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The Edinburgh Food Festival @ Assembly George Square Garden: enjoy a gourmet alfresco picnic to kick start the summer Festival season.

The Edinburgh Food Festival launched in 2015, running for five days as part of Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink. The Festival soon developed as a showcase for the best producers and chefs from across Scotland, with street food, market stalls, workshops and cookery demos, welcoming over 35,000 visitors in summer 2019.

The Edinburgh Food Festival celebrates the finest quality Scottish food and drink

Having been cancelled in 2020, this popular festival for foodies and beer drinkers has been given support from Scotland’s Events Recovery Fund through EventScotland to return for its fifth year, running for ten days from Friday 23th July to Sunday 1st August, 2021.

“We’re delighted to be back in George Square Garden preparing for our summer of festivals once more. The hospitality and cultural industries are closely intertwined, and the Edinburgh Food Festival has served as the perfect entrée to our Garden experience since 2015.”

Dani Rae, General Manager, Assembly Festival

Experience a tasty starter to launch the Edinburgh Festival summer season at Assembly George Square Garden

George Square Garden is at the heart of Assembly on the Fringe with shows at the fabulous vintage Spiegeltent and pop up stages: during the week beforehand, the Food Festival offers an appetising amuse bouche to kick start the Edinburgh Festival season.

This year there are over thirty local producers, street food and market stalls as well as workshops and chef demos, to offer a colourful culinary feast of Scotland’s best contemporary food and drink – with an international flavour.

The Edinburgh Food Festival is open every day from 12 noon to midnight – entry is free with no tickets required. As with all hospitality venues, all health and safety regulations are in place for social distancing and the wooden tables with benches seat eight people.  So bring your bubble of family and friends.!

Returning again are several well known Scottish food producers such as Jarvis Pickle. Based in Eyemouth, they make hand crafted, homely, meat, fish, vegetarian and vegan filled pies, winning 30 recent Awards including for their Cullen Skink Pie, Pork and Blue Cheese pie and Steak and Kidney Pie.  Great Taste Awards for Vegan Mushroom and Chestnut with Truffle Oil Pie, Pork Venison, Port & Redcurrant Pie.

These speciality gourmet pies are sold at the prestigious Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London so excellence is assured.

Champion Vegetarian Class winner, 2019 is the Spinach, Goat Cheese and Sweet Potato Pie. This is so healthy and hearty, the thick shortcrust pastry shell is stuffed full of vegetables – 33% spinach, sweet potato, tomato, goats cheese (8%), cream, garlic, butter, vegetable fat, cream cheese, egg, salt black pepper.

The pastry is pre-cooked to prevent a soggy bottom, a culinary error frequently criticised by the judges on Great British Bake Off. !

These pies are seriously stuffed full of premium ingredients.

Jarvis Pickle pies are made from scratch for home-made taste and nutrition. The flour is grown and milled on a farm in East Lothian for the buttery pastry, filled with beef, chicken, smoked Eyemouth haddock and vegetables and eggs from the Scottish Borders. Once you have tasted a bite, you will be checking out which pie to munch next.!

Bellfield Brewery & Tap Room at Abbeyhill, Edinburgh is the UK’s first exclusively gluten free craft brewery, family-run with a mission: to craft-brew certified gluten-free craft beer produced in small batches, using traditional brewing methods; the perfect combination of science and art.  

‘We set up Bellfield to make exceptional beers that everyone could enjoy drinking. We love good food, so we brew beers that complement it. No compromise, just delicious, classic IPAs, hoppy ales and crisp, refreshing and perfectly balanced lagers and pilsners’.

Award winning beer, ale and lager from Bellfield Brewery

Lawless Village IPA is named after the local seaside resort of Portobello. A copper coloured, aromatic beer brewed as a traditional American IPA. Enjoy this chilled, with friends, Bellfield suggest.  

Bohemian Pilsner is a classic Czech pilsner, pale with a light body, slight bitterness and gentle floral tones from the finest Saaz hops leading to a soft refreshing finish. The Session Ale has citrus tones from the hops for flavour and aroma and the bitterness is balanced by fine malt character – very gluggable.

And many other award winning Bellfield ales and lagers to keep you refreshed sitting under the summer sun in the garden. This smiling “bar tender” at their Festival stand looks as if he will be very happy to serve you.!

Chick + Pea is a pop up mobile kitchen in their iconic bright blue Citroën H Van, touring around to cater for hungry folk at Festivals and private parties.

They specialise in tasty dishes from the Mediterranean and the Middle East – Halloumi fries, roast garlic yoghurt; Falafel, hummus, tahini; Courgette fritters, goats, feta, ricotta cheese, harissa yoghurt.

Healthy Middle Eastern & Mediterranean snacks with aromatic spice

​Back again too is the popular wee shed – kitchen We sell Dumplings, and their brand name says it all. They make and sell wee bite size dumplings. Their enticing promotion, akin to the foodie travel memoir, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ – is rather clever, Order, Consume, Repeat.

These tasty, vegan Scottish – Asian parcels are perfect picnic canapés, drizzled with chilli oil and Vietnamese dipping sauce.

‘Became utterly addicted to these during the Festival. Really tasty and good value for money for a decent sized portion,’ commented one happy diner.

We sell Dumplings – spicy, vegan, Asian snacks – so delicious

Moskito Bites and Tapas bring a taste of Spanish summer with Patatas Bravas and Spaniard Fries.  Mana Poké creates edible art with their healthy, protein-packed, Hawaiian Poké Bowls. As good as you would find in Naples, try the Paddle and Peel Pizza, freshly baked in their wood-fired oven. 

As well as Bellfield beers, other drinks are Poco Prosecco sparkling fizz and Sangria from Moskito’s Bacchus Mobile Bar.

You don’t have to head down the coast to Prestonpans to experience the famous Alandas Fish and Chips and seafood, as the van is back on the Square.

The fish is locally sourced and delivered daily so depending on the catch, there might be scampi, salt and chilli squid, salmon and lobster too. Recommended are the juicy fat, freshly grilled prawns on a skewer with a side of fries for posh fish and chips – sorted!  

Alandas fresh local seafood
Alandas Fish ‘n Chips – great Festival food

For dessert, Alanda is also a Gelataria. Their award-winning ice cream is made with Scottish cream and milk from a local dairy in East Lothian at their North Berwick parlour,  and as well as vanilla, infused with quality seasonal fruit and ingredients. As they proudly say, ‘Handmade with love.’

Home made Scottish Gelato from Alandas

As well as this wide choice of freshly cooked dishes to enjoy in the garden, several market stalls have a selection of food products to purchase and take home.

So head over to the Edinburgh Food Festival this week to enjoy leisurely picnic lunches, snacks, drinks and alfresco dining by night in the tranquil lush, green space of Assembly George Square Gardens.

The best news is that entry is free and you don’t need a reservation. Open every day from 12pm–midnight until Sunday 1 August.

Bon Appetit and Cheers!

To keep up to date with all the news about the Edinburgh Food Festival, visit or follow @EdFoodFest and #EdFoodFest on social media. 

The perfect tranquil green space for a picnic lunch or alfresco dinner

‘Art and Soul – The International Art and Sculpture Fair’ presents a colourful, cultural experience at the Culloden Estate & Spa, Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This summer, Gormleys Fine Art is presenting a major arts and sculpture event ‘Art & Soul,’ at the Culloden Estate and Spa, near Belfast.

Founded in 1990, Gormleys has galleries in Belfast and Dublin curating exhibitions year round, taking part in global art fairs and organising garden sculpture events throughout Ireland.  Specialising in international & Irish contemporary art, this is their sixth major exhibition at the Culloden Estate taking place from 26 June to 18 July, 2021.

Culloden Estate & Spa, Belfast Lough

Ireland’s largest ever sculpture exhibition – complemented by a stunning showcase of unique artwork by such world masters as Andy Warhol, Picasso and Dali – has a combined value of an extraordinary 7 million Euro.

The Culloden Estate was built in 1876 as an official palace for the Bishops of Down, who picked an idyllic location in the Holywood Hills overlooking Belfast Lough on the County Antrim coastline. This grand sandstone mansion surrounded by 12 acres of gardens, offers traditional Irish hospitality with contemporary lifestyle.

