Monday, 29 May 2017

The best drink subscription boxes

Over the past few years, subscription boxes have sprung up out of nowhere. You can pretty much get anything delivered to your door on a regular basis now, from bacon to mysteries, and moss of the month to cheese toasties.

So it probably comes as no surprise that there are plenty of drinks subscription services out there now too. But which one to choose? Here's our pick of the best.

Drop Secret drinks club – the best of all worlds

If you’re indecisive like me, independent wine merchants The Secret Cellar, based in Tunbridge Wells, have come up with a pretty novel idea for a boozy subscription box… Drop Secret.

They’re combining all the boozy clubs. For £40 (with free delivery), you get either bottles of small production wine, an artisan spirit, craft beers, or anything else that goes. And it remains top secret until it arrives at your door.

You can choose whether you want deliveries to be monthly, bi-monthly, or quarterly, and start, stop and pause deliveries whenever you choose.

They kindly sent me over the first month’s delivery to see how it all worked. It came with three bottles of wine.

The Flower and the Bee, Treixadura 2015, Galicia, NW Spain This Treixadura was a first for me. It’s very bright yellow, almost gold, and is a great, full-flavoured white wine. It packs a punch, with a fruity intensity, herbs, and a bit of spice. It’s certainly not heavy though, just really, really fresh.

Sibiliano, Nero d’Avola 2015, Sicily, Italy This is a lovely deeply-coloured, medium bodied red. There’s plenty of cherry on the nose, and forest fruits and muted spice flavours. A bit savoury on the finish.

Alto de la Ballena, Tannat/Merlot/Cabernet Franc 2009, Maldonado, Uruguay This is a very successful blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Tannat and 30% Cabernet Franc from Uruguay, so a bit different from the usual Argentina/Chile wines you may be used to. The Tannat is aged in the barrel for nine months to soften the tannins, before being blended. It’s really delicious: big, dark and fruity, and relatively limited too, as only 12,000 bottles have been produced.

Of course, you won’t be getting those if you sign up, that will be kept a mystery, but it’s hopefully given you a taster of the quality of products you’ll be receiving.

£40 a month
Sign me up

True Tea Club

If the thought of constant booze through the post makes you want to detox, then perhaps True Tea Club is the one for you?

They’re based up in York and specialise in seven loose leaf teas.

In each box you get four different loose leaf teas which change every month, and four empty tea bags, along with a welcome card, business card, and tailor card.

There are three different levels of subscription: Standard gives you 40 teas for £10 per month; Premium will make you 60 cups for £15 per month; or Deluxe makes 80 teas for £20 per month.

Each month’s box is released on the 20th of the month, but the boxes are sent out throughout the month. Delivery is free, and you can get international delivery for £3.75, if you want your tea fix from further afield.

In the box I was sent, I had Vanilla Cupcake rooibos, Earl Grey Rebel black tea, the wonderfully-named Rainbow Chaser herbal blend, and Mighty Mango green tea to try.

Mighty Mango was my absolute favourite. Despite instructions saying to only brew it for 10-20secs, the smell and flavour was quite intense and really delicious. But I am a sucker for a fruit tea. I also really enjoyed the Earl Grey Rebel and Rainbow Chaser, which was as brightly coloured and flavoured as the name would suggest. Vanilla Cupcake was a bit sweet for my liking, but the flavour was of real vanilla, rather than the synthetic taste you often get from vanilla flavoured things.

£10/£15/£20 a month,
Sign me up, and get 50% off your first subscription box using code 'LOVE' on checkout.

Craft Gin Club

Every month you get a small-batch gin, sometimes a rare and exclusive bottling not available anywhere else, and it’s sent out with complementary foodie treats and a copy of the Ginned! magazine. I know several people that have signed up to this one and it always looks like a really exciting bit of post to receive.

£40 a month, including postage (you can also do bi-monthly and quarterly, and you get £10 off your first box)
Sign me up

Your Sommelier

If you want to learn more about French wine in particular, or if you just love French wine (and who doesn’t?), then Your Sommelier will be your subscription box of choice.

Every month you’ll receive three bottles of French wine in the post. Each box comes with tasting cards for each of the wines, which includes plenty of info about the wine, food pairing suggestions, and facts about the region and appellation. You’ll also get a binder with the first month’s box, so you can keep all your cards neatly together.

If you’re taken with any of the wines in your box, you can order them again with a 20% discount.

You can choose between an Amateur box (£36 a month), and an Expert box (£60 a month). The Amateur box gets you three wines from independent domains, and the Expert box contains upmarket appellations and cuvées.

I was sent an Amateur box, with three wines from Bordeaux.

Château Lamartine 2011, Castillon Côtes de BordeauxCastillon Côtes de Bordeaux is on the right bank, close to Saint Emilion (which is where you find a lot of easy-drinking Bordeaux). This is similar in character: it’s light, fresh and fruity. I paired it with a Thai rare beef salad.

Château Dubois Gramont 2015, AOC Bordeaux Blanc This is a blend of 70% Sauvignon Blanc, and 30% Semillon, so you get the fruity minerality from the Sauvignon, and an interesting aroma from the Semillon. Super fresh, and best enjoyed in the sunshine.

