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Sunday, 28 February 2010

Hurlingham Highlights




For the second year running, Whisky Live rolled into the wonderfully secluded grounds of Hurlingham Tennis Club in South West London for a weekend of fine single malts and a catch up with old friends.

Over the 2 days, 1,200 avid whisky nuts crammed in to the grand hall, eager to try some classic drams from distilleries all over the world, as well as some brand new and sneak previews of whiskies to be released later this year.


As with last year, we were there, pens at the ready to bring you all the gossip and tasting notes!

First up- a real coup.



A few months ago, we got to try Highland Park's excellent
Earl Magnus 15 yo bottling, which flew out the door quicker than free tickets to Glastonbury Festival. Yesterday, the irrepressible Mr Gerry Tosh (Brand Ambassador Of The Year at this year's WWA's!) was on hand to allow us a sample of the second release in the saga - Saint Magnus. This bottling follows on from where Earl left off (the story goes that Earl Magnus was killed by his evil and blood thirsty cousin, Haakon over a power struggle to control the Orkney Isles)

Saint Magnus will be a younger bottling (12 years old) at 52.6%, containing a high proportion of whisky matured in sherry wood and is due to hit the shops later this summer, with a slightly bigger outturn than the Earl Magnus bottling. Apparently pre-orders are shaping up extremely well already, so expect this one to repeat the success of the first release.

here's our tasting notes:


Highland Park - Saint Magnus - 12 years old - 52.6%

Nose: Really big sherry wood notes on the first nosing, with classic HP dried fruits and a wonderfully spicy hit. This is drier than Earl Magnus and further sniffs reveal a delicate aromatic peat note, which balances the sherry influence nicely.

Palate: Mouth coating from the first sip. That sherry encountered on the nose, swirls around the palate with real authority. Burnt orange notes, pepper, leading into a licorice sweetness all jostle for authority. A big hitting and direct dram.

Finish: The dryer notes from the sherry, give this a very lengthy and oaky finish, with more of that smoke on the death.

Overall: Another cracker. The Earl Magnus is a very differently styled dram to this, but Highland Park fans will be delighted with the way the saga is playing out.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL FOLKS.... THE SAGA IS TO BECOME A TRILOGY...!

Ooh er. This could be interesting. The antagonist of the story, Haakon is also to be given a whisky bearing his name- and not unlike his character, Gerry points out that the 3rd bottling will be "Big, powerful and.... Beastly!"

We got to try the very first draft of
Haakon as well. Still in the planning stage, this whisky will be an 18 yo, bottled around caskstrength like the previous 2. The release date has yet to be finalised, but expect to see it emerge in around 16- 18 months.

The first draft was around 46% and again had a high proportion of sherry wood, which Gerry mentioned will be supplemented with some American oak (filled with sherry, not bourbon) in later drafts. Here's our impression of this work-in-progress giant:


Highland Park - Haakon (first draft)- 18 years old - 46%

Nose: Noticeably different to the Saint Magnus. Lots of fruit, but much more fragrant, leaning further towards an aromatic peat. Similar honeyed sweet notes to that of the regular 18 yo bottling.

Palate: Tropical fruit and coconut notes. The sherry isn't as prominent as Saint Magnus, but is certainly there, brooding away in the shadows, rather like Haakon!!

Finish: The sweet honeyed notes give way into a dryer spice. Lingering but lacking the directness of its caskstrength cousins.

Overall: Oh so drinkable now- it has all the hallmarks of the wonderful 18 yo bottling, but needs to be more 'beastly' in strength!! There is no doubt that this promises to be an EPIC whisky. And one that we can't wait to see the outcome of.

Wow! what a line up so far.. but that's just the start of it!!

In addition to the Highland park exclusives,
Suntory were also proud to bring 2 very new bottling's to the table as well, both to be released later this summer. As always- we were there to dive in with the first samples....


Yamazaki - Puncheon edition- 48% - ltd to 3000 bottles - Scheduled for a July release

Nose: Red berries/ milk chocolate, slight spice (nutmeg) and strawberry sherbet. Becomes more perfumed over time. Wonderful, understated but very expressive.

