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Thinking Drinkers: Around The World In 80 Drinks

By | Published on Tuesday 15 November 2016


If you’re a big fan of entertainment combined with booze, then you’ve probably already seen a previous show staged by the Thinking Drinkers, aka Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham. And, if you are a big fan of the written word combined with booze, you have probably read their award-winning writings. If you haven’t experienced either yet, you are in for a treat.
The pair will soon begin a month long Christmassy run at Museum Of Comedy with ‘Around The World In 80 Drinks’, a show which will increase your knowledge as well as your alcohol consumption. I thought it was about time we had a chat.

CM: Tell us about the show and what happens in it. What can audiences expect? How is it different from previous shows?
TD: It’s worth mentioning, straight off the bat, that you get five free drinks during all our shows. Previous shows have seen us explore the history of drink and the famous folk who drunk it, but our latest show is a funny and, indeed, fascinating global adventure in all things alcohol that begins in Greenwich and takes you to India, the Far-East, America and over Donald Trump’s wall into Latin America before ending back in Europe and, finally, back to Blighty.

Audiences can expect laughter, learning and –most exciting of all – FIVE FREE DRINKS during the show. Did we mention the free drinks? Yes, folks, it’s a hooch-soaked hour of fun during which you get to enjoy an IPA from Meantime Brewing, a Bulleit Bourbon from America, Jameson Irish whiskey, the peerless Plymouth Gin and a Diplomatico Rum frm Venezuela. Starting at 6pm, it’s the perfect aperitif to a Christmas night out and an ideal event for your office party – watching the show means you don’t have to talk to that weird guy from IT.

CM: So, you claim this is a learning experience? What sort of facts can people expect to come away knowing?
TD: The show reveals that, contrary to common perception, a lot of the answers to life’s questions can be discovered at the bottom of a glass. Given it’s a Christmas show, did you know that Jesus, the birthday boy, didn’t turn water into wine? No, he turned it into beer. It’s actually written in the earliest version of the bible and the only reason we think that it’s wine is because, when the scriptures were translated into English in the 17th century, arrogant British boffins changed it into wine because they considered beer to be beneath the Son of God. It wasn’t. He had a beard. And sandals. If you’ve ever been to a real ale festival, that’s the kind of clobber they wear.

CM: And what are your qualifications? How did you develop your alcoholic expertise?
TD: Ben has a 2:1 in ‘Intellectual History with French’ from Oxford while Tom has a GNVQ in Crayon Art from Dudley University. Despite the disparity in academic excellence, we both began our professional careers on local newspapers before meeting while working for The Publican Newspaper – which was delivered to all the pubs and bars in the UK, yet rarely opened by any of them. Still, we learned a lot about drinking and, professional to the end, immersed ourselves in the topic with gusto. Before long, Ben was named British Beer Writer of the Year (it is an actual award) on three separate occasions while Tom became one of the world’s leading authorities on cocktails, spirits and bars.

CM: What made you decide to make a show, rather than just writing about it? Do you enjoy the performance element?
TD: A few years ago, as well as writing about drink, we were doing a lot of beer and spirit tastings and master-classes at food and drink festivals up and down the country – and we started throwing in a few gags and anecdotes to try and make it more fun and memorable.

Then in 2011, after doing a food festival in Edinburgh, we stayed up there and saw some shows at the Fringe. Some of them were amazing, some of them less so. It gave us the idea of turning the tastings into a piece of comedy theatre and within 12 months, with the help of a comedy producer and a great director called Malachi Bogdanov, we were performing a month long run at the Edinburgh Festival – the first time we’d been on stage since Ben played the lead in the Gingerbread Man and Tom played The Prophet in an ‘alternative’ nativity play in St.Albans when they were aged 10 and 9 years old respectively.

It was terrifying, and the learning curve was seriously steep but, five years on, we still love performing the shows, making people laugh and broadening their booze horizons.

CM: Do you drink during the show?
TD: Only a little bit. There’s a Vietnam war scene where Ben has a taste of the Bulleit bourbon. Otherwise we leave the drinking to the audience – did we mention the five free drinks?

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the books you have written and the columns that you write?
TD: Only if you promise to buy them – available from all good bookshops. Back in 2007, we co-wrote the award-winning ‘Good Beer Guide West Coast USA‘ which involved us driving up and down California and the Pacific Northwest exploring the thriving craft brewing scene over there – and visiting every brewery, brewpub and beer bar.

Since then, Ben has written two award-winning beer books on his own, ‘Boutique Beer‘ and ‘World’s Best Beers‘ (which they’re both updating at the moment ahead of a release next year), while Tom was the author of the gong-winning ‘World’s Best Cocktails‘. We joined forces again on our latest book, ‘Thinking Drinkers, an Enlightened Imbiber’s Guide to Alcohol‘, and are currently writing columns for Metro, The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph while regularly contributing to an array of international newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, Conde Nast Traveller and, our personal favourite, Off Licence News.

CM: Do you think you will carry on doing these sort of events together? Are there other alcohol related topics you’ve still to cover…?
TD: Yes, we hope so. Otherwise we may have to get proper jobs. And there’s still plenty to explore – alcohol is a gift that keeps on giving in terms of creativity. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, (he was a professional clever-clogs); “For art to exist, for any sort of aesthetic activity to exist, a certain physiological precondition is indispensable: intoxication”.

CM: What other aims or ambitions do you have for the future?
TD: Ben’s got a two year-old son whose buggy has a puncture. If he doesn’t fix that by the end of today, he’s going to be in big trouble. Beyond that, we’d obviously love to tell alcohol’s tale on television. The BBC should stop wasting the licence fee on Planet Earth 2 and spend it on our idea.

CM: If you were stranded on a deserted island, which one type of booze would you like to have with you?
TD: Six kegs of Meantime Yakima Red. It’s a great beer that goes wonderfully well with barbecued fish and we could use the kegs to make a raft to paddle home. If we wanted to.

CM: Do you have any advice for a spirits-lover (me) who, because of medication, must abstain from alcohol consumption for the foreseeable future?
TD: We’re sorry to hear that, we really are. Firstly, you can still come and enjoy the show without drinking – there’s enough funny during the hour to entertain abstainers. Secondly, we recommend putting all the money that you would otherwise have spent during your alcohol-free weeks into a pot and, when the doc gives you the all clear, spend it a bottle of something truly spectacular – like Diplomatico Ambassador Rum from Venezuela.

‘Thinking Drinkers – Around The World In 80 Drinks’ is on at Museum Of Comedy from 23 Nov-23 Dec, see this page here to book.

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Photo: Steve Ullathorne