First things first – merry Christmas! Hope you’re all in good spirits and the holidays are treating you well.
So, due to a combination of poor time management and poor health, there have been a few events that I really wanted to write up from the last few months that got left out in the cold. What with this being the end of the year and a time to reflect on things, I thought I’d partway rectify this sin of omission with a little Boxing Day round-up of some cracking booze I had the pleasure of sampling.
First up were the Lakes Distillery, who very kindly invited me along to the Stafford in Mayfair as Autumn was approaching, to learn about what they’re up to. Founded in 2011, The Lakes Distillery are intent on making whisky of the very highest quality without sacrificing accessibility. The products we tried were recognisably influenced by Scotch, but there was an ambition and precision in the end product that bodes well for their future.
Their Whisky Director, Dhavall Gandhi, took us through the philosophy and processes utilised by the distillery and his willingness to discuss what makes them tick was refreshing in an industry that is often happy to lean on notions of Tradition and Craft, whilst not actually giving you any details. The notion of his whiskies having a precise architecture made a lot more sense as you listened to him discuss yeasts, fermentation profiles, the sourcing and specification of barrels and aging, not just over a 5-10 year span, but with an eye towards 2045 and beyond.
Most importantly, their limited edition flagship Whiskymaker’s Reserve single malt series, whilst still young, is already showing great subtlety and depth, and the ease of drinking belies the fact it’s bottled at 60.9%. The astute use of sherry casks gives you the luxurious finish you’d hope for without burying it in tobacco and leather. I was not surprised that the first run of the series sold out in weeks, and am interested to see how its successors develop. As a new distillery, they unsurprisingly also sell blended whiskies – Steel Bonnet (a mix of Scotch and English malt whiskies) and The ONE (which also has some grain whisky in the blend), both of which are excellent. The gin that they produce is also a cracker, dialling in on just a few botanicals and using them to great effect.
Second was The Midleton Very Rare launch in Dublin. Now, as much as I consider myself a jet-setting global citizen of the world, primed and ready to shoot off to parts unknown in search of exciting drinks, I was surprised (and flattered) to see a polite email pop into my inbox asking if I would like to attend the annual launch of the newest iteration of the Midleton Very Rare? Would I be willing to accept a flight to Dublin, let myself be put up in the grand old Shelbourne Hotel and then take a bullet for you by tasting the 2019 release alongside some of its older peers whilst being forced to eat an excellent meal designed to complement the whiskies?
Yes. Yes, I would.
That surprise out of the way, let us talk about the whiskey. Midleton Very Rare is the pinnacle of the multifarious whiskies (including Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast and Green Spot) that emerge from the New Midleton distillery in County Cork and comes out annually, each edition a new blend of whiskies from the distillery’s vaults. A directed tasting of the original 1984 release of the Very Rare, alongside its siblings from 1987, 1997 and 2014 allowed a pleasing sense of context and idea of how the releases develop and vary before we settled into an exquisite meal (fillet of Black Angus hung for a few weeks with a daily spritzing of the Very Rare? Yes, please!) and a try of the 2019 release. Whilst I could happily tell you about the fascinating interplay of orchard fruit, tropical notes, vanilla and so forth, it is probably simpler to say that this is as good an Irish whiskey as I have ever had. To be talked through them by the Master Distiller, Brian Nation, was very much an added bonus. As was the range of cocktails made with different editions of the Very Rare. As was the rest of the excellent meal. As was…
Right, before I drive you all off, the third event that I wanted to discuss was the pop-up collaboration between mezcal educators Sin Gusano and dispensers Pensador. Whilst the recent evening residency at Milk Bar finished on the 21st, there will be more and you should keep an eye out for them. Both parties came together for an experience that was both illuminating and most enjoyable. For one thing, it was a big eye-opener for me, as Mezcal was perhaps the one spirit that I couldn’t get a feel for. I’ve tried a few over the years, and never found that hook to reel me in (a bottle of cheap, nasty tequila drunk as a feckless eighteen year-old definitely hadn’t coloured my perceptions. Oh no).
This was the event to change my mind, with Pensador providing an excellent mezcal from the Miahuatlán region of Southern Oaxaca that worked as a bridge, settling me in, allowing me to enjoy the flavour and mouthfeel, before I stalked out to try some weirder and wilder siblings that Jon, of Sin Gusano, had procured from across the recognised Mezcal-producing areas of Mexico. Everybody involved was deeply knowledgeable, taking you through the selection with care and attention. Even a humble highball was put together with care and attention.
In addition to the well judged tasting flights, they had paired different mezcals with beers from the excellent Anspach & Hobday. The IPA pairing in particular was extraordinary, the hop aromatics leaping out at you like bombs after a sip of the mezcal, creating a delightful virtuous circle of alternate sipping revealing new aspects to both drinks.
Cocktails were also in evidence, and while I slightly wondered if a Margarita, delightful as they are, was the best vessel for such individual spirits, I couldn’t resist the Old Fashioned. This was a good choice, building up on the unique smokey notes that both show kinship with, and stake the distinction, between it and a peated Scotch, as chocolate bitters extended the hinterland of the spirit and gave you a multi-faceted sipper.
As I mentioned, this event was a pre-Christmas deal, but Sin Gusano’s pop-up’s are complimented by structured tastings throughout the year and they also sell rather attractive gift sets, while Pensador mezcal is available to buy at many good locales. So get to it.
Right, I’ve been ignoring my long-suffering wife, so I should go and mix her up something reviving, but before I go – all best wishes for the remainder of 2019 and may 2020 treat you well. Cheers!