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

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

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

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

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

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

    Snacks consumed

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

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

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

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

    The theme?

    Belgian beers…

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    Get your O.R.S. Hydration Tablets here

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

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    * Bread rolls, by any other name.

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

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

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  • Wild Tea. An announcement about our book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Siren, Lumina, 4,2%

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

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

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

    Buy Lumina here

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    Bunnahabhain whisky drams

    Bunnahabhain, Fèis ìle 2020 Wee Drams

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

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

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

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

    Visit the Bunnahabhain shop

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    Lindores Abbey Distillery Aqua Vitae

    Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae, 40%

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

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

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

    Buy Lindores Abbey Aqua Vitae

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    Freedom lager neighbour gift

    Freedom Lager, 4%

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

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

    Visit the Freedom Brewery Shop

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

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    JARR Kombucha

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

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

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

    Get your bottles of JARRs here…

    *Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast.

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  • Grow summer planting potatoes – perfect for your Christmas dinner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • New booze round-up #20: Low alcohol beers and a calvados discovery…

    We like discovering new things and, in this round-up, we’ve been introduced to some great new things. Like a new retailer for alcohol free beer. And apple-based spirit, Calvados. We may be a little late on the Calvados thing (it has been around for centuries after all) but we’re now eager to make up for lost time…

    Drop Bear Alcohol Free

    Drop Bear Co Tropical IPA, 0.3%

    It’s always handy to know drinks retailers that offer something a little different than usual. Good Stuff Drinks recently contacted us to introduce themselves and let us know that among their huge range of low alcohol drinks products are a bunch of beers that we might be interested in. Besides a few of our favourites (hello ‘Lucky Saint’ and ‘VandeStreek Playground’) is a selection we’d not encountered before, so the Good Stuff good folk sent us over a quintet to get our chops around (see the main photo for the full line-up).

    Thumbs were lofted for the lemony Coast Beer Co’s 0.0% Hazy IPA, but top marks went to Drop Bear Co’s Tropical IPA with an intensity of flavour that few alcohol-free beers can match. It has a strong, rootsy bitterness that suited the chalky dryness you often find in such beers, while our senses were showered with fruity hop flavours. Like much of the British population we’re increasingly stocking up on alcohol free beers and, by the looks of it, Good Stuff Drinks will be top of the list for future purchases.

    Buy Drop Bear Co Tropical IPA

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    Bottle of calvados

    Michel Huard Vieux Calvados, 40%

    Calvados, the French spirit made from apples (and sometimes pears) isn’t a drink we’ve had many dealings with, despite our love of cider. So we welcomed the opportunity to try out five of the best (and a Somerset Cider Brandy) as part of an online tasting session held by Dawn Davis of the Whisky Exchange.

    The first revelation was the discovery that some Calvados tastes EVEN BETTER THAN GIN* when mixed with tonic, with the fresh and vibrant Avallen being Dawn’s tonic-pairer of choice. Our favourite of the session was Michel Huard Vieux Calvados, aged for seven years and amazing value at under £50. Hugely complex, it has the tannic apple quality of some of our favourite ciders with bold and boozy oak flavours and a sweet marzipan softness to round it all out. Calvados may just be our new favourite drink.

    Buy Michel Huard Vieux Calvados, 40%

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    440ml gose

    To Øl Gose to Hollywood, 3.8%

    During lockdown, Nick has avoided all large supermarkets, shopping instead at a couple of independent shops with schoolmasterly strictness on distancing policies, and combining these trips with the occasional visit to the wide-aisles of his local M&S. While browsing the beer shelves during his most recent visit he noticed a few new recruits, including local booze from the excellent Arbor Ales and Electric Beer and a change of offerings from Danish brewmeisters Mikkeller. 

    Just below Mikkeller on the Danish Beer Family Tree sits To Øl and they too are now listed at M&S in the shape of a 440ml can of gose, soured to the max with the addition of orange juice. It’s an outstanding summer guzzler (our cans disappeared in a flash), sour and salty enough to make your eyes squint with an orangey freshness shining through the mineral astringency. Delicious stuff.

