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Friday, 22 August 2008

Great Scot! 2 Lags!!

New idea over at Caskstrength... whenever any slightly odd, unusual or rare bottlings come across our paths, we will stick up a few pictures here. Anyone with more information is free to contribute so we can fill in the gaps, so to speak!
Anyway, to kick off, great things often come in pairs- think about John Prescott's legendary '2 Jags'. Here's a pair of fairly unusual Lagavulins for you. 
I recently purchased these out of curiosity and am very keen to get more info about both releases. 
OB Lagavulin 12 YO- distilled in 1995 - matured in European Oak-Ltd bottling for Friends of Classic Malts. Bottle no: 09865 -  48%  - 70cl
There was a small debate about this bottling over on Whisky Mag's forum recently, but it still seems unclear how many were made available and what the markets were. This was bought from a German dealer and we're led to believe that it has only been released across mainland Europe. Judging by the bottle number, we'd imagine there's around 10,000 in circulation but we have yet to see any in the UK.  can anyone shed more light on the bottling?? Tasting notes to come.

Taste Still- Vanilla Peat OB- single cask- Distilled 1994- Bottled 2007- No. 1 of a ltd edition of 223 bottles- 56.8% -70cl
This was also recently picked up from a German dealer.  Although technically not labelled as a Laga, there's enough info from the dealer to confirm the contents, although very little on the internet as to the identity of the bottler.  We'd be really interested to receive any info you may have on this bottling, or on Taste Still.  There is a review on Whiskyfun which has helped massively, so thanks to Serge- but does anyone else out there own one, or have tasting notes or more information?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Riding the old White Horse

Recently, there has been a lot of debate about the 'age/quality' point of view with whisky. We've tasted some sensational new, young and sprightly whiskies, which set the vanguard in bottling spirit earlier and less mature. We've also been lucky enough to try a few very old gents such as a recently sampled 53 year old Glen Grant (detailed notes to follow). But what about old bottlings of younger whiskies?
Well, we recently had a chance to do just this- and what an eye opening experience it was too!
Over the next few weeks we'll be posting some interesting notes of very unusual whiskies which we couldn't contain our excitement over. But first up.... we're under starters orders... Go!

Joel and I have noticed that, as the whiskies get better, our puns seem to be getting worse. With an old White Horse blend, it's almost impossible to resist. Will it be sprightly enough to clear the first hurdle or will it barely manage to canter around the paddock, before heading off to the Evo Stick factory??

The Old Blend Scotch Whisky of the White Horse Cellar- Bottled in 1958- bottle no: 912038 - 70 Proof - 70cl

Nose: First impressions of honey, Caramac bar and then faint wiffs of a medicinal iodine, then light and fruity cream soda. This is the aroma of the past- unlike similar premium blends of today - the creaminess mixing with that medicinal quality is sublime.

Palate: Notes of pine nuts, brown sugar and a buttery light, dairy ice cream immediately make themselves known. It certainly shows signs of age but still holds up admirably with a real drinkability and wonderful rich, thick mouth feel.. On the death, that all too familiar smoky Lagavulin peat comes through making for a pleasing conclusion in the mouth.

Finish: A drying oak followed by an unexpected freshness of green veg. Oh so gentle and again, really enjoyable.

Overall: Horse jokes aside, this was a really unexpected treat. This bottling represents a wonderful time capsule in the history of whisky blending and you can clearly see the transitions that have taken place, when compared to the modern day palate. Elements of flavour and aroma that seem 'out of time' are the real treats here, for instance that wonderful cream soda mixed with the classic iodine. The strength may have dropped considerably, but the subtleties remain and I would dearly love to try this along side a modern day cracker such as the Johnnie Walker Gold Label Centenary bottling. All in all, still a prancing stallion with no sign of the old nag setting in.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Bunna: Have Some

Bunnahabhain. Not a distillery that we have reviewed much. In fact, only once since we have been going has it popped into our view- and that was for their excellent, but over priced Feis Ile 2008 bottling. It’s an interesting distillery simply because it really does not conform to the classic Islay style of heavily peating the spirit. Here we tried 2 sister bottlings from the same independent bottler, Single Malts of Scotland. One just a year older than the other, but both from the classic vintage, 1979 (guess when this reviewer was born...!).

