Chocolate, Whiskies and Cocktails at the Edinburgh Fringe

IMG_2646The blurb from the Edinburgh Fringe website began with what was clearly a rhetorical question.

“Love chocolate?”

And continued with a question tailored just for me.

“Not sure about whisky?”

Then dropped in another rhetorical question.

“Fancy trying something different and matching it to carefully selected chocolate?”

The “something different” was to drink whisky based cocktails.

Absolutely I wanted to do this! How exciting! Pairing whisky with chocolate and cocktails. It was bound to be a truly decadent affair, and almost definitely my secret passage into the wonderful world of whisky. And the venue was the glorious Pommery Bar, an historical library transformed into an elegant champagne cafe bar for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe. I was tipsy with delight at the mere possibility.

I immediately found some willing alcoholics…I mean friends, to join me on my Sunday afternoon indulgence and we descended upon our host, The Whisky Belle, for an afternoon of whisky and chocolate flavoured enlightenment. chocolate, whiskies and cocktails, www.singlemaltfemale.co.uk

The Whisky Belle, Annabel, seemed to be delighted at our presence. We were, she said, just the target market they were aiming for. By this, I presumed she meant women in their 30s (who look like they are in their 20s) with a bit of disposable income which they like to spend on cocoa based confectionary and alcoholic beverages that aren’t whisky.

And I have to say, it was easy for us non whisky lovers to be enthusiastic about whisky when Annabel herself showed such delight at sharing her knowledge. Her enthusiasm was enhanced by the careful and intricate presentation of…well, absolutely everything.

Waiting, invitingly, for us at each setting were two glasses of whisky – one a rich, toffee colour and the other a mellow, golden elixir. There also happened to be an extremely handsome South African gentleman sitting at our table, who proved something of a distraction to my friend, Dee (I’ve used her real name in case any hot South Africans want to get in touch).

chocolate, whiskies and cocktails, www.singlemaltfemale.co.ukSoon there were ushered in to each of us four beautiful artisan chocolates, crafted by The Highland Chocolatier. As these were being served we could hear lots of ice rattling from behind the scenes. It was the exciting sound of our cocktails being conceived.

And not long after, the first concoction was delivered: a Whisky Old Fashioned, resplendent with cherries and all.

The Old Fashioned went down like a glass of fizzy pop – possibly because I couldn’t actually taste the whisky in it. But maybe that was the idea. And, surely, liking a whisky based cocktail is a step in the right direction towards fully fledged whisky appreciation.

This first cocktail was matched with the chocolate covered cherry, which was quite frankly, chocolate perfection. It went astoundingly well with the drink, and I believe this was based on more than the just the mutual cherry factor.

Next up was the rich, toffee coloured whisky. And it actually did have hints of Sticky Toffee Pudding about it. Annabel revealed that it was a blend called The Naked Grouse (the scantily clad sister of The Famous Grouse).

Because I have listened to naysayers, I admit to being a little hesitant about blends, however, this was delicious. We drank chocolate, whiskies and cocktails, www.singlemaltfemale.co.uk it whilst guzzling the All Milk Velvet Truffle and another part of me just melted away. Annabel revealed that The Naked Grouse also goes deliciously well poured over ice cream. I tend to think she might be right.

The next cocktail was a Bramble – usually made with gin, but in this instance whisky – which was paired with an Enrobed Truffle. The Bramble had a very strong taste of Parma Violets and having never tried one before, I’m not sure if this is usual, but it was certainly unique. It also came with an edible flower, which I can confirm is edible in theory only.

The mellow, golden whisky was a Glenturret 10 year old single malt which was more gentle and malty than the Naked Grouse. This was paired with the glorious All White Raspberry Truffle. Bliss!

chocolate, whiskies and cocktails, www.singlemaltfemale.co.ukThe notes I was writing on a napkin seem to have ended around this time. I was doubtless starting to lose sense of where and who I was, but I do know that I was having an excellent time. My condition was no doubt exacerbated by the fact that one of my friends hadn’t been able to make it and the spare whisky at her setting had somehow managed to find its way onto mine.

I do remember this, though. From start to finish, Chocolate, Whiskies and Cocktails was amazing. The Whisky Belle fizzed with a contagious enthusiasm for whisky and there was no question she couldn’t answer. Apart, perhaps, from “do you have that hot South African guy’s number?” I truly believe my palate altered in some way during this event and I would most definitely return next year and pretend that I don’t like whisky just to do it all over again.

