Tag Archives: drink

Stateside Beer

13 Jan

I always find it funny how some memories in life stick out to you so much more prominently than others. Ask me about my childhood and I can wax lyrical about some elements (cows in the field, bears in the forest, country life, the big yellow school bus) while others remain completely hazy. But one that I couldn’t help remembering recently was the first time I tried a wee sip of beer. I was about four or five years old and was sat around a table in our living room. I had my playset mugs and toys around me and my dad was chatting with one of his friends, drinking a beer on a summer’s eve. I remember grabbing at his glass to smell the beer and him smiling, laughing at my intrigue. So, he gave me a tiny, less than thimble-full sip in my doll’s cup to satiate my interest (and probably to stop me asking questions – I was a very chatty child). I declared I liked it. And, I’ve not stopped liking it since (well, there was a brief period of, oh, 12 years where I didn’t drink any, but you get my point).

As I’ve grown older, I’ve tended to veer towards what I consider “good” beer – I don’t mind an occasional cheap lager if it’s given to me, but if I had my choice it would be a Belgian brew or rich stout any day over that. So, when I received a package in the post a few weeks ago only to discover I had been sent a few bottles of specialty beer to try, I was rather overjoyed.

It contained no less than seven varieties of beer – three from the US and four from Europe. I have finally tried them all and have decided to divide my review into two parts. This first one will focus on the bottles from the US and the next (coming soon!) will shout out my thoughts on the others.

So, to begin…

Anchor Steam from Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco

Anchor Steam: 4.8% – Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco:

As soon as I took a sip from this, I was transported back to the past summer, when I had been sat on an outdoor patio in the sunshine in San Francisco. This beer is distinctly west coast (Canada or US): its flavours are infiltrated with the warmth of a summer’s day and all that entails: BBQs, ocean, fresh breezes. Sure we have that here in the UK but, for me, this beer contained everything I know and love about the west coast. It’s also very rich and creamy, with a yeasty, almost Marmite like hint, and leaves a slightly charcoal and bitter note on the tongue. The company has named it Anchor Steam after the old term for beer – steam being the word used to describe beer made on the west coast under very basic conditions in the 1800s. So, with even a name that symbolises all things western, this is one for those laid-back weekend days in summer when all you want to do is relax with friends under the sun. It can be found at Selfridges for £1.99 a bottle.

Goose Island India Pale Ale

Goose Island India Pale Ale: 5.9% – Goose Island, Chicago:

I don’t normally drink India Pale Ale. In the past, I’ve found the bitterness of these to be too intense. So, I was very surprised when I tried this beer and it really hit the spot. It was most certainly one of the best beers of the lot – crisp, slightly fruity with a good load of hops working through from start to finish, without being so bitter as to make my mouth pucker. I had never heard of Goose Island but it seems a lot of Midwesterners have been enjoying it since the late ’80s when founder John Hall decided to try to create a brewpub in Chicago akin to those found in Europe. It was a very pleasant discovery and, even more so, when I noticed it’s available in Sainsbury’s for £1.99. It’s definitely one I’ll be indulging in more often.

Anchor Porter: the first porter beer in the US

Anchor Porter: 5.6% – Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco:

This porter beer – also from Anchor Brewing Co – was the first of its kind when it was released 40 years ago in the States. Before that, no one was really brewing the dark, rich porter beers that we here in the UK had been familiar with for hundreds of years. This version is lighter than a Guinness, but still dark as tar. It is rich, without being overbearing, and carries a load of chocolate and toffee notes. It avoids being bitter and instead makes itself very drinkable. I didn’t get that heavy feel after finishing this bottle, like I sometimes do when drinking this type of beer. All in all, very enjoyable but probably not for people who like lighter brews, as it is still rich. This, too, is available at Selfridges for £1.99.

Coming soon: I review Innis & Gunn Limited Edition Highland Cask; Duvel and Liefmans Fruitesse. These beers were provided to me, with thanks, by R&R Teamwork, a specialist London Communications Agency.

2012? When did that happen?

