We have already had some stunning days here in the United Kingdom. I know for those of you in certain places in the world hot weather is not a stranger, but it can be here. So it tends to be that once the threat of a day’s rain is over I will fire up the Egg barbeque and start to mess about with meat cuts, smoking and whatever else I can come up with. I would really like to try the hot stone oven technique, but I’m fairly sure the landlord would not appreciate me digging a pit in the back garden.
I picked the whisky for this edition because it goes to the heart of a question I was asked a while ago: “If you could only eat one animal for the rest of your life, what would it be?” The answer is simple: Pig. It is just such a versatile animal and you can do something with pretty much every part of it; and you can make black pudding, which is, as far as I am concerned, one of the best inventions on the planet.
That takes me to a new favourite whisky for the garden and tending to the barbeque. I know in recent articles I have given you a food and whisky combo, and this time they do go together as well, but I feel they deserve to be enjoyed on their own. Burnt Ends Blended whisky is the meeting point of two excellent whisky worlds. If you like your smoky whisky, as well as your smoked meats, welcome to the club. Even the bottle and label are enticing, and look like they belong amongst your marinade and sauce bottles. Burnt Ends, as the name suggests, was inspired by those wonderful charred, smoky, sticky and yummy bits of meat that either cling to the barbeque grill or can be found on the outside of the meat, usually ribs or pulled pork, where the marinade and juices have caramelised with the full smoke of the fire. Yes please… The whisky aims to emulate that sensation and taste by blending rich, spicy Tennessee rye with the smoke and sweetness of a sherry cask finished peated single malt.
However, where I am going to go with the food option for this is not pork; it’s going to be chicken, despite its potential blandness. It doesn’t have to be so, and a proper well roasted chuck is something to behold: simple, moist and flavourful. My preferred method is to get the bird ready by just seasoning with salt and pepper then rubbing a little olive oil all over it. The Egg I aim to have set for smoking at about 120 to 150 degrees Celsius with usually hickory or apple wood. Then either crack a can of beer open (yes, you know what comes next), or you can get some excellent stands; and insert into the chicken. Close the barbeque and leave it for about an hour or until the juices run clear. My other half does a butterbean, leek, lemon and sage mash that is bang on the most perfect accompaniment I have had in ages with roast chicken.
The soundtrack for this outdoor loveliness? There is one country that does sunshine music and barbeques like no other, and that’s South Africa. When I was younger, inspired by Paul Simon’s foray into the nation’s music, I wanted to discover more. Of course as a white kid in the north of England that was quite difficult. I used to be able to occasionally find secondhand albums in a place called Afflecks Palace in Manchester. I remember finding The Indestructible beat of Soweto Vol 1, a compilation from a company called Earthworks. Some serious tunes on there and I think I wore the grooves out on that record in a couple of months. Thus began a longstanding interest.
A musician came onto my radar last year called Banda Banda, a bass player and producer from South Africa. His latest offering, with his band The Crocodile, Africado, I would commend to you. Some moments to listen out for, apart from the exquisite bass parts, are on the tracks Uhambo, where the bass and horns double up on a lovely melody moment; and on Prayer, where again these seriously soulful horns are painted over a stunning bass chord sequence with the piano adding highlights. I really do hope you enjoy it when you find it.
The turn of the year also heralds a change in drinking habits for me. Normally I move the heavy, smoky and big, brash sherry bombs to the back of the cabinet and revel in the lighter, sweeter side of whisky. There is one summer drink that shows off a whisky’s gentle side and that’s the Hi-Ball; simplicity itself.
I have been kind of curious about this Seltzer business that’s going on. I will admit that they have passed this little rural part of Cambridgeshire by, so I apologise for my ignorance on the subject. Anyway, I have been enjoying some laid-back summer sparkling drinks so far. Lots of ice and mixing either the sweetness of Scotch or Bourbon, with sparkling water.
It is worth taking your time with the water and looking at the mineral content, as some brands can be really interesting. If you fancy taking it to one extreme have a look for Borjomi from Georgia. It is serious full-on sulphur and Alka-Seltzer… great for the morning after, apparently.
One way I like to play with the flavour is by using some essences from a company called Drop Lets. These little dropper bottles contain the nuances of different flavours of vegetables, spices and fruits, giving your Hi-Ball a twist. Of course, there are plenty of bitters out there to try, and you could get adventurous and have a crack at making your own, or even a shrub.
To change things up why not have a dig in the back of the drinks cabinet and look for those big smoky numbers we’d shifted about – Talisker or the perennial favourite, Lagavulin. Or if you fancy something big and punchy, try Balcones Brimstone; see how that works out.
If you fancy something beyond whisky or want to take a break from the alcohol, try Seedlip as a decent non-alcoholic option.
This edition’s cigar is a simple choice, and a stunning one that will match most whiskies unless you stray off into the heavily peated territory.
The Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No.2 is one of those sticks that’s easy to smoke and appreciate, but don’t be fooled: it does offer great depth too. It is best to believe here, and the tobacco blend makes it an attractive choice for those who seek a delicate yet aromatic smoke that is lighter to the taste.
This does not mean that delicate and light equate to dumbed down and simple; not this one. There is plenty to offer the experienced smoker here too — in fact I would say don’t overlook it as a good go-to. It’s seriously mellow, but intensely flavourful. The smoke develops a wonderful sweetness at first, laced with some tannin notes. As it continues, a more peppery, almost chilli, honey-spiced edge develops, balanced with plenty of earthy notes, cedar and woodiness. Take your time and enjoy.
For me, I would put this with a whisky that is also underrated in some quarters: Monkey Shoulder. Sweet, creamy, orangey and just plain decent. If you haven’t tried these two together, or separately, the summer is calling and now is the time.
Chicken and Egg, a sumptuous combination
Drop Lets flavouring
BandaBanda & The Crocodile’s debut album Africado bottles