Art in the Garden – a dreamlike, sculptural wonderland

The central highlight of the Fair is Art In the Garden, featuring sixty large sculptures and installations by Orla de Brie, Patrick O’Reilly, Paoli Staccioli, Bob Quinn, April Young, Ian Pollock, Eamonn Ceannt, Gianfranco Bosco, Anthony Scott and other leading Irish and international sculptors.

Let’s take a walk around the garden at the Culloden Hotel to venture into an Alice in Wonderland world of birds, animals, dancers and fairylike ‘Ariel’ characters.

Penair, Eamon Ceannt

Anthony Scott, born in County Fermanagh, is primarily known for his beautifully stylised, majestic bronze animals based on Celtic mythology and literature. “I come from a farming background, so animals have always been a source of inspiration. They possess a sense of timelessness, [appearing] in art from the earliest cave paintings”

Donn, Anthony Scott (Bull) and Un Cavallo, Paolo Staccioli (Horse)

The Italian sculptor Paolo Staccioli from near Florence began his artistic career as a painter in the 1970s, later diversifying to experiment with ceramics and pottery. His compositions feature warriors, travellers and horses as recurrent characters. This is a magical work with a tiny figure clinging to an elegant horse on red wheels.

Patrick O’Reilly from Kilkenny, Ireland, is a highly acclaimed Irish artist who studied at the Belfast school of Art. His personality and humour shines through in his unique bronze sculptures of the animal kingdom. Monumental large-scale public commissions have allowed his sculptures to become part of the local landscape particularly in Ireland but also worldwide including a Strolling Bear in Paris and a Dancing Bear wearing a tutu in Cape Town.

Bear with Jockey, Patrick O’Reilly

Patrick O’Reilly’s humorous larger than life-size Bears look as if they have jumped out of a story book and will certainly entertain children who can also take part in a Teddy Bears’ Picnic. There are also several other O’Reilly sculptures of small bears, Irish Wolfhounds and horses with a light hearted spirit of fantasy.

Freedom from the Treadmill, Patrick O’Reilly

Giacinto Bosco from Alcamo, Sicily, showed artist talent as a young boy moving to Milan aged just fifteen to be an apprentice caster at a foundry, a creative place to inspire poetic, dreamlike narratives in his figures.

I Promise You the Moon, Giacinto Bosco

Orla de Brí lives in her native Ireland working in bronze, steel, stone and fibreglass as well as recently experimenting in photography. She creates both Giacometti-esque, slender figures and the abstract human form. “ I am curious about human behaviour, how we relate to other people, a perspective on life, love, self and emotional landscape.

Seated She Stag, Orla de Bri

F. E. McWilllian (1909 – 1992), was a renowned Northern Irish surrealist sculptor, working chiefly in stone, wood and bronze. His early wood carvings were influenced by primitive and African art, moving on to develop more symbolic and imaginative work. This is a most enigmatic and powerful Picasso-esque deconstructed woman.

Umbilicus, F.E. McWilliam

A number of grand salons inside the hotel have displays of smaller, intimate sculptures. Here too are pop up galleries of to showcase dynamic work by the world’s Blue Chip artists: Warhol, Picasso, Dali, Lichtenstein, Damien Hirst and Banksy.

Andy Warhol was a cultural legend in his own lifetime as an influential leader of the1960’s Pop Art movement. His imaginative vision transformed the humble Campbell’s Soup and the glamourous blonde, Marilyn Monroe into such iconic illustrations which remain instantly recognisable worldwide. Warhol was certainly famous for fifteen minutes.!

Mickey Mouse, Andy Warhol (signed screenprint )

An exhibition of 15 works by Warhol in the Cameron suite of the hotel include his quirky caricature of ‘Mickey Mouse’ and portraits of ‘Mick Jagger’, (signed by both Warhol and Jagger), Chairman Mao and Ingrid Bergman.

Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol, (screenprint signed by Warhol and Jagger)

Probably the most renowned 20th century artist, Pablo Picasso was an innovative pioneer as a painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, redefining, reinventing and shaping the direction of modern art through the decades. Today, auction prices are continually rising. Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) 1932, recently sold at Christie’s New York for $103.4 million. This work was only acquired eight years ago for $44 million at a London sale.  

A wise investment indeed!.  Here, there’s a fine selection of etchings and drawings for sale to add a small original Picasso artwork to your own collection.

Le Cabinet Particulier, Degas et Le Fille, Pablo Picasso, (signed etching from a limited edition of 150)

As an urban graffiti artist, Banksy follows in the brushstrokes of these masters. His trademark imagery of children in strange, alien environments create a powerful message: With such poignancy, ‘Napalm’ is inspired by the photograph of nine-year-old girl running naked in fear down a road during the Vietnam conflict, ‘The Terror of War’.

Napalm, Bansky (signed screenprint)

Introducting children to a diverse range of artwork is so important to stimulate their own creativity. They are sure to be amused by ‘Triumphant Elephant Anniversary’ one of Salvador Dali’s surreal long-legged creatures, a recurring theme to depict strength and dominance.

Triumphant Elephant Anniversary, Salvador Dali, (Lithograph print)

A diverse range of work is also on display by contemporary artists across all genres – portraits, graphic art, abstract designs, landscapes and botanical studies.

Neal Greig was born in Belfast in 1965. He studied BA Hons in Fine Art at Edinburgh College of Art presents a series of seascapes.  ‘The elemental combination of earth, air, fire and water are my core subject matter.  Working outside brings an instinctive aspect to painting rather than a picturesque view of the landscape.’

Atlantic Port, Donegal, Neal Greig

Bridget Flinn attended the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and the Royal College of Art in London, where she studied natural history illustration.  Working from her studio in Sandymount in Dublin, subjects include landscape, life drawing and still life.

First Peonies, Bridget Flinn

Julian Opie graduated in 1983 from Goldsmiths, University of London, where he was taught by conceptual artist and painter Michael Craig-Martin. A major player on the British art scene with a series of painted metal sculptures, portraits and walking figures.

Summer Rain 3, Julian Opie

Stephen Forbes was born in Northern Ireland in 1973 and trained in London and Liverpool. “My paintings simply aim to give viewers pleasure and to celebrate the playfulness of life… without the obsessive introspection about life and self.”

Splash II is certainly the perfect illustration to reflect a sunshine escape this summer.

Splash 11, Stephen Forbes

A most enticing attraction is the ‘Bolli Bus’  parked in the gardens, a bespoke Champagne Bar-Bus created by Pattinson & Co. Wine Merchants, distributors of Bollinger Champagne. Outdoor seating for an afresco drink. Book the top deck for a private party (12 people) to turn a visit to the Art & Soul Fair into a special occasion.

The Bolli Bus, The Champagne Bar-Bus at Culloden Estate during Art & Soul Art Fair

Experience a leisurely Afternoon Tea which includes a curated art tour of the Fair or book a table for dinner in the unique Pop Art gallery of the Warhol Room. The Culloden Estate is offering special Art & Soul rates for overnight stays – (see more details below).

This is just a brief overview of this well curated exhibition of fine art and sculpture to enrich the mind and soul.  Do plan a visit if you can to the Culloden Estate.

Art & Soul: International Art & Sculpture Fair

Culloden Estate & Spa, Bangor Road, Holywood, Belfast BT18 OEX

Saturday 26th June – 18th July, open daily from 11am to 7pm.

Admission is free and prior booking is not required. Guided tours daily at 2pm, 4pm and 6pm.

Read more about the art fair here:

The Culloden Estate is offering Art & Soul special rates for overnight stays. Please quote ARTSOUL when booking: Overnight accommodation, full Irish breakfast from £280 per room.

The Culloden Estate & Spa is part of the Hastings Hotels Group, one of seven luxury hotels across Northern Ireland, located 10 minutes from George Best Belfast City Airport and 30 minutes from Belfast International Airport. The five star hotel is a member of Small Luxury Hotels, a collection of 500 global boutique-styled, independent properties.

