What would you rather do on Good Friday: have a lie-in or catch an early train to London with a bottle basket of whiskies to do a tasting on air with Jenni Murray for Woman's Hour? There was no doubt in my mind, although the 05.45 alarm did seem a little early when it rang!
As a Woman's Hour Fan this was a Big Day for me - and for Whisky for Women. Woman's Hour is an influential institution and it was great fun selecting the whiskies to take. I decided to go for blends to represent the diversity of the features on the programme, and to link them to the nature of the interviews and features. This is what I chose for the tasting:
The One, from the Lakes Distillery in Cumbria. The One represents the inclusive nature of the programme, and is blended from malt whiskies from all areas of the British Isles. It is pale in colour but big in flavour although soft and easy to drink. It is slightly smoky and good with chicken and game dishes, especially game terrines and pâtés, and pasta with smoked salmon and peppers in a cream sauce (which is what we have just had for supper). You can listen to an interview with Richard Barclay of Rannoch Smokery that features The One here.
Monkey Shoulder was next, a modern blend of 3 Speyside malts from William Grant & Sons, created for the cocktail market. This is a young, trendy whisky, appealing to a new market for the industry. Deeper in colour and flavour than The One it seems smoother as there is no smoke, but it has a strength that will take almost anything that is mixed with it. Try cranberry juice, a wedge of lime and a pierced chilli if you dare with a little crushed ice. I also really like this with my favourite autumn pudding, starring pumpkin and mace:
Autumn Eton Mess
1 You need some cooking apples and a little pumpkin, and some soft, mixed dried fruits or apricots. Peel and slice the apples and pumpkin and cook until soft with sugar and grated nutmeg or ground mace to taste. Roughly chop the fruits and soak them in a little apple juice, perhaps with a dash of Monkey Shoulder whisky.
2 You also need some vanilla custard, some meringue and some double cream, softly whipped until thick but still floppy. You can add some nuts too, if you wish, and some Swiss roll or ratafias.
3 Now all you need to do is to layer up your pud in splodges. This should not be neat and tidy - just big spoonfuls of yummy ingredients. Eat within about 4 hours: it will start to become more liquid after that - still delicious but just a bit too Messy?
Spice King from Wemyss Malts was chosen as I feel that it unfolds and reveals a story in the glass, in the way that many Woman's Hour strands are more thought provoking than you might imagine when they are introduced. I thought of Jenni's interview with Maeve Binchy when I chose this whisky. Ideal with a dessert such as Fig and pecan tart, the whisky is rich, slightly sweet with caramel notes and big spice. It is the only one of the four whiskies here to carry an age statement, and is 12 years old (yo). A drop or two of water with Spice King, as with almost all whiskies, just balances out the flavours a little and makes it even smoother to drink.
The final whisky, the one that Jenni should have put a drop of water with, was Oak Cross from boutique blenders Compass Box. I find this both strong and reflective, a whisky to ponder. Compass Box call it their Mr Darcy whisky as it reveals more of its secretive nature with every sip. I chose it with the Woman's Hour Power List in mind - it is innovative and confident. A blend of malts from the Highlands and Speyside, this whisky has strong notes of cinnamon and cloves from the French oak heads, or tops and bottoms, that are put onto the casks in which the blended whiskies, once married together, are left to honeymoon for a year or two. Try this with a dark chocolate mousse, or an espresso.
I had a fantastic time at Woman's Hour and thank you to everyone who has been in touch to say how much they enjoyed the piece. You can listen again here and we are about 30 minutes into the programme.
To buy good whiskies, do try your local independent wine or spirit merchant, or order on-line from a specialist such as The Whisky Exchange.
A great way of getting to taste whiskies is through a tasting event such as the Telegraph's Whisky Experience.
If you live near Chichester do email me for details of Chichester's Whisky Women.