Thursday, 31 December 2009

Whisky Sour

Sours are a diverting way of consuming serious liquor. The whisky sour, according to legend/Wikipedia, should strictly be a whiskey sour - the 'e' denoting bourbon whiskey rather than Scotch whisky. But Scotland might debate this, having muscled in on the act too, and more significantly here, I didn't have any bourbon to hand.

60ml (2oz) scotch whisky
1 egg white
Half a teaspoon of sugar (or a dash of sugar syrup)
10ml lemon or lime juice

Shake the ingredients, like billio, in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a glass tumbler full of ice.

The egg white, if shaken with sufficient animation, will leave the drink delightfully smooth and light, while the citrus and sugar should combine to achieve a sweet/sour balance of Buddhist integrity.

Happily, my selection of the distinctly un-peaty Glenmorangie 10-year-old was consistent with Bar-Blog's advice, in an interesting post on the history of whisk(e)y sours, to avoid the stronger, smokier styles of Scotch that might throw the drink off kilter.

Even so, I have a hunch the sour works better the traditional way, with bourbon, which means my work here is not yet done.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009


Fifteen Cornwall
On the beach
Watergate Bay

Forgive me, but if someone had asked me only a week ago what a “wassail” was I’d have guessed a rare species of bird. Now, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s posh seaside restaurant, Fifteen Cornwall, I am – for the first time – delighting in the wonder of this delicious hot cider drink and saying, unequivocally, this is no bird.

Fifteen’s Cornish Wassail is "Cornish Orchards farmhouse cider mulled with locally pressed apple juices, star anise, clementine and honey". Mine was warming and fruity: not tart, mind, and not too sweet neither. I couldn’t tell you how it was prepared – I was planning to ask Jamie but he was nowhere to be seen, and his youths were probably too occupied overcooking pheasant to help me with my research.

Then again, and this is simply a suggestion, try throwing all of the above into a pot on heat, and see where that gets you.

Forget mulled wine – well, leave it on the back hob a while – and let's all fill our wassailing bowls instead.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Skinner's Heligan Honey

When it comes to ales, we all know what we like, and it’s often tempting to stick to a couple of favourites, week in and week out, forever until we die. STOP! For a start, you can’t really call them your favourites until you’ve tried every other beer out there. Second, if you're willing to sip around, just occasionally you’ll discover something new you like a lot – and how exciting is that?! I know Skinner's - the Cornish brewery - pretty well, but I don’t recall having tried its Heligan Honey before. This golden-coloured ale, commissioned by local tourist honeypot the Lost Gardens of Heligan, is brewed with Cornish honey and tastes bee-wilderingly good. And while the beer has a smoothness and a sweetness about it, it’s far from the sugarfest its name might suggest. I could drink several, and wish I had. But we turned instead to a Skinner's classic, the Cornish Knocker: smooth like the Heligan, but fuller-bodied and slightly hoppier too. Sometimes the pull of the old favourites is too strong to ignore. 

ALERT! A Great Pub of Our Time is the Chain Locker, in Falmouth, which serves the ales mentioned above and then some. I’ve written elsewhere about pretend Cornish pubs. This is the real deal.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Innocence Lost

The Innocence Lost is what happens when a virgin pina colada (also known as an Innocent pineapple, banana and coconut smoothie) is relieved of its virginity with the help of some rum of questionable quality.

There is something particularly annoying about the calculated tweeness peddled by Innocent's marketing managers in a bid to convey their sense of "fun". I'm referring, for example, not to their suggestion that you shake the carton before serving, but to their helpful footnote that it's best to screw the cap on before you do so. And so tediously on. There is therefore something especially satisfying about taking Innocent's admittedly tasty, and healthy, fruit smoothie and adulterating it with liquor - in this case some leftover rum.

60ml (2oz) Morgan's Spiced rum
180ml (6oz) Innocent pineapple, banana and coconut smoothie

Pour rum into a glass. Add Innocent smoothie. Stir thoroughly until properly mixed. Pop in a glacé cherry, if you have one.

And there it is: what was once pure rendered impure; what was "fun" made fun.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Dark and Stormy (Spiced)

The Dark and Stormy doesn't strike me as particularly stormy. But this drinkable mixture of rum and ginger beer is so easy to make I'm willing to forgive its lying claims.

