Friday, 30 January 2015

Friday Cocktail: Pinkster Gin's Valentine's Day Cocktails

With February arriving over the weekend, my thoughts have naturally turned to romantic Valentine's Day plans, especially seeing as I got engaged over Christmas (EEK! No, I can't believe it either...)

Well, the fates have well and truly conspired in my favour, as this week I discovered the wonder that is Pinkster gin.

Yes, that's right, it's a pink gin! How perfect for Valentine's Day cocktails!

But why is it pink? Because one of the many botanicals used is fresh raspberries.

It didn't set out to be pink, though. Pinkster's creator (a lovely chap called Stephen, from my native Hertfordshire, who is now joined by his business partner Will) started out just making gin for his friends, and experimented with all kinds of fruits before settling on juicy, locally-grown raspberries.

At first I thought it was a raspberry gin, with tons of raspberry syrup added to make it sweeter and less alcoholic, but I was delighted to discover I couldn't be further off the mark.

This is a proper, gin-lover's gin: crisp, fresh and sippably smooth, with a subtle hint of a fruity twist from the raspberries accompanied by juniper and a peppery, almost mineral quality.

I started out sipping it over ice but then added some tonic and Pinkster's recommended sprig of mint (clap it first to release the minty oils) and it was a dream. I love how unique it is - I'd never normally serve gin with mint but this is the perfect match. And yes, the light pink tinge was just a massive bonus in my eyes.

After gaining lots of loyal fans (myself now included) the Pinkster chaps have just got themselves stocked in Ocado - woohoo! You can grab a bottle of Pinkster for £32 - or it's also £30.33 at Master of Malt.

So what about some pink Valentine's Day cocktails? They've been super generous and given me four to choose from:

The Hot Ticket cocktail recipe (serves one)


50ml Pinkster gin
5 fresh raspberries (plus extra to garnish)
3 slices fresh red chilli
25ml Falernum (a tropical liqueur - well worth having in the cupboard!)
10ml sugar syrup
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Extra raspberries, to garnish

Shake it!

Shake together all the ingredients (in a cocktail shaker, jam jar, anything you have close to hand!) and then double strain into a coupe (Champagne saucer) for an added classy touch.

Straining is pretty important so you don't end up with bits of chilli floating in your drink! If you don't have a proper strainer, use as tight a sieve as you can find, or even a clean pair of tights!

Garnish with fresh raspberries on a cocktail stick.

Pinkster's Loving Fizz cocktail recipe (serves one)


50ml Pinkster gin
5 fresh raspberries
5 fresh mint leaves
25ml fresh lime juice
25ml sugar syrup (or a little less if you prefer it dryer)
Soda water, to top

Shake it!

Shake all of the ingredients together, and then strain into an ice-filled Collins glass (or pretty tumbler).

Top with soda water and garnish with a mint sprig.

Valentini cocktail recipe (serves one - a lovely twist on a classic martini!)


50ml Pinkster gin
15ml sweet vermouth (I recommend the Belsazar vermouth I reviewed last week!)
Dash orange bitters
Bar spoon of triple sec (or a generous teaspoon if you haven't got one)
Rose petals, to garnish

Shake it!

Well, actually, don't shake it. Simply stir the ingredients thoroughly and then strain into a chilled coupe glass (Champagne saucer).

Garnish with three rose petals.

Cherry Delightful cocktail recipe (serves one - great for a dessert cocktail!)


25ml Pinkster gin
25ml Cherry Brandy
25ml Orange Juice
25ml Fresh Cream

Shake it!

Shake all the ingredients together, and then strain into an ice-filled rocks glass (or square tumbler). 

Garnish with an orange peel twist and a maraschino cherry.

So there you have it. Four beautiful cocktails. Probably don't drink them all on Valentine's Day or it may turn from a night to remember into a night where you don't remember anything at all...

Thursday, 29 January 2015

3 Delicious Winter-Warming Rums

When I was young and naïve Rum for me meant Bacardi and I didn't particularly like it. How wrong I was. Rum has become something much more exciting, something interesting, something worth drinking, something worth savouring. Like a lot of drinks, I think the everyday drinker can sometimes misunderstand Rum; drinking it with sickly-sweet colas in some kind of syrupy cocktail is doing this lovely Molasses-based drink a huge dis-service. I think it is best drunk on its own. It is possible to put an ice cube in, if you'd like to turn down the heat; but I like to drink it neat, much like a whisky, as you get to taste all the lovely flavours and warmth this way. 

Over the last few months I have accumulated a few different bottles of Rum*, all of Caribbean extraction and with the cold winter nights closing in I thought that it would be a good idea to tell you about them. After all, what is better than pouring yourself a nice tot of Rum when the wind is blowing a gale outside and the temperature has plummeted below zero?

The first Rum that I want to talk about is something of a Milford-family institution: Angostura 1824 (available on Master of Malt at £55). My father, my brother and I usually work through a bottle of this on Christmas Evening with a cigar after the cheese and port (although this year we went Nepalese with the Rum...) In the glass there is a light orange hue to the drink. When smelling it there is no burn of harsh alcohol, instead there is a lightly spiced aroma with notes of orange peel and a hint of vanilla. On drinking there is a mellowness to the Rum, with a chocolatey warmth. This really is the good stuff.

Picture courtesy of Duppy Share
Next up is a new one for me, The Duppy Share; an independent and premium golden Caribbean rum crafted from a blend of oak aged spirits from Jamaica and Barbados (available on Master of Malt at £29.45). The name of this drink is a reference to Caribbean folklore which told of dark spirits called "Duppies" who would visit distilleries during the night and steal a portion of the rum being distilled. Whisky drinkers amongst you will recognise this as the Rum equivalent of  "the Angels' Share". This is a lovely light orange in the glass and on the nose has a slightly sweet bouquet with tropical fruit and caster sugar notes. On the palate it is very smooth. I would suggest that this Rum would be excellent for mixing into cocktails or punches.

Last up on my little Rum tour was Kraken Black Spiced Rum (available on Master of Malt at £22). This is a deep orange/brown colour in the glass and has an absolutely monstorous nose (get it?? The Kraken is a legendary beast? Never mind...) with huge vanilla aromas and sweet spices - clove and nutmeg, with a touch of aniseed at the end. On the palate, it is somewhat sweeter than the other two Rums I tried, with coffee and caramel notes and a slightly thicker, more viscous body. This really is a pleasing drink; perfect to have on its own, but also goes rather splendidly in a nice hot chocolate.

So, there you have it. Three excellent Rums all perfect at this time of year for giving you a little warmth.

What are your favourite Rums? Anything similar to the above that I really should be trying out?
* DISCLAIMER: The bottle of Duppy Share was sent to me as a sample by Duppy Share. The other two Rums are from my personal collection. All thoughts/opinions contained within this post are my own.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Nominate Now! What Are Your Favourite Whiskies?

Photo: Mikey Phillips (CCL - text added by us)

A couple of weeks ago we asked you to name your top 3 gins, and you guys made it clear you had ALL OF THE OPINIONS on which spirits rock your socks, and weren't afraid to shout them from the rooftops. I LOVED IT.

We asked for your favourites partly as a favour to our pal Tom Higham, who is writing a piece about the gin craze, but we also mentioned we were looking to run a Vinspire Drinks Awards later this year.

The post helped us decide which gins would be a good idea to nominate as a shortlist (we'll then get you guys to vote for a winner) and so this week we're doing the same with the wonderful world of WHISK(E)Y!

So go ahead, you wonderful people, and tell me what your favourite whiskies are (3 maximum!) - either in the comments to this piece or on our Twitter and Facebook pages!

Need inspiration? Our lovely Hugo has written about dozens of whiskies over the last couple of years. He's also written a guide to Scottish whisky regions if you want to learn more.

Of course, you don't need to nominate just Scottish whiskies - tell me your favourites from all over the world! Whether you're a bourbon fan or getting your geek on with some Japanese or Swedish whiskey, and whether your dram of choice is well-known or a hidden treasure, I want to hear about it.

You don't need to give me a reason why you're nominating said whisky if you're shy, but then again if you want to write whole essays waxing lyrical about your whiskies of choice, I'll gladly read them - glass in hand - and will probably end up buying your recommendations...

So what are you waiting for? TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAVOURITE WHISKIES NOW! Up to three if you like - but don't worry if you only have one. We just want to make sure you all get a say in who we shortlist for the Drinks Awards. :-)

Whatever it is, I can't wait to hear about it.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Friday Cocktail: V for Vermouth

Most people have heard of vermouth - the staple of the classic martini and the dusty old bottle at the back of your grandma's drinks cupboards - but we aren't really sure what it is.

The short answer is an aromatic fortified wine - but you can read a longer answer about what vermouth is and where vermouth originated here.

Why is it important for you to know? Because (as the link above will tell you) vermouth is back, baby. Back with a bang. And you're about to discover how easy it is to wow people with your vermouth cocktails at parties. YAY FRIDAY.

Part of the reason vermouth is such a huge drinks trend for 2015 is because there have been some new premium vermouth brands emerging - created by people who really know what they're doing, and catapulting this martini ingredient into its own limelight.

I recently discovered Belsazar vermouth - a brand new range to the UK, which is made in Germany near the Black Forest. They make a dry, white, rose and red vermouth, using six different wines and 20 aromatic herbs, spices, peels and blossoms, as well as some small-batch fruit brandies.

They kindly sent me some to try, and to be honest I was blown away with how much I love them. I was expecting to want to use them to jazz up some cocktails, but they were so tasty they're good enough to sip over ice, which I really wasn't expecting! Here are some basic tasting notes for them:

Belsazar Dry Vermouth - Crisp and appley with a light, bitter finish. Very classy.
(available £16.75 per half-bottle at The Whisky Exchange, £24.45 per whole bottle at Master of Malt)

Belsazar White Vermouth - a punchy peach-flavoured vermouth with gorgeous orange and almond notes and sweet spices.
(£17.95 per half at The Whisky Exchange, £27.45 per whole bottle at Master of Malt)

Belsazar Rose Vermouth - zesty but packed with juicy summer fruits, which work really well with the typical aromatic vermouthy-ness.
(£17.25 per half at The Whisky Exchange, £25.45 per whole bottle at Master of Malt)

Belsazar Red - a powerful, rich red vermouth with cherry, brown sugar and wintry spice.
(£18.45 per half at The Whisky Exchange, £25.45 per whole bottle at Master of Malt)

As I said, these are complex but delicate enough to be sipped slowly over ice, but here are some other drinking suggestions:

The G&T of 2015: The Rose Vermouth and Tonic

Fruitier than the fino and tonic I suggested last year, but lighter and spicier than gin and tonic, this is a real winner for me!


50ml vermouth
125ml tonic
Plenty of ice

Shake it!

1. Pour the ingredients into a glass over ice.
2. Stir gently and garnish with a wedge of grapefruit or lime.

The Summer Nearly cocktail recipe

Named after my near Summer Lily (she's turning 5 in a week or two, so it will be a fair few years before she gets to try it!) this is a delicate, aromatic cocktail that whispers that warmer weather is on its way...


60ml rose vermouth
100ml pomegranate juice
15ml lime juice
soda to top (roughly 75ml)

Shake it!

1. Add the vermouth, pomegranate juice and lime juice to a glass of ice and stir gently.
2. Top up with soda and stir gently again. Garnish with a lime wedge.

The Apple Fizz cocktail recipe 


50ml dry vermouth
75ml apple juice
2 dashes orange bitters (optional)
50ml sparkling wine/50ml soda

Shake it!

1. Add the vermouth, apple juice and bitters to a tall glass filled with ice.
2. Top up with the soda/sparkling wine (depending on how boozy you like it) and stir gently.
3. Garnish with an apple slice (if desired!)

Happy weekend, everybody! 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

5 Perfect Burns Night Wines

Photo: Happy Wanderer (CCL)

Burns night is upon us and you know what that means? Another excuse to drink! And of course celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns and all that he has done for the great nation of Scotland.

Burns Supper is always associated with that classic of Scottish delicacies - haggis. For those who don't know what haggis is, it's a pudding made with sheep offal minced together with onion, herbs, oats and suet and encased in a sheep's stomach. Don't let the sound of it put you off, it is delightful!

Now we've covered the food,  but what about the drink? What Scottish drink could you possibly serve with Scottish food on a Scottish night? If you said whisky then five points to Gryffindor! Haggis is traditionally served with a dram and the toasts are always accompanied by a dram. For inspiration I highly recommend anything Hugo has ever written about but especially Glendronach; it is divine!

But what if you don't want to go diving into the whisky at 7pm and be flat on your face by 9? Or for some obscure, unknown reason, you don't like whisky? Well I'm going to take you through a few litter numbers to wash down your Haggis or keep you flinging until morning.

Wines to match haggis

Wine and offal are often difficult to match. In this case you ideally you want something fairly robust but goes well with gamey flavours. Pinot Noir matches well with the gamey flavours but will be too light too deal with everything else.

An alternative would be the Barbera grape. Hailing from Northern Italy in the Piedmont region, this thin skinned grape is low in tannin but can produce high acidity wines. When made well and balanced with the right amount of oak ageing it can produce beautifully fresh wines with high acidity and a smooth, sweetly spiced finish.

Sainsbury's TTD Barbera D'Asti 2012.
A classic example, this wine has a beautiful berry freshness about it. Typically low in tannin and high in acidity like all good Barbera wines.
£7 from Sainsbury's.

Zinfandel from California will also be a good choice. Heavier and more tannic than Barbera, it produces more powerful wines with flavours of cocoa, coffee and herbaceous characters.

Cline Ancient Vine Zinfandel 2012, California.
Bold, juicy and full of earthy notes, this wonderfully ripe Zinfandel will match the haggis perfectly. The nose has fresh red fruit, coffee and vanilla while the palate follows up with a very smooth texture, firm tannic structure and slightly spicy, vanilla heavy finish.
£13.32 on offer at Majestic.

