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Sunday, 31 October 2010

Glen London Part Three: Whisky Show Day 2.




What a difference a week makes. Whilst Joel was clearly toiling this week, grappling with some stupendous whisky beasts, I was trying to make sense of just what its like to have a holiday. A Curates Egg shall we say- one moment lying on the beach, falling asleep and burning one's legs to a crisp... the next, thinking about all the great whiskies I was missing out on back home, whilst necking high strength white rum. Let's just say that i'm not particularly one for sunning myself- in fact, whilst on the beach, I realised that I had only brogues to wear- with hindsight, a totally absurd choice of footwear.



Still I'm home now and back at the second day of The Whisky Show, which I was really looking forward to.

Joel had already primed me as to what to look out for, so for the first dram of the day, the quite frankly stunning Adelphi Bunnahabhain 41 year old bottling (think a wonderful mix of fresh and dried fruits, classic sherry dryness, but not a hint of bitterness) This is certainly on my purchase list and a whisky which will surely disappear quickly after the buzz it created around the show.


So a high benchmark had been set and I drifted off to The Whisky Exchange stand in search of further perfection. Fortunately the five bottlings on offer were at the top of their game. Just how the WE find casks like this is beyond us, but keep it up chaps! I settled on a 1981 Lochside as my highlight, as modelled here by Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem band.


Lochside - 1981 - Whisky Exchange bottling - Oloroso Sherry Reserve - 57.5%

Nose: Notes of waxed mahogany, overripe bananas, tropical fruits (guava and passion fruit) and rich treacle toffee.

Palate: The fruit continues into an explosion of tropical notes. It's like i'm back in the Seychelles, trying to pick fresh mango and Jack fruit from the heavily laden trees, which line every road. Add to that a touch of brittle honey comb, humbugs and cinnamon spiced notes. Superb in every way, with no holes at all.

Finish: The fruit lingers and the flavours develop beautifully, with all the resonance of a terrific old sherry cask.

Overall: Sukhinder and his team have yet again struck gold with this one. Another highlight from what's shaping up to be a premier whisky event.

After a spot of lunch (well, I was already gorged on a fine Penge Cafe Mixed Grill, so went straight for the Panacotta and toffee/Longmorn sauce) it felt right to try something a little lighter and younger. 2 whiskies sprang to mind- Glenlivet's Nadurra Triumph 1991 and the soon-to-be-released Kilchoman Winter Release. Once again, we were enticed into Connosr's Whisky Pod to review the Kilchoman (which was a pre-release caskstrength sample) and again they struck gold with full ripe fruity fresh bourbon notes, mixed with a fresh warming smokiness. With a refreshed palate (and a big slug of water) it was onto the Nadurra, which we have reviewed previously. The Triumph exclusively uses the the strain of barley taking the same name and gives another dimension of fresh fruitiness, with an additional couple of years of maturation in bourbon oak.


Glenlivet Nadurra - Triumph - 1991 distillation- Batch 0310B - bottled 3/10 - 48%

Nose: Hot buttered crumpet, Hubba Bubba bubble gum, fresh bourbon'esque fruits, lemon zest and vanilla notes. Vibrant, exciting and totally irresistible.

Palate: Rich Tea biscuit maltiness, clear apple juice, home made apple pie, with cinnamon spice and a distinct white sugar sweetness.

Finish: Further notes of red apple and sweet vanilla creme brulee linger and resonate as the palate dries.

Overall: Well worth seeking out if you are already a fan of the original Nadurra. A big feather in Glenlivet's cap for bottling this.


Our good friend Andy was also at the show, seemingly working hard on becoming the new face of Johnnie Walker Blue Label as well as Angus, now writing an entertaining blog, as ever on hand with a bag of goodies, including this very old Signatory Longmorn (waxy, simple and hugely fruity, showing no signs of old age, just the hallmarks of how great the distillery was back in the mid 60's) Also, major props to Sam 'Dr Whisky' Simmons for fighting back the jetlag and diving headlong into the lions den of great whisky. We salute you sir and welcome back to the UK.

