You may have wondered where we've been for a week.
Well, this weekend which has just passed was my 30th Birthday weekend, so the past week has been spent in preparation for a celebration that is in keeping with turning "the big three - O".
As is usual around Valentines Day, the Post Office contacted me in advance to make sure I could pick up my post from their South London Depot some time over the weekend. Apparently it is a Health & Safety nightmare, letting a postal worker carry so many letters and cards to one address over such a short period of time. And in the current climate, hiring in part-time help can't be done...
Batting off invitations to various soirees with models and racing drivers (or should that be model car racing drivers...) I decided that the evening before my big day was the best time to celebrate- and celebrate in style! It was about 18 months, maybe even two whole years ago when the idea struck me:
"Wouldn't it be brilliant to have an evening drinking whisky from 1979!"
And thus, the planning began. Every time I got a chance to explore a shop or a website that may have a bottle from God's Own Year of Blessing, I did: eBay, Distillery Shops, Vintage House, The Whisky Exchange... even Waitrose!
The first find was discovered deep in Sukhinder Singh's collection at The Whisky Exchange HQ in London and it really set the tone for the collection: Port Ellen 1979 - Signatory - 23 Years Old - 423 bottles - Butt No. 6775 - 43% But the most appealing thing about this bottle was the distillation date: 16th November. Just 12 days before the day I was born! Bottle one on my tasting list had been bought and, over the next 18 - 24 months it was to be joined by a few other famous faces, whisky superstars and down right obscure bottles...
Port Ellen 1979 - Signatory - 23 Years Old - 423 bottles - Butt No. 6775 - 43% Vol (Distilled 16th Nov 1979 - Bottles 3rd October 2003) - 75cl
Nose: There is a warmth of sea air and smoke about this one. It doesn't hit you over the head in a massive way, but it brings in the smoke and sea salt with notes of green tea and fresh mint. Slight creaminess to the nose also. Lovely and delicate.
Palate: This is one to let sit and wash about on the tongue for a while. Again, the green tea comes though but the peat smoke really burns now and there is a sweetness of brown sugar and hints of red apple.
Finish: The most delicate of embers from open fires simmer away on the back palate. Then you're hit with hazelnuts and a hint of lime juice. It's just yummy.
Overall: A corker. I mean, where can you go from here...?!?!
As the month flew past, I occasionally found myself with a few spare pennies in the pocket. These were quickly deposited into an old, empty bottle (of Serendipity, I think!) and as it filled up, I was able to splash out here and there on more interesting bottles for the evening ahead. One afternoon as I was wondering down Marylebone High Street, I happened to find myself drawn towards Waitrose. As I stood gawping at their whisky selection, a bottle caught my eye... was it? Yes, it was! Another Port Ellen from 1979. This time it was the third release. And the price... well, I won't publish the price. But needless to say you'd be hard pressed to buy a full bottle of Serendipity for this money. It was indeed a sign. Especially as a few months later we were to be standing in the Port Ellen Distillery drinking the First and Fourth Releases. This was turning into quite a journey already:
Port Ellen 3rd Release - 1979 / 2003 - 24 Years - 9000 bottles - 57.3% Vol - 70cl
Nose: The smoke isn't the first thing you notice with this; it's lemon and passion fruit, then smoke- bash! They've really managed to get some amazing fruits in the nose- like eating a starburst then smoking a cigar!
Palate: Clean and crisp, this has all the elements of Islay in it, in a glass! Alongside the heat and the smoke, buttered popcorn rises up and a touch of lemon curd on white toast. Most unusual but delicious.
Finish: Hot with a good dry white wine element that leaves your mouth coated but your palate wanting more. Like Lemon Sherbet sweets.
Overall: There was a general discussion about the best of the official bottlings of Port Ellen on the evening. It appears that the first and the third are peoples general favourites, and I find it hard to disagree with them after this stunner.
So, that's two bottles in the bank for my birthday celebrations. But this was starting to cost (even before 2009 rolled in, and 1979 whisky prices went up again due to their demand for "gifting" 30th birthdays). This meant a change in tack. How was I going to bulk out this collection with out compromising the quality bar which has been set, lets be honest, pretty darn high! One answer: miniatures! A few clicks on eBay later and I was bidding on my first: Imperial 1979...
Imperial - 1979 - G&M - 40% - 5cl
Nose: Waah! Now we're going somewhere different. This bad boy is throwing some crazy florals up the nose: grapefruit, kiwi, peaches. Lovely stuff.
Palate: Not a huge amount going on at first but give it some time, roll it around and you get some lovely hits of those peaches from the nose, but tinned. Also some mango and some limes.
Finish: A hint of smoke from this one, lingers just long enough. Slips down very easily.
Overall: My first ever Imperial and it was a lovely surprise. Very delicate but with a hint of smoke in the back palate, some lovely fruit and real delicate nature to it. Another cracker.
Three drams in, where is this journey going to take us next? Tune in later this week "Read All About It!" (a little peek at the picture at the top might give away what's to come)...