Yes, you read that correctly. I’m writing about a blended whisky from the 1940s. A genuine whisky that’s from around the time of the Second World War.
Many of you are likely familiar with the wine and spirit merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd. They have been in business for over three centuries, and were bottling whiskies well before you were a concept in your grandmother’s mind. Imagine my delight to have, in my hands, a glass of their wares from decades ago. This was a sample provided by m’learned friend, the Whisky Rover, who acquired the bottle from whisky bar in Dornoch, which was run by the Whisky Collector. Sadly, due to label damage, there’s little more we can tell about the origins of this particular blend, but that won’t stop me rambling.
Berry Bros & Rudd were affected during the Second World War – like many London buildings and people – by the brutal German bombing raids across the city. Under the command of Hugh Rudd, its antique furniture was whisked away to the countryside, but such safety could only spread so far. Two of the firm’s partners lost their own sons in the conflict – one in North Africa, another killed in action in Italy.
Yet through such tragedy business would continue, and whisky was hugely important in the war efforts. Despite rationing of cereals, the government declared that Britain was bankrupt and needed to earn more currency overseas. Quite simply: whisky exports to the USA and Canada meant vital money to a suffering wartime economy.
What kind of whisky were people drinking at the time? Well blends were ubiquitous, and single malts were very rare. Glenfiddich was one of the only distilleries to bottle single malt whiskies during that period, and it wasn’t until the 60s and 70s that they became more well-known. Which means that this Berry Bros & Rudd blend was perhaps more typical of the 1940s.
So how does it taste?
Colour: burnished gold, copper. On the nose: lovely grain note there, just huge and creamy. It’s rather voluptuous, in fact. A gentle but rich sweetness, like golden syrup on a warm sponge cake. Cherry – almost Cherry Cola, moving into a hint of cider. There are elements here that are not unlike the Shackleton recreation I tasted not so long ago.
In the mouth: *raises eyebrows* not really like anything you’d get today, in a manner that’s hard to put my finger on. Perhaps it’s down to texture. This is gentle stuff at first, whilst at the same time it feels significantly heavier spirit. That said there are some common touches – particularly in the biscuity grain note that leads you in. Yes, there’s some smoke there – not a sweet peat, but something more bitter. Charred wood and very little sweetness, save a touch of vanilla. As for texture, there’s a lovely grainy, velvety quality, not unlike – say – Bell’s, which I think isn’t all that bad. Yet the flavours aren’t quite as promising as that surprisingly delicious nose – not that I’m really judging this whisky at all. I’m simply saying that despite being a bold dram, some of the individual flavours feel a touch distant. Faintly out of reach, like ghosts through time.
But by the end of this dram… actually, forget what I said at the start of those notes. Whisky from the 1940s, so far as this bottle indicates, is not a million miles away from what you could get today. Different, of course, but not vastly so. It’s very approachable. It’s nice to drink.
I mean, it’s still whisky, right?
And there’s something reassuring about that, isn’t there? That your grandmother or grandfather might have been drinking something like this and it didn’t suck. Your older relatives were in safe hands for whisky – at least as far as this Berry Bros & Rudd bend suggests.
Simply to try this whisky was a wonderful experience.