For year and years, the idea of visiting the Outer Hebrides sounded as epic as embarking on a sled expedition to the Antarctic. In reality, all I need do is get myself to Oban, jump on the ferry, and in 4 hours 45 minutes I’m there. Indeed, my trip to Orkney a few years back felt far more momentous [WLP], no doubt because the drive from Brighton to Scrabster for the ferry to Stromness is considerable.
It’s a joy to finally be in the Outer Hebrides. I arrive in Castlebay, Barra around 6pm, enough time to find my spot for the night in Vatersay and take a stroll along one of the worlds most beautiful beaches, finishing the day with a wee nightcap or two.
What to drink? The Oban sample I might have had in Oban [WLP] feels even more apt having it here. More reflective, more relaxing.
Oban 1969/2002 32yo Ob. [btl #2603/6000 bts] 55.1% WB91.76 WF93×2 WM91
Without internet connection again, I can’t look up any of the details of this single malt. All I know is what I wrote on the label at the time: Oban / 32yo / Justerini & Brooks [the O&R stand] – J&B being Diageo. How does J&B compare with JW, I wonder? What are the recipe differentials?
- N: This one has grown rather gracefully in cask then glass. We’ve honeyed dunnage, yet the dunnage is rather low key, the honey, fruity & floral with a soft nutty huskiness. Alongside a newly cut dry ivy note, things are less dank and fusty than old noses can often be. Rather, we’ve barley sugar layers that build [and have built up] over time, in a way that you’ll rarely come across in a younger malt or blend. There’s a bone-dryness here too that I hope will translate on the nose.
- T: With no abv indicator on the sample bottle and little indication on the nose, I don’t expect it to be so strong, yet my estimate of between 50-54 abv on the palate means I’m back in the game. Profile-wise, adding water takes this old malt to a place I’d hoped it would be from nosing – dry as a bone with those crystallised oak sugars a celebration of age. No need to overthink this. I chew it over, sit with it and settle back.
- F: Reminds me of some unique Cragganmore family casks I enjoyed at Ballindalloch [WLP]. It’s not without some tannins, but given its age and what it’s imparted, I can allow it some slack. Short finish then, but with an all-too-pleasing linger.
- C: Certainly the best Oban I’ve ever had, which isn’t saying too much. Puts those trending £600+ 3yo Bimber whiskies in perspective.
Scores 90 points
I really fancy my Brora sample tonight. Brora on Barra rings true and it’s only right that I should pair it with a 1972 Clynelish – a pair of samples gleaned from the Old & Rare Festival 2020 [WLP]. I wonder how much these small sample dribbles cost me? Who cares now? What a treat!
Clynelish 1972 24yo Ob. Rare Malts [btl #5467] 61.3% WB92.04 WF91 WM90
Again, without the internet I’m without the facts and figures. How refreshing.
- N: Crikey, that’s more Brora-esque than the Brora [as it turned out]. What year did the Clynelish #2 move happen again? [WLP: 1968]. The nose is mindfully measured on honeyed/lightly syrup-ed tropical fruits with light underlying Shreddies. Then there are the other 100+ things one could explore in detail whilst pondering the very fabric of life.
- T: Now more citrusy husky and oily [whilst succulently dry], the palate speaks of the barley, the cask, and the ‘magic’/chemistry that has occurred between the two. Hold it,….
- F: ,… hold it,… for a squidgy husky citrusy barley release that speaks volumes. I imagine this has some fair age to it, yet it displays far fewer tannins than the Oban,… pah, why speak of tannins here at all?
- C: A bottle wouldn’t last long. Let’s not hesitate in giving this:
[Scores] 91 points
Brora 1972/1993 G&M CC Old Map 40% WB89.92 WF93[nn] WM89
- N: SW says ‘1972: Production of heavily peated spirit starts‘, and this one is decidedly smoky and as characterful as a late-summers warm bonfire still smoldering in the midday heat on day two. Then there’s some of that family-resembling fruitiness of the Rare Malts Clynelish, albeit slightly less tropical juicy-sweet and more citrusy with a medicinal touch that conjures memories of visits to the London Engineering Museum as a kid.
- T: Crumbs, they don’t make them like this anymore. It doesn’t take so well to water, seemingly turning to a simple smoky wash. Neat, it’s dry-as-a-bone and somewhat thin/narrow, the maltings & mashings the most prevalent profile provider whilst the fruitiness is all but reduced.
- F: Significantly smoky and dry with an almost [1990s] Laphroaig-like further medicinal touch at the death.
- C: Very decent, not stellar.
Scores 88 points
With more [and more] Tomintoul that followed, I’m a bit worse for wear the next day. I don’t properly emerge until the afternoon. Frustrated with myself that I’d spent a large part of a beautiful day in a stunning location, in the camper, I duly march all over the bottom half of the Vatersay.
Taking in the formidable white horses set against the extraordinary dark turquoise blue sea, brought on by a firm breeze, I’m invigorated.
After another hour marching around the southern end of the island, I’m ready for my next move Northwards. Within the hour, I had driven back on to Barra from Vatersay and serendipitously found myself on an immediately-available [pay as you go] ferry destined for Eriskay. With little there, I found a suitable spot for the night by the Polachar Inn on South Uist, an Inn – like so many establishments at this strange time – being refurbished in what should have been the height of the tourist season. Tough times for hospitality. It’s next year when our decisions on what we can and can’t do could really make or break these small independent businesses.
After another stiff walk into an unrelenting headwind, I didn’t feel like whisky or booze of any kind this evening. I’m thinking more and more of knocking alcohol on the head, or at the very least, for nosing & tasting [paying attention] to become an occasional pastime.
One thought on “Letting Go #7: Barra and Beyond”