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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... ;-)