• Why is beer and football such a great pairing?

    Keener readers of this website will have noticed that we do some occasional work with German brewery Krombacher. The most recent deal we struck with the brewing aces was to write a piece on how beer and football can mutually benefit each other, using a World Cup football match as a case study with Krombacher Pils as the accompanying beer.

    But there were a few hitches in this plan.

    In order to conduct the experiment, Krombacher sent me a few big bottles of beer. But just before the tournament kicked off my family came for dinner and, looking for a load of beer to serve with the meal, I absentmindedly plonked the pils on the table.* Fortunately I found some Krombacher Dark luring in the shadows of my beer shelf, so hopefully our bosses will forgive this last minute substitution.

    My next problem came in scheduling.

    I’d planned to watch Germany in a knock-out game for my beer and football pleasures – to see if drinking a German beer had any additional impact on the occasion – but Joachim Low’s charges failed to make it out of their group so I opted for the high-stakes semi-final that didn’t involve England** instead: France vs Belgium.

    The game was enthralling. The beer was good. And here are my notes on how the two may have benefited each other.

    Sense of occasion

    Before any big game the build up is important in order to get you properly in the mood for action. When watching live football this inevitably means a trip to the pub before kick-off, getting excited about the game over a few beers with friends. Alone on the sofa the beer becomes part of a different pre-match ritual: ‘warming up’ the telly and getting the sofa comfortable before opening the beer bottle to signify the official start of the event (no matter how long before kick-off you do this). With beer, the football anticipation levels become heightened.

    Memory trigger

    It’s a known thing that aroma is one of the best memory triggers, so beer often smells of good times. Krombacher Dark has a definite German beer whiff to it which immediately transports me back to time spent in Munich and, as it’s a football night, the buzz of atmosphere surrounding Bayern Munich in Champions League mode. I am definitely ready for action.

    Conduit for emotions

    Unusually for me I noticed I held my glass throughout the majority of the game (rather than rest it on the table). I don’t think I usually do this, even during football matches, but the glass became something to cradle and grip during the tense moments (not that there were many) and acted as a cheering device during the high quality moments (not that there were many). All of these instances of drama and excitement were followed with a hearty swig.

    Something else I noticed about my drinking habits during football: I’m generally a steady swigger rather than a regular sipper*** but during the football I went for long periods of time without a swig, engrossed in the action, then when I did drink, deep slugs of booze were taken on board.

    This was all helped by using a weighty tankard with a handle and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from World Cup drinking, it’s that drinking from such glasses during football is preferable to lighter tulip-shaped receptacles.

    The alcohol effect

    Finally, the most obvious enhancement that beer can have on watching football is down to the alcohol. A few bottles stretched out over a couple of hours is never going to have a profound effect, but alcohol is known to heighten senses and give any adrenalin an extra impetus. So as the drama unfolded the beer and football worked more in tandem with each other, making Mbappé’s flourishes of skill seem more exciting and, in turn, making the roar of the crowd sound like a call to drink more beer.

    I’ve watched lots of ordinary football matches with dodgy beers in the past: the beer has always compensated for the lack of footballing quality while the sense of occasion has made the beer more tolerable. When the beer and football are both good the become the perfect team.


    *Good quality German pilsners are a safe choice for visitors: they’re liked by most people and go with almost anything, working rather well with my roast chicken and potato salad

    **I had to stick with lucky Scottish beers for England games

    ***When I used to drink Guinness it was easy to see how many swigs I had of each pint by the rings around the glass. Rarely more than ten.

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  • Restaurant review: Comptoir Libanais

    Back in May, I made my yearly pilgrimage to the Chelsea Flower Show. This was my third year of attendance and so I have become battle hardened in its posh quirks and peculiarities – and in particular the eye watering prices that the Chelsea catering suppliers foist upon its captive guests. With this in mind, I decided to purchase a cob/pop/crisps meal-deal en-route, then attempt to smuggle it past security on the gate. My quest to find an obliging Boots on the streets near Sloane Square led me down a passage way and into a hubbub of clanking glasses, guffaws and wafts of fragrant nosh. Leba-nosh™ to be precise – I had stumbled into the courtyard of Comptoir Libanais, peddlers of Lebanese foodstuffs to the masses (since 2008).

