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Tuesday 22 December 2009

We've Started, So We'll Finish...

Fresh, from our exciting night last week, when we crowned Kilchoman's 3 year old Inaugural release the Best In Glass winner, we thought it would be useful to give our palates some room to breathe. Yeah right.
Joel went back to drinking Babycham and Harvey's Bristol Cream, whereas I went a little off-piste. (that's 'Piste'...)
This involved me making copious amounts of a new 'baked apple' whisky cocktail i've been working on for Christmas (details to follow in a seperate post)

Rest assured, we're back on the straight and narrow now and have been wading through some of the recent samples which came in.

One we're particularly interested in was a new release from Highland Park- Earl Magnus. According to Jason Craig at the distillery, 'this is a 15 year old HP, with the addition of some casks from the early 1990's, which should add some greater depth to an high strength expression.'

Historically the Earl or 'Saint' Magnus has been a celebrated figure throughout Orkney tradition, most notably by the stunning cathedral in Kirkwall, which is less than a mile away from the distillery. The Highland Park archive also has in its midst, a bottling from the late 19th Century which depicts an image of Magnus, taken from an ancient stained glass window.

We're big fans of this year's releases HP releases, including the Hjarta and Orcadian vintages, so will this one also be a triumph? More to the point... would this Magnus dare to sit in the Caskstrength Mastermind chair...

"Earl Magnus, your chosen specialised subject is... 'The life and work of the Highland Park distillery'. You have 2 minutes, starting.... NOW":

Highland Park - Earl Magnus bottling - 52.6% - 5976 bottles - 70cl

Nose: Something earthy stirs as the liquid settles in the glass, some definite wood in there, but not sherry wood. A heather note, followed by some dried grass and a little waft of smoke, but only a fleeting one. Left for a while, some quite elegant floral notes develop- rose petals, dried rose petals perhaps?

Palate: Oh, that's working for me. A cracking oily, rich mouthfeel, gives way to some sweet, then menthol flavours. Barley sugar, then orange sherbet, coupled with some malty cereal. It's got Highland Park stamped all over it, but a little bit bolder, with a touch of embossing. With water, it mellows out and you get back the warming hint of floral in the mouth, rather like those fruit jelly sweets, with a hint of citrus. Again, given a little time, some milk chocolate enters the fray, which is nicely tempered with the lingering citrus.

Finish: A slight dustiness and dryness takes over the palate, but the finish is still rich and unmistakably Highland Park.

Overall: A really interesting bottling- the label looks great and the contents are certainly to be commended. At £85, it won't be on everyone's shopping list, but might just creep onto mine, if I can persuade Mrs Caskstrength to abandon her dreams of some tailored leather opera gloves for Christmas...

Friday 18 December 2009

BIG Award Winner... Here it is...!

A chilly night in a non-disclosed location. Six men sit around a table, laden with glassware, bottles and the remnants of a homemade fish pie. Ten whiskies, the finest new releases this year has to offer have been assembled in a sensible tasting order. One overall winner will triumph, two other whiskies will be highly commended alongside the victor.

2009's BIG Award was back, bigger and ready to spill the beans on some great whiskies...

This year's panel was comprised of some crack noses- so both of us Caskstrength chancers had a lot to live up to with our opinions:

'Sir' Colin Dunn needs no introduction at all. As one of the top bods at Morrison Bowmore, he was instrumental in bringing Japanese whisky to the palates of the UK. He has also delighted and educated thousands of new whisky converts as Senior Whisky Ambassador for Diageo.

Tim Forbes is one of the key chaps at the Whisky Exchange, partly responsible for selecting some of the excellent single casks that the Exchange bottle and providing the tasting notes for the hundreds of whiskies on offer on their website. He also runs a fabulous blog too.

Darren Rook is the manager of London's Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms. As well as being a panelist deciding which society casks are bottled, he is also a top draw cocktail expert, runs a great blog and was one of the chosen bartenders for this year's Whisky Picnic in Edinburgh.

Darrell Sheehan has one of the keenest palates we've ever come across and has a splendid collection of single malts. Darrell was also one of our top chums who made the last 2 year's Feis Ile events such an unforgettable experience. All hail the 'Faceman'....

With the panel assembled it was time to pour the drams and cogitate and deliberate.

With such a range of flavours on offer, our palates undoubtedly took a pounding - debate raged as to personal favourites, but what surprised everyone was the consistency of our thoughts- whilst each whisky demonstrated it was at the height of its game, three drams were emerging as front runners from the 10. After several 're-tastes' we had found our winner- and jolly pleased we were too.

Firstly - our 2 runners up:

Four Roses Single Barrel (2009 Release) - 50% -70cl

A truly extraordinary bourbon and certainly the best we've tried this year. A huge range of fruity flavours, well balanced spice and masses of sweet vanilla, this really is well worth grabbing.

For more info, click here:

Master Of Malt 26 year-old Bowmore - 53.40% - 70cl

We first reviewed this back in July and what struck us immediately was the wonderful light and gently peated nose, but the unusually sweet, tropical fruits on the palate. Colin remarked that it was a reminder of some of the classic older expressions of Bowmore and we certainly wouldn't disagree!

There are still a few bottles of this 'soon to be classic too' bottling here:

So on to the numero uno.

There was no argument from the panel about this whisky being clearly the worthy winner. Not only does it strike a chord for new distillation, it really showcases the quality of young whisky and the potential it has in the years to come.

Drum roll please....

Well done to the Kilchoman distillery for the Inaugural Release and this year's BIG Award Winner!

The freshness at the heart of this whisky is the key to what makes it a champion- coupled with the fabulous balance of crisp peat and wonderful zestiness. On accepting the award, Anthony Wills, the man behind bringing this whisky to fruition said that "this is a tremendous climax to what has been an historical year in the short history of Kilchoman Distillery. It demonstrates that young malt whiskies can be very palatable and Kilchoman releases will definitely be something to look forward to over the coming years."

