Wednesday, 24 December 2014


Vinspire's Christmas party last weekend


You may be able to tell that we are somewhat excited (and probably quite a bit merry) already about the next few days' festivities. We've bought the booze that will see us through to New Year and we're snuggled up in our dreadful Christmas jumpers and ready to party hard with our nearest and dearest.

2014 has been a cracker of a year for us, and we're thrilled with some of our drinks discoveries. So we thought we'd fill our last post of the year with our 2014 drinks highlights:


Where do I start? For me, I'd say the highlight has been finding such a nice bunch of brilliant, new total drinks geeks to make friends with thanks to this very blog. We've welcome several new writers this year - including the wonderful Adam and Lucienne, and the lovely Tim joined us as a full-time contributor (at last!) - and they've taught me (and hopefully you!) so much with their informative, enthusiastic and original blog posts.

Thanks to Tim, we had our first ever Wine Secret Santa, and it was awesome! We can't wait to do it again next year. He also made me discover wine shop Theatre of Wine, who champion weird and wonderful finds like this red wine from Crete, which was one of our most popular wine posts of the year. Seeing these less fashionable but exquisite wines finally get the popularity they deserve is ace.

Similarly, the kick-arse Lucienne introduced us to orange wine (oh yes - and it's from a supermarket!) and also taught me about amazing new stuff like Smith & Sinclair's cocktail sweets and Bath gin - which has a cheeky Jane Austen on the label! She also gave me recipes for whisky maple French toast and cachaca-marinated steak = <3

Adam was a total recipe whizz too - I particularly love making his sausage and pale ale frittata! - and his easy sangria recipes were just amazing. And his two-part Beer Lovers Guide to Bruge travel guide was enough to make anyone book Eurostar tickets straight away.

I've got to admit, making my first ever cocktail how-to video for the Sun and Tonic was a personal highlight, too.

It's been an amazing year - I can't wait to see Vinspire grow even more in 2015.


Wow. What a year! *slushy sentence alert* I’m still super chuffed to be writing for Vinspire; I couldn’t have met a nicer bunch of people, and they’ve each taught me so much! It’s pretty hard to pin down my favourite posts of the year – there are too many good’uns – but here it goes...

Friday cocktails are a regular occurrence in my house, so Laura’s experiments with The Bitter Truth Cocktail Bitters were right up my street; gorgeous recipes and gorgeous photos to boot. Yes, yes, yes. I should also give her a special mention for doing Vinspire’s first how-to video. That Sun & Tonic is DELICIOUS; gin, elderflower, grapefruit and orange blossom... She’s a girl after my own heart.

I guess I’ve been on a bit of a wine voyage of discovery this year. I don’t have a lot of confidence in my grape knowledge, so I don’t tend to write about wines very often, but after going to a Greywacke tasting in October, I had to share my experience. THAT Chardonnay – what a treat! I even bought a bottle to take to our Vinspire Christmas Party!

But if we’re talking tastings, then Tim’s the guy to go to. He’s always making me green with envy with his epic posts. I did love his ‘Extreme Wine Tasting’; I kind of imagined him abseiling down a cliff, wine glass in hand, trying to jot down some notes with 100mph wind blasting at him from every direction... Just me?

Ok, I know these aren't drinks, but they're frickin' awesome recipes... I've bookmarked this badass G&T Can Chicken that Adam teased us with. Once I've clambered out of the dark depths of winter and require something that isn't laced with port or mixed spice, then this is sure to brighten up any of my post Christmas blues. Jo’s Tequila Glazed Ribs are a must too; pass me the Margaritas! And I'm DEFINITELY making this Whisky Maple French Toast again over the holidays. You could even whack some ice cream on it and it'd be fit for a dessert. Oh, and what I failed to mention last time is that any leftover whisky-maple syrup helps make the most amazing whisky sour cocktail. YUM.

Finally, this has been making me laugh since July; How I Think I Look When I Sabre A Champagne Bottle Vs How I Actually Look. My chap’s determined to give it a go this Christmas... I’ll let you know how it goes!


The end of the year always feels like a good time to take stock of what's happened over the last year and start laying down plans for the next one.

I've been to some incredible tastings during the year, although none quite as dramatic as Lucienne imagined...! My highlights from the year were: the Donnhoff tasting at Theatre of Wine, the J.J.Prum tasting from West London Wine School (just, wow!), Wine Car Boot Number 4 (even if I did miss my train station a spectacular three times afterwards, long story...), a Port tasting at Churchill's Port House as part of London Wine Week and a couple of wine holidays to Italy and Germany. Wow, it's a wonder I remember anything of 2014!

