August Newsletter

Summer Party

Our annual summer party went exceedingly well. Many thanks to all members for bringing along the sumptuous fare - the selection was excellent and varied. Thanks are also due to Lin and Sylvia for setting up the room and for the culinary organisation - which was, as usual, faultless! Our guests were the Tunbridge Wells Wine Circle, who were also our adversaries in the inter-circle competition. TW won the competition (see results later in this newsletter). Tunbridge Wells were also the worthy winners of the quiz, which was organised and delivered by Les Bates.

That's The Spirit!

Genever or Gin is an interesting and highly underrated spirit. In the 18th century it got a very bad press - largely due to the efforts of William Hogarth. Everybody knows Hogarth's depiction of "Gin Lane" - but fewer people are aware that Hogarth came from a wealthy brewing family: hence the rather predictable comparison of the happy denizens of "Beer Street" with the wantonly savage, dirty and unhappy inhabitants of the former. When William lll (William of  Orange) was invited to be King of England in 1688, following the welcome deposition of James ll, he declared that all things French - including Brandy - be replaced by home-produced alternatives. Hence the Dutch produced spirit "Genever" - which the English, being hopelessly lazy and intolerant of words they can't get their lips around, quickly shortened to "Gin". When English soldiers were fighting alongside their Dutch allies, they often took a swig of the potent liquor prior to battle - hence the term "Dutch courage". Gin, as most people know, is flavoured with juniper. Cathy and I went to a tutored gin-tasting in London recently, and we learned that juniper was once considered a medicinal herb. Gin was, therefore, originally a medicine! Gin has staged a remarkable come-back in recent years. There are many varieties on the market produced by small boutique distilleries. Indeed, the guys who gave the tuition paraphrased the "you are never more than 5 yards from a rat" to the "you are never more than a few hundred yards from a gin distillery"! Modern gins have, in addition to the ubiquitous juniper, many other flavourings (these are called "botanicals"). I found a particularly nice American gin called "Aviator" (I was naturally drawn to this one!) which had lavender in its botanical mix. Now, as one who dislikes the smell of lavender, I was a little hesitant on learning this. However, the mix of other botanicals ensured that the lavender complemented the bouquet nicely and was not the slightest bit over-powering. Incidentally, the gin-tasting was held in a roof garden in Kensington. You would never know you were in the middle of a big city! In atmosphere and surroundings, you could easily have been at Hever Castle!

And A Gin And Tonic To Accompany It

Essentials: good gin, a good tonic and loads of ice! The tonic we like is produced by Fevertree; it is slightly pink, owing to the inclusion of some Angostura bitters. If you like, you can buy this in Waitrose. I did wonder about the name "Fevertree" but, of course, what's the ingredient that gives tonic water its famous astringency? Why - none other than quinine! And what was quinine used for? Treatment of malaria - or "fever"! Quinine was first extracted from the bark of the chinchona tree or "fever tree" in the 1820s. 

Fill a glass with cubed or chipped ice and pour out any melt water before adding the gin. Use as much as you want. Add a sliver of grapefruit skin (not the pith!), a sprig of rosemary and as much tonic as you like. Stir really gently (and briefly) and drink immediately. Wow! This is so good!

Competition Results

Well - they did it again! Tunbridge Wells took all three places in the inter-circle competition.

  • 1st Pujan Dhar; 2nd Rodney Reeve; 3rd Duncan Oakley and H/C Les Maskrey.

    Pujan took the cup for TW.

    Just a quick reminder that the wine was medium apricot. This was chosen by Tonbridge (who were last year's winners). It was noticeable that quite a few entries were rather on the sweet side. Medium wine is extraordinarily difficult to define - and what is medium to one person could conceivably be sweet to another. However, very many congratulations to TW. They were the worthy winners! We look forward to the competition next year. TW will choose the wine and let us know in due course. The judges: Pat Reeve (TW) and Geoff Rishman (Ton).

Latest News From Tunbridge Wells

Sadly, and unhappily, there will be no inter-circle competition next year. The article above was written before the melancholy news that the Tunbridge Wells Wine Circle will close down in December 2017. Older than us (they were founded in 1965) it is with exceeding sorrow that we see them falling by the wayside in 2017. They were a vigorous club, bursting with good ideas, and, as testified by the history of our inter-circle competitions, surpassingly good wine makers! Steered and led by the indefatigable Duncan Oakly, they were certainly a force to be reckoned with! We can only hope that such knowledge and expertise will not wither on the vine. Tonbridge Winemakers would like to extend the hand of friendship to those members of this esteemed organisation who might like to join us.

Letters To A Politician

Dear Mr T - why are we told not to look at flashing images on TV when cyclists conspicuously brandish their high intensity flashing lights? Surely it's a danger to motorists having continuously to readjust their focus; and, what if they were photosensitive epileptics?

Dear Mr R - It is not illegal to use a strobing light provided the flash rate does not exceed 4 per second; at this rate it is considered safe. I hope I have been able to answer your questions.

Dear Mr T - Actually, no you haven't. The epileptic society consider that a flash rate of 16Hz can bring on a seizure. It only requires 4 oncoming cyclists to generate this frequency since it would be impossible to have perfectly synchronised flashing.

Dear Mr R - I’m sorry that we disagree on this particular point. It is my belief that anything that can preserve cyclists’ lives is warranted. The horrendous accidents that befall them, both on our country lanes as well as in towns and cities, surely argues the case for them to use the means they have at their disposal as vulnerable road-users to keep themselves safe.

Dear Mr T- You keep missing the point: 4 times 4 equals 16. Recently, we have seen how vehicles crashing into pedestrians cause death and destruction. Should a photo-epileptic have a seizure on being confronted by a party of light flashing cyclists, he or she might crash into the cyclists. Forget the pedestrians - they're not important - but the cyclists?

Space - The Final Frontier

The Chinese have launched cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and merlot vines into space in an attempt to create grapes that can be produced in the harshest of climates. The vines were delivered to the Tiangong-2 space lab floating high above in the celestial firmament.  Scientists hope that high radiation will produce genetic mutations, making the vines resistant to cold and viruses. Why not just expose them to radioactive sources here on Earth?

Origin Of Shandy

I have Bob to thanks for this (Mail July 6). Shandy was originally known as shandygaff. Shandygaff was a mixture of beer and ginger ale - it is only more recently that lemonade has replaced the ginger ale in the modern shandy. The word 'shandy' was recorded as early as 1691 meaning 'boisterous' or 'empty-headed' or 'half crazy'. An early citation is from the London Daily News of June 4, 1888; here we get: 'Sparkling hop, shandy, and other new-fangled drinks.' These 'new-fangled' drinks were much more interesting than the modern concoctions - which pale by comparison! Cedric Dickens (Charles' great grandson) quotes the following recipe in a book on old English drinking culture: 1 oz orange brandy liqueur (Grand Marnier), ¾ oz fresh lemon juice, 10 oz real ale, 10 oz ginger beer and a twist of lemon to garnish. What about the 'gaff' bit? As early as 1300 a boat hook was known as a 'gaff' but it could also come from the Old English gafspræc for 'blasphemous or ribald speech'. Maybe 'shandy' and 'gaff' had something to do with a boisterous drinking culture.

O Rare Ben Jonson

"Drink today, and drown all sorrow:

You shall perhaps not do it tomorrow;

Best, while you have it, use your breath;

There is no drinking after death"                 Ben Jonson

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02.09 | 16:03

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