Saturday, December 16, 2017

Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding with a Pink Gin Cocktail

I sometimes wish I could recapture the enthusiasm I had when I first discovered Nancy Mitford, but as time passes I find her less amusing, her characters grate on me more, as does her snobbery. I think that might partly be because the Mitford sisters were so over exposed a few years ago with volumes of letters appearing all over the place, along with reprints of just about all of Nancy's books - which exposed just what a patchy writer she was.

'Christmas Pudding' which was her second novel is by far the best of the early ones though, with a bitter cynicism running through it that gives the perfect acid bite to act as an antidote to all the Christmas cheer and those feel good adverts that seem to exist only to highlight how imperfect most of our lives are. 

Amongst the froth and fun is an unflinching look at a group of bright young things at their least bright and young (in the death grip of a New Year's Day hangover). To provide just such a hangover, and to celebrate the bitter edge I recommend a Pink Gin, which I suppose is best described as a very dry martini. It's gin with a couple of drops of Angostura bitters, shaken well over ice and strained into a cocktail glass. 

It's a no nonsense, single minded, kind of a cocktail, designed for potency rather than frivolity. It perfectly matches the brittle, bitter, edge to Mitford's writing where an ingrained sense of superiority excuses really appalling behaviour.

I would recommend a gin like Martin Millers for this kind of thing, it's smooth enough to drink on its own, but with a traditional juniper driven flavour profile, so no unique selling point botanicals to mess with the flavour profile of the cocktail. Angostura is both aromatic and bitter (as the name suggests) a bottle goes a long way but is a useful thing to have around for all sorts of drinks, and other culinary purposes. Even better would be something like The Bitter Truth's Travellers set (which I would really like, and have been meaning to buy for an age). There aren't many times when it makes more sense to buy miniatures rather than full size bottles, but this is one of them, and bitters are the perfect way to invigorate otherwise dull drinks. 

There is also Fever Tree's Aromatic tonic water which uses Angostura bark, it will give you the more sensible long version of a pink gin, or if you want to go entirely alcohol free, tastes grown up enough (aromatically, and pleasingly, bitter) on its own to all but forget there's no gin involved.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Whisky Galore with Blended whisky (again)

Yesterday I bought a DVD of the 'Whisky Galore' remake. Now in all honesty I had my doubts about this film, it didn't really seem to make much impact when it came out, and the original was so good it was always going to be a tough act to follow. That film is one of my all time favourites for it's warmth, humour, and atmosphere. It's that rare thing, a film that's as good as the book it's based on.

Compton Mackenzie wrote a lot, and I have read a little of what he wrote - enough to know that some books work better than others, and that 'Whisky Galore' and 'Monarch of the Glen' deserve their classic status (or just about classic status, they haven't quite had the full treatment yet, but they're both brilliant, it's telling that whenever I've been in Leakey's* there's about a yard of Mackenzie's books, but never either of these two).

Anyway, the remake is pretty bad. The characterisation is generally poor, there's a ridiculous sub plot shoe horned in about the Duke of Windsor and a missing despatch box, and a secret service man who doesn't really end up doing anything. Captain Wagget lives in a lighthouse, which you wouldn't particularly want to do in war time, and doesn't leave anywhere for the lighthouse keepers to live either, but more importantly looses the sense of how he sees his social position as the local Laird. Mostly though, it's just not funny, which is unforgivable.

In case anyone doesn't know, 'Whisky Galore' was based on actual events, in 1941 the SS Politician went down off Eriskay, 28,000 cases of whisky in her hold, and amongst other things the modern equivalent of several million pounds in cash. Islanders from across the outer Hebrides looted the wreck until customs and excise had it blown up. The money doesn't appear in 'Whisky Galore' and whilst grabbing the liquor might (and was) seen as legitimate salvage, taking the money which subsequently turned up all over the world is perhaps a bit harder to justify.

The whisky would most likely have been 'blended', a term that's currently used slightly dismissively for a product that has been seen as second rate compared to a single malt. That's starting to change again for a few reasons. Blended whisky is a mix of single malts, made from malted barley in a pot still, and grain whisky, which also uses other grains and is made in a continuous still which gives it a much smoother, somewhat sweeter, lighter, style. You can use any number of single malts to create the flavour profile you want, with the grain whisky providing a background that for itvall to marry together in.

Traditionally blends, especially the bigger brand names, offered consistency and quality - and they still do. The Famous Grouse for example uses significant amounts of Highland Park and Macallan, Johnnie Walker has some of Islay's finest in it, and there's a whole new generation of premium blends and 'Vatted Malts' (a mix of several single malts) and they're worth looking at.

Given the choice between a no age statement malt at around £40 or a premium blend at between £20 - £30, I would expect to find rather better drinking with the blend, and any familiar brand of blended scotch will reliably give value and quality (some of the very cheap ones might not make for particularly interesting or characterful drinking, but you might not be looking for that). I'm very pleased to see that slight prejudice against disappear.

*The second hand book heaven in Inverness

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Vin Santo with 'A Room With a View'

I'll be spending Christmas with my mother and sister, neither of whom much care for dessert wines, which is a shame because I love them with a passion. They're rare and precious things to be sipped and savoured, but the very opulence and complexity that makes them such a treat also means a little goes a long way. A whole bottle, even when it's only a half bottle, to yourself can feel like a lot (especially to someone who desperately wants to talk about this miracle of winemaking skill in a glass and dissect it's many fascinating elements - people who greet some legendary liquid, a liquid that glints like amber in the glass, with ‘I don't really like sweet wines’, or ‘It’s okay’ are hopeless for this purpose).

I keep trying to persuade them to treat the wine like a dessert - and there are liqueur muscats and Pedro Ximenez sherries that make an excellent alternative to mince pies or Christmas pudding (the same rich dried fruits and brown sugar flavours) but it hasn't worked so far. What I haven't tried them with is Vin Santo and cantuccini where the wine could be viewed as a kind of sauce. My mother sneaks alcohol of some sort into just about everything she cooks, so this might work...

A good Vin Santo (actually, pretty much any Vin Santo I've seen) can look off puttingly pricey, but it's a treat, and the process of making it (from partially dried grapes, then aged for years in barrels where the wine slowly evaporates) is expensive. It's something I end up explaining a lot to people who balk at paying about the same as they would for a house wine in a restaurant, for something really exquisite in a shop. As someone who'd far rather drink less, but better, it's a hard attitude to understand, as someone who's been in the wine trade for 19 years I can promise you that if you spend a little more you will get infinitely better value*.

Dipping cantuccini into wine feels like holiday behaviour to me, and very much part of the English fantasy of Tuscany, and as my first experience of that fantasy was through 'A Room With a View' that's what it makes me think of (first the film, and swiftly after the book). Leicestershire on a frozen Winters day feels like a long way from Florence, but the warmth of a fire, and the sweet depth of the wine brings it a lot closer as long as I don't look out the window at red brick buildings - immersion in E. M. Forster on the other hand works a treat.

* Anything over £10, there's still some really good stuff to be had from between £5 and £10, but it's getting harder to find. Spend between £10 and £30 you can expect to find something really exciting . Above that price point you're getting into more specialised territory and the rules change a bit.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Death Box with Rum and Lime

After enjoying last years re-issue of Lorna Nichols Morgan’s ‘Another Little Christmas Murder’, I pounced on ‘The Death Box’ when I saw it a few weeks ago, but quite honestly haven't enjoyed it nearly as much - partly because of all the Rum and Lime.

One of the things I love about older books are the sidelights they throw on contemporary drinking culture, and vintage crime is a treasure trove for this kind of information. I find it fascinating in itself; Cyril Hare’s ‘An English Murder’ had a wonderful scene where a very venerable bottle of vintage Port is opened with all due ceremony and which leaves the butler finally respecting the policeman. It was no surprise to learn that Hare had wine trade connections. Drinking habits are also clues to character though (both the authors and their creations), some of which are easier to decor than others as habits change over the generations.

Broadly speaking a knowledge of wine is a sign that someone is a gentleman (Sayers lavish descriptions of Lord Peter’s drinking habits are an example, and then there's Brideshead Revisited, which is full of wine references, and explicitly uses them to sort the sheep from the goats).

My problem with ‘The Death Box’ is that although it's set in London (published in 1946, but I think set pre war) it feels like it's trying to be American. There are a lot of gangsters running about doing odd things, everybody keeps breaking into houses, and there's near constant drinking (no hint of rationing) much of it Rum and Lime. Rum, rather than whisky, or the more gentlemanly brandy, has a hint of exoticism about it (at least it does to me, reading now, but I guess the origin is the rum and lime the navy would have drunk?) but the simplicity of rum with a dash of bottled lime (juice or cordial I wonder, probably cordial?) has a no nonsense masculine edge to it. Definitely a clue to the hero’s personality…

I generally have Rum about the house, mostly for cooking, sometimes for cocktails, but I rarely drink it on its own, because I rarely want that particular sugar based flavour profile. My current bottle is Gosling’s Black Seal which is heavy on the muscovado sugar/dark treacle/ cloves and cinnamon flavours. I'd call it a good quality mixing Rum, rather than a sipping Rum, the flavours which are a bit too punchy on their own, do a very good job of holding their own with other things.

I didn't have any lime cordial, but plenty of limes so I just added juice - in keeping with the book, where it's just Rum and lime, no ice. The result was surprisingly good; the lime juice cuts through the muscovado/burnt fruit cake notes of the Gosling’s, but doesn't overwhelm it, it just provides a balancing acidity. The next step would be to add water and more sugar to make grog (or to replicate the general feel of the thing in a marmalade).

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Hercule Poirot with Cassis

I've been thinking about cassis all day and wondering quite what to match it with until I was reminded that Hercule Poirot was fond of it - which makes perfect sense for the character - I can see him now liqueur glass in hand, appreciating the finer points of a good cassis.

It does need to be a good cassis though, my current preference is for White Heron British Cassis, which is twice the price of the French one we sell, but much better. The reason it needs to be good, and that it's worth spending more on, is that as it's bottled at only 15% it won't keep its freshness especially long once it's open*. You need a bottle you want to drink.

Once you've found a brand you like though, it's a useful thing to have around. There is the ubiquitous Kir royale (a drink I particularly dislike, if your champagne needs Cassis you shouldn't have bought it, if it doesn't, why add it... but that's a personal prejudice) and the now over looked Kir which I far prefer. Traditionally it was made with Bourgogne Aligote, but it's become much harder to find in the U.K. Much bette to use any good ordinary French white (house wine kind of standard, so perfectly drinkable without being terribly exciting, because the Cassis is going to provide the excitement here). There is also the Cardinal, where Cassis is used to pep up a red wine in a twist in the Kir formula. It's certainly not the worst way to rescue a slightly disappointing bottle (by which I mean thin, or maybe
just going over the hill, if it's got a definite fault get rid of it).

There are plenty of other Cocktails that call for Cassis, and it's a handy kitchen ingredient too, adding a bit of booze blackcurrenty glamour to all sorts of things, and a great potential match with something like a chocolate tart, or very dark and rich chocolate cake or torte (beware to many other flavours though). It can be a port alternative with the cheeseboard as well, or just good on its own at the end of a meal, or the end of the evening - it's versatile stuff.

I think Poirot might have looked askance at an English version, but he would be far to particular to accept a lesser quality Cassis, and once he tried White Heron I know he'd approve. What Agatha Christie's personal opinion of Cassis was is a mystery I haven't yet looked into.

* It's the case with a lot of liqueurs, vermouths, and other fortified wines that they really don't keep as well as people think. Contact with oxygen destroys the freshness of the flavours, which is really noticeable with something fruity where you definitely want that freshness and vibrancy. To get the best out of them refrigerate after opening and aim to use within a month. Unless it smells really bad, or has developed mould, it won't do you any harm to drink it after this point (cream based liqueurs are another matter) but it won't taste as good.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Isherwood's Berlin Stories with Kümmel

Until Meg pointed me in a different Direction I had associated Kümmel with Silver Bullet and Silver Streak Cocktails along with a sort of pre war glamour not unlinked with the classic Mercedes Silver Arrow racing cars (it's all the Silver that does it). Those cocktails don't seem right for the coldest night in years though, when I'm writing this hunched over a candle and next to a heater, trying not to melt my iPad, like some latter day Bob Cratchit (muffler in place, fingerless gloves about to be fetched).

