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The Mighty Mitre Burger

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It stands at a wobbly 17cm tall and includes nearly a kilo of beef (two pounds) – hungry people, please welcome Greenwich’s biggest burger.

Inspired by his favourite TV show, Man versus Food, Matt Lannon, manager at the Mitre Hotel, has set his customers a challenge of his own: eat the Mighty Mitre Burger (and chips) in 20 minutes and you’ll get it for free.

Having witnessed the first one being cooked and plated I’d say chef Ed Lorryman will have as much trouble getting this monster to stand up straight as customers will have of actually eating it. But should you fancy your chances at the challenge here’s what you’ll have put away… one Italian brioche bun (plus a middle bit of bread), four 225gm (or eight ounce) beef patties, every one topped with cheese, bacon, a battered onion ring and Naga Bhut Jolokia peppers from India. The peppers, nicknamed ghost peppers, supposedly because the heat sneaks up on anyone who eats them, was named the hottest pepper in the world by the Guinness Book of Records in 2007 (although it’s subsequently been out-hotted). Add a side order of chips.

“Don’t forget the lettuce, tomato and onion we top it off with,” says Matt, “we want to make sure there’s some healthy stuff on there as well.”

The burger is priced at £15 and all in all weighs in at approximately 1.25 kilos (2.8 pounds) uncooked and that’s not including the chips.

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Gambling glamour

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Privé (Autumn 2010)

This is the part of the magazine where all you women should make a cup of coffee (or pour a large glass of something stronger), sit down and prepare to shake your head at us boys and say something about us not really ever growing up. And I do mean boys, even among those of us who have long since forgotten what a school was (unless it’s a card school, of course).

We all long to be James Bond. Yes, I know you might have heard that mentioned before, but I mean we ‘really’ long to be James Bond. It’s shallow and it’s obvious. Good-looking, the fast cars, the women, all those languages he knows (without ever practising), all those gadgets he gets to play with; he is basically a collection of all the parts every boy wants in his personality and life. Ian Fleming invented him for us.

But however good Bond is behind the wheel, in bed or stopping a plot to ruin the world, it all amounts to nothing when compared to 007 at play in a casino. That’s when we ‘really’ want to be Bond. Is it any wonder so many scenes are shot with the backdrop of the green baize, colourful chips and rolling dice? And that the plot of the first novel (Casino Royale 1953) that set the hero on the road to stardom revolves around the action in the French casino at Royale-les-Eaux? James Bond belongs in a casino. In fact, let’s be honest, Fleming invented him for the casino, not us boys.

So here we are then. It’s so dark outside it’s purple, while inside the soft lighting round the tables is sultry and sexy, like the women in the long, oh-so-classy dresses that dance round their ankles. Bond is wearing an immaculately fitting black suit with crisp white shirt. He orders a martini (did you just say ‘shaken not stirred’? Thought so). The man is a risk-taker. This is no spy scuttling around the back alleys with a hood and a brown bag filled with documents. This is a man who, bold-as-brass, marches up to his enemies and tells them his name (this is the bit where you say, ‘the name’s Bond, James Bond’).

Then he buys a large stack of chips and settles down in a chair to enjoy the action. He doesn’t even stop playing when he has to switch the conversation to a strange foreign language or two or when turning down the attentions of the best-looking women in the place (at least for now, anyway) because he’s busy gambling and enjoying his martini.

Most of us come to play the tables in a casino to take a risk and to escape. We come to the tables to enjoy that touch of glamour surrounding us. And we come to the tables to feel that we are part of a movie scene just like the one described above.

Not everyone one of us can drive a car really fast, not everyone can attract the hottest women in the world and few of us get to play with really cool gadgets (sorry, your iPhone doesn’t count unless there is an app on it that sprays oil onto the road to deter the Russian spies who are trailing you). But around the tables we can be our own version of James Bond. Or for you girls who enjoy a touch of the high life, the girl who wants Bond. Or even Jamie Bondette if you prefer.

It is here, when sitting around the table with our pile of chips in front of us that we get to take our own risks. We don’t just want the thrill of winning; we also want the rest of the place to look up and wonder who we are when we are winning. Who is that well-dressed stranger, swanning into the place, tossing those chips around and really enjoying the whole occasion?

So when you’re next out playing, move around the tables and see the glint in the eyes of different players who are in the room playing their own film role. There’s nothing glamorous about being the kid at the back of the class who never moves seats the whole term. Sneak glances at the couple playing Blackjack who gently whispering to each other between deals. Watch the group of tall men discussing tactics on the roulette wheel in the middle of the room. And cast the girls sipping drinks at the bar as they chat loudly about which table to hit next.

Play big sometimes, play small sometimes. Enjoy the games. Order a cocktail. Hell, make it a martini, everyone else wants to really, trust me.

Dress up. Men for seduction, women for romance. Catch someone’s eye as they win, smile when you win and accept the congratulations from around the table. Really soak up the atmosphere; we’re all here to catch a touch of our own slice of glamour and romance after all.

Are you showing the game?

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JetAway (June 2010)

No matter where you are in Europe this summer, someone will be showing the World Cup. Daniel Ford selects 10 key matches and where to watch to them

South Africa v Mexico

11 June, Manchester

The poor old South Africans have had it in the neck ever since winning the right to stage the 2010 World Cup, but 11 June is the day when, after 80 years, football’s big celebration arrives in Africa. It’s Friday afternoon and the first match of the tournament – will there be an office open anywhere in Europe? Watch the hosts (the lowest FIFA-ranked side in the tournament) in the first ever Revolution (90-94 Oxford Road, Manchester. 0161 236 7470, www.revolution-bars.co.uk). With its swish bar and comfy seats, this smart vodka venue, opened in 1996, beats standing up in the Dog & Duck any day. Pre-book your World Cup burger and drinks on 0800 6300 800.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Nkosi sikileli’ iAfrica!/God bless Africa!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Springbok (half Baileys or Amarula cream combined with half crème de menthe)

URUGUAY V FRANCE

11 June, Paris

No one will be heading home early after the opening game, especially on a Friday night, so continue to soak up the atmosphere as the flair of the French takes on the rugged Uruguayans. Watch outside on the big screen with the locals in the beautiful surroundings of Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (City Hall Square, 29 rue de Rivoli, 75004 Paris). Situated near the Seine and surrounded by fine architecture, the square used to hold public executions, including that of Jacques Clément, the assassin of the French king Henry III, in 1589.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Est-ce que Thierry Henry à utilise son pied maintenant?/Did Thierry Henry use his foot this time?

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Pastis

ENGLAND V USA

12 June, Paphos

Every four years England wait in hope of World Cup glory. Every four years they are disappointed. The disappointment might as well come in the sun at Aces (Ayias Anastasias, Kato Paphos. 00 357 269 36400, www.acesbarpaphos.com), a popular bar with English football fans. If there’s one game the Three Lions could lose in their weak group it’s this one, so make sure you get into the much-coveted position where you can see the game but still sit in the sun (the holy grail is to have some shade on the head, lots of sun on the rest of the body but no glare on the screen).

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Rooney!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Anything

ITALY V NEW ZEALAND

20 June, Rome

The highest score in a World Cup match is 9-0 (Yugoslavia v Zaire, 1974). Can Italy go one better against the massively outclassed New Zealanders? Flann O’Brien (Via Nazionale 17, 00184 Rome. 00 39 06 488 0418, www.flannobrien.it) is a popular Irish bar for fans of English and Italian football, boasting numerous screens to watch the (no doubt) numerous goals in classic pub surroundings.Your main problem, however, will be getting the attention of the waiters.

Post-Match Celebration Cry:Dieci!/Ten!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Grappa

SLOVAKIA V PARAGUAY

20 June, Prague

The Czechs didn’t make the finals but their former country-mates and now neighbours Slovakia did (for the first time) and the city’s large Slovak population will be aware that this game could decide who qualifies with Italy from Group F. In an area with a few sports bars dotted around, Sports Bar Zlata Hvezda (Ve Smeckach 12, Prague 1. 00 420 296 222 292, www.sportbar.cz) has a good mix of expats, locals and visitors, and claims to be the first of its kind in the city.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Kde je Paraguaj?/ Where is Paraguay?

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Pilsner Urquell

SPAIN V HONDURAS

21 June, Benidorm

It’s unlikely that favourites Spain (4-1 to win the cup) will be shaking in their boots playing Honduras (1000-1), but at least they’ll be able to console their Central American opponents in the same language. The Winning Post (Calle Girona, Benidorm) is a big bar attached to a betting shop, selling cheap food/beer in basic surroundings but at least you can put a few euros on Torres to score first and Spain to win by more than four.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Ole!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Sangria if it’s a hatful, San Miguel if it’s not

GREECE V ARGENTINA

22 June, Crete

Despite the name, the locally owned and run Sky Sports Bar (Agios Nikolaos, Crete. 00 30 28410 82860) is a traditional venue in which to line up the ouzos as the Greeks look to topple Diego Maradona’s Argentina. When the sides met in 1994 Maradona’s manic goal celebration into the camera was later found to be fuelled by substances more than adrenaline and ended his World Cup career.

Post-Match Celebration Cry:Ouzo!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: More ouzo

AUSTRALIA V SERBIA

23 June, Ibiza

There are nearly 100,000 Serbians in Australia (Holly Vallance and Jelena Dokic among them), so who should they support? A young energetic bunch heads to Hogan’s Aussie bar (Carrer Bartolomé Vincente Ramon, San Antonio, Ibiza.www.hogansibiza.com) for cocktails and to mix with a sexy crowd in the heart of Ibiza.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Cocktails

CAMEROON V NETHERLANDS

24 June, Amsterdam

One of the most attractive games in the group stages, this one will be attacking football all round. Expect plenty of goals as you merge into the sea of orange in Amsterdam. Join backpackers from around the world and locals in Belushi’s (129 Warmoesstraat, 1012 JA, Amsterdam. 00 31 206 231 380, www.belushis.com). The international nature of this bar means there will plenty of shots and strange-coloured liquids flying around, but try to keep one eye on the game. Based in the red-light district and attached to the Winston Kingdom nightclub, you won’t be short of after-match entertainment should the strange-coloured liquids start to kick in.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Hup, Holland, Hup!/Go, Holland, go!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Some more strange-coloured liquids

PORTUGAL V BRAZIL

25 June, Albufeira

The world’s big Portuguese-speaking derby. Who needs sun? Escape the heat and watch the game in Diamonds Sports and Karaoke Bar (Rua Alexandre Herculano 33, Albufeira. 00 351 289 542 952), then follow up what has to be the best clash of the group stages by belting out your favourite karaoke number to cheering football fans. Maybe.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Goooooooaaaaal!

Post-Match Celebration Drink:Superbock

Kick off Euro style

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JetAway December 2009

With Man United one of the favourites in the Champions League and the World Cup salivatingly close, JetAway asked footie fanatic Daniel Ford to educate us on Europe’s stars, stadiums and scandals.


