• New booze round-up #3: Stouts, porters and tonka beans

    It’s winter and breweries have been working on their roastiest, toastiest beers for maximum contentment during the colder months. We’ve managed to get our hands on a few extra special seasonal ales so this latest ‘new booze round-up’ is a stout and porter special edition…

    Fourpure Snowblind, 5.9%

    Fourpure have gone bonkers for tonka in their latest canned offering. It’s a white stout containing tonka beans, a rather interesting adjunct that comes from the Kuaran Tree, native to central and south America. These black, wrinkly seeds are often used as a vanilla substitute in foods and perfume, and the tobacco industry have been known to grind them into tobaccos to make their cigarettes extra tasty. Mmmm…. tasty cigarettes….

    Anyway, Rich reckons Snowblind is a “smooth, complex and very more-ish booze.” He goes on to describe it as “pale golden and full-bodied, it has a distinct almondy twang, with caramel, liquorice and and a slight hint of cinnamon.” Nick, who has guzzled a few white stouts recently, proclaims it as “one of the best I’ve had.” High praise indeed.

    Salcombe Brewery, Island Street Porter, 5.9%

    Salcombe is rapidly becoming South Devon’s booze capital, with an excellent distillery and brewery each bearing the town’s name. We first tried the brewery’s summery beers at a festival last year and were mightily impressed and we’ve now had a chance to try their new winter offering, a delicious dark porter. We felt it had the touch of wild, dark fruits about it – with rich and slightly tart juice, hints of sweetness and a fruit-skin bitterness. The roasted malt flavours have been smoothed out with a spoonful of creamy cocoa making it an easy sipper that’s simply done but full of flavour. Impressive stuff.

    Clown Shoes, Chocolate Sombrero, 9%

    We regularly dip our hop-stained fingers into beer subscription boxes – they’re one of the best ways to get hold of new beers, particularly from far flung places. The latest cardboard-encased collection of cans and bottles from Beer 52 was a Massachusetts special and it was all new to our taste buds. The pick of the crop was an Imperial Stout, described as “Mexican-style”, from a brewery called Clown Shoes. The beer is full of adjuncts including ancho chilli, cinnamon and vanilla and they’ve done well to even them all out, making a subtly spiced beer with loads of depth. The trace of chilli rides the light fizz for an extra tingle; the touches of spice help it linger longer in the mouth; and the boozy, chocolatey malt gives it a decadent sippability.

    Hawkshead, Tonka Shake, 10%

    We’ve been keen drinkers of Hawkshead’s beers for several years now – they’re great at simple, hoppy beers but also know how to get creative with more unusual ingredients. This new release, an “Imperial Milkshake Stout”, is another to feature the in vogue tonka bean and it’s a real treat. Its many flavours brought to mind fancy continental breakfasts: a posh muesli loaded with flakes of coconut and covered in creamy milk, with a fresh pain au chocolate on the side and an accompanying cup of black coffee that has a rich, plummy edge and wake-you-up bitterness. The one element that doesn’t belong in our breakfast picture is the whisky-ish dash of booze.

    For more information…

    Fourpure Snowblind is available from the Fourpure website, £4.50 per 500ml can

    Salcombe Island Street Porter is available from the brewery’s website, £30 for 12 x 330ml bottles

    Clown Shoes, Chocolate Sombrero can be found over at Beer52 HQ

    Hawkshead Tonka Shake is available from Hawkshead’s website

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  • Wolfburn Aurora: a delicate, warming whisky for a 5pm chill

    I’ve been writing a lot about whisky lately and right now my office is scattered with 30ml miniature bottles of golden booze. Lots of Scottish whisky, Japanese whisky and all kinds of American bourbons and ryes, along with miniatures from more unlikely countries such as France and South Africa. I’m pretty good at avoiding the temptation to sip my way through them while working during the day, although the current cold snap is pushing that temptation to the limit.

    As I write it’s approaching 5pm and the heater under my desk is failing to fight off the chill, so I’m shivering. I reckon right now is a perfectly acceptable time to twist off a whisky bottle seal and take a warming swig, so I’m diving in to a dram that I’ve previously overlooked to consider how it shapes up against the global gathering of spirits around me.

