Monday, 23 February 2015

National Lampoon's Family Vacation

It’s been 6 months since Mrs Cake and I went on holiday. That may not seem a long time to some of you (not least my sister and brother-in-law who hadn’t done it for 6 years – had a holiday, I mean), but it sure seems a long time to us.

Well, the end of May came around, and it was time to be off to Spain, this time for a family holiday with my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, and my two nephews – something I had suggested a good few years ago, but had never been followed through to realisation. Everyone had wanted to, it was just that Mrs Cake and I always had other things on. One day you just have to do it.

My brother-in-law had taken on the bulk of the arrangements, and by some strange quirk of fate, it resulted in us renting a villa near the Murcian town of Los Alcazares – the place I’d been twice before on golf holidays (see Golfageddon). It was a different resort though. Usually we stay at the Roda resort, while this one was the slightly more upmarket Mar Menor Golf Resort.

Well, I think you know what to expect from me: we’re talking holiday drinking, souvenir booze shopping and duty free. The targets I had identified were:

-          Spanish brandy; I was planning a visit to the nearby town of Cartagena, where they make Licor 43 and what I assume is a type of brandy called Galileo 7-70, so I was intending to go for that… more later.

-          Aguardiente de Orujo; pomace brandy to you. Since discovering grappa and the various non-Italian alternatives, this is always on my shopping list, so a new brand was definitely the order of the day.

-          Absinthe; you know, for parties.

-          Duty Free; I’ve been coveting the Highland Park Einar for some time, so I was hoping this would be my chance to pick one up.

Strap yerself in, the post’s about to start.

When visiting Spain it is usually essential to make sure you get where you’re going well before 2 o clock in the afternoon – because that’s when everything shuts for about 4 hours. I have no idea how Spain continues to observe the siesta ritual and be a modern nation, but there you go.

As a British person, it’s so easy to forget, and rely on a trip to the supermarket only to find you’re too late and henceforth fucked. So we landed in Alicante and picked up our respective hire cars. Myself, Mrs Cake and my parents headed off in one, planning to meet the others at the central supermarket in Alcazares.

I hadn’t really planned how we were actually going to meet up, but it didn’t really seem important. What I’d learned about Los Alcazares from my previous visits was that it wasn’t very big, they’d be sure to be able to find the square, and if they did that, we would find them. What I would learn this trip though, was that there’s a lot more to the town, and indeed the area, than a lads’ holiday where you play golf every day and drink on the strip every evening is ever likely to reveal.

I called my sister and found that they’d been diverted down back roads by my dad’s satnav which was set to “avoid toll roads”. It was 1pm by this point, and knowing the supermarkets would be closing in an hour, I suggested we pick up enough stuff for at least the first night, and asked for orders. My brother-in-law said tequila.

It later turned out that the supermarkets in Los Alcazares don’t close for siesta, though they definitely used to. I suspect it’s something to do with the large British expat community. In the town of Murcia however, they do observe the siesta tradtion, so just be warned if you go for the day and want to get some booze shopping in – not that I even saw a booze shop in Murcia…

So we went to the central Mercadona for supplies. Being mostly concerned with booze, I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of groceries and the like, and start with the part where I actually reached the booze aisle.

Beers

Of course, any self-catering holiday requires the purchase of beers – something to give the fridge a reason to exist. It was the local brew Estrella Levante (4.8%) to begin with then, a decent enough Spanish cerveza. Later my brother-in-law would buy bottles of San Miguel and I would add Cruzcampo before finally purchasing some cans of a beer I’d never seen before, Adlerbrau Tipo Pilsen, which I am assuming is a Spanish take on the German pilsner style… though I see there is actually a range of German beers called Adlerbrau, while the website of brewer Alhambra doesn’t list Adlerbrau as one of its products at all. What’s going on?

