maltings meets: The Thinking Drinkers

posted Fri 03 December 2021

News Story

Award-winning drinks experts, writers and comedians, Ben Mcfarland and Tom Sandham have taken their pub quiz on tour and it's arriving at the Maltings next week. We caught up with the discerning drinks duo ahead of the show to find out more.

What inspired your love for all things alcohol?

The same thing that inspires us today. From the outset we've always been fascinated by the past, people and places that encompass a drink. If you look back through human history, alcohol has been a constant, never far away from the most critical moments. That's what we bring to live in the shows and it's the reason we've been doing different shows over the last 12 years, because the source material is endlessly fascinating. We started on a pub newspaper, and have gone on to find a career in it, winning awards like the Beer Writer of the Year (Ben) or IWSC Spirits Communicator of the Year (Tom), because the more you discover the better the stories you can tell.

What’s your favourite tipple?

We're always asked this and the reality is, given that we get to try every drink there is, travel the world and meet the best producers, drink in the best bars on the planet, we'd be mad to pick just one. You should never be monogamous in your drinking lives. If pushed, we argue you can't go wrong with a beer and a whisky. And in the best bars, always a martini. But we've also had spirit distilled on reclaimed car parts while staying in a Zambia village, and are just as happy with a sauvignon blanc and twiglets. The key to discerning and discovery drinking, is to treat it like food, try it all and always be open minded. Having said that, you also need to follow our motto, drink less, drink better.

This year we have a host of new drinks in the show, and every time we bring in new drinks we get excited about the variety on the shop shelves these days. So we have Warner's Gin, which is one of the pioneers of the craft gin movement, and made on a farm using locally foraged botanical - it's beautifully fresh. Then there's Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which is one of the great American whiskies, a spirit for real connoisseurs. We've got a Japanese whisky in Suntory Toki, which is fantastically smooth and enables us to celebrate this country and it's amazing success in the whisky world. We've also got Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva rum, which we've had before, but have to keep bringing back because it tastes like chocolate and is a brilliant way to change perceptions of the spirit. And our beer this year is Brixton Brewery Coldharbour Lager, which is a beer that reminds everyone lager is a super style when in the hands of a creative brewing team.

If you want to be inspired to be as eclectic beyond the show then head to and subscribe to our newsletter, we're always sending out info on new drinks we love. And you can buy the new book we have out, The Thinking Drinkers Almanac, which has a drink for every day of the year with a fun story to accompany it. And we've also got the Thinking Drinkers Club where people subscribe and get different drinks sent to their homes, then join us for an online tasting every month. All are doing well because people love to learn more about this subject!

What’s your favourite or craziest fun fact when it comes to booze?

Alcohol is partly responsible for the evolution of man. True story. And it's not just us saying this. National Geographic backed us up. When the first monkeys descended from the tree tops, it was fermenting fruit on the forest floor that coaxed them down. It smelled interesting, contained antibodies and made them a little more amorous. The quickest and strongest monkeys got to the boozy fruit first, thus providing the first examples of survival of the fittest. Sort of.

We also like the fact that Churchill started every morning with a glass of whisky and Franklyn D Roosevelt mixed a martini every day in the Whitehouse; but Hitler, was a tee-totaller - not his worst crime but evidence that if you have really horrible idea like being a Nazi, you should have a drink and have a rethink.

What can audience members expect from the Thinking Drinkers: Pub Quiz?

A quiz, and five free drinks during the show - two elements we had to ensure were there after we put it on the posters. But to be honest, we find it hard to sum up, because it's so many things. At its heart it's a tasting. When the audience comes in they get a bag with five drinks in, a can of beer and four measures of spirits, in Covid compliant packs, and then, through the show, we're taking everyone through these fantastic drinks so they learn more about them. The bag also contains a quiz sheet and pen, because along the way, there really is a quiz. We give them all the answers in the show, then the questions come at the end of each round, so all they have to do is listen! They hand their sheets in at the end and we pick a winner after the show, send them a prize, and also have five grand prizes at the end of the tour. It's a Guinness World Record - seriously, they've set us a real challenge and we're on track to set the biggest attendance for a touring pub quiz. And we also dress up in strange costumes and tell jokes and give loads of interesting facts along the way.

So it's a record-breaking, discerning drinks tasting, with a dash of comedy, some QI and Horrible History for adults stirred in, garnished with a quiz.

How did you translate your extensive knowledge into an acclaimed comedy show?

That's been the trickiest element and has taken a few years to perfect. But once we did it's actually the easiest element of what we do because it's honest. What we deliver are the things we find interesting and funny, and what we love about drink. So in many ways, we're just enjoying a tasting with all the elements we think should be there to make the stories come to life. The specifics of how we do it are the same as any theatrical production - loads of writing, time with theatre directors, choreographers, technicians, rehearsals, car crash previews and relentless searches for props - including correctly fitted stripper pants and high heels. That's all mixed with a love of comedy and 20+ years of travelling the world learning about drink.

How did your phrase “Drink Less Drink Better” originate?

Quite naturally really, it's the sort of motto that just makes sense to us. Spend a bit more and then take the investment seriously. Learning more about it and drinking it in a discerning fashion just makes sense to us all now. As we've reached more people, we noticed the old idea of 'Binge Drinking Britain' has faded away, which is great. People are really up for learning more, so much so that this year we launched a subscription service and as well as the live shows, we're also now sending drinks to people who can join us for tastings online.

What’s your favourite part of the show, if you had to pick just one?

The movie round, you have to wait until the end of the show for it, but it'll be worth it.

Book tickets for the Thinking Drinkers: Pub Quiz on Fri 10 December at 8pm, here.