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Saturday 28 August 2010

Summer's 'Choman Gone....

God, these titles get decidedly worse, but with Kilchoman, they just write themselves!

There's something about late summer that always gets me in a slightly melancholic mood. One can usually expect a few really great weekends of sunshine, but you kind of know that lurking in the background is the rain - waiting to dampen your spirits and signal the start of the rest of the year.
This week has been dreadful weather in London. One moment sunshine, the next... torrential rain. What is a chap to wear? My usual brogues are now sodden, after an ill-fated walk down Oxford Street, prompting me to have to buy the world's most useless umbrella.
As I have written on here before, I purchased a rather fine wooden handled umbrella from a very reputable shop, but it is currently being repaired and out of desperation, I had to purchase a £7 'tourist special' from a vender selling joke Police helmets, 'I Heart London' t-shirts and postcards plastered with comedy London 'themed' breasts. Highly tasteful stuff as i'm sure you can imagine.

Once unfurled, the umbrella lasted for exactly 5 minutes and 23 seconds, before someone bumped into it, leaving one pathetic half hanging down limply, dripping water into my bag of whisky samples. It would have actually been cheaper to hail a taxi to take me to my destination.

Anyway, moaning aside, one of the samples (whose label was sadly turned to an inky mush by the rain) was Kilchoman's brand new Summer Release. Earlier this week, we reviewed a rather unexpected single cask bottling of Kilchoman, which was excellent. So it was all the more timely that we received their big release, just before the summer was well and truly lost for another year.

A hot summer's day triumph on the Cote d' Azur.... or a wet weekend in Prestatyn? Let's find out...

Kilchoman - Summer Release - 46 %

Nose: Banana milkshake, wet leaves/humid forest notes, tinned fruit cocktail sweetness and some sherbet. With a hint of water, some malty/gristy notes develop.

Palate: Burnt bonfire peat, charcoal notes, very decisive but not too dominating. With a little hint of water, the palate really opens up with some orchard fruit pie, tablet toffee and peppery BBQ steak.

Finish: Quite fatty/oily and very rich. The bonfire peat starts to develop a more peppery note as the palate dries.

Overall: It's official. Kilchoman keep turning out really well made whisky. Apparently, this release is Anthony Wills' favourite so far. It of course bears many similarities with the previous releases, but what is abundantly clear is that the whisky is starting to develop an undoubted distillery character, fitting in perfectly next to the other more established peated monsters. It isn't medicinal, it isn't highly phenolic, but it has a wonderful balanced smoke and as a result, simply cannot be ignored. Keep 'em 'choman guys!!

Thursday 26 August 2010

The Highland Park Saga continues....

HP fans, be afraid. Be very afraid, for the Saga that rocked Orkney nearly 10 centuries ago has returned once again to haunt us... and fortunately enlighten our palates.

October sees the return of the 'Magnus' bottlings. After the success of the original Earl Magnus, the sequel is nearly upon us, in the shape of Saint Magnus. We got a sneak preview of the new bottling in February this year (read our original notes here) but a sample of the final formulation dropped through our letterbox this morning and we're very excited to see how it's evolved since then.

The initial Earl Magnus bottling

For those not in the know, the Magnus bottlings will be a trilogy of releases, starting with the Original Earl Magnus late last year. A 15yo whisky, it was limited to around 6 thousand bottles and sold out very quickly indeed.

Saint Magnus carries on the traditional Orkney legend. It is a vatted bottling at 55% (as opposed to the 52.6% when we originally tried it) and has largely been matured in Spanish oak casks, of which approximately 20% are first fill. Apparently the youngest whisky in the vatting dates from 1998.

There will be a finale to the trilogy, the Haakon bottling, (test sample notes can also be found here) no doubt released next year. But until then, let's dive into the Saint Magnus. Will it be as 'saintly' as the original Earl Magnus bottling, or have Highland Park committed their first sin?

The Brand new Saint Magus bottling

Highland Park - Saint Magnus - 55% - limited to 11,994 bottles - £85

Quick note on the colour- A really wonderful amber/gold- not something we usually remark on, but this definitely caught our eye...

Nose: A battle cry of aromas, if ever such a thing existed. An initial dried fruits note and waxy heather honey, gives way into a coal-like smoke note, some fudge and caramelised apple tart.
With water, a minty aromatic develops, with a slightly dry, oaky/Brazil nut note.

Palate: A sweetness, which subsides into a sooty/smoky richness. Notes of creme caramel, baked apple some orangey citrus and soft caramel and Locket throat lozenges, gently covered by the smoke. In fact, this is one of the most smoky HP's we've tasted- different and definitely a progression from the original sample we tried in February.

Finish: The warming bite of the smoke lingers, as do the citrus notes.

Overall: A really surprising dram indeed. Very different to the Earl Magnus, but by that, we don't mean not as good. This has a life of its own- it isn't as sweet and honeyed as the regular 12yo and also sits to the left of the Hjarta bottling, which was released last year. There, the smoke was much more floral, whereas this is decidedly more oily and sooty, making for a highly interesting and slightly more raw Highland Park. Peat lovers, who have looked for more of the brown stuff in their HP's will be absolutely delighted, while the rest of us can smile and enjoy another dram of something different from a distillery very much in top form.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Time To Get Soured Up....

Somewhere on the internet, there must be a calendar, which is solely dedicated to the celebration of significant dates for drinks. If there isn't, i'll offer to create one!!

What I mean is that pretty much every week, there's a new National 'insert drink name here' Day or an important birthday, which gets PR teams around the globe in a frenzy, with 5 good reasons why you should be celebrating with a bottle of their spirit. At Caskstrength, we recently celebrated National Absinthe Day (even though it appeared it was just in the USA), Black Tot Day, the tragic loss of rum from our Naval Fleets and even International Pisco Fortnight.

Ok, we made the last one up, but yesterday another one landed in our inbox, which on face value looked like cynical ploy to part with your hard earned cash to celebrate another spirit.
But wait! We actually took notice of this one. Partly because it involves whisky and partly because it involves caskstrength's favourite cocktail of the moment- the Whisk(e)y Sour.

Quite who defined the 25th August as 'National Whiskey Sour Day' is anyone's guess. The people behind Michael Collins Irish Whiskey were the ones blowing the party streamers and it all sounds pretty made up, but then again, who cares! Nearly every day for the last 2 weeks has been National Whisky Sour Day in Caskstrength Towers - a small surplus of both blended whiskies and single malts had been accumulating on the sideboard and Mrs Caskstrength was starting to get a little antsy. What better way than to have a 'Sour Off'

Recipe No. 1 Classic Whisky Sour, using Johnnie Walker Black Label

2 measures Johnnie Walker Black Label
1 measure freshly squeezed lemon Juice
1/2 measure of plain sugar syrup (home made)
1/2 fresh egg white

Add all ingredients into a Boston Shaker and shake vigorously until frothy. Strain over ice into a chilled tumbler glass. Add 6 drops Bitter Truth Aromatic Bitters (or Angostura) onto the foamy top. This allows a wonderful permeation of aromatic flavour throughout the drink...(many thanks to Mark Jenner at the Coburg for this great tip)

Garnish with a twist of Lemon peel and if so desired, a cocktail cherry. Whisky Exchange do Griottes, which are superb and far cheaper than Griottines (amazing flavour for a cocktail cherry, but 3 times the price!)

I don't think you can really go wrong with this recipe. The addition of the egg white into the cocktail shaker gives a fabulous creamy froth. I have taken to part whisking the egg white first, then adding into the shaker, but it's really however you prefer it. A simple, yet wonderfully refreshingly rich/aromatic and sharp drink indeed. The Johnnie Walker doesn't overpower the other flavours, giving a slightly smoky note, with some rich butteriness to boot.

