Mashtun and Meow

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Bruichladdich Octomore 06.3 - Islay Barley

It's Feis Ile on Islay this week, and we are so near yet so far away... spending the week on the beautiful island of Arran. In honour of Bruichladdich day, however, we thought it was only right to bring something a little bit special with us. Behold! The first Octomore to be made with 100% Islay barley. Prestigious, unique, and definitely a big hitter.


Colour: Silken amber

Nose: Although peated to 268ppm (wowza) the nose on this is initially remarkably restrained on the smoke. It's undoubtedly prominent, but beautifully balanced by a sweetness akin to proper Scottish tablet ice cream on a buttery, digestive biscuit base, with a grating of dark chocolate atop. Sweet, spicy, and ever so alluring - you can still smell the malt floor that this was born on.

Palate: So THAT'S where all those sneaky little phenols are. The 64% ABV is apparent without overpowering the dram, still allowing a multitude of beautifully balanced flavours to pour forth. There's dark and citrus fruits (a light sparkle of cloudy lemonade, with a maraschino cherry garnish), oodles of gloriously fresh tobacco, and a good dollop of vanilla clotted cream. Finally, the malt comes through at the end with a cinnamon and toffee edge.

Finish: Warms you up right down to the soles of your feet. The peat lingers, but gently mellows as time progresses to leave behind a moreishly sweet glow. Cosy from your bonnet to your slippers.

Slainte,

J&L

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

El Cartel, Edinburgh

Somewhat hidden down the little alley of Thistle Street, Edinburgh, walking into El Cartel was like wandering into a Day of the Dead themed treasure trove. Recently re-opened after being closed due to fire in January, it's clear that the team are back with a bang... despite it's fairly small size, the restaurant was absolutely buzzing with a vibrant, festival-esque atmosphere.

We (Laura, and little sister Amy in this instance) sat down and perused the drinks menu... a whole booklet dedicated almost entirely to tequila, with a couple of pages for mezcal. We eventually settled on the frozen kiwi margaritas, and they were a real treat - fresh, just the right level of tartness, delicious and very unique.


The menu was reassuringly short and it was clear straight away that this is a place which takes pride on serving top quality stuff. The format was a little like ordering tapas - we were encouraged to choose a couple of small dishes to share along with some tacos, with the promise that we could just keep on calling for more until we were replete.


We went for the bombers - molten cheese middles, super creamy and full of spice, with a crunchy outer - served in a really tasty sauce which I think may have been something akin to chipotle mayo. We could both have eaten a truckload of the drunken beans, made with tequila, and the mini quesadillas stuffed with chorizo, sweet potato and more of that yummy soft cheese were piquant and full of flavour. Everything got a little bit smothered in El Cartel's signature hot sauce, too.


On to the tacos! Each order comprised two tacos, so we ordered two different kinds and shared. Amy's choice of steak was tender and perfectly griddled, a good hit of spice balanced with a generous slice of avocado.

Laura selected the duck tacos (quack-os?) which were gloriously flavourful and unlike anything I've ever tried before. Shredded duck was topped with salsa and pineapple before being scattered with sunflower seeds which added a good little crunch.


This is food which doesn't shy away. A wonderful meal all round, and to top it off, our bill came in an adorable little sugar skull. Arriba!

Laura

Monday, 4 May 2015

Whisky Review: SMWS 3.243

Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy

Feis Ile is undoubtedly one of the key events in any whisky lover's calendar, with thousands converging from around the world on the beautiful island of Islay to celebrate all things whisky. For the first time this year, the folks at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, already renowned for their unique bottlings of a huge variety of Islay drams, are plunging into the festival atmosphere with their very own Feis Ile release. Bottling 3.243, 'Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy' is a 17 year old peated Bowmore, aged in refill ex-sherry butts and bottled at 57.1%.


On the nose, the sherry cask is hugely prominent. Sweetness abounds, with festive dried fruits - raisins and figs - and just a hint of fresh raspberries. There's some gentle smokiness which doesn't overpower, just enough to give a real meatiness to the aroma. Reminiscent of a summer's BBQ, at that point of the day where the sun is just falling below the horizon, and the embers are all dying down.

