• Win! A box of ace beers from Beer Me Now

    Like decent beer? Of course you do. Want to be in with the chance of winning a delivery of eight awesome beery boozes? Stupid question.

    We’ve teamed up with beer subscription aces Beer Me Now to offer you the chance of winning one of their boxes full of quality bottles and cans of ale. The online subscription business is one of the best around, impressing us every time we open a box with not only the quality of their beers but also their ability to source booze from breweries we’ve not even heard of before. To give you an idea of the kind of beers we’re on about, scroll down for a booze review of a recent box. But for now you’ll be eager to know how to enter the competition, right?

    How to win

    To stand with a chance of winning, simply log into Twitter, make sure you are following @thirstygardener and @BeerMeNowHQ, and retweet our Beer Me Now competition tweet with the hashtag #BeerMeUpScotty

    All names successfully completing the criteria above will go into into our ‘tankard of hoppy dreams’ and the winner will be picked out randomly on Monday 2nd September 2019.

    Check the Ts&Cs below, seek out that tweet, and keep your fingers crossed…

    What’s in the box?

    We can’t guarantee exactly what will be in the competition winners box, but we got our hands on one of Beer Me Now’s most recent selections to give you an idea of the quality on offer.

    Along with brews from the excellent Wild Horse Brewing Co, Wiper & True, Siren, Mourne Mountains (a barrel-aged stout, no less) and Lost and Grounded there were three treats from breweries we’ve not even tried before. These were…

    Legitimate Industries, Identity Theft, 5.3%
    A small batch brewery in Leeds, this APA is the hazy, fruity kind with lots of New World hop flavour and is high gluggability.

    Station 1-1-9, Black IPA, 6.7%
    This Suffolk beer is dark and hoppy with some fruity citrus flavours squeezing through the toasty malt tang to prominence. It’s nice and boozy too.

    Abbeydale Brewery, Heathen Pale Ale, 4.1%
    OK, so Abbeydale have been around a while and we think we might have tried their beers before, but certainly not recently. Anyrate, they’re based in Sheffield and this APA is just the kind we like: crisp and clean malts, tropical hops and a good depth of citrussy bitterness.

    Terms and conditions
    • Entries must be submitted by midnight on Sunday 1st September 2019.
    • The decision of the judges is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
    • The winner will be drawn at random from all entries received by the closing date.
    • Failure to respond and/or provide an address for delivery, or failure to meet the eligibility requirements may result in forfeiture of the prize. Should the Promoter be unable to contact the winners or should the winners be unable to accept the prizes by 9th September 2019, the Promoter reserves the right to award the prizes to an alternative winner, drawn in accordance with these terms and conditions.
    • Entry is open to residents of the UK except employees (and their families) of the prize suppliers.
    • Use of a false name or address will result in disqualification.
    • Entrants must be over the age of 18 on 1st September 2019
    • Entries that are incomplete, illegible, indecipherable, or inaudible (if made by phone) will not be valid and deemed void.
    • No responsibility can be accepted for entries lost, damaged or delayed in the post, or due to computer error in transit.
    • The prizes are as stated, are not transferable to another individual and no cash or other alternatives will be offered.
    • In the event of a prize being unavailable, the promoter reserves the right to offer an alternative prize of equal or greater value.
    • The winner(s) agree(s) to the use of their name, photograph and disclosure of county of residence and will co-operate with any other reasonable requests relating to any post-winning publicity.

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  • Restaurant review: Feldon Valley in the Cotswolds. Eating with a toddler.

    When Nick was recently asked if he would like to review the new restaurant at Feldon Valley in the Cotswolds he had a key request in his reply: “Can my toddler come too please?”. Here’s how he and the young one got on…

    The restaurant at Feldon Valley in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds is well fitted with smoke alarms, security cameras, fire alarms and other such devices which link to a complicated looking control panel near the entrance, providing just a small indication of the scale of a site that incorporates accommodation and a golf course. The attention I paid to such matters is purely down to my decision to dine there with my two-and-a-half year old son who was on the verge of a toddler meltdown – a tour of alarms (one of his favourite subjects) provided a welcome distraction between courses.

    Taking a toddler to a smart restaurant can be stressful for everyone within earshot of the tiny mouth (and even more so for the parents) but Feldon Valley’s staff were hugely accommodating, helping me to avert any meltdowns, while our fellow diners were so relaxed that they claimed not to mind the occasional excitable shout at each new discovery of an alarm.*

    We were staying at Feldon Valley as part of a weekend trip that included a tour of the Cotswolds Distillery, a 25 minute stroll away, meaning I could taste their whisky and gin without having to worry about driving. I had been planning the tour for a while as it’s en route to other family members, so when Feldon’s representatives enquired if I would like to review their recently opened restaurant it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down.

    Along with our toddler, my wife and I stayed in one of the modern lodges that were only completed in May 2019 and comprise five stylishly designed buildings constructed of wood and glass with clean, angular lines that cut out from a strip of woodland and overlook the golf course to the manicured Cotswold hills beyond. Our suite was well kitted out with a kitchenette and lounge, while the terrace provided some perfect post-toddler-bedtime relaxation as we watched a hare dance in the bunkers** and bats flit through the dusky sky.

    Feldon Valley accommodation
    The lodges at Feldon Valley in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds

    We need not have left the comforts of our lodge all evening, but I was here to review a meal, so we took our seats in the similarly wood-and-glass constructed restaurant just a short stroll across the car park. The view here was elevated, with outdoor terraced seats looking down upon the practice greens, while the interior was laid out with plenty of space between tables and a wide expanse of glass separating the restaurant from the bar.

    We skipped starters (tired toddlers make you do that), despite being tempted by the watercress and bramley soup, and I tucked into a pint of Hooky from the nearby Hook Norton brewery while waiting for the main courses to arrive. The plates of food perfectly reflected the feel of the restaurant: clean and modern, yet unpretentious. They were well measured proportions with enough fine-dining expertise to feel special, but minimal fuss, making your eyes tell you to eat rather than spend an age simply staring and poking, wondering what each ingredient might be.

    I went for the vegetarian option: ricotta dumplings with sprouting broccoli, peas, courgette and regato cheese at a very decent £15. The broccoli was just-cooked perfection, while the slices of curled raw courgette added a satisfying crunch to the soft, sticky and crumbly pieces of cheese. These items were assembled on a bed of pea puree, with the salty cheese exaggerating the vegetable’s natural sweetness while toasted pine nuts gave the whole meal some nutty depth. My wife’s dish of plaice, potato terrine and cabbage (£18) was served with a wonderful rich and oozy crab sauce and was equally elegant and satisfying. As for the kids, they sensibly kept things simple: pasta and tomato sauce. No frills, no off-putting bits of green, no strange flavours – exactly as our toddler likes it.***

    My wife also loved her dessert – a raspberry tart, meringue and sorbet (£7) that she launched into before I could get a photo and finished before I could try a spoonful. I fully trust her enthusiastic thumbs up verdict. I followed my cheese main course with… more cheese. I find it hard to resist a good cheese board and this was exceptional (£12), featuring four local cheeses including Oxford Blue and a soft, buttery Rollright Cheese that were served with celery salt crackers, an Eccles cake and mustard fruits.

    cheers board at Feldon Valley restaurant
    I like cheese: A cheese main course followed by a cheese board.

    A fantastic meal was made all the more enjoyable by the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere which was created not just by the architecture and ambience but also by the exceptional courtesy and friendliness shown by the staff. Eating out with a toddler isn’t always easy, but they managed to tread the fine line between making it child friendly and not allowing it to become a child-focussed environment that would be off-putting for grown up diners. And when you have such relaxing accommodation to return to, any slight stresses quickly melt away.

    For more information visit Feldon Valley’s website feldonvalley.co.uk

    Feldon Valley restaurant new review
    The restaurant overlooks Feldon Valley’s golf course in the Oxfordshire countryside

    Things we’ve learned

    Dining out is for us as much about finding inspiration for what to do with our home grown veg as relaxing and enjoying a meal. Here are two tips we’ll put into practice back home…

    More ways with courgettes
    We’re in the midst of a courgette glut, perhaps the biggest we’ve ever known, and are serving it with most meals. So far we’ve cooked them in every way possible and chopped them into salads, but as a result of this meal we’re also finely slicing them and slipping them onto our plates raw.

    Cheesy peas
    When gobbling peas whole with a plate of fish and chips you don’t really notice just how incredibly sweet they are (and not always being fresh doesn’t help). Feldon Valley’s pea puree tasted incredibly sweet when paired with cheese, so we’ll be trying this combination of veg and dairy more often.

