Here at Caskstrength, we're most definitely fans of shiny new bits of software and online social networking programs. Twitter? Check. Facebook?...sort of. Myspace? Soooo 2007!
Monday, 31 January 2011
Here at Caskstrength, we're most definitely fans of shiny new bits of software and online social networking programs. Twitter? Check. Facebook?...sort of. Myspace? Soooo 2007!
Friday, 28 January 2011
Don’t be alarmed. It’s not that caststrength.net have opted to balance the sexes by opening the floor up… to a ‘girl’. But I was invited by Neil Caskstrength (my other half) to explain my partial whisky ‘epiphany’ that I had recently experienced.
You see, I’d been asking for a bottle of Auchentoshan Three Wood for a while when Neil Caskstrength presented me with one as a Christmas present last month. This being most unusual for me since I don’t proclaim to be a ‘whisky drinker’, far from it. Over the years I have struggled to enjoy the fine flavours and complexities of whisky on my palate, despite many efforts to overcome this. But there was something different about this Three Wood release when I tasted it last summer at the Taste Of London Festival. Something that actually made me think I could claim this as the one whisky I would like to taste more of and savour on a regular basis.
Auchentoshan - Three Wood - 43%
On first nosing, it seemed so different to the previous drams I’ve tried. Soft, fruity (orange zest, anyone?) and buttery, not that overwhelming kick-back, that a novice whisky drinker senses when approaching a glass. I felt suitably intrigued to go in further and see if this might be something I could enjoy more of. And indeed it was. More of that butter smoothness on first taste, almost a whole Werther’s Original in there, followed by the subtle smoky textures you would expect from a bottle called ‘Three Wood’. Lots of dried fruit notes also grabbed the taste buds, reminding me of some of the Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries I tried on a recent trip to Porto.
Finally, a Whisky I can definitely envisage myself curling up on the sofa with. It’s been a long time coming but well done Auchentoshan, hopefully this will be the turning point for me and I’ll be able to sample a few more from the Caskstrength vaults with a more open mind to see what all the fuss has been about over the last 3 years!!
Our final dram from this wonderful trip has a special resonance for me. In the past year, i've been putting together a list of birthday whiskies, to enjoy with friends on my 40th birthday. Although it's still 5 years away, i'm a bit of a hoarder and I certainly feel like buying a few decent bottlings now, before the price goes through the roof, just in time for all those folks who turn 40 in the same year. So I picked up a bottle of Linlithgow or, using its alternative name, St Magdalene. The distillery, based in the town of Linlithgow, not a million miles from Glenkinchie fell silent in 1983, along with that other long lost great from the Highlands, Brora.
This Murray McDavid 'Mission' bottling was distilled in 1975 and bottled in 2004, making it 29 years old. The last time I tried a St Magdalene/Linlithgow was in a bar in Cape Town and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. I decided to open this now for a sneaky dram, as my curiosity got the better of me. Let's see where it takes us...
St Magdalene - Murray McDavid Mission bottling - Distilled 1975 - bottled 2004 - 46%
Nose: Very dry and grassy at first, but then leading into some quite pronounced floral notes (jasmine, lillies). A hint of dry oak begins to dominate, but with a drop of water, we return to the floral fruitiness with the merest dash of Rowntree's Fruitgums.
Palate: Initially a little bitter, with the oak again taking precedence, but given a few minutes in the glass, this evens out giving more of the Fruitgums, some vanilla sweetness and a dash of green apple skins. Not very developed, but with a bit of vitality hidden away behind a big oak door.
Finish: The palate dries off to a slightly bitter tannic note, with the remnants of the grassy/fruitiness remaining for a short while.
Overall: I can't help but feel a little let down, although it does possess lots of lighter, softer qualities, which are beaten down by the heavy oakiness. I imagine a younger bottling of this would be rather excellent, in a similar fashion to a younger Rosebank, a distillery which, in my opinion also seemingly doesn't age particularly well. Fortunately, I have a trump card up my sleeve when, a few years ago, I bought an extra bottle of The Whisky Exchange's phenomenal SMS 14yo Rosebank, as modelled here by Mrs Ridley. What a corker, eh... ;-)
Wednesday, 26 January 2011
This month, Highland Park are very nearly the first out the traps with their new release of 2011.
