Thursday, 29 October 2015

World Cup of Wine: Australia vs. New Zealand

In the lead up to the New Zealand v Australia Rugby World Cup match, I thought I would remind you all how awesome both places are (Although I am Australian and bias so I think Australia is better). One thing that makes us great, other than our rugby skills, are the wines that are coming out of both countries. There is a wealth of winemaker talent pushing winemaking boundaries with great results.

Here in London, we are lucky enough to be able to get our hands on ‘what the locals drink’ in the antipodean part of the world. No matter who wins on Saturday the following are all winners in my eyes.

I feel like a… SAUVIGNON BLANC

NEW ZEALAND: GREYWACKE, Wild Sauvignon Malborough (currently £22.49 at Majestic)

Winemaker Kevin Judd spent a good chunk of his winemaking career in the rolling hills of South Australia but now he is back in NZ doing some pretty note worthy wine things. NZ Sauvignon Blanc is not usually first on my drinking priority list, but for the Greywacke range I will definitely make an exception. He has a more traditional Sauvy B that has a delicate, restrained amount of the usual flavour characteristics plus a whole lot of refreshing minerality. Then there is the Wild Sauvignon which is not what you would expect. With lees time and wild yeasts, this wine is stone fruits and almond croissant, rich with orange curd and wild flowers.

Also available at NZ Cellar, Pop Brixton, SW9 8PQ

AUSTRALIA: DOMAINE LUCCI , Adelaide Hills (£17.49, Ministry of Drinks)

Anton, the winemaker responsible for this wine, is not what you would call a conformist. So you can be reassured that any time you invest in a Domain Lucci wine you will, more often than not, be taken to a place that you wouldn’t expect- pallet wise or mentally... A true artist in all forms. His cloudy Sauvignon Blanc has a touch of those Sauvignon Blanc capsicum and fresh garden notes with a hint of passionfruit but then it’s yeasty with a good whack of ginger. Not for the conservative. But real good with some deliberate oxidation.

Also available at Noble Fine Liquor E8 4 PH

Actually I want to drink a…CHARDONNAY

NEW ZEALAND: CRAGGY RANGE Kidnappers Vineyard, Hawkes Bay (£19.99 at Waitrose Cellar)

With the well-respected brains of MW Steve Smith in the vineyard, this Chardonnay is what I like to call good, clean fun. They make all their wines from ‘single vineyards’ and have travelled the world for influences and learnings. It’s honeyed and mineral, rounded and lemon curd. There’s a lovely melon and stone fruit refreshingness to it. Dry and zesty, full bodied and textural.

Available at NZ Cellar, Pop Brixton, SW9 8PQ

AUSTRALIA: L.A.S VINO, Wild Ferment, Margaret River

A young , up and coming, super tiny producer’s project. Nick, who also makes wine at his family’s well known Margret River Winery; Pierro, is currently making four different wines in very small quantities. So if you are lucky enough to see a bottle of this, or any of them for that matter; snap it up! The 2013 Wild Ferment Chardonnay is aromatic and complex. It has lovely flinty minerality with balanced acidity. There are hints of ripe stone fruits and candied almonds. Apples and citrus, with creaminess from lees contact, and bone dry.

Currently imported via Liberty Wines.

How about a…PINOT NOIR

NEW ZEALAND: ATA RANGI, Crimson, Martinborough (£18.34 The Drink Shop)

Family owned and run, Ata Rangi is one of New Zealand’s best Pinot producers as far as I am concerned. This Pinot is one of their more affordable tipples and worth every last pence. The Crimson series, for lack of a better word, is their ‘entry level’ range. This 2013 Pinot has a lively hit of raspberry, cherry, cranberry and spice and all things earthy and nice. A bit smoky with dried wild flowers. So good and hard to share.

Available at NZ Cellar, Pop Brixton, SW9 8PQ

AUSTRALIA: CIRCE, Mornington Valley (the Circe Hillcrest Vineyard pinot noir is £44.95 at Berry Bros)

The tiny production of Circe has made it’s way to the UK! Made by Dan Buckle, head winemaker at Sparkling wine producers Domaine Chandon, these wines are worth hunting down. The 2012 and 2013 of this stunning Pinot are quite different due to vintage variations; the ‘13 being cherry spiced, strawberries and cream with a juicy moorishness and the ‘12 having a touch more meatiness and pepper behind it. Both elegant, clean wines with good aging potential but I kind of want to drink them now…

Enough wine! I would like a… BEER!

NEW ZEALAND: YEASTIE BOYS Gunnamatta Tea Leaf IPA, 6.5% (£3.55, Mother Kellys)

After a very quick, sucessful crowd funding campaign, inspired by Brew Dog, these NZ brewers have brought their playful range of generally hoppy, well made beers. The Gunnamatta, at 6.5% is not for the faint hearted and is recommended in smallish doses depending on your constitution. That being said, having a couple at the start of the game will help set up your day… A full, floral IPA with hints of bergamot and citrus fruitiness. It’s guaranteed to get the conversation started.

Available from We Brought Beer


Owned by three brothers in South Australia, these crafties have finally hit our shores from Australia. With restrained hops, this super refreshing, crisp ale is highly sessionable. It’s a little bit fruity with subtle bitterness with a touch of malt. It is the ultimate tipple after a wine tasting or just because you’re thirsty.

Available at the Bottle Shop, SE1 2HH or in keg form this weekend at Temple Brew House WC2R 3JF

SIDE NOTE… We pretend to be outraged when people call us Aussies: Kiwi or vice versa, but secretly we don’t mind it at all because we generally heaps good guys and girls. So even though I will be whole heartedly wearing the green and gold with pride on Saturday I am pretty excited that it’s an Antipodean final. GO AUSTRALIA!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Supermarket Sweeties - Delicious Dessert wines on your Doorstep

(courtesy of Pixabay)

Its the page tucked away at the end of the menu; the cramped area shoved in at the end of the drinks aisle; the lost half bottle at the back of the drinks cabinet, hidden behind Granny's stale Sherry and Mom's Saturday night Pernod.

Dessert wine is probably the most bypassed section of the wine industry, even though this style of wine is seen as the key to grabbing the attentions of the next generation of wine drinker. Making this style of wine requires everything to be on point: hard work by Mother Nature for the weather conditions, pickers in the vineyards and winemakers in the winery. It deserves more attention that it sometimes gets in this country, and I have no idea as to why we aren't making a big song and dance about getting more people to drink them. May be its the thought of changing wines at the end of a meal that is so unsettling, or maybe having a sweet wine with a sweet dessert is just too much saccharine hedonism, but whatever it is, this style of wine deserves more credit. There are so many different types of dessert wines for us to discover on our weekly shopping trips and not one of them will leave you wincing at the price tag.

One of the most 'natural' dessert wines tend to be the wines which are created by certain weather conditions that help create a fungus called Botrytis Cinerea. This helps draw out excess moisture within the grape, leaving the all the sweet, sweet juice and grape sugars to be fermented out, creating a cornucopia of beautiful, complex flavours.

One to try is the Taste the Difference Sauternes 2011, priced at £12 for a half bottle. Made by one of the top producers of Sauternes in Bordeaux, Chateau Guirard, this wine keeps the freshness going with the zingy acidity you expect when the wine is packed full of lemony and orange-y scents. Candied peel, honey and a slight marmalade taste leave your taste buds singing like a certain ginger-haired North London born singer..

Another way of creating this sweet treat of a wine is through harvesting the grapes at the latest opportunity you possibly can, This is fraught with danger, as the longer you leave the grapes on the vine, the likelihood that disease could take hold grows, the more possibility that rain or hail could decimate the vintage, or they could become a cheeky snack for a whole host of wildlife around the vineyards. This process allows the grapes to raisin slightly, naturally removing the moisture within the grape and crystallizing the fruit flavours within.

A brilliant example of this style of wine is the Montes Late Harvest Gewurztraminer 2012 at £8 from selected Morrisons stores. Slightly more unctuous than the Sauternes, Gewurztraminer has the label of being like a liquid version of Turkish delight, and this doesn't stray from the beaten path. Rich and spicy, the tropical fruits of lychee and pineapple coat your mouth. This is a great wine to have instead of dessert, but also pop it together with a creme brulee and you are in for a palate party for sure.

The other is the limited edition Beerenauslese from Aldi. Unfortunately, this was only available during Xmas, but here's hoping that its available again this year! Made from Riesling, and only £5.99, this was an apple, custard and pear pudding filled delight.

White wines aren't the only ones that can be be part of this sweet wine revolution either. Portugal has the quintessential sweet red wine in Port, which is a variety of indigenous Portuguese grapes, which are then made into a still wine and fortified with spirit to give it the 'kick' that we all know and love.

Aswell as this, you really should try Mavrodaphne of Patras, at a ridiculously cheap £5 a bottle at Tesco. Made from the Mavrodaphne grape in Greece, its fermented in the sun, then mixed in with mature older vintages to get the sweetness. Really plummy and raisiny, it has a small spirity kick towards the end, but is fantastic match for whatever strong cheese you've got in the fridge.

There is so much good quality sweet stuff on the market at the moment, so get cleaning that sweet tooth of yours and get stuck in!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Super spooky Halloween spirits to drink

If you're planning the Halloween party to end all Halloween parties on Saturday and you want a fully stocked spooky bar, then look no further.

I was super impressed to discover that The Whisky Exchange actually has a whole section for Halloween booze, and a scroll through reveals some utterly perfect bottles to display at your party and use to make deadly cocktails.

Here's some of my favourites:

1. Black Death Vodka, £23.95

A pure and crisp beet-based English vodka. And actually surprisingly affordable. Extra points for the silver skull on the label wearing a top hat.

