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Sunday 27 April 2008

Field Correspondents for The Chap!

Some slightly off-beam news for you, dram fans. There may be a few among you who are blessed with a subscription to possibly the greatest publication in the history of the sartorially elegant - the excellent Chap Magazine, the only true journal for the modern gentleman, which is now circulated every two months across all good literary agents and reading rooms across the country. 

It is with the greatest of honour, that I have been bestowed the title of 'Field Correspondent' for The Chap at this years Feis Ile from the 24th-31st May on Islay.  

I (along with my tweed-clad companion, Joel) will be bringing  you all the news from the event, including tasting notes, ancient distillation secrets and other whisky fuelled capers, as part of a new alcohol section in the magazine.   
More news to follow, but in the meantime for the uninitiated, please enjoy The Chap responsibly, at this handy website: 


Charlotte, the Peated Harlot!!

End of the month blues strike us at Caskstrength Towers- so many great whiskies out there and so little ££'s/time to purchase and consume them!!
Having made the (clearly impossible) pact that we'd limit our purchases this month, Joel and I find ourselves heading down New Oxford Street with a whisper in our ears of something young, exclusive, peaty & sweet over at Royal Mile Whiskies.

Bruichladdich are fast becoming one of my newly discovered gems over the past year or so- having always favoured bottlings by the Southern coastal distilleries of Ardbeg, Lagavulin and- from the peated mists of time, the majestic Port Ellen.

So when we heard of Royal Mile's intention to release a limited single cask bottling of Port Charlotte, we were immediately excited!!

One can imagine that hearts were beating fast and pulses racing when the very first Port Charlotte was distilled in May 2001 over at Bruichladdich... it clearly did not disappoint.

The PC5 'Evolution', although only matured for 5 years showed enormous character and an intensely peaty edge, which closely followed the traditions of the original Port Charlotte distillery in its approach to the drying of the malt.

The great news to previous Port Charlotte lovers is that this single cask bottling, specially selected by acclaimed whisky writer, Ian Buxton continues in the fabulous tradition of the PC5, 6 and the 3D Moines Mhor.

Port Charlotte Ian Buxton Single Cask bottling - Cask no: 299 Refill Bourbon - Distilled 2002, Bottled 5th November 2007 - 432 50cl bottles - ABV: 46%

Nose- Take a deep breath... and dive into the chilly coastal waters off Port Ellen. Masses of brine, sea spray and hints of delicate smoke, give way to something wholly sweeter and fruity -touches of spice and dry cedar on the death.
Palate- The salty peat hits first, washed over then by a refreshing sweetness, with perhaps something slightly drying to the mouth, like grapefruit - very clean, which is not surprising since this is only a 5 year old whisky. A delicate class prevails, though...

Finish- More smoke and sea spray leading to further hints of that cigar-box cedarwood and spice. I didn't add any water at all (considering it is bottled at only 46% abv) and again the class shows through. Not as thin and quick a finish as you'd perhaps expect- faint traces of smoke linger and you're on to your 2nd dram!

Overall- For £29.99, this whisky is really a steal. We've recently been introduced to some remarkably cheap single cask bottlings of excellent quality and this continues in that fashion. Even though you're getting slightly less bang-for-buck with its strange 50cl 'Olive Oil shaped' bottle, it's worth picking this up and drinking alongside some of your other smoky delights. Although an older whisky may have more depth and complexity, this really does belie its tender age and will clearly will hold its own against the likes of an older Ardbeg or Laphroaig.


Thursday 17 April 2008

A Rare prelude to Feis Ile 2008!

So... here we are- and very nearly a month away till Feis Ile 2008. Such is my excitement that i've taken to looking through last years pictures in my iPhoto library and that exciting tingle returns almost instantly: The sensational drive down through the Kintyre Peninsula to Kennacraig; The steak pie and thick cut chips on the ferry; and that almost eerie mistiness, as a far off Islay slowly looms into view. Squinting, you try and make out the Pagoda roofs of Ardbeg or that almost iconic 20 ft high black lettering... is it Laphroaig? or Lagavulin? Either way, nothing fully prepares you for that first trip to Islay or the Feis Ile.

It's with this in mind that we bring you a rare treat of a tasting. Joel and I were recently lucky enough to come by an extra bottle of Lagavulin's 2007 Feis Ile single cask offering. What better than to open it and share our thoughts with you!! Distilled in 1993 and bottled at cask strength (56.5%) from Cask 4893 it was limited to 700 bottles.