    A note on the golf

    I like golf. I enjoy watching the big tournaments on TV and occasionally thrash my way around municipal courses. But there’s also a lot I dislike about the sport. There are times when it becomes elitist and can attract the kind of characters I’m less comfortable around. So I had some reservations about staying and dining somewhere that was built around a golf course in a somewhat posh part of the Cotswolds.**** But while the course was obviously integrated into the accommodation and restaurant’s setting, it never felt as if the sport was intruding on our stay, with the fairways merely acting as another layer of green across the landscape. And everyone we met – with and without golf clubs – was perfectly friendly.

    *Or the rather loud rendition of ‘Wheels on the Bus’

    **Rich doubts this claim, dismissing it as ‘probably a rabbit’. And while I’ll admit my eyesight isn’t great at dusk after drinking beer I am convinced it was a hare.

    ***The following evening we ate at a restaurant where he had chicken and rice, which he was enjoying until biting down on two whole cardamom pods.

    ****I grew up in a less well heeled corner of the Cotswolds and would occasionally cycle with three second hand wooden clubs taped to my bike frame to a golf course that shared its fairways with cows.

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  • New booze round-up #11: Australian plums, New Zealand coffee, Burton IPA and a Cornish lager

    For this round up we’ve been kindly sent two Antipodean liqueurs, a pair of British beers and a sparkling mixer. Five very different, but very delicious, drinks…

    Quick Brown Fox Liqueur Review

    Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur, 20%

    This coffee liqueur travelled half way round the world, starting its journey in Dunedin, New Zealand, before being delivered to our tasting desk in a small sample bottle with a hand-written label pasted on the front. And what a treat it turned out to be.

    It’s a thick liqueur, oozing with creamy goodness, full fresh coffee flavours and some dark chocolate and vanilla sweetness. Liqueurs can often be sickly if taken neat, but not this one. The sweetness was spot on with the blend of flavours providing a taste as smooth as the texture. We tried half of it in a creamy White Russian-ish cocktail. It tasted great, but it was even better sipped neat. A superb liqueur seemingly unaffected by its long distance journey.

    Buy now

    Brookies Byron Slow Gin Review

    Brookie’s, Byron Slow Gin, 26%

    Another liqueur, another long journey. Brookie’s Gin is a product of the Cape Byron Distillery in Australia and this ‘slow’ edition has been flavoured with the Davidson Plum, a native of the local rainforest. It’s an obvious take on a sloe gin, with the rare plummy rainforest fruit being steeped in the distillery’s gin and tamed to a sensible 26% ABV with spring water.

    It’s tart (like our sloe gins) but has a slight floral quality that reminds us of Turkish Delights and a dry, juniper rich finish that gently tugs at your cheeks. For sloe gin fans it’s definitely worth checking out as an unusual variant, and we also suggest gin lovers seek out a bottle of Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin, a full flavoured spirit with plenty of juniper and citrus to enjoy.

    Buy now

    https://twothirstygardeners.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/GinKing_Botanical_Italia review

    Ginking Botanica Italia, 8.5%

    Ginking is a blend of white wine and gin botanicals, stuffed with bubbles and packed at a party friendly ABV of 8.5%. We don’t usually go for pre-made mixes and cocktails but there was something about this special Italian inspired edition that looked appealing, so we replied ‘yes please’ to the offer of a sample and stuck the bottle straight in the fridge.

    It didn’t last long. The easy going fizz has crisp white wine at its core and a guzzleable bitterness from the botanicals, but with much more complexity than most flavoured fizzes and a sensibly lower-than-average sweetness. The Italian influence is apparent by the use of ingredients that feature in vermouth and it certainly made a fine summery aperitif that we drained with glee.

    Buy now

    Skinners Towan Lager Review

    Skinner’s, Towans Lager, 4.4%

    We drink (and write about) Cornish beer quite regularly. This is because (a) we live in the South West so it often features at local pubs and beer festivals; (b) we spend most of our holiday time in Cornwall* and; (c) Cornwall has lots of breweries we like. The kind of breweries that are rooted in English real ale traditions but are capable of doffing their caps to modern craft ways without being engulfed by craft craziness.

    One such brewery is Skinner’s who have just added a lager to their core range. The instant thing we like is that it tastes like a Skinner’s beer. We think having a ‘house style’ is a good thing – these days it’s not that hard to find a decent lager, so rather than recreating another identikit lager product it makes a refreshing change when breweries turn out their own version of a style. Skinner’s lager has summery light malts and peppery Saaz hops, but it has been given a modern edge with Chinook and Rakau hops which, along with the yeasty flavours, give it plenty of character. The kind of thing that would well suit ale drinkers who don’t normally go in for lager.

