Friday, 25 February 2011

A Show of Whisky

Whisky is one of my favourite drinks, as any regular readers would know, however when I say whisky I’m being very generic as there are thousands of different malts and many different types of whiskey. You’ve got the main ones like Single Malts, Blended Malts and Bourbons, add to that the Single and Blended Grain whiskies, Tennessee whisky (Jack Daniels), and Rye whisky. And then you have to take into account the fact that many of these are made in different countries across the world, aged for different periods of time and matured in different casks, and you see that it can be hard to keep track of which ones you are tasting!

With tasting in mind, there are various events that take place across the world throughout the year where you can sample of the expressions from various distillers. London has its fair share, the main one I guess is Whisky Live, but I’ll come to that one shortly. Last year I attended The Whisky Show, an event held by a partnership of The Whisky Exchange (a whisky retailer) and GW Publishing at The Brewery in central London. The 2010 show was the second held by this partnership, and has also turned out to be the last. It was a pricier event than Whisky Live, but it was worth it as you were treated to unlimited tastings from a wide range of exhibitors, one sample of an Ultra Premium Dram (guaranteed to be worth at least £500 a bottle), a two course meal and a host of other little freebies, so you were sure to get your moneys worth. It was a big success from what I understand, which makes it even more of a shame that the partnership has come to an end.

However this break-up so to speak does not meant the end of The Whisky Show, as this year there will be TWO premium whisky tasting events that have been born from The Whisky Show. First up will be the new show, The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show, which as the name suggests will be run by The Whisky Exchange. This event will take place in early October at Vinopolis, which is the location of their shop premises, and will be very similar to the event held last year. They have beefed things up a bit though, with extra “Dream Drams” for you to try and the price remaining at £95. GW Publishing however has kept The Whisky Show going, and will return to The Brewery in late October. The price has increased slightly to £100 (although attendees to last year’s event got a £15 discount), but it looks as though even without the help of The Whisky Exchange this event will still be a resounding success and a great opportunity to sample some top quality whiskies.

For the more cost-conscious whisky drinker there is Whisky Live, as mentioned earlier on. Although I say cost-conscious, buying quality bottles of whisky is not a very cost-conscious pastime! Anyway Whisky Live hold events across the world, in cities such as Tokyo, New York, Seoul and Dublin. Of course the one I am concerned about is the event they hold in London, which this year happens in just over a weeks time. At just £25 for a half day ticket, it looks a lot cheaper than the other shows I’ve mentioned, however Whisky Live operate a “voucher” system, where officially you hand over a voucher for each dram you sample. From past experience the voucher system falls by the wayside on the Saturday afternoon so you get to try a lot more than you normally would, and that’s the best time to be there as at £1.50 a voucher and some drams needing 3 tokens for a sample it could get quite expensive overall! This years event will be the 4th Whisky Live I have attended, and the first to see the WhiskyPod, which is an interactive video review booth set up by the guys at Connosr.com, the Whisky Social Network. It had a successful stint at The Whisky Show last year, and looks to continue as it goes from show to show!

Speaking of Connosr.com, I’m really pleased to have been invited to take part in a Port Askaig tasting panel for the Connosr.com web magazine “Distilled” this coming Wednesday. So when that is all done and dusted I’ll make sure I let you know how it went!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Championship Bound Bulls?

It’s nearly time for the NBA All-Star break, and with that I thought it was about time for me to write about the Chicago Bulls and how they’ve been doing this year.

First off, a bit of history about the team. During the mid to late 90s there was only one team to follow in the NBA, and that was the Bulls. 6 NBA Championships in 8 seasons saw them rise to the top of the game, with some key players that made the difference every year. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Bulls would know that these guys were Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, coached by Phil Jackson. The dynasty lasted until the end of the 1997-98 season, when after the 6th Bulls championship the team disbanded and a huge rebuilding process began. 6 losing record seasons followed, with “saviour” draft picks coming and going. Things changed during the 2004-05 season as the team put together their first winning record since the Championship season, ending up 47-35 overall. Then began a run of average seasons with playoff appearances scattered around, and lately the Bulls have kept improving and improving.

Now to this season, and currently the team sit with a 37-16 record atop the Eastern Conference Central Division. Chicago have had some huge wins, and have been one of the best defending teams in the league, limiting opponents to just 92.28 points per game (2nd lowest overall). The base for this team was laid a few years ago, when the Bulls had the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft and selected Derrick Rose. He was given the number 1 jersey, and soon showed why he deserved to be the first draft selection. Named Rookie of the Year for the season, Rose was the man to build a team around.

