• Interview: Floristry tips with Wendy Rea of Direct2florist

    We rarely grow flowers purely to cut and display, and those that do end up in our houses tend to be stuck in a vase without much consideration for how they might look. We think it’s high time we upped our game.

    There aren’t many people better qualified to answer our cut flower queries than Wendy Rea, a floristry ace at Direct2florist. The online business was started in the UK over 20 years ago and now connects consumers to local florists worldwide, with friendly partners that extends to 21 countries and over 3,500 florists.

    We got in touch with Wendy to find out a little more about Direct2florist’s success and gather some tips to improve our own floristry attempts…

    What makes a good flower for bouquets and displays?
    Beauty is the main criteria but lasting quality is really important. 

    What varieties of flowers are proving popular with your customers at the moment? 
    More traditional varieties are very popular, such as peonies and sunflowers, but roses and lilies seem to be still the most popular.  

    What flowers should we consider growing in our gardens next year to make the best displays?
    The flowers I would suggest growing in the garden are what we in the profession call “fillers” – plants that include Astiloe, Alchemilla mollis, Aster September and Sedum. These are wonderful to fill out a vase of shop bought bouquet blooms.

    Where do you get your flowers from?
    We buy our flowers from a variety of sources. Direct from Holland, local wholesalers and British growers. It really depends on the season and quantities required.

    What makes Direct2florist the award winning service that members of the public use to send flowers?
    Product choice is fabulous, there is no extra charge for same day delivery, they are supporting real florists on the high street, the ordering process is very easy and transparent, and they are kept in the loop during every part of the delivery process.

    What sets Direct2florist apart from competitors?
    Low cost of membership and the fact that florists have the opportunity to still use their artistic flair. The 55,000+ reviews prove that customers love it as well.

    How do you set about creating a new combination of flowers for an arrangement?
    It almost comes naturally when you have been trained. However, odd numbers of flowers are easier to design with and having various size heads and differing textures create interest.

    Do you have any tips for keeping flower arrangements looking their best for as long as possible?
    Keep your water clean and remove all foliage if it’s under the water. Use flower food in your water – it really does work. Take off heads of flowers and leaves as they die. Not only does it look better but helps the other flowers to last longer.

    And finally, what’s your favourite flower and why?
    My favorite flower is a big blousy rose. Such as Four Seasons. Beautiful perfume and very romantic.

    This is a sponsored post

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  • Brewing a Wild Tea Beer with St Austell Brewery

    It’s advisable to have a clear head when you’re about to spend a day in a brewery making beer. That’s why we began a cool but clear September morning on a shingle beach, inhaling deeply while gazing at the sun rise across the sea with our backs to the Cornish village port of Charlestown. On waking our heads possessed a slight fog from the night before, but a bracing blast of sea air soon dealt with that inconvenience.

    That previous evening was spent in the The Harbourside Inn, a Charlestown pub owned by the nearby St Austell Brewery, where we enjoyed their latest Small Batch Beer, Anthracite, a delicious porter made in collaboration with New Zealand brewing stars The Yeastie Boys. Somehow, we managed to persuade Brewing & Bottling Manager Rob Orton and PR Manager Megan Hocking that their Small Batch series should also feature a beer brewed in collaboration with us: a beer that takes one of our favourite home grown teas at its inspiration.

    The tea that appealed to Rob’s experimental nature is our twist on a popular Moroccan combination of green gunpowder tea and lemon verbena – the twist being that we also like to add a couple of freshly picked hops to each during harvest season. So we loaded up the car with home grown lemon verbena and hops plundered from our gardens, allotment and nearby hedges, headed to Cornwall and began our beer brewing adventure. Here’s a photo essay of the day…

    Beach at Charlestown

    The picturesque village Charlestown also doubles up as Truro in Poldark*, making it a popular stop-off point for tourists visiting Cornwall’s south coat.

