Archive | Travel RSS for this section

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:

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/

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

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

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/

Ben Lomond Scottish Gin infused with wild berries creates refreshing, floral- scented, juicy-fruity, pink cocktails.

Ben Lomond towering over Loch Lomond

Ben Lomond, the majestic Munro which dominates the dramatic beauty of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, was the inspiration behind the award-winning Ben Lomond Scottish Gin, launched in 2019. 

Following this success, the distillers were keen to explore the Loch Lomond region further and challenge their creativity to produce two deliciously distinctive, premium gins, infused with Blackberry & Gooseberry and Raspberry & Elderflower. 

For the purist G&T lover who might assume that tinkering with the cool, classic taste of Dry London gin, is a modern fad, in fact, flavoured, fruit-based gins are nothing new at all.

Sloe gin – the original berry gin from the 17th century

Berries from the Blackthorn bush to make home-made Sloe Gin was a country custom from the 17th century, and this ruby-red, sweet liqueur was served in London taverns as a poor man’s Port.  A century later, Pink gin was created with a few drops of Angostura bitters, (invented in the 1820s as a cure for stomach ailments and seasickness), which soon becoming a popular cocktail. 

Spain is home to the biggest gin market in the world and in 2014 the Puerto de Indias distillery, Andalucia, launched their Sevillian Strawberry gin, an immediate best seller which created a new category and sparked the thirst for pink drinks.

Puerto de Indias, Sevillian Strawberry Gin

As the gin craze continues to blossom today worldwide, the trend is for innovative flavours such as Sicilian lemon, red wine grapes, rhubarb, ginger, chocolate et. al. and less alcoholic, sweet gin liqueurs. 

The Ben Lomond distillery team therefore very wisely decided to work with a local forager, Mark Williams from Galloway Wild Foods, to discover a harvest of botanicals, sweet berries and aromatic flowers growing around the hills and woodland of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

The wild natural beauty of Loch Lomond

After careful blending and crafting, in June 2020, they launched the Raspberry & Elderflower and Blackberry & Gooseberry Gins, both infused with berry essences and a touch of sugar, richly imbued with the base spirit of the Ben Lomond Dry London Gin.

The recipe for this fine Scottish Gin includes the essential Juniper and ten other herbal, spicy and floral botanicals such as rose petals and orris root, as well as hand-picked blackcurrants and local rowan berries. This combines perfectly with the blackberries, gooseberries and raspberries for a luscious ripe, fruity taste of summer and autumn.

Raspberry & Elderflower-infused Scottish Gin

The Gin Masters, The Spirits Business 2020: Gold Medal

Regarded as a gift from the Earth Mother, the Elder tree is a symbol of regeneration, believed to ward off witches – hence, Harry Potter’s coveted Elder Wand.  

The delicate frothy Elderflower blossom

White Elderflower blossom has been used widely in recent years to make wine, cordials, St. Germain Liqueur and as an ideal addition to gin.  With a subtle flavour of honey/vanilla/jasmine/pear, it perfectly complements the tart sweetness of raspberry. 

Around the neck of the bottle is a lovely, colourful gift tag: – “A vibrant yet balanced gin that can be enjoyed on its own or as part of your favourite tipple.”

First, the aroma – a soft floral rose perfume with a lingering hint of vanilla and raspberry. 

I then poured a generous 50 ml measure into a chunky rocks glass containing a large 2 inch iceberg. (large ice cubes look attractive, as used by professional bar tenders and they melt slowly).

The taste test: As this is a 38% ABV gin, perhaps it is not surprising that the warming, woody Juniper comes to the fore with a sharp kick. Then taste the fruity sweetness of the summer berry and citrus flavour.  Sipped over ice it’s simply delicious – this is not a gin to drown in Tonic water.

A signature Cocktail created by Ben Lomond Distillers is the Lomond Negroni, as a Scottish take on the Italian classic.

35 ml Raspberry & Elderflower Gin

10 ml Sweet Vermouth

10ml Aperol.

If you prefer, switch the Aperol for the richer, stronger Campari, stirring all the ingredients over ice and add a garnish of orange and raspberry.  The smooth, sweet Vermouth and bitter orange-rhubarb flavour of the Campari blends so well with this Raspberry Gin. 

Lomond Negroni

For a lighter drink, mix this gin to lemonade and/or Sparkling wine as a Spritz for a refreshing thirst-quencher on a summer’s day.  

