This year’s Islay Malt and Whisky Festival brought onto the island its usual profusion of enthusiasts geared up for a week of tastings and fun. The Ardbeg Candlelight dinner has now become a classic in the festival-goers diary.
The booking, only opened from 9am on the launch day of the festival, breaks new records each year. Last year, the 57 seats were sold out in seven minutes. This year the first earlyrisers had arrived at 6.30. By 8am, there were enough people queuing up to fill the booking list.
And the phone kept ringing. Jackie Thomson, head of the visitors’reception centre, stopped answering, knowing she would have to turn down people who phoned exactly at 9am as they had been told to do when they had tried to book earlier.
The funny thing is that the event is not publicised at all and hardly mentioned on the festival programme.The delicious combination of food and malt certainly explains its amazing popularity but there’s more to it. The relaxing and friendly atmosphere of the Old Kiln café, and the enticing mix of sea and smoke smells which float around are as inviting as the menu.
ApéritifThe crofter welcome
A salmon and saffron quiche, herb bruschetta and a bowl of cream of oatmeal with bacon and whisky With Ardbeg Still Young.
Gougères (cheese chou pastry).
Chicken breast in a creamy mushroom and whisky sauce, baked potato stuffed with herbs, nuts and dried fruit, mashed carrots with a vanilla hint.With Glenmorangie Truffle Oak 60.5%
Blue cheese mousse on oatcakes, herb salad with pine nuts and buckwheat flakesWith Ardbeg 10 Years Old
Whisky flavoured lemon and strawberry charlotteWith Glen Moray 16 Years Old
Coffee and Ardbeg 1972, accompanied by petits fours
Myself and distillery manager Stuart Thomson, who hosts the dinner with me, like to welcome our guests outside for a chilly (and chilled) aperitif.
This has become a tradition, the idea being that guests will appreciate even more the warm hospitality of the restaurant after having gently shivered in the cool Islay air. The good thing was that midges had not joined the party.
Ardbeg Still Young, a crisp and frisky dram with appetising citrussy notes, was served chilled, which immediately put the diners in the mood for dining.
There was a contrast with the soup served warm. The cream of oatmeal seasoned with cumin and enhanced with grilled bacon created a perfect crofter’s welcome. The saffron and salmon quiche added a sophisticated touch to echo the delicate marine touch of the whisky.
For the main dish, I was challenged by the Glenmorangie Truffle Oak’s sweet profile. I was first tempted to keep it for the pudding because of its incredible fruitiness and sweetness. But I found it more interesting to look for a savoury dish which would complement its spicy oak and creamy texture.
And so came the idea of infusing a vanilla pod in the cooking water of the carrots and to stuff the potato with dried fruits (nuts, apricots and raisins). The match worked beyond my expectations.
And for the sweet, Glen Moray 16 year-old with its vanilla and fresh lemon notes coped with the zesty sourness of the lemon curd. The finish in Loire chenin wine casks give the single malt more depth and an additional sweetness.
A clean and fresh sweet to conclude a rich and colourful meal.
Cream of oats with bacon and whiskyINGREDIENTS
- 1 litre homemade chicken broth
- 1 carrot
- 1 leek (the white)
- 1 celery branch
- 40g oat meal
- ½ tsp of powder cumin Salt, pepper
- 1½ tbsp whisky
- 80 ml single cream
- 2 bacon rashers
- ½ tbsp chopped chives
Peel the vegetables, cut them into small dice and cook them 35 minutes in the broth. Season.2.
Lightly toast the oatmeal in a pan. Cook in the broth for 10 min with the cumin.3.
Add the cream, blend until creamy and add the whisky.4.
Grill the bacon rashers until crisp and cut into small pieces.5.
Serve the soup in small bowls, with pieces of bacon and chives.
The 3 Bs Dinner at Port Charlotte
I hosted a second dinner later in the week to feature the malts from other side of the island. I called it the “3Bs dinner”as it featured Bruichladdich, Bowmore and Bunnahabhain. A sort of ‘freebies’ to, as the guests were offered a lot of nibbles with the meal.
Cajun cured salmon with avocado mousse and crunchy vegetables, herb dressing.With Bruichladdich 15 Year Old
A breast of chicken stuffed under the skin with nuts and buckwheat flakes, vanilla and whisky laced juice, mashed potato and grain mustard, some greens.With Bowmore 16 Year Old
A gingerbread ice cream with an orange salad, and a petit four.With Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
Coffee with Columba cream and mignardises.Bruichladdich 15 Year Old
was chosen for the starter as its fruity delicacy is a good match with the avocado mousse which is blended with coconut milk and soft spices. The biscuity texture needed a crunchy equal in the dish and a contrast with the soft and smooth texture of the salmon.Bowmore 16 Year Old
cask strength releases waves of soft vanilla intertwined with medicinal smells - quite a different profile from the classic range.
The chicken vanilla sauce made a bridge with the whisky, bringing out more sweetness without wiping off the insular character though. A lively conversation easing its way through the smoky/sooty finish.
Recently released, Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
was probably the malt which surprised the guests most, and so did this great combination. The malt rich aromatic profile inspires more autumnal dishes than summery ones.
For a main dish, a ‘canard à l’orange’ would have been ideal. But I preferred matching it with a sweet. One of the key notes is candied orange, mixed with spices.
I chose to play a fusional match. Orange salad and gingerbread ice cream, though not very seasonal, kept a refreshing coolness which suits summer.
It was as if the whisky was transferred into the sweet. You did not know whether you were tasting the solid or the liquid when you had both in mouth. A unique sensation, the whisky and ice cream clinging to each other.
Try the recipe, it is very simple. And so rewarding!
A gingerbread ice cream and an orange salad.Serves 6
For the orange saladINGREDIENTS
- 3 oranges
- 2 tbsp orange marmalade
- 1 pinch of pepper
For the ice creamINGREDIENTS
- 100 ml semi-skimmed milk
- 200 ml double cream
- 4 yolks
- 40g caster sugar
- 3 gingerbread slices (Jamaïcan ginger cake)
- 40 ml Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
- 2 tbsp chopped dark chocolate
Blend the gingerbread until you get thin crumbs. Leave aside.2.
Bring the milk and cream to the boil. Whisk the yolks with the sugar. Pour warm milk and cream over the yolks. Stir and put back on the gas. Cook at medium heat for five to seven minutes. The cream must not boil. When it starts thickening, remove it from the heat.3.
Let cool for a little while, then add the gingerbread. Stir until the gingerbread is well integrated. Add the whisky. Place in the ice cream maker.4.
Peel the oranges, cut the segments into a bowl. Melt the marmalade in the microwave. Add to the fruit with pepper.5.
Divide into bowls. Spoon the ice cream on the top.
Sprinkle with chopped chocolate.