    St Austell Brewery tour

    St Austell’s Brewery has a complete, open plan brewing set-up used exclusively for small batch brews. It’s here their collaborations and experimental beers are made, with the whole process visible to tourists from the floor above.

    Rob Orton Small Batch Beers

    Rob Orton, our boss for the day and the man responsible for turning our Wild Tea Beer idea into something drinkable.

    Wild Hops St Austell Brewery

    For our collaboration beer we picked hops from our allotment, garden and neighbouring hedgerows along with some home grown lemon verbena. That wasn’t nearly enough for a full brew so Rob also ordered fresh and dry hops along with several large packs of dried lemon verbena and gunpowder tea.

    Brewers Breakfast malt beverage

    Rich inspects the malt used to brew the beer: 275kg Maris Otter (St Austell Brewery is the biggest buyer of this grain in the world), 50kg wheat and 25kg Cara malt. Once converted to a hot wort it’s time to check the sweet, malty liquid – a tasty drink referred to as ‘brewers breakfast.’

    Cleaning out mash

    St Austell Brewery is spotlessly clean, so after the hot wort has been run off it’s time to scrub out the mash tun.

    Mug of wild tea

    A ‘hop tea’ is made with the lemon verbena, green tea and hops to check that everyone is happy with the proportions of each ingredient.

    Brewing wild tea with herbs and hops

    The lemon verbena, green tea and fresh hops are poured into a hopback…

    Hot malt hop back

    …and the hot wort is added, extracting the various aromas, flavours and bitterness.

    Hot beer St Austell

    Rob regularly checks the hot beer before it’s transferred to the fermenter for the magic to happen. Then all we can do is wait.

    Thirsty Gardener Pale Ale

    We get to taste the finished beer (named ‘The Thirsty Gardeners Pale Ale’) three weeks later. Rob has done a great job – it’s full of fresh, green herbal aroma and flavour, with a good of hit zesty lemon (but without lemon’s sourness) and the unmistakeable tannic ‘bite’ of tea. The project also caught the imagination of the press, with a story running on the front page of the Cornish Guardian. “Tea and beer used to make perfect brew” – we couldn’t agree more.

    *Poldark is popular period drama featuring pits, scythes, glistening abdominals** and that bloke from Quadrophenia. Coincidentally, Nick’s home town Frome also masquerades as the 18th century Cornish capital in some other scenes from the show.

    **It’s Rich’s head that glistens when he’s in scything action.

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  • New Booze Round-up #13: Beer & art, beer & TV, beer & whisky…

    For this round we’ve been sent four beers that are worthy of a write up and something extra special to get us in the mood for Christmas…

    English whisky company beer

    St Peter’s Whisky Beer, 4.8%

    Nose around a tourist shop in Scotland and you’ll probably spy all kinds of consumables flavoured with whisky. Whisky fudge. Whisky cheese. Whisky chocolate. In most cases these will be perfectly good products that have been tainted by the taste of whisky. In theory, beer flavoured with whisky should be much more of a successful product as both start out in the same way – by fermenting malted barley – but in practice we’ve rarely had a good whisky beer.

    When St Peter’s brewery got in touch about their new whisky beer, brewed in collaboration with The English Whisky Company, we had a hunch that it might turn out better. Their beers are usually excellent and they’re adept at sympathetically introducing other ingredients into the mix. They sent us a brace of bottles and our hunch proved to be correct.

    The beer itself is golden, with peaty malt that gives it a smoky aroma and flavour that is reminiscent of German rauchbiers, providing the perfect foil for the measure of whisky that gives it an extra snap. There’s a slight sweetness to the malty body and subtle bittering that maintains its beery profile without competing with the whisky. Unlike some whisky cheese we’ve had the misfortune of eating this is a product in which two different flavours work perfectly in harmony with each other.


    Sadlers Peaky Blinder Lager Review

    Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Lager, 4.1%

    Around our way, Sadler’s flies a little under the radar. Some of the brewery’s products occasionally pop up in discount supermarkets but we hardly see it otherwise. Which is a shame because they’re a reliable brewer with a wide range of quality beers.

    As if to remind us of their existence they sent us a pack of their newly canned Peaky Blinder Lager, named after the TV-popularised gang from the same Midlands heartland as the brewery. Grumpy, peaked-cap wearing ruffians may not make the most attractive visual feature for a can of beer, but it obviously helps market the product and, thankfully, the contents are much more pleasant.

    There’s a good lager maltiness to this beer, with the flavour of the grains coming through and a light daubing of lemon peel and peppery hay to give it more interest and depth. It’s the kind of lager we might describe as ‘solid’ – one to load the fridge with, possessing enough flavour to be instantly rewarding, but also fuss-free allowing to drink without thinking. A perfect lager for drinking in front of the TV.


    Camden Harvest Hells Lager Review

    Camden Town Brewery, Harvest Hells, 4.6%

    We do like a drink of Camden lager. Their consistently excellent Hells must be close to reaching ‘classic beer’ status and its spin-offs are usually simple, classy affairs that tend to slip down a treat. The press release for their latest offering began with a succinct line to whet our appetites: “Move over summer, Autumn is here and so is Camden Town Brewery’s brand new beer, Harvest Hells.” So we called in a four pack which disappeared in a flash.

    The first can was enjoyed by Nick after a long afternoon of Autumnal garden toil, and it perfectly suited the moment: all the clean and refreshing flavour of a good lager but with a richer malt that aptly suited the season’s fading sunlight hours. And we don’t think there’s more we need to add: it’s a perfect lager in keeping with the Camden range.

    Available from Sainsburys and Marks & Spencer for a limited period

    Elemental Cucumis Sativus

    Fourpure x Toast x Tate, Elemental Cucumis Sativus, 6%

    An art gallery may not immediately spring to mind when you’re thinking of a place for a decent beer, but London’s Tate Modern gallery treats its booze as works of art and has a tap room teeming with glorious beer. They even hold a monthly tap takeover with brewers showing off their beer-making artistry over the course of an evening.

    To further promote this beer and art partnership the Tate has teamed up with breweries Fourpure and Toast to produce Elemental, a sour beer with the refreshing flavours of cucumber. Using bread that would otherwise go to waste (that’s where the Toast team come in) it’s an environmentally conscious brew too. We found it instantly enjoyable, with the sourness being restrained just enough to allow other light, sweet floral notes to emerge along with the cooling flavours provided by the addition of cucumbers. A beer for arty environmentalists or anyone else with a thirst to quench.

    Find out more about Tate Modern’s Tap Takeover here

    Really Good Whisky Advent Calendar

    24 drams of quality whisky tucked inside an advent calendar. We liked this so much that we’ve given it a separate review here.

    The post New Booze Round-up #13: Beer & art, beer & TV, beer & whisky… appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

  • A daily dose of Really Good Whisky… in an advent calendar

    We can tell we’re entering the last quarter of the year because drinks businesses have started to promote their advent calendars. This is a subject we have studied in depth, having worked our way through numerous boxes of various sizes and shapes with every kind of drink you can imagine lurking behind cardboard doors and windows.

    Last week we were sent a new advent calendar to consider when next writing on the subject and were so impressed that we have decided that it warrants a review all of its own. The calendar in question comes from The Really Good Whisky Company and contains 24 drams – most of them Scottish Single Malts, but also a few blends and unusual treats from elsewhere in the world.

    Whisky Advent Calendar 24 Drams
    Boxes of drams…

    The range and quality of these whiskies is exceptional – lots of new releases and limited editions* that will appeal to anyone with liking for whisky, from a host of distilleries that are well known for their excellence. There genuinely isn’t a dull of duff product among them. But what makes this advent calendar even more special is its presentation. The package is compact and orderly, each dram being tucked inside its own box with calendar number facing upwards. Lift out a box and the sides are printed with information about the whisky it contains – so not only do you get a 3cl taste of each spirit, but you also get to learn a little more about what you’re drinking.

