Thursday, 31 October 2013

Brilliant Beers: Harveys - The Champagne of Beers

This photo was taken from gibbo1070
as part of the CCL
I have done a number of beer posts up until now, describing them as 'one of the best beers out there' or 'one of my favorite ales'. Although both of these are true, I can safely and categorically say that Harvey's is my number 1 favorite beer.

I say this not only because it is great to drink, but it has fantastic history both throughout the country and within my family.

Originated in 1790 in Lewes, East Sussex, both the brewery and their best bitter has been a constant fixture and a staple of the South East for 8 generations. Originally associated with ports, clarets and spirits, their beer brewing started to really take shape in 1859 with porters, stouts and some mild ales. Over the generations, the family-run brewery has used traditional, local ingredients to develop one of the best known and, in my eyes, the single best beer in Britain- Harvey's Best Bitter.

Brewed using a combination of Maris Otter malted barley, fuggles and goldings hops, their own unique yeast, and rainwater filtered through the chalky downs taken from their private artesian well 60 feet below the brewery, Harvey's Best Bitter is a true British pint.

My father and his brother grew up in Lewes, a stones throw from the Brewery, and were of course brought up on the amber nectar. Similar to Guinness in Ireland, if you walk into a pub in East Sussex and ask for a 'pint', you'll get Harvey's. Dad even told me stories of the two rival pubs in the area when he was growing up: one day, their local decided to branch out and stop selling Harvey's, only to be forced into bringing it back to the pub after less than a month because all their customers had moved onto the rival pub down the road to get their Harvey's fix for the day. It was a town literally built on Harveys. And the brewery is still the focal point.

So, I appear to have built this beer up rather a lot. What does it actually taste like? Described by the men at the brewery as a 'superbly balanced session beer' you can probably understand partly why I like it so much! At 4.0% exactly, it has a prominent hop character, a sprinkle of spice and a lovely delicate mixture of citrus and nettle. Incredibly smooth, it still packs plenty of flavour, which balances out with a long and refreshing taste on the palate. For me it is exactly what I expect from a British Best Bitter: a blend of hops, pepper, tangy fruit and supple bitterness.Fantastic.
Photo taken from Real Ale Reviews as part of the CCL

It is available in a number of pubs throughout the South East, and for those Londoners out there, The Royal Oak in Borough Market are the only pub in the capital which stock it.

Many of you Londoners may have seen how busy that pub is on a Saturday throughout the day, and now you know it's because of Harvey's. Even the street isn't big enough for the number of people that flock to its gates.
Oh yes, many a weekend has been spent shivering outside The Royal Oak clutching a pint of the Harvo! But it is more than worth it.

So all this talk is great, but this beer also has some serious silverware, including winning the Best Bitter category at the Great British Beer Festival two years in a row. Yes, two years in a row from 2005-2006. And if that isn't enough, recently Piers Morgan said that Harvey's Best was 1 of 3 things he missed most about living in Britain.

Thankfully, Harvey's doesn't miss him.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get a pint of Harvey's!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Best of the Entry Level Vodkas: Zubrowka

I find that vodka is one of the least consumer-friendly products out there - it is impossible to know what is inside the bottle without research, knowledge and a bit of trial and error.

I believe that this is mainly due to the fact Vodka, far more than pretty much any alcohol, is based on marketing and the illusion of a crafted, exclusive and luxury product. This is done in conjunction with a spirit that (in my opinion) in its best form will be completely flavourless and smooth, but companies need to give you a reason to buy their own brand.

I'm not saying that all vodkas are the same (they aren't, clearly) but the branding for them now seems to build up this crazy mythology about how this vodka is centuple times distilled in the popemobile before being filtered through silver, platinum, gold, frankincense, myrrh, unicorn horn and fairy tears as if this radically improves the flavour.

Extra distillations will improve the spirit (as long as they cut out some elements before re-distilling) and filtration will too (to a very limited extent), but when vodkas are marketed as having been filtered through gold and various other expensive metals I have to call shenanigans.

Rant over. Whilst there are a ton of expensive vodkas brands trying to rip you off with marketing propaganda (see above) there are low end brands doing the same and I find that often when buying vodka for under £25 you are usually going to end up with the most unpalatable of anti-freezes.