    As fate would have it, the following week saw an email shimmy into my inbox, inviting me to come try foodstuffs at the very same restaurant chain, albeit one rather more conveniently situated in my home town of Bath.

    The invite was for a ‘plus one’, so after a fruitless search for a decent dining companion, I called upon Nick who – as it turns out – is a bit of an expert when it comes to the wily ways of middle eastern cheffery. He claims to have a tagine in his kitchen cupboard, has been to Morocco on holiday, and is believed to have once chuffed on a hookah on the banks of the Bosphorus many summers ago.


    Bath’s Comptoir Libanais is tucked down one of the side streets of the Southgate shopping centre – a faux Georgian complex, marginally more pleasing on the eye than the 1960s arcade it replaced. It’s not the easiest place to find but, once safely through the doors, you’ll find yourself in a lively recreation of a Lebanese souk, with irregular tiled floors, canteen chairs and walls festooned with Lebanese goods that dangle from every available hook. 


    Nick (designated driver) inexplicably ordered a Virgin Sirine moments after declaring his hatred of tomato juice. This harissa & sumac spiced tomato juice proved to be quite a spicy number and received a double thumbs-up. “I may have to re-evaluate my tomato juice aversion” he croaked, bottom lip a-quivering, face masked in sweat. I went for the Lebanese Almaza beer, a brand owned by Heineken. No surprises here – a couple of sips revealed it to be a pretty standard-tasting Euro-style lager (Nick’s verdict. “I can’t taste ‘owt – my taste buds are still on fire”)


    I went for a Baba Ghanouj, a dish chosen purely for the entertainment value of saying the name out loud.* It proved to be a tasty, hummus-y number, peppered with pomegranate seeds and flanked with soft pitta. Nick chose the magenta-hued Beetroot Labné, which he described as both ‘tangy and fresh’.

    Main Course

    Fending off howls of derision from Nick for being a traitor to my vegetarian aspirations** I went for the mixed grill of lamb and chicken. Nick’s hungry eyes locked on my plate (hoping for something to spill off the sides and for him to claim scavenging rights), whilst I tucked into the juicy skewered meats that were peppered with spices and tempered with fresh salad and a zingy lemon dressing. Nick went for the lamb and prunes tagine with a side order of pickles. “Decent” he said. “If I was being critical though, I’d say the tagine I had in Morocco was a tad more more flavoursome. This quite nice though.”


    With eyebrows still raised thanks to Nick’s previous boastful comment and stomach groaning from the weight of the meaty platter, I chose a take-home box of Lebanese pastries. For Nick, an enormous plateful of Orange Blossom Muhalabia was ordered and polished off in the manner in which a starving dog would go at a plate of tripe. This comparison is in no reflection on the dish, of course. Nick described it as both ‘blancmange-y’, and ‘nice’.***


    To cap off our evening of Leba-nosh™ we ordered a nice pot of Lebanese mint tea which was poured in the traditionally manner – from pot to cup from arm height – as you would an Asturian sidre. Our table host warned of the dangers of performing this trick outdoors on a windy day. Thankfully, our laps remained safely unsullied by the boiling brew and the tea partaken proved to be a suitably aromatic full stop to our meal.


    Comptoir Libanais offers a vibrant, decent priced dining experience with plenty of interesting dishes to get stuck into. As our attentive, friendly table host pointed out, Lebanese cuisine is relatively overlooked on the high street, but offers something for everyone, ranging from subtly fragrant, fresh-tasting tagines to sweat-inducing, spicy mezes. It certainly made a change from the ubiquitous Indian/Chinese eating establishments we often frequent after a night ‘researching’ beer.

