Monday, 31 July 2017

Wedding Cocktails: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Picking the perfect cocktails for your wedding can be tricky, but I love the idea of picking four to suit a variety of tastes and to add an extra special touch: something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue cocktails!

The four below (plus other suggestions) all use really accessible ingredients, so it should be easy for your wedding planning team or bar staff to create, and the cocktails can keep flowing all day and all night.

Just a tip - make sure you try all of your wedding cocktails in advance. Buy all of the ingredients so you can have a lovely little cocktail night with your nearest and dearest (basically, the main wedding party) and sample all the ideas first. You want to make sure you really love them, after all.

Something Old

There are tons of options here. An old-fashioned? If you're a bit of a vintage/Gatsby fan you might enjoy a gin rickey or a julep. Or you can plump for something serious old but super refreshing: the Tom Collins.
Photo: Evan Mackay (CCL)

It's supposed to date back to the mid-1800s, and it's also speculated that it has something to do with the Tom Collins Hoax in 1874, where people would convince their friends a phantom bloke called Tom Collins was lurking around and talking about them behind their back.

It's a pretty easy one to make so your bar staff won't struggle - and if you want more inspiration, have a look at this Classic Cocktails book (£10.99, Foyles)

Tom Collins recipe (serves one, multiply as necessary)


  • 40ml gin
  • 20ml lemon juice
  • 10ml simple syrup
  • Soda water, to top up

Shake it!

1. Build the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup in a highball (or Collins) glass over plenty of ice. Give it a good stir.
2. Top up with soda water and stir again.
3. Garnish with lemon or orange slices.

Something New

This is my favourite of the four, because you get a chance to be really creative. If you want to be uber-trendy, find a cocktail with the season's hottest new ingredients (right now it's good quality vermouth, mezcal and cacacha, or vegetables like celery and cucumber) or you can come up with your own creation based on what you like best.

That's what I've done with this cocktail, and it's ridiculously simple and tasty, plus one of the prettiest I've ever, ever created. Feel free to steal it for your big day (just raise a glass to Vinspire!):

The Bouquet Bloom and the Bouquet Blush recipe
(serves one, multiply to suit)


  • 100ml sparkling wine
  • 20ml elderflower liqueur (I can't recommend Chase Elderflower Liqueur enough - and it's only £19 at Waitrose!)
  • 1/4 tsp rose water
  • To make the blush: either 1/4 tsp grenadine (which adds a touch of sweetness) or use pink fizz.
  • Edible petals, to garnish

Shake it!

1. Add the elderflower liqueur and rose water to a champagne flute. Give it a stir.
2. Top up with the sparkling wine.
3. If required, add a quarter of a teaspoon of grenadine to create the pink effect. Plop it right in the centre of the glass and it should sink to the bottom and create a slightly layered pink effect.
4. Pop the petal on top.

Something Borrowed

The best advice I can give on this front is to give a classic cocktail a personalised twist. There's plenty of options - a 'Just Married' Julep, a Bridal Bellini, a Groom Gimlet etc. I've gone with a newlywed negroni because it's a nice contrast to the other flavours I've used for these four.

The recipe is actually known by another name - the Negroni Sbagliato - and is a popular new twist on this classic cocktail. It was created when a waiter mistakenly picked up a bottle of fizz rather than gin (sbagliato means 'mistake' in Italian) when making a negroni. I chose it because wedding = bubbles.

Photo: Jeremy Brooks (CCL)
Newlywed Negroni (Negron Sbagliato) recipe 
(serves one, multiply to suit)


  • 50ml sparkling wine
  • 25ml campari (currently only £15.50 at Tesco)
  • 25ml martini rosso

Shake it!

1. Fill an old-fashioned glass or tumbler with ice (crushed or small cubes, depending on your preference.)
2. Top with the campari, martini and sparkling wine, and stir gently.
3. Garnish with lemon or lime.

Something Blue

There are a few options when it comes to blue cocktails - the violet liqueur we used recently creates a delicious, easy one with lime and soda - but blue curacao is coming back into fashion with a bang.

I always find it works best with tropical flavours, but I'd keep the glass dainty and small, both to keep it looking pretty and also because this can be quite sickly, and your guests might only want a glass or two.
Photo: Innisfree Hotels (CCL)

Something Blue cocktail recipe
(serves one)


  • 30ml blue curacao (currently only £8 at Sainsbury's)
  • 30ml Malibu or coconut vodka
  • 50ml pineapple juice
  • 10ml lemon juice

Shake it!

1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice.
2. Shake it like the bride on the dancefloor.
3. Strain into a champagne saucer or small wine glass.
4. Garnish with a straw - maraschino cherry optional!

What would your four wedding cocktails be? Tell us in the comments!

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Cooking with booze: Kir Royale Macarons

There's nothing I like more than cake and cocktails: separately, together, any kind of combination, and I'm sold. A fancy afternoon tea is all well and good, but the addition of a chilled glass of champagne.. Now you're talking.

I know that macarons are not strictly cake, but those bite-sized beauties are so splendid that even the most stubborn "I'm not into sweets" person would find it hard to resist. If you're not acquainted with the macaron, they're light as a feather almond-y meringues that are so Parisian chic - delicate shiny shells, still chewy in the middle, sandwiched together with buttercream or something similar. They can be bloody tricky buggers to make though (they've brought me to tears once before), but get them right, and your friends will think they've come straight from a patisserie.
Anyway, my love of cake and cocktails led me to this idea; a macaron filled with a Crème de Cassis buttercream filling, paired with a glass of your favourite fizz, and you have yourself an interesting take on a Kir Royale! Its the perfect recipe for a late afternoon or night time soiree - one of those gatherings that doesn't require you to make a feast-for-all, just a few nibbles - but something a bit special nonetheless.

I'd suggest your chosen fizz be dry - champagne, cava, Franciacorta, or even English sparkling wine - prosecco could be a bit too sweet when accompanied with the treats.

This recipe, adapted from Harry Eastwood's Skinny French Kitchen (available on Amazon for £18.95), is the easiest I've come across, and the one that's had the least failures. My tips are: to use food colouring that is in paste/gel form as they're the best for keeping their colour (natural food colourings don't tend to work well); red/pink/purple are most suited to this flavour. Go off piste if you like; a colourless shell with a vivid centre would look equally as fancy as what I've suggested.

Unfilled shells fare well in the freezer, so you can whip a batch up and freeze some for future use. You can also freeze the buttercream, but it will need a good mix, and possibly more icing sugar, to get back to the right consistency once defrosted. Oh, and you're definitely going to need an electric hand whisk; you might have guns like Popeye, but you'll struggle with this one.

Kir Royale Macarons
Makes approx. 40 macaron shells (20 whole macarons)

For the shells:
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 3 medium egg whites
  • a pinch of salt
  • 40g caster sugar
  • food colouring (paste)
For the buttercream:
  •  75g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 tsp Crème de Cassis (I used Tesco Finest, £9.00) 
  • food colouring (paste)
Champagne or equivalent.

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper.
  2. Using a food processor, whizz up the icing sugar and ground almonds until you have a fine dust that resembles flour.
  3. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until you reach stiff peaks. Add the caster sugar in a steady stream, still whisking the whole time until the whites are stiff and glassy. Add the food colouring and whisk so that the colour is evenly distributed throughout the whites.
  4. Using a metal spoon, gently fold the almond and icing sugar mixture into the egg whites until the texture is uniform. Don't be heavy-handed here, you want to keep it as voluminous as possible.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium nozzle, or alternatively, use a disposable one. Standing the bag in a tumbler helps, as this can get a bit messy.
  6. Pipe circles of the mixture on to the baking sheet, roughly 3cm wide. Leave space in between each one, as they tend to spread out a little, and puff up during cooking.
  7. Bang your baking sheet on the kitchen work surface a couple of times to get rid of any large air bubbles, then set aside for 30 minutes to dry out the shells. They're ready when you can touch the surface without leaving a fingerprint.
  8. Cook for 12 minutes in the middle of the oven, and leave to cool on the tray.
  9. To make the filling, whisk the butter until soft and fluffy. Add half of the sifted icing sugar and beat until mixed.
  10. Add the remaining sugar, crème de cassis, and food colouring. Beat until smooth.
  11. Use the mixture to sandwich the macarons together - piping it is best.
  12. Pop the champagne and serve.
Good luck!
 Champagne image taken from Lachlan Hardy's photostream under the Creative Commons License.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Mint Junip: Wild Island gin cocktail recipe with Juliettes Interiors

Got a space in your lounge, or dining room, or maybe even your designated bar room that’s just crying out for a new drinks trolley?