    Buy To Øl Gose to Hollywood

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    Nanobot session IPA can

    Beavertown Nanobot, 2.8%

    Beavertown has lately been shuffling towards the big brewery league, having welcomed an investment from Heineken in 2018, and it’s good to see such a player introducing a sub-3% ABV beer into its team of regulars. Nanobot is a session IPA which, at 2.8% neatly sits in the gap between a regular boozy beer and an alcohol-free offering, giving a decent amount of flavour with just a smidgeon of alcohol to the system.

    It’s a hazy, tropical kind of IPA-lite beer, with plenty of pineapple and soft peachy notes and a slightly tinny, piney, bitter finish. We enjoyed our cans and reckon it’s one to tuck into the picnic hamper when family picnics are back on the menu after lockdown…

    Buy Beavertown Nanobot

    *A bold statement indeed but we’re sticking with it.

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  • World Whisky Day 2020. The five best drams from unlikely countries

    The third Saturday of May marks World Whisky Day and to celebrate we’ve moved aside our bottles of Scottish, American, Irish and Japanese whiskies to enjoy a few drams from elsewhere in the world. To give you a taste of the whisky available from around the globe, here are five recommendations from less celebrated single malt whisky producing nations…

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    Filey Bay Whisky Bottle

    England

    Not that long ago Scots would chuckle at the paucity of whisky produced in England, but a recent spate of distillery openings has seen some fine boozes emerge, many of them good enough to give those from north of the border a run for their money. As an example of this increase The Whisky Lounge recently hosted a St George’s Day virtual lockdown tasting featuring whisky from five English distilleries – The English Whisky Company, Bimber Distillery, The Spirit of Yorkshire, The Lakes Distillery and The Cotswolds Distillery (for more information scroll to the end of this piece). Having visited the latter last year we’re already familiar with their excellent whisky and we were similarly impressed by the other boozes lined up for the evening. Looks like English whisky is here to stay.

    Try this: Filey Bay Moscatel Finish, 46%

    Filey Bay whisky is produced by the Spirit of Yorkshire distillery and this new release is our first tasting of their whisky. We got Eddie Ludlow, founder of The Whisky Lounge, to describe it for us: “The first thing that strikes me about the Moscatel Finish is a lovely, almost stem ginger and winey character running through it. It is a real sweety with lots of ripe citrus and summer fruits, like peaches and apricots. It also has a long, slightly oily finish and mouthfeel. Lovely stuff and perfect as an aperitif or a session whisky!”

    BUY

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    That Boutiquey Whisky Santis

    Switzerland

    The trend for new whisky distilleries has been spreading across Europe for a while and we’ve previously enjoyed excellent offerings from The Netherlands (Millstone), Sweden (Spirit of Hven), Wales (Penderyn) and France (Brenne). New to us this year is Switzerland which has around 20 whisky distilleries, with Langatun leading the charge. Our most recent tasting came from the Santis distillery, courtesy of That Boutique’y Whisky Company, who have an impressive track record of seeking out and bottling drams from far flung places. The distillery was set up in the Appenzell Brewery, which dates back to the 19th century, with whisky production beginning in 1999 and the brewery’s beer barrels used to age the spirit.

    Try this: That Boutique’y Whisky Company Santis 10 Year Old Batch 1, 51.4%

    This deep gold liquid has a very sweet, toffee-coated fruitiness to the aroma which suddenly crackles with gingery spice on sipping. There’s lots of oak, a squeeze of pair and a dusty sprinkling of toasted nuts before a lingering dry spice finishes things off. A very decent dram indeed.

    BUY

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    Starward Whisky Bottle

    Australia

    When we first looked into Australian whisky we were surprised at just how many distilleries the country contained (293 at the last count). Tasmania is the beating heart of the malted barley industry with 56 distilleries, thanks to an environment that is well suited to producing the spirit’s raw ingredients, including peat (albeit a different kind of peat to that found in Scotland). We have yet to properly explore the Aussie whisky output but have been suitably impressed by the few drams we have supped.

