Old Pulteney chocolate and cherry clusters

Old Pulteney Balls

When it comes to adding whisky to chocolate, the default serving method seems to be balls. From the canonical whisky truffle (all hail Delia) to the infamous WhiskyCast Bourbon Balls, when you combine whisky with chocolate you usually seem to end up with something spherical. But what about those of us with a minimal arts and crafts skills? Old Pulteney have our backs, with a recipe for Bitter Chocolate, Freeze Dried Cherry & Whisky Clusters. Aka Pulteney Balls.

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Fish and Whiskey with Smooth Ambler Old Scout

Smooth Ambler and some fish

PR trips are often ridiculous things. Outside of the whisky world there is often craziness tangentially connected with whatever is being PR’d, followed by a goodie bag and a cab home, but my little corner of the PR system is generally a more sensible place. Having extracted myself from the world of computer games writing, an area where you can find yourself driving a tank just as easily as being force fed drinks at a free bar, before a) the money to do the crazy had arrived and b) I’d written anything about computer games that would have brought me to the attention of a PR company, I feel I’ve missed out. Thankfully I know the folks at Maverick Drinks and they’ve done their part to bring me into the realm of the insane press trip.

I went fly-fishing with Smooth Ambler head distiller John Little. Rock and Roll.

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Sherry and Whisky at Trangallan – June 6-8

Mr Lyan

I don’t write that much about events these days. Partly that’s because I don’t get invited to many and partly because when I do it’s for work. However, every now and again something pops up that I want to write about which doesn’t fit into the work basket and this is one of those times. A night of sherry, whisky and food at east London Galician restaurant Trangallan, which I’ve been meaning to visit for a while? Count me in.

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Beery Gujarati Supperclub at DR.iNK of Fulham

I’ve often lamented the lack of good beer shops in London. I’ve not done any research to see if there actually are any other than Utobeer in Borough Market, but that’s never stopped me having a good lament. I do like lamenting. Anyways, while wandering around Whisky Live London I bumped into drinky PR queen Su-Lin Ong who, on discovering that my booze related obsession was not confined to the realms of whisky, invited me along to a supperclub at Fulham Palace Road beer specialist DR.iNK. As she’d just helped me blag my way onto the The Glenlivet balcony for a taste of the 1964 vintage (the most expensive whisky I have ever tried) it would have been rude to say no.

Opening May 2010, DR.iNK, generally referred to using the more sensible name Drink of Fulham, is run by Shrila Amin and was set up with the help of her cousin Jayesh Patel of Westholme Stores in Oxfordshire – a Londis that has rather expanded on its usual corner-shop remit into being a rather well stocked beer shop. Along with the walls full of beer Shrila and her sisters sell a variety of homemade food, cooked to Gujarati recipes. The Gujarat is a western Indian state to the north of Mumbai with lots of good growing territory and the food from the region continues that theme with lots of vegetarian recipes. However, it seems that there’s not much of a tradition of being chefs and as such we don’t get much in the way of Gujarati food turning up in restaurants over here.

One of Shrila’s most recent ideas is to put on a supperclub in her flat above the shop, combining her family’s cooking with beer from downstairs to put on a beer tasting with matched food. Helping her with the beer selection and presentation for the evenings is Alex Barlow of All Beer, master brewer, writer, brewing consultant and self proclaimed beer missionary. Their plan for the evening was for us to try five Gujarati dishes, all vegetarian (although Shrila herself is not veggie and the curry paste that she sells at DR.iNK goes well with meat), each with a pair of beers to compare, and then another couple of beers to bookend the food. Shrila’s sisters manned the kitchen while 16 of us sat around in the front room, a mix of locals, Shrila’s friends, Alex’s family, and a few beer loving bloggery types.

Mort Subite GueuzeThe first beer of the night was Mort Subite Gueuze, brewed in the village of Kobbegem near Brussels. It, as with all gueuze, is a lambic beer, meaning that rather than being fermented using an added yeast it instead relies on spontaneous fermentation, using the wild yeasts that hang around in the brewery. This leads to a much longer fermentation time than usual, around 18 months in the case of Mort Subite, rather than a matter of days or weeks for british ales. This initial fermentation doesn’t convert all of the sugars to alcohol and after the beer is aged various vintages are blended together and bottled for a second fermentation. The resulting beer is sweet and sour, with different varieties varying between those two extremes. The Mort Subite is a very approachable gueuze, much less scary than the super-sour Cantillon that I rather like. On the nose it has a strong cidery smell – real cider, not the Strongbows of this world, with sweet apple, mulchy apple skin and a hint of farmyard – along with a slab of rich malt. To taste it was, as expected, sweet and sour and very cidery – a medium scrumpy. This was chosen to go first as it’s a good palate cleanser – it has no bitterness and served cold some of the sweetness is cut out making it very refreshing.

The first pair of beers were chosen to accompany Dahi Puri – a puri (a crispy poppadomy case) filled with red chick peas, a variety of chutneys and some yoghurt. They reminded me, in a good way, of very high class nachos – crunchiness mixed with creamy yoghurt, beany chickpeas and a sweet, spicy chutney, with all the flavours coming out individually and working well together.

Freedom PilsnerBeer number one was Freedom Pilsner. The brewery started off in Fulham, down the road from DR.iNK, and after expanding into a couple of brewpubs (including one opposite Belgo in Covent Garden that I used to frequent) they shut up shop in London and moved to Staffordshire. This beer was the only lager we were to try all night – while some of the others were lager-y this is the only true lager (lager being the german for ‘to store’), matured after a 10-14 day fermentation for 4 weeks before bottling. On the nose there was grain, grass and a (contradictory) dry sweetness. After Alex pointed it out, as is often the way, I picked up a pile of vegetable notes, with cabbage and cooked onions. To taste it was lightly carbonated and very dry with a lightly savoury hop. It picked up the grainy notes on the nose but kept the sweetness under control – light and refreshing. It worked well with the puri, with the food bringing out more sweetness from the beer and more bitterness, enhancing the flavours and complimenting each other.

Früh KölschAlong with that we had Früh Kölsch. Kölsch is a style of beer from Cologne (aka Köln to the people who live there) with a PDO. It’s light and often taken to be a lager, but it uses an ale yeast so strictly speaking isn’t one. The Brauhaus Früh is in the middle of Cologne near the cathedral and produces a typical and well thought of kölsch. On the nose it had sweet grain and light sour fruit. To taste it had raw malt, sweet butter and a similar vegetable character to the Freedom Pilsner. This time there was already more sweetness in beer and the food mainly accentuated the hops, still going well and in a similar fashion to the pilsner.

The next dish was Paneer Samosas. Rather than using minced meat these instead were filled with crumbled paneer, a cheese made by souring boiled milk with lemon juice before straining and working the curds to remove moisture. They had a pleasantly lingering sesame flavour from seeds sprinkled on top of the samosas and were surprisingly meaty – if I hadn’t been told that it was paneer I would have assumed minced lamb or pork. This wasn’t a traditionally Gujarati dish, as they generally use paneer in desserts such as Ras Malai rather than savouries.

Celis WhiteTo go with the samosas the first beer was Celis White. It’s made by Pierre Celis, thought of as the saviour of the belgian wheat beer after his revival of the style with a little beer called Hoegaarden. Celis White came about after Stella took over the production of Hoegaarden, having taken part ownership of the Celis’s brewery after helping out during some money troubles, and then started tweaking the recipe. Celis decided to brew a beer to his original recipe, and thus was Celis White born. On a bit more googling it seems the story doesn’t end there, with Pierre setting up his brewery in the US (although he didn’t move there), Miller buying the brewery and brand, Miller closing the brewery and selling on the name and, finally, Brouwerij Van Steenberge (home of Gulden Draak and Piraat) now brewing the beer in Belgium. It even seems that there are two Celis Whites, one by Van Steenberge and one by Michigan Brewing, leading to the former being distributed in the US as Ertveld’s Wit, named for the town where it’s brewed. On the nose it is, very reminiscent of Hoegaarden, with citrus and coriander (as you’d expect from a beer seasoned with orange peel and coriander). The familiarity continues with the taste, with more coriander and lemon, a rich buttery wheat and a dry vegetal finish. Dryer than current production Hoegaarden, it worked well with the food, the fruity spiced paneer filling the dry gap in the centre of the beer. The style blatantly inspired Ferran Adrià’s Inedit, a beer designed to compliment food, and it works in a similar fashion.

Saison DupontThe next companion beer for the samosas was Saison Dupont, the brewery being Dupont and the style Saison. Brewed in the west of Belgium it was traditionally produced for farm workers but these days is given a secondary bottle fermentation to produce a stronger beer. On the nose it was pure fruity icecream, like pink supermarket neapolitan, with a thick maltiness – my notes say ‘Like a strawberry malt milkshake”. The taste was big with sweet malt and bitter end – Dan from What Ales You almost ruined this one for me with his loud and true announcement of ‘Juicy fruit chewing gum”. This very much contrasted with the Celis White, but worked well – the sweetness of the beer blended with the sweetness underlying the filling and the savoury notes of the food mingled nicely.

We then moved onto the next dish – Ragdo Pattis. This was a patty of chick peas with a jaggery sweetened tomatoey sauce. My notes are annoyingly light, but I remember it to be tasty and pleasantly sweet, with the fudgey nature of jaggery (which Shrila handed around a bowl of) coming through.

Kernel Citra IPAThe accompanying beer was Kernel Citra IPA. One of the beers I’d tried at Jason’s beer amnesty earlier this year it was one I’d been meaning to try again – after this tasting it’s on my definite to buy list. The Kernel IPAs keep pretty much the same recipe, varying in which hop they use. I’ve tried the award winning Simcoe IPA before but this one is a much more elegant beer. On the nose it had the strong smell of a hop loft, cut with tropical fruit – passion fruit maybe? To taste it was much softer than the smell, with light sweet citrus, seville oranges and a hit of mulchy hop leading to a bitter end. A solid IPA and one that I need in my cupboard. I didn’t think this went all that well with the food, as the softness of the beer disappeared under the strength of flavour leaving just the strong green hoppiness.

Williams GingerThe other ‘beer’ was Williams Ginger. An alcoholic ginger beer rather than a regularly malty one, this was classed as a ‘spiced ale’ on Alex’s list. From the same brewer as Grozet (gooseberry and wheat beer), Kelpie (seaweed ale) and most famously Fraoch (heather ale) this continues that idea of twists on regular beers but with a more traditional recipe. On the nose it had chocolate covered ginger nut biscuits and crystallised ginger. To taste it had only a light gingeriness which dissipated quickly to sugar syrup with a burst of dry root ginger at the end. This worked better with the food, with the ginger adding to the spiciness and the sweetness.

The next course was Idli Sambal, a steamed dumpling served with red lentil dal and yoghurt. I wasn’t a fan of the idli, as it was a fairly bland and mainly used to provide some body to the dish, but the dal was excellent – smooth like a thick soup and rich. We asked how they’d got the consistency and the secret was revealed to be a pressure cooker – a bit of high pressure cooking of the pulses before they’re used helps them break down into a tasty sauce thickener.

Hopback Summer LightningThe first match was Hopback Summer Lightning, which Alex credited with reinventing the British golden ale when it was introduced in 1995, picking up the gold medal in the bottle conditioned beer category in 1997’s Great British Beer Festival as well as a bunch of other awards. On the nose it was quite farmyardy, with mud, hay and fruit as well as an almost wheat beer-like sourness. To taste it was very vegetal, with boiled green vegetables, some mulchy fruit and hints of grain leading to hop bitterness. It worked quite nicely with the food, losing some of its pungency and bringing some vegetable flavours to the soft stodge of the dal.

Copper Dragon Challenger IPAThe second beer was Copper Dragon Challenger IPA. This was my least favourite beer of the night – the other beers we’d tried felt like they’d been designed to work in a bottle and were comparable to a good cask beer, but this one just tasted to me like a generic bottled ale. It wasn’t bad by any means, just not as interesting as the others. On the nose it was solidly beery, with a slug of sweet maltiness balanced with bitter hops (ie. it smelled of beer). To taste it was richly sweet but non-descript without much of a lingering flavour. The food overpowered the beer somewhat, but the sweetness did add a bit to the flavour of the dal.

The last dish of the night was a vegetable curry, made from the curry paste that Shrila sells in her shop, served with rice. The paste is not a particularly Gujarati one but it was rather good, with a gentle spiciness wrapping up the veggies (some squash, iirc) that were cooked in it.

Thornbridge KiplingTo go with the curry we started off with Thornbridge Kipling. Thornbridge have hit a bit of an ascendant recently, with their Jaipur being roundly hailed as a new generation of British IPA, winning the gold in the 2010 GBBF strong ales category, and their other beers gaining prizes and a strong following. The Kipling is a golden ale with a light and fresh nose of lemons, fruity hops and tropical fruit. To taste it is clean tasting with floral notes leading to a delicate hoppy bitterness provided by Nelson Sauvin hops. It did well with the curry, cutting through the spice and adding its own fruitiness to that of the curry paste.

Schneider Weisse Unser AventinusThe last food matching beer was Schneider Weisse Unser Aventinus, a weisse doppelbock (a german wheat beer brewed to be rather strong) coming in at 8.2% and named for historian Johannes Aventinus. On the nose it had bubble gum, bananas, lots of concentrated wheat and, after Alex pointed it out, sticking plasters – a strange hint of the medicinal. To taste it was sweet, dark and rich with equal measures of malt and wheat, matched with some liquorice. The food brought out the bananas I got on the nose and, similar to the Kipling, added fruitiness, although this time with more heavy sweetness.

Harvieston Ola Dubh 12The last beer of the night was a digestif: Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 year old, their Old Engine Oil matured in whisky barrels from Highland Park. I’ve written about the 16 year old before (the age referring to how long whisky had been the barrel rather than how old the beer is) and still prefer the 12 when it comes to price/taste ratio. It’s a thick dark beer, with wood and sour fruit on the nose. The darkness continues into the taste with dark chocolate, coffee and wine fruit up front, and a hint of marzipan when you breathe in after finishing your glass. A good evening ender, happily swamping the tastebuds.

A great evening with a friendly group, some great food and a wide range of beer. There are more supperclub evenings coming up, the dates are listed on the website, and tickets go for £40 a head (which is at the upper end of what I’d expect). The plan does seem to be to vary the menu and beers each time, altering things based on feedback from each session and what new beers and ideas the come up with, and a repeat visit is tempting.

Many thanks to Shrila and family, Alex and Su-Lin for inviting me along – they subbed me in for free this time. It was also great to meet Dan and Anna from What Ales You and Helen from Bites of London, who also has a write-up on her site.

Mort Subite Gueuze
Gueuze, 4.5%.

Freedom Pilsner
Pilsner lager, 5%.

Früh Kölsch
Kölsch, 4.8%.

Celis White
Belgian witte, 5%.

Dupont Saison
Saison, 6.5%.

Kernel Citra IPA
India Pale Ale, 6.2%.

Wiliams Brothers Ginger
Alcoholic Ginger Beer, 3.8%.

Hopback Summer Lightning
Blonde ale, 5%.

Copper Dragon Challenger IPA
India Pale Ale, 4.8%.

Thornbridge Kipling
Golden ale, 5.2%.

Schneider Weisse Aventinus
Weisse doppelbock,

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special Reserve 12
Whisky cask aged porter, 8%.

Learning about Sherry with Gonzalez Byass, Lustau and Waitrose

During my last jaunt towards sherry knowledge, the trip to Camino el Puerto del Canario that involved more food and beer than fortified wine, I lamented my lack of learning to Andrew Sinclair of Gonzalez Byass, along with a grumble that you don’t get as many chances to learn about sherry as you do other beverages. I must have made some kind of impression (my whining often does – it cuts to the soul) as a few weeks after I received an email asking if I wanted to come along to a ‘Learn about sherry’ session at the new Waitrose cooking school in Finchley. I, of course, said yes.

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The event was a joint effort between Waitrose, wanting people to see their new enterprise (the flooring of the entrance of which had only been laid hours earlier, so still rather new), Lustau (the supplier of Waitrose’s house sherry) and Gonzalez Byass (suppliers of brand name sherries), as well as including some matched food from Spain as prepared in the cookery school kitchen. We started the evening with a glass of Waitrose Manzanilla, bottled for them by Lustau. On the nose it had lemon zest, a bit of sour honey and a light nuttiness. To taste it started with a sweet fruitiness but quickly became dry, with olives, grass and woodiness, and a light sour finish. Quite nice, but still a little light for my liking. This accompanied a run through of how the evening would go – we’d learn about the sherry making process from Lustau’s Michael Hall and Byass’s Jeremy Rockett while Maria José Sevilla, the UK representative of the Spanish food and wine producers, ran us through some foods that could accompany the various sherries that Waitrose sell.

Sherry is, by protected designation of origin definition, only made in the south west corner of Spain between Sevilla and Cadiz in an region known as The Sherry Triangle. The area is bordered by three towns: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, and the name Sherry is an anglicisation of Jerez. It’s very hot in the region and not great for growing grapes, although the chalky soil soaks up moisture when it does rain meaning that there is enough water for vines to grow even if their roots do have to dig deep. Most of the grapes grown are Palomino Fino, the base grape for sherry, but there is also some Pedro Ximinez and Moscatel produced, with PX often used as sweetener in wine and sherry production. Palomino doesn’t really make particularly great wine, it’s drinkable but isn’t that interesting, but the ‘magic’ of sherry production happens after traditional wine production has finished. The base wine is made to be dry and fairly bland with an alcoholic content of about 12-13% and is racked 500 litres per cask (not totally filling the casks, giving an air gap at the top) in January or February before it starts the journey of becoming sherry. There are two basic process for making sherry, each producing a distinctive style: Fino is pale and dry and Oloroso is dark and fruitier.

Fino is made by taking the base wine and fortifying it to 15% by adding grape brandy. This strengthens the wine but isn’t quite strong enough to kill the remaining yeast in the mixture, which forms a layer on top of the liquid in the barrel called flor. The flor eventually covers the surface of the maturing sherry and stops oxygen from making much contact with the liquid, as well as digesting sugar and glycerol remaining in the mix. This, along with the flor’s helping along of further fermentation in the maturing sherry, gives the distinctive dry fino flavour. Oloroso, by comparison, is made by fortifying the base wine to about 17%, which kills off the remaining yeast and allows the sherry to mature without the protective flor. This causes the liquid to darken as it oxidises as well as becoming fruitier and sweeter as the oxidisation and remaining sugars work on the flavour. The various other sherries are made by altering these processes slightly as well as working with the traditional system of sherry maturation – The Solera.

The solera system is method of maturation designed to give consistent results from year to year by blending sherries from different years and different levels of maturation. The maturing barrels are stacked about 4 high with the bottom row containing the oldest sherries and the top the youngest. When sherry is taken from the solera it is always taken from the oldest casks, which are then topped up from the next oldest, which are in turn topped up from the next, and so on until there are no more casks to transfer sherry from. The youngest cask is then topped up with new sherry and the process starts again. As long as barrel is never emptied as part of the filling process this ensures that each barrel contains a blend of sherries of different ages and the constant transference of liquid towards the oldest ‘Mother Solera’ barrels evens out any changes in flavour from season to season to give a slowly changing but year-to-year consistent sherry. As the process doesn’t rely as much on the quality or flavour of the base wine it is the location of the maturation, as well as the quirks of the individual solera, which leads to the variations in the flavours of the different houses’s sherries.

IMG_0322Our next sherry of the evening was the one that we opened the visit to Camino with – Tio Pepe Palomino Fino. The Manzanilla that we started with is a lighter version of the fino, made in a similar fashion, but you also get Manzanilla Pasada, which is aged longer and has more nuttiness. Tio Pepe is made in Jerez de la Frontera and is a benchmark of the standard fino style – a nose of lemons and honey with a quickly fading taste of soured grapes, citrus, yeasty undertones and wood. It’s a very light drink and is traditionally served very chilled to add to it’s refreshing nature. As a fino it doesn’t have much of a shelf life once opened – it oxidises quickly and goes off unless consumed within a couple of weeks – and the chilling also helps it keep for a bit longer. This sherry was matched with a prawn cooked with garlic, wine and pimento pepper. This worked really well – the flavour of the sherry fades quickly and the prawn filled the gap, the citrus flavours of the sherry cutting through the initial rich butteriness of the shellfish.

We moved on to the next driest sherry on our list – Waitrose Dry Amontillado, again selected by Lustau. Dry amontillado is from the same family of sherries as finos but is darker and more complex due to a double maturation. Wine is taken from the fino mother solera, as usual, but instead of being bottled as a fino it is further fortified to the 17% oloroso level and then run through a further amontillado solera. The fortification kills the flor and allows the wine to undergo a second oxidising maturation. On the nose it has raisins, bread and caramel – a chelsea bun in liquid form. To taste it has an initial fruity sweetness that fades very quickly to a dry, yeasty middle and a long sour grape finish. The sweetness on the nose is due to remaining glycerol in the wine rather than the usual sugars and the sweetness on the palate is due to a concentration of flavour during the maturation process rather than any particular production of sugars during the secondary solera. This was matched with a salad of warm broad beans, shaved manchego, smoky ground pepper, oil and salt which went very well – the earthy beans filled the dry hole in the middle of the wine’s flavour profile and the concentrated fruit of the wine provided a nice buffer either side, working well with salt and cheese.

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Next was La Concha Medium Dry Amontillado from Gonzalez Byass. An interesting style of sherry this, and one that is almost uniquely English and not generally found in Spain. Rather than being a true Amontillado it is instead a blend of regular dry Amontillado and PX to give a bit more of the fruity sweetness that is generally looked for in Sherry by us Brits. On the nose it was dominated by the PX, with raisins and toffee, but there was a hint of the sherry underneath with some dry hay coming through. To taste it had a rich raisin sweetness leading to a dry middle and lingering sweet and sour finish. This is the sherry that I’ve been drinking at Christmas for years and now I know how it’s made I can see why – I’m a big fan of PX but often find it a bit much. Cut the syrup sweetness of PX with some dry Amontillado and you have something that perfectly appeals to my sweet and sour loving palate. This was matched with three cured meats – lomo embuchado (cured pork loin), salsichon (a salami) and chorizo (coarse spicy sausage). The sweetness of the sherry cut through the strong spicy flavours of the meats, but not a lot more came through than that sweetness.

We then moved on to the sweeter wines, starting with the Waitrose Dry Oloroso. Matured using the regular oloroso solera process this was a rich reddy brown colour with a rich and sweet nose of fruit, caramel and brittle toffee. To taste it had the now expected burst of sweetness followed by grapes and unripe apricot – not actively sweet, but rich and dry. The finish was long with dry wood and a prickle of alcohol. This was matched with croquetas de jamón – ham croquettes. This again worked really well with a one-two combo of rich wine cutting through dairy richness, combined with salty ham enhancing the flavours of the sherry.

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Second of the sweeter sherries was Apostoles Palo Cortado. This is a rarer style of sherry and one that isn’t particularly well known. The choice as to whether particular base wine is to be used for oloroso or fino is now governed by science(!), with the chemical composition of the wines determining which process they will work best with. However, Palo Cortado starts with taking the best of the fino base wine and then fortifying it to 17%, as with oloroso. This wine is then aged for about 10 years in a single barrel rather than solera before being tested and, if it’s up to scratch, moved to a Palo Cortado solera for a further 20 years. Gonzales Byass, makers of the Apostoles, sweeten the wine with some PX when it goes into the solera, giving an old rich sherry which still has a chunk of dryness. It was a dark red wine with a nose of rich dried fruit, caramel sweetness and marzipan. To taste it had a deep wine sweetness with an astringent kick, and cherry stones (with a bit of flesh still attached) fading to a long fresh cherry finish. This was matched with a Galician Empanada – a Spanish pasty. It was mooted around the audience that this was made for similar reasons to the Cornish pasty, with both Cornwall and Galicia being known for mining, but either way it was a small tasty pasty that slipped down easily with the sherry, it’s pepperiness making a nice contrast and complimenting some of the richness in the middle of the wine.

IMG_0337We next tried one of the more maligned sherries of the evening – Waitrose Rich Cream. Harvey’s Bristol Cream is one of the UK’s best known sherry brands and the one (along with Crofts) most associated with the ‘old bottle kept in a cupboard by your gran’ image that often goes along with the drink. In years gone by Harvey’s produced some excellent traditional sherry, but as time has passed their product has become more generic and without some of the interest of the older iterati0ns. This blend is an attempt to get back to some of that older style, mixing together old Oloroso with PX and Moscatel. On the nose it had a hollow sweetness with grass, vanilla, figs and marzipan – quite Christmassy. To taste it had dried fruit, booze soaked bread, sweet grapes and a bitter finish. This was paired with a Christmas pudding parfait of gingerbread biscuit, cranberry, orange and mixed peel studded vanilla cream parfait. There were a wealth of common flavours and the astringency of the sherry cut through the richness of the parfait. I poured a drop or two of sherry into my dessert and the whole lot went a bit tutti frutti ice cream – a flavour that I haven’t had for ages.

Our last sherry of the night was one that my recent run of tastings with Richard Paterson had introduced me to – Matusalem. More specifically that’s the name for Gonzalez Byass’s old sweet oloroso, but it’s also the expensive cask that Whyte & Mackay prize for production of some of their more expensive sherried whisky. Going the same direction as the Palo Cortado, this is also matured in a cask before hitting the solera, but spends 20 years on its own before meeting the marrying barrels. PX is introduced early on the maturation process giving this wine a rich sweetness beyond the regular olorosos. It also, like the other long matured sherries, increased in alcoholic percentage while maturing, as the climate in Andalucia causes water to evaporate rather than alcohol, concentrating the sherry and making it more boozy over time. On the nose it had wood, cocoa, sour caramel, pepper, cinnamon and dried fruit. To taste it was sweet with fruit to start and rested on a bed of sour fruits – cherries, peaches (maybe nectarines) and pears. It had a long smoky wood finish and a hint of what reminded me of musty cheese rind – a hint back to its yeasty beginnings as fino before the flor died. This was paired with mahon, a cow’s milk cheese from Menorca, and mebrillo, the quince jam often served with spanish cheeses. I’m not sure this entirely went, but the cheese was nice enough that I’ve been nibbling at a block this last week and the mebrillo was impressively smooth and sweet.

From knowing nothing about sherry a few weeks back I now know enough to at least start asking the questions that will help me learn more. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find a Waitrose stocking many of the sherries from the tasting, but the Waitrose own range that Lustau have put together pops up in pieces in most of them. This post was written under the influence of Waitrose/Lustau Palo Cortado and I suspect that this year my traditional grabbing of a Medium Amontillado will be at least complimented, if not replaced, by a Matusalem, Palo Cortado and/or Dry Amontillado. Dryer sherries may not last all that long once opened, but I should get at least a month out of the stronger, sweeter ones, not that I expect them to last that long.

Waitrose Manzanilla
Manzanilla fina sherry. 17%. £8.19 for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Tio Pepe Palomino Fino
Dry fino sherry. £9.49
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Waitrose Dry Amontillado
Amontillado sherry. 19%. £8.19
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

La Concha Medium Dry Amontillado
Amontillado sherry/PX blend. £7.39
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Waitrose Dry Oloroso
Oloroso sherry. 20%. £8.19 from Waitrose stores.

Apostoles Palo Cortado
Palo cortado sherry. 18.5%. £16.29 for a 37.5cl bottle from Ocado

Waitrose Rich Cream Sherry
Oloroso sherry with PX and Moscatel. £8.19
for a 75cl bottle from Ocado

Matusalem
Rich old oloroso with PX. 20.5%. £16.29 for a 37.5cl bottle from Ocado

Many thanks to Andrew Sinclair and Jeremy Rockett from Gonzalez Byass for inviting me along. The tasting was free and filled with press, Waitrose customers, staff from elsewhere in the John Lewis group and me as the only admitted blogger. Just in case they’re reading I’d like to say hello to the lovely posse from the food hall at John Lewis on Oxford Street – thankyou for helping me find my way in to the cookery school and making sure that I ate my share of the olives.

Dominic Roskrow’s ‘The World’s Best Whiskies’ at Quilon

This blog is quite good for getting me invited to slightly random events that aren’t just plain drinks tastings and when I was asked along to a combination practise whisky dinner and book launch at a Michelin starred Indian restaurant, I couldn’t really say no. The book in question is Dominic Roskrow’s latest, The World’s Best Whiskies and the restaurant Quilon.

Dominic has been writing about whisky for years, having been editor of Whisky Magazine amongst other writing poitions, and was made a Keeper of the Quaich in 2007 and a Kentucky Colonel in 2010. He now edits The Whisky Shop‘s inhouse magazine, Whiskeria, writes all over the place and runs whisky tastings around the country. It was more in this latter capacity that he we met him, as the plan was to taste some whisky rather than listen to a reading of tasting notes from the new book.

Quilon, specialising in food from the south west of India, wasn’t an entirely random pairing, as this was a test run of a whisky dinner that Dominic will be hosting at the restaurant at the beginning of next year. The fact that they also have a 50 strong whisky menu and a head chef who likes the odd dram, as we discovered when he came out to have a rest and a drink at the end of the night, didn’t hinder things either.

We started the evening with a cocktail of Johnny Walker Black Label and Créme de Mûre, topped up with champagne, which I was not that great a fan of – the champage overpowered the whisky and the liqueur didn’t help that. As I’m not a fan of fizzy wine it wasn’t my kind of thing, but the assembled journalists, with a couple of us bloggers for good measure, seemed to enjoy it well enough. While we sipped at these Dominic described his approach to writing the book, basically drinking a lot of whisky. He went through and tried all of the whiskies himself (bar one that I can’t remember) and wrote up fresh tasting notes for all of them in his own rather irreverant style, focusing on drinking whisky and having a good time rather than the more regimented tasting notes side of things.

The Best Whiskies in the World?

Dominic is very much a lover of whisk(e)y from all over the world, as his Kentucky Colonel-dom (-ship? -ity? who knows…) attests, and we started the whisky tasting with the Amrut Double Cask. Amrut have been making drinks for many years, but their foray into the single malt whisky market was described by Dominic as a ‘Newcastle university student experiment’. One of the family who own the operation was studying in Newcastle and wondered whether it was possible to sell an Indian single malt whisky in the British market. The initial answer to the question was ‘no’, but they’ve persevered and over time the quality of product and the eagerness of reception has grown, leading to the current state where it’s no longer considered quite as strange that you can buy Indian whisky in the UK and their products are getting good critical attention. Due to the environment in Bangalore the maturation of the whisky is rather different to in Scotland, with 2-5 years of maturation being usual and 7 years the oldest that they’ve produced as yet. This speed of turnaround has allowed them to do a lot of experimentation, with various different barley types (both local Indian grain as well as imports from Scotland) and barrels as well as other fiddling. This bottling is a vatting of two old casks (from 2002 and 2003 – two of their oldest) demonstrating the main problem with maturing for so long in the tropics – the whisky lost 59% of its volume in evaporation over the 7 years. Rather than being alcohol evaporating, as you get in cooler climates, this was mainly water, with the alcohol content of the spirit rising from the filling proof of 62.5% to 69.8% before reducing for bottling. This is now pretty much sold out, as you’d expect from a total availability of 306 bottles. On the nose it had vanilla, a beefy maltiness, apples and chilli. To taste it was buttery, with sweet vanilla, black pepper, green peppers, a bit of chilli spice and long bitter wood finish. As it sat in the glass it opened up a bit more and I got a hint of aniseed – not the sweet heat of an aniseed ball but the seedy aniseed of the speck at the centre. Water softened the wood, bringing out more vanilla and calming the spiciness.

Next we tried out our one Scottish whisky of the evening, the Glenkeir Treasures 17 year old Macallan. The Glenkeir Treasures are a range of The Whisky Shop’s own bottlings and this one was a single cask which had produced 144 bottles. It was matured in bourbon and finished in sherry casks (I think that’s what Dominic said), showing Macallan’s increased use of bourbon casks in their production, something that was very much not the norm for them in the past. On the nose it was vegetal with some horseradish and mustard. There was also dark chocolate, a rich maltiness and a smell that my brain resolved to be “off limes” – a pleasant soured citrus. To taste there was sweet woody spice with salt and pepper, but these were overshadowed by a dry tannic wood that stepped in and dominated. Water rolled away a lot of the dryness, revealing vanilla ice cream which quickly faded through dried fruits to a long woody finish.

We then skipped continents again, this time to the USA and Hancock’s Reserve Single Barrel. Produced by Buffalo Trace (there are a lot more whiskey brands than there are distilleries in the US, with most companies producing a variety of different products) it’s a single cask with individual bottlings often coming in at 8-10 years, although the age is not stated on the bottle. This one had a lovely nose, with sweet varnish, pencil rubbers, bubblegum, dried apples, pastry, bananas and a rich caramel. To taste it was much lighter, with the apples returning along with some grapes, sultanas and sweet wood spice, finishing with light woodiness. It was the groups favourite of the evening and I can see why – very smooth and easy to drink in comparison with the rather spiky whiskies that preceded it. I found it slightly disappointing that the promise of the nose wasn’t quite borne out in the body, but still rather enjoyed it.

