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

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

The classic, much revered, Negroni

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

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

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

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

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

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

Count Camille Negroni

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

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

Negroni cocktail – the perfect promotion by James Bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boulevardier and Old Pal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Negroni Sbagliato = Prosecco, Campari, Vermouth Rosso

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

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

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

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

The White Rose – another creative twist to the classic Negroni

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

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

Salute! 

Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

Published by Ryland Peters & Small.  Hardback:  £7.99

Book Photography by Alex Luck, copuright Ryland Peters & Small

For more information see this link to the website page:

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

Grapefruit Negroni

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

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

Sparkling, ice cold Apple Juice with an alcoholic kick

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

A Treatise of Cider, 1678

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

The original Taunton Cider Company – loading the barrels

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

The famous Taunton Dry Blackthorn Cider

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

Taunton Cider Octopus, a painting by Mike Jeffries

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

Somerset is Cider and Scrumpy country

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

The historic company was reborn in 2015

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

Gathering local apples in Somerset orchards

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

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

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

Cider is akin to Champagne

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

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

The tradition of mashing, pressing and fermenting the apples

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

The Taunton Cider Taste Test:

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

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

Taunton Dry Original Cider, 4% ABV

Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Yarlington Mill apples.

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

Taunton Medium Cider, 4%  ABV

Dabinett, Harry Masters Jersey and Yarlington Mill apples. 

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

Taunton Proper Natch Cider,  5.5% ABV

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

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

 Taunton Longaller Mill Cider, 5% ABV

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

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

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

Scallops with leeks, Taunton Cider and Apple

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

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

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

Proper Cider from Somerset”

What drinkers are saying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

NIGHTSHIFT  (Police)

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

Professional roles and personal values collide in Nightshift (Police)

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

HOMEFRONT  (Des Hommes)

Officially selected for Cannes 2020 and for Deauville Film Festival 2021

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

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

MAMA WEED  (La Daronne)

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

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

THE TRANSLATORS (Les Traducteurs)

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

The Translators at work on the new global best seller

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

IN BED WITH VICTORIA  (Victoria)

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

In Bed with Victoria – a stylish French Romcom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, world class rower and business entrepreneur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A feat of endurance rowing across Drakes Passage to Antarctica

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the Documentary: “The Impossible Row”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter Mayle at home in Provence.

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

Basia Gordon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coutal in the rural tranquility of Lot et Garonne

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

Lot et Garonne and community of villages

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

Basia lost in a meadow of sunflowers near Coutal

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

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

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

Gerry and Basia, armed with essential tools

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

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

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

The region of Lot et Garonne – the Tuscany of France

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

The picturesque heritage town of Monflanquin

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

The lively cultural, social community of Villereal

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

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

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

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

The Barn undergoing major reconstruction!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coutal – beautifully redesigned for the 21st century

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

Hardback: £17.99 ISBN: 978-1800461345

Paperback: £12.99 ISBN: 978-1800461352

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

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

“Coorie in” with a warming Dram

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

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

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

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

200 years of whisky making tradition and heritage

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

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

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

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

The giant copper stills

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

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

Heritage and Tradition since the days of James Allarcice in 1826

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

The Spanish Oak Sherry casks lined up in the Warehouse

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

Dr. Rachel Barrie, Master Blender

The GlenDronach Original, Aged 12 Years  

What The GlenDronach Distillery team say:

Appearance: Deep, amber-red gold. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The classic Old Fashioned with a large sphere of ice

Old Fashioned

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

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

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

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

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

Highland Martini

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

60ml Gin, 7.5ml GlenDronach single malt whisky

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

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

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

Rob Roy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a simple supper or celebratory dinner, choose Cheese from Paxton & Whitfield with hampers and gifts galore.

The enticing Cheese trolley with a glass of port

Savoury or Sweet that is the question. At the end of a delicious dinner, do you prefer to indulge in a rich dessert or order the Cheese board.?

Here it is, on the back of the menu.
How, instead of a pudding, an extra fiver
will buy you the choice of the Cheese Room.
It shines in the corner, a treasury,
the moony glow of the cheeses walled round
with glass. As soon as she sees it, she’s lost.

From ‘The Cheese Room’, Judy Brown

The fromage-loving French very wisely first sample the Brie and Comté, before finishing with, perhaps, Tarte Tatin or Mousse au Chocolat.

It is often assumed that women, in particular, are addicted to chocolate but, no, many of us would prefer a gift of the finest cheese for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. 

Whatever the occasion or just a weekend treat, this is just the time to enjoy quality food and drink at home: plan a wine & cheese party, family supper or celebratory dinner party. Instead of throwing a block of polythene-wrapped mousetrap cheddar into your supermarket basket, take a virtual trip to Paxton & Whitfield, Britain’s leading cheesemonger for over 200 years, sourcing and maturing exceptional cheeses.

Before describing my tasty feast of three Scottish cheeses, let’s look back at the inspirational story behind the founding of Paxton & Whitfield and its heritage. 

The original idea began in 1742 when Stephen Cullum set up a cheese stall in Aldwych market, before his son Sam moved the business to premises near Jermyn Street – where there is still a shop today. He also took on two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield, whose names would formally establish the company in 1797. Its reputation was sealed in 1850 when it received the Royal Warrant as cheesemonger to HM Queen Victoria.

Paxton & Whitfield – the renowned cheesemonger since 1797

Paxton’s has always been a market leader, working with British Artisan cheesemakers and importing the best from Europe, and as Winston Churchill once observed “a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield“. Today, the company maintains Royal Warrants from Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.

Jermyn Street, London – home to tailors, designer fashion and Paxton & Whitfield

So now it’s time to share my experience of tasting and testing three Artisan cheeses from different geographical regions of Scotland. The large cardboard box of cheese was kept fresh and insulated with an ice pack and wool blanket, the overnight delivery ensuring a swift arrival.

Paxton & Whitfield – Scottish cheese for Burns Night in January

 Paxton’s compiled this delicious selection to sample on a tour from the Western Isles to the Moray Firth and Royal Deeside.

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Isle of Mull Farmhouse

As part of the Inner Hebrides, a short ferry ride from Oban, is the Isle of Mull where in 1979, Jeff and Chris Reade followed their dream, moving with their four boys from Somerset to take over Sgriob-ruadh Farm, near the colourful, waterfront town of Tobermory.  The only dairy farm on the island, the Reade family continues to run this successful family business.

The mixed dairy herd at Sgriob-ruadh Farm, Isle of Mull

All of the cheese is made with unpasteurised milk from their herd of mainly Friesian, and also Ayrshire, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows, fed on grass and whisky grain husks, called Draff, from the Tobermory Distillery.

Every morning, the fresh milk is taken directly from the milking parlour to the cheese-making vat. As the cheese is unpasteurised it takes on the character of the seasons and in winter, it’s almost white in colour with an occasional blue vein as a mark of maturity.

Isle of Mull Farmhouse cheddar

The traditional Farmhouse cheddar has been handcrafted here for over forty years, most recently winning Gold Awards for Artisan Cheese and Best Scottish cheese.

Taste Test: Richly smooth with a slightly crumbly texture, super creamy with a tangy, salty taste and you may detect a soft boozy note too.!  

Isle of Mull Farmhouse cheddar and Hebridean Blue

Serve with your preference for crisp crackers, light, thin water biscuits, or traditional oatcakes.  The traditional accompaniment of a savoury relish would be ideal, grapes and quince jam. For a heartier meal, grill a slab on wholemeal toast and serve with sweet onion chutney, and on the side, a Stout or even better, a dram of Tobermory single malt.

Clava Brie 

Connage Highland Dairy is also on a family-run farm in Ardersier, Inverness, founded by Hamish Clark and today run by his two sons, Callum and Cameron and their wives. They have an organic dairy herd of 140 cows, mainly Holstein Friesian with some Jersey crosses and Norwegian Reds which graze on clover pastures along the shore of the Moray Firth.

Connage Farm – a tranuil sunny setting on the Moray Firth

Brie is the most famous French cheese, renowned as “The King of Cheeses,” named after the region where it was originally created – Brie De Meaux AOC was first created in the Middle Ages by the monks of the Priory of Rueil en Brie.  

