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Monday, 5 December 2011

With These Whiskies, You Are Spoiling Us...

Last week was a stonking week for Caskstrength. In the run up to Christmas, we seem to be jam-packed with stuff to do, including tastings, new launches and our very own BiG Award, which saw Black Bull 40 year old triumph as this year's overall winner.

On the tastings front, we've done some weird and wonderful themed tastings in a wide variety of places, including nightclubs on Burns' Night, stag do's, opening up for famous bands on stage and a variety of incredible countries including Japan, Lithuania, Germany and bizarrely on a beach in the Seychelles.

Last week however was perhaps our proudest moment, when we were asked by the British Japanese Parliamentary Group to host a Japanese whisky tasting at the House Of Commons. The event was attended by around 50 various MPs, Peers, Lords and dignitaries from both Japanese and UK industry, as well as the special guest of honour, the Japanese Ambassador to the UK, Mr Keiichi Hayashi.

Caskstrength meet the Japanese Ambassaor

So no pressure at all then...

Now, being that this was an Ambassador's reception, one thing immediately came to mind in how to inject a bit of extra fun into the proceedings. The answer lay in our favourite tasty, gold foil covered confectionary - Ferrero Rocher. According to the various TV adverts throughout the 90's, they were the quintessential party treat at any reception attended by an Ambassador, so we popped along to Morrison's and found they had an offer on boxes of 16!! Hooray.

So with around 90 Rochers purchased, we proceeded to work out a cunning way to infuse them with the flavour and aroma of one of our favourite Japanese whiskies, Hakushu Bourbon Barrel. And by jingo, it worked. The whisky's wonderfully smooth, fruity, yet oaky, nutty flavour paired perfectly with the little golden gems. Feeling contented, we set off to the tasting, whiskies, glasses and chocolates in hand.

Getting into the House Of Commons is quite a laborious process and I think the sight of Joel and I, complete with 2 suitcases full of whisky and glassware (and 90 Ferrero Rocher) was perhaps the final straw for the security guards, but after some good natured banter, we were ushered through the hallowed doors and into the glorious lobby. As London's buildings go, the Palace Of Westminster really is a truly amazing place and if you happened to meet up with a fly on the wall there, one can imagine the incredible meetings, stories and conversations it could tell you about over a whisky.

The Commons and Lords are no strangers to whisky. A couple of years ago, Speaker Martin lent his name to the House Of Commons single malt (a re-bottling of The Macallan) and on a previous visit, I also picked up a bottle of House Of Lords blended whisky, pictured below.

Our tasting was to be accompanied by an array of sushi dishes, lovingly put together by Emma Reynolds and her team of chefs at the highly regarded collection of Japanese restaurants, Tsuru.

To begin with, a refreshing Mizuwari made using Nikka From The Barrel was served with some great yellow fin tuna nigiri, followed by pairings of Yamazaki 10yo and chicken Teriyaki, Hibiki 12yo and Japanese vegetable and pickle Maki rolls, Nikka All Malt with some melt-in-the -mouth Scottish salmon. The dessert was an age old classic pairing - Yamazaki 18yo, with chocolate brownies. How could anyone resist?

Well, no one did resist and after a spirited speech by Ambassador Hayashi, it was over to yours truly to lead the assembled group through the history of Japanese whisky and the wonderfully unique range of flavours and aromas that can be discovered. Iceballs and three-pronged ice picks were discussed, as well as the fabled intricacies of making a perfect Mizuwari, stirring the drink precisely 13 and a half times to achieve the perfect dilution. The tasting went down a storm (we weren't sent off to Traitor's Gate anyway) and the vibe around Japanese whisky was most definitely raised a notch.

As well as the Rochers, we had another masterstroke up our sleeve. Our friends at Suntory had rather generously donated us a bottle of Yamazaki 1984 as the final 'off the menu' surprise whisky, which turned out to be the icing on the cake. Now very tricky to find, this masterpiece of whisky making ensured that the collective of esteemed imbibers went away happy into the night.

Yamazaki - 1984 Vintage - 48%

Nose: Intensely rich, with a brilliant balancing act between plump dried fruits, incense sticks, cigar box spices and sherry. The oak is present, but not drying in the slightest. It is perhaps one of the most direct noses we've ever encountered- like a really well reduced, spicy sauce. Wonderful stuff.

Palate: The intense spice continues to the palate, with more of the plump raisins, lemon zest, some cedar/ tobacco spice, coupled with lashings of vanilla, cinnamon and clove notes.

Finish: Rich and full-bodied, this beast of a whisky firmly leaves its mark on the palate. This is definitely a whisky to try last, as very few whiskies will measure up once you've had a few sips.

Overall: Sensational whisky making. The 18yo Yamazaki is amongst our favourite expressions of this Japanese powerhouse distillery but the 1984 just raises the bar even higher. It is frightfully expensive and hard to find, but worth every penny, such is the intensity of the experience.