• New booze round-up #2: featuring keller lager, crackling and tattoos

    Here’s our latest round up of the new booze (and snacks) that have passed our lips in recent weeks, including some of our drinking highlights from the festive season.

    Braybrooke Keller Lager, 4.8%

    We reckon there’s a bit of a marketing spend behind Braybrooke’s Keller Lager. The Leicestershire brewery has a formidable PR company supporting it who sent us a brace of bottles that was accompanied by a smart little brochure – not many individual beers get their own brochures. Thankfully for the PR company the product is a decent one: nice sweet bready malts and a gentle Germanic bitterness. Simple, tasty and effective it had Rich purring with satisfaction.

    Bulleit Limited Edition

    As the spirit market becomes ever more competitive, big brands are looking for innovative ways to thrust their products into the limelight. One such method that we’ve noticed gaining in popularity is the use of limited edition packages (the same product presented in a different bottle). Big bourbon brand Bulleit is the latest to get creative with glass and they sent us a bottle designed by New York tattoo artist Jess Mascetti.

    We quite like the results – it’s an impressive piece of inkwork and genuinely makes the bottle feel a bit special, especially when you peer through the golden booze to view it on the reverse. As for the bourbon, it’s made with quite a lot of rye which gives it plenty of punchy spice among the oaky vanilla flavours and is one we like to use for cocktails, being especially effective in a Manhattan.

    Bulleit Bourbon Limited Edition
    Tattooed bourbon

    Pub Supper Box

    This item may not actually feature booze, but it’s such a good idea for the stay-at-home drinker that we thought it deserved inclusion. The concept is simple: a subscription club that sends out a box of nine pub inspired snacks on a monthly basis. The munchables in our sample were all top notch and included posh crisps (haggis flavour!), pork crackling, roasted peas and a weighty bag of Italian onion and olive savoury biscuity things (we’ve not been to an Italian pub, but we like their style). At just £15 we think this is a beer-enhancing bargain.

    Find out more at pubsupper.com

    Pub Supper Snacks Box Subscription
    A few bags of snacks that came tumbling from our PubSupper.com box

    What we drank over Christmas

    The festive season always acts as a good excuse to try out new boozes and here’s a selection of what we guzzled this Christmas. We both stocked up on Fuller’s 2018 Vintage Ale (10.5%): a strong brew that was smooth as polished marble with creamy alcohol peppered by tannic dark fruit skins, a bit of mellow citrus and a dry oaky finish. Lovely stuff.

    Edinburgh Beer Factory showered us with several beers which we shared with friends – of those we kept for ourselves Edinburgh Brown (6%) was the highlight with a rootsy bitterness cutting through the clean, fresh and frothy malty liquid.

    Rich enjoyed a few tankards of keeved cider in the shape of Champagne-corked bottles from Pilton Cider whose medium sweet Tamoshanta (4.7%) greatly impressed. Nick finished his festive boozing with a dram of Campbeltown PBS whisky bottled by Cadenhead’s at a barrel strength 57.1%, a delicious drop with honeyed almonds flavours and a gentle waft of oaky smoke.

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  • Winter fruit pruning with Okatsune Pruning Shears

    It’s usually not until you try something new that you realise how rubbish the old has become. I’ve been using the same pruners for years. Over time they’ve gotten a little stiff, have started to sport a rusty fringe and prefer to bludgeon their way through thicker branches rather than cut, but they’ve always just about done the job so I’ve never considered replacing them.

    Towards the end of last year Dutch retailers Knives and Tools sent me a pair of Japanese Okatsune Pruning Shears to review and they’re so impressive that the old tool has now been banished from the garden.

    Pruning fruiting plants is one of the first gardening jobs I undertake in a new year, so this provided an ideal opportunity to test the cut and thrust of this Japanese piece of craftsmanship. There were three key jobs to undertake. My apple trees are now established so don’t need the the same level of hacking back as in their first few years, but there were a few branches that had crossed and needed to be removed, along with some additional snips to maintain shapeliness. The casseille (a blackcurrant / gooseberry cross) and Big Ben blackcurrants needed more serious attention – they’ve been getting a bit out of control, not helped by being clumsily bent over during a fence installation, pushing most of their branches out to a horizontal direction. Besides removing old wood (currants grow best on the most recent growth) they also needed further thinning so the remaining growth had a vertical inclination. There were also a few Autumn fruiting raspberry canes to cut back to the ground.

    Okatsune Pruning Shears: the verdict

    I like the look of Okatsune’s pruners. They’re not flash and they don’t have weird design features that claim unusual ergonomics: they are simply a product of their functionality. I assumed the only nod to any type of aesthetic was the fancy red and white colours of the sleek, curved handles – a nod to their Japanese origin perhaps – but Rich informs me that even these are borne of function. Apparently the colour choice is to help locate them should careless cutting cause them to tumble into the undergrowth: red for daytime, white for low levels of light.

    Between the handles is one of the major assets of the pruners: a tight, powerful spring that assists with the ease of the squeeze while keeping the blades running in smooth, flexible order. Those blades are forged from tough Japanese carbon steel (which is also used to make katana swords) and are hard and sharp, which should mean they stay fit for purpose for a far greater length of time than my old pruners. The cuts to every branch I tackled were managed with swift precision, and were each perfectly clean (which those plants will be extremely grateful for). The recommended upper diameter for cutting is 20mm and, although I didn’t measure what girths I overcame, the pruner managed every thickness presented to its steely blades (including a few apple branches that would’ve been too much of a burden for my old tool).

    Okatsune Japanese pruners
    Swift and clean

    I’ve always quite liked the job of pruning and, having raced around the fruit in no time, started eyeing up more of the garden that might benefit from a trim. But apart from dealing with an unruly bay tree branch I resisted the urge to get carried away and gave the pruners a quick clean before putting them away for next time.

    A pair of pruners should be a tool that lasts a very long time, so it’s worth considering getting the best you can afford and are comfortable with. If, like me, you prefer the utilitarian approach married with ultimate functionality then I can highly recommend Okatsune’s Pruning Shears – I reckon it’ll be decades before something new makes this tool feel old and unwanted.

    Okatsune pruners sharp steel

    Okatsune pruning shears KST103, medium are available from Knivesandtools.co.uk, priced £42.10

    Footnote: free casseille

    During fence installation my casseille was bent over to such a degree (and probably trodden on) that a branch tracked along the soil and has rooted. This has now been snipped from the main plant and will be transplanted to Rich’s allotment for a new free fruit bush.

    layered casseille fruit bush
    A free casseille for Rich

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  • New booze round-up #1: featuring Earl Grey, Millet and Quince

    You can’t fail to have noticed that a lot of new booze is being released at the moment. Not only are craft producers are springing up all over the shop but established brands are also getting in on the act with shelf-loads of adventurous new product ranges.

    Besides eagerly seeking out new boozes in pubs, supermarkets and online we also get sent more than our fair share of drink samples from businesses and PR companies eager to hear our feedback on their products (and hoping we’ll give them a mention in the press).

    Until now we’ve not done much with these drinks, other than tweet any that particularly impress or intrigue, but we think the time is right to give the best of them some coverage on our blog. So here’s the first of an irregular series of ‘new booze round-ups’, covering the best of the booze that we’ve been sent or stumbled across.

    St Austell Celtic Beer Festival

    In November, Nick headed down to Cornwall to spend an evening at St Austell Brewery’s annual beer festival. Along with their regular beers, and a selection from other Cornish and national breweries, were a load of one-off specials brewed by various members of the St Austell and Bath Ales (owned by St Austell) brewing teams. Inspired by Cornwall’s wintery, stormy skies, Nick’s pick of the beers was a pair of dark brooding brews. Bath Ales ‘Honey I Shrunk The Porter’ (5%) was a delicious honey porter with a heady aroma of coconut rum, lots of sweet toasty malt flavours and a warming booziness, while St Austell’s annual release of its barrel aged Black Square Russian Imperial Stout (10.4%) was even better: slick and creamy with mellow fruitiness, bitter chocolate and a rich vibrancy from its barrel ageing.

    Earl Grey and Biscuits

    The best beer to arrive through the post came from the good folk at Borough Market who worked with brewer Daniel Tapper of The Beak Brewery to create a 5.2% saison made with Earl Grey tea (provided by trader Organic Life) and hops grown at the front of the market hall. We like Earl Grey as an adjunct – it’s a tea that’s flavoured with Bergamot which has floral orange flavours that aren’t a million miles from some hops while the tea’s tannin gives beers an extra dryness at the finish. This saison suited the Earl Grey addition exceptionally well: an amazingly fresh and spritzy beer with those tea characteristics perfectly well balanced with the clean and punchy malt, yeast and hop flavours.

