I’ve been blogging for just over a year now and yet in that time I’ve never got round to reviewing a single bourbon, an unconscionable dereliction of my drinking duties, for which I can only fall upon my knees and beg forgiveness dear reader. It is my hope that this review will make amends for this. So what makes a whiskey bourbon? There are quite a few stipulations but the two main ones in terms of flavour are as follows. Firstly, it must be made from a grain mash containing no less than 51% corn. Secondly, it must be aged in new charred oak barrels. The result generally speaking is a whiskey that is far sweeter than its Scottish cousins, which has only a hint of smoke, and often some delicious spicy notes due to the further addition of some rye in the grain mix. Or to put it another way, absolutely splendid stuff!!!
For me Four Roses Small Batch is the quintessential bourbon, it is highly affordable and guaranteed to go down real smooth, a whiskey staple if ever one existed. So, let’s get down to some tasting. Small batch has a vibrant floral nose along with subtle hints of rye spiciness, oak, and orange peel. It is a captivating whiskey siren that entices you into taking a sip. The drink itself arrives with possibly the best vanilla note I’ve ever tasted, then a bitter sweet cherry develops only to quickly fade, next we find a warm ginger emerge with butterscotch and cinnamon soon following. The finish is fairly long; it sees more wondrous vanilla with a dash of black pepper and a most unexpected but highly welcome lapsang souchong tea. In my opinion, at just under £30 a bottle this is the best introduction to Bourbon available in the UK. If you haven’t got a bottle sitting on your shelf right this instant then I would urge you to procure one at your earliest convenience.
The common reaction of most people on seeing a bottle of this stuff for the first time is a look of bewildered bemusement, as they try to work out how the hell you’re meant to pronounce Poit Dhubh. I have it on good authority (the back of the bottle) that it’s pronounced Potch Ghoo and that it’s Gaelic for illicit still. Though I must confess that I’m still a little baffled as to how one gets from reading Poit Dhubh to saying Potch Ghoo, but I digress. Four years ago I received my first bottle of Potch Ghoo for Christmas, I had never heard of this blended whisky from the Isle of Skye before, and hence was a little dubious as to the quality of the contents of the bottle. As so often in life, I need not have worried, as the contents proved positively mind blowing. A fantastic whisky most people had never heard of, it soon became a frequent topic of conversation. More recently I was in a newsagent and to my considerable surprise I discovered perched on their top shelf a single bottle of this uncommon whisky. I wasted no time at all and immediately bought the bottle, eager to discover whether my younger self had a bloody clue in what he was talking about!!!
Anyhoo enough with the backstory, let’s get on to the tasting notes of this magnificent dram! The nose has some honey, a hint of sea salt, plenty of sherry, and a pleasant smokiness that has an uncanny resemblance to the smell of the vanilla tobacco that a friend uses. The drink itself is full of twists and turns. Initially one is presented with incredibly sweet honey, next a toffee note, followed by salted caramel, some sherry, a zingy bitter lemon then emerges, before a delightful peat draws proceedings to a close. The finish is fairly long; it’s peppery, with plenty of peat, some oak, and a faint reminder of sherry. In this manner, Poit Dhubh delivers a wondrous drinking experience. A fantastic quality whisky, of considerable complexity, at a decent price, I strongly recommend you give it a try.
Verdict: A nimble acrobatic display of varied flavours!
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is arguably the most famous pizza restaurant in the world. They have been making pizzas in Naples, Italy, for over a century where they’ve built up quite a cult following. This transitioned to worldwide renown when the book and then the film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, passionately extoled the virtues of their pizzas. On the third of February, they opened a branch in London. I knew none of this until recently, when I walked past a tiny pizzeria on my way to meet a friend, it had a ginormous queue worthy of Moses coming out its door. A sucker for following the herd, I just knew I’d have to find out what all the fuss was about. Thus having a day to myself, this Tuesday, I turned up fifteen minutes before opening time and was relieved to find myself joining a smallish queue, which looked likely to see me through the door for the first sitting.
