Monthly Archives: November 2015

The spirit of the game

A world cup is inevitably a time of reflection about how we approach our rugby.   Following this last iteration Patrick Leclezio prescribes how to get the most from your viewing.

First published in Prestige Magazine (November 2015 edition).

As it appeared - p1.

As it appeared – p1.

As it appeared - p2.

As it appeared – p2.

I lost the plot during that fateful 2011 quarter-final. As in berserk. At the special viewing arranged for us by the hotel at which I was staying in Mauritius, attended by me and two Brits, I conducted myself in less than ambassadorial fashion. We lost both the game and a couple of potential tourists on that day. Reflecting on it now, I needed fortification. I needed the pleasantly tranquilising effect of a stiff drink. I don’t drink before 11am as a rule, so the time zones conspired against me on that occasion. This time I didn’t make the same mistake. The combination of rugby and liquor (enjoyed responsibly people…), apart from being a time honoured tradition, presents you, me and all bibulous fans with a win-win scenario. The highs are higher – oh that victory buzz! – and the lows are higher – the pain of defeat is cushioned in a warm haze. This year I set out to do it properly. I came up with a spirit pairing for some of the leading teams, so that I could enjoy the drink, the rugby, and a little slice of each country’s culture, all at the same time. It’s the ultimate rugby viewing template – for World Cups and for between World Cups. In the future, regardless of how we fare, I’m confident of some great memories, and being able to look back on tournaments and matches savoured to the fullest. Join me on my journey.

Argentina
There’s a bizarre category of drinks known as bitters, and, whilst the constituent products differ substantially one from another they’re typically a witch’s brew of herbaceous ingredients. One of the world’s best-selling bitters is Fernet Branca, for which the brand largely has Argentina to thank. The Argies love this stuff, knocking back millions of litres per year – with coke or soda, or neat as a digestif. These guys are a bit dodgy with their application of the laws – give them a clueless French referee and they’ll make hay till the final whistle blows – but one has to admire how their game has progressed, and the passion with which they play it. When they started bawling during the singing of their national anthem I was raising my glass of Fernet Branca to the West in salute.

Australia
“ I’ll have a Bundy mate”. Well, not exactly. I did want to make the effort for our Aussie cousins, and the fortuitous absence over here of their mainstay – the infamous Bundaberg Rum – greased this wheel for me. I’m not averse to the mix-with-coke variety of rum to which Bundaberg belongs, but I’d much rather partake of something a bit finer. So I joined them in rum-drinking rugby kinship with a few fingers of Ron Zacapa, the sugar-cane honey derived, high-altitude matured, petate-attired Guatemalan favourite. Now I just need to learn to sing Waltzing Matilda in Spanish…

England
After those feet in ancient times walked upon England’s mountains green they would have been grateful I’m sure for a cool, tall glass of Pimm’s – maybe on a pleasant pasture – to refresh and restore. There is no more quintessentially English drink. Garnished with strawberries to colour match the red rose on an England jersey, and entwined as it is with a setting of green English turf, it is an all-appropriate accompaniment to that country’s rugby endeavours.

France
French rugby is a bit hit and miss, much like the drink I’m advising for watching their matches. Pastis, an anise-flavoured (specifically using star anise as an ingredient), unmistakeably Mediterranean spirit, is one of France’s most popular drinks, particular in the south of the country – corresponding loosely (more east than west) to the area where rugby also predominates. It’s a cliché of French rugby that they either pitch up or they don’t. Similarly you either like the polarising anise flavour or you don’t. There’s limited choice in SA but Ricard pastis, bedrock of the eponymous liquor giant Pernod Ricard, is generally available in local stores. It’s usually mixed with chilled water and ice, resulting in an iconically cloudy, superbly refreshing liquid – best enjoyed whilst watching French rugby…or at a street-side café in Marseille.

Ireland
The most underrated style of whiskey, like its perennially underrated team, comes from Ireland. Single pot still is Ireland’s traditional style, a full bodied whiskey made from both malted and unmalted barley that inexplicably lost popularity at one time, but that’s now back with a test-match winning intensity. I recommend answering Ireland’s call with Green Spot, an orchard-in-a-bottle exponent that’ll transform your rugby viewing into a total sensory experience. It’s a great reason to catch as many of Ireland’s games as possible. The colour correspondence by the way is completely coincidental, but surprisingly pleasing nonetheless.

South Africa
Our flagbearing sports team and our signature spirit – it’s a union ordained by the sporting and spirituous gods. Rugby in this country is synonymous with brandy, particularly blended brandy, so I’ll signal my support accordingly – with one of the best blended brandies that I’ve yet had the opportunity to taste: the Carel Nel 15YO from Boplaas. Let’s hope we’ll be drinking it in more frequently victorious circumstances in the future.

A map to nowhere

The malt whisky regions.  Patrick Leclezio disputes the validity of some deeply held Scotch whisky dogma.

