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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Stormin' Stuff

Fish. A man who knows his knitware
as well as his weather. 
Storms eh.

Here in the UK we get our fair share of them.  From the notorious 'four seasons in a day' that complete the Islay experience, to a great summer's day out ruined by watching a rain soaked cricket pitch from the back seat of a fogged up Austin Maxi. As a nation, we're absolutely hopeless at preparing for or reacting to bad weather situations.

Consider the biggest and most blinding weather cock up in the BBC's living memory.  The great Michael Fish, weatherman and pin-up to millions of beige-clad ladies of a certain age, casually poo-pooed the notion that a concerned caller from Wales might be able to correctly predict a hurricane was about to hit the UK and that we should all prepare for the worst.  The immortal words  'don't worry, there isn't' will probably make their way onto Fish's gravestone, as his flippant remark was of course the start of probably the worst British storm in over 100 years.  On October 15th 1987, millions of pounds worth of damage was caused when the said hurricane tore Britain a new a***hole, killing 18 people in the process.

25 years on and this monumental blooper is still part of the British psyche and even made its way into the opening ceremony of the Olympics, sealing Fish in some sort of crazy, imfamous-yet-guilt-laden time bubble for the rest of his life.

So when two sample bottles arrived on my desk late last week, I was a little perplexed.  Both bottles were labelled 'Storm', but both were apparently completely different whiskies. One of them was a brand new blend from legendary whisky makers Cutty Sark and the other was the brand new, hotly anticipated release from Talisker.

For a second, I saw the words 'lawsuit' flash before my eyes, but then, thinking back about how hard it had been for the Fishmeister to predict the coming of his nemesis storm given all his credentials, I felt slightly more comfortable with the naming issue.  You see, rather like the UK weather, here we have two very unique types of Storm.

Let's consider the new Cutty blend first.  Cutty Sark Storm hasn't stepped a million miles away from the light, refreshing accessibility of the Original blend, but has a proportion of older single malts thrown into the mix to give a darker side to the whisky.  Tropical storm, or full-on shipwreck stuff? Let's find out...

Cutty Sark - Storm -  40%

Nose: Some exceptionally well balanced spiced notes mingle with robust liquorice, a big wad of sherry soaked tweed, plenty of lighter orchard fruit (apples and ripe plums) and a waft of vanilla.  

Palate: Lingering notes of overripe plum, vanilla, some star anise, oloroso sherry, an oaky dryness and creamy vanilla all vie for your attention.

Finish: The oak stays on the palate, but helps to deliver an additional last minute belt of dried spice. 

Overall: This excellent blend has all the hallmarks of Cutty Original but ratchets up the intensity a few notches.  It's bigger and a bit bolder than your average blend, but won't over complicate a classic drink like a whisky sour. In fact, we recently used Storm as part of an Indian food pairing, dashed with some bespoke bitters and the whole thing came together perfectly.  On the Storm'ometer -  this one is right up there.  

Next up and a distinctly chilly breeze has started to blow.

Somewhere in the background, a lone dog begins to howl, foreseeing what is about to hit.  The rusty weather vane on old McNabb's roof suddenly starts to twist around violently, screeching a tortured siren song to the storm gods.  Children playing hopscotch outside on a chalk-etched path look up to the skies as it bruises ove... oh...

Whatever, you get the bloody picture.  Yes.  Kaboom...Talisker Storm has arrived and its fanfare is the cacophonous rattle of thunder emanating from one's Glencairn.  

Talisker Storm doesn't carry an age statement and has been bought together from a variety of aged stock in both refill and rejuvenated casks, aiming to produce an altogether more brooding, powerful and intense whisky.  According to the press release it will sit somewhere between the 10 year old and the Distillers Edition expressions from a price perspective.  

Now seeing as I had a bottle of 10 year old open, I thought it prudent to see just where the new Storm sits. Producing a more powerful and intense Talisker is no easy feat, considering how massive a whisky the marvellous 10 year old is.  The answer is that both whiskies are completely different.  Talisker 10 year old does have a lighter burnt vanilla aroma on the nose and a slightly drier, more smoked bacon led note, with some baked apple and a lot of salty briny character.  Storm on the other hand....

Talisker - Storm -  45.8%

Nose:...Initially, you're in similar waters to the 10 year old.  Peppery, with a hint of smoked dried chipotle chilli, backed with some stewed prune/plum notes and then a big waft of morning-after bonfire embers.  Then it opens up, with a younger, more fiery note, lemon zest, backdropped with some additional spiciness, anise playing the major role. It's deeper, richer and dare I say it, more well-rounded than the 10 year old.  Not necessarily a bonus, considering how arrestingly brutal the 10 year old is but this is a far more interesting, thought provoking and complex a whisky.  

Palate: Given a few minutes to settle down this is stupendous stuff.  Fiery, hot, then rich and sweet, it has a surprisingly refreshing sweetness on the first sip with candied apple slices, vanilla custard and liquorice, before the palate gets bombarded with classic Talisker salty, hot chilli peat.  There's more of the burnt bonfire stuff the further you get in, but it's all contained with a richer fruitiness.  It has a greater viscosity in the mouth to the 10yo too, despite their identical strengths. 

Finish:  As the more ashy bonfire notes die away, you're left with lingering fruit, some drying oak and masses of woody spice, anise and liquorice.  

Overall:  Look.  Talisker 10 year old is one of THE all time, undisputed classic whiskies, so this new expression has heaps of pressure on its shoulders to perform at the same level, let alone pip it to the post.  But after two glasses of this (unusual for me in a tasting note situation) I have to say that this is an absolutely triumphant expression.  No, it isn't more 'intense', 'visceral', 'powerful', 'assertive' (or any other unnecessary adjective) than the 10 year old. It's DIFFERENT. If you will, the tropical storm to the 10 year old's desert storm.  Either way, on sheer whisky making skills, this will undoubtedly blow hurricane-sized holes in its other peaty opponents.  

Now... if only Mr Fish had been able to try a glass before his ill-fated prediction.  No way he'd have missed this storm coming.