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Thursday, 25 December 2008

A Very Merry Christmas

Joel and Neil from wish all our visitors / readers a very Merry Christmas. We hope you all got that bottle you wanted...!

Monday, 22 December 2008

Nature/Nurture- The Japanese way

Two days away from Christmas and fortunately, our spending spree is complete (save for that trip to the appalling 'Uniqlo' to purchase some garish looking 'Heat Tec' under-garments for my niece...nice...)
2008 has been a tough year for most people, but let's smile, turn our back on ill-feeling/ the 'recession' and embrace 2009 like a welcome hug from a loved one... now is certainly not the time for crying into first class drams!
The last month or so has given us at Caskstrength time to reflect on just what a spectacular year it has been for whisky. Some sensational releases all over the world - many included in our own 'Best in Glass' awards. In the final part of our Japanese whisky month, we've got another couple of crackers for you- a tasty 80's vintage from the house of Kariuzawa and the some newborn spirit distilled at the brand new Chichibu.
following on from the recent trio of great Kariuzawa single casks comes number 3397- distilled in 1998 and bottled last year. will this one round off a perfect year for the now closed distillery? let's see...

Karuizawa Distillery - Cask 3397 - Distilled 1998 - Bottled 2007 - 59.8% -

Nose: The classic mix we've come to associate with aged Karuizawa is immediately apparent- mustiness, old books, forest floors, slightly burnt sugar and a Vermouth'y aromatic note. Give it a little time and a light fruitiness (stewed rhubarb) emerges, and a musky but vegetive rounding off an extremely pleasant and welcoming aroma. With a little water, the musky note develops into something more meaty, with almost hints of roast lamb.

Palate: Ooh... super sweetness, like a very milky mocha with about 10 teaspoons of rich demerera sugar. The sort of thing you covet on your regular visit to the local cafe, but end up coming out with a curdled and overpriced smootie. As with the Karuizawa 1971, this is strong stuff at nearly 60% but oh, so drinkable. Lovely sherbet notes come through as it enters the finishing straight.

Finish: Drying oak, less depth and length than the prize winning 1971, but hints of that sweetness and an aromatic, almost bamboo shoot freshness to it.

Overall: Another corker from this majestic distillery. Sadly closed now, but as our interview with Marcin Miller recently observed, there are still a large number of casks just waiting to be discovered. We'll be at the front of the queue, rest assured.

Next up- The first born spirit, from the virginal Chichibu distillery... doesn't this seem strangely fitting, given the time of year??!!

Chichibu - Ichiro's Malt - Cask 126 - distilled and bottled mid 2008- 62%

Nose: Cor! as diametrically opposite to the Karuizawa above as you could get... Feinty, sweet, candifloss, like a rich caramel ice cream sundae, topped with crushed nuts. Dig deeper and you'll start to notice a slight comparison with the older Japanese single malts - a mossy tang and almost juniper freshness.

Palate: HUGE cereal hits you here- and I mean HUGE- like a classy Muesli. Honey covered oats, big, juicy dried fruits and malty goodness. Pour this on your morning breakfast for the ultimate AM zing... (note- please don't even contemplate this- not even if you buy that stupidly expensive GM-free 'Rude Health Muesli' from Sainsburys... Sensible Ed.) At this age, there really isn't anything else in the mix, but it promises to something very, very exciting indeed.

Finish: More cereal and a spirity freshness, as you'd hope for from a quality new-make. I enjoyed this in the same way I did the first time Caskstrength experienced Kilchoman's new- make, or the Bruichladdich X4+1 albeit without the huge, fresh swathe of peat.

Overall: Keep watching this distillery. Ichiro Akuto is a proven master of distillation, with a background spanning 21 generations of supreme skill and innovation from sake to single malt. We look forward to tasting this after some time in a quality cask....

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Continuing our love of Japanese Whisky....

Well, albeit slightly later than intended, we continue our Japanese themed December with a few more delights from the Orient. As well as four brand new reviews for you over the next few posts, we caught up for a civilised chat with Marcin Miller, the man behind No 1 Drinks Company, who had the enlightened idea of bringing some sensational single casks to our shores from the likes of Karuizawa and the Hanyu ‘Card Series’.

As Marcin sits down with Caskstrength for a refreshing afternoon tea at the Wolseley on Piccadilly, A cheeky grin can be seen emerging from ear to ear. The nature of this is perhaps the fine array of loose-leaf teas and impeccably crafted Florentines on offer here (which also has me smiling and slavering in anticipation…) but it soon becomes clear that at the moment, Marcin is a man in demand. As well as winning our inaugural
Best in Glass Awards, The Karuizawa 1971 single cask, which Marcin was responsible for bottling, has won just about every award going this year– including a Malt Maniacs’ thumbs up and plaudits from numerous whisky writers all over the world.
So what prompted Marcin’s first forays into fine Japanese whiskies?

“About 10 years ago, I was the editor for Whisky Magazine and (with my business partner David Croll) we were busy setting up the very first ‘Whisky Live’ event, which happened to be in Tokyo. So I started to think ‘what’s the score’ with Japanese whisky! I was fascinated by the whiskies I initially tried on that first visit- Yoichi 10 Year Old, as well as bottlings from Yamazaki.”

It seems that until a few years ago, there was only a relatively small UK interest in Japanese whisky?

“There happens to be a very strong domestic market for these whiskies but they weren’t that aggressive in the UK, so I started to think about how to get some of the less well known brands into the hands of the public. The ethos of most whisky bars in Japan is that Japanese whiskies are usually more expensive than Scotch malts, which in turn is very clever for their branding- there’s a certain pride and prestige in what they produce. Ironically, a bottle of Yamazaki 18 Year Old is actually cheaper to buy in Norwich than it is in Tokyo!!"

So this prompted you to seek out the finest casks from a number of sources?

"The first bottlings No.1 developed were the
Hanyu ‘Card Series’. Originally built in 1946, the Hanyu Distillery began producing whisky in a Scotch single malt style from two pot stills in 1980. It closed in 2000 but there were small amounts remaining, which was very well received.” With Karuizawa, there were around 49 casks, some dating back to 1965, which we started bottling in 2006. "

Karuizawa single casks we’ve tasted all share similar characteristics of big intense fruit, mixed with a really distinct clarity and wonderful woodland freshness. Why do you think this is?

"Well, the Karuizawa distillery was developed in the foothills of Mount Asama, which is some 850 feet above sea level, so the high altitude certainly has an effect of the condition of the casks and the climatic humidity. "

The 1971 bottling was 64.1 % abv, which is astonishing, considering it’s a 36-year old whisky.

“The casks are mostly Spanish sherry butts and are all excellent quality, with some dating back from the 1960’s which gives Karuizawa its really concentrated rich fruity notes. The distillery experiences very hot summers and really cold winters, which gives the whisky a different maturation profile to that of other Japanese whiskies.“

What’s next on the agenda for No 1 Drinks then?

"They’ll certainly be a cask from 1972 released, but this is likely to be part of the
No 1 range, as opposed to a straight Karuizawa bottling. There’s a few really exceptional casks that we’ll bottle under our own label. There will also be a continuation of the 'Card Series' with a '2 of Diamonds' and a '7 of Clubs' and possibly the ‘Joker’ as the last release in the series!

Marcin and David have also entered into collaboration with the Akuto family who, have traditionally been making Sake since 1625. Ichiro Akuto, from the 21st generation of the family and Innovator Of The Year at the 2008 World Whisky Awards opened the Chichibu distillery in 2007 and the first spirit ran from the stills in March this year. Stay tuned for an exclusive new-make tasting!

So, time to try some more of this Karuizawa stuff:

Karuizawa - 1992 - Bottled 2007 - Cask No. 3330 - 61.5%

Nose: Old polished wood, pews and biscuit. A touch of pastry, vanilla, mint (fresh) and menthol. Some soot. After time some raspberry ripple ice cream, Strawberry syrup.

Palate: Sherried, summer fruits (Strawberry jam), pepper, dark chocolate. Hint of smoke.

Finish: Boiled sweets, menthol. Big sherry finish.

Overall: I enjoyed this and thought it was well balanced with enough sweetness and summer fruits.

Karuizawa - 1991 - Bottled 2007 - Cask No. 3318 - 62.5%

Nose: Strong and affirmative with the alcohol punching through more than the 1992.
Lots of dough, roasted cereals, pie pastry.

Palate: Very sweet, coffee; like builders coffee! Dates. Soot again and burnt sugar.

Finish: Dry with a big hit of Christmas cake. Apricots and a touch of smoke.

Overall: A very pleasant dram, less sherried than the 1992 and it comes full circle from biscuits in the nose to biscuit in the finish, via sweet coffee and dates. Nice.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

A Few Frugal Fermented Flutters for some Fabulous Festive Fulfilment...(try saying that after several large drams)

The Christmas shopping frenzy is undoubtedly one of the low points in anyone's festive calender- pushing, shoving, fighting for the last, over-priced thing on the shelf, it kind of reminds us of trying to get one of the Festival bottlings at this years Feis Ile.

But fear is at hand. If you were considering buying your loved one a tasty Scottish tipple for their stocking we've been perusing the December bargains at the various supermarkets and booze emporiums, so you don't have to!

Here is a round up of the offers we encountered on a recent shopping trip, with helpful links to their online shops:

Asda, while stocks last:
  • Glenmorangie Original- £19.50
  • Highland Park 12 year old- £20.50
  • Ardbeg 10 year old- £22
  • Glenfiddich 12 year old - £20
4 great buys here, with a good £5-6 slashed off the price. They all represent great entry level whiskies for someone taking their first steps in the world of single malts or are just damn good additions to the cabinet for anyone who has tried them before and needs to stock up before the merriment starts.

  • Lagavulin 16 year old- £33.99
  • Laphroaig 10 year old - £19.99
  • Talisker 15 year old Distillers Edition - £34
Another fabulous haul here. The Lagavulin 16 year old is certainly one of Caskstrength's 'house whiskies' which we simply can't do with out and at £33.99 it's a great time to stock up.
Also special mention to the Talisker- an amazing price of £34, for this Distillers Edition, matured in bourbon oak then transferred to amoroso sherry casks to finish its maturation. Easily the cheapest we've seen it and another great way to enjoy a Tali'...

  • Dalwhinnie 15 year old- £22.99
  • Glenfiddich 18 year old - £30.99
  • Glenlivet 12 year old - £19.99
Again, a good £5-6 off most things here. The Glenfiddich 18 year old is a brilliant dram- and at £30.99 is a lovely step up from the 12 year old at a very reasonable cost.

Whisky Exchange:
With so much to choose from, it's hard not to go mad and buy all your friends quality spirits from The Whisky Exchange. We think the following represent their best Christmas buys:
  • 'Single Malts Of Scotland' Aultmore 1992 15 year old - £29.25 + a free tasting glass!
  • Glenfarclas 15 year old -£ 36.49 + 2 GF tasting glasses
  • Glenlivet Nadurra - £37.49
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask £21.99
  • Caol Ila Cask Strength (distillery bottling) £31.99
Quarter Cask for 22 quid? dive in now! this is an excellent example of peated perfection that no Islay fan should miss. Most of these have bottles have between £3 and £6 off, so are definitely worth checking out. Also the SMoS range of bottlings, exclusive to the Whisky Exchange are a fabulous way to try genuinely rare and quality casks for 'credit crunch' prices. (Apologies, I had vowed never to use that damn phrase!) The shop is based in Vinopolis nearest tube London Bridge and next to Borough Market, so you can always buy a hand-reared Ostrich burger on the way out!

  • Benromach Traditional - £18.99
  • Auchentoshan 3 Wood - £36.99 (buy 2 and save £10)
  • Aberlour a'Bunadh - £35.99 (buy 2 and save £10)
  • Clynelish 14 year old - £27.99 (buy 2 and save £10)
Some interesting options here- The Aberlour a'Bunadh is a great big sherried monster that dram fans either love or hate. At this price, it might be worth taking the 'Marmite Challenge' to find out what side you and your loved ones fall! Also very good savings on the Benromach Traditional- the first whisky produced after the distilleries re-opening in 2004.

So there you have it- may all your Christmas dreams come true... if they don't... well at least you got some cracking whiskies for peanuts.


Friday, 28 November 2008

And the winner is....

Well, this is it folks. We've slaved away for another few hours with the best of this years drams in our sweaty hands and we can finally announce the winner of this years Best in Glass Awards.
It was a very tough line up - thanks to all the suggestions which were sent in that made up our short list of suitably impressive whiskies, but we felt one edged it in terms of character, quality and overall genius.
The winning whisky is the Karuizawa 1971 and we would like to congratulate the distillery and those involved for bringing it to our attention. If you read our recent review, you'll see why it was such a surprise to the senses and warming to our palates and hearts....
It's perhaps a good point to mention that December will be Japanese whisky month, with an interview from Marcin Miller, who is the man at the controls of bringing such delights as the Karuizawa to the UK, as well as numerous other japanese whiskies and lots of other great stuff all Japanese related. Until then, please lift your glasses and give the Karuizawa 1971 a loud cheer!!!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

The 'Ten Minute Dram With...' Richard Paterson

Continuing with the interview theme which bought you enlightened words from Ardbeg's Mickey Heads and Harlen Wheatley from Buffalo Trace, we bring you another cracker from the legendary and sartorially elegant Mr Richard Paterson, Master Blender for Whyte and Mackay and Dalmore Distilleries. We caught up with Richard in fairly noisy airport lounge for a chat and a dram, before he flew off to the far east, to spread some of his unique wisdom and good cheer.

(Caskstrength)- Describe a regular day in the life of Richard Paterson:

"Well, normally I’d be in the blending rooms for 7.10am checking emails from Japan and the USA – very important markets for us. Then by about 10am most of the blending samples from our distilleries have arrived for me to access their quality and progress- to see how they’re performing before they’re married/after they’re married together and when they’re bottled, it’s very important to see them at all stages of development".

"Once a month, I’ll travel up to Invergordon to assess the new spirit samples- it’s the last time I’ll get to try them until up to 12 years later, depending when they’re blended. We’re also in the process of developing our Rare & Prestige range – 4 expressions have been produced over the last few years- 40 year old Whyte & Mackay, 40 year old Dalmore, 1973 Dalmore and 40 year old Jura. These are being replaced with 1974 Dalmore's and Jura's and I now have to sign around 500 certificates to accompany the bottles, whilst I’m on the plane!"

"It’s really important to keep on producing high quality blends and single malts with consistency so my team and I will try to work ahead of ourselves on the stocks for next year and possibly the year afterwards too. With Whyte and Mackay blends, we have around 35 single malts between 4 and 8 years old - which with the demand from new markets, is difficult to keep stocks of. The good thing is that every week has new challenges to attend to".

