• New booze round-up #24: beer festival boxes, alcohol free cider and rum three ways

    The booze currently being sent for us to review is flooding into the The Brewing Shed, and most of it is good, so for this round-up we’ve got a bumper load of drinks. You’ll find two festival themed selections of beer, a decent big brand cider and the first alcohol-free cider to meet our approval, along with a trio of treats for anyone who enjoys rum.

    We hope you like them as much as we did. Cheers!

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    Best of British Beer, Virtual British Beer Festival Box

    Over the past few months we’ve been enjoying regular themed beer drinking sessions with some of our mates via Zoom. Having ticked off the North East, Belgium and Germany our next session was timed to coincide with our regular trip to the cancelled Frocester Beer Festival.

    To see us through the evening (and beyond) we each ordered a case of booze from Best of British Beer, specifically put together by their beer experts as a beer festival selection. Among the 14 bottles are a lager (Williams Bros ‘Marshall’) for mid session refreshment, a cheeky cider from Celtic Marshes (you know you’ve had a good festival if you’ve dabbled with the apple booze) and the excellent ‘Laird’s Ale’ from Traquair House to finish with. Other beers that proved a big hit with the Zoomers included Grey Trees ‘Mosaic’ and Tyne Bank’s ‘Silver Dollar. 

    And to make it even more of a festival selection Best of British even chucked in a few bonus items including a glass and bag of nuts. We could quickly get the hang of these virtual beer festivals…

    BUY

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    Anspach & Hobday German Beer Selection

    Sticking with the beer festival theme, our favourite London brewery Anspach & Hobday have recently released a selection for four beers that would grace any German Oktoberfest. The four 440ml cans, each decked out in a superb illustration of a beer-guzzling scene, are The Gose (4%), The Rauchbier (5.6%), The Hefeweizen (5%) and The Festival Lager (5.6%).

    Each one is a real treat but we particularly enjoyed the rauchbier. Having occasionally mumbled that not enough breweries are brave enough to dabble with smoky malts we were naturally excited to see the London maestros include one in their new range. It’s assuredly baconish with a sweet malt glaze and hints of fruit, and it dried out to a faintly dry and bitter finish. And what we really like about it, and the other beers in the range, is that they feel Germanic: full bodied with simple, clean flavours. Prosit!

    BUY

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    Henry Westons Vintage Rosé, 5.5%

    We have been known to get a bit sniffy over ciders, believing that very few of the big brands’ boozes come anywhere close to the artisan producers that line the rural roads in our Somerset neck of the woods. (And they’re certainly no match for Rich’s latest allotment keeved cider which would surely win awards if ever he entered it for any).

    But despite our cider snobbery we won’t totally dismiss the big brands output for the sake of it, and have always found Henry Westons Ciders to be decent efforts – with proper cider apple flavours and the high dose of booze that those apples produce. So when we were offered a few bottles from their recently expanded range, rather than pretend we were having a break from cider drinking (our usual excuse for turning down dodgy booze) we said ‘yes please’ and were duly dispatched a trio of bottles.

    Alongside the highly sippable Henry Westons Vintage (8.2%) and Henry Westons Vintage Cloudy (7.3%) was a pinker drink that, on first appearance, might look like another sub-par flavoured affair. However, the only fruit in this cider is apples, plucked from the tree in a single season (2019 in this instance) before going through the scratting, pressing, fermenting and maturing process. It has a lower ABV of 5.5% and is full of fizz, with some strawberry sweetness paring back some of the richer apple flavours found in those stronger vintages – all of which should appeal to those fruit cider fans. But there’s also plenty of genuine tannic and fruity Herefordshire cider flavours that emerge during the dry finish and build through each mouthful, which appeals to our precious palettes and, we hope, will help lead those fruit fans to more robust ciders in future.

    BUY

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    Hernan Parra Dictador

    Dictador 2 Masters Royal Tokaji

    We were recently honoured to be invited to a very special Zoom rum tasting to announce the launch of the latest Dictador 2 Masters release – a rum from 1977 that has been finished in Royal Tokaji casks.

    Dictador is a distinguished Columbian rum brand and ‘2 Masters’ refers to a series of collaborations between their rum making experts and a booze producer from elsewhere. For this release, Dictador’s Master Blender, Hernan Parra (pictured right), joined forces with Royal Tokaji’s Master Blender Zoltán Kovács to produce a limited edition rum of only 475 decanters.

    Both Masters were present for the tasting, with each giving the assembled Zoom-crowd an insight into the rum’s production and ageing in Hungary, along with their own thoughts on the finished rum’s qualities. Hernan Parra directed us to the rum’s notes of raisins, prunes, dark chocolate and tobacco while Zoltán Kovács explained how the sweet acidity from the 40 year old Tokaji casks helped to open up the flavours.

    It is indeed an exceptional rum that has a luscious richness and maturity to it. To us, the influence of the Tokaji becomes more apparent the longer you sip, with the sweet grapes adding further complexity to the aged oak flavours. And tasting this outstanding rum in such esteemed company added to the overall experience.

    MORE

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    Drynks, Smashed Cider, 0%

    When we first heard that some companies were looking into producing alcohol free ciders we joked that we already had some and it was called apple juice. Nobody laughed. Our jokes may have needed a bit of work, but we would’ve genuinely preferred to be served freshly pressed apple juice than any boozeless cider.

    Recently alcohol free producers Drynks sent us their range of cans and have changed our opinion of what alcohol free cider can taste like, because their Smashed Cider is terrific. It’s appley, has a good kick of sourness that gives it a cidery edge while making up for the lack of boozy hit, and it even has a bit of a tannic bite at the back. Admittedly it tastes more in line with commercial ciders than our local artisan boozes, but it’s much better than a lot of the fully boozed up supermarket ciders we’ve tried. 

    The alcohol free beer sector has enjoyed a huge surge of quality in recent years (and Drynks Smashed Lager is up there with the best) so it’s good to see that 0% ciders are joining them with a quality offering. There are many times when apple juice is much preferable to cider, but when we want the taste of the latter but without the addition of booze the juice can stay put in the fridge and we’ll reach for a Smashed Cider can instead.

    BUY

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    Stargazy Cornish Rum Liqueur, 22%

    Hailing from St Ives’ Rum and Crab Shack (creators of the spice-tastic ‘Dead Mans’ Fingers’), Stargazy is a lip-smacking rum-based liqueur made with gorse flowers and a pinch of sea salt. Rich had to cancel his annual holiday to St Ives this year due to the current COVID-19 catastro-shambles, so sampled his Stargazy whilst stargazey- ing tearfully into space, dreaming of Porthmeor beach and the hillbilly arcade game at the Harbour Amusements.

    Stargazy tastes of rum and raisin toffees and we can happily report that it works well as a less potent rum substitute in a ‘dark and stormy’ cocktail. We’ll call it ‘overcast and choppy’, shall we? Aaarrrrrr, yes we will, Jim lad.

    MORE

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    Cockspur Original Rum Punch, 4%

    This garish, ruddy-hued booze was approached with a little trepidation, but after popping the cap and getting stuck in, Cockspur* rum punch revealed itself to be a juicy, fruity treat. The rum hit is more tickle than punch, but the big papaya and pineapple flavours really sing.This drink was sampled during a particularly vicious, early Autumn storm. Not the best backdrop for supping a brew meant for summer BBQ fun-times, but the musa basjoo in the garden did its best by thrashing at the windows, bringing a ‘Caribbean hurricane’ kind of vibe to proceedings.

    MORE

    *A good 20 minutes was wasted googling ‘cockspur 70s Russian ad’ on receipt of this bottle, believing it was a revived brand from the 70s. That was of course ‘Cockburns’.

    Here’s the ad, directed by Guy Richie’s dad, no less…

    The post New booze round-up #24: beer festival boxes, alcohol free cider and rum three ways appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • A Bluffer’s Guide to wine: Côtes du Rhône

    We often get sent new boozes to sample, many of which pass muster and adorn the pages of our New Booze section, but when a giant box of wines and tasty French fancies came a-knocking at TTG HQ we thought that it deserved a bit more space. We’ve got to admit, grape-based wine is one of the areas in which we are least familiar. We’re all over country wines like a rash – you’ll find many easy to make wines in our book, Brew It Yourself, (highlights of which include fig wine, oak leaf wine, and a ‘sounds hideous but is actually very nice’ mint wine) – but personally I’ve* never actually made anything from grapes. This is partly down to:

    (a) An inability to grow grapes on the allotment without deer munching through the vines before they even reach knee height.

    (b) A stubborn resistance to embrace grape-y wine after an unfortunate incident at the Frankfurt book fair, when a foreign licence meeting for Brew It Yourself almost ended in tears and fisticuffs. “You simply cannot make wine from parsnips” the prospective French publisher declared, pointing at our book and dismissing it with a sneer and wafty hand gesture. Anyway, we had the last laugh – stiff French opposition crumbled under the deadpan death stare from our agent, and a French language book eventually made it to print. If you stand on the Dover cliffs when the wind is blowing fair, you can still hear french vinologists guffawing into their glasses of Grenache…

    But we digress…

    Having gone a bit lockdown loopy over summer, stuck inside with not even a sniff of boozy press trips in the offing, we were more than happy to delve into the box-dwelling Gallic treats we were sent. It offered us the very essence of France without the need for a two week quarantine and an invasive, swab-based procedure. Inside we found:

    A baguette (naturally)
    Some duck pate
    Candied walnuts
    Beaufort cheese
    Reblochon cheese
    A truffle-infused brie
    A coil of saucisson as big as a baby’s arm
    Six bottles of wine, as follows…

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    M. Chapoutier Signargues 2014
    A full-bodied, toe-tingling tannic treat, ripe with dark berries and a tickle of liquorice. We quaffed this with the rustic baguette, but held off on the supplied duck liver pate out of loyalty to our feathered freinds.

