Ok I’m not old but now that I’m 27 I feel dangerously close to 30, it looms over the horizon like a juggernaut of midlife sensibility with 40 trailing not so far in its wake. Today is my birthday, if you’re not too busy celebrating the anniversary of the moon landing then take a moment to wish me well while I spend the day at my desk attempting to count how many grey hairs are now nudging through the crows nest that festoons my head like laughing silver wires of slow demise.
Birthdays are interesting. Some people place far too much importance upon them, I don’t really care and there have been occasions in the past where I’ve barely noticed them whizzing by. This year though my birthday has landed on a friday and thusly provides an ideal excuse for a party so there will be slightly more celebration that usual. Birthdays also often provide fitting occasions for us to open and drink great whiskies, for others to pour us something special in order to mark the occasion and the moment to open that great bottle you’ve been saving all these years. It’s a fun excuse, not that you should ever really need one though, to open a bottle of something truly great is to (in a shameless rip off of that scene in the film Sidways) create a special occasion then and there. I don’t have any full bottles knocking about the flat anymore, I sold them all in order to fuel traveling last year and I don’t have enough money to nurture a new stash of special bottles int0 being. However, I do have a small abundance of interesting samples, so lets dip into this melee of drams and see if there’s anything particularly alluring in there. Something suitably old and yummy to make me forget my cares as I truly enter (shudder) my late twenties. (I am aware that those in their mid-40s plus will be snorting with condescending laughter right now and that’s fine but it’s my birthday and my blog so I’m allowed to be ridiculous.)
John Jameson & Son (JJ&S) 12yo Liqueur Dublin Whiskey. 70 proof. Large cork. Circa 1930s.
Thanks to Wayne for this baby.
Colour: Light gold
Nose: A big whiff of honeycomb, a touch of cardboard, old embrocations, bandages, wild flowers, sunflower seeds and a lot of olive oil. Quite interesting and very Irish but also very old school. These huge notes of oil and flowers and complimented by mint tea, green olives, dried sage, beeswax, coal fires and some very fragile mineral qualities. The cardboard note that was quite distinct at first hs vanished now, lost amongst the blossoming orchard of delicate fruits, dried herbs, motor oil and those faint, dusty medicinal touches in the background. A very pleasant nose but it hints at weakness, lets find out…
Palate: Nice delivery actually, quite biting and youngish with not too much OBE, quite surprising really, big notes of eucalyptus cough sweets, creme de menthe, tar, tcp, lemon wax, vanilla cream, nutmeg, rice pudding and water melon. These wonderfully silky notes of honeysuckle come through quite in keeping with the similar honied notes of the nose. The texture is quite light and deft, not unlike a modern Bushmills with its almost dancing silky quality, but the flavours are properly old school.
Finish: Long and oily but it gets a bit strange now with a very distinctive and quite large note of blue cheese right at the back that lingers and dominates the whole finish in a way that isn’t entirely pleasant.
Comments: A shame about the finish. Maybe that was the sample bottle or maybe that was OBE or maybe… who knows with such old bottles. Anyway, how often do you get to taste Whiskey from the original Bow Street Distillery? Globally it was a fascinating and delicious window into old style Irish Whiskey, something we rarely really discuss or taste.Without that dent in the finish we’d have been approaching 90, as it is it’ll have to be…
Score: 85/100 (fittingly I was born in 1985. I’m not sure how that is really relevant in any way but never mind).
Berry Bros Blend. Circa 1910.
Nose: A wonderful blizzard of wax, wild flowers, hessian, old peat, dry phenols, dust, old boiler sheds, tar and all kinds of metallic notes. Hints of honey, caraway seed liqueur, chartreuse, aged demerara rum and touches of old medicine. A proper old school aroma here, powerful, biting and elegant. Surprisingly fresh despite almost 100 years in bottle. Goes on with eucalyptus, creosote, mead and wild citrus notes and something slightly heathery and oily with a dint of pine needles about in the distance.
Palate: Huge luscious notes of medicine, camphor, resin, coal, metal, soft phenols and background hits of glazed and crystalised fruits. One of these old style seashore and farmyard combinations that works so brilliantly. The peat is ancient and almost glycerol in style with these fantastic nuances of metal, mineral notes, wet pebbles, polish, medicine and background fruits. Hits of old pipe tobacco and rancio follow in time with something quite leathery and meaty.
Finish: Long, warming, slightly drying, phenolic, metallic and peaty, almost like a concentrated hot toddy. A real slow burner.
Comments: Another of these ancient drams that it is such a privilege to taste and so emotional too, almost impossible to score because, well what’s the point really? Anyway, other bottles do exist and interestingly Tomas told me that none of the bottles from his cache tasted the same, they all had distinct variations, that’s to be expected after almost a century in glass but its also great fun if are ever lucky enough to find another bottle. Try one if you can, this is really spectacular whisky.
1912-1921 Old Liqueur Pre-War Whisky. Sample from The Dundee Supply Company Ltd. 14 Under Proof. Driven cork.
Huge thanks to Patrick for opening this ancient and unique bottle. No idea whether it is a malt or a blend but when we tried it first time round last November it certainly felt like an old malt. Who knows from what distillery though?
Colour: Light copper
Nose: Its not dissimilar to the Berry Bros with these big drying notes of earthy, burnt peat, brine, lemon wax, flints, game and wild mushrooms. Other more subtle notes of orange bitters, old liqueurs and rancio begin to emerge after a while with more soft aspects of milk chocolate, smoked tea, cocoa, boot polish and wood resins. Another spectacular and ancient example of this extinct style of pre-war whisky. Goes on with hints of fresh green fruits, marzipan and caramelised brown sugar, also something a little hotter like crushed black peppercorns. Quite spectacular really.
Palate: Big, biting, metallic, phenoic and hugely oily, reminiscent of the very best old White Horse bottlings from the 30s and 40s. The mix of old style peat, wax, medicine, salt and metal notes is quite majestic. Like drinking some sort of old rope cordial with these wonderfully industrial and coastal suggestions of boiler sheds, motor oil, kreel nets, tar and creosote. Remains steadfastly thick and syrupy with more drying notes of tobacco leaf, olive oil, something mineral and gravely, menthol toothpaste, cod liver oil and more of these spectacularly elegant metallic and phenolic notes. Beautiful.
Finish: Wonderfully long, resinous, drying, phenolic, peaty, metallic and mineral. A real heartbreaker.
Comments: Probably a single or vatter malt, or if not a blend with very high malt content. Whatever it is, it’s another of these miraculous windows into the lost production styles of over a century ago when whisky was so different to how it is now. I wonder if I’ll be holding up as well as this baby when I’m 100 years old? Come back and see in 73 years from today.
Ahh well, roll on 28 I suppose.