• New booze round-up #24: beer festival boxes, alcohol free cider and rum three ways

    The booze currently being sent for us to review is flooding into the The Brewing Shed, and most of it is good, so for this round-up we’ve got a bumper load of drinks. You’ll find two festival themed selections of beer, a decent big brand cider and the first alcohol-free cider to meet our approval, along with a trio of treats for anyone who enjoys rum.

    We hope you like them as much as we did. Cheers!


    Best of British Beer, Virtual British Beer Festival Box

    Over the past few months we’ve been enjoying regular themed beer drinking sessions with some of our mates via Zoom. Having ticked off the North East, Belgium and Germany our next session was timed to coincide with our regular trip to the cancelled Frocester Beer Festival.

    To see us through the evening (and beyond) we each ordered a case of booze from Best of British Beer, specifically put together by their beer experts as a beer festival selection. Among the 14 bottles are a lager (Williams Bros ‘Marshall’) for mid session refreshment, a cheeky cider from Celtic Marshes (you know you’ve had a good festival if you’ve dabbled with the apple booze) and the excellent ‘Laird’s Ale’ from Traquair House to finish with. Other beers that proved a big hit with the Zoomers included Grey Trees ‘Mosaic’ and Tyne Bank’s ‘Silver Dollar. 

    And to make it even more of a festival selection Best of British even chucked in a few bonus items including a glass and bag of nuts. We could quickly get the hang of these virtual beer festivals…



    Anspach & Hobday German Beer Selection

    Sticking with the beer festival theme, our favourite London brewery Anspach & Hobday have recently released a selection for four beers that would grace any German Oktoberfest. The four 440ml cans, each decked out in a superb illustration of a beer-guzzling scene, are The Gose (4%), The Rauchbier (5.6%), The Hefeweizen (5%) and The Festival Lager (5.6%).

    Each one is a real treat but we particularly enjoyed the rauchbier. Having occasionally mumbled that not enough breweries are brave enough to dabble with smoky malts we were naturally excited to see the London maestros include one in their new range. It’s assuredly baconish with a sweet malt glaze and hints of fruit, and it dried out to a faintly dry and bitter finish. And what we really like about it, and the other beers in the range, is that they feel Germanic: full bodied with simple, clean flavours. Prosit!



    Henry Westons Vintage Rosé, 5.5%

    We have been known to get a bit sniffy over ciders, believing that very few of the big brands’ boozes come anywhere close to the artisan producers that line the rural roads in our Somerset neck of the woods. (And they’re certainly no match for Rich’s latest allotment keeved cider which would surely win awards if ever he entered it for any).

    But despite our cider snobbery we won’t totally dismiss the big brands output for the sake of it, and have always found Henry Westons Ciders to be decent efforts – with proper cider apple flavours and the high dose of booze that those apples produce. So when we were offered a few bottles from their recently expanded range, rather than pretend we were having a break from cider drinking (our usual excuse for turning down dodgy booze) we said ‘yes please’ and were duly dispatched a trio of bottles.

    Alongside the highly sippable Henry Westons Vintage (8.2%) and Henry Westons Vintage Cloudy (7.3%) was a pinker drink that, on first appearance, might look like another sub-par flavoured affair. However, the only fruit in this cider is apples, plucked from the tree in a single season (2019 in this instance) before going through the scratting, pressing, fermenting and maturing process. It has a lower ABV of 5.5% and is full of fizz, with some strawberry sweetness paring back some of the richer apple flavours found in those stronger vintages – all of which should appeal to those fruit cider fans. But there’s also plenty of genuine tannic and fruity Herefordshire cider flavours that emerge during the dry finish and build through each mouthful, which appeals to our precious palettes and, we hope, will help lead those fruit fans to more robust ciders in future.



    Hernan Parra Dictador

    Dictador 2 Masters Royal Tokaji

    We were recently honoured to be invited to a very special Zoom rum tasting to announce the launch of the latest Dictador 2 Masters release – a rum from 1977 that has been finished in Royal Tokaji casks.

    Dictador is a distinguished Columbian rum brand and ‘2 Masters’ refers to a series of collaborations between their rum making experts and a booze producer from elsewhere. For this release, Dictador’s Master Blender, Hernan Parra (pictured right), joined forces with Royal Tokaji’s Master Blender Zoltán Kovács to produce a limited edition rum of only 475 decanters.