The big concrete terracing at Akritas Chloraka (bottom of Cyprus Division 2) is baking hot so I’m sitting on a stray bit of cardboard. There are maybe 100 fans dotted around in the area where my cousin Lewis and I, and thousands of flies, have settled to watch the game against the second-placed side from Larnaca. Just in front of the children aiming toilet rolls quite accurately at the halfway line is a guy hopping about selling tickets. But whether they are for the match we’re watching (the turnstiles were unmanned) or for a raffle is unclear. About the same number of people are dotted around on the terraces behind the goal, a bit of concrete that seems to hang on the hillside. Well, actually, it does hang on the hillside, as the whole stadium is cut into a massive drop from what is little more than a village, situated a few miles from the tourist town of Paphos. The stadium is rubbish, the football is rubbish and youngsters from the home side’s youth team are throwing things at the opposition bigwigs who are sitting in front of me. But I adore every minute of it because I am a football lover.

I’m doing my mid-life crisis thing and living in Cyprus for a few months, running on the beach in the mornings, working in a bar in the afternoons and generally loafing about. Akritas Chloraka’s “stadium” is just a short walk up the hill from my local (where I drink not work). The other ex-pats in the bar can’t believe I can be bothered to trek up the steep hill in the ridiculously hot (winter) heat; copies of this morning’s Mail On Sunday have just arrived and the air-con is turned up high. They order more beers.

A couple of weeks later I jump in my Jeep and drive to the capital, Nicosia, to watch Cyprus hold Germany to a 1-1 draw in a European Championship qualifier. It’s become a habit: I get on a plane, I watch football and visit stadiums. I’ve seen the FIFA Five-a-Side World Championships in Hong Kong, wangled my way into a corporate box in Gothenburg while watching the England under-21s, marvelled at the mad Boca Juniors fans in Buenos Aires, strolled down the tunnel at Real Madrid, even managed an inter-island under-18 match while on honeymoon in Mauritius. Like football? Me?

So you’ll forgive me for believing that the greatest thing to happen in the travel industry was when jumping on a plane to Europe became easier than catching a bus to Huddersfield. Passport? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Football ticket? Check.

Today, when football fans scour the fixtures for matches to watch it’s not just the English leagues they check out – it’s open season on Spain, Italy, France, Hungary and beyond. Here’s some things I’ve learnt about European footie and where to soak up the atmosphere when the game’s over.

THE WORLD’S (SECOND) RICHEST CLUB

With a revenue of £257.1m in 2007-8, Manchester United would have been sitting at the top of the pile in Deloitte’s annual money-making list had the pound not fallen against euro in that period (Real Madrid got the top spot). Expect local rivals Manchester City to leap up from their current position of 20th when the new list is published early in 2010.

THE BEER SPONSORS

Dutch beer brand Heineken sponsors the UEFA Champions League so it’d be downright rude not to show a little support, don’t you think? Luckily for beer drinkers and football fans, Amsterdam is home to one of the most attractive sides on the continent. AFC Ajax, four times European Cup winners, built their reputation by developing home-grown talent (including one of the world’s greatest players, Johan Cruyff ) and gave birth to the phrase “total football”, where players change positions freely during the game. Sadly for them, a 1995 ruling in the European Court of Justice, commonly known as the Bosman Ruling, meant that players out of contract could move clubs for nothing, so the Ajax of the present can be summed up by the phrase “young, gifted and leaving”. Still, console yourself with the fact that the Ajax players you watch today will be the Barcelona and Inter Milan stars of tomorrow.

NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY

Oh dear, Milan football, where to start? Inter Milan (who play in the blue and black kit) and AC Milan (who play in red and black) both call the legendary San Siro stadium home, and both have histories littered with, shall we say, noteworthy events. Clouds hung over Inter’s European semifinal wins in 1964 and 1965 when the team were accused of bribing referees, while just over four decades later AC had points deducted in a similar scandal. Then there are the fans: in 2001 riot police had to stop Inter Milan supporters pushing a motorbike off the second tier of the stadium, and in 2005 a player was injured with a f lare, the same year racist chanting caused an Ivory Coast defender to attempt to walk off the pitch.

Some years earlier, the entire AC side walked off to try to force a replay in a European Cup quarter final that they were losing to Marseille when some floodlights failed. The match was awarded to Marseille and AC were banned from competing in Europe for a whole year.

WHERE’S THE BAR?

It’s certainly not hard to find a bar in Budapest. But boy will you struggle to find the best ones for a cold, post-match Dreher Classic. And it’s no wonder, because the best bars can be found in abandoned buildings, often move locations and are renowned for not advertising. You’ll have to ask a local. Or try the iconic Szimpla (Vll Kertész u 48; 00 36 1 321 5880). You’ll have less trouble finding Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, which is just a couple of miles east of the river Danube and home to MTK Hungária, a club owned by Gábor Várszegi, a former rock star who gave up his musical career in Hungary to deal diamonds in Los Angeles. As you do…

ART IS FOOTBALL

The first time I went to Barcelona my art-loving companion made me walk a lap of the city admiring the influence of Gaudi and Miró. Then, in the evening, we circled the restaurants to find one Picasso used to frequent. It was mobbed so we ended up eating tacos in a small Mexican place instead. This is where it truly hit me what football means in this city. A group of fans we chatted to made it clear that the club not only represented their Catalan identity but also that football was about winning “beautiful”. The Picasso museum is the second most popular in the city. The first? Barcelona FC, of course, where art meets football.

Daniel Ford is co-author of A Football Fan’s Guide To Europe (New Holland, £14.99). He is pleased to report that Akritas Chloraka have been promoted to Cyprus Division 2 once more

TRAVEL INFO

AC Milan
San Siro, Via Piccolomini 5. 00 39 026 2281. To get there: Metro on Line MM1 (stop Lotto Fiera 2). Tram 16.

