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Monday 23 February 2009

this one 'beg'gars belief!

Today, I was going through a few old note books, which had gone missing in action, presumed dead, only to re-appear under a big pile of papers in my spare room.  To my amazement, I found a series of tasting notes which we really should have posted a while back (more of these to come soon)  
As I flicked through this little treasure trove, my knees suddenly went weak and my pulse raced far above its normally dull thump, thump, thump... I had unearthed one of the most memorable tastings in our short, but perfectly flavoured history of Caskstrength.  Reading through the furiously scribbled notes, I was transported straight back to a particular bottle which totally knocked my socks off!!  

Anyway, no more waffling... to those who know this bottling, it needs no introduction:

Ardbeg - distilled 1972 - single cask, no. 2782 - bottled in 2003 by Velier for Italian market - 49.9% vol - 246 bottles

Nose: Swimming pool mustiness, rich white chocolate, tangerine zest, marzipan, hints of Earl Grey tea and cream soda.  Unbelievably balanced and expressive.  It's the sort of nose you can lose an hour in, without hesitation.  

Palate: Old and totally proud of its heritage.  Sweet creamy fudge, a succulent mouth feel with the kind of gentle peat smoke that swirls across the tongue, never overpowering it.  Further in, hints of some fragrant vanilla and condensed milk grab your attention and just never let go.  This run of Bourbon casks (consecutive sister casks from 1972 were released in France and Denmark too) must have been right at their sweet spot. Stunning stuff. 

Finish:  More waves of that lightly peated goodness, which just never gets tired.  No over-dryness or oak- just classic, brilliant, old Ardbeg. 

Overall:  Another lesson from the distillery in whisky perfection.  If we could travel forward in time 30 years or so, i'd love to do a lateral tasting with this, against a single cask of today's Ardbeg. I'll be 64 then.  Hope my pension stretches that far for a couple of bottles!!

Wednesday 18 February 2009

Brilliant Bruxelles bevvies

After our lengthy, but rather excellent evening spent in the company of Glenfiddich, I found myself waking on a slightly chilly Wednesday morning, still tasting the 105 Glenfarclas, I had perhaps rather foolishly drunk prior to heading to bed. As delicious a dram as it is, I fear I may have slightly over indulged and my wooly head certainly confirmed this.
It was at that point I realised I needed to be at Kings Cross Station in roughly 20 minutes to board the Eurostar for a slightly unscheduled trip to Brussels.

Oh dear. I was going to be one of those days.

Travelling anywhere on the train is a wonderful experience (discounting the apalling Cross-Rail network in London) and the Eurostar never fails to impress. Even with a slight hangover, checking in was a mere formality and soon, I was settled in, looking forward to my destination- Le Botanique; a marvellous music venue in the shape of a mini Roundhouse. I was there to see a great new artist (Yoav) play and, with any luck, sample some fine Belgian cuisine.

But what to drink? My heart said Laphroaig (on the artist's rider) but clearly, my head was screaming "NO WHISKY TODAY, PLEASE!!"
There really was no argument and after the gig, I stumbled across the wonderfully titled 'Drug Opera' restaurant for pancakes, waffles AND lashings of fine Belgian beer!!

We've reviewed a few good beers on here before and today's are no exception, just very different. With the rich heritage of brewing in Belgium, it is little wonder that there are so may different styles and flavour profiles to explore. First up - something with at least a little familiarity to scotch drinkers:

Gordons - Finest Scotch Highland Ale - 8.6% vol - 33cl

I first came across this oddity when many years ago, my wife was living in Liege, to the east of Belgium. Old ladies would return from an evening at the theatre, around 2am (!) and proceed to drink me, a youthful 23 year old squarely under the table. The irony, is that I doubt this has ever so much as seem a Scotsman, let alone allowed itself to be consumed by one in Scotland!!

Nose: Very weighty, heavy hops, dark molasses, some rich stewed prunes and a waft of burnt caramel. No way you could drink more than a couple of these in one sitting!

Palate: A continuation of the nose, with bitter chocolate and hop notes, loads of toasted malt and the prunes coming through in abundance. It reminds me a lot of the John Martin's Special Export Guinness, specially made for the Belgium market.

