Pouring myself a restorative tincture of Balvenie reminded me that I haven’t finished chuntering on about Cheltenham Festival of Literature.
I god a code. It’s the best excuse for a very nice single malt. It lubricates the passages a treat. Such a shame they don’t make benylin which mostly tastes of Scottish spring water and golden barley.
Granted, a single malt whisky tasting doesn’t sound like a literature festival event but when it’s loosely attached to a book called 101 Whiskys To Try Before You Die, it becomes very relevant indeed.
I’m fond of single malt whisky. On my first trip to Scotland, in a camper van with Capt. Sensible, the dog and my flute, we stopped off at Dufftown and had a peek at the Glenfiddich Distillery. It was all about impressive and beautiful copper stills and tasting the wonder stuff. At the time, I was callow and drinking mostly cinzano and lemonade while Leonard Rossiter spilled his all over Joan Collins’ decolletage.
A few years later, when we unexpectedly found ourselves taking occupancy of a Forestry Commission log cabin in the Trossachs that the real epiphany occurred.
Who knows how these little routines come about, but each morning, we cycled along a trail by the bank of a rushing stream all the way to Callendar, an upright and proper little town with a baker and a shop selling, if memory serves, sold nothing but the one product – the Water of Life. The shop window reminded me of the toy shop I had as a kid but in place of jars of sweets there were hundreds of bottles – miniatures of single malt Scottish whisky.
It just seemed rude not to buy into the Scottish economy and great national traditions, so each day I bought three or four and took them back for a tasting after dinner. The day would have been filled with walking so some considerable relaxation was called for. The tasting was all scientific, naturally, with a hastily drawn chart and scribbled notes that read “Mmm ***” or “++smoky.”
And by the end of the week, I’d narrowed things down to a top three single malts, all of different character. The Macallan was top for glorious smoothness and caramel malty heat that made my entire oesophagus go “Oooh baby!” Next was Glenmorangie and third was Aberlour.
Those evenings, reclined on a sofa in front of a fire sipping finest single malt, while the wind howed outside and strange noises came from within the black forest on the hillside above, were memorable in the extreme. The tasting at Cheltenham Literative Festival would, I knew, be nothing like that and I was already late.
By the time I’d left work late, sprinted across town, short-cutted across the lawns of Montpellier Gardens and caught my breath outside the Spiegel Tent, I thought I was going to be Janny no-mates and have to sit on my own but as it happened there was a table of three ladies with two seats spare and they seemed nice and welcoming. There were also several tots of whisky in front of each of them.
The oldest lady was a widow from Cardiff who had developed a taste for whisky since her husband died. Well it’s as good a recreation as any at her age. Another woman about my age had a well-developed wine palate and didn’t particularly like whisky. The third, who was in her late twenties, I guess, was a wine connoisseur – practically a sommelier – and had seldom drunk whisky at all.
The Cardiff lady kind of spoiled things by sharing out the spare whisky rations between us, so no-one really knew what they were drinking… but I used the word “spoiled” advisedly. We had crisps, nuts and four different whiskies and we chatted as we tasted so it was all very pleasant and absorbing. No, no, I withdraw unreservedly the word “spoiled.” Kindly replace with “amended.”
I concluded that a) yes, The Macallan is still my favourite (and Bond’s favourite judging by the prominent product placement in Skyfall) b) Highland Park is probably my second favourite c) the smoky-peaty character of Laphroaig is probably least preferred. Connemara was an unusual smoky character but actually, we agreed, grew on you.
The waitresses came around and placed more tots of whisky on our table. Bourbon, I think. Something that was a nice golden caramel colour and tasted slightly sweeter, but didn’t quite have the hit. We were all getting really picky by now. That’s what tasting does for you. Makes you quite vociferous and opinionated.
“Oh I don’t think so. A little weak, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes and too sweet. Ugh.”
And so it went. What with the tastin’, the bitchin’ , the nibblin’ and the chattin’ it added up to an unexpectedly terrific event.
That’s the gist anyway. My notes are practically non-existent as there didn’t seem much point. I’d isolated the star of the tasting… Highland Park. My next task is to ensure I can make a bottle-sized space in between Balvenie and The Macallan….
PS: The blog is no longer infectious. I am once again a phlegm-free zone. Mostly.