Monthly Archives: October 2014

Hobnobbing with the scions of Scotland

First published in Compleat Golfer magazine (November 2014 edition).

As it appeared.

As it appeared.

My earliest memories of golf are of the Open. The sights and sounds of Turnberry, Carnoustie, Muirfield, and, naturally, St. Andrew’s – the infamous road hole in particular – ring clear amidst the echoes from my childhood. I seized the opportunity to visit Troon some years ago, but it was just for a quick lunch before catching a flight from nearby Prestwick (ironically home to the first ever Open); so my connection to the tournament has remained regrettably removed…until this year. Timings coincided, distances contracted, and fates converged when I was invited on a monumental tour to celebrate the launch of Glen Grant’s 50YO whisky – a tour featuring the final day’s play of golf’s foremost competition.

Golf and whisky share a common bond – a familial bond. The Irish may dispute it but history officially pronounces whisky to have first emerged in Scotland in 1494, when mention of it was recorded in the country’s Exchequer Rolls for that year. Less than 40 years earlier, the first reference to golf was noted when it was banned (in vain, clearly) by the King of the Scots. Fruits of the same loins, and not too far apart; it’s small wonder then that these veritable twins often keep the same company – in this case fifteen avid South Africans, raring to spend time with both.

Ensconced in the Champions Club, our lavish hospitality area at Hoylake, we embarked on frequent sorties – cheering Charl Schwartzel, who played well but failed to ignite a real challenge, Sergio Garcia who was looking good until he floundered at the 15th, and finally Rory McIlroy, who held his nerve to clinch the title. It was a day long in the making. And whilst I registered the absence of the links weather which had coloured my recollections – I would not get to trudge lashed and sodden in the footsteps of this era’s Tom Watson – it lived up to all expectations.

Later in the tour, as I raised a snifter of the majestic whisky that we’d travelled all this way to honour, I called to mind the image of McIlroy with Claret Jug aloft. There was no need for any kind of envy. He was tight with one sibling and I with the other. All was right with the world. May the dram be with you.

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The rituals of drinking

Slamming shots, filling flasks, cradling crystal and everything in between. Patrick Leclezio considers the contexts of consumption.

First published in Prestige Magazine (October 2014 edition).

As it appeared.

As it appeared.

On a trip to Zanzibar some time ago I brought with me two flasks, charged to their brims. The much anticipated contents, when I finally disgorged them, were undrinkable. Now I was entirely to blame – I hadn’t properly seasoned the one, and I’d left the liquor inside for far too long – but the experience left me with an aversion to these vessels. I’ve come to associate them with the potential for contamination. Yet, come rugby season every year, I bring out my flasks religiously. It’s a tradition, a custom, a ritual, a habit – call it what you will – that starts with the filling, progresses to the sneaking (past security), and culminates in the sharing and swigging (in the stands during the course of the game). I love it. It’s a routine that amplifies my pleasure, for both the drink and the game. Make no mistake – these contexts in which we drink are important. I’ve often maintained that our enjoyment (and interpretation) of flavour is psychosomatic i.e. influenced by factors external to the liquid itself. So whilst we should absolutely prioritise our picking – if we don’t get that right it’ll be a losing battle – we should also pay heed, increasingly, to the how, when and where the object of our selection will be consumed. Here are a few suggestions to heighten the appreciation of fine spirits.

Caffè corretto

I don’t drink coffee myself, but I have it on good authority – as misguided as it seems to me – that the majority of people find it delicious, so I’m going to take a leap of faith on this one. The caffè corretto is an espresso served with a shot of grappa, literally a “corrected” coffee, suggesting that this might be the best way, or at least the right way, albeit a conclusion attributed to a vague Italian terminological decree, to ingest this brew.
I’ve tasted grappa formally on several occasions, most recently during a comparative evaluation of the excellent Alexander range from Distilleria Bottega, and there’s no doubt, despite the musty-ish apparentness of the base pomace in its flavour, that it offers a distinct, varied and interesting consumption experience. I found the striking difference between variants using different varietals to be especially remarkable – considering that these are just the stems, skins, pulp and pips of those grapes, and not the fruit itself.
My intention here though is not to commend grappa, or even its pairing with coffee. We’d all surmise quite probably that this is an agreeable relationship – on the evidence of Irish coffee and coffee liqueurs. Rather, I’m laying this elaborate platform in homage to Italy’s coffee culture – borrowed from the world over – and to its influence on our engagement with the country’s signature spirit. When we drink a caffè corretto we’re not just enjoying coffee and grappa, we’re tasting a way of life, we’re imbibing a heritage, and we’re inheriting – if only for a few moments – a small measure of Italian chic.

Black tie

I don’t often drink martinis – partly because finding good vermouth in this country is a futile exercise, and partly because it’s a drink that demands (well, almost) a certain attire and consequently a certain occasion. But earlier this year I found myself appropriately suited and booted – black tuxedo, dress shirt, bow tie, pocket square…the whole nine yards – and suddenly the moment was upon me. Nothing but a martini (I’m not even going to dignify that there might be a choice of which) would do. It defies the coldest logic, but it’s simply not possible to equate the pleasure of a martini with and without black tie. The former is infinitely superior. As I sipped my Hendricks martini (go bold or go home), flashed the cuffs of my Viyella jacket, and introduced myself surname first followed by first name and surname again, I lived the realisation that this was an indisputable conclusion.

Stogie

I’m not a prolific brandy drinker but recently I’ve become increasingly inclined to partake of our local potstills. They’re generally excellent and they’re available in ever-widening variety – as I began to better appreciate at a sampling of the Mount Nelson’s brandy and tapas menu. Boutique or craft potstill brandies are the order of the day – with names such as Savingnac, Uitkyk, Tokara, and Joseph Barrie leading the charge. Whilst these and their more mainstream fellows are just fine all on their own (I remain dubious about pairing spirits with meals, little tapas snacks maybe…at a stretch), they’re propelled into the stratosphere when partnered with a good cigar. The intersection of a mild cigar (Davidoff Classic No. 2 for me, but stronger if you’re a veteran), a rich potstill (Van Ryn’s 15YO?) and a balloon glass (think swirling smoke), offers the perfect vantage point from which to contemplate life and sigh contentedly.

Out and about with whisky

The Speyside episode. Patrick Leclezio toasts the highlights from a tour to end all tours.

First published in Prestige Magazine (October 2014 edition).

As it appeared.

I remember my first trip to Scotland like it was yesterday – partly because if fell over 11 September 2001 (I heard the news at a little pub on the banks of Loch Ness), but also, more cheerfully, because it introduced me to the world’s ultimate whisky destination. The area on either side of the Spey River in the Highlands of Scotland – a span located approximately between the cities of Aberdeen and Inverness – is undoubtedly the most special place in the whisky world. Scotch whisky divides its formidable universe into five official regions: the Highlands, the Lowlands, Islay, Campbeltown, and Speyside. The latter, the object of my current affections – colloquially known as Strathspey, is by a Scottish country mile the most prolific, being home to some 49 malt whisky distilleries. I was recently gifted the privilege of return visit, as part of a tour to celebrate Glen Grant Single Malt’s just-launched 50YO. It was a trip to remember. Here are a few highlights of the region for the whisky pilgrim. May the dram be with you.

The Craigellachie Hotel

Their website claims 750, their staff told us that it’s now over a thousand. That’s the number of whiskies they offer at their bar (The Quaich), and whatever the precise figure might be it’s a lot – something about shaking a stick comes to mind. The hotel, despite its renown, or maybe because of it, is completely unobtrusive – the generic “Hotel” lettering being the only signage advertising its presence. There’s a deep sense of rustic Scotland that resides here, from the copper light fittings at the front door, to the preponderance of wood: wooden bar, wooden chairs, tables, and shelves – all that was missing was a couple of casks. It’s an undeniably special place at which pause in a journey to enjoy a few drams. Ironically enough our barman was South African, more ironic still, he’s the son of one of the owners of Wild about Whisky, South Africa’s answer to the Craigellachie Hotel. It’s a small and strange world.

Loch Ness

The Monster might be a laughable concoction, but you’ve got to give it to those canny Scots – they’ve taken an ordinary, albeit picturesque, lake and transformed it into a tourist attraction of global repute. The upshot is that tour boats ply the waters regularly, transporting the gullible, the cynical and all paying customers in between over this “mystical” expanse of water. And so it was that I found myself lazily basking on a deck, sipping whisky with my fellow tour-mates in the soft Scottish sunlight, and watching castles, ruins, and other pleasant sights of little consequence as they drifted past. In short it’s a brilliant way to spend an afternoon – just for a lark. Here too, as almost everywhere else in Speyside, the connection to whisky is never far away; the loch’s waters owe their murkiness to dissolved peat, the same stuff that’s burnt to impart a distinct smoky flavour to certain whiskies.

Glen Grant

The stills, the mash tuns, the washbacks, and even the quaint stone buildings are much the same as at other distilleries in the area, but the spectacular gardens, set in a glen carved out by the Black Burn, ensure that the distillery lives in a league all of its own. We meandered through them at leisurely pace, stopping for a picnic under a pagoda, before eventually reaching the “Dram Hut”, a yonks old structure accommodating a whisky safe fixed into the rock – not some sort of decorative spirit safe mind you, an actual metal strongbox containing whisky (you can’t make up this stuff!) – where we were treated to a few drams of the Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 25YO. This whisky dates back to an earlier era, some of it being as old as 37 years, when the distillery still made a peated malt, so it seemed like quite a fitting drink to facilitate our pursuit of a deeper acquaintance with the place – and the more of it we drank, the more facilitated we felt.

Scottish cuisine

The Scots are not known for their food but it turns out that some of it is pretty damn good. Aberdeen Angus, the breed of cattle exalted in Argentina and other meat-loving locales, originates from nearby, and quality steaks of this fine beef are in ready supply all over Speyside. We did not desist in our appreciation. Likewise we filled our boots with local scallops, Scottish salmon – smoked over wood chips made from old whisky casks – and most notably, haggis, served in the traditional manner, with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), both mashed. The customary breakfasts in these parts – similar to the English version but with the addition of baked beans and black pudding – is also well worth trying. And to those apprehensive at the thought of haggis and black pudding let me say this – don’t think about it, just go for it, they’re both delicious.