The queuing experience was definitely part of the fun! A wry delivery boy walked past us all and quietly noted aloud, ‘I see the novelty hasn’t worn off yet’. Next a man walked by, who suddenly couldn’t take it anymore, he walked back turned to face the queue and loudly exclaimed, ‘It’s just pizza, you know!’ He repeated this several times but in typical London fashion everyone suddenly struck a pose that instantly conveys that their mind is wholly vacant and suggests you should kindly refrain from attempting a conversation. In any case after ten minutes of waiting I was through the door and ready for some deliciousness. Ordering was super easy, as the menu only has two items!!! A Margherita and a Marinara, both reasonably priced. I had the former and in no time at all was experiencing something rather spectacular. The base is wonderful with the teeniest hint of crispness around its soft doughy centre. The sauce is intensely flavoursome and delivers an explosive burst of tomato goodness. Lastly the cheese for me was the best bit, mozzarella of the highest calibre that was a pure delight. I’ve never had cheese on a pizza in London that was this good before. A simple formula and an uncomplicated taste, the Margherita here is truly perfect in its execution. I can honestly say that this is the best pizza I’ve ever had.
Yet, you might be surprised to learn that I’m reluctant to proclaim that you instantly come and visit. Fantastic food at a reasonable price, what’s not to like? For a start the queue, after I arrived it took a lot longer to get in, closer to twenty five minutes and I imagine on a weekend this would be even worse. Next while the pizza is the most amazing I’ve ever had, the step up in quality while significant is not a mind blowing spiritual odyssey, in the words of a wise man who walked by, ‘it’s just pizza’. Finally, I can imagine some people will find the limited menu a huge disappointment. In my case this wasn’t an issue as Margheritas are my favourite. Despite these caveats, please don’t be put off if it sounds like your sort of place. I must say that I loved this restaurant and will definitely be going back again. Here’s hoping the hype dies down a little.
I do occasionally fear that I may well be bat shit crazy. For you see dear reader, not being content with one chance at catching pneumonia, this week I returned to Hampstead Heath for another ice cold swim. Only this time I was wise enough to bring a reviver along, in the form of a cask strength whisky sure to put pay to any germs with delusions of grandeur. I was slightly worried to bring a dram along the first time, as drinking whisky first thing in the morning is a sure sign that you’ve found your calling in life, in most cases it’s an AA meeting. However there is always an exception that makes the rule, how else could one get away with being a hypocrite! Having concluded that this instance was just such a circumstance, I soon rediscovered just why whisky and adventure pair together so nicely. Having enjoyed an invigorating swim, I quickly took a brisk walk before sitting down for a wee tipple. Unfortunately I’m a forgetful oaf and while I remembered to bring a table for this expedition, I forgot the glass. Thus I found myself sporting the hobo look on this fine morning. It didn’t matter though as the amber jewel nectar once imbibed brought about a serene state of mind. My body warmed, my mind emptied, and I beheld the majesty of existence. In my book it wasn’t a bad start to the day.
Having finally got back home and secured a glass allow me to present my tasting notes for Glenlivet Nadurra. At 63.1% this is strong stuff, and should be mixed with a little water to bring out all the flavours. The nose is initially just pure alcohol but with a little acclimatisation one soon begins to detect a host of citrusy smells with a distinct pear smell coming to the fore. An initial sweet toffee note gives way to a tremendous pineapple/pear drop taste which is incredibly unique and a hallmark of Glenlivet. I must say that this particular cask strength edition really allows you to appreciate this inimitable flavour. The after taste is a gentle sweet cappuccino that never intrudes but remains present for a good deal of time after you’ve finished. An absolutely remarkable way to start a morning but one that I daren’t repeat for quite some time, a refined and interesting dram that I certainly recommend giving a go.
Verdict: A Classic at Cask Strength