The Whisky Tasting Club

Still Crazy

The first edition of my new online magazine, Still Crazy, is launched on September the 11th. The full edition will be available on the CDA website. The editorial for the magazine is reproduced below.

I’ve been asked a lot recently why I wanted to do this and my answer has surprised some people. My interest in small batch distilling didn’t come from Scotch, or from small whisky producers across the world, or from visiting distilleries. It was sparked off by a visit to a Somerset farm in the early 1990s.

I was Editor of Club Mirror at the time and was in the South West to judge a British Legion Club for an award. But the steward knew of my love of cider, so we took a detour to a dairy farm to taste some scrumpy. But it turned out to be a poignant afternoon. It was late Autumn, and a watery sun was sending long shadows across the land, the air was tinged with cold and seasonal damp, and there was a faintest whiff of decay as the leaves fell from the trees.

In the farm’s orchard we watched as they collected apples that had started to ferment and would soon produce delicious naturally fermented cider. But the farmer, like many of those in neighbouring farms, was in trouble. He had been ordered to kill his cattle because of foot and mouth, and wasn’t sure whether he’d survive the hit. We listened to his tale as the sun started to set, his voice quiet and a s angry and bitter as much as sad, until he suddenly remembered that he had guests, disappeared in to a barn and came back with a large slab of Cathedral Cheddar cheese and an unmarked bottle of clear liquid.

“Try this,” he said. “This is English gin and we make it illegally. And we won’t let them beat us down. If customs and excise come for us, we simply smash all the bottles so they can’t have it. We know about how to fight back.”

It was a moment as militant as anything coming out of the left wing political parties I spent time with. And in that moment I felt a stirring of patriotism and pride. It slowly started to dawn on me – an urban Socialist who regularly quoted Paul Heaton’s ‘All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small; all we’ve got is London Zoo cos farmer’s got them all’ – that here in this field was the true defiant, beating heart of England.

It was a seminal moment for me and ever since – whenever I go to Scotland, Ireland, Australia, India, or America – I think of that farmer and his gin. Over the years those distilled views of the importance of regionalism, locality, heritage, provenance and crafting have matured like a fine spirit so that now they’re fully formed and ready for sharing. That’s why this association is so important to me.

But it ticks other boxes, too. Readers of my online magazine The World Whisky Review and indeed, many of the features I have written in recent years, will know that I love writing about underdogs and small companies. I like to find them early, bring them to the attention of others, and watch them grow. For me, that’s what journalism’s all about.

The issue has been raised on more than one occasion; can a journalist fairly run an association where there is a vested interest? Of course! I deal with this question more fully in ‘Why Launch the CDA?’ section – but I think my track record in this area speaks for itself – and already I’m discovering great small distilleries which will almost certainly never join the CDA but which I’ll write about -because they’re good stories.

And for me that’s the point – craft distilling is at the start of an amazing journey and I’m loving being part of it. I hope that we’ll end up with hundreds of small farm distillers serving gin with local cheese.

But if not, I know we’ll have fun along there way.

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  • I think the multinational drinks companies are transitioning away from age statements out of understandable necessity. Demand outstips supply. There are not enough old whiskies to keep on adhering to age statements. However, they are confident that they can deliver the same or similar flavor profile. Interesting.

    I am not hung up on age statements. I am hung up on taste. In the end that is what rules. I have had plenty of age statement whiskies in excess of 18 years and very few would I count among my favorites when compared with age statement whisky at or below 18 years.


    Jason Debly

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