• 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.

  • 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!

  • March Supermarket Wine Recommendations

    White Wine

    ALDI Champagne Veuve Monsigny Brut NV, France. £10.99.

    Aldi Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut NV

    Aldi Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut NV

    Easter is usually a time for celebration, and bringing the whole family together. Therefore, I thought I'd push the boat out and recommend some fizz in this month's supermarket wine recommendations. Good Champagne is never cheap. However, for a modest price, Aldi have managed to pull off this little gem. An enticing nose of pastries and baked fruit, this sophisticated sparkling wine will wow all your guests without breaking the bank. Makes a great aperitif with any starter or canapé.

    Red Wine

    Terre di Faiano Primitivo, Puglia Italy. Waitrose, £9.99.

    Side of lamb, or a bit of beef? This robust, rich, fruity red stands up to all the trimmings. From the sunny plains of Puglia, it has spicy dried fruit and red berry with smooth tannins and a chocolatey finish. This moreish wine goes down all too well. Before you know it, you will have finished your glass. It might be a good idea to stock up on a few bottles, as it could be gone before you get a chance to sit down! 

    Terre di Faiano Primitivo, Puglia Italy. Waitrose

    Terre di Faiano Primitivo

  • John’s Monthly Wine Recommendations- February

    Back due to popular demand!! As it’s turned a little wintry again, I thought I’d recommend a couple of warming reds, including a classic Port. I'm often asked about the Wine Society when I feature their wines in my wine recommendations or wine tasting events here in Manchester.

    The Wine Society is a Member's only co-operative, in which everyone owns one share. As they are 'not for profit, just for members' - all profits from sales are reinvested in bringing you competitive prices and often much more interesting, better quality wines than you would find in a supermarket. It is £40 for a lifetime share, which can be passed on to other family members as an inheritance. £20 of this goes towards your first order too. You can order as frequently or little as you like, and can just order 1 bottle. However, they offer free delivery on 6 bottles or orders over £75. Deliveries use either a courier (normally FedEx), or their own vans at certain times in your postcode area. If it is the van, you get a time slot a day or so before it arrives. You can read more about them here, or check out their website for details: 

    Red Wine

    Extra Special Barossa Valley Shiraz, Australia. 14.5%abv. £5.98, ASDA

    ASDA Extra Special Barossa Valley Shiraz

    A taste of the Barossa’s characteristic bold and brash style, for a bargain price. Full bodied, but not too heavy. Flavours of rich bramble fruits with a touch of toasty oak spice and a smooth finish. Great with a hearty stew or steak pie.

    Red Wine

    The Society’s LBV Port 2012, Portugal. 20%abv. Wine Society, £12.50

    A rich, smooth textured and intensely fruity Port. Flavours of bitter chocolate, sweet spice and dried fruit appear on the aftertaste thanks to some oak cask ageing. Heavenly with a cheeseboard.

    The Wine Society's LBV PortThe Wine Society's LBV Port

    Look out for some more wine recommendations next month, when hopefully the weather will be more spring like and John can suggest some whites and maybe a rosé!

  • Wine Serving Temperatures-Infographic

    Wine Serving Temperatures-Infographic

    To enjoy the best flavour and aromas in your wines you need to serve them at the correct temperature. Here's a simple guide to help you do that: