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Wednesday 31 October 2012

Marketing Trick or Treat? Jim Beam Devil's Cut Bourbon Whiskey

I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. Masks, fancy dress, ghouls and ghosts. Not really my thing, I’m afraid. Little Dickensian urchins running around the street like urban foxes, looking for treats purchased in haste by frightened old ladies from the local pound shop. I don’t know who the Halloween equivalent of Scrooge is, but we’re certainly related. 

However, as this occasion become increasingly more commercialised over time, I have become increasingly more frustrated by its seemingly ubiquitous nature. From very little pieces of Halloween kit in the local supermarket, there now seems to be an entire aisle dedicated to crappy plastic bits and bobs which make the Elephant Man look like Kate Moss.

But as I sit in this evening, awaiting the inevitable knock-knock on the door from the local South London kids (who do a bloody good job scaring the bejeebers out of me with just a hoodie and a BMX on a regular day) adorned in a Scream mask with a flashing plastic poker, maybe I should have something ready for them as a treat?

Instead of a random bag of Haribo sours, I was thinking more whiskey sours... imagine the horror of the parents when I open the door to a  fully stocked bar, offering their little bundle of joy a top-notch cocktail. I might even garnish it with a packet of Marlborough Reds and a Turkey Twizzler. Go the whole hog on trying the keep them away of next year.

If I was to be handing out free whiskey sours which, for the point of responsible drinking and general welfare of the local community, I shall not be, then I would have only one choice of bourbon with which to make the concoction: Jim Beam Devil’s Cut.

A brilliantly worked concept for a new product (or ‘marketing’, whichever way you want to cut it), Jim Beam Devil’s Cut was launch last month in to the UK market after being a hit stateside and in selected other markets such as Australia and South Africa.

The idea behind this extra-strength offering from the biggest selling bourbon in the world is thus: we have all heard of the ‘angels’ share’, where a portion of the liquid inside the cask evaporates in to the air. Well, as with all whisk(e)y maturation, some of the new make filled into the cask after distillation, is absorbed into the wood and effectively lost forever. This, Jim Beam claim, is the ‘devil’s cut’. 


With the angles’ share, this evaporated spirit is lost forever; gone to the heavens for an almighty party (or a party with the Almighty). The devil’s cut, however, is still locked inside the porous oak staves from which the cask is made. By filling the emptied casks with water and spinning them at high-speed, Jim Beam claim they can free some of this lost liquid. The water, containing a large amount of this ‘devil’s cut’ is then used to cut down the traditional six year old Jim Beam, resulting in a whiskey of higher strength and, according to the manufacturer, increased flavour. But is this a trick, or a treat?

Jim Beam – Devil’s Cut – Kentucky Straight Bourbon – 45% abv -  ~£25.00

Nose: the classic bourbon notes of raspberry jam, red boiled sweets and some cracked black pepper are all there, but there is an extra woody note of dry timber, some old antique furniture and a hint of spearmint.

Palate: Yes, there is certainly more oak in the palate and it is dryer than the traditional bottling of Jim Beam. The extra abv gives a good kick to the palate, but there is a richer and rounder feel (think well made flap-jack or cookie dough) to the classic Beam palate.

Finish: Spicy and filling.

Overall: Not strictly made for sipping, but for mixing, this does drink well with a block of ice, but is best used to make a robust Old Fashioned or Manhattan. If you like an additional twist of strength and flavour to your regular bourbon-based cocktails, then certainly grab yourself a bottle of this.

As for the festivities of this evening, I’m drawing all curtains, sitting in the dark and waiting for the night to be over. Or maybe I will set up that cocktail stall. More Bar Humbug than ‘Bah, Humbug’... 

Saturday 27 October 2012

Now That's What I Call Maturation... Volume One!

