Every so often through a unique combination of serendipity, a series of events linked over long periods of time, and just blind luck, life yields something so truly special that the line between reality and dreams becomes blurred briefly. This past Sunday I was fortunate enough to experience one such moment while simultaneously enjoying a true honour.
On the occasion of one Mark Pearlman's birthday, I was fortunate enough to attend and guide a select few of his family and friends through a truly momentous tasting featuring lost distilleries, rare bottles, and truly great company. Placed in a line up featuring a 21 year old Littlemill, a 24 year old Glen Albyn, great whiskies from Macallan, and even an Ardbeg 17 year old expression, it was the 25 year old Cardhu that vaulted past every one of them, and many more, exploding into the list of the greatest whiskies I have ever had the luxury of enjoying.
On that day I had the good fortune to peel away the foil on bottle 760 of this cask strength superstar and tuck into a Speyside whisky from another era. Distilled in 1973 and bottled in 1998 at 60.5% ABV, the bottle itself was in pristine condition, and the contents, well...let's just say that days later I am still struggling to do them justice. But let's give it a go!
Nose: Rolling out of the glass in layers, light lemon and vanilla lead with just a whisp of roasted marshmallow and dark cocoa. Following closely behind are surprising grassy notes attached to heather honeyed sweetness. Then comes something lost in many of today's Speysides: the light, slightly salty, and sublimely seductive smoke of Speyside peat and a thin veil of oakiness. I could have nosed this all day!
Palate: Rich and explosive, this unchillfiltered liquid gold delivers an unparalleled malty body that coats every bit of the mouth with citrus fruit, salted butter, and hints of apple. As all of this unwinds, the oaky elements arise without becoming woody, twisting and turning before ever so slowly yielding a faintly peppered peatiness the likes of which I have never experienced before. The addition of a splash of water is most certainly required to prevent the anesthetic effects of 60.5% whisky. Yet it does nothing to diminish the flavours, instead expanding them in the same way an opera house expands the sound of the performance. Remarkable.
Finish: As the long road of the palate ends, the marathon of the finish begins. The salt and citrus linger, but are the first to go. In the next instant giving way to a fleeting moment of grassy elements reminiscent of cut hay, prior to yielding memories of autumnal leaves and distant smoke. The light oakiness is the last to depart, taking its leave with a last gasp of sweet malt closing the door behind it.
Overall: This is a dream whisky in no uncertain terms. It left me thinking about it the next day, almost wondering if I'd actually experienced it. It is unequivocally on par with the greatest whiskies I have had, and ever will have. Flawlessly balanced throughout, I enjoyed it for the better part of an hour simultaneously celebrating and lamenting every sip, knowing that eventually it would leave nothing more than a memory that I will chase from now on. Sublime and surreal from start to finish I can only hope that I have the good fortune to cross paths with it again.
So once more I must extend my thanks to Mark, as everyone in attendance received a present on his birthday. Furthermore, I extend my gratitude to every last person in the room that I was able to experience this whisky with, because great whisky is more than just liquid in a glass. It is a moment that begs to be experienced with others so that all may remember something special about it and the time that was shared.