Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Going to see an Angel

So we're off again and our next stop on our travels was the city of Newcastle. The main reason for our visit is to see the famous “Angel of the North” sculpture which is featured heavily in many tourist advertisements when promoting the north east of England. Aside from the Angel, we’ve also heard Newcastle is a bit of a ‘party town’ for many students who live there, so we were excited to explore the city and see what it has to offer.  

The “Castle” of Newcastle-upon-Tyne
We arrived in Newcastle early afternoon. There was thick layers of snow still set on the roads and pavements from the day before. As we made the trek to the hostel we were staying in, trying not to slip over on the icy paths, we noticed the city was packed and there were herds of people all making there way in the same direction. We were a little confused at first, until I quickly relised that Newcastle was playing Southhampton in the football. The people were all heading toward St James Park. This made the city and all the pubs quite a buzz. We dropped off our bags and set out for an afternoon of exploring and possibly a few cheeky pints whilst watching the game.  As we explored Newcastle, we found ourselves standing in front of “The Castle” of Newcastle.  A fort which originally dated back to Roman times. It was built for defence purposes, protecting the bridge, which crosses the River Tyne. In 1080, the castle was rebuilt, upgraded and referred to as the ‘New Castle' upon the River Tyne, hence the name of the city.  From the Castle we made our way into the centre of town and came to a monument which appeared to looked similar to Nelson’s Collum in London’s Trafalgar Square, but it was actually “Grey’s Monument”. A monument dedicated to Lord Charles Grey. The reason for it’s similarity to Nelsons Collum, is it was designed by the same man, Edward Hodges Baily in 1838. The monument was designed to honour Charles Grey who was the prime minister of England from 1830 - 1834. He is most famous for instigating the Great Reform Act of 1832, which changed many things, including the way the electoral system and voting worked in England and Wales.  The Reform Act also included the abolishment of slavery in the UK. 

After exploring some of the history of Newcastle, we decided to find a local pub and watch some of the football. A visit to Newcastle is not complete without having one of there signature beers, the Newcastle Brown Ale. The "Newkie Brown” (as it’s affectionately known) first began Brewing at the Tyne Brewery in 1927. It was created by Lt. Colonel James Herbert Porter. The locals instantly took to this ‘working mans beer’ and it grew in popularity over the years, mainly in Newcastle only. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when Newcastle Brown Ale, took over the UK and peaked in sales towards the end of the 70’s. It died off a little in the 1980’s, but had a resurgance in the late 90’s. Today, Newcastle Brown Ale is not as popular in the UK as it once was, but it is still popular with the locals. It now seems to appeal more to the American market, where they export over 100 million bottles to the USA every year. America is now they primary buyer for the “Newkie Brown”. 

After a nice roast dinner and a couple of Brown Ales, we made our way back to our hostel. The next day we got up early excited about visiting the famous “Angel of the North”. As we made our way toward the site of the ‘Angel’, it didn't take long for it’s giant wings to come into view.  When we arrived at the sculpture, we were blown away by it’s sheer size. It was designed by Antony Gormley, who first began the planning and designing of this piece in 1994. The project cost around one million pounds. It took 4 years to design and build, as it needed to withstand 100mph winds with it being in an exposed location. A man made hill was built around the Angel’s feet to hide the 600 tonnes of concrete used to fix the sculpture into place. The Angel is not just an icon for Newcastle, but it is also an icon  for the north of England.  For Cara and I, the visit was definitely worth it.

The famous “Angel of the North"
As we departed from Newcastle, we reflected and were both happy that we took to time out to visit the city and pay a visit to the famous “Angel”. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Last Night in Scotland... A Night out in Edinburgh

As we set off again, after having a relaxing night in Oban, it was time to finish our road trip and head back to Edinburgh. What an amazing few days we've had. We managed to cover lots of ground in such a short time. From the east coast of Scotland at St. Andrews, Up and over the highlands to Inverness, then down the west side to Oban and back across to Edinburgh. To celebrate the end of our road trip and also the end to our time in Scotland, we decided to head out and see what the Edinburgh night life had to offer. 

