Padstow Brewing Company

I actually tasted this trio of beers back in February in Cornwall while visiting my buddy Bob (the builder, I am serious) near Wadebridge. Let me take you back to January 2013 and in a chilly converted surf shower in Newquay head brewer Caron Archer was experimenting with different hop and malt combinations. Her and husband Des though new to brewing were disciples of the much lauded Dave Lang (Forge Brewery) and as winter made way for spring Caron perfected a few recipes. Padstow Brewing Company was then ready for the next step and having outgrown their “lab” moved to a Padstow industrial estate where they started brewing commercially in May 2013. Caron is the only female head brewer in Cornwall and loves playing around with dynamic flavours, while Des focusses on the more scientific side of the brewing process. I must say they make an excellent team, and I loved everything about their three offerings: from their beautifully clean simple smart packaging, to bottle shape and of course the very finely crafted beers inside.

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Padstow Pale Ale 3.6%

Light amber in colour and as I raise the glass to my honker the aromas are so enticing that it takes all my willpower not to gulp it down in one. Wonderfully complex spicy lemon and fragrant green hops have me smacking my lips in anticipation. It’s super crisp, refreshing with a good bite, but balanced by a malty long zippy finish. As good a session ale as you’ll find. I could drink it by the bucket. Score – 8.5/10

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Padstow Pilot 4%   

This amber bitter is a deep chestnut with a very rich mocha head. Initially, the nose is breakfast: fresh roast coffee and toast with marmite but there’s more as it moves into wet moss, then finally a whack of fresh pineapple and peppermint. Wozers! The texture is velvety with bitter coffee, salty chocolate and true to it’s coastal Cornish roots, there’s even some smoked mackerel. It finishes clean but warming and is a very classy drop. Score – 8.25/10

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Padstow IPA 4.8%

Its deep amber hue gives of aromas toasted brioche, peach and floral jasmine honey. On the palate you are hit by layer after layer of grapefruit, dry pineapple, razor sharp hops ending with a mouth drying finish. Solid. For me a very complex beer that needs food: Thai green curry or seared chilli scallops would pair very nicely. Score – 7.75/10

Tasting these 3 bottles what stood out for me was the incredible diversity of aromas, flavours and textures; all the more impressive when you consider that the beers are between 3.8-4.8% ABV, which frankly shows tremendous skill on the part of Caron and Des. Padstow Brewing is a must try.

Get in touch with them here or via twitter to find out how you can get a hold of their excellent beers.


Alipus and Los Danzantes Mezcal Masterclass

Some of you may never have heard of mezcal and others might just have a murky painful memory (or two) of some bygone hangover that involved it or its deadly compadres tequila, that most notorious firewater of Mexican extraction.

Mezcal and tequila are indeed similar spirits, and with most considering tequila to be a type of mezcal (means “oven cooked agave” in native Nahuatl). Essentially both are distilled from types of agave, though Tequila can only be made from blue agave, while Mezcal has more than 30 types of maguey (Agave Americana) to choose from, with most made from Agave Espadin. Mezcal is produced in eight Mexican states (mostly in Oaxaca), tequila five, but the production process for both begins with harvesting the hearts of agave or the piña. For most tequila the next step is for the agave to be pressure cooked in large stainless steel ovens. Mezcal differs in that it tends to be more artisanal in its production, with methods that go back centuries, having been passed down through generations. The technique of baking small batches in the earthen pits or stone ovens (for three to four days) is an ancient one. Industrial crushing and fermentation takes place on the large scale, but smaller producers crush the maguey in stone mills with the help of a donkey or horse with the resultant juice left to ferment for one to two weeks.

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A wander through history tells us the Aztecs saw the maguey as mythically powerful plant and produced a fermented beverage from it called octli (later called pulque). However things changed (not all for the better, but that’s another story) with the arrival of the Spanish and the introduction of distillation, thus bringing mezcal into being.

