• New Booze Round-up #15: Boozy tea, whisky, wet hop and cider from Luxembourg

    Welcome to our first New Booze Round-up of 2020, where we showcase our pick of the products sent to us to review over the festive period. You’ll find some interesting new blends of booze and tea; an excellent IPA; a 12 year old whisky that we’ve not previously tried; and some alcohol-free beers that are perfect for those embarking on a Dry January.

    noveltea blends

    Noveltea, Oolong Tea with Whisky, 11%

    We reckon that tea is an under-explored ingredient in the booze market, so we were excited to hear from a new brand called Noveltea, who blend tea with spirits to create drinks at a very sippable 11% ABV. In the run up to Christmas we tested out three Noveltea releases with a full tasting panel, and feedback was mixed: for some the cocktail-ish blends didn’t quite work, but others declared them among the best new drinks they’ve tried in a while. The blend most flavoured was a combination of Oolong Tea and Whisky (the others were Earl Grey with Gin and Moroccan Mint with Rum), where the fragrant tea was complemented by sweet mango and the whisky brought out some depth and dryness. A pleasant whisky twist to tea-time.

    BUY from £9.95


    BigDrop alcohol free cans beer

    Big Drop Brewing Co, World Collab Series

    In the past few years, the alcohol-free beer market has massively upped its game, with lots of new releases providing quality and variety. Big Drop is a brewery at the forefront of alcohol-free innovation and one we’ve been keeping a close eye on. Towards the end of last year they pushed the boozeless boat out even further with some remarkably good collaboration beers, exploring new flavours with some of the most exciting breweries in contemporary beer scene: Fyne Ales, Salt, Fourpure and Harbour. 

    The four beers encompass a wide range of styles, with a hibiscus saison, raspberry gose and black IPA in the pack. Our pick of the drinks was an India Pale Lager, brewed with Salt Beer Factory, that more than matched our expectations of the advertised style: light and refreshing with a good pale malt backbone and some lively hopping in the mix. Let’s hope Big Drop have a few more alcohol-free collabs earmarked for 2020.

    Find out more


    anCnoc 12 Year Old, Single Malt Whisky, 40%

    We consider ourselves easy people to buy Christmas presents for: there is hardly a type of booze we don’t like.* Of the gifted bottles we eagerly opened this time round, anCnoc 12 Year Old whisky was the pick. The first thing that appealed was the packaging – one of the best we’ve seen for a whisky. The design is understated but full of finesse, with a sketchy illustration of the Knockdhu Distillery, and effectively simple and elegant typography.

    We know that you shouldn’t judge a whisky by it’s label, but it perfectly echoed the drinking experience: seemingly simple and unfussy at first, but with subtle fruits and spices that gradually build a much more complex picture. It has quickly established itself as one of our ‘front of shed’ boozes, kept at easy reach for quick access. It has also become a key player in tasting sessions – the whisky we use as our ‘control’ – and it made the best hot toddy we’ve had in a long while.

    And the extra good news is that when our gift bottle runs out (soon, we imagine) it won’t break the bank to replace it.

    BUY £30.95


    Borough Market Wet Hop IPA, 4.3%

    One of our favourite beers of last year came from Borough Market, who teamed up with Daniel Tapper of the Beak Brewery to produce an outstanding saison brewed with Earl Grey Tea (yes, more boozy tea). To celebrate the market’s 21st anniversary they’ve put their brewing hats back on, this time with Villages brewery lending a hand, to conjure an IPA full of fresh ‘wet’ Fuggles hops grown in the Market Hall.

    To compliment the florally fresh, green and earthy taste of those English hops, further flavour has been squeezed from Ekuanot, Azacca and Mosaic hops, making it juicy and fruity with a decently bitter finish. It’s an invigorating kind of IPA; one where a sip turns into a glug and you’re quickly checking to see if there’s any beer left in the can for one more mouthful. The best beers always leave you wanting more, and oh do we want more.


    Ramborn Medium Dry Cider, 5.8%

    We’ve had this cider on our radar for a while now while now but this is the first time we’ve managed to get our hands on a bottle and give it a good old glug. We’ve not exactly been avoiding it, but (and this may sound all Brexity and ignorant**) Luxembourg is not the first country that comes to mind when imagining lovely pints of cider from bucolic orchards weighed down with bounteous fruits. Luxembourg makes us think of strongly performing investment banks and the birthplace of, er, (checks Google) Jean-Claude Juncker.

    But what fools we have been! Ramborn cider is a beautiful, straw- coloured cider with a cheek puckering acidity and soft tannins – well worth its place amongst Somerset’s finest in our handsomely stocked cider shed. At the time of writing, Ramborn ciders are not readily available in UK shops, but you can grab some from our favorite online cider-peddlers, Crafty Nectar.

    Click HERE, buy a case and wrap your junkers around a lovely golden pint.

    *Rich’s gift to Nick – Camden’s 2019 Year Beer; Nick’s gift to Rich –  a bottle of Pedro Ximinez Sherry.

    **We most certainly aren’t Brexity.

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  • A Christmas pear infusion

    Here’s a simple vodka-based infusion concerning our dear old pal, the pear. It’s a spicy concoction that only takes a few days to mature, so get on it now and you could be enjoying a nice glass or two on Christmas day whilst slumped on the sofa, counting down the seconds until your relatives clear off.

    You will need:

    750ml vodka
    2 pears*, sliced (core them if you can be bothered)
    I cinnamon stick
    3 or 4 Star anise


    1. Pour the vodka into a large kilner jar or similar vessel. It doesn’t have to be the highest quality vodka – any brand will do. 
    2. Add the chopped up pears, seal the lid and give it a good shake.
    3. Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for about 5 days, giving it a gentle shake every day.
    4. On the fifth day, add a stick of cinnamon and star anise to the mix and leave for a further two days.
    5. Fish your empty vodka bottle out of the recycling bin and strain the infusion through a muslin cloth, back into said bottle.

    We like supping this pear and vodka infusion with a nice glass of tonic water. Add 2 shots per 150ml of tonic water. Drop in a couple of ice cubes if you like.


    *Any pear variety will do, but we used Conference pears. Don’t have any Conference pears to hand? Then you’d better enter our GREAT Facebook competition in collaboration with our pals at https://tree2mydoor.com

    Go Go GO!

    For more practical pear advice, go HERE


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  • What is frass? The organic fertiliser made by flies…

    A few weeks ago we were introduced to an Irish company called HexaFly. As the name implies, they deal in flies and, in particular, the black soldier fly. They thought we might be interested in one their products, HexaFrass, an organic fertiliser produced by their flies’ larvae.

    We have a bag and will soon be putting it to use on the garden, but first we wanted to find out more about the product and process behind making it. So we sent over a few question’s to HexaFly’s CSO Laura Healy for some fast frass facts…

    What is a Black Soldier Fly?
    The Black Soldier Fly, or Hermetia illucens, is a tropical insect known for its bioconversion abilities during its larval phase. These larvae can convert any organic material and have powerful enzymes and antimicrobial activity to help them excel in such conditions. They will happily digest waste material into frass fertiliser and work alongside colonies of bacteria and other microbes. They do not get sick, the relationship is symbiotic between the microbes and the larvae, and they do not host diseases. This makes them a much desired species to work with for bioconversion. 

    How many flies do you farm? 
    At any one time, we house millions upon millions individual Black Soldier Fly at different stages of their life cycle (eggs, hatchlings, larvae, pupae and adult flies).

    How do you go about breeding and looking after these flies?
    We have developed technology to successfully breed, grow and look after these tropical insects right here in Ireland. We carefully cater for their nutritional needs, environmental conditions and social behaviour. The Black Soldier Fly are very social amongst their colonies so it is important we ensure they can easily interact with each other and, in turn, promote natural breeding and feeding habits. 

    One of the products you sell from these flies is the fertiliser ‘frass’. What is frass?
    Frass is essentially the poop of any insect, in this case the Black Soldier Fly Larvae. As they feed they produce a fine waste material called Frass. It is an excellent, powerful natural fertiliser. Our HexaFrass is certified-organic. 

    What are the benefits of using frass on the garden?
    Studies have shown its ability to deter pests such as aphids and so is a brilliant natural way to fend off unwanted pests! It also contains chitin which is a biopolymer known for eliciting an immune response and promoting growth of healthy soil microbes. It has an NPK* of 3-1-1.

    What other products do you sell from Black Soldier Fly farming?
    We have a range of products for multiple industries such as the pet food industry, plant nutrition industry, poultry, hen and animal feed industry, feed ingredients, human care and cosmetic and oleochemical industries.

    Our HexaMeal is a protein-rich meal made from the Black Soldier Fly Larvae. It is a replacement for unsustainable fish meal and soy-based meals. It is also sought after to make pet food like healthy dog treats. 

    Our grubs are a fantastic feed for hens and chickens, with research showing a better tasting egg arising from hens fed Black Soldier Fly Larvae! It makes a lot of sense – insects are naturally part of free-roaming hens and other poultry so these results aren’t all that surprising. Studies have also shown grubs to be a valuable environment-enricher for hens and poultry. 

    Are you looking at farming other insects in future?
    Right now we have so many avenues to explore with the Black Soldier Fly. However, as the insect revolution progresses and we get more used to the idea of not only feeding insects to our animals but as a food for humans too, who knows what other opportunities will arise in this upcoming sector. 

    Can humans eat Black Soldier Flies? If so, what do they taste like and what drink would you recommend pairing with them?
    Yes, some companies are producing products for humans with Black Soldier Flies. We heard they are delicious when roasted, not far off bacon – so in that case we would suggest a crisp apple cider to go with a plate of oven-roasted Black Soldier Fly Larvae!

    Black Soldier Fly fertiliser

    For more information on HexaFrass, visit the HexaFly website at www.hexafly.co

    *Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P), Potassium (K)

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  • Hark! It’s our digging and swigging Christmas gift guide 2019!

    Stuck for a gift to give this Christmas? Then allow us to be of assistance. For the past 12 months we’ve been squirrelling away some of our favourite booze and gardening gifts and now we’re ready to reveal our top picks. This year there are so many tempting treats that we’ve divided them into categories, which we’ll steadily publish in the run up to the big day. Gardening gifts, gins and whiskies to follow, but first up we have books.

    Take a peak at this lot then come back for more additions later.
    (And note that prices are RRP at time of publication… some of them are likely to be much cheaper when you click on the ‘buy’ link)

    Book gifts

    Sophie Atherton Book

    30-Second Beer by Sophie Atherton

    Beer writer and sommelier Sophie Atherton is one of the nicest people in the business and, with this book, you’re able to tap into her vast beer knowledge (and that of several other industry experts) by the flick of a page. The book’s not-so-snappy-subtitle explains the concept neatly: “The 50 essential elements of producing and enjoying the world’s beer, each explained in half a minute.” Except that by the time you’ve taken into account the various glossaries, side bars and facts, you end up with way more than 50 elements, all covering a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. With subjects ranging from hops and yeast to beer storage, beer festivals and monastic breweries, this is the perfect book to dip into between pints.

    £14.99 Buy


    Dave Hamilton Book

    Family Foraging by Dave Hamilton

    Our good pal Dave Hamilton is a foraging expert, often helping us out with some wild food knowledge. He’s one of the people we trust most to get things right in terms of identification, edibility and usefulness, which is vital if you’re teaching kids how to pick wild ingredients. So this book is the perfect accessory for anyone keen to get their nippers to nip out into the wilds and snip a tip of two of leafy treats. Besides being loaded with identification advice, the book is also packed with fun recipes for the family to make, from sumac lemonade to nutty chocolate spreads. Grab yourself a copy and let the kids go wild.

    £16.99 Buy


    Jackie Bennett Book

    The Artist’s Garden by Jackie Bennett

    Every garden is a work of art – a collaborative effort between gardener and nature. So it’s hardly surprising that a huge number of the world’s most celebrated artists have used gardens as their muses. Jackie Bennet’s book acts as an ‘open garden’ to many of these artists homes, featuring the work of Monet, Cézanne, Kahlo, Dali and more. Through reproductions of paintings, photographs and Jackie’s in-depth knowledge of the artists she describes what it was about these settings that drew such artistic inspiration, bringing each unique outdoor space to life.

    £30 Buy


    Claire Bullen Book

    The Beer Lover’s Table by Claire Bullen and Jen Ferguson

    Jen Ferguson is co-founder of bottle shop Hop Burns & Black, and is one of the people we turn to when researching new beer – not many folk have their fingers so expertly positioned on the pulse of beer than Jen. For this book she has teamed up with cook and beer writer, Claire Bullen, and the pair have set about conjuring 65 fantastic food recipes and recommending craft beers to go with them. Packed with invaluable booze knowledge and easy to cook meals, this is more than simply beer plus food menu suggestions, offering plenty to read even when you’re not cooking in the kitchen.

    £16.99 Buy


    Mark Diacono Book

    Sour by Mark Diacono

    You’ll need a sizeable stocking to carry this weighty tome, but we’d heartily recommend asking Santa for ‘Sour’. Written by River Cottage escapee Mark Diacono, it features recipes based on the concept of sour which, as Mark puts it, is the magical element that will transform your cooking. Sourdough, yoghurt, kefir and pickles – this book has the lot. Nick can personally vouch for his princely Persian Fish Stew, whilst there are not many dishes in the Hood household that have escaped a dusting from Diacano’s mighty chaat. Go get.

    £25 Buy

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  • New Booze Round-up #14: Rums, gin jam and how to create a perfect storm

    Our latest round-up of the booze that’s making the nooze includes a pair of beers, a couple of rums and a gin-and-jam combination that we reckon would serve as a decent stocking filler. We’ve also got a “low waste” cocktail recipe for you to enjoy. Thanks, as ever, to the good folk who sent us samples for this feature…

    Grander 8 Year Old Panama Rum, 45%

    There are two things that interest us about the narrow strip of label on this bottle. Firstly, it’s a rum from Panama, and we’re not sure we’ve previously tried any booze from that country. And secondly, it displays a ‘no additives’ message. Adding sugar (and other flavours) to a rum isn’t considered as much of a crime as it is with other spirits, but even so it’s good to see a product declaring its purity.

    Both 8 and 12 year old Grander rums were released in the UK for the first time earlier this year, and we were grateful to get our hands on a bottle. It has been aged in ex-Bourbon barrels, which help to lend it some toasty spices to the smooth vanilla flavours of the rum, and it’s clean and flavoursome enough to sip neat while being suitably punchy for a cocktail. A good all-rounder for the rum drinker.


    The Kraken ‘Reef Wreckage’, 47%

    Everyone is familiar with The Kraken spiced rum, yes? There’s nothing new about this booze. What’s new is the fancy limited edition ceramic bottle this Kraken is packaged in.

    The ‘Reef Wreckage’ bottle has been produced to help raise money for the good work done by marine conservation movement Surfers Against Sewage, and in particular to highlight the damage currently being done to the world’s reefs.

    It follows a successful campaign last year when The Kraken teamed up with the organisation to help clean up beaches across the UK. To go with our rum we were also sent a recipe for a ‘low waste perfect storm’, which turned out rather well, so we’ve published it below. And while you’re drinking it please check out www.theleagueofdarkness.co.uk for more information on The Kraken’s work to help protect our oceans.

    Pinkster Gin Cracker Gift

    We’ve been getting festive in the Thirsty Gardeners Test Shed, pulling box-loads of booze-filled Christmas crackers to give them a thorough test for a piece in the Independent. Our ears are still ringing to the noise of the bangs and we’re slowly trying to win back friends after trying out appalling cracker jokes on them for the last few weeks.

    One cracker that didn’t quite make the cut, but is worthy of a mention, was sent to us by Pinkster Gin. It was felt to be lacking in traditional festive values for the piece (no bang, hat or joke and dressed in branded pink livery), making it more of a gift purchase than one to sit next to the turkey. But there’s nothing wrong with the contents. Not only do gleeful recipients get a bottle of Pinkster Gin but they are also rewarded with a small jar of gin jam. This boozy bonus gives you not just something to knock back after the Christmas pudding has been demolished, but also a gin-based spread to for your boxing day breakfast, bringing Gin O-Clock forward by several hours.


    Anspach & Hobday, The Porter, 6.7%

    This isn’t a new beer. We’re featuring it because, along with Anspach & Hobday’s The Cream Ale and The IPA, it has just been added to Marks & Spencer’s range of core beers. It’s one of our favourite ever porters, brewed by one of our favourite UK breweries, now available in the shop where Nick buys most of his beers. And if that’s not good news then we don’t know what is.

