The essence of life is learning through enjoyment.
No place is this more prevalent than in our pursuit of further knowlege in the fields of wines and food - so what better way to combine these two fascinating topics than by arranging a weekend of education her at Eriska. Or so we though back in 1993 when we first organised a Winter Wine Weekend. Back in those days we all had so much more time - and it could be argued a far greater thirst for knowledge that we used to run a three day weekend. Guests arrived on the Thursday in preparation for a full day in the kitchen. On the Friday our kitchen team would be joined by experts in their field to help explain and educate. One that sprung to mind was a Seafood and Chardonnay weekend when Andy Race- our fish merchant arrived- late on Thursday because in those days the market on Thursday night physically took place in Mallaig and he had to be there in person to examine, bid and purchase the fish.
On the Friday monring he simply brought in a huge box of mixed fish and with 20 guests sitting round, dressed in aprons and armed with knives he tallked through the box demonstrated how to identify, pick and select the best fish ( a lesson I still utilise) and how to prpeare it for the the kicthen with ease. This, as then, followed by working demonstrations and then the kitchen team took his work and helped show how it could be transformed. All sounded so simple but by the end of the day we had a great lunch and had some wonderful produce ready for dinner.
Then we are joined by some partners who could not escape for all three days and had a wonderful dinner focussing on the proiduce that had been prepared and with an introduction to wines of the world all featuring the Chardonnay Grape.
On Saturday we had anther practical; day with a demonstartion and talk from Inverawe Smokehouse highlighting the skill involved in curing and smoking fish- a skill we then took even further when we opened our own smoker- and then after lunch it was out on the water- some went out with a prawn creeler, some went to a local Oyster Hatchery and farm and some simply wantered on the beach as part of a guided foraging tour.
This was all simply to build up an appetite for dinner which was proceeded by a tasting of Chardonnay wines from around the world highlighting the huge range of grapes and abilities to create a diverse yet wonderful product. Then for dinner, the kitchen having been slightly freer and less invaded by fishmongers and guests- created a wonderful gastronomic dinner which was matched by a variety of wines which complemented the palate.
A greta fun weeknd and everybody learnt something- some more than others but all had left their cares of the world behind and ultimately relaxed.
However those days have slightly slipped away.
Time has become even more valuable but our thirst for knowledge has not waned so we are delighted to be able to announce that we will be joined by Mark O'Bryen, Master of Wine and Taittinger Ambassador to the Uk for our Winter Wine weekend which takes place over the weekend of the 16th November. In order to offer complete flexibility we have restricted the main event to a Champagne Masterclass on the Saturday Afternoon - for those not intersted in the rugby internationals!- and havearranged a tutored tasting to accompany Rosses wonderful dinner. It will allow Mark to Showcase the rangeform tis great champagne house and really introduce it to novices whilst evolving experts palates to appreciate the finer details. Clearly it will give teh opportunity to showcse the range but I am certain that we wil eb able to slip in a glass of still wine to help tittivate the taste buds styill further.
Todays fads are not always tomorrows trends...
In a world of ever changing needs and skills it is often worth occasionally taking a step back and seeing what really matters - not short term trends but long term values. Eriska is now entering its fifth decade under the guise of a hotel. It was established simply back in the early seventies to offer a warmth and hospitality to those who chose to stay with us and today this core remains at our heart.
However we have over the years strived to achieve this in many ways-
Some well planned and programmed others chanced upon and cobbled together but always we have tried to blend our three ingredients- the place the people who visit and finally the team we work with- to create the best final product. We spend hours looking at the guest profiles, we spend every penny we earn to improve the place investing and finally we value our team but in this pursuit of success we sometimes both lose touch with our core and miss out on the simple fixes and most important opportunities.
So when we do gain the chance to simply walk out our back door and look around, stop and enjoy the environment, pause and soak up where we live it is not surprising that it keeps bringing us back to the basics and even more importantly the simple things upon which Eriska was established. To some when we come across these Eureka moments it seems like an obvious "No Brainer" - to others it is to simple to matter - and to others it may seem like a pointless crusade and time wasting concept- to the final category I would suggest Eriska is not for you!
When Eriska first started it was not only a country house hotel but more a working farm and its largest producer of its own raw material - we had dairy herd that produced- milk, butter cheese and cream, hens for eggs and gardens for vegetables. A very large Deep Freeze to benefit the heavy summer harvests and hold for a longer winter , and also to take account of the lack of regular summer supplies. Today we have had to give up the farm but the garden still produces herbs and salads along with the orchard looking after apples and pears for a couple of months of the year.