This, however, is where Zubrowka comes in. Zubrowka is a polish vodka that is around the £20 mark (and is often on sale for a good deal less) and is made with the use of bison grass - a natural feature to the area near Bialowieza - and is named for it's local bison herd.

This isn't the plainest vodka - even on the nose there is a grassy, liquorice and marzipan-like aroma. I''m not sure if these smells come from the bison grass or not, but it is very pleasant.

On the palate Zubrowka is as smooth as you can expect a sub £30 bottle to be, and doesn't have the same strength of flavour as there is on the palate, which is a plus if you are to be mixing.
(For reference when I tasted this I did it warm with no mixer - you can expect that once chilled this would be an even better vodka, and even smoother.)

This is a great bottle of vodka, and for the price is the best you will get, I personally stay away from the Smirnoffs and Absoluts, they can't compare with this -  and what's more, they don't come with a strand of authentic bison grass in each bottle.

Zubrowka can be purchased for £20 from Sainsburys, Asda or Waitrose

Full Bodied Reds For Bonfire Night

CCL se5Forum
It's that time of year again when we celebrate Guy Fawkes for attempting to blow up a building. Maybe in years to come we will celebrate the scumbags who rioted in London. Only time will tell.
However, regardless of what is being celebrated, the fact is that we will be stood outside on a cold dark night for an extended period of time, so obviously we need booze.

It's red wine time and we need something big and warming, so here are a few of my favourites that should keep you going.


Majestic currently do a cracking Minervois 2011 from Château Laville Bertrou. This is a big-time full bodied red and at 14.5% alcohol, it's easy to see why this one is so warming. Made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, this is full of black fruit flavours with lovely peppery spice. All 3 varieties produce big reds on their own so when combined they make the perfect wine for drinking on a cold november evening! At £11.24 per bottle as part of Majestics 25% off range, this is perfect for anyone who is a wine lover and a fan of hefty reds. Pick up a bottle of Château Laville Bertrou 2011 Minervois-la-Livinière, Gérard Bertrand from Majestic.

Carmenere is a variety that is known as "merlot with balls' due to its kick of spice. The Lascar Carmenere from The Wine Society shows all that this grape has to offer and at an amazing price. at 13.5% alcohol it still carries plenty of weight and along with the supple tannins, this is a great wine for warming you up. especially god with hotdogs and mustard too, perfect for bonfire night! The Lascar Carmenere 2013 is available from The Wine Society for just £5.75.

Malbec is often the go-to grape for people who like big reds. It is full of delicious dark fruit flavours and plenty of tannin. A good malbec should have plenty in the way of tannin and because of this is often a great match for big meat dishes like steak or roast lamb. The well known Catena Malbec is an excellent wine that shows everything that Malbec has to offer. With lots of layers of flavour and a nice long finish, this is more than satisfying! You can pick up a bottle of Catena Malbec 2011 from Waitrose for £12.99.

What are you drinking this bonfire night? let us know by commenting below or on our twitter or facebook page.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Supermarket Specials: Waitrose

Afternoon booze hounds! I'm back again with some more fabulous finds from Britain's superstores. Last week it was Sainsbury's and this week I'm presenting some of Waitrose wonders. Yeah that's right, Waitrose! Three more delights from Britain's favourite middle class supermarket await you further down the page.

First up, Waitrose lager! Now, unlike other supermarkets, Waitrose don't really do a cheap French lager that costs a pittance a case. What they do do (hehe) however are a Czech, a German and a Belgian lager. For this little experiment I've chosen the Belgian (as it's the cheapest and let's face it, Belgian beer is brilliant!). It has a lively blonde colour and a nose of intense citrus fruit. The palate is rich with hints of Candied orange peel and honey. It's got a nice body to it with impressive length and a satisfying finish. Of all the regional lagers, it's the best priced at £1.78 a bottle.

Next up is the cider offering. Last week it was a Somerset cider, so I thought I'd do a bit of a variation and go for the Vintage Herefordshire Cider. A really pale straw colour, the nose is bursting with the smell of sweet Bramley apples with a hint of spice. The palate is smooth and succulent with a slight bitterness on the finish and just the tiniest of burns on the back of the throat, giving it an off dry character making for a really good thirst quencher. Proper Lush at £2.09 a bottle.

