Tuesday, 30 June 2015

TV Review: Booze Traveler, New to the Travel Channel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 29 June 2015

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


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

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


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

1-2
3-4
5-6
7
Poll Maker

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

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

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

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

My answer

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

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

Little and often vs. Weekenders

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

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

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

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

Are we worried enough?

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

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

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

Friday, 26 June 2015

Friday Cocktail: Our Top 10 Fruity Summer Cocktails

As soon as the sun starts to shine, I find myself dreaming up fruity and refreshing summer drinks ideas to keep me cool while sunbathing in the garden, and baby, the weather forecast has finally spoken. It's fruity cocktail recipe time.

While I dream up some new ideas for you all, here's a run-down of the top easy and delicious fruity cocktails we at Vinspire have dreamed up in summers past.

In no particular order:


1. The Cherry Margarita


This recipe was one of the first cocktails I ever created and it remains one of my favourites. Super easy and zingy - the salt rim is a must.


2. Apricot and thyme caipirinha


One of our most recent cocktail creations, this was dreamed up by the cocktail queen that is Lucienne. An aromatic delight - the delicate herby fragrance is a winning match with fat, juicy apricot.

3. Strawberry and lime rosé sangria


I'm growing increasingly in love with sangria, but this was our first ever sangria recipe, and it's great for beginners.

4. The June Bug


A classic tropical cocktail which has many fond memories for me. I used to spend whole nights sipping it with my best girl, Sophie - it's very easy to drink.

5. Blackberry and apple crumble bramble


Yay for dessert cocktails! It may not be blackberry season yet but this is still an absolutely delicious summer drink - the vanilla really makes it.

6. Limoncello, raspberry and basil martini


This cocktail blends some beautiful Italian flavours and always comes out a beautiful shade of vivid pink. What more could you want on a sunny day?

7. Brazilian Passion Cocoscato


During the World Cup this was our go-to cocktail, and it's bound to be all I drink when the Olympics arrive in Rio next year too. It was created by my favourite Aussie, the gorgeous Jo, who has effortlessly blended passionfruit, coconut and lightly sweet, sparkling moscato. All of my favourite things.

8. Rhubarb and ginger gin fizz


One of our all-time most viewed and loved cocktails, this a very simple, very sippable combination of rhubarb syrup, gin, ginger beer, lemon juice, creme de cassis and a dash of bitters. So, so refreshing.

9. Boozy Key Lime Pie Milkshake


Yay for pie cocktails! This deliciously alcoholic milkshake combines zesty lime, ice cream and biscuits, among other things. Oh, and lots and lots of rum. Make it in batches, because you won't want just one.

10. Strawberry, rhubarb and basil gin fizz


Our most recent cocktail creation, and a brilliant way to use Chase's wonderful rhubarb liqueur. Aromatic, summery and almost good for you. Because green stuff, right?

Have a happy, boozy, cocktail-filled weekend, everyone!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Prettiest Paper Cups & Straws

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

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

Paper Cups


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Paper Straws


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Summer Savings: 3 Bargain White Wines


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, 22 June 2015

Summer Supper: Tequila Scallop & Avocado Ceviche

Because the weather's been so kind to us lately, minus the odd shower, I've well and truly replaced all those hearty stews and carb-rich dinners with lots of light, summery dishes.

Barbecues are always welcome at this time of year, but for me it's all about fresh herbs, plenty of veg, a generous squeeze of citrus, and simply cooked meats and fish... Preferably with an ice cold margarita.

Yesterday marked the longest day of the year, and not gallivanting off to Stonehenge with the Druids, I thought I'd celebrate by rustling up some sort of solstice feast.

I had fish in mind, and it needed to encapsulate all of the above - including the margarita too - so after flicking through some cookbooks, I arrived at ceviche... And you can't cook fish any simpler than not cooking it at all (don't worry, the citrus does the job for you).

Popular in South America, ceviche is made up of raw fish, cured in either lemon or lime juices, spiced with chillies, and pimped out with coriander and whatever else takes your fancy.

Here, I've used some fleshy scallops, and steered more towards Mexico in using tequila as well as lime juice, chillies, tomatoes, a pinch of smoked paprika and an avocado. 

To make a meal out of it - because essentially a boozy raw fish salad will not fill you up alone - I partnered it with a pineapple salsa, taco shells, refried beans and some Monteray Jack cheese. The only thing that was missing was a Mariachi Band!

And if you want wine matches, then a couple of our previous posts include ceviche recommendations; Jo suggested The Society's Ruppertsberg, and I was informed that Greywacke's 2014 Sauvignon Blanc works wonderfully with dishes like this, particularly ones with creamy avocado.

So here it goes; let us know if you make it!


Tequila Scallop & Avocado Ceviche
(serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 6 of the freshest scallops you can find, diced
  • 30ml tequila
  • 30ml freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 4 cherry tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
  • 1/5 cucumber, deseeded and diced
  • 1 small avocado, diced
  • A handful of coriander, roughly chopped
  • A pinch of smoked paprika


Method

  1. Prepare all your ingredients; aim to get your tomatoes, cucumber and avocado the same size, with your scallops slightly chunkier. 
  2. Mix together the tequila and lime juice, then pour over the diced scallops, shuffling them around so that they get evenly coated. Leave to stand for 10 minutes. 
  3. Add in all the other ingredients, toss to combine, and let the flavors infuse for a further 10 minutes.
  4. Serve with tacos, tortillas, toasts… Enjoy!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Street Feast's Dinerama in Shoreditch Yard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 Great Eastern Street
Shoreditch
London EC2A 3EJ

Tube: Old Street or Shoreditch High Street

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

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Wine for Beginners: Wonderful Wines to Match Salmon


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

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

Here are a few ideas for you:

1. Smoked salmon

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


3. Teriyaki salmon

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

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

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


4. Sweet chilli salmon fishcakes

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

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

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


5. Blackened Cajun Salmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


See more of our food and wine matches here.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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