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Monday, 31 January 2011

Doing The Boo....

Here at Caskstrength, we're most definitely fans of shiny new bits of software and online social networking programs. Twitter? Check. Facebook?...sort of. Myspace? Soooo 2007!
So when we were told about a brand new site, which allowed us to effortlessly add audio clips of our whisky escapades into a tasty, bite-sized homepage, we were intrigued.

Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you the Caskstrength Audio Boo. Or should that be Audio Boo(ze)

You can hear our very first postings here - and what better way to christen this box fresh internet sensation-in-waiting with a trip to the London Scotch Malt Whisky Society, for a few of their monthly dram recommendations.

Staff members Jonathan and Kat take us through a couple of their favourites from the last few outturns, whilst society manager Joe McGirr gives us a sneaky peak at one of the oldest bottlings the SMWS must have released- 35.50 'Something Special', which is an astonishing
47 years old.... well worth trying, if you're heading past.

We'll be developing our Audio Boo profile over the coming months, bringing you interviews, tasting notes and reviews, as well as a few more surreal observations from the world of whisky, including our forthcoming trip to this year's Feis Ile!

Until then, time to get Boo(ze)d up folks.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Lowlands trip Day Three: How 'Low' can you actually go??

Technically, this isn't really 'Day Three', as we were only in the Lowlands for 2 days, but we wanted to conclude our mini odyssey with a little round up from the other Lowland distilleries, as well as tasting notes from a few, both open and closed.

There feels like a bit of a buzz in the air about Lowland whiskies presently. As well as William Grant's huge operation Ailsa Bay, We have the opposite end of the spectrum with Daftmill ( the newest functioning Lowland distillery in Fife, Who have been producing spirit since 2005, but not bottling for at least another 4-5 years. We may well soon have a brand new one to contend with, in the shape of The Falkirk Distillery Co. who look to have got their licenses in order and are busily developing their plans for a brand new Lowland single malt. We reported this last year and now the company has a fully up-to-date website with a little more detail...

Time will tell if the project gets off the ground, but any new distillery is good news in our eyes so best of luck to the owners. Hot on their heels are another group of new contenders Kingsbarns Distillery ( who are looking to locate a distillery, not far from St Andrews and a short distance from the aforementioned Daftmill. They've teamed up with pioneering Tasmanian distiller Bill Lark so the results look promising on paper. More info as we get it.

Now for something a little different. It gives me great pleasure to introduce Mrs Carrie Ridley, Mrs Caskstrength for her very first whisky review! Carrie was so taken with Auchentoshan's Three Wood that we asked her to put her thoughts down and her own style of tasting notes. Go girl....

Don’t be alarmed. It’s not that have opted to balance the sexes by opening the floor up… to a ‘girl’. But I was invited by Neil Caskstrength (my other half) to explain my partial whisky ‘epiphany’ that I had recently experienced.

You see, I’d been asking for a bottle of Auchentoshan Three Wood for a while when Neil Caskstrength presented me with one as a Christmas present last month. This being most unusual for me since I don’t proclaim to be a ‘whisky drinker’, far from it. Over the years I have struggled to enjoy the fine flavours and complexities of whisky on my palate, despite many efforts to overcome this. But there was something different about this Three Wood release when I tasted it last summer at the Taste Of London Festival. Something that actually made me think I could claim this as the one whisky I would like to taste more of and savour on a regular basis.

Auchentoshan - Three Wood - 43%

On first nosing, it seemed so different to the previous drams I’ve tried. Soft, fruity (orange zest, anyone?) and buttery, not that overwhelming kick-back, that a novice whisky drinker senses when approaching a glass. I felt suitably intrigued to go in further and see if this might be something I could enjoy more of. And indeed it was. More of that butter smoothness on first taste, almost a whole Werther’s Original in there, followed by the subtle smoky textures you would expect from a bottle called ‘Three Wood’. Lots of dried fruit notes also grabbed the taste buds, reminding me of some of the Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries I tried on a recent trip to Porto.

Finally, a Whisky I can definitely envisage myself curling up on the sofa with. It’s been a long time coming but well done Auchentoshan, hopefully this will be the turning point for me and I’ll be able to sample a few more from the Caskstrength vaults with a more open mind to see what all the fuss has been about over the last 3 years!!

Thanks Carrie- hopefully we'll be bringing you a few more 'Mrs Caskstrength's Recommendations' over the coming months...

Next up- The Lowland's 'lowest' distillery- draw a line out east from Bladnoch, next to Wigtown and you'll hit Carlisle. We recently tasted Bladnoch's 8yo, bottled at caskstrength and was mightily impressed by its vibrant fruitness and bite.

