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Monday 29 April 2013

A Bloody Brilliant Whisky Event... Jam & Dram

Hello there folks, we trust you are in fine form, now we've had a spot of decent weather.  Here at Caskstrength Heights we've gone from suffering the chilly months next to an asthmatic fan heater, to Joel purchasing a brand new pair of 'OFFICE SHORTS', specifically to wear at his desk during the warmer spells. That's dedication.

Anyway, putting our minor weather news aside, we bring you much more exciting news of a sensational whisky and music event, thunk up by those smart people at The Whisky Lounge and featuring Joel and I as your guides and comperes for the day.

The Jam & Dram (AKA The Great Whisky & Music Experiment) is scheduled to be held here in London on the Sunday 19th May at Shoreditch's effortlessly cool Village Underground.
Starting at 12pm and running until 5pm the day will explore the concept of blended whisky and just how bloody great the art of blending whisky really is.

To this end, Caskstrength will be attempting something rather unusual: deconstructing a blended whisky live on stage using the medium of an assembled group of musicians.  Each player will represent a different aspect of the whisky and will (hopefully) demonstrate just how harmonious a brilliantly put together blends can be.  You will of course be asked to join in with the chorus...

Alongside this introduction,  the day will be filled with blending masterclasses, where you can have a go at blending your own whisky (which you get to take home) as well as three, all-star whisky industry bands performing (which may include a performance from someone located close by...)

We'll also be running competitions and giving you the chance to sample plenty of blends along the way too.

What's not to like about this, eh!  But that's not all. In addition to all this, you can browse around the assembled whisky stands and take in some of the very best drams the business has to offer. Kaboom...

Tickets for this day long event are just £25 each and include the following:

  • 1 x Glencairn nosing glass
  • 1 x Bottle of water
  • All your whiskies sampled throughout the day
  • A mini of the blend represented on the day (TBC)
 To book, simply click on the link here, or visit:

Hope to see you there folks!

Neil & Joel

Friday 26 April 2013

What's In A Name: Port Askaig 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The music business is littered with acts which have changed their name at some stage, to avoid confusion with other, likeminded creatives. Be it a simple hyphen added (in the case of UK indie band Long-View), a location specific addendum (in the case of The London Suede) or a total surname change (take a stand Cheryl Cole), the act you see on stage on hear on record will be the same talented* artist as they were before.

Because as consumers, we’re easily confused. Or so the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) would have you believe. Recently they changed their labelling regulations to make sure that each and every bottle of whisky you buy is clearly identifiable as to where it was made. Sort of.

For years now, bottlers have been buying single malts (or blending whiskies) and selling them under names akin to mythical distilleries; the sort of bottle you’d see on the shelf of your local supermarket maybe, with a watercolour of an anonymous country estate in the background.

It was deemed by the SWA that this could be confusing to consumers who might think they’re getting a single malt from an actual, real life distillery (which they are, if it says ‘single malt’ on the label) but when trying to visit Glen Narnia, might find that the place name on the label of their favourite bottle doesn’t really exist.

Anyway, one of the excellent independent bottles who chose to adjust its name to come in to line with the recent change in regulations, is Port Askaig (or Port Askaig Harbour as it became known). Thankfully back to its original moniker, the name was chosen to mirror a rough estimation of where the liquid in these releases apparently comes from (I’ll save you looking it up: Caol Ila), taking it's name after Islay's lesser known, much more northerly, port. However, with a cryptic, non-distillery specific name, it by no means ties this bottler down to only using liquid from that one distillery.

Proudly Islay-poduced, Port Askaig has a short but excellent history of previous releases (I’m still rueing not picking up a bottle of the very first batch of 17 years old which they release: pure nectar). In fact, I recently purchased a bottle of their now-gone 25 year old as a gift for a friend, such is my faith in the product.

Thus my excitement was tickled when, late last year a 12 year old version was added to the ranks at the decidedly perfect strength of 45.8%. Now where have we seen that ABV before...?

Port Askaig Harbour – 12 Years Old – Islay Single Malt – 45.8% abv – 70cl - £43.95 here

Nose: Vanilla and peat smoke give a bracing, coastal quality to this warming yet invigorating aroma. Elements of coal dust and dried seaweed give way to wet soil and heavy petrichor notes.

Palate: A good balance of salty sea spray, peat smoke and milk chocolate. This sits well and with a drop of water opens up the lighter vanilla and citrus tones to become a very easy drinking Islay malt (not in a low PPM way- this still packs a punch).

Finish: Chamois leather, grapefruit pith and peat smoke.

Overall: A very drinkable Islay malt. As other peaty whiskies move towards no age statements at this price point, if you want something that does carry an age and also packs a peaty punch, this could be for you. Much more Radiohead than On A Friday.

*hummm... debatable.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

The Skye's The Limit. Talisker's New Visitors Centre & Port Ruighe

Oh the irony. In both our professional and enthusiast capacity, we've visited a huge number of distilleries across the globe: from tiny craft operations in the middle of no where, making some seriously unusual hooch, to powerhouse many-million-litre industrial sites, which help to form the heart of some of the best loved spirits brands in the world.   However, in spite of all this we've never visited perhaps one of the most celebrated and popular destination distilleries in Scotland - Talisker, so thought it high time we get our act together.

