People have been celebrating midwinter far longer than the 2,000 years since the birth of Christ. And even then, the date was something of a moveable feast. Whilst Pope Julius declared the 25th December as the ‘official’ birth of Christ back in 340AD, prior to that, a host of other dates were marked by midwinter festivals – none of which actually occurred in December. Contrary to popular belief, the idea of Brits getting sozzled over Christmas was not invented by the Pogues – Saint Augustine was tasked with the founding of the Western Church (and indirectly Western Christianity) – a mission made easier in Britain because of the range of pre-existing pagan festivals. It seems that the adoption of a new religion is far simpler if no one interferes with the established annual piss-up.
Nevertheless over the centuries since, history is littered with attempts to detach Christmas from alcohol consumption. In the 16th and 17th century Puritans saw the association of Christmas with the unruly behaviour which can be caused by alcohol as so odious, they attempted to force legislation in England to abandon the holiday altogether (they failed). The subsequent emigration of Puritans to the early established settlements in North America brought alcohol restraint issues to the New World. This time foregoing calls for outright bans, and instead focussing on what the church saw as the original meaning of the holiday. Education not exclusion.
By the early to mid-19th century the Temperance Movements in the US and England were in full swing – by which point, alcohol consumption was an integral part of Western culture – and not just over the festive period. Whilst the group’s actions didn’t entirely sever the link between Christmas and alcohol (save for the period of US Prohibition in the 1920s), a steady movement began to turn the holiday into a more family oriented affair. Christmas trees and Santa Claus (to name but a few traditions) were adopted from other cultures into Western society – and the church continued to reinforce the ‘why’ of the celebrations in an attempt to change attitudes towards all forms of over-indulgence.
The meaning of Christmas might, or might not, be better understood nowadays (I have my doubts) – but regardless, its relationship to alcohol remains resolutely steadfast across many cultures.
In Britain, the 2018 average Christmas Day consumption was a staggering 26 units. And with the big business that is Christmas, retailers are increasingly making this call for excess both easier and more socially acceptable. Advent calendars, boozy baubles and countless lists of top ten Christmas tipples – it’s little wonder that if you search the Internet for ‘Christmas’ and ‘alcohol’ you’ll find more pages proffering advice on managing festive boozing than offering drinks-related stocking fillers. The modern Christmas and alcohol are synonymous. For better and for worse.
Nevertheless, this is a whisky blog, and I’m here to educate not to preach.
As such, my recommendation this Christmas is not an out of character call for restraint – but rather the suggestion to think more widely about how the nature and diversity of whisky can support and enhance your festive celebrations. Foremost, whisky is better shared – and what better time is there for sharing than with friends and family gathered.
But also, and as today’s review will attest, sometimes shunning the predictability of heavily sherried whiskies (which would oft-times already be described as ‘tasting like Christmas’) might well lead to interesting pairings which are suitable for a variety of occasions throughout the holiday period – and not just when sat near comatose nursing a food baby.
In what is now clearly a Whisky Exchange tradition, 2019 delivers another edition of A Fine Christmas Malt. This time around we’re treated to a 10 year old Linkwood that’s composed of a vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. 2696 bottles have been produced (a fair few more than last year’s edition). They’re delivered at 54.2% ABV and can be purchased directly from The Whisky Exchange for £56.95.
Nose: Immediate sweetness from royal icing, vanilla sugar cookies and cream soda. Fruits swiftly follow – candied lemon peels, sugar-dusted apples ready for baking and soft kiwi. There’s an apparent velvetiness driven by foamy café latte and cream tea, which is supported by chopped almonds and an earthy umami aroma of hummus. In the background, flecks of minerality from gravel. The addition of a few drops of water expresses aromats with jasmine petals and pine resin alongside syrupy orangeage.
Taste: The arrival delivers barley water with cinnamon and nutmeg spiced toffee. Then, the fruit complement re-exerts itself with green apple, orange peel, sugar-dusted lemons and a pang of under ripe pineapple. The development heads cream-wards with Malteasers tiffin and burnt caramel soaked Genoese sponge alongside rocky sugar candy. Water delivers tinned fruits, packed full of top note juiciness, but backed up by a deeper back palate of over-baked pastries and tang from charred cask staves.
Finish: Medium with fading cinnamon spice and tangy crystalline lemon.
This year’s Fine Christmas Malt avoids the oh so obvious sherrybomb route and heads down an alogether lighter path that still entails sugar and spice and all things nice. It begs the question – what is a Christmas whisky? If bold and robust oloroso and PX are your only go-tos, this won’t scratch that itch. But remember, Christmas is oft-times more of a marathon and less of a sprint. There are wider options which might sustain you throughout the festive period and not just as an customary closer to a protracted all-afternoon 5,000+ calorie, diet write off. This Linkwood offers the type of brightness and vivaciousness which runs contrary to the notion of traditional excess. And there’s nothing wrong with being the light before Christmas.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange