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Monday, 30 November 2015

Shaken Cocktails - Balcony Booze #2

Today I'll be looking at Shaken Cocktails DIY bartending kits in more detail after a weekend of #balconybooze mixology experiments at home (that you can see more of on Matt The Tumblr).


What's in the box?

Booze! Spirits, liqueurs, tinctures, bitters etc. Nothing perishable. Enough to make four cocktails plus a little extra for that all-important quality control taste test beforehand. There's also instructions and tips on how to make the cocktails, plus some interesting background information on the ingredients and recipes. Their introductory bourbon kit came with quite a large, wordy booklet, but I much preferred the smaller leaflet and cards included in the Reyka Vodka kit. The box itself is nice and sturdy, and pleasing to open - and I love the cheeky recycling message inside (see above!).



How much do they cost?

Each box costs £24 (including shipping), and it's technically a subscription / members service called the Shaken Explorer's Club. After you've chosen your first kit (Aviation or Manhattan), one box arrives every month, but you can pause / stop the service at any time, Netflix-style. Members will also occasionally get invites to special cocktail events.  Alternatively, you can give Shaken Cocktails boxes as gifts, in 1, 3, 6 or 12 month packages.


What do I need?

Basic cocktail equipment for starters - go and raid your nearest Nisbets for a Boston shaker, a Hawthorne strainer, a fine strainer, a mixing glass, measures / jiggers, and a bar spoon. If you are feeling fancy, get yourself a Mexican elbow - it's my favourite toy. Almost all of the glassware you can see in this post was rescued from charity shops. 

The boxes never contain perishable items so you might have to get hold of some limes, lemons, oranges etc. You'll definitely be needing some ice, ideally crystal clear which is hard to achieve from tap water. Try freezing a whole ice cream tub of water, and chip off the rubbish bits. Alternatively, buy a bag in from the supermarket, or steal some from your local pub! Or ignore me being fussy and use ice cube trays like a regular person. I'm a big fan of Tovolo's giant ice cubes and spheres too. Take it to the next level and make a Negroni cocktail sphere.



Are the cocktails easy to make?

Very. The instructions are clear and simple, and as long as you have the required basic cocktail equipment (see above), you should be able to whip up a cocktail in under a minute! Funnily enough, in both of the kits that I looked at (focused on Four Roses Bourbon and Reyka Vodka), there wasn't a "shaken" cocktail in sight. All four drinks were either stirred in a mixing glass, or built and stirred in the cocktail glass itself. Here's an example:

Equinox - get a stirring glass, a spoon, and a chilled martini / wine glass

- 50 ml Reyka Vodka
- 10 ml Dolin Blanc
- 10 ml Lillet Blanc
- 10 drops of black pepper tincture
- Ice cubes
- Lemon twist

Chill your glass. Half-fill a large stirring glass with ice. Add all the liquid ingredients and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into your chilled glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Easy peasy. I tend to chill my glassware in the freezer for a couple of mins, but if you don't have space, fill the glass with ice and discard it just before you strain the cocktail.





Is it a high quality product?

Yep. In quite a coup, they've got legendary bartender Dick Bradsell on board to oversee all of the recipes, so you can definitely trust the specs.

Shaken endeavour to use high quality spirits and liqueurs, and it's no surprise that top brands want to get their booze in to the hands of cocktail aficionados. I particularly enjoyed the Reyka Vodka which was new to me, and I was impressed by the generous provision of Bitter Truth Orange Bitters in the Manhattan / Bourbon box. Perhaps they could include something a little more exciting than Martini Rosso on the Sweet Vermouth side, especially when that category is booming - Belsazar Red or Cocchi di Torino would go down well.



Is it just for beginners?

Not necessarily, though they will definitely get the most out of an Explorer's Club subscription. As an experienced backseat cocktail maker, I enjoyed trying out a few new drinks and discovering some new brands, but I've built up enough of a back bar that I don't need these kits to explore new recipes. It's an expensive hobby though, and if you want to get into it gradually without spending a fortune on booze all in one go, then Shaken Cocktails are for you. With a different focus every month, you are bound to discover something new that you didn't think you'd like - don't skip that Tequila box, it'll be the best one...


