Thursday, 29 March 2012

Exploring Edinburgh Castle

A trip to scotland can not be complete without visiting the city of Edinburgh and of course, Edinburgh Castle. As mentioned in my last post, visiting Edinburgh Castle was high on our list of things to see in Scotland, and when we arrived at this UK icon we were not disappointed. The castle is a fortress which dominates the Edinburgh sky line.

Situated atop of volcanic rock, Edinburgh Castle dates back as far as the 6th Century. It has been a royal residence for centuries and is an important landmark in the kingdom of Scotland. The castle has also been the main target in many historical battles, most notably the War of Scottish Independence in the 14th century.  Today, tourists travel from around the world to visit the castle and walk around the site which is steeped in so much history. Once inside, Cara and I were able to look over the castle walls and see the best views of the city. Edinburgh is a beautiful place and it's famous not only for it’s castle but also for it’s many festivals. The Edinburgh International Festival is the most famous, attracting thousands of tourists every year. The other major festival which brings in many visitors, is the Edinburgh Fringe which we can relate too having spent many nights at it’s sister festival the “Adelaide Fringe”.

As Cara and I explored the castle, walking through it's many rooms, halls and chapels, I was lucky enough to pick up a little souvenir from our visit. After visiting Glengoyne Distillery the day before, I was on the look out for other interesting brands of scotch, and I managed to find the Edinburgh Castle signature scotch whisky, which I couldn’t resist picking up.  This single malt whisky is aged for 12 years and is produced in the region on Speyside. Speyside is in the north eastern corner of scotland. Some of the best whiskies in the world come from these parts. Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are the most well known. The Scottish government commissioned this limited edition whisky to be produced by distillers in the Speyside Region to pay tribute to the icon that is Edinburgh Castle.

As we made our way back to Glasgow, and back to London, we reflected on our amazing Scottish expericance. We got to learn a lot about Scottish history and we tasted many traditional scotch whiskies. Hopefully we will get the chance to return in the future.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Visiting Scotland... The Home of Scotch Whisky

It’s been a little while since Cara and I have taken a trip and we’ve been looking forward to going to Scotland since we arrived in the UK. So with the weather being unseasonably warm, we saw this as the perfect time to visit the UK’s north.

London can be such a chaotic city, so getting out to the rolling hills and fresh air of scotland was exactly what we needed. Cara was excited about seeing sights such as the William Wallace monument, which is in the town of Stirling (not far from Glasgow), along with one of the most famous castles in the UK, Edinburgh Castle. Me on the other hand, was looking forward to visiting a real scotch whisky distillery. Scotch distilleries in Scotland are like wineries back home in South Australia. They are everywhere. Too many to choose from in fact. We decided to visit the Glengoyne Distillery, just near Glasgow.

Glengoyne has been producing highland single malt scotch whisky since 1833. Although it has been said that whisky production in the region has been taking place for much longer. Due to heavy taxes on spirit production distilleries were forced to operate illegally, using the surrounding highlands and forests to hide their distilleries. Records show that up to 18 illegal distilleries were producing scotch in this region. So when the government finally passed an act in the 1820’s to reduce the fees and costs, many of these producers pulled together to form Glengoyne in 1833.

The name Glengoyne comes from the name “Glenguin”, meaning ‘Glen of the Wild Geese’. The distillery was originally called “Glenguin” until 1894 when the name was changed. The whisky itself has a distinctive flavour. It is one of only 2 distilleries that uses the ‘Golden promise Barley’ which is  high quality barley used to create whisky. This is blended together and distilled using the water which flows under the factory itself. Glengoyne is one of the few scotch whiskies not used peat smoke to dry their barley. They use only warm air. This gives the spirit a light amber colour and a distinctive, not so smokey flavour. Many critics have said that Glengoyne whisky, because of it’s colour and smell, is more like a lowland whisky, than a highland.

With this inspiration of visiting Glengoyne, I decided to buy myself a little sample bottle of Glengoyne 10 year old and make, what i believe is one of the most famous scotch based cocktails around, The “Rob Roy”.  This cocktail is very similar to the “Manhattan”. In was invented in 1894 by a bartender at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. The drink was named after Scottish folk hero, Robert Roy Macgregor. The drink consists of 45ml scotch whisky, 25ml sweet vermouth and a dash of Angostura bitters, stirred with ice and strain into a martini glass. You can garnish this cocktail with either a slice of lemon, lemon rind or lemon zest, or another option is a maraschino cherry.

So at the end of our day in the highlands of scotland, we were blessed with some great weather, some amazing views and we got to do as the scottish do, which is drink scotch whisky.

