Monday, 31 August 2015

Breathe Responsibly: Alcoholic Architecture

Drinking is sooooo last year. Didn't you know?

No, me neither (and it's totally not true anyway).

However, a new alcoholic experience has hit London, and it's one that requires you to do nothing but breathe. Is it drinking for lazy people? For the adventurous? Or drinking for the calorie concious? Who knows, but I headed to Alcoholic Architecture in Borough Market to find out. 

Alcoholic Architecture has been devised by flavour experimentalists Bompas & Parr, who you might know through their insane jelly skills. Founded in 2007, they've made glow-in-the-dark jelly for Mark Ronson's birthday, held scratch-and-sniff film screenings in Edinburgh, and installed bright green rowing lake bars on top of Selfridges. So, creating a walk-in cloud of breathable cocktail is obviously the next logical step... Obviously. 

We're told as we arrive that we're "about to enter a world where meteorology, mixology and monasticism collide." It's located on the site of a former monastery you see, next to London's oldest Gothic cathedral, and the cloud pays tribute to monks and other religious orders that have been responsible for creating iconic liquors over the centuries (think Chartreuse, Benedictine, Trappist beers, etc.) 

It's the world's first alcoholic weather system for your tongue; a fully immersive alcohol environment that explodes drinks to the scale of architecture. The cloud - or probably more accurately, the fog - is entirely composed of  spirits and mixer at a ratio of 1:3. With humidity at a whopping 140%, there is so much alcohol in the air that you can't see more than a metre in front of you. It's a moist experience, but you don't need to worry about your clothes; you get handed a rather fetching poncho upon entry!

Performance plays a big part in this; from queuing with other excited strangers, being given a fun-but-formal introduction explaining that the alcohol enters your bloodstream primarily through the lungs but also through the eyeballs (erm... gross!), trekking down the dark staircase not knowing where you're going, donning your plastic poncho and then entering the vapourised booze via the neon 'Breathe Responsibly' sign. There's also a time limit that adds to the drama; you can only stay for an hour to make sure that you don't over do it! 

An alter style bar serves proper cocktails too; you can take them into the cloud to double your intake - whaaaay - and the menu is comprised of all the ye olde spirits and beers made by monks. Heavenly Tonics (all £6) include Buckfast, a fortified wine so savage that some Scottish politicians are calling for a ban of the caffeinated intoxicant, and a frankincense-smoked G&T - swoon. Canonical Cocktails (£8) might make you 'Friar Tucked' thanks to the mix of Bénédictine, brandy, Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe, and Sacred Shots for a fiver include the Dirty Habit; equal measures of Buckfast and Scotch whisky... Oof. There are actually some 'Celibate' drinks on the list, emulating the taste of some of the potent spirits, but let's face it, no one is here to stay sober! 

The cloud cocktail changes every hour, and upon my visit, it was a classic gin and tonic. The environment is meant to allow you to deconstruct and better appreciate the nuance and flavour of spirits as you enjoy them in a completely different way. Did it taste like a G&T? No, I don't think it did. It wasn't very juniper-y, but it definitely had a bitter element of quinine about it. 

As interesting as Alcoholic Architecture was, I much preferred drinking my luminous green Chartreuse, celery bitters and tonic (excellent combination FYI). It probably didn't help that we went on the hottest bloody day in August either; after a day spent waltzing round London in a sweltering 30 degrees, wrapping up in a giant plastic bag and entering a boozy steam room for an hour was never going to be a truly pleasurable experience.

An experience it was though, and it's worth visiting to see what all the fuss is about; in 60 minutes you might even find your spiritual side! 

Bompas & Parr's Alcoholic Architecture runs until early 2016 and tickets are available through Biletto priced at £10, or £12.50 at peak times. Find it at 1 Cathedral Street, Borough Market, London, SE1 9DE. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Cold Brew Gin & Tonic - The Next Big Thing



Ok, so we’ve all heard of Cold Brew, right? (Quick, if you haven’t, you can read more here) The delicious stuff is everywhere at the moment; from independent wine shops, to coffee bars and delicatessens, it’s even filtered down to the high street, with Starbucks offering cold brew coffee in a selection of their London outposts.


But, as always when The Next Big Thing goes mainstream, there’s already a new kid on the block – in this case it’s Cold Brew’s older, stronger, better looking brother: the Coffee Gin & Tonic, or C&T.


That’s gin, cold brew coffee and tonic.


We’ve noticed it popping up in independent coffee shops all over the place, but now you can make it at home, too. Because what’s better than a great coffee? Added gin, of course.



