• New booze round-up #20: Low alcohol beers and a calvados discovery…

    We like discovering new things and, in this round-up, we’ve been introduced to some great new things. Like a new retailer for alcohol free beer. And apple-based spirit, Calvados. We may be a little late on the Calvados thing (it has been around for centuries after all) but we’re now eager to make up for lost time…

    Drop Bear Alcohol Free

    Drop Bear Co Tropical IPA, 0.3%

    It’s always handy to know drinks retailers that offer something a little different than usual. Good Stuff Drinks recently contacted us to introduce themselves and let us know that among their huge range of low alcohol drinks products are a bunch of beers that we might be interested in. Besides a few of our favourites (hello ‘Lucky Saint’ and ‘VandeStreek Playground’) is a selection we’d not encountered before, so the Good Stuff good folk sent us over a quintet to get our chops around (see the main photo for the full line-up).

    Thumbs were lofted for the lemony Coast Beer Co’s 0.0% Hazy IPA, but top marks went to Drop Bear Co’s Tropical IPA with an intensity of flavour that few alcohol-free beers can match. It has a strong, rootsy bitterness that suited the chalky dryness you often find in such beers, while our senses were showered with fruity hop flavours. Like much of the British population we’re increasingly stocking up on alcohol free beers and, by the looks of it, Good Stuff Drinks will be top of the list for future purchases.

    Buy Drop Bear Co Tropical IPA


    Bottle of calvados

    Michel Huard Vieux Calvados, 40%

    Calvados, the French spirit made from apples (and sometimes pears) isn’t a drink we’ve had many dealings with, despite our love of cider. So we welcomed the opportunity to try out five of the best (and a Somerset Cider Brandy) as part of an online tasting session held by Dawn Davis of the Whisky Exchange.

    The first revelation was the discovery that some Calvados tastes EVEN BETTER THAN GIN* when mixed with tonic, with the fresh and vibrant Avallen being Dawn’s tonic-pairer of choice. Our favourite of the session was Michel Huard Vieux Calvados, aged for seven years and amazing value at under £50. Hugely complex, it has the tannic apple quality of some of our favourite ciders with bold and boozy oak flavours and a sweet marzipan softness to round it all out. Calvados may just be our new favourite drink.

    Buy Michel Huard Vieux Calvados, 40%


    440ml gose

    To Øl Gose to Hollywood, 3.8%

    During lockdown, Nick has avoided all large supermarkets, shopping instead at a couple of independent shops with schoolmasterly strictness on distancing policies, and combining these trips with the occasional visit to the wide-aisles of his local M&S. While browsing the beer shelves during his most recent visit he noticed a few new recruits, including local booze from the excellent Arbor Ales and Electric Beer and a change of offerings from Danish brewmeisters Mikkeller. 

    Just below Mikkeller on the Danish Beer Family Tree sits To Øl and they too are now listed at M&S in the shape of a 440ml can of gose, soured to the max with the addition of orange juice. It’s an outstanding summer guzzler (our cans disappeared in a flash), sour and salty enough to make your eyes squint with an orangey freshness shining through the mineral astringency. Delicious stuff.

    Buy To Øl Gose to Hollywood


    Nanobot session IPA can

    Beavertown Nanobot, 2.8%

    Beavertown has lately been shuffling towards the big brewery league, having welcomed an investment from Heineken in 2018, and it’s good to see such a player introducing a sub-3% ABV beer into its team of regulars. Nanobot is a session IPA which, at 2.8% neatly sits in the gap between a regular boozy beer and an alcohol-free offering, giving a decent amount of flavour with just a smidgeon of alcohol to the system.

    It’s a hazy, tropical kind of IPA-lite beer, with plenty of pineapple and soft peachy notes and a slightly tinny, piney, bitter finish. We enjoyed our cans and reckon it’s one to tuck into the picnic hamper when family picnics are back on the menu after lockdown…

    Buy Beavertown Nanobot

    *A bold statement indeed but we’re sticking with it.

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  • World Whisky Day 2020. The five best drams from unlikely countries

    The third Saturday of May marks World Whisky Day and to celebrate we’ve moved aside our bottles of Scottish, American, Irish and Japanese whiskies to enjoy a few drams from elsewhere in the world. To give you a taste of the whisky available from around the globe, here are five recommendations from less celebrated single malt whisky producing nations…


    Filey Bay Whisky Bottle


    Not that long ago Scots would chuckle at the paucity of whisky produced in England, but a recent spate of distillery openings has seen some fine boozes emerge, many of them good enough to give those from north of the border a run for their money. As an example of this increase The Whisky Lounge recently hosted a St George’s Day virtual lockdown tasting featuring whisky from five English distilleries – The English Whisky Company, Bimber Distillery, The Spirit of Yorkshire, The Lakes Distillery and The Cotswolds Distillery (for more information scroll to the end of this piece). Having visited the latter last year we’re already familiar with their excellent whisky and we were similarly impressed by the other boozes lined up for the evening. Looks like English whisky is here to stay.

