Forgive the brief departure from regaling you with more tales of derring-do in Morocco – it was just about to get really good too, particularly the part when I became really sick…
While I was away, those fine folk at Bowmore sent me a sample of their Small Batch Reserve to try alongside some chocolate goodies (more of the latter later).
I realise I‘ve been a little slack in my whisky tasting of late. This is partly because I‘ve been stuck in a very pleasurable rut drinking Talikser… lost in resonant memories of Skye and the West Coast while shutting out damp evenings in Mancunia.
The shipment from Bowmore was a welcome distraction then.
The Small Batch is in some ways a curious expression of this famous Islay tipple. For those familiar with more ‘regular’ Bowmores such the 12 year old, Darkest or the simply sublime 18 year old, this lighter dram may come as a disappointment.
Small Batch Reserve is matured in first and second fill ex-bourbon casks. This process imbues the younger spirit with a sweetness and creaminess that cuts quite a contrast to its peat smoked brethren.
In common with many outdoor bloggers, I’m asked to host guest posts for brands. Most of the time, the product is either not relevant, the post not appropriate, or both. I hope you’ll agree that the following piece provided by Islay malt distillery Bowmore is a suitable addition to these pages. Not only does it feature the work of someone I admire, landscape photographer Colin Prior, it also ties in with The Ultimate Adventure, a competition that I hope Northern Walker readers will appreciate.
The prize is a five-day survival and photography trip to Scotland with outdoor survival specialist Ken Hames and Colin. To enter, you need to join Bowmore’s Inner Core (as an Islay whisky nut, I’m a member) where you’ll get updates on new whisky releases and offers.
Having spent some time in and around the Small Isles – the islands of Muck, Eigg, Rum and Canna, I had a growing desire to photograph the Rum Cuillin. I began some planning and identified that April looked like it would be the optimum time for photography on two counts – the position of the sun and for insect activity. I planned two nights in the mountains and it was just a question of waiting for some stable weather and getting onto location.
Eventually, I got the break that I had been waiting for and caught the MacBraynes ferry to Kinloch on Rum. I set off for the summit of Hallival with a rucksack weighing 53lbs where I planned to camp and to photograph Askival at dawn. Progress uphill was slow but steady and I finally reached the summit where the views towards Eigg and the mainland beyond were spectacular. To the north and rising in ramparts to the serrated gabbro ridge, the Skye Cuillin, looked particularly impressive. I pitched my tent just below the summit cairn and turned my attention to dinner – table for one!
The evening passed quickly and as the sky was cloudless. I waited until the stars began to appear, knowing that the total absence of light pollution would enhance the experience. Wow! What a night sky that was – just an infinite black space encrusted with thousands of tiny light sources that sparkled like diamonds. At one point I counted five satellites in the sky at one time. Eventually, I felt my own lights go out and I crawled into my tent.
Some time later, I felt the need for some fresh air and as I unzipped the tent I could see in the beam of my head-torch that the air was filled with birds. I looked at my watch and it was 1.30am and yet these birds were all actively flying around me. Eventually, it dawned on me that these were Manx Shearwaters and what I was witnessing was the courtship rituals of these birds taking place – behind my tent, sitting outside their burrows were four (I assume) females who were being suitably impressed by their potential partner. The spectacle was breathtaking and I realised I had witnessed a special moment. It’s not uncommon whilst in these wild places to have a close encounters with wildlife, which I see as a ‘gift’ that validates the experience of being in a wild place.
OK, let me start with a confession. I should have posted my impressions of this whisky ages ago but it slipped my mind for some reason. I’ve just found my tasting notes scribbled in the back of a notebook that accompanied me on my Hebrides bike trip in… ahem… May. Better late than never, then, and I hope you can trust my memory.
I was keen to try Tobermory when my ferry from the Ardnamurchan reached the town’s port. My only experience of this distillery’s output was Ledaig (pronounced Lead-chig) a few years ago and was surprised that such a pale and, on first impressions, insipid looking whisky could pack such an agreeable peaty punch. The Tobermory 10 is a very different animal: sweeter, but rich nonetheless.
I’ve wanted an excuse to cough up for a bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail since trying this fine whisky on Islay. My recent holiday gave me an excuse and the chance to share it. However, it was not to the taste of my Scottish hosts: the only person who did enjoy it was an ‘incomer’ from Colchester. Go figure!
So what’s different about this expression of an Islay favourite? Old sherry casks give this cask-strength smoky number a sweeter twist. Gratifyingly, it’s also darker than the standard ten-year old, which I always think is far too pale for such a rich taste. Continue reading →
I’m ashamed to admit that I visited the Laphroaig distillery on Islay last year with a hangover. The previous evening we’d bumped into some folk in the pub who were sailing around the Scottish Isles and one became many.
A whisky tasting was the last thing on my mind then, certainly at 10.30 in the morning. Luckily, perhaps, our guide was in a similar boat and sported a pallid expression befitting a young man who’d been at a party for most of the night (he’d hit the hay for a couple of hours before heading to work).
Thought I’d give my unrefined palette a work out with something a bit more straightforward this week.
Hailing from the malt epicentre that is Speyside , the Singleton of Dufftown has always raised an eyebow while perusing the spirit shelves of supermarkets, not least due to its distinctive, hipflask bottle. Connoisseurs sniff at it, dubbing a ‘designer whisky’… all brand and no trousers. Continue reading →
I’ve been very well served so far this festive season with the excellent Jura Prophecy – it serves me now as I write this.
I did receive another rather special whisky, though ( from someone rather special, God bless ‘em). This time, it’s an Islay malt, the rather milder Caol Ila in a selection box: the standard 12 year old, the richer 18 year and the potentially explosive cask strength. Continue reading →