Tuesday, 30 June 2015

TV Review: Booze Traveler, New to the Travel Channel

Although there's a ton of enjoyable foodie programmes on television, series dedicated just to us drinks geeks are less common, so when one comes along I'm always eager to give it a try.

I've just discovered there's a new series called Booze Traveler starting on the Travel Channel (Freeview 42, Freesat 150, Virgin 288, Sky 249) and the first episode airs this Thursday 2nd July at 10pm.

In the series, cocktail connoisseur and ex-Boston bartender Jack Maxwell travels around the globe discovering fascinating, unique and sometimes frankly unbelievable drinks, and the customs and cultures behind them.

I was a little bit skeptical about the quality of this programme, but this is a seriously engaging show for drinks geeks like me, and it really does uncover things you simply won't have seen before. It's entertaining, enlightening, outrageous, hugely colourful and sometimes even a little bit daft - but it's well worth watching.

The series takes Jack everywhere from Iceland to Peru, Austria and Tennessee. In the third episode (which I got a sneak preview of), Jack takes us around Nepal, and we see him drink a marijuana milkshake which has ancient, religious significance, experience a hangover cure involving musical bowls, and sample the training camp of the legendary gurkhas (and their favourite traditional drinks), among other wonders.

It's a bit like Michael Palin crossed with Man Vs. Food - all of the intrigue and wonder of exploring people and places you've never seen, plus that very American quality of out-and-out enthusiasm and  the unfussy, down-to-earth language and reactions of a real drinks geek.

To some, that might seem like dumbing down a bit at times - especially when Jack deals with some of the more serious cultural traditions - but I found it refreshingly reassuring. Jack isn't afraid to ask questions that some of us might not dare to because we don't want to seem ignorant, and the result is a much greater overall understanding of the customs and ways of life into which he gives us an insight.

As well as learning the history surrounding the drinks, he makes sure we learn how they are made and exactly what goes into them, and he gives impressively evocative tasting notes that make you feel about as close to actually drinking the drinks through the screen as you can get.

Jack's frankness seems a tiny bit cringe at times (that's probably the repressed Brit in me talking) and to be honest everyone he meets seems to find him completely charming. Things did get a tad overly sentimental for my liking at certain moments as well, but in the end I was won over completely - this is a series I will be watching closely, and with a great deal of enthusiasm.

When it comes to drinks, he really knows his stuff, and after you've seen an episode, you'll be hooked. Catch it on Thursdays at 10pm on the Travel Channel - and make sure you have a drink handy.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Poll: How many alcohol-free nights do YOU have?

So, I may be about to open up a huge can of worms here, or perhaps I'm about to learn that everyone is a lot more chilled out about this than I first thought.
Either way, I'm going on holiday in 4 days, so posting this now is obviously going to make me feel very guilty about the vast amounts of wine I will inevitably consume. Good work, me.

Anyway, I have a question for you: how many alcohol-free days do you have each week? I even created a poll so you can all answer:

How many alcohol-free nights do you have per week?

Poll Maker

Why am I asking? And why might our answers not represent the country as a whole?

It's a simple question, but in the drinks industry and amongst wine/craft beer/gin geeks we generally talk a lot more about what we are drinking, rather than what we're not. It almost feels taboo to ask, which is daft when you consider that as professionals (or enthusiastic amateurs) we're probably the ones with the most knowledge about drinking responsibly. Some of us even had to take exams about it - and we're well aware the government recommends two alcohol-free days per week.

I also get the feeling that the kinds of answers we as a drinksy group would give to this question would be rather different from the responses we'd get if we asked a more general slice of society. Just like if you asked car enthusiasts how much petrol they used per week, or Bake Off fanatics how many cakes they make each week, I think drinks enthusiasts probably partake in their passion a little more frequently than the norm. Right?

But although cars guzzling petrol is bad for the environment and too much sugary, fatty baked goodness is going to mess with you both inside and out, drinking alcohol too frequently is more obviously damaging and concerning. But the guidelines on booze are regularly changing and not always entirely clear - so that's why I'm interested.

My answer

If you want to know the answer I gave, it's something along the lines of "Err... at least one. Two or three if I'm being good."
But I'm happy to say that the rest of the week I'm not exactly knocking it back by the bottle (1 or 2 125ml glasses of wine over dinner with my fiance - plus a cheeky extra G&T, cocktail or glass of wine at the weekend when I'm socialising) but that still sometimes puts me a little bit over the government's recommended weekly intake for a woman.

Not by much at all, though, (I'm giving myself a 'B minus'...) and the truth is it's not the units I'm talking about here.

Little and often vs. Weekenders

I know friends that only drink Friday to Sunday but hit it hard on those nights, and I know friends that regularly drink half a bottle of wine a night. Their actual weekly units might not differ that much, but what does differ is one of them gives their liver at least a couple of days to recover each week. Is the weekend binger the better of the two?

And what about people that do drink in perfect moderation, but don't necessarily enforce alcohol-free days into their weekly schedules? The people like my Grandma who had a G&T at 5pm every day without fail (but nothing else), or my friends in France and Italy whose mealtime/family culture means they don't think twice about pouring a glass of wine with dinner every single night?

Exactly how much damage are they doing, and should we be as worried about them as we are about drinkers who exceed the recommended daily units but do have alcohol-free days?

According to medical research, not having enough alcohol-free days can increase your risk of liver damage, heart problems and cancer. Alcohol-free days also apparently reduce your alcohol tolerance, stopping you from gradually spiralling into drinking more and more, with the obvious problems that might bring.

Are we worried enough?

So should the 'just one glass with dinner' drinkers be more concerned about their lifestyles because they're not having totally alcohol-free days? Or are we (or, at least, am I) stressing out a bit too much about government guidelines, when really we should just focus on being sensible rather than obsessively counting units and scheduling our alcohol intake?

If two alcohol-free days are what we're aiming for, it's obvious that a lot of people aren't being sensible enough, but of course it's possible that some of us just need to focus not only on drinking in moderation, but worrying in moderation too.

What are your thoughts on sensible alcohol consumption? Are you worried? Tell me your experiences in the comments.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Prettiest Paper Cups & Straws

It's officially summer garden party / barbecue season and this year I want to do it in style. No one wants to do the washing up the morning after a big party, so I've been looking for some very pretty plastic or paper cups and straws (and matching plates, of course) to use for fuss-free al fresco drinking.

Here are some of the absolute best pretty paper cups and straws to jazz up your summer drinks:

Paper Cups

Dinosaur party cups! Rawr! They're £4.50 from Posh Totty Designs on Not on the High Street*.

You can pretend you're sipping from your finest china with these vintage blue paper cups. They're £3.49 for 12 from Candle and Cake.

KABOOM! Superhero paper cups are the best. These are £2.99 for 8 from Ginger Ray.

Pineapples are absolutely everywhere this summer, and now you can have super-trendy pineapple paper cups too. (They're also £2.99 for 8 from Ginger Ray on NOTHS.)

These summertime ice cream paper cups might be my favourite. They're a bit more expensive at £4.95 for 8 from Little Lulubel on NOTHS, but I think they might just be worth it.

If you're after something really dainty, these floral paper cups are really quite lovely. They're £4 for 8 from Tulip and Nettle on NOTHS.

Being more of a big kid, I absolutely love these 24 party animal paper cups, which are £9.50 from the aforementioned Posh Totty Designs on Not On The High Street.

Lastly, you can even do paper shots! These 'cheers my dears' paper shot cups are £11.95 from the brilliant The Letteroom on NOTHS.

Paper Straws

Now, obviously, the classic choice for paper straws is those stripy numbers. Personally, I prefer them when they're a mix of different colours, such as this set of rainbow straws for £3.95 from Pink Biscuits (via NOTHS).

I also love the addition of strong man moustaches to these circus theme straws from Postbox Party (£5.50 on NOTHS).

If you want to bring out your inner child, go for these cowboy and indian 'pow wow' straws, also from Postbox Party (£4.50).

I loooove these heart paper straws from Pretty Little Party Shop. They're £2.99.

Remember those pineapple cups from earlier? They come with matching ridiculous pineapple straws! I love them. They're £3.99.

These wild flower paper straws are absolutely gorgeous and very eco-friendly. They're £3 from Wedding in a Teacup.

Lastly, and perhaps my favourite for being so over the top, how about these windmill paper straws? They have a pretty floral pattern AND they'll look pretty in a summer breeze. Definitely my first choice. They're £5.95 from Little Ella James (via NOTHS).

Go forth and drink from fancy paper cups! You know you want to splash out on some of these...

*Shops marked with an asterisk support affiliate links - but don't worry, they don't bite! It just means if you like the look of something and click through to buy it, we might get a few pence or so commission as a thank you. But we NEVER recommend anything we don't truly love and buy/want ourselves. You can find out more about affiliate links here.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Summer Savings: 3 Bargain White Wines

So it's pretty safe to say summer is officially here. No seriously, we've had blue sky and everything! Nothing beats a nice cold white on a hot day. But what's this, you've bought your Glasto ticket, you've paid for your weeks holiday abroad and now there's no money left for good wine?!

Well that's not strictly true. Granted, you might not be able to afford that saucy little 2002 Chassagne Montrachet that's been eyeing you up in the local wine merchants for the last couple of weeks, but there's some lovely whites to be had for less than £7!

Torres Vina Sol 2014, Catalunya (currently £4.99 at Majestic, usually £7.99)

The Torres family are one of the oldest wine producing families in Spain. Made from the indigenous Parrelada grape, this is a pale lemon coloured wine that has bags of citrus fruit on the nose with a slightly floral edge. Flavours of lemon, peach and honeysuckle, racy acidity and a bit of a honeyed edge, this is a cracking summer drop.
Currently on offer at Majestic for £4.99

Jacques Depagneux Chardonnay 2013, Vin de France (£6.50 at The Wine Society)

Quite often people can be put off by non DOC wines. Well, quite simply, don't be. Just because something doesn't have a pedigree, doesn't mean it's bad. With parcels of grapes sourced from Languedoc and Beaujolais, this wine has an impressive weight whilst maintaining an elegant finesse.

A bone dry, unoaked Chardonnay with lashing of stone fruit, honey and citrus all coming together with a soft texture and a touch of butter.
£6.50 a bottle from The Wine Society.

The Venturer Series Vermentino, Sicily (£4.79 at Aldi)

Aldi are officially one of the big players in the wine market now and, to be perfectly honest, it's no wonder when they're selling wine of this quality for this price tag!

This pale lemon-green Vermentino is a fantastic example not only of the quality of their range but also of the grape variety. Floral on the nose with rose petal and subtle nuttiness, this goes fantastically with a light pasta dish, a nutty salad or a vast array of nibbles.
£4.79 from Aldi.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Street Feast's Dinerama in Shoreditch Yard

Anyone who knows me, or follows me on Twitter, will be well aware of my love for London. With it's wealth of top notch bars and restaurants, constant new openings, and an endless stream of events, it really is in a league of it's own.

Unfortunately, living a good two and a half hours away from the Big Smoke, I'm nearly always green with envy with the knowledge I'm missing out on all these exciting things (and Instagram doesn't bloody help). As a result, I try to hop on a coach there at least once a month, purely to entertain my greed of course, and my ultimate 'go-to' - the one that ticks all the boxes - is always Street Feast.

