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Saturday 23 January 2010

Content on the Continent - Part One

Having a 'hoot' in Belgium....

Apologies for our slight delay in posting new reports on whisky-flavoured goodies - January has proved to be a very busy month for both myself and Joel, but things are starting to resume their normal course now.
Anyway, one of the reasons for the delay was that I recently embarked on a malt mission to the continent, in search of Europe's finest.

It's amazing to think that in the past decade, we've seen new whiskies emerge from all over the globe, with notable successes from Sweden in the shape of Mackmyra, Penderyn from Wales and now of course, the rollercoaster ride which is taking shape over in East Anglia with England's first whisky in over a century.

But what of our European cousins?

One thing was clear. I had to traverse 5 countries in 7 days, each with a whisky flavoured story to tell.

My first port of call was of course the Eurostar - the gateway to Europe and also now home to one of London's finest new bars - the Whisky Bar at the St Pancras Grand. After a quick restorative dram of Highland Park 18yo, my train embarked on its short journey to Brussels.

We posted a blog roughly a year ago about a wonderful trip involving some fine Belgian beers and the peculiarly named bar- 'Drug Opera' so clearly this time round I would have to go one step beyond in search of something exceptional to write about.

In Brussels, this is easy. A quick skip-and-a -jump and before you know it, you're sat in a cellar, smoking a cigar, foaming tankard of Trappist ale in hand, tucking into a roast Cuckoo.

From this.............

Yes. I ate a Cuckoo.

It was delicious. Fiddly but, delicious.

The Belgian way of life may often be derided as slightly reserved and hum-drum, but after a few beers and a rare bird on a plate, the place certainly livens up.

Anyway, enough about the Cuckoo. We were here to try another Belgian delicacy, also named after an equally feathered friend- the wise old Owl.

Belgian's first single malt has finally arrived after it's creator, Etienne Bouillon started the only distillery in the Liege area in GrĂ¢ce-Hollogne after acquiring his first handmade, century-old still back in 1994. He hasn't looked back. The Owl Distillery has now bottled its 36 month whisky, made from the distillate of the finest Belgian malt.

Tracking it down in Brussels proved to be slightly tricky, as it isn't stocked by many bars, but I have to thank the lovely Petit at Vinalgros, who stock a great range of spirits, including The Owl Distillery whisky and also their spirit, bottled at 12 and 24 months old. The young spirit is very fresh and floral in character, with cereal notes and diced apple, but lacking any real depth.

Would this whisky soar majestically on the thermals, or plummet faster than a stuffed Dodo, falling from a pagoda roof?? let's find out...

The Owl Distillery - 3 year old Single Malt Whisky - First fill Bourbon cask - Bottling 141009 - 46% - 50cl

Nose: Still incredibly fresh like the younger spirit , but hints of oily lavender. A little harsh at first but a grower, especially when the sweet bourbon notes come through. Vanilla, golden syrup and Playdoh are all noticeable after a few sniffs.

Palate: A deft sweetness to this whisky. Marzipan, more of that syrup, fresh green apples and then a touch of spice. And it lingers!! quite surprising for a 3 year old whisky. A little oiliness on the palate leads into a pleasing mouthfeel.

Finish: Peppery, warm, with some salted licorice character.

Overall: Very impressive indeed- this has the legs to go somewhere, quite where, is anyone's guess right now, but the hallmarks are that it's heading in the right direction with the sat nav set to stun...

My time in Belgium was woefully short, but fortunately I was able to find a bottle of this excellent junior whisky. I have no doubt that you'll be seeing it a little more in 2010 as it 'wings' its way over to the UK. (sorry, couldn't resist that)

In Part 2 of the Euro malt mission: I visit Paris, nearly fall in the Seine and sample Eddu- one of France's several offerings to the canon of Malt whisky.... Stay tuned folks.

Saturday 16 January 2010

It's The Final Countdown...

There is very little more exiting things in life than seeing your best friends getting married. Today is the wedding of a life-long friend and many-time whisky partner, Rich. It was Rich who bravely offered to accompany me on my first ever trip to Islay, where he insisted we should be sans-motorcar and use good old fashioned push-bikes instead. Anyone who has ever been to Islay in their "rainy season" (which runs Jan - Dec most years!) will know that, despite the drams on offer, it is preferable to use a motorcar as transport...

But what better way to spend the evening before the big day, calming any nerves in the Grooms camp than with some "nose to tail" eating at the St John restaurant, London followed by a dram from a new bottling of the first distillery we visited together on Islay, Bowmore.

Bowmore Tempest - 10 Year Old - 1st Fill Bourbon - Batch No.1 - Limited Edition - Bottled 2009 - 55.3% - 70cl

Nose: Low on peat smoke as you would expect from a Bowmore. It's not a Caol Ila or Laphroaig after all. Some honey, vanilla and oranges.

Palate: Cruchie Bar. And Honey. And what's this? Some coal smoke, a la Caol Ila... where the hell did that come from? With water: this dram really opens up with more florals and fruits coming at you.

Finish: Strong and robust with menthol. With water: much more delicate and subtle with more of that coal smoke and honey.

Overall: This is a cracking dram and for a whisky around 55% vol and 10 Year Old, pricing at ~£40 is excellent. Apparently there are only 2000 cases world wide and the fact it is first fill bourbon (my personal fav) adds some real interest value for me. Often I find younger, cheaper Bowmore struggles through their sherry casking and I can find them too sweet or the balance of light peat and sherry just a little off-putting. In the past I've always said that "The Bowmores I like, I can't afford". This has changed my opinion.

So, here's to Rich and Eve, the Happy Couple. Now to try and hide a hip flask in my Morning Suit...

Friday 8 January 2010

More Managers Choices to make....

A new year begins and with it, the next batch Managers' Choice whiskies are released.
Monday 11th will see another flight of this vast collection of exclusive bottlings hit the shelves and no doubt, a few piggy banks will be smashed open in readiness. We got the opportunity in December to try a few of them, including a sublime Talisker (which you can read notes of here, as well as the Glen Spey and Inchgower ) and a highly commendable Dalwhinnie (below).

Here's the skinny on the next releases - no prices, but expect them to be around the similar mark to the last flight:

Blair Athol
: 54.7% - 570 bottles
Cask: 5989- Bodega Sherry Cask
Filled: 10/11/95 Bottled: 18/02/09

Cragganmore: 59.7% - 564 bottles
Cask: 2398 - Bodega Sherry Cask
Filled: 02/05/97 Bottled: 14/5/09

: 51% - 270 bottles
Cask: 431 - Refill American Oak
Filled: 05/02/92 Bottled: 10/03/09

59.5% - 282 bottles
Cask: 8153 - Rejuvenated American Oak
Filled: 12/05/96 Bottled: 05/03/09

Glen Spey:
52% 276 - bottles
Cask: 240 - New American Oak
Filled: 18/01/96 Bottled: 02/03/09

60.1 % - 300 bottles
Cask: 5503 - New American Oak
Filled: 30/12/94 Bottled: 06/03/09

58.6% - 582 bottles
Cask: 7147 - Bodega Sherry Cask
Filled: 07/12/94 Bottled: 02/03/09

Hopefully we'll be able to bring you tasting notes for most of these soon, in the meantime- here's what we thought of the Dalwhinnie and the Blair Athol bottlings:

Nose: Vanilla, candlewax, (similar to a Clynelish) a hint of candyfloss and some light lavender notes.

Palate: A hint of leather, malt and cereal flavours, with a slight lemon sharpness, leading into some very nice soft and fruity bourbon notes.

Finish: Lightweight and fairly short.

Overall: Not a million miles from the classic Dalwhinnie 15yo, but with a slightly lighter touch. Roll on summertime.

Nose: Initially, a big hit of vanilla, followed by some aromatic aniseed, banana, lemon meringue pie and some freshly sliced water melon.

Palate: Cereal notes with a slightly beery wash flavour, leading into a surprisingly cherry/ peach sherbet sweetness. A pleasing thick mouthfeel rounds off an interesting, if slightly off-kilter dram.

Finish: Drying, with some licorice/malty after tones.

Overall: Certainly not as interesting as the Talisker of the Dalwhinnie, but pleasing in its own way.

We're still hanging on for the release of the Lagavulin- Come on Diageo! get round to it at once!!

