Sunday, 30 July 2017

Glenallachie, Glenallachie, Glenallachie - "A Heel Calling"

Is exciting the right word? I'm in the shed trying to tap into my emotional state as I ponder three whiskies separated by almost four decades. It will certainly be interesting. I've decided to write about the experience and that adds a certain frisson to the evening. I need to be attentive, I need to find ways of articulating my experience in a way that can both entertain and illuminate (history tells me that I will focus more on entertainment that illumination!).

The whiskies will be different, that's a given, but how different and in what ways? Will I like them?. Well that's almost always a given in that I am both blessed and cursed with a love of nearly all whisky I've ever tasted (with one or two notable exceptions). Will they fall into my favourite category, that of "smiler". You know the feeling, that moment when you lift a glass of whisky to your nose, take in the aromas ..... and you can't stop yourself, a smile insinuates itself into your visage - "it's a smiler of a dram". I'm going to enjoy this!

I'll be straight with you, I've had the 1973 for a few years, it was a smiler when I first opened it and it remains so, even though it's only a few drams short of gone. The other two are newbies.....and that's the key to my emotional state! It's antici........pation. "Anticipation", the lesser, more controlled and measured, less volatile cousin of excitement. And so it is, with high levels of anticipation and my whisky writers hat on, that I stand before these three bottles.

It is purely coincidental that this "review", (one of my very occasional whisky reviews), is released during a time of change at Glenallachie (see below). It will be interesting to monitor (and taste) developments over the next few years.

Pernod Ricard (Paris:RI) announces today the signing of an agreement with Billy Walker, Graham Stevenson and Trisha Savage, comprising The Glenallachie Consortium, for the sale of the Glenallachie Distillery, located in Scotland.
The transaction also includes the Glenallachie single malt brand, MacNair’s and White Heather blended scotch brands, and relevant inventories to support future development of those brands.

Anyway, back to the whiskies. A legitimate question that you might ask relates to the fairness of comparison. How can you possibly compare a 38yo with a 7 or 8 year old dram? In many ways, the question is academic, we can only deal with what's in the glasses in front of us at any time. Perhaps the most scientific way would be a blind tasting with the drams poured into dark glasses to avoid the influence of colour.....but I couldn't be arsed, so here goes.

Hepburn Choice Glenallachie 7yo. 2008 Single cask 301bottles 46%. Refill Hogshead

Nose: upon opening the bottle.....liquorice, fennel, anise... and lots of it. Subtle, faint hints of sulphur....a mustiness permeates. After a few minutes "al fresco", sherry influence begin to seep through.....raisins, dark fruits....a little chocolate perhaps.

Dry with some astringency, spicy (pepper), tobacco notes on the finish....nice

Medium....although the dry, peppery notes do linger somewhat.

It's a pleasant dram that had me a little confused at times, elements that spoke of age mingling with some more youthful "adolescent" kicking and shouting.

Signatory Vintage Glenallachie 1991 8yo Single Cask 902 bots 43%

Nose: Having to work quite hard here. A hint of liquorice/anise but nothing is jumping out at me. The legs are very impressive hinting at something deep and viscous.....but....very little on the nose. Distant hints of apple....maybe.

: Sweet and spirity. Some astringency.... The liquorice fades quickly and is followed by vague hints of vanilla....


Not a great whisky by any stretch, indeed, aside from its interest as a counterpoint to the other Glenallachie's, it's destined for one of my blending decanters.

Malts of Scotland Glenallachie 38yo 1973 Bourbon Hogshead 125 bots 44%

A cornucopia of glorious cliches....and some unusual notes, coconut, papaya, lychee...I could stay with this for a loooooong time.

It's like a comfort blanket woven from the finest thread, sewn with precision, infused with both history and presence. The citrusy tropical notes coat the mouth, there's a little dryness and subtle hints of oak. It's a your face but unassuming! It whispers quality....from the rooftops!

Medium to long.......farewell.

On a difference scale, the MoS dram is vastly different to the 7 & 8yo"s. Is that down to the age difference, well how the hell would I know? I am merely a cipher, a mediator, a translator of my experience of each dram. This is a "smiler" of a dram......truth.

So, it's done, the anticipation has dissipated, the drams drunk, opinions formed (but not set in stone), and reflections forming. My emotional state, mixed. I'm always disappointed when a whisky fails to impress and I was underwhelmed by the Signatory....but the Malts of Scotland bottling more than made up for that! 

