Archive by Author | vivdevlin

Cotswolds Dry London Gin – oozing the floral scent of an English summer spiced up with international creativity, passion and finesse

There are many old jokes which begin with “An Englishman, a Scotsman and an Irishman walk into a pub…”  

This story is about an American, an Italian and an Australian who went further than walking into a bar for a pint, G&T or dram ….but are the creative entrepreneurs behind the Cotswolds Distillery. 

A native New Yorker, Daniel Szor had worked for many years as a hedge-fund manager in London, enjoying weekend escapes from the city with his family in the rural tranquility of the Cotswolds.  With an avid interest in Scotch Whisky, he also frequently toured distilleries across the Highlands and Islands, where on a trip to Islay he purchased his first cask of whisky from the Bruichladdich Distillery.

This rich sense of heritage and provenance gave Szor the spiritual spark and vision to launch his own Gin and Whisky distillery in the Cotswolds, the first in the region. Step One: an Institute of Brewing and Distilling Course at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh.

Founded in 1821, Heriot Watt is renowned for pioneering research informed by the global needs of business and industry. ‘International University of the Year 2018’ by The Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide.

Here he met Nickolas Franchino whose Italian family produced artisan spirits and liqueurs, and sharing Daniel’s passion was invited to join the team of experts at the new Distillery.  Paul Beckwith from Australia, with a doctorate in organic chemistry and a financial background, assisted on crowdfunding investment and is now Director of Strategy.  

Located on a five-acre site at Shipston-on-Stour, The Cotswolds Distillery opened in July 2014, the first in the region. This is at the heart of the farming community which gave the Cotswolds its name – ‘cot’ meaning sheep enclosure and ‘wold’ meaning hill.

Cotswolds Distillery, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire

The art and science of alchemy was now central to crafting the special recipe for its London Dry Gin which is distilled from nine carefully selected botanicals: juniper berries from Macedonia, coriander seed from Morocco and angelica root from Poland are macerated for twenty four hours in pure grain spirit.  Then a fruity, spicy mix of Egyptian bay leaves, hand-peeled fresh lime, the zest of pink grapefruit, cardamom seed, black peppercorn and local lavender from Snowshill.

Cotswolds Lavender, Snowshill, near Broadway

Following tradition, the copper Holstein Still has been given a female name, Dolly. Natural Cotswolds water is used to bring the distilled spirit down from 80% ABV to bottling strength – a serious 46% ABV. 

Dolly the Gin Still, Cotswolds Distillery

This artisan, non-chill filtered, craft gin has around ten times the volume of botanicals than standard, – “this quantity ensures a really robust gin”, explains Nick Franchino. The release of a high proportion of essential oils creates a pearly cloudiness –  known as louche – when ice or tonic is added.  Just like the liqueurs, Ouzo and Pastis.

The classy, chunky dark green bottle is individually labelled with the batch number and Daniel Szor’s signature. A neat tag around the neck gives an appetising description of the botanicals. And so time to uncork, taste and test, sip and sample Cotswolds Dry Gin.  

The Taste Test:

On the nose, it has the most distinctive earthy and herbal aroma, as if you are on a woodland walk evoking a whiff of pine cones, tree bark and wild flowers. 

The first sip conjures up the juicy juniper berries with a tongue-tingling, spicy kick from the black pepper and coriander. This quickly mellows with the sharp citrus zestiness, sweet notes of parma violets and fresh lavender fragrance.  

There is a luscious, lingering aftertaste, accentuating the blend of the sweet-spice botanicals. The complex textured layers with a subtle yet rich depth of flavour is so well balanced in harmony with a beautifully smooth finish.

The high oil content from the botanicals makes this a premium quality gin fine to sip neat and it’s superb just drizzled over a large ice cube.  This softens the juniper earthiness to offer a crisp, clean citrus fruit and delicate floral taste. 

Cotswolds Gin and Tonic with pink grapefruit

It’s fun to pour a G&T and watch the misty cloud appearing in the clear spirit.  Fever Tree Aromatic Tonic is a good choice as well as a garnish of a slice of pink grapefruit or lime.  Other suggestions are a fresh bay leaf, or if you like spice, a dash of black pepper.

As the gin has such a distinctive flavour, try not to drown with a mixer to experience the true taste of the G rather than the T.  

One of my favourite all time cocktails is a classic, Gin Martini. The Mixologist at the Cotswolds Disillery is Oliver Morris, who has concocted a few modern cocktails and revamped the classics

 Martini,

  • 75ml Cotswolds Dry Gin
  • 15ml dry vermouth

Add the gin and vermouth to a mixing jar and fill with ice. Give it a good stir, 14 or 15 times, before fine straining into a chilled martini glass.  Add a twist of pink grapefruit peel, although an olive is also an ideal garnish.

Cotswolds Extra Dry Martini – deliciously delectable

Dry vermouth is made from aromatized wine with herbs, barks, flowers, seeds, spices such as cardamom, coriander, juniper, ginger and citrus peel.  Therefore, Cotswolds Gin is almost designed to partner a Martini perfectly and it hits the spot with such extra dry, elegant style. Simply, delectable.

To complement the tangy grapegruit and lime of the gin, this is ideal in the bittersweet, citrus-infused Negroni.

Negroni.

  • 25ml Cotswolds Dry Gin
  • 25ml Campari Bitters
  • 25ml Sweet Vermouth

Place all ingredients into an ice-filled, old fashioned glass, stir & serve with twist of grapefruit peel or orange.

This is a straight up, no fuss mix of the perfect sweet vermouth, Campari & luxurious freshness of the gin. Oliver Morris

Cotswolds Negroni

The website has a section on Cocktails including light summertime tipples such as the refreshing Cotswolds Gin & Mint Rickey, rather like a twist on a Mojito.  Cotswolds Garden – a variation of a White Linen – is a fruity blend of elderflower liqueur, lime and apple juice, served with cucumber, which sounds positively healthy.! 

Cotswolds Garden Summer cocktail

Handcrafted in small batches, this is a most sophisticated, superior Gin, reflecting the natural beauty, heritage and fresh, floral scent of the Cotswolds – with a creative dash of international finesse. Like French wine, it’s the ‘terroir’, the local landscape which gives a unique, authentic character to this truly Outstanding Natural Spirit.

No wonder that Cotswolds Dry Gin has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Taste Master accolade at the Gin Masters, Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2019 and named World’s Best London Dry Gin at the World Gin Awards.

The Production Director, Nickolas Franchino, has recently been awarded the honour of Master Distiller by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling… the world’s highest level of recognition in the technical management of the production process, knowledge, experience and putting science into action.

“I am really looking forward to continuing with my distilling journey at Cotswolds Distillery and creating new and exciting expressions.” Nick Franchino.

 “This is an incredible achievement and we are incredibly proud of Nick’s hard work and study to achieve professional distilling qualifications.” Daniel Szor.

Cotswolds Dry Gin: RRP: £34.95 for a 70cl bottle. ABV: 46% 

Purchase on line from the distillery: https://www.cotswoldsdistillery.com/products/cotswolds-dry-gin

Stockists: Waitrose, Majestic, Oddbins, Laithwaites, Harvey Nichols,

The Cotswolds Distillery Visitor Centre has a shop selling a range of gin. whisky, rum, liqueurs and gifs, Exhibition gallery and Cafe. Tours, Tastings and Masterclasses – book on line, private group tours available.

The Cotswolds Distillery,
Phillip’s Field,  Whichford Road,
Stourton, Shipston-on-Stour
CV36 5EX

E: info@cotswoldsdistillery.com
E: tours@cotswoldsdistillery.com

The Cotswolds is best reached by car with free parking on site. The nearest train station is Banbury station where Taxis are available.

Read more about the Cotswolds Distillery in this new book, Spirit Guide: In Search of an Authentic Life by Daniel Szor. (2020). This autobiography tracks his journey from life and times in New York. a thirty year financial career, all the way through to when he opened the doors to in the Cotswolds Distillery in 2014.

Cotswolds Distillery Visitor Centre – tours, tastings, masterclasses, shop and cafe

Artistic Licence: Still Life paintings by Ian Mastin present a banquet of fruit, cheese, brandy and wine with classic style.

This most inspiring exhibition of Still Life paintings opened on Saturday 3rd April, 2021 at “Art on Cairncross”, Maleny, Queensland, Australia.

The good news is that the artwork is also now available as an online exhibition in the UK, through select galleries such as The Torrance Gallery, Ian Mastin’s exclusive agent in Edinburgh.