Kümmel is a sweet and sticky colourless liqueur flavoured with caraway, cumin, and fennel which gives it an aniseed edge, but nowhere near as pronounced as the aniseed notes of Pastis. I find the the flavour of Pastis overpowering, but the gentler caraway of Kümmel appeals to me (not to my mother or partner who both declared it the most disgusting thing they'd ever tried - either a gross exaggeration or they've been lucky) and it's sweetness is a definite benefit in cocktail making.

Still there's that line about kümmel on the handle of the door, and it so beautifully sums up the morning after the night before feeling of seedy excess. Kümmel seems to have originated in Holland before making a hit in Germany and Russia, its Germany that is now the principle producer and consumer of it. The cold certainly makes consuming it in shots, schnapps style, attractive (having to get up for work in the morning does not, common sense prevails).

It's also making me think of Christopher Isherwood, or more specifically, Sally Bowles, along with sticky nightclub floors, hangovers, and regrets. It's a shame Kümmel is relatively tricky to find (though apparently it's popular in golf clubs - can anybody confirm that?) because it is quite a particular flavour, the sort you should try before you buy. If you do find you like it though, it's well worth having around. I'll certainly have a glass of it to hand next time I watch Cabaret.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Hot Brandy and Rum Punch with Dickens Christmas Stories

We've had snow, my street has looked even more picturesque than usual (although not my view especially, which is of a car park) so when I ventured out into town it was in high hopes of getting the full festive hit. I didn't.

It's the 10th of December, still a couple of weeks to go before Christmas, but there was a flat feeling about the place, the Christmas decorations that are left for sale look a bit bedraggled, and there's a general impression that people are waiting for sales to start. Bargain hunting doesn't bother me, but the sense of the excitement being over before Christmas has really begun does.

So I came home, made a lot of gingerbread and lebkuchen dough, and started thinking about hot punch and Christmas spirit. I read somewhere that making a punch like this used to be quite a communal affair, with everyone involved giving their opinion about what to add and in what quantity - which is a lovely image. By the time Dickens was mixing punch as his party piece in the 1850's it was already something of a throwback. Because of Dickens, and his references to theses kind of punches I'd thought of them as quintessentially Victorian, but they weren't, they're a much more 17th and 18th century custom that had started to go out of fashion. Like Dickens I feel they need reviving.

The recipe he described at length in a letter to a friend has a lot of flourishes and involves fire, but I found a much simpler version in Jerry Thomas (How to Mix Drinks was first published in 1862, so it's roughly contemporary). This recipe is for a party of 15 and calls for a quart of Jamaica Rum, a quart of cognac brandy, one pound of white loaf sugar, four lemons, three quarts of boiling water, and one teaspoon of nutmeg. You rub the sugar over the lemons until it has absorbed all the yellow parts of the skin, then put the sugar in a punch bowl, pour over the boiling water, stir well and add the rest of the ingredients, and mix thoroughly.

I'm one person, and I've never actually seen a sugar loaf (though plenty of hills named after them) so some adjustments were neccesary. My main criteria were that it shouldn't taste like a hot toddy, or be to sweet. A spoon of white sugar in a mug with a good grating of nutmeg, the zest of half a lemon, and a serving spoon (early 19th century for both size and ambience) each of Rum and brandy were the starting point. The Rum came dominated at this point (like very watered down honey) so some lemon juice to balance it, soft brown sugar to add a bit more depth and character to the sweetness, a touch more brandy to up the kick of the thing, and more nutmeg because I really like it later and it tasted about right. A piece of star anise added a final note and made it just about perfect.

Adjustments and personal flourishes, including over spices, seem very much in the spirit of the thing, and I really love the idea of making this with lots of input and debate from all the drinkers. The end result wasn't particularly strong, just fragment, rich, and warming. I'm definitely dedicating it to Dickens, and I'm thinking especially of his collobaritive collections of Christmas stories to further the sense of goodwill and fellowship.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A House in the Country with Lustau Emperatriz Eugenia Oloroso

Numerous articles keep telling me Sherry is 'back', and whilst much of Leicestershire apparently remains to be convinced of this, I'm celebrating. The good news for those of us who recognise a good thing when we see it is that the easily available range of Sherry is increasing to include some very good things indeed, and that Sherry isn't yet so fashionable that prices are prohibitive. Another good thing is that better bottles come in smaller sizes, because fortified wines do not keep as well as we sometimes think they do.

My introduction to Sherry came courtesy of my godparents. They observed a certain old world stateliness about dinner, much as their parents generation must have (and that would have been a pre war standard), so it was dry Sherry before dinner. A polite glass of Tio Pepe was not what most of my teenage contemporaries were drinking, but it's a sensible thing to give a 16 year old because the chances are they won't overdo it (Port with its deceptive sweetness is another matter). I didn't disgrace myself either by drinking to much, or by being unable to drink that bone dry fino, and even now the taste of it takes me back to that house.

It's one reason that I consider Sherry such a very civilised drink, suitable to go with any civilised book.

Jocelyn Playfair's 'A House in the Country' was one of the first a Persephone books I bought, written in 1943, set in 1942, the outcome of the war was not only not certain, but looking pretty grim for the allied forces. It focuses on Cressida as she makes do and mends on the home front, opening her home, Brede Manor, to paying guests, and generally trying to do her bit, and her husband, Charles, injured and lost at sea. It's a world full of sacrifices large and small, and where there are also battles to maintain or reject old standards.

It's definitely a world where the luxury of sitting at ease, lights blazing, in a well heated room, with a glass of old Sherry to hand would be something to both look back on, and look forward to again. Something civilised.

Sherry comes in a whole range of styles from very dry, pale, fino, through to thick, treacly, sweet, Pedro Ximénez. Oloroso is fortified early which stops a protective layer of yeast forming in it (called flor) which keeps oxygen from getting to fino styles. It's the oxidation that gives this wine its distinctive character - nutty (walnuts?) and very complex with raisin, coffee, hints of chocolate, lemon, something almost briney, and fig notes - amongst others. It's pretty incredible for something that costs about £13 for 50cl. That oxidised character also means that it'll keep relatively well - a month or more in the fridge, serve at 12-14 degrees (cool room temp rather than fridge temp). Food wise it works really well with game, a handful of dried nuts, or cheese.

People (in Leicestershire at least) can be a bit funny about Sherry, but honestly, start exploring it with an open mind - it's a whole world of excitement beyond the Christmas familiars of Harvey's Bristol Cream or Croft original.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Time To Keep with Scapa Whisky

Whilst whisky, specifically Scottish whisky (Irish whiskey has an e in it by the way) is on my mind there are a few more things I want to say about it and my relationship with it.

When I started out in the wine trade (August the 5th 1999, my first day in Oddbins) I found myself in a shop with some extremely knowledgeable people who were generous about sharing that knowledge and I learnt a lot. I also found that they each had their specific vinous passions, and to be taken seriously by the customers I felt I needed to find my own particular niche. There was also a vague assumption that because I'd grown up in Scotland I knew about whisky.

Reader, I did not. I wasn't even convinced I could drink a whole glass of it at the time, but it seemed like a good place to start, not least because 20 odd years ago it was a somewhat more conservative market - distilleries released a very limited number of expressions, blends where unfashionable, and all of it was much cheaper. Basically it was an easy place to start. We had quite a few tasting bottles under the counter, and as I worked my way through them, read more, and learnt how to taste* the stuff, I fell in love with it.

There is a misconception that malt whisky should be drunk neat - it can be if that's how you prefer it, but it's not how a lot of people prefer it. Everyone I've met in the trade adds a drop of water, apart from anything else it helps release subtler flavours and aromas. Cutting the alcohol is also easier in the nose (stick your nose straight into a glass of spirits and sniff and you'll get a burning sensation and be unable to detect anything much. You have to approach the glass with care, and sort of waft the fumes towards you - things like this are why it's so easy to ridicule tasting as an activity) which matters. If you want to add coke, lemonade, ginger, green tea, coconut water, whatever - it's up to you, and don't let anyone suggest otherwise. Drinking whisky is meant to be a pleasure.

Meanwhile, Scapa is Orkney's other distillery (the first one is the rather better known Highland Park). Scapa has had a bit of a chequered history in the past few decades. Unloved and in the verge of being mothballed for a while it's now back in production, finally has a visitors centre, and a couple of nas expressions on the market. Like Highland Park there are honey and heather flavours in Scapa, but it doesn't have as much smoke or peat, and there's more of a hint of salt (like on a gentle sea breeze; and descriptions like this are another invitation to ridicule, but you have to describe it somehow). It's the sort of flavour profile that makes it a good beginnners** malt, as well as one for aficionados.

It's also an excuse to push George Mackay Brown's short stories at you again. He liked his whisky (a bit to much to be fair) and reading him the scent of a dram feels as present as the smell of a peat fire. He captures the Orkney he knew so well, recording the islands of his childhood and before, finding the timeless elements of the place. There is nostalgia here, but he avoids sentiment, and I much as I struggle with his novels, I find the short stories wonderful.

*Tasting is different to drinking, it's primarily about evaluating, mostly with your nose, and there's every chance you'll spit out whatever you've been trying at the end. It's an intellectual exercise that assesses quality before preference which in turn encourages me to keep an open mind about everything but cream based liquors which do a horrible mouth coating thing that I cannot like.

**A bad malt for beginners would be something at the really peaty smokey end of the spectrum. The iodene/seaweedy/tarry notes of something like Ardbeg can be offputting, as can the hot pepper of a Talisker. Much better to start at the gentler honey/toffee end and work up.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hebridian Sharker with Talisker Skye

There are many things I enjoyed about Tex Geddes' 'Hebridean Sharker', which is a real curiosity of a book. When it was reissued about 5 years ago I was mostly interested because Geddes had worked as a harpooner for Gavin Maxwell, he features in 'Harpoon at a Venture', Maxwell's first, and arguably best book, and I wanted to know more.

I was even more intrigued when I read that Geddes (by all accounts quite a character, and once described as a sort of cross between Ivan the terrible and Popeye) wrote this book partly to have a bit of a (I think friendly) dig at Maxwell and the success of his book. Geddes isn't the writer that Maxwell was, and 'Hebridean Sharker' is a less complex affair than 'Harpoon at a Venture' - it's straight boys own adventure and biography - but then all things considered Geddes was probably a better balanced personality.

Accounts of shark fishing won't be for everybody, but this book also documents life on the west coast at a very particular time, and there are some great anecdotes in here. Reading out one of them to D, it turned out I was telling him a story about his uncle, which was an added bonus, though it's the almost opening scene as Tex sets out with a lifeboat crew (pretty much on his wedding night) which is most remarkable. It's certainly genuine heroism. (Original review is Here)

Anyway, 'Hebridean Sharker' particularly came to mind as I see all the updates from Shetland friends currently being battered by Storm Caroline tonight, and contemplate our chances of snow in rather less storm lashed Leicester (calm, but temperatures dropping). In either location it's a night for getting cosy and reading about other people's adventures.

Talisker, distilled on Skye, is an obvious choice, not just because of its physical location, but for its peppery, smokey, character. My preferred expression of Talisker is the distillers edition, where the spirit spends a bit of time in ex amoroso Sherry casks - it's a politer, toned down version of Talisker. I like the 10 year old too with its peppery kick, it's a great sit by the fire after a walk in wild weather malt. Skye, along with Storm, are relatively recent additions to the Talisker stable, and both of them accentuate different characteristics of the Talisker malt. With Skye there's a real chilli pepper note that comes through, especially if you hold the spirit under your gums for a moment (a sales rep made me do it, I wouldn't necessarily recommend the exercise).

One of the surprising things about single malt is how relatively modern the concept is - the form we're familiar with only really dates from the 1970's, before that blends were far more common - brand names being a guarantee of both style and quality. Since then the whisky market has continued to evolve, and demand has continued to increase. This can cause problems for distillers, whisky isn't whisky until it's 3 years old, and the age statement on a bottle refers to the younges spirit in there. To get consistency in your 10 year old whisky (each barrel of spirit will be different depending on how wood and liquor have reacted to each other) there will be much older whisky in the mix. It means you have to guess your market a decade or more ahead, and the current popularity of whisky has meant that those age statements are rather limiting. They've also taught customers that age equals quality.

It doesn't necessarily do so, older whisky is more expensive because the production costs are higher; more of it has evaporated into the angels share and you have to store it. Young whisky has a freshness that can be really appealing, but who would pay the same for something that says 5 years old as they would for a 12 year old malt? The No Age Statement (nas) whiskies have been the answer to that. I also wonder if they have more in common with the single malts of earlier years when it was more of a niche product.

Either way this particular malt, like the book, won't be for everybody, but if you don't mind a few rough edges both have a lot going for them.