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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Post Christmas Blues?



Since arriving back at Caskstrength towers last night, I've found the hallowed halls a tad drafty after the near stifling conditions that seem to come hand in hand with one's parental homes. I recently found out that incredibly, my parents keep the heating on in bloody July! It was like a sauna in December, lord knows how anything survives during the summer...

So after apologising for this shameful display of global-warming-neglect i'm going to turn the thermostat down a notch and huddle up under a blanket with two wonderful presents I received to even things up.

Firstly, as most of you know, both Joel and I are huge Alan Partridge fans; so much so that we once endeavoured to have a back-to-back Partridge'athon with all three TV series, plus the wonderful bite-sized selection of Mid-Morning Matters episodes courtesy of the Fosters Lager comedy shorts.



Mrs Caskstrength bought me the 'autobiography' of the great man to read over Christmas and so far, I haven't been able to put it down, save for eating another plate of turkey meat or sweatily removing my new Christmas jumper because of the heating. If you're not familiar with Partridge, you must from a foreign land, or just plain idiotic. If either applies, here's a video to help realise his comedy genius:



And to wash down this finely made trifle of comedy a dram of something equally tasty: the new Elements Of Islay 'Kh1' (or Kilchoman for those who don't speak Periodic.)

Speciality Drinks have really taken the whole Periodic Table idea to heart and the last few bottlings we tried (the Port Ellen PE2 and 3 and Lagavulin LG2) have really demonstrated an unbridled coastal Islay at its very best. Here's hoping that this Kilchoman will also demonstrate how elemental these whiskies are.

Elements Of Islay - Kh1 - 59.7%

Nose: Big butterscotch/toffee and milk chocolate notes hit first, with a blast of briny peat thrown in to counteract the sweetness. Some turned earth, hazelnut shells and white pepper develop over time and with a dash of water, a more medicinal peat emerges.

Palate: Wow, hot and youthful. The peat is fearless in its attack and a charcoal-like BBQ meatiness coats the palate. More smoked meat and iodine round out the coastal assault. Water brings it down a peg or two, giving some residual sweetness and a return of the pepper, but personally speaking I prefer the bold (and elemental approach) so without water it is for me!

Finish: Very peppery, with a touch of dried oak, some more of the heavily smoked meat and a lingering TCP lozenge on the death.

Overall: Although this is no doubt a young whisky, it is undeniably as Islay as it gets; fiery, bursting with peat and full of palate-grabbing energy. It won't suit every one, (post-christmas richness) but sometimes you just need something to get things started - and in the wise words of AP, is 'back of the net'.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Twelve



So here we are. Christmas Eve morning and All is calm and all is.... well, bright pink.The sky has bruised over and I have just left the Ridley Manor Leicestershire for the wiles of North Yorkshire to visit Mrs Caskstrength's relatives.

2012 has been a sensational year for drams and Joel and I have had a fair bit of difficulty in deciding our festive choices, but here you go...

The moment the car is unpacked, shoes are off and replaced by warming slippers, shivering trunk snuggly wrapped in a padded silk smoking jacket, the leather reclining chair tilted back to its fullest extent and the strains of The Rat Pack Christmas emanating from the stereo, I know I can completely relax. I'm sure Joel will echo these simple sentiments too, minus the slippers and poncey jacket.

Ridley's choice of Festive Dram:

'In years gone by, I have often struggled to choose between the titanic flavours of 'Peat' and 'Sherry' as part of the the ultimate Christmas day tipple. I compromised last year and went for a sherried version of a peaty classic (Lagavulin Distillers Edition) which went down so well, there was only a tiny drop left to wash down the Boxing Day turkey sandwiches.

This year, i've adopted a slightly different tact and gone for something balanced, fruity, warming and ridiculously drinkable. It also makes a mean Manhattan, a sizzling Sour and can be sipped, slugged and slurped over ice, with soda or just about any way you choose. So a perfect offering to any whisky-reticent relatives! My Christmas time dram is Yamazaki 18 year old.... Kampai!'

