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Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Very Old. Very Very Old. Very Old Indeed. But New at the same time. Confusing, isn't it!

Ahhh, always fun opening our inbox here at caskstrength.net. In days gone by, a horse drawn cart would arrive outside the HQ, a fanfare would sound and at once a well dress man would step down from his carriage, unfurl a scroll and proclaim "Lo, Good Sire of Kennington. Mastercard want their cash, innit. Pay up or we'll bash yer!" and then speed away, their trusty steed kicking up dirt into our faces as we dive for shillings in our purse. But not now! No! A simple "click" on the tracker ball on the Blackberry and all is revealed. Highlights from this mornings flashing inbox reveals: "eBay Item Won: Longmorn Miniature", "Get Into The Festival Spirit, SMWS Style", "Octomore 2.0 Out Now!" and a rather unusual email:



£10,000 SINGLE MALT IS 'FLAWLESS'

A 50-year-old single malt whisky is to go on sale for £10,000 a bottle, it was announced today. The Glenfiddich Distillery described the single malt as "the pinnacle of our whisky-making excellence" and will release just 50 bottles per year over the next decade. Bottles will be available at selected airports across the world for the next two months, and then at a small number of retailers.

The whisky has been kept in two casks in the Banffshire distillery's warehouse for 50 years. Each hand-blown numbered bottle is decorated in Scottish silver and presented in a hand-stitched, leather-bound case. A leather-bound book accompanies each bottle, detailing the whisky's history and has pages for owners' tasting notes. Buyers will also receive a certificate signed by four of the distillery's long-serving craftsmen.

Peter Gordon, chair of distillery owner William Grant & Sons, said the whisky is "flawless". Mr Gordon, who is the great-great-grandson of distillery founder William Grant, said: "We're happy to wait as long as we need to - up to 50 years in this instance - to produce the perfect whisky.

"The Glenfiddich 50 Year Old is the pinnacle of our whisky-making excellence and epitomises my great-great grandfather's vision of creating the very 'best dram in the valley'.

"Every new year is important when it comes to making exceptional whisky - and Glenfiddich 50 Year Old is the ultimate expression of this pioneering foresight."

In 2006 a bottle of whisky believed to be the oldest in existence was auctioned in London. The Glenavon Special Liqueur Whisky is said to have been bottled about 150 years ago in Glenavon Distillery in Banffshire and was bought for £14,850.

Right-ho. I'll have 12 bottles please. Oh, hang on. There's that mastercard statement again... :(

Soooooo..... £10,000 for a bottle of whisky. I have no doubt they will sell all 50 of them. Not an issue. Okay, it's one of the longest and deepest recessions we've had in decades. But there are still plenty of people out there with money to burn. Just look at Manchester City for starters...

This press release raises four main questions for me.

- "Leather bound"?! What is this, an episode of Alan Partridge?

- "In 2006 a bottle of whisky believed to be the oldest in existence was auctioned in London." Thanks to fellow blogger Tim F for pointing out that they seem to be confusing the oldest whisky with the oldest BOTTLE of whisky here.

- At £10,000 a pop, who is going to open this to find out if it is indeed "flawless" (answers on a postcard, with a sample bottle, to Caskstrength.net HQ, ASAP please!!!)?

- Commenting that one of your whiskies is both "flawless" and "the pinnacle of... whisky-making excellence" would suggest that your other bottlings are not quite up to scratch, so if you don't have £10,000, well
you're not very wealthy so I'm afraid that you'll have to drink whisky that isn't quite up-to-scratch.

Personally, I would consider some of the other drams Glenfiddich produces to be at the pinnacle of whisky-making excellence; take the wonderful 15 Year Old, the fantastic 18 Year Old or the awesome Vintage Reserve 1977. You should not be made to feel like you're drinking whisky which is NOT at the pinnacle of whisky making excellence, just because you only have £32.49, £38.99 or £500.00 to spend.

The wonderful thing about being at the top of a mountain is this: every inch you turn around, you have a different view. The vista is always amazing; but from some angles it is slightly better than from others. This is like being at the pinnacle of whisky-making excellence. To the left you have an old Samaroli Ardbeg; take a step to the right and, yes! There it is, the Lagavulin 16. One more pace to your right and you can see it, gleaming away in the distance, it's the Karuizawa 1971. But what is that behind it? Overshadowing, maybe? Ooh, it's the Black Bowmore. And over there! Look! The Glenfarclas 1965 Family Cask... and we've not even seen Port Ellen yet from here...

At the pinnacle of anything, you should have a 360 degree view. An all encompassing idea of the journey you have been on to end up where you are. It is never one-dimensional. And certainly, in whisky, the view can never be summed up one dram alone. I don't doubt that this is the best whisky Glenfiddich have ever made. And they make some crackers in their search to get to this point. But let's not go too far, shall we. However, there is only one way to find out: Now, where was that Mastercard... Argh.......!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Long, (good) Morn(ing).

