No 5: Gin & Tonic

No 5: Gin & Tonic

I have a confession to make. I loathe gin. And I’m not a fan of tonic either. Which is as bit of a bummer given that every bar in the land is awash with every variety of Mothers’ Ruin you can imagine. And, I daresay, some you can’t. So I can’t tell you how pleased I was when my good chum, Jo Garton, volunteered to take one for the team and write a few lines about her gin & tonic experience at Old Town bar, The Eternal Optimist. And more on that in a bit. Their Facebook page is here.

Meanwhile, I remain eternally optimistic that Sherry or Rum – two drinks I do like – will soon have their moment in the sun.

Gin & tonic - bottles of gin

Mother’s Ruin

gin and tonic - drawing of drunk man holding bottle of gin

I referred above gin’s other moniker: mother’s ruin. You’ll many of you be familiar with the famous Hogarth engraving of the baby falling from its inebriated mother’s arms. This article from Historic UK about Mother’s Ruin shows it. As the article explains – if you think modern drug use is bad it had nothing on the gin-drinking habits of mid-eighteenth century English society. The drink even started as a medicine – thought to cure gout and indigestion. But by far its biggest attraction was its cheapness.

What is gin?

Well according to that fount of all knowledge (sort of) Wikipedia – ‘gin is a distilled alcoholic drink that derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries. Gin is one of the broadest categories of spirits, all of various origins, styles, and flavour profiles, that revolve around juniper as a common ingredient.’ They also say:

‘The earliest known written reference to jenever appears in the 13th-century encyclopaedic work Der Naturen Bloeme (Bruges). The earliest printed recipe for jenever dating from 16th-century work Een Constelijck Distileerboec (Antwerp).

The physician Franciscus Sylvius was falsely credited with the invention of gin in the mid-17th century. That said, the existence of jenever is confirmed in Philip Massinger’s play The Duke of Milan (1623), when Sylvius would have been about nine years old. It’s further claimed that English soldiers who provided support in Antwerp against the Spanish in 1585, during the Eighty Years’ War, were already drinking jenever for its calming effects before battle. It’s thought the term Dutch courage stems from that.


According to some unconfirmed accounts, gin originated in Italy.’

Back to Gin & Tonic at the Eternal Optimist

On her experiences at the Old Town bar Jo writes:

Do you like your gin and tonic in a European style glass with an unexpected blueberry in an achingly hip environment? If so, then The Eternal Optimist may be for you. Well, I say ‘achingly hip,’ but I’m a dumpy, 55-year-old in comfortable shoes and an anorak, so you could be correct in thinking I may not be the best judge. 

Perhaps I should offer some evidence for the hip credentials. Firstly the beard count: fourteen bearded to four unbearded men. It seemed churlish to count the women. The Eternal Optimist is up  well-worn wooden stairs, nothing so suburban as stair carpet.

Then there is the decor, which is a blend of vintage 70s- breadfruit plants for example and the, very now, industrial lighting and jumble of empty gin bottles. The walls are grey with arty swirls of black, which might put you in mind of your stomach lining if you drink too much.

They have an impressive range of craft beers on the wall,as they are partnered with the Hop Kettle Brewery. More to my taste they have some interesting gins, many off the beaten track. I went for Boe Violet, but I’m keen to explore more of the range. they also have an extensive range of tonics, no bog-standard here. If I might make one small criticism, a black plastic straw is not in keeping with the ecological zeitgeist. My beloved, very much a creature of habit, went for the house wine, which he found extremely acceptable. 

Gin & Tonic at The Eternal Optimist.

A somewhat, as is fitting, blurred photograph of a G&T with ice and a slice and a glass of house red at The Eternal Optimist.


The seats are, as you might expect, very random. Long tables with wooden chairs for larger parties and a couple of very comfy winged armchairs for a more intimate conversation.

All this and they offer home baked pizza three nights a week from the relocated Pizza Man – Timber’s Pizza. I’m sure they are, as Born-Again Swindonian tells me, delicious, but I fear I must avoid them in order to avoid my beloved’s lengthy conversations with said Pizza man, about the relative benefits of varieties of dough. Not a problem that most of you will have in this quirky hideaway bar in the midst of Old Town.

