Scotch Hop

ABERLOUR, Scotland (AP) — Forget the three Rs. I went to Speyside, Scotland’s “single-malt capital of the world,” to brush up on the three Ws: whisky, wool and walking.

And it was while striding beside the River Spey on a misty afternoon, a warm sweater from a local mill wrapped around my shoulders, an even warmer dram of whisky awaiting me at my hotel ahead, I realized I’d reached peak Speyside status.

Educational mission accomplished. Or, to quote Scottish poet and noted whisky fan Robert Burns, “Gie me ae spark of Nature’s fire/That’s a’ the learning I desire.”

Dreaming of drams and doing a little whisky wandering of your own? Here are a few pointers to the Speyside region’s must-sees.

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Hooked on Haggis

I was in Cognac one hot summer day, trying to make conversation with a producer who spoke about as much English as I do French, and the situation was getting  sticky in every way when he suddenly asked me whether I had been to Scotland.

Yes, I had.

Well, then, he asked, how did I feel about haggis.

“I LOVE it,” I replied. “It’s the perfect pairing for whisky.”

“Madame,” he said. “It’s the only reason to drink whisky.”

I would not go quite that far but I do feel that haggis is a sadly misunderstood comestible.

The name doesn’t help – Is that a disease or a dish? – and no one can claim that the product in its natural state is a beauty.

And then there’s the offal truth of what goes into haggis, at least in the traditional recipe – sheep’s pluck, which is not about spunky sheep but rather refers to the heart, liver and lungs. Recipes vary, but often the meat is minced with onion, oatmeal and suet (animal fat) and is mixed with stock and spices and baked as a kind of sausage, or savory pudding. Back in the day, the casing was the sheep’s stomach, conveniently to hand, but modern haggis comes in artificial casings.

And it is delicious!

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Gin with a Scottish Accent

hendricks-bottle-on-workbench-700x526It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Edinburgh and I and some like-minded souls are gathered together in a dim basement, paying reverence to matters of the spirit. Which is to say, we’ve all got a G&T in hand having reached the sampling part of a tour of the Edinburgh Gin Distillery.

Expecting that sentence to end with something a little darker? Think again. Sure Scotland is the land of whisky, with 100+ distilleries to show for it. But it’s also a powerhouse in gin: 70 percent of British gin is made here.

Producers north of the border include heavy hitters like Tanqueray and Gordon’s, which has been made at Diageo’s Cameronbridge facility since 1998. And in 1999, William Grant & Sons introduced its Hendrick’s Gin, a milestone in gin with its new botanical elements.

Other Scottish gins of note: The Botanist, made by the Bruichladdich distillery on the island of Islay, Caorunn, made in Airdrie, Pickering’s, from Edinburgh, and GILT from Strathleven distillery and made with malt barley. And let’s not forget Shelton Reel Ocean Sent Gin, which includes native bladderwrack seaweed from the Shetland coastline. There’s even a mapped-out Gin Trail.

We went to Lesley Gracie, master distiller for Hendrick’s Gin for some industry insight.

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Puttin’ on the Spritz

 

 

What do you drink when you’re sitting on the Sound of Music lakeside terrace?  An Aperol spritz, naturally. At least, that’s what I drank when I visited Salzburg recently, channeling Baroness Schraeder for all I was worth. (Sorry, Maria fans, I’m not really a tea-with-jam-and-bread kind of girl.)

Turns out Austria isn’t such a strange setting for the quintessential Italian cocktail. One version of the spritz’ genesis is that it goes back to the days when northern Italy was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and to the Austrian practice of adding a spray (spritz) of water to the regional wines, which they found a little heavy on the palate.

Orange Genius

The Aperol side of the equation, of course, is all-Italian, part of the national tradition of bitter liqueurs. Brothers Luigi and Silvio Barbieri created Aperol in 1919, launching it at the Padua International Fair. Silvio came up with the name Aperol, inspired by the French shorthand for aperitif, apéro, which he’d discovered when visiting France.

The drink was always a bright orange …

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Top Shelf Tequila

patron-blue-agave-highlandsTequila used to be known as the drink of cheap thrills and bad choices.

Pour yourself a tot of something like Gran Patrón Burdeos – aged in French and American oak, finished off in ex-Bordeaux wine barrels and sold in a custom-engraved crystal bottle for around $500 – and you realize the traditional spirit of Mexico has come a long way from spring break shooters.

“Consumers have become a lot more educated on exactly what tequila is, and what a good tequila is,” says Jasmine Breedlove, Bar Manager of ThinkFoodGroup’s Oyamel Cocina Mexicana in Washington, D.C., and a certified Master Mezcalier. “It’s been really fun having been an agave lover for so long to see how much people have grown to love tequila.”

Click here to read more of this story, published by Palate Press.