2020 was a swimming pool full of cack for many people. Here’s a new series of posts in which I honour the things that helped make that pool swimmable.
My god, you’re so demanding. Hitting up oldparn.com, spamming ‘refresh’ in the hope that the bloody Wine Bitch article that’s been the most recent post since October might have been bumped down by some new #content.
Well, today’s your goddamn lucky day. But (since you asked) things have been a tad busy here at Castle Parn, as I slalom wildly between clearing up metaphorical shit between the hours of 10am and 6pm and literal shit for the rest of the time.
It started off as an offhand joke. A friend and I conceived the notion of an unknown stalker who would write elaborately abusive messages to another (mutual) friend.
I wrote a few sentences which my friend read with glee. And a project was born. During breaktimes, the letter would be extended, embellished. The insults and profanities honed to become ever more baroque. At some stage, the project broadened to include other friends — amongst them, the target of the letter himself, who seemed (seemed) to share our amusement and even contributed suggestions himself.
By the end, it perhaps ran to a couple of thousand words, which I delighted in typing up on whatever rudimentary computer I had access to in those days, and shrinking to a tiny font size — the more effectively to emphasise the deluded instability of the fictional author — before printing and distributing a few copies amongst my group of friends.
So East London Liquor Dry Gin is apparently made somewhere near Victoria Park, which is not so far from where Amy used to frolic and kick her heels until I gentrified her with my ludicrous Putney ways. Yes, Amy used to be cool until I appeared in her life, like a branch of Jojo Maman Bébé opening its doors in a street of trendy record shops and fashion boutiques.
Anyhow. The East London Liquor Company makes a range of gins, another of which I have lingering in my gin cupboard awaiting review. This, their ‘standard’ London Dry Gin, is the lower priced option, weighing in at about 20 quid.
Here we are again (after a lockdown-enforced hiatus) with a few of the Wine Society’s offerings I’ve particularly enjoyed lately: a garden-party stunner of a white, a crisp, delicious rosé and a bloody brilliant Beaujolais.
So, now that The Wine Society is delivering again (Christ be thanked; it was tough going for a while…), let’s get back into the swing of our monthly wine recommendations. I made a bumper order the other week, entirely (you understand) in order to pick out a few gems for you, my dear readers. Given that lockdown has doubtless been as unkind to your wine rack as it has to mine, I suggest you do likewise if you haven’t already.
Before we get into the booze, let’s spend a moment appreciating the fact that the Wine Society suspended its normal service at a relatively early stage in the pandemic, only reopening when staff safety could be guaranteed. That wrought havoc with my wine-buying habits, but was absolutely the bloody right thing to do. Good for them. In these days of increased reliance on eCommerce — of packages magically appearing on our doorsteps while we fuss about social distancing — it’s easy to forget the people in the warehouses, the depots. Lots of eCom businesses cashed in on the surge in demand, and it’s typical of TWS to have put its staff first.
So. How’s lockdown been treating you? Personally, I’m struggling with the cognitive dissonance wrought by (on the one hand) friends moaning about boredom, blithely sharing quizzes and sourdough diaries to fill the time and (on the other hand) my own sodding lack of any time whatsoever.
The smallest lockdown violin, I’m aware, plays for those who are still in their (absolutely, incontrovertibly) non-essential jobs. Before the mob gathers to stone me, I’ll add that I’m aware of my good fortune. Perhaps less aware when I’m three hours into a goddamn conference call. But aware nonetheless.
April passed, I observe, and the Industrial Content Megahub that is Old Parn, Inc cranked out a total of three posts. Lamentable, eh? (Though the last one was pretty good, I thought.) But while I may not have been posting abundantly, you may be reassured that I have been drinking abundantly.
It’s 2004. Brexit, President Trump and Coronavirus are all inconceivable, and I — with a freshly laundered English degree flapping uselessly around my ankles — am the worst Library Assistant Oxford has ever seen.
I’m still not sure how I fluked my way onto what is actually a pretty competitive and respected graduate traineeship, given I had no intention of becoming a librarian — or, indeed, doing anything more than pissing around in Oxford for another year toying self-indulgently with a truly awful idea for a novel. But fluke my way onto it I somehow did. Looking back, it was a bloody great gig: nothing more taxing than shelving unreasonably bulky Biochemistry textbooks (ye Gods, why so big?), scanning barcodes, and awkwardly flirting with Junior Research Fellows.
I strongly ‘prove of Pothecary Gin. One might say I ‘preciate it. Over the course of the next few paragraphs, I’ll present to you my ‘praisal.
