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More Than Cider: The Pick of West Country Beer

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The West Country area of England is best known for the quality of its cider, which has earned global fame, and while it is true that counties such as Somerset have always been associated with the golden nectar produced from English apples, the West Country as a whole also has a proud tradition of beer making, that has received a new boost with the rise of the artisanal beer sector.

In fact, some of the towns in this part of the world have beer making traditions that can rival the likes of Burton and Masham for their links with beer production.

St Austell, in Cornwall, often described as the heart of the Cornish Riviera, is one example of a thriving beer making town in this part of the world. An old market town that was first put on the map by the discovery of China clay in the surrounding countryside, it has also become famous for the nearby Eden Project, which attracts thousands of tourists every year. But St Austell is also home to the St Austell Brewery, which holds the distinction of being Cornwall’s oldest family brewery, where beer has been brewed on the same site for more than 100 years.

Another West Country county, Wiltshire is home to two towns with strong beer making heritages. Devizes is a thriving market town that offers a wealth of historical and architectural interest, and the Wadworth Brewery rates as one of its main attractions. Cricklade, in north Wiltshire, is another example of old beer marking tradition, featuring a pub, the Red Lion Inn, that dates back to the 1600s, and which now produces its own range of in-house beers.

Not only does the West Country boast a proud beer making tradition, but it has also been prominent in the rise of artisanal brewing over the last 20 years. Cornwall has been one of the most renowned beer producers, thanks to brewers such as Sharp’s, whose Doom Bar bitter has won national fame. St Austell, Skinners, Keltek, Harbour, Black Flag and Firebrand are just some of the new beer names that have been putting Cornwall on the map.

But while Cornwall has grabbed the headlines, the rest of the West Country has not been left behind. Devon offers a number of high quality brewers, including Dartmoor, Hunter’s and Otter, along with a host of microbreweries, while Dorset and Wiltshire are home to a mix of long established and up-and-coming breweries that are successful combining modernity and tradition.

Clearly, there is more to the West Country than cider, scones and beaches! To help you explore the world of West Country beer, here are ten of the best local beers to sample:

West Coast Session IPA – Firebrand

Session IPA is a style that is much in demand, and it is a popular one with brewers as it gives them the chance to utilize its preferred hops without creating beers that are too intimidating for the modern drinker. Based in Launceston, Firebrand are one of the finest proponents of this style and their West Coast Session IPA, produced with Mosaic and Equinox hops, is full of fruit, providing a flavour of lime and other tropical hints, along with a powerful burst of bitterness.

Tally Ho! – Palmers

This is a full-bodied, chestnut-brown beer that was first created in 1949 and offers a maturity of flavour that make it one of the most notable examples of the so-called ‘old ale’ style. This is a complex and rewarding beer, offering an array of flavours, including oak, dried fruits, caramel and festive spice, thanks to the abundance of rich, roasted malts that also help to provide a rich, boozy quality, and there is a pleasing piercing bitterness with a dash of pepper.

Avocet – Exeter Brewery

This is the perfect beer for anyone who is looking for a change from strong hop-heavy beers. It’s a very pale golden ale, which offers light touches of lemon and honey along with the refreshing qualities of a dry, subtle bitterness. A light and simple beer, produced entirely from organic ingredients, Avocet is a rare delight and one that can be appreciate by all beer drinkers.

Eureka – St Austell

St Austell has been one of the leading lights of the West Country beer scene for years, thanks to the success of beers such as Tribute and Proper Job, and this is another of their success stories. It began life as one their small batch series of experimental brews, but has developed into one of their main products. It features the new Eureka hop, which provides abundant citrus, currant and herb flavours to supplement the amber malt body.

Headband – Verdant

One of the newer stars in the Cornwall beer making firmament, Verdant has earned an impressive reputation and this striking product, supplied in a bright, almost psychedelic can, is a good representation of their style. This is a modern American Pale Ale, packed with pineapple and mango hop flavours, along with a grassy bitterness and a sweet touch to the malt base helps to accentuate the delicious fruitiness.

Otter Ale – Otter Brewery

This Devon brew may not seem as modern as some of the new style beers that have dominated the modern market, but this brown English bitter has a delightful easy going charm. It is slightly sweet, with a toasty edge and a deep, fruity malt flavour. Grain leads the way rather than hops and the result is an earthy, rustic bitterness that provides a well rounded and satisfying drink.

Nettle IPA – Gyle 59

Gyle 59 is one of Dorset’s best brewers. Their range of beers is exceptional, combining tradition with innovation, but are less well-known the further north you travel. This nettle IPA is one of its more unusual products. It is a light, crisp IPA with the hoppy bitterness leaning towards a pine and herbal flavour. Adding nettle tips to the brewing process provides an unusual twist, and while the nettle flavour isn’t obvious, the taste of this fascinating beer is distinctive.

American Adventure – Badger Beers

Produced by Hall and Woodhouse, a family business with a few hundred years of brewing under its belt the range of Badger beers are brewed along traditional lines. This beer has a familiarly sweet, bready grain and peachy fragrance that is common to many of their lighter beers and is a good example of the brewery embracing contemporary beer trends thanks to more dominant hopping from US varieties that produce juicy orange and spicy bitterness while maintaining familiar Badger flavours. Overall, this is a great mix of tradition and the new beer world.

Session IPA – Harbour

Harbour is another Cornish brewery with a growing nationwide reputation thanks to its exciting range of modern ales, many of which are bold flavoured limited editions. This Session IPA is one of their gentler beers, offering a fresh hop taste but with less intensity than many of its contemporaries. There is only moderate bitterness and zingy grapefruit flavour that presents a subtle rather than overpowering experience, and this well made beer has wide appeal.

Pennycomequick – Skinners

Launched in 1997, Skinners has become one of the most popular of modern West Country brewers, partly thanks to its innovative promotions and well designed packaging. Based in Truro, they have made a mark with the hugely popular bitters Cornish Knocker and Betty Stogs, but they have plenty of other beers to offer, including this dark stout. It’s not a thick and heavy stout in the traditional mould, but more of a dark roasted ale that provides a sweet toffee and coffee flavour. There is also a pleasing fruitiness and a low bitterness leading to a smoky dry finish.

The Beers of Yorkshire

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Yorkshire is the largest of the English counties, and few parts of the country are more patriotic when it comes to celebrating their regional heritage.

For Yorkshire folk, that pride in their county extends to the food and drink it produces, including their beer, which leads the way in the thriving English artisanal beer scene. In fact, if you ask any Yorkshire native where the best beer comes from, and they won’t hesitate in pointing out that the greatest ales, stouts and IPAs can be found in ‘God’s own county’!

The history of English beer goes back many centuries, but there are few counties in the UK where the brewing industry has had such a strong influence as in Yorkshire. Indeed, several towns in Yorkshire are associated with brewing. For example, the market town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire is the home to three thriving breweries: John Smith’s, Samuel Smith’s and Molson Coors Tower Brewery, and the town is often filled with the familiar, hoppy smell of brewing.

Of those three Tadcaster breweries, Samuel Smith’s is the most remarkable. Founded in 1758, it has the distinction of being the oldest brewery in Yorkshire and it still employs traditional methods to produce its beer, including the use of a number of Grey Shire horses that are used to deliver beer to pubs in and around the town.

Another small market town in North Yorkshire, Masham, is also closely associated with beer making and has the distinction of hosting two internationally known breweries: Theakstons and Black Sheep Brewery. These breweries are actually run by various members of the same family and in fact the Black Sheep name hints at the story of a family feud. The name also refers to the town’s major sheep market which developed due to the large flocks of sheep at nearby Jervaulx and Fountains Abbeys.

Theakston’s ‘Old Peculiar’ is one of the UK’s favourite ales and earned its name thanks to a quirk of English history. During the medieval period, the Archbishop of York designated the parish of Masham to be a ‘Peculier’ which meant that it was able to govern its own affairs, a decision that may have been made so that officials could avoid the dangerous journey up to Masham.

Yorkshire’s historical heritage is also entwined with the county’s beer making industry. Many Yorkshire brewers reference this heritage through their decorative beer labels. For instance, to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the world famous landscape designer Lancelot Capability Brown, Great Newsome Brewery in East Yorkshire brewed ‘Incapability Brown Ale’.

Albyn Works in Sheffield was once the base of famous silversmith Joseph Pickering & Sons. As an offshoot to their main metal polishing products business, the company developed a substance called ‘Blanco’ that was later used by the British Army to whiten their uniform. In recognition of this, the Sheffield Brewery Company, which currently occupies Albyn Works created a distinctive beer called ‘Blanco Blond’.

This trend of brewing companies setting up in old industrial buildings is another distinctive part of Yorkshire brewing culture. Another find example is the case of Northern Monk Brewery, which set up in the Grade II listed Marshall’s Old Flax Store building, that once served the nearby textile mills in one of the busiest heartlands of the industrial revolution.