Here at Caskstrength, we love new whisky related-stuff.  The moment we saw a fully operational three litre copper pot still for sale by the side of the road in rural Portugal, we knew we had to have it.  As you may recall, we had a crack at using it (well someone resembling us anyway) and the results were really rather impressive...well, to us anyway.  The point we're trying to make here is that whether or not the spirit which ran from our little gem is deemed to be any good, we had a fantastic time understanding the principles of distillation (albeit on a micro scale) and it only served to highlight how hard the art of the commercial distiller is.

Recently we took the opportunity to explore another key aspect of the whisky making process, from a micro scale - this time in the shape of a brilliantly novel kit, retailed by a US craft distiller.  The Copper Fox distillery, neatly situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (hang on, this is the opening line of a wonderful song, is it not?) have, under the tenacious eye of owner Rick Wasmund, been bottling some really interesting expressions - from a spanking single malt, the barley smoked using apple and cherry wood, through to a rye whiskey, with a wonderfully malty spicy character.    One of their latest endeavours is to bring the art of maturation straight out of their Virginia warehouses and into the homes of every would-be distiller/whisky enthusiast interested in the effects of wood on a new make spirit.  The bottom line here isn't to achieve perfection, but to have a bit of fun, play around and experiment.

Wasmund's Mature Your Own Whisky Kit (WMYOW) is now available in Europe for the first time (retailing at £120 from The Whisky Exchange and at its heart comes a miniature two litre charred American oak cask and two 75cl bottles of either the single malt new make spirit or, if you're so inclined, the same quantity of the rye new make.  Both new makes roll in at 62% and the cask is, according to Wasmund, 'of a medium char style'.

Well, we couldn't resist, so now the Caskstrength office has now become a little test haven for maturation.  Speyside dunnage-style it certainly isn't, that's for sure - and i'm pretty sure the view from our windows in Exmouth Market is of the local Post Office sorting office, not the Blue Ridge Mountains.

We plumped for the rye option and set to work ensuring the cask was going to be watertight, by first filling it with room temperature water, then spraying the outer surfaces regularly.  After a day, our little wooden beast was ready to go and we marked 'M Day' as Saturday 20st October.   We'll be monitoring the spirit regularly over the next few months, but by way of a first update one week after filling, the news is interesting.  

Wasmund's rye new make is very fruity, with some spiced notes, a hint of smoke (freshly cut green apples) and some fine citrus notes. As a control, we kept a small sample back to reference throughout the maturation experiment.  After a week in the warehouse with an occasional gentle rolling of the cask when we could remember, the spirit has already begun to evolve.  Gone is the initial fruity apple note, replaced with a lightly peppered meat, lots of charcoal and freshly sawn oak.  It is still youthful, immature and vibrant, but as expected, creeping in are the beginnings of what we were hoping to see.  The cask is clearly going to give this a lot of character in a short space of time, including colour, as you can see, taking on an initial light gold note.

One week, eh... If this was Scotland, that wouldn't even register on the maturation map yet.  In actual fact, it bodes well for our plans to re-use this cask for future experiments.  Because of its obvious dominance, putting something in as easily overpowered as a Scotch single malt would perhaps be foolish, without seasoning it prior to filling and this has thrown up all manner of possibilities - sherry, port, wine, peated whisky, rum, vermouth, cola?? who knows, but in any rate, the next few months will be a hugely fun-filled experience.

We'll be putting up regular updates on the rye on our Facebook page, including interim pics to show you the colour and tasting notes.  It's also been suggested that we could have some fun 'manipulating' the spirit to get more from the cask. Hmmm. Next week, Caskstrength are taking a jaunt across the Pyrenees in a very tasty Maserati GranTurismo, so perhaps I should sling the cask in the boot, for a little 'alpine agitation'? Or should we take a leaf from the Tuthilltown distillery and blast bass-heavy music through the cask? The sky's the limit here.

Hello... here comes the ultimate Maturation Playlist -  or if you like... Now That's What I call Maturation -  Volume One!! Watch this space...