Château du Relai de la Poste 2012, Bordeaux Côtes de Bourg This is a classic Bordeaux Blend from the Cotes de Bourg appellation. It’s 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 40% Merlot. The Cab Sauv brings structure to the wine, and you get fruit and softness from the Merlot. It’s a good wine to bring out alongside your roast on a Sunday. 

£36/£60 a month
Sign me up

Tipple Box: cocktails in the post

Small-batch spirits and exclusive ingredients sent through the post every month, so you can make your own cocktails at home. You get two recipes, four 50ml spirits, and other exclusive ingredients.

£24 a month, including postage
Sign me up

My Vitibox: Wine

With My Vitibox, you get one or two bottles of wine, a magazine with tasting cards (and a welcome gift with your first box). The ‘colours and flavours’ package is £20 a month, with the ‘red passion’ box featuring two wines chosen by Alain Gousse (former sommelier at starred restaurant La Tour D'Argent) for £30 a month.

£20/£30 a month
Sign me up

Beer 52

If hops are more your thing, then perhaps Beer 52 is for you? Each month you get eight beers, a magazine, and bonus snacks for £24. All the beers are delivered to you within four-six weeks of being brewed, and you can order more if you run out. You can also send a one off gift box.

£24 a month, including postage
Sign me up

Beer Merchants

Or there’s Beer Merchants. They offer ten seasonal beers a month for £30 (or £28 if you sign up for a year), and mixed cases focusing on countries, breweries and styles. On top of that there’s discounts across the site, and invites to beer events.

£28/£30 a month, including postage.
Sign me up

Orchard Box

Every month you get sent eight craft ciders, two snacks, and various other goodies (you can specify vegan and gluten free too). All the ciders chosen are made with real juice, not from concentrate, and they promise you’ll never find anything in their boxes that you could find in a supermarket.

£28.99, including postage
Sign me up

Crafty Nectar

Depending on whether you fancy six or 12 bottles of craft cider a month, Crafty Nectar has got you covered. All their ciders are handpicked from around the UK, and again, you won't be finding any of these in supermarkets. The subscription is flexible so you can skip a month, or cancel anytime.

6 bottles, £28.50, including postage / 12 bottles, £41.50, including postage.
Sign me up

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Gin and tonic and ice-cream pop-up – World Gin Day 2017

G+T and botanical ice cream

World Gin Day is fast approaching, again! It seems like only a few G+Ts ago that it was WGD2016, and well, there have been many, many gins since last year’s frivolities.  

As ever, there will be plenty going on all around the UK, and further afield, but one thing that has caught our eye is a gin and tonic ice cream parlour pop-up.

Just when you think gin can’t get any better, they go and add ice cream into the mix.

Gin Mare and ice cream geniuses Ruby Violet are bringing the best sounding combo to the Capital for two days only. 

You’ll be able to find them in the courtyard at The Hoxton Hotel, Shoreditch, between 9-11 June.

The ice cream and sorbets will be infused with gin botanicals, and topped with crystallised rosemary, dried olive, botanical brittle, savoury wafer, and gin-soaked orange peel. Yum. And of course, it’ll be served alongside Gin Mare G+Ts, garnished with the likes of mango and black pepper.

Each gin and tonic, with ‘complimentary and complementary’ ice cream, will cost you £5, which in London sounds like an absolute bargain.

We cannot wait.

G&T Ice Cream Parlour, 2-8pm, 9-11 June, courtyard at The Hoxton,Shoreditch

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Cooking with Booze: Rum, Apple & Ginger Cake

The Bank Holiday has had me baking. It’s no secret that I love cake – making it, eating it.. eating it. Hell, I'll even settle for just looking at cake; drooling over pictures in some kind of perverted fashion.. But enough about that, we won't mention it again.

Anyway, the generous extra day off of work has meant that I can leisurely make a floury mess in the kitchen, pour myself a drink while it’s in the oven, and then really take my time to enjoy every last crumb. I might just return for another slice as soon as my plate is empty - it's only a sliver, no one will notice - we can keep that between us, yes?

Inspired by those lovely Hawkes Alcoholic Ginger Beer cocktails that I made the other week, I’ve plumped for a Rum, Apple and Ginger cake with lime icing. A spiced cake may not sound very seasonal, but it's got that gingery warmth that gives you a big hug during those springtime showers, and the zingy lime assures us that summer is on its way.

Let's not beat around the bush, we need to talk rum. As with many of our 'Cooking with Booze' features (check them out here), we advise certain varieties/brands, but ultimately we want you to try the recipe out yourself, so we approve of - and indeed encourage - you using your own preferences or whatever you might have handy. Keep us informed of your off piste adaptations, we love hearing about them!

For this cake recipe I'd suggest using a dark rum; you want something that packs a punch, though I'd maybe stay away from 'spiced' varieties (i.e. Morgan's Spiced or Sailor Jerry's) as it would over complicate the flavours. We've reviewed a number of rum's in the past, El Dorado, Chairman's Reserve, Doorly's, to name a few, but I've opted for Appleton Estate's Jamaica Rum; it's a perfect partner to ginger, and it worked a sweet-treat in our Rum Butter Pancake Day Recipe, so it was sure fire hit in my eyes.