Like the rest of England, Yorkshire has seen a resurgence of new beer makers during the last 20 years, as the artisanal beer sector has taken off. This new beer industry is helping to drive the success of the wider English beer making sector, so to help guide you through the range of available Yorkshire beers, here’s ten of the best to sample:

Rapture – Magic Rock

Magic Rock, based in Huddersfield, is known for the quality of its range of ales. It has a reputation for highly hopped beers, and for this popular red ale, the six varieties of hops are blended with five types of malt. The result is a rich and complex mixture of soft, grainy flavours, including fruit, dough and toasty caramel, along with pine and orange hoppiness to add brightness and a long dry finish that is sure to satisfy even the most demanding beer aficionados.

Cascadian Dark Ale – Bad Seed Brewery

The Bad Seed Brewery, based in Malton, produces a variety of fine and flavoursome beers, but this experimental ale is one of their best. A hoppy production, it pours with a fine head of froth but underneath that surface, there is a dark and intense liquid that packs in a range of flavours from piney hops and dank malt and even a scent of vanilla. With a sharp and memorable bite, this is one dark ale that you won’t soon forget.  

India – Hop Studio

This popular IPA can best be described as a golden Yorkshire bitter that has been given an American makeover. It combines the full range of modern hop flavours, backed by a distinctively British body  of malt and yeast. The four hops employed here: Cascade, Centennial, Columbus and Chinook provide fruity and bitter flavours, with a particularly distinctive grapefruit taste, along with some pleasing grassiness at the finish. Combining modern hop bitterness, with the traditional flavours of the county, this is a perfect blend of the old and the new.

Riggwelter – Black Sheep

Riggwelter is a traditional Yorkshire ale that presents with a strong, dark-hued brew, and offers a variety of flavours, including espresso, liquorice and the hint of ripe banana. It is a delightfully dark beer, offering a rich, creamy head, which smells of sweet malty molasses with a long, dry, refreshing finish. The name Riggwelter refers to a pregnant sheep that has become marooned on its back, legs in the air, and local farmers and walkers have become used to restoring them to an upright position.

Notorious F.I.G. – Ilkley Brewery

Ilkley Brewery has the reputation of being one of the UK’s best beer companies, producing a fascinating variety of beer styles. Among their fascinating range is Rombald, a tangy citrus American Amber ale and white chocolate stout Westwood. Notorious F.I.G. is a Belgian-style dubbel that has been infused with figs. It has a subtle, mature sourness along with a very rich fruity flavour. Along with the fig flavour, there’s also a brown-sugar sweetness with a slightly chalky dry finish that comes with a hint of roasted coffee. A remarkable beer that adds to the impressive Ilkley reputation.

Triple Chocaholic – Saltaire

This multiple-award winning Triple Chocaholic is an easy-drinking stout that has toasty qualities without being overly dry-roasted, along with a bitterness that is not too harsh on the palate and a smooth and creamy texture. Most impressively of all, it’s full of chocolate flavours imparted from both the malt brewing process and the addition of real chocolate. Neither too sweet nor too dry, this is one of the best examples of the winning combination of beer and chocolate.

Pinata – North Brewing Company

The trend for ales that are loaded with fruit has reached Yorkshire, and Leeds-based North Brewing Company has produced a fine example, building on the success of Volta, its fine blood orange and rhubarb sour beer. Pinata is a fascinating mango and guava pale ale, but although those tropical flavours are immediately apparent, this drink is more complex than you might think, as there is a pleasing punchy hop bitterness beneath the exotic fruit flavours.

Bad Kitty – Brass Castle

Brass Castle are another Malton-based brewery, and their approach of shunning filtration enables them to produce characterful, flavour-packed beers. Bad Kitty is a prime example: a powerful vanilla porter that offers a smooth texture. It makes for a fine drink to enjoy by the fireside, but is also great straight from the fridge to go with a meaty summertime BBQ feast.

Eternal – Northern Monk

Northern Monk has produced a crowd-pleasing classic in Eternal, a modern session IPA that ticks all the right boxes. It’s a light looking beer that is packed with modern hop power, along with pithy citrus bitterness and a long finish. A great post-work thirst quencher.

Landlord – Timothy Taylor’s

At one time, Landlord was a dominant factor in international and national beer awards, helping to promote both Yorkshire and the UK’s position as a brewing powerhouse. Competition may be tougher these days, but this is still a highly sought-after beer. It’s a pale ale with a faintly sweet, malty base and is brewed using three hops: Styrian Goldings, Goldings and Fuggles, which give it a flowery, berry edge, along with satisfying levels of bitterness and a lovely dry finish.

A Journey to the Heart of Beer Country

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The heart of England has been the source of much of the industrial wealth the nation has generated over the centuries, and it also has a prominent position in the nation’s consciousness when it comes to the beer industry, one of England’s most famous exports.

The north and east Midlands are particularly well known for their beer brewing history, especially the counties of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, as well as parts of eastern Staffordshire.

Nottinghamshire has been lucky to have been the home to several good breweries within its boundaries. Water from the River Trent has played a pivotal role in the brewing industry in the county, both in terms of using the water as an ingredient and for transporting the finished product.

The earliest written evidence of brewing activity in Nottinghamshire comes from a record of 1395, and there are numerous references to beer and beer brewing from the county throughout the centuries, while Greens Brewery holds the distinction of being Nottingham’s first brewery.

One of the major reasons for the flourishing beer trade in the county was the quality of the barley grown in the Vale of Belvoir, which was a rich and convenient source for the brewers. By the middle of the seventeenth century, Nottinghamshire beer brewing was at its height. In those days, the use of hops for flavouring was not always approved. The word beer was reserved for hopped products, while ale was always brewed without hops, and porter was a dark form of beer.

Neighbouring Derbyshire and Staffordshire also have an impressive beer heritage. Burton Abbey, which was founded in the 11th century, had its own brewhouse able to cater for the needs of both residents and travelers. The excellence of the beer it produced gained national recognition by the middle of the 14th century.

This came to an abrupt end with the dissolution of the Abbey in 1540, but ownership of the brewhouse passed to the Paget family whose efforts encouraged the economic development of the town and the surrounding area. This included the malting of local barley and the brewing of ale at many of the town’s inns, and Burton ale continued to be regarded as some of the finest in the country.

In the 17th century, the wider Trent Valley became more widely noted in London as the source of fine ales, both bottled and in cask. Prices for these beers varied, but they were usually more expensive than the beers and ales brewed in London and were the preserve of the wealthier and fashionable classes. Nottingham and Derby were more noted than Burton at this time, though that was likely to be due to the superior transport links to those cities.

Burton’s moment of fame came in the 18th century when its beer became popular in the Baltic states. This unlikely export story came about because Burton beer could be transported by canal to the port of Hull, from where it was taken over the North Sea to Russia and the Baltic region.

Like other local beer industries, the beer sector in the East Midlands was affected by the increasing influence of huge beer conglomerates after the Second World War, with mass produced beers replacing the previous myriad array of local varieties.

Thankfully, a long campaign, begun by the Campaign for Real Ale in the 1970s, led to an increasing awareness of the importance of local products and higher quality beer. This trend was accelerated in the early 2000s with the emergence of the modern craft and artisanal beer sectors. The result has been a boom in breweries and new beers, and by 2020 it was estimated that there were over 170 breweries based in the east Midlands area.

Today, the east Midlands is once again regarded as one of the world’s most important beer brewing regions. To help you explore the rich beer heritage of this region, here are some of the very best beers produced in the east Midlands:

Axe Edge – Buxton Brewery

The distinctive qualities of the water in the east Midlands make the region ideal for producing IPAs and milds, and one of the best exponents is the Buxton Brewery, in Buxton on Trent, itself just an hour’s drive from the famous spa town of Buxton, which is famous for its pure drinking water. The Buxton Brewery have turned out some remarkable beers, including this IPA, which is packed with pine-suffused bitterness, along with a dash of fresh fruit and a crisp, dry finish. 

Screech Owl Ale, Castle Rock Brewery

Produced by Castle Rock Brewery in Nottinghamshire, Screech Owl Ale was first brewed in 2008 as one of a number of beers that were created to mark the campaign by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to promote the preservation of endangered species. The beer proved such a success that it won the Society of Independent Brewers (Midlands) Supreme Champion Beer award at the Robin Hood Beer Festival, as well as the SIBA National Strong Bitter title and a Strong Bitter (Champion Beer of Britain) bronze medal in 2013. This well hopped IPA is a favourite throughout England.

Jaipur – Thornbridge

Among the most popular of the modern craft beers, Jaipur is prominent. Known as one of the world’s best IPAs, Jaipur is brewed by Thornbridge of Bakewell in Derbyshire. It has won more than 100 awards around the world, including the prestigious gold medal at the World Beer Awards. Jaipur is a masterful combination of six hop varieties, including Centennial and Cascade and is it offers the archetypal IPA blend of aroma, bitterness and flavour.

The ’45 – Bentley Brook

The Bentley Brook Brewing Company, Matlock is a Micro-Brewery sitting on the edge of the Peak District, which operates from an old mill in the Lumsdale Valley. All of their beer is brewed in small batches, so every batch has that extra level of attention and care, and they specialise in cask and bottle conditioned ales, which bring together the tradition of British hand pulled cask ales with new, craft styles and flavours. 

