live blog: pure pot still

This trip has seen my eyes opened to not just one but two new single pot still whiskies: the old school Green Spot, and the literary-inspired Writer’s Tears. The pure pot still technique is unique to Ireland, which by 1802 accounted for 90% of the world’s exported whiskey. Pot still – not to be confused with poitin, a high-alcohol content Irish moonshine – developed as a reaction to the British taxation on Irish malt. In an effort to avoid the taxes, Irish distillers decided to use a higher percentage of unmalted barley as opposed to malted barley, which resulted in a very different style of whiskey – one that became highly sought after for its smooth finish. Though once widespread, a number of historical factors including mass emigration and the war for independence led to a drastic reduction in the number of functioning distilleries. Those that survived turned to producing less labor-intensive blends and single malts. Yet in concert with the food movement which has swept over Ireland the last five to ten years, so, too, has there been increased demand for a more artisanal-style distillation as embodied by Green Spot, Writer’s Tears, and another favorite, Red Breast. The inverted percentage of barleys in the mix makes for a lighter, spicier-tasting drink. If they hit the high notes a bit too hard at first, that’s rectified by a splash of water or a cube of ice. Even better is what happens during the maturing process. At 12 years, Red Breast takes on the woody bass notes and amber hue you’d expect from cask aging. I’d expect in the coming years these other two should fare equally well.


under the spell of amber

My first Michelin-starred meal in Hong Kong turned out to be quite the doozy. Under the guidance of Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus, Amber at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental has two of those coveted stars. But wait, there’s more:  the San Pellegrino “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” Awards ranked the eatery at number 37 earlier this year. Not only is it the only Hong Kong restaurant on the list, it’s the only restaurant in Hong Kong to have made the list since 2005. (I’d been told the city is emerging with enormous gastronomic energy – this factoid only served to solidify my stomach’s growing expectations.) Needless to say lunch at Amber did not disappoint. From the amusing amuse of foie gras lollipops shellacked with beetroot to the perfectly-formed olive-studded focaccia, my meal was a languorous mix of creative aesthetics and fresh, contemporary flavors grounded in traditional French technique. Dungeness crab with crème fraiche, avocado, Granny Smith apple and cucumber was so composed I almost hated to mess the plate. Line-caught Atlantic cod was roasted with the skin on and served with salted celeriac and Iberian pork neck in a Cabernet reduction that perfectly played off the meatiness of the fish. For dessert a terrarium of tiramisu was inspired – so, too, the cheese trolley – yet the  bliss of dark chocolate gunaja with speculoos crumbs was downright genius.  This wasn’t at all what I expected of Hong Kong – but I’m so happy to have had my expectations thoroughly upended.


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