Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Brief History of Booze and Boozing 2- Distillation!

Distillation and The Still.

The first stills came to be known in Europe as Alembic from the Greek ‘Ambix’ (small vase). Often made from copper or ceramic and mounted on a recessed lamp with a metal or ceramic cap for the drops of vapour to condense. From here the condensed liquid would travel down a grooved channel to a flask.

Most often distilled from a wine base the pure liquid drawn from this basic process were called spiritus vini- wine spirit and later ‘Aqua Vitae’- water of life. The spirit produced would be similar in concept to Italian Grappa but the unregulated heat would suggest a flavour more closely related to rice wine or white wine vinegar.

‘[Spirits] strengthen the body and enlarges the life.’
Arnaud de Villeneuve

The Alembic still is generally thought to be the forerunner of all industrial distillation techniques. The traditional pot still, which remains popular in the production of Caribbean rum is a only slightly refined version of the Greek original.

In the religious darkness of medieval Europe distillation as an alchemical process was only practised behind closed doors as these early scientists were thought to be dangerous druids and heretics. Later the Holy Roman Inquisition would put alchemists to death believing them to be challenging the natural order emplaced by their god. In these hysterical and brutal times the world lost many great many artists, scientists and philosophers. Had the zealous attentions of the Pope’s minions been applied to the support of these people the world would doubtless be a richer place today.

Early in the 15th Century Hieronimus Brunschwygk (1450- 1512) printed in Latin his book Liber de arte destillandi- the free art of distillation to describe the use of distillation to create medicines and balsms for aid. This work helped to remove the dark clouds from around the ‘arcane’ process of distillation, Allowing Giovanni Michele Savonarola (1385- 1468) to publically describe the method of obtaining spirits through distillation for the purpose of consumption.

For centuries the process for the distillation of alcohol changed little with the only real alterations being the additions of flavour and sugar to create liqueurs from the harsh ‘Aqua Vitae’. The process of distillation became so wide spread that by the mid 18th Century London in particular was awash with cheap spirits particularly gin. Gin was easily produced and pungently flavoured. Around the time of Hogarth’s now infamous Gin lane one in five houses in London was thought to contain an illegal ‘gin mill’. (For further information on this period see the excellent dissertation ‘The Socio- Economic Effects of Gin on 18th Century London (2006)by W. Boucher- Giles(!))

Thought ancient history, puritanical dark ages and turbulent modern history distillation has advanced sufficiently that there are now varying types of still and distillation techniques for the production of thousands of varieties of alcohol.
The two most popular modern distillation techniques use either the pot still or the continuous or Coffey Still.
The Pot Still

The pot still as mentioned above is the simpler of the two methods relying on the evaporation of alcohol at boiling point 78.4° C and water at 100 °C. The process simply involves heating a liquid that already contains alcohol (wine) to 78.4°C where the alcohol evaporates. This evaporated alcohol is then collected in a glass tube to condense and reform as liquid to be collect in a separate container as a pure alcohol- just as Zosime noted of the ancient Egyptians.

Clearly the process has become more scientific in recent generations. To cool the alcohol more quickly a leibig condenser is used to replace the traditional glass tube. A Liebig condenser passes the steam / liquid through a coiled glass tube surrounded by running water to rapidly condense the alcohol. The lower boiling point of alcohol as allowed it to recombine in the condenser as a purer alcohol than was contained in the base liquid as all of the impurities have been left in the first chamber.

Pot stills come in two varieties a ‘round head’ and a ‘flat head,’ the type of still can effect the flavour of the spirit greatly as during the fermentation process as the sugar becomes alcohol certain chemical reactions take place as well. These reactions produce the ‘impurities’ such as congeners, acids and esters that give an alcohol its aroma, flavour and texture. As with the tannins in red wine the more ‘impurities’ in the spirit the heavy the flavours, t he fewer the lighter. A round head still allows more of these compounds to filter into the condenser and so often produces a heavier flavour in the finished product. As such these still are favoured in the production of rum and Cognac.

The flat head still favoured in the production of vodka amongst other things does not allow for much impurity to pass into the condenser as when the vapour hits the flat roof of the still the heavier compound particles of the impurities fall back down into the mix and the lighter alcohol moves into the condenser. This should show you why the concept of ’10 times distilled’ vodkas is pointless sales gimmickry as the extra distillations make little difference to the purity of the product and serves only to leech out still more of the flavour.

The Continuous or Coffey Still

Named for the Irishman Anneas Coffey this method of distillation was actually developed by Scotsman Robert Stein although perfected by his Irish counterpart.

As the name suggest the continuous still allows for a near conveyor method of distillation producing a purer spirit in a faster time than the pot still.

The key difference is the still itself as in continuous stills there are two or more ‘columns’ that are linked in cyclical series allowing a continuous flow of ‘wash’ to move between the two column stills and continually be evaporated and condensed to gain the maximum yield from the base liquid.

1. First the wash enters the first column ‘rectifier’ or ‘wash still’ and passes down the column heated as it passes through.
2. The heated liquid now lighter passes up a pipe to enter the second column the ‘analyser’ at the top and filters down the column.
3. Steam is introduced at the bottom of the analyser to rise up through the condensing wash, turning it back into vapour.
4. The vapour rises back up the column back into the base of the rectifier, where it travels back up the column being cooled by the pipe containing the newly introduced cold wash, splitting the vapour into alcohol and water.
5. When the alcohol reaches around 90- 95% ABV it splits from the water and perforated metal plates inside the rectifier collect the spirit at the sides of the column as the steam passing up through the holes stops the alcohol falling back down but instead vaporises the water again thus separating the two parts.
6. Wash that is not converted into spirit is then fed back into the rectifier cold to begin the process again.

The advantage of the continuous still is the ability to distil spirit at high strength and purity, around 96.5%. The down side is that this process also produces a near tasteless liquid and so is predominantly used in the production of spirits that take their flavour, aroma and texture from the aging process and certain additives, the best example of this being the differences in taste between the types of Scotch Whisky.

Monday, 3 October 2011

A Brief History of Booze and Boozing

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is the result of the fermentation of yeast as it breaks down sugars (C6H12O6) and converts them into equal parts of carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. Certain ingredients for grain alcohol such as rye, corn or barley provide different flavouring for the resulting alcohols. This diversity of flavour is perhaps more evident in other types of alcohol fermented from fruit, most commonly these alcohols are lower in strength and are often sweeter: Wine and Champagne are good examples so too is Cognac or Grappa and more unusual Pochine (made from potato starch) and flavoured liqueurs.

It is important to note that there are several types of alcohol such as wood and rubbing alcohol but the only one safe to drink is ethyl alcohol or ethanol.


Fermentation is the process that allows us to produce wine and beer and is the basis for the further distillation of spirits.

The starch sugars and yeast necessary for the production of alcohol are present naturally inside most grains, fruit and vegetables and in the case of yeast on the skin. However to speed up the process alcohol producers have learned to use malted grain to release the sugars sooner and culture yeast to begin the chemical reaction sooner.

The most efficient temperature range at which fermentation can take place, is from 15° to 31° C.

First comes Aerobic (with air) fermentation; a vigorous action often resulting in a foam on the surface. It lasts for about a week and is usually conducted in a covered although not sealed container.

 Secondary- Anaerobic (without air) fermentation, a much less vigorous process that can last for several of months. Ordinarily this reaction takes place in a sealed container. The occasional bubbling of an airlock window is often all there is to show that the fermentation is in progress.

This process continues until most or all the sugar has been converted into alcohol or carbon dioxide.

Note: Elements called ‘esters’ may be added to give aroma and others called ‘congeners’ may be added for flavour.


‘The purification of alcoholic liquids by separating due to boiling point’.

A quick bit of History:

Early in the third century Zosime the Panapolitan a Greek living in the Nile Delta wrote a treatise on ‘the art of distillation’, in this paper Zosime makes mention of the Ancient Egyptians having practised distillation to produce perfumes and balsms for hundreds of generations. Later in the thirteenth century an Alchemist to the Pope Arnaud de Villeneuve found this work in a Moorish university in Cordoba Spain and brought the idea to Europe.

The works of Zosime suggest that the Egyptians began distillation in a manner we would recognise around 400BC. However it is now accepted that a crude form of distillation was being used in china to produce fermented rice wines as early as 800BC.

Amongst the early adopters of Distillation scientifically were the Greeks. Aristotle remarks that one may use distillation to draw fresh water from sea water, and then Hippocrates saw the opportunity to distil for entertainment and created a liquor from the fruits, cinnamon ad honey found in the Greek countryside. So popular was his creation that fruit mead in modern Greece is still referred to as ‘Hippocras’ even now 2380 years after his death!

There is a claim that the Arabic nations had been using a form of distillation earlier still than Zosime in the making of rosewaters. Unfortunately the transient nature of the Arab tribes and their largely oratory historical tradition means that there is no evidence to support this claim other than word of mouth.

Indeed there is a strong possibility that the word alcohol comes from the Arabic ‘Al- Khul’ meaning ‘delicate powder’. This process is believed to have been used to refine a basic form of gun powder (Jabir ibn Hayyan (721-815)). It is also believed that the Polish alchemists of the 12th Century used a similar technique in the use of distilled alcohol to refine a crude gunpowder.

Who so ever first developed it and whatever the use they had for it there is less debate surrounding the spread of distillation to Europe: Learned from the Arabs, refined by the Greeks and stolen by the French. FACT!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Adventures in Wine Land 3

I write this section on the Sunday morning (notes) bathed in warm sun…. A good sign for the potentially hectic Monday but a bad sign for the workers as the 4 of us visiting workers could all do with a rest. Dark clouds gather on the horizon to windward and it does not bode well. As strange as it sounds to the British the weather forecasts here are usually very accurate, they call for rain today, cloud tomorrow and fine bright days Tuesday and Wednesday. This would be great for the pickers as the 3 of us leave on the Thursday, we need to get as much done as possible. It is a long drive back and now that I am settled here I am not looking forward to it.

With the addition on Saturday of some friends from Paris and some local friends (who are our cuisinieres) the place takes on the felling of a kibbutz. I don’t know who is being paid and if so with what (wine or money rather than kind) but there is the distinct impression that most of those of us around the table would work with no more payment than the beautiful roof over our heads the delicious meal provided and of course the fine company of Bruno Duhamel and his family, not forgetting of course the joy of his wine. At this point I know that I would come back for next years harvest but and absolutely determined to have a much greater command of French as still the conversations occasionally have to broken down for me and the rhythm of the meal stops dead when I am asked something as my response rather than in stuttering French is usually in English.

The next few days pass much the same as the previous- fixing stuff, rewiring stuff, and always the grapes come in to the shed and begin their sacred journey towards wine! However this presents little to blog about- there was a cultural exchange of sorts where the French guys display a stunning level of highly specialised vocabulary in joke telling and I turn am able to entertain- as many of you might know I am marginally funny at best but can gesticulate with the best of them luckily France is the country that brought the world Moliere and mime so I was ok as the less funny the words spewing aimlessly from my mouth the more exaggerated my miming became and laughs are shared a plenty.

So that’s it, done. 10 days in the Gironde, 10 days of 530 starts and 7pm finishes, 10 days of great food, wine and company. My body is broken and I’m so tired I could sleep for the rest of my life, but I’d be lying if I said I was happy to be leaving. I love wine as I love meeting new people and the enjoyment of their company all are here in abundance! I have learned- genuinely learned, how to make wine from earth to bottle and have tried all of it! I cannot thank Bruno, Christine, Michelle and Harvey enough for their hospitality, but you can help me by buying loads of Bruno’s wine (from me). I have learned to tame the beast, harness the giraffe and mend big boy. I can fix a tractor and some French electrics and yet tail speak far too little of the language! Still booze is universal.

For more info on or to request tastings please contact me via the site-

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Adventures in Wine Land 2

Apologies that these Blogs are so fractured and slow to come out but I am sure you can appreciate that it's a little difficult to remember through the haze and even harder to read the notes I made at the time!

Day 3 - I hurt. A lot. My hands are shredded, my career as a hand model is over. Holiday? Despite starting before dawn and finishing well after sunset I am getting a real perverse pleasure out of this. However if you were thinking of a middle aged, middle class holiday tilling the good earth etc in a The Good life meet A Year in Provence- think again. If however you enjoy 16 hours of manual labour in ferocious heat and the constant stickiness of a wham bar in august come on over! Another must is to enjoy the works of Lily Allen. These guys love Lilly Allen, don’t get me wrong I love Lilly- petite girls with a wicked look in their eye and bags of attitude- I’m there, bit 6 hours of the same album got to be a bit much- they seem to enjoy ‘fuck you’ more than most as Bruno explains- the concept is universal and easily translated! So I take control of the music in the shed… Soul and Funk Wednesday is born in St. Trojan!

The up side to all this is trying the ’99 Malbec / Merlot which is awesome, and if the 1999 doesn’t get you going the 2003 definitely will. Both are subtle and well balance with a smoother texture than I am used to with standard Bordeaux. The normal thin, slightly sharp edges of the newer wines has softened in the bottle and the fruit has intensified nicely.

This is unlikely to be the taste notes of the 2011 vintage as it is not a good year for Bordeaux, the long hot spring and wet summer has forced the harvest early on account of the grapes ripening too fast. The warmth of the spring has developed the grapes quickly so the sugar levels are quite low. The wet summer them filled the spaced in the grapes left by the sugar with water. This means that the a lot of this year’s Bordeaux will be quite low in alcohol and a little thin on flavour. The Colombard and Semillion we have picked were a mottled colour and an unusually small. Despite this we generate several hundred 20kg cases of the grapes and press them up to 150 bar `9your tires run to about 4 bar). The juiced is sweet and clear, a near miracle from such damaged grapes. Enzyme will be added in a couple of days to further clear the liquid so the juice is even better. Michael ‘the nose’ of the region arrives to test all of the new pressed juice and some of the wine ageing in the cells. He is pleased with the result and happy that the fermentation is beginning after only 24 hours, in turn Bruno is pleased and so we clean with Bobby Womack at full volume!

In the next two days we manage to generate 7,500 litres of Malbec for the Bordeaux blend that will most likely end up as 80% of the finished product. The merlot is picked later and kept separately so that the nose can return and advise as to the % of the blend. Everyday we cycle the liquid at the bottom of the tank up to the top to keep the tannins moving through the wine and as an organic solution to the problem of ‘crust’ forming on the top of skin of the wine.

Finishing after midnight on the 4th day as the red had begun to ferment after only 36 hours in the tank, the co2 coming off the tank is palpable so we seal it ready to turn all 14.5% sugar to alcohol.

As much of the work at L’ Hospital is done by hand as possible the only nods to the intensive factory farming now so familiar in this region are; a tractor, it’s small and silver and it’s a Lambogini! ‘The Giraffe’ a long conveyor system to feed the grapes into the top of the tank via ‘Big boy’ - the machine that separates the grapes from the stalks. Not forgetting that all of these step would be much slower without ‘the beast’ a high power quad bike the type beloved by all young farmers and not a little beloved by Romain (Lapain Bleu).

Anywhere from 4- 10 pickers work in the lanes and the boys pick up the filled ‘cagette’ with the quad and bring them to ‘the shed’ to be loaded onto the giraffe to be picked thorough by hand to remove leaves, stick, animals large and small and any grapes that do not pass muster.

They pass up the giraffe through big boy and into the tank, the only other element added is a little sulphur to preserve the wine, most wines do this and the organics use a great deal less than the ‘super market’ brands that fill their wines- particularly the whites with sulphur. The result of which is effectively a UHT wine and a terrible headache. L’ Hospital does not do UHT, their wine will keep and keep well thanks to the traditional techniques used in this area for centuries.

More to come...

Monday, 26 September 2011

Adventures in Wine Land 1


A night in Blaye passed without incident or much interest frankly. A UNESCO world heritage site with little but the Citadelle for interest. The town has a real old French charm however and over the last few years several developers and restauranteurs have tried to set up on the water front but all have been stopped dead by the council at some point or another. This has lead to a few large yet empty buildings in the centre of town. As such Blaye’s only draw other than the Citadelle is the ferry over to Medoc. It is a town much like my own, being strangled by a fervour to preserve it’s history and a staunch refusal to move forward.

Arriving at Chateaux L’Hospital the next evening to be met by my utterly gracious hosts Bruno and Christine and their youngest daughter Alex, the eldest Alienor is at college in Nantes.

I find out to my embarrassment that it is Christine’s birthday and all I have brought as a gift is some sausages from my local butcher (I was pre- warned that Bruno is an Anglophile). Ever generous the family provide dinner and 3 wines! I feel I may like it here….

A little about family and home:

The building itself is a beautiful farmhouse that has been as is still being renovated by my hosts over the last 15 years. The previous owner was a life long vintner although only sold his grapes to the cooperative to blend into ‘Tesco’s fines’ wines. He was a great hand in the field and left an exceptional vine stock but he was far from house- proud and had little interest in the making of wine. Bruno’s philosophy is that wine making is 80% in the field and 20% in the shed. With this in mind he was of course pleased to find after months of searching in several different areas a 6 Hectare property of fine vines and a house large enough for his growing family.

From the age of 20 Bruno Duhamel had wanted to leave industrial Norther France and escape to wine country. Around 15 years ago he was given the perfect opportunity when he lead a strike action over pay in the factory where he was a HR manager. After 8 days of negotiation Bruno was left with little doubt that his services would no longer be required. Christine Bruno's wife had recently finished her Phd in Archeology and was soon persuaded to move down to the beautiful little vineyard in which I now sit.

The Wine:

It's a birthday so first come the bubbles! A rose 'Champagne' from their own grapes- it is a sin in Bordeaux to make sparkling wine so they send it away to be carbonated! It is great, a light blush pink. It even tastes how it looks, dry and subtle the nose not damaged by the carbonation as it is hardly noticed- it sparkles like a Viognier rather than fizzes like a champagne and despite being made in the champagne method it tastes more Prosecco (which I prefer (except perhaps for Bollinger (just in case anyone reading cares to send me some for comparative purposes…))). In taste it is closer to Franciacorta although not quite as rich, the similarities lie in the soft ripe fruit undertones.

The bubble bursts with the white. Bordeaux is of course not a region renowned for white and the taste is best described as ‘unusual’ and perhaps more worryingly ‘challenging’. On first taste it had a slightly salty scent mixed with elderflower and not a little alcohol. The first sip reminded me of the wines local to Crete, salty was still there but now with a whole shit load of grapefruit citrus. which if you were with me in Malia or have been to the old quarter yourself you will know should fill any normally functioning adult with a crippling fear and have sent me running for my car and a ferry 9 hours later. However I am far from normal functioning and soldiered on like the fucking hero I am! Frankly I want some credit because it was butchering me, the balance seemed off but not in any way I could describe it was just a bit odd.

However no sooner had I mentally shat upon my hosts offering but Christine brought out a delicious looking plate of prawns with a roasted tomato sauce and a slightly hot ‘dressing’ (there was much discussion of what to call this element!). The wine came alive with the food. The slight spice from I presume Tabasco and the soft long flavours of the tomato along with the texture of the prawns (local) all combined with the wine to change it utterly, it’’s flavour became a little more biscuity and the finish from lime stone to butter. Amazing. Like Guinness it appears to be an acquired taste but one, like Guinness I suggest you cultivate. The odd complexity still has me questioning my own tongue but now as I drink it again the following night it is a great sip after a long day!

Red, the speciality of the house, 2009 vintage (the 2010 we’ll talk about later) I should for the interests of clarity explain that the reason I am here is that two years ago I helped a friend of my dad move some stuff out of his garage and was paid with a bottle of the 2006. It was amazing so I asked where it was from? ‘My mate Bruno’ was the reply. I had the misfortune to be fully employed last year so couldn't come but this year I had to! Voici the Vendage! All I can say is that as a bordeaux at a mid range price this is great. More later.

So, today. At 6 am the daughter Alex comes down stairs and sets up breakfast- I dare you to try and get an English nipper to do that- she then goes to get ready for her school day- 8 til 5 with only an hour at lunch! Similarly try that in England and the August riots will seem like a holiday. Breakfast, we talk about the French economy collapsing, welcome to the club. 730 (630 gmt) we start work. If you thought that these guys took wine seriously wait until you see them clean! Here let me explain the Bruno Rules of 3 (there are 3!).

