Perfecting the Indian Spice Cocktail

Blink your eyes and six months passes  by without a blog post! It’s time for me to start writing again, and today, on a hot weekend Fall day that feels like summer, I’m thinking of a refreshing cocktail recipe I discovered this summer.

While waiting for my lunch order this summer, I decided to browse the gin selection at Barsha Wines in Manhattan Beach. Last year, I discovered St. George’s Gin there, and I wanted to see if there was anything that looked interesting to try.

I noticed this bottle of Indian Summer Gin. I liked the pretty flower on the bottle – because bottle design is always a way to tell if a gin is good, right? The gin being infused with saffron seemed interesting.

IMG_8030

And then I noticed this cocktail recipe attached to the shelf near the bottles. Lemon, mint, ginger beer and gin? Sounds like my kind of cocktail (i.e. not sweet)! I purchased a four-pack of Bundaberg Ginger Beer and headed home to try the drink that night.

Indian Spice cocktail recipe with Indian Summer gin

Indian Spice Cocktail recipe

After converting the metric measurements to ounces, I put everything together.

Indian Summer gin, mint, lemon, ginger beer, club soda

The makings of the Indian Spice Cocktail

Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia and fresh lemons

Bundaberg Ginger Beer from Australia and fresh lemons

Fresh mint for Indian Spice gin cocktail

Fresh mint in a cocktail – always a good idea!

Dave and I enjoyed the drink, but felt that the club soda masked the tastes of the other ingredients. The next time I made it, I did not use any of the club soda, and we both agreed it was better without it.

The Indian Spice Cocktail with Indian Summer gin

The Indian Spice Cocktail with Indian Summer gin

IMG_8038

This quickly became our go to summer cocktail. Dave, who is normally content with sparkling water, soon started requesting “that special drink you make,” pretty frequently. So frequently that we polished off this bottle of gin in about a month! A record for us.

After we polished the Bundaberg Ginger Beer, I tried this ginger beer I found in Trader Joe’s. The ginger taste was not as strong, and after a taste test, we decided we liked this beer better for this cocktail. But, if you like a strong ginger taste, Bundaberg might be the one for you.

The Indian Spice cocktail with Trader Joe's Extra Ginger Beer

Trying the cocktail with Trader Joe’s Extra Ginger Beer

Indian Spice cocktail with ginger beer from Trader Joe's and Indian Summer gin

Trying the cocktail with Ginger Beer from Trader Joe’s

One night, when we were low on the Indian Summer gin, I made one drink using Indian Summer and the other with another gin. I gave both drinks to Dave to taste in a blind tasting. Like me, he preferred the drink with the Indian Summer gin. Since then I haven’t tried any other gin with this drink – why fiddle with something that is pretty close to the perfect summer drink?

Indian Summer gin infused with saffron

Indian Summer gin infused with saffron

The Indian Spice Cocktail - our favorite gin summer drink

The Indian Spice Cocktail – our new favorite summer drink

Indian Spice Summer cocktail pinterest

 

 

Irish Whiskey Tasting in Killarney

The days and weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day always bring back memories of my trip to Ireland. Two of the most memorable experiences on my trip was the Irish Whiskey tastings I had in Dublin and Killarney. While I like Scotch, and Scotch or bourbon-based cocktails, I was unfamiliar with Irish Whiskey until I traveled to Ireland. And now, I am a big fan and have a small collection of Irish whiskeys on hand at home – always ready to mix a drink or pour a dram to savor on its own.

I first learned about Irish Whiskey at a tasting in Dublin at the Jasmine Bar at the Brooks Hotel. Brendan Vacations arranged the tasting for for me and my friend Lisa Niver of We Said Go Travel. You can read what I wrote about that experience here, and what Lisa had to say here.

I so enjoyed the tasting in Dublin that when I traveled to Killarney later in my trip, Brendan Vacations arranged for me to have a another tasting at my hotel, The Malton. This tasting put me over the top, and I fell head over heels for Irish Whiskey and whiskey in general. Now when I travel, either locally to a bar for a cocktail, or overseas for a vacation, I want to peruse the whisky/whiskey menu, see what is on offer, and sample something new.

Similar to my experience in Dublin, the tasting was at the hotel bar. I was introduced to Jerry, who asked which tasting I would like. There were several options on their bar menu, and as whiskey was still new to me, I asked him for his advice. Eventually, he poured these three whiskies to try: Greenore Single Grain, Bushmills 16 Year Old Single Malt, and Knappogue Castle Sherry Finish 16 Year Old Single Malt.

