• New booze round-up #23: casked gin, smoked beer and a final tot of rum

    In the latest round up of booze samples received for review we have possibly our most varied line-up yet. There’s a unique blend of old and new gins; a white port that goes great with tonic; some summery spritzes; a cracking tot of Navy rum and a beer made with a distillery’s smoked malt.

    It has taken a while, but we’ve enjoyed drinking them all and we hope you enjoy finding out more about them…


    FIFTY/50 Gin, 50%

    When new drinks arrive they usually join the end of a long line of boozes until it’s their turn to be tasted*. However, we were so excited by the arrival of this unique gin that it jumped to the front of the queue and was tasted as soon as it left our Covid quarantine facilities.** 

    It is claimed to be the oldest gin in the world, a 50/50 blend of 20 year old gin and a young gin. The mature gin has been stored in whisky casks for ten years and virgin oak for a further ten years, giving it loads of oaky flavour, while the young gin has been added to return some of the botanical freshness to the mix.

    Forget the tonic, we were straight onto this neat, and it really is a unique drink. The smell is a marriage of boozy vanilla, the likes of which you might expect from a quality bourbon, and the botanical freshness of gin. Sipping it, we get more vanilla and spice, and even a touch of coconut, while the rich, aged-oak flavours lead to the familiar fruity bitterness of juniper, speckled with other zesty and rooty botanical notes. 

    Our sample arrived with a booklet containing cocktail suggestions, but we haven’t yet tried any of these. The gin itself is a melange of so many interesting flavours that we’re still exploring it neat before considering adding anything else.



    Graham’s Blend No. 5, White Port, 19%

    In a bid to cash in on gin’s recent success, lots of other boozes are reminding people that they’re excellent when paired with tonic. Once such booze is White Port, a less familiar member of the Port family that is now gaining a bit of popularity thanks, in part, to getting the tonic treatment.

    Graham’s Blend No. 5, recently launched into Waitrose stores, is made by cold-fermenting grapes, with the process stopped by the addition of brandy, creating a super-sweet, dessert-friendly drink. There’s no barrel ageing involved so the colour remains that of a white wine and all the floral, fruity flavours are unaltered by the effects of wood. 

    Sip it neat and you get a thick, sweet and vinous fortified wine with chewy, fruity grape flavours, enlivened by a range of floral notes. Add tonic and you can see what the fuss is all about: even with the cheap tonic we found lurking at the back of the fridge those fruity and floral flavours came alive, while the sweetness balanced out the tonic’s bitterness to add some crispness to the drink. Judging by this effort we reckon the P&T is a genuine cocktail contender.



    Finest Caribbean Back Tot Rum, 46.2%

    In the rum world, 31st July is a date known as Black Tot Day, marking the occasion when, in 1970, the British Navy ended daily rum rations (or ‘tots’). To mark the 50th anniversary of this terrible day we took part in an online tasting of Black Tot Rum, jointly hosted by brand ambassador Mitch Wilson (above) and curator at HMS Belfast, Robert Rumble, whose main task was to regale us with some fine drunken tales of the high seas.

    Besides a nip of Black Tot Rum our tasting pack also included the rums used in the blend, sourced from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados, as they would’ve been back in the days of the tot. The resulting blend is exactly the kind of cockle-warming sipper we would enjoy if ship-bound for any great length of time, possessing lots of spicy fruits and some soothing, toasty molasses. This rum avoids drifting into overly sweet waters, allowing those natural flavours to work their nautical magic with a hearty slap of alcohol.

    As a closing bonus we also got to sample Black Tot Last Consignment, a rum made using the Royal Navy’s last remaining stocks from 1970, tracked down by eager rum bounty hunters and bottled. If the Navy’s rations were this good then 31st July was indeed a very Black Day.



    Pedrino Vermouth & Tonc Spritz, 5.5%

    Light, fizzy boozes are all the rage. We’ve just published a round-up of Hard Seltzers and now we’ve been sent a spritz to review. Spritzes are wines that have been mixed with fizz – in the case of Pedrino, the fizz is a hand-crafted tonic that has been combined with different wines for three different products: ruby (port) & tonic, sherry & tonic and, our favourite, vermouth & tonic.

