Variations on a Theme

Peonies (without flash)

Peonies (without flash)

It’s the season of peonies, one of my favorite flowers. We have several peony bushes out in the garden, but a good friend brought over a bouquet yesterday that included a couple of spectacular blossoms.

I tried to capture the color explosion once without a flash, and once with a flash, using my phone camera.

The flowers are the same, but the flavor of each image is different.

This week the fates conspired to provide me, not only with beautiful flowers, but with a variety of Balvenie whiskies.

We usually have a bottle of Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old around, so that’s nothing unusual. Over the past week or so, we’ve been traveling, and we picked up two other bottlings in duty-free areas of the airports we passed through.

We have a Balvenie Triple Cask 12 Year Old, as well as a Balvenie 21-Year-Old Portwood Finish.

Peonies (with flash)

Peonies (with flash)

Last night we tried the two next to one another.

We started with the oldest. The Portwood 21 Year Old is pretty special. It’s matured in traditional oak casks, then transferred to port casks for final ageing. This whisky is such a treat, and is really worth savoring. It’s very rich, has a warm but subtle hint of peat and oak, and for me, tasted of tart apple cider with honey, red berries and malt. Luscious.

The Balvenie Triple Cask series has three bottlings: 12, 16 and 25 years. As far as I can tell, all three are only sold as ‘travel exclusives’, i.e. in duty-free shops. The whisky goes through three types of casks:  ‘traditional refill casks’, ‘first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels’, and  ‘first-fill Oloroso sherry butts’.

Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it well, because the Triple Cask 12 Year is mellow, smooth, with just a whisper of smoke, dried apricot, sherry, burnt sugar and vanilla.

Maybe it wasn’t fair to try the Portwood first, because the Triple Cask tasted almost simple by comparison. But once we settled into it, the younger whisky was also a delight.

And after those two whiskies, even the water tasted wonderful.

A few other fine variations for Sunday.


The Real Thing

Scotch whisky will soon have something else in common with Champagne besides being one of my favorite beverages: It will have protected geographical status.

Like many other coveted products, Scotch whisky is often counterfeited. Fake Scotch whisky is estimated to cost the industry £500 million annually, approximately ten percent of  overall sales.

Old Map of Scotland 1650 Source: Virtual Hebrides

Old Map of Scotland 1650
Source: Virtual Hebrides

A new Spirit Drinks Verification Scheme will require “all businesses involved in any stage of the production of Scotch Whisky to register with Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) by listing all their relevant sites within and outside Scotland, including distilleries, maturation facilities, blending and bottling plants. Bottlers of Scotch Whisky abroad will also be subject to controls.” (The Scotsman)

For the time being, this verification will only be required for Scotch whisky sold in the European Union, but will be extended to other unique UK beverages with a geographical origin, such as Somerset Cider Brandy and Irish Whiskey produced in Northern Ireland. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the certified Scotch label spread further.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in this case, it would be nice to know that you’re getting the real thing.

And to warm the end of this weekend like a dram of fine single malt Scotch, The Real Thing. Don’t watch if you can’t appreciate the rhythm and glamour that was the mid-1970s.

With thanks to Rachel MacNeill for alerting me to this story!