Bunnahabhain – Single Malts Of Scotland – 27 Years Old – Distilled: 31.10.79 / Bottled: 02.03.07 – cask no. 11488 – 234 bottles – 46% Vol – 70cl

N- Wine overtones- like a light and crisp Chardonnay. Estery notes, with fresh pear and fruity/creamy notes like rhubarb and custard boiled sweets. The fruit subsides and then liquorice and under-ripe, green apple comes through with a faint hint of hazel nut.

P: The first hit is a blast of cinnamon and clove, then a real creaminess. It’s really reminiscent of home made apple pie and custard. Sweet, sharp, spicy but smothered in a wonderful vanilla'y creaminess.

F; More green apples and freshness. A hint of baked cooking apples sprinkled with brown sugar and cinnamon at the end. More length than you'd have expected here.

O: In keeping with our 'seasonal drams' debate, this could be compared to the very first shoots of spring- it's very light weight as bunna's usually are, but less floral and without the sherry influence, which is a refreshing change for me.

Bunnahabhain – Single Malts Of Scotland – 28 Years Old – Distilled: 31.10.79 / Bottled: 22.04.08 – cask no. 18831 – 234 bottles – 46% Vol – 70cl

N: Again more of that Chardonnay with further grassy and estery notes. A little touch of rosehip and then drying woody spices, cedar perhaps?

P: Slightly sweeter than last years mixed with more of that fresh green fruit, cloves and oak, which is definitely more noticeable than before.

F: Again, a great length for a light dram. Liquorice, hints of spice and bean sprouts.

O: We left this out to air a little and it certainly opened up, with more comparisons to its older sister.

It seemed that the 28 YO needed a little more time in the glass to settle, and once it did it really came to life. We both chose the 27 YO as our pick of the two. Not a great deal in it, especially once the 28 YO had sat in the glass and opened up. Both cracking little gems.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Best Mans' Laga'luvin

The display cabinet. One of the great pieces of furniture in the household of any whisky lover.  There it stands, pride of place, its leaded lights allowing the proud viewer to see the rare and beautiful bottles, with their various coloured hues and seductive labels.

Perhaps there's a slight perversity about the above sentence in both senses of the word. 'Whisky Porn' has been known to strike many a middle-aged man at one time or another, so the sight of a few rare bottles sensually lined up next to each other is nothing new.  What i'm really talking about is the proposition of hoarding whisky. We're all guilty of that.  I'm perhaps more guilty than others. Essentially, we are depriving our fundamental senses of what these bottles of liquid gold are purely designed for; to be immeasurably enjoyed, to create lasting memories and perhaps more importantly - to be shared with the greatest of friends.

It is with this in mind that I decided to do something unusual last weekend. My small, but perfectly formed collection of Lagavulin bottlings was soon to be a 'man down' when I took this years' Feis Ile bottling to the eve of my best friends wedding in Broadstairs. As best man it was my responsibility to calm the nerves of Steve 'The Foremanator' Foreman before his spectacular and memorable day arrived- and I could think of only one first-class remedy.

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2008 bottling- distilled 1993 - Cask no. 1403 - bottle no. 0487 - 52.9% vol 70cl

Nose: Really delicate, with beautiful hints of bourbon, orange blossom, hints of luscious red wine and pear drops. Then the smoke arrives- sweet, amazingly well balanced peat, maple cure bacon, not at all like the usual but pleasant waxiness of the Laga 16 yo.  Over time, with air and a drop of water hints of carbolic soap emerge, but it only adds to the full and fragrant bouquet. Simply stunning. 

Palate: Powerful prickles of alcohol but then a subtle rose water arrives, more wine notes- not overly sweet like the nose, but zesty and light, more hints of orange, light and creamy chocolate develop into a salty back end. A real mouth filling tenderness right through. 

Finish: Long, developing over the palate with fresh apple then hints of coffee bean and that classic light peated dryness.

Overall: So in keeping with the Laga family, yet so subtle and unique.  This is a sensational cask and full praise and thanks to Mr Iain McArthur for unleashing it on the public.  Very similar to the sister cask we reviewed in May, direct from the Feis Ile. 
So as Steve jets off to Thailand with his lovely wife Morag, I hold up a freshly poured glass of this wonderful liquid and wish them both the very best of happiness for the future.  I'm also starting to think about what to do with a certain Port Ellen  I happened to pick up on Islay....Anyone out there in need of a best man??

Friday, 8 August 2008

"10 min dram with... Harlen Wheatley"

Exclusive time again folks!! Whilst on a "once-every-ten-years" trip to the UK Harlen gave us a fantastic insight into how the fabulous bourbons of Buffalo Trace were put together and this was a rare chance to ask him a few interesting questions on wood, desert island casks and just what its like to hold the title of 'Master Distiller'!

Over to you Harlen....

How would a regular day at the distillery start and end for Harlen Wheatley?

The day starts by assessing the operation and look for any problems or issues. Once the issues are cleared up then I directly go to planning the next moves and staying focused on the priorities. We currently have many projects and plans that have to be thought out and completed. I have a team of about 48 people that are doing everything from receiving raw ingredients to putting barrels away and withdrawing them. They are excellent professionals that do an awesome job completing the multitude of tasks throughout the day. We have a production lot that we must complete everyday. Once production is completed I wrap up thoughts with the supervisors & managers and call it day.

The title 'Master Distiller' gives you an almost 'enigmatic alchemists' image... how much of your distillation skill is down to an element of science and how much is down to instinct- and essentially, your senses?

The science is the real answer. You have to understand and manipulate the science to be able to get the output that you want. I have been at this distillery long enough for all those variables to be
instinctive however I do rely on my science knowledge for everything. I sometimes do scare myself by predicting problems before they happen based on sounds, time, etc...

What, in your experienced opinion, has been the pinnacle within your distilling career?

I will humbly say that that hasn't happened yet, however the distillery winning "distillery of the year" awards the last 4 yrs is a nice reward for all the people here that work so hard.

Is your production craft influenced by other areas of distillation, (like the Scotch malt whisky industry) for instance- the successful experiments of finishing spirit in different types of cask etc?

I would say it has some influence. We have discussed distilling single malt whiskey and aging it in our barrels. We have looked at their techniques for production like distillation, yeasting, enzymatic actions, etc. to see if we can improve our operation.

Are you managing to meet the demands for your bourbon in new markets? Has the Far East seen growth in your product sales?

We are managing it however it is a bit daunting at the moment because the demand is bigger in some areas than we have whiskey. We are closely monitoring the output and sales to match our inventories. The Far East is basically untapped at the moment for us. We have seen growth in the industry and we have to gear up if we want to have a big impact in that market.

The George T. Stagg is probably one of the finest spirits I have ever tried. Do you plan to introduce any new premium, small batch bourbons into the Buffalo Trace line?

Hey, we are BT. Anything could happen. :-)

We've found that whisky and indeed bourbon appreciation seems to be becoming a younger past time than perhaps a few years ago. Will this influence your approach to distillation and the tastes of younger drinkers?

We do consider our customers with every one of our products. We will continue to offer our current brands consistently without flavor changes however any new products are carefully selected based on the consumers.

Have you ever tasted a particular cask and wanted to run off to a desert island with it?

Yes, I have had several "sugar barrels". I tend to hold on to those in my "special rick".

How important is the climate in Kentucky to the maturation of your bourbon?

It may be one of the most important part of our maturation. We experience basically all types of weather which gives the bourbon excellent aging characteristics. It allows the proper breathing of the barrel which gives the bourbon its awesome flavor.

Has there ever been spirit from a rival that you wished you'd invented?

We have admired many of the new spirits out there, however there is plenty to go around and we are too busy to covet too much.

Finally, the 64,000 dollar question...your all time favourite bourbon??

Well, of course that's a trick question because it really does depend on the occasion. For an everyday drink at any occasion I love BT. For an around the camp-fire conversation piece I would pull out some Stagg. For an excellent mix drink or a mild sweet drink I would have a Weller 12 YO. If there isn't any bourbon around I would have a Rain and cranberry. I love it all really.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

'Mor(angie) than meets the eye??

Firstly- apologies for the puns.  Perhaps this one was a step too far but in this instance it feels like we're writing the lyrics to a song and nothing rhymes with 'orange'!!
A few reviews ago, our guest caskstrengther' Tim gave a glowing write up to the new Glenmorangie Astar and we wholeheartedly agreed with his findings- the marvelous sweet marzipan and spicy ginger on the nose, followed up with the spicy and peppery palate- a worthy successor to the discontinued Artisan Cask.
Recently, Caskstrength attended a tasting of 6 'Glenmorangie expressions, led by the incredibly knowledgeable  and passionate Dr Bill Lumsden. The depth of Bill's search for the finest wood was enormously impressive and gave weight to his expectations from the new Astar.  But would it hold its own against some of the more established bottlings? lets find out...

Glenmorangie 'Original' - 10 years old - 40% vol - 70cl
As this is essentially a relaunch of the 10 year old, one wouldn't expect that much difference to the original bottlings we have previously tried:

Nose: Mandarin oranges, followed by hints of marshmallow, lemon and lime boiled sweets, backed up with nice light notes of vanilla, lily and lavender.  

Palate: An opening of oak sets the scene with coconut, honey and a slight spiciness of paprika grabbing your attention.  

Finish: More sweetness with a fine note of vanilla ice cream, ginger and honey nut cornflakes developing as the finish subsides. 

Overall:  A cracking start to the tasting- this 'entry level' 'Morangie does not disappoint.

Glenmorangie 'Lasanta' - no age statement - NCF- 46% vol - 70cl 

Our second dram and we're onto Lasanta- in Gaelic meaning 'Warmth and Passion'- strong words to follow??

Nose:  Immediate sulphury notes, mandarin orange, dry sherry and rubber.  Sure it's obvious that this has been matured in sherry, but it's a fairly unpleasant start.

Palate: Dates, spices and cereal notes- a better development from the nose, but the rubberiness returns to dominate.

Finish: More of the dry sherry on the death. Neither particularly long or enjoyable.  

Overall: A very disappointing dram- we're fans of great sherried whiskies - Aberlour's A'bunadh shines with sweetness and depth, (albeit at cask strength) but this isn't on the same playing field. 

Glenmorangie 'Quinta Ruban' - no age statement - NCF - 46% vol - 70cl 

You'll notice a similar theme emerging here- in this modern day of marketing and strategy, the relaunch has proved popular at re-introducing us to the same products we are already used to. In this instance, 'Quinta Ruban' represents the relaunch of the old 'Glenmorangie Portwood finish.  we weren't particularly a fan of this the first time round, so will we be inclined to change our opinion?

Nose: Musty notes immediately dominate (ever held your cat up close and given him/her a good snuggle?- a similar wiff is apparent here) then hints of rum, coffee and chocolate become more prevalent - not unpleasant but strange.

Palate: Big sweetness, in a dark brown sugar way, then punching through with cedar, dryness and spiced dried vine fruits.  More dark chocolate flows onto the tongue at the death.

Finish: Lighter, more herbal notes become apparent here, followed by some more of that cedar'y dryness.  

Overall:  A step up from the first time we tasted the portwood.  This is a very drinkable whisky, but you can't help wondering what it would be like if bottled at a slightly higher %?

Glenmorangie 'Nectar D'or' - (10 years ex bourbon barrel, finished 2 years in sauternes cask) - no age statement - 46% vol - NCF

Another re-branding excersise here with this bottling essentially replacing the old Sauternes finish.

Nose: Licorice, delicate spiced notes and a very pleasingly fragrant nutmeg aroma.  Pretty much all the best characters of a superb sauternes then...

Palate: A slight touch of coffee about the arrival, followed by by dry flavoursome vine fruits, macaroons and fresh and fruity white wine.

Finish: Swift and light, but not at all unexpected.  

Overall: An fairly enjoyable and light dram - with hints of hidden depth, especially in the very pleasing nose.

So, onto our last tasting of the night and it's something a little of piste- an older expression which promises to round out the evening with aplomb!

Glenmorangie 25 year old ' Quarter Century' bottling - 43% vol - 70cl

We're given a slight insight into this rarity before diving in- part of the maturation process has been accomplished in Burgundy barrels, hopefully giving this the delicate spiced notes of a first-class grand cru.

Nose: Fragrant rosewater mixes with cinnamon, cedarwood, luscious creamy chocolate, dried cherries and marzipan.  Pretty much all our favourite aromas in one glass.  

Palate: More of that cinnamon but backed up with juicy cherries and other berry fruits. The presence of great wine notes are very much in evidence here. 

Finish: Very smooth, rich and lengthy, with a creaminess coming through.  Also more surprisingly is the feint notes of Japanese plum wine and ground coffee on the death.   

Overall:  This is an incredibly well balanced whisky, that shows no signs of excess age and only the craft of bringing together an extremely good spirit and quality wood.  

All and all, a mixed evening.  The quality of the original, coupled with the great experience of the 25 year old balance out the disappointment the other repackaged expressions which just don't hang together as well as they perhaps should.  

(Rose) Bank On This

Have you ever made a bad decision?

Bought the wrong size shirt in a shop.
Chosen the chicken when you should have had the fish.
Decided to take Russia in winter.
Bought a house in Swindon when you should have bought a house, er, anywhere other than in Swindon.

We all do it.

We all make stupid decisions.

Sometimes these decisions have bigger ramifications that we expect.
Sometimes these bad choices are personal to us only.

But we try and learn.

We try the shirt on in the shop before buying it.
We choose the fish instead of the chicken.
We wait until the harsh winter in Russia is over before pushing the Northern front forward.
We never, ever even go near Swindon.

That’s how life works. We make mistakes.
We’re only human.
But life is also about learning.

Just ten years after closing the Port Ellen distillery on Islay, Diageo took the decision to mothball Rosebank; a Lowland distillery situated between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Often considered as the finest example of Lowland whisky, Rosebank is famed for a delicate and floral flavour. Now ear-marked for house development, a Beefeater “restaurant” takes up some of the old warehousing space.

I’d hazard a guess that the staff at Diageo c.1980 – 1995 all wear ill-fitting shirts. I bet they all chose the chicken when they got to the Beefeater in Camelon, Falkirk. I bet their marketing department tried to take Russia in the winter, years before it became a lucrative new emerging market. And I bet they all now live in... shudder... Swindon.

Rosebank – Single Malts Of Scotland – 16 Year Old – Distilled 01.07.1991 / bottled 22.04.2008 - cask no. 402 - 249 bottles - 55.2% Vol. – 70cl

Nose- the trademark Rosebank camomile comes hitting through at first, backed by gentle lavender, warm butter and a slight track of golden syrup. This is the whisky equivalent of a 1980’s Laura Ashley dress. All grace, flow and spring flowers. A real innocence here to the nose, pushed not too heavily by the alcohol content.

Palate- a real sweetness at first, with the golden syrup making the first impact followed by pineapple juice, hot toasted crumpets with melting butter on and then red chilli. A real blast at the end to keep you on your toes. Far more warming than the nose would lead you to think. This is a whisky that does not need any watering down. It’s just perfect at 55.2%.

Finish- the heat dissipates leaving a real dryness and coal dust finish, but not in an unpleasant way. Medium in length, it really leaves you wanting more.

Overall- a cracker. A lot of people say that Rosebank does not last well into the teens but this one has managed to retain the floral joys of life without becoming over woody. At £49, a great buy.