Today, I remembered very vividly a conversation I had about 6 years ago with a South London Estate Agent, when moving house from the chaotic streets of Camden in the north of the city, to the leafy suburbs of Dulwich.
'Oh, it's basically baby central round these parts,' she jovially pointed out, as we passed by scores of young couples out for a walk with their prams and push chairs, all aglow with contentment and pride.
If i'm honest, at the time, I really didn't get the 'baby thing'. All I wanted was some peace and quiet; somewhere away from music venues, tourists and occasional knife-wielding drugged up nutters, complete with 12" scars, running down the length of their chests. Camden was a playground for those in pursuit of a more hedonistic lifestyle and I was most definitely done with that.
Since then, South London and the surrounding suburbs have claimed quite a few more of our great friends, eager to settle down and plan their lives together. And I am definitely getting a little broody.
The 2nd of November was a very special day for two particular friends of Caskstrength - Jonny and Melda Simon. Baby Seth Simon was born and today, I popped round to see the little fella, now just 10 days old. Like his dad, he has lots of hair and in the years to come he'll no doubt develop his father's razor sharp wit, as well as a discerning palate for single malts, fine dining and music.
To celebrate, I grabbed something from the Caskstrength cabinet, which I'd been itching to open. A couple of years back, I picked up a Coopers Choice Highland Park, distilled in 1981 and bottled in 2008. Having tried a small sample at the Whisky Shop in Dufftown, I remember it being a real cracker, so to uncork it and raise a glass to another little cracker feels like the order of the day.
Highland Park - Coopers Choice - Distilled 1981 - Bottled 2008 - 26 yo - 46%
Nose: Incredibly light and zesty on the nose. I suspect that the cask must be a 2nd or 3rd fill, but it is all the better for it, as aromas of coconut, sliced vanilla pods, a faint waft of aromatic, floral smoke and plums fill the nostrils. Given time, blackcurrant notes a hint of oak and freshly baked bread come to the fore.
Palate: Very oily on the palate, with that classic HP blackcurrant 'n smoke coating the tongue. Golden syrup notes, tinned peaches and tinned sweetened cream also arrive after a few seconds, alongside a malty note and a hint of herbal tea and Manuka honey.
Finish: Drying oak notes, with a lingering but light aromatic smoke, some iodine notes and lemon zest.
Overall: Oily, fruity, floral and deliciously smoky. A fine example of an independently bottled HP. The oak is definitely there, but fortunately, all the other great hallmarks of this Orkney powerhouse outweigh any criticism.
As Jonny and I pop outside to smoke a brace of celebratory cigars and sink another dram, I raise a glass to little Seth. The HP has excelled, working brilliantly with the Backwoods Originals we're smoking (and their wonderful sweet vanilla smoke) and it is a privilege to spend time with a great mate, who is going to make an excellent dad. Well done guys and hopefully we'll be back here with another freshly cracked bottle in 18 years time for Seth to try.