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Sunday, 5 September 2010


Some days you just have to let go. Some days are for indulging. It’s why we save money. It’s also why up-scaling exists. Would Johnnie Walker Blue Label be the whisky it is, if it weren’t for the Red, Black, Green and Gold? Would Premiership football be “Premier” if there weren't 4 other levels of professional football in this country? Life is all about context. And in this bloggers case, it’s holiday time!

However, what would holiday be without work to create the contrast? That constant barrage of voicemails. The red light blinking on your blackberry as if the device will explode imminently. The pile of paperwork on your desk climbing every higher towards the sky. Holiday is a time to forget this all, to put it to one side and to relax.

This year I find myself in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. Long sandy beaches, rolling fields and (usually) sunshine have combined with a weak pound, economic downturn and general belt-tightening, to ensure that the staycation is the holiday of choice for a larger numbers of Britons than ever before.

Our destination this year is the North Coast and a small village near Newquay (a place often favoured by stag parties and surfers, for those readers outside of the UK). The biggest quandary that befalls me when packing my suitcase is not which shorts I should pack, how many jumpers is too many or whether or not to take the snorkel, but “which whisky shall I take with me”. With limited space I opted for a hipflask full of Highland Park 12 Year Old. It was open, in the cabinet and seemed to fulfil all the obvious criteria (Will it be delicious and cooling on a hot day on the beach? Yes. Will it be warming and soothing when I’m stuck in doors due to torrential rain, depressed that I stayed in England? Yes.) so away I went with some nice Scotch in my luggage.

The highlight of the trip was a lunch, booked in honour of Ma Joel’s 60th Birthday (Happy Birthday Mum!), at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, imaginatively called Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant – clever huh! – in Padstow, just along the coast from where were based.

Now, I love cooking. But Rick Stein I am not. The only Michelin stars I have are on the car I drove to Cornwall in. But I do love food (who doesn’t? You see that on people’s profiles on things like Facebook “I like food”. No! Really!? “I like comedy” No shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I didn’t already know.) and what better way to provide total holiday contrast from my usual coco-pops breakfast / prêt sandwich lunch / chicken and bacon salad dinner, then to treat oneself to some proper food, from a proper chef?

The lunch was excellent (sardines in a herb and parmesan crust for starter, pan fried ray wing with béarnaise sauce for main and some chocolate thing for pudding, since you asked) and you get three courses for around the same price as a bottle of Ardbeg 10 Year Old. Not at all bad, really. But I was on holiday. With my Highland Park 12 at home, I needed some whisky. Some good whisky. No... some really good whisky.

My usual experience of restaurants, particularly seafood restaurants, and whisky is pretty poor. I wasn’t expecting much when I asked to see the spirits list. But I was shocked to see the following listed:

Arran 10 Year Old

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old

Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Talisker 10 Year Old

Okay.... Okay... it’s all good so far. Just back from Arran and as good as the 10 Year Old is, I’ll give it a miss for now. Glenmo, Laphroaig and Tally 10’s. Na. Not here. Not now.

I kept reading.

Tullibardine 1993 Port Wood Finish

Bruichladdich 16 Year Old Sauternes Finish

Er, okay. That’s a bit unexpected. But we’ll keep going.

Macallan 18 Year Old

Ardbeg 1990 (Nam Biest)

Nice! I’m erring towards the Ardbeg to finish this cracking meal off, but let’s just finish reading the full list.

Port Ellen Provenance 25 Year Old

Bowmore Old & Rare 25 Year Old

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have a winner! Or two. It looks like it’s going to be a straight slug out between the Port Ellen and the Bowmore and weighing in at two pounds per dram lighter, your Champion for the day is: the Port Ellen.

With a large smile on my face, I ordered up a measure. The perfect way to end a perfect meal:

Port Ellen – 1982 – 25 Years Old – Provenance – Sherry Casks No. 4452 & 4453 – 46% ABV

Nose- A good slug of peat mixed in with deep, rich woods. If there was a definition of "rich", this would be it. The wood notes range from pine to oak with everything in between. Lovely stuff.

Palate- The palate tastes old but with plenty of energy, coming though with orange quarters and dark chocolate which adds to the delicate peat smoke.

Finish- A big whack of peat, followed by hot and spicy red chillies, followed by orange peel, coffee and those beautifully balanced wood spices. Marmalade at the death.

Overall- I have no idea how long the restaurant had this bottle, but I bet this is all sold out now. And the world is a poorer place for it.

Holidays are a wonderful thing, but I’m back to reality now with deadlines, rush hours and travel cards to buy. I will once again be returning to the humble sandwich lunch and home cooked supper. Sadly my life doesn’t allow me to live in beautiful Cornwall and I can’t afford to eat at a posh restaurant every day of the week. But the one fleck of bright light, the one area I can take away is the whisky. I may never have that Port Ellen ever again. I certainly don’t have whisky of that quality and rarity after ever meal. But I can be happy with what I have. And right now, I’m here finishing off my holiday allocation of Highland Park 12 and you know what? On a Sunday evening, in the quiet before work tomorrow, it tastes like the rarest, most expensive whisky known to man, because it’s my whisky, my time, my moment.