Whisky Squad #15 – Highlanders (bookings now open)

The time has come to turn our attention to the whisky region described as “Highlands”.  Covering every mainland distillery north of Glasgow (outside of the Speyside cluster), surely the region’s too massive to have any unifying characteristic?

To lead us through some fine selections from the Highlands in the pursuit of an answer to this thorny question, we are once again privileged to have the expertise and calming demeanour of Mr Rob Whitehead.

To make your reservation, please use the Whisky Squad #15 booking form.

Act fast to avoid disappointment: these things normally move pretty quickly!

The date for this session is Thursday May 5th, and will take place in the upstairs room at The Gunmakers.  £15 per head, payable in advance.

Whisky Squad is London’s friendliest, most casual, and least patronising whisky tasting night, and whisky enthusiasts (or people who are thinking of becoming whisky enthusiasts) of all levels are welcome to join us.

To prove we’re not completely booze-obsessed… RECIPE CORNER! Chocolate Whisky Cake

I’ve had a surprising number of enquiries about the recipe for the Whisky Squad Birthday Cake, so it would be foolish not to share it.  Because essentially, I found it on t’internet in the first place.

It’s more or less an adaptation of “Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt Cake” from “In The Kitchen With A Good Appetite”, by Melissa Clark. (although she used bourbon, which I think’s an entirely different proposition)

Chocolate Whisky Cake

250 g unsalted butter + more for greasing pan
2 cups plain flour + more for dusting pan
150 g unsweetened dark chocolate
1 cup espresso (that’s coffee – instant’s probably ok though)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup whisky + some more for sprinkling + whatever you feel is appropriate for tasting before/after/during
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups white sugar
3 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda

The arcane sequence of events

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C. Grease and flour a large bundt tin (the one I bought was 1.7L), or two 8-inch loaf tins. Melt chocolate in a microwave oven & cool.
  2. Put espresso and cocoa powder in a glass measuring jug. Add enough boiling water to come up to the 1 cup measuring line. Mix until powders dissolve. Stir in the whisky and salt and put aside to let cool.
  3. Beat softened (not melted!) butter until fluffy (2-3 minutes on high). Add sugar and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. With the mixer on the lowest speed, beat in a third of the whisky/coffee/cocoa mixture. When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Repeat additions, ending with whisky mixture (so the sequence to add to the butter/chocolate is liquid, 1C flour, liquid, 1C flour, liquid).
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into centre of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes for Bundt tin (loaf tins will take less time, start checking them after 50 minutes).
  6. Transfer cake to a rack. Unmold after 15 minutes and sprinkle warm cake with more whiskey. Let cool.
  7. Share cake with your friends.
  8. Prepare to email them the recipe, because they’ll ask.

I made a practice cake before the real birthday cake, and as these things usually go, the practice one turned out slightly better than the real thing (although everyone present seemed to think the actual cake was made of pure awesome).  I suspect my quantities for the 2nd cake erred toward slightly less liquid and slightly more flour, and as a consequence was nowhere near as rich or moist as the test cake (which was – did I mention – bloody staggeringly nice?).

It also appears that the choice of whisky you use doesn’t appear to make a vast amount of difference: Test Cake had Glenturret 10yo in it, and Proper Cake had the rest of my bottle of Bowmore Darkest (old release).  So in hindsight it probably would have proved a useful application for the bottle of Famous Grouse I was recently bequeathed.

Happy Birthday Dear Whisky Squaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad… Happy Birthday to… errm… us!

Photograph by Billy Abbott

Who would’ve thought that when we first crammed a group of forward-thinking whisky enthusiasts into the tiny room at The Gunmakers that we’d all still be looking forward to repeating this ritual monthly a year later…  But here we are, and the Squad is going strong!

Thanks to each and every person who’s come to one of our sessions (by our calculations, we’ve enhanced the whisky knowledge of about 55 distinct humans this year) for your involvement and enthusiasm.  And of course to our pool of amazingly knowledgeable whisky experts, who guide us through each session/theme.

So, here’s to the next 12 months, eh?

(Yep – at Whisky Squad’s Birthday session we had cake.  And it were nice.)

Whisky events around the place…

2 more events for you to know about, if you’re enthusiasts of whisky and live in the London area:

Albannach Women-only Whisky Tasting (29 March)

Albannach is a great whisky bar on Trafalgar Square, and on the 29th of March they’re running a whisky tasting expressly aimed at women.  Guest speaker for the event will be Penderyn distillery’s very own Gillian McDonald.  Further info and ticket booking contact can be found on the PDF on the Albannach site.


The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show (7 & 8 October)

We’ve previously rhapsodised about how amazing the 2010 Whisky Show was, and the 2011 show is shaping up to be every bit as good!  We’d previously talked about the show being in late October, however an organisational reshuffle sees it moving to Friday 7th and Saturday 8th.  The venue this year will be Vinopolis, the wine & spirit museum complex near Borough Markets.  Tickets are available for Friday, Saturday, or if you’re feeling saucy, both – booking and other info on their website.   It’s £95 per day, however as an event geared towards enthusiasts it represents excellent value for money, and a chance to try many rare and exciting whiskies.



Other whisky events you may be interested in…

Though our main interest here at Whisky Squad HQ is to ensure that everyone wants to come to our monthly tasting events, there’s also other stuff going on out there which we thought you might be interested in, so…


The Whisky Lounge

Whisky expert and all-round top chap Eddie Ludlow runs regular tastings under the name The Whisky Lounge.  The next one is an Independent Bottling tasting on February 8th at The Red Lion (£22 per head). Jason, Billy and Chris M have been known to frequent these sessions, and whilst not quite the same as our informal sessions they are very informative and always present a great range of whiskies. I’m going (“I”, being Jason), as is Billy.