Tasting Irish Whiskey at the Malton Hotel in Killarney, Ireland. Greenore, Bushmills and Knappogue

Tasting Irish Whiskey at the Malton Hotel in Killarney, Ireland. Greenore, Bushmills and Knappogue.

As Jerry and I talked during the tasting (the bar was not very busy), he explained how the aging in different barrels changes the taste of the whiskey. And to prove his point, showed me these bottles from Tyrconnell.

Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey tasting at the Malton Hotel in Killarney, Ireland.

Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey – each aged in different casks, producing different tastes.

The same whiskey is aged in casks that previously aged madeira, port, or sherry. The whiskey on the left was aged fourteen years in a single cask. Jerry shared micro-pours of these so I could compare how aging in the different casks produced different tastes in each one. I also learned that Tyrconnell is the name of a horse, and the distillery was founded in 1762 (as noted on the bottle).

Another whiskey Jerry introduced to me was Red Breast. Known as the “priest’s whiskey,” it is so called because it is more expensive, so only priests could afford it (I believe this was decades if not a century in the past when the people of Ireland were so poor that life as a priest provided a stable income – or at least enough to purchase Red Breast).

RedBreast Irish Whiskey - aged 12, 15 and 21 years - tasting at the Malton Hotel, Killarney, Ireland

RedBreast Irish Whiskey – aged 12, 15 and 21 years

Here the difference was not the type of casks that aged the whiskey, but the length of time that the whiskey was aged. I really enjoyed the Red Breast whiskey – it is very smooth (and I might have purchased some at the Duty Free in the Dublin airport on my way home).

I asked Jerry about the difference between bourbon, Scotch whisky, and Irish whiskey, and he challenged me to a blind taste test – to see if I could tell the difference. I surprised myself by correctly identifying each one – there are distinct taste notes to each. And while my preference now is for Irish Whiskey, I still appreciate bourbon and Scotch whisky – I think it is safe to say they are all in the same spirit family!

Tasting the difference between Bourbon, Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey, the Malton Hotel, Killarney, Ireland

Tasting the difference between Bourbon, Scotch Whisky and Irish Whiskey

After I finished the tastings and micro-tastings of the whiskeys, Jerry prepared this cocktail for me – the Lembuca. He created it and said it won an award at a cocktail competition. It features my other favorite spirit – gin!

The award-winning Lembuca coctkail with gin by Jerry at the Malton Hotel, Killarney, Ireland

Bartender Jerry’s award-winning cocktail, the “Lembuca”

Punchbowl Bar cocktail menu at the Malton Hotel, Killarney, Ireland - Lembuca cocktail with Bombay Saphire Gin

The cocktail list featuring Jerry’s cocktail, the Lembuca

I thoroughly enjoyed this Irish whiskey tasting and all that I learned from Jerry. If you can see the display cases behind us, I barely scratched the surface – there are so many different whiskeys to sample. The bar also included an excellent selection of Scotch whisky’s, so there is something there to suit everyone’s taste. And, if you are not sure of what to order, or what you like, ask the bartender. Jerry was a wealth of knowledge, and he was more than happy to answer my questions.

I highly recommend an Irish whiskey tasting on your trip to Ireland. Even if there is not a “formal” menu for this, you can easily create your own tasting by ordering a few drams at a bar and comparing them as you sample each. You might be surprised by what you like!

Irish whiskey tasting at the Malton Hotel, Killarney, Ireland

Posing with Jerry behind the bar – look at all those bottles of whisky and whiskey!

My whiskey tasting was arranged and paid for courtesy of Brendan Vacations, but the opinions about the tasting and the whiskey are entirely my own.

Have you tasted Irish whiskey? Do you have a favorite or a whiskey you would recommend I sample? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

https://kierareilly.com/2017/03/16/irish-whiskey-tasting-in-killarney/

Tasting Whiskey in Dublin

whiskey taste tastings

Whiskey tasting at Jasmine Bar in the Brooks Hotel, Dublin, Ireland.

When I traveled to Ireland last year, my first visit to the land of my ancestors, I knew a little bit, or maybe less than a little bit, about Irish whiskey. Sure I had heard of Jameson, and maybe had some vague knowledge of Tullamore Dew and Bushmills, two other popular Irish whiskey brands, but that’s about it. What little I did know is that I liked whiskey, or is it whisky? I did not even know the difference between whisky with an, “e,” and whisky without an, “e,” – clearly my knowledge was limited! My favorite cocktail is a Manhattan, and I enjoy Scotch on the rocks, so when the lovely people at Brendan Vacations invited me to join an Irish whiskey tasting with my friend Lisa of We Said Go Travel, I happily accepted.

Lisa and I spent the afternoon on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Dublin, and it was a cold and wet afternoon (surprisingly, the only rainy day I experienced on my entire week-long visit!). We arrived at the tasting needing to warm up, and in short order we ordered some soup from the kitchen which helped rid us of our chill. Of course sampling some whiskey also warms the body!

I did not know what to expect, but in my head a tasting was a formal affair, with a group of people being led in a tasting by someone who would be at the front of a room lecturing us about whiskey. I was very wrong! The tasting took place in the Brooks Hotel’s Jasmine Bar, “Ireland’s First Great Whiskey Bar of the World.”

The Brooks Hotel, Dublin

The Brooks Hotel, Dublin

whiskey taste Jasmine Bar

Entrance to the Jasmine Bar at the Brooks Hotel is right from the lobby of the Brooks Hotel.

After arriving at our assigned table in the Jasmine Bar and ordering our soup, Jacek, Jasmine’s head bartender, joined us to teach us about Irish whiskey. Originally from Poland, Jacek is extremely knowledgeable about whiskey and eager to share his insights with us. As he explained, Irish whiskey is different from Scotch whisky in that it is triple distilled. This makes for a smoother finish. The whiskey does generally not have the smoky, peaty smell and taste that is often, but not always, associated with Scotch single malt whisky.

There was a selection of five whiskies for us to taste, and Jacek walked us through each one.  I enjoyed them all. At one point, I started to ask about the price of a bottle of each whiskey, then decided I should wait until we were finished so that I could pick a favorite without regard to the price.

whiskey taste Jasmine menue

Jasmine Bar’s menu listing some of the over 100 whiskies they stock.

One of the great advantages to a tasting is that you can compare each whiskey to the others, and sample one, then perhaps circle back to another dram you sampled earlier. On their own, each whiskey had a lovely smell and taste, but tasting them in one sitting allowed us to differentiate between them and notice the subtle taste notes that are distinctive to each one.

The whiskeys we sampled (detailed tasting notes are listed at the end of this post):

  • Green Spot
  • Bushmills 16 Year Old ‘Three Wood’ Single Malt Whiskey
  • Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey
  • Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection
  • Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Lisa created this short video of our tasting:

As the tasting progressed, I only took a sip or two from each, as I wanted to return to my favorites at the end.

whiskey taste glasses lined better

Here, with the whiskies lined up side by side, you can see the variations in color.

My favorite of all that we sampled was the Midleton Very Rare, which Jacek estimated to be about €150 per bottle! Lisa’s friend Enda joined us near the end of our tasting, and he was familiar with the Connemara that we sampled. He had purchased it as a wedding gift for a friend. It has a very smoky finish, and as a peated single malt, was very similar to the Scotch whiskies that were more familiar to me. While the Midleton was the most expensive, some of the whiskeys we drank were less than half that price. The beauty of tasting five whiskeys is that there is sure to be one to suit everyone’s taste – and price point.

I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting and the knowledge that Jacek shared with us. It was an excellent introduction to Irish whiskey. If you are visiting Ireland, I highly recommend adding a whiskey tasting to your itinerary – and Brendan Vacations can assist with planning your trip and scheduling a whiskey tasting.

I so enjoyed this tasting that later in my trip, I stopped at the Celtic Whiskey Shop to purchase some whiskey to bring home to share with family and friends (my purchase? Green Spot).

Sláinte!

Dublin Whiskey tasting

Lisa and I with Jacek, the Jasmine Bar’s head bartender, during our whiskey tasting. (I am on the left and Lisa is on the right).

Tasting Details

Greenspot – made entirely from seven and eight year old Midleton Pure Pot Still, with 25% of the spirit having matured in sherry casks. Only 500 cases are made each year.

  • Nose: Heavy barley is noticeable to the nose.
  • Taste and finish: A good full body and sweet honey finish making this one of our favourite Whiskeys.