    Both Masters were present for the tasting, with each giving the assembled Zoom-crowd an insight into the rum’s production and ageing in Hungary, along with their own thoughts on the finished rum’s qualities. Hernan Parra directed us to the rum’s notes of raisins, prunes, dark chocolate and tobacco while Zoltán Kovács explained how the sweet acidity from the 40 year old Tokaji casks helped to open up the flavours.

    It is indeed an exceptional rum that has a luscious richness and maturity to it. To us, the influence of the Tokaji becomes more apparent the longer you sip, with the sweet grapes adding further complexity to the aged oak flavours. And tasting this outstanding rum in such esteemed company added to the overall experience.



    Drynks, Smashed Cider, 0%

    When we first heard that some companies were looking into producing alcohol free ciders we joked that we already had some and it was called apple juice. Nobody laughed. Our jokes may have needed a bit of work, but we would’ve genuinely preferred to be served freshly pressed apple juice than any boozeless cider.

    Recently alcohol free producers Drynks sent us their range of cans and have changed our opinion of what alcohol free cider can taste like, because their Smashed Cider is terrific. It’s appley, has a good kick of sourness that gives it a cidery edge while making up for the lack of boozy hit, and it even has a bit of a tannic bite at the back. Admittedly it tastes more in line with commercial ciders than our local artisan boozes, but it’s much better than a lot of the fully boozed up supermarket ciders we’ve tried. 

    The alcohol free beer sector has enjoyed a huge surge of quality in recent years (and Drynks Smashed Lager is up there with the best) so it’s good to see that 0% ciders are joining them with a quality offering. There are many times when apple juice is much preferable to cider, but when we want the taste of the latter but without the addition of booze the juice can stay put in the fridge and we’ll reach for a Smashed Cider can instead.



    Stargazy Cornish Rum Liqueur, 22%

    Hailing from St Ives’ Rum and Crab Shack (creators of the spice-tastic ‘Dead Mans’ Fingers’), Stargazy is a lip-smacking rum-based liqueur made with gorse flowers and a pinch of sea salt. Rich had to cancel his annual holiday to St Ives this year due to the current COVID-19 catastro-shambles, so sampled his Stargazy whilst stargazey- ing tearfully into space, dreaming of Porthmeor beach and the hillbilly arcade game at the Harbour Amusements.

    Stargazy tastes of rum and raisin toffees and we can happily report that it works well as a less potent rum substitute in a ‘dark and stormy’ cocktail. We’ll call it ‘overcast and choppy’, shall we? Aaarrrrrr, yes we will, Jim lad.



    Cockspur Original Rum Punch, 4%

    This garish, ruddy-hued booze was approached with a little trepidation, but after popping the cap and getting stuck in, Cockspur* rum punch revealed itself to be a juicy, fruity treat. The rum hit is more tickle than punch, but the big papaya and pineapple flavours really sing.This drink was sampled during a particularly vicious, early Autumn storm. Not the best backdrop for supping a brew meant for summer BBQ fun-times, but the musa basjoo in the garden did its best by thrashing at the windows, bringing a ‘Caribbean hurricane’ kind of vibe to proceedings.


    *A good 20 minutes was wasted googling ‘cockspur 70s Russian ad’ on receipt of this bottle, believing it was a revived brand from the 70s. That was of course ‘Cockburns’.

    Here’s the ad, directed by Guy Richie’s dad, no less…

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  • A Bluffer’s Guide to wine: Côtes du Rhône

    We often get sent new boozes to sample, many of which pass muster and adorn the pages of our New Booze section, but when a giant box of wines and tasty French fancies came a-knocking at TTG HQ we thought that it deserved a bit more space. We’ve got to admit, grape-based wine is one of the areas in which we are least familiar. We’re all over country wines like a rash – you’ll find many easy to make wines in our book, Brew It Yourself, (highlights of which include fig wine, oak leaf wine, and a ‘sounds hideous but is actually very nice’ mint wine) – but personally I’ve* never actually made anything from grapes. This is partly down to:

    (a) An inability to grow grapes on the allotment without deer munching through the vines before they even reach knee height.