Lagavulin - OB - 14 YO - 56.5% - Feis Ile Bottling - Cask No. 4893 - 700 bottles

Nose: First notes give a splendid prickly brineiness, followed by delicate hints of peaty medicinal carbolic soap, heather and candle wax. The more you inhale, the more the brine gives way to a subtle cocoa and zesty orange. Perhaps not as perfectly balanced as the 16 YO but still a real treat to the nostrils.

Palate: Coal tar, dark chocolate, richly laced with layers of oily peat. Thick and syrupy, a hint of water opens this up with more notes of heather honey, leather and a tiny amount of chili.

Finish: Cereal notes, lead into a sweetness of more cocoa and soft muscovado sugar. I couldn't wait to finish this, simply to start over again with another mouthwatering dram!!

Overall: If you're lucky to ever find a kind-hearted-dram-fan with an open bottle of this, plead, no demand that they let you sample it!! You will not be disappointed. If we're not mistaken, this is the first single cask offering from the distillery and I dearly hope it's not the last - it made my Feis Ile last year and has started to get me all hot under the collar about this year's festival. 5 weeks to go and counting, eh...

- Neil

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Ardbeg Corryvreckan it's a good 'un

Ardbeg - Corryvreckan - OB - 57.1% - Committee bottling - limited to 5000

Unusally we have a news section today, as Ardbeg's latest committee bottling (the first for a while) arrives in the post at towers! We'll be trying this little beauty out at Feis Ile, when we'll post a review with, hopefully, some other tastings of Ardbeg's little stash. But for now you'll have to do with some photos. The bottle is the classic Ardbeg OB shape in dark green glass, with label on the front and back but no box. The front label reads: "Committee Reserve Ardbeg Corryvreckan (tm)" - another distillery trademarking their whisky names - "Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky". Then some text reading "Ardbeg Corryvreckan is a limited bottling released exclusively to the Ardbeg Committee. Deep, gutsy and very peaty, this is a high strength, non chill-filtered Ardbeg. It epitomises the challenging, powerful taste of Ardbeg, 'the untamed spirit of Islay'" Across this text in red letter is "stamped" the words "HANDLE WITH CARE 100% PROOF" Yes, well, two things here: 1. Ardbeg won't send to the US, so why stamp that across it! and 2. Don't you think people who join the Committee may well be aware of the strength of whisky, esp anything over 55% vol... still, it looks bloomin' amazing.

On the back, the label reads "Limited Edition Ardbeg Corryvreckan. To the north of Islay and Jura is the world's second largest whirlpool, the famous Corryvreckan. Our Celtic ancestors knew it as the 'Mother Goddess' or 'womb of all creation'. Today this thunderous, seething cauldron is named after the brave Viking Prince Breacan, who perished there proving his devotion to the daugher of the Lord Of The Isles. Ardbeg Corryvreckan is the latest bottling to be released exclusively to the Ardbeg Committee. As it swirls around the glass, raw and powerful aromas surge to the surface, an irresistable invitation to delve deeper. Challenging, dark and dangerous, Corryvreckan is the epitome of Ardbeg, the 'untamed spirit of Islay'. Ardbeg, like Corryvreckan, is not for the faint-hearted!"

It then has an amusing "no swimming" logo in the bottom left of the back label.

Extras: The bottle comes with two other "extra" pieces. The first is the tag around the neck. Made from card and sealed with a small Ardbeg sticker, it contains a booklet telling of the ledgend of Corryvreckan with a map and some stuff about the Vikings. So, they've clearly worked out where their biggest market is...! The second thing is a beautiful receipt, in the form of a time-card for wages. Why? we've no idea! It is hand written with your name on it and the price of the bottle; £45. There is a large Ardbeg stamp also across it as well as the date of purchase (in this case, 11.04.08). It really is an awesome addition to the bottling.

As mentioned earlier, we will be doing tasting notes of this bottling during Feis Ile, so keep a look out for that. Enjoy the pictures!

Saturday 12 April 2008

Gunning for a Grant

I have long wanted to taste a whisky that is finished in a real ale cask; mainly because I am a huge real ale fan and always thought it would be interesting to see how the two married together from a flavour point-of-view. As I waited for Bruichladdich to turn their sights to "aceing" (it is called "finishing" in the real world, O' good people of Bruichladdich!) some of their fine whisky in beer casks, probably to celebrate some event or other (maybe the distillery was contacted by the US Government wanting to buy some ale off them, misunderstanding that they only made whisky, so another Bruichladdich special bottling evolved) I came across two things that I thought would solve this mystery:

Firstly, about a year ago, someone shoved a bottle of Innis & Gunn "oak aged beer" in my hand at Borough Market in London. "My word! What is this? Oak aged beer? For 77 days; 30 days of which are in lightly toasted American White Oak casks? This sounds like a micro-version of the whisky process to me!"

Shortly after that, I discovered that William Grant's had released an Ale Cask whisky and promptly picked up a bottle in a supermarket for sub-£20. Could the two be related, by chance? After a little research I discovered that Grants held a 90% stake in I&G (which the creator, Dougal Sharp has since bought out), so these two drinks must be related closely. Very closely indeed.

But how do they work out? Have they turned into the Noel and Liam of the drinks world, or will they turn out to be more Gordon Ramsey and Ronald Ramsey?! Let's find out:

Innis & Gunn Original - 6.6% Vol - 330ml

Nose: Hops, vanilla and a hint of toffee

Palate: Surprisingly weak on impact for a beer at 6.6% (there is a 7.7% limited edition out there too, which I would like to try). Initially a big hit of the oak, mellowed beautifully by the hops. Well balanced and remarkably easy to drink.

Finish: Oak again! Hints of citrus bitterness, with a lingering mellow vanilla. Beautiful. Really beautiful.

Overall: An awesome beer. Glad it has made it's way into the major supermarkets. I really hope their limited edition runs pay dividends too. There is currently a rum cask finish out there and some other, stronger limited editions. Keep up the excellent, groundbreaking work.

Grants Ale Cask Reserve - 40% Vol - 70cl

"Finished in specially selected casks previously containing Edinburgh strong ale."

Nose: Very nutty, cherrys, warming. A hint of stale beer. I spent the best part of the 2000's as an A&R guy, going to gig after gig after gig. The nose reminds me of the smell of music venues before the doors open, when the bands are chugging JD neat and the disinfectant hasn't quite covered the smell of last nights spilt beer. Not nice, but certainly not bad either (if you're me and it reminds you of some more "interesting" times).

Palate: Er... where do I go with this one? If I was being polite, I would say that the palate is "complex" and there certainly is a lot going on. Sadly, not in a good way. There is a real sour note(note: not bitterness), mixed with odd cream tones. Very unbalanced with nothing of note to make this whisky in any way appealing. In a word: awful.

Finish: Too much toffee (flavouring, perhaps?). The overall impression it leaves is like the morning after the night before. The night before: an evening spent at a real ale festival. The morning after: being woken from a slumber on a park bench by a Community Officer, with half a kebab on the floor next to you, just yards from said real ale festival and nowhere near home... Not a pleasant experience.

Overall: stick to the beer, here.
- Joel

Monday 7 April 2008

Tally ho! Tasting the Talisker 10, 12, 18 and 57 Degrees North.

Filed by Joel.
After struggling past the Champions League football on telly Neil from the Blog, Tim from The Whisky Exchange and I found ourselves around a dining room table in South London last week with nothing for company except a selection of Skye's finest whisky; Talisker. With two standard releases in the 10 and the ("award winning") 18, and two new and interesting bottlings in the form of the Friends-of-the-Classic-Malts-only 12 year old and the travel-retail-exclusive 57 Degrees North (a name which Diageo have seen fit to trademark; I kid you not!) we were in for an exciting evening.

The following consists of our combined tasting notes from the evening (let's be honest, they are mainly Tim's!), interjected with our slightly odd thought patterns throughout the evening... we hope you enjoy.

Talisker - OB - 10 YO - 45.8%

Nose: Waxy at first with apple blossom, carrot juice, flapjacks, some earthy peat, honey, spices & a faint hint of wet cardboard. Some bready notes. Enticing and perfectly balanced.

Palate: Massive, beautiful attack of spices and peat, much more prominent than on the nose. Eventually the oaty and malty notes from the nose come through - honeyed porridge, some biscuit flavours. But the pepper, muscular peat and hot chilli notes are dominant in a positive way. Hints of cherry and honey come though.

Finish: A slow fade, becoming sweeter and almost floral, though the spices and peat are still tingling on the tongue at the death.

Overall: An excellent whisky, not just for the money (c.£29.99 if not cheaper in places) but for the overall experience. Yes, it is a whole eight years younger than the 18, but it is also a whole £15 cheaper too. Excellent stuff. Don't overlook!