Whiskying by the Pool

IMG_2644I have given myself a year to develop a relationship with whisky. At the moment, I would say that I have a crush on it. I am attracted by whisky’s beauty. I could go on a date with it and quite enjoy its company. But I’m not in love. More time in whisky’s company is needed for that magic to happen. And I am looking forward to us stepping out together.

It’s August and Mr Malt and I are heading to Spain for a week’s holiday, so there probably won’t be any whisky dates during that time. There is a small chance that single malt and I could find each other in a balmy Spanish bar and develop a steamy bond of sorts, but I anticipate that opportunity may not arise, so I am resigned to going without.

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We are holidaying just outside Valencia at a lovely converted farmhouse and there’s no whisky here. Or at least I don’t think there is. It’s hard to know what’s available as there is no such thing as a menu. You just tell a staff member that you would like something to eat, then they (every time) suggest some cheese, ham and bread, and you say yes – because their English is rudimentary and you studied German at school – and hope it won’t cost €15 (it will). La Mozaira

Anyway, we head to the supermarket to get some supplies that we know the price of. I excitedly wander over to the spirits section to see what whiskies are available. There are some names I recognise and some which are quite clearly Brigadoon in a bottle: Passport Scotch, 100 Pipers, Blended Gold Kiss, Mr Francis (who?).

IMG_2627Then I spy a bottle of Cardhu 12 year old single malt. For only €24. A quick Google check tells me that is £19 and that it costs £35 in the U.K. I don’t know what Cardhu tastes like or how cool it is, but €24 seems like a bargain. I decide to buy it.

I read later that Cardhu is actually the most popular single malt in Spain because its sweet honeyed tones go well with the warm weather. Ooh, this is exciting! I like sweet things and I like warm weather. I can’t wait to try some whilst sitting by the pool.

Incidentally, a few days later, in a different supermarket I spot the Cardhu again. They have the 12 year old for €24 and a Special Cask which is €10 more. The bottles are on different shelves and as I point them out to Mr M, a nearby shop assistant suddenly swoops in and starts moving all the bottles onto the same shelf. Passport Scotch

I instantly assume this woman doesn’t know what she’s doing and that she thinks it is all the same type of whisky. She clearly doesn’t know as much about whisky as I do (I’m Scottish, you know). I try to enlighten her by pointing at the figure 12 on one bottle then to the area where there isn’t a 12 on the other bottle. But she ignores me and carries on re-stacking.

I try again and point and say “no, no, no,” adding urgency to the tone of my voice. Still she ignores me.

Mr M has walked away by this stage, wanting nothing more to do with me.

And, to be honest, there isn’t really much more I can do. But I do now know that I am starting to care about whisky. And its image in overseas supermarkets.

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IMG_2634We open the Cardhu after dinner in the hotel room. Because I am still learning to like the spirit, I prefer a helping hand when working out what smells and tastes I am searching for. I think this will help me to develop a more extensive whisky vocabulary. It’s kind of like having stabilisers on your bike until you are confident enough to go it alone.

The Cardhu smells kind of Drambuie-ish. It’s sweet and oaky; it’s like a log cabin; like warm honeysuckle evenings; like a syrupy satsuma; like warm buttered scones. OK, I am throwing smells out there, but those are genuinely the things coming to my mind and they must be coming for a reason.

The taste is kind of sweet and peppery. It is definitely the sweeter toothed person’s way into whisky.

The finish also seems sweet to me. I keep trying to taste different things with each sip and wonder if I should stop straining so hard and just enjoy the whisky.

I do get a big mouthful of something almost herby at one stage. Green veg maybe? Caramelised peas? Honeyed Brussels’ Sprouts? Something like that, anyway. It’s quite enjoyable and I think it does go with the warmer weather. Hopefully, though, it also goes with freezing weather as I will be taking the rest back to Scotland to consume there.

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IMG_2632Since I have been back in Scotland I have used the Cardhu 12 year old as the basis of several whisky cocktails and have to say, I do think that both whisky cocktails and Cardhu are a great way into whisky for anyone who is finding the strong taste of the spirit a bit too much to take. More about all this in upcoming posts.