You can read our full review of the Kilchoman 3 year-old Inaugural Release here.

Well, that's it for this year's award- well done to all the short listed whiskies and we can't wait to start putting together next year's list!

Monday 14 December 2009

BiG Awards 2009 shortlist is unveiled!

OK, as we mentioned last week, here are the names of the 10 whiskies that we feel added a truly extraordinary edge to 2009. As it was with the inaugural BiG Awards (Best in Glass) last year, all 10 come from a wide variety of places and have a huge age range.

Some people will no doubt say we can't fairly pitch a 3 year old whisky against a 45 year old whisky. But here's the rub- it isn't about age (nor price for that matter!)
What these awards are about is celebrating EVERYTHING the whisky stands for...

What story does it tell you?

What memories does it evoke when you try it?

Does it make you beam from ear to ear and crave another dram?

You know- the sort of stuff that gets us all hot under the collar and ever so slightly giddy. All these whiskies have made us feel this way throughout 2009.

So with all these things in mind, we'll be holding a tasting panel later this week to crown the overall 'Best in Glass' winner 2009.
Here's our shortlist (in no particular order). You'll see that most have been reviewed at some point this year- the others were to be in our yearly round up of great drams, but we felt they deserved a place in the awards too:

Four Roses Single Barrel (2009 Release)
Invergordon 1971 Single Grain (Berry's Own Selection)
Hakushu 1989 (TWE 10th Anniversary bottling)

We'll bring you the results of this mammoth tasting later this week... Huzzah!!!

Thursday 10 December 2009

By George, it's ready!!!

The Scottish readers of Caskstrength will no doubt look upon this post with a mixture of amusement, intrigue and possibly distain, as we report that today, the first bottling of English Whisky goes on sale to the general public for 100 years. St George's Distillery over in Norfolk have been producing spirit since November 2006, initially under the watchful eye of master distiller Iain Henderson (ex-Laphroaig) and the very first bottlings or 'Chapters' were released as new make spirit and 18 month old spirit. A peated version of the spirit was also released around the same time.

Now the distillery (rather like Kilhoman did a few months back) can finally celebrate the birth of its whisky -with an initial batch of 349 cases (Chapter 5) going on sale in limited edition decanters a couple of weeks ago.
It of course sold out in a heartbeat and the distillery is now planning the release of Chapter 6, in the run up to Christmas. Matured solely in Bourbon casks and Bottled at 46% (non chilfiltered) Chapter 6 will be the first real chance to try the whisky...

As true blooded Englishmen (well, Joel is part Scandinavian, so he might not count) we're very excited about this release and what it holds for whisky making. Having not tried it yet, we'll reserve judgment, but as soon as we get a chance to try it, you'll be the first to know.

For more info on the distillery, click here

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Finish Reading All About... Joel Has Turned 30! **PART TWO**

In my first post I wrote about an 18 month journey to put together some whiskies from the year of my birth, 1979 in order to celebrate my 30th Birthday. In that post, I wrote about the first threewhiskies of the evening: A Port Ellen Single Cask Signatory bottling, the Port Ellen 3rd Release and a miniature of Imperial. So far, so yummy!

As my search for whisky from 1979 grew, I found my bank balance shrinking; the recession, rising energy bills, fuel duty increasing... the list seemed endless! In line with the shrinking bank balance, the bottles must shrink too, I thought. Feeling not unlike Alice In Wonderland, I was about to enter the interesting world of the miniature... My first purchase was the Imperial- a distillery which I had never experience before and I wasn't disappointed. Next up was another newby on me: Inverleven.

Inverleven - 1979 - 40% vol - 5cl - Gordon & Macphail

Nose: A lovely and sweet nose, I would have pinpointed this as a lowland from that alone. Not as rich in flowers and perfume as a Rosebank, but certainly some white flowers and a hint of toffee.

Palate: A touch of burnt sugar, some bacon.

Finish: Medium with mild spice.

Overall: A pleasant enough dram, but not one to knock the socks off.

The final wee bottle for the evening was a Glen Mhor, yet another distillery that won't ever produce again. This "little drinking" is a good way forward. Cheaper than big bottles and you get to try some whisky you may never have again!

Glen Mhor - 1979 - Distilled 25/5/1979 Bottled July 1995 - Cask No. 2377 + 2378 - 66.7% - 5cl

Nose: Over Mature Compost! Mint Tea, Apple Juice and old sackcloth

Palate: Vanilla Sherbet, much more of the fresh green apples

Finish: Lots of spices, with water cinnamon buns.

Overall: This needs a big dollop of water to open the senses up and get all the flavours out. Only a 16 year old but the is a real maturity about this dram. Robust and flavourful; just make sure you add water!

With the miniatures all gone, it was time to refocus on the big bottles of 1979 stock. By this time my budget was long gone. A few miniatures, a 1979 Port Ellen Single Cask and the Port Ellen 3rd Release later, the tank was indeed empty. It is at this stage that one has to rely on the extreme generosity of friends! There is an old saying:
"A man can be judged by the company he keeps".

On this showing, I am indeed one of the richest men alive. And the next part of this post is a tribute to those people. Thank you!

The first bottle to be unwrapped was a 1979 Caol Ila from Berry Bros, a gift from fellow caskstrengther, Neil (in the interests of clarity, we tried this at BB&R a couple of months ago and I expressed a delight in the bottling, so no prizes to Neil for picking up my very unsubtle hints!!- Cheers mate!):

Caol Ila - 1979 / 2009 - Cask No. 4412 - 53.1% vol - 70cl

Nose: This is a beast! Coal smoke, peat and general targeted aggression drag up pear drops, honeysuckle and mint. Whoooah! This is a nose!

