Monday, 27 March 2017

Best UK wedding venues for booze lovers

Choosing the perfect wedding venue can be tough, but I'm a firm believer in picking a place that means a lot to both of you, to give your special day that extra wow-factor.

If you're as much of a booze fan as I am (of course you are, you're reading this), then there are plenty of amazing places to tie the knot in the UK that will give you tingles of joy. Here are some of my favourites:

For wine fans

A vineyard. Of course a vineyard. But you don't have to go oversees to find one with the a real presence. As well as some smaller vineyards that you can use as a setting for your wedding (such as Chilford Hall in Cambridgeshire and Highdown Vineyard in Sussex), there are some seriously special vineyard wedding venues, such as English Oak Vineyard in Dorset and Chapel Down in Kent.

Denbies weddings is a spectacular, award-winning vineyard in Surrey, where not only can you get wed among the vines, but you can have your reception in the romantically-lit cellars. They have various wedding packages on offer, and you can contact them for more information through the link above.

Or, hop over the county border to Sussex, to Bluebell Vineyard. Their entire range of Hindleap sparkling wines are award-winners, vintage, estate bottled, and really delicious. The winery terrace overlooking the vines is perfect for a drinks reception, or there's the option of a fully-lined marquee or more rustic barn. The whole venue feels really peaceful and calming, with the vines and surrounding woodland making for some gorgeous photo backdrops. The marquee can hold more than 120, and up to 180 guests. There are contact emails and numbers available on their website.

For beer fans

Breweries certainly seem to know how to get down, wedding-style. There are tons of breweries offering wedding venues in the UK (just research your local ones!) but three of the best are:

Shepherd's Neame in Faversham, Kent, where you can get married - among other places - in the brewhouse amongst the coppers and mash tuns, under the light of stained glass windows. Wow.

Bateman's in Lincolnshire. We've featured their beers before, but we also LOVE this sixth generation family-run brewery's attention to detail when it comes to weddings. The venue is lined with the largest bottle beer and poster collection in the country (pictured) and it's wonderful.

The Tap Room at Hilden Brewery, Northern Ireland - a pretty, low-key venue with its own beers on offer for guests, and a gorgeous restaurant providing a mouthwatering wedding menu.

For whisky and gin fans

Arguably the most popular whisky venue for weddings is the Glengoyne distillery, near Glasgow - especially in the winter, which of often a tough time for wedding wannabes. Imagine it - the guests can relax in front of the fire with a dram of amber nectar, and even if it's cold, the windswept beauty of Scotland will shine through in the photographs. If you don't believe me, have a google for wedding photos from the venue - they're magical.

Or then there's the Scottish Whisky Experience in Edinburgh. With wedding packages that include distillery tours and whisky tastings, it's really the perfect thing for whisky-mad couples. We know a few of them...

For gin fans, you could do a lot worse than the Plymouth Gin distillery. It's one of the best-known gin brands in the UK and welcomes wedding enquiries. If your nearest distillery doesn't have details about weddings on their website, get in touch. They're probably more likely to want to cater to bespoke clients, so it's worth asking what they can offer.

Where would you most like to get married, booze fans?

Monday, 20 March 2017

"The Evolution of Sherry" Masterclass @ Wines from Spain

When I received my email invitation to the 2017 Wines of Spain, my first thought was: "I hope that Beltrán Domecq is going to be doing another Sherry masterclass" as his 2016 masterclass on Fine, Rare and Old Sherries was simply sublime (read my post on it last year here). I was delighted to find out that he was, with a tasting this year around "The Evolution of Sherry", so I took myself out of the main tasting hall with plenty of time and found myself at the front of the queue - I wanted to make sure I had a good spot, which I duly did!

As a it of background, Snr. Domecq is the President of the CRDO Jerez-Xérès-Sherryy Manzanilla de Sanlúcar de Barrameda - essentially he is one of the most important men in the wonderful world of sherry; what he doesn't know about sherry is just not worth knowing... 

As with last year, he started off by giving us a brief, but fascinating, history of the wines from the Jerez area on southern Spain. I won't re-count all of what he said, but some of the more interesting points that I took from his introduction were how the "Solera" system was used by Bodegas who make sherry to age and develop their sherries, but also to produce a consistent, house-style and avoid vintage variation (in completely the opposite way to the world of wine). We also touched on the extraordinary breadth and variety of sherries, from pale, bright Manzanillas and Finos, through nutty Amontillados and Olorosos, to sweet and luxurious Creams and Pedro Ximénezs. 

Last year's tasting focussed on the exciting Very Old Sherries and Very Old and Rare Sherries (both official designations within the sherry system) which featured quite a few to the sweeter end of the spectrum; interestingly this year, Snr. Domecq decided to focus on the drier and lighter end of the spectrum, which was a very interesting idea. Essentially what he was trying to demonstrate was how one grape (Palomino) can be used to make such a variety of wines. 

The Tasting     

The first wine we tried actually wasn't a sherry at all, it was a Castillo de San Diego, Barbadillo, a table wine made from the Palomino grape - at 12% it was nice and light, somewhat clean and fresh on the nose and with a bright acidity to it. Given the extreme heat of the Andulusian south  (it is one of the most southerly wine producing areas in the northern hemisphere), it was impressively crisp. This was also an interesting wine, if a little unremarkable.

Now, on to the sherries! We started with a Fino Inocente (Jerez) from Valdespino/Grupo Estèvez (£13.95/bottle available from Lea and Sandeman). This was instantly more recogniseable as a sherry with that familiar oxidated nose; it also had a touch of salinity and pungency to it. On the palate it was bone-dry, but with a little body and richness to it. Very pleasant.

Next up was a Fino Tradición (Jerez) from Bodegas Tradición (£32.93/bottle available from Amazon). This was a darker wine, more amber in the glass and was much more complex on the nose with the first hints at a more nutty aroma. I also thought that I detected a little waxy, brie-like aroma. On the palate it was still dry, but there was a little smattering of bacon-style smokiness. A more complex wine, also considerably-more expensive - worth it though...

The third sherry was a Amontillado Vina AB (Jerez) from González Byass (£13.75/bottle available from Oddbins). This was a golden, amber wine in the glass and had a more pronounced nuttiness to its bouquet, reminiscent of an aged, hard cheese. On the palate, this wine had more presence and structure to it - I described it as more formidable, however this wine lacked a little in terms of finesse and class compared to the last wine. It was also a couple of points higher in terms of alcohol content (16.5%).

Continuing the Amontillado selection, sampling next the Amontillado Collection 12 años from Williams and Humbert (£8.99 - no stockist information). This was a real step up in terms of alcohol content at 19%, but you wouldn't know it from the nose - all floral and honeyed notes. On tasting, it was more angular and sharper. I didn't enjoy this sherry as much as the previous few.

Now we moved on to the first of our VORSs, a Amontillado VORS 30yo Napoleon (Sanlucar) from Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana (£44 - available from Exel Wines). This was a tawny-brown in the glass and was the complete opposite to the previous wine - it was more rounded and balanced, full of class and elegance. It had a quiet refinement and presence to it, that made you take notice of it without feeling the need to shout in your face...! 

Our penultimate sample was a Amontillado VORS 30yo Fino Imperial from Diez Mérito (no price details or stockist info). This wine was darker than all of the previous wines. On the nose it was considerably more powerful than the previous wine. On the mouth it was very salty and powerful, a very thought-provoking wine, but one that probably needed a little tapas to bring it to life.

Last up was our only trip to something that was relatively sweet, a Palo Cortado VORS 30yo from Harveys (£23.49/bottle - available from Waitrose). There was just a touch of PX added to this wine, which brings it into the "Medium" classification of sherries. On the nose, there was a touch of butterscotch to the wine, plus a sprinkling of sweet spices. On the mouth it was very welcoming and approachable, perhaps not the most elegant of wines, but it was certainly a pleasing experience in drinking it.

There you have it. Once more, a fascinating tour through the marvellous and ever-so-slightly mysterious world of sherries. I must thank Snr. Domecq again for being such an excellent guide through these wines - his passion and enthusiasm for sherry is really something to behold. 

I am already looking forward (hopefully) to his 2018 masterclass...! 

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Liberty Fields Porter's Perfection vodka – review and cocktail recipes

All the way back in the ancient times of 2015, Laura came across a new discovery… Liberty Field’s Apple Aperitif. Needless to say, she was pretty smitten.

Fast forward to the Christmas of 2016 (I know, that was bloody ages ago), and a bottle arrives for me from my sister in-law. It didn’t last past Christmas, and it looks like I’m about as smitten as Laura. It’s really delicious.

Liberty Fields were recently in touch to say that they’ve launched a vodka, too. It’s also made – of course – with their lovely apples. Specifically, Porter’s Perfection red apples.

It’s hand-made in small batches on Liberty Farm – an organic dairy farm in West Dorset – and was developed with the help of Lloyd Brown, the head mixologist at the Venner Bar in Bridport, if you’re ever in the area.

How does it taste?

Annoyingly, I think Liberty Fields have the description pretty much nailed. It really is like the first bite of an apple. 

I'm not usually a neat vodka drinker, but this could change my mind. On the nose it's a bit fruity and peppery, but overall it's just very clean. Taste wise it's crisp, with a very faint hint of apple freshness, and finishing with a mild pepperiness. 

If you're in Dorset, and within 15 miles of Stalbridge, you can get free delivery from Dike & Son, but if you're a bit further afield, you can buy it from Master of Malt for £31.95.

If you can't quite handle it neat, it made a very tasty martini, or there's a bit of cocktail inspiration below.

Cocktails and perfect serves

Vodka Porter’s & Tonic
50ml Porter’s Perfection
Slice of apple that has been soaked in lemon juice
Plenty of ice, and top with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic.

Weymouth Seabreeze
50ml Porter’s Perfection
200ml cranberry juice
50ml grapefruit juice

Shake together and garnish with a slice of grapefruit.

Porter’s Pommes
25ml Porter’s Perfection
50ml Liberty Fields Apple Aperitif
75ml Fever-Tree Sicilian Lemonade

Serve over ice in a long glass with mint, cucumber and strawberries.

I'm going to have to get my hands on another bottle of the Apertif now... fortunately also available from Master of Malt for £10.40.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Avuá Cachaça: Caipirinha, Old Fashioned and Negroni recipes

There are a lot of great women doing great things in the booze world these days, and as it’s International Women’s Day, this seems like as good a time as any to highlight one.

Katia Espírito Santo is the distiller of Avuá Cachaça. She’s one of Brazil’s only female distillers (there’s more than 4,000 distillers in total), using a family recipe honed over three generations.

Cachaça is still a relatively new thing here in the UK. The World Cup and Olympics helped get people drinking Caipirinhas, but it’s still nowhere near as popular as other spirits. If you want to know more, we’ve written about the history of it here.

Avuá Cachaça launched in 2013, but has recently become available to buy off-trade, too. It consists of two single-estate, limited-production spirits: an unaged one (Prata), and one aged in Brazilian wood (Amburana).

Avuá Cachaça Prata, £30.95, The Whisky Exchange Silver cachaça rested in steel tanks for six months before bottling. It’s very crisp, with some subtle floral notes. As you’d expect, it’s great in a Caipirinha, but I also had a go making it into a cachaça Negroni.

Avuá Cachaça Amburana, £43.25, The Whisky Exchange
This cachaça has been matured for up to two years in Amburana wood casks. This maturation process gives the cachaça a warm, spicy, herby quality to it. It’s lovely to sip, as you would a brandy, but also works in cocktails you’d traditionally use whisky for.

I thought I'd have a go at some cocktails with it, from  the obvious classic, to a cachaça twist on a couple of other classics.

Cocktail recipes

Caipirinha (serves one)

1 large lime, cut into quarters and then in half again (so eight small pieces)
1-2 tbsp golden caster sugar
2-3 shots Avuá Cachaça Prata
Crushed ice

Shake it!

1. Pop the lime wedges in a tumbler, and top with the sugar.
2. Muddle them together with a wooden spoon (or a decent muddler if you have one) for about 20 seconds. This releases all the flavours and blends the sugar with the lime juice.
3. Top with crushed ice, and if you want to dilute the drink a bit, then lightly muddle the mixture again.
4. Add the cachaça, and stir well to ensure all the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, you can do all of this in a cocktail shaker, then give it a good shake and pour into the glass.

Cachaça Negroni (serves one)
30ml Avuá Cachaça Prata
30ml Campari
30ml sweet vermouth

Shake it!

Combine all the ingredients over ice in a tumbler and stir until combined. Squeeze a bit of orange peel over the drink and serve.

Cachaça Old Fashioned (serves one)


50ml Avuá Cachaça Amburana
A few drops of Angostura bitters
15ml simple sugar syrup

Shake it!

In an old fashioned glass, combine your sugar syrup and bitters. Fill your glass with ice. Slowly add in the cachaça, stirring all the time. Garnish with a slice of orange.