Ajax
Amsterdam Arena, Arena Boulevard 1, 1101 AX Amsterdam Zuidoost. 00 31 20 311 1444.
To get there: Metro Line 54 (stop Strandvliet). Buses 29, 59, 60, 62, 137, 158, 174, 175 (stop Bijlmer).

Barcelona,
Camp Nou, Carrer d’Arístides Maillol. 00 34 902 189 900.
To get there: Subway Line 3 (stops Maria Cristina, Palau Reial, Zona Universitària) or Line 5 (stops Collblanc, Badal).
Buses 7, 15, 33, 43, 54, 56, 57, 67, 68, 74, 75, 113, 157, 158, L12, L14, L50, L56, L62.
Trams T1, T2, T3 (stops Avinguda de Xile, Palau Reial, Pius XII).

Inter Milan (as AC Milan). 00 39 02 487 7761.

Manchester United
Old Trafford, Sir Matt Busby Way, Old Trafford. 00 44 161 868 8000.
To get there: Metrolink tram in direction of Altrincham (stop Old Trafford).
Train from mainline stations (stop Manchester United FC Halt).
Buses 17, 114, 115, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 263, 264.

MTK
Hungaria Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, Salgótarjáni út 12-14. 00 36 1 333 8368.
To get there: Metro M2 to Stadionok, then tram 1.

Paris St Germain
24 rue du Commandant Guilbaud, 75016. 00 33 1 4743 7171.
To get there: Metro Line 9 (stop Porte de St-Cloud). Line 10 (stop Porte d’Auteuil).
Buses 22, 32, 52, 62, 72, 123, 175, 189, 241, PC1.

Oh dear, it’s 9-0

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Equinox (South Africa) January 2010

It hurts to lose. But it really hurts to lose 9-0. Just ask Zaire, sub-Saharan Africa’s first qualifers for a World Cup finals in 1974.


 

“When I signed for my first club I was over the moon.” No, no, these are not the words of a top football player looking back on his earliest steps onto the ladder of stardom; they are straight from my mouth. Granted, I was eight at the time and my mum actually did the signing on my behalf in the local butcher’s shop, but the sentiment is still the same.

So there I was as usual, kicking the ball around on the steps at the back of our house; whacking it as hard as I could and trying to control it as it shot back at me off the angles when my mum told me the good news. Well, I could have wet myself. Maybe I did. Me? Signed for a proper club?

What she failed to tell me was that, somewhere between the pork chops, the lamb mince and the sausages, she’d actually signed me up for an under-12 team. Me and my friends, all aged eight, all the players in the teams we played against, aged 11. I think you might get the picture. It was boys against men, or at least little boys against boys who were not so little. Okay, I should come clean here: we did have one 11 year old in our team. He was called Tom. We all called him Big Tom. But what could he do, just one giant against many every week? We were like those munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, running around aimlessly, up against boys who had already started big school and were soon to have hair in places we could never even imagine.

Needless to say we got walloped every week. Lots of goals one week, and even more the next. We managed to hold one team down to six one week and I’m sure our parents applauded us off.

This is why I have a great empathy with the Leopards of Zaire, pictured here playing Yugoslavia in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Because despite the amazing acrobatic efforts of Illunga Mwepu (just how did he get into that position?) poor old Zaire lost the game 9-0. It remains, to this day, the heaviest defeat ever by a country in a World Cup finals match. (I just love that it’s a record between two countries that no longer really exist playing in another one that no longer exists).

Do you know how hard it is to lose 9-0? It’s pretty tough, it’s like losing 100-zip in rugby. The attacks have to be relentless and the scores have to keep on coming. Basically to lose 9-0 you have to be rubbish. Or eight years old.

Yet Zaire of 1974 were not exactly rubbish. Yugoslavia was their second match in the tournament but they’d only lost their first match 2-0 to Scotland, and they even recovered from their thrashing enough to keep a Brazil that included legends such as Rivelino, Edu and Jairzhino down to three goals. They had got to the finals – becoming the first sub-Saharan African side to ever qualify – by beating a good Zambian side and overwhelming the favourites Morocco.

So what went wrong? They can’t use my excuse of being too small because they were strong and fit, as well as skilful.

Well, it didn’t help that Mulamba Ndaye was sent off after 22 minutes and it can’t have helped that the Yugoslavian player in the photo, Dusan Bajevic, scored a hat-trick with goals in the 8th, 30th and 81st minutes. And it certainly didn’t go unnoticed that Zaire had a Yugoslavian coach, Blagoje Vidinic (and boy, did he get some stick).

But the truth probably lies in fear and money. Speaking about the game many years later, the acrobatic defender Mwepu told the BBC:

“Before the Yugoslavia match we learnt that we were not going to be paid, so we refused to play.”

He was right there. They might have eventually decided to turn up and put on their distinctive green and yellow kit but they certainly didn’t play.

There was also the threat of a certain Mobutu Sese Seko hanging over them. He might have showered them with gifts (a car and house apparently) when they qualified for the finals but the players can have been under no illusions as to how their country’s dictator could turn nasty when things didn’t go his way. You may recall 1974 was also the year Mobutu’s money (that he took from Zaire) brought Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to fight their famous Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, so he certainly knew all about using the positive image of sport. But fear rarely brings the best out in sportsmen and so it was with the Leopards that day against Yugoslavia.

After the game the same man that had lent them use of his presidential jet to fly in style to away matches, asked his strong men to go and have a little chat.

“After the match, he sent his presidential guards to threaten us,” Mwepu remembers in the same interview.

“They closed the hotel to all journalists and said that if we lost 0-4 to Brazil, none of us would be able to return home.”

