Friday, 18 July 2014

Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast

What a trip....a whirlwind of planes, distilleries, dinners, drams, distinguished whisky folk, a little learning, occasional moments of spiritual peace, a missed flight, lost car keys.....and a tun of fun! The occasion was a press trip  for a few lucky whisky press/blog passionistas (organised by Quercus communications), we were to be given an insight into the forthcoming Dewar's launch of a range of  single malts from MacDuff, Aultmore, Royal Brackla, Craigallachie, and Aberfeldy. Two days, five distilleries, one night in Craigallachie, one night in Edinburgh, one set of great memories added to the file marked "whisky tales of the unexpected".

The stories of the distilleries and the forthcoming releases will, I'm sure, percolate through the Twittersphere, Blogscape, & Facebook fauna over the next few weeks, building to a crescendo in August when the new releases begin to orbit the whisky world. Of the new releases very little can be said at present suffice to say that there is a lot to take in, a lot of variety, quality, and innovation. My musings, as those who know me will know, tend to focus on the experience of whisky. In the case of this blog post, some of the lovely, endearing, human stories that are an inevitable consequence of dipping a group of enthusiasts into the object of their affections, swirling them round.....and then adding more than a glencairn  of hospitality.

For the purpose of this piece, the names of some of the individuals have been replaced with psuedonyms to protect both their professional status....and their dignity. It must be noted that I write with a genuine respect for, and appreciation of their friendship....I hope it stays that way, for they will know who they are! There are those whose names can, and should be mentioned in all their glory, namely, Stephen Marshall (Global Marketing Manager for Dewars), Charles MacLean (sage of the whisky world, all round good guy, hero to many.....smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!) and the all seeing über host, Marcin Miller (smoke me another kipper)

Day 1:  MacDuff, Aultmore & Royal Brackla


A small but ample coach (a coachette if you will) transported us through the lush scenery, the hills, alonside rivers and then on the coast road to the sea, first stop - MacDuff distillery.




Our first drams of the day on the banks of the Deveron and for me a first - seeing an otter in the wild (it tasted a bit like chicken). It was to be a trip with many exciting "firsts" Our primary host, Stephen, is by this time, beginning to assert his "quirky" enthusiasm and undoubted depth of knowledge, there's that passion, infectious, stimulating, good to be around, Charles is waltzing us through some of the sumptuous whiskies on offer (I say "waltz" but, due to the demands of the schedule, it was more of a delightful quickstep.....and then, in a whisky minute, on to Aultmore, away from the sea, through the hills, over the rivers. Despite my relatively meagre experiences of Scotland, the roads have a warming familiarity to them. 





At Aultmore, a selection of drams, some of the releases to come (not all of which are at their final state), a short, interesting presentation ......and on to The Highlander Inn in Craigallachie, through the hills, over rivers, past distilleries present and those long departed. A hearty lunch in what can only be described as a Whisky "sweetie shop" - (substitute GlenFarclas Family casks for mint humbugs, Mars Maltage 3+25 for sherbet flying saucers, Aberfeldy 21yo for mojos...you get the picture...a cornucopia of drammage!). We then move on to Royal Brackla, for me the most picturesque of the three distilleries. Whilst the stills were cool to the touch, quiet, due to the "silent season" (the annual maintenance shutdown), the music of whisky production past permeated the air, both rhythm and stillness existing at the same time, it felt like a "behind the scenes" excursion, which in many ways it was. All of the group I spoke to were, to put it simply, smitten by the surroundings.







Back to Craigallachie, check in, and half an hour later, a pre-dinner tasting led by Charles MacLean, a doyenne, raconteur, all round top bloke, willing to share, willing to listen, generally good fun to be around. Food, drink, conversation, drink, and for me, bed at a relatively civilised 12.30. One hell of a day....

Day 2: Craigallachie & Aberfeldy


...and in the morning, an early rise (06.50) and down to breakfast for 08.00. A couple of phonecalls to fellow travellers to politely enquire of their time of breaking fast is met with some "terse", pillow bitten, hoarse throated, and to be honest, objectionable language requesting that I frequent some faraway place. So breakfast alone save for one of our company with whom I have a wonderful early morning chat, picking apart the events of the night before, and anticipating the delights to come. 


The Snapper: I want to take a few photos - the Spey, the Iron bridge, the early morning sunshine, the clear, bronzed flowing river, the sputter, spit and lick of water over stone and under bridge, the half laugh, hyena heckled call of oyster catchers frenzying about their familial duties.




I want to share the experience, and who better to share with than my friend, who I shall call " the snapper". I hasten back to the hotel but he is nowhere to be found, a few guests have materialised in the breakfast room, one of whom is also looking for him. Another cup of tea on the patio in the early morning mid-summer sun - a quintessential Speyside tableau (well it would have been if you'd substituted a dram for the tea). 



I re-enter the hotel and there he is, flumbling down the stairs - a ghost within a ghost, a man both distant and present, he recognises me but doesn't seem to know what comes next....as I approach he seems both relieved and fearful at the same time. His demeanour smacks of someone who has had, to put it mildly, a somewhat heavy night. His hair is telling a story, every follicle narrating the events of the evening/early morning, refusing to shut up, refusing to stay in place, wafting like anorexic kelp in some unseen breakfast bar current.  The face muscles are relying on memory to effect the bare minimum of expression, all masked behind a hapless but totally endearing smile and eyes that were pleading, penitent, begging for answers to the question "What the fuck happened last night?"......and possibly "Who am I?"

I am moved to care for him, to ease his troubled brow, to be the nanny that he hasn't seen for many a year....but he has other ideas. Apparently, he'd seen some quality drammage on sale at Costcutter in Dufftown and had arranged a bone jolting, knee jarring, head rolling, jeep ride to pick up a few bottles before our next distillery visit, oh the pain of that journey but so sweet the reward...such dedication, wars have been won on less. Time moves on and we've got more distilleries to visit. Onward and dramward, we walk the short distance to Craigallachie distillery. Another short, interesting experience of a distillery not often frequented by visitors.

From Craigallachie we board the dramsporter and hit the wode to Aberfeldy.....

Wordplay on the wode to Aberfeldy: Squrabble (portmanteau - Squabble + Scrabble)


 A throw away comment to a fellow traveller - 
"What App is that Jon?
"It's scrabble Dave, do you want a game?
"yeah I'd love to mate
......a voice from the row behind.... "Can we play?
......and then from the seat in front..... "Can I play too?
.....the scene is set.

Opening gambits: We are throwing away words with an extravagance that shouted "I'm not competitive, I just enjoy the game", "look at us having fun" and "watch us play". The carefree ease of play is revealed in some of the less ambitious words being produced. The first few rounds continue in that vein, a hastily mixed cocktail of bonhomie and largesse.....however, you can learn a lot about people from the way they engage with "games" and this was no exception. 

The middle game: As the words drift inexorably into "triple word" territory there is a subtle shift in tone. Gradually, the time taken to make a move increases, there are the occasional mutterings, and the humming of the Countdown theme tune is heard once or twice....players are now concentrating...and there it is, that little pulse on the temple, ba bum, ba bum, ba bum; the superficial temporal artery - now that's a baby that doesn't lie....ba bum, ba bum, ba bum.... I can see it glistening under the rivulet of scrabble sweat emanating from just under the hairline, running along the furrowed brow and down the left cheek, pulsing out a morse code message that translates as "fuck me, I've got six vowels!" The emergence of the "scrabble nerd" is imminent....and there it is, the two-letter word that only scrabble nerds know, "Za" (I've got six vowels and a zed...screw you!"). Two rounds later and there's another one, "Qi"...but there are limits to what the scrabble nerd can achieve and in this case, a momentary flaring of pyrotechnic scrabble genius, is quickly replaced by frustration and the submission of mundane wordage.

 
The end game: Energy wanes, there are players who know they cannot now win and they are going through the motions. There is a re-emergence of the opening gambit nonchalance but the mood is different...".let it end.....for God's sake let it be over" They abandon any sense of tactics and open the game up, providing easy access to triple word opportunities for those who's turn follows theirs. The end is quick, decisive; heralded by the unexpected cry of "we've won!"......but how can that be? I still have letters left. In the Scrabble world of my youth the game continued until everyone had used as many of their letters as they could, I had been saving an "s" and and "ed" for the scrabble equivalent of a coup de grace, but what had been a posssible famous victory had turned into seppuku (or Harakiri) as I fell onto my letters, a broken man, defeated, bitter, resentful, angry, malevolent, lusting for vengeance, raging against the dying of the game........well actually, none of that, I was a little surprised, a little relieved, happy for the victors, and sufficiently regrouped to focus on the next distillery.


Aberfeldy - in terms of the environment, the most visitor friendly of the five distilleries. A newly refurbished visitor centre, a small cinema/theatre, interactive this and that's, a jovial hogshead of knowledgeable staff, a benevolent sun still beating down, a short stroll to the water source.... and another tasting. 




We've now finished our tour of the distilleries. The experience has been exhilarating, the company an utter blast, and the whiskies delightful. There are some really stand out drams on the horizon. What's more, I was particularly impressed with the commitment to "age statement whiskies". I've deliberately not entered the "which tastes better" debate, for me it's an absolute non-starter - whisky is the most egalitarian of spirits - if you like what you're tasting then who's to say you're wrong? No, for me, the mileage lies in exposing marketing bollocks such as "the tyranny of the age statement" for what it actually is.   





