Eating Brixton

The transformation of Brixton over the past 5 years into a foodie drinky haven has been one of the most dramatic in London and luckily I live about ten minutes away. The downside to having such a culinary cornucopia on ones doorstep is that there is now so much choice, that deciding where to wet my whistle or calm those hunger pains has become a real challenge!

I fell in love with that sourdough pizza perfection that is Franco Manca some years ago as it was one of the first to see the potential in Brixton’s Market Row. Still probably the best pizza I have ever had.Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.05.19

Just a few doors down is the Bukowski Grill. As the name suggests it’s pure Americana.  A laid back dark moody space with boozy milkshakes, good beers and American BBQ. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.04.25Crispy Cajun popcorn shrimp were the perfect amuse bouche. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.11.08I found the rub a bit dry on the intensely flavoured smoky ribs, but this steak sandwich impressed despite my sourdough being a tad burnt. My favourite were these tobacco onions, sliced fine and battered in a KFC type batter. Heaven… The bill was very reasonable and with Charlie’s Beat poems adorning the walls of the toilets it was a “trip” worth taking.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.04.40Next door is Wishbone more US import style food but turning our attention to the humble chicken. I went on cold Sunday night and without heating or doors, we froze our wings off. Speaking of which we sampled a two styles of deep fried flappers. Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.16.11If I’m honest the food didn’t really hit all the right notes. Batter lacked crunch & sauces tasted a bit pre fab. The very en vogue deep fried mac n cheese was a bit soggy stodgy as opposed to crunchy gooey. The spare decor of the place & lack of warmth made it feel like we were eating in a meat locker, which certainly didn’t the food any favours. So in fairness should go back and give em another shot…

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.17.40Over in Brixton Village I ate some of the best Thai food I have had in recent memory. Kaosarn is on the outside corner off Coldharbour Lane. A simple cafe type set up, wooden tables, paper napkins & plain white plates. But the food! I had this astonishing Gang Kua Sapparod Goong aka Red Prawn Curry with tomatoes, kaffir lime, coconut milk & pineapple. The flavours so distinct and nuanced. The rice fluffy, the prawns succulent. Kaosarn is great value and a must visit.Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.18.03

Inside Brixton Village is Senzala Creperie which is great for lunch or brunch. They do super buckwheat pancakes or as the French call them galettes with all manner of fillings served with proper side salads. With the likes of Honest Burger(which I have still yet to visit due the massive lines outside every time I go), the Craft Beer Company & the Crown and Anchor(who do very good food as well) plus stacks more Brixton is sure to only increase it’s notoriety as the place to eat & drink in south London.

Sainsbury’s Organic Wines

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SO Organic?

This September is National Organic Awareness Month and Sainsbury’s kindly sent me 4 wines from their SO Organic range to review. Now I don’t claim to be a leading light in buying organic. You see despite wanting buy more of said products I sometimes find it tough to either A) Find what I need at my local supermarket or moreover B) Afford it. But enough of my moral dilemmas when it comes to my shopping. Onto the wines…

Both whites were from northern Italy. Which suited me fine as I am a big fan of wines from that part of the world. I love them because at their best there are subtly floral fragrant, glinty flinty, stony saline, herbaceous fresh with zingy hints of lime, lemon, melon & pear. But at their worst? Thoroughly nasty mass produced chemical plonk water one glass hangover sauce.

But what would these be like?

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Soave 2012 Veneto 11.5 %abv £5.99

That nursery rhyme “The Little Girl with the Curl” comes to mind I think of Soave. Translucent in colour with minute yellow tinge to it. A nose of wet stones, hint of cleaning products, white flowers, green mango & raw almond. On the palate it’s bracing, like winter air. Then clean spearmint, spicy herbs ultra dry with faint pear finish. It’s well made and was easy but refreshing drinking. Happy solo, light salads or white fish with capers. Nice to taste a decent wine at 11.5% as well. Good girl. Score 14.5/20

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Pinot Grigio 2012 Delle Venezie 12%abv £6.99

Pinot Grigio is one of those grapes that has become a dirty word to some of us bloggers. Got it’s bad name as it overflowed from every pub wine list, tasting all too often lazy flabby, bland and charmless. Thankfully this PG isn’t like that. It’s pale pale yellow with a tingling lime, ripe stone fruit and climbing trellis flower nose. In the mouth it’s texture is round creamy floral, spicy rocket, ripe white melon make way for freshness, balanced acidity and a long dry lime & peach finish. It’s perfect on it’s own but would happily accompany soft creamy cheeses or roast chicken. Definitely worth grabbing a couple bottles of this one. Score 15.5/20

Now onto the reds…

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Shiraz Pays D’Oc 2012, France 13%abv £5.99 

One of my favourite regions for good value red wines, but you can get a bad bottle from time to time. Light purple garnet in the glass. Complex notes of warm spices, black liquorice, chocolate, treacle, black raspberry and crushed blackberries came wafting wildly up my nostrils. It tasted fresh, medium bodied, stony minerals, wild herbs, muscular forest fruit, firm tannins & not unpleasant stalky green finish. I had this open for a day and it needed it. Midweek casserole or bangers n mash would pair nicely.  Score 14.5/20

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Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Western Cape South Africa 13%abv £5.99

On paper this Cab Sav was a socially conscious individuals dream wine. Not only organic, it was sulphur free and fair trade! Ticking all those warm and fuzzy boxes. But at the price I wasn’t optimistic. Deep Ribena in colour, nose of black clay, game birds & whiffs of rubber tire. Cue negative associations with South African red wine. First sip that burnt rubber was back, smoky chipotle chilli heat, grippy tannins, bright red currant, mid palate the rubber is fading, taught tannins, black minerals with a green pepper cassis finish. Now sadly I am jaded (having had too many SA reds that are affected with this burnt rubber syndrome) but if your palate reads it as smoky earthiness then fine. But not a wine I would buy. Score 13.5/20

The wines are all good value and aren’t massively high in alcohol. Both big pluses. So I would definitely say it’s worth trying em out…except maybe not that Cab Sav.

You can find the wines online or in most Sainsbury’s Supermarkets

 

 

Dinner with Mark De Vere MW

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A Blurry Mark de Vere MW 

To say that I am a bit late in writing this blog would be a huge understatement. I went along to the JW Steakhouse in Park Lane in May 2012 a guest of Mark de Vere MW and Robert Mondavi Wines. But better late then never I like to say. I lie. I don’t like that saying it and have very rarely used in my life. But I digress… back to dinner.

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Mark is a fascinating character. A peculiar, vibrant, highly intelligent and passionate wine communicator. Now despite working for that vinous colossus and preaching the wine gospel according to Bob Mondavi for the past 15 years, Mark is very much his own man. Of course he was there to talk up their wines but his focus was really on expanding our minds in terms of how we viewed the relationship between food and wine matching. “The Liberated Enjoyment of Wine and Food” he called it.

Most consumers feel comfortable with red wine with red meat & white wine with fish rule. But why does it work? There must be some chemical reasoning. But there was more to it as we were about to find out.

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The experiment began with the arrival of plates of cooked plain unseasoned chicken, sea bass and steak. There were also plates with sliced lemon and salt on them. Mark asked us to taste the wines(which included Robert Mondavi’s Napa Valley Fume Blanc aka Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Cabernet Sauvignon, all 2008 and around £15 each. There was also a tasty Inniskillin Ice Riesling 2006 from my native Canada) without the food and note what we tasted. Then we sampled the wines with the food and the results were startling. The classic matches were in disarray. The white wines stung the mouth, acidity completely out of control. The reds are all mouth puckering tannin, no fruit and metallic dryness.

