Tonight is Burns Night, the celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s favourite poet, Robert Burns. (To learn more about Burns Night, see my previous post, here.) To prepare us for this important event, Qype arranged a wonderful evening for Qypers, at Salt Bar in London’s Marble Arch. There, we were to taste three single malt whiskies, courtesy of Talisker, one of the proud single malt whisky labels owned by drinks giant, Diageo.
Needless to say, what with escaping the demands of work and dealing with slow public transport, I was late. I missed the piper who piped beautiful Scottish sounds into this Edgware Road bar. I missed the Address to a Haggis, with sharpened dirk ready to slice into the swollen ball that is a haggis. I missed the smoked salmon blinis that accompanied the Talisker 10 Year Old. But that was all. In true Epicurienne style, and knowing already a thing or two about Burns Night, I caught up quickly once I arrived.
As I entered the ground floor space at Salt Bar I noticed that it was filled with a great many pairs of eyes fixed on a man called Colin. Ah, my fellow Qypers. What a gluttonous bunch we are. Mention food, whisky, cocktails or something else worthy of placing in one’s mouth and you have our full attention. I knew I was in the right place.
Jo from Grayling sped the second whisky of three across to me as I tentatively encroached on the otherwise full bar. You see, Colin was in full swing. Our whisky coach for the evening, he was expounding on the virtues of Talisker. Right now we were sipping on drams of Talisker Distiller’s Edition – a delightful mouthful of deep sm0kiness. Colin told us that it had tones of Muscatel, dates and stewed fruits. All I could taste was a whisky-imbued smokehouse. As I like smoked fish, smoked cheese, smoked ham – this was a very good way to start the evening for this particular latecomer, but I obviously need to work on my whisky palate.
As my fellow Qypers tucked into beautifully-presented rounds of haggis layered with neeps and tatties, I headed once more for Grayling P.R.’s Jo Seymour-Taylor.
“I was late, I know. I’m sorry about that. But do you think I could try the first Talisker? Just so that I can compare.” I asked.
Jo was charm personified, whizzing off to the bar to find me a dram of the whisky I’d missed. When she returned, I sipped on the Talisker Ten Year Old, and sighed.
“It’s very good, a bit salty, still smoky…” I told her, “but the Distiller’s Edition has spoilt me. I enjoyed it so much that this now doesn’t seem half as wonderful as it would without comparison.” Impractical though it may be, I’ve always had expensive tastes.
Jo smiled at my honesty, turning to introduce me to a surprise – the calligrapher named Paul. There he sat, patient with pen and ink as he inscribed hardback notebook after notebook for every guest.
“What’s your name?” he asked, and so I told him, and a few minutes later, my notebook lay amongst the others left to dry. What a superb touch, I thought. To invite people who like to write to an event and then to give them something in which to write! That’s what I call consideration of your audience.
Next, I was introduced to Colin, our expert for the evening. I explained I’d arrived late as I’d had to cross town and he simply replied “shall I teach you how to taste whisky, then?”
I held my glass of the third and final Talisker for the evening - Talisker 57 degrees North, named for the location of the distillery and also its alcohol content (ouch), and followed Colin’s instructions. I placed my hand over the glass and swilled it in circles. Lifting my hand I sniffed and oh my sainted trousers, what an aroma there was now, thanks to all that swilling releasing fumes enough to entice a pack of single-malt – loving hounds from across the nearest three neighbourhoods.
“Now sip, but do not swallow.” Colin was a firm tasting master.
“Move the whisky around your mouth for fourteen seconds.” We counted. Obviously my counting was done in my head, lest I spurt good single malt across my new friends.
“When you get close to fourteen, the flavours will explode in your mouth,” Colin told me. And so they did. It was veritably difficult to hold it in without becoming a human fountain of whisky, but the increase in flavours was worth the heat now pervading my mouth.
“I taste everything like this,” Colin admitted, “Whisky, wine, spirits. This is how you find the true taste of a drink.” Well, I’m a convert. That Talisker 57 Degrees North was something else. It wasn’t exactly sweet, nor was it as robust as the first Talisker of the evening, nor as smoky as the second. Yet there remained hints of smokiness with a touch of peat and citrus. Ah, the citrus was what paired it so well with the final solids of the evening: chocolate mousse, elegantly served in flutes.
Colin was not done with me yet, though.
“Pour a little of the whisky onto the mousse,” he suggested, and I did so obediently. The next mouthful of smooth chocolate had a heady enhancement of whisky. And why not? My mother makes fabulous chocolate mousse laced with Cointreau. Single malt fabulosity drizzled on chocolate mousse was not something I’d tried before, yet it tasted oh so very right. Thank you, Colin. I’m now hooked on chocolate mousse with whisky. How’s that for a new vice?
The next person with whom I chatted was the manager of Salt Bar, an amiable chap called Vansi Putta. We marvelled together at the display of whisky bottles around the bar. Some names were familiar: Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, Cragganmore and Dalwhinnie. Others, made me smile with their funny Scottish names, especially Knockando!!
Vansi explained that Salt Bar has a whisky specialism, and they even provide Whisky Tours. For instance, for £25.00 you can go from the Highlands (Clynelish 14 yrs) to the Lowlands (Auchentoshan 10 yrs) to Campbelltown (Springbank 10 yrs) and Islay (Caol Ila 12 yrs) via none other than Speyside (Macallan 10 yrs fine oak).
If you want to go international, you can try Glenfiddich Solaro Reserve from Scotland, Bushmills 3 Wood 16 years from Ireland, Suntory Yamazaki 18 years from Japan, Monkey Shoulder vatted malt and a good ol’ Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel from the States. That will set you back a cool £35.00 a head, but oh, what a journey.
By now I just had time for one of the Talisker cocktails on offer, so chose the Cool Walker. The recipe goes like this:
40 ml Talisker 10 yrs old
15 ml Drambuie
10 ml Lime Juice
10 ml Gomme
Add ingredients to Boston Glass, shake and strain into highball glass filled with ice. Top with ginger ale.
My, if I’d enjoyed the Talisker drams of earlier, this was a very pleasant surprise. I’d just been telling Colin how my parents have always recommended taking single malt neat, to get the true flavour. But here was a cocktail made with a single malt and it was refreshing enough to drink in summer. So perhaps from now on I won’t view whisky as a drink for the snow days.
On the way out, the guests all received a goodie bag, filled with Talisker treats. There was a small bottle of Talisker 10 Year Old, a Talisker tumbler in which to drink our Talisker, the beautifully inscribed notebook and…
a book to help us celebrate Burns Night in true Scottish style by Burns Night expert, Clark McGinn, who’d earlier read the Address to A Haggis and proffered his dirk:
So, with at least fifty per cent of me coming from The Land of Wee Kilties, tonight I’ll have me a wee haggis, a wee tumbler filled wi’ a wee dram o’ Talisker, and a few mouthfuls of neeps and tatties. But in the interests of keeping my waistline, I might pass on the choccy mousse and save it for special occasions.
Happy Burns Night to you ALL!!!
**Portrait of Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth, 1787: 2 years before the French Revolution and 11 years after the United States of America won its independence from England. This is one of the best known likenesses of Rabbie Burns and hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Burns Night is a timely evening to beat the Northern Hemisphere January blues, when every UK day starts as dark as night and the sun sets at a depressing 4.30pm. Celebrated on 25 January, Burns Night is a particularly special time for Scots, when they remember the birthday of their esteemed poet and fellow countryman, Robert or ‘Rabbie’ Burns (1759-1796).
A traditional Burns Night event will kick off with a few wee drams (small measures) of something toasty like a good single malt whisky, which serves both to warm the extremities and to lubricate the tonsils of those bold enough to recite some lines of fine Scottish literature for their friends, often from the works of Burns himself. Then, moving to the table, the Selkirk Grace may be said before the starter is served.
“Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit.”
“Some have meat and cannot eat, Some cannot eat that want it; But we have meat and we can eat, So let the Lord be thankit.”