    It’s a bubbly burst of botanical booze, with some sweet zesty fruit and juicy grape flavours accompanying a whisper of dry vermouth and tonic bitterness. You could use this in any number of cocktails, or simply fill a glass with ice, top with spritz and add a slice of whatever citrus fruit you fancy (Pedrino suggests grapefruit and we reckon it’s a close thing between that and orange). A great little summer number.



    Ardbeg, The Shortie Porter, 6.2%

    We’ve been enjoying a few whiskies from Islay distillery Ardbeg of late, so were excited and intrigued when they sent us their first beer, The Shortie Porter. It’s a one off, limited edition, with all profits going to clean water charity Brewgooder and, as you would hope from a distillery famed for its peated whisky, it’s a smoky beast.

    The beer uses Ardbeg’s peated malt, which was then brewed by Alloa aces Williams Bros, who know how to handle unusual brewing briefs. It’s a thick and creamy beer with a strong smoky aroma emanating from its jet-black depths, and is super smooth to sup. The roasted malt flavours add to the peated meatiness and, we think, there’s even a touch of Islay sea salt lingering in the background. We like smoked beers. We like Ardbeg whisky. We were always going to love this one and, with a great charity set to benefit from it’s sales, we’re hoping it proves such a success that they’ll consider making another…


    *We’re watchful of our alcohol unit consumption and, contrary to popular opinion among our mates, we are not constantly guzzling booze

    **The porch

    The post New booze round-up #23: casked gin, smoked beer and a final tot of rum appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

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  • Hard Seltzers. UK review special round-up!

    There’s a new trend that is suddenly populating the booze category: Hard Seltzers. Big in America, the rush is now on for brands to establish themselves as the early market leaders in the UK. For the uninitiated, a Hard* Seltzer is essentially fizzy flavoured water with added booze. 

    Their success is largely down to them being a way of supping alcohol without piling on the pounds – most of them make a big fuss over their lack of calories on the packaging. They will also make a big deal about other dietary considerations, such as being vegan and gluten-free. The flavouring and alcohol levels tend to be very low, which helps keep the calorie count low, and their light and breezy, fizzy nature is part of the refreshing appeal.

    Whilst we perfectly understand this appeal, they’re not a drink that we would instinctively reach for – we’re not the calorie-counting kind and tend to prefer stronger flavours when refreshing ourselves with booze. But we’re more than happy to sacrifice a few units of our weekly booze rations to put the best hard seltzers through their paces… and here are our verdicts.

    The best Hard Seltzers reviewed:

    White Claw Hard Seltzers

    Alcohol: 5% ABV

    Package: 300ml can

    Flavours: Lime; Black Cherry; Raspberry

    The pitch: “The number one hard seltzer drink from the US”**

    Our favourite: Black Cherry. This has the aroma and flavour of cherry cola without the cola. Or the sugar. Very light, fizzy, dry and refreshing, the neutral alcohol isn’t obvious at first but steadily creeps up, while the subtle cherry flavours linger a little after finishing.



    58 Gin Seltzers

    Alcohol: 4% ABV

    Package: 250ml can

    Flavours: Raspberry; Pink Grapefruit

    The pitch: “The UK’s first premium gin-based hard seltzer.

    Our favourite: Pink Grapefruit. The strongest flavoured seltzer we tried with a touch of sweetness coming through with the pink grapefruit and a softer kind of seltzer fizzing into action. Closer to a soft drink and gin blend, but very enjoyable.



    Smirnoff Seltzers

    Alcohol: 4.7%

    Package: 250ml can

    Flavours: Orange & Grapefruit; Raspberry & Rhubarb

    The pitch: “The latest innovation from the world’s number one vodka”

    Our favourite: Raspberry & Rhubarb. This had a lovely smell to it, with the raspberry slightly out punching the rhubarb. It was a bit more flavoursome than some other seltzers, although slightly artificial tasting. However there was a nice twist of acidity that always works well on a hot day.



