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Tuesday 28 June 2011

Hey Up... It's our Arran...

Today is a bit of a proud day at Caskstrength towers. After much tinkering, to'ing and fro'ing, the release date for our Caskstrength & Carry On Arran single malt has come around.

A little while back, we decided to put our money where our mouse is and buy a cask, to celebrate our 3rd birthday. Our friends at The Arran Distillery, seemed to have just the ticket, a 1st-fill bourbon cask, filled in 1998, which was only going to yield 92 bottles. A small release, but by no means a small whisky. We were really taken with the rich, sweet, buttery notes that jump out of the glass with Arran's other bourbon single-cask bottlings and when the sample of cask 1554 arrived, we wasted no time in seeing if it was truly up to scratch... and we were not disappointed. So once it was bottled (you can see our video here) we picked up 15 cases and managed to tesselate them into Joel's mother's car. Needless to say, she gets a free bottle!

The bottling will be available today from online malt'sters - extraordinaires Master Of Malt priced at £48.95 + p+p.
Us with 'miniatures' of the CS&CO bottling

Now Joel and I are not in the business of 'the hard sell' - (the picture above will give you an idea of this!) This project has, to be honest, been a lot of fun and it was a really fantastic process to see that initial sample become the reality of being bottled and labelled. We're proud of this whisky and whether anyone actually decides to grab a bottle, we hope you'll enjoy it as much as we do.

We sat down last week with a dram each and tried to see if we had the same tasting notes. Of course our results, like most were fairly subjective, but for the first time, we thought it might be interesting to publish them both side by side.

Caskstrength & Carry On - Isle Of Arran - Single Cask Bottling - Cask no: 1554 - Date filled: 15/12/1998 - Bottled 16/5/11 - 92 bottles - 49.9%

Joel's notes:

Nose: Warm buttered hot cross bun, butterscotch, lemon bonbons, some green tea and chamois leather. There is also a hint of the smell you get when opening a box of liquorice. With water: vanilla and white chocolate are enhanced with a touch of lemon torte giving real zest. Freshly cut ginger.

Palate: Digestive biscuit with a milk chocolate layer; steamed, crunch fresh green oriental vegetables with a drizzle of soy sauce. Toffee ice cream. With water: crème brulee infused with basil; rosemary and cardamom. Slight hints of freshly crushed sea salt. Tonka bean.

Finish: Custard cream biscuits, real lemon juice, fresh kiwi fruit right at the back of the palate. With water the finish gives an increase in lemon (light limoncello), grapefruit juice, gooseberry and white apple juice. A hint of quince jelly.

Neil's notes:

Nose: Initially, buttery with dairy fudge, a slight mossy note, some tart under-ripe plums, lemon zest and toasted pastry- rather like a tart tatin. Chopped hazel nuts. Given 5 minutes in the glass, the sweet fresh bourbon notes develop alongside the butter. With water: a distinctly tropical fruit note begins to develop, like a bag of Wine Gums, coupled with a hint of sweet wine (Gewürztraminer) and oriental sliced ginger.

Palate: Very fruity and sweet. Orange Rowntree's Fruit Gums, more of the buttery fudge, leading into gooseberries, chopped almonds and a touch of Battenburg marzipan. With water: The chopped nuts come to the fore, followed by more of the marzipan and sweet wine.

Finish: Lingering green orchard fruit, under-ripe pears, green apples and greengages. Light summery and sweet, with a returning touch of the bourbon influence.

If you fancy a bottle, then click on the following link: Caskstrength Arran

And if anyone was wondering, we're not selling the 2 bottles used in the picture above, for the obvious reason... ;-)


Neil + Joel

Saturday 25 June 2011

The Final Chapter... or is it??

The first instalment in a classic trilogy of films is usually an absolute classic, defining the story, the hooks and the main characters. The 2nd one reinforces the interplay between relationships, often leading to a slightly darker, more introspective set-piece. The 3rd and final instalment drops a gear, hits top speed and ends in a crescendo of action, passion, pathos and ultimately victory.

The more I delve into the story of Norse/Orcadian Inca Saga, Which Highland Park have adopted as their own, the more the it reminds me of one of the great cinematic trilogies of the last few decades- Star Wars, before the dreadful prequel films and Jar-Jar Binks. The brave, young, fresh faced hero and the dark, sinister antagonist. When you begin to think about the story and the whiskies it has influenced, the characters start to come to life with even greater intensity.

The first release, Earl Magnus is perhaps redolent of Luke Skywalker before he completed his Jedi training. He was young, brash, but with a heart of gold - sweet, with a mop top of tousled hair and huge potential. We loved it- and so did you, this inaugural release selling out faster than Han Solo could say 'Punch it Chewie'.

Then came St Magnus - one could argue perhaps better represented by Obi Wan, but let's say an older Skywalker, when his Jedi knight training was complete in Return Of The Jedi; wiser, developed, but slightly darker, the swathes of smoke becoming thicker and heavier.

our sample came in a plain bottle,
so this is how we imagine the bottle might look...

The final release - Earl Haakon not only completes the trilogy, but does it by celebrating the dark hearted and fearsome warlord himself. To re-cap, Haakon was the cousin of Earl Magnus-A beserker, violent and probably prone to bouts of irrationality (and irritability). In ordering the death of Earl Magnus, Haakon sealed his infamy- and the resulting Canonisation of his cousin. Now what was the immortal line?? "If you strike me down Darth, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Wise words, Obi Wan. (courtesy of 'Wookiepedia...')

The final release has done its damnedest to be as dark as possible. According to the press release, it comes in an entirely black glass bottle. Give it a cape, a shiny helmet and the booming voice of James Earl Jones and its transformation into Lord Vadar would be truly complete. We've charted the making of this whisky since its sneaky unveiling at Whisky live last year where the first draft of Haakon was given to a lucky few attending the Highland Park masterclass. Now it is finally ready to wreak havoc on the palate. But how has it developed? Our initial notes can be viewed here. The final release is bottled at cask strength (54.9%) and the batch size the lowest yet at 3,000 bottles and an RRP of £160.

Will it be Vadar, at his most bad-assed, i.e here?

Or has he mellowed out like this version?

Highland Park - Earl Haakon - 18 years old - 54.9% - 3,000 bottles

Nose: Firey ginger beer mixes with powder paint, some dairy fudge, faint swathes of smoke (weird, as I kind of expected this one to be the smokiest yet?) blackcurrant leaves and some cocoa notes. With water, the smoke develops, but it's superbly soft and aromatic.

Palate: Hot, with white pepper spiciness, but immediately extinguished by vanilla essence, lemon sherbet and some more subtle gentle wood smoke. With water, we have an almost perfect HP. The 18yo we all know and love is back, but with more heather honey sweetness, mint humbugs, blackcurrants, Lockets throat sweets, spearmint, malt extract and a slight savoury note.

Finish: Aromatic heather/ almost floral notes linger, alongside the smoke and a lasting sea salt.

Overall: Compared to the St Magnus bottling, this isn't as full-on and smoke-driven, but it is all the better for it. The smoke is certainly there, but restrained, refined. As an 18yo at cask strength, it gives us a terrific glimpse into a classic turned up to 11, but doesn't head into unchartered territory. Another great HP and the end of a highly entertaining and gripping trilogy.

Please guys, no prequels!!

Friday 24 June 2011

You say Tomartin, We say Tomatin....

Friday morning has swung by again and my memory seems slightly fuzzy from our visit to one of London's hot new bars, The Mayor Of Scaredy Cat Town. Here, we find an innocent looking cafe/diner upstairs, with a rather over-sized Smeg fridge freezer. Surreptitiously beckon over the waiter and ask kindly to 'see the mayor' and the fridge door will swing back to reveal a hidden entrance to a Speakeasy basement bar...and its rather tasty, but ultimately lethal contents.

All of which brings me to today. As I wake up, something doesn't feel quite right. Sure, the brilliantly well made Manhattan's and a cigar are probably to blame, but although my voice sounds deeper and 'older', I look in the mirror and realise something is definitely wrong...

So today, until I've fully matured, Joel will have to tell you about today's whisky.
In fact, the brace of drams we're bringing you today are a particularly good example of genuine maturity, rather than dressing something up in an older set of slightly ill-fitting, oaky clothes.

Tomatin's Distillery manager Douglas Campbell is no stranger to maturing well. In fact, he's spent the last 50 years at the distillery, an hugely impressive feat in day and age. Douglas has selected a number of casks from the ageing stocks of Tomatin to produce their latest expressions, a 30yo bottling, matured from a mixture European and American oak and 'Decades' - combining casks from 1967, 1976, 1984, 1990 and a peated Tomatin from 2005 to mark such an outstanding length of service. Both releases will be available from later in July and are bottled at 46% ABV and come non-chill filtered.

Tomatin - 30 year old - 46% - NCF - 200 cases

Nose: Clean linen, followed swiftly by a highly perfumed wax note, some desiccated coconut, a hint of grain spirit and a big fat shot of ripe vanilla pod. The oak in there in abundance, but still restrained. With time, white chocolate and mocca notes begin to emerge and some fresh passion fruit. Very nicely balanced.

Palate: Creamy cereal, with red berries & vanilla ice cream. A tiny hint of sootiness creeps in as the palate dries, but this is pretty much all sweetness and light.

Finish: Drying oak notes, with an extended display from the cream.

Overall: Surprisingly fresh faced but still with all the hallmarks of a well aged whisky. The bourbon influenced oak has the upper hand here, over the European oak casks, but highly sippable and well developed.

Next up, a little look back through the distillery's history, courtesy of Douglas Campbell.

Tomatin - Decades - 46% - NCF

Nose: Sweet vanilla ice cream, butterscotch sauce, white lilies, some youthful, sweet grain whisky notes, marzipan and cherry sherbet.

Palate: The fruity, vanilla notes are carried over onto the palate, with buttery cream fudge, strawberries and cream, a light orange zest and the merest hint of peat. Light creamy and - to be brutally honest, absolutely delicious.

Finish: The creamy fudge notes coat the palate, with lingering light oak dryness. All really in balance.

Overall: An unexpected delight. We haven't reviewed that many Tomatin's here but here is a cracking brace, showing the quality of casks at the distillery's disposal and the very fact that knowledge, wisdom and dedication to the cause (from Mr Campbell) go a long way to producing some truly excellent whiskies.

Sunday 19 June 2011

The Art Of Whisky

It’s been nearly three weeks since we returned from our last, epic trip to Scotland.

The video camera has been left on the shelf, the liver has been blasted with milk thistle and the credit card has been encased in concrete and thrown to the fishes off the Millennium Bridge. An action which caused a passing curator from a local modern art gallery to remark this as art, calling it a “modern day take on Found Art with strong references to Duchamp and, in particular, Man Ray’s iconic “Iron With Nails”.

According to the gentleman-scholar I was taking an everyday item, rendering it useless and then returning the raw material to whence they came.

I politely pointed out that we all do this every day, with the food we eat. Surely there is no greater critique of consumerism than actually consuming mass marketed, mass produced items of food: tearing them up with our teeth, breaking the items down with one of the strongest acids known to man and then depositing them in sit-down versions of Duchamp’s Fountain makes us all the greatest modern artists ever to walk the earth.

Needless to say I now have an interactive installation at the Tate Modern: it can be found on every floor and is easily identifiable by the following sign:

Enough of the toilet humour (in the literal sense), let’s get back to reality. And it doesn’t get more real than Monday morning. So what better way to see off the weekend than with a wee whisky.

One distillery that Neil and I have always been in the vicinity of, but never quite managed to get to, is Springbank. Situated in Campbelltown, just down the coast from the ferry terminal to Islay, the distillery produces three different styles of whisky (Springbank two-and-a-half times distilled, the more peated Longrow which is distilled twice and the triple-distilled Hazelburn) and owners J & A Mitchell / Springbank Distillers have to good grace to put them all in a bottle embossed with the words SPRINGBANK DISTILLERY. Other distillers take note.

The Springbank which is sitting in my glass is from Single Malts Of Scotland, an independent bottler owned by The Whisky Exchange. Never shy of a good cask, let us see what this offering brings:

Springbank – 1999 - Cask No. 114 (Sherry Butt) - 53% Vol

Nose: This whisky is a rich mahogany red and the moment you pour the liquid in to the glass, the aroma jumps straight out at you, like an escaped prisoner running hard and fast to avoid the search lights. Energy and guile emerge and, after settling down, rich sherry tones backed with cherry jam, a hint of ginger, loads of really fresh wood spices, like a newly split oak log. With additional time, the waft of a second hand paperback book. Not much changes with a dash of water, save for a drier wood tone.

Palate: The oiliness of the whisky coats the mouth and brings with it a hint of smoke, sweet cure bacon, maple syrup, toffee apple coating. With water, the palate opens up a little more with an enhancement of the sweet, juicy summer fruits which this time add plums and a back palate hint of over ripe kiwi fruit.

Finish: Rich, red cherries (newly picked, warm from the sun), deep wood polish and a hint of minty strawberry and lime cordial. With water, the finish is curtailed a little too soon, but the powerful, sweet and juicy notes from the palate still linger. The slightest hint of salt.

Overall: I thought this offering was fantastic; I wasn’t prepared for quite the assault of rich, sweet and juicy flavours, coupled with great oiliness and real depth. Pow!

Well, what better way to see off a weekend than with a rich, oily and juicy whisky such as this. It almost makes Monday morning seem palatable.

Friday 17 June 2011

Fathers Day - Suggestions for your Papa this weekend

There are always plenty of options for what to get your Dad this Fathers Day. From a pair of socks in Sainsbury's through to a Bentley Continental, one thing that is sure to have an impact is a bottle of booze. So long as your dad doesn't have designs on being the next George Best, that is.

Whisky is the obvious choice, however you may want to look beyond malts in to rums, gins and Congacs as well.

We chosen drinks which we feel represent great value for money but are also a little "off the beaten track" from what you may find in your local Waitrose or, RIP, oddbins.

Here is a selection which either of us would be proud to give to our wonderful Fathers, this coming Sunday. Click on the links in bold to purchase:


Our first pick is the Glenrothes 1985. Situated in the town of Rothes, down the road from Dufftown, this vintage delivers great burnt oranges and rich wood flavours. It represents some of the best maturing stock Speyside has to offer. £66.25

For something totally unusual, with packaging to boot, try Shackleton's Whisky. A limited edition offering from Whyte & Mackay, this is recreation of the whisky found frozen in the Antarctic and it seems the guys back then had great taste in whisky, as this tastes pretty darn good. £97.95

Black Bull 40. So, yeah, a 40 Year Old Blended Whisky for just over £100. Exactly. And it tasets bloody fantastic too. Honestly, you'd be daft not to. We bought a bottle three weeks ago and it's all but gone now... £116.00

Irish Whiskey:

The two main pics for us here come from opposite sides of the boarder. Starting in the North, try the Bushmills 1608, made using crystal malt which lends a toffee note to the dram, this will draw admiring gazes from whiskey lovers who come over for dinner and know their Irish. £52.75

From the South, try the Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey Red Breast 15 Year Old from the chaps at down at Midleton. The always reliable Redbreast 15 Year Old hits the spot for us and is a real premium product. £67.75

American Bourbon:

Four Roses Single Barrel. Quite simply our favourite bourbon around at present and also at a great price point. £35.59

Japanese Whisky:

Our two picks here are a blend in the Hibiki 12 and a single malt in the Nikka Whisky Straight From The Barrel.