Street Feast is London's nomadic street food circus; it pops up for a few months at a time - namely in the East - and not only serves up a vast range of incredible edibles from the best street food traders around, but also the most noteworthy drinks from those in the industry know-how. Think shit-hot barbecued meats, lobster rolls, tacos, and swanky steamed buns, washed down with the sexiest wines, pint sized cocktails, spritzes, and craft beers. Dreamy, huh?

In recent times, I've scoffed horse kebabs, truffled pizzas, pulled pork naan sliders and tried to battle with the juiciest burgers (Burger - 1, Lucie's Top - nil). I've played whisky roulette, drank sumptuous reds, slurped mahoosive margaritas, dabbled in various cocktails, and had more than my fair share of #Britspritz from Kamm & Sons. Street Feast is the kind of place that makes you laugh because of how ridiculously good it is. 

On Friday, their brand new market, Dinerama, opened up at a former truck depot on Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch. Throughout the summer (right up to October), you can experience it's magic both day and night for four days a week, and with a capacity of 1,000, it's highly likely you'll be able squeeze yourself in.

There are six permanent diners - Smokestak, Breddos, Fundi, Baba G’s, Duck N' Roll and BBQ Lab - each with their own in-built seating areas, then a plethora of other food shacks and food trucks that will change on rotation to keep returning visitors amused. The first weekend (which I went to) saw Bob's Lobster, You Doughnut, Rainbo, Bird Box, Yum Bun amongst others. Yesssss.

It's not just one level though, the Street Feast team have been busy creating the space into a vast food and drink arena! Head on up to the Rum Rooftop and Pavillion Bar, then get yourself acquainted with the Big Bar, Tequila Container, and Baja-Marama Bar too.

Chill out along the picnic benches on the fake grass balcony, shades on, with a gin fuelled cocktail in a stripey cup in hand; perfect... Or, maybe go big with a Zombie cocktail, though you're only allowed 2 per person because they're that potent!... Or just get stuck into some ribs with a cold Frontier Beer...

The choice is yours, and there sure is a lot of it. So what are you waiting for? GO!

Dinerama is open Thursday - Saturday - Noon - Midnight, and Sunday - Noon - 9pm. Free before 7pm, £3 after.

19 Great Eastern Street
London EC2A 3EJ

Tube: Old Street or Shoreditch High Street

Alternatively, you can also find Street Feast at Dalston Yard (every Friday and Saturday, 5pm - midnight) and Model Market, Lewisham (every Friday and Saturday, 5pm - 1am).

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Wine for Beginners: Wonderful Wines to Match Salmon

As summer slowly blossoms and we make the most of these delicious long, warm evenings, it's the perfect time of year to serve up a light, flavoursome salmon dish to enjoy (especially al fresco in the garden with friends).

With such a variety of popular salmon recipes out there, it can be tricky to find the perfect wine match, but never fear - there are oodles of tasty wines you can serve with salmon!

Here are a few ideas for you:

1. Smoked salmon

I always like to bear in mind that most of the time we serve smoked salmon with a nice wedge of lemon - and there's a reason for that. The acidity and freshness of the lemon juice cuts through the oily, fat texture of the smoked salmon - and that's exactly what I'm looking for in a wine accompaniment.

Try a sauvignon blanc - perhaps not a New Zealand grassy, in-your-face gooseberry number, but a more delicate French sauvignon blanc from Loire, Southern France or Bordeaux.

For example: Lacheteau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, currently £5.99 at Majestic if you buy two (normally £7.99) It's citrussy, fresh and great value for money!

2. Warm poached salmon with hollandaise, beurre blanc or another creamy sauce (INCLUDING salmon en croute and creamy salmon pasta)

A classic, easy salmon dish with a classic, easy wine match. Creamy sauce and warm, fleshy salmon needs a round, creamy white wine. The obvious match is a Chardonnay - especially with a little bit of oak ageing to give it depth and vanilla notes. It doesn't have to be from Burgundy - a new world example from Australia, the USA or possibly Chile would be lovely too, as would a good Chardonnay from somewhere like Limoux in the South of France.

