Aside from football, the first real hobby I remember getting in to was record collecting. The first ever 7” I bought, an early version of Supergrass’ Mansize Rooster on Backbeat Records, mesmerised me. Green vinyl in a psychedelic disco bag, the record appeared so beautiful, like a piece of artwork, that it kick-started a hobby which has lasted through to the present day.
The temptation when collecting records is to become a ‘completist’, seeking out every single release by a certain artist, from their first single on a local indie label through to their latest major label affair, all the while trying to find that allusive Japanese 7” with the spelling mistake in the label copy.
I remember one occasion when the debut album from Supergrass, I Should Coco, was released. A certain number of the 12” editions came with a very limited edition 7”. Having fallen in love with my local heroes from the debut release mentioned above and being well on the road to owning their entire output (even the scarce singles on Nude Records, under the name The Jennifers), I wanted one, nay, MUST HAVE one of these limited editions.
Being only young and without gainful part-time employment, I took to washing cars in the local area to raise the funds needed to buy the album. When the Monday of release came around, I was to be found in the queue outside Oxford’s Virgin Megastore (RIP) beaming with pride at the record I was about to purchase.
My attitude towards rarities such as this has changed little over the years, yet now my focus is on a different product, whisky. As I search avidly for interesting and unusual bottles, I have ended up in early-morning queues outside many different distilleries and shops (from what now seems like an annual queue at a rain soaked Lagavulin during Feis Ile, to a cold December morning outside Aldi) all in search of 'that' elusive bottle to crack open and try.
Of course, writing this site as well as penning articles for various publications, we are often sent samples of whisky or invited on distillery trips and to launch events, some of which we review on this site (Serge at whiskyfun.com has written a great piece on receiving and reviewing samples, which you can read here, a view to which we wholeheartedly subscribe) and in the greater scheme of what is approaching our fifth year of writing caskstrength.net, this is a relatively new development. Despite this however, the excitement of seeking out that rare bottle of whisky, being able to taste it and share the liquid inside with friends is still a real joy (see ‘Best Man’s Lagavulin’). No different really to sitting down with your buddies and enjoying the previously unheard b-sides on your favourite bands 300- only debut 7” over a couple of beers.
However, buying whisky is not a cheap pastime and like a good holiday, each spend is carefully considered. The latest whisky adventure I have taken my wallet on, is a hunt for The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3. The first releases, Batch 1, was only available for those doing the distillery tour in Speyside and when I found myself in Dufftown at the start of 2011 I was eager to participate in their show-around. Firstly, I’d never had a complete tour of The Balvenie before and secondly it enabled me to purchase a bottle of Tun 1401 Batch 1 from their shop at the end, having tried a sample at the 2010 Whisky Show in London. Not a cheap exercise, made even more expensive by the purchase of a bottle of Balvenie Rose Batch 2 at the same time (my sincere apologies goes out to HSBC Bank), notes of which were quickly written up.
Batch 2 was a slightly different affair. Widely distributed in the UK, finding a bottle at a retailer which wasn’t sold out on pre-order was tricky. I was lucky enough to secure a bottle from Milroy’s Of Soho after a tip off from a friend that they had some in stock. I was keen to get a bottle as I already knew about the quality of the liquid having tasted some at the distillery on a previous visit as well as at a ‘twitter tasting’ with other whisky writers, bloggers and retailers late last year.
It was during this tasting that I heard whispers of a Batch 3 release. With my appetite whetted from Batch 1 and Batch 2, this was not a bottle I was going to let slip off my radar, and so the hunt began...
In my research, I found out that Batch 3 was to be a US-only release. “This must be a simple job”, I thought. “Loads of retailers in the US will stock this. One must be able to ship a bottle to the UK.”
Only 1800 bottles of this edition was spread thinly across the 50 states. I found a couple of retailers selling bottles, with prices ranging wildly from $350 (Park Av Liquor) to $209 (Merwins), but none, not one of these retailers would ship to the UK.
It was at this stage I resorted to ‘plan b’: emailing a list of friends in the US who might be able to make the purchase for me, receive the package and then forward on to the UK. My first attempt, a friend visiting NYC over Christmas, failed when they were unable to visit any retailer open during the holiday period.
But the second avenue yielded success! A good friend living on the Eastern side of the States was able to receive a bottle and subsequently forward it on to me. International trade, it seems, is alive and well... if you know someone who lives in the country of release, that is!
The Balvenie – Tun 1401 – Batch 3 – 50.3% abv
A vatting of 7 bourbon casks and 3 sherry casks ranging from 1967 to 1989
Nose: Strong character of digestive biscuits dipped in sherry, some freshly cut red apples, a hint of cherry juice and watermelon and the classic Balvenie runny honey.
Palate: Perfectly drinkable at its bottled strength, this is certainly a Balvenie given away by a mouthwatering honey tone. This edition carried blackberry leaf and lots of great wood spices which, over time in the mouth, develop from a sweet, nutty note to woodier, drying tones with a hint of liquorice.
Finish: Dry with a big spicy hit, yet this mellows over time in the glass but is certainly warming. More of a winter dram, than a summer dram.
Overall: This expression seems to carry more dry oak tones and comes across woodier and spicier than batch 2 and batch 1. Given a choice of recent releases, I’d aim for the Craftsman’s Reserve Number 1: The Cooper over this, but certainly these editions are an exercise in how one distillery can produce differing characteristics in their finished products using a variety of casks from various years.
It’s been a pretty arduous adventure securing this bottle and it has been interesting to round off the list of Tun 1401s so far. Let’s hope the series doesn't go on too long, as it could lead me on a wild goose chase. Especially when batch 7 comes out, exclusively available in Hogwarts. For time being however, we’ll try and keep the search going, the tasting notes logged and the whisky shared...
I’m off to dig out my old Supergrass 7”’s for an extended listening session, while sipping on a large dram of the Tun 1401 batch 2. For research purposes, you understand? I Should Coco!