Finish: Rich and surprisingly sweet, considering the hoppy notes on the palate.

Overall: It's no wonder that a new-comer to this beer would totally lose it after only a couple of glasses. What still amazes me to this day is quite how those elderly theatre goer's could neck it like London Pride.

Next up: One of THE quintessential flavours of Belgium.

Lindeman's Kriek - Cherry Bier - 3.5% vol - 37.5 cl.

There are so many flavoured Lambic beers in Belgium, that one could quite easily get lost forever in the heady sweetness, ever to return to traditional ale. I have never been a huge fan, but... 'when in Rome' (or Bruxelles!)

Nose: Very perfumed, with lots of ripe cherry, sweet notes and the faintest whiff of hops and malt. Apparently, a strongly concentrated fruit pulp is added to the beer during the fermentation process.

Palate: An initial sharpness, leads the way for a very sweet fruitiness, with a really pleasant wheat under-note. Very fizzy, but not at all artificial tasting- like some of the other fruit beers I have tried.

Finish: Bitterness develops across the palate and the finish really emphasises the fermented fruit flavour.

Overall: Again, no way you could sink more than a couple of these, without feeling giddy and a little bit sick, but it certainly makes for a perfect accompaniment to the ludicriously sweet pancake the waiter just bought over!

We'll endeavour to bring you a much wider Belgium beer tasting in weeks to come as this small foray has really whetted my appetite for more. On my return to the UK, I am armed with an alarming haul of Dubbel, Trippel, Trappist, Blonde, Lambic and many others to get through!!

Monday 16 February 2009

A Feast of 'Fiddichs...

Recently, we've had the pleasure to meet some wonderful people whose lifeblood runs deep with many a fine dram. Just to sit and listen to their stories and experiences working with whisky warms our hearts and gives us all something to hope for- that we're still as passionate about it as they are, in the decades to come.
In this day and age of quick job turnover, little work satisfaction and lack of employee/employer respect, it was wonderful to hear that up at Glenfiddich, several of their team were marking out some serious malt milestones in their employment history. Last year, Dennis McBain the distillery's well respected Coppersmith, celebrated his 50th year with the company and amazingly, over 20 other craftsmen have been with the distillery for over 30 years.

Last week, Caskstrength managed to meet up for a splendid tasting evening with two similarly long serving gents from Glenfiddich - Mr Ian Murray, 'Host extraordinaire' and Mr Ian McDonald, Master Cooper - and all round top bloke.

It was fascinating to hear that for such a huge operation, Glenfiddich still adhere to certain traditional values, originating from when the company first breathed life, in the hands of the original generation of Grants. From working to the original timings of the spirit cuts, to using of the infamous Robbie Dhu Burn throughout, it was clear that the company still views itself as a family business, albeit a globe conquering one!

The evening introduced us to the extended family of ‘Classic’ ‘Fiddich expressions and a few other younger siblings which surprised and delighted equally at the same time. First up... the new born- kicking and screaming to get out of the sample bottle!

Glenfiddich - New Make Spirit, distilled January 2009. - not for resale - 64% vol

Very fruity, but balanced with lots of pepper and cereal notes- clean and very inviting.

Palate: Hugely reminiscent of pasturised fresh apple juice (no doubt, the classic underlying theme of tonight's tasting) lots of cereal notes again and some candifloss light sweetness.
Finish: A very fresh new make, more sweetness develops as your palate dries.

Overall: A sure sign of things to come and definitely give you an insight into the house style that has become the bedrock of most Glenfiddich releases.

Next up, a real treat. Ian had unexpectedly bought along some 'work in progress' whisky, which we were chomping at the bit to try!!

Future 'Fiddich !! - 7 Years Old - 56.4% vol- Mature by 2014

To try a distillery's new-make spirit is like looking into the DNA of a finished bottle. To try a mid-matured whisky is like a half term school report!! will this be an A* or a 'could try harder'...

Nose: Hard butter candy (Werther's Originals), crisp cream crackers, unripe banana, hazel nuts, lemon zest and white chocolate shavings. Really under the influence of the bourbon cask which contained it, but yet still so expressive for a very young whisky.

Palate: Cereals, (toasted oats) masses of malt extract (rather like sweetened Shreddie's) fudge, white wine notes and green apples. Young but, again, hugely promising.

Finish: Sweet, short and feinty, this really shows where the whisky will undoubtedly head by the time it's fully matured.

Overall: A wonderful blueprint of how an expression can start to develop over time,taking direction from its cask but demonstrating how good whisky relies on a highly characterful and spirited centre.

12 Year Old - 40% vol - 70cl

Rather than just approach this, Glenfiddich’s entry level single malt as a mere 12 year old, it was fascinating to hear that that the casks that go into this bottling are based on a vatting of 15% sherry and 85% bourbon casks. Everything is then placed in a marrying tun for up to 3 months before bottling.

Nose: Dark brown sugar, freshly cut apples and grass, lots of perfumed floral notes and a huge dash of buttery caramel thrown in for good measure.

Palate: More sliced green apple, pears, hints of spice (a light dusting of nutmeg and cinnamon) with more sweet caramel (not the horrible, bitter colouring) coming through at the end.

Finish: Slightly dry /sour balance, with some fresh green shoots. Smooth and well constructed.

Overall: A very good opening release for our evening. This is a fine entry-level single malt and those who have perhaps overlooked it because of Glenfiddich’s huge global success, should revisit this and be pleasantly surprised.

15 Year Old- 40% vol- 70cl

This next single malt as many of you will recall is the excellent Solera Reserve, renamed and numbered. At its heart still beats a blend of new oak casks and used bourbon, as well as a larger percentage of sherry casks, married together in the famous Solera vat.

Nose: Ripe banana’s in golden syrup, buttery Scottish tablet, mint and warming spices, as well as a big dollop of Manuka honey. Very well balanced and rich.

Palate: A lovely glossy mouth feel leads into fruity and spicy notes with more toffee/caramel sweetness and a dusting of cinnamon.

Finish: Classic ‘Fiddich cut apples, more mint fresh green shoots and lots of rich dried fruits, prunes/sultana’s right on the death.

Overall: This dram has given some people mixed opinions, but for me, it is a very refined glass of single malt and I am pleased it hasn’t suffered at all in its transition from Solera to 15 year old bottling.

18 Year Old – 40% vol – 70cl

This time, Ian explains that a 20/80 balance between sherry and bourbon go into the 18 year old bottling. On previous tastings, this has been my overall pick , so will it triumph tonight?

Nose: There it is- that lovely cut apple again (I never tire of this aroma) some spiced notes (Star Anise, nutmeg and more cinnamon) Also, some deeper, musty German wine notes start to appear the longer you leave this dram. A lovely heady concoction.

Palate: The sherry becomes more noticeable on the first sip, leading the way for a much drier palate than the 12 or 15, but with pleasant notes of toasted, rolled oats and more apple. This really reminds me of my morning porridge with a little dusting of brown sugar and a sprinkling of sultana's on top of the apples. Delicious.

Finish: More of the drying sherry notes but with hints of what was once, a very lively new make (as witnessed by the first heady dram of the night!)

Overall: Another great expression and a lovely progression from the 15- although a very different whisky in its development.

21 Year Old- 40 % vol – 70cl

A slight departure from the bourbon /sherry path we’ve been beating throughout the evening. This older expression (from 1988, or so the short presentation film with images of 'Yuppie Britannia’ leads us to believe) has been finished in Caribbean rum casks for anywhere between 4 and 6 months. I am immediately suspicious of finishes, having tried a disproportionate amount of shockers over the years, so hopefully this will make up for any that disappointment.

Nose: Pear/estery notes, mixed with sweet perfumed vanilla and slightly earthy vegetative note. Also hints of a spiced bread and butter pudding. So far, so good.

Palate: More vanilla, then you get your first mild hit of sweet rum, but nothing near I feared- rather like an Italian rum and raisin ice cream.

Finish: Dry but very unctuous, not cloying and with a little retention of the sweet notes from the rum, which pops up to greet you again right on the death.