Bladnoch - 8yo - 55%

Nose: Very fresh notes of nectarines, ripe plums, fresh bread/yeast, marzipan, fudge and clean cereals.

Palate: Warming, with a mild fruitiness, wheat and grass notes with a mild oily texture and citrus notes on the front. With a dash of water, the cereals open up, to reveal some sweet, barley sugar notes. Very satisfying indeed.

Finish: Short, but clean and malty.

Overall: For a youngish whisky, this has some solid fruity depth, coupled with a clean, refreshing palate. Definitively Lowland and certainly a distillery we'll be visiting soon, with a view to exploring the more mature whiskies in their portfolio.

Our final dram from this wonderful trip has a special resonance for me. In the past year, i've been putting together a list of birthday whiskies, to enjoy with friends on my 40th birthday. Although it's still 5 years away, i'm a bit of a hoarder and I certainly feel like buying a few decent bottlings now, before the price goes through the roof, just in time for all those folks who turn 40 in the same year. So I picked up a bottle of Linlithgow or, using its alternative name, St Magdalene. The distillery, based in the town of Linlithgow, not a million miles from Glenkinchie fell silent in 1983, along with that other long lost great from the Highlands, Brora.

This Murray McDavid 'Mission' bottling was distilled in 1975 and bottled in 2004, making it 29 years old. The last time I tried a St Magdalene/Linlithgow was in a bar in Cape Town and, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. I decided to open this now for a sneaky dram, as my curiosity got the better of me. Let's see where it takes us...

St Magdalene - Murray McDavid Mission bottling - Distilled 1975 - bottled 2004 - 46%

Nose: Very dry and grassy at first, but then leading into some quite pronounced floral notes (jasmine, lillies). A hint of dry oak begins to dominate, but with a drop of water, we return to the floral fruitiness with the merest dash of Rowntree's Fruitgums.

Palate: Initially a little bitter, with the oak again taking precedence, but given a few minutes in the glass, this evens out giving more of the Fruitgums, some vanilla sweetness and a dash of green apple skins. Not very developed, but with a bit of vitality hidden away behind a big oak door.

Finish: The palate dries off to a slightly bitter tannic note, with the remnants of the grassy/fruitiness remaining for a short while.

Overall: I can't help but feel a little let down, although it does possess lots of lighter, softer qualities, which are beaten down by the heavy oakiness. I imagine a younger bottling of this would be rather excellent, in a similar fashion to a younger Rosebank, a distillery which, in my opinion also seemingly doesn't age particularly well. Fortunately, I have a trump card up my sleeve when, a few years ago, I bought an extra bottle of The Whisky Exchange's phenomenal SMS 14yo Rosebank, as modelled here by Mrs Ridley. What a corker, eh... ;-)

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Leif From The Old Book...?

This month, Highland Park are very nearly the first out the traps with their new release of 2011.
Exclusive to Travel Retail (which seems to be a growing trend these days) the Orkney distillery have attempted something a little different with this bottling. It's called Leif Eriksson, after the Icelandic pioneer, who crossed the Atlantic back in the 11th century and settled in Newfoundland and Labrador. (It's also the name of an Interpol track, from their album 'Turn On The Bright Lights')

One wonders whether the 2 settlements were named intentionally after famous dogs, or whether the mighty Leif took a few canine travelling companions along? Perhaps in his spare time between carpentry and occasional pillaging, he was the very first to establish Canada's first version of 'Crufts'? I can understand where Barbara Woodhouse got her confidence from now...

Anyway, The Highland Park Leif Eriksson is a NAS whisky, bottled at 40%, matured wholly in American Oak- both sherry and bourbon seasoned. Where does it sit in comparison to the other HP expressions on the market and more importantly, would Leif proclaim this one a 'Best In Show'?

Highland Park - Leif Eriksson - Exclusive to Travel Retail - 40%

Nose: Very distinct and bold in its approach. Perfumed, with floral/citrus notes, roast ham and pinenuts. In fact, there is a huge note of pine freshness/herbaceous aroma, which seems to spring more into life with each sniff. very lively indeed.

Palate: Baked, spiced apple, with plenty of butter, a heady dose of aromatic peat, leading into some juicy red berries, tinned peaches and cream and some very subtle notes of some fragrant plums. Very well balanced and, extremely drinkable.

Finish: The plummy notes continue as the palate dries, with lingering peat smoke, but in that gentle, classic floral HP way.

Overall: Whilst we're not particularly fans of the continual trend towards Travel Retail bottlings in general, Highland Park keep making really decent whisky for a very specific market. The vintage bottlings released last February (the 1990, 1994 and 1998) demonstrated how to get the most from the classic house style of HP and the Leif Eriksson, whilst probably not in the same league as the sensational 1990 bottling, stands up firmly and is a welcome addition to the expressions.

