Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Puffing Billy Steam Vodka

From the team at The Borders Distillery comes Puffing Billy Steam Vodka - an unfiltered malted barley vodka, named after their specially-commissioned Carterhead still in which it is made. The Borders Distillery opened in March 2018 and is the first Scotch whisky distillery in the area since 1837. Their method of production of their vodka is completely unique, with the vapours steamed through charcoal inside the still rather than filtered, which the team believe would strip out some of the character which they meticulously strive to preserve in its entirety. They use this same technique to produce their Kerr's Borders Gin.

Vodka isn't the first thing that tends to spring to our mind when we fancy a tipple and as such it's pretty underrepresented in our spirits collection. Nonetheless, it's one of those drinks that whenever we have one it's something we really enjoy, and Puffing Billy definitely fits this theme.



Suggested serves


The recommended "neat" serve of this is called "The Steampunk" - served from the freezer, in a chilled shot glass with a crack of black pepper and a cornichon pickle. We didn't have cornichons, so went for a sliced burger gherkin, but we reckon it was just as good! Incredibly smooth, well rounded on the palate and takes the sharpness of the pickle with ease. Lovely warmth and creaminess which is lifted by the light acidity of the garnish. Laura picked up on a bit of a bubblegum character too (from the vodka, not the gherkin, just for clarity). A sipper, not a shotter!


We also tried Puffing Billy in one of the recommended cocktails, "Billy's Mojo"- effectively a mojito with the rum replaced by vodka. Lime juice and brown sugar were muddled with mint leaves freshly plucked from our garden, before ice, vodka and soda were added to the glass. A thirst quenching and refreshing long drink, perfect for a sunny afternoon.

The Borders Distillery team also recommend drinking Puffing Billy in a "Borders Mule" with cloudy apple juice, lime and ginger beer, which we can fully imagine would taste delicious. Sadly not all ingredients we could easily come by on our lockdown-appropriate trip to the local supermarket, but something we'd be keen to try in future!

We also reckon it'd be fantastic with sharper fruit flavours, perhaps in a gooseberry martini - definitely a versatile spirit that would be a good addition to any mixologist's drinks cabinet.



Cheers,

Laura & Jim

Disclaimer: We were invited to give this unique spirit a try by Steve at The Whisky Wire and were sent a sample for review. This has not affected our feedback - this post represents our genuine, honest opinions.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Fermentation Station

One of the things we have found ourselves with recently is more time. And as the old adage goes, with more time comes more fermentability.

Whether it's sauces, fruits, chillis, or even potatoes, there are often fermentation jars on the go around our kitchen,and we've stepped it up a gear in the past couple of months. So this is a little round up of our little fermentation projects, with some ideas of flavour combinations and some techniques that anyone can have a go at.


Fermentation is essentially a way of preserving perishable foods by encouraging the growth of bacteria to lower the pH, increasing the acidity. The bacteria, while wild in this case, are the same that occur in live yoghurt - lactobacillus. They're literally everywhere, just floating around nonchalantly constantly on the search for something upon which to feed. Here, we are encouraging the lactobacillus by reducing the activity of other wild yeasts and bacteria with salt. It may feel like a lot of salt sometimes but by the time it's ready to eat, the acidity will have picked up and the flavours of fermentation will have balanced the salination.

Our first top tip would be to use decent salt, not table salt as it has anti-caking agents and can be iodized, which will inhibit bacterial growth. Opt instead for sea salts (we're Maldon fans), or if you're made of gold you may want to give Himalayan salt a try (although the mineral benefit is largely bullshit). Generally speaking, everything needs around 1.5-2% salt by weight of your base ferment.

Also worth mentioning for beginners, that the process of fermentation involves the creation of gas. You need to get yourself an appropriate fermentation jar (Kilner jars are good), and "burp" your little bubbling babies every day for a week or so, and then every other day until you see no more release of gas. This will help to prevent stinky explosions.

Here's a few simple ideas to get you started...

Beer vinegar 

For this, you'll need a vinegar mother. Live vinegar (which means it includes a mother) can be bought in most supermarkets, and flocculates (settles) easily. If you leave a bottle to settle overnight and decant the clear vinegar off, leaving the sediment behind, this is the mother. Splitting this between around 400ml of "food" will work well. The food can be anything with a little bit of sugar left. A bit of "leftover" wine or cider, or the last bit of that minikeg that you've bought because you can't go to the pub, all work well.

The vinegar will start to sour quickly - over a couple of days to a week - and you can start using it at this point, but leaving it to mature for a month or longer will intesify the flavour.

As you start to produce vinegar, the mother will munch on the sugar and carbohydrates you feed it and will grow, allowing you to eventually produce more. This will help your brine fermentations by pitching a little hither and thither.


Beer pickled onions 

Onions
Salt (1.5-2% onion weight)
Brown sugar (5% onion weight)
Beer:Vinegar (60:40 - enough to cover the onions)

Any onions can be used for this, but I like something a little more interesting - if you can get some little silver skins, some shallots or rings of red onion then go for it. To prep the onions, first peel them, halve them (and if they are larger onions I like to quarter them) but leaving a 2cm join at the root end. this allows them to pickle quickly and evenly, but helps the onion retain its structure. Weigh your onions and calculate your dry additions. Dissolve them in a little beer (we used a pale ale - don't go for anything too hoppy, but anything with a bit of sweetness or something saison-ny would work well... we're going to try a stout next!) and pour over your onions in a jar, topping up with more beer and vinegar to cover - the above ratios are approximate so just use whatever you have available. It'll take around 5 days to start softening the intense raw onion flavour, but will develop nicely over a month.

Served simply with a hunk of cheese and a generous slice of bread, these are delicious.

Kimchi

Cabbage or Chinese greens
Gochuchang (between 1tsp and 1tbsp per 200g of cabbage by weight, depending on how spicy you like it)
Salt (1.5% by cabbage weight)

Optional extras (per 200g of cabbage)
Spring onion - 1 finely chopped
Ginger - a thumb, either grated or jullienne
Garlic - 3-6 cloves crushed or chopped
Chillies - 2-4 chopped
Fish sauce - a good glug or two

First, weigh the greens so you can calculate how much of the other ingredients you need. Chop the cabbage into ribbons or if using Chinese greens, such as Pak Choi, into quarters. Take the salt and rub it into the leaves and all the nooks and crannies of your chosen veggie. Set to one side for around 15 minutes, while you mix the gochuchang and optional additions together.  At this point thoroughly rub the sauce into the leaves. Simply jar it up and leave for a week to a month for all that funk to come through.

I like to keep topping mine up with fresh cabbage - just give it all a good stir and the leaves that have been in longest will start to soften and break down, with the fresh taking on all the flavour and adding a pleasing crunch. A bit like a Kimchi solera system.

Garlic and Ginger

50/50 garlic/ginger chopped loosely
Salt

Mix everything together, leave for a few days until the aroma intesifies and then blitz.
You can then smosh into any food that needs garlic - it's great to fry off as the base of curry and stir fry, or toss into some fried prawns with a little lime juice. Or perhaps the base of herb pesto, warm through with some olive oil and toss into pasta.

I have really enjoyed using this paste - the garlic really intensifies but also rounds out with the fresh spice of the ginger, as well as having the added advantage of convenience from a jar. It HONKS but it's so worth it. Ridiculously easy too.

Thanks to Bon Appetite specifically Brad and "Its Alive", from whom this idea has been liberated.

Pickled Chillies

A bushel of chillies
Salt (1.5-2% of weight)
Water to cover the chillies in the jar
Vinegar culture if you have one, just a splash

There is no skill involved in this whatever, just throw it all together in a jar, shake to dilute the salt and leave for a couple of weeks to pickle. Consume. Perhaps on a Ploughman's lunch, chopped into a rarebit, or chopped into butter to top a naan bread with. Basically anywhere you fancy a little bit of heat, these guys are there to help.

Green Tomato Ketchup

Green tomatoes
Salt (1.5% of the weight of the toms)
Sugar (10% weight)
Chillies
Black pepper

Roughly chop the tomatoes, into halves, quarters, whatevs. Chuck everything in a fermentation jar and cover the now salty, sweet and spicy toms with water, seal and then shake. Loosen off the jar to allow for fermentation and leave for 3-5 days. Then, blitz everything until smooth - the skins and the pulp shouldv'e broken down a little, but after blitzing give it a taste. More chilli or black pepper could be added, but the acidity will continue to build after the blending so no need to vinegar.

