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November 11 2015

Why Italian Red Wines Are Perfect For You

The diverse regions and Mediterranean climate of Italy creates some of the best wine you’re likely to drink. With over 1,000 grape varieties, it’s no surprise that the country has become the world’s largest exporter. That’s even more impressive given the country’s size, which is roughly three quarters that of California.

With an endless selection of affordable options, Italian wine could be your new go-to wine.

I’ve put together a guide on some of its distinctive characteristics which makes it an unbeatable choice.

Authentically Italian

Many of the grape varieties in Italy can be found growing in regions across the world, but there still remains a select few which are only found on Italian soil. One such example is the legendary, Nebbiolo grape found in the Piedmont region. Growing conditions are perfect here with a much warmer climate than France and other European growers. Evolving over thousands of years, this grape is an excellent fit for its environment and can’t be grown anywhere else. You’ll enjoy a one-of-a-kind flavour from these exclusives reds, which always remain authentically Italian.

High in acidity

The wine of Italy is mainly characterized by a high level of acidity, with firm reds and crisp whites. That makes it very versatile, pairing easily with a variety of your favorite dishes. It’s no surprise that Italian cuisine is an especially good match, pairing well with dishes from creamy pasta through to meat dishes such as veal sautéed in olive oil. It’s also great for cutting through rich and fatty foods such as lamb and steak.

Medium bodied

Although full bodied reds can be enjoyed such as Amarone wine or the famed Barbaresco, most Italian wine is medium bodied. This includes the most widely sold wine in Italy, known simply as ‘Vino’ or table wine. Produced to be enjoyed with a relaxed Italian meal, this inexpensive option doesn’t disappoint on flavor. It doesn’t overpower foods and you can drink it with everything from pizza to cheese and even fish dishes.

Drinking Wine

Earthy aromas

The terroir and climate of Italy differs greatly to those of France or other major growers including California and Australia. The rich soil of the fertile land comes through in every bottle of Italian wine. You’ll taste subtle hints of soil, minerals, mushrooms or grass. It’s this subdued earthiness that makes the wine uniquely Italian and yet again, makes for a great pairing wine.

Be sure to sample some of the beautiful wines of Italy and experiment which different food pairings. Once you’ve found the perfect red, you’ll never look back.

Images by Marcus Hansson and Francesco groi, used under Creative Commons license

October 21 2015

SWIG Hip Flasks

The other day I received a cool package in the post from SWIG Hip Flasks.
They’d contacted me recently and asked if I wanted to try out one of their Hip Flasks. Well, as a fan of hip flasks and drinking in general, obviously I said yes.

Not long after that a package arrived. I thought there was no way this could have come from SWIG as the box was so light, I mean, like really light,

The Swig Gift Box

The Swig Gift Box

there’s no way there was a hip flask in it…but…

The Union Jack Hip Flask

The Union Jack Hip Flask

So the first impressive thing to note is these hip flasks, aswell as being high quality and well made are also extremely light. I have another hip flask, I got from
Bali a while back and it’s a big, thick, chunky flask, and a bit impractical as it weighs you down even before you fill it with whisky.
This on the other hand is very practical and pretty darn cool.

The gift pack comes in a beautiful box and as soon as I opened it my wife exclaimed “Kakkoii! Hoshii!“, which translates from the Japanese as “That’s so cool! I want one!“.
That’ll give you some idea of the appeal of the design – she’s not one to be impressed by drinking paraphernalia usually.

Swig Hip Flask

Swig Hip Flask

The pouches are made from Spanish leather apparently and are beautifully cut and stitched together. The designs on them are excellent too.

The flask I was sent is the “SWIG Executive Moulded Union Jack Flask“, me being from the UK, very appropriate I thought, but they stock a large range of pouch designs from plain colours, to Harris Tweed designs, to pouches with magnetic flaps.
The prices range from £41 for just a plain flask up to £139 for the Heritage range.

The Union Jack flask is priced at £69 and I must admit, initially when I saw the prices on their website I thought that was a bit expensive but having seen one up close, I now think it’s definitely excellent value.

They also stock accessories, like funnels, as well as gift sets (the box I was sent is a gift set) and engraving is an option making these hip flasks an excellent, extra special present.

I can’t recommend these enough and can’t wait to fill it up with sake and take it to our next “Hanami” (Cherry Blossom viewing picnic).

The SWIG hip flasks can be found on their website http://swigflasks.com/, so have a look…Christmas isn’t that far away…


DISCLAIMER: I was sent the Union Jack hip flask by SWIG to review for this blog. Other than the flask, I have received nothing from them (payment or otherwise) and will not be receiving any payments in the future either.
The views expressed are completely my own (and my wife’s…”Kakkoii!” ).