    If the beer is new to you then here’s how we described it last year in a feature for the Independent: “A richly delicious dark drink that has layers of every kind of roasted malt flavour you can imagine. Porter perfection.”

    Camden Town Brewery, Off Menu IPA, 5.8%

    Another drinks round-up and another mention of Camden Town Brewery. They keep sending us new releases, we keep being impressed by their quality, so we continue to write about them. It’s a happy chain of events.

    But there’s something a little different about this latest can of beery brilliance: it’s not a lager. Surprisingly, for a brewery that has been in operation since 2010, this is their first IPA and, just like those lagers, it’s effortlessly simple and refreshing.

    We had our first can with a substandard takeaway curry* and it hit all the right notes, thrashing the food for flavour and making the whole meal more enjoyable as a result. It has some of the hazy juiciness favoured by contemporary IPA brewers and a pronounced sharp, piney bitterness, with a maltiness that left a sticky sweet mark on our ghee-stained lips. A delicious IPA that deserves much better from any accompanying food.


    Low Waste Perfect Storm Recipe

    50ml The Kraken Black Spiced Rum
    25ml soda or sparkling water
    1 lime
    4 slices of ginger
    2 cubes of sugar (or 10g)
    1 star anise
    1g all spice
    1 cassia bark slice (ie. a bit of cinnamon stick)
    2 whole cardamoms

    Cut a lime in half. From one of the halves slice off a wedge for a garnish. Squeeze the lime juice into a cocktail shaker then chuck in the used husks.

    Pour in 50ml The Kraken Rum and top up with 25ml water.

    Add the sugar and spices (we suggest cracking the cardamoms first), seal, and shake for a good 10 seconds to dissolve the sugar then leave to infuse for five minutes.

    Strain into a glass, add ice and top up with soda or sparkling water, not forgetting lime garnish.

    This is called a ‘low waste’ cocktail because, according to our press release, it uses “low waste ingredients” and “all ingredients are compostable.” We reckon you can reduce waste further by reusing the ingredients (with the addition of more lime juice) for several more of these cocktails before composting.

    *Vegetable dopiaza. Undercooked wedges of onions with a few frozen peas and sweetcorn served in an oily slick of tomato gravy.

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  • How to pickle onions

    Rich rarely passes up an opportunity to mention his gherkins. “Look at how magnificent they have grown” he squeaks all summer long. “Behold my giant jar of crisp, pickled gherkins” he boasts whenever I pop round his house for another tedious team meeting.

    While it’s true that his gherkins are firm, knobbly and sour enough to make a chef blush, I much prefer to grow and pickle onions, believing that no vegetable tastes as good after a prolonged bath in vinegar than the princely edible allium.

    Cracking open a jar of my pickled onions has become a Christmas day tradition, as ritualistic as the pulling of crackers, the flambéing of Christmas pudding and the opening of a bottle of strong, dark beer as soon as breakfast has settled.

    So now, with another November pickling safely negotiated, I feel the time is right to share my methods, giving you all the chance of getting one up on Rich and his jar of knobbly gherkins.

    A step-by-step guide to pickling onions

    1 First, choose your onions
    You can use any type of onion (slice them if they’re big) but shallots are the best. There are even some varieties that have been specially marked out for their pickling excellence which are available to sow or buy if you look hard enough. The key attribute for prime onion pickleability is a bullet-like firmness.

    2 Next, peel your onions
    You could reach straight for the knife to whip off the brown skins but, for a more precise and easy peel, first soak them for five minutes in a bowl of boiling water and rinse until cool enough to handle. Trim the bare minimum from the tops and bottoms (excess trimming could cause more layers to slip off) and the skins should peel away with ease.

    3 Salt your onions
    Now roll your bald onions in salt and leave in a bowl overnight, rinsing the salt away in the morning before patting dry. Although this stage is optional, the salt-and-rinse method will extract moisture from within the onion and you will be rewarded with a crisper, crunchier, firmer pickle in the long run. Worth the extra effort.

    4 Prepare your pickling vinegar
    You could use cider vinegar.
    You could use wine vinegar.
    You could use clear distilled vinegar for clarity of onion.
    Or you could use a combination of all three.
    But for the best results use good ol’ dirty brown malt vinegar. You’ll need roughly an equal volume of water to weight of onions – ie 100ml vinegar for every 100g of onions. And you also need 40g white sugar per 100g onions.

    Pour the vinegar into a pan and add your sugar and the allaimportant pickling spices. I go for the following:

    1 teaspoon mustard seed

    1 teaspoon of black pepper

    1 bay leaf.

    I also produce an extra jar with a teaspoon of dried chilli added, should anyone dare complain that my standard pickle isn’t spicy enough.

    Gently heat the vinegar and spices for five to ten minutes (don’t let it boil), stirring to dissolve the sugar, then set aside to cool.

    5 Pack your pickles
    Now is the time to pack your onions into jars. You’ve sterilised your jars first, yes? If not, wash in hot water and dry in an oven on a low heat. Or chuck them in the dishwasher. Make sure you allow them to cool before the cooled vinegar goes anywhere near the glass.

    Place the onions into the jar leaving as little space between them as possible (think like a dry-stone-waller and build layers of onions according to size and shape). Fill with the pickling vinegar, including the spices (although I always remove the bay leaf), until the onions are covered. Seal the jar and store somewhere cool and dark, six weeks being an optimum minimum length of time (but don’t worry if you need to eat them sooner).

    Pickle perfection is as easy as that. Enjoy.

