Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Pilgrim's Atonement. Putting the 'Special' in Special Releases

Drams have now been snapped up. Big thanks to all who helped me stick a middle finger up to flippers and remember what makes whisky truly special. Those who bagged a dram - I'll send it when the sample bottles arrive next week. Cheers folks. WP 

Forgive me brethren, for I have sinned.

My feelings on flagship whiskies – affordable drams that offer real quality and are widely available – have been well documented in this blog. I bloody love them. They’re what I buy by the bottle.

On the flipside, whilst we all love a good special release, they’re almost invariably done in tiny quantities (particularly if they’re a single cask, for obvious reasons) and if you don’t hit the ‘buy now’ button within seconds you’re going to miss out. Partially for that reason they also often cost an arm and a leg. Which is why I tend to overlook them when it comes to my purchases.

However in the last month I have made three - THREE!!! - exceptions to this rule.

The first two came when I attended the Springbank Open Day, and to mark the occasion they had released a Cask Strength 9yo Springbank and a Cask Strength 8yo Sherry matured Kilkerran both at the fantastically reasonable price of £50. (Massive credit to Springbank and Glengyle incidentally.) I wasn’t quick enough to get the Springbank, but I did nab a bottle of the Kilkerran. I also picked up a bottle of the Cadenheads Shop exclusive 10yo Springbank bottled at marrying strength. (Again, just £42. I cannot express my love for the Springbank guys and their associates deeply enough.)

Today an opportunity to pick up a Highland Park exclusive presented itself. It was the 11yo Cask Strength Single Barrel bottled to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. At £70 per bottle it was more than I usually splash out, but the Highland Park distillery is so dear to me that I decided to make an exception, and I was lucky enough to nip in before they vanished. Unfortunately only 582 bottles were filled, meaning that I was very much in the minority of people who successfully managed to take advantage.

So here I am, sat on 3 Special Releases, and isn’t that good for me,
and I imagine most of you are thinking ‘Fuck you, what’s your point?’

Well, dear reader, my point is that I’m feeling guilty. I firmly believe that what whisky should be is something accessible, affordable and available to all. A drink to celebrate, to get excited about and to share. If you’ll forgive a spot of sentimental romanticism, a spirit of community.

I will of course be sharing these bottles with nearest and dearest, but I also want in a small way to reach out to the wonderful whiskyfabric; the community of whisky lovers online, many of whom, to judge by the Highland Park twitter feed this afternoon, will be disappointed to have missed out on today’s release. Many more of whom I am sure would love a taste of the Springbank and the Kilkerran.

So what to do?

Well here’s my proposition. I’m going to bottle 10 single measures (25ml) of each of the Springbank, Kilkerran and Highland Park. Each of these I am going to give away ABSOLUTELY FREE. I'll even personally pay for the postage and packaging. Can’t say fairer than that.

But, before you all start shouting ‘me, me’ and getting your elbows out for a place at the front of the queue, THERE’S A CATCH!!!

Don’t worry, it’s nothing weird. What I want, in exchange for your sample of special edition malt, are three things, none of which will cost you a penny.

1. I want to know your favourite distillery, and why it's your favourite. (Doesn’t have to be one of the three on offer here. Doesn't have to be Scottish.)

2. I want to know your favourite whisky for under £40 per bottle, and I want to know why it’s your favourite.

3. I want to know what got you into whisky, and what the best ‘whisky moment’ of your life has been, and why.

If you e-mail all of these to thewhiskypilgrim@outlook.com,
along with a request for your preferred sample (only one per person. Not one of each!) and the address to post it to I will have your whisky in the mail as quickly as ever I can. (Bearing in mind that the Highland Park won’t reach me for a few days yet, and nor will the 30 sample bottles I have just ordered.) For obvious reasons I’m afraid I’ll only be able to post to addresses within the UK – apologies to friends and readers in the US and elsewhere.

I also want your permission to use your answers to the questions listed above as part of a blog post celebrating a love of whisky, and a love of affordable expressions. And if, once that post is written, you could retweet/share it with as many people as possible, that’d be just fantastic.

Because as special as these special releases unquestionably are, what’s really special about whisky is the community it fosters; the ability to have a wonderful whisky moment, and to share that moment with others. Just imagine that Special Releases weren't just an opportunity for flippers to make a quick buck on the secondary market. Just imagine if 10 people got to try every bottle of that Highland Park. If it was tasted by 5820 people instead of just 582. 

How special would that be?

Cheers!


Whiskies Available:

Highland Park 11yo Battle of Jutland 100th Anniversary Edition. 64%ABV

Springbank 10yo Cadenhead’s Shop Exclusive. Marrying Strength. 49.5%ABV

Kilkerran 8yo Open Day Bottling. Single Cask. First Fill Sherry. 56.4%ABV 



Thursday, 26 May 2016

Campbeltown Open Day Part One. May 18th. Glen Scotia

If I end this year with one whisky regret I suspect it will be that I didn’t make it to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. I missed out on Feis Ile too - in fact I am missing out as I type! - but given I got a week on Islay and Jura with Pilgrim snr in March it’s difficult to care too much on that score. Actually I had a cracking weekend whilst Spirit was going on; I was busy sweeping all before me in an underground table tennis bar for a friend’s 26th, and later heading to Southwold to visit the alchemists of Adnams. Besides, Speyside’ll still be there next year.

But I’d had it flagged as a possibility before my friend’s birthday plans popped up, and there was a part of me that looked with envy upon the twitter feeds of those who made the trip. So it’s a particularly excited Pilgrim who hops into his faithful Corsa on the morning of the 17th of May and points its nose Northwards in the direction of the Campbeltown Whisky Festival.

And then points its nose Westwards, because before I can make the ponderous drive across the border I’ve a morning of work to do, would you believe? A pretty hefty morning of work as it turns out, because colleagues have picked the same days to go on their own jaunts, which leaves me to man the guns and batten the hatches
solo. By the time the hypothetical lunch bell dings I’m bursting to be away – the moment the clock hits 12:30 I’m through the doors like a scalded rat and on the motorway with all the speed my valiant vessel can muster. (Which is just about the speed limit if we’ve a strong wind behind us and a downhill gradient.)

As usual the less said about the next 7 hours the better. The M6 is about as kind as it ever is, which is to say that Stoke to Manchester is a nightmare and everywhere else is passable. Other than a quick stop at the unparalleled Westmorland Services to refuel (me, not the car – their sausage rolls are without equal) I don’t take my foot off the pedal until I hit Strathaven, just South of Glasgow, where I’ll be staying the night with my partner in tasting crime Will.