Crème de Cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur from Dijon is famously used in the pre-prandial tipple, Kir, – just a little is added to a flute of white wine, or with champagne for a Kir Royale. Likewise, a few dashes of the Raspberry and Elderflower Gin to ice cold Prosecco or Cava creates a stylish pink aperitif with a garnish of fresh raspberries.

Kir Royale

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue

Blackberry Picking Seamus Heaney

Ben Lomond Blackberry & Gooseberry-infused Scottish Gin

The Gin Masters, The Spirits Business, 2020: Silver Medal

As the Ben Lomond London Dry gin features blackcurrants, rowan berries and orange peel as key ingredients, the addition of blackberry and gooseberry further enhances the rich, ripe bittersweet and citrus tang of blended fruits.

First the aroma: a woodland piney tone is evident, which opens up to be more vegetal, with juicy black / red fruits, a hint of jam, nothing that is obviously tart.

Now the first taste: “cleaner” than on the nose from the spicy coriander with more forest in the wild fruit flavour than sweet blackberry jam.

Again, as well as a long drink with tonic, it is personally recommended to serve this gin neat over a large ice cube, to fully appreciate this well balanced, elegantly smooth, Juniper-rich gin.  

As many chefs will concur, gooseberries are the perfect partner for mackerel as the sweet acidity of the tangy berries cuts through the smoky saltiness of this oily fish.

The French for gooseberry is groseille à maquereau, (literally currant with mackerel), which gives a Gallic seal of approval to serve smoked mackerel with gooseberries.

Grilled mackerel with gooseberries and cucumber

The Inverawe Smokehouse also suggests a gooseberry and ginger sauce to accompany their fine smoked salmon.

Why not rustle up these fabulous canapés – Blinis with a slither of Smoked Salmon, topped with crème fraiche and caviar, and nibble with an ice cold shot of Blackberry & Gooseberry-infused Gin. Simply divine.!

Smoked Salmon Blinis with crème fraiche and caviar

Ben Lomond Distillers have been experimentin with these fruity gins and crafted this enticing twist on a Bramble Cocktail.

The Bramble was created by the legendary Dick Bradsell in the 1980s at Fred’s Club, Soho, a concoction of dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Crème de Mûre, (blackberry liqueur), which gives a deep, fruity and sweet taste. One of the most iconic gin drinks of the modern age.

The Blackberry & Gooseberry Gin would be the perfect alternative to combine the gin and Crème de Mûre in a Bramble.

Bramble Cocktail

And this Loch Lomond version of the French 75, is renamed the Alba 75.

30ml Blackberry & Gooseberry Gin
10ml Lime Juice
10ml Sugar Syrup
1 dash of Ginger Spice
Top with Sparkling Wine

Add the gin, lime juice, sugar syrup and ginger to a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Pour into a flute glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a twist of lime.

Alba 75

These Ben Lomond floral-scented, jammy, juicy Berry-infused Gins are so versatile, whether just with ice, splash in a sparkling mixer or shake up in your favourite cocktail.

More information on the full range of Ben Lomond gins, with further Cocktail recipes and online shop:  

Ben Lomond Scottish Gin, Raspberry & Elderflower, and Blackberry & Goosberry

https://www.benlomondgin.com/our-gins/

https://www.benlomondgin.com/our-gins/raspberry-elderflower-gin/

https://www.benlomondgin.com/our-gins/blackberry-gooseberry-gin/

Fenton Tower, North Berwick – this ancient Scottish Castle is a unique, magical hideaway with all luxury, homely comforts

Located a forty minute drive from Edinburgh, near the seaside town of North Berwick, Fenton Tower is a hidden, historical gem of a property. Constructed around 1560, this Medieval Tower house was once a place of refuge for King James VI of Scotland, and later destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. It became a derelict ruin for 350 years until it was tastefully and imaginatively renovated into a 5 star property in 2002. 

Fenton Tower, near North Berwick, East Lothian

This is an authentic Scottish castle but far from being cold and draughty, expect a warm welcome from the House Manager, his staff ….and a roaring log fire. Within the ancient stone walls, Fenton Tower has been transformed into a graceful country house, where everything is perfectly polished from the tableware to hospitality: this is a luxuriously relaxing home-from-home for the perfect escape, family celebrations, golf and sporting trips.