2. Bloodshot vodka spirit, £24.95

I first reviewed bloodshot as "the world's first Bloody Mary liqueur" and it really is perfect for making this iconic "hangover cure" of a drink. It might be fun the morning after - but then again, who wouldn't want a bloody cocktail for Halloween?

3. Jim Beam Devil's Cut Bourbon, £25.95

Not only is this a pleasingly sinister named whiskey for Halloween, it's actually quite an interesting drink: the 6 year old bourbon is blended with spirit extracted from the wood of the cask it was matured in, giving a powerful-tasting bourbon with a hefty woody richness.

4. Death's Door Gin, £42.45

This American gin is from Wisconsin and is a higher-than-usual 47%, so it really is a deadly spirit to serve at your party (they recommend using more tonic than usual, or less gin!)

I've thoroughly enjoyed the other American gins I've tried so this is a good opportunity to give a new one a go.

5. Deadhead 6 year old rum, £48.45

This probably wins hands down for creepiest bottle - not only in this blog post but in the entire Halloween spirits range!

This Mexican rum has been put in bottles that resemble those mega-sinister shrunken heads that Amazonian tribes used as battle trophies - and conjours up all kinds of heebie-jeebies.

6. Pumpkin face reserve rum, £53.95

Last but not least, a rum from the Dominican Republic that has been bottled in brilliant pumpkin-shaped glass. It may seem on the pricey side for a Halloween gimick - but it's not all fluff - this is worth buying in its own right, as it's made from rums distilled as far back as the 1980s and aged for up to 20 years. A rich and spicy treat for rum fans.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Dracula-Inspired Halloween Cocktail: The Dram Stoker


Feel free to read that both in a ghostly voice and a crazily over-excited one because I AM SUPER HAPPY that Halloween is this week!

I'm also utterly UTTERLY obsessed with The Vampire Diaries at the moment. Seriously. I'm on season 4 and I'm pretty sure I'm going to marry Damon and I'm already trying to do my hair like Elena. I don't care that I'm 27, it's a brilliant series. Yes God. Thank you, Netflix.

Obviously this means my Halloween costume of choice this year is a vampire. So I was chuffed to discover a super tasty and easily achievable spooky halloween cocktail in my inbox this week that is named after Bram Stoker, aka the creator of the original vampire pin-up himself, Dracula.

It came courtesy of Crown Royal Canadian Whisky (available at The Whisky Exchange and 31 Dover) and as well as having lovely autumnal flavours, it also has a pleasing vampire-like bloodiness rising up from its depths thanks to the settling of the syrup and the cherry.

Here's how to make it if you'd like to give it a go yourself at your Halloween party:

'Dram Stoker' Dracula Halloween cocktail recipe (serves one)


  • 50ml Crown Royal Canadian Whisky
  • 25ml Apple Schnappz
  • 15ml maple syrup
  • 15ml lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tsp maraschino syrup (from maraschino cherry jar)
  • Apple and maraschino cherry, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Shake all the ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker or jar, then double strain and serve in a champagne coupe.
2. Garnish with some apple and a maraschino cherry on top (plus a cherry with syrup dropped to the bottom of glass).

What do you guys reckon?

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Beers of South-East London

Ever since I visited Meantime to look at their brewery, I've been thinking about the veritable treasure trove of beer brewing that goes on these days. There are so many wonderful, small-scale producers out there who are creating innovative and boundary-pushing beers. So much so, that the big-boy beer companies are now starting to acquire these companies to try and cash in on this emerging market (again, see Meantime). Let's hope that this doesn't result in any reduction in quality or creativity of expression.

With this in mind, I thought that it would be remiss of me as a drink-buff and a proud South-East Londoner (adopted home, I will always be a Brummie at heart...) not to do a bit of research on my local beer producers. You can imagine how pleased I was then, when I discovered that a hitherto unremarkable-looking corner shop in my area was actually stocking a rather excellent supply of beers from local producers. The beers practically fell off the shelves, into my arms, into my fridge and into my mouth.

So, here's my round-up of the best of what South-East London has to offer beer-wise...

Brick Brewery (Peckham)

Brick Hefeweizen: This was the best wheat beer that I have tried in a long time (I'll admit to not being their biggest fan). It had a more restrained aroma than most of the banana-bombs that you smell, this time it was more like pineapple. On the mouth it.was bright and, importantly, not too sweet; quite refreshing in fact. 7.0/10.0

Peckham Pils: This had a slightly unexpectedly sweet nose to it. The taste was a nice balanced one with decent maltiness paired nicely with a slightly citrus, hoppy note. This was a beer made in a classic Czech style and I thought it was excellent; a beer you could stay on for longer than you should. 8.5/10.0

American Pale Ale: Characteristic citrus / watermelon nose without assaulting your nose (which some APAs certainly can do...). On tasting it was not bitter or astringent, two common faults in APAs and was instead pleasantly bright and fresh. A thoroughly decent beer. 8.0/10.0

Brew By Numbers (Bermondsey)

Each BBN beer has a set of numbers on the front of the bottle. The first number describes the beer's style (stout, porter, wheat beer, etc.), whereas the second number tells you about how they made the beer (the recipe, hop types, etc.). This allows the real beer geeks to get very excited...! 

Golden Ale (Pacifica and Wai-iti): A nice citrussy, grapefruity, hoppy aroma on the nose. On tasting I found it a little sourer than I was expecting. I wasn't overly impressed with this beer. 6.0/10.0

Grisette (Mittelfrüh recipe): This was a new style of beer for me and is described as a light Belgian-style farmhouse ale. I thought that there was some slight banana notes to the nose. On the mouth it was nice and fresh, it made me think of a sophisticated, yet refined wheat beer. I liked this a lot. 8.5/10.0

Session Pale Ale (Amarillo, Single Hop recipe): A citrussy, hoppy smell with a slightly sour taste. Decent, if unspectacular. 6.5/10.0     

Brockley Brewery (Brockley, duh....)

Summer Ale: As you would expect this has a rather lovely lightly hopped, citrussy kind of aroma. When tasting there was a faint hint of malt but this was rather soft, which had the effect of keeping the beer light. This was a pleasingly simple, light and bright, easy-drinking kind of ale. 7.0/10.0

Red Ale: There was a definite toasty and maltiness to this beer that reminded me of the Meantime Yakima Red, which was accompanied by a slight caramel note. On the mouth the malty characteristics were balanced out with a slight bitterness that reminded me of coffee. This was another thoroughly decent beer. 7.0/10.0

Partizan Brewery (Bermondsey, again...)

Stout: On the nose this beer was a rather intriguing one with notes of cocoa, coffee and a touch of licorice coming through. On tasting it had a little malt to it and was couple by a nice smooth mouth-coating texture. There was a hint of chocolate flavour to it too. This was a beer that I enjoyed a lot more at the start than I did at its finish as I thought it was just a touch too sweet for my liking; others may go for it but it didn't quite do it for me. 7.0/10.0

Porter: When smelling this, I knew we were in for a winner as I got a pleasing noseful of smoke emanating pleasantly from the beer. There were some additional semi-sweet cocoa aromas to accompany it, which helped greatly. On the mouth it was seductively smooth with full and slightly sexy chocolate notes to it. This was a really, really excellent beer. Not one you could drink all night, but one worth pouring for yourself after dinner following a particularly stressful day at work. 8.5/10.0     


There you have it, four excellent producers all a stone's throw away from me. What's not to love about that?

Does your area have strong craft beer production going on? What producers have you discovered recently that are you getting excited about?  

The Older 'New World' - Wines of Bulgaria

(courtesy of Pixabay)

In my line of work, I've been extremely lucky to sip a fair few vinous products in some wonderful places in the world. I've chugged on Champagne in Epernay, had a tipple in Tuscany, had a bowlful of red in Beaujolais and marveled at Malbec in Mendoza. However, there is one area of the wine-producing globe that has so far eluded me and I have added it to the bucket list of places to visit, squeezed in between a weekend at EuroDisney (I gotta hear a French-speaking Mickey Mouse before I die) & Space (I'm just 6 sweet lottery numbers away, Mr Branson...).

Bulgaria first grabbed my attention when the 'Hairy Messi' of Eastern European football Hristo Stoichkov smashed a goal past the Germans at the World Cup in 1994. Quite literally, the entirety of that summer was spent trying to emulate that in various parks around Birmingham, with absolutely no success. It seemed that at the time when the man from Plovdiv was smashing in the goals at the World Cup, the Bulgarian wine industry was at an all time high. In 1994, Bulgarian exports to the UK alone were 4.5 million cases, with much of it its famed Cabernet Sauvignon. Fast forward 10 years to when I first entered the heaven of the wine industry in 2004, many a person would tell me "Ooooh, I remember the good old days when that red wine from over in that Bulgarian place was right lovely and only cost me a couple of quid". So, I remember distinctly scanning supermarket shelves and trying to find this elusive liquid, but having absolutely no luck at all. 

By the early 2000's and beyond, things had gone a bit awry. After the fall of Communism, land was given back to its original owners, who either a) had no interest in growing vines, so left the land to become overgrown or b) grew completely unsuitable varieties, which made pretty shocking wines. Those owners who did take a bit of time to pick and choose the right varieties, were constantly worried about their crop being stolen or the unpredictable weather ruining it, that they picked the grapes far too early, leading to tart, unripe and underdeveloped fruit. Wineries who bought the grapes hadn't got the investment needed to make quality wines, so average and down right awful fare was produced.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to see if the once market leading producing Soviet Bloc country had risen from the ashes of mediocrity and could regain past glories. The main problem was how I was going to get my hands on anything remotely passable as wine. As luck would have it (and definitely not engineered or piggy-backed on in any way), a work colleague of mine, Bulgarian born Dayana, was heading back to her home city of Sofia for a visit, so I asked to her to get 3 bottles of wine for me that demonstrated the new 'New World' of Bulgarian wine making and here is what she brought me:

Maryan 'Sense of Tears' Single Vineyard Dimyat 2014

Dimiat is one of the most grown white grape varieties in Bulgaria, mainly being grown in the central areas of Bulgaria. This one comes from an area called Veliko Tarnovo from the Maryan Winery. Used as a source of refreshment for farm workers, its meant to be extremely well chilled and consumed young with no need for ageing.
As I poured it, the fragrance from the glass was phenomenal. Peaches, soft apples and a green vegetal smell followed a slight smoky note made me think this was going to be something that could possibly blow my alcohol soaked mind. Unfortunately, I felt a little let down. Slightly drier than I had read it should be, it tasted very austere and was very light in terms of the fruit character. Pine resin and slightly metallic, I can see why some people could drink a pint of it to cool yourself down after a hard days work in the fields, but its very specific taste means its not for everyone.

Logodaj, 'Nobile' Rubin 2012

Rubin is the result of cross pollination of the more well known grape varieties Nebbiolo of Italy and Syrah of France. Mainly planted in the southern and eastern areas of Bulgaria, due to the warm climate that the grape needs to ripen. The Logodaj winery is based in the Struma Valley, which runs from the west of the country to the south. In the glass, it displays a beautiful violet and red colour and the smell shows that it is heavily based on the Nebbiolo characteristics. Herby, floral and slight spice, it gives signals that its a pretty complex wine. Tasting it doesn't disappoint. Meaty and fruit-driven at the same time, a touch of oakiness gives the wine some good structure to cope with any meat you could slap on a plate in front of it. Red fruits and sweet spice mingle with a subtle smoky nature. A grape worth keeping a cheeky eye out for.

Vinozavod, Mavrud Premium Reserva 2012,

As you can see from the label, this took a whole lot more than Google translate to work out this one! Mavrud is a thick skinned red grape variety, which ripens very late, giving it ample time to create some seriously tasty flavours. Thanks to Dayana's gratis translating skills, she tells me that its from an area called Trakiiska Nizina within the Thrace region in Central Bulgaria (where most of the best Mavrud seems to come from). From the colour in the glass and scent of the wine, it screams of something reminiscent of a New World Cabernet Sauvignon. Chunky, sweet black fruit, with a hint of dark chocolate and roasted nuts, it is a massive blast to the nostrils. In the mouth, it has a real voluptuous feel, with a really rich taste. Big damson and fruits of the forest, the chocolatey nature of it really comes through. Match it with some game or goulash and you have a fantastic treat of a wine.

If you fancy trying some of these unusual varieties, they are hard to come by in your normal day to day shopping, but visit and peruse their wares for something that may catch your eye.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Bristol Cocktail Week: 19th - 25th October 2015

If you thought that it was just London that gets all the swanky cocktail events, then think again; today sees the first day of Bristol Cocktail Week.

Now in it's 5th year, and with an 80's-esque rebranded website, Bristol Cocktail Week 2015 is bigger and better than ever before. Curious consumers and brilliant bartenders alike can enjoy the best of the west's offerings at over 50 bars across the city.

It seems Bristol has really upped it's game in the food and drink stakes lately; it's always been 'cool', but it now boasts a huge amount of award winning bars and restaurants, making sure that it's firmly on the map. If you've not yet been, this is an excellent opportunity to get a taste of the Bristolian's boozers.

Wristbands cost just £10 and that gets you £10 off all ticketed events as well as exclusive access to the non-ticketed ones too. Of course, if you suffer with a fear of commitment (or maybe just want to go to one thing), you can still purchase full price tickets for any of the 20+ events.

The week kicks off today with the annual Cocktail Cup; Bristol's finest will spend all day competing in a cut-throat competition to see who will crowned Bristol's Best Bartender 2015, and for the first time ever members of the public can come and watch the final two battle it out live at Flipside Cocktail Club. This is a rare opportunity to gain access to an event that is usually closed to the public, so tickets are limited, but included in the price (£15 or £5 with a wristband) is a welcome cocktail made by one of our final two! Move over boring Mondays!

The competitions don't end there though... Introducing the Bristol Bar Wars - *scowl*. "There is a long standing bitter rivalry in Bristol between two tribes, a rivalry that needs to be put to bed, and the only way to put an end to this rift is with an all out war and for this we need your help. We need you, the drinking public, to come and judge this battle royal and help us end this fight once and for all."

This shiz is serious. Wednesday 21st (7-9pm) sees a battle between those who hide away in their speakeasy establishments, donning the waistcoats and braces, stirring down delicious cocktails of yesteryear, and those who sling their shakers around, use all the latest gadgets and hit the music HARD. Tickets are £20 full price or £10 with a wristband, and include a cocktail on each of the two floors at Noche Negra, as well as voting tokens to pick the victors.

A new initiative for this year's event is 'Briottet Bristol In A Glass'. Bars across the city are creating their own signature Bristol-themed cocktail using award-winning, top quality liqueurs from the Maison Edmond Briottet (you'll recognise them), and super sippers can vote for their faves throughout the week!

Although a few of the events have already sold out, there's still a whole host of things you can go to, and here are a few top picks:

Bristol Cocktail Safari (20/21/22 October 6.30-9.30pm)

At a top secret location you will meet with your cocktail quaffing guide. This walking tour will take you to 4 great Bristol Bars where you will be served a fabulous cocktail and be given the history behind the drink you're sipping. Between venues your guide will tell you a little more about cocktails in the city of Bristol, what to drink, where to drink it and some fun anecdotes to boot. Tickets are £30 full price or £20 with a BCW wristband.

Against The Grain at Small Bar (Thursday 22nd October 7.00-8.30pm)

At the beer mecca that is Small Bar, a powerhouse of flavour smiths will be coming together to mix up the ultimate in beer cocktails! Left Handed Giant Brewery will be teaming up with Auchentoshan Whisky, Bols Genever and the team from Hyde & Co Leisure to create some ground breaking beer cocktails celebrating all things grain. A total one-off event that promises to be educational, informative and most importantly very, very tasty! Guests lucky enough to secure a ticket (£20 full price or £10 with a BCW wristband) will be served a degustation of creative grain cocktails involving everything from fermented fruits and sour beers to deliciously oaky scotches and rich stouts. 

The Ultimate Espresso Martini (Friday 23rd October 6.00-7.00pm)

If you thought cocktail geeks were picky, welcome to the world of coffee connoisseurs! The wonderful gents at Small Street Espresso have teamed up with Matt Dakers from Stolichnaya vodka to deliver a seminar on the perfect Espresso Martini. Learn the history, pick up some tips on how it should be done then delve deep into the world of coffee to find out which bean makes the best espresso for this iconic cocktail! At a secret location, tickets are £15 or £5 with a BCW wristband.

Cocktails Through The Ages at Milk Thistle (Friday 23rd October 9pm-2am)

Drink your way from 1815-2015 in just 5 hours at Milk Thistle! The drinks menu and the music will change every hour to bring you a different drinking experience from across the decades, starting in Victorian England, stopping off in prohibition America, the roaring 50's, the oh so kitsch 80's and finishing in the modern day. Pick your favourite and book for the hour or book a table for the whole evening and see how times have changed. Free with a wristband but booking advised.

Bristol Masked Cocktail Ball at St George (Saturday 24th October 7.00pm-midnight)

The headline event of the Bristol Cocktail Week calendar is an all singing all dancing Masked Cocktail Ball! Polish up your dancing shoes and dust off those glad rags; we are going to party like it's 1955. The stunning hall at St George's will play host to this swinging shindig, and Bristol's finest shakers have created some fitting cocktail menus for the evening. Live music will ensure you're throwing some shapes, and the Venetian market mask stall will help you get into the theme of things if you didn't come prepared! A speakeasy cocktail bar in the crypt below the building will be on hand for those in need of something with super strength, and some of Bristol's best loved street food trucks will be on hand to soak up some of that booziness... The event is free to attend if you are a BCW wristband holder, but purchasing a VIP ticket gains you guaranteed entry plus two cocktails. VIP tickets are £20 full price or £10 with a BCW wristband.

For the full line up, visit the Bristol Cocktail Week website. What are you waiting for? Immerse yourself in Bristol's cocktail culture. 

8 Reasons to Love Pop Brixton

I love Pop Brixton. This place has everything. From food to booze, an ever-changing events program and a beautiful space, this space rocks. If you haven’t been down (or up) there yet, here is a little more as to why you need to jump on the Victoria line and take the last stop…

One: It looks great. 
The group who did the design and build have nailed it. It's not a huge space that can cater for masses, but it has the ability to still feel full with even 10 people in there. There are lots of places to sit and eat and many plant boxes to perch around. 

The downstairs space is one big beer garden and the upstairs has shelter from the rain. And the space is growing- they have just recently put in a stage area which you can catch Rugby world cup matches, DJ’s and more. So literally: watch this space…

Two: The selection of food is excellent. 
There are savoury crepes (who use gruyere and pre cook their mushrooms in butter and herbs), pizza (wood oven of course), ramen (one of the best ones in London), tacos (avocado, lime, pulled meat; you can’t go wrong), barbequed meats (finger licking goodness), jerk, sweet treats, and Vietnamese (which is very healthy street food that still hits the spot). Oh, and wurst and sushi. 

There are a couple of tiny restaurants on offer too- tapas brought to you by Donostia, Hook’s fish and chips, African foods by Zoe’s Kitchen (and yes it is Ghana be tasty) and Kricket who do beautiful Indian food. Literally everything you could possible want to eat. 

Three: The entertainment
If the ‘consumables’ aren’t enough to entertain you there is a diverse list of entertainment- both day and night. As mentioned above, there is a screen showing the rugby world cup, DJ’s and more. 