I'm also really proud that we're making Wine Secret Santa happen this year. My wine has arrived and I can't wait to open it on Christmas Day! If you've missed out this year then worry not, we will be running it again next year.

This has been my first full year on the Vinspire Team and I have had a blast. I've got loads of great ideas for posts in 2015 and can't wait to share them all with you. Having met the team now, I can assure you that they are not just fantastic writers, but they are also really, seriously lovely people.


I had a great year of boozy discoveries and whilst I'm am laid low with a bit of the lurgey and am off the sauce there are still loads of different spirits that I feel are worth reminiscing about.

Whilst not a particular spirit, beer or wine I have to say that my trip to Bordeaux with Matthew was a real high point, this opened my eyes to the wines that are available and has prompted me to explore more old world wines that I hadn't bothered with for being under-ripe and overly-expensive.

One of the first things I think of looking back at the year in terms of the bottles on my shelf are the amazing rums from El Dorado, the range is just brimming with quality and is fairly reasonable too. I am planning on picking up my own bottle of the 15yr old in the New Year when the financial strain of Christmas is over.

Another recent favourite is the rhubarb gin from Warner Edwards which was just released a couple of months ago. I loved the spicy sweetness of this gin with such a full body, this was like the perfect sloe gin for me with lots of depth and perfect for the winter time.

Now, onto the whisky... I have been drinking a whole lot more recently covering the Whisky advent Calendar, it's a job and someone's got to do it. There have been some great drams in there, but a few more still to come that I expect will knock my socks off. One of my faves for the year was the Ardbeg Uigeadail, this is heavy and complex with great body and perfect balance between the peat and the sherry notes. Another Islay whisky features amongst my top spots, Bunnahabhain. Whilst this is very classic Islay with full-on campfire smoke and peaty goodness, I really enjoyed it as a unique dram amongst all the other smoke monsters that are available from Islay.

Finally, the Glendronach 15yr revival really has to take my top spot for whiskies - I really loved this dram and am just now coming to the end of my bottle. It is still fantastic and worth every penny, I truly suggest that any dram fan who hasn't tried this to get one ordered straight away.

Those are my top booze picks for the year, goodnight and god bless.


Well, what a year I've had. From a humble pub landlord to self-professed internet blogger sensation, 2015 has been the culmination of years of hard work, with a main highlight winning the Let There Be Beer 'Britain's Best Pub Landlord' competition.

I've also tried more stuff - loads more stuff in fact. I discovered my favourite beer (La Socarrada, brewed in Spain with Rosemary Honey & Rosemary), my favourite rum (Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva), and my favourite cocktail - The Vesa at The Hippodrome Casino, with Hendricks, Cucumber, Kiwi & Elderflower.

I also 'found myself' during beer pilgrimages to Dublin & Bruges, where I consumed an enormous amount of Belgian beer, and visited De Halve Maan Brewery, all in the company of my favourite person in the world, Adele.

In addition to all that, I infused my own gin, set into motion brewing my own beer (next year now), home-brewed loads of Cider, wrote lots of recipes, incredible recipes (even if I do say so myself) for things like Stout-Battered Smoked Haddock & Chips, and my Coffee, Beer & Chocolate Chilli.

There's loads of things planned for next year, and I can't wait to share them with all of you, but finally, I'm incredibly humbled to be part of such a great writing team, and am truly thankful for everyone putting up with my terrible grammar. I'm so happy that people enjoy what I have to say, and that I can stand up next to such talented people as Laura, Hugo, Tim & Lucienne. I wish them, and YOU the very best Christmas and a brilliant 2015.


I have enjoyed possibly the best boozy year ever (and that even includes my first year at university)! I furthered my career in the wine industry and achieved a piece of paper that pretty much authorises me to give wine advice. It's been a year of so many new discoveries and with more and more breweries and distilleries opening their doors I can't wait to see what 2015 serves up.

While there have been many highlights, 2014 really has been a year for the beer. My love affair with US beer hit an almost inappropriate level with the main protagonist being Goose Island IPA, which also featured in my Top 5 US beers.

There was a particularly awesome Icelandic number in the Einstok White Ale, a must try for any beer enthusiast. I found a new love affair in porter which just so happened to feature at the aforementioned Icelandic brewery and the beautiful Anchor Brewery.

It's also been an absolute blinder for brewers on the home front. With the great folk over at Best of British Beer officially winning my website of the year award (trophy's in the post chaps), they've opened my eyes to so many great brews that I never knew were right on my doorstep. From Meantime (thank you Matthew), Ticketybrew and Camden Brewery it's been a great year for us Brits.