    Long Shot Hard Seltzers

    Alcohol: 4%

    Package: 250ml can

    Flavours: Grapefruit; Strawberry & Rhubarb; Raspberry & Blackcurrant

    The pitch: “A no-nonsense blend of fruit juice, sparkling water and alcohol, and that’s it. We won’t settle for anything artificial, so why should you.”

    Our favourite: Strawberry & Rhubarb. The fruity additions were subtle in this one – enough to add fresh flavour while maintaining the essential clean, dry, seltzer feel. The strawberry and rhubarb was a winning summery combination and the natural juice made it a much more pleasurable drink than the others.



    Hard Seltzers: The Verdict

    With natural strawberry flavours, Long Shot’s seltzers are the superior choice for summer freshness

    *In American they use the word ‘hard’ to describe a drink with alcohol that would normally not have alcohol. For example, ‘cider’ over there is what we call apple juice, so our kind of fermented ciders are known as ‘hard ciders.’

    **White Claw has taken America by storm and the success of the brand is something the rest are hoping to cash in on. Started in 2016, sales in the US have rocketed every year resulting in shortages and restrictions on distribution. Americans are mad for it.

    Note: These samples were sent to us for review

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  • Garden book reviews: summer reading sorted

    This year we were due to be launching our new book, Wild Tea, but with Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the publishing industry you’ll have to wait until 2021 to read our latest bundle of words. In the meantime, here are four gardening books that did get a recent release which we think you might enjoy…


    Book review Dave Goulson

    The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet, by Dave Goulson

    Published by Vintage

    In The Garden Jungle, Professor of Biology, Dave Goulson, takes a close look at some of the unheralded creatures that inhabit our gardens. Through his uncomplicated and humorous writing style he unearths the secrets behind the woodlouse, earwig, worm and more, promoting the important roles they play within our garden ecosystems, and how we can best look after them.

    It’s a call to arms for gardeners to appreciate the importance of their outdoor spaces and how, even on a small scale, they can be managed in a way that best looks after the planet. Throughout his garden jungle tour, Goulson also highlights the failings of industrial farming, explaining how successes demonstrated by small gardens and allotments can show the way to more environmentally sound practices on a much larger scale.

    Informative, inspiring and amusing it is, without question, the best gardening book I have ever read. 



    Book review Jane Vernon

    The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jane Vernon

    Published by Pen and Sword

    If you’re after an in-depth guide to the bees that populate your garden then look no further than Jane Vernon’s fine book. Covering every type of garden bee you’ve heard of, and many more you haven’t, it guides you through their unique behaviours in a writing style and presentation that are immediately accessible.

    With tips on identification, appropriate bee-friendly plants to grow, and the bees seasonal habits, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees will give you a much bigger appreciation of our pollinating pals and arm you with all the information you need to help look after them.



    I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, by Michael Holland and Philip Geordano

    Published by Flying Eye Books

    It may be aimed at children, but we reckon there are very few parents who won’t learn a wheelbarrow full of facts about the science behind plants by reading this book. Author Michael Holland writes in a succinct, un-patronising way that makes learning addictive, while Philip Geordano’s lavish illustrations turn every page into a colourful adventure.

    From basic information on how plants grow to more in-depth learning on their leaves, flowers, smells and more, the science is backed up with practical projects that celebrate the wonders of the plant world. Build a plant maze or make some slime and you’ll be nurturing some green fingers in the process.



    Book Review Garden Privacy

    The Middle-Sized Garden Complete Guide to Garden Privacy, by Alexandra Campbell

    Published by Nielsen

    Alexandra Campbell’s blog www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk is one of our most visited gardening sites, with trustworthy advice and expert opinions throughout. Her new book is similarly full of expert help, exploring ways you can create privacy in your garden. Topics covered include suitable trees and hedges that act as screens from your neighbour’s windows, how to deal with eyesores, and advice on creating secret areas where you can hide away and contemplate life.

    It’s an extremely practical book with simple diagrams and space for note-taking, allowing you to learn and plan as you turn the pages. We paid particular attention to the section on tree planting – something that can initially seem daunting but has been explained with such simplicity that we’re tempted to start a garden arboretum.

    It’s a well thought out book, put together with knowledge and intelligence, and anyone with a garden will find it useful.


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