Lesego Semenya, aka LesDaChef, is a highly accomplished South African chef, and fellow whisky fan. In a story similar to ours, Les quit his corporate career to follow his passion and hasn't looked back. Somewhere along our individual journeys we crossed paths and a mutual respect and friendship was born.
In a recurring segment, we provide Les with a bottle of whisky and in return he drinks it, experiments with it and gives us a recipe; any recipe at all, there are no rules.
In my first article for WhiskyBrother I chuckled at how whisky drinkers are a sentimental bunch who love to wax lyrical about casks and flavours in their favourite amber coloured liquor. I left out that I understand their ways because we chefs are equally as soppy about life and our food, heck, I wrote a whole bestselling book based purely on my childhood and my hometown. We are a nostalgic and overly sentimental lot and it is exactly why I think Marc from WhiskyBrother felt the synergy between what I do for a living, and what he is so passionate about. Which leads me to the occasion of this review. A sentimental bottle of Scotch on a sentimental occasion.
I write this whilst sitting opposite the Vaal River on an early Autumn day under a tree. People are fishing to my left, kids are swimming behind me and in front of us are a few crazy people on boats trying to out-speed each other. It is my girlfriend’s birthday weekend and I decided to make a weekend of it and take the drive down to the border of Gauteng and Free State provinces.
COMPASS BOX ARTIST'S BLEND WHISKYBROTHER SMALL BATCH
I grabbed the bottle I got from WhiskyBrother for this month’s review, a small batch release of Great King Street Artist’s Blend by Compass Box. Quite a mouthful but all the words on the rather elaborate label are there for a reason. The whisky maker is Compass Box, a company that prides itself on making quality, accessible Scotch blends. Started by an American (don’t roll your eyes yet) who moved to the UK and began Compass Box in his kitchen and two decades later it has established itself as one of the best boutique blenders. I initially noticed the brand because of the really artistic and elaborate labels on their whiskies.
The Great King Street range is named after the actual name of the street Compass Box is located on in London and “Artist’s Blend” is the name of this particular blend; a tribute to the artistry of blenders who’ve come before. (There’s that sentimentality again). To make this bottle even more special, it is one of a small batch specifically selected and bottled for WhiskyBrother. Only 228 bottles were produced. Blended in 2018 but only bottled in 2019 after the whisky was married in an American oak barrel.
Soft amber and hay-like in appearance, I wasn’t expecting a robust taste when I first sipped it… and I was right. That doesn’t mean I was disappointed though. We sipped it immediately after pouring it and my girlfriend said that it was a bit harsh for her (granted, she has only just started drinking whisky). I let it breathe for 15 minutes and we sipped it again and there was a huge contrast. The second sip was sweet, with slight vanilla and peach notes. We added a few blocks of ice to it and it became even sweeter and easier drinking.
With it being her birthday weekend we had quite a few snacks lying around and the whisky worked with various foods. It paired well with unsalted nuts, chutney biltong, droewors and berries. It also went well with desserts, and I’ll even admit it is good for mixing too. The flavour never overwhelms but it also keeps you coming back for more. Blends can have a bad rep with some drinkers, but everything that Compass Box say they’re about is true in this bottle; quality blends are a real thing and can still be accessible without being overly pricey.
WHISKY AND VANILLA CUSTARD
If we weren’t in a hotel I would have definitely made a dessert with this and drizzled it into a vanilla custard and added it into a sticky toffee pudding to make a nice tipsy dessert. The subtle notes will marry well with the gentle flavours of a sponge and vanilla. If you’d like to give it a shot, here’s my vanilla custard recipe below.
- 4 egg yolks
- 250ml cream
- 250ml full cream milk
- 30g castor sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons Artist's Blend Whisky
- Pour the cream and milk into a pot and bring to scalding point (this is when it starts to steam but doesn’t boil).
- Mix the yolks and sugar together in a large metallic bowl and pour the scalding cream and milk mixture slowly into it whilst stirring continuously.
- Place the bowl over a pot of simmering (NOT boiling) water and begin stirring it with a wooden spoon (I suggest you hold the bowl steady with a cloth or oven mitt)
- Add the vanilla to the mixture now and keep stirring until the custard thickens. Add the whisky.
- Strain through a sieve to remove any lumps.
- Serve hot. If you want to cool it down make sure you place cling wrap or wax paper on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming.