This week’s post on the Guardian’s Word of Mouth section about Wetherspoon reminded me that I hadn’t yet tasted the three cans from Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery they’re now stocking.
I confess I’d made up my mind they weren’t going to be much cop - after all beer in a can was almost uniformly rubbish back in the day when I was first drinking beer. But technology has moved on and canning has apparently become all the rage among craft brewers in the US.
They also have practical advantages as set out in this article on the Wetherspoon site by beer writer Jeff Evans. Cans are lighter, easier to stack, quicker to chill and effective at excluding both light and oxygen.
But is it any good? I must say I wasn’t overwhelmed by The Crisp, a 5.2% Pilsner that did seem to me to have a bit of a tinny taste despite being told that new canning technology avoids this. (The cans are lined with plastic which I’m not totally convinced is a good thing though it obviously avoids metallic taint.)
I quite liked the rich hoppy Sweet Action (5.4%), described as ‘part pale ale, part wheat, part cream ale’ though, as the name suggests, it is on the cloying side.
But the 6.4% Bengali Tiger IPA was a very decent drink indeed with a nice note of bitterness to counterbalance the big wallop of hops. You could, as they suggest, easily drink it with a steak.
There’s a lot of over-the-top blurb on the cans including, in the case of Bengali Tiger, a quote from Blake “What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?” (wonder what they had to pay to use that?) as well as wittering on about how the beer ‘strides forward with a malty cadence then leaps with a wave of bitterness ....slashed with a giant paw of citrus, pine and resin.” But they’re not designed to appeal to cynical hacks like me.
Anyway sounds like we’ll be seeing a fair few more upmarket beers in cans over the coming year. Brewdog (natch) and Camden are both reported to be investing in the technnology, according to Evans. And I have to admit these new beers will be terrific for beer-can chicken (recipe here).
The beers are available exclusively at Wetherspoon pubs at £2.89 a 355ml can or £5 for two (except in Scotland which doesn't allow multibuy deals) though prices may vary from pub to pub.
You’re probably expecting me to recommend a Mother’s Day fizz but I’m going to suggest a great red to pour for the Sunday lunch you’re going to (I hope) treat her to instead. Especially if you’re having roast lamb.
It’s a reserve cabernet sauvignon from one of Chile’s best known producers Aurelio Montes and has all the gloriously, ripe cassis fruit you expect from a Chilean cab without being over-jammy.
The thing that makes it stand out is the price which is £7.49 (at Tesco). £7.49!I thought it was a misprint at yesterday’s tasting but double-checked and that’s right. It’s an insanely good price for a really classy wine.
It also looks rather beautiful with the angel on the label*. (The subliminal message that your mum is an angel won’t do any harm.)
The snag - there had to be one - is that it’s only available in 147 stores which given that Tesco has 2400 odd stores makes finding it a bit of a challenge. I reckon you’re likely to track it down in their larger, more upmarket stores so if you don’t have one of those near you please don’t waste your Saturday looking for it. Or ring one of these numbers to see if they can steer you to a branch that stocks it. If you can't get it this weekend it would still be worth buying some online for Easter.
There’s also an attractive citrussy sauvignon blanc (the 2013 vintage) for the same price.
* though the bottles that are online seem to have a different label
Ask the man in the street where Japanese gin comes from and he’d look at you pityingly. "Japan, of course!" But actually this 42% ultra-premium gin comes from Cambridge, England.
It’s been made by the Cambridge Distillery from what they describe as ‘Japanese botanicals’ which include shiso leaf, sansho pepper, sesame seeds, cucumber and citrussy yuzu peel along with the mandatory juniper. All the botanicals are distilled individually in small batches under vacuum which distiller Will Lowe claims is what preserves their freshness and individuality.
I was set to scoff but it is in fact a gorgeous gin with the clean pure Japanese flavours that characterise Japanese food. I can imagine it going beautifully with sashimi or any kind of fresh seafood. (Crab would be perfect.)
The bottle which is hand-screen printed is rathe gorgeous too - as well it might be for £64.99 (at Selfridges) though you can buy a rather dinky 100ml miniature that looks like a perfume bottle for £16.99, roughly the price of a couple of cocktails. The temptation to dab it behind your ears is almost irresistible.
Is it worth twice as much as a premium gin and three times as much as an everyday brand? Not for most of us but given the given the amount of money sloshing around in London at the moment and the general buzz surrounding gin there will be plenty of takers and even at this price its considerably cheaper than many whiskies.
For obvious reasons* I was all set to recommend a handsomely bottled Irish whiskey I’d discovered this weekend but then I tasted it and actually didn’t rate it so here’s a fantastically good value wine deal I found in my local Co-op instead.
It’s a typically dark, intense Portuguese red with lovely brambly, but not too jammy, fruit that would pair swimmingly with dishes like beef stews, rich meaty pasta sauces and beef or venison sausages. But obviously people are not impressed by something that sounds so obscure so the Co-op is flogging it off for £4. No, that’s not a misprint. £4!
At least I hope they are in a Co-op near you. The Co-op moves in mysterious ways which is probably why it’s in such trouble these days so although they had it in my local Bristol branch, it may not be in yours. Or it may be and cost £7.99 which wouldn’t be such a steal.
There's also an equally obscure white, Segredo do Lisboa Fernao Pires-Arinto Chardonnay 2012 which isn’t quite as impressive tasted on its own but perfectly fine with anything fishy. And ‘perfectly fine’ is good enough for £3.80 (the 'bin-end' price)
At the other end of the price scale I tasted an amazing Vouvray up in Settle where I was inspecting one of our BBC Food and Farming Awards shortlistees The Courtyard Dairy (a brilliant cheese shop, btw). It was the 2009 Clos de la Meslerie which was fragrant and delicately honeyed with a lovely balancing acidity - and a very good match with a Gorgonzola Dolce.
Oddly it’s made by someone called Peter Hahn who doesn’t sound particularly French and indeed turns out to be an American who’s rather improbably making natural wine in the Loire. But don’t assume it’s all weird and funky, it’s the best Vouvray I’ve tasted for an age. You can buy it online from BuonVino (the wine merchant next door to the Courtyard) for £28 and for marginally less from an outfit called WineBear but the Buonvino people have a lovely shop so do buy it from them.
The whisky, if you're curious, is called Writer’s Tears and comes from Marks & Spencer. I was seduced by the tall elegant bottle but in truth the whisky itself is lacking in depth and unbalanced by a crude woody finish. I don’t know how old it is, certainly not old enough to justify charging £28. Try one of these recommendations I made in the Guardian a couple of years ago instead though infuriatingly Sainsbury's seems to have dropped their excellent Taste the Difference Dun Leire Irish Single Malt, according to Irish drinks writer Tom Doorley, since Cooley was taken over by Jim Beam (and now Suntory).
A final thought since I was chided for giving the impression that whiskey was the only Irish drink, there's a cracking Irish cream liqueur in Lidl (for £5.99 when I last checked the price). Though I think he was probably talking about beer.
*St Patrick's Day in case you'd forgotten . . .
Before you get too excited about this week's wine of the week you’re unlikely to be able to buy it unless you live in South Africa or Sweden but I want to flag it up because it’s the best Fairtrade wine I've tasted.
It’s a blend of Shiraz and Mourvèdre (mainly shiraz) which is made from dry-farmed grapes grown on the Papkuilsfontein wine farm in Darling, which is run by a partnership of Distell, the Black Economic Empowerment Company and a community trust and made by the Nederburg winemaking team.
It’s a beautifully structured full-bodied red with lovely ripe fruit and smoothly integrated tannins, impressively presented in an expensive (but not ludicrously heavy) bottle - a serious, proper, grown-up wine. Decanter awarded the 2010 vintage 5 stars in its 2012 wine awards - you wouldn’t hesitate to pour it for your pickiest of friends.
It sells for 115SAR in South Africa which is not cheap for the local market though at £6.39 at the current rate of exchange ludicrously good value by our standards and for 120 krone or £11.18 in Sweden which, given how expensive their market is, isn't overpriced either.
The message Nederburg is apparently getting from the UK market is that we’re not interested in paying this much for Fairtrade wine. I think that’s a crying shame. Won’t some retailer try and disprove that theory?
In the meantime if you’re in South Africa and visiting the winery I strongly suggest you buy a bottle or two to bring home.
There’s a more detailed analysis of the wine here.