If you really don't like red and want to go for a white, make sure to go for something rich and full of flavour. Dry whites like Sauvignon Blanc just won't do the job. Even the oakier Chardonnay's will struggle. Try Pinot Gris from Alsace. While it is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris is harvested much later allowing the sugars within the grape to develop further and produce more exotic flavours. An excellent example of this is:

Tokay-Pinot Grids, Rolly Gassmann 2010, Alsace.
Wonderfully rich and full bodied, it has flavours of lychee, mango and slight citrusy character, this bold wine will stand up more than most other whites.
£17.99 from Adnams Cellar and Kitchen.

Wines with a Burns Night theme

If you're happy with whisky for dinner but want something with a little bit of a Scottish twist without being too gimmicky, then why not try either of these.

Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz 2010, Clare Valley.

There's nothing like an Aussie shiraz, and this is a prime example of what it's all about. Beautifully perfumed on the nose, the palate is packed with black fruit with rich, powerful and savoury spice. An absolutely stunning wine - and it's got tartan on the label!
£29.99 from Waitrose Cellar.

Bobbie Burns, Rutherglen Durif 2010.

Do you really need an explanation as to why I've chosen this? Aside from being an astounding wine, the name says it all. Durif, otherwise known as Petite Syrah, produces highly concentrated wines with robust characteristics of cassis, blackcurrant, peppery spice and smokiness. An absolute powerhouse.
£12.50 from The Wine Society.

Are you celebrating Burns Night? Let us know what you plan on drinking!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Cupboard Gin Cocktails

The classic Gin & Tonic is hard to beat in my books. Loads of ice, a squeeze of lime, double Gin topped to the top with a decent Tonic Water. Simple, tasty, refreshing and guilt-free. But Gin is SO much more versatile than we give it credit for, and SO easy to mix at home, with the stuff sitting in your cupboards and fridge, without investing in loads of cocktail ingredients. Here's a few ideas to up your Gin game!

Gin & San Pellegrino

Remember those lovely little cans of sparkling San Pellegrino? The Aranciata (Blood Orange) and the Limonata (Lemonade) that you pay like £3 for in Italian restaurants? Well, they also do a lovely Sparkling Pompelmo (Grapefruit) and Chinotto (Bitter Orange) that work brilliantly with Gin. Perhaps better suited for warmer days and BBQ's, these wonderful little cans of love are available from Waitrose and create a refreshing cocktail in seconds.

Gin Rickey

Great for anyone counting those pesky calories, the Gin Rickey is a close cousin of the G&T, simply substituting the Tonic for Sparkling Water and a generous helping of Fresh Lime (I'd go for the juice of half a lime per glass). There you go, a January Gin fix! Heartburn central.

Gin Toddy

Ideal for these bitter January evenings is a spin on the Whisky-based 'Hot Toddy'. There are two different routes you can choose, one uses a Fruit Tea, and the other uses heated Cranberry Juice. Add a few sprigs of fresh Mint, a large Gin and a wedge of Lemon. What's that The Libertines once sang, 'Gin in Teacups'...

Bees Knees

Dating back to the prohibition era, this simple little cocktail needn't be made with Gin from your bathtub. Instead, we'd recommend something like Sipsmiths, or, if you want to be really true to the style, go for Professor Cornelius' Bathtub Gin. Close enough. Simply shake the Gin with some Lemon Juice, Honey, Ice and Strain. Perfect anytime.

Rhubarb Sparkler

The guys over at Cawston Press do some lovely juices, and they're available in most supermarkets at a very reasonable price. This one calls for their wonderful Apple & Rhubarb juice, mixed with as much Gin as you can handle, and spritzed with a splash or two of Soda. Get one of your five a day... and that all important Gin fix.

There we go. Five hassle-free Gin cocktails for you to enjoy year round! You're welcome.

Monday, 19 January 2015

How to make Bacon Infused Bourbon

Photo credit: Mark Hardie under CCL
Vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, and all other non-meat eaters, avert your eyes...

Pig lovers pay attention. It’s time to get that bacon sizzling!

We all know that bourbon and bacon are perfect partners; one’s dark sugary sweet and woody, the other’s salty and smoky. Together, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Last year Jo supplied us with a bloomin’ brilliant Bourbon Bacon Jam recipe, and we’ve also had similar flavour combination recipes with Laura’s Sticky Bourbon Sweet Potato Chips and my Bourbon & Coke Beef Brisket. This time though, we’re not giving you another ‘cooking with booze’ post, it’s all about bridging the gap between eating and drinking, adding savoury to your sweet, and creating more of a sensory experience. So...

How to make bacon infused bourbon.

You might have heard of the process ‘fat washing’ before; not particularly appetising really, is it? But trust us, this method of flavouring any spirit with a fatty food of your choice is a stroke of genius! And actually, it’s not as complicated as you think. All you need to do is a little bit of prep work.