Palate: Yes, that's a Caol Ila- everything you'd expect from the coal driven palate, but there is also some delicate creams in there. Leave it in for as long as you dare and the smoke rises. And rise. And rise. You can hold it for an eternity, but it's like holding a wasp in your mouth... it just gets more and more aggressive as it looks for a way out. This is not only very tasty, but very lively. A fun dram.

Finish: Not as long as you would expect from something as richly flavoured as this, nor from something with this level of strength. There seems just a whiff of relief from the liquid that you've released it. Again, the coal is dominant flavour, but when dies down there is a load of different florals with clear, runny-honey coming in late.

Overall: This is a sensational dram. I had a dinner party last week with one of the attendees from my birthday drinks there. He claimed he'd only come over to try this whisky again. There seems to be a real race developing for "dram of the night" with two front runners being this Caol Ila and the Port Ellen 3rd Release...

So far, so good. I'm very pleased with the additional drammage from 1979. It was truly turning out to be a great year for whisky. But where next? Kudos must go to Darren from the SMWS who pulled out a wonderfully interesting bottle from 1979, dragged kicking and screaming from his own archives. Another demolished distillery... a Glen Albyn.

SMWS 69.11 - July 1979 / July 2006 - 27 Years Old - 58.1% Vol - 70cl

Nose: Very nutty with a hint of sherry. I'm guessing from the nose and the colour that this a 2nd or 3rd refill sherry cask. I would never have pinpointed this whisky from the nose alone (why should I have done?!) but there is real body to it, backed with a freshness or lightness of grass.

Palate: Quite bitter at first, then some tobacco notes, pepper and a hint of salt.

Finish: Long and strong. With water this dram come alive much more- cooking apple notes leap out along with fresh brown bread.

Overall: Unusual and a real welcome break from the peatiness of the evening. This is a strong dram in every way; full of flavours of forest floors, cooking apples and brown bread. A MALT drinkers malt.

It was at this stage that the bottlings hit a wall. That was it for drams from 1979. But the little fact that I was born in '79 didn't put people off. It was time to dig in to some new bottlings... all THIRTY YEAR OLDS. Whoop!

The first came courtesy of my good friend Rich. We've grown up together and he was also born in 1979 but Rich was very kind in bringing along a bottle from yet another new distillery on me... Tamdhu.

Tamdhu - 30 Years Old - The Macphail's Collection - 43% vol - 70cl

Nose: One of those wonderful noses you get with a well aged sherry cask of dark chocolate with cherries in. Beautifully rounded.

Palate: Not as intense on the palate as the nose would suggest. Hold to the promise of dark chocolate but this time with a greater nutty feel of chopped hazelnuts.

Finish: Oooh, spices which I wasn't expecting. A lot hotter than I thought it would be and really quite long.

Overall: A cracker. Never had Tamdhu before but this makes me want to explore it further.

The next 30 year old up was a very special one for me. It had been re-label by the wonderful chaps at Master Of Malt as "Joel Harrison's 30th Birthday Malt - 30 Years Old". How very, very kind of them. The empty bottle I shall keep forever!

Master Of Malt - Secret Bottling Series - Joel Harrison's 30th Birthday Malt - 30 Years Old - Speyside - 40% Vol - 70cl

(note: this is a very heavily sherried Speyside from an un-named distillery...)

Nose: Burnt sugar, creme brulee, walnuts, old polished wood.

Palate: Phawr! That's sherried and aged! Pure apricots in syrup with toffee apple.

Finsh: Medium, lightly spiced and medium dry. Like well brewed tea without milk. Just leaves you wanting more.

Overall: That, ladies and gentlemen, is how to do heavily sherried 30 year old whisky. Everything you want on the nose from a good sherry cask, a plate that isn't too heavy but is nice and fruity and just enough dryness in the finish to leave you wanting more.

"Where do you go from here?" I hear you cry! Well, there are just two more drams from the night, so let's move on to Ma & Pa Harrison's contribution to my celebrations (Thanks Mum and Dad. xx) and guess what?!? It's only more bloody Port Ellen!!

Port Ellen 8th Release - 1978 / 2008 - 29 Years Old - 6618 bottles - 55.3% Vol - 70cl

Nose: The most delicate of all the islay whisky on the night. Hints of lemon, sea salt and smoke.

Palate: The smoke is subtle on this one and the first thing to pop up is those lemons and the salt, the smoke follows in later. Touch of liquorice too.

Finish: After the smoke dies down, pear drops and lime come up and then the fire of the chillies takes over. Long.

Overall: This is a good dram, but not the best islay of the night. In fact, probably in 4th place after the 3rd release, the single cask and the Caol Ila. But let's be honest... to finish behind those three is still bloody good going!

Finally, we come back to the mainland from Islay for one last dram as we travel down to Campbletown courtesy of a man whose picture should be found next to the word generous in the dictionary, Sukhinder Singh.
Longrow - MacMhuirich, Currie & Wilkinson - 1993 - 13 Year Old - Cask No. 635 - 46% Vol - 70cl

Nose: Wowzer! The most delicate hint of peat, banana and vanilla.

Palate: The smoke and banana intermingle with parma violets and touch of liquorice.

Finish: All of the above carried over a medium length and a hint of sherbet.

Overall: This is a fantastic dram. So delicate yet with some real push from the smoke behind it.

It's been a wonderful evening of drams. Thank you to all who came along. I am a very blessed person.

Monday 7 December 2009

BiG Awards 2009 are coming soon!!

Wow! So many great whiskies this year and so many great experiences to go with tasting them. However, there is only one awards ceremony that dares to put the 10 best up against each other... Yes, the BiG awards is back for 2009.

This year, competition has been stiff, but we've managed to whittle them down to 10 bottling's which we feel worthy of the accolade of 'Best in Glass 2009'.

