• House party hosting: The basic rules

    As we all know, the high-street has become a difficult place for pubs to survive on.

    Once upon a time they were dotted around on most corners - and the majority of neighborhoods in the land had one on their doorstep.

    Then, economic issues started to squeeze them away. It means that more and more people are opting to stay in their own four walls - and this is where house parties come into the picture.

    Sure, house parties have always existed, but it could be argued that they are now in their peak. Whether you are a student, or a couple inviting the neighborhood around, they are incredibly popular nowadays.

    Hosting a good one isn't easy though, and this is where today's article will come into play. Let's now take a look at some of the key tips you should keep in mind as you host your next house party.

    Steak and Red Wine Tasting

    Parties can be enjoyable rather than stressful if you follow our simple guide!

    Don't be on serving-duty all night

    While it might be your house party, this doesn't mean to say that you should be the bartender all night.

    If you fall into said category, there is zero-point in you hosting an event again. After all, where is the enjoyment?

    At the same time, unless you have adopted a BYOD policy, guests will need serving. This is where you need them to do things yourself, either by having bottles of beer, pre-poured glasses of Scottish whisky or even glasses of wine on hand.

    Sure, as the night goes on supplies may run low and you might need to take action, but at least this ensures that you don't need to be waiting the entire party for hours upon end.

    Provide different start times

    What is the worst thing that could happen in a house party? Nobody turning up.

    Well, if you happen to have friends who are typically latecomers, this is something that could happen. It's because of this that the best advice we can offer is to provide different start times to your guests. If you know they tend to be rushing late to each and every social event, tell them that proceedings are kicking off an hour early. Or, if it's the opposite, tell them it's later than what it is.

    By doing this you can also ensure you have a steady trickle of guests, which can be easier than everyone descending on your household in one, fell swoop.

    Be on hand to make introductions

    One of the best things about house parties is the atmosphere they can provide - and this is unparallel to any bar that you can find on the high-street.

    At the same time, unless your guests all know each other (highly unlikely), you'll need to put a bit of legwork into proceedings here. You'll need to be the one who makes introductions and ultimately gets people chatting. Sure, some guests will be more than apt about doing this themselves but on the whole, the onus is on the host to get the party started.

  • 5 Thirst Quenching White Wines to Beat the Heat this Summer

    5 Thirst Quenching White Wines to Beat the Heat this Summer

    Tempted to reach for the Sauvignon Blanc, but fancy a change or a talking point at the BBQ? Why not try some of these refreshing options?

    Picpoul de Pinet

    This warmth loving grape comes from the Languedoc in the south of France. Amazingly, it managed to stay crisp and refreshing despite the intense summer heat. Its name means ‘lip stinger’ in the local dialect, referring to its amazing ability to retain acidity. The vineyard areas around Pinet specialise in it. Becoming increasingly fashionable on wine lists around the UK, its not hard to see why. Attractive floral profile, with lemon and lime flavours which make it ideal with seafood or grilled chicken.

    Tesco Finest Picpoul De Pinet £7.50, 13%abv

    Baron De Guers Picpoul De Pinet, Sainsbury's £8, 12.5%abv

    Villemarin Picpoul de Pinet, Majestic, £9.99, 12.5%abv

    Vermentino

    The best expression of this comes from Sardinia in Italy. It has lovely crisp green apple, grapefruit and lemon/lime flavours, often with a touch of herbaceous character. The effect of the sea supposedly gives it a distinctive salty mineral tang too. It is also normally quite low in alcohol, at around 11-12.5%abv. Goes a treat with any grilled fish or meats coated in Mediterranean herbs and lemon.

    Nord Est Vermentino Cantina del Vermentino, Majestic, £11.99, 12.5%abv

    Castanzu vermentino di sardegna, Kwoff, £8, 12%abv

    Le Stelle Vermentino di Sardegna, Waitrose, £8.79, 12%abv

    Bacchus

    A home grown hit. This German variety is named after the Greco-Roman god of wine and has really taken to the English climes. Our version of Sauvignon Blanc. Expect elderflower, citrus and gooseberry but with a slightly softer edge to the acidity. Never cheap but is competitively priced against many New Zealand offerings. Some major supermarkets stock it, but often easier to purchase online direct from vineyards themselves.