I'm torn for top spot between possibly my two favourite breweries of the year. On the one hand there's the lip smackingly good Wiper and True or the mind bending awesomeness from The Celt Experience. For now, I'll just raise a glass to them both and say that I cannot wait to see what they bring to the table in the new year.

Most of all, here's to all of you for showing an interest in what is essentially the ramblings of a half cut man with a love of beer. Cheers!

Whatever your plans, traditions or circumstances, we hope you have a wonderful time this week. We'll be back on 5th January - who knows what 2015 will bring?!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Whisky advent Day 20: The Girvan Patent Still No.4 Apps

Girvan is a Lowland distillery that was set up to provide a supply of grain whisky for blends, but now alongside that release various single grain whiskies.

No.4 Apps is named after the still that it is produced in, it has no age statement, however, due to its colour it appears that it may be quite young, unless the Oak used was virgin with virtually no char.

On the nose this is fairly light in body with confected sweets, pine
apple, pear, some meringue with vanilla and zesty lemon peel with perhaps the lightest tiny touch of Dr.Pepper chucked in there. The nose is really quite light and doesn't have the greatest amount of depth or complexity, but doesn't really have any off notes.

On the palate again this is light, perhaps a little watery without much body or significant mouthfeel however, the spirit isn't harsh as i had expected with it being easily drinkable and "smooth" (at least to my palate) without the addition of any water. There are notes of boiled sweets, very light caramel, some honey and a little spice. There isn't a whole lot going on here honestly no real depth or complexity and not one that I'd buy, but it is easy to drink and is interesting as a first look at single grain whisky if you want to get into that.

The Girvan Patent Still No.4 Apps is available at Master of Malt for perhaps a slightly over-reaching £43.84

Christmas Cardamom & Orange Eggnog

Photo: Giuseppe Milo under CCL
It's here.. It's FINALLY here! Christmas is THIS WEEK. *Woops and hollers all round*

There's no point in giving you more gift guides; you've probably finished all your Christmas shopping, and the smug ones amongst you will have wrapped them up and tucked them under the tree. If that's you, sit back, relax, and feast your eyes on this delicious recipe (then quickly muster up the energy to go out and get the ingredients - trust me, you'll want to!)

Most of us will have heard all about eggnog at this time of year - though it's more of an American tradition - it's that sweet-boozy-creamy drink that's super frothy thanks to whipped egg whites. Sure, I'll admit the name doesn't do it any favours, and the fact that it has raw eggs in will make some people instantly click the 'close' button... But trust me on this one, it really is good!

I've shunned 'the original' recipe (with brandy, vanilla and nutmeg), and gone down the fragrant spice route; cardamom and orange. I thought it'd be quite a faff to make, which is probably why I've never made it before, but actually I was pleasantly surprised. The taste is totally worth the bit of effort you do put in too.

Fuelled with brandy and Cointreau, then pimped out with crushed cardamom seeds and orange zest, this cloudy meringue-like cocktail is Christmas comfort in a glass. So get on your festive knitwear, curl up by the fire, and savour this seasonal self-indulgence.

As Andy Williams rightly says, "it's the most wonderful time of the year..."

Cardamom & Orange Eggnog

(Serves 2 greedy guzzlers or 3-4 smaller servings)


  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
  • Zest of 1/2 an orange
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) double cream
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) brandy
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp caster sugar


  1. Bash the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, remove the husks then grind the seeds to a fine powder. Mix with the soft light brown sugar and orange zest.
  2. In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk, cream, brandy and Cointreau.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cardamom-orange sugar until thick and pale. Remove the cream mixture from the heat, and slowly whisk it in (a little at a time so that you don't end up with scrambled eggs).
  4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until starting to foam. Whilst whisking, gradually add the caster sugar and continue to whisk until the whites hold soft glossy peaks. Fold the egg whites into the egg mixture and serve immediately.
  5. You could also serve this cold, in which case just don't heat up the boozy milk-cream. 

This recipe is adapted from Winter Cocktails by Maria del Mar Sacasa.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Whisky Advent Day 19: Timorous Beastie

This is a whisky that I have wanted to try since I first saw the bottle online and am glad to get the chance to try it now.

Timorous Beastie is produced by Douglas Laing who produce fantastic blends and independent bottlings. Their Big Peat range is really good and highly thought of and Timorous Beastie is a fairly new addition to the range and is a Highland blend of whiskies coming from various distilleries includinDalmore, Glen Garioch and Glengoyne. This is bottled at 46.8%, very good for a blend and appears to have had no colouring added.