The concept of a physical exhibition in Australia accompanied simultaneously by the same exhibition online in the UK was not something I’d ever have considered pre-COVID – an experimental endeavour.”

Ian Mastin

Ian Mastin was born in England before his family later emigrated to Australia. With no formal training, he enjoyed sketching for recreation, and when living in Scotland for over a decade, he began to study artistic technique and styles, and is now a full time, professional artist, based in Queensland.

Known in French as Nature Morte, Still Life paintings are a stylised arrangement of objects on a table, such as fruit, flowers, glassware and textiles. 

It really is extraordinary to compare Mastin’s exceptional natural talent and skill with the 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish Masters. Their subjects ranged from flowers, human skulls and candles to depict Memento Mori, the fleeting nature of life, to simple breakfast dishes and lavish Baroque displays of fruit, wine goblets and books to illustrate culture and wealth.

A superb example is ‘Still Life with Cheese’ by Floris van Dyck, an elaborate feast of grapes, apples, nuts and wine.

Still Life with Cheese, Floris van Dyck (1615)

From this Golden Age, fast forward to see how these domestic scenes were modelled and modernised by such Impressionist artists as Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet, Van Gogh and Valadon. 

Bring a brioche, I want to see you paint one: Still Life is the touchstone of painting.” Edouard Manet.

Still Life with Brioche and lemon, Edourd Manet (1873)

Paul Cezanne seemed to be fascinated by orchard fruits especially apples of all shapes and sizes which were the star subject for numerous paintings.

Apples, Paul Cezanne, (1878)

” I am captivated by the deep roots of the past .. the relationship between inanimate objects and our origins .. a simple relic of some antiquity immediately stirs within a hunger to connect with its provenance.”

Ian Mastin

Let’s take a look around the ‘Artistic Licence’ exhibition of contemporary Still Life acrylic paintings:

Bread, Wine and Cheese, Ian Mastin

Bread, Wine and Cheese

You could be forgiven for assuming this softly lit composition was painted around 1620 …..not 2020.  Here the dark varnished, cracked old wooden table is set for a meal: the delicately, draped fold of a linen napkin, the glistening glass of white wine, a scatter of crumbly cheese and crusty bread, all finely crafted with such intimate precision.

Still Life with Pears and Grapes, Ian Mastin

Still Life with Pears and Grapes

It may appear a more simplified display, but this has exceptional photographic quality. Look at the surface of the splintered table, the purple-black skin of the grapes with sharp stalks and shapely pears with tiny nicks in the skin. All so aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Spoilt for Choice  

Following the recurring theme of Paul Cezanne, here too is a fine collection of crisp, shiny, polished apples – perhaps Gala, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Pink Lady et al. – in contrast to the gnarled timber grains of the table.

Spoilt for Choice, Ian Mastin

“I always love painting fruits and never tire of the subtleties and richness of their colours and textures. I’m also drawn to the bonhomie evoked by images of good wine and food. I never need much encouraging to go searching for a succulent cheese to complement a classic burgundy – used purely for artistic purposes, needless to say.”

Ian Mastin

Moulin des Carruades 1977, Ian Mastin

Moulin des Carruades 1977 

A meticulously detailed and most appetising Study of wine, bread and cheese as similarly depicted by the Dutch Masters. You could view this for hours and still find hidden facets in the tactile textures. First the dusty sheen on this vintage wine bottle, as if just retrieved from the cellar, the ripe, melting Camembert in greaseproof paper with freshly baked bread.  Note too, the hinged metal lock on this antique chest.

Moulin Des Carruades from Domaine Barons de Rothschild: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – “Rich fruit, blackcurrant, tobacco, cedar, oak, well-balanced.”

Chateau d’Angluet Margaux,

Chateau d’Angluet Margaux

The wine estate, Château Angludet has belonged to the Sichel family for six generations so this represents a real sense of heritage: the dark green bottle with its intricately sketched label and the reflection of glinting sunlight. Uncorked, it’s ready to serve with grapes and slice of cheese. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Petit Verdot, this vintage 2006 Bordeaux is described as deep red with black tints, ripe and elegant.  

Age Before Beauty, Ian Mastin

Age Before Beauty

This may certainly appeal to those in Scotland and worldwide who relish a dram of these fine Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from the Speyside and Highland regions. The fisherman’s rod and basket create a dramatic setting, to illustrate a day out on the River Dee, Aberdeenshire or, indeed, Baroon Pocket Dam, Queensland. Slainte Mhath!

Still Life paintings provided the best opportunity for the pioneering 16th century artists to show off their painterly skills.

With artistic licence and photo-realism accuracy, as a modern master of the genre, Ian Mastin demonstrates such delicate beauty and classic style in these exquisite compositions. Whether a bowl of cherries, a carafe of port or a pile of antiquarian books, this is an artist with a dedicated passion for perfecting this iconic, timeless tradition.  

Artistic Licence – a showcase of Still Life paintings by Ian Mastin

3 – 25th April, 2021

Maleny, Queensland: Art on Cairncross’ – if you live locally, visit the gallery.

Edinburgh: available online at The Torrance Gallery

View the exhibition here:

https://www.torrancegallery.co.uk/ian-mastin-artistic-licence

Prices include P&P, insurance, tracked shipping and UK customs duty.
 

Browse the E-catalogue:

The Beautiful Planet Store @ the Biscuit Factory: local, ethical food, drink and home essentials for a zero waste, Brave New World.

In a world that is rightly concerned about climate change and the atmosphere, to be so neglectful of our oceans is deeply troubling. Having woken up to this living disaster… it’s not too late to turn things around.”

 Pawel Ferguson, The Beautiful Planet Company Scotland

Crawford’s Biscuits, vintage advertisement

The former 1940s Crawford’s Bakery just off Bonnington Road, Edinburgh has been transformed in recent years into the aptly named Biscuit Factory, a multi-functional Events venue and community hub for arts, lifestyle, food, drink and Edinburgh Gin businesses.

The Biscuit Factory – Events venue, Community cafe, bar, food & drink businesses

The concept is reminiscent of the historic manufacturing districts of downtown NYC, now transformed into fashionable galleries and nightclubs.  The pioneering spirit behind this was perhaps Andy Warhol’s Factory, 231 E. 47th St. on the fourth floor of the 1887 Cold Storage Warehouse, the studio for the creation of his iconic Pop Art from Marilyn to Campbell’s Soup.  

In similar vein, just launched on 27 March 2021, in a large warehouse space at the Biscuit Factory, is the innovative Beautiful Planet Store: quality food, drink and household essentials, based on a policy of less-waste – if not zero-waste, sustainable, ethical products. 

According to the Vegetarian Cities Index 2021, Edinburgh has the most vegetarian-friendly restaurants per population in the world, (followed by Munich and Ubud), based on affordability and availability, the price of fruit, vegetables and plant-based protein foods; take-away/home-delivery, (especially when restaurants were closed during the pandemic lockdown); Events and Festivals. (Link to Survey below*)

Pawel Ferguson follows a Vegan diet and is a keen cook, with a background in the hospitality and retail industries.  In collaboration and with great encouragement from his partner Peter Ferguson, The Beautiful Planet Store is a plastic and package-free, eco-friendly environment, with imaginative, entrepreneurial vision. 

Pawel and Peter Ferguson (with Daphne the dog!)

The attractive layout retains the shabby chic, industrial heritage with quirky style. Around the walls and island centre are long wooden tables made from old scaffolding planks. Instead of bright strip lighting from the high ceiling, strings of small, energy-saving bulbs are looped between the pillars.

Pawel and Peter work with local, Scottish and independent suppliers and producers to source all your favourite essential ingredients for the store cupboard – organic vegan/vegetarian food and drink for breakfast, lunch and supper. 

Let’s take a look around this enticing Store with its rows of huge glass jars and giant containers filled with flours, rice, gluten free Porridge oats, Muesli, nuts, seeds, colourful fragrant spices, as well as beans and pulses for cook up delicious soups, stews and curries.

As you will see in these images, everything is clearly labelled, handwritten in chalk with calligraphic artistry.

Purchase here or bring your own containers and bottles for grains, cereals and oils etc. and fill a traditional brown paper bag with nuts, seeds and Brazilian coffee beans.

Santu Coffee Beans, from Brazil – roasted at the Biscuit Factory

Santu coffee is actually roasted next door to the Beautiful Planet Store at the Biscuit Factory. All coffees are from Espirito Santo, Brazil, a mountainous region of protected Atlantic Forest, making it the most biodiverse place on earth. Having sampled Santu freshly ground coffee, it has a strong aroma with a mellow, smoky flavour.

