Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Whisky Round Table > December 2011

We at Whisky For Everyone are this month's hosts of The Whisky Round Table and we have decided to set our fellow members a challenge.  It’s that celebration time of the year again and be it through one holiday or another, religious or otherwise, we expect that all the Knights will be catching up with their families. Presuming that, like us, they will all be asked questions such as “what have you been up to this year?” and “so, how’s the world of whisky?”, our challenge is about engaging those ‘non-whisky’ family members. Here goes …

Pick two or three members of your family and select a whisky drink (this can be straight dram, with a mixer or elaborate cocktail) or whisky & food pairing that you think they will like. Try to mix it up – pick an auntie who ‘hates whisky following a bad experience’, your brother who always asks “what’s the best thing you’ve tried this week?” or your dad who you are just trying to impress. You get the idea … hopefully! Make them begin to understand about the fantastic spirit that is whisky and why we all love it so much. 

This is really an interesting question ... As it happens most of my family do not drink whisky, or do not drink any alcoholic beverage. I've chosen to enlighten my wife, and my father in law.

My wife doesn't care for whisky at all. She's good at sniffing it, but she does not like drinking alcohol if it's stronger than wine. Anything above 14% is out of the question. But, she loves chocolate. and chocolate and whisky is a wonderful combination, as we all know. She's a sucker for chocolate fondants or chocolate soufflés, and adding a bit of whisky into that, will most likely improve it, right? What I'm thinking of is a chocolate fondant with an addition of some sherry bomb whisky. Either the 'Farclas 105, or Aberlour A'bunadh. Currently I have batch #25, so that will have to do.

My father in law loves alcohol, be it cocktails, wine, gin, etc, but he's not too fond of Scotch, He prefers bourbons, as he likes his drinks a bit sweeter, and less dry. What I have in mind for him is a lovely "Smokin' rusty nail". It's a lovely twist on the well known rusty nail, but this time instead of just plain old blended whisky, I am going to add some Laphraoig Quarter Cask, to provide the smoke, tar and peat which will make this one much more interesting. Sweet, and smoky. What a combination.

What a great opportunity/excuse for me to do a little whisky tasting; not just for one or two people but for everyone at my family's Thanksgiving Day dinner. Every year my wife and two kids go over my uncle Mike and aunt Gloria's house for the dinner/celebrations. Mike and Gloria are on my Step-Dad's side of the family - a very large Sicilian/Italian family. This year we had about 20 people at our dinner and 15 of us joined in on the whisky tasting fun. Being an Italian family, as you might imagine, there is a lot of wine & lemoncello poured but sadly, little (read: none, zero, zilch) whisky.

Well the times, they are becoming different. I brought with me a bottle of Glenmorangie Lasanta (12yo sherry finished whisky bottled at 46%ABV) and a few bars of 70% cocoa dark chocolate. The idea? Give people a quick (and I mean quick! Most had already had a good deal of booze in them already) idea of how whisky is made/matured, get them to taste the whisky straight (as a dram) and taste it the proper way (not shooting it but smelling and sipping/chewing the whisky), eat some chocolate then smell and taste the whisky again.

The end result? My uncle, who's had nothing but wine in his adult-drinks glass tried whisky for the first time in 33 years! Even my wife, who would much prefer to throw herself on one of Vlad the Impaler's spears than to taste whisky, got in on the game! I got people calling out tasting notes and one of my cousins compared the Lasanta to "drinking velvet". While I'm not sure I converted anybody, it was great to get people out of their comfort zone and appreciate something that they would never have touched/bought/drank before. Additionally, I've started a new family tradition (you know we Jews love tradition)!

The toughest nut to crack would be my mother in law, who hardly drinks a drop. I might try some Baileys with her, because that is always a great one for the non-drinker. Last year I made some home-made Japanese "Baileys" with cheap Japanese blended whisky and it was actually quite delicious. For my father in law, who likes his whisky mixed, I would mix a highball made with Suntory Kakubin blend. I would indulge my wife with Yamazaki 1984, a superb single malt with a distinctive Japaneseness about it and a very hefty price tag.

I picked up two sisters in 2011, and no, by that I don't mean I salaciously solicited two nuns on the corner of 16th & Capp. What I mean is that I started 2011 with no sisters and ended the year with two sisters-in-law...a pretty sweet deal for me, (less so for them). So I thought, in that spirit, I'd make these two fantastic women a couple of whisky-based cocktails for the holidays. They're both aware of whisky's finer points, neither harboring any deep-seeded resentment against our favorite booze, but I'm not sure either of them really know just how essential and vital the stuff is.

