Two weekends ago, I met a friend for late afternoon drinks at a bar across the road.  When I arrived, he’d been soaking up the sun and cider for a couple of hours already, and was sitting with a cheerful group of people I was invited to join.  This included:  Chester from Newcastle; Chester’s Swedish girlfriend, called Em; the bar’s owner, Dave, who is Irish; Dave’s Polish wife; my South African mate, Sean; and their friend, Gary, who is from Edinburgh.  I mention the hodgepodge of nationalities only because this is one of those things I love about London – Sean also lives with a Ghanaian, an Italian, and two Czech lodgers who were all presumably drinking pints in another patch of sun.

As I was a little bit late to the party, the conversation was relaxed and winding.  A popular topic, however, was what substances could be used to spike Gary’s drink without him noticing.  A range of fluids were suggested, with Gary’s enthusiastic participation.  This was mildly amusing, but a bit weird for a bunch of thirty-somethings to be talking about – with two PhDs amongst them, no less.  It was more the stuff of the fifth-grade cafeteria table.  Because four of the group were bartenders, the discussion covered what noxious liquids could be visually disguised in what ranges of seemingly innocuous beverages.  I finally had to pipe up and ask:  What exactly was the deal?

It turned out that one drunken night four months ago, Gary bumped his head getting into a taxi, and suffered a mild brain injury that had left him without a sense of taste or smell.  The loss of smell is called anosmia, but Gary’s principal complaint was that everything tasted of, well, nothing.  Although likely the hundredth time poor Gary was forced to tell the story, we all sat and contemplated this for a while.  (more…)

When I moved to Scotland over two years ago, one of the things I purchased on my very first trip to the grocery store was a bottle of Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky, aged 12 years.  The handsome green bottle was encased in a tall, serious, emblazoned tin, with the prestigious history of the whisky detailed in gold lettering on the back (for quickie course of the proud tradition of whisky/whiskey, the Wikipedia entry is as good as any a place to start).

I stocked up on a number of basic necessities that initial trip – it was a new home, never mind a new country! – but the bottle of whisky still made the list of must-haves.  I was already entertaining fantasies of newfound friends, colleagues, and yes, gentleman callers, popping round for a chat, a smoke, and a civilized drink.  I was ready to embrace Scotland, and if Scotland would embrace me, I would greet it with a glass of decent Scotch and amusing banter!  I was ready for this new life, and eager to partake in the cultural mores of my new home.

Ignoring the fact that I was never actually swept up in my envisioned social whirlwind (due to my inherent loner tendencies and the reality that it was so freezing cold six months out of the year that I left my apartment only to go to work and Blockbuster), the whisky did not go down as smashing a treat as I had imagined.  Oh, I did have people over, but I quickly discovered that the offer of whisky was far less compelling than the offer of beer, wine, or a vodka mixer (all of which I fortunately kept on hand).  It turned out to be a good thing I never sprung for a proper whisky tumbler, after all, as I couldn’t convince anyone to drink the stuff. (more…)

Most of us love a good dive bar, and I’m no different.  Cheap drinks, bad lighting, nasty bathrooms, and a jovial atmosphere are par for the course, be you in Bangkok, Trondheim, or Pardee, Idaho.  Normally, I wouldn’t bother highlighting a dive bar, given the seen-one-seen-’em-all nature of the beast, but I was sufficiently impressed by the sheer dive-i-ness (divity?) of this bar I visited on my trip home for the holidays that I felt compelled to share a couple of pictures.  I’m going to call this bar The Duke.

The Duke has been around for a while, long enough to be something of an institution.  Its unapologetically seedy exterior and relative lack of windows have led many to mistake it for a fourth-rate strip club or an abandoned building (I have heard both), but it is, in fact, a hardcore drinkers’ haven by day and a draw to college students by night.

The Duke has a reputation for the strongest Long Island Iced Teas around, which is no mean feat in my hometown.  It is also notable for being one of the few establishments to escape the city-wide smoking ban, and so has enjoyed a resurgence among the middle-classes of late, which is why I was summoned there on Christmas night for drinks. (more…)

In actuality, Kadinsky and I spent Thanksgiving week on a cold and windy, four-city European jaunt.  We’ll try to bring you the highlights later in the week, as we recover from our excesses and the approximate 48 hours we spent just in transit.  I called my mom last night to get the family Thanksgiving news, and spent most of yesterday reading my various websites to catch up on internet gossip and general idiocy (Muppets sing Bohemian Rhapsody!  Famewhores crash the White House!  Tiger Woods in domestic incident car crash!  All standard internet fare). 

Fortunately, what didn’t pass me by was a little story out of Scotland, my former home-away-from-home, about BrewDog Beer (a brewery in the northern town of Fraserburgh) and the release of their newest beer, known as Tactical Nuclear Penguin.  The £30-a-bottle, limited-edition beer has been released with a whopping 32% alcohol content:

A warning on the label states: “This is an extremely strong beer; it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.”

However Jack Law, of Alcohol Focus Scotland, described it was a “cynical marketing ploy” and said: “We want to know why a brewer would produce a beer almost as strong as whisky.” (more…)