July 2, 2015, Posted by Tom in Books, Food

9 great bookish quotes about booze

You like a drink, we like a drink, and most authors certainly like a drink. So let’s raise a glass and enjoy 9 great book-related(ish) quotes about booze…











February 5, 2015, Posted by Tom in Books, Culture, Food

James Wong’s 5 tips to superpower your food

James Wong certainly knows his stuff about eating well. As the author of bestselling books such as Grow Your Own Drugs and Homegrown Revolution, and presenter of programmes such as BBC2’s award-winning Grow Your Own Drugs and Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time, he’s the man you need if you’re looking to improve your diet and give your health a boost.

James has got a new book out in March, the rather brilliant Grow for Flavour, and he’s been kind enough to give us a bit of a preview of what to expect. Here are a few simple tips from James to help superpower your fruit and veg….


Simply not boiling carrots, cooking them any other way, can make them up to 25% sweeter and more nutritious according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. If you don’t fancy roasting, baking or steaming, try boiling them whole and slicing them after, to ensure flavour and nutrients are not lost to the cooking water.

Want to go one better? Try growing the almost pitch black ‘Purple Sun’ carrots, whose intense colour stems from the same antioxidant pigments that give red wine and blueberries their purported health benefits. Not only that, but they are also sweeter and just as easy to grow.


Storing these fruit on the counter (instead of in the fridge) for a few days triggers chemical reactions that will make them more fragrant, brighter in colour and higher in antioxidants. In one Canadian study, strawberries stored at 20C for four days experienced a whopping 700% increase in their flavour compounds. Be warned that these reactions will not take place at lower temperatures though, so avoid the fridge at all costs.


Hailed as a ‘superfood’ for their antioxidant content, what most non-geeks don’t know about blueberries is that their content of these health promoting compounds varies dramatically between varieties. The homegrown variety ‘Rubel’, for example, delivers three times the antioxidant payload of supermarket staple ‘Bluecrop’. With these easy to grow plants kicking out up to 6kg of crop a year (worth £80 in supermarkets) its a real no brainer.

The best bit? One trial has found that lightly cooking blueberries (for example in pie) doubles their absorbable antioxidant content. Talk about having your pie and eating it.


Popping store-bought mushrooms on a windowsill for just a few hours can result in over x10 increase in their Vitamin D content. When exposed to the UV light from the sun, a chemical known as ergosterol is converted into Vitamin D2, with just 30-60 minutes anytime between 10am to 3pm capable of making a measurable difference. Placing them with the gills side facing up can spike this even further. A nutritional supercharge for zero work.


Unbelievably spraying a dilute aspirin solution onto tomato plants (we are talking 1/2 a soluble tablet per litre of water) is capable of causing their sugar content to soar one and a half times and boost their Vitamin C content 50%. This treatment can even make your plants more resistant to cold, drought and, not that we’ll ever need it in the UK, heat stress. This works as aspirin is a close chemical copy of the plant stress hormone, salicylic acid, which turns on the genes that regulate their immune system. The more stress a plant ‘thinks’ it is under the more sugars that it sends to the fruit to ensure they are eaten and their seeds dispersed to save the next generation.

Jwong coverGrow for Flavour by James Wong is published by Octopus on March 5th.
Find out more here

January 20, 2015, Posted by Richard in Baking Bad, Food

Baking Bad – Man V Fat special

Many’s the time I’ve found myself standing by the sandwich isle, wondering whether to have cheese and pickle or egg and cress, or in fact whether I’d rather cheese, pickle, egg and cress were to all join forces, smack me round the chops and tell me to go make something myself.

Luckily, with the help of the excellent new MAN V FAT book, and accompanied by blue-eyed pork-pie fancier, Thomas Noble, that’s exactly what I did. The three recipes we tried out were couscous salad with roasted vegetables, Miso soup, and Halloumi, Beetroot and Spinach (I’m a vegetarian, ok? But there are some delicious sounding meaty recipes in there too).