A range of quality loose leaf and tea bags from the renowned Edinburgh company, Eteaket and also healthy drinks, organic soya, fruit juices and cordials.  Snacks too with a range of nuts and Just Crisps – Sea Salted Parsnip and Potato crisps, have a delicious, natural flavour – made by an independent farmer. 

Drinks, sauces, condiments and spicy foods galore

On open days at the Store, there might be Pear & Ginger Scones, Chocolate brownies, or other cakes on offer freshly baked by Pawel.  A selection of organic chocolate and vegan sweets available too. 

Stock up the bathroom with floral scented handmade soaps and cosmetics from Deeside Lavender, Aberdeenshire and for the kitchen, Bio Laundry liquids which are both kind to your clothes and the planet.

Handmade soaps and toiletries

Your doggy friends are also looked after with Pawel’s home-made, nutritious ‘Peanut butter and Sweet potato’ bone- shaped biscuits. Chewable toys too – Terry the Turnip has a suede covering filled with natural jute fibres, which is tough and long lasting. Shoppers can bring their dog to the store and leave in a cordoned off den, rather than leave, tied up, outside the Biscuit Factory. 

Home-made Peanut Butter dog biscuits

“We have not reinvented the wheel – just offer our own approach and style on the supply of zero waste shopping – online, by delivery or collection. Beautiful Planet offers a happy and welcoming shop and we cannot wait to meet all our customers.”

Pawel Ferguson

The philosophy behind this truly inspirational Store is all about creating a genuine artisan, rustic and Indy business, focussed on an eco-friendly, healthy lifestyle and protecting our beautiful, natural world.  

David Attenborough would, no doubt, be most impressed!

The Beautiful Planet Company Scotland,

Biscuit Factory, 4-6 Anderson Place, Edinburgh, EH6 5NP 

www.beautifulplanet.store 

Order on line for next day home delivery: Monday to Saturday – Farr Out Cargo Bicycles (radius, 5 km).

Farr Out Deliveries, Edinburgh, supports ethical local businesses and individuals to provide a responsible, sustainable bicycle courier service for the local community.

Farr Out Cargo Bicycle Couriers, Edinburgh

Click & Collect and Walk In shoppers: Store Opening Hours: Monday, Friday and Saturday 10am – 5pm

Email: info@beautifulplanet.store

Additional pop up Open Days will be announced regularly on social media:  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beautifulplanetstore   Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beautifulplanetstore/

Photographs illustrating the Beautiful Planet Store by Fiona Dawson and Marta Zdrójkowska 

*The Vegetarian City Index 2021:

https://www.nestpick.com/vegetarian-cities-index/

Summertime at the Biscuit Factory

When hospitality venues can open up again soon, The Biscuit Factory will welcome visitors to a pop up café called the Biscuit Box serving goods made inhouse including Santu Coffee and The Bearded Baker, with cakes from Mrs Macs Bakery, Linlithgow. Cocktails and pop up street food outside, sharing platters and Gin garden from the Old Poison Bar – everything on offer produced within the community.

Enjoy a leisurely drink and good food at the Biscuit Factory – then visit the Beautiful Planet Store too!.

Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs: Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Art Russe – a unique story of art, architecture and wine-making = a modern masterpiece.

Chateau La Grâce Dieu Des Prieurs, Bordeaux

When the renowned chess player, businessman and philanthropist, Andrey Filatov became the owner of Château La Grâce Dieu Des Prieurs, his entrepreneurial vision was to combine a love of fine wine with his admiration of Russian Art.

Located between the medieval villages of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux, the Estate was founded in 1885 within this ancient wine making region.  In December 1999, the Appellation was inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO, as a “cultural landscape.”

Andrey Filatov acquired the 19th century ‘La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’ in 2013, commissioning Jean Nouvel, the acclaimed French Architect (Le Louvre, Abu Dhabi; Cartier Foundation, Paris; New York’s 53W53 Tower, etc) to bring the estate into the 21st century.

The major refurbishment, between 2014 and 2017, had a simple objective – to respect the vineyard heritage whilst introducing modern, innovative production facilities.  Jean Nouvel created an architectural complex that is at once functional and a work of art in itself. 

The cylindrical exterior design represents a panorama of an allegorical fresco to illustrate the historic Château and vineyard Estate.  Inside are stainless steel fermentation and blending tanks and a series of wine cellars provides storage for all vintages simultaneously on the underground level.

‘Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’ (Preserved by the Grace of God’s Priors), is an 8.5 hectare Estate, cultivating two red grape varieties, 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, with one hectare allocated to Chardonnay white grapes

Successful wine making is a complex business, a blend of history, geography, viniculture, viticulture and economics. Saint-Émilion with its own microclimate can boast an exceptional terroir due to its fertile limestone, sand, clay and chalk soil producing the finest quality grape vines.

The green, fertile landscape of Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux

Grand Cru (French for ‘great growth’) is a regional wine classification that designates a vineyard known for its favourable reputation and is the highest classification of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines

At ‘Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’, the Director of the Estate, Laurent Prosperi, works in collaboration with a team of experts including Louis Mitjavile, their Merlot specialist who is descended from a family of Bordeaux winemakers. His philosophy is centred around healthy vines, harvesting slightly over-mature grapes and slow ageing in 100% new, fine-grained, French oak barrels.

Andrey Filatov selected green glass bottles inspired by Russian Ancestral traditions with Amorim natural cork stoppers – the wide diameter shape of the bottles was in fact used 250 years ago in Saint-Émilion.

Vintage 2015

The Château has partnered with the Art Russe Foundation, the largest private collection of Russian Art of the 19th and 20th centuries, for the design of bespoke labels – a unique, cultural branding concept.  The images of twelve paintings have been chosen to illustrate each Vintage, covering the genres of religious icons, mythology, portraits and scenes of daily life.

Three of the paintings specially selected for the inaugural 2014 Vintage Collection are:

Nikolai Fechin, Daisies (1930)

With its colourful, Impressionist style, this is a superb Still Life of a vase brimming with delicate summer flowers.

Ilia Répine, Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom (1876)

This narrative painting represents an ancient legend about Sadko, a Novgorod merchant, who is forced to descend under the waves to pay his respects to the Sea Tsar.

Nicolas Roerich, And We Are Not Afraid (1922)

The encounter between two monks and a bear in the bleak winter landscape has a surreal, mystical atmosphere.

And so having researched the artistic theme, time to taste the wine.

Saint-Émilion, Grand Cru Art Russe – 2014 Vintage

90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; harvested October 2014. Aged 21 months. Bottling date, May 2017.  33,000 bottles

Dark ruby red in colour; Ripe, perfumed berry fruit and floral aroma with notes of slightly smoky oak and vanilla.

While, at first apparently light on the palate, there is then an intensity of flavour – sweet, juicy plum, blackberry and apricot; the initial slightly dry texture mellows into a velvety smooth aftertaste.

Sipped slowly, there is also a subtle detection of soft warm spices, cinnamon and nutmeg with a hint of aromatic herbs.

Overall, a very well rounded, full bodied wine with a complex character; delicately refined yet richly expressive and a long lasting, lingering flavour. This is a gustatory wine tasting experience to be savoured at leisure.

Art Russe Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Vintage 2014

Since this first Grand Cru 2014, the Art Russe Collection now presents 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages.

Inspired by the culture and gastronomic traditions of France and the artistic heritage of Russia, the unique concept of the Grand Cru Art Russe wines has received global recognition.  A wine sipping, art lover would surely be enticed to collect a full Vintage Collection of twelve beautifully designed bottles (or several vintages!), for a most distinctive Wine Bar gallery.

At the Château there is an undergroud gallery with the Grand Cru Collection of Art Russe paintings.

The Art Russe gallery at ‘Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’

The Grand Cru Art Russe wines have been selected by many Michelin starred restaurants and luxury hotels of Paris, Courchevel and Cote d’Azur.  At Seta, Mandarin Oriental Milan, this is the only Bordeaux wine on By the Glass list.  The wines are also available at prestigious establishments in Monaco, London, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Russia. 

Cuvée Elena from Château La Grace Dieu des Prieurs

In 2020, the Château became the first wine estate in Saint-Emilion to produce a Chardonnay white wine, the result of a meticulous experimentation phase led by winemaker Louis Mitjavile and the team.  

The inaugural vintage has been produced in a limited edition of 1,300 magnums, handcrafted and decorated with a floral motif, produced by French glassmaker Waltersperger.

A refined, exquisite, gourmet white wine with intense aromatic notes and a rich structure on the palate”.

