• New Booze Round-up #14: Rums, gin jam and how to create a perfect storm

    Our latest round-up of the booze that’s making the nooze includes a pair of beers, a couple of rums and a gin-and-jam combination that we reckon would serve as a decent stocking filler. We’ve also got a “low waste” cocktail recipe for you to enjoy. Thanks, as ever, to the good folk who sent us samples for this feature…

    Grander 8 Year Old Panama Rum, 45%

    There are two things that interest us about the narrow strip of label on this bottle. Firstly, it’s a rum from Panama, and we’re not sure we’ve previously tried any booze from that country. And secondly, it displays a ‘no additives’ message. Adding sugar (and other flavours) to a rum isn’t considered as much of a crime as it is with other spirits, but even so it’s good to see a product declaring its purity.

    Both 8 and 12 year old Grander rums were released in the UK for the first time earlier this year, and we were grateful to get our hands on a bottle. It has been aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, which help to lend it some toasty spices to the smooth vanilla flavours of the rum, and it’s clean and flavoursome enough to sip neat while being suitably punchy for a cocktail. A good all-rounder for the rum drinker.


    The Kraken ‘Reef Wreckage’, 47%

    Everyone is familiar with The Kraken spiced rum, yes? There’s nothing new about this booze. What’s new is the fancy limited edition ceramic bottle this Kraken is packaged in.

    The ‘Reef Wreckage’ bottle has been produced to help raise money for the good work done by marine conservation movement Surfers Against Sewage, and in particular to highlight the damage currently being done to the world’s reefs.

    It follows a successful campaign last year when The Kraken teamed up with the organisation to help clean up beaches across the UK. To go with our rum we were also sent a recipe for a ‘low waste perfect storm’, which turned out rather well, so we’ve published it below. And while you’re drinking it please check out www.theleagueofdarkness.co.uk for more information on The Kraken’s work to help protect our oceans.

    Pinkster Gin Cracker Gift

    We’ve been getting festive in the Thirsty Gardeners Test Shed, pulling box-loads of booze-filled Christmas crackers to give them a thorough test for a piece in the Independent. Our ears are still ringing to the noise of the bangs and we’re slowly trying to win back friends after trying out appalling cracker jokes on them for the last few weeks.

    One cracker that didn’t quite make the cut, but is worthy of a mention, was sent to us by Pinkster Gin. It was felt to be lacking in traditional festive values for the piece (no bang, hat or joke and dressed in branded pink livery), making it more of a gift purchase than one to sit next to the turkey. But there’s nothing wrong with the contents. Not only do gleeful recipients get a bottle of Pinkster Gin but they are also rewarded with a small jar of gin jam. This boozy bonus gives you not just something to knock back after the Christmas pudding has been demolished, but also a gin-based spread to for your boxing day breakfast, bringing Gin O-Clock forward by several hours.


    Anspach & Hobday, The Porter, 6.7%

    This isn’t a new beer. We’re featuring it because, along with Anspach & Hobday’s The Cream Ale and The IPA, it has just been added to Marks & Spencer’s range of core beers. It’s one of our favourite ever porters, brewed by one of our favourite UK breweries, now available in the shop where Nick buys most of his beers. And if that’s not good news then we don’t know what is.

    If the beer is new to you then here’s how we described it last year in a feature for the Independent: “A richly delicious dark drink that has layers of every kind of roasted malt flavour you can imagine. Porter perfection.”

    Camden Town Brewery, Off Menu IPA, 5.8%

    Another drinks round-up and another mention of Camden Town Brewery. They keep sending us new releases, we keep being impressed by their quality, so we continue to write about them. It’s a happy chain of events.

    But there’s something a little different about this latest can of beery brilliance: it’s not a lager. Surprisingly, for a brewery that has been in operation since 2010, this is their first IPA and, just like those lagers, it’s effortlessly simple and refreshing.

    We had our first can with a substandard takeaway curry* and it hit all the right notes, thrashing the food for flavour and making the whole meal more enjoyable as a result. It has some of the hazy juiciness favoured by contemporary IPA brewers and a pronounced sharp, piney bitterness, with a maltiness that left a sticky sweet mark on our ghee-stained lips. A delicious IPA that deserves much better from any accompanying food.


    Low Waste Perfect Storm Recipe

    50ml The Kraken Black Spiced Rum
    25ml soda or sparkling water
    1 lime
    4 slices of ginger
    2 cubes of sugar (or 10g)
    1 star anise
    1g all spice
    1 cassia bark slice (ie. a bit of cinnamon stick)
    2 whole cardamoms

    Cut a lime in half. From one of the halves slice off a wedge for a garnish. Squeeze the lime juice into a cocktail shaker then chuck in the used husks.

    Pour in 50ml The Kraken Rum and top up with 25ml water.

    Add the sugar and spices (we suggest cracking the cardamoms first), seal, and shake for a good 10 seconds to dissolve the sugar then leave to infuse for five minutes.

    Strain into a glass, add ice and top up with soda or sparkling water, not forgetting lime garnish.

    This is called a ‘low waste’ cocktail because, according to our press release, it uses “low waste ingredients” and “all ingredients are compostable.” We reckon you can reduce waste further by reusing the ingredients (with the addition of more lime juice) for several more of these cocktails before composting.

    *Vegetable dopiaza. Undercooked wedges of onions with a few frozen peas and sweetcorn served in an oily slick of tomato gravy.

    The post New Booze Round-up #14: Rums, gin jam and how to create a perfect storm appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

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  • How to pickle onions

    Rich rarely passes up an opportunity to mention his gherkins. “Look at how magnificent they have grown” he squeaks all summer long. “Behold my giant jar of crisp, pickled gherkins” he boasts whenever I pop round his house for another tedious team meeting.

    While it’s true that his gherkins are firm, knobbly and sour enough to make a chef blush, I much prefer to grow and pickle onions, believing that no vegetable tastes as good after a prolonged bath in vinegar than the princely edible allium.

    Cracking open a jar of my pickled onions has become a Christmas day tradition, as ritualistic as the pulling of crackers, the flambéing of Christmas pudding and the opening of a bottle of strong, dark beer as soon as breakfast has settled.

    So now, with another November pickling safely negotiated, I feel the time is right to share my methods, giving you all the chance of getting one up on Rich and his jar of knobbly gherkins.

    A step-by-step guide to pickling onions

    1 First, choose your onions
    You can use any type of onion (slice them if they’re big) but shallots are the best. There are even some varieties that have been specially marked out for their pickling excellence which are available to sow or buy if you look hard enough. The key attribute for prime onion pickleability is a bullet-like firmness.

    2 Next, peel your onions
    You could reach straight for the knife to whip off the brown skins but, for a more precise and easy peel, first soak them for five minutes in a bowl of boiling water and rinse until cool enough to handle. Trim the bare minimum from the tops and bottoms (excess trimming could cause more layers to slip off) and the skins should peel away with ease.

    3 Salt your onions
    Now roll your bald onions in salt and leave in a bowl overnight, rinsing the salt away in the morning before patting dry. Although this stage is optional, the salt-and-rinse method will extract moisture from within the onion and you will be rewarded with a crisper, crunchier, firmer pickle in the long run. Worth the extra effort.

    4 Prepare your pickling vinegar
    You could use cider vinegar.
    You could use wine vinegar.
    You could use clear distilled vinegar for clarity of onion.
    Or you could use a combination of all three.
    But for the best results use good ol’ dirty brown malt vinegar. You’ll need roughly an equal volume of water to weight of onions – ie 100ml vinegar for every 100g of onions. And you also need 40g white sugar per 100g onions.

    Pour the vinegar into a pan and add your sugar and the allaimportant pickling spices. I go for the following:

    1 teaspoon mustard seed

    1 teaspoon of black pepper

    1 bay leaf.

    I also produce an extra jar with a teaspoon of dried chilli added, should anyone dare complain that my standard pickle isn’t spicy enough.

    Gently heat the vinegar and spices for five to ten minutes (don’t let it boil), stirring to dissolve the sugar, then set aside to cool.