Wednesday 6 January 2010

The Only Dram in The Village....

Joel, after a little too much Christmas pudding,
poses in his new catsuit.

Snow has descended on London and of course, everything stops working. So rather than head into town for the sales like every other crazy person, I've decided to stay by the fire with my faithful companion Bobby and watch a particularly festive scene unfold in Penge, where Caskstrength towers are located. Some of the neighbours have forgotten to take down their Christmas lights and i'm presented with a winter scene best served up a few weeks ago, with mulled wine and a few mince pies.

I have just finished the remainder of our Christmas pudding, but feel a glass of mulled is taking it a step too far (remember this nutter, who lives every day like Christmas day??) I fancy a little whisky.

So step in something different from the usual suspects- in late December, we received 2 samples from Welsh pioneers Penderyn which i'd been meaning to devour. Now seems a perfect time...

Penderyn have set themselves the benchmark of being the first welsh distillery for over 100 years after the Ffrongoch Distillery in Bala, North Wales charged its stills for the last time in the late 1800's.
Wales has had an undeniably lengthy association with whisky, dating back to the 4th century. Archaeology shows the presence of small stills dotted around Wales and Evan Williams, one of the names synonymous with American bourbon had family in Pembrokeshire. But as we entered a new millenium, the welsh distillation process was well and truly bought back to life, with Penderyn releasing its first whisky on St David's day in 2004.

The stills are apparently fairly unique in their design, created by Dr David Faraday, a direct descendant of none other than Sir Michael Faraday, with the spirit being produced at an astonishing 92% ABV. The distillery has always matured in bourbon casks and elected to finish it using Madeira wood. So we were very interested indeed to try 2 relatively different styles of whisky- a limited edition peated version and the distillery's Sherrywood bottling.

So, without further ado, let's get stuck in and 'Iechyd da'!

Penderyn - Peated - 2009 bottling - 46% - ltd to 5000 bottles per year.

Nose: A really interesting mix of slightly burnt, brittle caramel, some light floral notes and a mere whiff of something peaty. It's unlike other more obvious peated styles, in that this is not a dry, fireside style smoke, but very sweet and perfumed, almost aromatic. Dig a little deeper and you'll encounter hints of fruit salad and some cereal notes too.

Palate: It's clear from the outset that this is a young whisky and it feels like there's definitely a lot of room to develop, but there is certainly flavour tucked away in there; Hot and spirity at first, then a little licorice, vanilla, some dried banana and more of that bitter-sweet caramel.

Finish: Touches of spice linger on the palate and the last remnants of the vanilla leave you with a pleasant fresh taste in the mouth.

Overall: What this lacks in age, it certainly goes some way to make up for in flavour. Neither the peatiest, nor characterful dram, but something entertaining nonetheless.

Sir Tom Jones and Dame Shirley Bassey
- perhaps on an 'off' day.

Next up: Can the Sherrywood bottling delight us like the mighty Tom and Shirley, or will it be more Gavin and Stacey? (regular readers will know that I have a strong aversion to anything which features Messrs. Horne and Cordon- and their Welsh/Essex based 'comedy' does little to rectify this)

Penderyn - Sherrywood bottling - 46%

Nose: Hello. Something deliciously fruity and perfumed in here, rich and heady, rather like the aroma one could imagine when kissing the hand of Dame Shirley herself. Coupled with that some white chocolate notes and some unmistakable chopped hazelnuts. Very good indeed.

Palate: The freshness of the Penderyn is immediately there, but it is enhanced hugely by some lovely oily fruitiness, some country fudge, dried apricots and then a hint of drying wood.

Finish: Some lingering dryness, but it's fruit all the way into a well rounded and lengthy finish.

Overall: A real treat, with the nose being the most striking aspect of this dram. The palate again demonstrates a youthful whisky, but certainly well worth investigating.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

Happy 2nd Birthday!!

Two little boys had two large drams, Each had a bottle spare. Gaily they played each summer's day drinking lots of course. One little chap then had a mishap and broke his Glencairn glass. Wept for his dram then cried 'Well Damn, We've plenty where that came from!'