Bushmills 16 Year Old ‘Three Wood’ Single Malt Whiskey – The whiskey is aged for 15 years in 50% bourbon and 50% sherry casks. These are married in vat and recasked into port pipes for a year.

  • Nose: An exquisite belt of exotic spices, cut with rich cigar smoke.
  • Taste: A rich start sets off tangerines, cocoa and spicy port notes. This whiskey keeps unfolding as you hold it in the mouth. Later, nutty toffee and cocoa arrive.
  • Finish: The port really makes itself felt here.

Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey – Comprising of superior aged whiskeys from 12 up to 27 years of age. Midleton is soley matured in ex-bourbon casks which contribute to its wonderful honey, spice, vanilla and gingerbread flavour. A superb, complex and satisfying whiskey that reveals new hidden layers upon each sip.

Jameson 18 Year Old Master Selection – The 18 year old master selection is a supreme example of the Jameson tradition of maturing whiskey in Spanish sweet oloroso sherry casks. Rich, complex and truly rare – only limited stocks of this exceptional whiskey are available. Each bottle is individually numbered to become a true collectors item over time.

  • Nose: Soft, rich, juicy: apricot, dried fruits, orange, butterscotch, hazelnut butter. Water brings out sherry, becoming chocolate and bourbon biscuit.
  • Taste: A luscious, oily sweetness with a crisp solidity on the palate, then a burst of dried fruits, spices and citrus fruits.
  • Finish: Rich, soft and honeyed.

Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey – Connemara was the first peated malt whiskey produced by Cooley distillery. Once the malted barley has germinated it is dried over a peat fire, the smoke rising through the malted barley giving it a distinct peaty flavour and aroma.

  • Nose: Pronounced smoke, rather than peat, though both evident.
  • Taste: Syrupy. Sweet grass. Smoky, some drier hints of phenol. A suggestion of juicy wood extracts, or sherry, rounding out flavours.
  • Finish: Smoky and emphatically grassy. Sweet grass, but also spicy dryness.

Read Lisa’s article from USA Today, “Whiskey Tasting in Dublin’s Distilleries and Bars,” which includes with our experience at the Jasmine Bar.

My whiskey tasting was arranged and paid for courtesy of Brendan Vacations, but the opinions about the tasting and the whiskey are entirely my own.

Have you tasted Irish whiskey? Do you have a favorite or a whiskey you would recommend I sample? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Garrick Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Sorting through my photos from my day trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, a year ago, I found this image of The Garrick bar on the corner of Chicester and Montgomery Streets in Belfast.

The Garrick pub on Montgomery Street, Belfast.

The Garrick pub on Montgomery Street, Belfast.

I was rushing back from visiting the Titanic Museum, trying to find a bite to eat in the city center before I caught the last train back to Dublin.

Leaving the museum, I asked for walking directions back to the city and recommendations on where to eat. The very friendly woman at the museum provided a few suggestions, one being a great place for Mexican burritos. I wonder if it was the shop right behind the street light that she suggested? I did walk up to the window of a burrito place, peeked inside, remembered that I live in California and can have excellent Mexican or Cal-Mex food every day at home, and moved on to the next item on my list – sampling Short Cross Gin. That isn’t available in California!

My friend Mrs. O Around the World had suggested Short Cross, and as Mrs. O is a fellow gin lover, I needed to listen to her advice. I saw The Garrick and decided to stop in for a gin and tonic.

I did not have much time before my train, as the walk back from the Titanic Museum took some time as I enjoyed the late afternoon sun after experiencing a rainy start to the day. I went inside The Garrick and asked the bartender if they carried Shortcross – they did – and in short order I was drinking Shortcross Gin, “Northern Ireland’s first premium craft gin,” per the Shortcross website. It did not disappoint!

Shortcross Gin and tonic at The Garrick, Belfast.

Shortcross Gin and tonic at The Garrick, Belfast. (Note the top of my head in the center of the mirror).

The bar was somewhat full, and I wish I had more time to stay and mingle (and have another Shortcross), but I needed to catch the train as it was the last one to Dublin. I quickly paid my tab (£1.95 for the tonic, £4.95 for the Shortcross = £6.90), and gathered my things for the train station. When I stepped outside to take a photo of The Garrick, I noticed the quote on the side of the building:

“A nation that keeps one eye on the past is wise.

A nation that keeps two eyes on the past is blind.”

A sentiment we should all keep in mind, but particularly apt, perhaps, for Belfast and Northern Ireland. In searching for the source of the quote today, which seems to be unknown, I came across this post from David Ross, who visited Belfast again in July after twenty years away.  He provides an interesting perspective of what visiting Belfast was like during, “the troubles,” assuming you would visit, which many people did not, and what the city is like today, when he returned.

While I do not have his perspective, I do hope that I can return to Belfast, and Northern Ireland, and spend longer than a too-short day-trip exploring. A visit to the Short Cross Gin distillery would definitely be in order!

Note: I traveled to Ireland with Brendan Vacations, but my day-trip to Belfast was planned and paid for by me.

 

 

Cocktails for Fall and Winter

The winter chill in Southern California has subsided for a bit, but cooler temperatures and rain are forecast for this weekend. I often look to the internet to find new cocktail recipes made with the spirits that suit the season. Here are the recipes I discovered and am adding to my cocktails repertoire.

Hot Toddy

While suffering with a miserable cold in December, I searched for Hot Toddy recipes hoping that this hot drink might provide some relief. This recipe posted on Liquor.com by top bartender and mixologist Jacques Bezuidenhout features a video on how to make it. I liked the lemon twist with cloves as it gave the drink some cheerful color.

INGREDIENTS:

PREPARATION:
Fill a mug with boiling water and let stand for a minute or two to warm. Meanwhile, stick the cloves into the lemon twist and set aside. Empty the mug and fill about halfway with fresh boiling water. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the prepared lemon twist and stir. Add the lemon juice and whiskey, and stir again.

Irish Cider

Over Thanksgiving, I was looking for a drink that included whiskey. As I happened to have some apple cider on hand, this Irish cider recipe fit the bill, especially since Jameson Irish Whiskey is one of the key ingredients! It was created by Bill Ward at the Dream Downtown hotel’s Marble Lane bar and restaurant in New York City. The recipe was posted over two years ago in this NY Daily News article on Irish whiskey cocktails for St. Patrick’s Day by Gina Pace; it looks like Marble Lane has since closed.

Cocktail cider

Irish Cider – using seasonal snowman glasses!

 

Irish Cider

Created by Bill Ward at Dream Downtown’s Marble Lane

  • 1½ oz. Jameson Irish Whiskey
  • ¾ oz. Blackwell’s Rum
  • ½ oz. apple cider
  • ½ oz. lemon juice
  • ½ oz. agave syrup
  • Ground cinnamon

Combine the cider, lemon juice and agave and simmer until it’s reduced by about one-quarter to one-third. Let cool. Put all ingredients into an iced cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain over fresh ice in a rocks glass and top with ground cinnamon.

Blackberry Fizz

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, I read Spencer Spellman‘s post on 7 Easy Champagne Cocktail Recipes. Spencer is frequently posting drool-worthy cocktail photos, and this Blackberry Fizz recipe intrigued me since it included one of my new favorite spirits, gin!

Instead of champagne, I made our fizz’s with Cava and served them on New Year’s Eve while we were enjoying a quiet evening at home with the dogs. I really enjoyed the mix of the gin and cava, and with the blackberry and lime mixed in, I think this would be a perfect celebratory drink for the warmer months as well.

Cocktail blackberry top

Spencer Spellman’s Blackberry Fizz – the blackberries and lime garnish make for a colorful, festive cocktail.

Spencer Spellman’s Blackberry Fizz

Quoting Spencer:

This may just be my favorite champagne cocktail on the list. Alright, so perhaps that’s because it’s one that I came up with. But it’s really so delicious, refreshing, and fruity. Additionally, it’d make a great summer champagne cocktail for making in batches. Because everyone likes champagne, right? You’ll want to first muddle the blackberries in a cocktail shaker good enough to break up the berries and release the juice. Next you’ll add the rest of the ingredients (except for the champagne) with ice to the shaker and shake. Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice and top with champagne.

  • 2 oz. gin
  • .75 oz. agave
  • .75. oz. lime juice
  • Several blackberries, muddled
  • Champagne
Cocktail blackberry ingredients

Making the Blackberry Fizz with Bombay Sapphire and Cava.

 

Candy Cane-Kahlua Hot Chocolate

Believe it or not, winters in Los Angeles can be chilly. When the temperature dips into the 40s and we turn on the heat, it is a perfect time to make hot chocolate. I wanted to make something a bit more involved than regular hot chocolate, and since we had not had any Kahlua in a while, I searched for hot chocolate and Kahlua recipes and found this by Natalie Migliarini on Delish.com.

