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Sunday 29 April 2012

Burn Baby 'Burn

After returning from a fairly relaxing week on a beautiful Portuguese Quinta (sadly after being robbed not once but twice - once is bad enough, but when the local police mug you sorry, charge you 48 Euros for the crime report, you realise something is deeply wrong!) 
Still, i'm refreshed, slightly tanned (bizarrely only on my hands) and in need of a whisky.    
As the UK seemingly dissolves under gallons of rain, I find myself digging through a pile of damp post, bottles and boxes and one particular sample caught my attention.  

Speyburn distillery, recently buoyed by their successes at the World Whisky Awards have recently relaunched their core expressions with new packaging, alongside following most other distilleries by creating a members area on their website called Clan Speyburn.  

According to the distillery, one of the benefits to becoming a Clan member is the exclusive bottlings of Speyburn planned for release over the coming months.  One of the first of these is a cracking cask from 1975, from the Pedro Domecq bodega in Jerez, one of the oldest in Spain. The as-yet-unpriced whisky (not sure of the outturn either) looks superbly dark in colour, but not in the usual sherry cask way, this whisky displaying a much more aged copper tone.  But as always, the colour tells us very little about the quality of the dram itself, so let's dive in.

Speyburn - 1975 - Clan Cask Bottling- 55.8% 

Nose: Huge oak notes, some buttery baked apple, a little waft of vanilla'y spirit, milk chocolate, coconut milk and a slight peanut brittle note.  Surprisingly, it doesn't have any of the big dried-fruit-'n-spice you'd expect from a cask used previously to mature Pedro Ximenez. 

Palate: Hot on the first sip, but nice and rich, with waxy honey, green apple, a little dusting of powdered bitter caramel and cocoa powder.   There is also the faintest note of soft peat if you really search for it.  With water, it gains a nutty note, but you have to be careful not to drown it, as the flavours become quite dissipated.  

Finish:  A light peat note, fading into green apple skin lingers on the palate for a pleasing finish.

Overall:  Despite its age and origins, the sherry notes haven't dominated this dram at all.  In fact, it exhibits more characteristics of an aged bourbon matured whisky.  It works best at cask strength and the addition of water detracts from its more subtle fruity notes.  All in all, a decent 37yo, but the price will certainly be a deciding factor in whether this is one to immediately snap up.   If you fancy joining the Clan Speyburn (which seems like a worthwhile idea) visit for more details.

Monday 23 April 2012

Laphroaig PX Cask and Brodir Whisky: Brothers With Different Mothers

Back in March I looked at the Glenfiddich Release (Age Of Discovery 19 Year Old Madeira Cask Finish) which has made its way from the hallowed shelves of Travel Retail (Duty Free for those of us old enough to remember when that existed) in to our local supermarket / whisky retail outlet.

I described bottlings like this, along with other whiskies such as the Johnnie Walker Double Black, which have ‘graduated’ from Global Travel Retail (GTR) on to our local retailers shelves as being like the England Youth Team; you’d hope there was a natural progression from the Under 21’s side to the Senior Squad, but that is not always the case.
GTR is fast becoming the proving ground for whisky of all background and lineage so it is nice to see some distilleries really pushing their creativity when it comes to satisfying the needs of the traveller. Everywhere I turn at the moment there seems to be some new release into GTR.
In our next post, we’ll be looking at two new Auchentoshan releases which are part of FOUR new whiskies released by the distillery in to this arena. Their sister distillery, Bowmore, have released a few too and there are new offerings from the likes of the aforementioned Glenfiddich with their 19 YO Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask and a new series of Ballantines blends highlighting an individual whisky within its makeup. I’m sure there will be more to come before long, too.

However, when passing through Gatwick Airport recently on the way to Scotland, I was very excited to see a new expression of Laphroaig on the shelf. The ‘PX Cask’, as it is billed, replaces the Triple Wood and professes to have been made up from whisky matured in three different barrels.

