The Single Malt Job

Giles Pickford Homepage Link    Giles Pickfords Biographical Notes    Giles Pickfords Papers, Poems & Yarns

1st Consignment No 39.30
Fred gave me the Styro-foam case on Friday. He said 'I need your report on this matter by Monday'.

Later Brett saw the package and he said 'What's that?'

I said 'It's a machine pistol, 11 years old, 61% by volume, best used at 1 shot each 20 minutes.'

'Bit slow' said Brett.

As instructed, the bottle was inspected on Saturday. Provenance unknown. Stored at Leith. 11 years old, 107.2 proof, 61.3% by volume, distilled May 89, bottled June 00.

'33.9 standard drinks' I thought to myself 'Close enough to 34. Divide that by 2 = 17'

I paused to put away the calculator. 'I might need a bit of help' I thought 'but mainly to assist with the assessment of content and style'.

Sunday dawned with a wintry gleam at 6.01 am, 8 degrees Centigrade, south-westerly blow. 'Good weather for the Scots' I thought.


'Might just try the pre-breakfast test now, before the beloved wakes up.' I opened the bottle quietly.

Pre-breakfast is a stringent test for an unnamed Single Malt. The palate is in need of a clean out. Like the rest of the machinery.

I put one ice cube in it and drank slowly. My coughing woke up the beloved.

The colour was the palest yellow, like tuna fin. The aroma was wild, heather honey.

It warmed right through to the diaphragm on the way down. My lips tingled like it was chilli.

The taste was hot honey with aromatic herbs and green tea licked of a lichen-covered cold granite rock on Sgoran Dubh Mor in the Cairgorm Mountains.

The doorbell rang.

'Do you possess an unlicenced machine pistol' said the Rozzer.

'Sure' I said 'come in and have a shot.'

2nd and 3rd Consignments, Nos 59.16 and 24.31

The second and third consignments were delivered together by the Maestro himself at an undisclosed Hotel near the escarpment.

'Give me your report soon' he said.

I did a few lightening calculations in my head. If this Coot is going to double the quantity of the consignment each time, by the end of next year he is going to be delivering the bottles by fork lift.

At 10.00 am the next day there were scattered showers and a high tide of 1.9 metres. The beloved was out shopping. I inspected the first bottle.

95.2 Proof, 54.4% by volume, 20 years old and 4 years since bottling. 'This one is going to be older and gentler than the first one' I thought.

I inspected the second bottle.

100.8 Proof, 57.6% by volume, also 20 years old, but 7 years in the bottle. I paused for thought, but not for long. The corks were removed and the essence of the Highlands filled the room. Both were pale yellow, like a cat's eye.

As I expected the first bottle was a gentle heat going down the throat with the after taste of fennel or some other aromatic herb with a pinch of mustard. Again, as with consignment 1, I picked up the Grampians in it, somewhere in the Monadhliath Mountains. Possibly from one of the older distilleries near Carn An Fhreiceadain, and possibly made in a pot still by a woman with a soft white hand.

The second one was hotter and sweeter and left my lips tinkling with cell death. The main taste was heather honey, a brilliant rough sweetness. Caramelised bees wax and wings with a strong pepper finish. It had a hint of Skye this one, I thought, remembering my first Talisker - 'the lava of the Cuillins'. I placed it within ten kilometres of Sgurr A'Gheadaidh.

I went back for a second and third time to each of them to confirm my first thoughts.

A car door slammed. The beloved was home again. I rose unsteadily from my bar stool and tripped over the mat just as she entered the room.

She gave me one of those understanding looks. Like a leopard looks understandingly at a Gazelle.

'I have been working on an assignment' I said, trying to sound like a Gazelle. 'Looks more like a consignment to me' she said.

I shook my head and wandered down to the beach. I was shadowed by a sea gull who knew me to be the one who threw bacon fat over the fence at around sunrise each day.

It was after Eleven. I could see the doubt in the gull's eyes. But he followed me anyway. 'Gulls can't be choosers' I said.

Post Hoc Note
The first was Cromarty Firth at Alness (24 miles away from my guess of the Monadhliath Mountains), the second was a Speyside (which is 80 miles east of my bet on Skye)

4th Assignment, The 12 Year Old Glenlivet, Banffshire
Immediately the reader knows this one is different. The label is there and everything on it can be read. Not only that. Instead of the assignment being carried out in solitude, this one was carried out at Fred's birthday celebration in the Hotel of undisclosed location near the escarpment.

The place was in an uproar. There were oysters, prawns and prosciutto. There was the usual couple of wits throwing in jokes. Fred himself was there with the Glenlivet (40% alcohol by volume, finished in American White Oak Casks with deeply charred surfaces).

'Can you do this assignment on the run?' he said. 'As a birthday gift' he added.

I thought hard about it. My taste buds were suffused with many flavours. There was plenty of distraction. Normally assignments are carried out at odd times in deep solitude and nothing on my tongue except Whisky.

'I'll give it a go' I said 'But everything about this Whisky is already written on the bottle. It says here that it's from Banffshire and that it has a subtle Vanilla oakiness and a rich floral fragrance'

'You can do better than that!' said Fred. 'Whoever, wrote that bilge ought to be sent back to fifth form. For a start, whereabouts in Banffshire?' he asked. I took up the challenge and had my first taste.

There was an overwhelming taste of caramelised buttercups in a soft mellow heat that warned all the way down. No tingle of cell-death around the lips. This was a drink fit for a Queen. Not Lady MacBeth, whose castle lay a few kilometres to the west at Cawdor. She would have drunk neat Talisker for breakfast.

No, this one was clearly designed for Mary Queen of Scots. A gentler type of person.

The Distillery is Glenlivet, up the Spey from Glenfiddich. But I placed the source of the Malt closer to the milder coastal district around Forres. Possibly Findhorn where Banff meets the Moray Firth.

I divulged all this to Fred who was busy with the prosciutto.

'Not bad.' he said. 'There are a lot of buttercups around Findhorn. I think you got pretty close to it this time. Some of your guesses in the other assignments were about 400 kilometres out.'

'In this country' I said 'if you are 400 kilometres out you're nearly home.'

'True' said Fred 'and our distilleries are anything up to 2,000 kilometres apart.'

Distance is relative, I thought, as I walked home. I noted that I arrived quicker than usual, an illusion caused by the Glenlivet. There's no doubt, Whisky shortens all distances.

