Rosemary's Blog

The Art of whiskey selection 1 - Connemara peated single malt whiskey

The ‘e’ is a give-away: I am looking at a whiskey from Ireland today. Before I ordered Connemara from The Whisky Exchange I didn’t know it but I was pretty certain that it was exactly what I needed to match to JD Fergusson’s painting Danu, mother of the gods. I must explain more!

My flavour safari through the world (some might say jungle) of whiskies is just beginning and in a bottle shop I would be almost as confused as the next non-specialist shopper. The choice is amazing - as is the range of prices. It’s the Little Black Dress syndrome: they all fit the purpose but some fit your shape and your pocket better than others, as well as being right for your character. Whisky cupboards are like wardrobes: there’s always something in there to complement your mood, event and purpose - and if there isn’t, you simply go shopping. There is a whisky out there that is right for you, however you are feeling or whatever the occasion. It is just a case of knowing where to start with what to buy, and that’s where my MoonShine tasting events will give me direction in my whisky explorations.

My first tasting, an adventure into art and whisky, matched five whiskies to five of the most iconic paintings of the Scottish Colourist JD Fergusson. The tasting was held at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, which is currently hosting a spectacular exhibition of the artists works (until 19th October '14). I worked with gallery guide Michaela Cranmer who explained the paintings - their mood, their influences, their colours and techniques - before I revealed how the paintings spoke to me in terms of flavour palette, mood and social context. Then we tasted the selected whiskies with canapés to match. A pretty fabulous evening!

We started the evening with Jonquills and Silver and ended with Danu, mother of the gods. My whiskies to that point were almost self selecting and Michaela and I both agreed that an Irish whiskey would be a great way to complement Danu. However, Irish whiskies are much more of a mystery to me at the moment than those from Scotland. What I wanted was something mystical, but full of flavour that suggests character, richness and an All-Encompassing Experience. The Whisky Exchange website hailed Connemara, a gold medal award winner, as a Modern Irish Classic. Well, that’s how I would describe Irish cheeses such as Cashel Blue and Gubbeens, so I was excited by Connemara as an option - and it is a single malt, which is what I was after with two blends already on the tasting menu. So I ordered it!

The beautiful mountain and lough landscape depicted on the packaging instantly engaged my excitement as I unwrapped my bottles, speaking to me of an ancient, mystic place. So far, so good for Danu. On nosing the whiskey I got creamy, rich and concentrated spicy and slightly toffee aromas - and then the smoke reached me. Wow! Fabulous for a bonfire-lovier! This is smoke not peat, seaweed or any of the other more difficult and sense assaulting characteristics of Islay whiskies. Just pure smoke, like you get with a good cured salmon. Tantalising. It’s all there on the palette too but with just a drop or two of water, Connemara opens out to a mouthful of creaminess (more than toffee or vanilla), smoke and pepper. It is feminine, in a confident, complex and gentle way, but with a strength of character and will that runs right through it. It cries out for soda bread topped with creamy goat’s cheese, robustly cured smoked salmon and plenty of black pepper, with just a spot of chilli jelly and some pea shoots to echo the sweetness of the whiskey. Danu, I think, would love it! Linked as she is with femininity, the abundance and bounty of the earth, and with rivers, sea and fish amongst her symbols, Connemara seems a perfect whiskey for Fergusson’s painting of the goddess. And the peppery aftertaste will bring us full circle back to Jonquils and Silver! An autumn (or indeed, spring) whisky, ideal for a little extra warmth and spice in the late afternoon or evening, and especially when soft rains are falling and things are growing well or the harvest has been plentiful - in your garden, in the countryside or even on your windowsill.

The only negative about this whiskey for me is that it is in a short dummy bottle which I find difficult to hold with arthritic thumbs. However, there an easy-to-grab stumpy neck, which makes pouring a little easier. Don’t pooh pooh that! When you spend loads of money on a bottle of whiskey or whisky you don’t want to spill a drop, yet alone a significant amount. Bottle selectors: please take note!