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)

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The future of coffee cocktails: which tribe are you part of?

First it was the Cosmo, then the Pornstar Martini, and now, well, who doesn’t love an Espresso Martini?

Research from The Future Laboratory, a futures consultancy, says the trend for coffee cocktails is just going to keep growing and growing.

Once again, it’s down to us millennials, but it’s not the worst thing we’ve been blamed for in recent times.

In the UK, coffee shop sales rose 37% between 2011 and 2016, from £2.4bn to £3.4bn. By 2022, that’s expected to rise by a further 29% to hit £4.3bn. So, we know coffee is pretty popular… but how about cocktails. Well, the 2016 Mixed Drinks Report shows 78% of British bars now sell cocktails. It makes sense that the two would join forces.

The Espresso Martini is now the 15th most popular cocktail in the world, up 12 places since 2016. The cocktail first came about in the 1980s, and since then, there’s been all sorts of coffee cocktails gracing drinks menus.

In 1983 at the Soho Brasserie in London, bartender Dick Bradsell was asked by a customer for a drink that would, ‘wake her up, and f**k her up’. Vodka was super popular at the time, and the coffee machine was to hand. Dick mixed vodka, sugar syrup, Tia Maria and Kahlua, and freshly made espresso. Voila, the Espresso Martini (or Vodka Espresso as it was first known) was born.

The Future Laboratory has created its new report in conjunction with coffee liqueur Tia Maria. The report has identified four new tribes of cocktail drinkers. So, which one are you?!

The Sensorialists

Oh yes, it’s the Instagram effect… this groups is for those looking for ‘visually appealing drinks’ and drinks that work in ‘an era of advanced social media sharing’. Cocktails have to look good, and create a sense of buzz and excitement. Augmented and virtual reality technology will also come into play here.

The Optimisers
This group are looking for the balance between work and play, and opting for ‘healthonism’… the report says The Optimsers will be after coffee as a cocktail ingredient, as it gives you an energising boost. However, they’ll want to keep things light, so something like a Tia + Tonic will be for them.

The Experimental Connoisseurs
Tribe number three like to push the boundaries of taste, and are constantly hunting for new cocktail flavours and combinations. They’re likely to order a cocktail containing contrasting flavour profiles.

The Truth Seekers

The fourth tribe will be ordering drinks that let the quality and origin of the ingredients to shine through. So if they’re ordering a coffee cocktail, they’ll want to know the specific blend of espresso used for the drink…

The report concludes, “Coffee and cocktail culture will explode over the next decade, bringing with it a new wave of multisensory experiences, as well as innovative recipes and techniques, enabled by major technological breakthroughs.”

Do you think coffee cocktails will continue to be as popular as they have been, or have you already got your eye on something else?

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Xeco Fino sherry review: a new way to drink granny’s favourite tipple

I hate stereotypes. I do. But one I keep hammering home on, is that sherry is not just something your gran drinks at Christmas.

It’s so much more than the sickly-sweet Harvey’s Bristol Cream, and it’s still massively underrated.

Sherry is getting there in London – places like Bar Pepito, Barrafina, Capote y Toros, Jose, Copita, and Rosita & the Sherry Bar all offer great sherry selections, and great Spanish food to munch on the side. But even in the capital, where these places exist, I don’t have many friends that would be totally happy if I suggested going out for a Fino and some padron peppers (I’m trying!).

Exports of sherry have fallen to less than a fifth of what they were in 1979, so clearly sherry needs a bit of help. Enter Xeco Wines, coming in to change all our opinions on sherry in one bottle. Doesn’t it look awesome? I’ve had it in the fridge at home and my housemate was immediately intrigued.

If you’re wondering who that is on the label, you’ve got the likes of Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, Shakespeare and Cervantes (historic figures from the UK and Spain), with a splash of neon graffiti art. A bit different from your usual sherry label right?

The company was set up by three female Fino fiends – Beanie, Alexa and Polly, and was funded via an Indiegogo campaign.

Their first sherry, a Fino, is made with Palomino grapes from Jerez (like all sherries other than Pedro Ximenez – see our beginner’s guide to sherry), and aged biologically in American oak casks for a minimum of four years. This all happens at Diez Merito, a Bodega that’s been around since 1876.

So how do you drink it, and what does it taste like?

The Xeco fino is really crisp, refreshing and elegantly dry. It’s light, fresh, citrusy, and has a touch of nuttiness to it, along with a nice savoury note.

The easiest and simplest way to drink it is straight out of the fridge, but there are a few other ways to serve it. It’s great with lemonade, in cocktails, or with tonic.

If you’re considering replacing your G+T with an F+T, try 45ml sherry, with 100ml good tonic water (Fever Tree or Fentimans), a dash of orange bitters, and garnish with lemon peel.

I will say it’s not cheap at £15.95 (Master of Malt), and you may baulk at that price if you’re planning to mix it with lemonade, but it’s an unintimidating and exciting way into sherry that makes a very old drink that bit more modern.

