Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog: review
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Gin cocktails

I'll be honest, my gin collection is starting to get a tad out of control. I used to think gin was just gin - a simple spirit, with little to distinguish one brand from another. This assumption is increasingly wrong in a market which is continually improving, with a greater variety of different distillers producing gins which are carefully thought out, innovative and ultimately delicious.

It's upon drinking them neat that the nuances of flavour can be picked out and pondered upon, but many of the gins on my shelves lend themselves equally well to cocktails, with the characteristics of each neat gin determining the additional components I like to try alongside them. Here are a few of my current favourites.

NB Navy Strength Gin

A Craft Gin Club discovery, NB Gin hails from East Lothian, Scotland. Neat, it's very balanced and a beautifully classic London Dry style gin, however at 57%, although it remains smooth and has a good burst of citrus, the strength is a little too apparent for me to appreciate the gin fully without a lot of ice (which helps to open out the flavours) and a lemon twist for garnish.

Craft Gin Club labelled this the perfect gin to make into a martini, and who am I to argue with perfection?! To a very cold glass (this is important), pour a double measure of NB Navy Strength, add 10ml of extra dry vermouth, stir and garnish with an olive - simple as that, but so much more complex on the palate than it is to make. My olive garnish was another item from my Craft Gin Club box - Alco Olives, themselves infused with NB Gin! Overall, I'd say this is a heavyweight gin which although tasty gains greater balance and drinkability from a cocktail.

Sibling Gin

I absolutely adore this gin. The first time I tried it (in the Devonshire Cat in Sheffield, which has an excellent gin menu), it absolutely blew me away with a massive hit of what I perceived as bubblegum flavour - something I've never experienced before in a gin! According to the Sibling team (actual siblings themselves!) it's quite common for people to pick up on bubblegum notes from the blueberries used as one of the botanicals. It's got a gorgeous, very slightly earthy, fruity edge to it and it's so unusual. Highly recommended.

In a cocktail, I thought I'd play more on the blueberry elements within the drink and stirred the gin down with a small spoonful of blueberry jam and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, before topping up with prosecco. Decadent and delicious. This gin also makes a beautiful G&T, with Fever Tree tonic and a few blueberries to garnish.

Robin of Locksley Gin

Our most local gin! Based just a ten minute walk away from our house, we absolutely love this gin and the folks who run it are fantastic as well. The gin neat is light and zesty, with a slightly floral aroma and an incredibly smooth, balanced palate bursting with fruity citrus.

For the cocktail, I decided to use an ingredient from another of our local favourites - Birdhouse Tea Co. The citrus and grapefruit notes in the gin I felt would work really well with peach flavours, so I iced a cup of my favourite Princess Peach sencha green tea and added a good splash of Locksley gin. The cocktail was finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice, a tiny splash of sugar syrup (to taste, my friend preferred it without the additional sweetness) and garnished with a piece of pink grapefruit. As an aside, Birdhouse have just opened their own tearoom, bar and restaurant and it is STUNNING. Sheffield, pay attention - they have a tea cocktail menu too!

Brandon's Gin

An American gin for my final choice - this one hails from Rocktown Distillery in Arkansas. This one was recommended to us by the fantastic Starmore Boss, one of our local booze purveyors and without a shadow of a doubt the most knowledgeable. Neat, it's crisp, fresh and almost a little creamy on the palate, with a beautiful honeyed character for an almost silky finish.

For a cocktail, we chose a Souped Up Negroni. Now, the classic gin, vermouth and Campari mixture is boozy as hell as is. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to mix up the Brandon's with the bourbon from the same distillery - a Negroni/Boulevardier hybrid, if you will. We mixed a shot each of the bourbon and gin with half a shot of red vermouth and Campari. The result was bitter, ridiculously boozy and very grown up, full of Seville oranges with an oaky backbone from the whiskey which helps set it apart from your standard Negroni. Not one for the faint hearted, but definitely and defiantly delicious.



Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Whisky Industry in 2017: Our Thoughts

We love whisky, and all that comes with it. However, there is a side to whisky that is often regarded as a little fusty and old fashioned. Strict rules and regulations regarding what the essence of whisky really is means that the industry is often seen to be taking itself very seriously. I think it's fair to say that until recently, the industry in the UK, specifically in Scotland, has been and continues to be bound by the limits of tradition. And a lot of the time this is perpetuated by the drinkers, who can be keen to scorn when anything other than a couple of drops of water are added to a dram. More than anything else we drink, whisky seems to be the one that has a perceived "right" way to enjoy it.

BUT. This year in particular we've started to notice the emergence of an entirely different facet to whisky, as the industry begins to unleash its playful side!

This was exemplified at this year's Whisky Show, where we attended a Whisky Highballs masterclass with writer Dave Broom. Five good quality whiskies, including Hakushu, Laphroaig 10, Kilchoman Machir Bay and Monkey Shoulder, were paired with selected mixers including cola, ginger beer and soda water. The results were elegant, fun and crafted to allow the flavours within the dram to continue to shine through (following extensive research conducted by Dave Broom himself, who meticulously tasted each whisky with a range of mixers to find the best pairings). This was not a case of "ruining" a good drink by any means, but was more about providing an alternative and making whisky suit more occasions, moods and indeed people. Demonstration of Laura's "Not giving a fuck if you don't like the idea of my delicious Laphroaig and Coke" face below.

As the range of whisky available increases, the potential of distilleries seemingly expands. Indian single malt producers Amrut are generally not able to classify their spirits as "whisky" in the UK, due to their short maturation periods (often less than the 3 year minimum ageing required for Scotch whisky) which work for them thanks to the far higher temperatures that increase wood contact. However the spirits they produce are certainly up to the standard I expect from a premium whisky. We very much enjoyed the Spectrum 004, aged in barrels re-cooped with staves from four different wood types, resulting in a wonderfully well crafted dram. Another delicious offering from Amrut was the sherry cask Naarangi, the world's first single malt to use orange peel, further demonstrating their experimental capabilities.

Another new (to us) distillery this year that got us all excited was Starward, from Australia.  After chatting to their rep, he was keen to point out that they are not constrained by tradition, stating that the Scottish are good enough at Scotch, so why would they try to recreate this? Instead they use innovative techniques (including integrating brewers yeast into their recipes!) and native wine barrels to produce a truly distinctive and delicious whisky that's approachable yet interesting... and makes an absolutely outstanding Old Fashioned!

We've noticed too that whisky is seemingly beginning to take lessons from the gin renaissance that we're experiencing in the UK at the moment. New distilleries are popping up at an almost alarming rate, with many of them initially releasing gin but with a view to producing whisky in the future - some of whom are approaching three years old and will be releasing their first single malts over the coming year or two, the Lakes Distillery and Bimber being just two examples. The gin scene in the UK is arguably more inclusive and regarded as more "fun" and current than the world of whisky, but now the lines between them are starting to blur and as far as we can see this will be a positive thing.

So, to finish off, we'd say there's a hell of a lot to look forward to in the whisky industry over the coming few years. There'll undoubtedly always be a place for a rare, refined, well aged dram, enjoyed with just a touch of snobbery, there's nothing wrong with that - but neither too is it a problem to try something a bit more edgy. The key thing is - it's your whisky. Buy what you want, judge for yourself where you're getting the value, and drink it however the hell you want to. Think twice before refuting others who buy a young whisky, or those who dare to experiment. Neat in a Glencairn, or with ice, with a straw, in a cocktail, with iced tea... who gives a dram as long as it's enjoyed?!


Jim & Laura

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Lakes Distillery: Explorer Edition Gin

We've made no secret of our fondness for the Lakes Distillery, having paid them two visits in the three years of their existence (see our post on their opening here). We've been enjoying following their progress since the very beginning (read our review of their first release, The One blended whisky, here) and are keen to find out their next steps, with their inaugural single malt due out in 2018 as their whisky comes of age.

It's not all about the whisky though, as their ever expanding range also contains gin, vodka, and a range of liqueurs including damson and salted caramel. We were recently sent a bottle of their Explorer Edition gin to try, which was originally released as a limited edition, but proved so popular that it's joined their permanently available portfolio. This gin contains fifteen different botanicals, six of which come from within the Lake District National Park, including Cumbrian juniper. Thanks to the name, we thought it a worthy travel companion to take with us on a trip to Robin Hood's Bay, and here's what we made of it:

Neat, the nose absolutely bursts with fresh citrus, lemon notes in particular coming to the fore. To taste, there's a vibrant tropical nature with a hint of earthy spice reminiscent of cardamom, which rounds out as you drink. Alongside this is a gentle tannin flavour, which serves to boost the zestiness and creates a smoothness on the palate. Despite a slightly elevated ABV of 47.1%, it's not at all harsh and lovely to sip and ponder on.

We'd recommend drinking this neat, however adding tonic softens the spice, which some may prefer. Tonic also enhances the refreshing nature of the flavour profile, especially when adding a slice of lemon garnish which further brings out the citrus elements of this gin. The distillery recommend adding pink grapefruit, which we haven't sampled yet but imagine the bitter-sweet balance this brings would indeed work beautifully.

We also tried it mixed with lemon and elderflower Franklin and Sons, which sweetened it up quite nicely, but we weren't sure the floral nature of this mixer worked particularly well as it hid the peppery, herbal nuances which to us is what helps this gin to stand out in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market.

Overall, we'd describe this as being complex without being too challenging, making it a great all-rounder of a gin. It's bold, vibrant, modern and of its locality - and certainly a welcome addition to the Lakes growing selection of quality spirits.


Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Gin Festival Sheffield - A Review

The splendidly luxurious underground ballroom of the City Hall held host last month to the Sheffield leg of the Gin Festival. We first became aware of the Gin Festival team last year, when we tried out their excellent Gin Explorer box (you can read our review of that here), and so were really excited to be invited along to one of their hugely successful and highly regarded festivals. The Explorer subscription service itself has since been replaced by the "Gin Festival in a Box" concept, which has created a larger range of drink-at-home choices and brought the two brands much closer together.

We arrived to a truly bustling atmosphere, with the sold out hall packed to the rafters with hundreds of gin quaffers. Upon entry, we were provided with a copa style glass and a comprehensive booklet detailing all of the gins available, as well as handy hints for pairings, guides to garnishes and interviews with distillers - a resource which will prove useful in future as well as being a helpful tool on the evening itself.

The layout was well thought through - around the outside of the room, a quartet of bars each served from a pair of gin stations, which allowed queues to be kept to a minimum and the turn around of service to be swift. All of them were dispensing an dizzying array of gins from around the world, all accompanied with a carefully selected garnish. In addition, another handful of stalls showcased individual gin producers, who were dotted around the outside of the room serving samples of their gin along with a chat from a friendly face from the company.

Our first stop was the Tinker stall. Brought to life thanks to a crowdfunding campaign headed up by the Gin Festival team last year, this gin represents a move away from traditional juniper led gins. Drank neat, this stood out for us as a distinctively Spanish style of gin. With bold citrus, reminiscent of salted lemons and orchard fruit. An elderberry finish rounded the whole thing off beautifully. With tonic, it danced across the tongue - beautifully soft and light and a perfect one to start our night with.

Onto the bars themselves and we went straight for a Jaggi Citrus Blend, which was served with a slice of pink grapefruit. Hailing from Perthshire in Scotland. Citrus blend edition. Sweet, almost sherbetty lemon came through in absolute abundance first off, but this gin was more complex than the name perhaps suggests. Nutmeg, bay leaf and thistle are also included in the botanicals list, which gave really interesting notes of spice and a warming, herbal finish.

St Giles, based in Norwich, was our next pick. Another citrus led gin, our Gin Explorer book told us that the distillery is named after an infamous area of London where many gin shops were situated in the 18th century. Laura wasn't too keen on this neat, finding an odd almost vanilla character that was a little cloying, but the flavours really opened up and the juiciness was unleased with tonic and an orange garnish. Would love to try this in a cocktail, and we think it'd work well in other long drinks, especially a Tom Collins.

We moved on to try a couple of slightly more adventurously flavoured gins, and Orkney Johnsmas Gin was our next port of call. Named after and inspired by the midsummer period, with ingredients gathered from the islands themselves. Local heather is included amongst the botanicals and was definitely apparent on the palate, providing a floral yet earthy backbone to the flavour. We also picked up on notes of liquorice root which gave a great depth to the gin. A classic bitter finish.

Next we moved on to a gin from our beautiful home county of Yorkshire, sampling Raisthorpe Manor's Oak Aged edition. A light, almost tropical, oakiness, was instantly apparent and enhanced by a wonderful spruce resonance - bold and earthy. This was served with a slice of lemon which enhanced and brightened the base gin.

Finally, we headed over to try a couple of Belgian gins at the PJ's stand. These guys have an interesting offering of flavoured gins - we tried the raspberry, an initially sweet drink reminiscent of a sticky homemade jam, that dried out on the palette toward the end of the drink. Apple and elderflower varieties were also available. We finished off with their dry gin which was traditional yet potent, with a great hit of juniper that provided a lasting finish. Tasty and straightforward, a good one to end on by taking us back to basics!

Overall, we found this a well organised festival with attention paid to every detail. We really enjoyed the evening and wish we could have made it to another session, as there was so much to choose from we barely scratched the surface of what was on offer. We'll be back next year!


Laura and Jim

Monday, 17 April 2017

Beavertown & To Øl: Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

The collaboration between Beavertown and To Øl was sure to produce something special. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde were born of the same base malt and mashing process, then both sent in their uniquely separate ways. The beers were both primary fermented with a fabled Scottish yeast strain that made it's way to Belgium and back to N17, where it was thrown into these worts. We managed to get our hands on these due to a fortuitously timed trip to Cotteridge Wines last April, and have been holding on to them for a special occasion. The end to a bank holiday which we worked the whole way through seemed suitable enough! On to the beers...


An 8.1% Muscat barrel aged bretted gooseberry Belgian pale. The beer itself sings with layers of elegant sourness, reminiscent of greengages initially then on to gooseberries, coupled with a hit of lactobacillus which builds beautiful acids across the palate. While the tartness is crisp, the tannic oak adds a delightfully savoury note, and the sweetness of the original wine softens with an apple scrumpy cider character, which goes hand in hand with the distinctive brett stone fruit funk. It leaves you with the same dancing feeling across the roof of your mouth like you've just eaten tangfastics (if thats a suitable tasting note without incurring potential lawsuits), with a zesty sherbet bite provided through the high carbonation and a lasting lip-puckering finish.


This is a different beast entirely, an imperial stout boosted with a hit of roasted malts, beechwood smoked malts and heaps of brown sugar to help amplify the ABV to an impressive 13.7%. The beer is left to mature in Speyside whisky barrels, before being seasoned with sea salt. A bold boozy kick flies out of the glass instantly, with a waft of warm smoke and a savoury salination (Laura thought it smelt a bit like a really nice gravy?!). The same characteristics ripple across the palate, along with a rich oaky character. While the carbonation is near non existent, the sticky sweetness of molasses bolstered wort is still surprisingly light and a little delicate. The finish is warm and boozy with a twang of characteristic Belgian yeast, but this doesn't linger for more than a few seconds, with quite a short mouthfeel considering the smoked malt character.

Overall - a very cleverly crafted duo with little to suggest that they were borne of the same base beer. The Jekyll just pipped it for us, being so inherently drinkable, but both were excellent and a great showcase of what two goliaths of the industry can produce.


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

That Boutique-y Whisky Company - Blended Scotch Whisky #1

We were introduced to this delightful dram by Dave Worthington (@WhiskyDiscovery) at last year's The Whisky Show. We were on the hunt for our first whisky of the day, and Dave reckoned there was no finer breakfast treat than this award-winning blend from the excellent That Boutique-y Whisky Company (it took the title of Best Blended Whisky at the 2015 World Whisky Awards). We felt it befitting of Burns Night, too - truly a whisky for all special occasions and every hour of the day! Here are our thoughts...

Colour: Lacquered mahogany
Nose: Dark chocolate ice cream, a sticky sweetness accompanied by a soft coastal waft towards the end.
Palate: The initial spice that swells across the mouth gives way to a delightful punch of smooth fruity acidity and rich chocolate, it's pretty much black forest gateau. Never at any point do these flavours clash or linger past their stay of welcome.
Finish: As the rich fruitiness gives way, there is a warming blossom honey that lingers on the palate, with gentle salination for balance.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company say that the sphere on the bottle label is testament to the perfectly rounded nature of the dram, and we would heartily agree. The youngest whisky within the bottle stands at 35 years old, and time has worked its magic beautifully. A stunning blend.


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Upcycling with Gin Explorer

It's no secret that I love my gin. The industry is enjoying such a boom that amazing new producers are popping up EVERYWHERE, and it's becoming more and more difficult to choose which ones to try. This is where Gin Explorer comes in. Set up by the team behind the hugely popular Gin Festival events, Gin Explorer is a monthly subscription box that offers four 50ml samples of carefully sourced gins, plus tonics, treats and even snacks.

When my Gin Explorer box arrived, I was excited to discover a BONUS FIFTH GIN in lieu of a snack - especially as it came in a tiny little jam jar and we all know how much of a sucker I am for anything in miniature.

Which brings me quite neatly onto the gins themselves. First up, the aforementioned Yerburgh's Jam Jar gin, the result of a phenomenal crowdfunding success, reaching it's target in just three days! Bottled/jarred at 43%, it's creamy and fruit driven and worked well with a raspberry garnish - raspberry leaves are one of the botanicals, which provides a lovely berry freshness.

With the main flavour component being one of my favourite fruits, I was looking forward to trying Ely Pink Grapefruit Gin, 30%. The pink grapefruit shines through in abundance with a graceful mixture of tart, bitter, dry and sweet. For me, this was almost more like a liqueur in nature than an outright gin and I didn't want to drown out the delicacy, meaning I drank it neat, although it'd also work well with lemonade or as part of a fruity cocktail.

I tried the Gordon Castle Gin, 43%, next, with a bottle of the BTW tonic also provided in the box. Classically aromatic, with an underlying herbal nature which added a lovely elegance and balance. The BTW tonic worked well as it was clean and crisp enough to enhance the complex flavours through the gin without overwhelming them. I added a sprig of mint and a slice of lime too, which gave just enough freshness to really lift the gin.

Edinburgh is becoming quite a hot spot for gin production, and Pickering's Gin, 42%, was the only gin in the box I'd tried before. I found this fairly sweet and citrus led, very quaffable with Fever Tree tonic and with a refreshing lemony bite in the finish. These guys have created GIN BAUBLES this year which quite frankly sound amazing.

From Manchester's first distillery, the last gin I sampled was the Zymurgorium Sweet Violet Gin, 18.75%... what a GREAT name for a distillery. The gin itself was highly perfumed and very unusual - you'll love this if you're a fan of parma violet sweets! I was surprised to find however that this wasn't sticky or syrupy, but pleasantly light. I'd love to try this as the drizzle in a lemon and lavender drizzle cake!

But that's not all! As part of my Gin Explorer mission, I was challenged to come up with a way to reuse and recycle the bottles, and the box everything came in. As it's coming up to Christmas, obviously the bottles needed to be a part of something festive and I think they look great as little fairy lights!

And the box? I'll let the photo do the talking...



