• 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

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  • 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.

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • Brewing a Wild Tea Beer with St Austell Brewery

    It’s advisable to have a clear head when you’re about to spend a day in a brewery making beer. That’s why we began a cool but clear September morning on a shingle beach, inhaling deeply while gazing at the sun rise across the sea with our backs to the Cornish village port of Charlestown. On waking our heads possessed a slight fog from the night before, but a bracing blast of sea air soon dealt with that inconvenience.

    That previous evening was spent in the The Harbourside Inn, a Charlestown pub owned by the nearby St Austell Brewery, where we enjoyed their latest Small Batch Beer, Anthracite, a delicious porter made in collaboration with New Zealand brewing stars The Yeastie Boys. Somehow, we managed to persuade Brewing & Bottling Manager Rob Orton and PR Manager Megan Hocking that their Small Batch series should also feature a beer brewed in collaboration with us: a beer that takes one of our favourite home grown teas at its inspiration.

    The tea that appealed to Rob’s experimental nature is our twist on a popular Moroccan combination of green gunpowder tea and lemon verbena – the twist being that we also like to add a couple of freshly picked hops to each during harvest season. So we loaded up the car with home grown lemon verbena and hops plundered from our gardens, allotment and nearby hedges, headed to Cornwall and began our beer brewing adventure. Here’s a photo essay of the day…

    Beach at Charlestown

    The picturesque village Charlestown also doubles up as Truro in Poldark*, making it a popular stop-off point for tourists visiting Cornwall’s south coat.

    St Austell Brewery tour

    St Austell’s Brewery has a complete, open plan brewing set-up used exclusively for small batch brews. It’s here their collaborations and experimental beers are made, with the whole process visible to tourists from the floor above.

    Rob Orton Small Batch Beers

    Rob Orton, our boss for the day and the man responsible for turning our Wild Tea Beer idea into something drinkable.

    Wild Hops St Austell Brewery

    For our collaboration beer we picked hops from our allotment, garden and neighbouring hedgerows along with some home grown lemon verbena. That wasn’t nearly enough for a full brew so Rob also ordered fresh and dry hops along with several large packs of dried lemon verbena and gunpowder tea.

    Brewers Breakfast malt beverage

    Rich inspects the malt used to brew the beer: 275kg Maris Otter (St Austell Brewery is the biggest buyer of this grain in the world), 50kg wheat and 25kg Cara malt. Once converted to a hot wort it’s time to check the sweet, malty liquid – a tasty drink referred to as ‘brewers breakfast.’

    Cleaning out mash

    St Austell Brewery is spotlessly clean, so after the hot wort has been run off it’s time to scrub out the mash tun.

    Mug of wild tea

    A ‘hop tea’ is made with the lemon verbena, green tea and hops to check that everyone is happy with the proportions of each ingredient.

    Brewing wild tea with herbs and hops

    The lemon verbena, green tea and fresh hops are poured into a hopback…

    Hot malt hop back

    …and the hot wort is added, extracting the various aromas, flavours and bitterness.

    Hot beer St Austell

    Rob regularly checks the hot beer before it’s transferred to the fermenter for the magic to happen. Then all we can do is wait.

    Thirsty Gardener Pale Ale

    We get to taste the finished beer (named ‘The Thirsty Gardeners Pale Ale’) three weeks later. Rob has done a great job – it’s full of fresh, green herbal aroma and flavour, with a good of hit zesty lemon (but without lemon’s sourness) and the unmistakeable tannic ‘bite’ of tea. The project also caught the imagination of the press, with a story running on the front page of the Cornish Guardian. “Tea and beer used to make perfect brew” – we couldn’t agree more.

    *Poldark is popular period drama featuring pits, scythes, glistening abdominals** and that bloke from Quadrophenia. Coincidentally, Nick’s home town Frome also masquerades as the 18th century Cornish capital in some other scenes from the show.

    **It’s Rich’s head that glistens when he’s in scything action.

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  • New Booze Round-up #13: Beer & art, beer & TV, beer & whisky…

    For this round we’ve been sent four beers that are worthy of a write up and something extra special to get us in the mood for Christmas…

    English whisky company beer

    St Peter’s Whisky Beer, 4.8%

    Nose around a tourist shop in Scotland and you’ll probably spy all kinds of consumables flavoured with whisky. Whisky fudge. Whisky cheese. Whisky chocolate. In most cases these will be perfectly good products that have been tainted by the taste of whisky. In theory, beer flavoured with whisky should be much more of a successful product as both start out in the same way – by fermenting malted barley – but in practice we’ve rarely had a good whisky beer.

