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Halen Mon Salt launch of book, gin and Tide restaurant

We recently got an invite to Wales most famous salt brand Halen Mon for the launch of not one but three new ventures at the Coastal HQ along Anglesey’s treasured Menai Straights.

Normally I would have questioned a 10 hour round trip for a launch event but this was no normal launch party. Having used up my latest pot of black garlic ketchup on everything apart from my cup of tea, I knew Halen Mon had something special planned last Saturday.

Their famous salt is used by Michelin Star chefs around the world and even has a former president as an avid fan, with Barack Obama favouring the Welsh sea salt in his chocolate.

The Halen Mon range has exploded over the past few years featuring a hint of their white gold in the majority of products along with seaweed, spices and good old fashioned smoke.

Do Sea Salt book

The latest launch though is covering a few different areas and not just condiments. There is a book “Do Sea Salt” written by Jess and her parent’s, the founders of Halen Mon Alison and David. It’s lovely little book, featuring salt in all it’s greatness from history, why we use it, how to use it and some great suggestions on elevating humble recipes by utilising this great natural product.

I haven’t had a chance to sit down yet and get stuck into it properly but from a quick scan of the book, I’ll definitely be trying some of the ideas and I love learning about the history of anything food and drink related. There’s also a mention about creating your own sea salt, something I’d only mentioned on our last trip up to Anglesey back in April .

I said I wanted to get gas cooker and heat some water from the Menai Straights, to try and make our own Anglesey Sea salt before we got the invite to Halen Mon HQ, so this book will make sure I don’t waste hours of my life watching the water bubble away over a camping stove.

Jin Mor Gin

Well this was a surprise for me, as I only found out a couple of day’s before the event that they were also launching a gin on the night. Well I found out when they presented the first bottle off the still to Prince William and Kate on instagram, two days before.

 

The gin is a collaboration with the increasingly popular North Wales Distillery Aber Falls. Aber Falls, was setup initially as a the first Whisky Distillery in North Wales for over 100 years but as whisky takes 3 years and 1 day legally be called whisky, they sought out other forms of revenue in the mean time. They initially launched three gin’s to much success and have expanded their range more recently with an entry level vodka and gin along with a more premium offering.

Jin Mor Gin - Halen Mon Gin

Jin Mor launch night

The Halen Mon gin, will go by the name of Jin Mor and has the addition of their Halen Mon to the mix of botanicals. I was told that this was not just to add a salinity to the drink but because of the process that happens when you add salt to anything. It draws out moisture and oils from most things thuse drawing more of the flavour from the botanicals.

On taste, I was expecting it to have a saline kick to it but far from it. The gin was smooth, pleasant and delicious. I didn’t get to try it neat on the evening but did have more than my fair share mixed with a bit of tonic and it was exceedingly morish.

We had a goody bag to take home with a little bottle of the juniper spirit, so I will be taste testing it neat on the weekend for research purposes.

Apart from the salt there was nothing too out of the ordinary on the botanical list with the obvious juniper, coriander seed, angelica root and licorice although I didn’t see the full list.

I was half expecting a bit of the seaweed that they forage a just a stones throw away from the salt harvesting site that is used in some of their other products to make an appearance but that might be reserved for further down the line.

I’m sure the Halen Mon gin would make a very good martini or red snapper at the new cafe would be a good choice, using some of the other range of products such as the bloody mary ketchup for flavour, seaweed for umami kick, chilli for heat and a smoked salt and cracked black pepper rim. I might suggest this one to them and more than happy to work on testing to get the perfect mix 🙂

Tide Cafe

Last but not least is the new fresh food offering from Halen Mon called Tide. Not content with supplying kitchens and restaurants across the land with their excellent pantry staples, they are going one step further and opening a food outlet next to the Halen Mon visitor Centre.

Tide Cafe - Halen Mon, Ynys Mon

The food will be cooked in a fully kitted trailer next to the centre, offering alfresco dining and refreshments to visitors of the centre or just people wanting good coffee and fresh, local and delicious food.

We were treated to a number of tasters and appetisers whilst our fellow guests arrived to the sea front location. Halen Mon couldn’t have picked a better day, the sun was shining with hardly a cloud in the sky.

The Canapes consisted of freshly picked oysters from just in front of where we were stood with both pickled apple and some that had been shown the fire over a log burner, some 5 metres away with lashings of garlic and butter.

Crisp breads beautifully decorated with flowers with peppers and an amalgamation of pureed stuff, that both looked enticing and tasted scrumptious.

Then there were mini tacos with healthy slabs of golden pork, fresh apple and micro herbs for a kiss of savouriness. These just how i like tacos, stuffed, overloaded and more than my mouth can handle. There was no portion control either, to my delight, so I had a couple of each to pair with the gin.

The Meal

I could have easily have sat and filled up on the tasters, but we were there to sample something more substantial inside. I liked that everyone’s name card was somewhere random (or was it) so they made more of an effort to speak to others. I was sat 3 away from Llio but with everyone’s love of food and just enjoying life, we all had loads to talk about. There was someone who made his own chutneys that will be featuring on the menu to my right and a tea master that now works trading in spices on my left.

Hugh Fearnley at Tide launch - Halen Mon, Anglesey

Before the meal commenced we had a brief introduction by none other than Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, whom the new Tide chef Sam worked for, at his time at Riverside Cottage.

We were given a choice of wine as we sat down, with me opting for red, as I can’t take to all white especially if it’s too dry. There was never going to be a Blossom Hill being brought out that’s for sure and I wasn’t disappointed with the offering that did come out, a Valenciso Reserva 2009 Rioja. Not sure if this is true, but someone on the table mentioned it was the house wine at the fabled El Bulli in Spain. Well you can’t get much better than that for recognition.

Salad starter at Tide, Halen Mon

The first dish was very informal and more of a sharing experience, which was a nice change. We had some amazing sourdough, which is always a fav of mine baked by a friend of the family who was also sat amongst us, dining for the evening too.

This was alongside some asparagus cooked in loads of butter and garlic, new season kale that was so delicate compared to kale I’m used to without the large oversized stems and tossed in orange and raisins alongside a help yourself bowl of olive tapenade. I was a good boy and only ate two pieces of bread, even with the remaining slices plonked next to me. I’m getting better!

Welsh Lamb main at Tide Restaurant launch, Halen Mon

Onto the main course of Welsh lamb, served a luscious pink with a croqueta of slow cooked lamb inside too. Some fresh salad leaves, locally picked new potatoes with loads of butter and some extra greens. It tasted fresh, looked rustic and just as I would expect out of the River Cottage cookbook.

I enjoy vegetables, they just taste bland and dull when I cook them. Everything had it’s own bit of tender loving, yet not overpowering or overshadowing anything else on the plate. Seasoned to perfection, even though I thought there would be white ceramic tubs of Halen Mon within reach for everyone, we really didn’t need it.

We were sat / stood outside in the sunshine for the tasting of the gin and the canapes and it would have been lush to dine outside but it’s not quite summer in the evenings and the temperature tends to drop considerably, especially being right next to the water’s edge.

Roasted rhubarb crumble and custard at Tide, Halen Mon

With the logs being put on the burners outside, which was now churning out a decent heat, we were able to grab a chair, a glass of dessert wine and have a shmooze, whilst the dessert of stewed rhubarb, custard and crumble was handed out to very happy campers.

 

Thinking we were all done, after quite the feasting, a couple of wooden boards were handed out with gargantuan wedges of Welsh cheeses and a knife to do your worst. It was dark out there, but I think I would definitely have been caught shimmering out of the circle, cheese in tow to the nearest bush or rock, to polish it all off myself.

The Verdict

What an amazing evening we had, from start to finish. Everyone was so lovely not just the Halen Mon team but everyone we sat next to and had a chat with.

The food was outstanding. Everything was sources as local as possible, seasoned perfectly and you could taste the love shown to it. I will definitely be calling in to have tour around the salt production site and finishing with a bite to eat at Tide, the next time I’m up and on the island.

Halen Mon launch night

We bought our first Halen Mon ceramic salt cellar about 2 years ago at Waitrose in Menai Bridge and it takes pride of place in the kitchen and always in arms reach when we sit down for food.

We’ve also topped it up and bought a few other nicies from the range on Discover Delicious too including seaweed and salt mini pot, Bloody Mary Ketchup and my fav their Black Garlic Ketchup.

The gin was a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Not that I thought it would be bad but I couldn’t fault the end product. You can buy it from their website at around £33 or the other half was back up in Anglesey last week with work and popped in and bought one in the shop next to Tide for the same price. We will definitely be showcasing it at a future Cardiff Gin Club event.

The book “Do Sea Salt” can also be bought from their website and in the visitor centre shop.

Contact Details

Address: The Anglesey Sea Salt Company Ltd
Brynsiencyn,
Isle of Anglesey
LL61 6TQ

Website: https://www.halenmon.com

Tepache Recipe – Mexican Pineapple Beer

Tepache is a Mexican beverage made from fermented pineapple juice. You cut a pineapple, rind and all, as this is where the natural yeasts hide that kicks of the fermentation and add mix it with brown sugar and your choice of spices. The usual suspects are cinnamon, cloves and ginger but you can add whatever you like such as chilli for a bit of fiery heat or vanilla pods.

The mix is left to ferment for a few days, in which time the yeast starts to feed off the sugar, eventually turning it into alcohol. We’re not talking wine strength here, only a few abv. as this is traditionally enjoyed by people of all ages in Mexico with some ice, for a refreshing afternoon thirst quencher.

The tepache once mixed with sugar, water and your choice of spices should be kept out of the fridge in a warmish environment as this speeds up the fermentation process for a few days, until you start to see some bubbling and white froth on top.

I’ve read online that this can take between 2-3 days but this is probably in warmer climates as I nearly threw mine out on the 5th morning, but when I came home from work it was bubbling away nicely.

After 3 or 4 days of no life, I thought that by heating up the sugar with the water and adding boiling water to the pineapple mix that I had killed off all of the natural yeast. So next time, I’m just going to add the water and sugar and give it a shake.

To give it a little hand, I didn’t think the kitchen was warm enough to start the fermentation, so I placed my tepache container in very warm water for an hour on the 4th day to try and get a bit more heat to the mix. I think this is what saved it as the 5th day, the fermentation started.

With any form of fermentation you need to make sure that everything you use is properly sterilised so that you don’t go adding any harmful bacteria that will either spoil your ferment or leave you feeling ill, once consumed. One other area of caution is too much gas and pressure on your mixing container.

