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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 Caskstrength.net 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
http://uk.glenfiddich.com/distillery/artists-in-residence/index.html.

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 Caskstrength.net, 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....

   

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Monarch of the Glens...



Well, bang goes the summer. Boo. Autumn has truly got its chilly grip upon us, so it's time to start digging out that old rain coat and planning on how to amuse one's self for the rest of the year. It is also a time for reflection on past experiences, which got us thinking. In our short, but perfectly formed life, (just 6 months) Caskstrength.net have tasted some truly great drams and had many memorable moments in the process.

The following review will be our 77th, which to most, is a fairly unremarkable number. But it is certainly a number that features highly at Caskstrength.net HQ. For one, it happens to be the year of the greatest Sci-Fi epic of all time, Star Wars, which undoubtedly shaped our childhoods. It is the year that the Sex Pistols released God Save The Queen, the pivotal point in the punk scene, which revolutionised British music. Closer to home, it is the vintage of one of our all-time favourite drams (Ardbeg 1977) - and now, also the vintage of the whisky we're about to try.

The whisky in question is the Glenfiddich 1977 Vintage Reserve. Glenfiddich are clearly no strangers to bottling older whiskies of exceptional quality. The 1973 Vintage Reserve was unbelievably well received and both the 30 and 40 year old bottlings have received prestigious awards. The premise behind this new vintage reserve bottling was simple- to find the undisputed champ from a small selection of vintage Oloroso casks owned by the distillery. Selected by an esteemed panel (including William Grant & Sons' Malt Master, David Stewart) from a shortlist of six European oak casks, the panel decided upon cask number 4414 - most likely 2nd or 3rd refill originally dating back to the 1940's. This cask was filled again on the 7th March 1977, which spookily happens to share a birthday with the inception of Caskstrength.net (born on the 7th March 2008 to be precise). Perhaps all just sheer coincidence, but it will certainly be at the back of our minds as we take our first sip.

Glenfiddich Vintage Reserve 1977 - 31 years old - Cask no 4414- bottle no 41 of 482- 54.1% abv

Nose: A slow swirl of the glass unearths a classic aroma or drying spices- cinnamon, cloves and cedar wood. Also a rich thick note of molasses, licorice, fresh cantaloupe melon and dried vine fruits are present. With a little water, the nose develops into smoky notes of bonfire toffee, black cherry and sweet tobacco.

Palate: The first treat is the rich, unctuous, oily mouth feel of almond paste, candied vine fruit and a surprising freshness. Oaky undertones with hints of that classic Oloroso spiciness are present but there's so much going on, your senses are really taken back. With water you'll find a slight waxiness emerge but a hint of sweet hazelnut, more cedarwood and an almost game like note (perhaps rare roasted venison?)

Finish: More sweetness and something aromatic, like licorice dipped in demerara. Hints of espresso coffee, cloves and something creamy. On the death, its respectable age shows through with some drying oak, but nothing overpowering. Tremendous.

Overall: A sublime, complex and exceptionally well rounded whisky. The selection process must have been incredibly difficult, considering the obvious qualities of the shortlisted casks but this bottling represents everything we at Caskstrength love about older sherried drams.

For more information on this bottling see here:

http://www.glenfiddich.co.uk/the-range/vintage-reserve-1977/index.html

Monday, 22 September 2008

'Beistie Boys



The problem with having a whisky fetish is that many bottles are opened, sampled, loved, drunk, loved, drunk, loved... rested. After dusting down several bottles from our cabinet that need to be finished off, we chose to put to bed the Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist. This whisky is one of the core Ardbeg range currently on offer. However, as with any whisky of a stated vintage stocks will be limited and this fantastic bottling must come to an end at some stage (who knows when...). There have now been three different releases of the Beist, notable by the "Bottled In The Year xxxx" in gold print on the reverse label. So far we have seen 2006 (a 16 YO Whisky, given that is from 1990 stock), a 2007 (17 YO) and a 2008 (apparently the smallest batch, and an 18 YO to boot). The glass that caskstrength.net has in its hands holds the first batch, the 2006 release. If you are lucky enough to have or find a bottle of the '06 stock, it might be worth a place under your mattress...

Ardbeg - Airigh Nam Beist - 46% Vol - 2006 Release - 70cl

Nose: A huge nose of vanilla fudge, dry oak, over ripe plums, pipe tobacco (a fine Balkan blend). Aniseed. This is all the aspects of a whisky nose you would expect to find wafting from a lovely old tweed suit. This may sound wanky, but the overall aroma is that of the Old Kiln Shop at Ardbeg. This is the signature smell of the distillery.