Hot on the heels of this superb kit comes another equally interesting version from our chums at Master Of Malt.  The MOM MYOW kit (£99) includes a one litre kit and new make spirit made from malted barley. We'd love to see whether the results are similar to the rye kit we have.  If you decide to get either of these, please feel free to share the results with us -  we're pretty sure that no two whiskies will turn out the same.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Like A Rolling Stone: Jura 30 Year Old Whisky

It's once again that time of year when the drinks world goes bonkers for the Christmas rush. Easing out single casks, limited editions runs or new blends, it's a great time to be interested in whisky as we begin to see the fruits that the collective creative brains in the industry have been cultivating for months, possibly even years.

A lot of these expressions will be 'here today, gone (on eBay) tomorrow' bottles and as the balloon that is demand rises, so the cost of holding on to these offerings increases as the string gets longer. We only have to look at the effect of  supply and demand on the annual Port Ellen release to see this example played out in Technicolor.

But every-so-often around this time of year, someone sneaks out a whisky which will just sit quietly in the range and not make too much of a fuss over itself. And this is exactly what has happened over at Jura. Except this isn't just any average teenage newbie.

No, Sir. This is a 30 Year Old offering.

Named 'Standing Stone', the whisky takes its name from the largest of eight standing stones on the island where the whisky is made. Standing 12-foot high, it is all that is left of a 3,000 year old stone circle. That means this whisky, at 30 years old, is just 1% of the age of the stone which is depicted on the bottle. And we thought this hooch was elderly...

The whisky itself is matured in ex-American oak barrels and then finished in Oloroso Sherry butts from Gonzalez Byass. It will come housed in a display case, with the bottle being in-filled with copper wax and a matching metal plate containing all the details. It'll set you back 350 of your Great British Pounds.

Jura - Standing Stone - 30 Years old - 44% abv

Nose: The first aroma to hit the nose is like opening a fresh packet of high quality granola; this gives some cereal tones, a hint of coconut,  lots of raisins and dried fruits (esp. apricot). Beneath that is a hint of peat smoke and then the real finger print for me of Jura, which is a copper tone, like standing next to a blazing hot still in operation.

Palate: A big initial hit of apricot, which develops a meatier mouthfeel and gives off some light candy flavours, sweet cured bacon and toasted pine nuts. The smoke emerges along with a copper tone again, giving the big mouthfeel a surprisingly light undertone. With water the palate opens up to greater sherry elements and more polished oak. A lot of energy for a whisky this age.

Finish: Some spices and chillies, there are hints of liquorice powder, orris root and crystallised ginger. Lovely soft-smoky end to it all.

Overall: This is certainly a Jura but with the extra 'oomph' of long maturation and the finish in a very good sherry cask to really give the beast some additional energy and complexity on the palate. Belittles its age. If you like Jura, you'll be in for a real treat with this one. It Jura XO.

So there you have it. A whisky which has been added to the very top end of the Jura range, but just quietly gets on with being a really great example of a well-aged and complex Isle of Jura offering. Less of a standing stone, this is certainly more Mick Jagger than Oblix.

Monday 15 October 2012


Everybody loves small packages, wrapped up with string, with a cherry on top and the warm glow of a handmade feel about it.  In the whisky world, the single cask bottling has traditionally typified this approach - a 'when-it's-gone-it's-gone' approach always gets the whisky writer hot under the collar and our cupboards our full of the damn things from all over the world.  Hell, I once spent what seemed like 30 minutes in the Yamazaki distillery shop waiting for a special bottling to be lovingly wrapped up in layers of tissue paper, wax seals and silk.

Closer to home, our friends at Master Of Malt are pretty adept at putting these little beauties together; consider the beautifully packaged Drinks By The Dram sets -  wax dipped, with Japanese-style paper labels, each concealing a mouthful of happiness.  Recently, they've upscaled the boutique feel to create a new series bottled under the banner of That Boutique-y Whisky Company -  and nailed a small but perfectly formed collection in the process.

