Are You Tasting the Pith? - 20th February 05
OK, that's two weeks on the trot that this column has been about whisky rather than it's base progenitor (beer), but please indulge me, as I have a couple of treats for you, and it was my birthday yesterday.
As you will know by now, I am a lover of "bling" whisky. You may also recall that when I reviewed Iain Banks "Raw Spirit", I commented that should I ever come across his champion whisky, I was so convinced by the book that I would buy it without thinking twice. And lo, it came to pass that languishing in the surprisingly well-stocked drinks department of Binns of Doncaster, there was a bottle of Glenfiddich 21yr Old Gran Reserva Cuban Rum Finish (40% abv). I paused and debated buying it for all of, oooh, half a second, and then, after a heart-stopping search of the stock room returned several false negatives, it was mine.
Now then, I don't care who you are, £60 is a lot of money to pay for a bottle of anything, and some might say that spending that sort of sum on a whisky you've never tried is bordering on the spendthrift. All I can say to these accusations is "nyah nyah, I've got a bottle of Glenfiddich 21yr Old Gran Reserva Cuban Rum Finish and you haven't", and believe me, if you could taste this sublime nectar, you would feel this devastatingly witty retort cutting twice as deep.
The aroma reminds me of a mystery triple-distilled calvados that was brought back from France for a friends christmas present. I say mystery because we've been unable to locate any more, and all enquiries about triple-distilled calvados on a recent return visit to France were met with a clasiic Gallic shrug and a "Le Calva, c'est double distillé - triple distillé n'est pas Calvados". Whatever. It was smooth, refined and fruity, as is the tiny dram of Glenfiddich in front of me. The nose has an immediate hit of marzipanny nuttiness, with bags of underlying tropical fruit - mango, papaya, overripe apple - and a noticeable creaminess that reminds one of something unctuous that one might dollop on a christmas pudding. The palate is assertive, with an initial slight sweetness blossoming into a complex dry palate - more fruit, touches of vanilla, toffee, caramel, the faintest hint of peatsmoke - and a long fading finish where, finally, hints of the rum cask become apparent. Is it worth £60? I can't tell, but it is very good.
To preface this with "from the sublime to the ridiculous" would be frightfully unkind to Asda's own-label Islay Malt (40% abv), but it hovers large over the comparison regardless. There's an immediate and characteristic peat reek [peat smoke] aroma, plus a slightly nutty vanilla note - perhaps marzipan again, but much less sweet-smelling - and a classic phenolic, medicinal, TCP note that Islay malts are famed for, plus a sligh thint of a cask finish. It's quite a 'robust' dram (as the makers of Talisker decribe their whisky), salty and pungent in the mouth, with a bit of an afterburn, although nothing unpleasant. To be honest, I can't imagine any fans of Islay malt disliking this, and at less than £14, you could buy a bottle on spec and make cocktails with it if you don't enjoy it.
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