Friday, November 9, 2012

Whiskey & Cherry Ice Cream ...inspired by the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery

That's right, I said ice cream.  Even if the thermometer has dipped down into the 20's several times this week overnight.  I'm still eating it.  But did you notice the words 'Kilbeggan' and 'Whiskey'?  Well, despite the fact that you're eating a bowl of this typical summertime-treat, it still manages to warm you from the inside out.  So, yes.  Ice Cream.

And not only is there rhyme to my madness, there is also reason.  My inspiration comes from a trip to the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery in Co. Westmeath, Ireland.  Touring the old distillery, we started with the brewing vat, which uses wash from the local river and is heated with steam.  Barley is them ground and milled using gigantic millstones before it heads into a massive "mixer" which separates the liquid (wort) from the leftover grain (which goes back to the local farmers for animal feed).   A stroll outside invites an invigorating spray and rush churning water from Kilbeggan's water-powered mill.
The wort is then moved to vats holding 50,000 liters to start the fermentation process.  Yeast is added at this point, resulting in a mild beer-like alcohol called wash.  Next comes distillation.  You may be familiar with the typical triple-distilled Irish Whiskeys, but Kilbeggan is actually only double-distilled, which allows it to keep a bit of sweetness.  At this point, it is extremely high in alcohol.  Distilled water is added to this resulting liquid before it is allowed to mature in Sherry or Port barrels for at least 3 years.  Fun fact - in order to truly be labeled Irish Whiskey, it must be matured for at least 3 years.

So, that's a very watered-down version of my tour, but you know, I don't want to give away all the secrets.  You're definitely gonna want to make a trip to Westmeath to experience it all yourself.  Right?  Thought so.  Okay, so if learning the process of whiskey-making is inspiring, naturally the process of whiskey-tasting follows suit.
clockwise from top lh corner:  1- one of the youngest (and femalest whiskey distillers), Andrina Fitzgerald talks us through the pot stilling process.  2- An assortment of Whiskey from Kilbeggan ready for tasting.  3- the oldest working pot still in the world.  4- Master Blender Noel Sweeney guides us on our Kilbeggan tasting course.

And though I tried many, MANY whiskies that morning...mmm hmm, it was totally like ten in the morning...I'm just focusing on the "regular" Kilbeggan right now.  Kilbeggan has this sort of airy, sweetness about it.  This sweetness comes from Kilbeggan's 185 year old pot still, the oldest working pot still in the world, actually.  The top neck on the still is very thin, allowing the sweetness to escape through the top, while the heavier, harsher residue falls back to the bottom.
Famous Kilbeggan Whiskey Ice Cream at The Pantry Restaurant (inside the Kilbeggan Distillery)
But you know what inspires me the most, don't you?  Why yes, food.  You know me so well.  After our tour and our tasting, we headed into The Pantry Restaurant, located in the Kilbeggan Distillery.  My Fillet of Fresh Pollock in Lemon Pepper Batter was good.  The Marie Rose Tarter Sauce that accompanied it?  It made the dish.  But the true beauty of the meal was dessert.  I wasn't very hungry at this point, so I asked for a half portion (one scoop) of the Famous Kilbeggan Whiskey Ice Cream (that's it up there).  While it may have looked like a simple scoop of vanilla, it tasted anything but!  Creamy beyond compare.  Each bite saturated with the sweet taste of Kilbeggan Whiskey.  It was so good that I sincerely wished that I had ordered both scoops.  And still do to this day.
But instead of crying over what could have been, I decided that as soon as I got a bottle of Kilbeggan in hand, I was making ice cream.  Instead of being a total copycat and just making straight-up Whiskey Ice Cream, I wanted something to fold into it.  Whiskey + Cherries = perfection.  Just sayin'.

So start this ice cream the day before you want to make it.  You will not want to skimp on the booze-soaked cherries.  You will, however, have a hard time keeping your fingers out of them while they're infusing, so put it in a cupboard and walk away.  I used both the cherries and some of their resulting liquor in the ice cream...but since the liquor is red, it sort of gives your final product a dirty sort of tinge.  So if you want to try to keep it white, hold off on folding in the cherries until the ice cream base is done churning, and add unused whiskey in place of the cherry-infused.  That said, even if it's not white-as-snow, it is insanely delicious.  And the remaining cherry-infused whiskey makes a tasty digestif or mixer.

Kilbeggan Whiskey & Cherry Ice Cream

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 15 minutes + overnight (unattended)
Cook Time: n/a
Keywords: dessert snack vegetarian alcohol cherries dairy Whisk(e)y ice-cream

Ingredients (~1 quart)
    Cherries in Whiskey
    • 1 c. dried cherries
    • ¾ c. Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
    Ice Cream Base
    • 2 c. whole milk, divided
    • 4 tsp. cornstarch
    • 1¼ c. heavy cream
    • ⅔ c. granulated sugar
    • 2 Tbs. light corn syrup
    • ¼ tsp. sea salt
    • 3 Tbs. cream cheese, at room temperature
    Instructions
    Soaking the Cherries
    Place cherries in a small jar and cover with whiskey in a small jar or bowl, and let sit until cherries soften and absorb rum, overnight. Set a strainer over a bowl and strain, reserving whiskey. Set aside cherries and 2 tablespoons of the infused whiskey.

    Finishing the Ice Cream
    Stir together the cornstarch and ¼ cup of the milk in a small bowl and set aside.

    Whisk together remaining milk, cream, sugar, syrup, and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Simmer for 4 minutes, and whisk in the slurry (milk and cornstarch mixture). Bring back to the boil and let cook, stirring, until thickened, ~2 minutes.

    Set the room temperature cream cheese in a bowl and pour about a ¼ cup of the hot mixture over it, whisking until smooth. Whisk in the remaining mixture and reserved whiskey. Pour into a gallon-size zippered baggie and submerge in a large bowl of ice water until chilled, squeezing it around from time to time.

    Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturers instructions, adding the reserved cherries when it is almost finished mixing (or just fold them in after the machine stops churning). Transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze until firm, at least an hour.

    notes:
    The cherry-infused whiskey imparts a bit of a dingy-color to the finished ice cream. If this bothers you, just add 2 tablespoons of regular (not infused) whiskey into the ice cream base. Also, fold reserved cherries in after machine stops churning to minimize the spread of the "red".

    Don't discard the rest of the cherry-infused whiskey! Drink it straight or use it as a mixer.

    Ice Cream Base slightly adapted from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
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    Oh and let me tell you - the force is strong with this one.  Non-whiskey-lovers need not apply.

    So, tell me about something...a dish, a drink, a smell...that you discovered while traveling and just had to come home and recreate in your kitchen.  And if you'll excuse me, I'm heading off to enjoy a dram of whiskey and some Friday night television.  Pure excitement.  No really, I love Grimm...and make a point of actually being home to watch it.  Sláinte!
    'Whiskey' smoke stack at the Kilbeggan Whiskey Distillery

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