Exclusive to Travel Retail (which seems to be a growing trend these days) the Orkney distillery have attempted something a little different with this bottling. It's called Leif Eriksson, after the Icelandic pioneer, who crossed the Atlantic back in the 11th century and settled in Newfoundland and Labrador. (It's also the name of an Interpol track, from their album 'Turn On The Bright Lights')
One wonders whether the 2 settlements were named intentionally after famous dogs, or whether the mighty Leif took a few canine travelling companions along? Perhaps in his spare time between carpentry and occasional pillaging, he was the very first to establish Canada's first version of 'Crufts'? I can understand where Barbara Woodhouse got her confidence from now...
Anyway, The Highland Park Leif Eriksson is a NAS whisky, bottled at 40%, matured wholly in American Oak- both sherry and bourbon seasoned. Where does it sit in comparison to the other HP expressions on the market and more importantly, would Leif proclaim this one a 'Best In Show'?
Palate: Baked, spiced apple, with plenty of butter, a heady dose of aromatic peat, leading into some juicy red berries, tinned peaches and cream and some very subtle notes of some fragrant plums. Very well balanced and, extremely drinkable.
Finish: The plummy notes continue as the palate dries, with lingering peat smoke, but in that gentle, classic floral HP way.
Overall: Whilst we're not particularly fans of the continual trend towards Travel Retail bottlings in general, Highland Park keep making really decent whisky for a very specific market. The vintage bottlings released last February (the 1990, 1994 and 1998) demonstrated how to get the most from the classic house style of HP and the Leif Eriksson, whilst probably not in the same league as the sensational 1990 bottling, stands up firmly and is a welcome addition to the expressions.
Leif would be proud and would no doubt celebrate, by throwing his dogs a slap-up dinner. Maybe even like this one...
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
As you may have seen from our last post, Joel and I were up in the Lowlands recently, experiencing the 2 ends of distillation. From the powerhouse of Cameron Bridge, with its column stills seemingly extending as far as the eye can see, we move on to, what is ironically the distillery with purportedly the tallest pot stills in the business... Glenkinchie!
Thursday, 20 January 2011
The whisky in question is Haig’s Dimple. Not a brand I was overly familiar with, but intriguing none the less. And when a bottle we don’t know a lot about turns up at Caskstrength HQ, we’ll strive to find out about it. Who is this Haig character and where does his whisky come from?
“Every day is a school day” as a wise taxi driver once told me, so we decided to take a trip to Scotland to find out more...
Early on Thursday morning we found ourselves waiting for a flight to Edinburgh, our first trip to the Lowlands. The mission was simple; spend just under 48 hours discovering the Eastern side of the Lowlands (this gives us ample excuse for another trip to Glasgow, to discover the Western side of this once busy region), some of its history, something about Haig and, as always, to visit a couple of new distilleries along the way.
Haig, or Haig & Haig as it states on the underside of my bottle are, it turns out, the oldest distillers of Scotch Whisky on record. In 1655 Robert Haig was charged for breaking Sabbath by distilling on a Sunday.
His son Alexander Haig also appeared in Inland Revenue records for distilling. The family Haig became somewhat of a dynasty within distilling, with one member going on to marry John Jameson, the founder of... yes, you guessed it, Jameson Irish Whiskey. This shows the extent to which the Haig family had immersed themselves into the art of making spirit. It seem that they are truly the Founding Family of Scotch whisky.
Nearly 200 year later, in 1824, John Haig opened the Cameron Bridge Distillery. A landmark achievement in its day as it included the first examples of one of the most important inventions in the world of distillation: the column or continuous still.
Invented by Robert Stein, a cousin of John Haig, the design of this inventive and highly efficient method of grain distillation, it was refined by an Irishman, Aeneas Coffey whose name is often associated with this ‘modern’ type of still.
The Column Still has played a vital role in the development of whisky and other spirits. 92% of whisky sales worldwide are blends, the sales of which keep the market as a whole very much alive. These blends rely on the huge quantity of grain spirit produced by column distillation, meaning grain plays a vital and pivotal role in the Scotch Whisky industry, despite having a reputation for being less artisanal and boutique than whisky produced in a pot still from malted barley.
None of this seemed to worry John Haig. Not only were he and his family established Pot Still distillers, but he was now on course to build Scotland’s biggest distillery. By using the new technology, developed with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, Haig was to push the production of whisky to unprecedented new levels which would impact the industry forever.
Given the importance of the development of column distillation and the history of the Haig family, the bottle of whisky found in my housemates Granddad’s attic is starting to look like a real find. Okay, it was probably made and bottled sometime in the 1960’s (answers on a postcard, please) and the market value of the bottle probably isn’t huge (nothing to worry Richard Patterson and the team at Dalmore about) but Haig and his whisky represents a major corner stone in the history of distillation.
On first sight you’d be forgiven for thinking Cameron Bridge isn’t a distillery. No pretty white-washed walls. No pagodas and not a distillery cat (or dog) in site. Pipes, steam and steel are the order of the day. The site has recently had a facelift. Actually, much more than a facelift... over £105m worth of investment which includes a bio-energy plant that will provide 98% of the power they use. As a whole, the place is producing around 70 million litres of alcohol a year. Phew!
This isn’t all whisky, however. Vodka is made here, as is gin. In fact, the gin is still produced in old pot stills and 100% of the world’s Tanqueray is made at Cameron Bridge. The ‘Tiny 10’ wee pot still, used to distil the botanticals at the heart of Tanq 10 was moved there from Bloomsbury, London after the site it was on was bombed in the Second World War and a dear little thing it is, too.
We were shown around by Catherine Gilbert, who has been overseeing the expansion of the site, owned by Diageo. Cameron Bridge produces 100% grain spirit, with the majority casked, matured and used in blends which appear across the globe. One highlight of our tour was the chance to have a nose of some New Make Grain Whisky and compare it with New Make Malt Whisky:
Nose: Thick rubber bands, glue and pineapple chunks.
New Malt Spirit:
Nose: Green Apple peel, clean cereals, hint of malt extract.
Of the massive output, a tiny amount does make it into a Single Grain Bottling, called Cameron Brig:
Nose: Buttery, Werthers Original note, with a hint of burnt sugar. There is also a whiff of something slightly smoky and spent fireworks.
Palate: Dark brittle caramel, some sweet grain/cereal notes and a hint of vanilla ice cream.
Finish: Dry notes, but with lingering residue of bonfire toffee and the bitter caramel.
Overall: An unusual flavour, esp. If you're used to your grain whiskies a lot older. It is heavy on the toffee/caramel side, lacking the floral/fruity notes of older bottlings, but is enjoyable nonetheless.
But what of our man John Haig? His legacy has been left; a huge mark on the whisky industry and now gin and vodka to boot. What would he think, if he were to be able to come back and see this factory, this Cathedral to distillation, this space-station of a workhouse?
Personally, I think he would smile. Cameron Bridge was, when established, a fantastic achievement of the modern age, manufacturing huge amounts of spirit and bringing the distillery business in line with the rest of industry during the Industrial Revolution. And look where it is now: Scotland’s biggest distillery. John Haig would surely be proud!
Now to raise a glass to Granddad Windle. Rest In Peace. Thanks for the inspiration for this education and, of course the dram...
Nose: The first impression is of spiced apricots. Almost Bombay Mix but with a tangy, fruity nature behind it. Over ripe banana notes then peek through, which grow over time. It seem to me that there is a decent slug of European Oak in here but there is also some energy from the grain whisky which certainly waves its flag from the medley of different aromas. As the nose dies off it leaves behind some fresh mint and a hint of strawberry travel sweet (the ones covered in dusty sugar).
Palate: Banana hits first with a range of different fruits, from pear drops to red cherry dancing about. But not real flavours, again the sort you find in boiled travel sweets. No bitterness, but a touch of sharp, zesty citrus notes which don’t sit brilliantly with the sweetie notes. However, it makes for a more developing and energetic palate, pulling it away from “too sweet, sickly” just at the right point.