Fermented potatoes

Inspired by Brus in Copenhagen, where we ate fermented fries with mushroom ketchup nearly three years ago. We still think of them daily.
Potatoes
Salt (1.5% of the weight of the potato)
Water
Garden herbs (we use a lot of rosemary)

Chop your potatoes, chuck everything in a jar and leave it for a bit. While initially it may seem odd, this is totally worth it, whether you opt for brining overnight before frying off potatoes for a breakfast hash, or going for a longer ferment on a roast potato for a Sunday dinner, this process really intensifies the flavour and firms up your spud. They are splendid after 3 days, oven roasted for an hour at 180C with a nob of dripping.


Once you've embarked on your first few projects and you are happy with the way your ferments are tasting, then why not chuck a little bit of a similar base into your next batch?
Beer vinegar -> pickled onions -> ketchup

All of thes ideas above are interchangable, blendable and pitchable. If you are really happy with the flavour profile of something, sacrifice some of it to the next batch rather than shoving it all on the next toastie, however tempting that may be. Future you will be grateful.

Let us know what you try, and happy fermenting!

Jim

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Walsh Whiskey Tasting

Well. It's been a while, blog. We missed you! A combination of a remarkably busy year at work, a big holiday, and some general writing lethargy have all meant we haven't been able to make much time for this little corner of the internet as we'd have liked. But we thought we'd start ourselves back off with sharing our thoughts on a selection of Irish Whiskey! We were lucky enough to be selected to take part in The Whisky Wire's twitter tasting with Walsh Whiskey this evening, who are the masterminds behind the Writer's Tears brand along with The Irishman.


An absolutely magnificent package arrived from the lovely Walsh Whiskey team last week, complete with Santa hats, which made this officially our first festive event of the year. We'd usually say it's a little early, but hey, there's whiskey, so who are we to bah humbug about anything?!


First up is Writers' Tears Double Oak (46%). The nose is soft, fresh and bursting with crisp apple notes, which makes us think of those fat shoelace apple sweets! Vibrant, but with the oak casks (a mixture of American Bourbon and French Cognac) smoothly holding up the backbone. As it opens up it gets softer yet, the sharp apple character rounds out to a spiced crumble with custard. Definitely starting to feel cosy! On the palate, the orchard fruits still are there in abundance, ripe pear sitting nicely alongside that apple we keep banging on about, and a zesty character nestling among it all. Gentle vanilla and cinnamon help make this a delightfully balanced drop. Reminiscent of porridge topped with some spiced stewed apple compote. That's breakfast tomorrow sorted! 
 
Onto whiskey number 2! The Irishman 12 Year Old is a Single Malt, triple distilled, bottled at 43% ABV and comprising exclusively first fill Bourbon casks. On the nose there's the sea breeze at low tide, somewhat heartier and more robust than the last. There's the warmth of open fire, reminiscent of a cognac. Toffee apples and grassy samphire. Maybe even a little lavender? An odd mix perhaps and plenty going on, but the whole thing is harmonious nonetheless and nothing seems out of place. To taste, we're getting dried fruit and salted caramel alongside stewed apricots drizzled with just a little honey. There's a  zippy note of candied orange peel, followed by a rounded, slightly oily walnut character to finish. It's somewhat spicy too, with black and pink peppercorn fragrantly jazzing things up and lasting right through to the end of a lingering, only gently tannic finish. Impressively drinkable.
 
Dram 3 is The Irishman Marsala Cask Finish (46%). This one has been matured in a combination of American Bourbon casks and Oloroso sherry butts, before being finished for 15 months in Marsala hogsheads. More delicate than the 12YO on the nose, it dishes up floral honey, a hint of treacle, sugared almonds, vanilla and, somehow, JAMMY DODGERS. On the palate there's dusty shortbread dunked in cocoa, but alongside dried lime. The effect reminds us of a chocolate lime sweet! A long warming finish makes this a soothing winter dram. We could definitely spend long nights in front of the fire with this one. Usually only available in The Loop, Dublin Airport, so we were very lucky to get to try this one!
 
