Our spirits expert Rob Whitehead eyes up his prized collection of bottles, and contemplates which he’ll be opening – and with whom – in the weeks ahead
Having spent the last several months exploring the idea of there being no “right” time for some of the most irreplaceable bottles in my hoard, it strikes me that the finest experiences I’ve garnered have been through sharing them with friends and loved ones. Gradually, since the darkest days of March and April, this has become easier to do in person, but sharing a dram via Zoom, Skype or WhatsApp has provided light and succour to my tired soul. Here, then, are five drams which I will take immense pleasure in quietly sharing over the coming weeks.
Penderyn, Royal Welsh with Les Jones, my 98-year-old grandfather-in-law
Stephen Lesley Jones is my wife’s grandfather, the sole remaining member of his generation left in my family. Despite failing hearing, my wife and I regularly chat with him via Skype, and sharing a little drop of this Welsh elixir will raise a twinkle of a smile, I feel sure.
Nutty and very gently peated on the nose and with chewy fudge appearing on the palate, the finish abounds with vanilla spice and sweet smoke. An evocative glance back at the history of Welsh whisky with the oldest Welshman I know.
Laphroaig Lore with Billy Lindsey, Barrister, University friend
Billy is one of my firmest friends, and, as a brilliant barrister, a wordsmith of the highest calibre. While we live many counties apart, we always make time to meet three or four times a year to toast our shared stories. Uncorking a bottle of Lore with a lawyer seems deeply fitting.
Luxuriantly peaty aromas envelop a nose simultaneously promising sweetness and succulent smoke. Thickly-textured and warming on the palate, the finish gives pipe tobacco, black cherries and midwinter fruit cake batter, cheekily licked off a spoon.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Barbados Rum with Edwin Dublin, London Shop Manager
Edwin’s family hail from Montserrat, one of the smallest Caribbean Islands, and one that has no commercial rum industry. The glorious rums of Barbados, particularly from the Foursquare distillery, have, many times, stood as fitting accompaniment to his mother’s delicious Montserratian ginger cake recipe.
Beautifully poised on the nose, with touches of exotic fruit, this classically brilliant Rum shows exactly why the Foursquare distillery in the south-eastern corner of Barbados is so renowned amongst rum connoisseurs in the Caribbean and around the world. Toffee and molasses mingle on the palate with spice and wood.
The English Whisky Co. 2013 Peated Refill Virgin Oak with James Davies, fellow father to a toddling daughter
James and I have daughters of very similar ages, and have, with the blessing of our wives, found time once every couple of months to meet, laugh, cry and raise a dram or two to the extraordinary journey of fatherhood. We also worked together, many years ago in Oxford, when I had started my first job in the wine and spirits industry.
This is bright and overtly fruity, with peachy, vanilla and nutty flavours from the oak. These flavours merge with the wood-fire and cigar notes from the peat. A splash of water will bring out some cherry, smoky coconut, and a lovely, spicy vanilla. Whisky that is this good, as this age, stands as proof that, to paraphrase the evangelist, the young shall indeed inherit the earth.
Frapin 15-year-old limited edition with a comfortable armchair, a Mumford & sons album and my favourite crystal glassware
Cognac of this quality is a lamentably rare treat, and, when Frapin brought it to my attention, I asked them to bottle a limited-edition one-off run of litre bottles to be able to enjoy even more of it. An utter delight when served quietly alongside music and late-evening contentment.
An effortlessly elegant nose of citrus and stone fruit make way for exotic wood and baking spice. Luscious on the palate but with no excess bulk, the masterful art of Frapin’s mercurial maître de chai, Patrice Piveteau, is eminently displayed in this charmingly complex affair.