At this time of year, when I’m inevitably asked if I’m ready for Christmas, my stock response is “Well, I’m not really a huge fan of Christmas”. My French friends always find it quite amusing when I start answers with “I’m not really a huge fan of such and such” or “such and such isn’t really my favourite”. They ask why I can’t be more direct and simply state that I don’t like it. My only excuse is that I’m English and that’s not a terribly English thing to do. However, for the avoidance of doubt, here goes: I don’t like Christmas.
For some people, Christmas is all about embracing the festivities of the season; for others, it’s about facing difficulties. We often don’t know what’s happening, or what’s happened, in others’ lives to cause this lack of festive cheer. I try my best but I, for one, don’t find Christmas easy. Some people just have to deal with it in their own way.
The waters of Secret Santa and the Christmas works’ night out have always proved choppy for me. One year, for Secret Santa, I was gifted some gravy. An actual jar of actual gravy. For the record, it’s very difficult to wear a poker face when you unwrap that in front of your colleagues. In fact, I’ve only ever embraced the concept once. Many years ago, the person responsible for organising Secret Santa at work happened to be dyslexic. When the spellcheck failed to find it, the memo which went out outlining the rules of Secret Satan went down a treat with me.
As for the works’ night out, put the word Christmas in front of it, and you can expect to pay a price as heightened as guests’ emotions. Whilst you’re chewing on your roast turkey, which could easily pass as somebody’s insole, you wash the meal down with the free wine included in the special Christmas package. Four bottles of Château Shite’s finest, placed in the centre of the table. Wine which, at best, makes your ear lobes tingle or, more likely, causes lock jaw.
This year has been my first full year of self-employment. I decided to embrace the whole Secret Santa thing – albeit without the secret and, actually, without too much Santa – and buy myself a bottle of single cask Glen Scotia. As for a works’ Christmas do, as a sole trader, this was going to be interesting. Thankfully, one of my ‘work related activities’ involves running a whisky group here in Edinburgh. So, it was with some fellow drammers that I headed off to Usquabae for our festive dinner.
We started off with a Cragganmore 12 years as an introductory dram. A great sipper to start the evening before the food arrived. Each of our three courses was paired with a dram, carefully selected by the staff at Usquabae. Their choices were nothing less than inspired:
Roast pumpkin and chestnut soup – Caol Ila Cask Strength
Poached Tay salmon and asparagus terrine – Glen Keith 21 years
Tian of smoked Ayrshire ham and goats cheese – Ardmore 12 years Port Wood Finish
Roast loin of red deer with wild mushroom and spinach pie – Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 61
Baked salmon en croûte – Talisker 18 years
Turkey with chestnut stuffing, seasonal vegetables, roast potatoes, chipolatas, gravy – Glen Deveron 18 years
Traditional Christmas pudding – Glengoyne Cask Strength
Hazelnut, chocolate and crème brûlée pyramid – Arran Sauternes Cask Finish
Selection of Scottish cheese – Kilchoman Sanaig
Being the only one in the group having ordered turkey, I doubted whether there really could have been a suitable pairing. The secret, once again, was all about the gravy. The richness of it brought out a wonderful peppery spiciness to the Glen Deveron that was so unexpected. All the pairings were delicious but this, in itself, was an education. Pairing whisky with food isn’t a new thing; I’ve often carried out many hours of painstaking research trying to match whisky with cheese as well as with chocolate. However, pairing whisky with meals is still relatively new territory for me. However, it’s one that I can certainly recommend entering.
Full marks to the Usquabae team for the fantastic food and the superb service. In addition, it would be remiss of me not to mention the price. Four quality drams, three delicious courses followed by mince pies and coffee for £45. In the middle of December and in the west end of Edinburgh, that’s great value for money.
We all often see lists appearing on social media with titles such as ‘Top 10 Whisky Bars in Edinburgh’. I usually dismiss them so am not sure on how many of them the name Usquabae appears. However, if you’re in Edinburgh, it’s a great place to visit. My fellow drammer, Eddie, caused a few chuckles when he arrived by eloquently telling a member of staff that “you have an impressive back bar”. A genuine compliment which I couldn’t have put better myself.
Well done to Usquabae; we had a great night. They’ve restored my faith in the concept of the Christmas works’ do. Now, all I need to do is work on this Secret Santa thing…