When the Tepache starts to ferment, it will give off co2 (gas) in the process. As your container is sealed, this leads to a build up of pressure inside. If you use thin or cheap glass containers and you don’t burp (let out the gass) regularly then it could potentially cause the container to explode. A high price to pay for a bit of hooch.

You can get some fermenting jars I’ve seen online. Lakeland sell some for about £8 and Kilner around the £20 mark. What these do is have a one way filter for gas and pressure to escape, thus relieving the tepache container of too much pressure.

Once the tepache has fermented and you’ve seen bubbles, you want to decant the liquid and remove the fruit pieces, otherwise it will eventually turn to vinegar. Pineapple vinegar doesn’t sound too bad, but I can’t drink that in a glass. I left mine overnight after seeing the bubbles just to make sure the sugar has been broken down and it’s not too sweet.

You then want to give it what’s known as a secondary ferment in the bottle or another container. This is where you get the natural carbonation for the drink. Add it to a container, minus the fruit and pop it in the fridge. Make sure to give it a burp once a day too and leave it for around 2 days. Now you should be good to go.

You can enjoy cold with some ice or make it a bit boozy and add some beer.

Tepache recipe tasting

I tried a tasting board of tepache, one with Danish Spirit Producer Empirical Spirits collaboration with Lyaness Bar Onyx Blend, one with Mikeller IPA and one low abv version with just ice and a squeeze of fresh lime.

To be fair I enjoyed all three, but it was delicious in the ice cold beer for an extra fruity kick.

Tepache recipe ingredients

Tepache Ingredients

  • 1 Pineapple,
  • 1 cup of brown sugar (I used two half cup measurements I use for my oats)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 small piece of fresh ginger
  • Water

Tepache Recipe Instructions

  1. Give the pineapple a little rinse in cold water, just to remove any debris but nothing too crazy as this is where the yeast needed to start the ferment lives.
  2. Peel the rind, remove the fibrous core as I’ve heard this can be a bit bitter, then chop the flesh into chunks.
  3. Add the rind and I used half of the pineapple flesh. It depends how big your vessel is but if I used the whole thing, I wouldn’t have had any space for the water.
  4. Add the sugar and spices and top with water. You want to cover the fruit as this should be fully submerged so as not to protrude over the mixture and start decomposing but leave a bit of a gap at the top of the container so the tepache has some room to breath and for the gas to go.
  5. Close the top and give a shake.
  6. Don’t go sealing it straight away as the yeast and ferment will need some air
  7. Use some cheese cloth or a clean tower and cover the opening to the container. You can use an elastic band to keep it in place. This allows the mix to breath but stops any insects having a party in there.
  8. Leave out in a warm area but out of direct sunlight.
  9. The warmer the better but nothing too mental. I think mine took 5 days because my room wasn’t particularly warm but I did add the container to a pot of hot water on the 4th day to try and speed things up for an hour.
  10. Leave for a few days until it starts to ferment and bubble. Other websites said this will take 2-3 days but this depends on the climate and temperature. Colder rooms or countries might take longer.
  11. Don’t let it go too long after the ferment or you will be left with pineapple vinegar.
  12. Strain the fruit from the liquid and add the liquid to a new clean bottle or container. Make sure the container is of good quality so it doesn’t explode from the pressure. Make sure there is ample room for the build up of gas.
  13. Put the container in the fridge for what’s known as the secondary ferment to carbonate.
  14. Burp or open the container once a day to release the gas and pressure. The tepache should be ready in 1-2 days.
  15. Drink with ice or mix with a beer.

 

note: It should look like below when it starts to ferment

Fermenting pineapple

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The Dead Canary Gin Dinner Review in Cardiff

We were recently invited to the first in a series of gin dinners at Deaths and Entrances, the new bar within The Dead Canary and run by the same team.

The new bar opened a few months back and I loved the new flavour driven cocktail menu on the launch weekend.

The gin dinner was in collaboration with Quintessential Brands, whose gins were being paired up against the three courses of food we were being served that evening.

We toasted the night in with a welcome classic of Thom(as) Collins, to get the flavour receptors in full working order. The brand ambassador then give us a bit of history behind a Manchester gin that just so happened to be my very first purchase of gin some 3 years ago. Thomas Dakin, was the gin in question and comes in a not so standard rectangular bottle, with a large red sticker and branding on the front.

It was the bottle that caught my attention and back then there were only a handful of gin’s on the shelf not a whole section dedicated to the juniper laced spirits, if you can call some of them that these days.

The Food

The first course went straight in with the big guns as a paired gin in the form of Berkley Square, the most expensive gin of the evening. The bottle just oozed premium, with it’s lions head and knocker along with thick walled square bottle.

Berkeley Square Gin bottle

The food dish consisted of honey baked feta with lavender and a thyme and rye crisp. What a first course! I love feta and the lick of honey combined with a gentle heat in the oven, gave it a ever so slight caramelisation. It also turned it heavenly smooth in the mouth and contrasted with the crisp and bread. I could have eaten more than my fair share, lets just put it that way.

The kitchen soon served our second plate of food that was paired with the Thomas Dakin gin in a cucumber and dill sour. A mackerel dish with cucumber and horseradish snow, a granita type iced affair with subtle horseradish. One of the ingredients in this centuries old recipe for gin was red coal, which was often taken as a snuff like powder to awaken the senses back in the 18th century.

Mackerel starter at The Dead Canary Gin Dinner

We now call this horseradish, so it was intriguing to find out about how gin progressed outside of London during the time of the first gin craze and also matching the botanicals within the food too. I thought it was a very creative dish and i’d never tried a savoury granita, especially not with horseradish and certainly not as a starter.

The brand ambassador also spoilt us with some of the last remaining chocolates truffles they had made for them from a Manchester chocolatier that has stopped trading at the moment, which made them extra special as they can’t be bought again. Gin and chocolate, what’s not to love especially when the truffles were made to compliment the botanicals in question.

Thomas Dakin gin chocolates

Onto the mains, which consisted of pork tenderloin with carrot, dill and camomile broth, served with a ginger collins using the floral, Bloom gin. The cocktail made a lovely refreshing addition. A Collins, sometimes known as a Tom Collins at a basic level contains gin, lemon juice and soda. This is usually jazzed up with some additional syrups and carbonated liquid to lengthen it.

Pork and ginger collins at The Dead Canary Gin Dinner

Our final course took a flight towards India, to hold up against the spice of the final gin Opihr. The dish consisted of a mango kulfi, pistachio and grated coconut. Paired with a favourite classic of mine, the negroni. Not for the faint hearted and this cocktail does seperate the men from the boys or women from the girls, with it’s use of the bitter orange Italian aperitif Campari.

Mango Kulfi dessert at The Dead Canary Gin Dinner in Cardiff

The classic ratio of 1 part gin, 1 part sweet vermouth and one part campari is sometimes tweaked, to also include barrel aging or infusions of vermouth with the likes of coffee or cacao. This is always served with a twist or slice of orange for a natural sweetness against the bitter Campari.

A negroni is a hard drink to pair up against but the creamy kulfi and the sweet fruit of the mango leant itself to the spicy cocktail. My empty plate and glass bore witness to this.

The Verdict

I really enjoyed the evening and I’ve been to quite a few of The Dead Canary events now over the years from gin blending, afternoon tea-ki.

We were invited to this event this time around but I’ve paid for all the other’s I’ve been to there and there’s been a few. They recently did another gin dinner and I’ve seen whisky dinners too, for those of you who prefer the amber coloured barrel aged liquor.

I’ve seen a few more advertised events on my hit list to sign up to at The Dead Canary like the return of the Afternoon Tea-ki event in collaboration with Pennyroyal, which is back for Cardiff Cocktail Week.This features tiki cocktails and caribbean inspired plates of food to match them.

Mikkeller Beer Club Discount Code

On a recent trip to Copenhagen I got to visit not one but two venues owned by Danish Beer stalwarts Mikkeller. They’ve got a few tap rooms dotted around Copenhagen, which we went to too, but we also went to the BBQ based collab with the American 3 Floyds brewery based in the meat packing district of the city called Warpigs.

I’ve tried a fair few Mikkeller beers over the years from the infamous Small Bar in Cardiff (RIP), the bottle shop in Penarth and they even sell a couple of cans at M & S.

After having a browse on their website, whilst pondering over a couple of brews to have sent over by snail mail I noticed they do a Mikkeller beer mail. This is a beer subscription where you can have a lucky dip of the latest Mikkeller beers sent to you by post once a month.

I love a suprise and I also love having beers in the house without leaving my doorstep, so I thought I was onto a winner. After finding a Mikkeller beer mail discount code online giving me 50% off my first box, I thought £20 was worth a punt.

Not knowing when delivery would be scheduled, whether it would be a month from signup or the start of the month, I was lucky in that I ordered just a week before the start of the month. A couple of days after signing up for the Mikkeller beer mail I had a notification saying my first box was been scheduled for delivery.

What was in the Mikkeller beer club box

 

Mikkeller beer club discount code

 

In the Mikkeller beer mail I had the recently launched Viking Kolsche lager with a pretty awesome branded glass for the collab.

There was a mixed bag with a few cans and bottles. There were IPA’s, a vanilla and a chocolate stout at a rather potent 12%, making a perfect dessert (or breakfast) pour. I was chuffed to have a big can of Frank The Tank too, which I got to sample over at Warpigs.

The bottle of the box though was the Spontan series Oregan Plukm. A lovely sour beer made from Plums picked from Oregan in the US. I priced this up on their website and it came in at around £14 for this alone, add that to the £8 I paid for the Frank the Tank in Warpigs and for your £20 investment, you’ve already had that back wtihout the other 7 beers and glass along with delivery all the way from Denmark.

Verdict

Would I recommend the Mikkeller Beer Mail? Too right I would if my first box is anything to go by. With the discount code getting you a 50% discount on your first box then 9 beers, a glass and delivery for £20 means you’re getting some epic beers for not much more than £2 a drink.

Mikkeller Beer Mail Discount Code

If you fancy signing up to the subscription service but not sure about the price then just use the Mikkeller beer mail discount code in the link below to get 50% off off your first delivery:

http://mikkelleraps.refr.cc/nickyb 

Note: Please note that by using the link to get a discount on the Mikkeller beer mail and Mikkeller beer club then I also get a discount on my next box too.

Gin Judging for The Peoples Drink Awards in London

After seeing catching a glimpse of newsletter tittle mentioning Gin Judging, whilst scrolling through my 300 odd emails I get every day, I clicked through to find out more.

