• New Booze Round-up #16: Tea beer, gin tea and a rat inspired whisky

    The quality is extremely high in this round-up of boozes (and non-boozes) that have been delivered for us to review. We go big on tea, with a beer that uses Earl Grey as a flavouring and a caffeine-free brew that takes gin as its inspiration. And as a break from tea-time we have a top notch whisky blend contained in a bottle inspired by the Chinese Year of the Rat.


    Cans of Jack Brand Earl Grey Lager

    Adnams Jack Brand Earl Grey Lager, 5%

    In our ongoing quest to find booze flavoured with tea we have been introduced to a lager brewed with Galaxy hops and infused with Earl Grey tea. This type of black tea, enhanced with oil from the bergamot fruit, is one of the best tea-based adjuncts for beer, and with brewing aces Adnams at the helm we knew it would be good.

    So, why do we think Earl Grey should be a brewer’s best friend? As with this excellent lager, the bergamot oil gives it a citrussy aroma and flavour that you could imagine being squeezed from a brand new hop variety, in this instance marrying a treat with the peach and citrus notes of Galaxy. The black tea also lends an extra layer of flavour and aroma to beers, while the tea’s tannins help dry the finish, increasing the refreshment factor of our cold, canned lager.

    The quest for tea-flavoured booze will continue, but it’s the combination of Earl Grey and beer that sets the benchmark.



    Isle of Harris Gin Tea

    Isle of Harris Gin Tea

    The people behind Isle of Harris Gin have come up with an excellent idea, which they’ve executed to perfection: use the botanicals that go into their delicious gin to produce a caffeine-free tea blend. Open the lid and you’re met with such a fine aroma of gin that you’ll instinctively reach for the tonic, not the tea strainer, but submit the blend to the flavour-extracting abilities of hot water and a different drink emerges. 

    The juniper berries, those vital bitter fruits that are essential to all gins, sit more in the background at first, slowly infusing the tea with their slightly tart tang. This allows some of the other botanicals to take the lead, with cassia bark, coriander and the unusual sugar kelp among them, while a sweet thread of liquorice ties it all together with some tea-worthy depth. This is an excellent tea, the result of an idea so brilliantly simple we wish we had thought of it first.



    Ble Label Rat Illustrations

    Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Year of the Rat, 40%

    In the run up to the Chinese New Year (January 25th) we noticed an increased number of drinks producers trying to piggy back the event for publicity. Most had tenuous offerings to say the least. By far the best tie-in came from Scottish whisky blenders, Johnnie Walker, who produced a limited edition bottle of their Blue Label adorned with ‘Year of the Rat’ illustrations on three sides, and a further rat in gold and blue foil on the box. It all makes for a stunning piece of artwork, totally appropriate for one of the best blended whiskies money can buy.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Blue Label, it sits at the upper end of the Johnnie Walker range and is crafted from numerous old and rare whiskies, some from distilleries that no longer exist. It has all the oaky depth you would want from a mature whisky with a rich figginess and warming, smoke infused spices, sweetened and smoothed by chocolate and honey flavours. 

    This is the latest annual release of Blue Label whisky celebrating Chinese New Year, with the rat said to be a sign of wealth and surplus. And while you’ll need a certain amount of wealth to invest in this bottle, we’re sure that once you get a taste of it you won’t be leaving any surplus settling at the bottom of that beautifully illustrated bottle.


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  • Five ways to create shade in the garden

    Last summer there was a spell when the sun burned hot, and raising a watering can to parched vegetables was enough activity to cause sweaty waterfalls to tumble from foreheads. In my garden, there was no escape from the heat: like a great many English town gardens it was designed for maximum sun coverage during outdoor relaxation, rather than to provide shade.

    As my family lolled around the paddling pool, all we could find to cast a shadow over gently frying limbs was a large umbrella. Noticing our predicament (or perhaps sensing the aroma of burning flesh) our neighbours kindly gave us a child’s gazebo, no longer required by their now grown-up offspring. We all squeezed into it, while the dogs took over the patch of shadow afforded by the umbrella, stray tails and limbs singeing until they could cope no more and lunged for the cooler paddling pool waters.

    This year we need a better plan for introducing shade into the garden and have come up with five possible solutions. Here are those options…

    1. Trees

    Trees are great things. They can provide shelter from the rain and shade from the sun. Admittedly, huge, mature trees are better at this than anything we have in the garden, but it’s still possible to create some good dappled shade from smaller specimens. This winter I planted a pear tree in fairly close proximity to an established apple tree. In a few years their combined mass of leaves (and, hopefully, fruit) might just warrant me placing a garden chair somewhere between them for those sunniest days.

    2. Gazebos

    Since enjoying the small-scale success of our second hand child’s gazebo, I’ve been looking to see what alternative options there are for a gazebo from Garden & Camping and it turns out there’s a huge choice. From simple canopies to huge structures suitable for a party, a gazebo can be the main focus of a garden or something to be rolled out for a day or two at a time. If I go down the gazebo route then it makes sense to get one large enough to accommodate pool, family and dogs – and perhaps one that can be rolled into the back of the car for summer camping trips.