Big thanks to the kind folk at Gin Explorer for sending me a box to try out, and a thank you from Gincat Tosin for his new favourite seat!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Whisky Review: Aberlour 16

We were first introduced to Speyside distillery Aberlour through a Waitrose offer a few years ago, with their no-age statement A'Bunadh being one of the first single malts we invested in. Since then it's always been one of our top "go-to" distilleries, with the 10-year being a regular feature on our whisky shelf, so when we spied it's older sister at Bakewell's excellent whisky shop The Wee Dram we couldn't resist. The 16-year is double cask matured in traditional oak and sherry, and is bottled at 40% ABV.

Colour: Rich copper.

Nose: Creamy, with hints of raisin from the sherry cask balanced by a fresh woody characteristic from the oak. The aroma deepens as the dram opens up, giving off an inviting edge of sugary sweet mocha. Given the ABV, we chose not to add water.

Palate: Very well balanced, with the two woods complementing each other and providing delicate harmony in the dram. Nutty, with flavours of almond imparting a marzipan character but without overwhelming sweetness. A honeyed smoothness envelops the tongue as you drink.

Finish: Sweet maltiness and oodles more honey linger on.



Monday, 27 June 2016

Longflint Craft Cocktails

Longflint are a brand new business venture based in London, slotting neatly into the "craft beverage" arena with a range of pre-mixed cocktails made from 100% natural ingredients. Here are my thoughts on their first three products.

Rose hip & gin fizz

Made using "premium dry gin" from an unnamed brand and rose hip simple sugar syrup, this had a delicately floral aroma, light carbonation, and a big hit of herbaceous gin bitterness. Dry and quite savoury in nature - definitely a grown up cocktail. The recommended addition of a slice of cucumber really brought out the grassy elements of the drink and gave it quite an autumnal sort of flavour. Very well balanced, and it was so refreshing (in both senses of the word) to have a pre-mixed cocktail that didn't taste fake and full of sugar. This would work wonderfully served alongside tapas - I nibbled on some olives as I was drinking and the combination was delicious!

Rhubarb and vodka seltzer

Very pretty pink colour. Perfect level of rhubarbiness (definitely a word) - tart and fresh with a hint of creaminess but without being cloying or overpowering. Just a little hint of those rhubarb and custard sweets! Longflint pride themselves on using only natural ingredients and it certainly shows here. This was less boozy than the others, although the vodka did help to provide a lovely lingering finish. This worked really well just as it is, no accompaniment required!

Ginger and Rum Fuego

The first thing I noticed with this one was that it needed a good shake before serving, due to a layer of fresh ginger having accumulated at the bottom of the bottle. This is by no means a negative - the ginger gave a huge hit of spicy, zingy warmth which was really delicious and complemented the booziness of the rum perfectly. A slice of lime was added as recommended which provided another layer of freshness, making this the perfect drink to sip in the summer sun. I also popped in a couple of ice cubes containing mint leaves from our garden.

Overall, I felt that all three of the Longflint cocktails were sophisticated, well thought through, and tasted like the sort of drinks I like to make myself at home. They'd look perfectly at home on the shelves of any specialist drinks shop (or craft beer shop/bar as an interesting alternative) and I reckon the contents certainly live up to the beautiful packaging. I'd be interested to know which spirits are used, and a more comprehensive ingredients list generally would be useful, however I've been truly impressed by the products and look forward to seeing what other creations may be released in future.



Disclaimer: these cocktails were kindly sent to me by Longflint free of charge to sample. This has not influenced my opinions, all of which are my own.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Man Behind the Curtain

It was our fourth wedding anniversary last weekend, and to celebrate we went to our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. We both fell a bit in love with Michael O'Hare and his shiny silver apron on last year's Great British Menu, and his eclectic, immersive style of cooking was something which intrigued us immensely. And so on a grey April afternoon, we found ourselves in the centre of Leeds at The Man Behind The Curtain for a dining experience like we'd never had before...

It feels a bit like stepping into another world to get there, as you walk in through Flannels clothing shop before heading up to the third floor in an eerily quiet lift. The venue itself was calm, relaxed and modern, and we instantly felt comfortable being there, unlike other "posh" restaurants we've eaten in before. The staff added to this environment, being elegant and just the right amount of formal.