“The first maturation, as for our 10 Year old, is in ex-bourbon barrels. We then transfer to Quarter Casks... The final maturation is in large ‘PX’ casks... [which] originally contained Pedro Ximenez sherry. The length of the final maturation is dependent on the decision of our Distillery Manager and Master Blender. ”

Differing here from the outgoing Triple Wood (now available in the shops), which was similarly matured in ex-bourbon, then QC's but finally in a Oloroso sherry barrels. Well... we like the 10 year old. We also love the Quarter Cask. And boy, do we love peated whisky matured in PX casks (see the Lagavulin Distillers Edition if you don’t believe us- one of the finest whiskies on the planet). So this is EXCITING. And 1 Litre for around £55? Erm.... go on then!
NB: The wording on the back of the tube is very clever, as it makes it sound like the hooch has been matured for 10 years + additional maturation in QC’s and then again in PX casks. But this is a No Age Statement. Doesn’t bother us, but I just hope people buying this in GTR won’t think this is a whisky of 10 Years +. Which of course, it might well be. Who knows...
Laphroaig – PX Cask – Global Travel Retail Only - NAS – 48% abv – 1 Litre

Nose: Smoke, obvs, but it backed with black cherry juice, strawberry laces, some salted liquorice and delicate earth. Not as medicinal as the 10 and far richer than the Quarter Cask, this has a wonderful balance to the nose giving enough of the PX tones to create the rich textures, but not forgetting this is an Islay malt, or indeed a Laphroaig. Really, really lovely.

Palate: The mouthfeel is nice and oily, showing off its gap year travelling in European sherry oak. The peat is present right at the front, with all the rich black cherry tones from the nose transferring to the palate, but this time with the addition of stewed prunes, raisins and very ripe figs. Slightly bitter towards the back.

Finish: Bruised red fruits give way to bitter lime peel.

Overall: A really great example of a well sherried Laphroaig. Is better than the one in the last review? It is much more drinkable which is a good thing, but I don’t think it has the powerful complexity that the SMWS single cask has. However, that means that by its very nature the SMWS bottling is extremely limited. This is two-thirds of the price and much more available meaning that, especially at this price, it’ll become a must-have in my cabinet.

So, a corker from Laphroaig to bolster the shelves at World of Whiskies and take up some of your holiday spending money even before you’ve boarded the plane. But they haven’t stopped there, this year. Oh, no.
In February, the good people at the distillery’s owners, Beam Global decided that the hearty folk of the Nordic regions, who traverse between rugged islands and different Scandinavian countries on rolling ferries, needed something just that wee bit more exclusive. And so the Laphroaig Brodir was born.
Available only on Viking Line during their annual Whisky Fair 2012, this 2000-only bottling sold out pretty much straight away.
Laphroaig – Brodir – 13 Years Old – 2000 bottles only – 50.5% abv

Nose: A totally different beast from the PX Cask, this is peat smoke, honey, heather, tinned pineapples and dried apple slices. Juicy Fruit chewing gum pops up at the end but aside from that, this is pure tinned fruit salad and peat smoke.

Palate: At this big strength, the pineapple sits on the tongue well, but this is less the fruit and more the juice. Then the peat smoke wafts in soon followed by icing sugar dusted vanilla doughnuts. With Water, the cream soda elements are enhanced, the smoke reduced and overall it become much more drinkable.

Finish: Peat, honey and mangos and a hint of ‘swimming pool’. Very nice.

Overall: A really lovely Laphroaig which shows off the more ‘traditional’ elements of the brand: higher in medicinal notes and that tinned fruit salad element you get in a good whisky from Islay.

In a bout, which would win? It is impossible to say, as these two are such different whiskies; brothers with different mothers.
Which would I rather have in my hand? Again, for a big, rich, sherry monster to slug back while eating pulled pork or after dinner on a cold winters night, the PX Cask would be my choice. The Broidir is light, delicate and tastes of Upside Down Pudding. It’s a different malt for a different time. But if you push me... oh, go on then, I’ll take the PX Cask. No! Wait... Erm... ARGH!

Thursday 19 April 2012

Olympic Spirit? Whisky, surely.

Living in London can be testing. Coming up we’ve got various events from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee through to the much anticipated Olympic Games, which seems to have divided opinion of Londoners right down the middle.

On the one side are the ‘glass half full’ folk who dream of London being the cultural melting-pot of the world for two weeks where, somehow, the decrepit and failing public transport system won’t buckle under the pressure of an extra million people trying to use it... and then there are the realists.

People like me.

People who think that London is a great city, a wonderful place to live but we know the fault-lines. And many there are.

But, however negative your view of the upcoming Games may be, one should rightly focus on what makes London such a great city and so it was that yesterday afternoon gave me a key example of the brilliance of living life in a city rich in culture, history and heritage.

