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Sunday 25 October 2009

Competition Time!!!

Folks - we've got a fantastic competition opportunity for you- Win a pair of tickets worth £200 to The Whisky Show on Friday 6th November 2009.

As many of you will already know, The Whisky Show is the UK's premium whisky tasting event, presenting many aged and exclusive whiskies plus a fine two course whisky infused meal. For full details of the show to take place in London's Guildhall, please visit

If this all sounds tantalising, all you have to do is answer the following question.....

Which two whisky brands will be included in the Masterclass tastings on Friday 6th November?

Please send answers to with
" competition" in the subject box.

Competition closes 8pm on Friday 30th October.

Best of luck and we'll see you there!!

Tuesday 20 October 2009

For Those Of You About To Peat... We Salute You.

Peat. What a simply marvelous creation. For centuries, it has been the bedrock of country life, fueling fires from Padstow to Portnahaven and keeping the cold out of our wearily wintered bones.

I vaguely remember my father and I travelling to Broughton Astley Garden Centre (way back when I lived in a tiny rural village in the Midlands) and being transfixed by the piles of the stuff, stacked high in rectangular, white plastic sacks. We had no central heating in our ramshackle, rambling homestead, so we used a ton of the stuff to fuel our open fires.

I used to delight in waiting until the coast was clear to clamber up these towering stacks, kneeling precariously at the very top, like an ant on a particularly wobbily Jenga tower.
The owner of the garden centre was a kindly old chap and would applaud my agility, handing me over a few penny sweets as a prize. Lord knows, he'd probably be in trouble with the authorities these days for allowing a minor to attempt such danger... and probably for giving me the sweets too.

Little did I realise that nearly 30 years later, sat sheltering from the cold, I would still be as deeply transfixed by the stuff, but in a hugely different way.

Here at Caskstrength, we've never shied away from our love of the brown stuff. (hmmm. Where is this one going...says Joel)
Any chance to get our mitts on a bottle of something smoky, sweet and medicinal is all we need for a great night in... or indeed out. And that is what is happening right this second.

Tonight I'm out in one of my of my old haunts, The Crobar on Manette St, Soho, London W1. It's been a while.

Last time I was here was probably 5 or 6 years ago when a little known Canadian band called Death From Above 1979 (remember them, kids?) decided to play an impromptu set in the back bar. Now if you've ever been there, you'll know that you can realistically fit 20, maybe 25 people in the whole place. So to have 2, wild-eyed guys resembling crazed mandrills, thrashing hell out of their instruments, whilst onlookers fight for air and service at the bar, is nothing short of spectacular.

It was always pretty tough to get a drink there, so that evening, I was enthused by both the band and a particularly fine hipflask of caskstrength Laphroaig I had managed to secretly smuggle in. Thinking back, they both went down a storm.

I return tonight, not for nostalgic reasons but to sip down a warming quickie before a local gig and casually look at their whisky menu. Some excellent bourbons here, but same thing as last time- a surprising lack of single malts.

Fortunately, 'help is at hip' and I just happen to have with me the very same flask I passed around whilst DFA 1979 smashed their kit up. This time however, the Laphroaig has been replaced with something equally peaty, but perhaps more enigmatic... Smokehead.

This whisky is aimed at bringing something altogether unconventional to the world of single malt, whilst retaining a smooth, silky and unquestionably Islay heart. Despite speculation, only a few folks actually know which distillery's spirit goes into bottling Smokehead and they are totally tight lipped!!

Dodging the eyeline of the burly, musclebound and bearded doorman (who's probably a very sweet man) I draw off a generous dram. At that point, and I kid you not.... the Juke Box slam's into the brutal opening riff of DFA 1979's 'Romantic Rights...' now we've started....

Smokehead - Islay single malt whisky- 43% - 70cl

Nose: Wonderfully intense woodsmoke, but not instantly overpowering. It's subtle and refined, giving way to layers of fudge, cereals, a hint of overripe vine fruit and earthiness. Exactly what it says on the tin! (literally!)

Palate: The peat keeps on coming with an initial peppery, Talisker-like wave, leading into a hint of malty sweetness and then sherbet lemon notes and sharpness. It's simple, honest and just about one of the most drinkable Islay malts i've tried all year.

Finish: More sweetness, with a hint of some very earthy peated notes on the death. I will be tasting this tomorrow morning. Which is undoubtedly a major plus point... ;-)

Overall: Could this be the ultimate Rock n Roll whisky of the future?


Whilst others choke on their Jack 'n Cokes- you could have much more fun drinking a
'Smoke On the Water'.... now there's a thought!!

All in all, a superb whisky that, like the complete Led Zeppelin remasters- you absolutely need in your lives.

Saturday 17 October 2009

Birthday bliss

Today is NOT my birthday. Nor is tomorrow. Actually it's nearly another year away and I shall be 35. Hmmm. Quick mirror check. A particularly hairy face stares back. A few grey folicles are appearing in my beard- not many, but just the right number to make themselves known and give you that feeling that the advancement of time and motion are definitely in full flight.