Lastly, we have Duchy by Waitrose IPA. Duchy, as many of you may know, is the organic food company started up by Prince Charles. This beer certainly has a regal bearing about it. It's a rich golden brown colour with a sweet, chocolatey nose. In the mouth, it's smooth texture is interspersed by the delights of caramel, chestnuts and a delightful hoppy zing. This is a rich and complex beer and actually one of the best IPA's I've had the pleasure of tasting in a long time, none of that namby-pamby, flouncy, pyjama knitting stuff that you get from some breweries. And to top it all off, it's only £2.09 a bottle.

So there's your money saving beers to get you through to next week when I'll be sampling the delights of Tesco!

Want Some Cheese With That Wine?

With the country in disarray from the so-called storm and the carnage which we all faced on the Monday work commute, I think we're all in need of a bit of comfort. After the stress of having to catch the bus - the bus! twice the time, half the space -  instead of the train to work, I found my mind wandering to the wines in my wine rack at home whilst the bus weaved through the country lanes.  With a couple bottles of Syrah and some crisp whites, I've decided a cheese and wine night is in order - the ultimate in dairy, boozy comfort.

Having already uttered the words 'oh god, it's dark already' and 'it's going to be so cold outside' as I prepared to leave the office yesterday, I'm almost ready to hibernate for the winter and reacquaint myself with an autumnal cheeseboard, good friends and a few glasses of vino.

So what cheese, which wine?

If it's the perfect cheese and wine match you're looking for, keep it simple and choose just one cheese with one sensational wine match - a full cheeseboard always proves more challenging but can be done. Some months ago I came across a fantastic article about cheese and wine matching in Aussie food and wine magazine, Selector, which put the art very simply; The whiter and brighter the cheese, the lighter and crisper the wine. The harder and darker the cheese, the darker and richer the wine. Regional pairings also work well, for example a goat’s cheese from the Loire Valley in France will pair well with a Loire Sauvignon Blanc.
Try these classic matches to impress friends with your wine and cheese knowledge!

Sauvignon Blanc
Soft goats or sheep’s milk cheeses
Chardonnay (oaked)
Creamy Brie or Camembert – fat food, fat wine!
Viognier, Gewurztraminer or Riesling
Sweeter cheeses like Swiss Emmental, Gouda or strong washed rind cheeses
Sticky sweet eg. Sauternes
Blue cheeses – mouldy cheese with rotted grapes!
Sparkling wine or Champagne
Hard cooked cheese like Parmesan or Gruyere
Pinot Noir or Cabernet
Lighter pressed cheeses like Gouda, Manchego
Shiraz
Mature, sharp, cheddar
Sherry
Hard cooked cheese like Parmesan or Gruyere
Port
Blue cheeses

 As a self-proclaimed wine and cheese aficionado (well, Friday night dabbler), here are a few of my favourite pairings:
Hardys Crest Chardonnay Pinot Noir NV Sparkling, £9.99, Tesco Wine, with a deli Parmesan
From the grapes used in a Champagne blend, this is full of intense strawberry flavour and plenty of bubbles - a scrumptious match for the hard, salty almost crystalline character of Parmesan.
Spring Vouvray Sec 2012, £9.95, The Wine Society*, with a salty Greek Feta. From the little loved Chenin Blanc grape and made in the Loire Valley in France, there is a generous apple flavour and lovely rounded and approachable style.

Pouilly-Fume 'Les Cascadelles' 2012, £10.99, Majestic Wines**, with a smoky goat's cheese. A benchmark Loire Sauvignon, this is zesty and crisp with citrus aromas and a smoky gunflint note. Well balanced acidity and minerality to complement the creamy, smoky goat's cheese.
Trivento Reserva Syrah, £9.50, Tesco Wine, with a mature Cheddar. Deep black fruit flavour with a little nutmeg and sweet spice, this powerful 14% red is a hit with a big flavoured Cheddar.

Campbells Rutherglen Muscat, £11.99, Waitrose, with a strong blue cheese like Stilton. Unique to the Rutherglen region of South Eastern Australia, this fortified is full of fresh raisin aroma, and is luscious and mouthfilling. Perfect for the strong, creamy Stilton.
For more great cheese and wine pairings - with a patriotic tick of approval - check out this great piece about Perfect Partners, put together by The British Cheese Board and English Wine Producers.

Cheers! Or should that be cheeeeese!

* Note that you do need to be a member to order from The Wine Society! Lifetime membership is a one-off payment of £40 **Note that minimum order is 6 bottles, but delivery is free when you spend £40

Monday, 28 October 2013

Cooking with Booze: Spicy Pumpkin Cider Soup


There's a storm blowing, so it's time to batten down the hatches and make yourself a bowl of something warming with a kick of the sauce to calm your nerves.

I decided last night that a hearty soup was needed, so I took what I had to hand and got chopping. I didn't just add the booze because I'm a sucker for the stuff - the pumpkin flavours work beautifully with cider, giving a really autumnal, tangy, flavoursome soup. I used Orchard Pig because we regularly have it in the house, but just try and find a nice dry or medium cider - the best you can afford, because the flavours do matter.

This soup is also a good meal soup if you've got leftovers that need using: between steps 3 and 4, add shredded roast chicken, or a few tablespoons of leftover rice, or even a giant handful of grated cheese, and you're onto a real winner.

Spicy Pumpkin Cider Soup recipe (serves 6-8)

Ingredients:

  • 30g Butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 'eating' pumpkin (nicer and cheaper than the carving ones), skinned, seeds removed, chopped
  • 2tsp Ras El Hanout spice (or if you can't find this, half a tsp each of ginger, nutmeg, paprika, and cinnamon)
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 400ml cider

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a pan on a medium heat, and add the onions and garlic. Allow to sizzle for about five minutes.
2. Then add the pumpkin and ras el hanout, give it a good mix to make sure the spice coats the pumpkin flesh, and turn up the heat a little. Allow the pumpkin to sweat for about 10-15 minutes, until it's just starting to go softer and yellower.
3. Add the stock and cider, and stir it up again. Bring to a gentle simmer, and leave for 20-25 minutes, or until all the pumpkin is nice and soft.
4. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for five minutes, and then blend the mixture.
5. Serve with a swirl of sour cream.

Let us know your favourite cider recipes in the comments!

Brilliant Thermal Flasks for Under £20

It's nearly Bonfire night, and I can't wait!

Every year when I was little, my Ma would pack us off to the local fireworks with sausages wrapped in foil and a thermal flask of hot chocolate. Sipping from that while I oohed and ahhed at the fireworks was one of the best parts of the night, so much so that I've never really grown out of the tradition.

Now, however, I'm more likely to fill the flask with irish coffee, or some other comforting boozy concoction that keeps us warm in much more grownup ways. These days, I also like to have a pretty flask (because I'm clearly not middle class enough) so I've been on the lookout for some gorgeous examples to share with you.



One of my faves is this Wild and Wolf typewriter flask (£16.69, Amazon) - I'd love to take this to the park and sit on a bench writing stories. Probably shit stories, but still.


Wild and Wolf are actually responsible for a great many amazing flasks (look! A Beano one!) but this scrabble flask appeals to yet another of my geeky sides. It's £17.99 from John Lewis.



They also do a world map flask, but I actually prefer this much cheaper world map flask from Urban Outfitters (it's only £14!) It's much more colourful.



Much less colourful, but no less lovely, is this Dad's Army flask (£15.42, Amazon). There's something about the words 'tea rations' that sends shivers of terror down my spine, though...



The V&A roses flask is exactly the sort of pattern my nan would have loved, meaning I obviously adore it too. It's £15.95.


Ooh, a pretty cottage in the middle of nowhere! Sounds perfect. I love this cottage flask from Cath Kidston, and it's only £16.



Lastly, and I think my favourite of the lot, is this black and white 'adventurer' balloon flask from John Lewis. A simple but gorgeous design, it makes me want to have an adventure right now. With a boozy coffee close at hand, naturally.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Friday Cocktail: Delicious Spooky Halloween Cocktails

With Halloween now just 6 days away, I'm hoping you have some awesome gruesome party plans.
Me? I'm hosting a halloween party with a healthy pinch of style. Fancy dress? Obviously. Toffee apples? Hell yes (and toffee apple martinis, too). Brilliant halloween-themed foods? Try and stop me.

But, me being me, the most important aspect of the whole night is the booze. Not just for the sake of getting tipsy with my nearest and dearest, but - more importantly - the chance to experiment, and concoct something special to toast the night.

