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Monday 26 November 2012

The (Smo)King Of Dufftown...Glenfiddich Release Something A Bit Different.

Funny how whiskies have a habit of creeping up on you, when you least expect it.

Here we are, heading up to Glasgow and a quick cursory glance as we walk past Gatwick Airport's World Of Whiskies revealed something very interesting indeed.  Travel retail is clearly a HUGE market for whisky companies and, as we've often mentioned in the past, a proving ground for potentially new products.  Admittedly, some of them are destined never to make it past the security scanners into the specialist whisky shops, but occasionally some bottlings (such as Laphroaig's Triple Wood) seem to make a peaty bid for freedom, much to the delight of consumers across the globe.

So it was perhaps rather timely that Glenfiddich decided to do something a little different, in a bid to spring a surprise on the whisky buying traveller.

Glenfiddich are no strangers to the travel retail game.  The success of the Age Of Discovery series (see our previous review for more details) has clearly given the Dufftown giants a taste for further exclusive bottlings.  And with that in mind, they've drawn on the rich heritage of the distillery.  Their brand new travel retail release (which has apparently, according to World Of Whiskies, just hit the shelves this week) harks back to a time when most distilleries were swathed in a rich, pungent peat smoke.

The Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary Edition is a distinct departure to any Glenfiddich expression we've tried before.  Bottled with no age statement, the liquid will surprise and delight in equal measure... let's find out why...

Glenfiddich - 125th Anniversary Edition  -  Travel Retail Exclusive -  N.A.S. - 43% - £70

Nose: Hang on... this isn't right, is it?  Alongside the familiar notes of rich dried fruit and citrus oranges is a weighty smokiness, mixed with a touch of Islay'esque carbolic soap.  That's right -  it's truly a smoky devil.   In a blind tasting we'd be fairly confident that not a single person sampling it  (perhaps excluding the whisky's creator, Brian Kinsman and Glenfiddich's indefatigable ambassador Jamie Milne) would pick this out as a 'Fiddich.  The smoke is wonderfully balanced, refined and sweet, partnering the orange zest perfectly.  Think a nice big thick slice of buttered toast, slathered liberally in dark, rich, thick cut marmalade, which has been enhanced with a little bit of your favourite peated whisky and you're on the right lines. 

Palate:  Bang -  there it is again, but in greater intensity.  The peat smoke partners with rich orange marmalade, dark chocolate, malt extract and notes of dried apricots.  The whisky is viscous and sweet on the tongue initially, leading to a drier oaky note further in.  Lovely stuff.

Finish:  The smoky notes linger, alongside a tart orange zest and a hint of creamy (more familiar) 'Fiddich maltiness.  

Overall:  Did not expect this, at all.  Let us quantify that statement.  There's no doubting that this is a well put together whisky, but the additional smokiness really raises the stakes to become an absolute  'must try' dram.  For those of you who have wondered what Glenfiddich would be like with a fairly weighty waft of smoke at its heart -  this is the moment you've been waiting for.  You will of course have to get yourself on a flight somewhere, but leave enough time to drop by W.O.W.   Running to gate 55 as the final call for BA2958 to Glasow is announced, with a mouthful of peated whisky isn't advised -  as enjoyable as it may seem!

Sunday 25 November 2012

Rev O'lution: Master Of Malt 30 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Turning thirty is both an exciting and daunting time in anyone’s life. As I speed towards my 33rd birthday, in the middle of this coming week, I can hardly believe how fast life moves. And it doesn’t seem to get any slower.

But late November is a difficult time of the year to have a birthday. Too tempting is it for people to fob you off with a ‘joint-birthday and Christmas present’, not an issue friends of mine with their life anniversary in June or July seem to have a problem with. There are two points of celebration: birthday and Christmas. So I’ll have two presents please, unless specified otherwise...

This year, there are many things on the birthday list, from cocktail accessories to the yearly Oxford United shirt with ‘HARRISON’ emblazoned on the reverse, but, despite working in the business, whisky usually makes an appearance of some sort.

Each year we host an annual award, the Best In Glass (BIG)where Neil and I choose the top ten drams from the year with a very simple criteria: the product must be commercially available (no special releases or single cask festival bottling, etc) and first released in the year of the judging (so, 2012 for this years batch). With the judging just around the corner, our selections have been made. Pleasingly, nine of the ten of this year’s finalist are under £100 with the tenth being under £200.

As the judging is done blind, it would be wrong of me to publish a pre-birthday wish-list of whiskies released this year (but feel free to send vintage bottles!) but one thing that is always welcome is whisky from the year of my birth, 1979.

As per my 30th birthday, I’m currently building up a selection from that vintage which I will roll out in seven years time at an uber-40th birthday bash. Last year was my brother, the Rev Oliver Harrison’s 40th. As well as being a man of the cloth, a keen fisherman, motorcycle enthusiast, a collector of vintage shaving equipment and , ergo, the shaving correspondent for The Chap magazine, he is also a burgeoning whisky drinker.

With so many hobbies, it was a difficult decision for what to get the old lad for his big four-o last year, but after some hard searching, I settle on a bottle of the Master of Malt 40 Year old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky. Having delivered it at his birthday bash in early November 2011, I was reliably informed by his wife that it was ‘pretty much gone’ by the time midnight mass on Christmas Eve rolled around. 

I hope he wasn’t using it for the communion... Humm, 40 year old Scotch and an oak cake. That’d have your Parish attendance up. Never mind current debates, the Church of England will be ordaining all sorts in the role of Bishop if that was the regular Clerical juice.

The series of ‘statement age’ (as opposed to ‘age statement’) whiskies from Master of Malt have seemed to go down very well, to the point where a new batch of releases has been issues, at 30, 40 and a whopping 50 Years Old.

Master Of Malt – 30 Year Old Speyside – 5th Edition – 43% ABV - £129.95

Nose: The first aromas to make themselves known as the rich butterscotch tones, backed with some apricot jam. There is a good balance between sweetness (honey) and savoury (freshly picked Chantereles) and over time the oak appears. These elements are pinned to a foundation of dusty warehouse. This shows off its age in a subtle way.

Palate: The first impression is vanilla, packed with those apricots and peach melba. Lots of tinned fruit and some spices (cardamom and fennel) burst through. There are hints of fresh mint tea with a spoonful of brown sugar and finally the savoury tones from the nose provide a depth of lasting flavour. With water, the spices become much more prominent.

Finish:  The old oak notes stay harnessed to the back of the palate and finally give way to some vanilla and malty milk chocolate flavours.

Overall: You’ll get nailed when looking for a good value bottle of thirty year old whisky if it comes in a proprietary bottling, so indie bottlers are a good place to turn if you want to make sure there is some money left if your wallet when gifting at certain vintages such as thirty or forty and this edition from Master of Malt fills that role nicely. Esp at less than £130.

This year, I hope that Santa comes early to drop me a wee bottle of something and wish me Bonne Anniversaire. With my big day falling on a Wed and being in transit in Scotland that day, I might have to wait until the weekend to lounge around my house drinking whatever arrives in the only thing suitable: my birthday suit.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Join The Club...A New Midleton Single Cask Whiskey Release

Whisk(e)y societies are, on the whole, pretty damn good.  Not only do they bring together like-minded folks under one banner, but they can help to crack open the protective nutshell around the spirit.  Of course, there can be a little bit of snobbery and one-upmanship, but in general, everyone we've had the pleasure to meet and share a dram with just loves whisk(e)y and wants others to love it as much as they do.

The good thing is that distillers love them too.  Clubs and societies are great proving grounds for new releases -  cask samples count as currency and it's not unlikely to be given a seemingly random whisky, which gains the seal of approval, only for it to be commercially released a year later.