Don't get me wrong. I think I have finally grown into my own face and 'look', whereas in the past I tried in vein to sport some frankly appalling haircuts & fashions. I have pictures to back this up. What i'm trying to say is that at a certain point in your life, everything just clicks into place and feels right.

A few days ago I tasted a whisky from 1975, the year of my birth. One always gets a sense of occasion when this happens- to me it's happened twice. The first time, the bottling was really good, vibrant and full of fruity character which made me feel that being born in 1975 was the year of champions.

The 2nd time however, the bottling was really poor, woody, sulphurous and totally past it. That did no end for my self esteem, I can tell you. Things got worse when I found out that the no. 1 single the week I was born was not David Bowie's Space Oddity as I had previously dined out on (actually his first no.1) but the infinitely less cool- 'Sailing' by Rod Stewart.... Oh joy.

This particular bottling we're reviewing today probably needs little by way of an introduction. Glenfiddich are well known for releasing some highly commended Vintage Reserve single cask bottlings. Last year's 1977 was pretty great all round, save for some slightly woody notes. The 1975 Reserve release coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Glenfiddich Distillery Visitors Centre, which first opened in 1969. Will this one restore my confidence in 1975, or make matters worse....??

Glenfiddich Vintage Reserve - 1975 - Cask no. 22000 (sherry butt)- 53.4% - 70cl - 520 bottles

Nose: Subtle vanilla fudge, cedar, fresh mint, coal dust and sweet wood smoke all combine with the rich warm notes of dried apricot, damsons and fruitcake. No woody effects of an over-aged sherry cask here, just really lovely aromas, all in their right place. With water (just a hint, mind) and some slightly fresher notes of rhubarb come through, but this fairs best at it's full cask strength, unquestionably.

Palate: Sherbet, lovely fresh strawberry notes leading into stringy strawberry licorice and a slightly bitter chocolate note on the death. With water and 'end of summer' fruit compote notes emerge with spicy dark toffee apple and crumble topping. Hugely rich and characterful.

Finish: Long, with the chocolate notes leading into a drier sherry note and cinder toffee.

Overall: On reflection, I think this is a better bottling than last year's Vintage Reserve. It oozes character, but there are no signs of deterioration or tiredness. Certainly not a grey hair in sight either!!

Once again, 1975 has regained that magic and i'll continue to seek out drams of this vintage, despite the aforementioned duffer. As i've mentioned on here before, my compatriot Joel is shortly celebrating his 30th birthday and has assembled a menu of UNBELIEVABLE whiskies from 1979. That's going to be one hell of a night and- one hell of a post!! stay tuned for this one.
A little way to go until my 40th, but rest assured, if I can afford it, this Glenfiddich will feature in there somewhere. I'd urge any of you looking for something special to do the same too.

Friday 16 October 2009

the final fling...

Well folks, here we have it. The last post in our series of 'Special' releases from Diageo.

Perhaps it's too early to reflect on a year gone by, but our hearts and minds are probably drawn back to Islay and the wonderful 10 days in May we spent on this glorious island, sun shining, wanting to be no where else than here, with a great whisky in hand. (Feis Ile, we thank you)

Islay has that unique thing- it can beguile and amaze you in the time it takes to uncork a bottle of scotch. Grown men and women in safe, happy and stable lifestyles have suddenly thought differently about their future when they've seen the view from Port Ellen when the sun sets. For us, that is the essence that should be bottled... surely an impossible task??

Islay aside, some of these whiskies have been stunning. The Talisker 25 and 30 were sublime, despite their premium price. But our final flight needs no real introduction. Palate wise, they might be from within a few miles from each other, but what they represent is vastly different. To sample an unpeated, young Caol Ila next to the oldest official release of Port Ellen might seem like madness. It probably is, but that's what the island represents right now- a celebration of flavour profiles which are so extreme, they surely need to be tasted side by side!

Caol Ila - 10 Year Old - Unpeated - 1998 - a whopping 65.8%-

Nose: Ok, this is ridiculously strong, but bear with it. We tried this in all manner of ways to see what would draw the best from within. Neat: Hints of white chocolate, sponge cake and very sweet butter candy. With a few drops of water: The chocolate notes intensify, with vanilla and fudge notes in abundance. Adding a little more water- and the spirit gives up its grasp and the true potential comes alive- hints of the fairground- toffee apples, candy floss and coal fired Wurlitzer pipe organs. (Ok, that was a joke, but there is certainly a coal note in here) Given more time in the glass and those massive fairground buckets of 'pick 'n mix' seem to spring out at you- it's sweet, slightly fruity and fresh as a daisy.

Palate: Crystal clear distillery character, with lemon, cereal, rich chocolate, sherbert and sponge-cake sweetness. It's fairly 'do or die' on the palate- an explosion of fresh flavours and then it's gone.

Finish: The creamy white chocolate notes continue, after the rest has subsided, but afterwards, it's zesty, fresh and lightweight as you would have expected.

Overall: Well, this takes all that the previous 8 yo unpeated can give and smashes it out the park. I don't know how they do it, but this is Caol Ila on a totally different plain. Almost like a different distillery- but yet, still totally Islay. We were scratching our heads after this one- A great young whisky from Islay, but something completely different aside...You tell us!!

Next up: Lagavulin 12 yo makes a welcome 9th return... deep down, Joel and I were probably waiting for this one with the most anticipation...

Lagavulin - 12 year old - 9th release - 57.9% -

Nose- Smoke of course, hints of iodine and seaweed, followed by soft butter thrown on to fresh pasta. There is a real 'airiness' about the nose; light but full of flavours, vanilla pods and a hint of thyme. The smoke dissipates into carbolic soap notes but it's exactly where you want it to be and is unmistakably young Lagavulin.

Palate- So smooth and easy to drink for something at 59.9%. It sits beautifully in the mouth with peat smoke, combining with cooked apples with sugar. No spices though, as you might expect from cooking apples. Hints of pear. A note of vanilla pipe tobacco (for those of you who may dabble) and again you're in unmistakable laga territory. Superb and fantastically balanced young whisky.

Finish: Medium in length, but the peat keeps coming at you.

Overall: One of the cheapest of the 'Special Releases' but clearly one of the most sought after drams on offer from Islay at the moment. We may well be biased, but we defy anyone to find holes in this. Great drinking, young peated whisky at caskstrength. Surely about as good as it gets.

Our final dram of the night and what a way to go out.... 30 year old Port Ellen. Just think about that for a second. The distillery that has probably come to define the mystique and magic of Islay just turned out a 30 year old whisky, despite being closed in 1983. Joel actually stammered as he was passed his dram of this. For him, a special year is upon us. Welcome to the 30 club, chaps!!

Port Ellen - 9th Release- 30 years old - 1979- 57.7%

Nose: Very light smoke- delicate and rounded. A hint of blue cheese, some rubbery notes (like primary school plimsolls) and some feint medicinal notes. You could easily lose yourself in this for hours. A wonderfully expressive nose, not too over complex but with enough going on to keep the nostrils busy!

Palate: Initially sweet (brown sugar) and then a big hit of smoke. The American oak (as opposed to European) hasn't smothered the spirit and has allowed the natural spices to develop and the sweetness to come to the fore. A lovely oily and thick mouthfeel is the prize.

Finish: Long and fantastic, with the smoky notes subsiding into lingering sweetness.

Overall: A very solid performance from Port Ellen. It must be getting harder and harder to find great casks of PE that haven't over-aged, but the 9th release shines as brightly as the others. It's a bit like the David Beckham of whisky: How long can they keep pulling out top draw performances like this for? At some stage it has to end... :(

Wednesday 14 October 2009

All Hail The Whale

Five years. Is it a long time, or not? A lot can happen in five years.

This bunny took 5 years to hand knit (see pic above).

Facebook was started 5 years ago and has changed the face of modern communication.

"5 Years Time" is the title of the excellent single from my act-of-the-year for last year, the fantastic Noah and the Whale, a band I was turned on to in my time doing A&R for Universal (Island Records).

So five years can be a pretty significant time, be it in digital, physical or musical form.
Last night we had the pleasure of trying the 2009 Special Releases from the Diageo stable and we're staggering our notes across 3 days, as their was just so much to digest. Having done Pittyvaich, Benrinnes and Mannochmore yesterday, it is the turn of Brora and the two Taliskers (25 and 30) to get their say today! Let's kick off with the twins from Skye. Only five years difference; but what will the effect of those extra five years be?

Talisker – 25 Year Old – 5,862 (individually numbered) – 54.8% Vol – 70 cl from refill American Oak and European Oak casks.

Nose: Plenty of licorice, wicker furniture from the late 1970's (!), a hint of kiwi juice and of course all the Tally hallmarks of salt and seaweed.

Palate: Phew! This is a lively dram. White pepper and spices fly around the mouth with plenty of energy. There is a hit of sweetness too and then the salt.

Finish: Heavy on the spirit, esp for something at 54.8
%. I would have expected the finish to be more subtle, but it goes on. And on! More of the palate on the finish.

Overall: Not subtle at all. Needed water which calmed it a bit but not a lot. A fiery dram, but very yummy.

Talisker – 30 Year Old – 3,000 (individually numbered) – 53.1% Vol – 70 cl from refill American Oak and European Oak casks.

Nose / Palate / Finish: If the 25 was like walking along a rain lashed cliff on Skye in November, then this is the same but instead of being on the cliff in your North Face coat, you're curled up in a stone cottage, rain lashing at the windows and a fire crackling away, toasting your feet. Everythin
g the 25 was, but more refined. More delicate. More rounded. Warmth, not fire! Assertive, not aggressive. Beautifully balanced.

Overall: There is a price difference between these two Tallys (RRP for the 25 is £150 and for the 30 is £215), but that's like saying there is a price difference between a Holiday Inn and a Hotel Du Vin. They both do a very good, professional job. But if you can stay in the Hotel Du Vin, then do it. You really won't be disa
pointed. Those extra five years makes all the difference.