Verdict

Two thumbs up. £24 is about right, especially as there's a fair amount left over after you've made four drinks. The kits are easy to use, the booze is high quality, the recipes are trustworthy, and the extra facts included regarding the cocktails and spirits will stand you in good stead next time you are propping up a bar.

I wouldn't be a proper Matt The Journalist if I didn't mention the competition. In London, you can also turn to Taste Cocktails, who offer an almost identical service. Both companies are currently seeking investment to take things to the next level.

My American readers *cue tumbleweed* have a few similar options, including Cocktail Courier, Saloon Box (a Kickstarter success), and my personal favourite, Crafted Taste, who go all out and give you FULL BOTTLES of booze (at considerable cost of course!). There's a tonne of stuff out there, as this Trendhunter article shows.

You can find all of my Shaken Cocktails photos and thoughts on each drink on Matt The Tumblr







Shaken Cocktails - www.shakencocktails.com

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Balcony Booze #2


I've been warned.

Last time out on Balcony Booze, I kept it brief with a beer and a cocktail, but with Christmas approaching, thoughts turn to presents. Here are some more substantial things that you might want to ask Father Christmas for. Click on the pictures for more info.






Friday, 27 November 2015

Beer News : November 2015

London is awash with beer. Not just any old beer - great beer. Call it craft beer if you like, but let's not argue about it - enjoy it. And yes, it tends to be more expensive than Stella. Shock horror.

I'm going to speedily run through a load of new places that have opened up recently, and look ahead to a couple of beery events that are coming up before Christmas.

Let's start with three big hitters - Brewdog, Camden Town Brewery and Craft Beer Co. - all of whom have opened up new boozers in November.

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Brewdog Soho - 21 Poland Street, Soho, W1F 8QG

Hot on the heels of launching DogEatDog in Angel, Brewdog have opened up a two-floor beer bar on Poland Street just seconds away from Oxford Street. Each floor has 20 taps (the same lines) full of Brewdog brews and guest beers (e.g. Mikeller, Ballast Point, Stone), and there's a full food menu on offer too.

Brewdog often design stripped back bars, but they let loose every now and then too. The Battersea Rise outpost is particularly funky, and the neon red-lights all over this 5th London site are a welcome nod to Soho. There's even a craft beer sex-line in the basement...







Five Brewdog bars not enough for you? They will soon be launching Brewdog Clerkenwell having taken over the short-lived Fourteenth Colonie restaurant and bar down the road from the Zetter Townhouse. It's due to open on December 11th.

More photos from Brewdog Soho are up on Matt The Tumblr and Facebook

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Camden's Daughter - 289-291 Kentish Town Road, NW5 2JS

Camden Town Brewery started life in the basement of The Horseshoe Pub in Hampstead (now a refurbished CTB outpost) when Jasper Cuppaige started brewing beer for fun back in 2010. He soon moved the operation into seven Victorian railway arches by Kentish Town West station, and never looked back. They are now one of the most successful breweries in London, and you'll probably have seen their beers (especially their cans) all over town.

Earlier this year, they announced that they were taking over the ever-so-slightly dodgy O'Reilly's pub on Kentish Town Road. They have finally finished the refurb and launched Camden's Daughter, a "beer and snack bar" with a focus on kebabs (including a takeaway hatch). Sounds great right? Not to E.Mono kebabs next door, an extremely popular local joint that Giles Coren famously gave 8/10 to back in 2012. All's fair in love and war I guess.


Camden's Daughter has 13 taps, mostly their own beers with a few guests (including Kernel, Burning Sky and Tiny Rebel on our visit) plus more in the fridges.

Lamb, chicken and veggie kebabs will set you back £4.50, and they are fine examples of the genre, if not mindblowing. Tempting snacks include Aubergine Dip + Flatbread and Fried Chicken + Hot Sauce, and the Chips with Lamb Gray & Cheese are hard to resist. There are also set meals (though no prices visible for those yet), kids discounts (£4 for a chicken wrap and chips), and an £8 weekend breakfast served from 11am-3pm Sat-Sun.

On that note, Camden's Daughter opens every day at 11am, serving Crosstown Doughnuts and Caravan Coffee - £4 for unlimited filter coffee and a doughnut from 11am-3pm every day. Not too shabby.




