Under Lock & Key in The Pound

It was only a matter of time before the law caught up with me. Sooner or later, I knew I would have to pay for my crimes, that I’d find myself behind bars.

No, tiny darlings, I have not finally been locked up for my terrible debauchery, or for being drunk in charge of a lawnmower. I have instead been to visit Canterbury’s latest drinking emporium: The Pound.

Anyone who’s been to Canterbury will have at some point happened upon the imposing Westgate Towers, standing stoutly at one end of the high street. The glorious gatehouse dates back to the 14th century and is the last of the seven medieval gates that punctuated the city walls.

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury, Westgate Towers

The road between the drum towers is still in use today. As a normal road. Not…not as a path through which to invade the city. They don’t like you to do that any more. Or maybe it’s just me.

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury, westgate towers

The towers boast a delicious history, and its former museum is set to open again in the new year, so I will restrict my history lesson for now. What you do need to know is that from the 15th century up to the late 19th century, the towers (and adjoining building) were used as the city’s gaol.

And it is in the old guard rooms, superintendents’ offices and prison cells that a remarkable transformation has taken place; the ancient building reopened this month as a rather fetching bar and café (and restaurant by February), The Pound.

I am lucky to work (by day) across the road from the towers, so I was delighted to receive an invitation to their special preview event.* Two colleagues and I duly accepted, stepped out of our office door and into our new neighbours’ abode.
The entrance is suitably moody: a red lit arched gate, guarded by a man in black, that leads to a darkly gleaming front door. It’s a cross between Shoreditch-chic and the gateway to hell.**

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

On entering, we instantly began giggling like schoolgirls and tore off to explore, welcome drinks in hand. The interior really is a triumph, mixing the old world charm with minimalist modernity. The main rooms are all exposed red brick, brushed steel tables, smooth leather banquettes and old vintage light fixtures sparkle above the bar. But the heavy cell doors and creepy staircases remain.

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

The venue has been opened up to allow you to flow between several spacious rooms, and huge neon signs remind you of what part of the old clink you are standing in.

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

There is plenty of space to sit or stand, and private function rooms are also available. The main bar is half gaol, half conservatory, so you have lovely views of the River Stour, St Dunstan’s and the stars as you quaff. I look forward to drinking under blue skies and burning sunsets by day. 

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

Behind the counter is a delectable array of liquors, and I was pleased to see Kent’s own Curious Brew on tap along with Adnams Dry Hopped Larger, Camden Pale Ale and Peroni. No cask ales, but it’s really not a cask ale pub so stop your fussing. The cocktail list is also impressive, and the range of wines is excellent. There is a lot of focus on local libations, I was told by the manager, and the kitchen intends to be very home-grown when it opens in the new year.

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
But while the main function rooms allow you to mingle or peel off as required, the real intrigue lies in The Police Cells. Down an eerie red brick corridor, past the toilets, you chance upon the heart of the former prison, now wide open for a different kind of business…

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

Gone are the cramped steel beds, chamber pots and raving reprobates. The Victorian glazed bricks, original cell doors and inspection hatches remain but all other creature un-comforts have been removed as the cells now serve as rather swish looking private rooms, complete with a long table and comfy chairs – perfect for cosy dining, party banter, or an interrogation or two.***

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

The largest cell hasn’t forgotten its roots – it keeps the fine wine under lock and key…

The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury
The Demon Gin, The Pound, One Pound Lane, Canterbury

Exploration complete and contacts made, my colleagues and I departed for the night. But I was back 24hours later on the main opening evening, so excited was I to show a friend the fantastic layout. I kept dragging him from room to room, saying “See? See? Look at the cells! Let’s get drunk in the cells!!”

Students and skin-flints be warned: the bar is unashamedly a high-end affair so don’t expect masses of change from a fiver for a pint. But that ain’t no bad thing when the quality is strong. While Canterbury is not short of excellent places to drink in, there has been a hole in the market when it comes to this end of the bar spectrum and The Pound fills it perfectly. It is also open until 2.30am, so you can banter until the early hours.

