21 November 2013

Ms Whisky's Wishlist: Whisky Advent Calendar

Oh my! I found the inspiration to kick off this year's wishlist: a Whisky Advent Calendar. You get a different 3cl dram of whisky behind each of the twenty-four doors - a brilliant way to count down to Christmas and bring some cheer to the short December days. 

Photo from notonthehighstreet.com

This looks like a great opportunity to try some whiskies that I would not normally try, such as some of the Japanese brands and blends.

Have you been extra good this year? A Premium Whisky Advent Calendar is now available. 

Dearest Dr Whisky - are you reading this? 

The Advent calendar is also available through the Times Whisky Club and NotOnTheHighStreet.com.

01 September 2013

You're going where?

I traveled to Glasgow for business this week, and it was the first time I actually stayed in the city rather than passing through its airport or train station. Glasgow doesn't usually feature on most people’s “must see” list, so I didn't know what to expect other than a typically warm Scottish welcome. The friendliness reminded me why my Midwestern heart feels right at home in Scotland, and I think participants and spectators of next year’s Commonwealth Games will be happily surprised by what the city can offer.

Fortunately, I was able to get out one night for a glimpse of the city’s West End and join a few colleagues at the Drake Bar & Restaurant. The pub has a cozy atmosphere with nice touches like tweed covered chairs and booths. Although the whisky menu isn't extensive it covers all of the basics, and sipping my Ardbeg 10 brought to mind why Ardbeg is Jim Murray’s favorite dram. It is a warm and smooth dram with smokiness tempered by something like sea salt spray. I usually don't reach for Ardbeg, and now I'm not sure why. I shall be restocking the cabinet soon!

As a random aside, I nipped out for lunch one afternoon and discovered Pinto Scotland’s new “Mexican dining experience” (otherwise known as a burrito place). Scotland, the home of fried Mars bars, has totally landed Mexican. Yum - I loved the barbacoa soft tacos, and that is saying something. For more upscale fare, a friend recommended Two Fat Ladies, but I ran out of time…its always nice to have something on the “to-do” list for the next trip.

Well, I don't know when I'll return to Glasgow, but I won't be dragging my heels and you shouldn't either. 

Pinto Mexican Kitchen138 Queen Street G1 3BX

Two Fat Ladies West End88 Dumbarton Road G11 6NX  (0)141 339 1944

The Drake Bar & Restaurant  1 Lynedoch Street (0)141 3327363 

Radisson Blu – Glasgow301 Argyle Street G2 8DL

27 April 2013

A Speyside Sojourn, Part 1

It's less than a week away - my annual trip to Scotland - with 10 friends in addition to Dr Whisky, the Whisky Sidekick and the Wee Dram. Writing the "get prepared for an amazing weekend" email got me thinking about all the things I love about that area. 

First things first, no trip to Speyside is complete without one (and preferably a few) distillery visits. Here are Ms Whisky's picks for tours and grounds:

Best Tour: Aberlour gets this award, hands-down, for how engaging their tour is and value-for-money. Their tour guides are jolly (yes, I mean that - picture them doing a little jig during their coffee breaks) and well-informed, and for £12 you taste 6 whiskies. And I think the Aberlour whiskies are lovely. I dare you to find a better value tour. After a morning tour, you can wander into the town to have lunch at the Mash Tun or pick up a few provisions at the Spey Larder for a picnic along the riverside. 

Obsession with Casks: If you want to learn about the importance of casks, then look no further than The Macallan tour. This is a beautiful distillery, and the grounds outside of the visitors centre are perfect for sitting outside with an extra dram and some nibbles. 

Stay all Day: Visit the Glen Grant distillery, on the north end of Rothes village, for the Victorian Gardens which have beautiful flower beds and an expansive green lawn. You can take a quiet walk along a stream and enjoy a picnic after your guided distillery tour. 

Family-Friendly: As one of the last family-owned distilleries, it is nice to see that the Glenfiddich visitors experience is child-friendly. Glenfiddich is a welcome stop for any family visiting the area. Their tours are informative - after all, Glenfiddich is largely responsible for whisky's global popularity - and the grounds and buildings are spacious. The Malt Barn Restaurant serves tasty bistro-style food with locally sourced ingredients. While you're there, you can visit the ruins of Balvenie Castle which stand tall behind the distillery. 

I love visiting Speyside and I always look forward to more special discoveries and meeting lovely people along the way. What are your favorite Speyside distilleries to visit?

15 March 2013

A Pressie for the Wee Dram

Ms Whisky has been a bit mum the past few months, and that's because.......Ms Whisky IS now a Mum! 

Now that the "Wee Dram" has joined the family, we need to add a few celebratory bottles to our collection. I'm on the hunt for two bottlings to buy now: a great 18 yo and a superb 21 yo. Why two? The little guy straddles the UK and the US, so we fully plan to celebrate both milestones with gusto. 

What do you recommend? 

21 July 2012

Call me Old Fashioned

What is Ms Whisky up to this weekend? Friday's (much belated!) birthday dinner for Mr Whisky at La Bodega Negra was followed by a night cap (actually, a few) at Kettners Champagne bar. 

Who knew that one of Whisky Sidekick's fave spots for champers also serves a killer Old Fashioned! This sweetheart was made the right way: cube of sugar slowly dissolved in bitters, dash of maraschino cherry juice, 10 min later and two generous shots of Makers Mark were topped off by a twist of fresh orange peel.  

The Old Fashioned is not a drink to order if you are in a rush - it takes time and patience to make and to enjoy. The first alleged use of the specific name "Old Fashioned" was for a Bourbon whiskey cocktail in the 1880s, at the Pendennis Club, a gentlemen’s club in Louisville, Kentucky and more recently, fans of Mad Men have been lining up at bars requesting Don Draper's cocktail of choice. 

Feelin' swanky and want make your own? The Old Fashioned is typically made with bourbon or rye whiskey. Good brands to try include Makers MarkWoodford Reserve, Four Roses (though this one is sooo good why put it in a cocktail???), or Buffalo Trace who supplies Islay's Kilchoman distillery with their casks. 

How to make the perfect Old Fashioned
1 sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura bitters
splash of water
1 maraschino cherry
splash of maraschino cherry juice (optional)
ice cubes
2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
orange peel

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, whatever. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Wait........keep waiting......

Once the sugar is completely dissolved, add 1 maraschino cherry and a large ice cube. If you like your drink on the sweet side, as a splash of maraschino cherry juice, too. Add half of the bourbon or rye whiskey and stir for about ten seconds. Add more ice and the remaining bourbon and stir again for 10-15 seconds.

Take the orange peel and squeeze it with your fingers over the glass. Rub the peel around the top of the glass, then garnish.

Where else to find a good Old Fashioned? 
One of my favourite cocktail bars in London is Fifty Five Bar & Lounge in Camden. All of their cocktails are made to spec and the music playlist is fun and upbeat. You won't find any lounge lover tunes here or drink-making short cuts. Even with a bar queue10 deep, they'll patiently stir the sugar cube for the full 5 minutes required.  2-for-1 happy hour Monday-Saturday from 4-8pm. Don't fancy a crowd? Wait until the college/happy hour fans leave at 8.

La Bodega Negra: 16 Moor Street  London W1D 5NH 
020 7758 4100
Kettners Restaurant and Champagne Bar: 29 Romilly St. Soho, London W1D 5HP
020 7734 6112
Fifty-Five: 31 Jamestown Road  London NW1 7DB 
020 7424 9054

04 June 2012

The Angel's Share

When you visit distilleries, much is made of "the angel's share" - the philanthropic gift of spirit given up to other, less worldly spirits during the whisky's long maturation. The aging process results in evaporation, so each year sleeping in the cask causes 1.5-2% loss of volume as well as a reduction in alcohol. 