I've come up with three spooky halloween cocktails, tried and tested, and screaming out to be shaken up good and proper. From the tropical-tasting Greener Colada, to the black and powerful Hell's Martini, to my personal favourite, the decadently floral Bloody Cham-pain.



The Greener Colada recipe

Ingredients

50ml Midori melon liqueur
30ml Malibu
25ml Lime cordial
50ml Water
Healthy squeeze Lime juice

Shake it!

1. Pour the midori and malibu into a cocktail shaker.
2. In a glass, combine the lime cordial and water. Add it to the shaker.
3. Add a squeeze of lime juice and a couple of ice cubes.
4. Shake it like you're watching a horror movie. Strain into a brandy glass, and add some sort of novelty halloween straw.


Bloody Cham-pain

Ingredients

50ml Pomegranate juice
30ml Elderflower liqueur
2-3 drops Rosewater
50ml dry rosé champagne
10ml Grenadine

Shake it!

1. Combine the pomegranate juice, elderflower liqueur, and rosewater in a cocktail shaker.
2. Shake it like a terrified child.
3. Pour into a flute, and top up with chilled pink champagne or prosecco.
4. Add a large dash of grenadine to enhance the blood-like colour and texture.


Hell's Martini

Ingredients

50ml Vodka
25ml Red vermouth
30ml Creme de cassis
Squeeze Lemon juice

Shake it!

1. Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
2. Shake it like you've just seen a ghost. Strain into a glass.

Happy Halloween, my pretties! What scary sips and terrifying tipples have you got planned?

Hobgoblin - The Unofficial Beer Of Halloween


It was a long day at work yesterday, so on my way home I thought I would treat myself to a nice bottle of beer.
While looking through the shop's rather limited selection, I notice some Hobgoblin with a special halloween label. I hadn't had Hobgoblin for ages so I picked up a couple of bottles and thought it would be PERFECT for a halloween post that would be totally vinspiring...

Brewed by the really well known Marston's Brewery, Hobgoblin is a beer that you will see everywhere. So often with the sort of booze that is all over the supermarkets, its very much run of the mill and I didn't really remember Hobgoblin as being anything too special but I was feeling adequately spooky, so the label enticed me to buy two bottles...

I was amazed at how good the beer is.

When I opened the first bottle, the colour was really nice, a really dark ruby.
It has spice on the nose but nothing too out of the ordinary, it is nicely hoppy too. On the palate though, it really is delicious. I don't know about it being a particularly scary beer, apart from the creepy little goblin bloke on the label...

If anything, this for me is quite a Christmassy beer (yes, Christmassy IS a word. Shut up). It is really nice and warming but the fact that it is 5.2% probably has something to do with that.
It has a deliciously dark flavour with a slightly burnt finish, which works in it's favour.

This would be perfect with a sunday dinner or even a back of pork scratchings (who are you trying to fool?? I know you would go for the pork scratchings).

You can pick up a bottle of Hobgoblin in just about any supermarket for around the £2 mark for a 500ml bottle.

Go out and pick up the Halloween bottles for some spooky drinking.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Decline of Trade Wine Auctions

Every festive season (and we are approaching this time of year), the trade runs a bunch of back-slapping dinners to congratulate themselves for selling more wine from Personal Failure Vineyards, or on the new Blue Meth flavoured Vodka they released in September.

These things ALWAYS end with an auction, and I have to say I've been one of those who've had a few too many shandies and have to sit on their hands because in 2009 I came away with a shooting holiday no-one wanted to come with me on. 

2013 will probably raise considerably less than it has in other years. Some will mistakenly blamed the economy - bidders are nervous about stock portfolios, tuition fees and the fact they still have to keep a mistress. Furthermore, charity is dead and what have poor people and sick people done for the trade recently?

Perhaps though, it's the auction lots themselves. Lets look at what we can stereotypically expect from the offering this year.


Cloudy Bay Vertical Tasting - 1995-2012 & One Night In Heaven.

Estimated Value £22,000

Love your Sauvignon Blanc? This one's for you! So, they're a bit old, but no matter, you don't care what it tastes like anyway. 'Having' Cloudy Bay (and we mean in the biblical sense) is every NZ SB fan's dream and we can make it a reality. 