Well, return home they did, but with a record of played three, lost three, goals for zero and goals against 14, it’s fair to say it wasn’t to another new car and house.

It was left to Tunisia, Africa’s qualifiers four years later, to start rebuilding Africa’s shattered reputation. Thanks to their performances and strong showings in subsequent World Cups from the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal and others, 2010 will see Africa represented by six nations at a World Cup finals for the first time.

• The date of Zaire’s record-breaking 9-0 defeat in 1974 was 18 June, the same date that Cape Town will host a Group C match in 2010. DR Congo (Zaire) have not qualified for the finals in South Africa.

Slowly slowly

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Signature magazine (South Africa) 2009

Ever considered investing in whisky. Now you can…

It’s something investment guru Warren Buffett certainly advocates. Patience. And if you’re ‘investing’ in barrels of whisky you’re going to need plenty of it. So… deep breath, because this is how it works: first you choose the country you want your whisky to be made in (take your pick from Scotland to America to Australia), hand over your money, see your whisky get put into a barrel and stowed in a warehouse, and then you wait… And you wait. Five, ten, 12, even more years if you are the really patient type before you get your whisky.

So, quite clearly, if you’re after a quick buck then this whisky ‘investing’ is not really your thing. Look, I’m going to drop these quotation marks around ‘investing’ now if it’s okay with you? I think you might have gathered this is an alternative investment. Whisky is not the first, and certainly not the only thing you should put your money into. That said, once you’ve got your RA, stocks, dollars and property in your portfolio what’s wrong with having a fun investment or two? It’s certainly not impossible to make money out of whisky but you shouldn’t bank on it. But you should bank on some great fun and great whisky.

David Cox, who runs the The Macallan En Primeur cask programme (www.themacallan.com), explains what a buyer can expect.

“Those who sign up are invited to the filling day sometime in July or August where they can watch their new spirit being filled, then stowed in one of the warehouses. They will be our guests for the day, joining us for lunch and depending on numbers might be able to stay on site, and finishing off the day with a dinner together. When they leave each owner will take away an oak box with a logbook inside which charts the history of their cask, including the photos of the people who have been involved in the making of their whisky, from those who grew the barley to the team involved in the malting, the mashing, filling, and then stowing of the spirit. In the box will be a small sample of the spirit. Then, 12 years later, the owner will be given another sample so he can compare the effect the ageing and the wood has had on the spirit.

“Periodically the whisky will be checked and nosed by the whisky-maker and the notes relating to the nose and colour will be sent to the owner, which they can put into their logbook.”

It’s not exactly the type of love and attention you receive when you buy some mining shares now, is it? But whisky, through time and good marketing, is a product that has risen above being viewed purely as a commodity. A trend I identified in the South African Whisky Handbook 2008 (SchreiberFord Publications), is that people are looking for VIP experiences when it comes to their whisky: they want to feel special and have something to brag about when among friends. It’s this same reason that will lead you to decide to put you money into a cask of whisky and not more unit trusts, where your only interaction with your money is looking up the latest value in the Sunday Times over breakfast each week.

“Oh that’s good darling, up another two points this week. Another slice of toast and cup of coffee?”

Not quite the same as…

“Oh, I’ve booked our tickets for your business trip to Europe for next month. I left a couple of days free so we could pop up to Scotland and have lunch with our whisky-maker.”

Macallan has been selling casks to individuals for three years and at the time of writing have 25 people signed up. They will only ever accept 20-25 a year.

“At those numbers this is clearly not a big money-making scheme,” admits Cox.  “We are looking to build a tight and exclusive club of Macallan lovers, who want to work with us in choosing the cask and getting to know the people who work here.”

It all goes back to having something special and fun as an investment. A big part of this, as Cox mentioned, is choosing the cask your whisky is aged in. It is the wood, its characteristics and what it was used for before, of course, which play a major part in creating the whisky you will end up with in your bottles.

Macallan offers a choice of wood in which to age with Spanish oak offering flavours of dried fruit, citrus orange and spices, while the American oak which gives coconut, floral and vanilla.

You also choose the size of cask you want. So, are you paying attention at the back? Whisky Casks Lesson 101: a butt and puncheon holds 500 litres, a hogshead 250 litres, and a barrel 200 litres (see costs in box).

An important thing to remember is something called the Angels’ Share. This is the rather cute term the whisky industry uses for evaporation. You can expect to lose approximately two per cent of your spirit every year. Now you know why a 21 Year Old Whisky costs so much.

But a humourous warning when the wait for your whisky is over. Whisky writer and broadcaster Tom Morton recalls being invited to the 21st birthday of his friend’s son. The star attraction at the party was a cask of whisky that the friend had bought proudly on the birth of his son all those years before. Now, 21 years later, it was here, ready to be enjoyed by everyone on the day his son became a man. Where was his son? In the corner with his friends drinking alcopops.

Ah, but what do youngsters know? And, as Tom told me during his story-telling, “Let them drink alcopops. More good whisky for the rest of rest.”

So, just how patient do you have to be with your whisky? If you buy a cask from Macallan you must wait a minimum of 12 years to taste the fruits of your patience. At 12 years you can decide to leave the whisky to age longer if you prefer (like the 21st birthday alcopop man) but extra strorage costs will be incurred on top of your initial fee.

Other distilleries such as Bruichladdich (www.bruichladdich.com) simply state that the ageing period is up to you. Bear in mind the spirit has to be in the cask a minimum of three years to be called Scotch so don’t go getting thirsty a couple of weeks into this venture. Bruichladdich’s initial fee covers insurance and storage for the first ten years after which you will be paying extra.

