Chelmsford Summer Beer and Cider Festival has become a bit of a favourite of mine over the past few years since its move to spacious accommodation in Admiral’s Park. One of the highlights of the event is increasingly the cider and perry bar, which this year excelled itself by offering over 100 traditional ciders, perries and pyders (mixed cider and perry) from all over the UK, including products of three producers in Northern Ireland.
A weekend at Dramboree 2014 on the shores of Loch Lomond in early July sampling a wide array of mainly Scotch whiskies had me thinking about the spirit, its drinkers, the event and my own relationship with uisge beatha.
While this isn’t meant as a “review” of Dramboree a few words of explanation are probably useful. Inspired in part by the Dutch Maltstock, Dramboree is an informal gathering in Scotland (at least so far) of whisky enthusiasts and aficionados (around 60 this year) intended to foster new friendships, share whisky stories, discover new drams, learn a little, and this year – if the mood took – the opportunity to take a “loony dook” in the less than tepid waters of the loch.
One of my haul of Belgian ales acquired from Belgiuminabox late last year, La Vermontoise (6%) is notable in my selection for being a collaboration, on this occasion between Brasserie de Blaugies near Dour, Hainault, in spitting distance of the French border, and Shaun Hill of Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vermont.
Writing before Christmas on the joys of sour beer, and the importance of Belgium in their survival and revival, inspired me to top up my reserves. Earlier research had led me to Belgiuminabox.com, an online retailer based in Antwerp. The experience was a memorable one, the drinking likely to be even more so.
Run by beer aficionado Kurt Verblest, Belgiuminabox offers a near unassailable selection of Belgian classics and rarities at prices rarely seen this side of the English Channel, if they ever appear at all, and with the inclination and ability to ship worldwide.
My final entry in this rather random series of posts (and only a couple of weeks after 12th night!) is a 1974 half bottle of Ardbeg 23 Vintage 1974, 23 Years Old, cas nos. 606-609 (43% ABV) from independent bottler Signatory (nowadays owner of Edradour).
I acquired this probably 13 or 14 years ago from the Aladdin’s cave that is J. Wadsworth in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. This was a time when I’d recently discovered Ardbeg and interesting older bottlings – especially from pre-1977 when Ardbeg had its own floor maltings – were becoming scarce.
With Christmas duties and the inevitable post festive lurgy out of the way it’s finally on to number eleven and an excuse to uncork another of my stash. This time the peatiest whisky in the world, namely Islay distillery Bruichladdich’s Octomore. Or more specifically Octomore 4.2 Comus (61% ABV), with final maturation in a cask that previously held rich, sweet, Botrytis-enriched Sauternes wine.
From my oldest whisky to my newest. Thursday December 5th marked the commercial debut of the first two whiskies from Southwold, Suffolk-based Adnams Copper House Distillery, the third English distillery to successfully bring its own whisky to market since the revival in making uisge beatha south of the border. (Adnams follows St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk’s English Whisky Company and the “Hicks & Healey” cooperation between St. Austell Brewery and Healey’s Cyder Farm in Cornwall.)