Cardrona “Just Hatched”

Two and a half years can be a very long wait.  But when the wait is over the outcome will prove that it was all worthwhile.

Two and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that got to taste the new spirit from a New Zealand distillery. The universal group view was that waiting for marketable output from this major new distillery was going to be extremely worthwhile.

And so it has proved.

The western mountains of Central Otago on NZ’s South Island are some of the most picturesque in the world.

New Zealand’s newest producing distillery – Cardrona – is located on the highest alpine pass tourist route through the mountains.  Up until now the Cardrona area, some 40 kilometres from the southern tourist mecca of Queenstown, has been best known for winter sports,

I confidently predict that is about to change!

One of the non-skiing attractions of Cardrona is the quality of the local water source.  That has been one driving reason for building the distillery there.  The current Concerto grain used in production is imported from the UK, and the water is able to be added unfiltered to the mash.

The first release bottlings, appropriately entitled “Just Hatched”, were bottled two weeks ago from barrels casked at the beginning of December, 2015.

Two expressions have been released.  A bourbon cask and a first fill Oloroso cask.

Both releases have been in 375 ml bottles.  There are 474 bottles of the bourbon cask and 1,295 bottles of the sherry.  Both are presented in a very attractive, professionally designed wooden outline box, with a bespoke locking arrangement to keep it all securely together.

The Whiskies

Just Hatched – Bourbon Cask

66.7% abv, colour 0.2

Caution: undiluted, this is in the top five strength whiskies I have ever tasted.

Nose: Taking the cork from the bottle, you are met by a strong, endearing aroma of honey.  From the glass, the first thought is of the sweetness.  There is alcohol and a distant memory of the glue boys used to put model aeroplane kits together when we were young.  Then it quickly turns to pears, green apples, and another memory of those lovely baked apples stuffed with dates, brown sugar and cinnamon that your mother used to cook.

Taste: Taking a large mouthful and holding it for ten seconds is not for the faint-hearted, unless you have medical insurance to put your head back on.  There is capital A alcohol, hot, full, a huge mouthful and the honey coming through.   The second – and more judicious – mouthful still has the big flavour, but now it has smoothed out to deliciousness.  At rest, there is gentle perfume and, most surprisingly, a hint of fresh mushrooms.

Finish: The finish is long, equally of flavour and heat with a comforting warm throat.

Comment:  The time in wood has had an effect.  The whisky is quite light in colour, and I didn’t find the vanilla notes that normally come from bourbon casks.  There is a New Zealand mythical “Southern Man” – tough, climbing a steep hill in snow carrying a sheep under each arm.  This, in its undiluted form, would be his whisky.  It is, in a word, magnificent!

But, as my brother-in-law observed, “This is definitely not a session whisky!”

I’ll be back for more.

Overall: 9.0

 

“Just Hatched” – Oloroso

63.2% abv, colour 1.6

Nose: first nose from the bottle is a slight rubber bike tyre (sulphur).  That goes very quickly with exposure to air, and turns to honey.  From the glass, there is more honey, a sharpness, with golden syrup and rolled oats, and a gentle sugar sack.

Taste: There is grain and honey, rolled oats, leather polish, a slight bitterness that is typical of oloroso casks, and pepper on the tongue.  There is a beautiful roundness and fullness in the mouth, reminiscent of a low Christmas cake.

Finish: The finish is long on the flavour, and I wish it would stay even longer!

Comment: As with the bourbon cask expression, from the bottle this is a high abv whisky but very drinkable, even undiluted.  The dark oloroso engenders a much darker colour than its bourbon sister.  I am becoming quite a fan of sherried whiskies, and this is at the top of the very nicest I have tasted.  I’m just sad that the bottle isn’t bigger!

On a personal level, I prefer this whisky to the bourbon expression but I stress that is only my taste and nothing at all to do with the whiskies.

Score 9.5

 

Overall comment: These whiskies may not be old enough to go school unaccompanied, but they are both more than capable of playing for the college First 15!

Or carrying a sheep up a hill.

These are two excellent whiskies!  The two and a half years was well worth the wait, but I hope it isn’t going to be another two and a half years before we get a second release.