The ’45 was created to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and is brewed using rye, oats and barley, along with English hops. There is also a direct link with the local area as during the war, the Baileys Tump air defence site was situated less than a mile from the brewery.  

Dovedale IPA – Dovedale Brewing Co

Dovedale Brewing Co. was set up in 2017 and has made a big impact in a relatively short space of time. They specialize in the production of premium quality craft beers and take an independent and original approach to beer brewing. All of their beers, produced in the Peak District National Park,

are naturally conditioned in keg, cask, bottle and can and they are all vegetarian friendly. Their IPA is a classic example of West Coast style beer, oozing malt, caramel and fruity American hops, with a delightful aroma of spice, orange and grapefruit from the generous dry hopping process.

Coal Face Stout – Silver Brewhouse

The east Midlands has a long history of coal mining and this is a local beer that references the region’s tradition. Silver Brewhouse is a Derbyshire based craft brewery, which is notable for producing some of the finest craft ales in the Midlands, employing both traditional and modern methods. Their Coal Face Stout is an easy drinking oat stout, which employs First Gold and Bramling X hops, resulting in a complex combination of rich roast malt flavours.

Giddy Edge IPA – Moot Oak Brewing

Moot Ales was founded by the Mews family in Matlock, who came up with the idea of brewing their own beer and selling it through the family pub, the Red Lion. This bore fruit in 2018 when the Moot Oak Brewing Company was born. The brewery is housed in a building behind their pub and has given rise to a tasty range of beers produced from ‘all grain’ ingredients.

This beer showcases another aspect of this part of the east Midlands, where millions of visitors arrive every year to explore the Peak District, including many real ale drinkers. Giddy Edge is named after a well-known local landmark and is a tasty ale that employs maris otter pale malts blended with pils and caramel malts, and uses the Chinook, Admiral and Fruggles hops varieties.

Brakeman Best Bitter – Headstocks Brewery

Established in 2017 initially to brew Prussia Lager in collaboration with a partner brewery in Kaliningrad on the Lithuanian border, Headstocks expanded their range in 2018 to include real ale. The first two real ales to be added were Canary Pale Ale and this beer, Brakeman Best Bitter. It is a warming traditional best bitter that offers subtle caramel and nutty undertones.

Cool Down with the Best of London Beer

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The biggest city in England, and a genuine European centre of civilization, London has always had a profile that was bigger than the nation of which it is capital. As a result, it often represents England in a number of sectors, not least in upholding the finest of English traditions: beer.

Originally, the heart of beer production was in the monasteries of England, prior to the Reformation, but the capital city developed into a powerhouse of beer production, becoming the most significant beer production centre in the country, from the 18th century.

In fact, in that century,  there is a case for saying that London became the most significant brewing city in the world, thanks partially to the reputation of its porter, a dark brown beer that was hopped generously and allowed to mature in enormous vats.

Samuel Whitbread was one of the first big names in the brewing trade in London, launching his operation in 1742. He founded a dynasty on the fortune he made from porter, and his name became intrinsically associated with beer in the process. Such was the dominance of porter in the London beer scene that by the early 19th century, the Barclay Perkins brewery in Southwark was reputed to be the biggest in the world, and was given over entirely to the production of porter.

It was also in the 18th century that Hodgson’s, a small brewery based at Bow, was contracted to supply the East India Company. Among the various beers they provided was a pale, bitter brew which, due to the buffeting it received on its sea journey, matured at an accelerated pace and arrived in India with a distinctive taste.

Over the next few decades, the label ‘India pale ale’ was given to various pale, hoppy beers of export quality. Unfortunately for London, despite the fact that IPA was born there, it was perfected in Burton-upon-Trent in the Midlands and soon even London-based breweries, such as Truman’s of Brick Lane, were acquiring facilities in the Midlands in an effort to compete with Bass.

London remained important, and was the home base for several big names, notably Courage, Watney’s and Whitbread. Those three were, by the mid-20th century, ranked among the so-called  ‘Big Six’ – a group of large firms which, by acquiring smaller breweries and crushing competition, had achieved a near-monopoly over the UK beer market. By the 1970s, there were few independent breweries left in London, with Young’s of Wandsworth and Fuller’s of Chiswick being two notable exceptions.

There was some pushback against this monopolizing trend, which also fuelled the rise of the Campaign for Real Ale. New breweries began to emerge in London, including Godson’s, which was founded by Patrick Fitzpatrick in 1977. It was soon followed by David Bruce’s Goose & Firkin brewpub at Borough, which was the first of what would later be a national chain.

Many of the breweries in that mini revival of the London scene disappeared and even Young’s was eventually taken over. By 2010, it was suggested that there were only 14 breweries in London.

Yet all of that changed dramatically in the 2000s thanks to tax changes introduced by the Labour government. Meantime set up operations in Greenwich in 2000, and the Kernel, directly inspired by BrewDog, gave a huge boost to the beer boom. Other breweries sprang up and the famous Bermondsey Beer Mile, home to seven breweries occupying railway arches, has become a symbol of London’s vibrant beer scene.

In fact there are now more than 80 breweries in the capital, with more on the way, and there is once again a buzz around London beer. These new breweries are firmly focused on quality over quantity, producing some of the most exciting beers ever seen in the capital. Here are some of the best.

Beavertown Gamma Ray, Haringey

London’s fastest-growing brewery, founded in the kitchen of a Hackney pub restaurant and now occupying several industrial units close to the Lee Valley Park, Beavertown is one of the most exciting breweries around.  They produce an impressive array of beers, offering quality, consistency and depth of flavour,  exemplified by their flagship IPA Gamma Ray. This remarkable beer is bursting with tropical fruit, lemon and pine from New World hops, yet is not too bitter, and is drinkable enough to be quaffed directly from the strikingly designed cans for which the brewery is famous.

Anspach & Hobday The Porter, Southwark

A&H are one of the famous seven breweries located along the historic railway viaduct through Bermondsey. The company got their big break when their distinctive porter triumphed in a beer making competition. This is a porter with a huge chocolate and malt loaf aroma and a luxuriously smooth and fruity palate which offers a bite of roasty malt and vanilla hints in the finish.

Bullfinch Milou Saison, Lambeth

A brewery that emerged from veterans of Anspach & Hobday, Bullfinch Brewery set up their operations in a spectacular site across from Brockwell Park. This brew references the original name of cartoon character Tintin’s dog, and is a tasty and cheerful golden beer laced with citrus and yeasty spice and fruit, backed by a firm grain base is supremely refreshing despite its high strength.

Pressure Drop Wu Gang Chops the Tree, Hackney

Hackney is now arguably London’s second major beer destination after Bermondsey, and Pressure Drop, a small brewery that started out in a Stoke Newington garage, is a local favourite. This speciality is the result of a happy accident: an eminently drinkable wheat beer subtly flavoured with locally foraged bay leaves. You might also identify subtle flavours of fennel, chamomile and citrus  as well as a light, tangy base with a delicate bitterness in the finish.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale, Hounslow

The proud history of London’s only surviving historic brewery goes back at least 200 years longer than its official founding date. Fuller’s has long had a reputation for traditional cask ale with specialities such as outstanding barley wine, produced annually to a slightly varying recipe and capable of ageing gracefully for many years. This vintage ale is spicy, warming and assertively hoppy when new, but after being cellared for a few years, it becomes mellow and immensely complex, with red fruit, orange, tobacco and port- or sherry-like notes.

The Kernel London Sour, Southwark

The brewery that launched the Bermondsey Mile and put the capital’s craft brewing industry on the map, remains one of London’s very best. It’s difficult to pick just one beer from their fabulous range that includes world class IPAs and heritage porters, but they are well known for their sours and this  Berliner Weisse-inspired drink is a perfect representative. It offers a refreshing glassful with a finely balanced tang of lemon and hints of pomegranate. It also sold in fruited versions.

Partizan X Ale, Southwark

Arguable Bermondsey’s most artisanal brewery, Partizan create small batches to changing recipes in their base under an arch near the old Blue market. Mild ale is relatively unknown in London but X is an excellent historical recreation from the days when it was England’s staple type of beer, as well as being less than mild in alcohol content. This dark glassful offers flavours of cherries, liquorice and hints of chocolate biscuit, along with a lasting and slightly roasty drying finish.

Weird Beard Fearless Spreadsheet Ninja, Ealing

Lager is a style of beer that has a noble history, particularly in Europe, although it has been let down by the prevalence of mediocre mass produced brands in the second half of the 20th century. But this refreshing drink is being rehabilitated by craft brewers, including several in London. This delightful pils, brewed by a team of former homebrewers near the river Brent, uses US hops to deliver lemon and tropical fruit flavours into a classic pilsner crispness supported by plenty of creamy malt.  

Redemption Trinity, Haringey

Now regarded as one of the older breweries in the artisanal London scene, Redemption distinguishes itself with a range of high quality cask beers that can please both youthful craft aficionados and old-school real ale fans. Golden ale Trinity is a perfect combination of traditional skill and modern flair, packing a world of flavour into what is a relatively low strength beer. The result is a fresh, grassy drink, with pleasing aromas of tropical fruit and rose.