The Rules are simple. Each of the nominees are new releases in 2009. Like last year, we'll be putting them all head-to-head for a final tasting to be held somewhere in London in the next 10 days.

We'll be announcing the short list next Monday - then battle shall commence to see which one is the most stand out bottling on the night. No 'Best Islay under 15 years old' or other similar sub-categories- just a simple, outright, pound for pound winner.

Last year's winner was the amazing Karuizawa 1971 bottling, which is now so scarce that grown men have been known to sell their hair for just a small dram of it.

keep 'em peeled for the short list and let us know whether you agree or disagree.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Some more choices to make...

December is always a hugely busy time in the drinks business and this year is clearly no exception. I've just bought a little helper to keep me in tip top condition and I recommend you do the same... Milk Thistle Tincture. Apparently very good to positively armour plate your liver. It tastes vile on its own, but slipped into a virgin cocktail, one can almost feel it protecting your pipes before the Christmas onslaught begins.

Our Caskstrength Christmas was very much kicked off last night, when we were given an exclusive preview of the next flight of Managers Choice bottlings. The next 6 distilleries to be released will hit the shops on January 8th 2010. Not shy to the criticism over the last Managers Choice releases, Diageo have upped their game and have at least wheeled out one big gun this time around (Talisker) which we were probably most eager to taste.

As we've already tittered some abbreviated notes, we'll split this post into 2 parts and give you a little more to chew on... bottle shots to come....

Lets start off with something a little light weight:

Glen Spey- Managers Choice Bottling - Date Filled: January 1996 (13 yo)- 52% - New American Oak -276 bottles

Very light, floral and almost too delicate- chopped almonds into sweet marzipan, with dessicated coconut, fruity parma violets, a little hint of honey and pencil shavings/ freshly sawn wood. It's there one minute and then it's gone!!

Palate: Very fruity, hints of Gewurztraminer, but backed up with some lovely rich buttery notes. With water, the fruit dissipates and you're left with very little else.

Finish: Slightly drying and short, but delicate with a few green herbs poking through.

Overall: Admittedly, I ruined this whisky with the smallest drop of water, but its aroma and palate were very good while they lasted.

Next up: A Speyside that often delights in the few moments one gets to try it- will this bottling live up to the challenge?

Inchgower-Managers Choice Bottling - Date Filled: October 1993 (15 yo) 61.9% - Bodega sherry cask - 564 bottles

Blood oranges, some cracking dry Oloroso sherry, dry, salty vermouth notes with a little hint of chamois leather. With the addition of water, some more fruity notes of Mandarin come through. Impressive and well rounded.

Palate: Chopped hazelnuts, a hint of apple, fresh mint & eucalyptus. Very menthol indeed. Unlike the Glen Spey, this definitely benefits from the addition of water- the fruits come to the front and the spicy heart is unlocked, with some salty licorice. It isn't as revealing as you'd like, but the water definitely gives you some more umph.

Finish: Very drying, but the licorice notes linger for a fair old time.

Overall: Not bad as sherried whiskies go, but in all honesty, there are probably more enjoyable ones around.

Onto the final dram in this part: Now we're getting interesting. This is either going to be a smasher or totally underwhelming, compared to the recent premium releases, the 25 & 30 yo. Yes... it's the Talisker.

Talisker - Managers Choice Bottling - Date Filled: December 1994 (15 yo) 58.6% - Bodega sherry cask - 582 bottles

Masses of wood smoke. Hang on... we're standing outside to the rear of St Barnabas Church and right next to a huge wood burning fire. Better move inside I think...

Right, that's better. Where were we? Oh yes- Wood smoke, not as much as there was outside, but a lovely sweet fresh wood smoke emanates from the glass. Alongside, a light phenolic note comes through and some linseed oil. It's definitely Talisker, but dare I say- restrained.

Palate: Wow. I didn't expect this. Lots of luscious, ripe fruit. Fresh strawberries, sweet raspberry jam, then lemon sherbet and a note of original flavoured menthol Locket throat sweets. A classic saltiness comes through on the backbeat, which anchor this dram firmly on Skye. Lovely and totally unexpected.

Finish: Lingering medicinal notes and salt last on the palate for a considerable time, a highly warming dram.

Overall: Superb. As a Talisker it shines- not a million miles from the 18yo, but with something else. As a Managers Choice bottling, you expect something special. It doesn't disappoint. Certainly the best bottling we've tried thus far.

Part 2 will follow shortly, where we'll tackle the Dalwhinnie, Royal Lochnagar and Blair Athol.

Monday 30 November 2009

"Read All About It! Read All About! Joel Turns Thirty, Shocker!" PART ONE

You may have wondered where we've been for a week.

Well, this weekend which has just passed was my 30
th Birthday weekend, so the past week has been spent in preparation for a celebration that is in keeping with turning "the big three - O".

As is usual around Valentines Day, the Post Office contacted me in advance to make sure I could pick up my post from their South London Depot some time over the weekend. Apparently it is a Health & Safety nightmare, letting a postal worker carry so many letters and cards to one address over such a short period of time. And in the current climate, hiring in part-time help can't be done...

Batting off invitations to various soirees with models and racing drivers (or should that be model car racing drivers...) I decided that the evening before my big day was the best time to celebrate- and celebrate in style!
It was about 18 months, maybe even two whole years ago when the idea struck me:

"Wouldn't it be brilliant to have an evening drinking whisky from 1979!"

And thus, the planning began. Every time I got a chance to explore a shop or a website that may have a bottle from God's Own Year of Blessing, I did: eBay, Distillery Shops, Vintage House, The Whisky Exchange... even

The first find was discovered deep in Sukhinder Singh's collection at The Whisky Exchange HQ in London and it really set the tone for the collection: Port Ellen 1979 - Signatory - 23 Years Old - 423 bottles - Butt No. 6775 - 43% But the most appealing thing about this bottle was the distillation date: 16th November. Just 12 days before the day I was born! Bottle one on my tasting list had been bought and, over the next 18 - 24 months it was to be joined by a few other famous faces, whisky superstars and down right obscure bottles...

