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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Spey As You Go - Part 4


Our trip to the Speyside Cooperage was a true eye-opener and a real education in to the thought, effort and sheer craftsmanship that goes into creating the perfect cask. One note made in my tasting book was to amend my will on my return back home: I have to have some money set aside when I finally croak it to have the chaps at Speyside Cooperage make me a coffin! I’m thinking one stave from a barrel of each of my favourite distilleries. I guess this rules out cremation, as the threat to our national airspace from the ash and flames would be just as bad as from an Icelandic volcano....

Having been refreshed with a cup of coffee at the Cooperage and with the sun beating down on our heads, we decided to go for a short walk North towards Craigellachie to find a bus stop to take us back towards Dufftown. After 10 mins or so walking, we came across exactly what we needed, a bus stop and time table. With one issue: no buses for at least 50 mins. Negative. Now we needed two positives. You know, one to cancel out the negative and another, well, just so we can have a positive... and we were in luck! This bus stop was different from any other bus stop we’d seen in the past as it came with its own whisky bar...

Actually, to tell you the truth, this is a slight lie. But the bus stop was directly outside The Craigellachie Hotel, who have one of the best stocked “whisky libraries” in Scotland. How could we resist?!?! The very next moment we found ourselves nestled into two big leather Chesterfield armchairs, flicking through the bar list and salivating wildly. This was the whisky equivalent of dropping Any Winehouse in Columbia for the week, no questions asked... Several drams later and a hearty meal to boot, we made our way back to the cottage ready for our final day in Dufftown.

We awoke the next day to yet another glorious morning, but this time our destination was too far to walk. A quick breakfast and taxi ride later and we found ourselves at The Macallan. Now, Macallan is not a whisky we’ve reviewed much here at Caskstrenght.net. Being totally upfront about it, we both kinda find their whisky, well, a little bit lacking in personality. I once had a cracking bottle, from their Travel Series. I think it was the 1940’s or 1950’s bottling but can’t remember. And their Speaker Martins release was nice. But everything else has just passed us by. What better way to put us straight than to jump onto a tour and end with a round of drams, really discovering the range for the first time.

The Distillery tour was excellent. Our guide was Jennie and she was fantastic. Macallan have invested a lot in their tour and visitors centre, building around their new Mash House and Still Room. There are lots of pipes with coloured liquid in, flip charts and microscopic pictures; it was like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory meets The Science Museum. A touch over-heavy on the facts at times, but entertaining none-the-less. The main highlight being the “sensory tunnel” of different smells. The surrounding grounds and Easter Elchies house are beautiful, especially in the spring sunshine. It’s very much worth a visit. But be warned: it’s quite high up so can get a wee bit windy!

At the end of the tour we got to sample the New Make and four whiskies from their range (plus a wee bonus one!), the 12 Year Old Sherry Oak, 15 Year Old Fine Oak, 18 Year Old and the 30 Year Old Fine Oak. As a bonus we also had the 10 Year Old Cask Strength Release. Would this flight of drams change our perception of Macallan? You can find out next week...

...actually, we can’t be bothered to wait until next week! So here’s the answer: not really. First off we encountered a problem: There were 6 of us on the tour and when we arrived back to the tasting room, only 5 sets of whiskies had been poured. I opted to share with Neil but the excellent staff at the visitors centre had someone pour me my own set. However, it quickly became apparent from the nosing of Neil’s set vs. my newly poured whiskies that there was a problem. Whoever had the duty of setting up for the arriving tour party had either just washed their hands using a very fragrant soap or had been over generous with their perfume, as all Neil’s whisky smelt the same... and it was completely different from my batch where you could easily nose the unique aromas in each glass. In the end, Neil and I did end up sharing, but it was my newly poured set that took centre stage. The best of the drams we tried were the 15 Year Old Fine Oak, the 18 Year Old and the 10 Year Old Cask Strength:

Macallan – 15 Year Old - Fine Oak – 43% Vol

Nose: White Grapes, Wood (oak), Bread (brown, wholemeal) and an overall dryness to the nose.

