Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Jay and Dee’s Twelve Beers of Christmas 2016, the first four

Dee:  We last reviewed twelve Christmas themed beers back in 2014 (click here for details) and decided that we would quite like to sample twelve more this year.

We’ve sourced all of them from local businesses; namely Cotteridge Wines and Stirchley Wines though of course they should all be available from good beer retailers anywhere.

What is a Christmas Beer?  Generally, they are thought of as being dark in colour, heavily flavoured with fruit and spice, with a high alcohol content, but this is not always the case.  We have in our selection for this year beers which are lighter in colour, taste and strength and we could go so far as to say that the only uniting factor in Christmas beers is the imagery used on the label.

We’ve used the same layout as previous beer reviews, providing links to the brewers’ web sites, tasting notes where they are available, and our own experiences of each drink.

We would be interested to hear if anyone reading this has tried any of these beers and if they were enjoyed or not.

Let’s get started then with the first four;

Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Animal Brewing Co.
Tasting Notes said:  Canoodle together under the mistletoe with this special pale ale - single hopped with New Zealand Motueka adding tropical fruit flavours and lightly spiced to give a seasonal twist.
Dee said:  Light Gold in colour, with a subtle and slightly fruity aroma.  Taste was malty, slightly buttery but also had a hint of toasted coconut.  It had a nice lingering finish and was much more flavoursome than I was expecting.  Also at 4.6% it was easily drinkable.
Jay said:  Spicing is subtle but gives a really interesting and lingering after taste.  Hints of coconut perhaps?  Very drinkable and a great start to the project.

Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Two Towers Brewery
Tasting Notes said:  A dark rich porter, deep and long, with hints of Christmas pudding. Seasonal special - only available at Christmas.  Sleighed is  a very dark, rich, spicy stout, packed full of hazelnut, cinnamon, vanilla flavours, tinged with coco and chocolate notes.  The name is a 'nod' in the direction of the band whose singer 'sang': "It's Chriiiiisssstmaaas!" 
Dee said:  Coffee black in colour without any head on it.  Treacle and dark chocolate were the predominant aromas, followed by a flat and light texture and complex flavour profile which included tobacco smoke and black cherry.  This won’t be to everyone’s tastes but I was a big fan of it.
Jay said: Porters are awesome and one from a cool local brewery? It’s a decent ale but I guess I was expecting something a bit more.  There’s coffee, cocoa and tobacco.  Perhaps it was the hint of banana that threw me, although that appears to be my tastebuds as Dee didn’t find it.

Purchased from:  Cotteridge Wines
Tasting Notes said:  This years edition of Bristletoe uses rolled oats and traditional brown porter malt to produce a rich bodied and full flavoured beer that punches well above its modest Christmas ABV, allowing you to enjoy more!
Dee said:  Very dark brown, almost black coloured porter with a bitter, earthy aroma which also had a hint of espresso coffee.  The taste was subtler than the aroma suggested, but the coffee was carried through into the taste.  A nice easy drink.
Jay said:  Our second porter and it’s a juicy one.  Nice bit of fizz in this one and a lingering coffee aftertaste.

Red Nose Reinbeer
Purchased from:  Stirchley Wines
Brewery:  Cotleigh Brewery
Tasting Notes said:  A richly flavoured deep copper coloured seasonal beer and Gold Medal Winner. A smooth long lasting finish with chocolate, toffee and nuts. Brewed using Pale, Crystal and Chocolate malt with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops.
Dee said:  Deep Mahogany colour and an aroma of strong spices including pepper and nutmeg, with hops in the background.  The taste was of bitter toffee at first, followed by raisins, sultanas and prunes.  With all of this going on in one drink it is definitely one to be drunk slowly to appreciate everything it has to offer.
Jay said:  Molasses, burnt sugar and a hint of spice on the nose, which delivered on first taste before being washed away and lost.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #41 – Lamb

Written by Dee

Back again with a new Tasting Jerusalem update as I bring the monthly features up to date.

November 2016’s featured ingredient was Lamb, which has been a commonly used meat in the Jerusalem region since biblical times, perhaps even earlier, and one which offered several choices of delicious sounding recipes to try out this month.  I made the excellent Lamb Schawarma back in July (click here for details) which would have been a perfect showcase recipe and it was certainly tempting to make it again, but I opted instead for a lamb meatball recipe.

Lamb Meatballs with Barberries, Yoghurt and Herbs
In addition to this month’s featured ingredient, this recipe, on page 199, included Barberries and Yoghurt, both of which have been featured ingredients in previous months.

Normally, Jay is our meatball maker...ok ok, I’ll admit it: It’s because I don’t like getting my hands all messy by mixing the ingredients together, but I was on cooking duty when the time came to make the recipe so I had to roll my sleeves up and get stuck in.  The meatballs were enriched with barberries, cinnamon and allspice, and were initially browned in the pan and set aside while the sauce was prepared.

The base for the sauce was provided by chopped shallots which were softened in the lamb fat which I had left in the pan.  The recipe says to wipe the pan clean before frying the shallots but I decided instead to see if any extra flavour from the meat could be retained.  Wine, and then stock and a little sugar was then added to form the body of the sauce.

The meatballs were returned to the pan, along with some dried figs and cooked in the sauce over a low heat until the sauce had reduced to the right consistency.

We served the meatballs and their sauce over the Rice and Orzo which we cooked according to the recipe on page 103.  As an aside, the Rice and Orzo recipe has been our greatest discovery since we first started working our way through the book.  It is certainly the one we’ve made most often, and we always smile when we decide to make it.

The finished dish certainly delivered the sweet and sour flavours that the recipe commentary promised and both Jay and I were very happy with what we had made.  The barberries delivered small bursts of intense fruity flavour that still worked in this savoury dish.  Jay wasn’t convinced by the figs and took the option that was suggested in the recipe commentary to remove them, but I liked them and kept them in there.  The yoghurt and herbs were excellent garnishes;  the former providing a mild creamy taste to counteract the strong taste of the sauce with the latter providing freshness and crispness.

The barberries and copious amounts of herbs included in this recipe suggested to me the Persian influence which has appeared in previous recipes such as the Broad Bean Kuku (click here for details) and Pistachio Soup (click here for details).  I have spotted one or two more recipes in the book with a similar Persian influence and I will be making all of them in time.  I wonder how a themed menu would work out?

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Monday, 21 November 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #40 – Pomegranate

Written by Dee

After a September break, October 2016’s featured ingredient was pomegranate, in its fresh fruit form.  The molasses derived from boiling and reducing the juice from the seeds was featured a while ago (click here for details).

Something I discovered while reading up on pomegranates and their use in Jerusalemite cuisine was that the seeds, the edible part of the fruit, came in different colours, ranging from almost white to a rich purple colour.  I initially thought the lighter coloured seeds signified some sort of deficiency with the fruit.

Something else I learned during ‘pomegranate month’ was how to remove the seeds without making too much of a mess.  I’d never quite mastered this stage of the preparation despite several experiments with knives, spoons, vegetable peelers and my bare hands.  There are several written articles and videos on line, including Sarene’s from our Tasting Jerusalem community; click here for details

Burnt Aubergine with Garlic, Lemon and Pomegranate Seeds
There are a few recipes in the Jerusalem cookbook which include pomegranate seeds, and the one I chose, the Burnt Aubergine with Garlic, Lemon and Pomegranate Seeds on page78 and 79, showcased them brilliantly.  The recipe turned out to be fairly simple to follow but took a while to prepare.  The burnt aubergine turned out to be another great discovery for me.  There’s no getting round the fact that it take a while to prepare, makes a mess of your gas hob and fills the kitchen with smoke, but the flavour that is produced from all this is amazing:  strong, smoky and creamy all at the same time.  It formed the base of the recipe, with the pomegranate seeds adding intense fruity bursts as well as acting alongside the flat leaf parsley to provide the finished dish with a colourful garnish.  There was an option in the commentary accompanying the recipe to add tahini as a final garnish but I decided not to take this up as I felt there were enough flavours on offer already.

The dish was part of a meze arrangement, as recommended in the book and was accompanied by a few recipes from Michael Solomonov’s book ‘Zahav – A world of Israeli Cooking’.  The book was recommended a while ago by the Tasting Jerusalem community but was only a recent purchase for Jay and me.  This, and ‘Palestine on a Plate’ by Joudie Kalla will ensure that there are lots more delicious recipes to try out.