Port Ellen 1979 - Signatory - 23 Years Old - 423 bottles - Butt No. 6775 - 43% Vol (Distilled 16
th Nov 1979 - Bottles 3rd October 2003) - 75cl

Nose: There is a warmth of sea air and smoke about this one. It doesn't hit you over the head in a massive way, but it brings in the smoke and sea salt with notes of green tea and fresh mint. Slight creaminess to the nose also. Lovely and delicate.

Palate: This is one to let sit and wash about on the
tongue for a while. Again, the green tea comes though but the peat smoke really burns now and there is a sweetness of brown sugar and hints of red apple.

Finish: The most delicate of embers from open fires simmer away on the back palate. Then you're hit with hazelnuts and a hint of lime juice. It's just yummy.

Overall: A corker. I mean, where can you go from here...?!?!

As the month flew past, I occasionally found myself with a few spare pennies in the pocket. These were quickly deposited into an old, empty bottle (of Serendipity, I think!) and as it filled up, I was able to splash out here and there on more interesting bottles for the evening ahead. One afternoon as I was wondering down
Marylebone High Street, I happened to find myself drawn towards Waitrose. As I stood gawping at their whisky selection, a bottle caught my eye... was it? Yes, it was! Another Port Ellen from 1979. This time it was the third release. And the price... well, I won't publish the price. But needless to say you'd be hard pressed to buy a full bottle of Serendipity for this money. It was indeed a sign. Especially as a few months later we were to be standing in the Port Ellen Distillery drinking the First and Fourth Releases. This was turning into quite a journey already:

Port Ellen 3rd Release - 1979 / 2003 - 24 Years - 9000 bottles - 57.3% Vol - 70cl

Nose: The smoke isn't the first thing you notice with this; it's lemon and passion fruit, then smoke- bash! They've really managed to get some amazing fruits in the nose- like eating a
starburst then smoking a cigar!

Palate: Clean and crisp, this has all the elements of
Islay in it, in a glass! Alongside the heat and the smoke, buttered popcorn rises up and a touch of lemon curd on white toast. Most unusual but delicious.

Finish: Hot with a good dry white wine element that leaves your mouth coated but your palate wanting more. Like Lemon
Sherbet sweets.

Overall: There was a general discussion about the best of the official
bottlings of Port Ellen on the evening. It appears that the first and the third are peoples general favourites, and I find it hard to disagree with them after this stunner.

So, that's two bottles in the bank for my birthday celebrations. But this was starting to cost (even before 2009 rolled in, and 1979 whisky prices went up again due to their demand for "gifting" 30
th birthdays). This meant a change in tack. How was I going to bulk out this collection with out compromising the quality bar which has been set, lets be honest, pretty darn high! One answer: miniatures! A few clicks on eBay later and I was bidding on my first: Imperial 1979...

Imperial - 1979 - G&M - 40% - 5cl

Waah! Now we're going somewhere different. This bad boy is throwing some crazy florals up the nose: grapefruit, kiwi, peaches. Lovely stuff.

Palate: Not a huge amount going on at first but give it some time, roll it around and you get some lovely hits of those peaches from the nose, but tinned. Also some mango and some limes.

Finish: A hint of smoke from this one, lingers just long enough. Slips down very easily.

Overall: My first ever Imperial and it was a lovely surprise. Very delicate but with a hint of smoke in the back palate, some lovely fruit and real delicate nature to it. Another cracker.

Three drams in, where is this journey going to take us next? Tune in later this week "Read All About It!" (a little peek at the picture at the top might give away what's to come)...

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Do You Want Ice With That?

Yesterday we came across a brilliantly amusing tale of discovery, which was almost too good to be true. Whisky, trapped in the abyss of time, waiting to be discovered and tasted! Sounds like the back of Joel's cabinet, where he keeps all the good stuff for himself.... ;-)

Apparently, 2 cases of whisky dating back to Sir Earnest Shackleton's failed polar expedition in 1909 have been discovered, encased in a thick layer of ice, where they have rested silently, untouched for 100 years.
Scientists at the site of the abandoned expedition are now using special drilling equipment to reach the whisky - originally bottled by MacKinlay and Co.

Chaps, clearly in need of a good warming dram.

Whyte & Mackay, who own the old branding for MacKinlay and Co. have asked for a sample of the 100-year-old scotch for a series of tests that could decide whether to relaunch the now-defunct Scotch.

Al Fastier, one of the scientists (and perhaps a tacit whisky drinker) said
"It's better to imagine it than to taste it," he said. "That way it keeps its mystery."
But W&M's Richard Paterson, has responded saying that the Shackleton expedition's whisky could still be drinkable and taste exactly as it did 100 years ago- surely a mouthwatering proposition.....?

"I really hope we can get some back here" said Paterson,
"It's been laying there lonely and neglected. It should come back to Scotland where it was born"

All this got me thinking. Personally, I don't usually drink whisky with ice, unless it's part of a highball or Japanese styled Mizuwari, but I thought some kind of experiment was clearly in order.

Donning my warmest furs and fighting the frost bite and howling South London winds, I meticulously planned an expedition of my own. After hooking up my faithful companion Bobby, (aka 'The Great Catsby') to the sled (he'll do almost anything for a mackerel dinner) we began the long tortuous journey across the Penge Tundra to the great freezing unknown- the shed at the back of Caskstrength Towers.
There, we have a chest freezer set up just in case we'd ever need to carry out a series of important tests. (and to store fish fingers, peas, out of date chicken breasts etc. )

My plan was to freeze 3 whiskies and see what the result was on opening. Would they retain the subtle flavours they contained when drunk at room temperature or would they fall apart and be totally underwhelming, when super-chilled?

