Thursday, 28 December 2017

How to make your own cocktail bitters

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You'll Need
200ml high proof alcohol (good vodka will do)
1 tablespoon sugar, dissolved in 2 tablespoons of water
5 tablespoons main aromatic
2 tablespoons bittering agent (choose 2 or 3)
2-3 tablespoons supporting aromatics (choose 3 or 4)

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

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

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


Place your selected aromatics in a jar with the high proof alcohol and the bittering agent. Mix in the sugar water, pop the lid on and shake well. Store for 2-3 weeks, shaking and smelling regularly. The bitters will develop over time, so be patient. To test if it is ready, drop a few drops on your palm, rub your hands together and smell your creation.

Strain your potion through some muslin cloth and pop it in some medicine bottles with pipettes (about £1.40 on Ebay). These are great for getting the desired amount of Bitters into your drink, and will secure you as the Heisenberg of mixology!

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

Celery: Perfect for spicing up those Bloody Marys!
Celery Seeds, Lemongrass, Tea, Orange Peel & Peppercorns.

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Weird and wonderful wine racks

Wine racks tend to be at best boring, and at worst unsightly. If you're going to go to the trouble to lay your favourite bottles on display, just begging to be picked up and their corks popped, you might at least go to the effort of finding a wine rack with a bit of character.

We've searched high and low for some of the best, prettiest, and downright brilliant wine racks around:

This makes perfect sense... a wine barrel to hold your wine. This Christow wooden barrel wine rack holds eight bottles, comes pre-assembled (woo!), and costs £41 from Amazon.

There's nothing particularly weird about this one, but it holds 32 bottles, has a handy glass top, and looks pretty smart. It will cost you £65.99 from Amazon.

Okay, so it only holds one bottle, but I love the Wine for Your Life bottle holder so much. You can pick it up from Amazon for £19.99.

I'm trying really hard to be reasonable and not include this because the shipping it so expensive, but OH MY GOD IT'S A WINEOSAUR BOTTLE HOLDER! It's made from gorgeous birch wood and stained with either walnut or a mixture of beeswax and orange oil. I love it so much I'd happily pay £30.32 for it, but as it's from the States the shipping is an extra £25.48. May just move to the States so I can buy all of The Backpack Shoppe's stuff.

Another silly design which is actually available in the UK is this genius cactus wine rack. Not one for those that like their furnishings subtle, it is still pretty cool in my books. It's available from £131.38 on Amazon.

Red Thumb Print on Not On The High Street do some seriously sexy wooden furnishings, but they don't come cheap. Still, I do adore this whopping 150cm tall oak wine rack for its simple, understated style. It holds an impressive 16 bottles, however it is £160... They do a 6 bottle one that starts at £85.

I love the simplicity of this honeycomb wine rack from Habitat. It's on trend in a gold finish, and simple enough not to offend anyone. Practical and classy, what more could you want? Also, it's £35.

If you're planning to spend a bit more, but still like things relatively simple, then how about this handmade copper wine rack from Proper Copper Design? It's not the cheapest at £240, but it's really rather lovely. 

We have some other epic bottle storage design companies coming your way over the next few weeks, so I'd start saving now.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Best boozy films for Christmas viewing

I don't know about you, but as I've grown older, Christmas Day with my family is now mainly spent semi-comatose in front of a few films to while away the evening. Usually with a large G&T or some Single Malt. This is perfectly fine with me, combining potentially my two favorite things in the world, excessive amounts of alcohol and films... Oh... and family.

So I thought I would set you all up for your Christmas Movie Night with a couple of alcohol-related flicks that will help you to battle the bird you've consumed earlier that day. 

Taken from Matthew939 on behalf
of the Creative Commons License
The American Boozy Big-Screen Goliath following two men (Paul Giamatti & Thomas Haden Church) on a week long booze drive through Santa Barbara County, U.S.A. Based on the Book (of the same name) by Rex Pickett, Paul Giamatti pulls out a stellar performance as Miles Raymond; a depressed, failed writer/professional alcoholic who plans a week of wine tasting and relaxing with long time friend Haden Church; an excitable, loud and rather randy drinking buddy. 

What starts out as a relaxing vineyard/golf trip soon turns into raucous train of events including women, adultery and intense hangovers.

Although packed with laughs, Sideways still provides ample interesting wine facts and some stunning scenery of one of California's most famous wine regions. 

A must-watch for any lover of film and/or wine

A very recent viewing of mine, but instantly one of my favourite films. It features Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier, a British Ex-Pat running a wine shop/Academy in Paris in 1976. Trying to save his business, he starts looking to New World wines. Stunned by the quality coming out of California, he decides to stage a blind tasting, California vs France. A true story which came to be known as 'The Judgement of Paris', and made Chateau Montelena one of the most famous wineries on the planet. 