As a bit of fun, set up a competition to see who could come up with the most apt anagram of "Glenallachie". There were some great responses (a few listed below)

Legal Lice...nah     @thedramble
Anal Chile Gel       @SpiritAndWood
A Gaelic Hell         @AlpacaJo
Hail Clan Glee       @ChrisPawson
Clean Legal Hi      @iheartwhisky
Call a heel gin       @AlpacaJo
Legal Chin ale       @CoherentGuile
All Hail Gneec       @dvdbloke
Chile Lalange       @pwulf

....but the winner was "A Heel Calling" from Mr Johnnie Stumbler @JohnnieStumbler

Extract from Chapter 14 of "Whisky: A Childhood (notes for my two boys)" (c) Alcock 2017.

.......and in 1973, as Noel Coward breathed his last, an oak cask in Glenallachie was being given the whisky kiss of life. Staves that may have dried, withered and succumbed, were caressed by an earthly spirit and, embracing that same spirit, a marriage was formed that would hold true for the next 38 years

....and in 1973 times were turbulent. The "troubles", a euphemism for the internecine politico/religious warfare between the "British" and the "Irish" (in the shape of the Irish Republican Army, the IRA), expressed itself in the form of bombs in London & Manchester, children attacking army troops, deaths and accusations..... no progress and the promise of more to come. Another war, the "cod" war, was rolling out across the Atlantic as we proudly defended our fishing fleet from those who would "steal our cod".....I kid you not. Rail workers were on strike, civil servants were on strike, and miners were dying in colliery disasters (Lofthouse and Markham).

Spread over the year,  these events had little impact on me, I felt sad at times, angry at times, confused at times, and, on reflection, I can see that as I processed each event, the jigsaw of my sensibilities was being shaped, affirmed, deconstructed, and reshaped, I was changing. Indicators of who I was to become were forming.

....and in 1973 times were, as they always were, punctuated by sporting highs - Ian Porterfield's goal to win the FA Cup against a much fancied Liverpool. A David and Goliath event that (unless you were a Liverpool fan) stirred the soul and provided us with a sense of power, optimism, and hope. Punctuated by new options for travelling, new cars were revealed, the exotic "Austin Allegro". Punctuated by news of Royalty, who surfed the waves of popularity, bestowing on the populous a sense of stability, of trust in higher things, and unconsciously reaffirming our place in the world - Princess Anne married Mark Philips. We were introduced to new forms of eating as Pizza Hut opened their first restaurant.   

....and in 1973....Dark Side of the Moon....was released! That simple , iconic cover that came to mean so much to so many (myself included) hit the streets on the 24th March. I was 14 and continuing to flex my somewhat flimsy, adolescent muscles. I was also still immersed in Catholicism, it encased me like an iron lung, heavy, pressing, restricting my movement, exerting a painful grip on the child as the ever so young man tried to break free. Mum and dad, unbeknown to them, were the ward orderlies, dressing (and addressing) me in the acoutrements of their religion. It had become their religion and not mine, even though I was still wearing it like a hair shirt ..... fuck me, I was still an altar boy!

Now for those of you not familiar with the regimens of religious practices, "altar boy" was not denoting of any super powers, it wasn't the ecclesiastical/adolescent equivalent of Superman or Spider-Man, I was not able to look into people's eyes and see their sins from 100 yards away (now that would be a power!). No, every Sunday I would don the black and white cassock and parade myself in the church as the priest's assistant, self-conscious, increasingly uncomfortable, hoping that there would be no girls that I knew in the congregation, (my emerging sexuality did not sit well with role playing a servant in a dress every Sunday). But there I was, mouthing the words of the mass (still latin at that time), In nĂ³mine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Ae secolor secolorum, Gloria in exelsis....and so on. 

Even now I can remember the rhythmic thrum of the congregation, mouthing phrases that they had mouthed for the last week, year, decade, decades. I can see the familiar, devout, regular church goers, some holding rosary beads, some in a soma like reverie, some ticking off the prayers as if they were unpicking stitches in a wound they had inflicted on themselves, some with the look of browbeaten supplicants, plaintif's at a hearing they have no hope of winning, some wearing the smiles of the beatified, content, grateful, relieved, but in the eyes of the church, they/we/I ....were sinners one and all. My rupture from Catholicism was some way off, and the desire to be free was growing more powerful as each week passed.

...but back to Floyd. My brother Tony, got tickets for us to see them at the Liverpool stadium. In that mid adolescent maelstrom of emotion, seemingly innocuous events elevate to events of dramatic importance, and this was one of them.

.......more to follow.

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