Palate: Zesty notes of lemons, limes and grapefruit. Slight orange bitters and green tea. Vanilla right at the back.

Finish: Almost like a dry white wine, with hints of dark chocolate powder.

Overall: I’m guessing this isn’t as heavily sherried as other Macallans as vanilla notes come through along with slight hints of the European Oak, which seem to leave themselves until the final parts of the Palate and Finish.

Macallan – 18 Year Old – 1991 – 43%

Nose: Red apples, dried fruit and muesli (Alpan). Red apples, spices and cinnamon.

Palate: Lovely woody notes of Strawberry Jam and a hint of woodsmoke. This is how I’d imagine smoked strawberries to be.

Finish: Warming, gingers and clove-like spices.

Overall: Very well rounded and constructed. Not over-aged but with enough youthfulness to drive it’s powerful flavours through.

Macallan – 10 Year Old – Cask Strength – 2010 Edition – 58.6%

Nose: Really rich aromas of dark cherry and cigars

Palate: Honey nut cornflakes with apricots and syrup.

Finish: Long with lovely plumy notes

Overall: This is a cracking release but sadly only available Duty Free or at the distillery. It should have a wider release.


We left Macallan happy that we’d been, but not enthused with a fire for their drams. The people there were really lovely, the shop was excellent (I bought myself a Macallan travel bag) and the setting is just spectacular. But the whisky... we just can’t get excited about it. It’s all a little too safe, a little too bland. But this is their strength in their key markets, so who am I to judge! They sell well and have a very hardcore following, so onwards and upwards for Macallan.

It was time for us to head back to London. Unfortunately, our travel plans were scuppered by a certain Icelandic Volcano. What was supposed to be a 90 min flight down the UK from Aberdeen to London became an 11 hour train journey from Keith to Kings Cross... still at least we got home that week.

Speyside, thank you! It was a wonderful trip and we hope to be back sometime soon!

Joel & Neil

Monday, 26 April 2010

Whisky, Don't fail me now!



Ok, this one's an absolute cracker. So good in fact, that we had to read it twice to actually believe it! News story of the week, if not the month, folks...

Francis Rossi, the legendary guitarist and singer with seminal British rockers Status Quo, is to become the chairman on the board of one of whisky's oldest brand names - Glen Rossie. How cool is this!!


  The Original non-Rossi artwork                                 

According to the Scotsman Newspaper, Rossi has bought a stake in the 196-year-old Glen Rossie whisky and become its chairman in the deal with The Brand Cellar, a company specialising in acquiring older brands. When The Brand Cellar approached veteran rocker Rossi, he said he did not need much time before he took the opportunity.

"I can feel my innards getting tingling. I'm elated by it. This is something different." Said a clearly excited Rossi.

 

Apparently he was first introduced to the whisky sometime in the past decade when a bottle was placed on the band's tour bus by a caterer who thought it was funny. Rossi said he first thought it was a joke, a bottle with nearly his name on it. It then became a regular appearance on the band's rider throughout their touring career.

Rossi continues that "it's something nice to sip late at night. I just like the idea of a drink with my name on it."


The new re-vamped Rossie....

The Scotch is to be relaunched in a new-look bottle carrying a label in the shape of a plectrum, in a nod to Rossi's music career spanning nearly five decades.

To win a very limited, signed bottle of the newly branded Glen Rossie, visit www.glenrossiewhisky.com




Sir, we salute you!!

you can read more about the story here, on The Scotsman website:

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Melody In Malts


The connection between music and whisky is something we've touched upon several times here before and it is clear that many of our readers also feel there is a wonderful link between the two. Whether it's knocking back a 'Smoke 'n Coke' whilst listening to Slash rip out a blistering solo, or sitting back in the soothing arms of some minimalist jazz with a vintage Highland Park, the experience is personal and, when the timing is right...truly memorable.


