Friday, 31 July 2015

What a Find! Liberty Field's Apple Aperitif - and the Liberty Flip Cocktail for the Weekend

So I've made one of my top drinks discoveries of 2015. A really, really good one. Naturally, I raced Vinspire-ward to tell you guys about it right away!

It all started on Twitter - I saw a tweet from a nice Dorset-based apple company called Liberty Fields about their Apple Aperitif, and it sounded interesting, so I cheekily asked if I could try it. Rather than telling me to sod off, they very obligingly sent me a bottle (thanks!), and it landed on my doorstep yesterday morning along with lots of interesting information about them.

They've planted 1600 apple trees in their beautiful orchards, including some rare and local varieties, and since 2012 they've been using them to make some apple balsamic vinegar. So far, so lush.
Liberty Fields' apples

Then, in 2014, they created Apple Apertif: an 8% booze concoction made from their own apples, which are fermented and then matured in oak barrels for six months.

Before it arrived, I wasn't aware of the oak age, and was expecting something like a light apple liqueur along the lines of the sweet, pleasant fruit liqueurs we get from the likes of the brilliant Chase Distillery.

Well, it is not like that. And I love it!

Tasting notes

It's got a brilliant yeasty and baked apple nose that makes it smell almost like a fino sherry (another absolutely fantastic aperitif), as well as some nice green apple skin notes, but unlike a fino sherry it's a deep, dark orange-brown colour more akin to an apple chutney. It looks lovely over ice in a tumbler - and tastes even better.

Taste-wise, there's so much going on. It's appley, yes - think rich, warm baked apples rather than just apple juice, but it's still got that apple freshness - and the yeastiness is mostly relegated to the finish. Its replaced by a deliciously smokey, savoury character that works brilliantly with the sweet richness from the apple. Its lightness at just 8% abv means the alcohol stays in the background, preventing it from becoming too heavy or overwhelming.

Everything happens all at once in a delightful, chaotic symphony that just works brilliantly. It's utterly moreish and completely captivating. And it's unlike anything I've ever tried.

So how should you drink it, and with what?

A Dorset Pommes
There's dozens of possibilities. As I said, it's proper tasty over ice on its own, and well worthy of being savoured. It's also a fantastic thing to splosh into your G&T (they call it a G&Liberty) or to liven up a martini.

It's also delicious to add to soda water and ginger ale on a hot day, or into a glass of Prosecco for a smokey alternative to a bellini.

Or, OR, they've also come up with the brilliant idea of a Pimms alternative - 2 parts aperitif, 1 part gin, 3 parts lemonade, with cucumber, apple and mint. They've called it a Dorset Pommes, which is frankly genius.

Served long, it would work really well alongside pork dishes or lighter BBQ food in the summer, but it's also screaming out to be served neat with a big, flavoursome cheeseboard. Seriously, as soon as you try it you'll know what I mean.

What about proper cocktails? 

Well, the Liberty Fields guys have collaborated with some brilliant bartenders near their neck of the woods in Dorset to create some drinks for you, and they're brilliant.

Have a look at the cocktail recipes on their website (the Smoking Wreck looks particularly epic), but for now, here's their recipe for the Liberty Flip:
Photo: Stuart Webster

Liberty Flip cocktail recipe (serves one)
Created by Lloyd Brown, Head Barman at the Venner Bar, The Bull In, Bridport


50ml Liberty Fields Apple Aperitif
15ml Amaretto
15ml fresh lemon juice
10ml burnt caramel syrup (you can use a tiny bit of toffee vodka or liqueur instead if you haven't got time to make this)
1 whole egg
A little grated nutmeg, to serve

Shake it!

1. First, dry shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker (which means shaking them without ice).
2. Then add some ice and shake again, and strain into a coupette or martini glass.
3. Grate with some nutmeg, and serve.

Just perfection - and a lovely way to ease yourself into using egg in cocktails if you're a bit uneasy. It's all kinds of frothy goodness.

Have a happy weekend, everyone! With my new-found love of Apple Aperitif, I know I will...

Thursday, 30 July 2015

10 Terrifically Tasty Sweet Tea Flavours

Some days, today included, they really should just link me up to an IV drip of tea. I simply can't get by without the stuff - and it's a habit I'm not willing to break.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with a good old-fashioned cup of English Breakfast (I believe that would still count as treason) but a combination of a thirst to explore, a sweet tooth and continually forgetting to buy milk has led me to start yearning for some tasty flavoured teas instead.

I've reviewed flavoured teas in the past, and it's become clear that the fastest way to my heart is through a warm cup of the sweeter flavoured teas, (the fruity and herby ones just don't seem to do it for me - they're too goody-two-shoes healthy for my liking) so I've been on the hunt for the most indulgent and naughty-sounding sweet tea flavours I can find. Here's 10 of my favourites:

1. Birthday Cake Tea, £4.95 (50g pouch - 35 cups) from Bluebird Tea Company

YES THAT'S RIGHT. I'm starting with an absolute corker - the genius idea of making tea taste like cake.

The Bluebird guys combine rooibos tea (that's the natural, caffeine-free one with all the health benefits - so birthday cake tea is healthy, ner) with things like almond pieces, mallow flowers and cake sprinkles.

This gives it a cheeky, indulgent cake taste with barely any calories at all! I've got a feeling it'll be my birthday every day from now on...

2. Coconut Tea, £4.50 (100g box - 70 cups) from The Proper Tea Company 

A large-leaf, aromatic Black China tea which has been infused with coconut and comes with pieces of coconut for added coconutty goodness. A lovely tropical cup for a sunny day - and the Proper Tea guys make the very good suggestion of using it as a base for iced tea. Absolutely top stuff for summer.