Also look out for live music, yoga, wine tastings (NZ Cellar), cinema and dance classes. And other things brewing. Keep an eye out on the Pop Britxton webpage or social media for all of the events.

Four: The shopping
There is a handful of fun, quirky shops selling clothes, gift and arty bits and pieces. Have a look around- you may even find yourself some super early Christmas presents.

Five: Coffee
There is caffeine here and it is decent.

Six: Beer
The good stuff (booze) is really good. As you would expect with a pop up, the craft beer is in abundance. Well when in Brixton you may as well drink Brixton. 

I particularly love their Efra Ale which is hoppy and zesty and a little on the deep amber side. Very full flavoured and for a small bonus on the side they it is vegan friendly. If you are looking for something a little lighter their Reliance Pale Ale is beautiful and fresh citrus hoppy and fruity.

Seven: GIN
The gin selection is excellent. There are eight different gins to choose from. All locals. That’s pretty good in my books. I particularly like the Bathtub Gin…

Eight: Wine
Last, but certainly not least, your wine choice here is the best in pop up town. Various bars sell different wine bits and pieces but I would very, very highly recommend visiting the New Zealand Wine Cellar for any of your grapey needs. 

The thing I love about this place is that you can grab a glass of bubbly/white/red from the ever changing ‘by the glass’ wine menu, or, better still, you can grab a bottle from the shop. This means you have three shelves worth of wine to choose from instead of blindly looking at a wine menu. 

Talk to the staff as they are full of NZ wine knowledge and will guide you in the right direction. If you find something you really love you can also buy takeaways.

So, see you all at Pop Brixton. And keep an eye on their social media and website for all up and coming festivities.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Rum Experience Week: Tiki on the Thames

There's been a lot of rum goings on in the capital this week in the lead up to Rum Fest, the world's largest consumer and trade rum show, showcasing over 400 rums from around the world, which takes place on 17 and 18 October 2015.

As a relative newbie to the rum world, I gladly accepted an invitation to Tiki on the Thames this week, where I tried lots of different rum based drinks and tried to put bad memories of warm rum and coke at crap house parties to the back of my mind.

It was a success. I met Global Rum Ambassador Ian Burrell (who you might recognise from the telly). The man knows his stuff, not least how to make a cracking Mai Tai) and learned all about my new favourite rum; Don Q Gold. This Puerto Rican rum is dry, light, zesty, sharp, with a sweet scent and fruity notes which linger on the tongue. Not only that, but it was the rum used in the first ever Piña Colada (heritage FTW). Despite the brand being 150 years old, it's only just making its way over to the UK - although The Whisky Exchange has a few of their line up.

Photo: Jeremy Noble (CCL)

As a new found rum lover (I won't go so far as to say aficionado, but watch this space), here's a recipe for my favourite rum cocktail:

Ingredients (serves one):
50ml rum (we had this with Appleton Estate)
15ml fresh lime juice
10ml black cherry Re'al purée
Soda water

Mix the rum, lime juice and purée together with ice, strain into a glass and top with soda. Garnish with a wedge of fresh lime.

This nameless cocktail was something whipped up in our kitchen. Got a suggestion of what to call it? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Birmingham, the Black Country and its Beers: Sadlers Ales

Birmingham and the Black Country. An area that runs through my veins with pride. A place synonymous with graft, factories, Jasper Carrott, Villa Park, M6 traffic jams and now, a moaning waiter from the X Factor (a curse upon your many magnificent houses, Simon Cowell...)

Y'know, proper salt-of-the-earth types.

Never has it, or will it ever be, associated with fine Cabernet Sauvignon that would make the harshest of critics shed a tear in joy, Merlot that sings of silk in a glass or Pinot Grigio thats fresher than a family size pack of Polo mints. In fact, when it comes to the noble wine fruit (outside of a valiant effort on the West Midlands/Shropshire border), we're more famous for gravel and grime, than grapes and greatness. 

However, there is one thing in drinks that has made the rest of the country sit up and take notice. Our pursuit of beer based brilliance is nothing short of great and, along the way, we here in the deepest depths of the Midlands have made some fine tipples for you to get your cracked and dry mouths around, freshening even the most honed of ale-laced palates. 

I know I may be a bit biased (a swift exit from my parents' last will & testament would be the desired punishment if I insulted my place of birth), but there is so much to discover in the Midlands when it comes to barley, malt, hops and yeast.

In a series of intermittent homages to my home county, I'm going to focus on some of our more interesting and famed breweries, which I have drank by the barrel load, but yet still playing catch up to my 'old man' in volume terms!

My focus for this one is Sadlers Ales, a brewery based in a small suburb of the Black Country called Lye in Stourbridge. Originally famed for its glass production & pop bands (The Wonder Stuff of 'Dizzy' fame grew up round these 'ere parts), recently its been famous for its non-league football team's advances in the FA Cup and its brilliant beer. 