These 50cl bottlings are all very unique specimens of some classic distilleries -  The Macallan, Caperdonich, Ardbeg and Port Ellen each with minuscule outturns. However, the most remarkable thing here is their labels.  Each one creates an elaborate cartoon scene - the Port Ellen and Ardbeg perfectly representing the cultish following both distilleries have.  The Macallan and Caperdonich play on both distilleries' unique characteristics; The Macallan's 'curiously small stills' and the label of the now long-since closed Caperdonich depicting the legendary 'whisky pipe' that ran from the distillery to neighbouring (and sister distillery) Glen Grant.

The releases made us think just how  boring whisky labels have become. So come on bottlers -  let's see you start having a bit of fun here and there -  how hard can it be?? (As I type this, the phone starts ringing... Ah.  The Fun Police, sorry SWA are breathing heavily down the receiver... )

Anyway -  the bad news is that 3/4 of these bottlings are already sold out now, with only The Macallan remaining.  As with every whisky, the label is clearly only skin (or paper) deep and what's inside is really all that counts, so will this boutique Macallan measure up when it's naked and in a glass?

Master Of Malt -  That Boutique-y Whisky Company -  The Macallan - 40.9% NAS

Nose: A firm backbone of sherry wood (as expected) with spicy Oloroso notes, cocoa powder, oat cakes, juicy raisins and brandy butter. Dig a little deeper and some fruity notes of the softer variety (strawberries and raspberries) start to develop.  Lovely and very well rounded. 

Palate: The spice from the nose continues into the palate, with dried ginger, slightly bitter cocoa, dried apple slices, some winey notes (think big Italian Barolo) and bonfire toffee.  It's dry, but conceals some lovely notes, reminiscent of classic Macallan.

Finish:  Lingering sherry wood notes, with a little hint of sweetness (golden syrup) and espresso coffee diving in at the very last minute. 

Overall:  Some youthful notes, backdropped with some very nice cask ageing.  If you like your Macallan hugely sherried, this isn't the best example, but if like us, you like balance, spice, fruit and depth, then look no further.  

Friday 5 October 2012

Seventeen Again. The New Balvenie DoubleWood

As significant dates go, a 50th anniversary is pretty special.  A few months ago, The Balvenie's Malt Master, David Stewart celebrated his 50th year of working for the company.  Hard to imagine in this day and age of fast paced jobs, head huntings and ambition that anyone could stay with the same company for their entire working life. But as we all know, the whisky business is unique in its approach.

In the same way that great whisky takes time to mature, to grow and develop its own personality, the makers of these revered liquids nurture their own talents. David Stewart has been responsible for a number of masterpieces in his time at The Balvenie - most notably the idea of cask finishing, subsequently creating The Balvenie DoubleWood.  12 year old DoubleWood has been on our list of cabinet staples since we started this website; it was Joel's first foray into single malt and one of the first discoveries I made after having my senses blasted to bits by the first taste of heavily peated whiskies.

It seems fitting then, that after 50 years Stewart has made a welcome return to the principle of DoubleWood, creating a brand new 17 year old expression.  Like its younger brother, the 17 year old whisky has been matured for the large proportion of its life in American oak barrels, finally being transferred to larger European oak sherry casks. The Balvenie have always remained relatively tight-lipped about the exact length of time this 'finishing' process takes - and to be fair, we really don't care how long it takes -  so long as the process works!

So how does the 17 year old stack up?  To use a music analogy -  when bands have phenomenal success with their first record, the pressure to produce a huge hit the second time round is enormous - will this sophomore release capture that same sense of excitement, which David Stewart first pioneered?

The Balvenie - DoubleWood - 17 Years Old -  43% - RRP £75

Nose: A wonderful note of syrup-covered soft fruit hits first -  think strawberries, blueberries and gooseberry, mixed with golden syrup, rich honey and brown sugar - with aromas like this, it could rot your teeth from 20 yards away! Given time, the vanilla notes emerge with fresh cherries, some kirsch notes and a hint of woody spice.  Superbly balanced and unquestionably a Balvenie.