“Mark you villain!!” we cried “What sorcery is this?! You have ruined our taste buds!!”. But he simply gestured to the small plates in the centre of the table. After adding a few sprinkles of salt andScreen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.07 squeezes of lemon the process was repeated and as if by magic the food and wines behaved as you would expect. With the seasoning even the Ice Wine worked with the steak(not that I have tried it since). Miraculous! Not really Mark explained. It was simple science. So instead of delicious food and wine pairings being something inherent in their molecules, it revealed that when the balance is out in favour of sweetness or savoury umami without the grounding sour or salty, our palate focuses on specific characteristics rather than seeing the whole picture. Which makes it taste “wrong’. Really fascinating stuff!

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.41We moved onto their Napa Valley Reserve Fume Blanc(pricey at £30) & Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve(a whopping £80 a bottle) with dinner and though the wines themselves are perfectly ok, in all honestly I’m not wild about Robert Mondavi wines. Why? Because for the same money(and a lot cheaper than the reserve wines) I can find wines produced in much smaller quantities with so much more character and originality. Sorry Mark.

Food wasn’t anything to get excited about except for the pan bread. Nearly 18 months have passed but I can still taste it’s rich rosemary salty crunch and squishy soft buttery middle. Mmmmm…Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 16.40.30

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference USA Beers

Now I have been fairly impressed with Sainos Taste the Difference wines. They essentially contract established producers in “insert region” but the packaging is all Sainsburified. Well made wines at fair prices for the most part.

So I was hopeful this foray into USA “craft” beer with Tap Room Brewing would be as successful. Thanks to Beer Googles Reviews for sussing out that Tap Room is actually contract brewed by Genesee Brewing Company out of Rochester, New York. A little misleading methinks. Not the best start…

But here are my tasting notes.

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Tap Room American Pale Ale 5.3% abv

Eye- Sugar golden brown, no real head

Nose- Rye Bread, ripe banana

Palate- Ultra dry, tart, green, no fruit, lemony finish

Verdict- Honestly wasn’t much impressed. It tasted chemical & somewhat “unnatural”.

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Tap Room IPA 6.3%abv 

Eye- Caramel

Nose- Yeast, beetroot & crystal malts

Palate- Corn, dusty leather, some peach, orange zest, toasted brazil nuts w/ a spicy dry finish

Verdict- Despite tasting more complex notes on the palate I still felt let down. Brewed by numbers & lacking soul.

Well Sainos despite the eye catching Americana labels you best go back to the drawing board on these beers. Perhaps finding another brewer to collaborate with? You could do a lot better than this.

Wild Beers

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 14.56.32 The Wild Men of The Wild Beer Co

I have been a big fan of The Wild Beer Co ever since I was first introduced to them early this year by my friend & neighbour Paul who has known founders Brett & Andrew since Uni(at least I think that’s how he knows them). The beers coming out of their brewery in Lower Westcombe Farm Somerset have such personality & depth of flavour.

Here’s my tasting notes on 2 of them:

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Scarlet Fever Red Ale 4.8% abv

Eye- Deep auburn, root beer red foam

Nose- Grapefruit, dark chocolate, toasted coffee beans, pistachio, caramel apple

Palate- Tart red fruit, serious, warming bitterness, dry woody finish

Verdict- This ain’t your typical red ale, very mature and refined. Wants food this. Game, mature cheese or anything with mushrooms would love it.

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Epic Saison 5%abv

Eye- Deep yellow, buzzing bubbles, thick individual bubble foam

Nose- Jasmine, mango, dried pineapple, ginger snaps

Palate- Deep apricot, complex jagermiester herbs, long luscious zest super clean finish

Verdict- Saison is a very popular style right now. I love good Saison. This is bloody good Saison! (I recently had their Solera Saison on keg and was equally impressed with it)

So whether they come in wickedly branded bottles or on keg their beers are well worth getting into.

 

 

 

 

Dropwines Dinner

Last month I went along on a rainy sticky Monday night for a press dinner with new ish online wine company Dropwines at the Pembroke in Earls Court.

