The results are in. Here’s some more ramblings after my second week in lockdown sampling the bottles hiding at the back of my drinks cupboard… and we get off to a fairly decent start

Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition 1986, Scotland

“Lagavulin on the rocks, Ain’t no surprise, Just pour me a drink and I’ll tell you some lies,” Neil Diamond almost once sang. Never a truer word chanteured. Except here, there are no untruths. This whisky is sublime. Even the wife liked it, and she detests whisky.

“This is the definitive Islay Malt – untameable, with the strongest peat flavour of any malt whiskies from this wild island shore. Its dry complex strength of character, with characteristic notes of sea-spray, is perfectly matched by the sweet accents of a sun-dried grapes derived from Pedro Ximenez cask-wood in which this special edition has been doubly matured.” The label took the words right out of my mouth. “That’s fecking gorgeous” amounts to the same thing in my book.

And the 1986 edition? Unopened, this fetches up to £650 at auction. Worth every penny, I’d say. Its perfect peaty, smoky taste leaves an intoxicating flavour of smoked pulled pork in my mouth for hours after. How this little gem remained in my cupboard undiscovered over the last decade is beyond me. I hang my head in shame. Although, I made it a promise last night – “You’re my best mate,” I slurred. “I won’t neglect you again.” 

If it was a footballer, it would be: Be honest, were you expecting Kenny Dalglish, maybe Dennis Law? Good though they are, they don’t hold a candle to this man. Memories of a 1970s plain blue shirt (before commercialisation ruined them), the iconic lion badge, a number 7 sewed on the back by me mum. The first hero for a small boy: ‘The Bonnie Prince’, Charlie Cooke (with apologies to Pat Nevin).

Rating: 10

Ferreira Porto Tawny, Portugal

Port. The definitive after-dinner drink. So, I’m not sure quaffing it like it was wine while in a pre-dinner virtual pub session with @Neal_Sousbois was the ideal testing ground. In the interest of fairness, I had another couple of decent-sized measures after my beans on toast. It went down a treat. 

“It has a beautiful red hue with fair hints as well as a delicate aroma, reminiscent of spices and nuts, acquired during the ageing in the oak wood,” say the experts – which is along the lines of what I said to Mr Sousbois. Although I may have used more simplified terms, such as: “It’s bloody nice, that.”

Notwithstanding the fact that there were bits of cork floating in it, this bottle of Ferreira Porto Tawny has stood the test of time – its velvety smoothness on the tongue putting it in that classic bracket. Not spectacular by any means, but dependable to the last drop.

“Built by a family of winemakers from the Douro in 1751, Ferreira possessed a rich tradition and a prominent role in the history of Porto Wine,” spouts the Our Taste of Portugal Facebook page. “Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira contributed significantly to the consolidation of the brand. A legendary woman with a unique personality, who became a myth and a symbol of strength facing the adversities of nineteenth-century Douro.”

Sentiments that strike a chord in these dark times we now face. Like Dona, I (would like to) see myself as a symbol of strength facing the adversities of 21st-century Britain… as I knock back the contents of my drinks cabinet. Delusions of grandeur? No more than that French vermouth I had earlier in the week.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Who else could it be but its dependable namesake, Paulo Ferreira.

Rating: A solid 7

Ouzo Mini and Ouzo of Plomari Isidozos Azvanitis, Greece

Two for the price of one, today. Ouzo Mini is born and bred on the island of Lesbos, “using carefully selected anise exclusively from Lisvori, which is reputed to be the best anise in the world”.  The back of the presentation pack also claims, the Mini is “exceptionally smooth and mellow”. The Plomari, on the other hand, “masterfully combines the aromatic seeds and herbs of Lesbos”, using that same best anise in the world “to create a unique ouzo”. Big claims.