First published in Prestige Magazine (November 2015 edition).

As it appeared - p1.

As it appeared – p1.

As it appeared - p2.

As it appeared – p2.

In my last column I pondered the influence of stories – with their inherent ability to capture our attention – in the appeal and the success of single malt whisky. This phenomenon can be observed in the efforts of Scotch whisky to subtly propagate the romantic notion of terroir. We have been led to believe that single malts differ one from another partly because of the influence of the ground on which they stand – a premise that has specifically found voice in the classification of malts by geographic region, both officially and unofficially. The reasoning on which this is based is that whiskies from the same region, having been forged in similar environments, using similar ingredients, and stemming from the same traditions, share commonalities in style. The designation is considered of sufficient importance by the industry that it is typically printed on the label, second in prominence only to the name of whisky. In reality though the extent of its relevance to the average malt whisky drinker warrants some exploration.

There are five official Scotch whisky regions, as prescribed by the Scotch Whisky Association, the industry’s governing body: the Lowlands, Islay, Cambeltown, the Highlands, and Speyside – the latter being geographically within the Highlands, but of sufficient distinction and of such abundance as to justify its own separate identity. In this regions paradigm particular styles and flavours are ascribed to each region, some more persistently manifest than others.

Speyside: In very broad terms the better known malts from the region have become known for flavours evoking heather, flowers, fruits and spices. They’re sometimes lightly peated, but usually not. This is the cultural hub of Scotch whisky – and consequently the impression of a Speysider is one of elegance and refinement. The embodiment of its whisky, or rather this idea of a Speyside whisky, is Longmorn – the drinking of which invokes, for me at least, the strudel scene from Inglourious Basterds. Yes, it’s that delicious.

Highlands: The Highlands is so vast and so sparse that it’s difficult even theoretically to conceive of the evolution of a unified style. There’s salt and peat, think Talisker, a rich overflow from Speyside in whiskies like Glengoyne and Dalmore, and spices, heather and grass here and there. They can be light (Glenmorangie), waxy (Clynelish), rich (Macallan), smoky (Ardmore) or nutty (the recent Wolfburn). Even close neighbours can be poles apart, consider Highland Park and Scapa for instance The range is so broad, touching on just about everything on the Scotch palette, as to render the Highlands meaningless as a flavour denoting region.

Campbeltown: The whiskies here are known for being smoky, oily, and briny – they’re seafaring whiskies. The peninsula is the smallest of the regions, and whilst it once flourished only three active distilleries now feature, the most well-known of which is the outstanding Springbank – which produces three different brands of whisky. I’m relatively familiar with the Springbank range, the 10YO in particular – and whilst it’s often difficult to distinguish one type of peating from another, Springbank’s has a maritime fog quality to it, if I can put it that way, that you don’t find in others. Then again perhaps I’m just falling prey to the story…

Islay: This famous, dare I say legendary, west coast island builds the strongest case for classification by regions. It has forged its reputation on the influence of peat, specifically the local peat which is redolent of medicinal seaweed – giving rise to robust whiskies with phenolic, pungent, smoky flavours. This regional character is consistent(-ish) and unmistakable. Its most highly peated exponent, with a standard peating level of 55ppm – enough to register on the Richter scale – is Ardbeg. I particularly recommend the Uigeadail (if you can get it), a variant where this powerful peat component, whilst no less evident, has been beautifully balanced with some judicious sherry cask maturation, resulting in a magnificently layered, complex whisky that flits between hard flint and sweet velvet. Even here on Islay though there are reasons to question the model, with Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich producing unpeated (or lightly peated) contrarian whiskies.

Lowlands: These malts are generally light, soft and floral, and, with notes of cereal and zest. The fresh and sweet Glenkinchie, from Diageo’s Classic Malts collection, is arguably the most recognised.
This classification gives a certain poetic order to the malt universe but the supposed kinship is less than consistent. There is no pure terroir in whisky, as it would be understood in wine, except in the contribution of peat, and even there, as I’ve mentioned, it takes some distinguishing one from the other. Water is a ruse, its individuality is not even vaguely apparent. There are other direct factors – such as still shape and maturation – which play a far greater role in dictating flavour, and these are independent of region. Indirect factors, such as the traditional regional adherence to a style, still play a role but this has somewhat meandered, dissipated and migrated with time.

So then, whilst whisky regions are a quaint concept, they have limited merit and should be considered a loose guide (at best!) rather than a fixed rule. Individual whiskies can and do vary significantly within regions, even the most harmonised regions. It can be comforting to the novice to have a gateway into the initially baffling array of malt whisky choices, but I’d suggest that this one is largely a false comfort. Next time you see Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky on a bottle don’t assume that it necessarily bears resemblance to that other Highlands whisky that you like so much. Explore, experiment, and enjoy, by all means, but do so on the counsel of other reasoning. May the dram be with you.