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Friday, 29 June 2012

Bowmore 1964 Fino Cask Preview Tasting

Hot on the heels of The Balvenie's fabulous Tun 1401 Batch 5 (which we reviewed yesterday), comes another brand new whisky release, albeit in a slightly more audacious bottle.

Bowmore has steadily become one of the most collectible whiskies in recent years - the Bowmore Trilogy collection now fetching a tidy sum at auction, alongside many of their other limited release and elderly bottlings.

All this seems a shame.  Old Bowmore seems destined never to be opened, poured between friends and enjoyed, which somewhat misses the point.  Without doubt, several of the best whiskies Caskstrength have ever experienced have been Bowmore bottlings from the 60's or 70's and there is something truly remarkable about this era of whisky making at the distillery.  The legendary Bowmore 'tropical fruit' has been hotly debated by malt enthusiasts for years, making it one of the most unique flavour profiles for any distillery, let alone one sitting amongst the smoky giants of Islay.

On Wednesday this week,  'a brand new' old Bowmore was unveiled for release later this month -  a 1964 Fino cask release, bottled at 46 years old.  The distillery have previously bottled a cask of this style (a 38 year old) but in keeping with the 40 year old release in 2010, this new release, with an outturn of only 72 bottles, has been bottled into an exquisite hand blown vessel, crafted by Brodie Nairn and Nichola Burns, two of Scotland's most renowned glassblowers. The sterling silver stopper was produced on commission by Hamilton & Inches (Jewellers to the Queen no less) and the whole package looks suitably impressive.

But as we like to remind ourselves on an almost daily basis, clearly the liquid within must be the star of the show and at the tasting, the whisky was poured from a simple sample bottle by Bowmore's knowledgable brand ambassador Gordon Dundas, leaving the rest to the imagination.

The benchmark for top end Bowmore releases has been set extremely high by the likes of Black, White and Gold Bowmore and this Fino cask bottling comes from a parcel of stock laid down at the same time -  and at £8,000 a bottle, this is certainly not a whisky which can afford to be a bit 'meh'.  At 42.9% it is also getting dangerously close to being lost forever.  The mind boggles at the thought of something this old being vatted into oblivion.

Bowmore - 1964 - Fino Cask Bottling -  42.9% - 72 bottles - £8,000

Nose: Well, there it is. An explosion of tropical fruit. Papaya, passion fruit, banana, coconut, fresh peach and kiwi. Place this next to a bowl of freshly prepared fruit salad and with a blindfold, I doubt you'd be able to pick the two apart from one another. It is perhaps more fruity than the aforementioned Bowmore Trilogy releases, but has an additional, unusual aromatic dryness, fresh, crisp notes of clean linen, lemon zest and light oak.  Given a little time, a faint waft of smoke also emerges, making this about as perfect a nose as you could probably get from a Bowmore.  Amazing stuff. 

Palate:  Initially dry and salty, but then snapping back into the fanfare of fruit. Passion fruit, cream soda and parma violets (without the soapiness) mix with zesty Amalfi lemon tart and fragrant wafts of smoke.  Blackcurrant notes also emerge after a few minutes, alongside a creamy vanilla custard. Jam-packed with flavour.

Finish:  The light smoke begins to fade, leaving peaches and cream, some sweet blackcurrant and a slight return of the passion fruit.  I was experiencing echoes of this for about an hour after we had finished at the tasting, which gives you an indication of where this whisky is coming from.

Overall:  Yes, this costs £8,000 a bottle, which is an extraordinary amount of money, (you can buy the 38 year old release here for a lot cheaper - well a mere snip at £4,999) but it is no doubt a landmark whisky in the history of Bowmore releases.  Elegant, delicate and superbly balanced, this is up there with the likes of Black, Gold and White and dare I say it, probably eclipses them all for the sheer fruitiness it displays.  

Thursday, 28 June 2012

The Balvenie Unveil new Tun 1401 Batch 5

In a busy week for new whisky releases (and some gins!) we find ourselves at the newly refurbished Savoy Hotel on The Strand, where a veritable gem of a whisky is about to be unveiled.  We've been fans of the Tun 1401 series and batch 2 stood out for its superb complexity, the exquisite balance  of both elderly sherry and bourbon casks, which David Stewart has married together making this one to definitely savour.

After a brace of other batches destined for the US and travel retail, the legendary tun has been back in action with Batch 5 arriving on these shores shortly. The bigger batch size represents the popularity of this whisky (2862 bottles) and this time around the marriage has been bought together from nine casks: four sherry butts and five American oak hoggies. The youngest whisky in this batch is apparently 21 years old and the oldest from 1966, with the majority of the sherried whisky coming from the 1970s. 