    Introducing Wolfburn Distillery

    The Wolfburn Distillery is located in Thurso, the most northerly town on British mainland. The current distillery began life in 2012, but Wolfburn whisky first emerged from the same site in 1821 and kept going for around 20 to 30 years before closing down. After 150 years the first new whisky was released in 2016, reviving Wolfburn and putting to good use the local supply of natural water from where it gets its name (‘burn’ means ‘stream’ or ‘small river’). Aurora is a single malt whisky created from a combination of bourbon and sherry casks and is the first of the distillery’s output that I’m getting my chops around.

    Wolfburn Aurora, 46%: Tasting Notes

    Of the small clutch of bottles that Wolfburn Aurora sits among, it is by far the lightest. A bright straw colour that would probably twinkle beautifully in the sunlight if the sunlight ever managed to enter my office on a grey winter day. On the nose the straw freshens, becoming meadow-like and there’s lots of sweet sherry too: it smells clean, light and immediately approachable.

    That sherry sweetness has a sticky honey coating to it and is the first thing that hits the palate. With a 46%, young looking whisky that has some bourbon cask ageing behind it, I might’ve expected more of an immediate hit of alcohol, and maybe even some rough edges, but the sweetness neatly smooths everything out so when the nuttier, spicier flavours do come through they’re perfectly balanced with the overall lightness of the whisky. Vanilla flavours are evident throughout, marrying well with the upfront sweetness, accentuating some almond notes in the middle and drying out a touch at the finish to lend the whisky warmth I was looking for.

    As a 5pm whisky, Aurora has hit the spot: it’s delicate, easy to drink, sweetly delicious and gently warming. The heavier hitting whisky miniatures will be steadily consumed in front of the fire during cold evenings but the half-dram-bottle of Aurora I’m left with stays on the office desk – I’m sure it will come in handy the next time the heater fails to do its job.

    Wolfburn Aurora Single Malt Whisky

    Wolfburn Aurora is available from Master of Malt, £48.80 for a 700ml bottle

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  • How to make a rhubarb and ginger shrub: an easy alcohol-free cocktail recipe

    This January I’ve been having a few weeks without alcohol. Not the full Dry January but limiting booze to just a couple of days all month to make up for December’s excesses. At the top of my list of boozeless beverages is the Shrub: a fruity cocktail made from vinegar syrup and soda. To the uninitiated, drinking vinegar might sound strange, but although it’s very diluted it provides enough of an acidic snap to jolt you into life in much the same way as alcohol does.

    I’ve previously bought ready made shrubs but they’re easy enough to make, so this time around I raided the freezer for some home grown rhubarb to set about making my own. The results are astonishingly good and I’m now itching to pickle more flavour combinations in further Shurb experimentation. But, until then, here’s the rhubarb and ginger recipe I settled on…

    Rhubarb & Ginger Shrub Recipe

    To make a Shrub you first need to make the vinegar syrup, which acts as a concentrate (much like a bottle of squash concentrate) to be diluted with soda water.

    For this I used a 3:3:2 ratio of vinegar, fruit and sugar:
    300g cider vinegar
    300g rhubarb
    200g white sugar
    A small thumb sized piece of fresh ginger



    1 First up, I sterilised a glass preserving jar. Vinegar should see off most bacteria but it’s still worth keeping your storage vessel sterilised for other nasties that vinegar might be less fearful of its acidic vengeance. To do this I washed the container in hot, soapy water then dried it in the oven on a low heat for 20 minutes – this also means the jar is hot when it’s time to add the hot vinegar, which will prevent the glass from cracking.

    2 While the jar is in the oven put the cider vinegar in a pan and heat until it just reaches boiling point. Tip in the sugar and stir to dissolve before adding chopped rhubarb and ginger diced into tiny pieces.

    3 Pour everything into the sterilised jar, seal the lid and set aside. I left mine for four days which seemed long enough to get most of the flavour from the ingredients and allow them to start mellowing with the cider vinegar.