The palate has a blast of spice, and a more intense meaty nature, but always balanced by that sumptuous sweetness - like dipping a chillied chorizo in a sherbet fountain. The combination of 'meat and sweet' is wonderful... tempted chuck a few chunks of smoked sausage in our Christmas cake this year with the aim of recreating it. As we continue to sip, a dark chocolate note starts to come through, with pink peppercorns that tingle on the lips.

The finish leaves behinds lashings of sea salt, with that unmistakeably Islay coastal brininess and a peaty nature which lingers on long after the last sip has been swallowed. Glorious.

The SMWS Tasting Panel recommended drinking this whisky 'between dances at a Spanish barbeque party' - whilst we didn't quite have the music available for our own flamenco masterclass, we couldn't resist spending Bank Holiday Monday cracking out the BBQ. Our salsa verde lamb shoulder was a great accompaniment to this hearty dram - especially the somewhat more chargrilled pieces!

'Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy' will be available for members and non-members alike to get their hands on at the SMWS Feis Ile Open Day, 22nd May 2015, at Islay House. Well worth a visit if you're lucky enough to be attending the festival.

Slainte,

J&L


Thanks to SMWS for the sample!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Leeds Day Out: Part 1

We'd been planning a trip to Leeds for months. As it was where Mr Mashtun studied a degree a number of years ago, we already knew the beer was good there, but as with all places they seem to improve when one departs. A day off for our third wedding anniversary seemed a worthy occasion to head back across Yorkshire. We arrived shortly after 11 and spent an enjoyable but thirsty hour wandering round the Corn Exchange waiting for the pubs to open.

First up was a much-anticipated trip to Friends of Ham for a light lunch. The day we visited just so happened to be Buxton Brewery's launch day for their Two Ton IPA (an 11% imperial/double IPA), so of course at one minute past midday Jim just had to order one. It was frankly stupendous... huge hop aroma and such an abundance of malty, grapefruity flavour that it took a few hours on dark beers before he could move back to anything hoppy. Laura selected the somewhat more sensible Arbor Hop Apocalypse, a deliciously refreshing 4.8% pale ale bursting with tropical fruits on both the nose and palate. To counteract the opening beer onslaught we ordered a Spanish platter consisting of two cheeses, two meats and two breads, plus some tasty little dried figs and a rich quince jelly, which ended up being the perfect balance to the bold beers. The rest of the bar was excellent, with beers from Summer Wine, The Kernel and Wild Beer Co all on offer, but at such an early stage in the day and a long list of places we wanted to visit we thought it was probably wise to move on.


A very short walk down the road and we arrived at The Brewery Tap. This was far more traditional with a good real ale bar including an array or beers brewed on site. Here we sampled Sonnet 43's Bourbon Milk Stout (4.3%) - a well balanced, sweet stout full of cocoa and coffee. Laura selected Marble's Lagonda IPA, which wasn't at it's best. None-the-less, it's a nice welcoming pub adorned with beer memorabilia and with really friendly staff, which is always good to see.


The wander up through Leeds factored in a quick stop off at Trinity Kitchen. This is a concept which we absolutely love, with street food traders being invited in for short residencies, so there's always something new to try. It was a gloriously sunny day, so we treated ourselves to locally made ice creams from Northern Bloc - our favourites were the raspberry and sorrel sorbet, and black treacle ice cream.


Next stop was North Bar. Now, we lived in Leeds for three years, and were never aware that this place existed. Very sad indeed. The vibe in here is somewhat continental cafe, somehow oozing cool, with wooden furniture and local artwork displayed on the otherwise fairly stark walls. Fortuitously enough, a Belgian beer festival was in progress at the time of our visit (50 bottles, and 12 on tap), so we were completely spoilt for choice. After much dithering, Jim eventually plumped for the 666 Imperial Porter from Kirkstall Brewery which was resinous, warming and oh so rich. First up for Laura was Kaapse Bea, a delicious 6% black rye IPA - herby, salty, savoury and with a flavour reminiscent almost of juniper. With so much variety available we couldn't help but stay for a second. The Kaapse Carrie IPA (6.5%) and the Timmermans Pumpkin Lambicus (4%) could not have been more perfect for the first warm day of the year. Lovely stuff.


Now in a pleasantly merry sort of mood, we headed back down through town in search of more grub and Bundobust was our venue of choice. This and more in part 2!

Cheers,

L&J

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Easter treats: Egg-stra Chocolatey Beers

In the run-up to Easter, we've been saving up a little stash of beers involving chocolate. For Easter Sunday, we've cracked open three of them for a festive night in.

First up is Wild Beer Co's Millionaire (4.7%) - a salted caramel chocolate milk stout, themed around one of Mrs M's favourite desserts. Each promised flavour delivers in abundance, with the chocolate and caramel combining in a luxurious creamy sweetness before the salty notes come in at the end, and build and build in the finish. Without the salt (Cornish sea salt is used in this brew) it would undoubtedly still be delicious but possibly a little on the sickly side - with it, it just screams "DRINK ME MORE" right to the final sip.

Next we have Newcastle's Northern Alchemy, and their dark chocolate and mint milk stout (5.1%). This is a brewery that's not afraid to experiment with flavours, and it certainly shows in this beer. The aroma is intensely minty with none of that synthetic tang that you can sometimes get with essences and flavourings, as only fresh mint is used. It's light and easy to drink for a stout, and the flavour is fresh whilst still having intense chocolate notes and a roasted nature that hits the back of the palate. Nicely balanced, although slightly lacking the robust creaminess generally expected from a milk stout.

And finally for tonight is Thornbridge's Cocoa Wonderland, a 6.8% chocolate porter. Made in conjunction with the lovely Sheffield chocolate shop of the same name, we first tried this at the Sheffield CAMRA Beer Festival last year, where it won best beer of the festival, and remember it being just ridiculously chocolatey. Bottled, despite the slightly carbonated flavour, it's similarly decadent, full-bodied, and with a lip-smacking hit of cocoa. Vanilla aromas draw you in, intense creamy chocolate overwhelms the palate, and a pleasant bitterness is left behind. Scrumptious.


Cheers, and happy Easter!

J&L

Mr Flavour Review

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that we love both eating out, and cooking up a bit of a storm at home. Sitting neatly in between the two, Mr Flavour is a brand new Sheffield business, which aims to deliver restaurant style meals to your door - an interesting and original concept which we were certainly curious to try.

We were invited to try out the service before the launch, and were presented with the pressed shoulder of lamb with rosemary crushed potatoes, confit garlic and aubergine puree, sauteed courgettes and grape chutney. Lamb jus and a herb crust were also included for extra special "cheffy" touches. The ingredients arrived in a simple paper bag, with everything pre-prepped ready to be heated. Each food item was labelled (with allergen information and use-by dates clearly displayed) and an easy to follow instruction sheet was also included.


Oven ready 
All that was really required was cooking the lamb (which we chose to pan fry quickly before popping it in the oven, as recommended on the instruction sheet for an extra layer of flavour - this also made the kitchen smell glorious), frying the courgettes until tender, and heating up the other ingredients, "boil in the bag" style. There was nothing that hadn't been thought of, and the whole process took just twenty minutes, so this service would be perfect as an after-work treat at the end of a busy day and is much more special than a takeaway.

Plating the meal up was fun, with tips provided on how to make the dish look as though it'd come from a restaurant kitchen... not a skill we've quite mastered (don't think we have the crockery for it!), but it still looked pretty enticing by the time everything was on the plate.

And so, on to the eating! Each ingredient was carefully thought through, meaning that everything worked perfectly together and tasted fantastic. The balance of flavours was excellent, and the instructions resulted in well-cooked lamb which fell apart as soon as the fork got anywhere near it, exactly how we like it. What was especially pleasing for us is that the components we enjoyed the most were those which we wouldn't think to make ourselves at home - the confit garlic and aubergine puree was full of flavour and the grape chutney added a deliciously tangy burst of freshness. The portion sizes were generous but manageable - just right. The only disadvantage was that we had to do our own washing up (although even this was considerably less than if we'd cooked a meal such as this from scratch!).


