Searching for, and collecting special whiskies is a great hobby but you also need some overriding goals to reach. Years ago, when I embarked upon my own whisky exploration trip, I wanted first to taste and collect a miniature sample of each individual single malt from Scotland´s then working distilleries.
Eventually, that task was accomplished, with an array of 114 single malt miniatures from as many Scotch distilleries. This required several trips to Edinburgh, Elgin and London, as well as more remote destinations. Mail order was not an option – that would have been too easy!
My next endeavour was suggested by my youngest son, who thought that it would be more challenging to collect whiskies according to the alphabet.
Careful consideration led to a new venture, which was actually more difficult than the first one, even though I was obliged to include not just single malts, but also blends. Another necessity proved to be the addition of international whiskies.
An important rule was not to order any whisky. It had to be found in a bar or a liquor store to count. Computer clicking does not give you the opportunity to meet and drink with new friends in places you would never have visited otherwise!
With these preliminaries set down, the search began.
Luckily, my occupation as a travelling consultant in natural products has given me the opportunity to look for (and
drink) whiskies in several countries and continents.
Some letters of the alphabet proved to be very easy to cover. Consider all the Glens: Glenfarclas, Glendronach etc. Over 50 of them, and anyone of them could represent the letter G. Almost too easy, as were A and B. I only had to tick them off in my own miniature collection. Not surprisingly, the most challenging letters turned out to be X, Y and Z.
Z was an exceptional find, a single miniature bottle (the last of its kind) of Zebra Zelect, a blend of Scotch whiskies sold in favor of the Edinburg Zoo. It rested, totally forgotten and very dusty, on a bottom shelf of the impressive Vintage House shop in Old Compton Street in London.
The taste suggested that it could have been bottled in the zoo.
There were other odd experiences along the way. The King Erik blend was bottled and sold by a French company in Cognac, and true to this declaration of origin, it really tasted more of cognac than whisky.
Maybe that was why it was sold with a discount in Hong Kong? Today, with the arrival of Kavalan and Kilchoman, you have better choices for a K whisky.
In Beijing, I found the local Qingdao, which proved to be a sweet, aromatic whisky with a vanilla-rich Bourbon character. This was really a whisky, not just any strange concoction labelled as whisky. Much more interesting than Queen Anne, and a bottle for less than a pound was a bargain.
Accidentally, when flying back from China, the bottle started to leak in the luggage compartment over my head, spreading vanilla aroma all over me and my fellow passengers. Nobody seemed to disagree, but I doubt that the smoky fumes of Laphroaig or Caol Ila should have been equally well appreciated.
There are not many V whiskies, but try to find the elusive and exclusive Volvere (by Chivas Regal), or why not the Virginia Gentleman (“distilled in Kentucky and redistilled in Virginia”), a really soft Bourbon.
Among the very few whiskies with an initial Y, the Yamazaki Pure Malt (by Suntory) clearly came out on top of Ye Monks. As for U, funnily enough, the Usquaebach had more character than the Uisge-Beatha...
The letter X was equally enigmatic in the whisky world as it is in any mathematic problem. I had tasted the lovely single malt Maxim´s de Paris, labelled as coming from Scotland´s smallest distillery, i.e Edradour, but the initial letter had to be an X.
Whisky friends proposed the Edradour Caledonia Selection labelled with a prominent Scottish flag and St Andrew´s cross as a compromise. I am a great friend of Edradour, but a cross as an X? No!
There was pouring rain that day, and no local buses or taxis to be found. But the search was worth every drop
Then, whisky aficionado Didrik Zwakenberg mailed from the French Riviera and suggested that the Excalibur single malt could be the best choice. I luckily managed to locate a bottle of this Campbeltown single malt in a supermarket in the outskirts of Nice. Thank you, Didrik!
There was a pouring rain that day, and no local buses or taxis to be found. But the search was worth every drop of rain, and whisky. Back at my hotel I felt doubly rewarded, since the Excalibur not only was the best choice for an X substitute in my alphabet, but presented itself as a delicious, nutty and very satisfying malt.
Finally, the resurrection of James Eadie´s Trade Mark “X” blend solved my problem for once and all! Many thanks to Rupert Patrick, Eadie´s great-grandson, for recreating this great old-time blend and thus resolving my ultimate problem.
So my alphabetical journey through the whisky world has now come to an end. It has been a rewarding search, finding whisky friends, bottles and bars.
What will the theme of the next search be? Numbered whiskies? But then only 100 Pipers and Vat 69 come to mind . . .
The Balvenie Distillery
The Yamazaki 18 Years Old