Monday, 30 March 2015

Boozy Bakes: Orange & Cinnamon Madeleines


Ahh, madeleines... those stunning little French sponge cakes shaped like shells (try saying that quickly!)

They have that certain je ne sais quoi about them; other than their beautiful scalloped edges, they're pretty plain, yet somehow they still manage to ooze class and that Parisian sophistication we all seem to lust after.

Looks aside, Madeleines taste flippin' amazing too. Pillows of butter, almond and vanilla (and in this case zest and spice); I can just imagine myself nibbling one whilst sipping a cup of tea in a cafe along the Seine. THE perfect afternoon treat! 

But wait, this is a drinks blog right? "Don't give us a classic recipe", I hear you cry, "Vinspire's all about boozy bakes!"

So, to add a bit of Va Va Voom to these Frenchies, I've gone down the Cointreau route. Madeleines infused with orange zest and cinnamon, brushed with a Cointreau (or any other orange based liqueur) glaze. Yu-um. 

AND like those Cookies 4 Gin that I featured last year, these make the best accompaniment to a little alcoholic beverage, particularly a Cointreau-based tipple like one of my personal faves - a White Lady


I think madeleines have been given a bit of a bad rep in terms of being tricky to make, but I've found no problem whatsoever with this recipe (adapted from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen - like the Kir Royale Macarons).

For those of you who care, it's actually a low calorie version - more calories saved for cocktails, yay - cutting out a lot of the butter you'd find in traditional recipes. By doing this I guess it doesn't give you the crisp crust you'd typically get, but it still gives you the springiest (is that a word?!) sponges.

If you don't have a Madeleine tin - they're not exactly essential kitchen cookware - then you could use a well greased cupcake tin instead. They'll taste the same, just won't have "the look".

Restrain yourself, madeleines are best eaten cooled, and if you've managed to not eat them all at once, they will keep for up to three days in an airtight container. That said, they are at their best on the day they're made, so certainly don't feel guilty for eating more than your fair share!

Now get yourself a Cointreau, read the recipe, and get baking!

Orange & Cinnamon Madeleines recipe
(makes 24)

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, for brushing
  • 4 medium free range eggs
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g plain flour, sieved
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 80g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • zest of 1 orange
  • zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract 
  • 50g butter, melted

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp Cointreau (or other orange liqueur)
  • 3 tbsp icing sugar, sieved


Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 210 C and brush a little oil inside the madeleine moulds.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and sugar until pale and bubbly. Next, add the remaining ingredients and mix until fully combined. 
  3. Spoon the mixture into the madeleine moulds, filling them only three-quarters of the way up (you'll have to do two batches, so don't use it all!) 
  4. Put the filled madeleine tray in the freezer for 10 minutes (or in the fridge for 30) and refrigerate the remaining mixture for the next batch. It's important to chill the cake mixture at this stage, since it's the contrast between hot and cold that gives you the characteristic little bump. 
  5. Once chilled, cook in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. 
  6. Remove the cooked madeleines from the oven, unmould and wash the mould before repeating the process of greasing and refilling, freezing and cooking. 
  7. Once cooled, make the glaze by mixing the Cointreau and icing sugar together. Liberally brush onto the top of each madeleine. 
  8. Dust with additional icing sugar if desired. Enjoy! 

Cocktail image taken from Farther Along's photostream under the CCL. 

Friday, 27 March 2015

Friday Cocktail: The Scarlet Woman


It's the Friday at the end of a very, very long week. I need a cocktail to sip while stretched out on the sofa or luxuriating in a large bubble bath - a real pampering cocktail with oodles of flavour and elegance. I bloody deserve it.

Luckily, I've found exactly that in Toasted Glass' cocktail collection.

Those of you who have been away for a while should know that I've been moving house over the last month and in amidst the chaos and the boxed-up cocktail gear, the lovely Monique at Toasted Glass (the hand-painted glassware company that has been featured on this blog many times) has allowed me to use some of her wonderful recipes for the Friday Cocktail slot.

This week's cocktail is perfect not only because it's seductive and classy, but also because it uses ingredients most cocktail fans will have around the house already. All I needed to buy was some raspberries...

Scarlet Woman cocktail recipe (serves one)

Ingredients:

  • 30ml gin
  • 15ml Chase Elderflower liqueur
  • 10ml Campari
  • 60ml brut cava (I'm using rose cava, but the regular stuff will do splendidly!)
  • 5 raspberries

Shake it!

1. Push the raspberries through a sieve - put the juice in your cocktail shaker and discard as many of the pips as you can.
2. Shovel a handful of ice into your shaker and pour over the gin, elderflower liqueur and campari. Pop the lid onto the shaker.
3. Shake, shake, shake that cocktail shaker like there's no tomorrow, until the outside of the shaker begins to frost over.
4. Take the lid off and pour in the Cava, then strain the cocktail into a chilled coupe glass.

Et voila! Now lock your doors, curl up nice and cosy and block out the world. It's just you, your drink and some peace and quiet for a few minutes. Bliss...

Bon weekend!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Happy 2nd Birthday to Vinspire! Top 10 Highlights of the Year

Photo: Cbacquiran
Two years ago, I sat at my desk trying to find decent drinks blogs that spoke to people like me (and, hopefully, you), but I couldn't find one.

All of the blogs appeared to be either too niche (I love wine AND whisky, craft beer AND cocktails), too traditional/close-minded (stop just banging on about Rioja and sauvignon blanc and give me wines made from something/somewhere unpronounceable and exciting, already) or, frankly, a bit too old and serious.
After all, 25-year olds like drinking good booze too - so where was our voice?

I spoke to my fellow drinks geeks (my friends, colleagues and boyfriend) and we decided to start a blog together.

Vinspire was born - and I can't believe I'm saying this, but here we are a whole TWO YEARS later!

That two years has flown by in a whirlwind of fun, heaps of learning, getting tipsy (sometimes too tipsy) and discovering drinks, places, products and services beyond my wildest imagination.

All of our lovely readers have been amazing - every comment, like and share has helped us to grow and learn what you all love reading about the most. I can't say this often enough, but thank you so much for your support - it means way more than you probably realise.

Thanks to YOU, I'm thrilled to say we've reached almost 50,000 drinks fans in the past year, and had hundreds of thousands of pageviews. And in the past twelve months, we've also doubled our Twitter and Pinterest followers and tripled our Facebook fans. We've also given away over £900 of boozy prizes and raised almost £300 for water charity One Difference.
Hooray for every single one of you!

Here are the top posts of the past year, as voted for by your pageviews:

1. Those controversial opinion pieces


They may have provoked some pretty varied responses, with some of you not liking what they had to say, but our opinion pieces have been some of the most-read of the year.

Notable highlights are Adam's piece on legal disputes between craft breweries and Frances' eye-opening post about racism in the wine trade.

Adam's views on 2015 drinks trends was also a major hit (that made less of you shout at him...)

2. Wedding week (28th April to 2nd May 2014)

I really wasn't sure whether our themed wedding week would go down well, but it turns out that incorporating booze into your wedding was a very popular idea...

The posts that became some of the year's most-read were:

DIY wedding cork craft ideas
A selection of 'something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue' wedding cocktails
and
These ultimate novelty booze bars for your big day.

Seeing as my other half proposed to me last year, I'm pretty glad we took the time to do all that research...



3. Weird wine

Although we tried to write about all kinds of wine - including plenty of old favourites - it was the more left-field offerings that got you talking.

I've loved Lebanese wine for a long time, so I was thrilled to see how well Lucienne's post on Chateau Ksara went down, and I was also chuffed to see a Wine Society hidden gem from Morocco get so much attention.

Lastly, and frankly surprisingly, you all seemed really interested in our feature on Black Tower's 'skinny wine' range. I never thought I'd see a rose - let alone a low-calorie rose - in our top three wine posts!


4. Booze in new forms


Last year, we discovered several new ways to get our drink on, and you guys loved trying something new.

Particular hits were Smith & Sinclair's cocktail pastilles, Champagne popsicles and 4Gin's gin tasting and cookies kits.


5. Spirits discoveries


We (and you) also loved learning about new releases in the spirits/liqueurs world.

Lucienne was a bit of a boss at this, bringing us both the wacky Stellacello liqueur and Sibling gin (made by - you guessed it - a team of siblings), but our most-read spirits piece was Frances' poignant review of Grasovka vodka, a vodka with a heritage close to her heart.


6. Getting silly

I was delighted to discover you're all as bonkers as we are, because a lot of our most-read posts were about very silly drinks accessories.

First, there was the beer flip flops, which made our summer holidays really fun. Then came the brilliant "Officer! There's been a gincident!" tote bag, and finally we all went Potter-mad for the genius polyjuice potion hip flask. Naturally.


7. Glasses galore

A surprising, non-boozy hit were two of our homewares features: the brilliant bike mugs to celebrate the Tour de France and my piece about ridiculously pretty etched glassware.


8. Cocktails highlights

The Friday Cocktail slot has been a year-round hit (with me, at least...) and two of our offerings appeared to stand out above the rest.

Jo's mega-green midori splice cocktail recipe was brilliant not only because of its unique colour, but because it was created thanks to fond memories of her younger years in her native Australia.

