Dashing through the rain soaked streets of St James in London and it appears nobody is looking where they're going, or indeed, where they've come from. Shame on them. I have just bought a brand new umbrella and i'm dead excited. Because it is keeping me splendidly dry, it gives me time to wander about and look at just how great this part of London actually looks in the rain.
Spend half and hour just 'looking' around here and you realise how many tiny details you either overlook or just don't have time to see. St James used to be THE place to be seen back in the early-mid 19th Century. The private members clubs of Pall Mall were frequented by the upwardly mobile from every echelon of society- landed gentry, minor royalty, politicians and the independently wealthy. Beau Brummell and his chums used to regularly rack up large gambling debts over outlandish wagers- like which raindrop would reach the bottom of the window pane first.
It was even recorded that the rakish Brummell instructed his tailor to send him a new weskit (waistcoat) EVERY HOUR so he could be seen looking the part, strutting around the smoking lounge of his club, White's. (Joel, we need to turn Caskstrength headquarters into a club like this!!)
Walking down Pall Mall today does not reveal much to the untrained eye. But stop for a second and take a closer look at the robust and well-maintained Regency edifices on either side. A decidedly more secretive and salubrious scene lies in wait, behind the many anonymous doorways and nondescript, brass signage plates. Close your eyes and you can almost imagine sharing a vintage port with the likes of Brummell and Thackeray. Chances are, that port would have been provided by one establishment, sitting at No. 3 St James 's Street. The proprietor was Mr George Berry and his extraordinary establishment is still there today, unchanged and uncompromised.
Berry Bros & Rudd have been in business for around 300 years. That alone is a staggering feat. Initially selling coffee, (sign above the door still has an illustrated coffee mill adorning it) they moved into retailing wines and other imported drinks such as port, cognac and sherry.
Customers could even get themselves weighted when visiting the shop on their vast scales. The company's sales books have notes next to some of the more eminent customers, recording their weight, proclaiming they were 'wearing a heavy coat at the time'. Must use that excuse when I next step on the scales!!
A book 'The Story Of Berry Bro's & Rudd - Wine & Spirits Merchants' by Tom Johnson is available if you fancy learning more about BBR..
We popped in recently for a catch up with Doug McIvor and Edward Bates, the chaps behind the wonderfully stocked spirits section. We were in for a real treat. Several new Berry's Own Selection bottling's were on the menu and we were keen to get stuck in...
First up.... a Big bold Macduff
Nose: Now this is more like it! Mint toffee, butterscotch then straight into passion fruit (think that classic Bowmore tropical fruit note) and a touch of ground coffee. Really direct, expressive and superb. With water, a meaty, herbaceous note profoundly pops up and proclaims it’s dinner time!!
Palate: Oily, menthol notes, burnt Demerera sugar /crème brulee and lots of woody sherry. This is very brooding and dark. The coffee notes comeback, (strong sweetened Espresso) and even a hint of blackened bananas. This Macduff loves BIG flavours, as long as they’re all dark and intense.
Finish: Woody and drying, but the coffee still lingers on. Decent is an understatement. This is a total beast! A powerful, intense but very expressive beast.
Overall: One of Berry’s essential new bottlings. Miss this at your peril. And finally, something unusual indeed...
Berry’s Own Selection – Balmenach – 1979 – 56.3%
Nose: Chopped Hazelnuts, digestive biscuits, golden syrup, and wet tissue paper. Then something very unexpected…Heinz Tomato soup. Just a whiff but it seemed to mix in very nicely indeed. Left in the glass, this is a constantly evolving nose. Some swirls of smoke sweet smoke start to emerge. Masses to get your nose into here!! Great stuff.
Palate: More of the Hazelnuts, some drying toasted oats, fruit jelly sweets and a little influence from European oak (dried apricots). Some crystalised lemon and ginger notes dance on the tongue with some cherry sherbet- then some sweetened cocoa powder. This whisky is all over the place, but in a really great way. Highly unusual and very unique.
Finish: Toasty notes and some citrus sharpness linger on the palate.
Overall: This is my first Balmenach and it certainly shines- it has so much going on, it’s very difficult to put your finger on where it’s heading next. It also really drinks well, even at caskstrength, so be sparing with the water.
Berry’s Own Selection – Glen Mhor – 1982 – 46%
Nose: Phenolic vanillas, banana, juicy green apples (without the peel), some lime juice and the faintest hint of coal smoke on the death. Noses really, really well. Very refreshing, summer-like.
Palate: This doesn't need any water and sits on the palate in a very delicate manner, bringing in some lovely dry white wine tones before popping into life. As it warms on the palate, ginger and grapefruit become apparent as it settles nicely in the mid-palate.
Finish: Medium in length, and a little more meaty than the nose, there is a sprinkling of cracked black pepper, some more grapefruit and that's pretty much it.
Overall: The nose is just wonderfully refreshing. I could sniff this all day long... perfectly drinkable and a smooth and easy going dram. But the nose is just wonderful.
Berry’s Own Selection – Cragganmore – 1997 – 58.6%
Nose: Very fruity, with red carnations and rosewater. A touch of wood in there too.
Palate: Hot going in, but really swirl it around and it starts to open up with ginger and rhubarb showing through best of all. With water: The vanillas open up a lot more, like vanilla custard and this moves along into the finish...
Finish: Longish finish, quite bitter, like a good lime cordial should be. With water: You get a crème brulee note backed with the bitterness of the limes.
Overall: I recently had a "non-whisky drinking" friend over for dinner ("What sort of friend are they, Joel?!" - Neil) and after a few rejected whiskies this, with plenty of water, was the dram they said could turn them on to drinking Scotch. It needs a good slug of H2O, but once cut down, all the great aspects of a good Craggy come out to play: Heather, vanilla, white flowers.
Here's to another 300 years chaps!!