We're barely out of the golden glow of summer (time to pack away those Lowland drams, folks) and already, a tranche of whiskies, aimed at the Christmas markets has begun to flow into our awaiting Glencairns.
Usually, I find the build-up to Christmas totally absurd. Walk into Sainsbury's and there's a festive chocolates isle at the end of August- why are retailers so keen to see the back of the warmer months?
Having said all that, last week was bloody cold in London. The berries and summer fruits have begun to disappear from the trees (mostly into my freezer) and endeavours to find a new winter coat have begun...please email us which one of these you think looks best!!
I was even thinking about switching on the archaic heating at Caskstrength Towers, as I shuffled uncomfortably from wing to wing, trying my best to keep warm. A hilarious scene from 'Withnail and I' sprang to mind.
Then, a knock at the door. Was it the case of Deep Heat I had ordered online?
Not quite, but an altogether more tasty winter warmer.
Ballantine's have always impressed us with their very well put together blends- the sublime 17yo (a cabinet staple) works in a multitude of ways, from cocktails to sipping straight or on the rocks. This Christmas will feel very special indeed for fans of Ballantine's- for a new limited edition Christmas Reserve has arrived...and it's heavy on all the elements you associate with the festive season. Created by Master Blender Sandy Hyslop, Ballantine's Christmas Reserve is a non-aged expression, aiming to play on all the familiar seasonal notes, those flavours and aromas which tend to amplify goodwill and indeed, good cheer.
With a bleak October grey sky bruising outside, I slipped on my luxurious padded silk dressing gown, New & Lingwood slippers and placed another log on the fire. I poured a large dram and settled back to the strains of Phil Spector's legendary Christmas album. Then the sun came out and wrecked the whole damn experience. Bah Humbug!!
Ballantine's - Christmas Reserve - Limited Edition Blended Whisky - 40%
Nose: Cinnamon, cooking apples, rich chocolate covered fudge notes, brazil nuts and a large slice of christmas cake. There's even a slightly musky incense. So far, spot on. With a touch of water, hazelnuts make their presence known. The whole experience is like peeling the cellophane off a classic Christmas Fruit & Nut Selection Box.
Palate: Warming dry spices, mincemeat, dark chocolate, rum steeped raisins and a drizzle of Oloroso sherry. Put your ear to the glass too and I swear you can hear the clipped tones of a posh woman in her mid 80's, and, yes, there it is again.... a muffled bark of a Corgi in the background. As Christmas speeches go, this one is positive, eloquent, full of fruity fun, with no unpleasant bitterness.
Finish: The drying spices leave a lasting impression, with a touch of menthol developing further in. As a post-prandial Christmas dram, this will last way into the obligatory Bond film that you always begin to watch, but end up falling asleep half way through.
Overall: Without a single doubt, I have no hesitation in saying this is a perfect festive whisky. It's like drinking in 'It's A Wonderful Life' in liquid form, after having the classic family Christmas row, over nothing in particular. Absolutely spot on with its balance of spice, dried fruit and all-round drinkability. My only problem, is that we've just entered October and there is no way the contents of this bottle will be left intact for the big day.
Annus Horribilis? Hell no. This is most certainly an Annus Mirabilis!