The Hibiki has risen in value over the last few years and availability has become increasingly scarce and quite rightly so for such an amazing blend. Matured in plum wine casks, this whisky is rich and fruit in the truest sense of the terms. £42.25

The Nikka has moved out of my living room and in to my bedroom, becoming the bottle which I have a nip of with a book over bed time. Equally as appealing for it's looks as it's rich and powerful taste. £26.25


Ron De Jeremy - To put this very simply... your dad will know who he is. There will be bonus points for associating yourself with the great man. To say this has a very long finish is an understatement. £28.95


Looking over the English Channel in to France, a good choice in Cognac is the Hine Cigar Reserve. Robust enough to withstand a big fat stogie, or a wonderfully aromatic Montecristo No. 4 this Cognac is a superb meeting of spices and elegant floral notes. We suggest lighting up with your dad and enjoying a generous measure... father and son/daughter time just got even better. £65.75


And finally, back in the UK our highly recommended gin would be No.3 from the chaps down at Berry Bros & Rudd in St James. Quintessentially English, this is the favoured gin for martinits at Dukes Hotel. Recreate the 5 star experience by washing a martini glass out with a good vermouth, taking No.3 out of the freezer and topping the glass up to the brim. Just don't put 5 Star on the stereo. It will ruin the mood somewhat... £29.95

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Tee Time

I seem to be in a stage of life where I’m going through white t-shirts like footballers go through scandals.

Yet again, I need to go and buy some new white t-shirts. I’m sure a month ago I had enough to supply a Bros reunion tour, but two things seem to have happened since then: soup and bikes.

One of my aims this summer is to get fit. There is a half-marathon which I’m hoping to compete in at the start of August and so dinner times are rapidly becoming more and more liquid and not in the booze sense. Soup has become the regular, from the standard shop-bought Carrot and Coriander through to home-made delights such as Rocket and Chorizo (or whatever else is left over in the fridge from the previous week).

All good and well and the healthy lifestyle is to be applauded. However, I seem to have developed a habit of somehow, via spill or splash, managing to get soup down my white t-shirts. This week alone I have seen two casualties fall; one to a particularly colourful red lentil offering. The other, well... that was seen off with a mishandled take-away pizza slice, the t-shirt equivalent to being taken out by friendly fire..

Under ordinary circumstance, the rate of tee’s falling foul to grubby stains could easily go unnoticed. But not at the moment for I have recently become a faux-cyclist. Regular readers to will have encountered me writing about my experiences with the Boris Bike, London’s new Cycle Hire Scheme, before. A great initiative which provides cheap access to bikes in Central London.

I have taken full advantage of the scheme and hope that, especially during the summer months, it may replace the need to purchase one of TFL’s ever costly travel cards. There is just one major drawback however; the jolly things are a b*gger to ride; at times it feels like London’s streets are not paved with gold, but with sticky, sticky Marmite and every road is up hill. This is before you get to a bridge, any bridge, and feel the full force of the wind, blasting down the Thames as if it is off to invade France, Holland and Germany and needs a good, long run up.

As result of these trying circumstances, I now cycle in a plain white t-shirt. Often hidden beneath a windcheater, I nevertheless arrive at my destination drenched in sweat and with the need to change into a different top. Thus, the plain white tee has become a everyday item for me and each loss is ever noticeable.

So it is that I need to replace and replenish my plain white tee selection. But where does one go to do this? The options are mind boggling. It’s a bit like buying wine: how low do you go on price? And, if you do dare to venture in to the double-digit spend on a t-shirt, is there any real difference between the expensive "top end" products and their cheaper counterparts?

Sure, there is now a web of questions to be answered: do you need it for an under garment, or a fashion piece? How heavy do you want the weave of the cotton? Are you concerned about the cut? V-neck vs Round neck... the list goes on.

