Monday, 30 March 2009

Lagavulin 16-year-old 43% Dram #10

Islay's fame is chiefly grounded,
In the gases evaporating from South Shore.
This dram sipped is a passion founded,
In taste nor imagery, don't ask for more.

The flavours, the ideas; contained by glass,
Escape like the cork to provoke new thought.
This Lagavulin is of a separate class,
Rarely found, but for a long time sought.

A simple fire and forgiving chair
Are the sole collaborators this dram will require.
In sandy shoes and with wind-tousled hair,
I'll secrete myself and let time inspire.

I confess to a Rabbie Burns moment here. I finished my miniature in mid-July last year and what came next was quite astonishing. I literally entertained the Whisky Muse. For perhaps an hour my mind rode the thermals produced by the triumvirate of distilleries on the south coast of Islay: experiencing visions and ideas and love. Then it slowly began to fade, my state of mind leaving not the slightest imprint so I had little knowledge of exactly what I had thought, why I had thought it and the conclusions I had drawn. A "Malt Moment" indeed.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Glenfarclas 10-year-old 40% Dram #37

Who's been to Edzell? If you haven't, it's nothing major because I'm about to describe the smart little village near Brechin, or more particularly the walk which has the settlement as its base, to you now.

The route makes use of the banks of the North Esk, a river which, I believe, has a reputation for good fishing. It is even better for acting metaphorically as the Glenfarclas 10-year-old. I'll call it the Glenfarclas Garden. The easiest parallel comes in autumn as all those deciduous trees blush the same amber gold. However, I am more familiar with the place in early summer, a season which teases the best out of the area and comparisons with the whisky of today's post.

Driving from Brechin, you should actually ignore the village entirely, sparing only minimal attention on the plush residences visible from the main street. Following this road will see you cross a bridge, immediately beyond which is a layby. Park here. This is the sideboard from which you may pluck a number of drams: passing through a gate set in the wall will take you further up the river valley where you might access a very different whisky, perhaps the 105. Persevering on the road would lead you to Fettercairn and its malt. I'll be following the flow of the North Esk downhill on this occasion.

Make straight across the road where you will be confronted by a dense body of trees. These ones lend their needles, largely undisturbed by decay, to the forest floor. After finding the path between these, you meet the species which have most in common with our Glenfarclas: horse chestnut, beech; they offer a woody spiciness that sways quietly about them above the river. The nose adopts the dimensions of these trees, and newly-budded leaves are a sweet, fluffy texture. The abundant sun stokes the undergrowth into a mulchy fruitiness, roses and cherries. In the leaf mould there are the rich nut kernels, roots and earth. Periodically the path sidles to the edge of the gorge and the fast-flowing stream fills each nostril from below with the lively scents of light, air and peat.

Progress is gradual and pleasurable, the trees relenting to a single rank at the river's edge. On your left are fields - pasture and soon arable farming. Young grass lends its own herby sweetness to the life-giving air. A honey-like quality begins to develop and the cereal crops increase their aromatic presence with the shrinking altitude. Oak trees appear and theirs is a waxy apple influence.

The path, just as the suspension footbridge extends from either canopy, is allowed closer to the slackening river. It is now shallow, braided by white-pebbled eyots and supped at by the sycamores at its edge. I cup my hands in the current and lift to my lips. Some trick of the light tinges its purity: a coppery glow. It's a firm drink, massive malt and whole fruits: cherries and cranberries. The smoothness is hugely refreshing. While I dry my fingers and palms on my trousers I appreciate the soft malty reprise, embellished with vanilla, cranberry and dark chocolate. I recognise the 15-year-old in a gasp-worthy organic tang of Sherry oak, like rhubarb or mandarins in its heady tartness. It sustains me for my return journey along the opposite bank.

This is a really fine dram and quite astonishing value. I first tasted a Glenfarclas this time last year and so intense was the sweetness and so strong that oaky finish progress with it was slow for my novice taste buds. However, the distillery character is gratifyingly present here, and I hope it shall be with the other quite easily-available expressions in its core range. The very idea of the 25-year-old is dangerously wonderful, being, as it is, in the locality of £100.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Tomintoul 16-year-old 40% Dram #3

I get very sentimental with this dram which is, as can be dolefully seen, almost gone. My "seeing of the light" in whisky terms occured during an October half-term holiday in the Braemar area (quite why we didn't visit Royal Lochnagar as well has never been satisfactorily explained to me) and to help in the appointing of our remote holiday cottage we had been sourced a bottle of the 10-year-old sibling. The epiphany would come a few days later at The Glenlivet but in between times a combination of the youngest "gentle dram" and water straight from the tap, itself no doubt straight from some burn, was a drink so quietly magnificent I've yet to repeat it more than forty drams later. So I decided that I really had to have a bottle of this.

Just one of the many facets behind my love of whisky is my aunt: living in Scotland, a passionate whisky drinker and to whom clings a web of incredibly diverse whisky-related acquaintances. She bought this from "my wee man in Aboyne" who was doing very well at shifting what stocks the tiny distillery sent him. With the above in mind, no wonder its score of '71' can't be trusted. However, I don't care if it is refuted or not. Every measure gives me infinite pleasure. It makes me a poet before I know it.

It's furniture fixture brassiness of colour seems to be an identical hue to the 10 and 27-year-olds but its smooth arable aroma has little of the latter's Sherry influence. The cooked apple note is delicious but better still is the scent (perversely) of the empty glass! The hedonism can continue long after the taste of dates, plain chocolate and gingerbread have all but retired from your palate. For it is gorgeously long, perhaps lending itself to an aperitif which is how I shall soak up the remainder. It is genuinely a gentle dram with idiosyncracies slow to emerge. Being so close to The Glenlivet, however: in actuality and in my mind - drinking it recalls standing in the more famous distillery's car park and simply experiencing the atmosphere: the breezes barrelling into the glen bottom, bringing the scents of mash and heather with them. For me then, it is a somaesthetic/ expressionistic/ impressionistic dram, one that evokes a breathless few months, coloured by the thrill of new love.