    We won’t spoil the surprise by listing all of the contents but to give you a flavour of what the The Really Good Whisky Company is offering, here’s the lowdown on three of our favourite advent drams…

    Glenmorangie Balcata Whisky Bottle

    Glenmorangie, Bacalta, 46%

    Glenmorangie’s 10 year old is a popular Highland whisky, the kind that can kick-start a love of whisky, but it’s also one that will also be appreciated by those who already have shelves groaning under the weight of single malts. Bacalta is one of the distillery’s limited edition releases with a much higher price tag and more intense flavours than their classic 10 year old, making it a genuine treasure among the advent collection.

    The whisky has been finished in heavily toasted casks that have previously contained Malmsey Madeira before being left to bask in the Meditteranean sunshine. There’s an initial fruity caramelisation to the aroma and taste that is quick to fill the palette, while some light and toasty spices give it the feel of a winter warmer. Reviewers of this whisky regularly refer to ‘white chocolate’ in their tasting notes, and while this is no booze-filled milky bar, we can certainly detect what they mean – it has a similar creamy texture and the kind of sweet, tingly sensation you get if you scoff too much. As with Glenmorangie’s 10 year old this is exceptionally easy to drink but provides a lot more interest for those with a gap to fill on their whisky shelves.

    Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011

    Bruichladdich, Islay Barley 2011, 50%

    Islay distillery Bruichladdich was founded way back in 1881 but, after various changes of ownership and periods of being dormant, it wasn’t until the early 21st century that it sprang back into proper life with a mission to inject some excitement into the whisky market. Central to the brand’s beliefs is a dedication to the use of local ingredients in a forward-thinking way, but without ditching traditional practices. This is exemplified by their range of heavily peated malts under the Port Charlotte banner and their series of Islay Barley releases.

    This 2011 release is made with grain grown at six different locations on the island, each of them imparting different characteristics into the whisky, which is then matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-wine casks. 

    It’s another great dram to pull out of our box, but one we find difficult to describe as their are no blindingly obvious flavour comparisons to pick out. There is definitely something biscuity going on: something light like a crispy wafer or one of those long, sugar-sprinkled thins with rounded corners and a habit of falling into your tea. There are also some light, fruity notes: maybe pear, perhaps dried apricot, and certainly a zesty acidity from the wine casks. And continuing with this light theme we’re even going to allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion that Islay whiskies have something of the sea breeze about them: a splash of water added to the serving makes it feel as if the flavours are floating across the palette on a coastal drift.

    It’s not until the finish that a murmer of something darker stirs within the grains: almost certainly tobacco and perhaps a burnt edge or two to those unidentified biscuits. But however we try to describe those individual flavours there’s one word we can use to cover the overall effect: excellent.

    Glenglassaugh Evolution Whisky Review

    Glenglassaugh, Evolution, 50%

    The Glenglassaugh distillery, based in Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, is another old name that has been through turbulent times and has only recently started selling new bottlings. Boxes of miniatures – like this advent calendar – are a good way to discover what such new operations are capable of and Evolution is our first tasting of a Glenglassaugh release.

    It’s young and pale looking, but still has lots of flavour extracted from the ex-Tennesse whiskey casks in which it has been dwelling, and is mature enough to have any rough edges smoothed out. The aroma is certainly enticing, with the alcohol vapours wrapped in a sugary, creamy coating and a hint of fruit salad. Sup it neat and the 50% ABV thrusts forward lots of peppery spice; open it all up with a touch of water and the spice mellows to reveal more distinctive oak flavours and subtler notes of burnt fruits. Another distillery we’ll want to keep our eye on.

    To get your hands on this ace box of drams click here

    *Box #10 is definitely one to get excited about

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    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

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