    https://www.chapoutier.com/en/

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    Cellier des Dauphins Reserve 2018 
    A deep, ruby-coloured wine with smoky spice and notes of blackcurrant. We had no qualms demolishing this wine with the coil of saucisson. So much so we lost the label in the feeding frenzy and couldn’t tell you its origin, but we are pleased to report that was a delicious piggy treat right up until the last two inches, at which point the cat licked it and it had to go in the bin.

    https://www.cellier-des-dauphins.com/en/

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    Domaine des Escaravailles La Ponce, 2018
    A curveball white, made from Marsanne, Rousanne, Clairette grapes. Massively floral and complex. Candied walnuts and Reblochon cheese were gobbled with this.

    http://www.domaine-escaravailles.com

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    Montirius La Muse Papilles, 2015
    Truffle-infused brie was consumed with this grenache-heavy, rich red number. The truffle-infused brie climbed into our ‘top ten cheese list, and kept on climbing the more we drank/ate until reaching ‘peak brie’, at which point it was immediately demoted and currently sits just below gouda.

    http://www.montirius.com/en/

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    Domaine de Dionysos Jardin de Robert, 2016
    A lovely glass of red wine. Terrifically tannic, with the taste of ripe hedgerow berries accompanying every sip. We paired this beauty with the pungent Beaufort cheese.

    https://www.domainededionysos.com/

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    Domaines Vincent Moreau Sainte Cécile 
    A blend of grenache and syrah grape go to make this dark, fruity treat. We ran out of posh french snacks by this stage, so had to pair it with a bag of beef Monster Munch, which kind of worked.

    http://www.domainesvincentmoreau.com/

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    Our bluffers guide to Côtes du Rhône wines

    Don’t get caught with your pantalons down when confronted with a fancy wine list – here’s our quick Côtes du Rhône crib sheet to revise and remember.

    Region
    The Côtes du Rhône region straddles the Rhône river valley, from Lyon down to Avignon. At 86,000 acres it is the second-largest wine region in France. The region is split into two distinctive styles: Wines found in the north of the appellation tend to be dominated by the Syrah grape which are grown on rocky, terraced slopes. Head south and you’ll find juicy red and rose blends made from up to 21 varieties of grape.

    Flavour
    Expect full bodied deep, fruity wines with rounded tannins. Côtes du Rhône wines made with a predominance of Syrah grape will be smoky and spicy. Look out for Côtes du Rhône ‘Villages’ wines, which tend to be complex and high in alcohol, making them perfect for ageing.

    What not to say to a French sommelier
    This wine list is way too fancy. Do you have anything made from parsnips?

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    Thanks to the fine folk at The Belleville Collective for sending the goods.

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    * Nick claims to have made a ‘great’ grape wine, but I’ve never seen any evidence. And if his pea pod wine is anything to go by, it’s a lucky escape…

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    The post A Bluffer’s Guide to wine: Côtes du Rhône appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • Five things you need to know about Pumpkins this halloween

    Halloween is approaching. And while most sensible citizens will lock themselves in with all lights switched off to pretend they’re not at home, others will roam the streets demanding money from any householder brave enough to open the door. Supermarkets may be well stocked with orange coloured sweets, but kids these days prefer hard cash. And they don’t even wear fancy dress any more.

    Some folk with a nostalgic yearning for bygone days might carve out a pumpkin with jagged teeth, two triangular eyes, and… erm… can anyone remember what to do for a nose? So to commemorate this most miserable of annual events, here are five scarily true pumpkin facts…

    Take your turnip
    In the UK people used to cut shapes out of turnips for Halloween. But greedy British eyes peered across the pond, saw the vast potential of giant pumpkins for carving, and thus relegated turnips to a side dish for haggis.

    Cinderella man
    The classic story of Cinderella is an ancient folk tale that has been retold for centuries. An early seventeenth century version of the story, ‘Cenerentola’, published by Italian Giambattista Basile in his book ‘Lo cunto de li cunti’ features princes looking for slippers, but it wasn’t until the end of the century the carriage-to-pumpkin plot line was added, by Frenchman Charles Perrault.

    All hands to the pumpkin
    The earliest evidence of a pumpkin is from Mexico where pumpkin seeds believed to date between 7000BC and 5500BC have been found. Their rise in popularity began in France, before being seized upon by English Tudors and, eventually, gaining popularity throughout their native North America in the nineteenth century.

    What a whopper
    Pumpkins are a regular feature of giant veg competitions around the world. The heaviest recording of a pumpkin is a gargantuan 1,810 lb 8 oz, grown by a Minnesotan, Chris Stevens, in 2010. You could carve the whole cast of The Munsters out of that.

    Pumpkin up the volume
    Pumpkin pie is the obvious dish of choice for pumpkin fans, but for those who prefer to drink their cucurbits then pumpkin beer is a must. It’s a popular beverage in America, particularly among home brewers, who like to recreate their favourite pie flavours in alcohol. Just don’t give it to the trick-or-treating kids.

    The post Five things you need to know about Pumpkins this halloween appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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