Michael Thompson from the Bruichladdich distillery supplied the following information:

“After ten years your whisky can be either bottled, sold, part exchanged or

further matured. Whisky evaporates from the cask and the alcohol level falls from the filling strength of 70 per cent to 40 per cent after 40 years; the longer it is kept for, the less there is – but the better it gets.”

On the subjecy of selling your whisky he adds: “In accepting this order, the company expects the purchaser to offer the distillery the opportunity to reacquire your cask if it becomes surplus to your requirements on a ‘first refusal’ basis, at the market rate prevailing at that time. The cask will need to be regauged to confirm it’s current contents [following evaporation]. Once the contents are verified, a price per Regauged Litre of Alcohol (RLA) is employed to work out the offer value for the cask and its contents. The price offered will depend on the actual regauge figure, the type of single malt, the cask type age and market value prevailing at that time. No taxes are due [in the UK] if sold under bond.”

There is also an option to sell back part of your whisky to cover bottling, labeling and duties, so what you receive will cost you no extra, albeit this being  a smaller amount of whisky than you initially purchased.

What you might have noticed is that the costs do not stop once you have bought the whisky. There are storage costs if you age your whisky beyond the original offer (when these kick in and how much varies from distillery to distillery), there will be bottling and labeling costs, delivery, and importantly, duties and taxes. There can also be some sundry costs such as change of ownership and regauging the barrel.

Tullibardine (www.tullibardine.com) the distillery in Perthshire, also offers a chance to buy a cask in the barrel, hogshead and butt sizes together with a certificate, photograph of their cask and their name stenciled onto it.

Glengoyne (www.glengoyne.com) near Glasgow is another distillery to offer casks for sale. Here, you have a mind-boggling 11 choices of wood in which to age your spirit, from fresh bourbon, fresh American sherry and fresh Madeira to second-fill Spanish sherry, a cask that has previously been filled with dry oloroso sherry then Glengoyne whisky. Choices, choices, mmmm.

Scotch not your thing? The iconic Jack Daniel’s (www.jackdaniels.com) also offers a chance to buy a cask. Not the classic No. 7 mind (that of Jack and Coke fame), so make sure taste some Single Barrel and like it, because this is what is on offer from the famous Tennessee distillery. For Jack fans what could be better than a trip to Lyncburg where the whiskey is made, a meeting with master distiller Jeff Arnett and choosing a barrel that will eventually yield about 240 bottles for you?

And for something completely different how about a Tasmanian whisky? The Australia whisky-makers Nant (www.nantdistillery.com.au) promote the same buy-a-cask offer with the smaller 100-litre variety and a maturation period of between four and five years.

So there are certainly some choices and fun to be had but is there really money to be made? Scottish Master of Malt John Lamond warns people to keep their eyes open for ‘get-rich-slowly schemes’ that involve whisky.

“There were a lot of rogue brokers around in the 1990s and this gave the selling of casks a bad name. But things have improved and if you deal through an established distillery you should be fine. But certainly be aware of the size of the barrel you are buying and evaporation rates. Promises of riches are to be avoided.”

Bladnoch (www.bladnoch.co.uk) another distillery offering the chance to buy a cask even gives this warning on its website: “If the only reason you are purchasing a cask is for ‘Investment purposes’ Don’t.”

Macallan’s David Cox repeats the warning. “Some 15-20 years ago the selling of casks was a common thing and a few rogues were involved. Brokers were offering sure-fire investments, and as we know there is no sure-fire investment in anything. This gave the practice a bad name but I think to a large extent that has gone now with people dealing directly with distilleries. We never sell these casks as an investment; this is something to be enjoyed.”

It’s pretty clear that buying whisky casks is no easy-riches scheme (or I wouldn’t be telling you about it) but neither is it rip-off (unless you get caught in a scam like any other venture). This is an investment that can be financially solid and also offers some enjoyment along the way.

“Typical financial assets such as RAs, units trusts and so on might bore you to death but you most probably will find enjoyment from your art and stamp collection. Such assets are typically referred to as “hard assets”. They can, however, be highly speculative and generally require specialist knowledge in a particular field,” says Charl Ten Oever, investment advisor and author of Beat the Crunch (Two Dogs).

“A more recent concept and trend for those investors who would like to expand their investment horizons, personal satisfaction and potential returns in “hard” or alternative assets, is by investing in whisky barrels.

“The benefits are exclusivity, personalised enjoyment, distinctive ‘One of a kind’ concept, possible hedge against future inflation and depreciation, and a fun investment still rendering a good return over a period of time

“The disadvantages? Buyer beware!, can the whisky go bad? In the continued economic crunch can you sell the bottles?

“As with all financial matters, and most things in life, the attitude you chose to adopt when considering investment decisions is vital. Don’t think of investing as a means to make a quick buck, rather learn the ground rules, do your homework and look at this type of investment as a long-term journey to personal satisfaction and enjoyment…”

What it will cost*

First payment: to cover the cost of the new make spirit, the cask, and forward charges for 12 years to cover warehouse rental, storage, insurance etc.

Butt/puncheon (500 litres) £9,000 (R112,500)

Hogshead (250 litres): £4,900 (R61,250)

Barrel (200 litres): £3,800 (R47,500)

Second payment: to cover bottling, label design and origination (a forecast).

Butt/puncheon (500 litres): £4,200. Approx outturn after 12 years at 40% abv is 784 bottles @ 75cl.

Hogshead (250 litres): £2,100 Approx outturn after 12 years at 40% abv is 410 bottles @ 75cl.

Barrel (200 litres): £1,700 Approx outturn after 12 years at 40% abv is 313 bottles @ 75cl.

Third payment: delivery and duties to SARS

* Costs are an example from Macallan. There are many other conditions and each distilleries terms vary.