But you don’t just want any drinks trolley… it has to be special. Fit all your gin. Be luxurious.

Well, let me introduce this beauty – Juniper – by Juliettes Interiors. I mean, just look at it. It’s got a built-in ventilated cabinet and mini fridge, a walnut garnish board, and polished stainless steel drip tray for starters. I think I am in love and I'm going to buy several Lottery tickets for this weekend.

To celebrate Juniper, the lovely people at Juliettes were looking for a gin cocktail recipe, made with either Wild Island, or Pickering’s 1947 gin, that is worthy of being served at their events over summer, including Salon Privé.

I got busy in my lab (tiny kitchen), and after several recipes, tweaks, start-overs and more, I’m happy with this, the Mint Junip. I was immediately drawn to the Wild Island gin (probably due to the packaging, doesn’t it look great?). I haven’t tried it before, and I like the story behind it. It’s distilled on the Isle of Colonsay, which is one of Scotland’s Southern Hebridean Islands.

The copper still is infused with six native hand-foraged botanicals growing wild on the island: lemon balm, wild water mint, meadowsweet, sea buckthorn, heather flowers, and bog myrtle. And ten further botanicals are used as the base. While there’s quite a lot going on with it, in terms of a floral, citrus character, it can also stand up to complementary flavours, which is why I think it works in my cocktail.

It makes a cracking G+T though, too, with a slice of lemon and a sprig of mint for a garnish.

Mint Junip
Wild Island gin 50ml
St Germain elderflower liqueur 15ml
Cucumber and mint presse 40ml
Apple green tea syrup 15ml
Mint leaves x4

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
Add the gin, St Germain, presse, green tea syrup, and mint leaves.
Strain into a martini glass and garnish with a mint leaf.

To make the apple green tea syrup… Boil 150ml of water on the hob. Take the hob off the boil. Add your green teabag. Once infused (five minutes), put the water back on the heat and add 150g sugar. Stir until dissolved and allow to cool.

Vinspire is involved in this competition with Juliettes Interiors, who sent us a bottle of Wild Island and Pickering’s gin in order to come up with a recipe, and asked us to include several links within the post, to the Juniper trolley, the gin, and the interiors homepage. All opinions are still Vinspire’s.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Learning about Cava with Juvé & Camps

I was lucky enough to attend a press trip last week to visit Juvé & Camps, one of Cavas premier producers. This proved to be an absolutely fascinating trip and confirmed my suspicions that well made Cava represents one of the best value wines, particularly in relation to the world of sparkling wine.

The family and the vineyard

One of the nice things about Cava is that most of the businesses are owned and run by families with a tie to the region. Juvé & Camps is no exception with the current joint CEOs being Meritxell Juvé Vaello (see photo left) and Laia Rosal Juvé who are the fourth generation from the Juvé family having recently taken over from the inimitable Joan Juvé Santacana who ran the business for many years. We were fortunate enough to meet and spend time with both Meritxell and Joan during our trip and I was struck by both their passion for their wines and the esteem that the family are held in by the people who work with them. I must also say that given the slightly fusty and patriarchal feel that wine can sometimes have, it is very refreshing to see young, female CEOs leading a prestige wine brand.

One of the other features about a family run business is that they are even more aware of the need to create a sustainable business and one that they will be able to hand-on in good health to their own progeny. Nowhere was this more apparent than when Meritxell spoke about the effects of climate change on their business; one generation ago they tended to pick most of their Chardonnay grapes at the end of August, whereas now they tend to pick them at the beginning of August. Meritxell is aware of the challenges that the vineyard will face and is looking to see what she can do to counteract this, for instance, since 2015 the vineyards have been certified organic.

The family have 400 hectares of land in the Penedès area, of which about 280 are currently planted with vines. They produce the traditional Cava grapes of Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada as well as other grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 85% of their production is focussed on the production of their Cavas, with the remaining 15% being for an interesting selection of still wines that they make.

The vineyards themselves are set in the beautiful rolling hills of the Penedès region (as illustrated by the photo above, taken from a viewing platform within their vineyard), which is only 30 - 40 minutes drive outside of Barcelona. I was struck by how immaculately all of the vineyards were kept as we drove around them, they all look to be extremely tidily maintained and are harvested by hand in order to ensure that only the best grapes make the selection.

As well as visiting the vineyards, we also visited their premises in the small village of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia which was absolutely fascinating. They possess two buildings in the village across the road from each other which on the surface look aesthetically pleasing, but there is no hint of the treasures that they contain within...! Each building has six floors underground which are used for storing the 10 million or so bottles that are being aged in these caves (in fact the word cava itself comes from the Catalan word which means cave or cellar.) The underground floors connect between the two buildings to produce a labyrinth of racks of bottles as evidenced by the photo on the left.

The wines

We were taken through a tasting of the wines of Juvé & Camps by their chief oenologist Antonio Cantos (proudly clutching one of his bottles on the right), who actually came back from his holiday early just to lead this tasting - what service!

We tasted a number of different wines, focussing on their collection of Cavas. I will pick out five that I particularly enjoyed:

NV Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir), which had a very intriguing nose of light strawberry notes. On the mouth this was surprisingly complex with a nice red cherry profile add some refreshing freshness from the acidity. It was remarked by our group that often rosado cavas are not particularly refined, but this one was and at a great price level too.

2012 Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), this wine is a Reserva level having had an average of 25 months of bottle ageing before release. The nose was very classy with ripe cherry notes coming through, along with that pleasingly warm brioche profile that you tend to get from wines that have been aged in the so-called Methode Champenoise. On tasting the wine was bright and zingy, with plenty of acidity and juicy strawberry notes. This wine once again showed how refined for their price-point a good Cava can be; you would have to pay a lot more in Champagne for this kind of elegance.

Now we start to move on to some of the really big hitters...!

NV Reserva de la Familia (55% Xarel-lo, 35% Macabeo, 10% Parellada). This is one of Juvé & Camps' premier wines and is one of their most famous labels. We tried a limited edition bottle, which had a slightly sweet nose featuring honey notes and some light, warm citrus fruits. On the mouth it was once more class personified, with a nice level of complexity, but overall it just represented an extremely enjoyable drinking experience.

2012 Juvé & Camps Gran Reserva (40% Xarel-lo, 25% Macabeo, 25% Chardonnay and 10% Parellada). The nose here was even more exotic than the previous wine, a lot richer and more toasty; I even detected a bit of a peppery note on it (although I'm not sure I picked that right!) On the palate it oozed class and elegance, with a rich, broad profile that developed nicely. What was also noticeable was was a really nice mouth-feel to the wine, with fine and delicate bubbles. A beautiful wine.

They saved the best for last with their exceptional 2006 Juvé & Camps La Capella (100% Xarel-lo). This wine is made from grapes all from a single vineyard where the team from Juvé & Camps noticed that they continually harvested their best grapes from. Apparently this area of Cava is going to be awarded its own sub-appellation called a Cava de Paraje Calificado in the very near future as the Spanish wine authorities have noted its exceptional characteristics. The wine itself is aged for about 108 (!) months on average, hence we were drinking the '06. The nose was phenomenal, it had so much going on; honeysuckle, lychee, as well as warm brioche. The taste was just as good with a huge flavour profile, that evolved and developed over the three minutes or so that it lingered on the palate. There was also an interesting slight waxiness to the wine which is quite typical of Xarel-lo. Apparently they only produced 3,000 bottles of this wine so we were very lucky to try it!

If you want to find Juvé & Camps' wines in the UK, their official distributor is Ehrmanns and you can find out what wines they possess by following this LINK.