Final stop was at the Berry Bros stand, with Doug and Rocky propping up their burgeoning bar with a number of treats. Fresh from being awarded Whisky Magazine's Independent Bottler of the Year award, they had the family silver out on display, including this highly polished gem:


Berrys' Own Selection - Invergordon Single Grain Bottling - 1971 - bottled 2010 - 47%

Nose: Bourbon notes to the max, with candied fruit, bubble gum, soft toffee and a hint of licorice spice.

Palate: Sweet Honeycomb, very floral light fruit notes (like a freshly prepared fruit salad with kiwi fruit, strawberries, mango and banana) more bourbon sweet/spice and fresh cream.

Finish: The cream dies away into a lengthy and very juicy finish.

Overall: Berry Bros have produced some sterling grain bottlings over the past couple of years and this one is right up there again. A distinct highlight in their current portfolio, which will no doubt disappear soon.

With a final dram of the specially released Whisky Show Port Ellen on the way out (think classic sherried PE, with that hint of soft smoke winding around some fruity dryness and Devon Creamery fudge) our palates were truly dazzled by what was on offer. So far, 2 out of 2 for The Whisky Show. Last year proved that despite a high ticket price, whisky enthusiasts out there are prepared to pay for quality and this year has built on those foundations.

Expect this show to be back next year, bigger than ever with another huge tranche of the finest whiskies for you to feast yourselves on. Who needs holidays eh.....

Friday, 29 October 2010

Glen London Part Two: Down At The Whisky Show At Midday

There are few occasions when I can leave my house and end up in whisky heaven within 15 mins. I’m lucky enough (although I’m sure my bank manager would disagree) to live within walking distance of the Whisky Exchange shop at Vinopolis, with Milroys Of Soho and Vintage House on Old Compton Street a mere stone’s throw away too.

But today I get to visit somewhere new. An adventure which starts with a short walk to the bus stop and 15 mins on the number 133 bus. Trundling past Elephant and Castle, over London Bridge and into The City, my destination is The Whisky Show which this year is being held at The Brewery near The Barbican.

An ominously early start of midday, especially after the exploits of last night (Diageo Special Releases followed by far too long at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society) which concluded with a late, late blog writing mission... but seven hours kip later, I was up and ready to tackle the marathon that is The Whisky Show.

Arriving for the Press and Trade period, it was a welcome sight to see litre bottles of still water being handed out before a dram had even been poured. This was clearly an event run by people with experience. And an understatement that indeed is, for the Master behind the scenes is Whisky Exchange owner Sukhinder Singh.

Wandering through the door on the dot of midday, Sukhinder was to be found hurriedly putting the finishing touches to their shop with the rest of his team and it was perfect timing as his own independent bottles were being hauled from the shelves and opened, for tastings. A d(r)am fine line up it is too, so where better to start than with the organisers very own bottles.

Karuizawa – 1981 / 2010 – The Whisky Show 2010 bottling – 60.5%

Nose: Apricots, Bovril, old books, polished wood and leather shoes. Everything you would expect from a well sherried medium-old Karuizawa. The quality of wood that this closed distillery must have been using seems phenomenal and it gives so much colour and character to the whisky.

Palate: The deep and rich dark chocolate notes fight for space on the tongue from sherry, spice and drying oak. Old cigar notes up the ante and this feels like a very old whisky, despite being only a 1981.

Finish: The apricots re-appear along with heavy cigar notes and some vanilla.

Overall: A great example of a karuizawa and a cracking way to start the show.


Now set up and ready to explore, a short wander through the stalls revealed some gems. But we’ve got two days here and I want to ease myself in. Finishing a my fact finding mission, I settle for a chat with Doctor Andrew Forrester of The Balvenie. After a short discussion a bottle caught my eye. A bottle that I’ve heard a lot about: Tun 1401.


A marriage of 4 Bourbon casks and 2 Sherry butts and containing whisky from the 1960’s, this bottle is limited to 336 and is only available to visitors on the distillery tour at Balvenie.

The Balvenie – Tun 1401 – 48.1% NAS

Nose: rich coffee, fruit cake, plums, a hint of mint and loads of strawberry jam.

Palate: Very light, with oak, vanillas and a touch of rounded, spicy sherry.

Finish: Sweet tea, digestive biscuits, smooth and long.

Overall: An absolute cracker of a whisky. Not too bad at £150, but you have to be in Dufftown and you have to take the tour to qualify. That, or buy a bottle for silly money from eBay...

Don’t take my word for it, hear it from the horses mouth.


Onward we roam, conscience of the time restrains. Conversations are cruelly cut short as valuable drinking time was being eaten away catching up with friends and gather and sharing tips on the bottles in the room.

After much cogitation, I took a visit to Adelphi, an independent bottler who I’ve heard a lot about but never really tasted. And my! What a discovery I made! Along with a host of bottles, one shone out: Bunnahabhain 41 Year Old. A mix of two sherry butts coming in at 41.2% ABV and, for today at least, has been counted as my “Whisky of the Show 2010”.

Luckily, the good chaps from Connosr were on hand to record show-gowers describing their fav dram. So, no written notes for this one I’m afraid but a video of me giving my tasting notes*

Click here for the video

Finally, it was time to try two last drams before heading home for the day (to do some real work!) and what better way to end the session that with two independent bottles of Port Ellen.

Port Ellen – 1983 – The Whisky Show 2010 bottling – 60 bottles only (yes, 60!) – 51.3% ABV

Nose: Smoke hits you with a big engine of toffee and raisins. Some salt carries the fruity elements of this single cask right to the back of the nose.

Palate: Very, very rich with dried fruit, jams and chutney. Spices from the wood give extra body to this tasty palate.

Finish: Warm and spicey with cardamom and cinnamon.

Overall: Better than the 31 YO official bottling from yesterday, this is really, really tasty!

Port Ellen – PE 3 – Elements Of Islay – NAS – 54.8% ABV

Nose: Wow, a totally different whisky to the PE above. Very little smoke, lemon sherbet and green grass.

Palate: Light vanilla spices with some oak dryness and a hint of green apple.

Finish: Clean and fresh, this doesn’t coat your mouth with earthy notes, in the way other Port Ellens do.

Overall: Okay, but not as good as the show bottling, nor the Diageo Special Release 31 Year Old. And it’s only a 50cl bottle too.


Day Two of the Great London Whisky Weekend is over, but rest assured! We shall be back tomorrow with more notes from Whisky Heaven 2010.




*wide screen monitor advised

Glen London Part One: White (Dram) Riot

You may have guessed, but weheartwhisky.

This week is Christmas and Easter rolled in to one for the London based whisky blogger.

In the space of 24 short hours, we get to taste the Diageo Special Release AND get in to the Press and Trade Period of the Whisky Show 2010.

Hallelujah!

How does one prepare for such fare? With a week of abstinence, of course.

Neil has been away with Mrs Neil, making sure that he doesn't become The Singleton Of Penge while I’ve been left to cleanse my liver, making sure each and every sample that arrives at CaskStrength.net HQ is filed away for the “quiet period”... goodness know when that is.

An absence of booze for a week, and therefore the absence of postings, highlights the madness to come.

So tonight we start with the Diageo Special Releases and this year we see some familiar faces: Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Port Ellen and Brora. But, like watching Manchester United introducing young talent around a spine of great players, these mainstays are joined by some unique and interesting individuals: Glen Spey, Auchroisk and Cragganmore.

In total nine single malts grace the “special” release for this year and a wide variety of prices, ages and finishes are available.

The list runs thus:

Auchroisk 30

Brora 30

Caol Ila 12 unpeated

Cragganmore 21

Glenkinchie 20

Glen Spey 21

Glenkinchie 20

Lagavulin 12

Port Ellen 31

Talisker 30

It would be difficult to run through each and give detailed tasting notes, so I’m going to highlight what, in our opinion , are the best.