Later this year, David Stewart celebrates his 50th year in the business and will become, by far and away, the longest serving whisky maker in Scotland. It is to his credit that this whisky has seen the light of day and one wonders just how many more batches we will see with the Stewart stamp of approval on them -  with any luck, he's not about to pass the marrying tun on to anyone else!  

The Balvenie - Tun 1401 - Batch 5 - 50.1% - 2862 bottles - RRP £161

Nose: Cocoa powder, dried ginger, musty mossy notes, combined with woody spice and some rich dark honey all nestle against some sweeter vanilla notes, coconut, some lighter citrus (blood orange) and dried apricot.  A dash of water really opens this up and gives it more vibrancy with the rich sherry notes melting into the background and the vanilla, chocolate and citrus occupying the pound seats. 

Palate: Waxy Manuka honey, some rich dark chocolate, black cherries and some heavier sherried notes all hit first, with devastating effect. There is so much going on here, it virtually bludgeons the palate - but being vaguely masochistic, your tongue is left wanting more, which it delivers with a deft left hook of vanilla sweetness, some of the lighter citrus and more woody spices. Bang Bang. 

Finish: Lingering notes of cocoa, wax and rich honey.  All the signature character you could hope for.  

Overall: This is unquestionably a superb piece of whisky making and sits right alongside Batch 2 for its solid display of marrying together both dominant sherried whiskies and lighter bourbon-influenced whiskies.  If you're looking for something extra special which will act as the 'dah dah' moment in your whisky cabinet then Tun 1401 Batch 5 is an excellent choice. For those who can't stump up the £161,  grab yourself a bottle of The Balvenie's Doublewood, which shares the classic formula of bourbon and sherry, for a fraction of the cost. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Professor Ampleforth's Cask-Aged Gin

Curiouser and curiouser.  The mysterious packages that seem to arrive through the door at Caskstrength towers.  This month we've been exploring some other spirits alongside whisky and this rather unique little number caught our eye.

It is from the burgeoning labs run by the wonderfully eccentric Cornelius Ampleforth (aka Master Of Malt's Ben Ellefsen) and takes the gin category to yet another dimension.  This unusual range of spirits (which included the original Bathtub Gin, an Old Tom gin and the downright crazy Rumbullion.  The Bathtub bottling exuded all manner of wonderful botanicals, compounded, rather than redistilled in spirit.  It gave the gin a slight tint, hinting at times gone by and tasted absolutely tremendous.  There's been some snobbishness about compound gins in the past, but we say b****cks to that, if it's done with all the finesse (and probable irresponsibility) as Mr Ampleforth.

Hot on its heels, comes a Cask Aged Gin.  The lab has obtained some 50 litre octave sized casks, which will have previously held both bourbon and sherry.  Banging the gin in for a little snooze (apparently 6 months) has resulted in this -  certainly the first cask aged gin we've come across - and looking very much like a young whisky.

Those of a nervous white spirit disposition, look away now. We're about to destroy all that you believe in... ;-)

Nose: The great news is that this experiment has whole-heartedly paid off. Notes of juniper, dry, musty cassia bark, coriander and citrus peel burst through, alongside a slightly buttery, sweet vanilla note. Nothing is overpowering. If this has been in a cask for six months, it hasn't dominated the spirit, just given it a nicely rounded note. It seems less spirity than other gins and a bit 'fatter'.  Lovely.

Palate: Oh, this is where all the cask influence has gone - methinks from something that might have held an Oloroso sherry?  Really spicy and meaty, with cloves, some Moroccan lamb (seriously...) lemon peel, some bay notes and lots of rich, oily mouth coating vanilla.  This will make a very unusual Martini, but a great one, none-the-less.

Finish: The juniper notes return to the palate as it dries out, alongside, citrus zest, a touch of cardamon and a whisker of dry wood spice.  

Overall: If you happen to like blended whisky (hmmm, anyone? ;-) ) and a quality gin, then this is going to be right up your street.  It doesn't overstep the gin category totally, still retaining its aromatic balance, but offers something a little more alongside it.  

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tomatin's New Fifteen Year Old

Almost a year to the day, we bought you news of a brace of interesting Tomatin releases,
including the spankingly brilliant Decades release, which very nearly came top in our
end of year BIG Awards.

Now, the distillery are bringing out another interesting limited edition bottling -
this time bringing together the worlds of American whiskey and Spanish wine casks.

