Forged during some lockdown banter with my equally lacking in work travel-writing mate in Norway, I resolved to explore the long-neglected, dark depths of my drinks cabinet and sample the contents of a different bottle each evening; then write a review, rate it and ask that question on everyone’s lips – if this was a footballer, who would it be? My quest has unearthed some weird and wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) drinks… How some of them came to be lurking at the back of a kitchen cupboard, I’ll never know; with some of them, though, it’s more obvious – they’re shit. Here’s the first week’s worth:

Brennivin, Iceland

“Made from barley and native Icelandic botanicals” – whatever that means – my initial impression of Brennivin (the “original Icelandic schnapps”) was nondescript; the colourless liquid and uninspiring smell giving nothing away. 

On tasting, the initial rush of heat quickened my heart, making me think, ‘We’ve got something here’, but this quickly faded, leaving a bitter aftertaste that took hours to shift. There was nothing original about it.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Dominic Solanke 

Rating: 4

Todka, UK

Toffee and vodka – what’s not to like. Maybe not together, though. First discovered in the ski resorts of the Alps, Todka (do you see what they’ve done there) was developed in Newquay, Cornwall. Not sure how that connects, but fair play to the UK’s surfers. Todka is a versatile drink.

Apparently, you can imbibe it as “a shooter, over ice, in cocktails or enjoy in a long drink with the mixer of your choice.” Then, the real kicker: “Todka is also excellent served over ice cream.” WHAT? I tried it. It transpires that it is. Chavvy it may be, but it is extremely talented.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Wayne Rooney 

Rating:

Top tip: How to make your own Todka: drop some Werther’s Original into a bottle of vodka and let the toffee seep in. Drink it.

Ponche Caballero (Solera Superior), Spain

‘Ponche’ is Spanish for ‘Punch’. And this orange-based liqueur certainly packs one, as my head this morning will attest to. Created from “a secret recipe over 180 years ago”, Willy Caballero’s choice of drink (I have no idea whether it is or not) is a cosmopolitan affair: concocted as it is with cinnamon from Sri Lanka, orange peel from Spain, vanilla from Mexico, clove from Madagascar and nutmeg from the Moluccas Islands (in Indonesia, apparently).

“Get seduced by Ponche Cabellero and discover why it has become an icon,” suggested the drink’s website. Who can turn an offer like that down, I thought? It can be enjoyed in a number of ways, but I chose to down it shot style. It seemed the sensible way to minimise the sickly sweet taste. Despite its worldly make-up, it is very Spanish – cultured, but it also likes to give you a dig in the ribs every now and then.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Sergio Ramos 

Rating: 6 

Leacock’s Madeira 5-year Medium Rich Bual, Portugal

My initial thought on discovering this miniature at the back of my cupboard was “What the feck is this?” Quickly followed by “What the feck is ‘bual?’” I Googled ‘bual’, which it turns out is the Anglicised version of ‘Boal’, “a name given to several varieties of grape cultivated in Portugal, notably in the production of medium-rich fortified wines from Madeira Island.”

Madeira: home to that awful statue of some footballer or other, whose name I can’t bring myself to utter. More research discovered that the 1966 version of said wine – or the Geoff Hurst Edition, as I like to call it – fetches £238 a bottle, or a discounted £2,713.20 for a crate of 12 (that’s just over a half-bottle for free – bargain).

A review claimed it “reaches the perfect balance between dry nuts and sour freshness and is also unusually fruity”. I just thought it tasted a bit crap. “Excellent with fruit, chocolate, cakes and hard cheeses.” Who knows? But I do know it doesn’t go with a curry. There’s no doubt it is sophisticated, perhaps even smug, but I just couldn’t get past my dislike for it.

If it was (or should that be ‘were’, I’m never sure) a footballer, it would be: Everything about it screams CR7 – Madeira, smug, dislike – but, quality-wise, it’s more of a Nani

Rating: 5 

Русский стандарт водки St Petersburg Platinum, Russia

Finding this unopened bottle – still in its presentation packaging and covered in dust – at the back of what is turning out to be a Tardis of a drinks cupboard, was a very pleasant surprise; not just because I would be getting a quality spirit to sample for a change, but for the fact that it was still there. Had I known it was, it certainly wouldn’t have been. 

Русский стандарт водки – that’s easy for you to say – or Russian standard vodka, which is much easier to say, is, and I quote, “dangerously easy to drink”. I concur. Made from winter grains found on the Russian Steppes and glacial water from Lake Ladoga, the resulting liquid is distilled repeatedly before being filtered four times through charcoal and, for the Platinum version, a further two times through silver to remove all the impurities. My lack of hangover suggests this did the job. 

“Try it with dark bread, pickled vegetables, caviar and smoked fish,” says the blurb. Funnily enough I didn’t have any of these to hand, but I took one for the team and ploughed on regardless. There’s only one way to drink this. And that’s shots – lots of them. Nostrovia.

If it was a footballer, it would be: This being a great shot, my first thought for this beast of a drink was Michael Essien. But, for authenticity, it really should be a Russian striker. So, stand up Russia’s all-time leading goalscorer Aleksandr Kerzhakov – if he can after a night on the Standard Platinum. Word of advice, though: make sure you have shot-stopper Lev Yashin on hand to tell you when you’ve had enough. 

Rating: 9

Unidentified type of tequila from that genuine Mexico (the sort where you take your own bottle and fill it from a cask)

I used to hate tequila with a passion until I sampled it in a different location – Mexico. There’s none of that clear, harsh liquor that requires lemon and salt to take the taste away here, nor are there any worms lurking at the bottom of the bottle – just pure golden magic in liquid format. In Mexico, tequila is to be sipped and enjoyed, not thrown down your neck at an alarming rate before last orders.

Made from pineapples (sort of), the best tequilas – and I have no idea about the particular one I’m tasting, although it does taste bloody marvellous – are billed as being 100% blue agave. According to the Huffington Post, when the blue agave’s “leaves are sheared, this leaves a massive [Google it, they’re not lying] pit referred to in Spanish as the ‘piña’ or pineapple. The agave juice that will be fermented and distilled into tequila comes from heating and crushing the piña”. As with Champagne, tequila can only be called ‘tequila’ if it is made in designated areas of Mexico. 

As it slips down the throat, a warm glow emanates, leaving a glorious, satisfied feeling in the stomach. I’m gutted my bottle of this golden nectar has now run dry. This is genuine class in a glass.  

If it was a footballer, it would be: Cesc Fàbregas (hate mode: Arsenal; love mode: Chelsea)

Rating: 8 

Noilly Prat Original Dry, France

According to the label on this impressive-looking vermouth bottle, “The finest white wines are aged in oak casks exposed to the Mediterranean sun, sea and wind before being infused with an aromatic blend of 20 herbs and spices, for the classic French aperitif.” I’m sure they do. But what happened to this excuse for a drink I’ve no idea. Talk about over-hype.

“If you prefer your martinis extra dry, then the idea of sipping vermouth on the rocks might sound a little off, like drinking ketchup from the bottle just because you pour it on your fries,” says Men’s Journal. “But straight, on the rocks… is how most vermouth-producing countries drink the stuff. “ 

I took their advice. Put some ice in a glass and liberally poured some, surprisingly, dark-looking liquid over the top. Frankly, a glass of ketchup (even Tesco’s own brand) would have been preferable.

My first sip was grim. The second even grimmer. The Brothers Grimm, in fact. I could take no more and reached for the gin mixer. The resultant martini took the edge off a tad. But, then again, I’m not a fan of gin… or martini. To be fair, the bottle’s many years residing in a dark cupboard may have dampened its spirits somewhat. 

This vermouth, claims the label again, has been “handcrafted in the south of France” since 1813. At this rate, they need a couple of hundred more years to get it right.

If it was a footballer, it would be: The over-hyped Bruno Cheyrou – hailed as the new Zinedine Zidane on signing for Liverpool in 2002, Cheyrou showed no likeness to his fellow French international whatsoever.

Rating: 1

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