Whisky Live London

Now in its 11th year, the Whisky Live events are run all over the world, with the London one being held on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th of March, at The Honourable Artillery Company in Moorgate.  There are various different types of ticket, and the tastings run on a voucher-based system.

I am thinking of heading down on the Friday night, although will probably wait to see what Masterclasses are happening when before pushing the button.



Maltstock is a weekend long camping festival in The Netherlands (near Nijmegen) from the 9th to 11th of September.

Darren’s been previously and speaks volumes about it being the most chilled out, fun festival you could want for.  In 2010 there were around 300 bottles of whisky to try, and one of the UK bottlers produced a special “Breakfast Whisky” for the event.

Tickets are about €175 per person, which covers 2 nights’ dorm accommodation, breakfasts and evening meals, free masterclasses (which you book in for), free tastings from the exhibitors and from the sharing bottles which participants bring along for the big table, the whisky quiz on the Friday night, and what generally sounds like a nice relaxed time!

(There’s a review of last year’s event on the Master of Malt blog)

So far Whisky Squad’s got a contingent of 4 going – so get involved!

Whisky Fair

In the town of Limburg – in Germany – on May 14-15 runs one of the biggest events on the European whisky calendar: the Whisky Fair.

From what I can gather there’s no entry charge, and tastings are individually paid for, but with a list of exhibitors that includes an almost complete Who’s Who of whisky, and the promise of dinners, lectures, tasting masterclasses, and musical artists, it looks like it’ll be Much Fun.  Rob from Berry’s went last year, and he said it was awesome.  Think about it…

Enthusiastic notes from The Whisky Show (which next year should be called Dramapalooza, or something)

As mentioned in passing at previous Whisky Squad sessions, at the end of October a big whisky event was held in London called The Whisky Show.

A couple of our number were lucky/motivated enough to go – Darren The Whisky Guy stuck his head in on Saturday afternoon, Billy popped along on the Friday, and I (i.e. Jason) convinced my girlfriend to come along on the Saturday.  We ran into our previous guest Colin Dunn there presenting a whisky & chocolate tasting session, as well as meeting up with Doug McIvor from Berry Brothers & Rudd – the chap who assembled the excellent selection of drams we had at Whisky Squad 7.

It was a thoroughly excellent day, with a cornucopia of whisky tasting opportunities available, and the chief reason I bring it up now is that I’ve just written a fairly comprehensive blog post about it, should you be curious to learn more.

In summary though, £95 for a ticket to an event that allowed me to taste 36 whiskies (more than half of which retailed for over £100 a bottle), a selection of artisan chocolates, enjoy a brilliant 2-course meal, and rub shoulders with a buzzing crowd of whisky enthusiasts is definitely a worthwhile use of fundage.

Whisky Squad #6 blogged, guestblogged, and turned into macaroni!

Whisky Squad 6?  Weren’t you there?  Awww, gee – you mean you missed it?  That’ll never do!

As luck would have it, Andy knocked out a blog post about it mere days later over on Good Drinks Etc.

And, as if that weren’t enough to go by, Billy’s Booze Blog now also contains a selection of ordered words which relate to the wondrous stuff wot we was drinking that night.

If you get sick of reading about all the fun we have, you’ll just have to try to get to Whisky Squad #7 – to be announced shortly…  stay tuned!

(n.b. Nothing was turned into macaroni.  I don’t really know why I wrote that.)

PS It looks like Darren The Whisky Guy has also had a go at capturing the information of session 6, albeit this time in a far more factual manner than usual.

Whisky Squad #6 now open for bookings – Brilliant Blends

Can you really believe that Whisky Squad’s reached the midway point between not being in existence, and being a year old? That’s right… it’s session number 6 already! Our “anni-half-sery”!

Whisky Squad #6 will take place on Thursday September 9th at 7:30pm at The Gunmakers pub in Clerkenwell (London’s finest and most convivial ale house).  The theme for this month is:


“Sorry, did they say ‘blends’?”

You bet your [valuable things] we did!  Single malt enthusiasts the world over seek the wide-ranging flavour options of each distinctive region and distillery… so surely there can’t be any blended whiskies that will interest us will there?  WILL THERE?  And just what’s meant by a blend, anyway?  Come along to Whisky Squad #6, and all will become clear*….

Bookings now open on the form you’ll see when you click on this link.

£15 per head in advance, first come – first served.  We’d like to be able to open each session up to more people, but it’s a fairly cosy environment as-is.  Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to score a spot.  Or, put a circle around October 7th in your diary and keep an eye on the goings on here at www.whiskysquad.com !

(* at least as clear as usual)

Whisky Squad #5 Guestblogged and filmed!

“Whiskies for Summer” came and went, and our man Billy has already coalesced the vapours of recollection into a disturbingly accurate report of what happened that fateful night in Whisky Squad HQ.  Special thanks to our whisky expert & spiritual guide for the evening, Mr Colin Dunn – a man who knows so much about whisky he can tell you which one’s best for breakfast, and which ones make for a good aftershave!

In fact, through the magic of Darren The Whisky Guy’s multimedia production skills, here’s a video of Colin telling us about the Dalwhinnie Distiller’s Edition:

Makes me wish I had some here with me now…

UPDATE: Andy’s also blogged Whisky Squad #5 over at Good Drinks Etc.