    When St Peter’s brewery got in touch about their new whisky beer, brewed in collaboration with The English Whisky Company, we had a hunch that it might turn out better. Their beers are usually excellent and they’re adept at sympathetically introducing other ingredients into the mix. They sent us a brace of bottles and our hunch proved to be correct.

    The beer itself is golden, with peaty malt that gives it a smoky aroma and flavour that is reminiscent of German rauchbiers, providing the perfect foil for the measure of whisky that gives it an extra snap. There’s a slight sweetness to the malty body and subtle bittering that maintains its beery profile without competing with the whisky. Unlike some whisky cheese we’ve had the misfortune of eating this is a product in which two different flavours work perfectly in harmony with each other.


    Sadlers Peaky Blinder Lager Review

    Sadler’s Peaky Blinder Lager, 4.1%

    Around our way, Sadler’s flies a little under the radar. Some of the brewery’s products occasionally pop up in discount supermarkets but we hardly see it otherwise. Which is a shame because they’re a reliable brewer with a wide range of quality beers.

    As if to remind us of their existence they sent us a pack of their newly canned Peaky Blinder Lager, named after the TV-popularised gang from the same Midlands heartland as the brewery. Grumpy, peaked-cap wearing ruffians may not make the most attractive visual feature for a can of beer, but it obviously helps market the product and, thankfully, the contents are much more pleasant.

    There’s a good lager maltiness to this beer, with the flavour of the grains coming through and a light daubing of lemon peel and peppery hay to give it more interest and depth. It’s the kind of lager we might describe as ‘solid’ – one to load the fridge with, possessing enough flavour to be instantly rewarding, but also fuss-free allowing to drink without thinking. A perfect lager for drinking in front of the TV.


    Camden Harvest Hells Lager Review

    Camden Town Brewery, Harvest Hells, 4.6%

    We do like a drink of Camden lager. Their consistently excellent Hells must be close to reaching ‘classic beer’ status and its spin-offs are usually simple, classy affairs that tend to slip down a treat. The press release for their latest offering began with a succinct line to whet our appetites: “Move over summer, Autumn is here and so is Camden Town Brewery’s brand new beer, Harvest Hells.” So we called in a four pack which disappeared in a flash.

    The first can was enjoyed by Nick after a long afternoon of Autumnal garden toil, and it perfectly suited the moment: all the clean and refreshing flavour of a good lager but with a richer malt that aptly suited the season’s fading sunlight hours. And we don’t think there’s more we need to add: it’s a perfect lager in keeping with the Camden range.

    Available from Sainsburys and Marks & Spencer for a limited period

    Elemental Cucumis Sativus

    Fourpure x Toast x Tate, Elemental Cucumis Sativus, 6%

    An art gallery may not immediately spring to mind when you’re thinking of a place for a decent beer, but London’s Tate Modern gallery treats its booze as works of art and has a tap room teeming with glorious beer. They even hold a monthly tap takeover with brewers showing off their beer-making artistry over the course of an evening.

    To further promote this beer and art partnership the Tate has teamed up with breweries Fourpure and Toast to produce Elemental, a sour beer with the refreshing flavours of cucumber. Using bread that would otherwise go to waste (that’s where the Toast team come in) it’s an environmentally conscious brew too. We found it instantly enjoyable, with the sourness being restrained just enough to allow other light, sweet floral notes to emerge along with the cooling flavours provided by the addition of cucumbers. A beer for arty environmentalists or anyone else with a thirst to quench.

    Find out more about Tate Modern’s Tap Takeover here

    Really Good Whisky Advent Calendar

    24 drams of quality whisky tucked inside an advent calendar. We liked this so much that we’ve given it a separate review here.

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  • A daily dose of Really Good Whisky… in an advent calendar

    We can tell we’re entering the last quarter of the year because drinks businesses have started to promote their advent calendars. This is a subject we have studied in depth, having worked our way through numerous boxes of various sizes and shapes with every kind of drink you can imagine lurking behind cardboard doors and windows.

    Last week we were sent a new advent calendar to consider when next writing on the subject and were so impressed that we have decided that it warrants a review all of its own. The calendar in question comes from The Really Good Whisky Company and contains 24 drams – most of them Scottish Single Malts, but also a few blends and unusual treats from elsewhere in the world.

    Whisky Advent Calendar 24 Drams
    Boxes of drams…

    The range and quality of these whiskies is exceptional – lots of new releases and limited editions* that will appeal to anyone with liking for whisky, from a host of distilleries that are well known for their excellence. There genuinely isn’t a dull of duff product among them. But what makes this advent calendar even more special is its presentation. The package is compact and orderly, each dram being tucked inside its own box with calendar number facing upwards. Lift out a box and the sides are printed with information about the whisky it contains – so not only do you get a 3cl taste of each spirit, but you also get to learn a little more about what you’re drinking.