There are 98 guest bedrooms and suites, wine and dine at Vespers Restaurant or at the hotel’s own pub, The Cultra Inn. The Spa at Culloden is an oasis for therapeutic ESPA face and body treatments, with new thermal experiences and medi-spa for wellness and relaxation. Guests can use the Health Club, with swimming pool, jacuzzi and steam room. 

With its lavish parkland and gardens, The Culloden Estate is a popular venue for weddings and private and corporate parties and events.

Book your stay here:

Broken Heart, Patrick O’Reilly

Caravan Finca El Fénix ‘One Coffee – Three Ways’: Time to taste Real coffee from Columbia

The daily experience of our modern, fast-paced lifestyle, is all about immediacy for everything from Instagram photos to RTD cocktails in a can. But speed does not always mean the traditional quality of Kodak camera film, a slowly crafted Martini to brewing fresh tea-leaves in a teapot.  

And in my view, there’s no comparison between instant coffee and the aromatic flavour of freshly ground coffee beans.

After the essential necessity of water, coffee is the most popular drink worldwide with over two billion cups consumed every day – around 95 million cups in the UK.  Coffee culture is part of our daily life, giving us a kick start in the morning.

2020 was a brutal year for the hospitality industry when cafes, bars and bistros closed during lockdowns and avid coffee drinkers missed the daily coffee shop habit and a cardboard cup on the go. 

However, the current trend which ensued is home consumption with a rise in demand for coffee beans, ground coffee, pods and capsules with smart coffee machines, cafetieres, espresso makers, in order to prepare our own Barista-style hit of caffeine.

Brazil is the largest producer followed by Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Ethiopia. The coffee industry is part of a complex global trade supply chain across a range of businesses, family farms, shipping companies, roasters, grocery stores, independent & online suppliers, coffee shops and finally the consumer.

Farmers and mill workers use different forms of technology, often based on the terroir – the geographical landscape – of the region, their access to resources such as fresh water and electricity.

Raw Material is a social enterprise coffee importer, the brainchild of New Zealand coffee professionals Matt Graylee and Richard Corney.  Their aim is to support producers in the local community by offering training from how to raise rare coffee varietals to advanced processing methods and access to speciality trade markets.

Finca El Fénix is a multi-use farm in Quindío, Colombia, founded and run by Raw Material, their first major project launched in 2014.

Working in close partnership with Raw Material, Caravan Coffee Roasters in the UK was a major sponsor in a Kickstarter campaign to fund the construction of a Wet Mill here at Quindío to help develop a sustainable and successful coffee business community. Caravan is a member of ‘1% For The Planet’, giving 1% of their total revenue each year to environmental causes.

Processing coffee is complex and has a significant effect on the final product: growing, picking, sorting, pulping and drying the cherry fruit seeds to the export-ready beans. The overall flavour and quality affects the price, directly linked to the income and living standards of the local workers and their families.

The careful gathering of ripe coffee cherries like grapes for wine

Like a professional Master of Wine, or a cocktail mixologist, James Hoffman is a Sommelier-style expert on coffee. He is the author of ‘The World Atlas of Coffee’: from Beans to Brewing, coffee explored, explained and enjoyed:

“Everything good about coffee is in how it is grown. The beans are known at this stage as cherries. We want ripe cherries. These cherries are the size of a grape with a couple of seeds (the coffee beans) in a protective layer covered in a sticky layer of fruit, which tastes of sweet honey and melon flavours. The seeds are laid out to dry and the defective ones removed – only a tiny percentage of coffee goes through this sorting stage.

James Hoffman

The sweet cherry Fruits with coffee bean seeds

Miguel Fajardo, head of operations at Raw Material in Columbia, launched an innovative experiment to identify how specific processing methods change the characteristics of coffee. They selected just one coffee varietal – the Tabi – grown in one area of the Finca El Fénix farm and harvested in the same week.

Three year old TABI coffee trees at Finca El Fénix (photo Andrea Jimenez)

The cherries were then processed in three distinctive ways to examine the impact on flavour.

Natural Process: Ripe, intact cherries, sorted for impurities and laid to dry on raised beds for 14 days.  

Washed Process: Depulped cherry fermented in fresh water before drying on raised beds for 14 days. 

Honey Process: Depulped cherry with fruit pulp still attached, laid to dry on raised beds for 14 days.

Raised beds for the drying process of the cherry seed coffee beans

Caravan Coffee Roasters has now launched a Tasting Set of these Natural, Washed and Honey Coffee Beans: One Coffee – Three Ways. This is a rare opportunity to understand the varied production methods of coffee farming and the diversity of coffee. 

Caravan Coffee Roasters: Finca El Fénix – One Coffee -Three Ways

James Hoffman is a well known presenter of informative on line videos to explain the slow, slow preparation of coffee beans at home to ensure the finest quality and taste.    

Ensure you purchase freshly roasted coffee beans. However, the final aspect to the perfect brew is down to the drinker at home – grinding the beans, temperature of the water, agitation and preparation time.

In the UK, we are more likely to say Cafetiere instead of the American term, French Press – the glass jug with a plunger. Just like following a recipe to bake a cake, the correct measurement of ingredients is essential.

James Hoffman recommends 70g of ground coffee per 1 litre of water for his French Press brewing technique.  Caravan Roasters suggests 60g ground coffee per 1 litre of water – so why not test and taste to find the best ratio for your preference of coffee strength.

Step 1. Grind the coffee beans on a medium/ coarse setting. Finely ground coffee will result in a lot of slush, while grinding too coarse will give coffee a bitter taste.

Step 2. Add the ground coffee to the glass jug.

Step 3. Boil the water and then let it sit for 30 seconds. Water at boiling point results in burning the coffee.

Step 4. Pour a quarter of the measured water into the glass jug. Let the coffee bloom for 30 seconds then slowly start pouring the rest of the water over the ground coffee.  Do not stir and leave the jug uncovered. Set a timer for 3 minutes, 30 seconds

Step 5.  Scrape off the thin crust layer that has formed on top of the liquid with a spoon.

Step 6. Patience is a virtue to make the best cup of coffee.!  Wait for at least 6 minutes.  

Step 7.  Slowly start pushing the plunger just below the surface of the coffee (about 5mm). This stops the coffee fines (tiny particles) being agitated and floating back up into the brew.  Then push the mesh filter plunger down to just above the layer of coffee beans at the bottom of the glass beaker.

Step 8. Pour the coffee into a large cup – leaving the dregs (slush) in the cafeteire.   

This method, advises Hoffman, offers an exceptional flavour profile.

Excellent coffee should have its own sweetness, and instead of suppressing bitterness, milk will obscure the flavour characteristics of the coffee, hiding the work of the producer and the expression of terroir.
― James Hoffman

Just like apppreciating the complexities of wine and grape varieties, it’s the same with coffee beans. There are generally six characteristics to bear in mind when tasting coffee – aroma, acidity, sweetness, body, finish and flavour.

Natural coffee beans –Tasting notes: Blackberry jam, crème caramel, mango, treacle.

The Taste test: Dark smooth chocolate, toasted hazelnut with a slightly sour yet smoothly rich and creamy finish.

Washed coffee bean : Tasting notes: Pink fruits, floral, black tea, custard

The Taste test: A blend of stone fruits, (damson, plum), caramel, and a delicious soft wood smoke, lingering on the palette.

Honey coffee beans: Tasting notes: Red apple, condensed milk, apricot, sweet baking spice

The Taste test: Well rounded with the mellow sweetness of red berries, raspberries & strawberries, milk chocolate, a hint of cinnamon spice with a very long finish.

Coffee is an all-natural drink – and it has been fascinating to learn more about the subtle differences from fragrant aroma to hidden flavours across these three varieties of El Fénix coffee beans.

Of course, most coffee shop aficianados worldwide love to add frothy full fat milk, cream, sugar, chocolate and caramel syrup et. al. – Cappucino, Latte, Caffè mocha or the highly calorific Frappucino!.

Why not experiment and perfect your own delicious home brew – coffee not beer – with a choice of non-dairy oat, soy, rice and almond milk, turmeric, matcha for fashionable, healthy options. 

From the Columbian estate, from cherry to roasted bean, it’s time to taste real coffee once again with these speciality, hand crafted coffee beans.

The evolution and revolution of global Coffee Culture continues.!