3 Jan

When I was a kid, any date after 2010 seemed an impossibility. I remember very clearly, sitting at home in a philosophical haze (as much as my 10-year-old self could handle) trying to envision the thought that by 2010, I would be 25. TWENTY-FIVE YEARS old! To my brain, that seemed an eternity away.

And yet, I couldn’t wait. Having a sister 11 years older than you, tends to make you want to be a grown-up much quicker – she was already off to university, living away from home, getting to “play house” as I called it.

So, now here we are in 2012. And all I can think is, “When did that happen?”

But, happen it did. And moving into a new year always makes me reflect on the year that was.

So, what was 2011?

Well…2011 was the year I started this site with a post on the food I savoured in Montenegro.

Hot air balloons drift in front of ours in the Napa Valley

It was the year I discovered fantastic wine in the Napa Valley and went hot air ballooning over the vineyards; worked on an organic farm; and, volunteered to take care of turtles in Costa Rica before returning to London to a new home with “the boy” and a new life writing about food, drink and travel.

A little girl runs after friends in the small village of Parismina, Costa Rica

It was the year I discovered my great weakness for whisky and created a site to encourage more young/female/people (!) to drink it, while also trying some fantastic tipples such as absinthe, tequila and cognac (the latter while sitting in a window at Harrods) through my work with Fluid London.

Glasses of Martell Cognac sit on the table in the window at Harrods

It was also the year I and the boy found out how absolutely, divinely incredible Ireland was with a series of posts (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) on our journey up the west coast.

The boy stands near yet another beautiful vista in Ireland

And, finally, it was the year I finished off by tasting some great mince pies for a worthy cause, going off the beaten path of food and drink writing, by thanking many supporters who donated to a fantastic charity night I helped organise with Marie Curie, learning about soup making with Nusa Kitchen and writing about some lovely wines I tried at a Virgin Wines event.

Me, looking incredibly cool, making soup at Nusa Kitchen.

All in all, very pleasurable indeed – and I have to say, far from what my 10-year-old self necessarily envisioned for my 26-year-old self.

And so, I say thank you to the people who have taken a spare few minutes to read my ramblings, and to wish you all the very best for 2012 – it’s the year of the Olympics, the year of the Jubilee, and the year of…well…we shall just have to see. I hope to continue celebrating London’s great food & drink, and maybe do some further exploring afield. And I hope for many pleasurable things all around for all of you (and your ten-year-old selves!)

38 Wines? 2 Hours? Why not!

20 Dec

I’m always a fan of trying to set new personal records. Some people run marathons or do the Iron Man competitions. Some people scale mountains or collect the largest number of Dalek figurines in the world. And while I am impressed with them all – okay, maybe not the Dalek collectors; sorry if you’re one – I tend to think it’s much more pleasurable to focus on personal records involving food and drink.

So, what has been my latest record?

Well, it’s got to be trying 38 wines in under two hours. The reason? Virgin Wines was having a press tasting and I was short on time. But, not one to skip on research opportunities, I decided I would work my way through their offerings, one small sip at a time, to bring you, the reader, my balanced opinion on a selection of wines the company is offering up just now for consumers.

Now, I’m sure there are skeptics out there saying, “But surely you wouldn’t have valued each wine individually if your taste buds had been influenced by such a quick onslaught of so many flavours.” To them, I say, you’re possibly a wee bit correct. But I did ensure to rinse out my mouth with lots of aqua and drink a fair amount of it as well, to ensure my brain was still working properly!

I agree with this slogan (possibly too wholeheartedly)

As such, here are my top picks (ie: those that received two ticks from me in my highly scientific rating system) from the Virgin Wines Winter Press Tasting:

  • Star & Vine Lodi Shiraz 2010: A full bodied, Californian wine that hinted at flavours of poached pears, cream and vanilla. I wrote “lovely” beside it in my book. It retails at £9.99 a bottle.
  • The Big Mo’ Barossa Valley Shiraz 2009: A rich, blackcurrent and dark chocolate offering from this Australian company bursts on the palate. Hints of olives and earthiness keep the sweeter flavours from the berries at bay. Lush. And well worth the cost of £12.99 a bottle.
  • Mas Oller Blau 2009: Tagged in the “Stars of Tomorrow” category at the tasting, this soft but fully flavoured Syrah, Garnacha and Cab Sauv Spanish blend really took my fancy. It was fresh and bold, and had a nice earthy minerality which packed a subtle but lovely punch. Retails at £10.99 a bottle.
  • The First Chapter Shiraz Viognier by Nico Vermeulen 2010: Vermeulen is one of the top wine makers in South Africa and this bottling is another fantastic achievement. The combination of Shiraz and Viognier really works (and this is coming from someone who doesn’t normally like Viognier). It was sweet but had rich mineral notes to contrast that; notes of mushroom and earthy flavours finish it nicely. Costs: £9.99 a bottle.
  • Oroura Station Single Vineyard Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010: This was a Sauvignon Blanc with a difference: sweet but sharp; slightly smoky with hints of melon; it was really full without being too rich or sickly sweet, which I sometimes find with this grape. A lovely balanced, single vineyard Kiwi wine. Costs: £10.99.

The Big Mo' had a big effect on my taste buds

There were many others that I enjoyed as well, but these were the top of the top for me. And – it seems, now that I have looked each up on the site – that many consumers rate these ones highly as well (at least 4 out of 5 for them all), so my taste buds couldn’t have been that out of sync.

Andrew Baker, a wines buyer with the company, told me these ratings play highly into Virgin’s decisions about purchasing. “The site gets 1200 comments a week and everything is informed by that.”

So, if you end up trying any of these wines and loving (or hating) them, do make sure to add your thoughts to the site – it could effect the future of what Virgin Wines stocks (and what I might end up trying if they have another event).

And now, I have to find a next personal record to try and achieve. Given it’s Christmas, this shouldn’t be too hard…

Virgin Wines offers wines by the case on its site and free delivery on any orders. If you want to order wine in time for Christmas dinner, you can do so up until 2pm on Thursday, 22 December through the website.

Tasty Tequila

30 Nov

Tequila, for me, has always been consumed as a quick and dirty shot when I’m already too drunk to know any better.

So, I thought, what better way to displace that idea as tequila as a drink of last-resorts than to head to a tequila competition and see what some cocktail masters were doing with the product.

The el Jimador Bartender Cup brought together 15 top mixologists from across Europe to a super cool warehouse under London Bridge to find the best new shot, long drink and cocktail. I was there to sip and sup some down.

People mull around while the bartenders hustle (photo courtesy of randr PR)

As the boy was otherwise engaged I was this time joined by my chatty and cheerful friend Lucy who can talk a storm and who definitely can handle her drink.

Sliding up to the bar upon arrival, we immediately got into the spirit by grabbing a tequila cocktail – a refreshing, sparkling tequila and lemon concoction. So far, so good.

This was followed by an elderflower version and then a grapefruit one.

Bartenders work hard for the money (photo courtesy of randr PR)

After this, things get blurry but I know there was lots of shouting and clapping, along with debates about how easily we could tell which country each bartender was from just by looking at their appearance rather than their country name tag. France and Turkey were the easiest for me. There was also, most certainly, a very loud Brazilian band which played out tunes on garbage bin lids.

Finally, over a small shot of aged tequila (and can I just say here, the aged el Jimador is like a really nice bourbon, which shocked me to no end) the winners were announced. Mr France came in as overall winner while Poland, Greece and Russia acted as the tripartite of winners for each individual category. Ah, finally, something Greece can be proud of…

I remember little of the rest of the night – though I believe Lucy did decide to confiscate all the undrunk competitors’ cocktails which were lined up at the back of the room and ensure we did our damndest to drink them down before a cater waiter could swoop them away.

What I can say though is that, yes, tequila does make you a bit drunk, BUT its flavours are worth so much more than just a dirty shot at the bar. And I hope you’ll join me in a Gwilty cheers to this drink, by having a go at making the winning long drink, the recipe of which, I’ve put below!

 

 

The winning bartender in the long drink category puts the final touches on his work

Winning long drink: Pasion por Mexico

·         40 ml el Jimador Blanco

·         10 ml Passoa

·         20 ml Mus Passion Fruit

·         20 ml passion fruit syrup

·         30 ml pineapple juice

·         3 parts lime

Glass: Hurricane

Methodology: Pour all ingredients into a glass (hurricane) filled with crushed ice, then mix with the bartender tablespoons.

Created by Krzysztof Jadach, Diva Bar, Poland

Sexy Italians or Swiss in the morning? Quelle Dilemma!

18 Nov

Eighteen months ago, I fell in love.

He was so sexy this little Italian devil, I just couldn’t resist. His name: Federico. He was my Italian stallion that got me out of my comfy bed in the morning. Those who know me, know that’s no easy feat.

The boy had even introduced us, started off the whole thing. It wasn’t my fault.

When I went away traveling over the summer, it was with trepidation that I left him behind. How could I? I knew he would feel so used!

But, leave him I did. I thought he would be happy in the hands of my friend Chris who has the sexiest kitchen in Essex. I thought Feddie could help my mate have some perky mornings that even the tarts from “The Only Way is Essex” couldn’t provide…

I was wrong though. Federico languished away in the corner all summer. My suave little espresso machine was not used or even understood. It seemed I was the only one who truly got him; who really understood his inner workings, what made him tick and flow.

When I returned, our relationship flared again – it was espresso love at first sight! And how could I not love a piece of machinery so exquisitely lovely as this?

My Italian stallion Federico...

So, it was with heartfelt shame that I found myself at Sketch Restaurant on Regent Street recently. I was there for a coffee tasting with Swiss company Nespresso.

But, my curiosity about the company’s new machines overpowered my desire to remain fully faithful to Feddie. This wasn’t really cheating…I wasn’t replacing him, simply taking a look…right?

Ooo, aahh...compact goodness!

On show were a few new specimens which use the handy pod system – all surely able to get even the most exhausted worker out of bed early doors. The Lattissima+ was a super compact espresso and milk steamer combo that did everything from cappuccinos, lattes and macchiatos at the touch of a button. What most surprised me was its size and speed – in under a minute, I was standing back – feeling slightly guilty but cozily warmed up – with a lovely latte. There was also another even more compact bit of kit. Sitting nearby on another table was the Pixie. The designers definitely had something right when they decided to call it a pixie: this machine is so small (11cm wide x 34cm high), it would easily pack away into a side cupboard when not in use. Handy for those tiny London kitchens a lot of   us must suffer with.

So, what did I think of Nespresso?

In short: I thought it was delicious. The company has a whole host of different flavours in various coloured pods. If you own a machine, you can pick up a random selection or just go for the type you like best. It prides itself on providing quality coffee, according to Justine Hunter, the company’s PR manager, who added there is a test to try out the quality of an espresso, which involves putting a sugar cube and seeing how long it takes to sink. She mentioned the Nespresso ones last a good eight to nine seconds before the sugar falls through the top, signaling the high quality.

Nepresso products try to woo me while Johnathon Sims shows me how it works

I was most impressed with the Arpeggio – also known as the shiny purple pod. It was a rounded, full-flavoured espresso with a cocoa punch and woody notes. I also gave the special edition Christmas coffees a go, which this year include: vanilla, chocolate and cherry. I can’t say it was my favourite, but the vanilla was rich and didn’t have any hint of that horrid, fake vanilla flavour you often find in coffee products.

Johnathon Sims, one of the company’s coffee experts, also explained the company is going for the goal of making sure 80% of its products will be AAA standardised by 2013. In laymen terms, this means: making sure their production lines are working with farmers to train them on productivity and sustainability, while also ensuring there is a sustainable development platform going forward. A worthwhile goal, I would suggest.

So, did this exposure to my lovely Federico’s rivals do anything to make me waver in my commitment?

I won’t lie – Nespresso was very pleasing indeed. But, then again, Feddie’s stood by me for so long, even in my absence, that I can’t just abandon him out of the blue. For now, Lavazza will stay my coffee of choice, but I can’t pretend I haven’t been Gwiltily tempted…

(Ab)sinthe (Fab)ulous!

29 Oct

When I say the word “Absinthe” what do you think of?