September 2 2015

The “Hell’s” Angels’ Share: Speyside Distillery goes full throttle with launch of Beinn Dubh black single malt

Some news from Speyside Distillery…

It was not so much the Angels’ Share, more the “Hell’s” Angels’ Share as Speyside Distillery crossed to the dark side to launch its new black whisky – Beinn Dubh – at Europe’s biggest Harley Davidson motorcycle rally today (30 August, 2015).

Thunder in the Glen Fallen Angel

Thunder in the Glen Fallen Angel

The single malt was unveiled to over 3,000 motorbike enthusiasts who gathered in Aviemore in the Cairngorms – the home of the tiny boutique distillery – for the annual Thunder in the Glens event.
Speyside Distillery CEO John Harvey McDonough says there was no better platform to launch Beinn Dubh than at the biker rally, which draws Harley enthusiasts and visitors from all over the UK and Europe.
He adds,

“Whisky drinkers know all about the Angels’ Share – the term for the whisky that evaporates into the atmosphere during maturation – but with the launch of our new whisky at a motorbike rally, it’s possible that the angels who were looking over Beinn Dubh were wearing black leathers and biker boots.
“Visitors to Thunder in the Glens have been able to sample Beinn Dubh over the weekend, and the feedback is that it’s a heavenly dram. The colour of the whisky – a very rich ruby-black – has been a real talking point.
“We feel honoured to be part of this fantastic event. There has been an incredible atmosphere in Aviemore, and we are delighted that our new friends from Thunder in the Glens have been among the first people in the world to sample this new single malt.”

Beinn Dubh was the name given to Ben Macdui – the highest peak in the Cairngorm mountain range – by Professor Norman Collie after his solo climb to the summit in 1891. It translates from Gaelic as the black mountain – a reference to the mystical and spooky atmosphere Prof Collie encountered on Ben Macdui.
Speyside Distillery wanted to recreate the essence of the black mountain in a bottle, and Beinn Dubh was born. It gets its unusual colouring because it has been finished in toasted port casks from the Douro Valley in Portugal.

Speyside Distillers Ltd managing director Patricia Dillon says,

“Like the mountain, the whisky is dark and mysterious. It is very much the whisky of the Cairngorms – the water used in its production is from the Black Mountain itself, and the malted barley is sourced locally.
“We are deeply passionate about the Cairngorms and our links to this area: the landscape, the history and the people are very much part of the distillery’s story. The Cairngorms is a truly magical place and I can understand why thousands of bikers come to Thunder in the Glens to ride through this beautiful area.”

George McGuire, rally co-ordinator for Thunder in the Glens, says visitors were intrigued by the brand new expression from Speyside Distillery.

“It’s a fantastic dram and the colour is so unusual; no one has ever seen anything quite like it. If any whisky was to represent the Cairngorms – this incredible part of Scotland where people come from all over to ride – then it is Beinn Dubh,”

he says.

Beinn Dubh’s taste is deep and dark: rich fruits, currants and chocolate dominate at first, but these gradually give way to both bitterness and sweetness. Beinn Dubh is 43% ABV and the 70cl bottle has an RRP of £50.

Speyside Distillery near Kingussie has been in production since 1990 and is operated by Speyside Distillers Ltd. For further information about Beinn Dubh, visit www.beinndubh.com.

August 19 2015

Clean, Green Distilleries and Sustainable Alcohol Production

Thank you to @MariaRamos1889 for writing another excellent guest post. This time it concerns the environment and clean, green distilleries.

Mankind has partaken in the enjoyment of alcoholic beverages for thousands of years. In recent years, however, traditional distillation methods have come under scrutiny as a result of widespread pollution and other environmental concerns associated with climate change. Luckily, there are numerous forward-thinking firms in the business to promote and enable a cleaner alcoholic beverage production cycle.

Don Q's Water Reclamation Facility

Don Q’s Water Reclamation Facility

Beer consumes quite a bit of water: up to 10 liters for each liter of finished product. Additionally, refrigeration contributes significantly to global greenhouse gas levels. The bottling process also requires a substantial amount of energy because glass must be heated to a high temperature before it can be properly molded. Brewers can partially reduce their environmental impact by using cans, which are often recycled, instead of glass bottles. While cans have traditionally been the preserve of cheap, mass-market beers, there are a few craft and specialty beers that are shipped in cans, such as Oskar Blues and New Belgium. Organic beers, like Wolaver’s and Samuel Smith, comply with guidelines limiting pesticide and chemical use. Even an organization as large as MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors, is trying to act in a more environmentally friendly manner by pledging to use only 3.5 liters of water per liter of beer produced.

Vodka and other spirits must go through a distillation process, which consumes a lot of energy and requires the input of green-unfriendly chemicals. Furthermore, some types of liquor, especially rum and gin, create waste products that must be disposed of. From the years 2002-2008, the Bacardi Corporation ran afoul of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for dumping thousands of gallons of waste into a river in Puerto Rico.