Now I don’t claim to any kind of an expert (far from it), but I did learn a lot while at a masterclass of bespoke producers Alipus and Los Danzantes. The event was hosted by importer and retailer extraordinaire Amathus at their Wardour St shop; where I arrived a few minutes late. Spotting what looked to be the last empty place at the long tasting table (wedged between chatting factions of bartenders, it being an afternoon affair), and using my “ninja skills” I managed to slip into the seat practically unseen. As I settled my finely tuned reflexes must have sensed danger because my left arm flicked out at blinding speed knocking over one of my full tasting glass and smashing another. Smooth, very smooth. After a few jokes that I hadn’t even had a drink, some blushing, tidying and a refill we began tasting:

We got started with a trio of Joven or young spirits from Alipus:

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San Juan  (Fermented in oak vats) – 47.3%  AVB  Pear and aquavit on the nose. This was followed on the palate by creamy pear that was a touch chemical, with that familiar “tequila burn” finish.

San Baltazar (pine vats) – 48.1% AVB – Tannery and gamey aromas with the similar pear flavours to the San Juan but a smoky edge with a longer finish.

San Andres (cypress vats, agave crushed by hand) – 48% AVB – The nose is instantly more exotic and complex than the previous two: whiffs of soft peach, pear and perfumed elderflower. In the mouth it’s creamy stone fruit, warming hot cedar and a delicious smooth finish. A beauty!

Next was Los Danzantes (Organic and fermented by naturally occurring wild yeasts):

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Joven  42.5% AVB – The nose is wild (those yeasts), hot spicy and a kind of boozy that reminds me of grappa. Sippin it I feel as though I am in a dry hot smoky sauna made of pears.

Reposado – 43.2% AVB – Reposado means aged and in the case of this mezcal that translates to 11 months in new French white oak barrels from the Nevier forest (oh my!). Sharp eau de vie nose, tasting it there’s plenty of earthy smoke, but for the first time I can actually taste baked agave (reminded me of aloe), then lovely caramelised pear and a full sensual round finish. Yum E!

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I was deeply impressed with the complexity, texture and character of the mezcal, especially the Reposado and San Andres. These hand crafted spirits had nothing in common the kinds of beverages dished out at dodgy TexMex joints by scantily clad gals (guys) in a holster full of shot glasses. Alipus and Los Danzantes are most certainly special sippers deserving of a decent size glass for swirling with perhaps a slice of orange rather than a salty hand and a wedge of lemon. Such premium quality does come at a price, with these bad boys retailing between £52-65. But if you are a fan of mezcal or known someone who is, it’s certainly worth picking up a bottle or would make a great gift. 

Though none of the mezcals tasted contained any, many of you are probably thinking: What’s the deal with the worm?

Well firstly its actually a butterfly larva and is more associated with mezcal than tequila. The larvae bore into the agave heart and so were often cooked up with the maguey, with some feeling the little grubs added to mezcal’s flavour.  Then sometime around 1950 some guy in Mexico city decided it would make a great gimmick to put a bug in the bottle and needless to say it has stuck.

As I stood to leave the fact that mezcal is considered to have somewhat more of a psychotropic effect than the usual inebriation was made plain. That sensation of being a bit “high”, I felt invigorated and left smiling with that most famous Oaxaca saying ringing in my ears:

“para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también” (“for everything bad, mezcal; for everything good, the same”).

*Feature photo is of Gustavo Muñoz, founder of the Los Danzantes Group

Casa Silva Los Lingues Gran Reserva Carmenere 2009

Before I talk about this particular wine, I thought I would share a little history about the grape that it’s made from…

Carmenere is an old Bordeaux variety from the Cabernet family and was until rather recently thought to be extinct. However, in 1994 through the miracle of science, it was found thriving in Chile alongside the rather similar Merlot (the two were often picked and processed together). Today little exists in France and is grown in small amounts in Italy but in it’s adopted home of Chile, that this full bodied red grape has truly come into its own.

I interviewed Mario Pablo Silva (the head of Vina Casa Silva) some years ago but sadly due to circumstances beyond my control the video never saw the light of day. I hope this review goes some way to atoning for that.

This Casa Silva single vineyard Carmenere comes from the Colchagua Valley and more specifically the Los Lingues plots.

Here’s my tasting notes:

To the eye it’s a rich textured crimson (Carmenere gets its name from carmin, the French word for crimson). With the nose of tobacco, green pepper, mocha, cassis and wild mushroom you can see why it was mistaken for Merlot (Chile) and Cabernet Franc (Italy). At 14% AVB you might expect a shot in the mouth but it’s velvety and sensual with notes of smoky charcoal, black fruit, menthol and white pepper.

An excellent example of how very special that lost and found Carmenere can be in the right hands.

Score – 8.25/10

Food matches – We had it with BBQ ribs and salads in the garden and it was sen-bloody-sational.


Little Brew Beer Review

I stumbled upon Little Brew at some beer event that I don’t recall the name of: Craft Beer Empire or Crafty Crafty Beer Beer or some such. What I do remember though is making friends with a bunch of railway signalmen (active and retired), who after the session ended invited me to a nearby pub where we all got so pissed that as I prepared to depart via my pedal bike, promptly fell flat on the pavement. Uninjured, I cycled home (do NOT drink and cycle it is very dangerous and against the law) and except for a violent emotional episode around Elephant and Castle both the Little Brews and I arrived home safe. Here’s what I thought of the beers…

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Pale Ale 5.2%

Quite dark for a pale (I thought) with a nose that wasn’t giving much away. Touch earthy woody mushroom perhaps. That ho hum continued onto a palate that was dry, nutty with some chestnut. Tannins were quite drying, like an over brewed cup of tea. Hmmm.  Score- 6.25/10

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Ruby Red Ale 5.6%

Deep auburn with a lovely interweaving aromas of raspberry, chocolate and super fresh mint. Full mouth flavour that was tangy, herbaceous with warming malts. The finish was long bitter cherry with a hint of worn leather. Solid. Score 7.25/10

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Extra Tusks IPA 6.6%

Hazy golden sugar brown. The nose bashed you right on the face with grilled pineapple, barley sugars, green tea and tobacco. The exotic adventure continued on the palate with creamy coconut and dried pineapple that was direct, clean and sharp. The banana finish topped off the tropical fruit salad in stellar fashion. A great beer! Score 8.25/10

Little Brew is a one barrel brewery in Camden Town, but are expanding to York premises so must be doing alright. Has been awhile since I tasted the beers so they are worth another look for sure.



Scottish Brews

Scotland has some excellent breweries and here’s what I thought of bottles from Tryst Brewing, Williams Bros Brewing and Colonsay Brewery.

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Tryst Carronade IPA 4.2% AVB

I know little about Tryst Brewing except they are based in Falkirk and need to streamline their website. Carronade IPA uses Washington State hops and gets its name from the canons (or “smashers” in the parlance of Nelson’s navy) that were cast in their thousands by Carron Iron in Falkirk back in the day. It’s hazy corn cob yellow in the glass with a nose of honey, preserved lemon and dried orange. It drinks rich, lovely and mouth coating. Notes of fresh orange, slightly floral with lively yeasts. Flavourfull and very drinkable means I certainly will be trying to get to know Tryst better. Score 7.5/10

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Williams Bros “Grozet” Summer Ale 5% ABV

I must admit to already being a fan of WB, but their Grozet is a bit of an unusual beast; brewed with wheat and cold stored with gooseberries. To the eye it’s iced tea with a thick foathy head and the aromas are just humming off it: green melon, pink grapefruit, fresh cut grass, wet warm wood sauna… oh god I’m salivating already. Quick to my lips! Oh it’s super fresh pink grapefruit, key lime pie with smooth peach texture and flavour. But there’s more on the finish: fragrant elderflower and peppery rocket. Loved this vibrant characterful Grozet, it’s utterly gluggable and sings “sunny summer festival” at the top of it’s Alloa-ite lungs. Score 8.75/10