Name a Grape.
Estimated Value £5,000

Sure, all the good ones are gone and you risk ending up something which might be related to Cinsault, but what sort of narcissist DOESN'T dream of ending up as a footnote in 'Wine Grapes'?  Your grape will enter a draw to be planted on a bit of New Zealand currently used for growing potatoes! What an honour, Mr President!

Own a Champagne House For a Week!
Estimated Value £30,000


What's it really like to own one of Champagne's middling houses? Come on a voyage of discovery with us at Maison Polongne. Spend your week tasting all the wines, including the 'exciting' vin clairs! Spend your week wading through requests for samples from tiny independent retailers you've never heard of! You make all the decisions! Is the London market drying up? Get the Eurostar there to try convince sommeliers that they need to list not just the NV, the vintage and the rose but the demi-sec, ultra-but and organic lines too! 



Be an MW for a day!
Estimated Value £12,000



What fun! Imagine a day where you can turn up anywhere and demand to be bowed down to! You will be able to sample the lifestyle of your favourite wine heroes, writing column after column with no editor daring to touch. You'd know everything about wine for the day! Like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz. Drop it into your emails! Ring your broker! Turn up at tastings and exclaim loudly 'I'm an MW, now where's the buffet?'



Maybe it's me, maybe I'm getting cynical, but I long for the good old days when the lots were being taken out drinking with ex-Scotland rugby players and seeing how many pint glasses we could balance on our foreheads.

Photo taken from StockMonkey's photostream under the CCL.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Whisky Regions

Photo used under Wikimedia Licence
It can all be a bit befuddling when trying to pick a new scotch: there is so much information on a whisky label, but then again sometimes there is also a supreme lack of info, neither of which is very helpful.

Quite often I find that most people have no way of knowing what to expect from a bottle and, if they have had a few whiskies in the past, will only know how they place those in their own mind in isolation, unaware of their place in the grand scheme of things.

The secret is that - like wine - the whisky producing regions of Scotland do have a general style which can be as significant and pronounced as those between Beaujolais and Rhone.

There are 6 defined producing areas in Scotland and they do vary in the style of whisky that they create - some are just minor differences, but in other cases the stylistic difference can be staggering.


Photo by Bob Freund used under CCL
Lowlands: The Lowlands are pretty much one of the smallest producing regions in Scotland by way of volume - there are only a few working distilleries. The whiskies made here are generally lighter and more aromatic, with floral, herbaceous and grassy notes as a result of the use of little peat and also their use of triple distillation in most cases.

Notable distilleries: Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie


Photo by Michel Guilly used under
creative commons licence
Highlands: The Highlands is the area North of the theoretical line between Dundee and Greenock, and covers a huge area of Scotland. There are over 25 working distilleries in the area and due to it's expanse it can be difficult to categorise the Highlands to one particular style. These whiskies are generally fuller bodied than those in the Lowlands but range in sweetness and strength of flavour, with some distilleries producing more heavily peated whiskies.

Notable distilleries: Glenmorangie, Oban, Old Pulteney and Dalwhinnie

Photo byYves Cosentino under CCL
Speyside: Speyside is strictly speaking an area within the Highlands, and has the greatest amount of distilleries - over half of those in Scotland - with more than 80 currently working today. They sit on the sweeter end of the scale, and sherry casks are used widely in the heavier styled malts, whilst the lighter drams are more floral in nature.

Notable distilleries: Balvenie, Glenfarclas, The Glenlivet and The Macallan

Photo by dtietze1 used under CCL
Cambeltown: Cambeltown sits on the west coast of Scotland as a peninsula a little south-west of Islay.  Unfortunately Cambeltown has suffered a true fall from grace with now only 3 of the former 21 distilleries in operation. These whiskies are medium to heavy-bodied and they do feature peat influences, however can be easily told apart from the whiskies of Islay due to more salt on the finish.

Notable distilleries: Springbank and Glen Scotia

Photo by helen_1977 used under CCL
Islay: Here there be Peat Monsters! There are 8 distilleries on Islay all displaying a smokey, medicinal nature due to the use of peat.

However, each distillery has a slightly different style, for example Bruichladdich's standard whisky soft, rounded and lighter, while still peat based, whereas Ardbeg is full-on, robust, angry, aggresive, in your face, over the top, mental smoke and peat.

