It’s practically impossible not to fall in love with the food and spirits of Celtic regions. Spanning about 1200 miles from Scotland to Spain and hugging the Atlantic coast of Western Europe, today’s Celtic regions offer an impressive array of gastronomic wonders along with fine and diverse drink.
Remember Latin 101? Okay, maybe not, but how about Julius Caesar’s “All Gaul is divided into three parts”? Well, one of those regions was comprised of “those who in their own tongue are called Celts”. And Gaul is a historical name in Ancient Rome for the area of Western Europe that is today’s France, plus a bit more. Bottom line: the Celtic regions are thousands of years old and have a rich history. Here’s where we’re talking about:
Asturias and Sidra
Asturias is in “Green Spain” – in the Northwest part of the country. Lots of rain and temperate climate throughout the year means lots of apples, which means lots of cider, or sidra, most with the alcohol content of beer. There are miles of coastline on the Cantabric Sea, which means an abundance of seafood. Some of the more popular dishes include Caldereta (fish stew), made with fish, lobster and crab, seasoned with onion, parsley, fresh tomato and some white wine. When paired with the perky sidra – heavenly. Another fave is Merluza a la Sidra (Hake fish in cider). A regional mainstay, this dish is a blend of hake, clams, onion, garlic, tomato, potatoes, apples and cider, cooked in a ceramic casserole, then baked.
Galicia and Wine
The wettest area of Spain is Galicia, in the extreme Northwest corner of the country, adjacent to Asturias. This is the home of Rias Baixas, the most well-known of the Galician wine regions. Albarino grapes thrive in this cold, damp, drizzly climate. The white wines of the region are crisp and zesty, with various citrus tones. Local terroir adds a gentle sea influence which makes these wines pair so well with wavy-shelled oysters, cockles, clams, langoustines, mushrooms and potatoes.
Spirits of Brittany
Perhaps Brittany’s best known drink is its Calvados apple brandy, but the region also produces single malt and blended whiskies. Armorik Double Maturation is a single malt, aged in the traditional combination of used oak and sherry barrels. Armorik single malt is a bit lighter in both color and taste, having been aged in oak barrels only. Breizh Whisky is a blend of grain and single malt whiskies and double distilled in copper stills.
Cornwall, Mead, and Honeymoon
Mead is a fermented drink made with honey and water, and is arguably one of the oldest alcoholic beverages in existence, and is sometimes referred to as honey wine. Local lore tells us that it was tradition to supply a newly married couple with enough mead for a month, to insure happiness and fertility. This period became known as the honeymoon. Mead is mentioned in Beowulf, Arthurian literature, and throughout much of English history, with the Cornwall area of England being the locale of much of King Arthur’s realm. The honey-sweet drink goes well with dried fruit and nuts, blue or aged cheeses, and with dessert tarts.
Ireland, Irish Beer and Whiskey
Ah, Ireland and drink! Where to start? For beer, how about 1759 when Arthur Guinness began combining roasted Irish barley, hops, brewer’s yeast and pure spring water to make his namesake beer. Today, 10 million glasses of “the black stuff” are consumed each day. And, it’s not really black, but a deep ruby red, due to the roasted barley used in the recipe. Guinness is also known as a “meal in a glass” and the joke is that Guinness is one of the major food groups in Ireland. Today, Irish whiskey is made at four distilleries – Bushmill’s, Cooley, Jameson, and Midleton. The aroma and flavor profiles are light and smooth, because the whiskies are triple distilled and not peated. Irish beers and whiskies go well with the hearty fare of the island nation – robust meats, cheeses, and potato dishes. Over 10 million glasses of GUINNESS® stout are enjoyed every single day around the world, and 1,883,200,000 pints are sold every year – that’s 1.8 billion, to put it another way.
Isle of Man and its Quirky Spirit
Perhaps the most unusual spirit of the Celtic regions is ManX Manx Spirit, described by its creators as “contemporary technology with a classic taste”. ManX Spirit is a redistillation of existing Scotch whiskies, in a process that removes the color from the liquid, leaving a crystal clear product. It comes in two variations: the red label is a redistillation of existing blended whiskies, and aged at least five years; the black label is a redistillation of existing “pure malt” whisky, also aged at least five years. Why do this? According to the caustic description on the website, “A lot of us want the taste of whisky without the color of whisky getting in the way of our favourite cocktail.”
Wales – Home of Beer, Wine and Whisky, and more … Who Knew?
As with most Celtic regions, Wales is well-suited to produce distilled spirits because of the abundance of water and grain. Penderyn Distillery is located in the foothills of the magnificent Brecon Beacons National Park and offers a complete portfolio of spirits, including vodka, gin, and Welsh Cream Liqueur. Its range of single malts is impressive and includes Madeira, Sherry, and Port “finished” whiskies, in addition to a peated expression.
Scotland, the only home of “Scotch”
Scotch whisky is bottled primarily in two ways – as a single malt, meaning it is the product of one single distillery, or as a blend, meaning it consists of small amounts of three to four dozen single malts and grain whisky, blended together. Single malts are generally categorized by the regions where they are made and aged – the Highlands, the Lowlands, Islay, Speyside, and Islands.