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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Navigator from Old Pulteney, a Highland single malt

A visit to Old Pulteney in 2014 afforded me my first sip of Navigator. It was the stand out dram for me from my tasting in the wood lined, cosy distillery shop in Wick, a remarkable contrast to the grey of the town and the black of the distillery wharehousing. Light and bright, even on a November day, I immediately found this NAS (non-age statement, the whisky equivalent to non-vintage) accessible and, in a strange sort of way, fun! Not too challenging, complex enough to be interesting and full of beguiling flavour, it quickly became, and remains, a favourite in my collection.

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GlenDronach The Parliament 21yo Speyside Highland Single Malt

“OK Matthew, I am going to buy one bottle of whisky from you, what should it be?” A risky question to ask the manger of any shop but I had had such fun tasting and sharing whisky thoughts with Matthew of The Good Spirits Company in Glasgow that I wanted a bottle from the shelves of his recommendation to take with me. His choice was GlenDronach's 15yo The Revival, and so began my fascination with this leading modern Speyside distillery. You can read more about The Revival in this very early whisky blog.

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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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