Sambrook’s Junction, Wandsworth

Sambrook’s was among the first of the new wave of London brewers, and it is now established as a producer of old-school cask beers, along with a more contemporary ‘craft’ range too. Junction is one of their most interesting: a complex special bitter that stays refreshing while also delivering a depth of blackcurrant, marmalade and roasted flavours. By the way, the junction in question is Clapham, known as England’s busiest train station, whis is only a short walk away from the brewery.

Try an English Sausage for Barbeques or Breakfast

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Ask people around the world what English cuisine is most famous for and many will suggest the traditional English fried breakfast. And of the many components that go to make up the English breakfast, the most iconic is the humble sausage.

In fact the English sausage is something of a super hero across all types of English cuisine. You can find sausages in a variety of foods, including famous toad-in-the-hole, the ubiquitous sausage roll, bangers and mash, and even battered and served with chips.

It is fair to say that England is a nation of sausage eaters, with more than 400 different types of sausage produced in the UK. We consume millions of these delicious meat products each day and over the centuries we’ve even bred varieties of pig specifically for their sausage-making qualities.

Sausages are not unique to England of course. Most European countries have their own sausage traditions. Some make sausages from cheaper cuts of meat, and bulk out the sausage by adding barley, rice, breadcrumbs, rusk or oatmeal, which provides a cost effective but tasty meal .

Other countries and cultures opt for more expensive cuts, and also have strict rules about processing, disapproving of using anything other than pure meat and spices. Over time this has resulted in a sense of national pride in many countries when it comes to their sausages. While Germans are proud of their sausage laws, which date back hundreds of years, and Italy is known as the birthplace of salami, the ‘British banger’ has its own style and tradition.

Sausages are one of the ultimate English comfort foods. For many of us, they were part of childhood and spark memories of happy family barbecues, camp fire food, rainy weekends and big breakfasts.     Their versatility and taste has made them a family favourite for generations.

Although the emerging trend of artisan charcuterie has seen the development of some excellent English sausage styles over the last few years, there is no real history or tradition of making dried salami-style sausages here. English sausages are generally either fresh or cooked puddings. The typical English sausage is produced by adding breadcrumbs or rusk to a sausage mixture, which means the English sausage has a softer texture than the German versions.

Traditionally English sausages were linked by hand into bunches, their length determined by the width of the butcher’s hand, and while size variations are now common across the sausage making industry, historically the typical English sausages were thick with 6-8 in a pound.

Although the typical sausage is made from pork and a blend of herbs and spices, the precise mixture can vary widely and there are many closely-guarded recipes that have been passed down through the generations, ensuring that there is a huge variety of sausage throughout the country. So, which is your favourite? Here’s a quick guide to the very best types of English sausage:

Cumberland

In some people’s eyes the most famous of all English sausages is the Cumberland sausage. This has been a local speciality in the traditional county of Cumberland in the north of England for more than 500 years. The Cumberland sausage is distinctive mainly because the meat is chopped instead of being minced, which gives it an extra meaty texture. In fact, this sausage is such a vital part of English cuisine, that it was given Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status back in 2011, to ensure that no cheap imitations are allowed to harm the reputation of this dish.

Lincolnshire

The other big name in the English sausage world is the Lincolnshire sausage. This is a widely available type of sausage, with a strong and distinctive sage flavour, which helps to separate it from the usually peppery flavour that is common to other regional English sausages. You will sometimes come across Lincolnshire sausages that have been made with thyme and parsley, but in the sausage making world, these are often not considered to be true Lincolnshires. These sausages are also known for their chunky texture, which is the result of a coarse grinding rather than mincing process.

Pork and Leek

Most popular in Wales, the combination of pork and leek has plenty of fans throughout England, where it is widely sold. This is a delightful sausage, which combines the sweetness of leeks and the savoury taste of pork for a unique and memorable flavour.

Manchester

The Manchester area may be best known for its blood sausage, which is not strictly speaking a sausage in the traditional sense, but the city also boasts another sausage tradition. The Manchester sausage is a distinctive and unusual creation, produced with nutmeg and mace. It has a long history, having been mentioned in a recipe book dated from the early 18th century, and it is assumed that the use of nutmeg was due to the nutmeg trade that flourished in Manchester at that time.

Saveloy

There is no mistaking the saveloy! This is a red, smooth-textured, well-seasoned, smoked sausage, that is roughly comparable to a large hot dog. It has become popular in the North of England in the last century and is found in many fish and chip shops, which sell them battered and deep-fried.

Oxford

Oxford sausages offer an unusual twist on the traditional sausage recipe, by introducing veal to the mix. The Oxford sausage also usually features a high degree of spice seasoning. There were references to this style of sausage as far back as the early 18th century, and it was widely popularised after being included in the famous 1861 cooking book Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. These days, the Oxford sausage is a mix of veal and pork, seasoned with herbs and lemon, though some recipes favour seasoning with pepper, mace and cloves.

Newmarket

The Newmarket area is well known for its horse racing links, but the town also has a strong reputation as one of England’s most significant sausage regions. The tradition of sausage making in Newmarket may have been related to the tradition of keeping pigs around the stables to dispose of the stable scraps, helping to keep the area clean. The sausage making industry in Newmarket became so successful that today three separate recipes have earned PGI status. There are some similarities between all three of the types, though two use rusk as a filler and one uses bread.

Beef Sausage

Sausages are usually made with pork, but this doesn’t always have to be case, in fact, there are many fans of the beef sausage in England. Usually deep pink in colour, this form of sausage has a strong meaty flavour, and is also very popular north of the border in Scotland.

Gloucester

The Gloucester or Gloucestershire sausage is notable mainly for the type of meat used to make it, which traditionally comes from the Gloucester Old Spot pig. The county of Gloucester is also famous for its apple orchards and cheese making, and pigs in the area were reputed to eat the by-products of these crops, which was said to boost the flavour of the pork. In fact, one legend has it that the black spots came from falling apples. Whatever the truth of the source of the Gloucester sausage’s flavour, this is one of the most distinctive and popular varieties in England.

Marylebone

London may be best known for its gin and jellied eels, but the capital has also produced a distinctive sausage product. The traditional Marylebone sausage, which is still made from original recipes by some London butchers, is flavoured with mace, sage and ginger, giving it an unusual taste.

Midlands

Speaking of unusual tastes, one of the strangest of English sausages, popular in the Midlands, is the tomato sausage. Made by adding tomato to the pork, which gives the meat a distinctive reddish orange hue and an unusually sweet taste, this sausage also has a smooth texture and is popular with children and with those who want a less savoury sausage.

Faggot

While we’re in the Midlands, we need to talk about the faggot. This meat dish is not what some would consider to be a sausage, but technically it is a form of sausage pudding made using all the offal of the pig, which is then flavoured with sage or other herbs. Shaped into a patty, it is usually served baked with onion gravy. This is an acquired taste, but having originated in the Black Country, you can find fans of this remarkable dish all over England.

Lorne

Finally, a reminder that traditional sausages can come in any shape. The Lorne sausage, which is sometimes also known as square sausage or slicing sausage, is a sausage meat made from either pork, beef or a combination of the two, shaped into a brick and sliced into squares. Lorne sausage, which has a relatively high fat content, is a delicious treat, best enjoyed at breakfast.

Explore the Classic English Taste of Farmhouse Cheddar

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There are many varieties of English cheese, some of them enjoyed outside these islands, but ask any cheese lover to name the most famous cheese types and they will say Stilton and Cheddar.

Stilton may be some people’s favourite, but when it comes to the favourite cheese of English people, there is no contest. Cheddar dominates the English cheese market. Millions of people around the world enjoy the taste of cheddar, and the majority of cheeses that you can find in English supermarkets are in the cheddar category, though some are more tasty than others.

The history of Cheddar goes all the way back to the 12th century and the village of Cheddar, in Somerset. The area is famous for its gorges and caves and at that time, these were used by local farmers as a place to keep their milk cool on hot days. The legend of the creation of Cheddar cheese is that a milkmaid forgot about a pail of milk that she had left in one of the caves. When she returned, she found that the milk had hardened. This was reputed to be the first ever Cheddar.

This accidental discovery led to the development of a style of cheese that became wildly popular. Records show that King Henry II bought an astonishing 10,240 pounds of Cheddar in 1170; and he publicly declared it to be the best cheese in England. His son, King John, continued this tradition of buying Cheddar for royal banquets, and later, in the 17th century, King Charles I was known to pre-order his Cheddar wheels. Two hundred years later, Cheddar was still in vogue in royal circles, as Queen Victoria received a half ton wheel of Cheddar as one of her wedding gifts!

The rise of the British empire had the effect of making Cheddar known throughout the world and this English product proved particularly popular in the US. This is this point, however, at which we begin to see the rise of the mass produced Cheddar widely available in supermarkets, thanks to the development of a succession of new technologies, including the invention of a curd scalding technique by Joseph Harding, who is often known as the ‘father of Cheddar’. The creation of the first cheese factory, in New York in 1851, turned the production of Cheddar into an industrialised concern.

While the mass-produced Cheddars have their place, true Cheddar is a world away from the yellow slabs that are found on supermarket shelves. It is made on farms using unpasteurised milk from the farm’s cows, and always involve hand methods, as well as local and native bacteria. True farmhouse Cheddars are also usually cloth-bound and not vacuum packed.

Producing cheddar in this age-old way leads to a cheese that’s unique to a particular farm and has a greater depth of flavour. Farmhouse cheddar is famously concentrated in Somerset, in fact, three of the makers we highlight: Montgomery’s, Westcombe and Keen’s, are no more than eight miles apart. And yet, they all turn out Cheddars that are distinct and unique.

The farmhouse Cheddar movement faded during the middle of the 20th century, but there was a resurgence in the 1990s, when farms and cheesemakers all over England started to develop their own versions of the classic Cheddar. It is no longer the case that ‘true’ farmhouse Cheddar can only be found in Somerset, as these days, the emphasis has moved from location to recipe.

The beauty of farmhouse Cheddar is that it captures the uniqueness of each farm’s conditions and is reflective of the hard work that goes into each one. And there has never been a better time to support true independent English cheesemakers, who have been hit hard by the restrictions and difficulties associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. To help you get started in your exploration of English farmhouse Cheddar, here are some of the best Cheddar makers operating in 2021.

Dale End

This unpasteurised, organic Cheddar, which is aged for 18 months, has a tangy, full on-flavour. Produced by cheesemaker Alastair Pearson, Dale End only turn out a small amount of their cheddar, which is made from full-flavoured, quality unpasteurised milk collected from their community’s Dairy Shorthorn cows: a traditional breed of cattle known for the superb quality of their milk.

Dale End Cheddar is made by Botton Village, Camphill Village Trust. Camphill Communities are social enterprises for people with learning disabilities, mental health problems and other special needs. Based in the Yorkshire Moors, the community has more than 130 residents, and is fully self-sustainable and biodynamic. 

Belton Farm

Belton Farm in Shropshire is overseen by the Beckett family, who have been producing high quality cheeses for three generations. Their cheese making operation uses milk drawn from herds owned by a local collection of dairy farmers, along with salt from Cheshire mines and a bespoke and closely guarded array of cheese cultures.

Belton Farm Cheddar is available in mature, medium and mild varieties. The mild offers a creamy and gentle taste, which increases in strength to the tangy and nutty flavour of the mature. This is a seriously tasty range of Cheddar that has rightly been recognised with awards, scooping Gold at both the International Cheese Awards and the British Cheese Awards in 2019.

Lincolnshire Poacher

Simon Jones made his first batch of cheese in 1992 on his family farm in Lincolnshire, based on the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds about ten miles from the east coast. The lush pastures sit on chalky rock, which makes it possible to maintain a thriving dairy herd in an area where dairy farms are unusual and cheese making is virtually unknown.

Simon first set up a small dairy of his own with a 1000 litre vat, producing his first batch of cheese in February 1992, with the help of Welsh cheese maker Dougal Campbell.

That cheese proved very popular and in 1995, the operation expanded. Now most of the farm’s milk is used to make this distinctive cheese, which boasts a waxy texture and a fruity, sweet taste.

Quickes

The Quicke family have been living in Devon since a distant ancestor Richard Quicke married and settled in the area. Richard and his descendants farmed many of the fields and maintained the woodland, and in the 1970s, Sir John Quicke launched the family’s farmhouse cheese business.

The operation went from strength to strength and is now one of the larger farmhouse cheese makers in the UK, producing great traditional, old-style cheddar, still using all their own milk. Using traditional recipes, time-honoured techniques and heritage starters that have been passed down through the generations, Quicke’s continues to create outstanding clothbound cheddar. The full flavoured mature cheddar from Quicke’s is the heritage of 500 years of skill, dedication and nurturing.

Winterdale Shaw

Church Farm, Offham in Kent, is at the top of the Kent North Downs, overlooking the historic village of Wrotham, and is run by the Betts family, having been started in 1946.

Now run by Robin Betts, it has earned a reputation for excellence, including a Bronze Award in the World Cheese Awards in June 2006. The Winterdale cheese dairy is housed within a traditional oak framed barn located at the head of a picturesque valley, which is titled ‘Winterdale Shaw’ on old maps. The cheese cave is based deep underground so it stays cool naturally and needs no refrigeration, and the use of the family farm’s unpasteurised milk produces interesting and diverse-flavoured cheddar.

The milk is taken from around 100 Friesian Holstein cows, who benefit from a relaxed method of rearing. In the winter, the cows are housed in open, straw-bedded sheds that enable them to live naturally, and in the spring, they are turned out into the lush meadows of the North Downs of Kent. This unique landscape imparts some of the characteristics and complexities of the cheese that find their way through grass, cow and milk to the final product.

Westcombe

Richard Calver switched to making traditional cheese on his farm back in 2001, just in time to benefit from the new wave of artisanal UK food and drink manufacturing. The Westcombe Cheddar is a rich, deep, savoury-flavoured product, popular in cheese shops throughout the country. It is a handcrafted traditional clothbound Somerset cheddar that is made in much the same way as it has always been. Among the awards landed by the Westcombe Cheddar is the Artisan Somerset Cheddar designation from Slow Food.

This cheese has a deep flavour with a mellow lactic tang and long notes of hazelnut, caramel and citrus. The texture is structured and firm, with a smooth breakdown that helps the flavours linger on your palate for a truly memorable dining experience.

Savour the Flavour of English Perry in 2021

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England has often been in the shadow of our French neighbours when it comes to food and drink, and yet this nation has a proud history of producing luxurious and sophisticated products that can rival anything to come out of Bordeaux or Champagne.

A classic example is the English take on perry. Many centuries before the rise of the Champagne region, English people were enjoying this delicious pear-based drink.

Perry, like champagne, is a luxurious drink notable for its intensity and variety of flavours and the texture of its fine bubbles. It is produced from a number of historic varieties of inedible pears, which were once widespread in certain parts of England. In fact, at one time there were over a hundred indigenous varieties of perry pear trees in this country. Most of these were established in the Three Counties area of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire many centuries ago. In fact, the historical evidence suggests that perry making had been established in this area by the 1500s.  

The drink was not invented in England. In fact, it may go back to the very beginnings of civilisation in Europe and has been made in more or less the same way since Roman times at least. In fact, the Roman writer Pliny wrote of his fondness for Falernian perry with the same frequency as he expressed his admiration of that region’s wine. In the fourth century, another writer, Palladius, wrote of his preference for the fermented pear drink over fermented apple.

Perry was also popular in the Holy Roman Empire of Charlemagne before it caught on in England, where it has likely been made in some form for at least a millennium. At the height of its popularity, perry was both more popular and easier to obtain than wine, so much so that Napoleon is reputed to have referred to it as the ‘champagne of the English’.

The drink remained a persistent favourite with English people for hundreds of years, but it began to fall out of favour in the 20th century. Orchards dedicated to the perry pear were increasingly neglected and this trend continued until the 1960s, when a Somerset brewer created the drink that would become known as Babycham. Technically, Babycham was not perry. It was a mass produced sparkling drink that was made from Somerset dessert pears, rather than traditional perry pears, but it reminded producers of the popular potential that exists in the old perry tradition.

In the decades since the 1960s, what might be described as ‘proper’ perry has been making a return. A key moment in the return of the drink came in 1996, when perry production was protected in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Worcestershire, through European Union Protected Geographical Indication status. Perry has now become a fashionable champagne alternative for hot summer days and warm evenings, and this revival has been great news for the rural areas involved in perry making. It has also seen the return of traditional perry pear varieties with evocative names including: Merrylegs, Late Treacle, Mumblehead, Lumberskull, Huffcap, Longford, and Stinking Bishop.

Given how difficult the perry making process is, this revival is remarkable, and a testament to the enduring popularity of the drink. The process is complicated largely by the difficulties of working with the perry pear. Unlike the more common forms of dessert pear, the perry pear tree produces a small, hard and sour fruit that offers a fleeting window of ripeness, while its juice spoils easily.

The trees themselves are also difficult to work with. In fact, you may also have to wait up to 20 years after planting a perry tree before you are able to enjoy any harvest. The flip side of this awkward character is that perry trees can be extraordinarily long lived. In fact, the famous ‘Mother Tree’ that grows at the site of Gregg’s Pit cidery in Herefordshire has been harvested for perry pears every year since before the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Once a crop of perry pears has been obtained, the fermentation and production itself is also difficult. The juice of perry pears is an exceedingly capricious liquid to ferment. It is vulnerable to a host of potentially serious faults including the effects of acetic acidethyl acetate and mouse taint. Its particular protein structure means that it tends to create an unwanted sediment. Some perries will even turn milky overnight without warning, rendering the liquid opaque and unattractive.

Yet, despite these difficulties, there is no doubt that in the hands of a master perry marker, these characterful pears can produce a drink that is both golden and refreshing, with a complexity and flavour that in some cases can match the best champagne.  

One note of caution, however, for those who are looking for the genuine perry experience. Be wary of the wide range of commercial pear ciders that are sold in supermarkets. In most cases, these drinks are nothing more than apple ciders that have been mixed with pear juice or pear flavourings. True perry is made only from fermented perry pear juice, and while the complexities of its production mean it is unlikely to attract the attention of mass-market operators, there are fortunately a number of perry artisans keeping this English tradition alive. Here are some of the best to try this summer:

Gwatkin – Farmhouse Perry

The perry-makers at Gwatkin are famous for their ability to extract the maximum in flavour from the stubborn perry pear. They produce an impressively wide variety of perries ranging from single variety sparkling specials to full flavoured blends, and the Farmhouse Perry is undoubtedly one of their best products. It is produced from a mixture of old fashioned perry pear varieties that give us a drink with plenty of sweet fruit on the palate, though balanced with a fresh, sharp, acidic bite.

Hogan’s – Vintage Perry

Allen Hogan’s traditional and successful approach to perry, which he learned from a neighbour in Warwickshire, at a time when he was still making cider, has earned him widespread praise. Based at the top of the Malvern Hills, Hogan’s operation draws fruit from the pear-growing counties of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire. The result of their efforts is a delicate, well-rounded and complex, perry that has a fabulous array of flavours, including a hint of farmhouse cheese, lemon sherbet and even parma violets.  

Oliver’s – Bottle Conditions Medium

Tom Oliver is well known as one of the best cider and perry producers in England, and his ability to produce liquid gold from the perry pear is remarkable. Oliver’s bottle conditioned medium is an unfiltered, unpasteurised, unpreserved perry, that has successfully preserved a host of intriguing flavours ranging from the slightest hint of elderflower to the rich taste of tropical fruits.

Oliver’s – Fine Perry Keeved

Another classic Oliver’s perry, this drink showcases the process known as keeving. This is a technique that is also sometimes used also in cider production, in which fermentation is halted before all the sugars in the fruit have been fully converted to alcohol. The result is a remarkable juice that still has some of its natural sweetness, and this edition is a perfect example of the craft; a golden coloured drink that provides an instant full orchard experience.

Napton Cidery –  Medium Sweet Perry

Produced by a small-scale, family-run cidery, this is a single tree perry that has been slowly fermented with the use of wild yeasts before being aged in oak. It is a still, rather than sparkling perry, so it feels a little heavier on the tongue, and offers a full-on blast of perry fruitiness.

Dunkertons – Organic Perry

Julian Dunkerton’s perry operation was founded in the county of Herefordshire by his parents in the 1980s and nowadays the Dunkertons organic perry orchard includes over a dozen varieties of perry pear. This organic perry has plenty of fizz, along with a lovely floral aroma and a touch of sweetness, though it still feels extremely fresh. Among the pears used to make this perry is a variety known as Merrylegs – a thoroughly appropriate name for such a delicious golden treat.

Bushel and Peck – Perry

Bushel and Peck is a small-scale producer based in Gloucestershire, which sources only locally obtained pears, for a distinctive product. Their perry is a lovely mixture of smooth fruit and precisely crafter acidic edge. The relative rarity of the fruits used to make this perry ensure that this drink is always in demand, so it is definitely one to pick up if you get the chance.

Enjoy a Sip of Something Stronger: The Best of English Vodka

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Vodka is primarily associated with the Slavic work. In fact, the name vodka derives from the Slavic ‘voda’ which means water. Initially, it had medicinal uses in eastern Europe, but by the end of the 15th century it had spread around the world.

One of the defining qualities of vodka, besides its clarity, is the high alcohol content. In fact, this usually ranges between 35% and 50%, a standard that was originally set by Tsar Nicholas III in 1894. The European Union’s own vodka standards decree a minimum of 37%.

England was perhaps slower than some nations to develop a taste for vodka. Early on the main driver of vodka popularity in the UK was the Smirnoff brand. In fact, the Smirnov family had been forced to flee from Russia in 1917 because of the revolution and they set up their vodka distillery in Turkey. In 1924, the family began to distribute the spirit under the French spelling of the name: Smirnoff and their product proved hugely popular, selling across Europe, including the UK, by 1940.

Vodka makes an appearance in the first James Bond book, Casino Royale, by Ian Fleming, published in 1953. By the 1960s it received a further boost when it began to be associated not with the eastern European steppes, but the cocktail lounges of Mayfair, where it was initially used as a companion to tomato juice in Bloody Mary.

The drink rose in status again in the second part of the 1990s when it cropped up in alcopops, then in the 2000s thanks to the rise of the cosmopolitan cocktail popularized by Sex and the City. But the real driver of England’s booming modern vodka scene is a long retired politician.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was still Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour government when, in 2002, he pushed through tax changes that offered a boost to independent breweries and distillers across a number of drinks sectors, and helped to encourage a new wave of English vodka making.

The result was an upsurge in new vodka companies in England. Prior to this boom, the traditional approach in this country was to regard it either purely as a mixer or as a status symbol, with the more expensive vodkas considered to be the best. But the new generation of vodka makers are aiming to change that, encouraging people to focus on taste.

This approach certainly seems to be working. While for many years vodka has topped sales of spirits in the US, it is also the best-selling liquor in Britain, with sales of around 100 million bottles every year and revenue that exceeds £1.7 billion. In 2009 vodka replaced Scottish whisky as the most popular spirit in the UK.

Some of the new breed of vodka making companies opt for unusual or novel technologies such as the Sipsmith vodka making operation in London, which employs a copper distillery. And while the smaller vodka distillers cannot compete with the big brands on price and quantity, they aim to provide a higher quality vodka, often in small batches.

Typical of this type of vodka is a willingness to experiment and to bring new and unexpected flavours to the mix. As well as employing fresh spring water, ingredients such as citrus fruits, herbs and spices are all utilized to great effect. The result is that home-produced English vodka is rivalling the best of the imported Russian and Polish brands, through perfected distilling techniques and English ingenuity. Here are some of the best to try in 2021@

Rogue Wave – BrewDog

A company that is primarily famous for their craft beer, BrewDog have expanded into spirits with a range of drinks, including this affordable but delicious vodka. Distilled over a period of seven days, Rogue Wave eschews the normal triple-filtering process, proving that once-filtered vodka can be just as good. It’s a smooth, crystal clear spirit that is easy to drink, with a sweet scent and a gentle citrus flavour, along with a pleasing kick that means it can be drunk on its own or as the ideal mixer.

Singularity Organic– Linden Leaf

Noted for its pristine and clear essence, this is an extremely refined and faultlessly pure vodka, produced by the Linden Leaf company in Cambridge. The texture of this vodka is rich and it also offers the merest hint of delicate vanilla essence in its clean taste.

Indica Tamarind Organic – Linden Leaf

Typical of the inventiveness of modern English vodka, this delightful drink is herbal and earthy in its aroma, which features hints of melon and dried flowers. An extremely appealing drink, it offers a lovely, sweet nuttiness that comes through clearly with the first sip, a flavour that is enhanced by a hint of tamarind.

Various – Three Olives

Three Olives was set up in 1998 and has since enjoyed a significant expansion, to the point where they are exporting their product to the United States. Three Olives is one of the most successful and popular of English vodkas, offering a clear unflavoured product as well as an intriguing variety of flavoured vodkas, including root beer, whipped cream and cherry. 

Pure Milk Vodka – Black Cow

This is a fascinating and unique vodka, made with milk, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world. It is the brainchild of a dairy farmer in West Dorset, Jason Barber, who uses milk from his dairy herd.

The vodka itself doesn’t have a milk taste, but it offers an easy-drinking, rounded and creamy flavour, along with a smooth finish. There is an interesting and tasty range of Black Cow cocktails available and it is also worth knowing that the whey from the milk is also used to make a distinctive brand of cheeses.

Various – Victory London Distillery

Based in Walthamstow, Victory London produce some remarkably inventive and pleasurable spirit, including their main product, which is an elegant, refined drink with a perfumed floral nose. The aroma is crisp and inviting thanks to the presence of aromatic fennel and the taste reveals hints of caraway, pine and juniper, along with a dash of sweetness.

Chase Vodka – Chase Vodka

Another of England’s new breed of vodka distiller this is an award-winning vodka with a smooth and creamy taste. It is distilled exactly 119 times and is made using high quality gluten-free potatoes harvested from a Herefordshire family farm.

In fact, Chase remains the UK’s only single-estate distillery, which means that every part of the process is handled in house, from the growing of the potatoes to the fermentation and distillation using a copper still. This crisp vodka, best served direct from the fridge, has a buttery edge to it and has won numerous prizes, including the World’s Best Vodka Award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Espresso Vodka – Chase Vodka

Another special vodka from Chase, this is a limited edition coffee flavoured drink that has already proven to be the attraction at many dinner parties. It isn’t dark in colour, nor is it bitter or sweet. The coffee element comes through a hint of espresso, together with a range of rich flavours that include vanilla, muscovado sugar, honey, apricot and dark chocolate. It is made from the original Chase vodka, along with Ethiopian coffee, and after distillation, is cold-brewed and chill-filtered before it is blended with another burst of coffee, making it perfect for drinking neat after a meal.