The required ingredients for these three glorious recipes. Bang. Look at all those colours (ignoring the Flake desert and Pringles, which were mainly there for moral support).

I’m a tofu crumbler. There, I’ve said it. Does look quite disgusting, but the flavours!! Enhances any Miso.

sliced veg
Have you ever seen such a cornucopia of sliced health? No, you haven’t.

stirring soup
Noble stirs the Miso Soup. He’s apprensive about tofu because it isn’t served in pastry and/or with gravy.

all done
A triumvirate of delicious nutritiousness. All exceptionally quick and easy to make, with pretty simple ingredients. And good for you! What more could you want?

eating soup
Caught post-slurp (thanks Noble), I tuck into the warming and flavoursome Miso Soup.

Couscous and roasted veg meets halloumi, spinach and beetoot. And the rest is history.

So there you have it. Never again should you have to stand in the kitchen at work pretending you’re excited about the watery soup rotating in the microwave. Check out Andrew Shanahan‘s Man V Fat and get some proper healthy grub down your gullets. Using a three-step guide, it’ll help you understand why you got fat in the first place, how to then tackle the flab, and how to create a lasting winning structure. It’s also got tips on which diet is right for you, nutrition advice, plus exercise and fitness plans. Basically everything you need to kick your beer belly’s ass.


Man V Fat: The Weight Loss Manual is out now! For more on the book and for no-nonsense weight loss tips and support, visit manvfat.com

October 29, 2014, Posted by Tom in Culture, Food

London’s best beers and pubs

Des De Moor is a beer expert, and has compiled the UK section of the Pocket Beer Book, 2nd edition: The indispensable guide to the world’s best craft & traditional beers. So he knows his stuff. Luckily for us, he’s picked out some of London’s best beers and pubs for you to enjoy. If you’re not based in London, you should be able to pick these beers up from your local beer specialist. Over to Des…

London has retained its place as one of the greatest cities in the world for many centuries, but until recently the envious inhabitants of the English provinces could still look on us Londoners with pity when it came to beer.

150 years ago, London was the international beer capital, the place where industrial brewing was pioneered and where the first two global beer styles, porter and India pale ale, were invented. But in the 20th century the fortunes of London brewers plunged, nearly all the historic breweries closed, and new microbrewers struggled to establish themselves.

The last few years have witnessed an unforeseen and quite astonishing turnaround. The closure of Young’s, one of the capital’s two surviving historic independents, in 2006 spurred a few new entrants to fire up their mash tuns, while a handful of enterprising licensees started reinventing the specialist beer pub .

This coincided with a growing consumer interest in localism and good quality, flavoursome local products from small producers, and the appearance of a younger generation of beer explorers inspired by the innovative and eclectic approach of US craft brewing.

From 2011 the trickle of beer-focused startups began to grow into a torrent. Now, rather than the nine commercial breweries operating in London in 2006, there are over 60. Countless new specialist beer pubs and bars have opened, existing places have expanded their ranges, and restaurants and boutique wine shops have been stocking up on London-brewed ‘craft beer’.

London beers are now appearing on London bars with a ubiquity and frequency unseen since the 1970s, and the quality and variety on offer is almost certainly the best it’s ever been.

As the author of The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, I’ve had the rewarding challenge of chronicling this expansion. The first edition was published in 2011, just as things were starting to change, and I’m currently working on a second edition for 2014 – which will pretty much be a complete rewrite.

Picking just five beers and five places to drink from London’s current abundance has been a tall order, so this is a sampling rather than a definitive list, with the venues focusing primarily on beer range.

I agonised over leaving out Partizan, Truman’s, Fuller’s pubs (the Red Lion in Barnes and the Star in Belgravia are my recommendations to enjoy their cask beers in top condition) and Antic and Barworks venues. The lists are in alphabetical rather than merit order.