Some of the distilleries (Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain) produce a lighter, less peaty style though, for those looking for just a touch of the smoke.


Photo by Tamara Poaljnar used
under CCL
Notable distilleries: Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich and Lagavulin

Islands: The Islands are a largely regarded as a sub-region of the Highlands, however there is a wealth of interesting and different distilleries here - I and others feel that it is worthy of it's own categorisation.

Like the rest of the Highlands it can at times be hard to categorise this region, as the different distilleries do vary greatly with their location and proximity to the sea. The whiskies do often have a light peat character with sea notes in the form of salt and seaweed.

There are lots of wonderful whiskies from this region and they do really cover the spectrum from the light and elegant to the heavier and more complex tipples.

Notable distilleries: Highland Park, Talisker and Jura


Whilst these generalities are just that, generalities, they can be helpful when faced with a wall of bottles at your local whisky emporium.

If you are looking for gifts, or just to expand you own collection, then a nice thing to try is another whisky from the same region. It can be really interesting to try more and more that do have stylistic similarities, but then tasting the vastly different characters that they impart by result of the distillery location, age in cask, the type of cask, bottling strength and so on it is a wonderful adventure... and a that's what it's all about.

13 Spooky Wines for Halloween


AARRGGHHH! Halloween is nearly here. It's that time of year again, when children who probably shouldn't be out by themselves after dark egg defenceless old people's houses and then demand sweets. Aaah how magical...

Us folks who are now too old to get away with dressing up and knocking on peoples doors at night without coming across as burgulars or murderes will most likely be in with some friends celebrating the spookiest night of the year.

"But what to drink!?" I hear you ask. Or maybe I'm imagining things. Either way, here are some wine suggestions that are are fittingly spooky.



1.  Ghost Corner Sauvignon Blanc, £17.95, Slurp

Wooooh! A scary sauvignon if ever I heard of one, perfect for an evening of tall tales and things that go bump in the night. It's not just a good name - this wine also won a trophy at the Decanter Wine Awards this year.




2.  Bulls Blood, £19.99 at Selfridges.
This appropriately gory named 'Bulls Blood' is a classic wine from Hungary. Often over looked for the much more famous Tokaji, this is a red made from native grape varieties. Selfridges do the delicious Bolyki Egri Bikaver which is made from Kefrankos with a little bit of Merlot and Blauburgunder. This is a rich, full bodied wine, perfect for drinking when dressed as a vampire...
Bolyki Egri Bikaver is available from Selfridges for £19.99



3.  The Waxed Bat Shiraz Cabernet Malbec, £8.99, Laithwaites

A brilliant, gold, spooky label and a name evocative of vampire's lairs - I like the sound of this already. I actually tasted this about a year ago, and it made a jolly good accompaniment to a Sunday roast - so its smooth, juicy flavours won't disappoint either.





4.  Monsters Attack Riesling, £15.99


Oh yes, that's right, its our friends Some Young Punks again. Monsters Attack is a bloody delicious reisling that is perfect to get you in the mood for the little shits monsters knocking on your door, demanding sugary goodness, or one of them will set fire to your car.
This is a classic aromatic riesling that is nicely complex. We have written about Some Young Punks before so go have a read, or the monsters WILL attack and they WILL burn your house down if you don't have lemon sherbet, or whatever bloody kids eat nowadays.
Monsters Attack is available from the ever-so-good Drink Finder for £16.99


5.  Charles Smith 'The Velvet Devil' Merlot, £12.95 at Slurp

Not only is this a tastefully dark and spooky-labelled wine, it's also a chance to try an American wine from outside California - this is from Washington. Now you can be scared, tipsy AND learn something new...


6.  7 Deadly Zins, Michael David, Lodi, £16.99 at Adnams

A sinful name, but also a cracking example of a Zinfandel from the excellent Lodi region in California. This is rich, earthy and concentrated - a delicious bottle to curl up with whilst hiding from trick or treaters...



7.  'Evil' Cabernet Sauvignon, £15.99 at Noel Young Wines

This wine just looks plain terrifying, if I'm honest. But I'm told it's really rather tasty... do you dare try it?



8. The Spectre Riesling, £29.99 at Red Squirrel Wines

This isn't the branding you'd necessarily expect from a German wine, but that's exactly what this is, although this is no ordinary riesling. It's made by the WMD guys (we've told you about them before) - two winemakers who make a 'pop-up' wine in a different region each year, always with spectacular results.



