SMWS ‘Taste of Islay’ with Georgie Bell
The Brasserie in Kensington
January 23, 2013
I gotta get better at checking my home email account. When you spend all day in the office responding to email, arguably the last the thing you wanna do in the evenings is log in and tether yourself to the real world. The downside to this indulgent little bit of escapism is that I nearly missed out on this tasty little SMWS event down at The Brasserie Kensington. Fortunately, that is where Kelly stepped in with a follow-up note on this opportunity to spend the evening with Georgie Bell, UK Ambassador for the SMWS, and a few of the usual suspects.
This evening’s event was called ‘Taste of Islay’, and you can bet your ass the peatheads came out in droves. I arrived at the restaurant right around ‘showtime’ to find a room that was nearly full. This sort of scenario makes for a fun night in spite of the presence of some less than savory characters. For example…sitting within punching distance of the distinguished Maltmonster is never a good idea. In fact, I don’t believe we’d even nosed the first whisky before hijinks ensued and I took a jab to the shoulder. You have to forgive him though. He’s Irish. And from Edmonton.
All kidding aside, the crowd was warm, in great spirits (pun intended) and there to welcome Georgie with open arms and raised glasses.
So…let’s talk about Georgie for a moment.
No matter the situation, it’s always a pleasure to watch someone at work who not only is good at it, but also genuinely enjoys it. Georgie is a rather tiny thing with a big personality and a relaxed, quick, clever sense of humor. She’s knowledgable, very animated and is quite possibly the only person I’ve yet met who could give me run for my money in hand-talking.
Her charm is only enhanced by her absolutely genuine enthusiasm for what she does.
Georgie is also exemplary of the new school of whisky drinker, and I love it. No longer reserved for the ‘old boys club’ (though the ol’ vanguard is still healthy and happy too), Scotch whisky has found new life in the younger generations, world markets and fairer sex. This added dimension has helped make whisky what it is today, which, excepting pricing concerns, is a great thing.
But this evening wasn’t just about the drinks. It was a full sensory dunking.
Just a block or two East of the Kensington Wine Market (where you’re bound to find our fearless leader, Andrew Ferguson) sits this brilliant little restaurant, owned and operated by chef extraordinaire, Cam Dobranski. With an experience like this, my first time there certainly won’t be my last.
The evening’s edibles were artistic little amuse-bouches twinned with quirky SMWS releases from some of Islay’s greatest distilleries. Chef Cam’s extra-curricular studying (he put these together simply by reading tasting notes?!) was obviously time well spent, as the pairings were not simply logical flavor matches, but instead were original and challenging treats. Unassuming yet confident, and perfectly executed. The gravlax and scallop, in particular, resonated, especially with their respective pairings.
And finally…we Canadians who’ve sold our souls to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Canada are fortunate enough to have a couple of incredibly excited and enthusiastic ambassadors in founders Rob and Kelly Carpenter. Whisky is a phenomenon that practically encourages adoration and monogamous devotion, and the Carpenters have shown they whole-heartedly embrace this ethos.
Kelly made a poignant little speech at the end of the night when she spoke to the evening’s whisky selections. Some, she informed us, were long sold out…others still available…others were sneak peeks of yet-to-come. It drove home the underlying urgency of single cask bottlings. We were able to see both the heartbreak of great old whiskies that we had missed out on, as well as having the bait dangled as to what was just over the horizon.
The bad news…you have to be a member to buy these whiskies. The good news…anyone can be a member.
If you enjoy the exclusivity and opportunites to try off-the-beaten-path variants from the world’s great distilleries…there’s no better way to see behind the curtain. And never…never…forget…with releases like these, demand nearly always outstrips supply.
On to the food and drink…
10.72 “A hawker market in Singapore”
Nose: Ginger ale. Sponge cake with heavy cream. Burnt caramel and raisin notes. Grain. Candy corn. Meaty with some hints of heavy cloying (in a good way) dark sauce. Slightly sulphury.
Palate: Slightly walnut-y. Licorice and orange. Salty and sweet.
Thoughts: A whole wack of pleasant notes gang up on a rogue sulphur note and do their best to beat it into submission.
