Whisky Squad #48 – The Storry of Grain

Since I’ve started helping out with Whisky Squad I’ve not had the chance to contribute a session’s title, but with #48 I dropped a bad pun and the chaps for some reason went along with it. An evening of grain whisky with occasional whisky photorgrapher and evil tempter Philip Storry – The Storry of Grain.

I am not proud.

I’ve known Phil for a few years. He’s an almost constant fixture at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London, comes along to many of our tastings at The Whisky Exchange, and has photographed both those tastings and The Whisky Show for a while. He’s also the reason I’m a grain whisky fan, ‘forcing’ me to try some Port Dundas at a Compass Box blending school, and since then filling my head with knowledge and my hand with random grain whiskies almost every time I bump into him. I approve.

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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.

Drinks by the Dram – Greenore 15 Year Old

Ever since the Cooley tasting I attended at Whisky Lounge I’ve been keeping an eye out for a chance to try more of their whiskies. So, when I spied the Greenore 15 Year OId while clicking through the Drinks by the Dram list for my first order I couldn’t really say no.

Greenore 15

It’s the longer matured version of the Cooley Irish single grain whiskey, the only of its type commercially available. I rather liked the 8 year old version, picking up a bottle while at Whisky Lounge London, and was intrigued by what some extra time in the barrel would bring.

On the nose it has caramel sweetness with an undercurrent of astringent graininess, a hint of grassy field and some pear. To taste it has even more caramel, with some woody vanilla and a savoury twist on the finish, with a rubbing of butter. It’s got a load of spice on the tongue which, along with finish, gives a sweet pastry taste. It’s quite delicate so doesn’t like lots of water, but a few drops brings out the pears from the nose as well as some tannic wood bitterness, while softening the caramel to a more general mouth coating sweetness. The butteriness still sits at the back of the throat and accompanies a spicy, woody finish.

Engage poetic license: Like walking through a corn field in the evening while eating a slice of pear pie.

An advancement on the regular 8 year old Greenore, with more of everything but continuing on the same theme. Again, even though it’s quite delicate (although more robust than the younger version) I think it would work well with ice, becoming like a light but interesting bourbon. My experiments with the standard edition seem to suggest that some of the astringency (a common feature among the grains I’ve tasted) is softened a chunk by the ice, but the sweetness and more robust flavours still come through, as long as you don’t try and drown a glacier in it.

Cooley Whiskey tasting at Whisky Lounge London

It’s a busy time of year for a man with a booze related mission, such as myself. All of a sudden tastings and shows are appearing from the woodwork, and last Saturday allowed me to combine both of those into one event – Whisky Lounge London. My tasting notes from the show floor are fairly worthless (although they may make a very brief appearance in a Quick Tastings, if I can decipher them) but I also signed up for the first event of the day, a tasting of Cooley whiskeys.

Cooley is the only independent distiller in Ireland, having been founded (as the traditional anecdotal story states) by some guys sitting in the pub and wondering why there were so many scotches and not as many Irish whiskeys. Despite having been much more popular than scotch during the first half of the 1900s the trials of two wars and prohibition took their toll on the sale of Irish whiskey and production shrunk down to only one working distilling concern, doing the distilling for all of the various Irish brands. In 1987 Cooley started up distilling on the Cooley peninsula and since then has also picked up the Kilbeggan distillery, claimed as the oldest working distillery in the world. They put out their whiskey under the names of older, now defunct, whiskey brands, with the core range consisting of whiskeys from Greenore, Tyrconnell, Kilbeggan and Connemara, not necessarily matching up the styles with the older versions (most of which are now forgotten) but doing something different with each brand.

Irish whiskey is currently one of the biggest growing segments of the global spirits market, with Pernod-Ricard pushing Jameson heavily in the US and Tullamore Dew (the second biggest selling Irish worldwide) recently being sold to William Grant & Sons for a respectable £260million. Ireland is a country with whiskey brands owned by holding companies with contract distilling along with the big boys, Diageo and Pernod-Ricard, owning most of the production facilities – there are no other independents and much of the tradition of making spirit seems to have been lost. It’s a very different environment to that on the other side of the Northern Channel and one that Cooley seem to be doing well in.

GreenoreThe tasting was led by Stephen Teeling, part of the family who own the distillery, who’s based in London and seems to wander the country telling everyone how great Cooley whiskey is. I may be jealous. We were presented with 6 whiskies from the Cooley stable, showing the range of what they make. First up was a ‘welcome dram’ to keep us going while Stephen, by his own admission and in stereotypical Irish style, talked a lot. This was the Greenore Single Grain.It’s aged for at least 8 years and is currently the only commercially available Irish single grain. It’s made with 99% corn, rather than the cheaper grains you can often find in grain whisky, and matured in barrels from Heaven Hill in the US. On initial release they ran out due to an underestimation of demand, as there was no other product like it in the market, and I can see why. On the nose it’s quite perfumed but with the underlying alcohol kick that seems to be a trademark of grain whiskies. When you get over the punch to the back of the nose things calm down with roses and vanilla wood coming through. To taste it was light and sweet, with pear drops, rose water, boiled sweets and white chocolate, fading to a cereal finish. With water it became more sparkly, with vanilla and fizzy Refreshers with some apple appearing in the finish. To spoiler the rest of the article, this was my favourite of the day and I bought a bottle of it from their stand lateron. An excellent summer whiskey that would probably work when slightly chilled…maybe even with a piece of ice.