We can access world markets and get regular deliveries but are we really catering for our customers bringing products and ingredients from across the world - are we selling ourselves best showcasing the world to the world or would we be better showcasing Eriska and Scotland to the world.
It seems a simple and logical step in our pursuit to be unique and individual that we take what we believe is best and showcase this, and even more logical would be that the best fresh produce would be that which has come out of the ground most recently and traveled fewest miles. So under the guidance of our New Head Chef Ross Stovold and his team we have set about changing our view from the kitchen. Luckily this is supported by a resurgence in foraging - although in our view forgaing is not only about trapsing round the island looking for produce but also about working with local businesses to help and encourge them to deliver products we want and where necessary it is up to us to support them as we persuade them to go do a different route to market.
So it is probably no surprise to hear that Eriska was yesterday Awarded its latest award by Visit Scotland of "Taste our Best". This is a new scheme both supported and backed by the Scottish Government which highlights properties which showcase more than 40% of their menu from the locality. Although apparently the locality to the customer ranges greatly but for ease in this excersise- and I am sure nothing to do with the push for independence- Local means Scottish.!
However the scheme does not stop a simply awarding a plaque but also offers feedback to business about where they could make a difference and has been linked to the Food and Drink suppliers with a website to help identify other potential producers which may currently be anonymous and unknown. We were delighted to not only be one of the first to be recognised but more imporantly that this recognition aligns so clearly with our principles. Hopefully the scheme will take off and be a great success and that will require the customers to grasp and support it too.
In the meantime it is out on the island between showers, to pick more Brambles and Chantarelle otherwise we will have some hungry guests tonight!
We are very excited to welcome Ross Stovold to Isle of Eriska this week!
Ross Stovold previously held the position as head chef at Alimentum in Cambridge. Alimentum is a 50 cover restaurant which currently holds 3 AA Rosettes and a Michelin Star. He also has a range of good quality businesses on his list of achievements, most recently Sat Bains in Nottingham and the New Angel in Devon. Ross' focus is on bringing a training and development ethos to the kitchen at Eriska.
Part of Ross' concept is to employ four apprentices in his team alongside a strong top level, leaving him time to train and work with the juniors in an endeavour to grow our own chefs of the future.
Our kitchen team focuses on the use of the freshest, local produce in a way which develops and enhances the flavours and taste of our through manipulating as little as possible. Ross will continue to work closely with local suppliers to ensure the best of Scottish produce is presented on our Menu.
Our dinner menu changes on a daily basis and offers a choice of starters and a choice of main courses, one a fish from the surrounding waters another a meat dish from the hills surrounding the island and a final vegetarian alternative inspired by one of the gardens or larders close at hand. But what is excellent food without wine...
Our comprehensive wine list accompanies the best of Scottish produce and offers outstanding value for money to diners, particularly when you compare our wine pricing with other top restaurants. Our comprehensive wine list runs to 40 pages and provides extensive options both geographically and in terms of price. Our wine list provides personal recommendations that are favourites of Eriska's Owner, Senior Hotel Manager and Sommelier, and we believe that you are likely to find some interesting options here that may even become one of your own favourites!
This week, we have experinced much of what Eriska and the surrounding area has to offer, but also a lot of the things guests can enjoy while staying with us at the hotel!
On wednesday, the weather allowed for some of our guests with the more atristic nerve to spend time outside capuring the main house.
Did you know, that our hotel was built in 1884 by a branch of stewarts of Appin and the architect Hippolyte Blanc? He was known for his attention to details and for the Scottish Baronial Style. Blanc's work can also be seen in Edinbugh today, where the St Cutberth's Church and the Argyll Tower are amongst some of his works.
Today we went out with a client of ours who will be coming back to stay with us later in the summer to look at all that the West Coast of Scotland can offer! We were picked up by Struan from Costal Connection who took us over by boat to Kingairloch - only a 25 minute journey accross from Eriska. Kingairloch is a 14,000 acre highland estate and is home to a wide range of animals, birds and flora throughout the year and also feature the Boat House restaurant, serving exquisit seasonal cuisine - all grown or captured on the estate.
But what is exquisite cuisine withouth Scotlands national beverage?
We got back onto the boat and set our course towards Oban to visit the Oban Distillery. Oban Distillery is one of Scotland's oldest sources of single malt scotch whisky and are proud of their Oban 14 year old Single Malt with its hints of honey,smoke, citrus orange and sea salt. Well worth a visit if you are staying with us.
What are you doing for the World Whisky Day this weekend on Saturday 18th?
Are you one of the lucky ones coming to our tutored whisky tasting session on Saturday at the Isle of Eriska Hotel, Spa & Golf? It is open to residents of the Hotel and any residents dining with us in the evening.
The session will allow our guests and diners to nose their way through the range of exclusive bottles of Eriska malt we have had especially made for our residents - From the ten year old malt of Islay to the 10 year old Speyside, we will highlight the characteristics of each bottle and the complete trilogy with the Sherry Wood Cask of 14 year old Speyside.
Come stay with us this weekend for an exciting evening, or book a table in the restaurant. we need a 24h notice for bookings with our restaurant.You can book with us by pressing the button below.
'Good Evening Mr Bond'
Tonight we hosted our very first James Bond Martini Masterclass. The scene was set with the Martini glasses on chill, the ice ready to be shaken and stirred and our resident mixologist on hand to transport the guests back to 1954, Duke's Bar where Ian Flemming created Casino Royale and the famous Vesper Martini.
It was during the 2006 Casino Royale blockbuster that Daniel Craig really brought the Vesper Martini to the mainstream when he ordered a Dry Martini..."three measures of Gordon's, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice and add a thin slice of lemon peel." Despite his initial precision and following a nasty run-in with the 'baddies' James Bond proceeds to order another martini, but when challenged by the bartender on this occasion to his preference over shaken or stirred, Bond replies "Does it look like I give a damn?
Which leads us to the basis for our Martini Masterclass...Was Bond right not to give a damn??
Although 007 specifies Gordon's in his concoction, we opted for Tanqueray 10...At the time that Flemming invented this drink, Gordon's was a very different gin; now you're better off using something with a little more 'kick'. Vodka was the same way, so we opted for smooth as silk Belvedere. Finally, Lillet, which is a beautiful French Apertif made from a blend of wine, liqueurs, fruits and herbs and has a distinctive orange flavour to it and makes a fruitier alternative to your average vermouth.
Our recipient for the martinis this evening were Australian natives and told of how hard it is to obtain Lillet at home, I even found out that we obtained our very own bottle from Bordeaux! I can't help but think that this makes our little concoction even more of a luxury treat as it something that will be very hard to recreate once you leave our island.
Armed with plenty of 007 knowledge having visited some of the sets of Bond films close to Eriska, watched the dvds in their suite and even taken the boat adventure to see Duart Castle on Mull they were ready for the next phase of their training.
First up, was what we like to call the 'Alternative Vesper Martin', the martini Bond was likely to be served when not giving a damn...three measures of Tanquery 10, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet was controversially stirred with ice and served with a thin slice of orange peel to compliment the Lillet. Our guests took their first tentative sip and remarked on how the orange peel affected the martini flavour.
Finally, we created the Vesper...three measures of Tanqueray 10, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken over ice and served with a thin slice of lemon peel, a drink to make even the most suavest of killers weak at the knees!
So...was Bond right not to give a damn??
Our guests were divided; one preferred the chilled, clean and bitter taste of the Vesper whereas the other opted for the warming, fruitier alternative. Either way both agreed that it was a
drink not for the faint hearted and suitable for anyone about to start a mission!
With one Materclass under our Oddjob Bowler Hat we are now ready to take on the next guests who dare to take on the thrill of the James Bond Experience. For now though the Martini glasses will stay on chill, and the ice will remain un-shaken and un-stirred!
Having shown you How to Taste Malt Whisky and set you on the right track with some hints and notes about Oban 14 Year Old Malt Whisky, and Lagavullin 16YO it seems only logical that we move north to Speyside to start spreading your knowledge.
There are really three distinct sectors to Scottish Malts- The Lowlands, Speyside and then the Islands. Whilst inevitably there are many variations and exceptions to the rules this gives us all a guidline to start with and at least allows us to help level expectations.
Some would argue that the Masters of malt all come from Speyside.
Indeed Diageo, one of the, largest companies in the whisky industry, are currently trying to put togther a malt tour of Speyside to rival those of some of the great wine areas of the world - we will keep our ears open but I am sure the islands will have their say about this as they beleive they are the home of propper malts! So our next malt experience will be with Cragganmore situated in the heart of this fertile triangle of land bordered by mountains and sea.
Cragganmore’s Speyside home is guarded by a striking wrought iron gate spelling its name, which was taken from the nearby hill whose greenstone built the distillery, Craggan Mor.