Aside from its excellent name, I bought a bottle of this fine liquor for three reasons. Firstly, it’s local — another Hampshire Gin — albeit from the other end of the county. Secondly, it’s won a few awards and I’d heard good things murmured (or read good things twittered, more like) about it. And thirdly, the man behind the brand, Mr Martin Jennings, has an excellent social media game. When I read one of his brutal takedowns of [redacted Gin megacorp] pretending to be indie, I thought: if this bloke’s gin is as punchy as his online persona, I want to try it.
I’ve been wondering whether it’s tasteless to recommend a cocktail called Corpse Reviver during a pandemic. Then I realised the UK Health Secretary can’t or won’t answer how many NHS staff have died and some police forces think it’s okay to start threatening to check the contents of people’s shopping baskets without any remote legal justification. So I think blogging about a Corpse Reviver is pretty fucking tame, all considered.
Anyway. Let’s not get political, eh? Let’s instead justify this as the goddamn perfect Easter cocktail, commemorating probably the most famous corpse revival of all.
Bloody hell. My quarantined buddies, there are a lot of gins in the world. I have tasted a fair few of them. Enough of them, at least, to render me somewhat blasé about cracking open a new one. What surprises, after all, can remain to a seasoned gin hound such as Old Parn?
You see, Dà Mhìle’s Seaweed Gin is exceptionally good. Your schnoz tells you it’s going to be rather special as soon as you sniff the newly uncorked bottle. And your schnoz isn’t wrong. Your schnoz is so seldom wrong. Dependable schnoz.
It’s been a while since I last told y’all about a vermouth. Let’s change that, courtesy of the rather charming specimen below: La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge. It has a very long name and a very handsome bottle.
If you’re a vermouth geek, another thing that might catch your attention is the fact that the stuff is fortified (ie. its alcohol content is increased) by the addition of Pineau des Charentes rather than a neutral spirit of the kind more usually employed by those who cook up vermouths.
I drink a lot of wine from The Wine Society. That’s because The Wine Society is bloody good, and you should join it if you haven’t already. However, it seems rather tiresome to write a review of every bottle of Wine Soc booze I sink, especially for those of you who aren’t members (though, as I said, you should be) so instead I plan to run through a few bottles of theirs I enjoyed on a monthly basis. Starting with February.
February always seems to be a month of consolidation for me. That’s partly meteorological (weather that encourages hermithood) and partly financial, insofar as it follows January — a month notable not just for its post-festive belt-tightening, but also the arse-rending existential agony of buying my annual South West Railway season ticket. If there’s a more appalling way to spend more than £5k, please do let me know.
In the South Downs, February was mud and blossom, uprooted trees, sudden breathtaking islands of sunshine in the ocean of grey. And I wanted wine to be the metaphorical equivalent of those rare bouts of sunshine.
It’s February and the world is bleak. Storms with implausible names rage outside, and I suggest you make yourself a Martinez.
There’s an Old English poem called The Wanderer, which is basically about being cold, having no home and everyone being dead. Mood.
‘Walls stand battered by the wind,
Covered by frost, the roofs collapsed.
The wine halls crumbled; the warriors lie dead,
Cut off from joy’
As you can see, the Wanderer doesn’t sugar-coat things. Probably due to the lack of wine halls. What he needed, it seems to me, was someone to leap out from behind a nearby ruin and hand him a Martinez. A cocktail that’s absolutely cold, but also rather warm, and entirely season-appropriate.
Let’s talk about Wessex, shall we? Back in the Dark Ages, there was no England (which must be a concept that’s upsetting for people like Mark Francois). Instead, an ever-changing mishmash of kingdoms, of which Wessex was one, incorporating, at different times, a sizeable chunk of the south of what’s now England.
One of the last kings of Wessex was Alfred, who seems to have been a fairly good chap. Not long after his reign, seemingly on the basis of much of his canny political manoeuvrings, Wessex expanded and became the dominant party in the newly unified English nation.
We’ve sampled gin in a tin. We’ve sampled a heinous vermouth and tonic. What convenience beverage next for our thirsty commuter? This week, the fine folk at Waitrose have provided an enticing can of pink wine…
Now, I don’t usually buy rose in a bottle, let alone a goddamn can. But against the siren song of a yellow Waitrose reduced label — together, of course, with the prospect of masochism for your amusement, dear reader — I’m powerless.
About as local as gin gets (for me, that is), this distillery is practically my neighbour. And the best kind of near-neighbour: one that supplies me with bloody good booze.
Why do none of my actual neighbours do that?
I mentioned Hampshire Gunpowder Gin before, en passant. But it deserves a proper review, I think. One of the things I want to do this year is — in a spasmodic bout of localism — to write more about drink and food from my surrounds, meaning Hampshire, Sussex and thereabouts (where I live) and perhaps also London (where I work). So what better, SEO-friendly means by which to do this than by reviewing something that’s actually got the (key)words Hampshire Gin in the name?