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Wednesday 23 February 2011

Whisky Live Competition....Become A Dram Detective!

Competition time again folks! We've been lucky enough to give you the opportunity of winning TWO Pairs of VIP Tickets for this year's Whisky Live London, held on the Friday 4th and Saturday 5th March at the The Honourable Artillery Company in London.

The two lucky winners will each be able to take a guest along to Friday's whisky-packed extravaganza (between 5pm and 10pm) and sample some of the cream of newly released drams, as well as exclusive bottlings, whilst meeting ambassadors and other legends from the world of whisky. VIP guests also get entrance to the VIP lounge, a tasting glass, a Magazine tasting journal, as well as 8 sample vouchers, with an additional gold voucher to exchange in the lounge for something extra tasty...

Sounds good? Well it gets even better... the competition winners and their guests will also be able to join Joel and myself at a special Caskstrength masterclass, run in conjunction with The Glenlivet and their whisky ambassador, all round top chap, Ian Logan;

Whisky Cluedo - 'Aroma round The Glenlivet.

You've get the opportunity to try a number of whiskies from The Glenlivet range (including the French Oak Reserve, Nadurra Cask Strength, 18yo and 21yo) whilst using your powers of deduction to try and guess the details of a final mystery dram of The Glenlivet! Turn yourself into a whisky detective, whilst enjoying some excellent drams- what better way to start the weekend...

To enter this tasty comp couldn't be easier. Simply email with your name, age and location, along with the following phrase:

"Elementary My Dear Watson... it's Whisky"

Enterants must be over 18 years old and MUST be able to attend the Whisky Live London event next Friday 4th March between 5pm and 10pm.

We'll be announcing the 2 lucky winners at midday next Wednesday 2nd March, so best of British luck to you!!!

Saturday 19 February 2011

Try Me A River....

Purveyors of luxury malts The Dalmore are no strangers to releasing expensive whisky. And we mean VERY expensive whisky. Last year's Trinitas raised a few eyebrows with its grotesque £100,000 price tag and a few critics (including us) questioned what the purpose of the release was; nothing wrong per se with an exclusive bottling, but at that price surely a whisky, which very few people will ever get to try and therefore a case of an attention grabbing price hugely overshadowing the actual liquid. Last December's 59yo Eos was a still mightily expensive release, but we were fortunate to be able to try a small dram and it certainly impressed and grabbed our attention, primarily because of its huge complexity and zestiness, despite its vintage.

With whisky beginning to challenge the super-premium Cognacs around the world, it is understandable why distillers are cashing in on 'Mega Drams'. But does the quest to release the world's most expensive whisky and the tit-for-tat price war (particularly between Dalmore and Macallan) create an equal amount of negative publicity for the brands, especially in times of austerity?

The cynic in me wonders whether the marketing department at The Dalmore were starting to get a little antsy about releasing all these pricey bottlings, when they created their new series of releases, but let's look at them from the positive perspective the represent.

The Rivers Collection is a series of 4 whiskies, to help raise money towards the conservation of several of Scotland's major fishing waterways - namely the Dee, Spey, Tay and Tweed rivers.

The project was launched initially with the Dalmore Dee Dram, whose sale contributed £35,000 to help preserve fishing on this iconic river. The project now hopes to raise a much more substantial amount towards the upkeep of Scotland's other heritage rivers, with £4 being donated from every bottle sold. The bottlings are all produced from a combination of American Oak and Oloroso sherry matured casks, bottled as NAS and at 40%. It's not clear how big the run is on any of these, but we assume they won't be around for long.

So what is the liquid like? Are they all different, perhaps mirroring the changing temperaments of their namesake rivers? Let's dive in head first and hope we don't get carried away...

The Dalmore - The Dee Dram - NAS- 40%

Nose: Sweet candy floss, with hazel nuts, some musty cellar notes and dry wine cork aromas. Given time in the glass, there is also a slightly meaty note, perhaps cooked pork.

Palate: Quite bitter and dry on the first sip, with a rubbery note and more of the cork notes. Not that nice at all. A hint of stewed apple and green apple peel develops on the 2nd sip, but it's fairly unbalanced with the dryness and rubber.

Finish: The Oak dominates the finish, which lingers for a while and drops off quite unremarkably.

Overall: Not the greatest of starts, if i'm honest. A very one dimensional and flat whisky, rather unlike the actual River Dee, which i'm told is the one of the highest water sources in the UK!

Next up- a little trip down into the River Tay bottling.

The Dalmore - The Tay Dram - NAS - 40%

Nose: Dark burnt caramel, with spirity notes and a bitter-sweet aroma of Demerara sugar. Slightly fermented red grape juice and a hint of fresh vanilla pods. Better than the Dee Dram, but still not hugely impressive.

Palate: Again, quite a bitter taste initially, with a malty undertone (thick malt extract) and a nutty, ale-like mid palate. The spirit dominates and it feels like a lot of very young whisky has gone into making this bottling.

Finish: Shortish with more of the malty/ale notes lingering.

Overall: Hmmm. Not doing it for me at all, i'm afraid. There's no real development here and not a great deal of complexity, although the nose has a little more character than the Dee.

Our 3rd whisky is the Tweed Dram, which is incidentally a river on whose banks I spent a wonderful day's Salmon fishing about 6 years ago. I caught absolutely nothing, but as most anglers with my limited ability will testify to- it's all about the 'one that got away', rather than the ones you catch. Will the Tweed Dram deliver that prize catch, or leave me blanking again?

The Dalmore - The Tweed Dram - NAS - 40%

Nose: A peppery note hits first, followed by the aroma of... yes, old tweed jackets! There's also the presence of some freshly cut green apple, Acetone, a grassy note and some creamy malty cereal. Although it shares some of the negative characteristics of the Tay and the Dee, it has a bit of vibrancy to it, unlike the first two.

Palate: Sweet cereal, mint humbugs, spirit and digestive biscuits all arrive first, but a rubbery note follows through swiftly afterwards, with a lighter vanilla /floral flavour beginning to develop. It's a little off kilter, but works far better than the Dee and the Tay.

Finish: Green grassy flavours linger on the palate with a touch of white Oak dryness at the death.

Overall: A step up on the previous bottlings, this has zesty youthful notes, which are a welcome surprise and clearly positive in the whisky's overall balance.

Our final river dram is the mighty Spey, the 2nd longest in Scotland and arguably one of the most important waterways from both a fishing and a whisky making perspective. Fast flowing and slightly unpredictable, let's hope its name-sake dram can keep up with the undercurrent and not get caught up in the weed beds...

The Dalmore - The Spey Dram - NAS - 40%

Nose: A familiar malty note comes to the fore first, with brown sugar covered dried fruit, a hint of vanilla, and a little musty note. This does seem to have a faint aroma of cinnamon buns - that freshly baked smell, which I find highly alluring on my visit to the bakers, so a few extra points as a result.

Palate: The palate is again young, a little bitter, but with some fresh fruit notes, malted milk biscuits, green apple peel and perhaps a touch of the cinnamon, returning from the nose. Dig deeper and a deft touch of vanilla comes through. Although not that much more developed, it is probably the best of the 4 in my opinion.

Finish: Malt and the remnants of the green apple peel stay in the mouth for a while, with echoes of the vanilla fading as the palate dries.

Overall: Very similar to the other 3, but with perhaps a slight edge in terms of overall balance.

So, rather like a days fishing- a mixed bag indeed. I can't say I was an overall fan of the type of whisky on offer here, but there were a couple of high points, with the Spey being the overall Catch Of The Day...

You can purchase these whiskies from the following links:

Friday 18 February 2011

Burgers and Bourbon. Surely life's most perfect companions?

As I get older, an element of intolerance begins to creep up on me and for those of you who know me well, I take great delight in exposing things that seem frankly absurd, or over complicated, just for the sake of it. Yesterday, I had to take a trip to the Apple Store on Regent Street in central London- an easy enough proposition you would think, but really I think I have stumbled into a cult-like future vision of hell for the retail sector.

I needed a very simple component to attach a projector to my 3 year old computer. After wandering around for 10 minutes, I approached the uniformly clad staff in identical blue outfits carrying iPads. 'Sorry, you need to speak to the people with the blue polo shirts', my drone-like operative, (dressed in a blue fleece) shot back, with what looked like a slight electrical glitch/twitch in its neck. Ah! Shop Operative Version 2.0, I presume? Anyway, after searching for the adapter I needed, I managed to stop a polo shirted operative to ask their advice. 'We don't make this adapter any more' he replied, 'your machine is out of date'

So, a computer of roughly 3 years old is now apparently an obsolete piece of junk. How does that reflect on its owner? I ended up selecting an alternative solution which, it was suggested would do the job (turns out it won't) and ventured off to pay. Of course, Apple have to be different, so no tills, no structure and no clarity, just the Version 1.0 blue fleece operatives with scanners.
Apple Store Operatives in China,
on being told the news that Four Roses S.B will be arriving soon.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Apple computers for ironically their... 'simplicity' but to me, this new way of filling a retail space is a throughly impersonal and unrewarding way to do business. But then it hit me- Apple don't really sell products any more, so it doesn't matter... they sell dreams. They sell lifestyles. And with that in mind, I think i'll return to mine, my obsolete computer and a similarly traditional way of enjoying things.

One such enjoyment is the simplicity of a moist, well cooked burger, crisp but flavoursome beef fat chips, washed down with a great bourbon and possibly a malted chocolate milkshake to finish.
Call me old fashioned, (or obsolete version 1.0) but there are timeless flavours afoot here and when it all comes together, the results should not be tinkered with, in search of further refinement.

One distiller, Four Roses, has dared to be simple, with the great idea of Burger and Bourbon evenings - and it was Wednesday that I found myself sitting at Hawksmoor in Covent Garden, famous for their award winning meat. The occasion was the launch of Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch bourbon. And by limited release they mean limited. Just 120 bottles have made it to our shores, weighing in 55.1% ABV.

This release, rather like the Single Barrel release Four Roses is rapidly becoming famous for is the handiwork of Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, who has spared nothing to make the best bourbon at his disposal.
The recipe is a marriage of 10yo, 11yo and 15yo bourbons all at caskstrength.

With the fruity aromas of the bourbon, mixing exquisitely with the slightly rare burger and chips cooked in beef dripping, I set about making some notes. Then I thought; if Apple tried to design this evening, they'd have given up after version 2 and made the whole thing obsolete, because everything works in perfect harmony and they couldn't re-engineer it. Thank god they stuck to iPods.

Four Roses - Limited Edition Small Batch 2010 edition - 120 bottles - 55.1%

Nose: Exceptional bittersweet vanilla notes, combine with freshly cut honeysuckle, coconut and dried apricots. With a dash of water, more earthy /powerful dark leaf tobacco notes appear, with some woody spice if you search for long enough.

Palate: Deceptively sweet and mild on the tongue for a 55% spirit. The tobacco notes are sweeter and more of a lighter Virginian variety, with a big kick of vanilla fudge and some zingy liquorice notes.

Finish: A very weighty finish, with the floral notes returning right at the death.

Overall: As fans of the 'regular release' Four Roses Single Barrel release, this had a lot to live up to, but it has excelled in practically every way. It is different enough to mark itself out as a real player and demonstrates Mr Rutledge's dedication to craftsmanship and leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of great flavour. At £69 it's a steal. You could buy 3 bottles for the price of a 32G iPod touch, that'll be obsolete in a year. From now on, I'm sticking to the mantra of timelessness.

I heard that Steve Jobs doesn't drink alcohol. That figures....

Monday 14 February 2011

Sweetness or Shite?

With so many great whiskies on offer these days, it's easy to get a little complacent about the category as a whole. I mean, as well as the exceptional single malts we all know and love, the superbly subtle blends and everything in between, today's whisky consumer is totally bowled over with what to drink, whenever the mood takes them.

But where does that leave those who aren't particularly 'into' whisky? There are a number of people (some of whom read this very blog) who like to enjoy some of the distinct flavours and aromas of whisky, but simply find it too strong a spirit to fully appreciate. Mrs Caskstrength recently wrote of her 'whisky epiphany' when she discovered Auchentoshan Three Wood for the first time and this has lead her into many other new forays with the spirit. Today we bring you something a bit different for us- a little trip into the world of the whisky liqueur.

Before you (carefully) slam down your Glencairn's in disgust and hatch plans to lynch Joel and I at the forthcoming Whisky Live, listen up... they're not all that bad!!

For years, the whisky liqueur was the domain of the perennial 'non' drinker, studiously keeping a crusty bottle of supermarket own brand, Glensickly at the back of the cabinet, along with some bottles of flat Lemonade and Dandilion & Burdock, should someone require a festive tipple at Christmas. I have witnessed a curdled bottle of Bailey's (how is this possible?) which put me off cream liqueurs for life and the prospect of sinking into some similarly sticky, sweet drams was a less than exciting prospect.

We bring you a snap shot of a few out there, in our 'Sweetness...or Shite?' taste test.

To start the ball rolling we were sent a sample of Drambuie's recent re-release, using a 15yo Speyside whisky, along with the usual blend of herbs and heather honey. Drambuie was initially formulated in 1909, so must be doing something right!!

Drambuie - 15yo Speyside Whisky Liqueur - 43%

Nose: Nutty, with hazelnut aromas straight off the bat, with a hint of licorice, nutmeg and toffee covered bananas. Dig deeper and you realise why this is a pretty strong liqueur- a big hit of bourbon influenced whisky hits first, followed by a hint of dried fruit and musty sherry casks.

Palate: The sweetness is clearly the first thing that hits you, but the whisky isn't far behind- zesty and light, but then revealing some charred notes, dark chocolate and a complex blend of honey, tropical fruits and spice. (anise and nutmeg)

Finish: Very fruity, with lingering notes of spice.

Overall: Very complex and balanced with the whisky. If the whisky was less robust, it would be lost to all the sweetness, but not so- it is very much at the heart of this liqueur and i'm very surprised just how good this is. Try it in a Rusty Nail- works a treat.

Sweetness Or Shite?... Definitely a winner, so 'Sweetness'....

Next up: Another honey based liqueur- Bruadar, which means 'A Dream' in Gaelic. It is given an additional fruitiness, with the addition of Sloes thrown into the blend. Lets find out if it's a sweet dream or a bloody nightmare...

Bruadar - Honey Liqueur - 22%

Nose: Completely different to the Drambuie, this is very strange at first, with a sort of sharp, fermented/ over-ripe fruit note leaping out at you. Anyone who's left a bottle of Innocent Smoothie in a hot car for a few weeks will instantly recognise this aroma. Whilst it's not totally unpleasant, it is pretty off-putting. Get past this and you'll find a floral parma violet note and a very thick heather honey aroma.

Palate: Much thinner and less viscous than the Drambuie and sadly, not at all nice on the initial sip. It's just too sweet, with little or no influence of the whisky coming through. The fruit develops a little, but it's like having a mouthful of fizzing fruit sweets, with no discernible flavour to anchor it.

Finish: Surprisingly better, with the honey lingering and the parma violet notes dissipating.

Overall: Not a patch on the Drambuie and a reminder why i've not traditionally been a fan of whisky liqueurs.

Sweetness Or Shite?... Sorry guys...

Palate cleansed, we move onto another traditional name in the whisky liqueur world - Glayva.
For a brand to make the outlandish claim to be 'The Best Liqueur In The World' (TM) is pretty outlandish, but admirable. Their website is also something of a revelation, with a campaign to 'Save The Drinks Cabinet' by calling for an amnesty on all those horrid, crusty bottles I mentioned earlier. There's even a neat guide to the best moustaches throughout history... did someone tell them I was coming to visit??! ;-)
Anyway- onto the liqueur, which is a blend of whisky, tangerines, cinnamon, almonds and honey.

Glayva - Whisky Liqueur - 35%

Nose: Masses of nutmeg, with the festive waft of those tangerines cutting through nicely. There's quite a lot of nose prickle, leading into some more gentle egg custard notes. Not much of a whisky aroma though.

Palate: Supremely thick on the palate, with a dark spiced orange note liberally coating the tongue. The tangerines are here in force, with anise, more nutmeg, a grating of dark chocolate and perhaps the faintest touch of smoke. Very full bodied indeed.