Mornings. In my book, the perfect time to try whisky (Watch it, Amy Winehouse! - Ed). Surely someone, somewhere will create a breakfast malt soon enough!! In these times where major drinks companies are looking to mine each and every emerging market (look out Mars, here comes a manned NASA landing sponsored by Diageo, with their new blend "Johnnie Moon Walker"...), the last bastion of the British market must be breakfast. The only thing to really rival the mix of scotch bottles in my house, is the variety of tea bags my good lady keeps in the kitchen. The Twinings tea selection box resembles the Bruichladdich Distillery Shop for diversity and sheer creativity. So if a selection of different teas is as good for breakfast as it is before bed, then a selection of different drams must also fill that gap, surely...?!?

My current breakfast of choice is somewhat continental. Sure, at weekends I revert to type; some sort of nylon-football-shirt-wearing builder demanding the most dirty of fry-ups as I sit around watching Sky Sports News. But not during the week. Oh, no! My little living room in South London becomes some kind of Parisian outpost; coffee pots boiling away atop the stove, copies of broadsheet newspapers lie limp across the dining table, like solders wounded on the battle field. A crossword half finished, is mocking me with words I don't even know. But that aroma. Ahhhh... that wonderful aroma. Coffee, grapefruit, news print, fresh fruit, sugar, cinnamon from the top of a chelsea bun... if only this wonderful scent could be bottled....


Longmorn Glenlivet - 1971 / 2004 - G&M Bottling - 70cl - 40% Vol.


Nose: Wow. Chelsea buns or pain au raisin for you lot from outside of the UK! Think currants, sugar and cinnamon. Then come the classic polished wood you get with sherried whisky. A touch of grapefruit and a delicate waft of coffee. Wow.


Palate: Very easy going in the mouth. A slight tingle of white pepper balanced beautifully with gentle toffee.

Finish: Green, clear apple juice. A hint of jam... Raspberry jam. And then a hint of that bitterness you get with freshly squeezed blackcurrant juice. Just delicious.

Overall. The nose on this is perfect. Just perfect. The palate, although lacking slightly in the middle (more punch would have been nice) is just delicate and wonderful. And the finish... delicious. One of the best drams I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Mental Oriental Malt Mission - Part 2



Closer to Port Ellen than you think....(by Bullet Train)

So far, our time in this wonderful land has been nothing but an absolute pleasure. The food, hospitality and general good-will across Japan is truly extraordinary and I was beginning to feel right at home as we boarded our train to Kyoto, despite only knowing the scantest amount of the language. The city itself was another unexpected massage of the senses, albeit of a more spiritual kind, with some sensational temples, gardens and a hugely laid back lifestyle, which seemed to eschew the hustle and bustle of the more populated cities.



Wandering around the north east of Kyoto, reminded me a lot of San Francisco and its sunny summer haze, with long, hilly tree lined streets and row upon row of unique boutiques, selling traditional silk prints, antiques and exquisitely hand made sweets. There also just happened to be some very nicely appointed bars, which served thirst quenching, but deceptively strong Highballs (Japanese whisky, topped with soda). After several, we wobbled off to see an English band play to a packed room of very enthusiastic teenagers, setting the scene for a dash thru the Ponto Cho district and it's street musicians, whilst enjoying some excellent Shocho in the various bars along the way.



Our time in Kyoto was criminally short and it will be an almost certain return destination, especially in the Blossom season, which is undoubtedly stunning.



So onwards to our final leg of the trip and a speeding Shinkansen bullet train whisks us into the heart of Tokyo. Wow. We start to realise just how fortunate we were to acclimatise to Japanese city life in Osaka, as Tokyo is a complete blast to the senses. The huge network of train lines looks like a mass of knotted spaghetti on the map, as we stare blankly, wondering how to get to our hotel. Weird signs adorn the walls of the station and we start to feel very alien indeed....



Fortunately help is at hand and we are lucky enough to have a 'local' to guide us around for a few days. The lovely Anna (Mrs Caskstrength's old school friend) is fabulously fluent in Japanese and we soon settle in, Anna making us some refreshing green tea in our own 'ceremony', which cleanses the palate for our first evening in Shibuya.

On the way to this famously busy district, we see some wonderful statues and shrines, which sit almost anonymously next to the high rise buildings and 'Love Hotels', in a city very keen to preserve its rich heritage, whilst leading the world in technological innovation.


when we reach Shibuya and its famous crossing- this is the scene we're presented with:



How everyone makes it across, without injury, is extraordinary!