    Comptoir Libanais is a restaurant well worth the search. Pop in, pull up a chair and souk up the atmosphere.


    Comptoir Libanais, 38 Little Southgate, Bath BA1 1TR
    Phone01225 800894



    *Jay Rayner could learn a lot from this approach to restaurant food selection.

    ** I’ve been trying to go veggie for a few months but keep coming unstuck at the ‘not eating meat’ bit.

    *** Jay Rayner could learn a lot from this approach to food criticism.



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  • Meet the residents: Californian beers find a home in Bristol

    We don’t normally blog about an evening down the pub, but a social get together in Bristol last night was interesting enough that we’ve decided to break that habit. We were at The Mall in Clifton, a large pub that has been neatly spruced up, features a great range of cask and keg beers, an ample beer garden and some of the comfiest leather pub seats our gardening-weary bodies have reclined in.

    The Mall is one of several pubs throughout the land to host a Craft Beer Residency featuring a rotating range of 20 beers from three outstanding Californian breweries: Sierra Nevada, Stone and Anchor. We met two of our Bristol chums – Dav and fellow booze author Andy Hamilton – along with Nikki from nearby Portishead who helped put the Residency together.

    Four of the beers were available to us last night – two each from Sierra Nevada and Anchor – and we think they were worthy enough for us to blog about them. Nikki was driving and didn’t join us on the booze, and Dav is a recently diagnosed coeliac so settled for Caple Road cider instead. Which left three of us to come up with the following tasting notes…

    Sierra Nevada, California IPA, 4.3%

    Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale is one of the American beers that was responsible for switching the world’s brewers on to the amazing flavours of US hops and kick-starting the global craft ale movement. They hardly put a foot wrong with their pale ales and this sessionable IPA was American perfection, with a full flavoured golden grain body highlighting the hoppy marriage of citrus and pine. “Spot on” announced Nick “can I drink this all night?” (“No” was the answer).

    Sierra Nevada, Otra Vez, 4.9%

    This was the most unusual of the beers available – a gose with lime and agave. The gose sourness was suitably light with the lime instantly prominent and the agave more subtle (“I can almost taste it” Rich declared and, despite this being nonsense, we know what he meant). Andy wasn’t sure of it at first but it steadily worked his magic on him and, on completion, announced “it’s alright”. (Trust us, that’s praise).

    Anchor, Mango Wheat, 4.5%

    This wheat beer was nice and dry and loaded with refreshing tropical flavours of sweet mango and some citrussy offerings. If we were drinking this outside we might’ve asked for it to be served in large jugs – it had the refreshing sweet-and-dry qualities that go down a treat under a hot sun (and hot sun was very much in evidence yesterday).

    Anchor, California Lager, 4.9%

    This lager was ‘reborn’ in 2012 and we think it already deserves the status ‘American classic’. We’ve already featured it on this site, describing it as a “perfect fridge standby”, and it performed equally well in the pub with its crisp, cold bready lager body pepped up with touches of spice and pine from the hops. The last of the four beers we drank and, on aggregate, the one that came out top and caused the most envious grumbling from Dav about his cider.

    For more information on Craft Beer Residencies, check out the website www.craftbeerresidency.com

    tap takeover at the mall pub Bristol

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  • Five herb garnishes for your gin and tonic

    We’ve noticed a trend among press releases for new gins, and that’s to suggest herbal garnishes when serving with tonic. Take No. 209 Gin, for example, which suggested serving with “a spring of rosemary or a handful of blueberries” or Scapegrace which recommends “an orange wheel and a sprig of thyme”*

    To see how successful the gin + tonic + herb formula might be I begged for some gins and went out into the garden to find five suitable adornments. The gins at the heart of the trials were the aforementioned No. 209, which I found quite a punchy juniper gin with some other interesting spicy and citrus notes, and Brooklyn Gin, which is the new ‘house favourite’ with a more pronounced citrus flavour, fruity juniper and summery floral aromas.