And my rhubarb and ginger gin fizz was one of those dangerously easy but flavour-packed cocktails that brought many a summer evening of tipsy fun sat out in the garden. Yay for every one of those.


9. Best of the rest


Two things that appeared to stand out for you were Lucienne's report from the notorious, wonderful Feis Isle Whisky Festival and her easy, to-die-for slow-cooked bourbon and cola beef recipe.

I have to admit, these were two of my personal favourites from the year as well...


10. Getting YOU involved


As well as our many giveaways that got you all talking, we have increasingly turned to you and your utter brilliance for some of our best moments.

Two of the most-read posts of the entire year were Sam's poll asking for your favourite gin brands and our first attempt at our Vinspire Secret Santa, thanks to Tim's moment of genius.

We're going to be asking for you to get involved a lot more this year. After all - we wouldn't exist without you.

Here's to an even crazier, more marvellous 3rd year here at Vinspire! 

Drinks Delivered: Bottle & Bean's Craft Beer & Coffee Subscription



Subscription services are EVERYWHERE these days aren't they! From recipes and vegetables to grooming, cigars, whiskies and socks. Heck, I even came across a bacon mail order subscription service the other day. Like I need an excuse to eat more bacon! If you missed The Guardian's guide on unlikely subscription services a few weeks ago, it's worth checking out.

Luckily, this week I came across one of my favourites so far, in the form of Bottle & Bean. They do craft beer & speciality coffee, and these are the things I like to start the day and finish the day with - not necessarily in that order though...


Bottle & Bean send you 3 generous bags of freshly roasted coffee beans from artisan roasters and 12 bottles/cans of beer from a different craft brewer each month, but their USP comes from their informative online live tasting sessions that accompany your brews and beans, to talk you through the flavour profiles of each, helping you to understand and talk about the characteristics of each.

I thought this was a grand idea - I always come across people who love different styles of beer, but can't pinpoint what it is they like about it, and they can't talk confidently about the flavours.

I'm the same with coffee - I know I like it, I know I like some roasts better than others, but why? This added value to the Bottle & Bean service is what you pay for... if you join the session, that is.

As a busy, unsociable-hours working person, I was gutted that I couldn't tune in for the sessions (Saturday and Thursday), even though I had tried to make time to do so. If you can't make the live sessions, though, they are available to view afterwards on the Bottle & Bean website with a special access code, so that consumers can tune in at a time suitable to them, relax with a brew and do it at their own pace. Pause, Rewind, Repeat.

Then we come to the goods themselves. I've been meaning to try Anspach & Hobday for quite some time, I love their branding and the revival and modernisation of old recipes, and I'd heard great things. I was not disappointed.

The Table Porter had bags of flavour, really excellent for it's strength, and would be at home alongside a decent steak and friends. The Pale Ale was a hazy straw, with powerful fruity aroma and also rather nice. I'm not a fan of smoked beers generally, so the Smoked Brown was a struggle for me, but not bad. The Stout Porter had loads of ground roast coffee aroma with chocolate & spice, and I enjoyed the strength behind it.

I would have preferred the selection to offer two lighter-style beers, one medium and one dark, rather the 1-1-2 formation, but that's more my personal preference.

Surprisingly, the coffee is where it really shone for me. The three roasts were from Climpsons and Sons, a self-professed pioneer of the 'London Coffee Revolution'. I am incredibly lucky to have a traditional espresso machine to hand in one of my pubs, so was able to grind, press and filter the beans into lovely, crema-rich espresso portions.

I started with the Gisuma, a single-origin bean from Rwanda which had a punchy, fruity-sweet flavour, and a bit of liquorice. Nice!

The second was the Finca Chayote from Costa Rica, with heavily toasted hazelnuts, dark chocolate and some botanically-brewed cola! Very nice!

The third and favourite was The Fields V9 - a complex and earthy espresso, sweet and juicy with loads of apple, tropical fruit & nougat. It had some nice ground spices to it, and I'm not kidding you, roasted parsnips. I had to get a second (and third!) opinion on that comment. I was right. Excellent!

Oh, they also sent me a much appreciated packet of Kent Crisps. Lovely, crunchy, sea salted, hand-cut crisps. They provided excellent absorption for the beers!

If there is one problem that people might have with Bottle & Bean, it's the price - it's not something everyone would necessarily be able to afford every month.

If you want just the coffee, it's a fair £18 - £6 for each 120g bag. For just the beer, its £38! This works out as £3.15 a bottle, which I think is a little overpriced.  For both the coffee and the beer, it's £50, which for many people is a lot of money.

If anything, I think you get too much coffee, and I think the beer could be a little more competitively priced. You'll need to assess how valuable the tasting sessions are to you, of course, and there is something nice about the idea of congregating with strangers to talk and taste stuff. That alone could make the price seem much more reasonable.