    Try this: New World, Starward Malt Whisky, 43%

    The New World Whisky Distillery is based in Melbourne and its Starward release has been earning many rave reviews. One such review was by us in a piece for the Independent where we remarked on it having “a warmth and richness that features nuggets of fruit-and-nut chocolate” before declaring it “a resounding success.” 

    BUY

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    Kavalan Whisky Bottle

    Taiwan

    There is only one whisky distillery in Taiwan – King Car – but its whiskies are among the best in the world. Bottled under the name Kavalan they benefit from Taiwan’s subtropical climate, where the heat and humidity rapidly sucks flavour from the casks and causes a greater rate of evaporation, producing whisky that is rich, intense and full of complexity. It’s not easy producing whisky in this environment (not least because there aren’t many other distilleries with whom they can compare notes) but the brains behind Kavlaan have mastered the process with amazing results.

    Try this: Kavalan Single Malt 40%

    Full of flavour and a brightness that transforms the oak into something much fruitier. Rich with a tropical freshness that drips with honey and a luxurious creaminess that makes it feel like a much more mature beast than it is.

    BUY

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    Rampur Select Whisky Bottle

    India

    No country produces or drinks more whisky than India. This is largely due to slacker rules on what can be classified as a whisky than other parts of the world (molasses is an accepted ingredient), but a nation with such an appetite for the stuff is bound to have at least a few top notch products. The three single malt distilleries you’re most likely to encounter in the UK are Amrut (distillery in Bangalore, single malt launched in 2004), Paul John (distillery on Goa, single malt launched in 2012) and Rampur, the original name of the vast Radicao Khaitan company who launched their first single malt whisky in 1995.

    Try this: Rampur Vintage Select, 43%

    This is a great entry level whisky, and not just for those looking to dip their beak into the Indian booze market. Smooth and sippable, with sweet vanilla and fruit flavours to the fore. Well worth a try.

    BUY

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    The full line up of English whisky from The Whisky Lounge Tasting Session

    The Whisky Lounge is a place where folk can discover whisky through various events and activities. Founder, Eddie Ludlow, had been keen to do something with English whisky for a while and, with the world in lockdown, decided to “fast-track it in our virtual tasting program.”

    The session featured a Q&A session with five English distillers and the opportunity for ticket-holders to taste their products while discovering more about their craft. According to Eddie “the event itself was our most successful virtual event so far, it sold out within days, with £5 from every of the 90 tasting packs sold, donated to The Drinks Trust. The feedback from the night has been incredible and I hope that we have been able to shine a light on the English whisky revolution! We have plans for lots of other virtual tastings including a revisit to English Whisky later in the year.”

    The five whiskies featured were as follows:

    The English Whisky Company – ‘Double Cask’ 46%

    Bimber Distillery – ‘Ex-Bourbon Cask’ 56.4% 

    The Spirit of Yorkshire – ‘Filey Bay Moscatel Finish’ 46%

    The Cotswolds Distillery – ‘Founder’s Choice’ 60.5%

    The Lakes Distillery – ‘Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.2’ 60.9%

    You can view the session in full on Facebook Live

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    Read our feature on the best Scottish Whisky for 2020 here

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  • Greenhouse gardening: five top tips on how to grow tomatoes

    If, like me, you’re the lucky owner of a greenhouse (you can read our how-to-put-up-a-greenhouse guide here) then you’ll be grateful that it allows loads of plants to grow at a much faster rate than those left outside in the miserable British weather. The fastest developers in our greenhouse are undoubtedly the tomatoes: they are easy enough to grow in most conditions and a doddle under the warmth of clear glazing.