    We won’t spoil the surprise by listing all of the contents but to give you a flavour of what the The Really Good Whisky Company is offering, here’s the lowdown on three of our favourite advent drams…

    Glenmorangie Balcata Whisky Bottle

    Glenmorangie, Bacalta, 46%

    Glenmorangie’s 10 year old is a popular Highland whisky, the kind that can kick-start a love of whisky, but it’s also one that will also be appreciated by those who already have shelves groaning under the weight of single malts. Bacalta is one of the distillery’s limited edition releases with a much higher price tag and more intense flavours than their classic 10 year old, making it a genuine treasure among the advent collection.

    The whisky has been finished in heavily toasted casks that have previously contained Malmsey Madeira before being left to bask in the Meditteranean sunshine. There’s an initial fruity caramelisation to the aroma and taste that is quick to fill the palette, while some light and toasty spices give it the feel of a winter warmer. Reviewers of this whisky regularly refer to ‘white chocolate’ in their tasting notes, and while this is no booze-filled milky bar, we can certainly detect what they mean – it has a similar creamy texture and the kind of sweet, tingly sensation you get if you scoff too much. As with Glenmorangie’s 10 year old this is exceptionally easy to drink but provides a lot more interest for those with a gap to fill on their whisky shelves.

    Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011

    Bruichladdich, Islay Barley 2011, 50%

    Islay distillery Bruichladdich was founded way back in 1881 but, after various changes of ownership and periods of being dormant, it wasn’t until the early 21st century that it sprang back into proper life with a mission to inject some excitement into the whisky market. Central to the brand’s beliefs is a dedication to the use of local ingredients in a forward-thinking way, but without ditching traditional practices. This is exemplified by their range of heavily peated malts under the Port Charlotte banner and their series of Islay Barley releases.

    This 2011 release is made with grain grown at six different locations on the island, each of them imparting different characteristics into the whisky, which is then matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-wine casks. 

    It’s another great dram to pull out of our box, but one we find difficult to describe as their are no blindingly obvious flavour comparisons to pick out. There is definitely something biscuity going on: something light like a crispy wafer or one of those long, sugar-sprinkled thins with rounded corners and a habit of falling into your tea. There are also some light, fruity notes: maybe pear, perhaps dried apricot, and certainly a zesty acidity from the wine casks. And continuing with this light theme we’re even going to allow ourselves to be seduced by the notion that Islay whiskies have something of the sea breeze about them: a splash of water added to the serving makes it feel as if the flavours are floating across the palette on a coastal drift.

    It’s not until the finish that a murmer of something darker stirs within the grains: almost certainly tobacco and perhaps a burnt edge or two to those unidentified biscuits. But however we try to describe those individual flavours there’s one word we can use to cover the overall effect: excellent.

    Glenglassaugh Evolution Whisky Review

    Glenglassaugh, Evolution, 50%

    The Glenglassaugh distillery, based in Portsoy, Aberdeenshire, is another old name that has been through turbulent times and has only recently started selling new bottlings. Boxes of miniatures – like this advent calendar – are a good way to discover what such new operations are capable of and Evolution is our first tasting of a Glenglassaugh release.

    It’s young and pale looking, but still has lots of flavour extracted from the ex-Tennesse whiskey casks in which it has been dwelling, and is mature enough to have any rough edges smoothed out. The aroma is certainly enticing, with the alcohol vapours wrapped in a sugary, creamy coating and a hint of fruit salad. Sup it neat and the 50% ABV thrusts forward lots of peppery spice; open it all up with a touch of water and the spice mellows to reveal more distinctive oak flavours and subtler notes of burnt fruits. Another distillery we’ll want to keep our eye on.

    To get your hands on this ace box of drams click here

    *Box #10 is definitely one to get excited about

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  • What can I do with surplus pears? Jam, chutney, wine and more!

    Neither of us has a pear tree* – apples are the priority on our patches – but we do have neighbours who grow a few and this year they seem to have lucked out with bumper harvests. One neighbour’s tree was so laden with fruit that bags of conference pears have been distributed to half the houses in Nick’s street. So despite our apple preference we now have a glut of pears to deal with.

    The most obvious things to make with pears are crumbles and tarts, but when those options have been fully exercised what other uses are there? Here’s some surplus pear inspiration…


    Pears don’t properly ripen until they have been picked. So while you’re waiting for them to soften and ooze with juice, take advantage of their crispier nature by shredding them on a grater. Grated pears can be used in numerous ways, from mixing into your morning muesli or porridge, stirred into a salad or coleslaw, baking into bread or buns, or our favourite – whisked into a pancake batter.