9. Bogle 'Phantom' red, £18.01 at Excel Wines

A concentrated California red with powerful dark flavours of black pepper, fig and anise.


10. Castle of Dracula Marsecco, £10.95 at Tilly Wines

As well as an absolutely stunning label (and suitably eerie name) this wine is a lovely example of the Marzemino grape that is slowly gaining popularity in the UK, although it's been popular in Italy for yonks and apparently even Mozart was a fan.


11. Spellbound Petite Sirah, £15.95 at Berry Brothers

This Berry Brothers offering is made by legendary Californian producer Robert Mondavi (Junior!), so you know it's going to be good. I'm a big, big fan of petite sirah as well - so if you haven't already tried this grape, this would be a very good start indeed. Silky, red-fruit flavoured wine with a liquorice finish. Gorgeous.



12. Little Demon Cabernet Merlot, £12.25 at Tilly's Wine

A lovely Australian blend with suitably dark and savoury flavours for the spookiest night of the year.




13. Casillero del Diablo wine collection, all good supermarkets

If you run out of time or just want something simple, every supermarket sells the Casillero del Diablo range. Diablo of course means 'devil' in Spanish, and... well... the labels have sort of blood-red writing on them? It's a stretch, but at least after our review of the Casillero del Diablo range last year you know it's good value stuff.

There's also the Casillero Devil's Collection Red (pictured above), which is currently on offer at Tesco for just £6.99 a bottle.


That should be enough to wet those fangs, or if you REALLY want to scare your friends, you could serve a bottle of Gallo rosé, but we all know you aren't that evil...

What are you drinking for halloween? We would love to know. Tell us by commenting below or on our twitter and facebook pages.

header image taken from Pedro J. Ferreira's photostream under the creative commons license.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Supermarket Specials: Sainsburys.

We've all been there, floating around the beer aisle of the supermarket looking to get the best beer for the least amount of money. More often than not, the immediate response is to disregard the own label bottles and focus on the brand names. WOAH THERE! Let's not be too hasty! Back up a bit and let's reconsider the supermarkets efforts.

I'm not talking about the 2% value lager that tastes more like week old bath water, but having a look at some of their premium range stuff. More and more people are buying supermarket label wine nowadays, so why do we ignore the beers and ciders?

Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking a lager, a cider and an ale and taking you through some of my most favourite finds from the supermarket shelves. This week, it's Sainsbury's.

First up is everyone's favourite bottom-fermented brew, lager. Every supermarket has a one of these, the cheap French lager that comes in stubby bottles. Quite often you'll see it at something ridiculous like £15 for a case of 30. Sainsbury's version known as the St. Cervois is a cracking brew that represents value and no nonsense.

 Give it a sniff and you'll find the classic beer hallmarks of malt and citrus. In the mouth it's smooth and full bodied with a slightly sweet twist at the end. It's perfect for when you don't care about standing on ceremony, and neither does your beer. £3.69 for 8 bottles. WHAAATT!!

Next up is Sainsbury's Original Somerset cider. It has a rich, honeyed colour, with orchard smells such as pear blossoms and well...apples leaping out of the glass.

Sometimes Somerset ciders can be an acquired taste with a little bit too much bitterness. This however is succulent and sweet throughout with just a little bit of a bite towards the end. £1.79 a bottle. Sure, you can get even more hammered on a big bottle of white cider for a similar price, but let's be honest, we're not 14 any more.

Finally, from the ever popular Taste The Difference range comes Sainsbury's Taste The Difference IPA. A very distinctive amber colour, it has whiffs of toasted barley and almond. After it's initial warming toasty flavour, the classic malt flavours coat the palate, giving way to a fresh bitterness and a long dry finish. What's more, it's on offer for 3 for £5! Otherwise it's £1.89 a bottle.

So don't just go straight to the Hobgoblins or Rekordeligs or Fosters and try out what the supermarkets are putting their names too. You will be pleasantly surprised.

P.S. While I was tasting, I mixed together the remaining Somerset Cider and IPA to make a snakebite. I can highly recommend this!

Top photo taken from the awesome BitchBuzz's photostream in accordance with the Creative Commons License.