On the nose this reminds me immediately of a Rutherglen Muscat, it smells dark, thick and spicy with dried fruits, syrup, sweet spices, vanilla, some oak, a slight grape note. There are also some confected sweets and perhaps a little lemon peel. The nose is very appealing, but for me is more in the line of a fortified wine than a whisky, not that that's a bad thing.

On the palate this is soft and round with sweetness in line with the nose. Dried fruits and sherry notes lead the charge with this dram with apple, lemon and a slight herbaceous quality rounding off the initial offensive. The spice builds from there with sweet spices and pepper coming through, but are not too dark and heavy. This is a very palatable blend that has more complexity and depth than the average available and can certainly compete with most of the single malts in its price range and one that I would certainly suggest to someone looking for a call gift for a whisky fan.

Timorous Beastie is available from Master of Malt for £35.61

Whisky Advent Day 18: Arran Batch 4 (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

Arran is an island distillery and whilst not widely known of a readily available in shops and bars is fairly highly regarded.

This whisky comes from That Boutique-y Whisky Company who distribute independently bottled small batch whiskies, generally at cask strength with some pretty funky labels. This whisky is bottled at 52% and appears to have no colourant added and won't have undergone chill-filtration.

On the nose this dram is full of fruit, citrus, orange, dried fruit, apple, vanilla, oak and sweet spices. The components are very sweet, but fairly light and lifted, there is a fresh breeze quality which adds a bit of zing and stops the nose becoming heavy and too one dimensional.

On the palate the sweetness is there, but for me this needs taming with a little bit of water as the alcohol comes through quite strongly. With water this opens up a bit and you are able to delve a bit deeper, there is caramel, a slightly sour lemon note with white pepper, cardamon and cinnamon. At first this seems to be fairly heavy and full bodied, but again there is a bit of lightness here alongside the sweet, slightly coastal and herbaceous quality.

This is a nice dram, certainly not one for a beginner and honestly not to my taste overall, it is a bit light, but would make a nice summer dram perhaps. This is great for those that like lighter, but characterful whiskies.

Arran Batch 4 (That Boutique-y Whisky Company) is available at Master of Malt for £46.95

Stella Artois Release Details of Christmas Ad Campaign

This is a sponsored post - but well worth reading purely for the utterly gorgeous video at the end!

The story of the Stella Artois’ creation is intimately woven with the festive season.

Originally given as a gift to the people of Leuven in Belgium, Stella Artois is now a drink that is known throughout the world.

Because they are so fond of Christmas, the famous beer brand likes to go all out at this time of year.

The 2014 Christmas campaign, “Give beautifully”, is focused on the idea of finding the perfect gifts for those we love.

A series of short films seeded on Stella Artois’s social media channels throughout the festive period will feature happy recipients being given special Christmas gifts whilst emphasising the importance of drinking responsibly at Christmas.

Stella Artois drinks packaging will also be given a dose of the festivities with limited edition bottles and cans being produced.

The 440ml and 568ml cans will be available in a Christmas design as will the 330ml and 284ml bottles.

Customers will be able to bulk buy these products in basket packs.

In selected stores, customers will also be able to purchase a limited edition 75cl bottle of Stella Artois that has been specially designed for the festive period.

Watch one of the Stella Artois “Give Beautifully” stories below:

The story features, Maeve, a young woman who moved from Dublin to London but was forced to leave behind her beloved piano in the process. A passionate pianist, Maeve hasn’t played since.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Whisky Advent Day 17: Nikka Whisky From The Barrel

So in an Advent of perpetual firsts I am again confronted with a whisky I have never tried before and am beginning to feel that all of you out there will begin to completely disregard all that I say as the words of some deluded up-start amateur.

In all honesty I feel a bit remiss for not having tried this yet and has been on my to-drink-list for a while now. This is touted as one of the best value whiskies going and one to try for those un-initiated to Japanese whisky. For a blended whiskey the fact that this is bottled at 51.4% and available for £31.54 is astounding (50cl bottle) and I hope that this stands up well as it sounds very very enticing.

On the nose this is quite big with deep and earthy spices with caramel, a prominent floral note, vanilla, oak, coconut and sweet fruit. The nose is nice and big with plenty of body, however without some of the depth you might want, but at this stage who's to quibble as everything that is present is very decent and of good quality.

On the palate this is sweet and smooth starting with the caramel and dark sugar. This has great mouthfeel being very oily and mouthfilling, really viscous. This does really need water though as at this percentage whilst you can't at first feel the alcohol it does start to come to the fore. With water this mellows out more becoming sweeter, but retaining the wonderful body. There are dried fruits, sweet fruit, oak, vanilla, a touch of the grain spirit and orange peel. The finish is really good on this as well lasting very well.

