Last year, I attended the inaugural Water of Life charity tasting, hosted by ER doc and whisky buff extraordinaire Matthew Lurin, and at the time I recommended the event to anyone looking for “an intimate, relaxed whisky tasting.” After this year’s … Continue reading
This gallery contains 9 photos.
Tomatin is a contradiction of modernity and history. Situated just off the A9, the main north-south artery in Scotland’s central and eastern Highlands, the distillery’s grounds look like a vacation village, with sweet little cottages and houses and a wee … Continue reading
When I visited GlenDronach in July 2014, I’d already been on a number of distillery tours in the preceding days. That very morning, I’d been to sister distillery Glenglassaugh and was eagerly anticipating learning more about the place that makes one … Continue reading
When you drive up to Glenglassaugh, it looks like a fairly ordinary Scottish distillery. There’s a modern visitors’ center, a few historic buildings and dunnage warehouses, some larger warehouses from the mid-20th century, and nice if modest scenery surrounding it all. … Continue reading
Most distilleries in Scotland are situated on fairly open acreage. They might be close to towns and habitation, but they usually have enough large warehouses, winding drives and expansive fields to make them seem set apart. Not Glen Garioch. It’s … Continue reading
I slept 12 hours the night before I went to visit Glenfarclas. It wasn’t that I thought I’d need to rest up for some strenuous whisky drinking—I was sick as a dog. But the extended sleep did me good, and … Continue reading
When I visited Blair Athol distillery, I was sick as a dog: sneezing, sniffling, slightly feverish. I’d also just started driving on the opposite side of the road that morning, and after a few harrowing hours navigating the twisty, windy … Continue reading
Part of my aim in writing this blog is to bring good food and whisky together. When asked to review a new expression from Glen Grant, I took it as an opportunity to engage in one of my favorite kitchen pastimes: boozy baking. And since I had most of an unwanted loaf of Italian bread going stale, I decided to whip up a whisky bread pudding. With whisky sauce. To enjoy with more whisky.
Now, I did NOT use the lovely Glen Grant sample in this recipe. I never use “real” whisky (e.g. a nice single malt) in cooking, Brenne-infused mulled wine notwithstanding. I used what I had on hand, which was Grants, but you can use any cheap blended whisky or, heck, any dark spirit you want. Bourbon, brandy, rum—go wild! But please, please don’t use your good stuff. Save that to enjoy with the food.
Bread pudding is ridiculously easy to make. Bread, sugar, eggs, cream. Throw in some vanilla, baking spices, nuts, raisins or other fruit, chocolate chips, whatever—you can’t mess it up. It’s a great dessert for company, too, because you can make a whole pan (or portion into little ramekins) and feed a crowd. Plus, you get to serve it with hard sauce, which is butter, sugar, and booze, and tastes like the topping at Cinnabon only way better, because booze.
Glen Grant’s new Five Decades expression pairs nicely with bread pudding, complementing it with a light creaminess, notes of nutmeg, and sweet raisiny undertones. In fact, next time I might add raisins or currants to further draw out the dried fruit in the malt.
Glen Grant Five Decades
Nose: Sweet with strong vanilla and honey with icing sugar and an undertone of stone fruits, especially fresh cherries, and a hint of nutmeg.
Palate: Gentle at first, with a creamy sweetness that progressed to warm spiciness and finished with toasted, buttered nuts and lingering spice. As the dram opened up, I got notes of minerals, birch bark, and cherry syrup, plus some orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. It was very easy drinking, and more complex than the nose suggested.
Glen Grant just released this whisky as a celebration of their Master Distiller, Dennis Malcolm, who began his career at their cooperage in 1963. Malcolm selected casks from each of the last five decades to create the limited-edition expression priced around $250.
Whisky Bread Pudding
– 1 loaf Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes and allowed to go stale
– 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
– 4 large eggs
– 1 cup white sugar
– 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
– 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 2 tsp. vanilla extract
– 3 Tbs. whisky (e.g. Grants)
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 3 cups half and half
– 1/2 cup raisins or currants (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (175° C). Grease a 9″x13″ glass baking dish. Melt the butter and toss with the bread, coating thoroughly.
2. Beat eggs and both sugars until well blended. Add spices, vanilla, and whisky. Blend in cream and half and half until thoroughly mixed. Gently mix in raisins, if using.
3. Toss bread chunks with cream mixture and pour into baking dish, ensuring each chunk is well saturated. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until liquid has set. (It will still be bubbling, though.) Serve warm with butterscotch or hard sauce.
Thanks to Nick at Exposure for the sample of Glen Grant Five Decades.
Single malt Scotch whisky comes in a beautiful range of colors: warm goldenrod, deep russet, bright dandelion. Thanks to the variety of casks used to age whisky, the length of time the spirit spends in them, and the various mixtures of different casks to create the final product, the palette available to Scotch drinkers makes a lovely sight. Check out this color bar with its whimsical, somewhat confusing names (I never realized there was a difference between yellow gold and old gold).
But did you know that some Scotch whisky contains an additive coloring called E150a? Many whisky lovers believe this so-called “caramel coloring” impacts the flavor of the spirit, but producers who use it insist it does not. A few months ago, in an effort to provide some evidence one way or another, Johanne McInnis, the Whisky Lassie and one of half of The Perfect Whisky Match, planned and executed a blind tasting of a single whisky expression with and without E150a.
The instructions dictated the participants carry out the test blind—so I enlisted the help of my husband to pour and keep track of whether my guesses were right or wrong. After I put on my blindfold (really!), he poured 10 ml of each sample into a Glencairn glass and placed them in either hand. I also had a glass of plain water in the middle. I nosed each one and made my guess three times in a row with a five minute wait in between each nose. (And Sunjay mixed up—or not—the glasses between each round too.) Finally, I tasted each without water, making a guess based taste and trying not to let my impressions of the nose get in the way.
I repeated this process three more times over the next few days at different times of day. Sunjay patiently recorded my guesses and only revealed them when the final drop had been drunk. I did not open the tiny bottle of E150a until after the experiment was over, so as not to prejudice my guesses.
My first test took place in the mid-afternoon. When I initially nosed the two whiskies, I immediately smelled a difference. One whisky was distinctly sweet and sugary on the nose, while the other had more floral character. I had no idea what kind of qualities the E150a would impart: would it add something extra, or take something away? With no clue, I decided the sweeter-smelling one was more suspect. I generated some kind of reasoning in my head involving sherried whiskies being both dark and sweet, but it didn’t really make sense even to me. I honestly couldn’t decide which one was meant to have the coloring added: not knowing the smell or taste of E150a, it was a true blind guess. That the two whiskies were distinct and different, however, was obvious.
I nosed three times and detected that difference each time, selecting the sweeter-smelling one as having added color. When, after three nosings, I tasted each, I found a difference there, too. This time, however, the sweet-smelling one tasted more like whisky to me. So I chose the other whisky as the one with added color. Either way, I’m half-right, right?
I covered the glasses and left them for a couple of hours and then returned. This time the difference in smell was still there but more subtle. Slight oxidation had regulated the differences between the two so that they were closer in scent. One still stood out as smelling more like brown sugar (slightly reduced by this time), however, and I stuck by my original supposition and designated it the “colored” whisky another three times.
When it came to tasting, however, I actually became stymied. By this point the whiskies were so similar (and a bit too warm) that they were virtually indistinguishable. Each of them had a slight sweetness on the nose and on the palate, with sweetness, some spiciness, and oak at the finish. One of them did taste a bit duller than the other; or perhaps the other was just brighter and more vivid, so I chose the flatter one as the one with coloring.
The next day, I repeated the process. At this point, I began second-guessing everything I knew about how whisky smells and tastes. If I didn’t know one of the samples had coloring added, I’d never guess that either of them were altered in any way: they both smelled and tasted “like whisky” to me. But is this because my knowledge of whisky is tainted by drinking and “knowing” whiskies that use coloring? Surely that influences my perceptions of what “tastes” and “smells” like whisky. In any case, I took a truly blind guess for the third time.
A couple of days later, I did the fourth and final test. At this point I just gave up on trying to use any logic or method and just chose one. When the last drop had been swallowed, my results were revealed:
Tasting 1: Noses 1-3 WRONG; Palate CORRECT
Tasting 2: Nose 1 CORRECT, Nose 2 WRONG, Nose 3 CORRECT, Palate WRONG
Tasting 3: Noses 1-3 CORRECT, Palate CORRECT
Tasting 4: Noses 1-3 CORRECT, Palate WRONG
I was surprised. I had really convinced myself that the first-round nosing was totally correct, but no. At least the other nosings (with one exception) were consistent. My tasting was 50/50, which doesn’t surprise me as I really, truly didn’t know what to be looking for. Not knowing what the additive tasted or smelled like ahead of time, I was taking a stab in the dark, assessing each dram to decide which one “tasted more like whisky.” It’s interesting to see that this worked out for me in the initial round, when I was still forming judgments about the process and the two whiskies, as well as in the third round, when I had spent a lot of time thinking about my perceptions of whisky and whether or not they could be trusted. I’m not surprised I got the final round wrong as I’d basically thrown in the towel at that point.
The problem with making my choice based on which dram was more whisky-esque is that my tasting experience has included both colored and additive-free whiskies. And most of the time, I haven’t known or paid attention to E150a presence. So my palate has, in some way, been “tainted” by my tasting of colored whiskies as on par with (or at least undistinguished from) non-colored whiskies. They have all been lumped into the “tastes like whisky” category.
And this impacted my ability to judge the “whisky-ness” of each dram. The truth is, they both tasted like whisky to me. Heck, they both smelled like whisky too, but it was easier to detect what I thought was a hint of something “fake” on the nose than on the tongue. The sweetness I associated with the E150a stood out like a red flag every time I smelled it (or thought I did). But the two tastes—that was much harder. One whisky (which ended up being the E150a) had a stronger spicy character and what seemed to me a more rounded finish. The other seemed less vivid with a less satisfying finish—some of the time. Both whiskies, after oxidizing a bit, tasted even more similar, further complicating my perceptions.
This whole thing turned my preconceptions about whisky on their head. What should whisky smell like? I found the nose on the E150a whisky rather pleasant, just as the nose on the non-colored whisky was, too. What should whisky taste like? There is no doubt in my mind that the additive changes the flavor of the spirit, although this seems to lessen when the spirit breathes a little. The E150a whisky provided, in my opinion, a more rounded finish albeit a less nuanced palate overall. Would it be wrong to prefer the additive whisky over the “pure” one?
If making the argument from taste, my guess is that both colored and additive-free whiskies would have their fans in a widespread blind tasting. Should consumers know when E150a has been added? Absolutely, and in many cases, folks can guess (does the bottle say no colouring added? If not, buyer beware). Since I personally have a bias against additives and things like that in all the food and drink I consume, I would be more likely to purchase non-colored whiskies, especially single malts, an effort to maintain the purity of what I consume. But if I already knew and loved a standard bottling like, say, Glenfiddich 12, and I found out it contained E150a (which it does), would I stop drinking it? No way. I drink what I like.
Of course, E150a isn’t added for taste. It’s used to ensure consistent color across all bottlings of an expression. Visual cues, like labels, impact our perceptions of quality and enjoyment, and producers know this. If your Glenfiddich 12 appeared deep gold one year and pale yellow the next, you’d wonder if they were altering the product somehow (and you might find the pale yellow one less satisfying). Keeping the product visually consistent signals that it remains consistent in nose and taste, too. Visual consistency remains an important issue in countries where there is less regulation and oversight of food and beverages, and where consumers might not feel confident about the quality of a product whose appearance varies. (Then again, it cuts both ways: producers in such countries can more easily use additives to achieve visual consistency, opening the door to some horrible realities.)
In the end, I suppose I’m still on the fence about E150a in my whisky. I’m certainly going to be inspecting all the bottles I buy from now on, and, as I wrote above, I’ll likely privilege those without any additives. But I respect the decision of producers to use E150a to create visually-consistent whiskies. Frankly, I’m more anxious that chill-filtering will affect the smell and taste of a whisky. But who can say for certain, unless we do some more research…
I have always wondered why Christmas has to come at the beginning of the long winter rather than somewhere later on. Wouldn’t it be better for us to have something to look forward to during the long dark nights and bitterly brief days? Why kick off such a depressing season with our biggest to-do of the year? I mostly ask these questions because all the Christmas goodies would be so much more appreciated on say, January 28, when the cold winds are howling and the snow is piling up, than now, when it’s barely gotten cold enough in New York City for me to break out my awesome new Betsey Johnson coat.
Then again, who says we can’t have holiday treats outside the holidays? I’ve had so little time for baking this month that I anticipate making some of my favorite seasonal delights long after the gifts have been unwrapped, simply because I can’t wait another year to have them. Likewise with this mulled wine: it’s too delicious and, frankly, too perfect for chasing away the chill of winter to limit to one month of this long season. So I plan to make it again and again until the trees start budding and I can move on to that warm-weather wine punch, sangria.
This recipe is great because you can play around with all of it. Don’t like Syrah? Use another red wine. Don’t like red wine? Use white. Adjust the spices, sweetness, and flavorings to your taste. Leave out the whisky if you prefer, or use brandy, rum, or schnapps. Try adding other fruits, like cherries or pears. In short, go wild! Experiment and taste often. Mulled wine is a crowd-pleaser and excellent for parties because a) it’s cheap and b) you can make a big batch all in one go. (Pro tip: Keep it hot throughout an event on the “warm” setting in a slow cooker.) You can also make it ahead of time and store in the fridge for up to a week. In fact, I recommend making extra so you can let it macerate for a day or two and come back to it after a busy workday—time improves the depth and complexity, for sure.
Be warned: the smell of this simmering will intoxicate your brain even before you take your first sip! Prepare for a languorous evening and have bon bons on hand to complete the feeling of indulgence.
Mulled Wine with Whisky
1 bottle of cheap Syrah (like Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck) or other red wine
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, peeled and thin sliced
1 orange or lemon, peeled and segmented (reserve half the peel)
3 cinnamon sticks
1/2 tsp. whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
3 Tbs. honey
1/4 cup whisky (I used Brenne, a beautiful new single malt whisky aged in French oak and finished in Cognac casks. Its light, fruity sweetness marries nicely with the wine.)
Combine all ingredients and heat just to a simmer. Barely simmer, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Taste, adjust, enjoy.