Palate: So delicate on the palate- has the hallmarks of what you would expect from Yamazaki, but has superb sweet cereal, more red berries and a lovely creamy after note. Hubba Bubba chewing gum fruitiness too!

Finish: Very creamy as the palate dries, but an eloquent and enjoyable dram.

Overall: Another excellent bottling from this continuously innovating distillery. Snap this up in July, before it all goes.

Next up - something heavily peated from Hakushu. Due for a similar summer release date, this Hakushu will continue in the line of peated expressions, but will be a limited European outturn of 2-3000 bottles.

Hakushu - Heavily Peated - Ltd summer release


Nose: Deft and heady- carbolic soap, lemony washing up suds and a lot of fruit!! Toffee apple and sweet candy floss. A real bag of aroma.

Palate: A slightly salty intro, into Parma Violets with a wash of delicate peat at first, but then comes the main course of aromatic wood smoke. It's so different to Islay peat, a wall of floral flavours. Excellent

Finish: Lingering smoky notes, but still delicate and sweet on the death.

Overall: For Hakushu fans, this will absolutely delight. For peated whisky freaks, you simply must grab a bottle when the summer comes.

The final treat from this year’s Whisky Live, was the new 14 Year Old Glenfiddich, Rich Oak. This ‘fiddich is finished in both new American Oak and new European Oak (they call the casks “untouched”), with the latter being an industry first, according to the distillery. We’re fans of Glenfiddich, both the spirit and the people, here at caskstrength.net, so let’s see how this one sits with the rest of their core range:

Glenfiddich Rich Oak - 14 Years Old – 40% Vol – 70cl

Nose: white PVA glue, orange and a hint of mint. There are some apricots and other fruits in there, but I can’t get beyond that whiff of PVA glue.

Palate: I found this a little too weak. The flavours that are there, lime juice and cinnamon notes, don’t have a lot of energy, but the balance is good.

Finish: There is a warming bitterness on the finish and considering the use of “untouched” oak, they have managed to avoid too much dryness.

Overall: I found this dram to be a little lacklustre on the palate, but well balanced in the finish. The PVA nose still haunts me, however... RRP £30.99


Thursday, 25 February 2010

Sweet Disposition


A few months ago, we ran a post on a rather unusual Bowmore from our friends at Master Of Malt. It was the sort of whisky that gets you in a right lather even after merely nosing it. In fact, it reminded us of that wonderful time gone by, when the school bell had just gone and you found yourselves racing towards the local corner shop, pockets full of coppers, fully intent on stocking up on as many tasty and probably tooth-rotting delights as you could carry. Ok we, may still be a little bit guilty of this, as may you.

Well hats off to MOM. They heard our inner call. We love sweets. Perhaps not as much as we love whisky, but enough to get excited at the picture at the top of this post.

For a limited time and in true Willy Wonka fashion, they're giving away a 'veritable cornucopia of old-fashioned sweeties' as well as a tasting glass with every bottle of Bowmore 26 yo. And as if that's not enough to excite you, they'll also throw in some rather grown up treats too, in the shape of samples from 3 of their other caskstrength whiskies - a 19yo Tomatin a 16 yo Tamnavulin and a 12yo Arran.

For our full tasting notes on the Bowmore, which came a handsome 2nd place in our recent BiG Awards, click here. For more information on the Bowmore offer and for further details about the other whiskies go to: MasterOfMalt.com

Don't forget your toothbrush folks!



Saturday, 20 February 2010

Back To The Future - Thirteen

Way back in November 2009 (some time in the last decade...) we featured a story about the lost whisky of polar explorer Sir Earnest Shakleton, which has been discovered lain beneath the ice waiting for someone to set it free. This afforded Neil the opportunity to play one of his favourite tricks: freezing bottles of whisky to see what they taste like when frozen (a la Vodka). Often this leads to some fantastic results (have you ever tried freezing a bottle of Talisker 10 and then dribbling the gloopy liquid over smoked salmon at breakfast? What do you mean “no”...!) and our current favourite for this treatment is Johnnie Walker Gold, an exceptional blend whichever way you choose to consume it.

One of the replies from this post was by the always entertaining Mr Richard Patterson, “The Nose” himself. He suggested that to make the comparison a fair one, we should stick in a Whyte & Mackay, as the aforementioned “lost” whisky was McKinlay’s & Co, a brand which is now owned by Whyte & Mackay. Hopefully W&M will be able to get a sample of the historic whisky and do their up most to send us a sample recreate the product, so we can all have a taste of the past.

In the mean time, I have stuck a bottle of Whyte & Mackay "Thirteen" in the freezer to see what happens. Thirteen is Whyte & Mackay’s second cheapest blend in this market (the UK), coming in at around £20, about £5 cheaper than their entry level blend, Special. Thirteen is also a brave title for a whisky. Famously unlucky on these shores as a number, it is also one year older than a 12 Year Old and three whole years older than a 10 Year Old (“No $hit Sherlock”, I hear you cry...), but this is clever. A lot of consumers buying a blend in the sub-£20 market will take a look at the Thirteen and think, “Wow, this not only has an age statement, but it is so much older than a 10 Year Old blend.” Thirteen is also not unlucky everywhere in the world; one only has to look towards the bar mitzvah to see that the age 13 isn’t always considered bad. But here, the thirteen relates to the companies “double marriage”, where the blends are brought together at 12 Years Old and finished for a year in sherry casks. This is supposed to give the blend “a distinct graceful smoothness” and this “double marriage” can be seen advertised on the box. Speaking of which, the presentation of this blend is fantastic. Whyte & Mackay really reach out to their Glasgow heritage with cleverly designed packaging that echoes one of Glasgow’s most famous sons, Charles Rennie Macintosh with a beautiful silver box and fonts which could have come straight from a Macintosh text book. They’ve done a cracking job with that.

But enough about the marketing. How does the damn stuff taste? Before we dive in to the chilled goodness, we must screw off the cap (and it’s not often enough we say that) and pour a dram “warm” to see how this fairs:

Whyte & MacKay – Thirteen – 40% ABV – 70cl

Nose: This has quite a complex nose for a cheaper blend. Chocolate Orange, vanilla, butterscotch, hot toffee apple. It doesn't smell young, but you can pick up on the grain which gives the whole thing a sprity lift and delivers a hint of mint right at the death.

Palate: This whisky is so easy on the palate, take a big gulp. Ginger nuts and wood- some hints of cedar wood and polish. So, so easy to drink. No nasty kicks or surprises from anywhere. Sticking it in that sherry wood must have been like giving Ritalin to kids.

Finish: Slightly hot with woody spices (that cedar again) and some summer fruits (strawberry jam, mainly). Very yummy.

Overall: This is a cracking little blend. Very easy to drink (quaffable!) and would work as well in the summer as in the winter. A good,well made all-rounder. Museltof!

So, let’s step back in time and see what this baby has to offer after a few hours in the freezer:

This doesn’t thicken up as much as other blends I have tried cooling (JW Gold / Monkey Shoulder). The palate gives off much more of the strawberry notes. I make a great dessert by roasting strawberries soaked on vodka with a dash of pimms (serve with thickened balsamic vinegar and it is amazing) and the profile is not that dissimilar to that. The spirit-grains come though loudly and it all finishes with a malty after glow.

Overall: as a preference, drink this the normal way! Nice and warmed, in a big glass!

Monday, 15 February 2010

Off The Rails...



Anticipation is a cruel and fickle mistress.
She has the ability to turn even the most ardent of stiff upper lips and steely resolves to a mushy, quivering puddle of over-excitement.

We're all guilty of being heavily seduced by anticipation fever, or 'Hype' as it is sometimes known.

In our other line of work, both Joel and I have been party to some of the most hyped up bands in the last few years- and yes, on occasion, we too have been sucked along for the ride.

Anyone remember these fresh-faced indie boys?