    Buy now

    Marstons Horninglow Street 1 review

    Marston’s No 1. Horninglow Street IPA, 7.4%

    This new release immediately caught our eyes. It’s the first in a series of one-off beers brewed using Marston’s famous Burton Union system and was made along similar lines to the old Burton IPAs that were exported to India from the early 19th century. The process involves a two-day fermentation in rectangular ‘squares’ before being transferred to oak barrels – 24 of them, interlinked – where fermentation continues for another five days. 

    It’s another beer that tastes uniquely of its brewery, with Marston’s yeast adding to the flavours from the pale malt and four hops – Goldings, Sovereign, Ernest and Cascade. It’s a smooth boozy brew with a delicious rich honeyed toffee flavour to it, some subtle tropical fruits mixing with the typically English hoppy notes, and a dry oaky finish. You can pick up a bottle from Waitrose, while stocks last, for what we think is a very reasonable £4 and reckon it’s one worth storing in the cellar for a few years. Hopefully, while you wait, there will be plenty more of these Marston’s limited edition beers to enjoy.

    Buy now

    *Rich is currently in St Ives, grumbling of a St Austell Proper Job Hangover, while Nick pieces together bits of his booze-influenced copy and sends it to our clients

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  • A guide to choosing the right paving stone for your garden

    Garden paving is an essential part of the modern garden, providing mud-free areas on which to relax; sturdy surfaces for furniture and pots; and for adding texture and colour to a garden’s design. We’ve been contemplating a paving stone upgrade for some time* so to get us thinking along the right track thought we should consult an expert for some valued opinion. Step forward Tom Clifford of paving aces Westminster Stone…

    These days there’s a huge rage of garden paving options available. How would I go about choosing what type is best?

    I always start by asking three questions when finding the right product for someone:

    1. Are you looking for a traditional or contemporary product?
    2. What colour tones are you looking for?
    3. What is your budget?

    Asking the customer these three questions can narrow your search from hundreds of products to just a handful. The right product is different for everyone. From there you can look at different stone types to suit each application.

    What are the most popular ranges at the moment?

    Our Traditional Flagstones have always been our main selling line and for the third year in a row our National Trust Hidcote flagstones have been our best seller. 20mm porcelain paving tiles for gardens are becoming more and more popular each year and look fantastic for contemporary gardens, especially when used inside through bifold doors as well, for that seamless indoor / outdoor look and feel.

    Do you have any advice on designing patterns for paved areas?

    One simple piece of advice with all random pattern paving is to never have a cross joint, the joints should always be staggered. It’s baffling how often you see this. For intricate designs it’s best to employ a designer to create a scheme for you (it’s cheaper than you’d think) but to add a little thought to a basic patio, just adding a row of cobbles or setts round the perimeter finishes it off nicely.

    When laying down a new paved patio area what’s your preferred method for fixing the paving in place?

    The traditional method of sharp sand and cement at a semi dry mix of 4-to-1. If laying porcelain or a particularly flat stone you will want to use a porcelain primer or a bonding agent, making sure to use a full bed of mortar and not dot and dab method.

    I’m considering digging up some lawn and putting a new patio by the house in my garden but it’s at the bottom of a slope and gets very wet during rainy periods. Is there anything I can do to aid drainage? 

    There are a few options depending how much water and the ground conditions: Run it off into a planting bed where the trees or shrubs will draw a lot of the water; Drain it into an existing soak away, or you may need to create one if not. You can very marginally slope the patio to guide the water into a drainage channel to carry the water to the desired location.

    How much maintenance does a paved patio need?

    This is dependent on the product. Limestone and porcelain tend to be fairly low maintenance whereas sandstone can be quite high maintenance. Our traditional flagstones are also fairly low or no maintenance as we feel, with it being an aged product, it’s best to never clean it so it looks like it’s been there forever. The biggest misconception with patio maintenance is the power washer. Stay away from the Jet wash with all types of stone!

    Finally, when you find time to relax on the patio and enjoy your garden, what drink do you reach for?

    Haha! This is a good question. It’s got to be an ice cold beer whilst cooking a BBQ. Isn’t that what all British patios are for!?

    Tom Clifford westminster stone
    We asked Tom for a photo of himself and he made the extra effort to include a favourite beer in the shot with him. Good man.