Thanks to Rolf Harris for his help in 'penning' this ode to our 2nd birthday celebrations.
Today is the day we posted our very first blog back in 2008.
200 posts later and we haven't looked back- it's been a total blast and you can rest assured that we'll be around for a lot longer, endeavouring to bring you the best and most informative tasting notes, with hopefully a bit of wayward spirit about this beloved spirit.

In the meantime, we thought it was high time to dig out the video camera and film a little bit of a celebratory video... and yes... we did have a good go at drinking the bar dry!!!

'Another Round...'

Now for a fun competition... the first person to email us the correct list (or as near as they can) of all the whiskies on the bar will win a bottle of something tasty from our cellars....(over 18's please and regrettably, we can only send the prize within Europe)
Send your answers to:

Good luck!! Here's a little hint to start you off... there are 2 different Taliskers !!

Hope you're all having a great year. Slainte!

Neil & Joel x

Sunday 3 January 2010

New for 2010

Hello folks, - we're back in the land of the living now, after a tremendous Christmas and new year. Before we commence with our glad tidings for 2010, I was going to post details of a New Year's Eve whisky cocktail which went down well at our festive celebratory party, but I completely forgot, so here's the recipe:

Based on the premise of a baked apple, I fancied trying to get that fruity, buttery, boozy, aromatic flavour into a glass, reminding me of a great childhood dessert. Have a go and see what you think - I was calling this the 'Baked Winter Apple', for lack of a better name!

50ml Clynelish 14 yo, infused with butter. (basically, heat the whisky gently in a pan, adding a small nob of butter) Chill and then filter off the extra fatty bits with a mini sieve when making the cocktail.

30ml pressed apple juice (cloudy style)

25ml quality English cider

15ml maple syrup (for an extra-sweet treat, try making a rich Muscovado sugar syrup to use instead!)

15ml fresh lemon Juice

3 dashes of Boker's or similar cardamom bitters

1 dash of Aromatic bitters (Bitter Truth or Angostura)

2 Bar spoons of egg white (to give you a lovely froth)

Shake with lots of ice and serve in chilled Martini glasses, garnished with a thin slice of apple on the side (which you've pre-rubbed around the rim of the glass) and a grating of nutmeg.

The bitters, syrup and the butter-infused whisky all combine really well with the aroma and flavour of the apple. After a couple by the fire, I was definitely transported back to the Ridley homestead and my mother's baked apple dessert!!

Anyway... Happy New Year! hope you had a great Christmas and are now preparing for a productive 2010- here at Caskstrength we certainly are.

This year, will be endeavoring to bring you even more new whisky reviews, interviews and a couple of new sections- as well as some guest posts from several friends of ours (more to come soon!)

Also stay tuned for a special Bruichladdich tasting special, as well as some super releases from Berry Brothers & Rudd and, (with any luck) a feature on the first English whisky for 100 years, St Georges. As soon as we can get the horseless carriage running, we'll be taking a trip out to Norfolk to see for ourselves just what all the fuss is about!

Until then, we'll leave you with something we got to grips with over the festive period. Having rated the 1989 and 1990 editions highly, we were eager to try this, the most recent bottling.

Lagavulin - Distillers Edition - Distilled 1993 - bottled 2009 - 43%

Nose: Classic, sweet Laga smoke, with a hint of carbolic soap and some stewed apple (perhaps another whisky to try in the above cocktail, eh!). The finishing hasn't dominated the whisky at all, adding a little musty PX sherry cask notes but it remains extremely well balanced.

Palate: Demerera sweetness enters the palate first, which definitely indicates how active the sherry has been, but this soon subsides into some menthol, then a wonderfully fudge'y peat flavour, some cereals and a little fruity note- again baked /stewed apple. Really festive and simply delicious.

Finish: Apple and demerera/muscovado notes, lead into a full flavoured and lengthy finish.

Overall: I picked this up at duty free on the way back from edinburgh before Christmas and have waited patiently for the right time to open- it was a perfect wintry, holiday dram and is certainly helping me ease into a new year, which holds much promise.

Anyone got any resolutions? This year, I only have 2.

1. To master the Flugelhorn
2. To try more whisky like this....

Have a great 2010 readers and here's to a year of stupendous whiskies!!