You could shop at a regular, big-name high street store and get a perfectly good, value for money tee. You could look on the ‘net and find some mail order bargain or even go to a boutique off the Kings Road, Carnaby Street or in Shoreditch.

And whisky is the same. You could go for a high street brand, something you know you’ve heard of, something that sells in huge numbers (and there is usually a reason why they do) or you can nip in to a boutique such as The Whisky Exchange, Vintage House or Milroys Of Soho. In this modern age, you can even visit online boutiques such as Master Of Malt to find that interesting, off-piste offering that may well fit the bill, but will be just that little bit different from the usual.

Today’s tasting is a more boutique distillery and one that we haven’t featured much in the past. It is one that doesn’t hit the radar a great deal, Glen Garioch (pronounced Glen Gee-ree). Claiming to be Scotland’s oldest working distillery, it is located in the Eastern Highlands and was mothballed from late 1995 until it re-opened again in August of 1997.

A new limited edition release of Glen Garioch from 1994 has just been released at a high strength of 53.9% ABV. Only 75 cases are making their way to the UK market and this offering should weigh in somewhere between £55 and £59, depending on where you shop.

Glen Garioch – 1994 Vintage – 53.9% ABV – 70cl

Nose: A very light nose with hints of tinned pineapple chucks and grapefruit juice. A hint of smoke wafts up delicately and the more you nose, the deeper the smoke gets. We’re not talking Ardbeg territory here on the smoke, but once you find it, it develops and gives additional body to the overall aromas.

Palate: For a whisky at 50%+ ABV, it sits well neat. The juicy, delicate pineapple from the nose cuts through with some slight acidic tones, a kin to yellow sherbet. With water the grapefruit comes through much more with hints of lime and gin & tonic tones.

Finish: Slight hints of salt and sweet, malted biscuits. The smoke makes a reappearance, but again very delicately, on the back of the palate. With water the salty nature is enhanced with an additional effect of liquorice. In Norway they have a salted liquorice sweet and this really reminds me of that.

Overall: A very easy drink which is well balanced but doesn't do anything overly spectacular. For a malt lover who wants something light but interesting, try a Lowland such as an Auchentoshan and if they want low peat, maybe opt for something with a little more character such as the Bruichladdich Rocks.

No matter where you buy your t-shirts from, they’re still just plain white t-shirts, right? Plain white tee’s that I’m going to spill food down, splash red wine over, end up doing DIY in. Yet I still want them to fit well. I still want them to last if I don’t spill assorted food and beverages down them. I still want to feel comfortable in them and, ultimately, I still want to feel confident in my choice.

The same can be true when it comes to choosing a whisky. The choice can be mind blowing, the options almost unlimited. But the most important thing is to find a whisky that you are comfortable with. One that you enjoy and, ultimately, one that won’t stay in the cabinet long because you’ll drink it. Responsibly. Unlike my t-shirts, which are treated with anything less than respect.

TOMORROW: Fathers Day Whisky: Our picks for your Pa this weekend.

Friday 10 June 2011

More Bull...

Been having a clear out this week, after our mammoth drive around Scotland. Mrs Caskstrength had had enough of every surface in the house being covered with differing sizes of open bottles, so something radical had to happen; I've started to make a blend of all my favourite drams from the last 10 years, in readiness for my 40th birthday. Ok, it's not for another 4 years yet, but what the hell, I've got a bit of time to get it right, before it's consumed.

I bought a 5 litre Demijohn for the blending vessel and began to select my whiskies. I soon realised that I had some whiskies which had been open for longer than they should- probably past their best, but worthy of inclusion. I also had a huge number of half empty sample bottles, with some superb drams in- some of which were too good to be lost in the abyss of by 5 Litre blend, so I drank those along the way.

So far, the as-yet-unnamed blend will be composed of 40 different whiskies (grain, single malt and Japanese whisky) and it's coming on superbly. Last night, I tweaked it, by adding in some older peated whisky, as well as a healthy measure of vintage grain from Invergordon and the whole thing has really come alive.