    Check out the full range of Westminster Stone’s garden products at westminsterstone.com

    *And to get rid of some of the patches of lawn that have been so destroyed by dogs that only the dandelions have survived

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  • New booze round-up #10: Gooseberry, elderberry, and sea buckthorn

    We’ve recently been sent quite a few unusually flavoured drinks by marketeers hoping their client has hit the next big thing. Here we round up a few of the more interesting flavours we’ve enjoyed, along with a new beer discovered on holiday in Cornwall…

    Slingsby Gooseberry Gin, 40%

    We’ve never had much luck making nice things out of goosegogs – the ones on our allotment usually get gobbled by the local blackbird population long before we get a chance to pick them. It seems that the folks at Slingsby Distillery have had slightly more success in guarding their stash and have been making good use, plunging them into their London gin recipe for a fine gin adjunct. Slingsby Gooseberry gin is a tart lip-smacker of a gin – just the ticket for a spot of summertime sipping. The bottle is pretty special too, crafted in an antique style and reminiscent of a smooth, sea-worn piece of glass you might find on a beach. Lovely.

    Buy

    Carthy & Black Yorkshire Lemon Gin Cream Liqueur, 17%

    As much as we like a glass of Baileys, it seems wrong drinking it during the summer months. To us it is forever associated with Christmas, a drink to gargle on when you’ve finished all the decent beers and it’s too early to start on the sherry. This lemony take on cream liqueur hails from Yorkshire, a county known more for rhubarb, flat caps and moaning about the cricket than yellow citrus fruits. On closer inspection it’s the cream that comes from Yorkshire – Paynes Dairy, to be precise – so all is forgiven. It’s a surprisingly light sipper that delivers mouthfuls of lemon meringue pie, underpinned with a healthy slug of Slingsby gin (see above). Store it in the fridge and sup when chilled.

    Buy

    Fowey brewery beer Lostwithiel

    The Fowey Brewery, Lostwithiel Amber, 4.4%

    Nick recently took a short holiday in Cornwall where, as luck would have it, he discovered Fowey Brewery showcasing their beers at a garden centre. Having sampled the core range in between admiring the impressive bee garden he purchased a three pack containing the brewery’s pilsner, an excellent piney session IPA and his favourite from the selection, an amber ale.

    The beer tastes like a modern American brewery’s interpretation of a traditional Enlglish style ale, with clean malts, some caramel sweetness and dry hopping for extra flavour, but the use of English hops brought it all back to Blighty. Those hops dusted the brew with some minty hedgerow flavours and, as a result, it made a refreshing change from most contemporary amber ales.

    Buy

    St Peter’s Without Elderberry & Raspberry Alcohol Free Beer, 0%

    St Peter’s brewery contacted us about a possible review of this beer and, just by looking at the beer’s name there’s a lot to like about it. It features arguably the best fruit for beer (raspberry) along with the greatly underappreciated wild fruit of the elder tree. It’s also good to see such a creative sounding combination used in an alcohol free beer. And it’s brewed by St Peter’s, who rarely put a foot wrong.

    The beer is one of those 0% brews that has raw malt flavours to give it the desired beery body – a taste that we’re not usually that keen on – but the fruit combo merges nicely with the malty sweetness to make it all turn out a little more natural. Despite the double-berry flavouring it’s no sickly sweet fruit beer and the hops are allowed as much prominence as the brown malt. The overall effect is a flavoursome brew that has neatly tricked the palette into thinking its dealing in alcohol.

    Buy

    Sea buckthorn flavoured tonic

    Sea Buck Tonic

    We haven’t previously dedicated booze round up space to a tonic, but when we saw the press release for this one we were intrigued. Coming from St Ives in Cornwall (but not spotted during Nick’s vacation – see above) it’s a fizzy mixer flavoured with quinine and sea buckthorn berries.

    Like elderberries, sea buckthorn’s tiny orange fruits are much underused and in this mixer they lent the liquid some of its colour and a mystical fresh sourness that breezes through the bitter quinine. It’s a refreshing change to the usual tonic flavours and we thought went well mixed with a clean flavoured vodka besides, of course, gin.

    Buy

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  • Blend it like Britain: a taste of the nation’s favourite teas in one bag

    Last week we were sent some tea to review. This is the first time we’ve been asked to review tea but, hopefully, not the last – we don’t just like a glass of home grown booze, we also guzzle our fair share of home grown teas.

    The tea submitted to our taste buds is a collaboration between Cornish tea growers, Tregothnan, and water purification experts Brita. They found out what teas the Brits most prefer to drink and blended them together in a unique new brew which they have punningly named ‘Blend it like Britain’. So along with black tea from the Tregothnan Estate and some Assam tea are the UK’s tea lovers’ four favourite flavours: mint, chamomile, rose and lemon verbena.