We selected the 9 course tasting menu which came accompanied by 7 wines. The menu itself is simply "Carte Blanche", meaning that every dish is a total surprise. The effect of this is an absolutely mindblowing experience... neither of us have ever felt so amazed, delighted, and often baffled by food. Laura cried twice. We'll let the pictures do the talking...

Octopus with caper and lemon butter - served with champagne
15 year old Galician beef with olives - served with spiced vermouth
Sea urchin bolognese with rice noodles which melted into the sauce as you stirred!
Spider crab lasagne with a quail's egg, bilberry, and potato crisps
Fish and chips (No, really...) - black cod with potato and ink. Served with Riesling.
Iberico pork, with smoked egg yolk served inside an edible shell and anchovies
Veal sweetbread with hot and sour consomme, brought out alongside a sous vide prawn.

Onto dessert...

Violet ice cream, dark chocolate, potato custard and beetroot puffed rice, served with plum wine
Passion fruit and praline mini "cupcake"
A touch we particularly loved was that for three of the courses, the chefs brought out the dishes themselves and talked us through what we were about to eat. The passion coming from them was palpable, and it's this sort of attention to detail which gets a place such deserved renown.

Quite honestly, this was far and away the most outstanding food we've ever eaten, and an experience we never wanted to end. Simply stunning.


Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Magic Rock Tap, Huddersfield

We've been fans of Magic Rock beers for quite some time, and they're one of those that we always make a beeline for at the bar - their wonderfully juicy West Coast Pale Ale, High Wire (5.5%) is one of Laura's firm favourites (and luckily enough it's frequently available at one of our locals, the Rutland Arms) - and they're also making quite a name for themselves with some really special brews. We've been chomping at the bit to get to their brewery tap in Huddersfield since it opened in June this year, and finally made the trip through the glorious Yorkshire countryside last weekend.

We started off with something pretty light, Dancing Bear - a steam beer style pilsner weighing in at 4.5%. Refreshing and grassy, it was certainly a welcome opening act.

Next up was Big Top - an India Red Ale with humongous hop flavours, massively aromatic and tropical at 7.4%. Alongside this we grabbed ourselves a burger from Fat Hippo, usually Newcastle based but with a nifty little Burger Bar which travels around the country. The Tap invites along different food vendors each weekend, meaning there's always something different to try, and we were mightily impressed by the offering this week. We both picked the PB&J burger - succulent beef, perfectly cooked to order, topped with peanut butter and bacon jam, which may now be our new favourite condiment (a bold claim for a couple who have designated condiment shelves in both the cupboard and the fridge). Fat Hippo will be in Sheffield at the next Peddler market in October and we'd definitely recommend them to anyone in the area.

After filling our bellies, we were treated to a quick look around the new brewery itself, which has doubled production capacity for Magic Rock. The first brew had taken place just the day before, so everything was very shiny and new... we even got a sneak peek at the new canning line, which has now been officially announced! Watch this space...

Now then. Those really special brews we mentioned at the beginning of this post? Here goes. Firstly was Dark Arts stout - cocoa nib edition (6%), which had been aged in bourbon barrels for two years with cocoa nibs and vanilla added for the last few months. The aroma was incredible, intensely chocolatey and oh so inviting. On the palate was creamy chocolate with a dry pure cocoa backbone which prevented the beer from becoming cloying, and the vanilla coming through to enhance the flavours imparted by the barrel. As well as this treat, we also enormously enjoyed the Pedro Ximenez barrel aged Bearded Lady, a 10.5% imperial stout. Sumptuously sticky, it was rich with raisins and treacle whilst retaining a great level of balance, and was just a perfect example of just how good a barrel aged beer can be.

The whole experience of drinking at the Magic Rock Tap was just a delight - the staff were all friendly and keen to share their extensive knowledge of the beers on offer, the atmosphere and decor give you a great feel for what the brewery is all about, and everything is achingly "craft" without being in any way twattishly pretentious. A new favourite and definitely not to be missed!



