Wednesday, 29 December 2010
Sunday, 26 December 2010
Yesterday, Christmas Day, was a joy. Neil drew the long straw and got to write a post up on The Dalmore EOS from his Christmas getaway, a house built in 1859. Yet here I am, sat in an even older building (that makes it better, right? Because it is older?) with parts dating back to 1650, an open fire spewing out heat to combat outside temperatures of -14 Degrees C and some fantastic whisky to consume over the Seasonal Break. Yet something inside me doesn't want to write this review at all.
“Why?” I hear you cry. “Tasting whisky and writing about it. Who wouldn't want to do that?”
Well, this post is sweet and sour. It almost writes itself, yet the tasting notes section... that is not going to be easy. For today I venture in to 4 different Australian Single Malt Whiskies.
With Boxing Day comes many excellent sporting events. Today here in the UK, many people, including myself, would be venturing out in the sub-zero conditions to watch a match of Association Football. Sadly, the weather has hit hard and most of the games are off, including two in the Premiership. You’d think the richest league in the world would be able to beat off the frost, but as King Canute proved, no matter how rich or influential one is, you can not control Mother Nature.
The weather is very different Down Under where England and Australia are battling it out to see who can lay claim to The Ashes, one of Sports oldest and greatest contests and it appears that the Boxing Day Sales have started in Melbourne, with 10 Aussie wickets for just 98 runs....* Last night I stayed up until the lunch break, that’s 1.30am British Time, to watch the first period of play and boy, was it good. 4 wickets before lunch and when I woke this morning, an England victory looks on the cards and along with it, The Ashes themselves.
If you’re one of our many foreign readers and you’re wondering what the hell I’m going on about, all you need to know is that we have a game that is 5 days long and based around Lunch and Tea. What could be finer that that? Baseball, my arse...
With The Ashes test underway, what better excuse to try these Single Malt samples we have been kindly sent by a reader from New South Wales. Gregg Donovan, stand up and take a bow.
First up is Bakery Hill. Gregg writes “BH is my fav in AUS & I buy the Peated Malt Cask Strength often (60%). I have sent you samples of the one mentioned above & the Classic Malt Cask Strength as well (60.5%)”.
Right, time to tuck in to these two, then!
Nose: Uncooked sour dough, malt, weetabix and milk. A hint of dark brown sugar, developing in to brown bread.
Palate: Strong and malty, the weetabix notes from the nose expand on the palate to give good flavour and lots of attitude. With water, the subtle notes of toasted oats and marzipan come through.
Finish: Lively and electric which, when water is added mellow out to leave more wheat and oats with just a hint of liquorice and some salt.
Overall: An incredibly drinkable malt (when cut down with water) which would give any Scotch a run for its money. I’d like to try a well aged version, as this tastes a little on the young side, but the youth it retains gives it the lightness and the energy to explode some fantastic flavours on the palate. A great start to my Australian Malt adventure!
Nose: A youthful peated note jumps out the glass at you. At a guess, I’d venture this is 5 – 7 years old and still quite spirit. A hint of banana milkshake mixed with toffee is present.
Palate: A big peat hit smothers your tongue and then Werthers Original come through, with a burnt toast backings. With Water: the smoke is dulled. In fact, it is almost gone completely. The vanilla is enhanced and the oats jump out much more.
Finish: Burnt smoke, cream and toffee again. With water, the whole effect is softened and dulled.
Overall: I’m really disappointed with this dram, given the quality of their first offering. Not a patch on anything you’d find from Islay, Orkney, Skye or elsewhere in Scotland. Much more work needed to make this the malt that it could be.
Next up is Limeburners, from Western Australia. Gregg: “I’ve sent you a sample of the ‘Barrel M23’ (61%) They’ve won some awards for this & Jim Murray gave this barrel a pretty good wrap.”
A little bit of research show that this company run a small, boutique distilling operation in Western Aus, making Vodka, Gins and Whisky. It looks as if all their output from whisky is in Single Cask form and it isn’t cheap (between $125 - $200 Aussie Dollars, about £100+, for bottles). Made in copper pot stills inspired by the shape of Scottish pot stills (they won’t say which ones), their first whisky was released in 2008.
Nose: Rich and powerful, this evokes apricots resting in a rich syrup, some Christmas cake, a hint of rum and some vanilla ice cream. A really great nose.
Palate: Wow, the first hit is of rich dark chocolate covered cherries. As it sits on the palate, some rich oak develops; all those classic flavours of polished wood and church pews. But newer, not so old. More reproduction that actual antique. The apricots are still there, big time. Punchy with a BIG flavour. Adding water brings out additional sweetness, like honey in yoghurt. This needs ever such a light drop of water.
Finish: Rich oak notes, stewed apricots (there is a theme here) and rum and raisin ice cream.
Overall: Phew! This has bags and bags of personality. I’m not sure this will be to everyone’s taste, as the flavours are so rich and concentrated, which can become too sweet with the addition of water, but I like it. I like the fact it will divide people and that is more up front than Katie Price. This distillery seems to be doing something right and it will be interesting to see how their spirit develops with age. I feel this could be excellent stuff given 10 – 20 years in the cask to mature and round off the puppy-dog like energy that it has at present.
Finally, we come to the last sample, Sullivans Cove. Gregg writes “I’ve sent you a sample of their Rare Australian Double Cask” (Bourbon and Port Oak), 40%. They are one of the more popular distilleries down here and are based in Tasmania, so I thought I better represent.”
Right, let’s dig in to this:
Nose: A few underlying fruit notes of passion fruit and wisp of vanilla, but the over riding aroma is oats and barley. Pretty nondescript, really.
Palate: Smooth, but with little personality over and above the wheaty, oaty flavours. Like a supermarket own highland Scotch, this gives very little in the way of notes other than to say there are some mandarin flavours and a touch of peach melba if you really look hard for them.
Finish: Fades quicker that the Aussie tail. Same notes as the nose and the palate. But very easy to drink.
Overall: We’re used to anything branded Australian as a mark of extreme personality, but this is just, well, dull. It isn’t bad. In fact, it is very easy to drink. But it is boring and uninteresting. *yawn*
As I draw my Boxing Day post to a close, it’s clear that there are some excellent malts being made Down Under and I had nothing to fear from the tasting. How much of it will ever reach the UK shores is unclear, given their price point and the fact we’re yet to even adjust to the influx of Japanese whisky. But I would encourage you, if you find yourself in the Southern Hemisphere, give some of the Oz Malts a go. They have a much more promising future than Ricky Ponting.
*apologies to BBC Test Match Special
Saturday, 25 December 2010
You catch me, typing briskly, pre Christmas dinner, after a bracing walk in West End woods, just near Esher. Myself and Mrs Caskstrength are visiting my Godmother for the day and I thought it sensible to bring a few drams with us, should we get caught short. We very nearly didn't make it back from the woods, as our car found it very difficult to negotiate the ice covered hill from the car park and I must thank the 4-5 passers by who came to our aid!
Thursday, 23 December 2010
Distilleries are getting smarter. They understand the power of social networking and nearly every distillery has a great website with a chance to join some sort of "club" for unique offers, news stories and other general entertainment.
Their lists of competitions open to members is also becoming increasingly interesting, focusing in on opportunities for people from all over the world to visit and, in some cases, work at a distillery.
The Glenrothes Distillery is currently running their Whisky Maker competition and earlier in the year, Bushmills ran the Make It At Bushmills competition to give the chance for one winner to work a the Distillery with the ultimate goal of creating their own whiskey.
I was lucky enough, along with singer-songwriter Foy Vance and the Irish Rugby Legend that is Keith Wood, to help judge the competition. The winner was a Bulgarian chap called Ivan, so we got him to write us a blog post about his time at the Distillery and what it was like to make his own whiskey.
"“Winning Make it at Bushmills was one of the best things that has ever happened to me! On the day when it announced who would be the finalist from Bulgaria at the Global Final, I was working as a Life Guard and I didn't have my phone on the beach. Bushmills called me 15 times to try and tell me that I was the Bulgarian finalist and decided to give me one last chance to answer…luckily I heard the phone ringing through the door as I was coming home and rushed to answer it. The news that I would be going to the Bushmills Distillery was a great early birthday present for me as I turned 28 two days later!
The feeling of winning something like Make it at Bushmills against such strong competition is unbelievable! It’s like applying for your dream job with thousands of people from all over the world and they choose you above all!! When I got home to Bulgaria after Bushcamp [the worldwide final of the competition, held at the Bushmills Distillery] I was already famous. I was all over the news - every major newspaper had an article about me and I started giving lots of interviews for all kinds of media.
When I went back to Northern Ireland to take up my dream prize, I received rock star treatment. I was picked up from the airport and driven to an awesome huge luxury penthouse apartment which would be my home for the next 30 days. Also the distillery set me up with a car, phone, laptop and camera. I couldn't wait to meet Colum Egan, the Distillery Manager, the Distillery Director Gordon, the Distilling Manager Darryl and the rest of my new family at Bushmills. The first day was overwhelming. Colum giving me the famous red shirt that everybody who works at the distillery wears. It was an epic moment. I then spent lots of time meeting basically everybody who works at the distillery!
I spent my 30 days at Bushmills working in different departments to see all of the stages of the whiskey making process. It gave me a great understanding of the magic of making Bushmills - I felt so lucky to have such an incredible opportunity.
I also went to Cork to learn how barley is converted into malt. I was very impressed by the complexity and the size of the process! Now I fully understand the big difference between barley and malted barley and how important it is in whiskey making.
The Bushmills Master Distiller, Colum Egan saved the best for last. As I had proved that I could ‘Make it at Bushmills’, I was given the unique chance to make my own kind of Bushmills Whiskey. What an honor! It took me two days of walking from cask to cask, from warehouse to warehouse, restless, tasting and smelling all of the liquids to choose which ones I would blend together to make my whiskey.
On the eve of the day when I would finally create my whiskey, Colum invited me and my brother (he got to join me for a few weeks as part of my prize) for a dinner where we met his family and his dog called Whiskey (I wonder why?). This meant a lot. Family is so important to me and Colum introducing me to his made me feel very special. We had a fantastic time and it gave me new confidence in my task!
I confided in Colum that the whiskies that I had chosen had the Bushmills character, but I wanted to add something that reminded me of ME in it. He introduced me to his very special reserve of whiskies to see if they had the character that I was looking for. I chose an 18 Year Old Single Malt Whiskey, aged in a cognac cask and never used in a Bushmills Whiskey before. When I smelt it, I knew right away that this is it! It reminded me of home – fresh and rich ingredients and such a full and long lasting flavor, so I knew this would be the secret weapon in my quest for my perfect whiskey!
At times, I will struggle with Bushmills. Not necessarily the whiskey, but the branding. Sometimes a blend, sometimes a single malt. I wish they'd find a different brand to house their grain and malt mix under. Anyway, we recently reviewed their 21 Year Old which was good, but not mind blowing. Getting to know this range a little more this year, the stand out whisky for me is this 16 Year Old.
Nose: Deep in colour, this is transferred to the nose with rich wood spices, some cinnamon and orange zest. A hint of clove mixes with some fresh green herbs and a touch of spearmint.
Palate: The wood effect on the palate is not drying but creates a mouth-coating whiskey which gives off some stewed red summer fruits, but tempered with a subtlety that doesn't scream "SHERRY CASK!!" in your face at the top of its voice, yet whispers it, probably a bit too quietly, in your ear. It gets its point across, but maybe needs to be a bit more passionate about it.
Finish: There is a distinctive Bushmills finish to this whiskey. Slightly spicey, smooth and just a hint of kumquat.
Overall: A solid whiskey and the pick of their regular releases.
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
With less than a week to go, only a crazy person would leave buying their christmas presents till the 11th hour. And yet, as every Christmas that goes by, I always find myself in exactly the same position, thinking that everything will be ok, once I venture onto the streets of Central London for a few hours of 'gifting'. I sort of pulled it off this year, but then the weather turned and I had to beat a hasty retreat before I was marooned with all the all the other crazy people, their faces covered with that familiar, mildly panicked look that only number of last minute rash purchases can cure.
Monday, 20 December 2010
I was with some friends recently and over a few festive drams, we discussed the 'aesthetic' of the whisky bottle. I don't know if this is just me, (or if i'm just plain weird) but every time I see a new bottle design, I kind of see the shape of a person in it.
Saturday, 18 December 2010
Not a time to be out shopping. Not a time to be out doing anything at all, really. This is a time to call up on local friends, put on a pot of hot chocolate and dig in to some festive viewing.
For me, this consists of as much James Bond, 007, as played by Roger Moore, as possible. Classic films. Classic lines. (“Put your clothes on, Love. I’ll buy you an ice cream.”) Classic fashion. No man can wear a safari suit quite like Roger Moore.
Before I start sounding like Alan Partridge (possibly the greatest clip we’ve ever linked to) there are many, many Christmas classics and one which I know a lot of people will love at this time of year is The Sound Of Music.
From watching The Sound Of Music this weekend, it has come to my attention that the von Trapp family were indeed the world’s first drinks critics and were trying to send home a message of their tasting notes for the locally produced Austrian spirit, through the lyrics of one of their most famous songs, These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things:
Nose: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings.”
Palate: “Cream coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels, door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.”
Finish: “Girls in a white dresses with a blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs”
Overall: “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favourite things, and then I don't feel so bad.”
Judging by their overall comment, one would imagine this to a be peated spirit with a high alcohol content, giving a “bite” and a “sting” to the experience of the dram. My advice; drop in a little water...
None of this has anything to do with where I’m going next, which is to write up some of the notes I tweeted on Monday from a wonderful Laphroaig tasting at The Whisky Exchange’s shop in London, hosted by Distillery Manager John Campbell.
The tasting featured a whopping eight whiskies, starting with the 10 Year Old, then Batch 1 & Batch 2 of the 10 Year Old Cask Strength. You’ll notice, three whiskies in, that we’re still on their 10 year olds. Big smile. Onwards the selection went to the Quarter Cask, the Triple Wood (Travel Retail Only), the 18 Year Old, Cask Strength 25 Year Old and finally a 30 Year Old Cairdeas.
We’ve reviewed much of this before and it can all be found at (the soon to be updated) Caskstrength Warehouse. In summary, the 10 year old was excellent as always. Like visiting an old friend; solid and reliable. The Quarter Cask: in our opinion, is better than the 10 Year Old. The whisky that goes in to it is apparently between 5 and 7 years old. Age matters, huh? The 18 Year Old: is it as good as the 15 Year Old used to be? I don’t know, I can’t really remember the 15 Year Old too well. But this does an ample job in providing a whisky with more depth of wood character, a greater spice presence and depth of flavour than the 10 Year Old. The Cask Strength 25 Year Old I wasn’t a fan of. I found it had too much bitterness and the smoke hadn’t mellowed, but had become faintly annoying and stale. It also fell apart with water.
The were however, two outstanding bottles, both at the opposing end of the age scale. And the price scale.
Nose: Huge wafts of peat smoke but with this being a Laphroaig, there are the classic elements of bandages, TCP and liniment. But this is backed with a very “lowland in American oak” feel: slight hints of ginger and vanilla oak. Tempting.
Palate: A fresh fruity nature that goes from being tinned fruit salad (neat) to something more akin a home-made smoothy using the fruit in the bowl that is on the turn, but you’ve not got enough smoothy to go around the family, so you water it down very heavily! Plus a bit hit of peat, of course. The fire from the peat keeps this one lingering on and on.
Finish: Lots of great wood; spices and oak. A hint of hazelnut praline and of course, loads of smoke!
Overall: Side-by-side with Batch 001, this wins hands down. Having said that, I think I’d still rather have a bottle of the Bowmore Tempest, but that is a side-by-side that we’ll look to do in the very near future and we’ll do it blind.
Cairdeas is a brand that has been developed to sell in to Friends of Laphroaig as well as Travel Retail and Festival Bottlings. Basically, it is their “Ultra Premium” or “Ultra Rare” range. This bottle has spent 30 Years in Oloroso Sherry and 1 Year in ex-American Oak casks, technically making it a 31 Year Old. You can watch a video of a warehouse tasting of this whisky here.
Nose: Ahhhh... there is that medicinal peat smoke, but aged and restrained by the influence of the wood. Like Ryan Giggs, a football who used to rely on blistering pace but due to age has become a more tempered player, happy to linger on the ball and pick out stunning passes. This is a mature nose with elements of menthol, not medicine. Peaches, not peat. Soft, inviting and warming.
Palate: The influence of the sherry has imparted stewed plumbs, apple chutney and cloves. All wrapped up in that delicate peat blanket.
Finish: Just enough flavours of spice apple and stewed red fruits to compete with that delicate peat hit. Well balanced and warming.
Overall: In this whisky, we see just how well peated whisky can age. When wood spices, sherry and peat smoke combine with maturity, it can be unstoppable.
It’s been a while since we’ve done a flight of Laphroaig and is something we usually do when on Islay, so it made a refreshing change to sit down with these old friends just a few miles from home. It is also fantastic to be re-visiting some of the whisky that we used to review a lot of in the early days, such as the Ardbeg posting from last week and in a few days time we’ll be looking at a Talisker vertical, which is yet another blast from the past!
Merry Christmas, one and all.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
Recently, I was going through the cabinet at Caskstrength towers, wondering whether I should categorise all the bottles into their respective regions. I'd seen my pal do this and create a rather fetching leather-bound menu, which I liked the look of. So like trying to order one's music collection into genres (which starts out like fun, only to descend into absolute misery)
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Monday, 13 December 2010
Sometimes, great ideas just present themselves, rising out of tragedy, misfortune and accident. And Glenfiddich's new release Snow Phoenix typifies this sort of thing down to a T.
Palate: Immediate creamy cereal notes, masses of light orchard fruit, hints of dried apricots, followed by light caramel and delicate vanilla. The mouthfeel with the vanilla mousse was sublime.
Finish: Lingering fresh fruits fade into those of the dried variety (more apricots) and also mango.
Overall: Very different to what I imagined. The lighter styles of whisky have definitely taken the high ground here and this is a whisky which doesn't feel that wintery at all. In fact, it could easily work in the middle of summer, paired with a seasonal fruit compote or salad. Expert whisky making all round from Glenfiddich and at around £49, very affordable for a limited edition bottling. Whilst we don't usually draw much attention to the packaging, the box which this comes with looks great.
Let's hope that this doesn't happen....