We leave Aberfeldy with a bottle each of hand fill single cask lusciousness, enjoying the moment, rain threatens and then retreats. One of our merry band is gently persuaded to open a "spare" bottle (destined for a festival in the not too distant future)...after a moment's hesitation she acquiesces and bonhomie once again asserts itself within the coachette. 





Roll mop: Like the wonderful drams we were experiencing, conversations ebbed and flowed, obscure connections appeared to weave themselves seamlessly into a coherent tartan thread. I dismiss a comment about there being snow on the hills (in July!) as being fanciful, only to realise that it was indeed an accurate observation. If ignorance is bliss then I must be the most euphoric of individuals. The geology of Scotland, the history of the distilleries we passed, the value of whisky, the impact of independence, the "characters" of the whisky world were all picked over (in a lighthearted way).

The conversation turned to focus to our place of destination for the evening - Edinburgh. With the mighty splendour of the Fourth Bridge to our left, and a semi static line of lorries & cars in front of us, mutterings of traffic chaos ensued. But the bridge!


What a bridge! All splayed steel teeth and girth, spearing the North Sea like some outlandish meccano zip, fashioned into wrought beauty, gripping both sky and sea. A series of Andy Warhol lip-like sofas pouting at nature.  From certain angles there's even a Tartanesque quality to the spans, uprights, the general weft of the metal. 

It was as we crawled along the A90 that one of our group, let's call him "roll mop" (for culinary reasons that can't be revealed in this blog), began to wax lyrical about Edinburgh's new tram system. His enthusiasm was self evident, despite the demands of the day and the general air of tiredness within the group, his movements were animated, his voice shifted up a semi-tone, his breathing became shallow as he tried to eject words in an increasingly agitated attempt to infect his audience with his tram passion. It suddenly occurred to me....could it be that Roll mop was.....a tramsexual? 

Now I'm aware that the love of a long, thin, metal tube that squirts passengers out from time to time might simply be a reflection of one mans love of transport machinery........however, just as Santa squeezing down a thin chimney before emptying his sack over the floor could well be indicative of a love of Christmas, there may be more to it than meets the eye. This was an elephant in the coachette that couldn't be ignored....I felt compelled to ask the question! I also felt that the supportive environment, the presence of friends, an air of liberality & laissez faire might encourage Roll mop to "out" himself, to release the pent up frustrations of decades of secrecy and shame, to allow him to wax lyrical about his love of the street-car, his desire for girder rail, and his titillation at all things "tram".

"Are you a tramsexual?"....pregnant pause...
"No"

....and that was that. Or so I thought. After the briefest of moments came the retort...."Are you a dramsexual?". This was indeed an unexpected turn within the conversation, and one that I have since ruminated on from time to time. The answer to the question.....well that's another story.

It was a truly wonderful two days. When the new Dewar's expressions hit the streets they will, no doubt, cause quite a stir. I'm looking forward to trying them again as a fleeting embrace was simply not enough. 

When I use the word "privilege" I do so with an understanding of all that the word means. It was a privilege to spend time with fellow passionistas in surroundings that were/are majestic, uplifting, serene, tasting whiskies that told stories of the past and provided hints at what the future might hold, developing deeper understandings of whisky production and the people who make it happen, making connections, unearthing passions that had lain dormant for some time, and adding an indelible stamp into the memory bank.....thanks one and all.

As for the "smoke me a kipper" reference - 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sZsTzNmrlE



Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New element on the periodic table - Distillerine

When was the last time a new element was discovered? Once in a lifetime you might think....and you'd be right! Well let me tell you, it was Constipanium (1904) (...just after 7.00 o'clock). The Blue Plaque location marks the spot in the lavatories of the The Swollen Orchid pub in Nempnett Thrubwell, where the transsexual oboe player cum scientist, "Gorgeous B Me" first discovered that bad boy! But now (drum roll....), there's another nasal hair in the washback of life - Distillerine!


Origins of this discovery are somewhat vague -the bi-product of a smoked kipper incident, the "cured" effluvia extracted from the remains of heartbroken otters, and rumour has even mentioned the possibility of espionage. Indeed, the body of a recently sacked NAS phobic Greek whisky-ant, Diageones Lickalotopuss, was linked to the robbery of some secret things from a big house. There you have it! 


When you realise the powers of distillerine you won't care where it came from. So, what can it do for you.




Distillerine: Applications?


One drop (administered sub-lingually): You will be able to distinguish between single malts and blends simply by looking at a photograph (inc black & white photos). Dosage effect - approximately 20 minutes.

Two drops (administered sub-lingually): You can nose whiskies through the bottle, identifying the region, without the inconvenience of having to open said bottle. You may also be able to sense the mood of the distiller at the time of bottling. Dosage effect - 45 minutes.