Filmed entirely in Scotland and featuring a whisky-related caper, Ken Loach's latest Cannes Jury-prize winning film, The Angel's Share, not only surprises audiences with its comedy, but is also winning praise for its authenticity and characterisation. Highland whisky fans will be delighted to know that the distillery scenes were shot on-location in the Highlands at Balblair distillery

I recently visited Balblair with Whisky Sidekick and another whisky gal, and we fell in love with the site - and the spirit as well! The tour guide was on holiday that week, so we were treated to a tour and tasting with Distillery Manager, John MacDonald, a native Highlander who has decades of experience in the industry. 

It was clear from the very beginning of our tour that John is a stickler for detail - he even tests the grist himself several times a day! He also personally selects all casks for bottling, and one of his recent projects is offering visitors the opportunity to hand-fill their own cask-strength bottle of Balblair. 

I HAD to fill a bottle for Mr Whisky's upcoming birthday, especially because he missed our Highlands trip due to a last-minute business trip. We're impressed by the 1992 vintage (and frankly - ALL of the vintages we tried), and I'm looking forward to cracking this one open sooner rather than later!

Balblair is several miles outside of Tain along the southern cost of Dornoch Firth. While in the area, Dunrobin Castle is also worth a visit - especially for their impressive Falconry. There are daily birds of prey demonstrations and visitors can hold, feed, and fly their impressive birds. The Castle Tea Room serves a tasty baked potato with locally smoked salmon and creme fraiche. If you're driving back to Tain from Dunrobin, leave the A9 road for the scenic drive along the coast near Dornoch for a great view of the local seals in Loch Fleet. 

The Angel's Share is playing from 1 June. 

Well, Mr Whisky, sorry you missed the trip, but hope you have a Happy Birthday!

09 April 2012

A big brew ha ha

It seems unthinkable that Ms Whisky would visit a brewery, but as the saying goes, When in Rome..... 

Not only is San Diego home to amazing weather, a multitude of great microbreweries also call America's Finest City 'home'. In the last few years, San Diego's microbrewery community has just exploded, and recently Ms Whisky met some friends at the tasting room of Green Flash Brewing Company to see what all the fuss is about. 

Beer and whisky-making have quite a lot in common - at least in the first part, and every whisky distillery tour guide will tell you that the wort tastes just like warm beer. And while beer may not mature for decades, many of the craft beers produced in San Diego do spend several months maturing and settling so that customers get a perfectly fresh product. 

The tasting room at Green Flash is a great deal - only $1 per tasting glass! Open your tab, stand at the bar and chat with the staff or step outside on the patio to enjoy the California sunshine. 

Many of the breweries give proper guided tours on the weekend, and for our weekday visit, one of the Green Flash staff kindly took us on a short walkabout to see how it is all done. 
Filtering removes yeast, tannins and impurities that contribute to off flavours and haze.
Some of the styles are matured in barrels. About every 2 years Green Flash does a special release stout that is matured in ex-bourbon barrels. 

Once the beer is done, it is stored for weeks or even months to allow the brew to settle and reach optimum taste.

The strong, Double India Pale Ale style of beer is thought to have originated in San Diego in the '90s. These IPA's pack a hoppy punch and typically have an alcohol content above 7.5% by volume. My two favorites beers from the Green Flash tasting were the "low" alcohol (4.5%) Saison Diego, which is brewed with spices and has hints of citrus and ginger and at the other end of the spectrum the rich, smooth, chocolaty Double Stout Black Ale.

Other local favorite breweries include Stone, Alesmith, Lost Abbey, and of course Karl Strauss - the one who started it all back in 1989. 

If you fancy a visit, you can join an organised brewery tour (the better to enjoy safely!) or create your own customised tour. Several companies offer tours and transportation, including Brewery Tours of San Diego and Brew Hop. The San Diego Brewer's Guild has a downloadable map and guide for more independent minded visitors.