What a tonic

And finally a word about tonic water. According to Medical News Today, tonic water is a soft drink containing quinine. It’s that which gives it a bitter taste. Quinine is a common malaria treatment – thought also to help with leg cramps and restless legs syndrome.

If you’re looking for some info on what’s good in the world of tonic water then check out this article from Olive magazine, as they’ve done a tonic water taste test. Read that and you’re all set for a great gin & tonic.

No 4: Prosecco

No 4: Prosecco

On a recent night out at The Weighbridge Brewhouse, down near the Outlet Centre, one of my dining companions and myself decided to have a glass of Prosecco. Which gave me the perfect opportunity to do this post, No 4 Prosecco, in my series Swindon in 50 drinks.

The Prosecco served in The Weighbridge is from Berry Bros and Rudd see image below. And it wasn’t a bad drop I have to say.

They also serve a rather nice Berry Bros and Good Ordinary Claret – of which I’m rather fond.

The Prosecco served at the Weighbridge

The Rise and Rise of Prosecco

It’s interesting how, in recent years, Prosecco has blown the Spanish Cava out of the wine rack when we’re looking for a more wallet-friendly celebration drink than Champagne. Something I wrote about in this piece: https://swindonian.me/2018/05/16/the-prosecco-party/

‘Prosecco, like it’s big sister, Champagne, takes its name from its place of origin. In this case the village of Prosecco, a suburb of Trieste. Even if you knew that you may not know that, as this Vine Pair blog all about the stuff points out, ‘the name ‘prosecco’ is actually Slovenian, from prozek, or “path through the woods.” Prior to being called Prosecco, the region was known as Puccino. Today, Prosecco production extends beyond the small village, but that’s where it all began.

DOC and DOCG

DOCG and DOC are quality classifications. Italian wine law states that DOCG – Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantia –  is the highest quality designation.

DOC – Denominazione di Origine Controllata – is an Italian assurance of quality for wine and food. To get this label a product must stick to the quality assurance rules and the location defined in the rules. Since 2009 Prosecco has had to have at least DOC accreditation.

The difference between Champagne, Cava and Prosecco

For the full lowdown on the above read this blog here: https://www.myrecipes.com/extracrispy/whats-the-difference-between-prosecco-champagne-and-cava but the key thing to remember is that for a sparkling wine to call itself Champagne it HAS to be made in the Champagne region of France with the Méthode Champenoise – thought to be the invention of a monk by the name of Dom Perignon. And later refined by the widow (veuve) Cliquot. Two names that remain the most famed of all the Champagne houses. I’ll drink to that!

Unlike Champagne, which is fermented in giant metal vats, Prosecco is fermented in the bottle in a process called the charmat method.

And on that note, there’s little else to say other than Cin Cin, Salut, Cheers and Salud!

No 3: The Bloody Mary

No 3: The Bloody Mary

Continuing our journey round Swindon in 50 drinks, this post features the Bloody Mary you see in the picture below – at The Tuppeny in Swindon’s Old Town.

I saw this image of this rather splendid looking Bloody Mary on the Twitter stream of The Tuppenny in Old Town.

Now while I don’t care for too many cocktails, I am partial to this one. So seeing this … part drink/part… snack piqued my interest.

About the Bloody Mary

Legend has it that the Bloody Mary drink is named for Queen Mary. She of the five-year reign in which she tried to turn the country back to Catholicism.

The story of its invention is a long one and you can read it all here: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2016/06/invented-bloody-mary-drink/ The story begins with an American bar in Paris, that opened on Thanksgiving Day 1911, by an expat and horse jockey named Ted Sloan.

How to make a Bloody Mary here:
https://youtu.be/Alt-ehDc3fc

What’s in a Bloody Mary?

This cockail contains vodka, tomato juice, and combinations of other spices and flavourings including Worcestershire sauce, hot sauces, garlic, herbs, horseradish, celery, olives, salt, black pepper, lemon juice, lime juice and/or celery salt. 

The drink is often taken as a hangover cure or ‘ hair of the dog’ drink, reputed to cure hangovers with its combination of a heavy vegetable base (to settle the stomach), salt (to replenish lost electrolytes), and alcohol (to relieve head and body aches).

