There are things in life you purchase or do and you just know you made the right choice. You might have deliberated for quite some time before making the steps to create it or purchase it, but at the completion, you know it was worth it.
On a recent trip to Edinburgh, A friend of mine took me through the entire production history of Church’s shoes, an item I have long promised myself. They are not just shoes, they are the best shoes made in the world and the last remaining brand to be fully made in the UK. Although they are owned by Prada, the production remains in Northampton and none of the process is outsourced, unlike many of the other UK luxury shoe brands- even my beloved Grensons have part of the build take place in other countries.
Church’s was founded in 1873 by Thomas Church and his three sons Alfred, William and Thomas Jr., who could count on family experience in the production of handmade men’s shoes dating back to 1675. They were pioneers in shoemaking, actually creating the first pair of “left” and “right” shaped shoes and “in six widths in every conceivable style and material”
It takes over 8 weeks to create a pair of mens shoes, with over 250 manual operations taking place before it leaves the factory. A craft approach to the shoes which delivers exceptional quality and ever changing innovation.
I had to try a few pairs on to “experience” the history- and of course the pair I instantly took a liking to were the most expensive! The Shannon, in burgundy, made with horse leather….if it wasn’t for the £545 price tag, I would be wearing them now as I type this. All good things come to those who wait (and my friend does offer an amazing discount!).
The ‘tun’ is a marrying tank into which selected casks are emptied and held for a short period to integrate before being bottled, this being the 5th release. The first batch was released just at the distillery, the second made it on to the UK domestic market whilst Batch 3 hopped over to the USA and number 4 was only available in Travel Retail (Duty Free). The tun holds around 2000 litres so each release is quite limited and of course, each differs. This latest was from just 9 selected casks, 4 ex sherry butts and 5 ex bourbon. Each cask is hand pumped into the tun, using an original cast hand pump which is reputed to have been used by William Grant himself. It really doesn’t get much more authentic than this- the innovative ideas of the master distiller David Stewart connecting with the tradition and history of the distillery.
David, who is approaching his 50th year at Balvenie, and is the longest serving distiller at any Scottish (or the world) distillery, was making a rare appearance to discuss his selection process and final marrying of the 9 casks, the oldest of which was from 1966 with the rest from around the 70′s. Within this latest batch were whiskies between 21 to 46 years old. David is a pioneer of whisky and was in fact the individual who started to use sequential maturation in different wood (shifting whisky from one cask to the next to enhance flavour). A common practice these day is every distillery in the world, but before David had brought this innovation, it was unheard of – like left and right shoes!
Its all about hand crafting, personal selecting, careful nurturing and holding the whole process in house to ensure consistency and quality control. Fortunately, this bottle of skilfully crafted whisky will retail for £161, thats nearly three and a half bottles per pair of Church’s…bargain! If only I didn’t want both.
Balvenie tun 1401 Batch No.5
50.1% Non chill filtered
Appearance: Golden Copper with light virgin olive oil greenness.
Nose: Big honey, clove spice and trails of coca powder at first with the richness of the sherry butt coming through later. Lots of lively sappy wood and fresh fruits underpinned with rich citrus, cherry and molasses. Rolling around is an unusual (for Balvenie) waxy/carbolic notes with a floral element.
Palate: Huge chunks of spicy honey, rich cooked fruits and then a chocolate/coffee bitterness calms the sweetness to reveal those malty notes and a hint of smoke (some of the casks are old enough to show this historic character). Chewy wood notes of sweet maple and cedar.
Finish:Lingering sweetness of fruit perfectly balanced with bitter cocoa nibs and woody elements.
There are plenty of other similar ties with Church’s and whisky- like the use of oak to build the sole of the shoes, the continued innovation in technique, but above all its the craftsmanship and care that is put into producing each one. Something that will hopefully remain for a very long time. Or at least until I can afford them!