Here we are with the second installment of my edge of the seat thriller that is my rather self-indulgent birthday!
So after purchasing my birthday bottle I had to decide on a place to go for my dinner. The food had to be good but the whisky had to be great! Problem is without venturing into the city (I’m not really a city-lover) the options are pretty slim around me. Google however is always a good friend to have when you’re faced with such a predicament and it suggested a place that was just a short drive away, The Fishermans Retreat in Ramsbottom, Nr Bury. Apparently good food and good whisky was to be had here.
Set back off the road down a lovely windy country lane that’s very well sign-posted so you can eventually discover it after the many twists and turns down this single track road. Luckily as it was my birthday I was chauffeured by my very patient better half so I could enjoy a dram or two.
Walking in I was met with a wall of whisky wonderment. They have shop on site that sells whisky that you generally can’t get in most places.
So at this early point I’m already delirious and I haven’t even eaten or got to the bar yet. I mean, look at them! I haven’t seen this sort of collection of such rare whiskies for sale outside of Scotland from an independent shop, well, ever!
I get a pint of bitter to calm myself down and we head into eat. I’m not going to go over the food in minute detail as this is a whisky blog but my starter was Scallops with Bury Black Pudding and was stunning, I’m a sucker for Black Pudding and the stuff from Bury, which is only just down the road from the restaurant, is regarded as some of the best made anywhere and I can certainly attest to that after having it.
For the main we both had Beef Wellington. Again. Wow. Stunning, lovely and pink in the middle and they certainly don’t short change you on portions.
So I was well-fed and ready to tackle that bar. And what a bar!
As a small aside before we continue; I feel I need to try and justify my giddy excitement. Usually unless you’re in a big city or Scotland, it’s very hard to come across a decent whisky bar that’s more my sort of scene, a bit more rural, and relaxed in North West England. I’m a country boy so to find this place just a short drive from my home in such a countryside setting got me all of a flutter!
I asked for a whisky menu, but they don’t do one. I asked why and the very knowledgeable bar man who’s name I forget, (it was my birthday afterall!) explained that a large proportion of the bottles they have are not your usual Glenfiddich 12 or Dalmore 12 etc, which they did have by the way; but they were more eclectic rarer bottles and so as the bottles got rarer the prices tended to fluctuate. Mostly northwards but hey this is a business not a free for all!
My first pick was a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling of Mortlach. A fantastic dram and one that you could have quite a few of and at 57.2% that could be dangerous when I wanted to sample a few more things that caught my eye.
Another small disclaimer. All the malts at the Fishermans Retreat I had are going to have their own individual reviews as they deserve their own time to shine.
After chatting to the barman for a while he explained to me a bit more about the owner, Hervey, and how the place got started. I wont overwhelm you with the history but more information can be found here https://www.fishermansretreat.com/about/
So as I say, I was chatting away with the barman, and he noticed my whisky shirt. (There’s a picture later don’t worry) seeing I was a bit of a whisky nerd I let slip it was a birthday present from my other half who by now was dehydrating still waiting for me to take over her soft drink! As a birthday present I was gifted a taster of something very exciting, The Fisherman’s Retreat’s own Whisky!
Released as Editions; Hervey seeks out casks of intriguing character and that offer something different to fully mature distilled spirit from different distilleries in. Notice I said fully mature. It’s all or nothing here. Distilleries usually ‘finish’ their spirits in different casks be it wine of a different sherry etc. Sometimes this is to enhance the flavour; and sometimes this is to give a rough or weak tasting spirit some character so it’s sellable. But this process is done over six to nine months, the spirit is transferred to this other cask to round off its flavours. Here Hervey is fully maturing the spirit for 4 or 8 or 10 years in these casks he has sourced; it’s a gamble, there are no guarantees maturing whisky, there are so many variables you can easily end up with a very expensive mistake that you’ll have to wait another 10 years to replicate. Luckily these gambles have paid off. Certainly with these samples I was lucky enough to try.
