em”.
As I sit writing this from our hotel balcony I can state conclusively that the mass taking wing does *not* coincide with the bus timetable.
And as I gaze out over the midnight-blue canopy over the hotel walkway – seemingly decorated to resemble some sort of deep-galactic starfield – I can therefore conclude that seagulls aren’t smart enough to have developed a sense of humour.
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.
HOWEVER… 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.
In July 2015 my Mum was scheduled to fly over from Adelaide and stay with us here in Bristol for a couple of months, because it’s nice to get away – especially in winter.
In May 2015 one morning I woke up and immediately knew something was wrong, and confirmed my suspicion by discovering that Liz had slipped over whilst clambering into our rather perilous bathtub/shower arrangement, whacking her head on the side of the tub and installing what can only be described as a Mighty Bruise on the inside of one of her thighs. Which none of you will have seen. Once concussion had been ruled out, we quickly surmised that this arrangement would not be suitable for Mum’s visit, and so our up-til-now hypothetical schedule of works was accelerated sharply and our bathroom – at vast expense – was duly gutted and remodelled with a rather splendid walk-in shower which we’re absurdly happy with, and which we were happy to report via telephone dispatches was now ready for guests to enjoy.
2 days before Mum’s departure flight I got a Facebook message from a mate of mine who lives across the road saying that I’d probably better get in contact. It transpired that Mum was walking into the house with the shopping, and – despite having repeatedly safely negotiated the front step without incident for the last 40 years or so – on this occasion managed to trip over and break her right shoulder.
Needless to say, the UK visit was off in favour of some time in hospital. The story which follows was actually quite a protracted one, and not mine to tell – sufficed to say that Mum managed to at least not spend much of the winter at her house, instead alternating between hospital, her friend’s house, hospital again, a recuperation ward, a rehab centre, and finally 6 months later following a second operation and a fairly sizeable painkiller prescription – back home again.
We’re happily relieved to report that she’s more or less back to normal life in Adelaide now – albeit requiring a little extra assistance on some tasks while she gains mobility in her arm again.
And we got a nice new bathroom out of it.
And the *excellent* news is that in 2016 – almost a year after the intended timeframe – we were delighted to receive Mum into our home to visit us for 4 weeks. Not quite as long as we’d planned initially, but it was wonderful to have her live with us and we managed to sneak in a few adventures while she was here…
But I’ve a feeling that’s a story for another time.