Bottle Shock is a brilliant insight into not only the rise of Californian wine made in the French style, but also of the huge stigma shown towards Californian wineries from those in the Old World. 

A film that, although I think is better than Sideways, sadly didn't get the same plaudits. Another must-watch and currently available on Netflix.

For all you beer heads out there! Simon Pegg & Nick Frost's film about a legendary pub crawl that defeated a group of friends back in their teens. Still haunted by the memory, Simon Pegg, a man living in the past, gets his old pals back together (who are now all hard-working men), to take on the crawl to get to 'The Worlds End' pub, one last time.
Taken from George Olson on behalf
of the Creative Commons License

Filled with laughs and beery banter, this is the perfect film for an alcoholic night in. Some friends and I from work even went to Letchworth (where it is filmed), watched the film and completed the pub crawl afterwards. All the pubs had changed their names to how they were in the film, it was epic. 

The beer mentioned in the film - Crowning Glory - is also available for sale from its brewer: Tring Brewery.

A simple yet hilarious comedy about a group of American College Graduates who take part in a famous drinking game tournament and take on the Germans, the legends of Beerfest. 

Packed with laughs and drink-along options, my friends and I at University used to love settling down with a few crates of the frosty stuff to drink and sing along with Beerfest. 

It did not win any Oscars. Not for the film connoisseur. 

Others well worth a look: Cocktail, The Hangover (I'm sure everyone has seen that) and The Angels' Share

Merry Christmas everyone and happy viewing. 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Buttered Booze: Two easy hot cocktails for Christmas

It's Christmassssss, nearly. If you're not feeling festive, it's time to hit the hot cocktails to help you along the way.

I'll set the scene; PJs on, lights turned down low, all snuggled up on the sofa watching your favourite seasonal film, with the Christmas lights seductively twinkling at you from the tree... What's missing? Booze! A hot boozy drink makes the whole scenario just perfect.

We've featured lots of hot cocktails on Vinspire over the years:

I think we can squeeze in a couple more, don't you think? 

Butter-topped booze is a great way to add richness and indulgence without the need for using anything milky or creamy, and unless you love being the cat that's got the cream, too many eggnogs sure make you feel lactose-comatosed. 

I've concocted two super easy cocktails for you here; one with bourbon and Chase Marmalade Vodka (Cointreau would work just as well too), and the other with gin and perry cider. Using browned butter adds an interesting nuttiness, as opposed to your standard stuff (find out how to do it here), and it creates little buttery baubles on the top of your drink. Very apt. 

Both are so damn tasty, you'll definitely want more than just the one. So line up the films, you're here for the long haul... Merry Christmas!

Buttered Bourbon & Marmalade (serves 1)

  • 25ml Bourbon
  • 50ml Chase Marmalade Vodka
  • 15ml Sugar Syrup
  • 25ml Lemon Juice
  • 150ml Hot Water
  • 1tsp Browned Butter
  • Cinnamon Stick

In a glass, add the spirits, lemon juice and sugar syrup.

Pour in the hot water, and top with the browned butter. Stir to melt the butter and garnish with a cinnamon stick. 

Buttered G & P (serves 2)

  • 1 x 330ml Bottle of Perry
  • 2 x 40ml Gin 
  • 2 x 1tsp Browned Butter

Heat up the perry in a small saucepan, making sure not to let it boil, and get two glasses out.

Add a shot of gin and a teaspoon of browned butter in each glass. 

When the perry is steaming, divide between the glasses, stir and enjoy! (If it's not sweet enough to your taste, add a bit of sugar syrup)

Lead image credit: Geoff Stearns under CCL

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Great affordable wines for Christmas

Christmas is the perfect time for opening that special bottle you’ve been saving, but it’s likely you’ll need a bit more than that to get you through the festive season. Not everyone wants to spending hundreds of pounds on wine over Christmas, so you’ll be pleased to know there are lots of good value wines under £10 a bottle available from supermarkets (and Majestic’s), perfect for all the dinner parties, family gatherings, last minute guests, and well, just enjoying yourself when you get a quiet minute between brussels sprouts and Cluedo (ha).

Festive fizz

Seems people still can't get enough of it, so it's likely you'll be tucking into the prosecco this Christmas. Sainsbury’s Conegliano Prosecco, Taste the Difference is currently yours for £7.50. It’s definitely one of the tastier supermarket proseccos out there.

Or, if you fancy your fizz a little different this year, how about Sainsbury’s Cremant de Loire, Taste the Difference. It’s currently on offer for £9.00. Cremant is an affordable alternative to champagne, and it’s still made in the same way using the traditional method.

This one is from a different area of France, but still a Cremant: Tesco Finest Cremant de Limoux Rose, £11.00 a bottle. It’s got quite a gentle fizz to it, and is really creamy in the mouth, with bags of strawberry and raspberry flavours. 

Rose wine

If you’re off to a dinner party or a party and know someone who is always on the Rose, and likes it a little sweet and very fruity, this Calvet Rose d'Anjou will be perfect. The only downside is that it might have you dreaming of summer. It’s only £5.75 a bottle, available from Tesco and Ocado

Prefer a dry rose? This light and refreshing Mirabeau Cotes de Provence Rose is £9.99 from Waitrose.

White wine

Surely you’ll be able to justify buying at least six bottles of wine for Christmas... If yes, this will set you back £8.99 for a mixed case of six, or £10.99 otherwise. The Les Jamelles Pinot Gris is an interesting one, with a great aromatic nose, a good whack of lychee and some lovely minerality.

Step away from the usual Sauvignon Blanc this Christmas and try this lovely Italian Gavi, from Tesco Finest for £8.00 a bottle. It’s light, refreshing and bright, and will be lovely alongside the turkey on Christmas Day.

Red wine

This is a wine I go back to again and again: Wirra Wirra Church Block. It’s good value, and really delicious. Ripe berries, oak, soft tannins, great length. You can currently buy it in Tesco for £11 a bottle (if you’re buying a case).

I’m also a fan of this Bouchard Pere et Fils, Fleurie, currently on offer at Waitrose for £9.36 a bottle. It’s a wine that will go well alongside your roast, or your cheese if you don’t fancy port. Really drinkable, and well-rounded.

Dessert wine

You want something that can stand up to the intensity of a Christmas pudding? Well, here it is! Elysium Black Muscat has got your back. It’s £9.99 (mix six), or £11.99 on its own from Majestic’s.

How about this award-winning bargain Berton Vineyards Botrytis Semillon from Aldi? It’s only £5.99 a bottle, and will be perfect alongside your cheeseboard. Have a sniff and get lost in honey and flowers. A fabulous distraction to Christmas Day chaos.

Friday, 1 December 2017

The best gifts for whisky lovers: Stocking fillers and secret santa

Although it seems like the people of Britain just can’t get enough of their gin, believe it or not, whisky (and vodka) still outsell the juniper stuff. In that case, it’s pretty likely you know a whisky fan or two. If you’re struggling with what to buy them for Christmas, here’s a round up of the best stocking fillers and secret santa gifts for whisky lovers, from £1.80, to £23.

Stocking fillers and secret santa gifts for whisky lovers

1. Drink it right: Glencairn whisky glass

Glencairn whisky glass - best gifts for whisky lovers

Recognised as the 'definitive glass for whisky', these are a must for any whisky lover. The glass even won The Queens Award for Innovation. The tapered sides help to enhance the nosing experience, and there's a solid base so it's hard to knock over, even after you've had a few. (£4.95, The Whisky Exchange)

2. Ballin’: Whale ice ball maker

Whale ice baller -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Kikkerland

Know someone who loves an Old Fashioned, and er, whales? Then it won’t get more perfect than this whale-shaped ice ball maker (£9.99 Amazon).

3. The knowledge: '101 whiskies to try before you die' book

Whisky book -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Amazon

Author Ian Buxton has been working in the Scotch whisky industry since 1987 and there aren’t many people that know more about it than him. For anyone who really loves their whisky, but wants to try something new, ‘101 whiskies to try before you die’ is the one to get (£9.09, Amazon).

4. Boozy cheese: Amber Mist

Whisky cheese - Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Snowdonia Cheese Company

Everyone likes cheese right? Well how about cheese with added booze? The Snowdonia Cheese Company’s ‘Amber Mist’ combines smoky peaty Scotch with mature cheddar. It’s £4.50 for a 200g truckle, or £35 for a whole 2kg wheel if you’re feeling generous/really hungry.

5. Feeling frisky: Whisky condiment kit

If whisky cheese isn’t enough on its own, then it’s time to talk condiments. You can now make your own whisky mustard with this kit for £23, with £5 off your first order. Or if that's too much effort, there’s a huge range of whiskey/bourbon glazes, sauces, and marinades in most supermarkets now.

6. Whisky beer

Whisky beer -  Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Tennent's

Can’t decide whether to get a beer related present, or a whisky one. Well, now there’s no need to compromise. You could go for the McEwan's Champion whisky edition (£1.65, Morrisons)1488 premium whisky beer (£1.95, Waitrose), or Tennent’s beer aged with whisky oak (£2.50, The Whisky Shop).

7. Nuts for whisky: Candied whisky nuts

Candied whisky nuts - Best whisky gifts for budget Christmas
Image copyright: Fireball Whisky

If you want to make a homemade gift, you can’t go wrong with candied whisky nuts. All you’ll need is some nuts, water, sugar, and whisky. This recipe suggests Fireball Whisky, but if you’re not a fan of the cinnamon then simply use something else.