On this tip, earlier this month Irish Distillers went one step better, when they partnered up with the Irish Whiskey Society to launch an exclusive members' cask.  The whiskey in question is the result of a sampling process which happened back in April, where cask 1038, a 17 year old ex-bourbon barrel yielding just 204 bottles done the approval from the club.

Fortunately, we were able to lay our hands on a wee sample from the cask- and an absolute belter it is too.  So for those of you who, like us, are gaining a real soft spot for single pot still Irish whiskey, you might want to get yourself over to the Irish Whiskey Society website, join up and grab a bottle before they all disappear...

Midleton Irish Whiskey -  Single Cask Release - The Irish Whiskey Society - 17 years Old - 55.2% Cask Filled 13th January 1995 -  Bottled 17th October 2012

Nose: An immediate note of fresh bananas (ok, actually slightly overripe,  if we're being honest), backdropped with a delicious golden syrup note, sweetened vanilla cream, malty cereal and a waft of honey.  Beautifully balanced and very expressive.

Palate:  The sweetness continues onto the palate, with more of the bananas (this time, those little foam sweet bananas) a big hit of vanilla, some plummy jam notes and a very mouth coating creamy cereal.

Finish:  Lingering traces of banana and caramel, with a little spiciness on the very end.

Overall:  Age has been extraordinarily kind to this whiskey -  it is wonderfully balanced, silky smooth and enormously drinkable.  Whilst this is clearly a one-off release and it seems a shame to keep it within the realms of the club environment, what it highlights is just how formidable single pot still Irish whiskey is becoming.   With any luck, Irish Distillers have a few of these 'wonder casks' up their sleeves - if you're A: reading this and B: sitting on a parcel of them -  please bottle them at this age and strength- we think you're onto a winner...

Sunday 18 November 2012

A Brace Of Wemyss Whisky For The Wintery Weekend

Wow!  Suddenly the weather has decided to draw in, making this weekend the tipping point between coats and hats in the Caskstrength offices. Gone are the lightweight rain macs, replaced with something a little more substantial, woolly and most importantly -  warm.   I also chose the worst weekend to go for a fairly radical shorter haircut too- and boy... can I feel it today, as the frosty South London air nips at my ears.

 Still, no point in grumbling, as there are plenty of ways to keep warm, post Sunday pub roast and pre- walk through the park, as the sun begins to set.   As I left the house this afternoon, I slipped couple of samples into my overcoat with the view that I'd have a dram whilst walking through Dulwich Park. Of late, I've found that drinking outdoors (obviously not cider or the classic outdoor special- Special Brew) sharpens the tasting notes and brings out a number of new and interesting twists to a whisky, which I am keen to explore.

And the samples I chose did not disappoint.  Fresh from the new Wemyss range comes three vintage single casks: a 1982, 1986 and 1996, (which we'll review at a later date) So as the sun started to set on a surprisingly sunny, but extremely crisp Sunday, I whipped out a Glencairn and headed into a little wooded area for an impromptu tasting.

Wemyss - Single Cask Release - 'Sugared Almonds' - Aultmore -  Distilled 1982 - 272 bottles - 46%

Nose: Amidst the falling Sycamore and Maple tree leaves comes a very pleasant, slightly tart green apple note, coupled with vanilla custard, a little turned earth and flaky pastry.  My one regret is that I didn't crack this out in the pub earlier, as it would have paired superbly with the oversized apple and rhubarb crumble I polished off without any hesitation.  Dig deeper and some floral notes emerge, coupled with some drying oak staves and a hint of furniture polish.  It's just on the right side of lively, before starting to show signs of tiredness, which is rather ironically how my daughter, Lois seems to be right now, before bath time. Better get this tasting note finished asap, me thinks.

