Translate Caskstrength!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

One Likes Water With One's Whisky

Banksy's contribution to the Jubilee Celebrations

London, Tues 5th June 2012. The Jubilee is officially over and it's pouring with rain. I mean POURING with rain. So much so, I have my welly-boots on. In June.

It's now been just over a week since Neil and I took the long and winding road down to Campbeltown and then over to Islay for our trip to this year’s Feis Ile and we were blessed with great weather as the sun streamed down on our bonces for nearly the entire time. I even returned from the fair isle with sunburn, such was the strength of the sun’s rays.

As usual, our journey was filled with renewed acquaintances and old friends; both in the physical sense and liquid one, too. From old faithfuls such as the Lagavulin 16 and the Ardbeg 10, to new friends like the Kilchoman Machir Bay and the Caol Ila Feis Ile 2012, it has been a real journey in every sense of the word.

On the road back, Neil and I were discussing our top 3 drams of the trip. Such was the level of debate (13 hours is a long time to fill when driving back) that we had to keep expanding it, from a top 3 to top 4, then top 5... needless to say, the Lagavulin 30 topped both our lists. We were divided on their new 21 year old expression but united on the excellence of the Caol Ila Flora & Fauna bottling. So on and on the debate raged before ending somewhere around Watford Gap.

This oddly named service station, not really near Watford and not, so far as I can see, a gap, is oft lorded as the divide between North & South. As we stopped for petrol and pasties, a quick check of the travel situation in London was required. It hadn't fully hit home with all the driving but, due to the Jubilee, most of Central London was closed, along with a host of bridges across the Thames. Not what you need at 11pm after nearly 12 hours of travelling and, crucially, not what you need when you’re trying to get home to.... South London.

With the route adjusted, home was in our sites (well, in our satnav at the very least) and, after dropping off Neil and his host of bottles to the expecting Mrs Ridley, I headed home to get some much needed kip.

The next day I awoke to London in full Jubilee swing. Totally under prepared, I hadn’t a single item adorned with a Union Jack in the house, save for some pillows which I was damned would be taken out in the downpour. There was only one thing for it: retreat and head for a countryside garden party. As I made my way out to the railway station, passing people dress up like John Bull, I decided to swing by our office just to check it was still there. But the one thing you can be sure about when you spend a week away: there will be plenty of post for you on your return.

Now, we all know what it’s like coming home after a week or so away; the doormat tends to be littered with bills, as if the postman was a tree in autumn, shedding his leaves through your letterbox. And of course, in the office there were plenty of unwelcome pieces of correspondence awaiting my letter-knife. But in the middle of it all was something rather exciting... a bulging package clearly housing a wee sample.

Ignoring the bills and opting to see what the sample contained, I opened the package to be faced by something quite timely indeed, The Macallan Diamond Jubilee whisky. For someone who had not yet found their Jubilee spirit, it was most useful that some had been delivered to my door, a brief encouragement to join in with the festivities.

Grabbing a glass from the cupboard and the sample, I continued my journey to the railway station, running between bus stops to avoid the rain until I found myself sat on a train trundling out towards (God’s own county of) Oxfordshire for a Harrison Family gathering.

As I took my seat on the train, I pulled the sample from my pocket, popped the cork and poured a dram into my glass. Lifting it to my nose, I swear at that exact moment the rain stopped. Call it fate (or fete in today’s case), it probably had a lot to do with being beyond Slough, it was as if the Jubilee spirit was rising from the glass like a genie from bottle, to clear the skies and make way for the days festivities...

The Macallan – Diamond Jubilee Bottling – NAS – 2012 bottles only - 52% abv - £350  available here

Note: the bottle features an image of the Queen by the artist Arnold Machin, famed for his image of the Queen used on Royal Mail stamps. This version is the first (and only) time a Machin image has been used on a product outside of the Royal Mail. Quite a coup for The Macallan. The liquid has been chosen from casks from 6th February, the Queen’s ascension, and the first week in June, traditionally when the Jubilees are celebrated. 52% abv reflects the year, 1952, when the Queen took the throne.

Nose: Orange zest (marmalade), polished oak floors, mandarin, cookie dough with chocolate chips and some fresh oak tones on the back. Hint of autumnal forest floor. With water the vanilla comes through much more.

Palate: A powerful palate at first quickly dies down to reveal classic Macallan notes of dried fruits, Christmas cake, peach melba and toasted almonds. With water, this opens up to be a real flavoursome dram with all of the previous enhanced but a much more rounded and less aggressive. Without water, this is Prince Phillip. With Water, the Queen.

Finish: The finish is long and lingering with a warmth of real liquorish. With water, much more Moorish and juicy with the mandarin orange tones lasting through to the death.

Overall: A super dram of juicy oranges and vanilla. Needs water to bring it to life, by golly it gets get when you do. If I have a criticism, it isn't about the liquid, but the fact this is a NAS. With lots of information on the packaging and the dates the casks were filled, it is a shame there is no information on the years the casks are from. Ney bother, as it still tastes damn fine.

As I sat on the train homeward bound to London from the Cotswolds, having indulged in the good old British pastime of flag waving, cheering, drinking and eating, I arrived home to city where the bridges had reopened, the bunting still remained hung and, despite the wet weather, there seemed to be just that little bit more joy in the air. It seems like a perfectly good reason to bottle a whisky, to me.