    4 Strain the vinegary liquid into a sterilised bottle, gently squeezing out the goodness, and store in the fridge.* It’s probably best to use it within a couple of weeks.

    5 To make a shrub simply pour some syrup into a glass (as you would with squash – a tablespoon or two should do the trick) and top with cold soda water. Sup slowly and wonder what the fuss with alcohol** is all about…

    The finished rhubarb and ginger shrub (in a wonky glass)

    *You could probably use the left over solid rhubarb and ginger in a chutney

    **Although the syrup would probably work well in a few alcohol-based cocktails too. Suggestions please.

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  • Hayter Osprey 46 Autodrive Lawnmower Review

    Last year we had a Hayter Osprey 46 Autodrive Mower on a long term test and spent the summer months beasting grass on a variety of lawns. With its tour of duty now over, it currently lies dormant at the back of our brewing shed, enjoying a well earned winter rest between a broken cider press and a crate of Nick’s quarantined pea pod wine. Here’s our thoughts from a summer of use.

    Unboxing and Assembly

    The Hayter Osprey 46 arrived in a MASSIVE box that unfortunately had no handle holes to aid in its transportation. Cursing the uncooperative cardboard, I just about managed to manoeuvre the weighty package into an area I had earmarked for disembarkment without enraging my old hernia operation. Ideally you’ll want want to enlist help from a strong pal* for this task. On opening, the box revealed a packing masterclass, with every mower part carefully packed and wrapped and all potential finger slicing edges thoroughly sheathed. In most situations where self assembly is required, I tend to bypass the instructions and wade straight in and gues-emble the product in question, then get cross when nothing fits or works. In an unexpected change of habit, I decided on actually reading the instructions. Good job I did – the instructions pull no punches, stating that there is a strong chance of losing a limb if you don’t follow the safety advice. Thoroughly forewarned, I tentatively began to assemble the mower, counting and recounting my vulnerable digits as I went. As it turned out, assembly from the box was a straightforward affair, with just the simple task of fitting the handle using the bolts provided. All good.

    Build Quality

    The Hayter Osprey 46 is a solidly built machine, all shiny, slick and resplendent in dark racing green, with the engine housed in tough plastic casing. Flipping the unit reveals a seriously sharp cutting blade that affords a 46cm cutting width. The blade has seven levels of adjustment, allowing for a minimum grass height of 25mm up to a positively unkept 70 mm. It’s a weighty old bird, tipping the scales at 29 kg which I found made it just on the cusp of being too heavy to lift it into the boot of a car. If you are after a mower that you intend to take out for trips to mow your granny’s lawn, or planning to invest in a mower for your own small gardening business, this is certainly something to consider.**

    Handling and Performance

    Petrol-heads will appreciate the throaty rasp you can coax from the Briggs & Stratton 500 series engine. Pump the accelerator bar! Hear it roar! Clasp the auto drive bar and the Osprey will lurch forward like one of Nick’s recalcitrant greyhounds, straining on its leash on a post breakfast / pre-poo walk. The advantages of the auto drive are subtle when mowing a level lawn, but take your hand off the assist bar – especially when mowing on an incline – and you’ll soon notice the benefits. The auto assist also comes in handy when manoeuvring the mower in awkward spaces. With a bit of practice a few gentle tweaks on the bar can help turn the mower in tight circles when you need to.

    Most of our testing was conducted on long-ish, damp grass, which, in some mowers, can cause clogging, especially in the channel where the grass passes from mower to grass box. The Osprey did clog on one of the earlier test runs, but we forgivingly put this down to a particularly dense patch of moss we had just ploughed through. The grass box itself has good capacity. As a guide, a full load of grass, when emptied, will half fill a standard bin bag.


