Things which appear too good to be true generally fail to deliver. That’s my experience anyway. So two single malt Scotch whiskies from Wm Grant & Sons, retailing at £30 a bottle as Tesco exclusives, have been both intriguing and tempting me since their launch almost nine months ago. I’ve been slow to try them but a WhiskyWire Twitter tasting organised by Steve Rush has got me there. Thanks Steve!
I admit that I have a soft spot for the Wm. Grant & Sons whisky portfolio. When I started writing and vlogging about whisky I had the chance to meet Kirsten Grant Meikle, the great great grand-daughter of William Grant, at their head offices to chat about what I hoped to contribute to the whisky world. After that, at my first ever whisky show, Kevin Abrook (who led for the company’s innovation team) took the time to talk me through the range of Girvan grain whiskies, a mind-blowing treat at an inaugural whisky press event.
I started to write about whisky at the same time as Wm Grant released Monkey Shoulder, their blended Speyside malt whisky aimed at the cocktail market. I used it a lot in tastings in my early days and have recently returned to it. It is currently the Number one whisky brand, having knocked Johnnie Walker off the top spot which they had possibly come to regard as theirs for all time. Monkey Shoulder goes well with food - and the Aerstone whiskies do too.
Glenfiddich, Wm Grant’s flagship single malt Scotch whisky, has it’s own place in drink history as the first single malt to be marketed aggressively in the 70’s. It has never been a favourite of mine and I have struggled with some of the special finish expressions that have been released recently. That said, The Balvennie Caribbean Cask, another Wm Grant triumph, would be in my list of top whiskies. What is exciting for me, at the less uber-nerdy end of whisky tasting and writing, is that Wm Grant’s seem to be getting whiskies, both blends and now single malts, at the cheaper end of the market, absolutely right. This is important because, in a market where the majority of drinkers are buying blends, the new drinks will help maintain the whisky share of an increasingly competitive market with gin and vodka, along with white port and the wanna-be revived vermouth sector, all jostling for the same drinker’s pound.
In case you want to try a bit of baking to go with Aerstone whiskies, here are the two recipes that I taste in the video above.
Diana Henry’s marmalade cake - the myorkneylarder way
Diana’s recipe from The Daily Telegraph caught my eye when I was in the middle of marmalade making - there’s always that little bit of preserve over that will not fill a jar but is perfect for baking - or even adding to beef, pork or chick pea casseroles. I opted to make Diana’s cake but, of course, as a spur-of-the-moment bake, I did not have all the ingredients that she specified. So, here’s Diana’s recipe as written, with my notes and tweaks following on. Being new to Orkney and rapidly becoming a beremeal devotee I had to add a little of that too.... recipes are only ever a starting point!
Use a good marmalade – the cheapest you can find will not do. I generally just sift icing sugar over it, but you can glaze it with some melted marmalade if you prefer.
175g (6oz) butter
175g (6oz) soft light-brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
125g (4½oz) dark, coarse-cut marmalade
finely grated zest of 1 orange
juice of ½ orange
175g (6oz) brown self-raising flour
Butter and base-line a loaf tin measuring 22 x 12 x 6cm (8 x 4¼ x 3in).
Beat the butter and sugar in a food mixer until light and fluffy. With the machine running add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in the marmalade, zest and juice. Sift the flour and add the bran from the sieve back into it. Fold into the batter with a metal spoon. Scrape into the tin and smooth the top.
Bake in an oven preheated to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for 35 minutes. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. Leave for 10 minutes, then turn on to a wire rack, peel off the paper and set the right way up. Leave to cool (though it is lovely, if rather crumbly, when still warm).
Here’s the myorkneylarder version. It’s all as above but ....
• I used caster sugar.
• I used one small sweet orange, but use a Seville when they are in season..
• I used 160g white SR flour + 40g fine beremeal with a pinch of baking powder.
• I found the mixture did curdle with all the acidic juice but it quickly recovered when the flour etc was added.
• I’m still experimenting with baking in my new fan oven and the cake took 45 mins at 160C Fan. I should have used 170C Fan.
Banana and walnut cake
Makes 1 large cake
Every so often the fruit bowl boasts some bananas that look decidedly past their best. This is a great baking opportunity. Wholewheat flour must be finely ground for cake and pastry making - bread flour is too coarse. Regular Self-raising is fine for this recipe.
300g ripe bananas
2 large eggs
150g soft margarine or butter, straight from the fridge
150g caster sugar
250g self raising wholewheat flour
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g walnut pieces or 75g desiccated coconut
150g natural yogurt
1 Preheat the oven to gas mark 5, 190C, 375F. Line a 20cm square cake tin with baking parchment.
2 Peel then mash the bananas with a fork until smooth. Beat the eggs.
3 Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and beat until smooth, then beat for a further 1 minute. Turn into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes, until firm to the touch in the centre.
4 Cool completely on a wire rack. Drizzle the cake with icing if you wish - just blend 2-3 tablespoons of icing sugar with a little water or lemon juice and drizzle it across the cake. It’s not necessary but it looks good!