Monthly Archives: June 2011

In memory of Chloe

One of my closest friends lost his daughter today, in the most tragic, cruel and inconceivable of circumstances.  The shock of it persists and will for some time to come.  I simply don’t have the words to express the grief and sympathy that I feel.  They’ve been crowded out by a deep sense of loss.   This post is in honour of a bright, beautiful, special little girl, who was loved by all who knew her, and who was like family to me.  She will be dearly missed.

Rest in peace Chloe.  It was a privilege to have known you.  You’re gone from us, but you’ll never be forgotten.

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Indian whisky part 1

A while back I pulled out both pistols and let loose at the Indian whisky industry – see Whisky and all.  Today I’m starting off by reloading.  I’m a say-what-you-mean, do-what-you-say kind of person…or at least I try to be.  So I find it intrinsically offensive, nay incensing, that these guys are bottling cheap liquor – much of it made from molasses, unaged, and artificially flavoured – and calling it whisky.

Indian barley

The situation is of course a source of some controversy, for two reasons:

Firstly, this Indian product cannot be sold in the EU (and elsewhere) under the name whisky, despite the vigorous protests of whisky-magnate Vijay Mallya, and others of his ilk.  The basis for their objections seem spurious to me, justified more by their obvious agenda than by any logic.  A name is important.  It is the source of identity, and the means by which we define the world around us.  In a sense names are the foundation of all meaning in the world.  Indian “whisky” is a con-job and an identity theft.

Secondly, foreign whisky imported into India is taxed at astronomical levels, flouting the agreements and the general spirit of the World Trade Organisation.  Supposedly this has its roots in the cultural attitude towards liquor in India.  Whilst I don’t have enough insight into the subject to convincingly dispute this point of view, I can’t help but wonder.  It sounds like a conveniently nebulous cover story.  India is the largest whisky market in the world, and it’s also the world’s most corrupt democracy – connect the dots.  I’m picturing Indian politicians in upmarket villas…and to add insult to injury they’re certainly not drinking Bagpiper.

There’s little incentive to make genuine, quality whisky in this market, given that one would be competing in the same arena as opposition with a significant cost advantage, and yet the talk of the whisky town for the last year has been none other than an Indian whisky (note no inverted commas).  So much for preconceived notions then.  This whisky has been garnering awards and plaudits from the four corners, such is its merit.  It is so far removed from its cousins that it’s insulting to imply any familial relationship whatsoever.  They may share geographical origins but that’s where the similarities end.

The distillery is Amrut, and the whisky is Amrut Fusion.  It’s a glimpse into the future.  I managed to get hold of a bottle and before I could blink half of it was gone, my guests (Indian whisky?!?) making light work of their scepticism.

Surf over to WoW tomorrow for my review of Amrut Fusion.

Fireside chat with Highland Park

One of my most picture perfect whisky memories dates to some 10 years ago. The setting was Shamwari at sunset, the awe of bushveld at its most inspiring. I wish I could claim to be a regular visitor to this magnificent game reserve, but alas my sheckles are too few in number, and my distribution thereof too retrained. I was there on the company dime, and alert to the knowledge that I might not be returning in a hurry, so I was particularly intent on savouring the experience. We had finished a game drive, and had stopped in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere, surrounded by big sky, bush to the horizons, the quiet noise of the wild, and the biting cold of the veld at evening. I sipped on a dram of Chivas next to a roaring fire, contemplated Africa, and wondered if this was how Livingstone must have felt. Ok, admittedly the adjacent Land Rovers and the proximity of a 5-star lodge probably separated our perspectives somewhat. Some may also contend that the Eastern Cape hardly qualifies – can an area so close to Slummies really be considered to be genuine African bushveld? But still, the moment felt huge, and the whisky tasted sweeter than ever.