With the increasing demand for single casks in general, is it much more difficult now to source what you’re looking for, within the blending processes?

"There is a shortage of both younger and older whiskies – also the factor of very old stocks evaporating in the cask needs to be taken into account. There have been occasions where I have had to marry in much older whiskies into the younger blends to utilise these stocks- there’s a balancing act between keeping our overheads under control and maintaining some of those older stocks".
"The whisky business will always have ups and downs- right now our distilleries are at full production, but no one knows what demand will be like in say, 5-10 years. You always hope you have enough stock. Never in my history of working in the industry have I seen such high demand for scotch whisky, with the new emerging markets in China, Russia and Brazil making a big impression. There are also so many whisky festivals in every country now, which massively helps to promote awareness of the spirit".

We’re seeing that whiskies are becoming a younger past time now – will this influence your approach to blending for the palates of younger drinkers?

"I must admit that I get a bit irate when people talk about ‘older’ people being whisky drinkers and not younger – at the whisky festivals it's mostly 60-70% younger audiences, or ‘more responsible’ drinkers of around 21-35. What we must do is keep reflecting the softness and richness in some of our blends, particularly the older ones, which will give younger palates equal satisfaction and will hopefully bypass the myth that they’re inferior to older, more expensive single malts".
"It’s a process of education, sometimes on how to drink whisky- keeping it in your mouth and using the palate and tongue correctly, not just gulping it down!! I recently had the experience on a tasting, where one of the audience knocked back a 23 year old blend, without giving it time to develop in the mouth, so I slapped him and gave him another sample, to hold in the mouth! After a few more slaps, he realised what he was doing wrong, started to use his palate and tongue properly, whereby his eyes lit up and he suddenly got all the complexities and hidden dimensions within the whisky! It’s like a Jackson Pollock painting, keep looking at his work and you see an inner warmth and soul, which is what younger drinkers must understand; don’t be in a hurry- sip it and savour it".

Having the title of ‘Master Blender’ gives you an enigmatic ‘Alchemists’ image – how much is down to the science of blending great whiskies and how much is down to your instincts and senses?

"Good question- I would say it’s 90% down to instinct and a “feel-good” factor- knowing the whiskies and what their unique characteristics are, using my gut reaction to tell me what to expect. But at that point I have to rely on science to make an analysis for full confirmation of what I’m blending together- working closely with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, or our own labs gives me a full picture of certain parameters for the various legislation and regulations when releasing a blended whisky".

What has been the pinnacle of your blending career so far?

"1994 was a very hard year for me- the company was going through a restructure and my father had sadly passed away, but at the end of the year, as part of a competition for the International Wine and Spirit Awards, I was asked to create a 500th Anniversary Blend – to commemorate the very first blended scotch whisky. I ended up taking the first place trophy that day, which was great, but I remember it being tinged with sadness, wishing I could have shared the whisky with my father, who was also a blender".

The current resurgence of Whyte and Mackay seems down to the great reviews of the 30 year old, Supreme and Old Luxury etc. How much leeway do you get in creating and maintaining these whiskies?

"Fortunately, I have total autonomy in this area and it’s really important to work ahead of the game- it takes a long time to bring together the whiskies within the older blends - at least two years for the balance to be achieved and for them to settle down, but the rewards are all the greater for it. It’s also really important to take your time and to enjoy the older, rare blends in the correct environment too- with the right food, coffee, dark chocolate or perhaps a cigar- the perfect combinations of all these things can create a multiple orgasm!!"

Has there ever been a rival blend you wish you’d discovered?

"Not really, but I’ve always kept my eye on what others are doing- for instance William Grant and Diageo both have very skilled blending experts such as David Stewart and Maureen Robinson who have produced what I call ‘Golden Nuggets’- really great styles. I don’t get jealous of these creations, it’s more of an admiration of how they use some of the great casks from the various distilleries they own and their well-stocked inventories. Some of the older Ardbeg’s and Glenmorangie’s are also exceptional. It's really down to how you utilise the wood you have – there are some casks which I have in our stocks that will never be re-created by other companies and vice versa".

Have you ever tasted a particular cask and wanted to retire with it?

"When you do find them, you do tend to hold them back for special things, like for instance, with the 500th Anniversary blend. I had some real classics from Longmorn, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Tamdhu, The Glenrothes, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, which were pure nectar! Also a 30 year-old Scapa too- it’s important not to leave them too long, they will reach a peak and you must use them at the right time. Casks can have good times and bad times, depending on where you store them in the warehouse, the racking and how you’ve looked after them".

What are your thoughts on finishing whiskies in experimental casks?

"I don’t really like the word ‘finishing’- it tends to mean more of a ‘stimulation’, rather than acting to enhance the whisky to make it better. There are no guarantees that you’ll get what you’re looking for, by transferring it into another cask. Over the years, we’ve had some sherry casks which after a year or so we thought we’d have to dump, but it took about 3-4 years for them to come out of the bad patch and after that, they really shone, so it just goes to show you’ve got to be prepared to wait- and at 500 pounds a cask it can be an expensive mistake.
Limousin Oak or Cabernet Sauvignon wine casks can be great, but you have to make sure you nose them every single week, as there can be some undesirable notes appearing, which will hang around and resurface when you’re marrying them and will ruin the harmony of a blend".

Finally, the '64,000' dram question…. Your all time favourite whisky?

"I’d have to say the 52 year old Dalmore is still the epitome of great whisky, but my heart would have to come back to the Whyte and Mackay 40 year old blend, which is a classic aged blend (also containing old Dalmore) but it’s a combination of many old malts that I’ve really truly liked, some going back to 25th December 1964. It’s blended from both grain and malt, but has a 70% malt content, in recognition of a man called John McIlraith who served the company for 70 years! For a man to give that much dedication deserves a whisky of similar dedication".

And on that poignant note, the 'final call for flight D235 to Dubai' arrives over the tannoy and we leave Richard to his several hours of certificate signing. His new book 'Goodness Nose' has just come out, which gives a huge insight into an illustrious career and contains lots of blending secrets, humorous tales and an overriding sense of passion, with which Richard approaches great whisky.

You can buy it here:

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Turning Japanese...I really think so!!

Another first for The following review is the first Japanese whisky we've ever decided to stick up... not because we don't rate them- there are some amazing expressions out there, but we thought that it'd be great to round a bunch up and do a whole month of 'all things Japanese'.
Starting in the first week of December, we'll be bringing you interviews, reviews galore and exclusives on some great Japanese whiskies, and some of the people behind them...

back to the BiG awards nominees- and we're in for an absolute cracker. The Karuizawa distillery was introduced to us only recently and in a very short space of time we've tried to find as much info about the expressions currently being bottled. Our first dram was the stunning 1971 single cask (6878) which really made an impression on us, partly for its rich mahogany colour and wax sealed bottle. It is one of the oldest Japanese whiskies bottled currently, with some equally aged expressions to come. As a contender for the BiG awards this year, we felt it necessary to put it through a vigorous workout, which was clearly an excuse for a few extra lengthy drams!!

Karuizawa Vintage 1971 - single cask no. 6878 - bottled 15/1/08 - 64.1 % - 70cl

Nose: Dark, musty and earthy, like foraging around the woods for wild mushrooms in the autumn. Hints of moss, then digging deeper, florals- passion fruit, sherbet, orange zest and big dark sherry notes.

