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Saturday 18 December 2010

Bonded Warehouse

Today is the last Saturday before Christmas; a perfect opportunity to nip out an put the finishing touches to the Christmas shopping. Well, it would have been had it not tipped down with snow for about 3 hours this morning. From less than a millimetre to well over 4 inches in about 180 mins is quite a feat, especially here in Central London.

Not a time to be out shopping. Not a time to be out doing anything at all, really. This is a time to call up on local friends, put on a pot of hot chocolate and dig in to some festive viewing.

For me, this consists of as much James Bond, 007, as played by Roger Moore, as possible. Classic films. Classic lines. (“Put your clothes on, Love. I’ll buy you an ice cream.”) Classic fashion. No man can wear a safari suit quite like Roger Moore.

Before I start sounding like Alan Partridge (possibly the greatest clip we’ve ever linked to) there are many, many Christmas classics and one which I know a lot of people will love at this time of year is The Sound Of Music.

From watching The Sound Of Music this weekend, it has come to my attention that the von Trapp family were indeed the world’s first drinks critics and were trying to send home a message of their tasting notes for the locally produced Austrian spirit, through the lyrics of one of their most famous songs, These Are A Few Of My Favourite Things:

Nose: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings.”

Palate: “Cream coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels, door bells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings.

Finish: “Girls in a white dresses with a blue satin sashes, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes, silver white winters that melt into springs”

Overall: “When the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favourite things, and then I don't feel so bad.

Judging by their overall comment, one would imagine this to a be peated spirit with a high alcohol content, giving a “bite” and a “sting” to the experience of the dram. My advice; drop in a little water...

None of this has anything to do with where I’m going next, which is to write up some of the notes I tweeted on Monday from a wonderful Laphroaig tasting at The Whisky Exchange’s shop in London, hosted by Distillery Manager John Campbell.

The tasting featured a whopping eight whiskies, starting with the 10 Year Old, then Batch 1 & Batch 2 of the 10 Year Old Cask Strength. You’ll notice, three whiskies in, that we’re still on their 10 year olds. Big smile. Onwards the selection went to the Quarter Cask, the Triple Wood (Travel Retail Only), the 18 Year Old, Cask Strength 25 Year Old and finally a 30 Year Old Cairdeas.

We’ve reviewed much of this before and it can all be found at (the soon to be updated) Caskstrength Warehouse. In summary, the 10 year old was excellent as always. Like visiting an old friend; solid and reliable. The Quarter Cask: in our opinion, is better than the 10 Year Old. The whisky that goes in to it is apparently between 5 and 7 years old. Age matters, huh? The 18 Year Old: is it as good as the 15 Year Old used to be? I don’t know, I can’t really remember the 15 Year Old too well. But this does an ample job in providing a whisky with more depth of wood character, a greater spice presence and depth of flavour than the 10 Year Old. The Cask Strength 25 Year Old I wasn’t a fan of. I found it had too much bitterness and the smoke hadn’t mellowed, but had become faintly annoying and stale. It also fell apart with water.

The were however, two outstanding bottles, both at the opposing end of the age scale. And the price scale.

Laphroaig - 10 Year Old – Cask Strength – Batch 002 – 58.3% ABV

Nose: Huge wafts of peat smoke but with this being a Laphroaig, there are the classic elements of bandages, TCP and liniment. But this is backed with a very “lowland in American oak” feel: slight hints of ginger and vanilla oak. Tempting.

Palate: A fresh fruity nature that goes from being tinned fruit salad (neat) to something more akin a home-made smoothy using the fruit in the bowl that is on the turn, but you’ve not got enough smoothy to go around the family, so you water it down very heavily! Plus a bit hit of peat, of course. The fire from the peat keeps this one lingering on and on.

Finish: Lots of great wood; spices and oak. A hint of hazelnut praline and of course, loads of smoke!

Overall: Side-by-side with Batch 001, this wins hands down. Having said that, I think I’d still rather have a bottle of the Bowmore Tempest, but that is a side-by-side that we’ll look to do in the very near future and we’ll do it blind.

Laphroaig - 30 Year Old – Cairdeas – 43%

Cairdeas is a brand that has been developed to sell in to Friends of Laphroaig as well as Travel Retail and Festival Bottlings. Basically, it is their “Ultra Premium” or “Ultra Rare” range. This bottle has spent 30 Years in Oloroso Sherry and 1 Year in ex-American Oak casks, technically making it a 31 Year Old. You can watch a video of a warehouse tasting of this whisky here.

Nose: Ahhhh... there is that medicinal peat smoke, but aged and restrained by the influence of the wood. Like Ryan Giggs, a football who used to rely on blistering pace but due to age has become a more tempered player, happy to linger on the ball and pick out stunning passes. This is a mature nose with elements of menthol, not medicine. Peaches, not peat. Soft, inviting and warming.

Palate: The influence of the sherry has imparted stewed plumbs, apple chutney and cloves. All wrapped up in that delicate peat blanket.

Finish: Just enough flavours of spice apple and stewed red fruits to compete with that delicate peat hit. Well balanced and warming.

Overall: In this whisky, we see just how well peated whisky can age. When wood spices, sherry and peat smoke combine with maturity, it can be unstoppable.

It’s been a while since we’ve done a flight of Laphroaig and is something we usually do when on Islay, so it made a refreshing change to sit down with these old friends just a few miles from home. It is also fantastic to be re-visiting some of the whisky that we used to review a lot of in the early days, such as the Ardbeg posting from last week and in a few days time we’ll be looking at a Talisker vertical, which is yet another blast from the past!

Merry Christmas, one and all.