Finish: Short, slightly spiced with the lime zest lingering and a hint of liquorice at the death.
Overall: It doesn’t matter when this blend was put together, it is still a No Age Statement Blended whisky and, without knowing how ‘exclusive’ it was when it came out, I didn’t hold much expectation. This more than delivered with a fantastic nose, a suitable palate which was well balanced if not a little unsubtle in moments and a finish that leaves you able to refill and go again pretty quickly. All-round, drinkable and enjoyable.
Sunday, 16 January 2011
Apologies for the lack of posts this week, Joel and myself have been up to the Scottish Lowlands for a little run around the region, stories of which we'll be bringing to you shortly. In the meantime, continuing on from where we left off in our last post, we bring you news of another brand new Irish single malt whiskey, from tiny independents, Inish Turk Beg.
Monday, 10 January 2011
A number of friends of mine always stop drinking temporarily for the month of January.
Thursday, 6 January 2011
Finally, The Ashes is coming to an end. And what a great conclusion it is. If you’re English!
I’m sitting at home, in sight of one of England’s most famous cricket venues, The Oval, which was also the stage for the first ever FA Cup final in 1872, between The Wanderers from Battersea who beat The Royal Engineers 1-0 in front of 2000 people. Two years later, the losers from the first final were again beaten, this time 2-1 by Oxford University. Not quite Oxford United, but we might claim this for our trophy cabinet...
As I sit here with my dram, BBC’s Test Match Special on the wireless and a stream of the TV broadcast from some dodgy site in God-Knows-Where, myself and my housemate have been playing a new game: whisky related cricketers. So far we’ve come up with:
I thank you!
Any one for any more? I think it is time to tweet @TMSproducer with this as an idea for a rain-delay topic...
The choice for this evenings (celebratory) whisky is the sister bottling of a much lauded dram from 2010 and a BIG Award finalist, Glenfarclas 40 Year Old, but this time we’re saving ourselves 15 years, with the Glenfarclas 25 Year Old, my “splash-out” bottling for Christmas. Thankfully, I have just enough left for it to see my through the last 3 wickets. Hopefully....
I’m often confused by the ‘farcals bottling. Not the stuff inside, but the tube which proclaims “Single Highland Malt” despite certainly being a Speyside whisky... odd.
Nose: Wonderful butterscotch with vibrant notes of apple & cider sauce. With time, the sherry notes of rich fruitcake and dark, polished woods emerge but always backed with juicy, green apple notes and sweet sugared tea. Really tempting and complex. Vanilla appears with a long time in the glass.
Palate: Vanilla and strawberry notes tingle the tongue and as the spirit gives off the fruit notes, it is underpinned with dark wood dryness, a hint of dark chocolate and some coffee notes.
Finish: Even and rounded. The age gives just enough dusty, sandy notes with some of the apple from the nose spiking through, but also the rich vanilla, strawberry, some apricots and finally the subtle wood notes.
Overall: Currently sitting somewhere around £85 a bottle (eighty five quid a bottle!), this is a super dram at a super price. Wonderfully smooth and rounded, if you can level an accusation against this whisky, it’s probably that it is too easy to drink for a 25 year old sherried whisky. With a whisky this age, you almost want something that provides greater complexity. But at this price point, who cares?!
As the rain comes tumbling down, not only here in Central London, but also in Sydney, I’m off to think up some more whisky / cricketer puns. Now, who is this chatting away on the radio? Oh, its Auchentoshan Warne.
I’ll get my coat.
Wednesday, 5 January 2011
Well, there we have it. Caskstrength, what started out as a bit of a hobby and turned into a major obsession has now reached its 3rd birthday. In the 3 years we've been operating, we've made a load of great friends, tasted some exceptional whisky and visited some truly memorable places.
Many thanks to the indefatigable Timmy Mallett for his time and to our good friend Nat for pulling the whole thing together- rest assured, a few decent drams were enjoyed afterwards!