Confess your sins, and go directly to gaol.

The Pound

One Pound Lane, Canterbury
Open daily from 10am until late
Follow them on Facebook & Twitter (@onepoundlane) for updates
*I didn’t receive a personal invitation. It was an office invitation. But I still wrestled a colleague to the ground, grabbed hold of the invitation and ran out of the building with it screaming ‘mine, mine I deserve this!!!’
**Not that I’m intimately aware of what the entrance to hell looks like.
***After a few gins on a night out I am GOING to start questioning someone at irrational volume about something that really doesn’t matter, like how can someone include Dad’s Army in their top five sitcom of all time but exclude Black Books? Seriously?Seriously?!

What happens when you direct a play (for the first time)

This post was written on the opening night of my directorial debut with The Canterbury Players in June 2014.

A while ago, I wrote about hay fever. But now I am going to write about Hay Fever. No, not the ailment that’s killing me slowly via the nose. I mean the thing that’s probably going to kill me by way of a bunch of people kicking me to death while shouting “is it stage left or right, you silly bint?!!”

Yes, tiny darlings. I am directing a play. Namely, Hay Fever by the one and only Noel Coward, and it starts tonight (Thurs 26th June) at The Gulbenkian Theatre, Canterbury.

Excuse me a moment while I vomit profusely from gut wrenching nerves.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman

First, some background. As you may know, I am an amateur thesp. Yes. Oh yes I am. I’ve been a member of a few am dram groups for the past few years, but The Canterbury Players takes up most of my acting time as they are both prolific in their productions and a jolly nice bunch of people. I’m pleased to call many of them good friends*

This is, however, the first time I’ve been asked to actually run a show. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity, and a great play to boot. Plus it’s being staged in the theatre of my former university.

Excuse me again………………….Okay…okay, I think that’s the last of it.

I first saw Hay Fever performed in London in the early 1990s, and loved it from start to finish. The production was outlandish, camp and slick, and it stayed with me for years afterwards. No new version that I have seen since has ever lived up to that initial, side-splitting production. True, the play itself does not really have much of a plot – a family of dramatic bohemians invite some guests to their country home, and hilarious social awkwardness ensures. But it revolves around rich, strong comic characters, who need to be larger than life without descending into hammy farce. Done right, it’s a masterpiece of wit, whimsy and comic timing.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman

One night, at a committee meeting for the Players, we thesps were trying to decided on a suitable summer show for the group. I piped up that Hay Fever would be perfect and then, for some unknown reason, found myself saying: “I’m happy to help direct it!”

Oh God, hang on, there’s more….I better eat some bread or something, I’m think I just threw up  a lung…

So it came to pass that I took on the job of directing the show, assisted by my good friend Kasia as assistant director (AD) and Nick G as stage manager. 

Three mad months later, and we finally have a show. I write this an hour before curtain goes up for the first time, but I dare not spoil the fun for you and use this post to talk about the show.

But what I can do, in the meantime and to distract me from vomiting, is share what I have learned during my first stint as an amdram director.

Well….well obviously this isn’t proper directors’ advice, as I am not experienced enough to tell anyone what to do. But I can give you The Demon Gin take on what expect…

You will lose 10 weeks of your life
Once rehearsals start, that’s it. You now live and breathe the play, and no amount of gin will block it out. If you think you can fit it around all your other hobbies and be totally laid back and casual, you are WRONG. It will consume you. You can’t move for the amount of directing and planning you have to do, and you have to be awake for almost all of it.

You won’t have thought of half the things you were supposed to
Midway through rehearsals, when the cast seem happy and comfortable, the horror questions come. “Aren’t I suppose to be using a soda siphon here?” “How are we actually going to smoke on stage?” “Do we actually have a grand piano for this scene, as it is referenced several times?”

