Drink of the Week: Islay Barrel

Scotch cocktails aren’t exactly a thing — most Scots sip their whisky neat or with a couple drops of water — but when in Scotland I endeavoured to sample the spirit dressed up with some other ingredients.

This posh yet casual hotel on the shore of Loch Lomond oozes Scottishness.

This posh yet casual hotel on the shore of Loch Lomond oozes Scottishness.

To begin my scotchtails exploration I met a fellow Canadian cocktail and spirits writer at the Great Scots Bar — inside gorgeous Cameron House, located on the shore of Loch Lomond — and we proceeded to get our Scottish on before dinner. She ordered a whisky and I got the Islay Barrel cocktail. It was apropos of the trip as it featured Ardbeg 10 Years Old, a peaty whisky from Islay (where we were flying the next day!), as well as Glayva, which is a Scottish liqueur made from whisky, tangerines, almonds, honey and cinnamon (yum!).

The view from the Great Scots Bar looked out over Loch Lomond and the seaplane that would fly us to Islay the following day.

The view from the Great Scots Bar looked out over Loch Lomond and the seaplane that would fly us to Islay the following day.

This drink did not disappoint. Smoky, sour, strong and sweet, with an exotic flavour that must have been the Glayva. I was prepared to be put off by the peaty Ardbeg, but it just enhanced the cocktail, and it was tempered somewhat by the Lillet, lemon juice and vanilla. And, I am kicking myself that I didn’t get the recipe right then (apologies, readers), because tracking it down from Canada has proved challenging. So, you’ll just have to play around with the five ingredients and see what you get.

tktktk

“The peaty power of Ardbeg mysteriously mixed with Lillet Blanc, Glayva, lemon juice and vanilla syrup.” — Great Scots Bar menu description.

I never did make it to the Ardbeg distillery when I was on Islay, but as luck would have it, Ardbeg’s Canadian brand ambassador, Ruaraidh MacIntyre, was in Calgary the very next week. I joined the Victoria Day Tweed Ride with him, and then sampled three of Ardbeg’s range, including the 10 Years Old, Uigeadale and Corryvreckan, after the ride. It was fun to try them unadulterated after enjoying the 10 Years Old in an Islay Barrel. Slainte!

Canadian brand ambassador

Canadian brand ambassador Ruaraidh MacIntyre pours out samples of scotch in Calgary after the Victoria Day Tweed Ride.

 

Sleeping through the night

When you have a baby, one of the first questions friends ask you after enough time has elapsed is, “Is he sleeping through the night?” This milestone is viewed as the utmost achievement of babyhood, a feat far more applauded than rolling over, popping out a first tooth or even crawling. Seriously, show me what you can do when you’re unconscious, baby, and I’ll get excited!

Some moms have dream sleepers from the beginning, others sleep train when sleep deprivation threatens sanity, and a few struggle into the toddler years as zombie-moms, determined their kid will eventually stay in bed all night. Right? Right?! And then there’s Bennett.

Bennett asleep! A rare sight.

Bennett asleep! Like the Sasquatch, a rare sighting.

A poor sleeper from infancy, I hired a sleep consultant out of Vancouver to put together a sleep plan for my son when he was seven months old. He was still waking up several times a night and was difficult to settle after I nursed him. Plus he weighed, like, 20 lbs., and he no longer needed a midnight snack or three. The plan worked, and for a couple glorious years everyone in the family slept. Until we didn’t.

I blame the slippery slope back to night wake-ups on the big boy bed, where we moved him at age 3-1/2. He started getting up every now and then, and then it became a habit. Night terrors began at age four, and the night waking gradually grew worse until it got so bad we started seeing a “sleep psychologist” at Alberta Children’s Hospital two years ago. Who knew such a thing existed?

“Kids with autism are poor sleepers,” we were told. “Reward him with a sticker chart,” she suggested (he couldn’t care less about stickers). “Isn’t there something we could give him?” we implored. “Like a sleeping pill for kids?” Clonidine stopped the night terrors, but he kept waking up… unless he was sleeping next to his sister in Red Deer or Fernie. Then, oddly, he slept like a dream. We begged Avery to share a room with him in Calgary.