The derelict ruin of the ancient Fenton Tower

The owners of Fenton Tower – Ian Simpson, whose family have farmed the surrounding estate since 1900s, and his friend John Macaskill – shared a passion to embark on a four-year  project to resurrect this A listed historic monument.

As Historic Scotland stipulated the preservation of the existing structure, they sourced the original quarry stone to renovate the staircase and purchased suits of Armour, Clan heraldry, fine art and furnishings for an authentic period setting.

The 16th century Fenton Tower is now beautifully restored

This is an exclusive-use property suitable for family getaways, romantic retreats, birthdays, weddings, golfing trips, country sports, or a leisure and cultural break to explore the countryside and coastline of East Lothian and the city of Edinburgh.

The Great Hall authentically designed with a collection of ancient swords, antiques and fine art

At the centre of the Tower is the marvellous oak beamed Great Hall features a huge original Hearth, antiques, armour, old portraits, artwork and tapestries as well as contemporary sink-into sofas piled with cushions, a blend of classic style and all modern comfort.

The overall aim here is for relaxation with the adjacent cosy Library (books, games, TV), and help yourself to a drink –  the local NB Gin, sherry or whisky – from the Butler’s Pantry.

The Library – home from home with books, games and television

Two spiral carpeted staircases lead up to the seven bedrooms, each themed and named after Scottish families associated with the Tower – Stewart, Erskine, Carmichael etc. with a clan plaque on the door.  

Clan Carmichael Bedroom – classic comfort

Each is distinctively designed with Four Poster, Half Tester and Italian silver framed beds, tastefully decorated with vintage European furniture: Armoire wardrobes, armchairs, writing desks, dressing tables, white bedlinen, flowered bedspreads and curtains.

Clan Stewart bedroom, artistically designed and furnished
Clan Ruthven with Half tester bed

Large, lavish bathrooms boast clawfoot, canopied or copper tubs and separate showers. The Stewart suite has French double basins, a huge clawfoot tub (a warning states that it fills up in just 3 minutes!), fluffy towels, Penhaligon toiletries, cream satin-edged bathrobes.

Bathroom with clawfoot bath and antique twin basin
Vintage bath tub with shower jets

A modern Lodge in the grounds – charmingly furnished in tweeds and artistic colour scheme – has two double bedrooms, kitchen and lounge offering extra accommodation for guests.

The Garden Lodge with two double bedrooms

Fenton Tower offers the true experience of a traditional, personally-tailored, house party, fully catered with menus prepared and served by the professional team.  

This is the chance to dress up elegantly for the evening, starting with a G&T, champagne or cocktails in the Great Hall before a grand, candle-lit dinner in the stone arched Dining Room.

Dinner is served in grand style in the candlelit Dungeon

This period theatrical setting with fine china, silver and glassware, brings to mind a blend of Agatha Christie and Downton Abbey lifestyle –  so glamorously romantic!. 

A formal table setting with wine decanter and glistening glasses

Indulge in a feast of Scottish cuisine: fresh lobster and crab from North Berwick, Belhaven smoked fish, prime beef, seasonal venison and pheasant from Fenton Tower’s own Shooting estate. End the evening back in the Grand Hall for a dram of Whisky as a warming nightcap.

Breakfast Banquet – freshly baked croissants and home made preserves

Breakfast is also traditionally served with a cold Buffet laid out on sideboard – fresh fruit, prunes, apricots, yogurt, cereals, warm croissants and muffins with home made jams, strong hot coffee – Steam Punk, specially roasted for Fenton Tower. A selection of hot dishes is made to order such as Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, Kedgeree and omelettes. As at dinner, you can be assured of quality produce and personal service.

Seton, a twin bedroom to suit families with children

Family parties, Christmas celebrations and summer holidays would be ideal here with children welcome – this was the film set for Archie’s Castle in the TV series Balamory and there are 350 acres of private grounds for outdoor adventures. Visit the Museum of Flight to see the Concorde aircraft, beach walks galore, horse-riding and boat trips to the bird sanctuary on the Bass Rock. 

The glorious sandy stretch of Tyninghame beach

For sports enthusiasts, there are 15 golf courses within 10 miles of Fenton Tower, including Gullane, North Berwick and the famous Championship course, Muirfield.  In the Tower, a collection of photos of famous Scottish golfers including the legendary Tom Morris, is displayed in the old wood panelled Washroom complete with a traditional Thunderbox Loo.

