St Patrick’s Day feast

I’ve been challenged by Bord Bia to create a fabulous St Patrick’s Day feast for four, shopping at the Irish Shop at Ocado.

Irish Stew

Irish Stew

I thought this would be fairly straight-forward, my Grandad is Irish –  from Sligo and used to be a chef. I thought I’d chat to him and my Gran from Dublin, and between them get an authentic Irish recipe to use as my base.

I’d forgotten that you can’t actually get a straight answer out of an Irishman, well my Grandad anyway. The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: I need to cook a St Patrick’s Day feast, what should I cook?
Grandad: You can’t go wrong with a stew?
Me: Grandad, how do you make an Irish Stew?
Grandad: You just put whatever you like
Me: But what do YOU put in YOUR Irish stew Grandad?
Grandad: Well whatever you have in your cupboards, it’s a meal of last resort isn’t it, it depends what you have?
Me: But Grandad, but what ingredients do YOU usually put in YOUR Irish stew
Grandad: Well an Irish Stew should be whatever you can pick in a field in winter, anything that grows under soil.
Me: So root vegetables?
Grandad: Yes turnips, carrots, swedes, spuds, leeks, onions
Me: And what about meat?
Grandad: Depends what you like? but it’s usually the cheapest cuts of meat?
Me: What meat to you have Grandad?
Grandad: Lamb or beef? It depends?
Me: And what else do you put in there?
Grandad: It’s all down to taste. 
Me: Argh!
Grandad:  It depends, if you use a greasy meat you’ll add in some flour it’s all down to flavour and what you like. It’s just like making an English stew, you know how to do that right?
Me: What makes it Irish? Do you put Guinness in there?
Grandad: God yeah, you have to have a bit of flavour?
Me: When do you add the Guinness?
Grandad: As soon as you can get it past your lips?
Me: And what about a starter, I’m stuck for a starter, I was thinking potato cakes with bacon and cabbage?
Grandad: Sound nice?
Me: But what is a traditional starter in Ireland?
Grandad: (Long pause)….A pint of Guinness

I pick up the phone to my Gran, thankfully she’s a little more helpful. My Gran talked me through how to layer the stew, how not to be ‘too mean with the veg’ and ‘not add anything fancy like peppers, as we never had that’. She too was stuck on the starter, stew and homemade soda bread was enough in her book. My Gran was decidedly unimpressed with my idea for dessert. ‘Bailey chocolate cheesecake? Do Irish people eat that?’ she said. ‘Obviously not Gran, what do you suggest?’. After much thought and talk of ice cream, I was given a recipe for a bread and butter pudding which I’ve played around with and added some Baileys too.

I hope you enjoy the results, and that my Gran approves!


When thinking about Irish food, what comes to mind first? For me it is bacon and potatoes. So what better way to start an Irish meal than with bacon and potatoes?Boxty is a potato pancake which I’ve made with spring onion, served up with crispy Irish bacon and a maple syrup.

Boxty, Bacon and Maple Syrup

Boxty, Bacon and Maple Syrup

Serves 4 | Preparation time: 10 minutes | Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
250g grated potato
250g cold mash potato
1 onion, grated
100g plain flour
1 egg, beaten
3 spring onions
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
25g melted butter
200ml milk
1. Wrap grated potato in cling film and wring well to get rid of the excess water
2. Mix mash and grated potato together in a mixing bowl
3. Add flour, baking powder and scallions
4. Stir in melted butter and egg
5. Add milk little by little, stirring all the time 
6. Fry on a high heat for 2-4 minutes each side
7. Serve with crispy bacon


You can’t beat an Irish Stew, as a hearty meal to share on St Patrick’s Day. Start with root vegetables (anything that can be found in an Irish field in winter works), lamb or beef as desired and a good splash of Guinness. As an extra treat serve up freshly made warm soda bread to mop up all the delicious sauce.

Irish Stew

Irish Stew

Serves 4 | Preparation time: 40 minutes | Cooking time: 3 hours +
3 carrots
800g potatoes
1/2 swedes
3 turnips
1 leek
2 onions
500g lean cubed stewing beef
A splash of worcester sauce
1 tbsp of cornflower, diluted with cold water and stirred in
1 pint of beef stock
1 cup of barley
A can of Guinness
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C
2. Fry off bacon and brown off cubes of beef, set aside
3. Fry off onions & leeks and move to a casserole dish along with bacon and beef
4. Pour in a can of Guinness and a splash of Worcester Sauce and bring to the boil
5. Add the carrots followed by half of the potatoes, pour in half of the stock and season to taste
6. Add the swede & turnip, add more stock & the cup of barley and bring to the boil
7. Add the remaining potatoes to the top of the dish and transfer to the oven and cook for 2.5 hours, adding extra stock as required
8. Serve with freshly baked soda bread


Bread and Butter Pudding is a thrifty old British dessert, popular in Ireland. Although it is very simple to make it does take a little forward planning. It is best to use stale white bread and set some time aside to soak fruit and to allow the bread to soak up some of the custard before baking.

Baileys Bread and Butter Pudding

Baileys Bread and Butter Pudding

Serves 4 | Preparation time: 1 hour/ overnight | Cooking time: 1.5 hours
8-10 slices of semi-stale white bread
50g Irish butter
50ml double cream
100ml Baileys Irish Cream
50g currants
3 tbslp Jamesons
300ml milk
25g of white granulated sugar
1 tbsp of demerara sugar for sprinkling
1. Soak currants overnight in some Jamesons Irish whisky
2. Grease a 2 pint dish and pre-heat oven to 180C
3. Butter slices of week old white bread, cut off the crusts, slice into triangles and layer at the bottom of the dish
4. Sprinkle with currants
5. Heat milk, Baileys and double cream being careful not to boil. Set aside.
6. Beat eggs and sugar, mix in the cream mixture
7. Pour half of the mix over the bread and leave for soak for 30 minutes
8. Add another layer of currants and bread, sprinkle with demerara sugar and freshly grated nutmeg
9. Put in oven for 30-40 minutes
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Top 5 Whisky bars in Kyoto, Japan

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a few whisky trips to Kyoto, in fact one of the major perks of my job is the inside track on the best places to enjoy a dram in Japan. Special thanks to the incredible Dave Broom, a man most famous in these parts, for his great recommendations which were a pleasure to investigate and also to, Zoran Peric, my drinking partner-in-crime on my last trip.

The Cask of Hakushu 1993, Cordon Noir, Kyoto

The Cask of Hakushu 1993, Cordon Noir, Kyoto

1. Bar Cordon Noir

Address: Kiyamachi-dori Sanjo-sagaru, Ishiyacho 121 Matsushimaya Bldg 3F
Opening hours: 7pm-3am

This 32-seater bar has around 600 whiskies on the incredible back bar including many rare Japanese finds at very decent prices. They also have some great cigars. We tried desperately to catch them out and request a whisky distillery or expression they didn’t have but they surprised and delighted us every time. Cordon Noir is the ideal ‘one for the road bar’ when in Kyoto.

2. Bar Rocking Chair

Address:    Tachibana-machi 434-2 down, 600-8044 Kyoto Shimogyoku Miyuki-cho, through light Buddha temple 
Opening hours: 5pm-2am, Closed Tuesdays

Bar Rocking Chair is a bit of an institution, an old school Japanese cocktail bar which subscribes to traditional Japanese bar tending techniques and seating arrangements. You won’t be able to sit at the bar, if there are more than two of you and photos are sometimes frowned upon, but the technical brilliance can be easily observed from the tables and the amazing ice carving and hard shake techniques are better enjoyed through the mind’s eye as an everlasting memory than through a camera lens. There’s a private room upstairs for larger groups.

Whisky Mac, Bar Satonaka, Kyoto

Whisky Mac, Bar Satonaka, Kyoto

3. Sent James

Address:  Chukyo-ku, Kyoto Ponto-cho Sanjo under Le timber-cho 180-3 (on the west side of Pontocho, about 50 meters south from the Pontocho Kaburenjo Theatre)
Opening hours: 7pm-2am, 5pm on Sundays

By the Pontocho river,  Sent James is a little tricky to find but well worth it when you do, this is a stunningly zen bar where you need to leave your shoes at the door and sink down into the bar seats.

Don’t expect a crowd but do expect an intimate, well-crafted drink. I love how the name may have been slightly lost in translation.

Hand-carved ice ball, El Tesoro, Kyoto

Hand-carved ice ball, El Tesoro, Kyoto

4. El Tesoro

Address: Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City Yamatooji west side up Shinbashi Daiwa Building 1F
Opening hours: 6pm – 3am

In the Gion district and serving excellent cocktails the guys at El Tesoro are super helpful and friendly.

It is a lovely atmospheric little bar and another great spot to watch the art of Japanese ice carving in action.



Yamazaki Manhattan, K6, Kyoto

Yamazaki Manhattan, K6, Kyoto

5.  K6

Address: Kyoto City Hall / Bar. Nijo Kiyamachi Higashi-iru, Valls Building 2F. [across the street from Hotel Fujita]
Opening hours: 6pm-3am, 5pm on weekends

Last but certainly not least, K6 is one of the buzziest bars and biggest cocktail bars I’ve enjoyed in Kyoto. By all accounts most of the serious mixologists in town have worked here at some point. It enjoys a slightly younger crowd, stocks over 600 whiskies and makes a mean Manhattan. It also serves a good craft Japanese beer on draught.

A serious whisky den has opened downstairs from K6 called Bar Keller, operated by the same owners, sadly it wasn’t open on my last visit. But locals highly recommend it.

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Craft Beer Rising 2014

Craft Beer tastes way better than your average lager. It is flavoursome, usually has a cool story and, because craft beer is having a major moment right now, it is much easier to get your hands on. Expand your mind and go taste some. Craft Beer Rising is showcasing over over 400 craft beers at Old Truman Brewery this weekend. Go.

That’s pretty much all I need to say but if you need a little more convincing read on…

Craft Beer Rising has brought together beer, music and food. A winning combination.

Little Jack Horner's homemade sausage rolls

Little Jack Horner’s homemade sausage rolls

I lined my stomach with Little Jack Horner’s Handmade Sausage Rolls – quite possibly the best sausage rolls in the world – although Mark Hix is serving up the Hix Fish Dog (think posh fish fingers with mushy peas instead of mustard), plus there are burgers, authentic Melton Mowbray Pies, a slow-smoked Kansas City BBQ. You get the picture, you’ll not go hungry.

I digress, essentially the food isn’t an after-thought but really everyone is here because of the beer, and craft beer to be precise. Defining what craft beer is, unfortunately is not so straight-forward so I won’t bother (well that seems to be the industry’s approach).

In the US craft beer it is defined as being made by a craft brewery that is small, traditional and independent. In the UK we are hesitant to define what craft beer is, read up on BrewDog‘s stance on why we should fight to define this growing movement in order to protect it and Morning Advertiser for more details on  the debate around defining craft beer.

Truman's friendly service

Truman’s friendly service

So back to the beer itself, there are 75 breweries touting their wares and over 400 beers available to try.

All producers are very keen to share their story and knowledge and allow you to discover what craft beer is right for you. The event is really well organised and well attended by both trade and consumers, so much so, most dates are now sold out. Do not fear, Craft Beer Rising will be going on tour so sign up for their newsletter and keep your eyes peeled for more info.

If you do miss out, try the home delivery service offered by alesbymail, Craftibeer and Beermerchants.

Here are some of my favourite finds from Craft Beer Rising:

Favourite London tipple:             Attaboy by Old Truman Brewery

Favourite easy drinking style:  Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ ale or Hawaii’s Big Wave Golden Ale

Most hardcore:                                 You don’t get much more hardcore than the punk inspired Hardcore IPA from Brewdog

Coolest looking tap:                    A toss up between Long Hammer IPA and the pink elephant craziness that is Belirium Tremors

Most unusual find:                       Beavertown Brewery’s Bloody ‘el a tangy Blood Orange IPA or London Velvet, a palate confusing combination of traditionally brewed Porter and West Country cider, strange but true.

Red Hook's Long Hammer IPA 'Hammer' beer tap

Red Hook’s Long Hammer IPA ‘Hammer’ beer tap

Delirium tremors 'Pink Elephant' beer tap

Delirium tremors ‘Pink Elephant’ beer tap

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I’m back…

…Sorry, life got a little crazy and I have been rubbish at blogging. I am back on the blogging wagon now so expect a barrage of food & drink related posts.

sarah bb

So what have I been doing over the past few months?

Mostly working and working out. With a little help from The Lifestyle Concierge I’ve been getting myself super fit and turning myself into the runner I’ve wanted to be.

Don’t worry I’m not going to turn into a diet bore, I’ve just worked out the simple maths of having to move more if I want to indulge in my passions for food and drink and not become the size of a house. I’ve learnt how to make a few more sensible choices along the way and am genuinely loving the results. I feel so super positive and have loads more energy for adventures.

Talking of adventures I’ve been on a few whisky tours for both work and pleasure, in Japan and Scotland you’ll be hearing about shortly. I have another whisky week (non work) planned in Islay coming up at the end of April which I’m busy plotting at the moment, and if I’m very lucky work will take me to Mexico for a hacienda trip.

In amongst all of that I’ll be starting my WSET Unit 3 course in April so expect plenty of study notes popping up from April onwards.

So without further adieu, let me share some of the fun of Craft Beer Rising from yesterday, it is on all weekend with some tickets still available for Sunday. Whether you are a craft beer novice or connoisseur, I thoroughly recommend you get yourself down there, there are over 400 craft beers to choose from I defy you not to find some real treasures plus it is tons of fun. Enjoy.

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What would make you rethink Lambrusco?

I’m a bit young to have experienced the Lambrusco heyday in 70-80s when literally gallons of commercial, crappy, mostly white sparkling wine labelled Lambrusco flooded the US & Northern Europe. All the same the residual memory of that time is somehow etched into my consciousness and Lambrusco was a wine that I assumed was cheap, nasty and not for me. How wrong I was!

So what changed? Well I was introduced to the beautiful purple frothing good stuff via two personal recommendations from trusted sources.

Purple frothy Lambrusco foam

Purple frothy Lambrusco foam

First off, we were enjoying a meal in a rustic restaurant in Nice, Restaurant Gesu, it served traditional fare, which being so close to Northern Italy meant a fusion of French and Italian cuisine.

My uncle Pascal orders the wine for dinner. He orders Lambrusco – my husband scoffs – I keep an open mind, Pascal has impeccable taste when it comes to wine, perhaps Lambrusco is not as bad as I think…

The first revelation is that Lambrusco is red not white. Lambrusco is indeed a red grape variety, the colour from wine comes from the skin not the flesh of the grape, and any white Lambrusco you may have seen has been vinified without the skins.

It is lightly sparkling and enjoys a refreshing spritz and beautiful purple foam, it was fairly high in acidity and so went well with the rich meal we enjoyed that evening. But on holiday everything tastes good right?

Unbeknownst to me, my husband had actually purchased a bottle of Lambrusco a week or so before the trip. We were visiting a wine shop in Crouch End, Bottle Apostle and the sales women strongly suggested a bottle of what she described as a red sparkling wine to my husband as he perused the sparkling wine shelf; he was unconvinced and I interjected that I’m not fond of red sparkling wine. She assures us it is a stunning wine and we just have to try.

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Pruno Nero

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Pruno Nero

And so we purchase a bottle.

A week or so after our return from holiday we pop open the bottle of Cleto Chiarli Pruno Nero (£12.60).

It is a seductive red sparkler with a glorious purple foam. We take a sniff, expecting a sweet, fruity nose and instead there is something decidedly savoury there. Confused, I examine the bottle closer and realise we have inadvertently bought a Lambrusco, we take a swig or two and I become deliriously happy to have stumbled on this little sparkling gem of a wine I wouldn’t have normally purchased. So much so, that the following Sunday lunchtime after a long indulgent lie in, I head straight down to Crouch End on a special trip to pick up two more bottle of the lovely stuff.

Lambrusco is the name of both a grape and a wine both found in Emilia-Romagna, Northern Italy mostly around Moderna, Reggio nell’Emilia and Bologna.

There is plenty of mass produced Lambrusco courtesy of enormous co-ops but the real good stuff is produced in the DOC zones of Grasparossa di Castelvetro, Salamino di Santa Croce, Reggiano or Sorbara.

Real Lambrusco is a frothing, bone dry, tart red drink with high acidity and that perfectly complements the rich cooking of the region.  It cuts through the richness of Bolognese food admirable, we’ve tried it with Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses, prosciutto di Parma hams and our house special Spaghetti Bolognese and it is a perfect partner. The sweetened stuff exported en mass to Europe and the US is an entirely different kettle of fish.

Cleto Chiarli is a producer from dell’Emilia Romagne with a history that sweeps back to 1860. It is known for producing high-quality wines created by selecting top quality grapes from over 100 hectares of its own vineyards supplemented by neighbouring vineyards.

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Pruno Nero

Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco Pruno Nero

Cleto Chiarli Pruno Nero NV Lambrusco is produced using the Lambrusco Grasparossa grape variety (the are multiple varieties of Lambrusco, the best being Sorbara, Salamino -so named because the grapes resemble salami – and Grasparossa).

It is fermented at low temperature to retain flavour, and gets its sparkle from the ‘cuve close’ production method –where second fermentation happens in tank rather than bottle, the same method as Prosecco and for similar reasons, to retain primary fruit flavours.

You should definitely serve it gently chilled, 10-12 degrees. This Lambrusco is an attractive wine with a seductive inky ruby red colour and glorious purple froth. It has a pronounced nose of strawberry and red plum but it’s not all fruit there is a deep earthiness to this wine also. Bone dry on the palate it boasts a zippy, lively acidity, very low tannins and a super smooth round velvety taste, with a slight tart twist on the finish. For me this is a dangerously drinkable, well-balanced surprising gem of a wine that has totally made be rethink Lambrusco.

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The Champagne Academy Annual dinner

Earlier this week I had the honour of joining my good friend Amanda Baxter to the Champagne Academy Annual Dinner at Goldsmiths’ Hall.

The Champagne Academy is designed to foster appreciation of the 16 Grandes Marques it represents; one of its principle tools is a money-can’t-buy week-long study course in Champagne hosted by the member houses.

The Champagne Academy 16 Grandes Marques

The Champagne Academy 16 Grandes Marques

It is my new mission in life to be extended an invitation to the course and deepen my knowledge of the Grandes Marques. Robert Wade was celebrated as the winner of the Golden Magnum for receiving top marks on last year’s course. With examinations every morning and Champagne dinners every evening – the week is as much of a test of endurance as it is knowledge, and Robert won on both counts.

Chandelier at Goldsmiths' Hall

Chandelier at Goldsmiths’ Hall

The dinner was set in the stunning Goldsmiths’ Hall, an incredible building dating back to 1835. My favourite element of the ceremony – aside from being formally announced to arrival and bespoke fanfares -was the formal introduction of each wine. As each new wine was presented the waiters came out in a flurry, circling the head table and in unison poured for each guest on the top table before proceeding to pour for the rest of the room.

To start we were treated to the delightfully fresh and elegant Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2004 paired with Wye Valley Asparagus with pink grapefruit hollandaise and soft boiled quail eggs.

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2004

Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2004

The iconic bottle featuring hand-painted Japanese anemones was designed in 1902 by Emile Gallé, a leading light of the art nouveau movement.  For me while the Chardonnay was expressive the hollandaise overpowered the beautiful elegance of this Champagne (50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier). It is a stunning Champagne and has been aged on lees for around 6 years to help create those lingering toasty notes.

Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Cuvée Impératrice  NV

Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Cuvée Impératrice NV

From one beautiful bottle to another, the Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Cuvée Impératrice  NV is fashioned out of a green cut glass bottle. It is made with 50% Chardonnay: 50% Pinot Noir and had enough fruit and acidity to balance the pan seared Guinea fowl breast and pomme purée.

From there we enjoyed the G.H. Mumm Demi-Sec NV, although literally translating as semi-dry, demi-sec is counter intuitively one of the sweetest classifications of Champagne. There can be an element of snobbery around demi-sec Champagnes as the fear is that sugar is being used to hide a multitude of sins. This rich, sweeter style of Champagne is increasingly popular and I’ve always been a fan on the right occasion with the right pairing – and this is it.

G.H. Mumm Demi-Sec NV

G.H. Mumm Demi-Sec NV

This particular Champagne has 44g of dosage but is not cloying due to a racy acidity, it has spent only two years on less so retains a lot of the fresh fruit and works well with the Rhubarb Custard. While the majority of Mumms’ vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir, this demi-sec is made largely with Pinot Meunier (55% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay).

G.H. Mumm Cuvée R. Lalou 1999

G.H. Mumm Cuvée R. Lalou 1999

Where the French would have enjoyed cheese first and then finished on a sweet note, in the UK we finish with cheese. We were incredibly lucky to be treated to a glass of the G.H. Mumm Cuvée R. Lalou 1999 with our Red Chester Cheese Rarebit. It is a bone dry Champagne made from the 12 very best parcels of G.H. Mumm some of which can be less than one hectare. It is a rich blend with nutty highlights and bountiful bread, fresh butter and toast.

After dinner, the President of the Champagne Academy, Hugues Le Marié provided some insight into the 2012 harvest. By all accounts it didn’t start well – with a frost that destroyed 2,900 hectares and got worse before it got better with hail in June/July that destroyed a further 1,000 hectares and more cool weather which reduced the number of bunches. Thankfully, 2012 enjoyed a near perfect August and grapes developed properly. It will be one of the lowest harvests yield wise in 20 years with volumes down 30% compared to 2011 but it will be an exceptional vintage when, not if, the houses decide to declare it as such.

The bad news was that last year volume sales were down although value sales flat, helped by a stronger performance in the on trade. On the plus side we heard via Chairman, Martin Dibben, scientific evidence has been provided by that Jeremy Spencer biochemistry professor at Reading University that three glasses of Champagne a week can help improve memory and protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. You don’t need to tell this room twice that Champagne makes life more memorable, they already know.

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Forty One: A great local culinary haunt in Hove

Forty One in Hove is a local independent restaurant serving a daily changing menu of locally sourced, seasonal food. It is a home grown venture and the first restaurant by James Brown, head chef and proprietor, who I personally know as an excellent chef.

Forty One, 41 Church Street, Palmeira Square, Hove

Forty One, 41 Church Street, Palmeira Square, Hove

The restaurant is set just off Hove’s Palmeira Square – one street up from the sea.

The interior is intimate and has a rustic, stripped back simplicity helping it operate from breakfast and brunch through to lunch and dinner. The best table in my opinion is the upper window seat, which is wonderfully romantic and a great spot for people watching, although if the weather is fine you should opt for one of the tables out front if there’s space.

Interior at Forty One, Hove

Interior at Forty One, Hove

The wine list is inviting and easy to navigate with plenty of well-priced finds complemented by a fine wine list for those special occasions.

I opted for a glass of Prosecco to start followed by a bottle of Lunate Merlot Nero d’Avola. This modern Italian red wine blends Sicily’s hero black grape Nero d’Avola and international favourite Merlot to produce a juicy, smooth wine with a refreshing food-friendly acidity.

Lunate Merlot Nero D'Avola

Lunate Merlot Nero D’Avola

The food menu is rich and varied and caters for a wide range of dietary requirements with several gluten free options detailed on the menu and imaginative vegetarian choices.

I started with the scallops, cauliflower puree and jamón iberico – a sophisticated, elegantly crafted dish with a wonderful combination of textures and flavours. Hubby chose the pork belly, quail and black pudding scotch egg served with an apple and shallot puree; it had him at scotch egg.

Scallops, cauliflower puree and jamón iberico at Forty One, Hove

Scallops, cauliflower puree and jamón iberico at Forty One, Hove

For mains, I went for the rosemary crusted monkfish, puy lentils and crispy onion parcel. The crispy herb crust set off the sumptuous fleshy monkfish.

Rosemary crusted monkfish, puy lentils at Forty One, Hove

Rosemary crusted monkfish, puy lentils at Forty One, Hove

I didn’t really need dessert but couldn’t say no to the cheese board which was offered with a pairing of Port or Sauternes; I couldn’t choose between the two and so got both. Both worked as pairings, although I suspect the Port edged it, but then again the Sauternes was so delightful cheese or no cheese I was happy with my indecision and indulgence.

I popped back on Sunday for the obligatory roast and enjoyed a generous portion of roast topside of beef, complete with all the trimmings including some of the tastiest seasonal veg I’ve had in a while.

Roast top side of beef with all the trimmings at Forty One, Hove

Roast top side of beef with all the trimmings at Forty One, Hove

Forty One is a real local find serving superb quality, elegantly constructed and presented dishes. As if you needed a reason to try it, Forty One operates a keenly priced fixed price set menu Tuesday-Saturday until 7pm and hot off the press has just introduced a BYO Tuesday for wine lovers. Book now.

Forty One | 41 Church Road | Hove | BN3 2BE | 01273 220 663

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Gin Tonic served Spanish-style

On my recent trip to Barcelona I was struck by the Spanish fascination with gin and was patriotically gleeful to see a strong showing of British favourites in every bar – Tanqueray, Sipsmith, Hendricks and Fever Tree tonics, alongside the home-grown Gin Mare.

Barcelona beach

Barcelona beach

The gin tonic reigns supreme in Spain. But it is not served in the highball/Collins glass we’re used to in the UK, but a copa de balon – a big bowled, long stemmed glass.  The Spanish don’t scrimp on the ice nor the gin for that matter, they are also pretty good at intricate garnishes too, which are more complex than a wedge of lime (my default garnish).

So I’m back home and the sun is shining and it is perfect G&T weather, in order to replicate my Spanish gin experience I needed the right glass but couldn’t find it on the high street. Fortuitously, I receive an email on behalf of Alexander & James, a new shopping site backed by Diageo which focuses on premium Diageo spirits and gift sets with loads of gorgeous glassware and I so road test a Tanqueray Copa gift set.

Alexander & James Tanqueray Copa gift set

Alexander & James Tanqueray Copa gift set

I am already familiar with Tanqueray, it’s a classy Juniper heavy gin which I benchmark most other Juniper style gins against, and I’m keen to see the Copa glasses in action, wondering whether they will still hold the same magic back home.

The gift set comes beautifully wrapped in individual wine red boxes lined with black acoustic foam, for safe transit and stylish presentation. The Tanqueray Copa is an elegant, indulgent way to enjoy a large gin & tonic Spanish-style and would make a cracking gift for a gin lover.

Beautifully boxed

Beautifully boxed

So why drink your gin and tonic in a copa. According to Spanish bartenders, a large bowled glass opens up the drink and allows the ice, tonic, gin and garnish to marry more elegantly. Plus a long stemmed glass, so long as you hold it by the stem, means your gin & tonic stays ice cold and isn’t warmed by your hands.

Tanqueray copa gin & tonic glass

Tanqueray copa gin & tonic glass

Spain is bang on trend in the UK right now, so expect to see copa glasses in increasing numbers of bars before long – London Gin Club at the Star at Night has been serving Gin Tonics in Copa since it launched last March. More will surely follow…

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Tapas at Tickets, Barcelona

I was spoilt yet again for Christmas this year, when presented with a weekend break to Barcelona by hubby. It was booked for the first weekend in March when the glorious two weeks we were enjoying off together over Christmas would feel like a distant memory.

Top of my ‘to do list’ in Barcelona was tapas at Tickets. Tickets is run in partnership with Albert and Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame and the Iglesias’ brothers, Juan Carlos, Borja and Pedro whose family owns Rías de Galicia, a seafood restaurant in Barcelona.

Tickets tapas bar, Barcelona

Tickets tapas bar, Barcelona

It sounded like a fun Willy Wonka take on tapas and I wanted in and so set a reminder to book a table the required 60 days in advance. A little after the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, while hubby was busy wishing friends and family a Happy New Year, I was booking a table at Tickets for March 2nd. There may have been tables left over in the morning but I didn’t want to chance it. Tickets release 80 tables at 12am exactly two months in advance and with the time difference it was already gone 1am.

Fast forward two months and we are  being greeted by a circus ringleader and led past the illuminated Tickets box office, all slightly surreal and it already feels worth the effort.

We were led to a cutesy iron chair made for two at the seafood bar in the La Presumida area of Tickets. Here you have a great view of the fresh crabs, oysters and clams and the chefs at work. You can also watch the jamón carver meticulously slicing and weighing the Joselito ham.

Chefs at work at Tickets, Barcelona

Chefs at work at Tickets, Barcelona

Our waiter was friendly, knowledgeable and approachable. He asked us what we liked and what we didn’t and then offered to navigate the menu and choose a selection of dishes for us. We trusted him and let him be our guide for this alien food experience.

The first plate to arrive was Joselito Gran Reserva Jamón iberico and Pan de Tomate. There was nothing weird and wonderful about it and I was glad. Jamón this good does not need any special effects; it was sliced to perfection allowing fatty wafers of cured meat to melt elegantly on the tongue.

Joselito Gran Reserva Jamón iberico at Tickets, Barcelona

Joselito Gran Reserva Jamón iberico at Tickets, Barcelona

Next up was the olives, I’d heard about these exploding olives before and was intrigued. These liquidised olives encased in a barely there membrane were offered on a spoon. We were directed to eat them whole and they exploded on the tongue with brain-shaking olive hit, the sensation was strange and made us both laugh. Laughing it seems is very much part of the concept for La vida tapa on which Tickets was based.

“there is no place for boredom, sadness or loneliness but there is much for laughs, complicity and good company.”

Exploding olives at Tickets, Barcelona

Exploding olives at Tickets, Barcelona

The mini airbags stuffed with manchego again was an experience in texture, flavour and fun – Manchego was served here three ways including as a creamy, oozing centre of the fluffy airbags, released on impact in the mouth.

I enjoyed the fact I didn’t have to compromise what I wanted on the tasting menu just because my hubby doesn’t eat fish, we were both given our own separate tasting menu with a couple of dishes to share but many special to us.

So while enjoyed the tuna belly cone, the presentation of which was reminiscent of Brighton beach while hubby had Mollete de papada, which looked a little like a McDonalds McMuffin with its greaseproof paper, but tasted a world away I’d told – it was arguable his favourite dish of the evening.

Slightly spicy tuna belly cone with lime zest

Slightly spicy tuna belly cone with lime zest at Tickets, Barcelona

Mollete de papada

Mollete de papada


Several more dishes passed through in quick succession, Avocado Cannelloni with crab and romesco sauce, Airbaguette of Iberian pancetta Joselito,  Crostini with tomato seeds and Cantabrian anchovies all visually stunning and appetite satisfying.

Imagination was still flowing when it came to desserts with an unusual interpretation of Mugaritz Torrija with orange zest ice cream just one of three heavenly sweet courses. 

The waiter had crafted out a culinary journey for each of us and every course had a story and a way of surprising and delighting and making us smile, giggle or laugh in some way. We were thoroughly entertained and fed and the experience although not cheap was worth every penny.

Tickets | Avinguda Paral·lel 164 – 08015 Barcelona – Spain |
Open Tuesday-Friday (dinner) Saturday (lunch and dinner)| Closed Sunday & Monday and most of August
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City of London Distillery C.O.L.D. review

City of London Distillery

London Cocktail Society knows how to coax me out on a Monday night; offering me a gin distillery tour and cocktail session with fellow cocktail aficionados.

The distillery in question was the imaginatively named City of London Distillery in Blackfriars, a distillery-come-bar in the heart of the City.

The distillery is reminiscent of an open kitchen in a restaurant; you can see both the shiny stills and bottling line from the bar and in theory watch the gin being made while supping on a G&T.

City of London Distillery and bar

The tour was hosted by master distiller, Jamie Baxter. Jamie helped create the Chase distillery, which was quickly known for producing ‘the best vodka in the world’ – and also makes a pretty fine gin too.

Jamie Baxter at City of London Distillery

Jamie introduces us to ‘gog’ and ‘magog’ his stills, named after the two benevolent giants said to guard the City of London, an ironic name given the size of them.

There are two broad stylistic camps for gin; a juniper heavy style or a lighter, citrusy style. The City of London Gin falls firmly into the latter camp with a pink grapefruit highlight providing a refreshing twang.

In common with most gin distilleries they buy in a neutral spirit, the basic starting point for both gin and vodka. What is less common for a gin distiller is to redistill it, which is what they do here to make it smoother and improve the mouthfeel.

What makes this a place you will visit again and again is the bar, which is probably several times bigger than the distillery itself and houses over 130 different gins.

City of London Distillery bar

Aside from the house City of London Gin the next best seller is Gin Mare – a Barcelona gin which uses unusual Mediterranean botanicals – okay so rosemary, thyme and olives aren’t exactly unusual in the foodie world but when being used in gin they are.

The bar has every style of gin and its precursor genever including Old Tom sweetened gins, prohibition-inspired Bath tub gins, London Dry Gins and a plethora of experimental gins some that don’t even taste like gin (with a seriously lax interpretation of ‘must taste predominately of juniper’).

This bar is a real gin treasure trove and has a passionate, knowledgeable team behind the bar to help guide you through the best gin for your chosen serve and help you experiment with gin cocktails.

City of London Distiller & bar | 22-24 Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8DT | 0207 936 3636
Distillery tours, on the hour 12-3pm, masterclasses available Monday -Thursday 6:30pm
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Tozino: London’s first jamón bodega

Why it has taken me so long to visit London’s first jamón bodega is a mystery, how soon I’ll be back is not.

Tozino is run by the finest Jamón carver in London, Chuse Valero, it serves the most exquisite, expertly carved jamón. It is bustling, informal, authentic and ridiculously good value – everything I love; a genuine Spanish culinary hideaway nestled underneath some antiquated London arches on Maltby Street Market.

Tozino, Maltby Street Marke

Tozino, Maltby Street Market

Now to me jamón is the best ham in the world, although even the best ingredients are useless in the wrong hands. I was at an event at Great Western Studios last week and enthused to see jamón being carved. Although my initial excitement turned into deep disappointment as the person wielding the knife had all the grace of my good self (I’ve yet to perfect the art of jamón carving). The resulting servings were not slithers of jamón so wafer thin they melt on your tongue, but tough chunks an inch thick that needed some serious chewing. Talk about a waste of money. If you are going to serve jamón, serve it right, call Chuse.

Chuse Valero, Master Jamón carver

Chuse Valero, Master Jamón carver

Right of course means first the getting the right quality ham, the acorn-fed iberico pork, we were enjoying on Saturday was the Jamón de los Pedroches, there are plenty of other regional specialities to chose from and enjoy.

Second, ensure the jamón is carved by someone who know how to wield a knife and slice wafer thin slithers (harder than it looks).

Three, enjoy it with some Spanish drinks – a caña of beer (Tozino serves Moritz on draft and offers 1/3 pint serves), a glass or indeed a bottle of Cava (cuts through the fattiness of the ham brilliantly) and definitely some of the sherry, I was loving the medium sweet Amontillado which complemented the nuttiness of the jamón.

Bar Tozino drinks menu

Bar Tozino drinks menu

Four, enjoy with people you love in a bustling bar full of atmosphere. Jamón is made for sharing.  Tozino may look super busy at times but it is worth persevering to secure your spot at the bar. Although warning, you may well be there some time.

Tozino is not simply a bar, it is a shop, a workshop, a market stall, a place to eat, drink, talk and share. It has a rustic feel and traditional décor, with jamón hanging from the ceiling, large barrels for tables and plenty of stools for those wanting to prop up the bar; it is authentic, intimate, informal.

jamon hanging

The food was simple, classic dishes done extremely well. The tortilla was gorgeous and gooey in the middle, chickpea and chorizo stew – flavoursome and moreish, trio of manchego showed the quality of the sourcing here (classic manchego and versions with a red wine rind and my personal favourite with the rosemary rind).


Chickpea and Chorizo stew

Chickpea and Chorizo stew

Usually I’ve been left a little unimpressed by Spanish desserts but the almond cake was superb, and dessert is a great excuse to indulge in the raisiny syrupy goodness of Pedro Ximenez sherry.

Service was great, prices really reasonable although if you decide to go home with a leg of jamón it can get pricey, legs will set you back anywhere between £180 to £350 and even up to £700 a leg, but it would be so worth it!

jamon inside

Tozino Lassco Ropewalk, Maltby Street, SE1 3PA

Open 5-10pm Thursday and Friday, 10am-10pm Saturday and 12am to 5pm on Sunday

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London Cocktail Club ripping up London one bar at a time

After one of many awesome nights at London Cocktail Club, I feel compelled to write a few words about a place that consistently delivers.


Make no mistake I only ever come to London Cocktail Club to party. If you are after a quiet tipple and in-depth chat go somewhere else. If you want to let your hair down, sing  along to tune after tune (some old, some cheesy but all of them good) and imbibe some creative, quality cocktails then this drinking den for you.

I’ve long been a fan of London Cocktail Club’s work and as much as I love Sarah and the gang at LCC Shaftesbury Ave I feel like I’m cheating on them a bit with LCC Goodge Street at the moment. LCC Goodge Street has won me over partly due to its proximity to my office and mostly because of this guy.


Bram, is a one man multi-tasting cocktail machine and it is incredible to watch  him mixing drinks with pizzaz for four different groups, taking payments and still having time to turn up tunes and rock out to his favourite tracks and sink a shot or two.

What sets London Cocktail Club apart for me, is that the team behind the bar killing it with the drinks, look and act like they are loving every minute of service. They work their nuts off don’t get me wrong but they have a good time with it and this definitely adds to the atmosphere. The bar team are well loved looking at the notes from guests written on napkins behind the bar and the collection of bras hanging up above the bar I can only assume were donated by admirers.

The quality of cocktails and imaginative breadth of the menu will mean you will never get bored. One of my favourites is the signature Bacon & Egg Martini, a frothy creamy bacon  infused bourbon expertly blended with maple syrup, egg white and lemon. It is garnished with the tastiest strip of cured bacon and sometimes with a Haribo egg planted on top. It messes with your head to have the combination of sweet, sour and salty flavours but trust me it so works.


London Cocktail Club is simply a good time waiting to happen, go there with a group of mates after work for a damn good time and expect to have a sore throat and head in the morning.

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Having a FEW with London Cocktail Society

Another week, another great London Cocktail Society event. This time, us cocktail fiends were treated to a tasting of FEW Spirits at Hix Belgravia by the man behind FEW Spirits, Paul Hletko.

When FEW started production on April 30th 2011 it was the first time alcohol had ever been produced legally in Paul’s town of Evanston, Illinois – the home of prohibition.

The town’s most famous resident, Francis Elizabeth Willard, was the second person to head up the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which petitioned for prohibition in the States.

Evanston remained dry long after prohibition. The city got its first and only liquor store in the 1980s but even now the city has no bars just restaurants.

It took three long years for a distillers licence to be approved in the town. Something Paul pursued because it seems distilling is in the blood. Prior to WWII Paul’s Grandfather Al had a family business brewing in what is now known as the Czech Republic. When Hitler invaded the business was taken from the family and Paul’s Grandfather spent the rest of his days trying to get the business back, but sadly never did. After he died in 2008, Paul decided to continue the family legacy but do something different and so FEW was born.

Everything about FEW speaks of where it’s from and what it’s about. All the imagery on the bottles is from the 1893 Chicago World Fair, which is Paul’s way of saying Chicago without using the word Chicago. The name implies the right kind of things about the business, small, exclusive and there’s not much of it (this is very small batch production). What’s more F.E.W. is the initials of the most famous resident of Illinois one Francis Elizabeth Willard. There is a certain poetic justice to the fact the woman who spearheaded the temperance movement and fought so hard for Prohibition should be immortalised by a distillery just a mile south of her one time home.

Not only that, Paul has named one of the stills in her honour. FEW has two stills both named after the personality and characteristics of key people in FEW’s history; Francis and Al, (Paul’s Grandfather).

Francis – is prim and proper and a classy lady. As for the still, set it, forget it, she goes on and does her work, you don’t have to bother her. No muss, no fuss, she gets the job done. Al on the other hand, is difficult to deal with and demands a lot of attention, you have to have your hands on him, constantly talk to him, play with all his controls.

So that’s the story behind FEW, now what’s in the glass…

FEW Bourbon

Contrary to popular belief Bourbon can be made anywhere in America, not just Kentucky. Bourbon must be made of 51% corn and be aged in new American oak barrels.

FEW Bourbon is slightly different as it is so very spicy due to the high rye content and the type of yeast used.

It is aged in char 3, American oak barrels, which are sourced from Minnesota, whereas most bourbon barrels are sourced from the warmer, more southerly Missouri. Minnesota has a much shorter growing season, which means its wood has a tighter grain and imparts different characters on the bourbon.

My impression: Sweet with a rich pepper spice, plenty of vanilla and caramel and just a hint of dried fruit, a warm but long finish – well it is 46.5%!


Now to the Rye. Rye it is an expensive grain to purchase as it is low yielding. What’s more it is difficult to work with – ‘a right pain in the ass’ according to Paul. Whereas to mash the corn takes 15 mines or so, rye will take three hours or more. It is really sticky and you need to add it in slow and use a lot of manual labour. Because it is expensive, low yielding and a ‘right pain in the ass’ most distilleries use the legal minimum of 51% rye when making a rye whisky. Paul clearly doesn’t take the path of least resistance in life and decided to make his rye 70% Rye.

By using 70% rye Paul argues he gets all the spice and pepper of rye but also the complexity and depth of flavour of using just 20% corn to add a touch of sweetness and mellow the Rye out.

Yet again, yeast is the key to the flavour composition, with Paul using a yeast more common to red wine production and designed to highlight the fruity esters.

My impression: A beautifully balanced whisky with plenty of pepper and spice but mellowed by a distinct fruity character of apples, plums and banana skin.


FEW American whisky is not trying to reproduce a London Dry Gin style, and why should it, it is American and so it seems only fitting for it to use a whisky base to make its gin.

While Bourbon has a great many very specific rules, the glory of gin according to Paul is that there’s ‘no stinking rules’. The only thing a gin needs to do is taste predominately of juniper, FEW gin takes that with almost as much of a pinch of salt as Hoxton Gin. But while I usually turn my nose up at gins that aren’t juniper dominant there is something really quite good about this more citrus/vanilla focused gin.

The cascade hops that give a grapey fruitiness grow in Paul’s back garden. There are 11 different botanicals in the mix although we’re not privy to what they all are – top secret and all that.

My impression: There is a sweetness and a lovely creamy texture this gin. It has a rich and complex flavour dominated by grapefruit, lemon peel and vanilla with the required nod to juniper softly in the background

FEW Navy Strength Gin

Navy Strength Gin is at least 57% proof which means if it was spilt on gunpowder on board a ship, it would still light – as it is that bloody strong. Gin was included in daily rations of the British Navy for many a year. The fantastic G&T was supposedly first created by a Navy doctor who approved of tonic’s anti-malarial properties and had a ready supply of Navy strength Gin.

This gin was created with an entirely different interpretation of the term ‘taste predominately of juniper’, in that it actually does taste of juniper and it is much more pronounced, dominate even. There are just five botanicals used here and I’m putting myself out there and guessing they are juniper, fennel, orange peel, angelica and liquorice or aniseed. Shoot me down!

It is bloody strong and numbed my lips with just a sip but will no doubt make a damn fine G&T.

My impression: A fiery spirit with a slight sweetness, juniper dominates the palate along with fennel and angelica and hints of liquorice and aniseed.

FEW Spirits – hitting good cocktail bars now and available online through Master of Malt from £32.95.

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Fresh Fino

Fino is a beautifully delicate style of Sherry and one that demands to be drunk whilst fresh and young. Having been lucky enough to have visited Jerez where I tried Fino straight from the barrel, and having enjoyed Gonzalez Byass’ Fino En Rama – a very fresh lightly filtered style within a month of it being shipped, – I can contest that fresher really is better when it comes to Fino.

Until now it has not been easy to tell whether the Fino you are enjoying is a freshly shipped bottle or one that has been sat gathering dust on a shelf for quite some time. But from this month (September 2012) good ol’ Gonzalez Byass has introduced the date of bottling onto the back of each bottle of Tio Pepe Fino shipped to the UK, so you know it’s fresh. I can tell that my bottle was bottled on the 13th of August and I am enjoying it at its very best within just a month of bottling. They recommend you enjoy the Fino within 12 months of bottling and fairly soon after opening, treat it like a delicate white wine and don’t keep it open for too long. If you really struggle to finish a bottle of Fino within a few days, invite a few friends round to help you out (I very rarely say no to Sherry), experiment cooking with it – or try the half bottles.

So why does freshness matter. Whereas Olorosos seem like they can last forever, this is because they have been aged oxidatively and therefore won’t spoil with further contact with oxygen. Fino on the other hand is an incredibly delicate wine that has been aged biologically, with a layer of bready yeast called flor protecting it from oxygen and imparting an unmistakable tang, which makes it a phenomenal match to a range of different savoury and salty foods – jamón, crab, salted almonds take your pick.

Tio Pepe Fino sherry is available from all major retailers, with an RRP of £9.47 for 75cl

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Chase presents Rock the Farm

So last weekend, Chase vodka opened its farm doors to the drinks industry yet again with the second Rock the Farm, an industry only drinks festival. Two immediate thoughts; this is extremely generous of Chase and extremely brave – cocktail bar tenders know how to party!

The sun was shining as GinMonkeyUK LdnBarScene and I pitched our tent in the farm grounds, and walked onto the distillery site. Chase hadn’t done things by halves – it looked amazing, with bales of hay laid out to sit down on and a Williams gin and Fever Tree tonic stand out front and plenty of that moreish Sweet and Sour Tyrrell’s popcorn, which combined with the pizza van would prove to be my saving grace later.

I started the day with a Wyld Wood cider made by Westons, another quality Hereford brand. Although I’ve been told Chase will be launching its very own cider soon, if it’s anything like the quality of its vodka – exciting times are ahead for cider fans.

We signed up for a tour of the farm by Harry Chase and got the lay of the land. Harry says they grow what they’re good at in Hereford, the farm here grows two main crops; potato, for the Chase vodka, and apples, for the Williams gin and apple juice.

Hereford is located in a basin and enjoys good rainfall from Wales, although a mite too much rain this year, and does not suffer from much frost during apple blossom season. You need a good amount of rain to grow apples and, well potatoes are pretty much just water and starch, so these wet conditions work well.

You know what, it really is something seeing the farm and raw materials behind the products you love so much – and to find there is no illusion, it is so real, so genuine. While Chase may be successful, this is still very much a family operation and a family which makes its living through their land.

All were clearly part of the action today, James Chase organised Rock the Farm, Harry Chase showed us the land he looks after, and William Chase Sr (who gave his name to Williams Gin) judged the Chase Cup cocktail competition while Grandma and Grandpa Chase even joined us on our tour of the farm.

After the farm tour, we head to the tasting room set up in the distillery. First stop is the Chase Vodka table, that’s why we’re here after all.

I love the Chase potato vodka, I used to thank my lucky stars when it came up in blind tastings, I could spot that cream soda nose at 20 paces. The Chase Marmalade vodka is a mixologist’s dream, made from Seville oranges it is bittersweet and tangy and so distinct from other products out there. I taste through a weird and wonderful range of vodkas which include Islay Whisky cask vodka, Rhubarb vodka, Juniper vodka (is that not gin?).

Of the experimental range the Kentucky Bourbon aged vodka was my fave it is pretty hefty at 62.5% so has a bit of a bourbon bite. The Stupid Hot Chilli Vodka was indeed stupidly hot and totally beat me. To be fair it was locked away in a top secret safe so – my bad.

Then Chartreuse called my name, I’ve always been intrigued by Chartreuse, a herbal liqueur originally made by Chartusian Monks. Over 400 years later and it is still made by monks, with only two monks entrusted with the secret recipe. There is something warm and fuzzy about the fact that sales of these liqueurs allow the Chartreuse Monks to survive in today’s commercial world and give them the ability to continue dedicating their lives to prayer and meditation.

There are two main Chartreuse products, Green Chartreuse and Yellow Chartreuse. The Green Chartreuse is naturally green in colour from the maceration of 130 different herbs. It is 55% so pretty fiery when consumed neat, but more and more is being enjoyed as part of a long drink. We were offered a refreshing cocktail made using Green Chartreuse, Lemon Cello, Fresh Lemon and soda – a great aperitif, or sunny afternoon drink. The Yellow Chartreuse is much sweeter and milder and can be enjoyed neat or mixed.

Next stop was the collection of cider and perry by Olivers, a small producer in Hereford.  There was a beautifully delicate, sparkling, bottle conditioned medium Perry, but my head was turned by the polar opposite, Olivier’s Real Hereford Dry Cider 2010 Vintage – a bone dry, sour bitter cider that challenges the palate and sang of blue cheese (a key phenolic of bitter sweet cider apples), orchard floor and had a chewy apple skin finish.

So that was the farm, now for the rock. Reverend and the Makers put on a stonking show and DJs kept the party pumping until around 2am when I needed my bed.

Rock the Farm is an incredibly generous gift from Chase to the trade, not many brands could do something like this with as much credibility and kudos – that would be as much fun. If you work in a bar that serves Chase and weren’t there this year sign yourselves up here.

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Rémy Martin evening at Waitrose Cookery School

Last week,  I was lucky enough to win tickets to a Rémy Martin nosing and tasting and cocktail demonstration with food provided by Waitrose’s Head Chef – what a combo!

What became apparent when asked what we knew about Rémy Martin or Cognac at the beginning of the tasting was either that there were lot of shy people in the room or the modern cocktail loving consumer doesn’t yet know a huge amount about Cognac.

While trying my best not to be the annoying know-it-all at the back of the class I offered up that Rémy Martin sources its grapes from the Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions of Cognac, yet before getting stuck into Crus we needed to establish that Cognac was indeed French and made from grapes.

This demonstrates quite what a job the guys at Rémy Martin have on their hands educating and inspiring a new generation of Cognac fans. However, Remy Martin ambassador, Anne-Laure Pressat was perfectly placed to give consumers a friendly introduction to Cognac and a potted history of Rémy Martin so consumers who signed up to the class were left with an understanding of quite what makes Rémy Martin so special.

Cognac is a region is South West France just north of Bordeaux – only eaux de vie made and aged in this appellation can be called Cognac. The Cognac region is made up of six districts called ‘Crus’. At the heart of Cognac lies the best of these Crus; Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne, these Crus enjoy a chalky soil similar to that of the Champagne region where France’s famous world class bubbly is made.

To be a Cognac, the spirit must be double distilled in a copper pot still (Armagnac can be distilled just the once) by 31st March in the year following harvest and aged in French oak for minimum of 2 years and must produce a spirit with a minimum of abv of 40%.

Cognac has three age classifications VS, VSOP and XO which relate to a minimum ageing period (2, 4 and 6 years respectively, although as we’ll see later this is just a minimum). Blending and ageing is key to Cognac, where the mission is to create a consistent product every year regardless of the weather conditions of the particular vintage.

Rémy Martin is a Cognac house of some heritage, it was first founded in 1724 and because of its philosophy of quality it doesn’t create a basic VS Cognac.

As Anne-Laure is explaining the distillation process at Rémy my ears prick up at…‘when the barrels are sleeping, she will blend’.

‘She’ is Rémy Martin’s Cellar Master, Pierrette Trichet. In this day and age I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that a woman is at the helm of a major Cognac house, but in this male-dominated industry I confess I am a little surprised and indeed impressed that a woman has broken through – what a woman she must be I wonder. Pierrette Trichet is the only female Cellar Master of any of the major Cognac houses, and she has been there for some time (20 yrs +), as had her predecessors – there have only been four Cellar Masters at Rémy in the past 100 years.

So what else makes Rémy different? Well the sourcing of grapes is key, but also the fact that 100% of the base wines are distilled on their lees. These dead yeast cells adds complexity and character to the final spirit but makes distillation that much more difficult as will need to be careful not to burn the sediment. Rémy is distilled in small copper pot stills of just 25hl and then aged in oak from France’s oldest and most renowned forest, the Limousin Forest.

Onto the Cognacs….

Rémy Martin VSOP Mature Cask Finish

Remy Martin VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) contains a blend of 240 different Cognacs aged between 4 and 14 years old.

The recipe is the same as when first created in 1927, however, the finishing has changed in recent years following the bottle redesign and it is now finished in mature casks.

This is a great aromatic Cognac for blending into cocktails as it has a strong flavour that can stand up to a multitude of ingredients.

It exudes a fruity aroma with peach, apricot and pears which develops into a crème brûlée, vanilla, spicy white pepper on the palate and a soft honey finish that lingers.

Rémy Martin Coeur de Cognac

A light Cognac which is simple, feminine and fruity and presented in a stylish, curvaceous perfume-inspired bottle.

Rémy Martin XO

Rémy Martin XO (Extra Old) was first created in 1981, a very good year!. This is a luxury connoisseurs’ Cognac which is a blend of 360 different Cognacs aged between 10 and 37 years old. 85% of the blend comes from the ‘grander’ Grande Champagne Cru.

This is an intense tipple which shows in waves of flavours, from a waft of jasmine and dried apricot followed by an array of figs, caramel, toffee and hazlenut and finishes with a distinctive liquorice finish. Divine.

And the cocktails…

So once we were won over by the spirits, we were shown how to enjoy them – in a range of cocktails so simple we could easily recreate at home – and trust me I have!

French Mojito – Light, refreshing way to introduce someone to Cognac – my hubby’s favourite

50ml Rémy Martin VSOP
25ml Lime Juice (or juice of one lime)
20 ml sugar syrup (or bar spoon and a half of sugar)
10-15 sprigs of mint
Ginger Ale
Pour Rémy Martin into a high ball glass, squeeze in the juice of one lime, add sugar and stir rigorously until the sugar is dissolved (the sugar won’t dissolve easily in cold conditions so don’t add the ice until later). Pick 10-15 leaves of mint leaves, instead of muddling which can release too many of the bitter flavour compounds, collect the mint leaves in palm of your hand and then firmly clap your hands to gently release the aromatics. Stir again.
Add ice and stir. Fill half of the remaining space of the glass with Ginger Ale, top with ice, garnish with mint and serve.

Rémy Martin Side Car

This is a classic brandy cocktail of which I am a fan, I won a prize on the evening for my  Side Car creation – so proud!

50ml Rémy Martin VSOP
25ml Cointreau
25ml fresh lemon juice
Orange peel for garnish
Chill martini glass with ice while preparing the cocktail.  Shake all the ingredients with ice and strain into the chilled martini glass (remove the ice from the glass first). Garnish with an orange peel twisted into the glass

Summer Toddy

A twist on hot toddy but adapted for warmer times, given the number of summer colds I’ve had this year I will keep this recipe to hand, it is tasty and refreshing whether you are suffering from a cold or not

50ml Rémy Martin VSOP
2 teaspoons of clear honey
12.5ml of fresh lemon juice
Dash of angostura bitters
Pressed apple juice
Cubed ice
Stir in Rémy, honey and lemon juice until honey is dissolved, add ice and stir again. Add apple juice and garnish with lemon and apple slices before topping with ice

Thank you Rémy Martin for the inspiring masterclass and cocktail demonstration and thank you Waitrose for the phenomenal food and of course the invitation to such a special night.

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Great value, fantastic food at Public House

Alongside Zilouf’sPublic House is another little find in Angel Islington. I was first introduced a few months ago and have been back several times since, mostly for the shoulder of lamb – quite possibly the best starter I’ve had in a pub ever.

For a venue that specialises in seasonal British food it makes sense that it serves a good selection of English sparkling wines including two by the glass (although a wide rimmed coupe style glass, not a flute): the Ridgeview Bloomsbury, a Chardonnay based bubbly, and the Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rose a dry style rose sparkler. The cocktails are imaginative – with the Petit Lapin a refreshing little number which blends Oloroso, elderflower, vodka and lime over mountains of ice.

As much as I love the drinks (and I do), the food is the real reason I come to Public House, especially on a Monday and Tuesday night when the set two course menu is available for the bargain price of £10. The quality, portion size and service for the price is simply stunning.

I cannot fault the shoulder of lamb – it is a full on starter (I’d be happy with this as a main) a mound of tender, flakes of  flavoursome lamb served with a pea puree and broad beans – just so good.

The pan fried gilt head bream is also very good served on a bed of spring greens with a tangy aubergine puree and tomato salsa.

Public House is a quirky, friendly little place with unusual mismatched decor serving good drinks and great food – a perfect choice for meeting foodie friends after work or a date.

Public House
54 Islington Park St
London N1 1PX
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Cheese board with whisky pairings at Zilouf’s

Zilouf’s is a cool looking joint with one hell of a back bar. I was first introduced to Zilouf’s by the amazing Colin Dunn and felt slightly embarrassed never to have stumbled upon it before, given it is in my neck of the woods in North London.

As well as spectacular spirits, Zilouf’s specialises in fusion cuisine and if the quality of the cheeses and home-made chocolates I’ve tried are anything to go by, it will be pretty special as they only use the best of ingredients.

The cocktail menu shows off Zilouf’s dark arts of mixology, it is enjoyable to read and easy to navigate. I especially like the fact it specifies which glass each cocktail is served in, I’m forever ordering my long haired rocker hubby drinks in dainty girly glasses –which doesn’t go down well.

I made a special visit to Zilouf’s on the final day of my holiday to enjoy the whisky cheese board I was first introduced to by Colin. We had dinner at nearby Public House and the selection of four La Fromagerie cheeses at Zilouf’s matched to four different whiskies proved to be the perfect way to finish off the evening.

We sat at the bar and let Daniel look after us, explaining the cheeseboard is one of his favourite parts of the job and it really shows.

Poacher Double + Glenkinchie 12 yr old

The Lincolnshire Poacher Double is a rich cheese which has been aged for 2-3 years and has a texture not unlike cardboard – think Parmegianno Regiano, a cheese you really need to chew. The Glenkinchie by contrast is delicate, a typical lowland whisky it is light and refreshing with a ripe fruit flavour on the palate and clean finish. On their own neither the cheese nor the whisky would be a favourite of mine, however, together combination truly works and they provide a heavenly match.

Soumaintrain + Dalwhinnie 15 yr old

A wonderfully mellow ripe cheese made from cow’s milk, Soumaintrain has a rind that has been washed in white wine and a texture much like clotted cream. The Dalwhinnie is a very fragrant whisky, some have been known to love the citrusy, appley, sandlewood notes so much they wear Dalwhinnie as an aftershave. The creaminiess of the cheese coats the palate and for some whiskies could be overpowering. But the vibrant acidity from the ripe fruit, characteristic of Highland whiskies cuts through the creaminiess of the cheese and the softness of the vanilla and smokey spice balances the Soumaintrain marvelously. The apple fresh fruit of the whisky brings out the slight sweetness of the rind.

3.  Stichelton + Talisker 10 yr old

My personal favourite combination is the Stichelton and Talisker. Stichelton is a hard blue cheese made from cow’s milk in Nottinghamshire, which has a fabulous buttery texture and gentle creamy finish. Talisker by contrast is a little fire bomb with wave upon wave of fiery bonfire flavours which is cooled somewhat by the Stichelton which can stand up to its long chilli smokey finish. Just try it!

4. Bosworth Ash Log + Monkey Shoulder

Monkey Shoulder is a blend of three malt whiskies and has a light gentle flavour of sweet melon, banana, candied orange as well as a touch of spice and oak. The candied fruit finish of the Monkey Shoulder rounds this densely fudged cheese and the wonderful creamy texture of the nutty cheese mellows the Monkey Shoulder. It is the textures here that work so well together.

I highly recommend you experiment with taste, flavour and textures with this cheese and whisky board and play around with combinations of your own – Zilouf’s has been lauded for its whisky selection and so there are plenty of whiskies to choose from.

Zilouf’s is not a whisky bar as such, but a bar that caters for foodies, cocktails lovers, whisky/rum/tequila aficionados – simply people who love their drink really. It truly is the people here at Zilouf’s that make the drinks come alive. The first time I had the pleasure of AC sharing his passion for food, flavour and texture, this time Daniel made our night – explaining the flavour combinations, telling us stories about the history of different spirits and sharing recommendations.

Daniel could tell we were into our whiskies and so took the opportunity to introduce us to Swedish whisky, Indian whisky and Dutch Whisky amongst others. The Dutch Rye whisky was just 5 years old but so full of flavour and with a good bite.

I left Zilouf’s with a reminder of just how well whisky can complement cheese, a new found appreciation of Dutch Rye Whisky (and Swedish whisky come to that) as well as three new cocktail/spirits books on my reading list thanks to Daniel’s recommendations. I’ll definitely be back yet again for more.

270 Upper Street
N1 2UQ
Cheese board is £9 and £23 when accompanied by whiskies
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WSET revision: Fortified Wine tasting practice

Going to wine school often leaves me open to teasing, when I started a new job recently and said I needed to leave early for wine school, it raised a few smiles – apparently if I have wine school then they can have  ‘Jäger-bomb school’, ‘Martini-school’ and ‘cider studies’ etc.

Even my husband started to question whether the two cases of fortified wines from the Wine Society, supplemented by a couple of bottles from Ocado, Tesco and Soho Wines – were all really for study purposes.

I love studying for my WSET Wine & Spirits Diploma although to be fair I’ve probably spent way more time revising for my fortified wine tasting exam so far then say, my case study where the research is not exactly liquid-based, but am dedicating my Sunday to cracking it.

So tonight, I open, erm, seven different bottles of fortified wine. If it is revision like this, I like to taste each of them one at a time and build a clear idea of the wine in my head and then employ the services of my beautiful husband to help me with a blind tasting.

The first wine he passes me has the unmistakable tang of biological ageing that aldehyde bite and a yeasty, bready savouriness – it is definitely Sherry and I hazard a guess at Manzanilla due to the hint of camomile and saltiness, which doesn’t come from its proximity to the sea. Super excited to have got this one right, good start.

Next up is a delicate fruity number with an abundance of peach melba, grape and orange blossom, it is sweet, ‘low’ in alcohol and has a good length. This stands out as a Muscat-based Vins Deux Naturels (VdN) but there are two on the table and I guess at the wrong one, the Muscat de Rivesaltes instead of the Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois

So what is the difference between the two?

Both are Vins deux Naturels, which translates as ‘naturally sweet wine’, but in actual fact this style is not naturally sweet. VdNs are made sweet by a process called ‘mutage’, where the fermentation is stopped at 6% abv by the addition of a 95% neutral grape spirit in the same way as Port (although Port uses an 77% aguardente), the final abv will be around the 15% mark (and Port nearer 20% abv).

Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC is one of two VdN  appellations in Roussillon, the other is Rivesaltes AOC.

Muscat de Rivesaltes AOC is France’s biggest Muscat appellation and represents around 70% of France’s total production of Muscat. Wines are made from a blend of Muscat of Alexandria and some Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, they can be quite average. This particular wine (Mu: Muscat de Rivesaltes, Ocado £7.99 37.5ml) is pretty good and a 50:50 mix of these two varietals.

VdNs from Muscat de St-Jean-de-Minervois are made exclusively from the most renowned variety of Muscat, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.

The altitude (St-Jean’s vineyards are set 200m above sea level and ripen around three weeks later than vineyards nearer the coast) and changeable weather can impact on both quality and yields, but wines from lower yielding vines tend to display more delicacy and orange blossom flavours.  Tasting back again, the Muscat Saint-Jean-de-Minervois, omaine de Barroubio, 2010 (Wine Society £12.50) is definitely more delicate.

The White Port stood out like a sore thumb due to the high alcohol content it was 19%. The Pale Cream was distinctly Sherry-like on the nose, the biological ageing is very apparent, and when it hits your palate it is sweet or sweeter than a bone dry Fino or Manzanilla would ever be, so I’m confident I could pick this out in an exam.

We try a few more and I guess right, so I’m starting to feel okay about this exam, it is the second blind tasting in two weeks where I seems to be on track.

I’m still struggling a little to place the level of sweetness sometimes, I get the bone dry and sweet, but not quite got clear in my head what off dry, medium dry so more tasting required!

Before I embarked on tonight’s tasting I reviewed my notes from class and thought I’d share a few pointers that might be useful to help bag a few marks in the exam. Also, do check out the advice from Jeremy Rockett of Gonzalez Byass, he made it all make sense for me.

–          First of all for the Fortified wine exam, you’ll need to re-calibrate your palates so you are comparing to other fortified wines rather than all wines – Fino is therefore light in comparison to fortified wines

–          All Sherry is sold fully developed, not youthful or developing. It can’t improve in bottle

–          The only Port that is not fully developed and has potential for ageing is a Vintage Port

–          In terms of alcohol levels, they are looking for you to apply knowledge, so Vins Deux Naturels (VdNs), Finos, Manzanilla and Pale Cream will be the lower end of the spectrum in terms of level of alcohol. Young Olorosos and Amontillados will be medium alcohol, and pretty much all Port will be high alcohol, sweet Madeira and aged amontillado and Olorosos will be high alcohol too

Do share any tips you have and good luck if you are sitting an exam anytime soon.

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Sipsmith Gin at the Juniper Society

On Monday I headed down to Graphic bar for a Juniper Society gathering where Fairfax Hall from Sipsmith was leading a talk and tasting.

I first went to visit Sipsmith, situated on a residential street in Hammersmith, back in 2010 and fell in love with their story and their gin.

Sipsmith was inspired by the micro-distilleries that were popping up in the States. Sam and Fairfax, two of the founders, visited the likes of Junipero in Potrero Hill,  California and Bluecoat in Philadelphia and were blown away by the passion of the guys in charge and the quality of what was being produced in these small batches.

They wanted to bring this small scale, hand crafted production of gin back to London, the home of gin. After jumping through a multitude of hoops they finally got a distillers licence and commissioned Prudence, an absolutely stunning 300L copper pot still made by Christian Carl, a family run company and the oldest producers of hand crafted copper pot stills in Europe.

The idea was to bring back to London a tradition that had been lost. At the height of the gin craze in the 1750s, one in four houses in London has its own still. Gin was a real handcrafted process. Although, it became abundantly clear not everyone was making it very well, people were going blind due to the poor quality of spirit being produced. As those small distilleries started to go, the whole industry got compacted into the hands of a few big families, like the Tanquerays, the Gordons, the Booths and the Gilbeys. These big distilleries dominated the industry and gradually over the years they all left London until the only one left was Beefeater in the 1820s.

The ethos behind Sipsmith was to bring back that tradition of small hand crafted production, they wanted to set up small distillery in the heart of the community, producing London dry Gin the same way it would have been made in the 1800s.

The key botanical in Sipsmith gin is of course juniper, which was added to an English barley vodka base. We were given some juniper berries to smell, they actually don’t smell of very much until you crush them between your fingers and the sticky, oily, piney gin smell is released. This pungent aroma is what they are trying to capture in the gin. There are then nine other botanicals – nothing weird or wacky, as the whole point behind Sipsmith was to represent a classic, quintessential London Dry Gin.

Their master distiller, Jared Brown, looked at all these old recipes from the 1800s and settled on Tanqueray and Beefeater as poles of reference for a London Dry Gin. On the one side of the spectrum we have Tanqueray which is hugely Juniper dominant (and deliciously so – from the lingering memory of my No 10 Tanqeray martini at Momos last night), on the other side there is Beefeater which is very citrusy. Sipsmith wanted to encapsulate that spirit of London Dry Gin and reach a balance of somewhere in the middle.

Now we get to the tasting, the intensity of flavour literally jumps out of the glass. We’re told this is due to the one shot batch process which means Sipsmith is not made from a concentrate product – more about this and the botanicals used in my previous post on Sipsmith.

It is wonderfully smooth, even when enjoyed neat the alcohol warms, but does not burn. In terms of flavour profile, Fairfax hopes we all get juniper – which may sound silly seen as though juniper is the key botanical in gin, but there are so many gins coming on to the market that don’t actually taste of juniper (Hoxton Gin for example, is most definitely flavoursome but that flavour is not juniper to my mind, and as a gin I find it just a bit weird – I guess I’m more traditional than I thought).

So Sipsmith has that pungent juniper slap and soft citrus kick, followed by warming spice and a long smooth finish. Classic and classy.

Now onto the Sipsmith Sloe Gin, it is vibrant and juicy, with cherry and a touch of prune about it. It has a mouth watering acidity and tart finish, which surprises me as the home-made Sloe Gin I’m used to is lusciously sweet, but Sipsmith’s house style is generally dry and slightly tart and to be fair right up my street.

Apparently, there are two main mistakes people make when trying to make Sloe Gin at home.

  1. They believe some mystical alchemy will take place when using bottom shelf gin, sloe berries and sugar to try and create a lovely sloe gin. No such magic exists, says Fairfax, the secret to a good sloe gin is to start with a good base gin. Simples.
  2. They follow a recipe and add a set amount of sugar before the maceration, which generally means too much and a cloyingly sweet slow gin is the result. Sloes are just like grapes, the level of sugar and acidity they contain will depend on how sunny or cool it has been that summer, so you never quite know exactly how bitter, sweet or acidic it will taste. So after the sloe berries have macerated in the gin for a few months, taste the results and only then add a little sugar as required.

Not really replicable at home but Sipsmith puts their gin in for the first month of maceration at still strength (70 odd %).  This high alcohol level really gets to heart of the sloe and rips the berry apart and picks up the stone, which is where the almond taste come from. They then, dilute it down and leave it to rest for a further two months. After which they taste it and only then balance it with a little sugar to get that full on fruity flavour, without the cloying sweetness, and finishing quite tart on the palate.

Fairfax Hall, from Sipsmith

At this point Fairfax mentions they are starting to export to Australia, Hong Kong and China. I’m worried now, ‘there is barely enough Sipsmith Sloe Gin for London’ I cry. I’m reassured by the fact they are not exporting the Sloe Gin, and quantities of regular Sipsmith Gin are are fairly small. But it is an interesting conundrum, how does a beautiful batch produced gin such as Sipsmith expand? After being in business for just over 2 1/2 years they are already starting to reach the ceiling of their production capacity.

Well the answer appears to be Prudence Junior, or Patience to give her her proper name and gender. Sipsmith is currently planning for a second still a little bigger than Prudence who they have already christened ‘Patience’ in order to expand their current production capabilities.

What else is in the pipeline for Sipsmith?

Well Sipsmith’s Summer Cup (read take on Pimms) is due out in May. They spent last summer perfecting the recipe, and trialled a hundred odd bottles (sadly I didn’t stumble across one).

Again the recipe they have chosen was inspired by traditional summer cup recipes and the house dry finish was created by the tannins in the earl grey tea, a key ingredient along with gin of course, angostura, vermouth, triple sec, maraschino, lemon verbena, essence of cucumber and cardamom.

They are also toying with the idea of a super-juniper gin (well their favourite gin, Sipsmith aside, is Junipero) it will be a high strength, 47% abv juniper dominated tipple. The high alcohol content is not just for kicks, Juniper is the one botanical that really stands up to high alcohol levels and so typically you’ll find high stength gins have a more dominant juniper character.

As ever it was lovely to be in the company of Sipsmith and great to hear how they are getting on and moving the business forward. A trip to Prudence is well worth a visit, over half of those in the room at Juniper Society had taken a visit to the distillery and I urge you all to do the same.

Distillery Tours are on the first and third Wednesday and Thursday of the month (£12 pp) –email for details. Sipsmith is stocked in Waitrose and Majestic and plenty of good London bars and stores.

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Liquid supper club @Barlog HQ

On Saturday night, I headed over to Canary Wharf for a Liquid Supper Club hosted at Barlog HQ following some encouragement from Su-Lin Ong, who was co-hosting that evening.

Barlog HQ

I took Su-Lin’s advice and arrived in style taking the boat across, which is an amazing way to see London, and dropped us very close to the front door.

I had the most fantastic night – my husband and I were regular bar flies, sat at the bar for most of the evening watching the cocktails being created (my next flat MUST now have room for a bar).

I have to say I LOVE the concept of liquid supper clubs, so much so, we’re considering hosting something similar at our new pad in Brighton (when we get there and assuming there is space for a phenomenal bar like Barlog’s). Paul was the consumate host, opening up his home and superbly stocked bar to people like me and my hubby (who he’s never met before) is a really brave thing to do especiallly then allowing said guests to plough through your stash of high quality liquor. The atmosphere was much more upbeat and relaxed than any supper club I’ve been to recently, it was more like a houseparty vibe.

My only regret was having to leave just as things were getting interesting. We’d had our five cocktails of the evening and now the bar was taking requests, dangerous. I opted for a drop of 15 year old El Dorado rum. We  then had to dash to catch the tube home, I think next time I’ll wait for the first tube back in the morning and watch the sun rise soaking up the phenomenal views.

Now to the cocktails,  my favourite of the evening was the raspberry Bourbon-Berry.

The Bourbon Berry

The Bourbon Berry

8-10 raspberries
15ml cherry brandy
15ml Chambord
20ml lime juice
30ml woodford reserve
10ml gomme
Muddle blackberries with gomme then shake all ingredients hard,
Serve in a rocks glass over crushed ice
Garnish with fresh crushed ice and a icing powder covered blackberry (if you like your drinks sour lower or just leave the gomme).

That was until, the Sloane Danger was introduced. Now I’d heard of this one before I arrived, as Paul has created it for a Twisted Traditions Sloane cocktail competition.  It contains a whopping 92.5ml of liquor, but is dangerously drinkable. It has the pungency of lemon peel with the creamy finish of cream soda. Paul had tailored the volume of vanilla syrup depending on the palate of the end drinker, so it was perfectly balanced – we were firmly in the sour camp. It was kind of like a lemon meringue pie, with a wonderful fluffy texture – just without the super sweet finish.

DANGER DANGER – Sloane Danger, Lone Ranger

Sloane Danger

60 ml Sloane’s Gin
25ml Licor 43
7.5ml Kammerlings
15 ml Vanilla syrup (15=sour) (20=balanced)( 25ml=sweet)
30ml lemon juice
25ml egg white
top with 60 ml fever tree tonic and sitr
horse heads garnish
Method – dry shake (no ice) all the ingredients withoutt the tonic, then hard shake with ice, fine strain into a collins glass with fresh ice and horse heads garnish,  top with the tonic and stir.

Liquid Supper Club is an genius concept and Paul Houston is the man to host, he has an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm. I am in awe of his passion, energy and openness and will most definitely be back for more. I’ll leave you with my favourite mental images of the evening, no not the stunning Canary Wharf views, but the incredible ‘Shake face’ – yes everyone’s got one…

'Shake Faces'

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Four Roses Speakeasy at Shaker & Company

The brilliant people at London Cocktail Society organised a special night out for the gang at Hide & Speak, a pop up Speakeasy nestled in the basement at Shaker & Company. Here we got a veritable history lesson – far more interesting than any I had at school where we got to learn a little more about Prohibition America, how Four Roses came back from the brink of almost disappearing to become the fastest growing whisky in the US – while sipping on a few Four Roses cocktails, which of course we never had in class.

Four Roses 'Hide & Speak' Speakeasy at Shaker & Co

I find the tales of Prohibition America fascinating and historical context of alcohol being cited as the root cause of all of society’s ills – depressingly familiar.

The introduction of Prohibition

For 60 years, there was a strong movement in the US lobbying for prohibition. Indeed, a long before the bill was enacted certain States had toyed with the idea of Prohibition as a legitimate solution. In 1884, Georgia was the second US state to outlaw the manufacture, sale and distribution of alcohol, relevant as Four Roses was originally based in Georgia before having to move to Kentucky.

Prohibition was an interesting experiment in American history and from 1920 to 1933 it was illegal to manufacture, sell or distribute alcohol in the US. They didn’t make it illegal to have alcohol or to drink it – and don’t for a minute think that Prohibition meant people weren’t drinking. The politicians who had known about this bill for years and the wealthy, who had at around seven months between the law being announced and enacted, had long since stocked up. The super-rich flew to Europe or Cuba rather more often and the masses flooded into Speakeasies.

Bizarrely, there were more bars operating in the US during Prohibition than before it – they were all just hidden away. These ‘speakeasies’ were places where you could be away from the eyes of the law and speak freely.

Speakeasies and cocktail’s golden era

Prohibition-era America rather counter intuitively created the conditions for a golden age of cocktails. A lot of the classic cocktails we drink today were developed during Prohibition. Partly due to the fact that the kind of alcohol you could get hold of in America during prohibition was pretty bad, if you wanted to drink alcohol – you’d want to mix it with fruit juice, sugar syrups, spices and other liqueurs/spirits to make it more palatable which is why drinks like Whisky Sours became more popular again.

Another reason for this golden age was that many US bartenders had moved to Europe during Prohibition and brought the American style of cocktail making to fashionable London and Paris, where it spread through Europe. These US bartenders were exposed to a whole new collection of ingredients not so common in the US. That’s why Absinthe was all of a sudden being used quite widely through the 1920s and 1930s.

Europe watched what was happening in the States very closely. A scathing article appeared in the US press denouncing those flouting the law and indulging in speakeasies and announcing a competition to create a term to describe them. Two people on opposite sides of the US came up with the same winning name ‘Scofflaws’ those that scoff at the law. Within 48 hours a bartender at Harry’s Bar in Paris designed ‘The Scofflaw’ which is served up at Shaker & Company (Four Roses Bourbon, Dry Vermouth, Lemon Juice and Grenadine, shaken with a couple of dashes of orange bitters).

The longer Prohibition continued the more problems that became apparent with it. The gangsters had moved in very quickly and profited from running gambling dens, brothels and speakeasy bars – the more they profited the more powerful they became. Now an inititaive that was intended to get rid of crime had seen it escalate to epic proportions.

We were told, that Four Roses was in conversations with the government for four years before Prohibition actually ended. Everyone knew the experiment had failed and Prohibition would end, it was just a matter of when.

Medicinal whisky

During Prohibition there was still one way to get alcohol legally in the US – via a doctor. You see alcohol had long been prescribed as medicine by doctors as it was believed if one had a chesty cold or fever the remedy was to drink whisky three times a day to get better – God love American doctors.

Prescription for whisky during Prohibition

When Prohibition was enacted they still needed medicine, so they granted six licences for companies to continue selling medicinal whisky. Four Roses was one of these companies granted a licence, they weren’t allowed to produce any whisky – the distilleries remained closed during prohibition. But it was able to stockpile as much bourbon as it wanted during the 7 months before Prohibition came into force.

We were shown a prescription for whisky from 1st September 1932 and a historic old bottle – amazing pieces of history. Apparently patients were entitled to one pint of whisky every 10 days until they were better. We were also told stories of some prescriptions having a note to the pharmacist which read ‘give him the good stuff’ – love it!

The long road to recovery for Bourbon and Four Roses

Before prohibition American whisky was huge. In the State of Kentucky alone there were 263 distilleries.

Only around 10% of these opened after Prohibition which coincided with the Great Depression. It takes time to make good bourbon as it needs to age for around three years. So while Canadian whisky brands knew Prohibition was coming to an end and were able to flood the market the moment it was legal, bourbon brands would have to produce the liquid, age it for a few years before they could sell it. But there was no guarantee, even if they had the funds to wait for a few years for their casks to mature, that they could get a decent price for their Bourbon at the end. It was quite a risky business.

Illegal distilleries that produced bourbon during Prohibition produced some truly God awful spirit, absolute rot gut – which consequently ruined the reputation of bourbon, while Canadian whisky was seen as superior and could command a premium.

Almost overnight a company called Seagrams one of the biggest producers of Canadian whisky grew from a small Canadian company to an international drinks giant. They grew so powerful and so rich on the back of Canadian whisky they started buying out other distilleries all over the world and at the height of their empire they owned 261 brands. At one time, one in every three drinks consumed in America, be it wine, beer or spirit, was owned by Seagrams.

Diageo is the closest thing we have to a drinks giant today and is half the size Seagram’s were – but arguable has twice as much nouse.

Now follows some of the most shocking behaviour in drinks marketing and it is so refreshing to be told this from the perspective of the brand at the centre of it.

Four Roses was bought by Seagrams. At the time, it was one of the few bourbon brands to do well post Prohibition – as during Prohibition one in four bottles of medicinal whisky had the Four Roses name on it. Consumers recognised the label and when they managed to get a prescription for it – it was actually pretty good whisky, so Four Roses was a trusted name.

Bottle of Four Roses 'medicinal whisky' during Prohibition

Four Roses quickly grew to be the no 1 selling and largest bourbon company in the US – it also helped that it still had a few warehouses full of bourbon so could start selling on day one.

If you look very closely at the iconic picture of a sailor kissing his girl in Times Square you can see the Four Roses ad in the background. That bill board in Times Square was the most expensive ad spot in the world and throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was regularly taken by Four Roses. Four Roses was the alcohol equivalent of Coca-Cola in that it was a big American company that could afford to advertise.

Seagrams saw the success and wanted a slice. They didn’t buy Four Roses because they loved the whisky, they made cheap whisky all over the US and Canada – they bought Four Roses because they realised the power of the Four Roses name to sell whisky.

Originally they continued to make Four Roses in Kentucky and launched a cheaper blended whisky in a very similar bottle alongside it. It looked very much the same but instead of Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky it said ‘blend of whiskies’. It started off okay, it tasted cheaper but designed to be sold cheaper. If you had the money you’d buy Four Roses Bourbon and if you didn’t you’d could still get an okay whisky but made by Four Roses so you trusted it.

As the years went by though, Seagrams let the quality drop and drop. It went from being a Class A blended whisky – which has to be made only of whisky to being a Class B blended whisky, which only has to be 37% whisky the rest can be made of whatever you want – generally a neutral grain spirit mixed with a bit of whisky. None of it was made at the Four Roses distillery, but it was sold under its name.

By the 1950s Seagrams realised the plan wasn’t working, consumers were still paying that little bit more to buy the Four Roses Bourbon not the more profitable blended whisky.

They then decided to take the, quite frankly insane, decision to take the good Four Roses Bourbon off the market. What surprised me most is they stood by this bonkers decision for decades, through the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s almost killing the brand.

Four Roses was still produced for export to France, Spain and Japan but elsewhere including on home soil, the only Four Roses available was the cheap blended whisky made in a different distillery.

Where consumers could get the good stuff, the brand did really well. Four Roses is still the no 1 American whisky in Spain (where it is in every bar), France and Japan – where it outsells Jack Daniels by a long shot.

Everywhere else couldn’t get the real Four Roses Bourbon only the cheap blended stuff until the grandchild of the founder of Seagrams sold off the drinks arms of the family company.

The sale was awesome news for Four Roses as it meant they were finally free of an owner who wouldn’t let them sell their bourbon in the country where it was made. A Japanese company bought them and immediately reintroduced the brand to the US, where it is now the fastest growing bourbon.

It is going great guns too in the UK and Europe and its success over the past five years has coincided with a massive resurgence in American whisky.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, the industry realised it was going to go out of business unless they did something about improving the quality of bourbon and competing on something other than price. Maker’s Mark had for years been trying to do things differently, producing quality liquid in a quality packaging, but it was on a small scale and didn’t have the support of the rest of the bourbon industry.

By the early 1990s there were a handful of small batch single barrel bourbons being produced which were very expensive and aimed at whisky connoisseurs. The world was starting to wake up to the quality of bourbon and it was receiving recognition in whisky magazines and competitions globally.

This move towards quality coincided with cocktail bar tenders starting to look back to historical cocktail books like Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail book and experiment with recreating the cocktails with the good whiskies that were starting to become available.

Dan Priseman, Brand ambassador for Four Roses Bourbon

Today, American whisky is growing faster than any other spirit category in the UK – up 14% year on year. Bourbon is increasingly gaining recognition for producing some damn fine whiskies which can be used in a wide array of classic cocktails.

After a turbulent history, Four Roses is now the fastest growing whisky in America, the UK and Japan – impressive considering Prohibition and unfortunate owners conspired to make it almost disappear off the face of the map. I, for one, am glad it has survived. Big thanks for Four Roses brand ambassador and walking bourbon encyclopedia, Dan Priseman, for sharing his stories.

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Shaker & Company cocktail bar

Shaker & Co is a great addition to London’s cocktail scene serving up cracking, well-crafted cocktails in a corner bar with a distinct Southern American twang. The quality is not surprising considering the joint is owned by Shaker, an internationally renowned bar tender training consultancy and so all bartenders are Shaker graduates – the value is – cocktails are around £7.50 and Monday-Thursday Happy Hour brings the cost of these quality cocktails down to a fiver – bargain!

The ‘& Company’ in the name, is a nod to the company the bar keeps in its basement (which is much less sinister than I’ve made it sound). The guest basement bar has already played host to Belvedere, Benedictine and Four Roses Bourbon since it launched with each brand making it their own – more about the Four Roses prohibition inspired pop-up in the next post.

The long attractive dark wooden bar has a real neighbourhood feel.  In the two or three times I’ve visited already this year, I’ve managed to work my way through the house menu just nicely.

While they have a good selection of classic cocktails, I’d recommend opting for the house cocktail menu which includes gems such as Cowboys V’s Ninjas – Four Roses Bourbon washed with Brown Butter, Espresso-Vanilla Liqueur and Whole Egg (blended not boiled in case you’re wondering).

I’m a little obsessed with Chocolate Bitters right now so am loving  It’s Not Terry’s It’s Tin Tin’s which is like a bitter grown up take on the Terry’s Chocolate Orange and thankfully not as sweet as you’d think – it’s made with Mandarine Napoleon, Aged Sake, Drambuie, Chocolate Bitters & Lime Juice dressed with Fresh Thyme.

The signature cocktail has to be The S & Co made with a blend of Hennessey VS Cognac, Housemade Chai Cider, Tamarind, Rose and Maraschino, you can keep the cute little shaker for an extra £2.50 – although I wonder how many of these babies go missing…like the best barware they have a certain steal-ability.

The New Orleans theme is carried through to the menu, which centres on shareable Soul Food like Jerk Chicken Wings with a Bourbon Dip and some damn fine home-made Nachos.

Shaker & Co is set just a 5 minutes walk from Warren Street and Euston Square stations, but I get the feeling it doesn’t benefit too much from passing footfall. They are working really hard to drive people in with some great live music and regular in bar entertainment, and special tastings via the basement bar.

For me this is a destination bar, well worth seeking out – for inventive, well-crafted (and priced) cocktails and a relaxed neighbourhood vibe.

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Lunch at The Ship, Wandsworth

Lunch at The Ship, Wandsworth doesn’t quite do this justice – this was more of a banquet. I was one of many bloggers invited to The Ship in Wandsworth to sample some goodies from the new menu. With five starters, five main courses and three desserts to get through – I really did do my best to try a little of everything and avoid falling into a food coma.

Before we get to the food, how about the location – aside from the fact as a North London girl it is saff of the river, it is set on the riverside at Wandsworth Bridge with an array of outdoor seating. It is a destination spot in summer no doubt, and actually kind of beautiful on a cold Saturday afternoon in January too.

So after arriving terribly late (as I got a little lost) I arrived just in time for the first starter to come out, Grilled Lamb Cutlet, Spiced Tomato and Yogurt Dressing. It sounded like more of a main than a starter, but at this point I was ravenous as I’d been saving myself so I was not complaining. A single grilled tender lamb cutlet, served with a home made spiced samosa, tangy tomato rosti and a yogurt dressing.

We were sharing the dishes between 4-5 of us, so I took a polite mouthful before sharing with the rest of the table.

The remaining dishes came in a wave, Red Onion Soup and Cheese Crôute was sweet and warming, Baked Black Sticks Blue Mushroom Torte, Truffle Rosti, Creamed Spinach wasn’t really my bag, the award for the best presented dish went to Scallops with Fennel Purée, Crisped Fennel, Garlic Chives, which tasted as good as it looked. We were then seriously spoilt with Foie Gras and Chicken Liver Parfait, Rum soaked Baby Figs, Toasted Brioche – simply devine!

I started to realise the importance of Gail’s instructions on the invite – ‘pace yourself’.

But I kept going…now although I’d not been here before, news of the Ship’s legendary burgers had reached me in North London – and this Char Grilled Beef Burger with Cheese and Pickled Cucumber did not disappoint.

The Seared Plaice, Parma Ham, Poached Leeks, Samphire, Champagne Sauce is a delicate dish, quite frankly anything wrapped in ham gets my vote, and the salty crispy ham juxtaposed the soft, flaky fish perfectly.

Arguably, my favourite dish was the Braised Pork and Cider Pie – which looked like a fish pie with a mashed potato top, but instead of fish in a white wine creamy sauce we got pork in a delicious cider sauce. Served with Mustard Glazed Carrots and enjoyed with half an Addlestones cider – the West Country girl in me was a very happy bunny.

I should also mention the Guinea Fowl, Truffled Mash, Sprouting Brocolli, Wild Mushroom Jus – but I was too busy enjoying the pork and cider pie and this was demolished by my table mates, who couldn’t speak highly enough of it – we were way past polite by this point and eagerly digging in.

Somehow, I found space for desserts – well seriously who can’t find space for Chocolate Fondant – instead of gooey chocolate inside we found some plums, served with ice cream – it hit the spot.

I wasn’t mad about the Treacle Tart it isn’t really my thing, but have to say I’ve never had anything like the Stem Ginger Ice Cream it was served with – it is inspired!

I’m sure I polished off the Passion Fruit Panacotta almost single handedly, well it just slips down doesn’t it. It had the perfect wobble and was served in the most fantastic dish which resembled a flying saucer with a Coffee Short Bread.

I was super impressed with The Ship – it is a big beautiful pub with plenty of different dining spaces both indoors and out, serving seriously good quality food in a bustling atmosphere. I’d take the Ship over a staid restaurant any day and would quite happily make a special trip saff of the river too – as it is most definitely worth it.

Thanks for The Ship for their hospitality and for Gail for organising – we were truly spoilt with some great food and company.

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Port Tasting with Symington Family Estates

A little while ago now, I was invited along to a WSET evening Douro tasting for consumers hosted by Symington Family Estates. These are great, educational classes aimed at wine enthusiasts offering access to wine experts and fine wines.

History & Family

Symington Family Estates is an impressive company. It is an invited member of the exclusive Primum Familiae Vini – a group of eleven leading wine families in the world including Chateâu Mouton Rothschild, Pol Roger, Vega Sicilia which all own vineyard estates, are among the most prestigious wine producers of their region and produce wines that enjoy an international reputation.

Symington Family Estates easily ticks all those boxes. It is one of the largest port shippers and the leading producers of premium quality port. Symington Family Estates owns several Port brands including Cockburn’s, Graham’s, Warre’s, Dow’s and Quinta Do Vesuvio.  The combined sales of the family’s Port companies make up a third of all premium port sold worldwide.

The Symington Family is very hands on and today seven Symingtons (six from the 13th generation in the Port trade) work in all areas of the company from wine making to marketing and finance. A Symington Family member is directly involved in every bottle of Port produced by the company.


The Symington family of Oporto are descended from Andrew James Symington who arrived in Porto in 1882 and married Beatrice Atkinson, a direct relation of Walter Maynard, English Consul in Oporto in 1659 and one of the first British merchants to ship Port.

The Douro

The Douro is surely a region of superlatives. It is one of the oldest demarcated wine regions in the world (1956). Granite posts mark the borders and 100 or so of them still exist today.

The Douro looks truly stunning, it was declared a Unesco Heritage Site in 1996, and from these pictures I can see why – I’d love to visit one day.

For one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world it is arguably one of the most challenging viticultural environents in the world.

So much so, I’m struggling to imagine why vines were first planted, here, don’t get me wrong and I’m very glad they were. For a start, the Douro is very remote and has hardly any soil. What it does have is wave after wave of steep schist slopes alongside narrow winding valleys.  You would need to break up the schist rock up to about 1.5m to give the roots any chance of finding the bedrock and a regular source of water. The schist is low in organic matter and results in low yields.

The sharp slopes, required old stone wall terraces, fitting only a vine on each terrace and would need to be picked by hand. These picturesque, but difficult to work terraces, have largely been replaced by wider patamares terraces planted vertically up the slops instead of horizontally, where possible. Half the region is planted on slopes with a 30%+ gradient, making it a ardous, costly place to work.

The climate is also harsh – the Douro suffers from baking heat in summer, 50°C in summer is not unheard of, and in winter the temperature can fall below freezing. There is also the risk of late spring frosts, which can damage young shoots and slash yields further, especially at higher altitudes.

That’s without mentioning the rain, the Douro gets more rain than Manchester (Oporto 1200mm rain, Manchester 800mm), and as a Mancunian, that’s saying something. The weather is down right unpredictable – a reason vintage is so important with Port and why it is best to visit in Spring (most of the rain is in winter).  Spring can bring long periods of unrelentless drought, the further West into the Douro you go the hotter and drier it gets and the more used to the occasional thunderstorms you inevitably become.

There are three main regions of the Douro from East to West these are the Baixo Corgo, the Cima Corgo and the Douro Superior.

Baixo Corgo – 900 mm rain
Centred on Regua, the Baixo Corgo covers 45,000 hectares and is the most intensively planted part of the Douro with 13,500 hectares under vine.
In shadow of Serra do Marão, the climate is influenced by the Atlantic and is the coolest, wettest, most fertile wine region in the Douro with 900mm rain a year. The Baixo Corgo produces large volumes of lighter, standard ruby and tawny blends.
Cima Corgo – 600mm rain
The Cima Corgo spans 95,000 hectares and has 17,000 hectares under vine. It is a little warmer and drier than the Baixo Corgo and known for creating premium Port, aged tawnies, LBV and vintage Ports.
Douro Superior – 400mm rain
The Douro Superior covers a sprawling 110,000 hectares only 8,000 hectares is under vine but is viticulture is hampered by poor access and isolation.
It suffers the continental extremes of frost and drought –but amongst this stress the Douro Superior can create fine, powerful, complex wines including Vintage Ports and premium Port blends.

Symington Family Estate uses four main black grapes for its Ports, although many more are permitted.

Touriga Nacional, thought of as the ‘Cabernet Sauvignon of the Douro’ it brings intense black fruit, excellent colour, firm tannins and natural acidity to a blend. It is beautifully aromatic and creates top quality, full bodied wines and vines are low yielding.
Touriga Franca, the ‘Merlot of the Douro’, it is elegant with velvety tannins, blackberry fruit and floral aromas and brings good colour to a blend.
Tinta Barroca – offers sweetness from the red berry fruit and brings weight and structure.
Tinta Roriz– attractive aromatic red berry fruit and thick tannins combine to create a wine of finesse capable of long ageing.


We were talked through the typical winemaking process at Graham’s Quinta Malvedos. They would regularly visit the vineyards to see how the maturation of the grapes is progressing and assess the colour and extraction and take sugar readings – you want quite sweet grapes for Port production, not so much for still wines of the Douro. Picking will take place between 7am and 5pm, with pre-selection taking place in the vineyard.

The grapes are destemed and crushed and allowed to ferment for just 48 hours before fortifying with brandy. It is therefore key to extract colour and flavour quickly.

Traditional extraction will be by human foot- the grape pickers will march in low, wide lagare for two hours and then dance among the grapes for a further two hours. This method is romantic and still used at some premium estates such as Quinta Do Vesuvio but is espensive due to labour costs and difficult to temperature control.

The modern way, Graham’s created was the robotic lagare, which is a made of silicon and mimics the pressure and action of a human foot, but with the added benefit of being able to control the temperature.

When the must has fermented to 6 degrees, grape brandy at 77% is added to fortify the wine to 19-20% abv.

The wines are fermented by variety and the wines let to rest over winter until it falls bright at which point it is racked off the lees, quality is accessed and the process of blending starts. The young Port is generally transported down the Douro Valley to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from the city of Oporto for aging.

The production of port is controlled by the producing body, the Benéfico who regulate the amount of Port that can be produced in any one year and issue the grape spirit for fortification, which must be from the EU. The amount issued to each Port producer is based on their previous year’s sales and current stocks of Port.

Ageing Styles

Graham’s divides Ports into Wood Matured and Bottle Matured.

Wood Matured include young ruby, tawny, white, premium reserve, LBV, and aged tawnie Ports. They are aged in oak and released when ready for drinking and are not intended for further ageing.

A standard ruby port may be aged for 2-3 years in large oak vats, a reserve 3-4 years. Graham’s style of LBV port, spends 4-5 years ageing in large oak vats, and is very full bodied, sweet and opulent, it is billed as an everyday Port for a Vintage Port drinker.

Tawnies ports are a blend of Ports aged in 550L oak casks, where you have an aged tawnie, a 10 year old, 20 year old etc, the age is the average age of the wines in the blend.

Bottle matured Ports include Vintage Port and Single Quinta Vintage. Vintage Port is only produced in really outstanding years (roughly three times a decade), they account for just 2% of Port production. Aged in wood for two years and bottled without filtration it can develop in bottle for decades and will need decanting before enjoying.

Quinta is the Portuguese word for vineyard or wine estate, Single Quinta Vintages are produced from great vineyards in good but not declared vintage years. These will also be bottled without filtration after around 2 years of wood ageing but will mature in bottle earlier than a declared Vintage Port.

Around the world

Graham’s as a producer creates Port to a ratio of approximately 80% premium and 20% standard which funnily enough is the polar opposite of the Port market as a whole which is 80% standard Port, 20% premium Port.

25% of all port is consumed by France. The UK buys less but better, as does US and Canada – who are all obsessed by vintage. Graham’s is expanding into South America, Brazil, Russia and the Far East.

My faves from the tasting:

Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port 1999 – Tanners Wine Merchant £30.00

A south facing single estate Port, set down by river, Quinta dos Malvedos is Graham’s hero estate.

The quality of the wines from the Malvedos vineyard is such that in Vintage declarations these wines provide the main structure for Graham’s classic Vintage Ports. In most of the interim years, the wines from Malvedos will merit bottling as a single estate, or ‘single quinta’ Vintage Port – from a single harvest.

The Malvedos style is rich and full bodied with bags of fruit – black currant and black plum plus a hint of mint/eucalyptus.

Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2009, Berry Bros & Rudd £34.99

The Symington’s acquired the outstanding Quinta do Vesuvio estate in 1989 and have invested a significant sum in one of the most famous, arguably finest, and definitely historic quintas in the Douro.

Vesuvio still offers all the romance of Port, being one of the few estates in the Douro where all of the wines are made using the traditional treading method in granite lagares, among the largest in the Douro valley, and offered exclusively as a single Quinta Vintage Port.

The 2009 represents a brilliant explosion of fruit – blackcurrent and violet, although it is almost infanticide to drink just yet. I bought two bottles of the 1997 Vintage from The Whisky Exchange as presents this Christmas – both were very well received and I’m been informed are drinking beautifully,

Graham’s 20 year old Tawny Port NV, Hawkshead Wines £28.99

Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny is made from high quality wines and matured in seasoned oak casks of 534 litres.

The result is a beautiful harmonious Port with both power and finesse it packs a punch with intense caramel, fig, dates flavours and the unmistakable hit of orange and vanilla. It works magically with Crème Brûlée, Pecan Pie and Cheese.

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Solomillo al Whisky

So as we’ve put a hold on holidays while we save for the house, I’ve been trying to recreate some of my favourite dishes from my travels. And one of the countries I’ve travelled around the most is Spain, from Seville to Salamanca to San Sebastian – each town has a specific culinary footprint with dishes native to each.

One of the dishes Seville is famed for is Solomillo al Whisky, pork tenderloin in a whisky garlic sauce. The best example in town, for me, can be found in Bodegas Santa Cruz – Las Columas, which I’ve tried to recreate it here with this Solomillo al Whisky con Patatas recipe.

Solomillo al Whisky con Patatas


Pork tenderloin cut into medallions
1 bulb of garlic – 12 cloves unpeeled and bashed
two tsp of flour
2 tbls lemon juice
200ml whisky
200ml stock
olive oil



1. Par boil the potatoes and then slice – set aside to fry off later

2. Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic

3. Fry off the pork tenderloin until gently brown on each side then remove from the pan

4. If having with potatoes, the way it is always served at Bodegas Santa Cruz, fry off the potatoes in the garlic oil, adding more oil if needed. Then set aside.

5. Add then add lemon juice to the garlic in the pan, followed by the whisky (My husband almost cried the first time I made this and used the last of his Monkey Shoulder. But later conceded it was worth it.)

6. Then add the flour, stirring well all the time. Now add the stock.

7. Simmer and stir until the sauce has reduced. Then add the pork (and potatoes if you are having them) back to the pan to warm through and serve with bread to mop up the superb sauce.

For something that taste so damn good, it is really quick and simple to make. Give it a whirl.

The next dish I’m going to try and perfect is another Sevillian treat, El Rinconcillo’s Carrillada Cerdo Iberica en Salsa – Iberican Pork Cheek in sauce, I just need to track down a good supply of Iberican pork cheek. After that I’ll do the Pimientos Rellenos de Carne like it’s served in La Rioja and see where my belly takes me from there…

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The Palmas – some fine rare, old sherry from Gonzalez Byass

Gonzalez Byass has done it again, they have launched a very special sherry that is likely to sell out very fast and it’s not just one sherry but a collection of four old, rare sherries.

The Palmas range are so called because of the mark made on the barrel, a fino is given a chalk line, an oloroso a circle and the very best finos with the best aromas – ‘grande olora’ get a little nick at the top of the chalk line– that looks like a palma leaf – hence The Palmas.

Palmas mark on barrel

Gonzalez Byass has three main bodegas the wine in each bodega tastes different, and even the barrels of wine located next to each other in the same bodega are different.

The whole point of Solera wine is you take wine from each of those bodegas and blend them together to make a consistent product, effectively eliminating any variation between barrels and vintages.

Palmas wine is completely different. The point about Palmas is the wines are selected by the barrel, and are the very best barrels. The first three of the range are finos, una, dos, tres palmas, while quatro palmas is a 40-45 year old amontillado – a very old, very rare sherry indeed.

So the Palmas wine are those barrels which have the most amazing, delicate smell and flavour. It is no coincidence that these are the barrels which also have the thickest layer of flor – due to the temperature and humidity in that particular part of the bodega. As these wines age and the flor stays they become una, dos, tres quatro palmas and each additional tick is a sign of age within a palmas wine.

Sherry must be aged for a minimum of three years, most commercial finos are therefore just three years old, Gonzalez Byass’ world famous Tio Pepe is 4.5 years old as is Tio Pepe en Rama.

So what Gonzalez Byass have done with Una Palma is look for a six year old fino and select the barrels that have the best growth of flor in the bodega.

Of the 25,000 odd barrels of fino houses at Gonzalez Byass just four barrels were selected that at six years old had a thick layer of flor.

They were bottled en rama, which as you may know I’m a big fan of en rama as without lots of clarification you get a fresher, livelier, more characterful fino. But the key difference with Una Palma is not that it is en rama but that it is a barrel selected wine – en rama I guess is an added bonus.

Dos Palmas is an 8 years old fino, again when creating this wine they were looking for barrels with great examples of flor at 8 years old, which is a bit rarer but still exists.

Only two barrels were selected, so 1,000L of Dos Palmas exists, which equates to 2,000 bottles – two of which are in my kitchen.

For me, this is my favourite of the four. Don’t get me round I could happily drink all four, but this offers excellent value at £18 per half bottle and is one very special fino.

For the Tres Palmas, wines are taken from the solera level on an amontillado solera. Normally, a wine taken from here would be a blend of every barrel in the solera level, some would have no flor, others bits and pieces, Gonzalez Byass found just two barrels that still had flor and so are technically still fino as they have not oxidised.

Of those two barrels, half was taken from each barrel to make one complete barrel leaving 500L of Tres Palmas a ten year old fino.

At £35 for a half bottle is it still well worth it, so intense and concentrated and starting to get some amontillado character.

And finally onto Quatro Palmas – it is something completely different. It is technically an amontillado and is 40-45 years old. Six barrels of this have been found in the ‘musea solera’ it is a wine that spent a long period of its life under flor before oxidising and becoming amontillado. A wine at this age is usually very difficult to drink, but because of the time it spent under flor it is still a great wine, and still very enjoyable.

I urge you all to head to Camino or Bar Pepito, where you can taste all four with some amazing tapas creations before deciding on your favourite (s) and snapping up a bottle from any of the stockists below, while stocks last.