Caravan Roasters Finca El Fénix Coffee Beans curated in association with Raw Material

Available to buy at: – £18 (3 x 80g whole bean)

And check out their range of coffee:

Experience the true taste of traditional, quality Italian cuisine at home from Saporista.

Italian food is probably the most famous and beloved around the world. In fact, there is no such thing as “Italian cuisine” because the country, spread around the long, curving peninsula, is divided into small states and every region has its own dialect, dishes, culture and traditions.

Think of fat Amalfi lemons, black truffle from Umbria, Risotto alla Milanese and Neapolitan pizza.  

Families regularly gather to eat and drink together for simple suppers and special celebrations.  Recipes from Nonna and Mamma are passed on down the generations treated with respect and passion, simplicity is key, sourcing fresh, seasonal ingredients. This is the way Italians eat.

If we cannot plan a visit to Spoleto or Sorrento just now, the good news is that Saporista, the speciality Mediterranean food company in the UK, has sourced a feast of authentic produce and ingredients.

Select from a hand-picked range of traditional, artisan ingredients – aperitivo snacks, pasta, vegetables, salsa, sauces, cheese and chocolate to create easy Italian meals at home. 

Dinner is always a leisurely affair, starting with the Aperitivo hour – sip a glass of Prosecco,  Aperol Spritz or a classic Negroni to entice the appetite.

Aperitivo time – sip cocktails and nibble olives and bruschetta

Serve refreshing ice cold drinks with juicy olives and Taralli – shaped like baby bagels with the crumbly texture of a shortbread and dry taste of a water biscuit and bread sticks.

Bruschetta is ideal to nibble over cocktails or as a starter: toasted bread with a topping – roasted garlic and tomatoes.  Saporista has a choice of savoury dips such as Perché ci Credo’s Bruschetta Rosso Piccantino perfect for jazzing up ciabatta and crackers.  

Tasty Bruschetta snacks with a range of toppings

Described as “slightly hot”, Rosso Piccantino is a red pesto with Peperoncino – chilli pepper – giving a spicy kick. Be warned, a teaspoonful goes a long way!. 

Perché ci Credo produces a wide range of traditional Italian products capturing the intense flavour and unique aroma of fresh ingredients with no sugar, preservatives or artificial colouring.  

Perché ci credo means ‘because I believe’ in Italian.  

‘I believe in finely chopped onion meeting genuine olive oil in the pan. I believe in red crushed tomatoes and in red wine, and the joyful mix of flavours of red peppers and delicate courgettes. A simple pleasure.  That’s why I believe in it!’. 

Enrico de Lorenzo, founder Perché ci Credo

Enrico de Lorenzo shares his passion for fresh, seasonal food from Puglia

Located in Salento, Puglia, the southern ‘heel of Italy’, is renowned for sunshine, seashore and olive trees.  The cuisine here is based on vegetables, fruit, cheese, fish, a little meat and good extra virgin olive oil, the pillar of the Mediterranean diet.  

Perché ci Credo – located along the fertile farmland and coastline of Puglia

It is this taste of Italian lifestyle, real, simple local ingredients which they prepare, preserve and bottle – authentic produce using family recipes and sense of tradition.

Carciofini Arrostiti in Olio – roasted artichokes in extra virgin olive oil is simply delicious – juicy chunky hunks of vegetables – just toss into a salad or add to a pasta dish.  Tomatoes and Olives too in this range of vegetables in the local olive oil.

Their method of artisan cuisine is based on fresh raw ingredients, washed and gently cut by hand, then added to a pan to cook, slowly simmering in extra virgin olive oil. This preserves the natural flavour and fragrance.

Farmhouse Tomato sauces are in attractive beer bottles with string and a metal seal. The flagship product, Salsa Madre just how Mamma would make it – 99% fresh tomatoes with a little basil and a pinch of salt.

As sampled, Cacio & Pepe is a thick tomato passata flavoured with Cacio – a soft sheep’s milk cheese – and black pepper.  It’s inspired by a Roman recipe combining lightly fried onion, fresh tomato pulp, extra virgin olive oil, cheese, pepper and sprinkle of parsley.

Perché ci Credo’s homemade, organic sauces are produced with locally sourced ingredients, no added sugar or artificial ingredients. Stir these Farmhouse sauces through pasta with some fresh herbs and sprinkle with parmesan.   

Having tasted a little on its own, it’s the exactly same taste of the tomato topping on pizza!. So ypu can also use this passata to fresh dough and top with mozzarella and basil for a Margherita or add other ingredients to create your favourite Pizza.

But I shall continue my Italian feast with a bowl of Pasta produced by Molina e Pastificio Fratelli Iozzini Gragnano which has a fascinating family heritage.

September, 1797: Marcantonio Iozzini, his wife Serafini Di Nola and their four sons start wheat milling and pasta production business having inherited a family mill, Lo Monaco.  

The Iozzino Pasta company, founded 1797

Fast forward to 1920. Ferdinando Iozzino sets up a company with two entrepreneurs called “Pastificio La Gragnanese” which continues for about ten years.   On to the present day, June 2018,  when brothers Tommaso and Domenico Iozzino resume the production of artisan dried pasta started over two centuries earlier by their family. The house specialties are Mezzani, Vermicelli, Zita, Occhi di Elefante, Maccaroncelli, Lingue di Passero and Fusilli.

Pasta is a simple product: durum wheat flour and water.  Since the Middle Ages, the main region for milling wheat was Gragnano between the Gulf of Naples and Salerno along the Amalfi coast.  The constant quantity of natural water here provided energy for the mills and for the pasta itself.

The wheat growing region of Gragnano between Naples and Amalfi coast

Iozzino Gragnano pasta is produced from 100% Italian wheat and local Spring water. Durum (hard) wheat grains have a course texture and a yellow-amber colour which is finely milled to create semolina.

Generally there are two options to cut and mould the pasta called extrusion – a traditional bronze die or a Teflon die.  The benefit of the bronze die is that it makes a slightly rough surface which helps sauces and other ingredients stick to the various pasta shapes.

Originating in Sicily, Caserecci  (meaning, ‘homemade’), is a traditional short pasta, rolled lengthways into two twisted strips, their shape and ridged surface perfect for holding pesto and sauces. Known as the ′′ festive pasta “, this often enriches family Sunday lunch especially in Campania.

Fusilli Caserecci with grilled aubergine, tomato sauce, grated cheese and basil leaves

As advised on the label, it does take around 13 minutes to cook yet still slightly al dente.  For texture, flavour and colour, I added a selection of summer vegetables – courgette, artichoke, pepper, chopped garlic, small cherry tomatoes and a few olives. Do try the superlative Saporista olives stuffed with anchovy.

Then the magic essential ingredient, the Perché ci Credo Cacio and Pepe passata. The sinuous pasta can be folded over on the fork and the twisted ribbons caress the sauce beautifully.

For this Fusilli Casarecci pasta, Iozzini suggest your choice of typical Mediterranean ingredients such as courgette, broccoli, sweetcorn and prawns and other seafood.

A taste of Italy – seafood pasta with a glass of vino

Finally, a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Highly recommended is Sapori di Parma Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 12 months) made in Santa Maria del Piano, northern Italy. Anna and Luca continue this artisan business founded in 1945 by their grandfather Bonfiglio.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a unique and inimitable style produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua where the dairy cows are fed on local forage and it takes about 550 litres of milk to produce each wheel, slowly crafted and matured with care.

One of the oldest and most prestigious ‘King of Cheeses’, Parmigiano Reggiano is labelled DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) to show  regional authenticity. This has a hard, granular texture which is easy to grate into small soft flakes which melt into the pasta with subtle saltiness.

Caserecci pasta with broccoli and tomato, with a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano

As well as the perfect, final touch to pasta dishes, small chunks of cheese are also a tasty snack at Aperitivo time. 

With Saporista as your expert culinary guide, take a virtual foodie tour all around Italy – without having to pack your suitcase.

Simple, healthy produce offers premium quality – sweet tomatoes, olives, artichokes, fragrant herbs, homemade pasta and traditional cheese to delight the palate.  And do complement your meal with crisp, dry wine from Tuscany, Veneto and Sicily.  