    Chapel Down Bacchus, Ocado, £13.99, 12.5%abv


    Verdejo

    This variety is from the Rueda in North West Spain. Freshness is paramount in this grape, so they are often harvested at night or early morning at cooler temperatures to preserve its aromas. Soft textured, yet full bodied and pungent with flavours of citrus, stone fruit and melon. Delicious and often great value in comparison to its more famous neighbour, Albariño.




    Muscat

    Not always sickly sweet, although the nose often fools your brain into thinking that. Dry versions have all the same delicacy and perfume with a grapey, stone fruit, citrus peel and floral character. The best ones balance these wonderful aromatics with crisp acidity. The classic region for this style is Alsace, though for slightly cheaper expressions look to Chile or Spain. 

    Trimbach Muscat Reserve, Wine Society, £14.95, 12.5%abv

    Juan Gil Moscato Seco, Reserve Wines Manchester, £12, 14%abv

    De Martino Gallardía del Itata Muscat, Wine Society, £9.95, 12.5%abv


  • Hinomaru Jozo Sake Tasting at The Sparrows Restaurant, Manchester

    Sake tasting with Kasia at the Sparrows

    John was very kindly invited along to a supplier tasting dinner at The Sparrows. This little restaurant, which seats at most 12 diners, is tucked away on Mirabel Street, under the railway arches opposite Manchester Arena. It is a hidden gem, specialising in pasta and ‘Spätzle,’ a type of pasta that forms the base of many dishes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Alsace, Moselle and South Tyrol. Everything is produced fresh every day, hand-made and shaped. Owner, Kasia is also a specialist importer and distributor of fine Japanese Sake.

    We were treated to a guided tasting of some of Brewery Hinomaru Jozo’s range led by their Toji Mr Ryoji Takahashi. His ethos is to produce enjoyable, high quality Sake made traditionally, yet at affordable prices. The brewery was founded in the 17th century, and is based in Akita, one of the most remote and snowy regions of Japan! The area is famed for its pure mountain waters, important for producing the very best Sake.

    Burrata with grilled zucchini pesto, paired with ‘Mansaku no Hana’ Junmai Daiginjo.

    This crisp, elegant Sake had a lot of flavour thanks to a continuation in brewing, with a slow bottle maturation at low temperature over a year in the cellars. It had a gentle sweetness that paired superbly with the creamy, rich Burrata.

    Beef Carpaccio with rocket and shaved parmesan, paired with ‘Mansaku no Hana’ Junmai Ginjo.

    The floral, vegetal nose accompanied the helped emphasise the peppery, earthy taste of the rocket. A clean, crisp acidity went well with the delicately sliced, tender beef.

    Lobster Ravioli with bisque and caviar paired with ‘Umakara Mansaku’ Tokubetsu Junmai.

    Lobster Ravioli with bisque and caviar paired with ‘Umakara Mansaku’ Tokubetsu Junmai.

    A very grand, full flavoured dish paired with a humbler offering. The delicate sweetness of lobster combined with the umami savoury tang of the Sake made you appreciate both much more.  

    Spätzle with cinnamon and brown sugar, paired with ‘Hyakunenmae Mansaku no Hana’ Kimoto Junmai.

    Probably the most fascinating pairing of the evening. This super rare, well-aged Sake was sweeter than the rest, and had an almost dessert wine likeness about it. Dried fruit and orange blossom delighted with the sweet, warming spice of the cinnamon.

    Spätzle with cinnamon and brown sugar, paired with ‘Hyakunenmae Mansaku no Hana’ Kimoto Junmai.

    ​Interested in finding out more about Sake?