Lets find out... Brrrrrrrr:

My first choice was easy:

Johnnie Walker Gold Label- Centenary Edition
. I must confess that I had once chilled a small sample of this and it was pretty good.

Frozen, it offers a very refreshing palate, with hints of smoke, but lots more of the green apple notes coming though. The mouthfeel is thick and oily. It seems to separate out a lot from the malt content and the grain, with the malt taking more of a back seat.
Whilst I would usually enjoy this great blend as an room temperature aperitif to a meal, it is certainly revealing and worth chilling down a sample to try.

Second up: Yamazaki 12 Year Old

As part of a Mizuwari with lots of chilled mineral water and ice, this is hard to beat as a superb long summer drink. As a super-chilled freeze experiment, it fares unbelievably well!! The toffee notes are more pronounced, the apple fresher and a very revealing and aromatic hit of licorice really coming through, which isnt as noticeable at room temperature.
Certainly worth sticking a bottle of this in the freezer for some skinny shots over Christmas time. Furry thumbs up!!

Finally: Talisker 10 Year Old

With its warming smoky restorative properties, there are only a few drams to rival this as your best friend in a lonely gale blown log cabin on a remote Scottish Island. But chilled??
A definite fruitiness takes precedence over the smoke- artificial strawberry, fizzy sour apple sweets, followed by a big malty slap around the chops. The peat is there, but it's certainly restrained. This works in a way, but it does take on a certain bitter characteristic - I can only surmise that perhaps the addition of some quality chocolate ice cream would potentially help bring your palate to a new level of enjoyment!!

The scene on opening the frozen whisky?

Just as Shackleton proved, it is clearly worth taking whisky to the frozen extremes and one wonders just how the MacKinlay and Co. bottles will fare. But I can't help thinking back to the classic John Carpenter film 'The Thing' and the consequences of tinkering with things buried deep under the ice. Just be careful with those bottles Richard!!

Saturday 14 November 2009

One & a Half Wheels To Victory!

Last week, I had my first tentative ride out on a new purchase- a brand new 'modern' take on the old classic- the Penny Farthing bike. I say tentative for two reasons;

One: It has a fixed wheel propulsion system, meaning that taking your feet of the pedals whilst in motion means it is virtually impossible to get them back on again, as they spin round manically with an ankle-maiming pace.

Two: It has no brakes. That's right. No brakes. Not even a little one for the wheel at the back. Hmmm. And the last time you rode a regular bike was? .... About 10 years ago.


My first challenge was to be a particularly tricky one. I had planned to ride from Crystal Palace (where Caskstrength HQ is based) to the heart of Mayfair - Berry Bros and Rudd on the Corner of Pall Mall.

Anyone who has seen me attempting some sporting frippery would know that this was the planning of a madman- I can barely run for a bus, let alone pedal an archaic, brakeless, fixed- wheel velocipede up and over Crystal Palace Hill and through the many dangers that lurk around the Elephant & Castle roundabout. The lost souls of cyclists one hundred times the bravery of myself still echo around those parts.

But I had a compulsion. I was to be a sort of unofficial 'mascot' for the launch of a rather splendid new liqueur and it was of vital importance I deliver the bike and myself in one piece to Berry Bros for the occasion.

The liqueur is the Kings Ginger - something we've featured on here last year, when your faithful author had a dreadful cold. Its gingery magic fortified me then and, by the beard of Zeus, it will fortify me again, as I free-wheel the wrong way down St James Street, careering out of control into the gates of the Palace at the bottom (the erstwhile home of HRH Prince Charles) and no doubt, the poised bayonet of a Bear-skinned royal guard...

Imagine the headlines....


Whereas, The Sun would lead with something along the lines of:


10am arrived and I was ready to leave, saddle bag concealing a full bottle of KGL to act as my restorative on the way. As I mounted the pedals and pushed off, I caught the meloncholic eyes of my faithful companion, Bobby, 'The Great Catsby', who meowed but a simple and poignant 'Farewell my friend - and god speed you' as I wobbled precariously out onto Parish Lane. Old ladies, dogs and small children tearfully looked away as I thundered past, the hoplessness of my journey, all too apparent.
After what felt like hours- with heart and lungs bursting and tweeds drenched in sweat, I rested for a second. I had already used half of my restorative, the effects of which were not only intensely restoring, but also highly intoxicating. It was at that point that the cold, hard, face of truth confronted me.

"You crazy B****rd!... get in!"

It was the distant voice of an honest London cabbie, who had been following my journey with some amusement and who had clearly seen enough. In reality, I had laughably managed just 600 yards from the front door of the house to the foot of the hill. Oh dear.

Feeling slightly deflated that I had failed to meet the challenge of the great hill, I packed the bike into the waiting vehicle and we headed to Berry's, on time and out of danger. Another warming goblet of KGL lifted my spirits no end and to help restore my tarnished dignity, the driver stopped round the corner from the shop, where I disembarked, to triumphantly ride across the finish line, past many astonished faces. "By god! he's made it!!" called out one female voice. "Must have the blessing and thighs of St Hoy" remarked another.

"All in a morning's work, ladies", I caddishly winked.

Several KGL cocktails, Punch and the magnificent hospitality of Berry Brothers made me forget about the slight 'exaggeration' of my journey and I began to thank the wonderful properties of this superb liqueur, which undoubtedly fueled me as far as the Shell Garage, past the Dry Cleaners on Maple Road and into the waiting taxi carriage.

For those of you who fancy yourself as a part time outdoor, have-a-go-hero type, you'll need look no further than a bottle of this to make it all seem worth it. A treacherous winter hike up Scarfell Pike will feel like a sunny Sunday afternoon saunter through Hyde Park after a few warming measures. It was good enough for its creator, King Edward VII and that alone means it simply must be in your drinks cabinet- and perhaps your bicycle saddle bag too...

