• New booze round-up #23: casked gin, smoked beer and a final tot of rum

    In the latest round up of booze samples received for review we have possibly our most varied line-up yet. There’s a unique blend of old and new gins; a white port that goes great with tonic; some summery spritzes; a cracking tot of Navy rum and a beer made with a distillery’s smoked malt.

    It has taken a while, but we’ve enjoyed drinking them all and we hope you enjoy finding out more about them…

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    FIFTY/50 Gin, 50%

    When new drinks arrive they usually join the end of a long line of boozes until it’s their turn to be tasted*. However, we were so excited by the arrival of this unique gin that it jumped to the front of the queue and was tasted as soon as it left our Covid quarantine facilities.** 

    It is claimed to be the oldest gin in the world, a 50/50 blend of 20 year old gin and a young gin. The mature gin has been stored in whisky casks for ten years and virgin oak for a further ten years, giving it loads of oaky flavour, while the young gin has been added to return some of the botanical freshness to the mix.

    Forget the tonic, we were straight onto this neat, and it really is a unique drink. The smell is a marriage of boozy vanilla, the likes of which you might expect from a quality bourbon, and the botanical freshness of gin. Sipping it, we get more vanilla and spice, and even a touch of coconut, while the rich, aged-oak flavours lead to the familiar fruity bitterness of juniper, speckled with other zesty and rooty botanical notes. 

    Our sample arrived with a booklet containing cocktail suggestions, but we haven’t yet tried any of these. The gin itself is a melange of so many interesting flavours that we’re still exploring it neat before considering adding anything else.

    BUY

    +++++

    Graham’s Blend No. 5, White Port, 19%

    In a bid to cash in on gin’s recent success, lots of other boozes are reminding people that they’re excellent when paired with tonic. Once such booze is White Port, a less familiar member of the Port family that is now gaining a bit of popularity thanks, in part, to getting the tonic treatment.

    Graham’s Blend No. 5, recently launched into Waitrose stores, is made by cold-fermenting grapes, with the process stopped by the addition of brandy, creating a super-sweet, dessert-friendly drink. There’s no barrel ageing involved so the colour remains that of a white wine and all the floral, fruity flavours are unaltered by the effects of wood. 

    Sip it neat and you get a thick, sweet and vinous fortified wine with chewy, fruity grape flavours, enlivened by a range of floral notes. Add tonic and you can see what the fuss is all about: even with the cheap tonic we found lurking at the back of the fridge those fruity and floral flavours came alive, while the sweetness balanced out the tonic’s bitterness to add some crispness to the drink. Judging by this effort we reckon the P&T is a genuine cocktail contender.

    BUY

    +++++

    Finest Caribbean Back Tot Rum, 46.2%

    In the rum world, 31st July is a date known as Black Tot Day, marking the occasion when, in 1970, the British Navy ended daily rum rations (or ‘tots’). To mark the 50th anniversary of this terrible day we took part in an online tasting of Black Tot Rum, jointly hosted by brand ambassador Mitch Wilson (above) and curator at HMS Belfast, Robert Rumble, whose main task was to regale us with some fine drunken tales of the high seas.

    Besides a nip of Black Tot Rum our tasting pack also included the rums used in the blend, sourced from Guyana, Jamaica and Barbados, as they would’ve been back in the days of the tot. The resulting blend is exactly the kind of cockle-warming sipper we would enjoy if ship-bound for any great length of time, possessing lots of spicy fruits and some soothing, toasty molasses. This rum avoids drifting into overly sweet waters, allowing those natural flavours to work their nautical magic with a hearty slap of alcohol.

    As a closing bonus we also got to sample Black Tot Last Consignment, a rum made using the Royal Navy’s last remaining stocks from 1970, tracked down by eager rum bounty hunters and bottled. If the Navy’s rations were this good then 31st July was indeed a very Black Day.

    BUY

    +++++

    Pedrino Vermouth & Tonc Spritz, 5.5%

    Light, fizzy boozes are all the rage. We’ve just published a round-up of Hard Seltzers and now we’ve been sent a spritz to review. Spritzes are wines that have been mixed with fizz – in the case of Pedrino, the fizz is a hand-crafted tonic that has been combined with different wines for three different products: ruby (port) & tonic, sherry & tonic and, our favourite, vermouth & tonic.