I was asked every one of these questions. My general response was to smile, nod, and say “don’t worry, don’t worry, it’s all taken care of.”

Ten minutes later, I was on the phone to my AD while simultaneously trying to make a soda siphon out of shoe and a hose, screaming: “How do we get a fucking PIANO on the stage?! And can any of us even play one? Oh God and we’ve got to have fags too – can we smoke on stage now, is that allowed? I don’t care, fire proof EVERYTHING!”

This is why you need a good stage manager and assistant director. They will help you to remember things you haven’t thought of, and will talk you down from the chandelier.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, gulbenkian
Nick and Kasia, playing with the set. For God’s sake, hammer something!!!
The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman
The finished set
The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman
Obligatory set beer


You’ll forget the things you did think of
Me on phone: “Hello? You know those costumes we hired from your lovely shop?…..was I supposed to collect those?….I was. Good. Good……uh…..can I get them now? Yes I know it’s 6am and I’ve been ringing your doorbell for an hour, but I just thought I’d double check.”

You start to suspect you have an ulcer
Even on calm, peaceful, problem-free shows, you are still working around the clock (if you have a day job too) and juggling many tasks. Then, one day, you wake up and your stomach is doing acidic somersaults. You spend your days chucking Rennie into your mouth like peanuts, muttering “it’s an ulcer, it’s got to be an ulcer, this show is eating me from the inside.”

No you big big freak, it’s not an ulcer. It’s because you’ve been existing on a diet of biscuits, chocolate, caffine and red wine due to you having no time to cook any more. Your gut is crying out for spinach.

You have a lot of big ideas that never come to fruition

In those heady, early days when people are merrily reading and blocking scenes, and there’s a full eight weeks to go, you have some pretty outlandish ideas of how to make the show pop and boost ticket sales. “I think we should do an entire dinner event in the cafe before each show,” you cry, Malbec flying from your glass as you gesticulate. “We’ll all dress up, and we’ll serve themed food, and there’ll be a band! And dancers! And a quiz!”

Three weeks before show, one of your crew asks about the pre-show event plans and you throw a cat in their face while chewing on a cigarette. “Screw that, no time, do I look like I have the time? There’s no fucking time for anything!”

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury
Backstage, pondering
The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, gulbenkian
Trying to make a garden makes Kasia coy. And blurry

You volunteer to make things when you really shouldn’t

“Now,” you reassure the cast. “Get what accessories you can, and I am going to make some extras at home.” You have visions of creating gorgeous flapper head bands and head scarves dazzled with plumes and jewels.

Your efforts will ultimately end up looking like an ostrich died on a bit of dressing gown chord from being pelted with sequins.

You WILL go to the shops and buy replacements, and speak no more about what came before.

You will flip out

At some point, something small will go wrong and it will set you off completely. Your stage manager calls to tell you that you might not have enough matching cups and saucers, and he later finds you in a canoe, paddling yourself across a small lake near Chilham and muttering “I’m sailing to France, I’m sailing to France”

Just try to keep it together in rehearsals.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, gulbenkian
Director enjoying a smoothie. I’ve clearly lost my mind

You get vicious about ticket sales

When you are on stage, it’s nice to know lots of people are in the audience looking at you being brilliant, but it isn’t the end of the world if it’s a quiet night. You’re there to have fun and to enjoy your art.

As a director, every empty seat looms over you in your dreams. Our group is popular, but it’s rare that we ever sell out (especially in the summer). Yet it’s your show, and every unsold seat begins to represent a colossal failure by you to present an appealing night out.

Soon, all ticket sales become personal. You call up people you haven’t seen for years, you message people for a chat and a hard sell, you grab strangers in the street and shout “go and see my show”. Anyone who doesn’t attend you assume hates you, and has always hated you, and is just jealous of your success.

Remember that sometimes, a smaller audience is better than a big one. Not in terms of money, or credibility….but intimate crowds often laugh the loudest at comedies, and it gives the cast a reall boost.

