It’s that time of year again - the weather has given up the pretence of caring, the trees are shedding their leaves like a sinking ship sheds ballast, and the sun can’t summon the energy to stay in the sky for longer than is absolutely necessary. Thankfully all is not lost as Diageo are about to release their much anticipated Special Releases Range.
Diageo is a multi-national drinks company that owns twenty-eight working distilleries and the remaining stock of a number of closed ones, and every year they release a selection of limited releases from some of these distilleries.
With such a large portfolio to draw from these whiskies tend to be the cream of the crop and get us whisky geeks slathering at their merest mention [go on, find a whisky geek and mention it, watch it slather…].
So this evening we all trooped to London to taste these high-demand whiskies in the warm and, more importantly, dry confines of The Deck at the National Theatre. Last time I was in this theatre I watched Benedict Cumberbatch (that guy off of Sherlock) prance around the stage as Frankenstein’s monster with nothing but his self-esteem to cover his modesty. This time I came armed with a notebook and pen - ready to record my experience of facing this enormous tackle of whisky.
Those of you who’ve been paying attention may remember that back in February of this year, we ran a little competition – the purpose of which was to get you lot to guess the ingredients in a yummy new cocktail we’d invented. The winner of this competition then went on to name the cocktail (I won’t reveal it, as it’s going to be launched in full 70cl glory at some time in the next month or so).
In order to facilitate this competition, we made samples of the cocktail available in cute little 20cl versions of the standard bottle used for The Handmade Cocktail Company’s wares.
The more observant amongst you may remember that the little 20cl bottle was labelled as part of the ‘experimental series’? Well – today we’re revealing the purpose behind that ‘experimental’ moniker.
So. Our in-house genius / inventor / mentalist – Professor Cornelius Ampleforth – has once again found time to ‘dick about’ with botanicals, and the new and exciting rotary evaporation still he was bought for Christmas.
This time – he’s set his sights on Absinthe – perhaps one of the most misunderstood and unfairly maligned spirits in the world. Sit down children, and I shall tell you a story about times past.
Absinthe takes its name from the plant which forms the core of its botanical ingredients – Artemisia Absinthium (‘Wormwood’ to you and me). In the early part of the 20th Century, many countries around the world banned Absinthe as it was thought that the Wormwood contained therein caused a frankly marvellous range of symptoms and disorders. From Epilepsy to Tuberculosis, but most prominently and famously – ‘Madness’. More...
You remember our friends from Caskstrength.net? Bespectacled, dapper sort of chaps? They’re into whisky and Alan Partridge, do some events…?
Anyway, they’ve gone and teamed up with BenRiach to put together one of them there special bottlings, they have. And between you and me, it is a delight. Not just because it comes with a rockin’ cotton tote bag (well, only the first 50 bottles, mind you), not just because it has a pink label (I am a sucker for pink) [ed: don't you mean red?], and not just because it spent four years in a PX cask (I am a major sucker for PX). It is delightful because it was hand-selected by Joel and Neil themselves, only 296 bottles are to be released, and you can only buy it from us. What an expression of a beautiful friendship…or, marriage? More...
So – Summer’s here. Sort of. From time-to-time. When it’s not flooding or what-have-you.
With this in mind, Professor Cornelius Ampleforth has turned his attention to perhaps the most quintessentially British drink that there is – the Summer Fruit Cup.
Now – it’s worth noting that there are several other cups on the market, from the Ubiquitous Pimm’s, through several distillers’ own recipes (Chase is rather good – coming soon – watch this space) to the really rather excellent Sipsmith. There was one thing that the Professor had deemed to be missing from all of these concoctions though – pure, distilled Madness*. More...
Maple Syrup? Gooood.
Rye-Heavy, 9yo Bourbon? Goooooooood.
This is (at this stage) just a rumour.
But there are rumours, and there are rumours. I’d be inclined to say that I’m probably over 90% that this is happening.
I’ve now heard sufficient rumblings about it to make me comfortable in simply repeating what I can already find online (including a rather marvellous entry from the state of Florida that’s clearly more focused on freedom of information than Ardbeg’s Brand agency).
Have you ever heard the phrase, “It gets better with age”? Well, to this Macallan says, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number” as they announce a new range of single malt Scotch whiskies to replace the well-known Macallan Fine Oak and Macallan Sherry Oak ranges that consumers have come to know. Their intent? To release three no-age statement expressions over the next calendar year.
This is bad news for people who believe age statement indicates quality and justifies price. But it could be great news for people who know that just because a whisky is old doesn’t make it good—or even mature.
Well, he’s been at it again.
We try to rein him in from time to time, but the man just won’t listen. After his last couple of excursions into the world of gin - a Sloe Gin made with half a pound of sloes per bottle, and an Old Tom which I’m reasonably sure he made just because he likes drinking Martinezzes (Martinez? Martinezs? Martiniz?), he’s been at it again with this, a cask-aged offering made using the superb Bathtub Gin as the base.
The Professor has acquired a stock of Octave casks (only 50 litres capacity as opposed to the more usual 250 litre hogshead) which have been previously used to store whisky (and prior to that, either Sherry, or Bourbon) for his newest creation. This means that in comparison to other cask-aged gins, there is a significantly higher surface area to volume ratio (roughly double as I’m sure you’ve all worked out by now). This, in turn, means that the gin will interact with the cask faster, making the 6-months-ish that the gin spends in cask lends a fantastic amount of flavour to the gin.
The casks used to store and mature the Gin are used a maximum of twice, before being retired and used as garden furniture / plant pots / props in a massive game of real-life Donkey Kong I’m planning for the warehouse staff in a couple of weeks. Not the last one. Definitely not that.
We’ve been back for a couple of weeks now and we’re slowly beginning to feel human again after the rigours of our ten days on Islay.
This year’s Feis Ile was quite an experience, from the fabulous food at the Lagavulin dinner to partying with the Balvenie boys, Cask Strength, et al in our very own hot tub.
Since we’ve been back, we’ve also been enjoying the entries to our competition, some of which I have peppered throughout this post.