Overall: Fears dispelled, I started to enjoy this a great deal, after the 3rd mouthful. Although not my favourite on the evening, certainly something to seek out and try against the other older expressions if you get a chance.

If the 21 year old was rum loving grandfather, onto the great grand-daddy - the 30 year old. We’ve reviewed some old whiskies recently, with mixed results between stately, robust and hopelessly brittle and over-oaked. With a mix of 30% Oloroso and 70% bourbon casks at its ageing heart, lets see where this old boy sits.

30 Year Old – 40% vol – 70cl

Nose: Big hits of rich dark chocolate, gingersnap biscuits and a waxy aroma of mahogany. Then we get into the dried fruits! Wow, expressive, open and powerful. The Oloroso really makes itself known, but doesn’t dominate.

Palate: More of the succulent dark sherry, mixed with sherbet and stewed plums. Very dry, but still retaining a wonderful mouth feel.

Finish: You expect length…. And it delivers. Burnt orange and bonfire toffee hits the palate as it dries out, the finish lasting for what seems like hours!

Overall: A wonderful way to finish off a fine presentation of expressions. This old fellow sits upright, sharp as a whip with his feet up at the bar and refuses to be moved!

Saturday 14 February 2009

St Valentine's day treats...

Just a quickie to say Happy Valentine's day to all you lovers out there! We hope that you've got that table booked or have the night off for some quality time with that special someone.

If you happen to be looking for a special lovin' cup then The SMWS are there to assist you!
The society have produced a specially labeled bottling - 125.18 'A Chocolate Valentine', which should warm the hearts and palates of even the most thorny of lovers out there.  The 13 year old dram is from a first-fill hogshead (which amusingly, is what a former girlfriend used to call me) and is limited to 298 bottles.  

If you fancy keeping your loved one happy, or snuggling up on the sofa with something sweet, rich and well dressed - but can't afford to hire George Clooney/ Keira Knightley for the evening, then check out the next best thing!

We happen to have a bottle here, but Mrs Caskstrength is looking like she might explode, if I dare to type some tasting notes out now, instead of heading off to our romantic rendez-vous. 

Tuesday 10 February 2009

The more 'literate' feline's actually prefer Peat to Whiskers...!?

As many of you will have seen, The SMWS are now doing even more out turns than ever, which is clearly great news! We were slightly concerned that the quality level may dip with all these new bottlings, but rest assured, the following couple of drams are right up there with the best we've tried so far.

93.33 - Pine Sap and Black Pepper- 16 Years old - 64.3 % vol - 177 bottles

Nose: Fresh cream, white chocolate mousse, a hint of something medicinal (slight iodine?) lots of wild mint finished off with a note of coal/oil. Given a few drops of water, this comes even more alive with crisp apple covered in buttery toffee. Perhaps I should have saved this for November's bonfire celebrations? Either way, it's a very desirable mix of aromas.

Palate: (without water) Lots of that buttery richness and one of the best mouth feels i've discovered in a while. The richness subsides and then you get sweet caramel, menthol warmness and some definite pine freshness. further down the palate hints of sweet milky coffee emerge, which are enhanced with the addition of water.

Finish: A lovely decay as the cream and oil subside, taking the coffee note to another level.

Overall: I was having a 'Duvet Day' when trying this excellent dram. (partly because it was so bloody cold outside) and will gladly pronounce this as a perfect accompaniment- call it a super- duper-duvet-dram if you like!

53.126 - Classy Peatiness - 18 years old - 56.7% vol - 282 bottles

Anything calling itself 'Classy Peatiness' is really going to arouse a modicum of interest. There are so many 'classy' peated whiskies available, so this will really have to raise its head above the mash tun if it's going to get noticed...

Nose: Well, it's there alright. Peat. Not lots of it, but a nice, spicy peppery OLD peat, not like the aromas you find in any of the recent younger, zingier peated bottlings. This is the sort of peat I think i've missed from a few drams, so it was good to have it back! Hints of older dried marzipan (not overly floral) a little winey something and a definite touch of air dried Parma ham.

Palate: Amazingly, as I type this, my cat Bobby (aka ' The Great Catsby') jumped up and took a keen interest in the glass, before walking across the keyboard and spelling


Thats's nearly 'Spaghetti' I think you'll agree. (perhaps he's secretly Italian and hungry?) Anyway, the peat doesn't stop at the nose. Unlike some of the more coal dust and tar bottling's from this distillery, lovely soft swathes of sweet peat drip across the tongue, leading into sharp sherbet, some fresh green apples and a hint of something more meaty, like that salted ham. Hang on... Ham, pepper, spaghetti, wine. This is very nearly a Milanese in a glass!!

Finish: A leisurely stroll for the peat as the finish develops, with a few coal dust notes becoming noticeable on the death.

Overall: Even without Bobby's chance intervention, this got me thinking and i've decided to pair it up with something Italian for dinner tonight. For those of you who love that classic older peat, you'll enjoy the smoothness this has, like a mid-afternoon saunter down a Tuscan piazza on the way to visit the Palazzo Vecchio perhaps??

Monday 9 February 2009

Time for Afternoon T? The Skye's the limit.

'Gonna find my baby, gonna hold her tight gonna grab some afternoon delight, 
My motto's always been; when it's right, it's right, why wait until the middle of a cold dark night...'

4pm on a rainy Saturday.  One of the greatest comedies ever committed to celluloid, Anchorman has just finished on BBC One and i'm still howling with laughter. The 'Sex Panther' scene really needs no introduction. If you haven't had a chance to see this film yet, your life is almost certainly incomplete and some of this review probably won't make a whole lot of sense, but all the more reason to rent it out!

Anyway, 'time to musk up' and select my own little 'afternoon delight'. Whilst Will Ferrell has, in my opinion, never managed to reprise the genius of Ron Burgundy, the particular distillery i'm about to enjoy, never ceases to amaze and excite. Talisker's recent bottling's have seen a tremendous consistency and in a lateral Talisker tasting we conducted last year, we were pretty much blown away by the FOCM 12 yo, classic 18 yo and the 57 Degrees North, the limited duty free bottling. 

Our good friend Tim Forbes (check his rockin' blog too) recently stunned us with an older bottling of 20 year old, which for me, set the bench mark of the distillery bottlings I have tried. Perhaps now is the time to see if that lofty crown can be stolen away ...

Talisker 25 year old - 2008 distillery bottling - 54.2% abv - 70cl

Nose: Brittle candied ginger, rich sweet treacle sponge, a faint whiff of something lightly peated, seaweedy rock pools and soft wine like notes.  wonderful, elegant and certainly not as heavy as the other distillery expressions. 

Palate: Really rich and oily with notes of black coffee, fudge, slightly dry cedar, spiced notes and a light medicinal note right at the end.  Again, not craggy and windswept like the '57 Degrees North' and considerably more mellow than the 18.  With a small addition of water, more wonderful sweetness comes through.

Finish: That's more like it...some classic peppery Talisker, as the palate dries out.  Lovely, lengthy and elegant.  

Overall:  Perhaps this expression is a sign of things to come.  Not Talisker gone all shy and retiring, but slightly more refined and delicate.  Some Tali fans will perhaps find this more polite than they're used to, but i'm all for some 'diversity'... something Ron Burgundy would certainly NOT agree with.  

As the last drops flow from the glass to my lips, I can't help but recite probably THE defining line from the film and- perhaps a maxim for life itself; 

' I love scotch.  Scotchy scotch scotch. Mmmm, mmm, mmm, There it goes, down into my belly'.    
For more 'Burgundyisms', click here...

Sunday 8 February 2009

Going Out Is The New Staying In!!

Yes... it's official and you heard it here first... no matter how much we're told to stay home and spend less money these days, going out is definitely the new staying in.   That is of course if you live in the Londinium area of the world and can get yourself up to Kings Cross and in particular, The Lexington on the Pentonville Road.  

Caskstrength have teamed up with some splendid fellows called the Fleur-De-Lys Club who are running a regular night of musical merriment for the more discerning punter.  
Occurring on the 3rd Wednesday of every month, The Fleur-De-Lys club will host several bands, as well as working with Caskstrength to provide the clientele with a dazzling array of whisky based cocktails, as well as the Lexington's ridiculously well stocked bar of rare bourbons, whiskies and  imported beers.  

The inaugural night is February 18th so, if you are about, feel free to drop us a note and we'd love to share a dram or 2 with you.
more details on the club night can be found here:
Sounds like a plan right?  

Saturday 7 February 2009

By Royal Appointment

Some time ago, I was thinking about the heritage of the British Isles and in particular, its drinking history. For a small island, we can lay claim to a not inconsiderable number of tremendous inventions, happy accidents and liquid gold concoctions, representing every corner of our green and pleasant domain.

I thought that maybe, with the right presenter/celebrity or even better, a double act, you could clearly have a marvelous television programme where all the key drinks of Britain are explored, maybe even pitted against each other in some crazy historical 'drink off'...

So, as I feverishly reached for the telephone to dial Channel 4 and notify them of my programming gold, a familiar face appeared on BBC2 announcing of all things...

-maybe-even-pitted-against-each-other-in some-kind-of-crazy-historical-drink-off'.

Hurrah for 'James and Oz drink for Britain!!'

My timing has always been lousy and this just proved it. Oh well. A great programme it has turned out to be, in any case.
I did have another thought about drinks with Royal patronage, of which there are many well known ones- whisky being no exception. Prince Charles likes his Laphroaig, the Queen, her gin and Princess Margaret? well, she liked pretty much anything she could get her hands on... but what about whiskies with 'Royal' in the name??

We recently got to try the following elder statesman -and before you could say 'off with its head' we'd written a bunch of tasting notes for you...

Glenury Royal - 36 years old - distilled 1968 - 51.2% vol - 70cl

Sherbet lemons, thick woolly sweaters, old tweed, hints of leather, mint, cedar, sandalwood and some more closed medicinal notes spring to mind... the overbearing note has to be this wool, which whilst not at all unpleasant, acts as a more dominant fragrance than the rest.

Palate: More sherbet, (yummy) leading into fragrant notes of bourbon, caramelised fruits, well seasoned lamb and a touch of red wine dryness from the oak. Definitely a whisky that hasn't been in a desperate hurry to escape its woody slumbers for the past 36 years.

Finish: The robust meaty flavours of the lamb give way to a much dryer and slightly sour, lightly charred, fruity finish, which lasts for a hell of a long time.

Overall: Slip on a medium weight richonich tweed suit and enjoy this after a hearty Sunday lunch with your best briar pipe full of a decent Balkan blend. It certainly isn't bright and breezy, but it doesn't need to be. A really 'old school' whisky, from a sadly closed distillery that feels a little ruddy cheeked, but certainly has enough about it to give a great after dinner speech.

Friday 6 February 2009

We've been nominated for a 'Drammie'!!

Stop the press! we just got news today of a landmark moment for We've been nominated for a very illustrious and highly coveted 'Drammie' award, organised by the mighty Scotch Blog.

Not only is this a total honour, but especially nice as the awards are voted for by whisky lovers from around the world, which really means a lot.

We're in the Best New Product (Non-whisky i.e., book, resource, web site, etc) category and the competition is stiff, so we'd dearly love you to to give us your continued support. You can vote by emailing the following link:

Drammie Nominations

The voting closes on the 6TH MARCH and the winners will be announced pretty soon afterwards- all this coinsides with OUR FIRST BIRTHDAY! we'd love to have an extra special present to celebrate, so if you like the blog, please give us your votes!

Thanks and slainte!

Neil + Joel

A 'Classic' case of recollection...

"Wrap that scarf around tightly young fellow, you'll catch your death going down there", said a kindly old lady, as I was about to board my transport for the day... in this instance, a fully inflated, luxury fur-trimmed-double-air-mattress.

Hello?!... Crazyfool!! I hear you say.

My destination? the bottom of a very steep hill in Crystal Palace Park.

For once, not the ramblings of a drunken fool because, unless you've been on a beach in the Caribbean, drinking fine rum, you'll now realise that London, and the whole of our fair isle has been gripped with the heaviest snow fall for the last 18 years.

The city totally ground to a halt this week, as hundreds of like minded adults grabbed anything resembling a sledge and took to the parks with childlike zeal, all smiles, wide eyes and glowing cheeks. I was one of them - and for a brief two hours, I bombed down the slopes giggling like a twelve year old possessed (albeit with facial hair and a tweed hat).

This got me thinking. Do you ever reminisce about the first time you tasted THAT single malt? You know, the one that set your pulse racing and pointed you in the direction of malted delirium?
Well after such a day of recalling how much fun life used to be, Caskstrength thought it was high time to revisit several of our first ever 'malt encounters', in this case, from the Diageo 'Classic Malts' series. Will it be a similar feeling to that hair raising, 'whoosh' down a snowy mount? Or conversely, like watching a re-run of the A-Team: dis-jointed and best left in the past...let's find out...

Cragganmore – 12 YO – 40% Vol – 70cl

Nose: Pasteurised apple juice, hints of fudge and mint. Crisp Chardonnay, heather burning on a wood stove. Really lovely. Subtle, simple and delicious.

Palate: More apple juice, leading into sweet buttery muffins, covered in heather honey and brown sugar. The palate bears a striking connection with the nose, as more subtle wine notes come through as the spirit unwinds in your mouth. For a sub-£30 single malt, this is a total surprise. Brilliantly well rounded and expressive for its age.

Finish: Gentle, fruity and delicious, with hints of slightly smoky fudge turning up when you are least expecting it.

Overall: Cragganmore was the 3rd whisky I ever purchased in my pursuit of malt excellence, over 12 years ago. I’m pleased to say that there is a certain amount of resonance returning to this bottling. For the price, it sits very comfortably as a fine drinking whisky and will always be considered a Caskstrength house staple!!

Oban - 14 YO - 43% Vol - 70cl

Wow, I think i’ve just wandered into my favourite 2nd hand bookshop. Dusty, musty and intriguing. Hints of soft summer fruit crumble and hazelnut reveal themselves, leading into a very faint minted lamb note. Sounds all over the place, but some how retains its poise, without becoming a dog's dinner.

Palate: Peppery, followed by a really sweet nuttiness. Lots of sherry and dried fruit start to emerge, but somehow, this doesn’t feel as well put together as the Cragganmore.

Finish: Quite dry, with more sherry and a hint of...dare I say it.... disappointment.

Overall: The nose really gives you a slightly inflated impression of this dram- there’s nothing inherently bad about it, but other than the varied fragrances present, it is hard to lock down anything particularly memorable from the palate or the finish. Not a patch on the Cragganmore and unfortunately, not as good as I remember thinking it was years ago. More 'Faceman' than Snowman...

Lagavulin 16 year old 43% 70cl

We make no secret that we’re huge Laga’ fans at Caskstrength. Reviewing the recent 12 yo and Feis Ile bottlings was a totally pleasurable experience. As with the Cragganmore, our first forays into malt heaven were well-paved by the Oban, Talisker 10 yo (previously reviewed here) and 16 yo Laga' and it feels like the right time to stick a review up at last!

Nose: Gritty and intensely heady, this runs the whole gamut of aromas; freshly turned earth, carbolic soap, cereals, rich dark brown sugar and a surprising hint of Play-Doh. But make no mistake, there is no ‘Doh!’ about where this whisky takes you- it’s like returning to a welcoming warm bed and your pet cat on a bitterly cold day outside. Timelessly classic.

Palate: Fresh wholemeal bread, burnt brown sugar, green herbs and dark chocolate covered Turkish delight. Whilst this whisky can differ from batch to batch, it still retains some effortless pointers, no matter what.

Finish: Slightly salty but still lingering notes of fudge, peat, roast meat and herbs. Medium in length.

Overall: Another triumph for the nose and tastebuds. At around 37 quid, it really is worth grabbing a bottle for that long night, escaping from the cold. Believe me, it was the first whisky I thought of when returning from Crystal Palace with a burst airbed, feet like iceblocks and a smile as wide as my chilly lips would allow!!!