• New Booze Round-up #18: Special releases from Laphroaig, Ledaig, Glenburgie and Worthy Park Rum

    Behold! This latest edition of our New Booze Round-up is a Whisky Exchange Special!

    A few weeks ago were recently sent four small sample bottles containing new releases from The Whisky Exchange. Each one of them is a little bit special. So special that we’ve decided to feature them in a new booze round-up all of their own. 

    If you’ve yet to explore the treasures on offer at The Whisky Exchange then you’re in for a treat because it’s one of the best-stocked booze retailers around. Besides housing one of the biggest ranges of whiskies and other spirits you will find anywhere, they also sell exclusive boozes that are bottled under their own label. They’re staffed by drinks experts who share a lot of their knowledge (check out the highly informative features on their website) and we regularly tap into their expertise when researching spirits for features. 

    The four samples we received are all exclusive releases – three Single Malt Scottish Whiskies and a Jamaican Rum – so if you’re looking for a taste of something rare then read on…


    Laphroaig 1998, 21 years old, 54.4%

    Anyone who likes a peaty dram sloshing around in their glassware should be familiar with Islay’s Laphroaig distillery. Its whisky has a distinctive smoke and antiseptic tang that can put off some folk for life, but those who develop a taste for such a combination will lap up each new release with gusto.*

    This 21 year old suntanned spirit has a typically strong whiff of smoke and leather with that medicinal TCP quality also creeping into the frame. It’s a drink that has bags of flavour, with heavily roasted meat bones, sea spray, cherry pie and Unami all in the mix. There’s a minty tingle to the smooth oak finish and, even when it’s long since gone, those peaty characteristics keep on chugging away.

    Buy £325


    Ledaig 2005, 13 year old, 57.4%

    Ledaig is made at the Island of Mull’s Tobermory distillery but, unlike Tobermoray releases, the whisky is infused with the flavours of peated malt. In trying to describe whiskies, several comparisons crop up that sound far from flattering: TCP (see above) is one of them and, in this instance, one of the key words you might find used is ‘damp.’ We’re going to take this cruel comparison even further and suggest the dampness is akin to steamy compost. And we’re also going to throw in burnt flavours to the flavour-association game: burnt oil and a fruit and chocolate cake that has spent way too much time in the oven.

    On more positive sounding territory we’ll also add some sherry sweetness and the kind of sugary hit you might detect when chewing on a licorice stick. In reality – as with most tasting notes – the similarity to these flavours is a personal perception: overall it’s an outstanding peaty whisky.

    Buy £94.95


    Glenburgie 1998, 21 year old, 55.4%

    You won’t see many bottles of Glenburgie Single Malt Whisky in the shops because the majority of the distillery’s output is destined for blends produced by owners the Chivas Brothers. In fact, this is a first tasting of Glenburgie whisky for us.

    The initial supping of this pale dram was at the end of a tasting evening and our notes are verging on the indecipherable. We think they read “bitter lemon sweets, creme brulee and chewed toothpick.” A subsequent tasting does confirm that suckable citrussy sweets can be detected and there is the kind of creamy, crunchy, flame-grilled-sugar flavour that might sit on the top of a creme brulee. As for the toothpick, we suspect that refers to a mature, woody finish alongside which some of the fresher fruit flavours remain.

    Buy £120


    Worthy Park Rum 2007, 12 year old, 58%

    Worthy Park is a Jamaican estate with a distillery and sugar plantation, the ideal combination for the production of rum. This bronzed molasses rum was aged for 12 years (9 years in the Caribbean and 3 in Europe) before being bottled by Thompson Brothers exclusively for The Whisky Exchange.

    It’s the kind of spirit that engulfs your senses with every sip, the gingery oak tugging away at the cheeks while the smooth, syruppy, tinned fruit and caramel flavours ease into every pore. It’s a rum that is drenched in Jamaican sunshine, giving you a tropical warmth and happy glow that will last through even the coolest of British evenings.