The fifteen year old release is a combination of bourbon barrels and ex-Tempranillo
wine casks, bottled at cask strength.  The release will be limited to around
3,000 bottles and priced at £49.99

Here's how it measures up...

Tomatin -  15 year old - 52% 

Nose: Initially a dry biscuity note, followed by some notes of icing sugar,
marzipan and meringue. Dig deeper and some raisin notes begin to emerge.
A drop of water offers some fresh plum notes, with a touch of aromatic tobacco.  

Palate: Hot without water, leading into notes of dryness, some liquorice /anise spice,
some green apple peel, a touch of lemon zest and more tobacco notes.
With a dash of water the mouthfeel gets a little richer, with vanilla cream, more meringue
notes, a hint of green banana and something a little soapy.

Finish:  Lingering notes of anise and cream.

Overall: Whilst this isn't in the same league as the wonderful Decades release,
it is still a solid whisky, with neither the Tempranillo wine, nor bourbon casks taking
a definitive lead.    For the money, it is extremely good value for money and
well worth seeking out. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

Going Down The Experimental Road

It was a late night at the blackboard for Joel.  

There are many parallels between the bourbon and Scotch industries, not least their traditionalism and an apparent willingness to hang onto their historical values, whether or not they remain relevant to a current new breed of drinker.  Tradition aside, both businesses have experienced hardship and the financial swings and roundabouts, which have surrounded the past century of trading.  Prohibition almost wiped out the bourbon business (from which, only a handful of brands truly survived) and the various distillery closures throughout Scotland (some famous names, some not-so-well-known) point to the fact that it is easy to predict growth, but almost fatal to listen solely to the statisions making the predictions.

Today, whisky is in rude health, where ever it is made and we have seen trends towards marketing the spirit towards new younger audiences, seemingly with great success.  The growth of flavoured whiskies (Red Stag, Jack Daniel's Honey) has caught the attention of the US drinker and there is clearly  room for someone to pick up the baton here in the UK with a similar Scotch whisky-related product.

Will the SWA like it?  Probably not.  Should we care?  Probably not - but remember,  the difference between sounding like an old fart and an inspiring raconteur is knowing which bits of your brand heritage to cling to and when one should jettison the dusty, tired and outdated bits.

A little while ago, I got to try some experimental cask releases from Buffalo Trace.  What struck me, was despite the bourbon industry being founded on such rigid pillars, there were some companies having a little bit of fun out there (albeit with hit-and-miss results)  but who retained the ability to stand up and admit when they went wrong.

This is the art of experimentalism.  Some people wouldn't dream of letting the general public have an intimate view on their R+D depts and would sooner shelve something which didn't quite work out before it got to the shelves, than actually face trial by fire from their customers.   Buffalo Trace, despite their tenure in the whiskey business, didn't seem to give a f**k. Some of their experiments are a huge success - one offs - to day that they 'did it'. Others were pretty poor and the line from the distillery was that they didn't work and were not hugely recommended.  Of course, it didn't stop them all selling out and becoming legendary bottlings!

Today I received a bottle of something in the post, which immediately got me thinking about this experimental collection -  but which hails from a lot closer to home than Frankfort, Kentucky.

Dewar's are an undoubted (if traditional) powerhouse when it comes to blended whiskies.  So it was all the more surprising that the bottle sat on my desk looked like a rather snappily-dressed lab room sample.

In fact, it turns out that it is, but Dewar House Experimental Batch A39 looks superb and I hope that should it end up being released, the actual whisky label, (and the bottle design)  ends up looking like this, as it really is a cracking piece of design.

The whisky in question is apparently a 17 year old blend, bottled at 58.9% and is apparently finished in sherry.  Other than the details of the bottle outturn, there is little else to report!

Let's dive into this experimental beast-of-a-blend...

Dewar's - Dewar_House Experimental Batch -  A39 - 58.9%

Nose: The first impression is absolutely sensational.  Big honeyed notes, some rich, woody sherry notes, soft fruit crumble,  light vanilla, milk chocolate and some rum-soaked raisins.  

Palate: Powerful and oily, with masses of spicy character - anise, cloves, dark chocolate and strong oloroso/PX notes.  It is lively at 58.9% so needs calming down with a dash of water. Then it really comes alive. Sweet vanilla, some burnt caramel, cooking apples, rich woody notes and a return of the spices - liquorice and cinnamon.  Lovely.

Finish: The dryness takes over, but you're left with notes of the cooking apple and a lengthy haul of spices.

Overall: A big whisky and a very nice looking bottling to boot.  I have no idea what this will evolve into, but I hope that they just put a seal around the neck and sell it like this.  It takes blended whisky into the connoisseurs market and spices things up a little.  Come on Scotland- let's shake things up a bit!!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Competition Time - Win Exclusive Tickets to the Irish Open, Courtesy of Bushmills

Well folks, it's competition time for you and this time we have an absolute cracker.  Caskstrength have teamed up with Bushmills for an exclusive competition to win tickets to this years Irish Open Golf tournament.  

Bushmills Irish Whiskey are the official sponsor of the 2012 Irish Open, taking place at Royal Portrush Golf Club from 28th June to 1st July.

The Old Bushmills Distillery and Royal Portrush Golf Club are two icons of the North Coast of Ireland. Just four miles apart, both are known and loved around the world, both are award winners and both represent the very best of what the region has to offer.

To celebrate its sponsorship, Bushmills is offering Caskstrength readers the chance to win a VIP trip to the Irish Open on Friday 29th June, as well as a private tour of what is the unofficial 19th hole at the tournament - the Old Bushmills Distillery.  

The prize includes two tickets to the Irish Open on Friday 29th June, flights for the winners to and from Northern Ireland, luxury hotel accommodation, transfers to the Irish Open and a tour of the Old Bushmills Distillery for the winners. What's not to like about this!

To enter, just answer this simple question below: 

In what year was the Bushmills area granted its licence to distil?

A: 1607, B: 1608, C: 1609?

Email your name, your age, contact details and location and your answer A, B or C to with the subject line 'Bushmills Golf'.

Good Luck!

Some important stuff- Bushmills have asked to remind you to enjoy Bushmills sensibly, for the facts.  Over 18’s only, terms and conditions apply. Full terms and conditions can be found here Closing date is 11:59pm on Saturday 23rd June, 2012 One entry per person

Friday, 15 June 2012

Stand Fast

"The idea is, to produce a blend so perfect that it strikes the consumer as being one liquid, not many - i.e. having absolute unity, tasting as one whole."

The above quote is from a book called 'How To Blend Scotch Whisky' by the much-lauded 19th Century whisky writer Alfred Barnard.

After spending the better part of two years traversing what was then the British Isles, Barnard visited all 162 of the working distilleries across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The culmination of his pilgrimage was the book The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom still often quoted today and providing an invaluable snapshot of whisky distilling in the 1800's.

In the above quote, Barnard is extolling the virtues of blended whisky. 

He goes on to say:

"Very many persons think they can blend whisky, and that it is just a matter of throwing a few brands together. The manipulation of whiskies requires as much care as the most delicate wines."

Quite a claim and not one many of us think about when quaffing a Bells and ginger ale down the local, in our youth.

But the man was bang on. The process of blending is a complex art and one which can be lost in the folly of youth or the arrogance of old age, when we believe that single malts provide a superior product to that of the blended whisky.

If you're of that disposition, that single malts are far-and-away the principal over their blended cousins; that blends are just made up of off-cuts from single malt distilleries, the sausage of the spirit world; that they should be hidden away in the attic like The Elephant Man, lest your friends see you hanging out... then you must, and I mean MUST follow these simple instructions:

1. Take your hands and place them firmly on your shoulders.

2. With some force, pull downwards on your shoulders until you hear a loud 'popping' sound.

3. At this stage, you should find that your head has now been removed from your arse. Herein lies a warning: the light can be rather blinding, but embrace it.

4. Once your eyes are fully open, find your nearest bar and order a large dram of a blended whisky. Spend no more than £7 (but no less than £3) and sit back, relax and enjoy the way the liquid has been constructed, the artistry behind the flavour.

At the start of this week, I was kindly invited up to Dufftown in the heart of the Speyside region, to the Glenfiddich distillery.

"Great!" I hear you cry. "They make some lovely single malts there. What's this review going to be? A new 14 year old? Maybe a wacky finish [easy now! - Ed]? Or something really old? How about a 55 year old??"

Nope, none of those. And may I refer you to instructions 1 through to 4, above.

For Glenfiddich is not just the home of the single malt to which it gives its name. Yes, it produces some lovely drams. Yes, The Balvenie is a mere stumble away, also producing some fantastic hooch. No, we didn't get to visit Kininvie distillery. Again. But we did get to discover the very reason why these distilleries were built... to supply blended whisky.

