Translate Caskstrength!

Sunday 29 March 2009

Caskstrength Competition Time!!

It's Competition time folks and this month. We've been lucky enough to have been sent a copy of Richard Paterson's wonderfully informative biography; Goodness Nose - 'The Passionate Revelations Of A Scotch Whisky Blender'.

As most of you will know, Richard is one of the most legendary names in the world of blending and this book, spanning the length of his illustrious career, details many secrets learned along the way, as he and co-writer Gavin D Smith throw open the sample room doors and reveal their enigmatic contents.

We have one copy of this superb read to give away, simply email us your name and at:

Goodness Nose Competition

and we'll be choosing the lucky winner randomly at the end of April. Closing date for entries is 12pm on Monday 27th April. Good luck!

Richard also has his very own whisky blog - rare and prestige, where you can read all about his worldly encounters! also, In case you missed it, we interviewed Richard back in October about some of his greatest blending triumph's - you can read the full article here.

You can buy Goodness Nose here.

Thursday 26 March 2009

A Treasure Trove of Rare HP's!!

Seeing as we had whetted your appetites for all things Highland Park this last week, here's some more news to get your woolen knickers in a twist... Apparently after years of being consigned to the collectors wish list, the surprising discovery of a cash of rare 1977 Bicentenary Vintage bottlings from the Orkney distillery has taken place- in of all places Japan!!

The limited edition Bicentenary 1977 Vintage was originally launched in 1998 to celebrate the 200thanniversary of the Orkney distillery. As you could expect the bottles quickly sold out, leaving many collectors disappointed. Until now that is....

Jason Craig, Global Controller, Highland Park comments: “We were astounded to discover this rare stock in our previous distributor’s warehouses in Japan. This is a very special expression of Highland Park and one which we thought had sold out and been consumed long ago. The Japanese have long been recognised as discerning consumers and collectors of single malt whisky and, as a result, a significant proportion made the journey to Tokyo and beyond. We decided to repatriate the remaining Bicentenary 1977 Vintage bottles to celebrate its extended Japanese sabbatical and offer whisky lovers a rare opportunity to enjoy this incredible single malt again.”

Just 694 bottles of the Bicentenary 1977 Vintage will be available, the
21 year old single malt (40% abv) coming housed in a bespoke wooden presentation box embossed with intricate Japanese inspired design. It is available from the Highland Park distillery shop and online at, priced £250.

Although this is likely to sell out again in a heart beat, it's a pity that it couldn't be kept at the original retail price of £69.99...

Wednesday 25 March 2009

...And The Peat Goes On...

Continuing our informal 'peat month', in which we've seen reviews of Ardbeg Supernova, Bruichladdich Octomore and 'Futures' - we bring you the 4th installment in our peated odyssey -  AR1 from Speciality Drink's 'Elements Of Islay' range.  

For those of you who aren't familiar with these bottling's, they have set the bench mark in innovative bottle design, with their simple but effective labels, mimicking the type you would see on a chemists shelf, far from the traditionally stocked shelves of the local whisky merchant. 

But design aside- is the whisky any good?  Supernova was a head-and-heart warming dram and put a smile on our faces.  Octomore was a brash and stupendously peaty whisky, but lacked the refinements to make it a seriously great drinker. The Octomore Futures faired much better with refreshing floral and fruit elements.

The strength of the AR1 is practically identical to the the Supernova at 58.7% so we have high hopes it will also retain a similar, yet rich mouth feel...

Ardbeg AR1 - Elements Of Islay range - 58.7% - 50cl

Nose: Butter butter and more butter, with a side order of butterscotch.  Like the Supernova, there is some initial banana notes (Nesquik milkshake mix), Werther's Original's and sweet marzipan.  With a little water, the glass gives you an almost gas fire warming note and hints of medicinal bandages. 

Palate: The mouth feel is immediately hot and hugely powerful, with dominating notes of anise, spearmint and chillies.  With the addition of water, more delicate cereal notes come through, which blend extremely well with a wonderful sweet peat. The water also gives you a superb rich quality, which is very similar to the Supernova.

Finish: There is a lingering swimming pool note which prevails alongside the peat.  Very long and bold, certainly youthful, but nonetheless enjoyable.

Overall:  This is the first bottling from the Elements Of Islay range I have tasted and it was a really enjoyable dram.  It has a youthful quality which is brash at times, but the superbly rich mouth feel gives it a definite edge of classiness.  Stay tuned for tasting notes on the other bottlings from Caol Ila and Laphroaig.

Monday 23 March 2009

It's Back!! The '10 Minute Dram with..... Glenmorangie's Annabel Meikle'

Continuing where we left off with Richard Paterson last year, next up we have a brilliant interview for your delectation with none other than Annabel Meikle, Sensory Whisky Creator at Glenmorangie.

Annabel has many years experience in the whisky industry, working with the SMWS for over 6 of them and, in addition to helping create some of the newest expressions from Glenmorangie's impressive portfolio, she also manages the Glenmorangie international Education Programme, helping communicate the nuances of single malt Scotch whisky to international delegates.

Over to you Annabel!!

CS: Describe your (no doubt hectic!) day for us…

"I suppose I have three types of day – one when I’m in the office, one when I’m travelling and then time spent up at Tain.
Office days are usually spent catching up with various colleagues – and getting updated on projects. There is always sensory work to be done in the lab, if the public knew how many checkpoints the dram in their glass went through – they would be amazed! Wine, sherry or port casks may need nosing so it’s quite varied.

When I’m travelling it usually means an early start, a flight, interviews with press, training sessions, tastings, dinner and a late night! And the same again the next day…and the next!

Obviously I spend plenty time up in Tain. I run an Education programme for our ambassadors. It is an intense week that equips them to sell our whisky with confidence. I’ll also look after press trips and sales teams from our global markets. There is always lots of whisky, delicious food and more late nights up at Glenmorangie House! "

How has your career developed since you finished studying- and when did you realise you wanted to work with whisky?

"It was complete chance! I studied at art college and went onto run my own ceramics business for eight good years. It was successful, but I realised I wanted a change so after a being a cheese buyer for 2 years I took a bar job at The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. I was very lucky because I’ve turned something else that I loved into a career. I had lots of opportunities to grow my knowledge at the Society and I quickly became very passionate about whisky".

Your job title is 'Sensory Whisky Creator', which is the title to end all titles! Clearly, whisky involves the key senses. Have you had to hone yours over time to detect the many components in a whisky?

"Yes – I suppose I have ‘honed’ my nose through practice. It’s just like a muscle that needs to be exercised to be fit. I have learned to build my vocabulary of language so I can describe whisky in a creative way. As an artist my senses are sensitive – I tend to always notice the light, the texture of materials, the flavours of food etc and naturally and my sense of smell is a hugely important sense".

As a male dominated industry, whisky has tended to find much greater favour with male taste profiles. How active are you in developing flavour profiles, which perhaps draw more females to the spirit?

"In my experience it is difficult to generalise with taste profiles and gender. The world over I’ve been surprised by young women drinking very smoky whiskies or sherried whiskies which are supposedly the preserve of male drinkers. I’ve also met plenty of men who enjoy honeyed and floral whiskies, so I think all the rules are there to be broken! Our whiskies are created to be enjoyed by everyone".

How important is science in the process of marrying together different whiskies to create a great single malt - and how much do you believe is down to instinct?

"Science is useful in providing some of the background ‘understanding’ as to what may, or may not work. However, at the end of the day our whisky is going to be judged by drinkers’ noses and palates, so the instinctive, artistic side is more crucial here".

Working with Dr Bill Lumsden must have taught you a huge amount! How much leeway does your team get in creating new products, which will become the future classics in ‘tomorrows' Glenmorangie range?

"Working with Bill was on the top of my list when I applied for this post – and I’ve not been disappointed! He is an inspirational person to work with – full of energy and brimming with knowledge. As a team we have sessions where we collaborate our ideas. Both Bill and Rachel (Barrie) are chemists, whereas I’m an artist so the combination of our knowledge is interesting!
Be reassured – there are plenty of interesting experiments gently maturing in our warehouses….!! (this last part had us getting very excited indeed... ed)

Glenmorangie have undisputedly, one of the best wood policies across the industry. How much has this affected the current whiskies you are creating and will this become trickier as great wood stocks become depleted?

"We are exceptionally proud of our record and Bill can take much of the credit for this. Glenmorangie has always led the way with understanding the importance of good wood and the influence it has on the spirit. We need to educate whisky drinkers that much of the character of their whisky is due to the quality of the cask in which it has matured and not necessarily the age of the spirit. Because of the nurtured relationship between Bill and his cooperages we are assured to always receive the best that they can offer. We’re confident that our wood policy is one of the strongest in the industry".

You must have found some truly ‘desert island casks’ when searching through the company’s inventory – anything you’ve wanted to run off with?

"I’ve been exceptionally lucky to drink some beautiful drams in my whisky life time. The best have been shared with my father or friends. I’ve never regretted cracking open a bottle and sharing it – that’s what great whisky is for".

You travel a lot and meet many whisky fans- do the palates of drinkers differ over in say, the far east, compared to their European counterparts?

"There are always surprises – for instance the young ladies in Asia love our Lasanta that has a richness of sherry influence. They drink it neat or sometimes with a little ice. There are some strange drinking practices in Thailand and Korea – they sink a bomb of spirit into a glad of beer and swig it down in one. We have a lot of education to do here! The Nordics love their phenolic whisky.

Finally, for you, what’s the most perfect way to enjoy a fine dram -describe the settings!