    The Osprey folds down neatly. The handle can be folded in two and doubles over itself with a few twists on the handle knobs, whilst the semi-rigid grass box is an added space-saving bonus. Before bedding down your mower for the night, it’s always wise to give it a good clean. Understandably, the undersides of mowers get particularly filthy, and if left unattended, wet grass detritus can prove to be particularly bothersome to shift. The Osprey has this covered, and comes equipped with a wash port. Attach a hose to the built in nozzle, turn on the tap and then turn on the engine. Whilst this helps shift the caked clippings, it doesn’t do an immaculate job (we’d advise giving it a couple of runs through, with a bit of scrubbing in between) but certainly makes the cleanup process less painful. Oh, and make sure the mower is dry before storage. Steel mowers are rust magnets, especially around the wheel axles and areas chipped by flying stones. Run the engine for a few minutes after washing, and this will dry out the machine nicely.


    The Osprey 46 Autodrive Lawnmower is a compact, punchy petrol mower, perfect for tackling a medium to large sized garden. The auto assist is a welcome addition, effective without feeling like you have handed over control. It’s a mower that actually managed to make mowing an enjoyable experience, which is no mean feat.


    Spec box
    Model: Osprey 46 (HA 611)
    Weight: 29kg
    Drive: Single speed 2mph
    Cutting Width: 18″ / 46 cm
    Engine: Briggs & Stratton 500 Series
    Engine Displacement: 140cc
    Fuel: Petrol
    Engine Oil: 4-Stroke (0.6l bottle included)
    Cutting Height: 25 – 70 mm
    Grass Bag Capacity: 55L


    *None of my strong friends were available at the time of mower delivery. And Nick was also busy.

    ** The fear of knacking my back when hoisting heavy weights such as this has led me to purchase a weightlifters belt. It’s not exactly stylish, but does the job. Lift with the legs! Keep the back straight!

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  • New booze round-up #2: featuring keller lager, crackling and tattoos

    Here’s our latest round up of the new booze (and snacks) that have passed our lips in recent weeks, including some of our drinking highlights from the festive season.

    Braybrooke Keller Lager, 4.8%

    We reckon there’s a bit of a marketing spend behind Braybrooke’s Keller Lager. The Leicestershire brewery has a formidable PR company supporting it who sent us a brace of bottles that was accompanied by a smart little brochure – not many individual beers get their own brochures. Thankfully for the PR company the product is a decent one: nice sweet bready malts and a gentle Germanic bitterness. Simple, tasty and effective it had Rich purring with satisfaction.

    Bulleit Limited Edition

    As the spirit market becomes ever more competitive, big brands are looking for innovative ways to thrust their products into the limelight. One such method that we’ve noticed gaining in popularity is the use of limited edition packages (the same product presented in a different bottle). Big bourbon brand Bulleit is the latest to get creative with glass and they sent us a bottle designed by New York tattoo artist Jess Mascetti.

    We quite like the results – it’s an impressive piece of inkwork and genuinely makes the bottle feel a bit special, especially when you peer through the golden booze to view it on the reverse. As for the bourbon, it’s made with quite a lot of rye which gives it plenty of punchy spice among the oaky vanilla flavours and is one we like to use for cocktails, being especially effective in a Manhattan.

    Bulleit Bourbon Limited Edition
    Tattooed bourbon

    Pub Supper Box

    This item may not actually feature booze, but it’s such a good idea for the stay-at-home drinker that we thought it deserved inclusion. The concept is simple: a subscription club that sends out a box of nine pub inspired snacks on a monthly basis. The munchables in our sample were all top notch and included posh crisps (haggis flavour!), pork crackling, roasted peas and a weighty bag of Italian onion and olive savoury biscuity things (we’ve not been to an Italian pub, but we like their style). At just £15 we think this is a beer-enhancing bargain.

    Find out more at pubsupper.com

    Pub Supper Snacks Box Subscription
    A few bags of snacks that came tumbling from our PubSupper.com box

    What we drank over Christmas

    The festive season always acts as a good excuse to try out new boozes and here’s a selection of what we guzzled this Christmas. We both stocked up on Fuller’s 2018 Vintage Ale (10.5%): a strong brew that was smooth as polished marble with creamy alcohol peppered by tannic dark fruit skins, a bit of mellow citrus and a dry oaky finish. Lovely stuff.

