I like alcohol. As for any drug if you’re going to do it, do it sparingly and make it count. Here’s how.
An excellent series of whiskys matured once, then put in a different cask, generally of something rather flavourful like port or madeira, to mature again. When they get it right, it’s really really good.
Distiller’s edition Lagavulin (fantastic), Talisker, Oban, Cragganmore, and Dalwhinnie are universally good (Dalwhinnie is quite a sweet whisky, but the Distiller’s edition has a dry note which works very well indeed).
I suggest: Lagavulin Distiller’s edition (see above), Ardbeg Uigeadail (tastes of tar, but in a good way), Lagavulin special release 12 (thoroughbred peaty whisky), Caol Ila 18 (subtle, best dilute it), and Ardbeg 10 (simple, direct, peat).
Isle of Jura Supersition is smokey and smooth, almost chocolatey, if you can bear the cringe-making packaging (it peels off). No Laphroaig has anything to be ashamed of and it’s cheap, and the quarter cask is nice if you like the taste of, well, wood.
Strathisla 25, Mortlach Signatory 1991, and Auchroisk Rare Malts 28 are just fantastic. I also suggest Bowmore Dawn and Dusk which taste of violets (I can’t get over that; how come violets?).
I suggest Bruichladdich 15 and the Balvenie doublewood. The Glenfiddich 21 gran reserva blend is an exceptionally good blend which hits the full octave of tastes. Isle of Jura Superstition is notably peaty, but not so aggresive as to be intimidating to, say, a friend who isn’t used to whisky.
I shan’t list here all the whiskys I’ve drunk that I didn’t like. However, a few notes may be useful. Scapa is apparently in vogue after years of neglect — neglect was right. Also, I cannot recommend Bowmore Enigma. It’s a peaty Bowmore and I fear the peat and their signature violet note just don’t make a good harmony.
I’ll put a dutch blonde in my mouth and enjoy it, but really I prefer the strong brown silent belgian type. The list below reflects this preference.
Gassy (medium bubbles and lots of them). Tastes of flowers, roses. Sweet first, then bitter aftertaste.
Medium bubbles and not many of them. Floral leafy taste, like rosemary (I’m not making that up). Strong aftertaste of pure alcohol.
Sweet turning slowly to slightly bitter very solid on the tongue. Three sips and my legs buckled; drink sitting down. Sugar added and you can taste it. Cough syrup. Medium bubbles.
Mouldy taste turning to sour then bitter. Rather nice. Frothed greatly when opened (had it been shaken?) but then fine bubbles and relatively flat.
Medium large bubbles, pleasant feel on palate. No taste at first, then hint of bananas and lingering aftertaste of burnt toast. Nice.
First apples, then marmite. But they make it work! Delicious.
I discovered belgian beer one summer’s day in Lozère, south of Paris — and it was a Leffe. Ah, that sweetish taste of rotted grain! Yes, Leffe tastes of rotted grain. I find that commendably honest since that’s what beer is.
I tried the brune and didn’t like it. Try Chimay, or indeed almost any other beer on this page.
A (the?) classic belgian dark beer. Not clearly `the best’ by any means, but the best-known and a yardstick for the others.
They do weaker versions in brown and white, which don’t work; I see a monk doing his best, but just unable to grasp the concept of a not ridiculously strong beer.
Dutch beers brewed in Haarlem. A set of lovely and interesting beers; watch out especially for the four-grain beer. Hard to get hold of.
Buy, where possible.
Bubbles followed by sugar and vodka. Not bad actually, but for the same money you can get better. They fortify it with sugar to bump up the alcohol.
Sweet at first with a long bitter aftertaste. Creamy and foamy on the tongue, but not gassy; lots of small bubbles. How to describe the taste? Charred nougat? Certainly, very nice.
Very strong yeast taste, but not salty. Many bubbles but somehow not gassy. Aftertaste of toast and then yellow melon.
Your classic nutty beer taste. Traditional and very nice.
Sweet and foamy without being gassy. Very pleasant indeed, but not much actual taste.
The Germans simply made it illegal to fiddle with beer, e.g. by adding sugar — so you can trust it to be wholesome stuff. Urbock is excellent, more bitter than your usual belgian beer, but just as solid and nourishing.
An extremely strong french blonde, though the label says they didn’t add sugar. I generally find blondes too gassy and light, but this one foams up on the tongue with perfect discretion and has a good body. And the taste? Roast beef, or barbecue flavoured crisps.
Excellent. A german brown beer. Takes being a beer very literally: incredibly strong malt; sweet, not bitter. Lovely solid foam which avoids being gassy. Well made and solid as a Mercedes.
Light but strong beer. Relatively flat but foams nicely on the tongue. Tastes of fruit-flavoured chewing gum (and beer). Pretty nice, and goes well with a tuna salad.
I have no photographs or tasting notes for the following beers. I write from memory.
The cream of Manchester! A good drink.
Familiar worldwide from japanese restaurants.
The Japanese really do drink it too; it’s not just for export. Light and thirst-quenching, it’s poles apart from the belgian brunes.
It seems that as a courtesy japanese hotels provide a machine dispensing Asahi in half-a-dozen flavours at very reasonable prices (under one pound) for 500ml. While I was there I climbed stairs for forty minutes before bed to keep fit (while reading a good book). An Asahi seaweed flavour beer after that, was perfect.
Tastes of Asahi seaweed flavour beer. Alcohol-free beer has image problems — but this stuff is nice.
So which is more ridiculous: the name, or the glass they serve it in? But the beer is lovely.
Fun packaging and cool name, but steer clear of this one. They sugar it to bump up the alcohol, and you can tell.
A dutch trappist beer. For me, it doesn’t work. Too light, too gassy.
I bought many beers in Van der Heijden. The owner is crazy about whisky and knows his wines too — and so do all his staff. They thought I was silly buying all those boring beers; they take good beer for granted, being not 60Km from the Belgian border. A good place, with genuine spirit for the bottle!
Ever tried it? It’s hilarious; it’s no stronger than whisky, yet it tastes like pure ethanol, infused with a piece of (old and mouldy) parmesan. It was a poor man’s drink made of grapeskins left over from wine production — pure rotgut — then someone had the bright idea of sponsoring a literary prize and selling the stuff in handblown bottles. Prices trebled and fortunes were made.
Personally, I rather like it. I also use it to put myself to sleep in airplanes. Thanks to Ugo Montanari and Furio Honsell for introducing me to it.
If you see this bottle, buy it!
Brew it, distill it, soak it in oak while you bring up a child … It works for whisky and it works for this. It’s exceptional. I had a shot in Oniga in Venice and immediately bought the bottle it came from. They did me a nice price too.
In an airport in Japan I once witnessed a roundeye asking very seriously which Sake (of the huge selection) was ‘good’. Don’t bother. I’ve tried loads, and though there are differences, they’re universally lovely. It’s not like wine where if you get it wrong you get antifreeze. Or maybe you do; anyway, it tastes good.
And what does it taste of? Actually, ethanol and parmesan. But in a good way. They sell it in glass bottles of course, but did you know they also sell sake in little tetrapacks with straws, like what you put in a kid’s lunchbox (though not in the airport)?
Did you know that in Italy you can buy pure alcohol in the supermarket? To them it’s just an ingredient for making sweets, like icing sugar.
Half-fill a large jam jar with a cheap whisky, Jack Daniels will do nicely. Run a thread through an orange. Seal the jam jar, using the thread to suspend the orange above but not in contact the spirit. Leave in a warm place for a month.
By evaporation and recondensation the alcohol draws the flavour out of the orange, and makes a lovely, subtle liqueur. Tasty!
Throw in lots of green chillis. Leave for a month. Serve as spirit shots, down in a single gulp. (Recipe: Mike from the Buffalo Bar)
Throw in a stick of vanilla. Leave for a month. Sip slowly. (Recipe: me)
Throw in a stick of cinnamon. Leave for a month. Sip slowly. Best with rum. (Recipe: me)
Mix one part egg yolks and one part demarera sugar dissolved by warming in milk (or sweetened condensed milk). Slowly mix in one part gin. You’ve got Advokaat. Do not add alcohol directly to the egg yolks, they’ll curdle.
Unlike bottled beverages, you can smell a cheese, even taste it, before buying. So the reader doesn’t need any suggestions from me — except perhaps …
If you’re in Amsterdam airport pick up a Reypenaer. I don’t like dutch cheeses; too much like the plastic they’re wrapped in. However, this one’s good. The taste? Marmite.
In a dutch market ask for Gouda number 6; very similar. In general, ask for an overjarig; something matured for at least two years. It should contain tiny salt crystals.
The British are modest to a fault about their cheeses; only Stilton is internationally recognised, and I suspect this is only because once opened it’s impossible to ignore. Aside from that, UK supermarkets are a Cheddar hell.
But there are excellent cheeses to be had — and of a kind quite unlike those on the continent.
Light, slightly acid, hard and crumbly, Wensleydale is, so I opine, the finest representative of a breed which includes Leicester and Cheshire cheese. UK goats cheeses are also excellent. But forget the supermarkets; visit a farmers’ market on a sunday morning — and the farmers need all the help they can get.
I’ve never been drunk — I did once become distinctly lightheaded, the day I nosed grappa at less than three feet and not through a wire mesh.