Born in Dufftown in 1839, William Grant was a humble accountant, the bookkeeper at Mortlach distillery. However, his ambitions were great and soon he was installed as the manager at the distillery. During his time there, he began planning to build his own distillery and in 1886 he quit his job, bought some land and built the Glenfiddich distillery, which ran its first distillation on Christmas Day, 1887.

One of the reasons that William Grant was able to build his distillery was due to an exclusive contract he had with a major blender of the day, the brilliantly named William Williams. A few years later, William Grant saw an opportunity when the largest blending company of the day, Pattison's (who ironically also make sausages) went bankrupt, and he was able to launch his own blend. Thus Grant's Whisky was born and today has climbed to the dizzy heights of the world's third largest Scotch whisky brand by sales volume. Quite an achievement.

Oi! Are you still listening, or is your head still up your arse? Yeah, I thought so...

Right, back to the present day.

Quite rightly, a lot of companies are pretty proud of their history, so most employ an archivist, and Grant's is no exception. The man in question, whose job it is to keep on top of an ever expanding archive, is called Paul Kendall, a bloody nice chap whom I had the pleasure of having lunch with.

Anyway, some time ago Paul discovered the company’s oldest blending book, in which is recorded the exact whiskies that William Grant used to create his first blend, Grant’s Stand Fast. The date on these records was 11 June 1912; clearly some time after the very first blend was made, but the very first records these remain, nonetheless.
The Original Notes From 1912
And so it was, that 100 years to the day, a group of us were invited to the home of Grant's whisky to help the now Master Blender, Brian Kinsman, only the 6th Master Blender ever at Grant's, have a stab at recreating this century-old blend...

The task ahead was not easy. There was no reference point for the actual liquid; no smoking gun, save for the records. There was one obvious issue: whisky production has changed a lot over the past 100 years. Greater consistency in grains, yeast, distilling and casks mean we have no real touch point for what the constituent parts would have really tasted like. But no bother; this is 2012 and we'll work with what we have... some educated guess-work and selection of, hopefully, similar casks.

Now, the original recipe was made up of 18 whiskies, a lot less than makes up a standard batch of a blend today. And the youngest was listed at just two years old. Something that, due to tight (some would even say 'restrictive' SWA regulations...) means we can't exactly replicate. Plus, there were some whiskies listed (mainly the grains) which came from closed distilleries (Cambus, Caledonian and Port Dundas). But fear not! Brian had been digging around in the Grant's warehouses and found casks of each of these. Winner!

We started by constructing a grain whisky base. Once this had been built  (and seriously, some of those grains, particularly the 1985 Caledonian were just fantastic) and we were pleased with the balance, it was time to create a topdressing by blending together some of the malts.

As The Blend Will Be Bottled
The grain base had taken a couple of shots until we were happy to proceed, and the same was true with the malt selection. In the research and chat beforehand, we came to the conclusion that the malts from this period would have nearly all been peated to some degree. The only island malt listed in the original blending book was Highland Park and Brian had uncovered some peated Glenfiddich and peated Balvenie. What a treat. These, along with some unpeated 'fiddich and 'venie, were to make up our malt content.

Initially, the blend came off too smoky, too powerful and too aggressive. Pulling back on the smoke and dipping in some of the aged grains, we finally got to a point where the team was happy. Was it 'Stand Fast' as William Grant would have know it? Who knows. Was it tasty? Hell, yes!

As the individual parts to our blend were all at natural cask strength, one of the questions posed was how, in the early 1900's, was the whisky filtered? In a time before chill filtration, whisky still had the issue of going cloudy when water was added, or if the bottle was left in the cold.

Egg Filtration
Eggs. Apparently eggs are the answer. If you crack in some egg white and leave for a few days, these attract the fatty acids which turn the liquid cloudy. Filtering out the egg white then does a similar job to the modern day effort of chill filtration... So, true to whisky production at the time, Brian added egg white to the whisky and the concoction was left to marry in demijohns before it goes on to be bottled.

Sadly, only 100 of these little beauties will be bottled but the whole experience of blending a whisky was one of education and entertainment, especially under the guidance of Brian Kinsman, a proper expert in his field. Little did he know that the information and experience was going to prove vital for what was going to happen just two days later...

Blending Class At The RFH
Over the year, we have been hosting a series of whisky tastings in conjunction with the Southbank Centre in London, having their members come along to the Royal Festival Hall to learn about whisky in all forms; from single malts to blends to world whiskeys.