Leif would be proud and would no doubt celebrate, by throwing his dogs a slap-up dinner. Maybe even like this one...

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Lowlands Trip Day Two: 'Kinchie/ Stryder...

'Kinchie Stryder... get it?

As you may have seen from our last post, Joel and I were up in the Lowlands recently, experiencing the 2 ends of distillation. From the powerhouse of Cameron Bridge, with its column stills seemingly extending as far as the eye can see, we move on to, what is ironically the distillery with purportedly the tallest pot stills in the business... Glenkinchie!

However, our first port of call was a rather interesting history lesson and little trip down memory lane with a certain striding gentleman.

Diageo's archives in Menstrie, are an extraordinary wealth of rare documents, bottles and paraphernalia from a bygone era and not just from a whisky perspective. Tanqueray, Gordon's and even Bailey's bottlings have all been pains-takingly collated by Head Archivist, Christine McCafferty and her team, with some real eye openers filling the various cabinets and draws. Our highlights included a near complete set of Gordon's Pre-mixed cocktail bottlings from 1924- 1967, (Manhattan's, Gimlet's and Piccadilly cocktails!) as well as documents dating back to 1819, detailing the very first business dealings of a certain John Walker - and the Holy Grail of JW bottlings- an original white label. Truly fascinating stuff and a great insight into how certain brands have evolved over many decades.

From Menstrie to East Lothian and a distillery tour with a difference. Glenkinchie, one of the 3 remaining open Lowland malt distilleries is indeed a far cry from the Cameron Bridge way of doing things. The distillery, which produces 2.4 million litres per year is on the site of a former sawmill, dating back to around 1825, originally being called the Milton Distillery.

Our guide for the day was Distillery Manager Kay Fleming, who appeared kitted out in a warming coat and scarf, as the distillery heating was apparently on the blink! Minor chills aside, Kay explained that the distillery gets around 35,000 visitors a year and it's easy to see why. Situated in a highly picturesque glen, the distillery is an absolute dream for tourists visiting from Edinburgh, which is only about 25 minutes drive away.

From one mini some even smaller ones!...

One of the first things to see, alongside an antique pot still and wormtub is a complete miniature replica of a distillery, which looks like it may have actually been remotely functional at one stage. The model, crafted in Linlithgow many years ago by George Cruickshank is perfect in every way, right down to the dimensions of the washbacks to the detailed tooling of the miniature copper stills. Oh, the irony.... from the smallest stills in the business, to allegedly the largest... and all under one roof too.

...and the real things

Speaking of the business end, in the actual stillroom, it was fascinating to still see the original Dramming bell in situ, which of course signified distillery breaktime, when it was still customary to dole out more than (un)healthy measures of newmake spirit to the assembled workers. What was equally surprising was the story of the wooden ball on a string, attached to a hook near the top of the stills, which was swung by the stillman, and the resulting 'clang' used to gauge just how full the stills actually were! I sometimes resort to similar methods when my laptop's hard disc appears to be filling up...
The stills are indeed very tall, with a steep lyne arm and a slender waist. Kay explained that the fermentation process lasts about 64 hours, which, coupled with the dimensions of the still, helps to create a light and fairly sulphury newmake spirit. And we were lucky enough to try a sample, taken just the day before.

Glenkinchie - new make spirit - sample date: 13/1/11 - 71.1% (liver pate, anyone?)

Nose: Heavy notes of butterscotch, sugary cereal (Crunchy Nut Cornflakes), with slightly sulphurous /gassy aromas.

Palate: Green apple skins, more of the sweet cereal and a sort of coppery note (if you've ever put a two penny piece in your mouth, for some unfathomable reason, you'll know what we mean here)

Kay very kindly led us through a series of different expressions of Glenkinchie, a couple of which were accompanied by something we'd never thought of pairing whisky with... Terry's Chocolate Orange!! Our highlights are listed below, but we'll get tasting notes of all the expressions we tried into the Caskstrength Warehouse at some point soon.

Glenkinchie - 10 yo - 43%

Nose: Quite perfumed, with marzipan, ripe plums, light wool notes, orange bitters and a hint of grassy straw.

Palate: A dusty, coal-like start, followed by liquorice sticks, heather honey and a touch of the green apples found in the new make.

Finish: A slight brine note, with more honeyed sweetness and sharper citrus notes developing as the palate dries.

Overall: If you're familiar with the fairly easy-to-obtain 12yo bottling, which superceded the 10 year old, you're in for a surprise. They are distinctly different whiskies, with this, in my opinion having the edge on its slightly older brother. Well worth investigating if you can find a bottle.