    Even though anyone can grow them, there are a few bits of advice worth following to help them fulfil their tomatoey potential. Here are our five top tomato growing tips…

    snip shoots from tomatoes

    Support, ripen and snip out those shoots…

    Our top five tips for growing tomatoes in your greenhouse

    1 Water
    Tomatoes are thirsty fruit. Give them a good guzzle of water when you first plant them and continue to water regularly. However, it’s worth treating them a bit mean in the early weeks by skipping a few days. This will stop their roots lazily lapping up the moisture within the immediate vicinity, encouraging them to go roaming to find more. The result will be stronger plants.

    2 Feed
    Despite what every expert and fruit-feed manufacturer says, you don’t need to feed tomatoes in order to get a harvest. But if you want bigger, better yields it sure does help. You can buy food (usually called something with ‘tom’ in the title such as ‘Tomogrow’*) or you can make your own. Nettles chopped up and left to soak in water works (although it’s a bit stinky) as does watered down manure (equally stinky). Comfrey and seaweed mulches are also recommended.

    3 Air
    Although your tomatoes will love the tropical steamy conditions created by your greenhouse, they will also benefit from a bit of air to circulate through an open window or door. Not only will this allow pollinating insects easier access than by forcing their thoraxes through gaps in the construction, but it will also create a more stable growing environment and discourage nasty damp-related diseases from taking a grip. Furthermore, when temperatures reach scorching levels during the day, they usually plummet at night, and this exaggerated shift on the thermometer ain’t much fun for a plant.

    4 Support
    If you think tomato plants are so clever, what with their quick growing and showy, tempting bright red fruits, then why do they have such feeble stalks that collapse as soon the first tomato adds its weight to their structure? Eh? Give them a hand and keep them in a vertical position by gently tying to stakes or creating a framework of string for them to lean against.

    5 Snip
    Turn your back for two minutes and those eager growers will be sprouting shoots between leaf and stem. Unless you’re growing a bushy variety you should regularly snip them out with a pinch of your fingers. You don’t want excess energy going into side shoots – keep the plants climbing high and fruiting big. Another snip at the top of the plant is advisable when you’ve got a good amount of fruits set to focus energy into the harvest, rather than the rest of the plant. You can then also dispense with leaves at the bottom of the plant – these will just get in the way while you’re picking and prevent air from circulating between plants.

    *We don’t think ‘Tomogrow’ actually exists. Looking for a name for your new tomato feed business? Have it and thank us later…

    For more information about our Palram Harmony greenhouse check out their website here

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  • Five fantastic aniseed flavours for home made teas

    While researching for our new book, Wild Tea, we developed a liking for brews with the flavour of aniseed and set out to discover as many as we could find. Here are our five favourites…

    Fennel

    The undisputed aniseedy ace – its roots, leaves and seeds can all be used as an ingredient. It’s the vast Wild Fennel that’s best and dominates corners of our allotment and garden, and the seeds* are the highlight. Lightly crush a teaspoon of dried seeds and steep in a mug of hot water five minutes.

    Anise

    This Mediterranean plant has tiny seeds that are used in numerous sweets and boozes, including ouzo, absinthe, arak, sambuca and pastis. Lightly crush a teaspoon-full before adding to hot water or milk (a milky anise brew is a fine thing).

    Caraway

    Also known as Persian cumin and meridian fennel, these seeds are a common flavouring in rye bread. They have a milder aniseed flavour than fennel and are earthier with a slight peppery warmth to them. 

    Star Anise

    This spice is popular in Chinese cuisine and has a fruity aniseed flavour to it. Crush the stars into small pieces and use a teaspoon per cup for a fruity, spicy take on the aniseed theme.

    Liquorice

    We were surprised to discover that liquorice can be grown in British gardens so are now the proud owners of a plant. It’s the root that has the aniseed magic and, for the best cuppa, you’ll need to simmer a 50mm length in water for ten minutes. Alternatively, chop and bash as best you can and steep instead.

    +++++

    For lots more tea inspiration (including extended growing and brewing information on fennel and liquorice) get your hands on a copy of Wild Tea

    *Technically they’re the fruits…

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  • New Booze Round-up #19: British rum special!