Five great London beers

Beavertown Applelation 8.7%

Founded in 2011 in a pub kitchen by Logan Plant, son of Led Zeppelin’s Robert, this is a continually improving cutting edge brewery that’s already outgrown its premises twice. A wood aged, naturally conditioned strong ale made with saison yeast and local apples and packaged in big bottles, Appelation is one of their most extraordinary beers, full of yeasty and fruity complexity with notes of rhubarb tart and cream.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale 8.5%

London’s last remaining historic independent is a keystone of the city’s brewing scene: it far-sightedly supported new startups rather than viewing them with suspicion. Picking just one of its many beers was hard – dry-hopped cask session bitter Chiswick was a strong contender. But the annually issued bottle conditioned barley wine Vintage Ale is truly a world classic, rich with earthy and peppery English flavours when young, and maturing over several years into a luscious, port-tinged delight that will raise your expectations of how good beer can get.

The Kernel Export Stout 1890 7.8%

Kernel became a key player in the London beer renaissance by challenging ideas of what London brewing could be about back in 2009, and founding what’s now a cluster of new breweries in Bermondsey. It built its firm reputation on the twin pillars of US-style pale ales fresh with floral hops and strong porters and stouts based on historic recipes, like this one. Based on an old Truman beer, this is a nod to London’s brewing heritage as well as a stunning beer with weighty coffee, chocolate, blackcurrant and liquorice flavours and pursing bitterness on a long finish.

Redemption Trinity 3%

Alongside Kernel one of the early leaders of the new generation of London brewers, founded in 2010, Redemption has proved adept at satisfying both traditional cask ale drinkers and more youthful craft beer fans with its approachable but distinctive range. Pale cask ale Trinity is a minor miracle, with three malts, three hop varieties and a wealth of flavour packed into only 3% ABV: chaffy grains, chewy bitter resins and hints of rose and tropical fruit.

Pressure Drop Wu Gang Chops the Tree 3.8%

Opened in a shed in Stoke Newington in 2013, this brewery soon moved to bigger premises in Hackney – with good reason given the quality of beers like Wu Gang, an unusual and very drinkable wheat beer with locally foraged herbs. There’s no room here to explain the Chinese legend behind the name, so you can google it while enjoying the beer’s herbal, citric and fennel-like aroma and soft spicy palate with delicate and refreshing orange notes.


Five great London beer pubs and bars

Cock Tavern 315 Mare Street E8 1EJ, thecocktavern.co.uk

I could have picked the celebrated Southampton Arms NW5, groundbreaking when it reopened in 2009 as an ale and cider house dedicated to small and often local producers, and still well worth a visit. The Cock, a long-neglected wood-panelled former Truman’s pub, was reinvented by the same management in 2012 and is just a good – as well as being less crowded, offering a wider range of beer and having its own brewery, Howling Hops, in the cellar.

Craft Beer Co Islington 55 White Lion Street N1 9PP, thecraftbeerco.com/pubs/Islington

Another early entrant among the new guard of beer bars was the Cask Pub and Kitchen SW1, which gave birth to a small chain of beer specialists under the Craft Beer Co name. All of these offer a dazzling range of cask and keg beer and fridges full of rare delights from Belgium, Scandinavia and the USA. Of London’s five branches, each highly recommendable, I favour Islington’s as it’s the most expansively pubby and relaxing.

Hope 48 West Street SM5 2PR, hopecarshalton.co.uk

Bought out in 2010 by a community interest company formed by locals to prevent it being turned into a restaurant, the Hope has gone from strength to strength. It has expanded its beer range to encompass regularly changing craft keg and bottles as well as more cask beer, and has won numerous awards. Yes, it’s in the suburbs, but near a station with a good service and well worth a visit for its mix of beer interest and the atmosphere of a proper community local.

Rake 14 Winchester Walk SE1 9AG, @Rakebar

Opened in 2006 in a former greasy spoon caff, this tiny Borough Market hangout is now something of a veteran. While new arrivals have long since eclipsed its beer range, it holds its place as an essential drop-in on the international craft beer circuit thanks to expert and well-connected management. Check out the star gallery of brewer autographs on the walls as well as the always-interesting range.

Wanstead Tap 352 Winchelsea Road E7 0AQ, thewansteadtap.co.uk

Upending the image of the traditional pub as the most appropriate environment for enjoying great beer are places like this: a family-friendly bottle shop, bar and events venue among car repairers in a railway arch round the corner from Wanstead Flats. Mother Kelly’s E2 is doing something similar but more slickly in a bigger arch at Bethnal Green, and almost made this list, but the Tap boasts a more personal touch and a great local selection in an unexpected location.

pocket book beer

As well as writing London’s definitive beer guide, Des compiles the UK section of The Pocket Beer Book, writes for numerous other publications, hosts tutored tastings, leads brewery history walks and judges beer in worldwide competitions. For more visit http://desdemoor.co.uk, like the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/londonsbestbeer or follow him on Twitter @desdemoor.

October 23, 2014, Posted by Richard in Baking Bad, Culture, Food, Recipes

Baking Bad – Paul Hollywood special

As soon as a copy of Paul Hollywood’s new tome slammed onto the MWSAB desk, we were eagerly thumbing through it, deciding what slice of gold we were going to bake the hell out of. And, gosh-darn it, when even the Silver Fox himself demanded we document the process, it was clear this called for another round of BAKING BAD.

Since our last adventure, Tom Noble had seen fit to leave behind his ‘characterful’ Islington flat for some delightful new lodgings in London’s exotic Crouch End.

‘It’s like a Spanish Villa!’ Ben Willis spluttered, washing the tobacco and more miscellaneous filth from his fingers as he prepared to cook.

‘Tell me about it,’ Tom rejoined, thrusting cans of lager into the fridge and inexplicably spreading plain flour on top of the dishwasher.

Tom flours the dishwasher

Bakewell Pudding

With compliments offered and filthy fingers scrubbed, it was time to crack open a can and get bloody baking.

Sweat coursing down his cheek and into the gap where he accidentally shaved without the guard on his razor, Tom grappled manfully with the puff pastry. Before long the top of his dishwasher was adorned with a golden crown. Mesmerised, I watched him inserting it into a cake tin with the care and affection of a young lad applying glue to his first Spitfire Airfix kit.

The pastry placed, it was now time for me to shine. After a brief debate about what’s a dessert spoon and what’s a table spoon, I dutifully dolloped some raspberry jam into the mix. Textbook.

Wearied by our exertions, we stuck the brute into the fridge (post-lager removal), and headed to the soft embrace of the lounge area to watch a beleaguered Liverpool stretched apart by Real Madrid like the very pastry we had just been manipulating.

Half-time, and back to the kitchen. It was time to whack the rest of the ingredients into a bowl. Wham! No bother. Cristiano Ronaldo might have an extraordinary goalscoring record in the champions league, but by God I’d be surprised if he could combine eggs and milk this well. Mixture now added to the cooled jam and pastry party, it was time to bang the whole thing into a pre-heated oven and let that bad boy bake.

photo 2
They call me the dollop king (unfortunately)



Ben Willis may have turned up an hour late after taking the wrong train, having to take solace in a nearby kebab shop as the kindly proprietors juiced his iPhone5 and offered him cigarettes, but that wasn’t going to hinder him, especially after Tom and I had already sorted out the mixture.

To describe the breathtaking dexterity with which he fingered the dough is nigh on impossible. He reminded me of a master-puppeteer, who, with a flick of his pinkie, could create such nuanced changes in his puppets’ movements as to make us think those wooden sods were real.

photo 3
A master at work

Later, we crowded around the oven like excited kiddiewinks on Christmas morn. Had Santa been? You better believe it. The golden treats which awaited us in that piping prison were nothing short of basically edible. Tom in particular was so taken aback by the sight and smell of the slightly charred pastry that he became overcome with nostalgia for his northern childhood. Proust had his madeleines, Noble had his Bakewell Pudding.

Bidding our host and, dare I say it – friend – adieu, Ben and I hastened out into the night. We shivered against the chill, hurrying past a dimly lit Londis on the way to the bus stop. But whilst the night air did its best to infiltrate our coats, it was powerless against the warm glow that throbbed in our hearts.

Quite simply, we had baked our little socks off.

photo 5
Finished article 1: Bakewell Pudding

photo 4
Finished article 2: Jumbles

Both of these actually turned out really rather well, and there are some excellent recipes in this beautifully produced book. Whether you fancy tackling some of Paul’s brilliant British recipes for yourself, or need some early Christmas-shopping inspiration, we heartily recommend you part with your dosh for this one.

PHBB packshot

Paul Hollywood’s British Baking is out now from Bloomsbury

October 22, 2014, Posted by Tom in Food, Recipes

Autumn Recipes from John Whaite and Tony Singh

It’s getting cold, leaves are falling, it’s nearly time for the yellow ball, and people are already talking about Christmas. But the good thing about this time of year is the food – we’re all about keeping warm with hearty stews, pies, roasts, the lot. If you’re looking for something new to cook, try these bloody lovely autumn recipes from Bake Off legend John Whaite and one half of the Incredible Spice Men, Tony Singh…

John Whaite‘s ‘Packed Macaroni Cheese’

This is perfect if prepared the day before and baked when required. Those of a delicate disposition should stop reading now, because I have to serve this with a ferociously hot chilli sauce – the type you’d expect to find in a kebab shop.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 12.45.58

Serves 8

500g macaroni pasta
1 tsp olive oil
6 chestnut mushrooms,
finely sliced
4 rashers unsmoked back bacon, chopped into 1cm chunks
25ml vodka
4 spring onions, finely chopped
6 asparagus spears, chopped into 1cm chunks
1/2 small can sweetcorn
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
For the sauce
1 and 1/2 tbsp butter
1 and 1/2 tbsp plain flour
650ml milk
250g Epoisses cheese, cut into small chunks (if unavailable, use a good Brie de Meaux)
70g Stilton cheese, cut into small chunks
100g strong Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tsp truffle oil

Essential equipment
Deep baking tray/dish of about 30 Σ 20 cm/12 Σ 8 inches

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas 6.
2. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add a tablespoon of salt then plunge in the pasta and boil for 7 minutes. Drain the pasta, discarding the salty water.
3. Place a frying pan over a medium heat and add the oil. Add the chestnut mushrooms and bacon and fry, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is cooked through and the mushrooms are soft. Add the vodka, spring onions, asparagus and sweetcorn, and fry for just a minute more. Remove from the heat and toss together with the pasta, salt and pepper. Put in the baking tray.
4. To make the sauce, put the butter in a medium saucepan and set over a high heat. Once the butter has melted, beat in the flour to make a thick brown goo. On the heat, add the milk about 200ml at a time, whisking very well after each addition. Allow the sauce to come to the boil and thicken, still stirring, then reduce the heat to low and stir in the cheese, though reserve a quarter of the Cheddar for topping. Mix these in until they melt into the sauce, then stir in the truffle oil.
5. Pour the sauce over the pasta, bacon and vegetables, ensuring they are well covered. Sprinkle the remaining grated Cheddar over the top, then bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the cheese sauce is bubbling and the pasta on top is cheesy and slightly crispier.

JOHN WHAITE BAKES AT HOME is out now in hardback and ebook

Also, John has created an amazing collection of Halloween recipes with his partner, Paul Atkins. Find out more and download the recipes here. They’re ruddy brilliant.


Tony Singh‘s baked sausages with apples, mushroom and beer gravy

This is a ‘toad-in-the-hole’ of epic flavour. When I was growing up, my mum used to make this for tea but it was never called ‘toad-in-the-hole’. So when I was having tea at a friend’s house one afternoon, I was so excited when he told me we were having this exotic- and weird-sounding dish called ‘toad-in-the-hole’. How deflated was I when it was just baked sausages… When I got home I had words with my mum, asking her to explain why it wasn’t called that in our family. The only explanation I got was that the name made her squeamish – as if we would ever have had toads in the house!