This past off-season saw the best crop of free agents ever become available, and teams all over were creating salary cap space to bring one or more of these guys in. People like LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade were highly sought after, but all eventually ended up with the Miami Heat. The Bulls were on the lookout for the next best thing, and didn’t waste time in picking up Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver from the Utah Jazz. Joakim Noah and Loul Deng are also key players and have been a part of the Bulls line-up for a few seasons. Under the guidance of Tom Thibodeau this season the Chicago Bulls have gelled as a team and put together an impressive run of victories against some big teams, including a 7 win run in December. It’s an impressive Bulls line-up, and when the team are on form then it is hard to see anyone taking them on. Rose is an excellent all round player, and should be in contention for the MVP award this year, Boozer adds vital points, and along with Noah adds power at both ends of the court. Deng is another solid all round player, and guys like Korver, Brewer, and Asik are excellent squad players to have.

Without a shadow of a doubt this has been the best season the Bulls have had in a long time, beating win-loss records from every season since the last Championship run. The All-Star break comes in February and gives the league a chance to reflect on how things are going and what is coming up. It’s hard to see the Bulls not making the playoffs again this year, but the key question will be whether they can make the impact that is needed to progress into the later rounds. With the team they have, personally I think they can, the only big tests in the East will be Boston and Miami, and they could be avoided depending on how the seeding goes at the end of the season.

So at the end of that, the Chicago Bulls have been a championship team before, 6 times before to be precise, and I feel that very soon, maybe not this season but for sure next, the Bulls will be up and around the top two or three teams in the NBA .

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

An Olympic Dream? Or An Olympic Nightmare?

Its that time again, another hefty load of spiel gets put on the screen so people can glance over it and realise that I’m a sport-obsessed nutter!

First off I have to talk about the end of the NFL season. I was planning to watch the Superbowl at home with my feet up, but someone on Twitter came to my rescue! A person I follow was given 2 extra tickets to the Superbash, the big Superbowl party held at the IndigO2 venue within the O2 Arena. So I asked nicely and was given one of the tickets, and that led to a late hotel room being booked in Greenwich so I could sleep afterwards, and then off I went! I met with @NYNDA and @chrischarlton80 just before the event started, and we got on pretty well thankfully! The party started well, with some Q&A with former Giants RB Tiki Barber, and performances from the Colts cheerleaders. The game was great as well, Green Bay had a lot of support within the Bash, including myself, and there was a huge cheer as the Packers rushed into a 14-0 lead. Half time was the most disappointing show since the whole “Wardrobe Malfunction” incident in 2004, as the Black Eyed Peas sounded worse than they normally do. A guest appearance from Slash nearly saved them, but I was too disappointed to be honest! The second half got under way and Pittsburgh got right back into it, but Green Bay was not to be denied, and they pulled off a fantastic 31-25 victory. It was a very enjoyable game, I loved being at the Superbash as it had an excellent atmosphere, and I hope that next season I can do the same!

Last week when I was on the train home from work I bumped in to a good mate of mine, hadn’t seen him in ages so we had a quick chat before I had to get off the train. He’s having a few issues both personally and at work, but as I hadn’t seen him in so long I didn’t know a thing about it. It made me feel a bit crappy to be honest, and made me realise that over the past year or so in my new job/company I have let a lot of things slip and not caught up with my mates as much as I should have. So I have made a conscious decision to do something about it, and will make sure I speak to/see my mates a bit more over the coming year!

Whisky is a big love of mine, stemming from when members of my staff bought me a bottle of Teachers way back in 2006. Since then I’ve tried around 200 different whiskies, those being single malts, blends, grains or bourbons. I’ve also been lucky enough to attend 3 Whisky Live events, and The Whisky Show, all 4 being tasting events where you get the opportunity to sample some fantastic drams. Well this year will be no different; in a couple of weeks I’ll be attending my 4th Whisky Live event, this time not only with repeated attendees Nick and Andy, but with two other guys as well. I’m looking forward to that, and also this years Whisky Show, which again will take place at the Brewery in October. Last year I paid £95 for my ticket to it, and thanks to attending last year I have been able to get a ticket for this year with a £10 discount. Again I can’t wait, last year was fantastic, and I’m sure the 2011 show will be the same!

