I love a dinner party. But the ones I’ve hosted or attended (outside of Christmas time) have consisted of maybe eight people, maximum. So I was intrigued when I attended The Irish Heather and Shebeen Whisk(e)y House‘s ‘long table dinner’ for Ardbeg Distillery a couple weeks ago.* It was me, the Brit, and about 30-ish other people. Long table dinner = a MUST!
Shebeen is the Ardbeg Embassy for Canada, which makes them privy to some special releases, so I was excited that we would get to try the easiest to pronounce, but most difficult to obtain: Kelpie. One of my colleagues is Scottish and he has been raving about it. More on that in a moment.
We were all there to eat a tasty porchetta dinner and have Ardbeg National Brand Ambassador, Ruaraidh (pronounced Rory) MacIntyre, walk us through an Islay whisky flight and introduce us to Ardbeg’s new release: An Oa.
Sidetrack: my whisky story
Islay whisky is the kind of Scotch that made me actually LIKE it. After trying different (and for me) nose-wrinkle-inducing Scotches over the years, my first trip to Edinburgh (2010) led me — well, I was basically dragged — to a shop on the Royal Mile where a staff member was determined to help me find my gateway whisky. Turns out I like smoky, peaty Islay whisky — which perplexed everyone in the shop. While my gateway whisky wasn’t an Ardbeg, it was fun to find something that I liked. But I digress. Let’s talk about the dinner for a minute and gt back to the whisky.
Long table dinner sips and nibbles
When guests arrived for the dinner, they were given an Ardbeg Old Fashioned, a nice play on the original Old Fashioned which is traditionally made with bourbon or rye. It was lovely, so I made sure to make note of the ingredients they announced so I could share the recipe in their approximate quantities. And the method from watching intently as the bartender made ours. (Recipe is below.)
Dinner was a scrumptious porchetta and mash dish that melted in my mouth (I’ll never be able to be a vegetarian…). Dessert was a rich chocolate mousse with whipping cream topped with orange zest — because the original topping was strawberries that I am very allergic to! — and what I believe were elderflowers. One word: delicious.
Tasting Notes: Ardbeg Islay whisky flight
And… back to the Scotch. Thirty-plus people make inevitable amount noise, especially when they’re (at least) one whisky cocktail in, so it was difficult to hear Ruaraidh at times. (I possibly, maybe went “shhh” one or two times, but as politely as I could…) But I learned a couple things, including how to at least passably pronounce the tongue twister name of whisky #3…
- 10 Years Old – The one with the easiest name. Unexpectedly, but pleasantly leathery in aroma. Very smooth in taste — likely due to being barreled in French oak.
- Kelpie – Named for the mythical shape-shifting water spirit of Scottish lore (the lesson: beware of handsome horses or handsome strangers with hooves!), this limited release is a hot commodity, not readily available in Canada. Aged in eastern European oak, it has a sweet-ish taste with a bit of pepper, which I could only faintly taste.
- Uigeadail – Pronounced oo-gah-del, this was more smoky than the first two and is named after a loch (lake) in Islay. With a nice mix of smoke and sweet, it comes in at a cask strength of 54.2% alcohol. This was my favourite of the flight.
- Corryvreckan – The name is pronounced essentially how it is written looks, but sounds better when a Scots person says it. Also smoky and sweet, it’s alcohol content comes in at a whopping (to me) 57%. The angels’ share was a bit less for this one…
Did you know? The angels’ share is (per Whisky Magazine) the amount of alcohol which evaporates from the casks during maturation. This can be around 2% per year but much higher in hotter countries such as America. Personally, I like the image of a cheeky cherub doing a taste test.
- An Oa – Not included in the flight, but served with dessert, this is another limited release. I’m a touch embarrassed to say that my chocolate mousse distracted me sufficiently enough that I didn’t fully hear the tasting notes. But I can tell you that the smoke taste paired nicely with my dessert and that I enjoyed it very much.
How to taste a Scotch whisky
Ruaraidh’s first bit of advice for tasting was to warm up the whisky by cupping the rim and bowl of the glass. He then suggested we dip a finger in the whisky and then rub the drop between our hands like you would do with perfume on your wrists. These were both eye (or nose) opening exercises because the scent was much stronger than in the glass. The rest is the same: tilt to the light, swirl, sniff, taste and enjoy!
This was a really great night out for the Brit and I and I highly recommend a visit to Shebeen and the Irish Heather in Gastown. My ticket for this event was provided by the owners. A big thank you to them for including me in this dinner and for planning a great event. As always, opinions are my own.
Slainte mhath! Have a safe and wonderful weekend.
The Ardbeg Old Fashioned (from Shebeen Whisk(e)y House)
- One large ice cube or 2-3 small ice cubes
- 2 oz Ardbeg 10 Year (or an Islay whisky of your choice)
- 1 tsp simple syrup
- 3-4 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1-2 wide strips of orange peel
- Put ice cube(s) in the glass
- In a pint glass or martini shaker, muddle the bitters, simple syrup, and orange peel
- Add some ice to the pint glass or shaker
- Pour whisky over the ice and stir everything around for a few seconds
- Remove the rind and set aside
- Strain the liquid into the glass, over the ice cube(s)
- Use the orange rind to ‘salt’ the glass rims with the orange peel oil; add the rind to the liquid as garnish
*For more than one cocktail, multiply ingredients accordingly.
“I should never have switched from Scotch to martinis.”Humphrey Bogart