Mackmyra Whisky Distillery

Mackmyra Whisky Distillery


Mackmyra Swedish Whiskey has built a new production facility that aims to counter the energy waste typically encountered in distilling. The six-story building takes advantage of gravity to move ingredients, rather than relying on oil-guzzling machinery. Heat recovery mechanisms mean that waste heat can be recycled, reducing the consumption of energy. Similarly, DonQ is a rum producer that has been making a name for itself by using its waste for compost and irrigation purposes and by recycling energy from excess steam in distilling. Larger companies have gotten involved as well – for example, Diageo, the world’s biggest spirits producer, announced an ambitious plan this year to cut its global water usage in half. “As Diageo’s footprint has expanded, particularly in emerging markets, I firmly believe that managing water responsibly will be core to supporting the future growth of our business,” said Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes in a statement.

The egregious carbon usage associated with wine consumption is largely a consequence of shipping product all around the world, with problematic bottling and packaging as a secondary source of environmental harm. Here is makes sense to stay local – people on the eastern coast of the United States would do well to purchase European wines while those west of roughly Ohio or Louisiana could help reduce CO2 emissions by instead buying California vintages. In terms of eco-friendly packaging, French Rabbit Wines in Sausalito, Calif. is a winery that employs sustainable farming practices as well as a type of packaging from Tetra Pak that doesn’t require as many resources.


One aspect of alcohol production that’s largely outside the hands of producers is agriculture. Breweries and distilleries often use food products, like barley, oatmeal, sugarcane and potatoes, as inputs. The way that these crops are grown thus has a great impact on their environmental consequences. According to Alberta Energy Providers, poor agricultural practices alone account for between 10 and 12 percent of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions. Going even further, years of overgrowing and overwatering ultimately contribute to a destructive cycle of desertification and deforestation. It’s therefore important that transformations in energy use and sustainability shouldn’t be limited to the alcohol trade but should be spread to wherever food is grown.

Because the alcoholic beverage industry touches upon so many sectors of the economy – agriculture, packaging, transportation and refrigeration, to name just a few – changes in how drinks are made can have far-reaching repercussions. Customers can drive environmental sustainability by purchasing beer and liquor from those companies that have demonstrated their commitment to green technologies and procedures. While their initial impact will be limited, the advantages will start to accrue as alcohol suppliers start leapfrogging each other in the employment of green techniques and encourage their business partners to do the same.

June 14 2015

The Finest Drinks on Offer at these World Class Casinos

The Finest Drinks on Offer at these World Class Casinos

There are lots of things which make the city of Las Vegas the perfect party city. One of them is its relaxed alcohol licencing laws that allows patrons to continue drinking all night long without fear of somebody yelling “last call!” Whilst there are some amazing drinks on offer in Las Vegas, there are also some excellent casinos each with their own signature drink dotted around the globe.

Here are five of them:

Casino de Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monte Carlo Casino (photo by Dennis Jarvis)

Monte Carlo Casino (photo by Dennis Jarvis)

The Casino de Monte-Carlo is legendary for its luxury and opulence and cannot be missed off on a list of the world’s finest casinos. With 12 different bars and clubs on site, there is bound to be something to suit every taste. The Sea Lounge Bar, for instance, serves the 21-year-old Royal Salute as well as the J.W. Blue Label; they aren’t cheap, but if you’re lucky your winnings will cover the bar bill.

MGM Grand, Las Vegas

The MGM serves ‘The Last Drop’, a 1960 Scotch Whiskey of which only 1347 were made, in its Whiskey Down gaming lounge. With blackjack tables and video poker, it is the perfect spot of relax and unwind by playing a few games and tasting some of the 100 different whiskeys on offer. Continuing the whiskey theme, they also offer mint-infused whiskeys in their specialty cocktails as well as Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve double Oak, and Four Roses Single Barrel.

Home, your house

Thanks to the advent of online casinos, it is now easier to play your favourite games online using the likes of the VIP club at Slotocash to practice without needing the expense of flights and accommodation. Of course, the budget should accommodate for some world-class alcohol to sample at home and enjoy whilst you play from the comfort of your sofa.

Crown Casino, Melbourne

Melbourne’s Crown Casino is home to the exclusive 28 Skybar Lounge which offers its patrons stunning views across the Australian city. On a clear day, you can see as far as the Dandenong Ranges. Unsurprisingly, there is an extensive range of drinks available. The bar offers a range of whiskey, from a wide budget range including Jack Daniel’s and Jameson to the Chivas Regal 25 yrs.

Whiskey Collection (photo by Ian McKellar)

Whiskey Collection (photo by Ian McKellar)

The Palm Beach Casino, London

Located in the heart of Mayfair, the Palm Beach Casino offers a wide selection of top-quality wines at its bar. If you favour red wine, they offer the 2004 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery for £45 a 37.5cl bottle or £85 for a 75cl one, which is a popular favourite amongst wine aficionados. If you prefer white, they offer wines from France, Italy, Australia and New Zealand including the 2010 Puligny-Montrachet for £85 (75cl) and the 2009 Meursault for £70 (75cl).

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