The “Green Fairy” right?

Well, so did I up until a recent absinthe tasting during which I saw no sign of her fluttery wings. Moulin Rouge had it wrong all this time! Instead, it was my taste buds, rather than my psyche, which was treated to some delicious delights.

The night it all occurred was grey and drizzly – the type of typical Autumnal weather that makes us Brits begin to fantasize about log fires and cozy evenings in. And what better way to embrace this change of season than to get some super-strength liquor down my gullet?

The boy listens intently to tales of the history of absinthe

So the boy and I headed out of the rain and into the quaint downstairs bar area of Knightsbridge restaurant Brompton Bar and Grill – aka: London’s first absinthe bar. It serves up La Clandestine Absinthe and its brand ambassador – Alan Moss – was there on hand to take us through the intriguing and tasty history of the drink.

Moss and La Clandestine’s distiller, Claude-Alain Bugnon, began working together in the early noughties. The product is handmade in the birthplace of Absinthe: Couvet, in Switzerland. Moss regaled us with tales of its rise to fame in the 1800s (from when the French gave it to their troops in Algeria to fight off malaria, to when wine and cognac were nearly wiped out because of a root disease, making people turn to absinthe), all the way to its decline in 1910, when it was banned under the guise that it made you mad.

However, absinthe was never banned in the UK – as such, a Savoy cocktail book from the 1930s has more than 100 drinks containing absinthe (and only four with vodka).

Over the evening’s historical tales of underground absinthe making on family farms and its resurgence into glory, the boy and I tried a multitude of cocktails containing absinthe: from Hemingway’s own invention, Death in the Afternoon, to a whisky-sour style drink called Morning Glory Fizz and the bar‘s own take on a Caipirihna, made with absinthe. My favourite, however, was just the neat absinthe, dripped slowly through iced-water fountain. I loved those bitter, aniseed flavours that always transport me straight back to Paris.

A delicious serving of absinthe sits waiting to be consumed

The one thing that was clear, was that Moss loves what he does – well, who wouldn’t really? – and he is clear about wanting his product to remain more of a work of art, than a mass-market seller.

“I may be selling it in 22 countries, but if I only sell it to a few bars in each one, that’s fine. I want to serve my absinthe where people enjoy it,” he told me.

Various bottles of La Clandestine sit pretty

Moss added he hopes it becomes more recognised as a slow-sipping, fine drink, like a good scotch or cognac.

“We hope that most people respect it and we want to start with people who make it and serve it properly,” he said.

That I can heartily agree to. Gwiltypleasures always says a big cheers to the little guy, trying to make great products that thrill the taste buds whether neat or in a cocktail. And that’s just what Moss is doing.

La Clandestine is available at all fine specialty drinks companies, such as The Whisky Exchange, Gerry’s Wine and Spirits, and Liqueurs de France, amongst others.

Cognac Dreams

13 Oct

My life has been filled with more drink tastings of late than a swarthy pirate. Not that I’m complaining…especially when it sees me sit out my afternoon in a most obscure locale.

Recently, I headed down to that rather traditional store called Harrods. Cognac was to be drunk and I was invited.

But the cognac was no ordinary cognac – the bar, no ordinary bar. Instead, I found myself ogled by tourists – wandering by on Brompton Road, equipped with cameras and curiosity – as I sat, trying to look ever-so prim in a window display while I drank some choice cognac from Martell.

Still-full cognac glasses wait to be drunk

The occasion was all a part of a push by Martell to up the profile of its fine-line cognacs in Britain. So, the company decided, what better way to do this, than to have a massive window display, featuring a sleek and beautifully designed trunk with all of its premium cognacs, in the premium store in London!

The trunk, made over 1,000 hours by ten master-craftsmen, and designed by Parisian company Pinel & Pinel is a sight to behold: filled with the 28 eaux-de-vie which represent what goes into the four ‘cru’ used by Martell to create its signature cognacs and featuring those four cognacs as well, the 2.06 metre tall trunk is something special.

The Martell Trunk inside the window display at Harrods (Photo Credit: Campbell-Bell Communications)

But, seeing as its price tag comes in at a rather hefty £200,000, and seeing as I haven’t won the Euro Millions of late (sigh), I opted to simply taste the cognac rather than invest in a whole portfolio.

Thierry Giraud explains the beauty of a good cognac

So, after exploring the trunk in all its glory, we sat with Thierry Giraud, Brand Development Manager, to learn more about cognac and be gawked at by the plebs (ie: doing exactly what I’d normally be doing if I were on the other side of the glass).

We learned how Martell began making cognac in 1715 after emigrating from Jersey to sunnier climes in south-western France. We learned how each cognac contains eaux-de-vie from four terroirs: Borderies, Grande and Petite Champagne, and Fins Bois, which are distilled and aged in 350 litre, fine-grained oak casks to stop it having any woody or aggressive flavours. We learned it is becoming most popular with the emerging upper classes in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, who drink it as a salute to getting the first big job (while we here in Britain, with our unemployment rate skyrocketing, choose White Lightning…maybe I should move to Asia?).

Oh, and we drank – I almost forgot that part.

Delicious, smooth, soft-oaked, sometimes bitter, orangey, almondy cognacs…including some from the L’Or de Jean Martell, a £2,998 bottle of the finest kind. It was my favourite, but then, I do have expensive taste.

And by the time I drank samples of four of those fantastic cognacs, I forgot I was being stared at by strangers ambling past…by then, I simply sank into the large, leather-backed chair, and reveled in the oddity of sitting in a window display, indulging in a rather tasty Gwiltypleasure…

The Martell Trunk will be on display in Harrods until the 22 October and available to purchase for £200k, if you happen to have that laying around in your change drawer.

Wine Virgin, No More!

11 Oct

It will come as no surprise to readers that I love wine. From a box, from a bottle, in the park, in a bar and once, even while perched on a crumbling castle wall overlooking the Dalmatian Sea…

But, up until the weekend I was still a wine festival virgin – I’d never been to a whole day dedicated to the gorgeous grape.

A Virgin Wines employee pours out a measure

This, I am happy to say, is no longer the truth after the boy and I ventured all the way down to the Royal Horticultural Halls in Westminter to take in some vinos with 1,500 others this past Saturday for the Virgin Wines Festival – an apt name, I thought, for myself the newbie.

Upon entering, I was astounded – never had I seen more open wine bottles…250 shiny, glass bottles being artfully poured into the awaiting glasses…sigh…

The boy and I could only look at each other, smile and grab our free tasting glasses to get going. No words, just pure and utter bliss.

Over four hours of wandering from table to table, having generous portions glugged into my glass (no special measured pours here) I managed to fit in 37 wines…yes, 37. From France, from Chile, Argentina and Spain, I drank my way through many a country in a happy cloud of tannins and bursting fruit.

In order to remember which we liked, the boy and I devised a scoring system to use in the handy books they provided us, which listed each wine available to taste: 3 ticks = brilliant; 2 = good; 1 = palatable; and an x = no, go.

Looking over that book now, with a much clearer head, I can report a few fantastic bottles, namely:

Still standing!

1) Fromm La Strada Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

2) Zinio Vendimia Seleccionada Rioja 2010

3) Morandina Valpolicella Superiore Pra 2008

4) Shiraz Plays Shiraz Barossa Valley 2009

5) De Martino Single Vineyard Las Cruces 2008

The boy enjoys some wines

The boy had his list too but we believe it may have been left behind at a pub – being British, of course, we went to a pub AFTER a wine event!

The festival also had wine makers there which you could speak with about their vineyards (I do believe this led me to speak Spanish to one grower at one point!) and Virgin Wines MD Jay Wright was on hand to dish out some of his top picks of the year.

All in all, I’d put the festival down as a success – and not only because I left feeling happily wobbly and more educated on what wines I really like, but because it wasn’t a stuffy, cardigan-wearing affair, but a young, vibrant exciting tasting. Perfect for Gwiltypleasures’s first…

Worldly Wine Weekend

6 Oct

Lately, my diary has had more drinking engagements than Hemingway did during his Paris years. Not that I’m complaining – in fact, even to my liver’s protestations, I say: let’s get the diary filled!

