RAMZAN IN KOLKATA – II

If you haven’t read my first post on Ramzan in and around central Kolkata’s Zakaria Street you can do so here http://eatsiprepeat.com/ramzaninkolkata1/. Once you have had your fill of kebabs, fried fish and fried chicken I would suggest that you get down to the very important business of devouring haleem at the soonest.

Haleem is basically a meat stew where the meat of cow or goat is slow cooked with spices, lentils and grains like wheat or barley or rice or a combination of grains. The texture of the haleem available in Kolkata is like that of thick lentil broth with chunks of meat found here and there. As far as haleem in Zakaria Street is concerned you have plenty of options to choose from. Once you head back towards Zakaria Street from Adam’s in Phears Lane you are likely to first come across Islamia Hotel. In my humble opinion the best haleem in this area is undoubtedly found here with the right balance fragrance and spice. Another place that serves excellent haleem is the Zakaria Street branch of Aminia. Here you can also find haleem cooked with offal like cow’s tongue and brain along with meat.

The delicious haleem from Islamia.

If that is not your ‘bowl of haleem’ head to Sufia, another crowd puller situated bang opposite the Nakhoda Masjid, where you can find another delectable bowl of haleem. There are also relatively smaller players situated opposite each other one called Bombay Hotel and the other Zeeshan. I have found their output to be quite inconsistent, really delicious on one day and over or under seasoned the next day. However, the phirni (rice pudding) at Bombay Hotel is a well kept secret. All of these places also have their own biryanis but since that is something which is available all round the year I prefer to skip that during Ramzan.

Sufia, Kolkata.

As I mentioned in my previous post all over Zakaria Street you can find vendors selling different kinds of breads, sewai (vermicelli), dates, fresh fruits and dried fruits. My favourite vendor is the one who sets up a stall each year opposite Taskeen. His breads are always soft to the touch and fresh. Pick up the layered bread known as bakarkhani or the sheermal with cherries, nuts and seeds sprinkles atop that has a texture akin to regular white bread. Neither of the eateries will stop you if you walk in with your own bread to dip into your bowl of haleem.

The bakarkhani (forefront) and sheerman (background).

Once you’re done with haleem and bakarkhani you will be spoiled for choice as far desserts are concerned. There are many Shahi Tukda sellers all over Zakaria Street and having tried many of them I wouldn’t recommend any of them. Head over to Haji Alauddin in Phears Lane for a wide variety of halwas, jalebis and gulab jamuns.

Jalebis, Haji Alauddin.

You can also opt to pop in to Taskeen again for a glassful of lassi falooda which is essentially a cool mixture of thickened milk flavoured with saffron, yogurt, nuts, vermicelli and sugar.

The silky smooth lassi falooda from Taskeen.

Before you head home don’t forget to take back some deep roasted or light roasted lacha also known as sewai which are nothing but thin strands of semolina noodles which are usually cooked with sugar and milk and enjoyed as a dessert.

Sewai or lahca.

Despite the heat and the maddening crowd you will go back home a satisfied soul with a bittersweet experience because the feasting for the day has come to and end but in probabilities you’ll be back to indulge another day, if not then definitely the next Ramzan.

RAMZAN IN KOLKATA – I

The holy month of Ramzan (or Ramadan) as most of us are aware is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and is widely observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting. This act is also recognised as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The fast begins at dawn and ends at dusk. The last meal before beginning the fast is known as Suhur and the one that breaks the fast is known as Iftar.

The Iftar meals are generally quite social affairs and are consumed in groups which usually comprise of family and friends. Although the Muslim community here in Kolkata is spread out all over the city certain pockets and neighbourhoods have a higher density of Muslim population than others. One such locality is Colootolla, located in central Kolkata. An offshoot of Central Avenue, a narrow alleyway called Zakaria Street is where all the action takes place during Iftar. Food lovers frequent this narrow street during the month of Ramzan to explore the innumerable joints located in and around the area. While some of them are permanent establishments, there are also many traders selling desserts, fruits, dried fruits and breads who set up permanent stalls only during this time of the year.

The ‘Special’ Dry Fruit Mix available all over Zakaria Street.

Whenever I’m at Zakaria Street I make it a point to start my evening at Taskeen. One of the permanent outlets Taskeen is renowned for their marinaded double fried chicken dish called Chicken Changezi. They claim that the recipe of the marinade originated way back in Gengis Khan’s time. I am admittedly no one to question or refute their claim but like many others I am definitely a fan of their signature dish. If you happen to be there this is a must try. You buy your chicken by the weight specifying the cut, pay for it, show them the receipt and the chicken goes in to a huge wok of hot oil. After a while the large piece of chicken is brought out, hacked up into smaller pieces and then fried for the second time in another wok. Once done its served with a sprinkling of their own mix of chat masala

Crispy & spicy on the outside moist & juicy inside – the Chicken Changezi.

Also available in Taskeen and other temporary stalls are immense pieces of marinaded freshwater carp. These too go through the double frying cooking technique. Although I quite enjoy eating fish I find the prospect of having to work too hard to pick out fish bones while eating in a crowded place quite off putting. As a result of this I haven’t tried the fish yet but if you’re up for it who am I to dissuade you.

The marinated carp.

If you’re thirsty after you’ve had your fill of Chicken Changezi you can grab a lassi from Taskeen or if you’re feeling adventurous enough head over to a sherbet wala, a trader who sells a rose flavoured drink which is essentially nothing but ice, water and some rose flavoured syrup. Be warned however, that the sources of the water maybe highly questionable. Having said that though, I have had it several time and have had no trouble at all.

To drink or not to drink?

Now would be a good time to move on to some delectable kebabs. If you’re a chicken lover then you may give Delhi 6 (a permanent outlet) a go for their chicken kebabs. If you’re a beef lover like me then two hole in the wall joints should be on your list. The first of them is Dilshad’s Kebabs. This can be difficult to find but if you ask around for the CESC building and look around a bit you can find Dilshad’s shop. Obscure as the place may appear the kebabs Dilshad Bhai grills are unbelievably delectable. He serves dahi kebab (beef marinaded with yogurt and spices), malai kebab (beef marinaded with spices and the yellowish fatty outcome that results from heating whole milk), kheeri kebab (cow’s udder), the gurda kebab (kidneys) and the suta kebab (kebab held together by a string). My favourites are the malai kebab and the kheeri kebab followed by the gurda kebab. The latter two may not be available always but the other kebabs are quite easily available. My suggestion would be to skip the suta kebabs here and try the remaining kebabs with Dilshad’s generous sprinkling of desi ghee atop.

Dahi, khiri and malai kebabs (clockwise).Pardon the poor quality of the image.

For suta kebabs you simply must visit Adam’s. Located in Phear’s Lane, it may also be difficult to find but any local would be able to point out the place fairly easily such is the popularity of the place. Minced beef is marinaded with a secret blend of spices, ginger, onion, garlic and raw papaya paste and then grilled on a sheekh or skewer. The most interesting part of the kebabs is that no binding agent is used to hold it together. It is all held loosely together by a string. The perfectly grilled kebab is served on a paper plate with chopped onion and chillis and simply melts in the mouth. The propreitor Salahuddin cites raw papaya as the reason for this. Fortunately, this is also a permanent shop and Adam’s suta kebabs can be devoured all year round. you will have to pull the string out before eating the kebabs but it is completely worth the effort. Delicious is probably too less an adjective to describe the suta kebab. Another must have.

The melt int the mouth suta kebabs.

Now for the Ramzan special delicacies. But to know more about them you’ll have wait for my next post. Till then Eat Sip Repeat.

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – IV

The distillery of Oban is situated in a town of the same name but interestingly the small coastal town began flourishing and came up after the distillery was built in the late 18th century. With its two pot stills, it is one of the smallest functional distilleries in Scotland. Oban is renowned for its 14 year old expression but also offers a Distiller’s Edition bottling, which they finish in Montilla Fino sherry casks before bottling. An 18 year old limited edition expression and a rare 32 year old edition are also available. In December 2014 Oban had introduced a non-age-statement expression, called the Little Bay.

The Oban 14 can most often be seen along with the Lagavulin 16 from the island of Islay, Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Cragganmore 12 from Speyside and Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland as a part of it’s owner, Diageo’s six Classic Malts Selection. You can read more about the other whiskies here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-i/, http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-ii/ and http://eatsiprepeat.com/the-six-classic-malts-iii/ .