Yamazaki - 18 year old - 43%

Nose: Instantly open on the nose, this bears all the hall marks of a classic Japanese whisky. Mossy, musty, rich sherry, dark orange marmalade, with loads of polished rosewood and big spice.

Palate: Swathes of sherry, leading into rich, thick dark sugar and milky coffee, with an extra sweet backing of barley sugar. The sweetness dies away giving a very well balanced back palate of cereal and starchy overtones.

Finish: Lingering spice, bulging dried fruit, sherbet and more sweetness. Very lengthy and enjoyable.

Overall: Little more needs to be said about this magnificent whisky. So rather than take up additional room with superlatives, here's a picture of some contented Christmas dogs.

I'm the one on the left...


Harrison's choice of Festive Dram:

'For me, this year's festive dram is a distillery we haven't featured very frequently, The Glendronach. I took this home to balance out the wanton desire to have a peated whisky. The 'Lennon' to the Glendronach's 'McCartney', has to be the Lagavulin Distillers Edition, 1995 / 2011. Additional maturation in PX casks means I'm carrying on the same sherry theme, but warming my cockles with a some soft peat smoke. Yum!!'
The Glendronach - Single cask (full term Pedro Ximinez Sherry Puncheon) - 1995 - (08.11.1995) - bottled 2011 - 15 Years Old - Cask #4681 - 725 bottles - 56.2% £55.00

Nose: Everything you want in a sherried whisky, inc well balanced. Rich rose scented candles, heavily polished oak table, old leather shoes, second hand book stores and... Christmas pudding, freshly lit.

Palate: Rich, oily and full of flavour. This hits BIG: burnt sugars, candied orange slices and cloves. Stewed red fruits.

Finish: Sweet and dry with hints of black cherry.

Overall: Just a top, top whisky. Single cask, 56.2% abv, full term PX and £55. Amazing value for a stunning whisky.

Joel & I wish you all the most merry, peaceful and relaxing of Christmas holidays. And wherever you happen to be and whatever your choice of whisky, pour a large one and share a festive toast!

Cheerio and happy holidays.

Neil & Joel x

Friday, 23 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Eleven



Our penultimate festive dram comes on a very wintery day (well it is here in the Midlands)
The weather is shockingly cold, rainy and miserable. Come on! couldn't we have just a little snow to at least make us feel Christmas'y....

Until then, here's a cracking suggestion from our good friend and dram'meister, Mr Ben Ellefsen from Master Of Malt:

Well hellllooooo....

"Leaving aside our own range of course, (gentle plug!) I'd have to say that that bottle I'm going to reach for on Christmas day will be a Glenfarclas 105, or an Aberlour a'Bunadh (doesn't matter which batch). After an entire year of tasting, sampling, and picking apart various malts for tasting notes and cask selection, I'm after something at cask strength, with a big, sherry-rich, mucky flavour to savour without having to think too much about it. Both of these bottlings provide exceptional value for money, too - so I can feel completely comfortable opening a bottle with the intention of finishing it with friends and family"

Wise words sir!


Aberlour a'Bunadh - Batch no. 15 - 59.6%

Nose: Big dry sherry cask notes, alcohol steeped raisins, dates, menthol, some earthy, compost/dried leaves and then dark cigar wrappers. Just nosing this is certainly cleaning the pipes.

Palate: Surprisingly smooth initially, then the fire starts to burn. 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.

Finish: Resinous, powerful and spicy, with a little licorice developing as the palate dries.

Tomorrow's post will be our last festive dram suggestions before the big day and both Joel and I will take the honours... Jingle Bells!!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Ten


Today's dram comes from the prescriber of all things good. A man who quite possibly purchased his doctor-ship in whisky from a drunken gentleman in Uganda, but we'll forgive him, as his musings for the past few years have kept us highly entertained and informed. Sam is also Global Brand Ambassador for The Balvenie, but don't let that sway your opinion on his choice below...