As is tradition, forged in the fires of our WSET revision days back up in Inverness, we’ve both brought bottles of vino for the other to blind taste. Custom dictates that these are selected from the ‘you’ll never guess this in a million years’ end of the rack, (past offerings have featured Indian wine and a light, unfortified Pedro Ximenez from Chile) but we’ve clearly softened with time, because Will comes within a sniff of nailing the Brunello (an Italian red) that I’ve supplied, and in a great departure from usual form I get his Albarino (a Spanish white) spot on. Though honesty forces me to admit I’d actually had one a week earlier. 

The blind tastes don’t end with wine of course – the night is still young, and the spirits have yet to emerge. When they do, after a random drop of Fino Sherry, we see off a veritable buffet of distilled alcohol; mostly whisky, though the sadistic rotter did at one point hand me a glass of what turned out to be grappa. (‘Smells like a grappa/catsick blend’ was my uncharitable comment before he unmasked its identity. In its defence it was actually ok so far as grappa goes, but that’s still like accusing someone of being ‘only slightly murdery.’) Some time later we’ve visited Aberfeldy 18, Redbreast 12, Glenlivet Nadurra Peated Cask, Tincup Colorado Whiskey, Stronachie 10 and Four Roses Small Batch. We toy with
giving the A’Bunadh a hearing, but decide wisely that at this point the hearing would fall upon deaf ears, so we turn in instead.

The next day, after fortification with my standard coffee (‘strong as an angry ox and black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat’ as I once heard a fantastic old nutter say in a teashop) I’m back in the Corsa and speeding towards Campbeltown. As anyone who has ever driven in Scotland knows, once you pass Glasgow the motorway melts into hundreds upon hundreds of miles of the best scenery in Britain. Frankly I’d happily spend days doing nothing but driving about up there – or better still, being driven and watching the view. The clouds are hanging low over Lomond, but the Loch itself is mirror smooth, and as silver as I’ve ever seen it. This is the third time I’ve driven through Argyll on the pilgrimage, and the fourth time in my life, and it simply never gets tired. However I’m only half-sure that the Argyll folk could tell you with any degree of accuracy what colour the sky is; ‘good weather’ in that part of the world translates as ‘mid-level downpour.’ And indeed the windscreen wipers are getting a workout as I sweep around Loch Fyne and down the A83. 

The clouds are starting to disperse as Tarbert disappears behind me and the long, straight stretch of Kintyre rolls out ahead, waves breaking on the beaches and rocky shores to my right. Less than an hour later I’m finally arrived, 530 miles from my blast-off point in Reading. The one-time whisky capital of the world, the home of perhaps my favourite distillery and the smallest independent whisky region in Scotland. Campbeltown.

My initial reaction upon reaching this hallowed whisky ground is exactly what it was last July. Namely ‘bugger, there’s no signal. Why didn’t I google where I needed to go beforehand?’ After some fifteen minutes of aimless wandering I conclude that dumb luck isn’t going to get me to Glen Scotia any time soon, and I throw myself upon the mercy of the Cadenhead’s shop staff to point me in the right direction. Which with hindsight I suppose is along the lines of getting an Evertonian to show you the way to Anfield.

At any rate, the chap at Cadenheads takes pity upon me, and a short walk later sees me outside the gates of the one Campbeltown distillery which I had not, to this point, ticked off. Gates are wide open, and a few stalls have been set up. ‘Right,’ thinks I, ‘here’s where it is. Jolly good.’ And with that I turn around and go back the way I came. It’s lunchtime, and food is required. After a burger and a pint (gosh, it almost felt like I was on holiday...) I returned to Glen Scotia to begin the trip in earnest.

I hadn’t booked any of the tastings or masterclasses for Glen
Scotia’s open day, but I did of course have my eye on one of the free tours. Correctly assuming my morning start would be too leisurely to get me to Campbeltown for the one at half 11 I’d set my sights on the afternoon tour at half 2. There’s still an hour to kill, so I mill around in the ‘courtyard,’ successfully preventing myself from burning too much money at the stalls, and then pop into the Visitor’s Centre to see what’s what.

I must have looked like a little lost soul amidst the groups who thronged the shop. Germany was very well represented, as it usually is when you visit a distillery, and there was an American bloke in heated debate with a staff member about import-export laws. As you’d expect on open day the shop was more than a little crowded, and I found myself a corner to tuck into, where I could read up a little more on the distillery and examine their core range. Glen Scotia, as I imagine it is for many whisky drinkers, is the Campbeltown Distillery with which I’m least familiar. I’ve only had a few of their whiskies in the past, so I’ve been itching to get stuck in today. And help is at hand! A kind chap, no doubt taking pity on the bescruffed youth lurking in the corner, invites me to taste the open day bottling, which is a single cask, first fill, ex-bourbon 15 year old bottled at cask strength. We chat a little about the distillery and the sort of whisky it goes for, and the open day bottling leads to a taste of the Victoriana, which is the ritziest of Glen Scotia’s core range, and well worth seeking out next time
you’re in a whisky bar.

My benefactor’s name turns out to be Callum, and he’s also the guide for today’s tour, which begins about 20 minutes after the Victoriana has disappeared. Needless to say, a large group has gathered. It’s only recently that Glen Scotia has offered tours, which is why I didn’t make my way around in July, and a free tour on open day is too good an opportunity to pass up. To the best of my estimation there are upwards of 40 people gathered outside the distillery door – certainly more than twice the numbers I’ve encountered on a visit previously. All of the doors of the distillery are open too, so even more delicious smells are wafting from the building than usual.

I have to say that given the size of the group Callum did a phenomenal job marshalling us all. He was aided probably by the fact that everyone present was a proper enthusiast and therefore keen to pick up every scrap of information he had, but the job he did of moving us through the distillery at a good pace, making himself heard at all times and keeping us all together was absolutely first class. Glen Scotia is a pretty small distillery – one wash still and one spirit still, and both are very little indeed in the
great scheme of things. They only peat for six months of the year, with the focus being primarily on unpeated whisky, and all their casks are matured on site (though the whisky goes to Ayrshire to be bottled at present.) The oak focus, as can be seen when we move to their warehouses and are shown both dunnage and racked, is on ex-American. That said, they’ve a few other casks knocking around, including the PX used to finish their ‘Double Matured’ whisky – the most affordable in their range.