Glenkinchie - Distiller's Edition - 43% 1995 - 2008 bottling (Finished in Amontillado casks)

Nose: Similar ripe fruits and marzipan to the 10 year old, but with a distinctly sweeter fruity wine note.

Palate: Initially a little drier, with some dry sherry influence, coupling with humbugs, dark honey, nuts and a hint of seville oranges.

Finish: Lingering notes of ripe plums, with a much drier and nutty aftertaste.

Overall: The Amontillado casks used here have clearly influenced what is a very lightweight whisky, perhaps more so than a number of the other Distiller's Edition bottlings. Nonetheless, the distillery character is still there in abundance.

Glenkinchie - 20 year old - Special Release, 2010 - 55.1%

Nose: Milky cereal, with fresh strawberries, strange hints of waxed jacket. (and I was standing well away from Joel, dressed as the local farmer in his Barbour) With a dash of water, the fragrance of fresh fruit becomes much more pronounced, with melons, stewed pears, ripe bananas and boiled lemon drop sweets.

Palate: Powerful, but distinct notes of fragrant honey, sweet caramel (Caramac bars), creme brulee and even a touch of the exotic, creeping in for good measure, with a mango/lychee note developing.

Finish: The honey lingers, along with the ripe bananas, giving this a much more pronounced and developed finish, as one would hope for from an older expression.

Overall: A really excellent bottling, still retaining the distillery character, but bringing many more fruity and floral elements to the fore.

Glenkinchie - Distillery Only bottling - 59.3%

This whisky is particularly intriguing, in that we're told it has had the benefit of a second maturation in American oak, seasoned with Amontillado sherry, then a further period in a neutral oak cask.

Nose: Very dry oak note, with a distinct warehouse mustiness at the forefront. Hints of wet cardboard, dried apricot, malted milk biscuits, dark chocolate and an almost balsamic vinegar note. Quite distinct indeed.

Palate: A pronounced woody dryness leads the palate too, with some spicy fig notes, plum jam and dried orange peel. With water, a hint of hazelnut can be found, along with some softer, more obvious summer fruits and floral notes, which can be detected in the other expressions of Glenkinchie.

Finish: A decidedly lengthy finish, with a lingering dryness and the residue of dried figs propping up the back.

Overall: Certainly the most original Glenkinchie in the tasting flight, with the dry oaky notes doing their best to overpower the subtleties of the lighter, fruity Glenkinchie. It all comes together with the addition of water, bring it back into line with the inherent distillery character demonstrated in the other bottlings.

If you're spending any time in Edinburgh, it's well worth taking the short trip to Glenkinchie and our thanks to Kay for her wisdom and expert knowledge throughout the tour.

Part 3 of our Lowland's Odyssey will see a special guest post and notes on Auchentoshan's most popular bottling, the 3 Wood, as well as several other gems from the region and even a couple of rarities. Stay tuned!!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Lowlands Trip Day One: Is That A Column Still In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Pleased To See Me?