Laurent Prosperi, Director of the Domain

Tasting note for Cuvée Elena 2019:

‘An intriguing wine with aromas and flavours of caramel, baked apple, honeydew melon, apricot, toast and charred oak. The wine, while ripe in terms of fruit, doesn’t feature the buttery richness that can beset Chardonnay. A lingering, salty, smoky, fresh finish. Persistent, interesting and delicious, even in this youthful state.’

The individually, hand painted Magnum bottles for Cuvée Elena are not available for retail sale.  The 2019 and all subsequent vintages of Cuvée Elena will be donated to selected Auctions with the proceeds going to charitable foundations to assist children. In the UK, 10 magnums are to be offered for sale through the new luxury website Lymited.com for £1,300 each, with proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The Global Chardonnay Masters 2020

Held annually by the European drinks trade publication The Drinks Business, this is a prestigious competition.  Chardonnay wines from more than 20 countries, including France, Italy, Spain, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa were judged in a blind tasting by Masters of Wine, Sommeliers and UK wine buyers.

Competing in the Premium Category, Cuvée Elena received the Gold medal for a Chardonnay Aged in Oak Barrels.

The Red Dot Award 2021

For more than 60 years as the largest global design competition, the Red Dot Award has recognised design trends and innovation. In March 2021, the jury selected the Cuvée Elena Magnum as the best in the Product Design category.

The Red Dot award-winning design for the Cuvée Elena bottle and box

The packaging case for Cuvée Elena is made from transparent acrylic, protecting the magnum in transit, and highlights the unique bottle shape and colour of the wine. Stylish, practical and high-quality, the attractive box can be used as a table setting or a decorative Objet d’Art.

Over the years, Red Dot Award winners in various categories have included, among others, Apple and Ferrari.  

Andrey Filatov is clearly a most innovative entrepreneur. This cultural collaboration across architecture, design, fine art and wine-making has preserved the heritage of the Château and created a modern masterpiece of gourmet taste and artistic vision.

Read all about the Château, Art Russe, Gallery, Wine Vintages and purchase options:

 https://lagracedieudesprieurs.com/en/

‘Negroni’ by David T Smith and Keli Rivers – cool, classic and contemporary cocktail recipes: tipples to tingle the tastebuds.

The most perfect, and rather addictive, Aperitivo – a classic Negroni is the very definition of balance, simplicity and Italian sophistication. 

The classic, much revered, Negroni

Essentially, in Italy between 6 – 8pm or so is Aperitivo time, the act of sipping a cocktail and perhaps a light snack, ‘to open’ and stimulate one’s stomach before a meal.  Campari is virtually the patron saint of Aperitivo, originally crafted in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in the town of Novara near Milan.  

The secret recipe is an alcoholic infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit, with a complex bittersweet orange, cherry, clove, and cinnamon flavour. As a liqueur it can be served with soda water and renowned as the signature ingredient in many cocktails.

The origin of the iconic Negroni takes us back just over a century to 1919 and Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy.  Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to strengthen his favourite cocktail, Milan-Torino – (aka the Americano: Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Soda Water, served with a slice of lemon) – by replacing the soda water with Gin. Scarselli also added an orange garnish rather than lemon.

This elegant, richly bittersweet Aperitivo just hit the spot as an immediate success and soon everyone was visiting the bar for a ‘Negroni.’  Or should it have been named the Scarselli?

“ The bartender must change depending on the customer who is standing in front of him. He has to know and guess the flavour of the mood he should offer him…a sort of panacea against dark moods or reversals of fortunes.” Fosco Scarselli

The entrepreneurial Count Negroni quickly set up a drinks company to market a ready-made version of his creation, Antico Negroni, which is still produced today at the same distillery in Treviso, Italy.

Count Camille Negroni

After Ian Fleming toured Italy in 1958, he wrote a short story, Risico featuring 007.  In the Cocktail Bar at the Excelsior Hotel, Rome, James Bond, as for his Martini in Casino Royale, is most specific about his favourite Gin.

‘A Negroni. With Gordon’s, please. The waiter walked back to the bar. ‘Negroni. Uno. Gordon’s.’

Negroni cocktail – the perfect promotion by James Bond

Quickly and easily prepared with just three ingredients in equal measures, you don’t need professional ice shakers, tools and skills to stir up a Negroni at home,

The traditional Negroni has been creatively re-invented by bar tenders around the world and this slim 64 page, well illustrated book covers the one hundred year evolution through more than thirty recipes of diverse and distinctive cocktails.

The authors are certainly experts on the artistic styles of Gin.  David T. Smith has contributed features to Imbibe Magazine, Channel 4 television and chaired gin judging panels at the American Distilling Institute and Gin Masters competitions.  Keli Rivers has been a ‘ginnoisseur’ at San Francisco’s Whitechapel and the Sipsmith Brand Ambassador, USA.

With a short introduction, the chapters cover Classic, White, Experimental and Seasonal, offering an intriguing array of fruity concoctions, Whisky, Rum and Tequila versions as well as sparkling summertime tipples.

First, of course, The Classic – 25 ml measures of Beefeater Gin, Campari and Red Vermouth with an orange twist. (James Bond would not approve!).

The fact that the Negroni has an orange garnish, other citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemon can jazz it up with a tart, tangy flavour. The Porch-Drinking Negroni has the addition of fresh strawberries and the fizz of Bitter Lemon for a long, refreshing, ice-cold drink.

Sunshine Negroni – a summer drink with Gordon’s Sicilian Lemon Gin

As a colourful twist to a Tequila Sunrise, the Sunshine Negroni blends the popular Gordon’s Sicilian Lemon Gin with Orange juice, Grapefruit soda, Aperol, Dry Vermouth – this sounds like a lip-smacking, thirst quencher.

The modern equivalent of a Purl, popular by workers in the 16th century, (Gin, Ale, sugar and spices), the Stout & Steadfast, adds 60 ml of Guinness to a Negroni recipe for rich punchy taste.

Having recently enjoyed tasting a range of Beaverton ales, their ‘Bloody ‘Ell’ IPA is dry, bitter with Blood Orange notes which could ring the changes of the Stout Negroni.

Topping up a Negroni with dry sparkling Cider is most inventive in a Run, Free & Naked cocktail, where the crisp, sweet apple freshness softens the bitter aftertaste of Campari.

Sloe Gin made from Blackthorn berries, is an ancient country tradition, sipped either neat like a liqueur or with soda.  Tried and tested is the Sloe-Groni, a combination of Sloe Gin with Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Campari and Vermouth Rosso, which works beautifully, adding a rich damson jam and earthy hedgerow depth of flavour.

With many gin distillers crafting other wild berry gins, such as Bombay Bramble, Ben Lomond, Raspberry & Elderflower / Blackberry & Rhubarb, these would also be fine alternatives to Sloe Gin.  

The Boulevardier, in which Bourbon replaces the Gin, is believed to have been created in Paris around the late 1920s, by an American writer, Erskine Gwynne. 

The Boulevardier and Old Pal

Scotch whisky lovers, can try instead a Negroni Torbato, in which Bourbon is switched with Lagavulin, a Single Malt from Islay, giving a smooth, smoky flavour – a potential new classic. This was invented by Allessandro Palazzi at the legendary Dukes Bar, London, a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming and where his literary-inspired Vesper was born. 

Allessandro Palazzi, the master of the Martini at Duke’s Bar, London

It has been fascinating to browse through these classic and modern recipes and sample a few new cool, creative cocktails.  

I am however a little surprised that some well known Negroni spin offs are not included such as the Cardinale a 1950’s-era variation by Giovanni Raimondo, bartender at the Hotel Excelsior, Rome at the personal request of a guest – a German Cardinal.  

The Cardinale – a Negroni crafted with Gin, Dry Vermouth & Campari.

Instead of Rosso, the Cardinale is made with Dry Vermouth, such that it’s a lighter pink in colour rather than the usual dark crimson with a real hint of a dry Gin Martini.  Simply delectable

Also missing in this collection is Negroni Sbagliato which has a most amusing backstory. It was first served at the Bar Basso, Milan in the late 1960s when the owner, Mirko Stocchetto, poured a measure of sparkling wine instead of gin. (Sbagliato means “incorrect” or “messed up” in Italian). 

Negroni Sbagliato = Prosecco, Campari, Vermouth Rosso

Created by happy accident, this light, sparkling Negroni Spritz is still a popular Aperitivo at the Bar Basso, across Italy and worldwide. 