"I love camping on the west coast or one of the Scottish Islands. The tent would be pitched overlooking the sea on a fine summers evening with no midges. Langoustines in the pan and a fine dram of Airigh Nam Beist to wash it down - heaven! "

Thanks very much to Annabel for her time and we look forward to hearing about/tasting some of those 'interesting experiements' at some point soon!!

Sunday 22 March 2009

Another Walk in the 'Park

Continuing on from our last post of 4 Highland Park expressions, we bring you tasting notes for their 3 older brothers and sisters. As you will have read, Caskstrength were enjoying the sunshine and good cheer of Crystal Palace Park and in particular, the company of several stone Dinosaurs, present in the park since 1852.

The 18 year old was our clear favourite so far and it will be interesting to see how it fares next to the older and supposedly richer 21, 25 and 30 year olds. For our detailed notes on the amazing 40 year old which we reviewed last year - and made our Best in Glass shortlist, click here!

Right... to business - and first up, let's pour a dram of the 21 year old...

Highland Park - 21 Year Old - 47.5% vol - 70cl - created exclusively for travel retail

Musty mushrooms and lots of damp, dark dunnage warehouses are the first thing that strikes the nostrils. The influence of the sherry casks is perhaps more evident here than any of the other expressions tried so far. Some interesting peppery and spiced tomato soup notes also become evident, as well as fresh mint and the faintest whiff of peat. This really reminds me of some of the recent Karuizawa single casks from around the same age!

Palate: The higher strength of this bottling really adds a sharpness as a very citrus and sherbet'y bite hits the palate, followed by something a little medicinal. Then comes some salted licorice, or perhaps even a spicy Pernod-like aromatic note. A drying earthiness appears further in, followed by some sweeter cereals.

Finish: Dry and lengthy, with more anise notes coming through as the finish develops.

Overall: This shows a much more sherried influence than expected and whilst it certainly has a quality about it, it is hard to fall totally in love with it. The finish is excellent and refined, but I still think the 18 year old shows it who's boss in the all-round pound-for-pound enjoyment stakes. It's not often that we can't get a complete handle on a dram, but this one I feel, needs a lot more investigation to totally understand the full picture.

Next up.... the 25 year old. A good friend of mine swears by this as his 'desert island dram'... will it make us fancy getting washed up on a beach somewhere, with only 1 whisky for company?

Highland Park - 25 Year Old - 48.1% vol - 70cl

Very fragrant marzipan and chopped nuts meet you on the first sniff. There is a sherry influence present, but only in the background. The main note which really works is a wonderful rich, zesty chocolate orange sweetness. Very refined and noticeably more developed than the 21 year old.

Palate: A lovely sweet fruitiness coats the palate on the first taste with a spicy undertone developing quickly, with notes of nutmeg and cinnamon leading into a grapefruit like sharpness then back to the richer more oily sweetness. The flavour of elegance in a glass.

Finish: More big bold oiliness leading into a warm, sweet richness which lasts for a very long time indeed.

Overall: The 25 year old takes a real step up and does not disappoint. Very impressive stuff, though whether it would be out 'desert island dram' is another question entirely!!

Our final dram of the evening, as the sun sets over a hugely pleasant day in SE London. The dinosaurs are shrouded in imposing shadows and I feel it's time to jump on the 'old Shopper' (Caskstrength's preferred mode of transport on sunny days) and head home. With any luck, the 30 year old will be a perfect parting cheer to the great stone beasts which have entertained and delighted the young and old for the best part of 150 years!

Highland Park - 30 Year Old - 48.1 % vol - 70cl

A familiar mustiness of old sherry casks kicks in immediately, which is shared with the 21 year old. It is drier, slightly sour and there are some hidden floral notes trying to escape. intriguing, but a little frustrating to be honest, especially given the openness of the 25 year old.

Palate: Nutty, (chopped hazelnuts) and more of that licorice and warm spiced notes that the older expressions have exhibited. This really does develop - and the end notes of rich cream, and dried vine fruits are wonderfully balanced.

Finish: The richness continues and the licorice and spice mellows over a hint of pipe tobacco.

Overall: If I had only been able to nose this whisky, I don't think it would have faired well at all, but thankfully, the depth of flavour it gives you on the palate and finish makes up for any early disappointment.

It's been a hugely enjoyable day and on my arrival home, i'm still thinking about the journey across all the expressions. In all honesty, I would have to plump for the 18 year old as my top pick from the 7. Not only does it offer sensational value for money, but has a dizzying array of flavour to excite and delight.

Friday 20 March 2009

A Walk In The Park....

A window of splendid weather descends on South East London and the mood is extremely chipper over at caskstrength... I'm listening to Royksopp's new record 'Junior' on Spotify which only seems to add to the good cheer.

My lunchtime plan was to visit the Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park (yes... they still exist in SE London) and possibly take a picnic. Better still, why not take along the equivalent of a warm sunny day in a bottle to enjoy and relax with. So you find me freeloading on someone else's wifi, whilst sitting cross legged on a lovely grassy spot in front of some huge carved stone prehistoric beasts, with 7 samples of Highland Park to get to grips with.