The legendary French ‘King of Cheese’

For their award-winning Clava Brie, the Connage cheesemakers ladle the very delicate curd by hand into moulds and mature in a temperature controlled store. The cheese then develops a soft white rind before being individually hand wrapped. This is organic and suitable for vegetarians.

Clava Brie

Taste Test: This magnolia-tinted wedge just looks so artistic, with its smooth white rind, and then sample the earthy, mushroom flavour. This is a distinctive, finely crafted delicacy.

Brie is at its classic best when ripe, creamy and buttery, served with crackers or crusty bread, especially a French Baguette.  This cheese is well complemented with walnuts, honey and Plum chutney, to enhance the sweetness, and a glass of fine wine – a crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc or a soft Pinot Noir.

Auld Reekie 

The Cambus O’May Cheese Company is located near charming village of Ballater in Royal Deeside.  A sixth generation cheesemaker, Alex Reid makes Scottish, artisanal cheese using the traditional crafts passed down from his grandmother.

The scenic landscape of Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire

Our recipes haven’t changed in over 50 years nor has the way we make our cheese. Pure, unadulterated, unpasteurised goodness. Made with love to be consumed with passion.” Alex Reid

Cambus O’May Artisan cheese based on long established family tradition

Auld Reekie is inspired by the local smoking methods for speciality smoked venison and salmon in Royal Deeside. This handmade cheese is lightly smoked over whisky barrel shavings which give the creamery an aromatic whisky distillery atmosphere.

The name is taken from the old slang term for Edinburgh due to chimney smoke, and where by 1777 there were 400 illicit distilleries, producing a thick smog which blackened the grand sandstone buildings.

This two day, cow’s milk curd is carefully developed to combine the flavours and textures of traditional cheddar-like cheese with a delicate wood and whisky finish. 

Taste Test:  This is hard, amber-coloured with a crumbly texture. The aroma ‘reeks’ with a pungent smokiness, while the flavour is more mellow, richly creamy with an underlying hint of earthy peat from the whisky-scented wood.  

A good partnership for this fragrant cheese would be a fruit chutney, such as fig or plum & apple.  And to drink?  The local Royal Lochnagar Distillery is on the River Dee near Balmoral Castle – their 12 year old single malt offers notes of soft smoke, hay, oak and gingerbread. Alternatively, what could be more appropriate than the punchy blended malt from Islay, Auld Reekie, richly peaty, with spices and fruity sweetness.  

If this has whetted your appetite, take a look at the range of cheese on offer at Paxton & Whitfield; there are two London stores, but it’s so easy to browse and buy on line for home delivery.  The colourfully illustrated website is user friendly with a clear menu for Cheese Boards, Hampers, Gifts, Drinks, (Port, wine, beers), seasonal events and celebratory diary dates.

A specially designed gift set for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day purchases include free UK* delivery on all orders over £40. Choose from the exclusive selection of cheese for your date night at home or a special romantic gift.  

https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/shop/valentines-cheese-gifts

The finest English and French, heart-shaped, artisan cheeses including limited edition truffled Coeur de Neufchâtel, with chutneys and crackers, offers a restaurant-quality Valentine’s cheese board delivered to your door.  

The exclusive, heart-shaped Truffled Coeur de Neufchâtel

Coeur de Neufchâtel is one of Normandy’s oldest cheeses, it’s said that milk maids would present these love tokens to knights heading off to fight in the 100 years war.

Review from March 2020:  “I bought the Valentine’s cheese box for my partner. The cheeses were of exceptional quality and married perfectly with the charcoal crackers and the sweetness of the fig chutney. 5 stars.”

And with Easter on the horizon, instead of chocolate eggs, why not enjoy a platter of cheese for a savoury treat. ?

For all information, range of cheese, hampers, gift boxes, drinks and on line purchase:

https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/

https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/shop/other-fine-foods

Paxton & Whitfield supplies Artisan cheeses and fine food products to Selfridges; Harvey Nichols and Harrods, as well as leading restaurants and hotels including several Michelin-starred establishments.

Paxton & Whitfield – cheese hampers and gifts galore

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