    Easy recipe for pickled onions
    Seeing as we’ve offered no sense of scale in this photo you’ll have to believe us when we say these are big onions in a big jar

    To take a gander at Rich’s gherkins and learn how he pickles them, head on over to this page

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  • A boozy guide to pairing sherry with food

    Folk will forever argue over what combination of booze and food is the best. In our part of the world, cheese and cider will win the most votes. Elsewhere, countless others wouldn’t consider anything other than wine when it comes to drinking with dinner. And who can argue against a crisp, cold, flavoursome lager when a spicy curry is on the menu?

    But we* are among the steadily growing band of people who reckon the best booze to go with food is sherry, especially if you’re tucking into a whole menu of flavours such as those served in a tapas. To help us with our sherry and food pairing education, Nick recently headed over to Spanish food and drink aces Bar44 in Clifton, Bristol, for a tapas extravaganza, held as part of International Sherry Week.

    The event was attended by restaurateurs, wine educators and members of the booze-based press who were all treated to some of the best tapas dishes we’ve tasted, each course further enhanced by some fantastic sherries courtesy of Bodegas Barón. If you’re keen to discover more about how to match sherry with food then we reckon this expert insight from Bar44’s director, Owen Morgan, on the evening’s menu is a good place to start…

    Bar44 Director Owen Morgan
    Owen Morgan – Bar44 Director and sherry connoisseur

    Xixarito Manzanilla Pasada en Rama

    Paired with: Cuttlefish croquetas, Jamón Ibérico de bellota, Apple ajo blanco

    Manzanillas are sherries produced on the coast that are dry and light with a seaside freshness, making them excellent partners for salty snacks and especially seafood. The Xixarito Manzanilla was served by Bar44 to go with our appetisers, enjoyed in the bar before wandering down to the vaults for the main event. ‘Manzanilla’ is also the word used in Spain for ‘chamomile tea’ as the sherry is said to have similar flavour characteristics. 

    Owen describes the sherry as having “ultra dry, bready, almond, zest and chamomile notes. Serve straight from the fridge and, like all sherries, in a proper sized wine glass to show it off as the great wine it is.”

    In brief: Manzanilla + Salty Snack

    Soluqua Manzanilla

    Served with: Carpaccio of carabinero prawn, seaweed, prawn head vinaigrette

    Once seated, our first course was a stunning seafood prawn dish, served with another Manzanilla – this one 12 years old which, according to Owen, “is about as old as it gets for this style.” He adds that it “still retains a beautiful seaside freshness, yet has a sophistication and a rounded finish.”

    In brief: Aged Manzanilla + Light Seafood

    Xixarito Amontillado

    Served with: Brixham scallop, Cinco Jotas Jamón consommé, jamón crumb

    Manzanillas are aged under a protective layer of yeast, known as ‘flor’, which prevents the wine from oxidising. This Amontillado started life as a Manzanilla but was finished in contact with oxygen before being bottled. According to Owen, this process “gives it toasted notes and a completely different style, although it’s still completely dry. It complements the depth of a great acorn fed cured ham consommé as well as the sweet freshness of Brixham scallops.”

    In brief: Amontillado + Rich Seafood

    Xixarito Palo Cortado
    Palo Cortado + Pork + Mushrooms + Clams + Truffle. Food and drink heaven.

    Xixarito Palo Cortado

    Served with: Wild mushroom, Ibérico pork, clam, bone marrow, black truffle

    For this course, Bar44 brought out the big guns. Deliciously tender slices of pork were enriched with a myriad of intense wild flavours from mushrooms, clams, bone marrow and black truffle. And to drink with it we were treated to an outstanding Palo Cortado, “the rarest and most sought after style with collectors and connoisseurs” according to Owen.

    Describing the style of Palo Cortado sherries is as complex as the flavour, but essentially they have been aged under a flor, which naturally breaks up under mysterious circumstances, before maturing and taking on richer colours and buttery flavours like an Oloroso. It’s the kind of booze-magic we love, and Owen tells us that “this particular Palo Cortado is the one and only bottle on UK shores, past or present, and has an average ageing of 35 year. A true treat. Intense, angular, but nutty and toasted with orange peel notes.” (So, yes, Nick did help himself to a second glass).

    As for the food pairing, Owen continues with full enthusiasm: “A perfect foil for rare ibérico pork and briney sweet clams. Indulgent bone marrow amontillado clam juice sauce enriches the combination and brings everything together. Some shaved black truffle and you’re in food and drink heaven!”

    In brief: Palo Cortado + Pork

    Soluqua Oloroso

    Served with: Wild duck, salsify, oloroso & membrillo, walnut, hispi 

    The sherries are now getting significantly darker as we reach for an Oloroso, a strong booze that comes in a range of styles, from sweet to dry, and is characterised by heavy oxidisation as a result of the flor being intentionally broken up.

    The Oloroso served by Bar44 was suitably special, as Owen explains: “Soluqua is the ancient name for Sanlucar de Barrameda, the home town of Manzanilla. The Soluqua name is also given to the range that Bodegas Baron used to reserve just for the family and special occasions. Their Oloroso is 30 years old and is a deep, powerful, dry Palomino**. With dry aged mallard breast, confit leg, nutty cabbage and some sweetness of quince given to the duck carcass sauce, it hits on all levels.”

    In brief: Oloroso + Duck

    Soluqua Pedro Ximénez

    Served with: Part 1 – Aerated Galician blue from Jersey cows milk, fig, px raisin syrup, hazelnut

    Part 2 – Dark chocolate, chestnut caramel, sea salt, pear olive oil cake, poached pear

    The Pedro Ximénez grape is a sweet variety that is allowed to dry in the sun before being fermented. The resulting sherry is a thick, syruppy sweet dessert wine – “the darkest, sweetest wine of them all!” Owen declares. “Unlike Manzanilla, which is the driest wine of all (under 1g of sugar per litre), examples of ‘PX’ can be up to 50% sugar!”

