“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





25 July 2013


Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten Islay Malt Whisky
$85-$95; 46% alcohol; cork; 95 points

Made from malted Scottish barley without any peat smoke, this is one of the most refined and elegant young whiskies I’ve had.  Having been addicted, in those braggadocio minutes of youth, to the extreme malts like Lagavulin, Laphroiag, Bunnahabhain, Ardbeg and the like, I had been impressed by the theory that their principal character was the peat reek instilled in them when their barley was smoked over a smouldering peat fire.  Then, when a new crew of revolutionary whisky lovers took over the run-down Bruichladdich distillery on the western Hebridean isle of Islay a decade back, they released the first of their Octomore peated malts, which smelt nothing like any of the above, in spite of it having higher levels of peat than any of them.  Which led me to wonder about the peat nonsense I’d been fed all my life. 

This led me to wonder about the nature of what I’d though to be peat, and how much it smelt like Brettanomycaes, the horrid yeast which lives in oak and rots it and destroys wine kept in it, just as it would destroy the orginal flavours of whisky, or any other thing left in it.  Given the Scots distillers’ parsimonious history of buying the cheapest used barrels on Earth, then putting strong spirit in them to leach all the flavour from them for ten or twenty years, before blending and watering for bottling, I began to have nightmares about the Scotch whisky boom and what sort of terrible stinky old wood most of the so-called peaty ones came from.  I can’t see the master holy stillman Jim McEwin and his Hebridean gang ever releasing a Bretty Laddie, so if you’d like to investigate the true aroma of highly peated, hyper-clean malt whisky in the meantime, steal somebody’s wallet and buy some Octomore before retasting those other so-called peaty malts.  Your mind will change. 

In the meantime, hit the Laddie Ten: a beautiful, slender, complex and lively whisky that’s been in Bourbon barrels for a decade.  It’s a tease, with no smoke.  It has delightful tweaks of citrus rind, ginger and light honey, and tastes of all of those instilled in the essence of barley fields ready for the harvest. The spirit has sucked some of the caramel from the charred white oak barrels which originally held Bourbon for three years somewhere in Amurkha, but it’s never too rich or sweet.  One small piece of ice (maximum) may be permitted in Australia, which is hotter than Islay, also a dribble of rain.  In this wintery weather, pour yourself one, set up on the veranda, shut your eyes, and you’re in the north Atlantic without suffering the horrid ignominy of modern air travel.  Try it with a tart cheddar and an oatcake, and watch out for the bonksies.

Writer’s Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey
$75-$85; 40% alcohol; screw cap; 93 points

Triple-distilled, and therefore cleaner, and - forgive me - closer to pure barley vodka than lesser or more characterful whiskies, this lovely thing has no peat smoke, but has slumbered in old Bourbon barrels for up to a decade, depending on how one counts in Irish.  The super-clean spirit has sucked its fair share of caramel from those second-hand white oak barrels, and I suspect there’s been a few more dollops tipped in, but it’s never much like Bourbon.  It has tantalizing, but gentle ginger (from oak) citrus rind (same) and some caramel (same again) and that lovely ripe grainfield reek as well as, er, alcohol. 

Try as I have, I can’t for the life of me discover where in Ireland it is made, but the name Bernard Walsh does re-appear, making me think he’s a clever barrel-selector who buys from everyone else, than makes a blend, then makes up a label which is obviously designed to seduce people who think they should write, but can’t.  Which is a lot of friggin people.  

So I betray my profession with this appraisal, because at least sometimes I can write, and I confess that strong whiskies and whiskeys have been leant on for assistance in this pursuit over the years.  So I am in a better position than most to say that this label’s suggestion that this drink will ease writer’s block is abject bullshit.  It’s like Red Bull having a sign on the tin saying it’ll help you sleep. 

I started out on this tincture feeling like a betraying cad on a particularly grievous day, but have, over several bottles and six, nay, eight months of grievous days, decided that Bernard Walsh, or whoever he may be, can sure blend a stunning racy whiskey, but can’t write to save himself.  Unless he thinks that making a motza buying, blending, packaging and selling this delightful elixir will save him.  

It’ll take more than that to save him.  Give it a burl. 

1 comment:

Matt McCulloch said...

Says here it's from a distillery in Cork: http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com/Writers_Tears_Irish_Whiskey-product-91-z-product.htm so must be the Midleton distillery home of Jameson, Paddy and Powers whiskeys among others - owned by Pernod Ricard. Why am I interested? Love whisk(e)y and my grandfather was a distiller at Ballantine's in Dumbarton!