The Cragganmore Distillery was founded in 1869 by on eof the distillers who worked at Glenfarcals and he persuaded the owners of glenfarclas to sell him the land for the distillery and cleverly sited it within easy reach of the railway, and ideed managed to have a special siding of track included in his site plans .
Nestling on the banks of the legendary salmon river, Cragganmore is, for many, the home of the definitive Speyside malt. Hugely complex, rich with layers of flavour and a whiff of smoke in the finish. It is also however a good malt to introduced speyside as it is not over powered by flavors beyond the malt
A combination of sweet floral fragrances, riverside herbs and flowers with some honey and vanilla.
“The most complex nose of any malt whisky.” Michael Jackson, Whisky Writer
Firm, rounded, light to medium.
A strong malty taste with hints of sweet wood smoke and sandalwood
A long, malt-driven finish with light smoke and hints of sweetness.
Last year we were treated to the celebrations of James Bond 50 Year anniversary.
This combined with the release, I am sure by pure chance, of Skyfall meant that many Bond arguments were raised- best film, best bond girl, best car best moment to name a few but for those of us who simply enjoy Bond films it was an opportunity to add another one to the repertoire and for us at Eriska even better when so much of the scenery around Skyfall is so close to Eriska.
Having rushed off to watch the film I happened to meet our friends at McKinlay Kidd who help put special weekends for their clients together and Robert Kidd and I engaged in a conversation about what is the best bit about Bond and naturally our conclusion came to the fact that it must be the lifestyle, cars, drinks and scenery. It was therefore not long before we dreamed up the Eriska Bond Weekend escape and before long our minds had wandered and the concept had leapt form dream into reality.
As is often the case with the best ideas is that they soon grow arms and legs until a complete plan is made and only then do the nitty gritty details of cost, timings and practical matters get in the way. As ever this was a perfect example on how a plan is sketched out on a napkin after dinner and then when the booking start to flow in the time is right to really get the details ironed out! Or so that is how I am trying to tell the team others work and so do we now!
So The bones of the plan are in place- the car and the hotel, now comes time for the flesh of the otehr details such as the boat transfer to Duart Castle or the Martini Masterclass in the Eriska Library and the detailed itinerary- Although Robert has already spoiled this be vetoing my suggestion that I should dry run the Aston Martin through Glencoe just to make sure it all works!
And then finally there will be all the fluffy bits such as the CD of Bond Music for the car, and the DVD pack awaiting arrival at Eriska in their suite. So we now have a fully constructed and fleshed out Bond Weekend for sale and whilst I am sure we will fine tune it as it takes off we are also able to be flexible so that
t it can fit individual needs and desire- for example we have had to extend one stay by a couple of days as the guest wants to see a bit more of Scotland But it is still very much an individual and personalised gift and when we were asked by a guest if we could arrange 10 cars for his company meeting we had to turn it down as there were not 10 available in Scotland, nor did we really want to do it as the concept of 10 couples all following the same route at the same time seemed to take a big part of the concept out of our hands.
So for now we are standing by to welcome our first budding 007 , stroking down the white cat and opening the door with " We've been expecting you Mr Bond" !
With the start of 2013 year at Eriska upon us our thoughts turn from planning for distant months to working on the here and now and welcoming guests for February.
When we first opened the hotel in February it was simply for weekends and we pinned our hopes on those escaping valentines weekend and even better when valentines weekend was midweek so that we were joined by couples for each weekend both before and after the event.
However since then times have changed and the addition of our two bedroom cottages - ideal for families- and the opening of our indoor facility means that we are now as much a half term destination as we are a romantic getaway.
In reality February is a funny month as it is surounded by January- a month of recovery from Christmas and festive overindulgence- and March -which is the big preparation month for the Easter Break. This year especially with Easter coming at the start of April and quite early it means that many schools are breaking up just in time for Easter and then alot of people are keeping fingers crossed that a holiday later in April will both break up the year and also see some early sunshine.
Certainly in Argyll we have been lucky with the last couple of years seeing an early summer for the last two weeks in April and certainly our forward bookings are begining to show how sunshine last year has encouraged guests out for the last of spring before May sets in. Anyway for now we are all concentrating on February and once again to show we have not forgotten about our romantics we are offering a bottle of bubbly to every couple staying for two nights to help get them in the Valentines Mood!
Well at least we also have our special winter rates to help tempt even the hardened romantics across the bridge!