Life went on, a sleep study was performed and mild sleep apnea diagnosed (non-surgical). Our paediatrician recommended switching him to Intuniv, a new drug for kids with autism and/or ADHD, with the bonus side effect of better sleep. Still he woke up. And believe me, when your kid is seven, no one asks you (thankfully), “Is he sleeping through the night?” We stopped seeing the sleep psychologist.

All of this led me to pitch Today’s Parent magazine with a story idea about school age kids who are problem sleepers. When they assigned it I hoped to find a solution to help Bennett stay in bed.

Even researching and writing a story about the issue didn't help me find a solution.

Even researching and writing a story about the issue didn’t help me find a solution.

We’d already tried most of the tips and tricks I uncovered from the experts. But then, about six weeks ago, something happened. Bennett slept through the night. And then he did it again a few nights later. Now, he’s staying in bed all night five or six nights a week. It’s a huge improvement.

Blake and I are almost afraid to question why this change has occurred, for fear we might jinx it. The best I can guess is that it was the combination of coming back from Costa Rica (where he slept great because he shared a room with Avery) and moving his Intuniv pill earlier in the afternoon. But who knows? I won’t question the amazing gift of unbroken sleep, but I will celebrate this milestone, finally achieved in childhood.

“Is he sleeping through the night?” Dare I say, “Yes?!

When in Scotland (or home), raise a dram

Transportive. That’s the word to describe what happens when you spend a week on Islay sipping Scotland’s smokiest, peatiest single malt scotch whisky, then return to Canada and open a bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year Old on a rainy spring evening.

Transported to Islay via seaplane from Loch Lomond. Great view of Laphroaig Distillery flying in.

Just one sniff takes you back to Islay and the moors and the salt and the sea. One sip and you’re there, defying wind to cut peat from a bank, shaping snow angels atop a pillow of smoky malted barley inside the distillery, or washing down a local stinky blue cheese with just as stinky of a dram.

Laphroad Distllery

Laphroaig Distllery sits next to the sea on Islay. Distilleries were traditionally built on the water for shipping reasons.

I was one in a group of 20 international journalists invited to Islay by Laphroaig to celebrate the whisky’s 200th anniversary (celebrating throughout 2015, and with new whisky expressions). I spent three days touring the island and getting a crash course on all-things-scotch. Full disclosure: heavily peated whiskies like those from Islay intimidated me prior to the trip. I wondered: would I hold back, or would the charms of the island and its whisky history win me over dram by dram?

We sipped whisky by the distillery's water source...

I sipped whisky by the distillery’s water source…

And I sipped whisky on the boat ride to neighbouring island Jura...

And I sipped whisky on the boat ride to neighbouring island Jura…

I’m pleased to say the latter happened, as a bottle of 10 Year Old, or 15 Year Old, or 18 Year Old seemed to follow us from distillery to bus to boat to karaoke night at the Islay Hotel. I’ll be writing more about what can only be described as “Islay time” — the island, the whisky, the people — for various publications in the coming months. So stay tuned.

In the meantime, “Slainte!” (“health”), toasted with a dram (or cocktail). Note: I mostly sipped whisky on its own — or with a bit of water — while in Scotland, but I couldn’t resist digging up a classic recipe that calls for Laphroaig. This one’s just what the doctor ordered when you’re missing Islay on a rainy spring evening.

Penicillin cocktail. Laphroaig is good medicine!

Penicillin cocktail. Laphroaig is good medicine!

Penicillin

  • 2 oz blended scotch (or blended whiskey — I used Crown Royal )
  • 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz honey syrup (equal parts honey and water)
  • 3 slices fresh ginger
  • 1/4 oz Islay single malt scotch (I used Laphroaig 10 Year Old)

Method: Muddle the ginger in the base of a cocktail shaker until it is well mashed. Add the whisky, lemon juice and honey syrup, and fill shaker with ice. Shake until well chilled. Double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass to remove little bits of ginger. Finally, pour the Laphroaig over the back of a bar spoon so that it floats atop the drink.

— Adpated from a Serious Eats Penicillin recipe

Drink up: It’s National Caesar Day

Who knew Canada celebrated a holiday feting its national cocktail, the Caesar? Evidently, May 14 has been named National Caesar Day — not sure by whom? — but no matter. We’re supposed to pour some vodka and clamato juice into a mason jar, add ice and spice, garnish the lot with a savoury meal (as pictured below), and then tip it on back.

