Elise’s Summer Picnic – how to make your own

[Our August Whisky Squad session was a summer picnic. Here, Elise breaks down what we had and how to make it at home]

One of my favourite “genres” of food is the picnic. Whether it’s a last-minute Tesco supplies grab or a properly planned epic day out – I love a picnic. And I love whisky. See where I’m going with this?

What better way to draw the summer to a close than to pair some great whiskies with some classic picnic foods.

Pairing 1 – Watermelon, peach and feta salad with a Bulleit Rye Watermelon Smash

The pairing here is pretty obvious – watermelon all around!

Watermelon, peach and feta salad

Watermelon and feta make for a perfect summer salad – the sweet, light watermelon and the salty, crumbly feta lightly combined with a tiny bit of mint is a classic. Then I read this recipe adding fresh peaches. It’s easy, tasty and refreshing – and it travels pretty well if you fill a container quite full.

Find the recipe here.

When you’re picnicking you don’t want to lug around loads of kit, a really simple cocktail is the way to go. This one is dead simple, and incredibly refreshing.

Whisky Squad Watermelon Smash

  • 1.5oz Bulleit Rye
  • 3oz Watermelon mix (watermelon juice and blended watermelon)
  • Ice
  • Wedge of lime
  • Raspberries to garnish (if you feel fancy)

To make the watermelon mix – when making the salad, keep back at least a third of your watermelon. Carve out all of the pink part, and blend it into a mush (I use my Nutribullet). Use that to boost the watermelon-ness of the watermelon juice you buy.

Pairing 2 – Summer shredded chicken tacos and Longrow

This easy chicken taco recipe gives you a succulent pile of sweet, juicy and richly flavourful meat. This is a recipe that works better on it’s own, so to help it pair well with whisky, reduce the garlic way down  – I used just one clove. The sweetness in this dish comes from a balance of butter, orange juice and a little cilantro [coriander for all our non-colonial readers – Ed], with a few cheats including Worcestershire and, of all things, American yellow mustard. Cut small circles out of your favourite kind of tortilla rounds to serve.

Find the recipe here.

For a pairing, I wanted a sweet whisky that wouldn’t be at all cloying and would add an additional dimension to the chicken: I chose Longrow Peated. It’s really beautifully balanced with a sweet smokiness. On it’s own it also has something a bit minerally or medicinal about it – I think this is what gives it the structure to hold its own against the chicken.

Pairing 3 – Bodean’s Burnt Ends with Dalmore 15

Bodean’s. If you don’t know this excellent BBQ chain, do yourself a favour and go get acquainted. One of the first of London’s many BBQ joints, their burnt ends are  both famed and very tasty. There’s always room at a picnic for some kind of beefy barbecue, wet or dry, sweet or tangy. I prefer a slightly more robust BBQ and these burnt ends are just the thing. We had this rich, smokey, tender and luscious beef with its slightly sweet and tangy sauce with a little bit of classic potato salad on the side.

Try this recipe if you want to give it a go at home.

Bourbon and rye can pair really well with BBQ: bourbon’s sweetness can amplify the character of the BBQ sauce and a rye that’s not overly spiced can bring out the meatiness of a dish. But I’ve recently been loving the Dalmore 15 and expected that it would be incredible with a bit of beef, and it is. Dalmore 15 is an exceptional dram – balanced and sophisticated, its rich hints of ginger syrup and winter spices work in harmony with the BBQ sauce and the meat. It’s also got a dark, coffee-ish finish that is a classic math for beef.

I’ll be pairing it this winter with venison wellington, and coffee-crusted beef fillet.

Pairing 4 – Cheeses with Aberlour 16

Aberlour 16 is awesome. It’s fruity, spicy, sweet and rich all at once: a complex but balanced whisky. It’s also a creamy dram on the nose, with fruitiness immediately apparent and a nice nutty undertone. On the palate it offers a soft sweetness, fruit (plums and raisins) and a warming spice. Its finish is long – rich and honeyed to the end.

This balance of tastes makes Aberlour 16 a great pairing for cheeses – lots and lots of cheeses. We got ours from Neal’s Yard Dairy, which may be my absolutely favourite shop in London. It’s a cornucopia of dairy goodness, with some of the most stunning cheese I’ve ever had.

We tried three with this dram:

  • Innes Log is an ash-coated slightly firm goats cheese with grassy, savoury flavor that was an interesting balance with the brightness of the whisky.
  • Bermondsey Hard Pressed is a local cheese in a gruyere style: a hard, nutty and sweet round made in London. It’s got a fizziness to it that I adore, and the whisky brings out its alpine nature.
  • Montgomery Cheddar was the third and my favourite pairing. A very fruity Cheddar – perfect.

Pairing 5 – Peach and Bourbon hand pies (aka pasties) with Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye

There are no words to describe how lovely a rye and peach pairing can taste. Just trust me: go make this one for yourself.

I used Blanton’s Bourbon in the pies because I had it to hand, but almost any bourbon will do. Also, while you can make the pastry by hand, it’s so much easier to hit your local Tesco and buy two boxes of ready-made sweet crust pastry.

You can get the recipe here.

For extra decadence I used smoked sugar from Smoky Brae to dust the tops of the hand pies and it was delicious.

Pairing 6 – Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve with a deconstructed Bounty Bar
(AKA brown-sugar-and-coconut-glazed hot milk cake with dark chocolate)

Russell’s Reserve is a proper bourbon – a big ol’ southern mouthful of swagger and sass. With notes of oak, toffee, cocoa and dark vanilla, it pulls no punches.

I’d been thinking for a while about bourbon and coconut, and what kinds of chocolate bars would make the best pairings. One thing led to another and ‘tah dah’ – the deconstructed Bounty Bar bourbon pairing.

The cake is very rich and supports the dark vanilla and toffee notes of the bourbon without becoming too sweet together. Instead, I think they balance each other out. The dark chocolate grounds the bourbon and reveals the influence of the oak and deep char on the barrels.

This recipe is an old family favourite, with a few extras:

For the cake:

  • 2 eggs well beaten
  • 1 cup white sugar (granulated for you folks over here)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp butter
  • ½ cup milk

Beat the eggs and add the sugar to them. In a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and then add it slowly to the egg and sugar mixture. In a small pan, heat the butter and milk together until really hot, but not boiling – just starting to be a little bit bubbly is okay – add it to the cake batter and mix.
Bake in a 325ºF/160ºC oven for 20-25 minutes or until done (that’s when a toothpick stuck into the centre comes out clean).

For the topping:

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 cup shredded or desiccated coconut

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter, add 3 tablespoons of milk and 1 cup of shredded or dessicated coconut (long shredded is better but anything works), and stir together.

Spread the topping on the cake when it’s cooked but while still in the pan, leaving about a cm or so around the edges. Put back into the hot oven and watch carefully as the topping spreads a bit and melts all together – it should take about 5 minutes or so.

Serve with a healthy dollop of clotted cream and a shard of the best dark chocolate you’ve got. Fortunately, I had some excellent and appropriate chocolate from a recent US trip: Raaka Bourbon Cask Aged Virgin Cocoa.

Bon appetit!

Raasay and Borders – It’ll be ready soon…

When almost the first thing that comes out of a whisky tasting host’s mouth is ‘We haven’t built a distillery yet but we hope to start making whisky soon’, then you know you’re in for something a little different. That’s what happened at our second June Squad session – ‘It’ll be ready soon’, with Chris Hoban from R&B Distillers.

Continue reading Raasay and Borders – It’ll be ready soon…

Agave Squad!

While the name may suggest otherwise, Whisky Squad isn’t only about whisky. Granted, we do drink a lot of the stuff, but we also like to occasionally slip off piste and look at what other beverages the world has to offer.

Continue reading Agave Squad!

Island Hopping with Elise

One of the problems with running two tasting sessions a month is coming up with new ideas. We’re now at least 109 Whisky Squads down – our numbering is not necessarily as accurate as we might like, but we’re fairly certain that’s the minimum – and have done close to 100 unique sessions. Fortunately, Elise, the newest member of the so-called ‘management team’ has a bunch of ideas, and our first June session was one of hers – Island Hopping.

