Friday, 27 February 2015

Catalonia: Food And Wine Heaven.

Photo taken from
When you say the word Catalonia, you may be met with a fond smile, a treasured memory, or an exclamation about just how good FC Barcelona are. Having spent some time in the region I can safely smile, recount memories and attest to just how good that football team really is.

Catalonia is an autonomous region of Spain having it's own language, history and it's own culture. Catalan people are very proud to call themselves so, and as I have found on one or two occasions, will often correct you for calling them Spanish. But it's easy to see why they are so proud.

The Scenery

Casa Botlla. Photo from Moyan Brenn under CCL
First of all, it's one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There's the architectural prowess of Barcelona, with numerous offerings from Gaudi around the city. The most famous of course is the Sagrada Familia. Quite easily one of the most awe inspiring, jaw dropping pieces of architecture I have had the pleasure of witnessing. Casa Batllo also gets a mention for being the dream house I never knew I wanted.

Take a trip outside of the city and you will find some the most breath taking countryside outside of Yorkshire. Stunning scenes of agriculture and beautiful villas set against a backdrop of The Pyrenees.

The Food

Secondly, and for me more importantly, was the food and wine. Catalonia is foodie heaven! Market stalls serving up the freshest ingredients and Nouveau cuisine being served up in some of the worlds finest restaurants. Inspiration is taken from in land as well as The Mediterranean with the famous 'May Y Montana', a Catalan take on Surf and Turf, and Butifarra, an uncured spiced sausage, can be found everywhere and is well worth checking out. What struck me the most was the constant innovation whilst still maintaining the utmost respect and admiration for tradition.While I didn't have the pleasure of eating at El Bulli, what I did find stoked my passion for Mediterranean flavours and opened my eyes to a world of food I never knew existed at the time.
Photo taken from

The Wine

With good food, comes good wine. Catalonia is home to some of Spain's finest wine regions. One of my favourites being Priorat. Located in the South West of Catalonia, Priorat's predominant varieties include Garnacha Tinta, Carinena, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The reds produced are often deep and muscular and have undergone a period of oak and bottle ageing. If you look here, you'll find great walking or cycling tours of the Priorat vineyards.

It is also home to some of the biggest names in the wine industry. Familia Torres set up the first Bodega opposite the train station in Vilafranca.  Since then they have gone on to produce some amazing wines, many of which you will see on a supermarket shelf. Names such as Vina Sol and Sangre de Toro may be familiar.

I was sent two bottles of beautiful wine to remind me of my time spent there.

The Gran Vina Sol, a blend of Chardonnay and Parellada. On the nose it's rich and buttery with a good whiff of stone fruit. On the palate the flavours of white peach, toasted nuts and vanilla are matched only by it's intensity.

The Gran Coronas is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Penedes. It's prominent nose of cassis, cedar and dried herbs leaps from the glass. The cassis theme carries on on the palate with more herbaceous notes and a juicy berry finish. 

Can't wait to get over there? The both these wines are available from The Drink Shop. £9.26 for The Gran Vina Sol and £11.53 for The Gran Coronas.

The Lasting Effect.

Whenever I'm visiting somewhere new, I'm always left with lasting memories of bit and pieces that particularly took me. With Catalonia, I pretty much fell in love with the entire place. Before going, my knowledge of Catalonia was just Gaudi and Leo Messi (who is actually Argentinian), but as soon as I arrived I was immersed in an entirely new culture. What I loved so much is that it does it without it feeling forced. It's a culture you want to explore more of, food you want to eat more of and wine you definitely want to drink more of, mainly because it will make you a better dancer.

If you're not just looking for a change of scenery but to be completely surrounded by new experiences, go to Catalonia

This has been written in association with the Catalonia Tourist Board. All content and opinions are my own.  

Côtes du Rhône G+ hangout with Jamie Goode

Last week I got to experience the future of wine tasting - a virtual wine tasting held over a Google+ hangout, with participants spread all over the world! This was a truly fascinating event, organised by Côtes du Rhône Wines, Focus PR and hosted by Jamie Goode, a wine journalist with a real passion for talking about wine. This was the first time that Côtes du Rhône Wines and Focus PR had organised this kind of virtual wine tasting and I was really pleased to be invited to participate and represent Vinspire.

The wines were sent to us in advance; I had mine delivered to my buddy, and fellow blogger, Mike as we had decided that we would use the tasting as an opportunity for an overdue catch up too. Along with the wines we were sent some interesting background reading material and some maps, all to help us understand a bit more about the wines and prepare for the evening ahead. 

I had not experienced a Google+ hangout before, but I had done some video-conferencing with work so I knew a little of what was to be expected. The event was even more exciting as it was being streamed live on YouTube on the Côtes du Rhône channel (you can see highlights from the session here, if you're keen to watch it...!).

Mike and I got our wines opened, arranged our glasses and then took a seat in front of our laptop. It took a few minutes for everyone to log-on, but after a little bit of waiting we were all ready and raring to go!

Jamie gave us a really good introduction to his background and interest in wine and a brief explanation of the wines that come under the Côtes du Rhône (CdR) label.

The wines of the Rhône valley are rightly lauded as some of the best wines in France, from the delightfully poised and exciting Syrahs of the Northern Rhône to the bombastic GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre) blends of the Southern Rhône.

Wines labelled under the banner of Côtes du Rhône AOC are the basic level of production in the Rhône area and can take a wide variety of grapes from all over the region. They have a reputation as decent, if somewhat unspectacular wines, that would fall into your "midweek wines" category. They tend to focus on blends, as this allows them to use the best characteristics from a number of different varietals.