Food: A lightly seared breast of Quebec duck that has fed on a diet of corn during a short but tasty life, with notes of fermented soy, freash winter cabbage and sprigs of carrots & pea tendrils. Aroma of Turkish olives, grass, and a saltiness from Essex, Britain.
(Soy glazed roasted Brome Lake duck breast, red cabbage, marinated carrots & pea tendrils)
3.193 “A baby-faced arsonist”
Nose: Hay. Smoky kiln smells. Red juicy fruit notes. Sweet sherry collides with hefty peat. Nori…salt…fish…tar…asphalt (in essence…Islay). Creamy vanilla too.
Palate: Espresso. Big billowy coal smoke (you can smell this same smell rising from chimneys all over the island). Anise. Eucalyptus.
Thoughts: Madonna and the whore in one. Sweet and lovely…sexy and dirty.
Food: Fish from cold waters of the west coast, with a zing of yellow sour citrus fruit, mingling with French fields a al Herb De Provence, toasted charcoal from bread and a shaved pungent rooted goodness which rhymes course.
(B.C Steelhead gravlax, lemon zest, lavender dust, olive oil, horseradish on a grilled crostini)
29.115 “Candy floss in a fairground”
Nose: Wet smoking wood. Juicy (from the sherry?), and closer to the profile of recent Ardbeg. Slightly peppery. Sharp field greens (typical of cask strength examples from this distillery). Vanilla. Seawash and saltwater. Slight sulphur note. Fruity with pink gum notes. Quite sweet.
Palate: Smoke and licorice. Sweet and fruity. Charred meat and apple skin.
Thoughts: Yes! This is Islay!! It’s nice to know that even when I’m not going there…it’s coming to me.
Food: Scallopy sweet Fruit de Mer with a touch of sticky sweetness, iron & candy, crispy celery, segmented orange, sweet-smoky pepper that will get stuck in your teeth, hint of carbon, mouth coating and delicious.
(Atlantic scallop crudo, brunoise celery, clementine segments, marash pepper, olive oil)
53.146 “A saline gargle, with peanuts”
Nose: Peanut sauce. Dusty old books and wood. Creamy and custard-y. Salt…brine…smoke. Oil and lemon. Tarry. Cinnamon stick and licorice root. Sweet frutcake notes meet Asian peanut/sesame sauce. Ever drink the smoky ‘wash’ at the distilleries on Islay? Yeah…hints of that. A very dry smoky nose.
Palate: Wow…licorice. Tar again. Sharp citric tang and salt. Thorny and green and more aggressive than 17 years would bely. Salt at the back end again.
Thoughts: There are likely more indie variants from this distillery than any other. This is a fine example of one of the better single casks.
Food: Silky rich tree nut pureed to smooth, grape jello, aged port, clumps of stinky veined blue cheese, salt & black peppercorn like a fancy high tea cheese sandwich.
(Pinenut butter, port wine jelly, St. Agur blue cheese, crostini)
33.113 “Sweet, peaceful dreams”
Nose: Very much consistant with recent releases from this distillery. Anise. Seaside briny-ness. Fruity candy. Black Ju-jube. Grains. Lemon pepper. Bread dough, spices and maraschino. Smoke and asphalt. Quite creamy.
Palate: Grains and fishy notes. Nice delivery. Apple and plum. Chewy fruit candy. Braised meat. Sssssssssmoke and peat.
Thoughts: Young and aggressive. Exactly as this distillery should be served up. Unless you can find older examples. Then THAT is how it should be served up. What I’m saying is…drink this distillery’s drams.
Food: Pineapple crossed with apple that looks like a pear, duck that was fattened & plucked, hints of cinnamon, almond, vanilla crisp, coffee, caramel & butter, memories of eating Werther’s Originals.
(Quince compote, foie gras parfait, almond-hazelnut-pistachio biscotti, Maldon sea salt)
Sincere thanks to all involved. Cam, Georgie, Rob and Kelly…glasses high. Here’s to ya!
** Interested in becoming a member? Visit Andrew down at Kensington Wine Market for details.
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt