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Monday 29 March 2010

Not 'Ard to like this...

As well as our ill-fated attempts to have a spring clean at Caskstrength Towers last week, we thought it was time to try out a new feature and spring clean our front page a little. So here it is.... 'The Reasonably Priced Dram Of The Week'. 

A simple concept really... rather like putting water and ice with whisky.... really who'd have thought it. (Btw, Mrs Caskstrength has FINALLY clicked with whisky, courtesy of the 'Mizuwari'!!)

The main condition for this section is that it must be available commercially for under £30. Bingo.

This week, it's the turn of Ardmore.

The Ardmore Traditional Cask is effectively the entry-level single malt release from the distillery. No age statement here but it is non-chill-filtered and also given the finishing touches in a quarter cask to really bump up the flavour.

Ardmore - Traditional Cask- 46% - Non Chill filtered

Nose: Lots of peat, fighting against some smooth, sweet toffee. A few hints of licorice and soft fruit thrown in for good measure, but a nice, well rounded set of aromas.

Palate: Very intense cereal notes, silky mouthfeel with mint humbugs, brittle caramel, dark chocolate and an embellishment of smoke, really makes this hang together very well indeed.

Finish: Menthol, and subtle smoke fades into chocolate.

Overall: A fine drinker we think and very worthy of our new 'Reasonably Priced Dram Of The Week'. You can find this online at either Master Of Malt or The Whisky Exchange.

Saturday 27 March 2010

Arts for Arts Sake

I'm a big art fan and part-time collector, when the funds allow. Some of my personal favourite artists are Banksy, Jamie Reid and Eric GIll; all three of whom I am proud to own. One of my first forays into the art world was way back as a teenager; aged just 17, I had been working at Toys R Us in Oxford. Having saved up all my hard earned pennies (£3.20 p/h if I remember correctly), I faced a tough choice: Go with the rest of the lads from my football club to Magaluf for a week of sun, sangria and, well, you get the point... or purchase a couple of pieces of art I had seen at an auction preview in London a few weeks previously. 

After much deliberation, I decided that my heart was in the art, so I got the train down to London to bid in my first ever auction. Thankfully, the lot came in lower than expected and I walked away with two original Jamie Reid posters; One promotional poster for God Save The Queen. The other was a very limited edition poster that came with the first pressing of Never Mind The Bollocks... Now I was a proud owner of my first original pieces of art! Since then, I've made some further ventures into the art field, most notably buying a Banksy print for £30 in 2002 (the art equivalent of the Port Ellen Feis Ile from 2008). 

The God Save The Queen poster has long gone, used to fund various excursions and my University degree (any Scottish reader who studied in Scotland wouldn't understand the concept of paying for Further Education, not that we're bitter down here in England at all...!) but the NMTB poster is still with me, a reminder of all that hard work in the Toys R Us warehouse and a marker as to my first ever art purchase.

I was reminded of these fond times when a press release and sample dropped through my doormat this week. It was for the Dalmore Mackenzie. A limited edition whisky from @the_nose himself, Richard Paterson. If you purchase one of these 3,000-only bottles, you are given the option to send away for a complimentary print of a famous Scottish painting; ‘Fury of the Stag’ painted in 1786 by Benjamin West. The bottling has been done to raise money for the The Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland & The UK and will retail at around £100. 

Not art-for-art's sake, but art for a good cause. Hats off all round.

The Dalmore Mackenzie - 17 Years Old (11 in ex-Bourbon / 6 Years in fresh Port Pipes) - 46% Vol

Nose: Quite a fresh nose, with some plum-like notes, dark chocolate truffles & mint. A touch of other green herbs, such as basil and thyme. Very pleasant indeed.

Palate: Coffee notes, more of the dark chocolate truffles and lemon / lime zest as it sits for a while on the palate. Warming and tasty.

Finish: Toffee, oranges / mandarin. Long with hints of spices. Very nice indeed.

Overall: This is a really nice dram. Sometimes I find Dalmore can drown with a little too much much sherry finishing, but the port pipes used in the creation of this dram have done an excellent job rounding the whisky and adding just enough fruit and spice to the palate. Good work.

Delete As Appropriate

Spotify. It’s a wonderful thing. There are often times when I find myself stood in front of my tall CD towers, bemused about what to put on the stereo to match the dram I’ve just poured. My large collection of albums, the culmination of many years working in the music business, means there is usually something to fit the mood. But one is still limited by the number of plastic cases adorning the IKEA Benno CD rack.

Then Spotify entered my life. Pretty much anything you want to listen to, at the click of a mouse button. For free (well, so long as you can put up with awful adverts every-so-often). Now I really can listen to ANYTHING I want to. So much so, that at first you become a little overwhelmed with the choice.

At times the whisky cabinet can seem a little similar. Even if you only have 2 bottles open, it’s about making that choice: the peated or the unpeated? The Scotch or the Bourbon? The heavily sherried or the light American Oak matured? But one choice that my cabinet doesn’t offer me much is “the Scotch / Japanese / American / Swedish / English* or the Irish” (*delete as appropriate). That’s not because I don’t like Irish Whiskey. A few years ago, I had some amazing stuff at The Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin (I still rate their distillery only bottling as one of the most well rounded drams I have ever had. If anyone is off to Dublin soon, drop me a line and pick me up a bottle or two...!). We’re also big advocates of Green Spot here at But much like my CD collection and jazz, my personal whisky selection happens to be lacking in that particular genre. However, as soon as I had loaded Spotify onto my laptop, no sooner was I exploring the wonderful world of Chet Baker, falling head over heels in love with Ella and bidding on 12” records on eBay by John Coltrane...

But there is no Spotify for whisky...! In the past, to hear records you weren’t familiar with, you’d have to sit around at a mates house and listen to their personal collection, working out which albums you loved and then saving up to go and buy them. This, however still holds true for whisky and I was lucky enough to be introduced to 4 different Irish whiskies by a friend recently. Now, which shall I save up to buy??

Greenore Single Grain (Maize) Small Batch 8 Year Old - Pot stills - 40% - 70cl

Nose- banana toffee; youthful and spirity but rounded well by the cask ageing.

Palate- Plenty of flavour for an 8 year old grain, with a crunchy-nut cornflake element to it. The sweetness is quickly overtaken by the bitterness and elements of fresh pine.

Finish- Spearmint is the predominant flavour at the back palate. Fresh. Short.

Overall- My mind is already racing with ideas for great long drinks with this grain whisky, especially summer ones. On its own, it comes in just a bit too harshly.

Connemara - Peated - 40% NAS (20ppm, apparently)

N- This has a really fantastic nose. Moist, soft peat and damp wool, which develops into some lovely fruity notes, akin to fruit salad chews.

P- In comparison to the wonderful nose, the palate is a let down. It's just very soft; too weak. The nose writes cheques the palate can't cash.

F- A slightly bitter finish don't help.

O- It's a shame; this whiskey has such an amazing nose, but let's itself down on the palate and the finish.

Connemara - Ltd Ed Peated Sherry Finish - 46% - NAS

N- The peat and sherry work well together in the nose, giving almost coffee notes as they rise up from the glass.

P- Humm... This just comes across as slightly bitter. Where are the fruits (apricots, dates, figs) and the spices which usually adorn a well sherried whisk(e)y?

F- The finish left an odd fizziness, like a corked white wine. This really wasn't for me.

O- I often talk about the cask in which the whisk(e)y is matured as being similar to the school you went to. It has a big effect. This whiskey has had too long in the cask; it's been left in a school where it's been bullied and the parents didn't have the foresight to remove their child and do some home-schooling for a bit.

Tyrconnells - 10yr port cask (6 month finish) - 46% - 70cl

N- Again, a lovely nose! Lot of really old style aromas. And I don't mean old whiskey, I mean an old blended bottle from the 1950's. Treacle, toffee, red boiled sweets.

P- Ahhh... Here we go! Summer fruits balanced with just enough bitterness to add some body and weight to the palate.

F- Perfect length with excellent balance. This is a fantastic dram.

O- Cracking. If we gave out gold stars, this would get one.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Demolition Ridley

I type this as I lie on my back, barely able to move. Since 11am this morning, I have been undertaking a fairly grand operation, which I must confess, I am partly regretting right now. At Caskstength Towers, we have an old outhouse/workshop... well, that is perhaps a little grand, shall we say huge shed, which has clearly seen better days.

I was so sick of the sight of it that today, my rage erupted and I grabbed
the 3 nearest tools I could find...

1: A 15lb sledgehammer
2: A Jemmy (crowbar)
3. A petrol chainsaw. (Ok, so I didn't just 'grab this', but nipped to our local tool hire shop, where they lease them on a daily basis)

Demolition of a building is a strangely cathartic process. No matter how methodical you plan to be, no matter how organised your safety plans are, they seem to go out the window with the first swing of a formidable blunt instrument and the satisfying tear of wooden beams, collapsing in twisted agony. A red mist descended over me and within an hour I had pretty much removed the entire innards of the shed, leaving the roof and flimsy walls as my next victims.

Then it started to rain. "No matter" I thought, "I will start to cool down with all this rain falling." (I had been wearing suitable, but rather warm splinter-proof work tweeds)

Oh how wrong could I have been. Foolishly, on my final swing at the front wall, the hammer slipped and I ended up pretty much falling through the sizeable hole I had been creating.

I think I actually heard the most unsatisfying tear of my spine, collapsing in twisted agony. Oh... the irony.

so i'm now laid up on the sofa, unable to do very little except glower at the damn shed and cradle a most medicinal dram.

At times like this, there is only one comforting beast that seems to not only numb the pain, but stir the soul and the galvanise one's resolve to pick up the chainsaw and finish the job...

That comforting beast is a large dram of Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist.

Each sip appears to restore power to my (pretty puny) muscles. If you're of the same generation as me, or just like old cartoons - this is the character I feel myself turning into...(Perhaps minus the lilac lycra suit)



Well nearly. I'm now on my feet, pouring another dram... fast approaching full charge and heading for the chainsaw but the 'sensible' Ridley arrives, probably just in the nick of time.

