Monday, 20 February 2017

"Open That Bottle Night" 2017 - #OTBN

Photo taken from The New England Scholar under CCL

It's that most wonderful time of year again... No, not FA Cup 5th round weekend; not the qualifying rounds for the Eurovision Song Contest. But, Open That Bottle Night! 

Every year on the last Saturday in February, wine lovers from around the world gather their friends and families around them and celebrate that fact that you don't need a "special occasion" as an excuse for opening that particular bottle you've been holding, instead the opening of that bottle makes the occasion special - and it is always better to enjoy that wine with great company.

What are the origins of "Open That Bottle Night"?

A fair few years ago two journalists who worked for the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, were reflecting on an issue that they and others that they had spoken to had when it came to wine. They found that many people possess "special" bottles of wine: they could be from an auspicious year, perhaps one from a year that has some significance, or from a favourite producer or region. The bottle(s) sit proudly on the wine rack and await their moment of glory. The trouble is that the wine lover wants to celebrate a truly special occasion with this wine and nothing quite seems to hit the mark. The wine waits and waits, as the time passes the requirement for just how special the event is to merit opening the wine becomes greater and greater, and consequently the chances of the wine being opened get lesser and lesser. By the time the wine is eventually opened, it is invariably too late and the wine has spoiled, or else the poor wine lover finds that the wine was corked anyway... 

Gaiter and Brecher felt that rather than looking for a special occasion to open the special bottle of wine, the opening of the special bottle of wine should be an occasion in its own right. After all, what could be better for any wine lover then gathering around friends and family and enjoying that wine that we love so much? To aid this they decided that every year the last Saturday of February should be set aside as the date that wine lovers all around the world come together and open that bottle (or bottles) that they've been saving and spend an evening enjoying them. What a truly wonderful idea.

What am I opening for #OTBN 2017?

Once more I am fortunate in that I am able to celebrate OTBN with my brother and my sister-in-law as they are coming to visit for the weekend. On the Saturday, we have a lovely lunch planned at one of my favourite restaurants, Pollen Street Social; later on in the evening we will head back to my flat and I am planning for us to have a nice, rich Tuscan stew designed to showcase the prodigious wine for the evening, a 2012 Tignanello (Tuscany, Italy). I bought a bottle of Tignanello, one of the famed Super Tuscans, when I was visiting Tuscany last October. In truth, I'd love to hang on to this bottle of wine for a few more years to let it develop a bit further, but conditions in my flat are not perfect for ageing wines so I'd rather drink it now and avoid any chances of it spoiling.

What are you going to open for #OTBN 2017?

I hope that some of you will take this opportunity to open something special for OTBN. Please let us know what you are doing, tag us in photos on Twitter (@vinspireuk), tag me on instagram (@tjmilford) or tag us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/VinspireUK/). It will be great to see how everyone is celebrating...! 
  
  

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Alcoholic tips to make Valentine's Day run smoothly

Yuck.
It's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, did you know?

If you have a partner, it's probably pretty awkward at the moment because one of you is trying to keep your plans a secret, and the other one is thinking, "What a dick, they've not even got anything sorted for Tuesday." Classic predicament.

Because I'm pretty much Cupid, just worse to look at and crap with a bow and arrow, I thought my wisdom might come in handy to those of you who are perhaps taking someone out for your first Valentine's evening together. It can be nerve-racking, but if you have ever read any of my other "advice" (I use the term loosely) pieces, you will already know that I speak utter shite good sense.

You've obviously sorted flowers and bowls with floating candles and covering the entire dining room with rose-petals, that's a given. Hell, you probably have the food sorted too right? Something romantic like Oysters, Caviar or a Pot Noodle, but the question still remains: what do you drink?

Laura has already written a great guide of actual, real life, good wines to drink for Valentine's, with names like Passion Has Red Lips, Sexy Beast Cabernet and Love Pole Semillon (I made up Love Pole Semillon, but the others exist), so now she has covered the good ideas, I thought I would quickly go over the not so good ideas.

1. Avoid serving Ron Jeremy's Rum, at all costs. It might give the wrong impression, or the intended impression, which is still the WRONG impression. You don't want to give your partner anything with a long finish that tickles the back of the throat just yet. Come on people, behave.
Hugo wrote about Ron Jeremy's Rum a while back, and it's worth reading.