I was to catch up with an old school friend of mine. A chap of good Scottish lineage who ended up spending a long time living in Edinburgh but has now moved back South to live and work in-and-around London. Having known Simon for somewhere in the region of 25 years, but not having seen him for around 12 months, a catch-up in some of London’s more delightful haunts was required and having grown up together, there is bond that only well matured relationships have so where better to open our afternoon of gossip than at JJ Fox’s Cigar Merchants in Mayfair.

The area around St James’ Street, Mayfair is such a wonderful example of London and its history (as seen in our recent piece about Berry Bros) and, despite the best efforts of the local shop owners, you do not have to be wealthy to enjoy the refinements this part of town has to offer. In JJ Fox you can sit back in a leather Chesterfield, light up a very high quality cigar and enjoy a cup of coffee all for the princely sum of... well, whatever you can afford. Personally, I like a Honduran cigar called La Invicta and you can pick up their Corona No.1’s for a mere £4.75. Not a bad way to spend an hour, if you ask me.

Nestled behind JJ Fox on Crown Passage is a brilliant little pub called The Red Lion which provides exactly what one requires post-cigar; a nice pint of real ale. Apparently the second-oldest continually used pub in London with a licence to serve beer, this is London... not some new Westfield shopping ‘mall’ on the edge of the Olympic Park. Note to any rioters reading this: it’s full of trainers, flat screen TV’s and glass. #JustSayin’

JJ Fox and the Red Lion, two of the most idyllic places possible to catch up with an old friend. But an evening of cigars and real ale is only really complete with a wee dram so, via Randall & Aubin in Soho for some much needed belly-padding, we made our way over the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a night-cap.

SMWS 29.109 – ‘Oak and Smoke Intensity’ - Laphroaig – 20 Years Old – Refill Ex Sherry – 619 bottles – Distilled 12th Oct 1990 – 59.2% abv

Nose: A hint of brine, a huge waft of smoke and then it settles down in to red berries, carnations and old leather sofa. Some wood polish and general ‘musk’ whips up all wrapped in a wet peat smoke which gives a lovely warming feeling to the dram.

Palate: Neat, this gives off plum jam, icing sugar, smoke, tar and cherries. But with water is when it really comes to life. This can take a large slug of H2O and with it come toasted brown bread with lashings of butter and strawberry jam, fresh cherry pie and honey all backed with a fantastic smokiness.

Finish: Without water, this is hot and aggressive. With, you get ginger, spices and oak.

Overall: Nowhere near the complete article when sampled neat, but with water this bottling comes to life in a big way. So good, I bought a bottle. A touch more expensive than a £4 cigar, at just over £70, but well worth it. One of the best heavy sherry matured Laphroaig’s I’ve had in a while.

Whatever we may think of the impending invasion of the world to our city (and to be fair, that's what we spent most of our history doing to other countries), there are many, many places 'off the beaten track' in London where you can nestle yourself away with a good friend, a good drink and some good food for a perfectly lovely afternoon / evening.

Our cracking evening ended with a suburb dram, but look out for our next post, pitting two new limited edition Laphroaig head-to-head: the new Duty Free-only PX vs. The 2000 bottles only Laphroaig ‘Brodir’... let battle commence!

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Big Birnie & His Older Brother

Seems to be the month of new peated releases, in that earlier on, the new unidentified Peat's Beast arrived on the shelves (with a mixed reaction from us) and hot on the beast's cloven hooves, BenRiach have released a newly labeled Birnie Moss peated single malt and a 25yo Authenticus.

BenRiach is a distillery close to our heart (more exciting news on this later) and the Authenticus has often hit the spot. In its younger, 21yo guise, the whisky reminds one of just how well the distillery do peated whisky and they are unquestionably up there with some of the great Islay malts of the same age. The 25yo follows on from this, but with a extra reserve of refinement.
BenRiach - Authenticus - 25 years Old - 46%

Nose: Some surprising fresh lime notes get this off to a very fruity start. In comes the peat, gentle at first, but building with each sniff, delivering a full bodied sooty/burnt bonfire style peat the further you get in. From here, it is more delicate red berry notes, meringue and fresh cream and a dusting of salted liquorice. Very good indeed.

Palate: The fruit continues to the palate but is pipped to the post by more liquorice spice, that morning-after bonfire air, some heather honey and a big dose of menthol. Rounded and oaky.

Finish: The peat lingers, giving some drier pine smoke notes, but the tongue is still coated with the remnants of fruit and cream.

Overall: A nice way to reprise the Authenticus and a 'must' if you're a fan of the original 21yo.