Palate: Spices galore (clove, cinnamon and a touch of chilli) mix with fresh apple juice, brown sugar, fat juicy raisins and sweet malt.  Absolutely wonderful stuff -  as drinkable as the 12 year old, but with more refinement, complexity and wisdom.  

Finish:  Some citrus notes develop late on the palate, with a darker malt note, (extract) rich bittersweet cocoa and freshly roasted coffee beans.

Overall:  There's only one big disappointment about this whisky.  And that's that when David Stewart finally decides hang up his blending coat, one wonders just where the distillery will be without his undisputed talents to make whiskies as great this -  will this be the last one from the Stewart stable?  
We hope not. Based on the qualities of this release, William Grant & Sons should think about investing in a way to cryogenically freeze him.  Balvenie DoubleWood 30, 40 and 50 year olds anyone??

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Teeling's Hybrid Theory

Earlier this year, all eyes were Ireland bound for the biggest news surrounding Irish whiskey in decades.  The Cooley Whiskey Company had reached an incredible $95 Million agreement to sell the company to American whiskey giants, Beam Global, owners of Jim Beam, alongside Islay powerhouse, Laphroaig.  With such a war chest to play with, one wondered what the Teelings, Jack and John - former owners of Cooley, would do next... retire to the Bahamas? Yachts?? Party???

Well, they decided to do what they clearly know best and start a brand new whiskey company.  

In April they announced the birth of The Teeling Whiskey Company, initially deciding to focus on some stocks of aged whiskeys they had acquired.  However, their most recent release, Hybrid, has now firmly put the new company on the map, with the same spirit of independence the Teelings approached Cooley with.    

Hybrid claims to create a brand new category of whisk(e)y - effectively bringing together Irish whiskey and Scotch whisky in the same bottle.  Whilst it's not the first time this novel idea has being employed by the Teelings - Cooleys & similarly progressive distillers Bruichladdich partnered up to previously release Celtic Nations (a blend of single malts from Bruichladdich and Cooley, whose use of the phrase 'Celtic Malt' got the SWA totally rattled, subsequently banishing it to the naughty cupboard)  Hybrid is the first release for the Teeling Whiskey Company and is comprised of a marriage of ten year old Cooley with Bruichladdich single malt, which have been aged together for a further eight years. 

1,400 bottles of Hybrid No.1 Edition will be released this month, retailing for £30.  

Now type the word 'Hybrid' into google and you're immediately presented with a load of pretty boring looking cars (save for the wonderfully curvy Porsche 918 Hybrid)  So is this idea of a hybrid whisk(e)y a legitimate one, or is there a reason why this hasn't been explored successfully before?  

Let's find out what all the fuss is about... and more's the point, let's hope this Hybrid is more like the Porsche, rather than the Toyota Prius...

Teeling Whiskey Company -  Hybrid - No.1 Edition - 44.7%  

Nose: Initial soft fruit notes, some dusty books, white pepper, buttered brown toast and a slight waft of old lobster pots/sea air/iodine. With a little time, some vegetive notes develop (mashed potato and green beans.)  Direct and very appealing. 

Palate: Very thick and rich on the palate, tongue coating and silky.  The peat smoke combines with a sweetness to great effect -  think a smoky version of golden syrup and you're somewhere nearby.  Further notes of green apple skin and liquorice can be found with the addition of  water, which really opens the Hybrid up. It is moreish, easy to drink and quite frankly, an ideal session whisk(e)y, based on its easy-going palate.

Finish: Fresh, with smoky overtones and a hint of drying oak.

Overall:  Well... that works.  Congratulations to the Teelings -  despite the fact that this is such a simple idea, combining two distinctly different styles of whisk(e)y together and re-maturing them again is a cracker. £30 a pop makes this pretty much a no-brainer if you're getting a few friends round for a bit of a session too.    

