Host's Guide Holiday 2012: Crowning Glories
Each decanter is accompanied by a pair of glasses by Cumbria Crystal that have been engraved by Philip Lawson Johnston with wildlife scenes from the queen’s Balmoral and Sandringham estates. Moreover, QEST scholar Laura West has created a hand-bound book in honor of the Diamond Jubilee offering. Each book will be personalized with the owner’s name by calligrapher, QEST scholar, and Royal Warrant holder Sally Mangum. All of these elements are housed in a bespoke cabinet handcrafted by N. E. J. Stevenson, incorporating English oak and Caledonian pine from the Sandringham and Balmoral estates and accented with marquetry veneers featuring woods from throughout the Commonwealth. Needless to say, the rich, amber-colored blended Scotch whisky that radiates from inside each decanter is as spectacular as its exterior appearance.
"All of the single-malt and grain whiskies used in this John Walker Diamond Jubilee blended scotch were distilled in 1952," says John Walker & Sons master blender Jim Beveridge, who, along with his apprentice Matthew Crow, searched for the most fitting whis-kies within the more than seven million casks in the company’s warehouses.
"The whiskies we wanted were very rare, so there really weren’t very many casks to choose from," says Beveridge. "As is always the case with old whiskies, there is the risk that many of them have been in the cask for too long and will be dominated by the cask’s flavor. So we were very fortunate, first of all to find these rare whiskies, and then to find that they still had the flavors that would work in the final blend. We had to look for casks that had matured the whiskies very slowly, so there was just a handful that we could choose from, including some Edinburgh grain whisky, some Speyside single malts, and some vatted malts that had a traditional west-coast style of flavor. These were the basic building blocks of the blend. Of that, we only got enough to make 63 bottles."
In October 2011 the blended whisky was transferred to lightly toasted marrying casks made of English oak from trees on the Sandringham estate. Prior to being filled, the casks were conditioned with Pedro Ximénez sherry, then aged grain whisky. By the end of December, after a couple months of finishing in these casks, the whisky had achieved the flavor profile Beveridge sought. Bottling took place on February 6, exactly 60 years after the queen ascended the throne.
"Most of these older whiskies develop a rich, tawny, almost sherry-red color," says Beveridge, "but this blend was quite light and golden in color, and the flavors were mostly the kind of vanilla sweetness that you would expect from American oak. But I think the marrying cask contributed to the exotic, black-currant fruitiness that we found in the completed whisky. The spiciness would come from the toasted oak as well. And because it was a Walker blend, there was also a gentle smokiness in the background. It is a very precious and compelling liquid."