    5 Pack your pickles
    Now is the time to pack your onions into jars. You’ve sterilised your jars first, yes? If not, wash in hot water and dry in an oven on a low heat. Or chuck them in the dishwasher. Make sure you allow them to cool before the cooled vinegar goes anywhere near the glass.

    Place the onions into the jar leaving as little space between them as possible (think like a dry-stone-waller and build layers of onions according to size and shape). Fill with the pickling vinegar, including the spices (although I always remove the bay leaf), until the onions are covered. Seal the jar and store somewhere cool and dark, six weeks being an optimum minimum length of time (but don’t worry if you need to eat them sooner).

    Pickle perfection is as easy as that. Enjoy.

    Easy recipe for pickled onions
    Seeing as we’ve offered no sense of scale in this photo you’ll have to believe us when we say these are big onions in a big jar

    To take a gander at Rich’s gherkins and learn how he pickles them, head on over to this page

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  • A boozy guide to pairing sherry with food

    Folk will forever argue over what combination of booze and food is the best. In our part of the world, cheese and cider will win the most votes. Elsewhere, countless others wouldn’t consider anything other than wine when it comes to drinking with dinner. And who can argue against a crisp, cold, flavoursome lager when a spicy curry is on the menu?

    But we* are among the steadily growing band of people who reckon the best booze to go with food is sherry, especially if you’re tucking into a whole menu of flavours such as those served in a tapas. To help us with our sherry and food pairing education, Nick recently headed over to Spanish food and drink aces Bar44 in Clifton, Bristol, for a tapas extravaganza, held as part of International Sherry Week.

    The event was attended by restaurateurs, wine educators and members of the booze-based press who were all treated to some of the best tapas dishes we’ve tasted, each course further enhanced by some fantastic sherries courtesy of Bodegas Barón. If you’re keen to discover more about how to match sherry with food then we reckon this expert insight from Bar44’s director, Owen Morgan, on the evening’s menu is a good place to start…

    Bar44 Director Owen Morgan
    Owen Morgan – Bar44 Director and sherry connoisseur

    Xixarito Manzanilla Pasada en Rama

    Paired with: Cuttlefish croquetas, Jamón Ibérico de bellota, Apple ajo blanco

    Manzanillas are sherries produced on the coast that are dry and light with a seaside freshness, making them excellent partners for salty snacks and especially seafood. The Xixarito Manzanilla was served by Bar44 to go with our appetisers, enjoyed in the bar before wandering down to the vaults for the main event. ‘Manzanilla’ is also the word used in Spain for ‘chamomile tea’ as the sherry is said to have similar flavour characteristics. 

    Owen describes the sherry as having “ultra dry, bready, almond, zest and chamomile notes. Serve straight from the fridge and, like all sherries, in a proper sized wine glass to show it off as the great wine it is.”

    In brief: Manzanilla + Salty Snack

    Soluqua Manzanilla

    Served with: Carpaccio of carabinero prawn, seaweed, prawn head vinaigrette

    Once seated, our first course was a stunning seafood prawn dish, served with another Manzanilla – this one 12 years old which, according to Owen, “is about as old as it gets for this style.” He adds that it “still retains a beautiful seaside freshness, yet has a sophistication and a rounded finish.”

    In brief: Aged Manzanilla + Light Seafood

    Xixarito Amontillado

    Served with: Brixham scallop, Cinco Jotas Jamón consommé, jamón crumb

    Manzanillas are aged under a protective layer of yeast, known as ‘flor’, which prevents the wine from oxidising. This Amontillado started life as a Manzanilla but was finished in contact with oxygen before being bottled. According to Owen, this process “gives it toasted notes and a completely different style, although it’s still completely dry. It complements the depth of a great acorn fed cured ham consommé as well as the sweet freshness of Brixham scallops.”

    In brief: Amontillado + Rich Seafood

    Xixarito Palo Cortado
    Palo Cortado + Pork + Mushrooms + Clams + Truffle. Food and drink heaven.

    Xixarito Palo Cortado

    Served with: Wild mushroom, Ibérico pork, clam, bone marrow, black truffle

    For this course, Bar44 brought out the big guns. Deliciously tender slices of pork were enriched with a myriad of intense wild flavours from mushrooms, clams, bone marrow and black truffle. And to drink with it we were treated to an outstanding Palo Cortado, “the rarest and most sought after style with collectors and connoisseurs” according to Owen.