Authentic, homely food, just as the Italians continue to relish with the same passion passed on through the generations.  Embrace La Dolce Vita lifestyle this summer – buon appetito. !

Plan your Italian dinner here at the Saporista on line store:

Celebrate English Wine Week 2021: Sip Rathfinny Sussex Sparkling wines at your summer parties and picnics.

Vines have been cultivated across England since Roman times, with the Domesday Book referring to Southern English vineyards as early as the 11th century.

There are now more than 700 vineyards across England and Wales, backed by £6 million of government investment to develop modern methods and technology to protect the countryside and land. The climate complements the growth of slow-ripening grapes giving them their unique, delicate flavour.

Hundreds of vineyards across England and Wales

Today, sparkling wine makes up to 72% of all wine produced in the UK and is served regularly at Royal state dinners and government receptions. In the last couple of years, England has become one of the fastest expanding wine regions in the world and continues to gain international acclaim for fine quality.

English Wine Week takes place from the 19th-27th June 2021, so the perfect time to support local vineyards and try something different. 

Primarily made with the same grapes as Champagne (chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier), English sparkling wine is also produced in the “traditional method”,  so home-grown fizz can be as good as the famous French brands.  A few champagne houses, such as Taittinger, have been buying prime vineyards in the UK due to suitable climate and terrain.  

The Rathfinny Wine Estate in East Sussex was founded in 2010 by Mark and Sarah Driver taking on the challenge to produce their own brand of fine sparkling wine.  It occupies the main part of Cradle Valley just three miles from the sea, near Alfriston village.

After eighteen months of preparation Rathfinny planted the first 60,000 vines on a 50 acres site in April 2012 and now has 375,000 vines over 226 acres.  Further development will continue over the next few years with an environmentally friendly, sustainable ethos.

Mark and Sarah Driver, owners of Rathfinny Wine Estate

The principal grapes varieties – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier – have been planted for the Sussex Sparkling Wine, with a few blocks of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris for their Cradle Valley Still wine. Sussex has limestone chalk soils, resulting in high-quality grapes similarly found in the area of Champagne, France. Also, the cool climate preserves the acidity needed to make quality sparkling wine. With the sea in such close proximity any frost risk is well mitigated while a breeze keep the fruit ventilated. Grapes are picked in late October for the perfect, very ripe, healthy fruit.

Rathvinny Wine Estate, Sussex

Rathfinny Estate has a knowledgeable team of staff with international experience: Cameron Roucher from New Zealand is the Estate Manager, and Jonathan Médard, is a French winemaker from Épernay, who has also worked in California. They both agree that this Vineyard has the perfect location, soil and climate to produce world class sparkling wines.

The first Still wine was released in 2015 under the Cradle Valley label, and the inaugural Sussex Sparkling, Blanc de Blancs launched June 2018. Summer 2020 unveiled an exciting full range of Classic Cuvée,  Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs and Rosé Brut.

 “We produce small amounts of still wine, but we’re predominately a sparkling wine producer. High quality ‘Sussex’ Sparkling wine requires at least three years to mature in the bottle to develop all those complex flavours, so I’ve had to learn to be patient, but we’re very proud of our first sparkling wines.

Mark Driver, co-owner of Rathfinny Estate

Rathfinny Sussex Sparkling has received glowing praise from wine critics including Will Lyons of The Sunday Times describing Rathfinny’s Blanc de Noirs as “decadent and world-class.”

Recently released, Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs Brut 2017 is the third vintage of Sussex Sparkling with a limited production of only 9,333 bottles, made from 100% Chardonnay and aged for 36-months on the lees. 12% ABV.

What Rathfinny say:

A luminous, flaxen-gold hue leads to a heady nose of ripe papaya and creamy lemon balm, a refined beading of white peach and fennel pollen with a silken, yuzu zest finish.

This refined sparkling wine meshes sublimely with the sweet delicacy of lobster, the velvet-texture of a goat’s cheese and fig tartlet or pairs perfectly with oysters.


Colour – translucent with a pale gold shimmer.

Time to serve: the sparkling effervescence is lively, but this settles quickly with delicate bubbles rising to the surface. 

Aroma: well-balanced, fresh, with the fragrance of crisp apple and citrus.

Flavour: an enticing basket of peach, apricot and apple fruitiness with earthy herbal tones; the ripe, tart, juicy chardonnay grapes is to the fore with lingering fresh zesty lemon and smooth honey tones. Underlying a soft subtle sweetness, a hint of buttery toasted brioche gives a delicately dry finish on the palate.  

Serve well chilled as an aperitif with canapés and this signature English fizz is just perfect for celebrations.

Rathfinny Blanc de Blancs is light in texture and perfect to complement seafood – smoked salmon, tuna nicoise, grilled lobster with garlic butter and oysters.

Seafood and Sussex Sparking will turn a simple supper into a banquet

The establishment of a Sussex wine PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) ensures that Sussex wines have provenance and quality and will continue to be considered amongst the very best in the world.

When at full capacity, the Rathvinny aims to produce nearly eighty thousand cases of Sussex Sparkling wine per annum, making Rathfinny one of England’s most significant wine producers.

“Our ambition is that in twenty years’ time you will walk into a bar or restaurant in New York or Beijing and you’ll be asked, ‘would you like a glass of Champagne or a delicious glass of Sussex, I can recommend the Rathfinny.”  

Mark Driver

As well as a wine producer, the Estate is a popular destination for visitors, walkers and food and wine enthusiasts. Working with Natural England, National Trust and South Downs National Park,  a programme of improvements has enhanced the local habitat to encourage wildlife and The ‘Rathfinny Trail’ allows the public access to parts of the Wine Estate.

Visit Rathfinny Estate for wining, dining and short break experiences. 

Book a tour to learn all about how the harvested grapes are crafted into sparkling wines, concluding with a tasting.

Rathfinny Picnic Hampers for gourmet alfresco feasts of seasonal, locally sourced good food complemented by chilled Rathfinny Sussex wines.

Picnic hampers for summer parties at Rathfinny Wine Estate

The Tasting Room with scenic views overlooking the Vineyard and South Downs, serves a menu of modern British cuisine and awarded a Michelin Plate in 2020.   Head Chef Chris Bailey has worked in London and Spain, receiving a Michelin Star at The Black Rat, Winchester and now at Rathfinny, he works closely with local farmers and suppliers for seasonal quality produce.

The Tasting Room overlooking the Rathfinny Vineyard

The Tasting Room is open for Lunch, Wednesday – Sunday, 12 – 3pm, and a Tasting Menu Dinner, Friday and Saturday, 6.30 – 8.30pm, with the option of a Sussex wine flight.

The Balcony is also open for impromptu walk-ins to enjoy wine and nibbles overlooking the Vineyard.

Stay, wine and dine at Flint Barns 

Rathfinny Wine Estate offers homely accommodation at Flint Barns

The stunning landscape of the South Downs, Sussex is ideal for a relaxing getaway staying at Flint Barns in the heart of the Wine Estate. Summer weekend and short break experiences are very popular and selling out fast due to the rush to book UK Staycations in 2021.  

 ‘Tour and Tasting Package’ from £229.50 for two guests includes an overnight stay, tour and tasting, Vineyard picnic lunch, bottle of Classic Cuvée sparkling wine and breakfast.

‘Dine and Unwind Package’ from £200 for two guests, which includes bed and breakfast, tea, homemade cake with a glass of Classic Cuvée; three-course dinner at the Flint Barns Dining Room and breakfast.

Flint Barns Dining Room serves simple, tasty gastropub dishes, open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday. Breakfast for residents only.

Flint Barns accommodation and Dining Room

Guest reviews of Flint Barns

‘The most wonderful all round staycation experience. The food and wine were fabulous. The accommodation was excellent, great value for money. Viva Team Rathfinny!’

I can’t recommend Flint Barns highly enough – we had a wonderful few days of delicious food, stunning countryside, excellent service and first class accommodation.’

Fish and Chips with a bottle of Blanc de Blancs at the Flint Arms Dining Room

Check out the range of Sussex Sparkling: Classic Cuvée, 2016, Blanc de Blancs, 2016 & 2017 Blanc de Noir 2016, and Rosé Brut. 2016.  By the bottle and choice of Signature, classic, portfolio and vintage cases – the perfect gift for friends and family.  Also Cradle Valley Still wine and other food and drink.

Rathfinny wines can be purchased from various retails including Harvey Nichols, Lea and Sandeman, DBM Wines and Rathfinny online shop.

The Wine Estate Cellar Door shop, is open daily, 10am-5pm. Click and collect service too :

Happy English Wine Week!

Rathfinny Wine Estate

Alfriston, East Sussex, BN26 5TU
Tel.  01323870022

Destination Sussex Sparkling – visit, wine, dine and stay at Rathfinny Wine Estate

Join Wine Utopia (and Kylie) in the Pink Drink revolution: refreshing Rosé for a relaxing, rosy summer

The fabulous flourish of Springtime blossom

We have ambled through April and now marched into May with the scent of pink cherry blossom wafting in the air.

Yes, pink is the colour of the season from fashion to fizz.  Kylie Minogue has launched her new Sparkling Rosé Prosecco – the latest addition to her eponymous wine collection.  (BTW, Kylie’s Zoom name is ‘Wine o’clock” – my kinda lady.)

Kylie and her new sparkling Pink Prosecco

From the ancient Roman Spring flower festival of Floralia and the Celtic Beltane which marks a time of rebirth of nature and fertility, May Day is widely celebrated by dancing around the floral Maypole, music and revelry.

The Germans raise a toast with a glass of Maiwein, an aromatic wine flavoured with sweet woodruff and in Finland, it’s Sima, a version of Mead made from fermented honey. 

For a pink alternative to Maiwein, ‘Wine Utopia’ is promoting an enticing selection of Rosè wines to enjoy as we plan summer picnics and barbecues with family and friends again this summer.

Wine Utopia – Rosè Wines for Spring and Summmer

If you usually choose between white and red, ring the changes as this is now the season to try something half way between.

As the eminent wine expert Hugh Johnson explains, “ Pink wines are made as though they were going to be red until the winemakers suddenly change their mind. … a white wine of red grapes, stained with the skins.”  

Like an artist’s palette, Rosè can vary from the palest, off-white shade known as Vin Gris, (or in California as ‘blush’), a soft camisole pink and a light onion-skin amber colour, depending on the maceration time with the red grape skins.

From a perfect Pinot Noir to an organic Provençal, Wine Utopia has selected their favourite French Rosé wines from Pays D’Oc, Languedoc and Provence renowned for excellent terroirs to produce speciality grape varieties.

Lieux Perdus Pinot Noir Rosé, Pays D’Oc  

Lieux Perdus Pinot Noir, Pays d’Oc

Pays d’Oc wines cover the entire Languedoc-Roussillon area and quality is a key factor to achieve this identification as each of the certified wines is tasted by a panel to be selected. The charming name Lieux Perdus translates as ‘Lost Places’ and this glorious beach scene on the label expresses a sense of escapism and a feeling of being free-spirited. Just what we need post lockdown! 

This delicate Rosé is made using Pinot Noir grapes gently pressed to extract the colour without tannin and cool vinified to capture all the delicate aromatics and flavours. A shade of pretty pink with a light, dry texture and taste yet packed full of creamy red fruit.

The sunny climate of Languedoc-Roussillon has created the finest, fertile vineyards in the world

This Rosé is ideal with appetisers, salads, pasta and seafood – and just imagine sitting in the sunshine overlooking a sandy beach in the South of France.

Château Gairoird Rosé, Côtes de Provence

Château Gairoird produces organic wines on its 45 hectare Domaine halfway between Marseille and Saint-Tropez in the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Here Olivier Pierrefeu grows numerous cépages including Grenache, Cinsault, Rolle, Syrah and Tibouren, perfect for classic Provence rosé. Harvested by night to make this Rosé de presse, the juice is cool-fermented for a few weeks in stainless steel tanks.

A classic, gastronomic Provence rosé, deep salmon pink with fresh aromas of grapefruit, peach, strawberry and floral notes which burst on the palate. Organic, vegan and low calorie so ideal for a healthy diet.! Well-suited to a range of dishes – crab, tuna tartare, sushi, linguine with tomato and olive sauce. In Provence it may be served with bouillabaisse fish stew and also complements a creamy goat cheese.

Domaine d’Hondrat Cuvée Elle & Lui Rosé, Languedoc

The historic Domaine d’Hondrat is situated in the heart of Bassin de Thau in Languedoc-Roussillon. Romain Vigroux, the owner, always recalls his great-grandfather’s words, “Wine is a matter of Tradition and Family through passion.” This is reflected in the beautifully designed bottle with a glass stopper, rather like a classic French designer fragrance and the name “Elle & Lui” (“she and him”) expresses the love shared between a couple.

This elegant wine is made of 60% Grenache Gris and 40% Mourvédre grapes. A pale pink colour with silvery glints, there are subtle aromas of white fruits and tangerine, well balanced by a fresh citrusy tang on the finish.  A delicious match with seafood, pasta, white meats and cheese or simply sip on its own.

Pasquiers Grenache Cinsault Rose 2019, Languedoc

As Wine Utopia say:

Our best selling Rosé – very pale pink, dry and delicate on the palate, with subtle aromas of wild strawberries and spice. The ultimate refreshing summer quaffer!’

The key to producing the best Rosé is based on individual and unique ‘batches’ – Winemaker-in-chief, Eric Monnin tastes the wines from each vat after fermentation of the Grenache and Cinsault grapes to select the perfectly crafted blends in this classic Rosé de presse.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to taste this Pays d’Oc quality wine: 

First a whiff of fragrant blossom, then a fresh flavour of ripe melon and soft red berries with underlying spice and a lingering dry finish.  Just like strawberries can be served with a sprinkle of black pepper or dash of Balsamic vinegar, this blend of juicy sweet fruits with a sharp tang creates a delicately smooth, well rounded character. This is indeed so quaffable.!

Like most Rosé wines, simply serve well chilled with appetisers and also, of course, with Mediterranean cuisine – grilled vegetables, risotto, chicken salad, shellfish, grilled salmon as well as perhaps with strawberry and raspberry desserts.  

So, be fashionably ‘in the pink’ this summer, by cracking open a few refreshingly light and fruity Rosé wines – the taste of the summer sun in a glass …..wherever you may be.

Founded in 2011, Wine Utopia is an independent wine merchant in Hampshire, England.

Their motto is “to share and highlight a variety of unique wines from vineyards around the world to help you curate a wine rack for your every mood or occasion.”

The business has since developed a fine reputation for their staff who offer a personal, informed and attentive serviceWines by the bottle and 6 and 12 bottle cases with specially selected collections and seasonal offers.  

Take a look at the selection of Rosé and a diverse choice of other international wines, beers and spirits.

As hospitality opens up again there will be special events, tastings and winemaker dinners.

Wine Utopia has two stores located on the High Street, Stockbridge, Hampshire and London Road, Kings Worthy, Winchester as well as their on line shop for home delivery.

What their happy customers say:

Great wine and absolutely fantastic service both in shop and online. I would recommend any wine lover give them a try.

Excellent service and swift delivery of my first order today.

Great selection and knowledgeable and friendly staff

The Wine Utopia Club

Starting from only £30 per month, receive a box of personally selected wines every two or three months. Perfect for gifts too.  Exclusive WU Club perks and high-quality wines from independent growers around the world.  Members only Tasting events.

Wine Utopia – regular tasting and specialist winemaker events.

Magic Cask – a special edition Scotch Whisky blended with scientific skill, creativity and sense of adventure.

Compass Box has launched a new Limited Edition Scotch Whisky, slowly crafted from two Speyside malt whiskies, smoothly blended into a special magical potion – which brings to mind the witches brew in Macbeth.

‘In the cauldron boil and bake;   
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,   
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,   
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,   
Lizard’s leg, and howlet’s wing,   
For a charm of powerful trouble, 
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble’.   

John Glaser, Scotch whiskymaker, inventer and maverick with the magic touch

    Sometimes just one cask in a blend can provide the touch of magic that allows the whole arrangement to sing.” 

