I often say that one of the best things about this work, is the experiences that it affords me. More often than not I’m referring to the events, but it’s occurred to me that it is also very much the spirits I get to try, and of course share.
Recently, The Oxford Artisan Distillery gifted me a bottle of their newest release, ‘Purple Grain’. (Thank you very much). And unintentionally, waiting for a quiet and dedicated time to try it led to a serendipitous moment well worth sharing.
This my friends, is a love story.
Firstly, I would say that at a price tag of £75, this release is incredibly reasonable for a 53.6%abv. A lot of work, craftmanship and knowledge goes into these spirits, as well as everything that goes into the ingredients. I’m a big fan of The Oxford Artisan Distillery. Their use of heritage grains and heritage farming methods make their whiskies unique in profile, and friendlier to the environment than grain harvested with modern farming methods. If you’ve not yet read my first article on The Oxford Artisan Distillery, then I suggest you do first as you’ll appreciate this a lot more. I go into a fair bit of detail on the brand history, and the techniques, and I don’t do that so much in this piece. Also, if heritage grains and farming interest you…they should, by the way…then you can also read this article I wrote for Distiller Magazine which includes The Oxford Artisan Distillery and Woodhat Distillery. They are both doing incredible things for grain production, spirit production and flavour, bringing back grain varieties from the dead and reinvigorating long lost farming techniques in the process.
Now, I said this is a love story. And as much as I love a good spirit, it’s not quite the same as loving a partner. My other half and have just celebrated five years together and I shamefully only released the connection with whisky on that day, and the connection is the whisky is their five year anniversary release.
I like to think in cycles of time. Without the patterns of such structure, moments could be lost in the chaotic blur of a lifetime. Taking a moment to appreciate the cycles of things gives me a good footing. And it’s a lovely notion to think that in all of the crazy work I do, things lined up just right for us to share a dram of whisky, laid at a similar time, and compare the results.
Damien and I met five years ago. I was guarded and he was incredibly patient, giving me space when I needed and time to process feelings from a past I had no intention of taking forward. The patience on his part was a powerful thing and before long any protective walls I’d built were rubble and I was able to sit in the sun and feel the grass between my toes. Patience really is a key tool, and likewise for all the Oxford Artisan releases I’ve tried and enjoyed so far, this has been my favourite. The development of flavour in the barrel, the complexity and the integration of flavour is something that begins with good ingredients and production process…but is still something that only time can deliver with the right conditions.
There are certainly parallels to be drawn against the complexity in relationship with someone you’ve been with for a long time. The in jokes, the silly expressions and made up words that you share with each other and no one else. Our flavour has developed from the simplicity of ‘oak’ as Damien would put it, to what I get on this whisky, soft and mellow on the nose with notes of caramel and popcorn, with raisin, cookie dough and fruit and nut chocolate on the palate. I absolutely get the buttery pasty note that they claim, and certainly the almond, hazelnut and summer fruit, which must be what evokes the idea of fruit and nut…and now I realise I must make some fruit and nut cookies to pair with a dram of this. Put quite simply, it is delicious. And I’m sorry traditionalists, you are always free to drink this neat, but for me I want one ice cube, dissolving slowly, so I can sit and appreciate these flavours unfurling, slowly and beautifully like a pot of blooming tea.
This whisky is certainly special. It’s unusual, even unique. The grain itself isn’t purple, the name is actually referring to the Purple Moscatel, or Moscatel Roxo, a rare grape. According to the website, Purple Moscatel, or Moscatel Roxo, is a variety of grape which was almost lost entirely when planting of its fragile vines ceased due to the risk of phylloxera, an insect pest that wiped out many celebrated vines and grape varieties. Thanks to the painstaking efforts of winemakers in Portugal, Moscatel Roxo has been revived and we can now not only drink it again but also enjoy the impact of its casks on our whisky making. It is a concept that we can relate to; shaping our future through traditions from the past. So, Purple Grain follows the house mash which is comprised of 90% maslin (70% rye and 20% wheat) and 10% malted barley. The liquid is matured in charred virgin American oak casks for 2 years, before being moved to four freshly emptied 225L Moscatel Roxo casks from Setúbal, Portugal, where it matured for 1 year and 2 months.
An obvious comparison I could claim is the term of the marriage over time, that of the spirit and the barrel and the way they become one…an idea I believe I got from Oxford Artisan Distiller Francisco himself when I went to visit the distillery earlier this year. There is much truth in this metaphor but alas Damien and me are not married yet, and I find myself returning the favour of that patience he once gave me. That said, I know even now that we are likely to remain together, growing both mellow and perhaps a little over oaked in our later years.
And time is paramount, because it’s not only the time the liquid has spent in the barrel, but the time we spent with the finished product. A spirit like this deserves respect, it deserves our time to enjoy it. The experience of the nose and the palate, how the flavour changes slowly in the glass. From the first pour, there is no need to rush. It is relaxing, a lovely drink to unwind with as we share events of our days. It’s a drink to savour whilst feeling nostalgic and to ponder future plans. It’s a drink to enjoy whilst we talk, make each other laugh and smile subtle smiles of a love that’s happy to sit quietly undeclared in that moment.
It’s also too enjoyable a drink to put down, and we kept returning to it, day after day until it was gone.
Sometimes things are there and known without needing to be said. And even so, I felt the need to write an article about it. I think that says a lot for the whisky, and for us.
You can buy Purple Grain direct from the Oxford Artisan Distillery via their website. Here’s to many more years of good love and good whisky.