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Colonsay 80/- Ale 4.2% ABV

The Colonsay Brewery based on an island of the same name in the Outer Hebrides (off the west coast of Scotland) claims to be the smallest island with it’s own brewery in the world. Their 80/- “Scottish” Ale gets its name from the days when stronger beers were taxed at 80 Shilling a barrel and is dark cola in colour with a root beer foam. There’s dark syrup, dark malts, woody mushroom, fig and wet wool on the nose. Tasting it, I can discern some chestnut, weak coffee, bitter herbs and hints of dry chocolate. It’s all a bit ho hum though. Shame. Score 6/10

Good Beer and food in Tel Aviv

I went out to Israel for work last year, where I happily stumbled upon a vibrant and growing micro brew scene. Though on my 1st night I only managed to try Goldstar, one of only a few mass produced beers in Israel. They had it on IMG_1966draft at Frank, a hot dog palace of some quality. IMG_1962The Goldstar was amber brown, had some dark malt flavours and was very cold. It obviously did the trick with my red hot, because I didn’t even get a picture of it before it was woofed down. IMG_1975

The next day it was as if some unknown force drew me along the beach to Jaffa Port Market, in the beautiful bustling seaside to the south of Tel Aviv. Once inside the market I was reminded of Granville Island in Vancouver, back in my native Canada. A buzzing modern space with restaurants, cafes and stalls selling all manner of consumables. I hadn’t gone more than 30 feet when there it was, my El Dorado. Occupying a prime corner space near an entrance stood Beer Market, one of only a handful of craft beer shops/bars in all of Israel. I felt giddy and exalted perusing the shelves of local brews.

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To begin I sampled the 2 keg beers on offer: Dancing Camel IPA & Hamaka Harishona (First Punch) a Smoked Ale by HaDubim. The Dancing Camel was everything a modern style IPA should be, well hopped, fresh fruity & fully flavoured. HaDubim HH was subtle on the smokiness, had a good balance, overall a decent effort. Beers in hand I installed myself at the little bar attached to the shop, and blissfully spent the next five or so hours drinking beer, eating and talking to anyone who came near me.
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After the draft beers I was getting peckish and was directed by the boys at Beer Market to the hummus stand about 8 feet to my right. The line wasn’t too long, but I waited for nearly 15 minutes because every transaction became a negotiation: more of this, less of that, give me a few of those, before finally the money was handed over. I was getting a lesson in culture while I cued! I got my traditional hummus and spicy Israeli salad. Now I just needed a something to drink… After some back and forth I settled on a Wheat Ale From Malka. Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.04.29Tucking into my grub & sipping the beer I fell into a sort of trance, the kind where the harmony of food and drink are completely in tune. The hummus was out of this world, as good as I have ever had; the sort of texture that bordered on the sensual. I was thankful for the bracing electrical chilli heat and citrus crunch of the cucumber tomato salad, as it kept my moaning with every bite to a minimum. Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.03.21

Personally I think wheat beers are a versatile match for lots of cuisines. Good examples like Malka have a fresh lemony acidity and herbaceousness to them, which cuts through richness and cleans the palate. At the same time they have a freshness which allows them to pair well with more delicate dishes as well.

IMG_1997I chatted some more with the guys and met Hadubim brewer Dagan while I sipped a draft pale ale from Shapiro, which was perfectly good.

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I was getting hungry again and only had to go about 3 meters to a stall selling sandwiches, where I procured this rare roast beef beauty. The bread was as soft as velvet and biting into it, I felt a surge of endorphins as my pleasure center lit up. The flavours of that oh so tender beef balanced perfectly against the crunch of lettuce and sting of mustard. Of course another beer was needed so I returned to Dancing Camel and their very good APA. It had a lovely weight and richness, with a persistent but not overwhelming hop character. A superb match for the sandwich.Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.05.08

What struck me most as I sat watching men and woman of different ages come and go at Beer Market, was the genuine excitement that illuminated on so many faces as they saw or heard that all these beers were brewed in Israel. The country doesn’t have a brewing history as such and I felt as if I was glimpsing something at it’s very beginning.


My most vivid recollection was of three men in their late 50’s. Working lads with broad shoulders and calloused hands, one with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his short sleeve shirt. They were hunting the shelves, asking questions and making their individual selections with the all the care and focus of school boys in a candy or comic shop. Their purchases made; they stood at the till admiring their choices, smiling to each other, giggling here and there, their eyes glinting with mixture of mischief, anticipation and pride.