John Glaser, Founder, Compass Box Scotch Whiskymaker

In 2000, John Glaser believed there were too many companies making and selling Scotch whisky the same traditional way. As an American living in the UK and working for a large distiller, he wanted to be more creative and contemporary for the 21st century dram drinker.

So, Glaser as a maverick inventor, set up The Compass Box, an innovative, modern Scotch whisky company originally based in his own home, like many business entrepreneurs. Today, he has around sixteen employees at the office and Blending Room in London, with a stock of maturing whisky stored in Scotland.

The Compass Box Blending Room

When it comes to whisky and its enjoyment, we keep our minds open to new production processes and combinations of flavours. We believe that by bringing together Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies of the highest quality it is possible to create textures, flavours and pleasures that no solitary whisky can attain.

‘Whiskymaker’ is a word invented by Compass Box – someone who has a passion to create, to challenge, to experiment. A Whiskymaker is different from a distiller and more than a blender.

As Whiskymakers, (John Glaser, James Saxon and the team), they explore the chemical and culinary connnections between Scotch whisky and the maturing process in oak casks over the course of time. The oak wood is specifically sourced from the Vosges forest of France and the woods of Missouri.  To ensure premium quality, careful sampling of each cask will ensure the perfectly crafted and unique blend. 

A blended Scotch whisky – a fine selection of whiskies from different distilleries – can produce a spirit of such rich and complex character, that it can compete with the renowned purity of a single malt.

Magic Cask is a blended malt Scotch comprised of just two Speyside single malt whiskies. No Shakespearian newts, frogs or lizards here in this fine concoction.! The first is a lost and forgotten whisky from the Imperial Distillery, (founded 1897 but closed in 1998), drawn from first-fill bourbon barrels, matured for about 23 years.

The second whisky is a young 4 – 5 year old undisclosed Speyside spirit from a distillery near Aberlour, which had been transferred into Oloroso-seasoned butt casks to mature. After three years, a sampling from Cask # 2 was most distinctive and after further experimentation, the result was the creation of the Magic Cask.

Bottled in 2020 at 46% ABV.  92% First Fill Bourbon cask whisky,  8% Oloroso Sherry cask whisky  No added colouring and without chill-filtration. A limited edition of 5,538 bottles.

This colourfully artistic label was decoratively and imaginatively designed by Guy Pratt of ‘Stranger and Stranger’, a design company whose tag line is Don’t Fit In, Stand Out.  Whisky Magazine Icons of Whisky 2020 Award for Design Agency of the Year. 

This Magic Cask bottle – with its roaring tiger jumping through a hoop of fire, a flutter of doves, rabbits and playing cards from a Magician’s box just screams, ‘look at me, pick me up’ and certainly stands out from the crowd.

What the Whiskymakers say about Magic Cask

“Aromas of marmalade and chai tea spices with hints of plum. Ripe, golden dessert apples dominate the palate, with an oaky richness. Flavours of toffee and cocoa powder are also conjured up.  Savour this whisky neat, perhaps as a digestif after dinner with its medley of autumn fruits and chocolate.”

 The Dram Test

Nose: Strong floral and herbal fragrance and tart apple and woodland berries.  

Taste: Caramel, vanilla, sherry, nutmeg, cinnamon, smoky oak wood

Finish: Citrus fruits, dark Belgian chocolate and lingering spice and smokiness.

From the first pungent punch of the aroma, it mellows on the palate to release richly flavoured layers of spicy, sherried fruit cake with underlying caramel sweetness. This is indeed a dynamic dram to sip with care and consideration and sings loud and clear in perfect harmony.

What other whisky lovers say:

“Fruity and floral, enticing sweet citrus notes of orange. A little sweet vanilla, toffee and a hint of honey and dark chocolate.  Oak spice, a little raisin, sultana and coconut ice.”

“A deliciously longish finish – vanilla, orange and sultana fade first to leave a touch of coffee and some gentle sweet, mature oak and mild spice.”

 “Very fruity and grassy, with plenty of sweetness in an oily and rich texture. Spicy and savoury flavours that hint at the first-fill sherry butts. Pastel de Nata, (Portuguese Custard Tart), lemon meringue, cinnamon sticks, spiced orange. “

John Glaser amidst a warehouse of Whisky casks

Scotch whisky is one of the world’s great drinks. We’re here to help ensure it continues to evolve and surprise today’s discerning spirits enthusiasts.  John Glaser

Compass Box is leading the way in experimentation in the brave new world of Scotch through their own distinctive blend of science, creativity, alchemy and passion to produce exciting, magical drams.  

Slainte Mhath!

Take your own adventure in deliciousness!

Magic Cask from Compass Box Scotch Whiskymaker

A limited edition release of 5,538 bottles with a RRP of £145 for the 70cl bottle.

Available on line from The Compass Box Shop with links for buyers in UK, Worldwide and United States.

Also from specialist Whisky retailers

Find out more about Compass Box whiskies here:

J & B Rare Blended Scotch: a timeless classic from 1932 has matured into the World’s Party Whisky

Inspired by an Italian, created in London and distilled in Scotland, J&B Rare Blended Scotch Whisky remains a global best seller nearly 90 years since it was first launched.

Justerini & Brooks is the oldest, continuous fine Wine Merchant in Britain, historically supplying Aristocratic households and was granted a Royal Warrant by George III, an honour which it still retains today.

This most inspiring story began in 1749 when Giacomo Justerini, who worked in is family distillery,  moved from Bologna, Italy to London in pursuit of an opera singer, Margherita Bellino.

While romance failed to blossom, he secured business investment from George Johnson, to establish Johnson and Justerini, Purveyers of Wines and Spirits at No. 2 Pall Mall. Fast forward a few decades and Alfred Brooks purchased the business, now renamed Justerini & Brooks.

As well as the Royal Household, among their prestigious clientele over the centuries was the novelist, Charles Dickens. 

With entrepreneurial, far sighted vision, during the Prohibition era, the company sent Eddie Tatham to the United States to check out the potential market for a speciality Scotch Whisky.  Justerini & Brooks then began to craft a distinctive blended whisky, specifically to appeal to the American palate and in competition to Cutty Sark. Cleverly branded as J&B Rare Scotch, to express its exclusive, premium quality, it was launched in 1932, the year before Prohibition was repealed.

The start of major export trade of J&B Rare Scotch to the USA, 1936

J&B Rare is distilled, blended and bottled in Scotland: a blend of 42 malt and grain whiskies, the heart is formed from the finest Speyside single malts: Knockando, Auchroisk, Strathmill and Glen Spey, expertly blended to create an approachable, rich and complex flavour. The round, fruity, unique and distinctive taste of the fine malt whiskies is delicately balanced by carefully chosen grain whiskies which gives J&B Rare its distinctive character.

The Dram Test:

With no preconceptions of aroma and flavour, I sampled a blind tasting, served neat.

Nose: Dried fruit, damson, prunes, tobacco smoke

Palate: Sherry, rich fruitiness, treacle, a hint of ginger

Finish: Smooth, elegant texture, lingering oak wood and cinnamon

J&B Rare certainly excites the taste buds with refreshing fruity flavours and rich spicy aftertaste.

Walnut, toffee apples, cedar wood, orange zest.

Apples, oranges, kiwis, summer berries, caramel and vanilla.

Fresh, grassy and nutty on the nose, malt, spice, fruit salad and sweet grains on the palate.

Fruity, aromatic, soft apple and pear and just a hint of smoke. 

Layers of rich vanilla balanced with lively notes of fresh fruit and spice.

With its versatile, well rounded, mellow character, serve on the rocks or for a refreshing long drink, with a mixer such as Fever-Tree Aromatic Tonic Water or Ginger Ale.

J&B Rare Scotch with Tonic Water for a refreshing drink

Their eye catching Advertisements published widely in the media through the 1950s and 1960s, reflected a glamorous, modern high society; in 1963, J&B Rare sold over one million cases each year as the number one selling Scotch in the United States. Creative marketing.

Long before Influencers on Twitter, the fashionable Scotch received wide celebrity promotion as the drink of choice by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Cary Grant and Truman Capote et al; the smooth style with soft smoky notes has always been perfect for Cocktails.