We tasted our way through six wines:

2012 La Chasse Reserve from Gabriel Meffre (blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault), available from Tescos for £7.99. This wine was a clever first wine, as it epitomised what a lot of us expected from a CdR wine; it was simple and light bodied with pleasant red fruit characteristics. Quality: 4.0; Value: 8.0.

2012 Delas "Saint-Esprit" (blend of Syrah and Grenache; unusually for a CdR this one was Syrah led), available from Majestic for £9.99. This one had a lot more going on in the nose, with notes of smoke, meat and barnyard; on the palate it was quite savoury with olive and tapanade flavours. Someone from the group (sorry, I can't remember who!) said that this reminded them more of an Aussie Shiraz, as opposed to a French Syrah. It was universally agreed that this would be a good food wine. 
Quality: 5.0; Value: 8.0

2012 Côtes du Rhône Rouge, Domaine Chaume Arnaud (blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault), available from BBR for £12.25. This was a biodynamic wine, which I'll admit to being relatively sceptical about normally. The wine was slightly lighter on the nose, hints of blackberry. On the palate it was fuller, with flavours of black cherry, chocolate and spice. Overall this was a pretty decent bottle of wine.
Quality: 5.0; Value: 7.0  
2012 Clos du Le Caillou (blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Counoise) available from H2Vin for £14.50. This producer is noted for their Chateauneuf du Pape as well as their CdRs. The wine is made from some old vines in the Southern Rhône and is a whopping 15% - perhaps not such a good idea for that "midweek wine" I mentioned earlier!

This wine sat rather quietly in the glass at first,  but then it opened up wonderfully. On the palate it was jammy and fruity, with a rather minty finish. Mike and I concluded that this wine really could have done with sitting in a decanter for an hour or so to really help it.
Quality: 6.0; Value: 7.0

2012 Saint-Agathe from Domaine Georges Vernay (100% Syrah, unusual for a CdR) available from BBR for £19.95. The grapes for this wine come from very close to the highly regarded (and very expensive) Condrieu appellation. Once more the wine had a nice funky nose with leather and bacon, plus a bit of smoke and cloves that suggested some oak ageing. On the mouth it was clean and fresh with black fruit characteristics; the finish did not hold for nearly as long as we were hoping for.
Quality: 6.5; Value: 5.0
2012 Château de Beaucastel Coudoulet (blend with Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault) available for £16.63 from Little Big Wines. On the nose this was a little light to me with some black fruit notes. On the mouth it took on a lot more presence with black cherry, gamey and spicy notes coming through. This was a pretty pronounced and weighty wine.
Quality: 6.0; Value: 4.5

So, there you have it; six very different wines showing that there is considerable variety and breadth amongst the Côtes du Rhône label. As with most things, if you spend a bit more money you tend to get better quality; however all of the wines above have their place - some of them are "crack open on a Saturday afternoon whilst listening to Test Match Special"; whereas others really need a food match to exhibit their best.

I dearly want to travel to the Rhône so that I can taste these wines in their natural environment and with their local cuisine - I always feel that this is a good way of understanding a wine better.  
Thank you so much to the lovely people at Focus PR and Côtes du Rhône Wines for organising this event. Thanks to Jamie Goode for being such a good host and thank you to the other participants, it was really nice to (virtually) meet other wine people from round the world.

Disclaimer: the wines were sent to me as a sample - the opinions contained within this article are my own.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Beers & Breweries to look out for in 2015

I'm fresh off the back of Craft Beer Rising this week, and I must've tried the majority of the 400+ beers they had - all in the name of research, and bringing you, dedicated readers, the best beers and breweries to look out for this year and beyond!

My liver takes a bashing so yours can sit back and enjoy the good stuff - it's all in the line of duty guys so don't worry, I got this!

Craft Beer Rising is my favourite boozy event of the year, and I always book the day (and following day!) off to make sure I do the best job possible. This year, the event seems to have gone to new heights, the organisation was better, the layout spot on and the breweries top-notch.

It's really hard to pick out just a few of the brilliant breweries and beers on show to bring to your attention, but I think I've narrowed it down pretty well.

Wild Beer Co

What a brewery. These guys' output is something to behold. With so many brilliant beers in keg, cask and bottle, it's hard to choose. Fortunately, you don't have to - they're hosting a Tap Takeover at Craft Beer Co in WC1 this Saturday (28th Feb). Get on down!

Kiwi Craft Beer Collective

Distributed in the UK by Instil Drinks, Yeastie Boys, Tuatara, Renaissance, 8 Wired & Three Boys are New Zealand breweries with some seriously incredible beers to try.

They were showcasing the best from each respective brewery, but I can't remember for the life of me which was which.

I remember being blown away simply by the Tuatara Pilsner (£2.70, Honest Brew), but I went on to try them all. It was very late in the afternoon. That's the excuse I'm sticking to...

Purity Brewing Co - Gnarly

Obviously after copious amounts of beer, we (me and Adele) wondered into a seminar about beer & cheese tasting. Two of our favourite things in the world. We ate cheese, we drank beer.

 My favourite beer, and my last of the afternoon at CBR, was a special edition from Purity. Gnarly is exactly that, but is also incredibly balanced, aged in whisky barrels with great sweetness, bitterness, fruits and florals, and absolutely everything you want with cheese.

Hunt it out in bottle (£14.95 at Bottle Shack), and drink it with Goats Cheese. Unreal!

Beercat - La Segadora

Beercat, also distributed in the UK by Instil, have a logo worryingly similar to a rather large Scottish Craft Brewer, and lets be honest, the name isn't much different either. I kinda want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them in the wake of all these silly legal disputes recently.

Anyways! Spanish Craft Beer is sensational. It really is. La Segadora is a collaboration with Magic Rock, and as a 7% Farmhouse IPA, it really ticks all of my boxes.

Like a hoppy, sweetish Saison, this got my juices flowing and I immediately bought a case to takeaway!

Tank Beer

The demand for natural crafted beer has never been greater. It's no surprise then, that big breweries want to get in on the act.

Tank beer, or Tankovna (the Czech term) is big in the ex-soviet country, but has only just started to cross over to the UK. Other breweries, such as Meantime, have been doing it for a few years, but now there's loads of Tankovna bars and pubs popping up.

What makes this different is the fact that the beer is unpasteurised and unfiltered. More natural, fresher and tastier.

Pilsner Urquell wins it for me - I had it after Craft Beer Rising at The Draft House in Seething, straight from a massive copper tank. Great tasting Pilsner! (You can buy it for £24 for 24 bottles at Majestic)

There was SO MUCH good stuff at CBR, I wish I could remember and write about it all...
 Instead, I'll probably just have to keep retesting stuff, and make sure I go again next year. 

Also, do yourself a favour and pop it in your diary for next February as well - it really is the best event in the beer calendar!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Wine Wednesday: 5 Fairtrade Wines to Celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight!

Did you know it's Fairtrade Fortnight? It bloomin' well is - and there's never been a more perfect time to buy a bottle of Fairtrade wine while doing your weekly shop.

Fairtrade wine is so, so important. 
As well as making sure workers and farmers receive fair pay, it also helps to fund community projects that provide valuable assistance with healthcare, education and living conditions.

We're so lucky to have these things it's hard to imagine life without them! But your weekly bottle or two of wine can have a real impact in making sure more people get them.

"Oh, but I bet it's way more expensive!" 
NOPE. You can get a bottle for little more than a fiver, and in fact most of the everyday Fairtrade wines in the supermarkets are £8 or less. And they're tasty!

You can read more about Fairtrade wine on the Fairtrade Foundation website.
But now let's get talking about where you can find delicious Fairtrade wine!

1. Taste the Difference Morador Fairtrade Malbec, currently £7 (usually £8) at Sainsburys

I had this last night, and it's rich, full-bodied and packed with concentrated cherry and blackberry flavours. Smooth with a decent lick of spice, it was a lovely and warming, and really went well with our flavoursome pasta dinner.

2. Waitrose Fairtrade South African Chenin Blanc, currently £5.49 (usually £6.99) at Waitrose

For this price, wine snobs will probably turn up their noses, but they'd be missing out on a perfect midweek bottle of refreshing, food-friendly wine. The lemony, lime and apple-driven flavours are very sippable, especially with lighter meals like chicken salad or asian salmon dishes.

3. Fairtrade Six Hats Rose, £6 per bottle at Marks and Spencer

As the good weather starts to arrive, this is a gem to have in your wine rack, and like the Chenin Blanc above it pairs well with light salads and lightly spicy dishes.

It's full of strawberry notes and is gloriously refreshing. I might even sip it in the garden - although I'll probably still need a coat on for a few weeks yet...

4. Extra Special Fairtrade Pinotage, currently £5 (usually £7) at ASDA

This really isn't just a 'fiver' wine. Deliciously spice is balanced well with juicy berry flavours, making this a decent barbecue wine, but it would also be nice with a hearty tagine.

5. Peacock Tail Fairtrade Sauvignon Blanc, £7.99 at Marks and Spencer

Exactly what you'd expect from a good sauvignon blanc - vibrant acidity, zesty lime and grassy herbs. Apparently it's made from 25 year old vines, which probably explains the great complexity, and makes it worth spending a tiny bit more.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Bar Buvette: Bristol's Natural Wine Bar

How is it that we’ve got to Monday again already? The weekends seem to be ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ these days. But to ease you in, and to make you think about some delicious day trips and exciting excursions that you could plan, I’ve got just the ticket.

Bristol. We’re all familiar with it, right? It’s the ‘gert lush’ South Western city that’s populated with all the cool kids, has a handful of Banksy’s gracing it's streets, and lots of lovely landmarks that you probably recognise from Channel 4’s ‘Skins’. 

Well, it has a new pop up joint. Okay, it’s not that new – it’s been open since December – and it’s not even necessarily just a pop up, it might be more of a permanent thing... But anyway, Bar Buvette is its name, and it’s all about natural wines.

Natural wines, with statuses like 'organic' and 'biodynamic', can be a pretty controversial topic to many oenophiles. Some flippin’ love them (the Parisians are particularly fond of them at the moment), but others don’t want to give them the time of day.

 Made without the addition of preservatives, chemicals, artificial yeasts and added sugars, with the majority of them either low in, or free from sulphites too, some wine snobs just aren’t into this eco-chic shizzle.

Sure, the wines can be a little unusual to say the least; the whites richer in colour, the reds lighter in style, some cloudy, and some with crazy flavour profiles (I had a red wine which reminded me of salami!).

But isn’t that the point of visiting places such as this? It’s something that you probably won’t find elsewhere, and you can’t knock it until you’ve tried it; so when in Rome and all that...

Bar Buvette is the city centre lovechild of Peter Taylor, formally of Bristol’s Riverstation. Last year he took the plunge to relocate his family to a petite village in the Auvergne to run a seasonal Frenchie boutique hotel, Auberge de Chassignolles.

Here he grows his own vegetables and rears his own pigs for consumption in the restaurant – sounds idyllic, huh – and he also serves a number of natural wines from the region. With the hotel closed for the winter, Peter’s brought a snippet of France back to Bristol for a few months (or maybe more...).

