Monday, October 20, 2008

Have a Scotch new year celebration

This blog post is another of those pieces that originally appeared in the pages of the Washington Examiner back on January 3rd, 2007. This one actually IS still available online at the Examiner website, so you could either go there directly by clicking here, or simply read below.

WASHINGTON - So the New Year is upon us, and already I’ve given up on at least one ill-conceived resolution. But why a resolution at all? Well, the New Year celebration is traditionally a time for taking stock of the outgoing year and resolving to improve in the new. Some people use this time to take stock of their lives, others take stock of some more mundane things — like their liquor cabinet.

Indeed, the traditional ushering in of the New Year is, for some of us, the ideal time to plan a big drunken bash to clean out the liquor cabinet in the hopes that the wife will stop badgering us — read “me.” So this year, I found myself planning a big Scottish bash.

Why Scottish? Well, Scotch whisky, which I always seem to have an endless supply of, is a convenient theme around which to formulate your party’s booze and food.

How to plan the festivities

Keep it simple. Solid food, solid booze, good tunes and quality guests mean your actual work can be kept to a minimum — simply make sure nothing runs dry until the crowd begins to thin.

In terms of decorations, a few small items, like tartan napkins or tablecloths, go a long way. If your Christmas tree and red/green colors are still up, just go with it. And consider adding to the kitsch — for example, I hooked up a 17-inch monitor to play a video fireplace/Yule log throughout the evening.

Music? Limit yourself to Scottish bands or artists, blending in the occasional traditional bagpipe and fiddle tune for effect. Bands and artists to consider include Rod Stewart, Franz Ferdinand, The Proclaimers and Garbage to name a few.

On the booze front, obviously you’ll need some quality Scotch. Single malts are what everyone will look for. Here are some choices to consider having on hand (although supplying more is advisable):

» Glenmorangie — There is a whole range of options here from their bog-standard 10-year-old to their “wood finish” 12-year-old lineup; all are worthy and affordable (in the $40 range).

» Jura — Again, there is a whole range here, but the 10-year-old (around $30) is beguiling and easy drinking for the uninitiated, while the “Superstition” (around $45) is deliciously smooth yet tantalizingly smoky.

» Glenfiddich — Again, there is a whole range here of affordable options (ages 12, 15, 18, etc., from $35 to $60), each of which is familiar to veteran Scotch imbibers but remains very drinkable.

» Macallan — There is an increasingly wide range of options here, but either their regular “Sherry” aged malts or their “Fine Oak” line will satisfy the multitudes (starts at around $40 and shoots up fast).

But don’t overlook blended Scotch whisky or whisky cocktails. I heartily recommend having at least one large format bottle of something really dependable, like The Famous Grouse Finest Blended Scotch Whisky (around $30 for a 1.75 liter bottle) — it is balanced, inexpensive, easy to find and utterly delectable on its own.

As for cocktails, you don’t want to spend your entire party mixing drinks for your guests, so opt for something you can pre-mix and have available in an easy-pour bottle. Don’t get too exotic here.

The Rustly Nail, also known as a Knucklebuster, consists of equal measures of whisky and Drambuie served over ice. The effect is to accentuate the light caramel, vanilla and toffee-like flavors, while taming the ginger-spice aspects of the whisky, simultaneously smoothing out and sweetening the mix with Drambuie’s honey, heather and herb flavors.

Better yet, mix up a Highland Lemon (see sidebar for recipe). This will taste somewhere between lemonade and something faintly, yet pleasingly Scotch-like, but packs quite a wallop.

On the cooking front, whisky is much easier to assimilate and work with than one might expect. Our menu had over 10 dishes each having whisky as a central ingredient. This can be as simple as dinner rolls with an orange whisky butter (butter, orange rind, whisky, salt and sugar blended together) to a whisky and honey ice cream (milk, eggs, heavy cream, sugar, heather honey and Macallan 12-year-old single malt whisky).

Whisky Pasta

Water (enough to boil pasta)

Pasta (of your choice)

2 onions, finely chopped

2 tbsp. butter

1 pint heavy cream

Whisky, preferably smoky

Smoked salmon, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil a large pot of water. Once boiled, add salt and pasta. Meanwhile, finely chop two onions, sauté them with a little butter over a medium flame. Once the onions have sautéed a bit, add one pint of heavy cream and allow it reduce a little. Add 1/4 cup of a smoky whisky, such as Talisker single malt whisky (other smoky whiskies, such as Ardbeg or Caol Ila, may be used to equally good effect, or Johnnie Walker Black Label, if you prefer to cook with a lightly smoky blended whisky). Turn off the heat, then add small strips of smoked salmon to the sauce and stir in well. Strain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the sauce and serve, adding salt and pepper to taste. Feel free to add parmesan or some other cheese if desired.

Highland Lemon cocktail

1 oz. Scotch whisky

1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth

1/2 oz. Limoncello

1/2 oz. lemon juice

Prepare it in a shaker with ice and serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wheel. For a large gathering, prepare this in batches well in advance of company, but try to wait to squeeze and add the lemon juice until just before guests arrive, as this will maximize the vibrancy of the juice’s citric acid zing. For an interesting variation, you can half the amount of whisky, and add a 1/2 ounce of Drambuie.

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