Most of the past six months have been spent writing and editing his new book, A Long Stride: The Story of the World’s No. 1 Scotch Whisky, which is available now, with lockdown providing the perfect distraction-free period of time.
Settle in to discover the whiskies he would take to our desert island.
16 Years Old
One of my all-time favourites. I can’t think of anything better to drink if I was sitting in front of my campfire contemplating rescue. The rich smoke would go beautifully with the fish I’d just caught and cooked. I remember once having a long conversation in a marketing meeting about the transportational properties of single malt Scotch. Every sip of Lagavulin is an adventure. Sometimes it takes you to Islay, sometimes to imagined places.
36 Years Old 1977
I was lucky enough to bottle some exceptional whiskies as part of the Diageo Special Releases programme, but this Convalmore from 2013 was very special, with very unusual and varied fruit flavours. According to Dave Broom one of those rare rancio whiskies. We had bottled a Rare Malt, and another 1977 as a 28-year-old Special Release, but this one just blew the others away. It was a revelation. This was also a really good pack design, partly based on old Peter Dawson labels who had been distillery licensee back in the day. That’s where the blue bell trademark comes from.
18 Years Old 1996
I was given a bottle of this for Christmas back in 1996 and it was just one of the most perfect whiskies I’ve ever tasted. I’ve tried a few bottlings from different years since then, and while I know there can be quite a lot of variation between them, certainly none have come close to the wonderful combination of fruit, brine and smoke.
Old Weller Original
107 Proof 1992
I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Kentucky in the early to mid 1990s and had a crash course in Bourbon education. Stitzel Weller was still open when I first visited and I fell for the unique wheated Bourbon style it produced – I’m not really a fan of today’s rye-heavy Bourbons with their perennially ‘robust’ tasting notes. Give me the good old days, particularly this high-strength Old Weller 107, soft and luscious on the palate, the alcohol tamed by a cube or two of ice, like honeycomb with a topping of vanilla ice cream.
Under the circumstances I could hardly not choose this. Everyone’s favourite desert island whisky. A most satisfying drink that never fails to disappoint. Great nose, great mouthfeel and a wonderful richness. Depth of flavour I remember was an advertising line used by the brand in the 1990s, and it couldn’t be more true. I think you look for completeness in blends, and this one has it. I actually have a 4.5 litre bottle on my desk. Could it be that one?
A brief final luxury
Perfectly protected against the elements in its heavy duty carry-case, with a few sets of spare strings, a tuner and capo, my beautifully toned Taylor 310. When I bought it my intention was to get a second-hand Martin D-18, which I tried. But the guy in the shop brought me this one too. I spent about an hour or more just playing the C chord on each in turn and decided the Taylor was for me. I love playing this guitar, and after having had it for 15 years or so it’s beginning to fit me like a glove. With a glass by my side, and its rich resonant tones in my ear, I could be perfectly happy.