• New booze round-up #1: featuring Earl Grey, Millet and Quince

    You can’t fail to have noticed that a lot of new booze is being released at the moment. Not only are craft producers are springing up all over the shop but established brands are also getting in on the act with shelf-loads of adventurous new product ranges.

    Besides eagerly seeking out new boozes in pubs, supermarkets and online we also get sent more than our fair share of drink samples from businesses and PR companies eager to hear our feedback on their products (and hoping we’ll give them a mention in the press).

    Until now we’ve not done much with these drinks, other than tweet any that particularly impress or intrigue, but we think the time is right to give the best of them some coverage on our blog. So here’s the first of an irregular series of ‘new booze round-ups’, covering the best of the booze that we’ve been sent or stumbled across.

    St Austell Celtic Beer Festival

    In November, Nick headed down to Cornwall to spend an evening at St Austell Brewery’s annual beer festival. Along with their regular beers, and a selection from other Cornish and national breweries, were a load of one-off specials brewed by various members of the St Austell and Bath Ales (owned by St Austell) brewing teams. Inspired by Cornwall’s wintery, stormy skies, Nick’s pick of the beers was a pair of dark brooding brews. Bath Ales ‘Honey I Shrunk The Porter’ (5%) was a delicious honey porter with a heady aroma of coconut rum, lots of sweet toasty malt flavours and a warming booziness, while St Austell’s annual release of its barrel aged Black Square Russian Imperial Stout (10.4%) was even better: slick and creamy with mellow fruitiness, bitter chocolate and a rich vibrancy from its barrel ageing.

    Earl Grey and Biscuits

    The best beer to arrive through the post came from the good folk at Borough Market who worked with brewer Daniel Tapper of The Beak Brewery to create a 5.2% saison made with Earl Grey tea (provided by trader Organic Life) and hops grown at the front of the market hall. We like Earl Grey as an adjunct – it’s a tea that’s flavoured with Bergamot which has floral orange flavours that aren’t a million miles from some hops while the tea’s tannin gives beers an extra dryness at the finish. This saison suited the Earl Grey addition exceptionally well: an amazingly fresh and spritzy beer with those tea characteristics perfectly well balanced with the clean and punchy malt, yeast and hop flavours.

    We were also introduced to Surrey outfit Crafty Brewing in the form of a three pack featuring their Five Hop IPA, Pale Ale and the brilliantly named Loxhill Biscuit (3.8%). It’s a golden sweet and light biscuity brew with subtle orangey citrus flavours from Amarillo hops (it also includes First Gold and Challenger) that perk up through the moderately bitter finish: one to file in the ‘easy drinking’ category.

    Bourbon and Gin

    Our most recent commissions for the i paper included round-ups of gin (Rich) and bourbon (Nick). Among Rich’s selection was a quince gin from distillers Whitley Neill which features the flavours of the under-appreciated Persian fruit with earthy and piney bitter notes of juniper and spice. Rich thought it had a not-too-sweet zestiness and recommended skipping the tonic and drinking neat, pairing it with cheese over the festive period.

    Among Nick’s bourbons was an organic spirit from Koval, a Chicago distillery making inroads into the UK market. Along with the bourbon he also got hold of a bottle of their whiskey made from 100% millet, an incredibly smooth and creamy spirit with quite a noticeable aroma and flavour of pears mingling with the soft grains.

     

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  • Let the bells ring out! It’s our digging and swigging Christmas Gift Guide 2019!

    For the past few months we’ve been keeping our eyes out for booze and gardening gifts that we think might please YOU, our beloved reader(s). Here’s a collection of fine digging and swigging suggestions to inform your hasty, last minute purchases, each one a GUARANTEED sure-fire winner.
    Just make sure you keep checking this page as we’ll be updating it with more suggestions as Christmas looms upon us.

    Beer Me Now Christmas Box

    Beer Me Now, Christmas Beer Box

    Price £25
    Every year a there are new beers subscription services added to an already busy market place and we do our best to test them all. Among the most recent launches that has impressed is Beer Me Now, a regular service that provides a good mix of popular classic beers with less well known bottles and cans (along with a salty snack for munching action). The Beer Me Now team has also put together a one off box of goodies just for Christmas, so you or a mate can enjoy their selection of eight ace beers as a one-off purchase (which we reckon might be enough to tempt you to signing up when all the Christmas beers have gone).

    Available from Beer Me Now

    whisky Christmas gift

    The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

    Price £34.25
    If you’re hunting for a gift for a whisky fan but are not quite sure what they like then might we suggest this handsomely boxed bottle. It’s a classic Speyside whisky (everyone likes a classic Speyside) from one of the most popular Scottish distilleries, the Glenlivet. The whisky is named in honour of Glenlivet’s founder and is a smooth sipping delight, with some clean tasting floral and fruity notes and not a rough edge to be found. Perfect to ease away any Christmas chaos.

    Available from The Whisky Exchange

    Brew It Yourself Book

    Brew it Yourself

    For the ultimate digging and swigging gift there’s always our book, Brew it Yourself. It’s rammed full with ace booze recipes – from beers, ciders and wines to more curious cocktails and infusions, and a few Christmassy boozes to boot – many of them using home grown ingredients. And don’t just take our word for its goodness – take a look at the five star reviews on Amazon for authentic tales of boozy glee.

    Available from Amazon

     

     

    Somerset Cider Apple Poster

    And whilst we’re on an undignified, egotistic roll of self promotion, allow us to recommend this splendid apple poster, designed by Nick’s very own gnarled mouse-hand. It’s a typographic apple, beautifully constructed using the names of Somerset cider varieties. Ideal for bathrooms, sheds, kitchens and outhouses and just the ticket for covering up unsightly stains on walls.

    It costs a mere £10 (including postage) and you can buy it from our Etsy shop, right HERE.

    Fatty’s Organic Gin

    Price: £43.64
    Looking for a new groovy gin to gift (or guzzle)? Look no further – this Dulwich-born gin has been distilled with dill, the fish-loving, feathery-fronded herb. It’s a London Dry style with delicate herbal notes and was deemed tasty enough to grab gold at the 2018 Spirits Business Awards.As Claudio Ranieri would say: “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” (whatever the hell that means).

    Available from: Masters of Malt

     

    Stihl Retro T-shirt

    Price: £30
    Clad your beloved in one of these retro T-shirt from Stihl, our favourite German power tool peddler. Made from mottled grey cloth and sporting a groovy circular saw logo, it’ll cut a dash down both allotment and pub. We can confirm that the ‘medium’ will happily fit a short, bald, mis-shaped man pushing 50 years of age. Ja! Danke!

    Available from Stihl

     

    Drinks by the Dram Gin Baubles

    Price: £39.95 for a pack of six
    Deck the halls with boozy baubles, tra la la la la, la la la la. Each bauble contains a wax-sealed 30ml dram, filled with an exceptional expression. Hang them, admire them, drink them and embrace the festive spirit(s). Also available in whisky.

    Get them here

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  • Coventry pub crawl: five best pubs 25 years on…

    A lot can happen in a quarter of a century. 25 years ago, in 1993, England failed to qualify for the World Cup in the USA, Mr Blobby spent a few weeks at number one and the Maastricht Treaty came into force, formally establishing the European Union. And in that time the pub landscape has changed dramatically, with a recent report claiming that more 25% of UK pubs have closed since 2001.

    1993 is also the year that we both graduated from Coventry Polytechnic and last weekend we joined a small group of fellow ex-students to revisit our old stomping grounds. We’ve both fleetingly called in on the city on separate occasions since (once each, over ten years ago) but this was our first chance to explore those old pubs together since gleefully handing back our graduation gowns to the hire shop.

    When we left we didn’t realise quite how many pubs we would be bidding farewell to for good. Among them biker’s basement haunt The Godiva; Spon End favourites The Malt Shovel and The Black Horse; the rickety old Shakespeare on Spon Street; Gosford Street pub crawl destinations including The Golden Cup* and Hand & Heart; and stop off point on the way home, The Admiral Codrington.