A dram of distillerine (administered orally): You can now identify the distillery, the date of distillation, the abv, and the name of the lazy bastard on the bottling line who just isn't pulling his/her weight! Dosage effect - 2 hours

Please note, you may suffer one of the side effects at this point: When drinking whisky with others present, you will find it difficult  not to start many of your sentences with the phrase "I'm getting....." (e.g. I'm getting hints of tar and cherimoya that have fallen through the crack of a navvy's arse)

A 20cl syringe (administered rectally): You are now entering distillerine heaven! You can now identify distillery, cask, age, abv, bottling date, bottler, a complete set of obscure tropical fruits to be used in tasting notes, 47 shades of straw, the name of the dray man's horse, the length of finish (down to 0.0023 of a second), the meaning of the word "gulfur" (the gap between being an "expert" and being someone who drinks whisky "simply because it's nice"), and the glazed look in your friends eyes as you bang on yet again about the joys of whisky. Dosage effect - 6 hours and 17 minutes.

The evidence: In a blind tasting of 407 whiskies, after taking just a few drops of distillerine, Albert Donne, who lost his taste buds in a Wheel of Death incident at an old people's home in Chigwell, correctly identified all but one of the 407 drams". The incorrectly identified dram was later found to have been a sample from a rogue bottle taken from a fellow resident (it looked like a bourbon cask but had urinesque notes...shame). There you have it!

The news has already shaken and stirred the whisky community. World renowned "dram whisperer" Jimmy-Dom Murrow, speaking from his Spanish mountain home in deepest Alavadramma, said "the banjo is a beautiful instrument .... This could be the end of life as I know it..... The dark arts of the whisky wizards will be exposed? We must ban this immediately."


Distillerine - For even in a blind tasting, you shall see!







Friday, 20 December 2013

A Christmas reflection on whisky, family and memories.

To be fair I was at a low ebb, the last 12 months had been toxic to say the least. Much like the proverbial bus, three had come along in quick succession. In this case the three just happened to be deaths of family members. Firstly, my mum after a short but painful six week illness, then, a few months later my older and only brother in a road traffic accident, then my dad who at the time of writing was still of this world but with only a few weeks left. He was, as Christopher Hitchen’s put it "living dyingly"...and I was on a train travelling North to visit him after an enjoyable but tiring day in London.


 So, there was this guy on the train; sat opposite me. I'd say he was somewhere between 50 and 60 years old. There's a lot of leeway in there but it's not hugely important. He was bald and, in my experience, that adds a degree of uncertainty to the age question (on reflection, he could have been much older). Grey moustache and goatee, cut fairly short, in fact, it was neatly and methodically trimmed. Overweight, but fell into that category of "big bloke"; some might call it fat but that would be a little unkind. In terms of clothing he was travelling light despite it being early December. Jeans, a fawn jacket (draped loosely over an expensive yet worn leather holdall), and a short sleeved shirt festooned with writing that I couldn't make out initially but, after a while, I realised that it was row upon row of the word "Xmas" in different languages (Noel, Natale, Navidad, Kerstmis and so on). Middle-aged man in designer shirt, a little incongruous maybe, some lingering attempt to hang on to the vestiges of youth, perhaps. Anyway, it was a decent enough shirt. 


 We exchanged a fleeting moment of eye contact before settling into the train journey. Carriage life was as expected; the initial hubbub of passengers firing up software before burrowing down to social media activity, hushed shuffles & adjustments of clothing and settings, the well rehearsed rituals of isolation, insulation from conversational contamination, the positioning of elbows, music listening, the extension of the working day etc. Not for me, I was content to let myself drift off into fantasies of one kind or another, those moments of freedom where it's ok to do nothing, to switch off "mainline" and slide languorously into "downtime"; except, "downtime" had become an elusive sanctuary of late, a faraway country, constantly over the horizon or round some distant corner. Moments of genuine rest and relaxation had shuffled inexorably into some labyrinthine backwater of my memory. It wasn't as if I lacked opportunity to relax, it was simply that, when those moments presented themselves, a dull thump and sharp clatter of unresolved and unprocessed "past" would insinuate itself into my failing head. Over time, and through lack of use, I had forgotten the language of R & R. And so it was, on that December evening, that I sat on the train heading north.


 That was until the gentleman opposite began fumbling inside his leather holdall before producing firstly, a small tulip shaped glass, followed by a bottle of whisky. How did I know it was whisky? Well, although his hands were wrapped around the mid section of the bottle I could make out the letters "isky"...in white on a brownish background (I was certain that it wasn't a bottle of "Frisky" although the thought did amuse me somewhat). From what I could see of the bottle it fitted my experience of what a spirit bottle looked like, I'd had a “pleasure” of whisky in my time, and it didn't take a great leap of the imagination to reach this simple conclusion. But it wasn't the whisky bottle that first caught my attention, it was his hands. I hadn't noticed them when he first inhabited the seat opposite, but now...


