Friday, 26 April 2013

Macallan Select Oak

The Macallan Select Oak 1l
What am I trying to describe when I talk about whisky?
When you read tasting notes or reviews people are always talking about particular flavours coming through. Take sherry. It’s one of the most common descriptors you see (naturally considering what's been in many of the whisky casks previously). And I do understand what that means. But then again, I don’t really drink sherry. I’ve tried it but probably only once or twice. But if I’m talking to someone that hasn’t had sherry before then it’s not that useful for short-hand. Which ultimately it led me to wonder if you could ever accurately describe what whisky tastes like to somebody that has never tasted whisky before. But that made my head hurt. I’ll leave that question for if I ever start up a Whisky and Metaphysics blog.
Anyway, from there I started to have a bit more sympathy with the Malt Whisky Society descriptions. Their highly esoteric descriptions are something I was mildly critical of a couple of posts ago - I’m nothing if not inconsistent. But I can see the value in linking whisky to time or place. Basically all of this preamble is a preface to what I’m about to write;
this whisky reminded me of Saturday evenings as a child.
 I don’t quite know why. It's not like I was knocking back single malt as 10 year old. But it’s a highly evocative mix and it took me to a place  that I’m not even sure existed. But it reminded me of being young on a Saturday tea-time. Maybe it’s something to do with the rich sweetness reminding me of old fashioned desserts. It also feels a bit stuffy, a bit musty. Not in a bad way, in fact it lends it a certain grandeur - the kind of smell you might expect to in the library of a stately home. Not that I lived in a stately home either, maybe just a badly ventilated one.
Imagine reading an old book and eating hot syrup sponge. That’s this whisky. I don’t remember ever doing those things together as a child but now I wish I had done.
I can give you the bits and bobs I wrote down – deep dark colour, treacle and toffee smell with a hint of old damp wood. Sweet orange peel. That’s what I got but I can’t put my finger why it feels so… retro. There’s something distinctly old-fashioned about this.
To be honest this trip down False Memory Syndrome Lane is a bit much for me. The sweetness is a little stifling, somehow constricting. I much prefer the Macallan 10 which from memory (clearly not that reliable) is a lot lighter and fresher. But it's still a good 'un.
Pricewise – it’s £40+ and only available to travel (I picked this up at the airport pretty much at random before an internal flight).  It's a 1 Litre bottle so that’s good value, but then again you can pick up the 10 year old for a similar price. This is a No Age Statement - no bad thing in and of itself but it does obfuscate things a little. There is an interesting article about NAS whisky here;
I might expand on that in the future but I’ll leave you with that link for now. 
Next time: more whisky, I should expect.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

My first bottle...

I started writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago around about St. Patricks Day - I had the canny idea of reviewing some Irish whiskey that I had lurking in the cupboard to tie in with the ocassion. But then I realised that pretty much every single whisky blogger on the internet was doing the same thing. So maybe I'll leave that review for another day - June 27th perhaps.

Instead I thought I'd write something about the bottle that first got me into appreciating whisky. What was that 'gateway' drink that meant a few years later I would end up spending significant sums of money on more bottles, keeping a shoddily maintained blog and just generally becoming a whisky bore? I think that in some ways a first bottle is like a first record for a music buff. There's something there that makes some people want to keep exploring and seeking out new things.

I didn't just grab a bottle having randomly decided to try out single malt whisky. Moving to Edinburgh was no doubt a factor, when you see so many bottles behind the bar in pubs you start to wonder if there might be something to it.
I'm not sure exactly which single malt proved to be the turning point but on trying some 'decent' whisky I do remember the revelation that you could drink it neat without feeling like your throat was being sandpapered. Most previous encounters with whisky had been cheap blends mixed with coke, that could be generously described as rough. Apart from the cheap stuff there was a brief period at university when Jack Daniels and coke was my vain attempt at something approaching... sophistication? Asking for a 'jack and coke' seemed like something a urbane person would do (never mind the fact you had to explain what that meant to the bar staff). As a side note - It seems outrageous to see Jack Daniels sitting on the shelf in the supermarket costing as much as a decent single malt.

Anyway, I just couldn't get used to the super sweetness of drinking whisky (or bourbon) and coke. As for drinking whisky it neat - it burned. The only spirits to drink neat were Tequila or Vodka and even then it had to be shot down in a drunken stupor.

But now I'd tried a bit single malt and I'd liked it. So then it was a case of actually getting a bottle of my own. It might seem silly but it felt like a big step for me, an initial hurdle of 'is this really for someone like me?'. As if somebody was going to tap me on the shoulder and ask 'who are you trying to kid?'.
Without trying to get too deep into it, it also probably marked the start of a time where I cared more about the quality than the quantity of alcohol. After all if you're going to drop £25 on something you better do your best to enjoy it.

And so to Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish - the first of my collection. I don't know why. It was available in the supermarket and I'd heard of the brand. It was the start. My own drink to dip into, to try to appreciate and to try to convert others. I don't remember too much about it but I must have enjoyed it. What really made the difference was trying Laphroaig soon afterwards, it was so completely different in character and what's more I could tell the difference. Before that point all whisky seemed to taste the same. Now I'd tried a few distinctive whiskies that I could tell apart - was I starting to develop a taste for it? It was just the start.

I don't know many people really read these blog posts but please feel free to tell me your the first bottle you owned and how it got you started. All the best.