    Buy £64.95


    Note: Prices are correct at time of publication

    *Looks like this one has sold out. Already

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  • The five best flowers for home grown teas and infusions

    How do you decide on what flowers to grow in the garden? Looks, fragrance, attractiveness to wildlife and minimum effort are all key considerations for us, but recently we’ve been prioritising those plants we can stick in a mug of hot water to make a tasty tea.

    If you fancy a caffeine-free hot drink then these five fab flowers are well worth finding room for…

    Grow your own chamomile

    1 German Chamomile

    Chamomile is one of the better known floral teas around and its daisy-like flowers are easy to grow in borders or pots, giving you the option of making fresh cups of tea that taste even fruitier than when dried. There are two types of chamomile – the low lying Roman Chamomile and the taller German Chamomile – and it’s the latter that you want to seek out. It’s easy to grow from seeds and will give you regular pickings of flowers throughout the summer.

    Grow your own marigold

    2 Pot Marigold

    Add some bright yellow and orange colours to your garden with another easy-to-sow-and-grow flower, Calendula officinalis – commonly known as Pot Marigold (not to be confused with the inedible French or African Marigolds). The petals make a delicious, delicate cup of tea with a slightly sweet, earthy flavour, and they can also add those sunshine colours to your favourite herbal tea blends.

    Grow your own lavender

    3 Lavender

    If you feel instantly calmer whenever you catch the fragrance of lavender, then consider converting those calming properties to a cup of tea or coffee by sticking a couple of flower heads in your next brew. We think that fragrance is well suited to milky drinks such as chais and lattés. For maximum brewing pleasure it’s the English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) you’ll be needing to grow.

    Grow your own yarrow

    4 Yarrow

    Let the wild into your garden by growing some yarrow – its white (and sometimes pink) heads of flowers will be greatly appreciated by insects and you can use the flowers and leaves for a very underrated cuppa. Three to five young leaves or a few teaspoons of flowers are all you’ll need for a mug and you’ll be rewarded with a hot drink that has a tasty green freshness and bitter bite.

    Grow your own roses

    5 Rose

    Look after your roses and you’ll get to enjoy both their flowers and fruits for tea-making purposes. The petals are best for adding their heavenly scent to other teas (try infusing a handful of dried petals into a packet of black tea for a take on China Rose tea) while the rose hips taste so fruity that commercial tea makers use them to increase the flavour of their fruit tea blends. Most fragrant roses are suitable but we like the plump-hipped Dog Rose best.

    Grow your own tea book

    Our latest book, Wild Tea, is packed with even more ingredients you can grow and forage to turn into teas and infusions. Learn how to grow, brew and blend in one handy book. Order now from Amazon.

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  • Rhubarb and vanilla liqueur: our easy recipe

    With Covid-19 forcing people to spend their days at home there has been a sudden surge of interest in gardening. At this time of year there are plenty of tasks to be getting on with, but little in the way of harvests. Unless you have a rhubarb plant.

    This fruity vegetable is one of our saviours, giving us early spring pickings so we can enjoy the taste of our home grown efforts. And if you think its use is just restricted to crumbles, then you’re in for a treat – because it’s one of the best booze-making ingredients we know (along with a few other uses which we run through here).

    To give you something to do when you head back inside from the garden we’ve reproduced our ace rhubarb and vanilla liqueur from our book Brew it Yourself. We’ve also included a PDF from the book for anyone who wants to download it, print it out or share with their friends.

    Enjoy the recipe and, most importantly, stay safe.

    Our easy rhubarb and vanilla liqueur recipe


    2 good-sized sticks, or 4 small sticks, of rhubarb (roughly 250g/9oz), chopped into small pieces

    220g/7¾oz/1 cup white sugar

    1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthways to expose the seeds

    Zest of ½ an orange

    1 x 70cl bottle of vodka


    1. Put the chopped rhubarb in a jar with the sugar, and leave for 24 hours.

    2. By now the sugar will have got to work extracting the rhubarb juice, so you can add the rest of the ingredients, including the whole vanilla pod. Cover everything with the vodka.

    3. Shake the jar to help dissolve the sugar, and leave it in a cool place away from direct sunlight. You’ll probably have to give the jar a few more shakes in the first few days to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.

    4. Ideally this mixture needs around 2 months to mature before bottling and the liqueur will continue to mellow and improve with age once in the bottle.

    Serving suggestions

    For the perfect rhubarb and custard liqueur, combine with egg-nog at a ratio of three shots of egg-nog to one shot of rhubarb and vanilla liqueur. Alternatively, splash the liqueur into real custard and pour it over the dessert of your choice.


    Drag the PDF below onto your desktop or click here to download

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  • An interview with… Kerry Godliman

    Kerry Godliman is one of Britain’s most versatile performers, starring in Bad Move, Derek and After-Life, along with appearances on Live at the Apollo and numerous comedic panel shows including Mock the Week, 8 out of 10 Cats and Taskmaster. You’ll also see her in the brand new, four part-series Adult Material, which will be hitting Channel 4 later this year.

    When she’s not treading the boards, Kerry likes to relax with a spot of aggressive allotmenteering. She kindly takes time out from her busy schedule to tell us all about boshing weeds, prepping for gigs, and the joy of a National Trust cake.

    Unfortunately the ‘Bosh’ tour mentioned below has since been postponed due to COVID-19, so keep checking her website for further details.


    Is gardening something you were bought up with, or have you grown into it?
    Well I had no interest in it. My mum and dad always did gardening, but I wasn’t that bothered. So yeah, it has come to me at this chapter of life.

    You have an allotment now….
    Yes I have. I share it and I have to be honest with you, my friend Claire does most of it. She’s very passionate about it. She has two in fact and it is much more her thing, but I was the one that got it. I put my name on the list and my name came up and I had a feeling that I wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own so I asked her if she wanted to share it which was a canny move because she’s done most of the heavy lifting really. I had to wait four years, which is pretty average for London.

    Thinking back to the time when you appeared on Taskmaster (the Channel 4 game show fronted by comedic colossus Greg Davies) you had a very much direct, no-nonsense way of tackling the tasks. Is that your approach to gardening too?
    Actually, it is. There’s a bit on Taskmaster which references this*. The way I garden is not very tranquil. I can get quite aggressive with slugs and weeds. I don’t go into a reverie of meditation. I’m quite robust.

    A lot of people use gardens as their restful, therapeutic place….
    I do too. But that’s how I rest.

    Do you find the allotment a good place to work on material?
    You kind of percolate all the time. When I was younger, I felt that you had to sit down and write in the kind of traditional way, but now I tend to percolate quite a lot and tend to get on with other things. So gardening is quite good for that – it’s one of those flow activities where you are half-thinking about what you are doing but half-thinking about other stuff.

    How long did the current tour take to write?
    Well, it’s not really a locked down thing. It’s been evolving, bits and routines have been floating about in pads or in offshoots of other bits. It’s really really hard to define or explain, but it’s been evolving for about two years, like tiny little bits have been bubbling up, and they start to develop a theme. At some point – usually when your agent kicks you up the arse and says “I need a title because I’m booking this in” – you go, right, all these things that have been flying about in my brain for two years now, I need to lock them down and pull them together and do a little bit of homework. You then scribble them down and stick them on post-it notes and then arrange them in a way so there is some form of narrative. I mean, it’s a contrivance because it’s not really a narrative – you are just finding a way to kind of hang the disparate bits together.

    How do you prepare for going on stage?
    I’m a drama school trained actor so I know that the sensible answer is that I should do a vocal warmup and stretch out but I know that comics just don’t do that. And I have occasionally lost my voice on tour. When I’ve spoken to actor friends they go “Why didn’t you warm up?”, because if you were doing a play you would warm up, but stand-ups are just too rock and roll for that and they think it’s really edgy to not bother getting themselves mentally ready. I suppose I just try and have a bit of quiet where I can just map the route of the show over in your head. I also like to reflect on all the people that have come actually, that has become a nice ritual, where you go “wow, I’m just really grateful that all these people came.” And it’s a way of diffusing nerves, because if you get caught up in nerves, it’s a downward spiral, so you have to nip it in the bud.

    Your tour involves lots of dates…
    It’s long but it’s broken up, so I’ve got like a week in London, so that’s one stretch of it, and then I’ve got a week in the Highlands, so I’m going to the Outer Hebrides, so that’s a bit of a random addition. It’ll be amazing, and basically it’s an excuse to go somewhere I would never have otherwise gone. A couple of other people have been there – Alan Carr has done it and Suzi Ruffell has done it. Tom Allen also. I’ve heard so much about it from other people and I’ve gone “I really want to do that”, so it’s kind of like a treat for me really.

    It sounds like your allotment will be a bit of a state by the time you get back.
    Nah, my mate’s all over that. I do love going away, and that isn’t really conducive to being a devoted gardener. My dad’s always saying that to me. “You can’t have long holidays Kerry if you are a true gardener.” But I cheat, I’m a terrible cheat. I get other people to come and do it.

    What kind of things will you be growing this year?
    I’ve already got my seeds in. I think I’m going to grow more flowers this year as opposed to just edibles. I just want to get the colour in the garden – I want to make it as colourful as I can get it. But edibles, I’m just going to do easy things like chard and courgettes and beans. Things that I can just keep eating through the season rather than have just one harvest.

    Is your allotment all neat and regimental?
    No, I really like that kind of Alys Fowler-y permaculture kind of system. Make it all look a bit higgledy piggledy. So growing sweet peas through beans, that kind of thing. I like it when people create sort of lounge sitting areas up there (at the allotment) and in the summer you can have a BBQ up there and all that. That to me is one of the upsides of having it. It’s social and somewhere to go. In London, it’s just so hard to get that sense of country and nature and you really have to find it where you can get it. I’m naturally quite urban, and I think I would go quite bonkers in the countryside, so I found a compromise by having an allotment.

    Is there a good community on your allotment, or are things a bit competitive?
    Claire (the woman who I share it with) says it can get a bit competitive. I just don’t engage with it. I just reserve my competitive nature for my area of work. I can’t be arsed to get competitive about a carrot.

    Listening back to your appearance on the superb ‘Off Menu’ podcast, you mentioned your allotment and the joy you get from visiting the Gardening Museum. Ed (Gamble) and James (Acaster) rudely took the piss out of you for this, didn’t they?
    Yes they did. They are young, silly boys.

    Do you get to visit many gardens?
    Yes I do. I went to Down House the other week. I was planning to go to Charleston next week but worried the weather will rain that off. I go to Kew regularly – my mum’s a member, and it’s great for accessibility there. You can hire a mobile and get around really easily. National Trust ones are always lovely, and are a great way to break up a journey.

    National Trust Gardens have nice tea shops…
    Ooh I do love a National Trust cake. That’s what I mean though… when James and Ed took the piss out of me for going to the Gardening Museum**, they’ve just got no idea what I’m talking about. I think they thought I was just making it up.

    I read on Wikipedia*** that you did a voiceover for a program about saving old pubs. Is this a subject close to your heart?
    Oh yeah, no that was just a voiceover job. I also did something for GCSE Bitesize maths. I don’t even have GCSE maths so there’s an indication just how disconnected you can be from a voiceover job. 

    But you do like pubs though, right?
    You know, I don’t mind them but I have gone off them as I’ve gotten older because I’m not drinking so much any more. We went to a pub in Barnes last Sunday and the rugby was on, I don’t eat meat and it was all roast dinners and I wasn’t drinking. What are these places for if you don’t like meat and you are not drinking and you don’t like rugby? I’m not passionate about pubs any more. I used to be when I was young… I used to live in them. 

    And finally, after a hard day’s graft – allotment or stage, what is your go-to drink?
    I would have either a beer or a red wine. 

    Any particular beer?
    I think I’d quite like a lager actually. Or just an ale. A nice cold drink. There’s something about a beer that makes you feel like you are on holiday. And then red wine is a nice wintery drink to make you feel a bit cosy.


    Follow Kerry Godliman on Twitter

    For gig info and booking details, visit


    * Kerry’s blunt, ruthlessly efficient approach on Taskmaster helped coin the name of her current tour. BOSH!

    ** Kerry chose the chocolate pudding from the Garden Museum cafe as her favourite dessert. Unfortunately a quick look on their website reveals that this dessert no longer exists. The Buttermilk panna cotta, poached rhubarb and shortbread sounds nice though.

    *** Only the most thorough pre-interview research for us…

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  • New Booze Round-up #17: Potato spirits, some special beers and a very expensive whisky

    We’ve been sent some special boozes for this round-up, including some Irish drinks which were timed to be enjoyed on St Patrick’s day. Two of these were crafted from the humble spud. We’ve also got some great limited edition beers with unusual brewing ingredients and whiskies from the Glen Scotia distillery – one of which will set you back close to £4,000…


    Roosters outlaw Project

    Rooster’s Outlaw Project Limited Edition Beers

    Back in the early 1990s Rooster’s was one of the first British breweries to cotton on to the fact that America was doing good things with barley and hops, placing the Yorkshire business at the forefront of the UK craft ale scene with some consistently excellent beers. And the team is still innovating, as evidenced by six new small-batch beers (five of which are available in cans) from its new pilot brewery.

    Badged under the ‘Outlaw Project’ sub-brand the range includes two sessionable ales – Slow & Low, a 3.1% lime and ginger Berliner Weisse and Go Backer, a 3.6% Vermont IPA choc-full of crisp and crunchy citrus peel flavours. Alongside this pair are some heftier brews that creep up in strength to Loud Noises, a 7.8% double IPA. 

    Fans of multiple adjuncts will be delighted with Scoundrel, a 7.4% pastry stout brewed with almonds, glacé cherries, sultanas and other fruits and spices. The big list of ingredients adds some muscularity to the flavour alongside the sweet and creamy toasty toasty malts, making it a silky smooth, rich brew that’s full of character. One 500ml can of that is more than enough for our ever decreasing stamina, but we would be more than happy loading up on the outstanding Vermont IPA for a much longer session…


    Glen Scotia 45 year old release

    Glen Scotia Single Malt Whiskies

    We recently filed our first pieces of copy for men’s lifestyle magazine Esquire, with Rich running the rule over beer subscription services and Nick producing a comprehensive guide to Scotland’s Single Malt Whisky. As the average Esquire reader carries a fatter wallet than most, we got to try some of the more expensive whiskies currently available, including some from distilleries we had not previously encountered.

    Among these was Cambletown’s Glen Scotia who introduced us to their core whiskies, ranging from 12 to 25 years old, and a small sample of their oldest whisky to date – a luxuriously oily and fruity 45 year old bottling released towards the end of 2019. If you want one of the 100 bottles available then it will set you back the best part of £4,000, but for the Esquire readership we suggested something much cheaper – Victoriana (51.5%), a snip at around the £70 mark. This outstanding bottle of booze is a recreation of a style that would’ve been popular in Victorian times and it’s a meaty mouthful, again with an oily texture and sweet, nutty flavours.

    We didn’t have to pick a ‘best buy’ for our Esquire feature but, if asked, it would’ve been a strong contender, and it’s currently the emptiest bottle of all those we were sent to review – even Nick’s mum syphoned off a hip-flask full for a weekend in Weymouth celebrating her 71st birthday. Hopefully the Esquire readership is equally impressed.


    Muff Liquor Company Ireland

    The Muff Liquor Company Potato Gin & Vodka (40%)

    Another commission saw us recommending unusual drinks to sup on St Patrick’s Day for the readers of Reader’s Digest to digest. We were hoping that Ireland would throw up something made from the nation’s favourite vegetable – potatoes – and just before deadline we were alerted to the Muff Liquor Company who provided us with a brace of miniature bottles. 