There was one cocktail bar which was on the top of my list to visit in Edinburgh, that was the "Bramble Bar”.  Bramble Bar has won many awards over the years. Australian Bartender Magazine listed Bramble in the top 20 bars in the world. It is also said to be the best bar to visit in Scotland. The menu at Bramble is extensive but without being too over-whelming. They offer a good mixture of classics, variations on classics as well as some of there own creations. I decided to order a cocktail called “Lazarus Lane”. This is a simple yet unique combination of Tapatio blanco tequila, blackberries, ginger extract, vanilla flavoured sugar and garnished with a sprig of rosemary. It’s served over one large cube of ice with is chiselled out of a huge ice block by the bartender. When sipping this drink, the smell of the rosemary hits you straight away. Then when tasted, the acidity of the blackberries works well with the sweetness of the vanilla and ginger extract. Then there is the tequila, which adds a whole other dimension to the drink. It’s a combination of simple ingredients, but they all compliment each other and work well together. Warning though... this drink is not for everyone. Cara took a sip of the “Lazarus Lane” and she did not like it at all.  It’s bitter taste did not go down to well, but I like it. It was different and had been well thought through. 

Recently Cara has been taking after my love of rum, and has started to often order rum based cocktails. Our visit to Bramble was no exception. She ordered a cocktail called a “Red Rum”. This consisted of (one of my favourite rums) Bacardi 8 year old, Plymouth Sloe Gin, fresh lemon juice, red currants and vanilla sugar syrup. This was definitely more to Cara’s liking. The sweetness of the vanilla sugar and dark rum blended well together with the flavours of the gin. This drink was not sour at all, so the lemon juice was simply there to bind all these flavours together. Out of the 2 cocktails, Cara’s “Red Rum” would certainly appeal to more people. 

After Bramble, We made our way to another near by cocktail bar, “Bon Viant”. A bar which has a great reputation as being one of the best in Edinburgh. As we walked in we could see why. The place was packed and with almost every person holding a cocktail. We found a small part of the bar to stand and ordered a lesser known classic drink, A “Millionaires Cocktail”. This classic first featured in Harry Cradock’s book from the 1930’s, “The Savoy Cocktail Book”. Since it was first published, it’s stood the test of time and has taken on many variations over the years. It consists of 25ml Sloe Gin, 25ml Apricot Brandy, 25ml Jamaican Rum, the juice of 1 lime, a dash of grenadine and a dash of egg white. Then shaken into a martini glass. Like most classics, It’s a well balanced cocktail which is easy for almost anyone to drink. It’s similar to an original daiquiri, with its rum and lime, but the added sloe gin and apricot brandy gives the drink more fruitiness.  The egg white gives the drink a unique texture. 

We headed to a few more bars in the near by area, before calling it a night. Our time in Scotland has been unforgettable and a night out in the trendy city of Edinburgh was the perfect way to finish. 

Bramble Bars, “Lazarus Lane”
In a Shaker:
Muddle Blackberries
45ml Tapatio Blanco Tequila
Dash of Ginger Extract
15ml Vanilla Sugar Syrup
Shake and Strain over ice into a short rocks glass
Garish with a Sprig of Rosemary

Bramble Bars, “Red Rum”
In a shaker:
Muddle Red Currents
30ml Bacardi 8 year old Rum
30ml Plymouth Sloe Gin
15ml Lemon Juice
15ml Vanilla Sugar Syrup
Shake and Strain into Martini Glass

Bon Viant Bar, “Millionaires Cocktail”
In a Shaker:
25ml Sloe Gin
25ml Apricot Brandy
25ml Jamaican Rum
The Juice of 1 Lime
Dash of Grenadine
Dash of egg white
Shake and Strain into Martini Glass

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Going in Search of "Nessie"

The next day we sent off from Inverness in search off the Loch Ness monster. It wasn't far out of Inverness when we hit the top of the Loch. It was a gorgeous day. The sun was shining and Loch Ness and the surrounding mountains looked stunning. About half way down the Loch, we decided to stop off at the Exhibition centre to learn a little about the history and the myth of “Nessie”.

“The Surgeon’s Photo”
Myth's of a creature living in Loch Ness have been circulating amongst the locals for hundreds of years. But it was only in 1933 that it was brought to the worlds attention and the term “monster” was first used. There have been thousands of claims and sightings of the creature, that is now affectionately known as “Nessie”. Many photographs have surfaced of what people think is a creature in the water, but there has never been any substantial proof of Nessie’s existence.  Probably the most famous sighting/photograph was (whats now known as) “The Surgeon’s Photo”. This picture shows a small head and long neck of something poking out of the water in Loch Ness. The photo was taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson. When a London news paper wanted to print the photo, Dr Wilson refused to associate his name with the picture. It was later revealed that Dr. Wilsons picture was a fake.  Over the years, many people have taken hoax photographs of Nessie. The string of pictures of the monster have attracted several believers who truly think that the monster exists.  In 2003, the BBC made a documentary searching for Nessie. Over 600 sonar beams were used trying to find the creature. Nothing was ever found, finally proving that the monster was only a myth. 

Approaching Ben Nevis
We made our way down the Loch and reached the little town of Fort Augustus. It was here we decided to stop and take a short boat ride through parts of Loch Ness. It was on our short cruise that we learnt about the amazing size of Loch Ness. It’s the second largest Loch in Scotland, but due to it’s great depth, It holds the largest volume of water of any lake in the UK. Our tour guide explained that Loch Ness holds more water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined.  

After our boat ride, We continued our journey south, down the west coast. Not far from Loch Ness was another popular scottish tourist attraction, the highest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis. Ben Nevis is close to 4,500 feet (1344m) above sea level. It’s summit is the top of an ancient volcano. The first person to make it to the top was James Robertson, in 1771. Today, over 100,000 tourists each year climb the famous mountain.

Not far from Ben Nevis is the “Ben Nevis Distillery”. It was established in 1825, making it one of the oldest in Scotland. It is here where they produce the famous “Ben Nevis Single Malt Whisky”. The distillery produces many types of aged malts. The most popular being the 10 year old and a 21 year old. Located at the foot of the mountain, the distillery uses the fresh water around Ben Nevis to help produce it’s whisky. The whiskies flavours start off as being citrusy and fruity but as the malt is aged for longer it takes on a smokey oak flavour and becomes rich and sweeter. Flavours such as vanilla an roasted coffee are often picked up when smelling and tasting the Ben Nevis range. The companies philosophy is simply quality, not quantity, which makes production of each malt very limited. However, the Ben Nevis whisky range did feature heavily throughout souvenir and whisky shops in the Loch Ness and surrounding towns around the mountains peak.

We continued driving past Loch Ness and Ben Nevis and began to make our way toward the small town of Oban.  The drive from Loch Ness to Oban is one of the most amazing drives we've ever done.  The sun shone over the snow capped mountains and glissened off the many Loch's in the area. We arrived into Oban just as the sun was setting. It was the end to another amazing day on the road.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Glenfiddich Distillery

Driving through the Scottish highlands
The second day of our road trip was going to be an exciting one. We had a big day of driving ahead as we had plans to go up and through the Scottish highlands. As Aussies, we don’t get to see much snow, and to be honest we hadn’t seen a great deal of snow since being in the UK. But driving into the Scottish mountains, that was all about to change. As we climbed into the highlands, the picturesque snow capped mountains of Scotland came into full view. Cara was going crazy with the camera. As the road winded through the country side, there was another gorgeous photo opportunity around every corner.  We were heading toward a little place called “Dufftown”. Not many people have heard of Dufftown, but most people would have certainly heard of what it is famous for. Dufftown is home to the famous, Glenfiddich Distillery.

