Booze

BrewDog – Camden

‘Hello! How are you?’ These are that questions you should say to every beer you drink.

If it doesn’t answer you back (in a manner of speaking), you’re not having Brew Dog.

Luckily, the six beers I tasted at BrewDog’s new bar in Camden were full of words. They wouldn’t shut up, to be honest. Considering, I’m not the biggest beer drinker, this was a good thing. However, I still brought along the boyfriend (nicknamed DQ for the purposes of this blog) to give his expert one-line, beer-loving opinion along with my totally amateur one.

  1. Tokyo
    Me: This is the first beer I tasted, and it actually wasn’t part of the event, meaning that I had a half pint of an 18.5% beer that that tasted like a chocolate-covered cherry. Trust me, that gets a 5’3” girl tipsy in about 3 sips.
    DQ: A beer that tastes port. Yes.
  2. Punk IPA
    Me: A bit strong, sort of citrusy. If you don’t like beer a whole lot, I would skip it
    DQ: Nice, tastes a bit weird, but I like it (Editor’s note: we were back at Brew Dog two nights later, and he had two pints, so I think ‘like it’ is a bit of an understatement)
  3. 5am Saint
    Me: Almost like a bitter honeycomb. We’ve been told it’s been boiled for 90 minutes and hops are added after fermentation, sort of like brewing tea.
    DQ: I like this. Full of flavour.
  4. Scotch Ale
    Me: It’s dark like the Tokyo, and I’m immediately disappointed that it’s not.
    DQ: It’s like coffee and beer had a love child (Editor’s note: can you tell we were a bit far gone by this point?)
  5. Hard Core IPA
    Me: Yes, hardcore. Way too hardcore for me.
    DQ: Very hoppy, slightly acidic, overall pleasant
  6. AB08
    Me: I can’t really taste anything at this point.
    DQ: Smells like a farmyard, but in a good way. It’s a combination of hay and manure, but tastes like coffee and honey

Beer isn’t the only thing at Brew Dog, though – and that’s where I come in. There is a very small menu devised by Masterchef winner Tim Anderson, which features a rolling menu of burgers, pizza and cheese plates.

During the tasting, we tried the Santa Ana pizza – a hot little tamale of corn, onions, chilli, spicy salami and crème fresh. If you’re sensitive to spice, it’s not for you. I loved it, though.

Later on and still hungry, we bought the Milwaukee burger (£6.95), and absolutely perfect blend of pork, sauerkraut and a sauce I can’t quite remember, that is surely a contender for best burger in London. It was amazing.

Actually, the whole place was so amazing that DQ and I found ourselves back there two nights later. I’ll be honest, I’m not the hugest fan of Camden, but Brew Dog is enough to sway me. I’ll be back in a heartbeat.

Naked Wines, Wine Scout and Mirabeau Rosé

Every once in a while, the PR gods smile upon me and invite me to a wine event even though I’m mainly a food blogger. I suppose they do go hand in hand, but I’m always surprised, mainly because since moving to London, my palette has gone to pot.

Back in my Michigan days, when I was working at Pacific Rim and even after, I got to try – on a regular basis – some of the best wines in the world. I found it easier and easier to identify flavours and smells and textures – even identifying dominant grapes and likely regions. Then, I moved to London, where I couldn’t really afford to drink anything decent at all. Within three years, all that wine knowledge I’d built up was poof(!) gone.

Photo courtesy of The Wine Hos, who also attended the eventThings are a bit better, but I’m not really inclined to spend three times mark-up on wine in restaurants, and when I have a bottle at home, something in the £10 and under range works just fine for me. Any help I can get in the right direction is usually appreciated, which is why I decided to go to wine events for Naked Wines and the launch of a new rosé – Mirabeau Rosé. I attended the Mirabeau event with a few fantastic bloggers at The Powder Room in Soho where I received a little pampering in the form of a girly manicure. A perfect estrogen-filled evening.

But on to the important part: the wine itself. Mirabeau Wine  is a refreshing rosé from Provence, which just went on sale at Waitrose this past Friday (£8.99). It’s light and fruity on the nose. I got a lot of strawberry with a bit of an apple/pear accent. It’s fairly acidic (a good thing in my book), and makes a perfect summer wine. I’d love to take it on my next park picnic – it’d be the perfect addition.

Also in the ‘competitively priced’ bracket is the online wine retailer Naked Wines*, where I attended an event launching their new iPhone app, WineScout. The event, at the Hoxton Grill (who, I might add, had absolutely fantastic nibbles. Seriously, wow) was a mix of food, wine and tech bloggers, and I got to see a few familiar faces including Luiz of The London Foodie, Uyen of Fernandez and Luluu supper club, Gail from 1million Gold Stars and Jeanne from Cook Sister.

