Portugal (again!)

Okay, it’s been far too long since we’ve done one of these.

Let’s all go to the Walnut, have a lovely meal and let me bore you with some wine chat.

I was lucky enough to visit three brilliant Portuguese wineries at the start of May and I’ve brought back some astonishingly good new booze I want to share with you: Vibrant, bone-dry, zesty as hell whites, dirty, smoky, earthy reds and some of that minimal intervention nonsense that’s all the rage.

Join us on Sunday 23rd June for an evening of exquisite Portuguesinesness.

Tickets cost £35.

For that you get two courses + cheese and seven wines.

BARGAIN.

CLICK HERE TO GRAB YER TICKETS (or pop into the shop)

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HUZZAH!

 

Uncharacteristically and unbelievably I am the bearer of glad tidings. After a couple of months of being short of both staff and cash, we are (possibly) on the brink of getting our shit together. You could almost say that Cornelius Beer & Wine is “Bouncing Back” (and I didn’t even have to drive to Dundee in bare feet whilst gorging on Toblerone)

Firstly (and most importantly)  we have managed to nab ourselves a new assistant manager. Some of you may know Mark as the tall, sardonic homebrewer who has been helping keep the good ship Oddbins afloat for the last couple of years. He’s a great bloke and knows his stuff, I’m really looking forward to working with him. Mark will be starting in June, sadly until then we will still be closed on Mondays.

Also we will be closed Sunday 5th, Monday 6th and Tuesday 7th opening late on Wednesday 8th and Thursday 9th. This is because I’m sodding off to Portugal to buy some wine and learn about the cork industry (this counts as work-honest)

Finally, after FIVE YEARS of haggling with the landlord, I am on the brink of signing a new lease (touches every piece of wood in sight) So hopefully, if I can get the money together, I’ll start spending money on infrastructure (new signage/kitchen sink/blinds etc) It’s wont mean much to you guys, but it’s reassuring to know that we’re here to stay (in some form) for another decade.

 

Cheers!

 

James

 

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I Should Cocoa

Although a business should always endeavour to cater for its most knowledgeable customers, it’s far more important to make sure you are accessible to the casual, regular punter who is going to provide you with the vast bulk of your income.

Sometimes I forget this and stuff the shelves with high-end, esoteric booze which attracts a small fan base of collectors, but many folk find intimidating/bewildering. Which means that often, after the initial buzz has wound down, I’m left with a bunch of bottles that can be hard to shift.

In many instances this is no problem- Lambics and Imperial Stouts can age gracefully, so I’m not that bothered if they gather a patina of dust. However, some heavily hopped beers really are designed for immediate consumption and become dull & lifeless after a couple of months, also many bottle conditioned beers can get “gushy”

A prime example of the latter are the beers of Dany Prignon, founder and brewer of Fantome: Home to what many consider the world’s greatest saison.

At the end of last year, I Had to radically discount a few bottles of his beer owing to their age and explosive tendencies.

The reason they had sat around to get into this state is threefold.

  1. they ain’t cheap.
  2. They have “idiosyncratic” (ugly) labels
  3. They were full of weird & experimental nonsense.

(They were also absolutely banging)

Because I rarely learn from my mistakes, i have just splurged out and got in a stack more Fantome saisons, including what may be my most ill-advised purchase to date: The Fantome Chocolat

The bittersweet character of chocolate is a notable component of many stouts and porters, but adding it to a saison, which is all about balance, texture and mouthfeel, seems like a particularly bad idea. However I’m delighted to say that Dany (who specialises in bad ideas) has crafted something delicious.

My bottle poured a not particularly attractive hazy amber colour, with a small, off-white head, which sat happily on top of the beer all the time I was drinking. It’s highly carbonated, with a near constant stream of fine bubbles

It has a complex, earthy, funky nose. With aromas of leaf mulch, leather and a strange (but welcome) hint of peat smoke

The palate is dominated by complex layers of malt, biscuits, toasted lemon and cereal. It is weightier than most saisons with more body and length, but other than adding to the beers substance, the chocolate doesn’t make much of an impression: I had feared something Nesquicky, but it’s actually very subtle. It doesn’t even finish sweet; instead it leaves you with a little peppery bite from the addition of ancho chillies.

I was prepared to hate this stuff, but I’d be very happy to drink a few more bottles.

(which is handy, because it’s hardly going to fly off the shelves)

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Gettin’ Jaggy With It.

I think we are in broad agreement that the 21st century has had a pretty rough first couple of decades. Our institutions, finances, social fabric and bodies have all aged terribly these last few years. But few things have changed quite like the public perception of cider has.
When I was a child “cider” meant either the litre bottle of White Lightning you smuggled into a sixth form party, or the tart, flat, golden drink that I will forever associate with a beer garden in blazing sunshine. Since then, the big branded macro ciders, have fallen in and out of favour a few times and high strength, white cider has nearly been killed off by minimum pricing legislation. Meanwhile, although mass-market “fruit ciders” (in reality, alcopops) are no way near as popular as they once were, they have proven mightily resilient and I suppose we’ll have to accept they’ll always be with us. At the other end of the scale, the past year has seen an explosion in the availability of single varietal and mixed fermentation “craft” (*sigh*) ciders.
This is all a long-winded way of saying that (other than an alcoholic drink derived from fermented orchard fruit) there’s little agreement about what cider actually is.

Except for what’s in my glass right now. that’s definitely cider with a capital C. It couldn’t be more cidery if it came in a hollowed out apple whilst singing the Wurzels.
This is the Jaggy Thistle by Thistly Cross, the first attempt (to the best of my knowledge) at a Scottish scrumpy in the traditional West Country style. It’s been available for a couple of years, but shamefully I’m only just getting around to sampling it.
It pours flat, but with a surprisingly clear, brilliant gold colour for a scrumpy that has been unfiltered, unpasteurised and cask conditioned. The nose is rich, sweet and boozy, with aromas of baked apple, raisin, balsa wood and PVA glue. The palate is sharp, dry and acidic with some earthy, funky flavours and a squirt of lemon. The finish is long with lots of warming alcohol and a proper dollop of apple juice
It’s a stronger, drier and far more grown drink than the standard Thistly Cross cider and isn’t widely available. This is partly due to the fact that it’s made only with local, East Lothian apples, with no bulk juice and partly due to it not being a particularly popular style.
Sadly, they have never made enough of the stuff to bottle it themselves. It’s occasionally available at the better pubs in town, but maybe the better option would be to come to us, where we will fill your bottle or “growler” for the more than reasonable price of £1.85/50cls . (Given that it comes in at 7.4% abv, this is as cheap as we’re allowed to sell it)

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I ♥ The Eighties

Way back in the mists of time, when what is now the Scottish Parliament was an abandoned brewery and pubs still reeked of baccy, I was a fresh-faced art student determined to drink my way around Edinburgh in as cost effective a fashion as possible.
Back then, spending an evening in the pub was actually a reasonably cheap night out and drinking options were far more limited than today, so when you found a beer that worked for you, chances are you would be drinking a whole lot more of it before kicking out time.
Most pubs would offer Deuchars, Guinness, Belhaven Best, a range of interchangeable lagers and if you were lucky an eighty shilling.
I would tend to gravitate towards the 80/- (possibly because it was always among the cheapest offerings at the bar) and nine times out of ten this would mean a pint of Caley.
Sadly, Caledonian Eighty Shilling has since rebranded itself as “Edinburgh Castle” and is nowhere near as ubiquitous as it was twenty years ago. Malty, session strength beers, with only a delicate hop character are far from fashionable these days: To my shame, there have been times when a customer has asked for something of that ilk and I’ve had nothing to offer among the several hundred beers in the shop.
Thank heavens then for Dalkeith’s very own Crossborders brewery who are keeping the malty flame alive, with their own 80/-, The Heavy.
Over Christmas the Heavy was promoted to part of Crossborders core range, a move which should see it available at a lot more pubs and offies in 2019.
It’s a very attractive beer; A deep, burnished, amber red colour with a proper head of delicate off-white foam. Rather fruity on the nose, with aromas of dried peel, quince, earl grey and ginger nuts. The palate is medium weight, clean and superbly balanced; With sweet caramel notes, mild bitterness and a definite (but not at all unpleasant) metallic zing of acidity on the finish.
At a smidgen over 4% it is eminently boshable and a 33cl tin should set you back about £2.50.
I’m writing this on Burns night and I can attest that a mild, fruity beer like this is precisely what is needed to wash down a salty, fatty dish like haggis (handy that)

Cheers!

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TELL ME WHY.

With Heather’s departure  the shop will be a man down for the next couple of months. To keep our sanity and to let us maintain the same quality of service, I’ve made the (frankly easy) decision to close the shop on Mondays.

 

So, from the 4th of March, we will try to stick to the following hours.

  • Monday. Closed
  • Tuesday. 12-9
  • Wednesday. 12-9
  • Thursday. 12-9
  • Friday. 11-9
  • Saturday. 11-9
  • Sunday, 1-7

 

Hopefully, this is a temporary measure. We will return to being open the full week once Brexit has been cancelled and we can get back to something resembling sanity.

Fingers crossed, in April we’ll be interviewing folk for the Assistant Managers position.

(either that, or booze retail as we know it is utterly screwed and we’ll put the business up for sale)

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So long, farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Goodbye.

 

If any of you guys are regulars from way back, you might have noticed that I have been absent from the shop floor for large stretches of the last couple of years. Front of house duties and, to be honest, all day to day areas of shop management have largely fallen on Heather.
She has done sterling work as the “face” of Cornelius and behind the scenes she has managed to reinvigorate and refresh our wine rang, bag us a couple of high rolling new accounts and is largely responsible for our calendar of tastings.
But all good things come to an end and, as I’m sure you probably guessed by now, I’m very much afraid that Heather is leaving us at the end of the month.
Although we are very sad to see her go, the silver lining is that she has managed to escape the world of booze retail altogether and is headed for a glittering career in law: Bizarrely enough, she is going to the Procurator Fiscal’s office to become a solicitor. Which means that though we obviously want to see plenty of her, I kind of hope its not in a professional capacity.

This means that I am going to pull my finger out and start getting hands on in the shop again. Expect to see a lot more of me in the coming weeks. The shop will probably start getting emptier, dustier and soundtracked by old Yo La Tengo albums.
Although, we cant possibly replace Heather, we will obviously try. There are a lot of talented folks out there, I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head that I would love to offer the position to and maybe one of them would be dumb enough to accept.
The problem (and I really don’t want to be a downer about this) is Br**it.
I want a proper, full time assistant manager, someone I can entrust the shop to, but I just don’t think its wise to take on another full time member of staff, when its entirely possible, that due to racism and idiocy, the business might no longer be viable after March 29th.
So we will just play it by ear.
Miles and myself will run the shop through March and April, (we might have to be closed Mondays- will update) and in May we should have an idea how post-Br**it booze retail is going to work. If people are still drinking and (crucially) we can still get booze to them, then we can start interviewing folk.
If, however it all goes a bit “Mad Max” then the job requirements might change dramatically.
So yeah, for at least two months, that is one job loss that can DEFINITELY be chalked up to Br**it.
Apologies for going off on a tangent. Lets end this blog by paying tribute to Heather, whoever follows her has mighty big shoes to fill. Some of you might be heading down to her farewell bash at Little Fitzroy (sold out-sorry) where she has some STUNNING booze lined up for you. if you are reading this and your in the trade, you might well spot her at the two big tastings on Tuesday. Say hi if your sober enough, she’ll (probably) be happy to chat.
Cheers!
James

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Blind Drunk

 

If the past two years has taught us anything, it’s that as human beings, we are full of irrational prejudice (apologies if that sentence is a bit inflammatory, depressing and lacking in yuletide spirit) This is as true in matters of taste, as it is in (slightly) more important matters like love, religion, politics and social division.