Its reputation as a restorative beverage contributes to the popularity of the Bloody Mary in the morning and early afternoon, especially at brunches. Which might explain why, when I went to The Tuppeny on a Thursday evening to sample the magnificent specimen you see above, they hadn’t got the necessary ingredients. Disappointed! Another time I hope.

They did though – and do have – some splendid craft beers. Which I sampled with gusto.

As it says on their website:

‘We carry an amazing, ever changing range of craft beer and cider sourced both from our own region and from across the world. Our house beers are from the crack team at West Berkshire Brewery, located just up the road from Swindon, these guys brew some of the most exciting award winning beers around.

Always available on keg from their Renegade range is  Craft Lager and West Coast Pale Ale, and they supply us with their multi-award winning cask beer “Good Old Boy” as well. We work closely with these guys and will also be running their pilot brews and any other exciting, cutting edge beers when the opportunity arises.’


No 2: Coffee

No 2: Coffee

Hello listeners. Welcome to the second post in my tour round Swindon in 50 Drinks.

Because I don’t want you all getting the idea that I’m ONLY interested in alcohol (almost but not quite) the subject of this post is that magic bean – coffee.

Now Swindon has more coffee shops than you can toss a finely ground Arabica bean at. Thus it’s no hardship to find coffee and coffee shops to talk about. There’s plenty of Costa outlets for sure. But Swindon is also blessed with a good number of independent coffee shops – both in the town centre and in Old Town.

We all have our favourite places to go and one of mine is DaPaolo’s Italian deli on the bottom of Commercial Road. Paolo serves delicious coffee to drink in or to take-away for only £1. And scrummy canolo for £0.50p.

Black Coffee

Black coffee and cannolo in DaPaolo's Italian deli, Swindon

Coffee and cannolo in DaPaolo’s. The best bargain in town surely?

Cortado

Cortado (from the Spanish cortar, known as “Tallat” in Catalan, “Pingo” or “Garoto” in Portugal and “noisette” in France) is an espresso “cut” with a small amount of warm milk to reduce the acidity.

The ratio of coffee to milk is between 1:1 – 1:2, and the milk is added after the espresso.

Flat White

flat white coffee at Baila in Swindon

A flat white at Baila coffee and vinyl on Victoria Rd, Swindon

According to the North Star roasters a flat white is: ‘an espresso-based coffee drink accompanied with steamed milk and microfoam.

This microfoam is made up of steamed milk which is gently infused with air. This results in silky, textured milk containing tiny air bubbles. Air bubbles should be barely visible to the coffee drinker when perfectly made. It traditionally comes in a small size only (5oz-6oz), much smaller than typical cappuccinos and lattes.’

Cappucino

History of Coffee

To find out more about the life and times of coffee see this guest post from Blog Frog about the history of coffee.

The History of Coffee

The History of Coffee

Amazing Facts about Coffee and Caffeine

This guest blog from The Blog Frog is all about the history of coffee. Sit back and look forward to a few fab facts about coffee and caffeine.

But first a bit about The Blog Frog:

‘The Blog Frog has a simple mission. To provide insights on the best blogs across sixteen categories. We identify the top blogs so you get the best content.

We consider BlogFrog a next-generation influencer marketing platform. Because we know how important to find good quality content for your business can be, we network communities and websites together to create a larger interest-based social network.’

There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil … or Ethipioa

As the 2ndmost traded commodity in the world, coffee has a rich history. Thought to have originated in Ethiopia, this beverage was also used in the Middle East to aid concentration. Here are the most interesting facts about coffee:

It Forged a Revolution

So powerful is coffee, that it led to a social revolution. People used to drink it at home and in public coffee houses that sprung up in cities and towns across East Africa and the Middle East. Soon enough, these coffee houses were the go-to places for socializing – as the blog Coffee or Bust explains this.

Drinking of coffee was accompanied by different types of entertainment, including chess games, musical performances, gossip, and dancing. Coffee houses became the places where people went to know what was happening in the world. Therefore, you can say that coffee sparked a social revolution by bringing people together.

Goats Might Have Discovered It

According to legend, a goat herder in Ethiopia discovered the intoxicating effects of coffee after his goat got excited after eating the beans. The herder went to the local monastery and told the abbot, who decided to dry and boil the beans to make a beverage. The berries were thrown into a fire and the roasted ones taken from the embers to make coffee.

