23 July 2014

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Ardbeg - paired to perfection


Blasda, the lightly peated expression of Ardbeg, makes a heavenly match with cheese

ardbeg blasda - Blasda_Bottle_0140_Whit_opt.jpgArdbeg means ‘small headland’ in Gaelic, but it might as well mean ‘the unconventional malt’. One of eight distilleries on the Hebridean island of Islay, Ardbeg makes the peatiest whisky of them all. The house style is briny, phenolic – all tarry rope and smoked fish. However, Ardbeg is never one-dimensional, as the peaty thwack is balanced by sweetness and citrus.

As if to prove the point, Blasda – the latest release – is a delicious, lightly peated expression. You can almost sense the indignation among whisky connoisseurs from Anchorage to Zhengzhou as they splutter into their nosing glasses. And they will. For Ardbeg is one of the most lauded and appreciated single malts among those in the know. However, go beyond the initial surprise of a release that is diametrically opposed to the house style and you are in for a genuinely sensational whisky. Blasda is deliciously sweet and refreshing, combining the sweetness of baked banana and toffee with the citrus freshness of lemon and lime, gentle peat oils and a breath of the ocean.

Earlier this year Ardbeg forged a rather unexpected partnership with La Fromagerie: the wildest, peatiest Islay malt working with Britain’s most stylish and refined cheese shop. Patricia Michelson has been pairing various cheeses to the whole Ardbeg range. Despite Islay malts representing the more macho end of whisky appreciation, Michelson has introduced some femininity to the combinations, using cheese to make single malt more accessible. This approach is particularly appropriate for Blasda, with its lower levels of peat and citrus sweetness.

When enjoying Ardbeg with cheese, first take a small sip of the whisky. Keep it in your mouth for a few seconds prior to allowing the glorious brininess to seek out and fill every crevice of your mouth. This prepares your palate. Swallow and enjoy the long, warming finish. Add a small amount of water to the whisky to help break down the congeners, the flavour-bearing compounds in the whisky, and to encourage the complex flavours and aromas to express themselves fully. Take another little sip then bite into some cheese. Sit back and enjoy unalloyed olfactory pleasure.

Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage is unpasteurised cows’ milk cheese from Savoie in France, and is the cheese upon which La Fromagerie’s reputation was built. It’s a classic high mountain cheese from a small, traditional producer, made and matured in alpine chalets. Beaufort has a lovely, almost sweet, nutty flavour, rich and never abrasive on the tongue. This sweetness combines extremely well with Blasda; the caramel texture and nuttiness add to the pairing. The creaminess of the cheese brings out the spiciness of the whisky beautifully.

ardbeg tasting glasses - Ardbeg_opt.jpgCashel Blue is an unpasteurised cows’ milk cheese from County Tipperary made by Louis and Jane Grubb from their herd of Friesian cattle. The creamy, rich texture is well marbled with nutty blue moulds which, with maturing in the coolest part of the cellar, start to gently melt, giving this cheese a satisfying and enjoyable taste. The buttery texture works a treat with Blasda, the slight zing of blue offering an unexpected sense of harmony. This pairing is an example of combining through contrast.

Chabichou is an unpasteurised goats’ milk cheese from Poitou in France. Shaped like a gently tapered cylinder, this traditional soft cheese has a lovely aromatic rind and it becomes sweeter and crumblier as it matures and dries out. It comes from a delightful farm hidden in the Niort countryside close to the Marais Poitevin, the region famous for its canals that thread their way through to the Atlantic Ocean. The nutty, firm texture of the cheese couples with delicious saltiness, leading to a fantastic lengthy finish enhanced by the cheese’s richness. Simply stunning.

As a general rule of thumb, pair any expression of Ardbeg with the finest Parmigiano Reggiano – you won’t be disappointed.

Enjoy your own Ardbeg & cheese experience at:

La Fromagerie - LaFromagerie6_opt.jpg

The Bickley, Chislehurst, 020 8248 7613
The Butcher’s Hook, Fulham, 020 7385 4654
Galvin at Windows, London Hilton, 020 7208 4021
Hamiltons, Edinburgh, 0131 226 4199
The Kenilworth, Warwickshire,  01926 779473
Mews of Mayfair, Mayfair, 020 7518 9388
Orocco Pier, Edinburgh, 0131 331 1298
Oulton Hall, Leeds, 0113 282 1000
Park House Club, Cardiff,  029 2022 4343

Ardbeg Blasda 40% ABV

Nose: At first, banoffee pie and roast chestnuts, followed by cloves, pine cones and fresh mint, all softened by creamy vanilla custard. Deep, ripe fruits fuse with almond and vanilla. With water, sherbet vanilla and chocolate limes burst out. Scented violet, narcissus and chrysanthemum are followed by cured ham with a dusting of white pepper, cinnamon and mint.
Palate: Refreshing, silky and creamy. Initially sweet, with a mixture of marzipan, sugared almonds and a hint of dried fruits. Then flavours of gentle peat with a dusting of parma violets. Spices and creamy cappuccino bring a gentle warmth.
Finish: The finish is medium in length and tingly, with a refreshing balance of chrysanthemum tea, clean lemon zest, creamy vanilla and hints of cinnamon-spiced apple.
Expect to pay: £40-50 at Milroys, Oddbins, Selfridges, Soho Wine Supply, Vintage House.

ardbeg beastie la fromagerie - Beastie_opt.jpg

The Ardbeg Beastie Mobile is a customised two-litre VW
camper van. Look out for the Beastie Mobile and sample
some delicious Ardbeg and cheese pairings for yourself.

Originally published in Square Meal Whisky Special 08/09

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