I like Bottle & Bean, and the USP behind it. I like that the coffee will last you a month. I think it has it's place in the subscription world, and although far too expensive for me personally as a year-long subscription, I'll be treating myself to the odd month.

EDITED on 31/03/15: Adam had wrongly assumed that if you miss the live sessions, you miss out on the tutored tasting. We edited the post to clarify that these tasting sessions are available as recordings on the Bottle & Bean website after they take place.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Wine Tasting with a Difference: Cloudy Bay's Chelsea Flower Show Garden


One of the most enjoyable aspects of working in the blogging community is that you get some very intriguing emails. Never has this been more aptly demonstrated than an email I received a couple of weeks ago asking whether I wanted to come to a wine tasting hosted by Cloudy Bay, where they would be revealing a garden that they had commissioned for the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show.

My interest was piqued even further when they explained that the brief for the design of the garden was centred around the characteristics of their wines. How on earth were they going to do this; how would you reflect a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Noir in a garden? I had to find out.

"Yes, I will have another canapé please..."
The event took place in the rather swanky Moet Hennessey offices in Victoria (Cloudy Bay is part of the LVMH group) and started with a rather lovely glass of Cloudy Bay Pelorus, an elegant and classic fizz made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

This was accompanied by some exceedingly delicious canapés, with the smoked salmon parcels particularly memorable. After a little while we were summoned in to an adjacent room where the unveiling was to take place.


The Rich brothers


We were greeted by the Marketing Manager for Cloudy Bay who gave us an introduction to the brand and what they were trying to achieve.

Cloudy Bay have had gardens at Chelsea before, but this year they wanted to do something special so they joined forces with two bright and dynamic young landscape architects from Breacon Beacons, Harry and Dave Rich; two brothers who run Rich Landscapes. They were given the task of creating a garden that would encapsulate the spirit of the Cloudy Bay vineyards and their wines.

The brothers took us through their approach to the brief and the design process. They started off by characterising the two wines that they focussed on for their design (Cloudy Bay’s Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) through a number of adjectives; Sauvignon Blanc became crisp and fresh, and Pinot Noir became precise and elegant.

The concept behind the shack being explained
From these profiles they then created mood boards for each of the two grapes and looked to see how these concepts could be recreated in a garden. The different grapes got different flowers assigned to them, which characterised the adjectives they'd used for the mood boards.

However, the real genius for me was in their idea for the seating area for the garden. For this they took inspiration from the Visitors’ Centre in Cloudy Bay’s vineyards over in NZ, which is a beautiful wood cabin like structure with a glass frontage.

The boys are going to create a smaller version of this, but mounted it on rails so that you would be able to sit in it and travel through the garden. They believe that this will be the first time that something like this has ever been done at Chelsea and the results are set to be spectacular – I am definitely going to head down to check it out!

So, how were the wines?

We started off with the Cloudy Bay 2014 Sauvignon Blanc (available from Majestic for £27.50/bottle). Now, I have a confession here – I am not particularly a fan of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, particularly those from Marlborough. I find them often overly fruity and lacking acidity to balance them out. Their over-extraction means that they can be an assault the nose.

I was delighted to find, however, that I really liked the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. It was bright and fresh, clean and light. The purity of it was marked on both the nose and the mouth. It had citrus notes of pink grapefruit, but also had a nice vegetal bite to it that reminded me of cucumber. This is a classy wine, forming a pleasing “best of both worlds” between mineralic Loires and fruity Malboroughs. Quality: 7.5; Value: 6.0.
 
Next up we were on to the Cloudy Bay 2012 Pinot Noir (available from Majestic for £35/bottle). Now I was excited about this. If New Zealand should be famous for a grape, it should be for their Pinot Noirs (and not their Sauvignon Blancs).

I tend to favour Pinots from Otago or Martinborough, but Marlborough also makes some fantastic, expressive Pinots and I was keen to try this one out. The nose was wonderfully complex with some light blackcurrant, which was expected, but some deeper notes of mocha, truffle and caramel, which weren’t.

On the mouth it was bright with acidity again and had a real thrust of red fruits: strawberries and cherries. The pleasure for me in New Zealand Pinot Noirs is their accessibility and fruitiness, but this had an added extra of some real depth to it. I suspect that this wine is best drunk relatively young, but those deeper qualities suggest that it could age. Quality: 8.0; Value: 5.0.

There you have it, two fantastic wines and two wonderful and imaginative gardeners. I would highly recommend getting down to this year's Chelsea Flower Show and checking them both out!

Monday, 23 March 2015

Drinks Delivered: Sip & Learn Wine Subscription


I’ve said it before, but as you might have noticed in reading our bounty of wine-related blog posts, not many of them are from me.

