Whisky Squad #9 – The Christmas Party

As the year draws to a close the season of Christmas parties is upon us. I missed my office Christmas party for the last Whisky Squad (the unblogged #8a, which involved BYOB, chocolate and some impressive drunkenness – Jason managed to write something down and then read it back again, the latter part of which isn’t quite possible from my notes) and have somehow managed to avoid any others until last week when The Squad grabbed the back room of The Gunmakers.

Whisky Squid

The plan was ‘simple’ – there’d be more seats than usual, there’d be a three course Christmas meal from The Gunmaker’s rather excellent kitchen and Whisky Guy Darren would choose some whiskies to accompany the meal. Things veered away from simple when it was also announced that there would be a whisky quiz, knocked up by Darren and Whisky Squad founder Andy. There was even mention of prizes…

SMWS 93.40Anyways, Darren matched up one whisky per course, choosing a dram that would work with each of the three choices available. First up, although tasted blind as is usual, was The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 93.40 – Clay and Pork Sausages,  a ten year old from Glen Scotia in Campbelltown bottled at 61.9% from a refill bourbon cask. On the nose there was roast pork and apples, salt, woody smoke and caramel sweetness. To taste there was sweet coal smoke, salt and pepper, and lemons. Water brought out the appleiness, vanilla from the cask, sour wood and more lemons. This was matched with tomato and red pepper soup, smoked salmon and crayfish roulade, and wild boar pate and worked quite well with them all – the smoky saltiness combined with some meatiness backed up the soup and pate, and cut through the creaminess of the roulade.

Berry's Ledaig 2005Next up was the Berry Brothers and Rudd Ledaig 2005, bottled at a shockingly (after tasting it) young 4 years. It came from a sherry cask and was a rather spicy 62.7%. This one is sold out everywhere and appeared on our list thanks to Darren finding a bottle hidden in his house. I tried it on a visit to BBR after Whisky Squad #7 and was quite impressed, but had assumed that I’d not be able to try it again, so was quite pleased to have this chance. Along with everyone saying it was great at the time the chaps at Caskstrength.net gave it the top prize in their BiG (Best in Glass) awards this month, beating a Glenfarclas 10 times its age. On the nose it had smoke, custard, salt, marmalade and meaty bbq sauce. To taste it had coal, tar, a sweet rich fruity burst and a finish of coal dust. Water calmed it down, bringing out leather and more sherried fruit, while diminishing the smoke. This was matched with roast turkey, lamb shanks, baked whiting and butternut squash pie. I can’t speak for anything but the lamb, but it went well, the rather big flavours of the whisky happily stood up to the heaviness of the meat.

Glengoyne English Merchants' ChoiceGoing with dessert we had The English Merchant’s Choice 13 Year Old Glengoyne. This is a single cask whisky chosen as the second of the Glengloyne Merchant’s Choice selection, coming after the Scots version. It was selected by a group of English whisky sellers, including Darren’s boss at Master of Malt, Ben Ellefsen (there’s more about it on the Glengoyne blog). On the nose it had dark rum and nail varnish and the taste continued that with some heavy bitter wood and rubber, all with a demerara sugariness underneath. Water revealed some bitter orange rind along with the rich rumminess. Despite my love of sherried whisky, this one was a bit much for my liking – too much wood swamping the rich sweet fruit. This was matched with Christmas pudding, mince pies and some cheese, all of which went well. The richness of the whisky matched up with the fruit of both the pies and pudding, and cut through the fat of the cheese (even making me appreciate a blue cheese for the first time ever).

Octave Cameron BridgeAs a post dinner dram Darren unveiled The Octave 31 Year Old Cameron Bridge, a single cask grain whisky bottled by Duncan Taylor from a first fill bourbon cask at 54.6%. On the nose this one had a thin sweetness, with raisins, acetone and citrus syrup. To taste it had spicy, but controlled, wood, vanilla pods and a short finish of sugary wood. Water brought out more vanilla and cream, revealing school dinner custard, grape jam and a spicy woody finish. This was my favourite of the night, showing me that the bits of well aged grain whisky that I like are common between sherry and bourbon casks and thus due to the nature of the spirit rather than the wood it’s aged in. Unfortunately with only 70 bottles released I suspect I won’t be finding any more.

Now we come to the quiz. Composed of three rounds, a picture round and two of written questions and answers, it was marked out of 50 and was rather tough. I lucked out and had Rob and Rocky from Berry Brothers on my table (their experience was offset by our team size of 3 compared to everone else’s of 5, was our claim) and we quite convincingly won with a score of 40. We picked up some miniatures of whisky as well as accusations of cheating – the peril of having Darren (writer of round one) on our table as well (although being good and not taking part in the quiz). Anyways, winners!

So, Whisky Squad continues from strength to strength, with January’s session already sold out, but keep an eye on the website for February’s meeting.

SMWS 93.40 – Clay and Pork Sausages
Campbelltown single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 61.9%. Sold out, was £42.20 at the SMWS.

Berry Brothers and Rudd Ledaig 2005
Highland single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 62.7%. Sold out.