Oban 14

Oban 14 is one of the two whiskies from the Scottish Highlands to feature in Diageo’s. However, since the distillery is situated on the western part of the region it is widely identified as a whisky to hail from the Western Highlands. The distillery’s close proximity to the sea has a big role to play in the flavours imparted by the conditions helping it to identify its own distinct identity. The face that it is distilled in pot stills also influences the final outcome of Oban 14. Here is my take on it.

The Oban 14 Y.O.

Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: Citrus-y and fruity sweetness followed by hints of smoke.
Body: Full bodied and rich.
Palate: Rich honey, sweet dry fruits like figs and apricots which gradually make way for some spiciness and notes of smoke.
Finish: The sweetness and smoke are linger on for a while finally getting replaced by a dry, oak woodiness.
Pairing: I enjoyed my Oban 14 with a 80% dark chocolate. Sip the whisky, savour it for a while and then take a tiny bite of the chocolate. I found that the rich cocoa brought out the sweetness of the whisky even more.

EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL VINTAGE BOURBON

Good quality bourbon whiskey is rarely available in India so when I had the opportunity to get my hands on a bottle of Evan William’s Single Barrel bourbon whiskey I could not let it go. When my aunt was flying in from Toronto, Canada and she offered to bring me a few bottles of whiskey one of my chosen whiskies was the Evan William’s Single Barrel.

So, what is single barrel whiskey? Single barrel whisky is a premium category of whiskey in which each bottle originates from an individual barrel, instead of whiskies from various barrels being blended to achieve uniformity of colour and taste. The whiskey from each ageing barrel is bottled separately. Usually each bottle comes with a distinct tag or label mentioning the barrel number and in most cases the dates for the commencing and conclusion of ageing. Since no single barrel can be the same it is thought that each barrel contributes some distinct characteristics to the final whiskey hence rendering the bottled content of each barrel as unique.

Evan Williams, a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, is distilled at the Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, Kentucky but bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky by the same company. Evan Williams is one of the largest selling brands of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskies recognised as one of the world’s best selling whiskey brands.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon, a multiple Whiskey of the Year award winner is bottled after select barrels meet their high standards and sealed with a black wax dip. As is the usual norm, the bourbon is vintage dated i.e. each bottle is bears the date it was put into oak barrels, the year it was bottled and the exact serial number of the single barrel that the bourbon was bottled from.

According to the tag the bottle I had went in oak in 2009 and was bottled in 2017. Here is my take on it.

Colour: Bright golden amber.
Nose: Burnt or charred oak with abundance of caramel.
Body: A rich full bodied whiskey.
Palate: Spicy with hints of fruity citrus notes. Luxuriously sweet.
Finish: Warming oaky finish lingers on.
Pairing: I enjoyed paring my Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon with a quality 70% dark chocolate. The chocolate seemed to enhance the sweetness and richness of the whiskey

The Evan William Single Barrel Vintage Bourbon 2009.

Cheers!

THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS – III

One of my personal favourite whiskies is the Lagavulin 16. The distillery itself is situated in its name sake village of Lagavulin on the island of Islay, Scotland. The distillery is known widely for its 16 year old expression with an ABV of 43%, despite having a 12-year-old cask strength variety, a distiller’s edition finished in Pedro Ximénez casks, a 25 year old and a 30 year old expression. Lagavulin is produced by United Distillers & Vintners, which has been owned by Diageo since the early 2000’s. It is marketed under their Classic Malts umbrella. As a result of this Lagavulin 16 can be seen alongside Glenkinchie 12 from the Lowlands, Talkiser 10 from the Isle of Skye, Cragganmore 12 from Speyside, Dalwhinnie 15 from the Highland and Oban 14 also from westren Highland.

The Six Classic Malts.

Lagavulin 16 from Islay

Like most other whiskies to come out of Islay the Lagavulin 16 too is renowned for its deep smoky flavour. However, it must be acknowledged that due to its distinct sources of water and peat the whisky distilled by Lagavulin is markedly different from its equally well known Islay counterpart distillery Laphroaig. Here is my take on it.