Karuizawa 1982The last in our round the world tasting session was the most interesting for me – Karuizawa 1982 from The Whisky Exchange. Appropriately Tim from TWE (and writer of their rather good blog) was there to represent the bottlers, who had put this whisky out as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations. I tried it a week earlier at their official celebratory tasting (that I might one day get round to writing up here) and had to check carefully to make sure it was the same whisky. We tried it very soon after pouring at Quilon, whereas it was the penultimate whisky at the TWE tasting and had sat in the glass for about 2 hours, and it seems that it is very much a whisky that changes with exposure to the air. This time the nose was rich with truffles, struck matches, raisins, grapes and sherried wood. To taste it had sherry fruit and peppery spice, followed by a burst of wood that led into a rich, spicy, meaty finish. An impressive and very different whisky from the rest, and one that lost a lot of the ‘forest notes’ as it sat in the glass (which it didn’t do very long this time).

We then followed this with some excellent food from the Quilon menu, matched with a red and white wine rather than with the whisky, with the curry leaf and lentil crusted fish starter (as south west India has a whole load of coastline to obtain fish from), the lamb roast main course (which reminded me a lot of the excellent ‘dry meat’ at Tayyabs) and the rather special pepper ice cream (which I suspect had a chunk more than pepper in – I assumed it was cardamon until I read the menu) all standing out. With dinner finished we were joined by head chef Sriram Aylur who tucked into a pair of drams (with a spot of ice, as room temperature whisky after an evening in a hot and spicy kitchen wasn’t something he was a fan of) while we chatted with Dominic about the joys of whisky.

The World's Best WhiskiesAll in all a rather nice evening and encouraging to see the whisky industry outside of the core distilling reaching out to bloggers (something that Dominic himself mentioned in the latest Whiskeria – November 2010, page 50). I think that the restaurant need to have a chat with Dominic before next year to best work out how to set up the tasting though, as wine glasses aren’t great for nosing and chilled water isn’t the best for adding to a dram. That said, the food was very good and they’ve gone on my list of places to try and have a proper meal at.

I’d already occasionally spoken to Dominic on Twitter, so it was nice to meet him in person. I’d even signed up to his online whisky tasting club earlier that week, receiving shipping confirmation of my first box of samples while I was talking to him that evening. In a stroke of duplication it seems that in addition to the copy of the book that I was given after this tasting I’ll have another one arriving sometime early in the new year, as The Whisky Tasting Club are giving each of their regular members a copy after their second tasting. I’ll have a spare soon so I might even have to do a competition giveaway or something – while the book is (from my current browsing) rather good and beautifully designed (the front cover alone has given me both photographic and glassware envy) my house is too full of books and booze to allow any duplicates in. Worryingly, that even counts for booze…

Amrut Double Cask
7 year old Indian single malt whisky. 46%. ~£80 from Whiskys.co.uk

Glenkeir Treasures Macallan 17
17 year old Speyside single cask single malt Scotch whisky. 57.7%. Sold out, but was ~£70 per bottle

Hancock’s Reserve Single Barrel
Single cask bourbon aged approx 8-10 years. 44.45%. ~£70 from Royal Mile Whiskies

Karuizawa 1982, Whisky Exchange 10th Anniversary Bottling
17 year old single cask Japanese single malt whisky. Sold out, but was available from The Whisky Exchange.

Many thanks to Su Lin Ong of SLO London for inviting me, the staff at Quilon for feeding me and to Dominic for the whisky and whisky talk. I didn’t pay for the evening and did receive a copy of Dominic’s book to take home with me. And a copy of Whiskeria, but I think you can get those for free at The Whisky Shop if you buy something and ask nicely. I think that’s what I did last time.

Tickets are now available for the February 1st 2011 dinner. Details in this PDF.

Dominic is another person who is being foolish and growing a ‘tache for Movember. While it pains me to advertise a ‘rival’ (doubly so, as he’s a member of The Edinburgh Whisky Blog‘s team rather than infinitely superior Whisky4Movember posse) as it’s a rival for sponsorship cash and it all goes to the same place it’d be churlish of me not to link to his fundraising page. His moustache is also better than mine.

Cranachan

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It is well known that I consider the adding of whisky to any situation a positive thing and it would be much remiss of me to exclude desserts from the list of situations. So, when the planning of a pudding for this year’s NomNomNom cooking competition came up there was really only one choice for me – Cranachan.

Cranachan is a deceptively simple pud – whipped cream with a touch of whisky, toasted oats and raspberries. It’s the scottish Eton Mess and with the recent revival of that dish at the finer end of dining cranachan has tagged along, adding a touch of regional flair to the creamy dessert spectrum. However, there are a number of variables to consider, so using my finely honed scientific mind (poetic license) I decided to do some experimenting before putting together a final recipe.

First up was the fruit. One of the aims of NomNomNom is to use locally sourced and seasonal ingredients where possible, and while raspberries are in season I thought it’d be good to add a twist. One of my favourite summer fruits is the gooseberry – we had a bush in the garden when I was a kid and due to a distinct lack of enthusiasm for them in my family I pinched many straight from the branch, revelling in the stolen painful sourness. I didn’t want to exclude the raspberry, so my first experiments pitted it against stewed gooseberries (cooked on a low heat in some simple syrup until they started to break up) and quartered raw gooseberry. The plain gooseberry had a good crunch, but was a bit too tart for the sweet dessert that we planned; the raspberry was good and classic, but again slightly too sour; the stewed gooseberry was perfect – a centre of caramel sweetness surrounded by the rounded sourness of the gooseberry.

Next was the oats. Plain toasted oats were a bit boring and the large quantity of floury bits in the bag I bought led to a dusty oatiness that wasn’t really what I was after. A quick think later and a couple of tablespoons of soft brown sugar went into a dry pan with the toasting oats. I stirred it carefully as it heated, keeping the oats moving so they wouldn’t burn, until the sugar melted, at which point it came off the heat and I stirred a bit more frantically to mop up the dust to make a simple, crunchy, sugary granola. This was a bit of a winner and I may have eaten most of it on its own once it had cooled.

Finally we came to the cream – whipping cream is easy, but what whisky should I use? I dragged out 4 to choose from – Greenore 8 year old, Laphroaig Cairdeas, Benromach Organic and Yamazaki Sherry cask. The Greenore was, as might be expected, very light and added a pleasant whisky sweetness to the cream without overpowering it too much; the Cairdeas lost a lot of its flavours when combined with cream but the iodine peatiness came through, which was quite unpleasant; the Benromach was almost excellent, but the main flavour to cut through the cream was the woodiness of the new barrels used for maturing, overpowering the sweetness I was looking for; the Yamazaki was also really good, but not what was needed here – if I ever need to make a sherry trifle then this will be going in with the cream, as it had a very concentrated sour sherry flavour that cut through the fat. In the end I decided on the Greenore, although this would mean that I was making a Scottish dessert using English cream, English gooseberries, English oats and Irish whiskey, which felt slightly sacrilegious.

It’s said that no plan survives contact with the enemy and my recipe was no different. On the day minor issues with exploding stewed gooseberries (they go everywhere when you drop a bowl onto a hard work surface) were quickly swept under the carpet (almost literally) and plans for using Greenore were discarded when my cooking buddy Melanie, the other half of our most excellent team – The Tarragons of Virtue, pulled out a miniature of Glenmorangie 10 year old that she’d got from work – the combination of sweetness and wood cut through the cream perfectly making it the obvious choice. Melanie also added a touch of icing sugar to the cream while whipping to add a little more sweetness.

Cranachan

Recipe:
Some whisky
Some cream
Some oats
Some brown sugar
Some sugar syrup
Some gooseberries

Add the gooseberries to a pan and fill to half way up their side with a 1:3 sugar:water syrup. Cook over a low heat until they are a gooey sauce, although with some gooseberry lumps still present, and then leave to cool. Toast some oats in a frying pan with some soft brown sugar, making sure to keep the oats moving to stop them burning. Once the sugar has started to melt remove the pan from the heat and stir until the sugar starts solidifying again. Leave them to cool, breaking them up with a spoon a bit before using them. Whip some cream until light and fluffy and fold in a little icing sugar and some whisky until it tastes good.

To assemble: place a spoon of stewed gooseberry in the bottom of a serving glass. Fold together some cream and oats until slightly crunchy, then add some gooseberry and stir once to give a gooseberry swirl. Spoon into the serving class and top with more oats and a quartered fresh gooseberry.

We didn’t win, but I did eat a lot of whisky cream.

NomNomNom is an annual cooking competition and charity raffle in aid of Action Against Hunger. I also did it last year and didn’t win, ho hum. There will be a post up about our efforts on the day on the main NomNomNom website soon, along with some audience award voting. Please vote for me and Melanie, we’re lovely.

There’s also a post on my other blog about our main course – a stuffed pork loin. It was very nice.

Now be good and go and buy some raffle tickets.

Macallan and Chocolate Pairing at Artisan du Chocolat

Again, the internet doth provide. I saw a post on Judith Lewis’s Mostly About Chocolate blog the other day that Macallan were doing a whisky and chocolate tasting, and that she had some tickets to give away. I’ve been to quite a few whisky tastings in my time but as yet I’ve managed to avoid (undeliberately) any food pairings and have been keeping an eye out for one that I could do. Naturally, I entered the competition and was quite surprised to be rewarded not only with one ticket but also a few more to give away to some friends, courtesy of Macallan’s twittering PR folk. I roped in my partner for this year’s NomNomNom, Melanie, work buddy Darren and one of his mates, and off to Ladbroke Grove we did trot.

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On arrival we were presented with a Cocoa Pulp Bellini, part of Artisan’s Chocolateria cocktail menu, a glass with cocoa pulp topped up with prosecco. The pulp was fruity with hints of lychee, peach and fizzy apple, which worked well to create a light, fruity bellini. I’ve noticed Artisan du Chocolat popping up a lot on Twitter, being in with the London foodies as they are and also an active participant in the world of online interaction, but have yet to make it over to one of their shops. They’ve been selling chocolates in London for a while, starting out in Borough Market about 10 years ago (back in the days when it wasn’t quite so well known and there was a lot more fighting for every customer who walked past) and expanding their business to now include a few shops and a concession in Selfridges on Oxford Street. Gerry Coleman, founder and chocolatier, and his team have been making their own chocolate, rather than buying it in, to make their various tasty things since 2007 and are one of the only posh chocolate shops to do so. Basically, I was impressed and may have hung around a bit at the end of the night, interrupting the staff’s well deserved pizza, talking at Gerry and realising that I now have to add chocolate onto my list of things to learn about.

Macallan I’ve generally not been so keen on. While I was quite impressed by their regular 10 year old whisky when I visited the distillery, I wasn’t quite so fond of the 12 year old version and the 12 year fine oak that I bought miniatures of. However, from their style (mainly sherried Speyside) they should fit happily into my likes, so I’ve always thought it must be some kind of snobbery rather than the fault of the whisky. One of their current marketing pushes is to find masters in other industries, to match up with their own Master of Wood and Master of Spirit. So far they’ve released a  Masters of Photography bottlins, with accompanying photographic exhibition, and have done a few events matching up Macallan with other masters, and this tasting was part of that idea – combining the Masters of Wood and Spirit with the Masters of Chocolate.

The plan was simple – Gerry and his team had tasted a selection of Macallans, chosen a matching chocolate bar (or two) from their range, and they would present us with both whisky and chocolate to see what we thought. Leading the whisky side was Maxxium UK’s Toby Shellard along with Annabel Kohler from the Edrington Group (the owners of Macallan), and the whiskies chosen were not a regular vertical tasting.

Whisky and ChocolateThe first whisky we tried was the Macallan 15 year old Fine Oak, a mixture of Macallan whiskies matured in european sherry, american bourbon and american sherry oak barrels. On the nose there was linseed oil, apple and pear, a hint of salt and some almost banana-like sweetness. To taste the first thing I noticed was a big woodiness, which was tempered by some vanilla and pear flavours as well as lightly toasted bread. Water brought out some smokiness (from the wood rather than any peat) as well as more oil, orchard fruit and a floral note that was hidden behind the wood beforehand. I much preferred this to the 12 year I’d tried before, but it was still a little woody for my liking.

The chocolate selected for this whisky was a single origin Jamaican 72% cocoa dark chocolate, a dark tasting chocolate with overtones of tobacco as well as a floralness. Gerry also pulled out a flavour I was having trouble describing – olives. When pairing the whisky and chocolate I tried it both chocolate first and whisky first and was surprised by the difference. Tasting the chocolate first the oil and wood of the whisky were emphasised, combining with the tobacco and olive flavours of the chocolate. The other way around the floral notes of the whisky combined with the tobacco of the chocolate to bring out a sweet coffee flavour that wasn’t present when tasting the chocolate first.

They had also selected a second backup match for this one, a milk chocolate with lemongrass and ginger. Tasting the whisky first didn’t really give anything new here (leading me to focus on tasting the chocolate first from then on), but tasting the chocolate first coated the mouth and filled a hole in the middle of the whisky, that I hadn’t noticed before, with the gingery citrus sweetness. Very different to the last match but equally good, splitting the room.

The next whisky was the Macallan 12, one that I have talked about before, matured in oloroso casks. To help see what the whisky had got from the wood each table was presented with a glass of dark oloroso to nose – it was fantastically raisiny, like a sweet wine concentrate but without the thickness of PX. On the nose the whisky has the regular oiliness, dried fruit and cereal (that I described before as being like Garibaldi biscuits) and some spicy caramelised orange. To taste it had rounded sherry woodiness (with dried fruit, hints of wine and all the norm) as well as candy floss, tobacco wood and some vanilla – all combining to make something like a dark chocolate Terry’s Chocolate Orange. Water knocked out a lot of the lighter flavours, boosting the vanilla sweetness and the wood and not really helping much. I enjoyed it much more than previously, maybe more than the 10 year old that I was comparing it to last time.

To match it the team had chosen their Mole Chili bar – a tobaccoey chocolate with a long chilli savouriness running throughout the flavour. It was made with more than just chilli peppers, with the 4 types of chilli accompanied by a variety of other mole ingredients including ground tortilla and thyme. I don’t like chilli chocolate usually, but this one was really very nice. With the whisky the leafy tobacco combined with the citrus to provide a background for the richness of the whisky, all wrapped up with a chilli zing. A very good match that enhanced the flavours of both whisky and chocolate.

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We then moved onto the more difficult to obtain whiskies, firstly the Macallan Select Oak. Available in the travel retail market (ie. duty free shops)  it’s part of the 1824 collection, a range named after the year of the distillery’s founding and all released without age statement. On the nose it’s got the regular oiliness as well as malt toffee, vanilla wood, and a touch of saltiness and flowers. To taste it’s got linseed, a hint of pear, creamy vanilla, a little bit of hazelnut and a spicy gingery finish. Gerry described it as being like vanilla ice cream cones.

The chocolate for this one was the Artisan Almond Milk Bar, made using almond milk rather than that from cows, and thus vegan friendly. It was very almondy, having a taste that invoked a sensation of grainy almond powder, despite the chocolate being smooth – it was almost like eating unsweetened marzipan mixed with chocolate, which is on the way to what it is. When paired with the whisky it enhanced the light nuttiness and creaminess, turning into a chocolate-whisky combination that was big and flavourful.

There was a second choice chocolate, the Tonka Bar. The tonka bean has a chunk of vanilla as well as the taste of cherry stones which came through quite clearly in the chocolate. Adding cherries to the already slightly nutty, woody whisky brought out a cherry bakewell flavour that was nice, but not as coherent as the Almond bar.

The last paired whisky of the night was the Macallan Whisky Makers Edition, the next in the 1824 collection and bottled a little stronger at 42.8% – the ABV that Macallan’s whisky king, Bob Dalgarno, thinks is the perfect strength for Macallan bottlings. On the nose it has oil, apricots and a hint of raisin, and to taste it has orange juice concentrate, more oiliness and a underlying earthiness. The finish is lightly woody and long, but not particularly intense. This was more delicate than the previous drams and didn’t go down all that well with a room of fading palates, but it struck me as one that definitely needed another go when my tastebuds were a bit fresher.

The chocolate paired with it was their Tobacco Bar, sold with an awareness of the public backlash against the evil leaf – while smoking may kill (says the ex-smoker who sometimes misses cigarettes), tobacco in its unsmoked form can add an interesting leafy, earthy flavour to a variety of food and drink. The chocolate was leathery with liquorice and leafy tobacco, thanks to the two different types of tobacco they use make it – one to bring smokiness and one to bring the leafiness. When tasted with the chocolate the whisky felt more complete, with fruity and smoky tastes mixing in with the oil and citrus to create a well rounded, complex chocolate and whisky combination.

This also had a second choice, the Black Cardamon bar. On its own the chocolate had a strong spicy cardamon feel with a touch of wet wood, but when mixed with the whisky the orange and spice dominated, emphasising the Christmassy middle of the spirit.

Truffle

Having finished our run of whiskies our next treat was unveiled – Artisan du Chocolat had been experimenting with making whisky truffles based on the various expressions we’d tasted. When they were first made they’d been described as too strong but when we tasted them, two weeks later, much of the whisky flavour had dissipated, leaving vaguely alcoholic truffles. The whiskies were mixed with white chocolate and then combined with various coatings:

  • Macallan 12 – Single origin jamaican chocolate ganache
  • Macallan 15 – Orange blossom and orchid ganache
  • Select Oak – Milk chocolate ganache

They were all very nice but the whisky flavours had faded, leaving only hints of what could have been.

I was quite lucky at the end of the evening, as while speaking to Annabel about how I was surprised that I didn’t like the Macallan whiskies more she recommended that I try the Macallan 18 if I got a chance, as she thought it might fit in with my tastes. Unfortunately she didn’t have a bottle, but Toby overheard, nipped out to his car and brought in one he happened to have knocking around. The cork broke on the way out of the bottle, but a corkscrew was found and I got a taste. On the nose there was loads of raisiny fruit, a savoury leatheriness and the distinctive Macallan oiliness. To taste it had dark chocolate, tannic wood, light fruit without much sweetness and a spicy lingering finish. With water a lot of the sweetness was initially knocked out, although it returned as it matured in the glass, and the wood came on a bit strong. More towards my tastes, but again the wood stood in the way a little bit.

This was a try out event, followed by one for paying customers the next night, and as yet they don’t have any more scheduled. However, after speaking to Gerry for a while I suspect that we might see more of these type of events coming out of Artisan du Chocolat in the future, and I’m tempted to come back for more.

Macallan 15 Year Old Fine Oak
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 43%. ~£40

Macallan 12
Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 40%. ~£30

Macallan Select Oak
No age statement. Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 40%. ~£50

Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition
No age statement. Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 42.8%, ~£75

The last two are meant to be exclusively for travel retail, but I found some on the Whisky Exchange website.

Melanie and Whisky for Everyone also have posts up about the evening.

Supper with Jim Haynes and Fernandez & Leluu

IMG_4810_2My occasional flirting with Qype and the London food blogging community leads to fairly random events popping up on my radar – this Tuesday I ended up at one. The idea of supper clubs isn’t particularly new: a bunch of people, some you know, some you don’t, turn up at your house and you make them dinner. The phenomena has entered my consciousness recently with the emergence of an underground dining movement in London (which veers from the ‘please kick in some cash for the dinner or at least bring me some presents’ to ‘minimum donation is £115. Please tip your waiter’ depending on the people organising) and the buzz that it has created online. However, I’ve not been along and hadn’t really considered it until I got an invite from the PR people behind a chunk of After Eight’s most recent campaign, focused around veteran supper clubber Jim Haynes. He’s been running Sunday night parties at his flat in Paris for the last 30 years and is a thoroughly nice chap – annoyingly I got to have a quick chat with him at the beginning of the night when I had no clue who he was or what was going on. Luckily the obsessive bloggers of Olde Londone Towne were present and there’s some video of him talking later.

Anyways, our hosts for the evening were Simon and Uyen (aka Fernandez & Leluu), rather lovely providers of meals to the randoms of London. Rather than their regular plan of doing a sit down meal for 10-15 people they went with a more Jim-style affair, ramming their flat with 40 bloggers and qypers and serving up plates of rather good food that could be eaten with one beforked hand. The food was rather good – starting on a mixed plate with a marvellous summer roll in the middle (that started a train of thought that ended with me face down in a bowl of vietnamese duck soup the next day), moving on to some excellent beef carpaccio surrounded by tasty trimmings and finishing with a solid glass of baked croissants with strawberries and cointreau (well, they said cointreau when describing the menu but it said whisky on the piece of paper I have – it was boozy and delightful [and cointreau, I reckons]).

Peaches

As usual, my eye turned towards the bar. Not knowing much about the traditions of supper clubs I arrived empty handed, rather than with the bottle of wine (at least one) which is The Proper Thing To Do. Luckily this had been considered and Johan Svensson of DrinksFusion was on hand to supply us with cocktails all night. We started off with some prosecco or a Bellini. I initially avoided the cocktail due to the Archer’s stained memories of working in a bar at university – after a night of making jugs of Sex on the Beach for drunken rugby players the fake peach stench of Archer’s sticks to the skin, a smell that taunts me to this day. However, after a quick chat with Johan I was tempted in – pinky peach puree with prosecco, a touch of real peach liqueur and crisp slice of peach. Not even a hint of fakeness, it wasn’t particularly sweet, with the prosecco toning down the mild sweetness of the puree and even the garnish working as a contrast – suffice to say I liked it.

After the food appeared, the sky appropriately darkened and a cocktail menu appeared on the bar. I am much remiss in my duties as I didn’t get through all of them (nice people were talking to me, which is very annoying and gets in the way of the drinking. I am prepared to forgive them on this occasion), missing out on the Spring Tom Collins (Gin and lemon juice with elderflower cordial and soda, served in a long glass over ice). While we tucked in to our starters I had a chat with Johan about the wonderful world of booze and he has annoyingly added more things to my ‘find and taste’ list – agave tequila, interesting rums, genever and dutch liqueurs. My annoying eye for faces (but without the accompanying mind to remember where I’d seen the face) kicked in and it seems that I’ve probably bumped into him at Whisky Live on one of my pair of attendances, probably serving me some rather good Van Winkle bourbon. That reminds me, I need to stock up on bourbon…

mosaicecbd9fe2338ea01a702b7aa4b37ec5f9a4464e68The most popular of the other drinks on the menu was the Rose-Club Cocktail, and after a chat with Johan earlier about the secret ingredient I was keen to try one – Gin shaken with vermouth, rose liqueur (‘secret’ ingredient), raspberries and lemon juice, sweetened and soured with simple syrup and campari respectively, and then served straight up in a coupe with a pair of rose petals floating around. It was interestingly sweet and sour with an undercurrent of rose running through it. It was a touch too strong for my liking, though, but I can forgive that as Johan was in production line mode, pumping out cocktails by the jug – a couple more shakes and I suspect it would have been excellent.

I’d not tried rose liqueur before and I think the one in this cocktail was from the Wees distillery in Amsterdam – it’s made in small runs with a combination of distilling with roses in the still and later maceration, with flowers from an old rose gardener who specialises in old fashioned varieties with interesting aromas. It was specially liked by Niamh, who had been trying to get a rose flavour into a cocktail a while back with little success, as rose water didn’t quite cut it – this really does add an interesting slug of rosiness to whatever it touches.

Next I tried a Bramble – another on the ‘by Dick Bradsell’ list, this is a London cocktail bar mainstay (having been invented here) and one that I have rubbishly never got round to trying. Gin and lemon juice sweetened with a drop of sugar, stirred with ice, floated with crème de mure, and garnished with a blackberry and a curl of lemon peel. It tasted exactly as one would expect, with the sourness of the lemon juice tempered by the crème de mure – it’s gone onto my list of cocktails I will consider ordering, despite it containing way too much non-booze for my liking…

To finish off the evening, and to keep the corporate overlords happy, the After Eight Alexander was rolled out – cognac shaken with melted After Eights, vanilla and cream, served straight with a dusting of chocolate. This was surprisingly nice, with the richness I was expecting cut by the booze to give almost an After Eight scented liqueur chocolate filling, after you got through the creamy head.

Anyways, it was a good night – a weird mix of mate’s party and formal event that worked well. Anyone going to Paris with a Sunday to spare should look into going to one of Jim Haynes’s parties, he’s a lovely chap with a pile of stories and the streak of awesome madness that hosting parties for randoms every week for thirty years suggests.

This post was powered by an explosive bottle of Hop Back Taiphoon and an alarming percentage of a freebie box of After Eights.
Many thanks to Simon of Fernandez & Leluu for looking after my camera when I left it behind and then offering me booze when I went to collect it.
There are some more write-ups on the interwebs: Qype, London Eater, Domestic Sluttery

Vodka Tasting at Bob Bob Ricard

The lovely people of Qype, especially organisatrix extraordinaire SianySianySiany, have looked after me again, this time be helping with one of my missions for the year: learning more about vodka – somehow I managed to wangle may onto one of Bob Bob Ricard‘s rather exclusive vodka tastings. At first I felt this rather strange as I’d thought that BBR was a english restaurant with a continental twist, but after a few minutes talking to Richard Howarth, the Ricard of the name, I discovered the error of my ways – Bob, the other owner, is actually a chap by the name of Leonid whose Russian influence is the twist on the restaurant that I’d assumed to be from a bit further west. Part of Bob’s introduction of Russian culture into the fabric of the restaurant is his love of vodka, hence the freezer (chilling the vodkas to -18°C), selection of zakuski (Russian nibbly food) and, following on naturally, this tasting.