5th Assignment: The Hip Flask Job
Fred handed me the Hip Flask. It had no label. On the bottle top it said 'Chatelle Napoleon'.

'Tell me where this one came from' he said.

'Can I have one question?' I asked.

'OK, but only one'.

'Is it a single malt from somewhere in Old Caledonia?'

'Yes' he said and went home.

I wondered where he had found the hip flask. Fred doesn't dally with the grape.

The next day I prepared myself for the biggest challenge yet. I had a cup of coffee at 5.00 am and then brushed my teeth. The palate was going to have to be clean and fresh like a baby at the breast for me to get this one right.

I put one ice cube in a small glass and poured out the conundrum.

Loads of tannin, with the characteristic slightly bitter after taste. A deep dark thriller lacking in the flowery taste of the Southern Fifes. A bitter-sweet lovely.

Inverness?

I pondered, sipped and pondered. Slowly it dawned on me. The Muir of Ord, between the Black Isle and Glen Orrin, caught between the pincers of Cromarty Firth and Beauly Firth.

This is a dark heathery waste of Glens and Moors, fit for a drink such as this one.

I picked the strength at 45% by volume. So for the second glass I dispensed with the ice cube.

A good move. The intensity eddied and deepened.

I heard the Beloved stirring in the bedroom.

'Cup of Coffee?' I said 'I've had one already'.

'Is that all you've had?' she said.

'Not absolutely' I said, enigmatically.

Post Hoc Note
Fred Told me it was a Highland Park from Orkney, so I was only about 120 miles out as the crow flies. Not bad for an Aussie!

6th and 7th Assignment: No 53.66 and No 36.24
These two where handed over by Fred with the remark 'Here's your Daily Double'.

'Is this one a bet then?' I asked innocently. 'I don't bet on certainties' said Fred, thus proving he is a Gentleman. 'And just so you aren't certain either, you're not allowed to read what's in the envelope until after you have finished your report.'

I noticed a sealed envelope at the bottom of the bag. 'Fred trusts me' I thought.

I took them home and had a restless night. Carrying a load of trust like that can be sleep depriving. Pandora had the same problem.

In the end I decided to rise at 2.00 am, do the analysis and write my report. That way I might be able to get some shut-eye before breakfast. I put the sealed envelope in the bathroom cabinet to get it out of my sight.

The first said it was distilled in April 1990, 13 years, 102 proof, 58.7% by volume. 'Christ' I thought 'and it's only just after two in the morning.'

The second was distilled in April 1990, 99.7 proof, 57% by volume. 'What a relief' I thought 'he has let me off two notches with the second one.

I decanted a small glass full of each with an ice block for safe measure. The first one was as pale as a sunrise in Greenland, the second one was a honest straw colour. The smell of Old Caledonia filled the room. 'Highly volatile' I thought.

The first one was an explosion of heat and light, almost nuclear in its intensity, followed by a long slow honey-filled expanse of flowers from the southern fifes. Cell death occurred all the way down to the duodenum. The texture was oily, briny and dense. My mouth tingled for a full minute after the draft. 'It has to be South' I thought 'and it has to be west coast with a stiff sea breeze behind it. This one could become a favourite.'

Deep thought preceded the decision. 'Campbelltown on Kintyre, smiling at the Isle of Arran across Kilbrannan Sound.' 'And if it's not that, then it is Islay' I though hedging my bets.

The second one was softer, but not much. It was deeper, dryer and subtler that the first, with an astringent after glow. It had back-palate metal in it, like galvanising. No flowers. It struck me that although it was further north, it was still highly maritime.

My decision was an 18-year-old Ledaig from Tobermory on the Sound of Mull.

Well satisfied I went back to bed at 3.00 am, with the room revolving slowly around me. Sleep came quickly like a warm dark fog.

The Beloved awoke me unusually late the next day, wondering how and why she was first to rise that day.

'There is an envelope in the bathroom cupboard' she said looking at me with a sidelong glance.

'Oh that' I said 'Fred gave me that, and said I was not to open it until after the assignment. You can tell him I kept my word.'

'But why would he believe me?' she said.

'Because he wouldn't have the gall to tell you he didn't.'

'Anyway, Fred is a Gentleman and he trusts you' I said.

Well, he trusted me didn't he?

Post Hoc Note
The first was an Islay Malt, from Lake Torrabus (so I was 25 miles out from Campbelltown, but remember that Islay was my hedging bet). The second was a Speyside (heck, 200 miles out! If you hit a golf ball for a fortnight you would still be
nowhere near it)

8th Assignment No 73.9, May 89, 14 Years, 58.6% by volume
The message on the mobile said 'Your 8th assignment has arrived. If you choose to accept it the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of it. Your mobile phone will self destruct in 30 seconds'.

Heck, I thought, this one sounds dangerous.

The next day the Beloved announced that she was going out for a hair-do. 'The ingredients for a Beef Tandoori are in the Fridge. I'll be back for lunch'.

Opportunity and motive unfolded before me.

The single ice cube clinked against the glass and the pleasing tintinnabulation of pouring whisky followed.

Colour: golden amber. Nose: honey and daisies. The nose was deceptively mild.

The taste was sweet and syrupy at first followed by a burst of pepper with a dash of Cayenne as the mouth accustomed its self to the taste. Pure distilled light, but on the second taste there was an underlying hint of something darker, a walnut and molasses concoction with buried basalt and burnt leather.

Placing this huge drink was going to be difficult. I ruled out the Western Isles immediately. The taste of the sea was nowhere to be found. My mind wandered inland. The sweetness of the taste seemed to indicate sunshine and the South. I drew the line at Loch Lomond, Loch Rannoch, and the Firth of Tay. Or, for the urbanite, somewhere between Perth and Dumbarton.

I had another taste. I was overtaken by doubt. I decided on a hedging bet of coastal Moray Firth, a milder climate than neighbouring upland Speyside. Another taste and the possibilities seemed to multiply.

If I go on, I thought, I will end up in Canada.

I emptied the Tandoori ingredients into the Saucepan and lit the flame. It was bubbling by the time the Beloved returned. I expressed strong confidence in the hair-do.

'What's wrong with your phone?' she said sternly. 'It's smoking'

'That'll be Fred' I said unsteadily 'He warned me about this'.

Post Hoc Note

The hedging bet was right. Aultmore, three miles north of Keith on the coast of Moray Firth. My first bet was 140 miles out. It is human to err. It is also human to hedge.

