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29 February 2012

Connoisseur’s Choice #2: an evening in the cellar with Tullibardine

Good whisky, like the English language correctly used, is memorable. Sitting at a long table last night with a dozen other whisky aficionados in the basement of the Vinissimo wine boutique near Kropotkinskaya, I was told by the tastemaster, Yuri, from the site http://www.whiskyon.ru/, that a good whisky is one which, after you have brushed your teeth at night and got into bed, you can still taste as you fall asleep. I felt like saying: I know the feeling.
     But that is usually from an excess of the stuff, and rough stuff at that. Last night we were drinking moderately as we sampled four Tullibardine “expressions” as they are rather inelegantly called in the trade these days. We had three which had been matured in different types of wine cask, and one that was the straight Tullibardine spirit. And it was beautiful—light and airy, yet with a strong, fruity taste. I could have drunk a lot more.
     I have read what whisky writers say about the types of taste they experience. I find it impossible to express taste in words. What I do find is that different tastes provoke different associations in the mind. I am sure that this is different for every drinker, and differs in the same drinker from day to day. Which is part of the endless fascination of malt whisky. Appreciating it is a more a question of psychology than liquid gastronomy, if I might put it like that.
     Last night, I found myself listening with only half an ear to the description of where the distillery is, how it was designed and what the current company structure is, while I was back in my childhood, walking through the hills to Blackford, where the distillery sits, down in the valley beside the A9, half-way between Stirling and Perth.
     My family comes from Dollar and my father, who grew up there and walked the hills when he was young, used to love taking us on the 10-mile hike to Blackford. As I sipped the sacred spirit, I was suddenly up there in the cool wind, on a bright, late-summer’s afternoon, with the sound of sheep carrying across the burn and the first bracken turning a light golden, like the colour of the whisky itself.

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