Alcohol

Christmas Spirits

It’s just four days until the big day - our trees are up, the food is ordered, and both children and adults are suitably excited. However, if you’re like us at The Amazing Blog, then you may still be on the hunt for some last minute presents, or a few Christmas tipples to add to your festive drinks cabinet. For our final blog post of 2018, we bring you our top Christmas spirits, helping you to become a stellar host, whether that be for Christmas Day itself, or perhaps even for the New Year.

FINAL.jpg

Firstly, we came across Pedrino, the brand bringing Mediterranean flavours to the aperitif market. Taking inspiration from Spain, Portugal and Italy, Pedrino’s three tonics are the ideal gift for an aperitivo lover or a great addition to your dinner party drink’s cabinet. We tried all three - Sherry & Tonic, Ruby & Tonic and Vermouth & Tonic, and were pleasantly surprised by their light and refreshing nature. Thanks to their low alcohol content, at 5.5%abv, these drinks are perfect as a pre-dinner tipple; only strengthened by the use of all-natural and carefully proportioned ingredients.

While they are delicious when consumed on a hot summer’s afternoon, we found these tonics particularly apt for the Christmas period too. Given that sherry and port are often consumed in the colder and darker months, we were pleased to find a lighter alternative. All three are handmade with citrus botanicals, giving freshness and depth. Equally, only the best and award-winning fortified wines are used, alongside good quality tonic to ensure that your guests (and yourself) will not merely be given a watered down spirit. Our favourite? As port lovers, we loved the Ruby & Tonic, especially when drunk over ice and served with a garnish of lime. That said, it was hard to choose, and the other two closely follow. The bonus though, is that they need only to be served over ice (with a garnish if you’re feeling fancy). If this sounds just the tipple, then you can purchase these aperitifs from Waitrose at just £1.95 per bottle. Click here to see for yourself.

40779067_324847684952218_3435659969179942912_n.jpg

If you’re more of a rum lover, then let us introduce The Duppy Share. Founded by George Frost, the brand brings the essence of the Caribbean back to London, with a focus not just on the Jerk seasoned food and reggae music, but on the nation’s love for rum. Made from a unique blend of fiery Jamaican rum and smooth Barbadian rum, this spirit is both bold and tropical. For those less inclined to go for rum, rest assured that this was a hit across the office, so much so that we were flipping coins for who could take the remainder of the bottle home! We’re also not the only lovers of this brand, as The Duppy Share was the official sponsor of the infamous Notting Hill Carnival in the summer, testament to the brand’s ethos and high-quality product.

The use of a traditional copper pot still gives the Jamaican rum its poignancy, aged in old white oak bourbon barrels and utilising the perfect weather conditions to increase the rate of ageing. On the other hand, the Barbadian method of continuous and pot still distillation gives notes of caramel - which when combined, gives this dark rum a deep, yet refreshing flavour. We like to drink this 3-year-old rum with the classic lime and soda, allowing the rich flavours to take over. However, for a more fiery approach, we also enjoyed it with a high-quality ginger beer and wedge of fresh lime. To bring the Caribbean to your Christmas, then visit The Duppy Share website here where you will find a 70cl bottle for £27.50. Alternatively, you will find this product in many good supermarkets, well worth the crowded rush!

47581075_270796736891433_6714889769081372672_n.jpg

For many of us, the festive season means it's time for bubbles, so we were thrilled to discover Sparkle Drops. This brand brings a vast range of fruity flavourings to your alcoholic beverages - particularly effective when added to something bubbly. Adding a lovely shimmer to your drinks, these drops are equally effective when mixed with gin and vodka, also giving cocktails a little extra pizzaz.

We were fortunate to try two of their sets, the Unicorn Collection and the Gin Collection. The Unicorn Collection contains three 10ml bottles, with Golden Passionfruit, Blue Raspberry and Pink Cherry flavourings. Our favourite was the Golden Passionfruit, which is pleasantly fruity, and thanks to the gorgeous shimmer, will not look out of place on your festive dining table. That said, the other flavours were close contenders, the Blue Raspberry is particularly striking, and the Pink Cherry adds a pop of sweetness to drier proseccos.

Equally, as gin lovers, we were thrilled to try the Gin Collection. This consists of a further three flavours: Silver Elderflower, Green Lime and Rose Gold Rhubarb. It's difficult to choose a favourite here, but as the Rose Gold Rhubarb transported us back to our rhubarb and custard days at the local sweet shop, this perhaps edges above the others. That said, the Silver Elderflower adds a classic flavour to our standard G&T and the Green Lime brings a much needed citrusy zing to combat rich Christmas foods. To use either collection, add a couple of pipette-fulls to your glass, and top with something bubbly. Each bottle will make 6-8 125ml glasses sparkle, and they need not only be mixed with alcohol, as we found the Silver Elderflower worked particularly well with sparkling water. To add a bit of shimmer to your festivities, then visit the Sparkle Drops website here, where each collection is available for £10.

Finally, we discovered the perfect after-dinner tipple from La Mere Wine Estate. Based in Jersey, and established in 1972, La Mere provides heritage products with the use of local ingredients. The company is also established as a Green Tourism Gold standard attraction, in line with adhering to 20 specific actions, designed to promote sustainable tourism. These include controlling energy consumption and water usage, so we were intrigued to try their Jersey Apple Brandy Cream Liqueur.

Blended with the use of Jersey dairy cream from local island herds, the Jersey Apple Brandy Cream Liqueur also consists of locally distilled Jersey Apple Brandy - creating a deliciously creamy and rich combination. Thanks to the use of aged brandy, the flavour is warm and uplifting, ideal for the festive period. Equally, with the use of dairy cream, the texture is smooth and velvety, adding depth and thickness to this tipple. We found this is best enjoyed over ice, however, we’ve become quite partial to this liqueur when drizzled over a vanilla ice cream - perhaps it may even work well with Christmas pudding! To try the 17% ABV Jersey Apple Brandy Cream Liqueur for yourself, then click here, where you’ll find this tipple for £17.50.

So there you have it, four new brands to try this Christmas or New Year. Whether you’re looking for a pre-dinner aperitif, a warming rum, or an after dinner night cap, we’re sure you’ll find something to encourage a little extra festive spirit. As our last blog post of 2018, there is nothing left to do but put our out of office on, wish you all a Merry Christmas and grab a glass (or two) of something nice!

Friday Favourites: Beers and Ciders

There’s no doubt that as Christmas approaches, beers and ciders are some of our more pleasurable lighter tipples… One thing we don’t enjoy though, is in our rush to replenish our fridge, is only having a limited choice from supermarket. Supermarket buyers please take note: There are some fantastic indie brands there! With a little research we’ve found some new and interesting options, from fruity ciders to chocolately beers. Keep reading as we at The Amazing Blog introduce you to some of our new festive favourites!

FINAL.jpg

 

 

Let's start with something fresh. Sassy's Cider, created in Normandy, is made of 100% pure juice, is 100% naturallow in calories and no added sugars. We started with the L’inimitable, a bright and golden balance between a traditional-dry cider brut taste, and the fruitiness of a semi-dry cider. It works well as an aperitif, but is also delicious alongside any meat or cheese. The full bodied aroma reveals apple and leather, creating a subtle balance between acidity, bitterness and roundness. Our next treat was Le VertueuxClear and pure, this can be perfectly combined with fish or light chocolate desserts as it gives you a sharp and slightly tannic mouth feel at first, finishing off the soft and subtle flavour of pear. This taste is something we certainly hadn’t come across before and it’s delicious!

Our favourite however, is La Sulfureuse, a cider blended with apple spices, creating a soft and semi-dry cider. Ideal with desserts like sorbet or pastry. lt is lower in alcohol than other ciders and has an intense pink colour, as well as a delectable smell of apples and red fruits. If you want to try Sassy’s ciders for yourself, then you can purchase 12 mini bottles (330ml each) for €44 or 6 bottles of 750ml each for €43 here. Alternatively, you can purchase a set of three for £24 on the John Lewis website here.

47686861_283775468823247_3532110958824521728_n.jpg

Another fresh and new cider experience is provided by Lilley's, this time from the UK. Their lightly sparkling Rhubarb Craft Cider is characteristically tart, packed full of rhubarb flavour, yet still has a delicous sweetness. The taste is fulfilling, perhaps going down a little too easily at times! Lilleys, a family run cider business, based in Frome, Somerset, offers a diverse range of traditional and experimental blends of cider. Always made with care and a lot of enthusiasm, this cider definitely helps you to get the best out of the day. The notes of rhubarb effectively take away the usual over-sweetness of fruit ciders, instead leaving a light and refreshing taste. This is one of our favourites from their extensive range. We particularly like this tart nature, and it was a hit even with those who are usually put off by flavoured ciders. This Rhubarb Craft Cider was a winner in The Great Taste Awards 2018 for being ‘very sweet with lively carbonation tart and beautifully blended’ and we couldn’t agree more. This is an excellent present for a cider lover, in it’s substantial carton 5L box of rustic goodness that is certain to pack a punch for a mere £19.80 here

Delivering to businesses all across the UK, you can purchase the 6 bottles (500ml each) for £15.18 here. Alternatively, you can mix and match this cider with other great options, buying a selection of 6 flavours, including Mango or Apple & Blackberry. Click here to personalise your own crate.

48059690_282200912437858_8803912864868859904_n.jpg

Moving away from cider, and onto beer, we came across Lowlander. There is no doubt that Lowlander’s Beer shines amongst the competition, with a range of awards for their botanically brewed beers. With its snappy branding inspired by travel to far-away lands, and discovery of exotic herbs and spices, Lowlander beers are packed full of flavour and character. A whole new dimension of flavours is added thanks to the botanicals used, and their website provides advice on how to combine your favourite beer with either food or other alcoholic beverages.

We tested Lowlander’s Yuzu & Pink Grapefruit beer, and were surprised by the lightness and freshness of this beer, revealing a bright citrus flavour characteristic of having being brewed with earl grey tea and gose beer. We also tried their Ginger & Kaffir Lime beer, which is, in contrast, rather spicy and aromatic, delivering hints of zesty citrus. This beer is brewed with Darjeeling tea and wheat beer, and both beers are presented in colourful and flowery bottles, sure to brighten up any day. With this innovative combination of botanicals, tea and beer, Lowlander wanted to provide innovative lower alcohol options (2.5% vol.). Their beers are subsequently lower in alcohol content than other competitors, but we certainly don’t think this has dampened their flavour! Launched at the Speciality & Fine Food fair in London, these beers can now be purchased from €15 for 6 bottles (330ml each) on their web shop and you’ll find them stocked in many good bars and shops.

48168958_1840436572744825_4761003867892613120_n.jpg

Another innovative brand we came across is Pillars, founded by four guys who have created their own Lager Revolution in London. Finding its roots in a garden shed, the aim of the brand was to prove that a craft lager can be just as tasty as its ale counterparts. This is something that we think has turned out to be a great success. With a lot of creativity and quality, the tasteless reputation of Lager has been smashed!

Their first creation was the Untraditional Lager, which has since become the all-time favourite (and our favourite as well). This 4.5% Session IPL combines ingredients from all over the world, producing a never before seen combination of a pilsner and hoppy IPA. This creates the delicious flavour of local British malts, with softness and fruitiness which has a slightly citrusy, but definitely crisp, finish. We also tried their Rebell Helles (4.8% vol.) lager, which combines traditional Helles Lager with new world hops. It is most definitely waves two fingers to boring beers! It is a malty maverick, revealing a full bodied taste, yet is easy to drink. Based in Walthamstow, East London, the brewery pays homage to a brand that wants to change perceptions of lagers. The packaging is metallic orange, and black and white in design, offering a graphic look that looks great on any shelf. With a reasonable price of £2.65 for 330ml, this fresh taste is definitely worth a try. Visit their website here to see for yourself.

48370294_294761471025707_4944307514398212096_n(1).jpg

Our last stop of this revealing beer and cider discovery tour is Big Cat Stout from Stroud Brewery, a British Craft Brewery founded in 2006. They create premium organic beers, offering a wide range of beers in cask, cake bottles and cans. Starting out as their pet project, this dark stout is organic, and vegan and delivers a silky complexity of dark roast malts.

We decided to give this 4.5%, easy drinking conditioned stout, a try. We were certainly more than satisfied. Encased in a stylish and simple bottle with a graphic red logo, we were impressed to find that this stout is organically brewed, without any artificial preservatives, flavourings or colourings. The taste is not highly bitter, and we think is best combined with rich spicy foods, mature cheddar, chocolate or coffee based pudding. The silky smooth texture is full bodied, delivering a fruity dark chocolate aroma, with a hint of liquorice. Winner of a 2 star Great Taste Award (2017), this beer is definitely not what you find in an everyday pub! Purchase 12 bottles of 500ml each for £33 here.

As Christmas draws nearer, we hope to have opened your eyes to a few new festive tipples, we think in particular that these are great for those who normally steer clear of beers, ciders and stouts. So go on, give it a go, why not try something new?

MicroBarBox - Chocoholic's Chocolate Cocktail Box

final microbar 2.jpg

It might only be Wednesday, but that doesn’t stop us dreaming of Friday at The Amazing Blog! We were thrilled to discover British company, MicroBarBox, as their novel cocktail boxes allowed us to indulge in a cocktail (or two) from the comfort of our own homes. The concept of a ‘bar in a box’ is a great one, the liqueurs and spirits you need to create delicious after dinner drinks are delivered straight to your door, and with several different versions, you can choose your box dependant on whether you’re a gin, vodka, whisky, or prosecco lover.

We decided to give the Chocoholic’s Chocolate Cocktail Box a whirl. This decadent delight contains a plethora of alcoholic and chocolatey treats, including Coole Swan White Chocolate Liqueur, Kendal Mint Cake Liqueur, Sweet Potato Chocolate Moonshine with Chilli, Bramley and Gage Cherry Brandy, Baileys Orange Truffle Irish Cream Liqueur and Wild Chocolate Vodka - all of which come in 50ml measures. In addition to that, you get 35g of Fudge Kitchen Classic Chocolate, as well as 40g Divine White Chocolate. What more could you ask for? They have created our liquid ‘chocolate heaven’! Although completely acceptable as a way to treat yourself, this box would also make a perfect Christmas present for your loved ones. The boxes are elegant, encasing the chocolatey goodies in black packaging, with pink and white lettering. If you have the willpower to save these treats, then they will also be great additions to your beverage collection.

These can either be mixed in your own experimental way, or you can follow the cocktail serving suggestions to create some fabulous chocolate cocktails. Our favourite was definitely the Winter Wonderland cocktail, which contains the Coole Swan White Chocolate Liqueur mixed with 1/3 of Kendal Mint Cake Liqueur. Perfect for a cosy catch up on wintery days! Everything you need is combined in the box, just add some ice for a refreshing bonus. For £35 you can order the Chocoholic’s Chocolate Cocktail box here or browse the selection of other boxes here. NB: the box contents are regularly updated so your contents may be different (although equally delicious!)

In order to always keep your selection updated, you can even become a Cocktail Club member, and get your monthly Cocktail box delivered straight to your door. The lovely MicroBarBoxTeam have also created a discount code for you, our readers, which you can use when purchasing their Chocoholic’s Chocolate Cocktail Box. Simply use the code “AMAZING10” when placing your order. Enjoy!

Friday Favourites: Festive Gins

The second weekend of December is here, and we think that justifies a festive tipple or two. As gin lovers at The Amazing Blog, we were thrilled to come across six new spirits - we're certainly never averse to a spot of gin tasting in the name of research! Whether you're a connoisseur or not, we're sure that you'll find a suitable botanical to mix with your favourite tonic, add to a signature cocktail or gift to a gin lover in your life.