Overall I think that this is a great whiskey, punches far above most blends and good competition for many single malts easily available at the price point. This is a real revelation to me and one that I shall be buying a full bottle of (the bottle is really interesting and cool btw) so if you come over you might be able to Nikka dram lolz.

Nikka Whisky From The Barrel is available from Master of Malt for £31.54

Whisky Advent Day 16: Tullamore D.E.W. 12yr Special Reserve

Well we are into the week now and the big day is fast approaching, only 8 doors left now... it will be sad when this ends.

Tullamore is an Irish whisky distillery that has been open for coming on 200 years, their own line isn't particularly extensive, however there is meant to be good quality there. The 12yr Special Reserve is a step up from the entry level and is a blend of whiskies that have had a minimum of 12 years of ageing in a mixture of bourbon and sherry barrels.

On the nose the first thing is a sweet orange and caramel note with some milk chocolate some clove and cinnamon with really strong vanilla, dried raisins and sultanas with honey. The nose is really very sweet and inviting, there's not a lot of delicacy here, all the smells are right there at the top and I feel that if you were to delve deeper there wouldn't be much more there.

On the palate the sweetness leads and at first it feels this will be a full bodied drop, but straight away it softens and drops becoming quite watery. This is quite light (probably due to the triple distillation) and there isn't a lot of power to the flavours, there are spices, honey, some citrus notes with vanilla and linseed.

Whilst the nose was very inviting I found this quite dissapointing on the palate and it isn't something I would while away a lot of time on. This is good for cocktails, shots or Irish coffee, but for that you might as well have Tullamore's entry level blend.

Tullamore D.E.W. 12yr Special Reserve is available at Master of Malt for £49.84

Forget the Turkey: Wild Geese Rum

A relatively and largely unknown range of whiskies that I'd like to take a look at are those from Wild Geese. These distributors are already fairly well known for their range of Irish Whiskies and in 2010 entered the rum game.

The Wild Geese Golden Rum

This rum is a blend of 5 different rums ranging from 3 to 5 years from pretty much all over (Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, St Lucia Barbados) and conjures in my mind a salty seadog travelling around in his frigate filling his barrel as he goes along... a maritime Solera if you will. Of course this is played upon in the labelling with a dark night sea scene, but also showing some fairly Carribbean influences in the crystal skull that takes centre stage.

This is the entry bottle in Wild Geese's rum range, it has received awards all over and is priced quite fairly at £18.75 from the Whisky Exchange, around (or less than) standard supermarket rums such as Captain Morgan, Appleton, Bacardi and Sailor Jerry.

On the nose it is very sugared with caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, pineapple and sweet spice. This is nice, very pleasant and easy going, not hugely complex, but very good for the age of the rums.

On the palate the sweetness continues with the caramel and fudge coming through strongly, there is a good deal of spice there too. The spirit is not harsh by any stretch, being bottled at 37.5% helps this and whilst it might not have the depth of flavour and complexity to be enjoyed hugely on its own the lightness and easy palatability of this rum makes it really great for cocktails such as a Mojito.

2 parts of The WIld Geese Golden Rum
1 part of fresh lime juice
Half part of sugar syrup
Soda Water
Fresh mint
Fresh mint sprig

Pour lime, sugar, mint and rum into a highball glass, add
a splash of soda and cracked ice.
Gently stir than top up with more ice, finally garnish with
mint sprig.

The Wild Geese Premium Rum

This Premium Rum is a little bit pricier than the standard Golden, firstly to give you some added value you get some lovely bling attached to the bottle adorning the skull on the bottle's shoulder. On top of this the rums that go into the blend (Bajan, Guyanese, and Jamaican) have been aged for up to eight years and so there should be some added complexity over the Golden and is bottled moderately higher, at 40%. The Premium Rum is available from The Whisky Exchange for £25.75 which again isn't a whole lot.

On the nose there is a very similar vanilla and caramel fudge note with apricot and marzipan on top of this. Additionally there are spices, orange, cinnamon, peaches and a slightly herbal note. This is deeper with far more complexity than the Golden Rum and honestly probably punches above its weight in comparison to the supermarket rums available at this price.

On the palate this is very soft, round and mellow with burnt sugar coming through first before sweet spices come through, more than expected. Orange and vanilla are quite prominent with some pineapple popping up as well.

This is a pretty good rum, better than most at the price level, but not quite premium in my book. This is a really very good mixing rum that I wouldn't be dissapointed at all for the price.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Whisky Advent Day 15: Rock Town Arkansas Bourbon Whiskey

To kick the week off we have a bourbon from Arkansas... bet you didn't see that coming... unless you read the title.

Rock Town is a distillery from Arkansas (Ar-Ken-Saw not like Kansas) which shares borders with Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Missouri, she shares mighty fine neighbours as they might possibly say (although more likely not). The Arkansas Bourbon Whiskey is a renaming and rebranding of their old Arkansas Young Bourbon which o
ne a heap of spirits awards gold medals. This is aged in small charred oak barrels and bottled at 46% it should be  sweet and powerful

On the nose there is some tropical fruit, vanilla, oak, brown sugar, caramel, a savoury saltiness, pine and cherry. There is something that sits over the top of all this, it seems to calm the sweet notes and draw in a darker and more savoury element that I'm afraid I just can't put my finger on, but it does make this different and very interesting.

On the palate again the sweetness I was expecting isn't there, this is very woody and you are almost getting wood tannins coming through. There are strong spices, almonds, but it is hard to separate anything else off, there is a slight cereal element, but again the same woody savoury element lies over the whiskey. Whilst this isn't unpleasant it is hugely different to any whisk(e)y I've had in the past and so it is hard to categorise, with some water it does sweeten and open a little, however to me it seems as though there is too much wood here and perhaps not long enough for the flavours to mellow... but don't quote me I'm no distiller.

This is very interesting and somewhat nice, but not something that I'd rush out to buy by any means, however if you're looking for something different then I would suggest giving this a try.

Rock Town Arkansas Bourbon Whiskey is available from Master of Malt for £39.55

Beers of the Year 2014

It's been a brilliant year for beer and I. We've had our up's and down's like any relationship, but I guess it's been pretty defining for us, and we've gotten through it stronger than ever. Last night me and a few mates in the pub had a little debate about what we thought our 'Beers of the Year' were, the highlights, the lowlights, and everything in between It got quite heated at one stage, when someone piped up their rediscovering of San Miguel, but you know what, it's a bloody good lager, especially on draught in this country (it's rubbish in Spain - always luke warm). Anyways, in no particular order, here's my Beers of the Year 2014!

St Austell Korev Cornish Lager

Brewed by the St Austell brewery in the West Country, Korev is a beautiful lager with a rich Honey aroma and taste. Easy going with plenty of flavour, it's hands down my favourite lager of the year. Available direct from the St Austell brewery.

BrewDog Konnichiwa Kitsune

Probably released to invade the lucrative Japanese market, the guys at BrewDog have churned out a brilliant, balanced Double IPA, as per their speciality. With massive mandarin, grapefruit and lime notes, it does my heartburn no good whatsoever, but it's damn good, and a little dangerous, sitting at 8.2%. Buy it in the BrewDog shop online.

Weird Beard 5 O'Clock Shadow

Maybe I drink this in the vein hope I'll one day grow some facial hair. But alas, no such luck. I stumbled on this beer back at the London Craft Beer Festival at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green. In fact, that's pretty much all I remember about the night, apart from monkey-bar swinging on tube trains on the way home and being mildly inappropriate to a young couple. The less said about that the better, but the beer is fantastic.
Disclaimer: Weird Beard 5 O'Clock Shadow was not in any way (well, maybe a tad) responsible for my terrible behaviour and inappropriate yodelling on the Central line on the 16th August 2014.

Pressure Drop Bosko IPA

Ah, Pressure Drop, probably my favourite brewery of 2014, beautiful little bottles with fantastic labelling and even better contents. This is my kind of brewer, not defined by the label, but lets the beer do the talking. Bosko is a slightly sweet and malty, dry-hopped IPA with a colourful character and a label which looks like an 80's TV holding page. Buy it HERE!

De Halve Maan Bruges Zot

Don't you remember, I went on a Beer Pilgrimage in September to the mecca that is Belgium, and Bruges in particular. I had a blast, but one beer stood head and shoulders above for me for  drinkability and taste, and that was the unfiltered Bruges Zot, available only from the brewery in the heart of Bruges. Worth the trip alone, this biscuity, hoppy and slightly yeasty Belgian was at its best straight from the tanks. Pretty good in bottle in this country, but unbelievably good in the courtyard at De Halve Maan brewery.

La Socarrada

I've saved the best for last, obviously, and if you read my post about My Favourite Beer, then you'll know how much I bum this one. Brewed by some artisan brewers in the heart of Spain, La Socarrada is brewed with Rosemary and Rosemary Honey. The result is a perfectly balanced beer, at home with food, but I love it on it's own. I paired this at a tasting with Roast Lamb and it remains a biblical pairing for those who witnessed it. Expensive, but worth it, La Socarrada is available from Ales By Mail for £3.65 a bottle.

