Monthly Archives: May 2015

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