    It’s a bubbly burst of botanical booze, with some sweet zesty fruit and juicy grape flavours accompanying a whisper of dry vermouth and tonic bitterness. You could use this in any number of cocktails, or simply fill a glass with ice, top with spritz and add a slice of whatever citrus fruit you fancy (Pedrino suggests grapefruit and we reckon it’s a close thing between that and orange). A great little summer number.

    BUY

    +++++

    Ardbeg, The Shortie Porter, 6.2%

    We’ve been enjoying a few whiskies from Islay distillery Ardbeg of late, so were excited and intrigued when they sent us their first beer, The Shortie Porter. It’s a one off, limited edition, with all profits going to clean water charity Brewgooder and, as you would hope from a distillery famed for its peated whisky, it’s a smoky beast.

    The beer uses Ardbeg’s peated malt, which was then brewed by Alloa aces Williams Bros, who know how to handle unusual brewing briefs. It’s a thick and creamy beer with a strong smoky aroma emanating from its jet-black depths, and is super smooth to sup. The roasted malt flavours add to the peated meatiness and, we think, there’s even a touch of Islay sea salt lingering in the background. We like smoked beers. We like Ardbeg whisky. We were always going to love this one and, with a great charity set to benefit from it’s sales, we’re hoping it proves such a success that they’ll consider making another…

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    *We’re watchful of our alcohol unit consumption and, contrary to popular opinion among our mates, we are not constantly guzzling booze

    **The porch

    The post New booze round-up #23: casked gin, smoked beer and a final tot of rum appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • Hard Seltzers. UK review special round-up!

    There’s a new trend that is suddenly populating the booze category: Hard Seltzers. Big in America, the rush is now on for brands to establish themselves as the early market leaders in the UK. For the uninitiated, a Hard* Seltzer is essentially fizzy flavoured water with added booze. 

    Their success is largely down to them being a way of supping alcohol without piling on the pounds – most of them make a big fuss over their lack of calories on the packaging. They will also make a big deal about other dietary considerations, such as being vegan and gluten-free. The flavouring and alcohol levels tend to be very low, which helps keep the calorie count low, and their light and breezy, fizzy nature is part of the refreshing appeal.

    Whilst we perfectly understand this appeal, they’re not a drink that we would instinctively reach for – we’re not the calorie-counting kind and tend to prefer stronger flavours when refreshing ourselves with booze. But we’re more than happy to sacrifice a few units of our weekly booze rations to put the best hard seltzers through their paces… and here are our verdicts.

    The best Hard Seltzers reviewed:

    White Claw Hard Seltzers

    Alcohol: 5% ABV

    Package: 300ml can

    Flavours: Lime; Black Cherry; Raspberry

    The pitch: “The number one hard seltzer drink from the US”**

    Our favourite: Black Cherry. This has the aroma and flavour of cherry cola without the cola. Or the sugar. Very light, fizzy, dry and refreshing, the neutral alcohol isn’t obvious at first but steadily creeps up, while the subtle cherry flavours linger a little after finishing.

    FIND OUT MORE

    +++++

    58 Gin Seltzers

    Alcohol: 4% ABV

    Package: 250ml can

    Flavours: Raspberry; Pink Grapefruit

    The pitch: “The UK’s first premium gin-based hard seltzer.

    Our favourite: Pink Grapefruit. The strongest flavoured seltzer we tried with a touch of sweetness coming through with the pink grapefruit and a softer kind of seltzer fizzing into action. Closer to a soft drink and gin blend, but very enjoyable.

    FIND OUT MORE

    +++++

    Smirnoff Seltzers

    Alcohol: 4.7%

    Package: 250ml can

    Flavours: Orange & Grapefruit; Raspberry & Rhubarb

    The pitch: “The latest innovation from the world’s number one vodka”

    Our favourite: Raspberry & Rhubarb. This had a lovely smell to it, with the raspberry slightly out punching the rhubarb. It was a bit more flavoursome than some other seltzers, although slightly artificial tasting. However there was a nice twist of acidity that always works well on a hot day.