And the Fino friends have got an Amontillado out now too, available for £18.95 from Master of Malt. One to go with the Christmas cheese plates?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Everything you need to know about Franciacorta – Italy’s champagne

Chances are, you probably drink prosecco on a regular basis right? Maybe even champagne if you’re feeling a bit flush, or possibly cava on occasion?

But how about Franciacorta? Most people I’ve spoken to haven’t heard of it, let alone tried it.

Franciacorta is a sparkling wine from Italy’s Franciacorta region in the heart of the Lombardy region, just south of Lake Iseo. The word Franciacorta defines a territory, production method, and the wine.

It’s likely both the Italians and the French will be annoyed about this comparison, but Franciacorta is Italy’s equivalent of champagne, in terms of quality, and the production method. The two can’t be compared in size however – the Champagne region makes around 300m bottles a year, compared to Franciacorta’s 17.5m. And that figure can’t increase by much, due to strict rules on the geographic area.

Franciacorta has been a bit of a well-kept secret, with the region only exporting 15% of its annual production, but it wants to up this to 30-40% over the coming years. Japan, Switzerland, and the USA are the top three export markets, with the UK market growing all the time (albeit from a very small base), so hopefully we’ll be seeing more Franciacorta coming our way soon.

Don’t go expecting prosecco prices though – this fizz is high quality and you’re definitely looking at champagne costs. That's if you're drinking it in the UK... in Italy, you can get it for around 25euros in a restaurant, and 15euros in a shop.

What is Franciacorta and how is it made?

There are quite a few rules surrounding Franciacorta production – established by the Franciacorta Consortium which was founded by 29 producers in 1990. There are 117 wine cellars associated with the Consortium today.

Franciacorta is made of Chardonnay (80% of the region’s grapes), Pinot Noir (15%) and Pinot Blanc (5%) grapes – with Pinot Blanc making up a maximum of 50% of the blend. There are a total of 3,150 hectares of vineyards in the region, with 2,800 producing Franciacorta DOCG, and 350 producing Curtefranca DOC still wine.

The grapes must be picked by hand, and the grape harvest must happen after August 10th and before September 10th each year.

Each vineyard’s grapes are processed separately, and pressed gently to get the best quality juice.

Once the grapes are pressed, the juice is used to create the base wines. The following spring (after the grapes have been picked in the autumn), the base wines are combined – sometimes with base wines from different years.

Sugar and yeast is added to the cuvee (mix of base wines) in the bottle, and the wines undergo a second, slow fermentation. This is where the bubbles come from (carbon dioxide), and when the pressure increases, getting to six or seven bars.

The wines undergo the second fermentation for different lengths of time. They’re stored horizontally in the cellars and left to develop with a metal cap on.

What are the different types of Franciacorta?

. Franciacorta non-vintage must be left on the lees (yeast sediment) in the bottle for at least 18 months, and not be released until at least 25 months after harvest.
. Franciacorta Satèn and Franciacorta Rosé Non-Vintage (minimum 25% Pinot Noir) must be aged for at least 24 months on its lees. Satèn is unique to the Franciacorta region. It’s a blanc de blancs (made only with white grapes), and is bottled at a lower pressure to the other wines. The result is a less fizzy wine with a smooth – or satin-like – mouthfeel.
. Franciacorta Vintage, Franciacorta Vintage Satèn and Franciacorta Vintage Rosé – or Millesimato – must be aged for at least 30 months on its lees, and can’t be released until at least 37 months after harvest.
. And Franciacorta Reserve, Franciacorta Reserve Satèn and Franciacorta Reserve Rosé requires at least 60 months on its lees.

So, it’s not a quick process – and there’s more to do after that.

After the time’s up, the bottles are moved to special stands (called pupitres) where they’re rotated one-eighth of a turn every day, and inclined a bit more each day, to move the sediment and the yeast to the neck of the bottle. This takes three-four weeks. While a few of the smaller Franciacorta vineyards still do this the traditional way, turning up to 15,000 bottles a day, most of them now use large metal cages which completely automate the process – and save a lot of time and tired hands.

Then it’s time for disgorgement. The bottles are immersed upside-down in a refrigerant which freezes the top of the bottle, trapping all the yeast that’s left in the bottle.

The metal cap is removed, and the pressure of the liquid in the bottle forces the icy bit out.

A very small amount of wine is lost in the process, but to bring the wine back to the original level, a small amount of wine (for Zero Dosage – no added sugar) Franciacorta, or a liqueur de dosage – base wine and sugar – is added.

The bottles are sealed with the classic mushroom cork and a wire cage, and labelled with the official seal that certifies Franciacorta’s DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita).


Like champagne, different types of Franciacorta are distinguished by the amount of sugar added to them after disgorging, which gives a different character to the wine.

Pas Dosé – residual sugar naturally contained in the wine up to 3g/l (grams per litre).
Extra Brut – sugar up to 6g/l
Brut – sugar up to 12g/l
Extra Dry – sugar between 12-17g/l
Sec or Dry – sugar between 17-32g/l
Demi-sec – sugar between 33-50g/l

In most cases, there is less sugar in Franciacorta than in Champagne as the grapes have more exposure to the sun, and ripen more fully, so less additional sugar is needed.