Screen Shot 2013-11-06 at 17.03.01Time was getting on so I had to get back to my hotel and freshen up. But I wasn’t about to leave without a few souvenirs, so I bought a half dozen bottles and bid farewell to my very gracious hosts.


My gastronomic adventures did not end there though. IMG_2018That evening I went with a colleague to the heaving Port Sa’id for dinner. It was obviously a place very popular with the young and trendy set of Tel Aviv and we had to wait for a table. Once sat the menu arrived, all in Hebrew, so after some help from the waitress we ordered an array of dishes.

This smoky fruit Barkan Shiraz hit the right notes without being too in your face and paired well with our meal. Though the first thing I tasted wasn’t even ours,IMG_2008 it belonged to the very friendly locals on the next table, who let me try this beautiful beetroot carpaccio with garlic yogurt while we waited for our food to arrive. IMG_2012

Now not having a menu to refer to I sadly I don’t have an exact recall each plate. But the flavours! I can still taste the unique spicing, texture and seasoning nearly a year on.

Things like Beans ‘Masabaha’ Salad, slow cooked beef, BBQ lamb and an astonishing roasted cabbage were all utterly delicious.


The menu changes daily depending on what the eclectic chefs are able to source, but Port Sa’id is a must for any foodie visiting Tel Aviv. A real gem.

Sadly I wasn’t able to see much more of the city during my short visit, due to my work commitment. I felt though that I’d gotten a small taste of this exceptional city, and it’s fascinating inhabitants. I came away with a greater appreciation and respect that I had not anticipated. For that I am truly grateful.

Winetraders 20/20 Tasting

Now I attend my share of tastings throughout the year, some more interesting than others. Last Fall I attended 20/20, an all Italian affair hosted by specialist importer Winetraders, with the head honcho and fellow Canuck Michael Palij MW showcasing twenty wineries all working on less than 20 hectares of land. A very intriguing set up and some equally exciting wines.

First to pique my interest were two wines from the tiny 5 hectares of Azienda Agricola Adalia. Located outside Verona, their Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore DOC 2011 smelt invitingly of wet game, liquorice & truffle. On the palate that promised gaminess was there, nicely textured, fine fruit and balanced tannins. Giving AAA’s Amarone della Valpolicella DOC 2009 a good sniff, I got fragrant ripe forest fruit and fudge. In the mouth it was spicy smoky charcoal, sensual yet muscular, with great texture and body.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.30.11My Dad’s favorite number is eleven, and it proved lucky indeed as #11 on the tasting sheet was Lambrusco “Fontana dei Boschi” IGT 2010 made by the eccentric and mysterious Vittorio Graziano at his minute property south of Modena in Emilia Romagna. My nostrils are grabbed, and my brain is instantly engaged with it’s very pleasant earthy funky wild sour fruit aromas. Sip. Bam! Socked in the mouth with zip zing mature red fruit, subtle popping spritz and perfectly grained tannins. This grown up wine sang to me truthfully of it’s terroirs and the loving care with which it is produced. Somehow, in a tumbledown cellar, doing everything by hand, Vittorio managed to take a terribly unfashionable grape variety and transform it into my stand out wine of 2013. I loved it!

Numero 13 is considered a bad omen by some, but superstitions were cast aside with a tremendous Lugana Superiore DOC 2010. Aromas of rich honeyed fruit & hints of butter were followed faithfully with smoky, lush buttery floral fruit on the palate. Winemaker Nunzio Ghiraldi tends his Trebbiano di Lugana grapes with great care, to produce a luxurious, fine white wine with an achingly long and dare I say scrummy finish. IMG_3292

Another white of note, Roero Arneis ‘Camestri’ DOCG 2012 is made from the not terribly well known native Italian grape Arneiswhich loves the hills of Roero in Piedmont (north-west Italy). Produced by Azienda Agricola Marco Porello it draws you in with subtle but fragrant wet stone and lime leaves. Really enjoyed it’s vibrant flavours of passionfruit, grey slate and the long clean lime finish.