The peoples choice drinks awards were back for a second year, and looking for judges to help crown this year’s favourite. You had to submit an application detailing why you think you would be suitable so I thought what the hell.

I forgot all about it to be honest, but a few months later I had an email inviting me to the judging at a venue in Camden in London. It was a half day affair, requiring me to taste my way through up to 30 gins with the chance to take home some surplus supplies for the hardship too. RESULT!!

As luck would have it, the judging day happened to fall on the weekend of Albert Adria’s Cake and Bubbles opening in London too and I managed to get a table.

The Judging

After arriving in Camden and finding the venue by 10.30am on a Saturday from Cardiff, I was feeling quite impressed with myself. I wasn’t alone and was joined by my partner (in crime) and fellow Cardiff Gin Club organiser to help prop me up, if I overindulged on the bountiful supply of potent aqua vitae.

 

Peoples Drink Awards in London

 

There were around 20 of us tasked with finding today’s winner of the Peoples Choice Drinks award for the gin category. I would have been the only guy had one fellow judge not brought her husband on the trip to London and was squeezed in due to a no show. Not that I was that bothered.

We were divided into about 6 tables, given scoring cards and had a run through what was expected of us. There were two rounds of the scoring, one was the gin with the taste and what we thought of the actual liquid. The second round of scoring was based on the branding, bottle and back story.

Round 1 of gin judging

After being shown how to score the gin based on taste, mouthfeel, smell, clarity and mixabilty we dived straight in. Armed with a spitting device, we were told that we didn’t need to swallow the gin and should be able to taste and score just from swilling it around the mouth. The organisers were gin judges for a number of awards and said they sometimes go through over 100 gins in a day. Ok, that might be a challenge even for me, but 30, I’m sure I’ll be fine I thought.

 

Peoples drink awards gin judging sheet

 

We weren’t served full shots anyway, just tasters of about 1/4 of a shot. Also at our disposal were bottles of tonic to open up the flavours after the initial neat taste of the liquid and plain crackers to help neutralise the taste in our mouth between gins.

The pace was fast, with the first 6 coming in quick succession. We were sat with a couple from Brighton who we got on really well with and discussed what we thought of the gin’s and what we could taste. As fast as we could taste and decide on a score for each of the scoring area’s another one or another two gin’s appeared from nowhere.

After getting to about half way through and swallowing basically everything in sight, I started to get a head on and it started to hit me. Luckily we had a short 15 minute break in between to save my legs from going underneath me when we broke for the first part. After the quick pause in the sprint through the 30 gin’s, it was back at it at full speed.

 

 

The majority of the gin’s presented to us were more than palatable, there were only a handful of less desirable and one just downright nasty that came in a rose tinted colour. I swear it wasn’t just my distaste for fake pink gin, none of the table enjoyed it.

I was quite surprised how quickly a table of 4 would smash through a packet of plain crackers too. By the last 5 we were on 3mm x 3mm crumb ration each, but we all made it to the finishing line in one piece.

Breaking for lunch after the tasting was a very good idea to help soak up the juniper laced spirit and of course I noticed the pie, mash and jellied eels old school cafe on the trek from the underground to the venue.

 

 

Full up on meat pies, mash potato and liquor, I was ready to take on the second round of judging head on. Back at the venue, I only then realised they had none other than a Tiny Rebel tap take over going on. Well i’ll be damned! You can take the boy out of Cardiff but… Pint please bar tender.

Round 2 of gin judging

Everyone was definitely a bit more chatty after the first round of scoring that’s for sure. Next we were handed 4 bottles at a time so we could look at the branding on the bottles and a blurb on each of the distilleries about their back story including who they were, how they started, unique selling point and a bit about some of the key botanicals.

Again it was a bit fast paced and we weren’t given too much time to read over the back story before swapping with other tables. We did notice that some distilleries had submitted several varieties of their gin, in hope of one of them winning.

 

Dublin City Gin

 

I was surprised having such a decent selection at home that we didn’t have more of the gin’s on show today. I had 3 of the masons gin’s but there was a new pear variety, which I was keen to try. I found flavour wise they were all quite high up on my scoring but for me on the day, my favourite gin was the Dublin City Gin.

We eventually found out that the nasty, chemical tasting and rose tinted gin was a new variety of one of our most popular Cardiff Gin Club pop up event gin’s. Bloom jasmine and rose. Uch a fi, sorry but I would not recommend that gin to anyone even if I’m not allowed to say. I cannot be held responsible for people wasting their money on that bunk.

 

Brighton Gin

 

After the scores were all handed in there was a kind of raffle going on, where one organiser would pick up a bottle of surplus gin and the other would call a name and we got to keep the bottle to take home. I could just see me coming home with that pink garbage but I was in luck. I got to take home last year’s winner, Brighton gin. Much to the dissatisfaction of my fellow table members who had travelled up from said town of the same name.

Llio also managed to bag a bottle of the sea side inspired Whitby gin and a half bottle of Shetland Reel Fire.

The Verdict

All in all, a very productive Saturday in work.  A bit longer than my normal 1.5 mile bike journey to work, but all worth it in the end. I loved the experience of judging the gin’s and it was great to be involved in helping to promote some of the very good craft gin coming onto the market at the moment. I’m not sure if the awards is going to happen again this year, but if it does then I’d recommend it to anyone. Just take an extra packet of crackers, in case you run out half way through like us.