The Caesar: Canada's national cocktail.

The Caesar: Canada’s national cocktail.

Admittedly, I came late to the Caesar party, arriving in Calgary (birthplace of the Caesar) from Colorado. I wasn’t even a Bloody Mary fan, so my first Caesar was a disaster (“Yuck! What’s this foul creation?!”). I have since developed somewhat of a taste for a spicy Caesar, especially if bacon is involved in the garnish. We make them at home from time to time, but bonus if someone makes one for me. And double bonus if one arrives by mail pre-made, as happened earlier this spring.

The Uber Caesar is a pre-mixed bottled cocktail made by Crazy Uncle, a brand that’s trying to redefine the ready-to-drink cocktail (they already make a daiquiri, maple punch and mint julep). So, instead of bottling a bunch of sugar and preservatives, Crazy Uncle uses fresh ingredients (no MSG, no corn syrup and no artificial ingredients). In the Caesar, they make their own clam broth, and use fresh tomatoes and grated horseradish. The drink comes in a one-litre bottle with a packet of rimmer (celery salt, sea salt, lime peel and black pepper) attached.

Crazy Uncle now makes a ready-to-drink "Uber Caesar" that's actually really good.

Crazy Uncle now makes a ready-to-drink “Uber Caesar” that’s actually really good.

The verdict? This is a surprisingly good Caesar. It’s the right level of spice and thickness, and it tastes fresh, with a hint of lime and just enough vodka. My husband (way more of a Caesar expert than I am) really likes it too, though he would have added an extra squeeze of lime. Triple bonus: the Uber Caesar is now available in Alberta at The Liquor Depot. So drink up!

Drink of the Week: Diabolito

Cinco de Mayo is on Tuesday and it’s not all about Corona, people. Nor is it all about the margarita. While that is certainly a worthy cocktail to knock back whilst celebrating this most Americanized of Mexican holidays, there’s more you can mix tequila with than Cointreau and lime juice. You can also drink a Diabolito, which I’ll get to…

There’s also been a veritable explosion of new tequila brands — some with really cool-looking labels — in the past few years. Which is how I ended up sampling a bottle of Espolon Reposado, a tequila whose agave pinas are slow-cooked before the fermented and distilled product is aged in new American oak barrels to become a reposado.

I chose to try the tequila in a Diabolito cocktail because “diabolito” means little devil in Spanish, and I thought the name apropos for the Day of the Dead figures so prominent on the awesome label (as with wine, I know you’re not supposed to go for the cute labels, but…).

This cocktail mixes tequila with lime juice, Creme de Cassis and ginger ale, and while it had initial promise, I found the ginger ale overpowered the drink and left it too sweet besides. If the recipe making were up to me, I’d axe the ginger ale in favour of two ounces of a club soda topper, sweeten it with a bar spoon of agave syrup, build it in a smaller glass, and garnish it with blackberries (pictured). Then, I’d enjoy a couple “little devils” on Cinco de Mayo.

Best tequila label ever. And the cocktail's not bad, either.

Best tequila label ever. And the cocktail’s not bad, either.

Diabolito

  • 2 oz Espolon Reposado
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz Creme de Cassis
  • 4 oz ginger ale

Method: Build all ingredients in a highball glass. Stir. Garnish with a lime twist.

— Recipe courtesy Espolon

Drink of the Week: Earls Bees Knees

Ever since the bar at Earls switched over to fresh herbs, juices and house made syrups back in 2011, I have been a big fan of their cocktails. Beverage director Cameron Bogue refreshes the list every four months or so, and I had the opportunity to sample a selection of their summer sips at Earls Tin Palace in Mission last week.

The menu includes a great mix of classics such as a margarita, amaretto sour and even a re-imagined pina colada (with fresh watermelon). But it was the light, lemony taste of the Bees Knees, sweetened with honey and Cointreau, that seemed the most apropos for spring. And that glass! Too cute, and its contents are tasty to boot. You might say it’s the bee’s knees (sorry).

I love this spring cocktail. Gin, lemon juice and honey suits the season.