The Lagavulin 16 Year Old.

Colour: A deep amber gold.
Nose: Intense smoke followed by notes of sea.
Body: Full bodied and rich.
Palate: Bold flavours of peat-y smoke, rich and gentle sweetness which makes way for sea salt and oak.
Finish: Deep peat and smoke linger on for a quite a long while after which a bit of salty seaweed settles in.
Pairing: I enjoyed pairing Lagavulin 16 with pungent and creamy Danablu (blue cheese from Denmark). The peat and smoke work really well with the sharp pungency of the blue cheese.

PORK MEATLOAF

One of my favourite things to cook is a meatloaf. Cooking a meatloaf comes with a few advantages. Firstly, it is really easy to cook. You just have to acquire and arrange all the ingredients in an orderly fashion, mix them together and cook it in the oven for the right time at the right temperature. Secondly, it can be extremely flexible, meaning that it can be cooked with any kind of meat you like, with any topping or sauce of your choice. Lastly, it is hassle free because most of the cooking takes place in the oven. So if you have guests to entertain or other things to do at home you can easily pop it in the oven, go about doing your stuff and by dinner time a delicious meal will be ready.

My version of the delicious meatloaf.

My favourite version of the meatloaf is the one I cook with finely minced pork topped with a sweet and tangy homemade tomato sauce. As I mentioned before cooking a meatloaf offers a great deal of flexibility. It can be made with minced beef, pork, lamb or even a combination of multiple meats. However, the only important thing to note is that you should get your butcher to make the mince meat in a ratio of 80:20 i.e. 80% lean meat and 20% fat. This will ensure your meatloaf remains moist, juicy and flavourful. If your mince meat comprises of too little fat it could end up as a very dry end product. Feel free to experiment with the toppings. One of the most convenient and popular toppings is plain tomato ketchup. If you’re feeling indulgent you can even use bacon. You may also opt out of a topping and make a sauce instead which maybe tomato based, mushroom based or even a homemade barbeque sauce. Here’s my favourite recipe:

INGREDIENTS:

For the meatloaf.
1. Pork mince at a lean meat to fat ratio of 80:20 – 1 kg.
2. Eggs – 2.
3. Milk – 1/2 cup.
4. Fine breadcrumbs – 1 cup.
5. Garlic cloves chopped into fine pieces – 6 – 8 cloves.
6. Fresh parsley chopped.
7. Salt and pepper to taste.

For the topping.
1. Fresh and ripe medium sized tomatoes – 5, peeled and chopped into pieces.
2. Fresh garlic paste – 2 tablespoon.
3. Onion – 1 medium sized.
4. Chilli flakes – To taste.
5. Salt, pepper and sugar – To taste.

DIRECTIONS:

Meatloaf.
1. Spread the mince meat on a large container making a crater in the middle.
2. Break the two eggs into the crater and mix it in evenly.
3. Next add the milk and breadcrumbs. Mix evenly. The eggs and breadcrumbs will help keep the loaf nice and firm which will help it to hold its shape.
4. Then add the garlic and chopped parsley and ensure that they are well spread out throughout the minced meat.
5. Finally add the seasoning. Be sure to taste a bit of the mixture so that it does not turn out to be under seasoned when cooked.
6. Mould the meat in the shape of a long loaf of bread in a baking tray.
7. In a preheated oven bake the loaf at a temperature of 180 deg. celcius for 30 mins.

Topping.
1. In a saucepan take about 1 tablespoons of olive oil.
2. Chop up the onion. On low heat begin to brown the chopped onion. Make sure the heat in low during the entire process. This will allow the onion to caramelise and the sugars of the onion to break down. But do not allow the onion to turn black which would mean that it has been burnt.
3. Remove the onion and allow it to cool down. Once it has cooled down blitz it up into a fine paste in grinder.
4.In the same saucepan take a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the garlic paste.
5. Once the garlic is a little cooked add in the tomato.
6. As soon as the tomatoes take on a saucy consistency add in the brown onion paste. This will add a nice char-y sweetness to the topping.
7. Add the seasoning and a pinch or two of sugar. Let the mixture reduce to a thick sauce. Check for seasoning and finally add the chilli flakes.

Final touches.

