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Thursday 25 December 2008

A Very Merry Christmas

Joel and Neil from wish all our visitors / readers a very Merry Christmas. We hope you all got that bottle you wanted...!

Monday 22 December 2008

Nature/Nurture- The Japanese way

Two days away from Christmas and fortunately, our spending spree is complete (save for that trip to the appalling 'Uniqlo' to purchase some garish looking 'Heat Tec' under-garments for my niece...nice...)
2008 has been a tough year for most people, but let's smile, turn our back on ill-feeling/ the 'recession' and embrace 2009 like a welcome hug from a loved one... now is certainly not the time for crying into first class drams!
The last month or so has given us at Caskstrength time to reflect on just what a spectacular year it has been for whisky. Some sensational releases all over the world - many included in our own 'Best in Glass' awards. In the final part of our Japanese whisky month, we've got another couple of crackers for you- a tasty 80's vintage from the house of Kariuzawa and the some newborn spirit distilled at the brand new Chichibu.
following on from the recent trio of great Kariuzawa single casks comes number 3397- distilled in 1998 and bottled last year. will this one round off a perfect year for the now closed distillery? let's see...

Karuizawa Distillery - Cask 3397 - Distilled 1998 - Bottled 2007 - 59.8% -

Nose: The classic mix we've come to associate with aged Karuizawa is immediately apparent- mustiness, old books, forest floors, slightly burnt sugar and a Vermouth'y aromatic note. Give it a little time and a light fruitiness (stewed rhubarb) emerges, and a musky but vegetive rounding off an extremely pleasant and welcoming aroma. With a little water, the musky note develops into something more meaty, with almost hints of roast lamb.

Palate: Ooh... super sweetness, like a very milky mocha with about 10 teaspoons of rich demerera sugar. The sort of thing you covet on your regular visit to the local cafe, but end up coming out with a curdled and overpriced smootie. As with the Karuizawa 1971, this is strong stuff at nearly 60% but oh, so drinkable. Lovely sherbet notes come through as it enters the finishing straight.

Finish: Drying oak, less depth and length than the prize winning 1971, but hints of that sweetness and an aromatic, almost bamboo shoot freshness to it.

Overall: Another corker from this majestic distillery. Sadly closed now, but as our interview with Marcin Miller recently observed, there are still a large number of casks just waiting to be discovered. We'll be at the front of the queue, rest assured.

Next up- The first born spirit, from the virginal Chichibu distillery... doesn't this seem strangely fitting, given the time of year??!!

Chichibu - Ichiro's Malt - Cask 126 - distilled and bottled mid 2008- 62%

Nose: Cor! as diametrically opposite to the Karuizawa above as you could get... Feinty, sweet, candifloss, like a rich caramel ice cream sundae, topped with crushed nuts. Dig deeper and you'll start to notice a slight comparison with the older Japanese single malts - a mossy tang and almost juniper freshness.

Palate: HUGE cereal hits you here- and I mean HUGE- like a classy Muesli. Honey covered oats, big, juicy dried fruits and malty goodness. Pour this on your morning breakfast for the ultimate AM zing... (note- please don't even contemplate this- not even if you buy that stupidly expensive GM-free 'Rude Health Muesli' from Sainsburys... Sensible Ed.) At this age, there really isn't anything else in the mix, but it promises to something very, very exciting indeed.

Finish: More cereal and a spirity freshness, as you'd hope for from a quality new-make. I enjoyed this in the same way I did the first time Caskstrength experienced Kilchoman's new- make, or the Bruichladdich X4+1 albeit without the huge, fresh swathe of peat.

Overall: Keep watching this distillery. Ichiro Akuto is a proven master of distillation, with a background spanning 21 generations of supreme skill and innovation from sake to single malt. We look forward to tasting this after some time in a quality cask....

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Continuing our love of Japanese Whisky....

Well, albeit slightly later than intended, we continue our Japanese themed December with a few more delights from the Orient. As well as four brand new reviews for you over the next few posts, we caught up for a civilised chat with Marcin Miller, the man behind No 1 Drinks Company, who had the enlightened idea of bringing some sensational single casks to our shores from the likes of Karuizawa and the Hanyu ‘Card Series’.

As Marcin sits down with Caskstrength for a refreshing afternoon tea at the Wolseley on Piccadilly, A cheeky grin can be seen emerging from ear to ear. The nature of this is perhaps the fine array of loose-leaf teas and impeccably crafted Florentines on offer here (which also has me smiling and slavering in anticipation…) but it soon becomes clear that at the moment, Marcin is a man in demand. As well as winning our inaugural
Best in Glass Awards, The Karuizawa 1971 single cask, which Marcin was responsible for bottling, has won just about every award going this year– including a Malt Maniacs’ thumbs up and plaudits from numerous whisky writers all over the world.
So what prompted Marcin’s first forays into fine Japanese whiskies?

“About 10 years ago, I was the editor for Whisky Magazine and (with my business partner David Croll) we were busy setting up the very first ‘Whisky Live’ event, which happened to be in Tokyo. So I started to think ‘what’s the score’ with Japanese whisky! I was fascinated by the whiskies I initially tried on that first visit- Yoichi 10 Year Old, as well as bottlings from Yamazaki.”

It seems that until a few years ago, there was only a relatively small UK interest in Japanese whisky?

“There happens to be a very strong domestic market for these whiskies but they weren’t that aggressive in the UK, so I started to think about how to get some of the less well known brands into the hands of the public. The ethos of most whisky bars in Japan is that Japanese whiskies are usually more expensive than Scotch malts, which in turn is very clever for their branding- there’s a certain pride and prestige in what they produce. Ironically, a bottle of Yamazaki 18 Year Old is actually cheaper to buy in Norwich than it is in Tokyo!!"

So this prompted you to seek out the finest casks from a number of sources?

"The first bottlings No.1 developed were the
Hanyu ‘Card Series’. Originally built in 1946, the Hanyu Distillery began producing whisky in a Scotch single malt style from two pot stills in 1980. It closed in 2000 but there were small amounts remaining, which was very well received.” With Karuizawa, there were around 49 casks, some dating back to 1965, which we started bottling in 2006. "

Karuizawa single casks we’ve tasted all share similar characteristics of big intense fruit, mixed with a really distinct clarity and wonderful woodland freshness. Why do you think this is?

"Well, the Karuizawa distillery was developed in the foothills of Mount Asama, which is some 850 feet above sea level, so the high altitude certainly has an effect of the condition of the casks and the climatic humidity. "

The 1971 bottling was 64.1 % abv, which is astonishing, considering it’s a 36-year old whisky.

“The casks are mostly Spanish sherry butts and are all excellent quality, with some dating back from the 1960’s which gives Karuizawa its really concentrated rich fruity notes. The distillery experiences very hot summers and really cold winters, which gives the whisky a different maturation profile to that of other Japanese whiskies.“

What’s next on the agenda for No 1 Drinks then?

"They’ll certainly be a cask from 1972 released, but this is likely to be part of the
No 1 range, as opposed to a straight Karuizawa bottling. There’s a few really exceptional casks that we’ll bottle under our own label. There will also be a continuation of the 'Card Series' with a '2 of Diamonds' and a '7 of Clubs' and possibly the ‘Joker’ as the last release in the series!

Marcin and David have also entered into collaboration with the Akuto family who, have traditionally been making Sake since 1625. Ichiro Akuto, from the 21st generation of the family and Innovator Of The Year at the 2008 World Whisky Awards opened the Chichibu distillery in 2007 and the first spirit ran from the stills in March this year. Stay tuned for an exclusive new-make tasting!

So, time to try some more of this Karuizawa stuff:

Karuizawa - 1992 - Bottled 2007 - Cask No. 3330 - 61.5%

Nose: Old polished wood, pews and biscuit. A touch of pastry, vanilla, mint (fresh) and menthol. Some soot. After time some raspberry ripple ice cream, Strawberry syrup.

Palate: Sherried, summer fruits (Strawberry jam), pepper, dark chocolate. Hint of smoke.

Finish: Boiled sweets, menthol. Big sherry finish.

Overall: I enjoyed this and thought it was well balanced with enough sweetness and summer fruits.