As usual you can't just scroll to the end and read the two digit figure score, because we don’t believe in any of that bollocks. What does a score mean, anyway? Nothing to you to, because you’ve not had the same experiences as we’ve had in drinking whisky. So, read the notes and if you think you like the “broad-brush” tasting notes we give, then go and try / buy the whisky.

If you don’t, then stay the hell away from it. We’re not here to tell you what’s good and bad; we’re here to advise you and inform you if you wish to make a purchase. At the end of the day, when you pull a cork out of a bottle, we want you to love and to cherish the whisky inside. Not to have a bad reaction to it, to then have to fob it off on your Brother, your Uncle or your Dad. On that note, here are our picks of the DSR 2010:


Lagavulin - 12 Years Old - 56.5%

£59 a bottle. Yes please! This is a whisky that gives and gives and gives and gives.

Nose: A complex vanilla butter toffee mixed with heavy peat smoke and rich, runny honey. Classic Lagavulin Creme Brulee and creamy vanilla ice cream burst through giving a sharp, clean and fresh, salty nose.

Palate: Sweet and smokey with notes of citrus and pine and charred wood, toffee apple and lime.

Finish: Long and smoky with medicinal backdrop.

Overall: Just delicious. The Lagavulin 12 has yet to let me down.


Auchroisk - 20 Years Old- ABV 58.1%

Who? Auchroisk is not a name famillar to many. But this Single Malt delivers and delivers well.

Nose: Very rich and extremely nutty with vanilla toffee and rich sherry notes.

Palate: That nutty-ness keeps coming, with hazelnuts and walnuts but there is also some dust and dryness. Toffee and caramel and rum and raisin fudge with dry biscuit and pastry come to the fore.

Finish: Earthy notes with dark chocolate and hints of tropical fruit. Like and old Bowmore without the smoke.

Overall: At this price point (sub £120), get it while you can!



Glen Spey - 21 Years Old - 50.4%

Nose: Wow! Rich, very rich! This whisky has one of the most complex noses I’ve had in a long time. I could sit with this for hours. After the stewed fruit comes leather and polished wood. Antique wood and polish makes its way to the front, but with an energy, a zest. Energy, but complexity. All good.

Palate: Simple palate notes for this: Pear, almond and apricot tart with vanilla ice cream.

Finish: Long and complex with the pear lingering and lime adding zest to the overall character.

Overall: A real surprise. Well worth the money.


And a special mention for a cracking Cragganmore. More on that tomorrow. We're Craggenmore fans anayway, but this years Special Release really is worth trying.

All in, this is a good haul of releases, despite a rather dull Talisker 30 and Caol Ila that misses the point (it is like Nirvana Unplugged: does a good job, but you’d rather have the rawk guitars and riffs, over the emo vocals and overacting).

And the Port Ellen? It’s fantastic. A fantastic effort for a whisky destined for blending 28 years ago. Honestly, how no one ever saw the Single Malt potential in this distillery is beyond me. But there you go. The wonderful world of whisky!

Epic Day One of our London Whisky Adventure is over. More to tell tomorrow, but for now: bed.

Godspeed.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Gourmet 'Burgie Company


Fresh from scouring our notes on the best whiskies of 2010 for this year's BIG Awards, we came across a bottling, which sadly doesn't fit into the criteria to be eligible- down to being released in 2007 and only being available at the distillery. But fear not, we wanted to bring it to your attention anyway.

Glenburgie is not a whisky we've reviewed on here before (other than as part of a blending sample) and probably has more profile through its inclusion into the Chivas Regal & Ballantine's blends, but this particular example is prime reason why it should be taken very seriously indeed as a single malt.

Part of the Chivas Brothers Cask Strength Edition range, (only available at the distillery shops) this Glenburgie sashays in at 15yo and is part of batch GB 15 001. We have little idea what that number means, but expect there to be more of this round the corner in the guise of other batches.

Glenburgie - 15 yo - Cask Strength Edition - Distilled 1992- bottled 2007 - Batch no: 15 001 - 58.8% - 50cl

Nose: Initially highly fruity, with some superb bourbon sweetness, Wrigley's Juicy Fruit, blackcurrant jam, scented wax, a dusting of cocoa and milk chocolate covered limes. It shares a similar freshness to that of Rosebank bottled around the same age. Developed, with a hint of oak too, but just wonderfully balanced.