Rebelliously (for this drink demands dark rum) we procured a bottle of Morgan's Spiced, which is rather more golden in hue, and which added vanilla and cinnamon flavours to the mix. Not sure about this rum - if it's a boozy vanilla drink you're after I'd go for Tuaca every time. But Morgan's is cheap and, unlike Tuaca, robust enough to stand up to some fairly spicy ginger beer. My favourite ginger thus far is Old Jamaica, which has a real kick to it, and when I'm not corrupting it with booze it's my soft drink of choice too. Some Dark and Stormy recipes say add a bunch of lime juice, but after giving that a go I decided the citrus was surplus to our needs. Instead I impaled a wedge of lime on the rim of each glass so imbibers could squeeze their own to taste.

Captain's orders as follows:

60ml (2oz)  Morgan's Spiced rum
90ml (3oz) Old Jamaica ginger beer
Lime wedge

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add the rum and ginger beer and give it a good stir. Serve with lime wedge garnish.

It was pretty refreshing, and if you like ginger beer you ought to like this. But I really need to try it again with a properly dark rum. Watch this blog-space.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Old Fashioned

Some say the Old Fashioned was the first drink to be called a cocktail. The traditional construction has the bartender dissolving a sugar cube in a splash of water and bitters by stirring, stirring, stirring, before adding ice and bourbon.

Does anyone still buy sugar in cubes? I fear they're rather démodé. I prefer to use home-made sugar syrup - it requires less stirring and won't leave you crunching on stray granules. I neglected the garnish because my fruit bowl contained nothing but bananas - please don't make that mistake. My bourbon was Bulleit.

Old Fashioned

60ml (2oz) bourbon
Two dashes Angostura bitters
Two dashes sugar syrup
Orange peel.

Place syrup and bitters in an Old Fashioned (tumbler) glass along with an ice cube and mix well. Steadily add the bourbon and further ice cubes, one at a time, stirring all the while. Garnish with twist of orange peel.

The Old Fashioned rendered my 40% Bulleit surprisingly smooth. As a vehicle for bourbon, and a reliable after-dinner drink, it's hard to beat.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Campo Viejo Rioja Gran Reserva

Having given a firm thumbs-up to Campo Viejo's younger Crianza, I thought I'd reacquaint myself with its grandaddy, the Gran Reserva. Aged 24 months in oak casks (compared with just 12 for the Crianza) and at least 36 in the bottle, this wine, made from Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes, will never be accused of lacking structure. It's super-rich - imagine, if you will, a big bunch of boozy black cherries or a handful of juicy purple plums - with a smooth, woody finish. Campo's Gran Reserva was the first Rioja I ever bought - as little as a year ago (I'm a recent convert) - and I daresay it will always be a favourite. Shared with guests alongside a huge hunk of the most frighteningly strong Pecorino I have ever encountered, this 2002 vintage held its own. That said, it may have excited me a little less this time, than previously. Am I becoming difficult to please?

Buy Campo Viejo Gran Reserva at The Drink Shop here.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Talisker Toddy

Returning home following a hellish hour on London transport, through the snow and slush and oomska, I needed a dose of medicine. Not proper medicine, mind, since I wasn't technically ill, but something to answer the cold in my bones and the mild discombobulation that comes with the passing of daylight on the shortest day of the year.

The remedying powers of hot toddies have long been recognised, and it's not hard to see why liquor and warmth might be preferable to a patient when the alternative is, well, anything else.

A recipe I found here advises leaving your best spirits alone and reaching for a supermarket blend of "gulpin' whisky", since if you're suffering from a terrible cold you're unlikely to appreciate the good stuff anyway. Fair point, but I wasn't sick - I just wanted to feel better, so I turned instead to my bottle of Talisker and decided that if this smoky, spicy single malt couldn't perk me up then maybe I was less well than I suspected.

The prescription:

60ml (2oz) Talisker 10-year-old
60ml (2oz) boiling water
Half a teaspoon of honey
Dash of lemon or lime juice

Pour the whisky into a tumbler and stir in the honey. Add the boiling water and stir some more. Add a little citrus juice and stir again. Place glass in the microwave for a few seconds until the potion is piping hot. Drink before it gets cold.

Introducing the Talisker Toddy: short, smooth, sweet, smoky, and deeply warming. In other words, just what the doctor should order. And if he doesn't, find another doctor.


