1968: A Very Good Year

John Bruce raises his glass to a special expression – the 1968 Knockando

Initially, given the well documented efficiency of Hong Kong’s anti-corruption apparatus, I was somewhat wary of accepting the offer of free malt whisky made to me by a serving police officer with a reputation for chasing women and a long history of partaking in punch ups. Trusting in the fact that ICAC officers would have no time to read golf magazines, and given that the tipple in question was a rare 1968 Knockando, I took the gamble. Given my continued liberty and the delightful tasting that ensued, I am convinced that it was worth it.

In order to pre-empt the calls to hotlines that may be made by community-minded golfers who have had a bad round at Fanling, I have to assure our readers that all is not as it seems at first reading. Senior Superintendent B J Smith is indeed a woman chaser, but it is only one woman and that is his long term partner – the unusually named but very feminine Tom.

Both BJ and Tom partake in endurance racing, raising funds for charities in the process, but Tom is recognized by everyone as the more able athlete which does indeed lead to BJ chasing her. The reference to his participation in numerous punch ups is at the core of BJ's charitable commitments, as he is one of the founders of – and a major contributor to – Operation Breakthrough, which has benefitted so many young people in Hong Kong. BJ runs the boxing division of the charity and until recently used to participate in fights. Sadly, his boxing prowess was such that "Tom chasing" became his main sport. Founded by serving police officers, Operation Breakthrough is a highly successful charity and given my editor’s cruel demands for brevity I would advise readers to consult its website, which can be found at breakthrough.hk

KnockandoSo, it can be seen that this particular gift horse demanded acceptance and in late January the 1968 was cracked open. The name Knockando originates from the Gaelic phrase “cnoc an dhu” – meaning "little black hill" – and we paid homage to this by holding our tasting on our own wee hill – Mount Butler, at the home of another of Hong Kong’s finest.

Knockando is a Speyside malt located in Morayshire with the waters for the distillery sourced from the Cardnach spring that rises from a granite base and flows through peat. Indeed, it is perhaps the imparted peatiness, along with the substantial age of the whisky, that delivered a somewhat aggressive initial taste to the neat sample we started with. Despite being a Speyside malt, this could have been mistaken for a younger Islay whisky but as we were to discover, water would change the character considerably. What had at first sampled like a potential disappointment was improved immeasurably by slightly less than the same again of water. It became an unusual and delightful example of the variations that make malt whisky such a magnificent spirit.

Knockando differs from many single malts in that each bottle notes the year of distillation – and given that this one was distilled in the year of the death of the last really electable Kennedy, the Tet Offensive and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, it was perhaps inevitable that as the tasting became drinking we started to reminisce. Like a great book that is all the more appreciated because one understands the historical context, I do find that social sampling of older malts can inspire moments of languorous lateral thinking that lend greatly to the experience.

Such a Knockando-inspired moment arrived when I remembered the first time I had encountered the name. It was in the 1980s when British race horse trainer Luca Cumani, who is well known to Hong Kong race fans, trained a horse called Knockando that was ridden to six consecutive victories by Ray Cochrane. It would appear that not only is fine malt whisky an enhancer of life but an aid to memory as well.

The rarity of the 1968 expression is such that it would be frivolous to recommend it but I have sampled a number of other expressions from the distillery that I would readily endorse.

None of them were as remarkable as this complimentary delight but perhaps it was the lack of pecuniary commitment on my part towards the whole glorious experience that further enhanced it. If any other reader wishes to provide empirical evidence of this, please contact the publisher with your sure-to-be appreciated offer.

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