    Here are the five herbs that were sent in to accompany them…

    minto sprig gin and tonic


    I need to replace my tub of mint: it’s old and tired, not particularly photogenic, too tough and doesn’t instantly yield its fresh minty smell in the way fresh mint should. But despite this, when the alcohol set to work on the leaves, it still let off enough aroma to remind me why mint is such a classic garnish for almost any drink.

    rosemary sprig gin and tonic


    I’ve used rosemary as a garnish before and like what it offers. It’s less savoury than you might imagine and, when sniffed in unison with the gin botanicals, it seems to change characteristics, offering fresher peppery and herby notes that pair well with the juniper. A good choice.

    lemon balm gin and tonic

    Lemon balm

    Despite its strong lemony, herby flavours, the lemon balm leaves didn’t really do much in my G&T other than offer a hint of bland grassiness. Chopping the leaves releases more of the lemon characteristics but overall it was a bit disappointing.

    sage leaves gin and tonic


    I’ve had good beers that include sage to great effect, but have not seen it with many other boozes. The aroma took a while to fully develop, but when it did I thought of chicken stuffing. Not good.

    lavender blossom gin and tonic


    The boldest aroma and the one that changed the flavour of the G&T the most. I like lavender and my single stem was never enough to cause too much damage so enjoyed the effect it had on the drink.

    The verdict

    Mint and lavender both make excellent garnishes but we’re with the folk at 209 – rosemary makes the best

    *I don’t currently have any thyme in my garden so this went untested

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  • Aber Falls distillery: the spirit of North Wales

    When we think of British whisky it’s inevitably Scotland that springs to mind. In recent years a bit of fuss has been made about a few English distilleries that are cropping up, led by Norfolk’s English Whisky Co, but much less is heard about Welsh whisky making.

    There are a few Welsh distilleries already up and running and, in 2020, the whisky aisles will include a product from Aber Falls Distillery, the first distillery in North Wales for over 100 years. Excited to find out more about this operation in one of our favourite parts of the world we caught up with Managing Director James Wright and began by asking him “why now?”

    “There’s an opportunity for Welsh Whisky to grow” James explains “there’s only three distilleries in Wales and there’s nothing in North Wales. The environment and natural resources that are available are perfect for a whisky distillery. Where we’re located, at Abergwyngregyn, is off the Menai Strait in the foothills of Snowdonia and some of the natural resources that are available to us are second to none.”

    The most obvious of these resources is the water, which comes off the famous Aber Falls waterfall, but James is keen that other local ingredients are used as well. “We are working with local farmers in Wales to create a 100% Welsh malted barley. We’ve been using different varieties and we’ve even been exploring old varieties that have been brought back.” North Wales had a long tradition of growing malted barley 100 years ago but, like many agricultural industries, demand and subsidies changed the landscape, something that James is keen to help reverse in terms of both product and economics. “It would be quite nice with Brexit to re-explore new revenue streams with the farmers. Even our by-produce will go back to local farmers to feed the cattle.” And running a distillery that keeps its own casks on site, along with an in-house bottling line, will use a significant local workforce and ensure that everything they produce is Welsh.

    As whisky takes a while to mature before it can be labelled whisky, the distillery has started out producing gins and liqueurs to use as a base for experimentation and to help build the brand portfolio ahead of the whisky’s release. “We see ourselves as the spirit of North Wales” James tells me. “We’ve got a botanical garden down the road from us with species that are only grown around the Menai Strait.” Some of these botanicals will be used in Aber Falls gins, while Anglesey sea salt is among the ingredients in their salty toffee liqueur.

    Aber Falls spirits have already been picking up awards and creating a buzz throughout North Wales and beyond, which bodes well for that whisky. And how, we wondered, would James enjoy that first dram to be poured from the whisky cask? “It will depend on what mood I’m in! It also depends on what style comes out. The beautiful thing about making whisky is that it’s an art form – you have an aspiration about what it is that you want to achieve but there’s still that area where you need to wait and see what happens.” We, among others, look forward to finding out.