Lea & Sandeman, The Wine Society


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The Auchentoshan Switch UK Final

I’ve recently acquired a taste for malt whisky. Yes, the names are often hard to pronounce and drinking it neat is an acquired taste, but for people like me who are prepared to commit some time in getting to know the world of Scotch it reveals itself as one of the most rich, varied, rewarding area of spirits.

A recent report by Mintel, suggested Scotch whisky risks losing out on £300m of sales as its connoisseur positioning and reliance on romantic rugged Scottish imagery, while working in international markets, means it struggles to attract new consumers into the UK.

Scotch is seen as a drink you need to know to appreciate and there are plenty more accessible drinks out there which don’t demand so much of the drinker. It is often frowned upon to mix a good malt whisky, viewed as heathen-like behaviour,  and therefore younger consumers are getting into other dark spirits, bourbon, and rum where it is more acceptable to mix and the marketing focuses on more engaging messaging for younger consumers. These younger drinkers may later move to sipping a Makers Mark bourbon or an El Dorado rum, for example, neat as time goes on, but rarely do they start there. Cocktails could therefore be viewed as a way in to the category for premium dark spirits.

With this conundrum in mind, I was very intrigued to receive an invite to the UK final of the Auchentoshan Switch – one of the most exciting cocktail competitions I’ve heard of in a while. Here, is a quality single malt producer who is encouraging bartenders to experiment with a superb sipping single malt – Auchentoshan Three Wood. This is a seriously smooth tipple, which whisky connoisseurs rate highly and a Scotch I would gladly smell and sip all night but with the Auchentoshan Switch we were actively encouraged to mix it up.

Auchentoshan (pronounced ‘och’n’tosh’n) is a lowlands whisky which likes to do things differently, it is the only Scottish single malt to use triple distillation on all of its blends. Auchentoshan’s triple distillation helps to create a light-bodied whisky which is gentle and soft but never bland or boring.

Auchentoshan Three Wood is a smooth delicate whisky with layers of complexity from being aged in three different types of wood; it spends 10 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, 1 year in ex-Oloroso sherry barrels and 1 year in Pedro Ximenez barrels. This ageing creates an indulgent whisky with a rich array of flavours; oranges, plums, chocolate, dried fruit. This whisky deserves a post in its own right, which I’ll get round to next time I buy a bottle (promise).

So for the competition. Bartenders in the UK and the USA were invited to enter a video of them creating an Old Fashioned cocktail. It is actually quite difficult to get people to go to the trouble of creating a video for a competition, however, Auchentoshan got a great number of entries, no doubt due to the quality of the prize. The winners of the UK and US competitions get to swap countries to work in London and New York City’s most prestigious bars – the award winning 69 Colebrooke Row and Apotheke.

It was a risk insisting on video entries, but one that paid off. Auchentoshan believes a good bartender needs more than just a good cocktail recipe, and so the final of the Auchentoshan Switch involved a range of challenges to show the different sides of a champion bartender.

Round one involved four heats of five bartenders. Each bartender had 5 minutes to create their signature cocktail and then three minutes to present it to the judges.

Giuseppe Miggiano from The Bar, Chancery Court

One of my favourites at this stage was Guiseppe Miggiano from The Bar at Chancery Court, he was full of energy and charisma and was hugely entertaining. He created the ‘Right Time Martini’ a simple cocktail to counterbalance the complex  whisky which included 60ml of Auchentoshan Three Wood, 30ml of Midori, three drops of Angostura Bitters, warmed to 60-70 ˚C, stirred 15 times and finished with some melon essence. A classy little number.

Giuseppe's 'The Right Time Martini'

Sadly, Giuseppe didn’t make it through to the next heat but he did win a prize for best presentation.

Round two of the competition involved the bartenders thinking on their feet and creating a unique cocktail under pressure with a secret bag of ingredients. The two successful bartenders from Round Two went into Round Three – the Masterclass round, where they both had to conduct a 5 minute masterclass on Auchentoshan.

Winner Martin Ball with the judges of the Auchentoshan Switch

Martin Ball from Manchester’s Corridor was declared the UK finalist. His simple ‘Tight Corner Fizz’ cocktail won plaudits from the judges and he led a charismatic, knowledgeable and engaging masterclass in the final round.

Martin will be heading stateside early next year to experience the theatre performance and chemistry lab of Apotheke in NYC, where the presentation of the cocktail is said to be as dramatic as the cocktail itself.

The US winner will be spending time at 69 Colebrooke Row, which has a very special place in my heart and last week was one of 5 London bars named among the 10 best cocktail bars in the world. We are so very spoilt here in London.

'The Decadent Dram' cocktail

The Auchentoshan Switch is a great cocktail competition, which opened my eyes to the versatility of Scotch as a cocktail ingredient, from classy martinis, to decadent chocolate/cherry concoctions and everything in between – kudos to Auchentoshan for being open to mixing things up a bit – I’m sure they’ll win over plenty of new bartenders and consumers through this initiative.

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WSET Diploma Studies: Rum Part 2 – Rum Styles and Production

Most rums are made from molasses (a by product of the sugar industry) although rhum agricole is made from sugar cane juice.

Sugar cane is cut either mechanically or by hand and must be transported quick sharp to a sugar mill as the sucrose (sugar) levels start to fall from the moment the cane is cut.

The sugar cane is then crushed and the juice extracted to make a syrup. This syrup is boiled until sugar crystals are formed, when the sugar crystals are removed – a thick black residue, known as molasses, is left.

The molasses are so highly concentrated in sugar it is impossible to ferment as is, as the yeast would not survive such hostile conditions. The molasses are therefore diluted with water prior to fermentation. A yeast is then added, and much like bourbon each rum distillery will have its own strain of yeast which they feel impacts on the final flavour profile of the rum. This molasses mixture is fermented to produce an alcoholic wash of around 10% abv. Light rums will be fermented quickly (around 24 hours) and heavy rums will enjoy a longer ferment.

Approximately 2.5kg of molasses will give 1 litre of rum at 57% abv.

Light rums are distilled using column stills, either single column, coffey stills or multiple linked column stills.

Traditionally pot stills were used to make heavier rums, although not as many producers use pot stills nowadays. Rums from pot stills were used to give weight to blends especially for Navy style rums. Although the current revival in fuller bodied spirits led by the thirst for malt whiskies is increasing interest in heavier pot still rums.

The majority of rum pot stills, use retorts to ensure a higher strength spirit from a single distillation. Retorts are copper vessels that contain the leftover high and low wines from the previous distillation to create additional flavours.

Alcohol boils as at lower temperature (78.3° C) to water 100° C. So when the pot still is heated, alcoholic vapour will be released before water is, it passes into the low wine retort, a second copper vessel which contains an alcoholic mix of low wines and water. The hot vapour passing through, boils the liquid in the retort, releasing its most volatile components. This vapour is now more concentrated in flavour and is carried through to the high wines retort, where the process is repeated. The vapour is now high strength and is condensed. By adjusting the composition of liquids in the low and high wines retorts, a distiller can create a range of different flavours.

After a short heads run, the heart of the spirit is collected at 85% abv, the next part of the spirit is the low wines and finally the high wines. Both the low and high wines are collected to fill the retorts for the next distillation.

Blending is a key part of the rum making process and many of the best golden rums blend a number of different distillates to create a more complex rum.

The distillation process in Guyana is even more complicated and includes the use of pot stills made from greenheart wood, with a copper neck. A double pot still from Guyana will include two wooden pots, a retort with a rectifier attached and a condenser.

The copper neck of the first pot goes into the body of the second pot and both are filled with an alcoholic wash of approximately 10% abv. When they are about to boil, the steam is taken off the second pot and the vapour from the first pot, which comes over the neck, boils its wash. The second pot’s neck leads to a retort (filled with low wines, high wines etc, depending on the mark of rum being created), then to a rectifier and a condenser. The resulting rum is the weightiest mark of all: deep and powerful with aromas of black banana and overripe fruit.

Styles of rum:

White rum is light-bodied, usually unaged and distilled in column stills or may like Bacardi be aged and then filtered to remove the colour.

Golden rum is medium bodied and off dry, can be distilled in a column or pot still – or a mixture of the two. These rums gain some colour from oak ageing, which can be enhanced by the addition of caramel.

Spiced rum are often golden rums infused with vanilla and spices – and are proving very popular – according to the Drinks Business today – ‘the spiced rum category is on fire!’

Dark rum are full bodied rums, often sweetened.

Did you know? Navy strength rum was traditionally bottled at over 57% as this is the strength that if rum was spilled into a barrel of gunpowder, it would be strong enough to allow the gunpowder to ignite even when wet.

Rum has four distinct flavour camps which historically have been linked to different regions.


Light, delicate, clean rums characterised by Cuban rum’s like Havana Club and Bacardi which was originally made in Cuba. These rums are have light citrus notes when young and develop more fresh tropical fruit flavours with age. This delicately flavoured style is emulated in many other regions like the Bahamas, Puerto Rica and Trinidad.

In 1862 Don Facunado Bacardi Masso was the first to produce rum made using continuous stills in the Caribbean on the island of Cuba. By 1930s, Bacardi had expanded to produce rum in Puerto Rica and Mexico and today is no longer produced in Cuba, but with Havana Club still represents the Cuban style.

Jamaica – long sea-faring connections, largely pot stilled, if continuous stills cut a lower level.Pungent estery rums in white, golden and dark forms. Classic example is Wray & Nephews’ Appleton Estate.

Jamaica’s pot still rums are graded by the concentration of esters (volatile, acetic aromas). The lowest level are called ‘common cleans’ and have a delicate, slightly floral note, next is ‘plummers’, which have slighter higher concentration and a light tropical fruit character. ‘Wedderburns’ are fuller in flavour with more body, deeper fruit character, and increased pungency and lift.

The ‘high esters’ are the most pungent level of all. When neat, these aromas can come across as gloss paint or nail polish – not exactly what you’re after in a rum, but when heavily diluted this nose burning intensity is replaced with concentrated aromas of pineapple and banana. Rum blenders use them as a whisky blender might use a heavily peated malt.

High ester rums may have started life with an extended 14 day fermentation. In addition ‘dunder’ will have been added to the fermenter. A dunder starts life as the acetic residue left in the bottom of the still similar to a Bourbon backset. In Jamaica, the dunder is put into pits outside and allowed to fester to boosts its acidity. In all of these rums, the wash is then run through a pot/retort system and varying the contents of the retort will help create new complex flavours.


Barbados was one of the first countries to produce commercial rum and by 1776 Barbados had produced 3 million gallons of rum. Barbados’ elegant, fruity style is characterised by Cockspur and Mount Gay and has a fruity balance and medium weight – there is often some rich distillate in the blend.


On the coast of South America, Guyana produces spicy dark rums that are lighter in body than Jamaican rums but have pungent, dark sugar, fruit cake aroma and taste. They used to be used more as a base of Navy rums but Demerara Distillers is now producing some Guyanese brands which are receiving international recognition – El Dorado – which is a darn beautiful rum in my book.

Martinique and Guadelope – specialises in Rhum Agricole, a grassy fruity style of rum made from fermented cane juice not molasses. The juice from sugar cane is extracted and fermented relatively quickly to create a wash of between 4.5 and 9%, which is then distilled in single column still a la Armagnac to create a low strength spirit between 65-75%.

Agricole is pungent and vegetal when young with aromas of cane, green leaf , apple, unripe banana, anise and violet backed up by a slightly oily texture.

Most is sold young as unaged rhum blanc, designed to be mixed, although a small amount of aged. If aged for 18 months it is known as ambre or paille, if aged for at least three years it will be called vieux.

Whereas in Brazil, Cachaça is popular, this is a cane based unaged spirit usually distilled in a mix of pot and column stills depending on the style, and will have similar vegetal knots as Rhum Agricole. Traditional pot still and single column distilled cachaça are the most vegetal in style and have been distilled to a lower strength. Some high strength, filtered cachaça are trying to emulate the success of vodka and are more neutral in style.

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WSET Diploma Studies: Rum Part 1 – The Rum Trade

Rum is the fastest growing spirits category in key markets worldwide. China has seen phenomenal growth, between 2005-2010 rum volume sales in China  increased by 286% and value sales increased by a crazy 401%.

Here in the UK, sales are strong and are predicted to stay that way as Spiced Rum from the likes of Sailor Jerry, Morgan’s Spiced and Lamb’s Spiced bring new consumers into the market and the UK On Trade continues to enjoy the versatility of rum. Trade and consumer facing shows like the UK’s RumFest do a fantastic job of promoting Rum culture.

Golden rum is the fastest growing sector in the UK with sales up 27% by volume over the past year or so, golden rum is having a halo effect on white and dark rum sales too, with dark rum sales up 8.2% over the same period.

Rum is a hugely versatile spirit distilled from a wash of either molasses and water or sugar cane juice. Although famed for its Caribbean heritage – think rum and you think of Caribbean (and possibly pirates) – rum can be produced in any country where sugar cane is grown including the USA, Australia, India, the Philippines and La Réunion, but doesn’t necessarily have to be matured there.

In fact, some Navy-style rums are matured here in the UK, although they will not mature at the same rate as in the Caribbean, one year of topical ageing is said to equate to three years of ageing in say Scotland. Each year, around 6% of the rum matured in barrel is lost to evaporation – known locally as the angel’s share. The Caribbean heat will draw the rum deeper into the wood barrels and extract more flavour quicker.

So where did it all begin?

Christopher Columbus started it all when he brought sugar cane cuttings to the Caribbean, by the 16th century many of the islands started to harvest the white gold that was ‘sugar’.

Most rum is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar production – once the sugar cane has been crushed, the juice extracted and boiled, and the sugar crystals which form removed – what you are left with is black gloopy liquid called molasses. Originally, these molasses were given to the slave workers who distilled them into rum. Later, as rum grew in popularity worldwide, distilleries were tagged onto most sugar mills as a vital source of secondary income and when sugar production fell victim to cheaper European sugar beet, rum went from being a by-product to the main reason to be in business.

Rum is said to be derived from the word ‘rumbullion’ an old term for a big noise or uproar. It was previously referred to as ‘kill-devil’, which gives you some idea of the strength or taste of these early rums. It was given to slaves working the sugar plantations to ward off ailments, and according to some, to keep them from uprising. Rum enjoys a tumultuous history and its global dominance is intrinsically linked to the fact it was used as a form of currency and the fact is kept so well aboard a ship.

Unlike beer and wine, rum kept its flavour (and probably improved) on long journeys and if a seafarer ran out of supplies, he could always dock anywhere in the world and sell his excess rum for case to purchase emergency supplies. Hence rum became a seafaring staple.

Ever since Vice Admiral William Penn seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, British Navy Commandeers have issued tots of rum to sailors. A practice which was written into the regulations of 1731 and continued up until 31st July 1970 when with the advent of breathalysers, sailors returning home were found to be over the legal drink driving limit.

Barbados was the first Caribbean island to produce rum, records date back to 1647 and the world’s oldest rum brand, Mount Gay, was produced in Barbados in 1703. Jamaica,and what is now Haiti followed suit. In the mid 19th century Cuba both industrialised and modernised rum production when Don Facunado Bacardi produced the country’s first light rum. This cuban style rum dominated the 20th century, and was made popular when Americans flooded into Havana’s cocktail bars during prohibition.

Aside from Bacardi, rum failed to build on its success during prohibition. Although today, rum is experiencing something of a resurgence and while bulk shipments of navy rum are in decline we are seeing the growth of Caribbean-owned golden rum brands and new consumers entering the category via spiced rums.

The market leader – Bacardi

Bacardi is a global brand selling 18.6m cases in 2009, down 5.5% on 2008. Bacardi is the number three spirits brand in the world selling several times more than its nearest competitor. Diageo’s Captain Morgan is the only other rum brand in the world’s top ten spirits brands, selling 8.6 million cases by comparison and bucking the trend for Navy style rums with sales up 3.6%.

In the UK, Bacardi is the no 6 off trade brand with sales up 7% in 2009.

First produced in Cuba, in 1862 by Don Facunada Bacardi Massa, Bacardi is now the world’s best selling rum brand. It has a clean, delicate floral style and in terms of volume sales is head and shoulders ahead of the competition. Bacardi sold 18.6m cases in 2009 compared to Havana Club’s 3.4 million cases.

Don Facunda Bacardi Massa won a competition set by the Spanish authorities to produce a lightly flavoured rum. Its water white style has become the benchmark for Cuban style rums. Although today, after having its assets illegally seized by Cuban totalitarian regime in 1960 (which amounted to a loss of $76 million dollars, and represented 90% of the company’s volume at the time), Bacardi is no longer made in Cuba, it owns four distilleries across the world including Puerta Rica.

Bacardi is made from molasses distilled in linked column still, and puts great stock in its yeast strain which is said to contribute to its lighter flavour profile. It is charcoal filtered after distillation and aged in barrel.

Bacardi Ltd is the world’s largest privately owned drinks company and invests significant amounts in its brands marketing and innovation to increase brand equity with the higher sales price offsetting any loss in volume.

Bacardi Ltd also owns Martini-Rossi, Bombay Sapphire, Grey Goose vodka, Dewar’s blended Scotch.

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WSET Diploma Studies: Crémant

Originally Crémant referred to a style of sparkling wine or Champagne that was less fizzy – Krug had a Crémant in the 1970s. Today, Crémant refers to a French traditional method sparkling wine made outside of Champagne.

Crémant was adopted in 1985 when the term ‘méthode champenoise’ was outlawed in Europe, just prior to Spain joining the European Community (as they were the largest ‘méthode champenoise’ in the world they would have no doubt blocked efforts to outlaw the term had the decision been taken any later).

The Champenois gave up the word ‘Crémant’ in return for the European Communities stopping using the term ‘méthode champenoise’.

In order to be called a Crémant certain quality controls must be in place, including whole bunch pressing, a maximum yield of 100L for 150kg of grapes (same as Cava but marginally higher than Champagne), a maximum sulphur dioxide content of 150mg/l, a minimum of nine months of ageing on lees.

The first two Crémant appellations Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire were created as early as 1975. Today, there are seven Crémant appellations including Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Die, Jura, Limoux and Bordeaux. The best sparkling wines in Luxembourg are also called Crémant.

Sparkling wine has a long history in France, and Blanquette de Limoux claims to be France’s oldest sparkling wine. It seems that once we’d figured out how to produce sparkling wine we couldn’t get enough of it and at one time there was barely a wine in France that had not been produced sparkling, the French even messed with classics like Sauternes and Côte Rôtie – sacrilegious in my book.

Sparkling wine is big business, of the two billion bottles of sparkling wine produced worldwide each year, France accounts for almost a quarter of those bottles and around half of this comes from outside of Champagne.

The good value Crémant wines weathered the recession well, while 2009 saw Champagne sales drop by 9%, Crémant de Bourgogne was up 6% and Crémant d’Alsace up 8%.

Crémant still represents a small proportion of sales in the UK but is hoping to follow the trend of Cava and Prosecco which are both doing a well in the UK.

The climate and weather varies with the region, but the best Crémants come from sites that are cooler either because of their latitude (as with Loire, Burgundy and Alsace) or their altitude (as per Limoux).

The best Crémants are made from grapes grown on calcarious soils (eg. Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, Burgundy and Limoux) and generally come from high acid, non-aromatic varieties. Chardonnay, a classic Champagne grape, is widely used in the Loire, Burgundy, Limoux and Alsace, and Chenin Blanc is well used in the Loire and Limoux.

Crémant d’Alsace

Crémant d’Alsace is the largest Crémant appellation by volume and represents around 10% of the region’s output. The fertile plain of the Alsace is not often suited to high quality varietal wines, but it does provide one of the best terroirs in the region for Crémant d’Alsace.

Around 500 small scale producers dominate production and their blending capabilities are limited.

Grape varieties: Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Auxerrois, Riesling, Chardonnay (Muscat, Gewuztraminer and Chasselas cannot be used). Max yield 80 hl/ha.

Style: Fine mousse, high acidity and light body. If Riesling dominates the blend, the wine will have a strong flavour.

Crémant de Die

Crémant de Die is a white sparkling appellation located around the town of Die, east of the Rhône between Valence and Montélimar.

A local cooperative has energised the appellation and is responsible for three in every four bottles in the region.

Cremant de Die is a traditional method sparkling wine made from Clairette grape, wheresas Clairette de Die tradition is made using the Méthode Dioise and Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.

For Clairette de Die tradition after pressing, the juice is filtered and kept to a sub-zero temperature. It is bottled when its been fermented to around 3 per cent alcohol and a second fermentation occurs in bottle using the grape’s own sugars, no dosage is permitted.

The wine is decanted off the lees after a minimum of four months and re-bottled under pressure. The end result is a low alcohol (7-8% abv) grapey fizz similar in style to Asti.

Crémant de Bourgogne

Created in 1975, Crémant de Bourgogne is centered on Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise of the South and Auxerre to the North. The grapes of the Côte d’Or, hardly surprisingly, are worth more as still wines.

Grape varieties:  Mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Aligoté but all Burgundian varieties are permitted although Gamay may not constitute more than a fifth of the blend. Max yields 65 hl/ha.

Style:                      Full and soft in Southern Burgundy, represents a good value alternative to bigger styles of Champagne, Crémant made to the North is generally lighter and crisper. Sparkling red not permitted.

Crémant de Loire

Created in 1975, Crémant de Loire incorporates the districts of Anjou-Saumur and Touraine

There are around 200 producers including a handful of co-operatives and key négociants.

Some of the big Champagne houses have Loire subsidiaries, Bollinger owns Langlois Chateau, Tattinger owns Bouvet-Ladubay and Alfred Gratien owns Gratien & Meyer.

Grape varieties: All of the Loire’s grape varieties are permitted aside from Sauvignon Blanc, which is too pungent a variety for a sparkling wine. Chenin Blanc dominates. Rosé usually contains a high percentage of Cabernet Franc and can also include Grolleau. Maximum yield is 50 hl/ha.

Style: Crisp acidity, medium body and alcohol with green apples and honey. Cabernet Franc rosé is deeply coloured, pungent with raspberry aromas.

Crémant de Limoux (inc Blanquette de Limoux)

Limoux is a small town high up in the Pyrenees of southern France just north of Catalunya. Its altitude makes it cool enough for sparkling wine production, despite being so far south.

Limoux’s sparkling wine business is dominated by the dynamic local co-op.

The grape used traditionally was the Mauzac, known locally as blanquette, it is a late ripening grape with good natural acidity and a relatively neutral character although it tends to produce a cut grass aroma – it is particularly good as a sweeter style. Increasing amounts of Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc have been planted over the past few decades.

Limoux has two very distinct styles, the traditional Blanquette de Limoux and the more modern international style of Crémant de Limoux. The plan was for the Chardonnay-led Crémant de Limoux to slowly replace the Mauzac based Blanquette de Limoux – but this did not happen and the two now sit side by side.

Blanquette de Limoux – is a Mauzac dominated blend with Chardonnay and Chenin also allowed. It is a traditional method sparkling wine, similar to Crémant de Limoux albeit more rustic and containing a higher percentage of Mauzac.

Crémant de Limoux – Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay together must comprise 90% of the blend. The other two varieties allowed are Pinot Noir (max 10%) and Mauzac. Yields are restricted to 50h/ha.

Blanquette methode ancestraleis an old local specialty making a comeback, it is made of 100% Mauzac using the method ancestral, which means the wine is bottled when partially fermented and continues its first fermentation in bottle and is not disgorged.

With its low alcohol content, low fizz level, luscious sweetness, ripe apple aromas and often cloudy appearance it has a lot in common with an artisanal sweet cider.

Crémant de Bordeaux

Established in 1990, Crémant de Bordeaux represents the smallest Crémant appellation by volume, although they have been making sparkling wine for centuries. Production is dominated by a handful of companies including Cordeliers, the oldest sparkling winemaker in Bordeaux which dates back to 1870s..

Permitted grape varieties:  Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Cot, Merlot, Muscadelle, Petit Verdot, Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris with minor additions of Colombard, Merlot Blanc and Ugni Blanc. Maximum yield is 65 hl/ha.


While Crémant de Loire covers Anjou-Saumur and Touraine, there two other appellations for sparkling wine without the Crémant prefix in the Loire, namely Saumur and Vouvray ACs.

Both have a cool continental climate and enjoy mainly chalky limestone – tuffeau blanc soils. Saumur is largest French sparkling wine appellation outside of Champagne and 40% of Vouvray is sparkling.

Grape varieties:

Chenin Blanc for Vouvray

Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc for Saumur

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WSET Diploma Studies: Champagne Part 2 – The Champagne Trade

My only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne
John Maynard Keynes

Champagne covers just 34,500 hectares, yet is spread over 301 villages and 19,000 growers – including a good many part-time growers with tiny parcels of grapes.

The trade is dominated by the big Champagne houses. 261 Champagne houses are responsible for 71% of sales yet own just 12% of vineyard land. Champagne houses make up a whopping 88% of all Champagne exports – outside of Europe this increases to 97% as few growers have the means to market their goods so far afield.

Of the 19,000 growers in Champagne only 5,112 sell Champagne under their own label and of those just 2,124 actually make what they sell accounting for just 18% of grower Champagne sales. Many growers will have long-term contracts with the big Champagne houses, some relationships have been going for generations or more.

Groups of growers have banded together to form cooperatives, 44 cooperatives make and sell Champagne under their own label and account for just over 7% of total Champagne sales.

The growers and coops collectively are known as vignoble. Champagne growers own 88% of the vineyards but account for just 22% of sales (29% including coops).

Each bottle of Champagne will have a two letters on the registeration code to identify whether it was made by a grower, co-op, or Champagne house etc.

ND (Négociants-Distributeur) – A  company selling Champagne it did not make
RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) – grower producer – A grower who sells grapes to the houses as well as buying grapes from other growers and making his own Champagne
CM (Coopérative-manipulant) – cooperative producer – A cop of growers who also make and sell Champagne under their own labels
NM (Négociant-manipulant) – a Champagne house – Producer who buys grapes in volume from growers to make Champagne
MA (Marque d’Acheteur) – a buyers own brand – A brand name owned by the purchaser such as restaurant, supermarket, wine merchant

In 2007, the top ten Champagne brands represented 39% of UK Champagne sales and Champagne sales were up 10%. Moët is the number one Champagne brand by a clear mile. The co-operative Champagne Nicholas Feuillate burst into the top ten at a very worthy number 5 despite being so small pre 2000 it was counted in ‘others’.

Around 300 million bottles of Champagne are produced each year, the vast majority is still
consumed on home soil. In 2010, the French kept hold of 185m bottles of Champagne, the biggest export market for Champagne is the UK at around 35m bottles followed by the US at 16.9m bottles. Compare this to the global sparkling wine market where Germany is the biggest consuming country followed by France, Russia and Italy.

“Alas, I am dying beyond my means.”
Oscar Wilde: As he sipped champagne on his  deathbed.


Reassuringly, given the economic climate Champagne sales have bounced back and exports to both the UK and US are in double digit growth (16.3% and 34.9% respectively). Buyers own brands have helped keep Champagne sales afloat, while premium brands like
LVMH’s Krug has reported bumper profits – showing the super rich are still spending.

Bollinger (Aӱ-Champagne) 100,000 cases

Bollinger is an independent Champagne house founded in 1829, in 1865 it started importing low dosage wines to the UK which was counter to the then trend for much sweeter wines. It was clearly doing something right though as in 1884 Bollinger received the royal warrant from Queen Victoria to be Purveyor to the Royal household.

Elizabeth Law ‘Lily’ Bollinger is an important figure in Bollinger’s history and under her stewardship sales doubled to 1 million. Lily was said to have slept in the Bollinger’s cellars during the bombing of Aӱ during the war.

Bollinger owns the registered trademark RD- récemment dégorgé – and aims to disgorge every bottle no more than 12 weeks prior to shipment.

Bollinger is known for its Pinot Noir dominated blends, many of its base wines are vinified in old oak barrels to give complexity and longevity. Bollinger Vielles Vignes is the benchmark Blanc de Noirs, made in minute quantities from ungrafted low yielding vines from vineyards which have never been affected by phylloxera.

Bollinger keeps 500,000 corked magnums of reserve wines in its cellars for assemblage.

In 2005, Bollinger bought the Ayala Champagne brand.

Krug (Reims) 40,000 cases     

Krug is the most expensive and least consumed Champagne on the planet. It has its lovers and haters but there is no denying it is special. I was lucky enough to try some recently and am totally sold.

It is owned by LVMH but is still family run – the winemaker is Henri Krug and ever since the founder Joseph Krug and his son Paul Krug worked together in the 1860s, a father and team has worked side by side for decades to ensure the Krug family style and palate is passed on.

Krug does not make originary non vintage Champagnes, it specialises in prestige Champagne. The high price Krug demands allows for a ‘ruthless degree of vine selection’. All of its base wines are barrel-fermented in 205L oak casks

Its Grand cuvées receive 35-50% of reserve wines from between six to ten vintages spanning over 15 years. Such special quality demands long ageing and the youngest Krug Champagne will have had at least 5-7 years lees contact.


LVMH is the world’s largest luxury goods group with a significant interest in the most luxury of drinks – Champagne.

It owns Moët & Chandon and Dom Pérignon, Krug, Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Mercier as well as premium spirits Hennessy cognac and Belvedere Vodka and has a stake in Château d’Yquem.

This year, it has reported bumper sales of Louis Vuitton handbags and Krug Champagne  -a sign the recession is not dampening the spending of the super rich.

Dom Pérignon (owned by Moët & Chandon) 200,000 cases

Dom Pérignon is Moët & Chandon’s prestige Champagne owned by LVMH.

Dom Pérignon 1921 was the world’s first prestige Champagne and launched at a time when the price of Champagne had plummeted following the great depression.

It has its home at the Abbey of Hautvilliers, north of Epernay – where the Benedictine Monk Dom Pérignon was in charge of the cellars. The Hautvilliers vineyards remain at the heart of Cuvée Dom Pérignon.

While history attributes Dom Pérignon to inventing Champagne, this is not quite the case, although we do know he devoted his life to improving the still wines of Champagne and many of the practices he instigated are still in place today i.e. severe pruning, low
yields, blending, careful harvesting etc.

Moet  & Chandon (Epernay) 2,000,000 cases

Moët et Chandon is the number one Champagne brand in the world, and sells over twice the amount of its nearest competitor. One in four bottles of exported Champagne is said to be Moët and in the US, Moët accounts for over half of the market.

It is now part of LVMH, the luxury good conglomerate. In 1962 it was quoted on the Paris Stock exchange, later buying shares in Ruinart – the oldest Champagne house. It bought Christian Dior perfume in 1969 and merged with Hennessy cognac in 1971.

In 1987 it merged with Louis Vuitton, owners of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin to form LVMH.


Pol Roger (Epernay) 20,000 cases

“Remember, gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!”
                                                   Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, (1874 – 1965)

Pol Roger is one of the smaller Grand Marques, which was founded in 1849 and is still family owned.

Famously, Pol Roger was Winston Churchill’s preferred tipple and for 25 years after his death all non-vintage labels of Pol Roger exported to Britain where edged in black in memory. A special Sir Winston Churchill cuvee was later created.

Its cellars are said to house 6.5 million  bottles, 5 years supply and are deeper and
cooler than most in Champagne.

Vueve Clicquot Ponsardin (Reims) 83,000 cases

Now owned by LVMH, Veuve Clicquot still celebrates its Grande Dame, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot-Pondarsin. She was married in the cellars and after her husband died in 1805 following just 7 year’s of marriage, the 27 year old Nicole-Barbe was left in charge of the business. She proved herself to be an astute merchant, and fantastic entrepreneur and innovator.

She appointed Antoine Müller as Chef des Caves who was involved in the creation of the remuage system and helped increase the quality and reputation of the house.

Veuve Clicqout famously defied Napolean’s blockades to export Champagne to Russia.

The house style is based on Pinot Noir, particularly Pinot Noir grown in the village of Bouzy where the Veuve Clicquot has a large number of holdings.

The first vintage of La Grande Dame prestige Champagne was 1969 and was launched in 1977 to mark the house’s 200th birthday – the grapes for the cuvee come from eight Grand Cru vineyards originally owned by La Grande Dame herself.

Nicholas Feuillatte 230,000 cases

Nicholas Feuillatte is owned by a Cooperative-Manipulant – CVC (Centre Vinicole de la Champagne). The super-cooperative is the largest of its kind and is made up of 85 different cooperatives. CVC bought the Nicholas Feuillate brand in 1986 and since then it has grown to become one of the top five Champagnes in the world.

Nicholas Feuillatte has enough high quality vineyards to make it capable of producing very good champagne. Exports started to take off in the early 1990s with 700,000 bottles sold in 1994, by 2004 it sold 7 million bottles around the world and 1 million bottles in the UK alone.

By 2006, the brand which was only 30 years old became the top 5 Champagne brand worldwide, stocked in 75 different countries. It is the market leader in ¼ bottles.

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WSET Diploma Studies: Champagne Part 1 – The Champagne Region

Champagne is more than just a drink it is a statement, a lifestyle, and for some, a way of life.

 “So we came to the Ritz hotel and the Ritz Hotel was divine. Because when a girl can sit in a delightful bar and have delicious champagne cocktails and look at all the important French people in Paris, I think it is divine.”
Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

And it is not just a drink – it is a place. Champagne can only come from a delimited  region 90 miles north-east of Paris. It is the only French AOC not required to have appellation contrôllée on the label – the word Champagne, so it seems, says it all.

The Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) was established in 1941 to protect the interests of Champagne growers/cooperatives/merchant/Champagne houses. Its most important role has been to protect the champenois exclusive right to the word ‘Champagne’ and prevent it being used to promote any other products like cigarettes and perfume.

It had a notable victory in the English courts in 1959 and has continually fought for legal protection and has achieved this in most markets. Just this month, the CIVC signed a protocol with Russiawhich commits the Russians to use the word ‘sparkling wine’ instead of ‘Champagne’ on their labels.

“The word Champagne’ is so full of meaning, so desirable that it has always provoked envy.”
Spokesperson for the CIVC


Champagne has the most northerly latitude of any premium winemaking region aside from the south of England.

For anyone who has ever been to Disneyland Paris, this far North can get bitterly cold. Spring frost is a real problem, especially in the Vallée de la Marne and winters can be so severe as to kill a vine. Champagne has a cool, dry, continental climate, although during July – a key ripening period – Champagne’s mean temperature is 18.9˚C which is warmer than New Zealand’s Marlborough region and Santa Maria in California. Fungal disease can be a problem.

Three grapes dominate Champagne; Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and the chameleon of wine, Chardonnay – which seems to change shape and character if it is made still or sparkling, oaked or unoaked and in warm, or  cool climates.

In Champagne – Chardonnay gives acidity and elegance to a blend and the ability to age, it can develop lovely toasty, vanilla flavours. Pinot Noir is the backbone of many blends and provides body – it gives attractive biscuit flavours with age. Pinot Meunier buds later and so is less of a frost risk, it ripens earlier as well so good grape to hedge the bets with the weather. It provides an attractive fruitiness when young and can develop complex mushroom character with time.

Champagne’s chalky soil aids retains what little water is to be found in this relatively dry area. Vines are planted close together with a density of between 6-10,000 vines/ha. Yields are relatively high (10,400 kg/ha).

Cordon training is used on Pinot Noir and Meunier vines and Taille Chablis for Chardonnay. Retaining high levels of permament wood helps protect the vines against frost. Because of the cool weather, acidity is high and sugar levels relatively low, some years the minimum alcohol can struggle to make 8% abv, which would then be chapitalised to 9.5% abv, so after blending and the secondary fermentation the end wine is around 12% abv.

There are five main districts in Champagne each producing different style base wines designed to be blended together to create the wide range of Champagne styles we see today. The two main cities of Champagne are Epernay and Reims where many of the big Champagne houses are based. Reims is the commercial centre and home to the likes of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Lanson, Ruinart, Pommery, GH Mumm and Tattinger and was
where many of France’s Kings were crowned. Moët & Chandon, Perrier Jouet
and Pol Roger are based in Epernay while Bollinger has its home in Aӱ.

Montagne de Reims

28% Chardonnay, 56% Pinot Noir, 16% Pinot Meunier
– 9 Grands Crus including Ambonnay, Aӱ-Champagne, Bouzy, Verzenay, Verzy

Montagne de Reims is the forest land between Reims in the north and
Epernay to the South. It is split into the northern and southern montagnieu –
Pinot Noir dominates in both halves although Chardonnay has increased its
presence over the past few decades.

Grapes planted on the north facing slopes of Verzenay and Verzy have
higher acidity, darker colour and more body although less power and can bring a
delicacy to the blend. The grapes planted on the southern montagne villages of Ay-Champagne, Ambonnay and Bouzy are lighter in colour but are thought to have more depth and finesse.

Vallée de la Marne

10% Chardonnay, 27% Pinot Noir, 63% Pinot Meunier
– 2 Grand Crus, including Mareuil-sur-Aӱ, plus the Premières Crus Dizy, Hautvilliers and Cumières

Pinot Meunier dominates in the frost prone Vallée de la Marne due to the fact it buds late and ripens early. It produces an easy drinking fruit forward style designed to be enjoyed young.

Pinot Noir is grown on the very best south facing slopes. The villages of Dizy, Hautvillers and Cumières overlook Epernay to the South, and generally speaking the further west you go beyond these villages the lesser the quality, particularly on the left bank where the vines face north.

Côte des Blancs

96% Chardonnay, 3% Pinot  Noir, 1% Pinot Meunier
–  6 Grands Crus, including Cramant, Avize, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger

Côte des Blancs gets is name as it is almost entirely made up of the Champagne’s white grape. Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs is the most favoured Chardonnay in all of Champagne.

The best villages are located in the heart of the Côte des Blancs – Cramant, Avise, Oger, and le Mesnil-sur-Oger. The wines from these villages contribute freshness and finesse to a blend and in a Blanc de Blancs provide a creamy texture and unrivalled intensity and complexity.

Côtes de Sézanne

– 70% Chardonnay, 21% Pinot Noir, 9% Pinot Meunier
– no Grands Crus

Located 10 miles south west of the Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne is also dominated by Chardonnay although lacks the finesse of Côte des Blancs .

Its wines are said to be more fruity, somewhat exotic and a little musky. Pinot Noir plantings are slowly increasing here.


– 8% Chardonnay, 85% Pinot Noir, 7% Pinot  Meunier
– no Grand Crus

Riots broke out in Champagne in 1911 when the French assembly first attempted to included the Aube into the main appellation of Champagne. Despite near civil war breaking out it was eventually included and today ripe fruity wines are produced here –  a region closer to Chablis than Reims, located  70 miles south east of Epernay.

Pinot Noir succeeded the Gamay panted here before WWII. It has a clean style and is arguably of a higher quality than some of the outlying areas of the Vallée de la Marne.

All villages in Champagne are rated using a system known as échelle des crus. This percentage based system rates villages from 80-100 with Grands Crus villages given 100%, Premiers Crus between 90-99% and the lowest rated village 80%. Up until the start of this century, the Champagne harvest was priced as a whole and then each village got a percentage of the rate depending on how they were rated – the lowest percentage previously was 22.5%. Prices are now worked out separately between individual growers and buyers.

The majority of the Grands Crus villages are located on the West facing Côte des Blancs slopes, or on the Montagne de Reims.There are 17 Grands Crus in total, which account for 3,000 hectares and 8.6% of AOC Champagne.

There are 41 Premiers Crus villages across 7,500 hectares which make up 22% of Champagne.

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WSET Diploma studies – Champagne and Sparkling wine what it is and how it’s made?

Champagne and sparkling wine has the ability to enhance any drinking occasion and add a certain sparkle to proceedings.

In order the create wine, grapes are crushed and fermented. During fermentation the grapes’ sugars are converted into alcohol, the byproduct of this process is heat and carbon dioxide. Quality sparkling wines will have gone through a secondary fermentation under pressure, the carbon dioxide has nowhere to escape and so is dissolved in the wine until the cork is finally popped and little bubbles of CO2 are released.

It is thought this secondary fermentation originally happened by accident, when during the cold winters in Champagne fermentation stopped and restarted again in spring. The resulting bubbles were considered a fault and the pressure built up frequently caused the bottles to smash. The English, however, got a taste for the bubbly stuff when bottling still Champagne in the UK and enjoyed its accidental bubbles. Christopher Merret was the first to record how to intentionally create a sparkling wine from a still wine through the addition of sugar and a secondary fermentation.

Reinforced glass from the UK played a significant part in the early success of Champagne, as it was the only glass able to successfully withstand the pressure created inside a Champagne bottle.

With the UK setting the trend and providing the means for sparkling wine, the French eventually acknowledged the genius of the idea and by 1729 the first Champagne house, Ruinart was created (now owned by LVMH).

It wasn’t until the 18th Century that Madame Clicquot of Veuve Clicquot together with her cellar master, figured out how to get rid of the dead yeast cells that formed a deposit in the bottom of the bottle without losing much gas.  By cutting holes in Madame Clicquot’s kitchen table, they created a primitive ‘pupitre’ riddling rack where the bottles could be stored horizontally and slowly shaked and turned until the bottle was vertical  ‘sur point’, and the yeast had been teased into the neck of the bottle.


Today, around one in every 12 bottles of sparkling wine is Champagne and there are a range of different methods for creating the sparkle you find in the glass.

Traditional method

The method perfected in Champagne is known as the traditional method. This is the way Champagne and most premium sparkling wines are created – Spain’s Cava and South Africa’s Cap Classique use this method.

Essentially, the bubbles are created after the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in bottle, it is fermented in the same bottle it will eventually be sold in.

Transfer method – With transfer method the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in bottle and the contents are then emptied under carbon dioxide into a pressurised tank to be filtered before bottling.

Charmat, tank method – With the tank method the second fermentation happens in, you guessed it, a stainless steel tank.

Carbonation – No secondary fermentation takes place at all, a still wine is chilled and CO2 injected into it where it dissolves to create bubbles.

Diagram from Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine


Non vintage – In theory a blend of several years, in practice the majority of the blend will come from just one vintage topped up with some reserve wines to add instant complexity and maintain the house style.

Vintage – For Champagne 100% of the blend must be from the year indicated on bottle, for other European sparkling wines it can be 85% and in the USA 95% must come from the stated year.

Vintage wines should only be declared in the greatest years when there has been a good harvest, sadly this is not always the case and you will find Champagnes from some less than ideal years like 1978 and 1980.

The quality of vintage wines comes from the selection of grapes. The best vines from the best sites will be used in the vintage cuvées.

Blanc de Blancs – translates as white of white; a white wine made from white grapes. In Champagne this means 100% Chardonnay. The best Chardonnay is from Côtes des Blancs and a Blanc de Blancs will have the greatest ageing potential of all Champagnes due to the high acidity of Chardonnay.

Blanc de Noirs – translates as white from black, in Champagne this means wine will be made entirely from a blend of Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. In France, the skill is to produce as white a wine as possible, a golden hue would be okay in Champagne but a hint of pink would be frowned upon. The benchmark Blanc de Noirs is Bollinger Veilles Vignes Francaises.

Rosé – Rosé Champagne is an anomaly, Champagne is the only place in the EU where pink wine can be made by blending white and red wines, maceration is used for some rosé blends, Laurent Perrier for example, but it is uncommon. It will have slightly less acidity due to the high Pinot Noir content or addition of red wine and is usually best drunk young as this delicate perfumed style will lose its appeal with age.

I’ve included an adaptation of a sweetness chart I’ve found helpful during my studies. Basically you ignore the literal translations of the terms as they just confuse, sec translates as dry but in reality means medium dry, demi sec means medium dry and actually refers to sweet.

Adapted from Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling wine


Warning, it is going to get a little geeky, these are my exam revision notes and so contain a whole bunch more detail on each of the methods of making sparkling wine.

Traditional method

Like all good wines the quality of sparkling wine or Champagne starts in the vineyard.

The best quality sparkling wines comes from grapes designed to be used in sparkling wine. The grapes should be super ripe and hand harvested in small crates to protect the grapes from splitting and releasing any harsh flavours.

The grapes should be delivered asap to the winery, and in Champagne you’ll find press houses located in vineyards to reduce the time between picking and pressing.

The grapes are not de-stemmed and are pressed in whole bunches, the stems act as a conduit to allow the juice to drain faster  preventing too much colour or tannins being absorbed into the wine.

Traditional Champagne presses are vertical basket presses and more recently pneumatic presses are used to very gently press the grape to ensure minimum extraction of phenolics. The first press is important, indeed there is a limit to much juice you can press from grapes, 160kg of grapes produce a maximum of 100l of juice in Champagne.

Any harsh or coarse characters in the base wine will only be amplified with the creation of bubbles, which is why the grapes are treated so delicately.

In order to create some of the more complex flavours in Champagne during the second fermentation and autolysis the base wine will need to contain some of its original proteins. Therefore, winemakers tend to keep fining and filtration to a minimum and allow the juice to naturally settle to allow any impurities to drop out.

The grape must is often chapitalised, i.e sugar is added to increase the final alcohol level, Champagne can be enriched by up to 2% to create a base wine with an alcohol level of between 10.5-11%, the secondary fermentation will increase the alcohol level by a further 1.3%.

Special Champagne yeasts cultured by CIVC are used to control the fermentation; these Champagne yeasts will be adept at dealing with low temperatures (for second fermentation) and high pressure fermentation in bottle.

The first fermentation is fast and takes place at between 18-20˚C which is relatively warm for white wines and slightly cool for reds.  Winemakers will want to avoid a cool first fermentation as it can cause essential nutrients and solids to drop out of the wine which will inhibit the creation of complex post-disgorgement flavours and encourage confected aromas like pear drop, banana and bubble gum.

The base wine or vin clair will have no residual sugar and high enamel-stripping ripe acidity which will ensure the wines freshness during its long bottle ageing. It will actually be relatively neutral in character as the flavour will come from the ageing process and no distinct aromas are wanted that will mask the effects of autolysis.

After the first fermentation, malolactic fermentation may be encouraged or stunted. Malolactic fermentation is not a proper fermentation, it is a process of converting harsh malic acids into softer lactic acids, however CO2 is given off during the process and the wine bubbles as if it were fermenting.

The majority of Champagnes undergo MLF, it takes about a month and is usually done under controlled conditions by adding bacteria and maintaining the temperature at between 18-20˚C.

Lanson is one of the only major Champagne houses to not use MLF across all its cuvées. It believes that MLF Champagnes are heavier and less fruit driven while non-malo Champagnes retain a purity of fruit and a clean crisp flavours which age gracefully as they have retained more acidity. Although the ageing process take a little longer with non-malo Champagnes, which is why Lanson releases its cuvées a few years after the rest.

Assemblage takes place in the first few months of the year following harvest and is what makes Champagne so magic. It is an art form in itself, blending potentially over a hundred different wines all fermented separately to create a wine capable not just been a bubbly version of a still wine but maturing into something greater than the sum of its parts.

The Grand Marques all have their own house style which year after year, regardless of the vintage they look to recreate. One way of doing this is to retain 20% of grapes for reserve wine and the most important way to is blend – bizarrely the more wines used in the blend the easier it is to recreate a specific style, this is often why smaller producers struggle for a consistent style as they do not have anywhere near the range of base wines to chose from in the assemblage process.

Where the first fermentation is hot and fast, the second fermentation should be cool and slow, taking about 4-8 weeks at around 10˚C – no higher than 12˚C.

A liqueur de tirage is added to instigate the fermentation, this is a mix of yeast, sugar, still Champagne, nutrients and a clarifying agent such as bentonite.

24g/l of sugar creates a pressure of 5-6 atmospheres and an extra 1.2-1.3% abv, the bottle is sealed with a crown cap.

Lees are dead yeast cells, ageing on lees encourages yeast autolysis, where yeast cells are broken down by their own enzymes which creates tasty bready, biscuit notes in the resulting wine. Sparkling wines are aged on lees for a minimum of 9 months, NV Champagnes must be aged for 15 months, 12 months spent on lees months – although there are some schools of thought which say autolysis is only evident after 18 months of ageing on lees. Vintage Champagnes have a total minimum ageing of 36 months.

The longer it has spent on lees the fresher the sparkling wine will taste when opened, however, this comes at a cost as it it will mature faster once disgorged and so will not keep and maintain its flavour for as long.

The bottles are stored horizontally, sur latte to encourage lees contact. Once ageing is complete, they are slowly riddled into an upright position and the dead yeasts cells coaxed into the neck of the bottle ready to be removed.

Traditionally this job was done by hand over a period of six weeks or more by remueurs or riddlers. Nowadays, it can be done in three days by a gyropallet machine , called a gyrosol in Spain. The bottles can then be further aged sur point – on their heads.

The sediment at the neck of the bottle is removed by a process called disgorgement a la glace, the neck is placed in a freezing brine solution, when the cap is removed the internal pressure pushes the slushy frozen pellet of sediment out and the wine is topped up to the original level with a liqueur d’expedition.

The liqueur d’expedition is the dosage and determine the final sweetness level of the wine. The bottle is then mixed together – poignetage to marry the liqueur d’expédition with the wine and allowed to the development of post-disgorgement aromas and the gentle caramalisation of the sugar in the dosage. The bottle is sealed with a cork and wire to protect against the pressure.

The younger the wine and the further from the equator the grapes were grown the greater the dosage of sugar require to balance acidity. Longer spent on lees less dosage required.

Reaction maillard is said to be responsible the complex toasty, vanilla aromas from a wines given bottle age, this refers to the reaction between sugar in the dosage and amino acids in the wine.


Many half or quarter bottles of Champagne and pretty much all bottles sizes above Jeroboam (equivalent of 4 bottles of Chapagne) transverge is used, which is a twist on the traditional method. This is done because these bottles are difficult to riddle, so they are aged in bottled and immediately after disgorgement the contents are transferred to a pressurised tank, dosage is added and the smaller or larger sized bottles are filled under pressure.

Transfer method

Transfer method is the same as the traditional method up to and including the lees ageing stage. The bottles are then chilled and the contents, yeast sediment and all, are transferred into a tank where the wine is filtered. Dosage is added and the wine is bottled under pressure. This method retains some of the flavour character of bottle fermentation but inevitably some loss of gas/quality during the transfer process.

Tank method, cuve close, charmat

The second fermentation takes place in a pressurised tank, CO2 is released and when the pressure reaches 5 atmospheres or so, the wine is cooled to -5˚C to stop the fermentation. The dosages is added and the wine is bottled under pressure. It is quick, cheap, less labour intensive and best suited for wines designed to be drunk young and where there is not the need for bottle age complexity.

Asti method

Asti is made using a variation on the tank method. The Muscat must is stored at 0˚C until required to retain the fresh fruit, flowery character.

The must is fermented in tanks until it reaches around 6% abv, the CO2 for the remaining 1.5% abv is retained to create a pressure of around 5 atmospheres alternatively, CO2 is retained from the very start of the fermentation and the pressure reaches around 5 atmospheres when the alcohol level reaches 7.7.5% abv.

Fermentation is then stopped by chilling and the yeasts removed and clarified, the wine is stable despite help residual levels of fermentable sugars.


In a word, cheap. There is no secondary fermentation here, instead the wine is chilled in a tank, CO2 gas from cylinders is pumped the wine and is dissolved, which is then bottled under pressure. No quality sparkling wines are made using this method, bubbles are often large and fade fast.

Method ancestrale

This is probably closer to how Champagne was made before the traditional method was perfected. It is rarely used these days and results in a lightly sparkling, medium-sweet wine often with some deposit.

Basically, the wine is bottled before all the residual sugar has converted into alcohol. The fermentation continues in bottle and produces carbon dioxide. The resulting wine is sweeter and  less fizzy with no dosage permitted. The wine may sometimes be decanted to remove the deposit and rebottled under pressure via the transfer method.

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Yo ho ho and 400 bottles of rum: RumFest 2011

Rum is such a versatile spirit with plenty of romance. It comes in a plethora of different styles, it can be white, golden or dark, made from sugar cane juice or mollases, distilled in pot or column stills and be flavoured and spiced.

I first fell in love with rum on a visit to the Caribbean to see my family – although my first experience was with a 151% Antiguan rum that isn’t for the faint-hearted.