Continue reading Island Hopping with Elise

The Class of ’97 – the return of Mr Whitehead

Certain sessions have become fixtures in the Whisky Squad calendar. Our yearly birthday bash (our fifth hits in April – keep an eye out in March for details), the bring-a-bottle Whisky Surprise session at Christmas, something involving blends that’s always excellent but that people shy away from (come along next time – you’ve missed out if you’ve not been to one), and so on. One, however, stands out as a fast-seller at an unexpected time of year: our first session in January, starring Berry Brothers and Rudd’s Rob Whitehead. Since the Squad’s first January, session #10 back in 2011 (which I wrote up back in the days when I was a random Squad punter), Rob has been on hand to lead us through some of his employer’s tasty drams, with themes getting gradually more tricksy as time has moved along. This year: The Class of ’97.

Continue reading The Class of ’97 – the return of Mr Whitehead

If you say “Bruichladdich” 3 times in a row it sort of sounds like a trumpet fanfare

Just thought we’d share a picture of the rather attractive bottle lineup from last night’s Bruichladdich-centric tasting session, led by Billy and Jason.

laddie_lineupIf you’d like to know more about these whiskies, or indeed any of the other tastings we’ve done since we started Whisky Squad, it’s all in the Drams So Far archive.

And if you’re keen to see a list of all the Bruichladdichs we’ve tasted in total (and which sessions we tasted ’em in), we’ve got that too!

In fact, last night’s session rockets Bruichladdich into the lead, as distillery we’ve tasted the most whisky from!

Catching up on the guest bloggage

It’s been a while since we mentioned the guest-bloggage, which is a bit of an oversight as there’s been plenty of it going on!

Doing an absolutely sterling job of writing up our January “Sippin’ Global” tasting we’ve got boozy wordsmith (that is to say, he’s a wordsmith of booze-related events – rather than any other connotation) Billy over at Billy’s Booze Blog. It’s doubly impressive, given that he presented the evening. Presenting AND taking notes simultaneously. Wow. The theme for the evening was trying whisky from various countries around the world that weren’t Scotland, Ireland, Japan, America or India.

Proving he’s the hardest working blogger in the ‘Squad, Billy’s also written up our first February tasting (“Hi, Society!“), in which we were formally introduced to the ethos and liquid joy provided by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and their high quality & diversely flavour-profiled single-cask bottlings.

Not content with just those two, Billy ALSO wrote up our 2nd February session – “The Management Present” – which can’t have been easy, because not only did he present 2 of the whiskies, but Andy’s presentation included special audio effects. 6 whiskies – 2 each selected by Billy, Jason and Andy. With an X-Factor-style voting process at the end.

Jason steps into the breach to write up the Compass Box Blending School afternoon near the end of February, with a largely nonsensory piece that nonetheless captures the essential mix of the day.

And, most recently, we’re delighted to have the writing talents of Miss Whisky chiselling into the indelible slate of the World Wide Web her take on what we tried at our first ever Irish Whiskey tasting session – somewhat cryptically called “Irish Whiskey #1“.

Finally – because we’re not all about singlemindedly glorifying the first person who gets around to writing up a tasting (although we do tend to use them as the session link on our “Drams we’ve tasted so far” pages), it was lovely in January to see relative newcomer Whisky Squaddie Mooley publish a writeup of her experience at our Movember tasting back in November.

Similarly, Billy wrote up the Irish Whiskey #1 tasting, but wasn’t quite as quick off the mark as Miss Whisky was.

So, that lot ought to keep you busy!

Whisky Squad 23 already guestblogged!

Some of this blogging about Whisky Squad sessions is happening impressively quickly – while I’ve only recently gotten around to writing up my snowboarding trip from February (and we might as well kiss the report of my trip to the USA in October 2009 goodbye), people like Pooja over at Table For One are cranking out reports within a single-figure number of hours of having left the premises!  Read here as she describes Whisky Squad #23: “The Smoking Section”.

Addendum: Billy’s also written a great blogpost about our smoky tasting, which you can read by clicking on this bit of text that you are currently reading.  It’s how the Web works.  Nice one Mr Berners-Lee.