Monday, April 4, 2011

Learning about whisk(e)y and
the humane culling of agressive rhubarb.

I am sure I am not alone in my hatred of being bad at things. I steadfastly refuse to play pool under any circumstances because my grasp of geometry (and for that matter the difference between left and right) is so poor a game of pool quickly descends into something resembling a tabletop bought of boules, I absolutely hate netball for similar reasons (and due to the hideous attire) and I am nervous of writing about whiskey for fear of not doing it justice.

My friend Michael knows whisk(e)y, he is passionate about it and loves it the way no man should love spirit decaying a barrel. He recently berated me for trying to introduce a one word descriptor system for whiskies in the pub. You would think I suggested mixing his 33 year old Glendronach with Coca Cola. It is kind of wonderful listening to him talk about it, he gets excited, dragging bottles off the shelf to demonstrate the controversial effects of the use of caramel and the mechanics of chill filtering. His enthusiasm for whisk(e)y is infectious. I have been quietly learning about things such as phenol parts per million, the effect of different barrel ‘finishes’ on whiskey, and what causes the waft of band-aids in certain bottlings. I have taken to using words like dram, 'maturation' and have an alarming new-found affinity for tweed (though eschewing the obligatory blazer with leather elbow patches.) It fascinates me that newly bottled whiskey on the bar shelf has been in cask longer than I have been alive, that these whiskies have been quietly maturing throughout history, that the people who made the spirit may no longer be around to see the results of their hard work. On that morose note...  

The demise of whiskey production in Ireland is a different story to that of beer production, but no less poignant. Over the last year I have heard the story many times, but few tell it as entertainingly as John Cashman, the loftily titled 'Global Brand Ambassador' for Cooley Distillery. I was fortunate recently to attend a number of tastings conducted by John, the least of which was a decadent late afternoon lunch last Friday in the Schoolhouse in Ballsbridge.

The menu was a five course affair, each course matched with a whiskey from Cooley's stable. The impressive meal included seared Dublin Bay prawns flamed in Greenore 8 year old; Carlingford oyster with a Connemara Jelly and a sensational Black Angus Chateaubriand served with an unctous Tyrconnell Port Finish jus. Each course was thoughtfully matched with a Cooley whiskey.

Whiskey and food have a natural affinity with one another, but it is important to ensure the strong spirit does not overwhelm the food pairing. Some obvious and delicious pairings are:  
  • Smoked salmon with peated whiskey (such as Connemara or an Islay whiskey like Bowmore);
  • hard cheeses and a wine barrel finished whiskey (such as Ben Riach Barolo finish) or an Irish Single Malt (Tyrconnell being my current favourite); and
  • Fruit cake or dried fruit based pudding and Sherry finished whisk(e)y (such as the tripled distilled Scotch Auchentoshan or Bushmills Malt 16).

For dessert at the Schoolhouse last week, chef Olivier Quenet concocted an amazing Tyrconnell Madeira finished whiskey mousse, which married cream and honey perfectly with the sticky sweetness of the whiskey. He sandwiched this in a raspberry mille feuille. The tartness of the berries contrasted with the delicate and fragrant vanilla top notes and the jammy sweetness of the whiskey (I did warn you!) which also works well with the tartness of a rhubarb fool I made yesterday.

We have rhubarb growing in the corner next to our back fence, which makes frequent attempts to subsume the rest of the garden, so expect to see a lot of rhubarb recipes in the next few weeks as I attempt to curtail its campaign on the neighbouring blackberries.  

Rhubarb, Orange and Pistachio Fool
Makes 4.

Heavy bottomed saucepan

4 stems of rhubarb (about 400grams) chopped into 1 inch chunks

170 grams of caster sugar
Zest of one unwaxed orange, grated

250mL cream
2 Tablespoons of honey
30mL Tyrconnell Madeira Finish Whiskey (or another unpeated whiskey)

2 tablespoons of pistachios
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Combine rhubarb, caster sugar and grated zest into a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally until reduced to a puree. Add extra sugar if required. Leave aside to cool.

In the meantime place pistachios on a baking tray lined with baking paper and sprinkle brown sugar over the top. Place in 190 degree oven for 10 minutes or until caramelized. Remove from oven and crush.

Whip cream together with honey until thick and then fold in whiskey.

Alternate layers of rhubarb and whiskey cream in a glass, top with crushed caramelized pistachios.

Would be perfect served with shortbread biscuits and a glass of whiskey.


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