Whilst you are in Kentish Town for beer, you might want to check out Caps and Taps, and Clapton Craft - two specialist bottle and growler refill shops that coincidentally opened very near each other a couple of months ago.

More photos from Camden's Daughter are up on Matt The Tumblr

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Craft Beer Co. St Mary Axe - 29-31 Mitre Street, EC3A 5BU

Craft Beer Co. pubs come in all shapes and sizes. Brixton's quirky outpost with dreadful seats is probably my favourite just ahead of the more conventional Clapham Common pub and beer garden, whilst the Covent Garden site is too thin leading to total carnage at peak times, and has a pretty soulless basement. So what would a brand new Craft Beer Co. right next to the Gherkin bring?

10 cask ales, 18 kegs, and a great selection of bottles for starters. The page dedicated to Lambics is tempting, but high prices for small bottles of Cantillon, Oud Beersel & co. are still off-putting. The décor is very tasteful, both externally and on the inside, and the basement is a cut above Covent Garden. There's plenty of space, atmospheric candles, comfy seats, and eye catching paraphernalia adorning the walls. Great news for City boys and girls, though of course it's only open Mon-Fri.


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The Resting Hare - Woburn Walk, WC1H 0JL

Fans of Holborn Whippet, Pelt Trader and Euston Tap - rejoice! A fourth pub has arrived, just round the corner from the mighty Euston Tap, on Woburn Walk. The Resting Hare has 9 beer taps (and 1 cider) on a tap island behind the bar, plus 4 hand pulls, wine, and cocktails on offer. The beer aims to cater to all with everything from Bitburger to Wild Beer Co.

It's a big site, with outdoor space that will come into its own in the summer months. A large kitchen with a Josper grill is currently being built beneath the bar. They aim to start serving food in January.




N.B. They have also finally got the go ahead for Waterloo Tap which is great news for the area. However, it won't be ready til late February at the earliest. Good things come to those who wait!


More photos from The Resting Share are up on Matt The Tumblr.

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The Other Room Beer Bar - 60 Tower Bridge Road SE1 4TR


My good friends at Bermondsey Arts Club have quietly opened a modest beer bar a few doors down from their basement boozer on Tower Bridge Road. Six taps will be mostly pouring Bermondsey based beers, with three of them permanently dedicated to Fourpure brews. It's a dark, cosy joint, perfect for this time of year, with low-lit booths and some stylish design touches. The plethora of paintings will keep you entertained, as will Thomas the friendly the bartender from Montpelier. They are currently working on a Californian dinner and brunch menu.


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Bottle Shop News

I recently put up a post on bottle shop bars in collaboration with Jezza at Beer Guide London, which we'll endeavour to keep up to date! 

The latest addition to that superior-sub-category is We Brought Beer's second site in Clapham Junction which I finally got round to visiting. As you can see on Tumblr, I was quite taken with their neon blue lights. The new shop is bigger than the Balham original, with a garden out back and a useful tasting room upstairs for ‘meet the brewer’ events and brewing workshops. Once again, there are 4 draft lines for growler fills and on-site drinking, along with 400+ bottles to drink in or takeaway. There’s also plenty of equipment for the avid home brewer.

P.S. They've recently launched an bottle / growler club monthly subscription service - more details here.




Elsewhere, One Mile End brewery have taken over The Alma on Chapel Market (Islington), turning it into a pub / bottle shop / hotel hybrid! And the mysterious Inkspot Brewery have opened up Art & Craft - a small bottle shop and growler station in Streatham selling beer, cider, coffee and art.

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Brewery Taproom News

A year or so go, I was up-to-date on brewery taprooms, but now they are opening at such a rate that I just can't keep up. There are currently 79 breweries operating within the M25, many of which open up to serve their beer fresh to locals and beer tourists. See Jezza's full list on Beer Guide London here. Recently I've been in to Mondo Brewing in Battersea, Canopy Beer Co. in Herne Hill, and Bullfinch Brewery, also in Herne Hill.

Mondo Brewing hit the ground running in the backstreets of Battersea with a massive brewkit and an epic taproom with up to 15 taps (including a couple of guests) in operation. Sit at the bar and chat to the friendly owners who will happily give you a tour of the brewery, or a grab a large table, order in pizza, and settle in. Check opening times here.