Ladies and gentleman, we give you Sam Simmons, aka Dr Whisky.

Sexy....

'I love whisky. And I love Christmas.
And my Christmas whisky is the same as it has been since 2002:
The Balvenie Doublewood.
(Long before I worked with William Grant & Sons!)
Do with this as you will'

The Balvenie - Doublewood - 12 yo - 40%

Nose: An entertaining mix of lighter, vanilla, lemon & orange zest and sweet caramels, mixed with some richer Oloroso sherry notes, dark honey and woody spices.

Palate: The vanilla, honey and orange zest all hit the palate first, backdropped by moist raisins, some fig and a big spoonful of the Oloroso. Very open and balanced.

Finish: Drying cask notes, with a long fruity/nutty note. Warming and most definitely festive!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Nine


Our ninth day of suggestions is upon us and so far, we hope you'll agree, a tremendous list of whiskies to savour over the holiday period. But what if your relatives aren't as fanatical about whisky as your good selves?? Well the simple answer is you make 'em a bevy of bloody great cocktails!
We've extolled the virtues of Ballantine's Christmas Reserve since it was first released last Christmas- a brilliantly blended whisky from the Sandy Hyslop stable, with all the hallmarks of Christmas thrown in for good measure: Notes of clove, cinnamon, orange peel and rich sherry. It's warming, rich and definitely as festive as hell.

We love to throw flavours and ideas around in the lab (or the 'kitchen' as it is known in most houses) and this Christmas has been no exception. Inspired by possibly the best Mint Julep we've ever had during the Caskstrength Christmas lunch at the JW Steakhouse on Park Lane, we set about concocting a Christmas Cake-inspired julep of our own...

After playing around with different ingredients, we came up with the following recipe, involving a specially made Christmas sugar syrup made thus:



Christmas Sugar Syrup: 2 parts boiling water to 1 part demerara sugar. I made around one litre of this. Stir and once the sugar is dissolved, throw in a few hand fulls of mixed dried fruit (my bag cost around 60p from Morrisons), a cinnamon stick, a shake of nutmeg and a dash of almond flavouring. Leave to cool overnight and strain in to a jug or bottle. This gloopy, dark syrup should taste (and smell) of liquid Christmas cake.


The Caskstrength Mint Julep:

Take a julep cup from the freezer and fill with crushed ice. Add two parts Christmas sugar syrup, one part Ballantines Christmas Reserve, a cap of Monin Pain d'Epices Gingerbread Syrup and stir five times. Top with a dash of angostura bitters, a dusting of cinnamon and some orange zest, or if you're feeling particularly fruity, some orange slices. The perfect Christmas cooler.

And if that's not enough festive flavour, we invited London bar owner Fredrik Olsson of Kosmopol around to the Caskstrength bar to show us a few of his festive cocktail creations, using Ballantine's Christmas Reserve. take a gander at the video below for some rocking' (around the Christmas tree) creations.





Now you may have noticed that such was the power of the Christmas goodness contained in the cocktails, that Joel and I were practically reduced to speaking in Christmas songs.

So as additional bonus - if you can correctly identify three of the classic Christmas songs we mentioned in the piece, we'll send you a bottle of Ballantine's Christmas Reserve! We have three bottles up for grabs.

Send in your answers to: jinglebells@caskstrength.net

Usual rules apply: include your name, age and most importantly, your address and location in the email. Comp is only open to those over the legal drinking age in your country... Sorry, but them's the rules!

The competition closes at midday on the 28th December, so get counting and we'll select the lucky winners.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Eight

Welcome back!

Today's festive dram comes from a brand new group with a rather apt, whisky themed name.

The Staves (Emily, Jessica & Camilla) hail from North London and produce a most harmonious sound indeed; swathes of etherial vocals meet gently plucked acoustic instruments. It's heady and heart warming, full of complexity and intrigue, but incredibly refreshing - rather like the whiskey they have chosen!

