Mashtun and Meow

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sherry and Tapas Night

Neither of us would pretend to be experts in the world of sherry. In fact, up until last week we knew absolutely nothing about it past Harvey's Bristol Cream - except that we're both particularly partial to a sherry-cask whisky. So when we discovered that the lovely folks at Starmore Boss would be hosting an introduction to sherry, with tapas-style treats from the Rutland Arms, in the name of education we thought it would only be right to attend.

We took our places at this sold-out event in the upstairs room of the Rutland Arms amongst the familiar faces of plenty of Sheffield folk: a healthy mixture of shop owners, bloggers, and other food and drink enthusiasts. We were presented with a pair of glasses, an array of six sherries and selection of meats and bruschetta, and away we went.

1. Fino En Rama by Fernando de Castilla - We were told that this fino, meaning dry, is a great appetiser as the flavour enlivens the palate ready for food. With a nose of sweet prunes, dried raisins and nutty marzipan, the sweetness didn't continue through to the taste and it was on the palate that that this sherry really became a 'fino'. A saltiness licked around the mouth with a really light charred note that matched perfectly with the accompanied Palma ham. The olives too went spectacularly as they added delightfully to the almost briny nature of the drink.

2. Las Medallas Manzanilla De Argueso - Next was another pale sherry, this time smelling of a cliff-top coastal walk with a fresh sea air, coupled with a floral meadow-esque character. On the tongue the richness grew with a lovely long finish. Again, when coupled with the cured meat the flavours sung, but when we ate it with the (absolutely delicious) fresh sardines, the oily nature of the fish added texture to our Manzanilla and enlivened the drink no end.

3. Tio Diego Amontillado by Valdespino - The third drink was a lot sweeter than the first two, with flavours of bushels of apples enhanced with toffee, but through the nose came a spiced, almost Calvados character. This was coupled with a robust oakiness, due to it being aged for a longer time than the previous drinks (a total of 12 years). We were also presented at this point with a course of Patatas Bravas in the Rutland's signature spiced tomato sauce (of Rutty Butty fame), and hot chorizo.

4. Antique Oloroso by Fernando de Castilla - This was the oldest sherry of the evening, aged for around 16-18 years, which became very apparent on the nose as the oaky nature was even clearer than in the Amonillado. Between us, we felt the drink was more familiar as it smelt more like a whisky, due to Oloroso casks often being the main variety of sherry butt used in the maturation and finishing of whisky. The sweetness built on the palate beautifully and due to its complexity left great depths of flavour on the tongue, for a long while after swallowing the unfiltered nectar. When eaten with the spicy chorizo the sherry softened the heat to a lovely palatable warmth.

5. Palo Cortado by Emilio Lustau - The dark amber colour of this sherry released dried fruits of dates and apricots across the tongue, and light tannins from its time in the oak. The flavour was a little drier than the nose, with crisp citrus and nuts, which once again matched deliciously well with the almost completely devoured food left on in front of us.

6. Pedro Ximenez by Cardinal Cisneros - The final glass of the night was filled with one of our favourite sherry casks (for whisky). The sherry itself was dark and sticky, richly sweet and very indulgent. Smelling of dried figs and raisins that transferred delightfully to the palate and sang of festive spice, plums and yet more figs, this would be the perfect drink for a cosy night in - think we'll be getting a bottle in for Christmas. Definitely a dessert of a drink.

This event was the first we attended which was hosted by Barry Starmore, the other half of Starmore Boss to Jeff, who has presented such events as Smoke on The Water and Whisky Tasting. These two really know their stuff and their passion shines through every time. The evening was definitely an eye opener to an arena of drink that we have not been party to in the past. But we will now surely be looking to dip further into this varied world of fortified wines and certainly be eating more tapas.



Sunday, 7 September 2014

Islay 2014: Lagavulin

A very un-Scottish, gloriously sunny summer's day on Islay enticed us down to the south shore, out past Port Ellen, where the peatiest of the island's whiskies are brought into being.
Our first tour of the day was Lagavulin. We've never owned a bottle of Lagavulin before, but hugely enjoyed their 16 year on the ferry on the way across - a bargain of a dram at under a fiver for a 70ml measure. The flavour of the whisky itself is everything reminiscent of Islay - intense, seaweedy peat smoke, with a backbone of barley sweetness.

The tour, led by Rachael, began in the old kiln room of the distillery, which is now only used by nesting swallows. Owned by Diageo, Lagavulin is more corporate than some of the other distilleries on the island, but this doesn't affect the passion that goes into all they do. They're also not afraid to share their experiences of working with such a huge company (whereas others seem to try to brush over this aspect a little), which meant that the tour provided some additional very interesting insights into the industry on the island as a whole, including their involvement with the maltings at Port Ellen, which they have worked with since the early 1980s.

