Dalmore Constellation 1969 Cask no 14

I’m going drop this knowledge right now: £24,000 on a bottle of whisky borders on insanity. Thankfully, I got my wee dram for free. There’s a reason I’m in this business, and it certainly isn’t the fat paycheques (of which there are none). 

The nose is expensive. I know, right? Duh. But expensive in the whisky sort of way. It smells of leather and stained wood and exotic fruits soaked in brandy. The fruitiness is particularly potent, and it’s backed by a heat that comes not so much from booze, but from the dryness of long barrel-ageing. 

The palate is also expensive. Varnish and polish and figs and cocoa. There’s more palo cortado than oloroso, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The texture is pervasive, fine-grained and rich, it coats the tongue. There’s a high-toast note. It is a little hot - again, most likely because of the long time in barrel, but there’s also quite a luxurious sweetness to it as well. It’s intense, like a posh petit four at a michelin star restaurant. Utterly delicious in small bites, but possibly a bit too much to handle in large quantities. The smallest drop of water brings a little more unity between the sweet and savoury. It is an astonishingly good dram, though if I'm going to get nit-picky (at £24,000, I'm allowed to be nit-picky), all the various woods and finishes don't seem to be quite as harmonious as they should be. Like it wasn't given long enough to marry. 

Any, it's still really, really, good. It’s not down-payment-on-a-three-bedroom-house-in-Fife good, but it’s really good.

Tasted 30 June 2017 somewhere in Chiswick

Ardbeg 17yo

When I first joined the whisky trade, my father and an old friend regaled me of when the standard malt option in bars around Scotland was a Gordon & MacPhail's bottling of 1937 Macallan, then referred to as Macallan-Glenlivet. G&M must've bought a huge amount of Macallan's output that year, because they bottled it over at least two decades, possibly three. It would've been '66 or '67 that they raised their glasses of '37. I've no idea when it would've been bottled. They didn't make too much of a fuss about round numbers in those days. 

My dad and his pal didn't have any inkling what those bottles would some day be worth, because it didn't occur to them that they'd be worth anything. They didn't like blends, they liked malt. That was the malt available. It might've been a shilling or two more expensive (I don't know how pre-decimal money worked), but they thought it was worth it. 

Ardbeg 17yo was probably the whisky I drank most of in my early days in the trade. It was £30 a bottle, ridiculously complex, elegant, and a breath of fresh air compared to the heavily sherried whiskies that folks were going doe-eyed about (and still go doe-eyed about, to be fair). It was Islay's Grand Cru Chablis: nuanced, lightly peated (for Ardbeg) but still flinty and smoky and with a brilliant vanilla cream sweetness. For real nerds, it was the perfect dram to express the subtleties imparted on Ardbeg's spirit by its famous reflux arm on the main still. It was an odd age, but a necessary one, as Ardbeg's long mothballing had resulted in a lack of young stock. By the time production finished on it, the whisky in the 17yo was probably closer to 25 years old. For £30 a bottle, it was an astonishing bargain. 

Nowadays, if you can find a bottle at auction, it will set you back a few hundred quid or more. I'd not had it in awhile, but recently a friend in the business had the remains of an old miniature. Less than a dram's worth, but my goodness the nose filled the glass. I'd worried for a moment that perhaps I'd gilded my memory somewhat, that perhaps the whisky wasn't *that* good. But it was amazing. Perhaps moreso than I remember. It lingered on the palate like embers in a hearth. 

Before whisky became quite as expensive as it has, my dad and his pal chatted about pooling together and buying one of those old Macallan-Glenlivets, for old time's sake. It would've been a grand and a half back then, I suppose. I shook my head and thought they were crazy. I've always felt you can get as good a whisky as possible for between £50-£100. Spending anymore was simply buying status and marketing or, worse, into the collector's market. But tasting that 17yo again, and appreciating it not just as a whisky, but as a part of my life in this trade, as one of the boozy bookmarks that make up my story, I could see why they'd consider it. You can't go back to your youth and smack yourself around and tell yourself to appreciate it more. But you can earn a few quid to buy the now-outrageously expensive whisky you used to enjoy and close your eyes and smell and sniff and sip and for a quick moment or two, you can be there again. I don't know if that's worth the premium, but it makes it worth thinking about.

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a few thoughts entering the new year

I know it might sound like heresy, but I don't really care too much about Dry January. I know that as a member of the drinks trade I should be railing against it, reminding people that detox is nonsense, telling folks that they need to support their local independent merchant/pub/restaurant during their worst month of the year, or preaching some made up rubbish like "tryuary" or "canuary" or whatever other Movember wannabe movement has risen to fight off the month of abstinence, but I can't be bothered. January is shite enough as it is. For Christ's sake, Donald Fucking Trump becomes president this month and I'm going to give the most boring of my friends shit for being boring? Or lecture them on how to most help their community? No. 

For me, the trade response to Dry January is very similar to the trade's response to the inevitable yearly rise in duty rates. It's a stark reminder of our unimportance in the big grand scheme of things. No matter which way you cut it, we're, the wine/beer/booze pedlars of Britain, providing luxury. And luxury is, in the eyes of the public and government, pretty inessential. Nobody died because their wine wasn't delivered. A lot of people were shouted at, loudly, but nobody died. Wine's an easy target. Far easier than beer. And brewers have been successfully lobbying the government a lot longer than the wine trade. So our duty is going to go up. And people will give up drinking in January. And regardless of the logic used in the arguments to halt those duty rises and teetotallers, it's still going up, and they're still going to quit drinking. 

I suppose that as wine folks (or beer folks, or whisky folks) there aren't a lot of battles to be had that really test us, professionally speaking. I mean, there are fights about natural wine or cask vs keg or shitty non-age statement overpriced whisky, but those all come down to taste and aesthetics. With the world going through one of its more drastic periods of constant flux, it seems as though everybody's fighting about something they feel is terribly important. I just can't bring myself to see our corner as all that important in comparison to the other stuff (Brexit, Trump, Syria, Black Lives Matter, women's health, the resurgence of Nazism, the resurgence of Russia, climate collapse, etc. etc.).

This isn't meant to be a slight on wine (or beer, or whisky). It's the opposite, in fact, and something I retreated to often over the last few months of global turmoil. I've drunk well recently. With family, with friends, sharing wines and beers and drams with people I love. Sometimes it's been sad, raising glasses in commiseration at another fallen hero (though I didn't raise a glass to Carrie Fisher - I felt that would be inappropriate - instead I just tear up every time I remember her and force myself to try to write better), others it's been joyful, even celebratory. Even if it's just been celebrating each other's company. Often it's been wine I've had a hand in making or selling, or just a bottle of something I love.

I love wine. And beer. And whisky. They provide both joy and solace when good. As bad news continues to appear throughout various timelines, as nobody can be fighting all the time, as those moments with friends new and old become more scarce, the highs brought by a good bottle shared, a few pints by the fire, or just one last dram before bed are more important than ever before. They may be luxuries, as close to essential as luxuries get. And while I won't be waving any flags or boring anyone with detox facts or duty statistics, I'll be embracing the benefits of this bizarre bit of the world I've found myself in. In moderation, obviously.

 

Kick the new year off by supporting my new book. Or buying my last one.

Bordelais raise prices and declare 2015 "Vintage of the Epoch"

As wine press and merchants alike prepare to face the phalanx of barrel samples in Bordeaux, word has it that the Bordelais, faced with a severe hyperbole shortage for the 2015 vintage, have abandoned the scale of the human calendar. Instead, producers have been encouraged to make full use of geochronological terms to highlight last year’s harvest’s significance and its place in history. Expect to hear “Vintage of the Epoch, perhaps even the Eon” from some Chateau, in some cases even said with a straight face. 

“No one believes us when we claim something is the vintage of the century anymore” lamented an anonymous source from a multinational conglomerate that boasts several chateau in its portfolio. 

When asked if they properly understood the sheer scale of geological time, several representatives simply shrugged. 

“You know an Eon covers half a billion years or more, right?”

“Really? I don’t think there were even grapes then.”

“No fucking shit.”

“Oh well… still… we’ve had to up the ante a bit. We really need folks to buy these wines. A lot of them. And they’re going to be really expensive.”

One winemaker claimed that the collapse in value of previous vintages had caused “the marketing people” to instruct the new use of language in order to wipe the slate clean of the mistakes of human history. To instead present the wine as a product of the earth, and to disassociate it from previous vintages as much as possible. 

“Yeah, we’re done with the whole, ‘this is as good as 2009/10’ thing. Do you have any idea what those ‘09s are worth now? Or ‘10s? You might as well ask punters to set fire to their money.”

From most accounts, the Chateau have settled on Vintage of the Epoch as the time metric for 2015, as it gives them flexibility, should 2016 not be a dumpster fire of a harvest, allowing them to grow superlatives all the way up to Vintage of the Supereon. 

“This should cover us for a couple of good years. By the time we go through the gamut of terms, we’ll be under water due to global warming anyway. Bloody Holocene. Turns out a coastal estuary isn't a great place to plant grapes during a period of heinous man-made climate change.”

When members of the wine press were asked what they thought of the term “Vintage of the Epoch” they said they couldn’t possibly comment on the quality so early, as the wines were unfinished and the samples they were tasting were not necessarily what the bottled product would taste like. That’s when this author reminded everyone of the date.

 

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Welcome to The Last Sip

This project has been in the back of my head for some time. It's actually what I originally imagined my old blog, Wine Rant, to be working towards, but it never quite panned out that way. This is still a work in progress, but the basic plan is simple; to write a long form essay a week about wine, beer, whisky or all three. I'll also do some aggregation of the week's booze news, usually with some critical commentary. And there will be tasting notes. All my notes from Wine Rant are here too. Wine Rant itself won't be updated anymore. 

Yet another drinks trade site?

Yes. 

Why?

Well, it's said that you should write what you want to read. When it comes to wine, beer, and whisky, the weight of PR has squeezed too much of the sort of thing I want to read out of what gets published. Things considered news are questionably so, and there's a sycophancy that pervades the trade press that makes me cringe. I don't begrudge it, per se; these things are businesses and have to turn a dime. And there are some excellent drinks writers out there, working hard and putting out great work.

However, there should be more alternatives available. Too many drinks sites act as fan forums. It's not good enough for there just to be a constant stream of praise and effusive notes of how lovely it is to be in this business and drink nice wine. Nothing gets better that way. Broken things don't get fixed, they get ignored. There's a lot in this industry that could and should be better. At the very least, there's a lot in this industry that should be thought through better. 

The drinks trade sits in a bubble, and rather than acknowledging that and attempting to poke and pop it whenever possible, too many stand around admiring how shiny and round it is. I intend to prod and poke the bubble a bit, not for the sake of it, but because that's what should be done. The ridiculous should be identified as such. 

Also, there won't be comments. I love discussion, and you're welcome to ping me on Twitter or drop me an email or write your own post on your own website in response to anything I write here, but comments just don't do it for me.

So I hope you enjoy, and please bear with me. It will be worth it.