Mike talks birthday wine

1987 Mike
Whilst at work we were informed that we would be receiving a parcel of old Rioja vintages. I was not very interested at the time, but had a look through what was available to see if there were any bargains to be had. To my delight I discovered there was Gran Reserva Rioja from 1987, my birth year, and I promptly bought a case. Thus fulfilling a wish that I have had for a long time, it also got me thinking…

The act of buying a case of wine to lay down when someone is born is a well worn tradition. Phill was lucky enough to be born in an excellent vintage port year, and had a case of Cockburns Crusted Port laid down for him to enjoy when he was of age. This tradition is something I feel everyone should take part in, but unfortunately is one fraught with danger. No one wants to treasure something for 18 years only to open it and find a bottle full of vinegar. So here my thoughts on what make great options for laying down when your offspring enter this world! Or what will make a good present to yourself if you decide to buy a wine from your birth year.

Bordeaux – this is the classic option. Laying down a case of Claret is something truly special and will reap rewards if properly stored (consistent temperature and out of sunlight). The use of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and new oak barrels mean that this is a wine that benefits from age. In theory after 18 years in the bottle it will be in peak drinking condition, especially if it is from a top vintage. The only downside of this is the price. Top age worthy Bordeaux is expensive. Chances are you are looking at £30 plus a bottle, if it is a good vintage, for a case of six or twelve you can do the maths.

I recommend buying a case of Bordeaux from the following years – 2010,2009,2005,2000,1998,1990,1989,1986

Sauternes: this is a slightly unconventional choice but one I believe should be explored more often. Firstly desert wine offers great value for money at the moment. This means you can get a case of something truly special for a reasonable sum of money. The other great thing about Sauternes is that it is not likely to get spoilt whilst ageing. Due to the high acidity and sugar levels in the wine this acts as a preservative which means you can rest easy for those 18 years knowing that the wine will not ruin, which unfortunately can happen with any red. So take a punt on Sauternes for something interesting to pass on.

I would recommend buying a case of Sauternes from the following years – 2009,2008,2007,2006,2005,1989,1983

Port: much like Bordeaux this is a traditional option, unlike Bordeaux it is great value. Like Sauternes it benefits from high sugar levels which ensure that the ageing process is unlikely to spoil the Port, however there are a few things that must be noted. Vintage Port is a style of port and it is only Vintage Port that benefits from ageing. Whilst LBV is lovely, it is made in a manner to be drunk immediately and will not benefit from any ageing. The same is true of Tawny and Ruby Port. However with its durability, any Vintage Port will make a great gift to lay down. One further point to add though, Vintage Port throws a lot of sediment. Make sure you decant it before drinking. You will experience a very bad hangover if you do not!

I would recommend buying a case of Port from the following years – 2007,2003,2000,1997,1994,1992,1991,1985

Rioja: like Sauternes, this is a bit of a left field choice, but it offers great value for money and the potential to age. Well at least I hope so, given my recent purchase! Like good red Bordeaux, Rioja is aged for significant periods in oak barrels. This allows the wine to age for long periods of time. What is also great about Rioja is you are able to buy top wines at a reasonable price. For example the Vina Ardanza from the 2001 vintage (a great Rioja vintage) scored 94 Parker points and is £20 a bottle. An equivalent bottle from Bordeaux, from a top vintage with the same Parker score would likely cost in the region of around £100 a bottle. This just goes to show what value can be had in Rioja and Spanish wine in general.

I would recommend buying a case of Rioja from the following years – 2005,2001,1995,1994,1991,1987

I should add that the above are merely suggestions, as there are many other things you could lay down that would be just as good. From Champagne, to Sherry, to German Riesling these are all wines with the capacity to benefit from a little age. Hopefully I have inspired you to set aside some money to either treat yourself or to buy for your children. A drink is something you will both benefit from on their 18th birthday!

PS – I have just had the first bottle of my case of 1987 Gran Reserva Rioja. I am pleased to report that the wine has lasted beautifully. A wonderful garnet colour in the glass, aromas of clove, tobacco and dried fruits abounded in the wine. It is everything great about aged Rioja and it showed just how brilliant aged wine can be. There are five more bottles to come and I cannot wait to open each of them if they are like this!

Mike’s visit to Roast

Due to the perils of working in retail, my better half and I have only recently celebrated Valentines Day. We decided to mark the belated occasion with a meal at Roast in Borough Market. The website looked daunting, however  I had one of the best dining experiences of my life. The food was exceptional, with a reasonably priced three course set menu at £35 a head. The atmosphere was lively and there was even a Jazz band providing the background music.


Many things impressed me with their range of drinks. Firstly, their oenomatic machines meant that there was a wide range of fine wines available by the glass. This is a huge development in helping to expand the variety of wine that people are able to sample. I hope these machines become more common in restaurants. Secondly, restaurants now value a range of quality craft beers as essential to a balanced drinks menu. Beer is not an afterthought at Roast, where they have three Meantime beers in the fridge; lager, pilsner, and Yakima Red.  However it was their own brand beers, brewed for them by Whitstable brewery, that impressed me the most. They had a pilsner, wheat beer, IPA and Oyster stout available.   Each of them are served in a signature glass, much as you would a wine. I had a wheat beer which came in its own Champagne style glass. This helped to accent wonderful notes of bubblegum and banana. I then had the Oyster stout which came in a ceramic tankard which upfront had a good hit of coffee bitterness but then turned into a dark chocolate sweetness. Ideal with my desert.

It is a shame I could not try their IPA, given the quality of the first two, however I intend on returning to Roast in the near future. If you are looking for a special lunch or dinner then I would highly recommend Roast. Leaving aside the excellence and breadth of their wine and beer list the food was lovely and the service impeccable. I urge you all to go and enjoy the Roast experience. Ideally with one of their wheat beers!

Phill at #BrooklynFeast

Street Feast is back for a new season. Last Tuesday’s was a very special Street Feast though, in the form of #BrooklynFeast, a drinks takeover by Brooklyn Brewery who had over eight different beers on offer, six of them paired with a different dish from each food vendor.


Spit & Roast Van

Brooklyn’s Brewmaster Oliver Garrett was at the event, roaming the car park and seemed to enjoy watching people appreciate his beer (and the food!). He was very approachable and I enjoyed discussing the growth of the micro-brewery trade, especially in France from where he had recently returned. I also really appreciated that he signed my copy of The Oxford Companion to Beer, which he had edited.

The bar was pretty busy for the first few hours, from people who knew what they wanted to people asking “which beer is most like a Corona?”. However, myself and friends of the Mule Steph and Rahul managed to work our way through most of the beers with the occasional snack through most of the evening.


Phill and Rahul enjoying EIPA

The event was organised to coincide with Garret spending a few days in the UK and to promote an increasing interest in Brooklyn Beer. As the man said himself “the more people drink, the quicker we can send more over”. There was also a decent amount of free merch – I am now the owner of a Brooklyn T-Shirt, Baseball cap, Frisbee, EIPA can cosie, and some badges. Although I’m annoyed I missed out on a free woolly hat, but seeing as my £7.01 ticket already included a beer and a small food dish I think I left the evening streets ahead, and slightly drunk. Which brings me onto…

The Beers

Blast! – a wonderfully light yet hoppy IPA, which ran out very early on in the evening too. Probably not as much punch as you would expect from a beer called Blast!, but citrus tones and a light body hid the 9% abv.

Pennant Ale 55– had a clear copper colour, surprisingly bitter for an American take on an English Pale Ale but with a wonderful dry finish. It’s named in honour of the Brooklyn Dodgers 1955 World Champion baseball team.

East India Pale Ale – from a can, which I think suits it more than a bottle. I had forgotten this was 7% until I was halfway through my second can. It was full of flavour, bitter hoppiness and this was exactly what I wanted.

Brown Ale – the Brooklyn take on a mild northern ale. The roasted malts come through as the first flavour but are then overpowered by the hoppiness. Not a bad beer but I think I would have a Newcastle Brown over it.

Pilsner – this wasn’t the beer for a cold and damp Tuesday night in Dalston. Not an amazing beer, especially compared with some of the German beers I had tasted over the previous weekend. The Pilsner left me disappointed but I will try it again at another point before making any serious judgements.

I missed out on There Will be Black and never got around to the original Brooklyn Lager. But I’m certain I will have them again.

For me, the stand out beers were the Blast! and the EIPA, both of which I will be buying more of in the future, as well as the occasional Pennant Ale. Hopefully we can welcome even more Brooklyn beers onto our shores in the near future.

Thornbridge meet the brewer at Craft Co Islington

When we were developing our taste for craft beer, the brews of Thornbridge and Sierra Nevada were instrumental in getting us hooked. Their flavourful pale ales were things of beauty in our eyes and forced us out in to the brave and exciting world of craft beer! With this in mind you can imagine our delight when we discovered that these two breweries had collaborated on a beer called Twin Peaks and that it was being launched at a special evening at Craft Beer Co. As if this was not enough, we then discovered that 19 Thornbridge offerings were going to be on tap as well as some of the brewers on hand.

It was an evening we weren’t going to miss and here are our thoughts on some of the Thornbridge beers we tried.

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The Wallonia has a wonderful golden colour in the glass.

This is one of our favourite styles and to see Thornbridge’s version on tap was too tempting to resist. Saison is becoming the beer of the moment, seemingly everyone is now trying their hand at one and with examples like this it is easy to see why. Very crisp and refreshing, not quite as spiced as Belgium examples but a real hoppy flavour. It tasted like a British Saison not an imitation Belgian Saison and we can think of no better compliment!

