Ok, Ok - I know Nikka is Japanese and this post is about Italy, but bear with me. I promise it makes some semblance of sense. For those of you who follow the Instagram, Facebook or Twitter page you will know that I have been in Italy for the past 10 days. For those of you who don't follow any of the above yet, that's ok - accept this shameless plug for what it is and give The Cask Blog an add.
So this wasn't a whisky trip - it was a summer holiday. However, whisky is my drink of choice and I am a dedicated servant to you, my readers. The Blog must go on, and so I gave myself a challenge when we went - I would locate and try PUNI. For those of you who do not know about PUNI, it is Italy's first Malt Whisky. If I'm honest I really didn't think this would be a challenge. I figured places would take it as a point of national pride to stock this unique malt. The short story? They didn't. There was only one bar tender who had heard of it, but even he had not been able to get a bottle. When it became apparent that this was not going to be possible, I set about sampling the exceptional collections of Scotch that nearly every single bar/restaurant/hotel/Gelateria seemed to have. Just one or two in the evening, you understand. I will note that during the trip I experienced three broken corks. Thankfully the whisky had not suffered and, after persuading the bar staff that I could open the bottle without having a cork-infused dram, I was able to enjoy what might have become lost whisky! I get the distinct feeling that some of the bottles spend a lot of time on the shelf in less than ideal conditions waiting to be selected and then even longer waiting to be finished.
I took, as most people do, a book with me. As most people don't, the book I chose was Iain Banks Raw Spirit. More people really should. It is first and foremost a whisky book but Banks in his inimitable voice peppers the narrative with reviews of the vehicles he drives, scathing political commentary and hilarious anecdotes from a life clearly well lived. He is a voice that is sorely missed in the world of literature and this book stands as a testament to his only foray into non-fiction travel writing.
Something I noticed was that the staff didn't really know what they had - I got to sample a 25-Year-Old Caol Ila which was massively underpriced, a special bottling of the Auchentoshan for free because I helped disgorge the broken cork and a reduced price Johnnie Walker Blue Label because they didn't have the Macallan 21 that I ordered. Kid in sweet shop is the phrase that offered itself to me immediately!
The Nikka was my travel whisky. It served admirably through the trip when getting ready was happening. I grew rather attached to this bottle. I have had Nikka from the Barrel before but for some reason it really clicked with me this time. A dram that benefits greatly from a dash of water to open the nose and reveal the fruity sweetness on the palate. On the last day I took it down to Lake Garda to give it a proper send off. In the bin of course (littering isn't cool) but I thought it should see the world before going on its way.
I also noticed that waiters look at you very oddly when you ask if you can take a picture of the bottle. It is especially awkward when there is a language gap and the request is particularly odd. Like "Hello, I notice there is one pour left - can I have that bottle so I can turn it upside down and get a picture in front of the glass?" Strange looks aside, I got the photos that I wanted and they exist below as a testament to fallen bottles.
My search for PUNI will continue - if there is one thing I have learned of late it is that countries not traditionally known for whisk(e)y can and do produce solid and often great bottles!