C&T recipe

Ingredients:

1 shot Sandows Cold Brew (or find out how to make your own cold brew coffee at home)

1 shot gin (any you like, really)

Tonic water (we recommend the all-natural Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water, but any decent tonic will work well)

1. Fill a glass with cubed ice

2. Add one shot of your favourite gin

3. Add one shot of the cold brew

4. Top with your favourite tonic water

5. Enjoy!


While you might expect this to be a particularly bitter drink, the flavours in the coffee, gin and tonic water blend together to create something lighter, more fruity and sweeter than either a G&T or a coffee.


Trust us, this is going to be huge. Move over, Espresso Martini, you’ve got competition.


What the Wine Label You Choose Says About You


First impressions count. The words that were left ringing in my ears by my dear mother, as I went for my first ever job interview as a 16 year old. Walking down the road in my ill-fitting off-the-peg suit, I was more worried about getting my name wrong in the interview room, than I was about how dapper I looked. But, boy, was my Mum right. I left that interview with not only a Saturday job at a bakery, but learning a new lesson in life.

Fast forward to my present day job in a wine shop and the saying still stands. Working in a wine shop, you get to see all facets of the wine buying public. You have the 'Just-finished-work-and-need-a-bottle-for-my-lasagne' crowd; the 'I-have-my-internet-date-coming-over-and-need-something-to-impress' people, all the way through to the 'Arrgh! The-Mother-in-law-is-coming-to-tea-and-I-need-something-French' set.

However, they all have something in common - the label that attracts their eye first shoots up the charts in terms of what is most likely to be coming home with them that night.

I'm faced with different labels all day, but it's really interesting to see different people's reactions to bottles, without them having the foggiest of ideas about what the liquid inside it tastes like. The 'story' of a wine is told on the label and people buy into that tale.

Take a look at some bottles of classic wines:



Picture of a crest? Check...
Posh 'ye olde'-sounding name? Check...
Gothic style writing? Bingo...

If you wanted something that screams to everyone "I am refined, I am cultured, sophistication is part of my genetic make up", then you have just found it.

Now look at the opposite end of the spectrum. Have a look at some of these more, how shall we say, quirky labels:



A sharp, modern looking font on the bottle, all flashy logos on the label, retro looking style. What runs through your head? "If people see me drinking this, they will know I am the embodiment of cool".

 Now, I know people who would look hip if they had their lips locked round a bottle of anti-freeze, but the image of the 'sharp looking continental drinker' drives people to want that image and buy accordingly.

Labels can also convey the image of 'expense'. If you are looking for wine on a budget & you are faced with a bottle that has ornate scripture & bold pictures, and a bottle that simply states 'Merlot', you would more than likely going to go for the authentic looking one, to project the image of the 'seasoned wine drinker', which in itself is a sophisticated image. 

Multinational companies spend millions to attract their target demographic to buy their products, by selling their 'dreams and aspirations' on a label and creating a story to romanticize the contents of the bottle before they have chance of opening them.

First impressions or not, I lasted 6 months in my Saturday job. It turned out that making sausage rolls was a technical challenge too far. When it comes to selling baked goods, maybe that saying shouldn't be taken too seriously after all...


What is your take on it? Tell us on Twitter, Facebook or below in the comments!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Great Apps for Beer, Wine & Cocktail Lovers


Where on earth would we be without iPhones or Androids? The information available to us via our pockets is incredible. We can all be experts at just about anything these days, and if you don't happen to know what the hell your talking about when it comes to wine, cocktails or beer, it just so happens there's an app for that too! Here are some of the best:


Pocket Wine - £2.99 (iOS)

A useful little wine app this. It makes recommendations for food and wine matching, and works both ways - pick a wine and it'll show you descriptions, regions and what to eat with it, or select what you plan to cook and the app will display the appropriate wine matches.

What I love about this app is that it creates profiles for the user based on a series of questions on taste preferences. The app then tells you what styles you might like, and which wines to try. It recommended for me that I like Rich whites like Pinot Blanc, and Fruity reds such as Carignan. It was bang on! You can set up various profiles for friends and families too. It also has a useful glossary of terms, so you no longer need to pretend what a wines 'appellation' is (clue: nothing to do with apples...)



Cocktail Flow - Free 
(iOS, Android, Windows Phone)

A beautiful looking cocktail app that allows the user to browse cocktails based on cocktail type, base spirit, strength, colour, occasion, season, mood, keywords or whats trending. The range of cocktails is concise, and its easy to navigate around. There's also a great range of non-alcoholic cocktails and smoothies. You can even create your own virtual bar with whatever ingredients you have available, and the app will recommend cocktails to try out! Methods are simply and well explained. It's a brilliant tool when you're wondering what to do with that leftover bottle of weird liqueur that you got for Christmas from your Aunt Linda which has been sitting in the cupboard gathering dust for forever.






Vivino Wine Scanner - Free
(iOS, Android, Windows Phone)

An absolute must for anyone who goes out and about eating and drinking or buys wine in an off-licence or supermarket. You simply take a picture of the label of the bottle of wine you have bought/are thinking of buying, and the Vivino Wine Scanner will match it to its incredibly massive database of world wines to supply you with reviews, average pricing and food pairings. You can see vintage comparisons and how the wine ranks in its region or country. Whats more is users are encouraged to tag where they found the wine and how much for, then leave a review. Crowd sourced information!

Switch Location Services on and you can also see wines near you in local restaurants, supermarkets and off licences, see how they score and their prices. The app will also provide you with recommendations as it builds up a profile for you.


Untappd - Free (iOS, Android, Windows Phone)

This handy little app is a beer-lovers dream. Rate beer and check in at various bars and pubs and leave feedback for others. You can search for a specific beer to see where it is available, find out what bars and beers are near you, and the app will give you recommendations based on your beer scores. You can also see what your friends have been drinking and what they rated it via the nifty Facebook login.











Craft Beer London/ Craft Beer New York £2.29/£0.79 (iOS, Android)

One of the first Craft Beer apps on the market, and still one of the best. Great for when you're visiting the Big Smoke or the Big City, this little ditty lets you see nearby Craft Beer bars, pubs, breweries, shops and restaurants based on your location. It'll even give you directions, tell you what food they serve, if any, what beers are on draught and in bottle etc. It's also got a news sections with some great little editorials, event news and a map.


Beer Pong Tricks - Free (iOS, Android)

A bit more light-hearted, this one. Remember how good you think you are at Beer Pong? Well, truth is nobody is good at Beer Pong - I thought I was bloody marvellous until I realised the object of the game was to get the OTHER person drunk...

Fortunately, there is an incredibly annoying, addictive game which is a bit like Angry Birds for alcoholics. Set your aim for the cup via lots of obstacles, pull back and... FIRE!

No need to log on via Facebook for this one... you're not a douchebag.



What are you waiting for? Get yourself to an App store near you now!


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Wine Travel: Paris' Best Wine Bars and People-Watching Spots

Photo: Sam Valadi (CCL)
So I think we are all in agreement that Paris is an extremely beautiful city that has days and days of monuments to visit. However, if you are like me and have ticked those boxes, or simply prefer to swap selfie-sticked tourists and overpriced cappuccinos for wine and people-watching then this list might well suit you.

I have included a touch of croissant and a dash of culture because it is Paris after all...


Wine bar: 5er Cru le Bar

If it’s a neighbourhood wine bar you’re in the mood for, then this is your place. Block out a couple of hours here so that you can take advantage of the seriously amazing shelves of vino. From Jura to Burgundy, Rhone and Bordeaux, the hardest part of your Paris visit will occur right here, right now, trying to decide on a wine. They also have excellent share plates. A good place to grab a bottle of Champagne for a picnic in the Luxembourg gardens.

7 rue du Cardinal Lemoine, 75005 Paris, Jardin des Plantes/Austerlitz, 5ème


People watching: Luxembourg Gardens

Grab a baguette. Pick some cheese. Chill that Champagne. Borrow some glasses et voila! You’ve got yourself a good ole fashion picnic. If you set up near the fountain monument in the middle of the gardens you will be close to a toilet too (70cents).

Rue de Médicis , 75006 Paris, Luxembourg, 6th


Wine bar: La Cremerie

Another super cute, tiny neighbourhood wine bar. This is the smallest one of all seating about 6 tables worth place a very tight four at the bar. Guaranteed 90% tourist free except for you. Same deal as above- pick a bottle from the shelf, order share plates. Drink eat repeat.

9 rue des Quatre Vents, 75006 Paris, Saint-Michel / Odéon, Saint-Germain-Des-Pres, 6th


Wine bar: Freddy’s

Not a huge wine list but what’s on it is good. Lots of small tapas plates with super fresh ingredients- so not just cheese and terrines. You may end up perching against a small tabled wall but sit down meals were so last week. Great staff.

54 rue de Seine, 75006 Paris, Saint-Germain-Des-Prés, 6ème


Wine bar AND People Watching: Chez Prune

Get there just before 5, grab a table and soak in some serious atmosphere. This is a place where lots of locals go to have their knock off drinks so maybe brush up on your French skills and attempt to blend in. Probably not an eating spot so stick to people watching and drinking.

36 rue Beaurepaire, 75010 Paris, Canal St Martin/Gare de l'Est, 10ème


Wine Bar: Martin

Good place to eat more than just charcuterie. A lot of bio/natural wines on their list and the guys that run the place seem to do a lot of wine travel so you can feel pretty confident that the list is super strong. More importantly there are lots of good looking people to watch here. Has a large range of gin.

24, boulevard du Temple, 75011 PARIS, Métro: Filles du Calvaire or République
Tel: 06 16 15 70 61


Culture: Centre Pompidou

You can’t go to Paris without one little hit of art so if you haven’t already: go here. It’s not nearly as pretty on the outside as the Lourve but there are a lot less tourists and it has one of the best views around the city. And for 14euros. They have a guest exhibitor on the top and then all sorts of impressionists to pop artists on the floor below. There is also a bar here excellent for a beer with a view. Art. View. Beer.

Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris, Beaubourg, 4ème


Croissant: Sebastian Gaudard

Whilst I heard it’s not illegal to start your day in Paris without a croissant, it is heavily frowned upon to do anything else. This place is worth every calorie and I also recommend buying a packet of all the different flavours of macrons. The other sweet treats are insanely good. It’s not like you’re there every week. Do what you feel is right.

22 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris, Pigalle, 9ème


People Watching: Basilique du Sacré Coeur de Montmartre

Lucky for you there is a steep hill up to the Sacré Coeur that is directly behind Sebastian Gaudard. It’s another view spot and great for making you feel ok about that second sweet treat that you invested in. Lots of photo ops up here if you can deal with the high level of selfie sticks. A nice place to perch and take in the world if you can block out the crowds.

35 rue du Chevalier de la Barre, 75018 Paris, Montmartre, 18ème


Wine Bar: Terra Corsa

Just up the road from Sebastian Gaudard is a little wine bar because after all of that croissant you will be thirsty. If all of the selfie sticks at the Sacré Coeur are too much for you then there are Corsican wines, excellent sausage (some of the best), cheese and a generous serving of people watching.

42 rue des Martyrs, 75009 Paris, Pigalle 9th


This list may not be suitable for non-drinkers and was slightly restricted by August closures but heavily enjoyed none the less. No coffee was enjoyed in this Parisian experience. Bon vacance, and faire attention to those selfie sticks...

Wine for Beginners: Pairing Wine with Vegetarian Food


Pairing wine with vegetarian food - vegetables


Perhaps you're a dedicated veggie, or you're just a fan of Meat Free Mondays. Either way, choosing a great food and wine pairing can be tricky. And with the often subtle and delicate flavours of vegetable-based dishes, even more so.

Here's a brief guide to picking the best vino for your veggie dish, the perfect tipple for tomatoes, and finding out which grape is ripe for risotto.

General tips

A slightly sweeter wine, such as a Riesling or Gewürztraminer can calm the heat of a curry or spicy dish. An oaky Chardonnay or Viognier pairs well with lentils, butternut squash or pumpkin, and the bold flavours of a Merlot, Shiraz, Viognier or Rioja work wonderfully with strong flavours like mushrooms.

Tomato flavoured Italian food pairs perfectly with Italian reds (keeping it in the country is a good guideline) such as Primitivo, Barbera and Montepulciano, while salads and green vegetables go well with a dry Riesling, Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc.

It may seem obvious, but pair bold flavours with bold wines, and subtle flavours with delicate wines. If you drink a delicate white with spicy food, you will lose the flavour of the wine, and no-one wants that. Similarly, if you drink a big red with a subtly flavoured vegetarian dish, you won’t be able to taste that meal you’ve lovingly prepared.

Pairing wine with vegetarian food - wine


Big wines!

If you want to drink a full-bodied red wine, or a rich white wine, there are certain ingredients you can use to match the power of your tipple, as you don’t have the animal fat or protein which helps to soften the tannins.

With reds use mushrooms, chestnuts or soy sauce to give richness and depth. Bring out the flavours of your vegetables by caramelising them, or by adding warm spices.

For white wine add cream or butter to sauces and purees, or use sweet and full-flavoured vegetables like red peppers or butternut squash. Roasted nuts can also bring out the flavour of oaked whites.

If you’re planning to throw a vegetarian dinner party soon, or just fancy treating yourself, these easy recipe suggestions and wine pairings wouldn’t be a bad place to start.


Starter: Panko breaded goats' cheese with beetroot salad recipe
Serves two


Pairing wine with vegetarian food - goats cheese

Ingredients
300g beetroot, sliced
2 tbsps of balsamic vinegar
2 tbsps of extra virgin olive oil
1 finely chopped clove of garlic
30g very finely chopped shallot
1 tsp thyme
2 handfuls of salad leaves (or micro herbs)
Goats' cheese, chilled, cut in half
1 egg, beaten
50g panko breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

How to make it
1. Put the sliced beetroot into a dish with the vinegar, olive oil, thyme, shallot, garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Mix together and leave to marinate, preferably overnight.
2. Arrange your beetroot on the plate.
3. Dip your goats' cheese into the beaten egg, and then into the breadcrumbs. Coat thoroughly.
4. In a large frying pan, heat a small amount of olive oil on a medium heat. Add the goats' cheese and fry for around two minutes on each side.
5. Pat with kitchen paper before putting on top of the beetroot, and topping with the salad leaves/micro herbs. Season and drizzle with a little olive oil.

Pairing wine and vegetarian food - goats cheese


Wine suggestions
Pairing wine and vegetarian food - Wirra WirraWirra Wirra, Scrubby Rise, unoaked Chardonnay, 2013,
£9.95 – Wine Direct
Scrubby Rise Chardonnay is unoaked, which allows the natural fruit flavours of the grape to shine. A nicely bodied and stylish wine, Scrubby Rise has good flavours of stone fruit, and is well balanced.

Jackson Estate, Stich, Sauvignon Blanc, 2014,
£10.98 – Mix and match two bottles at Majestic
A Sauvignon Blanc which is clean and well-balanced. Zingy and lively, with fruity gooseberry flavours, this wine is refreshing but not overpowering.



Main course: Wild mushroom risotto recipe
Serves two


Pairing wine and vegetarian food - mushrooms


Ingredients
1 onion, finely chopped
50g dried mushrooms, steeped in boiling water for 30 minutes (save the water), and chopped
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
200g risotto rice
1 glass of white wine
1/2 litre vegetable stock
1 knob of butter
100g wild mushrooms
Grated vegetarian hard cheese to taste
Salt and pepper

How to make it
1. Heat olive oil in a deep frying pan and sauté mushrooms and onions on a medium heat for ten minutes
2. Add the garlic, and cook for a further minute or so
3. Add the rice and sauté for three minutes
4. Add the white wine and stir until absorbed
5. Add the reserve stock from the steeped dried mushrooms and allow to be absorbed by rice, stirring often
6. Add the vegetable stock, a ladle at a time, letting the rice absorb the stock each time (this should take around 20 to 30 minutes)
7. Season to taste
8. Sauté the wild mushrooms in butter and use to top the risotto, along with a liberal serving of cheese shavings


Wine suggestions
Pairing wine and vegetarian food - Yalumba
Black Stump, Durif Shiraz, 2011,
£7.99 – Naked Wines
Smooth, fruity and dark, this Durif Shiraz is really easy to drink. Lots of berry and dark fruit flavours, spicy and chocolatey, it easily matches up with the powerful flavour of the mushroom risotto.

Yalumba, Barossa Grenache, 2012,
£9.32 – Mix and match two bottles, Majestic
A fruity little number. Mild tannins and a rounded peppery finish. Red and dark berry fruits with perfumed aromas and a smooth, long finish.


Dessert wine suggestions
Pairing wine and vegetarian food - Ned
Wirra Wirra, Mrs Wigley, Moscato, 2011,
£7.99 – Ocado
Pink, sweet, slightly sparkling and the perfect accompaniment to dessert, Mrs Wigley is delicious with flavours of sweet strawberries, while being creamy and smooth. Really yummy (and a great name).

The Ned, Noble Sauvignon Blanc, 2013/4,
£9.74 – Mix and match two bottles, Majestic
A lovely mixture of acidity and sweetness, with an intense flavour. The nutty and caramel apple flavours in this wine pair really well with fruit flavours in a dessert.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

DIY Bubble Tea: Where To Buy Flavoured 'Boba' Tapioca Balls & Bubble Tea Kits


Over the past few years, the tea-crazy UK has become slowly obsessed with Taiwanese bubble tea, with new cafes popping up everywhere just to serve this tasty, flavoured tapioca ball-filled treat (Jo gave us a beginner's guide to bubble tea last year.).

If your location (or, frankly, budget) prevents you from basically moving into a bubble tea cafe (as is The Dream), then you can make your own bubble tea at home instead! It's super easy!

The problem is, making your own tapioca balls or bursting juice balls is a big old mess, and ain't nobody got time for that. And coming up with syrups etc to perfect your favourite flavours just doesn't quite seem to live up to the cafes' Real Thing, so I've been hunting for some helpful DIY bubble tea kits and readymade boba balls/pearls in as many amazing flavours as I can find. Yes, I'm that lazy.

Here's some the best places to buy bubble tea supplies in the UK:


1. PopaBall

These are the big daddies of bubble tea supplies and I was so excited when my friend Sophie told me about them last week!

They sell a wide range of the bursting fruity bubbles in amazing flavours like blueberry, cherry, lychee, passionfruit, and even kiwi! There really is nothing nicer than the sensation of popping the bubble and filling your mouth with juicy fruity syrup.

A 125g tub (that's enough for about 3 bubble teas) is £2.99, or you can buy a 5 or 6-box selection pack of boba balls where you get to choose your own flavours! I love the level of choice in the shop, and a 6-pack is £14.99, which I think is great value for such a treat.

You can also buy bubble tea powders in flavours like pina colada, raspberry, mango and more! And a pack of chunky straws is just 49p.




2. Firebox

Popaball also sell through popular gift site Firebox, including a 'make your own bubble tea' kit which includes tapioca starch so you really can make your own boba balls at home. The kit is £14.99 and it comes with easy to follow instructions, so it really is the perfect gift for beginners.




3. Cream Supplies

If you want to buy more in bulk (bubble tea party, anyone?) you can get brilliant big tubs made by Wild Monk from the wholesaler Cream Supplies.

The stock levels seem a bit sketchy, but right now you can get a 1.2kg tub of mango pobbles for £7.99 and the likes of chocolate tea mix and coconut tea mix for £14.99 for a 1kg bag.



4. Bobamix

If you're looking more for one-off ingredients to really make the teas from scratch, you can buy quick-cook tapioca pearls for £1.99 and bubble tea syrups for £5.99 from Liverpool-based Bobamix.

The range isn't quite as good as the other stores, and the website isn't the easiest to navigate, but the prices are reasonable.



5. Bubblelicious Tea

Probably my second favourite place to shop for bubble tea ingredients other than PopaBall, this bubble tea wholesaler has a brilliant wide range of different flavoured juice balls, syrups and tea powders.

The only downside is they do only sell them in quite large quantities (although they're a wholesaler, they stress they're suitable for domestic purchases too!) but the prices are very reasonable.

For instance, you can get the likes of avocado tea powder for £10.99 per kilo (and they do about FIFTY different flavours, from pomegranate to rose to almond!) and incredible syrup flavours (around 30 different flavours!) for around £9.99 to £12.49 for around 2-3kg! Watermelon particularly appeals - but the flavour combinations of pearls/tea/syrup are endless.

The syrups do have a shelf life of up to one year, too.


So there you have it, that's five of the best places to buy bubble tea gifts and supplies in the UK. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to start my own cafe...

Monday, 24 August 2015

The Lucky Onion Drinks Academy Launch


Wednesday 19th August saw the launch of The Lucky Onion Drinks Academy at one of The Lucky Onion's Cheltenham venues; The Tavern. 
A drinks academy you say? Yes, there really is such a thing! And thankfully, I was invited along to see what all the fuss is about.
Owned by Sam and Georgie Pearman, The Lucky Onion group includes a number of award winning boutique hotels, bars and restaurants in the Cotswolds; No. 131 No. 38 the Park, and The Tavern in Cheltenham, along with The Wheatsheaf Inn, Northleach, and The Chequers Churchill. 
Priding themselves on not being just a faceless chain, The Lucky Onion is "a group of chefs, restaurateurs, sommeliers, hoteliers, graphic designers, artists, event creators and interior designers, who all have a passion for design, travel, food and drink". The new Drinks Academy will be collaborating with a number of suppliers - Coe Vintners, Tanqueray Gin and Ketel One Vodka made an appearance on the night - to develop a programme to improve skills, confidence and knowledge, helping everyone build a successful career within the industry. 

Bartenders from across the town were invited to the event, and in his speech, Sam Pearman highlighted the fact that there shouldn't be competition between the different venues because, essentially, everyone's goal is the same. Striving to create a wonderful experience for guests is of utmost importance, and The Lucky Onion Drinks Academy hopes to bring an extra dimension to this service.

Personally, I found this really refreshing to hear; sharing skills and developing creative recipes, rather than just bitching about what each other's bars are doing, should be what it's about. So, hopefully, with the help of the soon-to-be training schemes for spirits, wines, ales and coffee, Cheltenham might firmly be put on the drinking-destination map. 
On the night, coupes of prosecco and pints of Bobby Beer (who we've featured on Vinspire before) were flowing, before we were treated to live music from local band Thrill Collins whilst an abundance of cocktails did the rounds. 
There were Bloody Mary Masterclasses with Ketel One's David Beatty, gin chats with Tanqueray's Tim Homewood, mini wine tastings with Coe Vintners' Dave Allen, and various cocktail and canapé pairings - my favourite being the 'Dill or No Dill' with pig's head terrine bonbons - just fantastic! 
2015 has been a great year for The Lucky Onion so far, and it's certainly no stranger to hosting the most exciting events; there have been collaborations with top chefs including Fergus Henderson, Mark Hix, Valentine Warner and Sabrina Ghayour, as well as musicians such as Gregory Porter, Trevor Nelson and Cerys Matthews. The launch of the Drinks Academy is sure to boost their status to new heights, and with further expansion plans for the business, including the introduction of the Lucky Onion Chef Academy, this is a company to take note of.

Let's toast to being keen drink enthusiasts - on both sides of the bar! 

Friday, 21 August 2015

Friday Cocktail: 4 of the Best Italian Cocktails


Many members of the Vinspire team have recently spent time eating and drinking our way around Italy (all in the name of research, of course). So next in our series of Italian love-in posts is this, the best cocktails the Italians have to offer. You're welcome.

The Italians do drinks proper. From Super Tuscans (and many, many other wines for that matter) to strong, dark coffee, Italians are big on flavour, and perfectionists when it comes to the execution; you'll never find an Italian restaurant with improper sized espresso cups, or one serving Prosecco from a wine glass, and the cocktails are no exception.
Photo: CCFoodTravel

First up is one of the most famous cocktails in the world, the Bellini. A classic mix of peach puree topped with sparkling wine (Prosecco, obvz).

Invented in Harry's Bar in Venice in the 1930/40s, this classic has adorned drinks menus the world over ever since. Alongside its famous cousin, however, you'll usually find the Rossini on most Italian cocktail menus - simply swap the peach juice you'd find in a Bellini for fresh strawberry purée, and top with Prosecco. Molto bene.


From one Prosecco based cocktail to another (why change the habit of a lifetime?) - the lesser known Sgroppino.

A fusion of the country's national sparkling wine, vodka and that most delicious of palate cleansers, lemon sorbet. Often served at the end of a meal, as opposed to something a cocktail bar would rustle up. Rarely listed on menus, but order one anyway and feel smug with your local knowledge.

Or make your own:

Sgroppino recipe (serves one)

Ingredients:
1 scoop lemon sorbet
25ml vodka
75ml prosecco

1. Pop the sorbet in a cocktail shaker (or jar or bowl if you don't have one) and splash over a bit of the Prosecco, then gently mix until the two are combined.
2. Towards the end of your mixing, add the vodka and give it a quick stir.
3. Pour in the rest of the prosecco and gently stir to combine.
4. Pour into a martini glass or coupe and enjoy.


Possibly the second most famous cocktail export (after the much-loved and, in our case, much-imbibed, Bellini), is the Negroni.

Photo: Lachlan Hardy (CCL)
Made with gin, red vermouth and Campari, a good Negroni is the perfect balance of bitter, dry and sweetness. Garnished with orange peel and served on the rocks, there's little better than this short, strong drink served as an aperitif. Here's the classic recipe:

Classic Negroni Recipe

Ingredients:
1 shot gin
1 shot campari
1 shot red vermouth
Orange peel, to garnish

1. Pour all the ingredients over a tumbler or old-fashioned glass filled with ice, and stir.
2. Garnish with orange peel.

But the Italians don't just do pre-dinner drinks; aperitivo applies late morning, late afternoon and pre-dinner. Who doesn't love a country that takes cocktail hour so seriously?! The Italian's drink of choice for aperitivo is the Spritz.

Traditionally made with Campari, Prosecco and soda, this long drink is now offered with Aperol as a Campari substitute. Our advice? Stick to the classic if you like the bitterness, or go with Aperol for something a little sweeter.


Have you tried any other Italian cocktails not in our list which really out to be? Let us know if the comments.