    FIND OUT MORE

    +++++

    Long Shot Hard Seltzers

    Alcohol: 4%

    Package: 250ml can

    Flavours: Grapefruit; Strawberry & Rhubarb; Raspberry & Blackcurrant

    The pitch: “A no-nonsense blend of fruit juice, sparkling water and alcohol, and that’s it. We won’t settle for anything artificial, so why should you.”

    Our favourite: Strawberry & Rhubarb. The fruity additions were subtle in this one – enough to add fresh flavour while maintaining the essential clean, dry, seltzer feel. The strawberry and rhubarb was a winning summery combination and the natural juice made it a much more pleasurable drink than the others.

    FIND OUT MORE

    +++++

    Hard Seltzers: The Verdict

    With natural strawberry flavours, Long Shot’s seltzers are the superior choice for summer freshness

    *In American they use the word ‘hard’ to describe a drink with alcohol that would normally not have alcohol. For example, ‘cider’ over there is what we call apple juice, so our kind of fermented ciders are known as ‘hard ciders.’

    **White Claw has taken America by storm and the success of the brand is something the rest are hoping to cash in on. Started in 2016, sales in the US have rocketed every year resulting in shortages and restrictions on distribution. Americans are mad for it.

    Note: These samples were sent to us for review

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  • Garden book reviews: summer reading sorted

    This year we were due to be launching our new book, Wild Tea, but with Covid-19 wreaking havoc on the publishing industry you’ll have to wait until 2021 to read our latest bundle of words. In the meantime, here are four gardening books that did get a recent release which we think you might enjoy…

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    Book review Dave Goulson

    The Garden Jungle or Gardening to Save the Planet, by Dave Goulson

    Published by Vintage

    In The Garden Jungle, Professor of Biology, Dave Goulson, takes a close look at some of the unheralded creatures that inhabit our gardens. Through his uncomplicated and humorous writing style he unearths the secrets behind the woodlouse, earwig, worm and more, promoting the important roles they play within our garden ecosystems, and how we can best look after them.

    It’s a call to arms for gardeners to appreciate the importance of their outdoor spaces and how, even on a small scale, they can be managed in a way that best looks after the planet. Throughout his garden jungle tour, Goulson also highlights the failings of industrial farming, explaining how successes demonstrated by small gardens and allotments can show the way to more environmentally sound practices on a much larger scale.

    Informative, inspiring and amusing it is, without question, the best gardening book I have ever read. 

    BUY

    +++++

    Book review Jane Vernon

    The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jane Vernon

    Published by Pen and Sword

    If you’re after an in-depth guide to the bees that populate your garden then look no further than Jane Vernon’s fine book. Covering every type of garden bee you’ve heard of, and many more you haven’t, it guides you through their unique behaviours in a writing style and presentation that are immediately accessible.

    With tips on identification, appropriate bee-friendly plants to grow, and the bees seasonal habits, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees will give you a much bigger appreciation of our pollinating pals and arm you with all the information you need to help look after them.

    BUY

    +++++

    I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, by Michael Holland and Philip Geordano

    Published by Flying Eye Books

    It may be aimed at children, but we reckon there are very few parents who won’t learn a wheelbarrow full of facts about the science behind plants by reading this book. Author Michael Holland writes in a succinct, un-patronising way that makes learning addictive, while Philip Geordano’s lavish illustrations turn every page into a colourful adventure.

    From basic information on how plants grow to more in-depth learning on their leaves, flowers, smells and more, the science is backed up with practical projects that celebrate the wonders of the plant world. Build a plant maze or make some slime and you’ll be nurturing some green fingers in the process.

    BUY

    +++++

    Book Review Garden Privacy

    The Middle-Sized Garden Complete Guide to Garden Privacy, by Alexandra Campbell

    Published by Nielsen

    Alexandra Campbell’s blog www.themiddlesizedgarden.co.uk is one of our most visited gardening sites, with trustworthy advice and expert opinions throughout. Her new book is similarly full of expert help, exploring ways you can create privacy in your garden. Topics covered include suitable trees and hedges that act as screens from your neighbour’s windows, how to deal with eyesores, and advice on creating secret areas where you can hide away and contemplate life.