I’ve also found thisreview site that has some interesting comments to make. For me, the Adlerbrau is fairly nice. Let’s face it, you’re going to put it in the fridge and drink it ice cold. Nearly any lager/pilsner tastes good under those conditions, and to boot, this one is 5% so, I ain’t complainin’. Some of these reviews though:

“Watery and quite mediocre pale lager”. What are you expecting?

“Usual boring lager beer”. What were you expecting? Seriously. I could tell it was going to be a lager-style beer before I bought it.

Even the one that says, “Quite alright to be honest”, scores it a paltry 8 out of 20.

“Aromas of boiled vegetables.” What are you doing sniffing the fucking beer? Don’t sniff the beer!

Feels like I’ve tasted this 1000 times before. Boring.

So er… yeh. I thought it was all right. And for 2 euros 30 for a pack of 12 330ml cans… what have you got to complain about? It looks like my fellow Untappd brethren have been scoring it poorly too…

Something else that caught my attention was, on the plane home, a guy in the aisle adjacent to me bought a can of Budweiser, and after the first taste, said in a thick Bolton accent, “this Budweiser tastes lovely!”

His wife replied, “Why? Is it because it isn’t San Miguel?

Sorry, but who in their right mind can prefer Budweiser to San Miguel?!? I couldn’t believe it, but there you go.

I like beer, but I suppose I drink it more for the buzz than for the nuances and complexity of flavour. If the beer’s delicious, so much the better, but if it’s cold, wet and 4% alcohol or stronger, I’m happy. Spirits is different of course. I drink those for the flavour and experience rather than for their strong alcoholic effects (most of the time). I suppose that’s why I mostly blog about spirits and not beer. Speaking of which…

Spirits

No first visit to a foreign supermarket is complete without making one or two spirits purchases – for drinking during the holiday, and potentially for taking home. At this stage I was thinking to just get something fairly cheap that could be squandered casually over the course of the week – I always like to take longer (2 or 3 months) over the more special stuff – so I ended up with two products of the same brand. Regio Tequila Blanco (38%) and Regio Aguardiente de Orujo (a more satisfying 40%). They were an encouraging 6 euros 90 each for 70cl. These were in fact the only examples of these spirit genres available at this supermarket, with the exception of Jose Cuervo Gold, and I wasn’t getting that on holiday.


They are modestly packaged, the tequila most notably displaying a lame drawing of a sombrero on its label.

I wasn’t sure at this stage whether I’d find a more special orujo to take home, so I figured I’d save this one for the timebeing. I didn’t really want my parents seeing me polishing off two full bottles of spirits in a week either for that matter, so we just opened the tequila on the first night. Mrs Cake and I did the old tequila and lime combo to get the party started, then I made cocktails with lemonade and white wine and things for other partaking adults. That left me with a little over half a bottle to finish on my own throughout the rest of the week.

So what’s the verdict? Regio is a Spanish company, but the bottle assures us that the tequila is made in Mexico “from agave”.  How much agave… is, I’m thinking ‘not much’. You certainly can’t expect much for 6 euros 90, and no, there isn’t much agave to taste. Where this brand has done well though, is in not making the product taste like dog shit. I suspect its other main ingredient must be sugar cane, as the resulting spirit is pleasingly sweet. It is actually a pleasure to drink neat, and to me, that is unprecedented at this kind of price point. It makes me optimistic for the day I open the orujo, which sadly for you will come much later.

Brandy Search

Previous Spanish brandy raids have resulted in purchases of Solera gran riservas Cardenal Mendoza (nice enough) and Gran Duque D’Alba (not sure it’s really any different to the Cardenal), so I was hoping to find something a bit more special, even exclusive, this time.

