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Sunday 25 January 2009

Burns Night Bonanza...

"Oh Whisky! soul o' plays and' pranks!
Accept a bardie's gratefu' thanks!
When wanting thee, what tuneless eranks
are my poor verses!
Though comes - they rattle i' their ranks
At ither's arses!"

Robert Burns: 1759- 1796

Whisky lovers! our spiritual evening of merriment is almost upon us and cometh the hour for sitting down with friends & loved ones for a dram of your finest to accompany the most Scottish of all dishes: the humble Haggis.

This Burns night, I find myself somewhat pre-disposed, out of reach of a good bottling and unfortunately lacking in any Scottish delicacies.  But before I start recounting some of Burns' most heart-wrenching couplets to convey my misery- all is not lost!
Last Friday, I had the foresight to plan a Pre-Burns Night, evening with several close friends. 
A classic MacSween Haggis was purchased and a wonderful creamy mix of 'Neeps & 'Tatties prepared.  Someone even concocted an edible shrine to all things Scottish (see above) and had provided a proper send off for the Haggis, in the shape of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guard ceremonial band! (well, not the whole company, just one of 'em...)

The conversation quickly turned to which whisky would be the perfect liquid accompaniment... which ended up taking up a larger part of the evening than planned!  
Our fact-finding  took us the length and breadth of Scotland, with a little bit of a curved ball thrown in for good measure.  Below are our recommendations if you're planning on matching a cracking dram with your Haggi (is there a plural for Haggis?)

1. SMWS bottling 26.57 - 'An Absolute Cracker' - 55.4 % vol: This is a really superb dram and its waxy, zesty elegance worked really well with the spiciness of the meat and sweetness of the 'Neeps & 'Tatties.  Old Clynelish and (if you have some) Brora seem to have that special something when it comes to matching with well-flavoured meats...

2. Lagavulin - Distiller's Edition release 1990 - 43% vol: In the past, I have tried highly peated whiskies with Haggis and they just overpower the flavour completely and add a real sour note to the meal... This expression gets round the problem and the rich sweetness of the sherry finish takes the edge off that classic Laga' grit and grime, to meld mouthfuls of meaty delight!

3. Ardbeg Uigeadail - 54.2 % vol: Another bottling which balances the peat with some decent sherried notes.  Unfortunately, my bottle is a little old now and it didn't stand up as well as the Laga' or Clynelish, but that said, a fresh bottle would be an excellent choice for tonight's festivities.

4. Highland Park 18 yo - 43% vol: The sweetest and perhaps most lightweight of the bunch, with layers of honey, spice and orchard fruits.  This combined well with the savoury spice of the Haggis and brightened up the palate a little for our desserts (a devastating bowl of fresh Cranachan!)

5: The curved ball.... er..ok, here goes... Karuizawa Cask 3397 - Distilled 1988- Bottled 2007- 59.8% vol:  Sacrilege!!!  A Japanese whisky with Haggis?! on Burns Night??... Yes, shoot the messengers- we confess all!  it had to be tried at least and... it worked sensationally!!  The mossy, mustiness of damp forest floors and massive meaty sherried palate complimented the meal with total aplomb.  

Somewhat controversial, but let's hear it for equality!  All in all, a fine portfolio of five festive drams that we urge you to try tonight. If you haven't any of these, then go freestyle and find your own top match- the overall finding was that a balance between peat, sherry, sweetness and spicy clout seemed to work best.  


Tuesday 13 January 2009

Supernova Heights!!!

News flash! For those of you who haven't heard yet, Ardbeg have announced this year's committee bottling and it sounds like a cracker! Ardbeg Supernova- the most heavily peated release they've ever done at a gob smacking 100ppm!
Ardbeg mention that the bottling will be on a wider availability in May, so no doubt will be the star of the show at this years Feis Ile open day.  
More news to come and hopefully some tasting notes at some point soon. in the meantime, here's a juicy pic to keep you going!!