 His hands were works of art; they were at the same time beautiful and terrifying. Big, powerful, well defined veins sprang from his wrists, flowing under and around cartilage and calloused knuckle, into fingers, purposeful and deliberate. The knuckles were a gnarled chain of worn peaks. Scuffing and scar tissue hinted at potent visceral experiences past, of manual labour, of heavy contact, of pain endured, of reaction to events rather than well thought through planned responses. The nails on the fingers of his left hand (the hand obscuring most of the wording on the bottle), were broken and bitten, like four worn piston heads locked at the end of his arm. In sharp contrast, the nails on the right hand whispered of quieter, more considered experiences. There was nothing rushed about those nails. Well tended, manicured, and shaped with a precision that did more than simply hint at attention to detail. I couldn't help but feel that the right hand was more of a window into this man, a glimpse into processes that went beyond the merely superficial.


 What had begun as a somewhat tentative exploration of the contents of the holdall had metamorphosed into a confident, assertive, almost dexterous celebration of........something. He handled the whisky bottle in an almost reverential manner, his strong hands at the same time vice-like and agile.  It was clearly something special to him and whilst the bottle was not totally unfamiliar to me, it had elements that were unlike any I'd seen before. There seemed to be facets at various points that served to suck in the carriage light, bend and refract it through the dark, lustrous liquid within. The colour of the whisky shifted with the movement of hand and train; at one moment a flickering gold, then to bronze, through ruby, vermillion, coral before trembling to a mercurial burnished ochre, and then on again...


  His left hand tightened around the body of the bottle, the right slid up the neck and embraced the cork stopper. Two twists of the right hand and the job was done. Just as the bottle had absorbed and then transformed the light, the short muffled pop of cork leaving bottle served to call all of the senses to attention, and then fold them, twist them, massage and gently play with them. That dull, innocuous pop resonated around the carriage paradoxically drowning out the thrub and rattle of the train, drawing attention to the bottle, and then alerting other senses to something extraordinary. In the now hushed carriage, perfumes, aromas, and scents emanated from the unveiled whisky, firstly permeating the somewhat stale carriage air before becoming the singular sovereign essence within that space. It was intoxicating; I could feel the chair supporting my back, my head cushioned on the headrest, my legs, indeed my whole body seemed lighter, my breath slowed and deepened, background noise faded and then disappeared altogether.....my eyes closed.


 Colours, memories, exotic fragrances and earthy aromas intermingled in a random sensory seduction. Faint breezes fashioned fallen fruit carpets on burnished autumn forest floors, bittersweet bucolic spring charms fell like rose petals, sea-breeze sands, rock pool memories and salt water spume upended me in a turbulent, tumbler sea...I was not drowning but waving. 
Yellow, hay baled and supine, sun-kissed in sublime, late summer magnificence. An "old gold" signet ring belonging to a grandfather I never knew. Saffron and brimstone wrapped and bubbled in sweetly spiced braziers, and warmth emanated from embers of Christmas fires past. Red, bronze, copper and carmine collided in sunsets long forgotten, unearthing residual traces of conversations long since spoken. I could hear faint whispers from the mouths of lost loved ones. The accents of my childhood reached out from within like a reassuring caress murmuring "It's OK, you'll be fine" 


 Slowly, the kaleidoscope took on a clearer coherence, became tangible, touchable, understandable. I could feel, touch, and smell the memories......and in that moment, I saw my dad holding my hand......my mum wiping my face with a tissue dampened with her spit.....and my brother laughing and running off with a ball. I wanted to play, eager to escape mum's beneficent ministrations, to experience the unconfined, uninhibited freedom so often the preserve of a loving family....to inhabit that time when freedom and safety coexisted.....but that time had gone, and they were gone, and there were no more of mum's tissues, and there was no more brotherly kickabouts, and there would be no more walking with dad whilst holding his hand. 


I could feel a deep, resonant, and profound swell of sadness forming in the pit of my stomach, slowly leeching its way into my chest, becoming cavernous and gaping as it tried to swallow me, whole and helpless. But before my throat and eyes succumbed, I saw my family once again. It wasn't some beatific vision, some angelic scene viewed through pastel lenses in an exotic paradisiacal location. I was at home, about 10 years old, lying in front of our busy, smoky coal fire, watching our black and white TV. I turned away and looked at each of my family in turn, dad (smoking a cigarette in "his" chair), mum (emerging from the kitchen with a freshly baked mince pie in one hand and my 2 year old sister who was holding a ragged doll, secure in her other arm), my brother (lying just opposite me), and my other sister (sat on settee). My sudden turn caught their attention and as I made eye contact with each one, we exchanged the briefest of smiles (all except my youngest sister who was chattering to her dolly)....and that was all. 