Talisker - OB - 12 YO - bottled in 2007 - 45.8% - limited release for "Friends Of Classic Malts" - bottle number 18775

Released to celebrate a decade of Friends of the Classic Malts, this 12 year old is "Limited" to 21,500 and can be bought for £44.50 (inc delivery) which is around the same price as the 18 YO. This bottling can only be bought from (which takes you direct to Loch Fyne's website) where, at time of writing there were still bottles to be had.

Nose: Like an exaggerated version of the 10YO, which is to say a more intense combination of bready cereals, raw peat, honey and spices but with a greater hit of spirit. Really, what's not to like?

Palate: Again, this is like the 10YO turned up a notch a la Spinal Tap - it's one louder. Big cereal, intense spice, but well-balanced with a mouthwatering sweet note. The fiery spice keeps coming, with the classic Talisker combo of white pepper and red chilli and some delicious toasty flavours. This is epic stuff. A large dollop of sea salt to boost the flavours also hits in.

Finish: The honey smooths everything out as the spice slowly fades. Polished oak floats in right at the death. Demands another glass.

Overall: Less austere than the 10YO, with a more generous dollop of honey. Actually, a more generous dollop of everything. A tremendous bottling, and an essential for Tally fans if not a little too salty.

Talisker - OB - 18 YO - 45.8%

This whisky needs no introduction, having won the World Whiskies Award 2007 for "Best Single Malt Whisky In The World". The bar has undoubtly been set very high with this and it sparked the first major debate of the evening (a minor debate earlier about the colour selection by Talisker of the foils used on the bottles, and the inconsistency therein...) with Tim and Neil nailing their flags to the mast with their love of this Talisker. I, on the other hand, feel the Lagavulin 16 is a better single malt. What else could we to do other than to pour a dram of the Lagga 16 and try it along side the Tally 18? Alas, we shall not be doing tasting notes of the Lagga 16 other than to say that the choice is indeed yours... personally I side on the farmyard aspects of the Lagga 16 for a solid bottle of Whisky under £50, where as Neil and Tim would go for the Talisker 18. With that, let's get on with the tasting notes:

Nose: More expressive than the 10yo, yet more subtle than the 12yo, this is a thing of beauty. The pepper and spices are an ever-present, along with a rich peat reek, but the emphasis on the honey is more noticeable in this version than in either of the 10yo or the 12 yo expressions. Sumptuous, and so perfectly balanced as to be almost mesmeric.

Palate: More gutsy than one might expect from the ethereally beautiful nose but with a real softness. Plenty of oomph from the pepper, but with delicious sweet notes (slightly burnt brown sugar, a la the crunchy top of a Crème Brûlée), a hint of orangey citrus fruit (younger citrus, with a slight tart nature) and a tangy brininess. This is more approachable than the 10yo and has an intricacy and elegance that takes this Talisker to the next level. Just an incredibly enjoyable dram.

Finish: A delicious fusion of honey, spice and fruit that lingers on before gracefully fading.

Comments: An instant classic on release and shows no signs of slowing down in its relentless conquest of the affections of malt fans everywhere (except for the Lagavulin 16! - Joel)

Talisker - OB - NAS - 57 Degrees North - 57% Vol - Duty Free Only - 1L bottle

A new cask strength (yes, we like!) duty free only bottling from Diageo. Why? We don't quite know why. Just because they can, probably! At £43 for a litre, it is isn't too badly priced. Sadly it is No Age Statement, but it tastes like there is some young whisky in there ( 6 - 8 years old may be?).

Nose: Quite fruity, initially, with fresh-squeezed orange juice and ripe apple notes. Prominent cereal / wet hay notes point to the relative youth of this product as compared to the rest of the range. Then a hint of caramel, toffee and finally the peat and red chilli notes that one expects from a Talisker.

Palate: Inital heat and power from the strength and the chilli intensity. A big hit of sweet toffee flavours, presumably from added caramel. Still extremely hot and intensely peppery and spicy. Some shortbread and digestive biscuit-style flavours come through with time.

Finish: Still carried along by the raw power of undiluted Talisker hot spices and a lot of briny seaspray. The balance is not quite there, knocked off-kilter by the extra strength. A drop of water reveals a more fruity side, but the toffee and brine remain.

Comment: Tasted after the 18yo, which is a very tough act to follow and perhaps makes it harder for this to really impress. The palate seemed dulled slightly by perhaps a smidgin too much caramel flavouring, while the finish seemed a touch too salty. Good but bottom of the list on todays results.

Tasting notes by Tim (mainly), Joel and Neil.