• Praise be! It’s our booze ‘n’ gardening Christmas gift guide 2020!

    2020 eh? What a year. Were there times when it felt that Christmas would never come? And now that it’s imminent, do you not quite know what form it will take or how to plan for it? Do we, for example, put hand sanitiser at the top or the bottom of the chimney? Do Christmas Crackers need to be a minimum of 2 meters in length? Does the ‘rule of six’ apply to reindeer?

    Thankfully, when it comes to buying presents, we think things might be a little easier. Two trends that emerged during the summer of discontent were more people taking up gardening, and more people doing their booze drinking at home. So we’ll wager that booze and gardening gifts are a safe bet for more people than ever before.

    And where do you look for inspiration? Right here, of course, with our ace digging and swigging Christmas gift guide…

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    Acorn Vase and Avocado Vase, Ilex Studio

    “How do you grow an avocado from seed?” is one of those odd questions that Google gets asked a lot. It seems there are loads of folk who want to grow their own avocado trees despite the chances of an avocado harvest being very slim.

    But perhaps with the huge surge of interest for indoor plants, seeing a magnificent plant grow from seed in the home is more the appeal. And with these custom designed avocado seed planters those plants will look evening more stunning. 

    The seed rests in a cup at the top of the planter while the water-filled bulbous base allows the roots to spread out in full gaze of its adoring owner. The same trick can be pulled off with a smaller acorn planter, and seeing as it has been a mast year for oak trees, any recipient of this gift should have no problem finding a prize specimen for growing.

    Each planter comes with growing instruction so you won’t ever need to ask Google how to grow them again.

    BUY

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    Johnnie Walker Anniversary Whisky and Book

    This year the world’s favourite whisky, Johnnie Walker, is celebrating 200 years of blending Scottish booze, and they’ve pulled out all the stops with some quality giftable bottles.

    A ‘Celebratory Blend’, inspired by their original Old Highland Whisky, has been released at a great value-for-money £55, packaged in a beautifully designed white box that has an old photograph of the original John Walker shop in Kilmarnock rolling across the inside. 

    Fans of the more expensive Blue Label should be itching to get their hands on a limited edition version of this blend, ‘The Legendary Eight’,  made from eight distilleries that are each over 200 years old. (The roll call is Oban, Lagavulin, Teaninch, Brora, Cambus, Port Dundas, Carsebridge and Blair Athol). We’re very keen on a drop of Blue Label and this bottle, again in a beautifully presented package, is well worth picking up for someone special, retailing at £185.

    Anyone wanting to find out more about the history of Johnnie Walker might also enjoy a new book stuffed into their stocking. A Long Stride: The Story of the World’s No. 1 Scotch Whisky by Nicholas Morgan gives a thorough account of the brand and the people behind it, from its beginnings back in 1820, through rapid growth, the difficulties experienced by wars and the Great Depression and on to its current world domination. More than just the story of a hugely successful brand it is, in many ways, the story of blended Scotch whisky.

    BUY John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend

    BUY Johnnie Walker Blue Label The Legendary Eight

    BUY A Long Stride: The Story of the World’s No. 1 Scotch Whisky

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    Top Notch Trees from Send a Cow

    If you’re familiar with the Send a Cow charity then you’ll know it started out by sending cows to Ugandan farmers and expanded to provide aid to farmers throughout Africa through the purchase of sustainable, charitable gifts.

    This year you can lend support by buying a Top Notch Tree gift for just £21 – the tree itself goes to where it’s needed while your gift recipient will receive a gift card along with an African-inspired decoration to hang on their tree. The tree will be planted in their name and the charity aims to keep the giftee updated with growing reports and how it’s making a difference to people in its African home.

    We will leave the final message on why this gift is different to charity itself: “Send a Cow trees are different to your average tree-planting campaign. We understand that trees are only part of the jigsaw needed to regenerate tired land in rural Africa. The right tree, in the right place, can make all the difference. All of our trees are locally appropriate, multipurpose, and help the farmers who nurture them to overcome poverty and combat the effects of climate change.”

    BUY

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    Growing Perennial Foods by Acadia Tucker

    Published by Stone Pier Press

    Here’s a neat book to slip under the Christmas tree of someone who is new to the gardening lark, particularly if they’re both environmentally conscious and want nature to do most of the labour. It’s a guide to growing perennial edibles, with an extensive list of plants that fall into that category, with each one accompanied by a recipe for using them.

    Besides the obvious benefit of perennial plants (they reappear every year) climate activist and farmer Acadia Tucker advocates growing them as they’re more resilient than annuals and can thrive without chemicals or much water. Perfect for our lazier attitude towards gardening duties. 

    The growing guides feature a wide range of herbs, fruits and vegetables, each with very straightforward instructions, simply laid out with hand-drawn illustrations for company. Besides obvious perennials like rhubarb, fruit bushes and herbs, Tucker also points us towards varieties of perennial plants that are usually treated as annuals but can be grown for a longer life, such as beans and broccoli.

    Although written principally for an American audience, there’s very little in the way of plant choice or instruction that doesn’t translate to the UK grower and the recipes have a similar universal appeal, with such simple treats as Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto or Cabbage and Fennel Coleslaw. There are even a few drinks recipes thrown in, making it even more our kind of book.

    BUY

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    Foragers Playing Cards, Kikkerland Design

    Growing up we used to love playing Top Trumps, pitting cards of legendary Wild West characters against each other in a game of mostly luck and memory (and, if our memories serve right, Wyatt Earp was the card to get if your luck was in).

    These cards from New York’s Kikkerland Design are a bit like Top Trumps for foragable items, with scores out of hundred based on four categories: ‘edible’, ‘findable’, ‘recognisable’ and ‘seasonal’. Besides a bonus fact they also double up as playing cards, divided into suits, giving you multiple gaming options with which to test your luck.

    BUY

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    Booze Books

    Britain in a Bottle, by Ted Bruning & Rupert Wheeler 
    The Little Book of Pintfulness, by Howard Linskey

    For those who like a book to dip in and out of we have two recent releases to enjoy – one escorts you to places within the UK where booze is made, the other is full of the kind of daft nonsense we all like to spout down the pub when we’ve had a few drinks.

    In Britain in a Bottle, authors Ted Bruning & Rupert Wheeler take us on a tour of over 340 breweries, cider mills, vineyards and distilleries. Organised by region it has the appearance of a travel guide, but with all the museums, parks and natural wonders removed to concentrate on the good stuff: booze.

    Whenever we first look books like this we hone in on our local patch to check it’s up to standard and are pleased to report that Somerset is rammed with nine cidermakers and Pennard, who produce organic wine and cider. There are a few features scattered throughout, on such topics as ‘apples’, ‘beer styles’ and ‘botanicals.’ Easy to read, informative and invaluable for when we’re all allowed to travel the land again in search of boozy adventure.

    Howard Linskey, in his book The Little Book of Pintfulness, encourages us all to chill out with a few pints, advocating that beer is the perfect antidote to the stresses of modern life. It’s a mixture of anecdote and fact, written in a dry humorous style, covering plenty of pub-talk subjects such as ‘the lock-in’ and ‘the sneaky pint. It also has facts to share with your mates including ‘drinking ages around the world’ and even a beery ode from Edgar Allan Poe. 

    Two books that are a great reminder of the importance that booze plays in our national way of life.

    BUY Britain in a Bottle

    BUY The Little Book of Pintfulness

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    Not Your Grandma’s Riesling, 12%

    If you’re like us then you’ll buy in a few extra bottles of wine for impromptu gifts, should anyone bearing a tinsel-clad goodie show up who you forgot to add to your Christmas gift list. In this year-of-the-lockdown such surprise visits are less likely but it’s still worth being prepared.

    We’re liking Riesling at the moment and are thrusting it in everyone’s direction. We particularly like this Aussie number, produced using minimal intervention winemaking and small batch blending. It’s a zesty, refreshing kind of dry riesling, full of crisp lemon acidity, a load of fruity flavour and some essential riesling minerality. Get a load in and hope you won’t need to give it all away.

    BUY

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    Teeling Whiskey, Ginger Beer Cask, 46%

    Looking for a whisky that’s a little different than usual? Irish distillery Teeling, in collaboration with The Umbrella Project, has just the answer – a whiskey that has been finished in ginger beer casks. With a lot of whiskies it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what finishing casks have contained before the whisky enters them, but not this one, the gingery perfume and warming flavours are evident from the off.

    It’s a super fresh, smooth sipping Irish whiskey with a ginger kick – more than halfway to one of our favourite cocktails, the whisky mac – and that makes it alright with us. 

    BUY

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    Disclaimer: Most products featured in this list are the pick of the Christmas Gifts sent to us for review and some contain affiliate links

    Main illustration ©AVA Bitter / Shutterstock

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  • The Red Lion – an easy cocktail recipe

    Christmas is a time to flex your cocktail making skills and, besides shaking up our favourites, we also like to perfect something we’ve not tried before. This year we’re dabbling with a cocktail recipe from the 1930s that shows off the classic orange liqueur Grand Marnier and goes by the name ‘The Red Lion.’ Sounds like a pub. Must be good.

    As with most cocktails there are numerous versions, with some recipes containing a long list of bitters and other specific drinks brands. We’ve stuck with the original, a competition winner created by Arthur Tarling, with just four main ingredients: Grand Marnier, Dry Gin (we’ve introduced Bulldog’s bark to the Red Lion’s roar), Orange and Lemon. Here goes…

    How to make a Red Lion cocktail

    Ingredients
    30ml London Dry Gin
    30ml Grand Marnier
    15ml Orange juice
    15ml Lemon juice
    Ice
    Caster sugar

    Method

    First chill a cocktail glass then rub the rim with a piece of lemon and dip it into sugar (sprinkled on a plate) so your glass has a sugary rim.

    Pour the gin, Grand Marnier, Orange Juice and Lemon Juice into a shaker with ice and give it a good shake.

    Strain into the sugar-crusted glass and enjoy.

    About the drinks

    Grand Marnier
    Grand Marnier is a French booze brand that makes a few drinks but is best known for its orange liqueur (“Cordon Rouge”) made from Cognac, distilled wild bitter oranges and sugar. It’s one of the world’s most famous liqueurs and is a familiar site on cocktail bars all over the world. Well worth adding to your cocktail booze collection.

    BUY

    Bulldog London Gin, 40%
    This gin is easy to get hold of and very affordable. It’s got a few odd ingredients among its botanicals (Dragon Eye and Lotus Leaf) and a nice citrussy edge. A good value choice for cocktails.

    BUY

    Note: Samples of Grand Marnier and Bulldog Gin were sent to us for review purposes. This piece contains affiliate links.

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  • A Winter’s Pale – our Mikkeller spiced beer cocktail recipe

    A few weeks ago we were chatting with a booze industry pal about how much we like Danish brewery Mikkeller. “They’re in Sainsburys now” he revealed. “Rejoice!” we replied. And, with that, he set us a celebratory challenge: make a beer cocktail using a Mikkeller beer.

    We’re suckers for a challenge, especially when it comes to booze recipes, so set about conjuring something up. When thinking about creating cocktail recipes (or any other booze recipes) we have three very simple rules that we like to follow:

    1. Keep it simple
    2. Use complimentary flavours
    3. Keep it simple

    And if we could add a fourth, it would probably be “keep it simple.”

    With that mantra ringing in our ears we grabbed the nearest can of Mikkeller – a session IPA called ‘Evergreen’ – and pondered what would go with it. Inspired by a wintery chill that was sneaking in through the poorly insulated kitchen door we thought a touch of spice would be seasonally appropriate.

    The easiest way to incorporate spice, we reckoned, would be to plunge a shot of spiced rum into the beer. But that on its own was a bit too unsubtle. What we wanted was to find something to act as a conduit between the fruity, hoppy beer and the spiky, boozy rum.  We chose ginger beer, a drink that we know goes well with pale ales, and one that is regularly used in rum cocktails.

    Now all we had to decide upon was the garnish. Lime is a common choice for rum and ginger cocktails, but we felt its distinctive sour flavour didn’t quite work with the beer. Instead we went for orange, an essential ingredient in spiced rums and something that would work well with both the ginger and the bitter hops. There’s no need for ice with this one, chilled IPA and ginger beer from the fridge is just fine.

    Our cocktail recipe was now complete, with the punsome title ‘A Winter’s Pale’, and is presented below for you to enjoy. Cheers!

    A Winter’s Pale – a Mikkeller spiced beer cocktail recipe

    Ingredients
    Makes 2 servings
    330ml can Mikkeller Evergreen (or similar pale ale)
    330ml ginger beer (not an overly sweet one – we went with Fentimens)
    50ml spiced rum (we used Lugger)
    Slice of orange to serve

    Method

    Pour the ingredients into a jug and gently stir with a long-handled spoon.

    Fill a glass from the jug.

    Top with a thin slice of orange.

    Enjoy!

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  • The best booze for Christmas! Your guide to what to drink during the festive period

    Christmas is coming and there are loads of tasks you need to start thinking about now in order to be well prepared for the festivities ahead. There are the regular ones, like deciding what presents to buy everyone; the ones you always forget, such as pre-ordering the turkey; and, new for this year, teaching grandad how to use Zoom. 

    But perhaps the most important task, to be carried out with the utmost attention to detail, is deciding what drinks to stock up on.

    To help you on your way we’ve come up with this handy guide of sippable and gluggable treats, each fulfilling a specific role in the festive drinking calendar that you might otherwise overlook until it’s too late. Each one has been personally tested by at least one of us to guarantee its fitness for purpose and, as we steadily test our way through more products over the coming weeks, we’ll add to this list.

    For now, grandad’s lesson can wait…

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    The booze-filled crackers

    White Possum, Spirited Xmas Crackers (Gin)

    In a bid to rid the environment of plastic tat we wholly endorse crackers that have abandoned more familiar plastic trinkets in favour of booze. There are now so many on the market that Rich recently rounded up a load for the Independent, testing bang mechanisms and jokes until he was so deaf he could no longer hear his own laughter.

    This set of six gin-filled crackers from White Possum arrived too late for his review, which is a shame because they would be serious contenders for the top spot. They not only look and sound the part, but they contain the requisite paper hats and even the jokes are of an unusually high standard.

    And as for the booze? It’s great. Six 50ml bottles of top notch gin from the likes of Aber Falls, Brokers and Sipsmith. Cracking stuff.

    BUY

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    The party beer

    Mexican beer from Cerveza Loba, Propaganda Brewing, Cerveza Fortuna

    We’ve attended lots of celebratory events on Zoom this year, including birthday parties, reunions and festivals, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about helping to get things going it’s to make your booze a talking point. Bragging about your booze breaks the ice, at least until the actual booze kicks in.

    Earlier this year we were introduced to online retailer drinkscraft.com who specialise in nothing but Mexican beer, and the range provided an unusual talking point for our parties. The beer we enjoyed came from three breweries – Cerveza Loba, Propaganda Brewing and Fortuna – and each one of them was top notch quality.

    Among the beers are plenty of sessionable IPAs, wheat beers and lagers, along with an outstanding porter from Cerveza Loba. All perfect party material. And to really excite the crowds, Cerveza Fortuna served up a couple of unusual products that are uniquely Mexican. ‘Cantabeerto’ is inspired by the Cantarito cocktail and is brewed with light touches of agave, grapefruit, orange, lemon and salt. And even more bizarre is Sourdino, a tamarind flavoured sour beer that comes with a sachet of Tajin (chilli and tamarind powder) taped to the bottle’s neck, like a Mexican beer version of the old salt and shake crisps.

    So if you’ve been invited to a Zoom get together this Christmas then we recommend donning your sombrero and loading up on a party selection of the finest craft beers from Mexico. Bragging rights will be all yours.

    BUY

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    The sweet wine for everything

    Piesporter Goldtropfchen German Riesling Spatlese 2018 (£7.49, 75cl), 9%

    Here’s a challenge. What single wine style would you recommend to cover all that Christmas can throw at you? From hefty lunches to an overload of sweet confection; for lounging in front of the TV or for revving it up a notch with a party?

    We’re going to suggest Riesling, and this good value bottle from Aldi. It’s a medium-sweet wine, which might get some folk muttering with discontent, but we think a touch of sweetness helps with everything that Christmas brings. It also has a crisp edge of citrus and a minerality which helps keep it fresh when your taste buds are under pressure from the Christmas gluttony. If it has been a while since you had a Riesling then give this a go – we reckon you’re in for a sweet surprise.

    BUY

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    The post-work G&T

    The Outdoor Guide Gin, 40%

    In years gone by, the last day of work before Christmas would have us piling into the pub at lunchtime before finishing off the present buying on the way home. These days, a G&T in the kitchen at 5pm is more in keeping with the work-from-home era.

    We could pick any number of new gins to fill this slot but have chosen The Outdoor Guide’s gin as a reminder that access to fresh air and the outdoor environment has never been more valued than during this year of lockdown misery.

    The gin is a collaboration between TV walking champion Julia Bradbury’s The Outdoor Guide and the Derbyshire Distillery, with inspiration coming from the Peak District National Park. It’s a smooth and clean tasting gin that doesn’t go heavy on the juniper, allowing lots of floral flavours to come through along with some grassy sweetness and a minty freshness. 