I did my pre-trip research as usual, looking for distilleries and the like in Murcia, and came across Roniwesk who are based outside the town of Cartagena, which was something like 30km from our base. They seem to mostly specialise in liqueurs, though their website did reveal a product called Galileo 7-70. Now, it doesn’t actually say it is brandy, though it does give the impression it is a solera, which means it has been aged in the particular method I have discussed before –  the product is stored in barrels according to age then, at some point the oldest barrels are tapped and a quantity bottled, then topped up using the next oldest barrels, which in turn are topped up from the next oldest, right down (or up) to the newest barrels which are topped up with new product. This all means that the bottled product contains liquid of a mixture of ages, a proportion of which is theoretically as old as the beginning of the process.


It is for this that Galilieo 7-70 is named – it is made up of product as young as 7 and as old as 70 years. Now, I get the impression from the internet that they aren’t making this product anymore, so presumably, as they continue to bottle the remaining stocks, the name should change to 8-71, 9-72 etc… perhaps we’ll see.

All that seemed fairly interesting, so I made it one of my targets. I didn’t see it anywhere in Los Alcazares, nor on a day trip to Murcia, but I did finally locate a bottle in Cartagena itself… it was 5 euros 15. It seemed pretty cheap, and was displayed next to a more upmarket bottle at just under 7 euros, which Mrs Cake suggested I get instead. It was at this point that I noticed both bottles were a disappointing 20% ABV… well that’s not what I wanted at all.

I ended up leaving the shop, only to return about half an hour later, figuring I may as well pick one up after all – at that price.

I used my translator app to read the label when we got back in wi-fi range, and found that it is for use in cooking, but can be drunk on its own or added to coffee. That last option seems likely, but we will treat it with the same dignity afforded to all alcoholic beverages, and see what it’s like… in the fullness of time.

It was getting towards the end of the holiday by this point, and I decided it was time to find my “special” brandy. Not having managed to find an actual booze shop during the week, I decided I’d make my purchase from the “big supermarket”, but I think that might have been a mistake. For one thing, the “big supermarket” wasn’t as big as I had envisioned. For another, they had loads in the way of cheap brandy, but the only solera gran riserva I hadn’t bought already turned out to be Carlos I from the Osborne brandy producer.

Frankly I’m not expecting too much, while at just under 30 euros this one was more expensive than The Cardenal and The Duke were, a quick check on UK prices reveals that here, you can get it for a similar price, while the Cardenal and The Duke are around £10 more expensive.

In Los Alcazares you have to buy your booze from the supermarkets- unless there’s an actual booze shop hidden away somewhere. There’s definitely more to the town than I’d previously learned, with a good portion of the town actually seeming to be Spanish after all.

Cheap is the way in the supermarkets. I saw a blended whisky at 4 euros 30… it can’t be any good at that price, but something makes you curious to find out. You could even get a Ballantine’s for 8 euros, which is fantastic value.

Duty Free

After seven lovely days and nights (and far too soon), the holiday was over, and there was left one final piece of excitement; the Duty Free. It was another early flight, so I’d made it through security still in desperate need of my morning constitutional. I passed swiftly through Duty Free because I didn’t want my shopping to be hindered by gut pains and anxiety.

So a few minutes later, Mrs Cake and I returned. I knew what I wanted, and had spotted it on my first pass. Yes, they had the Highland Park Einar (1 litre, 40% ABV, 50 euros 90, including a 5 euro discount).

There seemed to be some kind of “whisky festival” going on, as there were sales representatives hanging around, one of whom ended up trying to sell me something I already wanted.

Would you like to taste it?

No, I’m alright thanks.

Then she started listing all the flavours that they write in the description on the box… “can you like… go away?



It was very annoying, and come to think of it now, I’m going to blame this for the fact I forgot to look for a bottle of absinthe. I did at least pick up a bargain litre of Stoli for a ridiculous 10 euros or something like that.

Mrs Cake even got in on the act, stocking up on gin for the [then]upcoming Glastonbury Festival. She ended up getting Larios, a Spanish London Dry Gin. I’m not sure how that works…


All that happened a good few months ago now, and I’ve been getting stuck into all those bottles. You might have read one or two words about some already, but I promise there’s more coming in the next few weeks. Stick around for that.