Ardbeg: A Close Reading

I have a confession to make; I love modern Ardbeg. This is not a stance shared by my blogging counterparts, for whom every one of the Islay distillery’s limited editions is a bitter, 1,200-word disappointment. But I’m okay with being the black sheep – or should that be Blaaack sheep? – on this one.

My admiration for the brand is only partially based on its whiskies. Ardbeg, to an extent and degree not seen elsewhere in Scotch whisky, are content creators, their marketeers bent on stoking Reddit and the Malt Reviews of this world. Their central belief is that a following, brand recognition, even brand equity, should all serve brand engagement.

You can look at the brand in a similar way to Star Wars. Ardbeg under Allied Distillers was a bit like the first trilogy from Lucas Film – a cast of characters and a universe are introduced which become hugely meaningful to a passionate (and niche) group. Then Disney/LVMH take over and production gradually goes into overdrive; the universe expands, and schisms emerge. Some old fans stay with the ship while others mutiny; meanwhile, plenty of new disciples join the crew. Crucially, everyone has an opinion on what’s happening, and they want to share it.

A Long Time Ago, On An Island Not So Far Away…

What began as Ardbeg’s coterie of aficionados quickly grew. After the revival in 1997 and the creation of the Committee in 2000, the Ten was re-released and Uigeadail won Jim Murray’s Whisky of the Year. Ardbeg was pulling itself up by its bootstraps. Once the distillery began selling new expressions exclusively to Committee members first, there was a crush of people wanting to be in the club. Every website crash confirmed that the cult was reaching critical mass, the race to acquire bottles becoming another means of radicalisation. For a long time, it didn’t matter what Ardbeg released – if you were really part of the Committee, you had to have it.

One Underwhelming Spin-Off Too Many

This state of frantic FOMO endured until around 2012. I noticed that Galileo had a mixed response. Personally, after Ardbog in 2013 and Auriverdes in 2014, I was beginning to question matters too. A pun as an excuse for a new whisky? An Islay single malt for the football World Cup in Brazil? The liquids failed to convince, too – NAS, with modest cask variation dressed up as something compelling and essential. The hype was as heady as ever, but whisky nerds began to suspect that they were being hoodwinked – and said so.

The brand team could have swithered, but instead they doubled down. After sending ‘whisky’ into space, the marketeers continue to widen the conversation beyond a pair of stills on Islay’s south coast, conscious that there is a whole universe to explore.

Brave New World

Ardbeg are now prolific authors of liquid texts, seizing upon the boldness fostered by the distillery’s resurrection. Weird and wacky are all fine, so long as they stimulate (or provoke) conversation.

Compare the content created for Alligator from 2011 with Scorch in 2021 – it’s effectively the same whisky, only the amphibious reptile of the former has become a fully-fledged, fire-breathing mythical beast in the latter. It is telling that ‘Alligator’ drew on whisky geek arcana (the nickname for a no. 4 char in barrel coopering), while Scorch went full Game of Thrones instead.

Another fascinating pairing would be Lord of the Isles and Arrrrrrrdbeg!. We swivel from a medieval ocean-going fiefdom at 25 years of age, to former manager Mickey Heads dressed up as Long John Silver. Ardbeg have gone from the prim nod of Airigh Nam Beist (2006-08) to the arch wink of Wee Beastie (2020). Tongues are firmly in cheeks now – Ardbeg doesn’t want to be taken too seriously.

The Dark Side?

LVMH understands today’s attention economy and nothing spawns headlines quite like money. In 2022, Ardbeg eschewed whisky-making messaging altogether in favour of cold-eyed commercialism.

From £16m for a cask of Ardbeg 1975 to 1ETH for something called Fon Fhòid, Ardbeg could have malted a lot of barley with the hot air generated by these two stories. What was at stake – and what got whisky nerds particularly cross – was the way in which the value (and values) of Ardbeg could be so comprehensively rationalised.

If you know about gas fees, you can ‘own’ a piece of Ardbeg in a way that has never been possible before. The NFT that accompanied Fon Fhòid represented the brand as a transubstantiated entity – incorruptible, non-perishable, tradeable with zero friction in cyberspace. The gates of the Ardbeg distillery could close again tomorrow, but the brand can live forever on the blockchain (supposedly, if you believe Elon Musk et al).

The Next Phase  

Ardbeg want to be part of modern conversations, the brand reflecting life in a bloated, pathologically distracted, and inane 21st century consumer society. We should all remember that content comes first – Ardbeg know this better than the rest, a Youtuber cosplaying as a Scotch malt whisky distillery. Its frivolous, occasionally venal, but great fun.

Some questions do remain.

  • How expensive will the Ten become if the new wave of Scotch distillers has demonstrated you can charge £45 for a 5YO?
  • What are Thomas Moradpour’s views on imminent ecological collapse?
  • Can I make a request for the next limited release, Dr Bill? Lardbeg: 18YO Ardbeg fat-washed with discarded dripping from the Glasgow Central Blue Lagoon. Comes with a free macaroni pie and a Peloton subscription.

However ambitious and fanciful the liquid texts may become, though, their origins will always be bottles from and bricks on Islay. Ardbeg have only got to where they are by understanding who they were, and where their prestige and allure sprang from. As Ardbeg say in their own graphic novel: “The City of Desires isn’t just clever marketing… this town is built on powerful magic” [emphasis mine].

Comparative Imbibature

Comparative Imbibature #1

Essays Approaching a Deeper Understanding of the Hauf n’ Hauf

How should one approach pairing whisky and beer? What exactly is the Platonic ideal of the Hauf n’ Hauf? Following my most recent experiment, I’m confident I know what it isn’t.

With Glencairn and can empty, and as I veered into the kind of doze a lion might enjoy after a haunch of antelope, a light mane massage and long exposure under the Savannah sun, it occurred to my impaired brain that this wasn’t the effect boilermakers were supposed to have.

Sure, the tradition calls for a softening one-two of spirit and ale, a salve for the aches of a day buried down a mine or the strangling stress of welding things together in a shipyard. But it is important to finish both glasses and still function afterwards.

I suspect very few miners or metalworkers would have drank 10.5% beers alongside their dram although, were they to have done so, I’m sure they’d have handled things better than I did. I can say with confidence, however, that the earliest hauf n’ hauf pioneers almost certainly weren’t in sun-warmed flats, watching ‘F1: Drive to Survive’.

Here I share some learnings discussing the hedonic essence of the boilermaker. I am confident that, should you heed my warnings, you will greatly enhance your enjoyment the next time you liberate a can of something to accompany your whisky.

  • 1. Make sure your ABVs are manageable

With any pairing, experts say you should either contrast or complement. When it comes to the overall alcohol strength of your hauf n’ hauf, and with whisky starting at 40% ABV, frankly you need to be realistic with the brewed component. When I poured a large measure of 49% ABV This is Not a Festival Whisky and opened 330ml of 10.5% beer, I unwittingly mounted one of those mechanical bulls after someone has tinkered with the power supply – it was fun at first but I was soon asking why my legs didn’t work. Going forward, any beer over 6.5% ABV simply won’t be considered for a boilermaker. If the whisky is close to or above 50% ABV, I’m probably not going to be interested in any beer above 4.5%.

  • 2. Establish the dominant partner

If point 1 is about being mindful of the practicalities of consumption, point 2 is all to do with finding focus. Where boilermakers are concerned, in my experience it is never 50:50 and perhaps should not be. It is crucial to understand which drink you want to hold the whip. In my unsuccessful hauf n’ hauf attempt, I put two liquids together that were evenly matched, but the overall experience lacked harmony and freshness. It is vital that the drinker recognises when they have a virtuosic performer and use the accompanying beverage to show them off to best advantage. I wouldn’t expect Eddie Van Halen and Beethoven to duet happily, so why did I do it with the Tempest Barrel 04 Sidecar Imperial Pale Ale and the Compass Box? For the record, the Tempest was delicious but if you have the same bias as me, you’re goal is to enhance the experience of the whisky. The Imperial Pale Ale was simply too heavy going. Rather than being given a series of lay-ups, the whisky was instead locked in a bad-tempered arm wrestle. Soupy beer and oily whisky offered no relief from either side, with both competing for my appreciation and attention. Given its ABV, the Tempest should have been enjoyed solo.

  • 3. The interest of the beer should reduce in inverse proportion to the calibre of the whisky

By way of a development to point 2, it seems clear to me that the ‘posher’/’fancier’ the Scotch, or the more you want to taste it, the more populist the beer needs to be. At the highest levels of prestige, the beer should prostrate itself entirely, acting as the broom to the whisky’s curling stone as it rumbles across your palate. One of my favourite boilermakers is The Spice Tree with Kernel Brown Ale. They are extremely evenly matched in their unshowy but well-honed flavoursomeness with the mashbill of the beer enriching the maltiness of the whisky while the tangy hops balance the baking spice notes of the spirit’s oak character. They are also united in being not exactly cheap, nor easy to find. This works because there is parity in the modest interest pertaining to the beer and the whisky.

If, however, we want to drink something like Talisker 18yo (assuming you can afford to), we need to reduce the processing power demanded by the beer. Perhaps a good craft lager like a Camden Hells or even a not too aggressive sour. By the time you are sipping on a 3-Year-Old Deluxe or a well-aged, limited-edition Springbank, you’re into Asahi levels of brewed restraint. A dram of Brora 1972 Rare Malts served alongside anything other than an arctic-ly frosty Budweiser would be sacrilege.

So how will I be acting upon my insights going forward? I will pay closer attention to the whisky I want to exalt, considering where its limitations might be and what style of beer may help rectify things. Then I’ll try to find a can at a reasonably low ABV by way of a sparring partner. The preferred whisky for my next investigation will be Fettercairn 16yo. I’ll report back on what brew is chosen, and how they played together.


What is a ‘Luxury Whisky’?

Obviously this ought to have been published on Earth Day, but I’ve had Covid and life has been busy.

From Gods Own Junkyard, Walthamstow.

It is easy to forget, as Compass Box was releasing This is Not a Luxury Whisky in 2015, just how heated the debate around premiumisation once was. Over a number of years, more and more companies had been releasing expressions of great age, in limited quantities, with eyebrow-raising prices and noteworthy packaging. Indeed, for a while Hamilton & Inches appeared to be co-authoring press releases with a sequence of major Scottish distillers. Many dyed-in-the-wool Scotch drinkers were getting thoroughly pissed off – whisky was not supposed to be a luxury product.

In 2022, premiumisation has swept all before it. Every distiller now trots out a very expensive release on an annual basis so as to confer a ‘halo’ upon the brand. The superyacht Macallan, in its endeavours to fashion itself as 100% halo, leaves the rest pitching wildly in its wake. Macallan’s owners are not targeting those dyed-in-the-wool Scotch drinkers[1], nor do they care what they think.

Macallan is a fascinating brand to follow as regards the possible evolution of what ‘luxury’ means. While on the one hand you have the grasping ambition of something like the 81-Year-Old The Reach, on the other you have – somewhat jarringly – Rich Cacao. For The Reach, you hand over $125,000 and receive most of three arms cast in bronze, a lot of decorative oak, and 70cl of the oldest Scotch whisky ever released. This is luxury as we have come to understand it: opulent, no-expense-spared, resource intensive, over-the-top, wasteful.

Rich Cacao, however, subverts all of these tropes of conventional luxury. Its packaging is still noteworthy, but not because of the luxury materials that have been used – the story here is wrapped up in the luxury materials that have been spared. The giftbox was formed from spent cacao husks, left over from the chocolate-making process and typically thrown away. Someone at the Edrington Group saw an opportunity to weave a sustainability message into the luxury conversation, and I genuinely salute the effort. It’s a shame that that person clearly doesn’t work in the cubicle opposite whoever commissioned the pack for The Reach. As a vision for where luxury whisky could go, though?

Rich Cacao has built on the insight that there is a growing market with the money to buy expensive whisky, but who find Veblenian conspicuous consumption a little vulgar. An influential group of people prefer for their pleasures to tread lightly on our abused planet and expect their chosen lifestyle brands to get with the programme. Demand for luxury remains, but luxury that allows ethical choices to be articulated and seen.

The evolution from 2015 to today is that whisky still wants to be premium, but ‘premium’ is bifurcating. As newer players in the industry (and sometimes Macallan, when the feeling takes it) launch their mindfully-made spirits, they are also selling environmental responsibility as a value add. “We steward energy, cardboard and glass so you may sip with a clear conscience.”

I never expected a message around resource conservation to come from a Macallan product – it’s like all lions suddenly announcing their conversion to veganism. By explicitly connecting luxury whisky to ecological sustainability, though, it starts a new conversation. For example, what if we looked beyond the materials that comprise a whisky’s giftbox to the resources required to produce the whisky in the first place?