I have become a recent convert to good Dolcetto and Mascarello ‘Bricco’ DOC 2011 is most certainly of the aforementioned ilk. The Mascarello family have been making wine in Lange (Piedmont) since 1881 and their Dolcetto D’Alba (Alba refers to the specific area that the Dolcetto comes from) gives off a beautiful bright berry perfume with hints of candy liquorice cigar. Sipping it, first to arrive is gummy bears, followed by juicy bright happy berry fruit. It’s tannins are supple and is an interesting wine indeed.

Barolo, the “grande vino” of Piedmont made from the Nebbiolo grape is an obsession for many. But it can be notoriously complex and difficult to wrap your taste buds around. It often lacks obvious fruit character and its tannins can leave even a seasoned wino like myself gasping for a glass of water. Not the case with Azienda Agricola Bovio’s brilliantly named ‘Rocchettevino’ DOCG 2008. To my nose wild sour meaty fruit beckoned me to taste. Tea tannins, happy acidity merged with ripe aged fruit and a lovely piece of Christmas cake. I liked it very much.

Before moving onto the sweet wines, I scoffed a few delicious bites to keep my energy up. Twas no surprise that said nibbles were of a very high standard, as the tasting was held at Vinoteca Soho, which one of four excellent wine bars/restaurants/shops dotted around London.

IMG_3290Things got off to a groovy start at the pudding wine table with a jazzy, fizzy little number by the name of ‘Birbet’ Vino da Tavola 2012 from our pal Marco Porello, who is obviously a very talented winemaker. Made from Piedmont’s secret weapon Brachetto, this gently sparkling red, with notes of: pink grapefruit candy on the nose, is unctuous, effervescent, berry gummy (forgive me) yummy and supremely drinkable. Coming in at a very civilised 5% AVB it’s no wonder I fell for it.

The next wine was from Liguria, a lovely coastal province just over the border from France and where some years ago was the backdrop to a memorable holiday romance. Giulaini & Pasini’s ‘Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá’ DOC 2008 left me breathless with aromas of apricot, creme caramel and toasted almonds. On the palate I was seduced by voluptuous peach, firm jasmine tea, melting caramel and a rich sensual finish that lingered so long I lost track of time. Using Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino varieties Cinque Terre Sciacchetrá (Cinque Terre refers to the dramatic coastline where the wines come from) is produced in the Passito method, sometimes referred to as Straw Wine, where ripe grapes are left to dry on ventilated racks, thus intensifying their sweetness. This particular amber goddess left me swooning, starry eyed, taking me back  to that small town of Riva Ligure, lo those many moons ago. Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.34.56

Despite my lightheaded state I soldiered on and am glad I did because next was the fabulously delicious Azienda Agricola Ferrandes Passito di Pantelleria DOC 2006. Pantelleria (which does sound like a great place to buy Italian undergarments) is a tiny island south of Sicily and is renowned for it’s sweet wines. Winemaker Salvatore and his wife, Dominica produce their superb Passito on just two hectares of land from Muscat of Alexandria but is known locally as Zibibbo (a great name for a 6th Marx brother if you asked me). Lifting it to my stout I’m a bit taken aback, what’s that on the nose? Well I’ll be… it’s inviting warm gingerbread and baked peach, then tasting it, my mouth is coated in luxurious caramel and intense apricot. The finish is long and fine. Bravo!

Goodness, I really enjoyed that. What a treat it was to sample wines made in such small quantities with real dedication, passion and creativity.

The wines are available through various UK merchants, so do drop Winetraders a message for further info.

A special thanks to Emanuele at R&R Teamwork for inviting me along.





Hung Out to Dry in January

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 10.40.26As a food and drink blogger taking an entire month off the sauce seemed utter madness. Why would I do that to myself? I really like good booze, nay I love good booze! “Libational” religious experience is common parlance in my vocabulary. But at the behest of my fiancée, who was also abstaining for the month of January, I decided to give it a go.

