14th June 2013
Thursday 30th May saw my 11th whisky dinner at Islay’s excellent Port Charlotte Hotel during this year’s whisky festival. We had a cello quartet playing at the reception which added a lovely touch of calm to the start of the evening. This year’s Feis (festival) weather was glorious until the Friday morning.
It was a pleasure to meet new friends from several countries and some old ones from the US - Hawaii, Colorado and NY/SF, as well as Netherlands, Japan and the UK.
One young US couple had rather stumbled upon the dinner six years ago during their honeymoon and decided to check to see if it was still going, to attend during their sixth wedding anniversary trip. It was and they made a point of reserving for it which makes me feel most honoured. It was so nice to see them again and to have their company during dinner.
The menu is further down this page.
I chose Ardbeg Blasda as the aperitif with the canapés this time as it is Ardbeg’s lightest (a matter of degree!) malt. The day of the dinner I asked Ardbeg’s manager Michael Heads, how he likes to drink it. His answer is to put an ice cube in for 30 - 60 seconds to chill it down then scoop it out. We weren’t able to do that or the hotel lounge would have been covered in melting ice cubes but it’s something we can all try for ourselves. When you’re matching whiskies with a whole meal like this it isn’t always necessary to leave the peatiest ones to the end. It depends on what suits the food. Smoky is fine with canapés if there are cured meats, salmon, cream cheese or cheese, especially blue cheese.
The Port Charlotte Hotel and Restaurant
Islay Whisky Festival Dinner with Caroline Dewar
Thursday 30 May 2013
Smoked duck breast carpaccio set with a waldorf salad finished with parsley vinaigrette
Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old
Butternut squash, coconut & lemongrass soup
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
A tian of cold roasted salmon with cream cheese & dill presented with a spicy
mango sabayon & micro greens
Green apple sorbet
Cumin crusted saddle of local lamb with a turmeric marinated okra,
stir-fried Indian spiced potato & brown onion masala
Lagavulin Distillers Edition
Rhubarb & vanilla posset with clotted cream
Bruichladdich Valinch 21 Year Old
Tea or coffee served with homemade whisky tablet
Isle of Jura Turas Mara
The Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old had enough richness, sweetness and nuttiness to stand up to smoked duck and the accompanying salad and dressing. There are also smoky honey and peach juice notes in the whisky which helped too, as well as some toffee and salt. It’s also good with puddings! Laphroaig Quarter Cask was chosen with the soup as it has an element of coconut in its palate. At times it’s almost tropical and this partnered well with the lemongrass too. One gentleman commented it was maybe a little heavy but when asked if he’d put water in it (QC is 48% alc. vol.) he admitted he hadn’t. That definitely would have helped. Others were hugely enthusiastic about this pairing.
I say every year that Bowmore and fish or seafood is a no-brainer but only if it’s not one of the older and very rich ones. Those would be better with a hearty meat main course or a dessert. This year I chose Bowmore Surf as its palate seemed to match all that was in the fish course. The chilli spice was very gentle and the two did seem to spark off one another. The dry, smoky yet citrus zest and salt notes stood up well to the fish.
The main course this year was a bit of a challenge with lots of fragrant Indian spicing in the dish. The potatoes alone had about half a dozen different ones. Now, this was nuanced spicing, not vindaloo. I thought maybe one of the bigger whiskies and opted for Lagavulin. Fortunately they were able to supply the Distiller’s Edition, which has had some time in Pedro Ximenez casks, with all the richness and smokiness as well as fruit on the palate to mingle with the spices and it worked well with the lamb. Delicious.
Now, when it came to dessert I had nothing specific in mind at first. I called Jim McEwan to discuss a whisky for a course and when he started talking about his Feis bottling for this year I immediately thought of pudding. It has had 17 years in bourbon cask which would be great against the vanilla and 4 years in a Brazilian rum cask and the sugar notes would complement the rhubarb. It went down rather well with the little daub of clotted cream on top too. Jim thinks it’s one of the best bottlings he’s ever done and I wouldn’t disagree with him.
Last and most definitely not least was the Jura choice for this year. I’d received the press release about their new Turas Mara expression along with a tasting sample to write about (see separate blog piece to follow) some weeks before this event. It’s exclusive to the travel retail sector and it’s utterly delightful so any of you international travellers should look for it at airport and ferry shops. With its notes of caramel and fudge, vanilla, honey, raisins, heather and smoke with some salt at the sides, I was sure it would go well with the coffee and tablet at the end of the meal and it didn’t disappoint.
Some previous attendees commented they thought this was one of my best ever dinners as regards whisky matching. Nice to know it was appreciated. I love doing whisky dinners. My own thanks must go, as ever, to the Port Charlotte Hotel – to chef Ranga for devising such a lovely menu and to the owners Isabelle and Grahame and dining room team for creating such a good event yet again. Despite Ranga being off due to illness, chef Tulsi and the others cooked a truly brilliant meal. The diners went away happy and that’s what counts. The Port Charlotte is a must visit if you go to Islay for food at least, even better if you can stay there.
© Caroline Dewar 2013