The 9th Assignment - The Double Birthday Job
'Tatrzanka - Wytrawna' it said on the label 'Produce of Poland,' and on the second bottle, with the familiar seal and string-braided neck, 'Rycerskie - Produce of Poland'

I looked at Lou questioningly. 'They're for the Beloved' he said. 'She should like it. Taste of the home country'.

We were sitting in the pub of undisclosed location near the escarpment.

The occasion was my Birthday and Lou's as well. We had ordered a maritime feast for the mob.

Fred arrived, a little late as always. Or were Lou and me a little early? The pub clock was wrong again. It did not seem to matter. 'Happy Birthday you two lunatics' said Fred, and deposited a pale straw coloured carton on the table. Inside was a single malt whisky in a black bottle. 'Strathisla 12 years old 43% by volume made in Keith in the heart of the Highlands' it said on the bottle.

'What about the mystery?' I said. 'There is no mental struggle working this one out' I complained.

'Where's Keith?' said Fred. 'If you can tell me that you can have a dram, otherwise I am drinking all this myself.'

'Between Aberdeen and Elgin on the A96, seven miles east of the Spey' I said.

Fred poured us all a generous shot. 'The mystery, old chap, is not in the location. It is in the bottle.'

He was dead right. The Spey filled my mouth with the familiar sensation of hot heather honey burning under the midnight sun of a far northern summer, somewhere not far from the A96.

Later that evening I trundled home with three inches left in the Strathisla, and the Produce of Poland in my pocket.

The Beloved and I inspected the Tatrzanka - Wytrawna first.

This was a tiny ceramic bottle with a diminutive blue handle and a cork the size of a little finger nail. It broke at the neck when the Beloved opened it. We poured out the contents into a shot glass. It filled the glass to a depth of 2 centimetres.

'Almonds' she said 'with a possibility of the inclusion of Hazel and Walnut'. I agreed on a second sip. It was as nutty as a university professor. There was a hint of mint in it as well as a limey taste. 'Exquisite' she said.

Then taking the Rycerskie, she said 'I am keeping this cherry wine for myself. It is time for you to go to bed and dream of Strathisla, oysters and prawns.' I concurred. Sleep is inevitable after a double birthday like that one.

The 10th Assignment
It was the weekend before the Melbourne Cup. The pub of undisclosed location near the escarpment was buzzing with speculative talk of horses, jockeys and trainers. Owners were not mentioned.

Fred arrived with two bottles and said 'Give me your opinion, and guard these with your life'. He was right again. What is a life compared to two single malts from misty Caledonia?

I took them home.

The next day was blowing a gale with sleet and lowering clouds. All it lacked was heather.

The first Whisky was distilled in March 1993, 106.9 proof, 61.1% by volume. The second: April 1997, 103 proof, 58.9% by volume. The unopened letter disclosing the location and maker lay on the side board. I ignored it.

The dawn was a glimmer and wind whistled eerily while I opened them both.

'Are you starting already?' said the Beloved. 'Breakfast isn't even ready.'

'There are some things of such urgency and strategic importance' I replied 'that they even surpass Breakfast in rank.' I brushed my teeth to clear the palate of extraneous matter.

'You usually brush after Breakfast' said the Beloved.

'But not when I am on a mission' I responded.

Turning the bottles around I noticed that unlike other samples that I had from Fred there was a comment on the back of each bottle. There was a lot of the usual poetic language and then the district was disclosed. The first bottle was from the lowlands and the second from Islay.

I realised that there was no way I could be hundreds of miles out this time. But there are many still distilleries to choose from. The choice was narrower, but still a challenge.

Throwing caution to the winds I tasted the Islay malt. The touch was light, warm and leathery. I knew straight away it was not from the southern shore. It lacked the smoky raw strength of an Ardbeg or a Laphroaig. I had another sip. The leather had recently been soft soaped. I had to rule out Bowmore, the greatest Islay malt. This one was perfect, but not great. The colour was pure gold. Finally after another mouthful I placed my win bet on Bruichladdich on Loch Indaal, with a bob each way on Bunnahabhain facing Jura on the Sound of Islay. I realised that there was a lingering after-flavour which stayed in the mouth. I finished the shot glass. What was it? It defied recognition.

I went into the kitchen and had a cracker with Cheddar.

'Are you ready for Breakfast yet' said the Beloved, looking at me through narrowed eyes.

'Not yet' I said. 'There is game afoot'.

I returned to the Whisky from the Lowlands. Given the higher alcohol content I inserted two little ice cubes into the shot glass. The Islay had only deserved one.

I waited for the Cheddar to clear the memory of Islay in my mouth. Then I proceeded with the assignment. It was straw coloured. The taste was sweet on the first taste dying back to flowers and new-mown hay in the after taste, with a slight metallic flavour.

Springbank, Bladnoch or Ladyburn? It had too much salt to be on the eastern side. It came down in the end to a bet between Bladnoch on Wigtown Bay and Springbank on Kilbrannan Sound. I placed my win bet on Bladnoch with a bob each way on Springbank.

I had another glass just for the Hell of it. I was becoming reckless.

'Are you ready for Breakfast?' said the Beloved 'because it is ready even if you aren't.'

'I am ready for anything that you can throw at me' I said 'but there is no need to throw it' I added hastily.

The wind was scraping the paint off the house as the Sun rose that morning. What a totally Scottish day it was.

Post Hoc Note
The Lowland bet on Bladnoch was right.

The Panel's statement on the Islay reads 'Meaning "Mouth of the River" in Gaelic, the name of the Islay distillery is virtually unpronounceable.' Well my bob each way on Bunnahabhain was correct. It is on the mouth of a river and the unpronounceable name is pronounced 'Bunhaben'.

The 11th Assignment
'Here are a couple of assignments for you' said Fred. 'One of them is a trick'. 'What sort of a trick' I asked. Fred smiled. 'Is it like an ambush?' I asked. Fred smiled again, looking as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa, but not as attractive.

Late the next day the evening settled on our drought-stricken land, no wind, no rain: just a quietly diminishing amount of light.

'Are you going to the pub tonight' said the Beloved. 'No' I said 'Today I am having an alcohol-free day.

I went into the Office and studied the bottles. The first was a 16 year old distilled in 1988 and bottled in 2005, 99.2 proof and 56.7% by volume. The second was a 14 year old brewed in 1989 and bottled in 2004, 96.4 Proof and 55.1% by volume.

I decided to begin with the 16 year old. It was a fiery dry drop, the colour being a brownish yellow. The aroma was lawn clippings and white pepper. In the mouth there was a wisp of smoke, burning gorse, and a hint of tangerine skins. The after taste was gun metal. I know this because I used to lick a Brno .22 when I was a kid.

There was something familiar about the taste. Is that the trick, I thought? I enjoyed a second glass but the provenance still escaped me. I eliminated both coasts. This tasted of the inland. In the end I settled on Speyside, possibly Braes of Glenlivet near Chapeltown, or nearby Brackla from the Vale of Findhorn.

The second bottle shimmered before me, challenging my powers of scientific deduction.

The colour was the palest yellow like the throat of a wattle bird. The taste was exquisite, sweeter that the Brackla and darker. What is it in the taste that talks to a person about Latitude? This one was a beaker-full of the brilliant dark north, I thought, smooth, oily, briny, leathery, lacking in pepper and chilli, and without an aftertaste. The taste stayed the same right through to the end. I settled on Clynelish on the BlackWater, near Brora, north of Dornoch.

But where is the trick? Is Fred about to have a lend of me, I wondered? I could not detect the ambush, unless he has given me a bottle that I tasted before. If that is the trick, then I reckon it is the 16 year old, not the 14 year old. There was something familiar about that first bottle.

The sound of a door opening broke my concentration. The Beloved was returning from her evening swim. She entered dripping wet, like Venus rising from the waves.

'I thought you were having an alcohol-free day' she said calmly. 'I am, in a sense, having an alcohol-free day' I said. 'What I am engaged in at the moment is an investigation of great complexity, an intellectually testing struggle to find out the truth of a matter'.

'A matter in two bottles?' she said 'Isn't that matters plural?'

Post Hoc Note
The trick is revealed. My far north Clynelish bet turns out to be far south Springbank, near Campbelltown, as far south as you can get. The trick is that it was the bet I had on the 6th assignment which I picked as Campbelltown but which turned out to be an Islay Malt from Lake Torrabus in the western isles.

My Braes of Glenlivet bet turns out to be Glenlivet, which is a few miles up the road. Not bad.

The 12th, 13th and 14th Assignments
Fred's trust in my innate honesty is reaching new heights.

'I've got three bottles here' he said 'and information about each of them is on the back label. So you are not allowed to look at the back until you have finished'.

The challenge is too enticing to make cheating worthwhile. I put the bottles on the office table facing me: three anonymous green vessels filled with the unknown.

The first 'known' hit me immediately. One was 2/3rd empty, one was half empty and the third was full. I pondered this mystery for a while. 'Fred's had a go at the first two already' I thought. So I decided that my analysis would follow this lead. I would begin with 2/3rd empty, then progress on to half empty and then attack the virgin bottle.

The information on the front of the first bottle was "distilled July 1993, bottled February 2006, 107.1 proof, 61.2% by volume". 'My God! A 12-year old dazzler' I muttered'.

The second bottle was "distilled March 1988, bottled May 2006, 99.9 proof, 57.1% by volume". "A teenager of mellower hue" I thought.

The third bottle revealed "distilled May 98, bottled January 2006, 101.5 proof 58% by volume". "A 7-year old babe" I cried.

"Who are you talking to?" said the Beloved, as she passed by the Office.

"I'm interviewing three candidates for honours" I replied.

"I suppose if it's work-related it must be OK" she said, moving back to the kitchen with fluid gracefulness. "What is it about the way women move" I thought to myself distractedly.

I produced a glass with one piece of ice and tinkled the 12-year old into it.

The colour was the palest yellow, the nose was leathery. The first sip went down like buttercups on fire followed by a dry afterglow and a whiff of smoke. Brackla near the Culbin Forest east of Nairn was my first bet. Royal Brackla, yes.

I finished the glass while dreaming of fair, far flung Caledonia.

The second draught swished onto the ice. It was topaz in colour, like a lime marmalade. The nose was gun metal. The first taste was dark, austere and bitter-salt. No flowers here I thought. This comes from far northern granite wastes on the edge of the North Sea. The bite was milder, as you would expect from an 18-year old. Old Pulteney, near Wick, on the north-eastern edge of Sutherland was the first thought I had. I had another sip. There's not much sunlight where this came from, I thought. But nevertheless, the drink had a huge dignity about it, almost majestic. It was a striking drop. Giving way to temptation I had a second glass.

I wrestled with the virgin 3rd bottle tearing at the plastic seal. Fred hasn't even tried this one yet! How could he have held himself back from the assault?

I poured out the third candidate for honours. Immediately there was a smell of burning gorse and polished leather. The colour was golden yellow, the most coloured of the three. The first taste was fascinating. There are no flowers here either, I thought. But there is a sombre richness touched with salt.

My mind wandered south to the Spey River. Is this one of the famous Longmorns?

My reverie was interrupted by the Beloved. "Come and have a look at the Sun" she said. I went out the back. The sun was sinking into a huge plume of smoke that filled half the western sky. "That must be the fire near Warragamba" I said. "I reckon your right. While you're out here, do you want to help bring in the washing?" she said.

"Certainly" I said, without conviction.

I went back to the Office, which is also my bedroom and cellar. It's handy having all essential services in one room, I thought.

A baby Longmorn from the Spey? That is the question. I had another. There's that smoky oiliness on the tongue. The flavours are complex and difficult to analyse.

Finally I put my money on Longmorn and hedged on an Islay malt, just in case.

Now comes the moment of truth. I carefully turned the three bottles around revealing their secret backs. The information there was remarkably unhelpful. There were no notes on the districts of origin other than for the 3rd virgin bottle which revealed that it had spent "7 years maturing on Islay". That was my second bet.

Fred must think I am some kind of genius to work out the provenance of these bottles by looking at their backs, I thought.

"Have you finished your interviews?" said the Beloved. "Well, yes and no" I said ambivalently. "The issues are interesting but the matter is unresolved."

"You get that" she said "It's called the Principle of Uncertainty: chap called Goedel thought of it". The uncertainty in this case will be resolved by Fred, I thought: as soon as I get my hands off his throat.

Post Hoc Note
When released from strangulation Fred revealed that all three bottles were Islay. The 12-year old dazzler was Caol Ila from Port Askaig overlooking the Sound of Islay. The more mature teenager was a Laphroaig, and the 7-year old babe was an Ardbeg, both on the south coast. I was hundreds of miles out, too far north and too far east.

The 15th Assignment
It was the Pub's Christmas Eve party and the affray was well advanced when Fred appeared waiving a green bottle.

"This is a Furphy" he said joyfully "You will never pick this one. I've blacked out the name of the district".

I looked at the bottle: May 1991, 105.5 proof, 60.3% alcohol by volume.


"What's this cheap stuff?" said Derick. "It's not cheap" said Fred. "How do you know it's not cheap?" said Derick.

"Because you can't buy this stuff anymore, the distillery's closed and therefore it has rarity value" said Fred, giving away the first clue as to the provenance of the Furphy.

George casually turned the bottle around in his hands as though he knew something. George is a Mariner from Glasgow and he is imbued with the scientific method.

"Honey sweet Arbroath smokies," He said.

"What?" said Fred, looking a bit disconcerted.

"It's written here in small red letters in the bottom right corner - Honey sweet Arbroath smokies" said George, "which is interesting because I have been to Arbroath and they make the best smoked Haddock in the world."

I realised I now had two clues. "Where is Arbroath?" I asked.

"It's on Tayside, half way between Dundee and Montrose, just south of Deil's Head.

"I can't believe this" I thought "I haven't even opened this bottle, and yet I know more about it than any other assignment. I went home with the Beloved who had thoughtfully decided to fetch me in case I had any difficulty remembering where I lived. Christmas Eve is always a tricky time like that.

I let the bottle lie for a few days. Fred was going away for Christmas and told me not to hurry.

After Christmas I opened it one fine hot morning with a Nor-Easter gently blowing through the window.

The nose was clover hay and the colour a pale gold. The heat tingle was immense. The oily texture was sweet and tinged with a little smoke, but not too much. Not like an Ardbeg which I call "The Bonfire of the Senses".

I wandered around Arbroath in my map of Scotland. The nearest distillery to Arbroath was in Brechin. The distillery was called North Port, indicating that it was near the north gate of the walled city of Brechin. But alas, North Port was closed in 1983 and this whisky was distilled in 1991.

I began to understand Fred's reference to a Furphy. The puzzle deepened and widened the more I thought about it. I went to bed with unfinished business on my mind.

The next day I arose at 4.30 am with a vigour that surprised me. People who drink excellent Whisky often surprise themselves in this way.

After washing my face in cold water I felt the spirit of enquiry take me by the throat. Out came the bottle and the map. I wandered east from Brechin and found myself in Montrose. There I found the Lochside distillery, opened in 1957 and closed in 1992 - Bingo! This bottle could be a Lochside I thought, the age is right, and I had another swig.

Drinking 105.5 proof Whisky at 4.45 am is not for the faint hearted. I was reminded of an encounter with a person whose identity I will not reveal in case he should ever read these yarns and feel embarrassed.

He told me once that he was abstaining. I informed him that people who abstain lack the courage of their convictions and, what is more, it is a waste of valuable time.

The Lochside seemed to me to fit the bill. The taste was right for the south-east coast. It did not have the briny-iodine of Islay or the Western Isles. It did not have the dark dignity of the far north, or the fiery majesty of the Spey. But what it did have was the flowery, new-mown hay taste of milder Caledonia.

When the Beloved awoke I was deep in my investigations. "Isn't this a bit early?" she said, looking at the pale gold glass by my side. "Not if you have been immersed in a really difficult Furphy" I said. "Here's to Science" I said "and an end to Furphies".

"What is a Furphy supposed to be?" she asked.

"A Furphy is a rumour or a false story" I said "Furphies were water carts produced by John Furphy during World War I. The Troops used to gather round them and gossip. The poor bastards were usually wrong."

Post Hoc Note
Wrong again! The Furphy lived up to its reputation. It was a Glen Scotia from the south-west near the Mull of Kintyre. This is the second time I have been caught out on the east coast.

The 16th Assignment
Fred handed over the 16th Assignment at the Hotel near the escarpment. "You'll never get this one right" he said. Later I almost forgot to take the bottle with me as I left the pub. Fred looked a bit dark and growled "Guard it with your life." I realised that I had relaxed just a bit too much. Self-control is paramount when serious responsibility has been delegated. "You can trust me" I replied.

Sunday dawned mild and calm, a perfect Autumn day in the antipodes. Which reminded me that Spring was blowing around the mountains of Scotland right now, in the middle of the night over there.

I went for a swim in order to stiffen the tissues and summon up the blood.

I examined the bottle: distilled June 1990, bottled June 2006, 15 years old, 98.1 proof and 56.1% by volume it proclaimed.

The pale yellow liquid flowed lovingly around the ice cube. The nose was warm and sinus-clearing in its intensity. The taste was hot and peppery with a hint of honey and flowers on the front palate and a deeper after glow with granite and oak.

"It's time for Lunch" said the Beloved. "Too soon" I said "I am buried in granite and oak at the moment". "Well, I'm hungry" said the Beloved "Yours will stay warm for another half hour."

Half and hour should be enough, I thought. John Landy could run 7 miles in 30 minutes. It should be possible for me to sort this out in about the same time.

Taking into consideration that this is only 56.1% by volume I decided to try a shot with no ice. At room temperature the texture without ice was more glaucous, oilier, and the heat tingle more pronounced. Also an underlying flavour of gun metal and leather was revealed.

Medical authorities warn that Spirits should not be taken very often without water as it can cause mutagenic changes in the oesophagus. But Whisky drinkers warn that you should never drown a Single Malt. This unique drink resembles us. It likes paddling around in water up to its ankles, not up to its eyebrows.

I gave up on choosing the district of origin. I decided that this one was more likely to be north than south, but after that it had me beat. There was nothing in it that gave me a definite location. God! It's not a blend is it? It's not Johnny Walker Blue?

I decided it would not be in Fred's nature to give anyone a blend. So for the first time in 16 assignments all I can say is "north not south" and I might even have that wrong.

Post Hoc Note
I was right! It was as far north as you can get - Highland Park in the Orkney Islands

The 17th Assignment and the 2007 Rugby League Grand Final
Fred gave me two bottles at the worst time of year. "I won't get within a bull's roar of this for three weeks" I said. "Don't hurry" he said. Fred is like that, he never uses five words when two is enough.

It was three weeks later when I emerged from the Vale of Difficulty. It was a bright windy Sunday and Melbourne was playing Manly in the 2007 Rugby League Grand Final. It seemed appropriate to conduct my investigation while keeping an eye on the game. I settled in front of the TV with the research project spread out on the table beside me. The Beloved thoughtfully put some walnuts on the table and disappeared on an errand.

20 years old, 87.8 proof and 50.2% by volume, distilled December 1986, bottled March 2007. No 3.128. Heck, I thought, 20 years in the Oak.

10 years old 100.9 proof and 57.7% by volume distilled March 1997, bottled May 2007. No 4.116. This will be a scorcher I thought; it might need a bit of water to douse the flames.

(TV: Matt Orford, Captain of Manly, leads his team out into Telstra Stadium. Crowd roars)

I decided to open the bottles starting with the 10-year old.

(TV: 2 minutes into the game Anthony Quinn of Melbourne scores a try, Cameron Smith converts. The Victorians go ape)

Goodness me, I thought, I am still struggling with the cork and Melbourne has opened its account already. I poured the Whisky out. It was a beautiful golden yellow. If my Dad had been there he would have held it up to the light and said "The Vet would say that this horse is fit to race".

I tipped a small quantity of water into it: room temperature. The taste was sweetish on the first palate, glowing through to a metallic finish with a hint of smoke. The proximity of Sherry was there with oak standing behind it. The complexity was intriguing.

Can this be Glenfiddich? That was the first single malt I tasted a long time back around 1975. It brought back memories of the Conference I was at in Florence when I first noticed Single Malts.

(TV: Greg Inglis roars over the line for Melbourne in the 24th minute, Cameron Smith hits the post: no conversion)

I finish the glass. Yes, my bet is Glenfiddich on the Spey in the shadow of Ben Rinnes. Keep to the A95 and find it south-west of Charleston of Abelour.

I pour a shot from the 20-year old. Smoke fills the room. I tip a slightly more generous quantity of water in to douse the flames.

(TV: Cameron Smith misses a free kick for Melbourne. The Sydney-siders cheer)

The first taste is fiery leather, hay and grape shot. The heather honey hides in the background. It is surprisingly smooth given the proof strength.

(TV: Steve Mattai crosses for Manly in the 52nd minute. Sydney applauds but Orford fails to convert)

I have another sip.

(TV: Greg Inglis score a second try for Melbourne in the 55th minute. Cameron Smith misses again. It is not his day)

Things are hotting up at the Stadium where 81,392 fans are screaming themselves voiceless.

I return to the 20-year old after a walnut. Is this another from the Speyside? The colour is a paler gold that the 10-year old. I decide that this is indeed another from the Spey, or from nearby.

The more I taste it the more I tend towards Glen Mohr south-west of Inverness on Loch Ness, skirted by the A82, where the Lairds of Urquhart ruled from their Castle on the Lake.

(TV: Clint Newton scores for Melbourne in the 73rd minute. Cameron Smith misses again)

I take another sip.

(TV: Another Melbourne try in the 74th minute, Manly is in tatters, Cameron Smith converts. Melbourne wins 34 to Manly 8)

I can't remember who scored the last Melbourne try. I realised that the Glen Mohr is starting to work. The smoky fumes are drowning out the Rugby League game. The game roars to an end, but I am already in the north-west of Old Caledonia, courtesy of Single Malt Airways.

Post Hoc Note
Alas, the 20-year old northern beauty was a Highland Park from Orkney and the 10-year old was a Bowmore from Islay. Fred correctly observed that I need more practice.

The 18th Assignment
I knew when I saw Fred staggering towards me I knew that this would be an unusual assignment. He handed me two bottles. One was half full and the other was full. I quickly assessed the situation and realised that the half full bottle was the cause of Fred's excitement.

"You're not going to believe this" he exclaimed, waving the half full bottle "This one is from the Isle of Arran. You won't find it in the Single Malt Bible because it isn't there."

And then he said apologetically "This little beauty is from Campbelltown"

"You mean just up the road?" I said

"No you idiot" he said "I am talking south-western Lowlands: Walter Scott country".

I was seized by excitement. Fred was so far gone on the Isle of Arran that he had committed a breach of security. That which was meant to be secret was now openly being discussed in public, because we were in the bar at the Hotel of undisclosed location near the escarpment. People crowded round demanding a taste. I fought them off saying that the results of the experiment would be divulged later.

A week later I approached this most unusual assignment. The delay was necessary as I needed time to regain my composure.

The Isle of Arran lies off the south west coat of the Lowlands sheltered from the Atlantic by the Kintyre Peninsula. Its distillery is the newest in Scotland, although Whisky has been made there illegally for years.

I inspected the bottle: 101.5 proof, 58% by volume, distilled 1996, bottled January 2008, 11 years old. The colour was pale gold.

I poured it out and added a dash of water. The taste was caramelised fruit and leather with a whiff of peat smoke: brilliant. The unmistakable background of granite was also there. Because of that I would have placed in on the Spey, but Fred's indiscretion saved me from this error. For a moment I yearned to taste the earlier illegal malts: forbidden fruit with leather and smoke.

Putting that aside I poured out the Campbelltown malt. Campbelltown is on the Kintyre Peninsula a few miles from the Isle of Arran. The bottle informed me that it was 94.5 proof, 54.2 by volume, distilled December 1995 bottled January 2008.

The colour was a surprisingly dark molasses hue. I took it with a dash of water as always. The flavour was leather, sherry and wood with a whiff of smoke, accompanied by a powerful mouth buzz. The full flavour took about 30 seconds to come through. I took another glass without water. The texture was oilier with a pronounced burnt toffee flavour.

My sojourn in old south west Caledonia came abruptly to an end as the Beloved announced the arrival of dinner.

Post Hoc Note
Irrelevant on this occasion

The 19th and 20th Assignments: Nos 10.61 and 29.61
I called on Fred in his office to pick up the two bottles mentioned above. He welcomed me in and immediately moved a framed picture of his family to reveal a collection of whiskey bottles. Taking one of them down, he said "Try this". It was a Craigellachie (Speyside 57.4% by volume distilled 1996). He poured some out for us both. Fred's office is completely devoid of water, so apart from the Whiskey, you could say that it was a dry office. I sipped my glass carefully. The absence of my usual splash of water accentuated the heat tingle to such an extent that I had a coughing fit. "Strong, isn't it?" said Fred. "Yes" I said "But I can taste the Granite of the Grampians there…Got any water?" "No" he said.

So with the taste of the Grampians racing around my mouth I wended my way home with the precious cargo.

Some days later, after a forced march to Melbourne and back, I inspected the treasure. Fred had warned me that I would immediately recognise one of them, but that the other one would be beyond my capacity and if I picked it, it would be sheer luck. Here they are:

  1. No 10.61 distilled April 1997 Bottled March 2008 after ten years in the oak: 99.9 proof, 57.1% by volume.
  2. No 29.61 distilled November 1989, bottled November 2007 after eighteen years in the oak: 96.9 proof, 55.4% by volume.

The Challenge was on!

It was mid-afternoon on a winter Sunday when I opened the 18-year old. Age before beauty I thought. The Beloved was fast asleep watching Sunday Afternoon TV in the next room. How many sleep through these numbing shows?

I added a little water to prevent waking her up with a coughing spasm. The colour was dark gold and the taste was smooth and light with a hint of heather honey and cake. There was a subtle hint of smoke. "This is an inland southerner" I thought. "There is no sense of the sea nearby with this one".

I wandered across the map of Lanarkshire in the Border regions around Moffat, just to the right of the main road to Edinburgh. I had another taste. "This is either a Glen Flagler or a Killyloch" I thought. On the balance I decided on Killyloch because of the sweetness. I had another one to be sure to be sure.

I cleaned my pallet with some walnuts and opened the cheeky young 10-year old. The colour was a golden brown and the nose was leathery with a sea scent. The taste was big and oily with the darker flavour of the North where the water seeps through the graves of Viking warriors in the Western Isles.

Closing my eyes, I was on the Kennacraig Ferry crossing the Sound of Jura to Port Ellen on Islay. "This is a Laphroaig" I said out loud, waking up the Beloved. "What?" she said. "I was addressing this bottle" I said. "It's personal".

Post Hoc Note
I have a confession to make. Fred told me that I would easily pick one of them because it was a Laphroaig. Well I had one chance in two of being wrong, but Laphroaig is fairly unmistakeable so I have to confess that one didn't count The 18-year old was an unpeated Bunnahabhain single Islay malt. So I was about 180kms out on that one.

The 21st Assignment
Fred came bounding into the Hotel of undisclosed location near the escarpment with a bottle of single malt under his arm. He handed it over and said "You will pick this one quite easily".

We then sat down to a few drinks. We were joined by the expert in car exhaust systems, the retired air force officer, the two retired gentlemen, the youngest member and the artist-in-residence.

After a while I could see that Fred was getting somewhat excited.

Eventually, unable to contain himself any longer, Fred asked me what I would say to opening the bottle and trying it immediately. I said that it would certainly be a different way of conducting my experiments.

So we opened it then and there. The moment he opened the cork I said "It's an Ardbeg from Islay". "You're right" he said.

For the first time I had correctly guessed the brand without reading the label (I didn't have my glasses with me) and without tasting it.

The smell of burning peat wafted around the Pub attracting a certain amount of attention from others including the Publican. Fred asked the Publican for some shot glasses. The Publican looked a bit worried and then agreed provided we didn't make it too obvious.

So Fred surreptitiously poured out some drams and the members sampled the Ardbeg.

"Are you sure this is an Ardbeg?" I said "It seems oilier and thicker".

"That's because you didn't put any water in it" said Fred "without water it slides down your throat like an oyster. Not only that, this is cask strength. It is over 50% alcohol by volume. This is not an Ardbeg you get off the shelf".

The various members tried their drams. The two retired gentlemen were both seasoned Whisky drinkers and they liked their drams immensely. The retired air force officer said that it was most unusual and went back to his beer. The artist in resident said that she didn't like it, but then had two more. "It grows on you" she said. Fred said that it was orgasmic; the expert in car exhaust systems sipped his dram and smiled; while the youngest member coughed a few times and asked for more.

So that was the 21st Assignment. The Whisky was identified untasted, and label unseen, from a distance of three yards. The experiment was conducted without brushing my teeth first. There was no water to add. There were eight tasters not one. They were all half pickled; and there will be no Post Hoc Note as it is unnecessary.

The 22nd Assignment
Fred had been away for a while, seriously ill. But he stared death in the face and didn't blink. So he survived.

He returned to the Hotel of undisclosed location near the escarpment on his Birthday. Everyone was there to welcome him back except the guy who doesn't keep a diary.

He was carrying with him a bottle of Single Malt, 25 years old, one of only 38 bottles in existence. Fred doesn't mess around. I could see from the bottle that it was 55.8% alcohol by volume, made in a first-fill-hogshead previously used for Sherry.

"No-one drinks sherry anymore" I said "but they have to keep making it because the whisky makers need the barrels". "What do they do with the Sherry" said the retired gentleman. "They use it for making cakes and liquer chocolates" I said.

We passed the bottle around for a sniff. "Not much peat in it so it might not be from Islay" I ventured cautiously. We poured out the drams and there was a long silence while we did the tasting. "It hasn't got any granite in it so it isn't for Spey or Orkney" I said "So I reckon it is from the south, possible Campbelltown".

"Wrong" said Fred "It is from the Spey and you will never guess the name: it is a Tormore".

The announcement was met by incredulity. "Never heard of it" was the general reaction.

But its anonymity didn't hide its excellence. It was a rare drop indeed: sweet and dry and with a whiff of leather and with a pleasing tingle on the palate.

Once again, there is no need for the post hoc note because all was revealed on Fred's birthday, the luckiest one he has ever had.

The 23rd Assignment
Fred handed me the bottle at Ali's Cafe. This was unprecedented and a dead give-away that something was afoot. This was the first time I had been to Ali's as I normally work on a Tuesday morning. It was also the first time that Fred had written "L" on the bottle.

I had a short black and went home to recover from these disturbing events. Fred is usually strong on routine, but not on this Tuesday just before Christmas. I wondered if the Yuletide had thrown him off balance.


The next day I meditated about "L". Ladyburn, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Linkwood, Litllemill, Loch Lomond, Lochnagar, Lochside, Longmorn - the names and flavours floated around in my mind for a while.

"What are you doing?" said the Beloved. "I am thinking about L" I said. "No you're not" she said. Women have powers of observation and intuition that are denied to us men.

I inspected the bottle. Ten years old, 56.1% alcohol by volume, 1 of only 270 bottles from a single cask "Not for swigging, glugging or knocking back" it said severely on the bottom line. The label then briefly mentioned phenolic, carbolic, coal tar soap, and coal dust. Heck, I thought, it sounds like it came out of an open cut mine.