Songs About Drinking: a Boozy Playlist

Cocktails at the Alchemist


Cheers to the freakin’ weekend. Whether you’re gonna have yourself a beer, hitting the gin ‘n’ juice, getting on the shots (shots, shots, shots, shots), or sipping tequila (it makes me happy), let this playlist be the soundtrack to your boozy weekend.

Who knew there were so many songs about the noble art of drinking? From the downright miserable (a playlist for a later date perhaps, I don’t want to bring down the party), through jazz and blues, classic rock, alternative, dance, and all the way to hip hop, this is a mere snapshot into the world of alcohol-inspired songs.

Now I’m not for one second going to say that all these songs are good – some are seriously terrible – but there should be at least one song in there for everyone, whether your drink of choice is a Mint Julep, whiskey in the jar, or a lager, lager, lager, lager.

So while you drink a whisky drink, and drink a vodka drink, and drink a lager drink, and drink a cider drink, sing these songs that remind you of the good times.





A boozy playlist

40 Oz. to Freedom - Sublime
Alabama Song (Whisky Bar) - The Doors
Beer - Reel Big Fish
Born Slippy - Underworld
Brass Monkey - Beastie Boys
Buy U a Drink - Trade Union ft. T-Pain
Cheers (Drink to That) - Rihanna
Cigarettes and Alcohol - Rod Stewart
Closing Time - Semisonic
Drinking in LA - Bran Van 3000
Drunk Girls - LCD Soundsystem
Finnegan’s Wake - Dropkick Murphys
Gin and Juice - Snoop Dogg
Gin House Blues - Nina Simone
Happy Hour - The Housemartins
Have a Drink on Me - AC/DC
Lived in Bars - Cat Power
One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer - John Lee Hooker
One Mint Julep - Ray Charles
Pass the Courvoisier part II - Busta Rhymes, Diddy, Pharrell Williams
Shots - LMFAO, Lil Jon
Swimming Pools (Drank) - Kendrick Lamar
Tequila - The Champs
Tequila - Terrorvision
Tipsy - J-Kwon
Too Drunk to Fuck - Nouvelle Vague
Tubthumping - Chumbawamba
Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Cheers theme!) - Gary Portnoy
Whiskey in the Jar - Thin Lizzy
Who are You - The Who

Have we missed off your favourite drinking tune? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Central Line Coffee: Best Coffee Shops near Mile End


An avid coffee fanatic, Phoebe is compiling a Coffee Tube Map, by finding the best coffee shops to visit at every stop along the Central Line. This week: Mile End.

When you step out of Mile End station you may not be instilled with much ‘coffee’ confidence. Despite a Costa in eye shot and not much else there is no need to panic: you are just a short 5 minute walk from coffee that will significantly improve your day.

The Mile End/Bow area is slowly but surely becoming a place to get your Melbourne/Auckland standard flat whites with sandwich and snack on the same level.

Here are my favourites:


5 MINUTE WALK

The Coffee Room
6A Grove Road

A teenie tiny coffee shop with an equally tiny back garden. They use Climpson and Son beans so you’re off to a good start. Every now and again they over heat the milk so just to be on the safe side maybe ask for it not too hot. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.

£2.40 for a standard sized Flat white. No wifi but excellent sandwiches.


10 MINUTE WALK

Zealand Road Coffee
391 Roman Road

This is my pick of Mile End coffee. It’s worth the walk so grab some fresh air and head north of the station. Their milk is always creamy, coffee smooth and nutty roasted, and they have a nice bench to sit on whilst you wait for takeaway. NY subway style tiles and some seats on the pavement to soak up the sun. Good for a simple breakfast!

£2.40 for a standard size flat white. Their avocado and chilli on toast rocks my world.


9 MINUTE WALK

The Chesterfield
341-343 Roman Rd

The new kid on the block. Not quite a pretty inside as the Zealand Road Coffee shop but they know how to brew a coffee. Very buggie friendly with many leather couches. They use excellent milk and the coffee has a great nutty character.

£2.40 for standard flat white.


15 MINUTE WALK

The Pavilion
Victoria Park, corner of Old Ford Road and Grove Road

Australian owned coffee mecca. This place has everything you could ask for in a coffee date place: a good breakfast offering, an outdoor area, all the sweet treats, views of a duck filled lake (it’s important alright) and, of course, excellent rich coffee. Sit in or takeaway to a grassy knoll under a tree somewhere.

£2.40 for a standard flat white.

*Walk speed is medium to fast. Dawdlers need to account for an extra 2 minutes on timings.