Turning thirty is both an exciting and daunting time in anyone’s life. As I speed towards my 33rd birthday, in the middle of this coming week, I can hardly believe how fast life moves. And it doesn’t seem to get any slower.
But late November is a difficult time of the year to have a birthday. Too tempting is it for people to fob you off with a ‘joint-birthday and Christmas present’, not an issue friends of mine with their life anniversary in June or July seem to have a problem with. There are two points of celebration: birthday and Christmas. So I’ll have two presents please, unless specified otherwise...
This year, there are many things on the birthday list, from cocktail accessories to the yearly Oxford United shirt with ‘HARRISON’ emblazoned on the reverse, but, despite working in the business, whisky usually makes an appearance of some sort.
Each year we host an annual award, the Best In Glass (BIG)where Neil and I choose the top ten drams from the year with a very simple criteria: the product must be commercially available (no special releases or single cask festival bottling, etc) and first released in the year of the judging (so, 2012 for this years batch). With the judging just around the corner, our selections have been made. Pleasingly, nine of the ten of this year’s finalist are under £100 with the tenth being under £200.
As the judging is done blind, it would be wrong of me to publish a pre-birthday wish-list of whiskies released this year (but feel free to send vintage bottles!) but one thing that is always welcome is whisky from the year of my birth, 1979.
As per my 30th birthday, I’m currently building up a selection from that vintage which I will roll out in seven years time at an uber-40th birthday bash. Last year was my brother, the Rev Oliver Harrison’s 40th. As well as being a man of the cloth, a keen fisherman, motorcycle enthusiast, a collector of vintage shaving equipment and , ergo, the shaving correspondent for The Chap magazine, he is also a burgeoning whisky drinker.
With so many hobbies, it was a difficult decision for what to get the old lad for his big four-o last year, but after some hard searching, I settle on a bottle of the Master of Malt 40 Year old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky. Having delivered it at his birthday bash in early November 2011, I was reliably informed by his wife that it was ‘pretty much gone’ by the time midnight mass on Christmas Eve rolled around.
I hope he wasn’t using it for the communion... Humm, 40 year old Scotch and an oak cake. That’d have your Parish attendance up. Never mind current debates, the Church of England will be ordaining all sorts in the role of Bishop if that was the regular Clerical juice.
The series of ‘statement age’ (as opposed to ‘age statement’) whiskies from Master of Malt have seemed to go down very well, to the point where a new batch of releases has been issues, at 30, 40 and a whopping 50 Years Old.
Master Of Malt – 30 Year Old Speyside – 5th Edition – 43% ABV - £129.95
Nose: The first aromas to make themselves known as the rich butterscotch tones, backed with some apricot jam. There is a good balance between sweetness (honey) and savoury (freshly picked Chantereles) and over time the oak appears. These elements are pinned to a foundation of dusty warehouse. This shows off its age in a subtle way.
Palate: The first impression is vanilla, packed with those apricots and peach melba. Lots of tinned fruit and some spices (cardamom and fennel) burst through. There are hints of fresh mint tea with a spoonful of brown sugar and finally the savoury tones from the nose provide a depth of lasting flavour. With water, the spices become much more prominent.
Finish: The old oak notes stay harnessed to the back of the palate and finally give way to some vanilla and malty milk chocolate flavours.
Overall: You’ll get nailed when looking for a good value bottle of thirty year old whisky if it comes in a proprietary bottling, so indie bottlers are a good place to turn if you want to make sure there is some money left if your wallet when gifting at certain vintages such as thirty or forty and this edition from Master of Malt fills that role nicely. Esp at less than £130.
This year, I hope that Santa comes early to drop me a wee bottle of something and wish me Bonne Anniversaire. With my big day falling on a Wed and being in transit in Scotland that day, I might have to wait until the weekend to lounge around my house drinking whatever arrives in the only thing suitable: my birthday suit.