Feeling brave? Then try making this legendary winter beverage. I discovered a recipe for Eggnog here, but decided that since one is likely to drink just the one (I reckon raw eggs and cream are better in smaller portions) it made sense to up the booze content a fraction and be done with it.

30ml (1oz) dark rum
30ml (1oz) brandy
0.5oz light brown sugar
60ml (2oz) cream
1 whole egg

*Lacking ground nutmeg, I was forced to use allspice, which I found a little too dominant; clovey. Do stick to nutmeg.

Mix rum, brandy, sugar, cream, egg and a pinch of ground nutmeg into a shaker. Fill with ice and shake "like your life depends on it". Strain into glass and garnish with a secondary nutmeg pinch.

A handy definition of a winter drink is anything you'd find abhorrent on a hot July afternoon. Eggnog definitely falls into this category. It's creamy and comforting, rather than warming, but probably just the ticket in certain undetermined circumstances.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Tuscan Mustang

I am a firm believer in Tuaca, having first tried it in Brighton about five years ago. The brandy-based Italian liqueur (35%) tastes mainly of vanilla, with hints of citrus and a little caramel. The manufacturer recommends drinking it chilled and straight, but for me it's a little syrupy and sweet to sip like that, which is why I got used to drinking Tuaca inside a Tuscan Mule (with ginger ale/beer and lime wedges - think Moscow without the vodka).

The problem is, most recipes call for 50ml of Tuaca to be served in a highball glass with ice and "topped up" with ginger ale, at which point the liqueur risks being diluted to death. This is certainly how it's served in most bars, and I'm guessing "ginger ale with notes of  vanilla" is not exactly what Tuaca's creators, nor indeed God, intended.

And so, in the spirit of free inquiry, I dusted off my sadly neglected bottle of the golden-brown nectar and set about remixing the recipe. By and by, I settled on this simple tweak:

60ml (2oz) Tuaca
60ml (2oz) ginger ale*
1/4 lime

*While some recipes call for ginger beer for its stronger taste, I find it masks Tuaca's more fragile flavours.

Throw a few ice cubes into a glass tumbler, add the Tuaca and ginger ale, squeeze lime wedges into drink and mix.

What a drink! It's short, rather than long, and the ratio of booze to mixer means the liqueur's vanilla essence really resonates, while the lime prevents the sweetness from overwhelming things. M likened it to a key lime pie, and why not?

Having triumphantly named this "new" drink the Tuscan Mustang, in a condescending nod to the tamer Mule, I was devastated to find some online recipes for the Mule already call for a similar concentration of Tuaca to mine. Indeed, the official Tuaca website proposes 1.5 parts Tuaca to 2 parts ginger ale.

However, I am not one to be distracted or dissuaded by mere facts. The truth remains that asking for a Tuscan Mule does not in practice guarantee one a decent cocktail, whereas a Tuscan Mustang, if it is to mean anything at all, promises a feral kick. I know which beast I prefer.

READ about the special relationship between Tuaca and Brighton here.

Friday, 18 December 2009

More Rioja, Cardinal?

When it rains in rural Spain there's nothing to do but drink fermented grapes. Fortunately, during our recent sodden stay in the region of Rioja, we were literally sleeping above caves filled with wine.

I've already raved about the little winery attached to our hotel in the northern town of Laguardia, a slightly non-helpful raving for any Britons wanting to taste its wares, since they don't seem to be available in the UK.

Neither, sadly, do those of Carlos San Pedro Pérez de Viñaspre - a 500-year-old artisan winery that still ages its goods in cellars eight metres below street level. After being allowed to sample its pre-bottled 2006 Crianza from the tank during a tour of the cellars we asked if we could taste the Vinasperi Reserva 2004, liked it, brought one home (pictured top). It was full of oak and blueberry flavours, a little less rich than other Reservas I've tried, and with a fairly dry finish. Taken with some mature manchego and some leftover jamon and chorizo, it was a welcome reminder of a wet weekend.

A few days later we opened a takeaway bottle of 2006 Cantos de Valpiedre (left), which we first tried in a Laguardian bar on the recommendation of a friendly waitress. This wine, made from 100% Tempranillo, was and remains terrific - smoky but also fairly light, with a complex finish (complicated to describe, anyway). The name of the winery, Finca Valpiedra, means "valley of the stones", and its proximity to the Ebro river and its bed of calcium-filled pebbles apparently makes the grapes taste good. Temptingly, this one seems to be buyable in the UK.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Paradox Smokehead

*Guest post by Tim*

If there are two drinks that are suited to cold winter evenings they are a beefy stout and a warming, smokey Islay malt.

It is therefore with great tidings of joy that I can bring news of Paradox Smokehead, a luscious beer produced by the Brewdog brewery in the chilly outpost of Fraserburgh, north of Aberdeen that combines attributes of both.

Opening a bottle during a quiet night in, the first thing that struck me was the smell. An extraordinary waft of smoke and peat hit my nostrils.

This is still very much a beer. But the brewery has aged its stout in whisky casks. In this case they previously belonged to Islay brand Smokehead (and before that they were storing bourbon).

The ageing of beer in whisky casks is not unique to Brewdog. Fellow Scottish brewers Innis & Gunn have done the same with great success.

What made the Paradox brew different was the intensity of the flavour and smell imparted by the Islay kegs.

Underneath that, the flavour was deep and complex. Maybe Christmas is beginning to overwhelm me but there were nutty textures in there. It was little bit like a Guinness but with added layers of sharpness and none of the cloying softness of the Irish brew.

One of the nicest aspects is that at 10% ABV it renders you capable of doing little with the rest of your evening other than dozing contentedly at the lights of the Christmas tree.

Pear, Apple and Ginger Smoothie

The Table Cafe
83 Southwark Street

Every now and again, about once every four years, I wish I had a juicer. My inaugural visit to The Table Cafe in Southwark, for a fine brunch, prompted me to return to the appealing possibility of destroying whole apples with the flick of a button. Its pear, apple and ginger smoothie is truly a zinger: sharp and refreshing. A little on the small side for three pounds, but then who knows how many apples, pears and gingers they had to pulp to produce our little glass. If only I had a juicer I could destroy an entire orchard of fruit every morning to create my own limitless supply of life affirming breakfast juice. Until then, there's The Table Cafe.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Gingerbread Latte

My long-standing semi-boycott of Starbucks, confused somewhat by the coffee giant's recent conversion to Fairtrade, is always most tested at winter time, when its selection of festive coffees hits the stands. Waiting for a train at Victoria station last weekend I succumbed to a Gingerbread Latte. It was full of those special seasonal spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger - that make you feel Christmassy inside. No matter, this time, that those same spices were delivered by a few squirts of industrially-produced sugary syrup: mine tasted just fine. I went for a medium/"grande" (skimmed milk, no whipped cream), which cost a ridiculous £3.20 - another reason why my Starbucks fix comes but once a year.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Following my annual forage into "cookery", this time to make a baked pumpkin cheesecake, I ended up with some extraneous pumpkin puree (don't you hate it when that happens?). Astonishingly, there are quite a few cocktail recipes out there requiring pumpkin, and M bravely agreed to try a tequila-based Calabatini. The name comes from the Spanish word for pumpkin, calabaza, and the Calabatini was described on tinternet as "an excellent autumnal drink", which sounded perfect because I prefer to celebrate the seasons retrospectively.

The recipe requested Monin Pumpkin Spice syrup, but I read elsewhere that pumpkin puree (mine came from a tin) was a reasonable substitute. A couple of other tweaks were made (I was using up some leftover sour cream too, which in turn demanded a balancing dash of sugar syrup) and the resulting recipe looked like this:

45ml (1.5oz) Reposado Tequila
60ml (2oz) sour cream
30ml (1oz) milk
15ml (0.5oz) pumpkin puree
Dash of agave or sugar syrup
Ground cinnamon for garnish

Pour ingredients into cocktail shaker with ice. Shake like crazy. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

Sipped against a background of baking aromas, this was a lovely cocktail, sweet with a little spice, and surprisingly gentle for a tequila drink. The pumpkin added structure rather than flavour, and if anything I could have gotten away with using a little more of it.