The idea of a pop-up can often be pretty low-fi, but Bar Buvette has nailed it in kitting out Baldwin Street’s ex-photography shop; giant reclaimed wood tables with stools to schmooze on, shelves of bottles and books, retro wine posters, an old bike, and handwritten chalk board menus to gaze at. Simple but effective. 

There are about 10 wines by the glass to try at any one time, with additional ‘featured producer’ bottles/magnums open and ready to be poured. The salami-esque red that I went for was Alain Castex’s Poudre d'Escampette 2013, £7.50 per glass from a magnum.

The thing to note about the somewhat testing au naturelle wines is that they really come to life when paired with food. Despite not having a kitchen, Bar Buvette offers exactly that; cheese and charcuterie boards (£4.00) – with hefty jars of gherkins ready and waiting on every table – freshly prepared salads, and the meanest cheese toasties around (£4.50).

Made using sourdough from Bristolian Hart’s Bakery, the molten innards were a mixture of local Cheddar, French Cantal and Comté, with chopped leeks and Dijon mustard thrown in for good measure. Just... yes.

And they also have things to satisfy your sweet tooth; a flourless chocolate, almond and cardamom cake was on offer when I visited.

So have I made you want to go and try it for yourself? I do hope so. Peter's knowledge and enthusiasm will help you find a glass of wine that's perfect for you. What more could you ask for? 

Follow on Twitter @BuvetteBristol or Instagram @barbuvette for the latest updates, and let’s keep our fingers crossed that it’ll be a more permanent fixture on the Brizzle scene.

For other wonderful wine-y venues in Bristol, check out:

Monday Morning Mug: 5 Brilliant Nostalgia Mugs

The Hertfordshire branch of Vinspire UK is currently a veritable hotbed of germs. We're sick, snivelly and in dire need of some TLC.

At times like these, all I can think about is how my Ma used to take care of me when I was poorly as a kid, wrapping me up in a duvet on the sofa and bringing me bowls of tinned peaches and cups of tea, while I watched those bizarre children's educational programmes they used to air on BBC2.

All this nostalgia has me yearning for my childhood days, so I was greatly cheered up when I found some brilliant mugs celebrating some of the best aspects of my younger years:

The Care Bears! Dancing around on rainbows! This mug fills me with all of the happy, and makes me feel like spring is finally on the way. It's £7.99 from Truffle Shuffle.

I think we can all agree - every single one of us on the planet - that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the single greatest work of Literature in all of history. And this Very Hungry Caterpillar mug is only £4.35 from House of Fraser.

My Grandad loaded the Sonic the Hedgehog game onto his PC for us BECAUSE HE IS AWESOME and I spent many an hour fighting ferociously with my brother and sister about who's turn it was to play it. If you didn't look at this mug and immediately hear the 'Sonic loses all of his rings' sound effect, you're doing life wrong. It's £7.99 from iWoot.

We all loved the Mr Men books, and Mr. Bump was blatantly the best one, so I was delighted to find this Mr. Bump mug for £8 in Debenhams. It even has a little quote from the book on the back - obviously, now I want to dig out all my old Mr. Men books and read them all over again.

Of course, the 1990s weren't complete without some hilarious American kids sitcoms. Clarissa, That's So Raven, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Saved by the Bell... and, of course, the epic Kenan and Kel. Which, by the way, is still as funny when you watch it now as it was when you were a kid.

This 'Who Loves Orange Soda?' mug from Miss Harry on Etsy makes me very happy indeed. It's £9.85.

So come on then, what mugs am I missing? I need to add to my retro 90s TV collection for the next tim I get a cold...

Friday, 20 February 2015

6 Alternative Gin and Tonic Garnishes You Must Try

Photo: Barbara Wells
At the end of a long week, I'm very much looking forward to kicking back with an ice cold G&T, pyjamas on, ready to watch the Eastenders live episode and laugh at all the inevitable mistakes.

But - shock horror - I'm all out of limes. Hold your duff duffs, though - there are plenty of far better garnishes than the traditional 'ice and a slice'. Here are some of my favourite alternative gin and tonic garnishes:

Photo: Didriks

It's as simple as floating a leaf or two amongst the ice - but give it a bit of a slap first to release the incredible aromas.

Drink it with: Ideal for more citrussy gins, or gins with lots of herbal or grassy botanicals. Try Gin Mare (£35.25, The Whisky Exchange)


The glorious flavours of rhubarb are a perfect match for a fruity, juniper-filled gin.

You can either use an entire sugared stick of the stuff, or use a vegetable peeler to shred a ribbon of rhubarb from a stick and twirl it through the glass for a super pretty drink.
Apparently, if you soak the rhubarb shred in some icy water it will make it twirl naturally...

Drink it with: Junipero gin (37.19, The Drink Shop)

Photo: Didriks


Fragrant, heady lavender is a popular choice for fancy cocktails at the moment, but if you don't have time to faff then just stick a sprig of it in your G&T for a pretty, aromatic garnish. Just make sure you wash it first...

Drink it with: Ideal to bring out the flavours of more understated or lightly floral gins. That said, we know of a lovely country pub that uses lavender to garnish Monkey 47 - the amazing gin made with 47 different botanicals...

Blood orange

The cocktail world's blood orange frenzy has yet to die down, and it's easy to see why. A delicious wedge of this deeply colourful and flavoursome fruit is a summery garnishes that's very hard to beat.

Pair it with a powerful gin like Death's Door (£41.65 at The Whisky Exchange)

Photo: Didriks

Cucumber and rosemary

Yes, we've all had gin with cucumber - literally every person in the entire world has.