Shamwari sunset

I’m reminded of it whenever I enjoy a whisky by the fire, which is a bit of a stretch I grant you, but that’s just how the mind works…well mine anyhow. Recently, on a glacial peninsula evening, having put my fireplace to good use, I decided to unleash a bottle of Highland Park 12yo. This wasn’t done lightly, not because it’s expensive or rare, but rather because it’s a whisky that deserves to be shown respect. In my opinion it should only be drunk in the right setting, and if you’re in the right frame of mind – unrushed, relaxed – to appreciate it fully, otherwise it would be a waste. I sat myself down, the toasty glow of the fire at my back and the spirit of the bush in my heart, and I put the golden liquid to my lips.

HP next to the fire - a winning combination

I should declare at this point that I’m a big fan of the Edrington Group, owners of Highland Park and also of Macallan and Famous Grouse. I like their whisky making ethic – I’m particularly partial to a strong sherry wood influence and these guys are the doyens of sherried whisky. I also fondly remember tasting Highland Park for the first time with good friends in London some 5 years ago, so the brand has a certain sentimental value for me. My review as a result may be somewhat emotive, and so it should be I think. Whisky is beyond the purely clinical.

Highland Park is a bit of an iconic brand of whisky, holding the somewhat romantic status of being the northern-most distillery in Scotland. It is located on the Orkney Islands, and the local peat has a pronounced influence on the flavour of this whisky. I’ve mentioned before that whilst I can appreciate an Islay malt I’m not peat-freak. The gentler, honeyed smoke of the Orkney variety as evidenced in Highland Park is more to my taste. Intermingled with the smoke are elements of wispy heather, oaky malt, sweet honey, and, whilst I believe recent bottlings have been upweighted with American wood, a prevailing dense, dried fruit, sherry presence nonetheless. These elements are all beautifully balanced – picture identical twins on a see-saw, one giving way to the other but returning in between to a perfect equilibrium (btw, for best effect imagine twins that look like Scarlett Johanssen, that’s what I’m doing).

I don’t believe in quantitative ratings, and I’ll never make claim to a “favourite” whisky, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out, nay emphasise, that this is one damned good whisky. As Jim Morrisson said (sort of) – get some and it’ll do the rest.

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

I had an eventful last week dealing with the Bell’s Father’s Day promotion – see The return of WHISKYdotcoza.  We’ve now dispatched the bulk of the orders, so hopefully there’ll be a host of happy customers dramming Bell’s Special Reserve from personalised tumblers in the very near future.

Despite all this activity, I managed to work in a few tastings.  No matter how busy you are you can and should always find time to chill out with a friendly whisky.  It’s good for the soul.

On Saturday I went to my brother’s place for dinner, and, true to form, we ate late.  He and his wife like to partake of some extended kuiering and slowly ease into their evening meals…take a long-limbed, ambling fast bowler’s run-up to the crease if you will.  Their inclinations in this regard gave me ample opportunity to settle in with a few unrushed whiskies.  I opted to start with Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, with which I was unacquainted.  In fact – North American whiskeys aside – I’m unfamiliar with single grain whisky as a style, so it was a pleasant surprise to have one at hand to sample.  The brand is named after the mind-numbingly spectacular Bain’s Kloof Pass, built, quite fittingly for the subject of this post, by a Scottish settler.

The pass from above

I’ve driven through it on several occasions and it ranks in my opinion as one of the most epic stretches of road in the country.  So the name is a winner, conjuring up the right frame of mind to relax, sip whisky, and unleash one’s imagination.  Onward then.  This is an easy drinking, immediately accessible whisky.  I’d suggest that it would be an ideal introduction to whisky for the novice drinker.  My brother felt that it had more in common with bourbon than scotch, and I wouldn’t disagree.  The verbage on the pack talks about double maturation in first-fill, otherwise unspecified oak casks, but it tastes as if it was aged in virgin wood.  Its overwhelming impression is one of sweetness, a touch cloying but not unpleasant, with notes of vanilla, toffee, and very ripe fruit – apricot and maybe a bit of guava on the palate.   Strikingly, it lavishes you with a great full, thick mouthfeel.  All considered this is a commendable effort by the local industry.  Let’s hope we forge ahead with more challenging, more complex offers in the future.

South African single grain whisky