My bench mark has been to try and replicate something as sensational as Duncan Taylor's Blackbull 40yo, which combines very old whiskies but some how manages to maintain a wonderfully youthful zeal, amongst such complexity. Surely the key to all great old blends? I'm toying with the idea of transferring the lot into a very small cask for a little while, to see what a secondary maturation would bring, but to be honest, it's drinking really well now so I think i'll just bottle up 5, 1 Litre bottles, to be liberally consumed during the party. That's if I can wait another 4 years!!

Anyway, all this blending leads us on very nicely to another release from the Black Bull range - the Special Reserve. Perhaps more of a bullock, rather than a bull, as it is to be released without an age statement, but from what I've read, it contains a high proportion of single malt, (around 50%) some from the 1970's.

There isn't a lot I can tell you about the whisky, other than it is apparently being released this month and that this is the first batch, so presumably there will be others, assuming it's as popular as the mighty BB 4o yo!!

Black Bull - Special Reserve -Blended whisky - Batch No. 1 - 46.6%

Nose: Hints of velvety oak, golden syrup, mocha, honeycomb, some pronounced zestiness and dried coconut shavings. Given time, a wonderfully perfumed note develops, alongside some big, fat, ripe vanilla pods and some sweet sugary cereal. Really nicely put together and subtle.

Palate: Very sweet to begin with, hints of chopped nuts, more of the golden syrup, leading into some subtle but juicy dried fruit. The oak influence is restrained, but present in the background, giving this some clear age, but with no overbearing dryness.

Finish: The fruits and mildly perfumed notes linger, with a soft sweetness remaining.

Overall: Another simple, yet brilliantly blended whisky from the Black Bull pen. It is different to the 40 yo, - perhaps lacking some of the finer, more subtle nuances displayed by its older brother, but take this to any County Showground and it'll most certainly take home 'Best Of Breed'.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

When will this tour end? The car smells of burning hair.

Excuse the tardiness readers. As you will have seen from our Islay adventure, we hit the road like it was the last trip on earth and by the end of our 14 days away from home, we began to resemble the characters from Sideways. As we arrived back at our various homesteads, the mileometer read 1750- a substantial number on its own, but it is a misleading figure, when you consider that was 1750 miles over Islay's innumerable potholes, in the torrential rain and gale force winds, with 17 cases of whisky packed into every orifice - the car's, not our's fortunately.

It was a testing time for the sanity of Caskstrength. But we came out fighting, tougher than ever and determined to do the whole thing again next year, with added zeal. A few days away from our computers have done us the power of good.

Our final leg of Feis Ile 2011 took us to Arran and their open day, which was sensibly scheduled on the Sunday after the Feis Ile final fling and by the number of people we recognised there, a shrewd move from this smart forward thinking distillery. We'd visited Arran last year and the sun was blazing, but this time, alas the Islay weather front had been carried over and our ferry crossing was particularly sketchy. Joel and I have never particularly suffered from the ill effects of a cruel sea, but the crossing from Claonaig to Lochranza (just 2 cars braved the trip, inc. our whisky-laden automobile) was arse-clenchingly unnerving. At one point, the car looked to be lifting onto 2 wheels, as the small ferry yawed violently.

Were we thinking of our own safety? Of course not! We had a cargo full of Feis Ile bottles. "No matter what happens, save the whisky, Joel," I commanded. "And should we go down, pass the sad news onto Mrs Caskstrength and my faithful companion Bobby (who despite wearing a bowtie, is actually a ships cat from the seaside town of Poole.)

We made it, just about intact, but with the hearty cooked breakfast we enjoyed earlier almost paying our tonsils a return visit. What we needed was a stiff measure of something to settle our stomachs and there was only one dram on our minds.

Caskstrength have their very first celebratory whisky!!