After the Taliskers, we had a nip of the Brora. A 30 Year Old matured in refill American Oak casks. Brora's are usually a solid dram and especially when they have had a good long period to mature. Like Port Ellen , Brora was shut in 1983 so all stocks are now going to have some degree of age to them. Brora is the now departed sister distillery to Clynelish and this bottle has the shortest run of all the Special Releases 2009, coming in 42 bottles short of the Talisker 30 Year Old and with an RRP of £230.

Brora – 30 Year Old – 2,958 (individually numbered) – 53.2% Vol – 70 cl from refill American Oak.

Nose: Real Lemonade, coffee, whisps of smoke and salt.

Palate: Loads of lemon and lime in oak! Crispy Seaweed. A drop of water opens up the citrus notes and takes the edge off to let the age and the wood in, rounding this off beautifully.

Finish: Very nutty with a touch of red chillie and salt.

Overall: Pleasant, well aged and kept Brora with all the good characteristics of a Coastal malt. If you like aged Springbank, you'll like this.

That concludes Lot 2. Tomorrow: PORT ELLEN, CAOL ILA and LAGAVULIN. Not that we're excited or anything...

Special One (or Two, or even Three)

Below is a picture of what new make spirit looks like when it comes off the still:

What do you see? Na-da, nil, nothing. New make is clear. It's got no colour. Of course, most of you who love whisky will already know this, but it's amazing the number of people who have no idea that their favourite dram runs off the still as a clear liquid.

This evening I find myself in a glamorous situation; 11.30pm, Tues evening, Oxford Street, McDonalds. (editor's note...please understand that I cannot condone Joel's dreadful eating habits.... he will be severely punished, by being made to drink £3.99 Highland Stag...Neil)

My order: a quarter-pounder meal. That's the burger, fries and a drink. I order BBQ sauce as an extra.
When it arrives over the counter, on the packaging the following is written:

"Next time you're tucking into your favourite McDonald's burger, you can enjoy every mouthful that bit more, knowing that it is made from only whole cuts of 100% beef with just a pinch of seasoning added after cooking. Bite in and enjoy."

McDonalds go to a great deal of effort in store to assure the diner that their burger is

"100% beef with just a pinch of seasoning added".


But what's this I notice: a gherkin! Some tomato sauce. Onions! And mustard! Honestly, after that lot has been slathered over it, who gives a flying f**k about the beef?!? Wagye or Kobe, if it's flash fried, smothered in sauce, pickles, onions and slapped between two buns that resemble candyfloss more than bread, who cares if it's "100% beef"?

Tonight visited a tasting for Diageo’s annual “Special Releases”:

Benrinnes 23 Year Old
Brora 30 Year Old
Caol Ila 10 Year Old (Unpeated)
Lagavulin 12 Year Old
Mannochmore 18 Year Old
Pittyvaich 20 Year Old
Port Ellen 30 Year Old
Talisker 25 Year Old
Talisker 30 Year Old

9 premium drams to savour, assess and note in 90 mins. Diageo: you’ve thrown down the gauntlet and we’re going to pick it up!

After a very brief period of deliberation, we decided that the drams should be divided up in to three lots:

Lot 1:
Mannochmore 18 Year Old
Pittyvaich 20 Year Old
Benrinnes 23 Year Old

Lot 2:
Brora 30 Year Old
Talisker 25 Year Old
Talisker 30 Year Old

Lot 3:
Port Ellen 30 Year Old
Lagavulin 12 Year Old
Caol Ila 10 Year Old (Unpeated)

So we kick off with Mannochomore:

The literature tell us:

“Mix of re-charred ex-sherry bodega European Oak with re-charred ex-Bourbon and new American Oak casks that had also held sherry, filled in 1993 after a short initial ageing in normal refill casks."


Remember that burger? How good was the beef? Who knows! There was so much going on with the sauce, the pickle the cheese and the onions that the quality of the beef didn’t matter... but the burger was good. Really good. The package worked. As a whole, the interaction between beef, sauce, pickle and cheese was a mouth watering explosion. There is reason why they sell a shed load of these meal-deals world-wide; the mix works.

So what of these casks? Sounds a bit too much for me. Let’s find out:

Mannochmore – 18 Year Old – 1990 / 2009 – 2,604 (individually numbered) – 54.9% Vol –70 cl

Nose: This really is complex: mint, oak, dried leaves, fruit cake. Everything you would expect from such a mix of casks.

Palate: Cured dark red meats (salted beef; my Nordic friends should know what I mean), Apricots, orange. Duck with Orange sauce. Drying. Medicinal. Ginger.

Finish: Lots of wood spice, bitter orange peel. Coffee.

Overall: A great start. A real mix, but a mix done well. No need to shout about the beef here; shout loud about the gherkins, the mustard, the onions! Very well mixed. But read on!

Next up for is Pittyvaich:

Pittyvaich – 20 Year Old – 1989 / 2009 – 6,000 (individually numbered) – 57.5% Vol – 70 cl

Nose: Copper coins, Orange Creme (the like which you get in Quality Street), Grass.

Palate: You would never have this pegged as 20 years old! So much energy, zest and life. Sweet (Nice biscuits), red fruit compote.

Finish: loads of metallic notes of zinc and aluminium. Very long.

Overall: 20 years old! Where did the life come from!? A solid dram with lot of personality.

To end this first section, we moved on to the Benrinnes:

Benrinnes – 23 Year Old – 6,000 (individually numbered) – 58.8% Vol – 70 cl

Nose: Hazelnut chocolate spread, Ferrero Rocher, Cherry Cola, Cedar oil.

Palate: Dates, figs and spearmint. European Oak? Where did all these fruits come from? Something you normally get on a European Oak cask. But with a rounded note of spice.

Finish: Sandlewood and oak. Lovely and dry.

Overall: Take Neil's Yard and build a distillery in it; job done. Stay tuned for our overall fav.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at Lot 2: the Taliskers and Brora.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Consistantly Goyne....

One thing we've started to realise about this blogging lark is that to write from the heart, you need to have an unequivocal handle on your subject matter- be it blogging about jams, cars or even weirder stuff. Sitting in a cottage on a quiet South London suburban street is probably where most of our thoughts come together- our Caskstrength Towers. The postman delivers some samples to the door (actually pretty debatable at the moment!) and the scrumptious sound/sight of liquid gold hitting Glencairn is often all that's needed to take the mind off to a happy and contemplative place.
But for all the descriptors and adjectives a writer has at their disposal, the one thing missing is the sense of 'being there'- living the moment in the location you are writing about.

To really write about a particular scotch, there is simply no excuse than to try and visit its birthplace- and literally drink in the surroundings!!

Today we got just that sort of opportunity when we visited the Glengoyne distillery, about 40 minutes drive from Edinburgh airport.

It has the marvelous distinction of being the most 'southerly' highland distillery, something of a contradiction and certainly a useful piece of info in any whisky-related pub trivia game (should such a thing exist) One other amusingly delicious fact which was revealed by our hosts, is that the borderline between highland and lowland actually splits the distillery from its warehouses- meaning that when the spirit runs from the still it's a highland, but cross the road and you'll find the casks sleepily maturing in the lowlands!

Certainly perhaps the first indication that this is no ordinary whisky. The second indication hits you when, on the way up to the visitor's centre, you are confronted by a majestic waterfall rolling down from the towering Dumgoyne Hill in background. How's that for a water source eh.

Our mission today was to try the newly launched 40 year old expression, which is the oldest whisky the distillery has ever produced. But we got a lot more than we bargained for...

From the light and fruity 10 year old expression, through the 'as yet to be unreleased' - and newly formulated 12 year old, (more on this soon) to the weighty and charismatic 21 year old, a theme almost certainly runs true with the whisky produced at Glengoyne. There is a clarity, a sparkle and an unquestionable attention to detail that distillery manager Robbie Hughes ensures is present: From the use of Golden Promise barley, the impeccable timing during the spirit run and to the quality of the sherry butts / bourbon barrels they mature their spirit in.

We also experienced something of a first for Caskstrengh- 3 different cuts of new make spirit; straight off the still, then 15 and 60 minutes into the spirit run. Again, a hugely revealing insight into what Robbie and his team are attempting to capture in the character of their whisky.

After a brilliantly balanced lunch prepared by chef Tom Lewis, it was time for the main event, the unveiling of the 40 year old. Would we still be able to identify the inherent distillery character in such a mature bottling??

Glengoyne - 40 year old - 45.9% - 70cl - limited to 250 bottles

Nose: Stewed red apples, spiced cedary notes, hints of soft dried fruit and the feint aroma of licorice. All hallmarks from the new make we tried earlier, but in such tremendous volume and complexity. Lose yourself in this for hours and you'll still be finding new layers.

Palate: A wonderful mixture of silky mouthfeel, comprised of golden syrup, layers of sticky Oloroso sherry, ripe banana and demerara sugar. With a bit of time in the glass, more perfumed and fresh fruit flavour's start to arrive. Again, still unmistakably Glengoyne, just more detailed and refined.

Finish: More of that rich and thick sweetness, leading into some heavier, more woody, sherried dryness. Extremely classy.

Overall: Well, as much as you can argue that maturation in wood hugely affects the character of the spirit within, Glengoyne have proven that by producing a quality spirit, they can maintain a level of consistent 'house style' from their whiskies, no matter what age they happen to be. This whisky represents that perfect balance between great wood and spirit and full marks to Robbie and his team for piecing the bottling together.

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Dutch Courage?

We recently received something fairly unusual in the post here at Caskstrength Heights. No, not a monthly subscription to 'Traction Engine Times', but a whisky that certainly surprised us both, in more ways than one... perhaps even more surprising than accidentally receiving Joel's secret copy of the Wholesale Flange Catalogue.

Can this be a whisky I first thought... it''s from The Hague!?