    (b) A stubborn resistance to embrace grape-y wine after an unfortunate incident at the Frankfurt book fair, when a foreign licence meeting for Brew It Yourself almost ended in tears and fisticuffs. “You simply cannot make wine from parsnips” the prospective French publisher declared, pointing at our book and dismissing it with a sneer and wafty hand gesture. Anyway, we had the last laugh – stiff French opposition crumbled under the deadpan death stare from our agent, and a French language book eventually made it to print. If you stand on the Dover cliffs when the wind is blowing fair, you can still hear french vinologists guffawing into their glasses of Grenache…

    But we digress…

    Having gone a bit lockdown loopy over summer, stuck inside with not even a sniff of boozy press trips in the offing, we were more than happy to delve into the box-dwelling Gallic treats we were sent. It offered us the very essence of France without the need for a two week quarantine and an invasive, swab-based procedure. Inside we found:

    A baguette (naturally)
    Some duck pate
    Candied walnuts
    Beaufort cheese
    Reblochon cheese
    A truffle-infused brie
    A coil of saucisson as big as a baby’s arm
    Six bottles of wine, as follows…


    M. Chapoutier Signargues 2014
    A full-bodied, toe-tingling tannic treat, ripe with dark berries and a tickle of liquorice. We quaffed this with the rustic baguette, but held off on the supplied duck liver pate out of loyalty to our feathered freinds.



    Cellier des Dauphins Reserve 2018 
    A deep, ruby-coloured wine with smoky spice and notes of blackcurrant. We had no qualms demolishing this wine with the coil of saucisson. So much so we lost the label in the feeding frenzy and couldn’t tell you its origin, but we are pleased to report that was a delicious piggy treat right up until the last two inches, at which point the cat licked it and it had to go in the bin.



    Domaine des Escaravailles La Ponce, 2018
    A curveball white, made from Marsanne, Rousanne, Clairette grapes. Massively floral and complex. Candied walnuts and Reblochon cheese were gobbled with this.



    Montirius La Muse Papilles, 2015
    Truffle-infused brie was consumed with this grenache-heavy, rich red number. The truffle-infused brie climbed into our ‘top ten cheese list, and kept on climbing the more we drank/ate until reaching ‘peak brie’, at which point it was immediately demoted and currently sits just below gouda.



    Domaine de Dionysos Jardin de Robert, 2016
    A lovely glass of red wine. Terrifically tannic, with the taste of ripe hedgerow berries accompanying every sip. We paired this beauty with the pungent Beaufort cheese.



    Domaines Vincent Moreau Sainte Cécile 
    A blend of grenache and syrah grape go to make this dark, fruity treat. We ran out of posh french snacks by this stage, so had to pair it with a bag of beef Monster Munch, which kind of worked.



    Our bluffers guide to Côtes du Rhône wines

    Don’t get caught with your pantalons down when confronted with a fancy wine list – here’s our quick Côtes du Rhône crib sheet to revise and remember.

    The Côtes du Rhône region straddles the Rhône river valley, from Lyon down to Avignon. At 86,000 acres it is the second-largest wine region in France. The region is split into two distinctive styles: Wines found in the north of the appellation tend to be dominated by the Syrah grape which are grown on rocky, terraced slopes. Head south and you’ll find juicy red and rose blends made from up to 21 varieties of grape.

    Expect full bodied deep, fruity wines with rounded tannins. Côtes du Rhône wines made with a predominance of Syrah grape will be smoky and spicy. Look out for Côtes du Rhône ‘Villages’ wines, which tend to be complex and high in alcohol, making them perfect for ageing.

    What not to say to a French sommelier
    This wine list is way too fancy. Do you have anything made from parsnips?


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


    * Nick claims to have made a ‘great’ grape wine, but I’ve never seen any evidence. And if his pea pod wine is anything to go by, it’s a lucky escape…


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  • Five things you need to know about Pumpkins this halloween

    Halloween is approaching. And while most sensible citizens will lock themselves in with all lights switched off to pretend they’re not at home, others will roam the streets demanding money from any householder brave enough to open the door. Supermarkets may be well stocked with orange coloured sweets, but kids these days prefer hard cash. And they don’t even wear fancy dress any more.

    Some folk with a nostalgic yearning for bygone days might carve out a pumpkin with jagged teeth, two triangular eyes, and… erm… can anyone remember what to do for a nose? So to commemorate this most miserable of annual events, here are five scarily true pumpkin facts…

    Take your turnip
    In the UK people used to cut shapes out of turnips for Halloween. But greedy British eyes peered across the pond, saw the vast potential of giant pumpkins for carving, and thus relegated turnips to a side dish for haggis.