And for the love of GOD, make sure everyone off staff has at least eight wines in the interval.

You swear this will be your last show for several months

It never is.

The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman

******

A few serious words about the show, before lights go up and you all get to bask in the glory of my directorial debut.

The cast features people I’ve worked with before and newcomers, including the beau that I oft mention in this here blog. Honestly, I could not have asked for more better actors – there is not a weak link amongst them**, and that is a rare thing in am dram. Everyone has mucked in, brought props and costume ideas, worked late and remained sane while I snapped about lines. They have made their characters their own, and are an utter joy to watch. Such talent deserves your praise.

Thank you Caron, Matt, Sally, Mike, Ben***, Tim, Ellie, Nathalie, and Tessa  from the bottom of my heart and the middle of my kidneys.

Secondly, the show’s backstage crew have been outstanding. My incredible stage manager Nick and my amazing assistant director Kasia are both highly talented, innovative and considerate professionals, and without them I would not have had nearly as much fun. Thanks must also go to the ever resourceful set designers and builders Derek and Stephen, who saved us from a near disaster when our original set plans fell through and have created a truly stunning home for the actors.

Final thanks to all the people who have helped out so willingly – prop wrangler Sally P, costumer Alanna, lovely LX designer Emma and operator Jack, the tireless backstage crew Beth and Jasmine, and fearless front of house Sarah, Sally E, Kat Jim, Jill and Tony.

My unlimited love to y’all.



The Demon Gin, Hay Fever play, Canterbury, credit Becky Lamyman
Da cast and da crew

*To their face that is. Behind their backs, I say terrible, godless things.
** I’ve just been told by the cast that I have used the words ‘there isn’t a weak link amongst you!’ about 50 times. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, apart from ‘please don’t screw up’
***I’m thanking him even though he had to shave for the role and I don’t much care for him clean shaven.

Allergic To My Own Face

Some of you may be aware that I am directing a show this June. It is Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. Well, this post is nothing to do with that.

No, tiny darlings, I merely bring this up because (ahem, chuckle) it’s rather apt that all my attention is focused on Hay Fever because actual hay fever (ho ho!) is literally killing me it’s killing me I’m going to die from it in the next eight minutes this is not a joke or a witty little anecdote or pun SEND HELP.

A new strain of super pollen has taken over the clouds and rains bloody murder upon me every day.
 

BASTARDS
I am a sea of nasal fluid, sneezing every eight minutes. Mascara stains my cheeks as my eyes weep. I cough, I itch, and I can’t move for the massive piles of used tissues and empty pill boxes surrounding me – I look like I’m committing horny suicide.

Some of you may scoff while sniffing a massive bouquet of red roses, and mutter that hay fever is hardly a serious problem. I agree with you, I do; it is something for me to quietly deal with, dignified and discreet.

The trouble is that the rest of you won’t let me.
 
Those of you who work in an office will know that certain people have a morbid fear of other people sneezing more than once, and by God are they going to let you know about it.

Whether you trumpet like a bull elephant, or swallow tiny fairy-like emissions, sneeze twice in a row and someone is going to hit the frigging roof.  It usually goes thusly:
Sneeze 1: “Bless you!”

Sneeze 2: “Wooooooohohohohohohohoho! Woah! Wow, goodness me, sneezing a lot aren’t we! Do you have a cold? My my!”

Sneeze 3: (Person screams for ten minutes straight, and everyone else starts crying)

The bitter truth is that I know hay fever cannot be entirely to blame. Sneezing is a year round experience for me, and pollen season just makes it more virile. I have tried desperately to isolate the cause of it, cutting out certain food and drink over the years. But remove one aggravator and another pops up in its place. My nose should be used to measure dust levels in episodes of How Clean Is Your House.