Menswe@r

Around 1994, this collection of chisel-jawed clothes horses were the band name on everyones lips. Before they had even released a single record, Menswe@r appeared on the cover of Melody Maker magazine. They assured us they were going to restore the grand and noble fortunes of the British music business around the world, despite only ever previously performing together 2 or 3 times and possessing less than a handful of tunes. Everyone got suckered in and they signed a HUGE deal (one of the biggest in modern memory)

And?

Nothing happened.

The buzz pretty much killed off the band, who clearly couldn't deliver under the weight of such lofty expectations.

Whisky is a cruel and fickle mistress.
She has the ability to turn even the most ardent of stiff upper lips and steely resolves to a mushy, quivering puddle of over excitem....

Ok. You get where this is going.

Today sees the release of probably this years most anticipated bottling and it's still only February. No doubt every Islay fan around the globe will have seen the recent online excitement over Ardbeg's newest committee release, Rollercoaster.

The tantalising countdown on the website was clever, helping to whip us all up into a frothing frenzy. A lot of this frenzy is based on the previous releases of Corryvreckan, and last years Supernova, which of course were absolutely wonderful whiskies. A new committee bottling stands for something- it's a benchmark of quality that will be judged by thousands of peat freaks from Calgary to Copenhagen. It also immediately gives the bottling an air of exclusivity, which the hoovers out there delight in. (Last year, a bottle of Committee Supernova was offered for Ebay auction BEFORE it had been released or the order secured by the unscrupulous seller)

Hats off to Ardbeg with this release though. The pricing is competitive and the out-turn is the biggest yet, allowing the many thousands of committee members a greater chance to grab one, which was heavily criticised last time. It's also one in the eye for the hoovers.
But the hype still lingers around the release. Is it really going to be a cracker?

Well, last week, we got to try it.

Would it manage to deliver like previous the committee bottlings, or would the massive weight of online expectation which has grown around the release devour any promise, like the ill-fated Menswe@r?

Buckle up... we're starting the slow, nerve jangling ascent....



Ardbeg Rollercoaster - Limited Committee Release - 57.3% - 70cl

Nose: Hot rubber, a big hit of malt vinegar, briney coastline, smoked meat (pastrami?) and some soot with a hint of mossy/mustiness. Hmmm. That vinegar is a tad off putting at first. Not bad though. With water, some more soot and very young peat starts to emerge.

Palate: Hot and spicy, with some sweet licorice coming through immediately- palate tingling. Again, this is clearly a predominantly youthful whisky. With water it grows in flavour, becoming peppery and slightly aniseedy, with a thin mouthfeel.

Finish: A very briney and short finish. This is all fanfare, but without much of a coda.

Overall: We love young whiskies here as those of you know, who saw us award Kilchoman's inaugural 3 year old release our 2009 BIG Award.

But I just don't feel that excited here i'm afraid. Compared to Corryvreckan and Supernova, (which were tasted alongside this too), it just falls a bit short. It has some balls, some grit and a little character, but it isn't that developed enough to make me grin from ear to ear. It isn't a massive disappointment, just not what Ardbeg committee bottlings have previously delivered... and that is a shame.

For those of you who missed out, don't start phoning the Samaritan's just yet...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Content On The Continent - Part 3



Feeling heiß, heiß, heiß....

Well, we've reached the penultimate part of the European malt mission, which so far has taken us from Brussels, through to Paris and now into Berlin (the last part concluding in Copenhagen).

It seems the weather has been shadowing us from a very snowbound London. Both Brussels and Paris were super chilly and now, as my taxi gingerly tiptoes a path from Tegel airport I wonder how Berlin has coped under 2 foot of serious snow.
"Well, we have ploughs...and we really know how to use them" says my driver. And he has a point. In the 3 weeks that Berlin has been struck by heavy weather, not one train, plane or road has been severely affected by delays. Well done chaps!!

After a quick spruce up and a chance to straighten my tie and wax the moustache, I head into the Hackesher Markt district of Berlin and to the Hotel Amano for some extremely good Ardbeg-based cocktails (a wonderful Blood & Sand and a sublime Manhattan, made under the watchful eye of head barman Philip.)

All this left one slightly pecklish so at the stroke of 2am, we visited a Berlin food establishment for a famous German delicacy- the CurryWurst.



Gentle Jesus. They rate the sauces from 1-5 on the spice scale. I plumped for No.3, which I assumed was a safe, but reasonably sportsmanlike attempt. I also elected to have a single drop of No. 5 on the side, should I be man (or foolish) enough to show off to my lovely German companion, Sabrina.

I can only describe the experience of the first mouthful to that of having your tongue repeatedly slashed by a red hot razor, covered in Cornish sea salt. Nothing would make it stop, so we retreated, literally red faced- down, but not out. A couple of very creamy, cooling White Russians back at the Amano seemed to be the perfect antidote to intensely hot food, so remember this if you're ever stuck in the same situation!


Anyway, to business. Even though my tongue had taken a pummelling the night before I was ready for a dram. After a very tasty (but slightly fecal looking) 'Healthy Nut Horn' for brunch, on the stroke of 12pm I arrived at the Berlin retailer Whisky & Cigars, in search of some truly Germanic whisky.

What I found was more than satisfactory....


Slyrs - Bavarian Single Malt Whisky - 2006 vintage - 43% - 70cl

Nose: Fresh gooseberries, newly polished tables (with Pledge?) green apple, desiccated coconut, soft muscovado sugar and strangely, the faintest whiff of old lobster pots! That's some array of aromas.

Palate: Creamy, sweet and rich, which is hugely impressive for a whisky of such tender years. Brandy sauce comes to mind on first taste. This is superbly drinkable. It has a light freshness combined with a lovely buttery indulgent side, very reminiscent of a younger Rosebank. There is definitely a youthful spirit in there, but it's packed with other goodies for the tongue to find. Superb.

Finish: Lavender, tinned pineapple notes and some creamy fudge stick to the palate for a surprisingly long time.

Overall: What a little corker. I came to this with absolutely no preconception and it has totally impressed. The fresh/vibrant but buttery characteristics will no doubt hook in the Lowland fanatics- so if you happen to see this, it is wholeheartedly worth buying.



Later that day after a hearty lunch I also tried a very small dram of another German treat- Blaue Maus 20yo, which was enormously impressive, with some lovely malty sweetness and a sublime length to the finish. I only wish I had a bigger measure to do a more informed review- anyone out there who could oblige??!

Berlin has a true sense of spirit. There is a refreshingly laid back and calming atmosphere here, almost the complete opposite to London or Paris. I can honestly say that this is reflected in the whiskies I tried- they taste unhurried, uncompromised and lovingly created.

With our time in this wonderfully friendly city running woefully short, I decided on a pre-flight beer with some newly found friends as a liquid send off. I'm not sure I chose wisely....





See you all in the final part of this mini whisky odyssey when we finish our travels in Copenhagen- more great cocktails, Schnapps and a bizarre surprise, which ended the trip with a sense of the deja vu....

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Highland Lark




Bloody hell it's cold.

We're sat at Caskstrength.net HQ in South London as the icy northern breeze whistles through our fresh Shoreditch haircuts. It's certainly time to warm up and there are only two ways we really know of upping our internal thermometer;

Pour a large dram or book a holiday.

Well, as luck would have it we've managed to kill two birds with one stone (don't worry, readers... this isn't Ipswich c.2006...)

After a warming £2.99 Weatherspoon's lunchtime special, we picked up the post and what should we find, but 3 very new and exclusive Highland Park bottlings, especially for the Duty Free market. They will be commercially available from April onwards, so keep an eye out.

The Vintage Editions come off the back of the St Magnus bottling, which Highland Park have just released and which we reviewed here.

4 expressions make up the range, dating from 1998, 1994, 1990 and 1973, (which we don't have a sample of) with the emphasis on the difference between maturation in European and American Oak. Apparently the sweeter characteristics of the distillery are prominent in both the '94 and '73 versions, whilst the '90 and '98 expressions detail the more smoky notes.




Fortunately for us, that trip to Heathrow Airport 's 'World Of Whiskies' can wait a little longer.

Let's see how they fare:




Highland Park - Vintage Edition - 1990 - 40% (but we'll get the info asap) 70cl

Nose: Classic fragrant Highland Park, with a tiny hint of sweet smoke and buttery richness. It has all the hallmarks of a well balanced whisky, which Highland Park seem to do so well. Dig a little deeper and some slightly fruity notes (with almost a Ribena like syrup) emerge.

Palate: Sweet malt, barley sugar, swirls of spice, Cream soda, vanilla ice cream and back to sweet sherbets all in the space of a few seconds. Very good indeed. A dryness descends after a little while, revealing some slight parma violet notes, but nothing out of character.

Finish: The dryness continues into the finish, with a resonance of slightly milky coffee, spices and wood smoke.

Overall: Very, very Highland Park. If, like me, you have a huge soft spot for this distillery, you'll sniff this out a mile off. slightly dryer in the finish than, say the 18yo, but there's certainly masses of flavour to recommend it. I feel like jumping on the Gatwick Express right now and grabbing a bottle.



Highland Park - Vintage Edition - 1994 - 40% 70cl

Nose: A very different beast to its older brother. Notes of butterscotch sauce hit you first, followed by just-baked apple crumble, freshly starched linen and some demerera sugar. The sweetness certainly comes through!!

Palate: Slightly spiced, with the unmistakable flavour of Highland park squarely underneath. This distillery has so much character, they'll never be able to stray far away from it, which is a great thing. Hints of fresh fruit, (apples) and some hazelnuts round of a pleasing flavour.

Finish: Relatively long, with the fruity notes outlasting any drier characteristics.

Overall: A close second to the 1990 IMHO, but still worth exploring, especially for that crumble on the nose.

and finally....



Highland Park - Vintage Edition - 1998 - 40% 1L

Nose: Slightly soapy sherry cask notes are immediately apparent, but tame, with an sweeter aroma of foam banana sweets and some oak smoke following up immediately. Not as characterful as the 1990 or the 1994. Most definitely the smokiest of the 3.

Palate: Ooh, some lovely vanilla hits your tongue, with a pleasant sweetness. But it's only fleeting, as a drying wood note takes over the palate. Tiny hints of cream soda fight to come through but the wood keeps a firm grip.

Finish: Dry, with and relatively short, with a hint of rye bread on the death.

Overall: The least impressive of the trio and the youngest of the bunch. It has a way to go before it eclipses its older brothers, but is certainly not the runt of the litter.

To use a simple analogy- each of these whiskies represents a certain grade of flight.

The 1990 has all the hallmarks of 'First Class' travel
; Elegance, variety and refinement.





The 1994 still has the luxury, but without some of the trappings- perhaps akin to a seat in Business Class.



The 1998, whilst not in the 'Easyjet' category, lacks the finesse of the previous 2, but does the job well- you also get a little more for your money with a 1 litre bottle. Shall we say
Premium Economy??



As we didn't taste the 1973, we can only surmise that it's like owning your own plane.... hopefully we'll be able to take it for a test flight very soon!




Glen V Glen

It would be easy to pull out some obvious analogies to place around the contest between these two big hitters: The Rumble In The Jungle, the fight between the two big hitters of the day Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The 1966 World Cup Final between England and West Germany. Oasis v Blur for the coveted number one spot in the UK charts, right at the peak of 1990’s Britpop...

But I’m going to look much closer to the present. Last night, in fact. And not in the glamorous surrounds of Zaire, Wembley Stadium or the pop charts... but in Luton. For last night the mighty, mighty Oxford United took on Luton Town at Kenilworth Road. Both teams have seen better days, mainly in the mid-1980’s, but both now find themselves in the lowest professional league of English Football, the Blue Square Premiership. Due to their glory years the teams also sport impressive followings and the game at Oxford earlier in the season topped a crowd of 10,500 and was used as an example of our love of soccer at every level in England’s World Cup bid for 2018. Last night’s showdown in Luton also reached attendance. To say these teams are big fish at their current level is an understatement.

