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Monday, 30 November 2009

"Read All About It! Read All About! Joel Turns Thirty, Shocker!" PART ONE


You may have wondered where we've been for a week.

Well, this weekend which has just passed was my 30
th Birthday weekend, so the past week has been spent in preparation for a celebration that is in keeping with turning "the big three - O".

As is usual around Valentines Day, the Post Office contacted me in advance to make sure I could pick up my post from their South London Depot some time over the weekend. Apparently it is a Health & Safety nightmare, letting a postal worker carry so many letters and cards to one address over such a short period of time. And in the current climate, hiring in part-time help can't be done...

Batting off invitations to various soirees with models and racing drivers (or should that be model car racing drivers...) I decided that the evening before my big day was the best time to celebrate- and celebrate in style!
It was about 18 months, maybe even two whole years ago when the idea struck me:

"Wouldn't it be brilliant to have an evening drinking whisky from 1979!"

And thus, the planning began. Every time I got a chance to explore a shop or a website that may have a bottle from God's Own Year of Blessing, I did: eBay, Distillery Shops, Vintage House, The Whisky Exchange... even
Waitrose!

The first find was discovered deep in Sukhinder Singh's collection at The Whisky Exchange HQ in London and it really set the tone for the collection: Port Ellen 1979 - Signatory - 23 Years Old - 423 bottles - Butt No. 6775 - 43% But the most appealing thing about this bottle was the distillation date: 16th November. Just 12 days before the day I was born! Bottle one on my tasting list had been bought and, over the next 18 - 24 months it was to be joined by a few other famous faces, whisky superstars and down right obscure bottles...

Port Ellen 1979 - Signatory - 23 Years Old - 423 bottles - Butt No. 6775 - 43% Vol (Distilled 16
th Nov 1979 - Bottles 3rd October 2003) - 75cl

Nose: There is a warmth of sea air and smoke about this one. It doesn't hit you over the head in a massive way, but it brings in the smoke and sea salt with notes of green tea and fresh mint. Slight creaminess to the nose also. Lovely and delicate.


Palate: This is one to let sit and wash about on the
tongue for a while. Again, the green tea comes though but the peat smoke really burns now and there is a sweetness of brown sugar and hints of red apple.

Finish: The most delicate of embers from open fires simmer away on the back palate. Then you're hit with hazelnuts and a hint of lime juice. It's just yummy.


Overall: A corker. I mean, where can you go from here...?!?!


As the month flew past, I occasionally found myself with a few spare pennies in the pocket. These were quickly deposited into an old, empty bottle (of Serendipity, I think!) and as it filled up, I was able to splash out here and there on more interesting bottles for the evening ahead. One afternoon as I was wondering down
Marylebone High Street, I happened to find myself drawn towards Waitrose. As I stood gawping at their whisky selection, a bottle caught my eye... was it? Yes, it was! Another Port Ellen from 1979. This time it was the third release. And the price... well, I won't publish the price. But needless to say you'd be hard pressed to buy a full bottle of Serendipity for this money. It was indeed a sign. Especially as a few months later we were to be standing in the Port Ellen Distillery drinking the First and Fourth Releases. This was turning into quite a journey already:

Port Ellen 3rd Release - 1979 / 2003 - 24 Years - 9000 bottles - 57.3% Vol - 70cl


Nose: The smoke isn't the first thing you notice with this; it's lemon and passion fruit, then smoke- bash! They've really managed to get some amazing fruits in the nose- like eating a
starburst then smoking a cigar!

Palate: Clean and crisp, this has all the elements of
Islay in it, in a glass! Alongside the heat and the smoke, buttered popcorn rises up and a touch of lemon curd on white toast. Most unusual but delicious.

Finish: Hot with a good dry white wine element that leaves your mouth coated but your palate wanting more. Like Lemon
Sherbet sweets.

Overall: There was a general discussion about the best of the official
bottlings of Port Ellen on the evening. It appears that the first and the third are peoples general favourites, and I find it hard to disagree with them after this stunner.

So, that's two bottles in the bank for my birthday celebrations. But this was starting to cost (even before 2009 rolled in, and 1979 whisky prices went up again due to their demand for "gifting" 30
th birthdays). This meant a change in tack. How was I going to bulk out this collection with out compromising the quality bar which has been set, lets be honest, pretty darn high! One answer: miniatures! A few clicks on eBay later and I was bidding on my first: Imperial 1979...