I haven’t drunk ouzo since an ill-fated session on Ios, back in the early ’90s. I’m not a fan of aniseed at the best of times, but, when in Rome and all that, I put my prejudice aside and downed copious amounts of cheap-quality ouzo cunningly disguised in lemonade. I awoke with a fearsome hangover, which I can still recall as I write. At some point, the hostel kitten wandered into our room and we all had our photos taken with it – still drunk, I guess. Too overhung to play with it, I placed it outside on the verandah and watched in horror as a dog appeared from nowhere and pounced on it, killing it instantly. A metaphor for drinking ouzo, if ever I saw one.

So, it was with some trepidation, that I set out to sample these two drinks cupboard stalwarts. The first surprise was that you are supposed to drink ouzo on the rocks, no mixer. And, what’s more, when you pour it over the ice, the clear liquid goes cloudy as the anise reacts with the cubes. Amazing – try it, it’s magic. But, that’s where the magic stopped. The putrid aniseed taste of both versions overwhelmed my taste buds, causing me to gag. Like a pair of Arsenal centre backs, it was extremely poor. 

If I had to choose one of the two, it would be the Plomari – it had some citrus overtones and didn’t smell as bad; plus, it also came with a free painting.

Ouzo, though, does have a style about it. It suggests class, sophistication and conjures up warm, summer nights in the Mediterranean. But can it do it on a cold, rainy night in Stoke? Despite the breeding, ultimately, it fails to deliver. 

If it was a footballer, it would be: Mesut Özil

Rating: 3

Beveland Butterscotch Schnapps, Spain

Short and sweet this one (do you see what I’ve done there – butterscotch, schnapps – oh, please yourselves.) With sugar as a major ingredient, it is, naturally, very sweet… and very moreish. It’s dessert-like qualities make it an ideal after-supper sippage, a worthy butterscotch sauce replacement for dribbling over your ice cream, a way to pep up your coffee or hot chocolate, or as the basis of many a cocktail. Its heavy sugar content means that, when mixed with other liquids, it tends to sink to the bottom of the glass, providing the foundations for those fancy layered concoctions you can get in schmantzy wine bars or up-their-own-arse pubs (you know those places we used to be able to go to in the old days).

The Beveland website proudly proclaims that this particular schnapps give off the “a primary aroma of butterscotch”. Who’d have thought? And that that on swallowing, the taste sensation is “slightly bitter and burning due to the alcohol content”. Enlightening stuff. What they don’t say, but should, is that ‘buttershots’, as it is nicknamed by others in the know, is ‘pudding in a glass’. Forget your post-dinner After Eight wafer thin chocolate mints, this is an Anytime is Schnapps Time candy.

If it was a footballer, it would be: There’s only one man that fits the bill as a pudding in a glass – wobbly Tomas Brolin, who Leeds fans recall as having “arrived with a colossal reputation but departed with only a bigger gut”.

Rating: 7

Whitley Neill Rhubarb & Ginger Gin, UK

Dedicated to Rhubarb Larsen. That joke’s exclusively for you mate.

“Inspired by the glory of the English country garden,” proclaims the writing on this alluring purple bottle. “Essence of rhubarb adds a tart crisp edge whilst the real ginger warms the palate.”

What, I wondered, is ‘a tart crisp edge’? And, more curiously, in what instances is ginger not real?

Hold up, there’s more: Johnny Neill’s latest gin “evokes childhood memories of visiting his grandparents on their farm…” What, were they gin-swilling alkies? I eagerly read on, “by taking a firm Whitley family favourite in rhubarb and placing a warm twist on this with the addition of fresh ginger”. 

There was only one thing for it, I’d have to put my abhorration of gin aside and give it ago. Nervously, I took a sip. That crisp tart edge hit me – I now knew what that phrase meant and some – my mouth making involuntary movements of disgust in response. Then, out of nowhere, the ginger – real or fresh, or perhaps both – kicked in, at once confining that piney, biting gin taste to the bin. This could be alright, I thought.