Note: this article is unsponsored, but I would like to extend my thanks to staff at the Cardrona distillery for background information provided so willingly.

Story Three – The Winemaker

This story is about wine.

And silverfish.

And the perils of drinking unidentified wine.

The story starts with Uncle Les.  Not the same Les in the first story; that’s just a coincidence that appeared as I started writing.  But it makes you wonder if good stories have a Les in them somewhere, doesn’t it?

This Uncle Les was a pretty interesting bloke.

His was a dentist, a collector of artworks and a majorly useful cellist who played in orchestras in the days before playing in orchestras was a “real job”.

And a wine maker.

As a wine maker, he was fortunate to have ready access to a wide range of seasonal fruits and vegetables, all completely suitable for fermentation.

The product of his endeavours was stored for maturing and future attention in screw top jars called “flagons”.

The flagon is a glass jar that holds half a gallon (approximately 1.9 litres).

These days flagons are not easy to come by.  But back when licensing laws required bars to close before the street lights came on, flagons were common for transporting beer and similar refreshing liquids from the hotel bottle store to your place of residence.  Or anywhere else where the refreshing contents might be consumed.

Once emptied of beer, the versatile flagons became containers for other liquids: home-brewed beer, mineral turpentine or kerosene (sometimes difficult to distinguish from home-brewed beer), engine oil (ditto), or lawn mower fuel.

Or wine.

Les’ wine output was decanted into flagons.  Sticky-backed paper labels were attached that advised the year of manufacture and defined the origins – parsnip or nectarine or peach etc.

In the best French tradition, the labelled flagons were then stored in the cool underneath the house while the wine matured.

When Les passed away, the wine stock got sort of forgotten and no-one went to see how it was getting on.

Some years later Les’ wife also died.

Aged now in their mid to late 50s, the children all returned for their mother’s funeral.  Bringing their children with them.

After their grandmother’s funeral service the more adventurous grandchildren went exploring in the cool and spider webs under the house to see what might be there.  And found the stash of wine-containing flagons, which anecdotally had been there for nearly 20 years.

The flagons were brought out into the daylight, and the general consensus was that the contents should be sampled forthwith.

Over time, as well as wine storage and cobwebs, the area under the house had become a habitat for silverfish.  And, as book-lovers know, silverfish have a diet heavily biased towards paper.

Remember the sticky labels?

The flagons had been stored in the silverfishes’ dining room and the silverfish had passed the time by eating all the sticky labels off the flagons.

As a consequence of this silverfish banquet, identifying the contents of the flagons had become a lottery.  The only guide to wine type, age or strength was the colour of the wine, which was not at all a reliable measure!

Restraint is not often included in the psyche of the young, and present company did not disappoint.  Regarding the labeling limitations as mere inconvenience, sampling began.

The word “sample” has different meanings for different people.  In the more cautious, it involves trying just a little tiny bit to test what it’s like; in others, sampling is pouring out a tumblerful and drinking it as quickly as possible to see what the effect might be.

The day was warm and sunny.  Samples from flagons were being poured and consumed with increasing enthusiasm and carefree abandon. There may even have been an informal “guess the wine” competition going on.  The company had become quite vocal. And generous.

About this point, my wife and I arrived at the gathering.  We were greeted effusively and offered our own samples to taste.  Not wishing to appear unfriendly or nervous, we took a little sip of the offerings.

Age and previous bad experiences quickly led us to conclude that it might be wiser not to consume anymore, and that it would be more entertaining to just sit and watch.  And wait.

 

 

A reconvening had been planned for the same venue the next morning.  Most of the previous day’s attendees were present, although some were reported as “missing”.

The enthusiasm for sampling had waned with the night.  A lot.  The noise level and bonhomie was also lower than previously, mostly consisting of low-pitched groans and requests for quiet.

The wine had won!

 

Post-script:

After the event, one of the braver grandchildren had secured a selection of the flagons and taken them home.  He very generously offered me the chance to select one for myself from his haul.  In the interests of science I accepted his kind offer, thinking I might get the opinion of some unsuspecting friends who were knowledgeable about wine.

When we got the unlabelled flagon home, close inspection revealed an appreciable quantity of sediment present in the flagon.

The contents were promptly decanted with the aid of a kitchen funnel, a pair of ladies’ pantyhose (freshly laundered), and four empty bottles with good tops.  They were then laid to rest in a kitchen cupboard.

And there, five years or more later, they still sit.

Unlabelled, untried and untested.

And they will remain so until I pluck up sufficient courage to open one.

Or I die and my grandchildren come exploring.

Story Two

The Pushbike

This story was told to me by Mike.  He recounted it to me as a first-party story, but I have reservations.

It seems, according to Mike, that he’d gone down to the wholesalers on his pushbike.  His intention was to purchase himself a bottle of whisky to take home to rock himself to sleep with.

No reservations so far.  It all seems like a pretty good plan.

When Mike re-emerges from the bottle store he is clutching a bottle of 100 Pipers which he proceeds to careful place in the cane basket attached to the handlebars of his bike.

First reservation right here: it might be my prejudice, but I was envisaging Mike’s bike as a pretty sporty road-racer style that maybe required the wearing of the unfortunate lycra that seems to adorn cyclists these days.  The cane basket came as a bit of a shock, and now I find myself having to adjust my mental imagery to accommodate this unexpected development!

Anyway, so now we’ve got the image-adjusted bike with the cane basket containing the bottle of 100 Pipers on the handlebars.

Back to the story.

As Mike is about to get on the bike to pedal himself and the whisky home he is approached by a bystander.

“Excuse me,” says the bystander, “but that’s not a very safe arrangement you’ve got there.”

“Why not?” asks Mike.  “What’s wrong with it?  Me and this consenting bottle of whisky are just going home together.”

“What happens if you fall off?” asks the bystander “The bottle will land on the ground and get broken,” he says. “Very dangerous”, he says.

“Good point,” says Mike.  “What do you suggest?”

“I think the best answer is to drink the whisky now, and then ride home,” says the bystander.  “Then if you fall off there won’t be anything in the basket to get broken.”

“And do you know what?” Mike says to me.  “He was quite right, and possible was a fortune teller too.

“I followed his advice and drank all the whisky before I left.  And on the way home I fell off nine times!

“just as well the bottle wasn’t in the cane basket, eh!”

Three Stories – Story One

Isn’t it interesting, the little snippets and stories that life brings you when you least expect it.

This is the first of three stories that have been relayed to me from the universe.

Like all good stories, two of them are true and verifiable.  The third may well be true.  Or not.  You decide.

In keeping with this website’s title, the first and third stories are whisky-themed: the second will be about wine.  Although the nature of the wine was such that it might just as well have been whisky!

This first story was told to me by Les.

It is a simple story and, in its own way, quite touching.  It doesn’t have a particularly dramatic ending, but then it doesn’t really need one.

However, it does have a moral or two with a demonstration of the inventiveness of man in the face of adversity and the single-minded lengths he is prepared to go to for a quality dram.

Les is a fine, upstanding citizen, the sort of person who would not lead you too far astray.  He is the kind of man upon whose opinion and views I would be happy to abide without question.

On top of that, as empirical evidence, he showed me a photograph on his cell phone of the bottle around which this story revolves.  It is an important point that the photo was taken before the bottle was opened.

The story is about a bottle of Glenfarclas 15yo, a genuine amber delight.   The bottle was apparently in the possession of Les’s friend.  The friend’s name isn’t recorded, but for the sake of simplicity let’s call him Alfred.   Alfred hails from the sunshine state of Queensland in Australia

Alfred apparently had owned this bottle of Glenfarclas for some considerable time and it was unopened when Les was first introduced to it a week or so back.

The back story is that Alfred did not like to drink alone; he may also have been a bit short of friends that he thought suitable enough to share the Glenfarclas with.

Fair enough – his whisky, his call.

Anyway, when Les hove into view Alfred obviously considered him of sufficient calibre to merit the unveiling of the bottle.  And such was done.

The usual opening ritual started, with the bottle’s seal being broken and the cork being removed for the first time to allow access to the amber delight inside.

Now comes the sad part.

The cork suddenly decided to part company with accepted tradition and spontaneously disintegrated, leaving the bulk of itself floating unceremoniously on the top of the aforementioned amber delight.  In the bottle!

Calamity!

Disaster!

“Corked” whisky!

Now, Kiwis and Aussies are generally very resourceful people and have access to a range of rather make-shift solutions to any problem.  And this case is no exception.

Alfred had an electric kettle.  Not an unusual thing in itself – maybe he liked a cup of tea now and again.

But he had noticed previously that the kettle spout had a fine mesh filter in it.  This filter was obviously intended to remove the bigger lumps or smaller creatures that may have been in the local water supply before they made their way to the cup of tea.

Thought process:

  • whisky needs the lumps of cork strained out without losing any of the amber liquid,
  • kettle has strainer inside that takes the lumps out of whatever is being poured from the kettle.

It follows with elegant inevitability that the next stage was to give the kettle a brief but thorough internal cleaning to remove foreign bodies, other interlopers or anything else that might contaminate whisky.  Then give it a thorough rinse and drying (because whisky at 46% generally does not need additional water!)

The next phase was to empty the contents from the corked whisky bottle into the nearly pristine kettle, and rid the now empty Glenfarclas bottle of any residual shards of cork that may have missed being poured into the kettle.

The last stage in this maintenance section was to carefully decant the whisky back from the kettle to the bottle, via the lump filter in the spout.

Result: all the bits of cork remain in the kettle (to be removed sometime, maybe) and the now cork-less whisky is back in the bottle.

And drinking can commence!

PS: as this story moved towards its end you may have noticed that the Glenfarclas bottle that now contains clean, cork-free 15yo whisky no longer has an operational cork to seal the remaining whisky.

Solution?

Simple – finish the bottle!

Slainte.

A Matter of Death and Life

My family have lost two cousins in the last six weeks.

In an ill-judged attempt to lighten up that opening, the innate (and probably regrettable) humourist in me goes back to the old joke about how losing one can be put down to misfortune, but losing two is starting to seem like carelessness.

Both of the cousins were ladies, one in her late 60s and the other just 65.

For various reasons, I was brought up in fairly close contact with both of them: the first because her family were physically the nearest relatives we had when we were growing up, the second because her family had a large semi-rural property and we spent many an hilarious Christmas holiday staying with them.

Both ladies were individuals with a capital I.

The first, the daughter of my parent’s cousin (someone brighter than me can work out what the official relationship is), was an outspoken lady who told it like it was.  Not in any kind of bad way – you were just left in no doubt where she stood.

The second, the daughter of my father’s sister, was also direct but with one totally unusual feature – in all the 65 years I knew her I never ever heard her say a bad word about anyone.  Ever.  At all.  No matter what the provocation, and believe me she sure had some!

And she also seemed to come with the most amazing boundless energy and tremendous enthusiasm for everything she touched.

Both ladies died extremely suddenly, with no warning of their imminent departure.

We had bumped into the first cousin as we were heading into a local mall on a wet Saturday.  We hadn’t seen her for maybe a couple of years so we took the opportunity for a sit down over a cup of morning coffee and a bite of something that I can’t remember now.

But the great pleasure of seeing her and catching up sticks in my mind.

A few weeks later, she collapsed and died.

The second died a week or so ago as the crow flies.  Some of the family had gathered together at a family event over a long weekend.  We had played garden cricket and quoits, chatted and caught up, than consumed a wine or two and some barbeque and gone our separate ways at the end of it.  As usual, she was the life and soul – chatting brightly with everyone, enthusiastically cricketing, helping with food etc.

Three days later she collapsed and died.

And both of these ladies, for their individual reasons, will be sorely missed by the wider family.

Now I don’t intend this to be a sackcloth and ashes piece about loosing relatives.  It happens, and reportedly no-one gets out alive.

But what I have become acutely aware of is the assumptions we make.

There is an accounting assumption that says that the company being accounted is a “going concern”  that will remain and continue to operate and function as it is now.

Which is fine for companies.

But people may not.

And that is especially true as we age.

You cheerily say to loved ones “see you later” or similar as you part, with the assumption that they will still be there the next time, still going strong, albeit a bit older and greyer or whatever.

But the last six weeks have brought home very clearly that the pleasure of seeing them again may not be the case.

So my recommendation to you is that when someone goes away from you, before you part take the opportunity to give them a big hug.  And let them know just what their existence means to you.

Tasting: GlenDronach

My feelings about this tasting after the event were not entirely what I had expected them to be.

Like a Spaghetti Western movie,  it encompassed the truly magnificent, the sort-of-ok, and the “Really??”

The name GlenDronach generally brings smiles to faces.  It anticipates a good drop, as do the outputs from its sister distilleries, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh.

This vertical tasting of GlenDronach whiskies included some rare (and relatively uncheap) whiskies.

Now, “uncheap” is a very subjective term, governed in some part by the depth of one’s pockets.  To some buyers, paying out $100 for a bottle of whisky may be viewed as a big outlay.  To others, $600+ is a mere bagatelle.

I tend to buy in the $120-$160 range as I can find a lot I like in that range.

But the opportunity to taste whiskies that are in the higher price ranges is always a good option for me.  The cost of going to tastings is not high and if I don’t like the offerings I haven’t shelled out a whole lot of money.  If I do like them, I have tried them – without laying out a whole lot of money!

Win-win, smiley face, smiley face.

Back Story

Now owned by Brown-Forman, The GlenDronach is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.

GlenDronach, then under the ownership William Teacher & Sons, was mothballed in 1996 and resumed production in 2002.  I only note this rather prosaic piece of information to provide a little interesting background to some of the whiskies in this tasting.

With some careful mathematical workings, 1996 was 22 years before 2018.  This means that anything in this tasting that is 22 years old or over is stock made before the distillery was mothballed.  And there were three in that timeframe – the 22 yo PX from 1995, the 25 year old from 1992 and the 27 year old from 1990, all of which were bottled in 2017.

The Whiskies

1995 22yo, PX Puncheon, 53.1%

The first of old stock.  Darker in colour, nose of brown sugar with a slight hint of sulphur and grandfather’s braces, Christmas cake and syrup, an slightly oily medium length finish where the taste stops but the heat lingers.  A top drop!  Score: 9.6

21 yo Parliament 48%

Slightly lighter colour (1.5), nice nose of leather, old sack and tinned fruit, buttery on the palette then thin and slightly sour taste.  Score: 7.6

1992 25yo Sherry Butt 50.9%

The second from old stock.  It is darker colour at 1.7, with the nose of an old leather chair, px raisins and sultanas, musty and old furniture.  The taste is smooth and high-end chocolate, dry on the tongue and slightly tannic.  Goes sour at the end with a short/medium finish.  Score: 7.8

1990 27yo, PX puncheon, 52.1%

Another from the pre-mothballed old stock.  A lovely nose of lollies and liquorice, brown sugar, vanilla and prunes.  The palette is smooth and sweet, cake, fruit, grass, sack, dry  (too much time in wood?) to a long finish. My second favourite of the event but only by a short nose (I am a sucker for a PX-matured whisky!).  Score: 9.5

Allardice 18yo, 46%, Olorosso

The nose is rather dirty and musty, with vegemite, sulphur and slight smoke.  The palette is disappointingly flat, with no great highlights to a short/medium finish.  I would generally go quite a distance for an oloroso whisky – sadly not in this case.  Score: 7.4

12yo Original, 43%

The nose of sweet lollies, caramel and vanilla ice cream, laundry that has not been properly aired (sourish smell – bourbon barrel?), chocolate.  Palette: fruit (oloroso?), taste is a bit disappointing compared to the promise of the nose.  Score: 8.0

Hazelburn (Campbelltown) 13yo oloroso 47.4% (the mystery)

“One of these is not like the others”.  A nose of marine and rock pools, quite light, an old opium pipe, musty with slight smoke and the sweet smell of a service station grease pit.  The taste echoes the peat and smoke, with a short/medium finish.  Not hard to spot as the Mystery, although its origins were not as easily identifiable!  Score: 7.5

Additional Glass

The Hielan, 8yo 46%

Very light in colour (0.3), almost clear.  The marine and sourish nose continues over to the palette with a bourbon barrel taste.  Score 7.8

Overall view of the tasting: a couple of real highlights, but overall not quite as magnificent as I was expecting.  Glad I went, though!

Tastings are a bit like buses – there’ll be another along shortly!

Tasting held at Regional Wines & Spirits, Wellington.  Presenter: Daniel Bruce McLaren.

To the Gallery

Hi

I’ve added a Gallery page (click on Gallery on the menu) to inflict an ill-assorted collection of photographs  ont he world.

There’s a selection of photos there now, themed around Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Island of Islay.

I hope you enjoy them

Other themes will emerge!

Slainte.

Tasting: Brother-in-law’s Birthday

In which we get introduced to an Irish whisky, two new Scotches and one new edition of an oldie-but-goody Islay.

My brother in law and I have an interesting time, birthday-wise.

We’ve been doing seriously whisky-themed birthdays for about 15 years.

Celebrations involve a gathering at the celebrator’s residence, a gift of whisky is usually made and samples of the celebrator’s single malt stocks are tasted (refer to previous block about stocks being depleted as the result of family events).

The whisky gifts tend towards the odd, the new, the hard-to-come-by or the downright unusual.  It’s not a competitive thing: we just like to get something that we haven’t tried before or for a long time.

For our wives, wine is also served (Merlot in the winter, tending to Rose in the summer months), plus the occasional rum or gin-and-tonic (gentle on the tonic!)

For those of you who may be concerned, the celebrations also involve either a substantial lunch or a barbeque where all the participants contribute a dish to the meal.  The families all have at least one great cook (sometimes more than one) and there are many speciality dishes in the mix – you never go short of something to eat!

For my last birthday he gave me the latest Teeling Grain whisky, the one that got Best Grain in the Whisky 2018 awards.  A nice drop I have to say, and thoroughly deserving of the award!

For his birthday I found a sherry matured Bunnahabhain 12 year old that I hadn’t seen on shelves for a while and that he had just finished his bottle of.

He had been threatening me for some weeks with three new whiskies that he’d found somewhere that he was going to get to try.

So, here we go:

Whisky #1

Teeling Brabazon bottling, single malt Irish whiskey, Release 2. Port Cask matured, 49.5% abv. No age statement, non-coloured, non-chill filtered.

Colour: 1.7, with a reddish tinge from the port casks.

Nose: spicy, apples, marine with a hint of seaweed and rock pools.  Nose score: 8.7

Palette: floral, cinnamon, slightly bitter, with a slightly tannic and drying end.

Overall score: 8.7

Whisky #2

Talisker Port Ruighe, finished in port cask, 45.8%, no age statement.

Colour: 1,6

Nose: Strong, smoky bacon.  Reaction to the first sniff: WOW! Nose score: 8.7

Palette: bacon, pepper, smooth, slightly sweet.  Did I mention the bacon?  Tannic at the end.

Overall score: 8.5

Whisky #3

The Arran, The Amarone Cask Finish.  50% abv, non-coloured, non-chill filtered.  The blurb on the box notes that the whisky was initially matured in traditional oak cask, finished in Amarone wine casks.  (In case you’re asking, Amarone is n Italian red wine.  We know.  We looked it up!)

Colour: 1.8

Nose: red wine (not surprising), dark chocolate, sweetness and coconut.  Nose score: 8.9

Palette: cherry parfait, pears, smooth, no tannin.  More cherries, followed by other cherries!  The taste lingers, along with the cherries.

Overall score: 9.1.

That was his three, and quite imporessive they are.  But it was only afternoon tea time (we had started at midday), so we had to try:

Whisky #4

Bunnhabhain 12 yo, 46.3% abv, matured in sherry and bourbon.

Colour: 1.8.

Nose: hessian, sugar sacks, leather.  Nose score: 8.4

Palette: old leather, sacking (tastes, like it noses). Sweet, fruity and warming.

Overall score: 9.2

With luck, we will both have another birthday each next year.  I’m looking forward to that, although I’ll need to spend the next 12 months trying to find a suitable present.

Thanks to all who cooked (and ate) for the event. The food was damned fine, too!

Tasting: An Introduction to Whisky

You might think that a heading like this would indicate another learned piece on malt, peat smoke, worts, and the effects of  age and barrels.