This week we hosted our first ever 'blending class', educating the attendees about the joys of a well constructed blend (as well as the horrors of badly built ones, too) before letting them loose with their own selection of grains, malts, test tubes and pipettes. Much fun was had by all and, as we watched the sun setting over Waterloo Bridge, I was reminded of the wisdom which Barnard leaves us with in the very same book which opened this piece:

"The greatest amount of ignorance prevails in England on the subject of blending... ".

I'm glad this was written at the end of the 1800's, as I hope, with initiatives like the Grant's trip and classes like ours, the opposite can be said in 2012.

Apprentice Master Blender, perhaps...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Spotted! A New Irish Whiskey on the Radar

After the onslaught of peated (especially Islay) whiskies consumed by this website in the past few weeks, we felt a bit of subtlety was in order before our collective palates exploded under the volume of smoke we've ingested.  All this led us back to a tasting which occurred a month ago at one of our favourite hotel establishments in London, The Connaught - not the wonderful Coburg Bar, but the equally nice Connaught Bar at the back of the hotel. This is usually the domain of the louche, urbane sophisticat, there to sample many a classic from the bar's extensive menu of cocktails, which includes a Martini trolley, so that the unbridled freshness of citrus, botanical and chilled glass can be presented in perfect harmony.

But today, things were a little different.  I had been at a previous tasting (a sneak preview of a new Ardbeg) and was running a little late, so hot-footed it over to the bar mid-afternoon just as the assembled throng of drinks writers and bloggers were being assembled -  to taste something of a revelation.

Amongst the rabble, who usually just turn up for the free booze were several folks who didn't look familiar and who turned out to be none other than the custodians of Mitchell & Son, purveyor's of one of our very favourite Irish whiskies the wonderful Green Spot.  Now anyone who knows this whiskey will know that it is a very hard act to follow (possibly nailed by Redbreast 15yo) so to return back to the vaults of time and extract one of the other 'spots' from the original range could be somewhat remiss.

However, all is not lost.  The whiskey, as you've guessed is a cracker.  Matured for a full term in three types of cask (American Oak, sherry cask and Malaga wine casks) the marriage is sweeter than anything that could be mustered up by the glossy pages of Hello! magazine and we feel it's a welcome edition to the range.  We imagine that this is the first of several releases from the 'spot' range - Blue Spot (once bottled as a 7 year old) Red Spot (as a 15 year old) and maybe even Black Spot, although we made this one up... is there potential room for a peated expression? Who knows, but until then, we have Yellow Spot to look forward to.   It will be bottled at 46%, released in batches of 500 cases and priced at €65.  The price point made us think this could be a competitor to Redbreast 15 year old, but we'll let you decide whether you feel it's worth switching your Irish allegiance, after the review.

Yellow Spot -  Irish Whiskey - 12 Years Old -  46%

Nose: Initially buttery, with golden syrup and fudge notes, leading into some sweet, fruity wine and a hint of dryness.  With water, the dryness gives way to a perfumed note with ripe banana notes and woody spices.

Palate: Very sweet. Marzipan, some tropical fruit notes, mixed in with Pedro Ximinez sweet/musty rancio richness, with a thicker, darker bonfire toffee note emerging further into the flavour.  A dash of water brings liquorice and cream notes, with a return of the sweet wine from the nose.

Finish: Lingering, with green bananas and a woody spice note. 

Overall:  Very detailed, complex and developed.  It takes a step beyond the Green Spot and adds another dimension to an already great whiskey.  Whether we would prefer this over the magnificent Redbreast 15 year old is debatable, but it certainly has a place in the Irish whiskey canon, which is currently a rising star in the spirits world.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Brace of New Taliskers

Well then. After our monumental trip to Islay, it felt only right to lay off whisky for a few days and let the collective Caskstrength metabolism recover from all the remarkable drams we tried, as well as the equally remarkable Glen Gusset, which is currently residing in a small wooden vessel in a secret location. 

But on returning to London, it seemed the whisky world had carried on valiantly in our absence - samples of a brand new Cutty Sark (Storm) had arrived, alongside the new Irish whiskey, Yellow Spot (stay tuned for a full review) But our eye was immediately drawn to a package marked Talisker.  Hmmm. what could be inside we wondered.  Rumours of a new Talisker have been doing the rounds, so we eagerly opened the packaging and found that not only was there one new release, but two... perhaps a third around the corner too?  who knows...

Anyway, the two whiskies in our sample pack will be well known to most Talisker fans already, only they've now been made full 'family members', rather than just part of the Diageo special release programme.   