Next, if you happen to know someone who deafened the neighbourhood with bagpipe practice sessions whilst growing up, you would hopefully forget past pain and ask them nicely to attend your Burns Night Supper to pipe in the haggis to one of those famed kilt-swinging tunes, like Brose and Butter. If you don’t happen to have such a friend, you can always book a piper for the night (although I’d recommend doing so well in advance as this is one of the busiest nights of a pro-piper’s year). Where a piper is either unavailable or unattainable, you could always play a CD of a good solo piper. If you choose the latter, I would definitely advise avoiding recordings where guitars and/or brass bands are involved. It won’t provide the same sort of atmosphere.
As the piper plays, the chef will carry the haggis with great reverence to the table, where it is set before the host/ess on a plate called The Groaning Trencher. Then the guest with the greatest penchant for dramatics and vocal cords loosened by a quick few drams will speak to the haggis with Burns’ poem, aptly named ‘Address To A Haggis’.
The mere mention of haggis is enough to make many a grown man squirm, once they understand that it consists of a sheep’s stomach bag, stuffed with the sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, which have been blended with onions, suet, oatmeal and stock. In spite of sounding like a murder scene, it’s really rather tasty, although there is a growing demand for vegetarian versions containing kidney beans, lentils, nuts and vegetables in place of the bodily remains of a former sheep and somehow, I don’t think it’s only vegetarians who might opt for the vege version; the thought of eating a literal stomach full of offal could be understandably off-putting, even to a hardy carnivore.
The usual way to serve a haggis is with neeps and tatties, which to all the non-Scots among my readers translates as mashed turnips or swede (the neeps) and mashed potatoes (the tatties).
Prior to serving, the haggis is ceremonially sliced open with a lethal-looking knife called a dirk, as the piper, chef and performer of the Address receive a thank you dram of good Scottish whisky. Some people pour a little whisky onto their serving of haggis to add to the flavour whilst purists steer clear of such practices, preferring to keep their haggis and whisky quite separate and unadulterated. Either way, the haggis forms the focus of the event that is Burns’ Night.
As whisky and ale flows and wallflowers find the (Dutch) courage to stand up and sing or recite a wee bit of Burns, the evening will progress in a warm haze, and perhaps some fun will be had as the group takes to the floor for some group dancing, known by those from north of Hadrian’s Wall as ‘reeling’ which, after a few exhausting rounds of the room, you will be. And so it is that Burns Night is celebrated to a greater or lesser degree in Scotland and wherever in the world the Scots have dispersed. To illustrate the importance of Burns Night, according to recent analysis of the Burns Economy, there are currently around 10,000 Burns Night Suppers held internationally, a statistic which I personally consider to be conservative. In any case that means that come Tuesday of next week, all over the world there will be many, many thousands of sore heads.
To prepare us for the possibilities of this year’s Burns Night, earlier this week a group of Qypers was invited to a Burns event at Salt Bar in London’s Marble Arch, courtesy of Talisker single malt whiskies. It was a fascinating evening, with excellent whiskies, food, experts and calligraphy. My next post will tell you how it all went, so tune in for more Burns Night fun, including how to get the most out of your dram and mouth-watering suggestions for matching whisky with food.
In the meantime:
- There are eight stanzas to Burns’ ‘Address To A Haggis’ and it takes some working out if you’re not accustomed to reading Scots, so here’s a link to a truly comprehensive Burns site, where the hard words have a multi-lingual glossary attached to them – just click on the troublesome word, which is highlighted, to find its meaning. http://www.robertburns.org/works/147.shtml)
- Did you know that Rabbie Burns wrote ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which so many of us, Scots and non-Scots alike, sing on New Year’s Eve?
- Did you know that Rabbie Burns died of a heart condition at the age of 37? His youngest son, Maxwell, was born that same day.
- In 2009 an STV survey of the public found Rabbie Burns to be The Greatest Scot. Well done, Rabbie! Now, that’s what I call cause for celebration.
It’s a happy day when someone sends me something food or drink-related to play with. It’s far preferable to those depressing brown envelopes with windows that usually fill the mailbox. So it is that I am the grateful recipient of a Friday with Gordon’s pack, comprising an adult-size bottle of Gordon’s gin, 6 smart highball glasses with Gordon’s logo marked ever so discreetly on their sides and a cookbook by the F-Word man himself, Gordon Ramsay.