And finally, we move on to finish with Writers' Tears Cask Strength 2019, weighing in at 53%. Surprisingly gentle on the nose though, that alcohol doesn't punch you in the face. Sumptuous vanilla custard, fudge sweetness and hints of freshly dried hay alongside newly churned butter. Moving on to taste, this whiskey continues to belie the ABV, politely knocking on the door of your tastebuds rather than going at them with a battering ram. Upon sipping, it's creamy AF. Like actually drinking cream levels of creamy. Vanilla, nutmeg, Battenberg slices and dried cranberries in the mix too, alongside a tropical note, possibly dried papaya? We can confirm this is a veritable delight alongside a mince pie. Almost scarily drinkable.

Overall, accessible and elegant whiskies and a great evening spent dramming at home. A huge thank you to Steve at The Whisky Wire for having us along, and the Walsh Whiskey team for such an array of treats to get us well and truly in the Christmas spirit.

Fingers crossed we won't leave it seven months next time!

Cheers,

Jim & Laura
 
Bonus picture of Tosin, obstinately not wearing a hat

Monday, 29 April 2019

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Mowgli Street Food, Sheffield

Those of you who know us will know how much we rate a good curry. It's a style of food we regularly seek when eating out, as well as being something we enjoy cooking for ourselves at home. So we were definitely excited to be invited along to the preview night of Mowgli, situated on the trendy Ecclesall Road in Sheffield, a couple of weeks ago.


Mowgli Street Food aims to offer an authentically Indian experience. It's a small chain which already has branches in Liverpool, Nottingham, Oxford, Birmingham and Manchester, with venues set to open in Leicester and Cardiff later this year too - we understand there is a family connection to Sheffield amongst the ownership too. The emphasis is on bright and vibrant dishes designed for sharing and served market-style as and when they're ready.

The venue itself in Sheffield has only recently been vacated by the Cat's Pyjamas, a similar eatery, which initially seemed a bit of an odd choice to us, but we guess time will tell. It's had a pretty extensive refurbishment though, and we loved the laid back vibe inside - you can even choose to sit on a swing seat! All fitted out to a high standard and with a view into the kitchen itself which is something we like to see.

We were recommended 2-3 dishes per person and advised that sharing was encouraged. We got going with the Yoghurt Chat Bombs, a house speciality. Crispy little bread puffs filled with spicy yoghurt, definitely one to eat in one mouthful and a joyous burst of flavour and freshness, with a lovely mixture of textures. The only criticism here is that there were five of them which is an awkward number to share. We moved on to sticky wings served Manchurian style, sweet and cloying on the palate (we mean that in a good way), heavy with molasses and reassuringly messy.


Moving on to what we initially thought would be more main courses rather than starters, we ordered three curries - paneer, lamb and prawn. These arrived in a very cute little stack, all fairly small portions, so it's best to consider the menu as one rather than thinking of it as courses, especially as the food comes out in no particular order. All three curries were delicious, and we were pleased by how different they all were (there's nothing as disappointing as ordering a variety of curries and them being served in a generic sauce, so we're happy to report that this was most definitely not the case at Mowgli). Fluffy little Puri and some delicious Fenugreek "fries" (actually more like roast potatoes) were ordered alongside. Worth mentioning here that the staff were BRILLIANT at helping us select dishes, everyone we spoke to knew the menu inside out which for a newly opened venue is impressive to see.


Drinks wise, the cocktail list was innovative and and on-theme. The Turmeric infused whisky sour was a particular highlight, and Laura wants to go back to try the Chilli and Mango Margarita. Our only criticism with the drinks is that they took a long time to arrive (more noticeable due to the otherwise impeccable service), and we had to request drinking water a few times before it was brought over - we reckon this was simply due to the newness of the restaurant and is something which could quickly be improved upon. It would also have been nice to see a local beer option available, but again this is something that could (hopefully) potentially be added in time.


Overall, we very much enjoyed our meal. Everything was absolutely roaring with flavour, without being overpoweringly spicy, and distinctively original. There's been an opening offer of 50% off food on for the past couple of weeks which we believe has now ended - in our opinion that does now make it a tad on the pricey side, especially as the portions weren't enormous, but not to the extent that it would put us off (and we did leave absolutely stuffed!). There was definitely enough on the menu to entice us back to try a totally different range of dishes, and we're particularly intrigued by the Tiffin boxes which offer pot luck on what you get... Curry roulette is our kinda gambling.

Thanks to Kate and the Mowgli team for having us!

Laura & Jim

Disclaimer: our meal was provided free of charge, this has not affected our opinions which are all our own.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Long it to London: Cask 2019

According to the rather sweary youth on our train, we gather that to "long it" is to spend a period of time travelling to somewhere a fair distance away. For him, this meant travelling to the legendary brewing town of Burton (we reckon not for the beer), which was somewhat fitting for us, who were headed to London for a day of drinking at Cask 2019 - a festival now in it's second year dedicated to serving and celebrating beer from cask only.


We LOVE this as a concept. Cask has so frequently at modern beer festivals been considered as almost an afterthought, seen as a "cheaper" product not worth the hassle of set up and regarded as outdated (we know we're oversimplifying things here, but we want to talk festival not beer politics), all things which organisers Affinity Brew Co aimed to overturn. And we reckon that for, the most part, they massively succeeded.

We all know that cask is being lauded as making a bit of a comeback at the moment (although personally we're not sure it ever really went anywhere in the first place), with breweries such as Cloudwater and Buxton adding it back into their roster after a few years of absence, and the queues outside festival venue TESTBED1 in Bermondsey certainly proved that enthusiasm for cask is truly alive and well.


The venue itself was an odd one - we're of the understanding that Cask was the first large event to be held there (but please do correct us if we're wrong in this). It was an interesting space, described unhelpfully on their Twitter account as "a place for testing", an ex-dairy warehouse in a railway arch. A bit on the damp side, with limited seating and even less in the way of natural light (hence lack of photos!), with the one bar located right at the end of a long and narrow archway, it didn't scream beer festival... but the atmosphere more than made it for it. We had a fantastic afternoon of both catching up with old friends and putting names to twitter handles. The festival staff were faultless throughout, with speedy and friendly service at the bar and security doing a sterling job of stopping people forming a ridiculous single file queue which snaked around the building.

The majority of beers we drank on the day were good, with a few being exceptional... we're looking at you, Brussels Beer Project "Black Swan" - a 9.9% Blackberry Baltic Porter which was in absolute top nick. The Little Earth Project "Stupid Sexy Suffolk" (6.5%) was tasting absolutely incredible as well: flinging flavour to the face, balanced, fruity and acetic with just the right level of astringency in the finish. The Partizan Lager was a very pleasant surprise, and we were smacking our lips at the first cask in existence of Fyne Ales "Deathbed", a 9.5% dark Scotch Ale which we collectively described as liquid Soreen.


However, although it was clear that the casks had been well cared for, there were a few beers that could have done with a little more condition, and we'd love to see some Angrams coming out to play. We did also find ourselves commenting on occasion that some of the beers on offer were clearly better suited to being cold and fizzy. Don't get us wrong, the variety was excellent, and it was obvious that the breweries involved had largely endeavoured to send something exciting and genre-defying, which is great, but we were definitely drawn to the pintable, more straightforward brews that work so well in cask (well done Boxcar for sending a 3.4% Dark Mild - it was exactly what it purported to be and one of our beers of the day).

Overall, we had a great day... as much to do with the company we were in as well as the beer, but hey, in the words of the great Garrett Oliver, "beer is people" and Cask 2019 certainly brought that to life for us. It's about time cask beer had a turn in the spotlight and kudos to Affinity for allowing it to shine. Well worth the trip down to the big smoke, and a festival that's firmly on our beer calendar.


Cheers!

Thursday, 7 February 2019

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Prince of Wales, Sheffield

The Prince of Wales, on Ecclesall Road South, Sheffield, re-opened to the public last weekend following a stunning refurbishment and overhaul of its food and drink offerings. We were invited down to sample the new menu and check our the slick and sophisticated interior a few days prior to the full opening. Here's a few words on our experience and photos that will definitely make you hungry...


Upon arrival we were quickly ushered to the bar where Laura swooned over the gin infusion station (and of course promptly ordered a gin). It's like pick and mix for grown ups - once you've got your beverage in hand, you are free to select your own garnish... and there were an abundance of things to choose from, from the standard lemons, limes and mint leaves, to exotic lychees, kiwi slices and goji berries. A BRILLIANT idea on a calm night filled with polite media and blogger types, how this will pan out on a busy weekend is yet to be discovered, but hey, we had fun. Worth noting that the bar staff were confident in suggesting recommendations, too, which was a definite bonus.


Kirkstall Brewery Virtuous IPA was the only "craft" keg beer on offer at the time of our visit, although there was a cask line ready to be used (and a cask of Abbeydale Moonshine waiting in the cellar). So despite it not being a beer focused venue, it was really nice to see that there was at least a local and an independent offering.

A selection of canapes was brought over whilst we imbibed, which were all delicious and the first indication that we'd perhaps underestimated the menu we were to be treated to, having expected a more "pub grub" offering. The words "gastro pub" and "elevated" are terms I'm not hugely keen on but it's fair to say that the food the Prince of Wales has gone for is certainly more of a style you'd expect in a fine dining restaurant. Highlights were the delicately spiced and fragrant lamb koftas served with coconut tzatziki, and crispy chilli beef with little pickled onions.


Following our nibble platter we were ushered into the dining area for our main meal. The space is large but still manages to retain a cosy feel and I liked that our table had a view of the kitchen pass - our only criticism being that the "mood lighting" made it a tad tricky to properly see what we were eating and meant we had to turn the flash on our phones as a makeshift torch to get decent photos. Ah, blogger life.

Our starter was a great big dollop of cheese - an unctuous, creamy baked camembert, to be precise, served with (slightly oily, but yummy) dough sticks and sharp cranberry dip. You can't really go wrong with cheese and this was a total oozy, messy treat.


The main menu offered up a selection of the usual suspects, pizzas, steaks, and burgers, all of which were presented with a little more refinement than the standard pub output. For example, in the case of the Wagyu beef burger (already an upgrade on the standard house burger) half a lobster can be added to the side for those inclined to such things.

We eventually selected the chorizo, crab and king prawn linguini, and the roasted pork belly with scallops. Both dishes were beautifully cooked and the scallops were incredible - wonderfully buttery, with a slight bite and perfectly placed within the dish. Great wine selection to go with it all, too.


Desserts were a bit more of a mixed bag - the brownie and chocolate pudding were both tasty but a little on the stodgy side, but the melting chocolate bomb was sensational in looks as well as flavour and Laura had the best Cointreau hot chocolate she reports to have EVER had, not words she uses lightly.


Being completely honest here, it's not the type of place we would usually choose to eat out - owned by one of the big pub chains, we were expecting a relatively straightforward food offering and a not-particularly-exciting drinks selection. However, we'd definitely set our expectations far too low, and were surprised in a very good way at what a brilliant evening we'd experienced. It's definitely somewhere we would go again, and both commented that it'd be a great place for our family members that like to go somewhere formal as opposed to uppity (again, not normally a vibe we go for when dining as a duo!) for a special occasion. The food and drinks are a little pricier than we'd generally spend hence a sense of occasion being necessary, but the value for money we reckon is still there.

If you'd like to know more, head to the Prince of Wales' website where you can also view all of their menus in full.

Cheers,

Laura and Jim

Disclaimer: We were provided with a meal and associated drinks free of charge in exchange for a review. However, this has not affected our opinions, which as always are completely honest and all our own.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Beer Is Our Happy Place

Why we aren't doing Dry January


To all those abstaining, reducing, limiting or quietly enjoying your alcohol intake, during this month we wish you well. We aren't writing this as an admonition, a lecture, a criticism, or as a way to undermine the decision. We appreciate your choice, and wish you well, from the sideline, or rather from a pub lounge, snug or otherwise.