Currently, 70% of Franciacorta’s land under vine is certified organic, and the plan is to have the entire region certified organic by 2020.

Other wines in the Franciacorta area

While Franciacorta makes up the majority of wines produced in the area, there are some still wines being made: Curtefranca DOC red and white, and IGT ((Indicazione Geografica Tipica Sebino).

How to drink Franciacorta

I mean, on a veranda in Franciacorta watching the sun go down is probably the best place, but if that's out of the question... 

You may have noticed from the pictures above that Franciacorta is not drunk out of a champagne flute.

History and convention has always said this is the best way to drink sparkling wine, but now, more wine producers, critics, and glassware designers are coming around to the fact that slim glassware can dull some sparkling wines – with a larger glass allowing more flavour-enhancing aeration to occur.

Compared with champagne saucers, the Franciacorta glasses taper back in at the top, recapturing the nose.

The Franciacorta glasses were designed by the Franciacorta Consortium, and feature the Franciacorta logo. Helpfully, they’re also larger than champagne glasses, so more fizz for all…

It’s best to store your Franciacorta in a cool, dark place, at 10-15 degrees Celsius, with 70-75% humidity. And it’s best served between 8-10 degrees Celsius.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Best cocktails for Bonfire Night

Fireworks Bonfire Night City

Now that Halloween is over, and the mouse/mildly scary sexy cheerleader zombie/hashtag outfits have been put away for another year, the chance to dress up as the Michelin Man has come around again – it’s nearly Bonfire Night.

Whether you're heading out for the evening, or planning a party, you're going to need something good to drink. So give us your best ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, these are five of the best cocktails and boozy tipples to ensure November 5th goes off with a bang.

Mulled wine – Serves six


It may scream 'CHRISTMAS' to you, but mulled wine is the perfect tipple for Bonfire Night. This recipe isn't too sweet, and you can even pop it in a flask and take it with you to warm your cockles throughout the evening. Just remember to share: this recipe does serve six!

1 bottle red wine
1 orange (unwaxed), peeled and juiced
1/2 lemon peel
75g caster sugar
3 cloves
3 cardamom pods
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
A good glug of ginger wine if you have any

Shake it!
1. Add your orange juice and peel to a large saucepan with the lemon peel, caster sugar and spices.
2. Pour in enough wine to cover the sugar and heat until dissolved.
3. Bring the mixture to the boil and continue heating until you have a thick syrup. This should take around five minutes.
4. Turn down the heat and add the rest of your bottle of wine, along with a good splash of ginger wine if you are using.
5. Serve in mugs or glasses that can take the heat.

Ushuaia – Serves one


Ushuaia cocktail Chandon
If you'd prefer something a little more chilled, but certainly not a cocktail that will leave you cold, then Ushuaia is the one for you. You may not be able to pronounce it, but you can always say 'the orange one that looks like the bright burning embers of a bonfire'. See, it's perfect for the occasion.

40ml Aperol
10ml Aquavit
20ml lemon juice
20ml rhubarb syrup
Pinch of pink salt
Top with Chandon

Shake it!
1. Shake all the ingredients together with ice.
2. Strain into a wine glass, and garnish with a rhubarb stick.




Whitehall Lady – Serves one


If you're making a batch of these for your classy Bonfire Night soiree, don't be disheartened if you don't quite have the garnishing skills of the bartenders at the Corinthia. I'm sure it'll taste just as good! 

Whitehall Lady cocktail Corinthia London
50ml Ciroc vodka
15ml elderflower cordial
10ml fresh lemon juice
Top up with some fizz

Shake it!
1. Shake the vodka, elderflower and lemon juice together with ice and strain into a champagne flute.
2. Top with fizz and garnish with a flamed twist of orange or grapefruit.










Boozy mocha – serves one


This is an all out comfort drink. If you're planning to throw some shapes after your firework action, perhaps stay clear of this. But if you plan to settle down with some Netflix, or sit around by the fire and sing 'Tribute' or 'Wonderwall' or that other one song your mate can play on that battered acoustic guitar, then this boozy mocha is definitely the one for you.

50g dark chocolate
160ml whole milk
25ml Baileys
25ml Kahlua 
Chocolate alcoholic whipped cream (yes it’s a thing).

Shake it!
1. Gently heat the milk and chocolate in a saucepan until the chocolate has melted.
2. Take the mixture off the heat and add your Baileys and Kahlua.
3. Serve in a big mug and top with your boozy cream, if you've got any left.
4. Settle down in front of the fire/Netflix.

Toffee apple martini – Serves one

 If you loved getting your teeth (literally) stuck into a toffee apple on Bonfire Night as a kid, or if you still do, the lovely Laura has given the humble toffee apple a sexy makeover (glasses off, hair down) and turned it into a martini. What could be a more perfect tipple on Bonfire Night?

Which one takes your fancy? How will you be celebrating this year?