Hmmm. Still raining. Whisky and chainsaws?? I think not.

I think we'll play it by ear, maybe tomorrow. Until then, perhaps a little bit of Hendrix's Rainy Day, Dream Away and another large and supremely drinkable dram of the 'Beist. The shed has been here for about 30 years, i'm sure it can wait another day to die....perhaps like this.... Grrrrrr.

Sunday 21 March 2010

An interesting Laga....

A while back, I found this rather interesting bottling through a German whisky retailer.
Although it doesn't say the name of the distillery anywhere on the bottle, I suspected it to be a single cask Lagavulin. There wasn't a great deal of information on it , other than what a few of you had kindly sent in for us.

It had been sitting there, at the back of my cabinet looking slightly forlorn and abandoned, until now that is!!! In preparation of the forthcoming Feis Ile, I thought it high time to crack it open and breathe in the wonderful aromas of Islay. We'll be heading there for the first weekend and i'll certainly be bringing this along, if you fancy a dram!

Taste Still - Vanilla Peat - Lagavulin Single Cask Bottling - Distilled 1994 - Bottled 2007- 56.8%

Nose: The vanilla notes coming from the glass are astonishing. From 6 feet away, you can still smell the sweet, aromatic fragrance of sliced vanilla pods, vanilla pipe tobacco plus creamy white chocolate, vintage Star Wars figures (that heady plastic note) and a little Carbolic soap reek.... unmistakably Lagavulin and unmistakably great. It shares similarities to the proprietary 12 yo releases but is just a touch sweeter. Given time in the glass, you'll find cream soda notes emerging and some sweet cereal notes. Just lovely.

Palate: Undiluted- the spirit grabs you with a sweet licorice flavour from the off, coupled with a wonderful silky mouthfeel. More white chocolate comes to the fore, followed by some light summer fruit (strawberries) and vanilla ice cream. With a dash of water, a banana'y sweetness emerges, similar to those foam sweets you used to get served in your local corner shop. Layers of creaminess then take over the palate and you're left smiling broadly, wanting another mouthful.

Finish: A return of the strawberries, mixed in with the vanilla ice cream, rather like the flavours you'd get from a Cherryade ice cream float.

Overall: I'm so pleased I opened this - the sun is shining today and it has just added another dimension of enjoyment to the day ahead. Great Lagavulin has the ability to lift ones spirits like no other distillery I know (save for a great Rosebank) and i'd rank this one up there with my favourite. A truly wonderful bottling. Scour the German retail sites and you may find another bottle of this, which has been stashed away. That is, unless I get there first.... ;-)

Thursday 18 March 2010

The Ten Minute Dram with.... Mumford And Sons

Last year, we promised many more of our 'Ten Minute Dram with...' interviews and must confess, although the intention was there, the right subject just didn't present themselves... until now that is.

Last week, we got to meet up with the creators of our favourite album of 2009 and undoubtedly the band that will be on every UK stereo this summer. Londoner's Mumford and Sons have been around on the fringes of the capital's Nu Folk scene since late 2007, playing alongside the likes of Laura Marling, Noah and The Whale and Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit. From starting their own club nights, (with performances often spilling out into the street outside) to gigging solidly across the UK, the band have built up a formidable following, helping to send their debut album ‘Sigh No More’ into the UK top 10 and No.1 in Australia no less!

We spoke to Ted Dwane, the band's bassist about the steady rise to success, the (supposed) restorative properties of whisky and how a certain Islay dram changed his perception on whisky…

(CS) "So Ted, it’s been a phenomenal year so far, with the band’s tour selling out and the album consistently hanging around the top 10 – has the level of success you’ve achieved come as a surprise?"

(TD) “In a way... yes and no. We’ve been touring as a band for around 2 years, so really it feels like a slow and steady rise in fortunes, luckily with no steps back. But I don’t think any of us really anticipated selling as many albums as we have, so in that sense it’s been amazing. We used to joke about playing to 40 people and what it’d be like to play a big venue like the Shepherds Bush Empire - and now we’re actually doing it!!" (the band recently sold out not one, but two consecutive nights at the venue...)

(CS) "You spent a lot of time building your fans through the new London folk circuit (actually more of a like-minded community of musicians), what’s it like playing to those bigger audiences now?"

(TD) "Different cities have really different vibes, but London always has a really diverse audience – it ranges from younger fans to older people who have seen us in the past at smaller venues, but it always feels like a sense of occasion- rather like a village Fete!!”

(CS) "You list your influences from bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to American rockers Kings Of Leon- what essentially bought you all together?"

(TD) "Well Marcus (lead singer) and Ben (keyboardist/backing vocals) met at school and I joined them slightly after that. We were just really into playing together and started a little Club Night at a pub called the Bosun’s Locker on the Kings Road." "It really felt like there was a great musical community starting to form around there, which just clicked."

