It's Christmas Eve! God Jul to all our Scandinavian readers. We hope you have something special in your glass.
Each year, when Christmas rolls around, I like to choose something special to have over the festive period.
Last year, my choice was a Highland Park 21 year old and the year before, the Harrison tipple was a single cask Glendronach.
This year, I find myself not in my native Oxford, but up in the Highlands of Scotland.
With snow forecast and not a huge amount of options other than a Tesco locally, I took a trip to the nearby town of Pitlochry to the quite fabulous Drinkmonger store.
It was there that I discovered an excellent selection of bottles, many from the indie bottler and local lads Signatory, with one bottle catching my eye: a single cask Clynelish.
Clynelish – Signatory - 1995 / 2013 (21.12.95 / 11.04.2013) – cask #12796 – bottle 130 of 859 – 43% abv - £55.00
Nose: Pickled herring, roast chestnut, a hint of Seville orange, jasmine tea, vanilla, toffee.
Palate: Tobacco, some light sooty notes, dark chocolate, cherry lips, rich and oily with some light green veg and ‘the herb’ as they say in South London.
Finish: More of the skunk tones with light vanilla.
Overall: Well... I wouldn’t have chosen a bad one for the Xmas factor, would I?! Honestly, a CRACKER for the price.
But this year, to get me through Christmas in foreign lands, one bottle wasn't nearly enough.
This year, I also took a momento with me, picked up on one of the CaskStrength trips of the year.
It was in the first half of 2013 that saw Neil and I head out to Gascony for a research trip to visit the brandy-producing region of Armagnac; one of many trips taken this year to help us write a forthcoming book, due out in 2014. More on that later next year.
A little tip for all you whisky-lovers out there: if you happen to visit the Armagnac region, don't do what I did and take just a suitcase (or what Neil did and take a tiny suitcase). Why? Because you'll want to buy, buy, buy...
Having totally exceeded my easyJet baggage limit, mainly with bottles of 1979 vintage (all for the price of a good blended Scotch), I have been carefully choosing which bottles to open over the course of the year... one was cracked on my birthday a couple of weeks ago. And the another just yesterday.
Castarede - Bas-Armagnac – 1979 Vintage – 40% abv
Nose: Grenadine, cherry (black), toffee, big hit of oak and some almonds, a hit of antique shop and big Christmas Cake. Right at the death, warming Bovril.
Palate: Dried orange, candied cherries, marzipan, fresh coffee (black, again), liquorice root.
Finish: Massive powered cocoa and granulated brown sugar; white tea. Mint.
Overall: Yes, a very good example of a vintage Armagnac. Not the greatest I’ve ever had, but certainly challenge for it. A lovely counterpoint to the light and refreshing Clynelish.
Two totally different beasts of spirits; one grain, one grape. One delicate and light, one rich and fruity. And both for well under £100!
So whatever you choose to dram in Christmas with, just make sure that you leave something good for Santa when he arrives, for when everone has retired to bed, as I'm sure whatever has been left out will magically disappear... Enjoy!