About a year ago we thought we'd put our money where our mouse is and save up the cash to buy a cask of something. Nothing too big, but something fun to celebrate Caskstrength turning 3 years old. The good folks at Arran had just what we were looking for and before we knew it, Cask 1554 was being drawn from the warehouse for the last time and sent for filling. It yielded just 92 bottles, which were eagerly waiting to be collected from the distillery...

The Arran we selected follows in the tradition of the distillery's wonderfully light, buttery, fruity character and is a first fill bourbon cask, filled in 1998. In the coming weeks we'll be revealing more details about it and what our plans are - but until then, here's a sneaky video we shot from the distillery.

with the car safely loaded with 15 cases of Caskstrength & Carry On Arran tessellating perfectly, we settled down for a masterclass from Arran's roving ambassador and all-round top chap, Andy Hogan. In the distillery's Crofter's Cottage, we sat down to try several expressions from Arran's 15 year history, including the 14yo, the recent Machrie Moor peated expression, an Amarone wine finish, a great sherry cask bottling and this year's Arran festival bottling.

Andy had paired up locally produced food with each whisky - fresh oysters with the 14yo (a pairing, which I decided against trying, for reasons you can view here) but the whole experience really bought home just how good Arran have become at producing a robust, distinct spirit, yet with so much lightness and character. Here's our pick from the bunch:

Arran- Machrie Moor - lightly peated single malt - 46%

Nose: Very light, heathery peat, fresh apricot skin, brine and wet sand. With a touch of water, a hint of mossy, wet woodland emerges.

Palate: Fresh pine, crisp salad, dried apricots, with an underlying dose of pineapple chunks and fresh coconut.

Finish: Light balsamic notes, more fragrant pineapple and a Lapsang tea flavour, gently decaying, as the palate dries.

Overall: A really interesting change of direction for this decidedly 'non-peated' distillery, which certainly doesn't aim to emulate its neighbours. Machrie Moor is a solid whisky and a sign of promising things to come, with more peated expressions on the cards.

Arran - Single sherry cask bottling- Distilled 1998 - Bottled 2010 - 57.1%

Nose: Wonderfully rich and fruity, with boozy cherry notes (Griottines), dark polished wood, cracked leather and mint notes. There is also some wonderfully buttery/creamy notes one would usually associate with a bourbon cask. This really has it all. Very impressive.

Palate: Again, surprisingly light and tropical, with mango, coconut, butter toffee and apricots hitting the palate first, followed up by the usual darker dried fruits and oakiness associated with a sherry butt.

Finish: More of the tropical fruit, but slightly aged, less vibrant and richer- reminiscent of some older Bowmore bottlings, but without the massive lingering depth.

Overall: A real standout here. I bought a bottle of this last time I was on the island and foolishly gave it to someone as a present, without trying it. Now I have, I immediately regret being so generous. Can we squeeze another bottle in the car Joel? Please??

Finally, the Arran open day bottling - we luckily got to try last year's bottling on our previous visit, so it'll be interesting to see how this one stacks up against it...

Arran - Open day 2011 bottling - Bourbon cask - Cask No: 104 - distilled 1995 - bottled 2011 - 200 bottles - 52%

Nose: Orange marmalade, hazelnuts, white flowers, hints of buttery toffee, fruity sweet bourbon, marzipan, vanilla and lemon zest. Classic first fill bourbon. Cracking.

Palate: Orange juice again, maple syrup, mandarin segments, hints of lime cordial and creamy barley. A very broad array of flavours.

Finish: Lime pickles, hints of vanilla and fresh pine.

Overall: A nose to totally die for, everything you'd look for in fresh bourbon casks. Very similar to last year's open day bottling, perhaps lacking some of the richer chocolate malt notes but still a damn fine bottling nonetheless. It is more expensive at £125. If this is beyond your price range, we'd recommend going for the equally excellent sherry cask bottling.

Stay tuned for more Arran news, as we un-pack, number and label 92 bottles and try to find somewhere to put them.

Are we having fun yet? You bet we are...