Of course, the Dutch are famous for a lot of very cool stuff, including of course, the creation of gin, (clearly excellent in anyone's book)

By way of a potted history, gin came to life back in the early 17th century when
a certain Dr Sylvius, a professor at one of Holland's leading universities, had been attempting to create a medicine for kidney conditions, using grain based alcoholic compounds. His turning point came when experimenting with an infusion of the Juniper berry- the oil of which was widely regarded for containing therapeutic properties. The medicine was an instant hit and the name, 'Genievre' or 'Genever', based on the French word for Juniper prevailed. Over time, the name became colloquialised and Dr. Sylvius effectively became The 'Father of Gin'. Some accolade, don't you think?
Little did he know that his discovery would very nearly erode the foundations of English society due to its highly intoxicating power.

Study the famous Hogarth painting 'Gin Lane' below and you'll get where i'm coming from!

Anyway, my point was that the Dutch made a damn good, aromatic and highly drinkable spirit, which is now enjoyed the world over.

So what the devil are they playing at, making a whisky??

Well, hold your horses because for centuries they've also been tinkering with the brown stuff too.

Van Kleef is one of the oldest distilleries in Holland, with records dating back to 1842. As well as a range of fine Jenevers, bitters and liqueurs the distillery has been bottling it's own whisky, runs a small museum and reportedly had the very first telephone number in the Hague - number 1....
(Oh, and whilst Van Gogh lived in The Hague, he bought his alcohol from here too)

We were sent a sample of the 'Idiotes Whisky' by a friend of ours who was passing through Holland on the way back to Japan and we must confess- we have absolutely no information on it....! the distillery site is in Dutch so any translation help- please get in touch!

Van Kleef - Idiotes Whisky - 40%

Nose: Grainy, gristy and clear apple juice, with some tropical fruit notes. A little hint of smoke starts to emerge, but this is extremely clean and well polished. I have no idea how old this is, but I would hazard a guess at around 5 years??

Palate: Sweetness in the form of honey, heathery floral notes and some distinct buttery elements. It has a surprising similarity to a young Longrow and a real freshness which clings to the tongue. Perhaps some slightly mild botanical notes to boot.

Finish: The fresh apple notes give way to some almond paste. Lightweight, sweet and very clean indeed.

Overall: Well, that was a total surprise. As i'm into my second dram I am thinking about taking a trip over to the Hague as soon as possible. I recently stopped off at Amsterdam Airport and picked up a couple bottles of Jenever. I wish i'd known a little more about this hidden Dutch jem!!

Anyone care to enlighten us some more here??

Monday 5 October 2009

Manager's Choice... Part Deux

In the 2008 / 2009 season, there were 9 managerial changes in the English Premier league. That's nearly 50% of the clubs choosing to replace the man at the helm, the man with whom the buck stops, the man whose stamp is on the team.

Diageo are certainly one of the major Premiership clubs when it comes to drinks, esp with regard to whisky. What a haul of distilleries they own, run and draw fantastic profit from. Yes, their starting line up includes international super-stars such as Arthur Guiness and Jose Cuervo all dressed up in their nice Red Stripe kit and marshalled brilliantly by Captain Morgan.
But there is some home-grown Brit talent in there too. The English midfield of Archers and Pimms, backed up by Tanqueray and Gordons, but it is their Scottish talent which which really shines through. The back line of solid, dependable drams which are consistently good if not spectacular.

In the Manager's Choice we get to see these distilleries individually, on player-cam as it were, at their supposed very best. In this first release of the rare bottlings, we get to see the first-team regulars of Oban, Cardhu, Mortlach and Linkwood. And the lesser known bench-warmers of Teninich and Glen Elgin. Below we saw how the Oban, Linkwood and Glen Elgin got on up close, so lets see how the other three get on with their bid for first team glory.

Teaninich - Distilled 1996 / Bottled 2009 - Managers' Choice - cask 9802 - 246 bottles -

Nose: Well, you'd know where this comes from, just by the nose. Is that a hint of Glenmorangie whipping up the nostrils! Plenty of light, floral notes, brandy-butter, vanilla, clear apple juice, almonds. Pleasant.

Palate: Humm, not what I expected at all. A huge explosion of moss and earth, dark chocolate moose, oak and toffee. With water the dark chocolate powder.

Finish: Medium, sweet and fruity like moist fruit cake.

Overall: A nice dram that really performs well with a drop of water in. Some lovely flora
l aspects which make this a great example of the distillery.

Mortlach - Distilled 1997 / Bottled 2009 - Managers' Choice -
cask 6802 - 240 bottles - 57.1% Vol

Nose: So much character comes shooting out of the glass with the overriding sense of honey roast ham crisps by Branaggans backed up with spearmint.

Palate: It's an odd one this. With a 57.1% you'd think a drop of water is required, but I found it okay without, but it didn't really perform as well as I'd hoped. A little lackluster and with water even more so. Like mash potato with too much milk in it.

Finish: quite yeasty in a Real Ale sense, the finish is quite long and hot with a meaty quality like bovril or bisto.

Overall: 'Bulky' would be the word to describe this one. Complex if we were being kind.

Cardhu - Distilled 1997 / Bottled 2009 - Managers' Choice -
cask 3362 - 252 bottles - 57.3% Vol

Nose: A lovely nose of coconut, vanilla, lemon drizzle cake / homemade lemonade. Really fresh and lovely. If my clothes came out of the washer smelling like this, I'd be happy! With water
, a hint of white pepper.

Palate: Strong and robust, with zests of lemon and lime. With water: This really comes to life. Really yummy now the strength is knocked down and the flavours really come to life. All the citrus fruits: orange, kiwi, lemon and lime come flooding out. Super stuff.

Finish: A great length; not too short, not too long. The epitome of medium! This malt coats your mouth with a delicate waxiness and leaves you just dry enough to want to take another sip, like a good dry white wine.

Overall: Absolutely the best of the three in this section of the tasting. A stick-on first teamer and so far the first name on my team sheet.

Overall our favorite was the Cardhu by a county mile. We're yet to see the big guns of Talisker, Lagavulin and Caol Ila but on this evidence Diageo need to get those guys off the bench and on to the pitch, to really show their skills off. This ain't no pre-season friendly, this is real life. And Diageo need to play to their strengths. On this evidence, the only Glen they need is Glen Hoddle.

**Note: We have now freed up the "comments" section of the bog so anyone can now leave us a comment, not just registered users! Enjoy!**

Saturday 3 October 2009

By Order of The Management... part one

A few posts ago, we ran a little story on the new Diageo Manager's Choice series, which received a fairly mixed response. Some reacted with delight at the new series, hoping they would at least follow on the legacy of the original Manager's Choice bottlings.

Many others however reacted with surprise and anger at the pretty stiff pricing these bottling's would be available for - the initial flight is priced between £200 and £300.

Well, a box arrived earlier this week with samples from the first 6 releases:

Cardhu, Glen Elgin, Linkwood, Mortlach, Oban and Teaninich.

We imagined the distillery managers presenting their finest casks up at Diageo headquarters, waiting patiently for a reaction.

Then rather perversely, our imagination switched to the classic scene in The Untouchables, when various mob managers sat around the dinner table, all listening to De Niro's intimidating Capone speech about teamwork, enthusiasm and....Baseball. Every boss is keen to impress and no one wants to f**k up. Clearly one did - and paid for it via a dramatic head splattering demise.

Capone sure liked his Baseball, but didn't like his managers making mistakes. Would a similar situation apply here with these drams?? Here's what three of Manager's Choice bottling's had to say...part 2 on its way soon...

Linkwood - Manager's Choice bottling -Distilled 1996 - Bottled 2009 - 58.2% - Matured in European Oak -

Nose: Almond paste, hazelnuts, an earthy forest floor quality, peardrops and a hint of dried fruit. Surprisingly it doesn't have as much dried fruit as I expected, let alone sherry, with a slightly more aromatic cognac aroma. With water, apple, lemon zest rose water and sweet marzipan all come through. Light and dare I say it... slightly summery.

Palate: Sweet and chocolaty, it has a liqueur like mouth feel with lots of chopped hazelnuts thrown in for good measure. Herbaceous notes also come through- rosemary and a whisker of thyme.

Finish: The nuts get even nuttier and a little note of oaky spice pops in right on the death.

Overall: As I mentioned earlier, the effect of the wood clearly hasn't taken presidence here. This is a lightweight and fairly floral dram. The mouthfeel is excellent, but I would have to question whether there are more reasonably priced quality Linkwood bottlings out there.

Glen Elgin - Manager's Choice - Distilled 1998- Bottled 2008 - 61.1% - Rejuvenated European Oak -

Nose: Initially a fair whack of spirit, followed by some freshly turned earth. Brittle sugary caramel (the homemade pan variety) is the next aroma, but not much else on first nosing. Leave this one alone in the glass for a while and it starts to open up. Also, with the addition of water strawberry sherbet and fruity bubblegum come through and take us back to our favourite sweet shop, which is an unexpected bonus.

Palate: Again a very sweet dram, but more like sugared Weetabix on first entry. Chopped nuts and a whisker of dried fruit leads to something a little soapy on the mouthfeel. It's pretty closed. I left this for a good 30 minutes to open up, which gave some pronounced vanilla notes, but also a little dryness.

Finish: Drier than the Linkwood, but something fresh and grassy on the death.

Overall: A very mixed bag indeed. The nose promises more than the palate can deliver and I felt distinctly underwhelmed with this bottling. Capone would be circling... bat in hand...

Onto the final dram of this part and we've got high hopes for the Oban- a whisky which has seldom disappointed in the past.