Sadler's was started in 1900 by Nathaniel Sadler and started off supplying its own pubs in and around the Black Country, creating a loyal band of Sadlers Ale's drinkers. Passing through the generations and spreading its wings of productions, the supply of its ales started to coarse throughout the Midlands until 1927, when the original brewery halted production. 

Roll on to 2004, and the fourth and fifth generation of the Sadler family decided that the time was right to crank the mash tun up again and get brewing once more and, from the bottom of my heart, I thank them for it!

They brew a core 9 beers with catchy monikers such as Mellow Yellow and Peaky Blinders, but also create 12 other monthly brews to keep the drinking audience interested & many 'one-off' pints (my personal favourite is Bottom, a lightly hopped, floral and citrus thirst-quencher which goes down a treat after hard days wine-selling). 

As well as the brewery, they have just opened up a 'Brewhouse & BBQ' restaurant in Southampton, so even if getting to Birmingham is a bit too much of a jaunt, a trip to Hampshire will make you feel you are drinking in a strange hybrid of a Texan meat shack and a backstreet boozer in Dudley. 

I've picked out 4 superb drops for you to try and get your hands on, ably assisted by my brother, who didn't need too much convincing:

'Worcester Sorcerer' 4.3% (£1.50 a bottle at Morrisons) is a bitter style ale, with a fair whack of hops jumping out of it (pun completely intended). A light malty flavour comes out too, so its great as a compliment to spicy dishes.

'Thin Ice' 4.5% (£2.95 at The Flipping Good Beer Shop and other outlets) is a very light style of Pale Ale, with gentle citrus characters of orange. A slight hoppy taste, but not too much. Summertime sipping, or just simply something to gulp away at, when at the bar or in front of the telly.

Boris Citrov 4.7% (£1.25 at selected Aldi stores) is billed as a 'Marmalade Ale', and I can tell you, Trading Standards can sleep tight knowing that they are telling no lies. Lashings of orange and lemon notes run through the beer and it even has a slightly sweet finish, balanced by a slight hoppy bitterness. Can easily match with some late autumn BBQ or Chinese spare ribs.

Mud City Stout 6.6% (£1.59 a bottle from Home Bargains, when bought as a case of 8) is a chocolate-y, roasted nut bombshell of a beer. So flavoursome and rich, it has a fantastic length and is truly one of the tastiest and maltiest of Stouts that I have ever tried.

Keep your beady eyes open for them if you are ever knocking around Middle England. A roit proper bostin' brewery, ay it!*

*Translation available upon request

BTW Tonic Syrup: The way gin intended

Every year thousands of shiny new drinks products make their way into the market. Some are terrible... some, taste great but look awful, many are the other way around. Some are plagued by poor marketing budgets, and others hit hard due to massive marketing budgets; regardless of whether the product is any good or not.

BTW Tonic Syrup is none of these. It does not conform to stereotypes, which is also true of the product itself. BTW is nothing short of spectacular - a ray of sunshine in a crowded marketplace full of the 'next big thing'.

BTW Tonic Syrup is riding the wave of the increasing popularity of gin and prohibition-style Cocktails and drinks. You can't blame its creators - it's just so versatile and so damn tasty.

I first encountered BTW at Imbibe Live in July this year, and it was the standout product for me at the whole show. God knows how it's taken me so long to write about it.

I let my bartenders loose with it a couple of days ago, and we also took into account BTW's recommended serves. Here's what we thought...

Basically, it's good. Really good. And versatile. And tasty. Forget what you think you 'know' about tonic - it's bitter, orangey, a little tart and a little sweet. It's so close to a classic tonic, you almost have to make excuses to drink it.

BTW recommends a ratio of 1 parts tonic syrup with 2 parts gin and 6 parts soda - me and my fantastic bartenders found this to be too weak. Fair enough this might make for a classic G&T, but that's not why you would buy BTW - it's so you can experience something different.

The drink is far more special when diluted in only 3 parts soda with 2 parts gin and 1 part BTW. They also recommend adding the BTW after the gin and soda over Ice.

We found it to be amazing in a 'Deep South' take on a negroni, using bourbon, maple syrup and a dry vermouth, in equal measures. Wowser!

BTW reckon that the applications go further, with it being the perfect ingredient in gin and tonic truffles, but also a vesper martini - which we'd actually have to agree with:...

BTW Vesper Martini

40ml Gordons
20ml Vodka
5ml Lillet Blanc
10ml BTW

Shake hard and strain!

Here's our take on the Gin & BTW:

50ml Half Hitch Camden Gin
25ml BTW Tonic Syrup
75ml Soda Water

We garnished with a piece of dried orange, but we're blessed with a dehydrator. Best just shove a piece of orange peel in and then shove it down your neck as slow as possible (which will be very quick).

You can get your filthy paws on a bottle of BTW from Master of Malt for the reasonable price of £18.31, which will make you 20 of my recipe G&T's. It's great with most gins, but we used Half Hitch, because of its orangey, earl grey notes! Also available from Master of Malt for £39.95