I love the addition of the candy cane – perfect for all the candy canes that you receive for Christmas and never end up eating. I served the hot chocolate in my Christmas markets mugs from the Christmas market in Budapest and the Schloss Schönbrunn Christmas market in Vienna. It pairs perfectly with my home made sugar cookies for a decadent dessert.

Cocktail hot chocolate

Candy cane-Kahlua Hot chocolate served in mugs from European Christmas markets.

Candy Cane-Kahlua Hot Chocolate

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. whole milk
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 candy cane
  • 3 tbsp. sipping chocolate
  • 1/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 oz. Kahlua
  • whipped cream
  • candy canes

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over low heat, warm whole milk and heavy cream.
  2. Add 1 candy cane and stir until melted.
  3. Stir in sipping chocolate and vanilla extract.
  4. Remove from heat, stir in Kahlua, and pour into glass.
  5. Garnish with whipped cream and candy canes.

Do you have a favorite winter cocktail? Share the recipe or a link in the comments below.

Travel Treasures: Gin and Whisky from Fortnum and Mason in London

During our trip to London this summer, we visited Fortnum & Mason, the classic English department store with warrants from Her Majesty the Queen and His Majesty the Prince of Wales. Fortnum and Mason is popular for their afternoon tea, although we did not take tea there, I wanted to show Dave’s mom the store, especially the main floor with a seemingly endless selection of teas, biscuits and candy.

We explored the main floor, then ventured upstairs to the makeup, perfumes and accessories. Perfumes were on display in an upside-down chandelier, which I thought was quite creative.

Perfume display at Fortnum and Mason

Perfume display at Fortnum and Mason

And the hats, or fasteners, were beautiful works of art.

TT Fortnums hats

I particularly liked the blue one with gold feathers.

TT Fortnum hats 2 editBrowsing the handbags, I saw these beautiful purses by Launer and thought they looked familiar. It turns out Queen Elizabeth is a fan!

Launer handbags. I wish I took a picture of the two-tone styles - they were my favorite!

Launer handbags. I wish I took a picture of the two-tone styles – they were my favorite!

Eventually, I wandered down to the food hall in the basement, and asked about gin, specifically gin that I would not be able to find in the United States. Immediately, the sales clerk suggested Short Cross Gin from Northern Ireland. I had already purchased some Short Cross when I was in Ireland earlier this year, so I asked for additional suggestions (Short Cross is quite good, and I do recommend it!).

TT Fortnum Gin 3The sales clerk offered me a taste of some of the gins on offer, and another shopper joined me in sampling the gin. We were tasting different gins and comparing what we thought of each – it was nice to try the gins before purchasing any and to see the subtle differences in each brand. I decided to purchase Hammer & Son Old English Gin – I liked the look of the bottle as it was packaged differently than the other gins. I think it might be available in the United States, but I liked it so why not purchase some when it was right in front of me?

As you can see, there is quite a selection of gin to choose – going to our local liquor stores here do not offer this selection! I saw Plymouth Gin on the bottom shelf here – I purchased some of the Plymouth Sloe Gin when I was at the Plymouth BlackFriars Distillery in April (read about my visit here).

Some of the gin at Fortnum and Mason

Some of the gin at Fortnum and Mason (the Plymouth Gin and Plymouth Sloe Gin are on the bottom shelf on the left and the Hammer & Son Old English Gin is also on the bottom, fourth from the left).

TT Fortnum Gin 1

Even more gin!

While enjoying the gin samples, the sales clerk asked if we liked whisky – of course we do – and would we like to sample some? We tried some straight, and then he added just a drop or two of water to our cups, which provided a different and deeper taste. We were having quite a lot of fun – soon another couple joined us. The Highgrove Organic Single Malt Whisky was to my liking, and I purchased a bottle.

As the Fortnum’s website describes it:

This single malt whisky was selected and bottled exclusively for Highgrove. The whisky is distilled from Scottish organic malted barley, grown in Inverness-shire and matured in a single, numbered, first-use Bourbon cask.

It was closing time at the store, so our tasting came to an end, the clerk wrapped my bottles in Fortnum and Mason tissue and sent us on our way.

These bottles made it back to Los Angeles, tightly packed and cushioned in my checked luggage. I have yet to open them but when I do, I will remember the lovely tasting experience at Fortnum and Mason!