As with most distillery core ranges, everyone has their particular favourite- with Highland Park, ours has long been the wonderfully rich 18 year old, which has never failed to impress with its smooth honey notes and fresh, fruity aromas. We reviewed the 40 year old back in November last year, so it was high time to give the rest a good going over...This is the first of a two-part tasting, so enjoy and see you in the next installment!

Highland Park - 12 Year Old- 40% vol - 70cl

Immediate wafts of brown sugar, lavender, parma violets, some waxy, cloudy honey and pencil shavings. Depth beyond its relatively young 12 years.

Palate: Something earthy and very woody- definite influence of sherry casks with a slight charcoal note coming through. Next, hints of sweet malty cereal make themselves apparent, and a richer creamy note similar to malted milk biscuits. Something quite moreish about this flavour, that's for sure.

Finish: Back to the wood and some dark lingering bitter coffee notes on the death. quite lengthy, with a hint of dryness.

Overall: The 12 year old represents a fine standard as the entry level HP on the block. It has enough refinement to stand up to some of it's older contemporaries and demonstrates just where the range is heading. Superb.

Highland Park - 15 Year Old - 40% vol - 70 cl

The sherry influence leads on from the 12 year old, with a much richer, fresher nose developing. Red berries, marzipan, brandy snaps and something all the more floral comes through, with a hint of toffee apple on the back beat.

Palate: Drying, but immediately followed by a luscious apple'y sweetness, golden syrup and spiced ginger cake (cinnamon, nutmeg and a light dusting of pepper are all present)

Finish: The apple dominates the relatively lengthy finish which is altogether, sweeter than the 12 year old.

Overall: Clearly, this is 3 years older than the 12, but seems to taste all the younger for it- an interesting and well developed dram!

Highland Park 16 Year Old- exclusive to duty free shoppers- 40% vol - 1L

I have often seen this on my travels to far flung places (well, Glasgow airport...) and wondered what the score is. Can it really be that different to the 15?

Nose: Lots of apple (green apple peelings), candle wax, and some charming perfumed notes. Very fresh and fragrant. Some creamy smelling vanilla fudge is in there too, if you dig deep enough.

Palate: Slightly bitter and biting oaky notes make this an unusual departure from the previous two. Richer orange notes come through but it feels a little thinner in the mouth with more oily, gritty notes emerging.

Finish: Some lighter rosewater aspects are noticeable, as the palate dries out and more of the drier, sherry influences come to the fore. Not as lengthy as the 15.

Overall: The nose really gives this a slightly skewed impression- it has some lovely fresh fruity notes, but the palate doesn't follow through as you might hope. Not a dull whisky, but slightly less exciting than the other expressions.

On to our favourite from old- the delectable 18 year old. Will this be as excellent, when placed next to its other family members?

Highland Park - 18 Year Old - 40% vol- 70cl

Oh, now we're talking. Loads of heather honey, fresh red fruits (strawberries and raspberries), something nutty, some old leather and a smothering of the very lightest peat money could buy. It's all so well rounded, I wondered whether this aroma could be piped around the air conditioning of most high street shops. they'd be a much more pleasant place to visit then!!

Palate: Again, loads of that lingering heather honey, with brown sugar, some sweet dessert wine character and a back bone of malty cereal. The mouth feel is luxurious and rich tasting.

Finish: Longer peppery notes start to emerge (like mild cracked black pepper), but the finish is still sweet and developed, with no real over oakiness to report. Sensational.

Overall: In the 18 year old, Highland Park have created a true classic which sits firmly at the centre of their fine range. It's hard for me to find fault with this whisky and I doubt you will find any either. A superb dram.

Stay tuned to find out how we rated the older 21, 25 and 30 year old expressions. Were they more refined and worldly wise than their playful and fresh faced younger siblings, or just grumpy, dry and cynical like most older brothers and sisters!!

Tuesday 17 March 2009

The Future's Bright... The Future's 'Laddich!

Ever felt slightly caught out when trying a new whisky? These days, it's very easy to be swept away with the advertising puff or nostalgic rhetoric which seems to accompany many new releases. Bruichladdich have been no strangers to causing a stir with their new releases. Some have met with wide-spread acclaim, whilst others have been met with mixed feelings - the recent Octomore being no exception.

We recently did a side-by-side tasting of Bruichladdich's peated monster and Ardbeg's Supernova, which was a tough battle. whilst the Ardbeg probably won our hearts, the Octomore won the taste test and was clearly a supremely good whisky, peated to high heaven and in our opinion, unfairly criticised by some drinkers.