8. Alcohol-free aftershave

Whisky aftershave - best gifts for whisky lovers
Image copyright: Nervermore Body Company

When you're looking for a new fragrance, you may not immediately think, 'I definitely want to smell like booze', but the folks at Nevermore Body Company have bottled whisky in a whole different way. The aftershave is alcohol free, so it's unlikely anyone will be wandering around smelling like they had a heavy night the night before. It's apparently their most popular scent. (£9.21, Etsy).

9. Whisky wedge

Whisky wedge - best gifts for whisky lovers
Image copyright: Amazon

We've already seen a wedge of whisky cheese, but now for the whisky wedge (as seen on This Morning!). For friends that love angles, slow melting ice, and drinking whisky in a triangle shape, look no further. (£18, Amazon).

10. A wee dram, or three

If you want your gift receiver to be able to drink some whisky, but you don't quite have the budget to stretch to a whole bottle, this little taster set of Glenfiddich whiskys is the one to go for. (£11, Sainsbury's)

The lovely Drinks by the Dram (those of boozy advent calendar fame) also do plenty of 30cl drams of whisky, available at Master of Malt.

As you've been so thoughtful thinking of lovely gifts to buy all your whisky loving friends, I think you deserve a drink. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Gin Geeks: Gifts for Gin Lovers

Believe me, if you like gin, or know someone that does, there is going to be a LOT of damage done to your bank balance by the end of this post.

Whether you're looking for a gift for someone who loves a G&T or want to make your own Christmas wish list, there's so much more you can buy than just a bottle of gin (which they've probably got tons of anyway). Grab a gin and tonic and read on...

Now we know some terrible crimes have been committed in the name of gin (G+T flavoured crisps anyone?!) so we've tried our hardest to steer clear of the tat, and stick to the good stuff. There are things at all prices, from stocking fillers, to the more pricier end.

Firstly, advent is coming, and the genius guys at Master of Malt have come up with the best invention of the 21st century so far, for definite: a ginvent calendar. Instead of chocolate, you get a mini gin sample for each day of advent! A different gin and tonic every single day!! Joy of joys!

There are a few of them around now, so take your pick from:

Botanical ginvent calendar for £124.95.
That Boutique-y gin advent calendar, £99.95
Gin advent calendar, £124.95
Origin Single Botanical gin advent calendar, £99.95


There's plenty of gin sweet treats out there, from these alcoholic gin and elderflower lollipops from Holly's Lollies, (£6.25), to this gin and tonic sherbert dib dab (£3.45, Etsy).

I'm also a huge fan of these super cute gin bottle lights, by Tatty Devine (£25, John Lewis).

Okay, this blew my mind so much. Our favourite Toasted Glass doesn't just do glassware - they also do teacups and saucers, and teapots - and the best thing ever is this There May Be Gin In Here teapot for £34. You can also get a teacup and saucer in the same design for £25.

Where better to drink a gin than in a bath? And listen, guys, you can SERIOUSLY gin-pimp your bath: there's gin and tonic bath foam and shower gel (Fur, Feather and Fin, £10.99), gin and tonic bath salts (£5.99, Amazon), and a fancy gin and tonic candle (£9.95, Not on the High Street). Don't forget the wine candles I told you about earlier today, too!

After your bath, you can use some of Firebird's gin and tonic perfume (£15 from Boots) and try not to eat any of this gin and tonic lip balm (£5.45, Amazon), or £6 from Oliver Bonas.

If you want to be really practical, Plants4Presents on Not On The High Street are selling this epic Gin and Tonic gift set: a mini bottle of gin, some Fever Tree tonic, and a lemon tree! It's £65.

Gin accessories make me very happy indeed. NotontheHighStreet is selling coasters with gin recipes on them (£3.95) which are rather pretty.

Then there's the ultimate in novelty ice cubes (well worthy of a place in our novelty ice cube guide from earlier this year) - Gin and Titonic ice cube mould, which are a reasonable £4.99 from Amazon.

Of all the gin prints I've found, this Home is Where the Gin Is print definitely tops my list (a mere £12,

If you know a green-fingered gin lover who loves their Hendrick's, this is the perfect prezzie. It comes with everything you need to grow your own mini cucumbers, and a couple of miniature bottle of gin too (£15, Ocado).

And if you know a pal who has plenty of gin, but nothing proper to drink it out of, these copa glasses from Amazon are a bit of a bargain at £13.99 for 6, with free delivery.

What are you buying for the gin lover in your life? Tell us in the comments!

(Updated 2017 by Rachael to check all products are in stock and prices correct - and don't miss our second Gin Gift Guide roundup we made for Christmas 2014)