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 12.48.31Serves 6

rapeseed oil
50g butter
8 large good-quality pork sausages
8 fresh thyme sprigs
2 Russet apples, peeled cored and cut into chunks
1 Bramley apple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks half the size of the Russet ones
2 tbsp chopped parsley, to garnish

3 eggs
280ml full-fat milk
100g plain flour, sifted
pinch of salt

splash of vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
250g Spanish onions, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper
1 tbsp treacle
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
600ml ale of your choice (I would use Eighty Shilling or any good brown ale)
600ml strong chicken stock, or chicken stock cube(s) dissolved in 600ml water
4–6 large portabello mushrooms, sliced
1½ tsp cornfl our mixed with 3 tbsp cold water

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6. Mix the batter ingredients together and put in the fridge.
2. Pour 1cm rapeseed oil into a 20 x 25cm baking tin, then place this on the middle shelf of your oven. Place tin foil on the shelf below to catch any oil or batter that come over the top.
3. Put a splash of oil in a heavy-based frying pan and when it is hot add the butter and brown the sausages all over then take them out of the pan. Take the tin out of the oven – the oil should be smoking – and place your sausages, thyme and apple in it. Carefully pour over the batter; it will bubble and possibly even spit a little, so be careful. Gently put the tin back in the oven and bake for 25–30 minutes. Don’t open the door for at least 20 minutes, so as not to ruin the batter – it can be a bit temperamental when rising. Remove from the oven when golden and crisp.
4. For the gravy, heat a fi lm of oil in a heavy-based pan and fry the garlic and onion till soft. Add salt and pepper and turn up the heat. Assoon as the onions take on some colour, add the treacle and Worcestershire and cook for 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the beer and bubble until reduced to a syrup, then add the stock, bring to the boil and add the mushrooms. Reduce to a simmer and reduce by half then stir in the cornfl our mixture and bring to boil. Season and serve with the sausages.

TASTY by Tony Singh is out now in hardback and ebook

August 19, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Food

A Life in Whisky – How Ian Buxton became a whisky expert

Picture the scene: it’s winter. It’s cold outside, and the rain is hammering down. But you’re inside, sat on a comfy armchair (possibly leather, it’s up to you) by a roaring fire, and you’re sipping on a fine dram. Nice isn’t it?

We love a good whisky, and we like to pretend we know what we’re talking about when it comes to picking out the good ones, but we really don’t. Luckily, we know a man who does. With the latest book in his hugely successful 101 Whiskies series (101 Legendary Whiskies You’re Dying to Try But (Possibly) Never Will) available now, author Ian Buxton explains just how he became a whisky expert…

I started working in whisky by accident. We were living in London and working for a brewery company when my wife and I decided to bring our young family back to Scotland where we had grown up. I wanted to stay in the brewing industry but there were no jobs available so I opted for a position with a whisky blender instead.

I loved it! Within two years I had joined one of Scotland’s top single malts as their Marketing Director and some while after that set up my own consultancy business in brand development (I still do some of that). Then another accident – I was asked to write an article for the launch of Whisky Magazine. They liked that and asked for more, and then more. I still write for them and a number of other magazines as well these days.

So that led to more and more writing and eventually my first book. Along the way I set up an industry conference, imaginatively called the World Whiskies Conference; bought a derelict distillery (just a small one and very derelict, I really wanted the house next door but the distillery came with it); wrote some more books including the first in the 101 Whiskies series, which surprised and pleased us all with how very well it sold and generally got myself into the position where people paid me to do things that I enjoyed.

I wish I could tell you that there was a cunning master plan, but it started by accident and carried on in much the same way, with the odd incident along the way. Hard though it is to credit now, whisky was pretty much in the doldrums when I started, with vodka and white run (OK, Bacardi) very much the fashionable choice. They still sell lots, of course, but in the last few years whisky – all sorts, not just Scotch – has become incredibly chic once again, with many younger drinkers and female drinkers acquiring the taste. The level of consumer knowledge is impressive, or, if I’m being honest, sometimes quite frightening – it keeps me on my toes!

The great thing about the industry is its history, depth, heritage, international appeal and inherent sociability (that’s several great things). While companies do compete, they do so in a well-mannered way and it’s not unknown for a distillery to help out a rival if a vital piece of equipment breaks down. There’s a friendly community of writers and, today, enthusiastic bloggers who meet at industry tasting events, compare notes and pass on news and gossip. Generally, lots of gossip goes down well with a dram or three.

I really believe that 101 Legendary Whiskies is the best in the series. It’s got the most varied stories, the greatest characters and the most depth (don’t let this put you off buying the first two if you haven’t already!). I greatly enjoyed writing it and was able to explore some wider themes and issues. It isn’t just for ‘whisky buffs’; I think anyone who likes a good story can dip in and find something they’ll enjoy.

I couldn’t have written it without a life steeped in whisky and I hope that you can share the pleasure it’s given to me.

Follow Ian on Twitter: @101Whiskies

And watch Ian discuss 101 Legendary Whiskies You’re Dying to Try But (Possibly) Never Will

And you can buy the book HERE. Happy drinking!

June 11, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Books, Food

Whisky gifts for Dad this Father’s Day

Father’s Day is just a few days away, so what better to get the old man than a delicious bottle of the golden liquid to warm his heart?

Ian Buxton, author of the best-selling 101 WHISKIES TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE and the follow-up 101 WORLD WHISKIES TO TRY BEFORE YOU DIE has chosen 3 top tipples that are guaranteed to make your father’s day. (Or just buy him the books so he can choose his own).
The below whiskies are taken from Ian’s 101 LEGENDARY WHISKIES YOU’RE DYING TO TRY BUT (POSSIBLY) NEVER WILL, which is published in August.

green spot

Green Spot (Ireland)

This is a living legend – a coelacanth of whisky. Let’s salute Mitchell’s of Dublin, a traditional wine merchant of the old school who, when all others had abandoned the pot still legacy of Irish whiskey, kept the flame burning. A flickering flame, it’s true, because at the nadir of its fortunes a mere 500 cases a year were being produced and there remained a constant threat that Irish Distillers would decide that such tiny volumes were not worth the effort, especially considering the scale of their Midleton distillery operations.

Fortunately a small but well-informed group of enthusiasts continued to buy this wonderful whiskey from Mitchell’s, despite packaging that until its recent revamp was decidedly downbeat (pay attention marketing types: this suggests that some people do at least care more about what’s in the bottle than how it looks on the shelf). This was the last of an all-but-forgotten style – the merchant’s bottling. At one time, most independent wine and spirit merchants would have had their own whiskey – with the slow demise of Irish whiskey that continued until very recently, almost all of these had been lost. Even Mitchell’s had trimmed the range from Blue, Red and Yellow Spot to just the Green.

And then its fortunes changed. Irish Distillers (IDL), sensing the success of their Redbreast brand and seeing the interest and growing sales of single malt Scotch, determined that Irish pot still whiskey was overdue a revival. So, to the acclaim of whiskey lovers, they worked with Mitchell’s to re-launch Yellow Spot in May 2012 as a 12-year-old and gave both styles a packaging makeover. I’ll grudgingly admit that it looks rather smart.

Along with this, IDL have launched their own revivalist pot still whiskies such as the Power’s John’s Lane Edition and added a 21-year-old to Redbreast. Irish distilling is generally storming back into life and once again representing real competition in global whisky markets. And a good thing it is, too.

If you visit Dublin, you should try and visit Mitchell’s and buy your bottle there. It’s more widely available than ever and growing in popularity, but it is only fitting that – if you can – you go to the source and reward their patience and persistence.
Just to whet your appetite a little, I’d describe this as a very distinctive whiskey with a lovely waxy, oily, mouth-coating impact. The nose suggests greengage jam and the taste gives honey, mint, cloves, wood notes and lots of spice.