First up was Isle of Arran matured in a Yalumba red wine cask for 5 years and bottled at cask strength
I’ll admit. I had no idea what a Yalumba was. I’m not a wine guy. I’m a whisky guy. Apparently it is a winery located in South Australia. What I do know about it is that it does amazing stuff to Isle of Arran distillate when it’s left alone in a warehouse with it for 5 years.
Next up was Bruichladdich matured for 10 years in a Haut Brion Cask and again served at a wondrous 54% cask strength
Again. Not a wine guy. This is a French wine produced just outside of Bordeaux. I take no credit for that knowledge, thank you Google. 10 years in a wine cask though! Surely it is more wine than whisky now. You’d think so wouldn’t you? But no, they do a dance on your palate and balance perfectly; and let me tell you it does not kick you like some 54% abv whiskies do; this stuff has class. More it just ruffles your hair and says ‘have another go’.
Can you tell I liked this one?
So by this time my other half still hasn’t got her Cappuccino she’s been patiently waiting for me to take over so I order another dram of; would you believe it, Australian whisky ?! And head over to the table and judging by her face I decide I should probably pick up the bill for tonight. And probably every other night. For as long as possible.
Just as I sit down I hear an order at the bar for 2 Yellow Submarines. 1991 Bruichladdich that is rarer than hen’s teeth. I say to myself that bloke must know his whisky.
Turns out he really did. It was the owner, Hervey! The barman beckons me over to show off my birthday present t-shirt as I introduce myself as a whisky nerd to which everyone agrees; and I head back to my seat. The barman then walks over with another Glencairn for me.
“Happy Birthday from Hervey”.
I was just about to ask what it was and I look over the bar to see the 1991 Yellow Submarine bottle sat on the bar still. No way. NO WAY!
And that’s the story of how my fiance left me forever after I abandoned her to talk whisky for ages with a fellow whisky enthusiast.
Well lucky for me; only half of that was true. the whisky half obviously! Hervey is genuinely interested and passionate about what can be done with a whisky when you are as inventive as you like with cask selection. He explained to me how Jim McEwan, yes, THAT Jim McEwan, the Master Distiller who turned Bruichladdich to the Islay powerhouse that it is today explained to him about the importance of the cask one day; apparently he knows him rather well!
The cask is the mother and the spirit is the child. If you have a strong mother who looks after her child and nurtures it as it grows up; then it will become not only a reflection of its parent but will also show through its own unique positive attributes as well.
I really love this analogy; and I think Hervey does too, as this is him outside Bruichladdich with his Yalumba cask in his convertible. Now if that isn’t whisky cask passion, I don’t know what is!
We stuck with the Bruichladdich for the rest of the evening, then trying some of the organic Scottish Barley edition that he had just brought back from his Islay trip. As I’ve said, I’ll give you the full review separately but both the Yellow Submarine and the Organic Barley were unlike any Bruichladdich I have tried.
We chatted at the bar about whisky for ages and about what it means to him, and how he wants people to be able to come to his venue and say I’ve never tried or seen that whisky before. If you are wanting the same whisky you have every time you go out, you are better off elsewhere. This is the place to come if you want to really try some rare and gorgeous whisky and really enjoy the experience; and have a great meal to boot!
I cannot wait to go back and sample some more of this fantastic selection they’ve got and hopefully have another chat with Hervey about his plans for his next editions; if you’re eagle-eyed too you can probably spot some very nice bottles on the bar in the image above. Including an Ardbeg Day Festival bottling that I am 99% certain I have never seen in any whisky bar anywhere! So that is definitely on the list!
So in conclusion; my birthday was amazing! I tried some fantastic whisky, ate fantastic food in a fantastic venue with fantastic company and of course a fantastic partner for putting up with these shenanigans! If you are ever in the area and want somewhere to eat or drink, I highly recommend the Fishermans Retreat.