So take it away girls...


'This Christmas we, The Staves, will be drinking Green Spot whiskey. We first tried it in Dublin a few months ago. It was a freezing cold, lashing rain, gale-force wind sort of a day and we took refuge in The Stags Head pub where they made us the finest hot whiskies we had e'er tasted.
Once warm and dry again, we were recommended Green Spot by the barman and totally fell for its smooth flavour. Some whiskies can be too peaty and smoky, but this whiskey is really versatile & just seems to go with everything. We will be enjoying it with our mince pies - we're not big on sherry - and look forward to sharing it with friends on those cold evenings!
We stocked up on Green Spot at the airport before flying home, and it was a good job too, as it's quite tricky to find over here. Any donations would be most welcome!'


The Staves - Emily, Jessica & Camilla

Check out The Staves here: http://thestaves.com Sign up to their newsletter and get a free download of two fantastic live tracks!

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Seven


After Olly Smith's brace of liquid beauties, we bring you three cracking suggestions from arguably the most respected whisky writer on the planet and all-round raconteur, sartorial sage and friend of this website, Mr Dave Broom.

Dave has been busy working on a brand new whisky education concept - the World Masterclass. Consisting of a number of online lessons and DVDs, the comprehensive training programme aims to enrich users with a new level of knowledge about whisky production. Sounds like a cracking idea to us. You can get more info about the World Masterclass by visiting:


Now, Dave has more pressing this to tell you about - namely his choice of festive drams!!

"I've mulled this over along with some suitably seasonal spices (for the annual Christmas Confusion Dram). This is a season of pickled walnuts and walks on the seashore, nose being nipped by the frost, head being nipped by the previous night's festivities. Outdoors, I'd go smoky for the hip flask - Bowmore Tempest or Ardbeg Alligator - but when safely ensconsed once more in Broom Towers it is something richer, fruitier, thicker, I'd reach for. Bring me something to warm the toes, to bring a Claus-like ruddiness to the cheeks, bring me Redbreast 12yo cask strength say I and make it a large one!'

Splendiferous choices, I think you'll agree.

Ardbeg Alligator – Committee release – 51.2%

Nose: Immediate spicy/ fruity notes, with rolled oak shavings, BBQ charcoal, stewed apples, white pepper and hints of strong tea and fresh bourbon. With a dash of water the whisky really comes alive with wonderful rich vanilla tones, chocolate orange notes and hints of copper.

Palate: Big, resonant and dry, leading into more of the chocolate orange notes, sweet vanilla, hints of Five Spice and more stewed apple. Then the smoke arrives, soft, aromatic and gentle at first, giving this a superb complexity.

Finish: The sweet vanilla develops alongside the soft smoke for a very lengthy and pleasing finish.

Red Breast - 12 Years Old - Cask Strength Edition - 57.7%

Nose: This high strength dram makes its presence known immediately. It has a firey top note, which dies away quickly to reveal notes of fresh plums, a little dustiness, some clean linen, dessicated coconut and a lingering creaminess, akin to dairy fudge.

Palate: Powerful and coating, the tongue gets the first blast of wonderful sweetness, more of the dairy fudge, followed by some cornflake notes, creamy vanilla, golden syrup, a deft hint of floral apple peel (Pink Lady?) and some black cherries.

Finish: Lengthy and creamy, with the emergence of the apple again on the death.

Join us soon for part eight and some wonderful choices of dram from a very aptly named band!!

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Six


Seven shopping days to go now, so for those intent on hitting the shops soon, you'd better get a move on!! Of course, I say that with the aplomb of a man in receipt of all his Christmas gifts, which couldn't be further from the truth. Yikes. Better get thinking fast.

In case you're still looking for a decent dram, either for yourself or friend/relative/loved one/boss etc then we still have another seven whisky suggestions out there, including this brace of rambunctious beauties from TV wine critic and all-round blond-haired bounder, 'Jolly' Olly Smith.