    We’ve been commenting on how rum is on the up for a while and this year the curve seems to be arcing steeper, at least if the volume of rum-release emails we’re receiving is anything to go by. And they’re not all coming in from the Caribbean. For this edition of our New Booze Round-up we’re featuring three rums, each with the unusual distinction of being made in Britain…

    Bottle of pineapple rum

    Dead Man’s Fingers Pineapple Rum, 37.5%

    Rum’s attempts to be the new gin are evidenced in the huge variety of flavoured rums arriving on the market. In our experience, apart from myriad spiced rums, there is only one flavour that works consistently well: coconut. But we’re also beginning to believe that pineapple could be a best flavour contender, with Dead Man’s Fingers being the latest to give it a go.

    The Dead Man’s Fingers team hail from a crab shack in St Ives, Cornwall (Dead Man’s Fingers are the fingery gills in a crab) but distill their spirit in Bristol. Roasted, caramelised pineapple has been added to this rum, but it’s not as sweet or in-your-face-pineapple as you might imagine. Instead there’s a light pineapple flavour with a few sharp notes and a burnt toffee background that demands to be mixed with something fizzy and lots of ice. Lemonade, ginger beer or one of those tropical flavoured soft drinks that were massively big in the 1980s. Just make it cold and make it long for some terrific hot weather supping.

    BUY

    +++++

    Bottle of Silk Road rum

    Silk Road White Spiced Rum, 42%

    There’s a lot that’s unusual about this rum. It’s made in London. It’s a spiced white rum. And the six botanicals featured are vapour infused. Like most young white rums it’s best used as a cocktail mixer – sup it neat and the burst of alcohol will jab at your jaw before the spices deliver a knock-out punch. But calm the fire and you’ll notice it’s a much smoother sip, carrying those botanicals through to whatever drink you team it with, spicing up the flavours a treat.

    To make it sound even more unusual, we thought it worked well with tonic as a less bitter alternative to gin. And best of all was with flavoured tonics. Where these soft drinks can often kill the subtle flavours of gin, they mixed extremely well with the spices, allowing you to appreciate the flavours of the tonic as well as those of the rum. If you’re a cocktail experimenter then this rum is definitely one for you.

    BUY

    +++++

    Bottle of mainbrace spliced rum

    Mainbrace Rum, 40%

    Here’s another new rum with a Cornish connection, but to say it hasn’t come in from the Caribbean would be a bit of a lie. It’s a blended rum, dreamt up at The Ferry Boat Inn on the Helford Passage.* The spirits making it into the bottle are two to five year old golden rums from Guyana and an unaged Rhum** Agricole from Martinique.

    Rhum Agricoles are less well known in the UK but are the main type of rum in French speaking parts of the Caribbean. Unlike most rums that are distilled from molasses, Agricoles use sugar cane as their source and the resulting booze has a fresh and grassy flavour to it (perhaps unsurprising as sugar cane is a type of tropical grass).

    The folk at Mainbrace think this is the first such commercial blend*** of these two rum types and the resulting spirit is certainly different to others you’ll find in the UK. It has a good aged-rum aroma to it with sweet toffee to the fore, while those grassy notes lend the flavour a lighter edge and a dryness to the finish. It’s an excellent neat-sipper – not too challenging for those not used to sipping rum neat – and we are certain it will work well in your rum cocktail favourites, with a splash of fiery ginger being our preferred partner.

    BUY

    *Nick caught his first ever fish on the Helford river, over 40 years ago. A rock wrasse. He was way too young to be drinking so has now celebrated the occasion by raising a rum-toast to the mighty river and all who fish on it. (To see how stunning it is take a look at the pictures on the Mainbrace website)

    **French for ‘rum’

    ***Or ‘splicing’ as they call it, hence ‘splice the mainbrace’

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  • The best place in the garden for a bench (featuring the Turnberry Flat-Arm)

    A few years ago Rich got hold of an ace new bench from Sloane & Sons. His Westminster is a marvelous piece of craftsmanship and he has been bragging about it ever since, suggesting meetings round his house are held outside (even in winter) just so I’m forced to sit on the bench and admire its sturdy features.