This brings on to the Octomore Futures release. bought to life in October 2002, just 800 cases of this, the first super-peated Bruichladdich were released rather unexpectedly late in 2oo8 and of course, sold out immediately. We've read a couple of slightly disappointed reviews, saying it was possibly bottled too early, so when we got to try some recently we wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Octomore Futures - Distilled 16th October 2002 - Bottled April 2008 - 46% abv - 80.5 ppm

Nose: Very floral. A lot less islay and more lowlands, with big hints of heather, lavender, butter and cinnamon. A touch of banana in there too. Vanilla and then the peat. Beautifully subtle peat. Lovely.

Palate: There is an initial hit of fire (hot coals) which gives way to strawberry jam, warm summer fruit crumble and open wood fires.

Finish: Burnt sugar, red jams and more of the coal dust. Long.

Overall: No need for water as it is only 46% and at 80 ppm peating, it gives plenty of room for the actual flavour of the whisky to rush to the fore. This is delicious. Hands up, one of the most interesting drams we've tried in this year. Everything you want: delicate peat and tons of summer fruits.

There are undoubtedly young elements to this bottling, which will rub some drinkers up the wrong way, but to our palates it stands up admirably. It will be interesting to see what a more mature cask tastes like- and hopefully there will be further opportunities for this whisky to develop and shine. All in all, the future looks bright indeed.

Sunday 15 March 2009

A Brace of Brilliant Bourbons...

We last featured some excellent bourbons last year, when we took a trip to taste the superb range of Buffalo Trace expressions and interviewed the man with the Midas Touch- Harlen Wheatley.

This time round, a couple of total crackers we happened to discover at this years Whisky Live.

William Heaven Hill 18 year old - 127 proof- limited to 225 bottles - available only at Heaven Hill Distillery

Nose: Huge waft of sweet, fragrant vanilla. Possibly the most natural vanilla note I've nosed from any bourbon - amazing. Then comes some polished wood, bee's wax and superbly floral exotic fruits- guava, passion fruit and mango. Finally comes a little Lapsang tea - all this from a simple measure of bourbon. Sensational balance and depth.

Palate: Rich tea biscuits, lemon tea, rich sweet vanilla fudge, with a back beat of more exotic fruit. Reduced and refined, without any noticeable alcoholic bite.

Finish: Lingering cereal notes, lemony sherbet, with a touch of milky coffee, as the flavour's start to subside. This really takes some beating.

Overall: A supreme giant among aged bourbons. This is real back of the cabinet stuff, for the REALLY special evenings.

Next up: a very old fellow, from the house of Van Winkle:

Van Winkle - 23 years old - 95.6 proof - limited to 1,500 bottles

Previous batches of this good ol' boy sold out very quickly and this new bottling surely won't be around for very long.

Nose: Woody spices, cedar, tobacco leaves from fine cigars and a hint of sweet vanilla. Some orange zest and a slight prickle of alcohol.

Palate: Loads of big sherbet - florals, lemon and lime fizziness, mixed with vanilla notes, anise
and dark chocolate covered digestive biscuits.

Finish: Long, lengthy and very powerful. Less clarity and balance than the Heaven Hill, but certainly none the less effective.

Overall: Until this tasting, the George T Stagg was undoubtedly the finest bourbon we had tried- these two add more names to the list of bourbons we simply have to track down- I think a trip to Kentucky is probably in order!!

Wednesday 11 March 2009

The Good Die Young....(or just fade away in old casks....)

As well as being huge consumers of whisky, us caskstrengther's are also voracious consumers of new music.
I am currently obsessed with a new website called Spotify - an online service that allows the listener to 'stream' pretty much ANY album, new or old, for free, at high quality and, get this- legitimately (record companies approve) . It's like having a gigantic record collection, spanning every decade, without actually owning a single record.

How does this relate to whisky? I hear you ask.

Well I have been spending lots of time (well days) listening to the back catalogue's of hundred's of artists I didn't know a lot about. Records which have long since been forgotten or underrated. Also ones I have loved but thankfully revisited and rediscovered. Kind of reminded me about little known distilleries or those closed classics we all eulogise about!

I got thinking about The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Nick Drake and of course Lennon. Heroes of rock - Amazing classic records. But then I got thinking - imagine if they had lived long, fruitful lives instead of becoming fallen Icons of the 60's. Would their musical legacies remain intact, or become jaded by complacent releases and burgeoning waist lines.

This brings me to Port Ellen. Those who have read our previous posts about the distillery will know that we are hugely keen on it.

We recently got to try a 30 year old Platinum Collection Port Ellen, which got our pulses racing at the mere sight of the silvery label. But would its contents re-live those halcyon days of the distillery, or be a shadow of its former self....

Douglas Laing Platinum Collection - 30 yo Port Ellen - 52.5% - Distilled September 1978 - 370 bottles

Lint bandages, sea spray with a lovely sweet creamy fudge. Very mild peat, much lighter than some of the younger versions we've tried.

Palate: Very different vibe to the relatively gentle aromas emerging from the
glass- definitive and gritty, with coal dust, something slightly rubbery (think thick rubber bands) with a rich sweetness, leading into licorice notes.