    Cinderella man
    The classic story of Cinderella is an ancient folk tale that has been retold for centuries. An early seventeenth century version of the story, ‘Cenerentola’, published by Italian Giambattista Basile in his book ‘Lo cunto de li cunti’ features princes looking for slippers, but it wasn’t until the end of the century the carriage-to-pumpkin plot line was added, by Frenchman Charles Perrault.

    All hands to the pumpkin
    The earliest evidence of a pumpkin is from Mexico where pumpkin seeds believed to date between 7000BC and 5500BC have been found. Their rise in popularity began in France, before being seized upon by English Tudors and, eventually, gaining popularity throughout their native North America in the nineteenth century.

    What a whopper
    Pumpkins are a regular feature of giant veg competitions around the world. The heaviest recording of a pumpkin is a gargantuan 1,810 lb 8 oz, grown by a Minnesotan, Chris Stevens, in 2010. You could carve the whole cast of The Munsters out of that.

    Pumpkin up the volume
    Pumpkin pie is the obvious dish of choice for pumpkin fans, but for those who prefer to drink their cucurbits then pumpkin beer is a must. It’s a popular beverage in America, particularly among home brewers, who like to recreate their favourite pie flavours in alcohol. Just don’t give it to the trick-or-treating kids.

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  • American Gardens by Monty Don & Derry Moore

    Due to the current virus-ey climate, packages that arrive at TTG HQ bearing London postmarks tend to send our emergency COVID response into overdrive. Our current procedure is to incinerate any offending objects before brushing the charred remains into the garden border with a long handled broom, but this particular delivery was spared from fiery death due to a Zippo malfunction at the crucial moment. Fortunate indeed, as the contents of its cardboard shell revealed itself to be Monty Dons latest tome, ready for a good ol’ read.

    Sunnylands cactus garden, Palm Springs, California. Pity the poor gardener who has to weed this prickly plot. Photo © Derry Moore.

    ‘American Gardens’ is a collaboration between Monty and ace photographer Derry Moore and is intended as a papery companion for the BBC television series of the same name. Together they attempt to dissect what characteristics define an American garden, and do so by embarking on a voyage of discovery across America visiting gardens, estates and urban areas.

    Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania. Built for Edgar J. Kaufmann between 1936 and 1939.
    Lucky old Edgar. Photo © Derry Moore.

    Derry’s masterly photos are the perfect accompaniment to Monty’s intimate commentary and are used lavishly throughout the book. Production values have been ramped up to the max, with a liberal use of full-bleed dps photos that help portray the scale and vibrancy of the subject matter.

    We get the feeling that Monty* is a slightly reluctant traveller and would rather be at home messing around within the cool confines of potting shed at Longmeadow, but there’s a real sense of personal engagement with every garden covered in this book, right from the weedy yet abundant spaces of New York’s Target Bronx Community Gardens through to vast, verdant spaces of Palm Springs and beyond. 

    Right: A great saguaro cacti, Sonoran Desert, California. Left: Don, for scale. Photo @ Derry Moore

    For anyone keen on the history, development and direction of tamed American landscapes, there’s a lot here to love, and at a time when most folks’ travel plans have been significantly curtailed, Monty and Derry’s American adventures makes for a warm, welcome escape.


    American Gardens is published by Prestel and available to buy here.


    * Keen followers of Monty’s sartorial style will be pleased to note that he manages to sneak into a few photos. His trademark scarf is very much in evidence, along with a hat that hints of stetson without going full ‘John Wayne’. Fans of Nellie and Patti (Monty’s dog companions, as seen on Gardeners World) will have to settle for two pictures; the back of one solitary Yankee doodle poodle and a stone statue mutt.


    If this book piques your interest for all things American, we’d highly recommend a visit to the American Museum and Gardens. Read all about it here.


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  • 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…


    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.



    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.



    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.



    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.



    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…


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

    **The porch

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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.



    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.



    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.



    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.



    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…


    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. 



    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.



    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.



    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.


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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.


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


    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 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…

    The post How to make the perfect Bloody Mary appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.

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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


    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.


    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..


    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.


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



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

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