With these two teams the most popular in their division, the atmosphere of last nights encounter was never going to disappoint. And neither was the quality of the action on the pitch. With Oxford having taken the spoils earlier in the season with a two nil victory, the outcome of Tuesday night’s game would ensure a vital three points for the winner as well as major bragging rights for the associated fans. At least until next season.

At this point we turn to the whisky. Two big hitters. Two major heavyweight brands in their own league. Glenfiddich, the biggest selling single malt whisky in the world. Glenlivet, the best selling malt whisky in America. In front of me stands two bottles, one expression of the two Glens, the much lauded 18 Year Old. Now, we have reviewed the 18 Year Old ‘fiddich in these pages before, but lets see if there is any thing to add to the notes we already have.

Glenfiddich – 18 Year Old – Batch Number 3148 – 40% Vol – 70cl

Nose: Lovely cut apple again, lots of spiced notes (Star Anise, nutmeg and more cinnamon) Also, some deeper, musty German wine notes start to appear the longer you leave this dram. A lovely heady concoction. New notes: a whiff of passion fruit and the slightest hint of coffee.

Palate: The sherry becomes more noticeable on the first sip, leading the way for a much drier palate than the 12 or 15, but with pleasant notes of toasted, rolled oats and more apple. This really reminds me of my morning porridge with a little dusting of brown sugar and a sprinkling of sultana's on top of the apples. Delicious. New notes: spot on, really (if we don’t say so ourselves!).

Finish: More of the drying sherry notes but with hints of what was once, a very lively new make (as witnessed by the first heady dram of the night!). New notes: Strawberry jam in the finish.

Overall: Another great expression and a lovely progression from the 15- although a very different whisky in its development. New notes: this is consistently my fav expression in the ‘fiddich range.

Let’s see how we get on against the other headline act, the Glenlivet 18 Year Old.

Glenlivet – 18 Year Old – 43% Vol – 70cl

Nose: This noses like a younger, more spirity whisky. But that could be to do two with two things; the greater ABV and a possibly less sherry casks in the overall mix. I couldn’t give you figures on that last one, so it’s a real guess. The nose develops in the glass from something akin to vanilla milkshake into a richer bouquet of honey and heather. A lot less immediate than the ‘fiddich, it requires love in the glass before it gives out it’s best work.

Palate: A rich palate of crème brulee with the honey and the heather really showing though but in the most well balanced of ways. This has apples too, but more of the fresh green variety, than the cooking apples with cinnamon which came in the ‘fiddich. Really very pleasant and refreshing.

Finish: This lingers longer. It’s a test of it’s stamina as a whisky that it sits for a while on the back of the tongue, tingling and watering it’s way to a close. Not overly complex but it knows it’s job and it does it very well.

Overall: A much fresher whisky than the 18 YO Glenfiddich. Helped by the higher alch volume, this dram gives much more aggression with well balanced honey and heather and a long, juicy finish. Very nice indeed.

I came away from last nights match in Luton utterly gutted. My team, Oxford United had put in 100% effort. Every inch of the pitch was covered. Every blade of grass stepped on. In the 74th min Oxford took the lead, but in injury time at the end of the game Luton managed not one goal to equalise, but a second to steal the match. Heartbreak for the travelling away fans. Unbridled joy for the home supporters. Looking back upon the previous match earlier in the season, it was a game that I left with the exact opposite emotions: I was upbeat at a fantastic victory. I was ready to mock my friends who supported Luton and I was sure I supported the better team. Last night changed all that; I left the ground a loser, bracing myself for the banter from Luton supporting friends. But one thing both Oxford and Luton fans can be assured of from both games, was the fact that each side gave 100% commitment to the cause. They put on the best possible show in front of the largest audience that could turn up. No one could fault the desire, determination and drive of the 22 players in each game. Was there an overall winner? Only time will tell...

This is true with these two whiskies. Both distilleries seemly at the peak of their powers, producing excellent product for large audiences world-wide. But can I pick an overall winner? Only time will tell...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Content On The Continent - Part 2



'Ross Beef' pulls into town....

