…In which my close friend and whisky ally discusses Balvenie’s Roasted Malt. Ben recently set up his own blog, and after some deliberation on what the names should be, settled on The Ample Dram. He is a fine writer, although the lack of photographs I find a little disturbing, so I felt I should dress up this guest post with a picture or two of my own… Anyway, Ben Challen, The Ample Dram, Balvenie and extra toasty roasty malt, what’s not to enjoy…?
When Big Ben (LittleTipple) asked me to write a guest post for his blog, my first thought was, “How will I put enough words in it?” Words aren’t usually my thing – when once asked to describe myself in three words, I went for ‘laconic’. But it turns out that it’s incredibly easy to write about something when you feel so strongly about it, and now I think I understand why Ben’s posts keep going; I sympathise with that feeling of having to make yourself stop writing, rather than keep writing.
I think what got me hooked on whisky were the memories. The range and strength of flavour is a huge part, don’t get me wrong, but what anchored it in my heart was the unbeatable evocativeness of a good dram. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban brings back memories of a fantastic cream tea in a café in Llangollen. Caol Ila 12yo recalls childhood camping trips in the New Forest. Each of the whiskies of my early years has its own memory, united in aeternum, and it brings a wonderful sort of synaesthesia to the whole experience.
The problem is, the more whiskies I drink, the more I find that the memory they evoke is another whisky. The redolence is there, the same visceral draw it’s always had, but I’m going to be brutally honest here – a whisky will always taste more like another whisky than it will the pelt of a majestic red stag, striding through bracken wet with dew. No matter what it says on the back of the box.
Which is why it is such a joy to come across a whisky that has something different. The Balvenie Roasted Malt isn’t a radical leap away from the traditional flavours of malt whisky. It’s not even a leap away from the character that Balvenie is known for. The vanilla and spice that we know and love is still there, but on top of that it has that little bit extra, my Holy Grail, a flavour that brings back a new memory.
The nose is a real knockout. You can really tell it was made from roasted barley – there’s tons of that honeyed Balvenie sweetness, but with a slightly bitter, tannic edge – think slightly overdone flapjacks. There’s a bit more savouriness as well, that sort of reminds me of goat’s cheese, but it’s hard to get a handle on.
The palate is more classically Balvenie, with those sweet and fruity flavours. It’s slightly artificial though, like one of those cereal bars with the sad little dried strawberries. Not that it’s a bad thing at all – I find that larger-than-life flavour quite refreshing in small doses.
But it’s as the whisky lingers that the déjà vu begins. There’s a bitter lemon and honey flavour that, when I think about it, is uncannily reminiscent of Strepsils. Something about that combination of the sweet citrus and the bitter tannic edge takes me back to a holiday in Nice. We’d found a lovely little glacier in the town (I don’t care if it’s the fifth most populous city in France, it feels like a town to me) and I’d gone for a lemon parfait. We’d gone to sit on the seafront, and because we were still a little overwhelmed by the price and quality of the wine, we’d got a bottle of white to hand. I’m not going to pretend it was a match made in heaven – it was an odd combination, actually – but the two flavours were each so refreshing, in their own discordant way, that it remains fixed in the memory. And now, thanks to serendipity and some innovation up in Dufftown, I have a slender link back to that time.
So that’s what whisky can be for me. Slainte mhath!