Within the last couple weeks I started working with a buddy on a book about all the distilleries kettling up in the Chicago area, and as fate would have it, my local, Rosie O’Hare’s in East Dundee, recently hosted a whiskey dinner.
Sure, the meal didn’t feature any spirits made in these parts. But, as I don’t know much about liquor, I looked at attending as a field trip, if not for my liver, at least for trying to learn a bit.
Plus, with whiskey being served this time of year, it was like a Robbie Burns dinner, minus the haggis, meets early St. Patrick’s Day – all within stumbling distance from my humble abode.
Again, I attended solo. I’m beginning to think I need to find new brands of soap and mouthwash. Or that I should have paid attention at finishing school. Or I should audition for Phantom of the Opera. Or the touring company of Shrek.
I even dressed in a pink shirt with light brown pants in the hopes someone would mistake me for Neapolitan ice cream and invite me sit by them. But no.
Still, I had food and drink to keep me company.
First up was Amuse Bouche, served by Clydesdales, no less. Nay, the bite-sized appetizer included a bagel chip, bourbon cured sockeye salmon, creme fraiche, macerated Bermuda onion, capers and a dill frond.
This would make a good snack for watching the Super Bowl, I thought. Frito Lay should consider making it one of their new chip flavors for upscale parties, with the dip already built into it, and the fish for the health-conscious. Salmon seemed perfect for Seattle Seahawks fans, too.
Bartender and spirits guy Tom served Powers Irish Whiskey with the bouche. He reminded us that you don’t shoot back whiskey but savor it. You keep it in your mouth for a bit before swallowing it, which sounds dirtier than it is.
Powers is soft and sweet – or so says the Internet – so you had the salt from the appetizer to counter that.
Next up was grilled cheese with anise, pork belly, brie, and apricot preserves. This was one of the best grilled cheese sandwich halves I’ve had in a long time.
It was like a trip all over Europe on toasted bread – anise like Italian cookies, the soft French cheese, the apricot preserves like the chutney my Irish pals enjoy, and pork belly, which reminded me of me.
Tom poured us some Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Whisky, which The Whiskey Exchange website explained is a blend of Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and Kininvie. And the name is a term for “a shoulder injury that distillery workers were prone to get from turning malt by hand.” Yeah, that’s not all they were turning by hand.
Tom told us that Monkey Shoulder is made in Dufftown, Scotland, and I immediately fell in love with the place just by its name. I looked it up, and Dufftown hosts the Speyside Whisky Festival each year, with the 2015 edition coming up at the end of April.
But back to dinner.
The meat course was a duck confit with a fried Brussels sprouts salad. Chef Andrew said he cooked the duck in bacon fat, which made the dark meat all the richer.
The mere mention of bacon fat reminded me of my father cooking breakfast on Sunday mornings, taking the drippings from the pan and putting them in a coffee can kept under the kitchen sink. One time there was a mouse in the can, which must have been the mouse’s version of heaven – until my grandfather sent him there.
Brussels sprouts brought back childhood memories, too, of being forced to eat the bitter version my mom served, typically the frozen variety heated up.
Thankfully, the salad was a healthier version of cole slaw. Cole slaw. Dark poultry. Turkey sandwiches Thanksgiving night. I digress as I digest.
The duck and salad came with Teeling Small Batch Whiskey, which Tom told us was high in malt content and aged in rum barrels.
Right about now, I should mention that the young couple sitting to my right was giving me some of their whiskey. Very responsible as they had a long drive home, they split one pour between themselves and passed the other to moi.
Plus, when isn’t it funny to give whiskey to a guy dressed like Neapolitan ice cream?
So forgive me if I don’t remember the name of the whiskey served with the Old Fashioned Intermezzo dessert. On the photo I took of the menu, it’s tucked inside a red, velvety bag.
Chef Andrew explained his last course was a deconstructed Old Fashioned – which meant we were to eat the fruit stuff off the plate then drink the whisky so the pairing would taste like the cocktail.
I haven’t had to work that hard for a beverage in a long time. Somebody else joked that we should tip ourselves for having to mix our own drink.
And by this point I was feeling a bit deconstructed myself.
I do remember that the guy sitting across from me works at bars in O’Hare Airport, which would be a good thing to know if I flew more than once every two years. There was another guy who looked like the actor who plays Ichabod Crane on the Sleepy Hollow TV show.
The waitress/server was pleasant and passed around the food until it all was gone. Like that was gonna be a problem with me as a guest. And one of the whiskies was served with a large ball of ice in the glass.
Anyway, I ambled downstairs, talked to the owners – probably in Gaelic – thanked them for a nice evening, and got a ride home, full and glad I had a good way to end the glum month that is January in Chicagoland.