Monday 12 January 2009

more musings on the new SMWS bottlings

I have a confession to make.  After the repeated liver tomfoolery  we all give ourselves over Christmas and New Years Eve, I tinkered with the idea of a 'dry January'.  
Someone please tell me there are easier ways to look after the important inside bits!? 
I lasted a few days, but whenever I had friends over for an evening, I couldn't find a single good reason not to join them for a great dram. Moderation is fine, but just temporarily cutting out the things you love is plain madness!
So after finishing a  wonderfully lingering Glenrothes 1985 and all its fruity goodness, (could almost be classed as one of your '5 a day' with that citrus'y palate)  I realised we hadn't posted any notes for a while.
At the end of last year, we had a great chat with Mr Paul Miles of the SMWS, who was kind enough to give us a very enlightened interview on his plans for the Society.  The new member packs look amazing and I think you'd be hard pressed to find any other membership organisation who look after their flock so well.  More to come on this, later this month with the full interview and more tasting notes. 

In the meantime, here's a couple of cheeky drams we were lucky enough to sample.  As with the others we've tried, the detail which goes into these bottlings is fabulous and the following are no exception. 

S.M.W.S- 1.141 - 'One to Cherish and Love'- 41 years old- 48.1% abv- 157 bottles
You could say that this was the distillery that started the whole thing off- the society that is- and long has it produced some intensely expressive whiskies.  How does this fit into the scheme of things? Lets find out.

Nose:  41 years old and it's this fresh?  The initial hit comes from a very unexpected Chardonnay wine zestiness- like nosing a fresh cork from a bottle of  flinty Chablis. Next up is the oak; soft and delicate, giving the aromas a really rich nutmeg'y festive feel.   Not at all like some of the distillery's richer spicy, sherried expressions. Hints of herb butter and a light adhesive also make themselves known, but again, not at all what you'd expect.

Palate:  Wow, there's the oak!  There is an initial dry sourness, but then something surprising happens.  Chocolate covered coffee beans come out of no where and the dryness subsides.  Some sweet malty notes which make me think of perfect toast, all dark brown and brittle.  This definitely tastes old but it hasn't gone senile yet.  

Finish:  Long lingering notes of Licorice, a lightly perfumed vintage white wine, tobacco and that toast again, slavered in dark, thick cut marmalade, with a sprinkling of Cinnamon.  The time is now 12.30pm  and I shall clearly have to nip to the kitchen for some of the above!!

Overall: Apparently this is one of the oldest bottlings the Society has done. It shows, but certainly doesn't disappoint at all.  Another example of what you'd hope for from an old whisky- I bet, given a long cold January evening, that this will have a long and winding story to tell. 

Next up:  a new year- but does this have the necessary 'spring' in its step to impress?

S.M.W.S - 27.71 -Hospital wards and Treacle Toffee - 11 years old- 59.4% abv- 221 bottles

Nose: Powerful with a Capital P! Earthy, mossy and dank, these are unmistakable aromas from this South-Westerly Distillery. Blackened baked apples covered in even darker toffee (the name is pretty damn accurate here!) whiffs of cocoa too.  A brooding storm in a glass.  

Palate:  Definite notes of bandages, then a burst of sweetness, creamy highland fudge, condensed milk and then back to the antiseptic sharpness.  Mixes wonderfully well.  With a little water, more of the creamy notes come through, like a milky coffee.  

Finish:  Oh, this is the dram that doesn't like being woken up! more of that brooding thickness, developing into the rich, flavoursome toffee.  It actually tastes grumpy, but the more it wakes up, the sweeter it gets.  Probably like us all on a cold wet Monday morning.   

Overall:  I have a huge soft spot for this distillery and this is a really cracking youngster from its fold.  You have to love it, despite all its bad tempered protestations!

Monday 5 January 2009

Black, Sack and Craic...

Happy New Year Caskstrengther's!! We hope the soporific effects of Christmas excess are now successfully blown away and you're all making plans for 2009 like they're going out of fashion....
The Christmas break has given us plenty of time to try more excellent whisky and make some resolutions ourselves on where to take the website- and give it the stratospheric orbit which it deserves!
2008 was a hell of a year for us- from our very boozy birthday on the 7th March, to our first Feis Ile tour in May, the inaugural BiG awards in December, to now reviewing in excess of 100 great drams as well as interviewing some fantastic people from the wonderful world of whisky.