The J&B Sinatra Sour

What could be a better tribute to Frankie than this harmoniously bittersweet cocktail.

The J&B Sinatra Sour. 

35 ml J&B Rare, 10 ml lemon juice, 10 ml Sugar syrup, 15 ml egg white, 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters  

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add all ingredients and shake well for at least a minute. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with Maraschino cherries.

The J&B Ginger Ale Twist

J&B Ginger Ale Twist

In this signature recipe, the whisky is enhanced with a spicy kick.

50 ml J&B Rare, 125 ml Ginger Ale, 4 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitter (optional), lime wedge

Fill a tall glass with ice and pour in the J&B Rare, Ginger ale and Angostura Bitters, a squeeze of lime juice and wedge as a garnish.

The Rusty Nail cocktail – J&B Rare Scotch + Drambuie

J&B Rusty Nail

The Rusty Nail is credited to the bartenders at the 21 Club, Manhattan in the early 1960s, and quickly endorsed by Gina MacKinnon of the Drambuie Liqueur Company. The cocktail was popular at P. J. Clarke’s, a favourite late-night haunt of Frank Sinatra.  The brand name Drambuie is derived from the Gaelic, meaning ‘the drink that satisfies’, and this cocktail does too with its honey sweetness.

35 ml J&B Rare, 15 ml Drambuie

Pour the ingredients over ice in a rocks glass.

The Godfather cocktail

The Godfather 

 25 ml J&B Rare, 25 ml Amaretto liqueur 

Serve with ice in a rocks glass and garnish with a cherry.

Best-known for his novella ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, Truman Capote was flamboyant, unpredictable and a huge fan of J&B Rare. However, with his theatrically camp manner, he would never ask a bar tender for a ‘J&B’, but instead preferred the formal, full name of the distiller, to request a ‘Justerini and Brooks’.

While his fave tipple may not have been sipped by Audrey Hepburn at Tiffany’s in the movie, it has a starring role in the 1982 classic The Thing, which features regular ‘shots’ of J&B Rare at the Research station.

J&B, product placement in ‘The Thing’

In a memorable scene in Scarface, Tony Montana (Pacino) approaches Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer), with the chat up line, “Why don’t we have a couple of drinks and just take it easy. I like Scotch,”  Elvira pours two glasses of J&B on the rocks, with the bottle design complementing her emerald green swimsuit.

The iconic J&B whisky drinking scene from ‘Scarface’

Spot the famous green bottle too in such iconic films as  “Shampoo,” “Moonstruck,” and “M.A.S.H.”

The colourful, cultural heritage of Justerini & Brooks from British Royalty patronage to Rat Pack and Hollywood promotion is a pioneering success story. Known today as the world’s ‘Party Whisky’, J&B Rare Blended Scotch is as cool, classic and fashionable today as it was in the swinging Sixties.

Perhaps we should follow Truman’s sassy style and ask for a Justerini & Brooks ?

Uisge Beatha!

More information:

J&B Rare Blended Scotch is widely available from Waitrose,, and Justerini & Brooks

Justerini & Brooks Ltd. Wine and Spirit Merchants

61 St James’s Street London SW1A 1LZ

14 Alva St, Edinburgh EH2 4QG

Justerini & Brooks, 61 St. James Street, London

Spring into Summer 2021: Holyrood Distillery Courtyard Bar & Bistro opening again for safe, socialising fun in the sun.

Holyrood Distillery’s Courtyard Bar, which was a fantastic success last summer, will open again on Monday 26th April on the day when Scottish hospitality can welcome thirsty and hungry folk for a welcome drink or meal out.  

Holyrood Distillery staff ready to launch the Courtyard Bar, July 2020

The image above shows the team of friendly staff getting ready to launch this innovative and very popular venue in July 2020 when bars and restaurants opened up again after the first lockdown.

Opened in 2019, Holyrood Distillery is the first single malt whisky distillery in Edinburgh for almost 100 years, after Andrew Usher’s Distillery closed in 1925.

Holyrood Distillery, Edinburgh

Located on St. Leonard’s Lane, beside the Queen’s Park in the district of Newington, the patio area outside the distillery will be transformed into a spacious, safe outdoor bar and bistro.   

This year, the improved and well-designed Courtyard will be the place to be and be seen, whether rain or shine, due to the creation of sheltered seating with heaters.

Service will initially be table-service only, with contactless orders via an online app. Tables will seat a maximum of six people, with an overall capacity of up to 120.

Refreshing, thirst-quenching beers, cider, wines, G&T and cocktails et al

The opening of the Courtyard Bar also gives the timely opportunity to launch the Holyrood Distillery’s new HolyXXXX Gin, crafted with just one botanical and two other unusual ingredients for a very distinctive flavour. The Gin Craze has no sign of disappearing any time soon – more than 80% of gin consumed in the UK is made across Scotland from Ayrshire to Shetland.

In order to support local independent breweries, the Bar will serve Draught pints such as Pilot Leith Lager, Barneys Sherbet Sour Ale and Braw Tropical from Cross Borders.  Beers in a can include Stewarts’ Session IPA, Hoppy Botanist from Campervan and Citra Pale Ale by Newbarns. 

Perfect summer time tipples for all tastes – Prosecco, White and Red wines, Thistly Cross Ciders and Crabbies Alcoholic Ginger Beer (for grown ups only). All favourite Soft drinks too: Pellegrino lemonade, Mineral Water, Irn-Bru, Coca Cola.

As well as tasting and testing the new HolyXXXX Gin, you can buy a bottle to take home from the Distillery shop, as well as other Holyrood Distillery spirits.

There’s a selection of other exciting Scottish gins too at the Bar from local distilleries, Electric Spirit and Port of Leith.  

Whisky lovers can sample Sanaig from Kilchoman, Nc’Nean’s Organic Single Malt and Dream to Dram, from Kingsbarn 

Plus a range of daily Gin and Whisky-based cocktails to jazz up your boozy Picnic in the Courtyard. 

Holyrood Distillery has partnered with Hickory, the award-winning Edinburgh Catering and Event management company, which is renowned for a cooking up posh nosh for private parties, Festivals, buffets and banquets, corporate dinners and glamorous Weddings. Catering for any style or size of event, their logo says it all, “We’re Good to Go.”

In smart casual fashion, the tasty, tempting menu at the Courtyard Bar is all about alfresco gastro pub-grub: gourmet sandwiches such as Nacho Libre (Beef patty, guac, salsa, nachos, cheddar, jalapenos), and the Epic Veg (Herb & spinach falafel, cashew feta, hummus, garlic ‘mayo’, Hickory kraut, on a khobez wrap); Snacks, Salads and loads of Fries.  

An ice-cream tricycle will supply summertime treats for the perfect dessert. 

The Hickory Food menu and Bar Drinks list can be viewed and ordered online and by the ‘at-table’ App (see link below)

HIckory – quality, fresh, good food from garden picnics to grand banquets

The Holyrood Distillery Courtyard Bar will be a safe and spacious outdoor venue for families and friends to socialise – children will be welcome until 7pm.  The Bar opens daily from 1pm to 8pm in the first week, and then from Thursdays to Saturdays, 1pm to 9pm; Sundays 12pm-6pm.

 “We are absolutely delighted to be able to reopen our Courtyard as a sunny, safe and social space.  After a massively challenging year for everyone, and a particularly tough time for the hospitality industry, the distillery team will be very emotional to see people back here again, enjoying the space, sipping our new gin, and supporting the other small distillers and brewers we are showcasing”.   Debs Newman, Holyrood Distillery’s Brand Home Manager.

Time to celebrate the escape from lockdown and where better to go than the Holyrood Distillery Courtyard Bar as we spring into Summer.

Book your bench soon at the Holyrood Distillery Courtyard Bar

Table Reservations are recommended:

Place your order from the Hickory food menu and Bar Drinks on line as well as with an ‘at table’ App.

Location:  Holyrood Distillery, 19 St Leonard’s Lane, Edinburgh EH8 9SH.

Telephone 0131 285 8977

N.B. Holyrood Distillery asks all visitors to adhere to government guidance and onsite direction.

A wide choice of Scottish gins and whiskies at the Courtyard Bar

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


  • 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.


  • 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:

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


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