Next up, the NAS Birnie Moss. On first glance, this looks frighteningly similar (ie very light) to the Peat's Beast, sans the lavish Scarfe-esque illustration.

BenRiach - Birnie Moss - 48%

Nose: First up are crushed multi-vitamins (that slightly off-yeasty note) straight into some very oily peat smoke. There is a little lemon zest and possibly some white pepper in there somewhere, but it is direct, driven and very peaty. Perhaps a little one dimensionsal.

Palate: Creamy, but with a thin mouthfeel. How did they do that? The peat is again upfront, but is this time tempered with some green apple and swathes of vanilla.

Finish: Some honeycomb notes begin to emerge, but the peat keeps a grasp on the palate- the whole experience is short and sharp.

Overall: Clearly a very young whisky, this has promise, but is a little impetuous and one- dimensional. If this were a discussion about racing drivers, the Authenticus, with its balance, grace and refinement is the Sterling Moss to the younger, more aggressive but not fully developed sibling, Birnie.

Friday 13 April 2012

The Dram That Got Away

As I write this, i'm trying to vaguely remember a phrase that goes something along the lines of 'when all around you is falling apart, try to keep your head intact' or something like that. The reason for this is that Caskstrength Towers is crumbling and in need of some serious repairs.

I'm squeezed into a tiny corner of the house, stuff piled up around me, as builders and decorators renovate the spare bedrooms. Dust, sweat and the aroma of rolling tobacco has permeated everything. My faithful companion, Bobby is constantly on edge, his usual viewing platform of the top stair, covered in filthy dust sheets. Every day, for the last 10 days, the strains of Adele's Someone Like You blast down to me - only it's not Adele, it's a trio of gentlemen with south London accents- (the similarities are truly striking.)

Having builders in your house is like a war of attrition. Your routine is altered - just a little bit at a time, but after 10 days, you realise that you can no longer function in the same way. The house seems to be choking me.

One of my main concerns is that all of my whiskies, (a considerable number of bottles) stored neatly in a spare room are now precariously placed downstairs, in easy kicking distance of a steel toe capped boot or worse. A new walk-in cabinet is being built to house them and i'm waiting for the builder to give me the good news that I can return them upstairs to safety. Only there's a problem with the shelves not being high enough to house the Lagavulin bottles, so they've had to be extended.

Still there is a positive note to this story. On moving a big box of samples I unexpectedly came across something of beauty, that might just go down as one of my favourite whiskies of all time.

Behind the box lay a tiny bottle of Glen Garioch from 1971, bottled by The Whisky Exchange. It must have somehow escaped and rested untouched, unnoticed until now. So as the sound of a Black & Decker power drill and the trio of Adeles soundtrack the morning- it is now (7.30am) I am sat in a dressing gown, nosing glass in hand pouring a little bit of calm. Is this bad? Probably, but after 10 days, my sense of timing might have gone a little bit astray...

Glen Garioch - 1971 - Bottled for The Whisky Exchange - 43.9%

Nose: I've found a corner where the dust hasn't yet settled so can properly do this justice. First up are some wonderful creamy oak notes, diving straight into fresh strawberries and cream, key lime pie, a dash of white pepper, perhaps the merest hint of peat and some desiccated coconut. The balance is staggering - it is light, yet complex, yet slightly smoky.

Palate: Creamy and mouth coating, then into an array of wonderful flavours: More of the strawberries and cream, mango, a wash of 70's peat (not young and abrasive, just smooth and silky) a dusting of icing sugar, vanilla custard, broken gingersnap biscuits - this whisky has it all - and then some. Magnificent.

Finish: Long lingering notes of oak, some lemon zest and a little sweet tobacco and Earl Grey tea round out a superb experience in the mouth.

Overall: As much as I'm probably a little unhinged today, due to my building predicament, this whisky has fixed everything. It is calming, complex, smooth, charming and unbelievably drinkable. If only it could wield a set of tools, I would have fired the builders by now. Here's hoping The Whisky Exchange have some left...

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Shock and Oar: The Glenrothes 'Titanic' Whisky

Whisky is often used to commemorate great achievements, memorable dates and times of celebration. Take, for instance, The Macallan Royal Wedding bottling from last year. Or the John Walker & Sons £100,000 offering to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee (of which I'm sure there will be other bottlings). Even the most mundane of occasions, Queen Of The South FC's 75th Anniversary for example, got its own bottling.