There have been plenty of opportunities to slip up: a free bar at the opening of Brooklyn Bowl at the O2 (post to follow), a friend’s raucous house party. Though most challenging of them all have been the numerous delightful dinners at home with my lady. Between us sits a very unwelcome, but familiar guest, murky miserable looking squash is his name and washing away any culinary joy is his game. Between bites, are half heard mumblings, curses to our puritan resolve, while wonderful beers, ciders, wines and spirits sat mere feet away calling to us like sirens.

During this time of reflection, my understanding of why I drink has come more clearly into focus. It’s not so much the “two pint euphoria” or the “winegasm” I miss (though those are some good vibes). It’s the ceremony of opening a bottle of wine that’s been laid down a few years, the discovery of a new brewery whose beer sings at the first sip, the sound ice makes when it’s stirred with bourbon to make an Old Fashioned. But most of all, I miss the marriage of well-made food and good drink. Sure there are some very good non-alcoholic matches for some cuisines. You only have to look at the Lassi with an Indian or Green Tea with Sushi. But for me nothing can quite match the harmony that is achieved with pairing the right wine or beer or cider or spirit with a dish. The word sacred may seem a step too far for some, but not me.

On the plus side I’ve discovered some very good alcohol-free beers: the ironically named Jever ‘Fun’ and more to the point Rothaus  Alkoholfrei.

When I started out on this little experiment in temperance, I didn’t believe I possessed the will power to abstain from one of my greatest passions for a whole month, that somehow I would lose my nerve and give in.

But I did it; I abstained for a whole month.

The 2 things I learned?

1. I am strong enough to go a month (or longer if I so chose) without drinking.

2. I am unlikely to take a month off drinking ever again.

Fullers Vintage Ale

I had been saving a bottle of Fullers Vintage Ale 2000 since I was given it during a visit to the historic Griffin Brewery in Chiswick at a beer bloggers conference nearly three years ago. It was the first time a beer had lasted more than a week in my house, let alone years. Of this particular vintage Fullers had produced 85,000 bottles and decided to brew with English Champion Optic Malt and Organic Target Hops.

I wanted a special occasion to open it, Christmas Day seemed appropriate and much ceremony was made while pouring out this bottle conditioned* time capsule. Its smooth rich deep amber hue nestled comfortably into the feminine curves of the two elegant 1/3 pint CAMRA glasses I had chosen for the special task.

To my nose I raised the branded tulip and was struck a touch dumb with the complex aromas that greeted me. My olfactory curator reeled trying to make sense of this woody earthy perfume, but it began slowly to emerge. First fresh bees wax, then sweet corn syrup left to sit in the sun, next came toasted sunflower seeds and finally dense rich malt loaf with fat raisins. All the while weaving in and out were wild herbs and dried grasses. Now it was time to taste, the first sip coated my mouth with dry peach, then Demerara sugar. I kept needing to taste and re taste to discern the dry herb finish. It caused my to mouth actually sweat, the drying woody tannins lingering on my tongue. To say this 8.5% ABV beer is rather special is an understatement, it is a beverage imbued with the nuance and diversity of flavour that I usually reserve for wine – a truly try before you die beer.

It paired beautifully with the Neal’s YardMelrose & Morgan cheeses (Perroche soft goats, Stawley washed rind goats & Gran Jura) biscuits and onion chutney. Despite never having “laid down” beer before I can proudly say that there is around a dozen bottles from different brewers sat in my pantry stood a reasonably cool dark box, maturing, growing wise. I thoroughly recommend you do the same.

You can order Fullers Vintage Ale 2013 direct online from £6 a bottle. They may have other vintages in stock so do get in touch with them to find out. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.11.56

*Bottle Conditioning – The secondary fermentation that occurs when yeast and sugars are added to the beer right before bottling. This process leads to higher alcohol content and allows the beer to be aged, which can produce varying changes in taste and strength.