The cheaper alternative

Investing in whisky without spending a fortune

If you’re not quite ready to plunge into the whisky futures market but still want to dip your toe into it there are some cheaper alternatives that will still leave you with a warm glow.

• On certain commemorative bottles of Jack Daniel’s you can register your bottle online and receive a certificate of registration (www.jackdaniels.com).

• How about a personalised bottle of whisky? You get to bottle the spirit from a pre-aged cash, cork it yourself and have your name written on the label and recorded in a logbook in the Visitors’ Centre. Benromach (www.benromach.com) offer this option but you have to be there to do it! £50 (R625)

• Johnne Walker, through the Whisky Exchange (http://www.whiskyexchange.com) offer you a bottle of their whiskyn with your name engraved on it. Choose your words online and preview it before buying. Go for a bottle of Blue at £135.70 (R1696)

• Don’t even care about the whisky? Buy a used barrel at Euros 150 ex delivery (R1500) and put some plants in it maybe? Or dare I suggest you just fill it with ice and Amstel lagers next time you have friends round (www.barrel-shop.com).

The Big Test

Posted on Updated on

Equinox (South Africa) June 2009

From June 14-28, South Africa hosts football’s eight-team Confederation Cup – and the world will be watching to see if we can deliver a successful global tournament a year before the big one in 2010.

When I was about seven my mum asked me if I thought I’d be able to walk home from school on my own one day the following week. It would be my first time. How grown up. Well, in fact, I wouldn’t be walking all the way home but just to the community centre close to my school, where she would be with my little sister at some community centre type event.

“Of courrrrrse!” I exclaimed in that “Awww mum, don’t treat me like a baby” voice.

But she wasn’t sure, so she drove me down to the school there and then, dropped me outside the school gates and told me to start walking as she crawled along the road to see if I could navigate the one corner and the two hundred-metre journey without getting lost.

Well, to use football terminology, which is what this article is about after all, I started strongly, silenced the taunts from the opposition crowd (my sister), employed some clever footwork around the corner and finished the job in style as I entered the community centre grounds. A big hug from my manager (“Aww mum”) and I was duly awarded the You Can Now Do It For Real trophy.

This is what is known as a trial run. A test for the main event. Of course, it didn’t follow that because I had passed the test successfully I would turn the correct corner come the big day but usually if the trial run goes well then the main event runs smoothly too.

And so it is with June’s Confederation Cup. It is a trial run. A test for the biggest single sporting event in the world: the Football World Cup. Okay, okay, the Olympics does attract more viewers but this is only because it includes numerous sports, most of which no-one actually watches in the four years between the Games. And, whisper it, but it makes the world cup of our beloved game of rugby appear like an under 10s tournament in Bethlehem.

A total of 200 countries entered the 2010 World Cup (qualifying started back in August 2007) and, in case the hype has escaped you somehow, we will host the final 32 next year. It’s not something you generally want to cock up to be honest. And to get our very own version You Can Now Do It For Real trophy from FIFA, the sport’s governing body, we need to host the Confederation Cup.

Now no-one has said exactly what will happen if we completely cock-up the trial run because it has never happened before, but it should be said that even the Germans encountered some teething problems at their Confederation Cup trial run in 2005. The Germans, the ever-efficient Germans, yes. Oh dear.

The tournament has, in the past, been held every two years, but FIFA have declared that it will now be every four years, and scheduled a year before the World Cup, which is tantamount to making it the official dress rehearsal for the host nation. No pressure then.

The Confederation Cup is the only FIFA tournament, apart from the World Cup itself, where nations representing every continent come together. So joining the World Cup holders (Italy) and the hosts (that’ll be us) we have Spain (Europe), Brazil (South America), the USA (North and Central America), Iraq (Asia), Egypt (Africa) and New Zealand (Oceania).

If you’re wondering where Australia are, they now play in the Asian qualifiers, clearing the way for New Zealand to be the One-Eyed King in the Land of the Blind, who have had to beat off such sporting giants as Vanuatu and New Caledonia for the right to be here. That’s also the qualifying section that originally included American Samoa, who somehow managed to let in 38 goals in four matches, featuring a 15-0 defeat to the mighty Vanuatu (can anyone pinpoint that on a map?). They did manage a goal against the Solomon Islands though, bless.

The ‘All Whites’, as the national side are known (All Whites for football, All Blacks for rugby, geddit?), will rely heavily on the top-level experience of tough defender Ryan Nelson, who plays for Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League, Steven Old and Chris Killen who play in Scotland, and Simon Elliot, now in the USA.

The upside of having the one-eyed king in the tournament, however, is that they are in our group (Group A). South Africa has the added burden of not only making sure things run smoothly off the field, but also putting on a good show on it. Whether it’s added pride, the home support, or the familiar weather and food, host nations generally enjoy a turbo boost into their performances in big tournaments (think ‘home country wins more gold medals at Olympics’ type headlines). It’s all rather embarrassing and a real dampener if the host flops. Yes, yes, the worst-case scenario would be if the ticketing systems failed, the traffic snarled up and our boys were beaten in every game.

But fear not, if the real Bafana Bafana turn up there’s no reason to think we won’t enjoy the usual home team turbo boost in the Confederation Cup. The nation will be looking to the flair of Orlando Pirates’ Teko Modise, and, Ryan Nelson’s team-mates from Blackburn – the solidity of skipper Aaron Mokoena and the prolific scoring of Benni McCarthy. We are sure to enjoy more goals from our record international goalscorer if, a) he doesn’t suffer a mystery injury two minutes after finishing a Premier League match and, b) he doesn’t retire from international football for the umpteenth time.

