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Friday, 20 January 2012

Let's Go Clubbing: The Balvenie Craftsman's Reserve No. 1 Whisky : The Cooper

It’s not a lot different to most peoples’ houses... if you ever come over to my abode, you’ll learn a lot about me from the objects that fill the space in which I live. Of course, there is plenty of whisky and whisky related artefacts scattered around, but that’s not all. Strewn around the house are clues to other interests and hobbies of mine; a framed ticket for the 2009 / 2010 Conference Play Off Final at Wembley between (the mighty) Oxford United and York City for example or a few books about street art, piled high on my coffee table.

However if you look closely, you can see keys to my childhood, too: A whole row of Rold Dahl books on my bookshelf. A 1980’s Subbuteo team still in full packaging on my mantelpiece, nestled up next to a well-used Rubik’s Cube... but the most telling evidence lies in a room far from these effects. For in my toilet is an almost complete set of Beano Annuals from around the late 1970’s through to the present day.

The Beano was a comic that my two brothers and I had delivered on weekly basis throughout our childhood and the yearly bumper hardback offering was a standard Christmas present from ‘Santa Claus’ pretty much from birth. It still makes an appearance each Christmas, keeping a family tradition going (and probably underpinning the publishers D.C. Thomson & Co as we do so, before it gets nailed by kids playing Angry Birds on their iPads).

Such fans we were of characters such as Billy Whizz, The Bash Street Kids and Dennis The Menace himself, that it seemed only natural to join The Dennis The Menace Fan Club (later rebranded as The Beano Fan Club). And what an honour that was. When joining, members would receive a pack containing a membership card, a letter and some badges (one adorned with the words ‘He Who Meanaces Wins’ – amazing!). Some years, you’d even get a birthday card from Dennis and Gnasher... does life get any better, when you’re ten years old?!

Sadly, in 2010 D.C. Thomson, the publishers of The Beano, closed its doors to new members. Having had, at its peak, over 1.25 million members, the club moved online to embrace new media in engaging fans of the much-loved comic.

I’m not ten years old any longer. I’m 32. Quite a difference. And, where you once found the Beano Annual by my bed, you’ll now find it by my toilet (essential reading when on the throne, it must be said) but one thing is still true: I still join fan clubs. It’s just the fan clubs I join these days are whisky-related.

There are plenty of them around: Friends of Laphroaig, Friends of the Classic Malts, The Ardbeg Committee, Highland Park Inner Circle, The Guardians of The Glenlivet, The Glenfiddich Explorers, The Springbank Society, The Bowmore Inner Core... you get the picture.

Nearly all of these ‘clubs’ are free to join and just require an email address and date of brith, but the rewards can be rich. Once signed up, you’re often sent a members pack (much like the Dennis The Menace fan club, sans a furry Gnasher badge) with anything from a short ‘thank you’ to a tasting book to a certificate of ownership on a plot of land! But the real pay off comes with the offer of exclusive bottlings, tasty editions launched only for club members, the die-hards, the fanatics.

The latest distillery to engage their membership scheme in this way is The Balvenie. Their membership programme is called Warehouse 24, named after the oldest surviving part of the distillery, now known as warehouse no. 24. (NSS)

The first ever exclusive bottling to be released to the membership from The Balvenie comes in support of one the five rare crafts which the distillery still employs, The Cooper. Such is the focus by The Balvenie on their five rare crafts, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this as a series with one release for each of the five crafts. To be fair, the title kinda gives that impression too, with it being called Craftsman’s Rreserve No.1...

So, a little about this bottling, then: 515 bottles will be produced, with 315 being made available for the UK market. Aged for 15 Years, this whisky was matured in two sherry butts and is bottled at natural strength. It will retail via The Balvenie website at £65.00 a bottle but expect to see if for more on auction sites at a later date... *yawn* Expected release date is some time in Feb.

The Balvenie – Craftsman’s Reserve No.1: The Cooper – 15 Years Old – 515 Bottles Only – Exclusive to Warehouse 24 Members - 59.4% abv

Nose: Rich Maple syrup, builders tea with sugar, honey and dark chocolate (a kin to the smell you get when snapping a Cadbury’s Crunchie in half), strong runny honey. A very appetising nose, with plenty of body. Asserts itself as a Speyside whisky but with more balls, more kick than normal from this distillery.

Palate: A ‘chewy’ dram with notes of sweet tea, dried apricots, big malt hit. It comes across as very rich with orange tones developing over time. Some notes of wood chippings after rain, heavy toffee and pulled pork. Meaty and mouthfilling. Holds a drop of water well.

Finish: Melting dark chocolate, some cloves and orange tones. Big and powerful in flavour and finish.

Overall: This is not a shy and retiring dram. Imagine the Doublewood but with extra age and intensity and richness and obstinance. It’s like a Balvenie that has won the lottery; it’s better than you and it knows it and it doesn’t care what you think, it’s going to wear garish designer clothing and to hell with the world. Bold and rich, more expressions like this (and at this strength) please...

No doubt there will be a bun flight on the day of release for this and if William Grant and Sons have taken a lesson from any of the other clubs that have released bottles online, just make sure your website doesn’t crash the second it goes up for sale... and if you really want to add some value to your distillery fan club, include a nice badge that says “He Who Drams Wins”.

Right, I’m off to ‘read the Beano’ as we say in my house...