One way to dispel this season's ennui is to make plans for attendance at the International Scotch Whisky Festival from 27 October to 2 November. There are two venues, Speyside and Edinburgh. In Edinburgh the main spot is the Assembly Rooms, George Street, where a pounds 3 daily ticket will win you access to tastings and other pleasant diversions. On Speyside there are talks, tastings, tours etc at a number of the area's distilleries. Tickets went on sale for the Edinburgh events in August, Speyside tickets at the beginning of this month, so you'd better get in there if the idea appeals. For more information, ring the Edinburgh & Scotland Information Centre on 0131 557 1700.
Incidentally, visitors to Speyside who want further guidance can do a whole lot worse than buy a copy of The Whisky Trails by the late Gordon Brown (Prion, pounds 12.99), a well-illustrated guide to Scotland's distilleries. The emphasis is on the places rather than the drinks, making the book ideal both for travellers and for armchair enthusiasts.
For wine-drinkers whose glass needs filling immediately, Sainsbury's Mendoza Torrontes (pounds 3.39) will recall the summery feeling very nicely: Pinot Gris-like nose, light and crisp with decent acidity and pleasant appley fruit. Or try a 100 per cent Tempranillo from Booth's with the un-Spanish name Scraping the Barrel - fuller on nose and palate but with a fresh, exuberant mouth-feel for pounds 3.49. Speaking of good prices, the Coopers Creek Sauvignon Blanc 1996 whose praises I sang recently is reduced to pounds 5.49 (from pounds 7.49) at Somerfield until 7 October; this is a steal.
Perhaps the best drink of all for these shorter, colder days is something that tastes of warmer, exotic climes. The ideas that spring to my mind come from a brand-new book, Tiger Lily Street Food, by Rani King and Chandra Khan (Piatkus, pounds 14.99). Most of the book is devoted to edibles, naturally, drawn from roadside stalls principally in Southeast Asia. But my eye was particularly drawn to the concluding chapter on drinks. There are some real treats in here, both soft and hard, and I take pleasure in adapting two of them for your leisurely perusal. They're easy to make, and a whole lot more fun than digging the cardigans out of storage.
PASSION FRUIT COOLER
4 passion fruit
4 slices tinned pineapple
100g/4oz white sugar or to taste
Halve the passion fruit and scoop out the pulp and seeds. Put these with the pineapple, sugar and 600ml (1 pint) water in a blender. Liquidise till smooth. Serve over crushed ice to make two generous portions.
The preferred liquor here is Sri Lankan arrack, not to be confused with the Middle Eastern varieties. Rani King tells me the right stuff is at Archies Superstore, London NW9 (0181 205 3652), but that Scotch or Bourbon are suitable substitutes. I used Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey, a near relation of Bourbon (about pounds 17 at Sainsbury's), with happy results.
4-5 ice cubes
1 teaspoon jaggery (palm) or brown sugar
4 tablespoons arrack, Bourbon or blended Scotch
6 tablespoons cold milk
pinch of ground nutmeg
Put ice cubes in a cocktail shaker with all other ingredients except nutmeg. Shake hard till a frost forms, then pour into a tall glass. Sprinkle on nutmeg and serve .
THE WEEK'S BEST BUYS
***3BR, Tesco, pounds 1.89/50cl
****Westmalle Trappist Tripel, Oddbins, pounds 1.39/33cl
EARLIER this year Tesco launched its 1997 Winter Beer Challenge, asking breweries to produce a new beer for sale in its stores. From over 100 entrants 15 finalists were chosen and judged in August. The winner, a real gem of a brew made in Bristol by Scottish Courage, packs a walloping 7.3 per cent ABV. It has a gorgeous ruby tinge with a fruity, yeasty aroma and a sweet warm flavour with hints of coffee and toffee. Bracing stuff, and a definite three-star brew.
Westmalle Trappist Tripel is a pale, straw-coloured beer of great antiquity. Though powerfully strong (9 per cent ABV), its aroma and flavour have a clarity, richness and finesse you would usually expect from great wine rather than "mere" beer. One of the best alcoholic drinks ever to pass my lips and the easy winner of four stars. This is an Oddbins "guest beer", so buy while stocks last.