But if you add a sprig of rosemary, it makes your G&T a whole lot more interesting. It's even better if you muddle a little bit of gin and cucumber in the bottom of the glass first so you get a rosemary-infused gin and tonic.

Especially nice with the likes of Hendricks (currently £24 at Sainsburys) or The Botanist (£33.83 at Master of Malt)

Apple and black pepper

On a personal level, this is my winner - and it's so damn easy.

I first had this when at The Whippet Inn in York and it blew my mind. Don't be too wimpy with your pepper either - mine had a more than generous sprinkling of the stuff and was all the better for it.

Perfect with crisp, smooth, fragrant gins - I had mine with Masons Yorkshire Gin (£39.99 at Master of Malt).

Thursday, 19 February 2015

13 Brilliant Beer Quotations for London Beer Week

Photo: Maggie Jane

We're over half way through London Beer Week now, and by all accounts everyone is having a marvellous time, with plenty of people discovering a new love for craft beer and learning lots about the huge amounts of passion and expertise that goes into producing the really good stuff. Lots of London breweries have run events and found many new fans - and that makes me very chuffed indeed.

In fact, beer is pretty much all everyone is talking about this week.

So I've decided to compile a little list of some of the greatest beer quotations to add to the conversation. I reckon if you quote some of these this week, people will think you're well clever and cultured and that. You're welcome.

"He was a wise man who invented beer." - Plato (See? The classical Greeks liked craft beer before it was cool.)

"Give me a woman who loves beer and I will conquer the world." Kaiser Wilhelm

"Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer." Henry Lawson (who was Australian, so clearly knew what he was talking about when it comes to beer.)

"Beer's intellectual. What a shame so many idiots drink it." Ray Bradbury

"Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer's day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented."  - Gilbert K Chesterton

"In a study, scientists report that drinking beer can be good for the liver. I'm sorry, did I say 'scientists'? I meant Irish people."  - Tina Fey

"There is no such thing as a bad beer. It's that some taste better than others."  -  Bill Carter

"For a quart of ale is a dish for a King."  -  William Shakespeare, in A Winter's Tale

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza."  -  Dave Barry

"Those who drink beer will think beer."  -  Washington Irving

"Here's to a long life and a merry one. A quick death and an easy one. A pretty girl and an honest one. A cold beer - and another one!"  -  Irish toast

"Most people hate the taste of beer - to begin with. It is, however, a prejudice."  -  Winston Churchill

"Homer no function beer well without."   -  Homer Simpson

Happy London Beer Week!
Tell us which quotes we're missing in the comments...? And you can also check out our brilliant gin quotations.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Cooking with Booze: Spiced Lamb & IPA Burger with Fruity Salsa

Alcoholic Burgers. Yippee!!!

Ever since I saw that Honest Burger had created the world's first Burger with an ABV, I've been obsessed with trying it myself. Beer gives food incredible depth, nice subtle flavours and punchy undertones.

To celebrate the Cricket World Cup, I've gone all Southern Hemisphere-ey, mainly because I don't think England have a hope in hell at winning. In the spirit of trying new things and flavours from different countries, I've put together a recipe for a New Zealand-inspired alcoholic Burger.

When I started thinking of what to put in my burger, I thought of what makes New Zealand famous. Lamb, Kiwis & Avocados all made it on to my list, as did Hobbits, Gandalf & Gollum. Knowing I wouldn't find any Hobbits or Middle Earth creatures in my local supermarket, I settled on the former three ingredients for my epic recipe.

As in everything I do, I looked at how to incorporate booze into my food, and started thinking of the wave of New Zealand craft brews that have been emerging over the last year or so.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on anything brewed in New Zealand on short notice, so I opted for a bottle of Punk IPA, which is widely available and contains bucket loads of Nelson Sauvin hops; native to New Zealand, and full of those characteristics found in its grape cousin from the same region.

Ultimately, I settled on my epic recipe; Spiced Lamb & IPA Burger with Kiwi, Pomegranate & Avocado Salsa!


For the Burger:
400g Lamb Mince (20% fat)
2 Fresh Mint Sprigs, finely chopped
1 330ml Bottle/Can Brewdog Punk IPA
1 Tablespoon French Mustard
2 Teaspoons Cumin
2 Teaspoons Crushed Coriander Seeds
2 Teaspoons Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Sea Salt
2 Cloves Garlic, crushed (I used Smoked Garlic from Morrisons' Garden Street)
2 Teaspoons Onion Powder

For the Salsa:
2 Kiwis, diced
1/4 Red Onion, finely chopped and diced
1 Snack Box Pomegranate Seeds
1 Ripe Avocado
1 Fresh Jalepeno
1 Tablespoon Fresh Coriander, chopped
Pinch Sea Salt


In a metal bowl, flatten the mince and simply poor in the whole bottle of IPA. It will reduce to a wet mess. There is absolutely NO WAY you can make a burger out of what you have. It resembles porridge, doesn't it? Don't worry! Allow the lamb to marinate for 10 - 20 minutes, and absorb most of the beer.

Next, pop the wet mess into a sieve, and strain out as much of the liquid as possible and discard. You may have to push and press the mixture until it starts to resemble mince again, and you have a workable, pliable mixture.

Pop all of your herbs and spices into the metal bowl, and mix very well with the lamb mince.

Take a hot griddle pan and a small sample of your pattie mix. Fry it until cooked and taste for the seasoning.

Now to make your salsa! Halve the avocado and remove the stone. Cut one half into 2 and peel off the skin. Save the other half for Avocado on Toast for breakfast (trust me, avocado spread on toast topped with a squeeze of lemon, black pepper and a sprinkle of sea salt is the proverbial bollocks!).