So, there you have it. I've tried so many more beers this year, extended my knowledge and liver capacity far beyond anything I ever imagined, and I'm sure I'm missing loads of fantastic beers I've tasted, but can't quite remember. I'd love to hear what your Beers of the Year are in the comments below, but from me, have a Hoppy Christmas and a Happy New Beer, see you on the other side!

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Best Boozy Christmas Canapés

Photo: atl10trader under CCL
If you hadn't noticed already, we're VERY excited for Christmas here at Vinspire. Personally, I'm counting down the days until I finish work and can sit back and relax with festive drinkies, an endless supply of chocolate coins, and have Michael Bublé sing to me as I watch my Christmas lights twinkle... Dreamy.

I do, however, plan to be a bit more sociable than that makes be sound - I'm no Christmas recluse, I promise - and if I'm having friends or family over, I want to make sure I have some tasty treats to offer them. 

A festive party, be it for Christmas or New Year, is not the same without canapés; drinking gives you the munchies, and having little nibbles is the perfect touch that people will thank you for. 

I've scoured the internet for the best boozy Christmas canapés; some easy, some that need you to invest a bit of time, and some that you can buy. So here they are... 

1. Fancy some Stout Meatballs with Beer Barbeque Sauce Glaze? Yeah, me too. This straightforward recipe from the amazing Beeroness is one that I'll be making all year round. 

2. A sweet-savoury classic; Devils on Horseback from Nigel Slater. Soak the prunes in brandy and you're onto a winner, or shake things up with an apricot alternative. 

3. Another meaty treat on a cocktail stick comes from BBC Good Food; Bourbon Glazed Pork Belly Chunks. There are only 6 ingredients needed for these beauties, you're welcome. 

4. Red wine and chorizo are a match made in heaven, and Angela Hartnett feels that together they make the perfect Christmas canapé. Prepare in advance and warm up when you're ready, Chorizo in Red Wine is the ideal option to save you running around. 

Photo: J B under CCL

5. Deep fried goods are a firm favourite with me, so how about some Ale Battered Onion Rings? This recipe uses Arrogant Bastard Ale, but maybe scout out some festive ales and use them instead. You could sing "five gold rings" as you serve them. 

6. Sweet-savoury AND deep fried? Now you're talking. Great British Chefs have presented us with Kirsch-soaked Cherries with Black Pudding Krispies - PHWOAR. And yes, by Krispies it means Rice Krispies! 

7. For something a little lighter, try Iced Vodka Gazpacho, but it requires you to leave it overnight, so heads up. Cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers are blended together with vodka to create this cousin of the Bloody Mary. 

8.Stuff on toast is a foolproof option, as is cheese, and there's always cheese lingering in the fridge at Christmas. Welsh Rarebit Canapés, piquant with mustard and paprika, would be welcome at any party.

Photo: brett jordan under CCL
9. Another veggie delight, from The Little Ferraro Kitchen, is Roasted Mushroom Crostini with Wine and Herbs. The recipe uses flavoured butter, but I'd just use regular with extra herbs. 20 minutes and you're ready to dish them out! 

9. If you want to buy something to adorn some tiny toasts, then this is my recommendation for wowing your guests. Extra Special Course Venison & Whisky Pâté for £3.00 from Asda... Hello. The Wild Boar & Rioja (£1.50) also sounds scrumptious.

10. Tesco have upped the miniature pie steaks with these Finest Scotch Steak & Cornish Real Ale Pies. The website tells me they use Proper Job IPA from St Austell Brewery, and a pack of 12 is only £4.00. Nice huh?

11. Aldi are doing amazingly this year, and it's no surprise when they sell things like this Specially Selected Scottish Salmon Trio (£5.99). Salmon canapés are a Christmas classic, but these are infused with luxury flavours; Champagne & Orange, Whisky & Honey and Gin & Tonic. They've even gone to the effort to create a trio of cocktails to complement them, aptly called Dasher, Prancer and Dancer. Bravo Aldi! 

12. Would you prefer some sweeter bites? How about these show-stopping Boozy Jelly Lemon Wedges. I followed Lorraine Pascale's Limoncello Jello Shot recipe, but changed the limoncello for gin and coloured the jelly. Use whatever alcohol you prefer and swap for lime wedges if you like, just make sure to keep the recipe ratios the same otherwise your jelly won't set. Rolling the wedges in sugar would give them a festive frosty appearance too! 

13. Did you watch Hope & Greenwood's 'Sweets Made Simple' a few months back? Well these White Chocolate Tequila Chillies would spice up your Christmas Party. Soaking the chillies in tequila takes out the sting, leaving you to enjoy the decadent ganache filling... And they even look like they've been covered in snow!

 14. Mince Pies are THE Christmas snack, and every year without fail I follow Nigella's Cranberry Studded Mincemeat recipe. Pimped up with port, brandy, spices and dried fruit, it's much more luxurious than the stuff you can buy in a jar, and fresh cranberries give it a tarter taste. The recipe makes enough for a batch of 12 mince pies with plenty leftover to play with (I like to mix it with ice cream for an instant Christmas dessert).


Gifts for Gin Fans 2014

Last year's gin gift guide has been our most-read post of this year by quite some margin - you guys clearly love your mother's ruin - so I thought it only fair that I do another rundown of perfect presents for gin lovers.

I mean, we've already written about a whole host of amazing gins this year, some of which are brand spanking new. And you all went bananas when Lucienne told you about the incredible 4Gin gin tasting kit. But there's more out there:

Pretty gin prints

Yes, there is such a thing as a gin Christmas card. It's £2.50 from Not on the High Street.

I really want to hang this 'Given enough gin, I could rule the world' print (£14.50) in my office to remind me always to be as fearless as I am after a couple of gins. I'm sure I'd get much more done.

This 'gin is just like time' print would be perfect in my new place (hint hint). It's £18.

I bloody love gin. So why wouldn't I want this print on my wall? It's only £12.75.

Okay, this is a little bit left-field, but I'm pretty tempted by this giant gin vinyl fridge cover. Even if it is £99.99. You can even personalise it!

Gin accessories and beauty gifts

The "Officer! There's been a gincident!" bag I found was a HUGE hit with you earlier this year, so it's worth mentioning again...

How about the gin and titonic ice cube tray? Some might say they're in bad taste, but I like to think it's just another excuse for a nice cold G&T. They're £6.99 from iWoot.

Gin and tonic lip balm! It'll be like drinking gin all day, only without the hangover or inappropriate behaviour. It's £4.99 from The Present Finder.

The 'will flirt for gin' badge is basically true no matter who's wearing it. It's £2.49.

Juniper sling perfume means... yep, you'll go around smelling like gin all day. Although it is £110.

'Gin drinking with a difference' gifts

Last year, the 'grow your own gin and tonic' kit was pretty popular, and the company also makes a
grow your own sloe gin kit. It's only £12.99 and means you won't have to go foraging through hedgerows to find sloes any more - leaving you more time to drink gin.

With so many gins on the market, and new distilleries popping up all the time, buying a whole bottle of a new one can be a bit of a risk. The gin tasting set from Little Tipples is only £15 and you get three mini bottles of different gins to try. That's three brand new gin and tonic experiences and maybe a new favourite gin!

gin infusion kit! For under £20! This is exactly why I love Firebox.

Unusual stuff to drink gin out of...

The gin teacup from Yvonne Ellen may be a tad pricey at £34, but it's bloody beautiful.

For a much more reasonable price (£15), you could buy your favourite gin lover one of Toasted Glass' "There may be gin in here" mugs for their desk at work.

Or if you know a green-fingered gin fanatic, they might enjoy this Happy Gardener 'May Contain Gin' Thermos for £9.56 from Campus Gifts.

My beloved got me this Hendricks gin and teacup kit and I will love him forever for it. It's £32.95 from The Whisky Exchange.

Gin food!

These gin and tonic marshmallows are exquisite - a packet is £4.99 from Brighton Cakes.

Jam Tart Preserves has created a gin and tonic marmalade! It's only £3 a jar and uses high quality gin so you'll really enjoy your toast.

Gin and damson chocolate truffles sound like the best thing ever. A box is £19.99 from Not on the High Street.
You can also get gin and tonic truffles for £11.50 from John Lewis.

Gin homewares

Slice the lime for your G&T on this recycled gin bottle chopping board! It's £22.95 from Sarah Hill Glass.

A good bottle of Tanqueray did not get drunk in vain - it's been turned into a gin bottle lamp! It's £95 from Not on the High Street.

The gin o'clock clock means you'll never miss gin o'clock again. It's £25 from Swanky Maison.

Oh dear. Now I've seen this Hendricks recycled gin lampshade I think I'm going to be £165 poorer. Unless someone wants to buy it for me for Christmas? No? Worth a try...

That's it for another year - don't forget to check out last year's gin gift guide for some more ginspiration! Have a gin-filled Christmas!