I got called sentimental recently. It was a charge levelled in good humour by friends and it was in relation to the post I wrote about saying goodbye to my friend Rupert. About sharing some Old Pulteney 12yo with him during the moto ride to the bus station. You can judge for yourselves here. On reflection I think I probably am prone to sentimentality. It is hard not to be in the wake of such emotional circumstance. So these thoughts are very much in my mind this week since I left Pisco Sin Fronteras this Tuesday. I can’t promise I won’t be sentimental about it.
I’ve often alluded to the difficulty in trying to sum up feelings about something like PSF. It is a life changing experience to spend time somewhere like that. At the moment it is still so raw and close that objectivity remains a struggle. I don’t know how my attitude towards it all will flesh out in the coming months and years, what will come to stand out and signify that overflowing four and a half months. A Tardisesque spec of time, with its hidden depths and corners stuffed so full of experience that it seems now scarcely real. The feeling of having awoken from a dream floats around me as I’m stuck here in Puno, waiting for a bus to take me the rest of the way to La Paz.
However there are images, spectres in those dreamy visions that spring to mind. When I think of PSF I think of cement dust, I think of the shattering whine of circular saws. I think of warm beer and standing in line for dinner. I think of an old woman and her disabled daughter. I think of electric shocks in the shower. I think of impact drivers and run down batteries. I think of people crying under the weight of emotion. I think of maddened laughter and drunkenness. I think of sweat. I think of sunburn. I think of goodbyes. I think of a desert with many faces. I think of a young girl called Georgette, sent back to her mother in Lima without a goodbye. I think of wood. I think of wood reconstructed in a myriad of new forms. I think of modular panels and I think of earthbags. I think of hunger and of money. I think of my own family far away. I think of Stephen, Rupert, Laura, Alex, Thays, Maartje, Carson, Andrew, Frank, Lucy, Suzanne, Lisa, Dylan, Kathryn, Pete, Jimmy, Lynn, Robin, Christian, Anna, Brodie, Sabrina, Amanda, Tim, Ariel, Jack, Jen, David, Leo, Bevan, Mel, Kareen, Nessa, Coleen, Naveen, Heather, Patrick, Natasha, Kent, Leen, Will, Shannon, Alec, Quentin, Brian, Jaffa, Beccy, North, Eileen, Imran, Magnus, Kitty, Liam, Ross, Marley, Dakota, Claudi and many more.
When I left I gave into my own sentimentality and shared, yet again, a whisky in the back seat of a mototaxi with another truly great friend, Alex. It went down well over the fading sting of the previous nights Climax session (see here). Myself and fellow long termer Laura left at the same time and were accompanied by Alex and Thays to the bus station. I’ve known Alex for the full four and a half months I’ve been at PSF. He is Scottish and we shared much common experience of Glasgow and its University. We were the only two Scots there for most of the time and made short work of expressing this through endless thematic banter. However we only just discovered in the last two days that we shared a mutual best friend and had met on several occasions over the past few years. Especially when we went paintballing together and attended the same ‘silly hat party’. We both agreed that it is indeed ‘a small world’.
I shared a small bottle of the Springbank 10yo ‘100 Proof’ that I was saving for this week’s Campbeltown tastings. Like the Old Pulteney last time it seemed perfect, potent, raw and intruding across all senses. Maybe it’s just something about coastal whiskies. It also made me think of how people that truly love whisky use it as punctuation to life’s deeper moments. Whisky has a real power to articulate and score situations like these, to underline and hammer home the emotion and significance of what goes on outside the glass. I loved every drop of that Springbank as we drank it, to the point that you may well question the validity of the notes I am about to write for it. I saved some to write about but the proximity of my last experience with it may well cloud my judgement. I don’t know if it will or not. You may have to take my notes with a pinch of salt. I think sometimes writers are allowed some leeway to be a little biased though. And what’s more…. I couldn’t care less.
Springbank 10yo. ‘100 Proof’. OB. Bottled 2009. 57%. 70cl.
Colour: Pale white wine
Nose: Wet, punchy and coastal at first. Brimming with wet rocks, minerals, lemon juice, oysters, peppered mackerel and citrusy, oily phenols. Has something quite Longrowesque about it, like the two spirits met somewhere along the line and shook hands. It’s brimming with expressive coastal aromas, even at full strength with big notes of salty black olives, seaweed, kelp, brine, something faintly medicinal and fresh lime juice. With water: big grassiness now, green, fruity and herbaceous, delicate garden fruits and still more coastal character but with more overt complexity now. Becomes more salty, gristy and mentholated with time.
Palate: Neat it’s a powerhouse with alcohol talking much louder than on the nose. It’s gristy and oily, like old boilers with plenty raw, clean cereal notes behind the pepperiness. Has a lot of youthfulness but the flavours do all the talking and it is remarkably well poised between youthful power and controlled maturity. Pine resin, petrol, spearmint and creosote all appear with still more intensity. Probably needs water: has some farmy elements now like old hay, horse stables and coal. Becomes quite sooty and those gentle peaty phenols become drier and smokier. Some kippery notes emerge as well along with notes of thyme and rosemary. Saltier still, this is epically coastal whisky.
Finish: Long, limey, lemony, zingy, fresh, salty, coastal and oily. Really sticks to the gums this one.
Comments: I love this whisky. I remember trying it when it was first released, I went and bough a bottle of it and I found it quite hard going. I took a long time to finish it. I think it is a good indication of how your tastes can change, I love these old school, difficult whiskies now. I find this an infinitely more challenging dram than many of the Islay peat monsters. This has real old school character to it, probably more so than any other modern Scottish distillate. I wish they hadn’t discontinued it, I don’t think the new 12yo is nearly as good as this baby. For my money this is the best thing Springbank has released in a long time, naked distillery character, well matured, expressive and fantastically focused whisky. I imagine this will be utterly stunning after twenty more years in the bottle.
Praise indeed but I still think my score is fair, despite any emotional ‘attachment issues’.
I don’t know how I’ll come to measure PSF in the future, but this much I know for certain. I made the best friends I ever knew there and it was the best thing I did in my life so far. Bad things can only be undone and changed in inches, and with the help of many people better than me, I helped to change a few more inches. I hope the process continues beyond the borders of PSF, I hope the feeling of PSF is an infection that spreads, one that I’ll never shake as I continue that endless journey they call ‘growing up’. Maybe that’s sentimental, but I find myself without the presence of mind to worry about such things these days.