• New booze round-up #5: St Patrick’s Day, Sweden and Ilkley’s finest

    Our latest instalment of the best booze we’ve been sent or stumbled across sees us gearing up for St Patrick’s Day (please note: the photo of Rich swigging whiskey in his Emerald green leprechaun outfit and floppy felt Guinness hat has been deemed unsuitable for this website)

    Glendalough Rose Gin, 37.5%

    Our booze table has been creaking of late, thanks in part to the enormous amount of Irish whiskey samples left over from Nick’s latest iBuys feature, their golden, glassy cylinders bedecking the surface like a kitchen-based Giants Causeway. But it’s not just whiskey that’s been passing our lips this month – we’ve also been busying ourselves sampling other Irish boozes, one of the highlights being this pink gin that made the journey with its malty mates, over the Irish sea and into our grubby, soil-stained mitts.

    It hails from the Glendalough distillery, based on their wild gin recipe, but redistilled with fruit, flowers, spices and no less than three different varieties of rose petal; the Damsak rose, the Heritage rose and wild rose, the latter having been harvested in the Wicklow mountains by expert forager Geraldine Kavanagh http://www.wicklowwildfoods.com/ who advises and provides the distillery with fine local botanicals.

    As you’d expect from a rose-infused booze, it’s wonderfully fragrant with a subtle pink tint.

    It’s a decent neat sipper but it really comes alive with tonic, tasting fresh, sweet and spicy with a subtle hint of turkish delight. A good, alternative Guinness chaser to accompany this years St Patrick’s Day shenanigans, we reckon.

    Get it here from Masters of Malt

    M&S Ilkley Brewery Oatmeal Stout, 4.9%

    Marks and Spencer has been selling decent beer for a long time, which is good news for Nick who counts his local branch as his closest supermarket. And despite the recent addition of two excellent bottle shops in town he still buys most of his beer from M&S. A few weeks ago his wife came home clutching a previously untried bottle of Oatmeal Stout, from one of our favourite breweries, Ilkley, trumpeting “why pay £4.50 for a can when you can get this for £2.50.”

    It’s another excellent member of the M&S own-label range, a thick black brew that has a bit of up front sweetness and drys out with a touch of bitterness and a slightly fruity rasp. A full flavoured beer with a simple, light touch and a wallet-pleasing price. It’s not Irish but if you’re looking for a stout for St Patrick’s Day then give it a go.

    Marks and Spencer oatmeal stout
    The black stuff, Ilkley style

    Spirit of Hven Organic Single Malt 7 Stars No 6:2 Alcor, 45%

    We were recently introduced to the Spirit distillery of Hven by our booze-peddling chums Amathus Drinks while researching for a piece on world whisky. The distillery, based on the Swedish island of Hven, has an impressive line up of spirits with their experimental, limited edition single malt whiskies being of a notably high standard.

    This release was distilled from a mash bill that includes lager malt, peated malt and chocolate malt before being matured in four different American and European oak casks. It has a distinctive peatiness running through the dried fruit flavours, taking in toasty notes of chocolate and coffee, with a sweet oak finish that’s longer than the whisky’s name. A great piece of modern Scandinavian drinks making.

    Get your hands on some at Amathus

    J&B Rare Whisky, 40%

    J&B Rare isn’t exactly a new whisky (it was first produced in the 1930s) but it’s currently going through a marketing push in the UK that will see it pitched at a female audience, with a ‘Mother’s Day Cocktail’ being one of the tricks rolled out this month (see recipe below). We thought this a good enough excuse to reacquaint ourselves with Justerini & Brooks’ classic blend that, apparently, is the fifth best selling blended Scotch in the world and number one in Southern Europe.

    Blended from 42 different whiskies it’s actually quite a classy drink, possessing light touches of sweet fruits, oaky tannins and creamy toffee with a clean and zesty citrus freshness. A great entry level whisky that can be sipped neat and is ideally suited to cocktail making – if you don’t fancy the effort for the Mother’s Day then we would suggest it goes well with coke and ice.

    Cocktail recipe: A Rare Discovery – designed by Drake & Morgan:

    10ml Kamm and Sons British Aperitif Bitters
    40ml J&B Rare
    20ml Peach Puree
    10ml Elderflower cordial
    15ml Lemon Juice

    Mix them all together, pour into your loveliest glass, add ice and give to your mum with a bunch of flowers.