For more information about the Kings Ginger Liqueur visit here:

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Slow Tasting - 4 Connoisseurs Choice






It's time to slowwwwww.... dowwwwwwnn....

Here at we would never dream of a speed tasting. Not when it comes to whisky anyway!



Savour and enjoy.

Be it Bells 8 Year Old or the Port Ellen Feis Ile Bottling, pouring that magical liquid in to your glass should afford you time to sit back and savour. That stuff has taken at least three years to even become whisky, so why not give it some of your time? (FYI- these were tasted in the following order: Rosebank, Aberfeldly, Ledaig, Caol Ila. But are listed here in alphabetical order):

Aberfeldly - 1989 / 2009 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl

Nose: Orange zest; wow! This is a fresh nose. Fantastic. It does have a hint of household cleaner about it, but it zings!

Palate: Orange cream chocolates (esp the ones from
Quality Street), Fanta Orange (or Solo, of you live in Norway- Big up my fellow Norse massive!). A touch of toffee and bitter chocolate. This is how you do orange-flavoured whisky!

Finish: Long, esp at this ABV with the fizzy-sherbet nature taking the driving seat.

Overall: This is the first Aberfeldy we've posted and it's gooood! If you like fizzy orange, you'll like this!

Caol Ila - 1996 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl

Nose: Smoke (d'oh!), some blackcurrant (as there was in the Rosebank),
black-jack penny sweets.

Palate: Initially a delicate hit, this is a lovely dram that sits comfortably on the tongue, bursting into life after a good swill about the palate; a hit of stewed fruits, blackcurrants and

Finish: Long, with the blackcurrants and smoke taking the driving seat. Like warm ribena by the bonfire.

Overall: It's been a while since I've found myself in the familiar arms of a Caol Ila. Like a f*ck-buddy (for those of you that are single), Caol Ila represents a dependable "friend" whom one can visit in a time of need; an often awkward bedfellow but one whose characteristics you know inside out from the first time you meet and you know will satisfy every basic instinct you have. Not too complex, but different every time. I find Caol Ila a fun dram, less serious than the Kildalton distilleries but every bit as competitive on the peat front. Not the greatest Caol Ila in the world, but very drinkable.

Ledaig - 1990 / 2009 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl

Nose: I was expecting smoke, but no. Instead you get fresh winter veg (in the UK), so we're talking Parsnips, Cabbage and turnip. But with time in the glass (and it's time that makes whisky a drink, not a shot) it develops a sweetness like shortbread.

Palate: Initially it hits the palate very cold, with some of the nose carried over; a hint of winter veg soup, cheap vanilla ice cream and wet woolen blanket.

Finish: Long and spicy with a slight bitterness. The wet wool won't go away.

Overall: The overall sensation is that I want to go back to the Aberfeldly....

Rosebank - 1991 / 2009 - Connoisseurs Choice - 43% - 70cl

Nose: Vanilla Creme Brulee, Blackcurrant cough sweets,
Rhubarb and Custard boiled sweets

Palate: The rhubarb comes through with a hint of liquorice and mint.

Finish: The liquorice really lasts coupled with hints of red chillie.

Overall: Less floral than other Rosebanks of this age; the nose is the stand out, let down slightly by the bitterness of the palate and the finish.

OVERALL: For me, the Aberfeldy was the pick of the drams here today. The orange zest, "fanta" notes that came through were just fantastic. But hey, that's my opinion. You might like the sound of the others. If so, take a chance. Sit back and enjoy them. Give them some time. After all, they've given you some of theirs.

Saturday 7 November 2009

The Show MUST Go On!!!!

Sometimes ideas are probably best left on paper. The Millenium Dome is arguably now one of London's most successful music venues, but of course, was a huge white elephant in its former life. Same goes for the Band Aid 20 (despite its obvious charity appeal) and when I heard that there was to be another whisky event in London, I had a few doubts.

A tiny thought crossed my mind earlier this year in that is there really a sustainable audience for 2 (including Whisky Live) major whisky events - especially in the run up to Christmas, when we're already being battered by constant tabloid negativity that the recession is still climbing up our trouser legs.

Well balls to the negativity and balls to the continued ill-feeling that consumes Londoner's on a daily basis. This might sound a little rose tinted, but here at Caskstrength, we're highly positive chaps. Day one of The Whisky Show, showed just what happens when a group of like-minded folks come together to sample probably the best whisky of their lives.

I arrived at 12pm, not fully realising the extent of what we were about to taste in such glorious Olde London surroundings. Any misgivings about numbers were quickly eclipsed and a solid and buzzing turnout ensued for the afternoon session. First port of call was to the irrepressible and exceptionally well tailored Marcin Miller from the No. One Drinks Company (sir, an inspiration to us all!!) to sample some of his finest new Japanese releases- and wowzers... what a way to christen a fresh palate!
3 huge sherried beasts from the Karuizawa distillery, including a superb 1985, a 1976 (bottled under the Noh Theatre label (seek this out and thou shalt not be disappointed) and the Shogun himself... a phenomenal 1967 bottling:

Karuizawa 1967 - Cask 6426 - 58.4 %

Nose: Wow, big waft of fresh strawberries, straw, then clouds of vanilla pipe tobacco, followed by a huge hit of that classic Karuizawa dry sherry and the fresh mossy forest floor, that we've come to expect from old casks from this distillery.

Palate: An immediate sweetness, into a rich meaty and peppery gravy-like flavour, with a little dryness when the sherry returns. It still manages a few palate-tingling twists and turns after all this time in the cask, as some lemon sherbet is unleashed and a real fizziness cleans up the mouth. Sensational and hugely surprising.

Finish: As you'd expect from an elderly gent like this, the finish is very long, leading to woody notes but nothing out of the ordinary, it just has bags of flavour and subtle oak undertones.

