Blends have had something of a resurgence lately, gaining huge support from bloggers, writers and drinkers. They gained a less than positive reputation in the mid 90s as single malts increased in popularity and exclusivity; the latter highlighted their status as a sign of class and refinement whilst blends became the representation of the lowest common denominator, often priced as the cheapest brands on the whisky shelves in the supermarket. However, with long established brands such as Famous Grouse and Johnny Walker either starting to develop new whiskies or simply advertise existing products more effectively, higher priced, higher quality blends are now visibly supplementing these brand’s ranges and are being taken more seriously again.
The sherry industry and the whisky industry appear to go hand in hand with the passing of old sherry casks from Bodega to distillery to allow such “sherry-bombs” as Aberlour A’bunadh and the Macallan sherry oak range. Despite being the leading fortified wine in the UK market, with figures of £89million, it still, to some, seems to retain its reputation of Grandma’s Christmas tipple.
I recently went to Andalusia and had an opportunity to head to Montilla. Whilst it is not in the sherry triangle, Montilla is a major centre for wine production and has inspired the Amontillado style sherry – Amontillado meaning “in the style of Montilla. I went to the Alvear Bodega and enjoyed their very welcoming hospitality. Unfortunately, due to EU directives on overproduction of wine, 65,000 acres of vineyard has been reduced to 6,000 acres with a massive increase in olive groves. For the last hour and a half of driving towards Montilla, nothing but olive trees were visible in any direction, as far as the eye could see.
There is a universe where I am not a dentist, I am a purveyor of whisky. There is another where I am a photographer. Technically, there are an infinite number where I am a dentist, another infinite amount where I am a drinks seller and a further limitless total where I am a photographer. There are unlimited more where I do jobs I don’t want, or have never heard of. And then there are the further imponderable universes where I simply do not exist.
Until last year, I had never watched The Sound of Music. Of Total Film’s top 100 films, I have seen 31; of Empire’s top 100, I have seen 34, although I have seen 9 of what they consider to be the top 10. Yet I do not consider myself an imbecile when it comes to films. What worries me is that a huge number of the films in the list I feel like I have seen because I have discussed and debated them, seen clips and can quote lines verbatim. But I have never actually sat down and watched them.
In the summer I play cricket. I cannot claim to do it well, but I do enjoy playing. I think I would probably fall into the category of bowler over batsman since, although I enjoy batting, I never seem to spend any quality time at the crease. My most effective work seems to be based around using the length of my limbs to hurl the ball at (reasonable) speed.
One of my friends from University, who helped me through my training, saw me through times good and bad, would probably best fit into the stereotype currently known as a hipster. Although I’m sure he’d tell you that he was a hipster before it was cool. He’d also probably hate me for making that joke. The defining feature for me labelling him as such, besides the skinny jeans and ridiculous hair, was his insistence that once a band became mainstream and became popular, they couldn’t possibly be any good. Even if the same song he had been listening to just weeks before became popular, he would stop listening, seemingly out of spite.
There are many things I have inherited from my father. There are the good – some aptitude for sports, my height my ability to grow facial hair and, according to him, my looks. Then there are the not so good – the receding hairline and grey edges which belie my youthful status and, perhaps most worryingly, my pyromaniac tendencies.
If you have seen my photo stream over at flickr, you may have seen some of my light painting pictures – achieved by leaving the shutter open for a long time while manipulating light sources to creative effect. Once I had grown tired of using torches and luminescent wire, I discovered that small garden fireworks could be relatively easily twirled, moved and generally manipulated to great effect. The ultimate culmination of this came about two years ago, when my father and I decided to set fire to a beach.
Last year Eddie Vedder released his second solo album. He was renowned in the ’90s for his loud, fast paced and thoroughly enjoyable grunge music, but this one’s a little different. The musical accompaniment is almost exclusively the ukulele. Gone is the distorted guitar, the thrashing bass line and the heavy drums; in is the gentle strumming of nylon strings on a miniature body. It is a superb album and works, despite the antithetical nature of the sounds being brought to the table. The argument can be made that it works simply because of this dichotomy: the delicacy of the ukulele and the strength of Eddie Vedder’s voice, so suited to rawk, suddenly finds subtle hints and tones and edges that were never so clear before.
This is not a new phenomenon, not the first time an album has come straight out of left field. Scarlett Johansson produced a covers album of Tom Waits’ songs, Paul Anka produced a rock covers album and Bob Dylan made a (perhaps ill-advised) Christmas album. It is, however, one of the few times an album so different from the artists standard offering has been so good.
The Balvenie is all about honey. If you read their tasting notes, the word honey is mentioned almost as much as is humanly possible. It is impossible to drink any of their product and not think honey. What they are not about is peat-smoke. Although their maltings are peated, using peat from New Pitsligo (about 40 miles from the distillery, also famous for lace), they have never sought a peated profile and, until recently, they almost appeared to go out of their way to avoid the smoky flavours. In 2001, they released their Islay Cask – a 17year old expression finished for a matter of months in a refill Islay cask. Although they have never stated which distillery the casks were from, it is likely that it began with an L-, and ended with -aphroaig. I didn’t get a chance to try that one but I did get some of their latest smoky iteration, The Peated Cask.
In April 2010, as part of an April Fools’ campaign, KFC announced the Double Down sandwich in America. The idea was simple: KFC do chicken “well”; people wanted a chicken sandwich; so why not leave the bread out and use the chicken to sandwich bacon and cheese? Although it started as an April Fools’ joke, demand was so high that, less than two weeks later, they released the Double Down to a test audience. Response was overwhelming; in four months, they sold 10 million of these “tasty” beasts. They are now sold internationally. They took what they did “well” and decided to do it “better”.
Back in the dark old days of actually having physical copies of music (vinyl, tapes, CD’s and the like), a special edition that demanded attention would occasionally come along. Adam and Joe, back when they were on Channel 4, had a whole sketch on limited edition packaging for CD’s and the benefits and problems that were associated. Novelty packaging often meant instackability causing ugly shelves and difficulty in organising your music. More recently, I stupidly bought a limited edition copy of Transformers 2 (there are enough problems with that sentence that I never want to have to say it again), which came in a transforming Bumblebee sleeve. I thought it was unusual, quirky, interesting. Until I got it home and realised that I hated it. It never stood up on its own, it was both taller and wider than a standard disc case so wouldn’t fit in my shelves; eventually it irked me so much that I threw it out. Not all packaging is this bad but it can mar a good product.