I have no clue as to what is going on at Upton Park, everything is changing from week to week, and there have been loads of column inches devoted to my beloved Hammers recently. First off is the performance on the pitch, beating Blackpool away should have been a huge turning point for the club, but losing to Birmingham at home just put us right back at the bottom. This past weekend we needed 3 points away to West Brom, but by half time we were 3-0 down and along with many fans I was expecting the team to crumble. But that didn’t happen, reportedly Scott Parker made a half-time speech to end all speeches, and the team came out fired up in the second half. Goals from Carlton Cole and new signing Demba Ba (2) earned West Ham a huge draw, which I would have taken given the score at the half.

The other bit of news regarding West Ham was the fact that they have been named as the preferred bidder for the Olympic Stadium after the Olympics in 2012. A lot of fans are against this, although there are a few for it. Personally I think it’s a bad move, the whole running track thing is a huge drawback to start with. Prices would need to drop so that the 60,000 capacity is filled, but I can’t see the owners doing that if they want to make a profit. And although I have no love for them, by us moving to the OS we would effectively kill Leyton Orient off, who play quite literally just down the road. I think its the wrong move, but as much as I dislike that, I will always follow my West Ham!

Right I’ve realised that I’ve typed a lot of stuff here, so thanks for reading if you’ve made it down this far!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Another One Flies By

The time is flying already, January has gone by the wayside and February is here to move us on through the year. This month brings us some exciting events, and it also prompted the end of another as the January Transfer Window finally closed on Monday night.

The transfer window has been an interesting time for football teams since it was introduced back in the 2002-03 season, with the focus being on the final day each time. There have been some huge deadline day transfers since then, but none as big as the two that occurred late into the night this past Monday. Chelsea spent £50 million on buying Fernando Torres from Liverpool, whilst in response to that Liverpool spent £35 million on buying Andy Carroll from Newcastle. The amount of money spent on just those two players shows that football has clearly gone mad with its spending. It’s even more evident when you note that David Villa, one of the best players in the world, was recently sold for £34 million (no way is Carroll worth more than Villa). So much for a recession eh? The thing that gets me is that neither Torres nor Carroll are worth the amount that’s been paid for them, Torres is injury prone and his form is temperamental, whereas Carroll has only played half a season in the top flight and is generally unproven at this level. With that being said, I may be proved wrong and these guys may earn every bit of their transfer fee, but I won’t hold my breath.

The transfer window has actually been a very productive one for my beloved West Ham United, although it took a while to get there as there was a lot of hassle regarding Avram Grant. Now that this saga has supposedly been put to bed, the team could concentrate on other matters. The club have made important additions to the squad, first bringing in Wayne Bridge to help solidify the defence, and he was followed by Gary O’Neill coming in to offer a bit of depth in midfield. It’s been obvious this season that the Hammers strikers have not been on the mark enough, so in an effort to change that the club added two strikers to the ranks in Demba Ba and Robbie Keane. No idea about Ba, but Keane is a proven goal scorer in the top flight so he will be a vital player for the club for the rest of the season, starting with the away trip to Blackpool on Wednesday. Victor Obinna scored his 4th and 5th goals in the space of 2 games, and Keane got a debut goal as West Ham won 3-1!

With the start of February comes the end of the NFL season, highlighted by arguably the biggest how on the planet, the Superbowl. It’s a huge event watched by millions worldwide, and this year will be no different as the Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Green Bay Packers. There’s a massive pre-game show in the US, and thousands of parties held across the globe where fans gather to watch the event. Half time is an event unto itself, as each year a music act is brought in to perform on a stage quickly put together on the field. Over the past few years it’s been artists such as The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, but this year it’s the Black Eyed Peas. Not a big fan, but we’ll see how they do! I’m looking forward to the game again though, it’s always a huge show and worth staying up until the early hours of the morning for!

Other than sport, regular readers will know that one of my loves is the malted spirit, whisk(e)y, and this week I’ve tried a new whisky that I was looking forward to trying for a while. I’m a fan of whiskies from countries other than the two main staples of Scotland and Ireland, with my favourites being those from the Yamazaki in Japan. But I’ve also tried drams from Holland, Wales, Sweden and our very own England. This one though is from a country a bit further away than the ones previously mentioned. The whisky is called Amrut, and is an unpeated single malt from India. It’s reportedly the best selling Indian whisky, but isn’t actually sold in India, it is just exported. Anyway it is a wonderful whisky and if anyone reading this does like a dram or two, then I would highly recommend it! Speaking of whisky, I have got my tickets booked for Whisky Live London in March, it’ll be the fourth year in a row that I’ll have attended, and I’m looking forward to it just as much as I did the first time!

Once again I have focused on sports, but to be honest I’m sure you’re all used to that by now! Thank you for reading!

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