Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New book, new direction... Ms Riannon Walsh

I had been in a mood lately similar to restless but couldn't quite put my finger on it. Was I ancy because I was suffering from post-Scotland/back to real world blues? Picking up dog poop and cleaning your toilet can do that post-holiday, right?

Was I looking for the next adventure or was it simply a hunger for something different? Don't get me wrong because my passion for whisky and everything that I love about it was still burning strongly but I just felt like something was amiss. Summer was half over but I had not really read anything and I usually love to read so I thought that maybe a few good books would help me figure out what exactly I was going through. The first book I picked up just wasn't cutting it. It was supposed to be funny and satirical in nature but I didn't feel like it was or maybe I simply wasn't in the mood for that. What the heck did I want? What was I looking for? 

Weeks went by and my hunt brought me to a book entitled "Whisky Dreams: Having your DRAM and eating it too" by Riannon Walsh. The top of the book is what caught my eye: bottle to banquet with the world's finest whiskies. Hmmmm, I thumbed through it quickly. What the hell I thought... and so it was packed for a business trip. Not only did I finish it in less than a few days, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had much more than just recipes in it. 

Ms. Walsh lays out the book in a manner that you not only experience a culinary whisky journey but bits and pieces of her own personal voyage through whisky meccas. There's a glossary, a pronunciation chart and add on top of that the great advice on seafood, chocolate, cheese, a full chapter of saluting bourbon & ryes and you have a complete 6 course extravaganza for the whisky soul. Well, at least I did. 

I didn't need to read another book about the history of the spirit nor was I interested in the 1,256,222 whiskies I need to try before I die (no offence...) I wanted something creative and different to latch onto. This great paperback is just over 200 pages so it's an easy read but it did something no other book on whiskies has for me. It intertwined two of my favorite passions: Whisky and food and brought them into the limelight. This is a guide on how you can take some of your favorite recipes: salad dressings, stews, burgers, muffins and create a fusion of flavors like you never have experienced before. 

If anyone has ever attended Martine Nouet's dinners you know what I'm talking about. Suddenly a chocolate torte's flavors explode in your mouth and you are left speechless. Well I for one always am...
 There is something magical about whisky and I often feel that way about food as well. They are a sensory experience which makes each of them quite memorable. I will remember certain whiskies and meals for the rest of my life because of how well balanced or put together they were. Ok, so enough gushing about that (I am making myself hungry)...

Back to the book! How did the recipes stack up? Very well indeed they did; often surpassing my expectations and surprising me with the simplicity yet balance of flavors involved. Rhubarb no longer has to be the bland backdrop in a crumble. It comes alive with 2 teaspoons (yes that's it!!) of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. An elaborate mixture of tangy sweet goodness that made my mouth water. It was fabulous. I served a beef stew from the book and within seconds of 10 of us digging in not a word was spoken. The eerie quiet hung in the air until someone finally said: "Can someone butter me a biscuit".  It was glorious, tasty and extremely satisfying. 

Cheese/whisky pairings are something I tend to avoid because I have attended a few too many "duds" in my day. Let's face it: Costco low fat mozzarella does not pair well with a Bowmore, I don't care what any whisky representative says?! BUT... Riannon gives great advice on pages 180-182 and it is all about creativity and the importance of choosing quality ingredients, palate cleansing and textures. It is so well explained and I suddenly look forward to trying many of the combinations she suggests. 

The last chapter is entitled: The final course, the best whiskies and the correct way to enjoy them. At first when I saw that as part of the table of contents I rolled my eyes... Oh great, another "Thou shalt, MUST and brimstone fire rules and regulations about not swirling, the need to throw your whisky dram across the room, blah blah blah"... Fuuuuuuuuuu - dge.....  

So, imagine my surprise when I got to that page and read: "Out in the world of whisky reviewers, "experts", writers and even master distillers (who should know better), there seems to be the notion that there are certain humans capable of decreeing what tastes good and what doesn't. The one thing I am absolutely sure of is that we are all capable of knowing what we like and don't like. And in the end no matter what an "expert" tells you or preaches or writes, individual preferences are all that matters. You are your own expert, specialist, and the one who should declare what you like.

I raised my hands in the air and shook my fists in delight!  Why... because there is a movement slowly creeping in that is changing how we enjoy our whiskies and I am part of that. There is no right or wrong way, there are no best ever whiskies!? Gone are the days that state you should never add ice, that blends are crap and (GASP!!!) that you should NEVER use good whisky for cooking. Screw that crap! There is a new generation of whisky enthusiasts coming in fast and furious and they do not want your stuffy old boy boring scotch. Nooooo! They want new, innovative and different. It is the new age of whisky and there it was, in print... This is exactly what this book is all about. New ways to enjoy whisky, innovative whisky fusion creations and do it however you like. How refreshing!! 

I had a chance to talk to Ms. Walsh and ask her a few questions about the book and her new endeavors. For those of you fairly new to the whisky world of today, Riannon was the original mastermind of the Whiskies of the World Expo that started in 1999. She has a long list of accomplishments including author, consultant, business partner and no matter what direction she took, she was always at the forefront of trends. Talk to the likes of John Glaser, Jim Rutledge or Fred Minnick and they all have fantastic things to share about her as a well respected person and innovator in the field. So it came as a surprise to me that when I tried to look her up on the internet she seemed to be almost non-existent after 2010. We discussed that as well. When you are one of the people constantly breaking the trail for others you eventually get exhausted and need a break. 
It took some time but eventually she took the idea of writing this book off the back burner and I am so happy she did. So now that the book is done, where to? How about opening a distillery of course! More will be revealed soon and although I may not be at liberty to divulge part of our conversation I can say this: Once her plan is actioned Riannon will be standing at the very front of the line busy fighting, embracing and creating the next trend in spirits. I am excited for her and cannot wait to see how it all turns out.

I may have been lacking something in my whisky "diet" over the summer but this book certainly began to fill the void and has re-inspired me to get busy in the kitchen. I have already tried over 10 recipes and from the looks of my book (oil, strawberry and bourbon stains) it will stay in the kitchen and become a staple.  

Ms. Walsh's book is available online through Amazon as well as other book stores. You can also check out the website: www.whisky-dreams.com.  It is well worth the money!!

For me, this was a re-awakening of the senses which I realized I really needed. I strongly recommend the book for anyone who loves to cook, be creative or who simply wants to read and enjoy the advice given in the book about all aspects of what we call the water of life. 

A job well done by a whisky persona who has not lost her touch and is back at the helm of her next whisky adventure. My hat off to you Ms. Walsh!  Happy times are ahead.



  1. Ordered! (along with a few more items... even tho I had promissed myself to refrain from ordering more books for a while :-p )

    1. My bad... no, my good!!!! You will love some these recipes Maryse. I thought of you several times while I browsed the bourbon/rye section... Drooooolll.....

  2. I cannot wait to receive it and try recipes! ... there were other whisky cookbooks as well... got a few... :-p Whisky and books, how can you go wrong? :-)