    Tasting notes: Aber Falls Welsh Dry Gin

    The distillery kindly sent us a bottle of its “mountain fresh dry gin” to try and we can report that it’s a lovely, simple, summery gin in the London Dry style. There’s good flavour from the juniper and quite a prominent citrus character while deeper fresh spicy notes linger in the background. One to drink with minimal tonic and a good handful of ice.

    For more information visit www.aberfallsdistillery.com


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  • Five of the best Spanish beers (over here)

    Like much of the world, Spain is going through a beer revolution with hundreds of new breweries springing up all over the country. Until recently it was hard to find any of these new boozes in the UK, with the choice of Spanish beers being largely restricted to mega-brand lagers Estrella and San Miguel. But, at last, a steady trickle of more interesting brews is finding its way to these shores as we discovered when researching a piece on beers to represent every football world cup nation for the Independent.

    In that piece we said ‘si’ to a beer we’d not tried before, Ceriux Rubia, describing it as ‘a fairly simple beer that has been livened up by the introduction of game-changing spices and grape juice.’ This beer is typical of the craft and innovation for which Spanish breweries are gaining a reputation, so if you’re in the mood for a beer to follow a summer siesta here are five more to try…

    La Pirata, ViaKrucis, 6%

    La Pirata (translation ‘the pirate’) brew a good range of modern beer styles including this full flavoured IPA. There’s plenty of hoppy citrus flavoured hops to enjoy and a decent level of bitterness, but you’ll also find it’s rammed with malty goodness, giving it an added richness and depth.

    Mala Gissona / Ilkley, How Do You Like Them Pineapples?, 5%

    Nick tasted this fruity treat at this year’s Craft Beer Rising in London and declared it one of his favourites. It’s a collaboration between San Sebastian’s Mala Gissona and Ilkley Brewery from the UK. As you can guess from the name the fruit addition is pineapple, with just enough to cut through the pale malt base and give the beer a bit of a sweet zing and fruity tang.

    Palax Lager, 4.9%

    This beer from the La Rioja region of Spain is more like the familiar continental lagers but with an extra touch of class. It’s bottle conditioned, has a slightly hazy appearance with a short frothy white head and tastes un poco sweet and un poco dry with some doughy grains, citrussy freshness and a moderate herby and spicy bitter finish.

    Beer Cat, Flor d’Ordal, 4.8%

    We’ve had quite a few beers from Barcelona’s Beer Cat with this peach infused number being the most memorable. It’s a pale ale brewed with peaches that has been barrel aged, so has a woody matureness and some lovely ripe peach flavours. There’s some hop bitterness and it also has a slight sourness, but despite the rich complexities it’s also a remarkably easy drinking, refreshing ale.

    Garage Beer Co, Soup IPA, 6%

    Rich guzzled a giant can of this thick New England style brew for another Indy piece, this time on the ‘best new IPAs. The Barcelona brewery has created something of a cult hit with the citra and mosaic hopped beer and Rich was certainly impressed, admiring its “palate-pleasing bursts of mango, peach and zesty orange, underpinned with a subtle malty base.”


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  • Gardening review! Round metal trellis

    Last weekend I was sent a round metal trellis to review from garden accessories retailer T J Hughes. It’s the kind of product that makes a scruffy garden (like mine) look a bit posher for a minimal outlay (£7.49 at the time of writing), particularly with a climbing plant gripping onto its dark green poles displaying lush green foliage and attractive masses of flowers. Like a rose or a clematis perhaps.

    But I’ve got another use for this trellis: runner beans. This year, my veg plot filled before I got round to planting the rambling legume that is one of my favourite veg. So I cast my eyes to the flower border and a geranium that has got out of control, suffocating all other plants that lie in its path (apart from the bindweed). Its vast size, and lack of watering, meant it had collapsed in the middle, leaving an unsightly mess in the border. So it has been mostly ripped up, leaving a space to be filled with my own compost, a handful of alpaca poo, a few runner bean plants and the trellis.

    It’s too early for any climbing action but even in its naked form the trellis looks splendid, and that’s despite the slightly lopsided effect caused by a sloping garden and rickety fence that provides the backdrop. And the mess left behind by my clumsy geranium uprooting.

    The trellis requires self assembly, although this is so easy that anyone who has ever put up a tent would be able to achieve the job in a flash. Tubular metal poles slot into each other and are secured by simple nuts and bolts (provided). It’s all a bit wobbly a first, but a tightening of the nuts (for which you’ll need a small Phillips screwdriver and a spanner or pliers) soon gives it sufficient rigidity. The poles are hollow and fairly thin, so it doesn’t offer the solid feel of a wrought iron equivalent (over-enthusiastic assembly could lead to a bit of pole bending – one of my rings has a slight kink from needlessly forceful nut tightening) but you wouldn’t get a sturdier alternative at anything like this price.

    tall green metal trellis

    Handsome trellis; messy garden

    When fully constructed the trellis needs to be sunk into the soil until it feels secure before the plants are dug in around the base. If they survive predatory attacks they’ll be able to shimmy up the four poles and spread around the three rings that lie beneath an ornate, pointy summit.

    I won’t get a vast harvest from my beans this year (compared to the much larger wigwam construction I usually build) but the white flowers* of my chosen variety should allow them to feel right at home among the other blooms in the border.

    *In some parts of the world runner beans are grown purely for their flowers

    trellis self assemble

    The round metal trellis from T J Hughes can be purchased here

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  • Five of our favourite Bristol beers

    We’re getting more than a little excited about attending Bristol Craft Beer Festival this year. Despite being a short train ride away for Rich (and only an hour for Nick) we’ve not managed to make it before. But this time round we’ve blocked out the diary (September 14 to 16) and and are already polishing our drinking boots in eager anticipation.

    Bristol is often described as Britain’s best beer city, with a remarkably high concentration of breweries in and around the center producing consistently excellent beers, and the festival will showcase both local breweries along with some stars from further afield, including Wylam, Mikkeller, Dugges and Stone. Being our closest Big City we’re regularly guzzling the Bristol’s beery output from our local bars and shops and, in advance of the festivities, here are five of the best we’ve recently enjoyed.

    Left Handed Giant x Het Uiltje, Woodland Creatures, 6.9%

    There’s a huge buzz about Left Handed Giant right now and this beer, produced in collaboration with Dutch outfit Het Uiltje, is one of the finest brews we’ve had all year. It’s a milk stout (Bristol, for some unknown reason, does love a Milk Stout) made with honeycomb and pistachio and the combination of both, with the roasted malt aromas, make it one of the greatest things you could ever wish to smell. And the sensual qualities don’t rest at the nose: it’s thick and creamy, has a natural sweetness that picks out those sugary additions which, in turn, accentuates the richness of the roasted, chocolatey malt. Excellent stuff.

    Wiper and True, Small Beer, 2.5%

    As age catches up with us, so our drinking prowess diminishes. Which is why we’re increasingly ordering lower strength beers when we get the rounds in. Of that category we’ve probably had more of this beer than any other. It fully earns the low strength cliché ‘lots of flavour despite the lack of alcohol’ and tastes every bit like on of Wiper and True’s excellent fresh, citrussy, bitter pine pale ales but with the strength turned down.

    Arbor, Shangri-La, 4.2%

    Last year we put together a list of ten great Bristol beers for the Independent and, having been forced to award a ‘best buy’ gong, decided this would be a worthy recipient. Arbor have been brewing for over ten years and we figured this citra led, sessionable IPA would have a broad appeal: it’s an easy drinking, full-flavoured beer with good tropical hop flavours and a lingering grassy bitterness.

