Friday, June 01, 2012

Memories of Usquebaugh

I am on my annual holiday in my village in Kannur. It has become almost a ritual now: just before the onset of monsoon, we come down for a month-long stay in our ancestral home. We just do not stir out of home except for the morning (and evening) constitutionals. Everything else is put on the back burner. To use a phrase that the new generation has taught us, we just ‘chill out’.

I love to watch the rain in all its glory and moods, the like of which I have seen only here. There is nothing more exciting than the fragrance that wafts in the air as the parched earth eagerly soaks in first rains. I can spend hours listening to the incessant pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the tiled roof and thence to the courtyard.

This time, however, we seem to have been a bit too early. There is no sign of the monsoon, though there are hints of clouds that drift aimlessly in the sky. At times, the straying clouds mask the sun from the earth and give us false hopes of an imminent shower, only to move away and disappoint us.

One of the ‘freedoms’ that this retreat gives us is the freedom from the chlorinated water that we get from the tap in the city. Here it is always the pristine water freshly drawn from the well. The deeper the well, the purer, clearer and sweeter the water, my grandfather used to say.

As I am a little indisposed, Bhawani has prescribed boiled water instead of fresh water till I get better. The first time I had it, it tasted different. The flavour (of the water!) triggered off memories of something pleasant, but I could not quite put my finger on what it was.

The second time I drank the water, it came back to me: the water, boiled on a hearth using firewood, had the ‘smokey’ taste – a much lighter version of the ‘pungent, earthy aroma of the blue peat smoke’ of the pale yellow Laphroaig Whiskey that Hari had brought for me from one of his trips abroad.

The first time I had Laphroaig, I took it with a splash of soft water. Rolling it around on my tongue, I had enjoyed the sweet nuttiness of the barley matured in small casks. The distinctive flavour of Laphroaig comes from the use of ‘quarter casks’ where the oak surface contact of the fluid is 30% greater than with standard barrels.

Here, sitting in Chalode, I was savouring the delicate, heathery perfume of Islay's streams, thousands of miles away in another continent!

When I was young, an uncle of mine (less than five years older than I was, but an uncle nevertheless!) told me that milk boiled on a fire of dried palm fronds had a distinct flavour. I used to think that his observation was stuff and nonsense. Now I know he was talking sense: the water boiled on firewood does have a markedly different flavour. It took the golden liquid distilled by Laphroaig for that realisation to dawn upon me!


Gangasrini said...

My brother in law Narayanan's brother living in US came to our village with lot of trepidation about food typical of US visitor. But once he tasted the firewood cooked food, he shrugged off all restrictions and ate food to his fill. Those were the days we never ever knew antacid or pantaprezole. We cannot dream of such healthy tasty food.

captrajesh said...

Sir not all Laphroaig is matured this way. Only some of it poured into quarter casks half way through the process and after the full cycle, bottled and sold as Laphroaig Quarter Cask. The entry level version is cheaper and tastes very different to the Quarter Cask.