    No big surprises in that list, and the blenders have done an excellent job of combining them all together: we’ve been Brewing it like Britain on most days since receiving our tin.

    To give you a taste of what each of those winning ingredients brings to the brew here’s a little more about each of them.

    Chamomile

    The musty floral aroma of dry chamomile flowers reminds us of health shops when we were growing up – black tea alternatives were few and far between but those hippyish health oriented stores were fairly well stocked and it was chamomile’s comforting qualities that led the way. Thankfully the Britta blenders haven’t been too heavy handed with the daisy-like flowers and the aroma and flavour is suitably comforting.

    Mint

    The next most easily detectable ingredient in the blend, mint is a tea makers dream, adding a freshness to whatever it is paired with. Black mint is the chosen variety and it does most of its good work at the end of each swig, filling the mouth with a healthy mint tingle.

    Lemon verbena

    This herb is often overlooked by gardeners but we’re pleased to see the country’s tea drinkers have given in a place at the top table. It has a lemon sherbet flavour that compliments mint extremely well and, although subtlety used in the resulting blend, brings it unique citrus freshness to the palette.

    Rose

    Both rose petals and hips are popular with tea blenders – the former predominantly for their aroma, the latter for their intense fruitiness. It’s the petals that feature in Brita’s bags but you would be hard pressed to notice their presence without seeing them among the ingredients first (a lot of people are put off by overtly floral perfumes in consumables so we’re guessing they took the side of caution). There is, however, an uplifting sweetness to the overall aroma of the tea which is almost certainly down to those pink petals, so even in small doses they’ve done a great job for TEAm GB.

    The tea is available from tregothnan.co.uk and all profits will be donated to the mental health charity, Mind.

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  • Interview: Urban foraging and whiskey cocktail making with John Rensten

    John Rensten is one of the UK’s best known foragers, specialising in gathering wild feasts from urban locations. He’s currently teaming up with ace Irish whiskey makers Bushmills to explore using foraged ingredients in whiskey-based cocktails. We were eager to find out more…

    What is the main appeal of foraging? 

    I’d probably start by talking about nutrition. All wild food is superfood, and by this I mean its packed full of healthy minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Take nettles for example, these are over 30 per cent plant protein, and rich in iron and calcium, whilst rose hips, weight for weight, offer twenty times the vitamin C of oranges. The fibre you can get from just one teaspoon of ribwort plantain seeds equates to a full bowl of porridge! But foraging has many benefits, it’s good for mental and physical wellbeing and can also make you more ecologically aware. 

    Most people think about the countryside when it comes to foraging, but you specialise in urban locations. Are there different challenges to finding edibles among streets and buildings and does pollution have an impact on what you can use? 

    It’s true foraging is often associated with the countryside, however, if you look in the right places, you’ll quickly discover that cities offer a vast array of free, edible treats, coming and going throughout the seasons. In my local park alone I have collected and eaten nearly 200 different edible plants. However, when foraging in built up areas it’s important to think about the potential effects of pollution, so I’d recommend staying clear of overly industrialised areas and busy roads.

    You’re taking part in a Bushmills foraging and whiskey tasting event around London on June 25th. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be getting up to.

    The masterclass will see participants taken on a guided foraging tour in East London, by me, before learning how to create delicious whiskey cocktails using foraged ingredients and Bushmills Black Bush Whiskey. It’s part of Bushmills’ ‘Black Bush Stories’ series of events which celebrate different crafts across the UK, in this instance: the craft of foraging. The evening will be co-hosted by the award winning drinks writer and TV presenter, Neil Ridley, alongside Bushmills’ whiskey ambassador Donal McLynn. 

    What ingredients can attendees expect to find during the evening? 

    The city has so much to offer this time of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we stumbled upon some elderflower, lime blossom, dandelions, yarrow or hogweed, all of which can be used to make delicious cocktails. Take hogweed bitters for example, these taste like bitter orange and numerous other dried spices rolled into one. They work especially well in place of Angostura when making an Old Fashioned. 

    Finally, what’s your favourite foraged cocktail?

    If it’s a whiskey cocktail, you’re spoilt for choice. You can make an Irish coffee with roasted dandelion root, or a whiskey sour with quince or sorrel, but I’d probably have to say my favourite would be an Old Fashioned made with hogweed bitters and garnished with dried crab apple.

    John Rensten, urban forager

    Bushmills Black Bush Whiskey is hosting an exclusive foraging and cocktail making masterclass on Thursday 20th June, where you can learn how to forage in London and create cocktails using natural, foraged ingredients. Tickets are available here

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  • New booze round-up #9: Father’s Day whisky

    Hot on the heels of World Gin Day comes another event that seems to be more appealing to marketeers than anyone else: Father’s Day. But we know that booze is a popular purchase for Dads so are happy to pass on a few of the better recommendations. Inevitably the drinks category that received the most messages in our inbox leading up to the ‘big day’ is whisky, so consider this a Father’s Day Whisky Special…

    Benromach speyside whisky

    Benromach Single Malt, 15 years, 43%

    Speyside distillery Benromach sent us a three-pack of 30ml bottles from their ‘Classic Range’ for us to try: Benromach 10 Years Old; their latest expression Benromach Cask Strength Vintage 2008 Batch 1; and our favourite, Benromach 15 Years Old.

    The whisky picked up the Best Speyside Single Malt gong at the World Whisky Awards in 2018 so we were particularly keen to give it a go. It’s mightily impressive, with an easy going honey and vanilla sweetness but with a fruity richness that has been brought out by its maturation in sherry and bourbon casks. There’s also a very subtle hint of smoke that adds an extra degree of complexity. Top rated stuff for dads.

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    BenRiach whisky bottle

    BenRiach, Cask Strength Single Malt, Batch 2, 60.6%

    We reckon there must be a growing trend for cask strength whiskies because we’re seeing a lot more of them than we used to. BenRiach, another Speyside distillery, has recently released its second cask strength booze and its a cracking batch.

    The whisky has been matured in bourbon, sherry and virgin oak casks and, as you might expect from that combination (and the 60% ABV) it packs a mean punch of spice. Yet for all the power of oak and booze it’s amazingly drinkable – we would recommend diluting it to your preferred level but it’s still approachable neat. There’s a nice dusty vanilla that leads the way and some dry stoned fruit to escort your taste buds home, with very little in the way of bruisings from the booze in between.

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    Balblair whisky bottle

    Balblair 12 Year Old, 46%

    We’ve got our chops around whiskies from most of the famous Scottish distilleries but somehow Balblair, one of the oldest, has passed us by. So we’re very grateful for Rachel at their PR agency for sending us a bottle to help put things right.

    The bottle itself is a superb squat, chunky beast that shows off the pale golden liquid a treat and its toped with what could be the largest stopper we’ve prised out. The satisfying ‘pop’ of the cork removal is followed by a very gentle aroma of citrus and honey – like the ideal concoction with which to soothe a sore throat.

    At first the taste seems equally light, like some sweet spiced apple pie, but let it linger and some more interesting flavours emerge: a little bit rootsy and chocolatey with some orange liqueur richness and leathery dryness. It’s a whisky full of complexity and contrasts and we’re now eager to see what else the distillery comes up with.

    Gentleman Jack Offer

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    Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack, 40%

    Jack Daniel’s is probably a much more familiar name than the Scottish distilleries we’ve featured, but we’re including Gentleman Jack because Tesco’s Father’s Day offer has it priced at a ridiculously low £20.

    The product is a Tennessee whiskey that has received a double ‘charcoal mellowing’ (before and after ageing) that gives it a much cleaner taste and smoother finish than the classic Jack Daniel’s Old No.7. It’s full of sweet honey and vanilla flavours that are pepped up with dry fruity notes, but they come over in a much more refined manner, making it a very decent sipper. Even at full price it beats similar more expensive whiskeys; at the Father’s Day discount it’s a steal.

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    The post New booze round-up #9: Father’s Day whisky appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • New booze round-up #8: World Gin Day

    Apparently, June 8 is World Gin Day. We know this because for the past few months we’ve routinely received emails from gin (and tonic) producers asking if we were covering the event. We weren’t planning to, but owing to the persistence of some we’ve decided to dedicate a New Booze Round-up to the best we’ve been sent. Happy World Gin Day everyone…

    Bombay Sapphire Estate Gin Bottle

    Bombay Sapphire Limited Edition: English Estate, 40%

    The first of our gins arrived from the familiar name of Bombay Sapphire. Whenever we run gin-based cocktail making demos we always ask attendees what their favourite gin is, and Bombay Sapphire’s famous blue booze usually gets the most mentions.