Fat washed bacon infused bourbon was made famous thanks to the Benton’s Old Fashioned, created by Don Lee at PDT in New York, and has really grown in popularity over recent years. Everyone has their own recipe for how to layer the flavours, but thanks to a new Christmas present – Duck & Waffle: Recipes & Stories (as featured in our Cocktail Gift List) – I was able to follow a rather special one from Richard Woods, Head of Spirit and Cocktail Development at Samba Brands Management.

My other half and I decided that this New Years Eve we’d experiment with some swankier cocktails, and having wanted to try fat washing for ages, this was the time do it. The recipe calls for you to make a homemade water bath, so get your science geekery mixed with some chef skills on! It also instructed us to make a Bacon & Salted Caramel Manhattan with the bourbon; yup, you need to make that too, and you’ll find out how at the end of the post.

For now, get to grips with this little piggy that went into bourbon. It’s certainly weird, but super moreish!

Bacon Infused Bourbon
(makes enough for approx 5 cocktails) 

  • 8 rashers of smoky bacon
  • 350ml Bourbon (something like Woodford Reserve) 
  • Also needed: ziplock freezer bag/sugar thermometer/saucepan/sealable non-reactive container/muslin

  1. Cook the bacon in a frying pan until crisp. Once cooked, turn off the heat and let the bacon rest for a few minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare your homemade water bath. Pour water two-thirds of the way up the sides of a deep saucepan or wok and place over a medium heat. Do not let the water boil, as this will damage the quality of the alcohol (you want it at a constant 60C).
  3. Pour the bourbon into a large ziplock freezer bag and add the bacon (complete with any fat and juices). Seal the bag, removing as much air as possible and making sure you don’t tear it. Put the bag into your water bath and leave for 55 minutes, then remove and place on a tea towel to dry. Transfer the mix to a non-reactive container, seal and place in the freezer for 2 hours.
  4. When you take it out of the freezer you will notice that the freezing process has made the bacon fat separate and solidify, allowing the alcohol to be filtered off cleanly and clearly. Line a funnel or sieve with two-fold muslin (a coffee filter or tea towel works well too) and put it over an empty glass jar or deep container. Remove the bacon pieces, then strain the liquid through the muslin – this process can take up to 30 minutes. When ready, put a lid on and reserve. 
Photo credit: Sam Howzit under CCL

Benton’s Old Fashioned
(serves 1) 

Glass: Tumbler
Garnish: Orange twist
  • 60ml Bacon Infused Bourbon 
  • 7.5ml Maple Syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters 
Method: Stir all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker, then strain into your ice-filled tumbler. Garnish and serve.

Bacon & Salted Caramel Manhattan
(serves 1) 

Glass: Chilled Martini/Coupette
  • 65ml Bacon Infused Bourbon 
  • 25ml Sweet Vermouth 
  • 15ml Salted Caramel Liqueur (see below) 
  • 5ml Sugar Syrup 
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters 
For the Salted Caramel Liqueur
(makes enough for approx 5 cocktails) 
  • 30g Caster Sugar
  • 10ml Water 
  • 1 tsp Salt 
  • 100ml Vodka 
  1. Once you’ve made your bacon infused bourbon, make the salted caramel liqueur. Put the sugar into a large saucepan over a high heat. Allow the sugar to brown and caramelize, then add the water and salt, stirring all the time. Once the sugar has burnt and turned a treacle-like liquid, remove the pan from the heat and add the vodka, stirring constantly to prevent the caramel solidifying. Allow to cool.
  2. Line a funnel or sieve with two-fold muslin (or coffee filter or tea towel) and put it over an empty glass jar or container. Strain the caramel liquid through the muslin to catch any bits of solidified caramel – this will only take a few minutes. Put a lid on and reserve. 
  3. To make your Manhattan, combine all the ingredients in a mixing glass with ice cubes and stir until icy cold, then strain into a chilled glass.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Vinspire's First #vinspiresecretsanta

Christmas feels like a long time ago now doesn't it? 

Here at Vinspire we organised our first ever #vinspiresecretsanta for Christmas. It was a great success. We matched up everyone who participated with someone else and got them to send a bottle of wine of their choice to their lucky recipient. It made us feel all festive to see the lovely posts on social media from everyone enjoying their festive booze.

I got a lovely present from my #vinspiresecretsanta (Danielle - thank you!) who got me a lovely bottle of 2013 Quinta da Raza Arinto Vinho Verde, which I opened a week ago. It was vibrant on the nose with stone fruit (peach and apricot), with a slight hint of tropical fruit (pineapple). On the palate it had some delightful acidity, there were green fruit flavours of pear. It was a very pleasant wine, which I was really glad to try. I do like Vinho Verdes, but I don't drink them nearly enough. I got a lovely note from Danielle explaining that she loved this wine and she wanted to share it with me. This is exactly why we came up with the #vinspiresecretsanta, allowing someone to suggest a wine that they're passionate about to you.

