Mayfield Sussex Hop Gin

One of the fascinating features of the ginaissance is how enterprising distillers have sought to introduce new botanicals into our favourite spirit. It creates a marketing edge, an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the crowd and sometimes it even produces a drink that is memorable and worth the effort. James Rackham’s idea was to use the Sussex hops that he found growing wild in the hedgerows as the central component of his new gin. The result was Mayfield Sussex Hop Gin. As gin and beer are my favourite tipples, a gin that combines the two has got to be worth investigating.

The Sussex hop is now an approved variety of hop and rather than relying on the variable bounty of the hedgerows, Rackham secures his supply from a hop farm in Salehurst. It is one of eight botanicals used in the mix, bringing with it some heady floral tones and characteristic bitterness. I was concerned that the taste of hop would overwhelm the gin, but Rackham has guarded against this with a judicious choice of accompanying botanicals. To watch over the hops he has chosen juniper, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica root, coriander, liquorice, and orris root. Each of the botanicals is micro-distilled in a copper pot still and then brough together. Bar the hops, it is a very conventional line up and one that would normally result in a tasty, traditional London Dry gin style.

Indeed, that is the case. On opening the synthetic stopper, the aroma is distinctively juniper led with hints of citrus and pepper. In the glass the spirit is crystal clear. In the mouth, the first impressions are of a hit of juniper followed by some citrus elements, although more subdued in taste than in smell, and pepper. The aftertaste is lingering with a warming mix of juniper and spicy pepper. The hops, frankly, are difficult to detect, operating in the background to give a hint of floral tones, rather than dominating the spirit. It is a well-balanced, indeed elegant, gin and with an ABV of 40% has enough kick to make its presence felt while leaving room for more. It left me thinking, though, it could have been a little more adventurous in allowing the hops to assume more prominence.

The bottle is attractive, made with clear glass, looking rather like a slightly dumpy wine bottle. What makes it stand out on the shelf is its diabolic label featuring an image of a startled devil with a pair of tongs wrapped round his nose. This relates to the epic struggle between St Dunstan and the devil, played out in the 10th century in the village of the gin’s origin, Mayfield. Archbishop Dunstan is said to have grasped the devil’s nose with a pair of red-hot tongs and the devil’s roar was heard three miles away. The very same pair, it is said, were displayed at the village’s convent.

The devil went off to the nearby springs in Tunbridge Wells to assuage his heated nose, thereby giving the waters their distinctive reddish hue, although in reality this is down to its high iron content. Another version of the story claims that the devil flew off towards Brighton with the tongs still attached to his nose and they dropped off and landed at a place now known as Tongdean.

All nonsense, of course, but it adds a nice marketing edge to what is an impressive gin and a welcome addition to my collection.

Until the next time, cheers!

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The Puzzle Lock

The Puzzle Lock – R Austin Freeman

Another collection of short stories, nine in all published in 1925, showcasing the talents of R Austin Freeman’s detective creation, Dr Roger Thorndyke. Through the eyes of his faithful scribes, principally, but not exclusively, Jervis, the reader has the opportunity to wonder at the observational skills and deep scientific knowledge that Thorndyke deploys to crack what otherwise seem intractable problems.  

I had read a couple before in anthologies, Mystery of the Sandhills and the Green Check Jacket, but that did not spoil my enjoyment and it was interesting to seem them in the context of this collection. The problem I find with Freeman is that he is a bit dry as a writer, scrupulously fair with the reader in explaining the intricacies of the cases and determined to reveal the depth of Thorndyke’s forensic knowledge, whereas some of the stories could do with a bit of Conan Doyle’s lightness of touch, even if the latter comes at the expense of probability and credibility.

The eponymous story opens the collection and Thorndyke in attempting to solve the mysterious disappearance of two men and a robbery, finds himself and his colleagues in a tricky hole. In order to escape with his life he has to crack the code to an ingenious chronograph lock. That there are eight further tales rather suggests that he succeeded.

Thorndyke’s ability to analyse dirt and chalk comes in handy in solving the complexities of the Green Check Jacket and, in particular, in placing the murder spot, while his understanding of the peculiarities of walking sticks leads to the resolution of the conundrum that is Nebuchadnezzar’s Seal. Mystery of the Sand Hills revolves around footprints made in the sand and the dunes.

Rex v Burnaby is an unusual twist on the usual tales as Thorndyke is trying to prevent a murder. A man is extremely sensitive to a particular drug that appears to be poisoning him. However, it is almost impossible to fathom out how the drug is being administered to him. Cue, Roger Thorndyke. In a similar vein, Apparition of Burling Court involves a man who believes that a curse has been responsible for the deaths of some of his ancestors and that he is next on the list. Will Thorndyke solve the case in the nick of time?

He has his work cut out to defend his clients in Phyllis Annersley’s Pearls as two witnesses to the woman’s murder positively identify them. All is not lost, though.

Money is a powerful motive for murder and that is the theme behind The mysterious visitor. The disappearance of a man is barely cause for concern until it is discovered that he has inherited a large fortune. He needs to be found and, quite how did the legatee die? The premise to the Sower of Pestilence is a little bizarre in that a man running a cats’ orphanage receives a large donation in the form of a purse that has clearly been stolen. A bank is then bombed. Are the two incidents linked? Thorndyke, of course, reveals all.   

As the solicitor remarks at the end of Phyllis Annersley’s Pearls; “and yet it is so obvious – when you know”. A book to dip in and out of if you like cases of a more technical nature.

Hack Of The Week

The world of BDSM has been rocked by a glitch that has left many participants hacked off. Chastity belts are popular as a way for a dominant to control their submissive partner from touching their own genitals and to use them to engage in sex. It is the way of the modern world that some innovative company, Qiui Cellmate in this instance, have jumped on this predilection and produced an electronic chastity belt which is controlled by an app, the first in the world, they claim.

Unfortunately, the manufacturers were not as careful at safeguarding the password that protected their coding from harm as they were their clients’ genitals. Some bright spark has managed to break into the device, sending threatening messages to the wearers, demanding money. Failure to pay up would see them being stuck with the device forever.

One victim who received a demand for AUD$900 was shocked to see that the hacker wasn’t mincing their words. The software in the lock had been tampered with and he could not open it. Fortunately, as he did not have the device on, a heavy-duty bolt cutter or angle grinder was not needed to cut the metal ring which locks the device under the wearer’s penis.

Moral of the story – trust your partner, not software.

The Silver Spoon

The Silver Spoon – John Galsworthy

Galsworthy’s Forsyte Chronicles stretched to nine volumes and the Silver Spoon in some senses marks the midway point, being the fifth in the series and the second of the Modern Comedy trilogy. Published in 1926, it follows the story of Soames Forsyte and his daughter, Fleur, now married to Michael Mont and mother of a son, Kit, described as the eleventh baronet.

There have been some cosmetic changes at Fleur’s house. Gone is the Chinese décor and the Pekinese has been replaced by a new pooch. Fleur, though, is still the same social gadfly, collecting admirers and the company of the movers and shakers in London society. It is this trait in her character that leads to the central moment of the book, a libel case. At one of her soirees, Fleur is accused by Marjorie Ferrar of being a snob, neither having the wit nor personality to create the sort of salon that she is desperate to have. Soames overhears the remarks, calls Marjorie a traitress and orders her to leave. As neither side will back down in what today would seem to be a storm in a cocktail glass, the matter goes to court.

Soames uses all his guile to build up a convincing defence for Fleur. The case does offer Galsworthy the opportunity to explore the change in moral attitudes amongst the younger crowd in London society, raising questions of morality and comparing and contrasting standards of behaviour with the more staid and stuff outlook of Soames’ generation. Francis Wilmot, a young American guest of Fleur’s, who brings her news of her long-lost lover, Jon, falls under Marjorie’s spell and betrays his host. Although Fleur prevails, it is at some cost, becoming a social outcast and feeling that she cannot remain in London and play the part she desires in society persuades her doting father to accompany her on a trip around the world.

Fleur’s husband, Michael Mont, has left the world of publishing and has secured himself a seat in Parliament. He has become an advocate of an eccentric political philosophy, Foggartism, one of whose tenets is to ship youngsters off to parts of the empire, to ease unemployment at home and provide a labour force to the colonies to enable them to supply the motherland with goods and produce. Despite general ridicule and the failure of some social experiments to help the workers, Michael is determined to soldier on and feels that he is unable to accompany Fleur on her jaunt, only promising to join her when Parliament is in its summer recess.

One of the interesting aspects of the Chronicle is the change in treatment of Soames. In the early books he was clearly a villain, for whom the reader was invited to have little sympathy, set in his ways, concerned only for property, his art collection and money. Much of that remains, of course, but Galsworthy’s portrayal appears more sympathetic. He is a lost soul in a world he barely recognises, let alone understands. What he thought was an act of kindness to his daughter, the relentless pursuit of a frivolous court case, has backfired and left her unhappy. His reflections are often astute, amusing and filled with regret.

And the silver spoon? The sense of entitlement that pervades through the book, personified in the behaviour and attitudes of Fleur and the air of expectation that surrounds young Kit.

Pizza Of The Week (3)

If you like a cheesy pizza, perhaps the place to go to is Déliss’ Pizza in Lyon as chef Benoït Bruel has recently created a 12-incher complete topped off with 254 varieties of cheese. This comfortably beat the previous world record of 154 cheese toppings set by Australian chef, John Di Francesco.

Bruel has not released a list of all the ingredients but cheese cognoscenti claim that the pizza contains, inter alia, Tomme Artisanale Suisse de la Venoge aux truffes, Rocamadour, Manigodine, La Vieielle Louche, Quattrocento, raclette, Picolin, Comté 9 mois, an eight-month Comté 8, and Chaource. There is a video showing Bruel meticulously sampling and weighing each cheese ingredient, all sourced in la belle France.

The resulting pizza weighed an astonishing more than one-and-a-half pounds, cost about €1,000 to make and slices were sold to lucky punters for around €50 each.

I will never look at a quattro formaggi in the same way again.

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