William Grant, The founder of Glenfiddich.
This distillery is full of so much history and tradition, and with it being one of the oldest distilleries is Scotland, I was looking forward to the visit. It all started in 1886. William Grant and his family built the distillery by hand, one stone at a time. It was officially opened a year later. He named this new distillery “Glenfiddich” which is a gaelic word, that translates to “Valley of the Deer”.  As the whisky became more popular and sales increased over the years, there was a set back in the 1920’s.  This set back was prohibition. By this time, William Grant’s grandson, Gordon was running the company and surprised everyone when he decided to increase the production of whisky during the prohibition era. This meant when the law was overturned, Glenfiddich was one of the only distillers in Scotland to be able to meet the high demands for aged malts. After the second world war, Glenfiddich installed the first of it’s copper stills. These were handcrafted and uniquely designed and shaped to be one of a kind. The demand for Glenfiddich increased every year and in 1961, they decided to re-brand Glenfiddich with a new cutting edge bottle design. The company released the first of it's (now famous) triangular bottle design. From that time on, Glenfiddich has produced and bottled hundreds of different age types and commemorative editions. Possibly the most famous is the "Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve”. A malt which was created to honour William Grant’s last remaining grandchild. She lived to be the oldest person in Scotland. There were only 11 bottles of this whisky made and in 2011 they were all auctioned to raise money for charity. These bottles of scotch sold for over $600,000, breaking world whisky auction records. Today, Glenfiddich is still most awarded and recognised scotch whisky in the world.

After a interesting and detailed tour of the distillery, Cara and I were able to try 3 of their most popular whiskies. The most common 12 year old, along with the 15 year and 18 year old whisky. All three age types having differing characteristics.

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old:  Aged in American bourbon and sherry oak casks, this malt is said to have the flavour and aroma of pears. Along with this, it has a subtle taste of butterscotch, which gives it  a sweetness.  It also has a slightly smokey finish, makes for a long lasting after taste.

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old:  This whisky is again aged in American bourbon casks. The added 3 years of maturation makes it a much richer and deeper amber colour compared with the 12 year old. This whisky was my favourite of the three. It’s slightly sweeter due to it’s vanilla and honey flavours. There are also elements of cinnamon and marzipan, which gives the whisky a mild spicy after taste.

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old: Also aged in American oak, this whisky is known for having the aromas and flavours of baked apples and dried fruits. Due to it’s longer ageing, the oak and smokiness comes through much more. This whisky (more so than the others) really warms your insides on a cold winters day.

We had a great time at Glenfiddich. We learnt lots about the families whisky traditions and we could clearly see how passionate the people are about producing arguably some of the best whisky in the world.  The day was getting on and we still had lots to do. So we set off for the city of Inverness, which was our stop for the night. 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

The Great Scottish Road Trip & Visiting St Andrews

Well... We’ve cleaned out our flat, packed our bags, it's time to continue on our travels. but before we head south to London, we’re travelling north into the Scottish highlands. We said goodbye to Glasgow and made our way east towards Edinburgh, where we would begin our journey up the coast.  Our first stop on our road trip around Scotland was to St Andrews. As a general sports lover, St Andrews is a special place, most famous for being the home of Golf. It was a typical day at St Andrews golf links, strong winds blowing off the sea and grey clouds, a sight which I'd seen many times watching the British Open back home.

St Andrews golf course dates back hundreds of years. It is said that local Scotsmen were playing on the land (which is now home to the "Old Course”), back in the early 1400’s. Over the years, golf grew in popularity in Scotland. The game even remained popular during the 1500’s when a golfing ban was put in place, because it was said that Scotsmen were spending to much time playing golf instead of practising their archery. The land on which the course is built on has had many different owners over the last 500 years and the course design has undergone many alterations. One of the most major alterations was back in 1764, where the course was changed from being 22 holes to the 18 holes which remain today. The 'Society of St Andrews golfers’, voted to eliminate 4 of the holes, as they were too short.   St Andrews was the host for the first British Open Golf Championship in 1873 and to this day, has hosted more "British Opens" than any other course. 

Like many popular tourist attractions in Scotland, you’ll often find a particular type of whisky produced to commemorate these important places and events in Scottish history. At St Andrews I found the "St Andrews Golf Links Blended Scotch Whisky".  With it's eye catching 'golf ball' shaped bottle this whisky has been produced using a combination of 8 to 12 single malts distilled in the St Andrews area. The whisky has a subtle sweetness which is due to it being aged in sherry oak casks. It has a simple and well balanced mixture of caramel and smokey wood flavours and aromas. The St Andrews whisky itself is nothing special. It’s a nice scotch, but it’s never going to blow you away with taste. It’s simple and easy to drink. I found it very light in flavour. The best thing about this scotch is the golf ball shaped bottle. Maybe it’s a little “gimmicky”, but I liked it. It would make a perfect little present for any golf lover. 

As we departed St Andrews, we began to make our way in land. Our stop for the night was the little city of Perth, close to Dundee. We ended our first day on the road exhausted.  Our road trip around Scotland was just beginning and the week ahead was sure to be busy. 

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Farewell Glasgow

The time has come for us to depart Glasgow and begin the long journey home to Australia. We’ll have many stop over's along the way which is exciting, but it is also a little sad that our travels are coming to an end.

Living in Glasgow has been a great opportunity for Cara and I. We’ve experienced many different things over our time here. We were able to eat haggis for the first time, broaden our knowledge on scotch whisky, try some traditional local ales, but most importantly, we were able to be apart of Scotland’s local traditions and customs.  As a soccer/football supporter, it’s also worth mentioning, the experience of living in a city which has arguably the biggest rivalry in sport, the battle between Rangers and Celtic. A rivalry which transcends football and becomes more about religion and politics. Only having lived in Glasgow can you then truly understand the level of tension between these two clubs.

Glasgow’s famous “Ashton Lane"
On our last weekend in Glasgow, we decided to treat ourselves to a night out along the famous “Ashton Lane”. This small cobblestone lane way is the hub of trendy bars and hangouts in Glasgow’s, West End. We both ordered cocktails to toast our amazing time in Glasgow, and to start our adventure toward home.  I decided to stick with the scotch whisky theme and order a variation on a classic “Whisky Sour”. I ordered a “JamDram Sour”. This consists of Drambuie (whisky liqueur), apricot jam, and lemon juice.  Usually I like to analyse the cocktails I drink closely and scrutinise every flavour with a fine tooth comb, but this time it was all about enjoying our last night out in Glasgow, reflecting on our time here and looking to the future.   

We’ll both have many great memories from our time here, but what will always stick in my mind are the many times we’ve walked up the Argyle St Mall, and without fail, every time we’d see buskers playing the bag-pipes. These pipers would always be dressed up in the full Scottish attire. The bagpipe music would be heard along the entire mall. It doesn’t matter how many times you see these “bag-pipe buskers”, there are always a few people who would stop and listen. The Scottish (and especially the Glaswegian’s) are some of the most patriotic people we’ve met, and when they stop and listen to the bag-pipers in the mall, watching on with such pride, you know you’re living in Scotland.

“JamDram Sour”
In a shaker:
45ml Drambuie
15ml Lemon juice
teaspoon of Apricot jam
Shake and strain over ice
garnish with a slice of lemon

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Spicing up the Rum World

Over the last few years, there has been a massive growth in the spiced rum market. Many different spirit companies are now all fighting to realise there own version of this popular type of sweet brown rum. It seems to be a popular trend now to create and sell many cocktails using spiced rum and during our time, out and about in Glasgow, I’ve noticed that a popular theme is to slightly change the classic rum cocktails to give them a “spicy” new taste. 

There are instantly 4 popular brands which spring to mind. These 4 rums seem to be featured on the back selves in almost every bar we visit. I thought I’d write a little about each one, to try and find what each of these brands are doing differently to get the edge over their competitors. The 4 rums I’m focusing on are as follows:

Morgans Spiced Rum: Stemming from the original “Captain Morgan’s Dark Rum”, This light brown alternative has been marketed as a "party rum”. Meaning that it’s not pretending to be a trendy spirit to sipped over ice. The people at Morgans’s have been open in saying that it’s advertised and made to be mixed as the perfect accompaniment with coke and lime. Morgan’s spiced rum is lower in alcohol percentage (compared with it’s rivals). It’s only 35% ABV, making it cheaper for the customer. This adding to it’s popularity. As I mentioned, it has a rich golden colour, which is achieved from the charred oak barrels which it’s aged in. To the nose, you get an instant hit of vanilla. To be honest it’s hard to pick up any other smells other than vanilla, but I’m told that there should be hints of lime and cinnamon. I think the lime and cinnamon flavours come through more in the taste.  Morgans spiced rum is a nice rum, not amazing in my opinion. But it’s easy to drink, and with coke and lime, it’s perfect.

Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum: Unlike the Morgans, Sailor Jerry's has a little bit more of a “trendy” stigma attached to it. It’s quite often seen as a premium rum, and at 40% ABV, it is therefore a little more expensive. Distilled in the Caribbean, the makers of this rum blend vanilla, cinnamon and nut-meg together create a product which is unique and is not as sweet as other spiced rums. To the nose you get strong aromas of the 3 ingredients mentioned earlier, but there is also hint of smokey toffee. These smells translate perfectly to taste, picking up all the same qualities. Sailor Jerry’s is great also with coke and lime, but it has a little more scope to work with. It would work well in cocktails or with many other mixers. I personally love a Sailor Jerry’s, ginger beer and lime. 

Bacardi Oakheart: Bacardi is by far the most famous rum brand in the world. For many years, Bacardi Superior (the original white rum) was the highest selling spirit around. It was even selling more than vodka.  Bacardi already had a well established portfolio of rums, but it was only a few years ago that they decided to jump on board the spiced rum market. They realised the "Bacardi Oakheart”. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bacardi brand and I think the Oakheart is a great rum, but it just seems to be to similar to the Morgans Spiced. The fact that it’s aged in charred oak barrels (like the Morgan’s), gives it the exact same colour. It also contains similar flavours such as vanilla and cinnamon. It is also the same 35% ABV as the Morgans, however the price can be sometimes a little more expensive.  The only edge that I can see which gives the Oakheart some uniqueness, is it’s a little more fruity. When I did some more research on this product, no could tell me what specific fruits were used to give it this flavour, only that it’s made with a mixture of dried fruits. 

Kraken Spiced Rum: Kraken rum seems to be the product which is causing the most waves in the spiced rum world. This is largely due to the fact that it is completely different to other spiced rums. It’s dark brown (almost pitch black) colour makes it stand alone from it’s rivals. Kraken still possesses the similar flavours as the others, such as vanilla and cinnamon, but it also contains strong citrus and orange flavours. This makes it perfect to serve with a slice of orange as opposed to lime. Along with the citrus taste, there is also hints of dark chocolate, which make it delicious to drink on it’s own, or in a cocktail. Kraken rum seems to be the most popular choice for using in cocktails. It’s ability to able to mix well with other flavours has added to it’s popularity.  It’s one of the strongest spiced rums around at 47% ABV. 

On one of our nights out in Glasgow, I came across a variation on the classic Daiquiri. This cocktail was called a “Krakquiri”. The original classic Daiquiri contains, white rum, white sugar and lime. Then came along a variation called the “Black Daiquiri”, which is Dark rum, brown sugar and lime. The “Krakquiri" is a variation of the two. It contains 30ml Kraken spiced rum, 15ml chocolate liqueur, 15ml lime juice and a dash of sugar syrup. The result is a sweet tasty concoction best suited as an after dinner drink. As the popularity of spiced rums continues to grow, I’m sure more brands and more cocktail creations will start to feature more prominently in bars around the world.

  “The Krakquiri”
In a shaker:
30ml Kraken Spiced Rum
15ml Chocolate Liqueur
15ml Lime Juice
Dash Sugar Syrup
Add Icc and Shake
Double strain into a martini glass