If you really can't stand Chardonnay, try a Chenin Blanc from South Africa, or a creamy Verdelho.

For example: Cave de Lugny Macon-Villages Chardonnay, £8.99 from Waitrose. Great value, ripe, soft white Burgundy - even better if it's ever on offer.

3. Teriyaki salmon

The sweet, salty flavours of a teriyaki sauce are not generally wine's best friend.

You could try a light red like pinot noir (The Wine Society does a great one called Zarcillo Pinot Noir for only £6.50!) or even a dark, just off-dry rose - you might find these from Chile, Spain, Italy or Southern France.

For example: Cono Sur Bicicleta Pinot Noir Rose, £6.99 at Tesco Wines. A fantastic value range of wines expertly made by the brilliant Adolfo Hurtado, this is fruity and soft and very easy to drink.

4. Sweet chilli salmon fishcakes

A favourite in my household, these have just the right balance of sweetness and bite, and the salmon just laps it up.

I'd stick with white wine here, and the fragrant, sweet spice of sweet chilli fishcakes is a beautiful match for riesling or gewurztraminer, particularly from Alsace, but also from New World countries like Australia or Chile.

For example: Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Alsace Gewurztraminer, £8. Possibly the best wine in Sainsbury's entire range, in my opinion, and sort of delicate, off-dry, aromatic and juicily-fruited wine that gets drunk far too quickly. The fruit and fragrance is a perfect match for sweet chilli sauce.

5. Blackened Cajun Salmon

This dish packs a punch and is big on flavour and spice, so you need a wine to match that, but also not to overpower it.

A red is probably the order of the day - something like zinfandel or pinot noir (again) - or you could opt for a hearty rose from the grenache grape.

For example: Brazin Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel, £12.99 from Waitrose Cellar. An utterly delicious, juicy, spicy red that really shows you what zinfandel can do.
OR at the other end of the scale Waitrose Ripe and Juicy Spanish Rose, £4.99. It's cheap, but it really doesn't taste that way - rich, red fruit and peppery spice.

6. Salmon steak with mediterranean flavours like tomato, rocket, spinach and olive

Mediterranean salmon is one of my favourite dishes - light, healthy and full of tangy flavour.

The Italians really know their own food best and make their wines to suit it, so opt for a white Italian wine like Gavi.

For example: Tesco Finest Gavi, currently just £6.49 down from £7.99 until 23rd June. Medium bodied and citrussy with lovely minerality - great at this price.

See more of our food and wine matches here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

WIN a trip to NEW YORK - share your best holiday drink with #DestinationImbibe!

Get those social media accounts ready, because with a photo and just a few clicks you could win a trip to NEW YORK, and it's all thanks to Imbibe magazine.

Aside from being possibly the coolest UK drinks trade magazine, the guys at Imbibe also run a tremendous drinks industry event extravaganza called Imbibe Live ever year, and this year it's taking place on 29th and 30th June.

To celebrate Imbibe Live 2015, the magazine is offering one lucky drinks fan a chance to win a trip to New York, and it couldn't be simpler to enter.

All you have to do is share a photo or video of your favourite 'destination drink' - i.e a drink you've discovered on your travels - to Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Tell Imbibe why it's so special in the caption and make sure you use the hashtag #DestinationImbibe - and hey presto, you're entered!

You'll win 4 nights in New York for two - with flights, a hotel and drinks at Dave Arnold's legendary Booker and Dax included - as long as you're over 21, eligible to travel, can fly from London and are free to 'party in the USA' in October, as that's when you'll be going to the Big Apple if you win.

It's really very simple! You can have a look at some of the entries so far on the competition page (although I warn you, you'll be thirsty...) but don't feel intimidated if you think they're all prettier than your own images - the winner is picked at random, not via artistic merit!

The winner will be announced on 30th June at Imbibe Live, so hurry up and get your entries in now. Best of luck to us all!