But what do all these events have in common? What is the theme, the thread that holds them all together? Well, all of the events are times of joyous celebration. A time when people gather together to hold street parties, hang bunting and turn their traditional half-and-half from a beer and a dram of Black Label to a glass of champers and single malt. Except for those celebrating QOTS's 75th Anniversary; I hear a deep fried Mars bar and an bottle of Buckfast did the job in Dumfries, that day...

Today is the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. I'm sure this fact hasn't escaped any of you, what with the insane amount of TV programmes made about it, as well as the over-hyped, over-advertised new 3D release of Titanic The Movie.

You'd think that the sinking of a ship only four days in to its maiden voyage killing 1,517 and leaving 710 survivors wouldn't be a reason to celebrate. And you'd be correct. However, as with every tragic event such as this, heart-warming stories of courage and bravery spring up like wild flowers in a forgotten weed-ridden garden.

One such story is that of the Countess of Rothes. A passenger on the ship when it stuck the fateful iceberg, she was one of the lucky few to make it into a lifeboat. However, the seamen who were charged with rowing the occupants to safety were weak and unskilled, so the Countess took charge over the vessel, rowing herself and organising the team of women onboard into shifts to keep the boat moving.

A contemporary account at the time from a Dr. Leader says: "The Countess is an expert oarswoman. She practically took command of our boat when it was found that the seamen who had been placed at the oars could not row skilfully. Several of the women took their place with the Countess at the oars and rowed in turns while the weak and unskilled stewards sat quietly in one end of the boat." This action earned the Countess the nickname "Plucky Little Countess".

A grand old lady of the sea, the Titanic was fitted out like a luxury hotel of the time and part of the high standards of this ship would have been the food, wine and spirits served onboard, but part of the ship's job was to transport goods to New York, the final destination for the passengers, crew and cargo. As London's premier supplier of high-end wines and spirits, Berry Bros & Rudd had several cases of wine and whisky purchased from them by wealthy New Yorkers, all of which was lost in the terrible tragedy.

As a result, the owners of the Titanic, White Star Lines, sent a letter to Berry Bros & Rudd detailing the loss of 69 cases of their wines and whiskies (Berry's Best, Berry Bros & Rudd Vatted Malt and Berry Bros & Rudd All Malt were the titles of the whiskies being carried) for insurance purposes which were aboard the liner. The letter, dated April 16th 1912 was sent just 2 days after the disaster.

Since then, something quite remarkable has happened. Due to a series of acquisitions, Berry Bros & Rudd today owns the rights to the single malt whisky Glenrothes, produced in the small Speyside town from where 'The Plucky Little Countess' hailed.

As a tribute to the memory of those onboard the Titanic on that fatefull evening and to remember the heroic efforts by the Countess in Lifeboat No. 8, Berry Bros & Rudd have a released a single cask Glenrothes, limited to 100 bottles only.

Berry's Own Selection / The Glenrothes - Single Cask No. 015190 - 13 Years Old (1998) - 45% abv

"Well matured In Sherry Wood" - this has been in 1st fill Oloroso sherry barrels

Nose: The first thing that comes to the nose is dark chocolate coco powder, followed by leather, apricots and stem ginger. Some toasted oak notes is backed up by freshly Bergamot peel, figs and runny honey.

Palate: A lovely soft sherry influence, with more of the Bergamot, some unsalted, hand churned butter on toasted hot cross buns (mixed dried fruits, baked white bread dough). Burnt sugar and figs (again). Orange creams and Pontefract cake.

Finish: Candied orange rolled in white sugar, some spices, gee and toasted pine nuts.

Overall: A really lovely whisky and a very good example of a Glenrothes. The sherry is not too dominant, leaving enough room for good distillery character to come through.

A fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives on the Titanic, yet a great way to celebrate the small, heroic moments which saved so many lives. This story shows that the Countess of Rothes really was one of the Premier Cru aboard the Titanic.

Friday 6 April 2012

For Peat's Sake

Damn it. The sun is shining outside, it's Good Friday, I've already consigned a wheelbarrow full or junk from the house to the garage and it's not even lunchtime yet.

But whilst I would usually use this quiet time of reflection, pre-fry up, to consume something a little lighter in weight, say a cup of Earl Grey tea, or maybe if i'm feeling daring, a lively Bloody Mary, a particular bottle has been sat at my desk for the past two weeks and it's high time I reviewed it.

The bottle in question is called Peat's Beast. According to the bottle, it is 'an intensely peated single malt Scotch whisky, un-chill filtered, as it should be' and is also 'a ferociously full-bodied single malt packed with a big bite of untamed peatiness.'