A while back my housemate returned to London from a trip home to Derbyshire, bringing with him an interesting old box recovered from his Granddads attic. The dusty old container was designed like a jewellery box; gold embossed with fine detail. One almost expected a plastic ballerina to emerge from the top, spinning around to the trill sound of music, when the lid was lifted. Instead, this shiny case contained an old bottle of whisky. Oh, what joy!
The whisky in question is Haig’s Dimple. Not a brand I was overly familiar with, but intriguing none the less. And when a bottle we don’t know a lot about turns up at Caskstrength HQ, we’ll strive to find out about it. Who is this Haig character and where does his whisky come from?
Every day is a school day” as a wise taxi driver once told me, so we decided to take a trip to Scotland to find out more...
Early on Thursday morning we found ourselves waiting for a flight to Edinburgh, our first trip to the Lowlands. The mission was simple; spend just under 48 hours discovering the Eastern side of the Lowlands (this gives us ample excuse for another trip to Glasgow, to discover the Western side of this once busy region), some of its history, something about Haig and, as always, to visit a couple of new distilleries along the way.
Haig, or Haig & Haig as it states on the underside of my bottle are, it turns out, the oldest distillers of Scotch Whisky on record. In 1655 Robert Haig was charged for breaking Sabbath by distilling on a Sunday.
His son Alexander Haig also appeared in Inland Revenue records for distilling. The family Haig became somewhat of a dynasty within distilling, with one member going on to marry John Jameson, the founder of... yes, you guessed it, Jameson Irish Whiskey. This shows the extent to which the Haig family had immersed themselves into the art of making spirit. It seem that they are truly the Founding Family of Scotch whisky.
Nearly 200 year later, in 1824, John Haig opened the Cameron Bridge Distillery. A landmark achievement in its day as it included the first examples of one of the most important inventions in the world of distillation: the column or continuous still.
Invented by Robert Stein, a cousin of John Haig, the design of this inventive and highly efficient method of grain distillation, it was refined by an Irishman, Aeneas Coffey whose name is often associated with this ‘modern’ type of still.
The Column Still has played a vital role in the development of whisky and other spirits. 92% of whisky sales worldwide are blends, the sales of which keep the market as a whole very much alive. These blends rely on the huge quantity of grain spirit produced by column distillation, meaning grain plays a vital and pivotal role in the Scotch Whisky industry, despite having a reputation for being less artisanal and boutique than whisky produced in a pot still from malted barley.
None of this seemed to worry John Haig. Not only were he and his family established Pot Still distillers, but he was now on course to build Scotland’s biggest distillery. By using the new technology, developed with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, Haig was to push the production of whisky to unprecedented new levels which would impact the industry forever.
Given the importance of the development of column distillation and the history of the Haig family, the bottle of whisky found in my housemates Granddad’s attic is starting to look like a real find. Okay, it was probably made and bottled sometime in the 1960’s (answers on a postcard, please) and the market value of the bottle probably isn’t huge (nothing to worry Richard Paterson and the team at Dalmore about) but Haig and his whisky represents a major corner stone in the history of distillation.
Arriving at Cameron Bridge, one thing is for sure: the place is not subtle. Not subtle at all. Most distilleries are hidden away in beautiful, remote, rolling Scottish hillsides having developed from a small pot still in the corner of a farmer’s field, to taking over the premises as a going business concern. But Cameron Bridge was different, producing large quantities of spirit, it was the first of its kind. It was always going to be big, bold and brash and was set up to achieve.
On first sight you’d be forgiven for thinking Cameron Bridge isn’t a distillery. No pretty white-washed walls. No pagodas and not a distillery cat (or dog) in site. Pipes, steam and steel are the order of the day. The site has recently had a facelift. Actually, much more than a facelift... over £105m worth of investment which includes a bio-energy plant that will provide 98% of the power they use. As a whole, the place is producing around 70 million litres of alcohol a year. Phew!
This isn’t all whisky, however. Vodka is made here, as is gin. In fact, the gin is still produced in old pot stills and 100% of the world’s Tanqueray is made at Cameron Bridge. The ‘Tiny 10’ wee pot still, used to distil the botanticals at the heart of Tanq 10 was moved there from Bloomsbury, London after the site it was on was bombed in the Second World War and a dear little thing it is, too.
We were shown around by Catherine Gilbert, who has been overseeing the expansion of the site, owned by Diageo. Cameron Bridge produces 100% grain spirit, with the majority casked, matured and used in blends which appear across the globe. One highlight of our tour was the chance to have a nose of some New Make Grain Whisky and compare it with New Make Malt Whisky:
Grain New Make:
Nose: Thick rubber bands, glue and pineapple chunks.
New Malt Spirit:
Nose: Green Apple peel, clean cereals, hint of malt extract.

Of the massive output, a tiny amount does make it into a Single Grain Bottling, called Cameron Brig:
Cameron Brig – Pure Single Gain Scotch Whisky – 40% Vol
Nose: Buttery, Werthers Original note, with a hint of burnt sugar. There is also a whiff of something slightly smoky and spent fireworks.
Palate: Dark brittle caramel, some sweet grain/cereal notes and a hint of vanilla ice cream.
Finish: Dry notes, but with lingering residue of bonfire toffee and the bitter caramel.
Overall: An unusual flavour, esp. If you're used to your grain whiskies a lot older. It is heavy on the toffee/caramel side, lacking the floral/fruity notes of older bottlings, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

