I'll be honest: this may be a shorter blog post than normal. It may be shorter than normal, because I am tired. I am tired because of Monkey Shoulder, an exceptionally palatable blended whisky which forced me to have the time of my life last night. And as the subject of this possibly-shorter-than-normal blog post is Monkey Shoulder, the whole arrangement has a rather pleasing symmetry about it.
"But Liz!" I hear you cry, if I listen very hard and use my imagination quite a lot. "What on earth can have happened to undermine your normally peerless standards of professionalism?"
Cocktail BOOTCAMP, that's what. There was I, innocently expecting a good, wholesome, healthy workout; instead, THIS is what happened.
4pm: arrive at the super-cool Apotheca bar in the Northern Quarter, whose basement area will be hosting tonight's cocktail class. Two charming men from Monkey Shoulder - Dean and Olivier, both of whom have berets a-poking from their back pockets: we ask not why - are all apologies: they are running a little late and the start of the class will be delayed. Can we bear to sit upstairs in Apotheca a little longer whilst they bring us complimentary Monkey Shoulder cocktails? Although disappointed that our physical exercise is to be delayed, we agree and I put my sweat bands and my sports socks back in my bag.
5.20pm: we are taken downstairs to behold the classroom of our DREAMS - we each have our own, fully equipped place at tables set with shakers, chopping boards, measuring beakers, glasses, sugar syrup, oranges...oh, and there appears to be a full-size bottle of Monkey Shoulder whisky per TWO people. A hushed reverence falls over our previously giddy group (those complimentary cocktails upstairs went down a treat) and we each start silently calculating just how dangerous this might be.
5.21pm: the Monkey Shoulder ambassadors put on their berets (ah - NOW we get it), pick up their megaphones and begin an hour and a half lesson on all things cocktail. We watch and learn how to make three drinks - the Old Fashioned, the Jam Sour, and a spur-of-the moment creation called the Monkey Swizzle involving pineapple and mint - it really couldn't be more hands-on, and we are encouraged to mix proportions according to our own tastes (why else would Mr Liz's whisky bottle go down quicker than anyone else's?) and learn from our own mistakes. I am most pleased with all three of my efforts, particularly the Jam Sour - who knew that such a fine creation could be concocted from lemon juice, whisky and a few scrapings of Bonne Maman? Dean and Olivier are quick to answer any questions, and when Dean proclaims my Monkey Swizzle better than his own, I almost fall off my chair with pride (or, on reflection, it could have been the whisky). At the end we all applaud loudly and lustily (and, quite drunkenly), and make a mental note to cross out "milk" from our shopping lists and replace with "large bottle of Monkey Shoulder".
6.58pm: sprint back upstairs to the main bar to order some excellent Mojitos before Apotheca's splendid "two cocktails for £9" offer ends at 7.
7.30pm: we brave the rain and are rewarded with an empty NoHo. This is my favourite bar in the Northern Quarter - not least because when it's quiet, the DJ will let you bully him into playing your choice of music. We spend a happy hour or so gracing the enormous dancefloor to the hip, up-to-the-minute sounds of The Smiths, Electronic, David Bowie and The Happy Mondays - this is what hard-working whisky bartenders DO when they've finished their shift, and we were pleased to be able to get our promised exercise after all.
9pm: after all that hard work, it was only right to replace all those burnt-off calories by eating our own bodyweight in meaty goodness at the Northern Quarter branch of Bem Brasil. I have nothing but good things to say about a restaurant that gives you a disc of card that you place alongside your plate, with the green side upwards for "yes! please bring me MEAT, as much as you can carry, and carve it at my table from its skewer into my hungrily waiting mouth" and the rueful red side facing up for a regretful "no thank you - I fear there is a serious possibility I may explode. But ask me again in three minutes and you may well find my card is green again." The food here is of great quality and variety: different cuts of steak as well as lamb, sausages, chicken in bacon, ham, garlic bread and - worth the price of admission alone - the hot cinnamon pineapple served up as afters. Even better, one of our party had not encountered a Bem Brasil before - always fun to watch a newbie pile their plate high from the salad counter before they fully comprehend quite how much meat will be brought.
?????: taxi home; bed. One of the most splendid nights out I have ever had - so splendid, in fact, that it seems to have written itself into a pretty long blog post after all. Thank you Monkey Shoulder - long may your most excellent programme of educating the nation's youth continue.