After all this people-watching we decide to have a bite to eat, which is easy, considering there are probably no fewer than 1000 restaurants in just this one area of Tokyo. My mind wanders over all the fabulous delicacies we could try- and for a moment, I wonder if i'll ever eat a roast dinner again!

Chickening out, we play it safe and go for Sashimi and Ramen, as opposed to the Fugu (Pufferfish) or the equally alarming Raw Horse:



Our next rendezvous is at the Stay Up Late bar in the Shimbashi district. Almost impossible to find, this bar is something of a revelation. Occupying the 3rd floor of an office type block, the first thing you notice is that it is remarkably small, with just 10 seats. The other thing which strikes you are the 6000 CD's behind the bar, next to a cracking array of single malts. Rock music and single malts....unquestionally the finest bedfellows since bread and butter.



We order 10 yo Laphroaig Highballs (refreshing and peaty... nice) and are given a little slip of paper to write down a power ballad of our choice, deftly selected from the wall of cd's by owner Yuji Okumura- aka the 'living jukebox'.

I plumped for Boston's 'More Than A Feeling' and we were off to a flying start.




Cue more highballs, beers, plus a very rich tasting Cask Of Yamazaki bottling from 1990 and soon we'd reached Jennifer Rush's 'The Power Of Love', via a live version Motorhead's 'Ace Of Spades'!

A businessman falls over in sheer excitement...

3 words seem to fit the bill at this point...Only In Japan.

Stay tuned for our final part, where I reach the summit of Whisky Nirvana and Mrs Caskstrength and I celebrate our wedding Anniversary in truly lavish 1930's style.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Mental Oriental Malt Mission - Part 1




The T**T in the Ceremonial Hat....

Wow, what a summer this is shaping up to be. Apologies for our poor posting frequency, but there's a really good reason for our slap dash behaviour. As part of a working holiday, Caskstrength had the opportunity to spend a wonderful 9 days in Japan, which turned out to be a truly eye opening experience.... our story starts here....

After a short stop over in Paris my flight to Osaka was ready for take off. I don't think i've felt anticipation like this about any other visit -Japan represents something of an enigma to most people- a deeply traditional culture with an unfathomable language barrier for westerners, so part of me expected to be totally overwhelmed in some crazy 'Lost In Translation' styled moment.

The next 11 hours were quietly spent learning a few key phrases (Hello, thank you, 'whisky please', 'this Ardbeg tastes amazing' etc...) and soon we touched down in Osaka.

As the 2nd city in Japan after Tokyo, people had unfairly compared it to Birmingham but my fears were totally dispelled on arriving into a bustling city centre and checking into the hotel. The service is truly impeccable and there was a running theme over the whole trip that the length of the complimentary shoe horn indicated the quality of hotel. (most of which were at least 2 foot long!)


'Lovely action this one....'

The Hotel was also situated next to a huge shopping centre, which sold as you can imagine...literally everything from motorised toilet seats, swords and interestingly, a collection of pet Hermit crabs with upgradeable painted shells. If only I could find somewhere to smuggle one through customs I thought...



After some essential tourist viewing at the stunning Museum of History, we fancied a little coffee to perk us up.

Enter the 'Silky Black Boss'- an unbelievably strong chilled and bottled beverage, straight from a street vending machine- more on the genius of this concept later...so with eyes now like saucers it was time to head into town in search of fine dining and of course some whisky.

Now a word of caution for anyone travelling to Japan in the near future- DO YOUR RESEARCH!! I had forgotten to print off maps to get to some specific places. Sadly, one of the whisky bars, Rogin's Tavern was lost in the misty streets forever, so we managed to locate a couple of tiny bars, almost like living rooms full of whisky which were the next best thing.



The best one, Bar Courage, was located not far from our hotel and catered for only 8 guests! ~So with a quick hello, we squeezed in and ordered some excellent whisky. Mrs Caskstrength had until this point not looked forward to the idea of 'whisky bars' purely for the reason that she disliked whisky (we're the original 'Odd Couple') but all that was about to change when she discovered the Yamazaki 12 yo -Misuari style- basically whisky made into a refreshing long drink with super-chilled mineral water. (bang goes my collection now eh....) I plumped for the following:


Ichiro's Card series- Ace of Diamonds- Distilled 1986- bottled 2008- 56.4% - 70cl

Nose: Meaty, rice crackers, malt and soft fudge, florals (violets)

Palate: Parma violets, sherbet, lemon zest, menthol, some gin like botanicals, sweet milk chocolate and licorice into finish.

Finish: Long developed, medicinal notes and lots of licorice. Floral and toffee notes at end.

Overall: Very pleasing. Another great card in the deck....

We finished up with a couple of tasty Islays (me, a Lagavulin 16 yo and Mrs Caskstrength, a Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Misuari style.



An eventful night was only made better by the discovery of 2 things: the wonderful night view across a hugely vibrant city and.... wait for it..... WHISKY IN A CAN.....