3. Green and Chocolate Orange Tea, £4.95 for 75g, The Wee Tea Company

I absolutely adore this combination: you get the wonderful delicacy of Chinese Green tea (which, as I've said in my green tea review, is a brilliant concentration-booster and very healthy) mixed with a rich chocolatey-ness from cocoa peel and a zesty, uplifting finish from dried citrus.

I like that this isn't too 'in your face chocolate' so you get a hint of indulgence without feeling like it's cloying or overly rich - everything is really well balanced.

4. Almond Blossom Tea, £24 for 100 flowers (up to 100 cups) from The Rare Tea Company

This one really is a bit special. These are wonderfully cultivated flowers from Sierra Nevada, and they produce tea with a wonderfully aromatic, sweet, honeyed flavour.

You just need five of them to make a whole pot of tea - and you can refill the pot and re-infuse the flowers up to five times! A really decadent tea to sip all evening instead of wine if you're having a booze-free night but don't want to be bored silly - and much, much cheaper than most other drinks.

Obviously, it's quite pricey for the initial outlay (24 whole quid!) but it works out at around 20p per cup, and the Rare Tea guys have such a wonderful reputation I don't think I'd be disappointed. Definitely one on my wish list...

5. Pear Tatin white tea, £2.20 for 20 tea bags from The London Tea Company

As well as being a lovely 'dessert in a cup' type of tea (I love those), this is also a brilliant Fairtrade tea company, so you get to feel good while you drink it too.

Here, they've mixed fairtrade white tea with fairtrade ginger and 'the warm flavours of a pear tatin dessert', which I'm guessing is things like vanilla and... well, pears.

I imagine the ginger in this will make this even more appealing as we move into Autumn...

6. Chocolate and mint tea, £3.99 for 15 pyramid bags from Teapigs

Oh, I do love Teapigs. They really know how to nail a flavour combo, and here they've combined two of my absolute favourite things: peppermint tea (which is super good for my digestive health, and lovely after dinner) and ACTUAL CHOCOLATE CHIPS.

There's other flavourings and cacao nibs and what-not in there too - and guess what? It's only 3 CALORIES PER CUP! All the indulgence, none of the dieting. Winner.

Seeing as mint choc chip is my other half's favourite ice cream of all time, I think I'll have no issues convincing him we should splash out on a few boxes of this stuff.

7. Cinnamon tea, £3.60 per 125g from The Wiltshire Tea Company

I know none of you want to think about the nights drawing in and all the leaves falling off the trees and onto the railway lines and all the trains stopping and all the grey, grey despair of winter, but CONSIDER THIS: imagine if, after a hellish day of wintering, you could get home and have a steaming mug of sweet, cinnamon-laced tea to make all your troubles go away?

I think this sounds like a bloody brilliant idea myself, and the Wiltshire Tea guys have infused some lovely Chinese Ceylon Black tea with actual cinnamon bark and natural oil of cinnamon, so it's not going to be all fake-cinnamony either.

I also think this is not a bad price for such a lot of loose tea. That's plenty of cups to at LEAST get you through Autumn.

8. Hazelnut and Vanilla tea, £5.95 for 100g from High Teas

Sort of a bit like nutella tea but without the chocolate. Yes.

Actually, this really is a tasty combination - quite unexpectedly floral - and I imagine a cup of hazelnut and vanilla tea is absolutely perfect with an Italian or French pastry to nibble on the side.

The only downside is High Tea's website - you don't get a lot of information about the actual tea, but you do get a huge long essay about the history of hazelnut and vanilla pairings going all the way back to the Roman times. And they try to teach you a couple of words of Latin. 3/10 for web copy, 8/10 for tea flavours.

9. Cocoa and Chilli tea, £2.20 for 15 bags from Higher Living Herbs

When I was sent Higher Living teas to review last year, this was called 'sweet chilli' tea, and was the flavour I was least excited about. I had visions of drinking a brew of watery sweet chilli dipping sauce, and I was NOT feeling it.

But oh my giddy aunt, good golly Miss Molly and good heavens Miss Evans. It's the smoothest, most delectable blend of softly fiery chilli and ginger with creamy, chocolatey cocoa and warm fennel and cinnamon.

It really is a delight, and is my tip-top tea for autumn sipping. I buy it again and again for a reason.

10. Sticky Toffee tea, £6 for 100g from Whittards

Of course they did.

But it's not all fake toffee and sickly sweetness - this is black tea with caramelised macadamia nuts, a little sugar and some flavouring.

Not the most natural of the teas I've shown you, no, but come on - it's sticky toffee flavoured tea from a very decent tea-making company. It's good stuff.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Born in The USA: California Dreaming Wine Tasting Pt.1

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snap up some tickets to the very first wine tasting our "new local" was hosting. The Grape Escape opened in Cheltenham at the end of May, almost a stone's throw away from our house - excellent for staggering home purposes, but dangerous for the bank balance - and it's just perfect. There's an ever changing weekly wine by the glass list, with over 200 wines to purchase by the bottle, and you can buy to take home too (though it doesn't make much difference for me and The Chap, we'd rather be propping up the bar!).

It'll come as no surprise then, that such a great wine bar is the brainchild of great wine enthusiasts; you might recognise Ant (and Zoe) from the Confessions of a Wine Geek blog - @winegeekconfess on Twitter - and also Tim's #NewWineThisWeek post back in February last year. With such excitement about all things grape, it's hard not to be bowled over by the pair, and if you don't leave with a smile and a feeling that you've had some terrific wine, then there must be something wrong with you.