I was feeling pretty optimistic as I had been invited by the lovely Sophie McLean who’s been an industry pal for a few years now. Sophie (recently returned to the UK  after doing a vintage in industrial Riverina New South Wales) joined Dropwines this year to do comms, buying and a spot of video reviewing.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.21.28

The latter being another reason for positivity, for along with Head Buyer Richard Varney(Ex Head of Buyer for Oddbins) they were producing some of the best video wine reviews I have yet seen. Which is quite a compliment coming from me. They’re fun, intelligent, engaged, unselfconscious & short! Most of them 2 minutes and a few coppers, which is exactly what they should be in my opinion.

The food was perfectly decent but really we were there to taste the 5 wines (1 fizz, 2 whites and 2 reds) they had chosen to showcase.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.18.53

A sure fire way to impress hardened wine writers is to present something unusual, which is exactly what they did as we kicked off with Cote Mas Piquepoul Frisant NV. The fizz is made from Picpoul de Pinet, that superb white grape of the Languedoc(South France) that seems to be creeping onto every gastro pub list in London these days. Made in the Charmat(tank) method like Prosecco but instead of pear & flowers it’s fresh sea salty with tingling lime zest. A good start…

Next was award winning Bioca Godello Seleccion 2012 from a tiny region called Valdeorras in Galicia, northern Spain. An area better known for it’s Albarino (another white grape that is very popular at the moment), this Godello with it’s mojito nose, slight spritz & pine nut richness was a class act but seems to be out of stock at the time of writing.

The unusual theme continued with a Vinal Chardonnay 2012 from Levech, Northern Bulgaria. I found this wine quite intriguing with it’s subtle aromas of honeycomb & lavender, as if they were down a well. Then white melon, thistle, green cooking apple & sunflower palate. Not a wow wine but different and worth a punt as it was less than £7 a bottle.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.19.50

Our first red was The Liberator, The Francophile Syrah 2012 from Stellenbosch, SA. It’s what you would expect, peppery rocket, cassis & white pepper spice. A generous leathery, coal dusted, dark berry beast. It had some fresh acidity as well. It was nice enough but came off a distant 2nd to our final wine…

My tasting notes on Cotes du Rhone Villages, Mas de Boislauzon 2011 say it all; “Deep dirty sensual nose. Velvet, spicy, plum & brandy snap, cigar, sparkling blackberries, unctuous mouth romancing stuff”. I loved it. Is exactly the kind of wine that makes me stand up and take notice. At very reasonable £12.99 a bottle no wonder it’s currently sold out.Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 14.20.26

Dropwines have a slick looking website (though the search facility could use some tweaking), some interesting well priced wines(on their homepage select wines are offered for time sensitive deals. Perfect for the hardened Ebay “must get a deal” generation) and fun educational tasting videos that appeal to the modern day consumer. They also have a VIP Club which offers you a discounted price on all their wines as well as free delivery for £10 a month, which could work out a good deal if you buy wine regularly.

But the online wine trade is a brutal one and you have to be savvy with likes of those behemoths Majestic & Laithwaites out there. But there is room for smart, adaptable boutique web based retailers that have done their homework & understand what wines people actually want to drink.

So will they be around in a few years time?

I hope so.

 

La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, Prague

Last September I was in Prague for a stag party. Though I use the term “party” in the loosest sense as it consisted of the groom to be, the best man and myself. Being a trio of mature (ish) men we thought that we would buck the trend and have a Michelin starred meal… before we got terribly drunk and shot automatic weapons with a stinking hangover.

I knew nothing about Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, a smart 40 seat spare corner building in Prague’s Old Town.  They only do tasting menus, 6 or 11 courses with the option of a wine to pair. Of course we went the full 11 with wine.