1. Once the meatloaf has finished baking bring it out carefully. At this point you can stick a knife into the middle to check if it has cooked through. If it goes in smoothly and comes out clean you’ll know the meatloaf is done.
2. Carefully spread the thick sauce evenly on the top surface of the meatloaf.
3. Put the meatloaf back into the oven for ten minutes on broiler mode and turn up the heat to 200 degree Celcius.
4. After ten minutes the sauce will have become a charred, sticky, sweet and spicy topping.

The charred sticky goodness atop the meatloaf.

5. Let the meatloaf cool down a bit and then begin slicing.

All ready to dig in.

6. Enjoy your meatloaf by itself or with veggies on the side for a wholesome meal.

BIA HOI

Recently I returned from my second trip to Vietnam where like most other south east Asian countries street food is king. Street food here is cheap, delicious, hygienic, and mostly healthy with generous portion sizes. For example, a bowl of pho, a noodle soup with chunks of beef and some veggies thrown in for good measure would cost between $3 to $3.5 or Rs. 200 to Rs. 280. A bowl of fresh cut tropical fruits served with roasted coconut shards, condensed milk and plenty of ice would cost somewhere between $1 to $1.30 (Rs. 65 to Rs 85). Drinks like coffee, tea and even juices and smoothies come with a very low pocket pinch. Things are much the same with beer. Known as bia in the local language, a can of beer in any eatery would not set you back by more than $0.8 to $1.30 (Rs. 60 to Rs 80).

Although the variety of street food is extensively diverse and one can choose from a variety of meat, seafood, snails and even bugs the only type of beer widely and easily available are lagers. More or less each major city has its own brand of beer but they do not really differ a lot in terms of taste and texture. In Ho Chi Minh City you can find Bia Saigon, Huda in Hue, Larue in Hoi An and Bia Hanoi in Hanoi. These lagers are all light beers with an ABV of not more than 5% thus making them really refreshing drinks in the hot tropical climate. Usually served in bottles these beers are best enjoyed really cold. However, if you were to visit an eatery in a market or a street-side stand you might just be handed a bottle of room temperature beer and a mug full of ice so you can pour yourself a beer on the rocks. Although this ends up diluting the beer to a certain extent it makes for a fun experience. The real fun though, lies in an even lighter beer.

Beer on the rocks!

Known as Bia Hoi this beer is as local as it gets and at an ABV of 2-3% getting drunk on this is almost an impossibility. This golden-yellow coloured beer is brewed on a daily basis in small batches, matured for a very short while and distributed to various joints throughout the city where they are stored in stainless steel containers. A glass of Bia Hoi usually costs no more than VND 5000 to 10000 ( Rs. 16 to 30 or $0.3 to $0.5).

A barrel containing Bia Hoi.

A rectangular metal container for Bia Hoi.

Available all over Vietnam, it’s popularity and demand in Hanoi is unparalleled compared to other Vietnamese cities and towns. It is mostly found in places that serve only Bia Hoi and some bar snacks to nibble on. Such places are almost always infested by locals. Many people down a glass or two when they are on a break from work but it is more popular as a social activity. Locals love to get together after a long day’s work to sit and enjoy glass after glass of this beer while they have a good time. In fact there is also a narrow alleyway called Bia Hoi street that is choc-a-bloc with bars and cafes that serve this beer. Since this entire alleyway is very popular among tourists most of these places end up overcharging customers and serving subpar food.

Bia Hoi joints are often hidden away in plain sight like this.

One afternoon in Hanoi when my better half decided to embark upon a shopping expedition I took the opportunity to excuse myself from her company and parked myself in an obscure looking local bar hidden away in plain sight. Before I was barely seated and could fire up Google Translate on my iPhone to decipher the local menu a glass of beer was plonked in front of me along with a chit of paper which would help the waiter keep a count of the number of beers served. One glass of beer would result in a mark on the paper. As I sat on a tiny plastic stool on the pavement that is synonymous to Vietnamese street life with a gentle afternoon breeze blowing and sipped on the beer I realised that things could not get any better in that particular moment. I was wrong.

Bia Hoi and the ubiquitous chit of paper.