    But despite these boozer bereavements there still seemed more than enough pubs for city of Coventry’s size, with some of our old favourites still in business and a large range of new establishments open to tempt the current younger generation in from streets. The youth appeal of these flashier new bars meant that many of the student-packed pubs of 25 years ago were now populated by people of our own age, meaning we weren’t required to scrap our way to the bars with the younger and fitter folk.

    Having visited many pubs over the course of the weekend we’ve picked out five that we think make for a great city pub crawl for anyone with a weekend to fill in Coventry.

    Old Windmill Spon Street

    Dried hops hanging from wooden beams in the Old Windmill

    The Old Windmill, Spon Street

    Some things never change. This was our favourite pub in 1993 and our favourite in 2018. It’s believed to be Coventry’s oldest, a 15th century inn situated on medieval Spon Street, close to the city centre, with wonky walls, stone floors, exposed beams and various barrooms and snugs to relax in. It was always busy with a very mixed clientele enjoying fine cask ales and the occasional cider** and that still seems to be the case today. A proper old pub with a long history that, thankfully, is still run as a proper pub, rather than the kind of toursity, food-focussed, pub-museum that too many other ancient inns turn into.

    We drank: Having visited the Old Windmill three times during our Coventry reunion we managed to get through all seven of the cask ales behind the bar. Classics Timothy Taylor Landlord and Theakstone’s Old Peculiar were in excellent condition and hardly bettered all weekend, while we also enjoyed Slater’s light and hoppy ‘1 Hop’ (the single hop being Goldings).

    Golden Cross pub Coventry

    The Golden Cross in Coventry’s city centre was our Friday night meeting spot

    The Golden Cross, Hay Lane

    Another medieval pub that was built in the 16th century, becoming a public house in the 17th century, situated round the corner from the abby. The upstairs bar was our Friday night meeting place and it was always heaving and had a great atmosphere and Ruddles beers behind the bar. It looked a bit run down when we last saw it over ten years ago but has recently been given a tasteful makeover, with glass panels and Farrow & Ball colours complimenting the wooden timbers and stained glass windows.

    We drank: The upstairs bar had a much more limited selection than downstairs so we opted for the house beer, brewed by the Caledonian Brewery. It was decent enough but not quite up to the high cask standards set elsewhere.

    Town Wall Tavern Coventry

    The Town Wall Tavern (interior seen in main photo) has separate doors for the main bars and the tiny Donkey Box

    The Town Wall Tavern, Bond Street

    For some reason we don’t remember visiting this pub in the 1990s. Tucked around the corner from the Belgrave Theatre, Nick had a pint here on his only other trip to the city and made sure it was on the itinerary for this weekend. It’s an outstanding pub, perhaps second only the the Old Windmill, with a narrow room on one side of the bar, a more expansive lounge-ish room on the other and ‘The Donkey Box’ in the middle. This room has claims on being the tiniest in the country with its own bar and the Donkey Box regular occupying it shared a few tales about it while we were there (it was named after being visited by a pantomime donkey from the theatre).

    We drank: Lots more decent cask ales to choose from here including Goff’s Cheltenham Gold and Purity’s Mad Goose, both light and fruity, perfectly suiting the mid-afternoon part of our day-long session.

    The Phoenix pub Coventry

    The Phoenix, better known to us as the Sir Colin Campbell

    The Phoenix, Gosford Street

    There are several other better Coventry pubs than The Phoenix, but it’s one we have a strong connection to and is the kind of place anyone can pop into at any time without feeling out of place. It was called the Sir Colin Campbell in our day (and the Parrot and Griffin long before then) and sat opposite our art college, beckoning us in for lunchtime halves and post-study sessions. It was also the kit sponsor of our football team. After we left it went through a chequered period, which included a major fire, before being reopened as The Phoenix – the symbol of Coventry University. Today it’s brightly lit with glitzy, modern pub ephemera and is full of TV screens, but it provided us with a relaxing distraction from the drizzle outside.

    We drank: There were five keg and five casks on offer, mostly fairly mainstream. Nick played it safe with a Camden Helles while Rich was pleased with his choice of Robinson’s Trooper.