    We were also introduced to Surrey outfit Crafty Brewing in the form of a three pack featuring their Five Hop IPA, Pale Ale and the brilliantly named Loxhill Biscuit (3.8%). It’s a golden sweet and light biscuity brew with subtle orangey citrus flavours from Amarillo hops (it also includes First Gold and Challenger) that perk up through the moderately bitter finish: one to file in the ‘easy drinking’ category.

    Bourbon and Gin

    Our most recent commissions for the i paper included round-ups of gin (Rich) and bourbon (Nick). Among Rich’s selection was a quince gin from distillers Whitley Neill which features the flavours of the under-appreciated Persian fruit with earthy and piney bitter notes of juniper and spice. Rich thought it had a not-too-sweet zestiness and recommended skipping the tonic and drinking neat, pairing it with cheese over the festive period.

    Among Nick’s bourbons was an organic spirit from Koval, a Chicago distillery making inroads into the UK market. Along with the bourbon he also got hold of a bottle of their whiskey made from 100% millet, an incredibly smooth and creamy spirit with quite a noticeable aroma and flavour of pears mingling with the soft grains.

     

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  • Let the bells ring out! It’s our digging and swigging Christmas Gift Guide 2019!

    For the past few months we’ve been keeping our eyes out for booze and gardening gifts that we think might please YOU, our beloved reader(s). Here’s a collection of fine digging and swigging suggestions to inform your hasty, last minute purchases, each one a GUARANTEED sure-fire winner.
    Just make sure you keep checking this page as we’ll be updating it with more suggestions as Christmas looms upon us.

    Beer Me Now Christmas Box

    Beer Me Now, Christmas Beer Box

    Price £25
    Every year a there are new beers subscription services added to an already busy market place and we do our best to test them all. Among the most recent launches that has impressed is Beer Me Now, a regular service that provides a good mix of popular classic beers with less well known bottles and cans (along with a salty snack for munching action). The Beer Me Now team has also put together a one off box of goodies just for Christmas, so you or a mate can enjoy their selection of eight ace beers as a one-off purchase (which we reckon might be enough to tempt you to signing up when all the Christmas beers have gone).

    Available from Beer Me Now

    whisky Christmas gift

    The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

    Price £34.25
    If you’re hunting for a gift for a whisky fan but are not quite sure what they like then might we suggest this handsomely boxed bottle. It’s a classic Speyside whisky (everyone likes a classic Speyside) from one of the most popular Scottish distilleries, the Glenlivet. The whisky is named in honour of Glenlivet’s founder and is a smooth sipping delight, with some clean tasting floral and fruity notes and not a rough edge to be found. Perfect to ease away any Christmas chaos.

    Available from The Whisky Exchange

    Brew It Yourself Book

    Brew it Yourself

    For the ultimate digging and swigging gift there’s always our book, Brew it Yourself. It’s rammed full with ace booze recipes – from beers, ciders and wines to more curious cocktails and infusions, and a few Christmassy boozes to boot – many of them using home grown ingredients. And don’t just take our word for its goodness – take a look at the five star reviews on Amazon for authentic tales of boozy glee.

    Available from Amazon

     

     

    Somerset Cider Apple Poster

    And whilst we’re on an undignified, egotistic roll of self promotion, allow us to recommend this splendid apple poster, designed by Nick’s very own gnarled mouse-hand. It’s a typographic apple, beautifully constructed using the names of Somerset cider varieties. Ideal for bathrooms, sheds, kitchens and outhouses and just the ticket for covering up unsightly stains on walls.

    It costs a mere £10 (including postage) and you can buy it from our Etsy shop, right HERE.

    Fatty’s Organic Gin

    Price: £43.64
    Looking for a new groovy gin to gift (or guzzle)? Look no further – this Dulwich-born gin has been distilled with dill, the fish-loving, feathery-fronded herb. It’s a London Dry style with delicate herbal notes and was deemed tasty enough to grab gold at the 2018 Spirits Business Awards.As Claudio Ranieri would say: “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” (whatever the hell that means).

    Available from: Masters of Malt

     

    Stihl Retro T-shirt

    Price: £30
    Clad your beloved in one of these retro T-shirt from Stihl, our favourite German power tool peddler. Made from mottled grey cloth and sporting a groovy circular saw logo, it’ll cut a dash down both allotment and pub. We can confirm that the ‘medium’ will happily fit a short, bald, mis-shaped man pushing 50 years of age. Ja! Danke!

