Whisky - the great leveller
I have had many great conversations with total strangers about what whisky is in my/their glass - I don't know whether drinking vodka or gin would provide quite the same opportunities for striking up random conversations.
Oh, and by the way, if you haven't yet discovered the joys of the EUVS Vintage Cocktail Book library, you really should! (Assuming you are into cocktails that is. If not, you probably won't find it quite so interesting). They have loads of old, presumably out of print (and copyright), books available to read and download, and not just in English. I particularly like the description of the anglo-american bars in Paris in one of the French books (1927 Petits et Grands Verres). Some of the cover designs and illustrations are fantastic too!
Surprising results? Maybe, when you consider them from the consumer’s (ie, our) point of view. However, when you look at it from the point of view of a self-proclaimed whisky guru trying to shift copies of the 13th Release of his ‘Bible’, it is perhaps a little less surprising. After all, controversy generates publicity (as we have seen today!). And as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Had his Top 5 contained for example; Highland Park 18, Talisker 18, Glenfarclas 21, Springbank 12 Cask Strength and Lagavulin 16 (just plucking some random, good, solid whiskies (in my opinion anyway) out of thin air here!) then would the mainstream media still be writing articles about this book? I would guess not. After all, ‘Scotch Whisky Best in the World’ is not quite as attention grabbing (read, book selling) as ‘Scotch on the Rocks, as Canadian Whisky Crowned Best in the World’.
And anyway, regardless what the results are, the fact remains; this is the opinion of one man. Key word here: opinion. Just because he describes something as the ‘Best Whisk(e)y in the World’ does not mean that it is, or that other people think it is (even though the press seems to think his word is gospel - I think the title of the book goes to everyone’s heads.)
Finally, as far as I am aware, Jim Murray only samples whiskies which have been sent to him for his Bible, so only companies that send him whisky are in with a chance of winning the ‘Best Whisky’ accolade. (When I worked at Springbank and Glenfarclas, his researcher would get in touch asking for samples of anything we’d like tasted. I imagine this is the case for everyone.) Bigger companies probably have a much bigger sample budget than wee ones so therefore are in with a bigger chance of getting the coveted title.
I should point out at this point that I have not tasted Crown Royal Northern Harvest so have no idea whether the accolade is justified or not. I’m almost temped to get myself a bottle to find out, but that would mean they have won darnit!
For some reason our copy of the 4th Edition of Scotch Missed by Brian Townsend arrived some 10 days before the official release date so thought I’d do a wee preview review for anyone out there considering buying it. When I say ‘our’ copy, I really mean my husband’s copy (but what’s his is mine, right?) - he is a total whisky geek and has had this on order for months now. We already have the first edition in the house so I admit I was initially skeptical about why he needed two copies of the same book. Having perused the new 4th Edition over the last couple of days though, I can see why as it is not the same book at all!
I’ll rephrase that. Parts of the book are the same. It is after all a book about Lost Distilleries so once they are closed, there’s not really anything else to add. There are however a number of striking differences between the two editions (I should point out here that I haven’t read the 2nd and 3rd editions, published in 1997 and 2000 respectively, so cannot include them in my comparisons. Don't know why they are missing from our whisky library, Mark must have slipped up somewhere!)
Firstly the design and layout is so much better! (I’m interested in design ok, I like things to be aesthetically pleasing). Divided into geographical sections, the lost distilleries are accompanied by a very eclectic mix of images; old and new photos, bottle shots, old marketing postcards and posters. Most of the distillery entries also have a picture of the old OS map showing the location, which I love. I would love it even more if the maps were zoomed out a bit more so you could situate the distilleries better in comparison to existing roads etc but that’s just me being very picky.
Secondly the content has also been updated. Yes, as I already mentioned, a lot of the content is the same but there is quite a lot of new stuff too - some 30 extra distilleries have been added since the first 1993 edition; from Brora and Port Ellen, two iconic closed distilleries mothballed in the 80s which I would have expected to be included in the first edition but weren't (maybe they were still classed as mothballed rather than lost) to the half dozen mothballed in 1992/1993 and the more recent closures such as Caperdonich and Port Dundas. However there are also a handful of very old (ie closed in the second half of the 1800s) distilleries which have been added and three ‘lost and found’ distilleries which have risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes since the first edition; Annandale, Glengyle and Imperial/Dalmunach. Interestingly over half of the new additions have some connection to Diageo, or UD/SMD/DCL as was, so I would imagine the author has had access to the Diageo archives since the first edition!
My only criticism, and this is me being very picky, is that I would have liked to see more photos from the present day to compare with what was there before. Admittedly this is not very interesting when the buildings have been completely razed to make way for a supermarket or housing scheme but when there are some vestiges, or indeed complete buildings, left of the original distillery it would be interesting to see. A wee photo of the new Annandale, Glengyle and Dalmunach distilleries would have made a nice addition I feel. As would one of Parkmore, which is described as, ‘externally the most perfect survivor of the late 1890s boom in distilleries’, but there is no photo showing how it looks now. (Incidentally, local chat in Dufftown, where I used to live, attributed the closure of Parkmore to problems with the water supply, possibly due to the limestone quarry nearby, but this may just be local gossip). As I say though, this is me being picky, and there are limits to how many photos one can reasonably fit in a book.
All in all, a very enjoyable read, written in an accessible, engaging style. One for the history buffs rather than the casual drinker though. And definitely worth buying even if you already have the first edition!
Inspired by the book, I had a wander round Campbeltown this afternoon and took some photos of our lost distilleries. Some are more recognisably still distilleries than others!
Okay, so admittedly a housing scheme and a supermarket don't make for the most interesting 'lost distillery' photos. Let's try again...
According to my advent calendar (yes, I still get one, my Mum buys me one every year!) there are 12 days to go til Christmas, which made me think of the song 12 Days of Christmas. You know the one, ‘On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me, a partridge in a pear tree, etc etc’.
I also recently read a very funny wee book by John Julius Norwich about the 12 Days of Christmas giving an amusing insight into what the recipient really thinks of the 12 imaginative gifts her true love sends her, accompanied by illustrations by Quentin Blake. I’ve always liked Quentin Blake, ever since reading all the Roald Dahl books as a kid.
Anyway, back to drinks which is the whole point of this post - I thought it would be fun to do a wee Christmas countdown, finding drinks that tie in with each of the 12 days of Christmas. A quick google search showed that I was by no means the first to think of this little ploy so I’m going to try to go for slightly more tenuous connections* rather than the obvious.
So, Day 1 - A Partridge in a Pear Tree…
Well, the pear bit is easy, you could have Kopparberg Pear Cider, or Babycham for that retro vibe (as a bonus it has a Christmassy deer/reindeer type thing on the label) or even a Poire Williams for a little bit more class. But what about the Partridge? At first, I thought, a partridge is a game bird, so is a Grouse… some kind of Grouse and pear concoction maybe? That seemed a bit of a cop out though so after a bit of digging I discovered that the Partridge in a Pear Tree was originally intended as a gift of fertility - partridges being the reproductive equivalent of rabbits in ye olde days, and fruit trees often used in fertility rites, such as wassailing.
Wassailing apparently involved pouring a mixture of cider, honey, spices and pulp from a burst apple around the base of the fruit tree. Hmm, sounds a lot like mulled cider to me so day one is going to be mulled cider, whether you choose to drink it while dancing around a pear tree is entirely up to you!
* Disclaimer: My choice of drink is not a recommendation or an endorsement of said product, it is solely to do with how well I think it ties in with the Day of Christmas in question. If it happens to be palatable, or even very tasty, then so much the better but no guarantees!
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.