Palate: Notes of honey comb hit the palate first, into fruit salad sweets, chocolate covered fudge, fresh clean malt and brittle caramel. The fruits push on through, delivering a sweet, tangy freshness, with a hint of sherbet on the back palate.

Finish: Creamy but slightly drying, with lingering blackcurrant notes.

Overall: What a totally brilliant find. In this day and age of the 'heightened aesthetic', the whisky bottle needs to reflect all the positivity it can about the liquid inside. So often, it goes totally wrong and looks cheap, glitzy and frankly, off-putting. What we have here is a really delicious well made and matured single malt, packaged simply, offering no airs or graces. It rewards the effort of a distillery visit and at around £40 is rewarding on the wallet too. You could buy 2,500 bottles of this for the cost of one Dalmore Trinitas. Not the point of either whisky I know, but food for thought.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

BiG Is Back!!!

As 2010 draws ever nearer to a close, we have started to think about the vast number of whiskies released this year. Some superb bottlings have enraptured our hearts, whilst some have enraged and enflamed a great many drinkers across the whisky community.

With this in mind, we've started to collate a list towards the 2010 BIG Awards (Best In Glass), now in its 3rd year. For those of you who have missed our annual awards- the premise is simple. Pit the 10 best whiskies released in a calendar year against each other in a huge tasting bonanza.

Last year saw a 3-year old pitted against a 45-year old. Single Malt vs Grain. Japanese vs Scotch vs American. It's amazing just how eloquent certain whiskies can be when the need to be.


In 2008, it was No.1 Drinks 1971 Karuizawa which triumphed.



In 2009, Kilchoman's Inaugural Release beat the other contenders into a Glencairn-shaped hat.

So which whisky will be mighty in the 2010 awards?

Well.... that's where you come in. Instead of just Joel and I picking the short list of 10 whiskies from the multitude of releases, we want your help.


We want your suggestions as to the year's very best whiskies you've tasted.
Along with your name and country you're located in, you can email your suggestions thru to:


The only set of criteria is as follows:
1. The entry must be a 'newly released whisky' from this year (2010)
2. It has to be available from a retailer of any kind- i.e. no festival bottlings, or distillery-only bottlings.

And that's it! Here's what's in it for you....

from all the entries we get, we'll draw 3 lucky winners who will each receive a bottle of something exceptional from the Caskstrength cabinet... not bad for letting us know your favourite whisky of the year!

The competition closes on December 1st, so get thinking and re-trying all those great drams, in anticipation.

Slainte!

Neil + Joel

Friday, 15 October 2010

"Money doesn't talk. It swears." Bob Dylan


Good old Robert Zimmerman with his ever-political lyric writing.

Yesterday a bottle of whisky went on sale for £100,000.

In previous posts we have discussed the growing market demand for whisky and part of the natural order of capitalism deems that something is only worth what someone will pay for it. With only one bottle available for sale (you can buy it here if you're feeling flush), I'm sure it will sell.

And sell quite quickly.

However, if the announcement of this bottling makes you feel how we feel, then we've done some of the work for you and provided you with links to be able to donate whatever you can afford to one or all of the charities below:





CLICK HERE TO DONATE




























WWTKLFD? Click to find out.

We Heart Whisky.


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.


Monday, 11 October 2010

Christmas Comes Early...


We're barely out of the golden glow of summer (time to pack away those Lowland drams, folks) and already, a tranche of whiskies, aimed at the Christmas markets has begun to flow into our awaiting Glencairns.

Usually, I find the build-up to Christmas totally absurd. Walk into Sainsbury's and there's a festive chocolates isle at the end of August- why are retailers so keen to see the back of the warmer months?

Having said all that, last week was bloody cold in London. The berries and summer fruits have begun to disappear from the trees (mostly into my freezer) and endeavours to find a new winter coat have begun...please email us which one of these you think looks best!!


I was even thinking about switching on the archaic heating at Caskstrength Towers, as I shuffled uncomfortably from wing to wing, trying my best to keep warm. A hilarious scene from 'Withnail and I' sprang to mind.

Then, a knock at the door. Was it the case of Deep Heat I had ordered online?
Not quite, but an altogether more tasty winter warmer.

Ballantine's have always impressed us with their very well put together blends- the sublime 17yo (a cabinet staple) works in a multitude of ways, from cocktails to sipping straight or on the rocks. This Christmas will feel very special indeed for fans of Ballantine's- for a new limited edition Christmas Reserve has arrived...and it's heavy on all the elements you associate with the festive season. Created by Master Blender Sandy Hyslop, Ballantine's Christmas Reserve is a non-aged expression, aiming to play on all the familiar seasonal notes, those flavours and aromas which tend to amplify goodwill and indeed, good cheer.


With a bleak October grey sky bruising outside, I slipped on my luxurious padded silk dressing gown, New & Lingwood slippers and placed another log on the fire. I poured a large dram and settled back to the strains of Phil Spector's legendary Christmas album. Then the sun came out and wrecked the whole damn experience. Bah Humbug!!


Ballantine's - Christmas Reserve - Limited Edition Blended Whisky - 40%

Nose: Cinnamon, cooking apples, rich chocolate covered fudge notes, brazil nuts and a large slice of christmas cake. There's even a slightly musky incense. So far, spot on. With a touch of water, hazelnuts make their presence known. The whole experience is like peeling the cellophane off a classic Christmas Fruit & Nut Selection Box.

Palate: Warming dry spices, mincemeat, dark chocolate, rum steeped raisins and a drizzle of Oloroso sherry. Put your ear to the glass too and I swear you can hear the clipped tones of a posh woman in her mid 80's, and, yes, there it is again.... a muffled bark of a Corgi in the background. As Christmas speeches go, this one is positive, eloquent, full of fruity fun, with no unpleasant bitterness.

Finish: The drying spices leave a lasting impression, with a touch of menthol developing further in. As a post-prandial Christmas dram, this will last way into the obligatory Bond film that you always begin to watch, but end up falling asleep half way through.

Overall: Without a single doubt, I have no hesitation in saying this is a perfect festive whisky. It's like drinking in 'It's A Wonderful Life' in liquid form, after having the classic family Christmas row, over nothing in particular. Absolutely spot on with its balance of spice, dried fruit and all-round drinkability. My only problem, is that we've just entered October and there is no way the contents of this bottle will be left intact for the big day.

Annus Horribilis? Hell no. This is most certainly an Annus Mirabilis!

Cheers!



Saturday, 9 October 2010

Reading Roundup

Fresh from our recent trip to Roseisle and Europe (more of this over the coming weeks) we have a couple of interesting new tomes that have come to our attention and clearly deserve some of yours too!

First up is another gem from our friend and whisky writer extraordinaire, Ian Buxton, author of several beautiful books, which we reviewed on caskstrength recently.



Ian's latest endeavours have been to practically catalogue the un-catalogue-able; the 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. An ominous prospect at best and a nightmare at worst. How on earth does one decide what would make the shortlist and what to leave out?? On one slightly drunken evening, we started to compile our list of Desert Island Drams, but ended up arguing over which Glenrothes should replace a certain Laphroaig... and so on..and so on...

What Ian has done is to take the simple approach and cut through the layers of marketing hype and flannel, which surround so many whiskies today. He includes bottlings from all over the world, including Scotland, Japan, America, as well as crackers from Sweden, India and Ireland. It is a detailed, yet superbly laid out, easy to understand guidebook to the huge range of flavour and aromas in whisky, which can be a turn off for those not really knowing where to start.
We found ourselves making a little check list of everything we'd tried, but were left positively salivating at the prospect of trying all the others we'd yet to discover.

In short, this book would make an excellent stocking filler for any whisky lover, especially those who are beginning their perilous (yet boozy) journey on the lengthy path to whisky Valhalla. May the drams be with you....always.

Ian has kindly given Caskstrength readers an opportunity to buy copies of '101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die' at the exclusive price of £10.99 (RRP £12.99), which includes free postage and packing (UK Only) Contact:
mailorder@bookpoint.co.uk
and quote CASKSTRENGTH... it's as simple as that.



Next up and another of big, thick slice of world whisky information, from a man who needs little introduction; Mr Dave Broom, owner of fine tweeds, facial hair and, more importantly, a spectacular wealth of knowledge on the finest whiskies known to humanity...and beyond.

Dave has already penned many classics in the world of dark spirits, including tomes on Rum, as well as numerous guides on whisky, including his latest- The World Atlas Of WHISKY...and it's an absolute monster!!



This beautifully put together book is a complete guide to whisky distillation across the globe and includes fascinating insights into over 200 distilleries, as well as 300 different expressions of whisky. Quite how he has found the time to pack as much research into this book is beyond us, but he succeeds and triumphantly moves whisky writing forward to another level, with a wealth of information coming across like a conversation with an old friend. It is worth the RRP of £30, just for his insightful views on Japanese and American whiskies.

To sum up then...absolutely essential reading for those who know their whiskies, but want to become immersed in the spirit even further.

COMPETITION TIME!!

We have ONE copy of Dave Broom's amazing 'World Atlas of WHISKY' to give away to our readers. To enter, please answer the following (simple) question!

How many distilleries are currently in operation on the island of Islay?:

A: 5
B: 7
C: 8

No cheating by using wikipedia either... ;-)


email us at: info@caskstrength.net with your name, age and correct answer and we'll randomly draw one lucky winner from the pot. Competition closes at midnight on the 1st November 2010. Good Luck!

**Dave will also be doing an insightful talk and whisky tasting to promote the release of the book at the Hotel Du Vin in Brighton on the 3rd November. For tickets (£6) contact City Books in Hove on: 01273 725306**

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Roseisle-tinted Glasses



Every day is a school day

This is very much a motto of ours here at Caskstrength.net, so we like to visit as many different distilleries as possible to learn about the making of whisky.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

“If you’ve seen one distillery, you've seen ‘em all”.

Well, you’d be bang wrong.

Yes, most distilleries have the same basic 4 stage set up: milling, washing, brewing and distillation using just the three ingredients: barley, water and yeast. But every distillery we visit teaches us something new about the process, how the distillery achieves its unique New Make characteristics and which variables they choose to manipulate.

Most distilleries have perfected their choice of flavour profile from years and years of practice. (As I write, there is a miniature of Highland Park 18 Year Old sat on my desk. The date on this: 1798. That’s a long time to work out what type of spirit you want to produce) But what happens if you want to build a brand new distillery?

A few months ago we visited Arran, one of the newest in Scotland. Founded in 1995, it has a tiny production run of just 750,000 litres per annum. When designing the still and building the distillery, the folk at Arran chose (and yes, it is a choice) “light, sweet, fruity and grassy” as the profile for their spirit.

This, roughly, seems to be the answer whenever we ask a distiller “if you were to set up a new distillery, what style of New Make would you produce?”. I guess Light and Grassy leads to a spirit which is easier to mature, more reactive to cask enhancement, but also provides good fodder for blends, as most distilleries will be trading casks either for their own blends or for other blends. The Scotch whisky business worldwide is made up of around 93% blended whisky sales, leaving 7% for our beloved Single Malts.

That’s not very much, really.

The last figures I saw had Speyside alone down as producing 162,000,000 litres of alcohol per year, with a total output in Scotland of ~267,000,000 litres of alcohol.

That’s quite a lot.

And if it was all matured and released as Single Malt, we’d be left with companies going bust and mountains of stock no one wanted to drink. The vast majority of this production is going into blends in countries I’ve never heard of, for blends I’ll never see. For example, Diageo’s White Witch blend is the top selling whisky in Narnia, where as Chiva’s Voldemort blend tops the charts in Hogwarts. I read recently that Voldemort, or Lord Voldemort as he became, was the Son of Tom Riddle and Merope Gaunt, Dark Wizard, the last living descendant of Salazar Slytherin, descendant of Cadmus Peverell Slytherin, who owned a grocers in Midlothian and wanted to create a consistent whisky for their customers...

With demand predicted to grow globally for all types of whisky, we have seen expansions of existing premises, such as the opening of a new still house at Glenlivet, designed to meet this forecasted hike in whisky consumption.

And so we find ourselves at Aberdeen airport en route, as a group of around 10 journalists and bloggers, to Diageo's new malt distillery Roseisle.

Located in Speyside, much has been made of this new facility and it is certainly less cosy than Lagavulin, Royal Lochnagar or Glen Kinchie. But Mos Eisley it isn't.

Churning out 10,000,000 ltrs of whisky a year (12.6 mil if they tried really, really hard), the still room has 7 pairs of stills which have been designed with unusual straight sides. Each spirit stills feed into its own spirit receiver for one vital reason: a few of the stills have two different types of condensers attached.

"So what?", I hear you cry.

Well, sit down for today's lesson in distillation: the style and type of condenser has an enormous effect on the weight of the spirit produced.

Traditionally, there have been two main types of condensers used: Shell & Tube and Worm Tub. Shell & Tube condensers means the spirit spends longer in contact with copper and therefore the new make appears light, clean and grassy. With a worm tub, the spirit spends less time in contact with the copper and as such the spirit appears heavier and sulphury. Mortlach and Craggenmore are examples of distilleries with worm tubs.

Attaching both types of condensers to some of the spirit stills means Roseisle has the ability to produce two different styles of New Make. Diageo have been honest in saying that the building of Roseisle increases their volume of Speyside-style malt, vital for blends. And Speyside malt traditionally comes in two styles; light and grassy and heavy and grassy so the ability to produce the two styles of new make, heavy and light, allows Diageo to be more reactive to predicted shifts in the market and consumer flavour profile tendencies.

We were told that what Roseisle is not designed to do is replace any of the current 27 malt distilleries which Diageo owns; each distillery produces an individual style malt which cannot be replicated elsewhere. With the predicted demand worldwide for Scotch, this means all the major companies will need to increase production somewhere, somehow and building a distillery which can add two different styles of Speyside whisky to their blending ability, under one roof, seems like a smart move.

But what of Roseisle as a Single Malt? Well, we'll have to wait a good 10 years plus to find out how that is going to pan out, but the folk at Diageo tell us that, in keeping with their structure of releasing a Single Malt from each of their Malt Distilleries, Roseisle will be no different. What the ultimate house style turns out to be is unknown as yet. Let's have a quick try of their New Make, then:

Roseisle - New Make - unknown ABV

Nose: Once watered down, the nose is clean with some mint, lemon sherbert and a big hit of copper.

Palate: Juicy fruit chewing gum, parma violets and some mint, with delicate limes on the back palate.

Finish: It’s new make, so it’s gone in an instant.

Overall: It's solid new make. We'll have to wait a good deal of time to tell you what it'll be like as a single malt!


Roseisle has a lot of progressive environmental design features, with sustainability the key behind the building and we were talked through all of these complicated energy conservation technologies by Sean Pritchard, the most articulate Swindon Town fan we've ever met and, whisper it, a thoroughly nice bloke. They do exist...

Roseisle is progressive distilling with a commercial hat on, not with an artisinal (straw)hat on. In a way, it is the first post-modern distillery. If you see an old farm distillery, making erratic spirit in the 1800’s as the first wave of distillation. The highly controlled, consistent approach from distilleries in the present day should be classed as modern. Take this control and consistency and adapt it to be able to manipulate the spirit within your own set boundaries and surely you have a step beyond: post-modern.

Building this work-horse of a distillery has cost Diageo somewhere in the region of forty million quid (or 666 cases of Highland Park 50 Year Old) and it won't return this in Single Malt sales.

But, if their accountants are believed to be correct, it will do in sales of Johnnie Walker Red label, Black label, Gold label...

If, God forbid, the accounts have it wrong, I'd recommend to reinvest in shares in Beefeater Restaurants...