Highland Park (Scotland)

I have a very great fondness for Orkney and for Highland Park. It’s one of my favourite distilleries and a whisky that I love for its apparent ability to fit appropriately into almost any occasion.

All the range is good but if you feel like splashing some serious cash then there are two 50-year-old expressions available to you. The first was distilled in 1902 (imagine that!) and was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd in 1952. The second was released by the distillery itself in 2010.

Technically, the BB&R bottling is not legally whisky, as bottles were tested by Oxford University and shown to be very slightly under-strength at 39.8% abv*. I wouldn’t turn it down on those grounds, though. The 2010 release comes in at 44.8%, so that’s all right then.
Comparing the two bottles (the bottles, not the contents) tells you something about how whisky has changed in the last 60 years. The 1952 bottling is in, well, a standard tall round bottle with a paper label. And that’s it.

The latest release, however, comes in a special bottle, itself encased in a filigree of silver created by Scottish artist Maeve Gillies, designed to remind you of strands of seaweed. It is then placed in a custom-made oak box with a porthole through which you glimpse the bottle. If you drink enough of the whisky (and what’s stopping you tearing right into it?) you will glimpse a rose window design on the rear of the sandstone Highland Park logo.

All this comes at a cost, though. While you can still find the last few of the Berry Bros.’ bottles in specialists at around £7,500, the ‘new’ 50 Years Old was launched at £10,000 and has appreciated since.
If you can’t find a bottle, you’ll have to wait until 2014 for the next release.

All this is wonderful stuff and Highland Park is truly a very special and wonderful place. I do have one slight concern, however, and that is the number and pace of recent ‘collectable’ releases. It would be easy to overestimate the demand for this type of thing and – it may just be me – the latest editions based on Norse Gods seem a trifle contrived. Probably is me; they seem to sell we’ll enough.

They aren’t Gods but, back in 1883, the King of Denmark and his pal the Russian Emperor determined Highland Park’s whisky ‘the finest they had ever tasted’. Who am I to disagree?

Yamazaki (Japan)

Yamazaki 12 Years Old was the first Japanese single malt of any international significance. Based on its success, the company has gone on to release a considerable range of single malts and blends (notably the multi-award-winning Hibiki).

But should Shinjiro Torii or Masataka Taketsuru be considered as the father of Japanese whisky? Both have their claims, though Taketsuru is probably the stronger candidate. There had been earlier attempts to manufacture whisky in Japan but Taketsuru travelled to Scotland in 1918, studied briefly in Glasgow and obtained practical experience at Longmorn, Bo’ness and Hazelburn distilleries before returning home. It had been intended that he would start a Scotch-whisky-style distillery in Japan but these plans failed to materialise and he joined Shinjiro Torii in 1922.

Torii had prospered during WW1 and was equally determined to produce a high-quality whisky, so hired Taketsuru on generous terms with the aim of establishing a distillery on the Scottish model. This was opened at Yamazaki in November 1924 and is generally considered the first Japanese whisky distillery – perhaps predictably, Suntory tend to credit Torii with the choice of the site, while other commentators give the more experienced Taketsuru the credit. Today it is probably the best-known of the Japanese distilleries here in the West and its whiskies can be found in most specialists and even some supermarkets.

Together they launched the first recognised Japanese whisky, Shirofuda (White Label), but they parted company in 1934 when Taketsuru resigned to start his own operation at what became the Yoichi distillery. Today the two firms they created, Suntory and Nikka, are the dominant players in Japanese whisky.

Understandably, the firm’s website tends to play down Masataka Taketsuru’s role in the creation of Yamazaki and the birth of Japanese whisky, in favour of their own man Shinjiro Torii, but my feeling is that they deserve joint billing as whisky legends. Their creation, after a faltering start, has gone on to well-deserved international renown. Indeed Suntory have a powerful presence in Scotch whisky through their ownership of Morrison Bowmore (several of whose whiskies appear here) and they are a global force in whisky today.*

I think we can salute Yamazaki 12 Years Old as a legend in its own right and a symbol of Japanese whisky’s new-found confidence.