It doesn’t.

In the late 1950s, before air travel was readily available, Wellington was the geographic centre and transport hub of New Zealand.  The only way to get between the North and South Islands was by the overnight inter-island ferry that sailed daily between Wellington and Christchurch.  Everyone traveling had to pass through Wellington.

The ferry left at 7pm and arrived at 7am the following day, so people who lived in Wellington got a lot of visitors calling as they either waited for the ferry to take them south or recovered from the often bouncy trip coming north.

We lived in Wellington.

Like most men of the era, my father was a returned soldier.  He had seemingly hoards of ex-army mates, all of whom seemed to travel frequently from North to South and back again.  All these “uncles” used to call in on Dad and our family as they passed, and they’d frequently stay overnight.

Part of the ritual of their visit or stay was to have a dram with Dad.  Dad preferred a drop called Black & White, a blend of predominantly grain whisky.  The distinctive label featured a picture of two Scots Terriers on the label, one black and the other white.

The bottle top of Black and White whisky had a strange sort of arrangement to it.  It had a lever mechanism made of twisted wire.   When the lever was pushed down it locked the cap in place and released it when the lever was lifted up.  The bonus was that when the cap was locked down it was spill-proof.  It was a neat arrangement, particularly to a young boy with a slightly technical turn of mind, and I still find it fascinating.

My mother had been brought up through the Depression, a time when things were home-made rather than purchased.  She made a lemonade cordial for us kids, made as a concentrate and kept in a screw-top bottle.  We would pour half an inch (about 10mm) of the concentrate into a tumbler and then add water to taste.

One of our family rituals were picnics on Sundays.  And part of the picnic ritual was to make up a bottle of pre-diluted lemonade cordial to take with us.  And one of the good things about Dad’s whisky bottles was the clever locking, spill-proof cap.  An empty whisky bottle, with black and white doggy label and locking cap, was pressed into service as a container for the kids’ drink.

On the particular Sunday under discussion, an uncle (and possibly an accompanying aunt) were arriving in town on the way to or from somewhere or other, and they were staying overnight.  The family had gone on a picnic for Sunday lunch, accompanied by the pre-owned Black and White Whisky bottle containing diluted lemonade cordial.

When we got home after the picnic some of the diluted lemonade was still left in the old whisky bottle; the bottle was put into the refrigerator for future use by thirsty children.

Uncle (and aunt) had arrived for tea and to stay the night.

About 8:30pm in the evening Dad’s Black and White Whisky had been brought out to help lubricate the visit.

At about 8:45pm I was heading to bed (obedient young lad that I was!) and decided that I needed a drink of lemonade before retiring for the night.

And then I remembered the Black and White whisky bottle of lemonade in the refrigerator.  Aha, I think, I’ll have a glass of that because it’s already made up and I can just pour it out into a glass for myself.

When I arrived in the kitchen, I found the bottle was already out on the kitchen bench in all its canine splendour.

Through the green of the bottle I saw that it was still about a third full.  I remember thinking how quite unusually considerate whichever sister had got the bottle out had been to leave some for me!

I poured myself a nearly full tumbler from the bottle, put the locking cap carefully back on, and even thought to return the bottle to the refrigerator!

Then, as thirsty young boys do, I took a big mouthful and swallowed it in a gulp.

Can anyone see where this is headed yet?

Black and White Whisky these days is a 40% alcohol by volume dram.  I haven’t tasted it for a long time, but I suspect that it was probably 40% alcohol by volume back then, too.  Whatever, even at 40% it was still 39% higher than anything I had ever had to drink before that Sunday evening!  Even cough medicine wasn’t that high!

My anticipated gulp of cool, gentle lemonade suddenly seemed to have acquired a flame-thrower additive that I hadn’t been warned about.

My yell of astonishment/horror/shock brought my parents and the uncle (and probably the aunt) racing into the kitchen at high speed from their rudely interrupted comfort in the lounge.

They conducted a quick check of vital signs to make sure I had managed to regain the ability to breathe, that the screaming had decreased to acceptable levels and that no-one was going to cut themselves on the remains of the glass which I had thrown to the floor in my surprise.

On ensuring that there was no lasting damage, their interest turned to the bottle of Black and White (the whisky bottle, not the cordial one).  Their focus of concern now seemed to to have shifted, that the level of available liquid in their bottle had dropped alarmingly and that there may not be sufficient left for their evening tipples.

Charming!

Other than the broken glass, there was no lasting damage that I remember.  But it took some years for me to be able to look whisky in the eye again.

And I never gulp it!

Tasting: The Midlands

Tasting: The Midlands

Held at: Regional Wines, Wellington

Presenter: Daniel Mclaren Moon

Offerings:      Aberfeldy Gordon & McPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice, 14yo, 46% abv

Blair Athol Connoisseur’s Choice, 9yo, 46% abv

Glenturret Sherry Cask Edition, 43%

Deanston 18yo (the mystery)

Deanston Old Malt Cask 21yo 50% abv

Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1%

Edradour Straight From The Cask 10yo, 58.8% abv

Format: Blind tasting, 6 of the 7 bottles are known, but not which glass each is in.

*******

Where are the Scottish Midlands, you ask?  And well you might.

According to Wikipedia, the Scottish Midlands (or Central Belt) is the triangle defined by the M8, M80 motorway and M9 motorways stretching from Greenock and Glasgow in the west to Edinburgh in the east.

I hope that makes things clearer, but it might not.

Whisky drinkers in New Zealand would probably refer to it as the Southern Highlands.

It’s not an area that I’ve had a lot of sampling from until now.  Apart from having a couple of Edradour whiskies in the past it would be fair to say that this would be my first real introduction to the area.  But there is an interesting array of distilleries operating in the region, and some of the whiskies coming from them are very attractive.

Usually the blind tastings at Regional Wines follow the format of nosing all the offerings first and inviting tasters to give their views.  It is only after that nosing round that the whiskies are tasted, with more comment invited.

However, at this tasting the known bottles were in two quite distinct groups.  The first group of three were in the standard strength range of 43 to 46% abv.  The mystery also fell into this group.

The second group of three were all cask strength at 50% and above.

To save the tasting from being unbalanced the presenter made the choice to taste in two flights, with the lower four being nosed and tasted first.  The second flight of three were also nosed and tasted in isolation.

My notes and scoring:

Aberfeldy Gordon & McPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice, 14 year old, 46% abv, First fill sherry.

Nose: Canvas tent, leather. Score 7.8

Taste: Peppery, but nice, Fruit

Finish: Medium/long

Overall Score: 8.5.

Blair Athol Connoisseurs Choice, 9 year old, 46% Refill sherry butt.

Nose: one matchhead.  Score 7.4

Taste: smoky. Not to my personal taste.

Overall Score 7.4

Glenturret Sherry Cask Edition, 46% abv

Nose: Dirty cookies.  Score 7.0

Taste: Fruit (from the sherry cask)

Overall score 7.8

Deanston 18 yo, 46.3%

Nose: Wood wool, tobacco.  Score 7.8

Taste: Citrus peel, peppery

Overall score: 7.6

Deanston Old Malt Cask, 21 year old, 50% abv

Nose: Lemon peel, honey, slighty soapy, very pleasant.  Score 8.4

Taste: Honey again, fruit.  A very nice drop, indeed.

Overall score: 9.1

Glengoyne Cask Strength 59.1% abv, non-coloured, non-chill filtered

Nose: strong!, smell of an old rubber ball

Taste: Sweet, honey and wax

Overall score: 7.9

 Edradour Straight From The Cask 58.8% abv, Sherry butt

Nose: Hessian sacking, very sherry.

Colour: 1.8

Taste: Wood, leather, a bit of tannin at the end

Overall score: 9.2

 

One of the interesting side bars of a blind tasting is to see how many of the drams you can guess correctly.  In the past money has changed hands on this aspect of the evening – not a lot of money: the ante is usually $2 per person – but it can be extremely satisfying to pick up the cost of tomorrow morning’s coffee from your fellow tasters.

So, how many of the seven did I get right?  A rather embarrassing three.

In my rather thin defence, the gamblers all had the same score so there was no winner on the day this time.