Then it was off to taste some cakes from the a pastry chef, voted the best in the world Albert Adria at Hotel Cafe Royal, before lugging our haul of gin back to the motherland.

 

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Cardiff in the sky dinning and cocktail experience in April 2019

There’s a dinning experience coming to town in April, that is like no other Cardiff has hosted previously.

For 5 days from April 10th 2019, some of the best independent food and drink venue’s in Cardiff will be taking to the sky, offering breakfast, afternoon tea, fine dinning and cocktails on a table raised 100ft in the air.

 

 

With panoramic views out over the city to die for (don’t worry I don’t mean literally as you will be strapped in tight) you will want to be quick to bag a ticket for your chosen flight.

The dinning experience will see a table, covered from the elements should storm Gareth fancy hanging around in town for another month, raised from the ground by a crane in front City Hall.

With 9 flights per day, the event is hoped to raise a lot of cash for the charity partner Shelter Cymru. Shelter Cymru provide support and assistance for those facing homelessness, with 20,000 people being helped just last year alone.

This dinning experience has been taking the world by storm, with events being held in London, New York and Dubai and now OOMFF are bringing the show to Cardiff.

The lineup for the event is as follows:

 

Having visited 6 out of the 8 venues, I know you’re going to be well looked after. I’ve been offered a taster flight before the maiden voyage to the Cardiff skies and I can’t actually wait!

Prices start at £50, to book go to Cardiff in the Sky

 

Nikka Whisky and Gin Tasting – Cocktail Judging at Lab22 Cardiff

The Nikka brand and distillery is responsible for my recent obsession with Japanese spirits and alcohol. It was the first Japanese whisky I tried and subsequently the only whisky that isn’t Welsh in my home bar with the entry but delicious level Nikka from the Barrel.

I’m not sure whether it’s the resemblance of the brand name to my actual name or the story of the founder Masataka Taketsuru. Taketsuru, born in Hiroshima to a family of sake producers. He rebelled against already written future as a sake producer, upped sticks and traveled to Scotland, not knowing a word of English, to learn the art of distilling.

With his new found skill in distilling Scotland’s most famous export after deep fried Mars bars, he returned to Japan. With a Scottish wife in tow, he went to work for the Japanese distillery Suntory, which is still one of the most famous to this day.

After creative differences, he decided to go it alone and setup his own distillery Nikka. You probably wouldn’t have guessed, but certain areas of Japan closely resemble the climate, humidity and altitude famed by the Scottish distilleries. These sorts of variables can have a huge impact to the final product and it’s taste.

Nikka Distillery has now been producing highly awarded as sought after Japanese Whisky from their distilleries all around Japan, using a variety of different techniques from pot stills, multi column Coffey Stills and they even still use coal fired stills on some of the batches.

Not only whisky, but Nikka have also more recently added white spirits to their arsenal in the form of gin and vodka. Using the Coffey still (not coffee) to produce the neutral grain spirit of vodka. They then use this base spirit, which is distilled with Japanese botanicals to create a spicy, citrus forward gin with the help of yuzu, amanatsu, kabosu, shikuwasa and the sansho pepper, which is a member of the sizchuan pepper.

They call this Nikka Coffey Gin. I’ve got a bottle of this in the house too, and it’s bloody lush!

Nikka Whisky, Gin and Vodka Tasting at Lab22

Luckily for me, Lab 22, one of my favourite Cardiff bars and the one where i’ve tried most of the Japanese whiskys I’ve sampled in my time, were having an industry tasting day with Nikka brand ambassador one afternoon recently. That was more than enough reason to book the afternoon off work for in my eyes.

We got to learn about the history of Nikka, the story of Masataka Taketsuru and how he grew his company over 50 years ago to be one of the most recognised Japanese Whisky brands on the planet.

Nikka Japanese whisky tasting in Cardiff

Then onto the most important part, tasting our way around the collection of Nikka spirits from blended, single cask, aged whisky to the recent coffey additions such as Nikka Coffey grain whisky, Malt whisky, Gin and Vodka.

I’d sampled a few drinks form the Nikka range lately, but there’s bloody loads of them, so I was more than happy to work my way through more of the back catalogue.

My favourite from the 8 varities we tried was between the Nikka Single malt Miyagikyo and the Taketsuru pure malt.

There weren’t any of the aged expresions, but I’m not suprised as the Japanese whisky drought that’s going on has sent them skyrocketing in price. I did manage to try the Nikka Taketsuru 17 year old recently at Pennyroyal mind. This is probably the last time as that is currently at £200 a bottle, so god knows how much the 21 year old is, and that’s bottle price so for a shot you’re looking £20+ no doubt.

Judging the Nikka cocktail competition

Nikka whisky and gin cocktail judging

Lab knows my love for Japanese Whisky and Gin, so asked me to judge for the Nikka cocktail comp after the tasting event. How could i refuse?

There were two heats to the comp with Japanese bar tendering skills in the form of hand carved ice to a stopwatch where they had a minute to carve a block of ice into a sphere to fit into a whisky tumbler.

Second heat was all about the drinks. Each bartender had to create a cocktail with at least 50ml of any of the Nikka products we sampled during the day, whether that was Nikka Whisky, Gin or Vodka. Scoring was based on taste, appearance and story.

Nikka whisky cocktail entry at lab22 Cardiff

I’ll be honest, I wish this was my full time paid job as I was in my oils. Luckily there was no need for any bandages in the first heat from rogue stabs of the ice with the ice pick but we had a right good laugh at the effort the guys put in on the first round.