The Coburg Bar in London- Serving the best
Manhattans and Sazeracs we've ever tasted


We have our first 'guest poster' on the blog- our very good friend Mark Jenner, Manager of the wonderful Coburg Bar, situated within London's Connaught Hotel. Mark poignantly brings his experiences of music and whisky together perfectly in this, his very first musing for us- Enjoy!

Melody, Moments & Malts

So much of what we do is about the pure liquid itself- Its character profile and standing, as to how it relates to our blinkered lives! What a waste of a moment!

It’s just past 2am, the last merry few have made their winding way home and my bar is spick and span, ready to start all over again in a few hours.



I’m alone as I fall back into my favourite wing-back chair. I close my eyes and let the grainy crackle of Fats Waller’s 'There’s going to be the Devil to pay' wash through me, cleansing my soul. What a perfect pairing- Fats and a wee dram of what I can only describe a liquid nectar, Port Ellen's 2nd Release, 1978 24 yo. A feeling of intense mellowing forms deep inside, all the woes of the week sinking into the sumptuousness of this lost distillery's velvet lining.

Every dram has a moment, and every moment has a melody but it's up to you and I what those mean to each of us.

My advice to you, dear friend is to take that moment, grab what feels right and give in! In the words of old Bing... “Take a spot, cool and hot! Now you has Jazz Jazz Jazz!” Believe me it's positively therapeutic!

A few tips where to start, if your 'Box doesn’t Rock!'

Glenfarclas 40yr Old and Gene Krupa's 'Sing Sing Sing'




Glenrothes 1982 & Cab Calloway's 'Six or Seven Times'




Convalmore 28yr & Mario Biondi: 'This Is What You Are'


Thursday, 22 April 2010

The 40 Year Old 'Farclas...



No, this isn't another one of those appalling American 'Rom-Coms', starring Ben Stiller or Steve Carrell, but something we've been excited about for a little while now. A couple of weeks ago, we met up in London with Mr Glenfarclas himself, George Grant for a few drams and a little sneaky peek at this new release.

The distillery, which has been going from strength to strength in the past several years has had a superb range of bottlings, from the powerful and robust 105, to the genius idea of the Family Cask Series, which gives the consumer the best possible suggestion for a landmark birthday present, if ever there was one.



This 40 yo expression is the newest addition to the range, drawn from the plentiful stocks of casks that were filled in the 1960's.

One difference that you will notice about this bottling to similar ages from other distilleries is the simplicity in which it is packaged- slim steel tube and standard bottle- no Lalique crystal, no Swarovski gems, no trimmings from the Beard of Zeus etc.

Of course there is a collectors market out there (Glenfarclas also released a premium and very expensive 50 yo a while back) and these 'trinkets and trappings' supposedly make a big difference, but surely the liquid inside is really all that truly matters?

Well hats off to George and Co. Not only is this whisky simple in its approach, but it really does come at an unbelievable price for something so aged- the RRP is £350. That will predictably ruffle a few feathers with other distilleries...



Imagine if whisky had its own price comparison website like Compare The Meerkat/Market or that most irritating of adverts on UK TV 'GO COMPARRREE!' This whisky would absolutely clean up. One thing that we discussed with George is that whisky is for opening and drinking, not coveting and dusting off now and again to show your mates at the golfclub. What Glenfarclas have done is make a great, aged liquid available to an audience who could only previously read about it in magazines, or take pictures of it at whisky shows.


Glenfarclas - 40 Year Old- 46%

Nose: An initial sweetness, with no real hints of dryness, some dark chocloate, spices (nutmeg) leather and walnuts. There is a wonderful balance about this- it has all the hallmarks of an old whisky, but still has some 'get up and go' about it... top draw stuff.

Palate: Slightly dry initially, with some dark brittle caramel taking the lead, but this is quickly followed by a cracking citrus note, like a juicy blood orange, into more dark chocolate, dried figs and then some sweeter chopped hazelnuts. Again, such balance for an old whisky. With water, the tannic dryness gives way into more of the citrus/orange flavour and you're into a highly drinkable and moreish whisky indeed.

Finish: The drying palate is left with lots of the richer, darker flavours, including the slightly bitter chocolate and dried fruits, which linger for a very long time indeed.

Overall: Why, oh why would anyone buy this and just stick it on the shelf?? This is pull-the -cork-out-with-your-teeth stuff to share out hearty measures for your friends, loved ones and anyone looking to sample a little piece of aged whisky making at its best.

Perhaps the business is fast becoming a 2-tiered system... There are those who can afford to be showy and buy things, simply because they are expensive, not because they are any good... and those who just like great, reasonably priced whisky. This bottling just bucked the trend considerably.


Monday, 19 April 2010

Oh, We Do Like To Be Beside The Speyside- Part 3



Friday Afternoon. With the weather resembling a wonderful summers day, we decided to take a leisurely stroll down to our next destination, Speyside Cooperage.

The Cooperage is undoubtedly one of the most important sites in Dufftown, supplying literally hundreds of thousands of casks to the whisky and wine businesses across the globe since 1947. Our guide for today was Gary Taylor, Master Cooper and an all-round raconteur in the world of casks…. One thing’s for sure- he certainly doesn’t have a wooden personality- in fact, you could say he’s a real barrel of laughs… (Oh dear, our gags are getting worse I suspect…)



Gary and his team pride themselves on the fact that wood science and attention to detail are the mantras behind maturing a great whisky. This is reinforced by the very informative video at the start of the tour, which taught us a great deal, including the difference in grain thickness between European oak and American oak and the type of production techniques needed in assembling a new cask or re-juvenating a tired one.



To see the coopers in action is one of the most exciting and visually arresting sights you’ll see in the whisky business- the cooperage floor is a hive of activity, with experienced craftsmen pounding, shaping and assembling their creations at a furious pace. You soon realise the reason behind their frantic work rate is that each and every cooper is on ‘piece work’- ease up on the gas and you produce fewer casks and get paid less, but conversely, go too fast and you risk making errors, which will certainly not go unnoticed by Gary and his exceptionally high standards. It really is a fine balance and these guys have it totally nailed.



Heading outside into the storage yard and Gary kindly shows us a little of the magic behind the great casks they are producing. The end cask ‘heads’ are hugely important to the maturation (they constitute 40% of the total wood surface area of barrel, fact fans!) as well as the individual staves and no corners are cut during their production. Special Dutch reeds are imported in and are used to seal the ends into the casks, the sugars inside becoming caramelised over time with the contact of the spirit, which completes a totally natural production process from start to finish. We also got to see some highly unusually ‘black and white’ coloured staves, which will eventually find their way into bespoke casks for one innovative distiller, as well as some Polish Oak (Quercus Polska anyone??) which is a lot harder and more resilient than American or traditional European wood.

But the undisputed highlight of the day was about to come, when Gary paused, smiled and asked if we wanted to see him set something on fire… to which we obviously replied “Hell Yeaaaaaaaaah!!” like slightly giggly school girls.

The following series of exciting photos only go a small way into showing just how brilliant (and dangerous) Gary’s demonstration of charring a brand new American oak cask was. The heat and sound of the process, coupled with the sweet, vanilla-caramel aroma in the air draws you right in and seeps into the pores. Wow. We’ll never look a hoggie in the same way again!



Massive thanks to Gary for taking the time out of his crazily busy day to entertain us – for those readers who are planning a trip to Dufftown, the Speyside Cooperage is an absolute ‘MUST SEE’ appointment on your visiting schedule, and a great insight into the wood that encases our beloved whiskies.

For more information on the Cooperage and their tours, visit:
www.speysidecooperage.co.uk

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Speyside Day Two: Spey Another Day

Day Two of the Speyside Tour and we woke for an early 9am start. Our first appointment was with William Grant & Sons, owners of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries.

Once again, Caskstrength.net does its utmost to find the ideal breakfast malt for our readers. This time, our search involved a couple of warehouses with Glenfiddich’s Global Ambassador & Master Distiller, Ian Millar.

After a quick coffee, Ian took us across to one of the main warehouses, where Glenfiddich's 'Solera System' is based: Sherry/bourbon matured casks and new oak whisky is married together in a giant Solera vat and then into smaller Solera tuns, before being bottled as a 15 Year Old. We’ve been in quite a few distillery warehouses over the past few years but have never seen anything like this. The Solera vat is enormous and the smell of maturing whisky fills the air, like the volcanic ash across Northern Europe. Ian was kind enough to draw a sample from the vat for us to try (the perfect way to start the day!) which was superbly fruity and fresh. Apparently, at last check the whisky is maturing at around 58.3%... and is essentially a cask- strength version their 15 year old bottling. The great news is 'Fiddich have bottled this and it is available in the distillery shop, where you can hand-fill and hand-label your own bottles for about £60- it all comes in a very nice, very heavy wooden box too!

We also got to see a couple of examples from the 'Artist In Residence' programme- remember the cask that was buried for 100 years? Well, we didn’t get to see the cask, but we did see the rubble where it is buried and received an official invitation from Ian Millar to the digging up, opening and tasting... in 2108! With the advancement of medical science, we’re are both hoping to return for that event... Two other pieces we saw from their programme were some interesting oval-shaped casks and an amazing sculpture called “The Angels Share”, of two small, pixie-like angels sat atop a cask, enjoying a dram. Cleverly, the artist has positioned the angles removing each other’s wings- no drinking and flying in Dufftown! A massive thank you to Ian Millar for his time.


Having explored some of the more intimate parts of Glenfiddich, it was time to take a tour around the sister distillery Balvenie, named after the castle (now only remaining in ruins) which overlooks the whole site. Jonathan was our excellent guide and walked us around the still room (11 stills) and their small malting section, even allowing us to step inside the kiln, sinking deep into the barley as it soaked up the smoke from anthracite and peat mix (Balvenie is peated to 2 – 3 ppm, a total departure from the Octomore/ Supernova bottlings of this world!); this was really a fantastic experience.

We then walked the short distance back across to Glenfiddich to have a browse around one of their still rooms... and it’s quite big! You know what they say about distilleries with big output... they need big still rooms and Glenfiddich is currently the largest ‘whisky’ distillery in Scotland, annually producing 10 million litres of the stuff, so they need big facilities. Jonathan was an excellent guide; very knowledgeable, very articulate and... English!


After wandering around the facility and taking in the beautiful Scottish sunshine, it was time for a dram or two, so we headed over to the reception room to see what was on offer...


Balvenie – Signature – 12 Years Old - Batch 3 – 40% Vol

Nose: Honey, Cigar Tobacco, Limes and brown bread.

Palate: The sweetness really hits through, carrying Demerara sugar and raisins steeped in good sherry. Next, a biscuity characteristic gives this Balvenie enough bottom end to balance out the sweetness.

Finish: Apricots, subtle oranges and morello cherry. Onwards into aniseed, then cloves and finally cinnamon. A long finish for something at 40%

Overall: We really didn’t like Batch 1 of this release. It had an overall note of stale tobacco about it, but this time they’ve got it bang on the money. The cheap cigarette tobacco has morphed into rich cigar tobacco. It’s taken them 3 batches, but they’ve finally found their feet with the Signature.

Balvenie – Single Barrel – 15 Years Old – Cask No. 74 – Distilled 12/01/1994 - Bottled 24/03/2009 – Bottle Number 12 – 47.8% vol

Nose: Very light with fresh green notes of undercooked garden veg and chopped herbs. Mint and cereal back up the fresh tones.

Palate: Vanillas, bananas, buttered white bread toast- this is very drinkable.

Finish: Crunchy-nut Cornflakes. Delicate.

Overall: A delicious dram. They knock these out at around £50 each, which is exceptional value for something so unique. Obviously, each much be judged on their own merit.

Balvenie - Portwood Finish - 21 Years Old – 40%

Nose: Superb fruity notes from the off, with stewed plums, strawberry sherbets, some fern/herbaceous freshness and a delicately perfumed waxiness, reminiscent of scented candles.

Palate: A warming maltiness comes through initially, followed by some mint humbugs, lemon zest, a hint of dry oakiness and then a plum jam’esque fruit hit. With water- and the fruit continues with a mouth coating sweetness. Drinkable, with a capital D...

Finish: Lingering notes of malt, lead into a very satisfying and warming oaky finish.

Overall: We reviewed this dram early last year and today is a very welcome reminder of how brilliant it is. Sure, it may taste better drinking it in the surroundings of the distillery, but one thing’s certain, I’ll be leaving Speyside with a bottle of this under my arm, at all costs.

After a spot of lunch in the wonderful Scottish sunshine, we headed out to walk down to the Speyside Cooperage where we had an appointment with Gary Taylor, the all-seeing-eye in the world of the Cooper. The time we spent there was so informative and utterly educational that we’ve reserved this for “Part Three” of our first visit to Dufftown… stay tuned, folks!

Let's Spey Together.... Part One

Enough is enough. In our 2 year existence and after so many good Speyside drams, it was time to brace the wallets and hit Northern Scotland. Yes, we’re back on tour! Joel and Neil hit Speyside (...and one Highland distillery ;-) )

Our journey starts at Aberdeen Airport...

Well...it’s an Airport in Aberdeen. That’s about all we can say about Aberdeen Airport (no Bruce Grobbelaar this time, sadly)



One hour later, driving through windy back roads of the Scottish Highlands, we spied our first Distillery of the tour: Royal Lochnagar!

Royal Lochnagar is a beautiful distillery with only 2 stills, knocking out around 450,000 litres of alcohol a year. To put that in to scale, that’s just under half the 1,000,000 litres Ardbeg pumps out, but much more than Edradour’s 90,000!* The tiny distillery sits on the edge of the Balmoral Estate, which is where it gained its Royal Warrant, although it no longer holds this.

There are stories dating back from Victorian times of various members of the Royal household popping in for a wee dram and a chat. Unfortunately for the staff, all they got today was two slightly over excited English bloggers.

(*figures courtesy of the Malt Whisky Year Book)




We set about a tour of the distillery with manager Donald Renwick, who has an incredible wealth of experience in distillation, including a recent stint as manager of Lagavulin. There are many unusual quirks to Lochnagar- Check out the open mash tun below, which turns the stillroom into a Turkish Bath!




As well as some superb cask samples, Donald treated us to a vertical tasting of the Royal Lochnagar range, including the 12yo, Select Reserve and the wonderful Distillers Edition, extra matured in ex- Muscat casks, which gave the whisky a wonderful nutmeg/rice pudding aroma.


Royal Lochnagar - Distillers Edition - 40%

Nose: Immediate fruitiness, with mandarin oranges, stewed fruits and some sharp citrus elements giving a very fresh and summery feel. With water, some dried grass notes come to the fore, with a floral lavender and over time, a wonderful warming nutmeg covered rice pudding. (Oh I could so easily eat a bowl full right now... better have another dram!)

Palate: Pine nuts, more nutmeg, into a sweet, but slightly aromatic licorice flavour, reminiscent of Bassett's Allsorts (the ones covered in little blue bobbles)

Finish: Drying wood spices, but the floral and licorice notes linger for a very pleasing conclusion.

Overall: Not as well known as the other Distillers Editions, like Lagavulin, Caol Ila or Clynelish, but certainly up there in terms of enjoyment. The effect of the final maturation in the Muscat cask has done little to dent the distillery character but has enhanced the overall flavour and aroma profile. Highly recommended.

The effect of cask type was high on our agenda for this trip and we were very keen to experience as many good and bad examples of maturation (including a cask sample drawn from an old and rather overly woody Cardhu which had almost certainly seen better days)

In our next post, we visit Speyside Cooperage and take our mild obsession with wood to flaming extremes!

Our time in Lochnagar was woefully short but many thanks to Donald and his colleague Stuart for their time, experience and most of all, excellent whiskies. The shop at Lochnagar is a real treat in particular, with a huge collection of the Rare Malts range, which had us both slavering.

