With January being, for most at least, a time to start fresh and maybe even venture into something new, I though about returning to some level of competitive fitness. The tasting sessions planned for the month had obviously been hit with a viral case of “resolutions” as classes were half filled here and there. Abstinence is not a word I normally carry in my vocabulary, but found myself repeating it more and more during the first month of the year. Would it really make that much difference? 4 weeks in 52 ?
Since I was 14 (not that long ago) I have used January to kick-start my season of cycle racing as the long miles and cold feet early in the year would ensure a good “base fitness” to be built on later with speed and power work. It means long, usually cold and very often damp hours in the saddle, strengthening legs and heart before the racing started proper in April. It was also a good time to catch up with all the friends who’s racing calendar had flung them all over the country for the past 10 months and swap tales of bravery, triumph and of course failure.
Unfortunately, being at the head of a growing whisky empire has seen a few things take a back seat, or saddle. Since my last competitive event in July last year (Tour of Wales) the good bike has been hung up - apart from the crash in September (see Crash, Bang Whisky for details) which then saw a 3.5K carbon race bike be resigned to a bin.
Anyone who stays fit in any way will know that if you take a few weeks off, then you start to notice a very rapid change in your fitness. I am now way beyond that and it was time to redress the balance.
The choices were:
RUNNING- Cheap, simple, easily accessed and does not take up to much time. Despite running marathons in the past, I HATE running.
CYCLING- My natural choice, but costly, time-consuming and I would just get my ass whipped training with “the boys” who will delight in seeing me out of condition. Plus its cold.
GYM- Do me a favour! why do things inside that can be done outside? see above (cold)
YOGA- WTF? really? but isn’t it for people who eat rabbit food, wear hand-made or second-hand clothes and talk is riddles about inner spirits?
I actually got talked into yoga eventually, joining some cycling friends who were using it to compliment the off-season schedule. Hold on, compliment…there you go, too close to complimentary therapy… I hear chimes and smell incense again!
And then the bombshell. This was Bikram yoga. The hot stuff.
I was told to meet at the class with two towels, a pair of shorts and enough water to float the Arc. The basement location was at first cramped and brought to life my fears – I was an outsider here. They could smell I wasn’t one of them. I dressed differently. I wasn’t wearing bright colours and not enough natural fabrics dyed form crushed flowers. BUT, I do have a beard and tattoos, so it confused them long enough to let me slip in.
The main room was, unsurprisingly, hot. Like, sauna hot. And even although it was the size of an average school gym, they had managed to get it to feel like a coffin in a kettle. This was going to hurt.
I didn’t mind it actually. Fifteen minutes into the class, which was to last ninety!, I felt ok. Dripping with sweat but so was everyone else. The guy to my right was obviously a pro, bending his limbs into all kinds of knots and balancing like he was being held by a string from the tip of his head. But what was most incredible, was how he was breathing. Calm as a Hindu cow. deep and slow, relaxed and controlled.
I on the other hand was having a mini-panic attack as my brain tried to communicate to my lungs that we were all going to die very shortly.
My limbs, far from being elegantly manipulated, were more akin to a string puppet one might find at the bottom of a toy box. Neglected for many years and with each movement of the surrounding toys, becoming more entangled in its own body. My heart was jumping out of my chest, beating a rhythm I hadn’t heard before, but i am sure Death dances to it. My throat was gasping for air, but with every gasp it simply drew in more heat. Pins and needles had started to for in my fingers and toes and my skin was so soaked with sweat that I could even grip my hands together.
Surely this was NOT good for you?
Then I got a respite. a break in the torture and a glug of water. It was about now that I looked around the room at the 50 or so others enjoying the torture. All walks of life, all body shapes and sizes, although a disproportionately large number of females did seem to be choosing very small bikinis - it must be the current yoga fashion! I am so out of touch but made a mental note to perhaps do some more research for a future blog. I also realised at this point that I had taken on an injury. Well, an old one actually, sustained one winter whilst out training on the bike. I had taken a corner too fast and black ice had decided it was about time I sat down and slammed my side to the tarmac. My left shoulder took the worst of it, pinching a nerve and straining a tendon. It has never really bothered me since, but now, ironically enough, in a class where I am supposed to be getting fit staying off the bike, a cycling injury pops up.
I managed to finish the class and I am actually going to return. After all, that future blog won’t write itself!
On the way back to normality, I had to gather my thoughts regarding the event that I was to attend that evening, The Monkey Shoulder Fresh Start at Callooh Callay, both the whisky and the bar are know for a rather more quirky take on things and this was to be no exception. Monkey Shoulder gets its name from a repetitive
strain injury often picked up by maltmen as they managed the barley on the malting floor with sheils, those long-necked shovels used to turn the barley. Because of the action required whilst turning, a kind of back and forth rocking, the term is known as a Monkey Shoulder. I felt their pain right now! There are three “monkeys” on the shoulder of the bottle, each one representative of one of the three single malts that make up the vatting (sorry, blended malt). Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie.
I have no idea where the name Callooh Callay comes from!
I have had my ups-and-downs with Monkey Shoulder as when it first launched, I though brilliant, a brand not scared to step out of the traditional scotch mould, but then saw the packaging and felt robbed. It does look to me like bourbon more than anything else and I have tested this theory at my tastings. Some even though it was a liqueur, but I suppose it is hard to keep everyone happy these days. However, the product inside set it all back to where is should be, a good dram with an approachable character, easy drinking and also a profile that stands well in a cocktail.
Cocktails were that main theme of the event. With Dean ‘the monkey” Callan, brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder and general all round nice guy, at the helm and his magical case, we were in for a treat. Now, travelling barmen are well known for bringing with them a bar-bag of tools. Normally this bag will contain a favourite boston tin and glass, a preferred bar spoon, the first bar blade they ever owned and a few medicinal shaped bottles containing their own home-brew! few contain a miniature spirit still! but Deans does.
Not content with the flavours most off the shelf spirits will give him, Dean has decided to create his own, using the mini still and munchkin sized 7ltr barrels to age various concoctions in (he is not actually distilling spirit, so you Duty and Excise boys can get back in your prams!). It’s quite a lot of stuff to lug around, but the results were fabulous. Even for me, with a palate hardened to marble due to drinking straight scotch and a few too many Partagas, found all his creations interesting and fun yet still managing to bring together the profile of the scotch with other flavours.
I managed to get notes on the drinks Dean created and more info can be found on the Facebook page of Monkey Shoulder.
Monkey Diablo Brule
Ingredients: Half a bottle of Monkey Shoulder infused with vanilla and cinnamon (approx 80ml per person)
1 orange peeled in a horseneck garnish and studded with cloves
1 pot of freshly brewed coffee
Sugar to taste
Method: Warm the serving dish with a glass of boiling water then discard, add monkey shoulder, vanilla and cinnamon. Set the coffee up next to the
dish, then set the orange peel into the centre of the dish fixed at the
top to a set of tongs or a bar spoon. Light the whisky on fire, now
using a ladle pour the whisky down the peel again and again until the
clove and orange flavour has infused with the whisky. Once the desired
effect is achieved extinguish flame and pour in coffee. Taste the
mixture and sugar to taste.
40ml Monkey shoulder
30ml sweet vermouth
7-10ml maraschino liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Method: Stir and strain
Garnish: Orange Peel
40ml Monkey Shoulder
30ml amontillado sherry
30ml fresh lemon juice
25ml Redcurrant syrup
Method: Shake and strain
Garnish: Redcurrants and a soft twist of orange (discard orange)
The last thing I wanted to mention was that I was late for this event, sorry Dean and the gang (or should that be
troop?) because I was hosting a tasting of my own at Liberty Lounge and heard something I wont ever forget. I know us Scots can be a bit awkward with our special words and difficult pronounciations but we had to invent something to stop the English realise what we were saying about them! We can let the odd thing slip, like Glenmorangie – pronounced GLEN-M- Orangey as in the fruit. But it was a lady who rasied to may attention of of her favourite whiskies, to which she referred to, quite seriously, as No Can Do. She thought this was a great way to market a whisky and a fun play on words….I didn’t have the heart to tell her, but no dear, the whisky is called Knockando, and is Gaelic for “Little Black Hill”. Still, that one will remain for me for a while and maybe she has a point anyway?