FINAL.jpg

Firstly, we discovered Conker, based in Bournemouth and known as Dorset's first gin distillery. They pride themselves on being free from traditional constraints, instead, evolving their Dorset Dry with meticulous testing and tweaking; producing a gin that has a strong focus on quality, rather than industry expectation. We don't mind admitting that we were dubious as to whether this approach would produce a suitable outcome, but in fact, the delicious taste of this gin speaks for itself, proving this assumption very wrong. Whether distilled traditionally or not, we are suitably impressed.

Despite their no-fuss approach, Dorset Dry is still a classic dry gin. The fresh taste is thanks to the use of ten unique botanicals, including Dorset elderberries and samphire, as well as handpicked New Forest gorse flowers. We were pleased to see the use of local ingredients, including British wheat spirit and New Forest Spring Water, both adding subtle and different flavours. We particularly enjoyed the light and refreshing taste, still smooth enough to be consumed neatly over ice, or equally enjoyable when mixed with a good quality tonic. We also found it works well with a dash of ginger ale, for a spicy and fresh tipple. Purchase Conker's Dorset Dry here starting from £21.50 (350ml).

47579654_361522577753819_838124372022525952_n.jpg

If you're a traditionalist at heart, then Hayman’s may be the gin brand for you. Producing gin since 1863, Hayman’s have a wealth of knowledge, passed down between generations. This has unearthed a brand that is committed to championing traditional methods, and through priding themselves on creating truly English Gins, Hayman’s have produced a collection of delicious spirits, that certainly stand out amongst the crowded gin market.

For us, sloe gin optimises December and Christmas, the ideal tipple for an evening spent by the fire (or perhaps Father Christmas’ spirit of choice). We tried Hayman's Sloe Gin, a handcrafted spirit that is distilled using a fifth-generation family recipe. Thanks to the use of English wild-forage berries, this gin has a plummy aroma and fruity taste, particularly popular among those of us with a taste for almond. Made from harvested English sloe berries and Hayman's English Gin, the ingredients are steeped for four months, giving a broad and bursting flavour. Due to the lower alcohol content of 26% ABV, this gin is delicious when consumed on its own, or when mixed with prosecco, for a party worthy Sloe Royale. We must also mention the packaging, launched nationwide in Marks & Spencer; the bottles are wrapped in limited edition paper, perfect as a gift for gin lovers, or merely to add a bit of festive cheer to your spirit cabinet. To purchase your own Sloe Gin for £26.00, head into a local Marks & Spencer store or visit the Haymans website here.

47319193_543916519449831_5769215279913500672_n.jpg

Despite the name 'London Dry Gin', it is not only manufactured in the UK. Strane introduced us to their Swedish offerings, made at Smögen Whisky, a small craft distillery on the Swedish west coast. As a whisky company, we found it interesting that Strane have applied their whisky process to gin making, focusing heavily on the blending process. Launched in 2014, Strane's blending process is designed to ensure that each gin has a distinctively different outcome, with different proportions of botanicals added to each of the three offerings. What impressed us, is the quality control of this small batch company, trialling and testing on a constant basis to re-balance the final product.

We tried two of Strane's gins: Strane Merchant Strength 47.4% ABV and Strane Ultra Uncut 82.5% ABV. Both are handcrafted in small batches of around 45 litres and are mixed by master blender, Pär Caldenby, who ensures each of the three gins is mixed precisely. Merchant Strength has an intense depth of character thanks to the use of juniper, coriander and mint. Strane also include two secret botanicals, one local, and the other, typical of the ancient trade of the armed merchant ships. Although we can't spill the names of these ingredients, we certainly enjoyed the gin with a good quality tonic and a classic lemon garnish. Strane's Ultra Uncut gin is an explosion of strength, yet is still a delicious gin to be consumed with a good quality tonic. Thanks to the use of cinnamon, sweet almond and sage, this gin has a botanically strong taste, which is rich in juniper, and heavily citrusy with notes of lemon peel and garden mint. Try it for yourself here for £33, or if you're feeling less adventurous, try Strane's Merchant Strength for £39.83 here.