Recipe No.2 Whisky Sour, using Smokehead

measures Smokehead
1 measure freshly squeezed lemon Juice
1/2 measure of honey syrup (home made)
1/2 fresh egg white
several dashes of Angostura Bitters
As the whisky is quite dominant, you don't need as much, but this offers a slightly different take on the classic. Worth trying with the honey syrup too.

Recipe No. 3 Whisky Sour, using a sherried Speyside - the wonderful Glenrothes 1985

2 measures The Glenrothes 1985
1 measure freshly squeezed lemon Juice
1/2 measure of dark orange marmalade syrup (home made)
1/2 fresh egg white
3 dashes of Fee Brothers Whisky Barrel Aged Bitters

Garnish with a slice of slightly burnt orange zest. The wonderful orange aromas blend extremely well with the fruity, bittersweet Glenrothes and the whisky barrel bitters give a really spicy, woody note.

Happy National Whisky Sour Day!!
Looking forward to 'International Manhattan Month'....

Monday 23 August 2010

Keep 'em 'Choman...

Fridays are always a frantic time over at Caskstrength towers. The once clear dining room table is by and large reduced to a state of annihilation. Bottles sit half drunk, last night's sampling Glencairns need washing up and piles of notes/ press releases and general marketing gumph need filing in the circular file.
So it is all the more refreshing when you have a bottle that has sat there quietly, waiting for its chance to be opened when all the melee has died down.

This week's happens to be a sample bottle of Kilchoman - a single bourbon cask from 2007.
We had been expecting a sample of the Summer Release, which went on sale last week, so this was a complete surprise. All being well, we'll be able to bring you notes of this in a few days, but for now, settle back back and enjoy something else from this cracking new distillery. I have no idea if it's ever destined to see the light of day, but lets hope so...

Kilchoman - Single Bourbon Cask - Cask No. 114/07 - 62.2% abv - 50ppm

Nose: Crisp, with some earthy tones rising immediately to the fore, backed up with a wholesome, malty peat aroma. It is so very different to the peat aromas of other Islay distilleries, lacking the iodine/brine of the Port Ellen trio. This is more aromatic coffee, with a large measure of frothy milk and a couple of complimentary Werther's Originals thrown in for good measure.

Palate: As one would expect from a whisky at 62%... it is hot and very spiky. But a little sharp lemon sherbet rises through, alongside some coal-dusted malt. Water makes the mouthfeel a little softer, like biting into a chocolate with some gooey vanilla caramel in the middle, but there is still a feisty, peppery peat wanting to kick your tonsils in at the slightest ill-advised look. Think Begbie from Trainspotting holding a box of Milktray and you're close to what this feels like in the mouth.

Finish: The coffee of the nose returns (sans milk) and that's when you start to realise there's some magic at work here- the coal dust makes a black-handed grab for your tongue and also a hint of something sweet but definitely earthy which outlasts all the other flavours. I'm thinking carrots freshly pulled from the garden... (which reminds me, Mrs Caskstrength asked me to water the veg patch and I totally forgot...oops)

Overall: It's hard to dislike anything that Kilchoman is putting out at the moment. The single cask which was released for this year's Feis Ile (incidentally, the sister cask to this) had youth, fire and intensity, backed up by enough sweetness, peat and maturity to warrant a second helping. This is virtually the same, albeit maybe slightly more manic at first. Give it a little time in the glass (with water) and then it starts to come to life.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Arran Adventure - Part 2 "The Eagle has landed"

We woke on Day 2 of our brief trip to Arran to a wonderful view of the coastline from the attic room of our B&B. The previous evening was spent munching fish and chips in the restaurant of a nearby hotel, drinking the local Arran Ale (a pint of Squirrel anyone?) and playing “guess the dram” with a selection of whiskies from the bar. And what better way to awake than to a view of the northern Arran coastline and a full cooked breakfast!