Oban - Manager's Choice - Distilled 2000 - bottled 2009 - 58.7% - Sherry European Oak -

Nose: Ooh. Now there's something in here which smells very exciting. Very light smoke (almost like a gas camping stove), chopped mint, peaches and something a little exotic (however not in any way like one of our recent posts!) It has that sharp/sweet aroma that, say a handful of penny 'Fruit Salad' sweets has- a welcome blast from the past! Over time, a little cask mustiness creeps in, but is well balanced by some floral marzipan. With water, some lemon infused white chocolate cuts through, mixed with a hoppy aroma in a subtle way. Very good indeed. (Incidentally, it looks great in the glass with some lovely long legs. Kim Basinger springs to mind.)

Palate: On its own, the Oban has a sensational spicy and velvety touch on the tongue which is very moreish indeed. You immediately want another sip. Menthol notes cut through the sweetness and there is definitely the influence of some sherry (although, in keeping with all these bottling's, no where near as much as expected.) Further on and sliced apple, more marzipan and a deft hint of white pepper all stand their ground to give an excellent all-round balance. With water- and a very inviting perfumed note comes through in waves- rather like repeatedly kissing the perfumed neck of a 1920's gangster's moll. Capone would certainly approve. (unless you happened to be kissing HIS moll)

Finish: Lightweight, with no evidence of the sherry or dried fruit, just fresh apples and grassy notes. Perhaps a touch soapy on the death, but certainly a minor point.

Overall: Unquestionably the best of the three, the Oban delivers a varied palate with some excellent touches and is a hugely drinkable whisky. It is the most expensive and ironically the youngest, so the cost debate will no doubt rage on...

Well, Jonny 'pretty legs' Oban from the Westside (of Scotland) has saved the day here for his less impressive pals. It was a definite step beyond the other two, which weren't bad, just lacking in real presence or authority. Surely something of a pre-requisite when it comes to management? Why don't we ask Mr Capone....

Titter ye not....

Well, after much to'ing and fro'ing... Caskstrength finally got a Twitter page folks. A splendid evening engaged in a 'live Twitter tasting' at the SMWS (hello Edinburgh Whisky chaps!) made us think it was probably time to get out of the dark ages and get more up to date. Even found Danny DeVito has one. Yay.

Feel free to follow our titterings here or on the handy box on caskstrength...

does that make us Twits?

Friday 2 October 2009

Fit For A (wannabe) King

Sometimes you hear rumours. Sometimes you hear rumours of rumours. And sometimes you hear facts. Cold, hard facts. I remember the first time I saw a bottle of Highgrove Laphroaig. It was on a shelf at the Whisky Exchange and came with a suitably royal price tag. I had heard of the legend of these bottlings, only available from HRH The Prince Of Wales' countryside accommodation, but never seen one before. It was beautiful. The bottle was not unlike the old 30 year olds, but with a green box that had a lift off lid and string to carry it by! And at the price on the tag; well I'm glad it was behind a glass door! Wouldn't want to knock one of those badboys off the shelf...!

So it was with much glee that I was recently able to get hold of one of the new Highgrove bottling that Laphroaig released in August 2009. The bumph with it reads:

The whisky is matured for a minimum of 12yrs and, at timely intervals, the Distillery Manager selects a single barrel of matured malt whisky to be set aside and bottled exclusively for Highgrove. A barrel of whisky will fill approximately 280 bottles and each bottle is individually numbered and comes in its own presentation box.

Sounds like a winner so far. But the real bonus of the new bottlings is the packaging. Amazing! The bottles now comes with it's very own, gold embossed label design and a separate label sticker detailing the cask information. All of this is housed in an enormous shoe-box-like container that could happily house a pair of Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blahniks. In fact, if you have a special lady in your life then buy her one of these bottles for Christmas, wrap it up and she'll think she's getting shoes! Then you can snaffle a dram when she's not looking...

Now, packaging is all very good, but how does the damn stuff taste? Let's find out:

Laphroaig - Highgrove House Bottling - Bottled August 2009 - 12 Years Old - Distilled 15.01.1997 - Cask No. 136 - Bottle No. 160 of ~280 - 46% - 70cl

Nose: This is
odd. Not what I would expect from a Laphroaig. Very subtle, almost like the nose on the Ardbeg 1977. Plenty of butter popcorn, a hint of cream, some red flowers (carnations, roses). In fact it really is very delicate and floral for a Laphroaig. Of course there is peat smoke, but it's right at the back where it sits with hints of green tea and liquorice. Very, very lovely.

Palate: It's got what you would expect from a Laphroaig; the kiss of peat, the medicinal heat but it is the most subtle I've ever had from this Islay distillery. The malt takes the driving seat with sea salt and a real sweetness, the like of which I've not come across before in a 'froaig. If it wasn't for the peat and TCP, this could be a Springbank. Very unusual, but gooood.

Finish: Medium with red chillies and smoke (as usual) but right at the back of the tounge there is a little coppery taste which adds a zest to proceedings. After that dies down there is a hit of lime that leaves you gasping for more. In a good way! :-)

Overall: I like. I like a lot. This Laphroaig is disturbingly easy to drink. Okay, it's a single cask but it has been paired down to 46%. Usually something I shake my head at. But this works wonders. So, so, so drinkable. Slainte!