Travel treasures gin and whisky

Flashback: A Toast to Penn in Northern California

Fall in the Northeast conjures images of brightly colored leaves on trees, cool nights, pumpkins and warm apple cider. Fall in California means it’s a perfect time to visit a winery!

Here is a post I wrote about a wonderful event organized by the Penn Club of Northern California – a wine tasting at the private winery of alumnus Phil Schlein – back in 2012.

Enjoy!

This post was originally published on the Frankly Penn blog on October 4, 2012.

A Toast to Penn in Northern California

By Kiera Reilly, C’93  @KieraReilly

A few weekends ago, I traveled one bright sunny Saturday afternoon to the wine country north of San Francisco. There, the Penn Club of Northern California hosted a wine tasting made possible by the generosity of Phil “Spike” Schlein, C’57.

Spike opened his family vineyards and gardens in Oakville, Napa Valley, for touring and a wine tasting. The Schlein family (Spike’s children Kathy, C’83, and Ted, C’86, are also alumni) honored the club with a similar event three years ago, and were happy to welcome local alumni again.

Spike helped facilitate the wine tasting, and shared his story of becoming a winemaker, and the history of the vineyards that he’s owned for over thirty years. Everyone enjoyed the garden setting and delicious lunch buffet. Beth Topor, W’80, vice president of membership and communications for the club, shared information about upcoming events, and club co-president Tom Eliaz, ENG’02, encouraged alumni to share their ideas for future events and to get involved with activity planning. Alexandra Feinson, C’11, undergraduate admissions counselor for Northern California, attended and spoke to the group about Penn admissions. After lunch, Spike led everyone through a tour of the vineyards.

The Penn Club of Northern California thanks Phil Schlein for opening up his winery and all the alumni who attended and contributed to our Club Book Scholarship Program. They raised $1,855 and with Phil’s generosity providing the food and beverages, 100% of the proceeds goes to scholarships for local Penn students! We also thank Arthur and Lindsay, two of their past scholarship recipients who spoke on the value of your donations. If you were unable to attend the event and would like to contribute to scholarships, click here, every dollar helps!

What a treat to enjoy a relaxing afternoon in a beautiful setting and enjoy the conversation of fellow alumni.

Here’s a toast to Penn! And a toast to Phil Schlein!

Hurrah, Hurrah!

Click here to join the Penn Club of Northern California, sign up for their email newsletter and get involved with the club. You can also find the club on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter @NCPennClub.

For more information on Schlein Vineyards, click here.

This post was originally published on the Frankly Penn blog on October 4, 2012.

A Visit to Black Friars Distillery and the Home of Plymouth Gin

Today, June 13th, is World Gin Day. I had no idea about this important date until I saw my friend Ana’s picture of a Gin and Tonic on Instagram (Ana is also known as Mrs. O Around the World). While traveling in the UK, Spain and Portugal this spring, I tried many different gins and thoroughly enjoyed it. Given that today is a special day for gin, I thought I would highlight one of my recent gin experiences.

While on a tour of Britain in April (Insight Vacations’ “Best of Britain”), our group took a half day trip to Plymouth. Most of the morning was spent on a boat tour of the harbor to provide us a visual history of the importance of this port city. After the harbor tour, we had about an hour to walk around and explore on our own. I stumbled upon the Plymouth Gin distillery and decided to step inside.

Here is a brief history of the Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, from their website:

The building dates back to the early 1400s, with the most intact part of the distillery, the Refectory Room – a medieval hall with a fine hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431, being one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth. It is thus protected as a national monument and is one of the city’s most precious heritages. The Distillery buildings were formerly a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries, the former home of the Black Friars was put to a variety of other uses including being the town’s Marshalsea or debtor’s prison. It was also the first Non-Conformist meeting place and a billet for Huguenot refugees who fled France for Plymouth. The Pilgrim Fathers even spent their last night in England here in 1620. It was from the distillery they made the short walk down to the harbour to set sail on the Mayflower on their epic voyage to start a new life in America, where they founded a new Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today. Black Friars is indisputably the oldest working gin distillery with records of a ‘mault-house’ on the premises going back to 1697. However, it was in 1793 that Mr Coates joined the established distilling business of Fox & Williamson and the distilling of Plymouth Gin began. Soon the business was to become known as Coates & Co, which it remained until March 2004.