OK, so we've got one thing straight- it's a peated whisky. Its age and origin are unknown and apart from the wonderful Gerald Scarfe-esque illustration on the label, there is little information to hand, other than it is very light in colour.

The sun is still brilliant outside and before i've even uncorked the bottle, the house has just become very smoky, due to my neighbours having a small (yet unnervingly unruly) garden fire, so not the best of circumstances to try this beast. But whilst most of South London wash their cars or listlessly push hover mowers over their unkempt lawns, which is the usual Good Friday practice, i'm going to scale a peaty precipice - or something like that.

Peat's Beast - 46%

Nose: Bung cloth, moist oaky staves (like sticking your nose in a fairly used Hogshead), some dry sherry, spent matches, cream sofa and a hint of wood smoke. Dig a little deeper and some smoky bacon notes emerge, but it is not as ferocious as some of the big hitting Islay monsters, such as Ardbeg's Supernova, or Bruichladdich's Octomore. In fact, rather than a roaring fire, it is more like the dampened embers of a bonfire the day after a rain soaked firework display.

Palate: What the nose lacks by way of peat, the palate comes up with . It is youthful, harsh, aggressive peat smoke at first, not oily on the palate, but quite thin. There is also a huge dusting of white pepper, malted chocolate, some musty, mossy notes and then a little sweetened apple juice on the death. A little unbalanced, but peaty nonetheless.

Finish: The smoke lingers for a while, replaced with more peppery notes, dying down and leaving more of that burnt bonfire aroma/flavour in the mouth, like you've just gulped down some smoky-but-moist November air.

Overall: Peat's Beast may not be the big hitter you're looking for- if - and I repeat, if you are already an aficionado of big peaty whiskies, but to the uninitiated, this will certainly do the trick. In the arena of big-tottin' peated bottlings, Douglas Laing's Big Peat probably goes that extra yard in the smokestack stakes, but in my opinion, both pale into the background compared to Compass Box's Peat Monster, which has an additional complexity underneath all that smokiness.

Think i'll go off to enjoy a glass of light and refreshing Rosebank in the garden now... Oh, no.. wait...

Thursday 5 April 2012

Irish Eyes

Well, it's been a few weeks since we were there, but our thoughts are still very much on the fun we had in Dublin just before St Patrick's Day. As with last years festivities, we were both on hand during the Jameson Global Broadcast to offer a vaguely English take on Irish whiskey for the assembled DJ's who travelled from across America, Scandinavia, South America and for the first time, India!

However, before the event kicked off, Jameson threw one of their famed Cult Cinema nights to entertain the DJs and this year, the theme was The Blues Brothers. Arriving at a huge warehouse, made to look like the Chicago State Penitentiary, the guests were herded in by surly looking prison guards (and not so surly, as you'll see from these pictures).

Canteen food was served, whilst the legendary film played out on a huge screen, diners flanked by guards with guns. It gave the whole film a new dimension of realism. Then, just when we weren't expecting it- James Brown arrived on stage! (Obviously not THE James Brown but a pretty accurate reproduction named Buck from Texas). From here on in, people were dancing on tables, Jameson cocktails in hand and the strains of Everybody Needs Somebody are probably still echoing around the warehouse today- all in all a superb night!

It was great catching up with our old friend Henry, the John Peel of Boston, proudly residing over the airwaves of WFNX in Boston. Henry knows a few things or two about music (he was probably the first person in America to play U2, Adele and Mumford & Sons) so we had a good catch up about his tips for the future and his choice of St Patrick's Day soundtrack, which you can see below:

Next on the Caskstrength interview trail was a newcomer to the Jameson Global Broadcast- Michelle Patrao from Radio Indigo in Mumbai. Despite the rain, Michelle had some big plans for larging it Dublin style on St Patrick's day.

After meeting so many fantastic people from across the globe, we relaxed with measure of Jameson to discuss the merits of Irish whiskey with Liam Donegan, one of Jameson Distillers, who treated us to this excellent bottling:

Jameson - Select Reserve - Black Barrel - 40% abv

Nose: Obviously Irish, obviously Jameson but this whiskey has come from oak casks which have been heavily charred, giving the nose more punch than normal for a triple distilled offering. Some spices, reduced sugars and red fruit jams are apparent.

Palate: The palate delivers what the nose promises, with the rich red fruits (reduced with sugar in pan) being backed with some creamy notes, toasted wholemeal bread and slowly melting butter.

Finish: Smooth and rich, this whiskey really is a level above.

Overall: Seems as rare as hens teeth, but if you get a chance, grab a taste. Well worth it.

Next on the list was a meeting with Paul Daly. Artist, cocktail bar owner and designer of the new limited release St Patricks Day bottling of Jameson Original, five bottles of which we gave away in our competition in February, it was fantastic to hear from this Hoxton Sq based creative about his Irish background and how he was influecned to create the unique bottling he did, drawing mainly on the concept of updating the classic imagery from the Irish book of Kells.

The Global Broadcast really brings home that on a day like St Patrick's Day, no matter where you are, get the right group of people together in a room and the fun will start to kick off... and clearly, a few drams of Jameson may help to lubricate the whole thing, just to be sure.

Monday 2 April 2012

Craft Distillers part 3: Eau De Vie De Bier

What do the island of Jura and the Suffolk town of Southwold have in common? One correct answer would be that they were both home at one stage to George Orwell. But that's not the answer I'm looking for.

We all know that the isle of Jura is home to a single malt distillery producing whisky bearing the island's name. But did you know that sleepy Southwold now has its very own distillery, too?

Located in a beautiful part of England right on the far eastern shore, Southwold could not lie further across the British Isles from Jura, yet here you are to find one the newest distilleries in the UK. With a brewing history going back as far as 1345, Southwold is home to the Adnams brewery which has been churning out fine ales since the early 1800's.

Yet in 2010, the clever chaps at the brewery decided that not only should they spend their lives making some of the best real ales around, but that they should knock a huge hole in the end of the brewery and build... yes, you've guessed it, a distillery. And why not. If you're gonna brew, you might as well distil, too.

And so it was that the Copper House Distillery was opened producing gin, vodka and whisky. The current set up at Adnams consists of a 'beer stripping' column, a copper pot still and rectifying columns all made by the same German company who produced the stills for Tuthilltown.

One of the huge advantages of having brewing and distilling on the same site, is the idea of 'grain to glass' and the chaps at Adnams claim to the be the only small batch distillery in the UK to make vodka in this fashion.

But vodka is not what we're after here. No, sir! For beneath the distillery in the old vaults, barrels of whisky are maturing away. Not yet ready for the public, it is certainly going to be exciting when they do release something which they feel comfortable calling English Whisky.

In the mean time however, the Copper House Distillery has released a range of products, from their gin 'First Rate' through to two styles of vodka: 'Longshore', pure vodka and 'North Cove', oak aged vodka (or young whisky, perhaps?!).

Their newest offering is something quite different. One of the brewery's most successful products is an ale called Broadside. Named after the battle to stave off an attack from the Dutch navy in 1672, this beer has become a staple in the nations pubs for a good reason: it's bloody tasty.

Putting two-and-two together and getting 22, the obvious thing to do if you make beer and own a distillery is to stick your beer through the stills... so this is exactly what Adnams have done with a batch of their Broadside ale, distilling it and then aging it in new French oak casks for around a year. The end product? Eau De Vie De Bier, The Spirit Of Broadside.

Genius! If it tastes any good, that is. So let's find out:

Adnams Copper House Distillery - Eau De Vie De Bier - The Spirit of Broadside - 1 Year Old - New European Oak - 43% abv

Nose: The new oak casks give off big whiffs of freshly cut wood, garden chippings after the rain, potting shed and damp felt. Toasted pine nuts backed with vanilla finish off this unusual nose.

Palate: The initial hit is of cardboard, but not in an unpleasent way. This develops in to thyme, some rare roast lamb and mint jelly with an underlying farmyard note... in fact right back to the potting shed / allotment again. It's very strange. The flavours are not easy targets, moving around in a psychedelic manner on the palate.

Finish: BBQ crisps, slight hints of salt and smoke. Rich vanillas at the death.

Overall: Well, if the Speaker of the House can call Queen Elizabeth the 'Kaleidoscope Queen', then this is 'Kaleidoscope Spirit'. Very unusual. Not measurable by the normal proceedures, I can ask only one question: would I drink this at home? The answer: yes, but not on a regular basis. It's a real oddity, but a joy at the same time. If 'normal' whisky is the Beach Boys, this is Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band...

So there we have it. Another wee distillery making whatever the hell they like. And more power to them.

¡Viva la RevoluciĆ³n!