Finish: Strangely lacking in length, with the spicier licorice notes clinging on the longest.

Overall: A big, bold liqueur, not too sweet, but lacking any real finish is how I see this. Perfect for a seasonal nip, to get those non-whisky drinkers in the mood for party games, but I doubt they'd even detect the presence of any whisky.

Sweetness Or Shite?... not bad at all, so a middling 'Sweetness'.

A little hop across to Ireland for our next whisk(e)y liqueur. I'm not sure if Feckin Spiced is technically a liqueur, but it is the very first Irish whiskey to be bottled, infused with vanilla and spices, giving a sweet liqueur like note, so we're sticking it in...

Feckin - Spiced Irish Whiskey- 35%

Nose: Immediately the Irish whiskey notes grab your attention, with sweet grain notes and a hint of oily linseed. Then the vanilla comes through to dominate, very sickly sweet but just what you'd expect from a vanilla-infused whiskey. It's pretty one sided, with a lack of any other noticeable spices, but not unpleasant.

Palate: The vanilla dominates the palate too, with a slight bitter-sweet note, leading into more of the grain notes. Not much else to write about, it's sweet and vanilla'ry....

Finish: Guess what... Yes, you've guessed it.

Overall: I imagine this would be highly palatable within a creamy Irish coffee, or poured over ice cream. Maybe even in a long drink. Its lack of depth almost doesn't matter and to be honest, you forgive it for not having any complexity.

Sweetness Or Shite...? Let's give this one the benefit of the doubt- a resounding 'Sweetness'

Our final sweet treat is actually a bit of a coup... Not yet released but soon to be hitting the shelves (well, the virtual online shelves) is a new aged whisky liqueur from our pals at Master Of Malt. The guys have been formulating their liqueur solely using 10 year old, sherry matured single malt from Speyside as the base.
Master Of Malt - 10yo Speyside Whisky Liqueur - 37%

Nose: Big wafts of dried, aromatic fruit, with nutmeg, anise, angostura bitters and cola notes, peppermint, dark chocolate and dried ginger. The whisky presence is unmistakable, giving this a huge and beguiling complexity.

Palate: Burnt creme brulee, blood oranges, mint humbugs and sweet malty cereal all combine with the spiced notes and a syrupy sweetness, which isn't overpowering. You'll find a subtlety here, with the more aromatic spices slotting in neatly with the more fruity aspects. Nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla are the prominent notes, with a hint of something charred and woody.

Finish: The sweetness subsides, leaving the anise and nutmeg notes and lingering notes of woody casks.

Overall: A very impressive balance to this liqueur, with an 'au natural' feel. The spices are vibrant and the whisky is hugely prominent- which, after all is what it should be!

Sweetness Or Shite?... Most definitely 'Sweetness'

So there we have it. Not sure i'll be popping out to stock up on stickies just yet, but certainly well worth seeking out the odd one or two...

Normal service will be resumed on our next post!!

Friday 11 February 2011

Wax On Wax Off

Remakes are a difficult thing to get right. In fact, most people really would rather watch the original. We’ve spoken on this blog before about remakes of British TV shows for the US market, some with disastrous results...

However, when it comes to films the choppy waters of remakes are very difficult to navigate. Take, for example, the 1980’s classic Karate Kid. A seriously iconic piece of film history which, for people of my generation, holds a special place woven into the fabric of our youth culture alongside other amazing films such as Back To The Future, ET and Star Wars. Surely not a contender for a remake then, as the original was so damn fine?

Well, no.

Some bright spark in Holywood decided that 2010 and 1984 were worlds apart and what the Wii-wielding generation of today needed was a newer, more up-to-date version of this film classic.

Oh, dear.

The brightest spark from this episode was for Karate Kid 2010 to take the heat off the even worse film adaptation of The A-Team... Ouch.

