During this wretched you-know-what we have to comfort ourselves with whatever drink we have to hand. And so I have been exploring the depths of the Scotch Bucket and discovering some truly great whiskies. The bucket is now half empty, but at least we’re down to the really, really good stuff. Alas, I have no one to share it with due to social distancing, so I shall have to just tough it out and imbibe on my own.
As W.C. Fields said in a different context: “Once, during [lockdown], I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and water.” The Scotch Bucket, formerly overflowing with both outstanding single malts and flavourful blends, is running low. January was too fraught to think of declaring it a dry month. February was worse, so here we are in March and I’m still not brave enough to go on the wagon, dry out my liver and try to lose some of the extra pounds packed on during our enforced solitude. Perhaps next month?
In the meantime, there are some interesting goodies awaiting at the bottom of the bucket.
First, I’ve discovered a bottle of Cardhu 12, an excellent Speyside single malt. The address alone — Cardhu Distillery, Knockando, Aberlour, Banffshire — gives you a hint at their well-known neighbours, Knockando and Aberlour. Knockando Distillery is home to a famous selection of casks which went into the J&B Ultima blend in 1994 to celebrate the quincentenary of Scotch whisky. This blend contained 128 different whiskies (116 malt and 12 grain). J&B Rare, my second favourite Scotch, is a blend of 42 malt and grain whiskies, including Knockando, Auchroisk and Glen Spey.
Until recently, most of the Cardhu production went into the world’s best-selling whisky, Johnny Walker Black Label. Since Johnny Black is my go-to blend, I was thrilled to have found this gem, awaiting a tasting. Later, sipping the dark, rich whisky revealed smoke and apple peels, with a malty touch of peat. Outstanding.
A few days ago, having drunk all the J&B Rare over the previous few months, I carted a case of empties back to the recycling depot. There were nine J&B and one lone Johnny Black bottle. I told the clerk that unlike the beer can and bottle collecting winos in the line behind me I had personally drunk every drop. I don’t think he either cared or was impressed but I’m glad I got it off my chest.
While temporarily out of my favourite “inexpensive” blend, I went to the other extreme and opened a bottle of Speyburn Solera 25. I’d apparently had this bottle a long time, for the cork had quite dried out. Fortunately, whisky doesn’t suffer from being corked, unlike red wine, so no damage was done. Not much had evaporated through the sealed metal wrapper, but of course it was essential that I had a good taste right away. It was not as smooth as advertised, but it certainly was full bodied and sweet with a distinct taste of toffee and vanilla.
Also in the bucket is an unopened bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label, only the second I’ve ever owned and a Christmas present from my two daughters. I’m saving that for a big celebration, such as the end of our current incarceration. One expert writes that it has “bitter cocoa, cedar wood shavings, roasted coffee beans, brown sugar, almond milk, subtle leather and very light tobacco smoke” on the nose and tastes of “wisps of peat smoke, hints of charred oak, rich vanilla cream, chili pepper flakes, bittersweet chocolate … transitions into the finish like cotton candy melting in the mouth: almost imperceptible from mid-palate through the lingering notes of caramel, cocoa, peat, and cinnamon.” Wow. I can hardly wait, although I must say I can never find half the stuff these experts write about. Perhaps I’m just a sassanach.
Speaking of sassanachs, or English-speaking lowland Scots, as opposed to true Highlanders, there’s just a drop left of my very favourite lowland single malt, Auchentoshan, this one in a 12-year-old expression, and a kind Christmas gift from a neighbour with whom I share this passion. Perhaps when we are allowed to socialize once more, I will be able to invite him over to finish off the bottle
Finally, there are the heels of two bottles I’m reluctant to drain as the contents are so rare (and expensive — all gifts as well). The oldest is a bottle of Glenfiddich 30, which I have been sampling just once a year for over a decade and which has lost none of its allure. Then there’s just a drop left of Highland Park 25–pure gold. Since there’s not enough to share, I think I shall enjoy that in my lovely Nova Scotian Crystal whisky glass as soon as I post this column.
Since launching this blog nearly nine years ago, I have apparently tasted and written about 60 whiskies. All of them have been good and some of them exceptional. Here’s the full list with links to the original articles.
Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ardmore Traditional Cask, Ardmore, Auchentoshan 12, Auchentoshan Springwood, Auchroisk, Aultmore 12, The Balvenie, Benromach, Black Grouse, Bowmore Legend, Cardhu 12, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie 15, Deveron, Dewar’s White Label, Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia Selection, Edradour, Glen Breton Rare, Glencairn, Glendronach 8, Glenfiddich 30, Glenmorangie 10, Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Haig Clubman, Highland Park 12, Highland Park 18, Highland Park 25, Johnnie Walker Explorer’s Club, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, Johnny Walker Black, Johnny Walker Blue, Johnny Walker Double Black, Lagavulin 16, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Laphroaig 18, Longmorn 16, Macallan 15, Macallan 18, McClelland’s, Mortlach, Old Pultney, Royal Brackla, Säntis Swiss Highlander Appenzeller Single Malt, Speyburn Solera 25, St George’s English Whisky Ch 14, St George’s English Whisky, Te Bheag, The Balvenie New Oak 17, The Balvenie Signature 12, The Famous Grouse Smoky Black, The Glenlivet French Oak Reserve 15, The Glenlivet 15, The Glenlivet 18, The Glenlivet Nàdurra, The Macallan 12, The Macallan Fine Oak 17, The Singleton of Glendullan and Tomatin Cù Bòcan.
Let me know if you have a favourite among them, or if I’ve somehow missed out on your own favourite, using the “comment” feature at the top of the page.
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This is Nigel’s 301st blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The SEARCH function at the top works really well, if you want to look back and see some of his previous stories. The link to Gentleman’s Portion: The Cookbook is now live, well priced at $9.99 or £9.99.
Also check out Nigel’s previous columns on Scotch whisky: Don’t kick the Scotch Bucket, Another kick at the Scotch Bucket, A tale of three Johnnies, Whisky travels, Scotch Bucket tales, Whisky galore, Whisky yearnings, Old friends revisited, Whisky toys, A whisky night and Blends lord it over single malts.
Categories: Scotch whisky