Thursday 28 May 2009

Throw Away Your Prohibitions - Whisky Tasting Session

Ever since I first read about The Tasting Sessions, via Londonist’s report on their Generation XO cognac event, I was hooked. So when the chance to participate in an unusual whisky tasting in a speakeasy popped up, I got rather excited.

The idea behind The Tasting Sessions, is to find surprising and interesting ways of experiencing wine and spirits tastings. They are always held in cool venues and find a way of being different but in a way that sets off the liquid being tasted. Their speakers tend to be very entertaining and the diverse crowd is full of people you’d like to spend the evening talking to. Their model is to showcase top class, unusual drinks in an interesting manner.

To get into the event you had to utter the password before you were let into the illicit speakeasy called Barts on Sloane Avenue. It proved to be a brilliant venue as you’ll see from the photos below.

Before the official tasting kicked off we tucked into some awesome whisky cocktails such as a stunning Manhattan and a Whisky Sour. Whatever ice needed braking, was smashed by the time the tasting officially started!

We were guided through a flight of 6 whiskies by Jen Dickson from The Whisky Exchange with each dram being paired with a cheese by La Fromagerie’s Jon Schofield. For each whisky we were encouraged to position it on a tasting map which helped to give us a frame of reference.

We started with Clynelish 14 year old which had a salt and pepper finish that meant it paired very nicely with some strong Tobermory cheddar from the Isle of Mull. Whilst the cheese matched well, it was the salty, caramely chocolates that appeared that stole the show.

My favourite whiskey came next. Stranahans from Colorado is an American single malt whisky which makes it very unusual. It contrasted strongly with the Clyenlish and had a mellow, vanilla note running through it. I’d love to have a bottle to tuck into whilst writing. The Doddington cheese is well known for its caramel flavours and nutty characteristics which brought out the almost desert like quality of the whiskey.

An Irish whiskey from Connemara emerged next with a puff of smoke that gave away it’s peaty charms. It matched well with a cheese from the Basque region called Zelu Korlaria.

Ever since seeing Lost in Translation, I’ve wanted to learn more about Japanese whisky. The Nikka Yoichi 10 year old was well balanced and, in my mind, quite delicate. Whilst I liked the whisky, the star was the Ami de Chambertin soft cheese washed in brandy from Burgundy which I am ashamed to say I had several helpings of!

Then we were subjected to the humiliation of a blind tasting where a peppery, slightly banana-ry spirit was showcased which blew the tasting apart. It was paired with a lemony, salty soft goat’s cheese which should have rung a few alarm bells as the “whisky” turned out to be El Tesoro Paradiso tequila. The idea was to show that top quality, aged tequilas can be sipped and enjoyed just like a whisky. I’m hoping Angella and Hayley think about hosting a tequila tasting soon as this is a really interesting area.

We finished on a stratospheric high with a glass of Port Ellen 1978 8th Release which is extremely rare and more importantly delicious. My palette by this point was pretty overwhelmed, so all I can say (rather hopelessly) is that it was very complex. Which meant it had to be matched with a pair of cheeses, making it the John Prescott of the whisky world – Two Cheese Port Ellen. The parmesan crumbled and gave a salty, granular edge whilst a Bleu d’Avergne added a creamyness and salty tang.

Hats off to Hayley and Angella. The whole event was brilliant from start to finish. Jon and Jen were both cracking experts and made the complicated world of whisky and cheese seem fun and accessible.

Barts is a tremendous venue and added to the illicit mystique of the night. I’m just upset I didn’t make the most of the dressing up box – given that I had a marmalade stain on my shirt the gorilla outfit would have been a huge improvement!

I’m now waiting on tenterhooks to see what The Tasting Sessions dreams up next.

All photos are courtesy of Nathan McDonald


Unknown said...

whiskey and cheese - oh my!

Helen said...

Wow! This sounds amazing! I am massively jealous.

Ollie said...

This sounds brilliant. I love the tasting map.

Mark Dredge said...

What a night - I'd love to do a whisky tasting like this, it sounds awesome!

I'm really intrigued by pairing whiskies with foods. I've experimented with cheese and chocolate but not much else.

As some beers (and I write about food and beer) are now getting aged in old whisky barrels I like the links between beer, whisky and foods. One of the best matches I've found is a smoky Islay whisky (or Islay cask aged beer) with sushi. Really good.

Browners said...

@Gourmet Chick - cheese and whisky work brilliantly together. Mark my words!

@Helen - it was a fabulous event. Organised quite brilliantly.

@Ollie - Tasting map is a good idea. It gives context and a frame of reference that stops you getting lost.

@Mark - food and beer pairing is interesting. I got involved in one at the restuaurant show last year which was an eye opener. There is definitely scope to open this out much wider. Hop and Spice (Sri Lankan restaurant in Balham) do food and beer pairings on their menu. Islay whisky barrel finished beer with sushi sounds fascinating.

Kang said...

Looks delicious - I know little about whisky but was recently at a cake and whisky event too, bowled over, though the venue wasn't as cool as this one.

I've seen their website and following their whispers on twitter, will have to tag along to one of their future event now :)

By the way Jon, as always great photos, nailed the composition and an eye for the detail.

kang said...

I've just seen the photo credits to Nathan :S , still though, I love coming to this blog, always has great photos that make me salivate :)

Browners said...

@Kang - The cake event sounded fun. But I can safely say the Tasting Session events are brilliant. Glad you like the photos. Nathan did a good job.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

And how was the head the next morning....?

Sounds like a brilliant event, even though - try as I might - I just don't get on with whisky. Would definitely be up for the cheese part, though!

Browners said...

@aforkfulofspaghetti - head was fine the next day, luckily. Cheese seems to go really well with whisky. I'm sure someone in London must do cheese tastings...

Ed Walsh said...

Browners - did you realise that the blind taste tequila El Tesoro was from your very own Beam portfolio of tequilas?


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