I have never been one to read much, and when I do, it tends to be historical, factual stuff. Avoiding politics and religion I have always been fascinated by those around us (and past) that have made a mark on the world, left a legacy or even a scratch in the dirt deep enough for others to see. At one point I really got into Einstein and the chaos theory then the discovery and introduction of LSD into society before realising it was all a bit too chaotic and mind-bending to understand- so ditched those and stuck to biographies such as Oliver Reed and Hunter S Thomson both of which turned out to be twisted and chaotic without science to justify it.
We forget, or certainly I do, that these people must have been then, as they are now, viewed with great reverence and awe. Giants amongst the little people, living out lives just as they wanted to, bouncing from one mishap or fall to the next but always seemingly able to overcome and conquer. Although, neither Hunter nor Oliver managed to overcome (but did manufacture) their eventual end, both of which fell victim to their chosen way of life.
The stories retold in these and similar books about the lives led of these and many other “idols” are countless and each more eye-popping than the last.
But what of the unsung heroes, those out of the lime-light. The everyday people who encounter a hurdle, a hardship, a loss and yet bounce back, battle on and show what they are really made of? It happens all around us, every day in every walk of life, but just because it’s not well publicised or they are not a prominent figure in our society doesn’t make them any less special.
This train of thought came about after a rather rare opportunity was offered to me. Last week, to mark the launch of a very limited run of 13 yr old single cask Glenrothes whisky and the centenary of the loss of the Titanic on the 15th April 1912, a very select few were invited to the offices of Berry Bros & Rudd.
Having traded from its St James street offices since 1698, originally as a coffee house, which was seen as such a luxurious item and a stimulant, that it was reserved for male gentry only. Oh how times change! They moved on to wines and spirits as they grew but I am not about to go into all the history of this company as it vast and detailed You can read more about it here.
The ambassador for Berry’s heritage brands such as Cutty Sark, The Glenrothes, The King’s Ginger and No.3 Gin is Mr Ronnie Cox. If ever you get the chance to meet him, and he seems omnipresent, then you will instantly realise why this gent of gents is so perfect in this role. Always in a bit of tweed, immaculately turned out and the most perfect of hosts- all this despite his Dundonian origins. Whilst recalling an anecdote about the offices, Ronnie said he had asked one of the directors to accompany him whilst he walked the tour of the building, just to ensure he had all his facts correct. The tour normally lasts 90 mins, but two hours later the two men where still at the starting point, the parlour, which happens to be the oldest room in the building. Modest in its size it may be, but bountiful in history it certainly was and after those two hours, only two walls in the parlour had been discussed. I suggest a tour of the offices soon- just make sure you have nothing else to do that day!
As wine and spirit merchants, BBR attracted high profile clients and serviced many of the fashionable houses around St James and Mayfair. Holding casks of wine, cognac and whisky for the household butler (or bottler which is where the term originates) to fill up into vessels and decanters and return to the houses. They also did a roaring trade overseas, especially America and it was the Cutty Sark that held the most prestigious of positions in the company, often referred to as “Uncle Sark” as it helped bank-role the wine side of the business on many an occasion such was its popularity. Although the wine team probably like to keep that quiet.
The company had two connections to the Titanic and its fateful maiden voyage. On the 17th of April 1912 the company received a letter from the White Star Line detailing the loss of 69 cases of their wines and whiskies which were aboard the ship which had foundered two days earlier. A framed copy of this letter still hangs upon the wall of Berry Bros. & Rudd’s famous London shop at No.3 St James’s Street. A second, and slightly more precious cargo was Lady Rothes, the Countess of Rothes which is the town where The Glenrothes is distilled.
During the ships fateful striking of the ice and the following hours, it seems Lady Rothes showed what she (and no doubt many of the women of the time) was made of. Here is an extract from a member of staff from the Titanic, recalling her valour- ‘There was a woman in my boat. She was the Countess of Rothes. I was one of those who was ordered to man the boats, and my place was in No. 8 boat. There were thirty-five of us in that boat, mostly women, but some men along with them. I was in command, but I had to row and I wanted someone at the tiller. When I saw the way she was carrying herself and heard the quiet, determined was she spoke to the others, I knew she was more of a man than any we had on board, and I put her in command. I put her at the tiller, and she was at the tiller when the Carpathis came along five hours later.’ Several ladies proved themselves to be efficient oarswomen“.**
There are countless tales of valour from that day and obvious woe at the losses, but of course the effect of the sinking had far more reach than perhaps we stop to consider. We all know the cry of “women and children first” in a disaster situation, but think about this a bit more. Of the 2229 people on board (crew and passengers) only 713 survived in total. 215 were crew and 23 of that crew were female. clearly they knew the ship and how to get off. Of the 498 passengers who made it, only 146 were men. Imagine how many widowed wives and fatherless children arrived in America, with everything they owned lost at sea and no male to help work to rebuild heir life.
As we sat in the directors dining room, we were entertained by Amy Sell, a historian from FindMyPast.co.uk who clearly had the upmost respect for the subject. As Amy relayed stories about the survivors and the less fortunate, we were given a glass of The Glenrothes Titanic to raise in their honour.
After the toast, we were expertly guided through the tasting by Douglas Mcivor of BBR who selected the cask that ended up in the bottles before us. A few points about the whisky. Firstly, it is the first Glenrothes to be bottled and labelled outside the globe bottles which are the house style. This instead was a clear nod back to the bottles that would have been sunk with the Titanic and in fact the label is as close as possible in style to the “Edwardian” label used at the time with BBR. It is from a 13 yr old, single cask using an ex-Olorosso sherry, bottled at 46% ABV and is non chill filtered. The release is of only 100 bottle and has already sold out!
46% abv Non-Chill Filtered single cask
Appearance: Golden with virgin olive oil tones.
Nose: Rich vanilla and deep rounded citrus of candied lemon and dried fruit. Yellow zest keep it light before further fig/date aromas and a warm coffee elements emerge.
Palate: Creamy vanilla, deep fruits again with an oily, almost liquorice edge and warm brazil nut. Warm spice of mace and black pepper with balanced tannins.
Finish: Continues with a deeper coffee and brazil nut with liquorice root.
** extract from encyclopedia titanica