Monday, 20 March 2017

"The Evolution of Sherry" Masterclass @ Wines from Spain

When I received my email invitation to the 2017 Wines of Spain, my first thought was: "I hope that Beltrán Domecq is going to be doing another Sherry masterclass" as his 2016 masterclass on Fine, Rare and Old Sherries was simply sublime (read my post on it last year here). I was delighted to find out that he was, with a tasting this year around "The Evolution of Sherry", so I took myself out of the main tasting hall with plenty of time and found myself at the front of the queue - I wanted to make sure I had a good spot, which I duly did!

As a it of background, Snr. Domecq is the President of the CRDO Jerez-Xérès-Sherryy Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda - essentially he is one of the most important men in the wonderful world of sherry; what he doesn't know about sherry is just not worth knowing... 

As with last year, he started off by giving us a brief, but fascinating, history of the wines from the Jerez area on southern Spain. I won't re-count all of what he said, but some of the more interesting points that I took from his introduction were how the "Solera" system was used by Bodegas who make sherry to age and develop their sherries, but also to produce a consistent, house-style and avoid vintage variation (in completely the opposite way to the world of wine). We also touched on the extraordinary breadth and variety of sherries, from pale, bright Manzanillas and Finos, through nutty Amontillados and Olorosos, to sweet and luxurious Creams and Pedro Ximénezs. 

Last year's tasting focussed on the exciting Very Old Sherries and Very Old and Rare Sherries (both official designations within the sherry system) which featured quite a few to the sweeter end of the spectrum; interestingly this year, Snr. Domecq decided to focus on the drier and lighter end of the spectrum, which was a very interesting idea. Essentially what he was trying to demonstrate was how one grape (Palomino) can be used to make such a variety of wines. 

The Tasting     

The first wine we tried actually wasn't a sherry at all, it was a Castillo de San Diego, Barbadillo, a table wine made from the Palomino grape - at 12% it was nice and light, somewhat clean and fresh on the nose and with a bright acidity to it. Given the extreme heat of the Andulusian south  (it is one of the most southerly wine producing areas in the northern hemisphere), it was impressively crisp. This was also an interesting wine, if a little unremarkable.

Now, on to the sherries! We started with a Fino Inocente (Jerez) from Valdespino/Grupo Estèvez (£13.95/bottle available from Lea and Sandeman). This was instantly more recogniseable as a sherry with that familiar oxidated nose; it also had a touch of salinity and pungency to it. On the palate it was bone-dry, but with a little body and richness to it. Very pleasant.

Next up was a Fino Tradición (Jerez) from Bodegas Tradición (£32.93/bottle available from Amazon). This was a darker wine, more amber in the glass and was much more complex on the nose with the first hints at a more nutty aroma. I also thought that I detected a little waxy, brie-like aroma. On the palate it was still dry, but there was a little smattering of bacon-style smokiness. A more complex wine, also considerably-more expensive - worth it though...

The third sherry was a Amontillado Vina AB (Jerez) from González Byass (£13.75/bottle available from Oddbins). This was a golden, amber wine in the glass and had a more pronounced nuttiness to its bouquet, reminiscent of an aged, hard cheese. On the palate, this wine had more presence and structure to it - I described it as more formidable, however this wine lacked a little in terms of finesse and class compared to the last wine. It was also a couple of points higher in terms of alcohol content (16.5%).

Continuing the Amontillado selection, sampling next the Amontillado Collection 12 años from Williams and Humbert (£8.99 - no stockist information). This was a real step up in terms of alcohol content at 19%, but you wouldn't know it from the nose - all floral and honeyed notes. On tasting, it was more angular and sharper. I didn't enjoy this sherry as much as the previous few.

Now we moved on to the first of our VORSs, a Amontillado VORS 30yo Napoleon (Sanlucar) from Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana (£44 - available from Exel Wines). This was a tawny-brown in the glass and was the complete opposite to the previous wine - it was more rounded and balanced, full of class and elegance. It had a quiet refinement and presence to it, that made you take notice of it without feeling the need to shout in your face...! 

Our penultimate sample was a Amontillado VORS 30yo Fino Imperial from Diez Mérito (no price details or stockist info). This wine was darker than all of the previous wines. On the nose it was considerably more powerful than the previous wine. On the mouth it was very salty and powerful, a very thought-provoking wine, but one that probably needed a little tapas to bring it to life.

Last up was our only trip to something that was relatively sweet, a Palo Cortado VORS 30yo from Harveys (£23.49/bottle - available from Waitrose). There was just a touch of PX added to this wine, which brings it into the "Medium" classification of sherries. On the nose, there was a touch of butterscotch to the wine, plus a sprinkling of sweet spices. On the mouth it was very welcoming and approachable, perhaps not the most elegant of wines, but it was certainly a pleasing experience in drinking it.

There you have it. Once more, a fascinating tour through the marvellous and ever-so-slightly mysterious world of sherries. I must thank Snr. Domecq again for being such an excellent guide through these wines - his passion and enthusiasm for sherry is really something to behold. 

I am already looking forward (hopefully) to his 2018 masterclass...! 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Liberty Fields Porter's Perfection vodka – review and cocktail recipes

All the way back in the ancient times of 2015, Laura came across a new discovery… Liberty Field’s Apple Aperitif. Needless to say, she was pretty smitten.

Fast forward to the Christmas of 2016 (I know, that was bloody ages ago), and a bottle arrives for me from my sister in-law. It didn’t last past Christmas, and it looks like I’m about as smitten as Laura. It’s really delicious.

Liberty Fields were recently in touch to say that they’ve launched a vodka, too. It’s also made – of course – with their lovely apples. Specifically, Porter’s Perfection red apples.

It’s hand-made in small batches on Liberty Farm – an organic dairy farm in West Dorset – and was developed with the help of Lloyd Brown, the head mixologist at the Venner Bar in Bridport, if you’re ever in the area.

How does it taste?

Annoyingly, I think Liberty Fields have the description pretty much nailed. It really is like the first bite of an apple. 

I'm not usually a neat vodka drinker, but this could change my mind. On the nose it's a bit fruity and peppery, but overall it's just very clean. Taste wise it's crisp, with a very faint hint of apple freshness, and finishing with a mild pepperiness. 

If you're in Dorset, and within 15 miles of Stalbridge, you can get free delivery from Dike & Son, but if you're a bit further afield, you can buy it from Master of Malt for £31.95.

If you can't quite handle it neat, it made a very tasty martini, or there's a bit of cocktail inspiration below.

Cocktails and perfect serves

Vodka Porter’s & Tonic
50ml Porter’s Perfection
Slice of apple that has been soaked in lemon juice
Plenty of ice, and top with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic.

Weymouth Seabreeze
50ml Porter’s Perfection
200ml cranberry juice
50ml grapefruit juice

Shake together and garnish with a slice of grapefruit.

Porter’s Pommes
25ml Porter’s Perfection
50ml Liberty Fields Apple Aperitif
75ml Fever-Tree Sicilian Lemonade

Serve over ice in a long glass with mint, cucumber and strawberries.

I'm going to have to get my hands on another bottle of the Apertif now... fortunately also available from Master of Malt for £10.40.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Avuá Cachaça: Caipirinha, Old Fashioned and Negroni recipes

There are a lot of great women doing great things in the booze world these days, and as it’s International Women’s Day, this seems like as good a time as any to highlight one.

Katia Espírito Santo is the distiller of Avuá Cachaça. She’s one of Brazil’s only female distillers (there’s more than 4,000 distillers in total), using a family recipe honed over three generations.

Cachaça is still a relatively new thing here in the UK. The World Cup and Olympics helped get people drinking Caipirinhas, but it’s still nowhere near as popular as other spirits. If you want to know more, we’ve written about the history of it here.

Avuá Cachaça launched in 2013, but has recently become available to buy off-trade, too. It consists of two single-estate, limited-production spirits: an unaged one (Prata), and one aged in Brazilian wood (Amburana).

Avuá Cachaça Prata, £30.95, The Whisky Exchange Silver cachaça rested in steel tanks for six months before bottling. It’s very crisp, with some subtle floral notes. As you’d expect, it’s great in a Caipirinha, but I also had a go making it into a cachaça Negroni.

Avuá Cachaça Amburana, £43.25, The Whisky Exchange
This cachaça has been matured for up to two years in Amburana wood casks. This maturation process gives the cachaça a warm, spicy, herby quality to it. It’s lovely to sip, as you would a brandy, but also works in cocktails you’d traditionally use whisky for.

I thought I'd have a go at some cocktails with it, from  the obvious classic, to a cachaça twist on a couple of other classics.

Cocktail recipes

Caipirinha (serves one)

1 large lime, cut into quarters and then in half again (so eight small pieces)
1-2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2-3 shots Avuá Cachaça Prata
Crushed ice

Shake it!

1. Pop the lime wedges in a tumbler, and top with the sugar.
2. Muddle them together with a wooden spoon (or a decent muddler if you have one) for about 20 seconds. This releases all the flavours and blends the sugar with the lime juice.
3. Top with crushed ice, and if you want to dilute the drink a bit, then lightly muddle the mixture again.
4. Add the cachaça, and stir well to ensure all the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, you can do all of this in a cocktail shaker, then give it a good shake and pour into the glass.

Cachaça Negroni (serves one)
30ml Avuá Cachaça Prata
30ml Campari
30ml sweet vermouth

Shake it!

Combine all the ingredients over ice in a tumbler and stir until combined. Squeeze a bit of orange peel over the drink and serve.

Cachaça Old Fashioned (serves one)


50ml Avuá Cachaça Amburana
A few drops of Angostura bitters
15ml simple sugar syrup

Shake it!

In an old fashioned glass, combine your sugar syrup and bitters. Fill your glass with ice. Slowly add in the cachaça, stirring all the time. Garnish with a slice of orange.

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 ( It will be great to see how everyone is celebrating...! 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Alcoholic tips to make Valentine's Day run smoothly

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):

  • 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

  • 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)


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

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


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.

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

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

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!