    Owen goes on to describe this Soluqua PX as having “classic flavours of dates, raisins and figs combined with notes from the ageing of leather, tobacco, roasted nuts and spice.”

    To show off its versatility, the sherry was paired with two contrasting dishes, one savoury and one sweet. First up, things got a little cheesy, as Owen describes: “An aerated blue cheese with fig and hazelnut, along with some rosemary sea salt crackers on the side to mop it all up. The salty cheese reacts beautifully to the ultra sweet sherry.”

    And with the sweet dessert of pears, chestnuts, caramel, dark chocolate and sea salt, the thick and sticky sherry felt part of the actual dessert, prompting Owen to point out that PX sherry is often poured over desserts as a boozy sauce. 

    In brief: Pedro Ximénez + Cheese & Dessert


    From the bone dry Manzanillas that demand to spend time with a salty snack, to a sherry so rich and sweet it can be used as a dessert, and all the shades and textures in between, we’re not sure any other booze can quite compete with the range of food pairing options that are afforded to the sherry drinker. Salud!

    For more on Bar44 visit www.bar44.co.uk

    To discover more about Bodegas Barón sherries visit bodegasbaron.es/en

    Thanks also to Bodegas Barón importers Morgenrot for the invite

    *In this instance ‘we’ means ‘Nick’. Rich still hasn’t fully explored the sherry and food alliance and was unable to attend this event. He still drinks cider with everything.

    **The grape variety, not the horse. The Palomino grape produced all of the sherries apart from the Pedro Ximinez, emphasising how much variety can be achieved from the various ageing methods for sherries.

    Sherry novices (like Rich) might want to check out our beginners guide to sherry styles

    The post A boozy guide to pairing sherry with food appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

  • The 10 best single malt Scotch whiskies for 2020

    This piece was originally destined for the iNews, but the troubled Independent newspaper pulled all of our commissions midway through working on them, leaving us with no beer money and a bunch of whisky samples rattling around our desks. Rather than abandon our research we decided to stick the piece on this site instead.

    The Scottish whisky market is going through a bit of a change at the moment, with distilleries trying to keep up with innovative new boozes* from gin, vodka and rum producers. To do this they’re increasingly launching new products, releasing limited editions, rebranding portfolios and generally trying to shake things up to appeal to a new audience.

    This list of whiskies features some of those new and limited edition releases from old and new distilleries, along with some more familiar drams that are hoping to attract more attention and boost sales. For whisky fans old and new, it looks like we have an exciting year ahead…


    Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte 10, 50%

    Islay’s Port Charlotte distillery is one of many that has been through highs and lows before eventually succumbing to the pressures of business and closing down, in this case in 1929, after 100 years in operation. But, unlike some, it may not be gone for ever. The distillery is currently owned by island neighbours Bruichladdich, albeit not currently in a working state. Instead, Bruichladdich makes whisky under the Port Charlotte brand at its own distillery, aiming to stay faithful to the kind of heavily peated whisky they imagine the original distillery would’ve produced.

    Port Charlotte 10 was relaunched in 2018 and is bottled at 50% in bold, modern packaging that reflects Bruichladdich’s innovative approach, and it’s a belter of a booze: rich and complex with an injection of dry smoke from the first sniff to the long finish. It’s a smooth sipper but also has an oily tack to it, smacking stone fruit and peat into the palate and leaving it there for an age. To add to its richness there’s also some sweet ginger heat that builds as you sip, wrecking the taste buds for anything else you might consider drinking, but keeping them keen for another drop of this exceptional whisky. Approximate price £50



    Wolfburn Aurora, 46%

    We first came across Wolfburn’s whisky earlier this year and have enjoyed a few of their expressions, but this release is still our favourite. The distillery was founded in 2012 on a site in Thurso that previously produced whisky way back in 1821. Aurora has been matured in three different casks: second-fill quarter casks**, first-fill bourbon and first-fill oloroso. It’s light in colour and has a clean, light flavour – initially sweet vanilla and almond but drying out to reveal some warming spices. All that sweet lightness makes it easy to sip neat, with the rough edges of youth smoothed out by some sort of Scottish distillery magic. A new distillery that we’ll continue to keep our eyes on… Approximate price £47



    Tomatin Cask Strength, 57.5%

    Of late we’ve been noticing a steady increase in the number of cask strength whiskies entering more mainstream markets, which we think is a good thing. These high strength bottles generally offer more booze-per-pence and showcase each whisky’s full flavour, allowing the drinker to try them with maximum alcohol before diluting to their preferred level.

    Highlands distillery Tomatin has been gaining lots of new fans over the last few years and this cask strength whisky, aged in sherry and bourbon barrels, has earned a place among its core range. We think it can handle a good amount of water (and a cube of ice) without diminishing its full flavours. It’s a particularly juicy kind of whisky, with vibrant sunshine fruits and sweet vanilla custard coating the palate. It flirts with a few deeper spices, which do their best to linger, and there’s also a buzz of ginger and a hint of fresh grass to enjoy, but it’s those crowd pleasing, full-on-juicy fruits that take up most of the limelight. Approximate price £55



    The Glenrothes 10 Year Old, 40%

    The Glenrothes distillery has been in operation for over 140 years but for a large part of its recent history it has escaped the attention of the general whisky buying public. Most of its whisky has been destined for blends, with only a fraction bottled as single malts. Since the late 20th century more effort has been given to the single malt market and, in the past few years, the distillery’s whiskies have been steadily rising up the popularity charts.

    Previously, Glenrothes single malts were labelled as ‘vintages’, but last year the business decided to change policy and replace these expressions with a range of age-stated malts, from 10 years to 25 years, all grouped together as the ‘Soleo Collection.’ The 10 year old provides a great introduction to the Glenrothes distillery at a low price point.

    Like the rest of the Soleo collection, it has benefited from interaction with sherry casks, possessing a sweet vanilla aroma and lemony lightness and a flavour as easy-going as any of the other popular Speyside whiskies. There’s a sponge-cake lightness throughout – one that is expertly baked and delicately drizzled with lemon (albeit a boozy kind of lemon) – which melts to a delicious mellow finish. If you haven’t done so already then it’s time to give Glenrothes a go. Approximate price £37



    Smokehead Sherry Bomb, 46%

    This whisky is quite obviously not aimed at the old guard of whisky traditionalists: it’s packaged in a black bottle with a shiny red skull staring out over distressed lettering. The original Smokehead (with gold skull) was launched in 2006 as a peated single malt from Islay, bottled by Ian MacLeod distillers – with the name of the actual distillery producing the spirit being a closely guarded secret – and this is the brand’s most recent limited edition release.

    Sherry Bomb has the smoke-laden characteristics of the original whisky but they have been infused with sweet fruity flavours from oloroso sherry casks. It’s a big, boozy beast with a firey gust of smoke catching the nostrils and lingering for ages, even after the merest initial sip. A bold whisky with bold packaging that, although aimed at a more youthful market, isn’t one traditionalists should shy away from. Approximate price £65



    Tamnavulin Double Cask, 40%

    This year, Tamnavulin’s Double Cask has been our choice of whisky for gifts. It has only been available since 2016, so will be new to lots of people; it’s a bargain at around the £32 mark (and often dips below £30 in times of supermarket promotion); and it’s the kind of Speyside whisky that has a broad appeal.

    It can be filed in the easy-to-drink category, with light malts, an orangey freshness and some sweet spices from its sherry cask finishing. But it’s not quite as simplistic as that description sounds – it has some fruit pudding depth to give it interest without it ever becoming heavy. If you’ve got a friend you think might like whisky but doesn’t know where to begin, a gift of this could well set them on their way. Or if you fancy a cheap treat for yourself, then you’ll do well to better it. Approximate price £32



    Kininvie Works, Single Malt Scotch Whisky KVSM001, 47%

    The Kininvie distillery was originally set up in 1990 by William Grant & Sons to help cope with demand for Balvenie whisky, but it’s now showing its experimental side to the public with the release of three new spirits in a new collection badged ‘Kininvie Works’. These new products products are a single malt (KVSM001), a single grain (KVSM002) and a blended malt (KVSM003) with each bottle presented in a starkly functional cardboard package constructed for ease of mailing and to be 100% recyclable. The labeling is of the clinical pharmaceutical kind, designed to emphasise the content’s experimental nature, and contains every drop of information relating to the whisky making process that a whisky nerd could wish for.

    For the single malt the experimentation is a triple-distillation – a feature more common among Irish whiskey than Scotch – with the resulting spirit being aged in ex-Bourbon casks for five years and bottled at 47%. This process has produced a Speyside whisky that is floral and fruity and… that’s all we’re going to reveal: we think part of the fun of enjoying something experimental like this is discovering what it’s like for yourself. And at just £35 for a 500ml bottle it’s well worth checking out. Approximate price £35



    Arran Machrie Moor Cask Strength 56.2%

    We recently took part in a big whisky tasting session, featuring randomly procured drams from around the world. It was no organised event, just a social gathering in Dorset with whisky and crisps. As we drank, each bottle was placed in a line on the table, positioned according to how the consensus rated it. At the end of the evening, Machrie Moor Cask Strength sat at the front of the queue, denoting its position as our number one whisky of the session.

    Named after a mythical bog (Scots have created myths about everything) on the Isle of Arran, Machrie Moor used to be a limited edition release but, in 2018, both a 46% bottling and this cask strength whisky were added to the distillery’s core range. It’s a peated whisky that offers great value and is one that may appeal to folk who would normally shy away from smoky booze. The effects of the peat, although instantly apparent, do most of their work in the background, allowing a vibrant fruitiness and grassy freshness to come to the fore with hints of vanilla and spice mingling with the smoke. It certainly hit the mark with our broad range of tasters and we reckon its fanbase will rapidly expand. Approximate price £60



    GlenDronach 12, 43%

    GlenDronach’s recent history is littered with multiple sales of the business, bits being closed down, a total closure in 1996, and a relaunch in 2002. Now with a bit of stability, and owners who know how to promote the brand, GlenDronach has a much greater profile than it has enjoyed in a long while.

    Their 12 year old is the one you’re most likely to come across, a rich and fruity whisky that has been aged in Pedro Ximinez and Oloroso Sherry casks. It’s the kind of whisky you’ll see described as an ‘after dinner’ dram – with enough flavour, depth and sweetness to battle through your last meal and see you through the evening. Chewy raisins and toffee lead the flavour descriptions and there’s also plenty of mature, woody spice to enjoy. It feels like the kind of whisky that should live high on an oak-panelled library shelf, waiting for a special occasion when you can rub off a layer of dust from the bottle and slowly pour, while sinking into a leather armchair. But we’re just as happy to nab it from the kitchen cupboard, sup from the sofa and imagine we’re in loftier surroundings instead. Approximate price £42



    Gordon & McPhail, Mr George Centenary Edition 1956 from Glen Grant Distillery, 51.7%

    This is a new release that we’ve not tasted, and we’re unlikely ever to do so. That’s because it retails at £5,000 per bottle and, no matter how good we think this website might be, it doesn’t earn us the thousands required to splash out on such expensive booze (and neither is anyone going to run up a massive expenses claim form by sending us a sample). But we’re featuring it because it’s always worth being reminded of how ludicrously expensive whisky can be – putting some of our bargains into context – and it has an interesting tale behind it.

    The ‘Mr George’ in the whisky’s name refers to George Urquart, a key member of the family that founded world famous whisky bottlers Gordon & McPhail, who would’ve been 100 this year. Back in December 1956, Mr George laid down a hand-selected first fill sherry butt from one of his favourite distilleries, Glen Grant. To mark the centenary his grandson, Stuart Urquart, has picked this cask for bottling. For your money you get one of only 235 bottles, a glass decanter and wooden presentation case. We have no idea what it tastes like but our spies are using words like ‘stewed dates’, ‘dark chocolate praline’ and ‘charred oak.’ It may be beyond most people’s reach but, despite the price, we reckon it’ll get snapped up. Approximate price £5,000

    *For ‘innovative’ read ‘daft ingredients that no-one else has tried before’, such as caviar or bones. Yes, really.

    **Quarter casks are a quarter the size of standard casks so have a higher wood-to-spirit ratio, which accelerates the effects of maturation.

    Prices are correct at time of publication

    The post The 10 best single malt Scotch whiskies for 2020 appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

  • Booze recipe: easy apple hot toddy

    All this digging and swigging that we get up to is done in our spare time. For our day jobs we run a small graphic design business, earning a crust by fiddling around with other peoples words and pictures while daydreaming about what drinks recipes we might come up with next.

    Occasionally, those two worlds collide. Recently one of our design clients, JAZZ Apples, commissioned us to produce a recipe book featuring apple-based meals conjured up by prominent food bloggers. Knowing of our Thirsty Gardening ways, and especially our admiration for the humble apple, they asked if we would like to contribute a recipe. So we gave them a boozy one – an autumnally inspired hot apple toddy – and here it is for you to try for yourself.

    How to make a JAZZ™ Apple Hot Toddy

    Ingredients (per serving)
    1 JAZZ™ Apple
    1 ⅓ cup water
    2 cloves
    1 tsp lemon juice
    ½ thumb-sized chunk of ginger
    60ml brandy or dark rum
    2 tsp honey

    Cut off a slice from your JAZZ™ Apple and set it aside for later. Roughly dice the rest of the apple, including the core.

    Fill your chosen drinking mug with water and pour it into a pan. Then pour in another third of a mug of water – this will allow for evaporation. To this add the diced apple, cloves, cinnamon and lemon juice. Peel and finely slice or grate the ginger and add this as well.

    Bring the liquid to the boil then turn the heat down and gently simmer for 15 minutes. As the pieces of apple soften you can press them against the side of the pan to squeeze out maximum juice.

    Pour in the brandy or rum and give it a good stir, then strain the liquid into your mug.

    Dice the slices of apple you set aside into raisin-sized pieces and sprinkle on top. Breathe deeply while sipping and enjoy the spicy aromas of this warm and comforting appley booze.

    To download the complete JAZZ™ Apple Recipe Book click here

    The post Booze recipe: easy apple hot toddy appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

  • Interview: Floristry tips with Wendy Rea of Direct2florist

    We rarely grow flowers purely to cut and display, and those that do end up in our houses tend to be stuck in a vase without much consideration for how they might look. We think it’s high time we upped our game.

    There aren’t many people better qualified to answer our cut flower queries than Wendy Rea, a floristry ace at Direct2florist. The online business was started in the UK over 20 years ago and now connects consumers to local florists worldwide, with friendly partners that extends to 21 countries and over 3,500 florists.

    We got in touch with Wendy to find out a little more about Direct2florist’s success and gather some tips to improve our own floristry attempts…

    What makes a good flower for bouquets and displays?
    Beauty is the main criteria but lasting quality is really important. 

    What varieties of flowers are proving popular with your customers at the moment? 
    More traditional varieties are very popular, such as peonies and sunflowers, but roses and lilies seem to be still the most popular.  

    What flowers should we consider growing in our gardens next year to make the best displays?
    The flowers I would suggest growing in the garden are what we in the profession call “fillers” – plants that include Astiloe, Alchemilla mollis, Aster September and Sedum. These are wonderful to fill out a vase of shop bought bouquet blooms.

    Where do you get your flowers from?
    We buy our flowers from a variety of sources. Direct from Holland, local wholesalers and British growers. It really depends on the season and quantities required.

    What makes Direct2florist the award winning service that members of the public use to send flowers?
    Product choice is fabulous, there is no extra charge for same day delivery, they are supporting real florists on the high street, the ordering process is very easy and transparent, and they are kept in the loop during every part of the delivery process.

    What sets Direct2florist apart from competitors?
    Low cost of membership and the fact that florists have the opportunity to still use their artistic flair. The 55,000+ reviews prove that customers love it as well.

    How do you set about creating a new combination of flowers for an arrangement?
    It almost comes naturally when you have been trained. However, odd numbers of flowers are easier to design with and having various size heads and differing textures create interest.

    Do you have any tips for keeping flower arrangements looking their best for as long as possible?
    Keep your water clean and remove all foliage if it’s under the water. Use flower food in your water – it really does work. Take off heads of flowers and leaves as they die. Not only does it look better but helps the other flowers to last longer.

    And finally, what’s your favourite flower and why?
    My favorite flower is a big blousy rose. Such as Four Seasons. Beautiful perfume and very romantic.

    This is a sponsored post

    The post Interview: Floristry tips with Wendy Rea of Direct2florist appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

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