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Honestly, I was a bit tipsy when we started but believe things went a bit like this…

We started off with an amuse-bouche: I loved the fatty/creamy/texture combo of the Fried Chicken Skin, Chicken Liver Pate with Lokus Sweet Wine Jelly. Never having tasted anything like Black Bean & Black Truffle Croquette before I was suitably wowed by their rich earthiness which complemented each other wonderfully. The Grilled Onion, Sheep Yoghurt with Thyme & Onion Chips was a perfect palate cleanser and delicious foil to the others.

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The courses that followed were…

1. Trebon Carp & Sour Milk. A fascinating, delicious & beautifully textured dish of shaved frozen local carp, poppy seeds & sour milk semi freddo. It was served with an excellent Matthias Czech Sekt (Love saying that!) by Proqin Ltd. It was a pairing made in heaven as the crunchy textures played off the spitz of the fizz. A real winner!Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 15.56.27

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2. Russian Sturgeon Caviar & Prague Ham. A bit foggy on this one. Do recall the sweet smoky ham set against the sharp saline intensity of the caviar. The yellow stuff was a mayo… I think. Loved the texture of the spoon as well. Was paired with a very good Riesling In der Wand by Pichler-Krutzler. The combo I don’t think wowed me.

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3. Farm Chicken, Sweet Corn & Radish. This was one of the most memorable pieces of poultry that I have ever eaten. Crispy skin, the meat pink shiny & pale was so moist that I needed a towel. The foil of pillow soft sweet corn puree set against the sharp crunch of the radish & cauliflower was supremely judged, a dish of real skill. The wine was local Ryzlink Vlašsky (Welschriesling) 2010 by Mikrosvin Mikulov which did the job just fine.Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 15.57.44

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4. This Langoustine, Oyster & Amaranth certainly looked impressive served atop it’s warm cobble stone. But for me it lacked execution and the langoustine itself came off 2nd best. We were served a homemade lemonade to break up things up booze wise which was a nice change.

Though our waiter did slip us a rather special Gavi MonteRotondo Villa Sparina. Bad waiter…

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5. Local Třeboň Catfish, Moravian Sparkling Wine Sauce & Cabbage was sublime. Texture as well as flavour played off each other wonderfully. The gentle crunch of cabbage, meaty tenderness of the catfish & all held together with the acidity of the Sparkiling wine sauce. Wine was an accomplished Veltlinske Zelené aka Grüner Veltliner by Kořínek.

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6. Foie Gras & Grape juice Jelly.  Chef returned to his frozen grating method that worked so well with the opening dish of carp and translated beautifully with the foie gras melting in your mouth supported by the sweet acidity of the grape jelly. Never experienced foie gras like this before. A highly intelligent dish. Wine, an excellent Barriques Oubliées, Muscat de Frontignan 1995 which matched perfectly.

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We had just past the mid point of the 11 courses and I was really starting to feel all that wine not to mentioned several beers before dinner. But backing out now was not an option…

7. Beef Tenderloin & Dill Sauce was so less than a revelation. Another combination that absolutely sent my palate into rapture. Even a year on I can still taste that sous vide tender beef (cuddled to death I’m sure) and robed in rich slightly aniseed dill sauce. We stayed local with a decent oaked Sauvignon Blanc by František Mádl.

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8. Mnetěš Pigeon, Lokus Wine, Pumpkin was perfectly nice dish. I don’t recall it changing my life in anyway and having to follow that beef was always going to be tough. I probably have served the pigeon before the beef. But hey it ain’t my restaurant. The wine was an superb Barolo Sori Ginestra 2005 which paired well.Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.05.14Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.04.36

 

 

 

 

9. Beef Tongue, Yellow Pea Puree, Mustard was another tasty dish but it didn’t stay with me. To be fair I haven’t eaten much beef tongue. Recall the sauce being rather special, rich and textured. The wine was another Czech offering from Stapleton & Springer Cuvee Rouci which honestly I don’t think I was wild about. But I may have hit the wall.

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We were nearly the end, my energy was waning but just two more dishes to go.

