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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.