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Le Malt 24 Hours – part 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, for our 24 Whiskies in 24 Hours Challenge Mark and I understood that company would be an important factor in the undertaking. Good morale would ensure positive malt moments. With this in mind, for our eighth whisky Xander, Quaich Society Secretary, joined us in Mission Control.

Out came Peat’s Beast, an independent bottling of a peaty whisky recently released and for which I had a 70cl sample. I hope to bring you more detailed information on this dram soon, but for now suffice it to say that it galvanised our spirits for the night ahead. ‘Just remember,’ Xander replied, ‘alcohol is a depressant’. And then he bounced out the door.

01.30: Four Roses Small Batch and Dervish pizzas.

Little did Mark and I realise that, ordering pizzas aside, we would enjoy no other outside human interaction for the next 17 hours. We decamped to his flat where a Speyside period developed: two malt whiskies with bipolar developments in both Sherry and ex-Bourbon oak. The Macallan Fine Oak 10yo and The Balvenie Doublewood proved delicious, despite the incoming seismic waves of another sinus headache for me. From there, arrangements became somewhat comical as we tramped to and fro, grabbing whiskies (Balblair 1992, Four Roses Small Batch) and a DVD (Rat Race) so that whisky and adequate distraction should be in the one place.

A very truncated verticle tasting of Aberlour followed as Mark’s 10yo introduced my 16yo single cask. It was at this point, dear readers, that despite the fortifying ham pizza, I confess I hit the wall. 03.30 had arrived entirely unexpectedly and found me pschologically unprepared. We had, when discussing the endeavour, always admitted that fatigue and not inebriation would be the greatest threat to completing the Le Malt 24 hours but I had not expected the agonising, bleary-eyed and ponderously-stomached horror of it all. I sat, slumped, on my sofa and could not revive myself with a pragmatic appraisal of the situation: we were two whiskies beyond halfway, if I could only endure until 5am or thereabouts, I could conquer the challenge.

Mercifully, our itinerary came to the rescue. Mark’s coastal collection of Jura Superstition and Clynelish 14yo would see us through until dawn, and we had agreed that we would take the Challenge to the beach. SAS-style, I grabbed everything warm I possessed, in addition to an Easter Egg. The trek that followed I remember neither as brief nor straightforward but we belatedly arrived at the Old Course. En route, we had exchanged greetings with a hedgehog which Mark entirely failed to photograph. I think this multi-species interaction gave me new heart, however, for I navigated my way between the 17th and 18th, then the 2nd and 1st – avoiding the Swilken Burn by some miracle – and placed boot on sand with firmer resolution.

We pitched ourselves on a bit of dune, poured the Jura, and became entranced by the wonders of the universe above our heads. I sipped the whisky which, at pre-dawn temperatures, reminded me of the Jura and ice cream experiment we had indulged in at 16.30: a smoky, butterscotch frozen treat. As I lay on the dune, I noticed a satellite sliding over the sky, and traced its progress with slack-jawed wonder. The Milky Way could be seen, too.

Astoundingly beautiful on both counts: the 15yo Caol Ila and sunrise on St Andrews' pier.

Because it was cold, and unbeknownst to ourselves we now sported a significant layer of light sand courtesy of the seaside breeze, we moved on to East Sands. By this point, light had begun to build in the lower reaches of the sky and hope renewed. Mark and I slouched to the end of the pier which was no less chilly or exposed than West Sands had been, but the insistent swells coming from the horizon broke against it in the half-light with a mesmeric beauty. Black and blue, the waves kept on melting against the structure on which we stood, with textures I well knew my camera could not capture.

Clynelish and that Easter Egg ushered in the dawn, and we poured the Caol Ila single cask in time to encourage the burning slit of red that announced the return of the sun. Despite this being the 17th dram of the day, that Caol Ila in that moment will always remain a particular privilege to have savoured.

The terrors of the night vanquished, we returned to my flat where an unusual breakfast awaited us. The Glenlivet 21yo at 07.30 in the morning beat a bowl of Crunchy Nut cornflakes any day, and when I opened the Redbreast 12yo an hour later, it was infinitely preferrable to fruit muesli and yoghurt.

 

Into the finishing straight: Mark pours the Glenmorangie Original.

Breaking the 20 whiskies barrier would require another stagger back to Mark’s. There, Glenmorangie Original witnessed a fit of laughter on my part as I speculated on what members of the public passing Mark’s sitting room window should think were they to look in at us. The laughing quickly stopped, however. At 10.25, our finishing line seemed further away than it had at 06.45. We put The Departed on the DVD player and poured, drank, washed glasses, poured and drank again. Mark professed to be struggling by this stage, and I had started to worry about what that gentle tug in my lower abdomen might indicate as to the status of my liver. Damon, Di Caprio and co. shooting each other passed some critical time and eventually, with wry smiles and rasped ‘slainte‘s, the penultimate whisky entered the glasses. Incredibly, and Mark agreed, I could still find the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban enjoyable. I could still stand whisky.

Walking back into the Whey Pat, I fixed my gaze upon their wall of whiskies in a manner that the barmaid would have been forgiven for judging as ‘unnecessarily aggressive’ or ‘mad’.

‘What do you fancy?’ asked Mark. I slumped against the bar.

‘Old Pulteney 12yo, please.’

And so Lavinia, our companion from the Bruichladdich tasting but 21 hours previously, discovered us half an hour later a pitiful, morose pair. There was a plate of nachos I could not finish, despite having drawn upon them as my motivational energy in the small hours. There were blood-shot eyes. There was a notable failure of communication as I could think of nothing besides my bed. However, there was real cameraderie between myself and my fellow expeditionist. We had done what had at certain points seemed impossible and we could still look at a bottle of whisky without yelping in fright. 24 whiskies, 24 hours – a vast number of singular memories, and the written promise that we will never do anything like it again. At least, my signature is on there; Mark is thinking he might give it a shot with ale.

The completion photograph. I should have done - but could not do - more damage to those nachos...

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The (Really) Good Spirits Co., Glasgow

When plans were first afoot to drop by a few more of Scotland’s excellent whisky shops, I could have had no idea that by the time it came to write about them on the Scotch Odyssey Blog the mood of optimistic malty materialism would have soured to one of grudging destitution.

Whisk(e)y – and this is the honest truth - constitutes my only financial weakness. I don’t own a games console, I don’t buy clothes, I don’t go to concerts more than twice a year or sporting events at all. Yet here I sit, gently shivering in my student flat, more acutely aware than ever before of the dwindling loan money, incredulous at what it costs to be in a position to pour yourself a dram once in a while. Electricity, rent, internet, food, phone: all must take precedence.

Inside the Good Spirits Co.

It was under a cloud of such dark thoughts, on an otherwise spotless Glasgow day, that I ducked into the Good Spirits Co. in the city centre. A few weeks previously I had sent an excited message to Mark Connelly, co-founder of the independent spirits shop, asking for Bourbon or Rye recommendations. His pick was a Noah’s Mill, a brand I had never heard of but which receives rave reviews from what I could glean from a quick traipse across the internet. The batch Mark was so keen on was bottled at 57.15% and would come in at £49. My eyes struggled to ignore the handsome black wax-sealed bottle, but I would have to scan other shelves.

On a single level, just beneath the street, a flight of stone stairs conveys you from the battle royal of Glasgow buses pulling up and roaring off again into the soothing company of fine spirits. I was impressed with its size, a large and long cuboid extending from the door to the far wall, where the only Spanish cedar wood, walk-in humidor in Scotland lurks fragrantly. In whisky shops now, my gaze flicks to particular areas, expecting to see the same brands. Not here. There are some of the usual suspects, but the packaging of independent bottlers enlivens the displays with A. D. Rattray, Hart Brothers and Duncan Taylor well-represented. However, I get the feeling that were I to go back in next month Adelphi, Douglas Laing and Signatory may well have taken their places. Mark told me that his customers are increasingly interested in ‘good spirits’, not ‘the same stuff I have always drank’. This, he says, is especially true with his gins and allowed him to stock different brands of rare or small batch products which would always sell. Gin nudges Scotch for the top seller in the shop.

The impressive selection of world whiskeys section.

The world whisky section is particular impressive also, with two separate offerings from South Africa in the shapes of Bains and Three Ships. From different parts, there is Lark, Mackmyra and a healthy showing from Ireland: Cooley in particular.

As I mentioned before Christmas, my promise to myself and my palate was that no more Scotch would be bought until I had explored one other region first. The Noah’s Mill may have been off-limits, but I was delighted to see a solitary bottle of Four Roses and a legion of Buffalo Trace, both for £26. It would have to be between these two, and Mark made the decision still harder but informing me that the Buffalo Trace was now bottled at 40% abv, but what he had was a consignment of some of the last 45% ers.

It was the Four Roses I ultimately handed over the exquisite counter: a design based around the staves of three Sherry butts with more straightened staves for the counter top. ‘We looked at getting it for the whole floor,’ Mark mused, but then quoted me a three-figure price per square metre and the decision to go with standard wooden flooring looked a sound one.

The Good Spirits Co.'s Living Cask. What Dr Frankenstein was really after, I think.

I was not allowed to leave before having tried their ‘living cask’, a tiny Sherry wood cask which originally held Highland Park and Bunnahabhain but always receives a top-up of something else when the level in the barrel reaches the tap. Batch 4 dribbled into my Glencairn glass and it was rather excellent: coastal with plenty of Sherry fruit and spice on the nose, there were also notes of rich honey and earth – possibly the Ardmore and the Aberfeldy fighting for supremacy. The palate was sublime with red fruits and pale creamy oak leading into plenty of toffee. A second sip revealed an aggressive saltiness and a fizzing sweet cereal quality. £15 will buy you a 20cl bottle and it is certainly worth a look.

With directions to the Chinaski’s Bourbon bar and the Bon Accord lodged in our brains, my friends and I reascended to street level in very good spirits.

 

The Good Spirits Co., 23 Bath Street, Glasgow

0141 258 8427

http://thegoodspiritsco.com

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