  

I sensed the dull commotion of the carriage returning. I opened my eyes, I was smiling, and I felt a serenity that had long been lost to me. My mum and brother had gone, my dad would soon be gone, but they would always be with me. Death's slick timing had muffled my mum's passing, scratched out my brother in an instant, but had not yet sucked my dad from this world....and there was still time to hold his hand.


 It took me a moment to realise that the gentleman opposite was no longer there. I looked around the carriage but he had gone. I looked at the table, empty but for the tulip shaped glass....half full. 

  

(c) Alcock 2013    

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Surreal Dram no 5


The eminent psychoanalyst Dr Dolittle, caresses the neck of his pet giraffe, Judas, 
& pours himself a flute of Kilchoman.

(c) Alcock 2013



Thursday, 7 November 2013

Twitter photos Oct/Nov 2013







After an exhausting, emotional, enjoyable 4 days in the North East, 

relaxing with some Yellow Sport & some Dobro action - 20.10.13












Ready to go at Mission control #TweedaleWhisky - 16.10.13












Last dram of the evening...with an added soupcon of chocolate. 

Difficult to beat a quality dram of Karuizawa : ) 06.11.13












Dram no3: I'll soon be twanging the Dobro. Competing with next door neighbours cats. 

Fast approaching "couldn't care less" 06.11.13










Totally exhausted. Couldn't make my last appointment of the day. 

Time for 1st dram since last Friday. Earned it! 06.11.13







I'm getting dressed up for tonight's MilroysTT2.

Rubber mask is on as I'll be falling flat on my face 30.10.13





Harvesting my bean seeds for next year! I'm at an age when this is an exciting evening

...more so with some Kavalan. 25.10.2013







The theme for this evening's drams is "whimsy"! Kavalan Solist, Naked Grouse, 

@BalconesWhisky 5th Anniv, Balvenie cask 7983






The opening riff from Aerosmith's 1975 Toys in the Attic 

represents how I'm feeling after my first blast of @BalconesWhisky True Blue. 

Quality. 12.10.2013








Sunrise from the office window after a superb @TWEWhiskyShow. 

I hope I didn't sleep here last night! 07.10.13








The cheeky Darach Ur in the background would be my choice...

but the others are good 05.10.13










Our house is part Victorian museum, part every child's nightmare. 

Things go bump in the night" 12.10.13

Monday, 29 July 2013

Seven Grand: Los Angeles: Part 2 - A garden of earthly delights

Location: Seven Grand 515 W.Seventh St, Second Floor, Los Angeles

Two days later, it's early evening, it's still hot, I'm making my way from my hotel to Seven Grand when I stop for something cold and non-alcoholic...a virtuous start to an unpredictable evening. I people watch near the corner of Seventh & S.Figueroa and I'm confronted by what seem like the LA equivalents of aged extras from "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas" There's a psychotic on every corner, sometimes more than one, playing out surreal tableaux in which each actor tries to describe a different Hieronymous Bosch painting through the power of mime, gutteral utterances, and the exudation of noxious odours. People walk on by, trained not to notice, avoiding eye contact. The number of homeless people could be a reflection of the warmer clime but the florid nature of the behaviours seems to be some kind of testament to a failed health care system. A brief respite and then onward  I'm crossing 7th and Grand when a vagrant shouts "I like your beard white boy". He is smiling, so am I....for very different reasons I suspect.

Out of the heat and into the bar, the feel is the same. A little bit noisier, well, it is Friday. 

Elijah Craig 12yo Cask strength. 
Mama's Little Yella Pils
The mingling of bourbon/rye, ale, & a new city is a heady and intoxicating mix. Elvis blasts out of the Duke Box.....Costello that is (Watching the Detectives & then "Red Shoes"), closely followed by Bowie (not Jim...David). Am I in LA or my childhood boozer, The Blackburne Arms, Warrington, circa 1982? I don't mean that in a disparaging way....it's fucking brilliant. 




It has taken me roughly two minutes to chill out to a fine "cucumber raita, deep blue green sea, alone on the beach, no debt, no work, enough money, nobody knows me, stranger in a strange town" kind of tranquility. The night belongs to me again, I own it. 

"Who's Pedro"  On one of the signs behind the bar informs me that he's the guy to ask if you want to know more about the whisky society
"He's our whisky guru........he's not in tonight." The conversation ends before it even took off. 