    3. Sheds and Summer Houses

    I currently have three sheds in the garden: a small one for wood, a larger one for tools, and a mess of a shed for junk. For the past few years I’ve been planning on tearing down at least one of the latter two and replacing it with something a little less on the verge of collapse. If I get round to the task this year then a consideration would be to install one with an extended roof, and maybe even an external floor, to allow for outdoor seating. I then have to decide if I arrange this outdoor area to maximise sunshine or shade…

    4. Fences

    There are already fences in my garden which cast considerable shadows when the sun is up. But, as is common, these fences are the backdrop to borders, not seated areas, and the only place I could currently place furniture for maximum shade is in the narrowest part of the garden which would clutter our access. It might be time to have a border rethink, finding room for a smart bench and surrounding it with taller, fragrant plants for shadier relaxation. Failing that, another option would be to add a new piece of fence to an area of the garden that doesn’t border the neighbours and call it a screen.

    5. Hop arches

    Throughout summer, Rich is constantly bragging about his mighty hop arch: four huge, curved pieces of metal that support his various varieties of hop. Not only do they allow his beery ingredients the perfect support for growing, but they also give him somewhere to shelter from the sun’s rays during time spent pretending to be out on weeding duties. Sadly there isn’t room in my garden for both a hop arch and a gazebo. I’ll put it to a family vote but I think I already know what the outcome will be.

    This is a sponsored post

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  • Flaming Hell! It’s a Firemizer and Firelbuilder review.

    It’s colder than a penguins arse outside, and although we know that physical allotment activity will help thaw out our frozen limbs, we can’t quite muster the enthusiasm required to make those first tentative steps towards the welly rack. Besides, there’s a mountain of leftover Christmas cheese to chomp through, and a quick flick on the tv guide reveals a pretty impressive run of Ice Road Truckers over on the History Channel.

    Time then to fire up the stove to fuel an afternoon of sofa-bound slothery, and as luck would have it, the good folks at Firemizer have sent us a couple of stove-enhancing products to test. This means we can legitimately call our house-bound loafing work, to help stave off any lingering feelings of self-loathing that may arise.

    First up is the eponymously named Firemizer, a fuel saving, flexible mat made from a blend of stainless steel alloys. To the untrained eye, it looks like the kind of by-product you’d get after giving a gorilla a full back wax, but according to the back of the packet, this device will save up to 38% of fuel. Hot stuff!

    Note: We forgot to take a picture of the Firemizer before use, so this is what one looks like after being fished out from a 4-inch bed of ash, post-fire.

    Installing the Firemizer is easy: simply cut it to fit the base of your stove and pile the logs (or coal) on top. It’ll then lurk at the bottom of your stove, and as the fire gets going, the general idea is that it spreads the heat evenly across your fire, meaning your fuel burns more consistently and thoroughly. Your fire should also stay hotter for longer which means it requires less stoking and refuelling. 

    To get our fire started, we’ve got a stash of Firemizer ‘Firebuilders’ to try. Firebuilders are toblerone-y looking bricks made from recycled cardboard and are designed to act as firelighters whilst also cutting out the need for pesky kindling. A sniff reveals a distinct lack of odour (unlike the pile of cheese currently residing on a plate next to the telly) and a glance at the back of the box tells us that Firebuilders contain no kerosene – a common ingredient in your bog standard firelighter. Anyone who’s fiddled with kerosene firelighters will recall their pungent, petrol-station pong. Kerosine also churns out nasty chemicals when burnt, so consider Firebuilders an eco- friendly, non-toxic alternative.

    We did note a slight performance downside with the Firebuilders. Unlike traditional Kerosene-laced ones, Firebuilders take a while to light. Ours took a few matches before bursting into life, and It was then 5-10 minutes before our (quite substantial) logs got going and our stove started to generate decent heat. We also missed that initial burst of warmth that a flaming pile of softwood kindling affords. Once going though, our Firebuilder burned away merrily for a good 40 minutes before crumbling to dust.

    With regards to the Firemizer, its performance was difficult to quantify, especially when assessing how long the fuel lasted when compared to a similar, Firemizer-less fire. There are lots of variables to consider, for instance the type of wood being burnt, the moisture content of the wood, how open are the stoves vents etc. We did however, note an even burn across the base of our fire, and can confirm that we got a good way through series four of Ice Road Truckers and managed to polish off half a wheel of Stilton and the remaining Yarg before having to re-stock the fire.

    We give Firemizer a big old eco-friendly, double-thumbs up, but don’t just take our review as gospel, try them out yourself here:


    A Firemizer costs £19.99
    Firebuilders cost £6.99 for a box of five bricks, which will be enough to ignite up to ten fires.