I went on Majestic’s free wine course last year to get a bit more clued up, and I’ve recently started doing wine tastings at home - just me, the chap, and a lot of glasses - for a monthly ‘Top Wine Picks’ piece; have you seen them? It forces me to do a bit of research about a particular wine, and gets me to really think about what I’m drinking, as opposed to just knocking it back alongside my dinner (not that I’d ever do that... honest).

I guess I’m trying to get myself a bit more informed in the world of wine, because it’s a bloody minefield! And to be honest, I could be doing this for a lifetime, and still have no idea what that bottle of red you picked up from a random vineyard on holiday a few years ago will taste like. But still, where do you start?!

It’s all well and good buying a bottle and reading the info on the back of the label (hands down, the best method when you’re desperately seeking a bottle in the supermarket), but how do you gain confidence in being able to differentiate your grapes? Well, as luck would have it, there’s a new drinks subscription service on the scene; Sip & Learn.

Sip & Learn’s goal is simple: to teach you about wine without boring you about it. They bring you great wines - delivered direct to your door - together with the knowledge of how to best appreciate them; you learn whilst you sip. So whether you want to do it to help you face the dreaded restaurant wine list, show off in front of your friends, be a bit more decisive at the shops, or even to impress a date, Sip & Learn’s home wine tasting programme is here to assist.

The pair behind the box is Marie-Anne and Sylvain. Marie-Anne’s a big wine lover, but like me, she tends to panic when asked to taste or choose it. After years of bombarding her friend Sylvain with wine-related questions – he’s an expert – they thought that there were probably a lot of other people out there with all the same kinds of questions.

Together, they started thinking about how to help people discover and understand how wine works without overwhelming them with info, and after a few months, Sip & Learn’s concept was born!

By subscribing, £30 per month plus £5 P&P, you’ll receive two carefully selected bottles of wine as well as an education booklet each month. Sylvain has tasted thousands of wines, so they promise that you’ll always get the best to be found in the price range, and they take pride in sourcing small producers that you won't find in your average store (yay!).

Sip & Learn have a whole 12 month programme to follow; during the first 6 you’ll discover the 3 main elements that make a wine; the grape variety, the climate and the wine-making process. The following 6 will take you on a journey to deepen your understanding; specific regions, the influence of the terroir, developing your library of smell and educating your palate.

You can sign up on a non-binding subscription, which rolls on unless you instruct otherwise (that means if you just want to receive a single box, no problem - cancel it before it renews), or you can buy 3, 6, or 12-month subscriptions up front. Sip & Learn have been very kind in sending me their first box to try out, so that I can tell you lovely lot all about it!

Box #1 is all about whites; aromatic vs. non aromatic; sauvignon vs. chardonnay. The booklet starts with a little multiple choice quiz, testing what you already know about the two wines (I aced it – woohoo!), and it also outlines what you’re going to learn.

It’s pretty much all about taste - how to taste your vino, and how different grape varieties affect the taste. Sounds a bit basic, right? But this is the key to learning about wine, ignore this part and you’ll not get anywhere!

The two bottles included in the box are a zesty SAUVIGNON BLANC TOURAINE CHÂTEAU GAILLARD 2013, and a rich CHARDONNAY DOMAINE CORNIN POUILLY-FUISSÉ LES CHEVRIÈRES 2011. For each, a map shows you where the wines have come from, you’re told where the grape varieties are grown globally, and you’re given key facts about each style.

The look/smell/taste of both are discussed – follow as you sip, writing notes in the booklet – and there are even suggestions of similar wines to try if you’re a fan. I particularly like the cleverly composed images illustrating the flavours you should be getting from your glass!

The Touraine Sauvignon Blanc has been picked because it shows the best of both worlds in terms of SB style; exotic fruit aromas combined with a distinctive vegetal character; so typical of the Loire Valley. Both wines have been given the French organic stamp, but this one is biodynamic too, which is explained without any confusion.

AND there’s a fab food and wine pairing section that not only gives you a list of what you should be eating with your drink, but why you’ll find that it works. Sip & Learn have even provided special dish recommendations (you can get the recipes on their blog); asparagus, mint and lemon risotto with the Touraine Sav – yum!

As for the Pouilly-Fuissé Chardonnay (goes with scallops BTW), we’re all probably aware that there are no shortages of great wines in Burgundy, but the reputation also comes with a hefty price tag. Because this one comes from an underrated southern part of the region, it offers that incredible complexity and balance whilst still remaining affordable (hence why it’s in the box).

You learn more about the ‘layers of aromas’ that typically come with chards – fruits, butteriness, vanilla – and barrel fermentation and oak ageing is made clear too.