There are four main flavour camps with rum – the intense, pungent Jamaican style of rum, the rich, sweet Demerara rums from Guyana, delicate styles of rum from Barbados characterised by Mount Gay, and light fragrant rums from Cuba such as Havana Club. Not to mention rhum agricoles from the French West Indies or the dark Navy Favourites like Captain Morgan.

If you are keen to try these and much more, then head down to RumFest 2011, now celebrating its 5th year and adding a Tropical Food Market to the mix of salsa dancing, cocktail sampling, live music, masterclasses and seminars.

Next weekend (15-16th October) Kensington Olympia 2 will be transformed into a paradise island showcasing the finest that rum culture has to offer. Rum enthusiasts can whet their palettes with over 400 rums from across the globe including brands like Bacardi from Puerto Rico; Appleton Estate from Jamaica; Havana Club from Cuba; Mount Gay Rum from Barbados; Ron Zacapa from Guatemala and Santa Teresa from Venezuela.

Plus, there will also be an opportunity to sample some of the rarest, most exquisite rums on the planet. UK RumFest brings together the industry’s top blenders, distillers and mixologists. For those who want to get in the tropical fiesta spirit and understand where the shake in their Daiquiri and the kick in their Mojito comes from, a plethora of masterclasses, talks and seminars will be taking place where rum novices can learn all there is to know from industry experts.

UK RumFest aims to celebrate not just the drink but the entire culture surrounding rum. This year sees the launch of a Tropical Food Market – an entire area devoted to presenting the finest delicacies and cuisine the tropics has to offer. Highly acclaimed rum chef Paul Yellin, who has travelled the Caribbean discovering how to create unique dishes using rum, will be demonstrating and giving seminars on how to use rum in cooking. The
Mette Cantina will be the tropics-inspired setting for the celebrity chefs and also for the Rum Experience Chef of the Year. Paul Yellin will be searching for the Rum Experience Chef of the Year where budding rum chefs will be asked to devise a run canapé and the winner will be whisked off on an all expenses paid trip to Barbados to attend the Taste Festival in November. Need to tap up my family for some inspiration for a recipe that might help me bag the trip.

Location:                             Kensington Olympia 2

Date:                                     15 – 16 October 2011

Opening hours:                12 – 6pm

Tickets:                               Single day tickets are priced at £22 and can be purchased from:

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My favourite cookbook of 2011: Comfort and Spice by Niamh Shields

I am seriously loving Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields, it is my favourite cookbook of 2011 and is helping me become more of an organised cook. Having seen the difference a bit of forward thinking can make to a meal, I’m now spending my weekends soaking chickpeas, marinating steak/chicken to quickly whip together weekend foodie indulgences and cracking mid-week meals.

That’s not to say everything needs advance preparation, but boy is it worth it when you do.

This cookbook has been loving put together by Niamh Shields, better known as Eatlikeagirl – one of the world’s top food bloggers. I first met Niamh two or three years ago at her market stall in Covent Garden over a glass of Prosecco. I’ve followed her blog and tweets for years but for me there is something very special about owning a physical cookbook, the best ones in my kitchen end up splattered with sauce and caked in flour.

The book includes nods to Niamh’s Irish roots – with plenty of dishes using leftover potato and a recipe for authentic Blaas – bread rolls from Waterford, Ireland. Niamh also seems to enjoy chorizo and egg, there are a raft of recipes which include potato, chorizo and egg which is actually a big plus for me as these are three of my hubby’s favourite ingredients.

Niamh has a great sense of flavour and her dishes are often deliciously simple, but super impressive to serve.

The book includes ideas for brunch, speedy suppers and long weekends. The Smoked Salmon with Potato Pancakes and Cucumber Relish is a great example of how Niamh combines flavours so successfully, don’t be tempted to miss out the cider soaked cucumber relish, it will need to stand for five hours (or overnight ideally) but is seriously worth it – amazingly tangy.

A regular staple in my house is now the Chorizo, Potato and Egg Hash. I double the recipe to fit our 20cm pan.

Chorizo, Potato and Egg Hash from Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields

Serves 1


200g leftover boiled potatoes, chopped into 1cm dice

1 tsp light oil, such as sunflower or light olive oil

2 cooking chorizo sausages, chopped into 1cm rounds

1 piquillo pepper, or 1 red pepper diced

2 eggs

handful of flat parsley, chopped


Sauté the potatoes in a large frying pan over a medium heat in the oil, stirring to make sure they brown all the way over. Set aside.

In the same pan, sauté the chorizo and pepper for five minutes, until the chorizo starts to crisp and the pepper is soft. If you are poaching eggs, do so now. Return the potatoes to the pan and stir in the parsley.

Create some space for the eggs if you are frying the, and crack them in. Cook until the white is set but the yolk is still runny. Eat hot.

Today, I have baked the Blaas. You do not realise the significance of this. I can cook yes, bake – sadly not. Baking is an art that so far had alluded me, so I am ridiculously excited to have my home smelling of freshly baked bread and having baked the most perfect looking rolls. Warm, freshly made bread rolls with a slice or two of cheese (and/or bacon) is just perfect for a Sunday.

I’m becoming a little obsessed, serious everything I have tried so far has come out so so well. Right now, I’ve got six Blaas leftover, I still have Niamh’s Peri Peri chicken marinating in the fridge for tonight, chick peas soaking for the Chorizo and Chickpea Stew tomorrow and am going to experiment with the Overnight Shoulder of Lamb recipe later in the week.

There is such a great variety of recipes for the foodie to enjoy. I’ve tried 10 or so of the recipes so far, and still have a stack more recipes I will be trying out soon. Comfort & Spice is a fantastic cookbook and incredible inspiration for those who really enjoy their food.

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The Barcelona Supper Club by Codorníu – Jamón carving, Catalan Cooking and Cava Masterclass

On 16th November, Spain’s award-winning cava producer (my client), Codorníu, is hosting a Barcelona Supper Club at L’atelier des Chefs. This interactive supper club evening includes not one, not two, but three culinary masterclasses followed by a four course supper club dinner celebrating the best of Barcelona food and drink.

The Barcelona Supper Club by Codorníu offers the ultimate in Spanish indulgence. Enjoy the art of jamón carving with expert jamón carver Chuse Valvor of Tozino, a hands-on cookery class with Rachel McCormack of Catalan Cooking, and a Fizzness School cava masterclass by Codorníu, before sitting down to relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour… all in one action-packed supper club evening.

Now, I don’t usually use my blog for some shameless self-promotion but this is an event I’m particularly proud of putting together and wanted to share with you all. A large part of my excitement about this event is that it includes jamón carving and as a recovering vegetarian I now finally understand that Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is one of the seven wonders of the culinary world.

What’s the cost of this jam-packed evening I hear you say, a mere £40 – a steal in my book for the jamón carving alone.

The evening will incorporate a traditional jamón carving class hosted by Chuse. You will learn how to choose the correct knife, position the jamón on a ‘jamonero’, make the first cut, carve wafer thin slices, and even blend the different layers of succulent jamón. You will walk away with an understanding of the different cuts of jamón; the Maza, Babilla, Codillo and Punta, their impact on aroma, texture and flavour and, of course, a first lesson in how to expertly carve.

You’ll also have the chance to cook up an authentic, seasonal Catalan dish with Rachel
McCormack, founder of Catalan Cooking classes and supper clubs, who specialises
in authentic Catalan dishes that are easy to recreate at home.

The “Fizzness School”, hosted by Codorníu, is a cava tasting where you can learn
how to pair sparkling wines with delicious food. You’ll complement your kitchen
creations with authentic cava and then sit down to dine in true Barcelona style
and enjoy your meal.

Places are limited, so if you want to join in on the action and be one of the Barcelona
Club’s exclusive supper guests, book your place via the Codorníu

For more information visit or check out the Facebook page – which (while I’m shamelessly plugging) will be giving away thousands of pounds worth of Barcelona-themed prizes over the next year including trips to the beautiful city itself.

There is a media preview of The Barcelona Supper Club by Codorniu on Tuesday 11th October at Beas of Bloomsbury at One New Change, ahead of the big event on Wednesday 16th November at L’atelier des Chefs.

Get in touch if you want to join in the fun.

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Skyy Vodka’s Glamour Live

A while back, I was invited to a rather lavish bash at Supperclub in Notting Hill for Skyy Vodka’s Glamour Live by one of my favourite people in PR, Fiona Hardman.

I’d like to say that I don’t make a habit of drinking hard liquor on a school night, but my regular readers will know that is a lie. I think it is part of me trying a little too hard to prove just because I am about to turn 30 doesn’t mean I’m slipping into quiet nights in and slippers territory – so a vodka-based fun on a Monday night is right up my street.

I’d been promised a girly catch up, tasty cocktails, impressive bar-tending skills and some celeb spotting.

SKYY Vodka scoured the country to find 16 of the UK’s slickest bartenders who were invited to compete at Skyy Vodka Glamour Live; a search for the UK’s best bartender. In groups of four, they were given their time to shine within an allocated 25 minute slot and guests were provided with SKYY dollars allowing them to ‘tip’ their favourite bartender. The winner of each round then moved on to the final and to compete for their chance to be crowned Skyy Vodka Bartender of the Year.

The bartender who got my dollar bills was an awe-inspiring gal who shaked it like there was no tomorrow serving up tipples like the Red Melon; Skyy Raspberry infused with a mix of Midori and cranberry juice. I plan on recreating this cocktail at home as soon as I set myself up with some decent cocktail shakers and glasses – which are on the birthday wish list.

Supperclub is one of those infamous celeb haunt venues, that has always intrigued me.It is a very glamorous venue, I loved lying back on the crisp white beds with the girls sharing stories and while enjoying an array of classy cocktails and canapés – the seared tuna was divine.

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Dunn Dunn Dunn – Diageo Whisky Tasting with Colin Dunn at Callooh Callay

Tasting Tuesdays at Callooh Callay are always a worthwhile adventure for those wanting to spend a bit more time getting to know their spirits and the stories behind them.

Dr Dunn Tasting Tuesday session was no exception. Indeed, demand had been such we’d exceeded capacity at the member’s Jub Jub bar and were instead in Callooh Callay’s back room, which was more spacious with better light for tasting.

Colin Dunn, aka Dr Dunn,  is hugely entertaining, amazing character. He’s a West Country boy, whose life changed course when he won a wine writing competition to visit the Scottish Isle of Islay.

Colin is now Mr Whisky, he loves the aromas and describes Diageo’s Scotch estate as like having 28 different perfumes. He claims to wear Dalwhinnie as an aftershave, it has hints of pineapple and sandlewood apparently.

He believes a good whisky is like a good book, it should take you on a journey and have a beginning, middle and end. The nose is the beginning of the journey with a whisky, it is one of those spirits you could easily nose all night, the taste on the palate the middle and what remains in your mouth long after you’ve taken a sip dictates the length and quality of the finish.

The lineup Colin prepared consisted of:

1. Johnnie Walker Black Label, 12 yr old         2. Talisker, 10 year old

3. Mortlach, 16 year old                                       4. Lagavulin, 16 year old

5. Lagavulin, 12 year old                                      6. Linlithgow, 30 year old

Lesson no 1: The first revelation for the evening was whiskies 2, 3, 4 and 5 all went into number one; Talisker 10 yr old, Mortlach 16 yr old, Lagavulin 16yr old and Lagavulin 12 yr old are all component parts of the Johnnie Walker Black Label.

Johnnie Walker sells 17.4 million cases. It is the best selling Scotch brand and is revered all over, from the US to Spain and Japan so must be doing something right.

Johnnie Walker is made up of 40 different whiskies, including 39 single malts such as Talisker, Mortlach and Lagavulin,  and 1 grain whisky. The grain whisky isn’t there to make up the numbers or bulk it out, the small addition of grain whisky helps tease out flavours and bring all the different malts together.

The number of whiskies in a blend is no indication of quality, it’s all about getting the right balance. Johnnie Walker Green Label contains a blend of 15 whiskies and while the Gold Label is made up of up to 18 different whiskies.

Lesson no 2: In order to fully appreciate the flavour profile of a whisky you need to give it due time and respect. Colin advises to give a whisky one second in the mouth for every year of its life, so for a 12 year old whisky give it 12 seconds in the mouth, over the tongue and around the gums. For a 30 year old, give it a whopping 30 seconds.

Lesson no 3: Just because its old doesn’t make it better.

Age statements on whisky age dictate the age of the youngest whisky in the mix, the rest of the blend could be much older. However, older doesn’t necessarily mean better, Colin says, ‘I’m 57 I was better when I was 23 and I know a lot of old people who aren’t very nice’. We tasted the Lagavulin 16 year old and 12 year old, many found they preferred the style of the 12 year old which although 4 years younger packed more of a punch – unleashing a flavour bomb on the nose and palate.

1. Johnnie Walker Black Label

Has a vanilla sweetness like, vanilla ice cream, with light spice, toast, smoke and peat notes. Complex, well balanced blend of whisky with a high malt whisky content.

“It’s a 12 year old; it smells like teen spirit, tastes like Nirvana.” says Colin

2. Talisker, 10 year old

Talisker goes into Johnnie Walker and wasn’t released as a single malt until 1989.

Really pungent, smokey, peaty whisky with a peppery palate and intense long finish.

Colin says “A tough rugged whisky, for me the most multilayered whisky out there. Gives you a burnt bonfire smack after 5.9 seconds… in the mouth is a red hot chilli pepper”.

Whisky cocktails are a challenge to bar tenders, like an illustration to book Colin believes the cocktail should add to the flavour of whisky and not overpower it

Julian rised more than admirably to the challenge and created a couple of different whisky cocktails for us, my favourite of the evening was his take on ‘the 20th Century’ using Talisker instead of a gin.

The distinct taste of Talisker was there and the cocktail seemed to delicately unfold in my mouth with the different layers of flavours coming in waves.

4. Lagavulin, 16 year old

Again, Lagavulin wasn’t released as a single malt until 1988. Since that times it has won over some high profile fans including Johnny Depp, who during an interview with The Guardian stopped to order a snifter of Lagavulin saying, ‘I don’t drink hard liquor any more, but I sometimes order Lagavulin just for the smell.’

And I can see why, there is so much there. It is deliciously peaty, with a rich, pronounced nose of heather, seaweed, lapsang souchong, chocolate, dynamite and Roquefort cheese with medicinal notes.

This distillery physically can’t make any more whisky. The guys there are literally working 24 hours, it is so popular the guys at Diageo generally don’t feel the need to show it in tastings as already demand exceeds supply but Colin decided to treat us to a dram all the same.

5. Lagavulin, 12 year old

Now if you like Lagavulin 16 year old, you will love the 12 year old. Age is just a number here and personally I prefer the 12 year old it is usually pale, has a beautiful smokiness with a touch of floweriness. Colin describes this as Lagavulin in HD, higher definition.

The reason for this enhanced flavour is the slow distillation, Lagavulin is distilled for 9 and a half hours. Colin compares slow distillation with slow cooking, if you ‘cook in a microwave, sure it’ll be hot but it won’t be as flavoursome as slow cooking it in the oven’.

There are only 100 barrels of this produced each year, it is released at cask strength – a powerful 56.5% abv.

6. Linlithgow, 30 year old

This whisky was bottled in 2004 and is a triple distilled 30 year old whisky which would today set you back around £480. In reality this bottle is priceless, it is a piece of liquid history, never to be repeated, the Saint Magadalene distillery where this was made closed down in 1983.

Special thanks for Callooh Callay and Colin Dunn for a fantastically informative, entertaining tasting.

Dr Dunn will be back at Callooh Callay for another tasting on Thursday 13th October 2011 as part of London Cocktail Week.

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Three of the best tapas bars in Seville

Seville has a very special place in my heart, not only is it the home of tapas, flamenco but it also the city where I got married.

My husband and I have visited Seville several times since we first fell in love with the City and decided to get married there. Each time we’ve visited we’ve reacquainted ourselves with our favourite haunts and got to know another pocket of the city better and discovered new gems.

Below is a tried and tested list of three tapas bars in three different neighbourhoods in Seville – be sure to check them out if and when you visit.

Bodega Santa Cruz (Las Columnas)

c/ Rodrigo Caro 1

I LOVE this busy bar in the old town of Santa Cruz. You need to fight your way to the bar, make yourself heard and watch them chalk up your tab on the bar, which I guess can be a bit intimidating if you are not confident with your Spanish, but the bar staff really work with you so trust me you’ll be fine.

Bodega Santa Cruz is set on a corner and is on a strip of bars leading up to the Giralda. The crowd spills out onto the street and while there are a few seats inside, don’t come here wanting to sit down, standing at the bar or at a table outside is the best way to experience this fun, atmospheric bar.

Seville is most definitely my happy place and Bodega Santa Cruz is usually my first point of call to help me instantly get into that holiday spirit. There are always the same old faces behind the bar who are fun and friendly, leave them a tip and watch them try and throw it in the basketball net set high above the bar.

Chalk boards either side of the bar show the daily, sometimes twice-daily, changing menu and there is always a board full of montaditos (small sandwiches).

If the Berenjenas Fritos (Deep fried Aubergines served with Honey) are on or the Solomillo al Whisky, (a Pork Loin Steak in a Whisky Sauce served with Boiled Potatoes), a specialty of Seville – be sure to dig in, you won’t be disappointed.

Best for: Ice cold beer, Good value food and drink, Lively night out

Bar Alfalfa

Calle Candilejo, 1

Alfalfa lively neighbourhood where you’ll find a real local crowd.

Bar Alfalfa is a great little corner bar, playing an eclectic music collection. It is very intimate, only fitting maybe 20 people in tops and has a funky, edgy vibe.

The Jamón Iberico de Bellota, acorn fed ham, here is divine and sliced in wafer thin slices – I’ve had plate after plate. Much of the rest of the menu has an Italian slant.

The tempo builds throughout the evening climaxing with the occasional sing song at last orders.

Best for: Amazing Jamón , late night drinks, gay-friendly

El Rinconcillo

C/ Gerona, 40

When we were planning our wedding in Seville, we wanted the reception at an authentic tapas bar. We’d never spent much time in fancy restaurants in Seville, for us it was all about atmospheric, tapas joints, where you stand at the bar or at tables made of sherry barrels, with Jamón hanging from the ceiling and where traditional Sevillian tiles adorn the walls.

El Rinconcillo fit the bill, we had the welcome drinks and nibbles in the main bar downstairs, the oldest tapas bar in Seville, which is still owned by the 7th generation of the same family and has an impressive collection of wine, sherry and spirits.

We then went upstairs in the restaurant where we all sat around one big table enjoyed a 22 course banquet with unlimited Cava, wine and beer.

My husband and I go back every time we visit Seville and the familiar faces behind the bar still remember us – we stand at the bar while they chalk up our growing tab and enjoy beer, Sherry and tapas – my husband swears they serve the best stew in Seville – Carrillada Cerdo Ib. en Salsa – Iberican Pork Cheek in sauce.

Best for: Authentic stew, impressive range of wines and sherries.

Best of the rest:

Las Teresas, Calle Santa Teresa, 2 – A tiny corner bar in myriad of Santa Cruz back streets which is packed full of bull fighting memorabilia. They serve great jamón and have a three knives mounted on the walls, showcasing the worn down knives of yesteryear, which are slivers of their former selves and detail how long a service each knife did i.e. 1964-1986.

Sol y Sombra, c/ Castilla 151 , Triana – In Triana, across the river. Look past the toilet rolls on tables in lieu of napkins and try to navigate the busy menu of tapas, racions and 1/2 racions. This is where I was brave enough to try the Bulls Tail Stew – a house specialty.

La Antigua Bodeguita – Plaza del Salvador, 6 – On the square of Plaza del Salvador, La Antigua Bodeguita is more of a drinking hole than serious tapas place, but serves a small selection of tapas and montaditos. There are two bars set next to each other, both are tiny and have ten times as many people outside standing at tall tables in the beautiful Square as would fit inside.

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WSET Diploma, Week 15, Sherry PART 2

So I went a little overboard on the Sherry notes, I’ve had to split over two posts. This post will focus on different Sherry styles, and compare biological vs oxidative ageing. [Apols for the crazy long gap in between Sherry posts – life got a little crazy back in May/June and I forgot to set this post live just playing catch up on all things Sherry before dedicating the rest of the month to Spirits.]

Sherrys are wines of their terrior but not terrior as we know it. Where a sherry is aged makes the biggest difference on the end flavour of a wine not where the grapes are necessarily grown.

Sanlúcar de Barrameda enjoys the coolest, most humid bodegas situated on the beaches and in the town where the humidity is trapped by the town’s outlying hills. This humidity encourages the thickest growth of flor, as it can grow pretty much all year round. The wines have more interaction with the flor and are considered all the finer for it. Sanlúcar is famous for its Manzanilla (a style of Fino which can only be made in Sanlúcar).

Jerez de la Frontera – Jerez has less Atlantic influence and has a more continental climate, it suffers cold in winter and extreme heat in summer. The flor in Jerez’ Bodegas dies back in the extreme heat of summer and the cold in winter, the resulting wine has a richer
flavour as there has been less flor eating so much wine. Jerez is lauded for its Finos and Olorosos.

Puerto de Santa Maria, is the third tip of the Sherry Triangle, it has some influence of the sea, but not as much as Sanlúcar, and is hot, but not as hot as Jerez. As the happy medium which enjoys the best of both world’s it makes the best Amontillados (a wine that starts of
life as a Fino and is then aged as an Oloroso, so has the nose of a Fino with the body of an Oloroso)


The cathedral-like bodegas are built to deal with the elements and were designed pre-electricity. The East/South East walls are built extremely thick to prevent the building being unduly affected by the heat of the sun. There are large doors and windows in the direction of the Poniente wine which let the cool, humid air in. The ceilings are very high with arches to funnel the wind through; the hot air rises and the Poniente pushes the hot air out of the large open windows.

On the floor albariza soil (albero soils), which can soak up moisture and is sprayed regularly to keep the place moist. Plants are often kept on pergolas by the door, which provide shade in summer and allow sunshine through in winter.


Finos are aged biologically – under flor to protect them from oxygen.

Biological ageing will lower the alcohol level, amount of glycerine, residual sugars and volatile acidity in the wine, as the flor feeds on all of these. Alcohol levels may need to be topped up in the solera, the low glycerine levels ensure a light bodied wine.

The acetaldehydes increase under biological ageing giving Finos their characteristic bite, the colour stays the same ensuring Finos, Manzanillas and Pale Creams remain lemon in colour.

Oxidative ageing, however, has the effect of increasing alcohol levels, volatile acidity, glycerine levels and residual sugars as the wine becomes more concentrated as water is slowly evaporated from the base wine which is in constant contact with the air.

The colour of oxidatively aged wines like Olorosos is darker, the oxygen contact turning the wines a brown colour. Acetaldehydes remain the same and phenols increase due to more interaction with wood.

Dry styles – my favourite!

FINO – A light, pale lemon sherry which is bone dry and clean on the palate. For a sherry it is relatively low in alcohol (15-18%) and is designed to be consumed young. Once open, enjoy within a week. Most of the character of a Fino comes from the biological ageing and
influence of flor, it has a distinct sharp, yet delicate aroma.

MANZANILLA – Manzanilla is a Fino that has been aged in Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the cooler climate allows a thicker layer of flor to develop, this gives the sherry a fresh, bready aroma and a delicate some say salty tang. It is light bodied and is generally between 15-19% alcohol.

AMONTILLADO – A true Amontillado is an aged Fino from which the flor has died away (flor only lives for around 7-8 years. since by this time it has eaten all the nutrients and sugar in the wine).  Amontillados are fortified to a slightly higher level than Finos (16-22%). It is amber coloured and have a hazelnut, herby, tobacco aroma.

PALO CORTADO – Palo Cortado is a wine too full-bodied for fino but still a very fine wine. There is no official definition, each bodega seems to have interpreted Palo Cortado differently, but for many it starts life as a Fino and is then aged oxidatively. The Sherry
butts are filled completely, not just 5/6 full and then the wine goes through long static period of ageing. Palo Cortado is a very fine complex style of Sherry and has the nutty nose of an Amontillado as well as bitter orange notes and the full body of an Oloroso.

OLOROSO – Oloroso translates as fragrant and is a full-bodied mahogany coloured wine which has been oxidatively aged from the very beginning. It has robust spicy, savoury, meaty, nutty aromas and is generally has an abv between 17 and 22%.

Naturally sweet styles

PEDRO XIMENEZ – A lusciously sweet dessert wine made from sun-dried Pedro Ximenez (PX) grapes. It looks almost like treacle, being very dark brown almost black in colour and with a thick syrupy consistency. It is packed with an array of deeply concentrated flavours of  dried fruit, raisins and figs. Sugar levels can reach as high as 400g/l. It is divine poured over vanilla ice cream. Alcohol content varies between 15 and 22% abv.

MOSCATEL – A dark mahogany coloured wine produced using sun-dried Moscatel grapes which provide a signature floral nose of jasmine, orange blossom and honey suckle as well as lime and grapefruit. It is a smooth sweet wine with alcohol content of between 15-22%.

Blended styles, i.e. styles your Nan would have drunk

CREAM SHERRY – Cream sherry is a dry Oloroso which has been blended with PX or other sweetening components to produce a sweeter style. The best examples are sweetened with PX which adds a hint of raisin and prune.

PALE CREAM – Pale Cream is a Fino that has been sweetened with Rectified Concentrated Grape Must – a concentrated sweet grape juice. It is light in colour and medium bodied with a sweet, grapey flavour and a sharp, distinctly Fino bouquet.

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Fortified Wines tasting exam advice from Jeremy Rockett of Gonzalez Byass UK

The drinks industry is such a beautiful place, there are no end of people willing to lend your their ear, show you round a bodega or pass on some helpful hints and tips to keen Diploma students bricking it about their upcoming exams.

Some time ago, the very lovely Jeremy Rockett, from Gonzalez Byass UK agreed to do a guest post on how to spot and correctly identify a Sherry during a blind fortified wine tasting. Here are his top tips:

Jeremy Rockett, Marketing Director, Gonzalez Byass UK

Is it Sherry?