    Describing the style of Palo Cortado sherries is as complex as the flavour, but essentially they have been aged under a flor, which naturally breaks up under mysterious circumstances, before maturing and taking on richer colours and buttery flavours like an Oloroso. It’s the kind of booze-magic we love, and Owen tells us that “this particular Palo Cortado is the one and only bottle on UK shores, past or present, and has an average ageing of 35 year. A true treat. Intense, angular, but nutty and toasted with orange peel notes.” (So, yes, Nick did help himself to a second glass).

    As for the food pairing, Owen continues with full enthusiasm: “A perfect foil for rare ibérico pork and briney sweet clams. Indulgent bone marrow amontillado clam juice sauce enriches the combination and brings everything together. Some shaved black truffle and you’re in food and drink heaven!”

    In brief: Palo Cortado + Pork

    Soluqua Oloroso

    Served with: Wild duck, salsify, oloroso & membrillo, walnut, hispi 

    The sherries are now getting significantly darker as we reach for an Oloroso, a strong booze that comes in a range of styles, from sweet to dry, and is characterised by heavy oxidisation as a result of the flor being intentionally broken up.

    The Oloroso served by Bar44 was suitably special, as Owen explains: “Soluqua is the ancient name for Sanlucar de Barrameda, the home town of Manzanilla. The Soluqua name is also given to the range that Bodegas Baron used to reserve just for the family and special occasions. Their Oloroso is 30 years old and is a deep, powerful, dry Palomino**. With dry aged mallard breast, confit leg, nutty cabbage and some sweetness of quince given to the duck carcass sauce, it hits on all levels.”

    In brief: Oloroso + Duck

    Soluqua Pedro Ximénez

    Served with: Part 1 – Aerated Galician blue from Jersey cows milk, fig, px raisin syrup, hazelnut

    Part 2 – Dark chocolate, chestnut caramel, sea salt, pear olive oil cake, poached pear

    The Pedro Ximénez grape is a sweet variety that is allowed to dry in the sun before being fermented. The resulting sherry is a thick, syruppy sweet dessert wine – “the darkest, sweetest wine of them all!” Owen declares. “Unlike Manzanilla, which is the driest wine of all (under 1g of sugar per litre), examples of ‘PX’ can be up to 50% sugar!”

    Owen goes on to describe this Soluqua PX as having “classic flavours of dates, raisins and figs combined with notes from the ageing of leather, tobacco, roasted nuts and spice.”

    To show off its versatility, the sherry was paired with two contrasting dishes, one savoury and one sweet. First up, things got a little cheesy, as Owen describes: “An aerated blue cheese with fig and hazelnut, along with some rosemary sea salt crackers on the side to mop it all up. The salty cheese reacts beautifully to the ultra sweet sherry.”

    And with the sweet dessert of pears, chestnuts, caramel, dark chocolate and sea salt, the thick and sticky sherry felt part of the actual dessert, prompting Owen to point out that PX sherry is often poured over desserts as a boozy sauce. 

    In brief: Pedro Ximénez + Cheese & Dessert


    From the bone dry Manzanillas that demand to spend time with a salty snack, to a sherry so rich and sweet it can be used as a dessert, and all the shades and textures in between, we’re not sure any other booze can quite compete with the range of food pairing options that are afforded to the sherry drinker. Salud!

    For more on Bar44 visit www.bar44.co.uk

    To discover more about Bodegas Barón sherries visit bodegasbaron.es/en

    Thanks also to Bodegas Barón importers Morgenrot for the invite

    *In this instance ‘we’ means ‘Nick’. Rich still hasn’t fully explored the sherry and food alliance and was unable to attend this event. He still drinks cider with everything.

    **The grape variety, not the horse. The Palomino grape produced all of the sherries apart from the Pedro Ximinez, emphasising how much variety can be achieved from the various ageing methods for sherries.

    Sherry novices (like Rich) might want to check out our beginners guide to sherry styles

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