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Friday 3 August 2012

You Can Not Be Sirius

So, London 2012, the Olympics, has finally hit us. Living so close to the middle of London has proved, against all odds, to be a total and utter joy. The streets are deserted; you can get in to any restaurant, bar or theatre and hotels seem to be dumping rooms at discount prices, like they're going out of fashion. Live anywhere near London? Come on in! You won't find a better time to visit...

And with this smorgasbord of sport available, why would you stay away? Well, one main reason: it's all on the telly. And when I say 'all', I mean ALL! The BBC have done an amazing job covering the event so far with a mind-boggling selection of ways to watch your chosen sport, support your nation live or even catch up on the action from previous days. It really is a joy to behold.

But all has not been plain sailing for this whisky writer. Oh, no. When the time came to apply for tickets, I decided to have a go. Throw my credit card in the ring and see what I got.

The plan was simple: go for big ticket items such as the Men's Tennis Final at Wimbledon, Opening and Closing ceremonies, 100m final... but to add a touch of realism in the mix, I also chose some more 'attainable' tickets: anything at the tennis and football were my two picks... especially the football, as I was advised that I would get two matches over the course of an afternoon / evening. What better way to spend an August afternoon than kicking back with a couple of mates and watching four international teams play on the world stage?

Or so I thought. When the draw for tickets was made, I came away with just one pair of football tickets, for Wed afternoon at Wembley. "Excellent", I thought "I might get a Team GB match and then something else as an entree."

But, just a few weeks before the official start to the games, the draw for the football was made. With great anticipation I waited until the conclusion of the draw and, with bated breath, looked up which games I had got for my money.

The result? Just one match. And that match? Gabon vs South Korea. Oh, dear.

Well, this is what I was given in draw by the Olympic gods so, taking it on the chin, I awaited my tickets. But the punishment from the Olympian deities didn't stop there. 

Oh, no. 

Each set of tickets is hand delivered, to be signed for by the recipient and my tickets chose to turn up, with a loud knock at the door, at 7am on a Saturday. 

Great. Thanks.

When the day of the game came around, I duly made my way across the ghost town and found myself with 76,000 other people, watching Gabon play out an incredibly dull nil - nil draw with South Korea. And thus ends my Olympic experience.

But think for a moment of the chaps from Gabon. Running out to a stadium well over three quarters full (total capacity of Wembley: 90,000). A situation, without being disparaging, that many of those players may never find themselves in again, in their sporting careers. Because that is what the Olympics is all about: providing a world stage to many athletes who you may have never heard of, but who have put themselves in a position of attaining glory through a mix of talent and sheer hard work.

Many new names have appeared just in the last 24 hours. Rowers Heather Stanning and Helen Glover, Shooter Peter Wilson, Gemma Gibbons (left) in the judo... all new names to me, and all new superstars in the UK.

In a similar fashion, there are many indie bottlers out there in the whisky world, trying to battle weekly against the giant single malt and blended brands on our supermarket shelves.  Maybe they don't have the budgets or the resources of their gigantic counterparts, but occasionally someone you have never heard of can turn in a gold medal performance.

Two weeks ago, I headed over to The Whisky Shop in London's Patanosta Square for the launch of a new range of independently bottled whiskies, under the banner Sirius.  This series of bottlings has been put together by Mahesh Patel, the man behind the Nth Whisky Show in Las Vegas, a seriously top-end event which its bottlings aim to replicate.

Having chosen his casks with great care, Patel has gone not for the common man here, but for serious collectors and drinkers, with his bottles starting at £1,000 and going up to £3,750, with all the hooch (two single grains, two single malts) coming from casks in the 1960's.

Working backwards in price, the collection hails a 1967 Dalmore from a rum cask, yielding 89 bottles, for £3,750.

The Dalmore - Sirius Collection - 1967 - 89 bottles - 64.3% abv

Nose: Cocoa (chocolate mousse), strong notes of dark sugar and rich oak.

Palate: Rich fruits, honey-heather, dark chocolate and a hint of candied orange.

Finish: Sweet, unctuous and delicious.

Overall: A great whisky but second on the rostrum with silver in this competition...

The continues with a North British from 1962 (138 bottles, £1,250 bottled at 44.5% abv) and a Fettercairn from 1965 (39 bottles, £1,750 bottled at 52.6% abv) but the real star of this show is a new name to me: Carsebridge, the grain distillery which was closed in 1983.

Carsebridge - Sirius Collection - 1965 - 63 bottles - 41% abv

Nose: Figs and honey, orange and the lovely subtle tones you always get from a grain whisky of banana and pine. This is very well aged and has a simply wonderful nose.

Palate: Fantastic oddly malty tones with cooked banana and maple syrup. Smooth and incredibly drinkable.

Finish: Orange creams, milk chocolate.

Overall: Simply stunning. A gold medal winner of a whisky. Seriously awesome.

As a collection, this series does a great job of showcasing some great old malts and, more importantly, some great old grains. It may not be aimed at people with a limited income, but for those out there with some serious (sirius) cash to splash, it'll be a great education as to what sort of quality can be attained from the right casks at the right age, especially with the grain examples here.  

And if this is what a grain from 1965 tastes like, I'm off to find some more undiscovered superstars...