Not only a candidate for drink of the week but drink of the year, this small-batch Somerset vermouth is one of the most delicious products I’ve come across in 2014.
It was created by the award-winning Ethicurean, a restaurant in a stunning walled garden in Wrington, just outside Bristol. They started making it for their own cocktails but were pressed to bottle it for general sale.
It’s based on plants that are grown in the garden including bay, rosemary, sage, wormwood and yarrow along with foraged ingredients from the surrounding Mendip Hills such as rowan berries and scots pine. The team, headed by mixologist Jack Adair Bevan, uses them to make tinctures using an apple-based spirit distilled from organic cider apples, then blends them with a homemade caramel made from English sugar and white wine from Malvasia grapes from the Veneto.
The flavour is unusually warm and rich - less bitter than many vermouths - like a gloriously alcoholic marmalade. You can drink it on its own over ice with a fresh bayleaf as I did when I had a sneak preview of it at the Wells Food Festival back in October or use it in cocktails. (It apparently makes a great Negroni* though I haven't had a chance to have a play, a mean Manhattan and a pine Martinez with pine-infused gin though I'd probably leave that one to Jack.)
They also cook with it at the restaurant though that seems a bit of a waste. I can imagine it would make a great match with Stilton cheese or, more locally, Dorset Blue Vinney.
The Collector costs £31.45 from The Whisky Exchange, £34 from the restaurant and around £38 from independent Bristol wine merchants such as Corks of Cotham and North Street, Weber & Trings and Grape and Grind. (See here for other stockists and bars which serve it) A lovely Christmas present for someone who appreciates quality drinks.
*Using less Campari than usual according to their Facebook page - 25ml good gin, 40ml The Collector Vermouth and 10ml Campari
For other last minute gift suggestions see here.
Yes, you did read that right. It’s not April 1st. It’s not a misprint. A dog beer. A Belgian beer for dogs. It doesn’t actually have any alcohol I hasten to reassure you but it does smell vaguely beery.
As soon as I found out about it I thought I must give it a try. Or rather that I must find some dogs to try it out on. My neighbour up the road who has three dachshunds and a couple more she was dog-sitting obliged. They went absolutely nuts for it.
There are two flavours, the original version which smells and tastes vaguely like dilute Marmite and a chicken version*. It’s hard to say which they preferred - they fell on them both.
You can buy Snuffle in the UK in specialist online pet stores such as astarpets.com at around £10 a four pack** (see the website for stockists). It’s also widely available in Belgium, Holland and - somewhat randomly - Greece.
I'm guessing it would pair with a bone . . .
* it's apparently made with beef or chicken and malt barley extracts, mineral oils, vitamin B and other “doggy goodies”. Having tasted it before I read the bit about it not being suitable for human consumption I’m not sure I want to know what those are. Apparently we should have also shaken the bottle before pouring it which would presumably have made it even meatier. But the dogs didn’t seem to care . . .
** The manufacturer recommends no more than half a 25cl bottle for small dogs, 1 bottle for medium-sized dogs and two bottles for a large dog. Jack (right) obviously hopes we will overlook this advice and begs for more.
One of the problems about buying wine these days is that there’s just too much choice. But if I had to stick to just one wine this Christmas it would be this gutsy red from the Rhone.
It comes from a large but obscure appellation called Grignan-les-Adhémar (formerly Coteaux du Tricastin) in the southern Rhône but, as a typically Mediterranean blend of grenache and syrah it could easily pass for a good Côtes du Rhône Villages). The big draw - assuming you’re a member of the Wine Society - is the unbelievable price. It’s just £6.95 which for such a handsome-looking bottle is a complete steal.
I fell in love with the 2012 vintage at the autumn tasting which was if anything even better but it sold out almost instantly and as I hadn’t tasted the 2013 I had to leave it out of my Guardian Christmas column next weekend. Now I’ve had the chance to try it I still think it’s a great buy and as I imagine other Wine Society members do too I’d get in quick if you want some.*
As I say it would go with practically anything in the way of Christmas food short of the mince pies - the turkey (a much cheaper alternative to Chateauneuf), Christmas ham, roast pork, roast beef, a hot game pie, the cheeseboard … With any luck you’ll still have a few bottles for the chilly days of January.
* And if you’re passing by the Wine Society’s shop in Montreuil you’ll get it even cheaper though you’ll need to pre-order it I seem to remember. For those of you who aren't Wine Society members, lifetime membership costs £40.