My wife's sister has spent a fair amount of time in Wisconsin and likes brandy old-fashioneds. Actually, if you know anything about Wisconsin, you know that people there like brandy...a the extent that nearly 90% of the brandy consumed in the US is consumed in Wisconsin. No, I'm not kidding. Of course, Brandy can be a fine, exquisite spirit in its own right, but I know that most of what's poured down the hatch in the Badger State is not what you'd call premium, top-shelf stuff.

So, for my first sister-in-law of 2011, I'd like to make an Old Fashioned the old fashioned way, not with the rail brandy to which she may be accustomed, but with Canadian Club Classic 12yo Whiskey. Old Fashioneds were probably originally made with a rye whiskey, but I don't want to transition too far, too quickly from the sweeter, fruitier Brandy she's used to, so Canadian Club Classic's 12yo's balanced attack of matured sweetness and measured rye spice would be at once familiar, yet more complex and interesting.

Sister-in-Law #2 likes wine out of a box. She readily admits to this guilty pleasure and has no shame or regret in the matter. More power to her. She of course likes good wine, but, you know, sometimes, at the end of a long, hot Mid-western summer workday that a pint glass full of Franzia Sunset Blush straight from the fridge just hits the spot. As far as I know, there's no whisky (thankfully) available in a box yet, so I need to think outside the box a bit here and be a bit more metaphorical than literal.

In keeping with the cool, refreshing, end-of-the-day, pick-me-up idea, I'd pour her a nice tumbler of Compass Box's Great King Street Blended Scotch on the rocks. This latest offering from boutique Scotch blenders Compass Box is a throwback whisky, a delicious blend, built not to be sipped neat and over analyzed by quasi-knowledgeable bloggers, but poured over ice and/or with some soda water. On the porch with a cute dog and a strangely endearing husband, she'll find this is not an overpowering whisky that's intent on showing off it's love-it-or-hate-it flavor profile, it's well-rounded, refreshing, tasty, tasty stuff, perfect for seducing an unwary wine box snob.

Sorry for not answering your question in the way it was meant to be answered. I guess I’m not much of a family guy but I do like the idea of persuading people and getting them interested in whisky, so let me tell you two of my tricks that have worked pretty well so far.

The first one is a mint julep. It’s one of my favourite cocktails and most people who don’t like whisky still seem to like this refreshing combination of mint, bourbon and sugar (I also like to add some lime juice or ginger for a change). It’s rounded, sweet and seems to filter out all the alcoholic sharpness that most people associate with whisky. Personally I think Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace work best for cocktails.

The second trick up my sleeve is Irish whiskey, let’s say Redbreast or even the single grain Greenore. They’re slightly lighter, sweeter and smoother than most young Scotches. The main problem is that most inexperienced people drink a supermarket blend, don’t like it and then say they don’t like whisky altogether. Irish whiskey usually offers higher quality and complexity if you’re on a budget, so they might be surprised.

Once you can convince people with a smooth whisky that lacks all the industrial nastiness, they’ll be more open to older drams and other profiles as well. Whatever you do, don’t pour your best Brora or powerful Lagavulin thinking anyone will love it right away – it takes time.

First person would be my Dad, Stuart. He doesn't drink spirits but is a big fan of strong flavours. I'd mix him up a whiskey sour using Four Roses Small Batch and for the creamy froth, I'd use a duck egg for extra texture. You can also get three cocktails from one duck egg, they're so large... that'd introduce him to a different way of drinking bourbon.

My Mum, Sissel, makes home-made pickles and chutney and one she has lying around is a plum and damson affair. I'd serve her Hibiki 12 with some cheese (a light blue cheese and a soft goats cheese) and her own plum and damson chutney. The plummy nature of the Hibiki 12 will go really well with the sweetness of the chutney and the grain whisky elements to the blend will work well with the cheese.

Finally, for my brother Ben. He is a big beer drinker, but doesn't go near brown spirits. I'd serve him a dram of Dalwhinnie 15, which has been in the freezer (or left outside in the snow, if last years weather is repeated), along side his traditional Christmas ale. The rich wood tones in the Dalwhinnie match that of an ale well, and chilling it down make it slightly more palatable to those not so used to high strength alcohol in the beverage...

My four year old isn't much of a whisky drinker but he is very interested in what I'm up to with all these bottles of brown liquid that I have lying around the house. Given our remit from Matt & Karen I decided that now was a perfect time to give him a peek behind the whisky curtain.

I poured a 16 Year Old Lagavulin and showed him how to nose it properly. He swirled the Glencairn as best he could, trying his utmost to maintain control of the glass and the spirit inside; a few spills up and over the edges were to be expected. He brought the glass in from his right side and took a dainty wee sniff. I'd implored him to take care of his nose and not burn the living daylights out of it. He's a quick study! Almost immediately he looked up at me and said it smelled like his Uncle Karl's camp fire. Well done, young sir!

I lauded his sense of smell and congratulated him on his ability to turn olfactory sensory data into approximate mouth utterances. He was pleased as punch with himself and loved the attention. I asked him if he was getting anything else. After thinking it through for a second or two he offered up "toast." Very nice! Anything else? "Hmm, table?" Ok, I could see where he was going with that, perhaps a little woodiness from the cask, I was willing to cut him some slack (he is only four!). Anything else? At this point he started looking around the room, it was obvious he'd exhausted his list but he wanted one last congratulatory pat on the back... "wall?"

Ok, what about a wee taste? Any interest? Thankfully, he didn't have too much interest in taking a sip but he was still curious so I dipped my finger in the liquid and dabbed that on his tongue. "FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!" was his instant reaction and he ran out of the room. "But what about the finish?" I shouted after him, but to no avail.

Finally, it comes to the turn of us at Whisky For Everyone.  Who would we pick and what would we do?

My choice would have to be my dad.  About five years ago, me and Karen paid our first ever visit to Scotland.  This was before we knew or cared about anything to do with whisky. Anyway, on our week-long trip from Inverness to Thurso and back again, we decided that we had to 'do a distillery visit'.  We ended up in Muir of Ord (not the nicest town, if I'm honest) and our distillery of choice was Glen Ord.  We purchased my dad a bottle of the Glen Ord 12 years old from the distillery shop. This bottle is still in his drinks cabinet ... it nestles between a bottle of Cinzano and a half-curdled bottle of Advocaat.

This is my mission - to get him to drink and appreciate the damn stuff.  He has a polite sip every time we pay a visit but we know that he doesn't really 'get' whisky.  I plan to try the following approach over the festive period - firstly, I will show him how to nose, taste and describe the whisky so as to get the most out of it and begin to understand the aromas and flavours that he is experiencing.  If this fails, I plan to try it with some basic mixers to find something that he enjoys, probably tonic or soda water with some ice and lemon.  This always goes down well with the non-whisky drinkers when doing tastings in my day job.  If this fails, then I'm struggling ...

Rather than pick one person I am choosing to attempt to give my whole family a brief glimpse into what it is that attracts me to whisky. I confess that my family is the other side of the world and so I am being fantastical in my idea. Dreaming that I am there in the sunshine with them and not in grey old London.

If I was with them at this time of year we would undoubtedly be visiting one or two or ten of the fabulous wineries that surround Adelaide in Australia. I will presume you have heard of Barossa Valley or McLaren Vale at some time. In any of these wineries we would taste our way through the various grapes, blends and vintages of wines on offer. We will then all bicker about which was the best which can lead to some quite heated arguments.

This vision sparked the idea of a whisky tasting for them. I decided that I would pick one distillery and get them to taste the different ages and cask finishes on offer. I have deliberated over which distillery and I could choose any of a number, but my decision as to which distillery came down to a winner based on their diverse range and ease of availability. The distillery – Glenmorangie.

I would be pouring four drams for each of them. The first would have to be the Original to get them in the mood and see what influence a Bourbon cask has on the whisky. The second would be the 18 years old to show them what age can do along with a moderate use of Sherry casks. The third would be the Quinta Ruben so they can see the impact of the rich and full-on influence of Port wood. Last of all would the Finealta to get them to see what a bit of smoke can do.

I would expect after that selection the arguments should be quite enjoyably heated to say the least. If I get them talking and comparing then my work is done.

* Please note that Keith from Whisky Emporium was due to take part in this month's discussion but understandably chose not to due to a recent family bereavement.  Our thoughts and condolences are with Keith at this time.

- Karen & Matt

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