So to what did I owe this gin-tastic pleasure? The Telegraph is promoting its new Friday supplement, The Friday, sponsored by none other than Gordon’s itself. The Friday is filled with great ideas for how to get the most out of those two precious days we call The Weekend, from cocktail recipes (naturellement) to themed takeaway ideas, relaxation tips and that useful tool – a countdown clock telling you exactly how many days, hours and minutes you have to wait for the next weekend.
Well, I’m having fun thinking up all sorts of wicked things to do with my Gordon’s tonight, but in the meantime, we have an Epic début in the shape of a competition. That’s right, G&T lovers, if you would like to win a Friday With Gordon’s pack with which to kick on your very own gin-themed weekend, you may enter here. I’m sorry to say that I have to restrict entries to UK residents only for this one, and you must be over 18 to enter because those are the rules I’ve been given by the nice Gordon’s people.
So here’s what you do:
Tell me in any way, shape or form who is your ‘Gordon Gracious Me’?
(that means in a comment, haiku, photo, video or any other way that can appear on this blog. Points will be given for originality.)
You have until midnight on Friday 9th October to send me your entries. Then we’ll take a vote and send the winner their very own Friday With Gordon’s kit.
Viel Glück, PEEPS! Now, for a word from Mr Ramsay:
Top o’ the morning to ya, and I know I’m a bit late in posting about a St Patrick’s Day celebration, but as a wise, New Zealand-born food-lover once said, ‘better late than never’.
London Bloggers’ Meetup Organiser, Facilitator and All-Round Guru, Andy Bargery and the team at Splendid Communications (Haran, Emma and Chris) recently arranged a heady evening of Guinness and Bushmills whisky-based cocktails at Diageo’s London Headquarters. Here’s the cocktail list for you to dribble over -
I confess I had not one, but two Bushmills apricot mules thanks to Splendid Chris accidentally (on purpose?) over-ordering for me. There’s something about the ginger ale that gives a particularly refreshing zing to this drink, so I didn’t exactly refuse the two highballs of deliciousness. I also braved a Bushmills Black Bush Vanilla Sour, which was wonderfully nostalgic in flavour, the vanilla present but not overpowering. In fact, with cocktails like the Old-Fashioned and a version of the Mint Julep featuring on the menu, everything I tasted made me think of times of yore.
At some point, someone suggested I try the Irish Coffee, but I needed some convincing. Then I saw one, served in a Martini glass, and sneaked a sip. Two dangerously more-ish Irish Coffees later and it was time to learn how to pour a Guinness.
Duncan makes sure I don’t spill a drop… ‘Allo love. What kin i getcha?
The mixologist for the evening was one Duncan Macrae and a patient man he must be for he spent some time teaching a small crowd of us to pour Guinness. We were told to hold the glass at a 45 degree angle, start to pour against the side of the glass and as the glass fills to around the two-thirds mark, ease it into an upright position, stop pouring and leave to settle. Once the liquid has turned completely dark, it’s time to top up the pint. Duncan showed me how to do a shamrock shape on the head, and this I managed to achieve… just, although it looked like the sort of shamrock that had been trodden on by a herd of marauding sheep, i.e. not the smoothest shape you’ve ever seen.
Those are the chins of serious concentration and the bud of a shaky shamrock.
Splendid Chris enjoys a pint o’ the black stuff.
Flanked by Melanie Seasons of Fake Plastic Noodles (left) and Splendid Chris (right).
Duncan Macrae tells Timinator that under no circumstances will he be served again tonight. No siree. Enough is enough.
Katie and Andy Bargery with their Bushmills Irish Coffees.