Glen Golf Club, North Berwick with stunning view of the Bass Rock

Guests can also arrange to visit Fenton Brunt Estate for pheasant and partridge shooting or go fly fishing in rivers and lochs.

Surrounded by an authentic sense of Scottish royalty and clan history, indulge in luxurious, cosy comfort and personalised service – guests are truly spoiled.  Vintage styled bedrooms, exemplary cuisine and Great Hall with roaring log fire, all create the perfect ambience of a grand country house.

Whatever the occasion, the opportunity to stay in your own private wee Scottish Castle is simply a magical, memorable and unique experience.

What other guests say:

A family celebration – loved every minute, we all want to do it all again, I can’t thank Alan and his team enough for making this stay so memorable.

We promised the grandchildren a weekend in a Scottish castle – wonderful!.

The Tower itself is stunning and cosy whilst the hospitality was spot on.

Fenton Tower was named the National Exclusive Use Venue of the Year at the Scottish Hotel Awards, 2020. 

Fenton Tower: Sleeps 13 | 7 Bedrooms | Dogs Welcome. From £185 per person per night, based on a minimum of 10 guests on an exclusive use basis with breakfast. Minimum two-night stay.

A self-catering rate during low and mid-season will be considered on request.

To book, visit www.crabtreeandcrabtree.com or call 01573  226711

The World Atlas of Beer (3rd Edition) by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont – a pub crawl around the planet with two expert drinkers.

This beautifully illustrated guide sweeps through the fascinating heritage, culture and creativity of brewing over the centuries to the most exciting and exemplary new brands of ales and beers today.  Travel around the six continents from Czech Republic to China, Mexico to Mauritius, UK to USA on an exuberant, thirst- quenching road trip.

Well designed chapters and colourful, illustrated pages

First published in 2012, the third edition has been completely revised and updated by the co-authors, Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont. Beautifully designed with world map of chapters to browse through at leisure.

Beer is, they say, “the world’s favourite alcoholic beverage”  made from fermented, boiled grain, hops, and the finely crafted creation of flavour: “citrus, dried fruits, herbal, floral, toffee, spicy, earthy, vanilla, chocolate and old bookshops … beer is not simple.”

The four largest brewing companies are based in Belgium, Netherlands, China and Denmark, producing the best-selling brands. This book however explores the growth of independent, Craft breweries offering distinctive taste and local character.

The origins of beer dating back to 9000BC in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) and then the Egyptians who used barley, followed by the Celts who brewed with barley, wheat and oats, from 2000 BC.

Louis Pasteur, experiments with yeast to assist beer making

In the 7th century hops were added as a preservative and the French chemist, Dr. Louis Pasteur discovered in the mid 19th century that yeast was key to the fermentation process. Learn all about the history and heritage from grain to glass, with diverse international techniques.

The quaint old Bow Bar, Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Stephen and Tim have selected their favourite bars worldwide, including the charming old pub, The Bow Bar, Edinburgh, Oliver Twist, Stockholm, ‘t, Brugs Beertje, Bruges, Frango, Sao Paulo and Toronado, San Francisco.

One of the best for beer – Toronado, San Francisco

The British Beer industry is a fascinating story such as strong, dark Porter, so named as it was popular with stevedore dockworkers, and the export of special pale ale to India, is the original IPA.   The entrepreneurial brewer, Samuel Allsopp developed refined IPA for the UK and Empire as well as draught Bitter with great success.

Scotland is renowned for innovation and quality – Traquair House in the Scottish Borders opened the world’s first modern craft brewery in 1965, while Fyne Ales and Tempest are two new award winning companies, leading the way.

Other recommended British brands include Burning Sky, Buxton, Beavertown, and Red Rock wheat beers from Devon. Vintage breweries include St. Austell and Timothy Taylor.

Think of Ireland, think of Guinness, the dark, dry, creamy stout, first produced by Arthur Guinness, Dublin in 1759, one of the most successful alcohol brands worldwide.  But there are around 75 small independent, craft breweries vying for attention.

In 2016, Belgian Beer culture was given Unesco Heritage protection status given its global importance.  Why? “Striking, expressive beer (with) poise and balance.” 

Highly recommended: t. Brugs Beertje, Bruges

Medieval Abbeys have historically made beer and there are still six Trappist breweries with all profits benefitting the community.  Beer-themed tourism is a big business with visitors travelling by train, tram or bike to breweries, bars and Festivals galore.