    Lost & Grounded, Saison D’Avon, 7%

    Lost & Grounded’s lagers are a common sight around these parts, but you have to go to more specialist bars to get your hands on this saison (we found ours at Bristol’s Small Bar). It’s quite a boozy brew and contains a medley of flavours from the hops, yeasts and grain which include floral flourishes, lemony brightness, spicy freshness, fruity ripeness and even a touch of barnyard wildness.

    Moor, Nor’Hop, 4.1%

    Moor Brewery runs our favourite Bristol tap room, just a short stroll from Temple Meads station, so we’ve been aware of the brewery’s rise to fame – it has recently been showered with top awards including the prestigious Beer Writers Guild Brewery of the Year accolade. We keep changing our mind as to what our favourite of their beers is, so we’ll point you towards one of their classics, Nor’Hop – a pithy citrus pale ale with sticky lemon freshness and a long lasting bitterness that we covered in more depth on this website two years ago.

    For more information on Bristol Craft Beer Festival visit https://bristolcraftbeerfestival.co.uk

    beer festival in Bristol 2017

    Bristol Craft Beer festival. See you there.


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  • Bottles for goalposts – How to watch the World Cup

    Rejoice! It’s almost time for the World Cup to kick off! A time for all Englishmen and overpaid football pundits to bang on about that one flukey win back in ‘66 and to spend the next four weeks* hurling abuse at the TV whilst watching England’s footballing chumps besmirch the beautiful game.

    The best thing about the World Cup is that it’s a brilliant excuse to sit in front of the TV with a beer without the nagging guilt that you should be out tending the allotment or doing constructive stuff. It only happens once every four years, right?! It’s practically a free pass for sofa-bound slothery! And to make things a tad more exciting, we suggest holding a sweepstake from which you can theme your football viewing.

    For demonstration purposes, we conducted our own sweepstake**. With the team names carefully culled from a copy of 4-4-2 and stuffed inside Nick’s filthy, flea-ridden beanie hat, we began our own draw. I drew Sweden, Nick suspiciously plucked out England. These two countries will dictate our month long footballing feast.

    Fancy trying it yourself? Here’s six sweet soccer tips on how to squeeze out maximum funtertainment from this impending festival of fusbol…


    1. Prepare your timetable

    Check the kick off times of matches and circle them in red pen in your Radio Times. This effectively bagsies that viewing slot from the rest of the family and would quite possibly stand up in a court of law should it lead to arguments. No Radio Times? Simply hide the remote control until kick off.


    1. Make your nest

    Comfort is paramount. Select your favorite armchair, plump up your cushions, remove and banish any pets that may be residing in your chosen viewing room that may howl, screech or meow over the commentary. The same goes for small children. Staying on point, my viewing will be conducted from the comfy folds of a poang armchair, courtesy of Swedish flat-pack purveyors IKEA. Nick will be reclining in a deck chair, with a knotted hanky perched atop his noggin to complete the look.


    1. Snack prep

    England produce the world’s finest beer snacks; pies, pork scratchings, crisps, the lot. Nick has the ALL the choice. Swedish snacks – on the other hand – are an unholy mix, consisting largely of salty liquorice sweets and jars of pickled fish. The most palatable snackage I could muster was a bag of potatischips saltade, a potato-based snack foraged again from IKEA, the quality of which would have Gary Lineker sniggering into his beef and onions Walkers.


    1. Set the ambiance

    To avoid the monotone, half-time blather of Hoddle and co, sound should be muted and suitable team-themed music played instead. Again, Nick has a vast catalogue of bands and artists from which to choose. The Who, Bowie, The Smiths… whoever he god damn fancies. Sweden are, again, less well served. The obvious choice would be Abba***, but The Soundtrack of Our Lives – defunct indy psych-rock, delivered with aggressive gusto by living viking Ebbot Lundberg – will be blaring out from my tinny iphone speakers.