For the cocktails, nearly every entrant used Nikka Whisky from Nikka from the barrel to Yoichi and Taketsuru Pure Malt. With only Alex, mixologist and owner of Penny Royal opting for a mix of Nikka Whisky and Gin in his cocktail.

There were some mesmerising back stories and props thrown into the performances from some and some damn fine cocktails to match, but there could only be one winner. That happened to be Alex who went for a mix of the Nikka gin and whisky, with a short and punchy number with added Japanese ice ball to add a little bit more flair to the drink.

Nikka gin cocktail winner

Alex walked away with an enviable bottle of something a bit special from Nikka and sadly wasn’t open to requests to share it with me. Oh well.

A big thanks to Lab22 for letting me join in the tasting and cocktail judging and a big thanks to Nathan from Nikka for giving me the low down on the history of the distillery, which I always find fascinating.

Mulled Negroni Recipe – Christmas Cocktail Ideas

I usually knock up a batch of mulled wine or cider for Christmas dinner every year but I fancied trying something different this year.

Seeing that I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for gin, I thought I’d try mulling some of the juniper based spirit. As gin usually comes with tonic, which isn’t exactly Christmassy on it’s own I decided to go with a twist on one of gin’s most famous classic cocktails, the Negroni.

Negroni is usually equal measures of gin, sweet vermouth, which is a a fortified red wine with added botanicals and herbs and Campari, a bitter orange Italian aperitif.

To me that’s basically a grown up mulled wine in the making and what I think would make the perfect Christmas cocktail. You could have this with dinner for the main event or for a welcome drink that could be knocked up in a batch, in a slow cooker and given to guests when they arrive.

I’ve gone for a couple of alternative mulling spices below, but you can work with what you’ve got for your mulled Negroni if you don’t have the ones below, or don’t like them.

Mulled negroni recipe ingredients

Mulled Negroni Recipe

  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 clementine, leaves and all
  • 1 bottle of Fentimans ginger ale
  • 50ml gin (I used Edinburgh)
  • 50ml Campari
  • 50ml Sweet vermouth
  • 1 tonka bean
  • 5 cloves
  • Squeeze of honey to taste
  • Squeeze of clementine juice

 

Mulled negroni making

Instructions

  1. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and half the rind of a small clementine to a hot dry pan and toast for a few minutes to get a bit of a char and to start releasing some of the flavours.
  2. Turn the heat down to a low-medium heat than add the rest of the ingredients and 3 slices of the clementine.
  3. Warm in the pan slowly to get the flavours to impart but without burning off the alcohol.
  4. Put a tea strainer over a clear glass cup and pour half of the liquid in each of the cups. Garnish with a slice of clementine and stick of cinnamon from the pan.

You could leave to cool and serve with a wedge of ice, but it’s winter and there’s nothing better than a nice warm, boozy cup.

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Head of Steam Review in Cardiff

With the almost monthly opening of new cocktail bars on High Street Cardiff, it was a welcome addition to have the Head of Steam bar opening up next door to Beelzebubs on Church street this week.

There’s lots of change going on down that neck of the woods in the city centre, with a lot more planned with the redevelopment of the old pound stretchers and the adjoining vacant buildings on Church street too.

Head of Steam has taken over from the recently vacated Harvester restaurant and will be the companies 16th venue in the UK. I was asked to pop along to the soft launch last night to sample some of the 150+ beers and food on offer.

The Venue

I’ve passed the venue twice a day on the way to work since they’ve been giving the place an overhaul. The bar now covers two floors, instead of just the ground floor that Harvester was limited to.

 

 

The ground floor features a central bar with a mixture of movable tables and chairs and also booths to choose from. Large flat screen TV’s nestled around the wall’s rotate through the endless list of beers available.

Upstairs is reserved for mainly food, with no bar and table service. Theme throughout the venue is meandering towards the locomotive industry, hence the brand name “Head of Steam”. There’s references throughout to local railway trivia, but not too in your face.

The Drinks

Beers

As mentioned there’s over 150 beers available on draught, bottles and cans. You’ve got your standard pub offerings for those who aren’t too fussy about craft. There’s a couple of local beers from Cardiff favourites Pipes Brewery, then there’s Magic Rock and Beavertown, which I had the 6.7% Lupoloid that was very tasty.

 

 

They have a heavy focus on Belgian beers too, which is something i’m not too well versed with, so that should be something new to work through too for me.

Gin

I was quite impressed with their gin collection too. I counted 45+ that were in plain sight. Some of the regulars you would find in most bars like your Whitley Neil and Bathtub, then a fav of mine Scapegrace at the more premium end. There were a few new one’s I hadn’t tried too such as the Manchester Gin.

 

Gin selection at Head of Steam Cardiff

Whisky

Around the other side of the bar were the darker spirits like rum and whisky. A few firm Scottish favourites such a Ardbeg and to my delight a few Japanese ones too from Nikka and Suntory. I’ve tried quite a few of the Nikka range so I’m trying to work my way through the Suntory. They had the new Hibiki blended Harmony, which I haven’t tried since the aged 12 and 17 year expressions have dried up. I opted for the Suntory Yamakazi this time though, as i’ve seen it about, but not tried it before.