Our first appointment (aside from the eggs and bacon) was a distillery tour. Arran is the third most visited distillery in Scotland. A remarkable achievement for an island distillery and it highlights the enormous possibilities of this venture. A specially built cafe-cum-art gallery, The Eagles Nest houses the distillery shop and a small tasting room where tours start. We were lucky enough to taken on our tour by distillery manager James MacTaggart, an Ilach who spent over 30 years working at Bowmore before making the short hop across from Islay to head up the production at Arran. From the Eagles Nest, James took us across some fields to the local stream which runs down from Loch na Davie,where all of the distillery’s water is sourced from. With only three ingredients, the water source is always a point of pride for any distillery and this small brook which feeds Arran is clean, clear and beautiful.

James, playing the Malt 'Timpani'!

From here we made our way, via the barley store (with its ingenious weight system of measurement) and mill into the heart of the distillery itself. A small operation, Arran is producing 750,000 litres per year and has just two stills housed alongside the single mash tun and washbacks in one main space. Brewing had just begun again after a 3-week break but sadly the distillation was still a day or so away, so no chance to try a cheeky white dram! We did get to try a glass of '2nd Water' from the Underback - wow! Warm, sweet, and malty. You could bottle this stuff as a health tonic...

However, our next trip was into the warehouses. Arran has the facility to store some of their production at the distillery site and a new warehouse was recently added, where each cask is individually slotted to allow for easy access to all casks. Fortunately for us, James needed to check the progress of one of their earliest casks, from 1995 and oh!... how fortuitous for us that we happened to be there too.

Arran – Cask Sample – Filled 1995 – Ex 1st fill Bourbon Cask - 52%

Nose: Incredible fruit, vanilla and fudge notes. The colour of the whisky (deep amber) indicates the level of quality wood the distillery is using and it shows. With water, a real hidden depth begins to unravel from within the glass. Dark chocolate notes, into creamy white chocolate, nutmeg spices and spicy /malty rye notes all come to the fore.

Palate: An Incredibly oily mouthfeel, with lemon zest, more rich vanilla, big bourbon influence and a lighter malt note developing on the death. Despite the brilliance of the cask, the distillery character has so much room to breathe.

Finish: Drying spiced notes, sweet chocolate and a touch of pepper/salt.

Overall: With casks like this at their disposal, it is no wonder why the 14yo has matured into such an interesting beast. It all bodes incredibly well for the future and the proposed 18yo expression, which we can't wait to try. It's probably some way off yet though!

As we gazed longingly around the warehouse (including a future king's cask!), James came back with something very interesting indeed. A wee sample of peated Arran whisky. Utterly delicious, it certainly isn’t Arran’s intention to take on its island neighbours on the other side of Campbeltown, as their core distillery character is now flourishing under the 10 and 14 year old banners, but this will add another interesting profile to their growing portfolio of excellent fringe bottlings, when it’s eventually released -watch this space.

You can pick up two different single cask bottles in the distillery shop (and online) – one bourbon cask, one sherry cask, both in the region of 200 bottles only for the utterly amazing price of around £45. Value for money? You can bet your bottom dollar on it!

Our time at Arran was drawing to a close and, after a cheese and ham sandwich back in the Eagles Nest and some wonderful stories from James about his experiences in the business, it was time to head back to the CalMac ferry port and our train home to London.

Waving goodbye to another magical Scottish island, we grabbed a map and started planning our trip back. It’s frighteningly easy from Glasgow to access this island, which makes it such an attractive visitors destination. Now tourists have another great reason to visit: the whisky.

A huge thanks to everyone at Arran Distillery for making our trip so wonderful.

Friday 20 August 2010

Arran Adventure - Part 1

A visit to a new distillery always fills us with such trepidation and excitement. What are we to expect? Do they do things differently? And more importantly, what will we get to try??

Well earlier this week, us Caskstrengthers got a superb opportunity to visit The Arran Distillery , whose new operation is now in the full swing of things. We say new, despite the fact that they have been up and running since 1995, but this is of course a mere infancy, when compared to the more established west coast island distilleries, or neighbouring Campbeltown.

Our initial expectations of Arran were fairly limited, as we began the first leg of our trip on the train up to Glasgow. Both Joel and I had tried the Founder's Reserve bottling, produced in 2001, which was very youthful tasting indeed and didn't really give many solid indications of where the single malt was heading. In fact, this was one of the very first reviews we had ever done for Caskstrength, back in March 2008!

We also had a small sample of some new make spirit from 1995, blessed with a highly fruity/floral aroma. But our hosts, our good friend Andy Hogan, Arran's North American Brand Ambassador and Distillery Manager James MacTaggart had lined up a tasting of the most recent bottlings from the distillery's core range; the 10yo and brand new 14yo, as well as some superb single cask expressions and a rare treat- the 15yo Anniversary bottling, produced for this year's open day.

Arriving at the distillery, one is immediately taken with the truly beautiful scenery, which surrounds the site. Goat Fell and Brodick Castle are right on the doorstep, so anyone who enjoys the real Scottish outdoors should plan a trip, taking in the distillery on the way. It is also possible to take a walk up to Loch na Davie, the distillery's water source, but as time was tight on this visit, we made tentative plans to return soon, dressed in full gorse-proof tweeds and heavy brogues.

With the sun blazing down on our outdoor tasting table, we got stuck into some scrumptious dramming...and boy, were we in for a shock...

The overall house style of the distillery is one of a light, fruity and vanillery aroma, with a salty undertone using a mixture of predominantly fresh bourbon casks and sherry hoggies/butts. Our first gleaming glass was the standard 10yo, which proved to be anything but 'standard'.

Isle Of Arran - 10 yo – (50% refill sherry 25% fresh sherry 25% fresh bourbon) 46%

Nose: Light and zesty, fruit sherbet, vanilla custard, absolutely no nose prickle. With water, the fruitiness (fresh crisp green apples) comes through in abundance.

Palate: Sherry makes itself apparent, a hint of dry vermouth, but still maintaining the vanilla sweetness. Some gentle spices, mix with a gentle maltiness.

Finish: Very fresh, green beans and more light notes. Some salted capers with water.

Overall: Absolutely wonderful. Light, and perfectly summery. Although this shares a lot with the classic Lowland style of whisky making it is refreshingly different, giving Arran its own regionality. (£32)

Next up- the brand new 14yo release, which was so new, the distillery shop was still waiting for its allocation!!

Isle of Arran - 14yo – 46%

Nose: Summer pudding!! Fresh strawberries, mint, malty bread, raspberries, and vanilla. Given time, some banana toffee and fresh apricots emerge. With water, even more vanilla custard.

Palate: A rich mouthfeel, Crème Brulee, licorice, a little pepper, but backed up by the fresh fruit.

Finish: Slightly salty/briney, but then back into the fruits – hints of green banana and a little creaminess. Surprisingly lengthy for a light style.

Overall: Another cracker, with more sweet fruity goodness. This bottling highlights just how well the whisky is maturing. Stay tuned for an 18yo in the future!! (£38)

After a couple of cask samples including a single cask sherry bottling, (much drier, but still retaining that wonderful fresh fruit and vanilla) and a Calvados cask (baked apples, butter and spice... think Tarte Tatin) it was time to sample the distillery's prized Anniversary bottling. And after the 2 previous drams, our expectations were running high! The casks used to produce this bottling were 3 of the very first casks in the distillery's inventory, specially selected by James for their exceptional balance.

Isle Of Arran - 15yo Anniversary bottling– 600 bottles from a vatting of 3, 1st fill Bourbon casks– 51.4% – (Heaven Hill Casks) - Released at the 2010 Arran Distillery open day

Nose: Pannacotta time! A sensational vanilla and summer fruits nose. Absolutely beautiful. Fresh, vibrant, yet with incredible balance. With water, a hint of waxiness (ala Clynelish, but not as huge) and a peppery rye note. Clearly, the casks which went into this bottling were absolutely top draw indeed.

Palate: Rich, malty, very complex, the bourbon influence is devastatingly apparent. Cinnamon, coconut, that wonderful vanilla, mint and then some milk chocolate.

Finish: The fruit and fresh bourbon notes give a spiciness which lingers for a few minutes. This is 'second dram stuff', without a doubt!!

Overall: If you can, get a bottle of this now- there are only a handful left, but it is undoubtedly a landmark bottling for the distillery- some of the oldest casks of the distillery stocks have gone into this and it is a true time capsule for the rise and rise of Arran's wonderful whisky making. (Only available from the distillery in person, or via mail order here) (£95)

Part 2 of our Arran trip will be posted shortly, where we got a chance to see the distillery at work, as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of the warehouses and the faint whiff of a familiar friend at work...

Thursday 19 August 2010

Double Bubble or Double Trouble?

There are some old fashioned sayings that definitely have a place in today’s society. If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It certainly springs to mind. How many great things have been tinkered with in recent times, to the point that all the quirks and decency are engineered out. Consider the disastrous American versions of 'Fawlty Towers' and the marginally better 'The Office'. Both series tried to muscle their way into our homes, using brute force instead of the subtlety and wit of the originals.

Also consider first class train travel. The once great way to travel the land in the elegance and comfort of your own compartment, serviced by polite, well dressed waitresses, has now been replaced with rude staff in ill-fitting nylon jackets, serving re-heated crap. Where did it all go wrong?

Progress. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

So when we were told that a new formulation of one of the world’s best selling blended whiskies was going to hit the shelves, we were a little dubious. Why bother? Johnnie Walker’s Black Label sells an astonishing 14.3 million cases a year around the world and is unmistakable, from Bangor to Baghdad.

Double Black is the new more heavily peated take on Black Label. So far it has been trialled across several international Duty Free shops, including Bangkok, Dubai, Beirut, New York JFK, Singapore and Sydney. As well as more heavily peated west coast Island whiskies bringing up the flavour, the blend will also contain whisky from heavily charred casks, presumably for a richer fruitiness. One of the main differences is of course that there is no age statement on this bottling, unlike the original weighing in at 12yo.

Good marketing speak then, but clearly, the liquid inside is what counts here. It's only fair to put this up against its the original and see which expression slugs it out...

Johnnie Walker – Black Label – 12 yo - 40%

Nose: Soft brown sugar, stewed banana, light malty notes, with a touch of Caol Ila’esque smoke and light vanilla aromas.

Palate: Very vanillery on the first sip, followed by butter notes, fresh green apples and cereals.

Finish: The palate melts into milky chocolate, with green shoots and grassy undertones as it dries.

Overall: Well, you can’t really argue with this. It has balance, sweetness, smoke and a rich mouthfeel. It sips well on its own, with ice and makes a superb Whisky Sour. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when it comes to immensely popular whiskies, but this is just an unpretentious and well made blend.

Johnnie Walker – Black Label - Double Black -NAS - 40%

Nose: Cereal notes, vanilla ice cream, stone fruits (plums and damsons) Peach Melba and then the peat smoke- mostly a sweet pinewood smoke. It is certainly a heavier peating level, but it is not there to dominate, balancing with everything else with ease.

Palate: Ah, there’s the peat, followed by a big spicy dollop of licorice, dark Java coffee, malt extract and spicy dark chocolate dessert.

Finish: A slightly bitter dark chocolate note starts to develop, but leads into a very lengthy and spicy undertone. The peat is still there, but again stands guard over all the other drying flavours rather than leading the offensive across your tongue.

Overall: A tough call between these two. The regular Black Label has for many, defined what a blended whisky should do in your glass. It can dance the tango, whilst swimming the channel. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a definitive all-rounder. Double Black offers more in terms of bold flavours. It is a bigger, more muscular whisky and as a result, probably won’t appeal to the absolute diehard BL drinkers. But for those looking for a touch more excitement and flavour, without travelling too far from the original, this might just be the ticket.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Calling A Spade a Shiel

Distillery character is a wonderful thing. Perhaps it is best exemplified by the moment when you pour a large dram and the mind starts to race and the tastebuds to go into overdrive.

