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Thursday, 19 April 2012

Olympic Spirit? Whisky, surely.

Living in London can be testing. Coming up we’ve got various events from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee through to the much anticipated Olympic Games, which seems to have divided opinion of Londoners right down the middle.

On the one side are the ‘glass half full’ folk who dream of London being the cultural melting-pot of the world for two weeks where, somehow, the decrepit and failing public transport system won’t buckle under the pressure of an extra million people trying to use it... and then there are the realists.

People like me.

People who think that London is a great city, a wonderful place to live but we know the fault-lines. And many there are.

But, however negative your view of the upcoming Games may be, one should rightly focus on what makes London such a great city and so it was that yesterday afternoon gave me a key example of the brilliance of living life in a city rich in culture, history and heritage.

I was to catch up with an old school friend of mine. A chap of good Scottish lineage who ended up spending a long time living in Edinburgh but has now moved back South to live and work in-and-around London. Having known Simon for somewhere in the region of 25 years, but not having seen him for around 12 months, a catch-up in some of London’s more delightful haunts was required and having grown up together, there is bond that only well matured relationships have so where better to open our afternoon of gossip than at JJ Fox’s Cigar Merchants in Mayfair.

The area around St James’ Street, Mayfair is such a wonderful example of London and its history (as seen in our recent piece about Berry Bros) and, despite the best efforts of the local shop owners, you do not have to be wealthy to enjoy the refinements this part of town has to offer. In JJ Fox you can sit back in a leather Chesterfield, light up a very high quality cigar and enjoy a cup of coffee all for the princely sum of... well, whatever you can afford. Personally, I like a Honduran cigar called La Invicta and you can pick up their Corona No.1’s for a mere £4.75. Not a bad way to spend an hour, if you ask me.

Nestled behind JJ Fox on Crown Passage is a brilliant little pub called The Red Lion which provides exactly what one requires post-cigar; a nice pint of real ale. Apparently the second-oldest continually used pub in London with a licence to serve beer, this is London... not some new Westfield shopping ‘mall’ on the edge of the Olympic Park. Note to any rioters reading this: it’s full of trainers, flat screen TV’s and glass. #JustSayin’

JJ Fox and the Red Lion, two of the most idyllic places possible to catch up with an old friend. But an evening of cigars and real ale is only really complete with a wee dram so, via Randall & Aubin in Soho for some much needed belly-padding, we made our way over the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a night-cap.

SMWS 29.109 – ‘Oak and Smoke Intensity’ - Laphroaig – 20 Years Old – Refill Ex Sherry – 619 bottles – Distilled 12th Oct 1990 – 59.2% abv

Nose: A hint of brine, a huge waft of smoke and then it settles down in to red berries, carnations and old leather sofa. Some wood polish and general ‘musk’ whips up all wrapped in a wet peat smoke which gives a lovely warming feeling to the dram.

Palate: Neat, this gives off plum jam, icing sugar, smoke, tar and cherries. But with water is when it really comes to life. This can take a large slug of H2O and with it come toasted brown bread with lashings of butter and strawberry jam, fresh cherry pie and honey all backed with a fantastic smokiness.

Finish: Without water, this is hot and aggressive. With, you get ginger, spices and oak.

Overall: Nowhere near the complete article when sampled neat, but with water this bottling comes to life in a big way. So good, I bought a bottle. A touch more expensive than a £4 cigar, at just over £70, but well worth it. One of the best heavy sherry matured Laphroaig’s I’ve had in a while.

Whatever we may think of the impending invasion of the world to our city (and to be fair, that's what we spent most of our history doing to other countries), there are many, many places 'off the beaten track' in London where you can nestle yourself away with a good friend, a good drink and some good food for a perfectly lovely afternoon / evening.

Our cracking evening ended with a suburb dram, but look out for our next post, pitting two new limited edition Laphroaig head-to-head: the new Duty Free-only PX vs. The 2000 bottles only Laphroaig ‘Brodir’... let battle commence!