Imperial - 1979 - G&M - 40% - 5cl


Nose:
Waah! Now we're going somewhere different. This bad boy is throwing some crazy florals up the nose: grapefruit, kiwi, peaches. Lovely stuff.

Palate: Not a huge amount going on at first but give it some time, roll it around and you get some lovely hits of those peaches from the nose, but tinned. Also some mango and some limes.

Finish: A hint of smoke from this one, lingers just long enough. Slips down very easily.

Overall: My first ever Imperial and it was a lovely surprise. Very delicate but with a hint of smoke in the back palate, some lovely fruit and real delicate nature to it. Another cracker.


Three drams in, where is this journey going to take us next? Tune in later this week "Read All About It!" (a little peek at the picture at the top might give away what's to come)...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Do You Want Ice With That?




Yesterday we came across a brilliantly amusing tale of discovery, which was almost too good to be true. Whisky, trapped in the abyss of time, waiting to be discovered and tasted! Sounds like the back of Joel's cabinet, where he keeps all the good stuff for himself.... ;-)

Apparently, 2 cases of whisky dating back to Sir Earnest Shackleton's failed polar expedition in 1909 have been discovered, encased in a thick layer of ice, where they have rested silently, untouched for 100 years.
Scientists at the site of the abandoned expedition are now using special drilling equipment to reach the whisky - originally bottled by MacKinlay and Co.


Chaps, clearly in need of a good warming dram.

Whyte & Mackay, who own the old branding for MacKinlay and Co. have asked for a sample of the 100-year-old scotch for a series of tests that could decide whether to relaunch the now-defunct Scotch.

Al Fastier, one of the scientists (and perhaps a tacit whisky drinker) said
"It's better to imagine it than to taste it," he said. "That way it keeps its mystery."
But W&M's Richard Paterson, has responded saying that the Shackleton expedition's whisky could still be drinkable and taste exactly as it did 100 years ago- surely a mouthwatering proposition.....?

"I really hope we can get some back here" said Paterson,
"It's been laying there lonely and neglected. It should come back to Scotland where it was born"

All this got me thinking. Personally, I don't usually drink whisky with ice, unless it's part of a highball or Japanese styled Mizuwari, but I thought some kind of experiment was clearly in order.


Donning my warmest furs and fighting the frost bite and howling South London winds, I meticulously planned an expedition of my own. After hooking up my faithful companion Bobby, (aka 'The Great Catsby') to the sled (he'll do almost anything for a mackerel dinner) we began the long tortuous journey across the Penge Tundra to the great freezing unknown- the shed at the back of Caskstrength Towers.
There, we have a chest freezer set up just in case we'd ever need to carry out a series of important tests. (and to store fish fingers, peas, out of date chicken breasts etc. )

My plan was to freeze 3 whiskies and see what the result was on opening. Would they retain the subtle flavours they contained when drunk at room temperature or would they fall apart and be totally underwhelming, when super-chilled?

Lets find out... Brrrrrrrr:


My first choice was easy:

Johnnie Walker Gold Label- Centenary Edition
. I must confess that I had once chilled a small sample of this and it was pretty good.

Frozen, it offers a very refreshing palate, with hints of smoke, but lots more of the green apple notes coming though. The mouthfeel is thick and oily. It seems to separate out a lot from the malt content and the grain, with the malt taking more of a back seat.
Whilst I would usually enjoy this great blend as an room temperature aperitif to a meal, it is certainly revealing and worth chilling down a sample to try.

Second up: Yamazaki 12 Year Old

As part of a Mizuwari with lots of chilled mineral water and ice, this is hard to beat as a superb long summer drink. As a super-chilled freeze experiment, it fares unbelievably well!! The toffee notes are more pronounced, the apple fresher and a very revealing and aromatic hit of licorice really coming through, which isnt as noticeable at room temperature.
Certainly worth sticking a bottle of this in the freezer for some skinny shots over Christmas time. Furry thumbs up!!

Finally: Talisker 10 Year Old

With its warming smoky restorative properties, there are only a few drams to rival this as your best friend in a lonely gale blown log cabin on a remote Scottish Island. But chilled??
Hmmm.
A definite fruitiness takes precedence over the smoke- artificial strawberry, fizzy sour apple sweets, followed by a big malty slap around the chops. The peat is there, but it's certainly restrained. This works in a way, but it does take on a certain bitter characteristic - I can only surmise that perhaps the addition of some quality chocolate ice cream would potentially help bring your palate to a new level of enjoyment!!


The scene on opening the frozen whisky?

Just as Shackleton proved, it is clearly worth taking whisky to the frozen extremes and one wonders just how the MacKinlay and Co. bottles will fare. But I can't help thinking back to the classic John Carpenter film 'The Thing' and the consequences of tinkering with things buried deep under the ice. Just be careful with those bottles Richard!!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

One & a Half Wheels To Victory!



Last week, I had my first tentative ride out on a new purchase- a brand new 'modern' take on the old classic- the Penny Farthing bike. I say tentative for two reasons;

One: It has a fixed wheel propulsion system, meaning that taking your feet of the pedals whilst in motion means it is virtually impossible to get them back on again, as they spin round manically with an ankle-maiming pace.

Two: It has no brakes. That's right. No brakes. Not even a little one for the wheel at the back. Hmmm. And the last time you rode a regular bike was? .... About 10 years ago.

Ah.

My first challenge was to be a particularly tricky one. I had planned to ride from Crystal Palace (where Caskstrength HQ is based) to the heart of Mayfair - Berry Bros and Rudd on the Corner of Pall Mall.

Anyone who has seen me attempting some sporting frippery would know that this was the planning of a madman- I can barely run for a bus, let alone pedal an archaic, brakeless, fixed- wheel velocipede up and over Crystal Palace Hill and through the many dangers that lurk around the Elephant & Castle roundabout. The lost souls of cyclists one hundred times the bravery of myself still echo around those parts.

But I had a compulsion. I was to be a sort of unofficial 'mascot' for the launch of a rather splendid new liqueur and it was of vital importance I deliver the bike and myself in one piece to Berry Bros for the occasion.


The liqueur is the Kings Ginger - something we've featured on here last year, when your faithful author had a dreadful cold. Its gingery magic fortified me then and, by the beard of Zeus, it will fortify me again, as I free-wheel the wrong way down St James Street, careering out of control into the gates of the Palace at the bottom (the erstwhile home of HRH Prince Charles) and no doubt, the poised bayonet of a Bear-skinned royal guard...

Imagine the headlines....

'CHAP IN DESPERATE ASSASSINATION BID USING PENNY FARTHING!'

Whereas, The Sun would lead with something along the lines of:

'WHAT A WHEELY STUPID STUNT'.

10am arrived and I was ready to leave, saddle bag concealing a full bottle of KGL to act as my restorative on the way. As I mounted the pedals and pushed off, I caught the meloncholic eyes of my faithful companion, Bobby, 'The Great Catsby', who meowed but a simple and poignant 'Farewell my friend - and god speed you' as I wobbled precariously out onto Parish Lane. Old ladies, dogs and small children tearfully looked away as I thundered past, the hoplessness of my journey, all too apparent.
After what felt like hours- with heart and lungs bursting and tweeds drenched in sweat, I rested for a second. I had already used half of my restorative, the effects of which were not only intensely restoring, but also highly intoxicating. It was at that point that the cold, hard, face of truth confronted me.

"You crazy B****rd!... get in!"

It was the distant voice of an honest London cabbie, who had been following my journey with some amusement and who had clearly seen enough. In reality, I had laughably managed just 600 yards from the front door of the house to the foot of the hill. Oh dear.

Feeling slightly deflated that I had failed to meet the challenge of the great hill, I packed the bike into the waiting vehicle and we headed to Berry's, on time and out of danger. Another warming goblet of KGL lifted my spirits no end and to help restore my tarnished dignity, the driver stopped round the corner from the shop, where I disembarked, to triumphantly ride across the finish line, past many astonished faces. "By god! he's made it!!" called out one female voice. "Must have the blessing and thighs of St Hoy" remarked another.

"All in a morning's work, ladies", I caddishly winked.


Several KGL cocktails, Punch and the magnificent hospitality of Berry Brothers made me forget about the slight 'exaggeration' of my journey and I began to thank the wonderful properties of this superb liqueur, which undoubtedly fueled me as far as the Shell Garage, past the Dry Cleaners on Maple Road and into the waiting taxi carriage.

For those of you who fancy yourself as a part time outdoor, have-a-go-hero type, you'll need look no further than a bottle of this to make it all seem worth it. A treacherous winter hike up Scarfell Pike will feel like a sunny Sunday afternoon saunter through Hyde Park after a few warming measures. It was good enough for its creator, King Edward VII and that alone means it simply must be in your drinks cabinet- and perhaps your bicycle saddle bag too...

For more information about the Kings Ginger Liqueur visit here:

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Slow Tasting - 4 Connoisseurs Choice



Quick!We!Live!In!London!Where!Everything!Is!Done!Really!Fast!


"I'm!Late!For!Work!"


"The!Film!Is!About!To!Start!Get!Me!My!Popcorn!Faster!"


"If!This!Night!Bus!Doesn't!Get!A!Move!On!I'm!Going!To!Miss!Match!Of!The!Day!"


"Shit!The!Condom!Broke!"


It's time to slowwwwww.... dowwwwwwnn....


Here at Caskstrength.net we would never dream of a speed tasting. Not when it comes to whisky anyway!


Slow.

Down.

Savour and enjoy.

Be it Bells 8 Year Old or the Port Ellen Feis Ile Bottling, pouring that magical liquid in to your glass should afford you time to sit back and savour. That stuff has taken at least three years to even become whisky, so why not give it some of your time? (FYI- these were tasted in the following order: Rosebank, Aberfeldly, Ledaig, Caol Ila. But are listed here in alphabetical order):

Aberfeldly - 1989 / 2009 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl


Nose: Orange zest; wow! This is a fresh nose. Fantastic. It does have a hint of household cleaner about it, but it zings!


Palate: Orange cream chocolates (esp the ones from
Quality Street), Fanta Orange (or Solo, of you live in Norway- Big up my fellow Norse massive!). A touch of toffee and bitter chocolate. This is how you do orange-flavoured whisky!

Finish: Long, esp at this ABV with the fizzy-sherbet nature taking the driving seat.


Overall: This is the first Aberfeldy we've posted and it's gooood! If you like fizzy orange, you'll like this!


Caol Ila - 1996 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl


Nose: Smoke (d'oh!), some blackcurrant (as there was in the Rosebank),
black-jack penny sweets.

Palate: Initially a delicate hit, this is a lovely dram that sits comfortably on the tongue, bursting into life after a good swill about the palate; a hit of stewed fruits, blackcurrants and
ribena

Finish: Long, with the blackcurrants and smoke taking the driving seat. Like warm ribena by the bonfire.

Overall: It's been a while since I've found myself in the familiar arms of a Caol Ila. Like a f*ck-buddy (for those of you that are single), Caol Ila represents a dependable "friend" whom one can visit in a time of need; an often awkward bedfellow but one whose characteristics you know inside out from the first time you meet and you know will satisfy every basic instinct you have. Not too complex, but different every time. I find Caol Ila a fun dram, less serious than the Kildalton distilleries but every bit as competitive on the peat front. Not the greatest Caol Ila in the world, but very drinkable.


Ledaig - 1990 / 2009 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl


Nose: I was expecting smoke, but no. Instead you get fresh winter veg (in the UK), so we're talking Parsnips, Cabbage and turnip. But with time in the glass (and it's time that makes whisky a drink, not a shot) it develops a sweetness like shortbread.


Palate: Initially it hits the palate very cold, with some of the nose carried over; a hint of winter veg soup, cheap vanilla ice cream and wet woolen blanket.


Finish: Long and spicy with a slight bitterness. The wet wool won't go away.


Overall: The overall sensation is that I want to go back to the Aberfeldly....


Rosebank - 1991 / 2009 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl


Nose: Vanilla Creme Brulee, Blackcurrant cough sweets,
Rhubarb and Custard boiled sweets

Palate: The rhubarb comes through with a hint of liquorice and mint.


Finish: The liquorice really lasts coupled with hints of red chillie.


Overall: Less floral than other Rosebanks of this age; the nose is the stand out, let down slightly by the bitterness of the palate and the finish.


OVERALL: For me, the Aberfeldy was the pick of the drams here today. The orange zest, "fanta" notes that came through were just fantastic. But hey, that's my opinion. You might like the sound of the others. If so, take a chance. Sit back and enjoy them. Give them some time. After all, they've given you some of theirs.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

The Show MUST Go On!!!!



Sometimes ideas are probably best left on paper. The Millenium Dome is arguably now one of London's most successful music venues, but of course, was a huge white elephant in its former life. Same goes for the Band Aid 20 (despite its obvious charity appeal) and when I heard that there was to be another whisky event in London, I had a few doubts.

A tiny thought crossed my mind earlier this year in that is there really a sustainable audience for 2 (including Whisky Live) major whisky events - especially in the run up to Christmas, when we're already being battered by constant tabloid negativity that the recession is still climbing up our trouser legs.

Well balls to the negativity and balls to the continued ill-feeling that consumes Londoner's on a daily basis. This might sound a little rose tinted, but here at Caskstrength, we're highly positive chaps. Day one of The Whisky Show, showed just what happens when a group of like-minded folks come together to sample probably the best whisky of their lives.


I arrived at 12pm, not fully realising the extent of what we were about to taste in such glorious Olde London surroundings. Any misgivings about numbers were quickly eclipsed and a solid and buzzing turnout ensued for the afternoon session. First port of call was to the irrepressible and exceptionally well tailored Marcin Miller from the No. One Drinks Company (sir, an inspiration to us all!!) to sample some of his finest new Japanese releases- and wowzers... what a way to christen a fresh palate!
3 huge sherried beasts from the Karuizawa distillery, including a superb 1985, a 1976 (bottled under the Noh Theatre label (seek this out and thou shalt not be disappointed) and the Shogun himself... a phenomenal 1967 bottling:


Karuizawa 1967 - Cask 6426 - 58.4 %


Nose: Wow, big waft of fresh strawberries, straw, then clouds of vanilla pipe tobacco, followed by a huge hit of that classic Karuizawa dry sherry and the fresh mossy forest floor, that we've come to expect from old casks from this distillery.

Palate: An immediate sweetness, into a rich meaty and peppery gravy-like flavour, with a little dryness when the sherry returns. It still manages a few palate-tingling twists and turns after all this time in the cask, as some lemon sherbet is unleashed and a real fizziness cleans up the mouth. Sensational and hugely surprising.

Finish: As you'd expect from an elderly gent like this, the finish is very long, leading to woody notes but nothing out of the ordinary, it just has bags of flavour and subtle oak undertones.

Overall: We loved the Karuizawa 1971 like a son when we first sampled it- this goes another few yards in the excellence stakes. Grab while you still can, as judging by the stampede for its younger brother, it won't hang around for long.

Next up some very special Highland Park's:



The Orcadian vintages have been on our hit list for a little while, but we never thought there would be a chance to try 2 of the oldest in one sitting!!! Sadly, the memory stick I was given didn't seem to work so there are no images at present, but the bottles are superb looking, black glass, with an embossed silver Highland Park emblem.

Gerry Tosh gave us an excellent guide into the casks used in these vintage bottlings and more specifically, the TYPE of peat which Orkney has become famous for. I had no idea that over the 1000's of years it takes to create peat, that there have been virtually no trees on Orkney, due to the high winds and salty blasts across the barren landscape. This means that there is predominantly decaying heather in the peat used to dry Highland Park barley, leading to that sweet, floral smokiness, rather than the highly woody type which characterises Islay malts. Top fact and thanks Gerry!!

The whiskies were then unveiled - 1968 and 1964 vintages, both hugely different in their levels of peating as the tasting notes reveal:



Highland Park -Orcadian Vintage - 1968 45.6%

Nose: Strawberry notes (what is it about strawberries today!!) with a lovely floral sweetness, leading into chamois leather, wax and some classic heather notes. Over time the citrus notes come through with lemon zest and a hint of coconut thrown in for good measure.

Palate: Milky coffee, light sweet cereal, some dried orange notes, followed by a sharper citrus note of lemon zest. Over time in the glass, a spiciness develops and a creamy chocolate note also emerges, giving this a hugely well balanced palate for a very old whisky. Wonderful stuff.

Finish: Lighter than expected, but waves of sweetness eclipse and oaky dryness you may have expected.

Overall: What a way to start the tasting- another soon to be classic highland park bottling.

Next up - the older and slightly more peated 1964 vintage:



Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage - 1964 - 42.2%

Nose: Ok. Stop for a second, I know we can get carried away sometimes in our notes and praise for a worthy dram, but this is SENSATIONAL- even on the first nosing!! A slightly heavier peat to the 1968, almost like the classic early 1970's Ardbeg's and contrary to what I mentioned about classic HP peat. Couple that with some sweet red apples, mint, a hint of Playdoh, and a little aromatic Licorice and you're into 7th Heaven here. A little more time (and believe me it is well worth the wait) reveals some lint bandages, and a slightly more sooty note, but the balance is just perfect.

Palate: The perfection carries on into the first sip: A wonderful mix of that sweet peat, coffee, Rosehip jelly and vanilla. The vanilla develops even further into a slight sponge cake note, but by now, we're too far gone under its spell. Just brilliant.

Finish: Some warming fruitiness comes through, along with the light, sweet peat.

Overall: These drams are the stuff dreams are made of. They creep up on you and their timing is just perfect. What Highland park have done here is nothing short of extraordinary and the 1964 vintage is clearly a contender for Whisky Of The Year, without a shadow of a doubt.

I had to have a little lie down after this tasting, just to get my bearings again!!

Stay tuned for the next post and part 2 of the Whisky Show, where some seriously old Glenlivet's are given a thorough going over as well as some members of the Glenfarclas Family casks....

One thing for sure, is that The Whisky Show promised some of the best whisky on the planet and it delivered on this promise. Full marks guys and we'll see you next year, same time, same place hopefully.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Whiskers Galore!



Gentleman....the wait is over. Today is the first of November and your shavers should be well and truly packed away - well at least for your top lips. Ever fancied growing a moustache, but needed a reason to run it past the wife/girlfirend/boss?.... we'll here's a great one. And there's even some whisky involved!!!

Movember
is a global charity raising awareness and funds for men’s health issues whilst having a spot of fun along the way. Every November, chaps around the world show their support by growing Marvelous Moustaches and putting on events to raise funds.

Whisky 4 Movember is a brilliantly novel idea from the lovely folks at Master Of Malt, with a limited bottling of vatted malt from the 2 distilleries from the Island of Orkney is available from today. The minimum age of these whiskies is eleven years old, although much of the whisky used in the vatting is older and more complex.

The crowning glory is the 5 different labels which adorn the bottles... each featuring a famous moustache style!
No. 1 – The Handlebar
No. 2 – The Dali
No. 3 – The Chevron
No. 4 – The Pencil
No. 5 – The Walrus

It is the greatest of honour to report that the image on the front of the Handlebar label is of my own moustache, with both the Chevron and the Walrus images adorning the top lips of whisky legend Dave Broom and the equally legendary Serge Valentin from Whiskyfun.... rest assured, my whiskers are still beaming from ear to ear!

The super-limited-edition Whisky4Movember bottling will only run to 984 bottles in total and is available for only £29.95. All profits from the bottling will be donated directly to the Movember Charity.

Visit masterofmalt.com to see and buy the full range of Movember labels in full effect.

In the meantime- lets see if the insides are as handsome as the outsides!!


Master Of Malt - M'Orkney - Aged 11 years - bottle number 20/984 - 40% -
The Handlebar....

Nose: Layers of sweet cereal, honey and chopped hazelnuts, followed by a very light and zesty citrus fruit/diced apple and lovely hints of fresh honeysuckle. Really inviting and heady.

Palate: The sweetness continues with a huge hit of fruity malt loaf, buttery candy notes and more of those chopped nuts. The whiskies certainly feel a lot older than the 11 years listed and the rich mouth feel and oiliness ensures that this is a highly moreish dram. A little licorice and some further floral notes develop as the palate dries.

Finish: Lovely and juicy, with a long resonance, hints of dark treacle, stewed apple and sweet malted barley.

Overall: At under £30, this is an exceptional drinker and, coupled with the fact that the profits are going to a hugely good cause, means it is a bottling you should grab asap.