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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Help! My Palate Is Broken!!


It's been 3 days now and I am still consigned to my bed with a truly dreadful cold, here at Caskstrength towers. In all my years of drinking whisky in a 'semi-serious' capacity, ie since I was about 23, I cannot remember a time when a cold has taken hold as voraciously as this. In fact, such is my faith in the healing properties of whisky, that i've been crudely paraphrasing an old Irish saying whenever I do a tasting - especially when one of the audience has a few sneezes... 'What butter and whisky can't cure, cannot be cured' I yell, in a mock, strong-as-an-ox, Brian Blessed-styled voice. And it seemed to have worked. Until now that is.

So i'm sat up, propped against 2 pillows, trying to get comfortable, drinking a full steaming Cafetiere of lemon juice, freshly ground ginger, honey, a double measure of Kings Ginger Liqueur, topped off with a generous slug of Compass Box Asyla. Oh... and some boiling water.

As I cough up another lung, I realise why the cold has had such a profound effect. It was my week long trip across Europe (last week) which was clearly to blame. It suddenly dawned on me that as I was driving most days, I hadn't had a drop of whisky for nigh on the entire trip, whilst my co-driver coughed and spluttered all over the dash board... and all over my service station sandwich. Had the protective seal of a Talisker or Highland Park fortified my immune system, i'd be jumping around now like a 10 year old. Well, perhaps not that energetic, but you get my drift.

So ladies and gentlemen, I can categorically state that lack of whisky has clearly led me to a weakened constitution. To develop this wild thesis further, Grandma Caskstrength is living proof that whisky kills the bugs and gives you hugs. She has been inseparable from a bottle of Famous Grouse and ginger ale for the latter part of her adult life and was only told to stop on the outset of Gout in her left leg. On more detailed explanation, the doctor actually told her to give up the ginger ale, as it was that, which was causing the problems. So it's neat whisky all the way and the old girl has never looked healthier- now at the ripe old age of 88.

Grandma Caskstrength, on being told
she should give up her daily dram

So can I top up?

Make up for last week's clearly idotic thinking? What should I have? And where, more importantly, does the line between self-medication and binge drinking get well and truly blurred?

I have ventured downstairs to let in my faithful companion Bobby (who, incidentally, is eating better than me these days - Felix Roast Turkey Dinner pouches are the way forward) and have stopped momentarily by the whisky cabinet. Which bottling is going to restore life and well-being in double quick time?

I make a quick mental check list for what I am looking for:

1. It needs to be caskstrength. Stop the bug in its tracks, from 1000 yards.

2. As my tastebuds and nose are useless at the moment, it needs to be a monster. Big sherry or big peat.

3. It also needs to warm me up. The equivalent of both a hot water bottle and a throat lozenge.


My hand hovers over a few cask samples of Karuizawa vintages, which technically fit the bill. But it would be a shame to waste their complexity on such a sickly palate.


Laphroaig Quarter Cask?? Close. Big, bold, medicinal and known to kill 99.9% germs in a single sip.

On this occasion though, I've chosen something from the back of my cabinet, which I haven't tried in a while. Aberlour a'bunadh...batch 15. Whilst it's bottled at 59.6%, I seem to remember it having a softer note on the palate, whilst still being able to cut through a safe door like a Oxy acetylene torch.

My little self-medicating saloon is all set. Batch 15 will either lift my unhealthy pallor, or just give me a rocking hangover tomorrow. Right now, i'd take either over this despicable bout of the sniffles.


Aberlour - a'bunadh - Batch no. 15 - 59.6%

Nose: Initially nothing, until I locate a new pack of tissues. Then it comes alive- big dry sherry cask notes, booze steeped raisins, dates, menthol, some earthy, compost/dried leaves and then dark cigar wrappers. Just nosing this is certainly cleaning the pipes. Colour is being restored as I type! There is perhaps the vaguest hint of something sulphury, but my nose is in no shape to be getting all pernickety.

Palate: Surprisingly smooth initially, then the fire starts to burn and I can feel the whole of my throat being jet washed, all the bugs trying to hang on in vain. There's no escape from this whisky in the flavour department; the dry cask notes are still present, but now rich christmas cake, more dates, some sweet cereal notes are developing, alongside some decidedly lighter and more delicate fruity/barley sugar flavours. Wow. Never noticed them before.

Finish: Resinous, powerful and spicy, with a little licorice developing as the palate dries.

Overall: Well, after the first initial dram, I am feeling a whole lot more perky and positive. Whether ANY whisky in great quantity could achieve the same effects is debatable, but in this instance, I feel I have chosen wisely. Aberlour a'bunadh is not to everyone's liking- it's bold, powerful and sometimes too brutal, but batch 15, which I have been keeping for a little while now, has suddenly found its moment in the sun. And tonight, I don't think anything else could come close.