(CS) "What was it like working on ‘Sigh No More’ with producer Markus Dravs?" (Dravs also made albums with Arcade Fire, Brian Eno, Bjork, oh… and a relatively unknown band called 'Coldplay'…)

(TD) "Markus was absolutely amazing to work with- he really helped us pull together all these ideas and sounds we had and give the songs a sense of solidity. He also really helped us with our equipment too- I had this knackered old bass with was literally falling apart from all the touring we were doing!"

(CS) "Let’s jump onto whisky. Do you have any whisky related stories or high jinks on tour?"

(TD) "Actually yes! We were doing a series of gigs of the US a while back with both Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn (the 'Fee Fi Fo Fum' tour) and our tour manager suddenly got this really nasty stomach bug. As we were all sharing the same tour bus, we really didn’t want to catch it. We thought that by drinking large ‘cups’ of Bells whisky, we’d stay healthy and the whisky would have medicinal properties. It actually turned out that the TM just had a stomach Flu and we all ended up just being really hungover from the whisky, so that idea didn’t really work out!!"
"We also played a great little tour of Scotland, which included gigs on Stornoway and Harris, as well as a wonderful drive down to the Glen Livet Estate."

(CS) "What was the dram that really switched you onto whisky?"

(TD) "It would have to be Caol Ila. From the first time I tried it, I really fell in love with the peaty flavour- it’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever tasted. A girlfriend once bought me a bottle and we’ve been pretty much inseparable ever since (...the whisky that is…!)"

(CS) "What’s next for the band?"

(TD) "We have lots more touring now including Europe throughout April, then out to the US until the end of June. We’ll be playing a few festivals around then too- fortunately we’ve been writing songs on the road and we’re starting to play 3-4 new ones in the set now, so hopefully we’ll be working on our next album too."

We wish Ted, Marcus, Winston and Ben the best of luck on their upcoming tour and urge you to check out the band if you haven’t already- a truly amazing live band with a wonderful debut album, which is certainly not to be missed. My preferred listening dram is Highland Park Earl Magnus. Listening to the track 'White Blank Page' after dark, with a large dram is truly magical.

You can grab tickets to see the fabulous Mumford and Sons here and listen to/buy ‘Sigh No More’ here.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

A Rum old time in the Caribbean...

How much fun have we been having lately. Some top draw whiskies, gins, Absinthe Day and more recently, with the advent of some sunny weather (!) we fancied a little foray into the dark and sweetly flavoured treats of wonderfully aged rums.

In readiness, I dusted off my Malacca cane and slightly weather beaten Panama hat to begin my pursuit of some of the world’s finest rums. (That is, after a cup of tea and a nice chat with this young lady...)

For the past several hundred years or so, rum has embodied a true sense and spirit of controversy, rebellion and adventure. From a time when pirates sailed the high Caribbean seas, out-running naval fleets with their illicit contraband, to the prohibition wars of the 1920’s and the revolutionary epoch in South America, other than oil, perhaps no single commodity has left such a lasting impression on the worlds trade routes. Indeed, rum is one of the most prolifically produced and widely adapted spirits and as a result, can be seen as a drink that defies both class and standing. Aside to its proliferation around the world, the Caribbean islands are often viewed as the spiritual home to rum and it is here that we begin our bittersweet journey into the spirit’s production heritage and beguiling legacy.

For over 3 centuries, rum was considered the backbone of the British Naval fleets and a steadying influence for many of our greatest nautical heroes. Since 1731, the Royal Navy issued a daily "tot" of rum to all their sailors, the equivalent of around half a pint, with the measure being doubled in times of battle or celebration. This procedure can actually be traced further back to 1655, where the term ‘Grog’ was first used (a stiff measure of crude, un-matured rum, mixed with sugar, water and lime) being deemed a suitable remedy in the prevention of Scurvy. Several popular brands of rum have grown as a result of the nautical association, the most enduring being Pussers (originally a corruption from the word ‘Purser’- the naval officer originally responsible for the ships stores)

The fateful day of July 31st, 1970 will be forever etched into the minds of every naval veteran when the navy ended the daily rum issue to their sailors. Across our entire naval fleet, this date has now become known simply as ‘Black Tot Day’ This summer will see the 40th Anniversary of Black Tot Day, so we will be wearing our armband in sympathy.

So here's a collection of recommendations from us (and our new friends above) for you try out, if you fancy a different taste on your next spirits voyage...

Appleton Estate Reserve- 8 Year Old Rum 43% - (Jamaica)

Nose: Very earthy on the first nosing. Roasted vegetable notes, mixed with a slight bourbon’esque floral/vanilla sweetness and an aroma of Java coffee and toffee, topped with chopped hazelnuts.

Palate: Dark chocolate, with some drying spice notes. The sweetness is immediately apparent, but more citrusy with orange notes.

Finish: Rich sugar sweetness and Demerara notes linger on the palate.

Overall: A solid, all-rounder of a dark rum. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in drinkability.

El Dorado Special Reserve -15 Year Old - 43% -(Guyana)

Nose: Now this is a little different. Wow. Very rich, with deep dark woody notes, Cigar box fragrances (cedar and dark tobacco leaf), sweet molasses, honey and hints of toasted oak and a fine spiciness. Absolutely wonderful.

Palate: Extremely smooth on the first sip, with a touch of sweetness, the extra maturation gives this a silky mouthfeel. The tobacco notes are still present. With a returning spicy backbeat.

Finish: A great mouth-coating sensation, with further touches of that spice, drying oak and dark sugary notes right at the end.

Overall: A very well balanced and luxurious rum and one of the best i've tasted. I could sip this for hours- Joel, bring me my Humidor!!

Rum Sixty Six- Family Reserve – 12 Year Old – 40% (Barbados)

Nose: Much spicier than the others, Sixty Six has more in common with an aged bourbon on first nosing. Dusty books, overripe bananas, with an underlying nuttiness (esp. Brazil nuts) Left in the glass, the spice develops into aromas of flat cola, and dried raisins.

Palate: Superb mouthfeel, with a great floral note, followed by ginger biscuits, sweetness of Demerara sugar, and a slightly lemon’y citrus flavour.

Finish: More lingering spice but this time with a further hint of tobacco and reflections of the cola.

Overall: Lighter than the El Dorado, but slightly weightier and spicier than the Appleton. Another solid, well sippin’ rum indeed.

for more info on the Caribbean rums, check out

Friday 12 March 2010

London (gin) Calling....

Continuing our foray into other spirits this month, we fancied a crack at one of London's oldest and most formidable mistresses- Madame Geneva.

There are perhaps fewer drinks that can unequivocally sum up two drastically opposing views of our great nation better than gin. Indeed, this clearest of spirits carries with it an air of louche sophistication; of lavish evenings spent in the company of Indian Princes, the far-reaching arms of our greatest colonial conquests and a beguiling aromatic charm, which seduced the wealthy and privileged ranks of our upper classes. But before this slightly hazy vision of hedonistic happiness came into being, a very different image of gin prevailed.

Barely a few decades after its introduction to our shores, London was gripped by one of the worst epidemics of alcoholic dependency, chiefly caused by the widespread availability of this cheap, plentiful and often deadly elixir. With its sovereignty under threat, Britain needed to take severe action and gin became one of the first targets in the firing line. So just how did we come so close to losing everything, yet eventually grace gin with such high regard, that it has now become such a quintessentially British drink?

The story of gin began back in Holland in the early 17th century when the 'Father of Gin', Dr. Sylvius, developed a medicinal tonic using Juniper infused alcohol. Its popularity across Holland led to the drinks adoption into the field of battle where, it is claimed, British soldiers first encountered Genever (or Geneva) when fighting against the Spanish in the Dutch War of Independence. The phrase "Dutch courage" is believed to have derived from the drinks heady, yet medicinal qualities and returning soldiers bought back quantities of Genever, where it found further popularity in London.

Its popularity had spread enormously by 1694, when anyone wishing to set up production of a spirit still simply needed to post a notice of their intention to distil ten days before doing so, leading to the emergence of hundreds of crude and often dangerous spirit stills. The spirit’s crude recipe often omitted Juniper altogether and on occasion, all the more sinister ingredients took its place including ‘oil of Vitriol’ (sulphuric acid) and Turpentine’. The thousands of dram houses around the murky backstreets of London began advertising their gut rotting, yet effective wares in the most simple of ways: "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for two pence and straw for nothing".

So how did we get from this.....

To this??

Well, fortunately a few people got the recipe right and today, we have some truly sensational gins. Here are just a few:

Jensen Old London Gin - 43% abv:

Jensen's is a return to the original older styles of gin that were prevalent around the 1940’s, focusing on the traditional flavour of juniper and a minimal balance of classic botanicals, including Coriander, Orris root, Angelica and Licorice.

Nose: An intensely dry aroma, with the juniper giving off a musk like character of the older gin brands, followed by a more elegant creaminess.

Palate: Bitterness, leading into a very dry, but zesty note, working extremely well with Fentimans tonic.

Overall: Simple, effective and classic styling from this excellent London style gin.

Berry Bros & Rudd- No. 3 London Gin - 46%

A brand new gin, painstakingly created by Berry Bros and featuring a classic balance of botanicals -including Spanish orange peel, Angelica, Cardamon pods and Moroccan Coriander, as well as Juniper.

Nose: Superb crispness and an immediate zing from the Juniper and Coriander. The higher strength really helps to lift the botanicals.

Lots of summery citrus notes, from the orange and grapefruit, held firmly in place by the more spicy notes of the Cardamon and slightly peppery Juniper. The Coriander gives an added warming kick on the finish.

A really exceptional gin, making one of the best Martini's i've had in a long time. The citrus aromas and flavours really wake up the senses. (BTW...I always prefer lemon peel as a garnish, opposed to an overly salty olive!)

Hayman’s Old Tom Gin - 40% abv:

Old Tom, described as the ‘gentle cousin’ of London Dry gin, is a style produced by Hayman’s, one of the oldest and most enduring gin brands still around today. Its recipe is based on the slightly sweetened traditional Old Tom gins, partly taking their name from a traditional wooden serving hatch shaped like a cat, found at some dram houses and gin palaces, which the drinker would receive a shot of gin directly into the mouth.

Nose: Very musky and vegetate, with some wonderful woody and aromatic notes, ginger, dark chocolate and coffee aromas.

Palate: Rich mouth feel from the additional sugar, with a sweet syrupy flavour. Notes of lemon zest and anise are present, giving a nicely balanced, old-fashioned style.

Overall: Hayman’s Old Tom would make an excellent Martinez cocktail, the precursor to the original Martini, with 1 part gin, 2 parts sweet Vermouth (seek out Antica Formula), a dash of bitters and 2 dashes of Marschino Liqueur.

Sacred Gin - 40% abv:

Sacred Gin is a micro distillery gin produced by Ian Hart in Highgate, North London, using 12 different botanicals including Juniper, Cardamom, Nutmeg, and Boswellia Sacra (commonly known as Hougary Frankincense) from which the product name is derived. Sacred is the first micro distillery of its kind in the United Kingdom.

Nose: Lots of spices including cinnamon, white pepper, and a bitter dry note from the Frankincense. Left in the glass, a fresh red berry note comes through. Powerful and elegant at the same time.

Palate: Very light mouthfeel, with minted lamb notes, rosemary and some sea salt. Very fresh and summery.

Overall: Despite its heavily flavoured botanical balance, Sacred are producing some excellent gin and this will compliment any zesty cocktail well, such as a Tom Collins.

Also worth seeking out are Pink 47, which despite the shocking bottle, is actually a reasonable gin.

For more info on the 18th century gin craze of London and the effects it had on its citizens, listen here to Patrick Dillon's extraordinary account, aired on Radio 4's Women's Hour.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

St George vs The Dragon

So much whisky and so little time… a very interesting statement. With the growing number of new distilleries popping up all over the world, there are lakes of whisky out there, waiting to be bottled. A growing trend to bottle just after the minimum 3 years maturation has seen our palates being introduced to a much fresher and lighter style of malt.
There are obviously huge financial considerations when starting a distillery. Very few businesses will willingly shell out a small fortune on a product, which no one can try or buy for a considerable amount of time. Indeed, to keep ones powder dry until the whisky has really had a good few years under its belt would no doubt be very difficult for the accountants to stomach.

So we have a plethora of youthful, light, vibrant and distinctive whiskies.
Nothing wrong with that, from our perspective. As long as the whisky stands up to scrutiny, then younger styles are wholeheartedly worth exploring

Kilchoman are widely regarded as being pioneers in this field with their excellent inaugural release and follow-up bottlings. The Owl distillery in Belgium have been making great strides in their very brief life- same goes with Slyrs in Germany. We now have bottlings from even further a field, including brand new distillate from Chichibu in Japan.

Which leads us onto 2 new distilleries, which couldn’t be further away from each other geographically. But do they share the same youthful characteristics?

Kavalan Solist– Taiwanese single malt - ex-Bourbon- 58.8%

Nose: Light, zesty and very fresh, with a touch of butteriness. Dig deeper and a hint of fresh ginger comes to the fore and some juicy sultanas and freshly sawed pine. Lovely floral lavender aromas come through against the backdrop of the spirit. With water, the fruit turns tropical. Really impressive.

Palate: Initially hot, with some salted liquorice, but then the buttery mouthfeel develops- some spiced apple, fizzy Refresher sweets sour cherries and something a little soapy. It is certainly very youthful but the fruit really comes to the fore. Water brings out a little more sweetness.

Finish: Soapy in the final death, but with lingering fruity notes.

Overall: A definite statement of great young whisky making, if a little youthful in places. We’re looking forward to trying more from this excellent far eastern distillery.

St George’s - English whisky - Chapter 6 - 3yo – 46%

Nose: Peanuts, turned earth, some peppery-spiced notes, orange cream chocolates, a little fruity sideline resembling grain whisky and… cheese biscuits. Really odd mix indeed. Nice but odd.

Palate: Cream soda, with a lovely light apple & some further cereal notes. The Refreshers of the Kavalan return, mixing with some light and very milky coffee.

Finish: Light and short, some green beans coming through as the palate dries out.

Overall: Again, a very drinkable whisky, but with perhaps a few more holes than the Kavalan.

When comparing these 2 new distilleries, I can’t help but think of The German distillery –Slyrs, which is further ahead with its production of young whisky. Their recent 3-yo we reviewed here tips the scales in overall quality. I am really intrigued to see where the next release of St George’s (Chapter 7, finished in rum casks) heads and of course what will happen when this brand new distillery has a chance to really turn out some fully mature whisky.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Who the f*** is Paul Terry?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month or so, you won’t have failed to notice (ex) England Football captain John Terry getting himself into a wee spot of bother with both his young lady and the England Football manager, Lou Reed Fabio Capello. A fierce disciplinarian and family man, Capello was not best pleased at JT’s indiscretions and has since stripped Terry of the England captaincy.

