A conversation that happened, yesterday:
Bossman: “Listen up, we need a blog post. Has anyone got any ideas?”
Lowly writer: “Not a sausage.”
Bossman: “Ok then just do a generic, slightly tenuous list-based article.”
Oh, hello there. Welcome to this blog post about the subject on everyone’s lips: Desert Island Whiskies.
Say you’re to be stranded on a desert island. You’ve already selected a playlist of all your favourite Morrissey songs and packed a Ray Mears book for handy hints and tips, but wait… You’ll need some liquor. For some reason there’s a caveat: you’re allowed just 5 whiskies. What do you do?
Fear not, friend, I’ve taken the trouble of compiling a selection for just such a time.
Now, this could just be a list of the five greatest whiskies, but I’ve gone further. I’ve divided my selection into five categories, because whilst adjusting to island life, your mood will likely change. From, “oh heavens I’m stuck on this bloody island” one minute, to “I literally never have to hear the word “hashtag” or “selfie” ever again” the next. It’s a roller-coaster ride and you’ll want the booze to match.
Mood 1: “Why me!”
In the moving pictures, characters are wont to ponder some recent hardship whilst nursing a glass of bourbon in a poorly illuminated bar. Well tough luck old bean, there is no dimly lit bar, no empathetic bartender polishing a glass, no jukebox playing a perfectly selected list of mood-based music.
All you have is a beach and Morrissey’s Greatest Hits.
To cope with the initial sadness of never seeing friends, family or Xbox again, you’ll need a fine bourbon: Something inspiring, something that will develop in your glass as you sit on an old rock gazing out onto the pristine blue waters of loneliness.
The Whisk(e)y: Baker’s 7
Bottled at barrel proof and made with a special strain of jug yeast used by the Beam family for more than six decades, Baker’s 7 Year Old is an intense bourbon with a characteristic puckering fruit note. The complexity and sheer amount going on here render it all the better for the more ponderous moments of island life… Unlit tobacco, mixed peels and toffee on the nose, with a palate laden with tangy fruit, oak grip, cinnamon and leather…
Mood 2: “Actually it’s not so bad”
You’ve smeared your own blood on a volleyball, you’ve removed a wayward tooth with an ice-skate and you’ve made a lounge chair out of coconuts and palm fronds… Life’s not too bad really. You’re still dealing with the tougher aspects, like no loo roll, and zero episodes of Frasier to watch for comfort, but you’re starting to suspect you might actually make it on this island.
The Whisky: Balvenie 21 Year old PortWood
Aged for one-and-a-score years, this classic Speyside single malt was finished in 30 year old Port pipes. The result is fruity, honeyed, rich in barley malt, spiced… hopeful… optimistic… This is less contemplative and more of a dram with which to relax at the end of a long tropical day during which you successfully speared your first fish.
Mood 3: “I’m going slightly loopy”
You’ve been on the island for four months now. Your solitary home has rendered you reasonably barmy; you’ve started to converse with the local fauna, in particular a parakeet which you’ve named Colonel Gaddafi. You’ve even come up with a shortlist of names for the island itself (these include Isla Deserticus, Isla Be Back, Isla Fisher and Clean Up on Isla Five).
You’ll need a whisky to suit this mood: An eccentric, oddball dram filled with whimsy and mirth.
The Whisky: Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak
The name of this Swedish single malt alone is a meandering cadence of fun. It’s a fruity, peppery, spicy, oily single malt, aged in American, French and Spanish oak casks. Whisky critic and Panama hat-wearer Jim Murray described it as “one which really commands attention”.
He’s quite right. Nose it and you’ll find berry fruits, cherries, allspice and hints of smoke. Taste it and you’ll be treated to a feast of malt, stewed fruits, marmalade, black pepper and oily peat.
As if all that wasn’t enough, it’s even certified Organic, which is perfect given your newfound lifestyle.
Mood 4: “Maybe I deserve this”
This is an odd point in the ever-shifting relationship between you and Isla Deserticus. You’ve cast away (see what I did there) all hope of rescue. In fact, you’ve begun to look back on all the ill deeds you’ve done during your life, and you’ve started to wonder whether a) there’s some higher power out there, and b) whether he (male, white, bearded Christian God) is responsible for your new life. Maybe you’ve even become the sort of berk who uses phrases like “karma’s a bitch”. Well, maybe old karma is a) a thing, and b) a bitch. Maybe you’ve upset the higher powers by doing something dreadful like reading the Telegraph all your adult life, referring to darts as a sport, or saying “lol”, “banter” or “that’s so relevant” out loud and in public.
Actually, I’m starting to think you deserve this too…
The Whisky: Bruichladdich Octomore 6 Year Old 2007 (cask 16746) - Sauternes Cask (Rest & Be Thankful)
Ignore the name; you’ve nothing to be thankful about. You’re stuck on a desert island, and it’s by your own doing. This whisky is insanely heavily peated. I mean really too much peat. It was finished in Sauternes dessert wine casks, and bottled at the intense cask-strength of 64%. In the words of Ray Winstone channelled by Steve Coogan in The Trip: “Drink it”.
Mood 5: “A ship on the horizon”
You awake on a blissfully serene morning on Isla Deserticus. The glorious white sands are gently lapped by the warm azure ocean waters, Colonel Gaddafi the Parakeet is repeating rude phrases you’ve taught him, and you’ve just discovered a load of tasty pineapples. Life’s good.
But wait, what’s that? Just above the shimmering infinity of the ocean, you sight a blurred dot. What could it be?
It’s a ship!
Ignore all that nonsense about life being good. Wave it down manically! You look for signalling devices and alternate between coloured cloth and now-furious parakeet. And look! It’s changing course and heading towards you!
The Whisky: Port Ellen 35 Year Old 1978 - 14th Release (2014 Special Release)
It’s party time/you may need to bribe the captain to let you aboard.
This moment calls for the finest and most expensive (ergo, best) 3cl dram in the Drinks by the Dram range. Just 2,964 bottles made (almost all of which are gone for good), this 35 year old, 1978 vintage was released as part of Diageo’s annual Special Releases in 2014. Made with whisky aged in both refill American oak and European Oak casks, this fabulously rich, peaty, smouldering spirit is quite simply magnificent.
Crack open the wax-sealed lid of your 3cl sample and nose it.
Take in the earthy peat, the vanilla cream, hints of almonds, marmalade, strawberries, calves leather, unlit cigars, hints of the coast.
Take a sip, ragged, leathery islander. Allow those sweet, sweet honey notes to wash over your palate, amidst a rainbow of toasted oak and plum jam (what a weird rainbow). Enjoy the peat, allow it to dance over your tongue like a young Michael Flatley. Is that allspice? Treacle? Just a soupçon of lime. Yes, gentle reader, yes it is.
Then the finish: How long can it last? Many, many moments. Cocoa, smoke, dry oak, black pepper and oloroso sherry elegantly trailing away for a most heavenly finish.
Now cast the empty dram bottle into the sand and set a course for Albion. You’ve made it: one year with nothing but 5 drams, Morrissey’s Greatest Hits, and an increasingly disgruntled parakeet.
Drinks by the Dram.