Palate: 64.1 %... just stop for a second and think how strong that is. This whisky is one of the first we have tried at that incredible strength which needs no water to be perfectly balanced in the mouth, without any numbing of the senses. Incredible stuff. Layers of beautiful fruity zing, this time passion fruit, dried figs, then fresh ground coffee, more sherry and those wild mushrooms. It is one of the most unique and well balanced flavour profiles you'll find in a whisky bottle.

Finish: Hugely rich and warm, with long lasting licorice and sherry notes, keeping your mouth tingling for ages.

Overall: What a way to start our foray into Japanese whiskies. This is a true great and we're really happy for it to be a worthy nominee in our list of 2008's stunners.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

12 steps to Lagaluv'in....

Well, we're not far off the BiG announcement now and us Caskstrengther's are getting frisky with the thought of selecting a superstar dram. We've really had a tricky job over the past couple of weeks in whittling the short list to only 10 top drams- thanks to everyone who sent us their suggestions, we wish we could put them all in, but then, the list would be truly endless !!
So, in keeping with our last posts, here's another cracker for you which has made the final 10 - the awesome Lagavulin 12 year old- 2008 edition.

Lagavulin 12 year old - 2008 edition - 56.4% - 70cl -
Nose: Classic, peerless Islay aromas- zesty, big bold peat, coal tar soap, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, sweet cure bacon, sizzling on a wood-fired stove and classic Laga' grit. Sensational.

Palate: Superb mouth feel, oily, rich and unctious. Initial sweetness leads into more of that coal tar soap, then back to sweetness (Cadburys Creme Egg fondant). There's so much going on that you literally can't wait to get another mouthful. A cornucopia of flavour.

Finish: As the sweetness dies away, a slight wine note comes through and layers of warming peaty goodness.

Overall: We recently gave the Feis Ile Lagavulin a stonking review, which is bottled at 15 years. The 16 year old and the awesome 21 year old also knocked us dead... now this just adds to Lagavulin's astonishing portfolio of great spirit. As with the other 12 year old bottlings of the last few years, this is a fairly limited run, so we recommend you grab one asap, crack it open and share it out on the cold and frosty nights we're inevitably in for. It will undoubtedly brighten your lives.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Glenrothes visit part 2- 'The Breakfast Club'

As we left you in part one of this epic thriller, Caskstrength were heading off to bed, full of roast dinner and the excellent 1978 Glenrothes, safe in the knowledge that Obama was about to wrestle away all the previously red states on the election map from McCain.
One thing I didn't mention however was the house rules concerning breakfast at Rothes House. For the uninitiated, it is customary for the guests to cook an impeccable breakfast for the hosts, on this occasion Mr Ronnie Cox and Mr Marcin Miller.

Now this isn't something to be taken lying down, which I was planning to do (in the shape of a lovely lie-in) that is, until I saw the 'Breakfast Book'- a tome full of reviews for the triumphant and the fallen. It contained a detailed critique from both Ronnie and Marcin on every aspect of breakfast- from the laying of the table, crispness of bacon, seasoning of tomatoes and most critically of all- timing!
Yikes- 'we need a plan' I thought and decided to hit the kitchen at 7.30am with my two fellow breakfast crusaders, Miss Malt and Miss Juniper. The Breakfast Book rules were going to be re-written that day and our names etched into the annals of Rothes House history!!...
well, something like that...
Our timing was crack on - and with a table fit for a Scottish Monarch, complete with Miss Malt's place names, came our starter; Bucks Fizz and a fruit salad, steeped in Berry Bros & Rudd's King's Ginger liqueur
So far, so good. Next, a full cooked breakfast, complete with last nights leftover roast veg re- cooked as bubble & squeak, which hopefully caught the eye of our discerning judges- a few points at least for ingenuity??

With our breakfast (hopefully) well received, it was time to head to the distillery for the serious business of a tour of the facilities and tasting.

The Glenrothes is an impressive site developed around 1879. It now houses 5 pairs of wash/spirit stills, producing nearly 4.5 million litres of spirit annually. Glenrothes house style gives a very light, fresh and clean new make spirit with an abundance of vanilla, hints of spice, citrus notes, dried fruit and ginger.
Ronnie recounted a notable incident in the history of the distillery when in 1922, fire broke out and casks were bursting open right left and centre. It is reported that a river of whisky ran down the nearby streets and people were chaotically trying to bottle what they could before it made its way to the fields and streams. It was later reported that cows were seen swaying and that the local fish were much easier to catch...

We later entered the Inner Sanctum, Glenrothes dedicated tasting room and our home for an extremely pleasant couple of hours, sampling a selection of the distillery's core range and a couple of very special drams. Here are the findings:

The Glenrothes 1967 - single cask - American oak (ex sherry) - 47% -

Nose: Seville oranges, minty/Polo hints, golden syrup, aromas of cereal and slightly waxy, polished furniture notes. Excellent and well constructed.
With the addition of a little water, you find more of the orange zestiness.

Palate: A dry start, but leading into fruity sweetness, more cereal, then hints of hard fruit gums and spice.

Finish: Lovely, lengthy and warming. This was an incredibly comforting dram, like sitting in front of a roaring fire.

The Glenrothes 1966 - single cask - european oak (ex-sherry) - 47%
the tasting of this pair of whiskies gives a clear example of how the type of oak ultimately affects the maturity of the spirit- especially the colour, with the 1966 vintage taking on a much darker hue.

Nose: Lots of dried figs and vine fruit, something slightly musty and oily, (old garages with vintage cars!), hints of drying oak and cracked leather. The age has really made a huge statement on this whisky.

Palate: Spice!! Lots of it. Hints of fudge, vanilla and a glorious sweetness. Delicious.

Finish: Again, long, fruity and sensational. We had a break until this had diminished!

Overall: Two very old but very different aged Glenrothes expressions that set us up nicely for the rest of the range.

The Glenrothes 1985- 43%

Nose: Very clean, with estery notes and a creaminess, reminiscent of Werthers Originals, slight waxiness, but then into fruit- plums and dried vine fruits. Excellent.

Palate: Amazing mouth feel, sweet oily and rich, with more of that Werthers butterscotch flavour combined with cereal, toffee, hazelnuts and sultanas. Sounds like a damn good granola doesn't it!

Finish: Warm and autumnal, with more hazelnuts on the death.

The Glenrothes 1994 - 43%

Nose: Esters, hints of ginger, floral notes, toffee notes and hints of fresh berry.

Palate: Cereal then into a sweetness of demerara sugar and drying spices, perhaps even hot peppers before the mouth is enveloped with sherry and licorice notes.

Finish: More summery, lighter and shorter but echoes of an excellent fruity dram. This would be an great pre-barbeque aperitif.

Overall: Both these expressions sit brilliantly among the others from the range of Glenrothes, all have their own distinct characteristics but offer an individual take on a great Speyside distillery, which we urge you to check out!

Special thanks to Ronnie Cox, Caroline Hendry and the team at Glenrothes Distillery/ Rothes House for their wonderful hospitality, knowledge and time, also to Marcin for his excellent hosting, witty banter and James Lock & Co eight-piece flat cap...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

The long and winding road to perfection....

As we assembled our short list for this years BiG Awards, there was a slight element of reminiscence when going back to certain whiskies we felt demanded inclusion. The Longrow 18 year old is no exception. Our first chance encounter with this absolute gem was after dinner, in a very remote farmhouse on the north east side of Islay, near Loch Gruinart.