The picture below shows the whole meze spread.  The dishes are;  Burnt Aubergine with Garlic, Lemon and Pomegranate Seeds, fried Kashkaval cheese (we had to use Halloumi for this recipe as Kashkaval was not available), Fritas de Prasa (fried leek patties) and Agristada (egg-lemon sauce).
“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #39 – Walnuts

The August 2016 featured ingredient was Walnuts; a versatile ingredient which can appear comfortably in sweet or savoury recipes.  This was just as well as there are only a couple of recipes in the Jerusalem recipe book where they appear and we’d already made one of them.

We tend to make more savoury dishes than sweet ones, and when we use walnuts we either add them to bread doughs or toast them and use them as a salad garnishes.  They are also an essential ingredient in the delicious Muhamarra dip and we did consider showcasing that for this month’s recipe, but we decided instead to go with the dessert recipe on page 276.

Walnut & Fruit Crumble Cream
When we first saw this in the book, we wondered what a traditional English fruit crumble recipe was doing in a book about the cuisine of Jerusalem, but it turned out to be a very different proposition to what we know as a fruit crumble over here.
We’ve mentioned before about the book containing both elegant, ‘cheffy’ recipes alongside rustic, home cooked ones, and this recipe sits firmly in the former camp.  That’s not to say it is particularly complicated, just that it has several components which need to be assembled separately before being brought together before the final presentation.  It’s certainly not something to put in a pot and leave.

The walnuts are the stars of the crumble mix where they are combined with butter, flour, sugar and a pinch of salt.  There were also two fruit compotes to prepare and initially we were slightly worried when figs and guavas were listed among the ingredients.  Neither of these are readily available anywhere near us.  Dried figs are fairly easy to source, but they are not ideal for use in a compote.  Fortunately, the commentary accompanying the recipe said that local fruits can be used instead of fresh figs and guavas, so we made two different varieties of plum compote.  It was suggested that herbs could also be added but we didn’t fancy this, and decided to also leave out spices, citrus peel and syrup, as we wanted to see what flavours the different plum varieties produced.
The final part of the dish was a rich and luxurious cream, to which was added sugar, cream cheese and a small amount of spice.  As delicious as this sounded, we had to resist the temptation to make it as we are trying to keep the calorie count down, so we substituted this with a simple fat-free thick yoghurt.

Once everything was ready, it was time to arrange it all for serving.  Our small clear bowls were perfect for this as they were able to display the contrasting colours to great effect.  The dessert was prepared by layering the different  components.  As well as the colours, there was a contrast in flavour and taste textures, which made this a very enjoyable dessert.  The walnut crumble added a pleasant crunch to the soft compote and yoghurt and in terms of flavour there was a sweet nuttiness from the crumble, sharp fruitiness from the compote and smooth creaminess from the yoghurt.  Yes, it would have been fantastic to have been able to serve it with the enriched cream, but we were very happy with this as a reduced calorie substitute.

We’ve done well with all of the desserts from the book which we’ve made so far, and it’s almost time for our second anniversary of being involved with this food blogging project, so this dish could well be on the menu.

For anyone curious about the other recipe from the book which featured walnuts, it was the Chunky Courgette and Tomato Salad, which we wrote about in October last year, when Date Syrup was the featured ingredient:  click here for details

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Brum Real Ale Stroll 2016

The Brum Real Ale Stroll was organised by three of the Real Ale stalwarts of Birmingham City Centre: the Wellington on Bennett’s Hill, the Post Office Vaults on New Street and the Woodman on New Canal Street.

The Real Ale Stroll is still on offer at the time of writing, so customers who want to take part are provided with cards on which to collect stamps, two from each venue, for each pint of real ale purchased, with the sixth pint being provided free at the Woodman.
We didn’t fancy our chances of making it through six pints each, so we decided instead to make it a joint venture spread out across a sunny Wednesday afternoon.

The Wellington
Our first call was at the Wellington, the largest of the three venues, having bars on two floors and a roof terrace and function room.  Birmingham Whisky Club often host events at the ‘Welly’, one of which we reviewed herebut this time it was all about the beer.

Beer #1:  BFG (Bradley’s Finest Golden)
Brewery:  Black Country Ales
Tasting Notes said:  A straw coloured quaffing beer, with an impressive bold citrus hop aroma, fruity balanced sweetness and a lingering refreshing after-taste.
Dee said:  Light gold colour with a light yet bitter taste.  Good first choice for our sunny afternoon’s beer tasting.

Beer #2:  Piffle Snonker
Brewery:  Froth Blowers
Tasting Notes said:  A light-blonde beer with a floral nose and sweet start but with a bitter finish, 3.8 % ABV
Jay said:  Another light gold in colour.  Nice session ale at 3.8%.  Fruity first taste which didn’t linger.  Good ale.

The Post Office Vaults
The smallest of the three venues, the Post Office Vaults is located behind a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ doorway at the top of New Street.  Its small size means that it fills up quickly, and its book-style bottled beer menu makes it a particular draw for beer connoisseurs.  For our visit this time though, we chose beers on the pumps.

Beer #3:  Black Moss Stout
Brewery:  River Head
Tasting Notes said:  none available
Dee said:  I decided to visit the other end of the beer scale for my second pint.  This full bodied jet black stout greeted me with an enticing aroma of dark chocolate and toasted chestnuts.  Taste wise, it was rich, velvety and smooth, with a pronounced black cherry flavour which lingered right to the finish.

Beer #4:  Schnappy Blonde
Brewery:  Fernandes Wakefield
Tasting Notes said:  none available
Jay said:  Another light gold session ale.  Fruity on the nose, with a big blast of peach on the first taste.  Then a good helping of hops.  Yum!

The Woodman
The final venue, the Woodman, is located on the outskirts of Birmingham City Centre, near Think Tank at Millennium Point.  It is the only one of the three venues that served food, but unfortunately a kitchen fire thwarted our plan to have tea there with our final drinks.
They took the card away before we had chance to photograph it

Beer #5:  The Outlaw
Brewery:  Urban Huntsman
Tasting Notes said:  none available
Dee said:  Bronze coloured.  Quite a strong hoppy/fruity aroma.  Nice flavour reminiscent of the classic American Pale Ale style.  The sharpness and bitterness of the hops in an IPA was replaced here by citrusy notes.

Beer #6:  White Star
Brewery:  Titanic
Tasting Notes said:  A light refreshing distinctively hoppy beer with a freshness that belies its strength, so easy to drink it will fool all but the crustiest of sea dogs.
Jay said:  I am a big Titanic fan.  Their Plum Porter is my current favourite and their Cherry Mild is pretty good too.  This one is a malty, hoppy, slightly-more-than-a-session-ale ale, and a tasty end to our real ale stroll.

Dee’s Favourite Beer:  Black Moss Stout
Jay’s Favourite Beer:  Piffle Snonker

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Tasting Jerusalem #38 – Fenugreek

Dee – It’s been a while since we last cooked anything from the Jerusalem cook book; A quick check of the blog revealed it to be April 2016, so with the announcement of July 2016’s featured ingredient, Fenugreek, we decided to take on two of Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s recipes.

Fenugreek is a powerful ingredient in any of its forms; as a herb, as seeds or as a ground spice, and has an unmistakable flavour which, in England at least, is synonymous with curry powder and the sauce in Coronation Chicken.  However, there is evidence of it having been cultivated in Egypt, the Levant and Iraq since biblical times, and it is perhaps in this region where its origins lie.

Lamb Shawarma
To start with this month’s feature, we used fenugreek seeds which were lightly toasted and then ground up with a few other spices to make a marinade for the Lamb Shawarma recipe on page 210.  The marinade also included olive oil, fresh herbs and seasoning, and was rubbed into the meat before it was roasted in the oven.  We used lamb leg steaks rather than the whole leg specified in the recipe, mainly because of cost, and we scaled down the quantity of marinade accordingly.

As the commentary accompanying the recipe pointed out, we hadn’t made a truly authentic shawarma as to do so would have required a huge rotating spit to cook the meat on, but our scaled down, home-made version was still enjoyed very much by both of us.

Shawarma is not an elegant, or particularly photogenic dish, so I took photographs of it in its deconstructed and final constructed forms.  As the pictures above show, we prepared lots of garnishes and condiments for the meat, and I baked pita breads to serve it all in.  We achieved a very nice balance of light and heavy flavours and textures, and there was no one ingredient which dominated.  Even the Fenugreek was a subtle addition to the marinade covering the meat.  The salad was a very simple affair of tomatoes, courgettes and coriander, which we thinly sliced rather than chopping it all into small cubes as we normally do.  This, and the tahini sauce were the ‘light’ elements of the dish, wheras the marinated meat, its roasting juices and the tomato and harissa mixture used to line the inside of the pita pockets before the other ingredients were added, made up the ‘heavy’ elements.

This, and the Chicken Shawarma recipe which was featured on the Ottolenghi’s Mediterranean Feast television series, are both favourites of ours, and although neither of us have visited Jerusalem (yet), these shawarmas seem to showcase Jerusalemite street food at its best.  Needless to say, we will be making them again.

Helbeh (Fenugreek Cake)
We couldn’t leave a feature on Fenugreek without sampling the Fenugreek Cake, or Helbeh.  Yes, it is indeed a sweet cake with fenugreek in it.  The recipe is on page 290.  Surely no one would take a cake that tasted of curry seriously would they?  We had to see for ourselves.

The fenugreek in this recipe was used in its seed form, the seeds being boiled in water before being added to the cake batter.  Boiling the seeds gave them a soft, almost gelatinous texture, making the flavour less punchy as bites were taken from the cake.

Making the cake turned out to be a real comedy of errors.  First, I couldn’t find any finely ground semolina, so had to use the coarse ground variety, but even worse than that, I didn’t read the recipe properly and used far too much water in the cake batter.  I decided to press on rather than start again, and managed to drain much of the excess water away through a sieve.  My use of coarse semolina may have saved me here, as I was able to bring the mixture back under control before it went into the oven to be baked.
Fortunately, the cake came out of the oven in well baked form, with the ‘skewer test’ working on the first attempt.

There was no sugar, or any sweet ingredients, used in the cake batter.  What made it a dessert was the syrup which was used to soak it.  This was made from sugar, water, rosewater and orange blossom water.  It seemed at first that there was far too much syrup for the cake, but after a few applications of a little at a time, it eventually all soaked in.

I left the cake for a day before tasting it, as specified in the recipe, and braced myself for a whole new taste sensation.  And it certainly delivered on that front.  Texture wise it was moist from the syrup, but also ever so slightly crunchy from the coarse semolina.  Flavour wise it was a combination that defied my expectations:  The fenugreek flavour was very much in evidence, much more so than in the savoury shawarma, but so too were the rose water and orange blossom water.  None of this should have worked together but it did.  The sweet syrup acted as a counterbalance to the dry cake and spicy fenugreek, and I found it to be an ideal accompaniment to a cup of unsweetened black coffee.

Jay took some of it into work where it received more mixed reviews, and I don’t think it is something that I would offer to anyone who didn’t express an interest in trying it, but Jay and I both considered it a success and I am happy to sign off on that note.

“Tasting Jerusalem is a virtual cooking community exploring the vibrant flavors and cuisine of the Middle East through the lens of Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi published by Ebury Press. You can follow along and cook with us by subscribing to  following the hashtag #TastingJrslm on Twitter and Instagram, liking our Facebook Page or joining our Google+ Community and finally checking out all of our groups’ dishes on Pinterest

(Please note: I have listed the UK publisher and have linked to the UK Amazon site.  The US details are provided on the web site)

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Stoke-on Trent Whisky Festival – Kings Hall, Stoke, 25th June 2016

Reviewed by Dee

Our visit to the second Stoke Whisky Festival was on a sunny Saturday in June, and we were very happy to see that the festival had grown since last year. (click here for our account of last year's festival).

The 2016 festival was hosted in the same building, but had moved from the Jubilee Hall to the larger King’s Hall.  This was able to accommodate chairs and tables much more easily, as well as the exhibitors’ stalls.

We arrived at around 12.15pm, not long after the festival opened, but found it to be already quite busy.  As with last year, we were provided with a bottle of water, commemorative glass, festival guide, including a list of exhibitors and a pen.  The guide was small but well put together, and proved useful as the event progressed.  It also included a price guide for most of the whiskies on offer, and even though some of them made our eyes water, it was still useful to have.