Finish: Back to the lighter medicinal notes of the nose, leading into dryness. Some salty crispy bacon notes emerge on the death.

Overall: Tricky to knock this whisky, as it has some sublime good points, but it's equally tricky to totally love it. It feels a little tired and worn, compared to previous bottlings. It's perhaps easy to say that this is just too old, but I wonder if it runs deeper than that.

Rather like imagining what music Hendrix would be producing now, I also sometimes wonder what kind of whisky Port Ellen would be distilling today, had it not have been dismantled in 1983. Chances are, they would be turning out classics, long after everyone else had called it a day but sadly, we'll never get to know...

Monday 9 March 2009

Drammie winners!!


what an unbelievable weekend. We celebrated our first birthday in true caskstrength style, which meant that yesterday was pretty much a write off... and then today, I get a call from a friend excitedly waking me up with a sentence that I was totally blown away to hear...

'dude - caskstrength won the drammie!!'

This is a total honour for us and something we really hadn't expected in a million years; To be nominated was a total buzz, to win it is just unbelievable.

Thanks to everyone who voted for us and especially to Kevin at The scotchblog!

To show our appreciation, Joel and I made the following short acceptance speech. I hope you appreciate it!

Thursday 5 March 2009

lost in translation? not with these drams...

COUGHSPLUTTERCOUGH.... oh, urrrggghh.
The cold to end all colds has descended on Caskstrength towers and it isn't showing any signs of leaving soon. The last time this happened, we were due to taste some sensational old White Horse and had to give it a miss. Damn it!!!

Right, time for a cunning plan. Our taste buds and nose holes need to return ASAP! As coincidences go, we just took possession of a bottle of King's Ginger Liqueur and that gave us a splendid idea for a life-giving cold remedy;

2 parts Highland Park 12 year old,
2 parts ginger liqueur,
fresh lemon juice,
a dash of honey and
a little shake of Angostura Bitters for good measure.

Heat gently over a steady flame and decant into a good sized tumbler. Consume steadily for the next 20 minutes and wait for the aromatic effects to kick in. Normal service will be resumed within the hour!!

And we're back. That feels so much better!

The plan was to seamlessly broadcast notes on some wonderful Japanese drams tasted over the last few days- then this damn cold hit and foiled everything. Still, the samples don't hang around here for long and we wanted to get a couple of posts up before our first birthday -keep an eye on the site over the next few days as we'll be posting the results of the Bowmore competition winner, alongside some wonderful celebratory tasting notes for one of our favourite drams of all time.

After previously featuring some excellent whiskies by Karuizawa and Chichibu, we bring you some other Asian delicacies, this time from Nikka, Yamazaki and Hibiki. Clearly, the bar is set ridiculously high for Japanese whisky at the moment- and these few examples don't disappoint in the slightest...

Nikka – Whisky From The Barrel- NAS (it might have one, but I can’t read Japanese!)- 51.4%- 500ml

Before we start on this one, we have to make a few points:

1. This bottle is beautiful. Seriously cool. Square, dumpy and interesting, with a screw top. It’s a nightmare to pour from for the first couple of drams. But once you’re beyond that (and that’ll be pretty darn quick!) it’s fine.
It’s just unlike any other bottle of whisky you’ll buy and will look fab on your table top.

2. The price. Okay, it’s only 500ml, but this just over £20 a bottle. Yes! £20. Think about that. It’s from the cask. In Japan. They bottle it, stick it on a boat and months later it ends up on a shop shelf in England. For just over £20. 51.4% Japanese whisky! Let’ see what it tastes like:

Nose: Very interesting nose. Dark and brooding and full of fresh wood. Really yummy. Dried apricots, mandarin. I wish I knew how old this was, as it smells old. Really old. Musty but fresh, like very well kept wooden tables you get in members clubs in London. No leather or musty books like you get with some “old” smelling whisky. The deeper you nose, the more you get: green apples. Peanut butter. This is goooood....

Palate: In it goes, big build up with that nose! Hummm... not the kick you would expect from a whisky at 51.4% but there is depth there. Not big sherry depth, more of a melange of interesting little flavours that make up depth; strawberries, Marmite, mint, pork scratchings, dark chocolate coco-powder (like the stuff on top of cappuccino's). Very interesting and tasty.

Finish: Lots of red chilli on the back of the throat, followed by soothing and clearing menthol which makes way for the beautifully strong oak to shine through.

Overall: This is not a tame whisky. The fresh mints, strawberry and coco powder make for a wonderful palate and the menthol at the end works so well with the red chilli. But the nose is the biggest surprise for this, making for a wonderful start. At again the ridiculous price of around £20, this is a bloody fantastic buy. Get it for a mate for a pressie and snaffle a bit away when they are not looking. They’ll think you bought them something a lot more expensive so you look like a great friend, plus you get to try it for free!! He he!!

