Each New Year doesn’t in-and-of-itself present a problems to me: it provides a 365¼ day tableau on which to create life. And, other than when I’m actually writing, there is nothing I love doing more than creating food … and drink.
Thus I resolved this year to create a distinctly Canadian “cocktail” with which to ring in the New Year. I thought about things like the ubiquitous mulled wine or even a more special glühwein but neither resounded with me. Just using a Canadian wine in a recipe wasn’t going to make it particularly “Canadian.” It didn’t take more than a few seconds more than I hatched the plan: eggnog with a Canadian twist … Canadian (aka “rye”) whisky.
For the Canadians in the room, rye whisky needs little in the way of explanation and you only need watch the hit HBO series Boardwalk Empire to see the starring role our Canadian whisky plays. Though it is a common misconception to assume all Canadian whisky is (or must be) made with rye alcohol, many are, and that is what I set my sights upon ….
I grew up with rye. It was all around me as a child from my father who had a stainless steel lunchbox blazoned with R/R (Royal Reserve) stickers which had been peeled off the bottles (those were definitely different days), to my grandmother whose poison was rye and ginger (yes, the same woman who has figured so prominently throughout my life and gave you “hamburger soup”), it seemed everyone in my family loved their Canadian whisky … except me.
I hated it; I hated it from the first sip. I hated it as a child, as a teen, and all the way through to the present day. I’ve never been able to stomach it, never developed a taste for it, and always felt like an epicurean failure that I didn’t love mushrooms … and whisky. And I know, the fault my well lay in the quality and type of whisky I was first exposed to as a child, but I’ve had the same aversion to most of the finest Scotch whiskies as well.
Therefore, it took some chutzpah when I decided to make not only eggnog from scratch but use whisky as the fire in its whipped belly. So it was back in early December, when preparing my last challenge piece, that I went looking for the right bottle to break down some traditions. I walked into the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) and found a wise looking man in the “Vintages” wine section.
“How I can help you, sir?” he asked, using a salutation that still brings a wry smile to my face.
“I’m looking for a distinctly and great Canadian whisky, preferably from Ontario, that I can use to make eggnog.”
“Eggnog is made with rum.”
Er-hem, I sighed, “Yes, but I want to make this a Canadian eggnog.” In fairness to him, I’m sure that if I’d had time to explain to him about the Canadian Food Experience Project and this challenge, he would have got it … but instead, I got a sideways scan like I was a just turning a light shade of lunatic around the edges and how dare I think of putting a good Canadian whisky in eggnog.
Still, he was a great client service rep and he kept his tongue and drifted into what was clearly his element. He spent 15 minutes or more with me (an eternity in a busy store) going through the complete Canadian whisky aisle and describing each bottle for me and answering all my questions as I learned about sherry barrels (which makes the whisky smooth) and white oak (which brings spiciness). Near the end of the aisle, we then came to Forty Creek Whisky and a bottle of “Barrel Select.”
“This is one of my favourites,” he said, “It’s handcrafted, made in a traditional copper ‘pot,’ and aged for 10 years in American white oak before being finished in sherry barrels. It’s sweet, has hints of vanilla and toffee, some cinnamon and spice.”
“That’s perfect,” I exclaimed – these were going to be the flavours of my eggnog-to-be. Best of all, this internationally acclaimed whisky, and their entry-level bottle at that, actually cost 40 cents less than Royal Reserve.
The second part of the challenge was to make a traditional eggnog, from scratch – which means using raw eggs. My first New Years resolution, then, was not to kill anyone in the process. The recipe for my Eggnog with Forty Creek Whisky is posted here … and I’m living proof that not only will three glasses not kill you, even when drank 4 days later, but that it will gently kick you on your butt with a feather and leave you with a giggling smile on your face.
The key in the preparation was first selecting organic quality products to go with the whisky and, secondly, pasteurizing the eggs to avoid the infinitesimal chance of death by egg (hands up who has eaten raw cookie dough and lived to, well, raise your hand? You’re my living proof that eggs don’t kill – rather people kill … with eggs). And finally, folding in some whipped-cream along with the whipped egg whites at the end was a stroke of hedonistic genius.
The flavours were gorgeous and the eggnog hardly needed any spice on top at the end because the whisky so perfectly infused its flavours throughout. Indeed, when combined with the cream, the whisky and its integral sweetness and flavours made this nog taste like it had been crafted with Malibu rum (but better … much better). While there is no coconut in the nog, all the spices and ingredients will nevertheless transport you to a snowy island in the Caribbean. What better place to be to ring in the New Year?
Does this make me a whisky drinker now? I don’t think so but we’ll see – because I have definitely fallen in love with John Hall’s masterful product. There is a quote from John Hall, the Niagara winemaker turned whisky maker, on Forty Creek’s website that seems a great way to end this and tie-in my previous post on traditions:
As a first generation whisky maker John candidly admits he is not so much bound by tradition as he is inspired by it.
I can think of no better way to describe my personal view of food and cooking and I think it is a view which also well describes our Canadian food identity.
Happy New Year ….
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On the 7th of each month, participants in the year-long Canadian Food Experience Project share their collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences. As I personally think Canadians do have a food identity, the hope of the project is that we will bring clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. I strongly encourage you to participate by visiting the many other great voices and websites out there.