Anyway, their monthly tasting events kicked off with California. Cali was always going to be the first one; travelling around the wineries of the western state instilled Ant and Zoe with the drive to open up their own wine bar, and after returning home, they admitted to drinking nothing but Cali wines for 6 months! With such a rich history, this part of the USA seems to be producing some of the most exciting wines around.

Being "too fruity" or "too oaky" is the general stereotype for Californian wines. A stereotype that is perhaps supported by the likes of Robert Parker, who tends to favour the full-bodied wines with big fruit, concentration and new oak; giving them great praise - and scoring them highly - panicking all other wineries into producing a similar style. There are some really fab wines, as you'd expect, but it's also created this homogenised, somewhat boring, output of wines that don't really have a sense of place.

There is, however, a new 'movement' known as 'In Pursuit of Balance', or as Parker has referred to it, 'wine jihadists'. Some winemakers have taken it upon themselves to express the varieties they grow, and the places from which they grow them, regardless of the fact that they might not please the critics. The resulting wines are much more delicate and nuanced; with lower alcohol and far less new oak, they're wines that don't rely on you having food with them. Hurrah!

With 4 whites and 4 reds, there’s a lot to talk about, so I’ll do this in 2 parts; you’ll get the red wines next week!

We began with Viano 'Hillside White' NV, Contra Costa (retailing approx. £16). A blend of Chenin Blanc, Columbard, and probably the most un-cool grape, Muscat, this "house white" from Viano's old, dry-farmed vineyards (some of which date back to 1888) is quite the unusual one. It has the apple/pear/honey aromas from the Chenin, a tropical twist from the Columbard, and a grape-y-ness from the Muscat; overall producing something that's aromatic, floral, crisp and refreshing, with a unique but distinctively "winey" taste.

It's no secret that I love Riesling, and luckily it's Ant's favourite grape too, so the Tatomer 'Kick-on-Ranch' Riesling 2011, Santa Barbara (retailing approx. £30) was inevitably going to be a corker, and there's quite the labour-of-love story behind it too.

When starting out, winemaker Graham Tatomer was well and truly drawn in by the brightness and acidity of all the Germanic wines (particularly Riesling), to the point where he sourced some fruit from old Riesling vineyards and began making wine under his label. However, after sampling some of the best wines the old world had to offer, he thought they were so good that he immediately stopped making wine and moved to Austria to gain knowledge. When he returned home to California years later, he put everything he'd learned into practice, making top flight Riesling and Grüner Veltliner from the old vine sites of Santa Barbara.

This Cali take on a traditional Austrian Riesling has that typical petrol smell that comes from aged Riesling, but getting past that you find sweet appley undertones with a citrus zing. It’s got great acidity and tension on the palate; sharp and tart, fresh and mineral, with a long lusty finish. YES. 

Lioco’s Sonoma County Chardonnay, 2013 (retail approx. £30), is a fabulous example of how graceful a New Californian Chardonnay can be. It’s full of fleshy stone fruits, layered with lovely acidity, and once you’ve spent a bit of time with it, it becomes a mash up of Peach Melba and Lemon Meringue Pie. Phwoar! There’s a subtle toastiness hidden in there, and a mallow-y mouth watering texture that’s both moreish and thirst quenching. I’m told this is one of the ‘entry level’ wines from Lioco, and if that’s the case, I seriously need to try more of their stuff!

Our last white was Sandhi ‘Bentrock’ Chardonnay 2013, Santa Rita Hills (retail approx. £80). Sandhi - Sanskrit for ‘collaboration’ – is exactly that, a collaboration between some of biggest names in Cali’s wine/restaurant industry. Only fruit from the finest vineyard sites in Santa Barbara are used to produce the small volumes of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which undergo wild fermentations and see very little new oak.

Located on the south-western edge of the Santa Rita Hills, Bentrock is the youngest of Sandhi’s vineyards at only 6 years old. Still, the low yielding vines are already showing their potential in delivering intensely concentrated, classy fruit. Pale and fragrant, it has quite a tight scent, which gradually keeps giving more and more. A razor sharp streak of fizz cuts through the palate, which develops into smoky, buttery, lemon curd-ish layers, all beaming with acidity. Bentrock’s beauty is reflected in the price, but it’s probably as good as many white Burgundies, which would definitely be at much higher prices!

After the battle of the two Chardonnays, we voted on what we thought was the best value wine, and what we liked best overall. Unsurprisingly, the majority thought the best value was the cheapest – Viana ‘Hillside White’ at around £16 – and the favourite white of the night was the most expensive – the £80 Sandhi ‘Bentrock’. 

After a fine introduction to some of California’s white grape varieties and flavour profiles, courtesy of Cheltenham’s Grape Escape, we ventured on to the reds... But you’ll have to stay tuned for those next week!

Summer Bliss: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Despite the weather outside our windows at the moment, it is currently the height of the British summer.

As such we are bravely, (and with refusal to accept reality) faithfully traipsing to our local supermarket or butcher to pick up pound upon pound of meat for the barbecue... only to finally cook it indoors once the sodden coals refuse to ignite under the constant onslaught of drizzle.

For me, a perfect drink to match with a barbecue (especially one that has experienced rain delay) is a good quality bourbon.

The richer, slightly sweeter and often woodier nature of this whiskey makes it better for matching with smoked and heavily sauced meats. This was proven a month or so ago when some friends and I got together to polish off 15 racks of ribs at our imaginatively dubbed "Ribs 'n' Whiskey Day".

The whiskey I took along was Four Roses Single Barrel (£39.75, The Whisky Exchange). This Kentuckian distillery uses 10 different recipes for their whiskey - evidently, however, the single barrel is always only a single variety.

These are then hand-labelled with the warehouse they were aged in along with the barrel number. Funnily enough, although Four Roses has been one of the largest bourbon brands for the last 60 years, it was only relatively recently that it became generally available on the American market - before that it could only be bought at the distillery.

On the nose there is a whole lot jumping out at you: vanilla, spiced fruit, oak, smoke, toffee, a slight orange note, a touch of chocolate and nutmeg.
Photo by Ernesto Andrande

This has been aged in first-fill, charred, white oak barrels and as such the wood has imparted a lot of character into the spirit. This is a brash and warming nose, that has wonderful fruit and no small amount of depth to it, but will be more than capable than standing up to the smells of a barbecue in full swing.

On the palate this is soft and round, very rich and sweet, but with the slightest tartness about it. There are tropical fruits, raisins, milk chocolate, cocoa powder, orange, vanilla a lemon peel.

At 50% I would generally recommend diluting it with a little water, but when I am drinking this at parties I dispense with this (carefully doctoring whiskey in this way will generally be condemned as snobbery, and you will be relegated to the corner of the garden with the kids and that weird guy that no-one really invited.)

I think this is a great choice for summer, but can also be wonderful in winter. Thanks to the magnitude of the flavour and the wonderfully warming alcohol this can cope with meaty feasts, but it also does well by the fire on a rainy night, and should be enjoyable to both seasoned whisky drinkers and the newly introduced.

As mentioned above, Four Roses Single Barrel is available from The Whisky Exchange for £39.75.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Best of British Beer's Monthly Craft Beer Club - July, Part One

It's beer o'clock again! There are two things that occur at the end of every month that I look forward to equally. One of them is payday but much more exciting and wondrous is the arrival of Best Of British Beer's monthly Craft Beer Club case. (We've reviewed these every month for a while now...)

This month's arrival was waiting for me at the end of a thirteen hour (!!!) shift which included presenting a wine tasting to 40 people; so as you can imagine I was pretty exhausted. They say alcohol is a depressant, but I certainly wasn't depressed when I found what was inside.

Cotswold Lager, 3.8%

It's not often I see a lager in my case but given the hot weather we've had (somewhat) recently it was a lovely surprise. Cotswold is very pale straw with a fine stream of bubbles and a thick white head. Smelling of fresh grass and lemon rind, this is a fantastic example of how lager can be a simple thing of beauty. Sharp, racy and precise with flavours of citrus, grass and herbs and a beautifully dry finish.

Salopian Brewery's Dead Drop

This pretty much leapt out of the bottle. As soon as the cap came off the room filled with aromas of mango. In the glass, those aromas were followed up by pine, toast and the slightest touch of paprika. Weird I know. This, much like their Bulletproof beer, is a real powerhouse. Lashings of tropical fruit, an underlying warmth and a mouthfilling, almost viscous texture make this a serious brew.

Tatton Brewery - VIPA, 6.3%

With the letters IPA in the name I thought I had a pretty good idea what this beer was about before I'd even opened it. I was pleasantly surprised a malt heavy nose of caramel, earth and vegetation. On the palate however it lived up to it's initials. A constant toasty base note gives rise to guava, candied orange, red berry and a spicy finish. Best thing about it? Despite being 6.3%, it goes down so easily!

George Wright Brewery - Drunken Duck, 3.8%

Boasting an award winning brewer in Keith Wright, George Wright have been producing beers since 2005 in both cask and bottle. The Drunken Duck is labelled as a 'Pale Citrus Dry'. They've pretty much nailed it on there. Bright and fresh with all manner of citrus flavours from waxy lemon rind to juicy orange and a touch of pink grapefruit. A long bitter finish with a touch of dry spice make this a proper lip smacker.

Williams Brothers - Pavlov's Dog,

A big ol' ruby ale, Pavlov's dog, while not as fiery as some ruby ales, delivers huge flavours of stewed red fruit, pudding spice and a strong aroma of red berry, touch of cherry and a little bit of mocha. I've come across Williams before having sampled their fantastic Joker IPA, so when I saw the brewery logo on the cap when I opened my case, it came as a wonderful surprise.

 Prescott Brewery - Grand Prix, 5.2%

Prescott Brewery are based in Cheltenham and affiliate themselves with the famous Prescott Hill Climb. With all the beers taking their names from some aspect of motor racing, Grand Prix is a beautifully dark amber, almost verging on a bronze-like colour. Strong scents of bread, yeast and nuttiness. A strong beer but beautifully smooth with bags of malt flavour. There's an uplifting hoppy finish to round it off beautifully.

This is just part 1 of this months 12 bottle case - even I couldn't drink 12 bottles and write about them coherently. Part 2 to come next week!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Frozen Favourites: Pimm's Summer Crush & Gordon's Frozen Cooler

Ok, so the typical British weather has shown it's true colours this weekend, and has literally rained on our parade. Still, I'm not going to let the drizzle dampen my spirits, and I am not giving up on summer (even though I am sat here in a sodding jumper).

Come rain or shine, we try to help you with all your boozy needs at Vinspire, and seeing as August is supposed to be a good'un - don't hold me to that - frozen drinks are where it's at. Laura treated us to an ice cream float with chocolate beer and raspberry liqueur on Friday (SO dreamy), Tim mentioned a Sipsmith and Jude's Gin Float in a previous post, and Jo's featured THE BEST iced cocktails on sticks; 'Poptails' from Lickalix.

We've probably all had an alcoholic slushie of some sort in our time, be it a regular slush puppie spiked with vodka (blue raspberry all the way), or a tequila heavy frozen margarita, even just a scoop of sorbet sploshed with a glug of your chosen spirit will do. But now, it's never been easier to get in on the frozen action; booze giants Diageo have launched two new products that just require a little forward thinking.