 Hybrid...high marks indeed.  

Tuesday 2 October 2012

Diageo Special Releases - A Few Surprises?

Blimey, it doesn't seem that long ago since we were bringing you news and tasting notes on the last batch of these annual whiskies bought together by Diageo.  This time around, the company had taken over The Deck, an installation, which is part of the National Theatre, with impressive views across the Thames.

One previous criticism of these annual events is the fast pace of them -  just an hour and thirty minutes to try all eight whiskies, which, when you're dealing with releases of this magnitude really doesn't do them justice. This year, as the night closed in and the thames-side buildings started to light up, it was nice to sit down and really get to the bottom of these extraordinary whiskies properly...and this year, there were a LOT of surprises.

The whole collection, as with previous years, has a core of releases - namely the big guns of Brora, Port Ellen and Talisker, flanked by Caol Ila and a younger Lagavulin.  This year, they were also joined by a 21 year old Lagavulin, a 25 year old Dalwhinnie and a 30 year old Auchroisk -  with all eyes (and palates) feverish in anticipation of the Port Ellen and the older Laga.  With a huge buzz on both whiskies (A: because of the previously highly regarded Lagavulin 21yo release and  B: the high price of the Port Ellen (£600) ) it was no surprise that both tables where the whiskies were being poured were three-deep with writers and journos trying to grab a first taste.

To be honest, last year's Port Ellen 11th official release was one of the best whiskies we've ever tasted -  balanced, effortlessly complex and lacking any overly dry notes -  could the same be said about this one - the 12th? Hmmm.

Port Ellen - 12th Release - 32 year Old - 52.5% 2,964 bottles  - 1979 - RRP £600

Nose: Extremely coastal on the first nosing. Crab pots, old trawler rope and iodine, blend into some subtle vanilla, wet hay and a very light smoke -  off the bat, you'd be hard pressed to think this was a Port Ellen. The nose is very closed to begin with, giving up only hints of what is potentially on offer. With water, fresh cherries, more vanilla, some orange blossom and a touch of blackberry cordial.  

Palate: This is where the whisky falls down unfortunately. Initially, very dry and woody, with a sooty hit and blast of brine. The smoke starts to emerge, but where are all the wonderful chamois/jammy notes of old?  With water, the fruit starts to creep out of its shell, but it needs coaxing gently.  

Finish: Very dry and woody. 

Overall:  Not the best Port Ellen Special Release, that's for sure.  I was about to write this off as a bit of a duffer, until our good friend Stuart Robson from Connosr/Whisky Marketplace handed me his glass, which he'd been nursing for a good 20 minutes and bang- there were the classic notes -  tangerines, chamois leather and creamy vanilla/fondant.  The bottom line is that this isn't a duff whisky, by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to previous releases, it is a challenge. It doesn't deliver straight away and when it does deliver, the qualities are only a shadow of last year's release.  Not one on my list of essential purchases. 

Next up: Talisker's oldest ever release.  Would this one be heading in the same direction as the PE? Hope not.

Talisker- 35 Year Old - 54.6% - 3,090 bottles - American & European refill casks - 1977- RRP £525

Nose: Pure Talisker, straight out the blocks, but with some additional wisdom. Burnt bonfire, spiced apple, red chilli, a big woody note, copper coins and some cherry sherbet, all swaddled in some gloriously sweet, nutty smoke.  with a dash of water, a malty side develops (like Weetabix), with a more pronounced fruit note developing.

Palate: Smoky malt, some additional smoked meat, with sweet fragrant smoke, cherryade, fresh cream and vanilla.  Not at all tarred with the rigours of age, like the Port Ellen. With water, some egg custard notes emerge, spiced apple and soft peat, alongside more bonfire smoke and vanilla pipe tobacco. Complex and majestic.  

Finish: Drying wood notes, but with some lovely lingering smoke notes.

