A-Z Spirits and Liqueurs: C is for Curacao

What is it? A sweet liqueur, distilled and flavoured with the dried peel of bitter citrus fruit (similar to the Valencia orange), from the island of Curacao in the Antilles. Despite it’s citrus flavour, it is usually artifically coloured a brilliant electric blue, which makes for some interesting looking cockatils! It can also be made with orange colourant, or with artificial flavours like coffee or chocolate. Grand Marnier is a branded Curacao, distilled from a blend of Cognac, bitter orange and sugar.

How to enjoy it: Best mixed into a fruity concoction to avoid looking like childrens’ cough syrup, Blue Curacao is the base for a number of cocktails; namely those containing the words, ‘Blue’, ‘Sea’ or ‘Purple’!

Classic, summery and a personal favourite, this Blue Lagoon recipe on In the Spirit couldn’t be easier and will have you dreaming of tropical beaches;

1.5 measures Blue Curacao, 1.5 measures Vodka, Top up with lemonade

In a highball glass with ice, add spirits and top with lemonade. Garnish with a slice of orange, lemon of lime. (I also usually add a couple of glace cherries and a cocktail umbrella :-) )

Grand Marnier is a little more accomodating and is often used in desserts (particularly French), as well as cocktails. Following a recent visit to Paris, I have rekindled my love affair with crepes and would love to try this recipe for Classic Crepes Suzette which appears on the Gran Marnier website;

Crêpe batter:
(makes 15 crêpes 20 cm in diameter)

  • 250 ml milk
  • 50 ml lager
  • 2 eggs (100 g)
  • 110 g flour
  • 25 g butter
  • 15 g sugar
  • 1 g salt
  • 25 ml Grand Marnier® Cordon Rouge liqueur

Suzette butter:

  • 200 g butter
  • 125 g sugar
  • Zest of ½ orange, finely grated
  • Zest of ½ lemon, finely grated
  • 125 ml orange juice
  • 50 ml lemon juice
  • 35 ml Grand Marnier® Cordon Rouge liqueur

I want it! Where can I get it? While you’re picking up ingredients to make the crepes or doing your weekly shop, you can easily pick up a bottle of De Kuyper Blue Curacao for £12.00 and/or a bottle of Grand Marnier for £15.29 from Sainsbury’s online, or in most stores.

Actually factual: The word liqueur comes from the Latin ‘liquifacere’, which means ‘to dissolve’.


My Weekend Tipple: Juicy Viognier

What better way to spend a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon than sitting in a pub garden, sun on your back, sipping a glass (or few!) of a deliciously summery white?

My visit to The White Horse, Burnham Green in Hertfordshire last weekend did not disappoint. A quick catch up with friends turned to a few hours, several glasses of wine, crusty bread, green olives and a baked camembert!

Juicy and peachy, with a zesty finish, the Spee’wah Crooked Mick Viognier 2011 perfectly suited my summery, laid back mood. Available from The Fine Wine Company, for just £49.46 for a case of six, this has enough body to feel juicy and round, with a snap of acidity to create great balance. Spee’wah has proffered an affordable summer white, a little of the beaten track.

 As an aussie, I just can’t help but give this wine the caption ‘You beaut, juicy fruit’!

Light Summer Wines That Don’t Make You Too Snoozy


This spells garden party.

Now, I’m a girl who can handle her liquor, but mix it with sunshine and it all becomes a bit hazy after a couple of glasses, leaving me tempted to fall asleep in the paddling pool. Not good when you’re trying to have a good time with your nearest and dearest – but drinking out in the sun simply makes me snoozy. I know I’m not alone – but then there just don’t seem to be as many lighter wines out there these days. Help!

The problem is, a lot of the most popular booze we choose for al fresco dining is on the heavy side – refreshing New Zealand Sauvignons with the seafood, a hearty shiraz for the barbecue, and the big-brand rosés are often on the hefty side alcohol-wise too.

I’ve found  a selection of wines that are perfect for sipping in the great outdoors, that will match summer food perfectly and that are all below 12.5% abv – perfect for avoiding mid-party naps, and a thick head the morning after too.

Domaine Laborie, Vin de Pays D’Oc, 12.5%
£5.50 per bottle from The Wine Society

Literally my favourite wine on the planet at the moment – it’s smooth, super-juicy, and very easy to drink, plus it’s astonishingly cheap. A total winner with barbecue meats or as a gently sipper.

Marqués De Caranó Gran Selección Rosé, 12%
£7.99 a bottle when bought in-store, £5.69 if you buy a case of six on Tesco Wine

Big brand rosés can be too sugary and bland, but this is a treat. With just a touch of sweetness, this Spanish rosé is perfect as an aperitif, but would also make a fine match for salads and lighter dishes.

Pujalet 2011 Vin de Pays du Gers, South of France, 11%
£4.74 per bottle from Waitrose Wine

Another salad and seafood winner, this is delicate and fruity. A blend of ugni and colombard – two lesser-known grapes in general – this is just wonderful and excellent value for money.

Gaillard Syrah 2010 VdP des Collines Rhodaniennes, 12%
£9.99, or £8.49 if you buy two bottles, from Majestic

You’d be hard-pushed to find a Rhone below 13.5% these days, let alone a Beaujolais-beating 12% like this juicy number. Syrah is often a little peppery, and this is a delicious savoury example. A real star with barbecued pork.

Raso de la Cruz Rosé 2011, 12%
£41.94 per six, (£6.99 bottle equivalent) from Marks and Spencer

Another Spanish rosé, and this time a bronze medal winner at the IWC. Dryer than the Tesco example I mentioned above, this is a typically good quality Garnacha pink. Perfect with spare ribs or Mediterranean vegetable dishes.