As for the island it is already awakening form winter, the days are significantly longer with daylight form 8am right through until after 5pm and this is almost ideal insuring that there is plenty of light during the day for exploring the area or indulging in activities and yet there is no excuse needed to rush back for the log fires and evenings in the spa or in front of the Library Bar checking out the malt display!
Having shown you How to Taste Malt Whisky and set you on the right track with some hints and notes about Oban 14 Year Old Malt Whisky , it seems only logiocal that we head south to the wonderful island of Islay and start working round the coastline.
Last year we helped establish a new tour which sets off from Oban Aiport in the morning and returns in the late afternoon having indulged in a few visits to our Islay neighbours. Currently we are helping guests make arrangemenst for this "educational" day out but it soon becomes clear that when doing it correctly we ought to offer to drop guests at Oban Airport and most importantly collect and drive them back at the end of the day- to allow full enjoyment of the Water of Life through the day!
Of the great homes of malt whisky the greatest is surely Islay, home even today to seven active malt distilleries.
And first among the Islay malts is Lagavulin - the definitive Islay malt. As early as 1742, there were perhaps ten illicit stills operating at Lagavulin. In 1816 local farmer and distiller John Johnston founded the first legal distillery, within view of Dunyvaig Castle, once the stronghold of the Lords of the Isles.
The barley used to distil Lagavulin is malted at nearby Port Ellen and has a strong peat "reek" - it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside Whisky. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process, too. Between 55 and 75 hours are taken for the full peat-rich flavour of the locally-malted barley to come through.
The four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, take this peaty wort and give it all the time and care it deserves. Following the original practice, Lagavulin receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt - around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second. This long distillation is often said to give Lagavulin the characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges that devotees rightly prize.
Lagavulin is a powerful yet wonderfully rounded pleasure. Its recently described "awesome power and marvellous complexity of flavours" are enjoyed by a significant number of malt lovers, for whom this big, dark, intense character just is malt.
LAGAVULIN 16 YEAR OLD
A much sought-after single malt with the massive peat-smoke that's typical of southern Islay - but also offering a dryness that turns it into a truly interesting dram.
Lagavulin is an intensely flavoured, smoky-sweet single malt with seaweed flavours and a huge finish, aged in oak casks for at least sixteen years.
Strength : 43% ABV
Appearance : Deep amber gold.
Nose : Intensely flavoured, peat smoke with iodine and seaweed and a rich, deep sweetness.
Palate :A rich, dried fruit sweetness with clouds of smoke and strong, barley-malt flavours, warming with an intense flavour. At the back of the mouth is an explosion of peppery smoke.
Finish :Huge, long, warming and peppery with a distinct appetising sweetness.
When taking on a new chellenge it is best to be methodical and set about the task with a plan.
Earlier we disucussed the basic strategy behind whisky tasting and offered some advice that we would give to any guest sitting at our Libarary Bar faced with the array of bottles and not knowing where to start or more possibly how to start. Over the course of time we hope to guide visitors round the shelves and allow them to sample - virtually- the water of life. Then possibly you will be tempted across the threshold of your local bar or shop or even maybe across our bridge and then into our very own library bar!
So as in all things it's best to start at the beginning
- but when you are not sure where that is then we would always suggest that the closer to home the better so for us where better to start than Oban. Oban is the frontier between the West Highlands and the Islands; the meeting place between land and sea. A perfect, sheltered harbour makes it the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands.
It has a mild, temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream and washed (too often, some might say) by the soft rain that often falls hereabouts. This misty, maritime character, with a background of heather and peat, is perfectly echoed in the malt whisky produced at Oban.
At the heart of Oban for over 200 years has been the distillery and despite all the changes and developments over the years it remains key to the town.
Oban distillery is now owned by the grand international company- diageo- and if truth be told it is the support, help and most importantly investment from the powers above that have kept it alive and indeed thriving as it is today.
Oban is made using only the finest barley, malted to the distillery's own particular specification. The tiny lantern-shaped copper pot stills are among the smallest in Scotland; their rich, fruity malt is then slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs that sit outside among the rooftops, before being aged in oak casks for at least 14 years.
Rich sweetness and fruits - oranges, lemons and pears, with sea-salt and peaty smokiness.
Mouth-filling late autumn fruits - dried figs and honey-sweet spices; followed by a smoky malty dryness.
Long, smooth-sweet finish with oak-wood, dryness and a grain of salt.
A combination of light smoke, medium richness and appetising spice