I know pumpkins are generally confined to Halloweens and Thanksgivings only, but if anything can put an end to such unseasonal segregation it's a glass or two of this winter spice.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Sainsbury's Mulled Wine

Whether it's getting cold outside, or you just need something to take your mind off bad singing, mulled wine "has your back", as they say in America. I realise I should probably be mulling my own, but having spotted Sainsbury's Mulled Wine in their posher Taste the Difference range for just 3.99 it seemed sensible to try it pre-mulled and ready to go. The label on the back describes this bottle as "a rich and warming combination of silky smooth Spanish Tempranillo and spicy Shiraz mulled with orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla", which is a better summary than I could muster. We left out the suggested addition of French brandy, since our party still had some walking to do, but it wasn't necessarily missed. After a couple of minutes on the hob, and garnished with a slice of orange, it went down a treat. I'll be striving to share a few more bottles of this winter warmer before the holiday is out.

Sunday, 13 December 2009


New Tayyabs
83-89 Fieldgate Street
E1 1JU

I've always been a defender of lassis ever since one saved me from certain chili-related death in a curry house over a decade ago. These watery yoghurty shakes are a balm to fiery tongues and throats - the soothing dock leaf to the balti stinging nettle. I was a little disturbed to see a salty version on offer at Tayyabs Pakistani restaurant, where we had gathered for a spiced meat feast, and went for the sweet one instead (two quid). When it was served in a pint-sized metal bucket, chilled and only slightly sweet, I realised I should have ordered an entire jug of the stuff (five quid). Mine was unpolluted by fruit, although D rated his mango one highly too. The lassi's pleasing qualities got us wondering what it might socialise with - and the consensus was rum. I'm not sure how lassi traditionalists would feel about such spiking, but since frozen yoghurt seems to be so sought after these days, I'm sure something even more delicious could be made of the lassi too.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Sophie's Steakhouse

Sophie's Steakhouse
29-31 Wellington St

*Guest post by Marina*

A large group of us were here mainly to eat but there was a very long wait for a table so of course I took advantage of the cocktail list - the first one that jumped out at me was the Covent Garden (pictured above), a mix of Wyborowa pear vodka, peach puree, sweet & sour, grapes and matured English plums. This was really refreshing and not too sweet - a really balanced fruit cocktail that didn't go overboard into smoothie territory. For my second drink, I picked a Sparkling Pear Martini - I liked the pear vodka in my previous drink, and this one was made with the same vodka as well as elderflower cordial & champagne. Again, really nicely balanced flavors - it was a stronger drink than the first one but not too in-your-face, the way martinis can sometimes be. Someone behind the bar knows what they're doing. Although, be warned, they charge accordingly.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Scotch Whisky

I did try to restrain myself. But given the chance to drink unlimited whisky at someone else's expense for a couple of hours I got rather carried away.

Consequently, while I managed to catch most of the names of the Scotches I imbibed, I can't remember much about any of them, particularly those I tasted towards the end of the evening.

Memorable standouts would have to include the Lagavulin 16-year-old, an Islay malt (pictured above) whose finish has been described by Whisky Magazine as a "huge, powerful, bear-hug of peat".

Another highlight was a 10-year-old Ledaig, a pale coloured peat monster hailing from the Isle of Mull. I also seem to recall enjoying a Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish, although I'm told by witnesses I was having trouble pronouncing its name by that stage.

For starters, we were offered a Christmas cocktail of Grants blended whisky, milk, cream, white chocolate syrup and ice (right), which I might try making at home sometime. Perhaps next Christmas, when I may be ready to drink whisky again.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


Challenged to make a tasty tequila drink, I tried to reproduce 69 Colebrooke Row's wonderful Serafin cocktail, which I remembered for tasting at once refreshing and interesting, in a woody kind of way.

In Colebrooke Row they mix the tequila with poire liqueur, lime juice, sugar and ginger beer, and serve in an elegantly narrow highball glass (pictured left).

At home, lacking the poire liqueur and the ginger beer, I opted instead for some pear puree topped with ginger ale.

For the tequila I used Casco Viejo's Reposado (below), in the hopes of enhancing the cocktail's slightly spicy quality, but I'm sure anything made from 100% blue agave would suffice here (just say No to mixto!).

My adapted recipe:

60ml (2oz) Casco Viejo Reposado
15ml (0.5oz) lime juice
15ml (0.5oz) agave syrup
50g pear puree
Ginger ale

Pour the tequila, lime, agave and puree into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with ginger ale.

Problem was, it didn't taste right. The ginger ale lacked the required kick (next time I'll use ginger beer) and the citrus was smothered by the thickening puree (more lime!). This was a shadow of a Serafin.

Maybe that's why Colebrooke Row is one of the best cocktail bars in town, and I'm not.

Fact! Tequila is made by distilling the fermented juice of the blue agave, a spiky-leafed member of the lily family, and not a cactus.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mulled Wine

My first mulled wine of the year, bought in Berkhamsted of all places, where everyone and their children were out to watch the switching-on of Christmas lights. One and a half British pounds got me a paper cup of hot vin rouge spiked with clove and cinnamon and... was that orange? It may have benefited from a slug of brandy, but I'm not complaining. If anything was going to make the local choir tolerable in the chilly air it was cheap, warming wine. We left before the lights came on, but we got what we needed.

Campo Viejo Rioja Crianza

After an afternoon of guzzling beer for research purposes and general edification we ended up in a fine Turkish grill to take stock and try to come up with coherent things to say about hops. One of the restaurant's many qualities was its corkage-free BYO policy, which meant we were able to drink a nice bottle of Rioja picked up from a nearby offy without having to pay extra for the privilege. A great wine to drink with meat, Campo Viejo's 2006 Crianza may be a welterweight when compared with its venerable relative, the Gran Reserva, but for its price (about seven quid) it packs a toasty Tempranillo punch and leaves you enough change for a mixed grill.

Pig's Ear Beer + Cider Festival

270 Mare Street
London E8 1HE

To the East End, for my second ever beer festival (the first having been stumbled upon during a Deliverance-style canoeing expedition in rural Herefordshire a couple of summers ago). The Pig's Ear (Cockney rhyming slang for beer, innit) is an annual event organised by a local branch of CAMRA.

Rocking up on Saturday afternoon, the fifth and final day, we soon realised many of the drinks advertised in the programme had been drunk already. First lesson learned: while music festivals save the best acts til last, beer festivals work differently.

Having bought our branded Pig's Ear pint glasses for £3 each (refundable on return), our group set to work on the dozens of real ales, cider and foreign beers still available. Fortunately, while the only measures were pints or halves, ‘tasting’ before buying was encouraged, so in theory no one had to end up with something they hated.

My first choice - recommended by one of the many knowledgeable stewards manning the mile-long real ale bar after I requested "something light" - turned out to be my favourite of the day.

Castle Rock's Harvest Pale (3.8%), brewed in Nottingham, was light and flavourful at the same time. A golden colour (pictured) and, as I think they say in these situations, citrussy, grassy and slightly hoppy.

Fearing my taste for light ales might be considered unadventurous by the committed real ale drinkers in the house, I moved on to some more ‘challenging’ brews to show my willingness.

An hour or so after we arrived our group of four expanded to seven, and since everyone was willing to share, a lot of sampling was done.

Our amateurish tasting notes included the following:

Springfield Medium Dry (Monmouthshire, 8.2%) – “Tastes better than it smells.”
Rosie Rampant Ram Whisky Barrel (Denbighshire, 7.2%) – “Christmassy - contains real whisky!”
CJs Medium Dry (Monmouthshire, 6%) – “Slightly carbonated, appley.”
Rosie DDD (Denbighshire, 6.6%) – “Very dry, very little apple taste.”
Sarah’s (Herefordshire) – “Uncloudy.”

Foreign Beers
Schlenkerla Märzen Very Smoky Lager (German, 5.1%) - "Sausage infused." (pictured below)
Lambic Cantillon Gueuze (Belgian, 5%) - "DISgusting."
Girardin Framboise (Belgian, 5%) - "Aaack."
Ij Scharrel Ij Wit (Dutch, 7%) - "Yummy wheat beer."
Mikkeller Big Bad Barley Wine (Danish, 12%) – “Heavy and syrupy.”
Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper (Danish, 10.2%) – “Santa should get another helper.”

Draught Beers
Bollington Dinner Ale (Cheshire, 4.3%) – “Better with dinner?”
Brewdog 77 Lager (Scotland, 4.9%) – “Pretty tasty.”
Brodie’s Amarilla (East London, 4.2%) – “Yeah, okay.”
Castle Rock Harvest Pale (Nottingham, 3.8%) – “Really tasty, light.”
Teignworthy Real Ale (Devon, 4%) – “Watery, bland.”
Stonehenge Pigswill (Salisbury, 4%) – “Light and mild.”
TSA Scotch Mist Wheat Beer (Scotland, 5%) – “Fruity, flowery, herbaceous.”
Grainstore Phipps IPA (Rutland, 4.2%) – “I’m ready to leave now.”

What an afternoon. We left after four hours and many beers and rewarded our efforts with a Turkish meat feast to soak up the booze.

Admittedly, despite trying to expand my beer horizons, I came away with my preference for drinkable pale ales intact. A steward described one of the full-bodied German beers as “more admired than enjoyed”, which I think neatly sums up many we tried. While I don’t mind being tested when I’m tasting, I prefer to be delighted when I’m drinking.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Mayor De Migueloa

I'm not sure how to discuss wine without sounding like a pretentious knob. But I've been called worse, so here goes...

Mayor De Migueloa is a small Rioja producer in Laguardia, northern Spain, with underground cellars built in 1619. But it's also a restaurant and hotel, where M and I were lucky enough to spend a rainy weekend last month (more here). Arriving late at night after a two-hour drive from Bilbao airport, we ordered a bottle of their 2001 Reserva and soon began declaring our undying loyalty to the place. It was so good we bought another to smuggle back to London. Ok, it wasn't really smuggling, but let's just say Easyjet doesn't exactly encourage imports.

Last night we decided it was time to pull out our souvenir and remind ourselves why Rioja rules ok. And it does - especially alongside generous servings of jamon, manchego and chorizo.

They call Tempranillo (the base ingredient of Rioja) "the noble grape", and it's certainly a class above the rest IMHWO (in my humblest wine opinion). When it comes to Mayor De Migueloa's Reserva the aromas and flavours are chocolate and black cherry. But in contrast to the cloyingly sweet happy endings you get from some full-bodied reds, its finish breathes smoke, oak, and earth.

Weird to think these grapes (aged for at least three years between barrel and bottle) were harvested eight years ago, around the time M and I first met. It seems almost unreasonable to have disposed of the bottle so willingly. And yet I like to think these grapes got a good send off.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Hard Shake

The Diner
21 Essex Road
N1 2SA

Do milkshakes and alcohol mix? A good place to start such an inquiry is The Diner, with its interesting selection of "hard shakes". M and I decided to share a Colonel Parker (35ml of Four Roses Bourbon, vanilla ice cream and peanut butter) and top it up with an extra shot of bourbon. It tasted stronger than I'd expected, with the booze almost overpowering everything else, including my burger (message to self: stop messing with the ratios and just drink what you're given). But as M pointed out, it's better to treat these things as liquor with added shake, rather than the other way round. J sampled the Strawberry Cheesecake (with Cognac, Galliano, and strawberry ice cream), which tasted way too sweet for my liking. So, do milkshakes and alcohol mix? Not sure, I may have to do some more research.

69 Colebrooke Row

69 Colebrooke Row
N1 8AA

It is a mark of the quality of this blog that I don't understand how my first cocktail at 69 Colebrooke Row was made. The Almond Ramos lists its ingedients as Beefeater gin, almond milk, lemon, lime, maraschino liqueur and orange blossom, but what came out (above right) was a magical concoction of foams and flavours so light the glass felt like it was empty (which it was, soon enough). I suspect egg white may have been involved. M chose the Gonzales (above left), which mixed tequila (Gran Centenario) with caramel liqueur, honey water "tuberose hydrosol" (a scented plant used in the perfume industry, apparently), and a lemon twist - another revelation. J picked a non-alcoholic citrussy drink which the waitress described as a Sherbert Dip in a glass.
Next up both M and I went for a Liquorice Whisky Sour (pictured left), a drink I've had here before, made with Cutty Sark Whisky, lemon juice and liquorice syrup (and probably some more egg white), and served with a dusting of grated liquorice - a perfect balance of sweet and sour. To finish, and with our critical gaze slightly less focused, we went for the 'Dry' Martini, featuring Beefeater gin, Martini Extra Dry vermouth and something called Dry Essence, the details of which were explained to me and promptly forgotten.The bar itself is a wonderfully secluded little venue off Essex Road, near Angel tube station, with great service and a fine jazz soundtrack. A mention must go to the master drinks creator, Tony Conigliaro, booze's answer to Heston Blumenthal, who has already secured the place Time Out's Best Bar 2009 award.

The drinks are not cheap, at £8 each, but for a special occasion such as, say, the launch of a new blog, this bar provides great value. Call to book if you want to guarantee a table, especially at weekends.