Naked Wines is a completely different way to buy wine online. Basically, they invest in independent winemakers, in exchange for preferential prices. It’s a great concept, and a great way to discover something new, tasty and inexpensive.

I was given the chance to try out their new iPhone app, WineScout, in Beta. WineScout searches for you the best independent wines available at nearby restaurants and retailers based on your location. It acts as a social network for wines, allowing you to input your favourites, rate them and find the best food pairings. When it launches, it could be a valuable little search engine, but I imagine in the beginning it’s going to be in need of content. If you’re passionate about the wine around you though, give it a shot.

*Full disclosure: Naked Wines is the client of my company’s sister PR agency. However, I attended the Naked Wines event solely as a food blogger and not as a PR person. The connection did not influence my post positively or negatively.

L’Artisan du Chocolat and Macallan

Last year I went to a whisky and cake event with Qype, Outsider Tart and Compass Box. I remember being so excited, what’s better than whisky? And cake? Together!  And then, as I began to gorge myself, my stomach started took revenge. That’s when I learned (coupled with the Londonist ‘Best Cupcake Recipe‘ judging contest a week later) that too much sugar in one go is very very bad for you.

So when I was asked by Billy if I wanted to be his +1 to a chocolate and whisky tasting from l’Artisan du Chocolat and The Macallan, I immediately said yes, and then immediately started getting nervous.  Had I learnt my lesson?

Yes. The key is moderation. Something I’ve previously not been very good at!

The event took place at L’Artisan du Chocolat, a very posh chocolatier in Westbourne Grove.  As you enter, you’re greeted by the most futuristic chocolate shop in the world. It could have been a room in Willy Wonka if the Willy Wonka factory was near the pod toilets at Sketch.

As I walked in I was handed a Cocoa Pulp Bellini. Very yum. The tables were laid out with four tastes of Macallan whisky: the 12-year, 15-year, Select Oak and the Whisky Makers Edition.

Now I don’t profess to be an expert on whisky, quite the contrary. I do, however, know my chocolate, so please excuse me if I focus more on that. If you’re interested in the whisky, Billy’s done a much more thorough job here on  Billy’s Booze Blog. I hope he’ll excuse me from using his photos too – I, of course, forgot my camera that night.

First up was the 15-year paired with Jamaican 72% Dark Chocolate. I was so-so on this until they brought out another chocolate to try with it: Lemongrass and Ginger, which really brought out the sweetness from the whisky, more so than the bitter dark chocolate. (Have I mentioned I actually like lighter chocolates than dark? Sacrilegious, I know)

The next whisky was the Macallan 12, paired with the Mole Chilli bar. While I wasn’t too keen about either the whisky or the chocolate, I did appreciate the pairing. Gerry, from L’Artisan du Chocolat, explained the art of making a chilli chocolate bar, and it showed. The flavours were completely blended, where as many are just full-on chocolate followed by full-on chilli.

Next up was the Macallan Select Oak, paired with the Artisan Almond Milk Bar, a delicious chocolate bar using almond milk, and thus, lactose free and vegan. The chocolate was surprisingly good. Very creamy and with just a hint of almond. With the whisky, it was easily the best combination of the night. The chocolate really brought out the creaminess of the whisky.

And finally the Macallan Whisky Makers Edition, a very heavy whisky that was a bit much for me. They paired it with a ‘secret’ chocolate. As we tasted it, I was overwhelmed with smokiness. It was Tobacco Chocolate. I’m quite proud of myself that I guessed this first. The chocolate was an experiment for theArtisan team, and it’s an experience I’m not likely to repeat. The after taste of cigarettes was too much for me to handle, though the only smoker at the table seemed to like it just fine. Go figure. Those who didn’t like the tobacco were given a Cardamom-infused chocolate. I liked this better, though I’m not sure it’s something I would seek out again.

After the whisky tastings, we were given special chocolate truffles made with a creamy inside and infused with the respective whiskies. By this time, however, my stomach was aching, and I’m sad to say I couldn’t quite handle any more.

The goody bag was stocked with a lovely assortment of chocolates, and the Macallan 15-year, something I’ll happily enjoy at a later date.

All-in-all a good night. Even if I wasn’t over the moon about each chocolate, it’s very evident that Gerry and the crew, know exactly what they’re doing.