1902 Vodka – The Edwards

This delicious take on vodka is a real dessert treat. It features delightful pear tart and creamy custard flavours, along with a mineral note and earthy depth. A sweet, clean and cooling spirit, packed with fruit, it is one of the most memorable new English vodkas.

Longshore Vodka – Adnams Copper House Distillery

Based in Southwold, in Suffolk, Adnams is one of the most famous names in English beers and spirits, and their range incorporates popular ales and gins along with their distinctive vodka products. This vodka offers a complexity of aroma, that suggests mushrooms, fresh dough and nuts, backed up by a taste that captures a host of sweet flavours, including pears, apples, and even candy floss.

East Coast Vodka – Adnams Copper House Distillery

Adnams also produce the popular East Coast Vodka. This is an exciting mix of flavours that offers both pleasure and comfort. It is possible to discern hints of chocolate, malt and nuts in the taste, as well as creamy caramel and ripe fruits. The finish is particularly notable and clean, offering lemon zest and even a hint of chili.

Four Feathers Botanical Vodka – Edwards Distillers

One of the most successful distillers in England, Edwards are based in Lincolnshire and produce a variety of popular vodka products. They have picked up numerous awards for the quality of their spirits, and this is one of their leading vodkas.

The Four Feathers Botanical delivers on the promise of its name with a complex botanical aroma that features coriander, angelica and anise. In taste, it displays distinctive flavours of dried citrus peel, which are well balanced against pleasing woodiness. As you would expect with this renowned distiller, this is a polished and high quality vodka.

Vanilla Vodka – Halewood Wines and Spirits

Halewood, based in Liverpool, have an impressive roster of artisanal spirits, craft beer and wine, including this unashamedly indulgent vodka. It has a distinctively sweet vanilla aroma, and the taste is remarkable, providing a luscious, pure sweetness. Broken Clock Lingering Vodka – The Hidgate

This remarkable vodka is inspired by the traditional English country garden and is produced in a traditional copper still in Cheshire, before being blended with slow ripened apples and botanicals. The result is a subtly aromatic spirit that offers a fragrance of bright green apple, pear and lemon drop. An intriguing and complex vodka, the taste features black pepper and well-balanced herbs and spices for a memorable sip.

Try English Stilton in 2021

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The English cheese tradition is a proud one and many English cheese are enjoyed all over the world, but none is more distinctive than the blue-veined classic that is Stilton.

As with many aspects of English food culture, we can’t be sure where the first Stilton cheese was made. We do know that the first recipe was printed in a newsletter in 1723. We also know that the cheese became wildly popular in the 18th century. In fact, as the demand for stilton grew from all sectors of society, it became known as ‘The King of English Cheeses’.

The most notably features to explain this popularity were the cheese’s depth of flavour, complexity and its relatively limited production, which gave it an exclusive mystique.

We know that cream cheese had been made in the county of Leicestershire well before the 17th century, and it seems likely, given the strong cheese making tradition in that part of the world that Stilton emerged from this area.

One of the defining qualities that helped add to the early mystique of Stilton is the complexity of its recipe. The process is a complicated one. In fact, producing Stilton involves two separate curdling processes. To start with, the curds come from the cream from the evening round of milking, and these are then mixed with the full fat milk of the next morning’s milking. In total, it takes as much as 17 pounds of milk to make a single 15lb drum of Stilton cheese!

The success of their new form of cheese meant that the town of Stilton soon became famous for its cheese making. This popularity was also propelled by the Bell Inn, which was located in the town itself. The Inn was the ideal place for weary travellers to rest and put up their feet, as it was an important stop on the route to the north of England. This gave travellers the chance to taste the local beer and cheese, and news of the Stilton’s unique qualities soon spread. 

Demand grew, from the poor and the rich alike, throughout the 18th and 19th century, and by 1910 the Stilton cheese-makers had taken the step of organising so that they could both define and improve production methods, which would also enable them to safeguard the origins of the cheese.

Unfortunately, the cheese declined in popularity during the 1930s, when the combination of high unemployment and the prospect of war made it seem a luxury. Cheese making facilities were also given over to the production of Cheddar, which was easier to make and which formed part of the official Government food rationing program.

Producing of Stilton was not resumed until 1948. At that point the Stilton Cheesemakers Association took over the role of taking steps to ensure that each Stilton produced was to the same exemplary standard. That strict focus on quality means that these days Stilton is produced by a small number of specialists in Leicestershire and neighbouring Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

Stilton remains the only name-protected cheese in England, although unfortunately there are no longer any farmhouse or small productions of Stilton. In fact, there are only six producers of the cheese in the world. Stilton has been awarded Protected Designation of Origin status through the European Union, which means there are strict rules and controls over its production, in order to ensure that the quality of the name is maintained.

Regulations associated with the cheese demand that both the milk and the manufacturing process has to follow guidelines set out by the Stilton Cheesemakers’ Association. In fact the need to guarantee a consistent quality led to the cheese being defined in English law with the following specifications:

‘A blue or white cheese made from full-cream cows’ milk with no applied pressure (in the making or forming), that could be pierced, but not inoculated, that forms its own crust or coat and that is made in a cylindrical form, the milk coming from English dairy herds in the district of Melton Mowbray and surrounding areas falling within the counties of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.’

One thing that immediately stands out compared to other highly sought after cheeses is that Stilton is always produced using quantities of pasteurised milk, and raw milk, which is common in some famous English cheeses, is never used. The best quality Stilton is creamy, moist, rich and complex in flavour, while also offering a noticeable aroma when served at room temperature. 

It is typically aged from 6 to 18 months, and the distinctive blue-green veins throughout the cheese occur naturally as it ages. These are also encouraged by piercing the cheese with a long needle during the aging process. This enables air to circulate and to promote bacteria growth. Another factor in the distinctive blue veining of Stilton may be the soil. It has been suggested that the soil in the legal domain of Stilton contains iron which may help contribute to the blueing of the cheese. 

The right to produce true Stilton is strictly limited. In 2006, Joe Schneider, of Collingthwaite Farm in Nottinghamshire, started to make a blue cheese from a traditional recipe, using unpasteurised milk. His eschewing of pasteurised milk meant that he faced legal action if he continued to use the Stilton name. As a result, he came up with the name Stichelton, which was the old name for the town of Stilton. As it uses raw milk, it is possible that Stichelton is closer to the original version of Stilton.

Currently, however, there are only six producers of this remarkable cheese in England. To help you find out more about these famous cheesemakers in 2021, here is a quick guide:

Tuxford and Tebbutt

Tuxford and Tebbutt Creamery, which dates all the way back to 1780, is based in the famous village of Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. The name apparently comes from from the two original owners, Mr Tuxford, who was a Stilton maker, and Mr Tebbutt who specialised in pork pies. Up until 1965, both the cheese and pork pies were made on the same site, but since 1966, Tuxford and Tebbutt has focused all of its attention on cheesemaking. Employing an impressive roster of 80 staff, Tuxford and Tebbutt uses the complete range of traditional cheese making skills to produce some of the most sought after examples of modern Stilton available.

Colston Bassett

The Colston Bassett Stilton enjoys widespread popularity and is considered one of the best examples of Stilton you can get, despite the fact that its producer is the smallest of the six authorised Stilton makers in England. Located in a small village in the Vale of Belvoir, near to the Leicestershire border, this small dairy is operated by a co-operative of farmers and is a local producer in every sense of the word. The pasteurised cows’ milk that is used to in the cheesemaking process is drawn from dairy farmers all of whom operate within a mile and a half radius of the dairy. This results in a distinctive  flavour that is unique to the East Midlands. Colston Bassett have been in business since 1913, and their fruity, rich and complex cheese has changed little over the last century.

Cropwell Bishop

Another Leicestershire cheesemaker that is based in the Vale of Belvoir, is Cropwell Bishop. In business for more than three generations, they have brought considerable income to their local village, as well as establishing it as the home of high quality Stilton. They source their milk from a selection of 16 different farmers based in the Peak District National Park. The milk is mixed with rennet, cultures and the blue mould spores that help to give Stilton its distinctive blue vein and then they are left to mature for five weeks. As well as their cheesemaking operation, they also have a cheesemakers shop on their site that offers a variety of delicious cheeses. Cropwell Bishop have established a reputation as one of the leading flag bearers for Leicestershire cheesemaking.

Long Clawson

Long Clawson, another Leicestershire cheesemaker, share their address with the world-renowned Melton Mowbray pork pie producers. Arguably the most distinguished and traditional of the Stilton makers, Long Clawson can be considered as part of British food royalty and their dairy still uses the same age old techniques that made their cheese so popular generations ago. Thomas Hoe set up the dairy’s head office in the empty Royal Oak pub in Long Clawson in 1911 with a co-operative of farmers all working together. But although they may be using some tried and tested techniques this is a forward-thinking cheesemaker that has won numerous awards, including UK Supreme Champion Cheese at the Global Cheese Awards.