In the Netherlands, Heineken, is the market leader for industrial lager, as well as around new 700 companies striving to create a distinctive Dutch style beer – names to check out: Walhalla and Oersoep. 

France is slowly developing a beer scene with small craft breweries experimenting with spelt and buckwheat. This 1920s advert tried to encourage French wine lovers to drink Bieres Francaises.

Poster to promote French Beer, (1928)

Copenhagen, Denmark – Jacobsen and Hansen founded the Carlsberg Brewery in 1847, stating that “Whoever possesses the complete understanding of chemistry will be Europe’s leading brewer in the next generation.”  Modern breweries are “outrageously experimental” such as Warpigs and Baghaven.

Germany is a leading grower of hops and the majority of its beer is sold to the home market,  e.g. Bavarian blond. Pils, Black and Bock beers. Festivals in September and October.

Antique German Beer Steins

If you have visited Prague, it may be no surprise to know that the Czechs are “the most dedicated beer drinkers”. Bohemia offers welcoming brewpubs, hotels and restaurants – Zkikov brewery is located within a lakeside, medieval Castle.

Zkikov Castle and Brewery, Bohemia

A century after Prohibition, the USA has gradually developed its beer industry with 8,000 breweries in 50 states. West Coast is famous for “boldly hoppy, citrusy India Pale Ale.”  Washington is on the map for its lively beer scene, new breweries, DC Brau and Red Bear, exciting bar diners and taverns, and in Chicago you can follow the beer trail to taprooms on a Train Crawl. The Great American Beer Festival founded in Denver represents the largest collection of U.S. breweries and beers for a public tasting event as well as a competition, to celebrate the American craft brewing industry. Attracting around 800 breweries and 60,000 visitors, this year’s Festival runs from 7 – 9 October, 2021.

The well established, annual three day event in Denver, Colorado

The laid-back Caribbean islands need refreshing cold beers to sip in the sun: Jamaica, Red Stripe, Bahamas, Pirate Republic, Trinidad and Tobago,Tommy’s Brewing, (perfect with a Bake & Shark wrap).  

In Canada, Belgian-styled ales are a tradition of French-speaking Quebec and Montreal, with influential breweries, Le Cheval Blanc and Unibroue – strong, dark beers and the award winning La Fin du Monde. Mexico best known for Corona and Cerveza has 1,000 small, independent breweries, with an imaginative use of Tequila barrels and blue Agave hearts as in ingredient in Fiesta Latina.

Brazil is a huge beer drinking nation and Brewing schools have created enthusiastic graduates with technical knowledge to develop modern craft breweries. Amazonian wood barrels and using Tropical fruits has created such beers as a tart, fresh tasting Catharina Sour.   Ecuador can boast the first brewery in the Americas, at the Convent of San Francisco, Quito founded 1566 and operating for four centuries. Today, there is a boom in beer making such as Cerveza Santa Rosa producing quality Sours and the 8%  ABV Love Bird.

Cerveza Santa Rosa, Ecuador

Mention Australia and you think of Fosters and Castlemaine XXXX. Little Creatures began the trend for Indie Beer which has expanded substantially with Stone & Wood launched in 2008 at Byron Bay. Pacific Ale is a flyaway success, “An iconic brew, influential, internationally respected and enjoyable.”

Sail across the Pacific to Rarotonga, where you can sample Cook Islands lager, (Rarotonga brewery), or a pilsner, pale ale and an IPA from Matutu brewing.

The first Japanese-owned Beer Brewery was founded by Syozaburo Shibutani in 1872, in Osaka. For 2,000 years Sake, known as rice wine, has actually been brewed using the same method as beer, but it’s not so popular with the Millennials. Tokyo is now a city of beer bars serving Pilsners, Grape ale, & Hitachino Nest Classic Ale using Sake barrels.

China keeps most of its beer for the locals with just Tsingtao as a key export. Snow, the world’s best selling beer almost unknown globally.   San Miguel is the famous brand of the Philippines, with a few new companies, such as Turning Wheels Brewpub, Cebu City.

As an import during the British Raj, India Pale Ale was never produced there, and since 1947 there has been  little demand for beer or alcohol with high taxation and strict licencing laws. Craft breweries to check out: Toit, Bangalore, Arbor, Goa and Doolally, Pune.