Sunday 1 April 2012

Craft Distillers Part 2 - Balcones

Continuing on from where we left off with the wonderful Hudson craft whiskey, our next virtual visit takes us to Texas and the equally wonderful Balcones. We were fortunate enough to meet up with Balcones founder and chief wizard, Chip Tate at this year's Whisky Live London. Chip was in fine form and in possession of some highly unusual new bottlings, as well as perhaps the most impressive beard in the western hemisphere.

The story of Balcones comes as close to the meaning of 'artisinal distillery' as you can possibly get. Chip begin his distilling exploits back in 2008, after deciding to develop his passion for brewing a step further. But not content with simply learning the craft, Chip decided to hand build all manner of the actual distilling equipment used at Balcones.

Chip is in possession of an unrivalled enthusiasm, especially when it comes to trying out new recipes and innovations. One of the distillery's first major break throughs was working with atole, or blue corn, a cereal, notoriously difficult to produce a decent mash with, due to its density. This 'thick porridge' as Chip calls it is also superbly flavoursome and the recent batches of Balcones Baby Blue corn whisky have redefined the category for many, who found the style of whisky too one dimensional (which, I must confess includes us)

Balcones Baby Blue – Blue Corn Whisky – 46%

Nose: Sweet nutty notes, milk chocolate covered peanuts, burnt caramel and a hint of coffee beans.

Palate: Rich in the mouth, with very sweet - then spicy liquorice notes, milky coffee and salted caramel.

Finish: Lingering sweetness with a touch of poached pear on the death.

Overall: Still unmistakably a corn whisk(e)y, but oozing character, flavour and - emotion. If you have tried corn whisk(e)y before and not really 'got it', give this a whirl and be prepare to have your opinion changed.

Chip was also over to showcase two other particularly unusual whiskies, one of which rather controversially is probably not even a whisky at all, but will give most new craft whiskies a proper run for their money.

Rumble, has been developed by Chip from a localised recipe of Texas wildflower honey, turbinado sugar and mission figs - so you could probably say it is nearer a distilled mead/rum and an Arak than an actual whisky! But pour yourself a glass and wait to be stunned - the complexity of fruit notes, sweet vanilla tones and oak is hard to fathom.

Balcones - Rumble - Cask Reserve bottling - 59%

Nose: A melange of dried fruits: apricot, dates, prunes and rum soaked raisins, mix effortlessly with fresh vanilla pods, muscovado sugar, and some floral, honeyed notes.

Palate: Powerful and dominant to begin with. Needs some water to calm down the fire. Then the fun begins. Almost sherried Speyside in its first approach to the palate- woody spice, masses of dried fruit and then a layer of delicious sweet vanilla. Put this side-by-side with a bunch of aged sherry cask whiskies and it will undoubtedly hold its own... and more. Superb.

Finish: Lingering spice (clove and cinnamon) and more dried fruit.

Overall: A total revelation. Hopefully this will be coming to the UK soon and the rest of Europe. If you happen to be reading this in the US... lucky bastards.

The final dram Chip poured for us is perhaps his most innovative. As smoky whiskies go, the US isn't that well known for producing anything to trouble the likes of Islay and Brimstone certainly doesn't go after that crown. What it does do is redefine how we perhaps think about how to make a whisky smoky. Trade secrets aside, Brimstone is actually a whisky smoked not from the malting stage, but actually in the final stages of its life, using a process of infusion and a pile of Texas scrub oak. The result is unlike any smoky whisky we've ever tried that's for sure - brooding, powerful and unashamedly nuts!

Balcones - Brimstone - 53%

Nose: From the first uncorking of the bottle, your room, clothes, hair and probably eyeballs will be enveloped by smoke - not just any ordinary smoke, but the sort that you find at a barbecue. Braised hickory steaks, charcoal smoke, charred barrels and pepper corns dry frying in a hot pan. Alongside, some sweet corn whisky notes, vanilla and a hint of oaky spice.

Palate: The smoke continues and dominates the whole of the mouth. Don't think medicinal peat smoke, think freshly sawn pine logs, thrown into a roaring fire. Big, bold and terrifyingly SMOKY! The corn notes bring up the rear, but give enough mouthfeel and sweetness to take this away from being one dimensional.

Finish: Have a guess...

Overall: Probably the smokiest spirit in the world. Bang.

Like Tuthilltown and Corsair, Balcones represents the beating heart of the US craft distilling movement and with over 300 working micro distilleries in America and Canada, the future of innovative distillation is in capable (if slightly wacky) hands indeed.