“The thing about a bagpipe,” our bagpiper Geordie is telling me, “is that there is no middle ground. It’s either at 0 — or it’s turned up to 11.” Well, would you want anything else? When the guests of Gentleman’s Journal and Aberlour arrived at The Surprise pub in darkest Chelsea for our Burns Night Lock-In last night, they were welcomed with all the pomp and ceremony of incoming royalty. The plaintive, robust tunes of the great Scottish instrument rang out over the rooftops, and the neighbours, from where I was crouching, seemed broadly thrilled.
Inside, of course, things had a touch more nuance and subtlety; more ebb and flow. Friends of the magazine swirled effortlessly around with recent cover stars, brilliant entrepreneurs and handsome gallerists — and the excellent Aberlour 14 Dramble cocktails (a sort of sophisticated, blackberry flecked whisky sour) soon took the edge off the frankly Caledonian conditions. We were there to celebrate Burns Night, of course, in all its Haggis-slaughtering, Rabbie Burns-toasting glory.
"It’s either at 0 — or it’s turned up to 11..."
But the true star of the show, it soon emerged, was Scotland’s favourite liquid asset — and, more specifically, the Aberlour 16 Year Old that found its way into our tumblers at various points across supper. (A feast of crumpeted scallops and perfectly-pink venison with hearty, proper haggis, by the way — lovingly conjured up by the brilliant chefs at The Surprise.)
This is a whisky of true depth and complexity and originality — its golden, honeyed depths unwinding into spiced raisins, gentle oakiness, and a beguiling, hazelnut warmth. It is a dram to be sipped and considered over good conversation, in other words — and there was plenty of that to go about. By the time dear Geordie removed the blade from his scabbard and recounted the famous Address to the Haggis — his rich brogue ricocheting about in the awed silence — the gathered crowd was well and truly won over. We like our bagpipes at 11, yes. But we like our whiskies at an altogether more enchanting tone.
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