I suppose you could say that distillery character gives you a 6th sense before opening a bottle. It is the standard which you have come to expect- Citrus notes... Check... Cereals... Check... chocolate/fudge... Check...

Peat... Hang on!!!

Some distilleries like to experiment and play with our senses a bit. You know, throw in a few curved balls. Sometimes they work, adding to (and in many cases) enhancing the already stand out distillery character, but sometimes these experiments mask out and undermine everything that the distillery has worked hard to build up over time.

On Wednesday, we got a great opportunity to see the former of these principles executed to perfection.

To us, Balvenie have always felt like they're slightly in the shadow of their giant and highly successful sister, Glenfiddich but have revelled in not having such a high profile image to keep up. As a result, their bottlings, from the classic Signature through to the 21yo Portwood finish have always hit the high notes without even trying. To go back to exam times, they're the slightly laid back, yet highly gifted sibling, who just turns up and achieves top marks, whereas Glenfiddich have been studying and cramming for months.

Both great distilleries, yet in very different ways.

Master Distiller and Whisky Creator David Stewart apparently does his experimenting in Cellar 24- and it is in this warehouse that their newest limited release, The Peated Cask was born.

We got to meet with Dr Andrew Forrester, who to demonstrate this new bottling had decided to bring an ENTIRE MALTING FLOOR to London and invited the assembled audience to come up and play around in it.

Oh yes!

That certainly got our attention. Malt Angel anyone? Our thoughts travelled to a slightly crazed Brian Wilson, playing a vast sandpit he had built inside his LA home, whilst the Beach Boys went off on tour...Not sure we'd be allowed to convert the ground floor of Caskstrength Towers into a malting floor though.

Andrew explained that in 2001 the distillery bought some heavily peated malt to experiment with, explaining that they wanted to explore the maturation process of a 'peated Balvenie' using fresh bourbon casks. It is not the first time that the distillery had experimented with peat, producing the extremely limited Islay Cask bottling.

After a time, the whisky was emptied and the casks were used to essentially finish a fully (17yo) matured Balvenie. But the results on their own masked that wonderful distillery character with too much smoke. However David stewart had another trick up his sleeve. At same time, he transferred some 17yo into totally fresh bourbon casks to gain some extra fruity character. A marriage between the 2 seemed to do the trick and The Peated Cask bottling was complete- essentially a marriage of 2 finishes!! An industry first- from the distillery that bought you the original concept of Doublewood.

So did the experiment work??

Well first, to get our senses in tune with the original distillery character, Andrew gave us a dram of Signature to try first:

Balvenie - Signature - Batch 3 - 43% Vol

As many of you will know- this is a whisky aged around 12 years, matured in 3 types of cask 1st fill Bourbon, refill Bourbon and Oloroso sherry butts. We have done notes on this before, so compare and contrast here.

Nose: Dark orange fruits, fudge notes and slight wafts of cinnamon spice and honey.

Palate: Cereal notes on the initial sip, slightly malty, with a touch of molasses bitter-sweetness. Then the citrus notes from return (Grapefruit), along with spice (there is definitely an element of cinnamon in here)

Finish: Lingering spices and drying notes with a sharp citrus bite.

Overall: A great starting point, which serves to highlight the emerging character Balvenie has.

It was then time to try the limited release Peated Cask... and a slight sense of the unknown!

Balvenie - Peated Cask- 17yo- 43% - Around 3000 bottles for the UK

Nose: Spices, licorice notes, a small amount of quite delicate smoke and fresh citrus notes. With time, a little smoked meat starts to develop.

Palate: Very sweet, cereal notes, then the vanilla from the fresh bourbon comes through in waves mixed with citrus notes. And Bang- there's the peat! It's not a particularly medicinal style peat, but has a much more ash-like quality to it. But the importance is that it doesn't dominate the whisky.

Finish: The peat develops, as does the vanilla lightness, giving slightly floral notes right on the death.

