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The Literary Dram

A Spirit in one hand, a Book in the other

Category Archives: Spain

The Whisky:  Embrujo de Granada

www.destileriasliber.com

The Book:  Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

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I’ve decided it’s about time to take on thick, classic works of fiction that over the years have slipped by me unread. First up, that knight-errant of La Mancha. Along for the adventure is a Spanish malt whisky in a hand-painted ceramic bottle. It would fit quite comfortably in Sancho Panza’s saddlebag.

THE WHISKY

Soft, bright mahogany in the glass, and on the nose baked spice overlaying honeyed floral notes. Pleasantly sweet and creamy on the palate.The sherry aging has served it very well.  Excellent Spanish whisky at 40% abv.

Embrujo de Granada is the star product of Destilerias Liber and the creation of Fran Peregrina, a chemical engineer whose heart found a home in the making of whisky with an Andalusian influence. Founded in 2001, the distillery was only the second in the country to produce whisky (the other being DYC) and the first to make a single malt.

Located in Padul, just outside Granada, it draws on snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada for its water supply. The climate (chilly winters and hot, hot summers) plays a definite part in what finally ends up in its bottles, though not as much as the maturation in select ex-sherry casks of American oak, some of which have held the best Jerez for twenty years.

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The malted barley is Spanish as well (from Albacete), as are the copper stills. These unusual flat-bottomed stills were designed by Fran Peregrina himself, and crafted by a local artisan. This version of Embrujo de Granada is a limited edition. Its ceramic bottle (with a hand painted pomegranate, symbol of Granada) salutes the centuries old pottery traditions of the city.

All in all, Peregrina has taken the techniques of Scottish distillation and let the Spanish terroir and heritage have its say. The result is a well-made, thoroughly pleasing sherried dram. One worthy of a classic partner.

THE BOOK

I once read a 200-page abridged edition of Don Quixote. Shame I didn’t take the time to bring myself to the whole marvel, rather than a cut-rate version. The relatively recent and much-lauded translation by Edith Grossman offered the perfect prod to return to the book, and this time take on the 900+ pages. That led to the gift of a second, older translation by John Ormsby, a fine press version printed with marvellous woodcuts by Enric-Cristobal Ricart. I fell under a double spell.

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Often billed as the first modern novel, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha was published in two parts, the first in 1605 and the second a decade later. Four centuries on, my reading of Cervantes proved a constant surprise, the multiple approaches to the story not being what I expected of 17th century writing. In the second part of the novel Cervantes cleverly plays the story against an unauthorized sequel that had been published in the Spanish city of Tarragona in 1614 (by an unscrupulous writer named Avellaneda). It has the scent of postmodernism.

The sublime contrast, in physical make-up and worldview, between Don Quixote and his donkey-riding squire Sancho Panza is the driving force of the novel. Often hilarious, it builds, perilous adventure after perilous adventure, to an ending that is unexpectedly bittersweet and deeply moving.

Don Quixote, the idiosyncratic romantic, the lanky knight-errant atop his haggard steed Rosinante is a man for all time. His squire’s earthy witticism, in parallel with Quixote’s naive rhetoric, echoes through a richly imagined narrative. Their escapades, to win the favour of the knight’s illusory lady love Dulcinea, brings the reader face-to-face with a host of characters — goatherders, friars, criminals, prostitutes, slaves, an odious pair of aristocratic pranksters. No wonder translators are lured back to it again and again.

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Edith Grossman’s 2004 version maintains a contemporary readability without ever sacrificing the feel of 17th century Spain. It is a tough translation trick and Grossman has done the modern reader a great service, as did Ormsby for his generation when that translation was first published in 1885. It is still fluid today, and blended with Ricart’s woodcuts, the 1933 Limited Editions Club printing is a standout.

So, after several decades of putting it off, Don Quixote won me over, and decisively. The Embrujo de Granada added to the experience, all the while keeping in mind that the classic is a classic all on its own.

 

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The Whisky:  DYCPure Malt

http://www.dyc.es

The Book:  Death on a Galician Shore by Domingo Villar 

The heat of summer invites a light sipping whisky and a page-turning murder mystery. Both Spanish, both enlivening the siesta.

The Whisky

Pale amber yellow in the glass. Light aromatics with herbal notes, pleasantly fresh. A measured touch of vanilla and spice on the palate, with a malty sweetness. Mellow but flavourful. Goes down smoothly. Perfect for the plot of a summer’s day. (40% abv, no age statement)

Destilerías y Crianza del Whisky (DYC) was the brainchild of young Spanish entrepreneur, Nicomedes Garcia Gómez, in 1959. A distillery was constructed in Palazeuelos de Eresma, northwest of Madrid, near Segovia, and by 1963 it brought the very first Spanish whisky to market. In the 1980s DYC was producing an extraordinary 20 million litres per year. With its low-priced alternative to Scottish and Irish brands, it had successfully drawn a great number of Spaniards away from the long-standing preference for brandy. Coca-Cola was very pleased. And eventually so was Bean Suntory, DYC’s current owner.

DYC

DYC Pure Malt is a step up from the basic bottlings, for which a mixer is usually a given. Production of this blended single malt began in 2007 and all takes place in house. It is made using top quality Spanish barley in the traditional malting process, together with pure mountain spring water from Peñalara. Aging follows in American oak. It is an excellent product, and for the price easily outshines the imported competition.

The Book

This is the second crime novel by Domingo Villar to be set in Galicia, in north-west Spain, and featuring Inspector Leo Caldas. The even-tempered, reclusive Caldas is offset by his partner Rafael Estévez, who is as likely to use his fists as ask questions.

And there are a lot of questions to ask. In the village of Panxón, the body of a young fisherman, Juan Castelo, has washed up on shore, his hands bound together by an odd green plastic tie. The villagers think it suicide, Caldas believes otherwise. What about the head wound? Why was Castelo alone in his boat on a Sunday, not normally a fishing day? And is there any connection to his surviving a boating accident several years earlier when the skipper of that boat drowned? What about the woman who had gone missing at that same time?

Caldas is relentless in his efforts to uncover the truth. But concrete evidence is hard to find, blind alleys numerous. Gradually the pieces do start to fit together. It is old-fashioned, stick-to-it police work, the reader connecting the dots in step with the good inspector, hoping Estévez doesn’t screw up the investigation in the meantime.

The inspector’s police job overshadows his personal life — a recently ended love affair, a dying uncle, a father for whom he never finds enough time. Life at the moment is finding the murderer, though the story has its touches of humour, and there are the on-going charms of the Galician landscape, its food and wine.

Kudos to Domingo Villar, born in Vigo where much of the book takes place, for choosing Galicia as the setting for the series. I’ve just spent a week there. It’s a welcome alternative to the heat and intensity of Madrid and Barcelona. A great place to sit in the town square, drink café con leche and get lost in a good book. I came to appreciate, not only the inspector’s tenacity, but also his love of the simple Galician mixed salad made from fresh ingredients, with a glass of good albariño in the other hand. (Never forgetting the DYC of course.)

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