Whistling in the Dark

“Book a table for nine people for some drinks on Friday…” was the request that came from my girlfriend.

“…Somewhere good” being the only given requirement.

After some consideration I decided to book a table in a dimly-lit basement on a side street in Shoreditch that combines “the charm of Victorian squalor with the elegance of grand Gin Palaces”. Yep, we were off to the Worship Street Whistling Shop


Opening back in April 2011 the Whistling Shop was the second venture by the chaps behind the prohibition-style Purl in Marylebone as well as the more recent 17th Century-inspired Punch House VOC in King’s Cross and the NYC-influenced Dach & Sons in Hampstead.

Negotiating the stairs that lead from street-level down into the Whistling Shop is a bit like going into the fitting room at Mr. Benn’s local fancy dress shop; you leave the world behind you and enter an entirely new one. There is however nothing ‘fancy dress’ about this place as everything is designed with an attention to detail that grants it authenticity.

“the charm of Victorian squalor with the elegance of grand Gin Palaces”

Despite the impressive surroundings though, it is the drinks that are rightly the stars of the show here.

“Our drinks are inspired by the trends and drinking cultures of days gone by. Using these themes as starting points, we then develop our cocktail list within our in-house lab. Here, we use rotary evaporators, sous vide, vacuum technology and a large array of enzymes, acids, proteins and hydrocolloids to create drinks that are truly unique.”

– the Whistling Shop chaps

As there were nine of us each ordering something different we were able to order the large majority of the excellent cocktail menu (which changes regularly) right off the bat! (They’re about £9 each plus a service charge.)


I kicked off with a refreshing Gattering Cup, which is made with Hennessy Fin de Cognac, Camden Ink Stout, Buck-wheat Honey, Ginger Beer and Cardamom Bitters served over ice in a copper cup garnished with a sprig of mint leaves and a glass stirrer that reminded us of an old thermometer.

a Gattering Cup and I

Some review-site types seem to have had problems with service here but I can’t understand that personally – there are few things that annoy me more than having somebody constantly hovering over me, especially when I am enjoying something as special as these cocktails and we had no problem ordering more when we were ready. Having said that one of our drinks was dropped onto the table sending broken glass, Lillet and Martini in all directions!!! I have my suspicions that this may not have happened had one of our party not tried to eagerly grab theirs as soon as it was within arm’s reach however. I mean, would you let this girl anywhere near a full tray of cocktails?

Million Dollar #Cat

Having all (eventually) had the opportunity to see (and sample) each other’s first cocktails, most steered towards a favourite for their second. In my case this was the Million Dollar #2…

Million Dollar #2

Million Dollar #2: Woodford Reserve, Pineapple Juice, WS2 Grenadine, Martini Rosso, Chip Pan Bitters – $100 Note

Nose: So smokey! Lapsang souchong and smoked cheese fill your nostrils without even placing them too near the drink! The Chip Pan Bitters made in-house dominate proceedings.

Palate: Usually the palate confirms what the nose has told you even if slightly different elements are detected. Not here. Is this the same drink? Any trepidation about putting chip pan liquid in your mouth is made a mockery of instantly as tropical fruits catch your senses totally off guard. Herbal notes from the red vermouth are present as well as creaminess from the Woodford Reserve whilst Grenadine tartness keeps the fruit in check.

Finish: Smoooth. Pineapple and just a little smoke briefly linger. That wasn’t a drink that was a journey. Or was it? I’m not even sure what has just happened.

Overall: If cocktails are about the senses then that was the best one that I have ever had.

“If you could just step this way…”

Then, as if by Magic, the shopkeeper appeared… Or at least our reservation (you get a two hour slot as standard) was beginning to run down and our wallets and purses were all getting a little light.

In true Mr. Benn fashion, as I returned home later I realised that I had a miniature $100 bill in my pocket. “I thought I’d thrown that away! Now I can keep it to help me remember”.


Southbank Saturday

Sometimes a day just works out brilliantly. When your day begins with six whole hours having been wasted waiting for Mark ‘The Manx Express’ Cavendish to get nowhere near the front of the Olympic road race however, you are well within your rights to suspect that that particular day is a write-off.

Despite this it’s usually a good idea to shake off such suspicions and venture outside, putting aside your concerns that you won’t be able to move for the millions of people that are apparently descending on London or that a cursory glance at the sky tells you that it isn’t exactly ‘a nice day’.

In the immortal words of Derek Edward Trotter “He who dares, wins” and so out we went for an optimistic stroll along Southbank. What quickly became apparent was that not only had the city not been overrun overnight but it was actually less busy than normal with many people evidently having been scared off. More surprising still, the sun was even threatening to come out!

“Where’s Bane?”

Enthusiasm well and truly rekindled, we headed to the roof garden café and bar on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall to stretch out on the grass, take in the view and grab a refreshing beverage.

Views of London with grass between your toes…

As the clouds slowly parted even an ill-timed bout of Olympics-induced Britishness that caused me to order a glass of ludicrously diluted Pimm’s for the princely sum of £6.95 would not be enough to ruin things. The afternoon was all about great weather, great views and great company (although a Meantime pale ale would be a smarter choice at the bar).

The roof garden was designed by the Eden Project

With evening approaching thoughts soon turned to food and after some fruitless deliberation it dawned on us that there was a painfully obvious solution. During our stroll we had passed a pop-up Wahaca restaurant offering their usual winning combination of Mexican market eating plus a Tequila bar just outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The only way this could have been better is if there was a zip-line

Constructed from shipping containers and decorated with Mexican inspired street-art, we were all suitably impressed by Wahaca’s “Southbank Experiment”. Once inside we inadvertently ‘made friends’ with some nacho-sharing chaps who had been to see the Beach Volleyball before finally escaping to enjoy some Chilli Quesadillas (a Southbank Experiment special),  Taquitos and Frijoles. Fast food win.

Even better than Pop-up Pirate

…not forgetting the Margaritas of course!!!

Wahaca Classic Margarita with freshly squeezed lime and a hint of agave (£5.95)

It’s Whisky Jim, but not as we know it…

DISCLAIMER: This Blog Post, whilst based on ‘actual things’ may well run away with itself and contain conclusions and assertions of dubious scientific merit… Plus it was written into the (really, very) wee hours and may be influenced by utter delirium…

It is the distant future, the year 19841999, 2001, ?, fossil fuels are totally exhausted and it turns out cold fusion was just childish science fiction *ahem* – “but how will the distilleries keep running?” I hear you cry and “how on earth are we going to power our hover mobiles for our trips over to the Islay festival???”

My god, I… I don’t know… Please tell me there’s a way‽  [<- interrobang]

Well, assuming that the robots haven’t (in the words of New Zealand’s premier folk band) poisoned our asses with poisonous gases by then, there may just be a way of solving both of these pressing conundrums…

Back in 2010 boffins at Edinburgh Napier University developed a biofuel for cars made from the two main by-products of whisky production: the pot ale and the draff. Samples of these by-products were provided from the nearby Glenkinchie distillery.

Fast forward to 2012 and the director of the university’s Biofuel Research Centre Prof. Martin Tangney has formed a new company, Edinburgh Napier University’s Celtic Renewables Ltd., to commercialise the process with the dream of making it available at the pumps!

The biobutanol produced is said to provide 25% more power than bioethanol fuels and unlike other biofuels can even be used in unmodified petrol cars (or your standard petrol run hover mobile).

On closer inspection this sample doesn’t appear to be pot ale or draff but I’d better taste it to be sure…

Meanwhile plans got under way back in early 2008 between the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD) and Helius Energy to build a biomass heat and power plant in Moray that would burn draff to generate electricity whilst converting pot ale into organic fertiliser and animal feed.

Construction of the £60m project commenced last May with work due to finish in 2013 when it will utilise by-products from 16 Speyside distilleries including Glenlivet and Macallan. Unlike Diageo’s own bioenergy plant at the Cameronbridge distillery, the Rothes plant will also provide electricity for public use, enough for 9,000 homes supposedly.

So it is that in the distant apocalyptic future the whisky industry, having been self sufficient in terms of their energy requirements as long as anyone can remember, carries on regardless and even powers small towns and villages within a certain proximity to the distilleries. The inhabitants of these pockets of civilisation, some of the last remaining on Earth, are able to visit each other with relative ease in their hover mobiles and aircraft for both leisure and of course to trade the prized commodity of whisky.

The only thing that could possibly stop this coming to pass and thus spell the end for all mankind is if there was some kind of  total collapse in people’s interest in whisky between now and Judgement Day in the coming decades… Quick! With this much at stake it is imperative that we travel back in time to the year 2012 and impress upon humanity the importance of their continuing, nay growing, love for whisky!

To the DeLorean!!!

Well there you have it. If you don’t drink whisky then you Sir are endangering humanity. Think about that.

Unless the whisky industry becomes self-aware… Oh God.


P.S. That’s an entire whisky-related science fiction Blog post without a single mention of Ardbeg Space Whisky! (Oops.)