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Thursday 30 October 2008

Bulldog vs Hockey Mom

Politics. It is a funny old game. We are less than a week away now from the US Presidential election to see who will replace George W. Bush in the White House. But before citizens of the United States go to the polls there is weeks and week of electioneering. Candidates travelling from coast to coast and spending unfeasibly large amounts of money (money that could, if both parties agreed not to spend it on marketing, be used to build schools, hospitals and feed the poor). But the election run-up is about educating the people. Empowering the good folk in the U. S. of A to make an informed decision at the polls. To know each candidates agenda. To understand why they believe their campaign. And most importantly to find a candidate they trust.

This is much like whisky.

"Er, okay. How on earth is this like whisky?!" I hear you cry. "You've finally gone mental."

Well, whisky is all about education; education of the palate. Travelling from coast to coast and spending unfeasibly large amounts of money (money that could be better used to build schools, hospitals and feed the poor. Or just to pay my bloomin' mortgage!) on learning about different wood finishes. Learning about peating levels. Learning about age. Learning about regional styles and regional variations. Understanding blending and vatting. And trying out as many different distilleries as one can get ones hand on! Education before you finally put your "X" in the box of a whisky that you dearly love. A whisky you would trust as your leader. A whisky to run your free world. A Whisky with it's finger firmly on the button.

It was with unbounded joy then, that we recently came across a bottling from a distillery which neither of us had sampled before; Glendronach. An open bottle of 15 Year Old, 100% Matured in Sherry, this was going to be a real eduction for the palate.

Glendronach - 15 YO "100% Matured in Sherry" - 40% Vol - 1 ltr

Nose: A touch of peat smoke (very light indeed), some aniseed, lots of Christmas spices and Rum 'n' Raisin ice cream. Yummy!

Palate: The raisins again mixed with some light summer ale. Ginger root and a slight medicinal (TCP) quality. Nice and warming.

Finish: Lingers for a short while with cola but the depth in flavours is let down by the low alc content. Sherried whiskies of this age need more oomph to carry their substantial character across the finish line.

Overall: A real education. This is a pleasant enough dram but I'd love to try this spirit in bourbon casks, as was tried in their 12 YO release called "The Original" (second fill, mainly bourbon). It feels over disciplined in the sherry casks at this age.

Best In Glass Awards 2008

As the end of the year approaches, we here at shall be looking to place an "X" next to our favourite whisky of the year, as we announce the nominations in our first "Best In Glass" Awards (BiG Awards). A short list of 8 - 10 whiskies shall be drawn up and announced at the start of November. The only criteria for this is that the whisky must have been released in 2008. From the short list there shall be only one winner, to be revealed Monday December 1st. Keep and eye out for further announcements.

Sunday 26 October 2008

SMWS November Nosings...

Well, the clocks have gone back and you know it's that time to stick the heating on and start stashing some cash away for Christmas- it always has a nasty habit of creeping up on you, requiring unfounded last minute panic spending! Anyway, to keep this brief, the nice people at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society have sent us 4 of their new November releases for our delectation and delight. Back in July we featured a pair of fine bottlings- a Littlemill and a Mannochmore, which have no doubt totally sold out now. The next lot of bottlings are in equally short supply, so certainly won't be hanging around for long...perfect for that early christmas present perhaps??

33.72 Mellow Treat - Age: 10 Years - 57.2% Cask: First Fill Barrel - Distilled May 1998 - 255 Bottles

Nose: There is no pretence about which distillery this comes from. One whiff and you know where you stand: On a grassy knoll over looking Port Ellen...
A deep nosing finds a huge peat hit mixed with plenty of sweet saltiness with hint of heather. A lot more vanilla essence in this nose than on previous 10's from this famous distillery.

Palate: Sherbet, Champagne and smoke (like a good music industry party...!). This is the sweetest Kildalton area whisky I have ever had. The First fill nature of it shines through.

Finish: The sweetness lingers like saccharine in the mouth. There are touches of black cherry jam and over ripe plums.

Overall: A solid expression which is very, very sweet at the end of the palate and in the finish. Needs water which dulls the overall sweetness and enhances the fruits.

125.17 Indulgent Sofa Treat- Age: 12 Years - 57.8% - Cask: Second Fill Hogshead - Distilled August 1996 - 242 Bottles

Nose: Salt is the first thing to hit your nostrils with this whisky, from the 2nd most northerly distillery in Scotland. There is a real youthfulness in the spirit which belies the 12 year old age of this dram. Some green apples and water melon 'jelly belly' jelly beans are present and the longer it spends in the glass, the better this nose gets. Pour a dram BEFORE going to work and let this sit in the air until work is over for the day. Then you will get the full benefit of the rich, flowery aromas in the glass.

Palate: The sweetness of the water melon and the green apples of the nose come to life on the palate. There is also rich summer fruit pudding with red berries of all types stewed together in hearty juiciness. This is really tasty!

Finish: A hint of red chillies and the fruit just slides away gently into the back ground, with the fire of the alcohol content leaving a long ending to an enjoyable dram.

Overall: An excellently fruity dram which we found to be really, really tasty. With water, the nose and the palate are not quite what they were, but the finish is a little more subtle with the fruity flavours lasting like a yummy boiled sweet.

26.27 An Absolute Cracker!- Age: 25 Years - 55.8%- Cask: Refill Hogshead - Distilled May 1983 - 177 Bottles

A quick swirl of the glass and suddenly we're in familiar territory. This dram is from the second most northerly mainland Distillery. An initial hit of beeswax leads you into diced apples with a squeeze of lemon, golden syrup sponge cake with a dusting of cinnamon. Its so creamy, yet fresh and zesty you just can't wait to dive in for the first mouthful.

Palate: An excellent rich mouth feel immediately leads to a real sweetness- it's like biting into a toffee apple on bonfire night, sweet brittle caramel with crisp, juicy fruit on the inside, again with the presence of the cinnamon. slightly honeyed notes come through and a little more zesty lemon, but the whole package sits together so well in the mouth. Great stuff.

Finish: Like the dying embers of a fire, this really fades out gracefully over time, with real chocolate fudge notes and a zingy ginger spiciness coming through on the death.

Overall: As the name suggests- this is an absolute cracker, hardly surprising when you consider the heritage of the distillery its from. So much more refined than some of its younger brothers and very unique. Something tells us that the 177 bottles are already being greedily eyed up...

29.73 BFD (Big Friendly Dram) - Age: 11 Years - 58.6% - cask Refill Hogshead - Distilled October 1996 - 295 Bottles

Rather like 33.72, there's no mistaking this when you get your nose in there, but it's all done in a very subtle way, gentle peat, iodine, cream soda and vanilla all compete for your attention against some slight hints of oily creosote- not as obvious as its younger, more well known brother but certainly as pleasing.

Palate: Whilst the nose is slightly delicate and sophisticated, like the local vicar, the heart is a grimy engine driver, all expletives and firey passion! More grit and grime fill the mouth, in the best possible way, then comes the sweet fudge and baked apple, and barbeque sauce which is not expected.

Finish: More sweetness and Manuka honey make this a very odd dram indeed, but a very very good one, nonetheless!

Overall: The 4th in a line of cracking drams from the SMWS. as with the others, don't expect them to be around for too long though- you'll be sorely disappointed...

Monday 20 October 2008

A signal of things to come??...

Wow. Tans don't last long do they? barely a day and my finely cultivated Portuguese sun blush is already starting to fade with this dismal London drizzle. We're quite aware that here at that we start lots of postings discussing the weather, but we make no apologies. Clearly, it has a huge impact on our state of mind and the whiskies we love. Seriously, Portugal's weather was a complete refreshment for the soul and the last week spent in Porto, with many a fine vintage Tawny in ones hand has not only done wonders for the skin but also for the mind. Considering our collective knowledge was relatively limited in the production of wonderful port bottlings, it was good to take a little break from whisky and learn a few proper facts. But given a cellar, crammed with casks full of exceptional liquid, your mind tends to wander a little. Thoughts like, " I wonder where this empty cask will end up?" sprang to mind and you kick yourself for thinking, maybe a distillery will finish something cheeky in it... well, maybe they will??
This leads nicely onto the first foray back into whisky - banishing the memories Vila Nova De Gaia into the ether. Last night we were lucky enough to try the newly-launched Glenmorangie Signet for the first time.

Signet is apparently a project that Dr Bill Lumsden has been developing since as far back as 1984, from his days working in the brewing business. At the heart of the whisky lies its unique proposition- 'chocolate malt'- a curious dark, toasted grain slowly cooked at around 250 degrees Centigrade, which imparts a richness into the spirit. We're also told that it is based on a mixture of ex-oloroso casks and a touch of virgin oak, containing older and younger whiskies.

With its highly lavish packaging, the smoked glass bottle, ludicrously weighty stopper and 'flick book of clouds and bottle shots'- (yes, we did just type that) our hopes were high, albeit slightly concerned. To be honest, the last Glenmorangie tasting we wrote about was a mixed affair, the wonderful Astar leading the way to the winning post and the not-so-wonderful Lasanta and Quinta Ruban clearly bring up the rear. Will the Signet make us pine for those wonderfully heady casks we so reluctantly left behind in Porto? lets see....

Glenmorangie Signet - NAS - 46% - 70cl

Nose: Masses of over-ripe banana, fresh ginger, mint, orange blossom and hints of smoke. A classy start then, with all the usual Glenmorangie spice to match. Almost a 'whisky mac' feel to it and the toasty, spicy influence of the chocolate malt is very much evident.

Palate: Pepper, espresso coffee and leather all hit your tastebuds on the first sip, with a minty floral note developing afterwards. Again, the spices and citrus are also present.

Finish: Lingering ginger and dark chocolate notes, leading to a reasonably lengthy finish.

Overall: This is a highly drinkable whisky and Dr Lumsden's team should be commended for their constant devotion to the development of great wood and innovative experiments. Our only slight gripe is its lofty price tag (around £120) which makes us wonder quite how much was spent on just developing the packaging, let alone the whisky. This will no doubt go down very well in the newer markets (especially the Far East) but for us, it just seems a touch unnecessary. There's something to be said for real simplicity at its best, which may have been overlooked a tad here- but all in all, a fine example of Glenmorangie.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Blasda. You can't peat it.