BBR Vodka Tasting We started off with BBR’s signature cocktail – a Pink Rhubarb Gin and Tonic. It was both sweet and tart, with a slug of rhubarby goodness running through it, and topped with a fairly stiff head that we assumed to be under the influence of egg white. For a G&T it wasn’t at all fizzy, which is good as I suspect that making it gassy wouldn’t have worked. We asked a waitress about the preparation and after a quick disappearance to consult with the bar she came back with a rough recipe: add rhubarb and sugar to Bombay Sapphire and heat until things are about to start bubbling; turn off the heat and leave overnight; strain the liquor to give a rhubarb infused gin; mix with tonic and ice, shake and serve. The egg whitey head is actually brought about the high sugar content and our theories of rhubarb syrups were all shown to be rather pedestrian – a nice drink with an impressive effort behind it.

The plan for the tasting was to try five vodkas, each with a different piece of zakuski. At this point the difference to a whisky or wine tasting became apparent – the vodka wasn’t particularly meant to be tasted. Very specifically, the history of vodka production has involved continued refinement of the process to try and remove more and more of the bad products of distillation, giving as clean and light a taste as possible (as well as minimal headaches and a continued ability to see) – cheap vodkas may taste of petrol cut with meths, but expensive ones will barely taste at all. Luckily Leonid was away for the day and Richard was not quite as harsh a tasting master as his colleague rumoured to be, allowing me to have a bit of a sniff and sip as long as I knocked back a chunk of the booze, as is the Proper Way Of Doing Things.

First up we had a Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006 – Kauffman’s vodka is made using grains of a specific year, hence the use of a vintage in the description, and produced in very small batches. As with wine, certain years are said to have produced especially good vintages, with 2003 and 2006 being singled out recently. That said, they haven’t been producing the spirit for long, with their website only listing the 2002, 2003 and 2005 vintages. A quick knock back of the first half the glass showed a surprising smoothness, with a fairly even distribution of flavour, a good mouthfeel and a nice warmth (rather than burn) on the way down. A bit more of a sip and savour revealed a honeyed sweetness across the whole tongue and a long grainy finish.

Next we followed along the range with a taste of the Kauffman Private Collection Luxury Vintage 2003, a name with way too many qualifiers in it for my liking. This was one of 25,000 bottles to be produced from the harvest (the Special Selected Vintages run to about 45,000) and was the most expensive vodka of the afternoon, coming in at about £12 a shot on the BBR menu. The initial chuck down the throat gave a more aquavit-y sensation, with the centre of the tongue going almost untouched by taste, with a bit more of a sensation down the throat and a gentle warming feeling spreading out across the chest. With a bit more of a swill around the mouth the centre of the tongue stayed unworried, but a pleasant pepperiness crept across the sides of the tongue to go with a sweetness similar to the 2006. Very clean tasting, I can see why this is a favourite amongst ‘real’ vodka drinkers.

BBR Vodka TastingAfter these two we took a break for food, as previous tastings had seen a marked decline in tasters who drank through without a break. Accompanying the first two vodkas we’d had jellied ox tongue with quails eggs and horseradish (which I thought was excellent, despite the jelly fear in some of the other tasters – the horseradish was especially good and quite happily edible on its own with a long spoon), and salmon roe on hard-boiled quail’s eggs (which, due to a rather serious love of big roe, happily went down my neck). We were now confronted with some slightly larger dishes to share, with the week’s special of scallop, black pudding and cox’s apple with watercress and chives (not my fave – a bit too dry a black pudding for my liking, although Richard did say that they deliberately went for such a beast, and I don’t really see what the fuss about scallops is, even if these were rather nice), blaeberry wine cured Orkney beef with celeriac, blueberries and hazelnuts (this was rather excellent, although the bluberries were confused for olives and then grapes before a final realisation of their identity), goat’s cheese salad with pickled beetroot (which I avoided due to a dislike of goaty cheese), and potted shrimp with watercress, croutons and lemon (which I started craving while writing this after seeing the picture – butter with a few prawns in on crunchy toast…tasty). It was all rather tasty and definitely a good bit of fortification for the next few drinks.

After a quick table clearing we were presented with glasses of Beluga Vodka. There was some discussion as to the nature of its relationship to the Beluga sturgeon, spawner of tasty caviar, and eventually we came down on the side of associating itself with luxury. The vodka is made in the middle of nowhere, pulling its water from a local well with no industry within 300km of the distillery, a big flag displaying the spirits march towards purity. On the quick throw down the throat it came across as much more prickly, raising the hackles of my tongue, and causing more of a reaction as it wandered down to the stomach. Going slower, it had much more flavour, with grain coming through a lot more than the sweetness of the earlier vodkas. This may be a fault for the Russian connoisseurs, but it’s the sort of thing I like – being able to actually taste my drink – and I thought it to be rather good.

We quickly followed on to Russian Standard Imperia. This was the first producer of the day that I’d heard of already, as I use the basic Russian Standard as my regular vodka at home. I don’t drink a lot of it on its own, but mainly use it to extract flavours from things to make flavoured spirits. I suspect I will write up my experiments sometime in the future, but for now the regular vodka is quite rough, but good at having its flavour masked by other things. The Imperia is a different kettle of fish, based on a recipe by Dmitri Mendeleev, the inventor of the periodic table, it’s been around for a while and had its recipe declared to be ‘The Standard of Vodka’ in 1894. The production process strikes me as maybe going too far, with 8 distillations and two filterings through quartz (I don’t even know how that would work…). I chucked half of it down my throat, as was becoming usual by now, and got much more of a burn than previously, with a much bigger taste of grain. On the nose this was the first to be easily discernible, with hints of caraway in with the regular alcoholic whiff, and in the mouth it had a touch of vanilla and a long warm finish – nice, but not quite as smooth as the others.

Finally we got to the last vodka of the tasting – Stolichnaya Vodka Elite. Described as being much rougher than the rest despite being an expensive premium vodka, this one was included to show us how refined the top vodkas at BBR are. True to form I necked half of it and got a nice burn down the throat and a chunk of grain across the tongue, definitely a bit more to it than the earlier ones. It had a slightly sweet smell and lots of flavour – honey and grain rolling around the mouth. Again, this was up my street and I quite enjoyed it, but it’s definitely not as close to the Russian ideal of clean flavour that was displayed by the Kauffmans.

BBR Vodka Tasting The last three vodkas were accompanied by some more zakuski and we were treated to Meat Pelmeni (meatballs wrapped in noodles – a russian ravioli – served with vinegar and sour cream. These were my favourite thing of the day, excellently moreish and enough to get me to return on their own), Malosol Cucumbers (baby cucumbers cured in brine until crispy, an easy win for someone who likes both salty food and crunchy cucumber like me. I may have to make some of these at home) and Salo on Rye Bread (wafer thin slices of cured pork fat on rye bread. The fat melted in the mouth into a smoky butter that then infused the highly flavoured bread – it was almost great, but there was a bit too much bread for the [still quite large] amount of salo, so it turned into a bit too much of a rye fest for my liking) which continued the filling process to the extent that we turned down en masse an offer of Sunday lunch. We were, however, offered another go at whichever vodka the group liked the best, and after some umming and ahhing the consensus appeared to be the first one that we tasted – the Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006. It balanced the lack of flavour that the producers were going for with some very pleasant flavours, making it a very worthy favourite. I may not be grabbing a bottle for my freezer (at about £70 a go) but I may have to have a try next time I see some.

My favourite of the tasting was the Beluga – prickly and full of flavour while still rather smooth and easy to throw down the throat if need be. I may seek out a bottle and then offend the Russians by drinking the occasional shot slowly over ice. I wonder how cold my freezer is…

Many thanks again to Richard for leading us through the vodka, telling tales of running a restaurant and filling us with food; Siany for organising the thing (and letting me go along) and Qype for keeping their website going so that I can go and do such things.

Vodka Kauffman Special Selected Vintage 2006
40%. Approx £70 per 70cl bottle

Vodka Kauffman Private Collection Luxury Vintage 2003
40%. Approx £140 per 70cl bottle

Beluga Vodka
40%. Approx £40 per 70cl bottle

Imperia by Russian Standard
40%. Approx £30 per 70cl bottle

Vodka Elite by Stolichnaya
40%. Approx £40 per 70cl bottle

Bob Bob Ricard is at 1 Upper James Street, Soho, London W1F 9DF and they are lovely.

Siany’s Qype blog post is up and there are a bunch of reviews appearing on BBR’s page