Mercury is in retrograde: my laptop died on Easter weekend, work’s been a bit crazy, and my left rotator cuff is telling me it needs a little more love. Aside from that, it’s been a pretty good week. But I’m definitely ready to put my my feet up and have a glass of something lovely.
Ardbeg Long Table Dinner at Shebeen Whisk(e)y House
I love a dinner party. But the ones I’ve hosted or attended have been 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 = a MUST!
We were all there to eat a tasty porchetta dinner and have Ardbeg National Brand Ambassador, Ruaraidh (pronounced Rory) MacIntyre, walk us through our Islay whisky flight and introduce us to Ardbeg’s new release: An Oa.
Fun Fact: Ruaraidh’s father is Ardbeg’s longest-serving member of staff.
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 another kind that I’ll talk about another day! – it was fun to find something that I liked.
Shebeen is the Ardbeg Embassy for Canada, which makes them privy to some special releases, so I was excited that we were getting 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.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the food. 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.
Back to the Scotch. Thirty-plus people make inevitable amount noise, especially when (at least) one whisky cocktail in (recipe is below!), so it was difficult to hear Ruaraidh at times (I possibly 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 smell. 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… 😉
Fun Fact: 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. I CAN tell you that the smoke taste paired nicely with my dessert and that I enjoyed it very much
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!
The Ardbeg Old Fashioned
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.
THE ARDBEG OLD FASHIONED (from Shebeen Whisk(e)y House)