Yamazaki - 18 year old - 43% - 70cl

Having tried 10 and the 12 year old's some time ago, I was unsure what to expect here. Whilst reasonable whiskies, they didn't inspire surprise or delight, like some of the other less well known Japanese whiskies available. Will this present a significant step up from its younger brothers?

Nose: Instantly open on the nose, this bears all the hall marks of a classic Japanese whisky. Mossy, musty, rich sherry, dark orange marmalade, with loads of polished rosewood and big spice. Striking similarities with the much older Karuizawa single casks we reviewed here last year.

Palate: Slightly rubbery, leading into rich, thick dark sugar and milky coffee, with an extra sweet backing of barley sugar. The sweetness dies away giving a very well balanced back palate of cereal and starchy overtones.

Finish: The starch develops into buttery potato, with sherbet and more sweetness. Very lengthy and enjoyable.

Overall: Such a huge step up from the 12, which I have a half-drunk bottle of, languishing unceremoniously in the drinks cabinet. Its rich texture gives the impression of a much older and wiser whisky, which is to be commended but, considering this is nearly £60 a bottle, it does beg the question of whether there are other options which put it could put it in the shade.

Suntory Hibiki 12 year old blend- 43% abv - 70cl - exclusive - released in May!!

Fresh off the back of its prize winning splendor, Hibiki are back with something slightly younger, but nonetheless effective. For those of you have tried the 30 year old blend, you'll know just how brilliantly adept our friends at Suntory have become at making a first class dram. Will this younger chap follow suit to claim the family silver too??

Nose: A huge hit of freshly pressed apple juice greets the nostrils with a fanfare and never really leaves, following up with a finely tuned procession of heather honey, waxed floors and zesty lemons. If I hadn't already shifted my cold, this would probably be the dram to kick it up the arse.

Palate: Wow, a super smooth swish across the tongue, giving fine sherry notes, sweet barley sugar and wholesome cereals. There's so much in here, one can only guess how many excellent casks have gone into making this work.

Finish: Finely tuned heather, cedar and spiced apples complete the circle - for a younger blend, this really has the wisdom of a much older gent.

Overall: Well, they did it again. Another excellent example of blending which will no doubt, win further awards this year, after it's released in May. A great whisky in its own right- and a great way to end this trio of tantalising Japanese delights. As they may say in Japan after a top dram...'Hontou ni ureshii' !!

Sunday 1 March 2009

Rumble in the Jungle! (well... Penge actually...)



Imagine the scene. Boxing legend Don King, enters the ring, at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
The mood is very tense. Everyone is out in force to see this one.
Even the Beckham's are taking a night off prancing around Hollywood to take ring-side seats for 'THE' Battle Royale.

Two, dressing gown clad bottles slowly start to warm up, remove their capsules and menacingly stare at each other eyeball to eyeball. Tonight, there will be only one winner. Take no prisoners. The title of UNDISPUTED PEATED HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD is about to start!!!

Well, that's what would happen if we have more than a budget of £2.50.

The title of 'most peated whisky' probably deserves to be slugged out in better surroundings, rather than a hastily assembled ring on a suburban dining room table, but it was all we had- and to be honest, it was all we needed.
So much has been written and argued about both Supernova and Octomore on every blog/forum and whisky bar from Portsmouth to Port Ellen. We thought it was high time to find out pound-for-pound or 'peat-for-peat' who would come out on top...


Ardbeg Supernova- 58.9% abv - 70cl - 100 PPM - NAS

Here it comes- the haymaker to the schnozzle, surely a knockout blow... only it isn't! First whiff is actually something a lot more unexpected. Bananas.!? more precisely, smoked bananas, cooking softly and slowly on a whisky-fuelled log fire. It is really rather lovely, soft and unexpected. Then it hits you. Young, woody smoky peat, nothing medicinal, but it keeps on coming- and it's good. big dark chocolate notes also come through and all I could think of was that slow cooked banana in foil, covered with cocoa. Mmmmm.

Again, softness! then some sherbet turns up. Not at all aggressive, but certainly feisty and very deeeeep. The peat is sweet and smoky. Intense, but not loud and brash. Like Anthony Hopkins in 'Silence of the Lambs'. No need for shouting, when you can be as eloquently menacing as this.

As you'd expect - the length is ...well... very long. Peat, into wood smoke, into softer embers, like a dying fire. Great stuff.

On any other occasion, this would be impossible to follow, the palate is coated and your senses are blasted. The peat is undoubtedly there in droves, but it somehow manages to keep it in check, whilst providing so much more.

Step forward the other contender. Will it take a walloping, or will it 'do a Rocky' and come through, the Hollywood hero?

Octomore: - 63.5% abv - 70cl - 131 PPM - 5 year old

Wow - this is strong. There's a lot more spirit influence there, but clearly it's a more powerful whisky than the Ardbeg. Again, the peat doesn't hit you immediately with an iron bar, but creeps up on you and it's got a surprising subtlety about it. Smoked cheese notes emerge, alongside some roast nuts, butter and a definite earthiness. Whereas the Ardbeg was the desert, this is certainly the main course. I watered this a little and some slight pine notes come through and a real forest freshness.