We were interested to discover that the mashing process at Lagavulin takes just under 6 hours, and is carried out twenty-eight times per week - effectively meaning that production is continual. It's clear that Lagavulin do their utmost to ensure that they make as much whisky as is humanly possible under the current set up - something I am sure many whisky connoisseurs are grateful for.

Swallows featured again in the tun room, where a large plastic owl has done a semi-effective job of keeping the nesting birds away (unfortunately no photos are allowed in the working parts of the distillery, so we can't show you this little guy). We sampled the woody, smoky wash using my favourite distillery instrument - a jug on a rope (it must have a proper name). The fermentation process takes 55 hours, before being piped through to be distilled.

On to the still house, where we were let into a number of distillery "secrets". Lagavulin peats its whisky to 36ppm, which doesn't quite tally up with the massive peaty character that the final product has. This is due at least in part to an unusually steep line pipe angle to the stills, meaning there is less spirit reflux (where the spirit falls back into the still), resulting in less copper contact and a lower amount of phenol vapour wearing away. The longest second distillation of all the whisky producers on Islay - 12 hours - at a lower temperature, also helps to provide a more robust flavour. The still house has to be my favourite part of a distillery - you can always tell that it is a magical place!
The tour ended with a sampling of the Lagavulin range in the lounge - the distillery as a whole has a great country hunting lodge feel about it, and the sophisticated smokiness of the whisky fits in so well with this. We just needed a pipe! After tasting the fiery 12 year and the robustly sweet 16 year Distiller's Edition, the Distiller's Edition immediately became our favourite whisky of the trip so far and so we decided to invest in a bottle. Tasting notes to follow once we've drank it all!


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Favourite Pubs: The Lochside Hotel

We're spoilt at home having The Sheaf View as a local - a mere seven minute stumble away from the door. Being on Islay is like being in a miniature, more concentrated version of the world, however, and The Lochside Hotel was about 45 seconds stroll away from our little holiday cottage! It became a much-frequented haunt during our stay in Bowmore, with an enormous whisky selection, great food, and an incredible view across Loch Indaal to boot.

Loch Indaal at sunset: view from our table at the Lochside Hotel
The Lochside Hotel, run by a passionate bunch of Ileachs and fronted by the charismatic David Brodie, has a frankly bewildering array of whisky behind the bar. Comprising drams almost solely from the island, the selection includes at least 6 varieties of Port Ellen and a bottle of Bowmore Black aged to 42 years, down to more reasonably priced whiskies, including the core range of all the Islay distileries as well as some of the great blended whiskies that have featured the peaty joys produced here.

Enjoying an Islay Mist 17 and a Bunnahabhain 12
The bar is also stocked with a range of beer from Islay Ales, the only brewery on the island, with 2 cask ales and a larger selection in bottles. This variation is great to see, as sometimes you're just not quite ready for a whisky, especially with food.

Talking of the food, the menu is ever-changing and filled with local and seasonal dishes. The starter we chose was one of the best things we ate on the island - goats cheese topped black pudding. The portions were generous throughout, so it was a good job we shared! Laura went for the steak and ale (Islay Ales Black Rock) pie for main course, with Jim selecting the lamb shank. Absolutely massive, the meat was rich, melt-in-the-mouth, and well complemented by the blackcurrant-doused red cabbage side. A dessert of Islay malt whisky cranachan completed the meal. Neither of us had tried this traditional Scottish pud before, and we were pleasantly surprised by the light creaminess of the dish, and peaty hit from the whisky-soaked oatmeal.
We enjoyed many a cosy evening in this wonderful pub, filled with locals sharing stories about their home town with the whisky pilgrims of Bowmore! Just a shame that it's ordinarily 396 miles away...



Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Islay 2014: Bruichladdich Warehouse Experience

Ohh Bruichladdich.

