Spear’s’ resident Hedgehog selflessly samples this year’s standout drams, getting trapped in a Soho boudoir in the process...
In preparation for the festive period Hedgehog has spent much of the last year drinking whisky. This has been strictly research of course, to advise you, dear reader, on what malts and blends should be adorning you shelves. As well as the odd headache incurred from spending so much time ‘in the field’ in pursuit of standout scotch, Hedgehog also suffered at the hands of some rather enigmatic marketing campaigns.
Finding themselves locked in a Soho boudoir on a weeknight was a first for Hedgehog but as they searched for clues and keys in an ‘escape the room’ style challenge, they found themselves inadvertedly learning much about the flavours of a new Glenlivet called ‘cipher’. Chests, draws and picture frames revealed almonds, apples and cinnamon toffees; all pieces in a tasting puzzle. The whisky itself has no tasting notes and comes in a mysterious black bottle, so the hook is all the guess work involved.
Debriefing Glenlivet's 'Cipher'
Downstairs, once our wily wit had once again charmed another would be kidnapper, we enjoyed a dram with brand ambassador Ian Logan and an interactive ‘taste wheel’ that allows you to guess at the master distiller’s tasting notes. Initially it seemed the taste wheel was broken but it transpires Hedgehog had just got the lowest ‘score’ ever… seems we over enthused the baked apple, dried orange and pineapple choices. The whisky is more complex that merely ‘fruity’, with a soft caramel, cinnamon quality. But what the master distiller’s notes say remains a mystery to this curious snout.
For those not wanting any doubt about the value or provenance of their whisky, Glenlivet have also launched their pinnacle whisky for this year: a 50 year old Winchester Vintage 1966, named after the master distiller they’re limited to 100 bottles and cost a cool £20,000 each. At such a price it’s hard not to think of it as an investment. The Yamazaki sherry cask is another such full proof buy – famously the 2013 edition topped ratings for that year, sending prices sky high. The 2016 expression is not at that level but nevertheless impressive.
The Winchester Collection
Hedgehog bumped into Yamazaki man, Mike Miyamato, at the Savoy. He said how happy he was the whisky had done well but was sticking to the humble artisan beat: ‘We make whisky as an art, the convention of mother nature and craftsmanship. We just want to make good whisky that’s enjoyed by lots and lots of good people, that’s the purpose of whisky making.’
However, if you still buying only to invest there has been a number of phenomenal releases this year, all notable for their delicious rareness. Following on from his recent MBE, Balvenie’s malt master, David Stewart (pictured top sampling in his warehouse), has launched his ‘DCS Compendium Chapter Two’ featuring five oak influenced whiskies – the 1972 European oak Oloroso sherry butt alone should get him a dukedom.
Meanwhile, a beguiling collection themselves, the great & the good of the spirits sector have formed The Last Drop Distillers, launching a number of exceptionally rare whiskies including a 50 year old ‘double matured’ blend limited to only 898 bottles.
The brilliant Cambus
However there was one mesmeric dram Hedgehog encountered this year that tasted so good, one almost couldn’t bear to put it away to gather dust and profit margins. The stunningly complex 40 year old single grain Cambus jumps and dances in a fruity explosion followed by a fast mellowness that falls across the tongue, afore a darkening, sweet, woody finish. ‘One feels maybe they just got really, really, lucky,’ said a man who knows much more about whisky than Hedgehog. One could say the same of those fortunate enough to own a bottle.