Palate: Sweet, with a touch of marzipan, but backed with a surprisingly sooty smoke before cascading headlong into stewed pears, orange zest and tart rhubarb, alongside a return of the vanilla rich custard from the nose.  A hint of sherbet rounds out the vibrant flavours before a touch of oak begins to set in.

Finish:  A lingering green apple peel note stays on the palate (a note, which I'm finding increasingly in older bourbon hogshead-matured whiskies, these days) followed by a deft touch of smoke and menthol right at the end.

Overall:  Perhaps not the most appropriate winter warmer, this Aultmore has more summery touches going for it, with a surprising vibrancy for its age.  I suspect it is a fairly well used hogshead, but don't let that put you off -  this is a well balanced whisky and a superb palate cleanser, after a heavy Sunday lunch.

Next up:  the season might be over, but a little taste of 'autumn berries' is in order.

Wemyss -  Single Cask Release -'Autumn Berries' - Blair Athol - Distilled 1986 - 268 bottles - 46%

Nose: A slightly malty note off the bat, leading into stewed raspberries, some spiced wood (cedar, and a touch of cinnamon) lemon zest, blanched almonds and a fresh blackcurrant aroma.

Palate:  Where did that perfume /parma violet note come from?  Hard, but powdery candy (if you're a British child of a certain age, think Swizzels-Matlow sweets- particularly Lovehearts and you're very close). This is followed by fresh vanilla and a little touch of sweetened cream, but once these subside you're straight back into the old fashioned sweets.  It's a note we saw in greater proportions in a superb Master Of Malt Bowmore several years back, but much more restrained.

Finish:  A slight soapy note, with lemon zest and a lingering tart orchard fruit note (greengages and unripe plums)

Overall:  Not as expressive as the 1982 Aultmore, but the surprising parma violet/ Lovehearts note will take anyone back to their childhood after one sip.  This, for some reason feels particularly poignant today, as I stroll around a park with my lil' nipper, like my parents used to do with me, after letting me spend my 10p pocket money on a handful of sweets and a sticky lolly.
Back then, everything felt just right - and this afternoon, it's as near as damn it, just right too.  Wherever you are, hope your weekend was the same.

Sunday 11 November 2012

The Most Adventurous Advent...

I. Love. Christmas. 
In the run up to Christmas, every company seems to roll out 'ideal' whisky related gift ideas:  whisky books, that haven't sold very well throughout the year are now re-badged as the 'perfect gift for dad', in addition to repackaged or newly released whiskies - some actually reflecting the festive flavours and aromas we associate with Christmas.     Recently, we reviewed a rather wonderful Mature your Own Whisky kit from the Copper Fox Distillery, which, in our opinion is about as perfect a Christmas present as we can think of, assuming that boredom and the brooding cabin fever of staying with the in- laws doesn't lead to just drinking the immature newmake spirit after a couple of days.

But all these pail into comparison next to the latest work of genius from Master Of Malt.  Not only have they solved the tricky problem of counting down the days to Christmas, but they've also come up with the gift-that-keeps-on-giving for every big kid on the planet.  Move over chocolate-filled advent calendars... here's the whisky-filled advent calendar.

The premise is so deliciously simple.  24 doors, each one with a different 3cl individual wax sealed Drinks By The Dram style miniature.  And behind one of the doors (maybe the 24th?) is a measure of 50 year old whisky.

Yes, this is perhaps the most expensive advent calendar in the world (£149) (ed... actually not, as it would seem Harrods once released this gratuitously opulent monstrosity) but it's a total no-brainer, for the sheer brilliance of a dram a day in the run up to Christmas...imagine the anticipation of just what's behind each of those malt-filled doors of joy...

And for those who aren't keen on whisky (why are you reading this blog??!) MOM have put together a gin-based advent calendar too.  

Gents, we salute you.  Festive idea of the year, hands down...

For more information on the whisky advent calendar, visit Master Of Malt.  But get your (ice) skates on... there's only 19 says left till 'door one'... ;-)