    A six-time distillation of Irish spuds has produced both a vodka and a gin that have a much more sophisticated taste than you might imagine. It’s perhaps inevitable that the vodka is described as ‘earthy’, given that it begins life below ground, but it’s also creamily smooth and possesses a good boozy punch to it. The gin is very much juniper forward, with that punchiness again evident and well suited to the bitter tang of the berries. It’s quite a simple gin, given a touch of freshness with mandarin orange, but the flavours and texture carry through exceptionally well when mixed with tonic.


    Bottle of Connemara st Patricks day

    Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey, 40%

    Technically, this doesn’t meet our ‘new booze’ criteria: it has been around for a while and is a booze we’ve had before. But we were sent a bottle to enjoy on St Patrick’s Day, so that’s exactly what we will do for an evening of self isolation. 

    Connemara has some of the sweet and fresh grassy characteristics that are familiar to many Irish whiskeys, but they come with a hint of peat (it’s Ireland’s only peated single malt), a speck of vanilla and a drier thread of oak. The smokiness is much more subtle than most of Scotland’s famous peaty drams, making it much more approachable for smoke-shy folk. If you’re looking for an Irish whiskey with a difference, or a stepping stone to a more powerfully peated purchase, then Connemara is a great value choice.

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  • New Booze Round-up #16: Tea beer, gin tea and a rat inspired whisky

    The quality is extremely high in this round-up of boozes (and non-boozes) that have been delivered for us to review. We go big on tea, with a beer that uses Earl Grey as a flavouring and a caffeine-free brew that takes gin as its inspiration. And as a break from tea-time we have a top notch whisky blend contained in a bottle inspired by the Chinese Year of the Rat.


    Cans of Jack Brand Earl Grey Lager

    Adnams Jack Brand Earl Grey Lager, 5%

    In our ongoing quest to find booze flavoured with tea we have been introduced to a lager brewed with Galaxy hops and infused with Earl Grey tea. This type of black tea, enhanced with oil from the bergamot fruit, is one of the best tea-based adjuncts for beer, and with brewing aces Adnams at the helm we knew it would be good.

    So, why do we think Earl Grey should be a brewer’s best friend? As with this excellent lager, the bergamot oil gives it a citrussy aroma and flavour that you could imagine being squeezed from a brand new hop variety, in this instance marrying a treat with the peach and citrus notes of Galaxy. The black tea also lends an extra layer of flavour and aroma to beers, while the tea’s tannins help dry the finish, increasing the refreshment factor of our cold, canned lager.

    The quest for tea-flavoured booze will continue, but it’s the combination of Earl Grey and beer that sets the benchmark.



    Isle of Harris Gin Tea

    Isle of Harris Gin Tea

    The people behind Isle of Harris Gin have come up with an excellent idea, which they’ve executed to perfection: use the botanicals that go into their delicious gin to produce a caffeine-free tea blend. Open the lid and you’re met with such a fine aroma of gin that you’ll instinctively reach for the tonic, not the tea strainer, but submit the blend to the flavour-extracting abilities of hot water and a different drink emerges. 

    The juniper berries, those vital bitter fruits that are essential to all gins, sit more in the background at first, slowly infusing the tea with their slightly tart tang. This allows some of the other botanicals to take the lead, with cassia bark, coriander and the unusual sugar kelp among them, while a sweet thread of liquorice ties it all together with some tea-worthy depth. This is an excellent tea, the result of an idea so brilliantly simple we wish we had thought of it first.