Once you’re done, you can recap with the handy chart at the back of the booklet – preferably with a glass of each in each hand! There’s a sneaky insight into what’ll be in the next box too; that’ll be sure to keep you subscribed, particularly if you hate missing out on things – *cough* me!

Though I could happily have quaffed over these two bottles whilst getting my nose stuck into the booklet alone, I think it truly shines when it’s experienced with others. Simply stating what you’re seeing/smelling/tasting leads to discussion and, for me, that’s when I learn. That said, you could easily share your thoughts with Sip & Learn on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m sure you’ll get some response from friendly social media folk too.

Overall, if you’re keen on educating your palate and gaining some knowledge in wine, then this is a sure-fire-hit, especially for those of you who can’t seem to find any local wine tasting events to go to!

It’s hard to tell from just one box, but the fact that they’ve scheduled a 12 month programme (and maybe more), I’m pretty sure that if you invest a bit of money into this you’ll learn a lot; and have a bloody good time in the process! You'll be a wine expert before you know it... 

And if you find a wine that you REALLY love, fear not, all bottles are all available to purchase through the Sip & Learn website!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Friday Cocktail: Smokey Bourbon Bramble


Heeeeeeere's Friday!

That's right, the weekend has crept up on us again, and I for one am SUPER EXCITED to be raising a glass to toast my new home! It'll be in a paper cup and will probably be drowned out by paint fumes, but I'm sticking with the plan.

For the past few weeks the wonderful Toasted Glass's owner Monique has been allowing us to use her cocktail recipes while all my gear is packed away. It's been an awesome way of proving just how brilliant her hand-painted glassware is.

This week, it's a super-trendy tea cocktail. Remember the last time we did one of them? The Chocolate Chilli Chai Martini? Well this one is a twist on the bramble cocktail and uses a gorgeous bourbon. It's a perfect mix of fruit, a hint of sour and a smoky darkness.

Here's how to make it:

Smokey Bourbon Bramble cocktail recipe (serves one)

Ingredients:

  • 60ml bourbon (I recommend a good one like Hudson bourbon)
  • 20ml creme de cassis
  • 30ml cold lapsang souchong tea
  • 15ml fresh lemon juice
  • 6 fresh blackberries, plus one to garnish


Shake it!

1. Press six of the blackberries through a sieve to remove the pips and collect the juice
2. Scoop a handful of ice into a cocktail shaker. Add the juice, bourbon, creme de cassis, tea and lemon juice and shake what your mamma gave you.
3. Add several ice cubes to a tumbler/old-fashioned glass and strain the cocktail over the top.
4. Garnish with the last remaining blackberry.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Make Your Voice Heard! What's Your Ultimate Vodka Brand?

Robynlou Kavanagh
I've been thinking a lot about vodka ever since Monday's post on Old Vodka, the brand new Hertfordshire vodka based on a 200-year-old Georgian recipe.

Although there doesn't seem to be quite the same ardent passion around vodka in the UK as there is around gin, the truly good stuff is still celebrated, and we've enjoyed finding a few super examples ourselves over the past two years.

Some of our best finds have been:

Black Cow vodka's creamy, unique flavour
The authentic Grasovka Bison Grass Vodka
The off-the-beaten-track Akvinta vodka

And let's not get me started on some of vodka's biggest names, like Grey Goose, Chase, Russian Standard, Ketel One, Belvedere, Vestal... the list really is endless.

We've already asked you for your favourite gins and your favourite whiskies - but now I want to know your ultimate vodka brands and labels.

We all have one (at least!) and it's time we spoke about the truly great ones, and split the legends from the wannabes.
Whether you like your vodka on the rocks, as an essential cocktail mixing tool or straight from the freezer, we want to know the vodka you go to again and again - the one you always want a bottle of in your cupboard.

All your suggestions will be used to help us make our shortlist decisions for the Vinspire Drink Awards coming up later in the year, so make your voice heard! Leave a comment on this blog or on our Facebook or Twitter pages!

Looking forward to hearing from you  - and please share this post with your vodka loving friends!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Wine Bargain! 3 Wines That Should Be Way More Expensive

Photo: Kimerydavis (CCL)
It's a nice feeling when you taste a wine that you're so blown away by you automatically go out and buy a case. It's an even better feeling when you realise the cost of that case is far less than you were expecting.

Working in this industry, you start to realise the true cost of products and the reasons behind that price. So when wines like these do come along, it's not only refreshing but is also a true testament to winemakers and their passion for quality over profit.

More often than not, wines like these will be grown 'over the road' or 'just round the corner' from the more recognisable names and appellations.

Take this red for instance.

Finca Carelio Tempranillo 2011 (currently £6.66 at Majestic)

If it wasn't for 10% of the grapes coming from just outside the region, this wine would be a Ribera Del Duero and would probably command about three times the price it's currently listed at. Legally it has to be labelled as Castilla Y Leon.
On the nose this wine is typically Spanish with juicy cassis and leather. The palate is velvety smooth with more black fruit, liqourice, sweet spice and a warm toasty finish. It's lifted by very fine tannin and a fresh acidity that makes this one of the sumptuous wines on the market for under £7. To be precise, it's currently on offer at Majestic for £6.66 a bottle. The only drawback? It's a one off parcel so get it while you still can!

One supermarket who are renowned for their low prices are certainly getting in on the action. Aldi have been storming their way into the market with bloody good wines at bloody good prices. They may not be first on the list for stocking up the rack, but they sell some absolute gems!

A fine example is their Champagne:

Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut by Philizot (£9.99, Aldi)

Ordinarily, good Champagne comes in at around £15 at entry level, so to get this at £9.99 is verging on ridiculous!

With all the hallmarks of a classic, the nose is fresh with green apple and delicate bready notes without being too yeasty. On the palate it's racy acidity brings fresh green fruit with lightly toasted brioche and a crisp finish worthy of being twice the price. It's not just us that think it's great, it's also won a Silver medal from Decanter and a Bronze at the International Wine Challenge!

Sweet wine has always been a touch more expensive than it's dry cousins. Due to it being a more labour intensive process, smaller amounts being produced and a higher margin for error, prices can creep up. Another major factor that dictates the numbers on the shelf is provenance. When thinking of French dessert wines, Sauternes is more often than not the go to region. But if you look elsewhere, say, across the Garonne river, you will find classic French sweeties for far less.

Chateau La Grave Sainte Croix du Mont, 2010 (£8.95, The Wine Society)

Facing Sauternes and using the same production methods, the grapes are hand harvested and go through a rigorous selection process to ensure optimum ripeness and levels of noble rot. Slightly lighter and not as full bodied as some Sauternes, this wine displays elegant tropical fruit with touches of honey and superbly sweet finish. For a mere £8.95 from The Wine Society, this will pair well with a broad range of desserts and even stand up to a good cheeseboard.

These wines prove that you don't have to pay top dollar to get quality. Explore unknown regions! If you're looking at a wine and don't recognise the region, pick up that electrical rectangle in your pocket and find out about it! And if it turns out to be rubbish, at least you haven't spent a fortune on it.

Monday, 16 March 2015

BRAND NEW.... Old Vodka?!


Last week, I was invited to try the first vodka ever produced in Hertfordshire! [well, I'm pretty sure it's the first one produced commercially, anyway...] It's called Old Vodka.

I drove to a little community farming business called Church Farm in Ardeley (near Stevenage) and there I met the charming Merab Salamashvili. He is Georgian by birth, having moved to Hertfordshire in 2004, and has been producing vodka at Church Farm since March 2014.

He chose Church Farm because it's a source of the glorious Ardeley spring water - a fantastically pure and fresh water which Merab says is perfect for making good vodka. His vodka is made using all natural ingredients and is at least triple-distilled. Sure enough, it has a deliciously clean taste and smooth mouthfeel, and is almost as good served on the rocks as it is in cocktails.

He gets all his vodka smarts from his family - his father taught him how to make it, using a recipe that has been passed down through generations for 200 years! That's why Merab chose to name his company 'Pesvebi' - it means 'roots' in his native tongue.

Merab says the Hertfordshire roots of his vodka is as important as the Georgian roots of the recipe: "People in the UK love to buy locally produced food and drink, and this is very important to me. I like that this matters to them."

He's certainly had lots of success so far: "People come to taste and buy a bottle - the next day, they come back to buy another one!"

He's also just starting to release some very interesting flavoured vodkas:

Caramel: The most popular by far, this is not too sweet or cloying, and dangerously sippable for a drink with a 40% abv! It uses caramel which Merab makes himself using excellent quality sugar, and is a hit with locals: "I made 350 bottles before Christmas to sell at the Church Farm shop, and expected about 100 to go, but within 2 weeks I'd sold over 300!"

Lemon: A sort of less sickly limoncello (with a lot more booze!), this is zingy and refreshing. A nice post-dinner palate cleanser.

Honey: Merab says he's been experimenting with different honeys and hasn't quite found the right one yet. The bottle I tried was very floral and perfumed, and really rather nice, but I can see why he'd want a slightly more traditional honey flavour.

Tarragon: Yes, you read that right! I was a little dubious about this at first, but the proof is in the drinking, and it was my FAVOURITE! A delicious, invigorating vodka with lovely aniseed and vanilla notes from the tarragon. A cocktail star and great for cooking with too.


