Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Widder Hotel Bar: Zurich, Switzerland

At the recommendation of a friend, we sought out this well-stocked bar while in Zurich at the very end of April this year. This establishment made me wish I had packed a fancy dress!

Enter the bar from the hotel or from the street (through a hallway, with restrooms down the stairs before you enter the bar) and you'll find yourself in quite swanky surroundings. Red leather half-booths & chairs along a wall, baby grand in one corner (we enjoyed live music later, even if the songs wouldn't have been at the top of our list), large bowl chilling bottles of bubbly at the bar. As usual, we aimed for the bar so we would have a view of the beautiful bottles of Scotch.

And plenty of Scotch here (see the link below if you want to oooh and ahhh at their inventory) - an excellent opportunity to try something extraordinary, if your travel budget allows! Paul and I read the list and decided on the Glen Ord 12 year and Caol Ila moscatel cask. We ordered 2 cL pours (about .68 ounces) to conserve our Swiss francs, but that detail got lost between bartenders and we ended up with the 4 cL pours. While this did mean our bill was 38 SFr, I would say it was worth it for the fancy-pants experience and since we were in vacation-mode. No shortage of water refills here, or of bar snacks (a lovely assortment of dried fruit & nuts). Appreciated, considering we were obviously tourists.

As usual, the average age here is older than us, mid 30s and up. Folks mostly came pre-coupled. We were there late in the afternoon/early evening on a Saturday and it wasn't too busy, just how we like it. Ttis post is based on one visit, so I can't speak to the general feel of the place late at night or during the week.

Address: Rennweg 7, 8001 Zurich (near the Rennweg tram stop off of Bahnhofstrasse, just E of Lindenhof, the old castle)
Menu online: http://www.widderhotel.ch/pdf/E_bar_maltwhiskey.pdf

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bray Head whisky tasting

As a sequel to my coblogger's post on Bray Head, I thought I would write my first post here about a whisky tasting I attended Saturday at that same bar. So far as I've found, Bray Head is the best place for whisky in Karlsruhe. To be honest, as a starving postdoc it's been hard for me to make much use of the ample selection there (spendier than some of the places in San Francisco Jeanine and I will discuss in future posts), so I was pleasantly stunned by the value of the tasting. The tasting consisted of seven 2 cl pours, along with a nice potato soup, for 35 euros. And these were not your everyday drams by any means. I warn readers that the following and all future tasting notes by me are those of a rank amateur. But here goes.

Ferghal (the proprietor) started us off with the only Irish whiskey of the night, the Connemara Sherry Finish. No age was given, and it was 46% abv. I really couldn't come up with a way to describe this one: it just tasted and smelled like a really good Irish whiskey. Very pleasant, if simple, and with just a hint of the sherry in the finish.

The second pour was an Islay Selection the Whisky Agency's Liquid Library. Out of the Laphroaig distillery, and aged 11 years in former Bourbon casks, 59.6%. With that level of booze, it clearly needed water. After the water, it had a thin mouth feel, and tasted only lightly peaty. I couldn't detect the bourbon. Fairly simple. Not bad, but not my favorite Islay.

The next was another Islay Selection from the Liquid Library, this time from Bunnahabhain. A mature 32 years, 45.8%. This one was excellent. Smelled grassy to me, with just a bit of citrus cleaner. Very smooth. Tasted like a Speyside to me, again with grass and citrus, and a pleasant finish. I would definitely consider owning this one, if I could find it at postdoc prices.

Number four was from Bruichladdich: Port Charlotte An Turas Mor. 46%, and a tender seven years. Smelled of peat, with a faint touch of stinky cheese. Sweet and peaty, with the sweetness present more in the beginning and the peat following. A bit of water doused the peat. Quite good, and according to the Nets, I might be able to find it on the (relative) cheap.

Moving away from Islay, the next was Talisker 57 deg. North. It had a lovely gold color, and was 57% abv. No age was given. This was intense, and needed about a tablespoon of water before I started to like it.  I still didn't get much out of the whisky, as evidenced by my patchy notes. It had cinnamon notes.

Back to Islay for Ardbeg's Airigh nam Beist "the Beast". 46% alcohol, and I believe 16 years old. It's a good whisky, tasting of peat (of course) and caramel. That said, it's hard for me to not compare it to the Uigeadail, which is cheaper (last I checked) and I think has more character. I think Airigh nam Beist is milder however, if that is preferred.

Finally (seven whiskies!), there came a Whisky Agency bottling from the Tomatin distillery. 51.3%. This one spent a whopping 34 years in refilled sherry butt, which imparted to it a pleasant reddish color. The wood is really evident in the nose. The taste was quite fruity and just a little tart. The wood returned for the finish. Either I or the whisky evolved over the next few minutes: when I returned to it after a pause, I tasted caramel in the front. Really a fantastic dram, and probably my favorite of the tasting.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Oban 14 year: Highland single malt: love & pairings

I've been fortunate enough to try many Scotches in the past two years, and so far this is my favorite! A lovely nose, beautiful color, delicious & completely smooth... I'll stop there because there are lots of excellent tasting notes online. So go them look up or just take my word for it and try it. :-)

Oban 14 year is relatively common, but not the first single malt a bar is likely to stock (which usually is an Islay. I wish I knew why.). Its usually about $12-$16/glass. Don't spend more than about $70-75 per  750mL bottle in the US. I once found an independent store with Oban 14 year on sale for about $50 each and bought two bottles - score!

Anyway, I usually enjoy this classic malt by itself. But its great paired with creamy goat cheese - yum! I recommend Humboldt Fog if you can find it - its one of my favorite cheeses with or without Scotch. Do you have any experiences to share with pairing Oban? I'd love suggestions!

I also had success adding Oban to salad dressing. Try preparing a vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt, pepper. Add some chopped green onions, minced garlic and Oban - delicious with mixed baby greens, oranges, dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts! Those of you who are also fans of nuts & fruit in your salads should try mixing it up - I bet substituting in pine nuts would be fabulous, for example!

Finally - if you happen upon a bottle of Oban 32 year in a bar, and if you have a couple of Andrew Jackson's that you can spare (or, as in my case, a friendly, tipsy bartender), then I highly recommend ordering a pour. What a story unfolds on your tongue!! I believe this was a special bottling that is hard to find nowadays, and that I may never experience again...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scot & Scotch: Switzerland: should you need a bottle while in Zurich

My fiance and I love to explore a new city, wandering streets & seeing what we stumble upon! Guidebooks and recommendations from friends can be helpful, too. However, there's nothing like finding something unique on your own.

For example, when in Zurich for the weekend last month, we barely planned anything. Two screenshot maps from Google, and a few suggestions from a bit of internet searching. From across one river, we noticed an interesting wall of some kind, with lots of people at the top that I feared was a hoard of tourists. It wasn't until I looked online afterwards that I learned we had found Lindenhof. Its the site of an old castle, on the west side of Limmat in Zurich. A perfect place to pause for a picnic or at drink and take in the views of the city!

Well tucked away just south of Lindenhof is a lovely little store called Scot & Scotch. I loved the dark wood and cozy space, fine bottles of whisky displayed on shelves and low tables. Really somewhere I would have loved to linger! The only downside is that everything in Switzerland is expensive (except maybe local cheeses & mass produced brands of Swiss chocolate), so if visiting this city, Scot & Scotch is probably best saved for window shopping or browsing their more unique stock. Some bottles were obviously open, so I suspect tastings are offered to regular customers or those with more serious shopping intentions.

(P.S. if you make it there, you may also be interested in checking out Vagabunt, which is just a bit NE from Scot & Scotch. Primarily secondhand men's accessories in great condition, including cufflinks, leatherware, silk ties, etc. Sadly, when I dropped in there weren't any flasks! Schipfe 39)

Address: Wohllebgasse 7, Schipfe, 8001 Zurich
Online: www.scotandscotch.ch

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bray Head: Karlsruhe, Germany: like your neighborhood Irish pub, only better

I love casual establishments like Bray Head! Here's a great place where you can stop in for a beer or other drink, have some food, and enjoy a fine single malt. As this is an Irish pub, you'll have no problem ordering or asking questions in English.

Secure a seat at the bar if you wish to admire the lovely bottles of Scotch, Japanese whisky, and Irish whiskey. There's a vast selection here, sure to satisfy if you are simply the mood for Laphroaig 10yr or an Irish Bushmills. If you feel like having something rare such as Ardbeg Supernova or Adelphi's Breath of Speyside (I had it in April, but might be gone by now!), have a look at the shelves or ask for the whisky menu (with prices), organized by region. You'll have the option of a 2 cL or 4 cL pour. If you're not picky, there's always the 3 Euro Whisky of the Week! Finally, they have whisky tastings now and then if you are lucky enough to live in town or are planning a trip in advance.

Non-whisky notes: The local stout is excellent. Look at the chalkboard to the left of the bar or the menu if you're hungry - I recommend the fries/pommes (and you won't get charged for ketchup or mayo). Several TVs on for sports fans. Simple bar stools, unless you're by the front window or out back during nice weather. No indoor smoking. Clean ladies room. Moderately lit, including candlelight. Mixed clientele of Germans & expats. Mostly men in their 30s-50s, with women typically coming with a partner. Think Cheers, not a pick up hot spot.

Address: Kapellenstra├če 40, 76131 Karlsruhe, Germany (Durlachor Tor tram stop)
Online: http://www.brayhead.de