Dice your two quarters of Avocado and cut the skin off of your Kiwis and dice also. Pop them in a mixing bowl and pour in 2/3 of the Pomegranate seeds. Crush the remaining seeds to release the juice, and pour that in. Mix in a sprinkle of Sea Salt, a pinch of ground black pepper and 1/4 of a finely chopped diced Red Onion. Finally, deseed a Fresh Jalepeno and chop as finely as you can. Add this in to the mix and stir well. Your Salsa should be sweet, tangy, creamy, spicy and delicious. I ate spoonfuls of this on its own, and would make a winning salad at a BBQ! I fought with myself to save enough for the burgers...

Shape your lamb mix into 3 equal sized patties, preheat a Griddle pan and add a tiny bit of oil, just to make sure the lamb doesn't stick. Once smoking, pop your patties onto the griddle and grill for 3 and a half minutes each side.

When nicely coloured and cooked through, pop your burgers into some nice crusty seeded buns and spoon on loads of the Salsa. Serve immediately with more beer!

What I love about this recipe is the depth of flavours going on. The beer adds a little bitterness and hop character to the lamb, which cuts through the fat nicely, while the Salsa compliments the whole thing perfectly. You get a good crunch from the Pomegranate seeds, releasing happy bursts of sweetness.


I was asked by Betfair to take part in the Cricket World Cup Challenge  - all of the content, recipes and advice are our own, as ever.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Belated Whisky Advent Day 22: Mackinlay's Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt - The Journey

Continuing with my push to finally finish my endeavour to review every whisky from my Whisky Advent Calendar from Master of Malt I now come to this dram (the name is in the title, I won't keep on typing it).

This whisky is a blend created to replicate a whisky that was discovered in 2007 that was abandoned by Sir Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica during his infamous and disaster laden expedition in the early 1900s. 

To raise money for charity, Shackleton's grand-daughter has had a whisky created to replicate the flavours of that original bottle.

The story behind this dram is absolutely staggering, and if there's one surefire thing to sell a wine or spirit, it's a good story. Almost as amazing is the list of malts that make up this whisky: a 1980 Glen Mhor , some heavily-peated Dalmore, Glenfarclas, Mannochmore, Tamnavulin, Ben Nevis, Aultmore, Fettercairn, Pulteney and Jura. All of these were used to create a whisky that was bottled and carried most of the way to the pole almost a hundred years ago!

On the nose a smoky peat comes through, but this is lifted by a fruity sweetness mixed with nuts, raisins, caramel and vanilla. There's a marzipan like note with citrus peel and engine oil before the peat qualities re-surface again. 

This isn't the deepest and most complex array of smells a dram has ever subjected me to, however, everything is wonderful balance and co-ordination. Nothing is out of kilter and there is pretty much something there for everyone and every mood you might have.

On the palate the peat again dominates at the beginning, before pepper, caramel, orange, vanilla and apple take over. This is a fairly full-bodied malt that is oily and coats the mouth. On the finish this is fairly sweet, but with a slight toasted nut, macaroon and bready quality added to it. 

Again, like the nose this isn't hugely complex, but is fantastically well made and balanced. With the amount of different malts that went into the blend it wouldn't be at all difficult for this to become muddled and confused without a clear direction.

This is a great blended malt that I have really enjoyed and is something I would love to drink on a regular basis, but will probably be prevented by the price point of close to £100 a bottle. That being said, I may try to pick up a bottle to put away for a decade or two to revisit once I am in my forties and that Antarctic no longer exists.  :'(

Mackinlay's Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt - The Journey is available from Master of Malt for £99 and would make a great gift for any travelling whisky buff or lover of exploring in general. 

Also, if you would like to know more about Shackleton's journey, the Folio Society (a fine book producer I love dearly) have just recently produced a volume on the subject which can be found here - I'll be buying a copy.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Savoury Breton Galettes with Cider for Pancake Day

So your Valentine’s weekend may be over and done with for this year, but romance is certainly not dead... Because it’s Pancake Day tomorrow! Extend your loving gestures – even if just for yourself – by making these Breton Galettes.

Last year I went all out with some Rum Butter Pancakes using Appleton Estate Jamaican Rum, guaranteed to put a greedy grin on anyone’s face, and this year I’ve managed to claim the supreme Shrove spot again. Instead of going down the sweet route – we all know what our favourite toppings are – I’m flipping French style savoury ones. And thanks to a visit to Paris’ Little Breizh crêperie a few years ago (a boozy brunch visit that I still dream about to this day), I’m taking a leaf out of their book by pairing my pancakes with cider.

Breton Galettes, or buckwheat crêpes, are a staple in Normandy and Brittany; they’re large, thin pancakes made using gluten-free, nutty buckwheat flour, and are most commonly garnished with meats and cheeses before being folded up into a square and served. Although sweet fillings would be welcome, you’d typically find things such as fruits, caramel, and chocolate on smaller wheat based pancakes.

Eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the traditional drink to have with your galettes is a Breton apple cider, dished up in a ‘bolée’ – a china teacup to you and me. Lightly sparkling, refreshingly crisp, and often a little oaky, it’s the only thing you’ll want with your savoury pancakes forever more.

After scouring the internet looking at various recipes, I ended up tossing a few together in some kind of crêpe mash up in order to make a substantial dinner for me and my other half. I followed Jamie Oliver’s instructions, putting cider into the batter to lighten it and give it extra flavour. And, because it makes enough for 8, we had plenty to spare for dessert, and even breakfast the next day too! I also made roasted root veg salad loosely based on Nigel Slater’s side dish suggestion; punchy with Dijon mustard and sharp with vinegar, it makes a good accompaniment.