According to the press release,  'Talisker 25 year old and Talisker 30 year old will be available on a regular basis within the Talisker range - although necessarily in limited editions, and bottled at the traditional Talisker strength of 45.8% ABV.'Here's our thoughts on these, the first of the brand new formulations:

Talisker - 25 years Old -  45.8% - 2012 Edition

Nose: Soft fruit crumble, (raspberries and strawberries) cotton bandages, floral candle wax, hot fudge sauce and a little zing of liquorice and soft peat smoke. With water the wax notes become more prominent. Classic Talisker, but with a softer, more comforting underbelly.  

That equally classic Talisker pepper note is there, but not as spiky as the ten year old.  It subsides into golden syrup, a blast of spices (more liquorice and anise) some creamy milk chocolate and something waxy, silky and mouth coating.  With water a malty note comes to the fore, alongside some dairy fudge (or Tablet) and fresh raspberries.  Superb.

Finish:  the rasps seem to linger, alongside a little dusting of black pepper.

Overall: Of all the Talisker's we've tried, this age seems to perfectly characterise a great whisky maturing gracefully. The ten year old is still the benchmark and alongside the 18 year old, forms the bedrock of flavours that this bottling sits perfectly aloft.  We for one are delighted that there's going to be a regular supply of this for the future, not just on specialist allocation. 

Next up:  30 years old:

                                            Talisker - 30 Years Old - 45.8% - 2012 Edition

Nose: Fruitier than the 25 year old and perhaps a touch more floral, with notes of the scented candle wax, stewed rhubarb and baked sweet pastry.  With water, a return to the spices of the 25 year old, but with a little added oomph...

Palate: Slightly more abrasive than the 25 year old, but with more immediate notes of lemon zest, cracked black pepper, sliced green apples and the soft peat smoke you'd expect in a dram of aged Talisker. With water, some medicinal throat lozenges emerge. 

Finish:   The medicinal lozenge notes linger, alongside some creamy undertones.

Overall:  Very similar to the 25 year old, but if we're honest, I think the younger brother just nicks it in terms of being the most impressive.  

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

One Likes Water With One's Whisky

Banksy's contribution to the Jubilee Celebrations

London, Tues 5th June 2012. The Jubilee is officially over and it's pouring with rain. I mean POURING with rain. So much so, I have my welly-boots on. In June.

It's now been just over a week since Neil and I took the long and winding road down to Campbeltown and then over to Islay for our trip to this year’s Feis Ile and we were blessed with great weather as the sun streamed down on our bonces for nearly the entire time. I even returned from the fair isle with sunburn, such was the strength of the sun’s rays.

As usual, our journey was filled with renewed acquaintances and old friends; both in the physical sense and liquid one, too. From old faithfuls such as the Lagavulin 16 and the Ardbeg 10, to new friends like the Kilchoman Machir Bay and the Caol Ila Feis Ile 2012, it has been a real journey in every sense of the word.

On the road back, Neil and I were discussing our top 3 drams of the trip. Such was the level of debate (13 hours is a long time to fill when driving back) that we had to keep expanding it, from a top 3 to top 4, then top 5... needless to say, the Lagavulin 30 topped both our lists. We were divided on their new 21 year old expression but united on the excellence of the Caol Ila Flora & Fauna bottling. So on and on the debate raged before ending somewhere around Watford Gap.

This oddly named service station, not really near Watford and not, so far as I can see, a gap, is oft lorded as the divide between North & South. As we stopped for petrol and pasties, a quick check of the travel situation in London was required. It hadn't fully hit home with all the driving but, due to the Jubilee, most of Central London was closed, along with a host of bridges across the Thames. Not what you need at 11pm after nearly 12 hours of travelling and, crucially, not what you need when you’re trying to get home to.... South London.

With the route adjusted, home was in our sites (well, in our satnav at the very least) and, after dropping off Neil and his host of bottles to the expecting Mrs Ridley, I headed home to get some much needed kip.

The next day I awoke to London in full Jubilee swing. Totally under prepared, I hadn’t a single item adorned with a Union Jack in the house, save for some pillows which I was damned would be taken out in the downpour. There was only one thing for it: retreat and head for a countryside garden party. As I made my way out to the railway station, passing people dress up like John Bull, I decided to swing by our office just to check it was still there. But the one thing you can be sure about when you spend a week away: there will be plenty of post for you on your return.

Now, we all know what it’s like coming home after a week or so away; the doormat tends to be littered with bills, as if the postman was a tree in autumn, shedding his leaves through your letterbox. And of course, in the office there were plenty of unwelcome pieces of correspondence awaiting my letter-knife. But in the middle of it all was something rather exciting... a bulging package clearly housing a wee sample.

