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Monday, 1 March 2010

Dunn and Dusted

This year’s Whisky Live London provided us with some interesting treats (and tweets!), not least the fantastic conversation with some elderly Northern gents in the pub by Putney Bridge tube on the Friday night; the sort of salt-of-the-earth types that make you glad for whisky, real ale and good company.

Having arrived at The Hurlingham Club at 7pm on the Friday, I was thrown straight in the deep-end as Reserve Brand’s Colin Dunn grabbed my arm and dragged me not-quite-kicking-and-screaming along to his “Hebridean Journey” tasting. Now, if you’re going to a whisky festival, I find there are three key ways in which to prepare:

Firstly, food:

Make sure you have lots of food. I had popped in to the Whisky Exchange earlier in the day which allowed me to raid the stalls at Borough Market, getting in a good bed of Roast Pork Belly from one of the stalls, coupled with some nice soup and a crusty bread roll.

The second pointer for pre-festival action is water:

a friend has recently been doing some work for Belu, an ethical bottled water company and as a result he was overloaded with the stuff. Thus, last week I found myself the proud owner of two palates of bottled mineral water. I made it my aim to quaff as much of the stuff over the two days leading up to Whisky Live, as possible.

Thirdly and probably most importantly, is opening your mind:

Each dram should be judged on their own individual merit. Not pre-conceptions. Not marketing bull$hit. No unfair comparisons.

However, no sooner I had stepped foot inside the Hurlingham Club than I found myself at a table with the following whiskies:

Talisker 12 Year Old – Friends Of The Classic Malts Bottling

Talisker 25 Year Old

Caol Ila Cask Strength

Lagavulin 12 Year Old – 2009 Special Release

Lagavulin 30 Year Old

Port Ellen 3rd Release


This is like going to your Freshers Ball at University, all dressed up and ready to meet a bevy of attractive (and unattractive), young, drunk students all up for the “university experience”. But then your Uncle picks you up and takes you to Stringfellows beforehand… the benchmark is going to have been set uber high…!

Here at, we’ve been very privileged over the last two years to have tried most of the above bottlings before and, not wanting to either bore you or repeat ourselves, you can simply click on the bottles above to be taken to their respective tasting notes. The main bottling here that we hadn’t come across before is the Lagavulin 30 Year Old:

Lagavulin – 30 Year Old – bottled 2006 – 52.6% Vol – 70cl

Nose: Wonderful nose of blackcurrant and heather, with the obligatory Lagavulin smoke. Lots of refence points that you get in old whiksy: polished wood, old leather shoes, second hand books.

Palate: Over comes the smoke, followed by marmalade and summer fruit compote. Also a touch of cigar smoke (alongside the peat smoke) and hints of ginger.

Finish: Just that blackcurrant again! As it lingers there is a touch of old leather and smoke. Long and lingering. Slobber!

Overall: Just yummy! I wish it was 2006 again, as I’d love to go out and get a few bottle of this. Sadly, it’s now probably silly money… Better in my view than the Lagavulin 21, which I found a touch disappointing.

To follow on from the 30 Year Old, earlier in the day (pre-Roast Pork Belly) I was also lucky enough to try an interesting Lagavulin: The 2008 Friends Of The Classic Malts Bottling, available only in Europe and matured exclusively in European Oak.

Lagavulin - 12 Year Old – Friends Of The Classic Malts Bottling – 1995 / 2008 - bottle number 00989 – 48% - 70cl

Nose: Everything you expect in the 16 Year Old, but clothed in the heaviest of velvets. Some seaweed and salt (like the saltiness of a Talisker). Very rich and fruity- too much? Quite heavy and oily.

Palate: Much more delicate than expected going in with warmth of ginger and cinnamon; slight bitter orange notes over time.

Finish: Heavy notes of burnt sugar, over-rip red fruit. Bitter, black coffee. Ripe Plums.

Overall: This is like a smoked Aberlour A'bunadh and you can see the sense in doing this one for the European market, who seem to love anything that’s ever been near Sherry (they probably still love Tony Blair…). Very powerful flavours, sensible alcohol strength to compliment the strength in palate, well put together. An exceptional expression of Lagavulin.