Try it out for yourself; just don’t blame me if you eat more than you probably should.

Rum, Apple & Ginger Cake with Lime Icing (serves 8)

For the cake:
  • 35g dried apple
  • 5 tbsp dark rum
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 125g self raising flour
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tbsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • a grating of nutmeg
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 50g black treacle
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 75g muscovado sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 pieces of stem ginger (in syrup), finely chopped
For the icing:
  • 150g full fat cream cheese
  • 75g icing sugar
  • zest of 1 lime
  1. Place the apples, rum, zest and juice of the lemon in a bowl. Cover and leave overnight to soak.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Grease and line a 15cm round cake tin.
  3. Mix together the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a bowl.
  4. Melt the butter in a pan. Remove from the heat and add the treacle, golden syrup, sugar and milk, and thoroughly mix. Stir the treacle mixture into the flour mix along with the egg and stem ginger.
  5. Remove the apples from the rum and chop roughly. Fold the apples and any remaining boozy liquid into the cake mixture.
  6. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1 hour. The cake is ready when it has come away from the sides of the tin and when you slide a skewer into it, it comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. To make the icing, whip the cream cheese until smooth. Sieve over the icing sugar, add the lime zest and beat until combined. Top the cake with the icing, decorate if you wish, and serve.

Friday, 12 May 2017

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)

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

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.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Top 10 Easy Tequila Cocktails

It's FRIDAY! The perfect time to share some delicious, easy tequila cocktail recipes with you.

When I was much younger, Friday meant promises of a weekend of dancing the night away and knocking back a few tequila slammers, but once I sort of grew out of my crazy party days, I also fell out of love with tequila a bit. It just didn't seem very grown up.

Now it's rarely at the top of my cocktail ingredient list, despite being responsible for some of the world's most popular cocktails - like the margarita - and I know I'm not alone in this. We've written before about where to find good tequila, and now I thought it was high time I did a run-down of some of the tastiest ways to get this feisty spirit back into your lives.

So if you do just one thing this weekend, give one of these ten easy tequila cocktails a try: they're elegant, full of flavour and full of bite and zing. I'm falling back in love with tequila again.

1. The Paloma

A bit of a classic, this is very deserving of a place on your go-to cocktails list. You only need simple, accessible ingredients: tequila, lime, grapefruit juice, simple syrup and soda.

Try this super recipe from Annie's Eats.

2. South X Southwest

An amazing creation from Josh Pearson at Sepia bar, I stumbled across this on the Cosmopolitan website recently and fell in love. It's full of some of my favourite flavours: tequila, rosemary, moscato d'asti, elderflower liqueur and lemon juice. YUM.

3. Cherry margarita

I came up with this back in Vinspire's early days, and it remains a firm favourite both with me and you guys! Fresh cherries, lime, tequila, triple sec, sugar syrup - and salt for the rim. Flavour explosions.

4. Midori Mambo

Ah, the perfect way to use up the Midori I've had knocking about for a few months (or a great excuse to try a bottle if you haven't)! This melon liqueur blends with coconut cream, lime juice and tequila for a big tropical fiesta in your mouth.

5. Iced Teaquila

Aside from having an amazing pun name, this cocktail is also good because it combines refreshing, earthy iced tea with naughty tequila and lemon. The recipe for this one is over at Food and Wine.

6. Salty Chihuahua

Like the vodka-based salty dog, this recipe has grapefruit, salt and orange liqueur - with a big old slug of tequila. I think I prefer it the Mexican way. Recipe from Eating Well.

7. Plum Dinger

I created this on a cold, miserable Autumn day in 2013, and I can't decide if the drink or the name cheered me up more (I know, I'm so modest. But I love a pun!)

It's plum juice, rosemary, amaretto, tequila and orange juice - and it's one of those cocktails that makes me long for the end of summer (even though it hasn't even started yet.)

8. Tequila Blackberry Lemonade

Another autumnal treat, there's something effortlessly delicious about this cocktail recipe from Real Housemoms. It's only three ingredients (the clue's in the name) and you can whip it up in about 2 minutes = perfect cocktail recipe for the end of a long week!

9. Strawberry Jalapeno Margarita

Of all the margarita variations, this has to be one of the most exciting. It's from The Chic Site and I've seen it doing the rounds on Pinterest more times than I care to remember. Tequila, orange liqueur, simple syrup (or agave nectar if you feel fancy), lime, strawberries, jalapenos and salt. A lengthy but easily findable list of ingredients for a showy-offy cocktail.

10. Margarita sangria

Wow. Just wow. This is seriously boozy but oh so drinkable - just be careful to pace yourself. White wine, tequila, triple sec, oranges and orange juice, limes and lime juice, and some coriander - so it's equal parts naughty and nice!

 It's completely delicious - which is appropriate as it's from the Completely Delicious blog.

Huge thanks to all these brilliant blogs and magazines for bringing the 'happy' back to my tequila cocktails!

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

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.