Rosemary's Blog

Aerstone single malt whisky - is it too good to be true?

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

Serves 10

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!

Journeying with Jura

I almost got to Jura! How many of us whisky lovers can say that when we’ve made it to Islay and looked across the Sound to the Paps, the distinctive breast-like mountains that announce Jura’s presence in the Inner Hebrides? Of course, three might be a strange number of paps unless, like me, you are something of a Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy fan. If you are not, you’ll have no idea what I am talking about...

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In the mood for a dram

I’m in the throes of planning a Whisky Lux dinner for Friday 23rd November 2018 with Malcolm at The Lynnfield Hotel in Kirkwall, Orkney.

We’ve been discussing the menu and starting to pull together a list of whiskies to taste with each course of the meal. There are many things to discuss. One is how will people react to me hosting the evening? There are two major things stacked against me: one, I am a woman and two, I’m from Sooth (as they say up here). Hopefully people will be brave enough to relax into the evening and just enjoy the experience of tastings different whiskies with delicious food and deciding which one they like most and which is the best match with the food. Hopefully the intrigue of that will help the diners to get over my gender and geographical shortcomings!

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Tomatin's Five Virtues - a great welcome to Glasgow

I seem to be in Glasgow once a year at the moment. During the week of International Women's Day in March I visit and catch up with Geraldine Murphy, founder of the UK's first women's whisky club which is based at her family's pub and whisky bar, The Pot Still on Hope Street. Her Women in Whisky fundraising lunch is the main driver for my visit, but this year I hit the ground running as my first stop was the launch of Tomatin's innovative Five Virtue's range of whiskies. The event, from a distillery that I had already earmarked as one to find out about in 2017, celebrated a partnership with Eva Ullrich, a contemporary abstract artist renowned for her landscape works. My own first foray into whisky events was at an exhibition by Scottish colourist JD Ferguson at our local gallery, and so this evening really appealed to me. 

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Wine barrel finished whiskies - Whisky in the Vineyard

I know it is autum once pumpkins and squashes are abundant and dwindling soft fruits are replaced by apples and pears. My cooking changes and so does my taste in whisky. I start to look for drams that are a little more warming on the finish and rounded in flavour. However, living in Sussex which is fast becoming the new Champagne, I am also aware that October is a busy month in the vineyards around me as the fruit is picked, after traditional harvests are gathered in, and wine-making gets under way. There is a synergy between whisky and wine as many drams are finished in wine barrels for extra nuances in flavour, and some are aged in wine casks for the whole of their maturation. This year, to celebrate the UK's blossoming as a serious wine producing country, my Autumn Whisky Collection features whiskies finished in wine barrels - it's Whisky in the Vineyard.

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For peat's sake - give these drams a try!

More divisive than the ice and/or water debate, the growing trend of peating even Speyside whiskies risks the loyalty of many a whisky drinker. Why are peated whiskies on the increase? I have a suspicion that it is to appeal to the die-hard Islay drinkers and the younger whisky fans who seek an experience in their glass. Just as some want the hottest chilli, the strongest Cheddar and the 100% pure cacao bar, I believe that there is a small, but possibly growing, number of people who want whiskies in a Peat Parts Per Million (PPPM) that is bordering on ear-melting - just to have the Experience.

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Oak Cross from Compass Box - my perfect glamping dram

I love being outside in the fresh air but my idea of camping these days is definitely glamping with a comfy bed, cotton sheets and a well equipped camp kitchen, all there and at the ready for us when we arrive. My biggest worry on our latest glamping trip was which whisky to take with me? It had to be something classy, complex and reflective and Oak Cross proved to be a perfect choice.

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Drinking a distillery - a tasting of BenRiach

Whisky, to me, is all about sharing - a discovery, a memory, a story, a sense of place and of time. It's about terroir - but that is still a cheese or wine word and one which is not so common in the drammer's  vocabulary. Now, at the risk of sounding ungrateful, the sharing part of whisky is one reason that I am often a little dismissive of 50ml sample bottles that arrive in the post. How can I share them with my Chichester Whisky Women? Now I am definitely going to change my tune as I have throughly enjoyed a brief journey through 3 of the expressions from the excellent BenRiach. This distillery company has been in the entrepreneurial hands of whisky whizz Billy Walker since 2004, winning the Whisky Distiller of the Year Award in 2009, and Global Whisky Distiller of the Year in 2015. Two huge awards proving the know-how of the managing team who also own GlenDronach, another Speyside favourite of mine. 

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The Benromach organic single malt Highland (Speyside) Whisky

A Tweet, a message on Twitter, first alerted me to M&S having an interesting whisky selection and, as a new M&S food hall has been built on the route between my mother's nursing home and our home, I now seem to be popping in there quite a lot! Not only is the whisky selection worth a look (small but interesting) but their choice of beers is also first rate! And of course they have lots of food too!

It was M&S that actually introduced me to Benromach and to organic whisky. I was unaware of any organic drams although I had seen a Tweet from the US alluding to organic whiskey but had yet to discover any for myself. Then there it was, in a store on a retail park in Bognor Regis - which is just about as far away from a bucolic image of an organic farming life as you could imagine!

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