Friday, 12 August 2016

Hip Hydration: DRINKmaple Maple Water

"Amazing water doesn't grown on trees, it grows in them!"

Cheesy slogan aside, you can probably tell that carton of coconut water to do one as there's a new(er) health drink in town; DRINKmaple.

One of nature's masterpieces, maple water was discovered hundreds of years ago by Native Americans, though it's only thanks to the current health food obsession that it has started appearing on our shelves. There's such a high demand for drinks that not only taste great but also help nutritionally these days, and let's not forget that Beyoncé swears by this stuff. If it's good enough for Queen B, then it's good enough for me.

If you're wondering where exactly maple water comes from - *scratches head* - it is 'collected' by simply tapping maple trees (a process that doesn’t damage them) and allowing the water, jam-packed with a host of nutrients and minerals the trees have amassed through their roots, to run into buckets. The organic maple water is then bottled without anything being added or taken away and without any boiling. Job done.

The brand DRINKmaple sprang to life thanks to two American Ironman triathletes - wowzas - who discovered that maple water offered the most refreshing drink they could find. Created in a tree and not in a lab, it's super hydrating and naturally good for you; proof that ''Mother Nature is the best chemist.''

It has a very subtle maple-y sweet flavour, but unlike maple syrup (which is the tree's water boiled down), it isn’t high in sugar. In fact maple water has only about half the sugar of coconut water (less than 1.5g per 100ml), but does contain 46 other nutrients, including more manganese than a cup of kale – a nutrient which plays an important role in our bodies’ energy systems. We'll all be training for Ironman in no time then.

If I'm being 100% honest, I wasn't too sure about the taste of DRINKmaple; I think I was expecting a bolder maple flavour. However, putting it in smoothies for breakfast every morning changed my opinion (see the suggested recipes below). It's much lower in calories and much more thirst quenching in comparison to using something like almond milk, it has a neutral taste which doesn't fight against other flavours, and its natural sweetness means that you don't need to add any additional sweeteners - much more wholesome.

Saying that, the thing which first made DRINKmaple grab my attention was an intriguing cocktail recipe - goodbye all virtuous intentions. And seeing as I tried (pretty unsuccessfully) some boozy coconut water concoctions a while ago, I needed to do a comparison, right?

With a mix of rye whisky, maple water, mint and angostura bitters, I was a little hesitant, but I needn't have been; it slipped down in an instant. Fresh and punchy, it was wonderfully balanced and an unexpected treat! It has a bit of a summer vibe about it thanks to the mint, but with the weight of the whisky lurking behind, it could easily be an all-year-round beverage that I'd make again and again.

To test DRINKmaple's alcoholic versatility, I tried it in an Americano cocktail; Campari, sweet vermouth and maple water. Another winner; the bitterness from the Campari counteracts the sweetness from the other components, and it made a silky and refreshing aperitif. If you're trying to get into Negronis and other bitter drinks, this is the way to ease into it.

If these slightly more health conscious cocktails haven't twisted your arm, then maybe this will; for every bottle sold, 200 gallons of fresh clean water is supplied to individuals in developing nations beset by drought and disaster through the organisation More Than Sport. Buying DRINKmaple not only does you good, but helps others too!

So, whether you’re looking for a tastier thirst quencher for your gym session or an interesting base for a party cocktail pitcher, then look no further than DRINKmaple.

You can find buy it via Ocado, Wholefoods, Planet Organic and over 200 other stores, including Selfridges, Revital and Harvey Nichols. Prices range from £1.99 for a 250ml Tetra to £3.99 for 946ml.   For more recipes, visit the DRINKmaple website.

Maple Smash

1 shot WhistlePig 10 Year Rye Whiskey
1 shot DRINKmaple maple water
Dash of maple syrup
2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
Muddled mint and lemon

Shake all ingredients and serve over ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!


1 shot Campari
1 shot sweet vermouth
1 shot DRINKmaple

Fill a glass with ice. Pour in all the ingredients, stir and serve. 