All in all, I can't wait to get hold of the "Peaty Tang" expression, and obviosuly a miniature of the 10-year-old for the purposes of neatness. The Tomintouls are all magnificent value and all to be found in The Whisky Shop. FYI, you know...

Friday, 20 March 2009

Aberlour 10-year-old 40% Dram #35

I can't get my head around today. I'm not even sure about what I was hoping for. I wasn't expecting to be thinking as deeply, or with such a lot of doubt. Abi Lower and me: it had more of a ring yesterday. It had a nice fantasy ring to it, too, in the days when I only knew her as a pretty girl at school about whom no-one had a bad word to say. After being timetabled together for chemistry, I found out we got along and that I didn't have a bad word to say about her, either. So after our getting on so well together, my asking her out, her saying yes, our meeting up and kissing each other a couple of times and everything seeming hunky-dorey, why am I now so confused?!

We sat in the cafe for a couple of hours this afternoon. I was touching her hair every-so-often and smelling the organic richness of those nutty gold curls. The rest of her carried a honey-sweet scent, lively and inviting. The orange T-shirt appealingly accentuated her smooth curvy figure. All of this I picture now without any real emotion; this perhaps mainly down to our conversation which had no real spark, despite or maybe because of our antics at school. On our own, we couldn't come up with anything memorable.

There were a couple of quick kisses and her sweet, fruity lip gloss tasted really nice. She was a good kisser, too, but the overall sensation was... wrong. No, not wrong: just not quite right. What was going on? Why was it "not quite right"? I want to confront the flaw but it keeps hiding from me. Is it me? I just can't unearth the real fault - nothing comes specifically to mind. It's incredibly frustrating. Everything was pointing towards a really great relationship, one with fun, adventure and depth but I think both of us knew that something wasn't working. I got a kiss as we left the cafe, a little eager to separate. It was a different kiss, though, friendly and conciliatory. I can still vaguely remember the pear and apple tart suggested in that lip gloss and the vanilla ice cream she had had came through, too. She smiled. I shrugged. We were just too casual an acquaintance for any real passion.

In summary, the Aberlour was, for me, a bit like a girl you can't make your mind up about. I had heard great things from her ex-boyfriends (Micky Jackson and Jimmy Murray) but the chemistry just wasn't right. In looks and demeanour - absolutely faultless, as most of the lassies around the Elgin area are. I just couldn't get excited about this particular individual but, to persist with a metaphor, she has some older sisters...

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve 18-year-old 40% Dram #32

It's June and I'm in Scotland. Have I gone back in time? Despite having mentioned something of both, neither time nor place seem overly important. Of course, the former is. When was I told about the relationship between the sun, yard arms and alcohol?

As the above hopefully demonstrates, my character for this post is gently befuddled. It could be lunchtime. Anyway, as inappropriate as society finds drinking spirits with a midday sandwich, that is what I have been doing. I sit at a wrought-iron table on a slated terrace and only a copse of silver birches obstruct my view down to the glen bottom. Behind me is the whitewashed hotel that I've been staying in, a fabulous base for walking, within which is a fabulously well-stocked bar. In the healthy, mountain-fresh cool of said bar I have found a bottle of Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve. For some bizarre reason, Glenfiddichs have evaded me thus far on my malt journey and I wanted to see, once and for all, if "pears" was not just opportunistic marketing.

I stood on the lawn, dram in hand, feeling the sun revive me. This section of grass had only recently been abandoned by the hotel's shadow and was still lush and moist. Tipping the tumbler which captured in its thick bottom the colours of green grass, blue sky and demerera sugar heather, I could smell flowers. It was astonishingly fresh, as if it too was a plant still dipped in dew. I sniffed again and, unbidden and unexpected, I caught a whiff of not quite ripe... comice pears. There they were after all.

Before I began sipping with conviction, I noticed the tight core of maltiness on top of which soared an arch of cinnamon and fruit scone sweetness. The peating was light but rich and then in came some lemon rind. I was refreshed!

I walked to where a burn tumbled from the peaks of the glen through the hotel's grounds. I let a little water enter the glass and blend with the full gold, a delicate operation considering the force of the water, its fierce coldness and how much I had paid for my double. I took another sniff as stream water dribbled from the glass onto my shoes. I found blossoms for trees that didn't grow this high up. From top to bottom there were grooves of character: a round butteriness and caramel maltiness. I also clocked an added presence of berries. Swirling the dram and waiting unlocked vanilla and lime ice cream and, most summery of all, passion fruit pavlova. Then I couldn't delay drinking the stuff any longer.

The sun is not quite joining me at my little table. As the malt continues to tour my palate I marvel at the pecan roundness and orange juice flavours. There is also some heather honey, I think.

I've decided. This is a fine dram for summer. Very refreshing indeed. I might go for another one; keep the heat out.

This genuinely is the first Glenfiddich I have offically tasted although I sampled the 12-year-old in a bar a few months ago. I bought a miniature for said dram yesterday and it's almost that with it I can really start to call myself a malt drinker: I'm to cover the basics, or the most ubiquitous drams, at last. As for the most esoteric, I have found my way to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society website and I would dearly like to be a member. Maybe after the exams. If I want to taste a greater variety of malts and test my palate to new extremes it is, gloriously, the only option!