Whisky is resource intensive. Soil, water, energy, wood, occasionally peat – a lot of natural materials make a dram. This has long been acknowledged and the entire Scotch whisky industry is striving to make itself greener (use less, conserve more). But all packaging controversies aside, we must acknowledge that many of today’s whiskies depend on a level of material abundance and global supply chains analogous to a Versace jacket or an iPhone. Single malts may be more sustainable than smartphones, with most of their ingredients being renewable, but that does not make those ingredients any less precious. None of the rhetoric around whisky’s greener future acknowledges its inherent luxury nature.

Take oak. It is not rare like sandalwood, nor is it expensive like gold (although the price of timber is escalating). Nevertheless, when a cask created from an oak tree that grew for 100 years is filled for the first time, the whisky that emerges carries the astonishing intensity and complexity of the forest’s contribution. The life of a cask is long, its cost is amortised, but the impact of that first fill is genuine luxury. Kids with multiple siblings know the value of first use, but do we communicate it enough in spirits? That singular character of active, seasoned oak can only be imparted once. Bourbon is therefore a luxury spirit. In this narrow sense, Jack Daniels – with all the sugar maple also felled in its manufacture – is even more so.

Peat is another prime example where purely economic conceptions of luxury leave so much out. While whisky’s use of peat is a miniscule fraction of other industries (considering current levels), draining any bog so peat can be extracted removes it from the carbon capturing crusade, and burning peat to kiln malt of course also releases greenhouse gases. The idiosyncratic flavour of peat smoke comes at a price, and tradition should not blind us to that. Why should frankincense be considered a luxury, but not peat? Change the relationship of supply and demand, and scarcity can rapidly appear. We need to recognise that, if everyone suddenly wanted the flavour of heavily-peated single malt, aged exclusively in first-fill Bourbon barrels, there wouldn’t be enough to go around.

So, when you do have a fresh barrel or butt, or a couple of tonnes of peat, you should make the best whisky you possibly can with them. Delicious whisky draws attention to the skill of the maker, but also the quality of the materials they have used and where those materials have come from.

I’m a big fan of what Dhavall Gandhi and the team at The Lakes Distillery are doing. They fill the juiciest Sherry, wine and Bourbon casks with spirit designed to extract the richest flavours from them. Those casks are watched over obsessively, re-racked often, blended together with passion and exacting skill before the final whisky is slowly reduced and bottled, with absolute care. Dhavall’s use of materials is intensive. But I would argue that, by extracting their maximum potential, he is doing them true justice. The Lakes should really charge more than the £70 asked for the latest Whiskymaker’s Reserve.

The ultimate luxury whisky in this paradigm is something like Octomore 12.2. So much peat, ex-Bourbon barrels, then a finish in Sauternes casks of stupendous quality (barriques that have actually delivered some of the wine’s fruit, rather than just the wood’s spice) that were shipped over from France. Tasting this expression, the generosity and intensity of flavour is truly impressive. More impressive, I would argue, than a 30-year-old single malt, fermented and distilled quickly, then left to mature in a refill hogshead. Octomore is light in years but heavily adorned with the riches of the Earth. These whiskies are given a luxury positioning by the parent company, and it is merited.

This is Not a Luxury Whisky was built around 18yo Glen Ord from first-fill Sherry butts, with geriatric Caol Ila, Strathclyde and Girvan in the mix. The liquid itself conformed to contemporary expectations of luxury, with price and scarcity two further factors countermanding the bottle’s own assertion. It was a luxury whisky then and would be in 2022. But whisky doesn’t have to reach 18 years of age to qualify as luxurious. In terms of energy, land use, and ingredients, thousands of today’s whiskies should be conferred luxury status the moment they enter a cask.

[1] Since 2015, I’d wager that many of this group have signed up to the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ distance learning course. They are to Springbank Local Barley allocations what Smaug would be to branches of H. Samuel.


My Hierarchy of Art

I have a problem with the term ‘buckets.’ I hear it all the time in marketing, specifically in the dispiriting discipline of managing ‘content’. The idea is to taxonomise all the stuff you want to talk about, allocating topics to different holding pens until needed. The more buckets you have, the more well-rounded you must be as a brand. But once something has been dissected into the bucket system, can they be meaningfully brought back together again? What’s to stop things feeling bitty? How do you keep the complexity and promote exchange?

When beginning to plan out some posts for Liquid Texts, thematic separation felt like a given: ‘this liquid meets that text and the very specific thing I want to explore about their relationship is this.’ Especially right now, though, I’m struggling with such hygienic segmentation. Perhaps appropriately for the given name of this blog, things feel really ‘fluid’ currently.

I see now that there are holes in my buckets, everything sloshing together in a chaotic and soupy manner. I started off trying to keep things apart and distinct – it felt more writerly. It fostered the illusion of being in control. But the world I see around us is not conducive to feeling in control. I’ve just re-read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books and in the final instalment, Douglas Adams advances the ‘Whole Sort of General Mish Mash’ as the sanest way to confront the universe. This feels like wisdom – we are all in one giant bucket.

What of my buckets for Liquid Texts, then? Is this in danger of becoming one of those anarchic, indigestible stream-of-consciousness blogs? No. Buckets are, I realise, necessary. Though I like my blends, I like hygienic borders around them (however temporary those borders may be).

But rather than having utilitarian containers of arbitrarily segregated stuff, I want to deploy ‘buckets’ as a child might during a day at the seaside: as a tool for play. Let’s make buckets ephemeral aquariums for the weird and wonderful inhabitants of those rockpools on the margins of the mind; let’s use them as a framework with which to build sandcastles, almost certain to be washed away by the incoming waves.

So here is a Top 5 devoted to different creative forms, embracing texts but going beyond them. For each one, I briefly discuss how alcoholic liquids relate to it. The point is to remind myself of creative cross-pollination. In this thought experiment, the best ‘buckets’ are in fact permeable.

5. Film

Whenever my peers start discussing movies, I cower, I cringe, I prevaricate. I go to the cinema about as often as I get my nose hair waxed. I haven’t seen A Clockwork Orange, or Bladerunner, or all of Reservoir Dogs. But I do like Studio Ghibli movies, and Pixar.

As Dave Chang and Nick Kroll discussed on a recent podcast, perhaps animation is the key – drawing and CGI create a Trojan Horse for approaching the biggest themes. Watching My Neighbour Totoro for the first time, I was struck by how much space there was; a child’s anxiety for a parent was embraced by a rich and fantastical relationship with the natural world, not placed in opposition to it. Images, soundtracks and themes build a world, at the core of which is a kernel of pure magic.

As someone who doesn’t really engage with cinema, the reason it is in my top 5 art forms is because it can reliably convey this magic of make-believe.

4. Ceramics

Maybe it’s The Great Pottery Throwdown I have to thank for this, or perhaps discovering Joely Clinkard’s work here in north London before Christmas is a factor, but objects made from clay are really doing it for me right now. Not for the last time in this post, I’ll invoke the word ‘organic’ – wine is one expression of the earth, but a clay sculpture connects even more directly. A mug, like the one I bought from Joely, is an everyday object for everyday things. But beauty clusters on the surface and radiates from the heart. It is simple, yet with an anchoring depth. Again, not to denigrate wines, beers and spirits, but their emotional potency is wired differently to wonderful pottery. The aesthetic imposed upon these products is another step removed from the thing itself. 

3. Literature

As my piece on Moby Dick, Mountains of the Mind, and an expensive Johnnie Walker shows, I like to read books and think. Whether it is a blurb about a sandwich or a disquisition on our species in relation to the cosmos, if the tone is right I will be satisfied and stirred. Another Macfarlane book, Underland, blew my tiny mind last year with the extent of its ideas, articulacy and poetry.

Spirits occasionally move me in similar ways, but I believe that the organic, earthy magic of wine gets me closest to the emotional tenor of great writing. Maybe it’s because there is a lot of great writing about wine. Writers like Dan Keeling, Andrew Jefford and Bianca Bosker introduce me to the mercurial vividness of certain bottles, and to the fecundity of ideas held by many of the people who make them. It is hard to read about a Frank Cornelissen, or hear a Maggie Harrison or Mimi Casteel talk about blending and ecology, without wanting to start a blog tracing the links between little units of alcoholic juice we manufacture, and the grandest things we as a culture have ever imagined.

2. Sport

Sport, from one perspective, is about gifted people improvising within the rules of a given game. When performed well, those movements can be beautiful and, when they surpass what we believe to be possible, exceptionally meaningful. Sport lends itself to mythmaking but also statistics and, in this regard, there are parallels to the world of thoughtfully created drinks.

What drinks category maps on to an entire sport, though? How might processes and flavours be consistent with spectacle? I do see cricket as a possible analogues, as a wearing pitch and the constantly evolving permutations of a multi-day game mirror the slow weathering of whisky in the cask, or wine in the bottle. There is certainly enough arcana, history and larger-than-life personalities in cricket to enthrall lovers of red Burgundy. But I tend to view the mechanics of sport as existing in a completely different bucket to the aesthetics and moments of drinks.

1. Music

As much as I love the clarity of literature and the immediacy of sport, music is without question the highest form of art. A lot of people opine that my job is rather cushy, but I consider anyone able to make a living from music – or at least get away with spending most of their time involved in it – to be akin to a demi-god. Body, mind, even the dynamo of desire that exists within me, all align and cohere when I’m listening to music I love. My great spirits romance – Scotch whisky – doesn’t get close.

Song Exploder is a fascinating and valuable resource. Not only does it peer in at creative process, but it demonstrates how great songs are constructed. Songs have multiple tracks, featuring diverse textures, rhythms, melodies and counterpoints. I’m not the first to see the parallels to whisky blending, although I compare a great blender to a producer behind a studio mixing desk as opposed to a conductor in front of an orchestra.

Yet, you could give me the gunkiest Clynelish; the most hyperbolically fruity Ben Nevis; an entire vat of 10yo Macallan (the kind that went into the 100 Proof bottlings of the late 70s and 80s); the fattest and creamiest Dumbartons; the most kaleidoscopically tropical Bowmores of the 1950s and 60s, together with the leatheriest, most hauntingly aromatic Karuizawas… Hand over all of that, and I still couldn’t make you a whisky as rhapsodic as the 6-odd minutes you’ll spend listening to The War on Drugs’ ‘Harmonia’s Dream’.

The inspirations behind Liquid Texts are broad and rather than obey the bucket hegemony, I will try to install connecting pipework between them. We’ll see how my plumbing develops.


The Blood-Curdling Forays of the Savage Turducken

Chapter 1

The following can be considered the ‘origin story’ of the Savage Turducken. Since its accidental manifestation in 1974, it has terrorised the whiskey manufacturers of North America. Just as Frankenstein acts as a warning to the medical profession and pioneers of science, so the story of the Savage Turducken is a cautionary tale for all who fry poultry.

The headlamp beams of a passing car tracked along the ceiling of the test kitchen. Jackson could hear the strains of Grand Funk Railroad grow louder, then fade as the car passed by, rumbling deeper into darkened Butchertown.

“Hey, Bob?” Jackson called over his shoulder. “You mind passing me the cilantro?”

Bob approached the bench Jackson was working at and placed the herbs by Jackson’s chopping board. He had successfully tucked his perm into a hairnet as state hygiene laws decreed; however, a lot of chest hair could be seen through his mostly unbuttoned shirt. Jackson was dressed similarly, a gleaming medallion bouncing gently against his diaphragm.

“Oh man, Jackson – that’s incredible! Where d’ya learn to sew like that?” Bob was one of the longest-serving employees of KFC’s Louisville development branch. He could point to many innovative successes during his tenure such as the strawberry shortcake milkshake cheesecake, bacon fries and of course the Rare Breed BBQ Sauce, but what the newer guys were attempting constantly amazed him. Jackson hadn’t been around long but was clearly going places.

“You know, Bob – living on a farm, you get used to stitching stuff back together.”

Over Jackson’s shoulder, Bob marvelled at the mass of birds Jackson was fusing into a pale, fleshy singularity.

“This the successor to the Poultry Po’ Boy?” asked Bob, practically in a whisper. Jackson’s Poultry Po’ Boy had turned into a remarkable higher value seller, using a modicum of duck meat to enrich a patty of chicken and turkey. Everyone in the larger offices upstairs had been very pleased with Jackson about that one.

“Something like that,” Jackson replied, and flashed a grin.

Whistling appreciatively, Bob returned to his side of the kitchen. “You sticking around longer? It’s passed 8.”

“I just want to get this done and cooked, you know.”

“Love your work ethic, man,” said Bob. “Don’t stay too late, though, you hear?” Donning his suede jacket, Bob made for the door.

Jackson continued to toil at his sewing. More than an hour later and he had completed the final stitch, sealing the duck inside the turkey, the duck having already been forced to accommodate a slight bantam chicken. No noise could be heard in the street. The only sound in the kitchen was the clatter of the extraction system, and the occasional bubbling burp from the largest deep fat fryer.

Jackson quickly chopped the cilantro, adding it to an enormous bowl with secret recipe batter, breadcrumbs, and a hefty glug of Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Grunting, he manoeuvred the overlapping carcasses into the bowl until they were liberally coated, then moved the bowl onto a kitchen trolley and began the trundling journey to the next room.

The larger deep fat fryer he had primed earlier in the evening. It needed to be large to accommodate this new, unique specimen that would revolutionise banquet-style dining in a fast-food context.

Jackson eyed the enormous monster of meat proudly, as a father might. The final task was to winch it into the fryer. Carefully, with calm slowness, he placed the turducken onto a metal gurney, which was itself attached to a pulley system.

Hauling on the rope, his creation lurched into the air. The occasional gobbet of batter dripped from under the bird of birds, frazzling in the fat. Just at the summit of its rise, however, the coils of rope caught. “Dang,” said Jackson.

Stepping closer to the fryer, he used a screwdriver to adjust the pulley hub. Suddenly, the rope slid through its moorings again but – somehow – became caught in Jackson’s gold medallion. The turducken plunged into the fryer like a sperm whale crashing back into the waves, taking Jackson with it.

The next morning, when Bob returned to the test kitchen, he discovered a gaping hole in the wall leading out to the abandoned lot that adjoined the KFC office. There was no sign of Jackson or, they later discovered, the bottle of Rare Breed.

Whisky Books

White Whales

Neither sublime, nor marvellous.

Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out what that marvellous painting meant.

Moby Dick, p. 12

Ishmael, almost at the very beginning of Melville’s masterpiece, feels a kind of hungry wonder while looking at the Spouter Inn’s curious artwork. Thanks to its impenetrability, its ‘unaccountable masses of shades and shadows’, his imagination catches fire. ‘Ever and anon a bright, but, alas, deceptive idea would dart you through. – It’s the Black Sea in a midnight gale. – It’s the unnatural combat of the four primal elements. – It’s a blasted heath. – It’s a Hyperborean winter scene. – It’s the breaking-up of the ice-bound stream of Time.’ I feel something very similar inspecting the webpage for Johnnie Walker Blue Label Legendary Eight.

It’s the Diageo blending team exercising complete creative freedom. – It’s 37YO Brora. – It’s power and age and balance. – It’s the Pyramids of Giza in Kilmarnock. – It’s the Sutherland coast and the tenements of Dundashill as painted by Turner. – It’s the spirits of the past captured in amber. As Robert Macfarlane has noted in Mountains of the Mind, ‘the alchemy of the imagination can turn a lake into an entire world’. Frequently in my case, the inscrutable depths of expensive blends offer ample space for fanciful speculation. Why?

Mountains of the Mind puts my inclination to mythologise whisky into historical context; Macfarlane examines how, when it comes to interacting with and understanding the physical phenomena that surround us, empiricism and wonder are constantly tangoing with one another. His thesis centres around the Victorian era, when collecting knowledge of the earth’s surface became something of a compulsion for scientists. In the process, it was as though the value of leaving some spaces untouched finally occurred to them. ‘There emerged an impulse to preserve the unknown for its power of resonance, for its quality of nullity.’

It was as if every bagged summit endangered the space in which we could dream. In Macfarlane’s words: ‘The age of realism discovered that it yearned for mysteries.’ There is a valuable mystery at the core of Legendary Eight: just how much Brora did Dr Jim Beveridge OBE and his team dump into the vat? As with all Johnnie Walkers, the recipe is ‘unaccountable’, a mass of ‘shades and shadows’. Like Ahab with his quarry, though, I know the mighty Brora is in there somewhere, I just cannot corner it. This unknown quality of Legendary Eight lends it a powerful resonance.

The Johnnie Walker website has this to say on the Legendary Eight: ‘…made using our rarest whiskies from across the untamed wilds of Scotland’. Pleonasm aside, this reimagines the Blackgrange warehousing complex as the South Sea fishing grounds in Melville. Rare casks resemble sperm whales, pursued for their ennobling oil. Though Brora has been going into Diageo blends for decades (that was its primary purpose, after all), only after many years of ‘lying in state’ has its name become a tool for the storyteller. Brora’s ghostly presence is the whole point – Legendary Eight is like the Spouter’s painting: the vacuum of understanding allows our imaginations to flood in.

As Ishmael notes:

[W]hile in life the great whale’s body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a world.
Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend? There are other ghosts than the Cock-Lane one, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believe in them.

The sepulchral aura of Brora, and other closed distilleries, is a foundational component of Legendary Eight and the Ghost & Rare releases. Many of us want to believe in and pursue whisky ghosts but we should never, like Ahab, be allowed to get too close to our targets. Such whiskies can operate like Macfarlane’s mountains, or Melville’s ambiguous ‘monstrous fable’, where truth is not as powerful as our interpretations. Any blend in which a lost distillery serves as a headline act is, first and foremost, a Whisky of the Mind.

Because I work for Compass Box, where we fully disclose the contents of the whiskies we make, I should probably have a more conflicted reaction to the Legendary Eight and the Ghost & Rare series. I do believe that recipe information ought to be shared, but – thanks to Macfarlane – I also now appreciate that the mind renews itself amongst ‘shades and shadows’. Like the Victorian mountaineers, I am withdrawing from Everest to preserve its ‘imaginative potency’.

Moby Dick only surfaces in the closing chapters, but he doses the entire novel with threat and awe. In the same way, Brora’s spirit underpins the character of Legendary Eight and it doesn’t matter if the blenders had access to thirty hogsheads, or only a thimbleful. My credit card won’t be harpooning this blended leviathan, however. Legendary Eight cannot hope to be a better whisky in real life than the ‘larger, darker, deeper’ mystery I’ve constructed in my head.


Liquid Sunshine

Placing her birthday card on the floor of the tent, Dara shuffled again inside her sleeping bag. Her left side enjoyed a moment of respite, but her heels and shoulders would soon begin their own protests. Had Irish lawns always been so unyielding? She knew very well that the answer was No.

In the glow of the Solarva Lamp, she read her card again. Without question, 2095 was a bad time to be turning 19. That hadn’t been her parents’ inscription, rather something Dara had concluded for herself.

It was sweet, and not a little risky, of her parents to continue the physical card tradition. Normally, your 18th birthday was the last occasion on which you could look forward to greetings cards that contained genuine wood pulp. Thereafter, sustainability legislation mandated that ‘Happy Birthday’ was a sentiment solely expressed digitally.

Little wonder her mum had discreetly slid the envelope into Dara’s duffel bag as she left for Cork and the protest. It wasn’t handmade, though; no scavenging of old cereal boxes had occurred – it had been bought directly from Dara’s favourite local illustrator. There was an aura of care and love.

All around Dara, the frantic rustling of Gore-Tex could be heard as activists clattered around inside their tents, posting monologues to their social ecos about how excited they were to wake up tomorrow and speak the truth to the GDL. Dara should probably do likewise – her following on HiDrant could do with a boost.

Since Irish Distillers had merged with Diageo’s Scotch arm to form Gaelic Distillers Ltd. in 2052, concerns around whiskey sustainability had only grown. When Dara’s parents were at school, Net Zero for every business was still a recent achievement, and one that was roundly celebrated. The whiskey industry had given itself a collective pat on the back as one of the first to get there.

Then more severe symptoms of climate change had wreaked havoc, as earlier greenhouse gas excesses refused to be so neatly offset. Talk turned from beef in the Amazon to distilling in Speyside, Kentucky and Cork; was the diversion of so much barley to brewing and distilling justifiable?

The climate action group of which Dara was a part decided that it was not. Just like the eating of bluefin tuna and cheap beef, whisky now faced similar opposition as a frivolous use of the Earth’s resources. Yet it continued to be made in large volumes, for the wealthy. As the costs of growing cereal crops outdoors mounted, and the scarcity of cooperage oak worsened, no one Dara knew could afford the genuine article anymore.

There was a lot less land now. Sea levels had risen by 2.3m, not quite the 2.5m some mid-century estimates had predicted for 2100, back when her grandparents stopped eating meat altogether. That was a shift that had come too late, as well.

“We didn’t know, Sparrow,” her grandfather had told Dara when she was little. “We were raised on mince and potatoes. Couldn’t do better than Irish beef for a growing family.” He raised a tumbler of whiskey to his lips and Dara’s sensitive 6-year-old nose had recoiled slightly at the hot sweetness that wafted towards her.

Back in 2095 and it still didn’t sit quite right with her, protesting the industry her grandfather had loved, had worked in for most of his life until the distillery buy-out. Dara had talked it through with her own father, who made it clear that Gramps would have been proud of her stance.

“You aren’t protesting whiskey, Dar. You’re opposing a company that has grown too big and whose record over topsoil retention needs to be a lot better.”

While more of her counterparts harangued millionaires for drinking what hungry people might have eaten, Dara tried to focus on her father’s argument. Surely there was a place for whiskey?

Dara put the card back in her duffel bag. Reaching deeper, questing for an inside pocket, she retrieved a little glass bottle. Greenish/grey, like wind-dried dulse, the glass itself proudly showcased its high, post-consumer, recycled content. It made the canary yellow liquid inside appear translucent. Could she crack the capsule? Now, on the eve of the protest?

Dara knew that hot, sweet smell would revive more than just memories of Gramps. The spirit would sing of soils now blown away and underwater. The curious toffee/caramel headiness the whiskey had pulled from its wooden nursery would speak of thriving white oak forests in Missouri and Kentucky, forests that had been further depleted each year by the eastward spread of the wildfires.

There was a tap on the tent. “Dara? You in there?”

She stuffed the miniature back in her bag. Getting caught with Public Enemy #1 was not what she needed before her speech, planned for the perimeter fencing of the Midleton Complex the next day.

“Hey, Josh! Just a sec.”

Dara wriggled out of her sleeping bag and checked her trousers and jacket all had the right zips done up. Opening the tent flap, she peered up at the boy who was even now tucking those wilful black curls into his bandana. “What’s up?”

Josh smiled easily, but Dara could tell the excitement was straying into stress. This was definitely the biggest protest he’d organised. 2.5 million followers on CHANGE got you most of the way there, though.

“I’ve just been to the harbour! Another forty KAYnos arrived today, with 200 people on them! We’ve so many good friends in England and Wales.” Another ringlet escaped from the bandana cordon and he made to sweep it back again.

“That’s great, Josh. I can’t wait!” Dara could hear the buzzing from his wristwatch as countless notifications assailed the superstar protest leader. Keira was always saying she should go for it with Josh. They had briefly dated in school. What Keira saw as charisma, though, Dara had started to interpret as something else.

“How’s your speech?” Josh asked.

“It will be fine. I think I’ve just about memorised the statistics.”

“Amazing – that’s superb. I’m so pleased you’re here.”

There was a pause in the flow of motivating chat. An activist walked past swaddled in a dressing gown.

“I was thinking of turning in,” Dara said. “See you at the coordination meeting tomorrow?”

“Of course, yes! We all need some rest. Good night, then.”

Dara resecured the tent and regained her sleeping bag on the hard, sun-baked earth. She glanced across at her duffel bag. In the darkness, away from the Solarva Lamp’s glow, her Gramps’s whiskey waited for its chance.


A Sober Perspective

I was speaking to friends recently about Dry January. One said that he used to do it annually but the appeal steadily waned. Maybe starting two successive years under pandemic restrictions was hard enough without further, self-imposed, denial. This piece isn’t about judgement.

Going the whole of January without a drink has never been a conscious goal of mine, but then my alcohol intake is miniscule anyway. It’s often a surprise to people when I tell them this – a whiskymaker who barely drinks.

Much as my parents more-or-less successfully taught me that booze is to be enjoyed but respected, the main cause of my current temperance is a mild form of PTSD carried over from two years as a brand ambassador for Chivas Regal in Dubai, and the toll three hangovers a week took on my health.

For a desert state, the UAE is one of the wettest places I’ve known. If you’re a European who has spent any time in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, ‘Brunch’ will trigger very particular, albeit hazy, memories. With so many events between Sunday and Thursday evening for my job, I tried to foreswear Brunch and keep my weekends clear of booze. But many of my friends didn’t drink for a living, so hanging out with them on Fridays and Saturdays often involved a glass or two of something.

I was never one of those remarkable specimens who can wake up hangover-free after a skinful, and my body increasingly struggled with the toxins I was asking it to process. When the end of my two-year stint approached, I made it clear to my employers that a role doing something in a sample room 9-to-5 (it was actually more like 7-to-4) would suit my interests much better than another 12 months as a tanned cadaver.

Once back in the UK, I revelled in what I had only been able to briefly experience during the UAE summers, when religious holidays made the bar scene way more low-key: with no alcohol entering my system for days at a time, I felt fantastic.

While Sinatra’s famous quote about pitying teetotallers is hilarious, I can definitely attest that the 5pm relief at finally being able to stomach solid food is a hollow win.

Without meaning to, I’ve gone a month without a drink. In a challenging first two months to 2022, stringing many alcohol-free days together has had cumulative benefits for me. Sleep is better and with improved rest comes the option to do more during the day. I’m running regularly again and feeling fit and strong all the time is – sorry to say – preferable to the merry benevolence that comes halfway down your second pint.

The single biggest benefit, though, is cognitive. After ten days without alcohol, I find that my mind can process things more effectively. I cover mental ground more rapidly and self-critical thoughts can be managed more easily. It’s like sweeping all the background programmes from your desktop while also muting unhelpful notifications.

From a purely rational perspective, then, drinking looks a lot like the voluntary impairment of my own faculties. Hemingway is a strange and fascinating creature. But I am also battling a productivity imperative, one in which the demon on my shoulder has disguised itself as an angel of industriousness. Teetotalism feels a tad fundamentalist, throwing out the socially-rich and flavoursome baby with the alcoholic bathwater.

Flavours behave differently in the glass compared to the mind. Sipping a dram reveals further facets over tasting alone. As much as Liquid Texts deals with the imagination, it will only succeed in my eyes if it allows me to engage – in deep ways – with the world of people, atoms and physical processes.

This phase of giving up will end and once again I’ll be experimenting with how much alcohol and how often. My month off has reminded me of hedonic moments tea cannot get anywhere near: takeaway pizza from a proper pizzeria with a glass of chilled red wine; cask strength whiskies with good friends; Champagne from Ulysse Collin (a sadly infrequent occurrence); a perfectly made Negroni in a swish bar. These are moderate delights that warrant feeling a bit below par for a day or two.

I have experienced the kind of clarity that comes with tea’s alpha waves and running’s endorphins, as well as the particular insight alcohol can occasionally bestow. While I do benefit from time spent in both worlds, I will always favour the writer over the imbiber.

Whisky Books


I have grown up. My maps are out of date.

Lanark, Alasdair Gray

[This piece deals with mental health struggles – if this isn’t something you’re in the right place for currently, return next week for more carefree drinks chat.]

When the WHO fired the starter’s pistol for the Pandemic Steeplechase, I was already running on fumes. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in that, although it felt like it at the time.

By October 2019, I had survived nine months of a weekly Glasgow-to-London commute. However, a pincer movement of debilitating whisky festivals and a successful proposal generated turbulence I simply could not withstand. A deep-seated instinct urged me to contain and control my future; instead, the knotted needs of my mental health violently resisted arrest.

A handful of sessions with a counsellor and I believed the problem had been fixed. I could think again and, while I still felt like a social leper around most humans most of the time, seemed to be functioning. By the time COVID-19 overtook us all, I shuffled into lockdown and, like most people, hoped for the best.

April was the cruellest month. I didn’t so much come apart at the mental seams as implode. Whatever meagre foothold I thought I had in my own sense of self was washed away by a surging, unseeing public health cataclysm – solid ground, and the map by which I navigated it, was gone.

In post-lockdown issues of Noble Rot – an exemplary liquid text if ever there was one – I read how many regained a sense of happiness via their wine fridges. Uncorking special bottles, during that agonising phase where paranoia tangoed with tedium, was a self-sustaining act – a route to meaning and joy.

I can’t credit a 3cl sample of Octomore 9.3 for getting me through the pandemic’s early stages, but what it did do was restart a dialogue with the world beyond my febrile mind. Long after the sample was finished, I started asking why a barley-based distillate occupied so much of my psyche. I’m still engaged in this process. That with which we most closely identify – the elements we have taken to be fundamental to our self-concept – is often the last to be cross-examined and exorcised.

The 9. series of Octomores bears the subheading ‘Dialogos’; Bruichladdich have never shied away from provoking conversation, but this trilogy of heavily-peated whiskies makes it explicit. Conversations were mortally dangerous things to me when I opened my Drinks by the Dram bottle on a humid, rainy afternoon in May – I didn’t need others doing greater harm to the concept of who I was, and all those industry Zoom hangouts passed me by. I was, however, desperate to connect again with flavour of a pronounced and divisive kind.

How to describe tasting the 9.3? As I assessed nose, palate and finish, it was as if I summarised the purest and most visceral sensory memories I had gathered through my life to that point. More than that, it made me hopeful for sensory experiences I would have in future.

The concept of a ‘complete’ whisky occurred to me on that day. I marvelled at the fearless suffusion of flavour it represented: it smelt of peaches, rockpools and sourdough starter; the taste was of smoked shellfish served beneath a broth of strong black tea. The finish was endless and profoundly emotional.

I coveted a bottle instantly. However, when you’re furloughed and unable to face the future, dropping nearly £200 on a whisky still feels wantonly irresponsible. Octomore 9.3 did encourage a reappraisal of my priorities, though. When I purposefully sought to change conditions around me and moved to London, I began examining the bedrock of my character. As the internal dialogue progressed, I became increasingly enamoured with the voice that spoke back to me. Crucially, I realised that the whiskies I bought, tasted and made did not define me.

When I was developing the idea for Liquid Texts, creativity and imagination kept cropping up as key themes. I knew I wanted to write about my encounter with this Octomore, and the question became which text to bring it into conversation with.

Lanark, published 41 years ago this week, is one of my top-3 favourite books. The novel aims at a kind of totality – the text, the image, then the playful commentary on both – and is an example of the creative daring I have always admired. When I re-read Lanark in 2017, I noticed further themes of self esteem and kindness. In spring 2020, creative daring, self esteem and kindness were even harder to find than hand sanitiser, and time was needed to show me how intractably I was locked in my own fear. Alasdair Gray wrote Lanark to ‘tell the world what he thinks of it’; gradually, some of this spirit has been fostered in me.