Ignoring the bills and opting to see what the sample contained, I opened the package to be faced by something quite timely indeed, The Macallan Diamond Jubilee whisky. For someone who had not yet found their Jubilee spirit, it was most useful that some had been delivered to my door, a brief encouragement to join in with the festivities.

Grabbing a glass from the cupboard and the sample, I continued my journey to the railway station, running between bus stops to avoid the rain until I found myself sat on a train trundling out towards (God’s own county of) Oxfordshire for a Harrison Family gathering.

As I took my seat on the train, I pulled the sample from my pocket, popped the cork and poured a dram into my glass. Lifting it to my nose, I swear at that exact moment the rain stopped. Call it fate (or fete in today’s case), it probably had a lot to do with being beyond Slough, it was as if the Jubilee spirit was rising from the glass like a genie from bottle, to clear the skies and make way for the days festivities...

The Macallan – Diamond Jubilee Bottling – NAS – 2012 bottles only - 52% abv - £350  available here

Note: the bottle features an image of the Queen by the artist Arnold Machin, famed for his image of the Queen used on Royal Mail stamps. This version is the first (and only) time a Machin image has been used on a product outside of the Royal Mail. Quite a coup for The Macallan. The liquid has been chosen from casks from 6th February, the Queen’s ascension, and the first week in June, traditionally when the Jubilees are celebrated. 52% abv reflects the year, 1952, when the Queen took the throne.

Nose: Orange zest (marmalade), polished oak floors, mandarin, cookie dough with chocolate chips and some fresh oak tones on the back. Hint of autumnal forest floor. With water the vanilla comes through much more.

Palate: A powerful palate at first quickly dies down to reveal classic Macallan notes of dried fruits, Christmas cake, peach melba and toasted almonds. With water, this opens up to be a real flavoursome dram with all of the previous enhanced but a much more rounded and less aggressive. Without water, this is Prince Phillip. With Water, the Queen.

Finish: The finish is long and lingering with a warmth of real liquorish. With water, much more Moorish and juicy with the mandarin orange tones lasting through to the death.

Overall: A super dram of juicy oranges and vanilla. Needs water to bring it to life, by golly it gets get when you do. If I have a criticism, it isn't about the liquid, but the fact this is a NAS. With lots of information on the packaging and the dates the casks were filled, it is a shame there is no information on the years the casks are from. Ney bother, as it still tastes damn fine.

As I sat on the train homeward bound to London from the Cotswolds, having indulged in the good old British pastime of flag waving, cheering, drinking and eating, I arrived home to city where the bridges had reopened, the bunting still remained hung and, despite the wet weather, there seemed to be just that little bit more joy in the air. It seems like a perfectly good reason to bottle a whisky, to me.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Islay Odyssey - Day Seven: Eating Two Full-Sized Scotch Eggs Is Clearly A Sign Of Mental Illness

Well, another stunning Feis Ile trip passes by and we’d like to say thanks to a few friends for making it one of the best ever.  Firstly to the wonderful Georgie Crawford for your exceptional hospitality, Jock, Marjorie, Ruth, Pinkie and the team at Lagavulin, Billy Stitchell, Jackie T, Mags, Mickey Heads, Bryony, Yogi and all the team at Ardbeg, Donald Colville, Sir Tom Jones, the legendary Jeremy Stephens, Mark O’Hara, Ben, Justin, Cat & Gareth from Master Of Malt, Stuart Doyle (The Jensen Button of Islay!) Colin Dunn, Richard Paterson, Jill Inglis, the teams at Springbank and the Ardshiel Hotel, Richard Joynson, Eugene Van Der Meer, Jim Whiskyboy, Billy ‘Booze’ Abbott, Des Lynham, Wiggy McCann, Richard E. Grant, the French girl-with-the-sexy-glasses, the guerilla distillers, HRH The Queen and particularly Stuart Harrison for the loan of the Japanese Mercedes.

But wait a second…

As we wend our way down past the tranquil south shores of Islay we notice something very unusual indeed.

Hang on… Another exclusive for you! We seem to have stumbled upon evidence of Islay's 9th working distilling phenomenon!!  

This shaky camera footage clearly shows that the south shores are home to yet another distillery, which we have discovered is called ‘Glen Gusset’. Could this heavily peated spirit*, produced by two as-yet-unidentified distillers (possibly from Venezuela) be the rarest - and surely most collectible liquid from the island... who knows? 

*probably distilled water