Whisky Waffling

Burns Night 2017

I don’t usually blog about food, but tonight seems like an appropriate time to break that rule. It’s 25th Jan and I’ve had an entire English city to play with and a haggis to hunt down… and it proved to be harder than you’d think.

After having enquired in multiple establishments, I was faced with several youthful faces being contorted into numerous expressions of bafflement as no-one seemed to know what “a Burns Night” was. After a bit more asking around however and bracing the cold, I stumbled across one of the Loch Fyne chain of restaurants and the penny dropped! A Scottish-based establishment that can be found in most U.K. cities. Perfect!

[Incidentally I have since discovered that the local Wetherspoons was hosting a “Burns Week” but had sold out of haggis before Burns Night itself had actually kicked off – a bullet dodged on many levels there.]

Having managed to be seated with just a five minute wait, fair play to Loch Fyne because they put on one decent Burns Night Supper! The restaurant offered a range of Scottish-sourced three course menu options and a Glenfiddich 15 to boot! All for £25, which is bit of a treat for a school night and turned out to be with every penny!

First up, I opted for the obligatory haggis, neeps and tatties, and they were very much served in that exact fashion.

Haggis, Neeps & Tatties

How they got the haggis to be that creamy I don’t know but the three were served with a whisky sauce and were excellent. It does seem odd to eat a meal that could be easily ate by someone without teeth in their gums, but the flavours together did all of the leg work with the peppery meaty goodness being tempered by the creamy mashed parsnips and potatoes.

For the main course, I had the panfried duck breast with “rumbledethump” (yes, I had to google it), kale and red wine sauce. Another superb dish. Maybe the best duck I’ve ate and I wasn’t short of a portion either. Hearty in both taste and volume and the charred rind took it over the edge into pure indulgence.

Ducking Excellence

Finally, a “Cranachan” creme brûlée with honey oatcakes brought the meal to a gleeful – and gut-stretching – conclusion.  Whilst I’m not exactly sure what the cranachan element was here (though it was in inverted commas to be fair) this was definitely a ‘cracking’ dessert. It could easily have been too sweet but it was well balanced and had plenty of that more-ish vanilla custard that soon saw me polish it off and sweep up the remains with the accompanying biscuit…

“Cranachan” Bit of Pudding

…and it went perfectly with the dram!

I couldn’t really pick a highlight from the meal but it was definitely enhanced with the occasional sip and savourings of the Glenfiddich 15 Solera Vat. I’ve rarely had this dram on its own and it does hold its weight. It’s got that sweet, sherbet-like nose that you would come to expect from Glenfiddich’s best-selling 12yo younger brother but it serves bit more of a malty hit. The sweetness continues through the taste with a hint of the barrel’s wood at the end. Perfect with the final creme brûlée finale. With the meal it was definitely checking all the boxes!

A Smidge of Glenfiddich 15

I know that people are divided on whether or not you should make an event out of Burns Night but for something that was impromptu, it was a successful evening and bit of a gastronomic treat. There was even a bagpiper giving it some wellie, although I did feel a bit sad for him when he seemed to be wheeled out to play through happy birthday…

All in all though a fun and indulgent night and here’s wishing everyone well and good dramming on your Burns Night 2017!

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10 Supermarket Scotch Gift Ideas for Christmas

It’s around this time of the year that, without fail, there are a few more people heading down the spirits aisle in your local supermarket. Whether it is a purchase for themselves or someone else, whisky sales sky rocket at this time of the year, and rightly so. One of the (great) results is that there is usually an abundance of offers available, with prices coming down to be more competitive in the more-whisky-friendly festive season – Father’s Day seems to be the only other time of the year that this phenomenon seems to occur!

In no particular order, here’s a compilation of the usual scotch whisky players that adorn the UK shelves and our thoughts on where they could fit into your buying decision – usually without breaking the £25-30 mark if you can successfully shop around a bit.

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The Supermarket Glens

1. Glenfiddich 12 – starting with the biggie and the world’s best selling single malt whisky by volume, it’s a classic because it’s just a damn good dram. Easy going, familiar, it is a one-size fits-all “smooth” finisher.

2. Glenmorangie 10 – simply branded as “The Original” this is a simpler-tasting, velvety-smooth box-checker and the presentation just oozes a touch of class that is easily recognisable and would look good in any stocking.

3. Glenlivet Founders Reserve – in previous years I would have said Glenlivet 12, but this newer entry-level chap still has that light, sherbet-like, sweet-pear taste and good finish that the younger Glenlivet is known for.

4. Glen Moray 10 – the last of the Supermarket standard ‘Glens’ in this list and usually the cheaper of the drams available but that doesn’t always mean worse and it’s a decent, fruity drop with a slightly coarser finish for the more ardent whisky drinker.

5. Aberlour 10 or 12 – slightly cheating here, but both are great gambits with a more sherry-heavy taste and finish that ties in with the festive season just nicely (or any time of the year, really)

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Festive Dramming

6. Old Pulteney 12 – a lighter dram with a sweet fudge-like taste and texture and the noticeable (but not overpowering) sea-saltiness that won’t push you over the edge after Christmas dinner.

7. Highland Park 12 – a richer and fuller tasting whisky with a warming, gently-smoked finish that works perfectly during the colder winter nights. Plus the packaging and the fact that it’s from Orkney makes for a great little selling point and ice-breaker.

8. Laphroaig 10 – not for the faint hearted, this beast is a strong tasting, intensely warming, smoky number and probably best bought for someone who you know is already partial to a peat bomb at the end of the day.

9. Chivas Regal 12 – don’t be a snob about whether or not it’s a single malt, because ultimately it comes down to taste and preference and this one is a good example of a blended whisky that is well-rounded, fruity and easily competes with the single malt players on the the other shelf.

10. Own brand – don’t be afraid to go with the shop’s own! Supermarkets are ultimately businesses and they will not invest in something unless it is worth it and there are some great scotch whiskies out there that just carry someone else’s label. Sainsbury’s Highland Single Malt and Speyside Single Malt are fine examples. Other supermarkets are available.

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Its beginning to look a lot like whisky…

Now, this list may change slightly if you were looking to buy in the larger superstores where you tend to get more variety and usually see a bigger (usually Diageo-based) range – Talisker 10, Caol Ila 12, Dalwhinnie 15 etc. – which all come with their own notes and personal preferences, but whether you are looking for a gift for somone or you are just a year-round whisky drinker, this is as good a time as any to stock up on some cheeky deals and staple whiskies.

Of course, this list does not touch on the wide array of Irish whiskies increasingly available in our stores nor the offerings from our American cousins across the pond. Some stores around the UK have also cottoned on to putting out some of the Japanese entry level drams (including Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Hibiki lately),  as well as cashing in on the produce of the more local distilleries (Bushmills’ 10yo, Penderyn Madeira and English Whisky Company’s Fine Single Malt being prime examples) – no doubt cashing in on the more patriotic purchasers below the Scottish border or those just looking for something different (Haig Club anyone?).

Put short, there are loads of whiskies to choose from, but hopefully this list can help you within the traditional ‘scotch’ bracket of whiskies more readily available at this festive time of year.

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Dram Decorations

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Heelslaying – Dragons No Longer Primary Target!

At the start of this year, much like last year, there have been a fair few twitter and blog references to people committing the act of “heelslaying”, and you might find yourself wondering what it is all about – as did I. In 2015 I thought that it was just a fad, but this year it seems to have come back with a vengeance and the meme #heelslayer is appearing more and more, so I’ve set about asking and answering some questions about it…

 

What is heelslaying?

Well,  apparently, when you are down to the final third or so of your whisky bottle then this is called the “heel”. Finishing off this final part of your bottle is then “slaying” that heel. So far, so good…

 

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Heelslaying

So what?

Apart from being a good way of freeing up your shelves and cabinets, there seems to be some science behind it. If you think about the purpose of the cork in your bottle of whisky for a moment: it is designed to seal the bottle and stop the liquid gold from evaporating away and it also stops things from getting in. HOWEVER, if you start to have more air in the bottle than whisky then it is proposed that the gas content can start to react with the liquid and the whisky can start to deteriorate, losing its alcohol content, characters and flavours. Similarly, the cork can start to break up and air can start to get in, which could cause a little evaporation, or just have some of the cork break up into the liquid itself.

 

Do I need to panic? Where’s my sword?

The basic rule here is that the more air that is in your whisky bottle, then the more chance that air has to oxidise the whisky. Essentially, you end up with the alcoholic’s equation of “the more I drink = the quicker I need to drink it”. You don’t need to panic just yet though as the process can take a couple of years to take any real, noticeable effect, albeit, that final dram that you’ve been nursing for a while might not last as long as you might think.

 

Can you prove it?

Over the Christmas period, I returned to the final remaining dram in my bottle of Fettercairn Fasque (the Tesco exclusive release from the Eastern Scottish coast), which is a very sherry-heavy whisky. (Incidentally, its a pretty good dram and has a lot of those festive flavours that usually accompany the season). Given that I bought the bottle in advance of the 2013 season-to-be-jolly, it had been sitting around for a while, so I sat with the final double measure and savoured it and made some notes on it. I then compared these notes to my notes from 2013 (because I can be sad like that) and the two notes were noticeably different, with this year’s notes indicating that it lacked the same punch, depth of flavour and finish, which had been in abundance first time around. This might be due to multiple factors, e.g. what I was eating, what I had drank before (and how much), plus the fact that it was over 2 years ago and my palate may well be different, but there is no denying that, on the face of it, the two taste experiences were different, so for me it started to lend some credence to the above back-of-a-cigarette-packet science.

 

What can I do – other than the obvious?

Storing your bottles upright is a good start. Unlike wine bottles where the liquid keeps the cork expanded and sealed, whisky can actually eat away at the cork and have it disintegrate into the liquid if kept in contact. This can cause unpleasant flavours to develop, as well as having lumpy whisky. Keeping whisky out of direct sunlight is important too as the sun can react with the whisky. The best place to start for this exercise though is to look through your stash and pick out the older, opened bottles, and weigh up how long they’ve been there and if they might be “on the turn”. Personally, I’ve never kept a bottle for very long (the above probably being the longest), though I do have a tendency to get sentimental towards the end of a bottle’s lifetime and save a little bit for an occasion or proper farewell. What I would hate to experience though is for that much-savoured dram to turn out to be awful, so drinking and enjoying the whisky should come first – in moderation and responsibly of course! – and then seeing the bottle through to the end should be the best way to ensure that it is enjoyed to the final drop. Of course, if it is a great whisky that you enjoy to begin with, then you ought to quickly stock up with a fresh one, hot on the heels of slaying the previous one, so to speak.

 

 

Many thanks to the AmateurDrammer for featuring this article on his site, and I would heavily recommend any reader here following him on twitter too – his Desert Island Drams series is a great display of writers’ experiences and top choice tipples.

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