    1. Assemble the booze.

    Quite possibly the best bit. Nick’s beverage of choice will be a North Brewing Co. Transmission IPA, a beer which he championed in this recent piece for the IndyBest. As it happens, Sweden have a pretty healthy brewing scene from which to plunder. Look beyond Kopparberg’s sins against cider and you’ll discover a whole host of breweries pumping out tasty wares. My liquid refreshment will be provided by Pang Pang, Sweden’s smallest brewery. In particular their zesty Flamingo-Go IPA will be gracing my gizzard and help wash down the potatischips.


    1. Don’t go silly.

    Stay sharp! There’s no sense in guzzling so much booze and ruining the match. Beer is to be tasted and enjoyed. We are not beer-sozzled heathens and will be drinking like the professionals we are, allowing one pint per half, followed by a post match pint with which to celebrate/commiserate.


    Enjoy the football, and up the blågult!



    The lowdown

    Brewery: Pang Pang, Hökarängen, Stockholm, Sweden
    Beer name: Flamingo-go
    Strength: 6%


    *Or two, when we crash out of the first round.

    ** The world’s worst sweepstake, what with only two of us taking part.

    *** Overrated rubbish


    The post Bottles for goalposts – How to watch the World Cup appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

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  • Growing grafted tomatoes: faster, higher, stronger

    Among our regular writing slots is a column for garden and power tool aces Stihl’s blog, with our most recently filed copy being on the benefits of using plug plants. To illustrate the piece we ordered three packs of plugs from Suttons online store (you get a much better choice online than at any garden centres near me) which included some grafted tomatoes.*

    I’ve never grown grafted vegetables before so was keen to see how they would turn out before writing about them and have been so impressed with their initial performance that I’ve decided to spread the word on this website as well.

    The plants have been labelled the Tomato Grafted Tutti Frutti collection and contain three varieties – two red cherry types (F1 Red Berry and F1 Cherry) and a cocktail type called F1 Mandarin, which is said to have ‘hints of mandarin’ in the flavour.

    They arrived over month ago in good condition, tucked into a plastic growing tray, and were immediately potted up before being planted out in the greenhouse a few weeks later.

    What is a grafted tomato?

    A grafted tomato is essentially two varieties of plants that have been joined together: the top part is selected for the quality of the fruit, and the bottom part for its resistance to infection and ability to absorb nutrients. In theory, the plants should grow much healthier and bear the kind of tasty fruits you might not get so reliably otherwise.

    As a newcomer to grafted tomato growing I’ve been googling a bit more information about the techniques involved but some of the science stuff started to make my brain hurt a bit, so I’ve just extracted this information from Wikipedia instead: “The cultivation of grafted vegetable plants began in Korea and Japan at the end of the 1920s when watermelon plants were grafted onto squash rootstock.” It’s now big business with, according to Wikipedia, an estimated 750 million grafts in Japan in 1998 and, more recently, the Europeans have cottoned on, with over 45 million grafts in Spain in 2003-04. So why has it taken me so long to get round to trying them for myself?

    How are they performing?

    Back to my own tomato trio and the early results are quite astonishing. They’re growing like tomato Olympians: faster, higher and stronger than anything else in the greenhouse. They went in a few weeks after my much bigger seed sown tomatoes (the variety Black Russians) in the same conditions – directly planted into the ground, under glass, with a mix of farmhouse manure and some water retention granules I found at the back of the shed.

    The grafters didn’t take long to catch up to the size of the Russians and now stand at almost twice the height, with good thick stems, healthy leaves and a few sets of flowers already awaiting the attention of pollinating bugs.

    Time will tell whether they continue at this impressive pace, and how the resulting tomatoes will taste, but if they continue in the way they’ve started I’ll be back for more grafted vegetables next year.

    guide to grafted tomatoes

    *The others were Dwarf French Beans ‘Safari’ which are perfect for filling holes in the veg plot and a Perennial Flower Luck Dip which are perfect for filling holes in my flower borders


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