Olly has been gracing our screens on programmes such as Saturday Kitchen for several years (the only man to dare introduce a dry sherry pairing with a fish dish, so we whole-heartedly salute him) and before that was, and we kid you not, a script writer for the universally brilliant Pingu!!
You can check out Olly's exploits here, but in the meantime, take it away sir!!

'Righty-ho! Christmas drams, eh. My choices would be Old Pulteney 21 year old for its uplifting bright spank or Bruichladdich 'The Organic' for its outrageously luxuriant creaminess. Hooray!'

Perfect choices for easing that after-dinner inflated feeling, we think...

Old Pulteney - 21 year old - 46%

Nose: Apple pastry, vanilla notes, some metallic/copper ,vaguely floral /aftershave aroma, into malted cereal (think Shreddies and you're near the mark) gooseberry fool and kiwi fruit.

Palate: Sweet, with more of the malted cereal, a dusting of icing Sugar, hint of salt, marzipan, stewed apples and a deft hint of spice.

Finish: A hint of drying wood, leading into creamy coconut notes, crisp green apples and a a re-emergence of the gooseberry.

Bruichladdich - The Organic - 46%

Nose: Malted cereal, cracked ears of corn (sort of sweet and malty) leading into an abundance of sweet vanilla notes, creamy custard and some freshly sliced green apple. With time, a butteriness emerges, with a refreshing light lemon tart aroma.

Palate: The Vanilla custard dominates the palate, with a little fanfare of orchard fruit arriving shortly after the hit of smooth creaminess. Coconut and sliced apples also appear as the palate dries.

Finish: Clean and short, with a tart fruit note.

Our next whisky will be chosen by a brilliantly-bearded titan of the whisky world. No prizes for guessing who.

Friday, 16 December 2011

16 Men of Artein. Glenmorangie Artein Arrives...

We're barely 2 weeks into Christmas and bang! the first big contender for 2012 arrives at our door. Glenmorangie Artein (which is derived from the Gaelic word for stone) follows on from the largely successful experiments the distillery have conducted using additional maturation in unusual wine casks. Pride was matured for an additional ten years in casks which held Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes and Nector D'or a similarly sticky experiment, albeit without such long secondary maturation.

Glenmorangie Artein is one of the distillery's 'Private Editions', based on the Glenmo' Classic but additionally matured in 'barriques' containing 'Super Tuscan' Sassicaia wine. According to Dr Bill Lumsden, creator of the whisky, 'two different ages of extra matured Glenmorangie have been married together- some 15 years old from 1996 and some 21 years old from 1990'.

Sounds intriguing. We haven't always been the best of friends with additional wine maturation, but after tasting the excellent Pride, we're more than prepared to take a 2nd look at this increasingly expressive way to create something different in whisky.


Glenmorangie - Artein - 46% - Lab Preview Sample

Nose: Initially a little note of spirit, giving the impression that this is higher in strength than it actually is, but this quickly subsides into a basket of fruit; think fresh red berries, bananas, candied peels, vanilla and floral wax. Wonderfully light and refreshing. Given time, it develops a tinned fruit note, with creamy vanilla custard, sponge fingers and a touch of the sweet wine. Luxurious trifle? Bang on the money. Lovely.

Palate: Sweet, with a hint of unctuous dessert wine, then into ripe plums, some woody spices, green apple peel and the first crusty bite of a festive toffee apple.

Finish: Lingering fruit notes, then a waxy/woody and surprisingly creamy and honeyed aftertaste.

Overall: Hugely expressive and frankly very easy to write tasting notes on. The fruit and cream intermingle in harmony and underneath, the wine influence doesn't take this too far into the experiment-gone-too-far territory. All in all, a cracking whisky for after dinner, in preference to a glass of sticky....

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

When is a single malt NOT a single malt?



Aldi have been making the headlines lately with the release of their 40 year old whisky, Glen Bridge, which has sparked more outrage/intrigue (delete as applicable) than any whisky we can remember this year. A fair dram it is too especially at £49.99- you can read our assessment of it here:

However, it was paired with the not-so-good 24 year-old Glen Marnoch.
Sadly for those in search of a good bargain, the 40 year old predictably (and swiftly) disappeared from the shelves and those left scratching their heads at the back of the queues were faced with the dilemma: go home from Aldi empty handed (is this possible?) or pick up a bottle of Glen Marnoch for £29.99.

Now... we didn't like the Glen Marnoch. At all. In this price bracket, there are a number of far more flavoursome options to consider as solid stocking fillers.

However we were drawn to a small but noticeably glaring error on the box, which begs the question: Who puts these things together??


As you'll see from the image above, apparently 'Glen Marnoch Speyside Single Malt Whisky has been distilled in continuous stills before being aged for an incredible 24 years in hand made oak casks....'

Right. Something doesn't scan properly here. Continuous stills??

Egg sucking grannies aside, based on this description, Glen Marnoch can't be a single malt.
The S.W.A rules surrounding the definition of a single malt Scotch whisky state that it must be produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in Pot Stills.

We don't want to beat anyone up here unduly, but this is a sloppy error. Come on guys!!

To be fair, after we asked Aldi to clarify the situation, they contacted us and their spokesperson issued the following:

"We can confirm that the whisky was distilled in 'pot stills' and not 'continuous stills'. This was simply a packaging error, and we apologise if this caused any confusion."

Whoops.

Fortunately, we couldn't help but notice that Makro has a super deal on multi-packs of Tipp-Ex at the moment ;-)


Even if this had been made in a continuous still, like grain whiskies that go into Scotch blends, it isn't good an example of whisky making on any level.

However, a good example of a whisky made in continuous stills is the grain variety. Up and coming as a category it its own right, there are some cracking single grains out there at very reasonable prices. Take, for example, this North British 1997...

North British - 1997 - Single Grain - Signatory Bottling - 43% abv (£23.25)

Nose: Exactly what you want from a grain; some unripe banana, whipped cream (sweetened), a hint of eggnog sans spices. Not rich, not thick but works well as an aroma.

Palate: Again, not thick and rich, but this is not to the detriment of the the liquid. Some lemon notes (limoncello), classic grain notes of pva glue (sounds awful, but it works) and the unripe banana again.

Finish: Not too long, but sweet and delicious.

Overall: A good example of single grain whisky at a price that makes it worth taking a risk.


Our bet is that single grain will grow, all be it slowly, as a category in the UK as stocks of malt are diverted abroad to markets where profit margins are higher and taxes lower. A good time to start thinking about expanding you palate towards these grain products.

Now, pass me that Tipp-Ex...











The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Five


Hitting our stride now, as the big weekend looms large, both Joel and myself feel chipper that the lion's share of our Christmas shopping has amazingly been done (in one mad rush down Oxford Street the other night, no less.)

Sheltering from the intolerable cold, we immediately feel revivified by our next suggestion of an ideal festive dram, this time courtesy of one of London's finest bartenders and all-round guru of liquid experimentation, Ryan Chetiyawardana. Ryan is one of the brains behind The Whistling Shop; a subterranean watering hole of mind-boggling proportions - part Dickensian gin palace, part science laboratory. When Ryan isn't feverishly working the controls of his Rotovap still, in search of a new dimension in flavour, he's the purveyor of some of the finest hand selected malts in the capital.

'So this is actually a perfect Boxing Day dram. Christmas Day for me is a mixed but usually entirely food-led affair. So a festive dram comes late Boxing Day, by a fire in an old country house! What i'm looking for is a whisky, which is rich, but not something that will put me to sleep before I beat my sisters at Pictionary. So with that in mind, my call for this year's festive masterpiece is Glendronach Parliament. A welcome after-dinner livener!'


