• Tyne and Weary: Out on the town in Newcastle – via Zoom

    This June we had scheduled a journey up north to see the sights of Newcastle with some of our old pals. The weekend of activities had been carefully curated by Steve, our resident Geordie mate, who had planned the following:

    • A trip to the Wylam Brewery 
    • A trip to Bigg Market to watch some fights
    • A trip to the River Tyne to see some fog
    • A Geordie dining experience featuring stottie cakes* and saveloy dips**

    Unfortunately this planned weekend of ‘waye-aye-ing’ was properly scuppered*** by COVID 19, so instead we had to settle for an unsatisfactory evening of banter and booze, conducted via the medium of Zoom. Whilst clearly not as good as a weekend away in the land of coatless Magpie fans, we made best by drinking north-east based boozes – notably quite a few from Allendale Brewery – along with a few diversions.

    Here’s what we drank.
    (Note: This list is shared across six people. We’re not complete animals…)

    Newcastle Brown Ale x2
    Allendale Wagtail x2
    Allendale Golden Plover
    Allendale Wilderness
    Allendale Wolf
    Allendale Pennine Pale
    Little Valley Brewery Withens Pale
    World Top Brewery Angler’s Reward
    Woodforde’s Norfolk Nog x2
    Keltek Brewery Magik
    Delirium Tremens
    Hobson’s Brewery The Manor
    Tynebank Brewery Monument
    Hawkshead Brewery Lakeland Gold
    Hadrian Border Brewery Grainger Ale
    Wainright Altitude
    St Peter’s Plum Porter
    Kopperberg Mixed fruit cider

    Snacks consumed

    1 Family bag of kettle chips
    1 Sainsburys microwave ‘Heat me and eat me’ kebab
    1 Charcoal Brick Cheese (whatever that is)

    Now clearly this considerable collection of boozes led to quite a few bad heads the following morning, so it was as good a time as any to test out the selection of O.R.S Hydration tablets, sent to us by the lovely folks at Jams PR

    O.R.S Hydration tablets (we’re reading off the side of the packet for this bit) contain a scientifically balanced formula of electrolytes, glucose and essential minerals to restore the body’s electrolyte balance and reduce tiredness and fatigue – perfect then for fending off the after effects of an evening glugging multiple ales. Regular O.R.S tablets are available in blackcurrant, lemon and strawberry flavours, but we took a shine to the supercharged ‘sport’ version that contain extra electrolytes for our extra bad headaches.

    Our pal Cat Dawson (Zoom picture: glassy-eyed, top left) managed to cop a titanic hangover courtesy of a Delirium, consumed with ill-advised gusto during the latter stages of the evening. Unfortunately he had to tough out his monster Belgian hangover without aid from our lovely O.R.S-es, but we will ensure he receives some of our cast-off tablets in good time for next month’s Zoom booze.

    The theme?

    Belgian beers…

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    Get your O.R.S. Hydration Tablets here

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    We purchased our beers through online beer aces, Beers of Europe. Get yersen some canny boozes here.

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    * Bread rolls, by any other name.

    ** A phrase you really don’t want showing in your Google search history.

    *** Props to Ian Nicholls, General Manager of the Best Western Sure Hotel, who offered us a full refund on our bookings.

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  • Wild Tea. An announcement about our book

    This summer was due to be filled with launch parties and festival visits as we were all set to launch our new book to the world: Wild Tea.

    It was written, designed and printed, but then along came two large spanners that firmly lodged their rusty bits in the works.

    The first of these you can guess: Coronavirus, which has caused all sorts of logistical problems for publishers, not to mention the cancelling of launch parties and festivals at which to promote books.

    Secondly our publisher, Eddison Books, was put up for sale prior to the launch date which consequently put everything on hold. 

    Happily, book aces Welbeck Publishing has scooped up Eddison, including the publishing rights to our book, so it will still see the light of day. But it has been decided that it’s best to start again with launch plans next year, so Wild Tea won’t be hitting the shelves until spring 2021.

    If you’re one of the good folk who has already pre-ordered the book then please accept our apologies for not having received it (if it’s any consolation, we still haven’t seen the final printed thing). Please contact the retailer who made the sale to find out about their policies regarding refunds or re-scheduled deliveries.

    If we have any updates we’ll post them on this site and look forward to seeing you at some of those festivals in 2021.

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  • New booze round-up #21: stargazing with a Siren beer and some whisky stars

    This month we were invited to watch the stars with Siren Brewery and sample their latest beer. We also attended a virtual Islay whisky festival, tried an aqua vitae from an exciting new distillery, boshed a ‘booch and were treated to a neighbourly gift of lager…

    +++++

    Siren, Lumina, 4,2%

    We consider ourselves experts in staring blankly into space, but Berkshire-based Siren Brewery have enlisted the help of Oxford University astrophysicist Dr Becky Smethurst (pictured above) to give a Zoom-based stargazing masterclass to help launch their latest beery creation. 

