Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Shock, horror: green ants are all the rage in artisan gins!

There is nothing like a bit of controversy to spark some publicity - and I'm biting.

When I get a press release telling me that green ants are all the rage in gins, I raise a very suspicious eyebrow.

My guess is that most people might be interested in trying an ant-infused gin once only, and I'm going to be an old killjoy and point out that something made in quantity of 300 bottles is far from being "all the rage".

What is true is that green ants are being used as botanicals in two Australian craft gins.

Two distilleries in the Adelaide Hills region of South Australia have this month released gins made with green ants, a traditional indigenous food eaten for thousands of years by Australian Aborigines for their high protein and medicinal benefits.

The gins also use a range of other native botanicals to provide a fresh Australian interpretation of a London Dry Gin.

Applewood Distillery released its Green Ant Gin on Valentine’s Day, while Something Wild Beverages launched its Australian Green Ant Gin today.

Adelaide Hills Distillery is making the gin under contract for newly-formed Something Wild Beverages, a division of native food company Something Wild, which specialises in sustainably sourced indigenous foods such as kangaroo, wallaby, magpie goose, native herbs and fruits.

Adelaide Hills Distillery founder and head distiller Sacha La Forgia said it took him several months to be persuaded to eat green ants and allow them to be put in his still.

“But once I did it was like an incredible flavour explosion in my mouth of lime and coriander flavours as well as a fresh acidic zing,” he said.

“It was just beautiful and I thought straight away ‘wow, they exist to be in gin’.”

A "pinch" of green ants, which are sourced under permit from the Northern Territory, are also put into the bottles in the same way worms are used in tequila to provide the finishing touch.

“That acidic zing doesn’t carry over in the still so we include some ants in every bottle and it just lifts the palate a bit,” La Forgia said.

“By putting them in the bottle, I’m hoping to encourage people to eat one and taste it.

“When people try one their eyes light up and they get a big smile on their face.”

Other Australian native foods used as botanicals in the gin include finger lime, pepper berry, the native juniper boobialla and leaves from strawberry gum and lemon myrtle trees.

“By using more leaves I was able to use less juniper while still maintaining those same characteristics that you would normally associate with gin,” La Forgia said.

The Australian Green Ant Gin has an ABV of 42% and is priced at $97.50 on the Something Wild Beverages website for a 700ml bottle.

The company aims to have national and possibly international distribution for the product, depending on demand.

Under the collaboration between Adelaide Hills Distillery and Something Wild, profits from the botanicals gathered on Aboriginal lands flow back into those Outback communities.

“I think now is quite an important time because we are seeing the popularity of native foods increasing very quickly,” La Forgia said.

“It’s a feel good thing but it’s also very necessary to make sure that these ingredients are sustainable and that they are still there in the future.”

Applewood Distillery’s Green Ant Gin, meanwhile, is almost sold out of its limited edition of 300 bottles. The 500ml bottles are also 42% ABV and cost $120 each.

Head distiller Brendan Carter said the response to the gin had been “insane” and he expected the 300 bottles to be sold out by the end of the month.

He said the main constituent that gave the green ants (these are from New South Wales) their distinctive sharp, citrus flavour was formic acid.

“In this particular one we also wanted to emphasise the native citruses, which I think a lot of people are getting their heads around at the moment so there’s finger limes and a little bit of strawberry gum leaf in there too,” Carter said.

“Our limited editions are a complete once off so we’ll do that and move on to something else challenging and uber creative in typical Applewood fashion.”

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A night at the footy - South African style

South Africans take their soccer pretty seriously. And no team's fans are more serious than those of Johannesburg side Kaizer Chiefs, who are revered around the country. 

When I flew into Durban on Saturday morning, I discovered Chiefs were playing Highlands Park at the superb Moses Mabhida Stadium that night. 

So I hopped on the bus and headed for stadium - along with around 45,000 other people, virtually all of them from the townships. 

To say I stood out like a sore thumb is an understatement. I bought a ticket for R60 ($6) that had been originally sold to a "Mr Bongani Nhlapho",  at face value from a helpful fellow outside main gate. 

I was made very welcome, however, in a stadium that was a riot of colour and noise. 

Think vuvuzela horns, elaborate costumes and non-stop noise - with a few waves thrown in - and roars from the fans - almost entirely clad in Chiefs' gold - whenever a "home" player excelled. 

Chiefs got up 1-0 - sparking wild celebrations. I hope you enjoy these pictures. 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Meet Craig. He's a bit of a dick.

Some of you may have met Craig. He's the restaurant manager at the Hussar Grill in Stellenbosch.

It's a lovely restaurant in the town centre with excellent steaks and mouth-watering prawns, along with an excellent wine list. 

It was busy on  Monday. Far busier than it should have been. Young university student waitresses rushed backwards and forwards. Far busier than they needed to be. 

It was obvious to even the casual observer that the staff was stretched too thinly. 

Craig was cajoling and chastising his staff. It was clear that it was his systems that were not working. It took out 45 minutes to place even our food order. 

After an hour or so of observation I let Craig know. First he accused me of "raising my voice" - which I wasn't. Then he accused me of disrespecting him in his workplace. He denied we had waited 45 minutes to place an order. 

When he realised I was sober and logical he promised he would "fix everything up".

Craig was never seen again. A liability to his employers and an embarrassment in a country with general excellent service standards. 

An excellent dinner with a dickhead in charge. Pity really, and I felt sorry for waiter Semone. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Taking a step back in time

It is a magnicent hotel that should be on the agenda of anyone visiting Stellenbosch - heart of Afrikanderdom. 

Dating back over 200 years to 1802 the Oude Werf Hotel is an artful union of old and new - the older part is the oldest continually operating inn in South Africa. 

This boutique hotel gets everything right. When I arrived early and feeling unwell, a room was quickly preparared for me. Impressive. And stylish. 

The staff are slick and almost entirerly black. The guests are, with two exceptions I've noted, back. 

The vast majority of the guests are well-heeled and in their fifties and sixties. Many speak Afrikaans. Only, one, possibly, is gay. 

Neil Diamond's Hot August Night is playing on the audio. Some are reading Die Burger. 

For this still group, at least, it is as if South Africa has not changed one iota. 

The Oude Werf Hotel, 30 Church Street, Stellenbosch, 7600. South Africa. www.OudeWerfHotel.co.za

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Adventurous brewer releases Australia's first lentil craft beer

Believe it or not, Australia's first lentil beer has been released by a craft brewery in the Adelaide Hills.

Lobethal Bierhaus’s new Lentil Pale Ale was launched this week - in tiny quantities as part of a collaboration with pulse processor AGT Foods.

Around 3,500 bottles and two kegs are part of the first run but the brewery sees it as a first step towards producing a gluten-free craft beer.

Whole and diamond-cut red lentils with grey seed coats are used as an adjunct and are milled with the with the grain at the rate of 30% lentils, 70% barley.

Head brewer and owner Alistair Turnbull although the lentils did not produce fermentable sugars, they added mouthfeel, head retention and flavour to the beer.

“I would describe it as a fairly earthy flavour that we’ve balanced with local hops that match with it," said Turnbull. "But we’ve also tried to make sure that we haven’t made it overly bitter or hoppy so it hides the lentil flavour.”

The brew follows a collaboration between AGT Foods’ Canadian parent company and Rebellion Brewing Company  in Regina, Saskatchewan, to brew a Lentil Cream Ale.

“They put me in touch with the Canadian brewery to pass on some of their research and the beer we have released was the result of that,” Turnbull said.

“I’m already really impressed with how it behaves. What it does for the beer is fantastic."

Lobethal Bierhaus opened in 2007 in the Adelaide Hills town of Lobethal, about 40km east of the South Australian capital Adelaide.


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

How is it some hotels get things so wrong?

I never cease to be amazed at how hotels can manage to get so many of the basics wrong.

From the snotty buffoon who checked me in at Melbourne's Crown Metropol a couple of weeks ago, to being charged $30 a day for the use of ludicrously slow wifi in Sydney, there are an awful lot of hotels that don't even seem to be trying to be hospitable.

One thing every hotel should do, for instance, is make sure that guests can easily find their intended address. I'm not even sure which one is the Park Hyatt in Melbourne and which one is the Grand Hyatt. I don't know if there is a Hyatt Regency or not.

Nuo Hotel Beijing, or Beijing Hotel Nuo?
That makes the behaviour of Chinese luxury hotel brand Nuo Hotels almost unbelievable.

It currently has a Nuo Hotel Beijing. But now it has purchased the former Grand Hotel de Pekin and Raffles Hotel, it has renamed it  - wait for it - Beijing Hotel Nuo.

Yep, that's right. Instead of giving it an identifier like north, south, east, west or central, it has given it a name almost identical to its sibling.

All of which simply makes things hard for anyone who doesn't speak fluent Chinese. Imagine trying to explain to a taxi driver the difference between the Nuo Hotel Beijing and the Beijing Hotel Nuo.

That's a big fail - one clearly decided by a clown who does not stay in hotels.

And Hyatt is back in the act in Sydney with the opening of the new Hyatt Regency Hotel in what used to be the Four Points by Sheraton Darling Harbour. I wonder how many guests will end up here when they are actually booked into the Park Hyatt in the Rocks, or vice versa?

What would be wrong with Hyatt Regency Darling Harbour, or Park Hyatt Waterside?

It's just plain stoopid, particularly if you are a confused Japanese or Chinese tourist, the market segment the city is trying to woo.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A Coonawarra date for the diary

Coonawarra is a wine region well worth a trek; whether you drive from Adelaide or Melbourne or fly into Mount Gambier.

Pop the dates of April 7-8 into your diary for the next of Coonawarra's many food and wine festivals: Coonawarra After Dark, which celebrates the 2017 vintage.

The program of Friday night events includes a vintage stomp at DiGiorgio Family Wines with fresh produce platters; vintage celebrations and Mrs Zema's legendary pizzas and live music on the verandah at Zema Estate; and a winedUp party at Brands Laira with entertainment and fish and chips.

On Saturday, visitors can enjoy wines in the raw at Katnook Estate (a tasting of newly picked juice accompanied by a cheese platter) followed by Chris Raidis' charcoal grill (Greek-style food hopefully with some goat) at Raidis Estate.

Throw in a visit to Wynn's Coonawarra Estate and you have a perfect gourmet getaway.

A shuttle bus will circle between venues on the Friday night for a $10 fee.

For information on accommodation, attractions and restaurants ring Penola Coonawarra Visitor Centre on (08) 8737 255 or visit www.coonawarra.org.