    Best enjoyed on top of the Peak District but, failing that, at 5pm in the kitchen makes a perfect alternative.

    BUY

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    The mulled booze

    Especially Selected Mulled Wine, Aldi, £4.99, 11%

    Everyone should mull some booze over Christmas, if only to infuse the house with the quintessential festive aroma of cinnamon and cloves. While we usually advocate mulling your own drinks (it’s handy for us to rejuvenate less than perfect cider making experiments), there’s no harm in taking the short cut of buying a pre-mulled bottle.

    If you’re going down this route then don’t splash out a fortune. A fiver is plenty, which is all you need for Aldi’s Specially Selected mulled wine. With this bottle you’ll get a drink that ticks all the right mulled boxes: fruity wine, spicy flavours and the all important festive aroma. And if you want to make it a bit more fancy, stick a cinnamon stick or slice of orange in each mug when you serve it.

    BUY

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    The winter warming rum

    Lost Years Four Island Rum, 40%

    Not many drinks can see off a nip of winter’s chill quite as efficiently as rum. And for extra cold busting properties, a rum-based winter cocktail is hard to beat.

    As to what rum to plunder into your Toddy, Hot Buttered Rum or Maple Winter Warmer we would like to suggest Lost Years Four Island Rum. Not only does this Caribbean blend have the warming festive flavours of cinnamon and orange, along with a smooth caramel sweetness and prickly, peppery spice, but when you buy a bottle you’ll also be helping to save sea turtles.

    These special creatures are under threat and, through a donation of sales, the makers of Lost Years reckon that every bottle sold can save up to ten baby turtles. As for the Lost Years name, this refers to one of nature’s great mysteries. After hatching, the baby turtles disappear into the Caribbean waves and won’t be seen again for up to a decade. Drink rum, stay warm, save the turtles – everyone’s a winner.

    BUY

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    The cocktail liqueur

    White Heron British Framboise, 15%

    Raspberry liqueurs have always been right up there in our ‘favourite liqueurs list’. It was one of the first recipes we put up on the site, and one we spent a long time perfecting for our book Brew it Yourself, introducing thyme to the infusion.

    We like to sup it neat and use it for lending a vibrant red colour and tart fruity flavour to numerous cocktails, but perhaps its best use is to sink a measure into a glass of fizz when we’re pulling out all the stops to impress over Christmas.

    It’s getting a bit too late in the year to make your own for Christmas but thankfully liqueur aces White Heron have recently released a British Framboise, made using the finest Herefordshire raspberries. It’s vibrantly red and loaded with sweet and tart fruity raspberry flavours – we don’t know where they got their recipe from but it’s most definitely a winner.

    BUY

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    The instant cocktail

    NIO Cocktails

    With lockdown limiting our ability to go to bars there has been a huge surge in businesses offering pre-mixed cocktail delivery services for the home sipper. One such supplier is NIO Cocktails, an Italian brand who have impressed us with their letter-box friendly slimline packs of cocktails.

    The list of cocktails they provide is long and mostly comprises classics (we were mightily impressed by their Negroni) with each one well made from good ingredients. They’ve also thrown in a few Christmas specials, such as an Apple Rum Punch (with a hint of absinthe), that are equally simple serves of top notch quality. And there are even a few options for the fry drinker.

    Order online by selection a build your own box of 3, 6 or 9 cocktails, or plump for one of their luxury sets instead. Christmas may be a time for sharing and giving, but it’s also a time to be lazy, so if you fancy a few quality cocktails without the effort that goes into making them then NIO certainly fits the bill.

    BUY

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    Note: Each one of these products has been sent for us to review and we have chosen our favourites from the many suggestions we receive each week. We use affiliate links on some of our product recommendations.

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  • How to plant tulip bulbs for spring colour

    Over the past few months our New Business Team* has been working away to secure a top notch deal with ace bulb specialists Dutch Grown. The main thrust of the deal will see our Content Provision Team* produce guest blogs for the UK version of the Dutch Grown website when it launches (the first feature is on the remarkable looking Tulip Nachtwatch).

    To help cement this working relationship we’ve also agreed to write about some of Dutch Grown bulbs, and they kindly sent down a selection of mostly tulips for our Garden Build Team* to test out. We will go into these in more detail next spring when they’re in full bloom, but until then here’s a handy guide to planting tulips…

    How to plant tulip bulbs

    Tulips are great for folk like us who prefer maximum rewards from minimum efforts, as growing them involves little more than sinking bulbs into the ground and letting them get on with it. But for your best chances of success there are a few basic rules it’s worth following.

    When? October and November are your best months for tulip bulb planting, although you could get away with it a little later providing your soil isn’t rock hard from frost.

    Where? Tulips prefer a sunny position (and look much better in the sunshine) and are best planted in groups or en masse. They’re suitable for borders and pots but won’t tolerate over-saturated ground, so dig in grit if you think this could be a problem.

    How? Pop them in holes around 15cm to 20cm deep (according to size of of bulb) and make sure you place the pointy end upwards. Keep them around 20cm apart, although you can pack them tighter for smaller groupings (such as in pots).

    Care? If your soil is a bit tired and lacking nutrients then pep it up with some good compost before planting. After they’ve been planted they need little attention, other than watering in the unlikely event of a prolonged dry spell (although tulips in pots will almost certainly need occasional watering).

    What we’re growing

    Here’s a run down of the tulip varieties we’ve been sent to trial, along with a few other bulbs. We’ll be sharing some of these with friends to compare results.

    Tulip Dutch Dancer: Big tulip with fiery orange petals. Looks a real beauty.

    Tulip Elsenburg: A fancy ‘Parrot Tulip’ with pink and white ruffled blooms.

    Tulip Wow: A very unusual looking tulip, the likes of which we’ve not seen before. Massed with indigo petals that are white at the base. Looking forward to this one.

    Tulip Gorilla: Despite the name, this one looks a bit posh. Rich purple in colour and with a dainty fringe to the petals.

    Tulip Clusiana Mix: Clusiana tulips are small and pointy. We’re guessing this mix will contain several varieties for a kaleidoscope of colour. We will find out…

    Tulip Harbor Light: Another unusual tulip. Its white petals look like Mr Whippy has got a bit carried away filling a leafy green cone.

    Hyacinth Dark Dimension: A mass of purple flowers that are so dark they’re almost black. Grow these right and we could have a showstopper on our hands.

    Hyacinth Carnegie: The dainty white ying to Dark Dimension’s yang.

    Allium Art: The alliums we’re most familiar with open into cylinders made up of tiny flowers. This allium has gone renegade, shooting off flowers in all directions.

    Dichelostemma Ida-Maia Pink Diamond: Clusters of dainty tubular bloom that are bright pink with paler pink tips.

    *Nick & Rich

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  • New Booze #25: Whisky special! England, Scotland and an American Bourbon

    We’ve been writing a lot about whisky of late meaning that a lot of new releases have been heading our way in the run up to Christmas. We’ve set some aside for guides we have planned for Christmas and New Year, but we’ve got so many great samples that we’ve decided to review a handful separately.

    This list features whisky from a new English distillery; a new release from our favourite English distillery; an award-winning Scottish blend; a 38 year old Scottish single malt; and an unusual bourbon from Kentucky. Whatever your taste in whisky we think there’s something new here for you to discover…

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    Dartmoor Distillery, Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky. 46%

    We’re lucky that one of our favourite whisky makers, The Cotswolds Distillery, is within striking distance of our Somerset residences. And we’re now even more pleased that there’s another decent whisky distillery within easy reach in the opposite direction on Dartmoor.

    The release of the Dartmoor Distillery’s first three whiskies took us by surprise, but we’re glad to have been introduced to them because, even at just three years old, they’re tasting great. The three releases comprise an ex-Oloroso Sherry cask, ex-Bordeaux cask and, our favourite, an ex-Bourbon cask.

    This latter whisky has a touch of fruity new spirit about it on the nose and quite a light taste, with some very nice subdued damp oak flavours coming through in the flavour. On sipping, we think the fruit flavours veer towards prunes, which obviously gets a thumbs up from us, and we also appreciated the whisky’s drying finish. It tastes young but is not at all harsh, making it well worth enjoying now and giving us full confidence that it will mature into an excellent whisky in years to come.

    BUY

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    Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky, 57.4%

    Speaking of the Cotswolds Distillery, they too have a new release which we’ve been lucky enough to sample. It’s a whisky that has been matured in American and Spanish oak hogsheads and butts, seasoned with Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries.

    It immediately tastes like it belongs in The Cotswolds Distillery family, which is always a good sign, with lots of sweet dark fruits upping the richness factor. The sherry sweetness has a honeycomb tinge to it and there’s plenty of warming ginger and peppery spice. As you sip, the oak flavours snag the back of the tongue and hang around for a while. To us it feels like the kind of dram that would be appreciated on a rainy, wintery Saturday afternoon – and as we get a lot of those, a bottle surely won’t last long.

    BUY

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    The Singleton of Glen Ord 38 Year Old Whisky, 49.6%

    It’s not often we get our hands on single malt Scotch whisky that’s 38 years old, particularly a limited edition priced at over £2,000 a bottle, but a small sample of Diageo’s recent release from The Singleton of Glen Ord has found its way to us for reviewing purposes.

    We were tempted to squirrel it away for an extra special occasion and simply repeat the tasting notes from our sample bottle – ‘notes of baked apple and caramel drizzle’ – but that would be against our reviewing policy. So on a rainy November Monday afternoon it got lined up for a tasting session and was poured with expectant, trembling hands.

    There’s definitely baked apple to be enjoyed, but it’s an apple that has been laden with spices – cinnamon, earthy ginger, dried orange and some pepper with one heck of a kick. It’s the kind of whisky that instantly warms, and the thermal heat it provides lasts a long time, making it one to savour at a slow pace.

    There’s also a creamy fudge texture and sweetness that gives it some extra richness and helps its sippability, even when undiluted at 49.6% ABV. It certainly lifted the mood on a wet Autumnal Monday and we’re confident it will turn any day into a special occasion.

    +++++

    MacNair’s Lum Reek 21 Year Old Peated, 48%

    The first question we asked when receiving a 30ml dram of this whisky was, “what is a ‘lum reek’”? A quick google search revealed that it’s a Scotticism, translating as ‘chimney smoke’, that is used in the toast ‘lang may yer rum leek’, which is a Scottish way of wishing someone a long life.

    Having answered that question we were fairly confident that this would be quite a peaty dram. With 21 years of maturation behind it, the peat has mellowed into tobacco and leather territory, with ashy wood revealing itself towards the finish. There’s plenty more going on too, and we can detect some buttery sweet vanilla and another flavour that we’ve decided is like milk chocolate coated raisins (but we might equally decide it’s something else on another day).

    The whisky is a blend of GlenAllachie whisky and peated malts from Speyside and Islay that has been created by Master Blender Billy Walker in an interpretation of a whisky style from 100 years ago. And this modern masterpiece has been deemed so good that it was recently voted the World’s Best Blended Malt 2020. We will gladly raise a toast to its success.

    BUY

    +++++

    Rebel Bourbon Cognac Cask Finish, 45%

    Kentucky distillery Rebel has recently launched a bourbon finished in cognac casks and we managed to get a 50ml sample of it before it becomes widely available in the UK. 50ml is plenty enough for one good serving, but how best to enjoy it? We gave it a sniff and a tiny sip… corn sweetness, a boozy charred oak punch, and a deep fruitiness that sets it apart from their other releases. It’s a very sippable spirit and we were tempted to serve it with nothing but ice. But lately we’ve been in the mood for Old Fashioned cocktails and we thought this would be the perfect vehicle for a thorough test drive. 

    Just as we were assembling the ingredients, and perhaps inspired by the brand’s rebellious name, we decided to go off piste and ditched the recipe’s Angostura bitters in favour of a controversial few drops of peach bitters instead. Did it work? Did the peach bitters marry perfectly well with the orange garnish to set off the bourbon’s fruitiness a treat? And did the punchy booze cut through the lot in a way that makes Old Fashioned cocktails so appealing. Of course it did. If only we had another 50ml…

    The post New Booze #25: Whisky special! England, Scotland and an American Bourbon appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • The ‘Bite Away’ sting-easing gadget thing: Reviewed

    We have to admit, but when we were first approached to test this gadget, our ‘snake oil’ warning sensors started to flash. “How can a battery operated gadget ease sting-pain?” we gasped out loud to no-one in particular. “Can it really perform as well as the fleshy dock leaves that roam wild and free on our allotment? Will it be an improvement on the 40 year old, encrusted tube of savlon that lives at the back of the tea towel drawer?”

    We’re not short of sting-y scenarios to test out the Bite Away – Rich’s garden maintenance business often sees him flailing around in all sorts of spiky undergrowth and foliage. We’ve also got a wild bee hive down on the allotment which – any time soon* – will be full of lovely honey and obligatory bees, which are sure to turn cantancerous as we steal fistfulls of their sticky golden treasure. For convenience, however, we turned to our old pal the nettle and proceeded to self-flagellate for the purposes of this review.

    The instruction manual tells us that the Bite Away is designed to deliver a small burst of heat (called ‘localised hyperthermia’) that encourages a natural response from the body to reduce pain. It does this through the small ceramic pad situated on its snout – the pad is positioned on the epicentre of sting, and the user can select either a three second burst (for sensitive types) or a six second burst (for macho heroes).

    The three second heat burst we self-administered felt a bit freaky at first, but once once you realise it’s not going to intensify to horrendous levels and sear your flesh in the manner of a sadistic, cigarette-wielding bad guy from a gangster flick, you can relax and let the gadget do its stuff. Clever – and it actually works. After a single application, our scratchy, self-induced nettle injury was left appeased and itch-free.

    Bigger tasks may await. We are currently embroiled in this year’s cider making which is resulting in an absolute wasp-fest** as the local stripey pests clamour for our delicious juice. No stings have been registered at the time of writing, but our Bite Away remains on red alert, just in case.

    ———

    The Bite Away costs £26.99 and you can buy one HERE

    ———

    * It remains currently unoccupied, but we’ve reduced the rent to see if that makes a difference.

    ** Accompanied by the sound of loud, sustained swearing.

    The post The ‘Bite Away’ sting-easing gadget thing: Reviewed appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • How to make the perfect Mai Tai cocktail with Appleton Estate Rum

    The origins surrounding many of the world’s most celebrated cocktails are lost to history, becoming the subject of myths and legends, and with ingredients changing to adapt to whatever yarn is being spun. But there are other cocktails that have much better known histories, with precise ingredients documented.

    One such classic cocktail that we’re rather keen on is the Mai Tai, and we were reminded of its rum and orange majesty after we received a gift from the Appleton Estate Rum club that included a pre-made cocktail, along with instructions on how to make our own (see below).

    Appleton should know better than most how a Mai Tai is made, because it was originally created to show off one of their 17 year old rums which, at the time, went under the name J. Wray & Nephew Rum.

    According to the story in our cocktail club notes, the original Mai Tai was created in 1944 by bartender Victor Bergeron, who was also known as Trader Vic’s. He wanted to mix up a cocktail for a friend from Tahiti, with the 17 year old rum at its heart. Upon sipping the drink, his friend exclaimed “Maitai roe ae!”, which translates as “Out of this world – the best!”. And thus, the Mai Tai was born.

    Those notes don’t mention Trader Vic’s subsequent feud with serial cocktail inventor Donn Beach who claimed the Mai Tai copied one of his earlier recipes – but seeing as the ingredients vary wildly we’re not sure Donn’s claim matters.

    How to make the perfect Mai Tai cocktail

    Having lapped up the history of the Mai Tai it’s now time to get your chops around a cocktail for yourself. Here’s the recipe provided by Appleton Estate, substituting their recently relaunched 8 Year Old Reserve for the original 17 year old. We hope you find it out of this world…

    The Appleton Estate Mai Tai

    35ml Appleton Estate 8 Year Old Reserve BUY

    15ml Grand Marnier or Orange Curacoa BUY

    15ml Orgeat* BUY

    25ml Fresh Lime

    Garnish: 1 lime shell & fresh mint spring

    Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with cubed ice and shake until cool. Fill an old fashioned glass** with ice and poor the Mai Tai over it. Garnish with the lime shell and a mint sprig. Manuia!***

    +++++

    *Almond syrup

    **A short glass tumbler. Imagine the kind of cut glass crystal that a hard-nosed newspaper editor from a 1960s movie might fill with whisky from and you’re there.

    ***Tahitian for ‘cheers’, according to a quick Google search.

    The post How to make the perfect Mai Tai cocktail with Appleton Estate Rum appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • 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!

    +++++

    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

    +++++

    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

    +++++

    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

    +++++

    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

    +++++

    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

    +++++

    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

    ++++

    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…

    ———-

    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/

    ———-

    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/

    —-

    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

    ———-

    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/

    ———

    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/

    ———-

    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/

    ——–

    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?

    ——–

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

    ——–

    * 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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