    Try this: Filey Bay Moscatel Finish, 46%

    Filey Bay whisky is produced by the Spirit of Yorkshire distillery and this new release is our first tasting of their whisky. We got Eddie Ludlow, founder of The Whisky Lounge, to describe it for us: “The first thing that strikes me about the Moscatel Finish is a lovely, almost stem ginger and winey character running through it. It is a real sweety with lots of ripe citrus and summer fruits, like peaches and apricots. It also has a long, slightly oily finish and mouthfeel. Lovely stuff and perfect as an aperitif or a session whisky!”



    That Boutiquey Whisky Santis


    The trend for new whisky distilleries has been spreading across Europe for a while and we’ve previously enjoyed excellent offerings from The Netherlands (Millstone), Sweden (Spirit of Hven), Wales (Penderyn) and France (Brenne). New to us this year is Switzerland which has around 20 whisky distilleries, with Langatun leading the charge. Our most recent tasting came from the Santis distillery, courtesy of That Boutique’y Whisky Company, who have an impressive track record of seeking out and bottling drams from far flung places. The distillery was set up in the Appenzell Brewery, which dates back to the 19th century, with whisky production beginning in 1999 and the brewery’s beer barrels used to age the spirit.

    Try this: That Boutique’y Whisky Company Santis 10 Year Old Batch 1, 51.4%

    This deep gold liquid has a very sweet, toffee-coated fruitiness to the aroma which suddenly crackles with gingery spice on sipping. There’s lots of oak, a squeeze of pair and a dusty sprinkling of toasted nuts before a lingering dry spice finishes things off. A very decent dram indeed.



    Starward Whisky Bottle


    When we first looked into Australian whisky we were surprised at just how many distilleries the country contained (293 at the last count). Tasmania is the beating heart of the malted barley industry with 56 distilleries, thanks to an environment that is well suited to producing the spirit’s raw ingredients, including peat (albeit a different kind of peat to that found in Scotland). We have yet to properly explore the Aussie whisky output but have been suitably impressed by the few drams we have supped.

    Try this: New World, Starward Malt Whisky, 43%

    The New World Whisky Distillery is based in Melbourne and its Starward release has been earning many rave reviews. One such review was by us in a piece for the Independent where we remarked on it having “a warmth and richness that features nuggets of fruit-and-nut chocolate” before declaring it “a resounding success.” 



    Kavalan Whisky Bottle


    There is only one whisky distillery in Taiwan – King Car – but its whiskies are among the best in the world. Bottled under the name Kavalan they benefit from Taiwan’s subtropical climate, where the heat and humidity rapidly sucks flavour from the casks and causes a greater rate of evaporation, producing whisky that is rich, intense and full of complexity. It’s not easy producing whisky in this environment (not least because there aren’t many other distilleries with whom they can compare notes) but the brains behind Kavlaan have mastered the process with amazing results.

    Try this: Kavalan Single Malt 40%

    Full of flavour and a brightness that transforms the oak into something much fruitier. Rich with a tropical freshness that drips with honey and a luxurious creaminess that makes it feel like a much more mature beast than it is.



    Rampur Select Whisky Bottle


    No country produces or drinks more whisky than India. This is largely due to slacker rules on what can be classified as a whisky than other parts of the world (molasses is an accepted ingredient), but a nation with such an appetite for the stuff is bound to have at least a few top notch products. The three single malt distilleries you’re most likely to encounter in the UK are Amrut (distillery in Bangalore, single malt launched in 2004), Paul John (distillery on Goa, single malt launched in 2012) and Rampur, the original name of the vast Radicao Khaitan company who launched their first single malt whisky in 1995.

    Try this: Rampur Vintage Select, 43%

    This is a great entry level whisky, and not just for those looking to dip their beak into the Indian booze market. Smooth and sippable, with sweet vanilla and fruit flavours to the fore. Well worth a try.



    The full line up of English whisky from The Whisky Lounge Tasting Session

    The Whisky Lounge is a place where folk can discover whisky through various events and activities. Founder, Eddie Ludlow, had been keen to do something with English whisky for a while and, with the world in lockdown, decided to “fast-track it in our virtual tasting program.”

    The session featured a Q&A session with five English distillers and the opportunity for ticket-holders to taste their products while discovering more about their craft. According to Eddie “the event itself was our most successful virtual event so far, it sold out within days, with £5 from every of the 90 tasting packs sold, donated to The Drinks Trust. The feedback from the night has been incredible and I hope that we have been able to shine a light on the English whisky revolution! We have plans for lots of other virtual tastings including a revisit to English Whisky later in the year.”

