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BEVERAGE REPORT
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The Independent Culture
This week's BEVERAGE REPORT AWARDS are as follows:

DAFFIEST NEW BEER OF THE WEEK AWARD The groan-inducingly named Ale Caesar, pounds 1.59/ 500ml at Bottoms Up. Whitbread, the parent company of Threshers, etc, has decided to brew a beerological history of Britain, using ancient recipes and modern brewing techniques. Ale Caesar is the first step in the long march. It's based on a recipe found by Brian Clark, their principal brewer, in the third edition (1850) of a book with the sexy title of By Royal Letters Patent: The Theory and Practice of Brewing Illustrated. The Romans used no hops in their beer; Ale Caesar does use a few (for their antioxidant properties). The beer's complex, deeply bitter flavour owes more to coriander, rosemary and other herbal items. It is spicy, weird, and delicious.

NOT-AS-BAD-AS-IT-SOUNDS DRINK OF THE WEEK AWARD From an entirely separate division of the Whitbread behemoth comes Jade, a new alco-carb flavoured with cardamom. This has a bone-dry, refreshing spiciness, and may well score a hit with its intended audience of women aged 21 to 30. Or, for that matter, with anyone seeking an alternative to dry white wine, the world's worst aperitif. Sold at pubs and bars, or retail (pounds 1.19/275ml) from Thre-sher and some independents.

SEASONALLY APPROPRIATE REFRESHING BEERS OF THE WEEK AWARD Cool off with Pete's Wicked Summer Brew and Hop Back Summer Lightning. Both are sold by Oddbins among others, Pete's at pounds 1.19/335ml, Summer Lightning at pounds 1.59/500ml. There's a touch of lemon in the American-brewed Pete's, giving a pronounced citrus lilt to its sweet, round flavour. Summer Lightning, from down Somerset way, is bottle-conditioned and needs extra-delicate pouring. Lovely pale colour and winning tangy taste, with a sharp, crisp finish.

OEUFS ON MY FACE OF THE WEEK AWARD A few Sundays ago, while singing the praises of Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon Blanc 1996, I described it as being exclusive to Thresher. I was wrong. This exceptional wine is also sold by Stephens Garnier Wine Merchants, and through its retail outlet Grape Ideas, in Botley, Oxon (01865 263303). It is worth seeking out. In the same article I also referred to Chateau Coutet as a Sauternes when it is, of course, a Barsac, and to Mazis-Chambertin as Mazey-Chambertin. Must have been something I ate, or drank. Or maybe I was having a bad computer week.

RED WINE HUMDINGER OF THE WEEK AWARD This has to go to Richemont Carignan 1995, Vin de Pays de l'Aude (Safeway, pounds 5.99). Carignan is one of the grapes used in Corbieres, and is not usually reckoned to be the best of them. But Richemont, made by Hugh Ryman at the Montbrun co-operative in Corbieres, uses fruit from 100-year- old vines. It is inky, concentrated, and very complex. If you're barbecuing any time soon, invite 75cl of this stuff. On the other hand, I'll still respect Safeway shoppers who feel the need to embrace a more familiar appel- lation such as Cotes-du-Rhone. Domaine Vieux Manoir de Maransan 1996 (pounds 4.49) should be snuggling up on a shelf not too far from the Richemont, and it's a properly spicy specimen of equal value in a barbecue situation.

WOODSMAN, SPARE THAT TREE! AWARD I often think that half the people who think they like Chardonnay actually just like the taste of oak. The soft vanilla notes of wood blend perfectly with the world's favourite white grape. But they can also mask deficiencies in the fruit, or overpower it entirely if the winemaker isn't careful. This is why a good unoaked Chardonnay is always a pleasure and something of a surprise. When friends pop in, pop a cork on Lindemans Cawarra Homestead Unoaked Chardonnay 1996 (Som-erfield, pounds 4.69) and let them taste it blind. If they can't guess the grape, that's evidence in support of my theory. Isn't it?

HEDONISTIC USE FOR WINDFALL PROFITS AWARD Just as unit trusts offer monthly savings plans, Berry Bros & Rudd, the pukka wine merchants in London SW1 (0171 396 9669), offers a "Tailor-Made Cellar Plan". You make one-off payments or set up a regular scheme starting at pounds 50 per month. You sign off a standing order and tell them your target price, drinking preferences, and when you'd like to drink it. They then make their choice, credit the bottles to your account, and either store them for you (pounds 6 a year per case) or arrange delivery. Be warned: with target prices starting at pounds 10 to pounds 15 per bottle, this is not for the faint of heart or shallow of pocket. But if you like the idea of laying down a superior cellar slowly, this is a good way of doing it. Several thousand of BB&R's customers are participating already.

SOBERING THOUGHT OF THE WEEK AWARD There are five vintages of Chateau d'Yquem on the wine list at Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane (0171 409 1290), which serves some of the best food in the universe. The youngest vintage is 1970 and the cheapest costs pounds 525. Where does all the money come from? And why hasn't anybody given some of it to me?

BIRTHDAY PRESENT OF THE WEEK AWARD I may celebrate my 150th birthday in the way that Booths Supermarkets have celebrated theirs: by persuading Bollinger to disgorge 300 special magnums of Grande Annee 1989. Bollinger's RD (Re-cently Disgorged) wines are among the greatest of champagnes, gaining miraculous richness from the extra time spent communing with the yeast from second fermentation. Such glories do not come cheap: pounds 75 a pop. But when you think that a 75cl bottle of earlier RD vintage costs at least fifty quid, and consider the semi-imminence of 31/12/99, you may hear your credit card crying "Use me!" Branches of Booths are located only in the north west, so the North/South divide works (for once) to the disadvantage of the Home Counties. Cumbria, here I come.

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