A Rum Do Two at Hush Brasserie – Mayfair

When I think of molecular gastronomy, images of olive gel bubbles from El Bulli or liquid nitrogen starters from The Fat Duck spring to mind – not so much cocktails. But really, the concept is the same. So why not?

I went to Hush in Mayfair with nearly the same crew from last year’s A Rum Do* with Element’s 8 Rum to take part in what can only be described as drinking with science. The idea is that a cocktail is just a cocktail, so screw it – let’s have a bit of fun with nitrogen!

Among a few, we tried a foam mojito made with a deep concentration of gelatin and mojito ingredients squeezed out of this:

And the crowd favourite, a pina caviada, which is basically a pina colada made with little pearls of rum pushed out a syringe. Weird, but surprisingly tasty!

There are some fantastic pictures over at TikiChris’ Flickr page. All the drinks are around 8 quid, which is good.

The verdict though? Interesting? Yes. Strong? Oh yes. Tasty? Sure. But would I get them again? I don’t think so. There’s something about molecular gastronomy – whether food or drink related – that just seems so gimmicky to me. I appreciate it, I think it’s really cool, but if I want a mojito, I usually want a mojito – and no amount of kitsch is going to replace that.

I think everyone should try it just once to see. It’s worth it for that, at least. But I’ll happily sip my boring old regular cocktails any time.

*Disclosure: The lovely Elements 8 people treated us to these drinks, just as they did last year. They’re really good guys, and not just because they gave us foamy mojitos.


Hush on Urbanspoon

Tsuru – Southwark

London has a lot of sushi takeaway places. There’s Istu, Samarai, Wasabi and probably a few I’m missing. They’re all just ok (Itsu is my preferred), and as I’ve mentioned before, hit the spot for a quick lunch if you don’t want to pay £25+ per head for dinner.  Tsuru, however, is in a different league. Sure, it’s primarily takeaway, but the quality far surpasses any of the others I’ve been to.

I went here with a bunch of other Qypers for a sample of their menu and some lovely sake-based cocktails (apart from one with Japanese whisky) from Akashi-Tai Brewery.

tsuru qype sake menu

We started out with some Chicken Yakatori – a slightly sweet, slightly spicy starter:

tsuru chicken yakatori

Followed shortly by some amazing Agedashi Tofu, Prawn Tempura and Gyoza Dumplings:

I’m always impressed by tempura in restaurants. I’ve tried once to make it at home. It’s difficult. I leave it to the experts. Big thumbs up to the tofu as well. It was perfect not-too-soft consistency.

The only slight disappointment for me was the Chicken Katsu Curry.

Everyone raved about this dish, but for me the curry sauce was lacking a little punch. It was still good, but probably the only thing that night I wouldn’t order again.

There was of course some sushi, which definitely beat out all of its competitors in terms of presentation, taste and quality:

tsuru sushi

And the cocktails? Gorgeous.

People really don’t order enough sake. It’s most likely because they don’t know what to order, which – in all honesty – is fair enough. However, sake cocktails are completely accessible and a fantastic introduction to the flavour of sake itself.

We tried the Kappa Saketini, a martini made with shochu and Akashi-Tai honjozo ; the Nippon-Fashioned, a take on an Old Fashioned made with a Japanese whisky and clementines; the Tokiwa Honeytini (Tokiwa shochu with Drambuie and honey; and the Ume Hot Toddy – a warm drink with Umeshu plum sake, shochu, cloves and lemon slice. My favourite had to be the Tokiwa Honeytini.

Only problem is Tsuru is way too far out of my way (South Bank behind the Tate Modern)! I’m barely ever over there, so I fear that until they open up somewhere closer, I might not make it back for a while.  However, if you live/work over in that area, definitely check it out.

The rest of my photos are here.

Tsuru on Urbanspoon

Beer + Cocktails = Beertails?

I’ve been going to quite a few more drinks events lately.  A few weeks ago, it was a wine tasting at Bibendum, this past Monday I went to a sake cocktail sampling at Tsuru with Qype and on the 10th, Elements 8 is hosting A Rum Do for the second year in a row (the first one was legendary).  This past weekend, however, was mostly spent mixing at home. With beer.

Beer is not huge for women in the UK, and honestly it’s not something I really go for either.  There a few that I like, but if I’m out in a restaurant or at the shop, I almost always go for wine. If I’m at a bar, it’s either wine or cocktails.  Beer just doesn’t even make it into my thought process.