Last April, Stanley Tucci, the stylishly fashionable American actor posted an Instagram video of himself making (indeed, curiously shaking up!) a Negroni, which went viral, shared on Twitter with millions viewing his Cocktail masterclass through social media.

Diary Date: Negroni Week 2021, 13 – 19 September, 2021.

Negroni Week was first launched in 2013 when over a hundred bars took part to raise funds for charitable causes. and in 2019, the global event welcomed nearly 10,000 venues in 87 countries to celebrate the centenary.

The White Rose – another creative twist to the classic Negroni

This fascinating journey through the history of The Negroni, illustrates only too well how Cocktails can be jazzed up, re-invented, revamped, whether unintentionally, a drinker’s wise suggestion or the magical alchemy of experimental mixologists.   

Negroni is an essential, enticing guide for all cocktail lovers and this reasonably priced, pocket-sized book would be an attractive gift for thirsty friends.

Salute! 

Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

Published by Ryland Peters & Small.  Hardback:  £7.99

Book Photography by Alex Luck, copuright Ryland Peters & Small

For more information see this link to the website page:

Reviewer’s Note: Perhaps the publication of this book was rushed through the editorial and proof- reading process, but for such a short book, it’s a shame that there are several errors in spelling, punctuation and typography with a repetition of the word “ice-filled” in many recipes.

Grapefruit Negroni

The Taunton Cider Company: Award-winning, Artisan, ‘Proper Cider from Somerset’.

What could be more refreshing that an ice cold glass of cider on a summer’s day.  Just like alcoholic ginger beer, this is Apple juice for grown ups.

Sparkling, ice cold Apple Juice with an alcoholic kick

It was the Romans who discovered how to ferment apple juice and fast forward to the 11th century when the Normans conquered Britain, they brought their fruit-growing and cider-making expertise with them. The fertile soil and warm climate in the West Country was ideal for apple orchards. Thus, the British cider industry was born.

A Treatise of Cider, 1678

In 1805, in the Somerset village of Norton Fitzwarren, a farmers’ co-operative was formed to make cider which developed with great success. In 1911, Reverend Cornish, a cider maker at Heathfield Rectory and his gardener Arthur Moore, collaborated in the business and within a year they established The Taunton Cider Company.

The original Taunton Cider Company – loading the barrels

Following The Second Wold War, Taunton Cider supplied local and regional pubs  and through the 1950s and 1960s the British brewing industry developed through takeover mergers. Taunton Cider sales increased with share holders assisting the rising scale of cider production – also launching half-pint and two-pint bottles as an alternative to the traditional draught cider. 

The famous Taunton Dry Blackthorn Cider

Guinness became an investor in order to create new brands of cider, venture into the off licence trade, supermarket sales and  marketing with great success. by 1992 the company grew to become the second largest cider maker in the UK, producing 30 million gallons per year employing 550 people most of whom were based in the village of Norton Fitzwarren.

Taunton Cider Octopus, a painting by Mike Jeffries

After a management buyout and a public floatation, Taunton Cider was taken over by Matthew Clark in 1992.  Unfortunately, production at the original Somerset Mill was closed down in 1998 with the majority of loyal workers made redundant.

Somerset is Cider and Scrumpy country

Somerset in the West Country is at the heart and heritage of English cider making, best known for its strong, cloudy, scrumpy ciders, dry and medium-sweet versions, the county is known for bittersweet apples creating traditional flavours from vintage cider recipes.

The historic company was reborn in 2015

The good news is that The Taunton Cider Company was re-registered in 2015 by a group of cider enthusiasts setting up premises at Cutliffe Farm, Sherfor to produce a range of traditional ciders, crafted from 100% heritage apple varieties from local orchards.

Gathering local apples in Somerset orchards

Working with the best apple growers, we harvest, press, ferment and make premium ciders with no additional concentrates. .. it’s a really natural product blended by our master cider maker. We are building our brand whilst being respectful of the history, heritage and importance of Taunton Cider in Somerset.”  Jonathan Dunne, founder and owner.

Taunton Cider has partnered with Stewley Orchard which is committed to the responsibility of its conservation and the care of twenty varieties of heritage apple trees.  The ecology of this Orchard is vitally important, with birds and honeybees, Roe deer and rabbits, all benefiting from the fallen fruits, wild flowers, grasses and ponds.

Stewley Orchard, now back in the hands of Taunton Cider Company

Cider is akin to Champagne

The slow fermentation and crafting of Champagne – similar process to Cider

It’s fascinating to know that the British invented the ‘Champagne method’ for cider production well before Dom Perignon began making his superior sparkling wine in northern France!

The tradition of mashing, pressing and fermenting the apples

The ‘Cider is Wine’ group is keen that British Heritage Alcoholic Drinks are given the same financial and business benefits as other drinks industries.  Cider and Perry made from 100% juice (grape, apple, pear, or other fruits) should be treated like wine due to the similarities in production.  The soil on which the apples are grown influence the taste – just like wine with its regional terroir.

The Taunton Cider Taste Test:

Having not sipped a Cider for many years, I recently opened a bottle of Taunton Dry cider while watching the women singles final at the Australian Tennis Open – on TV, not in Melbourne. As it’s summer there, a refreshing ice-cold cider was just the perfect tipple due to the fact that light, sparkling Cider is produced with a similar method to Champagne!

The various styles and strengths of Taunton ciders are so fresh tasting, not overly sweet but with the crisp, tart flavour of biting into a juicy apple.

Taunton Dry Original Cider, 4% ABV

Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Yarlington Mill apples.

Soft sunshine gold in colour with an aroma of aged oak.  Slightly dry on the tongue, smooth with a crisp, tangy apple taste.  Served ice cold, this is deliciously refreshing.

Taunton Medium Cider, 4%  ABV

Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Yarlington Mill apples. 

Warm amber shade with lightly sparkling effervescence. A well balanced blend of floral and bittersweet apple flavours then a lingering taste of smoky earthiness.  

Taunton Proper Natch Cider,  5.5% ABV

A sharp, dry traditional cider, proper Natch is made with the finest Somerset apples. A proper thirst quenching cider. “

Light amber in colour, smooth, silky texture and natural, juicy fruity taste. Ideal with food as an alternative to an IPA: think Pub grub, Sausage and mash, Veggie Burger, Fish & chips.

 Taunton Longaller Mill Cider, 5% ABV

A blend of classic apple varieties, Yarlington Mill, Sweet Coppin, Improved Lambert Pippin and Tom Putt from a single orchard at Longaller Mill in Somerset, which has produced apples to make cider since the early 1900s.

A golden hued, premium, semi-dry cider with a light sparkling carbonation, smooth tasting, with a long lasting, classic apple cake flavour.

While cool, crisp and refreshing drinks sipped on their own, Taunton ciders can accompany lunch or supper, too and also use as an ingredient, in pies, cakes and add to sauces – apple is traditional with pork – and ideal with seafood.

Scallops with leeks, Taunton Cider and Apple

Baked Scallop in the shell, buttered leeks, Taunton cider and Apple

Check out the recipe here. https://www.tauntoncider.co.uk/blogs/news/baked-scallop-in-the-shell-buttered-leeks-taunton-cider-and-apple

Taunton Cider Company combines traditional methods with contemporary skills for small batch, premium quality and such a pure, natural taste.  ​This is ​authentic, Artisan, craft cider at its best. 

Proper Cider from Somerset”

What drinkers are saying:

Proper apples are used and you can tell straight away. Dry crisp taste, just worried that it’s a bit moreish as only 12 in a case.!”

“Fanstastic tasting local cider from a great company. The Vintage cider is really good, 10/10.”

It’s not easy to stop at one. This cider has become by far my favourite.”

Since their first cider was bottled in 2016, the “new” Taunton Cider Company has been presented with no less than thirty awards in the first four years of production. At the annual International Cider Challenge Trophy. the Medium received the highest accolade, the Trophy, and the Dry, Medium and Vintage varieties have also won bronze, silver and gold awards.

Taunton Cider is served at a selection of leading hospitality and leisure venues, such as Soho House and the National Trust.

Read more about the company, the range of ciders and purchase online at www.tauntoncider.co.uk

C’est Le Printemps – Bienvenue FFF @Home 2021: a season of six French films for the perfect cultural night in.

The French Film Festival UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema. The 28th FFF 2020 was all due to set off again on a tour of 28 independent Art House cinemas from Aberdeen to Plymouth but unfortunately in early November, a second lockdown was announced. With cinemas suddenly closed, FFF@home was an innovative venture to view a small selection of movies on line with great success.  