Sri Lanka is famed for Tea, but a Belgian, Auguste de Bavay, began brewing here in 1881, later developed as the Ceylon Brewing in 1911; today the company name is Lion, renowned for its Lager and Stout, as part of a 125 year tradition. 

Lion beer on Mirissa Beach, Sri Lanka

The scenic Winelands and Dutch industrial brewers take centre stage in South Africa with small progress for small scale beer makers – Mountain Brewing, Western Cape produces a distinctive range and also Banana Jam, Cape Town.   Great story behind Red Island brewing in Madagascar, where a group of American, British and Australian Ex-pats are experimenting with recipes using the island’s home grown vanilla.   

Red Island brewery, Madagascar

Just a dot in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius has two breweries, Flying Dodo with its own Lambic café-bar-shop, in Port Louis.  Wine merchant, E.C. Oxenham is also developing its Thirsty Fox beers.

And so time to drink.! The last chapter is entitled Enjoying Beer, with advice on buying, reading labels, understanding ABV, serving and glassware from British pints, to German flutes and stemmed “wine” glasses.

A fascinating section is on Food Pairing –  Pub food, sharing platters as well as an extensive Affinity Chart. Check the most suitable ales and beers to complement Oysters, Salmon, Cheese, Beef, Pizza and Burgers etc. This colourful, informative and entertaining Atlas will certainly entice you to plan a travel trip to breweries and bars and Beer Festivals worldwide.

Cheers, Salute, À votre santé, Proost, Na zdravi, Cin cin, Kanpai …

The World Atlas of Beer, by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont (3rd Edition, 2020)

Mitchell Beazley (Octupus Books) ISBN-13 : 978-1784726270

Cafe Beermoth, the place to sip beer in Manchester, England

Misty Isle Gin – pure and refreshing like a splash of sea spray on the Isle of Skye.

It’s a fact – over 70% of the gin consumed in the UK is produced in Scotland, where distillers have perfected the art and craft of the spirit.  The Scottish islands in particular are renowned for fine, artisan gins – Orkney, Shetland, Harris, North Uist, Barra, Tiree, Colonsay, Jura, Islay, Mull and the Isle of Skye.

The majestic landscape of the Isle of Skye

Skye is a magical, mystical place, enticing visitors from across the planet to embrace its ancient cultural heritage, outdoor sporting adventures and wild scenic beauty.  

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul, he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun
.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Thomas and Alistair Wilson are local lads with a life-long passion for the “Misty Isle” which sparked the idea to launch the first Gin distillery on the island and capture a spiritual essence of the place in a bottle.

Alistair has a professional background in the hospitality industry, hotels, bars and restaurants around Scotland while Thomas has served in the Parachute Regiment and is a retained fireman.  Ready for an exciting new challenge, they decided to join forces to create their own speciality Skye gin, selecting the key botanicals, foraging juniper berries and experimenting with recipes. Another key ingredient is sourced near the distillery at Portree – the crystal clear, spring water from the Storr Lochs. 

The Wilson Brothers foraging for island botanicals

Misty Isle Gin was launched in early February 2017, with exceptional success: Gold Medal and Distilled Gin of the Year, Scottish Gin Awards, 2018, Silver, World Gin Awards and Gold, London Spirits Competition.

“Provenance is everything – that abiding sense of belonging and community. Over time, we have perfected our recipe; a marriage of waters from the Storr Lochs and the right balance of the finest botanicals. It has taken patience and judgement, but some things cannot be rushed”. Thomas and Alistair Wilson

This the first gin to be produced on the Isle of Skye and a completely home-grown product, created, distilled and bottled in Portree. The name Gin itself is derived from the Dutch jenever which means Juniper, providing the essential earthy, pine notes. 

Juniper berries – hand-foraged from various wild locations around Skye, slowly distilled in traditional gas-fired copper pot stills for approximately 8 hours, then vapour infused with the other ten botanicals:

Coriander seeds – the second most used botanical after juniper. Once distilled it has a complex flavour once distilled, all at once citrusy, nutty and a little spicy.

Grains of Paradise – an exotic, aromatic spice from West Africa bring a complex mix of cardamom, coriander, ginger with a hint of citrus. These tiny seeds have medicinal qualities and are an Aphrodisiac.