2. Probably don't drink too much in order to calm your nerves. It's maybe a good idea to knock back a quick shot of whisky, but no more than a shot! Slurring your words and not being able to walk in a straight line is not a good thing. Plus, saying to your date "'ere youuu know what...? I bloody love yooou, I do," could potentially ruin everything for everyone.

3. Sabrage is a no-no at an intimate meal for two. You won't look funny or clever whipping your sword out at the dinner-table. It might come across as a little 'forward', and if the bottle is a little shaken up, you risk soaking your date. NO, that's not good. Stop it.

You see, they do exist...
4. Please don't serve any wines from the Playboy Wine Club range. Giving the impression you wished your lady-date looked more like the girl off the bottle of Zinfandel is a bad thing, and it won't go down well. And yes, there is a range of Playboy wines... Hugh Helfensteiner is up to his old tricks again (if you click the link you will realise that is an outstanding wine joke, feedback on postcards please).

5. Carlsberg do not do Valentine's dates so don't bother drinking Carlsberg until you can't feel the pain of being single on Tuesday 14th, because it won't help. If they did do Valentine's dates though, they would be amazing. Drink craft lager instead if you are on your own, it's tasty.

With a combination of Laura's what to drink piece and these five things to remember, you should be on target for the best Valentine's Day ever. Whether you are an avid fan of the soppiest day of the year, or you just think it's the soppiest day of the year, do something fun.

We would like invitations to the weddings please. Best Man speeches are available upon request...

What have you got planned for Valentine's Day? Let us know by commenting below, or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Images taken from JanviSharma, Vinspire & Dracula&stuff's photostreams respectively, under the creative commons license.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

The Liquor of Love - Is wine truly a Valentine's Day aphrodisiac?



Liebe. L'Amour. Kjaerlighet.

All words to describe the indescribable feeling of love in different languages (even though the last one in Norwegian sounds a bit like the first word I utter when I'm woken up in the morning...).

Yes, the day that either sends people running to the nearest '3 courses for a tenner' restaurant clutching a garage forecourt-bought bunch of pansies, or battening down the hatches and hunkering down until all the loved-up madness passes by for another year. Valentine's Day has crash landed once again and whether you are a lover or a fighter of it, many glasses and bottles of beer and wine will be consumed over the 24 hours that covers the 14th February.

However, just before you get out the corkscrew and get ready for the hedonistic delights of your favourite bottle of Rouge or Blanc, have you ever thought why wine is considered such an integral part of the courting ritual? Does having a sip of something stronger than strawberry milkshake stir up the passion in the loins? Or could you achieve the pinnacle of romance without sipping the 'Devil's Brew'?

Wine has always been used as the lubricant that oils the pistons of love, ever since the Romans used to fill their amphorae to the brims and ring the bells on their day long 'sexy parties'. The Ancient Greeks had their tipsy God of Wine Dionysus, who was characterised as not only as an over-the-top type of God, but also a charming, playful and (some would say) very erotic kinda guy. Then you also have the famous wine quote 'In Vino Veritas' (or 'In Wine, there's Truth') by the guy who really needed Deed Poll to change his name, way back in 'Before Christ' Greece. Pliny the Elder. It was used then as an explanation as to the spirituality and enlightenment that wine brings, where as we'd interpret it to be be declaring that you fancy the pants off him/her after 2 glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon.


But enough now about 'the good old days', lets crack on with the science behind the statement. Back in 2009, a group of Italian researchers conducted a spot of research into the consumption of red wine and women's sexual libido. and found out that women who consumed on average 2 glasses of red wine a day had a higher sex drive than those who consumed less than 1 glass a day and those who didn't drink at all. What also startled them was that the average age of the women who did drink 2 glasses a day were older than the other 2 groups, when it is commonly assumed that the older a woman gets, the lower her sex drive becomes.

Now, there is no actual nailed on, carved in stone, definitive reason why this was the case, but many experts have pointed to the fact that alcohol stimulates a part of your brain called the horrendously unpronounceable Hypothalamus, which controls the most basic of human functions, such as hunger, body temperature, hormone levels and your sex drive. Other explanations focus more on the fact that red wine contains loads of a compound called Resveratrol (see this article for the benefits of Resveratrol), which help to widen the blood vessels leading to both men's and women's naughty bits, which in turn could lead to a bit of Midnight Athletics.

However, remember the fact that moderation is key. If two glasses of beautiful wine can get you in the mood for a bit of 'slap and tickle', three glasses could lead to you being passed out, snoring by 9pm. Beware!

Looking at different cultures, alcohol has been heralded for many a century as a instigator of passion. In countries such as China and the Korean countries, the mysticism behind potions classed under the label of 'wine' has lead some to be complete devotees of the art, regardless of the murky way they are produced. In the media recently, two Chinese nationals were stopped from taking an 'aphrodisiac wine' through customs, so decided to chug it at the gate before they went through. This 'Tiger Bone Wine', supposedly made from ground up tiger bone gives the imbiber sexual powers. China banned the the sale of any tiger-based products many years ago, but unfortunately its still big business and many people in the Far East still believe in its properties. Adding to this, there is also such things as Snake Wine, where venomous snakes are steeped in rice wine and left to 'mature' for a few months and consumed in shot-type glasses. It is believed to be brilliant for the health and virility, but I don't think we'll be seeing this prescribed on the NHS, thankfully.

Whatever you are doing to celebrate/commiserate this most passionate of days, I truly hope whatever you put in your mouth, makes you happy...

Stop the sniggering at the back there...


Saturday, 4 February 2017

Top 10 Romantically-Named Wines for Valentine's Day

EDITED: FEBRUARY 2017 (to update prices and availability)

The big V-Day is just around the corner, and you may be stressing about what to buy your squeeze, but if there's one thing you can easily get right it's the wine. If they like wine, then you probably know the sorts of styles they enjoy, so buying a bottle of vino should be a piece of cake. If you're struggling, however, then you can rest assured they'll probably love a soppy Valentine's wine (well, let's face it, I would) and there are some seriously good options out there.

Here are my top ten romantically-named Valentine's wines:



1. D'Arenberg The Lovegrass Shiraz (£11.65, The Drink Shop)

There's something quite sexy about the name of this wine, and d'Arenberg will always deliver in taste and quality too. Dark, spicy and savoury - a bit of a sensuous one.



2. Little Beauty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (£14.95, Davy Wine)

For a lovely, half-arsed, you-could-be-my-girlfriend-or-you-could-be-a-winning-racehorse vibe.



3. Kiss Chasey Shiraz Merlot Nebbiolo Sangiovese (£10.99, Laithwaites)

Although it's a bit of a daft, childish name, the additional Italian grapes in this blend will make an impact, and it's a red that packs a punch with hearty meat dishes.



4. Some Young Punks 'Passion Has Red Lips' (£12.75, Nd John)

We've crushed on Some Young Punks wines before, but there's something seriously sexy about this label, as well as the name. It's also a bloody decent drop of wine from an award-winning team, with generous fruit and an exotic bouquet. Perfect if you're planning a V-Day bolognese.



5. Pretty Gorgeous rose (£8.98, The Drink Shop)

Yeah, not the most commitment-filled statement you could come up with on Valentine's Day, but it's cheap and quite cute.



6. Saint-Amour, Domaine de la Porte du Paradis (£11.50, The Bottle Bank)

This is always popular on the day of lurve, but it's great if you want a genuinely good wine as well as a sweet name. This Beaujolais is light enough to be sippable but sappy enough to stand up to a (romantic) plate of steak and chips.



7. Cloof 'The Very Sexy Shiraz' (£16.00, Amazon)

This South African beauty has a red-writing-on-black label that screams 'erotic fiction' but should actually be a fairly decent drop of spicy, smooth shiraz.



8. Quirky Bird Chenin Semillon Muscat (£4.75, Tesco)

Because sometimes your choice of loved one is a bit mental for all the right reasons.



9. Stormhoek 'Love' Sparkling Moscato (£6.00, Morrisons)

Romantic occasions like this are made for a drop of frothy pink bubbles, and this is just that. Moscato is very hot right now, and this is a low-alcohol, sweet example from South Africa, which will be gorgeous with a light fruit pudding. Or in bed...



10. Sexy Beast Cabernet (£19.99 or £17.99 if you buy six, Majestic)

With a label straight off the Mills and Boon catalogue, this is a 'voluptuous' and 'alluring' wine, which basically couldn't be any more of an innuendo. But it's gorgeous to drink, too.

What will you be drinking on February 14th? Tell us in the comments!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Bollocks to Valentine's Day: Surviving the 14th February one (strong) cocktail at a time


Heart-shaped balloons, teddy bears, overpriced roses and chocolates all point to one, unavoidable fact: it’s Valentine's Day! If you're looking for something special to do with a loved one, see our previous posts, (Valentine's Wines, Bargain Spirits For Your Valentine or Alcoholic Tips To Make Valentine's Day Run Smoothly), but if you are one of the many who hate the mass-produced and (arguably) pointless nature of the V day, read on...

These are simple, last-minute cocktails perfect for toasting your alone-ness. You will either already have the ingredients, or they will be readily available in a local shop, so it won't be tricky to drown your sorrows or raise a glass to being a 'strong, independent human'.

Something Angry

Firstly, if you’re on the war path, and need something red and spicy, it has to be The Ultimate Bloody Mary (feel free to change the person's name to suit):

Ingredients:
  • Vodka - a good glug of between 25-35ml (I prefer the crisper styles, like Chase)
  • Worcestershire sauce (a lot)
  • Tomato Juice (100ml ish)
  • Horseradish (a small teaspoon, but add more if you like it hot)
  • Tabasco (if you need a little more heat)
  • Half a lemon, and celery to finish
Shake it!

1. It’s best to mix the vodka, Worcestershire and horseradish together at the start, then top up with the tomato juice.
2. Make sure you give it a good shake or stir to combine everything, and then pop a little black pepper, a touch of lemon and celery to garnish. 
3. Add the Tabasco to taste, as the horseradish will already give it some warmth.



                           Something Bitter
Feeling bitter about it? Try this classic combination of gin with bitter lemon, for a delicious, easy twist on the classic G&T. The wonderful thing about this is you don’t need to use a great gin; any cupboard staple will do (although I personally try to go for the best quality I can afford). Make it nice and strong, and serve with ice.

Gin in first (as strong as you like), top up with Bitter Lemon (Schweppes do one, and Fever Tree do a bettter one). 
If you’re feeling particularly lonely/bored/have time, you could make your own Bitter Lemon, using this recipe.
Garnish with Lemon; not lime or cucumber. If you did want a little twist, try a lime or orange infused vodka. Tradition is that you drink it without a straw, either in a long glass or in a cheeky martini glass. Bottoms up.



The Ex-Boyfriend (or Girlfriend) cocktail recipe

Ingredients:
  • 50ml Orange or Vanilla vodka (normal is fine if you don’t have this)
  • 40ml Orange juice
  • 40ml Pineapple juice
  • 40ml Cranberry Juice 
This is a pretty simple, pretty cheap, but delicious cocktail. The addition of vanilla is a perfect one; if you are unable to get this through the vodka, you can pop a teeny bit of food flavouring in. 

Serve over lots of ice. If you’re having a "Galentine's" get-together, or a party, this works perfectly for a fruity punch with a bold kick of Vodka for good measure.


How are you avoiding Valentine's this year?

Images taken from T Young, Mighty June, LUPEC Phoenix, and willrichard87's photostreams respectively, under the creative commons license.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Cooking with booze: Burns Night – Highland stew – Recipe and cocktails

Photo by Jun

I may not have an ounce of Scottish blood in me, but I’m always up for a good knees up, especially one that involves whisky. While many people will be tucking into the haggis this Burns Night, you may want an alternative dish to devour while you’re mumbling your way through Auld Lang Syne after one dram too many. 

I won’t commit the mortal sin of calling this a pie when it’s a stew with a puff pastry top, that’s for the gastro pubs of this world to do. But it is a very tasty Highland stew with puff pastry top, and is the perfect dish to serve this Burns Night.