    ​Check out our Introduction to Sake courses in Manchester. A 2 hour guided tasting of 5 premium styles of Sake, led by a Certified Sake Sommelier. Includes a certificate of participation at the end. Makes a great gift for lovers of Japanese food, culture and Sake

  • John’s Monthly Wine Recommendations, April

    White Wine

    Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Greco Di Tufo. Campania, Italy. £10

    ​Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Greco di Tufo

    From Campania in Italy, the favoured wine region of the ancient Romans. This is made from the Greco grape, named after the Greeks who were first thought to have brought this variety with them to southern Italy. Greco Di Tufo is a region which has been awarded its own designation specialising in it, thanks to the grapes performing well on the limestone plateau ('Tufo') here. A rich textured, yet fresh, crisp and aromatic white with floral aromas and notes of herbs and spices. Lovely stone and exotic fruit flavours on the palate. Great with rich, creamy pasta or seafood dishes.

    Red Wine

    ​Diablo Dark Red. Maule Valley, Chile.13.5%abv. Sainsbury's/Londis, £10.

    A new premium red by Concha y Toro, makers of the Casillero del Diablo range. It has a dramatic, sriking red and gold label you can't fail to miss on the shelf. A multi vintage blend of Shiraz, Malbec and a small amount of other varieties. The wine has been symbollically aged for 6 months, 6 weeks & 6 days in a mixture of new and partially new French and American oak barrels.

    An enticing nose of ripe red and black fruits, smoke, vanilla and dark chocolate/coffee. The rich, pleasing flavours follow through on the palate. An intense red that is excellent with BBQ food, steak, chile or spicy things. Smooth and not too heavy on the alcohol. Delicious and satisfying.

    Diablo Dark Red '666' Blend

    Diablo Dark Red '666' Blend

  • Advanced Sake Sommelier Course, Japan February 2019

    Tuesday 12th February

    Trip to Gekkeikan Sake brewery, Japan’s biggest producer and exporter. Essentially a giant industrial complex. Our guide kept referring to it as ‘factory,’ rather than a  brewery. Sake was produced on a huge scale, mostly for domestic consumption at this site. Everything was automated- from the rice steaming, Koji making to the final packaging line. We saw very few employees across the whole visit. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the facility, as there was ‘commercially sensitive’ equipment inside.

    Gekkeikan Sake Museum

    Gekkeikan Sake Museum

    However, we later toured  their Sake museum down the road. This is situated in the original brewery building, built in the 19th century. It featured a history of Sake making, the company itself and a tasting room. It was surprisingly humble compared to many other ‘corporate’ visitors centres I had been to. Inside, there was also a small brewery where they produced competition Sakes and premium drinks exclusively sold in the museum shop.  This was much more artisan, with many of the labour-intensive stages still done by hand.

    Locals queueuing for the Fushimi spring waters

    Locals queueuing for the Fushimi spring waters

    ​We then visited a complete contrast to this- Yamamoto Honke Brewery. This has been family owned since 1677. Situated in the heart of Kyoto, in the Fushimi District. There are dozens of other breweries here too, all utilising the precious, pure waters this area is famed for. Low in minerals, it produces soft and elegant, ‘feminine’ Sake.  There are wells in every other street, and the locals come regularly to collect water for making ‘the best cups of tea.’

    Wednesday 13th February

    In the morning we travelled to Daimon Brewery. Also, family owned for many centuries, Mr Daimon showed us round personally. His whole operation was geared towards premium Sake only, which was intended to be brewed and exported with western tastes and flavours in mind. Sake is being snubbed domestically by younger drinkers, with many preferring foreign wines and spirits, or beer instead. This ethos was about respecting tradition, whilst embracing modern thinking.

    Mr Daimon greets us outside his brewery

    Mr Daimon greets us outside his brewery

    After lunch, we visited Yagi brewery. Here the owner had revived an ancient process long since abandoned by many producers, called ‘Bodai-moto.’ Lactic acid is an important ingredient to prevent contamination and spoilage by unwanted yeasts and bacteria. Nowadays, it is simply added powdered. The Bodai-moto method involves burying a small proportion of steamed rice in mounds of the raw rice. This encourages wild lactic acid bacteria, and is said to impart a distinctive sweet, rich taste to the final Sake. Yagi are one of only 8 breweries in Nara to have revived this time consuming and labour intensive practice.

    Thursday 14th February

    An early start. Today we head to Nishiyama to help make some Sake! Kitted out in lab coats, caps and wellington boots, we begin by washing and soaking some rice. This sounds mundane but is carefully timed and done to prevent grains cracking or taking on too much water. Sake rice is much more precious and expensive than eating varieties, especially after most of it is polished away! The crates are then tipped into the steaming vats, sealed with cloth and blasted with high pressure steam for an hour. The aim is to soften the rice, but not cook it. The result is rice that is soft on the outside, but firm in the centre.

    A proportion of the rice is then taken to the Koji room, which resembles a Scandinavian sauna, clad in Japanese Cedar panels. Koji is a variety of mould, vital to the Sake brewing process. It converts the large carbohydrate molecules to smaller chain sugars, which the yeast needs as a food source to produce alcohol. The room contains long tables, on which the freshly steamed rice is spread evenly. Koji spores are then sprinkled on the surface. Over several days, the rice is mixed until it begins to clump together firmly. The infected rice is then separated. It is very hot and humid in here, so this was hard work by hand! Once this is done, it is added to a starter culture containing more steamed rice, water and yeast.

    Fermentation ‘moromi,’ is the next step. Over the course of a few days, a proportion of the starter, steamed rice and water is added to the tank. It is done over several days, to give the yeast time to adjust to the alcohol gradually. As the contents are pumped in, they need to be mixed continuously. Many breweries now use machinery to do this, but we do it by hand for an hour with paddles (in teams thankfully!) The fermentation will then normally take place over 24-31 days. After all this morning’s hard work, we are treated to lunch and a tasting of the same type of Sake we were making.

    After enjoying the long lunch, we travelled to a hotel, with its own on site ‘onsen’ hot spring spa. An evening in there certainly helped ease the aches from a day’s hard manual labour!

    Pottery workshop in Tamba. It was a nice surprise!

    Pottery workshop in Tamba. It was a nice surprise!

    Not bad for a first attempt!

    Not bad for a first attempt!

    Friday 15th February

    An interesting diversion to a traditional rural pottery town, Tambayaki. Craftspeople have been producing exquisite pieces here for over 800 years. There are hundreds of styles of sake cups and serving bottles available. We have a go at making our own ‘perfect serve!’

    Next stop, Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum. Another large producer with a long history. The museum director showed us around and treated us to a tasting. The gift shop had some beautiful  Sake related souvenirs, and you could even buy Sake flavoured ice cream!

    The last brewery we visited, was Hamafukutsuru in Kobe. The enthusiastic owner brought the history and culture of Sake to life, including the songs workers would sing in time to certain tasks, such as mixing the Koji rice and Moromi. They also had some unique Sakes that were aged in ex Scotch and Bourbon whisky barrels, as well as French brandy casks.  These were very potent!

    Back to the hotel in Osaka for an exam. Part multiple choice and short answer questions on all we had learned this week. Once the stress was over, we were all presented with our certificates and had a celebratory dinner and drinks.

    A unique experience, and we were all very sad it to leave. All of us had travelled from different parts of the world to enjoy it.

    At the end of the course we were presented with our certificates. Complete with stamped seals of every brewery we visited!

    At the end of the course we were presented with our certificates. Complete with stamped seals of every brewery we visited!

  • John’s Monthly Wine Recommendations- April

    White Wine

    Definition Series Chenin Blanc, South Africa. Majestic, £12.99.

    Majestic Definition Chenin Blanc

    Majestic Definition Chenin Blanc

    A good example of the style you can achieve from Chenin Blanc, when wine makers aren't trying to squeeze as many grapes out of their vines as possible. Green apple and citrus, with a honeyed nose. Delicious stone and tropical fruit on the palate, with a hint of sweet spice from a touch of oak.

    Red Wine

    Errazuriz Coastal Series Pinot Noir, Chile. Waitrose, £10.99.

    Pinot Noir at a reasonable price point is quite hard to pull off. It's either cheap, weak and insipid or jammy and powerful from the New Zealand/very earthy and expensive from Burgundy for the best expressions. Chile is an amenable home to this grape. This wine falls some where between the two, for more accessible cost. Perfumed red berry fruits, with a touch of earthiness and floral character. 

    Errazuriz Coastal Series Pinot Noir

    Errazuriz Coastal Series Pinot Noir