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.