Highland stew with neeps and tatties
(Serves four)




Ingredients

Stew
900g stewing beef (two packets)
100g smoked lardons
500ml stout
200ml ruby port
2 large white onions
3 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
3 tbsp flatleaf parsley
5 pickled walnuts (and 2 tbsp pickled walnut vinegar)
60g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp plain flour
Salt and pepper

Puff pastry top
Ready rolled puff pastry

Neeps and tatties
Half a swede
16 new potatoes
Butter

Method
1. Marinate your beef in the stout, with the garlic and bay leaves for around five hours in the fridge, or overnight if possible.
2. Preheat the oven (fan) to 130°C.
3. In a large pan, heat the oil and butter.
4. On a medium-high heat, brown and seal the beef. Once browned, remove and set aside.
5. In the same pan, fry the bacon and onions until the onions are soft and translucent.
6. Stir in the flour and mix, then add the port, stout marinade, beef, and season.
7. Transfer to an ovenproof casserole dish, fit the lid, and cook for 2.5hours in the oven, stirring occasionally.
8. Remove from the oven and pop back on the hob, so you can cook your puff pastry tops. Halve the pickled walnuts and add to the stew, along with the pickling vinegar. Simmer for around 30minutes. 9. Add the chopped parsley just before serving.

Neep and tatties
1. Roughly chop the swede into large chunks and boil for 50minutes.
2. Parboil the potatoes for 10minutes in salted water.
3. Pop the potatoes into the oven with the stew for 15minutes, then turn the heat up to 200°C when the stew comes out and roast for 30-35minutes.
4. Drain the swede and roughly mash together with a decent amount of butter.

Puff pastry tops
1. Unroll the puff pastry and cut into shape
2. Pop in the oven for 10-15minutes until golden brown

Drinks

If you don’t fancy a night on the drams, here are a couple of loosely-Scottish cocktails (they feature whisky), to get you in the mood.

Scotch Old Fashioned 



While rye or bourbon are the 'proper' choices for an Old Fashioned, it's Burns Night, so we're heading away from the whiskey and hitting the whisky. Granted, you're not going to want to use the Belvenie 50-year-old single malt that you've all got lying around, but a smooth, clean, not-too-peaty, scotch will work great.

Ingredients
50ml scotch whisky
3/4tsp light brown sugar
A few dashes of Angostura bitters
Orange peel
A little patience

Method
1. Soak the sugar in the Angostura and begin to dissolve with a spoon.
2. Add a good handful of ice cubes and continue to stir.
4. Add around half the whisky and keep stirring.
5. Add the rest of the scotch and stir some more.
6. Stir for another couple of minutes.
7. Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Haig Clubman




Ingredients
50ml Haig Club
35ml Appletiser
6 dashes ginger bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a highball or tumbler, with plenty of ice, and garnish with a very thin slice of root ginger.

How will you be celebrating this Burns Night? Hitting the haggis or using the night as an excuse to pull out that tasty scotch?



Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The top 10 mega mocktails for January


If you’ve been doing ‘Dry January’ and have actually stuck to it, then firstly, pat yourself on the back. Secondly, scream and shout because it’s nearly over (ish)! To make things a bit easier, we’ve rounded up the 10 best mocktail recipes we could find.

The key to a mocktail’s success is down to intrigue; you can’t shove an average cordial in a glass, top it with soda, and garnish it with a slice of lemon, expecting to be wowed. Sure, we don’t need booze all the time, and there are plenty of top-notch soft drinks around to tantalise the taste buds, but cocktails work due to the balance of alcohol, sugar, acidity and bitterness - you’re not likely to get that with just an elderflower spritz, are you?

If you’re feeling like you’re missing out on all those lovely alcoholic delights that you keep seeing on Instagram, it’s time to get serious about mocktails. Fresh fruit, citrus and herbs are your heroes here, you want to be building your drink as you would a proper cocktail, and don’t be afraid to make your own syrups; they’re easy to do and will keep in the fridge for ages.

Just put in a teeny bit of effort before being able to smugly sip on something extra special... Your drunken pals will certainly be eyeing up your saintly glass!

We’ll start with something deliciously fruity and classically British – Strawberries!


  • This floral fresh Strawberry Rose Water Fizz from Kitchenette Blog is simple but effective. And if you love it, when it gets to February, try topping with prosecco instead of soda water.
  • The Pink Panther from Nosh My Way is smooth, creamy and kind of retro. Strawberries and cream will always be a winning combo, but add pineapple into the equation and hello!

Another British classic - though a slightly more sultry - fruit, with its deep purple colour, is the blackberry. 



Next we have some zingy mocktails...



Herbs are where it’s at with these next three.



Finally, the indulgent creamy mocktails for any time that you require some comfort.


  • Lavender Hot Chocolate from A La Mode is a fragrant hug in a mug. You can buy lavender in the supermarkets now (with all the herbs and spices), but don’t over-do it or you’ll be in soap territory.
  • Sweep Tight have come up with the awesome Coquito, with coconut milk, evaporated milk and condensed milk. Anything made with that dreamy milk is going to be frickin’ ace. FACT.

Now go and have some booze free fun!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Cooking With Booze: Kir Royale Macarons


There's nothing I like more than cake and cocktails: separately, together, any kind of combination, and I'm sold. A fancy afternoon tea is all well and good, but the addition of a chilled glass of champagne.. Now you're talking.

I know that macarons whatever you want to call them are not strictly cake, but those bite-sized beauties are so splendid that even the most stubborn "I'm not into sweets" person would find it hard to resist. If you're not acquainted with the macaron, they're light as a feather almond-y meringues that are so Parisian chic - delicate shiny shells, still chewy in the middle, sandwiched together with buttercream or something similar. They can be bloody tricky buggers to make though (they've brought me to tears once before), but get them right, and your friends will think they've come straight from a patisserie.
Anyway, my love of cake and cocktails led me to this idea; a macaron filled with a Crème de Cassis buttercream filling, paired with a glass of your favourite fizz, and you have yourself an interesting take on a Kir Royale! Its the perfect recipe for a late afternoon or night time soiree - one of those gatherings that doesn't require you to make a feast-for-all, just a few nibbles - but something a bit special nonetheless. I'd suggest your chosen fizz be dry - champagne, cava or even English sparkling wine - prosecco could be a bit too sweet when accompanied with the treats.
This recipe, adapted from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen (available on Amazon for £18.95), is the easiest I've come across, and the one that's had the least failures. My tips are: to use food colouring that is in paste/gel form as they're the best for keeping their colour (natural food colourings don't tend to work well); red/pink/purple are most suited to this flavour. Go off piste if you like; a colourless shell with a vivid centre would look equally as fancy as what I've suggested.

Unfilled shells fare well in the freezer, so you can whip a batch up and freeze some for future use. You can also freeze the buttercream, but it will need a good mix, and possibly more icing sugar, to get back to the right consistency once defrosted. Oh, and you're definitely going to need an electric hand whisk; you might have guns like Popeye, but you'll struggle with this one.

Kir Royale Macarons
Makes approx. 40 macaron shells (20 whole macarons)

Ingredients
For the shells:
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 3 medium egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 40g caster sugar
  • food colouring (paste)
For the buttercream:
  •  75g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp Crème de Cassis (I used Tesco Finest priced at £8.50) 
  • food colouring (paste)
Champagne or equivalent.

Method:
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Using a food processor, whizz up the icing sugar and ground almonds until you have a fine dust that resembles flour.
  3. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until you reach stiff peaks. Add the caster sugar in a steady stream, still whisking the whole time until the whites are stiff and glassy. Add the food colouring and whisk so that the colour is evenly distributed throughout the whites.
  4. Using a metal spoon, gently fold the almond and icing sugar mixture into the egg whites until the texture is uniform. Don't be heavy-handed here, you want to keep it as voluminous as possible.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle, or alternatively, use a disposable one. Standing the bag in a tumbler helps, as this can get a bit messy.
  6. Pipe circles of the mixture on to the baking sheet, roughly 3cm wide. Leave space in between each one, as they tend to spread out a little, and puff up during cooking.
  7. Bang your baking sheet on the kitchen work surface a couple of times to get rid of any large air bubbles, then set aside for 30 minutes to dry out the shells. They're ready when you can touch the surface without leaving a fingerprint.
  8. Cook for 12 minutes in the middle of the oven, and leave to cool on the tray.
  9. To make the filling, whisk the butter until soft and fluffy. Add half of the sifted icing sugar and beat until mixed.
  10. Add the remaining sugar, crème de cassis, and food colouring. Beat until smooth.
  11. Use the mixture to sandwich the macarons together - piping it is best.
  12. Pop the champagne and serve.
Good luck!
  
