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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Double Dip

London's public transport can be as complicated and efficient as elections in Zimbabwe, with as many potential daily fatalities and a price inflation to rival the Bread Basket of Africa. Add to this that London's richest natural resource, its workforce, relies on a public transport system as stable as Kerry Katona, it seems to underline the old adage that

"It doesn't matter who wins the rat race; you're still a rat"

Fed up with scurrying underground like a human-sized rodent, I've recently picked up the gauntlet thrown down by mop-topped Mayor of London Boris Johnson and joined his new "shared bike scheme".

For those of you who live outside the Capital, a network of bikes and bike docking stations have been install across Central London. £45 a year gets you unlimited use of a bike, in 30min portions, for free.

Sounds wonderful.

And it is... when the docking stations have bikes.

And when you can find a docking station with space to drop off your trusty two-wheeled steed.

Oh and of course the imminent threat of death at every traffic light, roundabout and junction. I predict London to have its own "angles share" soon: 2% p.a. loss of cyclists...

Aside from the above, the scheme works a treat and I have been taking full advantage of it in the last week. I always saw the sights of London when travelling by bus, but now I can slow down when a stunning view wheels in to sight. I can stop and gaze in to shop windows. I can woolf-whistle attractive ladies. Anyone got a number for Sky Sports? I hear there are some jobs going...

Earlier in the week I was using a Boris Bike to make a short hop from Waterloo to London Bridge. Trying to avoid a major junction and thus certain death (!), I opted to take a side street and found myself slap bang in the middle of a small Farmers Market.

Swerving to avoid a Guardian reader who had heard about the market's existence, probably via a tweet from The Green Party, my eye caught a stand selling whisky and so I weaved across the pavement to pull up by the stand. I was greeted by a lovely gent selling 3 blended whiskies. Well, 1 blend and 2 vattings, to be precise.

The blend on offer was Pigs Nose, the sister whisky to the more well known vatting Sheep Dip. These two were joined by a newer bottling: Sheep Dip 'Old Herbridean' 1990 Vintage, an intriguing vatting of 25 Year Old Ardbeg, 21 Year Old Fettercairn and 19 Year Old Dalmore, all married together at a young age and left to mature for 15 Years in an ex-American Oak cask.... sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

Sheep Dip 'Old Herbridean' 1990 Vintage – 40% ABV

“25 Year Old Ardbeg, 21 Year Old Fettercairn and 19 Year Old Dalmore”

Quick question: I thought that if you added a vintage on to a bottle of whisky, all the whisky in the bottle must be from that year. With all this whisky at different ages, which is the 1990 Vintage? Anyone know?

Nose: The Ardbeg flies directly up the nose and the peat smoke is use to power through classic sherry whisky notes such as dried fruits, dates and figs. The American cask used to additionally mature hasn’t detracted from the orginal sherry notes, which is surprising. Totally Ardbeg on the nose, however.

Palate: This is where it starts to get a little weird. The Ardbeg from the nose is certainly still there, but this time the rounded Highland Malts grab the limelight away from the smoke. After an initial hit, the smoke is all but gone, leaving the sweet honey notes of the Dalmore and Fettercairn behind. The smoke lingers, but delicately burning away in the background, like a cottage in the distance with their peat fire burning away.

Finish: The smoke dies quickly and the dried fruits hangs around just long enough to remind you that they’re still there.

Overall: An excellent vatting which has turned out to be a real corker for this company. 15 years ago who would have seen this turning out as it has? £50 isn’t cheap for this bottle, but in today’s prices it seems worth it. The closest thing I’ve had to Ardbeg’s excellent Nam Beist since it was discontinued.

This whisky is clearly Sheep Dip’s jewel in the crown. So let’s check out their other, more standard bottling

Sheep Dip – Vatted Malt Whisky – 40% ABV

“Woven from 16 single malt whiskies” this was originally blended by Richard Patterson.

Nose: Soft on the nose, this gives cinnamon and toffee apples. Some cloves and the slightest hint of wood smoke and wood spice. Orange peel gives the whole thing a hint of Old Fashioned.

Palate: Toffee hits first, backed with pears in syrup and some wood spices. Sweet tea with no milk and a hint of lemon finish this palate off. Slightly unusual but nicely complex, it takes water very well.

Finish: The wood spices linger to leave cinnamon and some wood smoke and tree bark. Ice tea returns for a lingering, spicy finish.

Overall: A pleasant drink that benefits from a splash of water to open up those 16 single malt whiskies. Occasionally they each fight a little too hard for attention, but the overall experience is sweet, spicy and easy drinking.

Pig’s Nose – Blended Scotch Whisky – 40% ABV

“A backbone of Invergordon grain which is enhanced by specially selected aged Speyside, Highland, Islay and Lowland Malts” – that’d be a full house, then!

Nose: A massive hit of toffee comes though then backed by soil or petiole (patchouli). A hint of smoke at the back. Simple, but effective.

Palate: Less sweet tea and more sweet, milky coffee for this one. Classic grain in there with that slightly gluey nature (PVA) that grain whisky has, but the main job is to hold together the rest of the flavours, which this does well. A robust, warm and ever so slightly smoky palate with hints of green apple.

Finish: A big hit of spice (Chinese Five Spice) and back to the green apple for the death.

Overall: This also holds together well with water. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that both the Pig’s Nose and the Sheep Dip are better with a fair old splash of H2O. A well constructed blend but I don’t think it is going to set the world on fire. Very much the Jamie Murray to the Old Herbridean's Andy Murray.

And so my cycling experient of London has been deemed a success. Not least because of the accidental discovery of a small Famers Market selling whisky, but the effect of shrinking my waist line whilst not shrinking my bank balance means there is more room (in all senses) in my life for extra whisky drinking.