Usually Pancake Day can get a bit stressful; you churn them out, watch other people eat them, then when you finally get one for yourself, you have to scoff it standing up as you hover over the frying pan making more. The best thing about this is the fact that you make all your galettes first, stacking them up in a warm oven, before filling, folding and putting back in the oven to heat back up. This enables you to enjoy them at the same time as everyone else, and takes that last-minute-rush panic out of the situation. If you’ve gone for cheese in yours, you want that to be sufficiently melted, and the tops of each galette to be a little crispy; I went for ricotta, prosciutto and gruyere, a combo I’d defos recommend.

As for cider, we Brits are very good at making our own, and as a result, there’s not much in the way of overseas offerings in the supermarkets. Admittedly not from Brittany, I found a French Cidre from neighbouring Normandy in Waitrose, then as a comparison, I picked up a Leckford Estate Cox’s Apple Cider too.

Very pale in colour, this slightly fizzy cider is made from single variety Cox's apples grown on the Waitrose farm. It doesn’t give much on the nose, but on the palate it has a sweet, fruity, fresh apple flavour – not sugary like a Kopparberg though. There’s a tang on the finish, but it’s not drying, which makes it very easy to drink. Too easy in fact; you’d never guess that it was 6.0%. It’s a safe style that’d please a lot of people, and would go with any pancake filling you choose.

Produced from Gros Oeillet cider apples, which have high acidity, flavour and richness, this is much different style of cider to the first. It pours a deeper golden colour, and is lightly sparkling with a fragrant aroma of honey, mead, and apple. These are translated in the flavour, and its bittersweet quality preserves a brilliant, slightly oaky, finish that makes you crave more. The perfect choice for strong cheese filled pancakes.

Vive La France!

Savoury Breton Galettes (serves 6-8)

  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 100 g butter, melted, plus a knob to grease the crêpe pan
  • 275 ml good-quality cider
  • 250 g buckwheat flour
  • Filling of your choice; eg. ricotta, prosciutto, gruyere

  1. Beat the eggs in a bowl then add the butter, cider, 250ml water and a pinch of salt. Slowly sift in the flour, beating as you go, until you have a smooth batter. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. When ready, bring the batter out of the fridge. Melt a knob of butter in a crêpe pan over a medium-high heat. Add a ladleful of batter and tip the pan to spread it around. Once bubbles form on the surface, loosen the edges of the galette with a palette knife or spatula before gently turning it over. Cook for another minute till golden and cooked on both sides, then transfer to a warm oven while you continue making the others. (Don’t worry if your first one fails you – it often happens.)
  3. When you’ve used all your batter, take your galettes out of the oven and increase the heat. One at a time, layer up your fillings, folding the sides in to make a square (or fold in half and half again), then transfer to a baking tray. I spread ricotta over the centre of mine, placed on the prosciutto, and topped with a handful of grated gruyere; and I found that 1 – 2 galettes per person is the perfect amount if having a side dish too. Once all are filled, place in the hot oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and the tops are crisp. 
  4. Serve as they are, or with a simple salad, and a chilled glass of cider.

Friday, 13 February 2015

La Bella Italia: 5 Italian Wines from Mondial Wine

I have something of an infatuation with Italy. I love the food, I love the climate, I love its opera, I love its art, I love its people, I love its history and, of course, I love its wine.

Italian wines used to start and end with Chianti for me. Then I added Barolo into the mix. Over the last couple of years I have come to learn that the Italian wine industry is one of the most varied and interesting in the whole world. Italy's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has officially recognised over 350 different grapes. As someone who is a massive wine geek, Italy is a veritable treasure trove of obscure wine varietals.

So, I was really pleased when I met a rather lovely Italian Wine Producer recently at a trade fair - Mondial Wine. They specialise in Italian wines and have a fantastic selection on their website.

Mondial Wine have been importing Italian wines into the UK since 1985; their Marketing Manager, Stefania Trinchero, told me that there aim was to "promote Italian wines’ heritage" and to "satisfy our customer base by building strong relationships and improving each day the online experience, spreading in all UK the love for Italian wines." Now that's a mission statement that I can get behind!

If you look at their website, they stock wines from all over Italy and, pleasingly, a lot of relatively obscure varietals.

So how did I get on with a selection of their wines?

2012 Kerria Casa Vinicola Garofoli, Lacrima di Morro d'Alba DOC (100% Lacrima, £12.60/bottle). A dark, intense purple in the glass, on the nose there was plenty of red fruit with strawberry jam coming through, whilst there were also some black cherry notes too. On the palate, luscious red cherry flavours dominated, coupled with juicy blackcurrant. This was a thoroughly pleasant wine, uncomplicated but great for drinking. Quality: 5.0 - Value: 8.0.

2007 Cappellaccio Aglianico Riserva, Castel del Monte DOC (100% Aglianico, £12.24/bottle). I had first encountered Aglianico on my travels to the Amalfi Coast last year and found it a thoroughly approachable red; I hadn't found it a grape that aged particularly well, so this wine intrigued me. In the glass it was a medium tawny, which made sense given the age of the wine. It smelt of kirsch cherries and seemed to have a touch of violets to it. On the palate it was rather refined with blackcurrants and blackberry flavours. Seemed to be holding up well, but now is probably the time to drink this wine - I don't think it will age much longer. Quality: 6.5 - Value: 8.0.