Sunday, 26 July 2015

Italian beers from Birrificio Gjulia

Whilst Italy is not yet particularly well known in the UK for its craft beer production, there are more and more breweries now beginning to reach our shores and Gjulia is one of them. Made by Marco and Massimo Zorzettig, brothers with a family tradition which lies more in wine production than in brewing, all Gjulia's beers use malt grown on their very own land. The emphasis across the range is on sustainability, locality, and quality, which it certainly carries in absolute spades.

IPA, 5.8%
The newest release from Gjulia, created using their homegrown hops, this poured a little hazy, and we managed to work out from our very basic Italian that it's unfiltered and bottle conditioned. The vibrant aroma hits the nose full of fruit and juicy hop character. The bottle conditioning provides a beautiful carbonation that tingles along the tongue and hints towards a similar mouthfeel to a good white wine. Flavours of citrus, particularly pithy grapefruit, are vivid throughout, alongside a gently floral elderflower character. The hop flavours are bold without being out of balance, providing a pleasantly soft level of bitterness on the finish. Full-bodied, fruity and fresh.

Nostrana Organic Ale, 5%
Again slightly hazy, this blonde beer made entirely with organic ingredients was almost shimmery - gorgeous in the glass. On the nose, lightly perfumed with notes of orange blossom, delicate and dry with a tropical fruit esther character from the yeast. On the palate, there's tons of intense juicy fruits, in particular mandarin segments and passion fruit. This is coupled with a lovely crispness that is almost reminiscent of a Belgian-style pale ale. Refreshing and very elegant.

Overall, we were hugely impressed by the product coming out of Gjulia. The branding is superb and the bottles themselves look great, seemingly inspired by the Zorzettig brothers' background in winemaking. The beers can be approached in much the same way as a fine wine and worked really well with food - we went for homemade tagliatelle with smoked salmon, courgette and lemon to pair with the IPA, and pan fried pork fillets with apple and sweet potato to go alongside the Nostrana. With the growing demand for international beer that we're currently seeing in the UK, we certainly hope to see more of Birra Gjulia on these shores.



Disclaimer: we were kindly sent these two beers to review, however opinions are all our own. Many thanks to Birrificio Gjulia!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Wild Beer Co: Sourbeest

At the moment Wild Beer Co are one of the most innovative breweries in the UK, using techniques that are generally far more commonplace on the continent, whether it's in producing excellent saisons or delicious barrel aged sours all the while experimenting with wild yeasts to produce unique flavours seldom tasted from modern British breweries.

Sourbeest is one of a few variations of beer that all stem from one - which happens to be one of our favourite beers from last year, Wildebeest. Wildebeest itself is an 11% imperial stout flavoured with coffee, vanilla and cocoa nibs, a big drink that is best appreciated and savoured. To produce a beer like this you don't always get all the sugars first time around, so rather than feed cows with malt of such potential, the guys at Wild Beer add more hot water and start again - and lo, Sourbeest is born.

The wort is left to spontaneously ferment as it cools, giving wild yeasts and bacteria chance to make some magic. After fermentation is complete at 5.9%, the beer is barrel-aged for nine months, at which point it is bottled ready to be imbibed.

And so, on to the drinking...

This pours fairly flat with a deep ruby colour, and instantly the tart aroma comes forth. There's just a hint of the chocolate and coffee we remember so well from Wildebeest, but this is overridden by a blast of tangy dark fruits, full of cherries and blackcurrants.

It's definitely a sipper - absolutely massive on the palate, despite weighing in at under 6%. Initially sour, there's raspberries with a touch of rich balsamic vinegar, which dance on the tongue with a pleasing sharpness. As the beer disappears down the throat you definitely get much more of a feel of dark chocolate and malted coffee, a stunning twist that almost makes this feel like drinking two beers in one.

Very clever indeed.



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.



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!