    Like most fruits, pears are happy to spend a while in the freezer. Core them, slice them, box or bag them and stuff them in the freezer until ready to use. Besides using them for some of the other ideas in this piece they’re particularly useful for whizzing into a smoothie when the fresh fruit bowl is low on resources. You can also whizz them up before freezing and make yourself some pear lollies.


    Pear jam isn’t the most obvious preserve but it’s a tasty one, particularly if combined with a few well chosen spices. Pear and ginger works a treat but you can easily get carried away with other spices too. We’ll be using our pear surplus to try this recipe from Ginette Mathiot in House & Garden – pear jam with vanilla and clove.


    Just as spicy pears work in a sweet preserve, they also go down a treat for a sticky, savoury chutney as an alternative to apple. BBC Good Food has a recipe that looks ripe for tinkering with and we reckon the resulting pickly pears will pair great with Stilton cheese.


    Yes, we’ve saved the best until last. The most well known pear-based booze is perry, but unless you specifically have perry pears then you’ll struggle to make anything decent. Instead, try making a cider flavoured with pears by chucking a few fat-bottomed fruits in with the apples.** Pear wine is also well worth attempting, producing one of the best light country wines we’ve ever made – you can our pear wine recipe on this website.

    Pear liqueurs are also rather popular and can be made at home by infusing pears in sweetened spirits. It’s not something we’ve tried before but if any neighbours swing by with any more pears then it will be top of our list

     *If you discount Rich’s Pointless Pear

    **You can find more precise instructions for pear cider and pear wine in our book, Brew it Yourself

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  • Cotswolds Distillery: the making of English whisky and gin

    We first came across Cotswolds Distillery‘s single malt whisky earlier this year and were immediately impressed: a fine, full flavoured spirit that tastes every bit as good as its Scottish counterparts. There aren’t many whisky distilleries within easy reach of us, so we arranged a trip to Oxfordshire, staying at the nearby Feldon Valley, and joined one of the distillery’s tours to find out more about this exciting enterprise.

    The distillery was founded by whisky enthusiast Dan Szor, a New Yorker who fell in love with the Cotswolds and wanted to distill the essence of the location into a new spirit by working with local produce and suppliers. As is the case with most start up whisky distilleries, Dan and his team began making gin while waiting for the first whisky to mature.

    Here’s our own distillation of the distillery tour in pictures…

    Barely and fermenters

    The Cotswolds Distillery uses local barley to make its whisky, which is sent to Warminster to be malted before being mashed on site. The local cycle is complete with the spent grains being collected by neighbouring farmers to use as feed for their livestock. The wort is fermented for around four days – longer than is standard practice – before the resulting alcohol is ready to distill.

    Two copper stills (named Mary and Jane) provide a double fermentation for the alcohol, with the good stuff (the ‘heart’) separated out from the first and last spirits to come off the still (the ‘foreshots’ and ‘feints’). This separation process ensures that only the alcohol with the best flavour gets transformed into whisky.

    barrel ageing whisky cotswolds

    The whisky is aged on site and at a warehouse in Liverpool in a mix of bourbon, port and sherry casks. Tour visitors get to try the ‘new make spirit’ – the strong, colourless liquid that comes off the stills – while breathing in the sweet oaky aromas from the barrel store.

    gin still tour cotswolds

    Cotswolds Distillery gin begins life as a neutral grain spirit which is diluted and has botanicals added – in the case of the distillery’s main Dry Gin this includes local lavender along with juniper berries and other botanicals. A German copper still provides the magic and, as with the whisky, the distilling team carefully selects the good stuff (the ‘hearts’) from the bad stuff (the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’) – the unwanted spirit heading to a local biofuel company while the hugely popular gin gets shipped all around the world.

    The distillery tour finishes with a tasting of both the whisky and gin – and any of the other special spirits you care to try (we were mightily impressed with their Lavender Bitters and ‘Cotswold-vados’, a 46% cidery spirit aged in calvados barrels). Unlike most whisky and gin producers, Cotswolds Distillery doesn’t chill filter its spirits, which they believe gives their product maximum flavour, besides turning the drinks cloudy on the introduction of water.

    distillery masterclass

    The distillery also runs a series of Masterclasses, with customers able to choose between ‘gin blending’ and ‘whisky blending’ for a more in-depth understanding of the making, tasting and art of blending spirits.

    Cotswolds Distillery shop

    Many of the Cotswolds Distillery’s more unique spirits are only available to buy on site, including an excellent cask strength whisky that is bottled for customers in the shop, straight from the PX Sherry casks it has been matured in.

    To find our more about Cotswolds Distillery and book a place on their tour, visit their website at cotswoldsdistillery.com

    We stayed at Feldon Valley. You can find more about the accommodation and restaurant at feldonvalley.co.uk and read a review of our stay here.

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