I've been here twice so I can use the term "usual" in an appropriate context! I order my usual - Knob Creek Cask strength. There's the usual sub-frenetic hubbub of early evening pool ball banter, cocktail crowd clamour, and "winding down" schemas. Punters wash up to the bar where bar staff act as breakers, serving drinks and watching the drinkers ebb away before returning as the tide rises. The bar staff are warming to their tasks. Swift shimmies and sharp slaps on steel shakers, flick of the wrist sexy swerves and come & get me movements marking the agitation of alcohol & lemon, or cucumber, or strawberry, or whatever the cocktail demands, finishing in the "art of the pour"....it is the ballet of the barman/mixologist.






I meet an accent to my left...an opportunity for conversation presents itself. "That sounds like a Brit accent to me"......the evening takes on a new twist. Pat has lived in LA for a number of years (does that make him an ex-pat?). A brief conversation ensues, the "who are you, what do you do, why are you here, what do you think of LA, what do you miss about England" ice breaking checking out chatter to determine whether its worth investing more time in each other. I like Pat, he's a really nice bloke, articulate, engaging, eager to chat and willing to listen, his is a friendly face in the sea of strangers. He moves off to sit with his friend Tai. A few moments later he pops back and invites me over to join them. New connections are being forged. Tai is equally engaging, funny, interested and interesting, and a thoroughbred American - she knows LA and lives only a few blocks away.  


In drinking with Tai & Pat I suggest we recount one funny story from our respective pasts. The art of storytelling is alive and thriving in boozers around the world and I love listening to people tell quality stories that have significance and meaning for them.  We swap stories which are too long to repeat here but nonetheless, they are very funny, unique, and provide clear evidence of the value of our existence here on this beautiful/shitty planet. For the sake of brevity I'll simply include the "punchline" or "highest point" of each of the three tales without attributing them to either of the story tellers. 


Tale 1: "I just hope they put better padded rims on those Test of strength machines in Thailand!"

Tale 2: "...at this point I realised that not only was I at the wrong airport, but I was in the wrong country!"

Tale 3: "So all the Russian guy kept saying was "I am clean"


In the "rest room" there is a smartly dressed, African-American valet/butler/rest room guy with a smörgåsbord of lavatorial & post-lavatorial attractions (condoms, sweets, tissues, coloured pretty baubles, aftershave). This is new to me and I'm feeling uncomfortable. "Toilet/rest room protocol" is a minefield at best and I am thrown into confusion by this benign urinal confrontation. Do I say anything? If I do say anything, what do I say? What are the rules of engagement? What am I supposed to do? The one thing that I need to do is take a piss (note the American expression; in the UK we "have" a piss, in the US you "take" a piss. The former suggests ownership, the latter suggests theft, I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions). Anyway, even "doing" a piss is proving to be a challenge. It's not so much a case of "bashful bladder syndrome" but more of a case of "I'm trying to piss and there's a shop owner standing no more than 6ft away......syndrome". I wash my hands more thoroughly than I would normally do, it would be impolite not to. I am representing my country in terms of toilet hygiene. Never let it be said that the Brits are deficient in terms of urinary cleanliness. I don’t purchase anything (my level of unease is such that I barely make eye-contact), but my rye largesse is in full flow, I am Lord David of Alcock, I don't have any small change so I give him $5. 





I'm now on "whisky bar" time, where progress through the evening is measured not in terms of the clock but in terms of the shot. The lighting is set to convivial, the background hubbub feels like affirmation, the conversation, nurtured by Craig, Turkey, Grand-dad, Four Roses and Knob, builds in terms of enthusiasm, vigour, scope and sheer imaginative flair. The camaraderie is infectious, this is a transatlantic union of global significance, our discussions could make a difference not just to ourselves but to humankind in general.....and slowly, inevitably, things begin to blur, to merge, to blend, to become opaque, it is time to leave. 


I have the munchies, I need to eat. I purchase a filled bread roll that weighs more than my forearm and weave my way back to the hotel. I wake up at 07.36 in a hotel sheet sea of ham, chicken, cheese and breadcrumbs.





Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Seven Grand: Los Angeles - Part 1: An evening of short sentences


Location: Seven Grand 515 W.Seventh St, Second Floor, Los Angeles



Craftsman 1903 Pale ale

Knob Creek Cask Strength Bourbon 60%




A Black & White film on a small TV top left of bar, no sound, Juke box, “The girl from Ipanema” permeates the room, 20 punters, and two barmen. The sound of pool balls and conversations being struck. The beer...cold, the Creek...deep, sweet chocolate and caramel rye notes meander down my throat...escape, an escape from the oppressive heat, from the tensions that come with being alone in a sprawling city in a foreign country, from the streets punctuated with business bods and downtrods, and from the demands of having to stay focused. The decor whispers English boozer & American bar in equal measure. It's like a big old-fashioned, old English pub "snug" wrapped in speakeasy.




The whiskey list is impressive, they've even got Ardbog in here & it's only been out for three weeks!