Here is the list of things that apparently set me off:
  • Cats/animals (I own two cats but have built up immunity to mine)
  • Dust
  • Flowers
  • The poor
  • Pollen (FYI farmers, YOU’RE KILLING ME)
  • White wine (sometimes)
  • The early hours of the morning
  • Consciousness

And the drugs don’t work. On the shelf remedies may as well be packaged air, and the only thing that touches the sides is Actifed. Not quite prescription but powerful enough to be hidden behind the chemist counter, it leaves me wonderfully sneeze-free. This does little good, however, when I’m passed out on my desk or driving round and round a roundabout in an anti-histamine induced stupor.

This is where I grew up – I never had a chance

I tried going to a doctor about it once but I may as well have begged a seagull for help. “People have allergies,” he barked. “You can’t treat EVERY possible allergy, you could be allergic to anything, what do you want me to do about it? Do you have pets? Get rid of your pets!!! Put them down!

And then there are the chemists. Ohhhhhhhhhhh the chemists.

Well, not the actual chemists, who have qualifications and training. I mean the assistants who guard the till, pretending to be proper doctors when they merely lies in white coats. They act like extras from the Wizard of Oz, crying out “no one gets to see the chemist!”, but hitch their skirts and run wailing in horror to back of the shop should you ask them anything vaguely drug related. The sort of people who are mute when you ask about cough syrup but have no problem speaking at the top of their voice when pointing out where the cystitis treatments are. 


No matter what you ask of them, you never end up with what you really want. So desperate am I for a cure that I recently spend a full £20 on new products from my nearest chemist – a nasal spray and a sea-water solution. Fellow allergy sufferers have recommended nasal sprays to me, but did I buy those ones? Noooooooooooooo. No, I was conned into buying the shop’s NEW nasal spray.

A spray that’s a powder.

It’s A POWDER.

 
Imagine chucking eucalyptus scented talcum powder up your nose and you’ll have an idea of how that afternoon went for me. Two applications and I resembled Uma Thurman overdosing in Pulp Fiction.*

The seawater spray was recommended by my aunt who is probably reading this and with whom I will have words. The salty goodness is supposed to clear nasal passages, relieving the symptoms associated with hay fever and allergies.

I open the bottle, and fired a jet of salt water into one nostril. It was less than pleasant. What’s more, you aren’t supposed snort and swallow the water so with no reasonable way of keep it in your head…you sort of stand there, craning and jiggling your head into strange positions in an effort to rinse out your nose.

That’s what I did for five minutes. I stood in my living room, voluntarily pumping salty, seaweedy, fish-bath water into my knackered nostrils. Why didn’t I just hurtle down to Whitstable and plunge face first into the sea, and rub oysters in my ears? Why didn’t I do that?

Treatment completed, I found it to be oddly reminiscent of my childhood trips to the seaside – I got all excited, snorted a load of seawater and spent the rest of the day crying.

Tiny darlings – please. PLEASE help me. I cannot live like this any more.

What do you swear by to ward of the sneezes? Natural remedies? Hard drugs? Diet changes? Pagan dancing?

Tell me and I will give you gold.

*I swear on my many Gods, I just tried the ‘spray’ again while I typing this very blog to make sure I wasn’t being overly harsh. I am sneezing twice as much as before in an effort to get the devilry out of my nose.
 
***********
 
Despite what I said earlier, this does seem as good a time as any to tease my directorial debut.
Fear not, I shall tell all in more detail soon. 
But why not book tickets in the meantime? 
 

Follow me on Twitter for updates and utter despair as to why I’m doing this
 
http://www.thegulbenkian.co.uk/events/theatre/2014/June/2014-06-25-26-27-hay-fever.html
 
 
 

Tequila Tasting I Will Go

An email arrives in my folder. It reads: “You have won a place at our exclusive members’ only tequila tasting event at Club Burrito.”
I stare at the screen for a long time.
I can’t imagine this is a random coincidence, given me penchant for blogging about local things and supporting local businesses.
But seriously…free booze? For ME? This is like asking The Joker to watch your massive pile of weapons and maps to Batman’s house while you nip to the toilet.
Meh, I’m sure it’ll be fine.  
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury



Club Burrito is a new addition to the olde worlde wonder of Butchery Lane. A solid shack resplendent in sunshine yellows and Aztec blues, it specialises in Mexican street food, which you can either take away or enjoy upstairs on one of their wooden cantina style tables. There are kitsch decorations, cocktails a plenty and Manu Chao on the sound system.

Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury

I happened upon Club Burrito’s food a week earlier, and was not disappointed. I ordered a hearty pulled pork burrito with rice, refried beans, cheese and my choice of toppings. It was one of the biggest, messiest, and tastiest burritos I’ve had the pleasure to put my face into. I shall return for more, and urge you to do the same – excellent food, good drinks, live music many evenings and utterly charming staff.
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury

Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury

Now I like to think I know my world liquors. I’ve swilled wines in the Loire Valley, sipped Irish whiskey at Bushmills, sampled Scotch in Edinburgh, supped sake in Tokyo, and tried everything they had at the Appleton Rum Factory in Jamaica because they just wouldn’t stop bringing out bottles.

Tequila, I shall admit, has never been my idea of a sophisticated drink. The tequila I know is either downed with salt and lemon, or languishes at the bottom of a sickly sweet cocktail. Cocktails like these (my beau insisted on having the girliest drinks possible for his friends at his last birthday. Any excuse to share this again…)


The Demon Gin Canterbury
My male friends, enjoying tequila sunrises. Honestly, I ask you…

Yet Club Burrito was happy to challenge this misconception.

Our hosts for the evening were the chaps from specialist drinks importer Amathus, who pride themselves in stocking the UK’s most exclusive selection of tequilas and mezcals.The tasting and presentation was led by Eduardo, from Mexico. Lovely Eduardo. Lovely lovely Eduardo……sorry, where was I?

Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury


First came the history and myth busting.

Tequila is made from the screechingly blue agave plant, a fruit – not a cactus as many people think – grown in highlands and lowlands (much like vines, terrain is key to producing different flavours). If you’ve ever tried agave honey, will give you an idea of the notes tequila should have.

The blue agave matures for at least five years before being harvested and trimmed down so that the heart of the fruit remains. The fruit is then cooked a large oven for many hours, ground, fermented and double distilled. It will then be aged in oak casks (usually former bourbon cases) for between two months and five years. The final spirit is diluted down to 38-40% ABV.

Like Champagne, tequila it is so named after the town where most of the production takes place (though it is not technically confined to this town). In fact, only five states in Mexico have the right to produce tequila, with more than 100 distilleries in Mexico producing around  600 brands.

Tequila can trace its origins back around 2,000 years…..and that’s pretty much all I know about its history. I could research it more, but there was drinking to be done and look, here’s the internet (hands over Google) go, go look it up for yourself, I can wait.

Now, here are a few important facts that you will thank me for the morning after the night before

  • Only drink tequila made from 100% agave. It will say so on the bottle.
  • Wherever possible, avoid mixed ‘mixto’ blended tequila. This has a minimum of 51% agave, and is then mixed with sugars and various flavours. Really, it is the bottom of the tequila scale and is just not worth it.  
  • Look for the NOM number on the bottle, which is an official mark of approval. If it doesn’t have it, don’t drink it.
  • If you find a bottle of tequila – or any spirit – costing loss than £8, for the love of God don’t drink it.
  • Mexicans don’t drink the bring brand tequilas that you’re probably familiar with. Most aren’t even made in Mexico. It’s like drinking ‘real authentic Scotch’ made in Belgium. Stop it.

As I’ve said, what you want is tequila made from 100% agave sugars. From these you have blanco, gold (unaged and coloured with caramel), reposado (aged for around 8-12months), añejo (aged for between one and three years) and extra añejo (aged for at least three years).


History lesson done, it was time for the tasting. 
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterburyClub burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury

We were given two brands to taste – Cabrito and the more expense Centinela – and tried the blanco and reposado from each brand. The few non-tequila lovers were nervous. Some gripped their water bottles anxiously. One girl’s hand shook as she poured her first drink.

I have to tell you this now….every sip was surprising. At no point did I gag and call for a doctor. I was not expecting tequila to be so complex or enjoyable, and I was truly astounded by what was put in front of me.
The blanco was first, and this is what more discerning folk would use for cocktails (as opposed to the cheap mixed tat we’d normally reach for). It was peppery and spicy on the tongue, and gave way to an almost floral aroma. Crisp and clean was the common vote, but with enough bite for a good cocktail.
Then came the amber-hued reposado, and the Centinela quickly become my good friend for the evening. Eduardo was also excited about this one, and quizzed us all about what we could taste.
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
For me, it was almond, pepper, a hint of vanilla. The first taste was spicy but much rounder than the sharpness of the blanco, and the aftertaste was of a rich, ripe fruit – plum was the one that continually sprung to mind. It reminded me a quality aged rum, but without the thick sweetness of the sugar cane, and was not a million miles away from a decent Irish whiskey. It was definitely a tipple I could see myself sipping at the end of the day, pen in one hand, list of enemies in the other. In fact, I poured myself another while no one was looking.
We spent some time comparing the Cabrito and Centinela brands, with the Centinela winning hands down in my book. The blancos shown here retail at around £25, and the reposados will fetch around £35 – £40. This probably seems a bit steep for what we normally class as ‘let’s get totally munted’ liquor. But the quality is worth it; you’d pay that much for an even half-decent Scotch.
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterburyClub burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury 

Then came the añejo, the darkest of the bunch. Eduardo served us one from Calle 23, produced in the highlands and aged for 16months by one of the only female tequila producers in Mexico – the Frenchwoman Sophie Decobecq.

While this was the oldest tequila on offer, it seemed to lose some of the reposado’s mellow qualities and built on the spiciness of the blanco. There was a lot more cocoa and caramel, but the aftertaste had a cinnamon kick. Many around the table enjoyed its spicy sweetness. It was tad muddled for me on its own but I imagined – and Eduardo agreed – that it would transform a margarita into the stuff of legend.
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury


At this point, I was starting to feel a bit dizzy and may have been singing out loud about mangos. I looked at my watch; I had a play rehearsal in ten minutes and begged Eduardo to release us.

“No,” he said firmly, pulling another bottle from his Mary Poppins-esque bag. “You can’t go until you have tried my baby.”

His baby with Mezcal, the little know but still much loved baby brother of tequila. Also produced from the agave plant but from different species, Mezcal is cooked underground and then matured for five to six months. As a result, it has a different flavour and smoky aroma that makes it a hit with whiskey drinkers.

Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury

I will level with you: it smelt like diesel oil. I was certain that one sip of it would make me go blind but I braved it none the less. It hit the palate hard, but then….it mellowed. It didn’t just mellow, it melted into an astonishingly sultry and smoky flavour, all peat and heat. It wasn’t quite an Islay but it wasn’t bad at all.
Club burrito, tequila tasting, centinela tequila, amathus, the demon gin, canterbury
Full of tequila and no food, I thanked our hosts and literally ran to my play rehearsal. I spent a good portion of the night hugging the actors, telling them how much I loved them and pledging that after the play was finished, we’d all buy a cantina together and raise a goat called Brian.
While I’ve always liked tequila, I never knew just how much I was missing and I owe Club Burrito and the boys at Amathus a big thank you for opening my eyes to a whole new world of liquor*.
Tequila – it really does make you happy**.
*I’m well aware that while I am pleased about this, many of nearest and dearest will be sobbing and boarding up their windows
** The reason this post too so long for me to write is that I spent a vast amount of time trying to come up with tequila puns. The best I had was “Tequila mockingbird.” That’s it. That’s the BEST I could come up with, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with it at all. Please, share your own puns. You can’t do worse than me.