Without further ado I opened the bottle. There was a nice whiff of smoke and bitumen under my nose. The colour was a pale gold. I took a sip without water in deference to Fred's wishes. It was sweet on the front palette and the heat tingle made me cough. I covered it with a small amount of water. That reduced the heat tingle and made it easier to pick up the more subtle flavours which get drowned out by the 56.1% bonfire. With the prominence of smoke, peat, leather, iodine and salt I decided that it must be from Islay. Given that Islay only has two "Ls" I had a choice between Lagavulin and Laphroaig. I had another mouthful and decided on Laphroaig. Was that because I have a vested interest: being the owner of Plot No 393955, being one square foot of the Laphroaig upland peat moor?


The 24th, 25th and 26th Assignments

There was a hiatus in the gradual flow of assignments caused by interference from the medical profession. “It happens” said Fred, a man of few words. 

Three assignments had gradually accumulated over several months and remained untouched on the oak dresser while I addressed my arrhythmia. These assignments were delivered in sample bottles, which Fred emphasised were returnable. I had always returned all bottles previously, but they were always three quarters full. These little bottles would be emptied in the process of investigation.

Because there was no printed material on the bottle I decided to name them Mother Father and Granddad. Mother was the smallest with rounded shoulders. Father was bigger with square shoulders, and Grandad was the biggest, having an appearance that was positively Magisterial.

Fred generously revealed that Granddad was a 27-year old McDuff. Mother and Father however were travelling incognito.

I took the single malt bible down from the shelf to look up McDuff. I was surprised to find it wasn’t there. However, Google found it easily. The McDuff Distillery is near the Glen Deveron River which forms the western side of the Spey District. The Findhorn River marks the eastern edge. MacBeth gave an order to McDuff in Shakespeare’s play. He said “Stand not upon the order of thy going but go McDuff”: which is Elizabethan for “get cracking mate”. 

So with the challenge of identifying McDuff removed I decided to open Granddad first and get cracking. 

I had a sip of the raw spirit and then added a dash of water at room temperature. The buzz and sting of the raw spirit indicated a strength of about 45% alcohol by volume. Adding the water brought out the flavour by reducing the oral excitement overload. It was a typical product of the Spey with plenty of granite, dignity and lingering leather. Twenty-seven years in what I guessed were sherry casks had left its mark. This was a remarkable Whisky.
 
I then turned my attention to the little Mother, after having had a cheese cracker to remove all traces of McDuff. 

Once again I started raw and finished with water. The buzz and sting indicated a gentler spirit befitting of a young lady. I guessed 35% alcohol by volume. With water the gentle flavours became gentler. I locate it further south than the Spey because of the whiff of daisies and buttercups. It was definitely not Islay or anywhere north of Loch Lomond. On reflection I decided that it really didn’t need the water at all. 

Finally I addressed Dad after another cheese cracker.

Dad was strong: in my view equivalent to Granddad. I coughed without attracting the attention of the Beloved because she was out shopping. I added water to stop the coughing. The flavours had no traces of Islay. I placed it within 50 kilometres of Ben Nevis in the Western Highlands.

Post Hoc Note:
Granddad: A 27-yearold McDuff from the Western Spey

Dad: My guess: Western Highlands.

Correct answer: Glen Moray at Elgin in the Spey. I was right about “north”, but it was north-east not north-west!

Mum: A Springbank from Campbelltown, Mull of Kintyre in the far south. I was right about the latitude.

The 27th Assignment
For my 70th Birthday I contributed an ornate ceramic bottle of Aultmore Single Malt given to me by my nephew Andrew Stewart of Dunedin. Dunedin takes Whisky very seriously and this gift from Andrew was deeply serious. 

Fred and others were at the party and all took delight in helping me empty the jar.

The ornately decorated label used extravagant phrases to describe the contents. The plain facts were listed as 46% alcohol by volume: one in 449 bottles filled by hand from a single barrel at Aultmore Distillery in the Western Spey in 2003. 

The flavour leapt out at us: a beautiful dry drop with burnt toffee on toast lurking in the background. Only the smallest dash of water was needed to bring out a mouthful of delight. It was a noble addition to the feast of St Lou and St Giles: the day on which my birthday fell. 

Fred’s contribution was another one of his mysteries in a small plain brown bottle.

“I will give you one hint only” said Fred “the dark edge of Saturn”.

“Is that the hint?” I asked in amazement “Nothing else to go on?”

“That’s it” said Fred – a man of few words as ever.

I tackled the assignment a few days after my 70th, when I had recovered my sense of balance and my spirit of enquiry.

The smell of the spirit reached me strongly, indicating that this drop would be stronger that the Aultmore. The heat tingle was also stronger. The taste was gritty leather with a whiff of peat smoke and hot granite near the sea. There was an after taste of tar and metal. There was a dark edge there alright, but closer to the Western Isles than Saturn.

I thought about Skye for a while but then decided on Islay.

The smokiness was too light to be from Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin.

Was it from the Loch Indaal side in the west or the east side facing the Sound of Islay?

I finally settled in the east at Caol Ila as my final bet, but hedged with a second bet on Bunnahabhain a bit further north on the Sound.

Post Hoc Note:
I was 40 kilometres out. It was a Laphroaig after all in spite of being light on smoke. And my hedging bet was another 5 kilometres further north.

The 28th Assignment

The smell of Peat Smoke was oozing out of the sample bottle even though the screw top was on tight.

Fred had dropped the bottle off during one of his typical 30 second visits prior to going to his winter swimming club down at the ocean pool.  He gave no clue whatsoever as to the provenance of the bottle.

Without even unscrewing the bottle I decided it came from Islay or one of the other Western Isles.  The smokiness was enough to convince me of that.

The Beloved drifted past on one of her ceaseless chores.  “Have you been burning something in here” she asked. “No” I said “I have been thinking of peat smoke and you have read my mind”.

The taste was light on the first sip with a rush of wood and peat smoke coming through on the back palate.  There was not enough smoke for an Ardbeg or a Laphroaig and it lacked the dark majesty of the Spey and points north.

My thoughts turned to the cousins of Islay across the Sound.  Auchentoshan came to mind: down the Clyde River from Glasgow.  Auchentoshan is related to Bowmore in having the same owner.  So if the correct answer is Bowmore I will regard that as a near miss.

Post Hoc Note
No 28 was Bruichladdich.  So I was wrong on all counts and 200 miles out. 

Final Note
This series is now over as the author's given up drinking anything except water!

© Giles Pickford | Website created by Michael Pickford