Two guys swing alongside & order 2 old fashioned. I've still not dipped my toe into the world of cocktails, maybe one day. A waft of lemon hits me from the dexterously crafted drinks ... maybe one day. I occasionally try to strike up a conversation with the barmen who are very accommodating, but the problem is, once I've uttered my sentence, my musician deafness kicks in and I can't hear their response, so I come across as a muttering, hapless, odd Brit who's not worth spending time with! Enjoy the solitude.

 
I ask the barman what the procedure is regarding tipping. I suppose I want to come across as "all cutesy, folksy, quaint, British tourist" whose politeness screams out "look after me, pour drinks down my neck"! He politely explains that I could open a credit account & tip at the end, or "pay & tip as you go". I opt for the former; it seems cleaner, quicker, & less stressful. Perhaps more importantly, it would allow me to forget how much I might be spending. I reach for my wallet only to find that I've left my credit card in my hotel safe in case I get kidnapped, held hostage, caught in cross-fire, or mugged on the 800 yard route from hotel to bar (the unworldly wise, neurotic tourist screwing with my head). I come across as a muttering, hapless, odd Brit who's not worth spending time with!


This whisky/beer combo is hitting the spot. Physiologically, which spot it's hitting I have no idea...but in the head it feels good. 


"I haven't eaten today so I'll have a pint of lunch.... the O'Hara's  Irish stout", my humour goes unnoticed. I should have added “my good man” to the end of the sentence in order to provide the complete “Lord of the Manor” experience... maybe next time.


O'Hara's Irish Stout (in a Guinness glass)

Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cabernet Wine Barrel. 53%abv *


The phrase "good pour" has entered my mental vocabulary. There are no "measures" in here, it's at the discretion, manual dexterity, and bonhomie of the barman. The Knob Creek was a good pour. The Leviathan was also a good pour. The advantage of a good pour is a longer, more pleasurable experience with a quality drink. The disadvantage occurs when the whiskey presses your "wrong" buttons! For me, the Leviathan was a slow starter of a whiskey that gradually began to impress.


My immediate opinion of the Leviathan is that it is a marriage made in a 7/11 store, a marriage of convenience, an adolescent underachiever. The Cabernet influence is in my face demanding my attention and I don't have the time, there's too much other stuff to take in. Now this doesn't make it a bad whiskey, in my experience there aren't many bad whiskies, there are whiskies that don't meet your requirements at that particular moment, whiskies that don't match your mood, or styles/flavours of whisky that you don't like. There are those that don't work well due to their proximity to the whiskey you've just had, and so on. There are also whiskies that you need to befriend, to spend time with and appreciate at your leisure, I'm thinking that the Leviathan fits into this category. This is definitely not a bad whiskey. (I realise that I normally taste whiskey in the safe confines of my tasting space, I need to get out more! I'm running the risk of becoming a whiskey technician with a limited understanding of the totality of the whiskey experience.)


On my left, I hear a young man explaining to his new girlfriend how there are many different kinds of whiskey...bourbon, rye, Tennessee, Kentucky.. Should I correct him? I think not (this is America and he's probably packing a piece!). I don't need to look at them to know that this is a new relationship. Their conversation fluctuates between "shallow" and "über shallow" and that's absolutely how it should be. I'm sure the whiskey will massage their confidence genes, allowing them to stumble out of the shallows and flirt with "depth" before confronting the big question that has been on their minds from the moment they met.

On my right I hear a Frenchman trying to impress a Japanese woman....the conversation seems to have moved on to how you stuff geese (a "foie gras" moment if you will)! I can't wait to get home and try it out (not). It's also a new relationship........he's now talking about his mother.

A couple of minutes later, two young men (to my left) ask for tequila shots, I think the barman indicates that he doesn't have what they want, and offers them a whisky alternative. They agree, he suggests one or two possible whiskey options, they choose and agree, he double checks their choice, they agree, he comes back and asks them for $86 ...they are shocked, shamefaced, and shit themselves...they disagree...he is polite, he takes the drinks back and brings them two shots of bottom of the range, hang your head in shame, adolescent shot, puke in two hours liquor....they are happy.

It's been a while since I've turned around. 
I've not eaten for 18 hours, I'm jet-lagged, the adrenalin of the day has eaten into my reserves. Focusing on the bar and drink in front of me provides a much needed anchor.  Everything seems stable when I've only got two things to focus on. Fuck me, this Leviathan is starting to taste good, perhaps that's the secret of whiskey drinking...perseverance, it will all taste good in the end.


I'm walking back to the hotel. I'm smiling, LA seems somehow safer. A great bar, top quality whiskies, and great bar staff.

* I can't remember what cask Leviathan I was drinking (I think it was Cask 3). If you get the chance, try it!

(c) Alcock 2013