Translate Caskstrength!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Work Hard And Be Nice To People

In my eyes, one can not spend money badly on art. With the possible exception of dog’s playing pool.

Art does not have to be expensive. I recently purchased a fantastic print by chap called Anthony Burrill which plays on the Keep Calm And Carry On (notice a theme here...?) poster, but with his adaptation simply reading:

Work Hard – And – Be Nice To People

At £30, you can hang an original piece of work on your wall to enjoy pretty much forever. Why wouldn’t you?

Another such purchase was made about 8 years ago now. I’d discovered an artist called Brian Jones, a collaborator of one of my personal favourite artists, Jamie Reid (most famous for his Sex Pistols records artwork) and fell in love with a piece called So Square So True, which was basically a squared off red, white and blue Mod target.

Purchased and framed, this piece has been sitting as a centre piece in my living room for about 6 years, but it wasn’t until last week that I learnt something about it. And this gave me the shock of my life.

A friend of mine popped in for cuppa and to inform me they were leaving London to pursue a career as a crew member, sailing yachts for posh people around the globe. Sounds quite a good life, doesn’t it!

As we sat chatting, the subject turned to whisky. In a brief moment of silence, my friend pointed to the Brian Jones piece on the wall and remarked “Ah! Nice! I see what you’ve done there.”

Of course, I had no idea what he was on about but didn’t want to seem left out, so nodded and mouthed “yeah... yeah!” as he then pointed to the picture and said “Whiskey!”

“Whiskey?” I replied.

“Yeah. Whiskey.” my friend said, almost questioning my unspoken wit for something I had no idea I’d done.

“What about whiskey?” I asked.

“Well, that picture on your wall. It’s the flag ‘whiskey’” he informed me.

Totally confused, I had to ask “A flag for whiskey? What are you going on about?!”

“Well”, my friend went on “that is a naval flag and the name for it is ‘whiskey’. You hoist the flag when you need urgent medical help or to signal the letter W

So, all these years I’ve been sat sipping whisky under a flag entitled whiskey! Serendipity indeed, readers. Serendipity indeed.

I’m no sailor myself, but if I did own a yacht, one of the first places I would visit would not be the sandy, sun drenched beaches of the Scilly Isle, the Channel Islands or the South Of France. Rather, I would head North to the choppy waters of the Scottish coast line and tour the islands and highlands from a costal perspective.

One particular area I dream of sailing through whenever I go, is the Sound of Islay, the straight between Islay and Jura, where you pass by Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila distilleries. On a calm summers day, this surely must be one of the most magnificent nautical journeys in the world.

But one could not be involved in passing by Caol Ila without a dram of their whisky in hand. We recently reviewed the fantastic new release Moch (which I’m yet to read a bad review of anywhere) and as luck would have it, we have a second, different Caol Ila to review today.

Picked up on a recent trip in World Duty Free, this 25 year old Caol Ila is bottled by uber-independent bottlers Douglas Laing for their Old & Rare Platinum Collection. Housed in an amazing faux-fur lined, wooden box this single cask whisky is one of only 260 produced at a cask strength 54.9%vol. which I picked up for a jaw dropping £70!

Let’s have a go on this beauty and see if the contents live up to the packaging...

Caol Ila – 25 Years Old (1985 / 2010) – Refill Hogshead – Douglas Laing’s Old & Rare – Exclusive to World Duty Free – 54.9% ABV

Nose: Dusty smoke as you would expect from a Caol Ila, but initially there is also some Worcester sauce and meaty notes of beef crisps, freshly sliced salami. With water the nose completely relaxes and releases some vibrant vanillas and fresh green apples / apple sours. Much improved with water.

Palate: spiky at first with the peat being over aggressive on the palate and the meaty tones from the nose muscling for some palate space. Needs a drop or two of water to open it open and then the full flavours come rushing through: candy apples, pear drops, sherbet liquorice dippers.

Finish: Neat, the peat and meat notes linger for a long time but when water is added the finish is softened, but the unctuous meaty notes still linger at the back of the palate.

Overall: An odd Caol Ila; not like any I have had before, due to the real meaty notes that it gives off. Needs water to open and soften, but this is still very drinkable even if it isn’t an every day dram. Good job it comes in a heavy wooden box, as it positions this whisky as a “special occasion” dram, which it is, but more due to its heavyweight flavour profile than rarity and excellence.

So, as I sit here under the whiskey flag I dream of one day being Captain of my own ship, navigating past the infamous Corryvrecken whirlpool and down the Sound Of Islay, avoding the temptress Sirens in the waves and pulling in to Port Askaig for a wee dram of Caol Ila by the bay with some fresh oysters.

Now, however, I must swap my oysters for an Oyster Card and my yacht for the tube as I venture out to the Sound Of London: planes, sirens of a different nature and the hustle and bustle of the rat race.

Oh, for the peace of Islay...