Orris root –  the root of the Iris flower, giving a floral, parma violet aroma with sweet and woody flavours. Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans used Orris in perfumery – Channel No. 5 is thought to contain a high proportion of Orris Root.

Liquorice root – a sweet, woody botanical that has been used as a sugar alternative for centuries.

Black cubebs – an Indonesian plant; the fruits are gathered before they ripen and left to dry. similar in appearance and taste to black pepper, Cubeb berries are often paired with juniper in gin giving a soft floral, lavender aroma combined with a cracked pepper taste.

Lemon peel – the peel is dried before infusion and distillation and contributes a fresh, tart, crisp, citrus notes.

Cassia bark –  similar to cinnamon with a sweeter taste and warming, earthy spiciness.

There is also one other top secret ingredient from the Isle of Skye.!

Misty Isle Gin is described by its creators as “ Juniper heavy but not too floral with earthy undertones, a hint of spice, with subtle flavours of citrus and a refreshing aftertaste.” The suggested serve is with a Scottish or premium tonic water, garnished with a twist of fresh orange peel.

Before even tasting the Misty Isle gin, first admire the stunning design of the glass bottle, its thick curved, craggy, jagged shape – so comfortable to hold –  appears to have been carved out of an ice-covered mountain.

Spectacular viewpoint for the Old Man of Storr

This represents the Old Man of Storr and the majestic mountain range of the Cuillins is artistically illustrated on the label. The copper foil reflects the gin stills and each bottle of Misty Isle is unique with its own different twisted top.

The neat gin taste test

Aroma:  A mellow floral and rich earthy scent   

Palate:  A spicy kick balanced by sweet citrus notes with a delicate salty tang.

Finish:  Beautifully, intensely smooth with lingering, woodland pine aftertaste.

The G&T taste test

Pour 50 ml of Misty Isle and a good splash of Walter Gregor Scottish gin, (hand crafted on Manse Farm, Aberdeenshire), over a large block of ice and add a twist of orange peel.  This pure, clear Gin from Skye is perfectly complemented by the lightly sparkling Scottish Tonic created from natural citrus flavours, quinine and Highland spring water.  Be sure not to drown the gin with tonic, to allow the peppery spice and rich juniper flavour to shine, while the orange draws out the bittersweet citrus.   

This ice cold G&T is so refreshing – which can be poetically described as akin to a bracing mountain trek or beach walk in the salty air.!   

Misty Isle Gin is clearly of superlative quality based on the fact that it is imbued with the provenance of local Juniper berries and pure Scottish loch water. One slow, smooth sip conjures up the wild, natural landscape of Skye from glacier mountain to woodland and seashore.

“Holidayed many times on Skye and wanted something to remind me of the island. Served with Fevertree Mediterranean tonic & orange and loved it – so refreshing!”  (on line review)

The dramatic panorama overlooking Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye

As a lover of a dry Gin Martini, the next test was this classic cocktail: 50 ml Misty Isle with 15 ml Vermouth, stirred gently over a large ice cube, strain into a glass and garnish with an olive or two.

Vermouth is a fortified wine with a blend of spices, herbs, roots and fruit, such as cinnamon, citrus peel, cardamom, chamomile, coriander, juniper and ginger, so the ideal partner for Misty Isle gin. 

Again it’s the smooth texture which is predominant with the subtle, soft complexity of floral, herbal and spicy flavours – overall it is cool, crisp and delicately dry, with the olive enhancing the salinity.  Alternatively, the zest of lemon would draw out the citrus tang.

Misty Isle Gin for the perfect classic, dry Martini

In just three years, the Wilson brothers have planned, launched and developed the Isle of Skye Distillers into a very successful, independent family business.  They have created a few different gins such as the new Misty Isle Old Tom Pink Gin with raspberries and blackcurrants grown in the distillery garden.  

Tommy’s Gin was crafted in memory of their late father, Tommy Wilson, who served in the Suez invasion with the British Army.  Also seasonal Christmas and Halloween gins and Misty Isle vodka.

In Portree, you can visit the Distillery Shop and book a session at the Gin School to experience hands-on tuition to distil your own bottle on a miniature copper still, and learn all about Misty Isle spirits.

The attractive, illustrated website gives an inspiring travel guide to Skye which will entice you to visit, with all information on Misty Isle products, Where to Buy and an online Shop.

https://www.isleofskyedistillers.com

Misty Isle Gin, hand crafted, distilled and bottled on Skye