    Available from Stihl

     

    Drinks by the Dram Gin Baubles

    Price: £39.95 for a pack of six
    Deck the halls with boozy baubles, tra la la la la, la la la la. Each bauble contains a wax-sealed 30ml dram, filled with an exceptional expression. Hang them, admire them, drink them and embrace the festive spirit(s). Also available in whisky.

    Get them here

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  • Coventry pub crawl: five best pubs 25 years on…

    A lot can happen in a quarter of a century. 25 years ago, in 1993, England failed to qualify for the World Cup in the USA, Mr Blobby spent a few weeks at number one and the Maastricht Treaty came into force, formally establishing the European Union. And in that time the pub landscape has changed dramatically, with a recent report claiming that more 25% of UK pubs have closed since 2001.

    1993 is also the year that we both graduated from Coventry Polytechnic and last weekend we joined a small group of fellow ex-students to revisit our old stomping grounds. We’ve both fleetingly called in on the city on separate occasions since (once each, over ten years ago) but this was our first chance to explore those old pubs together since gleefully handing back our graduation gowns to the hire shop.

    When we left we didn’t realise quite how many pubs we would be bidding farewell to for good. Among them biker’s basement haunt The Godiva; Spon End favourites The Malt Shovel and The Black Horse; the rickety old Shakespeare on Spon Street; Gosford Street pub crawl destinations including The Golden Cup* and Hand & Heart; and stop off point on the way home, The Admiral Codrington.

    But despite these boozer bereavements there still seemed more than enough pubs for city of Coventry’s size, with some of our old favourites still in business and a large range of new establishments open to tempt the current younger generation in from streets. The youth appeal of these flashier new bars meant that many of the student-packed pubs of 25 years ago were now populated by people of our own age, meaning we weren’t required to scrap our way to the bars with the younger and fitter folk.

    Having visited many pubs over the course of the weekend we’ve picked out five that we think make for a great city pub crawl for anyone with a weekend to fill in Coventry.

    Old Windmill Spon Street

    Dried hops hanging from wooden beams in the Old Windmill

    The Old Windmill, Spon Street

    Some things never change. This was our favourite pub in 1993 and our favourite in 2018. It’s believed to be Coventry’s oldest, a 15th century inn situated on medieval Spon Street, close to the city centre, with wonky walls, stone floors, exposed beams and various barrooms and snugs to relax in. It was always busy with a very mixed clientele enjoying fine cask ales and the occasional cider** and that still seems to be the case today. A proper old pub with a long history that, thankfully, is still run as a proper pub, rather than the kind of toursity, food-focussed, pub-museum that too many other ancient inns turn into.

    We drank: Having visited the Old Windmill three times during our Coventry reunion we managed to get through all seven of the cask ales behind the bar. Classics Timothy Taylor Landlord and Theakstone’s Old Peculiar were in excellent condition and hardly bettered all weekend, while we also enjoyed Slater’s light and hoppy ‘1 Hop’ (the single hop being Goldings).

    Golden Cross pub Coventry

    The Golden Cross in Coventry’s city centre was our Friday night meeting spot

    The Golden Cross, Hay Lane

    Another medieval pub that was built in the 16th century, becoming a public house in the 17th century, situated round the corner from the abby. The upstairs bar was our Friday night meeting place and it was always heaving and had a great atmosphere and Ruddles beers behind the bar. It looked a bit run down when we last saw it over ten years ago but has recently been given a tasteful makeover, with glass panels and Farrow & Ball colours complimenting the wooden timbers and stained glass windows.

    We drank: The upstairs bar had a much more limited selection than downstairs so we opted for the house beer, brewed by the Caledonian Brewery. It was decent enough but not quite up to the high cask standards set elsewhere.

    Town Wall Tavern Coventry

    The Town Wall Tavern (interior seen in main photo) has separate doors for the main bars and the tiny Donkey Box

    The Town Wall Tavern, Bond Street

    For some reason we don’t remember visiting this pub in the 1990s. Tucked around the corner from the Belgrave Theatre, Nick had a pint here on his only other trip to the city and made sure it was on the itinerary for this weekend. It’s an outstanding pub, perhaps second only the the Old Windmill, with a narrow room on one side of the bar, a more expansive lounge-ish room on the other and ‘The Donkey Box’ in the middle. This room has claims on being the tiniest in the country with its own bar and the Donkey Box regular occupying it shared a few tales about it while we were there (it was named after being visited by a pantomime donkey from the theatre).