2013 Mastroberadino, Lacryma Christi del Versuvio Bianco DOC (100% Coda di Volpe del Verusvio, £15.60/bottle). This was a pale gold in the glass and had aromas of ripe, juicy pear in the glass along with some honeydew melons. On tasting this was typically high in acidity with a crispness to the taste reminding me of pears with a hint of lemon notes. The finish was remarkably long and polished for this very pleasant wine. Quality: 7.0 - Value: 9.0.

2011 Podium Garofoli Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Supriore (100% Verdicchio, £16.56/bottle). On the nose this was a mixture of fruit (apples and pears), along with a hint of grass and white pepper. On the palate it was fresh and bright with some pleasingly fruity notes (pears and lemons). Quality: 6.0 - Value: 6.0.

2009 Santa Sofia Amarone della Valpolicella (70% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 5% Molinara, £36/bottle). Time to bring out the big guns! This was a BIG wine; deep, intense, inky purple in the glass. The aroma was intoxicating, very intense, bursting forth with dried and stewed fruit aromas. The taste was very smooth, well rounded and balanced, which is the mark of a good Amarone - it is a blockbuster of a wine, but it doesn't smack you around the head as you drink it. The taste is reminiscent of PX with a stewed raisin kind of flavour profile. This was a real winner. Quality: 8.0 - Value: 6.0.

So there you have it. Five very different wines, but all great wines in their own right. If you are a lover of Italian wines, or you would like to be, then I would recommend trying out Mondial's website and looking for yourself.

Note: I am trialling a new scoring system whereby I rate the wines against both quality and cost. I felt that this was because previously I would give a lower-quality wine a slightly higher score because it was good value for money. My quality scoring is as follows:

10 - Unbeatable, 9 - Incredible, 8 - Outstanding, 7 - Great, 6 - Good, 5 - Fair, 4 - Satisfactory, 3 - Poor, 2 - Very poor, 1 - Undrinkable.

The idea would be that two wines I drink may both score 6 in terms of quality, but if one cost £10/bottle and another £40/bottle then clearly that would affect the way that I thought about the wines!
Disclaimer: The wines were sent to me as a sample. The opinions contained within this article are my own.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Best Craft Beer Bars in Manchester

Following the uproar I caused last week, and nearly breaking the Vinspire website, a la Kim Kardashian 'break the internet', I thought it best that this week I get the hell out of London and stay away from Norfolk, as to try not to upset too many people. If you missed it, here's that piece that caused a bit of a stir...

I spend a lot of time in Manchester, Adele (the girlfriend) is at MMU, and I love having the opportunity to take a couple of days off work, chill out, spoil her and drink beer. Adele loves beer. It's a win-win, and makes for a pretty darn good relationship.

I reckon between us, we've been to the majority of Central Manchester's Craft Beer Pubs/Bars etc, so, as I sit on the train to Manchester today, thinking of where we're going tonight, I thought I'd share with you 6 of the Best Craft Beer Pubs in Manchester, in my humble opinion (the same humble opinion that divided a lot of people last week... whoops)...

Cane & Grain - Northern Quarter

Only a few months old, Cane & Grain has quickly gained a reputation as a brilliant Craft Beer bar and Rib Joint. Also has one of my favourite American exports we're seeing more and more over here, Redhook Longhammer IPA is probably up there on my top 10 beers I discovered in 2014. The beer nuts were spicy, moreish and a great accompaniment to any beer. Food looks awesome. Unashamedly Hipster craft beer mecca.

Font - Various

Student bars have a rep for cheap lager and £1 Jagerbombs. Not Font. Font bars are well-run student pubs with a great focus on Craft Beer. You can't go wrong with one of their £3, £4 and £5 cocktails either, pretty decent for the price. Font bars also support local artists with installations and commission-pieces.

Font bars are located in Chorlton, Fallowfield, New Wakefield Street, and there's one in Liverpool.

Knott Bar - Deansgate

From Scottish Punks to Trappist Monks is the formula at this Deansgate haunt. Pretty ugly from the outside, but don't let that put you off. This place gets proper busy at weekends, but the service is always fast and friendly. Their frequent stock of Magic Rock, Thornbridge and Marble beers get a double thumbs-up from me!

Mary & Archies - Didsbury

Probably mine and Adele's favourite, this tiny Burton Road pub is in the lovely Didsbury suburb of Manchester. With stalwarts such as Brooklyn, Camden & Brewdog alongside stuff from local breweries such as First Chop (see below), Red Willow, and a good range of bottles and Bavarian exports. For us, however, it's the general ambience of this little place. Oddly decorated, always busy with a decent food offer, great special offers and a light-hearted Wednesday pub quiz. The cocktails are pretty decent too.

First Chop Brewing Arm - Salford

This brewery tap in Salford lies under a railway arch and in the past couple of years has become a destination for craft real ale enthusiasts. The beers are great, but the real winner for me is the Secret Garden and Reggae Sound System.

BrewDog - Deansgate

Obviously, no list would be complete without a Brewdog bar on the list, however, if I didn't like it, it wouldn't be here. I love my nearest bar in Camden, but not keen on Shoreditch. My favourite Brewdog bar, full stop, however, is this one in the heart of MCR. It's just more relaxed, more loungey, and less pretentious. The beer is always good, the selection of guests and bottles, and above all, the knowledge of the staff is second to none. A great place for a few beers before/after a MASSIVE burger over the road at Almost Famous, or a gig next door at the Albert Hall (a seriously good venue!).

There are loads of brilliant bars and pubs in Manchester serving excellent Craft Beer. It's a bohemian paradise, with loads of independent brewhouses and bars, and just because I haven't listed one, doesn't mean I don't think its worthy, it's just these were the first 6 to come to mind. If you have any recommendations for me in the Central Manchester area, pop it in the comments section below!