 Champagne image taken from Lachlan Hardy's photostream under the Creative Commons License.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

The best boozy subscription boxes

Over the past few years, subscription boxes have sprung up out of nowhere. You can pretty much get anything delivered to your door on a regular basis now, from bacon to mysteries, and moss of the month to cheese toasties.

So it probably comes as no surprise that there are plenty of drinks subscription services out there now too. But which one to choose? Here's our pick of the best.

Drop Secret drinks club – the best of all worlds


If you’re indecisive like me, independent wine merchants The Secret Cellar, based in Tunbridge Wells, have come up with a pretty novel idea for a boozy subscription box… Drop Secret.

They’re combining all the boozy clubs. For £40 (with free delivery), you get either bottles of small production wine, an artisan spirit, craft beers, or anything else that goes. And it remains top secret until it arrives at your door. 

You can choose whether you want deliveries to be monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, and start, stop and pause deliveries whenever you choose.

They kindly sent me over the first month’s delivery to see how it all worked. It came with three bottles of wine.




The Flower and the Bee, Treixadura 2015, Galicia, NW Spain
This Treixadura was a first for me. It’s very bright yellow, almost gold, and is a great, full-flavoured white wine. It packs a punch, with a fruity intensity, herbs, and a bit of spice. It’s certainly not heavy though, just really, really fresh.

Sibiliano, Nero d’Avola 2015, Sicily, Italy
This is a lovely deeply-coloured, medium bodied red. There’s plenty of cherry on the nose, and forest fruits and muted spice flavours. A bit savoury on the finish.

Alto de la Ballena, Tannat/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2009, Maldonado, Uruguay
This is a very successful blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Tannat and 30% Cabernet Franc from Uruguay, so a bit different from the usual Argentina/Chile wines you may be used to. The Tannat is aged in the barrel for nine months to soften the tannins, before being blended. It’s really delicious: big, dark and fruity, and relatively limited too, as only 12,000 bottles have been produced.

Of course, you won’t be getting those if you sign up, that will be kept a mystery, but it’s hopefully given you a taster of the quality of products you’ll be receiving.

Sign me up 


Craft Gin Club 



Every month you get a small-batch gin, sometimes a rare and exclusive bottling not available anywhere else, and it’s sent out with complementary foodie treats and a copy of the Ginned! magazine. I know several people that have signed up to this one and it always looks like a really exciting bit of post to receive.

£40 a month, including postage (you can also do bi-monthly and quarterly, and you get £10 off your first box)
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The Whisky Tasting Club 




You can get tastings as and when you want them, whether that’s a one off, or regular monthly tastings. Most contain five 50ml measures and cost £30, including postage. However if you sign up for the regular tastings, you get a 10% discount, first call on special limited edition sets, and bonus extra samples.

From £30, including postage
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Tipple Box: cocktails in the post



Small-batch spirits and exclusive ingredients sent through the post every month, so you can make your own cocktails at home. You get two recipes, four 50ml spirits, and other exclusive ingredients.

£24 a month, including postage
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My Vitibox: Wine



With My Vitibox, you get one or two bottles of wine, a magazine with tasting cards (and a welcome gift with your first box). The ‘colours and flavours’ package is £20 a month, with the ‘red passion’ box featuring two wines chosen by Alain Gousse (former sommelier at starred restaurant La Tour D'Argent) for £30 a month.

£20/£30 a month
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Beer 52



If hops are more your thing, then perhaps Beer 52 is for you? Each month you get eight beers, a magazine, and bonus snacks for £24. All the beers are delivered to you within four-six weeks of being brewed, and you can order more if you run out. You can also send a one off gift box.

£24 a month, including postage
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Beer Merchants



Or there’s Beer Merchants. They offer ten seasonal beers a month for £30 (or £28 if you sign up for a year), and mixed cases focusing on countries, breweries and styles. On top of that there’s discounts across the site, and invites to beer events.

£28/£30 a month, including postage.
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Orchard Box


Every month you get sent eight craft ciders, two snacks, and various other goodies (you can specify vegan and gluten free too). All the ciders chosen are made with real juice, not from concentrate, and they promise you’ll never find anything in their boxes that you could find in a supermarket. 