A lucky accident occurs whilst we’re in the warehouse. A previous tasting – a pairing of whisky and food – had not been fully attended, and there are a good number of plates left out. Callum offers the group a free run at them, and we don’t need a second invitation. If I’m honest I only have a very little bit as I’m pretty stuffed from lunch, but I’m sure the other guys more than made up for me!

I thank Callum, and make my way back to the Visitor Centre. Given the open day bottling, Distillery Exclusive Single Cask and Victoriana are all open to taste I get a slightly surprised look when I ask if it’s possible to try the Double Cask, but the lady behind the desk kindly furnishes me with a sample, and I retreat to my quiet corner to make my obligatory note on the distillery’s signature expression.

Glen Scotia Double Cask – Spirity notes first to jump out of the glass – still a little young, perhaps a smidge of feint. Lots of juicy
berry fruit quickly follows though, with touches of vanilla. Mid-prominent nose – certainly don’t have to look too hard for it! Nice element of savoury/farmyard in the background too. A peppery palate initially – slightly less complex than the nose. Alcohol making itself known. Sweet fruit in behind – cooked apples moving towards a touch of sultana. Light to medium bodied. I’d be interested to try this without the PX. Strikes me as a potential aperitif whisky looking to dress up as something else. Interesting though – one to look out for. 46% ABV.

My Glen Scotia experience has certainly lived up to expectations. I’m resolved to look out for the 15 year old, which was the only one of their core range I didn’t try today. I’m billeting in Campbeltown for the night, so I grab my bag from the car and dump it on a bed in the backpacker’s hostel, before making my way out again. I return to the pub I had lunch in, where I bump into Callum and talk whisky with him for a few minutes, then grab a pew to watch the Europa League final. Whilst Liverpool’s second half collapses about them I find myself chatting to a terrific bloke called Robert, who’s in Campbeltown on business but has wisely taken the opportunity to make his way to Glen Scotia, and has even picked up their open day bottling. Since he’s here on expenses he very generously covers my two pints, and we natter away whilst Sevilla storm to victory. Oh well, there’s always next year. No, wait, hang on...

I’ve heard tell on the twittersphere of a particularly fine whisky bar
at a hotel somewhere in Campbeltown, and decide it would be rude not to look it up before returning to the hostel. Once again my initial exploration is thwarted by my lack of google maps, so I phone Rachel and she, taking pity on me, consults her laptop and, like some remote mission control, walks me through the late evening streets of Campbeltown to the Ardshiel Hotel.

They weren’t kidding on the twittersphere. There must be hundreds of bottles, mostly of malt, lined up on the bar behind me. Somewhat faint-heartedly I decide that I’m only in need of one this evening, which means a long stretch of deciding, redeciding, changing my mind, second guessing myself, asking for recommendations, ignoring recommendations, looking at the bar again, umming, ahing and playing eeny-meeny-miney-mo. The distilleries whose bottles dominate the bar are Ardbeg, Dalmore and Springbank. I decide that it wouldn’t be cricket not to pick a local boy, and eventually settle on the 16 year old local barley, which I dithered too long to buy in bottle when it was released a few months back. The bar is awash with the sound of skirling bagpipes from the speakers, but I find the closest thing to a quiet spot and slump over my Springbank to reflect upon a day which – whilst wonderful in Campbeltown – unfortunately featured some
very sad news from home. I nurse the dram for half an hour or so, and then head back to the hostel dormitory, pull the drapes around my bed, flick through a few pages of John Cleese’s autobiography and gradually drift off.

The Campbeltown Whisky Festival's off to a cracking start, and I can't wait for tomorrow. No new distilleries to visit, but a huge day nonetheless as I return to that temple of whisky which may well be my favourite in the world.

Cheers!



  

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Point Scoring. Part three: Primal Instinct

28,000 BC. A cave in France.

Ugg and Ogg pace nervously. Outside, thunder rolls and mammoths trumpet, but inside is utter silence, as three cave art experts, Paul Cezugg, Claude Monugg and Eugène Delacrugg scrutinize the wall. Ogg and Ugg have sweated many moons for this moment, and the road has not been easy. You try persuading a cave bear or woolly rhinoceros to sit still for preliminary sketches. And that’s without all the pressure from those snooty Spanish cavemen and all their noise about cubist and surrealist cave art. It’s no good telling him that pictures of sabre tooth tigers with the sabres bursting upwards out of their nose won’t catch on; Pablo Picassugg just goes right ahead and smears them on the wall anyway.

Eventually, just as the silence has pupated from awkward to excruciating, it is broken by Paul Cezugg. ‘That one,’ he announces, stabbing a finger at a stencil of an Aurochs. ‘It has more dynamism, more...more...je ne sais qugg.’ Ogg clasps his defeated face in his hands whilst Ugg lets out an elated exhalation of pent up nerves. He has triumphed. His cave painting is the finest.

Whether or not this tale of stone age watercolours is apocryphal or not is a question for archaeologists and ancient historians to answer. But I think it serves to demonstrate humanity’s inherent obsession with ranking the unrankable. With putting the subjective in order. With being the best – or at the very least, being able to discern what is. ‘Look on my works, ye mighty and despair’, says Ozymandias. (Poetry again...) Translation: ‘read these and weep you snivelling pack of no-hopers. Next to my digs, yours aren’t fit to house a gangrenous swine.’

Put any two whiskies next to each other, and you’ll be able to tell the difference between them. We all know that – it’s a given. But I’ll go one further. I contend that you can put any two whiskies next to each other, and in all likelihood one will be objectively better than the other. (I can already hear the screams of protest and gnashing of teeth.) With this in mind I’d like to open my case for the defence of using scores in the evaluation of whisky.

I imagine those who disagree with my contention would ask three things. 1. How can scores account for differences in style? 2. How can scores account for differences in palate? And 3. Why don’t you use scores if you think they’re so great, you hypocritical craven?  

The answer to the first question is pretty simple. They can’t. Simply sticking a number next to a whisky tells you absolutely nothing whatsoever about what the whisky’s going to taste like. If there’s one aspect of whisky scoring that absolutely everyone can agree on it’s that the score is by no means the be all and end all. It has to be accompanied by a tasting note, or it’s essentially worthless. Assuming you write scores as an aid to your reader.

Question two is slightly more complex, and rather feeds into question three. Ostensibly the answer once again is ‘they can’t,’ which makes things look a little bleak for scores, except that in this case there is, or ought to be, a rather important addendum. Which is to say ‘they can’t...unless the whisky is dealt with entirely objectively, in the context of the full whisky spectrum.’

The moment you start giving scores based simply on ‘I like this flavour’ or ‘I don’t like this flavour’ the whole idea goes out of the window. But that’s not an easy switch to flip. Take me for example. I hate cheese. Hate it. Every so often at a Christmas Dinner I end up with the stilton lingering close to where I’m sitting and I’m afraid the smell puts my turkey at risk of making a surprise return trip to the plate. I’d love if it didn’t, but there it is. So I’d be utterly useless when it came to making clinical assessment of the quality of a stilton, because to me it all smells disgusting. On the flip side, never in the time that I’ve been friends with him has Greeners been objective about Liverpool’s chances in any given Premier League season. If you can’t detach yourself, at least for the time you’re actually scoring the whisky, then your score means nothing. And, though I’m sure we’d all publicly exclaim our remarkable powers of detachment, privately I expect we’d be a little more candid. Because it’s not an easy thing to do, and not everyone wants to anyway. And why should they? Takes half the fun out.

The second part of the addendum is the real reason I don’t give whisky scores personally, and is, in my opinion, a pitfall for some people who do. It’s impossible to give accurately objective scores if you don’t have a thorough idea of how the land lies. If you’re not pretty au fait with what you might find, and where the upper and lower levels of quality are. Which in whisky terms means having an in-depth knowledge of all the major distilleries, and a thorough working knowledge of the smaller ones. You need to know what they’re aiming for, what they’re capable of, what they’ve made in the past. You need to know how their spirit ages, and how it typically reacts with varying styles of cask. Most importantly, you need a perfect knowledge of what shouldn’t be there. The difference between a flavour you don’t like, and a flavour that denotes an objective fault. And you have to tread carefully on that front, because otherwise you’ll run into the ‘I might not like that, but someone else will’ counterpoint. Yes, someone might like the taste of a fault, be that from a dodgy cask, a feint-heavy spirit or simply an unbalanced expression. But if there is a fault it has to be recognised and it has to be scored accordingly. In order to build up this immense body of knowledge you have to be in a position in which you’re tasting about 1000 whiskies a year, and have been for a while. I’m not, so I don’t. Simple as that.

I think one problem with whisky scoring is a lack of transparency. (Don’t know whether that’s appropriate or ironic...) What I mean by that is that I’m seldom sure from reading someone's score quite how they've arrived at that number. More often than not what you’re given is essentially a recipe list of perceived smells and flavours, with a figure tacked on to the bottom. This article isn’t the place for me to start banging my drum about my issues with whisky tasting notes, but the point is that all these lovely flavours and aromas aren’t actually an effective guide to objective quality. The WSET exams take you through a ‘systematic approach to tasting,’ which I think is pretty sound. For the advanced level you’re marked out of 25 for each wine you have to analyse, and of those, only 5 marks are given for aroma/flavour identification (6 marks in a white wine.) The other criteria you’re marked on is identification of levels of alcohol, acidity, body, intensity of aroma, intensity of flavour, balance, tannin, length of finish etc etc. Yet I almost never see whiskies analysed by characteristics. The closest you ever see is ‘don’t like this, want cask strength,’ or ‘don’t like this, think they’ve added caramel.’ If you’re going to give a score, show your working. Don’t just write a flavour list.

So no. I don’t think everyone should be scoring whisky. Actually, scratch that – people can do whatever the hell they want – what I mean is that I don’t think everyone should be publishing their scores. And as previously stated, I include myself in that. But those favoured few with the ‘requisite’ breadth of experience? Yes, yes, one hundred times yes! Apart from anything else I don’t want to think that some lucky so-and-so is sat somewhere making their way through 1000+ whiskies a year simply for their own enjoyment! Ok, so theoretically you could hunt far and wide for a bar that serves a glass of the particular whisky you’re considering, but if like me you live in something of a whisky wilderness (Reading’s more progressive bars occasionally get as adventurous as stocking up to two different Bourbons...) the opportunity simply may not be there. So being able to reference a few thousand tasting notes accompanied by an objectively considered score is invaluable if you’re to experience the water of life smorgasbord in its most dizzying entirety. Of course you shouldn’t lean entirely on the number – I think we’ve all experienced a highly scored whisky at some point in our lives and found it not to our taste. And you shouldn’t lean on the scoring of just one critic any more than you should get your news and opinions from just one paper. Nor should you feel obliged to stick to what anyone, however expert, recommends once you feel happy choosing your whisky for yourself. But for my own part I know I can still remember taking my first steps into a wider whisky world, and being grateful for the guidance I could find through the objectivity of a confidently assigned score.

Scoring whisky, indeed analysing whisky in general, is far from a cut and dried art form. There is still, I believe, a way to go before the most accessible form of whisky communication has been properly nailed. Possibly it never will be. Possibly it can’t be. Possibly – the horror – it doesn’t actually matter. Scoring or no scoring, whisky will endure, and continue to grow in popularity. After all, the most effective way to get information about a whisky is to have a chat with someone who’s tasted a few. At the very least, as we’ve seen, scores mean nothing in isolation. But hey. A number assigned to a bottle which, whilst it won't tell you what it tastes like or whether you'll enjoy it, at least gives us a little more insight on what the juice inside might be like. Where have we heard that before? I, for one, don’t think it’s worth complaining too loudly. At the end of the day, your actual purchases are still entirely up to you.

Cheers!        

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Scoring Points. Part Two: Pointless. (Sorry, too easy.)

I bear a grudge against Dead Poets Society. Granted, I could say that about a large number of things; a veritable cornucopia of niggling and (I admit) largely irrational irritations ranging from people walking slowly in London, to emojis, both concept and word, to incorrectly stacked burgers. (The people putting the salad underneath the meat need to reconsider how life works.) My grudge against Dead Poets Society is borne of the message it instilled in a young, impressionable Wellsy that poetry was something wonderful, beautiful and interesting; my key to Utopian possibility. It’s not of course; at 14 years old it’s the katana with which one commits social seppuku, with all the future fiscal promise of shares in floppy disks and useless for attracting anything besides hurtful remarks. After four years spent attaining an English Masters good only for hanging over the bed I’ve also wished more than once that they’d made a film called ‘Dead Software Programmers Society’. But for all that it played its role in the crushing of my youthful naïveté, the central idea of the film; that certain things are created – should be created – for some higher aesthetic purpose, untouched by the cold mathematics of precise analysis, has rattled around my head ever since. Alongside the shreds of Byron and Hardy and Shelley and Coleridge that I picked up like loose change in the street and left in my wallet to fester.

Having decided to stick my head into the tiger’s mouth of considering the practice of whisky scoring it’s only fair that we open with the case for prosecution. (Dead Judges Society would also have been a financially sound alternative incidentally...) The rallying cry of those opposed to assigning a random number to whisky tends to be fairly simple, and in keeping with John Keating’s approach to Mr J. Evans Pritchard’s analysis of poetry. ‘You can’t.’ For some people that’s as far as they want to go, and would happily say 'on that ladies and gentlemen of the jury we rest our case.' But let’s pretend for a moment that there’s one of those sour-faced pedants in the jury-box who actually wants such an assertion backed up by some evidence. Well here goes.

Whisky is subjective. Numbers inherently are not. And when subjective clashes with objective there tends to be something of an oil and water effect. Whilst it would have made my life far simpler if I could have answered such questions as ‘How effectively does Lawrence portray notions of cross-class sexuality’ with ‘er...67/100’ I’m not sure it would have cut the mustard with my 20th Century Literature professors. (I wouldn’t have given the self-satisfied preener such a high mark anyway.) You wouldn’t give Van Gogh a score, nor would you numerically rate a song or a building or a view. So why insist on trying to nail down a whisky with such
definitive precision?

Beauty, we can be certain, is in the eye of the beholder. I for one am very grateful that the ladies of Nottingham University didn’t wander round scribbling scores and docking points off for faults. (Or if they did, they have my gratitude for their discretion.) So far as whisky is concerned, like anyone else with tastebuds I have favourite drams, and drams that leave me cold. (Ish. I’d probably still drink them happily enough!) However a quick consultation with Dr Google throws up numerous haters of the whiskies I admire and just as many disciples of my less favoured tipples. I have even, and you’ll have to strain credulity to believe we live in such a world, come across people who don’t like Salt and Vinegar as a flavour of crisps. Though I’m not friends with any such folk.

Moving on now to the matter of the scores themselves. Presumably they are at least standardised so that the consumer, who you’d like to think would be the beneficiary of the scores, knows what’s what? Ha. Hahaha. Hollow laughter resounds throughout the Nuclear bunker in which I type. (See part one if confused.) Far from it, I’m afraid. By and large scores are given out of 100, and so far so reasonable. But it’s where we go from there that throws the whole mucky business into turmoil. In the first place, ‘by and large’ doesn’t mean ‘all the time.’ I’ve seen people score out of twenty, out of ten and out of five, 'star-style'. And that’s not even the end of it. Because in some instances in which the score is given out of ten - both the prominent examples which I can think of off the top of my head in fact - the ten is broken down into decimal points. So you get 7.9, 8.4, 9.7 etc. (Actually they never go as high as that last one really.) And that’s fine, but what’s the point? Why not simply mark out of 100? Albeit that’s more a stylistic complaint than an actual ‘problem’ per se.

Most people who’ve had an interest in whisky for more than five minutes can probably think of a fairly prominent example of someone who marks out of 100. Except that they don’t really, because once again those 100 points are broken down. Not quite into tenths of a point, but into halves. Which means that really it’s a mark out of 200. You’re possibly wondering why that’s an issue, and it isn’t necessarily, but it begs a question. Can the person awarding the scores explain the difference in quality between a whisky awarded 90 points and a whisky awarded 90.5? Presumably there is a discernible gap in quality to this critic's mind, however fractional, and surely one must be able to explain the reasoning behind the mark, if one is to justify awarding it in the first place? 

And there’s the real rub of scores, namely, what should the ‘right’
number to mark a whisky out of be? Five is surely far too small - there clearly are more than five levels of whisky quality. But how high can we go before it passes belief that an individual could distinguish between marks? I read recently that a wine body had plans to mark wines out of 1000. If there is someone, or in this case a collection of someones, who can distinguish wine quality to a thousandth of a degree then I take my hat off to them. However I do find it difficult to rein in my scepticism. Oh, and by the way. That 100 points I said people score out of. It’s not 100. Not all the time anyway. Most 100 point scorers follow what I understand to be the American school system, wherein you achieve the first 50 marks just for showing up, and your actual work is graded using the next 50. So 60 points becomes an utterly rubbish result, as opposed to the 2:1 it represents to the overwhelming majority of British university students. Yours truly included. I’m an academic herd follower. 

Which again would be fine, if everyone scoring out of 100 worked on that same system. But they don’t. Effectively everyone I’ve come across individually awarding scores to whisky is singing from a different hymn sheet. Or perhaps more accurately singing from the same hymn sheet to a different tune. And having attended end-of-term services at school I can confirm that such a phenomenon ends up sounding like some sort of mad, droning lawnmower symphony. A bit of fun, but you’re glad you’re not paying to hear it.

One final word on the scoring system before moving on to the next point. Even allowing for starting on 50 points, even allowing for differences in what people are scoring out of, no whisky critic that I have come across actually uses the full spectrum of what their points would permit. Let me put it this way - if I handed in one of those pieces of homework which you deliver whilst simultaneously explaining that your grandmother fell down some stairs whilst the dog choked on a chicken bone and then you had to save a child and the house burned down honestly miss...I’d expect a rubbish score. 2 or maybe 3 out of ten at best. By the same token if I handed in a piece of work which could not be done better I would expect full marks. Yet the scores applied to whiskies, with very, very few exceptions, range from about 70 to about 95. (So, if you’re doing the American School system, 40% to 90%. And of those, the overwhelming majority range from about 85 to 95. A wonderfully optimistic way to look at things, but I wonder how realistic?

 Another thing. I’ve never drunk a whisky which I would pronounce ‘objectively undrinkable,’ and I’ve never drunk a whisky and been unable to imagine a better one. But my experience is not nearly as wide as the experts who taste for a living. At my best estimate I anticipate tasting about 700 whiskies in 2016. But the people whose little black books tally in the thousands per year, and the tens of thousands in their life to date - surely they have an idea of where the floor and the ceiling are? Or, after years of professional tasting, have they never found a whisky which didn’t leave them wanting more? The wine critic Robert Parker, by far the most powerful critic in any field, the man who essentially invented the notion of scoring drinks out of 100, has spoken out on the subject of awarding full marks, and says that professionals have a
responsibility to award full marks when they believe, in their immense experience, that a drink is as good as it gets. I’m with him. You can’t mark out of 100 unless you are prepared to mark up to 100. If you don’t, you have to offer an explanation for where points have been lost. Too often I see words like ‘faultless’ and ‘perfect’ applied to whiskies which are not then given full marks. Or the negative equivalents applied to whiskies which still achieve 70-75. To me, this smacks slightly of bet-hedgery. 

At this point please bear in mind that I’m just making the case for the prosecution, and that my perfect world would split fairly evenly between Mariokart, Table Football (at which - sorry to boast - I’m a king) and miscellaneous mucking about. I am absolutely in favour of doing something for the sheer damn hell of it. I keep a blog for goodness' sake. But if you're going to go as far as keeping and publishing whisky scores I think you have to ask yourself ‘Cui Bono?’ Or, if you’re not a ponce who speaks in italics, 'who’s benefiting?' 'What’s the value of doing this?' Going back to wine again, I mentioned in my first article that my thoughts drifted to the subject of points because it’s the middle of Bordeaux En Primeur season. Now I completely understand the point of scoring en primeur. If you’re buying en primeur you have a very short window to make your selection from an enormous range of wines which will never be priced so low again, which will change enormously over the course of their lives, which haven’t even been bottled yet, and - crucially - which you won’t have a chance to taste for yourself before purchasing.

In that instance it’s hugely valuable to have a bank of scores from an experienced expert to use as a bit of a crutch. Someone who has tasted across the field of play, has a good sense of the vintage, and who can tell from tasting this unfinished wine how good it is, how good it will be (roughly) and for how long it will continue to age. And by applying scores across the board he can help you quickly sort out the wheat from the chaff amongst the hundreds of wines available, enabling you to make your purchase before it has sold out, and before your very short window closes. Time is of the essence, quick-to-process information is of the essence. Big thumbs up to scoring en primeur.

When it comes to whisky, there’s not really an equivalent. People might point to special releases, but to be honest either there’ll be a decent number of bottles released, in which case you’ve a good chance of tracking down a glass before you buy, or there’ll be so few bottles released (e.g Yamazaki Sherry Cask) that knowing
whether it gets a good score or not is completely irrelevant to whether you get your hands on one. And you don’t need that rarefied palate that can accurately predict the future when it comes to whisky. Once it’s bottled, that’s that pretty much. It’s as it will ever be. So should you taste a glass and not like it, never mind, move on. Nothing lost. If you do like it, happy days. Get online and chances are you can sort yourself out with a bottle. Where do scores come in?

 So. Whisky scores. Probably subjective. Definitively un-standardised. Possibly unnecessary. A damning prosecution indeed. Need we even hear the case for the defence before throwing the book, donning the black cap, passing the sentence and chopping the rogue’s head off? (We’ve a merciless old judicial system at Pilgrim Towers.) 

Yes.

Not only do I hope to prove that scores can be objective (up to a point), but that they can be invaluably useful. Whether I can succeed in doing that is, of course, another question. One that I’m afraid will have to wait until part 3. Table Football calls.

Oh, and by the way, Dead Poets is worth a watch if you haven't seen it - Robin Williams' performance almost matches his turn in Good Will Hunting. I give it 837 out of 1000.

Cheers! 



Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Scoring Points. Part One: Murky Mark(s)

I forget who it was, but when I was a stick-legged, trembling teenager, way back in the days before I became a stick-legged, trembling young adult, there was a teacher at my school who didn't give marks. As a matter of fact he didn't really give ticks either. All you got to imply he'd read the work you'd [delete as appropriate] (been up all night slaving over by the light of a stump of candle/hastily scribbled during registration) were a few illegible red notes at the bottom of the page generally implying half-hearted satisfaction. As I say, I forget who it was, but I hated the bastard.

I was by no means one of the overachievers of the year; indeed had the aforementioned bastard been a science teacher my attitude towards his marking deficiencies wouldn't have been half as partisan, but frankly I liked marks. Obviously I liked them a lot better if they turned out well, but crippling lack of self-belief aside, they were the most concrete way of establishing exactly where you sat in the firmament. 'It's the taking part that counts' was an opinion I viewed with suspicion and contempt, cynical stick-legged infant that I was. As far as I was concerned, that was the attitude of someone resigned to losing from the off. You knew where you stood with marks, and you could see the gulf on either side of you.

I'm happy to report that my attitude's mellowed somewhat as an adult, and my self-worth is no longer linked to the red pen at the bottom of a page. I'd claim to be less competitive in general, though sceptics would point towards a Risk board that came pretty close to being booted over last August. (Deservedly. Hand-of-God levels of fair play were being deployed by the other participants.) The point of this trip down memory lane is that I've been considering the practice of another form of 'marking' over the last couple of days; one somewhat more pertinent to the subject matter of this blog. The practice of scoring whisky.

*Pause, whilst the author moves to a subterranean Nuclear bunker, bolts the door, props a chair under the handle and dons a full suit of armour. (With fingerless gauntlets to facilitate further typing.)*

Whisky scoring is viewed by many, especially those who treat the drink with apotheosis, as something along the lines of requesting to hold someone's baby and then hurling it into a meat grinder. On some forums in the darker corners of the whiskynet both the act and its practitioners are discussed in such vile fashion that the discussers could justifiably be brought to the attention of the police. Obviously this is true of more or less every online-discussed subject in the world now as tiny numbers of borderline-people, emboldened by anonymity, scream their bile unchecked into the digisphere. But even the decent and moderate majority make their feelings on the matter known in no uncertain terms. 'You shouldn't/can't score whisky' is the fundamental battle cry, largely backed up by the line that all palates are different. (I do think that battle cry would be catchier if they didn't have to shout 'forward slash' between 'shouldn't' and 'can't'...)

It's true that no two palates are the same, of course, as is the point that whisky is subjective and therefore, in the eyes of those who decry scoring, above such mundane and cast-iron fetters as a simple number. It's a view shared by numerous experts, and indeed many who do assign numbers to bottles feel the need to offer a sort of apology for doing so, lest the wrath of the more fervent and slow-to-forgive portion of the whiskerati fall crushingly upon them. 'It's not my fault: you shouldn't have had your child in the same room as a large meat grinder in the first place.'

As I've noted before, wine's one of my other passions. Currently my job, in fact. And whilst, believe me, the vinous trenches are dug no less deeply where scoring's concerned, it's far deeper ingrained in wine. In fact the main reason that my mind wandered to the shadowy corridors of whisky 'marking' is that wine has just seen its annual scoring apogee, which is the release of En Primeur Bordeaux. (Nutshelled, the practice of selling not-yet-bottled fine wine, in theory offering a gamble on eventual quality in exchange for a lower price.) It's no exaggeration to say that fortunes have been made and lost on the En Primeur scores of the most influential critics; their numbers the increasing be-all-and-end-all for the Château owners, vignerons and winemakers.

So what do I think about scoring when it comes to whisky? What are the pros and cons of the practice? Where is it done well, and where (in my opinion) does it need serious rethinking? Ultimately, what, if anything, is the point? And why do I currently avoid doing it myself?

Complex questions. I'll need two more articles to decipher them. Should be interesting!

Cheers!            

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The *deep breath* Beer, Vodka, Gin, Triple-Sec, Barrel-aged vodka, Barrel-aged Eau de Vie, Absinthe and Whisky Pilgrim. 30th April. Adnams (Copper House) Distillery

Rachel is at a wedding. Greeners is at a wedding. RMJ has Uni finals coming up, Will's in Scotland. Everyone else is busy in some regard. Essentially I've been left unaccompanied for the bank holiday weekend. And when I'm left unaccompanied the 'to visit' distillery list comes out.

Scotland's a bit of a hike for three days, and I'm there in a fortnight anyway. Penderyn's been ticked off and so has St George's. According to my own rules this pilgrimage is for distilleries whose whisky is already available in bottle, so that's London and Cotswolds out (though I await their finished product with great anticipation.) Hicks & Healey also a bit too long of a drive, and I sort of want to leave them until autumn when the apples are being harvested. Which leaves only Adnams.

My abiding memory of Adnams is of doing the merchandising when I worked for Majestic Wine, and beer - due to the various shapes of the boxes - being a pain in the hole. I've also, despite a reasonable degree of effort, never taken to beer; cider's my pint. But since 2010 they've been distilling spirit, winning awards for it too, which means it needs a visit. So, sun beating down – becoming a theme for these trips, long may it continue – I fill up the Corsa and set off for Southwold on the Suffolk Coast.

It’s a pretty simple drive from Reading to Southwold, just M4, M25 and then head Northeast along the A12 until your tyres get wet, but it’s a fair old schlep. Early start in case I got lost, and like 99% of the British workforce I need a coffee before I can properly stitch the day together. True to motorway form that coffee ends up being a disappointing Costa, and then it’s back along the road.

Some time later, the taste of bitter mud-water still dancing around my palate, I find myself in the beautiful seaside town of Southwold, where I am immediately struck by three things. Firstly, it’s an absolute labyrinth. Secondly, parking’s going to be optimistic at best. And thirdly the pavements are either non-existent or thought of by pedestrians as being solely for decorative purposes. My patience in such situations is famously non-existent, but reminding myself that it’s everyone else who’s to blame, and definitely not me, I wind my way through the streets and eventually find a place to park on the seafront. My temper is vastly improved at the sight of a chap trying to park a VW camper van and giving the impression that he’d gambled on parallel parking not being one of his manoeuvres when he took his test.

Imagine the stereotypical English seaside town and you are thinking of Southwold. Actually, if you’re thinking of the stereotypical English seaside town you’re probably thinking of somewhere less pretty than Southwold and with a higher number of children vomiting ice cream. (Admittedly I arrived before lunch, so might have been too early to witness this phenomenon.) There’s a golden beach, a long pier, an array of gaudily painted beach-huts faded by sea-salt and sand-wind, and a selection of shops selling plastic buckets. And yes, a fair number of chaps who haven’t let a lifetime of pies and beer impede their love of taking their top off at the slightest opportunity. This is England. (Who’d change it?)

I’m actually a fair bit early for my tour, so having established where the distillery is (in the process passing by a large 'Pilgrim' labelled truck) I wander down the road to a pub (Adnam’s-owned, appropriately enough) and grab a burger. About two minutes before the burger arrives I notice on the specials board that I could have had swordfish steak for the same price. Idiot. Still, bloody good burger.

Despite having ascertained the location of the distillery/brewery it’s some time before I can figure out where I’m meant to go. This was definitely just me being thick, and I wandered around the outside of some delicious smelling buildings before realising there was a sign on one of them that gave me some pretty thorough directions. Guided by the sign I’m soon in the visitor’s centre and waiting for the tour to start.

Our guide for the day is Johnny, and as it happens this will be his first ever unaccompanied tour. He asks whether any of us are Chemical engineers or biochemists, as he apparently had to lead such a group around last week and was asked some pretty in-depth questions. We’re not – but I bet the sight of my notebook put him right at ease... We watch the introduction video, sign a health and safety form (a distillery first for me) and we’re off.

Brewing has been going on in Southwold for hundreds of years, but the Adnams brothers weren’t in possession of the brewery until 1872, and Adnams & Co. wasn’t an established company until 1890. These days they make a dizzying array of beers, helmed by their flagship bitter, and since 2010 a no less impressive selection of spirits. The headline acts, as far as I can tell, are their Gin and Vodka; certainly these seem to be the focal spirits of the tour. Whisky, naturally, has only been feasible in the last couple of years in compliance with the 3 years and a day of ageing rule, and at present they make one single malt, and one ‘Triple Grain’ which is essentially the same makeup of a Blended Scotch Whisky (malted barley, wheat and oats) but created in just one distillery. A Single Blend? Oh who cares, you get the picture.

I’m just doing the distillery tour, which at Adnams means that you don’t see the washbacks or mash tun, but head straight for the sharp end and the stills. The first room we’re shown is the one in which the company’s ‘blend your own gin’ masterclass takes place. (Johnny’s mother is one of the leaders of this masterclass.) Alas, no gin-blending for us today, but it looks well worth a punt; you start with a bottle of Adnam’s Vodka, then make your selection from their wide range of botanicals and watch as the Vodka is fed through some tiny, almost archaic alembic stills. You then create your own label and take the bottle home. Great fun. (The room also smells lovely – cloves were the standout smell for me, but basically a herbalist’s wet dream!)


And then into the still room, and I have to say I’m taken aback. I’ve seen a fair few assemblies of stills in the last 9 months, but none like these. The best way I can think of describing the selection is to say that if Willy Wonka branched out into spirit alcohol, his factory would be based on the Adnams still room. It’s not just that you’ve got column stills next to pot stills, it’s the crazy, almost steam-punk look of them all – proper alchemist’s apparatus! First you have the giant continuous still, or beer condenser, into which the wash is fed to produce the low wines. Then there’s a purple pot still, but not a pot-still as you might have seen them in Scotland, more a Penderyn-esque hybrid of pot and column. Then last of the three in the first room you have the rectifier, for creating the final spirit. Traditionally this is one giant column, but Adnams couldn’t get the required planning permission to accommodate such a column’s height, so it’s split into two, with the second fed by a pipe from the first.

Beyond this first still room are two more pot stills, and once again they’re a world away from the norm. The first is another Penderyn-style pot-column crossbreed, and the second has an almost mushroom-like stem emerging from the pot – as if the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland should be sitting on top of it, smoking his Hookah!

A brief look at the certificate room, walls creaking with accolades for Gin and Vodka, and a couple in the corner for whisky, and then we’re back out of the still room, via a peek at the finishing tank where the spirits are diluted to bring them down to the appropriate strength. Then on to the cask room, not a warehouse as you might see elsewhere, but a cool underground cellar beneath the distillery complex. Johnny explains that the majority of casks are kept in a cottage somewhere along the road from the distillery, so we just see a selection of what Adnams have maturing at the moment.

Very unusually for a British distillery, Adnams use only virgin oak, though I gather a planned expansion will see them bring in some ex-Jack Daniels casks, and it’ll be interesting to see what that does to their spirit. In the meantime their Single Malt is matured in French oak, their Triple Grain in American oak, and to the best of my recollection their barrel-aged eau-de-vie ‘The Spirit of Broadside’ (which has a nose to die for!) goes into casks from Central-Eastern Europe. In line with other distilleries Adnams char the insides of their barrels before filling them, and the barrels have the char level recorded on their lids. (L = light, M = medium, H = heavy.) It’s also interesting (yes, interesting!) to note that in the cool, constant temperature of the cellar, Adnams’ Angels’ Share is just 1% per year – less than that of many Scottish distilleries.

It’s a short walk from the distillery to the Adnams shop where the tasting takes place. I mostly chat to Johnny during that time – he questions the notebook and I explain. He’s not been the only one to notice it, and for probably the ninth or tenth time on my pilgrimage I field a question along the lines of ‘are you doing homework’ from an elderly tourist who has mistaken me for a schoolboy. (What sort of homework got set in the 40s/50s???) The shop is big, but absolutely filled to bursting, and we huddle around a tasting table as Johnny produces some bottles to sample, sporadically wafting away shoppers who fancy nabbing a few cheeky tastes themselves.

Christ there are a lot of them! As at St George’s distillery we are each given a plastic shot glass, into which a drop of each spirit is poured. As I’m driving I have to content myself with simply sniffing each of them (hence I couldn’t comment earlier on the taste of Spirit of Broadside!) but I seem to be the only person pouring anything out, so some of my fellow tourists must have had a smashing afternoon! We try two different vodkas, as well as two different gins. The second gin is described by Johnny as including 13 different botanicals, at which point the ‘are you doing homework’ bloke challenges him to name them all – he rattles them off in no time. We then move on to an oak aged Vodka followed by Spirit of Broadside, then the No.1 Single Malt Whisky, Sloe Gin, Triple Sec and Limoncello. Oh, and distilled cider. Like I say – those other guys must have had quite a time in the next few hours!

I thank Johnny, and congratulate him on nailing his first solo tour, then wander back out into the sunshine. Having only had a tiny sniff of the Single Malt, and needing to write a proper tasting note, I pop back into the Adnams pub and order a single, before tucking myself into a quiet and more or less smell-free corner to do my scribbling.

Adnams No.1 Single Malt Whisky – That’s quite some oak for three years old! European, so it’s not as overt as American would be, and in this instance that’s probably to the good. Big spirit notes behind fruit and cloves – there’s quite a lot of clamouring for attention, even out of the tumbler this measure’s poured into. Palate more or less follows suit – if you’ve ever been into a racked warehouse you’ll recognise the notes immediately. Lots and lots of that oak influence. Some vanilla has also started to poke its nose through now; and to its credit, whilst the spirit character is certainly still very loud, it’s also very pure – no feinty esters here. Perhaps not the most harmonious whisky in the world, but full of character and creamy flavour. Finish weirdly reminds me of Bulleit 95 Rye’s – oak wrapped in granny smith peel. Nice. Possibly too much of a premium on rarity to tempt me to buy a whole bottle though... 43%ABV

I make my way back to the car, half expecting to see the VW guy still trying to park, and after four or five wrong turns I’m back out of Southwold and on the three hour journey home, reflecting as I go. Such a large portion of my heart belongs, and will always belong, to Scotland and Scotch whisky, but it’s so fantastically special to visit a place making whisky in England, and whilst I’ve made my reservations clear about the huge number of small distilleries popping up all over Britain it’s nonetheless exciting that English whisky is on the rise and gaining proper recognition. And backed by the financial power of the Adnams brewery, with a history of awards for its spirit already established, this is one distillery I feel certain will survive and thrive.

It struck me that this was the first time I’ve ever visited a place which makes whisky, but at which whisky making is not the primary concern. It’s still early days yet for Adnams whisky, and whilst they have clearly found success and rhythm with their gin and vodka, I think their malt will continue to evolve and improve from its already impressive beginnings. It’s a stunningly exciting distillery – I can’t get over those amazing stills! – and as they experiment with cuts and casks and maturation periods I think we’re going to see some equally exciting whiskies.

It did occur to me on tasting it that here was one unpeated malt that might be absolutely smashing with a seam of smoke to tame and balance some of the louder flavours and add an extra dimension – and I don’t say that very often. That being said, their whisky is already very decent – better than many, and far better than the reviews on Master of Malt would suggest. (Seemingly written mostly by people prejudiced against anything which isn’t Scotch.) Whatever they do, I will be excited to try it, and I’m longing for a taste of their Triple Grain, which sadly didn’t feature in Johnny’s prodigious line-up!        

Oh, and by the way – a traditional beer brewery which is also a distillery and from which Sutton Hoo is a short drive away. Dad, Neville, Justin – my answer is yes. Just let me know when suits you!

Cheers!