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  • New Booze Round-up #15: Boozy tea, whisky, wet hop and cider from Luxembourg

    Welcome to our first New Booze Round-up of 2020, where we showcase our pick of the products sent to us to review over the festive period. You’ll find some interesting new blends of booze and tea; an excellent IPA; a 12 year old whisky that we’ve not previously tried; and some alcohol-free beers that are perfect for those embarking on a Dry January.

    noveltea blends

    Noveltea, Oolong Tea with Whisky, 11%

    We reckon that tea is an under-explored ingredient in the booze market, so we were excited to hear from a new brand called Noveltea, who blend tea with spirits to create drinks at a very sippable 11% ABV. In the run up to Christmas we tested out three Noveltea releases with a full tasting panel, and feedback was mixed: for some the cocktail-ish blends didn’t quite work, but others declared them among the best new drinks they’ve tried in a while. The blend most flavoured was a combination of Oolong Tea and Whisky (the others were Earl Grey with Gin and Moroccan Mint with Rum), where the fragrant tea was complemented by sweet mango and the whisky brought out some depth and dryness. A pleasant whisky twist to tea-time.

    BUY from £9.95


    BigDrop alcohol free cans beer

    Big Drop Brewing Co, World Collab Series

    In the past few years, the alcohol-free beer market has massively upped its game, with lots of new releases providing quality and variety. Big Drop is a brewery at the forefront of alcohol-free innovation and one we’ve been keeping a close eye on. Towards the end of last year they pushed the boozeless boat out even further with some remarkably good collaboration beers, exploring new flavours with some of the most exciting breweries in contemporary beer scene: Fyne Ales, Salt, Fourpure and Harbour. 

    The four beers encompass a wide range of styles, with a hibiscus saison, raspberry gose and black IPA in the pack. Our pick of the drinks was an India Pale Lager, brewed with Salt Beer Factory, that more than matched our expectations of the advertised style: light and refreshing with a good pale malt backbone and some lively hopping in the mix. Let’s hope Big Drop have a few more alcohol-free collabs earmarked for 2020.

    Find out more


    anCnoc 12 Year Old, Single Malt Whisky, 40%

    We consider ourselves easy people to buy Christmas presents for: there is hardly a type of booze we don’t like.* Of the gifted bottles we eagerly opened this time round, anCnoc 12 Year Old whisky was the pick. The first thing that appealed was the packaging – one of the best we’ve seen for a whisky. The design is understated but full of finesse, with a sketchy illustration of the Knockdhu Distillery, and effectively simple and elegant typography.

    We know that you shouldn’t judge a whisky by it’s label, but it perfectly echoed the drinking experience: seemingly simple and unfussy at first, but with subtle fruits and spices that gradually build a much more complex picture. It has quickly established itself as one of our ‘front of shed’ boozes, kept at easy reach for quick access. It has also become a key player in tasting sessions – the whisky we use as our ‘control’ – and it made the best hot toddy we’ve had in a long while.

    And the extra good news is that when our gift bottle runs out (soon, we imagine) it won’t break the bank to replace it.

    BUY £30.95


    Borough Market Wet Hop IPA, 4.3%

    One of our favourite beers of last year came from Borough Market, who teamed up with Daniel Tapper of the Beak Brewery to produce an outstanding saison brewed with Earl Grey Tea (yes, more boozy tea). To celebrate the market’s 21st anniversary they’ve put their brewing hats back on, this time with Villages brewery lending a hand, to conjure an IPA full of fresh ‘wet’ Fuggles hops grown in the Market Hall.

    To compliment the florally fresh, green and earthy taste of those English hops, further flavour has been squeezed from Ekuanot, Azacca and Mosaic hops, making it juicy and fruity with a decently bitter finish. It’s an invigorating kind of IPA; one where a sip turns into a glug and you’re quickly checking to see if there’s any beer left in the can for one more mouthful. The best beers always leave you wanting more, and oh do we want more.


    Ramborn Medium Dry Cider, 5.8%

    We’ve had this cider on our radar for a while now while now but this is the first time we’ve managed to get our hands on a bottle and give it a good old glug. We’ve not exactly been avoiding it, but (and this may sound all Brexity and ignorant**) Luxembourg is not the first country that comes to mind when imagining lovely pints of cider from bucolic orchards weighed down with bounteous fruits. Luxembourg makes us think of strongly performing investment banks and the birthplace of, er, (checks Google) Jean-Claude Juncker.

    But what fools we have been! Ramborn cider is a beautiful, straw- coloured cider with a cheek puckering acidity and soft tannins – well worth its place amongst Somerset’s finest in our handsomely stocked cider shed. At the time of writing, Ramborn ciders are not readily available in UK shops, but you can grab some from our favorite online cider-peddlers, Crafty Nectar.

    Click HERE, buy a case and wrap your junkers around a lovely golden pint.

    *Rich’s gift to Nick – Camden’s 2019 Year Beer; Nick’s gift to Rich –  a bottle of Pedro Ximinez Sherry.

    **We most certainly aren’t Brexity.

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