    It’s an extremely practical book with simple diagrams and space for note-taking, allowing you to learn and plan as you turn the pages. We paid particular attention to the section on tree planting – something that can initially seem daunting but has been explained with such simplicity that we’re tempted to start a garden arboretum.

    It’s a well thought out book, put together with knowledge and intelligence, and anyone with a garden will find it useful.

    BUY

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  • How to make the perfect Bloody Mary

    Tomato juice isn’t a drink we pay much attention to. It’s not something we buy regularly, except for the rare occasion we fancy a Bloody Mary, so we have no idea if the tomato juice market is in the midst of a reinvention like most of the drinks sector seems to be these days.

    If it is about to go through a revolutionary phase then perhaps smoked tomato juice could be the thing that squeezes it into action. A few weeks ago we were sent a sample of Peat Smoked Tomato Juice, delivered by a Scottish business called Tongue in Peat, and it instantly seemed like such a good idea that we wondered why we’ve not encountered something similar before.

    To do the juice justice we set about making the best Bloody Mary we could conjure. And here it is, your guide to the perfect Bloody Mary*…

    How to make the perfect Bloody Mary

    The Bloody Mary is one of those cocktails that doesn’t have a definitive recipe. Tomato juice, vodka, salt, lemon and some sort of savoury and spicy sauces are all key ingredients, but exactly how you make it is up to you. For us, the ingredients are as follows…

    • Approx 100ml tomato juice
    • Approx 50ml vodka
    • 4 to 6 dashes Tabasco sauce
    • 3 to 5 dashes Worcestershire sauce
    • Juice of half a lemon (15ml)
    • A pinch of salt
    • A stick of celery
    • Ice to serve

    Peat Smoked tomato juice

    The juice

    For a top notch Bloody Mary you need top notch tomato juice. Tongue in Peat’s is produced in small batches and infused by Islay’s finest peat, which imparts smoky, salty flavours into the sweet and sharp fleshy fruits, along with a spiky hit of heat. It’s a delicious thing and adds extra depth to the cocktail. 

    The vodka

    Again, a good quality, clean tasting vodka will give you a better Bloody Mary. Seeing as our tomato juice is Scottish we’ve gone for a Scottish vodka – Holy Grass. It’s a deliciously smooth vodka with a grassy freshness and hint of pepper that perfectly suits our recipe.

    Tabasco sauce

    All good Bloody Marys need a bit of heat. We’ve been known to infuse chillis in vodka purely for this purpose, but the cocktail purists in us like the peppery warmth that tabasco sauce brings. Four dashes minimum; Six for decent heat; More for a full tabasco blast.

    Worcestershire sauce

    We would argue this is another essential. The unami flavours pull everything together, transforming it from a simple drink to something approaching a full meal. If you’re suffering from a hangover and believe in the ‘hair of the dog’ method for recovery then lashings of the stuff is required. For the rest of us, three to five dashes will suffice.

    Lemon

    Freshens the whole piece. If you’re squeezing, half a lemon will suffice; if you’re measuring, 15ml will do the trick.

    Salt

    Seeing as this is now practically a meal, a pinch of salt will heighten the flavour senses to the maximum. You could also add a grind of pepper, a pinch of celery salt, a few flakes of chilli powder, or any other herbs and spices you care to lob into the mix. We think a simple pinch of salt is enough.

    Celery

    Celery doesn’t get much of a look in when it comes to fine cuisine, so why deprive it of its glory as the traditional Bloody Mary stirring stick of choice. Gives off a nice whiff as you approach the glass and, when you’ve finished drinking, it gives you something extra to munch through.

    How to mix your bloody Mary

    This is a good drink for making in large batches to share with friends or pop in the fridge for later. Simply put all of the ingredients in a jug. Gently stir. Fill a tall glass with ice and pour in the bloody mix before finishing with the stick of celery.