1. For every hour you work on the wine you spend 3 cleaning.
2. For every litre of wine you use 3 litres of water- mostly to clean
3. If something is worth doing it is worth doing 3 times

You chef and bartenders that bitch and moan about 2 hours prep of an afternoon, try it at 630am and then try it for 4 hours. The cleaning concept is "rinse, Scrub, wash, scrub, rinse, dry repeat". Still a bit of graft never really bothered me, particularly with booze at the end. So the president is set, clean and mend and fix and clean then wine stuff. Honestly it’s a great technique to begin with there are 2, later (after most of the scrubbing) two 20 somethings turn up, children of friends, students (no wonder they missed the scrubbing). Francois and Romain are however quick to pitch in and not so bad with the English which helps as my french is broadly ‘merde’.

Lunch time! Nicois and melon with ham, nice… see what I did there Nicois- nice! Ha! Genius.
I can quite fairly describe Bruno’s approach as passion over logic because that is what I like to see! He’s been making it up for 15 years and getting it right, his wine is great so carry on! To accompany the lunch he arrives with a bottle with a fashionable cartoony label reading vin table. Mme tells me it is rose- It is white says muggings. They call this type a rose piscine as although it is white it is made from the very first pressings of the Cabernet Franc grapes. It seems a fair name. I’m not a fan, it is pleasant enough but if you are expecting a normal blush- jump out the window. A local mechanic sits with us as he delivers an invoice, he is an lank haired Anthony warrel Thompson type and he describes the wine as ‘unusual and perhaps more worryingly ‘brave’. Clearly this is a difficult wine for an untrained palette such as mine, it does not help that my awkwardness at not speaking much French and the long days means I am smoking like a fiend.

A hard day of cleaning and general trade graft and I was ready to have a few drinks… Luckily the last job of the day was to move the 2010 Malbec from one vat to another, although I refer to the large stone vats as cells as they remind me of the cell of a monk, sparse and wreaking of wine! The vat has been pressure sealed for 12 months and when we open it the smell is truly amazing. It surrounds us and moves like an unseen cloud across the ‘shed’ so that where ever you move for the next few minutes you smell the deep dark liquid. We tap a little to try, a jet of foaming cherry purple liquid fills the jug, the colour is so livid it looks alive. In the glass it is jet black and smells of dark fruits and little alcohol, which surprises me as at the moment it is 15.5% by volume. Although not yet ready to sell we drink some- standing over the hole in the top of the tank. On top of 7,500 litres of the wine the experience is of total immersion. The smell surrounds us and the wine slips down beautifully. Rich although a little sharp it is fantastic if young, not worth a 5 stretch but worth a look. It makes all of the work worth while as does the meal afterward, they guys make as much effort as they can to translate their stories into English and it makes me feel as guilty and stupid as I have ever felt, I have come to their country to make their wine, I enjoy their hospitality and stay in their house and I don’t even speak their language enough to follow their conversation. We English are an arrogant, vapid and ignorant bunch!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Bordeaux Bound



Ever doubted that the French take wine seriously? Well if ever you did go to Bordeaux, I’m there next month for the harvest so did a little research (if you can’t speak French you can at least speak a little grape).

Bordeaux has a serious reputation to protect and to do so has developed a seriously hardcore ‘Wine University’. The Bordeaux Institute of Wine and Vine is not only one of the most important buildings in the production of wine- it’s also the only place to go in the winter.
If you take a course at BIWV in wine growth or appreciation (the 2 ‘entry level’ courses) you are less than 50% likely to pass. So yeah they take it pretty seriously, but no matter how seriously they take it they will never be able to live down the fact that the Japanese found Umami whilst they were still trying to describe a taste not quite salty and not quite sweet with allegory and pictures!

Houses and Names

History as Joseph Stalin would have told you is the most important tool in the sale of an idea. If you can create a sufficiently highly regarded pedigree you can never lose it. Some neuvo wine houses create wines that are so terrible even we would spit them out and the name is dead forever. But Louis Jadot, Latour or Rosthchild produce a chronically bullshit wine? Never.