    We drank: Lots more decent cask ales to choose from here including Goff’s Cheltenham Gold and Purity’s Mad Goose, both light and fruity, perfectly suiting the mid-afternoon part of our day-long session.

    The Phoenix pub Coventry

    The Phoenix, better known to us as the Sir Colin Campbell

    The Phoenix, Gosford Street

    There are several other better Coventry pubs than The Phoenix, but it’s one we have a strong connection to and is the kind of place anyone can pop into at any time without feeling out of place. It was called the Sir Colin Campbell in our day (and the Parrot and Griffin long before then) and sat opposite our art college, beckoning us in for lunchtime halves and post-study sessions. It was also the kit sponsor of our football team. After we left it went through a chequered period, which included a major fire, before being reopened as The Phoenix – the symbol of Coventry University. Today it’s brightly lit with glitzy, modern pub ephemera and is full of TV screens, but it provided us with a relaxing distraction from the drizzle outside.

    We drank: There were five keg and five casks on offer, mostly fairly mainstream. Nick played it safe with a Camden Helles while Rich was pleased with his choice of Robinson’s Trooper.

    Twisted Barrel Ale tap room Coventry

    The Twisted Ale Brewery: a new tap room in a whole new part of town

    Twisted Barrel Brewery & Tap House, Fargo Village

    Lucky Coventry. In our there were no breweries to head to for a fresh pint. Now Coventry doesn’t have just any run-of-the-mill brewery, but one of our favourite contemporary outfits, Twisted Barrel Ales. Just off Far Gosford street, which is now lined with ghosts of pubs, lies an assortment of modern food, drink, creative and community focussed businesses that is collectively known as Fargo Village (Far Gosford. FarGo. Got it?). Having moved from smaller premises opposite, Twisted Barrel occupy a good sized space, with piles of kegs separating tables and benches from the brewing equipment, and a bar with 20 keg taps. So impressed were we with this new addition to the city’s drinking scene that we trekked across the city for our final drinks on both nights.

    We drank: We got through quite a range of our hosts beers with the tang of Detroit City Sour hitting the spot as well as anything all weekend. From further afield we enjoyed the rare experience of drinking Weihenstephaner’s Helles on tap which was fresh as a just baked loaf, crisp and thirst quenching – not a bad way to finish off a weekend of beer adventuring.

    +++++

    *We both played in a band that performed here to mix of student and grumpy regulars bemused by the kazoo solo during a wonky rendition of ‘Love me Tender’

    **Our band used to perform a song inspired by The Old Windmill and Dead Rat cider called “Last Night of the Rat”

     

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  • Tequila cocktail recipe: how to make The Paloma

    For our previous cocktail corner recipe we made a Margarita with Tequila’s smoky Mexican cousin Mezcal. Having surrendered its place last time round we think it only fair that Tequila gets a chance to show its cocktail credentials in our next recipe so we’re introducing you to one of the simplest cocktails going, The Paloma.

    What is a Paloma?

    The Paloma is a favourite of Mexican mixers that features just three key ingredients: Tequila, grapefruit soda and lime (sounds good already, huh?). The word ‘paloma’ is Spanish for ‘dove’ – we’d love to elaborate further on the origins of its name, and how the drink came about, but even Mr Google struggles to find a plausible, verified theory. What we do know is that it’s big in Mexico (you can even buy cans of Paloma) but less well thought of elsewhere in the world, certainly when compared to the Margarita, but we reckon it’s well worth the surrendering of some decent tequila.

    The ingredients

    With such few ingredients it’s worth getting good ones. For this, and other tequila cocktails, it’s more common to use a blanco or silver tequila, but we like to give it a bit more character by using one that has been barrel aged and have plumped for Patrón Añejo  (an Añejo tequila has been aged for a minimum of one year). It’s a bit pricier than basic blancos but it’s a popular choice among those fancier bars that make you dress up smart to enter* and we think is worth the investment – it’s a superb smooth sipping booze with notes of vanilla, oak and even a faint flicker of smoke that also goes down a treat neat.