    Inspired by the celestial, Lumina is a golden glowing session IPA with flashes of delicate citrus. Maris Otter provides the malty backbone for a stellar line up of hops – Hallertau Blanc, Mosaic and Chinook are flung in at kettling stage, whilst Azacca, Mosaic, Ekuanot and Hallertau Blanc are propelled into the mix late on to provide Lumina with its distinctive tropical notes. The addition of oats gives it a full mouthfeel while its gluten-free creds will help widen its appeal.

    Siren have brewed Lumina to sit alongside their flagship range, and we think it complements the rest of their line-up perfectly. We are more than happy to sing to the sound of this Siren.

    Buy Lumina here

    +++++

    Bunnahabhain whisky drams

    Bunnahabhain, Fèis ìle 2020 Wee Drams

    During lockdown we’ve been taking part in more drinks launches than ever before, courtesy of tasting sessions via Zoom and Facebook. This is something we hope continues long after lockdowns are lifted – an hour of our time over the internet is much easier than the schlep down to London where most launches take place.

    Even more of a schlep (but a worthy one) would’ve been the Fèis ìle 2020, a big whisky knees-up on Islay (which we have shamefully never visited). Sadly the event was cancelled this year, but Islay distillery Bunnahabhain held a very well attended Fèis-at-Home instead with whisky experts from the distillery and further afield talking us through three wee drams via Facebook Live.

    These special whiskies got better each time. First up was a Madeira Cask Finish 2002, 56.9%, with sweet vanilla, dried fruit and a sweet coffee-tinged oak finish. Next we enjoyed a Moine Amontillado Finish Nine Year Old Whisky, 56.9% – a super smooth sipper with sweet peat and a mineral tang. It had a cherry freshness and a long finish of smoke and maple syrup. After this we were purring with delight.

    But the big finish was spectacular – a mystery dram was revealed to be a limited edition 30 Year Old Whisky, Spiorad An Dochais, 49.9% – which sold out straight after the event despite its £650 price tag. Rich oak and tannin slowly crept through the palette, sprinkling sweet citrus flavours on the way. It was a super creamy treat, luxurious in its maturity but very accessible. Thanks to the Bunnahabhain team for hosting the event and hopefully it won’t be too long before we’re able to take that first visit to Islay.

    Visit the Bunnahabhain shop

    +++++

    Lindores Abbey Distillery Aqua Vitae

    Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae, 40%

    We get excited when any new Scottish whisky distillery opens, but there’s something about Lindores Abbey that excites us more than most. It could be that its home is an Abbey that used to practice distilling over 500 years ago. It might be that they appear to be doing things right, sourcing local ingredients and with plans to reinstate ancient gardens and orchards that surround the distillery. Or it could be that Abbeys have a great track record with booze.

    Excitement levels were ratcheted up a notch when received the first product to be released by the distillery, Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae (extra applause for not opting for gin, as so many other whisky distilleries do while waiting for the whisky to mature). The Aqua Vitae is produced as they imagine it might have been at the Abbey back in the 15th century: a pot still spirit infused with spices that include Sweet Cicely, Douglas Fir and the much under-appreciated Cleavers. 

    It’s a lovely spirit with an aroma of light whisky grains and a vermouth-like mix of botanicals. The flavour is sweet and herbal with some spicy notes that give it some complex sophistication. It’s highly sippable with just ice but at its best as a long drink mixed with soda or tonic. This is a great spirit to keep everyone going until the first Lindores Abbey whisky is released – and our eagerness to try that whisky is now more keen than ever.

    Buy Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae

    +++++

    Freedom lager neighbour gift

    Freedom Lager, 4%

    Staffordshire’s Freedom Brewery has been spreading neighbourly lockdown love by giving out gift packs for your neighbour to enjoy whenever you make a purchase from their website. Consisting of four 330ml cans of lager and a tote bag, this generous gift is bound to bring a smile to the lucky recipient’s face, not least because the lager goes down a treat during the hot summer months.*

    Our faces certainly broke out into an extended grin when a gift pack was delivered to our door. The lager is one we’re plenty familiar with, it being a regular feature in our fridges, and we enjoy it for an uncomplicated lightness, where easy-going grainy malt and bitter hop flavours mingle together in neighbourly harmony with a touch of sweetness. Load up and share the neighbourly love.

    Visit the Freedom Brewery Shop

    *Or weeks. Or days. At time of writing it feels like summer is over already…

    +++++

    JARR Kombucha

    Nick likes a nice Kombucha. “Oooh, la, kombucha, kombucha kombucha ya yah” he will sing, slurping pints of the stuff whilst wheeling around his house with a tea towel draped over his head. We tend to make our own using pet SCOBYs* that live in specimen bottles on our respective kitchen surfaces, so were intrigued to try this fruity collection, courtesy of JARR.

    These kombuchas come in medicinal-looking 240ml bottles and are a tad less aggressive on the throat than the ones we are more accustomed to. Having been filtered for commercial consumption they are also thankfully free from those phlegmy globules you sometimes get in home brewed ‘booch. (Or is that just ours?)

    JARR’s kombucha are available in a variety of flavours including raspberry, ginger and passion fruit, but we, being simple folk dig the ‘original’ – a tangy brew made from organic green and oolong tea.

    Get your bottles of JARRs here…

    *Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.

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  • Grow summer planting potatoes – perfect for your Christmas dinner

    We’re used to planting potatoes inspring, but seed spud aces PotatoHouse.co.uk have sent us four varieties* that don’t get buried under compost until July – with the harvest being ready in time for Christmas. We wanted to know more about how a spud can be produced for such late cropping, and if there was anything we needed to do differently to ensure a festive harvest, so fired over a few questions to Potato House’s Amy Skea…

    Digging a spud fresh for Christmas dinner sounds like a great idea. How many varieties can you grow and when do you plant them?
    This is our first time offering late summer planting.  We specifically kept four varieties back in our cold storage for this purpose. It may only be summer, but the delight of homegrown, tender new potatoes on Christmas Day is closer than you may think and possible with a little know how. This means that a potato planted in July or August can produce your ‘roasties’ and new baby potatoes for Christmas Day!

    Are there any differences in how you grow them from earlier spuds? Do hey need chitting? And what about frost protection?
    It’s useful to know what makes a winter seed potato. The simple answer is that they have been in cold storage all spring to delay their growth and taken out from June so that they are ready to start their 12 to 14 week plant-to-harvest cycle. It’s also useful to know that potatoes harvested in summer require a period of dormancy before they can be used as seed potatoes, so replanting these straight away won’t work.  Potatoes planted in summer generally will not need to be chitted, although you can do if you want.

    Growing potatoes at any time of the year is not risk free, and there are additional things to watch out for with late planting. Potatoes grown outside in summer and autumn are especially prone to potato blight. However, those in containers (which can be moved in doors) are not usually at risk. We pick all our varieties to grow to be blight resistant and the four different varieties we have for summer planting as especially blight resistant.  Most of our crops are organic so we rely on natural blight-resistance.

    Keep an eye on the weather forecasts as early frosts will blacken foliage and weaken plants; fleece protection may be needed for outdoor crops.

    We like a good crispy coating to our roast spuds. What varieties are best at achieving roast perfection?
    Floury types are the best for roasties! Out of the varieties we have just now we would recommend Record.  There are so many ways to cook the “best roast potato”  and we would say to par-boil them and score them with a fork, and then coat them in fat/oil.   

    What kind of yields can we expect? Can they be dug before Christmas and how long after Christmas can we dig and store them?
    Once foliage dies down in September or October, remove and compost it.  On light soils in a sheltered garden, piling some earth up over the row where you know the potatoes are and covering it with straw to insulate tubers may be sufficient protection to store them in the ground until Christmas. In cold areas, or where soils are wet and heavy, it is better to lift tubers by the end of October and re-bury them in coarse sand or soil in a frost-free place (such as a garden shed) until you need them. Lifting and storing potatoes in bags in a frost-free shed is also recommended. The potatoes may be slightly smaller than a summer harvest, but a lot will depend on the weather. 

    You have your own spud breeding programme. When did you start breeding spuds and why have you put so much effort into the late varieties?
    Andrew’s grandfather was involved in seed potatoes from around the 1950s and so potatoes are in the blood! We are breeding new varieties and our hope is to get a great blight-resistant variety which is good looking and tasty! So far our only registered variety is Mary’s Rose, but we have a wave of new red and blue fleshed varieties in the pipeline as well as more disease resistant white and cream fleshed varieties.  

    What is the basic process for breeding a potato?
    This is a fascinating but time-consuming activity.  Most of our breeding is done in association with the James Hutton Institute in Dundee – they hand pollinate each plant so we know what has been crossed with what. We will start with 1000s of seedlings in trials whittling them down each growing season until we select one or two individuals to put through registration. In equal measures we are looking for a tasty, good looking variety which has a high resistance to diseases and good yield coupled with the “type” that UK consumers enjoy! For example, our European cousins prefer more yellow flesh. It is equivalent of buying 20,000 lottery tickets hoping your number will come up in 10 years time. 

    What, in your opinion, constitutes the perfect potato?
    How long do we have?! The reds, the pinks, blues and purples…… all have their own quirks and are delicious in their own way. From a new potato, dug out 20 mins previously and covered in butter, to a lavish dauphinoise dish or a jacket potato, we don’t go many meals without potato in our house! 

    Obviously potatoes will be the centrepiece of your Christmas dinner, but what other trimmings will you be enjoying and what drink will be served to best show off the potatoes’ magnificence?
    Roasted Arran Victory is the centrepiece of our Christmas dinner table, along with new potatoes, although we usually have turkey or beef as a side dish! Our Christmas always revolves around family, and lots of good food and wine, and we are lucky that we have great experimental chefs in the extended family! No two Christmas dinners are ever the same. Christmas presents opening with a glass of fizz is the best feeling all year and then some lovely wines and finishing off with some of my mother’s home made sloe gin… I am looking forward to it already!   

    Fancy some summer planting spuds? Then get your order in here.

    *Those four varieties are: Sarpo Kifli, Colleen, Record and Maris Peer

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