Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Friday, 26 November 2010
Monday, 22 November 2010
As winter wraps its chilling cloak around us, a trip to the seaside probably isn't up there on everyone's to do lists. However last week, we were invited to Brighton's Hotel Du Vin, home to the south east's Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms to sample several of their new bottlings.
As the evening drew to a close, it was clear that the SMWS continue to knock out excellent bottlings quicker than South East Rail can get you from Brighton to London. And nearly always at a reasonable price to their members. The pick of the bunch from this lot was the 26.68 and we happily took a hip flask full as preparation for the train ride home.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Imagine my delight when Mr Postman turns up one morning this week with a package. Too small to be a full bottle but too big to contain a sample, I tore the jiffy bag open to find what can only be described as a small metal lunchbox with a window in the lid, housing a miniature of the new Balblair 2000. A small press releases fell from what remained of the envelope informing me that this was the latest in Balblair’s Vintage Expressions.
As I opened the metal box which held the miniature in place, there was a further piece of literature in side (or should I say “marketing”?), a fold out document to remind us exactly what happened in the year 2000, and I’ve scanned this in for your pleasure here:
- The last Mini being produced at Longbridge. This was a signal of things to come for the Longbridge plant which closed in 2005, leaving more than 6,000 workers unemployed.
- The Millennium Dome opened and, as observed by the leaflet, closed a year later.
- The Queen Mum turned 100. She’s now dead.
- People had Millennium parties worldwide. I know of not one person who really, thoroughly enjoyed themselves that night. And technically they were celebrating in 1999.
- The Tate Modern Opened. Yes, now we’re flying! A true, stick-on positive from the year 2000.
All of this just leaves me wanting Balblair to release a 1939 bottling, with a leaflet featuring such highlights as:
- The outbreak of World War 2.
- Albert Einstein writing to President Roosevelt about developing the Atomic Bomb.
- Marvin Gaye was born.
Balbliar – 2000 – 1st release – 43%
Ex-Bourbon Oak Cask, £31.50 RRP, very pale in colour
Nose: Vanilla, green apple, pear drops and some lemon and lime notes. This is creamy and very indicative of 100% American oak barrels. A little weak and slightly too sweet for me.
Palate: Honey, heather and delicate white flowers; this gives sweetly to the palate like a dusted boiled sweet. The sweetness dissipates quickly to leave the juicy notes of pineapple juice and freshly squeezed apple juice behind.
Finish: a touch of honeysuckle, some more vanilla and custard notes, this time with lavender. White chocolate. Short.
Overall: I didn’t think I was going to like this as from the nose I thought it would be a little insipid and too weak in flavour, but it has a lot of positives to make this a decent whisky at a decent price. It’ll get hammered by those who love their sherried whisky, but it holds a good place if you like a sweet, vanilla and honey tone to your dram as it comes across much more like a delicate Lowland than a Highland beast. It wouldn’t make it into my top 5 whiskies under £35, but it might make it in to the top 15.
I think Inverhouse (who also own Old Pultney, anCnoc and Speyburn) should be applauded for the direction they are taking Balblair in. Vintage-only is a great way to platform this brand as a Premium Single Malt, but with price tags that certainly are not. I hope that this continues as the brand grows and that the quality of the liquid inside their bottles matches the high standards they have set themselves for image.
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
As many eagle eyed regulars on here will remember, we're pretty big fans of Johnnie Walker's Gold Label blend. It ticks almost every box- finesse, price, versatility and all-round, solid blending. However, we've had mixed feelings about its more expensive brother, the Blue Label. In some areas, it often felt like it was missing something, that extra sparkle that one would expect for a whisky in its price bracket. I first encountered Blue Label at a restaurant in Cape Town- for the surprisingly generous sum of £7 for a dram. Needless to say, I enjoyed it, but still my mind returned to the half drunk bottle of Gold, sitting in my cabinet at home.
Friday, 12 November 2010
Is it the uber-talented but "haunted by demons" footballer-par-excellence George Best, whose name now graces Belfast’s City Airport?
Or perhaps it is the DeLorean? The car made famous in the Back-To-The-Future trilogy, now derided for its utter uselessness and total inability to do anything, let alone take us back in time, or indeed to deliver us back, to the future.
Or maybe its good old, simple terrorism. Can't find a bin to put your chewing gum in on the tube? These were removed in the 1980’s due to the ease with which bombs could be hidden in them. Ah, the days when terrorists would phone ahead. Now-a-days the 'phone is used to set off the bomb, not to warn against it. How times have changed.
It could well be Bushmills whiskey. Known worldwide, it even made its way in to the popular American TV drama The Wire, where McNulty accuses Bushmills of being "Protestant whiskey". Classically ill-educated, this comment seemed to capture a time when the American culture, under the misguidance of George W Bush, not only used religion to degrade, but insisted on giving inanimate objects religious affectation. It's just whiskey, people. Try enjoying it for its taste and flavour, not for where it is made. Go, figure...