I also see Octomore 9.3 as a kind of totality. PPM geekery rubs up against borrowed Ancient Greek-ery; the absurd bottle is an erect middle finger as well as container for the wilful genius of the spirit. The learning, the imagination, the fits of madness and desire – Gray’s text and Adam Hannett’s composition are both marvellous in the truest sense of that word.

The Epilogue to Lanark is a dialogue between the author and his creation. Many would call this onanistic – Gray certainly does: “The critics will accuse me of self-indulgence, but I don’t care.” It is a joyous and subversive chapter, where socio-economic history is interwoven with petulant, wry swipes at sci-fi endings. As Gray/the author/the conjuror goes on to write: “I faced the fact that my world model would be a hopeless one. I also knew it would be an industrial-west-of-Scotland-petitbourgeois one, but I didn’t think that a disadvantage. If the maker’s mind is prepared, the immediate materials are always suitable.”

Seeing beyond whisky to the creative contributions we all can make has enabled me to grow out of the pandemic. I am more hopeful than Lanark‘s author says he is. If I proceed with greater assurance towards myself and warmth towards others, though, it is in part thanks to the artistic adventurousness of people like Gray. Liquid Texts is not a Lanark – obviously! – but it is my vehicle for expressing my weirdness and wonder. To inhabit a better world – or even a self – we must first imagine it.

“One if to five ises! That’s an incredible amount of freedom.”

Please visit for more details on how the genius of Alasdair Gray is to be celebrated this year.


Insignificant Single Casks

Within whisky, the single cask enjoys something akin to sacred cow status. The situation is more severe in the US, where it wouldn’t surprise me were single barrel fetishism to achieve its own Amendment to the Constitution.

I am not a single cask sycophant. I see it propounded, here and there, that they are intrinsically special, and I gnash my teeth. Individuality, purity of process, singularity of flavour – many assert that these attributes find their ultimate expressions in single casks. Leaving aside for the moment that all three strands of this argument can be challenged as a multi-refill hogshead of utter hogwash, what about a further aspect of a whisky? What about significance?

Let me be clear that single casks can be very tasty. I know a number of people bottling casks and their selections typically land in the 5-8 out of 10 scale in terms of flavour quality. However, in a world increasingly awash with delicious, thoughtfully constructed spirits, ‘quaffable’ alone does not justify the financial risk and liver outlay. My experience tells me that greatness in spirits is far more likely to have been finessed than ‘found’.

In The World Atlas of Whisky, Dave Broom contends that ‘[whisky] is about singularity (the forgotten word in single malt whisky)’. He is writing in the context of distilleries; Glencadam, Miyagikyo or Westland might produce hundreds of thousands of litres of alcohol a year but, his argument goes, only Glencadam, or Miyagikyo, or Westland – or North British, Four Roses or Hampden – endeavours to make spirit of this style, in this location, with this equipment and these people. Where there is singularity of approach, there is also significance. It is possible to meaningfully distinguish distilleries, therefore, but what about the individual casks containing their spirits?

To the human mind, ‘single’ carries much emotive power. With whisky, we can be persuaded that any one cask is as unique as we are. Sadly, the reality of the supply chain makes such faith in the sui generis nature of single casks untenable. Today, spirit from Clynelish (for argument’s sake) will have been filled into a couple of hundred impressively uniform ex-Brown Forman barrels somewhere in central Scotland. Some of those casks will end up on the books of independent bottlers. When they are individually bottled, besides different cask numbers, what makes one distinct from another?

There is an oft-repeated parable that two casks, filled on the same day and left to mature alongside each other for their entire lives, can end up tasting radically different. Totally true. However, what is far more often the case is that those two casks turn out functionally identical.

As I touch on above, even in those instances where oak does manage to throw out random flavours, this is far less interesting to me than men and women consciously shaping taste and texture. I’m a blender, writing a blog about human imagination as expressed through drinks. Of course I’m going to find conventional single casks intellectually barren. I want to know more. ‘Why does this bottling matter?’ In broader terms: ‘What does it mean?’ There are almost as many independent bottlers now as discarded face masks in the Mediterranean Sea: if everyone has single casks, they aren’t so special anymore. Any company that defaults to the position that the singular is automatically significant, or that uses ‘natural’ presentation as a selling point in and of itself, is going to disappoint me.

My advice to the indies is to impose themselves. Tell the story on the cask’s behalf. Intervene. Have you taken the spirit to higher levels of deliciousness? Can you make a statement with this release about your whisky world view? Can I connect with you, the bottler, on a philosophical level?

There are more companies going the extra mile these days, not just picking single casks but playing tunes with them. Infrequent Flyers and the SMWS are merrily re-racking spirit, often into assertive oak. Single Cask Nation are experimenting with re-introducing empty wood from their previous releases as finishing vessels for new projects, creating a chain of flavour cameos within their own SCN cinematic universe.

Decadent Drinks adds value in other ways. Yes, the bulk of what they release is single casks, but they evidently relish editorialising, enriching the space in which their bottlings live. Rather than single casks sent out into the world like isolated, perfunctory Tweets, they created threads of releases in 2021 with context, opinions and more than the occasional joke. Whether it was the trio of Ballechins to create the Spongetopia triptych, or the genius revenge tragedy that was the Glen Grant/Caperdonich dyad, Decadent Drinks weave stories by bringing whiskies into a relationship. Single casks are never lonely: they can be connected in creative, sometimes educational ways.

The one single cask I’ve actually bought a bottle of since possibly 2017, though, is last year’s Thompson Bros. 9-year-old Ben Nevis, finished in a Cromarty Brewery ex-rye ale cask. Why put my money there? I love what Phil and Simon stand for in whisky; their own Dornoch Distillery, and the whiskies they bottle independently, unfailingly reflect their geeky sensibility and no-nonsense values. The fact that their family runs a hotel in these terrifying times – one I’ve stayed at before – also compels my support.

However, this whisky stands apart from their other single cask bottlings because it embodies the collaboration of two makers from the same locality. It is a unique amalgamation of intriguing factors, both practical and creative, that gets my mental cogs turning with each glass. While it could be repeated, only this first release of 166 bottles represents the what-if/devil-may-care plunge into the unknown of genuine experimentation. The beer influence is unmistakable, the Ben Nevis mineralic fruitiness a capable foil. I don’t reach for this bottling often – it won’t go into my Top 10 Tastiest Spirits Ever – but when I do, I salute the Thompsons for creating something both truly singular and satisfyingly significant.