So, if you've been following my previous exploits, you'll find me in fine fettle, full of roast Cuckoo (well, what I thought to be Cuckoo, turned out to be a Belgian chicken... boo) having just sampled one of Belgians first whiskies.
My story shifts now to an unfeasibly early start to catch the train from Brussels Midi into Gare Du Nord, the gateway of Paris. I had been rather caught up by relaxed lifestyle Brussels has to offer and found several superb pubs you must visit on your travels... Firstly, A La Mort Subite has some superb ales on tap, followed by the atmosphere of The Monk, where I picked up these rather fetching glasses from a persistent salesman:


I was quite woolly headed as we dashed for the train, only to realise it was delayed an hour. Come on guys! I expect this sort of thing in London.


Things only got worse when we arrived to a very Grey Paris, pouring with rain and perhaps the rudest, most outrageous taxi driver I have ever come across. We were staying in The Marais and his response was (in French- "why do you want to go there? it's too far and the traffic is a 'catastrophe' " This went on for 15 minutes whilst he drove precariously over old ladies, dogs and umbrella wielding school girls, until I demanded he let us out. Our bags were flung out and I heard the faint tinkle of glass from mine, which could only mean one thing....

THE EMERGENCY LAGAVULIN!!! NOOOOOOOOO!!!

I have often advocated the use of whisky as an attractive cologne, but when your entire wardrobe whiffs of peat and carbolic soap, people seem to look at you in a very different light indeed.
Anyway, after a hearty lunch of Foie Gras, Canard and roast veg (yes, I have dietry 'issues' folks) I thought a little trip to La Maison Du Whisky was in order. If you haven't visited before, try to take some time out, as they have a great selection of vintage bottlings in the store, including a few French whiskies, which is precisely what I was looking for.

I have read many good things about French whisky making and how it is one of the highlights of distillation on the continent, so I was very intrigued to finally try some.
I plumped for a bottle of Eddu Silver, in place of the Gold, which was out of stock. Eddu is from the heart of the Brittany and is made exclusively using buckwheat, which apparently supposed to hold many secrets to a life of good health and longevity... Wow. Just think of all the Foie Gras and Confit de Canard I can eat, after consuming a bottle of this!!
Here goes....
Eddu Silver - Buckwheat whisky - 40% - matured in French Oak (naturally!) -70cl

Nose:
Hmmm... Not sure where to begin here. Some nice rose like florals come through initially, followed by some cream soda and something a little phenolic. Dig deeper and some further earthy, mossy notes emerge.

Palate:
Gadzooks!!! this is the bitterest whisky I have ever tried!! The first mouthful took me totally off guard. Going back in for seconds and more of that rose note comes to the rescue thank god, followed by milky coffee and then a little sweetness. It is honestly like chewing rose petals- you get the bitter vegetive bite, then the more delicate perfumed note. Weird whisky this.

Finish: Some lighter, malty notes appear, with the floral rose flavour drying to a slightly salty finish.

Overall:
Ok, I really didn't expect anything like this. The use of buckwheat clearly marks this out as something unusual, but for me, it just doesn't work. This isn't a whisky I would recommend- Purely based on the initial biting bitterness. The floral hints make up some of the disappointment, but there just isn't enough good character to dig itself out, or indeed make this stand alone as something 'refreshingly different' in the whisky world.

Night was drawing in and I was missing the Lagavulin, which my clothes were cruelly reminding me of every time I caught a faint whiff of peat on the breeze.
So I decided to order one in a bar, overlooking the Seine.


It arrived and I felt immediately cheered up, until I realised it had cost approximately £13 for a single measure. Still, it sure washed away the taste of the Eddu and the view of a Parisian skyline at night is enough to warm the cockles of even the most ardent of Euro sceptics....

Bonne Nuit!

Tune in to part 3 of my Euro adventure when I hit Berlin and learn a few things about snow ploughs, health food and the true meaning of a 'Hot Sausage'. All that and some excellent German single malts....