Pimm's Summer Crush and Gordon's Frozen Cooler are the "coolest" new way to enjoy our summertime staples. Both come in pouches that you simply have to whack in the freezer for eight hours, then squeeze the 'ready to serve' frozen drink into a glass and hey presto! A breeze, huh?

It's certainly no secret that Pimm's and gin are favourites with us Brits - it's always on offer in the supermarkets at this time of year - so this is a clever move, and luckily, a pouch of each arrived at my door last week! I unearthed the big kid in me, managed to find a window of sunshine between the rain, and tested these sassy slushies out for you..

Pimm's Summer Crush

Regular readers may well be aware of my cautiousness when it comes to Pimm's; I'm really not sure that I've ever truly enjoyed a glass of it. But, not being one to give up hope, I keep persisting, and if you look back to last month, I quite liked the new Pimm's Cider Cup. This, however, is a different kettle of fish (in a very good way!).

Wimbledon may be over for another year, but Pimm's Summer Crush combines the frozen taste of the nation's favourite with hints of strawberry and cucumber.

As I always do with Pimm's, I expected to get a massive sugary hit upon my first sip, but nope, not with this one! The cucumber flavour is quite prominent, making it super fresh, and it actually kind of tastes like those old school watermelon Jolly Rancher sweets. The frozen nature of it balances the sweetness too, and both me and The Chap decided that we could easily drink this all day long without batting an eyelid.

Needless to say, it didn't taste very alcoholic despite being 4.7% ABV, though I'm sure if you drank enough of them, they'd eventually catch you out!

You can buy the 250ml pouch of Pimm's Summer Crush in all major retailers, but is currently in Asda for £1.98, or £2.00 in Tesco.

Gordon's Frozen Cooler

Gordon's Frozen Cooler is gin - obviously - mixed with the delicate, fruity flavours of apple and elderflower. I was pretty excited by this, as these are the kinds of flavour combinations I bloomin' love.

What I noticed first is that it tasted a lot stronger than the Pimm's Summer Crush, even though they're the same percentage (4.7% ABV). Elderflower can be quite overpowering in some drinks, but here, as Goldilocks would put it, it was "just right", meaning that even the floral-phobes amongst you would still be able to enjoy it.

The snow white slush is a beauty in itself, and the iciness ensures that it's an instantly refreshing drink. That said, it's definitely sweeter than the Pimm's, which is the opposite of what I was expecting! It is incredibly moreish though.

The 250ml pouch of Gordon's Frozen Cooler Apple & Elderflower is also £1.98 in Asda, or £2.00 in Tesco

Both of these frozen drinks were really tasty - I actually couldn't stop slurping - so I'd certainly consider buying them when the weather is being more well behaved! My only issue would be that 250ml makes one very large drink that's possibly a bit too big for one person, but splitting it between two doesn't seem quite enough. I'm not sure which it's aimed at...? Still, a ready made summery drink that doubles up as a frozen granita dessert is always going to be a winner. Give them a go!

Friday, 24 July 2015

Friday Cocktail: Raspberry & Chocolate Beer Ice Cream Float

Oh yeah, I went there.

It all started when I realised how frickin' deliciously (frickaliciously, if you will) chocolate and raspberries go together.

Then I started mulling it over and remembered that chocolate beer is most definitely a thing, and a thing of beauty at that.

We've already told you about Bateman's mocha beer (my beer of choice for this cocktail, actually - it has real Belgian chocolate in it) and how it makes really good chocolate beer cake, but there's also Youngs Double Chocolate Stout (at Tesco) and a whole ton of others popping up all over the shop.

So I thought: why not add raspberry liqueur to chocolate beer? It'll be fit. True enough it tasted grand, but it didn't blow my socks off, and it wasn't a cocktail yet. I needed more.

Then last week I was wondering down the ice cream aisle at Sainsbury's minding my own business when out of the blue I heard choirs of angels singing and a bright light emitting from one of the freezers, and there in front of me, shimmering with wonderment and giving me 'come to bed' eyes was a tub of Cadbury's zingy raspberry chocolate brownie ice cream.

It was fate - and the raspberry and chocolate beer ice cream float was born. Honestly, when you take a sip and get a bit of the raspberry sauce or little raspberry pops, it's absolute heaven with the chocolate beer.

Naturally, I am going to share the recipe with you.............. now:

Raspberry and Chocolate Beer Ice Cream Float cocktail recipe 
(serves one)


  • 1/2 bottle of chocolate stout or chocolatey beer
  • 25ml raspberry liqueur (I used chambord)
  • 1 massive scoop Dairy's Zingy Raspberry Chocolate Brownie ice cream (it's currently £2.50 down from £4 at Sainsbury's!) - or any other chocolatey/raspberry-laced ice cream you like
  • Chocolate vermicelli sprinkles, to garnish

How to make it

1. Pour out a splash of chambord onto a saucer and coat the rim of your glass in it.
2. Lay out some chocolate sprinkles, give them a little bash with the back of a spoon or something (so they're not so big and clumpy) and the roll the sticky rim of the glass in them to coat it.
3. Pour in some fridge-cold chocolate beer and a shot of raspberry liqueur, and stir carefully (you don't wanna knock your sprinkles off, now).
4. Add an almighty scoop of chocolate and raspberry brownie ice cream on top (and any extra sprinkles if you fancy it) and you're ready to serve.

Go forth and stuff your merry faces, my friends! It's the weekend, after all...

Discovering the Wonderful Wines of the Jura

There are areas of the wine-producing world that probably go unnoticed by most of the wine-drinking population, but take on mythical status for those people like me who classify themselves as wine-geeks.