From some of the posts going round others had similarly nice surprises...!

We'll be running #vinspiresecretsanta again next Christmas. Keep following us this year and we'll let you know all about it!

In the meantime - I hope that 2015 is treating you well thusfar and that you've kept the good stuff flowing. 

Remember, "life is too short to drink bad wine." 


Thursday, 15 January 2015

What Are Your Top 3 Gins? Nominate Now!

Photo: Addison Berry
Dry January? No thanks! It's all about Ginuary! Gin is fast becoming the nation's favourite spirit, and with so many different options popping up from all over the world, it can be hard to choose which one you like best. It is for this reason, Vinspire fans, that we need your help!

We started thinking about the nation's faves when Manchester-based mixologist and very good friend of ours Tom Higham took to Twitter to ask everyone for their top 3 gins. He's working on a nifty experiment to find out if his predictions about gin trends are correct - follow him to find out more...

In the spirit of helping out a fellow drinks enthusiast, we've offered to help him out by asking our excellent readers to name their top 3 juniper-inspired lovelies. 

That's exactly what we want you to do! Simply leave a comment below this post (or tell us on Facebook or Twitter) listing your current top 3 gins. You don't have to explain why if you don't want to - just the names are fine! 

I'll get the ball rolling: 

Made in Harrington, just outside Northampton, Warner Edwards is the fruit of the labours of Tom Warner and Sion Edwards. Made from homegrown produce, this is a rich and very smooth gin with heavy notes of ginger and a touch of peppery spice. 

Made by Professor Cornelius Ampleforth (that's his real name, I've seen his degree and everything), this is made through the rare process of cold compounding. Hugo talked about this gin a while ago on Vinspire and loved. orange and blossom notes blend beatifully with the more warming spice of cumin. 

Hailing from Germany, this gin is so named due it's percentage and the fact that it contains 47 different botanicals. An amazingly weird and wonderful spirit, it seems as though no two sips are ever the same. 

So that's my two cents, let us know yours as you'd really be helping a chap out. 

I also don't mind saying that you'll be helping us out too... and that's because at some point in the not too distant future, we'll be organising some kind of Vinspire awards to celebrate our favourite drinks, so any and all feedback and opinion is very much appreciated! More on that to follow...

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

How to Make Your Own Cocktail Bitters

Once a Victorian apothecary remedy, Bitters are enjoying a fantastic revival as a bartenders go-to magic potion. Just a couple of drops of the magical elixir transforms hum-drum drinks into something with incredible depth and flavour, turning your drinks up to 11.

If, like me, you've dreamt of becoming some sort of botanical Walter White, here's your chance to not break the law and not get dead. You may, however, call yourself a drinks kingpin, and possibly grow a moustache and look menacing while dropping some of your magical potion into people's drinks.

There are loads of small, boutique bitters producers popping up all over the place, with the likes of Bittermans, Bitter Bastards and The Bitter Truth all producing top-notch bitters for all styles of cocktails and mixes. My personal favourite is Bittermans Hopped Grapefruit Bitters to totally transform a Gin & Tonic, or Bitter Bastards' Sweet Orange Bitters in my Gingerbread Manhattan. Yes, I certainly am growing quite a collection of these bad boys. The problem is, like everything amazing, they're expensive.

Fear not friends, all you need to make your own is some clean grain spirit or good quality Vodka, and let your imagination run wild!

There are some basic principles to follow, but soon, like me, you'll have jars and cups all round the house half-full of liquid like you're preparing for the alien invasion in Signs.

Enough babbling, on to the good stuff. Here's my handy guide of how to make your own bitters

What You'll Need
200ml High Proof Alcohol (good Vodka will do)
1 Tablespoon Sugar, dissolved in 2 Tablespoons of Water
5 Tablespoons Main Aromatic
2 Tablespoons Bittering Agent (choose 2 or 3)
2-3 Tablespoons Supporting Aromatics (choose 3 or 4)

Main Aromatics
Your main aromatic will be your stand-out flavour and character of your Bitters, so choose wisely. Here are some ideas - Fennel Seeds, Coriander, Ginger, Juniper, Star Anise, Peppercorns, Celery, Dried Cherries, Orange Peel, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, Lavender, Nutmeg, Flowers

Supporting Aromatics
Same as above, but secondary, supporting flavours which add depth.