But if Bushmills is to be Protestant, then Master Distiller Colum Egan is their Martin Luther, drawing a new path for his whiskey in a market where ever-increasingly expensive bottles equates to column inches for whichever distillery is next in the line with their "indulgence"... £100,000 Dalmore Trinitas for absolution, anyone? I'll take two. One for now, one for my future sins.
Back in September, I had the pleasure of jumping on the 159 bus to an event hosted by Bowmore, where Islay was "recreated" in the National Geographic Store on Regent Street, taking all the stress (and most of the fun) out of travelling to Islay.
Well, someone is at it again. This time it was the turn of Bushmills, probably the most famous export from Northern Ireland, to try and bring a little piece of their country to The Big Smoke. And what better venue, than an Irish bar in Soho.
This is a far cry from mid-August, when I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Bushmills for a couple of days work. I was there as one of three judges, under the guise of running a whisky blog and as a contributor to Whisky Magazine, on their Make It At Bushmills project: a master-stroke in PR which invited people from around the world to win a vote to represent their nation on a three-day final at Bushmills. The ultimate prize was £5000 spending money, a months work experience at the distillery and, best of all, the chance to make and bottle their own blend under the guidance of the Master Blender Helen Mulholland.
The winner, Ivan, was from Bulgaria and after his month of training, I wouldn't be surprised to see a triple distilled whisky falling on my doormat from Bulgaria in 3 or 4 years time!
Yet here we are back in rainy London. And this time the people of Bushmills came to visit us!
Nose: A fresher nose than expected from a 21 Year Old, with hints of oak and apricot jam, the nose develops with time to raisins soaked in sherry, a touch of fresh mint, some green tea and fresh green herbs. All round refreshing for an older whisky.
Palate: Initial hit of dark chocolate but a low coco content version with develops in to strong toffee notes and eventually ends up as Dandelion & Burdock with an over tone of Wurthers Originals. Sweet but rounded off with good wood spices which are subtle and delicate.
Finish: Coffee notes which come through with quite a bitter edge. Roasted hazelnuts and pickled walnuts with oatcakes and plum chutney. Some cloves and spices.
Overall: This is a solid Irish whisky which is not as sweet as other Madeira finished whisk(e)y that I have had in the past. The nose is wonderful and the palate is well constructed, but for me the finish is lacking the poise and character of the other two sections. It would also have been nice to see this whisky at 43% or even 45% ABV. I’ll stick my neck out and say that the 16 Year Old is their best and most consistent whiskey, but the 21 is not far behind.
All in, I can not fault the Bushmills experience. Part of their raison d'etre is to go from grain to glass at the distillery, with malting, distillation and bottling side-by-side. Having visited and seen some of the guys again in London last week, they not only manage to get the grain into the glass, but the spirit of the distillery too.
Protestant? This stuff is positively Evangelical.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
What’s the most difficult thing about being in a band?
Is it learning to play your instrument?
Is it writing some hit songs?
Maybe it is your image. Working a natural style that no one has had before. Iconic yet easy. Surely, that must be it?
The hardest thing about being in a band is, of course, finding a band name.
You can pour for hours over a copy of The Racing Post, mixing horses’ names with greyhounds. Today alone you could form a band called “Somewhere In Atlanta” or “Big Man Little Man”. Both names, I’m sure you will agree, of bands destined to stay playing in their local pub for the rest of eternity.
Another option is to use a website such as Random Band Name Generator. A genius idea for the ultra-lazy creative, the site gives you an option for a key word and away you go.
Our first effort yielded the following results:
Serious Of The Colony / Dart Verbal / Earl Of The Effect / Lovely Fetus / Ruthless Storm / Chafing Transport And The Wood / Pivotal Candle / Introduction Of The Lipstick / Bending Uranium And The Misspent Spoon / Dumpy Of The Fetal
Honestly. This is all true.
Now, transpose this problem to producing and marketing your own blend.
What is the hardest thing about putting together a blend?
Is the hardest thing getting hold of interesting, quality casks of good single malts?
Is it working out, drop by drop, which of the subtle flavours to mix together to produce the ideal blend?
Clearly, the hardest thing to do is to choose a great name for your blend. A task made even harder if you're not Scottish (no traditional Celtic imagery to call upon) or if your Great-Great-Great-Great Granddaddy didn’t own a grocers in Kilmarnock...
Well, step up to the plate Compass Box and take a bow for your wonderfully named blends:
Flaming Heart / The Peat Monster / Hedonism / Asyla / Lady Luck / Double Single.
All wonderful names, with fantastic bottles and lovely artwork (esp Lady Luck)
But we’re not here to talk about the quality of the packaging. I’ll leave that to other blogs. Let’s take a look at their whisky to see if it is equally as wonderful:
Seriously, though. Check out that bottle shot. Beautiful.
This whisky has been brought out to celebrate 10 Years of Compass Box; two single casks, one malt, one grain. The malt is 18 Year Old Glen Elgin (which makes up 76% of the bottling) from a refill American Oak Hogshead and the grain is 21 Year Old Port Dundas from a First Fill American Oak Hogshead. Openness and honesty about your blend? That’s surely the way forward. Keeping it all hidden just makes us feel Blue.
Nose: Sweet kiwi fruit, a hint of banana, some pineapple and a touch of butter scotch. Light and well balanced.
Palate: Lots of hazelnuts and butter, with a hint of vanilla and grapefruit juice at full strength. With water the gentle pineapple notes are pushed through with wood / oak notes coming much more to the fore.
Finish: Crème Brulee and grapefruit juice neat, with water the finish is more pronounced vanilla pods and oak spices with hint of ginger
Overall: A very delicate, very easy to drink blend that used the Port Dundas grain to provide a launch pad for the refill Hoggy Glen Elgin to show off it’s butterscotch and grapefruit identity.
Now on to the second whisky we have from Compass Box, also to celebrate their 10th Anniversary.
Again, look at the label. If I drank a whole bottle of this on my own, I’d fall into a tattooist and get this label as a tat on my arm. It is simply stunning.
7 single malt whiskies from the Highlands and Islands, including something from near Brora, something from near Caol Ila and something from the Isle of Mull...!
Nose: This whisky gives a real kick of smoke but backed with a richness and wisdom to not kick you in the teeth completely; kinda like Marianne Faithful, this whisky has seen a lot but has ultimately come out the other end richer for the experience with a real story to tell. There is everything going on in this nose. Smoke, walnuts, some juicy fruit chewing gum, baked potato, rich Christmas cake. It’s really very complex without screaming at you.
Palate: Earthy and salty gives way to an amazing rich brandy butter palate which dances around your palate with exciting verve and vigour grabbing cinnamon and cloves as it moves. A wonderfully rich mouth feel. Sweet and rounded with good hit of peat. Lovely, yet totally different to anything I’ve had in a while.
Finish: Red apples, peat and, yup more peat. Once the fire dies down there is some salt and red grapes. Long and warming.
Overall: This is how a blend should be: full of lots of different personalities. Too many blends are like a Mondrian painting for me, just blocks of different colours. This is a Jackson Pollock. Vibrant and unusual, yet somehow beautiful and structured.
There we have it. Compass Box deliver once more. Two very different blends, but suited to very different occasions. For me the pick of the two is Flaming Heart, a bottling which such a small company delivers with amazing consistency. The Double Single is light and delicate and the perfect pre-dinner whisky, but for the full impact of flavours and to totally confuse your senses, grab yourself a bottle of the Flaming Heart 10th Anniversary while you can!
As for me... I’m off to get a tattoo.
Friday, 5 November 2010
Whisky in 3D? surely not??
So far, we've only seen one movie in the "new 3D" format at the cinema: Toy Story 3.
Proclaimed by Mark Kermode as "the greatest film trilogy of all time", it really did come to life and brought a whole new dimension to cinematic story-telling.
Never ones to be left behind by technology, here at Caskstrength.net, we're finally entering the 3D world!
Well sort of. Instead of just the regular 2D 'here's-our-thoughts-on-a-whisky' posts, we've decided to launch our first official 'in-the-flesh' Caskstrength tasting.... and we want you to come along....
On St Andrews Day, (Tuesday 30th November) we will be hosting a fabulous tasting in London with some of the good folk from The Glenlivet. The venue will be:
15 Eccleston Street,
Belgravia, SW1W 9LX
Along with The Glenlivet's Brand Ambassador Phil Huckle, We'll be going through some excellent examples from The 'livet catalogue for your delectation and delight... and something really very interesting and slightly mysterious too...
There are 15 places up for grabs here- If you’d like to join us, it couldn't be simpler.
Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org saying:
“Me, please. I’d like to come along and drink some Glenlivet with you.”
And it gets better. If you can't make it into London, Fear not. Our friends at Edinburgh Whisky Blog will be hosting a similar Glenlivet tasting up in their home town, on the same night!!
A few house rules first, however:
1.You must be over the age of 18 Years and state your Date Of Birth in the email. (pretty obvious this one)
2.You must be able to get to the venue for 6pm on 30th November. We will be starting promptly!
3. This is a free event and we'll be drawing 15 names from a hat next Friday 12th November, so get emailing now...!
Neil + Joel
Thursday, 4 November 2010
Howdy- firstly thanks to all of you who entered the competition to win a copy of Dave Broom's excellent Encyclopedia Of Whisky. We were totally inundated with entries and caskstrength towers is now littered with thin slips of paper, of which we picked one lucky winner from our prize Top Hat.