10. Wagyu Kobe Style Beef, Eggplant, Ponzu Sauce would normally have caused much more of a stir around around the table were it not right at the end of a long boozy meal and and even longer boozier day. The execution was faultless, a balanced and delicious dish. Wine was a Hess Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 that didn’t wow nor offend. Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.37.41Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 17.37.14

 

 

 

 

Nearly there…

11. For dessert we had a couple choices and I opted for the unpronounceable Olomoucké Tvarůžky. Tvaruzky is a mature cheese made of skim milk which has been produced in the region for hundreds of years. Soft & sticky in texture it had a salty, spicy flavour. The biggest reason that I ordered it though was because it came with a wheat beer from cult Czech brewer Matuška. It did not disappoint and was a great match for the cheese. My pals went for the Chocolate Sorbet, Raspberries & Mint which looked melted to me. But perhaps that was the look they were after…Screen Shot 2013-09-04 at 18.06.03

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All things considered in terms of the amount to drink and the marathon nature of the meal I was quite impressed. There were some divine dishes, flavours that have stuck with me over a year on without a single note.

So if you are going to Prague and want to treat yourself then do book a table at Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise. If you are on a budget though I can heartily recommend Lokal next door. It’s a beautiful beer hall serving all manner of traditional Czech food and is owned by the same group Ambiente.

Vilarnau Cava, Brut Rosado, NV

Cava rather sadly has been coming off second best to Prosecco in the battle of the budget fizzes the past few years in the UK. The latter seemingly consumed by the bucket load at anything from picnics to weddings. But Cava is clawing it’s way back due in part to wine writers as well as some savvy consumers seeking out a value sparklers with a little something extra.

Now Cava’s enhanced complexity is down to the way it’s made, which is identical to the production of Champagne(2nd fermentation in the bottle). But Méthode Champenoise can only be used to refer to that most famous French fizz so their Spanish counterparts have to make do with the term Método Tradicional or Traditional Method. Prosecco on the other hand is made in the less glamorous Charmat Method or Italian Method(2nd fermentation in a stainless steel tank Method).

Finding a decent Brut Rose/Rosado fizz that won’t cost the earth is a tall order so what did I think of Vilarnau Brut Rosado NV?

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Made from the little known Trepat variety native to north east Spain as well as that most famous red Champagne grape Pinot Noir.

Eye- Dark pink, red fruits with solid persistent bubbles

Nose- Deep black Raspberry with whiffs of green herbs

Palate- Decent structure, balanced, robust, dry red berry fruit

Verdict- No faffy frilly pink sparkler this. Serious & well made. Try it.

A very standard 12% abv it is availble in a 75cl bottle from Ocado and The Drink Shop

Slovenia Part 2

Last year I travelled to Slovenia a guest of P & F wineries to sample the wine and food of this much underrated wine producing country. This is the 2nd half of my time there where I visited P&F’s cellars in Ormoz & Ljutomer. Our farewell lunch was Gostilna Ribic in Slovenia’s oldest village Ptuj.

Sanford Orchards “Fanny’s Bramble” Cider

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 16.02.35I am becoming a real fan of cider these days. For my palate it fits somewhere between the refreshment of beer and the complexity of wine. So much more to learn though…

Sanford Orchards make some lovely cider and while this Fanny’s Bramble is very much an attempt to woo converts to the cult of Swedish “fruit” ciders it remains true to it’s roots, a product produced honestly from apples & fresh blackberries picked from the hedgerows near their orchards in Devon. It is 4%abv & my thoughts were…

Eye – Iron Bru Red

Nose – Fragrant blackberry liqueur

Palate – Tart, generous, supple, bright red apple with a sharp cassis finish

Verdict – Not trying to be something serious but altogether pleasing & refreshing.  “Like biting into an apple soaked in Ribena”

Fanny’s Bramble is available direct as well as online from The Real Ale Company & Tilia