But what of Paul Terry?

“Who?” I hear you cry!

Yes, Paul Terry. Paul is the older brother of England and Chelsea defender John Terry and has had a pretty decent career in the lower reaches of the football pyramid. Paul started out playing for Dagenham & Redbridge, helping them to win the Isthmian Premier League (a proper non-league division!), starting a run which 8 years later would see Dagenham & Redbridge become a full-fledged Football League club. His performance that season earned Paul a call up to the English National Game XI (often known as the England “C” Team), in 2003. Paul then moved on to play for League Two side Yeovil making 135 appearances over 4 years and on from there up a division to Leyton Orient in League One. Paul currently plies his trade back in the non-league, with Rushden & Diamonds FC.

Put simply, Paul has turned in an excellent career as a professional footballer working at a level which befits his talent, earning a living doing something he enjoys and winning trophies along the way. If Paul were to shag one of his team mates missus’, it would barely make the local parish newsletter, let alone the front pages of the national redtops. But he’s still bloody good at football. For his level.

Younger brother John on the other hand, needs no introduction. A wealthy Premier League footballer, if he were to be sold could easily become one of the most expensive footballers in world football, if not the most expensive defender of all time. Same family, different person.

The second batch of Managers’ Choices has hit our doormat here at HQ. We had the privilege of trying some of these a few months ago at an event in Soho and the full list of the releases in this batch can be found here, crowed off with a wonderful Talisker. This post however will provide an opportunity to taste again some of the drams we posted notes on there, but also compare and contrast with their often older, certainly cheaper, standard releases; the Paul Terry of the family if you will.

Let’s kick off firstly with the Dalwhinnie. We have previously posted notes on the Managers’ Choice here, but let’s take another look at this one now we have time in our own home to reflect. The notes below are taken from our previous post with additional thoughts in italics.

Dalwhinnie Managers’ Choice: 17 Year Old - 270 bottles Cask: 431 - Refill American Oak Filled: 05/02/92 Bottled: 10/03/09 - 51% Vol

Nose: Vanilla, candlewax, (similar to a Clynelish) a hint of candyfloss and some light lavender notes. With time, the vanilla really grows. Some blackcurrant and mocca / hot chocolate tones appear. It’s a really odd nose. At times complex, at other times really simplistic. It seems to vary a great deal and is difficult to get consistency on, but when it hit, you get some really lovely 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. With water: it needs a good old “chew” once water is added and the overall effect is an enhancement of the cereal and malt tones. I wish there was as much blackcurrant on the palate as there is in the nose and the finish.

Finish: Lightweight and fairly short. Lemon meringue lingers and then the fruity blackcurrants take over

Overall: Not a million miles from the classic Dalwhinnie 15yo, but with a slightly lighter touch. Roll on summertime. Well, we are about to find out if our statement is true, as I uncork the Dalwhinnie 15! This is very much a summer whisky and the nose is lovely, when I caught it and the finish of blackcurrant is delicious. Just needs a bigger kick on the palate. Refill American Oak is usually my wood of choice, but I would love to try a more sherried, expressive single cask of this.

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old - 43% Vol – 70cl

Nose: This nose really jumps out of the glass at you. It’s not often I would describe a nose as “dry”, but in this instance, it is! There are loads of spices in there: cumin, cinnamon, black pepper. But also a hint of fruit backing it up; those blackcurrants again! They really shine through with some time in the glass.

Palate: No watering down, so we’ll be going in straight at 43%... It starts of quite fresh on the tongue, but as you roll it around you find a big hit of white pepper in the mid-palate and liquorice on the sides of the tongue, but that bloomin’ blackcurrant again! This time right at the front of the mouth as you swirl it around.

Finish: Lovely and warming. As the white-pepper-mid-palate dies away, the liquorice stays keeping the mouth warm while a proper real-ale-esq bitterness hits the back of the throat.

Overall: A great balance of spice and fruit. Kinda like a good cooking apple! I think we were right about the Managers’ Choice being a lighter version of the 15. If the Managers’ Choice is an example of a lighter single cask from Dalwhinnie, then I would certainly like to try the other side of the coin; a single cask that is a little more woody and full bodied.

Onward now to the Cragganmore. These two will be the 2nd and 3rd Cragganmore’s in week on following on from the review of the BBR bottling last week (I note that Serge on has reviewed the BBR bottling and the Managers’ Choice together, so nip over there for someone else’s take on these). We’ve previously reviewed the Cragganmore 12 Year Old here, but we’ll reprint with added notes if needed

Cragganmore – 12 YO – 40% Vol – 70cl

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

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

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

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

Cragganmore Managers’ Choice - 12 Years Old - Filled: 02/05/97 Bottled: 14/5/09 - 564 bottles - Cask: 2398 - Bodega Sherry Cask – 59.7% vol

Nose: A very delicate sherry nose, certainly not overpowering at all. This adds some summer fruits to the usual delicate, white flower notes that the Craggy 12 standard bottling does so very well. It’s a similar beast, but with less of the Chardonnay and more hints of mint and even a touch of liniment oil. Slightly less expressive than the 12 Year Old, but with much more body- more “in-you-face” and less pansy-like! With water: a little smoke, biscuit notes come to the fore, and the cherry we got in the neat palate.