    You’ll find some recipes that use combinations of grapefruit juice, soda and syrups but we’re sticking with the simplicity of grapefruit soda. Jarritos is the most popular brand in Mexico but we couldn’t find any in Somerset so went for Belvoir’s grapefruit presse instead. It’s nice and fizzy, not to sweet and full of grapefruit flavour – we don’t know what Jarritos tastes like but reckon this is a top notch replacement.

    paloma cocktail easy recipe

    The Paloma recipe

    All you need to make a Paloma is to mix one part of tequila (say 50ml) with three parts of grapefruit soda (150ml), pour into a highball glass filled with ice, and garnish with a wedge of lime. For a bit of extra zestiness you could give the lime wedge a little squeeze first. And if you like a salty rim then by all means dip the glass in sea salt before you begin, but we think such frippery is unnecessary. Like most cocktails, this might sound like a summery drink, but we enjoyed our ray of pink Mexican sunshine on a miserably wet and stormy November evening and the zestiness was enough to give our spirits a lift while the oakier flavours of the Añejo gave it a more sophisticated depth that we think is more suited to the darker days of winter. Lovely Dovely.

    patron tequila cocktail ingredient

    *Bars we tend to avoid

     

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  • In pictures: The American Museum & Gardens

    It’s not often we get chance to mooch around a world class garden on our own doorstep, but our neighbours* at the American Museum & Gardens have just undergone a rather swish garden facelift and recently invited us to come over for a gander. The garden has been designed by Washington DC-based landscape architects Oehme, van Sweden and is the group’s first European commission. Notable previous commissions of theirs include The Garden of Contrast at Cornerstone Sonoma, The Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and the Chicago Botanical Garden, all of which are characterised by bold, naturalistic swathes of grasses and perennials. Check out OvS’s rather impressive portfolio, here.

    The 30 acres of undulating landscape that surround the American Museum still house the remnants of the old Italianate style manorial pleasure gardens, which dates from the 1820’s. Since the museum’s opening in 1961, the landscape has been dug, prodded and sculpted into its current form which features a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Garden, an arboretum of American trees and a natural amphitheatre.

    OvS’s design for the New American Garden takes inspiration from Monticello’s Winding Walk, and is designed to link the Manor House and the existing Mount Vernon Garden and to provide accessible routes to facilities across the museums hillside location.**

    Here’s a few pics from our visit. Please excuse the slate grey skies and raindrops on the lens – for our visit, the weather was more akin to Weston-Super-Mare than West Virginia.

    Views towards the Manor House, from the East Lawn. Over 12,00 new plants were used in the scheme. They include large swathes of Agastache, Dahlia, Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’ (mixed with Eryngium agavifolium) and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’.


     

     

    The Mount Vernon garden. There are plans afoot to create a new vegetable bed to include heritage varieties of potatoes, beans and asparagus. To prepare the bed and to help break up the soil, over 140 ‘Jack o lantern’ pumpkins have been planted. Also note the (out of focus) eighteenth century octagonal seed house. Recently renovated, it sports a cedar shingle roof and wooden cladding which has been made to look like stone – a process George Washington referred to as ‘rustification’.

     


    Bath’s American Museum & Gardens was first opened to the public 1961, and is the only museum outside the United States to showcase the decorative arts of America. Its permanent collection includes more than 200 historic American quilts, Shaker furniture, Native American artefacts and a huge collection of American folk art.

    americanmuseum.org

    Christmas opening times are:
    22 November – 16 December
    Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 4pm
    Closed on Mondays.

    Prices for admission to the Museum, gardens and exhibitions are as follows:

    Adults £14.00 (with gift aid) £12.50 (without gift aid)
    Over 60s & Students £12.50 (with gift aid) £11.00 (without gift aid)
    Children (5-18yrs) £8.50 (with gift aid) £7.00 (without gift aid)
    Family ticket * £36.50 (with gift aid) £32.00 (without gift aid)

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    * The American Museum lies just a stone’s throw from our allotment. We could probably hurl a Yarlington Mill apple through their conservatory window if we tried hard enough. On a windy day we can smell the Yankee Candles they flog in the gift shop.

    ** As you sashay through the gardens, look out for the bronze busts of key figures in American history, sculpted by Angela Conner. Rumour has it they’ve reserved a spot for President Trump’s bust at the back of the house, down near the bins.

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  • How to make leaf mould

    Autumn has arrived and the trees surrounding our allotment are busy littering our neglected veggie beds and adjoining pathways with their crispy detritus. It’s a tidy-up task we rarely relish, but having recently conducted both rake and brush product reviews for the Indy Best, and currently testing Stihl’s new cordless Kombi engine (complete with leaf blower attachment), we are properly tooled up to conquer this annual leafy intrusion.