Some examples of these areas are Priorat in Spain, which produces majestic and powerful red wines; and the Rheingau in Germany, which produces steely, electric Rieslings that make the mouth dance. They may not be the first wines that people look to when they're in the supermarket, but their qualities are extraordinary. To this group I would add the wines of the Jura, in eastern France.

Juran wines

The Jura is an AOC very close geographically to Burgundy, a region much more renowned for its wine production. Juran wines are permitted to have five grape varieties in their wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Savagnin, Poulsard and Trousseau. From these grapes they make some impressive still wines, as well as a sparkling wine (Cremant du Jura).

They also make a legendary wine called vins jaune ('yellow wine'whereby Savagnin grapes are allowed to mature as long as possible on the vines before being matured in vats for over six years. The wine is then allowed to oxidise in a sherry style before being bottled into a special 620ml bottle called a clavelin.

Vineyards in Jura tend to be very small (under 10 hectares) and production levels are quite low. Couple this with the fact that they are very much in demand and the result is that Juran wines tend to be quite hard to find - and expensive. So, when I saw a wine tasting featuring wines from Jura at a local wine bar to me, 161 Kirkdale (a wine bar who specialise in biodynamic and natural wines) in Sydenham I was very keen to go along.

The tasting

The session was a nice intimate affair with six of us at the tasting, which was led by Alex from 161 Kirkdale who had just come back from a trip to the Jura himself.

We started with a 2011 Michel Gahier Les Crets Chardonnay (Arbois, Jura) which was a little smokey with a touch of green apple and lemon to it. On tasting it coated the mouth nicely and had a nice, bright and fresh zingyness to it. Interestingly it seemed to have a slightly salty after-taste, which is something that Alex said characterises the Jura region. Quality 6.5/10.0

This was followed by a 2010 Philippe Bornard Les Chassagnes Ouille Savagnin (Cotes du Jura, Jura) which had a tremendously funky nose - in a good way! It reminded me of comte cheese and red apple - an odd combination, but I liked it... On the palate it was noticeably fresh and acidic again, with some melon notes. Quality 7.5/10.0
Our third wine of the evening was the first red, a 2014 Marie et Dennis Chevassu Granges Bernard Pinot Noir (Cotes du Jura, Jura). This was a very young wine for a Pinot Noir and what was immediately noticeable was how light this was in the glass - almost translucent (see right). On the nose and the mouth this was fresh and clean with characteristic red cherry notes. This was a lovely, uncomplicated Pinot Noir. Quality 7.0/10.0  

Next up was a 2012 Hughes Beguet Cote de Feule Poulsard (Arbois, Jura) which was a very interesting wine. This was a classically reductive wine. On smelling it at first we all remarked this absolutely ponged! We left it for a good half an hour and came back to it, the sulphur-like aromas had diminished and it had quietened down quite a lot. On the mouth it had a smokey bacon meets redcurrant taste, which was interesting if not particularly enjoyable. This was my least favourite wine of the evening. Quality 4.0/10.0

We finished with a 2013 Domaine des Cavarodes Trousseau (Arbois, Jura). This was a much more pleasing wine than the last - on the nose it was redolent with red cherry and bramble aromas. It did possess a slight funk to it too, but nothing compared to the last wine. On tasting the acidity of the wine was noticeable with sour cherry notes. It also possessed noticeably more body and structure than the last wine. Quality 7.0/10.0

There were definitely some interesting and unconventional wines in this tasting - just the kind of tasting that I like to go to as it allows me to learn more about the wonderful world of wine! Also at £10 a person for the tasting, I think this represented tremendous value.

161 Kirkdale doesn't have a website, but you can find them on Twitter @161kirk or on Facebook. They also collect canned goods for a local food-bank, so you can do a good deed whilst you sip your wine!         

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Join the Vinspire Team! We're Looking for Drinks Bloggers

It's a very exciting time for us here at Vinspire - for the first time in 18 months, we're looking for a brilliant new drinks blogger to join our team.

Six of us started this drinks blog back in April 2013, and three of the original members remain (myself as editor included), but over the years we have seen several fantastic, passionate drinks enthusiasts take part in Vinspire's crazy shenanigans and adventures.

One thing that has united all of our contributors is a wish to create a platform for the younger generation of drinks geeks, whether your passion is wine, gin, cocktails, craft beer, whisky, coffee or anything else you can imbibe gleefully. And to do so without the slightest hint of snobbery - we write for all budgets, all lifestyles and all knowledge levels.

We're so proud that our writing now reaches thousands of people per month and our voice can be heard by our 6000+ followers on social media.

We are now a team of six: Sam, Lucienne, Tim and me (that's Laura - hello!) post almost every week, and Adam and Hugo are currently taking a bit of a break while they do very exciting drinks-related things in their jobs.

That leaves a bit of a gap in our weekly posting schedule (and we're looking to post more frequently anyway) which is why we're reaching out for a friendly and exciting new contributor.

Let's get down to the facts:

Is this a job?

No. We aren't one of those blogs that call this a 'recruitment' or 'hiring' and then tell you we're paying you with "exposure" (they're the absolute worst, and one of the reasons I set this blog up in the first place). Some of the team are also professional writers on the side and we've learned the difference the hard way.

This is an invitation for someone to blog with us, not for us, as a joint endeavour for the love of drinks. We're a team that actually likes each other and everything.

Will I get paid anything though?

Yes. We do earn the odd few quid here and there thanks to advertising, sponsored posts and affiliate links (more on that on the FAQ page), and anything we earn we split amongst the team on a fairly regular basis (so any money you get needs to be declared to the tax man). Fortunately, the rewards do appear to be on the rise.