Yalumba Circles Sauvignon Blanc, 10.5%
£6.50 a bottle from The Wine Society

Yes, you read right: this Aussie white is only 10.5%. So rare is it to find an Antipodean wine of such lightness, I was very skeptical about trying it. How wrong I was: it is a delight, and not remotely wimpy. Balanced, fresh and easy-drinking, a great value example of why Yalumba are one of the biggest names in Aus.

Image of barbecue taken from Alisdair‘s photostream

A touch of glass; Finish your dinner party in style

Out of pure greed I try to stop myself from looking at homeware – in particular glassware and cookware. It is all too easy for me to succumb to tempation and purchase endless items that I dont actually need, but want for lavish dinner parties and sophisticated cocktail soirees, which of  course, I dont actually host. But when I do, I will most certainly be investing in this delightfully eclectic set of liqueur glasses to serve after dinner tipples. At only £28.00 (including the tray!) from John Lewis, its a bargain that I cannot resist.

Chin chin!!

Your Local: The Oxford Wine Company

Website: The Oxford Wine Company

Where: The Oxford Wine Company are, unsurprisingly, based in Oxford. But they also have shops in Cirencester and Tetbury, Gloucestershire.

Why are they cool? Because for an Indie merchant they’re doing remarkably well. They have regular recommendations from MWs, free monthly tastings, and have won customer service accolades at the Harpers awards this year. Their seasonal mixed cases are also absolutely great – my eye is on the Wines for Pasta case.

TippleTipple’s The Oxford Wine Co’s Picks:

It’s summer, it’s finally hot and we all want to laze around in the sunshine. It could not be more perfect cider conditions. The Cidre Bouche de Normandie is a traditional example, lightly filtered to give a slight haze, and perfect when nice and chilled. It’s only £5.99 a bottle, too.

It’s not just the Old World fellas that do cracking sweeties – Australia has produced this absolute corker which won Gold at the IWC this year: Campbells Rutherglen Muscat is rich and complex, perfect with blue cheese or chocolate. It’s £11.99 per half.

Upcoming Events: As well as Theo’s Thirsty Thursdays (a monthly free tasting at the Oxford shop on the first Thursday of the month), you’ll be pleased to know there are other  tastings on a regular basis. For instance, they have an Aussie tasting on Wednesday 1st, and a Cocktail Evening on Saturday 25th  August. Both are just a tenner a ticket.

A-Z Spirits and Liqueurs: B is for Brandy

Impress your dinner party chums with expert knowledge of a classic after dinner tipple!

What is it? A spirit made from distilled fruit, generally around 35-60abv.  Different methods of distillation and maturation provide different characteristics.  

Grape brandy is made from distilled wines where grapes are the base – Cognac & Armagnac are perhaps the most well known of and are reflective of their origins;  the grapes are from the Cognac region in France or the Gascony region respectively. These are generally branded so you may have heard of: Courvoursier or Hennessey or recognise the signature frosted green bottle of Champagne Cognac, Remy Martin.

Fruit brandies are made from fruit other than grapes; apples, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries and more. You may have heard of: Applejack (American) and Calvados (French Normandy) from apples or Eau de Vie (French) for a colourless fruit brandy.

How old?! Labelling terms on grape brandies dispelled… Yes, a label can be ultra confusing but in short, the longer a brandy has been aged, the more complex, and generally more expensive, it becomes!

AC has been aged a minimum of 2 years.

 VS (Very Special) has been aged 3 years or longer.

 VSOP (Very Special Old Pale)has been aged for at least 5 years.

 XO (Extra Old) has aged for 6 or more years.

 Vintage brandy has been stamped with the date it was first stored.

 Hors D’age brandy has been aged in the barrel for at least 10 years. This is the most elite (and expensive) brandy

How to enjoy it: Typically enjoyed as an after dinner drink, best served at room temperature in a brandy snifter. Check out these lovely classic Brandy glasses  from John Lewis. If you prefer to ooze sophistication with a cocktail in hand (like me !), try a Sidecar . This recipe from In The Spirit is fantastically easy and quick;

2 measures Brandy, 1 measure Cointreau, 0.5 measure lemon juice. Shake with ice and serve in a chilled Martini glass.

I want it! Where can I get it? The Drink Shop  have a fantastic online range of both grape and fruit brandies starting from around £15.00 for 70cl bottles.

Actually factual:  The name brandy means ‘burnt wine’ from Dutch ‘brandewijn’ or ‘brandywine’ (Wikipedia)

Images taken from The Culinary Geek’s  and jekert gwapo’s photostreams.

Oh So Floral: Blackwood’s Vintage Gin

When my mother was pregnant with me, she so badly craved gin that she used to unscrew the lid and sniff the bottle every night. I’m sure it’s where I get my gin-lust from.

I’ve tried gin in every which way, and no producer has impressed me more than the super Blackwood’s Vintage Dry Gin.

Being a single vintage makes the flavours more distinguishable and also means they vary from year to year. Blackwoods use various botanicals from the Shetlands including water mint and sea pink – these get extra points for sounding like magical ingredients.

It’s the most floral, delicate gin I’ve tried and is full of complexity. I drink it with elderflower juice or a light tonic, the perfect pre-dinner tipple.

You can nab a bottle of the lovely Blackwood’s from Drink Supermarket for £17.53 with a very reasonable shipping charge. See if it lasts until the next vintage appears…