 

Yamazaki 12 year old Japanese Whisky at Head of Steam Cardiff

Cider

I think their selection of cider was the weakest link in the chain to be honest. The only true apple cider they had was on tap and that was Symonds but the rest were all fruit varieties, which I find way too sweet. They had Rekordelig on tap, a cola cider, which I did have a taster of but found it just tasted like cola and not much in the way of cider. I’d have struggled with more than a half. They you had some bottled fruit options such as rhubarb, mango and a strawberry one at around 4% so you can take a guess as to how sweet they were.

There’s plenty of good cider makers around in South Wales, so I’d recommend having at least one alternative to Symonds considering they have such a vast selection of beers but the rest of the ciders, I’d class as alcopops due to the lower abv and gut rot sweetness. Beezlebubs next door have around 6 draught ciders including Llantwit Fardre’s Gwynt y Ddraig.

The Food

The food menu is split into two, with around 14 starters or tapas options either priced individually or 3 for £12, with the option to upgrade to a tasting flight with 3 x 1/3 beers for £15, which I thought was a nice touch.

 

Sharing food plates at Head of Steam Cardiff

 

We opted to go for 6 of the tapas options between the 3 of us with a side of fries too. Not knowing what the portion size was going to be like, we had all intentions of having a main after it but we had eyes bigger than our bellies. I think if there had been 4 of us to share the plates as in one set of 3 for each, that sounded more doable.

We opted for:

  • Red pepper hummus with garlic corriander naan
  • King prawn tortilla
  • Sweet paprika chorizos in honey glaze
  • Japanese inspired squid with salt and pepper coating and teriyaki dip
  • Hot and spicy wings with chiptole mayo

We did ask for deep fried whitebait but got a second helping of the squid, sweet potato fries and go these plus standard fries and both flavours of the wings so there was a little mix up with the order. It was the opening night / soft launch and we were invited there for complimentary food so I wasn’t going to kick up a fuss.

I thought the food was of decent quality and there was nothing that arrived that I didn’t enjoy. The small plates are just £4 each so i’m not expecting michelin star quality here but what you do get was lovely. Proper beer food and I liked that they suggested a paired beer with each plate or for those opting for the beer flight with it just as I did.

The problem was, we had about 8 plates and 6 beers, so I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to be drinking with what. It was only a suggestion though and I just had a taste of everything with everything. I loved the mini chorizo sausages in the honey glaze though, they were lush and the cherry beer that came with the flight.

 

Nachos at Head of Steam Cardiff

 

Having had an extra few dishes by surprise, main courses were off the question. We did decide to have a sharing plate of the pulled salt beef nachos for the table to pick on though. The tortillas were pilled high, with a lovely rich and smokey beef topping with melted cheese. The dips came in a big bowl rather than making the chips soggy, which was a nice change. No complaints for the nachos, and again, perfect beer food.

If we had gone for mains, there were choices of beef and coconut curry, sirloin steak and chips, Moroccan Harrisa salmon, pie and mash, a decent selection of mammoth sounding burgers or hotdogs. Price wise, i thought these were reasonable too, with mains around the £11 mark apart from the steak, which will set you back £16.95.

 

Sharing desserts at Head of Steam Cardiff

 

We went for a sharing board of 3 desserts to finish up, which consisted of chocolate brownie and ice cream, sticky toffee pudding and waffles with berries and ice cream. At £10 for all three, I thought they were a bargain.

The Verdict

They aren’t trying to be something they are not, in terms of food and offer good, hearty food for a very reasonable price. With starters or tapas at 3 for £12, mains around £11 and £3.33 for a dessert if you went for all 3.

There’s a lack of places in town for a reasonably priced, good bit of grub with some decent beers to go with them. I can definitely see myself coming back, especially as they are dog friendly too. This is downstairs only mind and they have a couple of chairs and tables outside, so I’d probably park myself outside with the mutt, with a beer and couple of small plates on our rounds around town on the weekend.

A Christmas Gin Gift List

I thought I’d make a gin hit list for anyone looking for the best gin to buy for Christmas this year, whether you’re looking to purchase some new and exciting gin for your home bar or for a gin lover in your life, they would make the ideal gift this year.

My Christmas gin list includes gin’s I’ve got at home, some I’ve tried and loved on my travels and ones that I need in my life, like right now!

There’s gin’s close to home in the UK,more exotic ones like the Persian peach and from around the world including my favourite Japanese distillery Nikka, Scapegrace Gold from New Zealand, gin spiked or aged in with wine and barrels from Four Pillars.

That Boutiquey- Gin Company also do the craziest concoctions out there too. I’ve even got to bottle a blend of my own recently with them too at The Dead Canary in Cardiff.

The gin list will be growing as and when I find new epic gins that are worthy of the gin hit list, so if none of them take your fancy now, pop back in a little while to find some more.

I’ve not only added gin though, I’ve got a few items I have in my home bar for making some classic gin cocktails such as bitters and vermouths for Martini’s, Maraschino for Aviation’s and Chartreuse for The Last Word cocktail. Oh and a few recommendations such as the large ice mould’s that come in handy for Negroni’s and Old Fashioned’s (although not gin, but bloody good none the less)

Take a look at my ultimate gin gift list for Christmas. (Please note that gin is for life and not just for Christmas, unless you’ve drunk it all, in that case you will need another form the attached list)

Take a look at my ultimate Christmas Gin Gift List