Despite these travesties, things may be looking up when it comes to remakes. This year sees the release of the Coen Borthers remake (or retake) on True Grit. The original film from 1969 starred John Wayne, a role for which he won his only Oscar. In the remake this role is played by Coen Brothers stalwart Jeff Bridges who is also nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

As an audience it is easy for us to compare and contrast the new with the old; to watch two films back-to-back and rate the comparable performances, the lighting, the special effects and overall feel of the film. But what if we didn’t have the original to watch, to compare with? What if we only had a script with some production notes to go on? What if the film was remade, not to updated specifications, but to reflect the era it was intended for?

Remakes are something that whisky companies seem to be very keen on with The Macallan being the most famous, having released a series of replica bottlings over the years. We also expect Whyte & MacKay to have a good stab at recreating the famous Shackleton’s frozen whisky from 100 years ago. These experiments are always welcome as it gives an insight into the drinking tastes of different generations, all drawn from actual stocks from that era.

The new release from Glenmorangie however is a remake with a slight twist. The Finealta has been developed using a recently found order, when The Savoy Hotel ordered some Glenmorangie for their American Bar in 1903. Not the easiest of tasks, as Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's Head Of Distilling and Whisky Creation explained to us:

“There was no old samples of Glenmorangie from the early 1900’s so we have to do a bit of research and think and imagine what it might have tasted like.

I also spoke to a few old chums in the industry, people who had done a lot of research, and they came to the conclusion that whisky would have tasted slightly different from the whiskies we have today. Certainly more smoky as distilleries would have all had their own floor malting.

We then found some wonderful dusty old leather ledgers in a space opposite Glenmorangie which detailed every vatting of Glenmorangie from over the last 100 years or so.”

This new expression was made using some medium peated Glenmorangie which was laid down “prior to the mid 1990s”, according to Dr Lumsden. You can here him explaining the cask selection for this release on our Audioboo site here.

So, how does this whisky stand up? Well, before we look at this recreation, let’s try the Original...

Glenmorangie – Original – 10 Years Old – 40% ABV

Nose: There is a large hit of vanilla and freshly cut oak, a hint of green grass and some mint tea. Fresh without being too zesty, this nose carries just enough character to tempt you in. Improves with time in the glass.

Palate: The vanilla notes from nose are enchnaced on the palate and the freshly cut oak develops more in to fresh pine. Slight hints of coffee and ginger, this palate has easy drinking written all over it. Not challenging, but then it isn’t supposed to be.

Finish: The wood notes linger, but not for a huge length. The ginger becomes more pronounced and finally the vanillas smooth the passage.

Overall: As with Karate Kid, this holds a place in the fabric of my “whisky youth” and still remains a stable Scotch in my cabinet today. A real solid drinker which delivers with astonishing consistency bottle after bottle.

Glenmorangie – Finealta – Private Edition - NAS – 46% ABV

Nose: This Glenmo really benefits from the extra ABV over the Original. This whisky gives off greater liqueur notes which add a rich texture to the aroma. Ginger pokes though backed with the heavy engine of rich wood spices. Difficult to spot the smoke, but it is there. An Ardbeg this certainly isn’t. However, more robust and masculine than any other Glenmorangie I’ve had it certainly is.

Palate: A complex palate gives plenty of ginger dipped in dark chocolate, zesty but bitter. The official tasting notes say “breakfast marmalade” which is on the money, but the flavour is much more intense and less sugary, more akin to blackcurrant jam with cracked black pepper and some wood spices. With water, the whisky opens up to reveal more citrus notes and spices. Good with and without a splash.

Finish: This is where the smoke really hits home with a waft through the back palate, leaving chewing tobacco notes, a hint of wet wool and some dark red fruits (plums?).

Overall: It must be noted that despite using some medium peated whisky, this is not a peated whisky. If you’re expecting Ardbeg, go and buy a bottle of Ardbeg! This is a Glenmorangie that has been bulking up down the gym. Bags of flavour, if not a touch unbalanced at times, this really improved with greater time in the glass. Get the air in and let the flavours out. The perfect drink for 1903. And by that we mean 19:03 in the evening, on a Friday, in your favourite chair at home. A great way to see in the weekend.