However, there is a small, but growing movement out there that’s bent on changing that perception. With beertails – traditional cocktails made with beer.  Last week I received a beer cocktail starter kit* that included 2 bottles of Blue Moon (an American wheat beer), 2 bottles of Coors Light (a VERY American beer whose typical drinkers like this sort of thing), 2 bottles of Kasteel Cru (a beer made from Champagne yeast), a bunch of little airplane-sized liquor bottles and a recipe sheet.

I tried three concoctions: an Amber Mojito, a Kru Woo and something I named Lady Marmalade

An Amber Mojito is essentially a mojito, but mixed with Coors Light instead of soda water.

Coors light amber mojito

I made a huge mess making this. HUGE. Mint carnage, burned  simple syrup, beer head spilled all over the countertops.  It was a nightmarish process for one drink.  I simply do not have the mad skills to make a mojito at home. That said, I could see how the beer could work as a mojito base. It tasted like a mojito, but with an extra kick.  I wondered if it would make sense to use Corona though?

A Kru Woo is Kasteel Cru with peach scnapps and cranberry juice.

Kasteel Cru Kru Woo

The Kasteel is much more like Champagne, but with a slightly beery taste. Honestly, I preferred it by itself without all the girly accessories. Still very good.

The Lady Marmalade.  I completely made this one up. It’s just Blue Moon with Cointreau floated on top.

Blue Moon Cointreau

Blue Moon is a wheat beer. And wheat beers go well with citrus flavours (Bell’s Oberon, anyone?). So I figured Blue Moon would go just swimmingly with orange liquor in it. I was right! It was delish. Much more a summer drink. I would be very happy to drink it again.

The verdict?

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experiment is that you have to be careful with beer cocktails.  Essentially with every cocktail, you’re taking out the only non-alcoholic part of the recipe (soda water, diet coke, whatever) and replacing it with beer.  And what’s the second half of that rhyme, ‘Beer before liquor….’? It could get messy.

I can see a future for beer cocktails, but convincing the masses isn’t going to be easy.  I bet it’s the kind of drink that you wouldn’t necessarily order if you didn’t know what you were getting, but if a friend ordered one and you tried it – you’d probably end up getting one yourself too. I’m going to keep an eye out, but I haven’t seen anywhere in London that does them. If you know of a place, leave a comment, and I’ll check it out because lord knows I’m never ever making a beer mojito again.

*I received the beer cocktail set to try for free from the lovely Laura on behalf of Coors, but was not paid for this post in any way. Any reviews I ever do on this blog are entirely my own views – good or bad.

Recipe: Tomato and Gordon’s Gin Soup


I’ve never been much of a fan of gin, I’ll admit. So when the lovely people of Gordon’s asked if I wanted to participate in their latest blogger outreach campaign*, my first instinct was to say that it wasn’t for me.

(The pitch was that you can enjoy Gordon’s on Friday nights with friends, etc. Feel free to read about it here, though I suspect that if you like gin, any night of the week is good for drinking it. Ha.)

But I digress. Anyway, I thought, ‘Who’s to say I couldn’t find a way to like gin? I wonder if people cook with it?’

The answer is YES. A thousand times YES.

I Google ‘gin recipe’ and came across mostly a version of Tomato Soup. I decided to try this one I found on Running with Tweezers who found it on For The Love of Food. The original recipe is on both of those sites, but I did a little tweaking, which is what you’ll find below.

Tomato and Gordon’s Gin Soup – serves 4

  • 1 kg (2 Lbs)Tomatoes, diced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon basil, dried
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme, dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary, dried and ground
  • 750ml (3 Cups) of beef stock
  • 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 200ml Gordon’s gin
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Ground pepper
  • 4 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
  • 4 teaspoons basil pesto
  • Fresh basil (garnish)

1. In a large pot sauté the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil until the onions are soft
2. Add the tomatoes and all the dried spices and cook in the pot for 15 minutes with the lid on

3. Then pour in the beef stock and let cook for another 5 minutes
4. Take off the heat and put entire soup into a food processor or blender and purée. I used a hand blender which worked just as well (and less mess!)

5. Return pot to medium heat and add the tomato paste and the gin. Stir until completely mixed in
6. Garnish with a teaspoon of goat cheese, fresh basil and a dollop of pesto

This is seriously some of the best soup I’ve ever had in my life. It was so easy to make too. I highly recommend you give it a whirl.  And at least I now know what to do with the rest of the gin!

*And full disclosure and all – I wasn’t paid for this post (not my style), but I did receive that bottle of gin pictured at the top, as well as a Gordon (get it?) Ramsey cookbook, which I’ve yet to try.