Photo Credit : Beer Guide London

Canopy Beer Co.'s taproom near Brockwell Park is part of their brewery railway arch - a no frills , family friendly space with a few fresh beers available on tap or in bottles, plus local cider, gin, wine and soft drinks. Outside, there's some canopy covered seating next to an eye-catching wall of technicolor doodles which you can contribute to if you so wish! Check opening times here.


Bullfinch Brewery built up a loyal following whilst brewing out of Anspach & Hobday's archway in Bermondsey, but now they've settled down in a slightly more spacious arch, not far from Canopy Beer Co. in Herne Hill. It's a really nice spot for a pint, especially as they've avoided the dreaded foldaway "Bermondsey" benches that are not built for beer drinkers. Expect up to 12 beers from 8 kegs and 4 handpumps. Check opening times here.





Elsewhere, Moncada Brewery (Notting Hill), Signature Brew (Leyton) and Brixton Brewery have recently made their taprooms permanent.

Older taprooms still on my to-do list include Wild Card Brewery (Walthamstow), London Beer Factory (Gipsy Hill) and Gipsy Hill Brewing, plus Weird Beard Brew (Ealing) and Hammerton (Islington) that occasionally open. Redchurch Brewery continue to go from strength to strength, and their lovely Bethnal Green taproom round the corner from Mother Kelly's is now open three days a week.

Taprooms in Bermondsey are constantly changing their times, and improving (or scaling down) their offering - Twitter is your best bet for keeping up with them. Kernel recently stopped selling beer to drink in on Saturdays, whilst online shop Eebria have set up a taproom round the corner from Partizan.

Over in Hackney Wick, Crate Brewery have launched Mick's Garage next door to their brewery, with Crate beers, Shukshuk BBQ from Berber & Q, and a fermented tea bar! It's a shame it wasn't up and running in time for my London Fields to Hackney Wick jaunt.

Meanwhile, Late Knights Brewery have quietly opened up a new Beer Rebellion in Sydenham, their 5th pub in London, and 7th in the UK. Sneaky.

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Brewery News


A few new breweries have popped up, and many more are on the way - I'm expecting some to emerge from UBrew soon.

Maregade Brew Co. is a new brewery operating out of the basement of The Cock Tavern near Hackney Central.  It was recently vacated by Howling Hops after they built an awesome tank bar in Hackney Wick next door to Crate Brewery. Maregade beers are already on offer at the pub upstairs.

Wimbledon Brewery is a 30 barrel operation headed up by Derek Prentice in Collier's Wood (not Wimbledon!) - a taproom is on the way. 

Long Arm Brewing Co. - The ETM group (Jugged Hare, The Botanist Sloane Square) created its own craft beer brand at The Ealing Tavern, and their Long Arm Brewing Co. beers are now making their way around London, in bottle, cask and keg form. There are currently four beers to choose from - Lucky Penny pale ale, Birdie Flipper red ale, IPA OK, and Shadow Wolf smoked stout. Click here for more photos from a recent press launch at Flight Club Darts bar in Shoreditch.

Photo Credit : Marcel Le Bachelet

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Beer Events


There are tap takeovers, meet the brewer events, and beer launches almost every day around London at the likes of We Brought Beer (Balham / Battersea), The Rake (London Bridge), and The King's Arms (Bethnal Green). Leighton's London Beer Guide Twitter feed (not to be confused with Jezza's Beer Guide London feed!) does a great job of spotting events in good time. Here's a few that I'm looking forward to:

- 26th Nov - Beer "Speed Dating" - Find your ideal beer at We Brought Beer
- 28th Nov - London Brewers' Market - 26 breweries take over Old Spitalfields Market
- 4th Dec - Carols at Anspach & Hobday - 'tis the saison to be jolly? No?
- 4th Dec - Brew By Numbers 3rd Birthday - Taproom party and launch of Baltic Porter series
- 13th Dec - Weird Beard Open Day - Christmas Cranberry Stouts & Tequila-Barrel Aged beers

I'm actually putting together a choir for the Christmas Carols at A&H on the 4th December. If you are a singer who likes a beer or two, get in touch below. We always need more tenors and altos!


That's all for now folks!