As a special Springtime treat, the FFF has launched another season of FFF@home, featuring exclusive online screenings of six films available to view over three weekends this month.  

Richard Mowe, director and co-founder of the Festival, said: “We wanted to make sure that audiences did not miss out on some of the most anticipated films of the Festival due to the Covid disruption … and now they’re available to view online as part of the extended Festival. Bon film!”

Following the recent Golden Globes and the shortlist for the Academy Awards – the 93rd Oscars – announced on the 15,th  March is movie month indeed.  This online mini FFF is launched most appropriately on 12 March – the date when the French film industry celebrates the best new films, actor and creative achievements at the César awards.

Tickets to access your FFF@home cinema are available to purchase in advance – full details below. There’s an extra bonus too with subtitled conversations with the directors for a virtual FFF experience. All films are in French with English subtitles and available for 48 hours from the screening date and time listed in the schedule.

As an enticing taster, here is a snapshot of the French movies on offer across wartime drama, crime thrillers, comedy and romance.

Friday 12th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

LOVE AFFAIR(S) (Les Choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait)

Official Selection at Cannes 2020 and Best Film nomination, Césars 2021.

The French title is translated as “The Things We Say, the Things We Do,” and is a classic romantic tale of two strangers thrown together by chance, set against the lush green French countryside. Exploring their notions of what real love is, the chemistry between Daphne and Maxime covers a rich tapestry of emotion. Directed by Emmanuel Mouret, the film has been described as “a more serious “Love Actually” pitching between the sexy and the silly, the philosophical and farcical.”


Saturday 13th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

NIGHTSHIFT  (Police)

Directed by Anne Fontaine and based on a novel by Hugo Boris, Night Shift focuses on three Parisian police officers charged with escorting a foreigner to Charles de Gaulle airport to be sent back to his homeland. “Am I a good cop or not?” the moody, gritty narrative, told from different points of view, explores the line between professional duty, personal conscience and moral values.  A highly dynamic and stylised blend of realism and impressionism.  Nightshift was premiered at the Berlinale Special Gala, 2020. 

Professional roles and personal values collide in Nightshift (Police)

Friday 19 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

HOMEFRONT  (Des Hommes)

Officially selected for Cannes 2020 and for Deauville Film Festival 2021

In 1960, Bernard, Rabut, Février were called up to fight in the Algerian War, and returned two years later to France.  Fast forward a few decades to a birthday party, when an incident triggers memories for the veterans who have kept silent about what they saw, felt and endured. Directed by Lucas Belvaux, the different voices and perspectives are artfully intertwined as the men confront the past and how the traumatic African experience shaped their lives. “It’s a film about the wounds of war rather than the war itself.”

Saturday 20th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

MAMA WEED  (La Daronne)

Set in Paris, this comedy caper stars Isabelle Huppert as Patience Portefeux, a French-Arabic interpreter working for the anti-narcotics Police squad, when she unwittingly becomes involved in the drug trafficking world. “Huppert is a chameleon of an actress and the transformation from world-weary translator to drug kingpin is remarkable, donning a leopard-print hijab, gold chain and massive shades. Her whimsical, light-hearted performance gives Patience an irresistible charm”.  Mama Weed is directed by Jean-Paul Salomé.

Friday 26 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

THE TRANSLATORS (Les Traducteurs)

Directed and co-written by Régis Roinsard, this is an ingenious literary Agatha Christie-style whodunit in which a multi-lingual group of translators are all suspected of stealing a future best seller. This is the upcoming release of the final book in the Daedalus trilogy, which has been a global sensation. “The script is filled with twists, red herrings, false clues. Roisnard’s meticulous sense of craft and you get an altogether slick package.  A thrilling ride which will satisfy audiences who appreciate a good bookish mystery.”

The Translators at work on the new global best seller

Saturday 27 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

IN BED WITH VICTORIA  (Victoria)

In this stylish Parisian Romcom, directed by Justine Triet, Victoria is a thirty-something, divorced, single mother, juggling her work as a criminal lawyer, family life and trying to find love again.  At a rather drink-fuelled wedding, she meets an old friend Vincent, who is soon charged with attempted murder, and also bumps into a former client, Sam, a drug dealer. “ An amusing watch, this has freshness and naturalism .. with just enough kookiness to set itself apart from the pack.”  

In Bed with Victoria – a stylish French Romcom

This latest FFF@home season is presented in partnership with the new platform INDY On Demand powered by Shift72 and films can be viewed on all browsers and devices.

You can purchase each film separately with tickets priced at £8 or the Festival Pass gives access to all six films for £40. There are concessions for 16-25s. Films are available for 48 hours from the release date and time of the screening.  Once you have bought your ticket and pressed PLAY, you have 48 hours to watch the film as many times as you like!.

Just like in a cinema, space is limited so make sure you book tickets in advance to ensure of the best seat in the house. Then time to make a large tub of popcorn and settle down to enjoy FFF@home.

Browse all movie info, watch trailers and book your tickets here:

https://frenchfilmfestival.org.uk/2021/whats-online-in-march/

https://www.indyondemand.com/page/french-film-festival-uk/

The seafaring, entrepreneurial story of ACTIPH Alkaline Ionised water for supercharged energy and good health.

“It’s not just the thrill of adventure but exploration; being the first to achieve something,” Jamie Douglas-Hamilton

This is an incredible tale of sportsmanship, endeavour and innovation.  It begins in 2014, when Jamie Douglas-Hamilton joined a team of eight men taking on the epic challenge of rowing 4,200 miles from Australia to Africa across the Indian Ocean, in aid of the charity, Save the Elephants.

Rowing across the Indian Ocean: 11 August 2014, arriving in the Seychelles

The crew battled the ocean’s currents, high waves, storms, hit by a hurricane, and a collision with a whale, on the two and a half month trip. Rowing to a strict routine of short, sharp shifts, it was hard physical work, burning around 10,000 calories and drinking a dozen litres of water each day.

The eureka moment came when one member of the crew added some salt water to his drinking water (desalinated water), which had a positive effect on his fitness especially the tough night shifts. Encouraged by this, they all mixed fresh and salt water which increased energy levels and reduced a recurring problem of hallucinations.

Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, world class rower and business entrepreneur

 “As a result, we broke two Guinness World Records: one for the fastest crossing and one for the longest crossing of the Indian Ocean. I don’t think that was because of how fit we were; I think it was because of what we drank.” Jamie Douglas-Hamilton

After realising that fresh water mixed with salt water is more hydrating than fresh water alone, Jamie started to research the choice of bottled water finding only spring, mineral and sparkling on offer in Britain.

After securing more than £1 million through crowdfunding, ACTIPH Water, a Scottish company, was launched in 2017 and is the first alkaline ionised water produced and bottled in the UK.

The sea water was the inspiration, but Actiph is based on natural spring water from Wenlock in Shropshire, with a formula of electrolytes and minerals, removing elements of acidity for a smooth taste.  Ionised water is proven in clinical trials to hydrate the body faster than ordinary water and as an anti-inflammatory, benefits digestive ailments.

ACTIPH Water is not just for elite athletes and super sporty, active people – it’s a health and beauty product!

Drinking Actiph alkaline water means that you are not only getting the moisture-boosting benefits of water, but maximum hydration from the electrolytes and minerals, which are essential for good health and glowing skin. Researchers have found that alkaline water provides better hydration than neutral PH water – so it’s well worth finding out what all the fuss is about.” Dr. Naomi Newman-Beinart, Nutritionist and a Specialist in Health Psychology

Dr. Naomi Newman-Beinart – a water drinking advocate and health advisor for Actiph

The pH scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. Drinks like Coca-Cola are around 2pH, which is highly acidic while Actiph is bottled at 9.8pH. Free from sugar, sweeteners, caffeine or calories, the ingredients are Wenlock Spring Water, Magnesium Sulphate, Sodium Carbonate, Potassium Bicarbonate.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have stocked my fridge with bottles of ACTIPH to ensure there’s ice-cold water to sip when I return from a brisk jog around the park.   Not knowing what an ionised, mineral-rich water would taste like, I wondered if it would be like Badoit, with its slightly unpleasant, salty flavour. Fortunately not –  the label states there is 0% salt. 

Expect a pure, clean tasting, refreshing, thirst-quenching, supercharged spring water – and it has done wonders to my complexion too. This is a most innovative, nutritious, energising drink for all round good health and hydrated skin.

After the successful launch of ACTIPH as a global, healthy lifestyle brand, the aim is to be a top player in the USA, Europe, Middle East and Asia. Stocked already by over 6,000 retailers and exported to 15 countries, the aim is to increase sales further over the next year or two.

Having successfully rowed across the Indian Ocean, what was the next challenge for the adventurous, super-fit Jamie.?

Feared by mariners and eminent explorers for centuries, the Drake Passage (named after Sir Francis Drake), is the stretch of water where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans meet in a turbulent, terrifying sea.

In December, 2019, in a pioneering attempt to be the first Scotsman to row across Drakes Passage, Jamie joined an international crew of six led by Icelandic explorer Fiann Paul, to cross the 650-mile route from Cape Horn to the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.

A feat of endurance rowing across Drakes Passage to Antarctica

During this daring, dangerous 12 day expedition, the men faced freezing temperatures and 50 foot waves, as they battled to row against relentless strong currents and force six crosswinds.  Their incredible feat of endurance and survival established five Guinness World Records and was described as “one of the most impressive adventures ever undertaken.

This epic voyage was captured on film for a documentary, The Impossible Row, screened on the Discovery Channel.

It’s clearly reminiscent of the heroic journey in 1916 when Ernest Shackleton and five men set off in a small lifeboat to South Georgia on a mission to arrange the rescue of the Endurance crew left stranded on Elephant Island.

Launching the James Caird lifeboat for the voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, 1916 (Frank Hurley)

Mr Douglas-Hamilton is certainly a high achiever from pioneering sportsman to business excellence; for the creation of Actiph alkaline ionised water, he was named Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year, 2018, and then Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, 2020.

ACTIPH water is widely available at health stores and all leading supermarkets

For more information and to purchase on line: https://actiph.shop/

Watch the Documentary: “The Impossible Row”

https://www.discoveryplus.co.uk/show/the-impossible-row

Add this supercharged Spring water to your daily diet for improved energy and good health

‘From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for Me’ by Basia Gordon. A Memoir: A time-travelling, personal journey between Scotland to South West France

We Brits are born travellers eager for adventure, an escape for cultural experiences, a taste of luxury, or perhaps, in search of a new place to call home.

When Peter Mayle moved to rural France, he intended to write a novel, not a bestselling memoir. ‘A Year in Provence,’ first published in 1989, is an aspirational lifestyle tale about a fifty-something couple renovating a derelict farmhouse in France.

Their decision had begun with “.. a meal that we shall never forget, beyond the gastronomic frontiers (and) we promised ourselves that one day we would live here.”

Peter Mayle at home in Provence.

Unintentionally, Mayle created a new style of literary travel genre, leading to other successful narratives such as ‘Driving over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart, and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes.

Basia Gordon

“Let your dream take over your life rather than your life take over your dream.”

This translation from a French proverb is the apt starting point of Basia Gordon’s narrative about taking a year out from life and work in Glasgow to refurbish an early 19th century farmhouse in Aquitaine.  She first gives a glimpse into her rich Polish heritage covering her parents’ distressing wartime experiences which led to them both, independently, to Scotland where they soon met.

Map of the Aquitaine region and location of their family holiday home

As it was a long way to travel to Poland for regular holidays, in 1972 her father had bought Coutal, a “charming wreck” in rural France for £3.000: “We would never quite belong there, half marooned, half anchored to it as we were.  We would always be regarded as foreigners, invariably referred to locally by the misnomer, Les Anglais.”

Coutal, – the family holiday home, Lot et Garonne, Aquitaine in the 1970s.

Memories of summers here are colourful and carefree, “as children we were feral and relished our freedom, only coming home late in the evening when we were hungry”.

After her father passed away, it continued to be a place for Polish and Scottish family reunions but with limited funds for maintenance and development. “In 2018, my partner Gerry and I decided to take a sabbatical from our teaching jobs to renovate Coutal.”  

Coutal in the rural tranquility of Lot et Garonne

Their initial 29 hour journey from Glasgow to Aquitaine by car with an over-packed trailer (an array of objects, thirty T shirts, Philippe Starck cheese grater, Cocktail book, but no cocktail shaker), is related with light hearted humour through a series of unfortunate incidents.

Lot et Garonne and community of villages

The destination is Lot-et-Garonne, south of the Dordogne and north of Gascony in the Aquitaine region of France. A lush fertile landscape with fields of sunflowers, plum trees, vineyards, farms, market towns and pretty Medieval villages.

Basia lost in a meadow of sunflowers near Coutal

This Memoir follows Bazia’s personal, often emotional reminiscences of Coutal, the progress of the building work, daily challenges of language, laws and lifestyle to fit in, not as tourists but as locals.  

This is not a quick decorating job, but hard manual labour, digging the earth, building walls, erecting a garage, creating an ensuite bedroom in the barn, electrical wiring, grass cutting, all in preparation to welcome their first visitors at their farmhouse ‘hotel”.  

A rhythm of work, eat, siesta, rest, work again. They need to brush up their French especially technical and DIY phrases in order to buy wood or a hinge and learn that sandpaper is Le papier de verre.

Gerry and Basia, armed with essential tools

The reader is introduced to their friendly, nonagenarian neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne Gouget, “peasant’ farmers, who eat well with their own fresh eggs and vegetables, farm reared poultry and wild rabbits.

 Basia and Gerry explore the local villages, Largadonne, Born, St. Vivien with numerous vineyards all around, including Chateau de Planque and Buzet – yes, Plonk and Boozy.!

Known as the Tuscany of France,  “there is a surfeit of prettiness here, rolling hills and bucolic charm” amidst the sizzling hot summer sun.  

The region of Lot et Garonne – the Tuscany of France

Following country customs, Basia makes soap from orange blossom, lemon grass and bay leaves while their garden is now flourishing with sunflowers, pumpkin, rosemary and lavender.

The picturesque heritage town of Monflanquin

The Medieval towns of Monflanquin and Villereal attract 100,000 visitors a year, and Bodega, the annual festival in August is when clowns, musicians, dancers and jugglers stage street theatre circus entertainment creating a lively, sociable event.

The lively cultural, social community of Villereal

Many old properties in this area with swimming pools and outhouses have been purchased cheaply, but renovation is very expensive -“dreams crumbled and houses abandoned.” Meanwhile, they plough on with their dream designer holiday home, visiting many a Vide Grenier –  car boot sales – to buy vintage homeware, art, antiques and curios.

Conducting financial business with the Tax office and bank seems to be a bureaucratic nightmare .. not to mention the ensuing complications of living in France after Brexit which has been nothing but “Mayhem.. Brekshit.”  Expenses are a constant source of worry – house insurance,  medical treatment (will it be covered by the EHIC card?!) and endless car problems – ( L’embroyer is the word for clutch). When they buy a 16 year old Peugot, it requires a passport, proof of home address and payment by cheque. 

When money is tight, they keep calm and carry on, “We shall be eating baguette sans fromage for a month.”   Basia is fascinated to know that a staggering 30 million baguettes are sold in France every day, plus all those crisp crosssants and pastries!

Over recent months, the Gilet Jaunes marches have swept the country, protesting against President Macron’s changes to taxation and welfare, a grassroots revolution for economic justice. As welcome breaks from politics and the building site, Basia and Gerry relax on holiday in Majorca with a literary pilgrimage to the home of the poet Robert Graves, a heritage tour of Berlin and an exciting trip to China to observe efficient bullet trains and cutting-edge technology.

The Barn undergoing major reconstruction!

Back in ‘Coutal’, the renovation work resumes, installing a new kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.  The design is Scandi chic for the Barn in contrast to traditional oak wood in the farmhouse, now furnished with old church pews from Scotland.  

Basia is righly very proud of the smart new windows now installed in the Barn

“I wonder what my father would have thought of the changes at Coutal Haut?” muses Basia.   

During a cold, wet January, Basia and Gerry celebrate Burns Night with a party for friends, and find that the bottles of whisky are cheaper in France than in Scotland.!  Their rural retreat has often been a revolving door of family and friends, which prove to be enjoyable diversions from the job in hand, especially if guests bring Tunnocks caramel wafers from Glasgow.

Amongst all the anecdotes, the most poetic stories describe an appetising feast of good food and drink.  The buzzing farmers’ Markets are the place to buy the freshest fruit and vegetables, and they also pick their own walnuts and plums – the delicious Pruneaux d’Agen is a famous speciality.

Fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables at the weekly local markets.

Cheap, gluggable, quality wine is purchased in BIBS  – a bag of 5 litres in a box and they also try their hand at making walnut wine.  Embracing local manners, it is important to greet everyone you meet each day, with a cheery Bonjour.