Karuizawa - 1991 - Bottled 2007 - Cask No. 3318 - 62.5%

Nose: Strong and affirmative with the alcohol punching through more than the 1992.
Lots of dough, roasted cereals, pie pastry.

Palate: Very sweet, coffee; like builders coffee! Dates. Soot again and burnt sugar.

Finish: Dry with a big hit of Christmas cake. Apricots and a touch of smoke.

Overall: A very pleasant dram, less sherried than the 1992 and it comes full circle from biscuits in the nose to biscuit in the finish, via sweet coffee and dates. Nice.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

A Few Frugal Fermented Flutters for some Fabulous Festive Fulfilment...(try saying that after several large drams)

The Christmas shopping frenzy is undoubtedly one of the low points in anyone's festive calender- pushing, shoving, fighting for the last, over-priced thing on the shelf, it kind of reminds us of trying to get one of the Festival bottlings at this years Feis Ile.

But fear is at hand. If you were considering buying your loved one a tasty Scottish tipple for their stocking we've been perusing the December bargains at the various supermarkets and booze emporiums, so you don't have to!

Here is a round up of the offers we encountered on a recent shopping trip, with helpful links to their online shops:

Asda, while stocks last:
  • Glenmorangie Original- £19.50
  • Highland Park 12 year old- £20.50
  • Ardbeg 10 year old- £22
  • Glenfiddich 12 year old - £20
4 great buys here, with a good £5-6 slashed off the price. They all represent great entry level whiskies for someone taking their first steps in the world of single malts or are just damn good additions to the cabinet for anyone who has tried them before and needs to stock up before the merriment starts.

  • Lagavulin 16 year old- £33.99
  • Laphroaig 10 year old - £19.99
  • Talisker 15 year old Distillers Edition - £34
Another fabulous haul here. The Lagavulin 16 year old is certainly one of Caskstrength's 'house whiskies' which we simply can't do with out and at £33.99 it's a great time to stock up.
Also special mention to the Talisker- an amazing price of £34, for this Distillers Edition, matured in bourbon oak then transferred to amoroso sherry casks to finish its maturation. Easily the cheapest we've seen it and another great way to enjoy a Tali'...

  • Dalwhinnie 15 year old- £22.99
  • Glenfiddich 18 year old - £30.99
  • Glenlivet 12 year old - £19.99
Again, a good £5-6 off most things here. The Glenfiddich 18 year old is a brilliant dram- and at £30.99 is a lovely step up from the 12 year old at a very reasonable cost.

Whisky Exchange:
With so much to choose from, it's hard not to go mad and buy all your friends quality spirits from The Whisky Exchange. We think the following represent their best Christmas buys:
  • 'Single Malts Of Scotland' Aultmore 1992 15 year old - £29.25 + a free tasting glass!
  • Glenfarclas 15 year old -£ 36.49 + 2 GF tasting glasses
  • Glenlivet Nadurra - £37.49
  • Laphroaig Quarter Cask £21.99
  • Caol Ila Cask Strength (distillery bottling) £31.99
Quarter Cask for 22 quid? dive in now! this is an excellent example of peated perfection that no Islay fan should miss. Most of these have bottles have between £3 and £6 off, so are definitely worth checking out. Also the SMoS range of bottlings, exclusive to the Whisky Exchange are a fabulous way to try genuinely rare and quality casks for 'credit crunch' prices. (Apologies, I had vowed never to use that damn phrase!) The shop is based in Vinopolis nearest tube London Bridge and next to Borough Market, so you can always buy a hand-reared Ostrich burger on the way out!

  • Benromach Traditional - £18.99
  • Auchentoshan 3 Wood - £36.99 (buy 2 and save £10)
  • Aberlour a'Bunadh - £35.99 (buy 2 and save £10)
  • Clynelish 14 year old - £27.99 (buy 2 and save £10)
Some interesting options here- The Aberlour a'Bunadh is a great big sherried monster that dram fans either love or hate. At this price, it might be worth taking the 'Marmite Challenge' to find out what side you and your loved ones fall! Also very good savings on the Benromach Traditional- the first whisky produced after the distilleries re-opening in 2004.

So there you have it- may all your Christmas dreams come true... if they don't... well at least you got some cracking whiskies for peanuts.