The onset of Winter chill thinly veils an excuse to seek out new whiskies, although in all honesty I’d have to be set on fire before considering turning down a wee dram.
A crisp Winter morning and aboard the 90 year old Thames barge ‘Will’, I eye up the coal fire both warily and eagerly. Bacon butty dispensed and absorbed, a select few have been asked to start their day admiring the launch of the Balvenie DCS Compendium, cheekily described by them as a £28k limited edition book that happens to come with five whiskies. As the more astute might’ve guessed, not any old Scotch: a collection of five glorious cask-strength single malts carefully selected to represent the life’s work of malt master David Charles Stewart, and released in five handsome handmade walnut and brass box sets–or ‘chapters’ as they’re calling them–until 2019.
Bacon butty aside, much of what we tasted for that floating high-proof breakfast will have to remain shrouded in secrecy, but I can assure everybody that there are some very exciting drams being released over the next few years. The 37-year-old 1978 Balvenie from refill American oak barrels which we tasted (and the one that I can talk about) from ‘Chapter One’ had an unctuous beeswax palette, light toasty oak and a build up of red fruits: appropriately marking out some characteristics of the distillery’s style, which funnily enough is what Chapter One is all about.
All 45 of the Chapter One box sets have already been sold (although individual bottles are being allocated) so keep eyes peeled for the following chapters: ‘The Influence of Oak’, ‘Secrets of the Stock Model’, ‘Expecting the Unexpected’, and ‘Malt Master’s Indulgence’ respectively.
To continue my whisky-fuelled day, I later popped into a Soho private member’s club, where fifth generation bourbon buddha Campbell Brown was in town. We tasted his old school Old Forester bourbon, which has recently seen a bit of a spruce up and re-launch globally. The classic ’86 proof’ is a full on, sharp shootin’, no-nonsense tipple, ideal for your whiskey highballs and sure to please fans of Woodford Reserve, sharing as it does the same mash bill and distiller.
I’m hoping all goes well for this revived brand, so with any luck we will eventually see the launch of the stunningly bold and complex 100 proof ‘1897 bottled in bond’, and perhaps even the consistently excellent connoisseur’s choice 12-year-old ‘Birthday Bourbon’ reach these shores.
Until then, bring me some whisky please. I’m thirsty.
Julian de Féral is an award-winning bartender-turned international drinks consultant and occasional raconteur.