    Twisted Barrel Ale tap room Coventry

    The Twisted Ale Brewery: a new tap room in a whole new part of town

    Twisted Barrel Brewery & Tap House, Fargo Village

    Lucky Coventry. In our there were no breweries to head to for a fresh pint. Now Coventry doesn’t have just any run-of-the-mill brewery, but one of our favourite contemporary outfits, Twisted Barrel Ales. Just off Far Gosford street, which is now lined with ghosts of pubs, lies an assortment of modern food, drink, creative and community focussed businesses that is collectively known as Fargo Village (Far Gosford. FarGo. Got it?). Having moved from smaller premises opposite, Twisted Barrel occupy a good sized space, with piles of kegs separating tables and benches from the brewing equipment, and a bar with 20 keg taps. So impressed were we with this new addition to the city’s drinking scene that we trekked across the city for our final drinks on both nights.

    We drank: We got through quite a range of our hosts beers with the tang of Detroit City Sour hitting the spot as well as anything all weekend. From further afield we enjoyed the rare experience of drinking Weihenstephaner’s Helles on tap which was fresh as a just baked loaf, crisp and thirst quenching – not a bad way to finish off a weekend of beer adventuring.

    +++++

    *We both played in a band that performed here to mix of student and grumpy regulars bemused by the kazoo solo during a wonky rendition of ‘Love me Tender’

    **Our band used to perform a song inspired by The Old Windmill and Dead Rat cider called “Last Night of the Rat”

     

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  • Tequila cocktail recipe: how to make The Paloma

    For our previous cocktail corner recipe we made a Margarita with Tequila’s smoky Mexican cousin Mezcal. Having surrendered its place last time round we think it only fair that Tequila gets a chance to show its cocktail credentials in our next recipe so we’re introducing you to one of the simplest cocktails going, The Paloma.

    What is a Paloma?

    The Paloma is a favourite of Mexican mixers that features just three key ingredients: Tequila, grapefruit soda and lime (sounds good already, huh?). The word ‘paloma’ is Spanish for ‘dove’ – we’d love to elaborate further on the origins of its name, and how the drink came about, but even Mr Google struggles to find a plausible, verified theory. What we do know is that it’s big in Mexico (you can even buy cans of Paloma) but less well thought of elsewhere in the world, certainly when compared to the Margarita, but we reckon it’s well worth the surrendering of some decent tequila.

    The ingredients

    With such few ingredients it’s worth getting good ones. For this, and other tequila cocktails, it’s more common to use a blanco or silver tequila, but we like to give it a bit more character by using one that has been barrel aged and have plumped for Patrón Añejo  (an Añejo tequila has been aged for a minimum of one year). It’s a bit pricier than basic blancos but it’s a popular choice among those fancier bars that make you dress up smart to enter* and we think is worth the investment – it’s a superb smooth sipping booze with notes of vanilla, oak and even a faint flicker of smoke that also goes down a treat neat.

    You’ll find some recipes that use combinations of grapefruit juice, soda and syrups but we’re sticking with the simplicity of grapefruit soda. Jarritos is the most popular brand in Mexico but we couldn’t find any in Somerset so went for Belvoir’s grapefruit presse instead. It’s nice and fizzy, not to sweet and full of grapefruit flavour – we don’t know what Jarritos tastes like but reckon this is a top notch replacement.

    paloma cocktail easy recipe

    The Paloma recipe

    All you need to make a Paloma is to mix one part of tequila (say 50ml) with three parts of grapefruit soda (150ml), pour into a highball glass filled with ice, and garnish with a wedge of lime. For a bit of extra zestiness you could give the lime wedge a little squeeze first. And if you like a salty rim then by all means dip the glass in sea salt before you begin, but we think such frippery is unnecessary. Like most cocktails, this might sound like a summery drink, but we enjoyed our ray of pink Mexican sunshine on a miserably wet and stormy November evening and the zestiness was enough to give our spirits a lift while the oakier flavours of the Añejo gave it a more sophisticated depth that we think is more suited to the darker days of winter. Lovely Dovely.

    patron tequila cocktail ingredient

    *Bars we tend to avoid

     

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