Bittering Agents
Bitters wouldn't be bitters without bitter roots, barks, flowers, leaves etc. Your bitter agent will make up around 50% of the final flavour profile. Here's a few ideas - Liquorice Root, Gentian Root, Angelica Root, Orris Root, Cassia Bark, Hops, Cardamom, Wormwood, Dandelions or other Flowers


Place your selected aromatics in a jar with the high proof alcohol and the bittering agent. Mix in the sugar water, pop the lid on and shake well. Store for 2 - 3 weeks, shaking and smelling regularly. The bitters will develop over time, so give it some patience. To test if it is ready, drop a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together and smell your creation.
Strain your potion through some muslin cloth and pop it in some medicine bottles with pipettes (about £1.40 on Ebay) - these are great for getting the desired amount of Bitters into your drink, and will secure you as the Heisenberg of mixology!

Here's a couple of recipes from my medicine cabinet:

Celery - Perfect for spicing up those Bloody Mary!
Celery Seeds, Lemongrass, Tea, Orange Peel & Peppercorns

Dandelion - Really good with Rum. Mojito time!
Dandelions, Lemon Peel, Liquorice Root & Cloves

Vanilla - Great mulling bitters - add to Mulled Cider!
Vanilla Pods, Wormwood, Cinnamon & Orange Peel

So friends, go forth, experiment and convince yourself your new hobby is purely for medicinal purposes...

Monday, 12 January 2015

Salted Chocolate Brownies with Smoky Caramel

Before we start, I apologise for what I'm about to reveal. You might have been trying REALLY hard to banish those hefty Christmas eating habits, and here I am about to ruin it.

There's chocolate... Yep, we all love chocolate... Salted caramel... Yep, that too... And the addition of booze... Now we're talking! Smoky booze at that; hell yeah!

Here we go then; Salted Chocolate Brownies with Smoky Caramel.

Like a magpie, I was drawn towards this diamond of a recipe from Thomasina Miers’ Guardian column just before Christmas (she’s the lady that won 2005’s Masterchef and has since gone on to open up the Mexican street food chain Wahaca). I vowed to make the brownies as soon as I had the chance and, to be honest, I couldn’t wait any longer. I was incredibly good last week; I snubbed the scraps of various cheeses and meats in the fridge, avoided the mountain of Miniature Heroes, and didn’t even touch a drop of alcohol. But, after all that virtuous eating, something had to give, and these luxurious umber squares were it.

The recipe calls for the caramel to be made with mezcal; it’s that pungent smoky spirit from Mexico, made from agave plants. It’s not easy to find in the shops - I’m pretty sure no supermarkets stock it yet - but it’s a good thing to have, especially if you dabble in cocktails at home. Master of Malt stock a number of mezcals, but this entry-level priced bottle seems like a good place to start, Del Maguey Mezcal Vida (70cl, 42%) is £41.83 from Master of Malt. The tasting notes of “smoked almond, a little light peach juice, hints of potpourri and mixed spices with tobacco and cinnamon on the finish” sounds like it’d work a treat for these brownies!

Alternatively, if you don’t want to fork out on a bottle (or simply cannot wait for postage like me) a peaty whisky would work too. The salt, cinnamon and cayenne pepper still gives it that Mexican-Aztec feel, just you might have to shake your maracas with a kilt on instead.

Nowhere does peat better than Islay, and you can get the Laphroaig 10YO for £28.00 in Sainsburys, though Tesco have the Isle of Skye’s Talisker Storm on offer for £30.00 (down from £40.00). I sneaked 2tbsp of my other half’s Kilchoman 5YO 2009 Original Cask Strength; you can buy it from Master of Malt for £68.82.

These salted chocolate brownies are perfect as they are, but to spruce them up for a dessert, simply serve them with softly whipped cream. Oh, and if your will power is as low as mine, and you’re concerned you might scoff the lot, you could always freeze some to save for a rainy day.

Let’s do this... Sorry. Not Sorry.

Salted Chocolate Brownies with Smoky Caramel
Makes 20 brownies

For the brownies
  • 240g unsalted butter
  • 240g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • 1 small pinch ground cinnamon
  • 130g plain flour
  • 4 medium eggs, beaten
For the caramel
  • 4 tbsp whole milk
  • 25g butter
  • 2 tbsp mezcal (or whisky)
  • 1 large pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 large pinch salt
  • 100g caster sugar
  1. Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Grease and line a 20cm x 26cm rectangular cake tin. 
  2. For the caramel, put the milk, butter, mezcal, cayenne and salt in a small bowl. Put the sugar and two tablespoons of water in a saucepan over a medium-high heat and simmer rapidly until the sugar melts and the resulting syrup starts to darken in patches. Turn down the heat a little, and swirl the pan around (don’t stir with a spoon) to amalgamate. Once the sugar has turned a very dark reddish-brown (if you overcook the caramel, it will turn black and bitter, but do try to take it far enough to develop some lovely dark complexity), add the contents of the milk bowl and quickly stir in. Whisk over a medium heat until all the ingredients are well combined, pour out on to a baking sheet lined with baking paper (or a silicone sheet), and refrigerate or freeze to thicken.
  3. Now for the brownies. Melt the butter in a medium pan over a low heat. Once melted, stir in the chocolate, being careful not to burn it. Once the mixture goes smooth and velvety, add the sugar, salt and cinnamon, stir until the sugar melts, then gradually sift in the flour, stirring to combine. Beat the eggs bit by bit into the chocolate mixture, until fully incorporated, then pour the lot into the prepared tin.
  4. Remove the caramel from the fridge or freezer, and sink spoonfuls of it deep into the cake mix, until you’ve used up two-thirds of it; dribble the rest on top of the brownies. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the cake is firm on top but still slightly gooey inside. Leave to cool in the tin, then cut into squares.