Glendronach - Parliament - 21 years old - 48%

Nose: A rich and inviting mixture of woody, but fruity sherry and oak. Big hitting, thick PX tanginess, with a slightly drier, spicier Oloroso note. Almost resinous, but with a little waft of Italian lemon and orange zest to break up the Spanish party.

Palate: The spices (think predominantly cinnamon and nutmeg dusted cocoa beans) take hold first, followed by orange marmalade, some plump raisins and more of the lemon zest. A real mouthful and then some...

Finish: The oak, spice and intense dried fruit give this a lingering complexity. You'll certainly be bored with all your presents, by the time this subsides.


Monday, 12 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Four



With a little under two weeks to go, we hope you're well and truly in the middle of your Christmas shopping. Or at the very least, resigned to the fact that probably 80% of the general public are going to leave it until the last minute, which seems to work equally as well as being organised.

In case you haven't thought of anything yet, hopefully our handy guide to festive whiskies, namely the Twelve Drams Of Christmas is now in full flow and we have another cracker for you today, from our good friend and all-round gentleman of the double bass, Ted Dwane from the multi-platinum selling band, Mumford & Sons. Being an international jet-setter, Ted is no stranger to Duty Free and his knowledge of fine drams is as alarmingly good as his songwriting skills, which of course speak for themselves! Take it away Ted!

'People say Guinness tastes better in Dublin and perhaps it does. However, I believe it has less to do with 'how it travels' or where the water comes from and more to do with the context of where you are drinking it. To drink Highland Park on Orkney is to wash your senses with the glory of the Highlands and on a snowy night by the fire in my favourite distillery, I was washed, clean! I literally think of it as my whisky baptism.

The 18 year old will be my chosen festive dram as it's a dram to share. I believe it's elegant smoky/ honey aroma could instigate affectionate glances between the most hostile of in-laws. Those heather blossom and cinnamon flavours are a proven cure for unmanageable credit card bills and with that rich chewy peatiness you know will always be there for you!

I certainly won't be tackling Christmas without my trusty bottle of HP sauce... everything's going to be ok!'
Highland Park - 18 Year Old - 43%

Nose: An abundance of heather honey, fresh red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), something nutty, old cracked leather and a smothering of floral peat. Well rounded, balanced and delightful.

Palate: More of the lingering heather honey, brown sugar, some sweet dessert wine character, cinnamon/ nutmeg spices and a back bone of malty cereal, with an under pinning of peat. The mouth feel is luxurious and rich tasting.

Finish: Longer peppery notes start to emerge (like mild cracked black pepper), but the finish is still sweet and developed, with no real over oakiness to report. Sensational.

Our next one will be from a modern master of the mixed drink... stay tuned!

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Three


Well, here we are again. Our little Christmas Dram Suggestion Cabinet is beginning to fill up nicely and we've received some absolutely brilliant tips from friends and whisky lovers the world over. Thanks so far to Charley Boorman and Jeremy Gara from Arcade Fire for theirs - keep an eye out over the next ten days for more absolute crackers too.

As we mentioned in our last post, the next suggestion may contain nuts. Well one slightly nutty individual in particular!

Earlier this year, we had the absolute pleasure to spend a day with one of our childhood idols, legend of children's breakfast TV and owner of one of the biggest foam implements since Lolo Ferrari. Ladies and gentleman, we give you Mr Timmy Mallett.


Timmy, who is also a highly acclaimed artist (from Mallett's Mallet to Mallett's Pallette!) loves a fine dram and when we think about it, there is probably only one choice of whisky out there with a suitably heavyweight reputation...

"Crikey! A Festive Dram...? Whisky works for me - I use it for coughs, colds and in my trusty hip flask, especially at the football during the winter... But avoid using when a goal is scored!!

And Timmy's dram of choice.... Hammerhead of course. Genius.

