It must have been five years ago that I became aware of Vecchia Romagna, when a bottle of their Etichetta Nera (Black Label) found its way to our flat. As much as I love and respect Cognac and Armagnac, I’m conscious that good brandy can come from parts of the world other than France, so a storied Italian brand falling into my lap like so was very welcome. The Etichetta Nera is and was a very decent pick, especially given the price. Enjoyably full as a sipper, with tropical fruit and spice notes, it was an excellent go-to for cocktails as well. That it came in a striking three-faced bottle didn’t hurt, and guests noticing that in the cocktail bar hastened an already swift rate of depletion.

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In my other professional life, I help manage a small craft beer bar in South East London (The Beer Shop London – no, I’m not sure SEO was at the front of their minds when setting up, either). I’ve been there on and off for years – the owners are great, the regulars are great and the ethos of ever-rotating beers and well-thought-out non-beers is something I’m proud to serve. As a bonus, just keeping on top of our offer acts as excellent research into what’s happening in beer.

We like to do a big knees-up a few times a year and, especially given the battering the last eighteen months of covid has given everyone, our annual August Bank Holiday do loomed large in the imagination. So, if you’re going to go big, where better to build it around than Belgium? You’ve got the history, the variety, the eccentricity and the quality, all rolled up into one delightful national package. Lots of back-and-forth ensued about which beers should be included, revisions based on the fact that, no, Westvleteren weren’t willing to send us a keg of 12, not even if we wore cassocks and fasted on a Friday. Anyhow, the upshot was, amongst an amazing haul of beers, we got our hands on a small number of some older vintages of the Straffe Hendrik Wild and Lee and Lauren (those lovely owners I mentioned) asked if I’d be interested in talking a select group through a vertical tasting?

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IMG_20200403_204019[This post harks back to the halcyon days of April, when we were so young and na├»ve, and our Prime Minister couldn’t even imagine it would last long enough that saying “it’ll be over by Summer Autumn Christmas Easter” could possibly be to leaving himself hostage to fortune. Anyhow, I’ve now got some of the 2020 calling out to me, so best to get the series up and running.]

I sometimes felt that I was fated not to have any of Fuller’s Vintage Ale. At various points over the last twenty years, bottles have swum into view, only to be cruelly taken from me. The pub quiz prize THAT WE WERE DEFINITELY GOING TO SHARE that slipped down a team-mate’s gullet when I wasn’t looking. The one time I’ve been asked for ID in a supermarket in the last decade. That other time, where I fancied picking one up, but I’d gone in for eggs and flour, so it seemed a touch undisciplined.

You know, soul-scarring episodes that mark you and your future. Not just a few unimportant incidents, oh no.

Fate finally determined to right this world-historical wrong a while back, when I was very kindly given a bottle of the 2015 release by a friend. So, taking events by the scruff of the neck, I built on that foundation and boldly picked up a couple of 2019’s crop from a local supermarket (when they were still about – the 2020 has taken their place on the shelves). (more…)

First things first – merry Christmas! Hope you’re all in good spirits and the holidays are treating you well.

So, due to a combination of poor time management and poor health, there have been a few events that I really wanted to write up from the last few months that got left out in the cold. What with this being the end of the year and a time to reflect on things, I thought I’d partway rectify this sin of omission with a little Boxing Day round-up of some cracking booze I had the pleasure of sampling.

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