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.
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.
At number four is something rather special to me. And generally just rather special. A quarter bottle of cask strength Talisker bottled by William Cadenhead and bought by moi from their old Covent Garden shop back in about 1988.
Inspired by Master of Malt’s Whisky Advent Calendar, and my friends at Whisky Squad’s homemade version, I thought I’d use the festive season as an excuse to dip into my own spirits cabinet each day. As I’ve left it a bit late to cover the full 24 days, I thought I’d use the Twelve Days of Christmas as a more achievable target, although in truth I’ve already blown that too. Still, better start late than never. Plus I get two drams on a couple of days.
I’d heard of Whisky Squad long before I finally attended one of their tasting evenings. As a regular drinker at my favourite Clerkenwell pub The Gunmakers until my work moved to the West End last year, I’d several times been kept from sitting in the back room because it had been booked out, according to pub landlord Jeff Bell, by “a bunch of folk drinking whisky”. Or some words along those lines.
Strangely, given that I’m a considerable enthusiast for beer’s distilled cousin, I didn’t enquire any further at the time. As such, I only recently came to full awareness of the Squad through some random web surfing and avowed that I’d get along to one of their £15 sessions ASAP.
Whisky Squad events are extremely popular with those in the know and demand commitment to reserve a place, tickets going on sale online for the (usually) two or three events a month at an appointed time and data and typically selling out in minutes.
Whether it’s age, a diminishing ability to consumer large quantities of alcohol, or a growing sense of accountability to my employer (or probably some combination of all three), I’m increasingly finding myself drawn to the concept of low-alcohol beers.
Not the no-alcohol Barbicans, Clausthalers, or “alkoholfrei” versions of big-brand German beers such as Erdinger or Bitburger. Nor the traditional but generally uninspiring Belgian tafelbiers, Swedish folköl’s and the like. Nor, for that matter, anachronistic British beer survivors such as Manns Brown Ale and Tennent’s Sweetheart Stout. Rather, my interest lies in a new wave of beers designed from the outset to appeal to serious beer drinkers in situations where they would rather not imbibe too heavily.