Redcurrant and Galileo

20946642_sThere are events and opportunities that demand attention in the moment they occur. One of those is processing and preserving fresh garden produce. It doesn’t matter whether there are a multitude of other worthy distractions, the fruit won’t wait.

So in spite of our current heat wave, I’ve been at the stove, processing the bounty of redcurrant we’ve had this year. Masses of the fat red berries, all from a single bush.

Redcurrant chutney with rosemary. Redcurrant jam with peaches from the neighbor’s place. Redcurrant sorbet, which is a tart complement to the prosecco sorbet we made last week.

Another opportunity which required immediate action was the discovery of a small supply of Ardbeg’s limited edition Galileo whisky at a Geneva wine shop. All the more shocking, it was reasonably priced, well under the online offers I’ve seen. Since that almost never happens in Geneva, I took it as a sign that I shouldn’t hesitate.

The Galileo bottling, which won the title of World’s Best Single Malt at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards, must be the only whisky created in honor of a whisky experiment on the International Space Station. More on that here.

My personal impression of the Galileo is of a complex set of aromas and tastes that were so wintry, it cooled me off in this

Ardberg Galileo

Ardberg Galileo

swelter of a summer. A peaty, maritime nose with a hint of fruity sweetness; a smoked fish taste, a sharp palate opener that made me feel I’d just bitten off a corner of the Atlantic Ocean, then brown sugar, spice, turpentine, and a round sherry sweetness from those Marsala casks in which the whisky was kept for part of its ageing. An abrupt and clean finish, a window opened wide and then crisply shut.

All I can say is, I’m so glad I seized the moment.

Now, back to those canning jars…

Diving In

bg_mainvisual_yam_002When I first moved to Japan many, many years ago, someone told me to bring along a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label as a gift to the head of the household where I would stay. I thought it seemed like a very specific gift, but was assured that this was exactly the right thing to do to show my gratitude for a stranger’s roof over my head. I dutifully bought a bottle at a shop in San Francisco and carried it to Japan (yes, this was so long ago that airline passengers could carry a large bottle of whisky on board with them, just like that).

To my astonishment, the bottle of Black Label was a huge hit. I hadn’t realized at the time how important whisky was in Japan, or the instant friendship that giving a bottle of genuine Scotch whisky could inspire.

But at the time, I myself had not yet been introduced to Scotch, and I associated whiskey only with the bourbon I put in mixed drinks. So I missed a golden opportunity to explore Japanese whiskies at the source while I was living there.

One of the most famous poems in the Japanese language is the 17th-century  haiku by Matsuo Bashō that goes like this:

Furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto

The translation I like is:images

The old pond;
a frog jumps in —
the sound of the water

According to Robert Aitken, Bashō is presenting his mind “as this timeless, endless pond”, a serenity won through persistent inquiry. In the practice of Zen,  a simple incident could suddenly disclose the ultimate Way. Aitken: “As Yamada Rôshi has said, any stimulus would do — a sudden breeze with the dawn, the first twittering of birds, the appearance of the sun itself.” For Bashō, it was a frog.

In Japan, apparently, this poem has become quite stale with repetition over the past three centuries. For some Westerners, it is still new. I’m guessing the situation might be similar for Japanese whiskies – well known in Japan, still being discovered elsewhere.

Suntory’s Yamazaki 25-year-old was voted the World’s Best Single Malt at the 2012 World Whiskies Awards, and overall, Japanese whiskies have been attaining new heights since their introduction early in the 20th century.

And so, today I’m heading out to one of the best liquor stores in the Lake Geneva region, the Caveau de Bacchus, in the hope that within their usually excellent whisky selection I will find a good Japanese variety. Otherwise, there’s always online.

I hope to hear the plop of a frog, the sound of water.images-1