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Saturday, 24 September 2011


One of the joys of living in London, is leaving. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fantastic city, crammed with culture, sport and beauty. But the pace of life here is fast. And hard.

If you ever join a gym, one of the first pieces of information you are told is that rest days are more important than your work-out sessions. The interim period when you are not putting your body under stress, is when it grows, when it develops; the benefits of which are seen in your next gym visit.

The same is true for the bear pit that is London. It isn’t until you leave that you realise how tired you are and, in returning, you feel the benefit of a well deserved break.

Last years break was a trip down to Cornwall. A true Staycation where I was able to sit with a glass of Port Ellen and enjoy the traditional British summertime weather... well, they do say that today’s rain is tomorrow’s whisky... *sigh*

This year, I opted for an altogether more continental holiday. Sunshine was required in bucket-loads and I was not prepared to risk the wrath of a British Thor. A quick scout around on the ‘net at cheap flights showed up Nice as a go-to destination, especially once the school holidays were out of the way.

A prime destination with vineyards, lovely beaches, beautiful people and sunshine, this part of France seemed the polar opposite to riot-torn South London, so flights and hotels were duly booked and off I hopped for some r ‘n r.

But there was also a secondary reason for this chosen destination, the TFWA (Tax Free World Association) Expo 2011.

“What on earth is that?” I hear you cry...

Well, every year a large swathe of the luxury goods industry descended to the Cote d’Azur resort of Cannes, usually famed for its yachts and yearly film festival, for a business expo on Travel Retail (Duty Free to you and me). As Travel Retail is such an important market place for booze (one only has to look at the new whisky-specific area in Delhi airport, cunningly named Uisce Beatha, or the investment by BAA in Heathrow Terminal 5 to see how important Travel Retail is), not just for shifting large quantities of standard releases, but also for experimenting with new and unusual releases (see here, here and here for some Travel Retail goodies we’ve reviewed in the past) which, if taken to the hearts of the travelling public, may end up in an off licence near you soon, the industry feels it is good to showcase some of these products once a year, and the TFWA Expo provides the perfect platform to do this.

Travel Retail also provides an opportunity for the super-rich to buy products without paying quite so much tax on them, so if you can pick up a £100k bottle of whisky in an airport, you may (as crazy as this seem to humble people such as you or I) actually be landing yourself a pre-tax bargain. Take the fella who recently purchased a bottle of Dalmore 64 in Singapore airport for £125,000. That was without any duty on it. My main question is, did he leave it in the compartment above his seat, or underneath the seat in front of him during his flight? Either way, the miniature of Johnnie Walker Red Label he’d have had from the little trolley on the flight back is going to seem even more disappointing if you’ve just concluded that sort of transaction...

So, a beach holiday and the chance to try some exciting new whisky. Er, yes please...

After the obligatory time spent on various beaches across the South of France, doing my best impression of Ray Winstone’s excellent character Garry ‘Gal’ Dove from Sexy Beast (“It’s hot. It’s too ****ing hot.”), I popped over to Cannes for the TFWA to see what I could find and it turned out to be a tale of three, all Speyside, whiskies:

First up was the new Glenfiddich Travel Retail offering; a 19 Year Old matured in Bourbon Casks. This will expand their range in Travel Retail from just one of the Age of Discovery edition, to two (both at 19 Years Old). We reviewed the original here and this newer release should come out at the same price point (around £80) in early 2012 and is really quite delicious. No picture as yet, but it’s pretty much the same as the one reviewed in the previous piece, only with a royal blue box...

Glenfiddich – Explorer Bourbon Cask – 19 Years Old – Travel Retail Only - 40% ABV

Nose: Butterscotch, wisps of heather and honey with an over-riding maltiness. Very appealing.

Palate: Malt and hot buttered crumpets hits with a robust vanilla-wood flavour. There is no hiding which type of cask this has come from. It’s bourbon matured Scotch and doesn’t hide the fact, being very easy on the palate

Finish: Slight spices, medium in length.

Overall: A very pleasant dram which maybe lacks a little in personality, but will appeal to Travel Retail goers looking to gift the people they’re staying with, without offending them with a risk-taking choice.

Aside from trying this new 19 Year Old, another real treat at the William Grant stand, owners of Glenfiddich, was a display where one could nose all 25 whiskies that make up Grant's 25 Year Old Blended Scotch, really throwing the gauntlet down to other expensive, no age statement premium blends, effectively goading, “Come on, what are you hiding?!” to those (that?) brand. Currently a Duty Free exclusive, you’ll soon be able to buy the Grants 25 in a shop near you. If you have in excess of £100 to do so, that is.

Another new Travel Retail exclusive release comes from across the way in Speyside, courtesy of The Glenlivet and their new Masters Distillers Reserve. A celebration of the fact that The Glenlivet has only ever had three Master Distillers, this release has been specially created Alan Winchester, the current incumbent of the role (and one of the nicest people in the drinks business, we kid you not).

This release is a three wood maturation process of European Oak butts, first-fill American hogsheads and finally re-fill hoggies and comes at the bargain price of £34.99...

The Glenlivet – Master Distillers Reserve – NAS – 40% ABV – 1 ltr

Nose: Rich tones with old oak, some tobacco (sweet cigarette, not cigar), a hint of plum jam and some wet, fallen leaves. Strong and robust on the nose.

Palate: A bigger palate than expected from a 40% abv, no age statement product. This gives off an excellently robust palate with the same flavours from the nose translated to the tongue, with an increased nutty nature appearing over time.

Finish: Additional spices add to a long and lingering finish which coats the mouth with a lovely oily, but slightly drying sense.

Overall: There should be no surprise that this whisky sold 581 bottles on its first day of release in Heathrow Airport. And it should be no surprise that I bought a bottle on my way through Heathrow, either. I don’t think I need to say much more than that...

And so we come to the final expression tried on my break away from the UK. Well... actually, that’s a lie. There are two expressions from the final distillery I’m going to cover. One is a true Travel Retail Only expression. The other, well, isn’t. In fact, the other whisky is one of those over-the-top, mentalist ideas of a whisky which I’ll certainly never be able to afford and really didn’t want to review on here. Why? Because at $20,000 a bottle, I won’t ever be able to afford it and I can’t imagine that (no offence to any of our readers out there) none of you will be able to either. But there is a reason why I have chosen to cover it. And that will become apparent in moment. But first, something a little more affordable and only available at an airport near you, for £69.99:

The Macallan – Whisky Makers Edition – NAS – 42.8% ABV – 1 ltr

Note: A 42.8% abv Macallan... it’s already very strange!

Nose: As you would expect from a Macallan, this is a rich and sweet nose with hints of toffee popcorn, over ripe strawberry and some subtle coffee tones. Not majorly exiting, but certainly inviting.

Palate: Full of flavour, the balance is good with vanilla and sweet red berry flavours mixing well in the mouth. It’s a little flat, but as you give it time it comes to life with some notes of forest fruits and, oddly, twigs (but in a nice way).

Finish: The finish gives a lingering oak tone with some liquorice and fruits of the forest gateaux.

Overall: Yeah, it’s good. Like a Coldplay album track, you kinda know what you’re gonna get with a Macallan at this price. It’ll be downed in places like France and Spain like water...

And finally... The Macallan have a new release out. It isn’t strictly available in Duty Free only, but it seemed that Cannes was the place to launch it. Well, people there own yachts, don’t they. They’ve got oodles of money.

This is another Lalique decanter, this time containing Macallan distilled on the 9th and 10th of November 1950. So that’d make it 60 years old, then. Just 400 bottles of this whisky have been released.

Previously in these pages, we’ve questioned the integrity of very high end whisky. And while this still isn’t reaching the heights of a £125,000 Dalmore or the $460,000 that someone paid last year at auction for a Macallan 64 Year Old Cire Perdue, it’s still a little more than, well, anyone I know would be willing to spend on one bottle of the water of life.

But aside from the perceived value of this bottle, with the age of the whisky (hummm... it’s funny how older whisky is more expensive, when it was actually cheaper to make back then- cheaper running costs of the distilleries, cheaper fuel, cheaper wheat, no legal dept or HR dept to fund... hell, they should be giving this stuff away! If only...) and the limited release, we should take our eyes off the price and focus on the product in side. How does the liquid actually taste?

The Macallan – 60 Years Old – ‘in Lalique’ – 53.2%

Nose: Now here is something a bit odd and certainly something I wasn’t expecting. A smoky Macallan. I’m not talking Laphroaig smoke here, but subtle wafts of smoke which David Cox, Director of Fine & Rare Whiskies for The Macallan (what a job!) says is due to the malting process of these older Macallans having some peat smoke used in the drying process. Makes sense. But it really isn’t what I expected at all. Once over the shock of delicate peat smoke, this has rich hazelnut, cocktail cherries, strawberry jam, the red / purple boiled sweets that your granddad used to give you as a child. Then red apple appears and the peat smoke resumes at the death of the nose.

Palate: A huge flavour, this is more akin to a liqueur than a whisky. Giant red fruit tones assault the palate with very heavy oak, but also with a sweetness. A real sweetness which seems to come out of nowhere and balance out the dryness of the aging in wood, perfectly.

Finish: Long, sweet lapsang souchong tea (neat, no milk), cherry jam and then the subtle smoke flavours which kick in.

Overall: I’m honestly speechless over this whisky. At the risk of eulogising, it is the best whisky I’ve ever had. There, I’ve said it. Shoot me. Please, please, please just stick this in a normal glass bottle, don’t tell anyone about it and whack it out at £50 a bottle. Please. I’ll take a case. No, two cases. At this stage I’m willing to eat my hat. This whisky is simply stunning. It’s like every whisky in Scotland in one simple dram: enough smoke to understand what flavours that brings to whisky, enough oaky dryness to show the effect of cask aging, but total balance with additional sweetness, which come out of nowhere. And a finish of delicate smoke but rich red fruits... I’m gonna stop here, as my thoughts on this could be an essay in their own right. In summary: Nice (gettit. Nice? Nice. Oh, you lot...)

With just a short period of time left on my Southern France adventure, it was time to forget the suntan lotion, hit the beach and come back with a tan that screamed at fellow tube commuters “Look! I’ve been away somewhere hot!”.

As the miniatures trolley made its way down the isle of the Airbus A320, there was only one drink that could press my ‘reset’ button, so as the plane made its way across Central France back to busy old London, I was sipping a G&T and dreaming of a lottery win before The Macallan 60 sells out...