Watermelon Mint Maple Water Cooler

1 cup of diced seedless watermelon
1/2 cup of DRINKmaple
1/2 cup ice
6 leaves of fresh mint
Optional: to make this an alcoholic drink, add a shot of vodka

Combine all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Maple Cold Brew Coffee Smoothie
(serves two)

1 cup DRINKmaple pure maple water
1/4 cup of cold brew coffee concentrate
2 tbsp. chia seeds
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup ice

Blend all ingredients and enjoy!

Maple Cherry Chocolate Smoothie
(serves two)

1 1/4 cup DRINKmaple maple water
3/4 cup frozen cherries
1 pear
2 tbsp. cacao powder
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1 tbsp. natural unflavored protein powder
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup ice

Blend all ingredients and enjoy!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Confessions of a Wine Geek...
Photo taken from under CCL

"Hi, my name is Tim Milford and I am a Wine Geek."

I imagine that loads of people would say that they like wine. Lots would say that they LOVE wine. But for me my love affair has gone further than that; I am fascinated and beguiled by wine. I find its subtleties, intricacies and variabilities amazing. I find the artistry, craft, precision, history and tradition of the people that make it astounding. There is no doubt about it - I am a Wine Geek. There is nothing wrong, of course, with being a Wine Geek. I would also say that the fellow Wine Geeks that I have been lucky enough to meet have to be some of the nicest, most generous people I have had the good fortune to come across. 

So, how do you know if you are a Wine Geek too? Here are some tell-tale signs, let me know how many apply to you - needless to say, I am guilty of all of the below...!

1) You (try) to keep meticulous wine notes

Early on in my wine love-affair I was given a Christmas present which was a year's subscription to the wine magazine "Decanter" (see symptom no.2). My favourite section each month was Michael Broadbent's column, I loved his debonair style and, frankly, I lusted over the wines and wine makers that he nonchalantly tossed around. He would mention trying a 1934 Lafite or Mouton-Rothschild as if it were an every day occurence, but always seemed so warm and gregarious in doing so. He said in one of his columns something that I have always tried to do, which was that one should keep meticulous notes on everything that one tastes. Why is that? Well, it helps you to remember what you've tried, plus it makes you look up which sub-region the particular wine comes from. Furthemore as you taste more and more wines it helps you remember them!
I personally use an Excel spreadsheet (see above for evidence...). I know some people like to use apps like Vivino, but I don't like the idea of putting all that precious information into one app and then becoming dependent on it. What I also like Excel for is that I can do searches. I might, for instance, think I fancy writing a post about German Spätburgunders in a few weeks - a quick search allows me to pull my tasting notes of all of those wines with ease. I think this is one of the defining characteristics of geekery - the desire to catalogue and record information about your passion. I know a few people who DJ and they say that behind all of the on-stage showpersonship, they have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their chosen music genre and can name all of their thousands of records to you. I now have notes on over 300 different wines that I have tried; I don't quite manage Mr Broadbent's instructions to note every wine, but I try to get as many as I can...!     

WP_20160127_20_31_06_Pro2) You get given wine-related gifts for your birthday/Christmas

As you develop your love for all things wine it starts to spread. Your friends and loved ones start giving you wine related gifts for birthdays/anniversaries/Christmases all aimed at supporting your geekery.

Case in point for me was last year when my wife got me a Coravin for Christmas, which is quite frankly brilliant. I wrote a piece about it for  Vinspire which you can read here.

3) You become determined to try all of the obscure grapes and regions that you can

Socrates was once told that he was wise, to which he responded "wisest is he who knows that he knows nothing". This is how I feel about wine, every time I feel that I learn a bit more about wine it opens up another subject area that you want to learn about. You think you know about Italian wine and then you discover that there are over 350 different authorised grapes within Italy! 

Furthermore, when you come to read pieces from those people who REALLY know about wine you understand that they have devoted their entire lives to trying to understand wine and, usually, have managed to become experts in just a couple of these areas.

For the last few years I have been on a personal mission to try as many different grapes as possible in what I suppose equates to the wine version of "Pokemon Go". There is a club known as the Wine Century Club to which the only entry criteria is that you have to be able to say that you have tried at least one hundred different grapes. I achieved this last year (something I tracked through my wine spreadsheet) and am waiting for my membership to be acknowledged - it will be a proud day when it is!  

Basically a pilgrimage
4) You start to plan your holidays around visiting vineyards/wine regions

This is when you are getting to serious levels of geekery. You try shoe-horning the topic of holiday destinations to places where you could enjoy some nice wine tasting. "I've heard that California is a lovely place to visit, my dear. Also Reims is meant to be beautiful at this time of year..." 

Over the next couple of years I am planning trips to Tuscany, Australia and New Zealand. All beautiful places, yes - but the common theme? I'll leave you to decide that...

5) You start spending too much time talking to sommeliers in restaurant

This one really drives my wife crazy. Pre-wine geek phase the conversations with sommeliers went something like this:

Me: "I'm having the beef and my wife is having the lamb, can you recommend something nice?"
Somm: "Of course, sir."

That was it.

Now we tend to get involved in more in-depth discussions about the wines. I must say that I still like to ask for their recommendations, after all it is their wine list and they know it best; sometimes they'll throw in a real curve ball, something you'd never have picked. The good thing about this is that should you dislike the match then they will usually let you select a different bottle. 

One of the good things that I've found about making friends with the sommelier is that they know that you are serious about your wine, which they usually are too. Sometimes I've found they've got something open that they think is really interesting and they'll give you a little sample of!

6) You start practicing wine tasting/smelling

I am not a naturally great taster, either nose or palate. As such I have to work quite hard to practice my wine tasting (see symptom no. 7) to work on my aroma and flavour memory. I have found that this has meant that I have started seeking out unusual tastes and smells so that I can build up my descriptions of wines. After all, the purpose of writing about wine is find a way of describing the profile of a wine to the reader in ways that they can comprehend. I did find myself smelling some magnolias in Kew Gardens and exclaiming, "wow - these smell just like a lush, juicy Gewürz"!! 

One of my favourite presents I received recently (see symptom no. 2) was a rather lovely kit (see above) that contains 54 different synthesised aromas in little bottles. The purpose of this kit is to allow the budding Wine Geek to practice their smelling against these aromas. After all, what does hawthorn smell like? What about lychee? These are commonly used descriptors in the trade and it is very helpful to have gotten acquainted with these.

7) You take a course in wine tasting

So, you've committed to a life of wine geekery; the obvious next step is to take a course in it! Why? Well, from a knowledge perspective they help fill in some of the technical information about the wine industry. I think that is what separates the wine lover from the Wine Geek. The wine lover is quite happy just appreciating wine, whereas the geek needs to know how it is made - after all it is the magic and nuance of the wine-making process that means that vineyards that are separated by incredibly small distances can produce distinctively different wines and that they can range in price dramatically.

Most people do their wine courses through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) who have got a well structured and comprehensive educational programme that takes you from complete novice, through tasting exams, blind tasting exams, to dissertations and diplomas. Those who are really serious go through the Master of Wine or Master Sommelier qualifications which are, quite frankly, terrifying. If you haven't seen the film "Somm" about a group of prospective Master Sommelier students then I urge you to do so (it's on Netflix). Their blind tasting abilities are frankly astonishing (even if some of them are intensely dislikable!) 

8) You start a blog about wine

So, your Wine Geek levels have reached maximum levels; you're essentially a wine version of Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory". What's the obvious next step? Right a blog about it, of course. After all, your friends are unlikely to be fascinated by the fact that you've just picked up a rather funky and daring Vin Jaune. Who are you going to share your tasting experiences with? Well, the fortunate part of living in the Information Age is that through blogs and social media it is possible to make contact with lots of fellow wine geeks all around the world and share your experiences with them.

There you have it, my eight signs that you may be a Wine Geek. If you find yourself ticking these off, don't worry about it - you're in good company... Embrace your inner Wine Geek!

Acknowledgement: I should also credit the title of this blog, which I have stolen with pride from a blog title that a good friend of mine, Ant from The Grape Escape in Cheltenham, used to write. It was too good a title not to use... Thanks, Ant!