Sailing all day, every day, is a chore, but someone has to do it. And what a thirst the heat creates!
There’s a great pleasure in passing on one’s own passion for something to others who might wish to learn. That’s the way it is with sailing – and whisky.
First, the sailing: I’ve signed up again to help out with teaching adults to sail at Harbourfront Centre this summer. Some weeks I sail all day every day, followed by all weekend stints when I haven’t quite got my schedules organized. Not that I’m complaining, you understand. I get to meet all sorts of wonderful and interesting people from every country of the world. Some pick it up quickly and for others cramming the contents of a 204-page textbook into their heads along with hours of practical experience, all in four days, is a daunting experience. But somehow we manage to pace it out and most pass the final tests with flying colours. New friends are made, for the experience of sailing packed into a small boat bonds people quickly, and if they show a love of the sport and a liking for good whisky, they can become lifelong friends too.
Several have been invited over to sail on my own boat and partake a wee dram of whisky afterwards, when we are safely and legally moored back at the dock. The regulations allow drinking on board boats which have bunks (beds), head (toilet) and galley (kitchen) and when they are docked, anchored or have run aground. The last is a surprising rule. I suppose by that time shipwrecked mariners might just as well drink the liquor cabinet dry and wait for rescue, although it’s incorrect to think that booze helps when wrecked. Alcohol actually does not warm the body, it dehydrates it and dilates the blood vessels. Sadly, the story of the St. Bernard dog, and its keg of brandy assisting travellers stranded in the snow, is an outdated myth.
Sailing is blissful when all is going well, and you can see that from the expression on my face on my Sailing Single-Handed YouTube video.
Out in a small craft with four keen novice sailors for hours on end is exhausting work. Not the sailing, which is always fun, but the sitting in the unrelenting sun, with no shade, except that cast by the sail, and more often than not, no shade at all. The arms up to the sleeve, knees to socks, and face under the cap, are tanned deep brown. The rest of the body should not be seen anyway at my age, but is merely a residual healthy colour, thanks to the occasional visit to an electric beach in wintertime and a real beach down south when funds are available. Needless to say, by the end of such a day, one works up an enormous thirst. Much of this is quenched by bottles of lukewarm water, but by supper time only a glass of whisky will suffice.
So that brings me to a recent evening, when after a long weekend on the water, good sailing friend and whisky aficionado Clive came to dinner and the latest bottles from the Scotch Bucket were sampled. The Scotch Bucket™ is where all opened whiskies live until they are dead soldiers. Apart from those I’ve written about before, there are three new interesting inhabitants collected on my recent travels. Splendid dinner consumed: home-made cod au gratin, accompanied by minted new potatoes and peas; a salad of mint and arugula with toasted pine nuts, chopped sweet pickled peppers and a light vinaigrette dressing of my own devising; and a fabulous Dufflet lemon tart brought by Diane’s friend Nadine, topped with sweet ripe Ontario strawberries.
The bottles were English Whisky Chapter 14, Haig Club and The Glenlivet Nàdurra. All three are noted for being light and so very suitable for a hot summer’s eve.
In my story Whisky Yearnings I revealed that I’d acquired a bottle of English whisky, made quite naturally by The English Whisky Co. at St. George’s Distillery in the county of Norfolk, where the water from an underground chalk aquifer is pure and barley grows in abundance. In fact, the founder’s family have been growing and milling grain since 1531, so they must know of what they speak. This whisky is batch made by hand, matured in bourbon oak casks, sherry oak casks and various other wine casks. It has a long maturation until it is bottled, again by hand, one bottle at a time. A bottle of Chapter 14 awaits.
Connoisseur Jim Murray awarded Chapter 14 the 2015 European Whisky of the Year distinction and added these tasting notes: Nose — warm vanilla Danish pastry; fruity with lychees and rum soaked raisins; Demerara sugar and mandarin oranges. Palate — very fruity, bananas and light fruits; hints of crème brûlée; almost like a light brandy; warm alcohols and a long dry finish. Personally, I find all this pretentious rubbish. I can never find the individual tastes and it frustrates me that after drinking good Scotch for more than 40 years, I still have an “uneducated” palate. Clive agrees, but we do find it a very pleasant, light, drinkable whisky with some added ice.
The second whisky we try is from Haig, now part of Diageo. My late Dad was a lifelong drinker of a brand called Haig & Haig, whose advertising slogan was “Don’t be vague, ask for Haig.” And here, after many year’s absence, is a very posh bottle at the airport duty free in Manchester, England.
Haig Club is made at the Cameronbridge distillery in Scotland which John Haig established in 1824. It has been crafted using a unique process that combines grain whisky from three cask types. This, says the distiller, creates a fresh, clean style that showcases butterscotch and toffee for an ultra-smooth taste. Seen by many, including advertising mouthpiece David Beckham, to be Scotland’s hidden gem, single grain whisky is being predicted by experts as the next trend in whisky. Posh blue bottle with a smart glass stopper and all, we find another whisky that goes down very smoothly, even if we can’t locate the butterscotch and toffee.
On to the next bottle also purchased at duty free and another light whisky: The Glenlivet Nàdurra (meaning “natural in Gaelic), labelled First Fill. This means the whisky is matured in new American white oak casks. These casks have been favoured by the distillers at The Glenlivet since the early 1900s, and impart hints of creamy vanilla to the single malt. Tasting notes offer: sweet pears, soft vanilla fudge; on the palate juicy pineapple, ripe banana, citrus zest; with a refreshing finish.
Amazingly, to me at least, I find the note of pears in the taste, so it must be distinct. Clive and I agree it’s another superb whisky. We savour several tots.
Sitting under the stars in our newly finished outdoor room, with a smoky acrylic roof to keep off the dying rays of the sun (or rain), soft indoor/outdoor carpet under foot, our old-ish wicker furniture reinvigorated with a fresh spray of white paint, candles lit, we enjoy our just reward for a day’s hard labour. Hard labour indeed.
English whiskey. I am amazed.