Overall:  Well, that's a relief.  This aged Talisker squarely knocks the Port Ellen off the perch as the dram to die for and is quite possibly one of the best Special Release Taliskers so far.  It begins to show its age with the woody notes on the finish, but is just the right side of wisdom vs senility. 

Following on from this elderly man of the sea, we segue neatly into the Brora.  

Brora - Special Release -  35 Years Old - 1976/1977 refill American Oak - 48.1% - 1,566 bottles £400

Nose: Wow! It's a Super-Clynelish!!  a very waxy entry, with bags of fresh fruit, perfume, citrus notes and vanilla custard. The wax is like a mature heather honey, sweet, rich and unctuous.  With water, the floral notes develop with fruit gums, a touch or fresh mint and a dusty, leathery note.  Aged, but quite, quite lovely. 

Palate: Subtle and engaging, with more waxy honey, some citrus blossom, a touch of wet hay and a soft peat.  Water brings out more of the fruit, the waxy honey getting more complex.  

Finish: Dry floral notes, with a touch of oakiness and a lingering smoke right on the back palate.

Overall:  Another excellent Brora release. Despite its age, this has defied descending into a woody abyss and the classic wax and fruit combo ensure there's plenty of life and complexity left in this.  Superb.  Compared to to the pricing of the Port Ellen and the Talisker, this is also looking like a bit of a bargain too. 

A quick whizz around the other tables gives us an over view on both the Lagavulins (we reviewed the 21yo fully here) and bloody excellent it is too, with smoky malt, classic Laga carbolic notes, alongside some drying sherry wood (£350) When you have a bench mark as good as the 16yo, it's tough to really shine and this 21yo manages to keep the doubters at bay. The 12yo (£71) continues very much in the rich vein of the previous year's releases, with a more vivid nose of raw peat, spirit, zesty limes and carbolic soap.  

Over on the Caol Ila table, the addition of sherry casks has changed the direction of the annual 'unpeated'  version of this Islay classic, now 14 years old. (£66)  Gone are the candy floss and lemon sherbets, replaced by a dryer wood note, some butterscotch, spiced apple and hot buttered toast.  Tasty, but I can't help but miss the Victorian sweetshop explosion of the previous years. 

The Dalwhinnie (25 years old, £185) rolls into town, full of dried ginger, vanilla, mint humbugs and a surprisingly big hit of clove, no doubt developing from the rejuvenated casks used in its maturation.  

The final whisky is a bit of a curved ball, but in all honesty, it's the best Special Release this year and a refreshing change from the obvious contenders such as the (disappointing) Port Ellen and the (excellent) Brora and Talisker.   Roll up your sleeves and get stuck into the Auchroisk... you'll not be disappointed...

Auchroisk - 30 Years Old - 1982 - American & European oak -  54.7% - 2,976 bottles - RRP £230

Nose: This absolutely sings, straight from the first nosing.  Water melon, candied peel, sweet tea, a slight emulsion note, spicy sherry oak and a hint of charred vanilla / coconut.  Open, direct and expressive. 

Palate: More sweetness, with candied cherries, a burst of fresh vanilla pods, mango, some PX style spiciness and a touch of drying American oak.  This is the sort of whisky that keeps evolving, first from the fresh fruit and sweetness, then into spicy, woody notes.  With water, the fruit gets more perfumed and a hint of creaminess develops, alongside orange zest, milky coffee and chewy toffee. 

Finish:  More of the lingering coffee and tropical fruit notes.

Overall:  What a welcome surprise.  This is a superb release, full of complex layers of fruit, spice and creaminess.  Whilst it won't come top on the diehard Islay/peat fans lists (which is a shame, as it kicks the arse of the Port Ellen, the Lagavulin and possibly even the Talisker) for those in search of something different, you'll be well rewarded here... and at £230, you could almost buy three bottles for the price of one Port Ellen.  Think about it.