Bruichladdich became our favourite whisky distillery during our first visit to Islay, when we arrived on the island as relative newbies to the glorious nectar. Their innovation, knowledge and enthusiasm is clear throughout the entire process, and the experimental nature of the whiskies they produce is second to none. Since then, we've sampled a more extensive range of their drams and been consistently surprised and delighted by the whisky they make. We knew that on our recent trip we wanted to find out more than the standard distillery tour can offer, and so we booked ourselves onto the warehouse experience.
The event itself takes place in the first warehouse directly behind the main production house of the distillery, in a wooden floored building filled with rows of barrels, the light smell of oak and the mist of the angels' share. We were led by Raymond, our exuberant guide for the afternoon, halfway down the rows of barrels into an opening where three casks lay. Moving deeper into the warehouse from this point I can only imagine that amongst the secrets of Jim McEwan lies the Arc of the Covenant. The first two casks were not obviously marked, but the third filled us instantly with glee as it was brandished with our favourite 8 letter word. Octomore. But we had to contain our excitement as that, quite rightly, was to be left until last.
Our experience opened with a 25 year old Bourbon cask Laddie: an unpeated delight distilled in 1989, weighing in at 53.5% ABV. This light, fruity whisky was the perfect starting point for the tasting: a softly sweet nose, singing of honey and vanilla-laden creme brulee, which gave way to a fresh, citrussy palate. This whisky was happily described by Raymond as a suitable replacement for milk on cereal and frankly I'd be happy with the switch. This felt a particular treat for us too as it was the first ever dram either of us have had from our birth year!

Laura learning the ways of the Valinch!
The second generously measured whisky was a 2005 Port Charlotte. This was certainly a step-up in terms of peatedness, although due to being aged in a Spanish Grenache cask, it also had a deliciously sumptuous winey quality on the nose. The palate allowed the smoke to come through, with the age of the whisky also providing a much larger heat all the way around the taste. This was a really well rounded whisky that due to the excellent choice of cask built flavour and sophistication over its nine years, whilst still maintaining a prickly heat of peat all the way through the drink and down to the stomach.

Then we came to the pièce de résistance, possibly our favourite whisky we have ever drunk (and we rarely agree quite so thoroughly!): The Octomore Chateau d'Yquem. This was also the rarest of the bunch, as the cask we where drinking from was so close to its end that there may now be none left, and it's only other counter part will not be released to the public or used as another tasting barrel for events like these - instead, it will be at the mercy of Jim McEwan.

While this barrel of Octomore (produced as a prototype for the now commercially available releases) hadn't been peated as highly as the bottled release, it still packs a 80.5ppm punch. For this dram we were all told to wait for everyone to be served a dram then all to drink in synchrony. Although there were only six glasses to be filled from the valinch, the low level of precious liquid left in the barrel meant it took a few return trips to the cask. While we waited, the aroma rose from the glass instantly with a significant white wine sweetness.

3... 2... 1....... PHWOAR.

Instantly the strength coupled with the peat punch was apparent, warming up through the nose and powering around the head. Allowing the whisky some time on the palate meant that the sweetness of the cask swept in, finding parts of the mouth that had never been stimulated before and balancing out the smokiness. On the swallow, the tingly numbness of the peat was left behind alongside the delightful charms of the wine cask, which nurtured a lovely warm feeling in the belly. The Octomore series clearly has its roots in experimentation, and it works phenomenally well. We'll definitely be on the lookout for a release of the 310ppm version which we've heard is currently relaxing in the warehouse.

Having found out that Bruichladdich had been bought by Remy Cointreau shortly after our trip in 2012, we were a bit apprehensive that some of their fiercely independent spirit would have been lost by the time we returned this year, but we absolutely needn't have worried. The warehouse experience - part whisky tasting, part stand up comedy gig thanks to Raymond's excellent patter - was the highlight of our entire holiday. All the distilleries on Islay really make the effort to ensure the whisky pilgrims are well looked after, but for the warehouse tour Bruichladdich went the extra mile. We felt totally spoilt by the stunning whiskies on offer, and are still in awe that we've tasted something incredible that only hundreds of people in the whole world will ever be able to try.
L-R: Our holiday pals Jimmy and Jasmine, Jim, Raymond, and Laura
We spent the rest of the afternoon playing a selection of tunes on a little Bruichladdich guitar, forgetting we'd already eaten our lunch and napping on the beach. Top day.



Monday, 1 September 2014

Islay 2014: Bowmore Open Day

Having stayed in the middle of nowhere during our first trip to Islay, we decided that this time we wanted something a bit more central, and chose a lovely little cottage in Bowmore. On our first morning, we took a stroll down to the distillery - it would have been rude not to, seeing as we could see the chimneys from our bedroom window - and discovered that we'd arrived on a good day.
The view from our bedroom
Shrouded in the smell of delicious whisky wash the distillery was hosting an open day, with complimentary tours and a few added extras, in exchange for donations to local care home Gortanvogie and Islay Hospital. Whilst we waited for our tour, we relaxed on the balcony with a Bowmore Surf and ginger beer. A lime slice in your dram is probably frowned upon in many a distillery, but this little cocktail worked perfectly in the sunshine alongside a mini lemon drizzle cake.
The tour was hosted by Heather, a genuine Ileach and certainly a woman with Bowmore running through her veins. Bowmore is the oldest distillery on the island, and the tour demonstrated how they maintain a stout commitment to tradition, still carrying out every part of the whisky-making on site. We were led through the Old Maltings (where Jim had a little go with the grubber) to the kiln, before going on to the mash house, past the six enormous wash backs named after previous distillery owners, to the still room and the incredible No. 1 vaults.

Amongst their 28,500 casks on site, the warehouse holds a cask of 49 year old bourbon aged whisky, that the angels have had far more than their fair share of. With strong suspicions that this may be due to be bottled on its 50th year, look out for it as it will no doubt be something a little bit special.
Inside the No. 1 vaults

A Bowmore Darkest hot chocolate and a few wee drams back in the lounge rounded off the afternoon. There's something about a tour that makes you feel that bit more attached to the distillery - as Heather put it, "you have a passion for the whole island, but for only one distillery" and Bowmore certainly had won us over.



Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Whisky Review #2: Talisker 10 Year

I have had this whisky sat in the cupboard for a while, and for no particular reason, as it isn't expensive and it is a lovely dram.

I think really it is because it is a combination of both of these things: for one I didn't want to finish it as it was pretty darn tasty, and because it was relatively cheap meant I would often select something else from the cupboard.

Talisker 10 has a nose that just has smokiness bandied around willy nilly, like a smouldering peat throwing monkey is being contained within the glass. There are also hints of fruitiness, as though the monkey has been washed in an apple shampoo (obviously in a way that PETA would approve).
Festival paper cup dram
As it opens up, the monkey is released back into the wild leaving a more subtle peated fuminess, accompanied by sweet orchard notes and the lovely smells of the coastal seaweed.

The palate stays ashen: intense without being too overpowering. This time there is a light seasoning of peppery heat and a seaweedy saltiness, all carried along by a great barley chew.

The finish lingers with a gentle, sweet smokiness - like lying in a barley field having a little puff on a pipe.

For me, despite the peatiness it is still open for those less inclined to the sometimes astringent medicinal nature of other well peated whiskies. Priced at around £35 from Master of Malt it is a bargain.



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Karma Citra: Beer and Desserts

Relatively new to the growing Sheffield craft beer scene, Karma Citra are a group of beer enthusiasts who have recently started hosting an array of interesting events. This one was no exception - beer and pudding. Who can resist that?!

Held in the laid-back setting of Brewdog, we were greeted by "I hope you're hungry" - always a good sign when you're about to embark on a four-course meal of pudding!

We started on the "light option" - Buxton Far Skyline Berliner Weisse served with a lemon mousse. Unusually strong for this style of beer at 4.9%, initially I found the Buxton a little too sour for my taste - not something I'd usually go for. However after gobbling down some of the tart yet sweet lemon mousse (and getting a fair amount all over my face), the sourness softened and the fruity, hoppy characteristics of the beer came to the fore, making it deliciously palatable. The sweet and sour combination was ultimately a winner, and we scored it 9/10 - the bar had been set!

Second up was Weihenstephaner Hefeweisse, paired with a banana and peanut butter cheesecake. Hailing from the oldest brewery in the world, the Hefeweisse was tasty, if a little on the thin side - although the clean feeling it left on the palate was welcomed. However, again the dessert accompaniment really brought the beer to life and enhanced the banana-y flavour present in the style, and the two together worked really well. Score: 8/10.

We all needed a little bit of a rest after this, before the third offering was brought out - Magic Rock's collaboration with Norwegian brewery Lervig Aktiebryggeri - Farmhouse IPA, served with a carrot cupcake, with cream cheese icing. The beer was all classic IPA on the nose, with a great hoppy flavour and just a hint of citrussy spice. The spiciness of the carrot cake complemented this well and little hints of orange in there went nicely with the hoppy nature of the beer. A solid 7/10.

And then came the piece de resistance, and what a finale it was! Brewdog Cocoa Psycho brownie (Meghan's recipe can be found here) and a Sam Smith's Chocolate Stout float, with vanilla ice cream, a generous helping of squirty cream and chocolate sprinkles. The Cocoa Psycho gave a wonderfully sumptuous coffee and chocolate flavour and was just everything you could ever want from a brownie - the beer float was almost delicate in comparison! This whole lot came with a jug of cream on the side "to make it less heavy". That's my kind of pud. Full marks all round from the table-10/10!
From now on, I demand that all my drinks come as a float and that all my Sundays be decadent.
All gone!