If you'd like to try some Old Vodka for yourself, you can buy it directly from Church Farm if you're local, and it's also stocked at various bars and restaurants in London and Cambridge, as well as at exciting new Stevenage restaurant On The Green.

It will be available on Amazon by the end of the month - I'll add the link here when it's ready! For now, you can follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Friday Cocktail: Galliano's Passion


It's Friday, it's almost sunny and I am about to have a WHOLE week off to move into my new flat. I NEED A COCKTAIL.

As I explained with last week's apple julep recipe, my cocktail gear is all in boxes at the moment, so Toasted Glass' very own Monique Low has kindly donated some of her cocktail recipes to the blog.

We've talked about her amazing hand-painted glassware before... A LOT. And these cocktails and photos showcase just how perfect her pretty glasses are for all kinds of drinking delights.

Today I'm going to share her newest cocktail creation with you - it's a real good'un. The delicate mix of passionfruit, vanilla and grapefruit plus LOTS OF RUM makes it the perfect spring cocktail.

I might even drink mine on the patio (probably still with a jumper on...)


Galliano's Passion cocktail recipe (serves one)


Ingredients

  • 45ml white rum (Bacardi white rum is on offer at £13 down from £16 at Tesco until 31st March!)
  • 15ml vanilla liqueur (Galliano is the obvious choice!)
  • 25ml Giffard's passionfruit syrup
  • 60ml freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice
  • One strip of grapefruit zest, to garnish


Shake it!

1. Use a paring knife to carefully cut a strip of grapefruit zest and set it aside ready to use as your garnish later.
2. Fill your cocktail shaker (or jam jar) with a good handful of ice and add the rum, vanilla liqueur, passionfruit syrup and grapefruit juice.
3. Close the lid and give it a good shake for a few seconds (you might find the outside of the cocktail shaker becomes frosted - this is a sign that it's ready!)
4. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
5. Holding it over the drink, give the grapefruit zest garnish a good twist to release the oils and drape it over the side of the glass.


Et voila! We're all set for the weekend. Enjoy!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

DIY Cold Brew Coffee with Maple Syrup & Coconut Cream



Following a pretty heavy couple of weeks talking exclusively about craft beer, lots of opinion pieces and general ranting, I thought I'd better show you (and the rest of the Vinspire team) that there is more to me than just craft beer.

In fact, lots more. Because this week's blog isn't just beer free, its also ALCOHOL & DAIRY FREE!

Fear not readers, I have not had a personality transplant, but I remembered Laura's post back in October on Sandows Cold Brew Coffee, reworked a couple of recipe and cocktail ideas and OH MY JESUS it's good. Cold brew gives a sweeter, more relaxed, fruity-tasting coffee, and here I've served it with coconut cream & maple syrup.

So, here's how to make it...

How To Make Cold Brew Coffee at Home


  • Firstly, find a decent coffee! I use Lulu Coffee at home and in my pubs; it's batch-roasted in Hertfordshire and doesn't give me that horrible coffee-drunk buzz that so many people complain about. Its balanced, fresh and earthy!
  • Place around 120g of ground espresso coffee in a mixing bowl or jug and cover with 1 litre of cold, preferably filtered water.
  • Stir it all in and leave to sit for 15 minutes. There should be a foamy crust on top of the coffee. Stir again, mixing the coffee with the water further. Cover with a clean, damp cloth or cling film and leave on the kitchen top for 24 hours.


  • After 24 hours, strain the coffee mixture twice through coffee filter paper, or some muslin. I like a strong coffee, so I dilute with a 1:1 coffee:water ratio, but you can drop down to 2:3 coffee to water. Alternatively, you could just pick up a bottle by producers like Sandows who have done all the hard work for you :-)
  • At this stage, a lot of baristas recommend adding a pinch of sea salt to bring out loads of flavour; I haven't tried this yet, but some people swear by it.

Cold Brew Coffee Cocktail with Maple Syrup and Coconut Cream


  • Open your can of coconut cream and pop it in a container to mix. Add in maple syrup to taste - it's best when it's sweetish, but not coma-inducing. Add a touch of vanilla extract. Stir until all combined, and into the fridge it goes to cool.
  • Grab a glass with loads of ice, pour over a portion of your cold-brew coffee and then drop in a generous amount of your sweetened coconut cream (depending on how creamy and sweet you want your cocktail to be).
  • Of course, it would be uncouth of me to not offer a boozy alternative, so feel free to 'spill' a generous glug of good rum conveniently into the glass. Damn that pesky Diplomatico Reserva. It is one hell of a Rum though.



Boom. Cold Brew Coffee. Done!