I love this spring cocktail. Gin, lemon juice and honey suits the season, plus the Cointreau is a nice touch. And how cute is that glass?

Earls Bees Knees

  • 3/4 oz honey syrup
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz Hendricks gin
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • Garnish: Lemon zest and a wooden honey dipper

Method: Measure all ingredients (except garnish) into a mixing glass and fill with ice. Top the mixing glass with a stainless steel shaking tin. Shake ingredients vigorously 12 times to mix. Strain the cocktail into a honey bear jar over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon zest and a wooden honey dipper.

— Recipe courtesy Earls

Selling Girl Guide cookies

The reason we didn’t want Avery to join Sparks back in kindergarten, or Brownies in grade two, came down to cookies. Essentially, we didn’t want to spend Saturdays sitting outside of Walmart trying to sell chocolate mint cookies or the lesser chocolate and vanilla sandwich cookies to people who had probably just bought a bunch of junk food in the store. (Note: America has waaay better Girl Scout cookies than Canada. I craved Samoas and Trefoils as a child.)

We finally caved and let her join up as a Brownie last year. She graduated to Girl Guide at the start of grade four (I still call it Brownies though. I just can’t get my head around “Girl Guides” — who is she guiding, exactly?). Instead of hawking $5 boxes of cookies at the mall, she sells them door-to-door. And by she I mean we. I hold the case of cookies and she negotiates the transaction.

Wouldn't you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Wouldn’t you buy a box of cookies from this Girl Guide?

Avery: “I’m selling Girl Guide cookies. Five dollars a box. I only have four boxes left.”

Customer: “What kind are they?”

Avery: “The sandwich kind.”

Customer: “Oh, too bad. I like the mint ones.”

We get that every third house. Everyone likes the mint ones. I have yet to meet anyone who would rather trough on the sandwich kind. Dear Girl Guides: it’s time to retire the sandwich cookies. (Why not just sell the mint ones all year? Or better yet, imagine how well those Girl Scout shortbread Trefoils and caramel-chocolate-coconut Samoas would sell here. It’s criminal we don’t have more options. Truly.)

Because spring is the season for the sandwich cookies — and because I’d already seen Facebook posts from parents of cookie selling competitors, trying to unload their boxes to other parents at school pick-up — I knew Avery and I needed a strategy to get rid of our case.

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

Using social media to sell sugary goodness. Genius!

The plan: Pick a nice hockey playoff evening when the Flames were playing and go door-to-door before the puck dropped in the hope that anyone not at a bar would be in the market for munchies while they watched the game on TV.

Day 1 (Game 2/Away): We sold a case in five minutes! Our neighbour and his friend purchased eight (8!) boxes, and another neighbour snapped up the remaining four. Wow, cookie selling is EASY! Imagine if we had more cases, we could’ve sold them all! So, I emailed the Girl Guide leader and asked for another case.

Day 2 (Game 4/Home): Where is everyone? They either think we’re door knocking for the Alberta election, they’re at a bar, or they’re at the game. One woman (who I know is home because I saw her go in the front door when we were half a block away) just ignores the doorbell. Another man answers, takes one look at the Girl Guide box, and tells us no thanks, he still has half a box of the mint cookies left over from December. WTF? Those are the good ones! Evidently, his two kids aren’t allowed to eat cookies.

We make our way down the street, practically begging people to take them off our hands.

Lady: “I’ll go see if I can scrounge up some change.” She returns with eight quarters and three loonies. “I raided the loose change drawer because we’re almost through the two boxes we bought from another girl earlier this week.”

At least someone likes the sandwich kind.

Avery: “Oh, really?” (Wondering who beat her to this street.)

Lady: “She had a big wagon of cookies.”

Ah, the cookie wagon. It takes dedication to haul cases of sandwich cookies around in a wagon. And possibly all day to sell them.

Finally, a reprieve. With only two boxes left to sell Avery rings one more doorbell. The man who answers takes one look at Avery, all dressed up in her shirt and kerchief, holding a case of cookies, and his hand dives into his pocket for money. When it surfaces empty-handed he checks his wallet, despairing that there’s no cash. But then he remembers his wallet’s secret cash stash, pulls out a ten dollar bill, and buys the two remaining boxes.

Selling the lesser sandwich cookies? Not as hard as I’d imagined.