You can find the recipe, along with a couple of other alternative dessert ideas HERE.

Monday, 5 January 2015

2015 New Booze Alert: Stellacello Amaro London

Well hello there! 2015 is a brand new year, and to celebrate, we have a brand new drink for you to seek out.

You might still wince at the thought of alcohol; we all tend to overindulge at Christmas, and many will have overdone it in the wee hours of January 1st too... Hands up who woke up with a sore head? *raises hand*... But anyway, if like me, you’re not doing Dry January (I prefer to drink less but better), then you’ll LOVE this.

Thinking back to September, do you recall Stellacello ‘Pompelmo’ Liqueur? A take on the traditional Italian aperitivo/digestivo, Limoncello; using grapefruit, as opposed to lemons, and hailing not from Italy, but East London. We bloody loved it, and now producer Joe Stella has come up trumps with another fine liquid to add to the family. He kindly sent us some to sample, and YES, it has another super cool label.

Presenting; Stellacello ‘Amaro London’.

We’ve talked about amaros before – see our 4 Ways with Fernet Branca – they are bitter-sweet Italian herbal liqueurs that are usually drunk after dinner. But don’t worry; this is NOTHING like the Fernet monster. Stellacello’s ‘Amaro London’ has much softer citrus overtones that accentuate the eclectic combination of locally sourced herbs, fruits and spices, making it not only a delightful digestif, but an interesting aperitif possibility too.

Amaro recipes are confidential concoctions, typically produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark, and/or citrus peels in alcohol (either neutral spirits or wine), mixing the filtrate with sugar syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in casks or bottles. This Brittanic Bitter keeps its ingredients closely guarded too. To serve it neat over ice is the best way to familiarise yourself with it’s flavour; and watch the golden hues sparkle at you through the glass as it opens up.

You get an instant hit of sweet orange zest on the nose – a litte marmalade like *cue Paddington Bear reference* - along with spicy cloves. Then on the palate, it’s almost syrupy, and at an easy drinking 23%, intrigue sets in.

‘Amaro London’ playfully deceives you; the orange prompts you to think it’s sweet, the viscosity lures you in, then a grapefruit peel bitterness creeps in, and you get left with a luxurious menthol finish. Phwoar. Got that?

Photo Credit: stellacello_liqueurs instagram
If sipping it neat isn’t your bag, the other recommended serve is the signature ‘Stellaroni’; an East End take on the legendary Negroni cocktail. Just one part Stellacello, one gin and one sweet vermouth (see the recipe below). Simples. I’m a Negroni addict, but I think that even the most groany-negroni-hater could appreciate that this is a classy drink; it is a much smoother, less abrasive version, and before you know it you’ll be asking for another one.

Joe Stella also suggests 'The Stellanotto'; inspired by the nostalgic flavours of his favourite childhood soft drink 'Chinotto'. 'The Stellanotto' is a chinotto with a kick! 'Amaro London' over ice, topped with cola and garnished with a slice of lemon. Less alcoholic than most cocktails, this would be a good party drink that won’t leave you with gaps in your memory the next morning.

You can see where to get hold of ‘Amaro London’ on the Stellacello website; Polpo restaurants, Tate, Lardo Restaurant, Ottolenghi, The Modern Pantry, London Borough of Jam and Borough Wines are to name a few. If it’s anything like the ‘Pompelmo’ Liqueur, it’ll retail under the £30 mark (but don’t quote me on that). It’s also well worth following @stella_cello on Twitter to see all the latest updates on where to drink/buy it.

I guarantee that Stellacello’s ‘Amaro London’ will be the most attractive bottle to grace your booze shelf. So get your hands on some and be proud to own it. Cin Cin!

The Stellaroni (serves 1)

  • 1 part gin
  • 1 part Stellacello ‘Amaro London’
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • Ice
  • Pink grapefruit peel

Place the ice into a cocktail shaker, and add the gin, amaro and sweet vermouth.
Using a bar spoon, stir well.
Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the grapefruit peel.

Alternatively, you can serve this in a tumbler over ice.