Having decided to cut short her expedition my wife arrived to join me. That meant I could order a snack for the two of us and I was rather intrigued to know what pig’s ears would taste like. I managed to down another beer before the pig’s ears arrived on the table. Since it was a really light beer it tasted nice, hop-y and smooth only as long as it remained cold. The moment it got warmer the highly carbonated refreshing beer would make way for a flat tasting and unappetising beverage. So there was no way I could allow my beer to get warm. The pickled pig’s ears salad meanwhile had begun to delight me with it’s distinct chewy and crunchy texture. Soon we both lost track of the flow of time and that of beer.

The delicious pickled pig’s ears salad.

As the sun began to set and the shadows got longer the streets began to get crowded and the place started to fill up with groups of thirsty locals. It was evident most of these large groups were out to enjoy their evening. Upon enquiring from one man I learned that Bia Hoi would just not cut it for them and they would be having a shot of local rice vodka each when all the members of the group emptied their glass of beer. They would call it a night only when two such bottles would be polished off between the three of them.

Local friends!

My wife and I did not stick around to see whether the trio finished their two bottles of vodka for we had other sights to see, other places to explore, other foods to eat and other drinks to sip. But that evening, during the course of our other culinary adventures all we could talk about was how much fun Bia Hoi was. So if you happen to find yourself in Vietnam do look up a place that serves Bia Hoi.

CARDHU 12

One of the main reasons I enjoy this beautiful whisky is because I have an inherent sweet tooth and this single malt is without a doubt on the sweeter side. The distillery was started by whisky smuggler John Cumming in the 1820’s. Initially known as Cardow until it’s name was changed to its current form in the 1870’s by Elizabeth Cumming, Cardhu is located on the north eastern region of Scotland known as Speyside. It was in great demand in those days by Johnnie Walker and Sons who used the spirit in their blends. Later Elizabeth Cumming sold the distillery to them under the conditions that the Cumming family would continue to run the distillery on a day to day basis. This arrangement continued until the Second World War broke out when wartime restrictions made it difficult to source barley. Cardhu, now owned by Diageo, began distillation again in 2006.

The Cardhu 12 year old.

Speyside whiskies normally tend to be either on the grassy-floral-dry side or the sweet-fruity side and as mentioned before Cardhu falls into the latter category. Cardhu is very popular for its well balanced smooth silkiness. Moreover, it comes in a beautiful decanter like bottle. Here is my take on it.

Colour: Beautiful golden-amber hue.
Body: On giving it a swirl the whisky appears to have a medium body that clings to the glass.
Nose: Aromas of apples and pears are very prominent once the whisky begins to settle down.
Palate: Sweet pears, honey and just the bit of smoke. It truly is a well balanced whisky and goes down smoothly.
Finish: The sweetness lingers on the palate but makes way for the hint of smoke. Very enjoyable.

Smooth, fruity and sweet sums up Cardhu 12 year old.

Due to its balance I felt the whisky could be as perfect as an aperitif as a digestif. If I had it as an aperitif I would add just the bit of water to make the whisky a bit more delicate and rounded whereas as a digestif I enjoyed it neats. But as we all know there is no tried and tested formula for drinking whisky so you may even try it in a quality cocktail. Slainte!

LOT NO. 40

It’s been a while since my last post. It’s been even longer since my last whisky post. Very recently I came across an article on liquor.com on Canadian whisky. It was about how Canadian whiskies are making a strong comeback statement and leaving a mark in the world of whisky. According to the article the Canadian whiskies had lost their way from the mid 1990’s onwards but are now making their presence felt like never before.

Apparently Canadian authorities are not so rigid with the guidelines laid down for distilling whisky. Distillers mostly distill and blend different grains separately and are later blended together as mature whiskies. Therefore at a single given point of time there are many different styles of whisky available to choose from.

As far as I was concerned rye whisky for me was untested waters. Or whisky. Rye whisky is difficult to come by in the Indian liquor stores. So when I had a rare chance to get my hands on Lot. No. 40 I could not pass up the opportunity. Lot No. 40 is a 100% rye whisky distilled, blended and bottled by Hiram Walker and Sons, Canada. This means that the whisky is a blend of many rye grain whiskies and although there is no age statement anywhere on the bottle reports state that they are for possibly 7 – 8 years.

Although I had read about the whisky before when I cracked the bottle open I managed to do so, most fortunately, without any expectations. I was thus ready to embark upon my adventure of rye whisky.

LOT NO. 40, RYE WHISKY.

Colour: Rich amber/ copper.
Body: On giving it a swirl the liquid seems to have a medium body that clings to the glass.
Nose: Fresh grain, sweet spiciness. Upon settling in the glass aromas oak and wood become more forthcoming.
Palate: A bit of sweet baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg followed by strong notes of outer crust of a dark coloured bread with a dry oak-y finish.
Finish: Has a bit harsh but very enjoyable finish with a lingering pepperiness and the notes of bread crust.

Over time the aromas opened up more and even more so as I added a few drops of water to my whisky. I must say, my first rye whisky was without a doubt one that I cherished and continue to enjoy. But I am yet to figure out what I could pair it with to make the experience a more wholesome one. Till I manage to do that keep eating, sipping and repeating.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER – III

It had been quite a while since I had the chance to experiment with pairings. The last time I experimented I paired a Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof with Alluvia 100% dark chocolate. You can read more about it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/made-for-each-other-ii/. In that same post I had expressed a desire of pairing a brandy with the same chocolate. So since I had some solitude and time on hand this last weekend I decided to fulfil the desire to experiment with a cognac that Santa Claus (in the form of my father) got me last Christmas and some of the leftover 100% dark chocolate from my trip to Vietnam in February of last year.

REMY MARTIN VSOP WITH 100% DARK CHOCOLATE

Cognacs are generally more expensive than whiskies and even more so in this part of the world because of all the duties they attract. The Remy Martin VSOP is a cognac both my father and I enjoy from time to time especially after a rich and heavy dinner. For the uninitiated, cognac is nothing but a brandy that hails from the Cognac region of France. It is distilled from grapes which are used for making wines. The kinds of grapes that do not yield drinkable wine but a very dry and acidic variety are distilled into cognac. These varieties of grapes are usually very good for distillation and then subsequent ageing. The distilled spirit known as eau de vie is then aged in oak casks which are made from oak trees from Limousin, France. After this they are blended or married. The term VSOP stands for Very Superior Old Pale which means that the youngest cognac in the blend has to be aged in the oak casks for a minimum of four years. All cognacs from the house of Remy Martin are Fine Champagne cognacs i.e. the cognacs are a blend of distilled spirits or the eau de vie from Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions of Cognac, France.

The Remy Martin VSOP, gifted by my father last Christmas.

So much for cognac, now for the result of my experimental pairing. I had had a dinner of baked pork loin with seasonal veggies and was in the perfect mood for a tipple of cognac. I poured the Remy in a cognac snifter and let it sit for a while. I held the glass at the base of my palm, gave it a twirl and gently sniffed in the sweet fruity aromas that the cognac gave off. On sipping I found myself appreciating the sweet and silky spirit which continued to linger on my palate for a while after I had swallowed it down. The time was ripe I felt to bite into the chocolate. As expected from prior experience the chocolate was devoid of any sweetness and creaminess tasting like rich earthy cocoa.

Alluvia 100% dark chocolate .

Upon my second sip of the cognac I found that the elegant spirit tasted silkier and sweeter. More luxurious. The sweet fruity notes seemed to coexist now with a spicy tingle on the palate. I was expecting the profile of the chocolate to now become bitter. On the contrary the previously gritty earthiness gave way to creaminess. Of course when I refer to creaminess I do not mean as creamy as a 55% dark chocolate but use it in a more relative manner. The more I sipped the cognac and bit into the chocolate and let it melt slowly in my mouth I appreciated the chocolate bar’s lack of cocoa butter because I felt that presence of cocoa butter might have contradicted the smooth silkiness of the cognac. Gradually the intense earthy cocoa developed into woodiness with hints of nuttiness.

The Remy Martin VSOP with the Alluvia 10% dark chocolate turned out to be quite an experience.

The experience of the experiment was heightened by Duke Ellington playing in the background and the gripping novel that I was reading. It is in ways like this that one tends to enjoy food and drinks with all of one’s senses primed to receive elements of the external world and let them each affect the mind in a way that it feels like a single memorable experience.