The drive to Dufftown is supposedly around an hour if you take the most direct route, but who wants to be efficient, when you're surrounded with scenery like this....!




So we kicked back and literally took the high road, passing by one of Scotland's better known ski resorts- Lecht. Having never been skiing, it is pretty terrifying to see just how steep the runs actually are as we pass by them in the car. I think a winter Caskstrength field trip should be on the cards for later this year when the season opens again- we'll certainly be needing a few drams of something decent though to steady our nerves!

In our next post, Joel eats a record number of Findus Crispy Pancakes, we catch up with Glenfiddich's Ian Millar and we watch a very cool man set fire to some wood, all in the name of great whisky....

Thursday, 15 April 2010

It's Not About The Speed...It's About The Tweed

2010. A year of reflection and challenge. So many new things to be tried, mastered and achievements to be...well... achieved.

One of my personal goals this year was cycling a lot more than I have done before. I was hampered by the fact that I didn't own a bicycle until late last year, so my previous experience was at the age of 12, on an over-sized racing bike, with 12 gears. I loved that bike and I was very sorry when my parents sold it (due to its lack of use) long after I had left home at the age of 17.

I wanted to come back with a bang this year and therefore looked for the most practical and easy- to-ride bike I could find...perfect for hazardous city centre trips and hills (Caskstrength towers is near Crystal Palace, which has a monster hill standing in between it and central London.

So I purchased a Penny Farthing. Well... a miniature version of one.



Many of you will probably point out at this juncture that the Penny Farthing does little to fall in line with my previous goals of cycle ownership. They are frightfully difficult to ride, weave uncontrollably in traffic and lack any kind of breaking mechanism. One benefit is that they considerably easier to ride up hill than down hill. One can simply jump off and saunter up any gradient, taking in the surroundings by foot. Down hill they can become deadly- (more of this later)

My first outing (which you can read about here) didn't really go to plan, but I vowed to get to grips with the runaway beast, by any means necessary. After a couple of local runs around the park I felt like I was getting somewhere, but only in the same way that a child feels temporary satisfaction from climbing to the first branch of a really tall tree. In the grand scheme of things I was still a pathetic rider, lacking in courage and seeking the gratification of the high branches.

Then an opportunity presented itself. I was mistakenly entered into an event called The Tweed Run- A 14-mile ride through central London on a Saturday afternoon, in the name of the Bikes4Africa charity with 400 other crazy, tweed clad, fixed-wheel cyclists.

"Sounds great" I said to my local chums, who had seen me swerving around the park. "I'll ace this in a couple of hours."

Then it hit me. Speed/traffic/pedestrians/OAPs/other riders/potholes/irrate taxi drivers and no doubt, twattish and poorly dressed cityboy Porsche owners would all be out to get me. Not to mention the stamina needed to carry me 14 miles.

Oh cock.

Undeterred, last Saturday I took part in the Tweed Run. And completed it.
Aided by some healthy medicinal doses of Kings Ginger Liqueur and a wonderful Berry Bros Glen Grant from 1972, my apprehension lifted and I was spurred on by my fellow riders (notably my friends Jon, Fleur and Will)


Jon and I... enjoying a pre-race
Kings Ginger Liqueur


My little bike and I negotiated the ride with only one hair-raising moment around Piccadilly Circus, when my feet came off the pedals and I careered down Haymarket out of control.

The sturdy brogues I was wearing came to the rescue and I furiously dragged my right foot, thankfully managing to slow the bike down before I illegally gatecrashed the doors of the New Zealand High Commission, situated at the bottom.


Me with severe 'Penny Envy'

My very first ride in central London had been a success and has now given me the confidence to take my little bike on more exotic trips. Apparently, there is a 24 hour endurance ride in Tazmania later this year, specifically for Penny Farthings. Maybe?? How about 'Never Say Never'!!

Well done to everyone who supported the event and took part. More pictures can be seen here.