Wemyss Malts were one of the first companies to welcome me into the whisky world and so I have a very soft spot for them and their drams. An independent bottler with a core range of 3 boutique blended whiskies, Wemyss also sell selected casks from distilleries and create mouthwatering and palette inspiring names to sell them to us, for example Velvet Fig, Fruit Burst and Nuts about Pears. Their website, Kingsbarn Distillery, give you all the distillery and age info that you need but what fantastic tasting hints those monikers are.
I recently took part in a Twitter tasting of Wemyss new Batch strength editions of their core range, The Hive, Spice King and Peat Chimney. I cannot find a definition for batch strength anywhere and so I assume that it is a stronger version of a blend. I'm a 12yo Spice King fan - indeed it is one of the whiskies that I took to a tasting with Jenni Murray on BBCRadio 4's Woman's Hour - and so I was keen to try the stronger versions, wondering if the flavour would be increased to the good across the range?
Tweet tastings are about 45 minutes of fairly frantic fun, trying not to race ahead, to monitor what the other tasters are saying and to input ones own thoughts. Whilst I despair sometimes of palettes that can visualise such things as smoked custard creams (!) we all learn from each other and it is a great way to taste whiskies before buying. The batch strength The Hive was the definite winner for me. The blend is mainly Speyside malts and I have found the regular bottling a little short on the honeyed flavours that I expected from the name. With the stronger dram I found the sweetness amplified to the good and really enjoyed the deeper, richer tastes, although the whisky remained approachable and in no way heavy. Just a deliciously warming and mouth-filling dram.
At batch strength the Spice King lost it's subtlety for me. I have tasted versions other than the 12yo but that remains my favourite with a plummy, fruit and spice flavour burst backed up and seasoned with some bonfire smokiness in the background. It's the fruit and spice that I like and I lost it in the stronger dram, although it remained an enjoyable drink. It was simply a little over-egged for me.
Wemyss Malts have some fabulous consultants and their boutique blends are incredibly well made. I can recognise the great complexity and deliciousness of them all but in the end, decisions and recommendations have to be based on whether the taster - in this case, me - liked the whisky and would actually buy it? In the case of the Peat Chimney, the smoke in the batch strength was so overwhelming that, in the way of an Octomore, I could tell it was a wonderful whisky but it simply wasn't for me. This is just the same as tasting 75-100% cacao for the Academy of Chocolate: I know it is well-made and a wonderful product but it is generally not for me. Naga chillies are just the same.
To finish the tasting Wemyss supplied a pre-mixed cocktail featuring the Peat Chimney, sweet vermouth, PX sherry and demerara syrup with cherry bitters: a new take on a a classic Rob Roy. I'm a bit scared of cocktails, finding them generally to be a shortcut to too much alcohol, but this was delicious. Well iced, the Peat Chimney cut through and complemented the rich, deep sweetness of the other alcohols and made a fabulous cherry cocktail that I should have 'poshed up' a lot more for my photograph. Smoke and sweetness are made for each other.
After the tasting I had to get on with curing some bacon - the cure was all ready to go but I decided to add the end of the Peat Chimney to the mix - and what a triumph it was! I am not going to tell you how to make bacon as my public liability insurance wouldn't cover me if you tried it with a passed-its-use-by-date piece of bargain meat. It was agonising, waiting the four or five days until our first bacon and eggs, but it truly was worth it. The smoke from the Peat Chimney more than made up for the fact that I cannot smoke my bacon. It was sensational.
I will, however, share with you my Rob Roy ice cream recipe, which you will see in the video was a perfect match for the cocktail. Again, this was a recipe of chance as I had sour morello cherries from the garden in the freezer - sweeter versions may need more Angosturas. The more booze that you put into ice cream the less hard it will freeze - so stick to the recipe and bear in mind that, even with an ice cream machine, you will need to harden this in the freezer before serving.
Rob Roy Ice Cream Serves 6
1 lime • 200g morello cherries • 200g granulated sugar • 200ml water • 3 tbsp smokey whisky • 2 tbsp sweet vermouth or damson gin • 1 tbsp PX sherry • 1 tsp Angostura bitters • 300ml double cream
1 Grate the zest from the lime into a saucepan, add the cherries, sugar and water. Bring to a slow boil then simmer, uncovered, very slowly for 20 minutes, bashing the cherries from time to time to release their juices (if using fresh, pierce them all 2-3 times with a fork - mine were frozen so the skins had split). Allow to cool, add the lime juice then chill for at least 2-3 hours but preferably overnight to macerate the fruit.
2 Pour the chilled fruit syrup into a bowl through a fine sieve, pressing the cherries to extract as much flavour as possible. Use the cherries in a fruit or jam tart, but discard them now from the ice cream.
3 Add the remaining ingredients to the ice cream and blend well. Turn into an ice cream maker and freeze churn until well thickened, then transfer to a container and freeze until hardened. Alternately, freeze in a suitable plastic box but remember to whisk the mixture every 1-2 hours until frozen.
Thanks Wemyss - and to Steve Rush aka The Whisky Wire, who organised the tasting. It was creative fun!