My love affair with alcohol

I’m off to the Woking beer festival today, for the 3rd year running. I love real ale. It took me a few years to get into it – I admit I was a lager swilling heathen through my university years but I wouldn’t touch that stuff now. Now in the beer stakes I get the nicest and/or most interesting beer possible. Pale Ale’s or Golds for preference, but I’ve also had great successes with ruby bitters. I have yet to understand the appeal of porters and stouts, but then I don’t do any manual labour, which is why they were invented.

At the beer festival Terry will seek out the ciders and perries. We usually have something of the Weston’s Vintage ilk in stock at home. Magners/Bulmers/Gaymers is a bit too mainstream and Babycham is just a joke!

Wine was my introduction to alcohol. From a young age my parents would give me half a small glass of wine on special occasions which I would top up with water. The logic being of course that by introducing me to alcohol in a controlled environment I wouldn’t go utterly off the rails later – an approach which for the most part worked very well indeed.

I enjoy learning about wine, and I like the fact that my tastes have changed over time. I went from preferring fruity floral whites, to deep earthy reds. There was a time when my untutored nose and palate told me that a Shiraz smelt and tasted like Jack Daniels. These days I smile indulgently when my husband claims that all red wine tastes like feet. Fortunately we are in perfect accord when it comes to desert wine. The end of a frustrating encounter with the Post Office Credit Card was gleefully put behind us with the help of a bottle of Viennese Eiswein. But sparkling wine remains the go-to drink of celebration. Even though I have bottles of Cava at home a quarter of the price of some bottles of ‘regular’ wine, nothing denotes an occasion like the popping of a cork.

Sherry for me will always be the taste of the 80s, drank from tiny stemmed glasses accompanied by dry roasted peanuts. I found fresh use for it sloshing a glass over frying coins of chorizo resulting in a brief spurt of flame and leaving a sweet glaze. Similarly vermouth and marsala get used mostly for cooking, but I have no objection to a glass of chef’s prerogative of either of those. Port brings out the old man in me. One glass and I will not stop going on about the need to teach logic in schools. Sake has a special place in my heart having spent a glorious evening at a Siamese restaurant in Norwich with Terry celebrating his achieving a 2:1 in Computer Science. I think it’s no understatement to say that with that result the trajectory of both our lives changed. The world was in front of us, with all its new experiences. Amongst those new experiences was the lesson that a flask of warm sake each was way too much! But I rarely have sushi at home without it.

Then there’s the spirit world. I hated gin as a young adult thanks to an unpleasant experience at my high school prom with my date who was fortifying his courage with a small bottle of Gordons in his inside breast pocket. It took my visit to the Bombay Sapphire Experience at Vineopolis many years ago (which has sadly since changed into something else) to appreciate the delicate botanical flavours within that beautiful square bottle.

Vodka was the drink we were all warned against as I grew up, with its propensity to fade into oblivion against a backdrop of juices and sodas. Were a person so inclined you could put a fair quantity away without tasting the alcohol at all until you realised you’d fallen over.

Until 3 years ago I’d always got along ok with rum. It wasn’t my favourite tipple but I was happy enough to drink it if it was offered. Unsurprisingly it was my holiday to the Caribbean where I started to really appreciate the subtleties of flavour, the differences between light, dark, golden, spiced and so forth. I always thought of the humble Cuba Libre as, well, humble, but now a wedge of lime and a shot of Morgan’s Spiced in a glass of coke transports me back to the Antiguan beach where I watched the sun set over the ocean.

I’ve had mixed experiences with Whisky. I felt that it was a tremendous commendation of my maturity when my parents bought me back a tiny little bottle of single malt Scotch from holiday when I was about 16 and I never had the heart to tell them it tasted horrible. A decade later Terry and I celebrated our 1st year of marriage with a trip to Dublin, and the Jameson’s Old Distillery taught me a new appreciation for the drink.

Cognac remains a closed book to me (it’s one of the few drinks I feel I’m not old enough for) although the Pear Cognac Xante we had a couple of years back was unutterably delicious. The bottle of basic brandy in the cupboard is used exclusively for fortifying deserts.

Tequila and I have a chequered history, but I recently began mixing margaritas with lemonade which went beautifully with home made veggie tacos.

Bringing me to cocktails – which I started concocting at a tender age and never stopped. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but the results have never put me off. We have an extensive stock of liqueurs:
Our massive booze collection

Nonetheless I am always confident of strolling into a cocktail bar and finding something I wouldn’t make at home. Nights out at university were plotted around the city’s many cocktail houses: first The Bell, then Owen’s, then Chandler’s (later Imagine) for then on to Old Orleans, detouring to Bedford’s if we were feeling brave enough. It might sound either tragic or clichéd to say that my drinking experiences were some of my fondest memories of uni, but I truly learned a lot about the wonderful aesthetics of alcohol there. Throughout my life I’ve known people who couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t drink, and I’ve always felt intensively grateful that I’m not amongst them. I was told once by my grandmother that she didn’t drink because she had seen the terrible things people could do under the influence of alcohol. Even as a child I caught the term ‘could’ with all that implied. Once I was old enough to start appreciating everything booze could offer I resolved to do everything in my power to ensure I never had to stop drinking because I abused it.

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