    First we’ll herd the pesky leaves into a huge pile, from which we’ll make some nutritious, humus rich compost for next year’s plants.

    It’s easy! Here’s how to make it…

    How to make leaf mould

    Step 1: Gather
    First off, sweep, rake or blow your leaves into a large pile.*

    Step 2: Bag
    Stuff your gathered leaves into a large bin bag (or bags).

    Step 3: Water
    Give the bag of leaves a soaking from your trustiest watering can, prod some holes in the sides of the bag, then tie the bag shut to stop leaves jumping out and running away.

    Step 4: Wait
    Leave your leafy bags in an out-of-the way place in your garden and WAIT. Your leaves will rot down into a rich, crumbly mixture – a process which will take around 12-18 months. To speed things up a little, run the leaves over with a mower before bagging and you’ll be flinging lovely leaf mould around within 6-8 months.

    If you can’t bear the wait, you can always use your collected leaves as a garden mulch. Give them a good soaking to help weigh them down and pack them around your plants to keep them warm overwinter whilst discouraging weeds to join the battle for soil space.

    For the even lazier, just let your pile of leaves be. A decent pile of leaves in an out-of-the-way place will be much appreciated by garden wildlife, acting as an insect larder and a warm place to kip during the cold winter nights.

    Our brush of choice is the Bulldozer, which we** recently rated as ‘number one’ in our Indy Best brush roundup. Ours was kindly supplied by Bentley Tools, and is available to buy here…

    https://www.buydirect4u.co.uk/product/garden-outdoor/garden-outdoor-garden-tools/bentley-garden-bulldozer-yard-broom/

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    * Be wary of drive-by dog attacks.

    **I say ‘we’ but mean ‘me’. When Nick divvied up the last round of Indy Best reviews to write, he suspiciously pulled out ‘Best Beer Hampers’ and ‘Best Tequilas and Mezcals’. I got brooms and rakes…

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  • Cider(s) of the Week: Crafty Nectar No.7 & No.8

    Having recently attended Bristol’s harbour-side Craft Beer Festival with its incredible array of tasty boozes, we were dismayed to find a severe lack of quality ciders on offer. Admittedly it was – after all – a craft beer fest so this kind of over-sight was not entirely unexpected, but it did make us sad and ponder how underserved (literally) cider is at these such events. We wandered over to the banks of the Avon (with amazing craft beers in hand) and looked longingly across to the opposite shore where the Bristol Cider shop lies, and dreamt of the juicy treats within. The sadness didn’t last – maybe a couple of minutes tops – and we were soon assaulting (not literally) the bar in a quest for more tasty beer. It did however spark our apple-y appetite to reacquaint ourselves with some nice ciders, and the following day we pledged to do so – as soon as our crushing, hoppy hangovers had receded sufficiently.

    As luck would have it, a brace of ciders arrived in the post the following week. The bottles hailed from Crafty Nectar – cider box distributors, apple aficionados and recent sponsors of standing stone blasphemy – who have been busy putting their considerable cider knowledge into good use and producing their own special range of ciders.

    Packaging-wise, Crafty Nectar have shunned the traditional farm-house style often spied on cider packaging (tractors, horses, hoary old farmers etc.) and gone for modern, jazzy labels in the craft beer style. Closer inspection of No. 7 revealed the background pattern to be made of rhinoceros* shapes, whilst naughty No. 8 appears to be clad in a coat of drooping breasts**. Pondering the significance of this incongruous imagery, the cap was popped on the rhinoceros cider and contents poured into a willing glass.

    Initial sips revealed a clean tasting, lightly carbonated cider with a lemon sherbet nose. It’s quite fruity, with traces of pineapple. Yarlington Mill and Dabinett are the apples name checked on the bottle. There’s a slight bitterness from the Dabinett but we didn’t get too much of a hit from the Yarlies which, in our experience, can be quite dominant. Rhinoceros cider No.7 is a good ‘un – not too ‘farmhouse’ so to scare off first time worshipers at the chapel of apple, but still packing plenty of flavour to keep cider aficionados interested.

    Next up, droopy breast No.8 which, controversially, contains rhubarb. Now mention to a traditional cider-maker that you’ve made a cider and blended it with something other than apples and there’s a good chance you’ll be on the end of a sound thrashing from a panking pole.***  Adding alien ingredients is considered a crime against the apple amongst many members of the cider-making community. And thanks to certain sickly sweet abominations that lurk on the supermarket shelves, it often is.****

    No.8,  however, is how it should be done. It’s cloudier than No.7, and comes in an amber bottle – presumably to help retain its pleasantly pink hue. On first sip, you get a tart taste of rhubarb, which builds the more you glug. A heavy handed cider maker could easily have tip the scales in favour of the rhubarb, but this blend harmonises beautifully and gives the cider an extra acidic twang. It’s a lovely balanced, refreshing cider – our only gripe being that the craft-friendly 330ml bottle left us wanting more. Great work, Crafty! We’re looking forward to  your next apple-y offering. *****

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    Get yours here…

    Cider Bottle Shop


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    *Rhinoceroces? Rhinocerice?

    ** It’s a design thing.

    *** A large pole used to dislodge apples from apple trees.

    ****KOPPARBERG

    ***** And especially looking forward to being invited to the next Stonehenge disco event.*****

    ****** Massive hint

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    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

  • What is a chiminea and how do I use one?

    Last month I received an email from online retailers chimineashop.co.uk asking if I would like to review a Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea. Recent review requests had either been too poor to feature on our site* or too inappropriate** but a chiminea sounded like an ideal piece of kit for our digging and swigging remit.

    I’ve always fancied having a go on a chiminea to see how effective they are, but have never got round to trying one. Rich, however, is something of an expert having written about the subject for the Independent – an article that included the Extra Large version of the Large model that chimineashop.co.uk were offering up for review.

    The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea arrived a week later, a heavy square box that clearly meant some self-assembly was required, but this task had to wait for the duration of a holiday and a few weekends of autumnal rain. Eventually an unseasonably warm Sunday came my way and chiminea construction and testing began.

    Initially the instructions looked too sparse for the amount of nuts and bolts laid out on my carpet (they recommend building on a soft, flat surface to avoid damage before transporting outside) but when assembly began I soon realised there’s very little that can go wrong: it’s very obvious where each bit fits. Despite the relative simplicity of construction it still took a little over an hour to fix it all together, with most of the time taken by tightening nuts in increasingly hard to reach places. Only one minor cuss was emitted during a slightly awkward left handed spanner (provided) manoeuvre.

    chiminea construction

    What is a chiminea?

    Before describing how well it performed it’s probably worth briefly explaining what chimineas are. Originally they were a Mexican cooking oven, designed for heating up all sorts of Mexican nosh within the house***, but more recently they’ve been adapted to become a device to provide outdoor heating in the chilly British climate, with the option of cooking being an extra on some models (including the one I was about to test).

    They work very much like the living room stove, with a large belly that contains the fire, lit on a grate above the base, and attached to a chimney that funnels the smoke northwards. Vents near the base allow air to flow through the chiminea and can be used to control the intensity of the fire. Being made of cast iron, our chiminea gets extremely hot (proper gloves are recommended) meaning it retains heat long after the flames have died down.

    How did it perform?

    The instruction booklet recommends that no toddlers or pets are anywhere near the chiminea when it’s in use. I have both so waited for the former to be tucked up in bed before striking the match, by which time it was late and I had already eaten, so the handy pull-out cooking tray would have to be tested another time. However, the dark Autumnal evening provided the perfect opportunity to see how effective it was as a source of heat.

    The fire lit easily enough using the same firelighter and kindling method I use on the stove and there was ample room in its belly to get a good supply of wood loaded into it (you can also use charcoal as a fuel). Flames were roaring in no time and even from the initial knidling burn I could feel the heat. The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea is a solid, impressive structure that looks perfectly at home in the garden (in Rich’s piece he describes is having “a certain traction engine aesthetic”) and with a glowing red belly of fire it makes a great focal point to an evening outside, with the heat more than taking the chill out of the air.

    The chiminea now sits beneath its custom designed rain cover waiting for the next time I’m ready to stoke up the flames. I’m very much looking forward to cooking on it, so if anyone has any cooking suggestion then let me know and I’ll fire it up again.

    The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea can be found here

    cast iron chiminea photo

    *a sickly beer flavoured with elderflower syrup

    **the illustrated history of Inter Milan

    ***do not attempt to use one inside. Ever.

     

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    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

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