£28.99, including postage
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Crafty Nectar


Depending on whether you fancy six or 12 bottles of craft cider a month, Crafty Nectar has got you covered. All their ciders are handpicked from around the UK, and again, you won't be finding any of these in supermarkets. The subscription is flexible so you can skip a month, or cancel anytime.

6 bottles, £28.50, including postage / 12 bottles, £41.50, including postage 

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The best gifts for whisky lovers: Stocking fillers and secret santa




Although it seems like the people of Britain just can’t get enough of their gin, believe it or not, whisky (and vodka) still outsell the juniper stuff. In that case, it’s pretty likely that you know a whisky fan or two. If you’re struggling with what to buy them for Christmas, here’s a round up of the best stocking fillers and secret santa gifts for whisky lovers.


Stocking fillers and secret santa gifts for whisky lovers


1. Drink it right: Glencairn whisky glass

Glencairn whisky glass - best gifts for whisky lovers

Recognised as the 'definitive glass for whisky', these are a must for any whisky lover. The glass even won The Queens Award for Innovation. The tapered sides help to enhance the nosing experience, and there's a solid base so it's hard to knock over, even after you've had a few. (£4.95, The Whisky Exchange)


2. Ballin’: Whale ice ball maker

Whale ice baller -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Kikkerland

Know someone who loves an Old Fashioned, and er, whales? Then it won’t get more perfect than this whale-shaped ice ball maker (£9.99 Amazon).


3. The knowledge: '101 whiskies to try before you die' book

Whisky book -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Amazon

Author Ian Buxton has been working in the Scotch whisky industry since 1987 and there aren’t many people that know more about it than him. For anyone who really loves their whisky, but wants to try something new, ‘101 whiskies to try before you die’ is the one to get (£9.09, Amazon).


4. Boozy cheese: Amber Mist

Whisky cheese - Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Snowdonia Cheese Company


Everyone likes cheese right? Well how about cheese with added booze? The Snowdonia Cheese Company’s ‘Amber Mist’ combines smoky peaty Scotch with mature cheddar. It’s £4.50 for a 200g truckle, or £35 for a whole 2kg wheel if you’re feeling generous/really hungry.


5. Feeling frisky: Whisky condiment kit



If whisky cheese isn’t enough on its own, then it’s time to talk condiments. You can now make your own whisky mustard with this kit. Or if that's too much effort, there’s a huge range of whiskey/bourbon glazes, sauces, and marinades in most supermarkets now.


6. Whisky beer

Whisky beer -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Tennent's

Can’t decide whether to get a beer related present, or a whisky one. Well, now there’s no need to compromise. You could go for the 1488 premium whisky beer (£1.95, Waitrose), or Tennent’s beer aged with whisky oak (£2.50, The Whisky Shop).


7. Nuts for whisky: Candied whisky nuts


Candied whisky nuts - Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Fireball Whisky

If you want to make a homemade gift, you can’t go wrong with candied whisky nuts. All you’ll need is some nuts, water, sugar, and whisky. This recipe suggests Fireball Whisky, but if you’re not a fan of the cinnamon then simply use something else.


8. Alcohol-free aftershave

Whisky aftershave - best gifts for whisky lovers
Image copyright: Nervermore Body Company

When you're looking for a new fragrance, you may not immediately think, 'I definitely want to smell like booze', but the folks at Nevermore Body Company have bottled whisky in a whole different way. The aftershave is alcohol free, so it's unlikely anyone will be wandering around smelling like they had a heavy night the night before. It's apparently their most popular scent. (£9.96, Etsy).


9. Whisky wedge

Whisky wedge - best gifts for whisky lovers
Image copyright: Amazon


We've already seen a wedge of whisky cheese, but now for the whisky wedge (as seen on This Morning!). For friends that love angles, slow melting ice, and drinking whisky in a triangle shape, look no further. (£18, Amazon).

10. A wee dram, or three



If you want your gift receiver to be able to drink some whisky, but you don't quite have the budget to stretch to a whole bottle, this little taster set of Glenfiddich whiskys is the one to go for. (£10, Sainsbury's)


As you've been so thoughtful thinking of lovely gifts to buy all your whisky loving friends, I think you deserve a drink.