    J&B Rare: a classy blend

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  • Rum renaissance: five rum facts (and six rums you should try)

    Rum is a spirit on the rise. Far from being a tipple only enjoyed by salty sea dogs and Cuban bartenders, it is now being appreciated by a new generation of drinkers keen to flex their taste buds in new directions. From mature sipping rums, to bright cocktail classics and unique flavours from far flung islands, rum’s diversity is its main strength. To celebrate rum’s renaissance we’ve unearthed five fantastic facts…

    Light & Dark

    As rum is made all over the world, using different raw ingredients, the rules as to what constitutes a rum are varied and confusing. Most are produced in the Caribbean or Central America and broadly fall into three national influences: English-style rums from the English speaking Caribbean islands tend to be dark, molasses based spirits; Spanish-style rums, from Spanish speaking countries, are known as ‘Ron’ and usually lighter in style; while French speaking countries have a ‘French (or ‘Rhum) Agricole’ style which are produced from sugar cane juice.

    The colour of the rums is down to ageing and filtering. White, light or silver rums will have spent a shorter time in casks and are often charcoal-filtered to remove colour. Some golden rums then have caramel added to give them their colour. Aged rums gain their deeper tones from a longer time spent in the barrels, while dark rums will be produced from caramelised molasses and aged in charred barrels for extra depth of flavour and colour.

    Strong & Stronger

    While most rums are bottled at around 40% ABV, there’s one category of rum that is considerably stronger: Navy Rum. Its bottling strength of 57% ABV is a nod to the minimum alcohol level required of the Royal Navy for sailors to ‘splice the mainbrace.’* Wet gunpowder from booze spillage was a potential problem for naval vessels and 57% was the strength at which the explosive substance would still ignite if it came into contact with rum. The booze was tested by mixing a bit of gunpowder with rum and lighting it – if it went up in flame then it was ‘proof’ of alcohol (hence 57% being referred to as 100% English Proof).

    Rum & Coke

    Rum is, of course, a vital booze for anyone who likes to dabble with the art of cocktail making, and rum & coke is one of the popular cocktails around, due to ease of making and effectiveness. It began in Cuba around a century ago where it’s known as the Cuba Libra and uses the local light rum, served with or without a squirt and slice of lime. From Cuba it spread to America, then the rest of the world, where many variations have sprung that use rums of all distinctions. To make the classic version mix 120ml coca cola (no other coke will do), 50ml white Cuban rum and 10ml fresh lime juice in a highball glass filled with ice. Top with a wedge of lime. Dream of sunshine.

    Dark & Stormy

    Another popular rum-based cocktail is the Dark ‘n’ Stormy which is a combination of dark rum and (stormy) ginger beer, served in a tall glass with ice and a slice of lime. For a proper Dark ‘n’ Stormy the rum should be Gosling Brothers Black Seal – the company lays claim to the creation of the original cocktail in Bermuda and has trademarked the Dark ‘n’ Stormy name. They’ve even packaged up pre-made cocktails in their own Dark ‘n’ Stormy cans.

    Rum & Raisin

    Dark rum is one of the best drinks to have hanging around the kitchen. Not only is it great for a quick cocktail fix but it’s also a useful ingredient for cooking where its sweet, rich and boozy characteristics can pep up a plethora of puddings and sauces. Its most famous partner in recipe books is the raisin, first combined in ice creams by Sicilians, and since used in cakes, fudge, chocolate and other sweet confections.

    Five rums to try

    Aged rum for sipping

    El Dorado 15, 43%
    Country of production: Guyana

    El Dorado produce a range of award winning rich, fruity and spicy aged dark rums. The five year old is a bargain; 15 is exceptional and great value; or for money-no-object options they have even older rums.

    Buy now

    Dark rum for cocktails

    Goslings Black Seal, 40%
    Country of production: Bermuda

    The main player in a Dark ‘n’ Stormy, it’s sweet and treacly with burnt orange and caramel flavours.

    Buy now

    Light rum for cocktails

    Havana Club 3
    Country of production: Cuba

    Smooth and light with traces of vanilla, almond and oak it’s the ideal choice for mojitos and more.

    Buy now

    Navy rum

    Wood’s Old Navy Rum, 57%
    Country of production: Guyana

    For the ultimate winter-chill-buster this is surprisingly smooth with flavours of toffee and cracked pepper.

    Buy now

    Rhum Agricole

    Rhum Clément Vieux Select Barrel, 40%
    Country of production: Martinique

    A very different style from more familiar rums, this comes with grassy, herby notes alongside some light fruit and spices.

    Buy now

    Flavoured Rum

    Tiki Lovers Pineapple Rum, 45%
    Country of production: A blend of various Caribbean rums

    Rums suit flavourings better than most spirits, particularly if they’re enhanced with tropical additions like the sweet, fruity juice of pineapple in the cheerful tipple.

    Buy now

    *This nautical phrase means to partake in an extra ration of rum or grog – splicing (repair) a mainbrace (the rope used to support the mast of a sailing vessel) was a tough task so the successful repairman was rewarded with an extra helping of booze

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  • How to season wood

    February, eh? What a scorcher! We spent the latter half of the month prancing around in shorts, waving at early emerging butterflies and sniffing the sweet scent of early spring*. As we now creep into March, the weather has gone back to being a bit parky, and our thoughts waft back to this time last year when we had to wade through chest high drifts of snow on the way to the Co-op to fight someone for a pint of semi-skimmed.

    Winter often has a sting in its tail, and a rerun of last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ would certainly curtail our short-flouncing fun, not to mention being rather problematic for my hungry wood burner, should it need to be called back into action. Having coveted Nick’s wood store for the last year or so, I managed to bag my own –courtesy of Bentley Tools – and busied myself during the winter months by stuffing it with choice logs foraged locally**. My wood stash took a bit of a bashing over Christmas due to frivolous burning brought on by the dark evenings and cold, moaning relatives, and as you can see by the photos above, my store is in desperate need of replenishment.

    Anyone with a log burning stove will likely have had the temptation to round up any old bits of timber they can get hold of and chuck them on the flames: from trees lopped in your own garden, to fallen branches from the surrounding land or even tired old bits of furniture, but to get the best out of a wood burner (and to protect your chimney from sooty deposits), you really need to feed it with seasoned wood.

    How to season wood

    Seasoning wood is the process of leaving chopped bits of timber to naturally reduce their moisture content until they’re ready to burn. Most wood has between 30% to 45% moisture which should be reduced to 20% to 25%. If you’re chopping a tree for seasoning then winter is the best time to do this as it’ll be in its dormant period with no sap rising, giving you a better starting point to begin.

    Chop the wood into fire-ready pieces (smaller lumps dry quicker than big lumps) and make sure it’s stacked in a way that air can circulate throughout. Hence, the open, slatted sides of a wood store. If you’re lucky, depending on tree time and drying conditions, your winter-chopped wood could be ready for the fire in the following winter, but in most conditions it’s worth leaving it for at least 18 to 24 months if you can.

    If you can’t get your hands on seasoned wood, then look for fir – it’s a wood that burns better than most while still green. Fir has a high resin content which will cause spitting and crackling when flung on a fire, but it will generate an instant, high level of heat. For this reason, it’s an excellent choice to use as kindling.

    But what kind of wood would a wood burner burn if a wood burner could burn wood? Here’s six of the best to feed your fire.

    The best wood to burn

    Ash is considered one of the best woods to fling on your fire. It’s one of the few woods that can be burnt green (unseasoned) and produces a strong, steady flame with excellent heat output.

    Seasoned beech is another popular flaming beauty. It gives off a nice feisty flame and churns out decent heat. If you can, give it at least two years seasoning before burning.

    Keep hold of those apple tree prunings – when dry apple wood it burns nice and slowly and gives off a pleasant aroma.

    Another good burning wood that is well suited to stoves. We also like hawthorn berries...

    Oak takes the longest to season – ideally it should be left for a minimum of two years – but if you’re after a nice, slow burn, oak is the one to go for.

    Gives off great heat and a pleasant aroma, but it burns relatively quickly, so mix it with slower burning wood. It can be burnt unseasoned if you choose to do so, but be aware that birch wood can be quite sappy which will cause sooty deposits in your flue. For a birch-ey bonus, peel off the barch and use it as a firelighter.

    And three to avoid…

    Burning laburnum will create toxic gas. See also: Yew. Avoid.

    Smells like dog shite when burning – an aroma guaranteed to spoil the cosiest of fireside gatherings.

    A beachcombers stash of salt saturated wood can release toxic chemicals when burnt. Best save this timber for making rustic signs and flogging on Etsy for £££s


    Charles Bentley wood store available from BuyDirect4U for £99


    * Whilst try to ignore the elephant in the room – the elephant being irreversible climate change and impending global catastrophe.

    ** Taken from my neighbours supply, under the cover of darkness.

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