Indeed, Brazilian coach Joel Santana has a wealth of home- and European-based talent to draw on and with the vuvuzela loudly behind him, he will be confident of keeping us all happy in June. Whether he can carry the hoped-for Confederation Cup success into 2010 is unsure though: the South African national body has employed 16 coaches in 17 years while Santana himself has swapped jobs 24 times since 1991. ‘Job’ and ‘sticking at it’ are not words that go together with these two.

Also in Group A is a country that has more American soldiers in it than footballers. Quite how Iraq are thriving on the football field is anyone’s guess, but the team, which includes Kurdish, Shi’ite and Sunni players, are indeed the current Asian champions, beating Australia and South Korea on route to the championship in 2007. Celebratory gunfire rang out as crowds gathered in Baghdad after the final victory over Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that about 50 people had died in terrorist attacks during similar semi-final celebrations only a few days earlier.

After years of little hope, it was a risk they obviously felt worth taking as supporters of a team that are not even able to play their home matches in Iraq – recent world cup qualifiers were played in Dubai and Damascus – because of the war. Despite a strong pedigree – Iraq qualified for the World Cup finals in 1986 – football was not a happy sport under Saddam Huissein. His brother Uday ran the Sports Ministry and had some strange motivational methods.

“I was taken to a camp outside Baghdad,” former captain Habib Jaffar is reported to say after his side had lost an Olympic qualifying match to Oman. “Guards thrashed my feet and made me jump into a vat of raw sewerage when the skin had been flayed off.” He recalls the guards shouting “for the honour of Saddam Hussein” each time they hit him. It was not uncommon, with players, coaches and journalists all targeted.

The squad are home-based or play in neighbouring countries but are coached by the highly experienced Bora Milutinovic who has led Mexico, Costa Rica, the USA, Nigeria and China at the World Cup finals.

“So”, sigh South Africans contentedly, “we have a group that includes New Zealand and Iraq.” Alas, the silver lining comes under a rather big cloud in the shape of Spain, currently the world’s best side. Yes, yes, I know everyone loves Brazil, but Spain are the new Brazil. Just they wear red. Traditionally Spain were the side everyone loved to tip for success only to see them flop, time after time, when it really mattered.

“Oh not again”, football fans would cry.

“They look so good, they play so well, and fail yet again.”

But then in 2008, after a wait of 44 years since their only previous major trophy and numerous false dawns, Spain won Euro 2008. And in a style that was reminiscent of Brazil at their full-flowing beautiful best. Just in red. With players like Liverpool’s Fernando Torres, Valencia’s David Villa and a played six-won six record in the world cup qualifiers to date, this is the test for everyone.

The World Cup will feature 12 stadiums, but because this is a smaller tournament just four will be used for the Confederation Cup. Which is just as well really because most of the others are still being built. The four stadiums to be used are Johannesburg’s Ellis Park, Pretoria’s Loftus Versfeld, Bloemfontein’s Free State Stadium and Rustenburg’s Royal Bafokeng Stadium. Yes, yes, I know, three of these are essentially rugby stadiums, but we can’t have the likes of Brazil and Italy coming over here and have them play in half-finished places could we? The construction workers would get in the way.

Group B is altogether more competitive. Brazil: beautiful, sexy, pacy, confident and popular. And that’s just the supporters. This is the side that epitomises the game at its very best, they are the team everyone fears and everyone wants to play at the same time. Names such as Robinho, Maicon, Kaká and Adriano lead to charge to establish yet another legendary Brazilian side.

Although the South Americans have won the World Cup a record five times, the world champions honour currently sits with Italy. If there is one country that can match the passion of Brazil on and off the football field it’s the Azzurri, as Italy are known by their fans. But, and this is the big but, the passion reveals itself in a completely different form. Italy are the antithesis to Brazil. For creativity substitute organisation, for individual flair substitute teamwork, for attack substitute defend. Although the image has been shed to a large degree in recent years, the negative defensive style of catenaccio (meaning ‘door-bolt’) still hangs over Italian football.

The Italians also have a penchant for scandal and corruption. In 1927 Torino were stripped of the title after referee-bribery came to light, in 1980 Milan and Lazio were forcibly relegated after involvement in match-fixing and in 2005 Juventus had two titles taken away for more of the same. The bad news: the Azzurri fed off the scandals of the latter two to bounce back and win the following world titles (1982 and 2006). The good news: there has been no scandal before this Confederation Cup.

Real Madrid’s Fabio Cannavaro captains a side that will be looking to Andrea Pirlo, who plays for Milan, to supply the inspiration from midfield.

Egypt’s swagger in Africa (champions six times and a top-four finish seven other times) has failed to translate into global success. They have qualified just twice and failed to win a game in the World Cup finals.

To the largely home-based squad, European experience from Mido and Amr Zaki (Wigan), Mohamed Shawky (Middlesborough) and Mohamed Zidan (Borussia Dortmund) can be added.

The USA have never been that bad (they finished third in 1930 and beat England in the 1950 World Cup) but since the 1990s, with the added boost of hosting the World Cup in 1994, they have emerged as a genuine and consistent threat as more of their players gain experience in top-level European leagues. Heaven help the rest of us when they decide to really take this sport seriously.

The speed of home-based Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) and DaMarcus Beasley, who plays for Rangers in Scotland, is enough to upset the best of defenders, while goalkeeper Tim Howard (Everton) and midfielder Clint Dempsey (Fulham) provide English Premier League experience.

So that’s what it boils down to: eight teams, four stadiums and a 15-day football tournament. But behind the scenes there are a million things required to ensure it runs smoothly and good performances needed from a team that has to hold up the pride of the home nation. What awaits is FIFA’s little-known You Can Now Do It For Real trophy.