Palate: The alcohol level is high on this one so neat you get a big hit of warmth and then hidden under there, out pops some cherry and a good amount of wood (I’d swear this was American Oak if not the label). A very solid palate. With water: much more manageable and rounded- much, much more of the cask effect with spices of soft fruitcake and a touch of black pepper.

Finish: Lots of ginger and polo mints. With water: much smokier finish. Still long with lots of ginger.

Overall: A totally different beast to the 12 Year Old. Where the standard release is delicate and floral, the Managers’ Dram has much more more mid-tone in the palate, much more meat to it. It shows what a good sherry cask can do in 12 Years to a usually delicate whisky. It’s bulked it up: like sending the 12 Year Old to Army Camp for the summer.

Next up is the Dufftown. Neil has a bottle of The Singleton Of Dufftown (for any ladies reading, I'm very much the Singleton of London Town... - Joel) at home, so here are his notes on the two:

The Singleton Of Dufftown - 12 yo - 40% - 70cl

Nose: An initial note of polished surfaces (Mr Sheen) and an intriguing aroma of freshly cut Honey Dew melon. Cinnamon, apple and brown sugar then all combine to give a rich spicy fruity note. Some dried fruits, but certainly not as many as you'd imagine from a whisky matured predominantly in European Oak.

Palate: Sweet, with more of the sugar (demerera) with a little nuttiness and then a touch of clear honey. It is a very drinkable dram indeed. A hint of dried apricots as the palates dries and perhaps even a modicum of ground coffee.

Finish: More dried fruits and a resonance of the sweetness from the palate.

Overall: Not bad at all. This delivers a nice smooth richness to the mouth, which for a pretty budget whisky is very well received indeed. It isn't the most exciting whisky out there, but does its job. Rather like the older Mr Terry.

Dufftown Managers' Choice - 59.5%- Rejuvenated American Oak - Filled: May 1997 - 282 bottles

Nose: Very similar polish and melon notes, with a sickly sweet aroma and a spirity undertone. The strength has obviously given this whisky a sharper edge- lets hope it doesn't upset the (spiced) apple cart on the palate.

Palate: The spirit is hugely prominent, with a prickly sharp entry, but gives way to some sweet white chocolate flavour, a hint of country fudge, zesty sherbet and then some spicy cinnamon laced apples. There is definitely less of a sherry influence and the American oak has given the palate a deft, vanilla/buttery sweet note, not found in the Singleton.

Finish: The spices linger, but also a creaminess, with a peculiar parsley sauce note and some waxiness. Medium in length.

Overall: Well. It's definitely a drinkable dram, but doesn't have a great deal in common with its far cheaper and fruity cousin. At £200, it is one of the cheaper Managers' Choice bottlings, but would ultimately be a step too far for us to buy- there are just better drams out there in this price bracket.

Finally, we must finish off with the one whisky which we don’t have a standard release to compare it to; Strathmill. Not a whisky we have had a chance to review before so it’s time to take a quick break, grab a hot cross bun and do some reading around this distillery.

FIVE MINS LATER: My research shows only one official bottling, a 12 year old, as part of Diageo’s Flora and Fauna series and not many indie bottlings either. That’ll be why we’ve not tried one before, then! So, let’s dig in to the Managers’ Choice:

Strathmill Managers’ Choice – 14 Years Old - Filled: 30/12/94 Bottled: 06/03/09 - 300 bottles - Cask: 5503 - New American Oak - 60.1% Vol

Nose: Yes! Special bottlings? This is what it should be all about. But let’s not get too excited, we’re only on the nose! Banana pancakes with syrup. Hot buttered crumpets. A hint of delicate wood smoke. With water: the butter really flies out of the glass backed by vanilla. This is again a great example of the wood-effect. American oak is always going to deliver butter and vanilla. How much more is New American Oak going to do that!

Palate: Humm... you wouldn’t have it down at +60% (only the heat gives it away) but it’s still strong in flavour. Swirl it around and you get a good deal of bitterness, pear juice and honey. With Water: the heat dies at a good rate to allow the vanilla to come and play. Everything else remains.

Finish: Very unusual. And very long! Earthy, with touches of cumin seeds and honeysuckle. With water: green apple sweets come out much more and the length is curtailed to long, from very long!

Overall: What an unusual whisky. It’s very delicious but most confusing, with a lot of very complex and unusual flavour profiles in the palate and especially the finish. Plenty of energy in this malt.

So, what of these Managers’ Choice bottlings? As usual, each one needs to be tasted on their merit. Each is an individual and can not be compared to the other. If you own a League Two football team, Paul Terry is the man for you. He knows the league, knows the game and understands the wage structure. If, however you happen to be a Russian Billionaire, then pack your team full of superstar, millionaire players. It doesn’t make you a better person. It merely makes you a different person.