A lunch to remember to finish it all off

After this phenomenal tasting, we were treated to a beautiful lunch in one of the family's gorgeous properties on their estate. We started with a selection of appetisers, including (of course) some rich and decadent jamon served with some aged parmesan (see left), some earthy yet classy blood sausage, some fresh and delicious seafood (prawns and salmon); all served with some of those delicious Cavas as well as a selection of their still wines.

The highlight of the lunch, however, was the grand unveiling of a magnificent wild sea bass that had been salt-baked. The chef broke into the casing with great precision and great theatre and revealed its treasured contents. The result was a fish that was delicate, succulent, fresh and delicious. It was served with those glorious Spanish tomatoes that you get and a fluffy potato. The lunch was also a great opportunity for our group to get to know the family a little better and we continued to be taken by their pride, passion and sense of purpose for the future.

Below is a photo of our intrepid group along with our very generous hosts. This is after the lunch so we were all in very good spirits at this point...!

Thanks (Gracias)....

This was a really wonderful trip as I'm sure you can tell from the effusiveness of my write up. As I stated in the beginning, I already considered myself a fan of Cava, but I felt like I still had something to learn of its heart and soul. I now feel that I understand it a little better and I owe that to the generosity and kindness of the people from Juvé & Camps. I must also extend my thanks to Bryony Wright for doing so much hard work in organising this trip.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Darnley’s Gin refresh and move to Fife

After a rebrand earlier this year, Darnley’s gin has made the jump from London to Scotland.
Edinburgh-based company Wemyss Malts has spent the past year renovating a farm cottage on the grounds of its whisky distillery in the East Neuk of Fife, to be the new home of Darnley’s.
Scott Gowans, the company’s new gin distiller, will oversee all aspects of production and recipe development, using copper stills imported from Italy.
Darnley’s recently changed its name from Darnley’s View, to Darnley’s, and re-emerged with some beautiful new packaging, with hand-drawn botanicals by UK illustrator, Martin Hargreaves, on the bottle.
The range consists of an Original (40%, £28.33 Master of Malt) – inspired by elderflower growing wild in the grounds of the Wemyss family castle in Fife; Spiced (42.7%, £30.34 Master of Malt) – which includes ten botanicals such as cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and grains of paradise; and Spiced Navy Strength (57.1%, £33.51 Master of Malt) gins. The navy strength expression is inspired by the career of Sir Rosslyn Wemyss, an ancestor of the family who commanded ships across the globe in the early 20th century.
In some cases, spiced gin can be a bit much, but Darnley's isn’t overwhelmingly potent, and makes a mean Negroni.
Distillery tours have just started at Darnley’s. offering visitors the chance to see all the behind-the-scenes production. So if you happen to be in the area... do pop in!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Le Tour de France drinking game

"Sod it. To the pub..."
Since everyone loves drinking until they think they are good at sports, here is a drinking game for the Tour de France which starts today (don't attempt to cycle after playing...).

You will need:

  • Beer (copious amounts): Beer and cycling go hand in hand.
  • Shots of Vodka: Wiggo's favourite drink (when served with soda).

The rules are simple... you must of course be watching the cycling.

This game can be played in two forms; either when you are watching the hour-long highlights programme on an evening, or, if you are a serious trooper, you can play while watching the five or so hours of live coverage throughout the day. If you take the second option I respect you highly. I don't necessarily like you, but I do respect you...

As soon as the race starts, here's what you need to do:

When a cyclist creates a breakaway, you take a shot of vodka.

When the commentators come out with an extremely dull fact (e.g. the date that a bridge/church was built), take a sip of beer.

Every time a cyclist throws their water bottle away, shot of vodka.

When a fan runs up the road alongside the cyclists, you drink your beer until they stop running.

When a cyclist takes a tumble, you finish your beer.

When the peloton catches up with a breakaway, you take two shots of vodka.

When there is a sprint, you drink from the moment the first rider starts sprinting, until the sprint/race finishes.

The last person standing at the end of the game, wins the yellow jersey...

Have fun folks and drink responsibly!*

Image taken from Numerius' photostream, under the creative commons license.

*As ever, Vinspire drinking games are tongue-in-cheek suggestions, and can be ignored, adapted or embraced wholeheartedly depending on your own personal preference.