Tag Archives: Whisky

“Pure”ly Brilliant

28 Sep

Things have been rather manic over here at Gwiltypleasures! As such, I have much catching up to do on exactly all the loverly events I’ve been heading out to in Londontown that have been really floating my pleasure boat.

Last weekend I was delighted to finally attend the Pure Festival which I wrote about a few weeks ago. I wasn’t sure how exactly a music and whisky festival would be pulled off, but I’m glad to say I was very pleased with the result.

The Garage in Highbury was absolutely buzzing when I arrived with “the boy” in tow – the queue stretched along the side of the building and the most exciting bit: everyone was young! Now, to many people familiar with North London bars and events, this may not seem such a big deal. But, to someone familiar with older, stuffier whisky tastings (where I normally feel like I could be the child of most attendees!) this was a big deal.

Upon entering the event, it proved to be just the same – loads and loads of 20- and 30-somethings mulling around in checked-shirts and skinny jeans, drinking and learning about whisky.

People mull around the Seventy% stand, waiting to try pairings of whisky and chocolate

The boy and I got down to tasting just as soon as we could fight our way through the throngs of people at each stand – heading first to taste some rather delicious whisky from a distillery I’d not heard of before called Stonedean, which produces the Tweeddale Blend. Director Alasdair Day told us about how he inherited his Great Grandfather’s recipe book and how he established the company in 2009 to start reproducing it!

Next we headed off to try out another newbie to the whisky world, the Isle of Mull blend, brought to the festival by founders Neil Morrison and Calum Maclean. The company, which only began in August last year, has a beautiful blend made of Highland malts and grain whiskies, and I was impressed with its intensity and flavour.

After trying out some “edible peat” at the Ardbeg stand (a mix of hazelnut, cocoa powder and sugars), and a few shots of single malts at the fabulous Seventy% stand (which demonstrated how perfectly chocolate and whisky can be paired together), we tried the always favourite 10-year old Talisker – brought down by the guys from The Whisky Exchange – and continued with a rather special 30-year old bottle (hidden below the counter) at the Whyte and Mackay stand.

Finally, we finished up the day by sneaking in a couple of tasters of 12- and 16-year-old whiskies from Ancnoc (another new one for me), and had a chat with Darren Rock (aka: The Whisky Guy) who told us about his upcoming project for Movember, in which he will sell bottles of single malt in aid of prostate cancer. Stay tuned for updates on this soon!

All in all, after all of these rather delectable tipples, the boy and I wobbled out – unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the music, which was a shame because I heard great things afterwards about the headlining bands. Regardless, it was a great event filled with a young, fun crowd keen on becoming knowledgeable about my favourite tipple! And I must say a big congratulations to the chaps who pulled it off! Bring on the next one!

Dramatic Whisky

15 Sep

One of my favourite things to indulge in is whisky. Its diversity of flavours and smells makes my tongue wiggle in happiness with each sip and I am finding myself ever more keen to develop my knowledge of this gorgeous spirit.

Over the years of enjoying this drink, I can clearly say I have learned that whisky is dramatic. In fact, seeing as Mirriam Webster defines the word as “striking in appearance or effect” and seeing as whisky is, most often, both – especially the latter after too many top-ups – I was glad to stumbleupon someone seizing on this fact to promote greater education about the drink to the masses.

This person is drinks-industry veteran Mark Thomson, who heads up the aptly named company: “Dramatic Whisky“. Its goal: “To break down the stuffy, dusty walls surrounding the mystique of Whisky and allow everyone the opportunity to discover and understand this fabulous liquid…”

I was curious to find out more and, after an invitation from Mark, headed to one of his latest tastings at the lovely Liberty Lounge on Bell Lane, just down from Spitalfields market.

Some of the evening's whiskies stand at attention while Dramatic Whisky founder, Mark Thomson, sorts last-minute details in the background

I was not disappointed, nor were the 21 other people who, later, all seemed to compliment Mark’s lecture as they wobbled out the door.

But back to the start. The venue was perfect for the evening: trendy but cozy, all dark-wood, dark-banquettes and dark couches, mood-lit by flickering candles. The guests made small talk over the lounge music bubbling across the stereo and the whole place felt far from anything stuffy or old-school.

