By Haroon Haffajee
Durban’s internationally renowned Oyster Box Hotel is always pushing the boundaries in regards to offering world class experiences for their guests. So when they asked me to collaborate on a Spirit Adventure that showcased some of the world’s best loved blended and single malt whiskies, I was more than honoured to assist. ‘Spirit Adventures’ is a concept developed by the Oyster Box that brings together great spirits, amazing food, superb service and of course adventurous people! Everybody does wine and food but the Oyster Box Hotel seeks to also provide their guests with never before seen events of an entirely different and exciting kind.
Wednesday 10th May was the date set for the latest incarnation of Durban’s finest Spirit Adventure. Guests were welcomed with canapés and a delicious whisky cocktail on the Ocean Terrace, with its backdrop of the Indian Ocean and a sprinkling of lights from ships heading toward port. The cocktail being an introduction to the night to follow: Johnnie Walker Double Black lovingly stirred with Martini Rosso and a homemade cherry syrup with a dash of bitters.
The Grill Room was the setting for the main event: four decadent courses expertly paired with Johnnie Walker Super Deluxe blended whiskies as well as a crafted single malt. The Johnnie Walker blends are all comprised of single malt and grain whiskies which are blended together – each blend has single malt whiskies that contribute to the core flavour profile of the blend and these single malts also stand proudly by themselves. To this end, guests got to sample the Johnnie Walker variant that matched each course and the single malt that sits at the core of that particular blend.
We were off to a galloping start with Johnnie Walker Green Label 15YO and Talisker 10YO that were paired with an explosive combination of smoked haddock ravioli and oyster cream. The maritime flavours present in both whiskies were perfectly complemented by the smoky, salty, creamy starter. It was at this point that a guest asked the question that begs an immediate response for whisky lovers: how can the Talisker, which is a 10YO, be used in the Green Label blend, which is a 15YO ? Quite simply, Talisker is bottled as a 10YO for the South African market but is available in various ages – one that is aged 15 years or more will be used in the Green Label.
So, with the serious questions out of the way, we dove straight into a Scottish inspired main course of chicken roulade with a haggis farce and whisky jus. Luckily for us, it was simply a take on haggis and not the actual innards of a sheep! An intense dish, paired with Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and Clynelish 14YO. The creamy, almost waxy texture of these whiskies stand up to rich flavours of this dish and their almost honey-like palate danced with the orange whisky jus.
After a little Q&A on the whiskies being sampled for the night, the sweet lovers set their sights on a classic pear and apple tarte tatin that was presented with delectable accompaniments as only the Oyster Box could conjure up – coconut coated Mars bar, chocolate crumb, meringue crown and crème anglaise. One would think that no whisky could match to that, but the awesome power and spice of the Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18YO did exactly that. The single malt for this course was the Cardhu 12YO – a distillery that is known as the spiritual home of Johnnie Walker as it was the first distillery purchased by the family in 1893. The reason it was the first purchase is simple: flavour! Cardhu’s wide and broad palate titillates the taste buds like no other and was a fitting end to the evening – almost! For the pièce de résistance, we had to finish with the rarest of the blends: Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Along with petite fours, guests were presented with the Johnnie Walker Blue Label signature serve: a carved wooden and brass board was placed in front of each guest laden with two heavy based crystal whisky tumblers. One filled with ice and water and the other with a generous measure of the whisky itself. The concept: drink the water first so that it cleanses, chills and dilutes your palate –follow with a sip of the whisky, hold it on your palate……………..…. and wait. Wait till the multitude of layers of rich flavour slowly build up as your palate warms, so you can truly appreciate the power and might of this testament to blending excellence.
A Spirit Adventure never to be forgotten and one which I cannot wait to repeat. Cheers.