47375598_766082277057963_5611490706276220928_n.jpg

Finally, thanks to Esker Spirits, we were transported to Scotland and introduced to two final additions to our (ever-growing) gin cabinet. With a desire to create premium spirits, Esker's first distillery was housed in a humble back garden shed, which has now impressively evolved into a distillery on the Kincardine Estate. As a family-owned distillery, ingredients are sourced from the local area of Royal Deeside, and it is the silver birch sap, in particular, that is characteristic of their unique spirits. Thanks to this ingredient, Esker Spirits have a classic yet distinct flavour, distilled traditionally in a copper pot still, creating delicious gins that we couldn't wait to try.

Firstly, we tried Esker's Traditional Gin, with citrusy notes, thanks to the use of orange peel. This is a refreshing gin, with floral undertones that are characteristic of rosehip and heather flowers. We found this gin is best mixed with a good quality tonic (we liked it with elderflower tonic especially) and the citrus flavour really pops when served with a small amount of orange peel. It is also delicious when added to prosecco, add a cordial of your choice, and wow your party guests with a delectable (yet simple) cocktail. Equally, if you're looking for a spicier alternative, then Esker's Honey Spiced Gin is the answer. Thanks to the use of pink peppercorn and cassia, this gin has a warming kick, enough to warm the cockles after a long week at work. Although this can be served with traditional tonic, we enjoyed it immensely when served with ginger ale and orange peel, the ultimate long drink to accompany an evening of present wrapping. Purchase Esker's Traditional Gin for £36 here, or Honey Spiced Gin for £35.30 here.

How's that for some gin cabinet inspiration? Whether you're searching for a gift, a companion for your festive cocktail recipes, or even a spirit to put hairs on your chest - we're sure one of these gins will be your answer. Enjoy!

Forty Hall Vineyard's Sparkling Brut

Forty Hall Final Blog.jpg

We at The Amazing Blog appreciate how much passion and dedication goes into nurturing healthy vines, growing luscious grapes, and making good wine. Additionally, the admiration has to expand further still, when such production is to be organically certified and sustainably executed. When you add the often unreliable climate of North London, which is so vital to the whole process, then a truly intriguing story emerges. And that story begins with Forty Hall Vineyard…in Enfield, North London where it rains, a lot!

Enter Sarah Vaughan Roberts, who founded Forty Hall Vineyard in 2009. She asked the question ‘If Paris and New York can accommodate a vineyard, then why not London?’ This was a question that sparked her to dig deeper, and coupled with her interest in wine, Sarah’s entrepreneurial nouse perhaps determined the end result to be inevitably positive. But what of that slight fly in the ointment of our Great British Weather? Well, Sarah explains, the very fact that we are now seeing the effects of climate change, is precisely why our environment is becoming so effective in the wine making process. With temperature zones rising and moving north, some Champagne Houses are already looking north across the channel for potential vineyards in Kent, The South Downs and South Hams, where the cooler climate can be more hospitable to the vines. Something particularly vital in the production of sparkling wine.

However, the intrigue does not stop there, as Forty Hall Vineyard, is also a not-for-profit organisation. They aim to promote community health and wellbeing, which is just as well, as they need all the manpower they can muster, since they also don’t use pesticides. Their volunteer programme enables members of the local community to remain socially and physically active, developing new skills and confidence within themselves.

The fact that the end result of this incredibly inspiring process is a delicious bottle of bubbles has to be the most perfect conclusion to their story. And their 2016 London Sparkling Brut is the perfect bottle to try, to get a flavour of the toil and patience that has gone into it’s creation. Made in the traditional Champagne method, we have a mix of Forty Hall Vineyard’s Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes; the Pinot variety giving a rose-blush hue to the enticing bubbles.

The result is a very refreshing blend of citrus flavours - very clean on the palate and fruity - perfect for the Christmas season which rapidly approaches. And when we talk of gifts, surely there can be few more ‘ideal’ than this, with it’s pedigree, this is not simply a bottle of wine you will be handing over, but something much more. Priced at £28.99, and available on The Forty Hall Vineyard website, you can also read up on Sarah Vaughan Robert’s amazing story here. We recommend checking out their other goodies too - especially the 2017 Bacchus. Cheers!