    Last week we were chatting with the good folk at Sloane & Sons discussing how, with the country in lockdown, and gardens being busier than ever, those Westminster benches have been flying out of the warehouse.* During the conversation I casually mentioned that my own garden was currently bereft of benches** and, quick as a flash, they offered to rectify the situation with a handsome flat arm Turnberry teak bench.

    In return for this generosity I have agreed to write about the bench’s exquisite qualities while providing some insight into where the best place to position it might be…

    Where to place a garden bench

    Considerations

    Anyone unpacking a new bench might be inclined to simply plonk it where there’s some convenient space. But seeing as you’re going to spend a fair bit of time relaxing on your new piece of furniture it pays to give due consideration to where it might fit best, re-landscaping that area if necessary. When casting an eye across my own garden these are the questions that I worked my way through

    Do I want to maximise sun or shade?

    Which direction should the bench face?

    Should it be close to the house (for convenience) or as far away as possible (for escape)?

    What should the neighbouring planting scheme consist of?

    What surface should it sit on?

    My solution

    My garden is North East facing, so during the afternoon and evening the sunniest spot is at the end furthest away from the house. This is where my neighbours have their bench and they can be seen reclining on it, glasses of booze in hand, on most sunny evenings. However, the far end of my garden is currently a mess and I prefer a bench closer to the house.

    Besides giving me a shorter journey from beer fridge to furniture it also allows me to keep a better eye on dogs and children running in and out of the house. In design terms, a bench that is visible from inside the house can also create the illusion of the garden being an extension of the home, encouraging more frequent use of the outdoor space.

    Because most of my bench dwelling will be during the heat of the midday sun, some shade will be quite useful, so I’ve placed the bench among tall plants for a dappled light effect. It’s surrounded by rose and honeysuckle, giving me some floral fragrance while I relax, and there’s room either side for pots of further scented specimens (I will soon choose between lavender and rosemary).

    As it’s by the border it faces out across the lawn, giving me a good view of the garden (and my lager-swigging neighbours). I have a slate chipping surface, which allows it nestle down solidly while providing a dryer base than the lawn, which will help protect it from damp. I may be missing out on that evening sun but in situ it looks splendid.

    Turnberry 2 seater teak bench
    There’s comfort in those curves, while the view from the conservatory makes the garden feel like an extension of the house

    The bench

    Turnberry Flat Arm 2-Seater Teak Bench

    The main difference between my Turnberry bench and Rich’s Westminster is in its curves. Where Rich’s is all straight lines, my Turnberry flows with a graceful sophistication. A gentle arch across the top, and curved slats to lean against, provide excellent support and comfort for post-digging backs, while the smooth curvature of the arms is ideal for leaning on. Like Rich’s Westminster, the arms are flat, but mine widen at the front to create an ample platform on which to rest a mug or pint pot.

    The bench arrives as a flatpack, but assembly is easy – the back, base and arms are already made up so it’s just a case of fixing them together with the narrow strip of wood at the front. Simply hammer in a handful of wooden dowels and a screw in a couple of screws (the screws are underneath so won’t be visible) and you’ll have a perfectly sturdy bench that’s ready to take the strain.

    From now on, meetings are round my house.

    Wooden dowels and solid joints make the bench sturdy and avoid unsightly screws, while that curvy arm is crying out for the addition of a pint glass
    Wooden dowels and strong joints provide sturdiness while avoiding unsightly screws… and that curvy arm is crying out for the addition of a pint glass

    +++++

    If you want a Turnberry teak bench to rest upon the click here

    *Rich claims his bragging on this website is partly responsible

    **I had an old, narrow bench (converted from a shoe rack) which finally succumbed to rot last winter

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