Their elderly neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne, are true Masterchefs, rustling up Broad bean soup, truffle omelette, venison pate for lunch. A turkey “fed with grains and fruit produced the most succulent, mouth watering meat we had ever tasted.”  Quality, simple peasant cooking at its best.

Just like Peter Mayle’s passion for French cuisine which enticed his move to Provence, it’s the food and wine which has been a highlight of their sabbatical in Aquitaine. “From the River to the Sea” is a most enchanting, time-travelling journey, enriched with childhood memories, cultural & culinary adventures, relating the story of a beloved family home, ‘Coutal’ for over nearly fifty years.

   “A year of difficult situations and heartbreak ….I could write a dissertation on French building terms!.” Basia Gordon.

Coutal – beautifully redesigned for the 21st century

From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for MeA Memoir by Basia Gordon is published by Matador.

Hardback: £17.99 ISBN: 978-1800461345

Paperback: £12.99 ISBN: 978-1800461352

The GlenDronach Original 12 year old Single Malt Scotch – ‘Coorie in’ with a warming dram this winter.

It’s February and with chill winds, rain and snow around the British Isles, the time of year as the Scots say, to ‘coorie in’.  Coorie, traditionally ‘to cower’, is such an evocative word meaning to cuddle up and snuggle in, the Scottish equivalent of the Danish Hygge.

“Coorie in” with a warming Dram

Just picture the scene, wrapped in a woolly jumper or tartan rug, curled up on the sofa in front of a log fire. Coorie is about embracing all things Scottish to find a sense of warmth and happiness. This is the timely message from GlenDronach distillery – ‘Coorie in’ with a dram for a relaxing evening or leisurely weekend at home.

GlenDronach Highland Single Malt Scotch whisky – as cosy as a tartan rug.

First the release of its rich aroma and then the first sip of the smooth golden liquid slipping down the throat, there’s nothing like the a dram of Scotch whisky for the ultimate Winter Warmer.

So let’s take a closer look at The GlenDronach Distillery and sample their 12 year old Highland single malt.

200 years of whisky making tradition and heritage

GlenDronach means ‘valley of the brambles’ in Scots Gaelic. Amidst the hills of the Eastern Highlands, in the fertile landscape of the Forgue valley, The GlenDronach is one of the oldest licensed distilleries, founded in 1826 by James Allardice, an early pioneer of sherry cask maturation. Spanish Sherry was a popular import into Scotland in the 19th Century and Allardice discovered that these casks were the perfect marriage to craft his distinctive Highland spirit.  

The Parliament of Rooks which has long protected the Highland Distillery.

This heritage has been preserved by a wonderful legend: a parliament of rooks roosting here has been the guardians of the distillery secrets for nearly two hundred years – it is believed that as long as the rooks remain, it will be good for the whisky. 

Today GlenDronach Distillery maintains the old fashioned, handcrafted techniques as part of the slow, time consuming journey from the germination of the barley to the careful distillation process through the copper pot stills.

The giant copper stills

Then the distilled liquor is transferred to the sherry casks and left to mature over many years in the warehouses. Nearly 70% of the flavour in whisky is derived from the cask so the wood itself is an essential ingredient.

All the distillery’s sherry casks are Spanish oak wood from trees in Galicia which is toasted over log fires which unlocks the alchemy of oak wood, before the casks are filled with Pedro Ximénez or Oloroso sherry from Andalucía.

Heritage and Tradition since the days of James Allarcice in 1826

Sherry casks have been a natural, traditional process for centuries, and Spanish oak is still very important for the crafting of The GlenDronach Whiskies.

The Spanish Oak Sherry casks lined up in the Warehouse

 “I still believe single malt Scotch is the most complex spirit in the world —my goal is to create this balanced character; for the GlenDronach, I want something with finesse and elegance but that’s also weighty and robust. It’s about having those layers and the tension between fine and deeper notes. Dr Rachel Barrie, Master Blender

Dr. Rachel Barrie, Master Blender

The GlenDronach Original, Aged 12 Years  

What The GlenDronach Distillery team say:

Appearance: Deep, amber-red gold. 

Nose:  Sweet, vanilla with hints of ginger and spicy mulled wine

Palate: Creamy, silky-smooth, warm oak and sherry sweetness, raisins, soft fruit.

Finish: Long, full and firm, slightly nutty and dry.

First, it’s interesting to research the original characteristics of the Spanish sherries, which will influence the overall aroma, flavour and texture.

Pedro Ximénez sherry: Intense sweet dried fruit aromas of raisins, fig, prunes and dates; orange peel, coconut, nuts, treacle, vanilla, as well as leather and tobacco.

Oloroso sherry: Rich roasted coffee with notes of chocolate, brazil nuts, almonds, muscovado sugar with a bone dry finish. 

A sherry with a blend of Oloroso with PX has been described as “the aroma of old navy rum; take a sip and it explodes with raisins, molasses, salted caramel and a finish of walnuts”

The GlenDronach single malt, having been soaked for 12 years in these Spanish sherry casks is sure to offer a similar symphony of flavours. Time to pour a dram, savour and sip in leisurely contemplation.

An enticing glass of this shimmering, amber-red Scotch Whisky

Nose:  An intriguing, aromatic blend of rich fruit cake and dusty wood.

Palate:  Approachable, gentle flavours of dried fruits, toffee, cinnamon, ginger, walnuts, orange peel.  Balance is the thing it pulls off well, neither too sweet nor too rich, with enough complexity to keep it interesting.

Finish:  Warm, spicy and velvety smooth with a soft, pleasant whiff of wood smoke.

This GlenDronach Highland Single Malt, with its sherry wine, citrus and spicy flavours, is ideal to mix in classic Cocktails.

The classic Old Fashioned with a large sphere of ice

Old Fashioned

It’s said that this is the world’s most popular whisky cocktail and the recipe is very simple: 

50ml GlenDronach 12 Year Old, Brown sugar, Dash of bitters, orange peel.

Pour ingredients over ice and stir with a bar spoon. Strain into a chilled glass with ice, garnish with orange peel. 

The rich, smooth and silky taste is equal to its ‘reputation’ as a drink for the macho-man who is perhaps also, rich, smooth and silky.

Highland Martini – the clear gin painted with a soft golden glow

Highland Martini

A Smoky Martini would usually be created with a strongly peated, smoky whisky. Instead, replace the vermouth in a classic dry Gin Martini with this Highland single malt for something tantalisingly different.  The late Sean Connery (aka James Bond) would no doubt approve.

60ml Gin, 7.5ml GlenDronach single malt whisky

Add both ingredients to a mixing glass and fill with ice. Stir, and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Alternatively, turn this into a Burnt Martini by combining 60ml gin, 7.5ml Scotch whisky and 15ml dry vermouth.

The Rob Roy – theatrically staged with tartan, tweed and an ancient sword!

Rob Roy

As a Scottish twist on the Manhattan, the Rob Roy was created around 1894 at the Waldorf Astoria, New York, inspired by an operetta, “Rob Roy,” staged at the nearby Herald Square Theatre. The story is based on Scottish folk hero, Rob Roy MacGregor. 

50 ml GlenDronach Single Malt, 20 ml Sweet Rosso Vermouth, dash Angostura Bitters

Stir ingredients over ice in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with maraschino cherry and serve straight up.  

The art of Whisky tasting is always an individual experience and we may all detect remarkably different aromas, tastes and flavours; here, a few dram drinkers describe their personal views of The GlenDronach 12 year old:

Complex and intriguing.  Rich caramel, hint of nuts, malted barley, nutty, oak smoke and spicy.

The nose offers aromas of stewed fruits, rhubarb and bramble jam crushed hazel nut, brown sugar and a faint charcoal smokiness. Richly flavoured with sherry fruitiness. A classic warming dram.  

An absolute whopper of a sherry-finish whisky. Beautiful fragrance, rich flavour with wonderful smoothness.

This GlenDronach 12 year old Single Malt is clearly an all round winner with both whisky lovers and the experts.  It has been awarded numerous Gold medals at the International Wine & Spirits Competition and at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition over recent years.

Dr. Rachel Barrie being presented with the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame honour, 2018

Dr. Rachel Barrie joined the Brown-Forman family in March 2017 as Master Blender for The GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh distilleries and the following year, she was inducted into The Whisky Magazine’s Hall of Fame. This is the highest accolade The Whisky Magazine can bestow, honouring individuals who have made a lasting contribution to the whisky world.

Find out more about The GlenDronach Distillery on the website, with the range of whisky expressions & vintages, and where to buy:

https://www.glendronachdistillery.com/en-gb/our-whisky/