    Edinburgh Beer Factory showered us with several beers which we shared with friends – of those we kept for ourselves Edinburgh Brown (6%) was the highlight with a rootsy bitterness cutting through the clean, fresh and frothy malty liquid.

    Rich enjoyed a few tankards of keeved cider in the shape of Champagne-corked bottles from Pilton Cider whose medium sweet Tamoshanta (4.7%) greatly impressed. Nick finished his festive boozing with a dram of Campbeltown PBS whisky bottled by Cadenhead’s at a barrel strength 57.1%, a delicious drop with honeyed almonds flavours and a gentle waft of oaky smoke.

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  • Winter fruit pruning with Okatsune Pruning Shears

    It’s usually not until you try something new that you realise how rubbish the old has become. I’ve been using the same pruners for years. Over time they’ve gotten a little stiff, have started to sport a rusty fringe and prefer to bludgeon their way through thicker branches rather than cut, but they’ve always just about done the job so I’ve never considered replacing them.

    Towards the end of last year Dutch retailers Knives and Tools sent me a pair of Japanese Okatsune Pruning Shears to review and they’re so impressive that the old tool has now been banished from the garden.

    Pruning fruiting plants is one of the first gardening jobs I undertake in a new year, so this provided an ideal opportunity to test the cut and thrust of this Japanese piece of craftsmanship. There were three key jobs to undertake. My apple trees are now established so don’t need the the same level of hacking back as in their first few years, but there were a few branches that had crossed and needed to be removed, along with some additional snips to maintain shapeliness. The casseille (a blackcurrant / gooseberry cross) and Big Ben blackcurrants needed more serious attention – they’ve been getting a bit out of control, not helped by being clumsily bent over during a fence installation, pushing most of their branches out to a horizontal direction. Besides removing old wood (currants grow best on the most recent growth) they also needed further thinning so the remaining growth had a vertical inclination. There were also a few Autumn fruiting raspberry canes to cut back to the ground.

    Okatsune Pruning Shears: the verdict

    I like the look of Okatsune’s pruners. They’re not flash and they don’t have weird design features that claim unusual ergonomics: they are simply a product of their functionality. I assumed the only nod to any type of aesthetic was the fancy red and white colours of the sleek, curved handles – a nod to their Japanese origin perhaps – but Rich informs me that even these are borne of function. Apparently the colour choice is to help locate them should careless cutting cause them to tumble into the undergrowth: red for daytime, white for low levels of light.

    Between the handles is one of the major assets of the pruners: a tight, powerful spring that assists with the ease of the squeeze while keeping the blades running in smooth, flexible order. Those blades are forged from tough Japanese carbon steel (which is also used to make katana swords) and are hard and sharp, which should mean they stay fit for purpose for a far greater length of time than my old pruners. The cuts to every branch I tackled were managed with swift precision, and were each perfectly clean (which those plants will be extremely grateful for). The recommended upper diameter for cutting is 20mm and, although I didn’t measure what girths I overcame, the pruner managed every thickness presented to its steely blades (including a few apple branches that would’ve been too much of a burden for my old tool).

    Okatsune Japanese pruners
    Swift and clean

    I’ve always quite liked the job of pruning and, having raced around the fruit in no time, started eyeing up more of the garden that might benefit from a trim. But apart from dealing with an unruly bay tree branch I resisted the urge to get carried away and gave the pruners a quick clean before putting them away for next time.

    A pair of pruners should be a tool that lasts a very long time, so it’s worth considering getting the best you can afford and are comfortable with. If, like me, you prefer the utilitarian approach married with ultimate functionality then I can highly recommend Okatsune’s Pruning Shears – I reckon it’ll be decades before something new makes this tool feel old and unwanted.

    Okatsune pruners sharp steel

    Okatsune pruning shears KST103, medium are available from Knivesandtools.co.uk, priced £42.10

    Footnote: free casseille

    During fence installation my casseille was bent over to such a degree (and probably trodden on) that a branch tracked along the soil and has rooted. This has now been snipped from the main plant and will be transplanted to Rich’s allotment for a new free fruit bush.

    layered casseille fruit bush
    A free casseille for Rich

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