“Sherry, Port and Madeira can confuse. Port is (except white Port) made from red grapes and even the tawny styles have a pinky/red tinge, which Sherry and Madeira don’t have. On the nose Port is fruity, and always sweet on the palate. Sherry can obviously be dry, but the sweet ones will be brown from the PX and have a raisiny nose, again from the PX. Madeira can be dry to sweet, like sherry, but has a very distinctive nose (maderised) from being cooked, but also has lots and lots of acidity, something that Sherry never has, unless it’s extremely old and concentrated.”

What type of sherry is it?

“If you split Sherry into its two styles then the job becomes easier. Fino and fino-derived styles will always be dry, have to be because the flor ate any residual sugar and all the glycerol. Fino is easy (although telling it from Manzanilla takes some practice) and then young Amontillados are fairly simple, dry, some flor and going copper in colour and walnutty on the nose. Older Amontillados are tricky, they can be mistaken for old Olorosos, more about that in a minute.

“Oloroso will either be dry or sweetened with PX. Even dry Olorosos have a touch of sweetness, from the residual sugar and the glycerol content. They have a nose reminiscent of dried fruits and will be copper in colour, with perhaps some green flashes. As soon as an Oloroso is sweetened with PX, then the PX dominates the colour and the nose. Tell-tale signs are a brown colour and a raisiny nose. To get the nose, just try 100% PX and then you’ll spot it in a blend quite easily.”

Older sherry

“As Sherry ages in the butt it concentrates due to the evaporation of water through the skin of the barrel, everything therefore gets more concentrated, residual sugar, acetaldehyde, dry extract, acidity (low to start with) and alcohol.

“The only old Sherries are going to be Oloroso or Amontillado, so how to tell the difference. The Amontillado will still be bone dry and will have very high levels of acetaldehyde. In contrast, an old, dry Oloroso will have much more of a rounded mouth feel, any residual sugar and glycerol will be concentrated and it will taste much richer. If it’s sweet then it’s obviously an Oloroso.”

The Palo Cortado Mystery

“For Gonzalez Byass we would say that Palo Cortado is the lightest most elegant style of Oloroso, so its very refined and restrained compared to an Oloroso which is a little more rustic and perhaps a bit “rancio” in contrast. Everybody has a different definition though, so its hard to give a definitive answer to this on.”

Thanks Jeremy for sharing your pearls of wisdom, good luck all you Diploma students out there, hope this was helpful!

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Maker’s Mark Bourbon tasting at LAB with London Cocktail Society

I have my Spirits WSET Diploma exam in a couple of months and so have signed myself up for a raft of Spirits tastings to help get up to speed.

First up on my list was the Bourbon evening at LAB (London Academy of Bartenders) with the London Cocktail Society on Bank Holiday Monday. London Cocktail Society is a great collection of cocktail fiends. The group is free to join and every month members are invited to exclusive tastings, cool cocktail bars or distillery visits.

The bourbon evening was hosted by Maker’s Mark brand ambassador, and Kentucky girl with an authentic Southern drawl, Jane Conner.

Maker’s Mark only has one whisky in the UK market and so instead of showing a range of different whiskies we wouldn’t be able to buy, Jane took us through a maturation tasting of Maker’s Mark, comparing and contrasting White Dog, Under Mature, Fully Mature and Over Mature examples of Maker’s Mark.

First Jane set the scene with a potted history of Bourbon and Maker’s Mark.

Bourbon was first created out of luck and necessity. In order to develop Kentucky in the 1770s, the ‘Corn Patch and Cabin Rights’ law was passed, it encouraged settlers to plant a corn patch and build a cabin in order to lay claim to 400 acres of land. A pretty good deal.

Corn is a bulky produce and due to the incentives to plant corn there was plenty of excess, excess which the Scottish, Irish and German immigrants knew they could distil into whisky. Kentucky was an ideal place to produce whisky due to its plentiful supply of both corn, and water – gallons of which is used as part of the distillation process. Kentucky was blessed with an iron-free water supply that was filtered through limestone soils. Water with a high iron content would have had the unfortunate result of turning the whisky black – worth checking if you are in a hard water area or not before you try topping up your Dad’s whisky with tap water. He will notice.

The Bourbon we know today was created by a ‘little bit of smarts and a lot of luck, according to Jane.

The whisky that came straight off the stills was a clear, liquid with a distinctive bite. This whisky was shipped shipped down South in barrels.

These barrels had often been used to house everything from vegetables to fish, so in order to sanitise them the insides of the barrels were burned. This charring caramelised the wood, and whisky spending six months or so on the Mississippi in these freshly charred barrels came out a darker with a smokey, caramel nose by the time it reached New Orleans.

The French settlers in New Orleans loved this dark tipple, the colour reminded them of Cognac. This whiskey came in barrels branded Bourbon County and soon the locals in New Orleans were asking for Bourbon.

Bourbon has had a chequered past but the Temperance movement dealt it a body blow when it passed prohibition in 1919; overnight 216 bourbon distillers closed down.

When Prohibition was repealed 14 years later in 1933, only 60 bourbon distillers reopened. By that time the US was awash, with Scotch, Gin and other international spirits.

Bourbon couldn’t catch up quick enough, it needed to be aged for a number of years and so literally couldn’t be created fast enough once the distilleries reopened. Many bourbons producers cut corners in order to get to market swiftly, releasing spirit too young with bags of ‘bourbon bite’, or adding iodine or wood chips to replicate the dark brown colour gained through ageing.

Distilleries closed again during World War Two and when they reopened, yet again there was not the time or money to make good bourbon. Bourbon got labelled a poor man’s whisky and the nation’s tastes had moved onto more neutral spirits like vodka and gin.

Today there are only nine distilleries left in the state of Kentucky, a product of the post-prohibition hangover.

Nowadays, Bourbon has stricter production laws than any other form of whisky to help guarantee quality and protect Bourbon’s signature full bodied spirit with lashings flavour – vanilla, coconut, toffe and spice.

1. It must be made in America

2. Must be aged for two years in new charred oak barrels – a damn expensive business each barrel costs around $130, Makers Mark use 1,000 of these barrels per week and sell them onto Scotch producers for $60 when they’re done. There are currently 6 million barrels ageing in Kentucky. 99.6% of Scotch whisky touches a bourbon barrel at some point in its life.

Because of the fact Bourbon is aged in newly charred barrels, it does not age as long as some other whiskies, too much oak can be a bad thing especially with wheat-based whiskies.

3. No additions, no caramel, no colouring. Canadian whiskeys can add 9.09% other ‘imported mature liquids’ translating as wine, port, sherry, bourbon rum etc – although this is only usually done with the cheaper blends.

4. It must be distilled to no higher than 80% abv and aged at no more than 62.5% abv in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years

5. It must be made of a minimum of 51% corn, with the rest being made up  of other grains. Most Bourbons have 70-80% corn.

Corn is light and provides Bourbons signature soft sweetness, rye adds character, personality and bite, malted barley is argued by some to provide a biscuity sweetness although many believe it is only added to the mash bill for its enzymes. Wheat, when added, gives a gentle roundness to a bourbon and honey notes.

Bill Samuels decided to forgoe the rye and instead used wheat to make his bourbon.

With the backdrop of a struggling market for Bourbon, in 1953 Bill Samuels went against the grain, excuse the pun, and started to create Maker’s Mark a premium Bourbon. His family had previously made whisky but had sold up years ago.

Bill wanted to create a sipping bourbon of quality, he had three requirements for his liquid:

1. It should not have the ‘Bourbon Bite’, Bill wanted a smooth tipple

2. It should be full-flavoured

3. The flavour should be forward on the tongue, round and with a creamy lingering finish

In 1959, Maker’s Mark produced the first premium bottle of Bourbon. It was Bill Samuel’s wife who first hand dipped the whisky bottle in hot red wax, a practice which is still done by hand today. It didn’t really catch on straight away as the world had taken a liking to blanded, neutral spirits but once flavour made a comeback in the early 80s, Maker’s Mark was finally sold outside Kentucky for the first time and today we are enjoying it in the UK.



The white dog is the newly distilled spirit, so called because ‘it is white and will bite you like a dog’.

It smells of corn and freshly baked bread. On the palate it is earthy and a little chewy, almost nutty. It has got that ‘Bourbon Bite’ they talk of, but you know I actually quite like this, I was expecting it to be harsher.


This is the same bourbon after it has spent a year in barrel, it has got some colour and is now a medium brown hue. It smells of caramel with hints of vanilla and honey. The taste moves forward on the tongue, but is still a little harsh on the throat.


Aged for 6 years and 3 months on average, it is richer with lots of vanilla. It smells like a Creme Brulee with cream, toffee, caramel. It is smooth and full flavoured with a round creamy flavour and long lingering finish.

OVER MATURE – 10 years old

This smells amazing, bags of caramel, wood and dried fruit. But on the palate it is not balanced, the wood has taken over and it is bitter, flat and hits the back of the throat.

Wheat doesn’t handle wood as well as rye and so a wheat whiskey will rarely be aged for as long.

Thanks for my friend and drinking buddy Ben Norum coming with me and for diving straight into a Bourbon Tasting after a week in Ibiza. Hard Core!

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Booking now: Pure Music and Whisky Festival

Some things are just meant to go together, strawberries and cream, movies and popcorn and rock music and whisky. Now some clever team has finally put the final two together with the Pure Music and Whisky festival – a festival more about whisky than wellies.

There will be an awesome line up of whisky loving acts including the likes of The Raveonettes, James Yorkston’s, Electric Soft Parade’s, Smoke Fairies, Steve Mason, Kassidy and Charlie Waller.

The line up of whiskies is even more impressive, with a range of single malts, blended whiskies and bourbons including Whyte and Mackay, Talisker, Cooley, Ardbeg and AnCnoc.

Whether you are new to whisky, a budding connoisseur or like me a WSET Diploma student anxious for extra tasting practice, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at the Pure Music and Whisky Festival including tutored tastings of World Whisky Masters medal winners by Dominic Roskrow.

The ticket price includes eight whisky tokens, tastings takes place between 4-7pm and music between 4-10pm.

I have my Spirits Diploma exam coming up soon and this will be some great tasting experience. But of all the whisky tastings I’ll be dragging my hubby to this month, I have a feeling this’ll be the one he’ll enjoys the most.

The Pure Festival has been created by whisky social networking site Whisky Connosr and Brand New Music

Ticket price and link – £28.50 –

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London Cooking Club – Malaysian by May

Such a long time ago now, I was introduced to the joys of Malaysian Cuisine courtesy of the London Foodie’s London Cooking Club. I love Oriental cuisine, but before that evening I could not have told you what Malaysian food was all about, as I was more familiar with Thai, Chinese or Japanese dishes.

Luiz and his partner graciously open up their home to fellow foodies as part of the London Cooking Club. I was invited to the Malaysian by May themed evening at London Cooking Club, and had to select one of May’s Malaysian dishes to prepare in advance and cook up for the group at Luiz’s place. I can’t tell you how nerve wracking it is to cook a recipe and serve to the person who wrote the recipe. I was petrified!

I thought I’d chosen a simple dish Malaysian Chicken Satay, but I hadn’t checked the ingredient list carefully enough and found myself on a last minute panic running round Soho and later persuading my husband to drive me to Wing Vip (oriental superstore in Cricklewood) to find ingredients totally alien to me like Galangal and Belacan.

The night itself was fantastic with every dish a new taste experience for me, I felt a little guilty at choosing such a simple dish to prepare but have it on good authority other dishes which looked and tasted very impressive like the Ikan Bilis were very straight forward to make.

For me the London Cooking Club isn’t just a wonderful way to spend a Saturday night, the evening has had a lasting impact on my culinary repertoire. Over the past few months, I have tried preparing pretty much all of the dishes at home again, and the Beef Rendang, Pineapple and Prawn Curry, Coconut Rice have become firm favourites at home. In fact, I’m writing this as I’m waiting for my Beef Rendang and before starting to prep my Stir Fried Green Beans in Belacan.

And I have become a frequent flyer at Wing Vip and seem to have a regular store of Malayasian ingredients at home.

Below is a snapshot of some of the ingredients I have come to love which left me baffled at the beginning.

Belacan or Belachan – seriously took me ages to find first time round, it is dried shrimp paste and comes in a range of different formats, granules, block and powder. It is amazingly pungent and does make a difference so don’t be tempted to miss it out, although ventilate your kitchen well when cooking.

Galanagal – Galanagal is a root vegetable with the consistency and texture of ginger, although tastes completely different.

Tamarind – This is the fruit, the flesh of which is a dark reddish brown and has a juicy, sour flesh. If you are trying to make tamarind juice, you will need to buy a dark, sticky block of tamarind and break off a chunk to soak in hot water and drain off the juice.

Candlenuts – also called Kemiri nuts Ground candlenut are often used to thicken Malaysian sauces, they are so oily that locals string them together and use them as candles. Candlenuts are highly toxic when raw and must be cooked before eating.

Check out May’s website Malaysian by May for the recipes that have inspired me, including Norman Musa’s Beef Rendang which I’m cooking right now – although I find I need to cook it for several hours not just the one hour stated in order to get that flaky dried texture and amazingly flavoursome beef.

Big thanks to May and Luiz for a fantastic culinary experience.

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The Food Urchin Supper Club – Buried Lamb Night

After reading all about Food Urchin’s Buried Lamb extravaganza earlier in the year, inspired by food Adventurer – Stefan Gates, I was determined not to miss out on the action this time round and promptly booked myself onto the Kleftiko night at Food Urchin Mansions.

Kleftiko translates as ‘stolen meat’ in Greek and so the story goes, this dish was traditionally made from lamb stolen from the hillside and was cooked in a hole in the ground for hours. The hole would be sealed with mud to prevent any steam from escaping and attracting unwanted attention that would give the thief away.

On arrival at Food Urchin Mansions in Upminster, we are given an lovely welcome by Mrs Food Urchin, who I have huge amounts of admiration for, not only for letting so many strangers into her home but allowing her hubby to dig a gurt big hole in the garden. It seemed like she enjoys the culinary fun and games and really was the hostess with the mostess – extremely organised, very hospitable and always smiling.

After enjoying a welcome drink, I go to check out the hole. At the bottom of the garden a rectangular space is left in the patio and in its place is a plot of clay. The hole about a metre deep was dug, a fire started and once it had got going for an hour or so, the lamb was added and promptly buried with a clay top soil to keep in the heat.

There is a sense of trepidation before the lamb is dug up, it is not as if you can easily close the oven door and give it another 20 minutes.

Food Urchin and his Dad make steady progress digging up the lamb, which was placed in wire supermarket shopping baskets for ease of recovery.

The meat itself was seasoned with a garlic and herb rub and buried with carrots and onions which have sufficient water content to keep the meat juicy and tender whilst it was cooking underground. The lamb is often wrapped in muslin sheets, although Food Urchin found pillow case covers work just as well.

The smell as the lamb was finally unwrapped and placed on serving plates was immense.

After watching the spectacle of the lamb being dug up, and my little brother checking no mud was touching the lamb we sat down to dinner.

The group was split into two groups of ten or so, we each sat down around one large dinner table to enjoy a selection of cold mezze consisting of homemade Taramasalata, Baba Ganoush, Hummus and Tzatziki with Grilled Haloumi and Flatbreads. Heaven!

I’d brought along a bottle of Gentilini Robola Cellar Collection – the last of my Kefalonian wines on the rack. I love BYO policies as it allows me to drink some really great wines without the hefty on trade price tag. I’m really proud of this wine as it is made by my good friend Michael Jones, winemaker of Gentilini in Kefalonia. On visiting the winery  last year, I was surprised to find a such high quality white wine could be made in the heat on the island, and still retain such high acidity, be so refreshing, and yet full of character.

In creating the limited edition, Cellar Selection, Michael’s idea was to create a carefully oaked expression after visiting Santorini and tasting the not-so-dissimilar Assyrtiko variety which is the noblest of Greek whites. The past two vintages, had been limited to 1500 bottles, but in 2010 because demand had risen, almost twice as many bottles were produced.

So with a Greek wine in hand, we eagerly awaited the star of the show Kleftiko served with Roast New Potatoes and a fantastically fresh and juicy Greek Salad. It was worth the wait!

I’d left just enough room for the dessert of Poached Pears with Filo, Praline, Pistachio and Vanilla Ice Cream and if I’m not mistaken a dash of honey, the combination of flavours and textures worked really well.

Sadly, I live miles away and had to leave promptly after dessert to get back to Norf London, otherwise I’d happily have stayed longer as there was a such a fun group on the table.

Food Urchin‘s Buried Lamb night was a fantastic experience to remember, one I’d love to recreate if only I had a garden…

Edible Experiences

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#ARSE 4 Australia’s First Families of Wine Speed Tasting

I always enjoy some #ARSE action and Andrew’s Really Secret Event take 4 (#ARSE4) didn’t disappoint. Again, Andrew’s secret wine tastings, meant that a group of unsuspecting food and drink bloggers were wandering round London, not really sure of where we were going and what we’d be tasting.

So one Sunday we met at Farringdon Station and were lead to Vinoteca for a sort of Speed Dating/Tasting with Australia’s First Families of Wine.

Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFWine) is a really great concept. Instead of competing against each other, 12 of Australia’s wine making families have joined forces to spread the word about the rich heritage and quality of Australian wines. There is something quite special about a family-owned wine company, where one generation has to continue and expand upon the legacy set by previous generation, and look after the brand and the land so it is secure for the next generation. It fosters a long-term view and a real respect for the land and vine.

It was a real privilege to be able to meet so many diverse winemakers who all share a mutual love and respect for Australian winemaking.

Australia’s First Families of Wines comprises; Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenburg, De Bortoli, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry, McWilliams,Tahbilk, Tyrrell’s, Wakefield, Yalumba – all multi-generational wine making families.

We had about 15 minutes to hear about their wineries, ask questions and taste wine before the bell chimed to signify it was time to move on. Here’s the highlights of what I managed to taste and discover in that time.

Wine dates on Table 1: Phil Ryan from McWilliams, Bruce Tyrrell from Tyrells and Natalie Burch from Howard Park.

Match from table 1:

Bruce Tyrrell. 4th generation family member and Managing Director of Tyrrells won me over on table 1 with his straight-talking stance on cork. ‘Would you accept the same failure rate in condoms as you do cork?’ Good point, the answer is clearly a resounding no which perhaps explains why since they switched to screwcap, sales have gone up – no dud bottles.

Tyrrells was first established in 1858 in the Hunter Valley. The company’s motto is ‘nothing is great unless it is first good’ summing up its commitment to quality and its land.

Tasting note from table 1:

Howard Park Riesling 2009; Aromas of citrus and wet slate, on the palate it is zesty with lashings of lime and delicate floral notes. This wines has a refreshing acidity and good length.

Howard Park is the youngest family in Australia’s First Families of Wine and Natalie Burch is a second generation family member.

Wine dates on Table two: Alister Purbrick, Tahbilk, Ross Brown of Brown Brothers, Leanne De Bortolli, of you guessed it DeBortolli and Chester Osborn from d’Arenburg

Table two match: It has to be Chester Osborn, the man with the loudest shirt in the room not only has some eyecatching bottles but his winemaking philosophy definitely caught my attention. Chester is fourth generation winemaker at d’Arenburg and tends the vineyards established by his great-grandfather  using the original, traditional methods employed 99 years ago when the vineyard was first set up.

Irrigation is seen as the enemy, there is no cultivation, no fertilisation, no herbicides used here.

In the winery basket presses are employed, and only the free run juice used. There is no fining or filtering prior to bottling.

Minimal intervention and gentle winemaking techniques create wines with strong sense of place and expression which maintain their minerality.

The wines all have named as bonkers at Chester’s shirt, The Dead Arm, Money Spider and the Love Grass.

Table two tasting note:

Tahbilk Viognier 2009: A different style to many other Australian Viogniers, this has no oak and instead is fermented in stainless steel to allow the fruit to shine through, buckets of ripe peach and lychee and peach with a strong acid backbone. A youthful wine for enjoying now.

Tahbilk winery is the oldest winery in Australia’s First Families of Wine and its history spans 5 generations over 135 years. All wines are 100% estate grown and bottled.

Wine dates on Table 3: Chris Unger representing Jim Barry and Yalumba, Johann Henschke from Henschke, and Mitchell Taylor representing Wakefield and Campbells.

Table three match:

Got to be the very charming Johann Henschke. I quite embarrassingly waxed lyrical about how his amazing parent were -this was one of the few Australian wine-making families I was familiar with before the lunch. Johann’s parents, Stephen and Prue are the very formidable -winemaking team and the current custodians of Henschke wines. They create some quite frankly divine wines, like the infamous Hill of Grace, a single vineard wine made using grapes from vines that are over 150 ears old. Johann is one of three siblings, his parents have made it very clear this is a family business not to be sold, so one or all of them will take over the reins at some point. The winery employs biodynamic principles- not as a marketing ploy but bourne out of a real respect and connection with the land and vine and perhaps a desire to protect it for future generations.

Table three tasting note:

Campbells Topaque (once known at Tokay) is one of those wines you can smell all day with a pungent aroma of toffee, tea, and Christmas cake. With bags of toffee, dried fruit, honey and chocolate on the palate. It has a wonderfully crisp finish, and was an inspired match to the dessert – Williams Pear and Almond Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Actually have to say top marks to Vinoteca lunch was faultless!

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Apologies for the radio silence


Sorry guys, this has most definitely been the longest I’ve left between posts and definitely the slackest I’ve been about responding to messages and much appreciated comments. Apologies.

Life has been a bit of a roller-coaster recently, with amazing highs like Seville and Jerez and coming back to earth with a bump following some unexpected family news which span me on my head.

Anyway, back on it now so expect a flurry of posts and messages to follow over the next week or so. First up, my ‘glamping’ experience in Cornwall…

Take care out there x

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Zetter Townhouse – Cocktail heaven dangerously close to my office in Farringdon

On Tuesday, I was among a number of the London Cocktail Society #lcs contingency to get a sneak preview of the new Zetter Townhouse cocktail bar.

I was instantly attracted on two counts:

     1. I’d heard the fantabulous guys behind 69 Colebrooke Row are the brains behind the bar, and

     2. it is literally a hop, skip and a jump from the office.

Located in a stunning townhouse off St John’s Square in Clerkenwell, with a carefully maintained exterior and discrete pale blue door, Zetter Townhouse is a real treat.

The designer behind the decor is Russell Sage and the cosy rooms, have the feel of  grand aunt’s living room, packed full of eclectic pieces from her travels. Expect big old bookshelves, antique candlesticks and stuffed kangaroos.

Despite having high expectations given my 69 Colebrooke Row experiences, the cocktails did not disappoint.

First up was the Köln Martini – it had been a hard day after all. This stiff drink, made with Beefeater Gin, was served with a separate medicine bottle of a potent citrus aromatic, with patrons encouraged to add the drop of aromatic in themselves to finish the cocktail. I’d possibly added a little more than a drop in my eagerness but it tasted pure, fresh and with a little tang.

Next up, I ordered the Masters of Arms, a truly fab concoction of Myers rum, port evaporation and homemade grenadine. This is  serious drink with just the right balance of  concentrated fruit and kick, with a touch of sweetness.

I was also lucky enough to try a sip or two of the The Richmond, which my husband would adore – 12 yr old Chivas Regal, apple honey and Lillet Blanc – a divine combination of warming whisky, ripe apple and bitters with a delicate honey finish.

I ordered a little bite to nibble on in between cocktails and after much deliberation decided on the spicy and zesty, marinated grilled halloumi and some bread to enjoy with the decidedly moreish pâté.

The service was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive – the decor, sumptuous and exciting – with lots of little touches to reward the eye, like this lovely lampshade, which is hung from the centre of framed piece of art.

I poked my head in the games room before I left and saw a gang of fellow cocktail buddies enjoying game of ping pong, I have yet to see one of the 13 bedrooms, but if the decor is anything like the main bar or private dining rooms they will be a delight.

Zetter Townhouse is one of my new favourite cocktail bars, hope to visit again very soon…

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Croquetas de Jamón recipe

I spent my New Year’s Eve cooking up a Spanish extravaganza for some good friends, the Croquetas de Jamón was definitely the dish of the night so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

The recipe was adapted from a crispy chicken and ham croquettes recipe in a tapas cookbook published by Parragon, which I’ve adapted and made my own.

It’s still officially Christmas so to make these a little festive I’ve used turkey instead of chicken. These are nothing like the mashed potato-dominated croquettes you may have tried in the UK, they are packed full of flavour – in fact, there is not a potato in sight as the turkey and ham mixture is bound together with a creamy paste.

So if you are struggling with ideas for leftover turkey give my Christmas croquetas a go! Don’t be tempted to skip the chilling stages, it is essential to help the mixture bind properly and keep their shape.

Ingredients (makes 8):

4 tbsp of Spanish olive oil
4 tbsp plain flower
175ml milk
250g turkey mince
70g of Jamón ibérico
1 tbsp chopped fresh leaf parsley
pinch of nutmeg
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to season
1 egg, beaten
white breadcrumbs
groundnut oil
aioli to serve


1. Brown off the turkey mince in a separate pan and set aside

2. Heat olive oil in a separate pan, stir in the flour to form a paste and cook on a low heat for 1 minute stirring all the while. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the milk until smooth. Return to the heat and gradually bring to the boil stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the turkey mince. Beat until smooth. Add the chopped ham, parsley and nutmeg and mix well.  Season with salt and pepper.

4. Transfer the mixture into a dish and leave for 30 minutes until cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight (or for 2-3 hours at the very least).

5. After chilling, take a big spoonful of mixture and with dampened hands shape into a fat sausage. Dip the croquetas one at a time in the beaten egg and roll in the breadcrumbs until fully coated. Place on a plate and chill for 1 – 2 hours.

6. Heat the groundnut oil in a deep fat fryer to 180 degrees, when a cube of bread will brown in 30 seconds. If you haven’t got deep fat fryer fill a deep saucepan with enough oil to cover the croquetas.

7. Add the croquetas two or three at a time and fry for 10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Remove from the pan and drain well on kitchen paper.

8. Serve the croquetas piping hot and ideally with a bowl of aioli, garlic mayo, for dipping

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