Glengoyne English Merchant’s Choice
Highland single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 54.1%. ~£100 at Master of Malt.

The Octave – Cameron Bridge 31 year old
Single cask single grain whisky, 54.6%. Sold out, was ~£75 at Master of Malt.

Hot Buttered Rum

Having this blog sometimes backfires – people often think I know more about the boozes than I do. However, sometimes those backfirings have the happy side effect of a) making me realise that I do know more about drinks than I thought and b) reminding me of things that I need to play around with again. This happened the other day when Anna pimped me out to one of her twitter followers as someone who might know some good hot toddy recipes. Not wanting to disappoint I pointed her at my post on the LCS visit to Callooh Callay, where there was an excellent hot gin punch, but also remembered that I’d once dabbled in making hot buttered rum and suggested that as well. I then realised that my quickly tweeted recipe (make a paste of rum, sugar and butter, add hot water, stir) might not necessarily be the best way to do things and decided to do a little research.

Other than hearing it mentioned in adaptations of Dickens and other period pieces on the TV, I first encountered real life hot buttered rum at a Christmas party about 10 years ago. Every year I’d turn up on a Friday night and help my friend Neil prepare the increasingly impressive feast that became his yearly Christmas dinner. Served on the Saturday we’d start on the previous night, constructing a pile of desserts, several turkeys, stacks of veg and a yearly escalating number of sausages wrapped in bacon. We were joined by a number of other assistants that night, including booze buddy Adam who was in charge of drinks making to keep us lubricated as we prepared. He had decided that buttered rum was the way to go and without the safety net of a recipe combined butter, sugar and rum in cups which he and I promptly drank. Unfortunately the proportions were not quite as they might have been and I ended up sleeping on the floor of the kitchen (I think, the memories are predictably hazy) and cooking the next day was not as pleasant as it otherwise might have been.

Hot drinks containing booze have never really fallen out of fashion, popping up every year around Christmas without fail. The smell of mulled wine is ingrained into public consciousness as part of the season and the image of people standing in the snow with steaming cups of something to warm the cockles appears in the standard imagery. It makes sense to combine the warming effect of alcohol with actual warm drinks when the weather turns and the traditions of ‘hot toddies’ go back years, although their use as a cure-all for winter illnesses isn’t all that recommended these days. In medieval times, when the drinking of brewed drinks was preferred due to the potential of water contamination, hot spiced beers, ciders and wines (the foundations of mulling) were regularly served, with heating by the plunging a red hot poker into the drink living on until the times that fireplaces fell out of fashion in drinking houses.

As ever with older drinks there isn’t any particular set recipe and a quick search on the web led to me 5 or 6 different variations, but the core ingredients are the same – butter, brown sugar, rum and spices. Some involve cooking a mix of all the ingredients with water for hours to create a caramelised base to add rum to, some applaud the red hot poker method of heating and one intriguing looking one uses ice cream, but mine is rather simple and easy to make.

Hot Buttered Rum

Per cup:

  • 50ml dark rum (25 ml will work fine if you don’t want quite the hit of booze)
  • 2 tsp butter (I used unsalted, but lightly salted should be fine)
  • 1 tsp brown sugar (I used some quite sticky demerara – the darker the better)
  • pinch of allspice (and whatever other ‘Christmassy’ spices you like)
  • grated nutmeg and a cinnamon stick to garnish

Mix together the butter, sugar and allspice (as well as any other spices you want – cloves, extra cinnamon or whatever) into a paste – you can keep this in the fridge until someone wants a drink. Put the mix into a mug with the rum (I used some rather tasty Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, found at the back of the cupboard where it was left by my lovely landlord) and top up with boiling water. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and garnish with a grate of nutmeg. Instead of sprinkling some cinnamon either on top or into the mix I served it with a cinnamon stick as a stirrer, which seems to work nicely, imparting a hint of cinnamon and giving you something to mix the drink around with.

It’s really quite tasty – the spices and rich rummy sweetness rolling off the top with the steam of the hot water are, to me, the distilled scent of Christmas. To taste it is rich, with the fruitiness working with the butter to make something that’s akin to liquid Christmas cake and when you hit the bottom of the cup you can suck on the cocktail soaked cinnamon stick for a spicy reminder of what you’ve just finished. As the drink sits it will settle out into a buttery head (which isn’t particularly oily, having more the consistency of coffee foam) and rich sugary rummy liquid, and I rather like drinking it like this. However having a swizzly stick allows some mixing to make a more emulsified tipple with a consistency a bit like tea with creamy milk.

I suspect I’ll do some more experimentation with this over the season. Getting the texture of the drink right by making sure that the butter and liquids emulsify nicely is my first goal and getting some more caramel flavours in by cooking the butter and sugar mix before use sounds like a good plan. But mostly the red hot poker approach is something that I will have a go at as soon as I’m somewhere where the closest I have to an open fire is better than an out of fuel cigarette lighter…

Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
Dark Bermudan rum. 40%. ~£20 from Master of Malt