Palate: Fresh green apples, bitter dark chocolate, more fudge, dried vine fruit and drying peat leading into almost fresh strawberries, cream with a hint of medicinal loveliness on the death. (It really does remind me of the wonderful warm day at the end of may sat with our feet dangling off the pier at Ardbeg, greedily pouring generous drams of this)

Finish: Acres of peat, more green leaves and cocoa on the death. Sadly for this bottle, it really is the death. RIP, old friend!!

Overall: It's easy to eulogise about our obvious love for this bottling, but this last dram really does highlight its brilliance. We managed to savour our smaller-than-usual measures for nearly an hour before cracking and allowing the last few drops to slowly slip away. Sensational stuff. Now... what can we put in its place in the cabinet? .... another 'Nam Beist we suspect...!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

E's are good. Our First WhiskEy reviews.

Caskstrength.net has found itself in rainy / sunny / rainy Dublin. One of our fav cities in Europe, it would be a crime whilst here not to visit the Old Jameson Distillery (http://www.oldjamesondistillery.com) to try some of their famous Irish whiskey.


Jameson Distillery Reserve - 12 Years Old - 40% - 700ml - only available at the distillery

"This is a special selection by the master blender of old triple distilled Jameson matured in both Oloroso and ex-Bourbon barrels."
Additional information tells me that the whiskey in this release is between 12 - 21 years old.

Nose- A waft of fresh hazelnuts. Honey roast ham with cloves and open log fires.

Palate- There is a real sweetness to this on initial tasting. Full Cream milk and rich heather and lavender notes.

Finish- The finish takes in toffee, heather, figs. Quite long for a 40% whiskey and it fades just brilliantly, leaving warming and sweet tones.

Overall- this is a fab whiskey. Retailing at €45 a bottle at the distillery or €55 to have your name on the bottle and the box. This really should be on general release. A fabulously balanced blend. Damn the hand luggage restrictions on liquids, or my bags would be weight down with the stuff.


Jameson Gold - NAS - 700ml - 40% vol

"Jameson Gold is a deluxe Irish whiskey of exceptional harmony. It take unique character from the small selection of traditional pot still whiskeys matured in virgin oak used in the blend."

12 months ago this bottling was only available in duty free, but has now found its way to a general release.

N- A strong and pungent nose of cigars, roast chicken, clear apple juice and coffee.

P- The apple juice flavour really streams through with light touches of coffee.

F- A surprisingly long finish that lingers both with spice and sweetness; brown sugar. Red chillies.

O- this whiskey is far too weak, but that's Jameson for you. From an island where politics has always been a hot topic, this is a distillery that makes whiskey to sit firmly on the fence. At €75 a bottle and clearly their attempt at stealing some of the JW Gold market (see our previous notes on the JW Gold and Blue) I'd go for the distillery reserve every time over this.


Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve (2007) - Big old wooden box with tasting note pamphlet - 700ml - 40% vol

What luck. Caskstrength.net is treated to a small, but exciting dram of the Jameson Rarest Reserve. Launched in 2007 this hits the market at €400 a bottle. Their marketing blurb reads thus:

"Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve is Jameson's most exclusive whiskey. Launched in 2007 it embodies all that is great about Jameson. The pick of some of our oldest & rarest whiskeys that were available for individual selection, have been carefully brought together & married by the 4 Jameson Masters to create what is essentially, the ultimate expression of Jameson craftsmanship."

N- Loads and loads of fruit. Water Melons, a hint of over ripe bananas and plums. Some lime in there too with that hint of coffee again. Just Beautiful.

P- Fudge, black cherries dipped in dark chocolate. The wood finish leave a subtle dryness in the mouth.

F- heathers, lavenders, copper delicate.

O- This is a really cracking dram that has everything going for it on the nose, but it so let down by the lack of power in the palate. Great flavours but the need to be bolstered by more than 40% spirit. At €400 a bottle, give the serious whiskey drinkers some respect and bottle this at cask strength or at least up towards 50% vol.


Jameson Signature Reserve - 40% vol - 1ltr - Travel retail only.

A new addition to the Jameson range, this is currently only available in Duty Free.

N- now we are really getting somewhere! Huge, huge liquorice notes. Pot still? Oh, yes! Strong, powerful and just wonderful.

P- I was expecting more. Think those little sweets that you get in liquorice allsorts with the blue bobbles over them. One of those soaked in Bombay Safire gin. Very nice but quite one dimensional.

F- Leaves menthol, spearmint and liquorice. Medium in length.

O- Totally different from any of the other drams above. Much meatier, the fruit and spices of the previous bottles gives way to more mints and herbs. It hits with strength in flavour but the palate is once again let down by the 40% vol!!! Argh!!!



A huge thanks to Michael Flanagan and his staff for their generosity.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

A fine pair of Spanish siblings



We always look forward to our next batch of samples popping onto the door matt and our most recent acquisitions come in the shape of a pair of young Spanish twins.
Bruichladdich's recent form has seen them impress us with the splendidly drinkable 'Peat' expression, which typified the level of whisky making Jim McEwan and his passionate team have attained. The next releases date from casks filled in 1998, which was a tricky time for the distillery- the only period any spirit was produced between 1995 and 2001, by which time the current owners had taken over and planned a course to become one of the most well respected and revered independently owned distilleries in Scotland.

These 2 releases are from very different types of sherry cask; The dark and richly flavoured Oloroso which is considered much sweeter and robust than its lighter and dryer sibling, Manzanilla, which shares many characteristics of a fine chamomile tea.
Both bottlings are identical, but as history has taught us with twins- what is apparently the same on the outside can turn out radically different on the inside...let's get acquainted, shall we...

Bruichladdich 1998- 10 year old - sherry cask (Oloroso) - ncf - 46% - 70cl - 6000 bottles only

Nose: Slightly floral, with sherbet lemon, dry white wine and a damp mustiness, with an almost burnt sugar/buttery note too. Also hints of white pepper and parmesan shavings. Quite closed but gentle, not as heavily sherried as expected.

Palate: Very dry, more wine and then the Oloroso comes through, hints of mollases, then green herbs (parsley) and grapefruit.

Finish: Long and drying with hints of spent matches, tea and menthol.

Overall: Not as full on and sherried as expected but a refreshing and delicate dram.

Bruichladdich 1998 - 10 year old - sherry cask (Manzanilla) - ncf - 46% - 70cl - 6000 bottles only

Nose: Noticeable hints of spent matches and- dare I say it... sulphur. It has a slightly yeasty note, then more mustiness and an interesting pine freshness if you dig deep enough.

Palate: Surprisingly, much sweeter than the Oloroso version, but there's a lot of rubberiness and a slight hint of leather and tobacco on the death.

Finish: Not a particularly lengthy one, with hints of something floral then a tiny amount of smoke (maybe Lapsang Suchong?)

Overall: A little disappointing when placed against other sherried whiskies of this age.

The Oloroso comes out as a clear winner here and would certainly be a strong consideration in the sub- £40 market for a decent sherry expression.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Certainly not taken for granted...


I was recently out for a drink with an elderly friend of mine at a wonderful pub in the Yorkshire Dales.  The sky had just bruised over and we were hungry, after a bracing walk down an old railway track just south of the Wensleydale cheese factory.  So to a local hostelry we retired and a warming nook, with the prospect of homemade steak pie and big chips.  What better way to start the evening.  
As our conversation developed, my friend went on to tell me just how much he loved our location, because it hadn't changed very much at all since his childhood- perhaps mellowing with time, but resisting modernisation and 'high street blandness'. It suddenly got me thinking about a very special whisky I had recently tried- certainly an elder statesman but refined and similarly untainted by the rigours of time and progress.  

Glen Grant Ancient Reserve - Distilled 1951- bottled 2004 by Gordon & MacPhail - 40% - 70 cl

Nose: Candle wax, fresh mint and strawberries topped with a slight earthiness or musty wine cellar aroma.  Very delicate hints of almonds and cereal also follow. Subtle and sublime.  

Palate: An oaky dryness as expected with a whisky at this age, but then bags of mouth- watering flavour come through:  hints of liquorice,  pepper and a slight aftertaste of star anise and more cereal.  A really wonderful mouth feel which coats every tastebud. Minute touches of sherry but only feint. Fruity, with more of that strawberry and a little menthol on the death.

Finish: Really long, developing into salted liquorice, more wood (this time cedar) and a tiny bit of sweetness.  The oak is still present but this is still on the right side of flavour-some vs over-age.

Overall: A fine old gent, still very much with all its faculties before the ravages of oaky old age catch up with it.  There are really pleasing similarities with the well balanced Glen Grant notes you find with the recent fantastic Bluehanger vatting.  

Special thanks to WillieJJJ for his generosity with such a fine whisky.