    Get your Tongue in Peat tomato juice here

    Bloody Mary cocktail recipe

    *Why is it called a Bloody Mary? Seems that no-one is quite sure. Queen Mary I, the royal who was nicknamed Bloody Mary due to her bloody reign over England? Hollywood star Mary Pickford? A waitress at a Chicago bar, the Bucket of Blood? A mispronunciation of Vladimir? Or someone called Mary getting the drinks order wrong on a hen night. All theories, none proved…

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  • How to make a Butterfly cocktail

    In celebration of the launch of Planting for Butterflies – a book written by our pal Jane Moore – we’ve been unravelling our disturbingly long proboscises into this tasty, vodka-based cocktail.

    It’s a perfect booze for garden-based summertime sipping and was created by booze guru Alex Kammerling of Kamm & Sons, who kindly gave us permission to run the recipe.

    It’s dead easy to make, delicious, and we are happy to report that doesn’t contain a single butterfly. Here’s how to make it…

    How to make a Butterfly Cocktail

    Difficulty level: Easy

    Ingredients

    8 fresh seedless white grapes
    3 fresh basil leaves
    3 fresh mint leaves
    45ml vodka
    7.5ml St Germain elderflower liqueur
    7.5ml freshly squeezed lemon juice.

    Directions

    1. Fling the grapes in a shaker, give them a muddle (squish and twist the contents, ideally using a muddler), then add the other ingredients.
    2. Give it a good old shake before straining into a chilled martini glass.
    3. Transfer contents of martini glass to stomach, via lips and mouth.
    4. Cheers!

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  • An interview with… Jane Moore, gardener and author

    In a horticultural career spanning 30 years, Jane Moore has been a head gardener at a Benedictine abbey, a BBC researcher, a presenter on BBC Gardeners’ World and an acclaimed writer for numerous gardening publications. She is currently Group Head Gardener for several swish Andrew Brownsword hotels and has somehow found time to write Planting for Butterflies, a rather excellent book about our favourite* winged garden visitors.

    On sunny days she can be found flitting between plants at The Bath Priory, so armed with a massive net and human-sized jam-jar, we headed out to snare some top butterfly facts and tips..

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    We’ve heard reports that butterflies have been emerging from their winter slumber earlier this year. Have you noticed this in the gardens that you manage?

    So far, it’s turning into a good year for butterflies. I’ve seen more of the early season ones like Orange Tips and Brimstones than I have for several years. At the moment the meadow at The Bath Priory Hotel where I work is alive with Meadow Brown butterflies as well as some of the spectacular day flying moths such as Garden Tiger moth and Six Spot Burnet moth. I’ve already seen a couple of freshly hatched Red Admirals too.

    What’s the best way to ID a butterfly? They never seem to stay still for long enough…

    I know! It’s very frustrating! My other half always accuses me of ruining many a good walk by stopping all the time to scrutinise fluttering things in hedgerows. There are a few things that you can use to help identify the little blighters. The food plants they’re fluttering around, and general location are a great help. For example, the Gatekeeper really does like gateways in fields and hedgerows, Meadow Browns like meadows and grassland. Blues are quite difficult, but garden blues are nearly always Holly Blue, but I often see the Common Blue on the meadow at the hotel as they like grassland. The other thing is to learn what the underside of the wing looks like as well as the upper wing as butterflies have an annoying habit of feeding with their wings closed. The underside is often more camouflaged than the colourful upper wings, but the combination of colour, underside and location should nail it.

    Is there a certain time of day that is best for butterfly spotting?

    Prime daytime is when they’re most active. Weather conditions have more of a bearing as butterflies like the still, warm, calm days of spring and summer and won’t tend to fly if it’s wet and windy.

    What makes a butterfly a butterfly and a moth a moth?

    Ah now that’s a tricky one. As a rule, moths fly at night and butterflies during the day. There are day flying moths too but not many. Also, butterflies have delicate antennae with a sort of bulb or club at the end, whereas moths often have furry antennae. In fact moths are generally more furry and have more camouflage colours than butterflies.

    What would be your top three plants for butterfly attraction?