Our very good friends Joanne and Derek Middleton had been kind enough to put Caskstrength up for this year's Feis Ile and we'd decided to cook a mammoth pasta meal, complete with Derek's freshly harvested Mussels (from sea to plate in only one hour!!)
Another whisky chum, Angus popped over and bought a rather fine looking purple box to the table, where on opening, its succulent contents were duly corked and shared around.
We never looked calls were made, emails fired off and shops tipped off that we simply must get hold of another bottle... Alas, it seemed Islay had sold its last bottle of Longrow 18 to a Scandinavian chap and we felt quite deflated, thinking that London would also be a similarly barren environment.

Then about 2 weeks later, we were musing around a well known spirit emporium in Soho and struck gold- 2 bottles, amazingly left in the store room un-loved and un-noticed, which lit up our eyes and started our mouths drooling in anticipation.

Tasting the Longrow 18 again recently alongside the other nominees was no less of an occasion, but where will it figure in the overall rankings?

Longrow 18 year old - 46% - 70cl - 2100 bottles available.

Very unique- an odd mixture of rich fudge, licorice, freshly turned earth, leather, orange zest and slight summer fruits. It really shouldn't work, but it all sits together magnificently. Left to sit a little while and more sherbet notes come through, coupled with creamy butterscotch and orange blossom. A real treat to the senses.

Palate: The treats don't stop with the nose... very light and floral, but mixed with a rich oily mouth feel, you uncover a summery zestiness, perhaps hints of juniper, more fizzing sherbets and sweet fruit gums.

Finish: At this point, my notes seem to be become invaded by Joel's hand written plea of "get me a peshwari naan", as I happened to be on the phone, ordering our takeaway for the evening. I was still tasting the fresh zestiness and elegance five minutes after the call had ended and our Indian feast was being rustled up in a nearby kitchen. Needless to say the glass was well and truly empty by the time it had arrived.

Overall: Wholly deserving of its place on this years BiG nominee list, this is a stupendous whisky and we urge you to locate one... hopefully the luck we were fortunate enough to encounter will be with you too!!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Highland Fling

In keeping with our last post, we have 3 new reviews to give you- all nominees for our prestigious Best in Glass awards, the overall winner to be announced early next month. First up, the oldest chap on Orkney- the stately Highland Park 40 year old.

Highland Park 40 year old - 48.3% abv - 70cl-

Nose: Rich, intense fruity and zesty aroma, hints of vanilla tobacco, fresh mint, white chocolate and soft chamois leather.

Palate: Really smooth mouth feel, silky and coating, with floral notes, cedar, chopped hazel nuts, dark chocolate covered vanilla fudge and a hint of waxy, unprocessed honey all swirl around the palate. Very heady stuff.

Finish: The depth of this finish is exceptional, warming, soft, hints of spicy fruit and more vanilla, lead into a sherbety sweetness, then tobacco and leather as it slowly fades.

Overall: No surprises that this is an incredibly well drinking Highland Park. Its floral lightness, matched with the hints of sweet vanilla are a surprise- sharing some of the 18 year old's refinement, but taking it into a different league. But is it enough to take it into the Pantheon of the Best in Glass supreme champion?? We shall see soon enough!!

They're here!!! The 2008 BiG Award Nominees!!

We've cogitated, conversed and consulted for...oh, at least a week now and it gives us great pleasure to finally announce the inaugural 'Best In Glass' award nominees- and what a cracking line up it is. As mentioned in one of our previous posts, the main criteria for this prestigious award (we like to big things up a little!) is that the whisky must have been commercially released this year and is not a 'restricted bottling'- ie, a club, festival or society bottling. We shall be announcing the overall winner in the first week of December, but one thing is for sure; they all represent the pinnacle of fantastic whisky making. For the rest of this month we shall be re-reviewing all ten whiskies (with new postings of the Karuizawa, Lavavulin, Longrow & Highland Park) to look for those minuscule pointers that will lead to the eventual overall winner.

Whilst clearly ranging in price, we felt that this list balances age, refinement and value for money very well indeed- please feel free to add your comments on the nominees and let us know if there's anything you feel we've missed off, or was more deserving of a nomination:

Stay tuned for the result and the winners tearful acceptance speech!!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

from Gauger to Geisha.... without any underwear!

So... election night has come and gone and we now face the prospect of real change in the 'Land of the Free', by way of a crushing landslide victory. Doesn't it feel nice to read some positive words on the front cover of every daily paper at long last? Well done to Mr Obama for seizing the reins and good luck in steering a clear path to prosperity.
Anyway, this post is not about political high-fives, so back to the whisky, that is, unless the President is a secret malt maniac and fancies an interview on our favourite subject.

Caskstrength recently had the marvellous opportunity to travel up to the heart of Speyside and to The Glenrothes, as guests of the distillery. Flights were booked and noses honed for what shaped up to be a wonderful experience- but as you will see, it is always better to follow the instructions, to avoid total embarrassment.
Arriving at Gatwick airport on a cold and frosty Tuesday morning in ones fine, but slightly tight fawn tweed trousers is a good way to get a few smiles from the assembled air hostesses, especially when surrounded by hundreds of unremarkable businessmen with 'bright brown' ties and impending Powerpoint presentations.
After scooting through security, I settled down with some light refreshment- in this instance, a quick dram of the excellent Glenlivet Nadurra, noting how well my trip was going so far- no travel hitches, delays or catastrophes.
So on my arrival into Aberdeen, still on time and in a chipper mood, I met the even more chipper Marcin Miller and immaculately chappish Ronnie Cox, my hosts for the trip. All good so far, until I noticed Marcin's slight double-take when I said I wasn't travelling with ANY luggage. 'Oh, you do travel light!' he joked, as we went through the plans for the trip. It was at this point that the mention of an 'overnight stay' hit me like a mouthful of new-make-spirit going down the wrong pipe. In my excitement, I had neglected to read the full itinerary beforehand and assumed the trip was a simple one-day tasting event.

Oh dear. No clean undergarments, toothbrush, alternative tweed trousering, or moustache wax.
All this left me with a slight 'gents quandary';
1. Go 'commando' on the 2nd day or,
2. Make an emergency stop somewhere for overnight supplies.

Wisely, for the sake of the other guests, we opted for the latter and about 20 miles out of Aberdeen I was kitted out with new Asda under-breeches and grooming apparel.
My fellow companions for the visit were Miss Malt, aka Helen Arthur, author of the world's best-selling whisky book and Miss Juniper, aka Geraldine Coates, leading authority in the world of all things gin related. Once the ridicule regarding my emergency pants was over, we got down to discussing the wonderful scenery as the miles passed by towards Glenrothes: The stories of the hidden, illicit pot stills and of the gaugers futile attempts to locate them. Also Marcin's experiences of a Geisha, but that is clearly a story not to be discussed here...

Rothes House was to be our home for the next 2 days. A wonderfully appointed old Manse with great views over Speyside, it is a short walk over to the distillery, past a small graveyard. After a hearty lunch of warming fish pie, we headed off for a bracing afternoon of activity, where Miss Malt discovered she was a crack shot and I discovered I was dire at driving blind...

Our evening consisted of sensational supper of fillet of beef and Scottish Toffee cake matched with 2 excellent Glenrothes expressions:

The Glenrothes 1991 - bottled in 2007- 43% - 70cl

Nose: Sweet candifloss, but dig deeper- slight hints of root vegetable and Baklava- honey and pastry, pistachio, musk?

Palate: More vegetables, but sweet and spicy, like sweet potato. A slight aroma of Earl Grey /bergamot notes. This leads into cereal flavours but then gives way dry sherry.

Finish: More spice, sherry notes and green leaves on the death.