The Glenmornagie Finealta was developed by Dr Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie, who you can hear talking about this whisky on our Audioboo site.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Double Dip

London's public transport can be as complicated and efficient as elections in Zimbabwe, with as many potential daily fatalities and a price inflation to rival the Bread Basket of Africa. Add to this that London's richest natural resource, its workforce, relies on a public transport system as stable as Kerry Katona, it seems to underline the old adage that

"It doesn't matter who wins the rat race; you're still a rat"

Fed up with scurrying underground like a human-sized rodent, I've recently picked up the gauntlet thrown down by mop-topped Mayor of London Boris Johnson and joined his new "shared bike scheme".

For those of you who live outside the Capital, a network of bikes and bike docking stations have been install across Central London. £45 a year gets you unlimited use of a bike, in 30min portions, for free.

Sounds wonderful.

And it is... when the docking stations have bikes.

And when you can find a docking station with space to drop off your trusty two-wheeled steed.

Oh and of course the imminent threat of death at every traffic light, roundabout and junction. I predict London to have its own "angles share" soon: 2% p.a. loss of cyclists...

Aside from the above, the scheme works a treat and I have been taking full advantage of it in the last week. I always saw the sights of London when travelling by bus, but now I can slow down when a stunning view wheels in to sight. I can stop and gaze in to shop windows. I can woolf-whistle attractive ladies. Anyone got a number for Sky Sports? I hear there are some jobs going...

Earlier in the week I was using a Boris Bike to make a short hop from Waterloo to London Bridge. Trying to avoid a major junction and thus certain death (!), I opted to take a side street and found myself slap bang in the middle of a small Farmers Market.

Swerving to avoid a Guardian reader who had heard about the market's existence, probably via a tweet from The Green Party, my eye caught a stand selling whisky and so I weaved across the pavement to pull up by the stand. I was greeted by a lovely gent selling 3 blended whiskies. Well, 1 blend and 2 vattings, to be precise.

The blend on offer was Pigs Nose, the sister whisky to the more well known vatting Sheep Dip. These two were joined by a newer bottling: Sheep Dip 'Old Herbridean' 1990 Vintage, an intriguing vatting of 25 Year Old Ardbeg, 21 Year Old Fettercairn and 19 Year Old Dalmore, all married together at a young age and left to mature for 15 Years in an ex-American Oak cask.... sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

Sheep Dip 'Old Herbridean' 1990 Vintage – 40% ABV

“25 Year Old Ardbeg, 21 Year Old Fettercairn and 19 Year Old Dalmore”

Quick question: I thought that if you added a vintage on to a bottle of whisky, all the whisky in the bottle must be from that year. With all this whisky at different ages, which is the 1990 Vintage? Anyone know?

Nose: The Ardbeg flies directly up the nose and the peat smoke is use to power through classic sherry whisky notes such as dried fruits, dates and figs. The American cask used to additionally mature hasn’t detracted from the orginal sherry notes, which is surprising. Totally Ardbeg on the nose, however.

Palate: This is where it starts to get a little weird. The Ardbeg from the nose is certainly still there, but this time the rounded Highland Malts grab the limelight away from the smoke. After an initial hit, the smoke is all but gone, leaving the sweet honey notes of the Dalmore and Fettercairn behind. The smoke lingers, but delicately burning away in the background, like a cottage in the distance with their peat fire burning away.

Finish: The smoke dies quickly and the dried fruits hangs around just long enough to remind you that they’re still there.

Overall: An excellent vatting which has turned out to be a real corker for this company. 15 years ago who would have seen this turning out as it has? £50 isn’t cheap for this bottle, but in today’s prices it seems worth it. The closest thing I’ve had to Ardbeg’s excellent Nam Beist since it was discontinued.

This whisky is clearly Sheep Dip’s jewel in the crown. So let’s check out their other, more standard bottling

Sheep Dip – Vatted Malt Whisky – 40% ABV

“Woven from 16 single malt whiskies” this was originally blended by Richard Patterson.

Nose: Soft on the nose, this gives cinnamon and toffee apples. Some cloves and the slightest hint of wood smoke and wood spice. Orange peel gives the whole thing a hint of Old Fashioned.

Palate: Toffee hits first, backed with pears in syrup and some wood spices. Sweet tea with no milk and a hint of lemon finish this palate off. Slightly unusual but nicely complex, it takes water very well.