    Ble Label Rat Illustrations

    Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Year of the Rat, 40%

    In the run up to the Chinese New Year (January 25th) we noticed an increased number of drinks producers trying to piggy back the event for publicity. Most had tenuous offerings to say the least. By far the best tie-in came from Scottish whisky blenders, Johnnie Walker, who produced a limited edition bottle of their Blue Label adorned with ‘Year of the Rat’ illustrations on three sides, and a further rat in gold and blue foil on the box. It all makes for a stunning piece of artwork, totally appropriate for one of the best blended whiskies money can buy.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Blue Label, it sits at the upper end of the Johnnie Walker range and is crafted from numerous old and rare whiskies, some from distilleries that no longer exist. It has all the oaky depth you would want from a mature whisky with a rich figginess and warming, smoke infused spices, sweetened and smoothed by chocolate and honey flavours. 

    This is the latest annual release of Blue Label whisky celebrating Chinese New Year, with the rat said to be a sign of wealth and surplus. And while you’ll need a certain amount of wealth to invest in this bottle, we’re sure that once you get a taste of it you won’t be leaving any surplus settling at the bottom of that beautifully illustrated bottle.


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  • Five ways to create shade in the garden

    Last summer there was a spell when the sun burned hot, and raising a watering can to parched vegetables was enough activity to cause sweaty waterfalls to tumble from foreheads. In my garden, there was no escape from the heat: like a great many English town gardens it was designed for maximum sun coverage during outdoor relaxation, rather than to provide shade.

    As my family lolled around the paddling pool, all we could find to cast a shadow over gently frying limbs was a large umbrella. Noticing our predicament (or perhaps sensing the aroma of burning flesh) our neighbours kindly gave us a child’s gazebo, no longer required by their now grown-up offspring. We all squeezed into it, while the dogs took over the patch of shadow afforded by the umbrella, stray tails and limbs singeing until they could cope no more and lunged for the cooler paddling pool waters.

    This year we need a better plan for introducing shade into the garden and have come up with five possible solutions. Here are those options…

    1. Trees

    Trees are great things. They can provide shelter from the rain and shade from the sun. Admittedly, huge, mature trees are better at this than anything we have in the garden, but it’s still possible to create some good dappled shade from smaller specimens. This winter I planted a pear tree in fairly close proximity to an established apple tree. In a few years their combined mass of leaves (and, hopefully, fruit) might just warrant me placing a garden chair somewhere between them for those sunniest days.

    2. Gazebos

    Since enjoying the small-scale success of our second hand child’s gazebo, I’ve been looking to see what alternative options there are for a gazebo from Garden & Camping and it turns out there’s a huge choice. From simple canopies to huge structures suitable for a party, a gazebo can be the main focus of a garden or something to be rolled out for a day or two at a time. If I go down the gazebo route then it makes sense to get one large enough to accommodate pool, family and dogs – and perhaps one that can be rolled into the back of the car for summer camping trips.

    3. Sheds and Summer Houses

    I currently have three sheds in the garden: a small one for wood, a larger one for tools, and a mess of a shed for junk. For the past few years I’ve been planning on tearing down at least one of the latter two and replacing it with something a little less on the verge of collapse. If I get round to the task this year then a consideration would be to install one with an extended roof, and maybe even an external floor, to allow for outdoor seating. I then have to decide if I arrange this outdoor area to maximise sunshine or shade…

    4. Fences

    There are already fences in my garden which cast considerable shadows when the sun is up. But, as is common, these fences are the backdrop to borders, not seated areas, and the only place I could currently place furniture for maximum shade is in the narrowest part of the garden which would clutter our access. It might be time to have a border rethink, finding room for a smart bench and surrounding it with taller, fragrant plants for shadier relaxation. Failing that, another option would be to add a new piece of fence to an area of the garden that doesn’t border the neighbours and call it a screen.

    5. Hop arches

    Throughout summer, Rich is constantly bragging about his mighty hop arch: four huge, curved pieces of metal that support his various varieties of hop. Not only do they allow his beery ingredients the perfect support for growing, but they also give him somewhere to shelter from the sun’s rays during time spent pretending to be out on weeding duties. Sadly there isn’t room in my garden for both a hop arch and a gazebo. I’ll put it to a family vote but I think I already know what the outcome will be.