Next up was the Kilbeggan 15 year old, a premium blend named for the Kilbeggan distillery that is Cooley’s second production location. It’s also the more picturesque of the two distilleries, with the one at Cooley being a hard hat wearing industrial plant rather than the prettier Kilbeggan, which is also the site of the main visitor centre. The distillery, formerly known as Locke’s Distillery, is ‘the oldest licensed distillery in the world’, with their 1757 certificate hanging on site, and runs with a still bought from Tullamore, which is the oldest still in operation in Ireland – they are definitely pushing the oldness angle. The whiskey is a blend with a 35/65 malt/grain split, all aged for at least 15 years. It’s a premium blend (coming in at over £50) with an aggressively large bottle designed to stick out on the back bar – flat and wide with the name writ large. The aggressiveness doesn’t carry over into the spirit, however, with its style being similar to that of other premium blends – easy drinking and not too challenging. On the nose there is toffee as well as some of the floralness of the Greenore, a common note in Irish whiskeys we were told. To taste it’s soft with more toffee, flowers, a hint of the grain sweetness and some orange fading to a bitter finish. Water brings out more fruitiness and wood as well as amplifying the grain flavours. A good easy drinking blend, but not one that I’d spend £50 on (although my drinking companion eagerly grabbed a bottle).

We next moved on to the malts, starting with the Tyrconnells. Tyrconnell was at one point the biggest selling Irish whiskey in the world but, as with the industry in general, has now faded into memory. The first of the two we tried was the Tyrconnell Single Malt – a no age statement whiskey matured in Heaven Hill barrels for at least 5 years, with some 7 year and older whiskeys also in the mix. On the nose it’s salty with a some meaty umami, a hint of toffee and some sherbet citrus. To taste it’s lighter than the nose suggests with grass, apples, cereal, some aquavit-like caraway and a strangely meaty finish. Water opens it up with more sweetness but also enhances the savoury note that runs through it – chicken sherbet? One to try again.

photo1Next was the Tyrconnell 10 yr old Madeira Finish – one of several whiskies in their wood finish collection. On the nose this was sweet with caramel and maybe a hint of acetone. To taste it was much more savoury, with red peppers and red berries. A touch of water unlocked some of the more traditional finish flavours, with vanilla, cinnamon and fruit through to a woody finish. The flavour didn’t dim much with water and it could take quite a bit before tasting dilute – an interesting and tasty whisky.

We then moved on to the more unique Connemara whiskeys – peated irish. With Ireland’s overly egged reputation of being one big peat bog you might expect there to be more peated Irish whiskey, but with the contraction in the market decisions were made and the older peated styles died out completely. Connemara is Cooley’s attempt to bring back some of the older flavours as well as having something that might compete favourably with the peaty Scottish malts. The first one on the table was the regular Connemara Peated – peated to 20-24ppm, roughly equivalent to having the malt smoked for a day, and with no age statement. On the nose there is sweet peat with crisp granite hint to the smokiness. To taste it has a light peatiness with a sweet malty middle and a peaty finish, although it doesn’ t have much to it (this could well be a sign of palate fatigue). With water it sweetens and there’s more fruit, but otherwise it maintains the peat/malt/peat profile of the un-diluted dram. Not my favourite, although maybe a good introductory whisky to someone who wants to explore peat.

The last whiskey of the tasting was the Connemara Limited Edition Sherry Cask, 9-15 year old whiskey finished for 24 months in Oloroso sherry casks. The nose was interesting with caramel, salt, old apples and, as one would hope, a hint of peat. To taste it had a fruitcakey base mixed with flinty peat smoke which prickled across the tongue. Water calmed things down a bit bringing out orange and frothy icing sugariness. Another interesting dram, and one I’d like to try again.

Since I heard of Cooley last year (rather than just the names of their whiskies) I’ve seen nothing but praise for their company and the whiskies they produce. They seem to be accumulating awards by the barrowful, with Kilbeggan recently picking up the IWSC Best Irish Blend award and Malt Advocate naming Cooley 2010 Distillery of the year, and it seems to be well deserved, with a wide range of interesting and tasty whiskey. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Greenore Irish Single Grain
8 years old, 40%. ~£30 per bottle

Kilbeggan 15 year old
Blended irish whiskey, 40%. ~£60 per bottle

Tyrconnell Irish Single Malt Whiskey
No age statement, at least 5 years old, 40%. ~£25 per bottle

Tyrconnell 10yr old Madeira finish
Irish single malt whiskey, 46%. ~£45 per bottle

Connemara Peated Irish Single Malt Whiskey
No age statement, 40%. ~£30 per bottle

Connemara Limited Edition Sherry cask
No age statement, 9-15 years, 46%. ~£50 per bottle

Keep an eye out for other events from Whisky Lounge – the show was quite small but perfectly formed, with a big range of whisky producers and some very interesting drams to taste. Eddie Ludlow, Mr Whisky Lounge, puts on events all around the country and I’ll certainly be along when I next find the time to do so.