Monday, 9 June 2014

Feis Ile 2014: Ardbeg Tasting at Islay's Whisky Festival

Remember I told you about my super duper few days at Feis Ile 2014 (The Islay Whisky Festival) last week? Well now it’s time for Part 2; all about Ardbeg.

We’ve featured Ardbeg a few times (I say we, I mean Hugo..), it’s one of the big boys in terms of producing bloody good, rich, peated whiskies. This year’s Feis Ile Festival bottling, Auriverdes, - named after its golden whisky (auri), and unmistakable green bottle (verde) - celebrates the World Cup.

All events at the distillery were football themed, and if you were lucky enough to still be around for the open day, you could’ve got a team together to take part in a 5-a-side Swamp Football Tournament. (I don’t doubt that people were probably dribbling more whisky down their chins than dribbling footballs.) Ardbeg had also set a challenge for festival goers; they’d hidden 12 golden balls around the Island for people to find. If you found one, you had to take it to the distillery, ask for one of the members of the Port Ellen Football Club, and whisper ‘Golden Balls’ in their ear. You’d then be rewarded with a prize. Fancying our chances, we hunted high and low for those frickin’ balls. Alas, no luck.. At least we got to see the whole island on our quest.*
* Said through gritted teeth.

As we were leaving Islay before the big day, we’d booked onto a tasting so not to miss out on all the fun: Taste. Tackle. Thomson. “There is definitely a certain style of play which Jackie brings to the game. She is no STRIKER or SWEEPER but prefers to be in the line of DEFENCE. This is about the HAT TRICK of drams, dribbling and desire. Enjoy one dram and one spoon of food which complement each other. There will be 5 combinations - both old and new.”

This was the kind of tasting for people who just simply like to enjoy their drink; you weren’t bogged down by the science of distillation, nor were there any lengthy tasting notes forced upon you; it was more about what you were drinking, in the environment you’re drinking in, and what you could pair your drink with, in order to emphasize the flavours. Even then, these were all just playful suggestions, and our host, Jackie, made sure we voiced our opinions and tackled her on her ideas.
We had five different drams in five different places, each with a nibble of something sweet/savoury to make sure our taste buds stayed well and truly tickled. I’ll go through each one so that you could maybe have a go for yourself if you like, and I‘ve even managed to get my hands on one of Jackie’s recipes - it involves chocolate - yay!

The tasting kicked off with a trip to the still room. It’s loud, much warmer than outside, and you can sense that this is where the action happens. We were handed a clear bottle containing a clear liquid; you guessed it, the Ardbeg new make spirit. It’s got the same punch-in-the-face that all new makes have, but with a distinct Ardbeg flavour; you really can taste the peat. To counteract the burn, we were given a little cone of honeycomb ice cream. All together, it was an assault on the senses.
We walked out onto a stony pier overlooking the vast open water. Our host asked for a volunteer to go and retrieve the next bottle. Not one to shy away from attention, my chap jumped at the chance, and he was instructed to go to the end of the pier and pull on the rope. At the end was a lobster cage containing a bottle of the Ardbeg 10 (and a couple of crabs too!). Perfectly chilled from the sea, this was unusual territory for whisky drinkers.

Glasses poured, and as if by magic, a platter of oysters appeared. A sip for ourselves, and a sip for the oysters (splashed into the shells), down they went. The fresh seafood paired with the clean, pale, maritime Ardbeg 10 worked a treat. With the picturesque environment and the theatre of pulling the whisky from the sea, this had to be one of the standout moments of my time at Feis Ile 2014.

Off we went for our next dram; to a luscious green garden area complete with a picnic table (and midges). On the table sat a treasure chest and, upon opening, the Uigeadail was revealed along with some handmade salted chocolate truffles. This classic Ardbeg, dark and mysterious, full of sweet smoke, went hand in hand with the rich salty chocolates. Sod coffee and petit fours after dinner, this is what I want in future.. And I can! Jackie has kindly given me the recipe for her truffles, which you’ll find at the end of the post, so we can all recreate this pairing for ourselves. AMAZING!

With cocoa powdered grins, out next stop was in one of the warehouses. Amongst an abundance of barrels, which felt like a secret hideaway, we sampled the Feis Ile 2011 release. Distilled in 1998 and aged in two Pedro Ximenez butts, this is a rare sweet sherry number. Wee oatcakes with Roquefort were our nibbles here, and that plum/prune like taste in the whisky stood up to the salty tang of the cheese beautifully.

Saving the big guns ‘til last, we ventured to Ardbeg’s Old Kiln Cafe to sample the festival bottle for this year; the Auriverdes (which Hugo talked about a couple of weeks ago). With its toasted cask lids, it has a dark mocha coffee side, which was then harmonised with a bite size piece of sticky toffee pudding, topped with an intense sweet-coffee jelly. It accentuated all the flavours within the whisky, and offered a variety of textures for our mouths to explore; an interesting celebration for 2014’s release.

Overall, I’d say Jackie did a sterling job on this ‘Taste. Tackle. Thomson.’ tasting. It was such an enthusiastic and refreshing end to our peaty whisky fuelled few days, and one which I’ll remember for a long time.

So until next year I guess..? Slainte!

Jackie’s Salted Chocolate Truffles (a perfect match to Ardbeg Uigeadail)

Makes around 15

100ml double cream
40g light muscovado sugar
110g dark chocolate
25g butter, softened
A pinch of salt
250g milk chocolate
Cocoa, to dust

Heat the cream and sugar together over a gentle heat until it comes to the boil. Allow to simmer for a minute, then remove from the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, smash the dark chocolate into small pieces and dice the butter. Place these in a large heatproof bowl.

Pour the cream and sugar mixture over the top of the chocolate and butter and leave to melt for a minute or two. Stir until smooth and glossy, then add a good pinch of salt. Allow to cool, then cover and refrigerate until set.

Using a teaspoon, scoop out balls of the mixture, rolling them into spheres by hand. This can get really messy - get the kids to help (or find some if you don't have any!) Chill your truffles while you temper the chocolate.

Place two thirds of the milk chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Put this over a pan of simmering water, and when melted, remove from the heat. Add the rest of the chocolate and stir to melt. Use a thermometer to check when the temperature reaches 31C (this takes a wee while for the temperature to drop) If you don’t have a thermometer, you can do the lip test; dab a bit of chocolate on your lip, if it feels cold, then it’s the right temperature.

When it’s at this stage, dip each truffle in to coat. Sprinkle with cocoa and place on a piece of greaseproof paper to set.

Serve with a dram of Uigeadail.

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