    Our gardening crowd should be impressed with the distillery’s new release, a limited edition that “draws inspiration from the landscape surrounding the Bombay Sapphire Laverstoke Distillery in Hampshire”*. It has three new botanicals which all grow in the area – Pennyroyal Mint, Rosehip and toasted Hazlenut. The resulting gin is every bit as florally fresh as their classic spirit but the botanical notes have been turned up a notch and there’s a more noticeable citrus spark to the flavour. With a few sunny summer days already under our belts, our bottle is looking rather empty already.

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    Theodore Pictish gin bottle

    Theodore, Pictish Gin, 43%

    Gin makers are looking for all sorts of inspiration for making (and marketing) their gin, and Scotland’s Greenwood distillers have come up with a product that takes the Picts as its inspiration. The tribe was said to be among the first settlers in Scotland and there are a few historical botanicals among the 16 ingredients featured in this gin. One of these is a favourite of ours, pine needles, while the smokey, floral notes of vetiver and puckering zestiness of citric pomelo also make an appearance.

    These botanicals and other original pictish illustrations adorn the packaging, which is every bit as good as the gin, and we think it would make an excellent gift for any discerning gin drinkers.

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    North Uist Gin Bottle

    North Uist Distillery, Downpour Gin, 46%

    Next up is another Scottish distillery and the first to open on the Hebridean island of North Uist. They’re currently working on a single malt, which will take a while to be ready, but until then spirit seekers can enjoy their gin. It’s a citrussy number with heady floral notes, which we’re guessing are predominantly heather. Whereas some gins tinker with traces of botanicals, what most impresses us is that Downpour has them thrust them forward with full-flavoured confidence.

    The distillery’s website recommends serving with a sprig of rosemary and as that’s our favourite G&T garnish they get even more top marks from us.

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    Citadelle, Gin de France, 44%

    This gin isn’t new (it has been around since the mid 1990s) but we’ve not knowingly tried a French gin before so were intrigued to see this bottle arrive through the post. It is made with 19 botanicals which mingle and merge to give it some complexity behind the very punchy juniper flavours that take centre stage.

    We find that a lot of modern gins lose their appeal when mixed with tonic – all that hard work to create unique flavours that can often be dashed with a dose of quinine – but this one demands some cold and fizzy liquid to tame it and bring out the full palette of flavours. Magnifique!

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    *Several of our demo attendees have mentioned it as being a great place to visit. It’s on our list.

    The post New booze round-up #8: World Gin Day appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


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  • Wormwood and the making of vermouth

    Wormwood is one of the most interesting booze-related plants to grow in the garden. It’s a good looker, with silver-green leaves made up of curvy shapes that could belong to a Matisse collage. The plant to get is Absinthium artemisia which, as you may guess by the clue in the name, is one of the main flavourings for absinthe.

    Besides the infamous spirit that caused such mayhem among the Parisienne artists of the late 19th century you can also taste its powerfully bitter flavours in vermouth, a fortified wine that, at long last, is starting to come back in fashion – and not just as a cocktail mixer.

    Vermouth is made by flavouring wine with various botanicals and fortifying with alcohol – usually a neutral grain spirit and, like wines, vermouths can be red or wine, sweet or dry. Wormwood was one of the original botanicals used to flavours vermouths, having been popular in German fortified wines, and was key in the first Italian versions of these Germanic drinks.

    These days, much like gin, practically anything goes when it comes to wormwood flavouring, with an array of herbs, spices, fruits, roots and barks all jostling for attention from the blenders eye. Making your own version is fairly straightforward (we’ve got a recipe for it in our book) but for us, wormwood is always the number one ingredient.

    bottle el bandarra white vermut

    Review! El Bandarra Vermut, 15%

    Vermouth isn’t just an Italian or German drink, but is popular all over the world. The UK has never really gone in for it but there are signs that this summer might see a revival. Hoping to make an impression is a gin from Spain which we’ve been sent to review, and we’ve been mightily impressed.

    Vermouth is a great choice to precede or accompany a tapas, with its bitter and sweet characteristics setting up the taste buds for salty, nibbly foods in much the same way that a good sherry does. El Bandarra are clearly looking to this market with a colourful bottle decorated with tapas and pinchos dishes.

    It’s a sweet white vermouth with a typically musty grape and herby bitter aroma that tastes full of dessert wine sweetness and Summer wine freshness. A subtle but lingering bitterness comes through the sweet juicy flavours that is the perfect prelude to those salty morsels of food, while some warming botanicals seem to make it a suitable choice to accompany the setting summer’s sun. The perfect choice for summer evening al fresco dining, Spanish-German-Italian style.

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