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Sunday 31 July 2011

Some Exceedingly (Good Spirits) Indeed!!

Being on tour is a strange thing - from town to town, hotel to hotel - the miles add up but nothing dampens the enthusiasm. Being in a band on tour is surely an exciting adventure, but alas one where one seldom gets to actually see any of the towns and cities visited. Fortunately, for whisky writers on tour, the environment is a little different.

Caskstrength are nearing the end of our run of dates around the UK 'supporting' Athlete with tonight's show at Birmingham HMV Institute. In a nutshell, around 20 gig goers (and competition winners) have a few whiskies with the band before the show, whilst we prattle on about the world of whisky. It's been tremendous fun and top marks to Athlete and to The Glenlivet (who supplied the whisky) for making this a reality.

Last night the revolving whisky circus hit Glasgow and it seemed everybody was well up for a good time, before the band hit the stage.

Being in Glasgow also gave us a chance to pop by to say hello to good friend of ours, Mr Mark Connelly at his brand new shop, The Good Spirits Co. Opened a couple of months ago, the shop looks fantastic, with its counter all decked out in whisky barrel staves. The shop has a very homely feel - a sort of High Fidelity vibe, where you can drop by, chat with Mark and his colleagues about a few of the shop's real gems, whilst enjoying a dram to the strains of David Bowie's 'Hunky Dory', quietly playing from the turntable on the counter. If every specialist whisky retailer adopted this feel, we think the (whisky) world would certainly be a much better place indeed.

Current highlights are the shop's 'living cask' (called Cask 23) which Mark pointed out was knocked up by a fairly local cooper, from sherry staves. The current contents are a Highland Park 14yo and a 21yo Bunnahabhain, the 'solera' style system of the cask giving this vatting some real character.

The Good Spirits Co. - Cask 23 - Vatting Batch 2 - 48% - 20cl

Nose: Swathes of dark brown sugar, a minute hint of something medicinal, some aromatic fern, butterscotch and deft notes of sherry wood.

Palate: Really sweet, with some lovely toffee flavours, buttery popcorn and more sweet soft fruits. The drier woody notes of the cask begin to make themselves known further into the palate, giving a very rich, spicy note on the death.

Finish: Lingering notes of spice and sweetness, the HP perhaps still leading the way in influencing the overall flavour.

Overall: A terrific vatting and one, which will seemingly only get better and more interesting, given that this is just the 1st batch. Mark and his colleagues will be giving this little cask extra attention over the coming months, so be sure you give it a try, if you're in town.

The shop also has some really unusual vintage bottlings from Hart Brothers, (one of which was from Joel's birth year, 1979 and consumed his whisky expenses for the month) so we'll be bringing you notes on that bad boy in due course.

As we amble down past the shore line of Berwick-Upon-Tweed on the high speed train towards Birmingham, we feel in extremely good spirits indeed - throughly looking forward to our final tasting with Athlete and meeting a few more of their fans, who all seem to be as excited by whisky as we are.

Living proof that music and whisky are the very best of bed-fellows....

Goodbye Glasgow, you've been a wonderful audience....

Tuesday 26 July 2011

French Kiss

Yesterday, I was travelling back to London on the train. A busy carriage was filled with all types of people, but I was astonished to see a young chap, probably in his mid- to late- 20's listening to some music on a CD walkman.

A CD walkman. Who still owns a CD walkman these days?

I remember fondly the time I bought my first CD walkman. It was an amazing day, having saved up for weeks. I was spending the cash saved from my part-time job at Toys R Us Oxford, where I earned the newly-enforced minimum wage, to upgraded my old tape walkman, an AWIA (whatever happened to them?) which seemed attached to me like one of Pullman's Dæmon's.

Coming away with the box (I think it was a Technics), it was one of the first watershed moments in my life where I equated hard work, earning money and eventually spending those earnings; economics in full-flow. Ripping open the box, I remember finding 2 AA batteries, slotting them in and choosing the first CD to be played from this pinnacle of audio technology.