With the explosion of exotic spirits and liqueurs that is now hitting the supermarket shelves no-one need be stuck for an unusual gift this Christmas.
Briottet salted caramel liqueur 18% £14 Marks & Spencer, £18.01 Master of Malt
M & S has one of the most impressive ranges of spirits and liqueurs. Like the Tesco one I mentioned in my Guardian column, this has a really natural salted caramel flavour. A good price too. I've seen it for as much as £22.50.
Heston by Waitrose Cherry Bakewell Vodka 40% £24.50
I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this and it is very sweet but there’s a good sour cherry flavour to counterbalance the powerful taste of almond. Would be great served in ice cold shots with an actual bakewell tart or a cherry crumble. One for Heston fans and amaretto lovers
Jim Beam Red Stag Black Cherry Bourbon 40% normally around £19 but on offer at Asda at £15 and Waitrose at £16
I’m not sure this isn’t better though, particularly at the promoted price. The Bourbon equivalent of cherry brandy, a big sweet cherry-flavoured liqueur that would make good cocktails and a great nightcap. Very Christmassy
Chase Marmalade Vodka £34.65 The Whisky Exchange, £35.80 Waitrose
And if cherry is not your thing how about marmalade, surely in more than its fair share of Christmas presents thanks to the Paddington movie? You can of course make your own cocktail as you can see here but if you want one ready made go for Herefordshire producer Chase's delicious marmalade vodka
Haig Club Single Grain Whisky 40% £43.99 D. Byrne, Clitheroe*, £45 Waitrose
Probably the most heavily advertised whisky this Christmas - I’m wondering how much they paid David Beckham to front the campaign? With its perfume-shaped bottle it seems designed to appeal as much to women as men. A fresh clean modern style of whisky with more than a hint of butterscotch and toffee - would be good on the rocks. For stylistas.
Laphroaig Select Single Malt whisky 40% £34.99 Waitrose
This new sweeter expression of Laphroaig is controversial among purists but it's still got that inimitable whiff of seaweed and bonfire smoke. A great introduction to Islay whisky for the uninitiated.
Don Papa Small Batch Rum 40% £30 from Majestic £31.95 The Whisky Exchange
An unusual dark rum, not from the Caribbean but the Philippines. A really gorgeous rich style with a spicy orange peel flavour
Ducastaing Armagnac 1973 40% £24.99 Aldi 50cl
This seems to be Aldi’s top spirits offer this year so I expect it will fly off the shelves. Gorgeous smooth, vanilla-y and spicy it would make a great present for a 41 year old.
Herradura Plata Tequila 40% £33.95 Master of Malt, £35.00 Waitrose
With next year being designated Year of Mexico in the UK I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot about tequila so ease in with this fabulously herby exotic bottling - one of the best tequilas I’ve tasted. And very drinkable with food.
* Note that supermarkets are not necessarily the cheapest place to buy spirits. D.Byrne of Clitheroe for example offers particularly good prices on whisky - and wines for that matter.
Actually it’s probably just as well as the alcohol has crept up to 15% so none of us should really be having more than a glass at a time. (Er hem.)
It’s made by one of South Africa’s most characterful winemakers Adi Badenhorst up in the Swartland region. His excellent smooth dry Chenin Blanc is also in the range as is Tesco’s popular Picpoul de Pinet at a rather more modest 12.5%, a Fiano (14%) and a gluggable Montepulciano (13%) which would make an excellent match for a takeaway pizza.
Bag-in-box technology has immensely improved since the early days - they now adjust the level of gas to the type of wine - and these are just as good quality as a bottle. And the new 1.5 litre size - equivalent to two bottles - makes them easy to fit in an overstuffed fridge.
They’re not especially cheap but they’re on 25% promotion until Tuesday* if you buy the equivalent of 4 bottles (two boxes) which brings the shiraz down from £13.99 to £10.49 or £5.25 a bottle, the Chenin from £12.99 to £9.74 (£4.87 a bottle) and the Picpoul which is normally £14.99 down to £11.24 (£5.62).
I'd drink the shiraz with anything meaty from some big fat garlicky sausages to a steak.
PS An extra recommendation for you this week: while you’re in Tesco pick their finest* sloe gin (£15), one of the most delicious I’ve tasted. Great with stilton!
* I was assured when I checked yesterday although the main website Tesco.com is not showing the discount. You can however buy the same wines by the bottle on the wine site where the discount is shown. Confusing.
For a more extensive list of my recent recommendations from Tesco see here.