How interesting to learn that the Pilgrims spent their last night here before departing for America! Unfortunately, there was not enough time for me to take a tour; but if you have the time, there are several options offered, including a Master Distiller’s tour in which you can create and distill your own gin recipe!

The Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, in Plymouth, England.

The Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, in Plymouth, England.

When I stepped inside the distillery, I bumped into fellow travelers Laurie and Linda. I convinced them we needed to try some Plymouth Gin, since we were at the source after all! We went upstairs to The Refectory – the bar was beautifully lit, and well stocked with other fine liquors besides Plymouth Gin.

The Refectory bar at Plymouth's Black Friars Distillery

The Refectory bar at Plymouth’s Black Friars Distillery

I decided to try the Plymouth Sloe Gin, as I saw that downstairs in the shop, and it looked interesting – and different from the gin I have previously tried. If you can not read the photo below, this is what it says, “Made to a unique recipe that was discovered in notes made by our Head Distiller in 1883. Traditionally enjoyed as a winter warmer when pursuing country sports, now widely used in cocktails, long drinks and as a great accompaniment to cheese. Try it with… Sharphams Brie Style, Quickes Cheddar, Vulscombe Goats Cheese, Devon Blue.” That sounds right up my alley to try this with cheese!

Plymouth Sloe Gin, according to the bartender, it is only available at the distillery.

Plymouth Sloe Gin, according to the bartender, it is only available at the distillery.

The Plymouth Sloe Gin is made by steeping sloe berries with the gin. It has a reddish-pink color. I asked for Fever Tree Tonic, another recommendation from Ana, and the bartender said that is the only tonic they serve!

My Plymouth Sloe Gin before adding tonic.

My Plymouth Sloe Gin before adding tonic.

I tried the gin on its own at first, before adding the tonic. It had a lovely fruity taste, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to purchase a bottle to bring home – especially since our bartender said she thought it was only available at the distillery! She mentioned that she had been in New York City recently, and she found Plymouth Original Gin regularly available. I have since seen it here in stores in Los Angeles, but not the Sloe Gin.

Enjoying a lunch-time gin and tonic.

Enjoying a lunch-time gin and tonic.

We all enjoyed our drinks, and then rushed back to the coach for our next stop.

Tonight, in honor of World Gin Day, I will make some cocktails before dinner. I think a Sloe Gin Fizz with my Plymouth Sloe Gin, straight from the source, sounds just about right on this chilly, June Gloom day in Southern California.

Cheers!

Let me know your favorite gin drink or if there are other sloe gins I should try!

Tzatziki, Peonies and Gin!

It was a rainy and unusually humid day in Los Angeles today. Luckily I purchased these peonies two days ago, and they are just now starting to open up and brighten up the kitchen despite the clouds outside.

IMG_7565While I gazed at the pretty peonies, I decided it was time to make one of my favorite summer dishes: tzatziki, a greek dressing or dip, that I usually eat with pita chips. When I do not have time to make it on my own, I purchase a container from Trader Joe’s. But I like my homemade version the best. The dip is pretty easy to make as I don’t even have a recipe to follow but just mix a few simple fresh ingredients together.

First, I put a coffee filter over a strainer and a bowl, and then spoon some Greek yogurt into the filter. I let it sit at least a half hour so that the excess water is extracted. When I first read about making tzatziki, some recipes called for using a cheese cloth during this step, but I found that the coffee filter works pretty well too.

While the yogurt is sitting, I prepare the other ingredients: lemon juice, dill and garlic.

Dill, garlic and lemon.

Dill, garlic and lemon. Note the dish is from Portugal – I love making use of items I purchased while traveling.

I chopped a tablespoon or two of dill, minced three to four cloves of garlic, and squeezed the juice out of a half lemon into a bowl. Then I added the yogurt (it becomes even thicker once the water drains), mixed it all together and added salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes I add olive oil too.

I chill the dip in the refrigerator for at least an hour to allow all the flavors to blend together. Just before serving, I chopped up a Persian cucumber to give the dip a crunchy texture.

IMG_7570

Finished tzatziki! I served it in a bowl from Sorrento, another purchase from my travels.

Since I’m in a gin phase, I decided to quickly make some gin and tonics (using my new favorite tonic Fever Tree) and serve them with the dip for a pre-dinner snack.

IMG_7571What is your favorite go-to fresh summer dish?