    Buddleia is the obvious choice – it pulls in all the flamboyant butterflies of high summer such as Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. I’m a great fan of Asters too as they’re such good garden plants – as long as you steer clear of the mildew prone New York asters and pick varieties with single flowers, so the nectar is on show. After that I like the herbs such as Lavender and Marjoram as they’re great for bees as well as butterflies and are incredibly useful as well as attractive. 

    And what would be your favourite butterfly? (We’re guessing the Cabbage White is pretty low down on your list.)

    I’ve gone from a love/hate affair with Cabbage Whites to more of a ‘aw shucks I rather like you’ in the past few years. That’s partly because there have been less of them around due to a parasite, I think, but also because they do make such a picture fluttering over the lavender in summer. Also, I don’t grow as many cabbages as I used to!

    My favourite butterfly has to be the Orange Tip, one of the first butterflies you tend to see in spring and early summer. I grow Hesperis or Sweet Rocket specially for them, well and for me too as I love it in the garden because it keeps on flowering its socks off. You have to be a bit careful with the Orange Tip though, as the males are the ones with the colourful wings and the females are plain white and look suspiciously like the Small White butterfly. Timing is the key here as the Orange Tips are way earlier than the Whites.

    Help! My buddleia has taken over the garden! How can I tame it?

    This is why all gardeners develop a ruthless pruning streak after a few years. You need a good pair of loppers, perhaps even a pruning saw and a strong sense of empowerment. Whatever you do to it in spring, it will come back, believe me.

    After a hard day of butterfly spotting, what drink would you reach for?

    You two made me a gin and cucumber cooler a year or two ago and that was perfect for a hot day. Left to my own devices, it’s a classic mojito every time.

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    Planting for Butterflies:
    The Grower’s Guide to Creating a Flutter is available now.
    Published by Quadrille Publishing, £12.00

    BUY NOW

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    *Maybe second favourite, behind birds. Certainly ahead of wasps and gnats.

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  • Five things to do with surplus rhubarb

    Rhubarb is one of the allotment’s most productive veg but after a few months of crumbles, compotes and fools you might start to wonder what else you can do with the stuff. Not only do these five suggestions solve that problem, they’ll also keep the rhubarb flavour alive long after you’ve uprooted the year’s last stick.

    What can I do with surplus rhubarb?

    Booze

    Rhubarb is one of our favourite alcoholic drinks ingredients, making its way into just about every type of booze we try. The easiest way to use it is by macerating in spirits and sweetening to make a liqueur. Our book features a delicious rhubarb and vanilla recipe that has been enjoyed by top TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.* Also in the book, and elsewhere on this site, our most popular wine recipe is rhubarb – it’s an ideal choice for wine making novices and one we make every year. We’ve also used it in cocktails and have even dabbled with a rhubarb beer.

    Jam

    The sweet and sharp combination of sugar and rhubarb is ideal for jam makers. You can give it a solo spot, spice it up with a hot flush of ginger or marmalise with orange. It’s also handy at bulking out other fruits – for example, if your currant harvest is a bit thin, give it a rhubarb stick to lean on and it’ll spread the currenty wealth without overpowering its flavour.

    Pickle

    Pickled rhubarb is a cheffy preserve that deserves more widespread recognition. Chop up a few sticks of rhubarb and soak them in your best pickling solution before serving them with grilled mackerel and you might just get the Michelin man sniffing around with a pocketful of stars. You can add some culinary creativity by combining with a few extra spices (we can recommend cloves and ginger) or go for the full chutney blowout by cooking them up with a pan full of other pickling ingredients.

    Freeze

    Rhubarb crumble is a comforting classic for the winter months but to enjoy it any time after July you’ll need to have a frozen supply to hand. Show some foresight by washing and chopping your rhubarb and spreading out the cubes on a tray which is then carefully balanced on the bags of frozen chips and fish fingers. Once frozen you can gleefully transfer the hard pink nuggets to their own bag and force them into a gap by the peas and sweetcorn. This method will ensure your rhubarb won’t freeze into one solid block.

