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Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Yes Or No? Glenlivet Single Cask Scotch Whisky 1974

It is hard in a job writing about spirits, to not write regularly about Scotch. And, living in England and visiting Scotland on a regular basis, it is difficult to ignore the bagpipe-like noise of nationalism currently floating through the air, this time not coming from a kilt-wearing man standing on the corner of Princess Street in Edinburgh, but from the trunk of the rather large ‘elephant in the room’ that is the upcoming Scottish independence vote.

As I live in England, I don’t get an official say as to the outcome of the situation, as I don’t have a vote. But I have been watching with interest (as someone who holds a Norwegian passport, born in Oxford to an English father and Norwegian mother, I often feel Scotland is geographically my natural home) as the debate has unfolded. And something odd has happened...

For as far as I can make out, the ‘Yes’ vote is arguing that Scotland is a rich country, full of great natural resources and untapped potential. It is a ‘sleeping Norway’, if you will which can stand on its own two feet and create a utopia of a country with a huge oil fund. The ‘No’ vote seems to have taken the stance that Scotland is a country leaning financially and politically on Westminster; that it takes more money from the Union coffers for free university education and other luxuries, not to mention the skew of an ageing population who draw their state pension from a joint pension pot, that leaving the Union would be a bad idea, as ‘we’ (Westminster), fund ‘you’ (Scotland).

So what is it that is odd about these arguments for those of us living south of the border? Well, if you live in the other areas of the Union, you might be swayed by these headline ‘facts’ into the very strange political stance of supporting one side’s argument in the hope that the vote goes the opposite way.

For example, if you live in England and you believe the line of the ‘No’ party that Scotland costs Westminster money, then you might think “OK then, if we fund your lifestyle, then off you go” and want a Yes vote to win. On the other hand, if you live in England and think “Salmond is right, Scotland is rich in so many ways and makes a huge positive contribution to the UK finances, not to mention the political power having oil in any form brings” then you would want the opposite of what Salmond wants: a 'No' vote to keep the Union together.  

As a result, it is all very odd living outside of Scotland and watching the debate happen, with the divided idea that you may end up supporting the ideals of one side, in the hope the vote goes the opposite way. I’ve never known politics like it, in this regard.

Now, I haven’t done the research into the facts on offer by both sides. I don’t need to, I don’t have the vote. But if I did have the vote I would make the time (I’m too busy working hard to pay off my University fees, but if you got your Uni education for free, you’ve got more time on your hands for this sort of thing...) to really dig into the ideals of each option, as this vote is simply too important to ignore.

So if you do have the vote, whichever way you think you might choose, just make sure you turn up on the day and use it.

Now, on to the reason we write this blog: whisky. And something which reflects the handshakes which happen regularly across the border: a single malt Scotch bottled by a non-Scottish company. In this case, Berry Brothers and Rudd (BBR), in London. Famed for their fantastic selection of whiskies, BBR consistently choose fantastic liquid to mature and bottle, mostly all single cask single malts.

Glenlivet – 1974 Single Cask 8211 – bottled 2013 – Berry Brothers & Rudd x The Whisky Exchange – 55.1% abv

Nose: Hot blueberry pie, plum chutney, blackcurrants and other summer fruits. There is just so much delicious fruit on the initial nose, which is underpinned with old leather, hazelnut and dark chocolate. Some wood spices of cinnamon and nutmeg appear, but not so as to overpower the fruits.

Palate: The mix of oak, fruit and spice is almost perfect. The three dance around the palate with the fruit becoming more vibrant the longer this sits, with blood orange developing as the dominant flavour. Of course there are the key touchstones of great old whisky in there too (some fruit cake, chamois leather, cardamom) but this shows that old whisky does not have to be tired.

Finish: More blood orange, strawberry licorice laces and a hint of vanilla, too.

Overall: At last year’s whisky show, a little beauty was on the BBR tasting stand. Bottled in conjunction with The Whisky Exchange, the combination of expert palates from BBR’s Doug McIvor and TWE’s Sukhinder Singh means that you simply can’t go wrong and indeed this turned out to be one of my top drams of 2013.

Having bought myself a bottle, which didn’t last very long at all, I returned to The Whisky Exchange shop in London Bridge earlier this year to restock my cabinet and came away with more than one bottle of this... something to eke out over the next few years.

Unlike the current level of political noise, this whisky is simple: a harmony of flavours from Scottish new make, foreign oak casks, bottled by two London-based establishments, which leaves me clear on my Yes/No decision: Yes, you can have a dram. No, you can’t keep the rest of the bottle.