It wasn't until about 3 weeks later that I actually decided to offer this dreaded machine up for sale to one of my classmates. The batteries ran down faster than Brit Pop bands were being signed, the slightest jog caused whichever CD was playing to skip, often whole songs, leading to this 'portable device' being about useful to take out on a journey as a Sinclair C5 and to top it all off, just to hear your favourite tunes, you had to carry around a bunch of CD's in a specially designed "CD Wallet" which didn't just double the size of the Techinics player, it quadrupled it.

No, no, no. This was not the device for me. Pass me back my trusty tape player with batteries that lasted months. Which could be swung around, dropped and carried with no skipping of tunage. And my two, just two, C120 tapes full of the best tunes from Supergrass, Lush, Elastica and Blur...

An expensive lesson in commerce, was that poor portable CD player. I pretty much made my money back on it, selling it on to Andrew Truman, a classmate who was getting a car and needed a CD player for it. I'm sure it had a happy time in that second-hand red Ford Fiesta, more than it was ever going to have in my Sergio Tacchini school bag. A happy end for a shocking piece of kit.

Now-a-days of course it's all iPods and the like. Fantastic inventions which you can cram literally thousands of songs on to. What this does for us as music consumers, is to widen our scope of music.

When I was a teenager, the evening session on BBC Radio One would consist of Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley playing pretty much pure indie music from the moment the clock-hand hit 7pm, for a two hour stretch. Now you have Zane Lowe spinning many different genres of music, playing everything from hip-hop to acoustic singer-songwriters to chill-out dance tracks. Yet all he is doing is reflecting the public's taste for the wider selection of music which they have filled their 80GB iPhones with. Why? Because there isn't 80GB worth of Brit Pop acts out there. Or Punk acts. Or Bob Dylan songs. Well... maybe Bob Dylan songs.

Back in the day, whisky used to taste just like whisky. The stuff your granddad drank or that you had from your parents drinks cabinet when no one was looking. Now it comes in all shapes (erm....) and sizes (50cl, for goodness sake!) and lots of different flavours, too.

How come? Well, the advent of cask experimentation, especially cask finishing has been thrust to the fore over the last ten years or so. This can give some exciting new flavour profiles to whisky and expand the plate of the traditional whisky drinker, which we think is always a good thing.

Like my mix tapes of indie music which have morphed into an eclectic mix of different genres on my iPod, I'm no longer satisfied with a whisky selection made up of a blend, a well-aged Scotch single malt and some Irish whiskey. I want a cabinet that encompasses a Port wood finish, a rum cask finish, a virgin oak matured, the list goes on....

The folk down at Auchentoshan have released two new whiskies upon the world. One is a straight, old fashioned, single malt at cask strength called The Valinch, basically a limited edition (2,000 cases worldwide), cask strength version of the Auchentoshan Classic, to be released annually.
Auchentoshan - Valinch - NAS - 57.5% ABV (£39.99 RRP)

Nose: A very strong and robust nose of cream soda, crushed custard cream biscuits, a really big hit of freshly cut pine, some wood polish and over ripe banana. With water you get vanilla and coconut.

Palate: The palate gives us some lemon zest, bruised mint a hint of ginger and the pine-wood again. With water the palate gives off more yellow flowers, honey and orange blossom.

Finish: A shorter finish than I expected but it develops in to rich red cherries and then on to some BBQ sauce. With water, the finish becomes a little more like vanilla ice cream with a slightly bitter orange after taste.

Overall: Neat, I really enjoyed the powerful explosion of flavours, but this is possibly too strong at full strength and when you add water, isn't it just the Classic? I think some experimentation to see how little water you can drop in to still keep the power of the flavours, without turning this into the Classic (which is £10 cheaper).

The second whisky to be released is a whisky matured exclusively in French oak. But not just any old French Oak. This is a Bordeaux Cask from the Medoc region of France and it is unusual to find a whisky 100% matured in French Oak, especially one that is 11 years of age. Another release at full cask strength (58% abv), let's see if this is the Underworld, the Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers to break in to the indie-exclusive mix tape that is bourbon matured whiskies...

Auchentoshan - 1999 Bordeaux Cask Matured - 58% ABV (£46.99 RRP)

Nose: Caramelised brown sugars, unmilked hot tea, rich cherry jam or plum chutney, cheery drop sweets.