    The five whiskies featured were as follows:

    The English Whisky Company – ‘Double Cask’ 46%

    Bimber Distillery – ‘Ex-Bourbon Cask’ 56.4% 

    The Spirit of Yorkshire – ‘Filey Bay Moscatel Finish’ 46%

    The Cotswolds Distillery – ‘Founder’s Choice’ 60.5%

    The Lakes Distillery – ‘Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.2’ 60.9%

    You can view the session in full on Facebook Live


    Read our feature on the best Scottish Whisky for 2020 here

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  • Greenhouse gardening: five top tips on how to grow tomatoes

    If, like me, you’re the lucky owner of a greenhouse (you can read our how-to-put-up-a-greenhouse guide here) then you’ll be grateful that it allows loads of plants to grow at a much faster rate than those left outside in the miserable British weather. The fastest developers in our greenhouse are undoubtedly the tomatoes: they are easy enough to grow in most conditions and a doddle under the warmth of clear glazing.

    Even though anyone can grow them, there are a few bits of advice worth following to help them fulfil their tomatoey potential. Here are our five top tomato growing tips…

    snip shoots from tomatoes

    Support, ripen and snip out those shoots…

    Our top five tips for growing tomatoes in your greenhouse

    1 Water
    Tomatoes are thirsty fruit. Give them a good guzzle of water when you first plant them and continue to water regularly. However, it’s worth treating them a bit mean in the early weeks by skipping a few days. This will stop their roots lazily lapping up the moisture within the immediate vicinity, encouraging them to go roaming to find more. The result will be stronger plants.

    2 Feed
    Despite what every expert and fruit-feed manufacturer says, you don’t need to feed tomatoes in order to get a harvest. But if you want bigger, better yields it sure does help. You can buy food (usually called something with ‘tom’ in the title such as ‘Tomogrow’*) or you can make your own. Nettles chopped up and left to soak in water works (although it’s a bit stinky) as does watered down manure (equally stinky). Comfrey and seaweed mulches are also recommended.

    3 Air
    Although your tomatoes will love the tropical steamy conditions created by your greenhouse, they will also benefit from a bit of air to circulate through an open window or door. Not only will this allow pollinating insects easier access than by forcing their thoraxes through gaps in the construction, but it will also create a more stable growing environment and discourage nasty damp-related diseases from taking a grip. Furthermore, when temperatures reach scorching levels during the day, they usually plummet at night, and this exaggerated shift on the thermometer ain’t much fun for a plant.

    4 Support
    If you think tomato plants are so clever, what with their quick growing and showy, tempting bright red fruits, then why do they have such feeble stalks that collapse as soon the first tomato adds its weight to their structure? Eh? Give them a hand and keep them in a vertical position by gently tying to stakes or creating a framework of string for them to lean against.

    5 Snip
    Turn your back for two minutes and those eager growers will be sprouting shoots between leaf and stem. Unless you’re growing a bushy variety you should regularly snip them out with a pinch of your fingers. You don’t want excess energy going into side shoots – keep the plants climbing high and fruiting big. Another snip at the top of the plant is advisable when you’ve got a good amount of fruits set to focus energy into the harvest, rather than the rest of the plant. You can then also dispense with leaves at the bottom of the plant – these will just get in the way while you’re picking and prevent air from circulating between plants.

    *We don’t think ‘Tomogrow’ actually exists. Looking for a name for your new tomato feed business? Have it and thank us later…

    For more information about our Palram Harmony greenhouse check out their website here

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  • Five fantastic aniseed flavours for home made teas

    While researching for our new book, Wild Tea, we developed a liking for brews with the flavour of aniseed and set out to discover as many as we could find. Here are our five favourites…


    The undisputed aniseedy ace – its roots, leaves and seeds can all be used as an ingredient. It’s the vast Wild Fennel that’s best and dominates corners of our allotment and garden, and the seeds* are the highlight. Lightly crush a teaspoon of dried seeds and steep in a mug of hot water five minutes.


    This Mediterranean plant has tiny seeds that are used in numerous sweets and boozes, including ouzo, absinthe, arak, sambuca and pastis. Lightly crush a teaspoon-full before adding to hot water or milk (a milky anise brew is a fine thing).


    Also known as Persian cumin and meridian fennel, these seeds are a common flavouring in rye bread. They have a milder aniseed flavour than fennel and are earthier with a slight peppery warmth to them. 

    Star Anise

    This spice is popular in Chinese cuisine and has a fruity aniseed flavour to it. Crush the stars into small pieces and use a teaspoon per cup for a fruity, spicy take on the aniseed theme.


    We were surprised to discover that liquorice can be grown in British gardens so are now the proud owners of a plant. It’s the root that has the aniseed magic and, for the best cuppa, you’ll need to simmer a 50mm length in water for ten minutes. Alternatively, chop and bash as best you can and steep instead.


    For lots more tea inspiration (including extended growing and brewing information on fennel and liquorice) get your hands on a copy of Wild Tea

    *Technically they’re the fruits…

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