The taste of time

7th June 2014

Last night, I tasted some Armagnac brandy which was distilled in 1925 – five years before my late father was born, seven years after an armistice ended the war-to-end-all-wars, and the year a renegade nobody in Germany published Mein Kampf.

It was an experience that deeply affected me.

We were a group of journalists, spirits specialists and marketing people, assembled in Gordon Castle in Scotland for the presentation of a new whisky brand. This Armagnac was an incidental folly – and I quizzed the spirits collector who had brought it for the simple pleasure of sharing, as the evening light grew long.

‘It was put to glass in 1956 and has been in the hands of a respected private collector ever since’, he said. His language was chosen as if we he were talking with reverence about the history of a person. A life.

‘The bottle itself is in shit, the label is scrubbed, but the liquid is still alive’.

We passed around the glass, each of us enthusing in our own way.

‘The bottle’s been on its side for over 50 years, touching cork. So, it does taste just a little corky, but nonetheless…’

In the silence between his pronouncements, we stared and tasted.

‘The Gascony grape is so sweet, if ever it drips from a bottle or cask, it eventually re-seals itself. Re-locks.’

I thought of blood. Coagulating. Recovering from trauma all on its own.

The world of fine spirits loves to speak about ageing; 12, 18, 25 years. Until now, I had perceived this as a conversation about the quality and maturation of the drink itself.

Here, with an 89 year old glass of Armagnac, I saw the passage of time through another lens.

Like a relay runner who thrusts his baton forward, I felt the pulse of my father’s father, reaching through from 1925.

And, as I sipped, the merry vine pickers of Gascony emerged in vigorous life, their spirits buoyed by the end of war, and a certainty that no more blood would spill on French soil.

The interlude of Armagnac now at an end, our party returned to whisky. The topic of house-ghosts and poltergeists was raised, and several animated stories were recounted.


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