    Dried

    We’ve not yet tried drying rhubarb, but if there’s still some left after brewing, jamming, pickling and freezing we’ll definitely give it a go. Using an oven as a drying mechanism it would seem there are two main options: either dry raw, chopped rhubarb or cook it first, with sugar, and spread on a tray before it reaches the oven. The former should make a handy store-cupboard ingredient for cereals and cakes; the latter, known as ‘rhubarb leather’, can be used as a chewy sweet or tanned, shaped and stitched into natty pink slippers.**

    *This is true. We attended one of his book signings and thrust a small bottle of the stuff into his hands. He took a sip, claimed to like it and promised to finish the bottle on the train home. We never heard back from him.

    **This is a lie. You can’t tan rhubarb leather.

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  • New booze round-up #22: Wine in a can, whisky on Zoom and cocktails in a sweet

    As lockdown continued we were sent lots more drinks samples to try at home, with another online whisky tasting among them. We also got to suck on some cocktail-infused, sugar-coated sweets – which were way better than we thought possible…

    bottle of glen moray

    Glen Moray, Madeira Cask Project, 2006, 46.3%

    We’ve been taking part in another Zoom whisky tasting, this time hosted by Glen Moray to introduce the world to the latest release from their Curiosity range, a whisky aged for 13 years in ex-Madeira casks.

    Dr Kirstie McCallum, Glen Moray’s head of whisky creation, talked us through the dram, announcing it as “dessert in a bottle” and, more precisely, an aroma of “chocolate and poached pears.” We don’t always detect the same aromas and flavours as others when supping whisky – our senses all vary and, in a whisky, the comparisons are often very subtle – but in this instance, chocolate and poached pears very much chimed with us.

    An initial sweetness to the flavour opened out into a delicious, syruppy textured whisky, with more pear and tannic oak in the frame. We’re also going to throw in a flavour that it reminded us of, but is almost certainly one few others will detect – bitter rowan berries, as used in our own booze experiments. 

    We’re enjoying these online tastings, particularly when there’s such a knowledgeable expert on hand to help us appreciate more about the whisky we’re drinking – and especially when it’s such a fine whisky as this release from Glen Moray.

    BUY

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    review of Ardbeg blaaack

    Ardbeg Blaaack , 46%

    One tasting we missed out on was for a new Ardbeg Limited Edition release to celebrate Ardbeg Day, but we were kindly sent a sample to experience its smoky charms in our own time. This whisky has spent time in New Zealand Pinot Noir casks, with the distillery highlighting a connection between its home and New Zealand both having a large sheep population by adding a ‘baaa’ to its name. Thankfully the whisky is much better than the pun.

    It’s always enjoyable to open a new bottle of Ardbeg whisky, with the waft of sweet smoke beckoning you. A closer sniff also brought a cherry-like aroma, as you might find emanating from a glass of kirschwasser. Sipping the whisky reveals a sweet, hard toffee creaminess, giving it a degree of suckability, while the smoke turns to charred wood as the oak makes its mark and stretches out the finish. It’s a typically smoky Ardbeg beast and not at all harsh – we might say it’s perfectly well baaalanced but we’re much too sheepish for such puns.

    BUY

    +++++

    Camden Lagers…

    Everyone knows that summer = BBQ and, as it’s been too scary to go down to the pub of an evening for risk of catching the lurgy, we’ve been busying ourselves instead by charring the bejesus out of vegetables and bits of meat on our respective back garden grills. The drink of choice for BBQs HAS to be beer – specifically a lager-style beer – straight from the fridge – and so to accompany our alfresco efforts, we’ve been guzzling a selection of new lagers from Camden Breweries small batch series, Arch 55. Our picks were:

    Wilkin St NW5 White Pilsner 5.8%
    A gluggable hefeweizen homage with the trad fruity flavours provided by a plethora of German hops. Good with sausages.

    Mexican Lager 4.4% 
    Brewed with mexican yeast and Wakatu hops to give it a crisp, fruity twang. Roasted peppers proved to be the perfect pairing. 

    Yeast Lightening Brut IPL, 5.8% 
    A wonderfully fragrant, fruity lager with a super dry finish. Worked wonders bookending unmannerly mouthfuls of mushroom and halloumi kebab.

    USA Hells Lager, 4.6%
    Our favorite – a flavoursome, unfiltered helles-style lager which competently doused the fire of our underdone, overspiced buffalo wings. Yeehaw! 

    Get your Camden lagers HERE

    …and a Camden Pale Ale

    It’s not just lagers that Camden produces with aplomb, they also know how to knock out a fine pale ale. To coincide with the re-opening of pubs they’re brought out new 500ml cans of To The Pub, an American Pale Ale stuffed with five different hops. And what a fine brew it is too, slightly hazy, fresh and frothy with a touch of the tropics and a pinch of pine. Double dry hopped and effortlessly drinkable. The kind of pale ale that suits a large measure, such as a pint pot, served in a pub…

    We’re reluctant to rush to the pub anytime soon so are thankful to Camden four sending us a four pack to review, giving us three more opportunities for home drinking to check that they’re all up to standard. Which, of course, they are…

    Proceeds of sales go to supporting pubs, which you can read about at here

    +++++

    Symington Portuguese wine duroro

    Symington Family Estates, Altano Douro White Wine, 12.5%

    We very rarely feature wine pressed from grapes on this site (wine conjured from rhubarb, beetroot and pea pods is more our thing) but we were recently introduced to the Symington Family Estates portfolio of wines and were sent a bottle of their Altano Douro to review. To give it the best possible environment for tasting we gave it our prime time drinking slot – Friday after work – and it impressed as much as anything we’ve guzzled this year.

    Coming from Portugal’s Douro Valley, the wine is made from a blend of Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Viosinho grapes – names we’re not too familiar with but are said to be well suited to the vineyard’s cooler Portuguese climate. Initially there’s a friendly floral aroma and a slight sweet tropical taste, but in the main it’s a citrussy sensation. Lemon and lime cut a dash with their acidic brightness, while some pithiness helps lend it a drying depth and flavour intensity that suits its creamy viscous feel. It is a wine that perfectly suited our tastes, being simultaneously full of flavour and easy to drink.

    We may be more familiar with wines made from other fruits and vegetables but reckon these Portuguese grapes can give even our favourite ingredients a run for their money.

    BUY

    +++++

    hun wine range

    HUNWines SA Sauvignon Blanc 2019, 12.5% 

    No sooner are we reviewing one grape wine than three more arrive through the post, this time in the unfamiliar wine packaging of cans. And while we think the humble can should be perfectly suited to wine packaging, we’re not sure a wine brand called HUN, with pink livery, is quite aimed at the likes of us. So we gave the Pale Rosé to a more glamorous friend for a second opinion and kept the Sparkling Rosé and Sauvingon Blanc to ourselves.

    The former left us unmoved – at just 5.5% it didn’t really pack much vinous goodness for us – but the Sauvignon Blanc was just as we would hope. It possessed lots of fresh, green grape aromas and a crisp acidity that finished with a grown-up dryness. It would be ideal as a summer wine-on-the-go and, at just £3 for a 250ml can, you can load up without worrying about carrying home half-emptied bottles.

    As for the Pale Rosé, our glamorous friend was equally impressed. “Super, Darling” she purred…

    Look out for a can in your local Tesco store

    +++++

    Whisky Club cocktail dummies

    Smith & Sinclair, Whisky Club Alcoholic Cocktail Gummies, 5%

    Over the years we’ve been sent a few sweets flavoured with cocktails. They tend not to be very good and rarely get finished before entering the food waste bin. Earlier this month we were sent a selection box of whisky cocktail sweets from Smith & Sinclair that sounded more promising and looked a bit more enticing than most. We were hopeful, but far from confident.

    We no longer have any Smith & Sinclair cocktail sweets left. All gone. Gobbled in no time at all. Because they taste amazing. Sugar coated, soft jellied confection with a gently boozy burst of Old Fashioned or aromatic kick of Whiskey Sour. This is how to make cocktail sweets: real booze flavours, expertly combined with the finest sugary confection, and some actual booze to boot. Genuine sweet treats.

    BUY

    The post New booze round-up #22: Wine in a can, whisky on Zoom and cocktails in a sweet appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • 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.

    The post Tyne and Weary: Out on the town in Newcastle – via Zoom appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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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.

    The post Wild Tea. An announcement about our book appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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