    This is a sponsored post

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  • Flaming Hell! It’s a Firemizer and Firelbuilder review.

    It’s colder than a penguins arse outside, and although we know that physical allotment activity will help thaw out our frozen limbs, we can’t quite muster the enthusiasm required to make those first tentative steps towards the welly rack. Besides, there’s a mountain of leftover Christmas cheese to chomp through, and a quick flick on the tv guide reveals a pretty impressive run of Ice Road Truckers over on the History Channel.

    Time then to fire up the stove to fuel an afternoon of sofa-bound slothery, and as luck would have it, the good folks at Firemizer have sent us a couple of stove-enhancing products to test. This means we can legitimately call our house-bound loafing work, to help stave off any lingering feelings of self-loathing that may arise.

    First up is the eponymously named Firemizer, a fuel saving, flexible mat made from a blend of stainless steel alloys. To the untrained eye, it looks like the kind of by-product you’d get after giving a gorilla a full back wax, but according to the back of the packet, this device will save up to 38% of fuel. Hot stuff!

    Note: We forgot to take a picture of the Firemizer before use, so this is what one looks like after being fished out from a 4-inch bed of ash, post-fire.

    Installing the Firemizer is easy: simply cut it to fit the base of your stove and pile the logs (or coal) on top. It’ll then lurk at the bottom of your stove, and as the fire gets going, the general idea is that it spreads the heat evenly across your fire, meaning your fuel burns more consistently and thoroughly. Your fire should also stay hotter for longer which means it requires less stoking and refuelling. 

    To get our fire started, we’ve got a stash of Firemizer ‘Firebuilders’ to try. Firebuilders are toblerone-y looking bricks made from recycled cardboard and are designed to act as firelighters whilst also cutting out the need for pesky kindling. A sniff reveals a distinct lack of odour (unlike the pile of cheese currently residing on a plate next to the telly) and a glance at the back of the box tells us that Firebuilders contain no kerosene – a common ingredient in your bog standard firelighter. Anyone who’s fiddled with kerosene firelighters will recall their pungent, petrol-station pong. Kerosine also churns out nasty chemicals when burnt, so consider Firebuilders an eco- friendly, non-toxic alternative.

    We did note a slight performance downside with the Firebuilders. Unlike traditional Kerosene-laced ones, Firebuilders take a while to light. Ours took a few matches before bursting into life, and It was then 5-10 minutes before our (quite substantial) logs got going and our stove started to generate decent heat. We also missed that initial burst of warmth that a flaming pile of softwood kindling affords. Once going though, our Firebuilder burned away merrily for a good 40 minutes before crumbling to dust.

    With regards to the Firemizer, its performance was difficult to quantify, especially when assessing how long the fuel lasted when compared to a similar, Firemizer-less fire. There are lots of variables to consider, for instance the type of wood being burnt, the moisture content of the wood, how open are the stoves vents etc. We did however, note an even burn across the base of our fire, and can confirm that we got a good way through series four of Ice Road Truckers and managed to polish off half a wheel of Stilton and the remaining Yarg before having to re-stock the fire.

    We give Firemizer a big old eco-friendly, double-thumbs up, but don’t just take our review as gospel, try them out yourself here:


    A Firemizer costs £19.99
    Firebuilders cost £6.99 for a box of five bricks, which will be enough to ignite up to ten fires.

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

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

    noveltea blends

    Noveltea, Oolong Tea with Whisky, 11%

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

    BUY from £9.95


    BigDrop alcohol free cans beer

    Big Drop Brewing Co, World Collab Series

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

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

    Find out more


    anCnoc 12 Year Old, Single Malt Whisky, 40%

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

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

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

    BUY £30.95


    Borough Market Wet Hop IPA, 4.3%

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

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


    Ramborn Medium Dry Cider, 5.8%

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

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

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

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

    **We most certainly aren’t Brexity.

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  • A Christmas pear infusion

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

    You will need:

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


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

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


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

    Go Go GO!

    For more practical pear advice, go HERE


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