So, it is with eagerness that I write about a wine festival I will be heading to this weekend put on by Virgin Wines. Yes – Branson has his hands in this pie too!

And although it is happening the day after the much anticipated TWE Whisky Show, I’m hoping my hangover won’t be so bad that I can’t cope with some beautiful Bordeaux or charming Chardonnay.

According to the people helping run the event – which happens from 11:30am-4:30pm Saturday at The Lawrence Hall, near Victoria in London – there will be more than 250 wines available to sip and sup, and a load of food companies offering their wares too. All for the measly sum of £15. Not bad at all, I say!

If there are still tickets available, I’d grab one now – I’m sure many a Gwiltypleasure will be satisfied…

Tickets are available from the Virgin Wines London Tasting site here for £15.

Dramatic Whisky

15 Sep

One of my favourite things to indulge in is whisky. Its diversity of flavours and smells makes my tongue wiggle in happiness with each sip and I am finding myself ever more keen to develop my knowledge of this gorgeous spirit.

Over the years of enjoying this drink, I can clearly say I have learned that whisky is dramatic. In fact, seeing as Mirriam Webster defines the word as “striking in appearance or effect” and seeing as whisky is, most often, both – especially the latter after too many top-ups – I was glad to stumbleupon someone seizing on this fact to promote greater education about the drink to the masses.

This person is drinks-industry veteran Mark Thomson, who heads up the aptly named company: “Dramatic Whisky“. Its goal: “To break down the stuffy, dusty walls surrounding the mystique of Whisky and allow everyone the opportunity to discover and understand this fabulous liquid…”

I was curious to find out more and, after an invitation from Mark, headed to one of his latest tastings at the lovely Liberty Lounge on Bell Lane, just down from Spitalfields market.

Some of the evening's whiskies stand at attention while Dramatic Whisky founder, Mark Thomson, sorts last-minute details in the background

I was not disappointed, nor were the 21 other people who, later, all seemed to compliment Mark’s lecture as they wobbled out the door.

But back to the start. The venue was perfect for the evening: trendy but cozy, all dark-wood, dark-banquettes and dark couches, mood-lit by flickering candles. The guests made small talk over the lounge music bubbling across the stereo and the whole place felt far from anything stuffy or old-school.

Soon enough, we got down to the evening’s main event: the tasting, which comprised six whiskies. Interestingly, Mark started us out – after a comedic talk on how whisky is made and its history – with a Grant’s, something I haven’t drunk since a rather unfortunate evening as an 18-year-old when I glugged a litre of the stuff with a friend during a beach party in England’s south. It put me off whisky for a good six years, and I was doubtful of trying it again. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised: it had nice caramel and vanilla notes, was smooth and left a subtle pear taste of the palate. This was certainly due to the fact it wasn’t any bog-standard Grant’s but a posher, sherry cask finished blend, and my memories of one of my worst teenage hangovers were not brought back. Putting this whisky first was part of Mark’s goal to de-snobbify whisky drinkers who think supermarket-shelf stuff is no good and I think it did the trick.

We continued with a light, young, appley Glen Moray; Penderyn’s delicious peated malt (still one of my personal favourites); a rich, sherry-casked 12-year-old Highland Park; a nutty, oily 18-year-old Highland Park; and, finally, a Christmas-cake-in-a-glass 18-year-old Glenlivet.

Throughout the event, Mark tried his best to get the crowd chatting and spent much time joking about the attempts of the evil English to control and regulate distilleries in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was an evening choc-a-bloc with interesting information delivered in a relaxed manner, using the latest technology (he brought up pictures to illustrate points on his iPad) in a fantastic hidden-away bar I was very glad to discover. There was even a large plate of flavourful Moroccan food to finish.

And finally, it was dramatic in as much as it was the antithesis of what many whisky evenings can be: older, stuffy, aristocratic and snobby. We had fun, drank lots and got to love new whiskies. Gwiltypleasures was definitely satisfied…she can only hope Mark will continue to get the “water of life” flowing to even greater numbers of the UK population…

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