Whisky Connoisseur

Arthur J A Bell

A Dram Good Christmas and a Spirited New Year!

I have been prowling around the warehouse. Looking in every nook and cranny to find some really exiting drams. You see when Christmas comes, my house is filled with friends and relatives, right up to my almost, octogenerian auntie. They all expect to find a fine dram. We have the occasional visitor who wants a blended whisky, but most of them seek and nose out my finest malts! So as I prowl around I think 'what would Auntie Sheila like'. She knows a good whisky. Then there is my older brother Mike, a lawyer, and who's ever heard of a tee total lawyer? As for my brother-in-law John, he can shift a good few drams in a session.

So starting with John, I have found a bottle of 1986 Bruichladich. Two years ago the American company which owned this distillery (see picture on the right) on Islay, put the axe through it. Connoisseurs and Islanders alike went into mourning. With diminishing supplies this lovely peaty whisky, is increasingly difficult to come by. The name Bruichladich means 'the brae on the shore'. It is lighter in style than its island neighbours. I have got my hands on a bottling by Murray MacDavid of a 10 year old version. It's 46% vol and is pale golden in colour. It is quite sweet and has got a typically briny nose. The taste is fresh and clean with hints of peat in the background. The sea is never far away, as is its long, salty, satisfying finish. And John will be keen to finish it!

Then on to my Auntie. For her I have dug out 'The Real Macoy'. This is a bottling my own Whisky Connoisseur company has done. The luxury blend is based on four great and well aged malts, predominantly Speyside. The malts are all from family owned distilleries, and are Glenfarclas and Glenfinnach, Balvenie and the wonderful Springbank from Campbeltown. As Auntie Sheila takes a measure of water with it, she is only getting to try the 40% version. We first produced this blend many years ago under a different name. It ended up with myself battling against Guinness in the Court of Session - and I won! But that's another story for another day. The reason we chose the name 'The Real Macoy' is because of William Frederick McCoy (1877 1948) (picture on left via Wikimedia), who allegedly smuggled Scotch during the Prohibition into the United States from the Caribbean. He didn't believe in supplying people with hooch which could blind them, and he gave them a wonderful quality of spirit from Scotland. Hence the name 'The Real Macoy' stuck. (Other authorities claim that the phrase is a corruption of the Scots "The real MacKay", first recorded in 1856 as: "A drappie o' the real MacKay," (A drop of the real MacKay). This appeared in a poem Deil's Hallowe'en published in Glasgow and is widely accepted as the phrase's origin - ED)

Now one of the constiuents of 'The Real Macoy' is Springbank. This great malt comes from Campbeltown, on the Mull of Kintyre which is the smallest of the classic whisky regions of Scotland. I have managed to get a hold of a small quantity of their Chairman's Vat which is bottled at 46%. It is actually a vatting of several ages of Springbank, many very well aged versions. Like most Springbanks it shows to perfection the briny character of what is a "big" whisky, with a delicate sweetness. This complements the profundity of its flavour. Last year American Connoisseurs voted Springbank the finest malt whisky in the world. I'm not going to dispute that with them.

But I have a secret bottle too, from Springbank. It's not called Springbank however. It's called Longrow (See graphic on the right from Wikimedia). In 1824 the original Longrow distillery was built on the site of where the Springbank distillery sits today. It's original stills were saved and are maintained and very occasionally used within the Springbank distillery. What is so extraordinary, is that using the same water, the different shape of copper stills produce a totally different whisky. The Longrow, unlike the Springbank, is heavily peated and is often mistaken for an Islay whisky. It is a pungent intense dram, which some have described as having "the aroma of wet sheep"! Indeed you might say this is a shepherds delight of a dram. It is very rare and only the most serious of visitors will be able to sniff it, let alone drink it!

Another bottle I am saving for 'those, and such as those' is a 1974 Macallan. Michael Jackson, the famous whisky writer called this "the Rolls Royce of single malts". However, it was only as recently as the 1960's that Macallan became available on its native Speyside as a single malt. By the late 1980's it was being widely marketed in Britain through very clever niche advertising, using lots of humour. The graphic of this whisky on the left is via Wikimedia). The company recently changed hands. Its Chairman, before the buyout by Highland Distillers, was Allan Shiach, who is probably the only Whisky distillery owner to have won a Hollywood Oscar! The 1974 bottling I have is the usual deep amber colour and has a wonderful bouquet of sherry. Macallan have always been enthusiastic in their use of oak sherry casks, and the result is a rich, full and textured flavour with hints of bitter orange and sweet raisins. The famous soft and gentle Macallan finish is well rounded and completes an excellent dram. But as it markets for #65 (or nearly $100 a bottle), again it is going to be for very special people only!

So that I have a Lowland whisky in the house, I have a Tullibardine. Some might call it Highland, some might call it Lowland! It is on the very border of the two areas. Those readers who have visited the famous golf courses at Gleneagles Hotel, will know where I am talking about, at the Wells of Blackford, halfway between Perth and Stirling. Indeed an Arab Royal family own a very large water bottling plant in this area. The village was once famous for its ale. Curiously enough the Tullibardine distillery is a post war production and it opened on the site of an ancient brewery, at the end of the war. I think we will serve it as a pre Christmas lunch aperitif. It is light and malty sweet, with a very clean taste on the palate with hints of lime on the finish, and it's got a lingering aftertaste. If you can imagine a malt whisky that is reminiscent of Chardonnay, you have to imagine Tullibardine. Thankfully it's not one of these horribly expensive ones, so I can splash it about at will.

For post prandial drinks, I intend serving 1978 Ardbeg. This Islay distillery was founded in the year Napoleon and Wellington slogged it out at Waterloo. To quote Jackson again, he describes it as "The marriage of sea, earth and fire." I have already tasted this bottling. It is quite a superb example, bottled from cask number 271 at the amazing 64.7% vol. It's colour is like an aged bottle of Sauternes, and it has an unreduced aroma which is surprisingly syrupy sweet. As you add water you release the scent of Birchwoods and moss. Its full, sweet taste gradually dries out to a characteristically smokey nose, betraying its island origins.

So these are the little secrets going into my whisky cupboard this Christmas and New Year. Islay and Campbeltown, Speyside and Perthshire: all of them contributing to the warmth and well-being of the family. We have an old Scottish toast which I would like to share with you, "May the hinges o' freindship ne'er rust, nor the wings o' love lose a feather!"

Do enjoy yourself and we will speak again next year.

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