Apart from testing the Bushmills cocktails and learning to pull a pint, we also discovered that Maltese Guinness is alcohol free (it tastes quite nice, really, but nowhere near as dark or heavy as the real McCoy), that there is such a thing as Red Guinness only it isn’t red, it’s just branded that way, (in fact, when I tried it, the main difference was in the taste. It’s just like regular Guinness only maltier), and Drew from Chameleon Net spoke to us about the (then) forthcoming talk at the next Meetup, featuring the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
That Meetup happened last week. Once again it was good to catch up with all the regulars and meet some newbies to the blogosphere. The Equality and Human Rights Commission were represented by some passionate and entertaining speakers, raising our awareness of what they’re all about. One of their key areas of debate was whether to use traditional journalists or bloggers to write about their causes. Personally, when I hear of more hard-copy periodicals closing their doors and more on-line periodicals opening up, I think we’ll be left with no choice but to find a way for the two to co-exist. Yet, it’s also easy to understand that a fully-qualified journalist will be better equipped with certain skills than your average blogger, but sometimes bloggers explore viewpoints which journalists have failed to represent.
Technology is also changing opinion on who would be better suited to covering certain stories, especially as with a single click on our phone/PDA/ laptop we can upload content to the internet, be it to our blog, or in 140 characters or less on Twitter, using any one of an increasing number of social networking sites and applications. In summary, technology is making it possible fofr just about anyone to break a story or contribute to it.
So, where to tonight? I’m off to a foodies’ Easter egg tasting, courtesy of Word of Mouth, the Guardian’s online food blog. Thank heavens I didn’t give up chocolate for Easter. Missing out on this event would have been an Epicurean travesty.
Recently, the London Bloggers Meetup Group got together at the London Headquarters of drinks magnate, Diageo, for an evening of Blogology. The evening was the brainchild of Rax Lakhani and team at Splendid Communications and, as far as sponsors go, they really outdid themselves!
We were greeted with Moscow Mule cocktails, made with Smirnoff red vodka and ginger ale, before joining the queue to watch our own cocktails being made, the recipes of which had been cleverly designed to match our blogs. Yes, the Splendid team had sat down, trawled through each and every blog belonging to the bloggers on the guest list, to create bespoke cocktails, one per person, to reflect what we blog about. Clever, or what? It was most impressive, especially considering how much time all that cocktail recipe writing must have taken.
We even had a pair of dedicated mixologists, who quickly got to work and didn’t pause for breath as they shook their stuff behind the bar. Ridiculous laughed about his Ridiculous cocktail, which seemed to have a bit of everything in it, while Mex, blogging about the London Underground, sipped on a cocktail made by matching potential ingredients to tube line colours. Inspired.
Here’s a clip of how to make a few different types of Moscow Mule:
And here are our clever mixologists who worked hard all night shaking our drinks…
a lot of concentration went on behind that bar to ensure our cocktails were mixed to perfection and not a drop wasted…
yep, he got every last bit of fruit out of that shaker… Or so he thinks.
“Is that a fly in there?”
“No, love, it’s just a bit of blackberry.”
Here I am with The Epicurienne, a fizzy special featuring inspiration from England (strawberries), France (chambord) and New Zealand (pineapple. They said they didn’t have kiwis and I didn’t have the heart to tell them that pineapples don’t grow in New Zealand, but they do grow in many places around the Pacific, so it was good enough for me). Splash in some Smirnoff, naturellement, top up with ginger ale and voila! The Epicurienne! Mmm, tasty.
(Thanks to Katie Bargery for this snap.)
In case you’d like to try The Epicurienne, here’s the recipe:
Meanwhile, in another part of the hip Diageo bar, a cocktail bartender competition was taking place, only we didn’t realise until an announcement was made towards the end of the evening. Unbeknownst to us bloggers, the entrants had been busy making drinks to impress the judges. Ah! The penny dropped for Katie B and me, as we’d spent ages watching some Michael Schumacher lookalike in a chic waistcoat fashion a chunk of ice into a perfect tennis ball shape for a whisky on the rock (singular), only to have the guy he was making if for walk off and leave it. How rude! we thought. That was before we realised that the rude person was a judge. I guess it’s best not to get drunk on the job if that’s your vocation. Such restraint! Anyway, we rescued the drink and gave it to Andy. Waste not, want not.
As if the evening wasn’t exciting enough, we were all sent home with goodie bags of Smirnoff Red and ginger ale so we can try to Make The Mule At Home! I think Monsieur has a cocktail utensil set somewhere so I might just have to give it a whirl, only I’m pretty sure it won’t taste as good as when shaken by the Smirnoff mixologists. I guess I can but try.