The sharpness of the alcohol gives way into a pretty rich mouth feel, then a fairy dry, gritty and zesty follow-through. With water, the real heart of the whisky comes though. It is rather lovely, with lemon and lime sherbet and some sweet fruit fondant flavours noticeable.

The finish is more of the earthy peat, as opposed to the woody smoke our first contender showed. Very long and dry, with a coal dust and tar styled peaty finish, not dissimilar to a cask strength Caol Ila.

A different whisky to the Ardbeg yet ironically similar, in that it was much more subtle than I expected, especially on the first few sips.

The Judges decision:
A close fought battle. Earlier points would have to go to the Ardbeg, for its sweeter approach but the 'Laddich battled back in the closing rounds with it's lengthy, peaty resilience. This one is no KO and will be a points decision.

Which do I prefer?...

The Ardbeg just tips it to be honest. It had more going on in the palate and a sweetness which just works brilliantly.
But... before the belt is handed over...

The winner of the 'Most Peated Whisky' title must go to the Bruichladdich. It is just more brutal and powerful, coupled with the massive long tarry finish. In true Rocky style, the Hollywood ending has happened!

Back in the real world, both these whiskies probably represent something of a novelty. The market for peat is obviously huge and like most, I love it. But will they win over any new converts to whisky? Probably not.
But who cares! it was a bloody good battle and we're now booking ring-side seats for
Ardbeg vs Bruichladdich... the Rematch!!

new release notes from Hurlingham...

Wow! what a hectic weekend of whisky activity, folks.  Firstly, Friday saw caskstrength trying a few exceptional older treats which boggled the mind and left us gasping for more...(more of which later) 
Then, this Saturday we visited the splendid surroundings of the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, SW London for the Whisky Magazine's annual bash, Whisky Live.  Having played a few games of tennis at Hurlingham in the past (unbelievably, your humble writer used to be quite sporty!) I was thrilled at the prospect of tasting a fair few fine whiskies and bourbons.  I was not disappointed.  Despite fewer exhibitors present this year, the hall was packed and was apparently a sell-out. It is my pleasure to give you an update on a few superb new releases, coming over the next few months:

First up, Glenmorangie and something new, juicy and exclusive to the duty free market!

Glenmorangie Sonnalta - 46% abv - exclusive to the duty free market.
The lovely Annabel Meikle gave us a sneak preview of this young bottling of Glenmorangie and it certainly played a merry dance on the palate! Finished in Pedro Ximenez  sherry casks for just under a year, it is likely to be available from April onwards:

Nose: Lots of tropical fruits including banana, pineapple and passion fruit.  Lovely floral hints develop over time and a few heady whiffs from the PX casks, but nothing overpowering.  Superbly fragrant stuff.

Palate: More floral elements, coupled with light vanilla note, Banoffee pie and a slight cigar note leading into dryness.  

Finish: Back to the tropics again, as the fruit just keeps getting bigger and more concentrated.  
Overall:  This would be a super whisky for that perfect beach moment, under a palm tree as the Caribbean sea lap gently at your sun tanned toes. Worth taking a trip to Heathrow for, even if you're only flying to Manchester!!

Next up, the sister bottling of something we've been banging on about for some time... will it be as much of a looker? 

We have eulogised long and hard about the delights of the Longrow 18 year old bottling. It disappeared off the shelves faster than a free ticket for Slumdog Millionaire and left us wondering where we'd get another bottle from.  It very nearly won our Best in Glass awards last year, so when I heard there was to be a release of a Springbank 18 year old - in identical packaging my eyes immediately widened and my palate started getting ready. just 1,000 cases will be available world wide, which is considerably more than the Longrow, but expect it to sell out in no time at all when it is released later this month.

Springbank 18 year old - 46%  - 70cl - limited to 1,000 cases

Nose: lots of dark brown sugar, slightly spirity mixed with a hint of wet wool, lanolin and lemon zest. Also something perfumed?  Part of me wanted to dab this behind my ears as well as drink it.

Palate: Sherried notes (the balance is 80/20 sherry casks to Bourbon) mixed with rose water, sliced apple and fudge.  Hints of malt, cereal and something slightly farm yardy, but all unmistakably Springbank. 

Finish: relatively short, with more dried orchard fruit and green shoots. 

Overall: Something really strikes me about this bottling and i'm pleased to grab one whilst it's still around.  Whether it will outstrip the Longrow for me in the long run is tricky to say but, rest assured, we'll try to bring you a side-by-side tasting at some point soon!

Stay tuned over the coming days - we'll be ringside for an epic 'Battle of the Peated Monsters' and will be bringing you news of 3 great new japanese whiskies, including the new Hibiki 12 year old blend! will it live up to the current legend in the making?