What a weekend. Mid-October and the weather is fantastic. Highs in London of 21 degrees centigrade. Mother Nature is inviting you down the park to play Frisbee and drink Pimms. In October. Let's just confirm here; October. The 10th month in the Gregorian calendar, just TEN WEEKS away from Christmas and I'm in shorts. Could things get any stranger? Well. Yes. They could. Because this month sees the release of Blasda, Ardbeg's "lightly peated" whisky. So, last night a few folk gathered together at an intimate do in the Whisky Exchange shop at Vinopolis, London Bridge where Ardbeg's Distillery Manager Mickey Heads took us on a journey from the new, lightly peated Blasda through to the Ten Year Old, the Uigeadail, Single Cask bottling (cask 1375 from 1974) and finally 2 strange drams, direct from the warehouse. We have previously done notes for the Ten and cask 1375 and there will be tasting notes up later for the Ugi and the two cask samples, but for now let's kick off with the much anticipated Blasda:

Ardbeg Blasda - NAS - 40% - 70cl

What we learnt about this bottling last night was that this batch contains 35% 1st fill and 65% 2nd refill bourbon casks. Let's get our nose into it, then:

N- light peat (no surprise there), grapefruit juice (Echinacea), light mint, vanilla pods, cucumber, waft of smoke. This was the first dram of the evening, and when returning to it having gone through the Ten, Ugi and some single cask stuff you really smell the youthful, light nature of it. It becomes more like silver Tequila (Silver Patron) and, if you are used to big, heavy Ardbeg noses it is something really quite different (even from young Ardbegs such as the Very Young). Is this a bad thing? That is for you to decide.

P- Here we go then. Now for the "money shot". How is this going to go down on the palate? And... it is in the mouth... its gone! Hang on. No it hasn't. It is still there. But it just gives up. It enters like an elderly Morris dancer on a light and breezy summers day into a country pub. Fresh, crisp white clothing, some light bells ringing and lots of colourful ribbon waving, there is a hint of the gentle vanilla pipe tobacco which their friend had been smoking about an hour before. However, once the action starts they can only keep up with the dance for a matter of moments before their knees give way and their back goes. Not enough strength to see it through to the end. And that is the main problem with the Blasda. For all the light hints of Real / Traditional Lemonade, freshly cut grass, peat and minted green peas, there is just not enough strength to carry this through. 46% vol would have been much more helpful for the palate.

F- The finish is pleasant with touches of red chillies and vanilla ice cream (mr whippy style). Then it is all over.

O- So, what do we make of this curious release from a distillery that has worked so hard to build a brand of its smokey and meaty whiskies. Well, Blasda is not a bad whisky. But its just so far away from "Ardbeg". This is the ideal supermarket Ardbeg. Maybe it should be renamed "(bl)ASDA"! It is a good introduction to peat. A gentile take off into a world that most people find difficult to get into. It is, as someone on our table commented, an Ardbeg with stabilisers on.
Pictures from the night on The Whisky Exchange blog here:

Thursday 9 October 2008

1966. What happened then? Something great. And it wasn't football related!

Back in the day when the proprietors were Bulloch Lade & Co, before the distillery was closed in 1972 and rebuilt again (re-opening in 1974), this Caol Ila arrived on earth. After 17 years of knocking about in a cask, watching on as its parent was swallowed up into major drinks company after major drinks company, it was eventually bottled by Cadenheads and sent out on to the mean streets of the 1980's. A time when distilleries were closing down at an alarming rate and when blends were all that mattered. Let's see how this mid-1980's release fairs in todays palate:

Caol Ila - 17 YO -Cadenheads Bottling - Distilled Feb 1966 - Bottled Oct 1983 - 46% Vol - 70cl

N- Big hit of peat. This is unmistakably Caol Ila. I was given some and not told what it was, but the pre-face lift personality of this distillery still shines though in the nose (unlike human face lifts!). However, there is much more to this than the modern day Caol Ila. There are tinned pineapples in syrup, a touch of mango. Stuff you would expect from those good Bowmores. You know, the really expensive ones they do now-a-days! Personal to me, or any other Norskmen reading: there is a real smell of my Morfar's boat house in Norway, (up in Hodneland on the Western Coast of Norway just North West of Bergen). All tar, wood and leather constantly drying and encrusted with salt. A touch of dry fish (cod). Really well layered and lovely to nose.

P- On the palate you get a sharp hit of smoke followed by damp shammy leather, a slight bitterness. Vanilla creme. A light palate and not as salty as I expected from the nose.

F- The palate moves into coffee and dark chocco. Medium in length with enough legs left after all these years to warm your heart and leave you glowing.

O- This is a whisky from a different era. Production methods may be "better" and more refined, but there is something about this era of drams that, I'm sure not as well produced from a scientific point of view, retains character. Bags of character. Like in old films when people are driving cars. The special effects are not as good, but the acting can be out of this world.