Indeed, by the time I’d drained that experimental measure I was ready for more. Reaching for the bottle I was a bit more free and easy with the pouring. But, again, that ghastly shock of a first swig smacked me in the back of the throat, before the rush of ginger came to the rescue. This was a grower, one that would take some adjustment to its new surroundings – a slow burner, if you will.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Someone who took a while to gain the affection of the fans. At first vilified, then adored, but still prone to the odd ghastly performance – Jorginho

Rating: 6

Absolut Raspberri Vodka, Sweden

“To be really picky,” says Absolut’s website, “raspberry is a drupe and not a berry – but whatever.” To be really picky Mr Absolut, your raspberry-drupe vodka is awful.

Talk about taking a great drink, in vodka, and ruining it. Admittedly, this particular incarnation of Russia’s favourite drink may have been designed more with the cocktail market in mind. But, seriously, if you want a vodka cocktail just get a bottle of plain voddy and mix it with some fruit in the shaker. That’s the trouble with our need-everything-now society – you end up with crap like this.

“What does Absolut Raspberri taste like?” asks the website’s copy writer. Daniel, the company’s sensory manager – a smiley looking man with a forehead of Ant McPartlin proportions – pipes up: “A jammy flavour with a bursting taste. Notes of sweet, wild raspberries handpicked in the forest with a quite intense aroma.” Handpicked from the forest? How do you get that from sniffing this excuse for a drink. I’d get yourself tested for Covid-19, mate – you’ve clearly lost your sense of smell. And ‘sensory manager’? What sort of job is that?  Nonsense-ory manager more like.

On the plus side, it’s made from natural ingredients and there’s no added sugar – so good for those of you trying to hit your five-a-day target or if you’re on a diet.

In case you haven’t worked it out yet, this was Absolut-ly shit.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Sign someone great and then watch them perform like a disinterested mercenary on 600 grand a week,. Sound familiar Alexis Sánchez?

Rating: 2 (for all my ranting, it’s still better than French vermouth)

Gonzalez-Byass Elegante Fino Sherry Palomino, Spain

“A classy, very dry Fino, subtle and fragrant on the nose and full of savoury almond notes on the palate,” the label very helpfully informed me.

“Elegante Fino is the perfect partner for fish, shellfish, cheese, white meats and traditional Spanish tapas.” 

Really? Sherry, for me, conjures up memories of that first ‘illicit’ drink, when, as a young boy making his way in life, my parents introduced me to alcohol – with a pre-Sunday lunch Harvey’s Bristol Cream, as was the tradition in our house. No wonder I was a repressed teenager.

I also remember an advert that ran along the lines of two old blokes arguing, one saying “Byass-Gonzalez” and the other retorting with, “No, Gonzalez-Byass”. 

Anyway, since those rock ’n’ roll days I vowed never to let such a drink darken my days again. So how this spurious bottle came to be languishing in my cupboard I have no idea. 

I poured myself a conservative measure and took a tentative sip. And immediately spat it out. What the fecking hell was that? That was even more disgusting than I remember. 

Maybe it had gone off. I decided to phone a friend – Google. According to “Sherry is a wine, albeit a fortified one, that does spoil after a certain time being open. It also typically doesn’t improve once it is put in the bottle.” You’re not wrong there. 

For Fino, the alcademics continued, “if the bottle is opened and stored in the refrigerator, it will last one week”. Oh. What about ten years in a dark cupboard? 

It was clearly past its best. I did the only decent thing and poured it down the sink.

If it was a footballer, it would be: Every club has one of these. You get all excited about buying a legend, then when he sets foot on the hallowed turf you realise why the team you bought him off let him go – he’s past it. For me, as a Chelsea fan, it has to be Fernando Torres. Harsh? Maybe. How about Andriy Shevchenko? Radamel Falcao? Gonzalo Higuain? Alexandre Pato? Chris Sutton? Feel free to insert the name of your own has-been here.

Rating: No score (a bit like Nando most of the time)

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