Websters

Nestled in the picturesque hamlet of Saxelbye, Leicestershire is a row of 17th century cottages that’s home to Websters. The cheesemaker produce high quality Blue Stilton, and have a family team that has been together for over two decades. Their highly sought after cheeses are popular throughout the UK and are popular with retail and restaurant customers alike.

Hartington Creamery

The original Hartington creamery was first established by the Duke of Devonshire in the 1870’s before it was taken over by Thomas Nuttall, a prize-winning Stilton Cheese maker from Melton Mowbray in 1900. Nuttall began producing Blue Stilton at Hartington and over several decades, was able to establish it as arguably one of the most successful cheesemakers in the world.

The once thriving cheesemaking area of the Peak District went into decline as the 20th century drew on as it was more profitable for farmers to supply milk to the fast-growing urban townships. The old Hartington factory was forced to close in 2009, but a new era dawned in 2012 when the new Hartington Creamery was opened. And in 2014 the facility was accorded the honour of becoming the sixth cheesemaker authorised to produce Stilton. The cheese is made at their historic Pikehall Farm, using milk from the beautiful Derbyshire Dales, making them the only Derbyshire based Stilton producer operating, and adding a new range of delightful Stilton products to the market.

Tuck into a Tasty English Scone in 2021

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There are few baked foods that are more synonymous with England and the English, than the humble scone. In fact, scones form culinary links between all of the nations of the UK, and with the Republic of Ireland. There is even some evidence that they may first have been created in Scotland.

In fact, the first known reference to scones in print, which dates from around 1513, was made by a Scottish poet. That reference suggests that the scone was already long established as a significant food product, although it is impossible to be sure when it became widespread, but at the very least, this reference does at least show us that the history of the scone as a popular food dates back many centuries, making it one of the oldest and most traditional of English food forms.  

With little evidence to go in, it is hard to be precise about the origin of the scone. They may have derived from the well established ancient Welsh tradition of cooking small round yeast cakes or leavened breads on special bakestones. These were later cooked on griddles. Another theory, this time addressing the name of the scone, suggests that it may have come from the Stone or ‘Scone’ of Destiny. This is famously, the large stone upon which Scottish kings sat when they were crowned. In fact, the Abbey of Scone can still be found in modern Scotland, upriver from Perth, although the Stone of Destiny itself is housed in Edinburgh Castle, having been returned to Scotland in 1996.

The scone’s name may have other origins. These include the Gaelic word ‘sgonn’ which translates roughly as ‘a shapeless mass or large mouthful’ and the Dutch word ‘schoonbrot’, which refers to a fine white bread. Closely related to this Dutch word is the German ‘sconbrot’, which can be translated as ‘fine or beautiful bread.’

Historians believe that when originally made, scones involved oats, which were shaped roughly into a  large round, then scored into four or six wedge shapes before being griddle-baked over an open fire. As cooking technology developed, scones may later have been cooked on a stovetop.

The next stage in the development of the scone was the impact of oven baking. This had a transformative effect on many aspects of English cooking. Early oven-baked scones were formed into a round of dough, which was then sliced into wedges before the scones were baked individually.

The modern scone represents a considerable refinement of the original. These days, scones are effectively a type of quick bread. They are usually produced using wheat flour, sugar, baking powder or baking soda, butter, milk and eggs, and then baked in the oven, by tradition, in round shapes.

The recipe for modern scones usually produces a hard, dry texture, and it has been tradition in English baking for many centuries to add raisins or currants to the mixture. Plain scones, however, are also popular, and these rely on the addition of jam, preserves, lemon curd or honey for extra flavour, as well of course, the traditional clotted cream.

Over the years, the basic scone recipe has been developed and refined as bakers have experimented with a host of other ingredients, including cranberries, dates, nuts, orange rind, chocolate morsels and other flavours. These more exotic scones are often best enjoyed on their own, without cream or jam.

In England, the dominant scone choice remains the plain or currant scone, which is traditionally served with afternoon tea, along with clotted cream and jam. A sign of the significance of the scone is that there are even rival traditions associated with the way that the jam and the cream are added. In Devon, scones are split and cream is added first, followed by jam. But cross the border into Cornwall and the opposite tradition applies.

If you fancy something a little different, the vast range of choices out there means that you can find scones of every size and flavour. The ingenious modern bakers of England have pushed the template of the scone to its limits, producing such wonders as chocolate scones, buttermilk scones, treacle scones flavoured with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar, along with glazed scones and savoury scones. The sweet versions are still best enjoyed with a brunch or afternoon tea, while savoury scones can be much more versatile, while all scones have a delightful flexibility that means that they can be enjoyed whole, filled, or simply sliced down the middle.

There is nothing quite like an English scone, and millions of scone fans around the world agree. To give you an idea of the sheer variety of scone tastes, here are some of the most popular:

Ploughman’s Scones

These unusual scones originated in Warwickshire, in the heart of the country. They are based around the traditional English Ploughman’s Lunch, which consists mainly of cheese and pickles. This classic  savoury Ploughman’s scone can feature a wide variety of ingredients, but one of the most popular varieties is produced by adapting a traditional cheese scone recipe to feature cubes of apple, chopped pickled onion, and lots of additional Cheddar. The result is effectively a whole meal in one tasty scone!

Carrot and Coriander

The distinctive flavours of carrot and coriander are known to work extremely well together and have been used to great effect in a wide variety of soups and broths. But these two ingredients also work naturally well when combined in a savoury scone, which can either have an additional element of cheese, or can simply rely on the natural flavours of the two main ingredients. The result is a distinctive and attractive scone that offers a spicy and refreshing taste.

Chocolate Scones

There are many ways to incorporate the taste of chocolate into the traditional scone mix. One of the simplest but most effective is to add both cocoa and chocolate chips to the mixture, along with melted chocolate. The chips add an additional element of texture, and although these scones can be rather sweeter than a traditional scones, a skilled baker can ensure that the sweetness doesn’t become overpowering. To make the chocolate scone even more indulgent, melted chocolate can be drizzled over the top, turning the scone into a luxury dessert.

Chocolate Orange

The combination of chocolate and orange is not for everyone, but the concept of bringing the sweetness and bitterness of chocolate together with the zest of orange can produce a delicious sweet scone. The chocolate and orange scone is rich enough to be served as a dessert or an afternoon tea option without accompaniment. Along similar lines, it is also possible to find chocolate mint scones.

Stollen

The traditional marzipan Christmas bread, Stollen, is always a popular luxurious winter treat, and it works surprisingly well when it is combined with the classic scone recipe. Care has to be taken when baking a stollen scone to avoid excessive heaviness in the final product, due to the nature of both the stollen and the scone recipe. Yet when the combination is perfect, the Stollen scone represents a combination of the richness of Stollen with the lightness of the scone for a perfect winter dessert.

Horseradish

Another niche form of scone, this savoury version won’t appeal to everyone, for sure, but it is well worth checking out if you can find one. The horseradish scone is a perfect savoury hors d’ouvres. The hot, spicy and peppery flavours that we associated with horseradish are perfectly balanced by the mild softness of the scone texture, and the result is a sophisticated and memorable scone variation.

Lemon Scones

The lemon scone is one of the most popular modern scone variations, and is enjoyed all over the world. Lemon scones tend to be soft and light with a crumbly and slightly crunchy outside. It is possible to eat these scones plain or with the addition of a lemon drizzle topping, with perhaps a sprinkling of poppy seeds for an extra punch of sweet lemon flavour. For the ultimate in indulgent lemon scones, they can be split and spread with rich lemon curd.

Pesto and Chorizo

Some scone fans favour the savoury over the sweet, and there are few more sophisticated savoury scones, than this delightful take on Mediterranean cuisine. This scone brings together the distinctive flavours of Italian pesto and Spanish chorizo to form a perfect savoury treat that is ideal for eating at any time of day, either as a snack or part of a bigger meal or picnic.

Sun-Dried Tomato

The rich flavours of sun dried tomatoes work delightfully when they are combined with the traditional savoury mildness of the cheese scone. There are many varieties of these scones available, and by altering the cheese used, many different flavours can be created. This form of scone also sometimes benefits from a dash of chilli and a sprinkling of herbs, for a fragrant and tasty snack that can make the ideal picnic or party food.

Apricot, Blueberry and Ginger

At first glance, these three ingredients may not sound like they’d make an ideal combination, but the result when they are blended together, is a remarkable and memorable scone flavour. The fruity twang of blueberry and apricot are the perfect foils for the ginger flavour, and these rich and fruity scones represent a distinctive and memorable upgrade on the classic English tea snack.

Apple Scones

If you’re stuck for ways to use up old apples, the apple scone can present an ideal solution. Apple scones tend to me moister than traditional fruited or plain scones, thanks to the fresh apple, which combats dryness. The apple scone can be enjoyed at breakfast, lunch or dinner, and it makes a particularly delicious treat when served with blackcurrant jam or compote.