Who doesn’t love a good Märzen(Oktoberfest style lager)! This is packed with wonderful toasty malt notes and just the right amount of hops are used to balance the beer. Phill had this beer the week before at Craft Beer Rising and was upset he didn’t get another half so we both went for the full pint and it did not disappoint. Whilst a standard of many US Craft breweries, we certainly hope that more in the UK follow Thornbridge’s example and experiment with this style of beer.

Twin Peaks (their collaboration with Sierra Nevada):
In one word, refreshing. Packed with citrus and a little tropical fruit, this is a really crisp style of Pale Ale. We were both impressed with its drinkability and are looking forward to downing a few more of these once the temperature increases (however this being Britain we are not holding our breath). If we were being critical though, it was almost too easy drinking – seemingly lacking a little in flavour and the body being almost too light. However we are being overly critical in saying this and hope this is the first of many collaborations between the two breweries. It is certainly the first of many pints of Twin Peaks for us.

This was another really classy take on a German beer style. A full bodied style of beer, this tipple was full of dark malty notes and sweet spice. If only we had some to hand over the Christmas period! With the spice flavours on offer it would have perfectly complimented all the desserts of the festive period. However as we shivered in the beer garden it did prove to be a thoroughly restorative beer!

This amber bitter was a pure delight. Balanced in all the right ways and full of flavour. Lots of classic citrus and toffee flavours and we even thought we detected slight hints of pine, although we were uncertain if the name was just leading us to that conclusion. We only had half a pint, however looking back on the night Mike slightly regretted not doubling it, but Phill was happy to have moved on.

Saint Petersburg:
The jet black colour of this Imperial Russian Stout sets the tone for it’s great smoky and chocolatey aroma. It is smokey to taste although ends with a slightly hoppy finish. It stands at 7.4% ABV which you would not expect based on how easy it is to drink thanks to its smooth texture. We would happily pick this over a Guinness most nights.

2013-03-04 18.48.13Reflecting on the night, we had a fantastic time exploring the different beers of Thornbridge, and although Craft was a great place to do this, it’s lack of proper food forced us to make an early exit. We enjoyed the large range of styles on offer, but as you can see from our choices above, we gravitated towards the continental varieties they have attempted and were impressed every time. We hope that Thornbridge open a pub in London soon – having had much success in Sheffield – so that we can enjoy their range more often.

This evening really did encourage us that the craft beer revolution is international and that British brewers are committed to producing more than just great pale ales. It was also encouraging to see how busy Craft was when they put on a special event such as this. We hope this will be the first of many such nights at Craft and look forward to hearing your thoughts on the beers we tried.

Phill went to Craft Beer Rising 2013

Over the 22nd and 23rd of Feb, Brick Lane’s old Truman Brewery became home to a new beer festival, Craft Beer Rising. It brought together breweries big and small: the very established (Youngs, Sharps and Fullers, through theirCraft Beer pub The Union Tavern); the newly established (Brewdog and Meantime); and the upstarts, Brewers and Union, Two Cocks and Rebel Brewery, as well as many more.

Forgot to take any photos there, here's oen from when I got home.

I enjoyed Union Pub’s competition wheel (a £1 spin won me a 1999 bottle of Fuller’s Vintage Ale; Friend of the Mule Steph won a 2006 bottle). I had much fun with the app ‘Hit Me Up’ with which, by tweeting certain photos or singing songs, you could get yourself a free half pint- it saved me quite a few pennies – for instance I sung “I’ve got a brand new combine harvester” for a free half from St Austell. There were also talks, live music and quite a few street food venues, but I ate none of them and missed the music and talks.

There is a big advantage of having the brewers themselves pour their beer for you instead of volunteers as at the Great British Beer Festival. I experienced this at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver last year, the ability to have a coversation with the brewer or brewery employee about their beers can increase the satisfaction ten fold.

In Summary, my beer highs and beer lows,


Nelson Sauvin Saison by Meantime – the Saison comeback has begun! After enjoying a pint of Saison Du Pont at Hops & Glory a few weeks ago I have begun to notice a few more Saison’s popping up. This summer expect a lot of London micro breweries to have a Saison on offer. Meantime’s is a good start using the distinct Nelson Sauvin hop.

Feallan by Thornbridge – a beer that I had wanted to try for ages and was worth the wait. However, when I went back for another the tap was already dry.

St Austell’s Admiral’s Ale – another beer that I had been meaning to try for a while – it’s a really full bodied ESB which packs a flavoursome punch. I will go out of my way to buy more of this beer in the future.


Sharp’s Hayle Bay Honey IPA – far too sweet and a bit sickly. If you need honey in your beer go for a St Peter’s Honey Porter instead.

Meantime’s Raspberry Wheat – the taste did not sit well with me. Meatime shouldn’t try to compete with rubbish such as Fruli. This was rather disappointing, but has been the only Meantime beer I have not enjoyed so far.

Overall I welcome Craft Beer Rising to the festival circuit and hope it kicks the GBBF up the backside before August.