Overall: A brilliant display of how to put on a balancing act. The lightness and richer notes of classic Balvenie are enhanced by the slight addition of smoke, giving you a dram, which scores highly again for quality and innovation. Well done Mr Stewart.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Scotch 75

Many of you may remember that Joel, the other half of Caskstrength last year celebrated his 30th birthday in style at London's SMWS, with a whole host of whiskies from his birth year of 1979.

Being that bit older (my birthday is in 1975) I am less inclined to feel celebratory about the impending prospect of my next milestone birthday being the big 40. However, I am feeling a little better considering just how many great whiskies were made in 1975. So rather than wait until 39 years and 10 months to start collecting for the inevitable party, (hey, hope Mrs Caskstrength is reading this) i've begun my stockpiling now, whilst they're still relatively reasonably priced.

A couple of months ago we reviewed a particularly great Berry Bros Glenlossie from 1975, which is absolutely on the list. I've also rooted out a superb Linlithgow from the Murray McDavid Mission range, notes of which will feature on our Warehouse shortly.

Last week, I was lucky enough to try a really cracking array of handsome devils from '75, courtesy of Master Of Malt's 'Drinks By The Dram' collection. Anyone considering a similar project to myself, would be wise to see what they have on offer from certain years- it's a great way to effectively try before you buy and avoid any disappointment when all your assembled party guests are anxiously waiting for you to pop the cork on your prized selection!!

Imagine the scene, as you take your first sip from a bottle you've been waiting 5 years to try...

'Oh. It's a little bit bitter and woody'. To which your irritating uncle (who somehow gained an invite to the party) will no doubt quip 'Get used to it, now you're 40!'s all down hill from here, son...'

3 drams which caught my attention are listed below... Did they have the WOW factor? Or are they reaching for the Viagra and a pair of slippers....

Glenfarclas - The Family Cask Series - 1975 - 51.4%

Nose: Big healthy dose of sherrywood for this oldie, folks, but not overly drying. There’s perhaps a slightly fruity aged cognac note, combined with a touch of menthol and some chocolate covered raisins.

Palate: Dark sugar, treacle and then prunes, figs and those chocolate covered raisins all come to the fore. There is a slight dustiness, but no real hint of over-oaking here.

Finish: The figs lead into a slightly spicy Christmas pudding note, giving the finish a wonderful warming length indeed.

Overall: A great example of Glenfarclas at its best. The cask selection for this age is superb and I’ll certainly be considering this for the party!

Ardbeg -1975 - 43% bottled in 1999

Nose: Dessicated coconut, dry wine notes, herb/fern notes, very medicinal peated notes classic swimming pool notes, sweet red berries and fresh cream. Superb nose, similar to the '77 but perhaps a bit sweeter and fruity.

Palate: Slight notes of wet cardboard/chewed paper, hints of pepper and a little licorice, quality chocolates, dry chardonnay notes and some iodine peatiness. It is a little thinner than the nose would suggest, and quite dusty.

Finish: The dusty notes linger with some of the lightweight peat, milk chocolate and a dusting of cocoa coating the palate. It shows sign of age now and is certainly a different beast to anything produced by the distillery in the last 20 years.

Overall: The nose displays some solid character, giving you a wonderful insight into the distillery character 4 decades ago. Sadly, on the palate it isn't as brilliant as perhaps the 1977 or the superb 1974 single cask bottlings, losing something through its weakness in strength.

Glenrothes – 32 yo – Distilled in December 1975 - refill Hogshead - Old Malt Cask (Douglas Laing) 50%

Nose: A definite note of initial waxiness, demerera sugar, ripe pears and clean, malty cereal notes.

Palate: The fruit really develops across the palate, with more of the pear developing into some tropical fruit flavours. Further in, lingering wax notes emerge, with a slightly rum like sweetness.

Finish: Pleasant spice note develops as the palate dries, more of the rum like fruity-sweetness, with a cedary woodiness developing on the death.

Overall: Very good and drinkable indeed. This bottling has managed to grow old gracefully, retaining some of its more youthful character, whilst maturing and softening nicely.

All the above whiskies are available from