Taking reprieve from a festive fug of fortified wines and gin, it was the Victorian ruling class that struck upon the idea of a Christmas hamper: an annual gift of seasonal goodies for its servants. Things are a little less formal in the Autocar office these days, but master of the house Tisshaw has nonetheless tasked me with sourcing a cache of yuletide treats for the team this year.
Hamper champs Fortnum & Mason charge up to £6000 for filled baskets, but we reckon we can build our own for considerably less than that, even accounting for the overheads of a nation-wide road trip. And so it is that photographer Max Edleston and I set off from Edinburgh driving an everyday hero that ticks all of our mission’s boxes: a BMW 520d xDrive Touring. In its generous boot sits an empty hamper, ready to fill with the finest local produce we can find.
There’s a bassy rumble from the 19in run-flats as we skip over the West End’s cobbles, but having slacked off the adaptive dampers (a worthwhile £985 option), we first sample the car’s talent for comfort, which soon extends to a northward motorway blast into Perthshire. The tyres pipe down and the punchy 187bhp engine settles at 1600rpm in top, the 5 Series channelling the spirit of the 7 Series limo with which it shares many innards.
Our first stop is the Innis & Gunn brewery on the edge of Perth. Inside the high-roofed industrial unit and among huge, gleaming, 30,000-litre tanks, office co-ordinator Neil Everett shows us one of the company’s defining secrets – an ‘oakerator’ that percolates the beer through wood chips made from ex-spirit barrels. A few days of this transforms a red beer into ‘Blood Red Sky’ with the help of rum-soaked chips, while ‘The Original’ uses toasted bourbon casks to make a sweet, rich, buttery ale. Everett recommends ‘Vanishing Point’, an 11% ABV stout mellowed in bourbon casks for 12 months, as a Christmas alternative to port, so we grab a couple of bottles among others including the Inveralmond real ales also brewed here.