Soon enough, we got down to the evening’s main event: the tasting, which comprised six whiskies. Interestingly, Mark started us out – after a comedic talk on how whisky is made and its history – with a Grant’s, something I haven’t drunk since a rather unfortunate evening as an 18-year-old when I glugged a litre of the stuff with a friend during a beach party in England’s south. It put me off whisky for a good six years, and I was doubtful of trying it again. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised: it had nice caramel and vanilla notes, was smooth and left a subtle pear taste of the palate. This was certainly due to the fact it wasn’t any bog-standard Grant’s but a posher, sherry cask finished blend, and my memories of one of my worst teenage hangovers were not brought back. Putting this whisky first was part of Mark’s goal to de-snobbify whisky drinkers who think supermarket-shelf stuff is no good and I think it did the trick.

We continued with a light, young, appley Glen Moray; Penderyn’s delicious peated malt (still one of my personal favourites); a rich, sherry-casked 12-year-old Highland Park; a nutty, oily 18-year-old Highland Park; and, finally, a Christmas-cake-in-a-glass 18-year-old Glenlivet.

Throughout the event, Mark tried his best to get the crowd chatting and spent much time joking about the attempts of the evil English to control and regulate distilleries in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was an evening choc-a-bloc with interesting information delivered in a relaxed manner, using the latest technology (he brought up pictures to illustrate points on his iPad) in a fantastic hidden-away bar I was very glad to discover. There was even a large plate of flavourful Moroccan food to finish.

And finally, it was dramatic in as much as it was the antithesis of what many whisky evenings can be: older, stuffy, aristocratic and snobby. We had fun, drank lots and got to love new whiskies. Gwiltypleasures was definitely satisfied…she can only hope Mark will continue to get the “water of life” flowing to even greater numbers of the UK population…

Pure Whisky

5 Sep

I have recently returned to London after 3.5 months away travelling around the Americas. I was eager to catch up on all I had missed in my favourite city during that time, and was ecstatic when I learned of an exciting new festival celebrating my most beloved drink – whisky – to take place at the end of September here in London.

Titled the “Pure Festival” – the event will celebrate both whisky and music. And with the moniker: whisky not wellies, it sounds like my kind of happening.

During a press briefing for the event at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society near Farringdon, I met some of the chaps – all young, north-London types – who have brainstormed this exciting new venture.

“What we’re about is trying to bring whisky to a wider audience,” explained Perre Thiebaut, host for the evening and also director of website Whisky Connosr.”It’s about bringing whisky kicking and screaming into the 21st century. The industry is ignoring the younger generations a bit. But there is a younger audience for it.”

The event will take place on the 24 and 25 September at the Garage, near Highbury and Islington in north London, and will feature bands such as The Ravonnettes and Electric Soft Parade on Saturday, and James Yorkston and the Smoke Fairies on Sunday.

Best of all: the whiskies. There are 10 distillers confirmed, including Ancnoc, Whyte and Mackay, Cooley and Talisker. Famous whisky critic Dominic Roskrow will also be on hand to doll out some very special drams from the World Whisky Master medal winners.

The hope, the organisers say, is to take the festival on the road, bringing good tunes and better tastings to others. New York and Dubai are rumoured to be interested in hosting versions.

“The reason we call is Pure,” added Thiebaut, “is that whisky is about three things: grain, water and yeast. This is really pure stuff. It’s like really good music. Pure and simple.”

That sounds like the perfect Gwilty Pleasure to get this whisky lover back into the swing of London life.

The Pure Festival takes place on the 24 and 25 September at the Garage in Islington from 4-10pm. Tickets are £28.50, and include 8 tastings – allowed to be done from 4-7pm only – and entrance to the music festival.

Spirit of Victoria

5 Jul

On my continual quest to find good, unique booze, I recently came across a fantastic little outfit producing some of the best spirits I´ve  tried of late.

Nestled away up a country road on a former vineyard in Saanich, just outside Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, is the small, artisan distillery called Victoria Spirits, which produces Canada’s first premium gin – along with a selection of other products like hemp vodka and orange bitters.

It’s a family affair, with everyone from the mom and step-dad, to the son, daughter and in-laws contributing in their own small way, from marketing and label design to, of course, lots of taste testing.

It all begins in a small workshop with a wood-fired still, made by third generation still makers in Germany.

On the day of mine and my father´s visit, Peter Hunt, the master distiller, was whipping up a batch of hemp vodka. The golden pipes of the still were snaking around a large, copper orb where the various ingredients that comprise each tipple bubble and brew, like a witch’s cauldron on Halloween. Inside the 217 litre pot – which is sealed like a bank vault – were thousands of toasted hemp seeds bobbing around in liquid. It smelled oily, nutty and intoxicating, sure to cast a spell.

It’s a labour-intensive process – because it’s a wood-fired still, the process needs to be controlled throughout the full six hours and wood added every five to 10 minutes to keep the temperatures perfectly balanced. But this is what makes it a grand example of an artisan distillery.

After checking out the ¨lab¨ we headed upstairs to try out the final product. And I wasn´t disappointed.

The signature gin is rich and flavourful, with each of the 10 botanics that it is comprised of (things like orris root, coriander, star anise and, the classic, juniper) working together rather than overpowering. The Oaken Gin – or aged gin, which Hunt jokes is the “gin for whisky drinkers” is distinct, slightly oakey and a far cry from the products a corporate distiller would pump out, while the Left Coast Hemp Vodka is nutty and much fuller than any ordinary vodka, leaving an oily aftertaste that is pleasantly surprising and could easily be drunk on its own over ice.

The company is growing strong, and will soon be in stores across Canada – my only fear…everyone else will find out about it and I won´t  have any to myself!

Daytime drams…

26 Apr
I love whisky. Single malt rocks my world. But, I know many who don’t indulge in the “water of life” to the same extent – including the boy (ie: the boyfriend, Lee). Unfortunately, like many, he had a disastrous encounter with some cheap and cheerful whisky back in the day which left him with a horrid two-day hangover (more than once). Understandably, his perception of whisky is mainly that it’s rough. I shared this view until I went to a tasting a few years back, which turned my taste buds around and made me bat for the other side: the side that likes a wee dram, that is. A lingering goal of mine is to convince others that this beautiful spirit can be so subtle and complex, that it can take your breath away (and not just from its sharp bite).

SO, after a recent whisky event at the fabulous Albannach bar in Trafalgar Square (http://tinyurl.com/pt7vta) – at which I received one of their whisky taster sets – I decided what better way to try to convince the boy that he WILL like this golden liquid than to have a mini taste-testing sesh.

Now, as many Londoners will know, April’s weather has been more encouraging of Pimm’s consumption than whisky, but even so, I believe the “winter warmer” can be loved year-round. So even with the sun rays darting into our lounge, we decided what the heck! we’ll give these bad boys a taste. It was a Monday after all…

The three whiskies in the tasting set are elegantly presented in a white, silk-lined box (adorned with the Albannach symbol) and come with a Glencairn glass (the industry standard tasting glass). It includes a 10-year old Islay, a 14-year old Speyside and a 10-year old Blended.

A wee dram anyone?

With pens and paper at the ready, I poured us each a small sample of the Blended to get us started and, like seasoned pros, we took to the task tres seriously giving each a few notes on taste, smell and even a score out of 10! We followed with the Speyside and ended with the Islay.

So…what did we think?

I gave my high-scores to the Islay, surprising myself as I don’t normally drink this varietal as it’s often too harsh and smoky. But, this one was far from overpowering, proving instead to be a bit sweet and creamy, with a complex taste and aroma that reminded me of how the night air smells at a lake beside a campfire, along with leather and the sea. It had a delicious, smoky aftertaste too, and I gave it 8 out of 10. Lee took a more serious tone, linking it with his vision of what a tortured writer would drink or to quote: “What Hemingway would have drunk before shooting himself in the head.” But not in a bad way – no, no, he felt it was a deep and complex, sophisticated whisky, meant for those special occasions…or in Hemingway’s case, his final occasion…

Taking his tasting notes seriously!

The boy’s high-score, meanwhile, went to the Blended whisky – he considered it a summery, light and easy-going whisky, one that novices would enjoy, that had quality but was not too complex. He scored it a 9 out of 10. I rated this one  a 6 out of 10, but that was simply because I found it too sweet, with an overly butterscotch, or salt-water taffy taste for my liking. It was a quality whisky, but didn’t quite offer the bite and richness of the other two.

This left, of course, the Speyside. We both ranked it 7 out of 10, with the boy suggesting its lightness (note: the colour was nearly clear) in both colour and aroma, would fool a drinker into thinking it wasn’t rich, when in fact it was far more deep and intense than the caramel-coloured Blended whisky. I found its aroma pleasant – like green peas in a summer garden – but really enjoyed the sharp, almost-acidic bite it had, which struck me completely out of the blue.

We finished off all three – of course, what else would you do? – and I think I may be turning a curve in the whisky war. Or maybe it was just the fact we’d enjoyed drinking quantities of whisky on a Monday afternoon in the sunshine…only time will tell!

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