We did notice from the first week's menu that there doesn't seem to be a vegetarian main meal openly available at the moment, although this is certainly the sort of thing that can be developed as the business grows. However, it's definitely worth getting in touch with Mr Flavour himself, who is on hand to answer any questions (by email, at mrflavour.sheffield@gmail.com, or on twitter), and is also happy to make a whole host of bespoke orders provided they're pre-ordered, including fresh pasta and pastry dough, to make your own favourite dishes that much easier to prepare. Taking it one step further, you can even order a dinner party menu with key ingredients of your choice - a great idea for less confident cooks, or just so you can sit back and spend more time with your guests.

Overall, cooking this dish was straightforward and fun to make. The end result was definitely a meal we'd have been pleased to have eaten at a restaurant (and very good value), and we wouldn't hesitate to recommend the service to others (delivery is currently available across S7, S8, S10, S11, S17 and S18).

Cheers,

L&J

The ingredients for the meal were all provided free-of-charge for review purposes, opinions all our own

Friday, 3 April 2015

A Firkin Beer Festival at Picture House Social

Since the bar under the old Abbeydale Cinema, right in the heart of our local stomping ground on Abbeydale Road, was re-opened last year as Picture House Social, it's quickly become one of our go-to places for a relaxed meal and a good drink. So when we heard there was a beer festival curated by the excellent bottle shop Hop Hideout (conveniently located just across the road from the Picture House) we had to pop in for a few.


With 18 beers on the festival bar and another 3 on keg, the range of beers was excellent for such a fledgling festival. Tons of variety and oodles of quality were on offer, with intriguing beers and exciting collaborations aplenty.

First up was a collaboration brew from Fyne Ales and Siren, Wee Milky Way - a 3.1% Black IPA brewed with lactose. Creamy, rich and smooth with a powerful hoppy aroma. A great example of how a lower ABV doesn't mean the taste has to be comprised.

Bad Seed and Northern Alchemy have teamed up to create a Belgian Rose ale (4%), with rose petals added in to the fermenter. Rose tends to be one of those flavours that divides people, but we really enjoyed it - delicately balanced, with just the right amount of floral headiness. Lovely.

With Dinner for Two and Dinner for Three, Vienna pale ales from Siren and Elusive Brewery, both available,  a little taste comparison seemed a good idea. Sampling the releases side by side, the high vienna malt bill gave a biscuity quality to both. Dinner for Two had a tad more bitterness, with Dinner for Three being slightly more floral. While both of these beers are made using similar recipes we each had a different favourite of the two.

We ended the evening on a Cromaty Anniversary III Belgian Quad at the lofty strength of 11%, and crikey was it good. Big fruity flavours, figs and caramels combined with the characteristic belgian floral yeastiness that comes with a quadruple stout overwhelmed the palate deliciously, and frankly despite the high strength it was altogether too easy to drink. We had another.

Alongside all this festival fun, it has to be said that Picture House Social has quickly made a reputation for itself as a purveyor of excellent pizza and snacks. Our favourites are the anchovy and salsa verde pizza, the anchovies giving a real salty hit, with the fresh herby nature of the salsa providing a good level of balance, and the meatball piadina - a cross between a pizza and a sandwich, stuffed full of tasty meatballs, spicy tomato sauce and some leafy greens.

The arancini, served with salsa verde, are the perfect little snack - a crisp outer shell with the perfect amount of melted cheese in the middle. They're just about bitesized, but don't be fooled to gobble a whole one as the centre remains at a molten temperature for an AGE. These went brilliantly with Buxton Brewery's Ace Edge - a Sorachi Ace hopped variation on their Axe Edge IPA.

The regular drinks menu is extensive and interesting, with unusual draught beer, a great bottle menu from Hop Hideout, and a cocktail menu which changes monthly. An eclectic mix of 60s tunes, psychedelia and indie vibes, played at a volume that doesn't instantly put a stop to all conversation, provide a laid back atmosphere.

The whole complex is ever-improving, with one room being brought back to life at a time. Alongside the broodingly elegant main bar, and the diner-style eating area, the festival area is usually a games room complete with table tennis tables. Most recently, there's even a mini-cinema, a brilliant nod to this building's former purpose.

The festival is running throughout the Easter bank holiday weekend, so still plenty of time to try some of these brilliant beers for yourselves!

Cheers,

L&J