Definition courtesy of Beer Tutor

Jackson & Rye

The Americans are coming the Americans are coming! No I’m not talking tourists or invasion (though the tourists can make it feel like an occupation sometimes), I am talking food. London is overflowing with patty shacks, rib joints, dog stands and God save you if you don’t have Mac n Cheese on your menu. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.07.51We also seem to have fallen back in love with the 20s, the speakeasy and brasserie all done up in moody, sensual, art deco curves are popping up as often as a flapper’s backside. Sister to recently opened Grillshackoffspring of Tommy Tune lookalike billionaire Richard CaringJackson & Rye is most definitely a nod across the pond to the kind of place we imagine New York to be full of. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.04.33Cozy banquettes all deep brown, subdued lighting, walls that looked stained with the smoke of thousands of cigars. To the untrained eye J & R looks like it could have been there for 80 years, but the giveaway that they only opened their doors before Christmas is that the grand marble toilets are spotless & smell only of scented candles.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.07.11 There’s a lovely bar as you come in, with seating upstairs as well as down with capacity for 130 diners.

I kicked off with a glass of their unfiltered lager which is brewed by Brewers & Union and quite good indeed. While we perused the sensibly priced brunch menu (which is pure Americana. The likes of Milk & Cookies, Buttermilk Pancakes, Corn Bread, Reuben Sandwich, Chopped Salad, wait for it… Truffled Mac n Cheese, etc) we moved onto their house fizz from the Loire. Francois Dulac Blanc de Blanc Mousseux Brut NV was cScreen Shot 2014-01-08 at 13.10.06lean, fresh and with hits of lime it impressed on the palate as well as the wallet, only £19.95. The wine list is well priced and thought out, with plenty of interesting offerings by the glass from Europe as well as the US of A. In addition to the unfiltered draft lager, they also do a handful of well worn Yankee names by the bottle.

To start we ordered the Market Soup, Chopped Tuna salad and Crab. The pumpkin soup was rich thick and came in a classy pewter jug. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.07The twist came at the bottom of the bowl, a delicious spinach and ricotta ravioli. So using your spoon as a cleaver and digging deep you could pull up a mouth full of cheesy Popeye goodness with that creamy pumpkin richness. The chopped tuna was a bit of a let down. Seared and nicely presented but it lacked seasoning and could have done with a good squeeze of lime. The classic crab and avocado stack was substantial, decadent and raised to a new height by the pool of spicy tomato that it swam in.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.29 A super dish.

Mains of Sea Bass, Meatballs and Rib Cut Steak were all reasonably accomplished. The sea bass didn’t look appetising, the colours bland and uninviting, but it wasn’t too overcooked, and the caper sauce did its job. Sadly the grilled baby gem came of the worst, looking sad indeed.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.41 The veal & beef meatballs were a hit in their roasted tomato sauce, and certainly the best of the trio. The 10oz steak was acceptable, decent piece of meat cooked to an average standard. We got a few sides as well, Creamed Corn Grits (imagine fried crunchy creamy polenta) did what they said on the tin with aplomb, thought the Tomato Salad very tasty as well, but I can still taste the Olive Oil Whipped Potatoes. The texture of silk melting in the mouth leaving that fruity tang of the olive oil. Dreamy stuff. The Shoe String Fries were edible enough

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.06.59Pudding was probably the least impressive course with the Blueberry Cobbler lacking sweetness as well as substance. The Pecan Pie was alright, I have certainly had better, but it was just saved by a well made rye ice cream. Best was the Potted Cheesecake, thick sweet and the berry compote complimenting what was a quite simple dessert.
Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 17.08.19Service was a little inconsistent at times, but staff were warm and as we were there pre official opening I am happy to let that slide. Now taking into account its location in the heart of Soho, the prices, the quality of the food, drink, service and atmosphere I would go back to Jackson & Rye. Sure there are better places but for what it is, in the right company I could easily while away a day or night in its charming old world embrace.

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Jackson & Rye Website

Open Mon-Fri 8am to 11:30pm

Saturday Brunch 9am to 4:30pm & Dinner 4:30-11:30pm/Sunday Brunch 10am to 4:30pm & Dinner 4:30-11pm

For 2 (3 courses with wine and service) around £80 but you could eat for much less than that