Really we want to say why aren't doing Dry January, a "Dryathlon" and woe betide becoming "Dryathletes."

Just over a year ago, we went booze free for a full month. We made the decision together, around one of Jim's lowest points in his life. A stretch of emptiness and unhappiness, sleepless nights, that led into early shifts in the brewery. A period of too much whisky, which went hand in hand with bad sleep, the cycle of abuse of his body, the wearing down of mind careering to burnout, then..... Chester Bennington.

The death of a childhood icon is hard enough, but when it's self caused, after a period of self abuse despite being surrounded by his family. The situation was too close to home, and it hurt. It Hurt.

Looking back it's a turning point for that wave of unhappiness... there were still lows, but there was a maybe an exit of the quagmire, and we wondered if that could come with sobriety. We set a date, November 2017, postponed (from July) primarily due to the over full calendar of beer fests, events, birthdays and more events.

Perhaps the month would push toward clearer, happier minds. Maybe some good sleep, maybe better skin, shift some weight and have a few more quid to take towards Christmas. So, through tired and teary eyes, a kickstarter was set up, and a little hope glimmered.

The month itself was a long one, without fanfare we plodded through the days, still hoping for clarity, both of mind and skin. a lighter step, through fewer hangovers and a little weight loss? But as the month passed alcohol was replaced by cheese, and the positivity of pub companionship was replaced by boredom and restless isolation. (in no way a reflection on our friends, who were all very supportive, but a general feeling of self-inflicted inadequacy). None of the enthusiastic promises that campaigners for sobriety chime were delivered.

While we did head out occasionally, the lack of appealing choice that wasn't a saccharine pint of fizz was pretty much non existent. For those of us (which is both of us) who like the bitterness found in beer, or the dryness in a red wine, essentially the only thing to drink was tonic. While periodically we would stumble across a good Root Beer it wasn't in our usual haunts. Laura turned to tea in abundance.

And so, after a month of abstemiousness, which came to an abrupt end with the work Christmas outing on December 1st (what could possibly go wrong? Ask the Beer O'Clock Show Crimbo Crawl lot...), we had raised a massive £1000 for CALM (a charity which works to raise awareness of and make moves to combat male suicide - please do look them up if you aren't already aware of them). A humbling amount of money and overall worth it to give up something we genuinely enjoy for the cause. But we didn't feel a sense of achievement. We weren't worthy of any sort of accolade. We just stopped drinking, and largely stopped enjoying ourselves.

What this month off did give us was a reassurance that our drinking habits aren't doing us any harm. Rather they offer us an outlet for enjoyment, for shared experiences, and job satisfaction. By the end we just really clearly appreciated what we had missed - yes, the flavour, but more importantly the pubs and people and comradeship.

We are mindful of our drinking choices - always have been, but even more so following the month off. Whilst we do drink alcohol most days, often this will be one carefully selected bottle or can of beer which we'll share and enjoy. Quality over quantity is a much used mantra but it's something we like to apply to our lifestyles, not only in terms of alcohol but also in the food that we eat and the clothes that we wear. We support local businesses, we buy ethically sourced products wherever we can.

The pub is an institution, a community asset, and across the nation we are in danger of losing our locals and we will use them all year round. We'd like to at this point direct you to a campaign which we believe shares these values - Tryanuary. In championing local beers and venues, Tryanuary supports the beer industry during a month which can be particularly difficult.

Maybe this is less about the January thing and more about our love of the pub, and of what else it can bring apart from "just" a pint. They are our happy place, and if you haven't already found yours, there is a window seat, booth or corner with a beer mat waiting for you to fill it. Go and discover yours.

Cheers,
Jim and Laura

*Written in part in the pub - Pour, to be precise. We had a lovely time.

Happy Place
PS - Jim's doing ok. While there are still some times of darkness, there is much that is light. There's no magic solution, no "off" button on the brain, but we still see the decisions described above to be part of an acceptance, a self-awareness and a realisation that it's good to be open and most of all to TALK.

If any of you read this and need a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, or a pal to have a pint with, please don't keep quiet. We're both here, and we're listening.

Pps - our fundraising page is still active, justgiving.com/mashtunandmeow if anyone would like to support the work of CALM.