Last Thursday evening, Glasgow's Hutchesons Bar & Brasserie hosted 'An Evening with George Grant of Glenfarclas' and I was invited along by community food and drink website Citylicious, to experience a night of fine dining matched with some of the finest whiskies to come out of the Glenfarclas Distillery in Speyside. I have to confess that I'm not a whisky drinker but I jumped at the chance to head along and hopefully get an education from a man who's family have been involved in the whisky industry for over 250 years.
Hutchesons' Hall is one of Glasgow's most impressive buildings, owned and maintained by The Rusk Company and The National Trust for Scotland, and is a category A listed building and originally constructed as Hutchesons' Hospital, between 1802 and 1805 to a design by the Scottish architect David Hamilton.Hutchesons' Hospital was built with monies left in the will of brothers George and Thomas Hutcheson for the purposes of building a hospital for the elderly and a school for poor boys. The school is still operating today, although fee-paying, as Hutchesons' Grammar School in Glasgow's Southside.
The building fell into disrepair and had been empty since 2008. In June 2014, having undergone a £1.4M refurbishment, it was restored by The Rusk Company and opened as a three flooring dining venue - Hutchesons Bar & Brasserie and is an impressive sight as you walk up Hutcheson Street towards the front doors on Ingram Street.
The evening was billed as 'One for the boys..' although I'm sure that there are many women out there who have a much greater love and appreciation for the grain than myself but in the end it was only Hutchesons owner James Rusk, George Grant and 13 other gentlemen who found ourselves relaxing in the Glenfarclas Private Dining Room at Hutchesons.
Our host James greeted me at the door and after a warning from him that there was a lot of whisky to be consumed across the night, I declined the offer of a Glenfarclas Old Fashioned and opted instead for a refreshing pint of Birra Moretti and introduced myself to those who had already arrived. As we waited on the rest of the guests, James and myself chatted about our shared interest in the food and drink of Spain. James was bouncing around like an over-excited Tigger, partly in anticipation of the night ahead but also due to the fact that he is set to launch his next restaurant venture, The Spanish Butcher, in the coming weeks.
With all of the guest assembled and a couple of drinks under our belt, we made our way upstairs to our venue for the evening. The Glenfarclas Private Dining Room at Hutchesons is a warm and intimate space designed to keep the original character of Hutchesons, with luscious dark panelled walls and decor providing the perfect backdrop to enjoy a family celebration or a private meeting with colleagues. The table was set with individually named placed settings complete with tasting notes of the whiskies that would be accompanying our meal.
Once we were all seated, George Grant took to the floor and gave us a little history on the business started his great-great-great Grandfather who purchased Glenfarclas Distillery for £511.19s. on the 8th of June 1865. To this day, Glenfarclas Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is distilled and matured at the family owned and run distillery, which thanks to the foresight of his forefathers, remains independent to this day. George explained that only pure spring water, malted barley and yeast are used to create the distinctive character of Glenfarclas Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky. The commitment of the Grant family to traditional distillation methods, combined with the unique size and shape of the Glenfarclas copper pot stills, the specially selected oak casks, combined with the style and location of the warehouses has helped Glenfarclas produce a range of whiskies that are in huge demand as soon as they are bottled.
We were lucky enough to be treated to five whiskies across the night and George took time out between each course to explain a little about the whiskies and why they had been selected to pair the food courses.
I've eaten quite a few tasting menus over the last couple of years and the bespoke menu on Thursday night was right up there with the best.
The opening course of a Cumbrae Oyster Tempura with oscietra cavier was a great way to wake up the taste buds in anticipation for the upcoming whisky-fest. The tempura batter was light and crisp and the encased oyster was firm and meaty with a slightly nutty flavour that was enhanced by the fine caviar.
Next up was Glenfarclas Cured Shetland Salmon with pickled garden beetroot, beetroot gel and endive. This was a great dish, the salmon was firm and salty and balanced well with the earthy beetroot and bitter endive. If I had to criticise, I felt that the fish was too strong to take on the flavours of the whisky that had been used to cure it.
Next, we were treated to a slightly different take on turf'n'surf with a delicious dish of Milk Fed Borders Pork Belly with Skye langoustine tail, whisky & langoustine bisque and watercress purée. The pork belly was melt in the mouth tender and worked well with the perfectly langoustine tails. The bisque was rich and velvety with an earthiness from the whisky that cut through the sweet pork and saltiness from the tails.
Our last savoury course of the night was Aged Loin of Venisin with Stornaway black pudding crumble, apple gel and butternut squash purée. The venison the best that I've had, cooked medium rare and seasoned to perfection. The sweet squash purée, sharp apple gel and spicy black pudding crumble were the perfect foil to the rich venison.
Last up was one of the best desserts that I've had in a long time. Described as Hot Toddy, the pudding took on the flavours of a warming winter toddy, although with a little twist. Glenfarclas & honey parfait, honey sponge, lemon creme fraîche and vanilla shortbread was the perfect balance of flavour and texture. The parfait was wonderfully smooth, the sweet honey countered by the warming whisky and sharp lemon creme fraîche whilst the sponge cake and shortbread added some much need crunch. What a way to end a great dinner!
Of course, the night was all about the wonderful whiskies from the Glenfarclas Distillery and how they would be paired with our meal.
The first whisky we sampled was Glenfarclas 30 Year Old (43% ABV, £390 for 70cl). The 30yo has aromas of Christmas cake, cinnamon and nutmeg and despite having an initial sweetness in the taste, I detected bitter notes of dark chocolate in the finish. As my first proper foray into whisky drinking, I was pleasantly surprised. This whisky was matched with the oyster course and worked well with the hazelnut flavours of the caviar.
The next whisky was Glenfarclas 40 Year Old (46% ABV, £675 for 70cl). This was a whisky that could have been made for me. Sweet toffee and caramel on the nose was followed by the rounded flavours of raisins, prunes and orange in the mouth. I loved this whisky! It smelt like a great rum but tasted more complex than any rum I've ever drank. This was watched with the salmon dish and although it worked well with the big flavours, I thought the 40yo worked better as a comforting after dinner drink.
Our third whisky was Glenfarclas 1981 Family Cask (47.9% ABV, £595 for 70cl). This whisky has been aged in port casks for 35 years and as a result has take on some of the tannins that you would normally expect in a good red wine. With aromas of tobacco, clove and spice on the nose, the 1981 Family Cask was more complex than I could appreciate and despite the fact that this was one of the favourites on the night from most of the other guests, the spicy notes of allspice, nutmeg and clove was too harsh for my palate. This whisky was matched with the pork and langoustine course and the majority of the guests nodded in approval of the pairing.
The fourth whisky on the night was Glenfarclas 1962 Family Cask (40.9% ABV, £3425 for 70cl). The Christmas cake aroma is back, joined by nectarines and ginger too. I knew that I was going to enjoy this whisky and loved the the initial rich taste of dried fruit and raisin before a slightly oaky dry finish. This was paired with the venison course and was my favourite match of the night.
Last up was a very special whisky, Glenfarclas 1953 Pol Roger Decanter (43.9% ABV, £5454 for 70cl). With rich stewed fruit, cinnamon and a touch of liquorice on the nose, and a long lingering sweet toffee apple finish with a touch of vanilla oak, this 58 year old whisky was divine and a perfect match to the whisky & honey parfait dessert.
I feel incredibly honoured to have had the chance to taste some of these wonderful whiskies in the company of like minded gents and under the watchful eye of George Grant. All five whiskies were fine drinks in their own special way but my favourite across the night was the wonderful 40 year old.
With dinner behind us it was time to head back downstairs for a nightcap or two but not before I grabbed a photo with the man of the moment, George Grant and our host for the evening, James Rusk.
Knowing that I had an early start the next morning, I said my goodbyes and made my way into the night after a fantastic night of food and drink.
So what did I learn across the evening? Firstly, I need to get back to Hutchesons Bar & Brasserie for dinner because the food served across the night was first class. Secondly, all whiskies are not created equally. And thirdly, it would appear that maybe I am a whisky drinker - although it seems that I have very expensive taste.
The ticket cost of the evening was £100 per person which offers outstanding value for money when you take into the food, drink and company. In addition to this, all of the guests also went home with a miniature hip flask and a 50cl bottle of Glenfarclas 40 year old as a keepsake of the evening.
Hutchesons regularly run special food and drinks events so make sure that you don't miss out by keep up t date with them on Facebook and Twitter.
Once again, I would like to thank James Rusk and all of the staff at Hutchesons Bar & Brasserie for their hospitality on the night and also extend thanks to George Grant for the education. Finally, I'd like to thank Citylicious for asking me to attend on their behalf - I had an absolute blast!