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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Mill Road Winter Fair - And A Glenfiddich Tasting at Cambridge Wine Merchants

Another year, another Mill Road Winter Fair - this year was bigger than ever and the first since the death of founder Suzy Oakes.

Some things about the Fair have become familiar - the street performers and the bouncy castle at St Barnabas Church which the children always look forward to.

Some things are new like making a Christmas stable scene from three Malted Milk biscuits, a jelly-baby Jesus and a Chocolate Star of Bethlehem - all stuck together with piped icing sugar.

The children love the handicraft and consumable aspects of this, but I'm not sure the religious symbolism has much impact on them; personally, I find it simultaneously both heavy-handed and somehow trivialising but their childish excitement and the general sense of community overcomes the urban curmudgeon in me.

A few days ago, as #1 child was making shiny star decorations to hang up in the house in anticipation of The Big Day, I had a brief but overwhelming vision of Christmas as a non-religious midwinter celebration in a pre-commercial age where everything is home-made, hand-made and nothing is bought-in.

This link with the spirit of the past returns again at the sight of Morris dancers, a sense of old English traditions dating back hundreds of years being maintained.

Britain has reinvented itself so many times - the rise (and fall) of the Victorian industrialist empire, Thatcher's yuppie, credit-bubble 80s, Cool Britannia - that these strands of history are sometimes all we have to keep us in touch with an ancestry that has become all but lost in the shopping malls and Christmas catalogues.

Yet traditions are there to be maintained and revived and, for me, the Mill Road Winter Fair stands as a symbol of community and humanity - created by locals for locals, it is in one sense nothing special, little more a few shops giving out free sweets or, in the case of Urban Larder, samples of some rather lovely venison and pork sausages.

But with the road closed and nothing more exciting than Brazilian drummers, unicyclists, singers and a few stalls with  food and drink to try, it becomes all about the community and an occasion to bump into neighbours and acquaintances.

xxx---xxx

Later in the afternoon, whilst #1 child is at ballet and #2 at a knights-themed birthday party, I drop into Cambridge Wine Merchants to try some Glenfiddich whiskies with Ian Murray of First Drinks, a sales outfit owned by William Grant.

Charismatic, entertaining and occasionally hilarious, he serves a never-ending stream of enthusiasts in the basement room of Cambridge Wine Merchants' Mill Road branch with an intoxicating blend of banter, education and sundry spirits.

Glenfiddich Rich Oak, £32.99

I opt to start with a Glenfiddich 14 yo Rich Oak; it has a complex oaking arrangement with some of the blend aging in American oak (for vanilla aromas and spice) and some in Spanish (for flavour and colour).

Jim describes the barrels for aging the spirit as "virgin" ("new oak" in wine parlance), something I've never heard of previously but which gives the whiskey lots of vanilla spice and woody aromatics with some mid-palate sweetness.

The nose is fresh and floral - the hallmarks of a Speyside malt -and there are aromas of citrus an orange fruit, whilst on the palate it feels smooth and mellow with a long finish.

Glenfiddich Solera

The Solera whiskey is slightly older at 15 years and again the oaking regime is complex and varied - with the various components of the final blend mixed and briefly aged in a solera-style barrel (hence the name).

Again, the nose is floral and fresh with fruitcake and spice on the palate, as well as some pepper and mouthfilling tannins.

Jim explains that the oak gives the whisky about 70% of its final character with an array of subtle differences due to elevation, sun exposure, climate, water table and so on.

Glenfiddich Distillers' Edition

Something of a special edition, this 15 yo whiskey is noticeably stronger at 51% abv.

On the palate is shows Christmas spice and floral aromas, dark roasted spices and has something of a slight peppery sting; the mouthfeel is bigger and there is a tannic grip.

As suggested by Jim, I add a small amount of water - just a few drops - and the whiskey becomes more aromatic, less dominated by the alcohol, with a gentler feel, and more heathery with aromatic spices.

Recommended whiskey

All three whiskies here are of broadly similar age, style and quality - they are all beautifully smooth and well-made and all are very enjoyable.

For me, however, the most complex and intense whisky is the Distillers' Edition.

All the Glenfiddich whiskies here are available from Cambridge Wine Merchants, even if not mentioned specifically on the website.

Links

Mill Road Winter Fair - http://www.millroadwinterfair.org/
Suzy Oakes - http://www.millroadwinterfair.org/suzy-oakes
Urban Larder - http://urbanlarder.co.uk/
Cambridge Wine Merchants - http://www.cambridgewine.com/
Glenfiddich - http://www.glenfiddich.co.uk/

Main image credit - http://www.millroadwinterfair.org/

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