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Monday, 16 May 2011

National Union Of Farmers Shoreditch Branch

Trains. For me they rank equally alongside the Motorway Service station as one of the more interesting places to people watch.

Earlier today I was sat on my second train of the day. The first from a small, unmanned, rural Cotswold station was so busy, I decided to change at a major terminus and await a following train. One which might even provide me with a seat and, whisper it, a table. Thus, I found myself in the "quiet carriage" of a First Great Western, carrying folk of all colour, creed and race back from a weekend somewhere to The Big Smoke.

As I gazed at the folk around, one thing struck me: this particular carriage holds an assortment of people who look like bad impersonators of famous people in bands.

At my table is a gent who could easily find a job in a budget Sterephonics covers band as the lead singer , Kelly Jones. Behind him is a woman who looks like the ginger one from Girls Aloud, if you added on an extra 20 years and coupled it with a very hard life. Scattered down the carriage are men in their mid-20’s who could pass as members of The Wombats, The Maccabees or any other number of Land Fill Indie bands from the past 5 years.

And then there is me. Caught between two stalls, the bottom half of my attire is pure indie kid, skinny trousers (or maybe I’ve just put on some weight??) and canvas shoes. But the top half of me is something else altogether; a checked shirt and cashmere jumper, total National Farmers Union . Or, dare I say it, Young Conservative...

As this horror dawns upon me (I was travelling back from Cameron’s constituency, after all) I realise that I might be losing my touch on fashion, youth culture and style. Maybe I’m relaxing from a lefty-liberal lifestyle to a comfortable, centre-right position; one of slacks, easy slip-on shoes and jumpers casually thrown over my shoulders, should the evening chill draw in.

What happens from here?” I suddenly think to myself. "Am I destined to meet and marry a ‘nice girl’ from Berkshire, whose Dad owns his own accountancy firm, whose brother is in commodities in The City and whose Mum does, well, very little other than ‘lunch’?"

Before you know it I’ll be living in Clapham surrounded by junior lawyers and estate agents. I’ll be going to ‘Twickers’ at the weekend with the lads to watch someone they went to school with sit on the bench for England. Worst of all, I’ll completely forget how to turn the collar down on a Ralph Lauren Polo Shirt and start ordering posh larger very loudly in pubs at weekends.


It was at this point in the journey that I realised I needed a dram. Something to steer me back on course. Something to reaffirm my sense of myself; to calm my nerves as I see my future play out in front of me. Luckily, I had just the thing in my bag.

When I visited The Balvenie a couple of weeks back, I was taken on a tour which culminated in a visit to Warehouse 24. This section of the tour is open to those who have joined The Balvenie’s online ‘club’ called, yes you’ve guessed it, Warehouse 24.

One aspect of the ‘enhanced’ tour for members is that you are able to sample some Balvenie from three different single casks, hidden in the basement of the warehouse. One cask is a first fill sherry, one is a refill hogshead and the final cask is a first fill bourbon. If you like what you taste, you can buy a 20cl bottle (a really lovely mini version of their famous bottle shape), fill it and label it yourself and take it home with you. Winner.

Having only a brief period to taste all three casks, I ended up choosing a sample of the refill hogshead for my bottle. If truth be told and I’d thought about it a little more, I would have gone for the first fill sherry. But no bother, a refill hoggy it is and, as luck would have it, the 20cl bottle was in my bag. Time to crack it open and see how it goes:

The Balvenie – Warehouse 24 Cask Sample – Cask No. 10500 – Bottled 12/04/2011 – 13 Years Old – 60.5% ABV

Nose: cream soda, mr whippy vanilla ice cream, some very light blackcurrant notes. Apple crumble with custard. Copper sits in the back, propping the flavours up. Still a fair whack of spirit in this dram; the refill oak hasn't given a huge amount to the dram.

With water the nose opens to enhance the apple crumble and custard (in fact, it becomes more custard creams) with slightly increased copper tones. Everything else pretty much disappears.


neat- a fair whack of spirit, mixed with green apples and not a whole lot more. Way too powerful without water.

with water- once the power has been reduced down to a palatable level, the apple crumble and custard notes from the nose comes through on the palate with greater effect. Yet now with the addition of gooseberry fool and unripe bananas. In fact, the more water you add, the greater the increased ripeness of the banana flavours appear, finally settling on that fake, creamy banana one finds in a McDonalds banana milkshake.

Finish (with water): spicy wood mixes with cardamom and liquorice give a medium-long finish. Light apple sours and bourbon vanillas bring this dram in to land.

Overall: a suitable example of a re-fill bourbon cask, but not one I would bottle as a single cask for at least another 3 or 4 years, or possibly beyond. In a word: potential. As stated earlier, I wish I’d gone first fill sherry. But you live and learn, huh!

As my train draw towards London Town, the driver instructs us to ready our belongings to alight for our onward journey. I watch closely as the faux-Kelly Jones picks up a leather jacket, throws on some shades, swings a Mulberry holdall over his shoulder and makes his way to the exit, passing our indie boys en route.

One by one, the Wombats-wannabes stuff their ipads, kindles and plain old paper back books (probably The Old Man And The Sea) in to an assortment of satchels, canvas bags and rucksacks. Standing up they each, without fail, take down a battered Barbour jacket from the luggage rail and casually throw them on. One even has a tweet flat cap which, aside from the rakish angle, is pure Eddie Grundy. If it wasn’t for the skinny jeans and bus ticket to Shoreditch, you could have sworn this was a mass exodus of the Young Farmers Union on a London outing.

As I stand to gather my things, I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the train window; part media creative, part arable farmer. But if the kids in Shoreditch can do it, then why the hell not me.

Now, just to find that ‘nice girl’ from Berkshire...