There are many things I rail against without any particularly good reason: Too much/any garnish on a soup or a martini, cheap French wine that pretends to be Aussie, expensive Aussie wine that pretends to be French, overly sweet breakfast cereal, American biscuits, liqueurs that market themselves as gins, beers that clearly base their branding on that of a more successful brewery, etc. If offered any of these I would have to battle my deep-seated bias before I could assess them fairly.

This is why all beer and wine judging is done blind, it really is the easiest way to let the drinks speak for themselves. Strangely, it has taken me the best part of two decades to extend this principal to our public, in-store tastings.

I suppose, as a sales tactic it sucks (depriving the consumer of any knowledge about a products origin isn’t the most obvious marketing ploy), but when embarked upon as nothing more than a fun little social experiment the results were really interesting.

We started with two beers, that are among the most popular examples of their respective styles: Punk IPA by Brewdog and Saison Dupont.

Customers were simply handed a glass of unnamed beer with as little ceremony as possible and asked what they thought they were drinking. The first thing to note about their responses is how broadly accurate they were. Almost everybody said “it’s an IPA” or, “it’s something Belgian” and although only a couple of people hit the nail on the head, many made really educated guesses.

This may be partly because Punk has slightly bent the public’s perception as to what an IPA is: limiting it to that creamy, supremely balanced, slightly fruity and not too bitter, alcohol delivery service. Likewise, the Saison Dupont is surely something of a classic, with many much younger breweries trying (and failing) to replicate it’s distinctive, bready, earthy and zesty character.

It’s also worth noting, that of the hundred or so folk who took part, the wildest, least accurate guesses came from brewers and other industry insiders, who all fell into the trap of other-thinking, other-analysing and ignoring their gut instincts

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All Grain, No Pain.

 

Rob Hill of the Swannay brewery way up in Orkney, may be Scotland’s most consistently excellent brewer, but few people would call him innovative. He specialises in moderately hopped, traditional beers of the kind that your dad would recognise. (He brews a world class mild, for instance) These are nearly always the best drinks in their category and I urge you to give them a go, especially if you see them on cask.
Last year, he let his son Lewis come up with a range of more contemporary beers to compliment the existing range. These were to be canned and act as a bridge between Swannay’s traditional offerings and the more hop-forward, experimental styles that are currently in vogue.
The third of these was released just at the start of winter and is the second of the brewery’s beers to highlight the quality of Orkney’s native grain.
Bere or in Viking, Bygg is the local barley and (according to Wikipedia) Britain’s oldest cereal in cultivation. One reason for it’s peculiar success in Orkney is it’s very rapid growth rate (summers in Orkney are not known for their length)

The Swannay Bygg is one of only a handful of beers to utilise this unique grain and it’s bloody delicious.
It’s an attractive amber/walnut colour, with some slight haze and a moderately creamy head. the nose is quite fruity, with suggestions of toffee and Ready Brek. The palate also has a fair sweetness, with flavours of spiced, dried fruit. It might be just because I’m writing this on Boxing Day, but it has more than a hint of stale panettone. (this is a good thing) The finish is clean with a gentle bitterness and the 5% abv is just enough to roast your chestnuts.

It took me a few minutes to drain a 33cl can (£2.70-£3, available throughout Edinburgh) but I sure would love to find a pub that had it on cask so I could take my time over a few pints.

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Vino et Vinyl

Popping corks and spinning discs!

In the old past, we’ve proposed some pretty specious not to say spurious reasons for tastings, but this one really takes the biscuit. If you will believe it, we are going to attempt to pair not wine and food but wine and music, pressings of grapes and vinyl if you will. The particular relevance and appropriateness of the pairings may well turn out to be quite wobbly, but please don’t come over all tremulous and please do go ahead and rest assured of two things: both the tunes and the plonk will be only of the soundest, highest fidelity quality.

So: Six, perhaps seven wines and six perhaps seven long-playing sides (plus cheese, certainly edible and possibly audible) for just £19. (Cheaper than the average cost of an LP these downloading days.)

Click HERE to grab yourself a ticket

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