Palate: Initially the flavour hit is of cough sweets, syrup and cookie dough. Increasingly drying on the palate the flavours are heavy, strong and a little overpowering. Cinnamon jellybelly jelly beans leads to the finish. With water, the palate calms down a little increasing the cinnamon and cherry drops.

Finish: Sweet, long, cinnamon-spiced. This is almost Christmassy in the way it comes in to land. Dip a Chelsea Bun into a glass of rich Bordeaux and you'll get the same effect as this finish. With water the finish is less bitter and more balanced, but still spicy and fruity with a good dollop of tannin giving it body.

Overall: I'm seriously divided by this whisky. There is so much flavour and personality to it, I think it may be a little *too* much. It could be the Colin Hunt (who? see here) of whiskies. But then again, it might be that friend you see three times a year, but each time you see them, you have the most amazing night out. Something you couldn't do every week, but once every four months is fine. If you like powerful and full of flavour, then try this but don't blame me if you come way thinking that this whisky should be wearing a wacky tie...

All in, what Auchentoshan have done here is offer whisky drinkers something different: a cask strength edition of a usual release and something a little more, er, off-the-wall, which they should be applauded for. After all, if you don't shoot, you don't score.

The Bordeaux Cask is a good attempt at remix of the Auchentoshan style, but I can't see it making its way out of the specialist clubs on to Radio 1's playlist. But maybe that's the point. The Valinch on the other hand, is the live lounge version of an Auchentoshan hit that should get plenty of day-time play and end up on your Spotify playlist. It's just a shame they chose the Classic and not the Three Wood to beef up, our pick of the Auchentoshan releases.

Right, I'm off to buy some blank C60's and start a new mix tape. Anyone want one? If not, we've put a small playlist together of some of our top drinking songs, on Spotify. Have a listen here.

Saturday 23 July 2011

Leg Over Wicket

Ah, the weekend. Possibly the finest of all God's creations, one is allowed a lie-in, a fry-up, pints of larger and sporting events galore.

This weekend it is the turn of cricket and there is no greater soothing sound than Test Match Special's dulcet tones emanating from my radio. The sound of leather on willow backed with gentle applause, makes for a relaxing Saturday morning, curled up on the sofa with a weekend newspaper and scrambled eggs on toast. Who couldn't love stuff like this, on the radio:

However, it is not long now until the start of a new football season and with it comes tension, expense and ultimately, disappointment. Contrary to relaxing on the sofa with the sound of an English game acting as sonic wallpaper to my weekend, I shall instead be waking early to catch planes, trains and auto-mobiles, navigating my way from coast to dreary-coast in the vain hope that I may return from my travels with a smile on my face and a spring in my step.

One of the small pleasures of supporting a yo-yo football team who seem to go down-and-up-and-down-again with the ease of a thirty year old single lady from Swindon on a Saturday night, is the fact you get to visit some new places from time-to-time. Spending a four season tenure in the lowest professional league in England, the Football Conference, took me to such places as Lewes, Southport, Eastbourne, Ebbsfleet, Barrow, Droylesden, Morecambe, Halifax... the list is almost endless. One more relegation and we'd have probably been playing Hogwarts.

But the point is not to avoid these places, but to embrace them, learn from them and let them broaden your knowledge of this great island we call home. I relish the chance to visit a new football stadium, if nothing else for the excuse to visit that town and learn something about it. Eventually I would like to end up having visited all 92 football league grounds plus others not listed in the football league. So far I'm on about 55. Not at all bad, me thinks.

The same desire runs true for me when it comes to whisky distilleries. As we delve deeper into the list of Scottish distilleries, you always come across one which you think

"I think we drove past that last time we were in Speyside".

Out comes the books, the maps, the guides and you release that, indeed, you were just a stones through from the front door but couldn't make it in due to engagements elsewhere.

"Next time. We'll certainly pop in next time..."
you wishfully think to yourself.

Thankfully these places have left us small post-cards, snapshots of their days in the form of bottles of whisky. Every time I sniff a Lagavulin, it takes me right back to the moment I first pulled up outside that white-washed walled distillery. The same is true of The Balvenie floor maltings. The moment the cork come out of the bottle of Doublewood, I'm back in that shed with the waft of barley in the air.

A new distillery to have hit my visiting wish-list is Aberfeldy. Just a few weeks ago, when visiting the always hospitable whisky writer Ian Buxton, we passed just a stones-throw from the distillery, but with a post-supper drive all the way back to London, there was no justification for stopping off. A real shame as their latest offering, a single cask which has yielded less than 200 bottles, made me want to jump right back in the car and redeem my missed opportunity of a visit:

Aberfeldy - 14yo - 185 bottles - cask no. 3618 - 58.1% - £99

Nose: Heavy butterscotch, sherry resonance, musty, mossy forest floor,raisins in rum, superb fudge notes

Palate: slight rubber note, backed with treacle tart dried apricots and muscavado sugar.

Finish: drying, some dark sugar and oaky sherry notes. Sweetened Coffee with dark chocolates comes through.

Overall: Very nice indeed and at a good price, sub-£100. We tasted with a few friends and some liked it with water, others less so. Personally, I though it cut well but would rather sip it neat.

This is the first Aberfeldy we've reviewed, but if this single cask is evidence of the quality of spirit being made at the distillery, it certainly makes me want to explore the rest of their output and stop off next time we're passing so close.

Monday 18 July 2011

Mouton Rothes?

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to purchase a bottle of 2007 Dow's Vintage port. Recently declared as the best vintage in Dow's history, it seemed like an opportunity to grab something at a reasonable price (under £45) to lay down until the time is right. Hopefully, the time will be right in 15 or so years and my £45 investment will have paid dividends, in terms of flavour.

1995 was another interesting year for Bordeaux. Mouton Rothschild bottled a superb Pauillac, the vintage gaining the plaudits from both Robert Parker and the queen of the grape herself, Jancis Robinson. But what of 1995 as a vintage for whisky? A quick search of Google reveals that there was a 1995 Highland Park bottling, an Oban and a Glen Spey. All got highly credible reviews from the looks of things, so when a Glenrothes 1995 miniature arrived at our door, I was very excited.

Of course, the fact that other 1995 whiskies were highly commended is fairly meaningless in the whisky world. I suppose the only way to really measure the quality of a vintage is against another vintage from the same distillery.

So, here are our thoughts on both the recently released 1995 release from The Glenrothes and the 1985 release.

The Glenrothes - 1995 Vintage - date filled 26/10/95 - bottled in 2011 - 43%

Nose: Some drying sherry notes, slightly aromatic, a minute whiff of something sulphury/spent match, perhaps. with a dash of water, sugar paper, chopped almonds and white sugar cubes.

Palate: Very dry and aromatic. The drying sherry wood notes recur and there's a hint of malted barley, coupled with some vermouth notes.

Finish: The drying cask influences linger, with a further hint of the malted barley notes.

Overall: A little off key. It isn't as juicy and rich as previous releases, such as the Robur Reserve or the 1991 vintage which were both hugely enjoyable. This one just didn't sing out as loudly or in tune as I'd hoped. A shame really.

Glenrothes 1985 - Date filled - 21/7/85 - bottled in 2005 - 43%

Nose: Coconut flakes, wonderfully zesty blood oranges, sweet fudge/caramel notes and masses of chopped nuts, brazil, hazel and a touch of almond.

Palate: Sweet, very rich and fruity, with a citrus undertone (more of the blood orange), coupled with some lighter, bourbon influenced butteriness, more coconut flakes and a last ditch blast of dried apricot.

Finish: The zest gives way into the dried fruit notes, with a superb length.

Overall: Maybe it's unfair to compare these two whiskies - after all, the 1995 vintage is a clear 5 years younger than the 1985 release (considering when they were both bottled) But there isn't really any competition; the 1985 is a magnificent whisky. It has such weight and depth, but maintains a perfect balance with a bright, zesty zinginess and wonderful sweet fruit. My bottle has been open for nearly 2 years now and it is still as exciting as the day I opened it. The 2005 just can't keep up at all, i'm afraid.

If you haven't had a chance to visit The Glenrothes distillery, take a look at the video below. They might even find a wee dram of the 1985 for you, if you ask nicely...

Friday 15 July 2011

Athlete's Village

It’s Frrrrriday! And as always on a Friday we like to try and add to the anticipated wonderfulness of the weekend which awaits... try saying that after a dram or two!

Last week we launch a competition to win a bottle of our now sold-out Caskstrength & Carry On Arran, signed by Distillery Manager James MacTaggart, with the simple task of clicking “like” on our facebook page to enter. The winner was announced on facebook earlier today.

If you didn’t win but you did buy a bottle of the whisky, then don’t forget that there is still one bottle out there somewhere with a GOLD STAR in the bottom of the box. If you have this, drop us a line with a picture of it and you win an additional, limited edition, single cask Arran. That should make your Friday even brighter.

But it doesn't stop there!

As it’s festival season, we thought it would be good to give you the chance to come and see some live music and have a wee whisky at the same time, so we’ve paired up with London based band Athlete to offer you the chance to come to one of their show from their July tour, preceded by a whisky tasting with us and the band.

Signed to Fiction Records (home to The Cure, Elbow, Ian Brown, Kaiser Chiefs, White Lies, Snow Patrol), Athlete have previously scored a UK number 1 album, sold over a million records, won an Ivor Novello award as well as received a Mercury Music nomination... but most importantly, they love their whisky! Moreover, I'm sure you'll all appreciate the irony of us on tour with a band called 'Athlete', taking in to consideration the picture of us in the "about" section on the blog...

As a result we will be hosting four pre-show whisky tasting sessions with the band at their gigs in Bristol (July 23rd), Oxford (July 24th), Glasgow (July 30th) and Birmingham (July 31st). The tastings are being held in conjunction with The Glenlivet, with three pairs of tickets for each show, plus the tasting with the band and us, to be won via the Guardians Of The Glenlivet progamme. If you happen to be heading to one of these show already, you can enter a competition on the Athlete facebook page, here, to win entry to The Glenlivet tasting.

To enter the competition and for terms and conditions, click here.

For more tour dates from Athlete, click here.

In the meantime, enjoy this live video of the band:

Thursday 14 July 2011

Blend Me Your Ears

Hot on the heels of our last post, I may have had a slight change of heart about a desire to distil in my shed at home. Those of you who keep an eye on UK news reports will have seen a story developing over the last few days about the illicit manufacturing of alcohol in the UK, prompted by an explosion at what appears to be a bootlegging factory in Boston, Lincs.

The BBC is reporting a HMRC spokesman as saying

“Yesterday's tragic events in Boston have underlined the risks that go with the illegal distillation of alcohol.

"In just over the last 12 months HMRC, working with other law enforcement agencies, has closed down three illegal stills and six men have been prosecuted for producing counterfeit vodka, resulting in prison sentences totalling over 56 years.

"Illegal alcohol undermines all honest alcohol traders whilst putting at risk the lives of those who consume and produce it."


That’s the Distillery Shed out of the equation then. I’m already scared that the gas cylinder under the BBQ is a ticking time-bomb... best leave the distillation to the experts, me thinks!

A much better option seems to be blending; a privileged granted to us and others by the chaps at Master Of Malt recently. Servicing ten blogs with a blending kit and letting us get on with it, the final result was chosen by the general public.

Having sat down and tasted all the blends, one thing is certain: they are all different. Some more so than others, but certainly each holds their own unique flavour profile. The winner has been announced here and you can purchase a bottle (or indeed a kit of all ten) to see if you agree with the result.

One thing that threads these blends together is the unanimous and resounding agreement that this process was a lot harder than we all initially thought. Many of us have been party to blending classes hosted by professionals or have even had a go at throwing together some bin-ends at home to see what we can produce... but having limited whiskies and being mindful of a price-point, this task was indeed challenging. Along with the distillation, I think I’ll leave the blending to the experts, at least for the time being!

A master at this craft is Compass Box’s John Glaser. Having started his boutique whisky company over ten years ago, the output from Compass Box seems to go from strength-to-strength. Recent additions to the range have focused on top end, premium releases under the banner of the Compass Box Signature Range with limited releases coming annually.

It is only now that Glaser and Compass Box have expanded their range with the launch of a new category, Great King Street focusing solely on blended whisky.

The first release under the Great King Street banner is their Artist’s Blend; available exclusively in 50cl bottles and, as always with Compass Box, with packaging that is sublime for something at this price point (sub-£24). Let’s see how this tries out:

Compass Box – Great King Street ; Artist’s Blend – 50cl - 43%

Nose: A surprisingly bright nose with hints of banana milkshake, vanilla, honeysuckle and cream soda. Some milk chocolate coco powder.

Palate: Initial hit of the foam banana penny sweets, then toasted marshmellow, some rich and creamy butter notes. A little bit of meringue with whipped cream.

Finish: Just a hint of spice which adds a good complexity but a delicate yet unctuous finish with more of the cream and banana but also some toasted crumpets and just a hint of cinnamon.

Overall: This is a great entry level blend but most pleasing of all is the versatility of it. At this price, the consumer shouldn’t be put off experimenting with this blend in different drinks, as well as trying it neat. My recommendation would be to try this as a Mizuwari with a little spring of mint thrown in. This should see you through the summer months in style!

As seen in Boston recently, it may be dangerous and difficult to distil alcohol, but taking other people's artistry to create something unique and tasty is a whole different skill set altogether. So here’s to the Still Man, risking life and limb to boil away alcohol from water. And here’s to the blender, for mixing these wonderful substances together so we can enjoy neat, or pick up their mantle and experiment with cocktails at home.

Speaking of excellent blends/mashups... the one below will take some beating....


Tuesday 12 July 2011

Never Mind The Coffey Still, Here's The Tea Pot

My neighbours have just erected a shed in their garden. It looks fantastic and, as avid gardeners, they’re quite rightly using it to store pots, tools and other gardening equipment.

For some time now I’ve contemplated putting up a shed, but not for storage of gardening equipment. Oh, no. I would want to create a small area where I can smoke a cigar.

You see, smoking isn't something I do very often and I certainly won’t do it in the house. For starters, I share my place with a housemate and he’s not in to cigars at all. For him to come home to house smelling of tobacco just isn’t on (frying bacon on a Sunday morning? Yes! Stale cigar smoke on a Tuesday evening? No.) so a small shed in the garden would work wonders for this.

However, you can’t stop there, can you? Throw in a Chesterfield chair, a rug, an ash tray, a copy of Monocle Magazine and an old Roberts Radio tuned to Just A Minute on Radio 4 and after a few months you’d be wanting to move the drinks cabinet in. It’s a terribly difficult thing having a cigar without a malt of some repute being within arm’s reach. They are wonderfully comfortable bed fellows, the cigar and the malt.

After a few months relaxing in what, in my own mind has become labelled The Cigar Shed, one might find themselves with itchy feet: you could only sit there for so long without wondering what it might be like if you installed your own mini-still... I could knock out a whisky from the back of my council flat in South London. Cut it with some Peckham Spring Water and you’ve got the perfect dram!

I’m sure it’s the dream of every whisky drinker to at some stage in their life, to produce their own whisky. An utterly bonkers pipe dream, of course..

Well... no. Not at Kilchoman Distillery. Along with a few other ventures across Scotland (most notably Daftmill, but also in the pipeline are Kingsbarn and Falkirk), the guys at Kilchoman Distillery have turned a pipe dream in to reality, opening the first new distillery on the Isle Of Islay for more than 120 Years in 2005. And visiting their tiny distillery is about as close to seeing something which you could have in your shed, as is possible in Scotland.

With a 3 Year Old whisky finally launched in 2009 (read about caskstrength’s visit to the launch here), it seemed that the future wasn't just bright for the new distillery, it was positively blinding. After a stack of honours for the new release, including our first ever Best In Glass award in 2009, we have been eagerly awaiting each release from the Western Islay Distillery and last month came their big new offering: a whisky made 100% on Islay. In fact, 100% at the distillery. My dream of making whisky in my back garden has just been blown out of the water.

Using barley grown on the farm site where the distillery is located, malted in their own floor malting, distilled and matured on site and then bottled at the distillery too, this is a true feat of whisky making. It even transpires that bottling of small batches, such as the Cask Strength Edition of this release (see here on the left), is done using a tea pot by the distillery staff. Never mind a Coffey still, here’s the Tea Pot.

Named "100% Islay" and launched on the 16th June 2011, this 3 year old single malt whisky is matured in first fill bourbon barrels and is available in two limited editions: 11,300 bottles of a 50% ABV edition priced at £69.00 a special distillery only edition, limited to 1,060 bottles, housed in an American white oak presentation box, bottled at cask strength (61.3%) and priced at £149.00.

Using ingredients sourced 100% from the local area is a big mission. But the main question, over-and-above the inclusion of local components, is whether the whisky maintain the high standards set by Kilchoman so far?

Kilchoman – 100% Islay Inaugural Release – 3 Years Old – 50% ABV

Nose: A big hit of smoke rises from the glass and buried beneath is lemon meringue pie; delicate, sugary citrus notes with a fluffy vanilla topping. You might at once mistake this for a young Ardbeg, but there is something more rounded and delicate about the nose, but it certainly owes a debt of gratitude to the Kildalton distilleries.

Palate: 50% abv sits very well with this release. I was a little worried that it might prove too strong, even with a cask strength edition above it in the rage. The smoke takes its rightful place in the driver’s seat here, but the rest of the palate is taken up with malted milk biscuit, more citrus fruit (this time zestier) and now some green apple and cream soda notes.

Finish: This finishes with the lingering nature of a well smoked islay whisky, but some length of pear drops, vanilla scented candles and whipped cream.

Overall: Another cracking release from this distillery. Like the Manchester United youth team, it just shouldn’t be this good at such a young age... but it is.

Watching the development of this distillery is something that will provide an education for us all. With so many long established distilleries making a marketing point out of their age, or the age of their stock, it is a joy to see a young pup such as Kilchoman shout loud and proud about its youth, its verve, its vim and its vigour.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Our Arran Sells Out... and an interesting cigar event for ladies!

Well that all happened pretty quickly... It gives us great pleasure to report that our Caskstrength and Carry On bottling of Arran officially sold out just 4 days after going on sale. Thanks to everyone who decided to buy a bottle and we really hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Fortunately, if you did want to try it, all is not lost. Master Of Malt are offering it in their Drinks By The Dram series, for the very reasonable £3.99.

As we started at the letter 'A', it seems rude not to try to bottle the alphabet of whisky now...expect an update on 'B' sometime soon...

Competition Time!!

We can happily report that one bottle was held back and we've decided to give it away as a competition prize! It is signed by James MacTaggert, Master Distiller at Arran and if you fancy trying your hand at winning it, all you need to do is follow this simple procedure:

At 12pm on Friday 15th July, we'll be selecting one winner at random and the Arran will be winging its way over to you!!

Obviously you'll need to be over 18 years old to enter if you're a UK resident or over the legal drinking age in your country of residence. We'll be checking... ;-)

And that's not all... In one of the boxes which hold the bottles, Joel and I placed a special golden ticket. If you've bought this bottle (take the bottle out and have a look) follow the instructions and you'll bag yourself an additional single cask bottle of Arran!!

Man, we're too good to you lot. ;-)

Changing the subject slightly, there's a excellent event happening next Monday 11th July, for ladies only!

At Boisdale Canary Wharf, cigar connoisseur Ms Lalla Kaur is teaming up with Chivas/The Glenlivet ambassador Phil Huckle for the launch of the First Ever 'Ladies Only Event' , featuring an evening of Cigars, Cocktails and Canapes.

Here's a list of the goods you ladies will be able to enjoy:

The Cigar:
Hoyo De Monterry
Epicure No. 1
46rg 5 3/8” smoking time: up to 45 minutes

The Cocktails:
Summer Wind
Blood & Sand

The Whiskies:
Chivas Regal 18yo
The Glenlivet 18yo

£30 per person. To book, please contact or call 020 7715 5818


Monday 4 July 2011

The Orcadian Fire hits Hyde Park!

As we move into the summer months, the festival season arrives with a fanfare of colour, hazy campfire smoke and, if you're going to Glastonbury, a wasteland of mud and sodden copies of the Observer Music Monthly.

As part of our previous lives, Joel and myself used to visit music festivals all over the UK and Europe and it was often the case that the smaller, more boutique events remained the most memorable; partly for their well-programmed bills of artists, but also for the people that attended. Latitude Festival over in Norfolk always had a real sense of calm about it. There were comedy acts in attendance, art installations and probably best of all, the food served was fresh, rather than the over-priced greasy crap, which is slung around at the more mainstream events.

All this brings us on to an event last Thursday, which I suppose was technically a sort of festival.

One of our favourite bands, Arcade Fire had decided to avoid the traditional UK summer festival and had plumped for doing their own huge gig at Hyde Park. Along with Mumford & Sons as the main support, hot new bands such as The Vaccines and Beirut were also on the bill, making this a really special affair. The band had really thought about making this a special event and the 65,000 fans were not only treated to some great sets, but also stunt cheerleaders, pitch n' putt golf, chess and a number of other attractions that you just wouldn't ordinarily expect at an event of this magnitude.

Now, it just so happens that pretty much all the bands on the bill were seriously into their whiskies and as a result, Caskstrength were invited by Arcade Fire to put together a boutique whisky bar for the backstage area. To put it another way, a little light libation for the artists before and after their performances, as well as an almighty party once the event had concluded.

So we set about thinking exactly what would work best and sometimes, the best ideas are just staring you in the face, begging to be used.

A little while ago, we reviewed the Highland Park 50 year-old, which we playfully dubbed the 'Orcade Fire' and at that moment, had a similar Eureka Moment. "Hang on... Arcade Fire/Orcade Fire - Hyde Park /Highland Park!" It all seemed to be slotting into place and after a quick telephone call to the jovial Mr Gerry Tosh, our plan was complete.

Why not get Arcade Fire to re-design the label of Highland Park 18yo, especially for the event?!

If your name's not down, you ain't coming in!

And that is what they duly did. Just 75 bottles of 'The Orcadian Fire' Highland Park have been made for the bands, to commemorate this huge gig. Further more, it gave us a chance to get our cocktail aprons on and come up with a tasty refreshing drink to serve throughout the day to the guests backstage.

The highly refreshing (and potent) Orcadian Fire cocktail

The Orcadian Fire cocktail, is a simple affair, mixing 50ml of Cutty Sark Original, Whisky barrel aged bitters (courtesy of Master Of Malt) some expressed orange zest, slightly 'bruised' mint (sorry joel!) and topped off with fresh ice and the tangy bite of Fever Tree's fabulous Ginger Ale.

What more could the bands ask for?

Cocktail no. 483 and the pickled eggs begin to take their toll.

Well, not a lot as it turns out. In addition to pouring generous measures of Highland Park 18yo all day, we calculated we made around 500 Orcadian Fire cocktails between 2pm and 12.30pm. Thirsty lot, these bands. Special thanks must go to Mr Darren Rook (aka The Whisky Guy) for his unflappable cool in helping us out behind our little 1950's bar.

We also thought that to be mildly responsible, we should at least offer a light snack to anyone who was a bit peckish - so a little update on the classic English pub fare was devised. Ladies and gentleman, I give you a return of the humble pickled egg! Our patented recipe features a slight update on the usual clear pickling vinegar, also employing a generous half pint of Fino Sherry, bay leaves, lovage and peppercorns. Surprisingly, most people seemed to be quite full when it came to offering the eggs out, although one young gentleman from a band who shall remain nameless decided to polish off at least half a dozen. Fortunately for the audience, this was after their set had finished...

"Good evening Hyde Park!"

We also got to learn a life lesson from one of our all time heroes, Robert Plant, who didn't fancy a whisky during the day (who'd have thought it?) and plumped for a beer - which we didn't have. How the hell do you tell one of the undisputed kings of rock that you don't have any beers??

As Robert Baden-Powell once said, 'be prepared'. Especially when a member of Led Zeppelin happens to be around...

Arcade Fire's lead singer, Win Butler
with the Orcadian Fire bottling

Many thanks to all the people, who made this little escapade happen, especially the brands involved plus Jade and Scott at Quest Management. And of course to the bands themselves for proving that whisky and music are, as we always suspected, the most perfect of bedfellows.