There were two Master Classes running, and we had decided to book in for the one which was showcasing a number of Whiskies from Caol Ila and Lagavulin.  This actually took place part-way through the afternoon, but I will cover it first.

Caol Ila and Lagavulin Master Class

This was very much my choice of Master Class, so I am extremely grateful to Jay for attending with me.
This session took place in a side room off the main hall and was hosted by Colin Dunn, Diageo Whisky Ambassador.  Colin proved to be a great host, who managed his audience well, with plenty of stories and recommendations of whiskies to try which would have otherwise passed us by.  Chief among these were the Lagavulin 8 Year Old and the Johnnie Walker Black Label.  Jay enjoyed the Lagavulin 8, and we have made a note to try the Johnnie Walker.

After a brief but concise introduction on how best to taste whisky, we were introduced to the drams which were provided.  There were six in total:  Three from Lagavulin and three from Caol Ila, all with their own distinct profiles.  For ease of presentation, I will cover them them from number one to number six though this was not the order that we tasted them in during the session.

Whisky No1:  Lagavulin 16 Year Old
The first Lagavulin whisky to be released commercially and has proved popular enough for demand to now outstrip supply.
Aged in American Oak and Sherry Casks, this was a rich and complex whisky with a deep copper colour and warming feel.  It was heavy in flavour of dark fruit and tobacco, with the peat smoke sharing space with these rich flavours rather than leading them.  I like the term ‘fireside favourite’ to describe this whisky.

Whisky No2:  Lagavulin Feis Ile
This was one of the highlights of the tasting session.  The Feis Ile whiskies are only available from the Lagavulin distillery during the Islay jazz Festival which takes place in May each year.  The few bottles which make it onto the market tend to sell for £400 to £500 each so to be able to taste one was a real treat.  The whisky that we sampled was 18+ years old, with a 55% ABV.
It had a strong aroma of the sea mixed in with the familiar peat smoke, and this maritime quality was carried through into the taste, which again was deliciously smoky.  I was delighted to have been able to try it.

Whisky No3:  Lagavulin Distillers Edition
This was a 16 year old whisky which had been finished for a further three months in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.  It had a heavily fruity and sweet aroma, with the peat in the background as with the standard 16 year old.  Taste wise it was woody and rich, with the flavour of the sherry all upfront and again the peat only slightly noticeable.  We were informed that only 100 barrels of this whisky are produced each year.
Also, if there are any cigar smokers reading this; you might like to try this one.

Whisky No4:  Caol Ila Moch
Aged in ex US bourbon casks and first released in 2002, this was recommended as a good entry level Islay whisky.  Both aroma and taste were sweet, clean and Iodine fresh.  Light in texture and recommended with oysters, especially sprinkled over them.  It also went rather well with water, which I wasn’t expecting.

Whisky No5:  Caol Ila Distillers Edition
A limited edition whisky.  As with the Lagavulin Distillers Edition, only 100 barrels are produced each year.  The whisky is matured in Bourbon casks and finished in Muscatel sherry casks.  Much richer and darker than the Moch, with a thicker and more viscous texture.  This is a whisky I would prefer to drink on its own.

Whisky No6:  Caol Ila 18 Year Old
I was very fond of the dry, dusty, oaky character of this whisky, and it was recommended as a whisky for drinking outdoors.  I must give this a try sometime.

We both enjoyed the tasting session, and although some of the whiskies were out of our price range, it was great to be able to try them and hear the commentary about them.  The Master Class was well worth the additional cost and we would certainly book in for another one.

Now on to our own selections from the festival…

Dee’s Choices

Whisky No1:  Murray McDavid ‘Mystery Malt’
Distillery:  Murray McDavid
Dee said:  Starting off with a 16 year-old Highland Whisky.  This had a rich bronze colour and a rich, fruity aroma, especially of cherries.  Very smooth to taste:  A fruity flavour with a nice bit of heat on thefinish.

Whisky No2:  Old Perth Peaty Number 2  Dee’s Whisky of the Festival
Distillery:  Morrison and Mackay
Dee said:  Very light golden colour.  Salty, seaweedy aroma joined the familiar smokiness.  Strong tasting, full of flavour with an interesting sweetness.  Its 43% ABV was not in evidence, as there was not a big hit of alcohol.  An excellent blended whisky, and for the second year running I choose a blend for my Whisky of the Festival.

Whisky No3:  Highland Laird Auchentoshan 21 Year Old
Dee said:  Mid gold in colour.  Summery, nutty and slightly floral aroma.  Rich tasting and quite fiery, with a sweet aftertaste.  Went really well with some water, which enhanced the sweetness and added smoothness.  Retails at over £100 so would have to be a ‘Special Occasion’ whisky, but definitely worth it.

Whisky No4:  Skiren
Distillery:  Scapa
Dee said:  Deep gold in colour.  Aroma was sweet with a subtle hint of caramel.  The whisky had been matured in American bourbon barrels and was a heady brew.  Sweet and buttery with a nice lingering flavour.

Whisky No5:  MacPhails Bunnahabhain 8 Year Old Heavily Peated
Dee said:  Light gold colour, with the unmistakable aroma of peat smoke.  Taste wise, this was strongly earthy to start with, but finished with an altogether sweeter note.

Whisky No6:  Big Peat
Distillery:  Douglas Laing
Dee said:  This was recommended to me by a fellow attendee at the festival.  A blend of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen Malts.  It had a very light straw, almost clear colour, and an aroma of peat smoke with added grassiness.  It was certainly smoky and peaty to taste but I didn’t discern any other flavours.

Whisky No7:  Highland Laird Linkwood 26 Year Old
Distillery:  Linkwood, via Bartels
Dee said:  Light gold colour.  A rich, sweet and slightly floral aroma.  Strongly alcoholic to taste, with a slight sweetness and subtle hint of peat smoke on the finish.

Whisky No8:  Hepburn’s Choice Glengoyne 7 Year Old
Dee said:  Straw coloured, with a familiar peaty aroma.  Smoky tasting, with an oily character.  Very warming finish.

Whisky No9:  Bushmills 10 Year Old
Distillery:  Bushmills
Dee said:  This was another recommendation, and it was a good one for me to finish on.  It had a light gold colour and an aroma of summer and grassy meadows.  Smooth texture and subtly herbal flavour, with an increasingly sweet taste as it lingered on the palate.

Jay’s choices

Whisky No1:  Madeira Single Malt Jay’s Whisky of the Festival
Distillery:  Penderyn
Jay said:  Sweet and Spicy.  Lots of vanilla.  A great one to start with, but then it’s Penderyn, it’s going to be good.

Whisky No2:  The Epicurean
Distillery:  Douglas Laing
Jay said:  A Lowland blend.  Very pale in colour and good for summer drinking.  Great branding too.  Floral on the nose.  Sweet floral taste.  A drop of water softened it to a luscious sipping whisky.

Whisky No3:  Hyde 10 Year Old Rum Finished
Distillery:  Hyde
Jay said:  Aged first in bourbon casks, then Carribbean rum casks, which gave it a big spicy flavour which lingered.  Lovely tasting after-burn.  No change after adding water.

Whisky No4:  Arran Port Finish
Distillery:  Arran
Jay said:  Had high hopes for this one as I loved the Arran Whisky I tried last year (Sauterne Finish) and love Port.  Straw coloured and a good whisky, but didn’t get Port richness.  Better with a drop of water.

Whisky No5:  Legacy
Distillery:  Tomatin
Jay said:  Pale straw colour.  Chap on the counter said it had a hint of bourbon.  Slightest hint of smoke.  Great with a drop of water.

Whisky No6:  Highland Laird Isle of Jura 27 Year Old
Jay said:  Peaty, smoked cheese.  Great with a drop of water.  £185 a bottle!

Whisky No7:  Nadurra Oloroso
Distillery:  Glenlivet
Jay said:  Syrupy, treacly, Sherry.  Lovely

Whisky No8:  Lagavulin 8
Distillery:  Lagavulin
Jay said:  It was all that!

And that concludes our account of the 2016 Stoke Whisky Festival.  There were lots of whiskies that we wanted to try but didn’t get round to, but hopefully the festival will return in 2017.  If it does, we will definitely be back there.