“The Rob Roy”
In a cocktail glass:
45ml Scotch Whisky
25ml Sweet Vermouth
Dash of Angostura Bitters
Stir with ice and strain into a martini glass
Garnish with Maraschino Cherry
or Lemon (slice, zest or rind)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Shopping with the Rich and Famous

It's funny to think that a shopping centre could become a world wide tourist attraction, but Harrod’s Department store is exactly that. People flock from around the world just the walk through looking at things that most of us can’t afford. I guess it is also a glimpse of what high society is like. Granted, visiting Harrods was not high on our priority list of things to do, but when you are living in London it’s a visit that you need to make, just so you can tick it off the list. Cara was more excited about the exploring Harrods than myself, but I was also intrigued in what all the hype was about. As we jumped off the London underground, the first thing we noticed was the amount of people walking towards us, all with little green Harrods shopping bags by their side. A little affordable souvenir to remember the day by. When we came up from the tube stop, the second thing I noticed was the cars parked around the store and in the area. You know you are in a fancy part of town when the streets are lined with Aston Martins and other high-end sports cars. It really was a place that you felt under-dressed going too.

The history of Harrods began with Henry Edward Harrod. A business man who started his first store at age 25 in 1824. He began selling haberdashery in a store in Southwark, south of the River Thames. From there his empire grew moving into other areas, such as groceries, medicines, perfumes, etc. In 1849 it was relocated to the the site that it currently has today. Over the years the store has made many owners after Henry Edward Harrod. His son took over in the late 1800’s and when his son retired, the company was sold to the “House of Fraser” department store holding company. In 1985, business man Mohamed Al Fayed purchased the House of Fraser company, therefore becoming the new owner of Harrods. The sale cost Al-Fayed a massive $615 million.

As we walked through the store, I did spot a little souvenir which I couldn’t resist. It's the Harrods 1849 Premium Lager. A Specially brewed and bottle beer which is only sold at the Harrods store. This lager is brewed and stored for 90 days to ferment before hitting the selves. It has a deep colour and rich taste. The sort of qulities you don’t usually see from a lager. It’s favour was full bodied and if you had just one, it would go down nicely, but I think two would be to heavy to take. A nice all round beer, presented in a sophisticated style which suits the Harrods style.

Cara’s highlight for the day was the chocolate shop which she spent some time in picking which sweets to buy. The chocolate shop consisted of some of the tastiest and most expensive sweets in London. So our day ended with both me and Cara making our way back to the tube station, both with our little green Harrods bags in hand. It was a day in the life of the rich and famous.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Wild Hibiscus Project

I was recently asked to create a cocktail for the Wild Hibiscus company to help promote their product on twitter and facebook. I also love a new challenge, and having never worked with hibiscus before, I was keen to play around with the hibiscus flower and syrup. The Wild Hibiscus company is a small family owned Australian company, based out of Sydney. The company has been selling Hibiscus flowers in syrup since 1997. Lee Etherington is the original creator and since ’97, the company has grown to now be selling worldwide across 30 countries.

When I began the creative process on this cocktail, I had to start thinking about what the company represented and with the Wild Hibiscus company being a small family owned operation, I wanted to create a drink which was simple, that the team could enjoy on a hot summers day back in Australia. The hibiscus flower itself is very stylish and elegant. I also felt that's what the company is trying to convey in their product and so therefore style and elegance is what this cocktail needs to be. I decided to make a variation on a classic ‘Sidecar’. This drink is known for being simple to make as well as portraying the qualities I was looking for. It is also a drink that is perfect for both men and women, and is refreshing for those hot summer nights. I wrote about the classic sidecar in a post I did a while back. The classic contains, Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice. A simple mix of 3 ingredients working together in perfect harmony. So when it came to my hibiscus sidecar, I needed to keep it simple, but work in some of the great flavours of the hibiscus.

I started by using a “rinsing” technique. This is when the inside of the glass is rinsed with different flavors. I measured out 15ml of the wild hibiscus syrup into the bottom of the a tumbler glass. Next, instead of squeezing lemon juice into my drink (making it too sour), I chose to finely grate the zest of half a lemon in with the syrup. Roll this mixture around the glass coating the sides with the zest and the hibiscus syrup. Place your glass to one side and in a separate shaker add, 30ml of Cognac, 15ml St Germain Elderflower liqueur and lastly a dash of lime juice to pull it all together and to smooth off the harshness of the spirit. It’s also to give the drink that summer refreshing tang that a sidecar should always have. Then, add ice and shake. Go back to your glass and fill it with crushed ice. The reason for this is to hold your hibiscus and lemon zest rinse to the side of the glass. If you were to simply pour the drink straight in, you would wash the rinse away, un-doing all the earlier preparation. Strain your shaker over the crushed ice, and you’ll see that the mixture will layer on top of the syrup making it look amazing.  Finally, finish your hibiscus sidecar off with the wild hibiscus flower. The flower will sit on top of your crushed ice nicely too.

I hope the Wild Hibiscus team were happy with my creation. I hope they enjoy a few hibiscus sidecars back home in Australia.

“The Hibiscus Sidecar”
In a short glass:
15ml Wild Hibiscus Syrup
Finely Grate the zest of 1/2 Lemon
Rinse the sides of your glass

In a Shaker:
30ml Cognac
15ml St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
Dash Lime juice
Add ice and shake

Add Crushed ice to your glass
Strain the shaker over the crushed ice
Garnish with a Wild Hibiscus flower