A Cool Summer Dram - The Whiskey Wedge

Now long gone are the days that if you wanted a cooled glass of whiskey you would chuck in a few cubes.

The luddites have lost and the market is now full of new and innovative ways to force down the mercury  when consuming their spirits.

Whiskey Wedge is a fairly new addition to the scene (in the UK at least) and having had cubes, spheres and rocks to cool our whiskeys, we are now unlocking the power of the pyramid.

The Whiskey Wedge comes as a whole package with a sleek freezable glass and accompanying silicone mould that has an easy access for pouring in your water to create a perfectly moulded ice triangle that is stuck to the side of the glass.

As a result of this new design, not only is the process really easy with no fiddling with multi-part moulds, but also very effective in that due to the shape there is a reduced surface area and as such there is less ice melting and diluting the precious whiskey.

I was lucky enough to be sent one to trial and I have to say that this works really well and also looks pretty cool at the same time. It does what it says it will and I am certain that I will be using this more and more as the summer wears on.

What's great about it is that it can also be used for other spirits too and as such the gins will be getting a good outing in this as well.

So with summer ramping up and Father's Day this weekend this makes a great option for those that don't want to stoop to the lukewarm cans of amber nectar at the barbecue and enjoy a lovely refreshing glass of the good stuff.

Whiskey Wedge is available at Firebox for £19.99.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Drinks Delivered: Best of British Beer's Latest Beer Club Case

It's beer time again folks! Best of British Beer have sent me their latest Craft Beer Club case, (we've reviewed lots of them before) - and this month we've got mouthwatering IPAs, lip-smacking stouts and even a saucy little mild!

This month's is truly a cheeky little case. Trust me, it's cheekier than the cheekiest of Nando's aboard the Banter Bus driven by the Archbishop of Banterbury giving out free refills.

I think what I love so much about Best of British Beer and these cases is that after years in the business is that they still surprise me. Each case offers up it's own little gems and this month is no different.

So here we go!

Salopian Brewery, Bulletproof. 5.8%

I didn't think the first beer out of the box would blow my socks off so much. The clue is in the name - this beer is proper hard! The label doesn't give much away, just the brewery name, the brew name and a BBE date. As soon as the cap came off it was clear this is a bare knuckle IPA.

It pours a beautiful amber colour with a thick, off-white head. The nose leaps out and goes straight up the nostrils with a tropical hit and all the pine freshness of a brand new car air freshener. It's big and rich in the mouth with mango, orange, guava, black pepper, pine, cedar and a particularly bitter finish.

For some this beer may be a bit much, but if you like your beer with a little extra kick then you'll love this.

West Berkshire Brewery, Magg's Magnificent Mild. 3.8%

Often viewed as 'The working man's pint', mild beer seems to have taken a bit of a back seat over the last few years with very few hitting the market. With this as an example, I struggle to see why!

A very translucent brown, this throws out aromas of fresh brewed coffee, toasted oats and caramel. The palate gives you chocolate, more coffee, woody notes and a touch of cooked black fruit. I've never been one for a mild usually - probably because I haven't come across many good ones - but this is easy to drink whilst still retaining a wonderful complexity.

Hop Back Brewery, Entire Stout. 4.5%

I was lucky enough to get a taste of HopBack in my last beer ramblings. Safe to say I liked it! So when I saw this in my case I was naturally very excited.

Pouring a beautiful black with a slightly red hue, the nose kicks off immediately with roasted malt, blackberry and wood smoke. Not as heavy and mouth filling as some stouts, but packed full of flavour.

It leads with more roasted malt giving way to  chocolate, coffee and a hefty dose of bitterness on the finish. What's more is this beer has been certified as totally vegan! Yay!

Derventio Brewery, Golden Bitter. 4.2%

This is one of the reasons I love this service. A brewery I've never heard of with a great back story serving up equally great beers.

Founded in Derby in 2005, the Derventio literally translates to 'The Market in the Oaks'. Pale gold in colour, the nose is bright and refreshing with notes of lemon, tangerine, grass and pine.

The palate delivers what the nose promises with lemon rind, orange, white pepper and pine. Light in colour and alcohol but very big on flavour.

Lancaster Brewery, Lancaster Red Ruby Beer. 4.8%

I've been a fan of Lancaster Brewery for a while (though I'm a Yorkshire Tea man through and through) having been acquainted with the red beer a few years ago. So imagine my surprise when it popped out of my beers case!

A gorgeous brick red colour and a creamy head, the nose gives off wonderful red fruit, roasted malt and just a hint of grassiness.

The palate is mouth-coating with lots more roasted malt, more grassy notes, red berry fruit, sweet spice and a dry spice. There's a slight fiery note that leads to a lasting bitter finish.

Hop Studio, Mull. 5.5%

Brewed in collaboration with Dock Street Kitchen in Hull, this is a most unusual brew.

Almost ruby in colour the initial aroma is of sweet spice. More specifically star anise and cinnamon with notes of orange peel and sherbet. Normally I'd associate that with a cloudy wheat beer, but it isn't.

On the palate there's heavily roasted malt, juicy citrus and a slight medicinal note. I can certainly appreciate this as a very well made beer and it's certainly of a very high quality but didn't quite float my boat.

Loddon Brewery, Scramble. 4.4%

This is everything I expect and more from a proper British bitter.

Toasty malts, candied orange and a touch of smokiness are all present and accounted for on the nose. The mouth feel is big and bold with more candied citrus, a hint of tropical, yeasty notes and a superbly long, smooth dry finish make for a wonderful beer.

Old Mill Brewery, Bullion. 4.7%

When one thinks of bullion it invokes images of big bricks of gold all stacked high. Naturally I was expecting a light blonde beer but was rather surprised to find a very dark amber liquid coming from the bottle.

All the hallmarks of a good bitter with citrus, toasted bread and pine needles but with a hint of fresh cut wood. The flavour profile is much the same with lashings of malt and that woody note really shining through. A well thought out and well constructed beer.

Mordue Brewery, Workie Ticket. 4.5%

This beer really got me going. It's not often that I have to drink the whole bottle (I normally do anyway) to analyse every flavour note possible. This isn't due to a lack of flavour but more an abundance of it!

Dark brown in colour, the nose is brooding with toasty malt, red berries, sour cherries, and coffee. The palate is a slightly different story. Much more tropical and very full bodied. It follows up with citrus, more red fruit, burnt toast and just a touch of sweetness. This is a beer of two halves with lots going on in each. Another reason these cases are so much fun!

All these beers are available from the Best Of British Beer website. Can't find it on there? Call and ask for it! They'll do their best to sort you out.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Monday Morning Mugs: You Have The Same Amount of Hours in a Day as Beyonce

So, somehow it's Monday again, and I'm feeling particularly bitter about it today because I spent the ENTIRE weekend in bed with the worst cold ever to be experienced by a human (that's a fact), meaning I missed TWO fabulous parties and didn't get to drink any wine.

But I'm picking myself up, dusting myself off and trying to kick Monday's arse right into next week(end) - I just need a little bit of #MondayMotivation to spur me on until it's one day closer to Friday again.

Well, I've found it. And I'm sharing it with you in the form of one of my favourite ever edition of Monday Morning Mugs I've ever done.

I present to you: the 'You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce' mug (it's £9 from Urban Outfitters).


It's simple but effective; a real smack in the chops in the battle between productivity and procrastination. Well, it is if you're a fan of Queen Bey* - and I'm all over comparing myself to Beyonce.

Because - as the saying goes - you should always be yourself. Unless you can be Beyonce. Then you should definitely be Beyonce.

Go forth and be fierce!

And then come back and read the fun posts we have planned for you this week - there'll be new craft beer, awesome drinks venues, and news of a fantastic competition that could win you a trip to New York... and that's just the start of it!

*Who ISN'T a fan of Beyonce?! Come on now, be reasonable.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Craft Beer & Cuisine: Craft and Cleaver, St. Albans

One of the joys of Vinspire is seeing my fellow bloggers doing well in their various roles within the industry, so I was absolutely delighted to hear at the end of last year that our lovely Adam Richardson was opening his second super cool drinking establishment, and couldn't wait to visit!

He already has a pub and restaurant - the marvellous White Horse in Welwyn, for which he won Britain's Best Landlord 2014 - and now he's upped his game yet again and opened a craft beer pub and smokehouse called Craft & Cleaver in St Albans, a neighbouring town just down the road in central/southwest Hertfordshire.

We went along to the preview night a couple of weeks ago (OF COURSE WE DID) and we were super-thrilled to see such a trendy, stylised and passionate restaurant in the middle of St Albans, which has a great reputation for beer (it's the home of CAMRA's HQ) but isn't such a hot spot for restaurants. The boy done good.

The Look

Thanks to a £350,000 refurb,  Adam's given the place an industrial, American-themed, super-classy look, with a fantastic attention to detail in the decor that creates a really buzzing atmosphere, and makes going along for a meal (or even just a pint) feel such a proper occasion.

The Drinks

It's a venue that really knows what it's doing - the look and feel is matched beautifully with a menu of proper craft beers (think epic London breweries like Camden and Weird Beard, as well as American craft offerings from Flying Dog and others). It's the kind of beer list you could easily get lost in for an entire evening.

The wine list is also pleasingly diverse, with all the old favourites mingling alongside less classic options like beautiful fresh albarino and an incredible Lebanese red from Hochar.

And then there's the cocktails. Oh boy, the cocktails. Adam's taken classics and twisted a little bit of extra life out of them - think elderflower bramble, mango manhattan, hibiscus and rhubarb bellini, and a passionfruit margarita, which I can personally confirm was OUT OF THIS WORLD. And very generous on the booze.

Adam even does gin and tonic with flair - using the popular balloon glasses that are so big in gin-loving Spain right now, each of the gins is served with its own complementary garnishes and botanicals to enhance its individual flavours. And the measures are much kinder than you're probably used to...

The Food

If you're feeling peckish, this is probably the point where you should stop reading, or you might actually hurt with the need to eat some of the incredible dishes on Craft and Cleaver's menu.

Let's start with the burgers. Adam does burgers REALLY WELL - all the trendy mushroom, blue cheese, halloumi-type options, plus absolute belters like Holy Cow - a burger with beef brisket, bourbon bacon relish and blue cheese sauce - and Mother Clucker Waffle Burger - buttermilk fried chicken, maple syrup mustard sauce, rocket and bacon in a cheddar and spring onion waffle. Oh, mamma.

If that's got your mouth watering, wait 'til you hear about what's on offer from the smoker. Ribs, smoked duck legs, wild boar sausages, 12-hour smoked beef brisket and more (I had to stop, I was getting saliva all over my keyboard.)

Even the appetisers are epic - particularly the sweetcorn and halloumi fritters - and if you have room, there's the likes of key lime pie and caramel, orange and pecan brownie for dessert.

Once you've worked your way through the main menu, you'll literally have to come back the next available weekend to try brunch. Indulgent waffles, moreish muffins and a peanut butter milkshake that I hear is absolutely to die for. And, yes, there's the classic full English as well!

You can view the full menu on Craft and Cleaver's website.

I really can't stress how happy I am to see my pal Adam sharing his passion and flair for food and drink with the world - especially seeing as it's in Hertfordshire, and just down the road from my hungry belly.

From the looks of Craft and Cleaver's Facebook page, the restaurant gets booked up pretty quickly, especially at weekends - so it's obvious the other Herts restaurant fans are as in love with the place as I am - but do try and get a table as soon as you can. It's pretty darn special.