Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dalmore Whisky Tasting

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of people though this blog that I otherwise would have never met. I’ve met other great bloggers, restaurant chefs, farmers, and even a master blender or distiller or two. Somehow, somewhere, someone decided that I knew enough about whiskeys to start meeting the people who make them, and I’ve been more than happy to oblige. (Granted, I probably knew more about whiskeys than most girls my age, but I’m far from an expert.)

From going to just a few of the events, it’s easy to see how much a whiskey is like the man who makes it. Back in March, I had the chance to sit down with the master distiller from Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey, Colum Egan, and as he walked us through the different marques of the brand, I could see how his personality and the personality of the alcohol were in sync – warm and inviting, calming and comforting. And from the moment I was invited to taste Dalmore Whisky with its master blender, Richard Paterson, I knew this specific drink was going to be entirely different.

Dalmore is a Scotch Whisky (hence no ‘e’ in whisky) made in the Highland region of Scotland. It doesn’t have that smoky, peaty flavor that most people associate with Scotch. Richard Paterson is a third-generation master blender, and he’s been at the craft since he was a child. And similar to the whisky he blends, Richard is lively and talkative and yet all about tradition. Of course, I sat right next to Richard during lunch, and we talked about a wide range of things (drinking obviously, cooking, Boston, Scotland, even archaeology and the place that history and tradition have in our lives), but I think everyone at the table got the feeling that he was gregarious.

Richard has given a number of interviews about Dalmore, and it would be more interesting for you to hear it from him than from me. Watch the video above to get a feeling for both the whisky and for the man himself. He also has a great blog, The Master Blender, where he talks about all kinds of great whisky stuff - right now, he's looking at the case of whisky recently found at Shackleton's South Pole camp.

We tried five different marques, or varieties, of Dalmore. There are also special blends that they make in limited quantities, but these five are fairly widely available. Whisky gets its unique flavor from the kind of cask it’s aged in and the amount of time it spends in that cask. It’s amazing how much the flavor can change from this, and Richard says that flavor can change from cask to cask of the same batch, sometimes dramatically, which is where his job in blending the whiskys together comes into play.

  • 12 year (50% white oak casks, 50% sherry casks) – filled with the flavor of almonds, marzipan, and spice, although not heavy-handed with the spice
  • 15 year (split between three different kind of sherry casks) – Citrusy and peachy, but still with an undertone of spice (We tried this with a piece of 72% chocolate, and the flavors in both the whisky and the chocolate were amplified by each other)
  • Gran Reserva (60% sherry casks, 40% white oak casks) – Still citrusy, but with a taste of chocolate as well
  • 18 year (sherry casks and possibly something that I didn’t include in my notes – we had had 3 glasses of whisky by then) – Thicker, with a mouth-feel like velvet, and flavors of citrus and fruitcake (not bad, off-the-shelf fruitcake, but the kind that someone has made at home with time and effort)
  • King Alexander (six different kinds of casks, including Marsala and Madeira casks) – Mouth-feel more like silk, and flavors of tropical fruits, vanilla, and berries. This was the most unique of the bunch, and also, of course, the most expensive.
I especially enjoyed the chance to taste all of these side-by-side – by being able to go back and forth between the different glasses, I had an easier time picking out the flavor differences than I would if I just tried one and then the other.

The tasting was held at Post 390, and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the food too. After tasting all five whiskys, we shared fried clams (surprisingly delicate) and a creamy crab and spinach dip. It was hard to choose a main dish, but every time I looked at the menu, the lamb sausage flatbread jumped out at me. I’m so glad I ordered it, because it was tremendous – crispy dough topped with perfectly cooked ground lamb, feta, just a touch of spicy peppers, and plenty of chopped mint. I would go back to Post 390 for this dish in a heartbeat. We ended the meal with a dense chocolate cake and a light cream brulee, both ordered specifically because of how well they pair up with the whisky. Chocolate cake + whisky = amazing!

Post 390 on Urbanspoon

Full Disclosure note: The Dalmore tasting and lunch at Post 390 were given to me free-of-charge.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cilantro Lime Dip

I read the other day that Cape Cod Potato Chips were turning 30 this July, and almost immediately, I found myself craving potato chips. Just call me Pavlov's dog.

I grew up going to Cape Cod every summer with my family, and for the longest time, Cape Cod Potato Chips were something we ate down there, or back home while remembering our vacations - and I assumed it was only a local thing. I don't know when it clicked that this brand has a wider appeal, but it was well before my favorite exchange from last summer's True Blood:
Sookie: Sorry. I'm usually good at placing people's accents, but yours I can't get a handle on. Where are you from?
Maryann: Cape Cod. Best potato chips in the world.
I nearly doubled over laughing when I heard that. Either that writer was from Massachusetts, or these chips have a wider audience.

I've been to the factory a few times, and my nephew and nieces now think a summer isn't complete without a visit. Frankly, there's not much to see - much less than other factories that have made it almost a tourist attraction - but if you're in the neighborhood of Hyannis, it's worth a stop. The "tour" won't take more than 10 minutes, and you can try a few of the newer flavors at the small shop at the end. Last summer, I bought this canvas tote that is now my favorite shopping bag, and someone comments on it every time I carry it. Oh, and the best part of seeing the factory? The air around it smells heavenly from the frying potatoes. At least, it's nice when you visit - I'm not sure I'd want to come home smelling like that every day.

My favorite of the Cape Cod line of potato chips (actually, my favorite potato chip anywhere) is the Robust Russet (it used to be called the Dark Russet, which made a little more sense). The chips almost look burned, but they're not, it's just the sugars in the particular type of potato. They're a touch sweet, and plenty salty, and I love the ones that have curled up on themselves in the frying process.

I usually eat my Dark Russets by themselves, but this craving called for dip.

Cilantro Lime Dip
2 cups Greek yogurt (fat-free is fine)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 lime, juiced and zested (use 2 if they're small)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 scallions, greens only, chopped

Combine yogurt, cilantro, lime zest, lime juice, garlic, and scallions in a bowl and mix to combine. Add cayenne and salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least one hour for flavors to meld.