A truly ancient and venerated name can only produce a ‘poorer vintage’, it’ll still cost £40 and is sold exclusively to rubes like us that can’t tell if a wine is good or not with out using the price or types of shop it comes (as a marker this stuff won’t be found in Londis). The prohibitive cost of this wine to us rubes means we leave it for a really special occasion because you are never going to spend that much again. Open it with guest you want to impress and hope to shit they don’t know wine when you pour our £40 worth of pith, tannin and vinegar into their glass. Here’s your salvation, are you ready? “It’s not their best year, ’68 was the best year for (insert wine variety here).”

This blog just saved your ass. It’s the small lies that save us.


So in Bordeaux if you want to pick your grapes you have to wait for a guy from the DOC to tell you it’s time. How does this guy know the time is right?

Is his intuition honed over years?

His credentials impeccable and his knowledge learned from his grandfather as his grandfather and great grandfather learned it before him?

No he uses a satellite 800km above the earth taking infrared pictures.

This was both a massive disappointment and a real eye opener for me. I was distressed that they guy I was expecting who should have looked like a Gaudic caricature, hands like hams and fingers like oyster shucks, colossal booze blossomed nose and perpetual dog end cigarette did not appear. Instead the picture is a guy who although unnamed in the article is almost certainly called Nigel or Phillip and not in a cool French ‘Neegel’ or ‘Phileppe’. Upsetting.

But what made it better, this satellite is so specific it can only take pictures that are of any use to wine growers, during the 80’s when the US and Russia were trying to design spy satellites and anti- missile laser satellites the French were about to terrify them both with a weapon of pure Terreoir. Love it, surely a real example of Liberty, Egalitey and Fraternity, most of the world spending billions on outerspace munitions that would never work and the French develop a geosynchronous grape clock!

The GGC (Geosynchronous Grape Clock) is used to asses the development stage of the grapes over a large area to track the beginning of ‘Veraison’. Le Veraison is the exact point at which the grapes turn. From this point you have about a week when they must be picked for the best wines.

Enter yours truly.


Want to see the difference in Veraison? Find some grapes (red wine the best but whatever) get one that is ripe and juicy and one that is not quite ripe. Gently squeeze the grapes over your tongue one at a time. Apply the lightest of pressure so the skin just breaks and the juice drips out in microlitres! This is the 1st pressing, and it makes some seriously primo vino. The juice is clear and sweet and packed with sunshine and sugar, however, the more you squeeze the more bitter the taste the cloudier and more confused the juice- the worse the wine.

Blossom Hill exclusive(?) uses the best grapes. No really it does. Only it takes them after the real wine makers have taken the best and second best, the Co-Op blenders have taken their cut and the guys from Sarson’s have had theirs too. Did you just spit your acid pink White Zindfandel at the screen? Good now never, ever read this blog again you worthless chump.

‘Rose’ from Londis won’t get you laid, they are the booze equivalent of utterly butterly. You cook a beautiful meal for a girl and slap down a tub of ‘I can’t believe it’s not highly processed bullshit’ down on the table are you going to get laid? No because the spider crab soufflĂ©, painstakingly arranged trio of Lamb and home made cheesecake with the picture of her stupid midget breed dog in it may as well be a great big shit sandwich because now she knows that when faced a decision as simple as buying wine all your mind is capable of reasoning is ‘this one is pink, girls like pink right?” Get the fuck away from me and fire up another Pot Noodle you goon.

Tasting Tips:

Sight: Looking for legs in the glass? Amateur. Real men will be considering the density of the colour as they understand the effect that different densities of light and colour have on the pleasure centre of the brain. Too advanced? Look for clarity and colour, the grape variety tells you how dark the wine should be but a good wine should never to be cloudy or opaque.

Scent: Does glass shape matter? Yes chump it does, are you still not getting this? Aroma separates up the glass with the stronger fruitier scents lingering at the bottom near the liquid and the lighter more floral scents lifting higher up the glass. Swirl and sniff!

Texture: Texture on the tongue and in the mouth is as important as taste, is it bright and zinging? Almost stinging your tongue allowing the fresh green fruits to escape to your soft palette leaving you refreshed? Or is it deep and dark with prickly tannins and a velvet consistency to coat your tongue and leave a moistened sensation?

Taste: For a lot of the top wine weirdos this is the least exciting bit. Does the taste back up the smell, does the taste stay with you or does it disappear? Are you left surprised, delighted, disappointed, disgusted? Sip, Swill, Breathe.

Get out of Tesco’s wine aisle, wave goodbye to the local off license and find a wine merchant- I guarantee that you will be getting better wine for less money. Don’t know where the wine merchants in your area are? Email me and I’ll find them for you. Stop drinking that shit and join the revolution!


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Summer Time Drinking...

The summer should in theory be here, so it's time for some bbq drinks!

One of the best nights can remember was my God Son's 1st Birthday, if you don't have friends with small kids you might think this is strange- trust me once your friends have been lost to the gravity sink of child rearing events like christenings, birthdays and a little later in life sports day become a great excuse to get all messed up.

The day began with champagne in a vase glasses and as the afternoon wore on chased a few beers down with pints of margarita. I remember there being a monkey called Jeremy- and very nearly a fight over 'respect' by controversially Wheatus (my money was on the little one). In fact so much fun was had that no one really noticed when Michael Jackson tripped a guy over.

With this memory firmly in mind- hazy and blurred as it is I am now thinking of those drinks that go far beyond the 'pitcher cocktail' ponchos we are talking "trailer park tiki". If you can make it in a glass you can make it in a (cleanish) bin.

Ideas inevitably evolve (definitely not according to an intelligent design) and as such I ended up with beer cocktails on my mind…. Some were suggested and other researched some just kinda happened.

Whatever the genesis of these drinks try them this weekend and take some photo's to post.

Baltimore Zoo

2 Vodka
2 White Rum
2 Gin
2 3 Sec
2 SoCo
2 Amaretto
2 Beer
1 Sweet and Sour
1 Grenadine

Reputedly 1st made in West Lafayette Indiana in the mid 90's the best we are told come from Harry's Chocolate Shop in that same town- Essentially a beer Laced Long Island Iced Tea. Best with the slightly heavier 'pale ale' style American beers like Goose Island or Brooklyn as you only want a little but need that dark smack of flavour!

Make it up in a pint glass and garnish with a massive burger in the other hand.

Red Eye
Coughlin's Law- "Beer is for Breakfast"

1 Bottle Lager or Pale Ale
2oz Tomato Juice
2- 5 Drops Vicious Chili Sauce
1 Whole Egg

Famed for an appearance in 1988's Cocktail the red eye is a pretty good cure for what ails you. Also an awesome way to start a day at the races…

Strip and Go Naked

1 Bottle Beer
½ oZ Lemon
½ oZ Gin
Dash Grenadine

Essentially a fortified Monaco (a grenadine laced Shandy)- we assume that the gin and lemon were removed more reasons of public decency.


1 Beer
1 Cola

Like Godzilla "It's big in Japan" and tearing the place up. Mixed like a Shandy and quaffed by androgynous teens throughout Tokyo.

South Wind

1 Beer
½ oZ Midori

If you like a sweet, melony beer with an acid green colouring this is the one for you, (you fucking weirdo).


1 Asian beer (best with Sapporo or Asahi)
½ oZ funkinpro Lychee Puree

Lends a great velvet texture to these interesting dry lagers. A real favourite sundowner.

The Cure

1 Beer
Dash Grapefruit juice
Dash Ginger Liquor (Domaine de Canton)

Developed by Gina Cherservani in the last depression. Zingy and light but I still hate bankers- though perhaps not the intended illness for the cure.


'Kidney Punch'

4 White Wine
1 Vodka
½ Peach Schnapps
2 Cranberry Juice
1 Light Grapefruit Juice
2 Lemonade or Soda

Become a Bin Dog Millionaire- This drink is measured in bottles and should be respectfully made in a large wheeliebin or ideally cement mixer if one is to hand. No cement mixer? Then try Prosecco rather than White Wine. Bubble Bin Drink.

Lady Grog

2 Heavily Vanilla'd Rum (Sailor Jerry)
1 Apple Juice
1/2 Lime Juice
1 Ginger Beer
1/4 Maple Syrup
1/2 Pomegranate Juice

Lets assume that the above numbers indicate number of bottles...

Alternatively try the L'oiso Technique: Hammer pint after pint of Patron margarita until the fear takes hold… Then switch to Daiquiri's. Dangereuse.

Swig Big, or GO HOME