Yes, you heard it here first, the smart folks at Suntory have upped the ante on whisky innovation with the introduction of the ready made Highball- whisky and soda IN A CAN!!
Genius.

More adventures to follow, with some Highball fuelled fun in Kyoto and some truly 'Lost In Translation' moments in Tokyo, as Mrs Caskstrength gets more than she bargained for in the Misuari stakes....

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

(can't) Beat It....



Whilst the rest of the world is losing their collective heads, fawning and wringing their hands in despair about the death of the King Of Pop, we thought we'd jump on the coat tails ourselves and do our own fitting tribute. But not for 'the man in the mirror/moonwalker'. About the equally legendary and perhaps more revered Mr Michael Jackson, Drinks Journalist who sadly passed away in August 2007.

It would be too easy at this juncture to fall about, crudely pointing out that the two Jackson's perhaps shared something in common, both enjoying their fair share of 12 year olds, but we'll leave the smut here and concentrate on the whisky.

A few months ago, a blended whisky was produced in Michael's honour from 1,000 open bottles in his personal collection. Imagine the scene on entering his study and seeing all that great, undoubtedly priceless whisky... think for one second just what the man had sampled over his illustrious life.

This blend was a daunting task for anyone to attempt, given the fact that it would effectively be Jackson's final liquid epitaph. Doug McIvor at Berry Bros & Rudd was the man tasked with bringing this fitting tribute of a 'life in whisky' to the general public and its launch was timed to coincide with this year's Whisky Live in February.

Why you ask, wait till now to stick a review up? Well... why not? If we put a few tags to 'Michael Jackson Tribute' in this post then maybe, just maybe a few uneducated Jacko fans will realise that there was another great Michael Jackson out there and start drinking good whisky. Well, here's hoping....

Anyway. Raise your glass to the great man...



Michael Jackson - Special Blend- 43%

Nose: Light and very restrained, with wafts of heather, egg custard, apple juice, honey and nutmeg, followed by a nice backing of soft grain. Given some time in the glass and something vaguely medicinal pops in. Very nicely balanced.

Palate: Sherbet lemons, more heathery notes, hints of something resembling a younger Campbeltown malt, with further notes of Flamb├ęd bananas.

Finish: A little bit of pepper, a little bit more spice and generally a light, pleasant sweetish finish. It isn't a particularly weighty blend, but I don't think that was the point. Imagine trying to piece something together that conveys Michael's huge and varied palate.

Overall: This is a highly drinkable and strangely relaxing blend. I decided to listen to some of The King Of Pop's best tunes whilst having a few drams of this- Try your first measure listening to 'Ben'...close your eyes - and drink in a voice that is certainly as eloquent and complete as the musings from one of the greatest beverage journalists in our lifetime.

Michael- here's to you both....Slainte and rest in peace.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

The Master of Malts....and sweets




Hello folks, again apologies for the lack of activity on here for the past couple of weeks- Caskstrength have been on international work/holiday detail, so stay tuned this week for our exploits from the far east, where we report on some of the finest whisky moments we've ever experienced, this time from a wonderful few days in. Japan.

In the meantime, we're pleased to report on some cracking new whiskies released from our new friends Ben and Justin over at masterofmalt.com

The guys have been busy seeking out a few weird and wonderful casks, several samples of which have just reached our front door. Keep an eye out this week for more details.

First up: a Bowmore that thinks it's a popular well stocked vintage sweetshop....



Recent distillery bottlings of Bowmore have often baffled and disappointed in equal measure and only heightened just how amazing the older expressions are. However, when we received this sample of a single cask bottling we were in high spirits and full of anticipation....it didn't disappoint!!!


Master Of Malt - Bowmore- 26yo - single cask bottling - 53.4%

Nose: Huge fruit, sherbets, black and red fruit gums and a massive waft of Parma Violets. It's like that first heady aroma you get when walking into an old fashioned sweet shop and it's totally delicious! leaving this in the glass for a short time gives some splendid black cherries, a minute hint of smoke and some shaved dark chocolate.



Palate: The fruit sherbet and parma violets just get even more flavoursome on the palate. Tremendous oily mouthfeel, leading into some lovely light floral notes and a little woodiness emerge. Sweet and creamy Milky Bar flavours also start to make themselves known and you'd be forgiven for perhaps thinking this was a whisky designed for children!? (albeit children who know a great whisky when they taste it!!)

Finish: Lengthy, perfumed and full of sweetness. Just lovely.



Overall: Such a light, deft touch from a pretty seriously aged malt. where on earth did it come from?? It certainly is one of the most unusual whiskies we've come across in a while- and delivers on every front. Makes me start to think about swizzle sticks, drumstick lollies and other sugary treats of my yesteryear. Smiles all round....