Monday, 31 October 2011

The Mysteries of Stonehenge

Our adventures around the world involve much more than just good eating and drinking. For a long time now, even before we left Australia, I’ve always wanted to see Stonehenge. It amazes me that in an age where we can find scientific answers for everything, there still remains no clear answers for why this amazing structure of rocks exists and what it means. Of course there are many different theories, but none of which can be proved. It’s most likly that Stonehenge is going to be the oldest structure that Cara and I will ever see. It is said to be over 5000 years old.

Stonehenge is located in the english county of Wiltshire, about 2 hours drive from London. It is a mystery as to how the tall carved bluestone was able to be built and lifted into position. People say that stonehenge is an Ancient burial ground, others say it is a place of worship, maybe it was both, no one knows for sure. I’ve read many myths about stonehenge, and there are too many for me to go through them all, but one which I heard of, is the stones were carefully selected by King Arthur, who employed the help of the wizard Merlin to use his magic and place the stones into a circle arrangement. It was said that King Arthur wanted a place of worship and to morn the death of other knights who died in battle. Many theories like this is what makes Stonehenge a mystical place to visit.

During our visit, I managed to pick up a local souvenir, a beer made by a nearby brewery called, of course, The Stonehenge Ale. The ale’s are brewed by The Old Mill Brewery at Netheravon, Wiltshire. The mill was built on the River Avon in 1914 to generate electricity for a near by air field. Once the mill had closed, it remained vacant until 1984, when a master brewer from Denmark, Stig Anker Anderson, who came to England with the dream of creating an old fashioned English beer. The Stonehenge Ale was the result. A deep amber colour, It has strong refreshing fruity taste, but with a bitter after taste. Because the beer is an ale, the beer contains a strong malt and hop flavour to compliment the fruitiness.

Our experience at Stonehenge was unforgetable. It’s another thing which we can tick off our long list of things to see in England.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Love for a Good Cup of Tea

There is no doubt that people in the UK love a good cup of tea. So when Cara and I were out and about on one of our many adventures around London and we came across a bar which sold a cocktail called the “Earl-Grey-tini”. After seeing this,  I couldn’t resist and had to try it.

The cocktail used a london dry gin infused with earl grey tea.  The method of infusion has been around for hundreds of years. Starting as a way of making medicine, the technique of mixing herds with hot water quickly became a popular drink. Tea grew in popularity throughout Asia. It has been said that the Chinese have been drinking herbal tea since the 10th century BC.  But is wasn’t until the 1700’s that tea expanded out side of Asia and was brought to europe. At first it was considered a luxury hot beverage, only drunk be the rich, but it soon became a drink that everyone could enjoy.

As mentioned, the “Earl-grey-tini” uses earl grey infused gin. To get the best flavour from an infused spirit, the rule of thumb is that the spirit should be infused for a minimum of 3 days, but with tea being made to dissolve, I doubt it takes that long to get a good tea flavoured gin. The cocktail starts with 45ml of earl grey infused london dry gin, 30ml of sugar syrup, a squeeze of lemon juice and dash of egg white, to give the cocktail a nice texture. Its then shaken with ice and strained into a martini glass.

When I tried this drink, i was quite impressed. It was just like a refreshing ice tea. The lemon juice and sugar syrup balanced each other nicely. The tea infused gin, brought another flavour which made this cocktail very enjoyable. Lastly, the egg white brought all the ingredients together making this smooth in texture to drink.

"The Earl-grey-tini”
In a cocktail shaker:
45ml Earl grey infused gin
30ml Sugar Syrup
A squeeze of lemon juice
Dash of Egg White
Shake with ice and serve in
a Martini Glass

Saturday, 29 October 2011

On top of the world at Tower 42

After our experience at the Trafalgar Hotel, we now had a taste for roof top bars. One bar in London that we were keen to visit was Vertigo 42. The Vertigo 42 bar is a champagne bar located on the top floor of what was known as the “Natwest Tower”, now called Tower 42.

Tower 42 is the second tallest skyscraper in central London. It was built during the late 1970’s and finally was opened in 1981. The 42nd floor was originally just a viewing gallery, until it later was transformed into a trendy style bar,  consisting of lounges an a comfy setting allowing you to have a drink and take in the stunning view.

Tower 42 mainly consists of office space, but you forget all that as you make your way into the building and around to the exclusive express elevator which takes your straight to the top in style. As Cara and I reached the top, we started to understand why this bar has so much appeal. The view over London was spectacular. As the host walked us around to our table, you can’t help but notice the total 360 degree view of the city which you get from the top floor. We read and hear how apparently the London Eye has the best views of the city, but we doubt that it is as good as Tower 42.

With Vertigo 42 being a champagne bar, their menu consisted of many top bubbly’s and of course champagne cocktails. Cara decided to order a classic Italian cocktail, the Rossini. This is a simple classic which consists of strawberry puree topped with prosecco. The Rossini is a variation on the “Bellini” which was invented in Venice, Italy. The Bellini was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani sometime in during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s (no one knows for sure). It is a cocktail which consists of peach puree topped up with traditionally prosecco. With Vertigo 42 being a champagne bar, the prosecco was substituted with champagne. When the drink arrived, we were a little disappointed, as Cara’s Rossini had strawberry liqueur instead of fresh fruit puree, but lucky, Cara didn’t mind. She loved the flavours and the liqueur made it just a little sweeter which was more to Cara’s liking.

I chose the Yuzu & Cranberry Bellini. Since our visit to Japan, I’ve become fond of Yuzu juice. It’s citrus flavours often complement other fruits well, so I was looking forward to trying this creation. When the drink came, it was exactly what I had imagined. The refreshing citrus flavours of the yuzu, went well with the much sweeter cranberry. This sweetness was balanced out by the dry flavours of the champagne.  Overall, It was a great all round drink, perfect for sipping on, sitting back, and checking out the view.

Yuzu & Cranberry (left), Rossini (Right)

Vertigo 42’s "Rossini":
30ml Strawberry Liqueur
Topped up with Champagne

(A Classic Rossini:
2 - 3 teaspoons of strawberry puree
Topped up with Prosecco)

Yuzu & Cranberry Bellini:
20ml Yuzo Juice
20ml Cranberry Juice
Topped up with Champagne

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Seeing London through Nelson’s Eye

The people who we have met in the UK so far, have told us that this years summer was below average. When it started to get towards the end of september, it was save to say that summer was over. Then low on behold, a heat wave which smashes all records hits the UK and we get a little taste of what we’d missed out on the last few months. With this recent unseasonable weather, Cara and I hit the town and caught up on some sight seeing.

We’d read in a book about a rooftop bar which over looks the famous Trafalgar square. So we decided this would be a perfect place to go and enjoy the sunshine. As many people would know, Trafalgar square is one of the more popular tourist attractions in London. It’s a very picturesque part of the city. The centre piece at Trafalgar Square is the 145ft tall pillar with Horatio Lord Nelson standing on the top. Lord Nelson served as an Admiral in the British Navy. He lead them into battle many times, where he suffered losing his right arm, and sight in one eye. One of the most famous victories for the British navy was the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Which Lord Nelson lead his troops, but was sadly killed in the process. Now, Lord Nelson faces south west directly towards Portsmouth. The bar on the rooftop at the Trafalgar Hotel, faces this same direction. From the roof top you get a great view, of the square, the lion statues, the fountains, but what we found most interesting as you get the same view of the city as Lord Nelson, standing 145ft in the air.

So after a little bit of time, taking in the view and learning about Lord Nelson, we decided to order a few cocktails, sit back and take it all in. Cara started by ordering the “Fruitti del Sole”. This was a mixture of mandarin and lychee, with 2 shots of vodka. It was built over crushed ice and was very summery and refreshing. I expected the lychee to take over (as it so often does), but this was well balanced. The taste of the mandarin still came through quite clearly and both fruits complemented each other nicely. In my mind the only thing which ruined it a little was the use of vodka. You got such a nice refreshing fruity taste on the front of your palette, but then that was quickly changed by a ‘metalic’ after taste that you find when drinking vodka. By no means was this a bad cocktail. Like I said, It was very summery and refreshing, but in my opinion, it could have been so much better. Cara agreed. Maybe a nice gin, or rum instead of just vodka may have made this drink a winner.

I decided to have a “Midnight @ Vista”. This consisted of vodka, Grand Marnier, blackberries, honey and lime. Before I took a sip of this cocktail I knew straight away that it was going to be sweet, and I wasn’t wrong. The mixture of the Grand Marnier, honey and blackberries made for a sweet concoction, but that didn’t bother me. The flavours were exactly what I was expecting, a sweet, refreshing, fruity cocktail. My only criticism with this drink, is it may have helped if it was double strained**. A common complaint that customers have, is they don’t like sucking bits of fruit through a straw, and thats what was happening with my "Midnight @ Vista". A simple straining out of the fruit, would have made for a smoother drink. Other than that is was quite nice.

So after picking our cocktails to pieces, we sat back, enjoyed the sun and admired the view over Trafalgar square and London.

** 'Single strained' is straining out the ice from your cocktail shaker, 'double strained’ means pouring the cocktail through 2 strainers, one to remove the ice, the other to remove the pulp and other bits of fruit.

"Frutti del Sole”
(Build in a tall glass)
Muddle Mandarian & Lychee
Add a dash of sugar syrup
50ml Vodka
Topped with Crushed ice

“Midnight @ Vista”
(In a mixing glass)
Muddled Blackberries and Limes
Dash of Honey
30ml Vodka
30ml Grand Marnier
Shaken & single strained over crushed ice
 into a rocks glass.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

London Bar Show 2011

There is nothing that bartenders like more than a 'good old' trade show. Hundreds of beverage distributors and sales people pushing their new and exciting products on you, giving you a small sample and all for free. Cara and I had attended the Sydney bar show back in Australia, so when we heard about the London Bar Show, we had to attend.

We started our afternoon trying an argentinian beer, “Quilmes”. This beer has been brewing in Buenos Aires since 1890. Quilmes is a premium lager which is very light in taste and would be perfect for a hot summers day. Cara is not a big beer drinker and even she didn’t mind this. I guess that's it’s appeal, It’s a ‘non-beer-drinkers’ beer.  We moved on a tried a few other similar beers from places like Spain, Belgium, France and Italy.

As we made our way through the expo, we came to a stall promoting 'worm-wood' vodka. I won’t name the brand, because I prefer not to publicly “bag” a product online, but it’s safe to say if you ever come across a worm-wood vodka, steer well clear. It was horrible! I can only assume that this idea came about when the creators were trying to think of a spirit which had not been invented yet, and someone mentioned the word, ‘Worm-wood”. It was like drinking pure ethanol, with a smoky and earthy after taste.

So after tasting the wormwood vodka, we needed something to get that horrible taste out of our mouth. The answer, Ron Zacapa. Ron Zacapa is by far my favourite rum. It’s one of those rums which you never mix with anything. On the rocks will do nicely. It comes from East Guatemala, in a small town called Zacapa. The rum itself has not been around very long. It was first produced in 1976 to celebrate 100 years since the town had been founded. What makes this rum so special is the fact they only produce limited amounts each year and it is distilled and aged 2,300 metres above see level. Its has a great mixture of smokey and peppery flavours, balanced out with a very sweet after taste. There is a joke amongst bartenders, that the word “smooth” to describe spirits is thrown around far to often, but Ron Zacapa is definitely one of those spirits I would sum up    as being smooth.

We then moved on to trying an range of gins, whiskey’s, grappa and even some absinthe. I could go on about all the other things we tried at the bar show but it would take me to long.  So it’s safe to say by the end of the afternoon, we were a “little” tipsy. But we learnt a lot and had a great day. It’s a tough job doing all this product research, but someone has to do it.