Finish: The wood spices linger to leave cinnamon and some wood smoke and tree bark. Ice tea returns for a lingering, spicy finish.

Overall: A pleasant drink that benefits from a splash of water to open up those 16 single malt whiskies. Occasionally they each fight a little too hard for attention, but the overall experience is sweet, spicy and easy drinking.

Pig’s Nose – Blended Scotch Whisky – 40% ABV

“A backbone of Invergordon grain which is enhanced by specially selected aged Speyside, Highland, Islay and Lowland Malts” – that’d be a full house, then!

Nose: A massive hit of toffee comes though then backed by soil or petiole (patchouli). A hint of smoke at the back. Simple, but effective.

Palate: Less sweet tea and more sweet, milky coffee for this one. Classic grain in there with that slightly gluey nature (PVA) that grain whisky has, but the main job is to hold together the rest of the flavours, which this does well. A robust, warm and ever so slightly smoky palate with hints of green apple.

Finish: A big hit of spice (Chinese Five Spice) and back to the green apple for the death.

Overall: This also holds together well with water. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that both the Pig’s Nose and the Sheep Dip are better with a fair old splash of H2O. A well constructed blend but I don’t think it is going to set the world on fire. Very much the Jamie Murray to the Old Herbridean's Andy Murray.

And so my cycling experient of London has been deemed a success. Not least because of the accidental discovery of a small Famers Market selling whisky, but the effect of shrinking my waist line whilst not shrinking my bank balance means there is more room (in all senses) in my life for extra whisky drinking.

Sunday 6 February 2011


Well, it seems like whisky has entered the infamous 'Black Chair', with one gentleman from Halifax, taking up the challenge to choose Scotch Malt Whiskies as his chosen specialised subject on Last night's Mastermind. Duncan Mitchell, an Optometrist faced the fearsome John Humphrys (but not as terrifying as Magnus Magnusson) over 16 questions. Duncan, seemingly a cool customer, managed a highly credible 11 points with 2 passes, but sadly fell apart in the general knowledge section with a total 21 points.

Duncan, we salute you sir- and not just for helping bring the name Kilchoman to the general public!!!

If you fancy a go at trying to beat Duncan's score, you can watch the episode again on the BBC iPlayer here: Mastermind 'Whisky Special'

Let us know how you did... ;-)

Thursday 3 February 2011

Green Grains from the Emerald Isles

You may have noticed that recently we've reviewed a few Irish whiskies, inc Connemara's Turf Mor (which was fairly heavy going at first) and Inish Turk Beg, a new Irish single malt, which was decidedly subtle, light and floral, much like a young Scotch.

We've just been sent a sample of Greenore's new aged grain, which demonstrates to us the current resurgence of Irish whiskey as a category- there seems to be a healthy number of interesting releases, with a number planned over the coming months. Finally some good news from the Emerald Isle.

According to Cooley, this new release is, at 18 years old, the oldest bottling of Irish Grain in the world and the release is limited to 4000 bottles. We reviewed the 8yo small batch release last year, which was a little harsh, but blended extremely well in a few long cocktails.

needless to say we won't be trying this method just yet on the 18yo!!

Greenore, 18yo Single Grain Irish whiskey - 46% - 4000 bottles

Nose: Unmistakable as a grain, with big floral sweetness emerging from the glass with such vigour, that its now covered the side of my laptop... balls. With a little more time in the glass, some polished surface-like notes emerge, as well as barley sugar, creamy cereal and a hint of vintage suede leather. It's vibrant, yet restrained- and works superbly well.

Palate: Soft at first entry, with a hint of a bite- then the flavours start to develop. Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, fruity sweetness, but then a darker, spicy side, with a hint of root liquorice, anise and sharp cherry sherbet. Again, lots of vibrant notes, but all controlled beautifully.

Finish: The cherry notes are retained on the palate, which dries into a long, fruity tongue coating aftertaste.

Overall: A damn good bottling, with all the right elements you'd hope for in an aged grain. The fruity notes are all there in abundance, but the age has been very kind indeed to this whiskey, giving it plenty of complexity as it lingers in the glass.