We also get samples quite frequently and we dish them out amongst the team too so you should get some new booze to try every now and again.

Who are we looking for?

A young (or young at heart!) drinks enthusiast - particularly if they have an interest in whisky and coffee. If you work in the drinks industry, all the better, but don't worry at all if you don't.

What skills should you have?

In case you wondered, this is what we look like.

  • The ability to come up with super, original ideas for blog posts.
  • A flair for the English language.
  • A good knowledge of your favourite drinks


  • The ability to take a good photograph
  • Experience using Blogger
  • An eagerness to travel to drinks events, particularly in London (some of them are really cool dinners and interesting evenings with brilliant people... sometimes they do end up being a cocktail and a sausage roll, though. We don't write about those...) 

How often do we want you to write blog posts?

Ideally you should have time in your schedule to write something for the blog at least once a week. We are all flexible when there's weeks we can't manage but if you don't think you can commit to this at least most of the time then I'm afraid you're not really what we need at the moment. Feel free to email us with guest post ideas, though!

How do I show my interest?

Just send us an email (vinspireUK AT gmail DOT com) with the following:

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself - who you are, your drinks passions, your best food and drink experience, what you do for a living, your favourite member of S Club 7, that sort of thing.
  2. Give us a list of 3 blog post ideas you'd like to write for Vinspire so we can get a feel for the kinds of things you like to blog about.
  3. Attach a sample blog (it doesn't have to be longer than 250 words - but feel free to write up to 800 words if you like) to show us your style. If it's good we'll publish it here, if you're happy with that.
  4. If you've blogged before, send us a link to your blog/any recent posts, and if you're happy to then please also give us your Twitter handle (we'll follow you, promise).

What's the deadline?

Well, next Friday is the 31st July, which sounds nice and official. So please send us your email by the end of the month.

Any questions?

Just send us an email or ask in the comments below.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Wine Wednesday: 7 Great Greek Wines for Dark Times

Photo: Jing (CCL)

I think it's safe to say we've all felt incredible concern for the people of Greece over the last few weeks and wish there could be a speedy resolution to this crisis.

I'm also crystal clear on the fact that I have zero economy smarts (so thank God they're not asking me for suggestions) and also that buying Greek wine isn't exactly going to make much of a contribution in the long run.

But, BUT - wouldn't it be lovely if we all went out of our way to buy a bottle or two of Greek wine over the next couple of weeks? Not because we have delusions of being heroes to the Greek economy, but to show our brilliant Greek wine-loving friends we're thinking of them.

AND, for goodness sake, because every time I try a new Greek wine I'm ALWAYS glad I did. So if your experience with the vino of Greece is limited, now's the perfect time to start trying it. I promise you won't regret it.

Of course, a slight issue is there's not that many Greek wines on sale in the UK supermarkets, but they are out there if you know where to look. In particular, The Wine Society has a fantastic range (literally every Greek wine they sell is brilliant), and there's also good options from Oddbins and M&S. Here's a few to try:

1. Hatzidakis Santorini Assyrtiko, £12.99 at Waitrose (or £12.50 for the 2014 at The Wine Society)

Assyrtiko is a grape variety, and one you should keep in mind when looking out for Greek wines. It's native to the island of Santorini, and is cultivated skilfully here by Haridimos Hatzidaki.

Highly fragrant and exotic in style, this is fresh and floral with a hint of spice, and a good minerality from the volcanic soils on the island. Full of flavour and absolutely worth every penny. As a bonus, it's veggie and vegan too.

2.  Thymiopoulos Malagousia, £9 at Marks and Spencer

Malagousia (or malagouzia too, apparently) is another Greek white grape you should look out for. This wine is made in the Valley of the Muses in central Greece and is made by one of Greece's biggest wine stars, the irrepressible Apostolos Thymiopoulous. Basically buy any wine with his name on the label (there's lots of them about).

Delicate, peachy and floral, this is a really summery white, and one of which you can savour every mouthful.

3. Ionos Greek White, £6.50 at The Wine Society

A light, crisp and pleasingly low-alcohol (11.5%) white from the Peloponnese. If you're a grape geek, this is made from indigenous Greek varieties roditis and lagourthi, as well as muscat, so you can imagine how fresh this is.

Examples like this are so rare to find in the UK, and these kinds of prices are exactly why we always seem to be banging on about why you should join the Society.

4. Thymipoulos Naoussa Jeunes Vignes 2012, £12.50 at Oddbins (or £10.50 for the 2013 at The Wine Society)

Another of Thymiopoulos' brilliant contributions to the wine world, this is made from the Greek xynomavro grape, which is really only grown with any success in the Naoussa region.

It's a light and silky red, not too dissimilar to pinot noir, with lots of red berry fruit and a whole heap of elegance.

It's also a wine you can serve cellar cool - just like the list of red wines you can serve chilled I recommended last week.

5. Tsantali Organic Cabernet, £9.49 at Waitrose

Oh look! A grape variety you've definitely already heard of! Now even the unadventurous, stick-with-what-I-know types can enjoy Greek wine.

Yes, this is a cabernet sauvignon from Greece, and is has all the firm structure and cassis fruit you'd expect from this most legendary of grape varieties.

But it also has this delicious wildness you don't tend to get from better know cabernet regions, with a lovely earthiness and brilliant intensity of flavour. And you get change out of a tenner! How could you resist.

6. Semeli Feast Red, £8.50 at Oddbins

Now, Semeli is a name you will see A LOT when you're buying Greek wines in the UK, and that's because it's a brilliant, versatile producer with a whole heap of experience. They recently merged with another big producer so they have quite a range of wines on their books.

This is a great example of the agiorghitiko grape (apparently it translates as St George) and is packed full of cherry and cedar notes. It's relatively light at 12.5% and is a perfect match for Greek flavours.

Check out The Wine Society if you want to try more - they do about half a dozen Semeli wines.

7. Samos Anthemis, £6.95 per half at The Wine Society

Eee, this is one of my favourite wine discoveries! I've recommended it before in Christmases past, because it's the ultimate mince pie wine, but there's tons of uses for it all year around as well.

It's a sweet wine from the island of Samos, and is made by a co-op that has been winemaking since 1934.

The grape is muscat (you've probably had sweet muscat wines before) and it's lusciously concentrated with honeyed, caramelised flavours. Drizzle some on ice cream, try it with treacley puddings, bread and butter pudding or caramelised pears, sip it with blue cheese, or save it for Christmas pudding... You see why I always have a bottle in my wine rack?

This really is the tip of the Greek wine iceberg - do check out the ranges at M&S, Oddbins, The Wine Society and Waitrose - so get out there and grab some. I bet your local independent wine merchant has some, too (another cause we should be throwing ourselves behind!) Yamas!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Fruity Summer Sips: Perisecco

Every year, the UK gets treated to a new wave of light, boozy summer drinks to try. We've reviewed so many in the past, and I'm always willing to try something new, so I was very intrigued last week when the Perisecco guys sent me an email to introduce themselves.

They told me Perisecco is an Italian aperitivo from the northern Veneto region (apparently it became particularly popular in ski resorts in the Italian Alps), which comes in a range of fruity flavours and is just 5.5% abv.

It's sold in a Prosecco-ish style bottle, and obviously its name has similarities to this hugely popular Italian wine, but be in no doubt that this is not Prosecco, does not contain any Prosecco and is not based on Prosecco in any way.
It's official description on the label is 'sparkling aromatised wine product', and it's produced in Germany, not Italy.

So should you buy this as an alternative to a bellini or another fruity Prosecco cocktail? In a word: no.
BUT, it is only £3.99 per bottle from Tesco, so it's really not fair to compare the two - I just wanted to clear that up.

Anyway, they sent me two bottles to review, and so the girls and I got together last night with our glasses at the ready.

Perisecco comes in a range of flavours, from lemon to hibiscus, and I was sent Perisecco Iced Melon and Perisecco Cucumber. Both are also flavoured with mint and elderflower.

However - and I'm waiting on confirmation of this from the guys who sent it to me - I should mention that the labels describe these drinks as flavoured with "the aromas of" cucumber/elderflower/melon etc, not the actual ingredients themselves. Obviously, I took that to mean these drinks are flavoured artificially (and the inexpensive price would suggest that too).

Perisecco Cucumber has a nice light green colour and has a recognisable green cucumber smell mingled with hints of elderflower. It's about as sweet as moscato, but not as light, or as sparkling, or as delicate in flavour. (Of course, it isn't trying to be moscato - I'm just giving you something to measure it by.) The flavours are quite obvious - although I didn't get much mint, to be honest - and it's pleasant to drink over ice. Personally, it was too sweet for me, but then I don't drink many sweeter style drinks.

Perisecco Iced Melon is a vibrant light red colour, and is similar in body and sweetness to the cucumber. The aromas and taste are very confected - it smelled like gummy bears and one of my guests described the taste as 'a bit like drinking liquid jelly that hasn't set' which I thought wasn't too far off the mark. Again, it wasn't unpleasant at all, but it wasn't overly melon-y to us - it's just a nice, sweet, fruity-ish drink which is refreshing in the warm weather.

So, in conclusion: for us personally, the drinks were a bit too sweet and we wouldn't drink them on their own. Those with sweeter teeth will of course think differently - and if you're after something really inexpensive to sip on a sunny day then this will most definitely be enjoyable.

They are also a good inexpensive and not-too-boozy ingredient for summer punch or spritzy cocktails on a budget. Or, as one of my guests suggested, "turbo Pimms", with the cucumber Perisecco replacing lemonade.

The drinks are available from Tesco for £3.99 per bottle - they currently only stock the two flavours I tried, Perisecco Cucumber and Perisecco Iced Melon.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Monday Morning Mugs: Grammar Grumbles

These mugs have been kicking around near the top of my 'favourite mugs' list for quite some time (and yes I DO have a favourite mugs list, so shush). I think I first discovered them about two years ago, but for some reason I've never shown them to you as part of the Monday Morning Mugs series.

I suppose this is partly because I don't want to go FULL NERD on you. And I also didn't want to be THAT GIRL that got all smug because I done good grammar innit.
But rest assured, these mugs are not about being mean and snarky, and are more about relishing my inner grammar geek.

The grammar grumbles mugs are from one of my all time favourite places to shop: The Literary Gift Company. They're a design they first created in 2013 after having been inspired by a publication called A Mug's Guide to Grammar. There's six in all, but let's take a look at my favourites:

This highlights the sin I am ALWAYS guilty of - the incorrect use of 'literally'.  I am going to be saying "I am figuratively dying for a cuppa" a lot more frequently now.

The "less or fewer" mug is the one I want because it will ACTUALLY remind me of the kind of grammar I'm rubbish at.

The incorrect use of 'their', 'there' and 'they're' is one of my biggest pet peeves, and is also the grammar-bashing I see most frequently in the comments section of Facebook. If I had a pound for every time I've resisted correcting someone... well, I'd have more than enough to buy all of these mugs.

And if any of you write in to tell me about a grammar mistake I've made in this blog post then I WILL HAVE SOME CHOICE WORDS FOR YOU.