Overall: We loved the Karuizawa 1971 like a son when we first sampled it- this goes another few yards in the excellence stakes. Grab while you still can, as judging by the stampede for its younger brother, it won't hang around for long.

Next up some very special Highland Park's:

The Orcadian vintages have been on our hit list for a little while, but we never thought there would be a chance to try 2 of the oldest in one sitting!!! Sadly, the memory stick I was given didn't seem to work so there are no images at present, but the bottles are superb looking, black glass, with an embossed silver Highland Park emblem.

Gerry Tosh gave us an excellent guide into the casks used in these vintage bottlings and more specifically, the TYPE of peat which Orkney has become famous for. I had no idea that over the 1000's of years it takes to create peat, that there have been virtually no trees on Orkney, due to the high winds and salty blasts across the barren landscape. This means that there is predominantly decaying heather in the peat used to dry Highland Park barley, leading to that sweet, floral smokiness, rather than the highly woody type which characterises Islay malts. Top fact and thanks Gerry!!

The whiskies were then unveiled - 1968 and 1964 vintages, both hugely different in their levels of peating as the tasting notes reveal:

Highland Park -Orcadian Vintage - 1968 45.6%

Nose: Strawberry notes (what is it about strawberries today!!) with a lovely floral sweetness, leading into chamois leather, wax and some classic heather notes. Over time the citrus notes come through with lemon zest and a hint of coconut thrown in for good measure.

Palate: Milky coffee, light sweet cereal, some dried orange notes, followed by a sharper citrus note of lemon zest. Over time in the glass, a spiciness develops and a creamy chocolate note also emerges, giving this a hugely well balanced palate for a very old whisky. Wonderful stuff.

Finish: Lighter than expected, but waves of sweetness eclipse and oaky dryness you may have expected.

Overall: What a way to start the tasting- another soon to be classic highland park bottling.

Next up - the older and slightly more peated 1964 vintage:

Highland Park - Orcadian Vintage - 1964 - 42.2%

Nose: Ok. Stop for a second, I know we can get carried away sometimes in our notes and praise for a worthy dram, but this is SENSATIONAL- even on the first nosing!! A slightly heavier peat to the 1968, almost like the classic early 1970's Ardbeg's and contrary to what I mentioned about classic HP peat. Couple that with some sweet red apples, mint, a hint of Playdoh, and a little aromatic Licorice and you're into 7th Heaven here. A little more time (and believe me it is well worth the wait) reveals some lint bandages, and a slightly more sooty note, but the balance is just perfect.

Palate: The perfection carries on into the first sip: A wonderful mix of that sweet peat, coffee, Rosehip jelly and vanilla. The vanilla develops even further into a slight sponge cake note, but by now, we're too far gone under its spell. Just brilliant.

Finish: Some warming fruitiness comes through, along with the light, sweet peat.

Overall: These drams are the stuff dreams are made of. They creep up on you and their timing is just perfect. What Highland park have done here is nothing short of extraordinary and the 1964 vintage is clearly a contender for Whisky Of The Year, without a shadow of a doubt.

I had to have a little lie down after this tasting, just to get my bearings again!!

Stay tuned for the next post and part 2 of the Whisky Show, where some seriously old Glenlivet's are given a thorough going over as well as some members of the Glenfarclas Family casks....

One thing for sure, is that The Whisky Show promised some of the best whisky on the planet and it delivered on this promise. Full marks guys and we'll see you next year, same time, same place hopefully.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Whiskers Galore!

Gentleman....the wait is over. Today is the first of November and your shavers should be well and truly packed away - well at least for your top lips. Ever fancied growing a moustache, but needed a reason to run it past the wife/girlfirend/boss?.... we'll here's a great one. And there's even some whisky involved!!!

is a global charity raising awareness and funds for men’s health issues whilst having a spot of fun along the way. Every November, chaps around the world show their support by growing Marvelous Moustaches and putting on events to raise funds.

Whisky 4 Movember is a brilliantly novel idea from the lovely folks at Master Of Malt, with a limited bottling of vatted malt from the 2 distilleries from the Island of Orkney is available from today. The minimum age of these whiskies is eleven years old, although much of the whisky used in the vatting is older and more complex.

The crowning glory is the 5 different labels which adorn the bottles... each featuring a famous moustache style!
No. 1 – The Handlebar
No. 2 – The Dali
No. 3 – The Chevron
No. 4 – The Pencil
No. 5 – The Walrus

It is the greatest of honour to report that the image on the front of the Handlebar label is of my own moustache, with both the Chevron and the Walrus images adorning the top lips of whisky legend Dave Broom and the equally legendary Serge Valentin from Whiskyfun.... rest assured, my whiskers are still beaming from ear to ear!

The super-limited-edition Whisky4Movember bottling will only run to 984 bottles in total and is available for only £29.95. All profits from the bottling will be donated directly to the Movember Charity.

Visit to see and buy the full range of Movember labels in full effect.

In the meantime- lets see if the insides are as handsome as the outsides!!

Master Of Malt - M'Orkney - Aged 11 years - bottle number 20/984 - 40% -
The Handlebar....

Nose: Layers of sweet cereal, honey and chopped hazelnuts, followed by a very light and zesty citrus fruit/diced apple and lovely hints of fresh honeysuckle. Really inviting and heady.

Palate: The sweetness continues with a huge hit of fruity malt loaf, buttery candy notes and more of those chopped nuts. The whiskies certainly feel a lot older than the 11 years listed and the rich mouth feel and oiliness ensures that this is a highly moreish dram. A little licorice and some further floral notes develop as the palate dries.

Finish: Lovely and juicy, with a long resonance, hints of dark treacle, stewed apple and sweet malted barley.

Overall: At under £30, this is an exceptional drinker and, coupled with the fact that the profits are going to a hugely good cause, means it is a bottling you should grab asap.