More of all of this to come in 2009, as well as some exciting new "extras". Feedback is always welcome from you, so please let us know what you like/dislike/want us to post, by emailing us at

Now... always keen to bring you our thoughts wherever you may be, we've made even easier to follow. You can now subscribe to the blog by simply giving us your email address (in the square shaped box on the top right of the page!!) and we'll do the rest.

Being generous sorts, we're offering ONE subscriber a splendid liquid reward for their troubles. around the 7th March (our 1st birthday!) we'll be drawing one name from the hat- and as a prize, the lucky winner will be sent a bottle of something we just happened to pick up at 2008’s Feis Ile… no, not THAT Port Ellen, but something similarly desirable- A bottle of 8 year-old Bowmore, limited to just 800 bottles during the Feis and hand-signed by Eddie MacAffer!!! It even comes in its own silky black sack!!

So feel free to sign up and you might be the lucky subscriber…!

The competition will close on the 1st March 2009 and - as with anything booze related, the winner must be over the legal drinking age within their country of residence and sadly and importantly, we can only accept entries from residents within the European Union. Please read the t's and c's here for more details....

Here's to a great 2009!

Joel + Neil

Happy Birthday TO US!!!

Wow! we're one year old today!

On a friday last year, in a South London living room, Caskstrength was born- and like a new- make spirit, all zingy, fresh and fruity, we were determined to scribble down as many great whisky reviews as we possibly could. Including today's post, we've actually written about 90 posts, with info about well over 250 whiskies.

But that's not enough!! like the greedy devils we are, we want more.... and lots more!
So here's to the next 10 years and - hopefully by that time, we'll have matured into a rich and flavoursome beauty, with legs to die for... (sorry for the poor quality of our jokes, which seem to get as progressively worse as the days go by!)

To mark this grand occasion, we've drawn the lucky entry our Bowmore competition from the hat- and a bottle of Islay's finest will be winging it's way to the winner shortly. If it wasn't you, then sorry, but please keep checking the site- we'll be doing a fair few more competitions over the coming months and you might get lucky next time...

We've also done some notes of an absolute cracker - you know, the stuff that gives you that extra reason to wake up on your birthday morning and shout 'I LOVE WHISKY' to your shocked and surprised neighbours, as you pick up the milk from your doorstep.

Ladies and Gents- let us introduce you to....Mr Longmorn

Longmorn 20 years old- Distilled 9th December 1986-
Bottled 10th September 2007 - ABV 54.3% - 260 bottles

To be honest, Longmorn has been a fairly recent discovery for us, having only tasted a handful. So far they have all been excellent, from some really seriously old bottling's of 'younger' whiskies, to older whiskies bottled recently and newer, independent bottling's cropping up now and again. The following one seemed a perfect choice for review, as it sits somewhere in the middle.

Nose: An initial hit of very sweet cereal, quite similar to Weetabix then just pile upon pile of tropical fruit. You name it and it's probably here, banana, papaya, pineapple, passion fruit, it comes across as just oozing freshness from every pore. Also a nice lingering aroma of crispy toffee apple come thru after repeated nosing.

Palate: Just sooooo much fruit- it's like a small concentrated hit of your five-a-day, if you're from Jamaica, possibly via Speyside. Sensational stuff. With a little water, the palate gets past the fruit, you discover more cereal and gingery spiced notes with a hint of nutmeg or clove.

Finish: A great balance of drying oak with lingering stewed fruit compote and deft hints of that sweet cereal again. Wonderful.

Overall: Bottling's of this age, or similar are available every now from a few of the more well known indie retailers and this typifies the quality we've been lucky enough to consume. Maybe we just tried good ones?... but I doubt it very much. There is certainly a place for a Longmorn in everyone's cabinet.... maybe 2!!

Thanks to everyone who has supported the blog over the last year and here's to many more drams in the future. Now... who's buying the first round!!

Neil & Joel