But what of our man John Haig? His legacy has been left; a huge mark on the whisky industry and now gin and vodka to boot. What would he think, if he were to be able to come back and see this factory, this Cathedral to distillation, this space-station of a workhouse?
Personally, I think he would smile. Cameron Bridge was, when established, a fantastic achievement of the modern age, manufacturing huge amounts of spirit and bringing the distillery business in line with the rest of industry during the Industrial Revolution. And look where it is now: Scotland’s biggest distillery. John Haig would surely be proud!
Now to raise a glass to Granddad Windle. Rest In Peace. Thanks for the inspiration for this education and, of course the dram...
Dimple – Old Blended Scotch Whisky – NAS - 70pc Proof – 13 1/3 Fl Oz
Nose: The first impression is of spiced apricots. Almost Bombay Mix but with a tangy, fruity nature behind it. Over ripe banana notes then peek through, which grow over time. It seem to me that there is a decent slug of European Oak in here but there is also some energy from the grain whisky which certainly waves its flag from the medley of different aromas. As the nose dies off it leaves behind some fresh mint and a hint of strawberry travel sweet (the ones covered in dusty sugar).
Palate: Banana hits first with a range of different fruits, from pear drops to red cherry dancing about. But not real flavours, again the sort you find in boiled travel sweets. No bitterness, but a touch of sharp, zesty citrus notes which don’t sit brilliantly with the sweetie notes. However, it makes for a more developing and energetic palate, pulling it away from “too sweet, sickly” just at the right point.
Finish: Short, slightly spiced with the lime zest lingering and a hint of liquorice at the death.
Overall: It doesn’t matter when this blend was put together, it is still a No Age Statement Blended whisky and, without knowing how ‘exclusive’ it was when it came out, I didn’t hold much expectation. This more than delivered with a fantastic nose, a suitable palate which was well balanced if not a little unsubtle in moments and a finish that leaves you able to refill and go again pretty quickly. All-round, drinkable and enjoyable.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Beg, Borrow or Steal....

Apologies for the lack of posts this week, Joel and myself have been up to the Scottish Lowlands for a little run around the region, stories of which we'll be bringing to you shortly. In the meantime, continuing on from where we left off in our last post, we bring you news of another brand new Irish single malt whiskey, from tiny independents, Inish Turk Beg.

The whiskey is the work of a small private island of the same name in Clew Bay, to the west coast of Ireland in County Mayo. And a stunning place it looks too. Check out this video.

'Inish Turk Beg' apparently means 'small island of the wild boar' and from the Island's website, they seem to have embraced the traditions of hunting and fishing, both playing an important part in the island's produce. For those bacon connoisseurs out there, Inish Turk Beg boasts some rather tasty sounding cured delights, using cloves, Moscovado sugar, apricot and foraged rosehips... sounds like a set of Caskstrength whisky tasting notes if you ask me!

Information on the whiskey is fairly limited, as is the size of the release; 2,888 1 litre bottles, finished in casks of Poitin, apparently aged for around 10 years. It's bottled at 44%, using hand-blown mooring buoy-style bottles, partly incorporating sand from the island's shoreline.

With images of the cured bacon and island life still gently sauntering around my head, I am in a suitably relaxed mood today. It is Sunday evening, I've just had a roast chicken dinner cooked beautifully by Mrs Caskstrength and a strum on my new guitar. (bargain of the century!!)
So with any luck, this brand new Irish dram will be the icing on the cake....

Inish Turk Beg - Irish single malt whiskey - Maiden Voyage - 44% - NAS

Nose: An initial mix of light fresh fruit, a hint of something earthy and a little gristy, the elements of youth being the resounding factor in this whiskey, from what I can tell. Further notes of vanilla, hazelnuts and mossy wet leaves start to develop. A little dash of water brings out a slightly zesty sherbet lemon. Very pleasant indeed.

Palate: Creamy, very smooth and velvety in the mouth, but lacking a great deal of depth or complexity. Notes of candyfloss, some sliced green apple begin to emerge after a while. Water brings out further fresh, zesty notes.

Finish: Clean and fresh with resounding overtones of lemon zest.

Overall: Easy drinking, smooth and light, this shares a lot in common with younger Scotch single malts- and less so with the likes of other Irish single malts we've tried. It's quite expensive at £125 and certainly isn't going to be on every collectors list, but I imagine trying this in the beautiful surroundings of the island and it'll probably leave you 'beggin for more.

For more information click here: or to purchase click here:

Monday, 10 January 2011

Mor Please...

A number of friends of mine always stop drinking temporarily for the month of January.
Deciding I needed a little respite, I attempted this about 5 years ago and bizarrely, I ended up teetotal for 6 weeks. Only problem was that my return to alcohol ended in an early bath- one glass of red wine with friends and I was so trollied that I was sternly advised to 'get to bed' by Mrs Caskstrength. Abstinence supposedly makes the heart grow fonder, but to be honest, I decided then to give the whole 'Dry Jan' a wide berth. This year, I felt like a little health kick. So after a temporary foray into fruit cleansing (which proved to be a total let down) I have slowed down the first 2 weeks of January drinking to the odd miniature, when the mood takes me.

Last night, after a particularly stressful day (my faithful companion Bobby had to have his tail amputated...) I fancied something powerful, warming and peaty to lift my spirits. I would usually reach for an Islay at this time, but a miniature of Connemara's Turf Mor arrived shortly before Christmas and i'd been looking for a good reason to open it.

Turf Mor is Connemara's new peated expression - and hellishly peated it is at 58ppm, which puts it squarely in to Islay territory. It's also a very young caskstrength whisky (around 3 years old) so one can immediately expect fireworks.

Connemara - Turf Mor - heavily peated Irish single malt - 58.2% - limited to 20,000

Nose: Immediate notes of rubber, honeycomb, a blast of medicinal peat and something diesel-like. Not tremendously inviting off the bat, but let it calm down in the glass for 10 minutes and some lighter, vanilla ice cream/ cream soda notes begin to emerge, along with some tangy, zesty jelly sweets (I believe they're called 'Tangfastics'..)

Palate: Hot and tremendously earthy on the first sip, with a slight return of the rubber from the nose. Again, given time, the beast begins to calm down and with a dash of water, some fresh herbs make their presence known, with milk chocolate, a touch of apricot jam and a sooty, dusty aftertaste.

Finish: The sootiness develops into something a lot sweeter, but your mouth is left feeling completely ransacked by the initial earthy peat, with a slight leatheriness in tow.

Overall: This is a bruiser of a dram (rather like the massive ginger tomcat that needed turfing out from my garden this morning) and it may frighten those with a slightly nervous disposition or limited experience of peat. But allow it to settle down and there are a few hidden depths... qualities that Cooley are starting to really understand- and in turn, shovel into their whiskies. A sort of hidden treasure for those who persevere.

Thursday, 6 January 2011


Finally, The Ashes is coming to an end. And what a great conclusion it is. If you’re English!

I’m sitting at home, in sight of one of England’s most famous cricket venues, The Oval, which was also the stage for the first ever FA Cup final in 1872, between The Wanderers from Battersea who beat The Royal Engineers 1-0 in front of 2000 people. Two years later, the losers from the first final were again beaten, this time 2-1 by Oxford University. Not quite Oxford United, but we might claim this for our trophy cabinet...

As I sit here with my dram, BBC’s Test Match Special on the wireless and a stream of the TV broadcast from some dodgy site in God-Knows-Where, myself and my housemate have been playing a new game: whisky related cricketers. So far we’ve come up with:

Talisker Cook

Glenfiddich McGrath


Ian Bells.

I thank you!

Any one for any more? I think it is time to tweet @TMSproducer with this as an idea for a rain-delay topic...

The choice for this evenings (celebratory) whisky is the sister bottling of a much lauded dram from 2010 and a BIG Award finalist, Glenfarclas 40 Year Old, but this time we’re saving ourselves 15 years, with the Glenfarclas 25 Year Old, my “splash-out” bottling for Christmas. Thankfully, I have just enough left for it to see my through the last 3 wickets. Hopefully....

Glenfarclas- 25 Year Old – 43% - 70cl

I’m often confused by the ‘farcals bottling. Not the stuff inside, but the tube which proclaims “Single Highland Malt” despite certainly being a Speyside whisky... odd.

Nose: Wonderful butterscotch with vibrant notes of apple & cider sauce. With time, the sherry notes of rich fruitcake and dark, polished woods emerge but always backed with juicy, green apple notes and sweet sugared tea. Really tempting and complex. Vanilla appears with a long time in the glass.

Palate: Vanilla and strawberry notes tingle the tongue and as the spirit gives off the fruit notes, it is underpinned with dark wood dryness, a hint of dark chocolate and some coffee notes.

Finish: Even and rounded. The age gives just enough dusty, sandy notes with some of the apple from the nose spiking through, but also the rich vanilla, strawberry, some apricots and finally the subtle wood notes.

Overall: Currently sitting somewhere around £85 a bottle (eighty five quid a bottle!), this is a super dram at a super price. Wonderfully smooth and rounded, if you can level an accusation against this whisky, it’s probably that it is too easy to drink for a 25 year old sherried whisky. With a whisky this age, you almost want something that provides greater complexity. But at this price point, who cares?!

As the rain comes tumbling down, not only here in Central London, but also in Sydney, I’m off to think up some more whisky / cricketer puns. Now, who is this chatting away on the radio? Oh, its Auchentoshan Warne.

I’ll get my coat.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

3 Years Old!! We're Officially A Whisky!!

Well, there we have it. Caskstrength, what started out as a bit of a hobby and turned into a major obsession has now reached its 3rd birthday. In the 3 years we've been operating, we've made a load of great friends, tasted some exceptional whisky and visited some truly memorable places.

One thing's for certain- we couldn't have done it with out the support of some fellow malt enthusiasts, whisky authorities and those who share our passion, as well as the terrific number of readers and supporters, who follow the site. And... a certain sense of the absurd, which both Joel and I hope comes through in our posts.

So with all that in mind, we decided to make the following video.

Perhaps one of the most surreal days in either of our lives and, unquestionably a life-long ambition for both of opportunity to play a classic children's TV game, albeit with a whisky twist...

Many thanks to the indefatigable
Timmy Mallett for his time and to our good friend Nat for pulling the whole thing together- rest assured, a few decent drams were enjoyed afterwards!
And now for some other exciting news!
We thought that now we've reached the legal age that a spirit can finally be called a whisky, we'd bottle our own! Watch this space over the next couple of months, as we'll be posting details of our very first Caskstrength single cask bottling, from a distillery very close to our hearts.
Until then, wherever you are and whatever time it is, we raise a glass to you and say thanks for supporting the blog and.... Slainte!
Neil & Joel

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

B**locks to Smoothies, Fetch Me A Drink

Fruit is a wonderful thing indeed. Life-giving, wholesome and refreshing. But it's just so damn tedious.

Is it really possible to have a legitimate rant about fruit? Or am I an idiot??

Here's the story. I ended the year, rather enjoying myself a little too much. My cousin had a spectacular wedding on NYE and to see in the celebrations, I enjoyed several drams with my solid as-a-rock 88 year old Grandmother, Joyce. Soon it was 4am by a fireside and I was conducting and impromptu whisky tasting of whatever I had in my Christmas overnight bag- Highland Park, Arran, Ballantine's and a Rye whisky from what I can remember.

And then it was apparently 9am. We had to check out of our hotel and return home.
It suddenly hit me that:
A: I was diabolically hungover
B: Not a single piece of fruit had passed my lips since the 22nd of December.

I had the pallor of Withnail. Also, rather more scarily, my attention span had become so limited that even a programme containing James Corden seemed wildly intellectual.

Surely no way to start 2011. So I went and bought a massive trolley load of fruit. Pineapple, kumquats, kiwifruit, blueberries, mango, bananas, starfruit, Chinese pear, pomegranate, even a bloody papaya.

My intention was, for a week, to cleanse my body using the restorative power of the mother of all smoothies. An explosion of the exotic, bringing together flavours that probably didn't really belong together. In my haste to obtain smoothie perfection, I decided to throw in raw beetroot, milk thistle and some sliced up left over butternut squash. A small dollop of Manuka honey and my drink was ready for blitzing.
It tasted absolutely vile, but undeterred, I gulped down a pint. 10 minutes later, I could feel it working! Well, working its way through me. Not the start to a healthier life I was expecting...

You find me 5 days in and 2 x mega-tropical-smoothies a day have certainly had a profound effect on me. Do I feel remotely healthier? Hard to tell. Do I feel remotely lighter? I cannot tell a lie.

A valuable lesson learned them. Best stick to what you know. So tonight, I've decided to open one of the fruitiest bottles of whisky I think I own.

On my travels last year, I picked up a bottle of the Hakushu Bourbon Barrel from the distillery shop, which has yet to be commercially released in the UK, but which i'm told will hopefully be hitting these shores later on this year, no doubt spurred on from the success of the heavily peated cask bottling. I remember it oozing exotic fruity goodness, due to the influence of particularly fresh first-fill bourbon casks on this usually light and floral whisky. Hakushu was originally built in 1973 and then considerably updated in 1981, with a 'sister' distillery site to concentrate on single malt production. The distillery also boasts a bird sanctuary and to sit outdoors in the sun, sipping a fabulously fruity dram, surrounded by exotic sounds made me feel about as healthy and vibrant as humanly possible.

Will it then, have the same effect some 7 months later in a cold, but sunny Penge, surrounded by Starlings and the occasional plump wood pigeon....

Hakushu - Bourbon Barrel release - NAS - 48%

Nose: Well... you've guessed it. Masses upon masses of fresh tropical fruit. Bananas, mango, raspberries, fresh coconut, zesty lemon, slightly crushed blueberries, vanilla and white chocolate. Absolutely superb in every way. With water, the nose almost resembles fruit/wine gums (especially the orange ones)

Palate: Swathes of sweet creamy coconut milk, strawberries dusted in sherbet, some sharp lemon notes and very clean cereal notes. Similarities to The Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph, but this has a little bit more depth, a little bit more colour. A few drops of water serve to bring out a hint of spice (nutmeg)

Finish: The creaminess subsides, but the palate feels refreshed, with lingering notes of cereal and a return of the tropical fruit notes.

Overall: This is my first dram of 2011. Ok, not so if you take into account the numerous Highland Park 18yo's that seemed to keep disappearing on the morning of the 1st Jan, but you get my drift. My first whisky in 5 days and an absolutely cracking way to start the year proper.