Overall: A damn good dram. Ronnie Cox's ethos here is refinement and maturity over age, which clearly wins through on this expression.

The Glenrothes 1978 - bottled in 2008- 43% - 70cl

Nose: Vanilla custard, melon, summer pudding, ginger, slight tobacco, nutmeg, diced apple, cloves and citrus notes (seville oranges) phew!!! a mammoth in the world of sensuous aromas.

Palate: Sherbet, slight orange zest, caramel, cherries, dark chocolate - perhaps kirsh?

Finish: Sweet, spice, fudge - really refined- mature and lengthy...

Overall: A superb after dinner dram, highly complex in aroma but subtle and beautifully refined. A whisky of real class.

As we settle in the drawing room with a cigar or two, waiting for the first US election results to arrive on BBC2, I imagine it to be the sort of evening that one would reminisce about in 30 years time, vividly remembering 'what we were doing' when President Obama bought change to the White House. One thing's for certain; my memories will go hand in hand with the good company, wonderful hospitality and sensational whisky shared and enjoyed that evening. Slainte!!

Part 2 of Caskstrength's Glenrothes adventure will follow shortly....

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Bulldog vs Hockey Mom

Politics. It is a funny old game. We are less than a week away now from the US Presidential election to see who will replace George W. Bush in the White House. But before citizens of the United States go to the polls there is weeks and week of electioneering. Candidates travelling from coast to coast and spending unfeasibly large amounts of money (money that could, if both parties agreed not to spend it on marketing, be used to build schools, hospitals and feed the poor). But the election run-up is about educating the people. Empowering the good folk in the U. S. of A to make an informed decision at the polls. To know each candidates agenda. To understand why they believe their campaign. And most importantly to find a candidate they trust.

This is much like whisky.

"Er, okay. How on earth is this like whisky?!" I hear you cry. "You've finally gone mental."

Well, whisky is all about education; education of the palate. Travelling from coast to coast and spending unfeasibly large amounts of money (money that could be better used to build schools, hospitals and feed the poor. Or just to pay my bloomin' mortgage!) on learning about different wood finishes. Learning about peating levels. Learning about age. Learning about regional styles and regional variations. Understanding blending and vatting. And trying out as many different distilleries as one can get ones hand on! Education before you finally put your "X" in the box of a whisky that you dearly love. A whisky you would trust as your leader. A whisky to run your free world. A Whisky with it's finger firmly on the button.

It was with unbounded joy then, that we recently came across a bottling from a distillery which neither of us had sampled before; Glendronach. An open bottle of 15 Year Old, 100% Matured in Sherry, this was going to be a real eduction for the palate.

Glendronach - 15 YO "100% Matured in Sherry" - 40% Vol - 1 ltr

Nose: A touch of peat smoke (very light indeed), some aniseed, lots of Christmas spices and Rum 'n' Raisin ice cream. Yummy!

Palate: The raisins again mixed with some light summer ale. Ginger root and a slight medicinal (TCP) quality. Nice and warming.

Finish: Lingers for a short while with cola but the depth in flavours is let down by the low alc content. Sherried whiskies of this age need more oomph to carry their substantial character across the finish line.

Overall: A real education. This is a pleasant enough dram but I'd love to try this spirit in bourbon casks, as was tried in their 12 YO release called "The Original" (second fill, mainly bourbon). It feels over disciplined in the sherry casks at this age.

Best In Glass Awards 2008

As the end of the year approaches, we here at shall be looking to place an "X" next to our favourite whisky of the year, as we announce the nominations in our first "Best In Glass" Awards (BiG Awards). A short list of 8 - 10 whiskies shall be drawn up and announced at the start of November. The only criteria for this is that the whisky must have been released in 2008. From the short list there shall be only one winner, to be revealed Monday December 1st. Keep and eye out for further announcements.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

SMWS November Nosings...

Well, the clocks have gone back and you know it's that time to stick the heating on and start stashing some cash away for Christmas- it always has a nasty habit of creeping up on you, requiring unfounded last minute panic spending! Anyway, to keep this brief, the nice people at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society have sent us 4 of their new November releases for our delectation and delight. Back in July we featured a pair of fine bottlings- a Littlemill and a Mannochmore, which have no doubt totally sold out now. The next lot of bottlings are in equally short supply, so certainly won't be hanging around for long...perfect for that early christmas present perhaps??

33.72 Mellow Treat - Age: 10 Years - 57.2% Cask: First Fill Barrel - Distilled May 1998 - 255 Bottles

Nose: There is no pretence about which distillery this comes from. One whiff and you know where you stand: On a grassy knoll over looking Port Ellen...
A deep nosing finds a huge peat hit mixed with plenty of sweet saltiness with hint of heather. A lot more vanilla essence in this nose than on previous 10's from this famous distillery.

Palate: Sherbet, Champagne and smoke (like a good music industry party...!). This is the sweetest Kildalton area whisky I have ever had. The First fill nature of it shines through.

Finish: The sweetness lingers like saccharine in the mouth. There are touches of black cherry jam and over ripe plums.

Overall: A solid expression which is very, very sweet at the end of the palate and in the finish. Needs water which dulls the overall sweetness and enhances the fruits.

125.17 Indulgent Sofa Treat- Age: 12 Years - 57.8% - Cask: Second Fill Hogshead - Distilled August 1996 - 242 Bottles

Nose: Salt is the first thing to hit your nostrils with this whisky, from the 2nd most northerly distillery in Scotland. There is a real youthfulness in the spirit which belies the 12 year old age of this dram. Some green apples and water melon 'jelly belly' jelly beans are present and the longer it spends in the glass, the better this nose gets. Pour a dram BEFORE going to work and let this sit in the air until work is over for the day. Then you will get the full benefit of the rich, flowery aromas in the glass.

Palate: The sweetness of the water melon and the green apples of the nose come to life on the palate. There is also rich summer fruit pudding with red berries of all types stewed together in hearty juiciness. This is really tasty!

Finish: A hint of red chillies and the fruit just slides away gently into the back ground, with the fire of the alcohol content leaving a long ending to an enjoyable dram.

Overall: An excellently fruity dram which we found to be really, really tasty. With water, the nose and the palate are not quite what they were, but the finish is a little more subtle with the fruity flavours lasting like a yummy boiled sweet.

26.27 An Absolute Cracker!- Age: 25 Years - 55.8%- Cask: Refill Hogshead - Distilled May 1983 - 177 Bottles

A quick swirl of the glass and suddenly we're in familiar territory. This dram is from the second most northerly mainland Distillery. An initial hit of beeswax leads you into diced apples with a squeeze of lemon, golden syrup sponge cake with a dusting of cinnamon. Its so creamy, yet fresh and zesty you just can't wait to dive in for the first mouthful.

Palate: An excellent rich mouth feel immediately leads to a real sweetness- it's like biting into a toffee apple on bonfire night, sweet brittle caramel with crisp, juicy fruit on the inside, again with the presence of the cinnamon. slightly honeyed notes come through and a little more zesty lemon, but the whole package sits together so well in the mouth. Great stuff.

Finish: Like the dying embers of a fire, this really fades out gracefully over time, with real chocolate fudge notes and a zingy ginger spiciness coming through on the death.

Overall: As the name suggests- this is an absolute cracker, hardly surprising when you consider the heritage of the distillery its from. So much more refined than some of its younger brothers and very unique. Something tells us that the 177 bottles are already being greedily eyed up...

29.73 BFD (Big Friendly Dram) - Age: 11 Years - 58.6% - cask Refill Hogshead - Distilled October 1996 - 295 Bottles

Rather like 33.72, there's no mistaking this when you get your nose in there, but it's all done in a very subtle way, gentle peat, iodine, cream soda and vanilla all compete for your attention against some slight hints of oily creosote- not as obvious as its younger, more well known brother but certainly as pleasing.

Palate: Whilst the nose is slightly delicate and sophisticated, like the local vicar, the heart is a grimy engine driver, all expletives and firey passion! More grit and grime fill the mouth, in the best possible way, then comes the sweet fudge and baked apple, and barbeque sauce which is not expected.

Finish: More sweetness and Manuka honey make this a very odd dram indeed, but a very very good one, nonetheless!

Overall: The 4th in a line of cracking drams from the SMWS. as with the others, don't expect them to be around for too long though- you'll be sorely disappointed...

Monday, 20 October 2008

A signal of things to come??...

Wow. Tans don't last long do they? barely a day and my finely cultivated Portuguese sun blush is already starting to fade with this dismal London drizzle. We're quite aware that here at that we start lots of postings discussing the weather, but we make no apologies. Clearly, it has a huge impact on our state of mind and the whiskies we love. Seriously, Portugal's weather was a complete refreshment for the soul and the last week spent in Porto, with many a fine vintage Tawny in ones hand has not only done wonders for the skin but also for the mind. Considering our collective knowledge was relatively limited in the production of wonderful port bottlings, it was good to take a little break from whisky and learn a few proper facts. But given a cellar, crammed with casks full of exceptional liquid, your mind tends to wander a little. Thoughts like, " I wonder where this empty cask will end up?" sprang to mind and you kick yourself for thinking, maybe a distillery will finish something cheeky in it... well, maybe they will??
This leads nicely onto the first foray back into whisky - banishing the memories Vila Nova De Gaia into the ether. Last night we were lucky enough to try the newly-launched Glenmorangie Signet for the first time.

Signet is apparently a project that Dr Bill Lumsden has been developing since as far back as 1984, from his days working in the brewing business. At the heart of the whisky lies its unique proposition- 'chocolate malt'- a curious dark, toasted grain slowly cooked at around 250 degrees Centigrade, which imparts a richness into the spirit. We're also told that it is based on a mixture of ex-oloroso casks and a touch of virgin oak, containing older and younger whiskies.

With its highly lavish packaging, the smoked glass bottle, ludicrously weighty stopper and 'flick book of clouds and bottle shots'- (yes, we did just type that) our hopes were high, albeit slightly concerned. To be honest, the last Glenmorangie tasting we wrote about was a mixed affair, the wonderful Astar leading the way to the winning post and the not-so-wonderful Lasanta and Quinta Ruban clearly bring up the rear. Will the Signet make us pine for those wonderfully heady casks we so reluctantly left behind in Porto? lets see....

Glenmorangie Signet - NAS - 46% - 70cl

Nose: Masses of over-ripe banana, fresh ginger, mint, orange blossom and hints of smoke. A classy start then, with all the usual Glenmorangie spice to match. Almost a 'whisky mac' feel to it and the toasty, spicy influence of the chocolate malt is very much evident.

Palate: Pepper, espresso coffee and leather all hit your tastebuds on the first sip, with a minty floral note developing afterwards. Again, the spices and citrus are also present.

Finish: Lingering ginger and dark chocolate notes, leading to a reasonably lengthy finish.

Overall: This is a highly drinkable whisky and Dr Lumsden's team should be commended for their constant devotion to the development of great wood and innovative experiments. Our only slight gripe is its lofty price tag (around £120) which makes us wonder quite how much was spent on just developing the packaging, let alone the whisky. This will no doubt go down very well in the newer markets (especially the Far East) but for us, it just seems a touch unnecessary. There's something to be said for real simplicity at its best, which may have been overlooked a tad here- but all in all, a fine example of Glenmorangie.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Blasda. You can't peat it.

What a weekend. Mid-October and the weather is fantastic. Highs in London of 21 degrees centigrade. Mother Nature is inviting you down the park to play Frisbee and drink Pimms. In October. Let's just confirm here; October. The 10th month in the Gregorian calendar, just TEN WEEKS away from Christmas and I'm in shorts. Could things get any stranger? Well. Yes. They could. Because this month sees the release of Blasda, Ardbeg's "lightly peated" whisky. So, last night a few folk gathered together at an intimate do in the Whisky Exchange shop at Vinopolis, London Bridge where Ardbeg's Distillery Manager Mickey Heads took us on a journey from the new, lightly peated Blasda through to the Ten Year Old, the Uigeadail, Single Cask bottling (cask 1375 from 1974) and finally 2 strange drams, direct from the warehouse. We have previously done notes for the Ten and cask 1375 and there will be tasting notes up later for the Ugi and the two cask samples, but for now let's kick off with the much anticipated Blasda:

Ardbeg Blasda - NAS - 40% - 70cl

What we learnt about this bottling last night was that this batch contains 35% 1st fill and 65% 2nd refill bourbon casks. Let's get our nose into it, then:

N- light peat (no surprise there), grapefruit juice (Echinacea), light mint, vanilla pods, cucumber, waft of smoke. This was the first dram of the evening, and when returning to it having gone through the Ten, Ugi and some single cask stuff you really smell the youthful, light nature of it. It becomes more like silver Tequila (Silver Patron) and, if you are used to big, heavy Ardbeg noses it is something really quite different (even from young Ardbegs such as the Very Young). Is this a bad thing? That is for you to decide.

P- Here we go then. Now for the "money shot". How is this going to go down on the palate? And... it is in the mouth... its gone! Hang on. No it hasn't. It is still there. But it just gives up. It enters like an elderly Morris dancer on a light and breezy summers day into a country pub. Fresh, crisp white clothing, some light bells ringing and lots of colourful ribbon waving, there is a hint of the gentle vanilla pipe tobacco which their friend had been smoking about an hour before. However, once the action starts they can only keep up with the dance for a matter of moments before their knees give way and their back goes. Not enough strength to see it through to the end. And that is the main problem with the Blasda. For all the light hints of Real / Traditional Lemonade, freshly cut grass, peat and minted green peas, there is just not enough strength to carry this through. 46% vol would have been much more helpful for the palate.

F- The finish is pleasant with touches of red chillies and vanilla ice cream (mr whippy style). Then it is all over.

O- So, what do we make of this curious release from a distillery that has worked so hard to build a brand of its smokey and meaty whiskies. Well, Blasda is not a bad whisky. But its just so far away from "Ardbeg". This is the ideal supermarket Ardbeg. Maybe it should be renamed "(bl)ASDA"! It is a good introduction to peat. A gentile take off into a world that most people find difficult to get into. It is, as someone on our table commented, an Ardbeg with stabilisers on.
Pictures from the night on The Whisky Exchange blog here:

Thursday, 9 October 2008

1966. What happened then? Something great. And it wasn't football related!

Back in the day when the proprietors were Bulloch Lade & Co, before the distillery was closed in 1972 and rebuilt again (re-opening in 1974), this Caol Ila arrived on earth. After 17 years of knocking about in a cask, watching on as its parent was swallowed up into major drinks company after major drinks company, it was eventually bottled by Cadenheads and sent out on to the mean streets of the 1980's. A time when distilleries were closing down at an alarming rate and when blends were all that mattered. Let's see how this mid-1980's release fairs in todays palate:

Caol Ila - 17 YO -Cadenheads Bottling - Distilled Feb 1966 - Bottled Oct 1983 - 46% Vol - 70cl

N- Big hit of peat. This is unmistakably Caol Ila. I was given some and not told what it was, but the pre-face lift personality of this distillery still shines though in the nose (unlike human face lifts!). However, there is much more to this than the modern day Caol Ila. There are tinned pineapples in syrup, a touch of mango. Stuff you would expect from those good Bowmores. You know, the really expensive ones they do now-a-days! Personal to me, or any other Norskmen reading: there is a real smell of my Morfar's boat house in Norway, (up in Hodneland on the Western Coast of Norway just North West of Bergen). All tar, wood and leather constantly drying and encrusted with salt. A touch of dry fish (cod). Really well layered and lovely to nose.

P- On the palate you get a sharp hit of smoke followed by damp shammy leather, a slight bitterness. Vanilla creme. A light palate and not as salty as I expected from the nose.

F- The palate moves into coffee and dark chocco. Medium in length with enough legs left after all these years to warm your heart and leave you glowing.

O- This is a whisky from a different era. Production methods may be "better" and more refined, but there is something about this era of drams that, I'm sure not as well produced from a scientific point of view, retains character. Bags of character. Like in old films when people are driving cars. The special effects are not as good, but the acting can be out of this world.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Get Time Team on the phone!!...

Here at Caskstrength, we're all in favour of 'sinking the odd dram' now and again, but recently, we came across a fascinating story which literally redefines the phrase. Glenfiddich, whose splendid 1977 Vintage Reserve was reviewed a few posts ago have taken the maturation process to a different level and -in conjunction with a Canadian based artist, are attempting to create the worlds oldest single malt whisky. Sounds straight forward. But when you consider the methods involved, it gets stranger by the second.

The project, entitled A Drink To Us (When We’re Both Dead)' by Glenfiddich Artist in Residence, Dave Dyment, sees a 500L cask of newly distilled spirit entombed under the floor of warehouse number eight at the distillery. The cask will not be uncovered and emptied until 2108.
Many people out there will view this as either a crazy marketing-based stunt, or genuine artistry - we're probably somewhere in between, but the idea of burying a cask, to be untouched for a century is certainly a really intriguing and beguiling idea. 2 questions immediately spring to mind:

1. What will happen to the cask, when consigned to its chilly grave?

Well, one suspects that the angels will have a devil of a job getting their share, unless they bring pick axes and shovels. It is hoped the unusual method of maturation with its cold, damp conditions will overcome the difficulties in aging the cask for such a long time.

2. Who's going to be around to sample it, once it's exhumed, bottled and become the stuff of legend?

Well, we'll certainly offer to feature the first 'official tasting notes' at but clearly by then, our livers will have no doubt, become a highly sought after single malt- infused Foie Gras-style pate. (that's their intended designation anyway ;-{p )
The artist behind the burial, Dave Dyment, says his angle here is not just the relationship between himself and the eventual buyer of the cask, but also the buyer’s relationship with the person it is passed on to. "The maturation period ensures that the buyer will never drink the spirit, but must pass it on as a gift. The recipients will also likely also have to part with the work. In all likelihood, it will pass through three generations of hands before it is enjoyed".

One thing does remain clear- until it's cracked open, no one has any idea of what the cask will actually taste like.

Cryogenics anyone??

For more info on this, and the Glenfiddich artist in residence programme, visit

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Bank on these...

Every now and again, we're supposed to take time off- even from the things we love. Maybe it's because we all need time to reflect on how great certain things are, or to occasionally rethink one's strategies. At, we find that really hard to achieve when it comes to whisky. Last Friday, a social gathering was arranged with some of our top chums (Darrell and Tim), with the view being that we'd for once leave the tasting books at home, watch a film (the mostly excellent 'In Bruges') eat pizza and chat about other things in our lives.  Yeah right.... 

Of course, it would have been simple if  A: we had no whiskies, or B:  we had a modicum of will power between us. 

So, without further ado, we bring you a rather unexpected lateral tasting, which came together in a relatively spontaneous manner.
After acquiring a rather interesting Springbank single cask bottling (exclusive to Oddbins) a couple of weeks back, we were itching to get stuck in. But to make things really exciting, we also hastily rustled up both batches of Springbank's rather splendid 1997 Vintage as venerable sidekicks.  Side-by-side,  the bottles look identical. In fact, only very subtle cosmetic artwork changes reveal the uniqueness of their contents- which are all from the same group of re-charred sherry casks. 
So, will power consigned to the bin and an all-star trio in front of us on the dining table,  which would come out as the banker of the 'banks??

Springbank 'Vintage 1997' - Batch no. 1 (bottled in June 2007) - 55.2 % abv - 70 cl 

Nose: An initial mustiness emerges from the glass, but is swiftly followed up by cloves, bags of fresh mint and cracked black pepper corns.  A few swirls -and the addition of water reveal more of that 'dunnage warehouse' dampness- fresh, but clouded with the aroma of a nicely aged cask.  After time, a real element of Canada Dry Ginger Ale comes thru.  

Palate: Surprisingly sweet on the first sip, then leading into masses of white pepper, a hint of marzipan, candyfloss, pears and Caramac bars.  What starts out fresh and vibrant, leads into something hot and firey, with green chilli emerging on the death.

Finish: The tiniest notes of elastoplast arrive after that chilli has settled down, giving a long and slightly medicinal echo.  Really warming and enjoyable.

Overall:  If anything, this improves over time within the glass.  The balance of sweetness against the backdrop of its firey mouth feel is really excellent and sets the bar highly for its siblings. 

Springbank 'Vintage 1997'  - Batch no. 2 (bottled in May 2008) - 54.9% abv - 70 cl

Nose: On first nosing, noticeably different from its slightly younger brother.  Notes of milky coffee jump out immediately and a slight woodiness, which make this less biting and much more subtle.  Given time in the glass though, its heart and spice start to come through and that familiar spice and pepperiness start to emerge, this time with a hint of smoke.

Palate: Definitely less sweet than batch 1, with initial spice, cedar and then a slightly candied note (barley sugar?) coming through.  More air and a little touch of water reveal a really dry, oaky red wine characteristic as the tannins come to the fore. 

Finish: A similar lengthy finish, but this time with fresh apple and then a much drier mouth feel.

Overall:  Another cracking bottling, showing signs of its slightly longer cask time, with the woody, oaky notes this time more prevalent.  

Springbank 'Vintage 1997' - Single cask bottling exclusive to Oddbins - Cask no. 789 filled 1997- bottled 2008 - limitd to 475 bottles

Nose: Wow, initially fresh and fruity with green apples, then a peated loveliness coming through which was perhaps missing from the previous bottlings.  A slight farmyard note of damp hay, then cloves and back into the fresh mint of batch 1.  Much more concentrated and expressive than the other two bottlings.

Palate: Initially hot on the taste buds but quickly, a real sweetness takes over the mouth with brown sugar, vanilla, apple peelings, touches of cedar then an almost cayenne pepper-like quality. A huge amount going on in the glass. 

Finish: Very long, dry and oaky, with that delicious red wine mustiness, then hints of coffee on the death.  

Overall: The cracking mouth feel and depth of this bottling wins over our hearts and perhaps puts the other 2 bottlings slightly in the shade. This is an excellent expression of Springbank. Try to seek out one now, if you still can!

The progression through these 3 bottlings was extremely enjoyable, with each one offering up a slightly different, but nonetheless delicious surprise.  Who needs will power, when you have whiskies like these....