Hammer Head - Czech Republic Whisky - 1989 vintage - 40.7%

Nose: An initial note of scented furniture polish, some spiced notes of cloves, dry oaky cask aromas and some slight rubber/hot tyres.

Palate: A big, hard hitting assault on the palate initially, with liquorice notes, dried fruit (ripe prunes) and some cedary cigar /tobacco notes.

Finish: The spice notes linger, with some residual sherried notes and a hint of burnt caramel. Bangin'!!

Join us next week for our forth instalment of exciting drammage...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part Two



Following on from Charley Boorman's fab suggestion of Talisker 10 year old as his choice of festive dram, our 2nd dram of Christmas comes from Canadian alternative music legends Arcade Fire. The band have enjoyed an incredible 18 months with their Grammy and Brit Award winning album 'The Suburbs' and we were fortunate enough to work with them on a whisky project in conjunction with their sell out Hyde Park show, earlier this year.


Jeremy Gara, drummer with the band (far right), gives us his idea of the perfect winter warming whisky:

"As my festive dram, I would definitely pick Lagavulin Distiller's Edition from 1994. This is a whisky that was gifted to us by some amazing guys in a Canadian band called Karkwa, that we played with this past September. It's a real curveball favourite of the last long while and a great warming dram in the winter."

Lagavulin - Distillers Edition - Distilled 1994 - bottled 2010 - 43%

Nose: Sweet peat, stewed apple, mixed with a very dry and fruity thick sherry note, courtesy of the Pedro Ximinez casks it is finished in. Very complex and refined.

Palate: Demerera sugar, some hickory wood smoke notes, creamy fudge, some milky cereal and more stewed apple with raisins. Really festive and simply delicious.

Finish: The smoke lingers alongside the dried fruits/raisins. Warming and mouth filling.

Stay tuned for the 3rd instalment of our Twelve Drams Of Christmas. The next one may contain nuts... ;-)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Twelve Drams Of Christmas - Part One

Thursday last week was a VERY special day for Mrs Caskstrength. At 8.30am, she ran downstairs, heading straight for the kitchen, where, perched on the bread bin, lay a Malteasers Advent Calendar. The first of December had arrived, thus signifying the start of a very long month for me....

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas as much as the small boy sat comfortably on santa's lap, waiting for my present. It's just that advent calendars tend to be a little bit tedious.

One idea we had some months ago at Caskstrength was to have a whisky advent calendar; every day, post a brand new post about our favourite whiskies for the festive season. But we soon realised that this was particularly time consuming and frankly, we didn't want to be chained to the computer, when there's chocolate to eat, mulled wine to glug and ice skates to be donned.

So here is an abbreviated version. Consider it part one of our Twelve Drams Of Christmas.

But rather than make our own suggestions, we've asked a few friends and fellow imbibers to give us theirs... and here's the first!


The First Dram Of Christmas - Charley Boorman


Our first festive dram suggestion is from a particularly rugged chap, known to many as the king of adventuring on two wheels... Mr Charley Boorman.
As well as previously seeking thrills on his beloved motorbikes with Ewan McGregor and recently traversing the world by any means, Charley is a big whisky fan and last month, we caught up with him to discuss drams and the spirit of adventure - i.e. a decent, gentleman-sized dram on a mountain side!! You can read the full interview in issue 99 of Whisky Magazine, but for now, here's Charley's tip on the best festive whisky...

"When it comes to a cracking festive dram, I would recommend Talisker 10yo for Christmas. I love its peaty flavour, which reminds me of burning peat on the fire at home in Ireland."


Talisker 10 Years Old - 45.8%

Nose: A monsterous mixture of hot chilli, carbolic soap, malt and cracked black pepper.

Palate: Hot, warming and peaty, with more chilli, pepper and nutty smokiness.

Finish: Drying, with a lingering note of hot smoke and some dried fruits.

A great start from Mr Boorman here. Stay tuned for our next recommendation from someone a little bit further afield!