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Salmon? Aye, mon!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Salmon and vegetable mash in a Thai sauce from The Mash Tun Whisky Bar in Abelour, Scotland.

Even with my amateur photography skills, this dish has to look appetising. Salmon on vegetable mash in a Thai coconut sauce was one of the items on the menu at The Mash Tun Whisky Bar, a traditional pub in Aberlour, Scotland. I took a pamphlet but now can't find it and must have left it, along with a pair of little silver hoop earrings, in Scotland. Some people leave their heart in places they visit, I leave jewellery. Oh well. Fortunately, the pub has a website.

The pub is of course named for a mash tun, the container in which the ingredients used to make whisky are allowed to ferment. I got to see the whole process recently on a press tour of a couple of Chivas Brothers distilleries in Speyside, where much of Scotch whisky is produced. And that is also where I had my first real taste of the drink.

Now, I am not a drinker. I don’t stand up well against any sort of alcohol, metaphorically or literally.

But to better understand whisky – and it’s more than just about having a tipple on special occasions, as a nightcap, or to yam seng (a Chinese ‘Cheers’) with (I should mention that what we were dealing with here was a PREMIUM brand) – there would be quite a bit of drinking involved and I sat facing the ‘fire water’ with great trepidation at the two tastings.

The first tasting session was of blended whiskies and the second, single malts. But the procedure was the same: look at the colour, smell it, and finally taste it, neat and with water added. I took the tiniest of sips from each glass (there were five at each tasting, of different age), and while everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing, I was trying hard not to cough or show disgust on my face.

At the end of the two tastings, I still had no clue about the drink. What was so great about whisky that singers sing about it, TV shows have it as product placement and connoisseurs have lengthy discourses on it? Where were the floral and woody notes? Why didn’t I taste vanilla or hay?

And then, on our last night in Scotland when everyone dressed up in kilts for dinner and haggis, I got it.

There was a ceremony to go with the haggis course and it involved drinking whisky from a small metal goblet. Now, you had to down the whole thing – and really, it was only about 30ml of 12-year-old whisky – because you would then have to upturn the vessel and place it on your head.

So down it went in one gulp. And that was when I realised why good whisky was appreciated the way it was. It did not tickle my nose or burn my throat as those tiny sips had. In a complete reversal, drinking the whisky was pleasurable it warmed me up, but more importantly, it was heartwarming, which is an odd thing to say about a drink, but I can’t think of a better description for the feeling I got.

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