The monastery’s monks found that the drink gave them energy and kept them awake. As soon as word spread about this drink, people loved it.

A Yemenite is also said to have discovered coffee after seeing birds that ate the berries flying more energetically than usual. After tasting the berries, he also became more alert than usual.

It was Thought to Be Sinful

Like alcohol, this beverage also has a long prohibition history. Coffee has attracted religious disquiet from different corners. Had these fanatics gotten their way, coffee would be illegal today. In 1511, the beverage was banned by scholars and jurists who held a meeting in Mecca.

A Meccan governor led the opposition and was afraid that coffee would cause conflict because it would bring people together to discuss his shortcomings.

In 1524, the ban was overturned by a Turkish Sultan. This same Sultan ordered the execution of the Meccan governor and declared coffee sacred. A similar ban occurred in 1532 in Egypt and coffee houses were raided.

It was Called the ‘Devil’s Cup’

Countries in the Mediterranean also received coffee with some suspicion. Catholics called it the ‘bitter invention of the Devil’ and outlawed it. It caused such disquiet that the pope had to intervene by sampling the brew and declaring it to be a Muslim and Christian drink.

The history of coffee - coffee beans with cup and saucer

A Saint from Mocha Brewed It

Another story claims that the first person to discover coffee was a Sheikh known as Omar. While in exile, the man felt hungry and sampled the berries but found them to be bitter. He found that roasting them turned them hard and boiled them to get an aromatic beverage that gave him instant energy and kept him awake.

This miracle drink made it possible for him to return home and elevated him to sainthood. By the sixteenth century, coffee was a beloved drink in Turkey, Syria, and Egypt. Merchants from Yemen started taking the berries home and growing them.

Sufis prized the drink and used it as a spiritual intoxicant as well as to increase concentration. From the Middle East, this drink spread to Italy, Europe, and the Balkans.

The history of coffee - coffee beans, grinder, cups

A coffee conclusion

As you can see, coffee has a long and complicated history.

Now you know some facts with which to show off to your friends on your next coffee date.

No 1: Ouzo – it’s all Greek to me

No 1: Ouzo – it’s all Greek to me

Swindon in 50 Drinks

7th August 2019

No 1: Ouzo
Four days ago myself, family and friends were out celebrating the launch at the Baker’s community cafe, of my second book Swindon in 50 Buildings.

Me outside the Baker’s Cafe talking about the book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPBP2KfyhIs&feature=youtu.be

Now, more than once in recent weeks the topic of covering Swindon in 50 Drinks arose. It was somewhat tongue-in-cheek TBH. But then I got to thinking ‘Why not?’ Something a little different for this blog. I hasten to point out that this series of posts WILL feature non-alcoholic drinks too!

So these posts are not about drinks that are #madeinswindon – that would be beer and nothing else I imagine. Though no doubt someone can put me right on that. No, this series of posts are intended as a light-hearted journey around drinks once can enjoy in Swindon. I aim to namecheck 50 different establishments on this journey.

Ergo, being as how the location for my book launch celebrations was the Greek Olive, what better drink to have for No 1 in this series than Ouzo?

My sister knocking back her complimentary ouzo shot at the Greek Olive on Faringdon Rd.

Ouzo


According to Wikipedia, ‘Ouzo (Greek: ούζο, IPA: [ˈuzo]) is a dry anise-flavoured aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece , Cyprus and North Macedonia. Its taste is similar to other anise liquors like rakıarakpastis and sambuca.’

And for a one-minute history of ouzo read this article here.

According to this article from The Spruce Eats,:

‘There is an old Greek saying that “ouzo makes the spirit” and this is especially true in Greece. The Greek spirit or kefi (KEH-fee) is found in hearty food, soulful music, and the love of lively conversation. A glass of chilled ouzo is the perfect companion to all of these things.

Most people would agree that ouzo is Greece’s most popular alcoholic drink. No other beverage is as uniquely Greek or as closely linked to a culture as ouzo is to Greece. In fact, in 2006, the Greek government won the exclusive rights to use the product name ouzo.’


All I have to say to that is Yammas!



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