Getting to Talisker is an eventful experience in itself.  If you're driving, it will take you near on six hours from Edinburgh. Of course, that's factoring in the obligatory lunchtime stop at the Green Welly in Tyndrum for a Scotch pie and a thorough wallet emptying in their whisky shop.  But to say the drive is arresting would be doing it a disservice.  Dependent on the season, the snow capped peaks and colourful fields of heather exemplify Scotland's bleak beauty.  It's no wonder that Sam Mendes decided to choose the breathtaking drive through Glencoe (which you take in on the way up to Skye) for one of the integral scenes in Skyfall.  
Would you accept a lift from this Skipper?

The other option is to take to the high seas and assuming you can find a suitably friendly captain, some Breton caps and oil skins, we'd wholeheartedly recommend the nautical approach.  Here, as you approach the jetty in Carbost, the 30ft climb up the rusting ladder is particularly bracing, especially as you watch your belongings being precariously hoisted up on a piece of rope alongside you.  

The payoff of course (apart from the unbelievable sea views, seal spotting and learning the ropes) is the distillery itself. Whilst not 'chocolate box' in the traditional distillery sense (a la Lagavulin or Strathisla) Talisker has a brooding sense of importance, with truly manifests itself in the spirit produced at the distillery.  At one point Talisker was triple distilled and wandering round the still house (which was rebuilt after a fire in 1960) the five stills (two wash, three spirit) are a formidable sight, knowing the character of what runs from them. If you're still wondering why Talisker is such an iconic distillery pop outside to see the worm tubs in action and then you'll finally get the sense of why it has a huge international reputation for being a powerhouse of flavour.  

A particularly wiggly worm.

Now, we mentioned that Talisker is a popular destination; not just for whisky pilgrims, but also tourists too. Annually, Talisker receives over 60,000 visitors, which, although is a spectacular number, has presented a (nice) problem to Diageo in terms of properly providing the full Talisker 'experience'. As a result, the visitors centre has just received a welcome £1 million facelift, turning an already successful operation into something highly inspirational.   

As we arrived, builders and designers were putting the final touches to the tasting rooms (which are neatly hidden behind pivoted wooden beams) and the wave-inspired opening display.  Impressive stuff indeed and very pleasing to see such investment in the home of an undeniably heavyweight whisky brand. But what about the liquid?  

Well, as you will have seen if you follow our other posts, the whisky itself hasn't been neglected. Like buses, along comes two new expressions in the Talisker range. Storm, which we reviewed recently has proved to be controversial addition, with some quarters arguing that as a non age statement whisky, it is a step in the wrong direction from the much loved Ten Year Old.  But for us, that's exactly the point. In the increasing world of no age statement whiskies, personality is absolutely paramount and in our opinion, Storm is rammed full of brooding intensity and youth, playing alongside some spicy fruit and classic Talisker bonfire chilli smoke. 

Box ticked. We like. 

Next up comes Port Ruighe. Taking its title from an old gaelic name for one of the larger port towns on the Isle of Skye, this expression, like the Distillers Editions has been additionally matured after its time in ex-American and European refill casks.  The final destination is rather aptly a port cask, which supposedly gives a distinct fruitiness to the proceedings.  Like Storm, Port Ruighe does not carry an age statement, so we're particularly keen to find out exactly where it sits alongside its tempestuous brother and the more well-known Talisker Distillers Edition (which carries a vintage and is also extra matured, but in an Amoroso sherry cask) 

Talisker - Port Ruighe -  45.8% - 70cl

Nose: Youthful, a little spirity, but with plenty of zest and bite.  Undiluted, you'll find masses of white pepper, a hint of spicy stewed apple, some wet cardboard and black treacle.  Given time, a little dried ginger emerges and perhaps a touch of earthy truffle oil. With water, a dark caramel note sets in alongside a hint of fruity perfume.  

Palate: Hot and very fiery with familiar Talisker smoked chilli, hickory and a sweetness (icing sugar) hitting first.  A slightly charred woody note develops alongside, developing further with the addition of water- which this whisky really benefits from. 

 Finish: Oaky notes, some very dry smoke and a hint of dried fruit.  

Overall: Enjoyable, but very much reliant on water for the full effect. Here's the rub. Talisker has set such a high benchmark with several of its existing expressions, which are now hewn into the fabric of what are known by many as 'classic' whiskies.  Port Ruighe is a solid enough contender and a very direct one at that, full of youthful bite, but in our opinion it lacks a little of the finesse of the Distillers Edition, the Ten Year Old and now the mighty Storm. That's not to say it doesn't have its own place. Right now however, we're left wondering exactly where that might be.  

For More information on visiting Talisker, visit:  Visit Scotland or The Classic Malts websites.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Single Life - The Balvenie 12 Years Old Single Barrel Single Malt Scotch Whisky

There is a lot of talk in the whisky business about single casks. One off, limited edition offerings which give a snapshot of 550 litres of spirit from one day at a distillery, left to its own devices to mature away. Once deemed ready, it is removed, bottled and sold, usually for a higher margin than those other whiskies either sent off to join a blend, or those chosen to stay as part of a single malt release from said operator.

However, putting together a blend is not easy work, as we recently discovered when constructing out limited edition offering for our A – Z of whiskies, Cutty Sark (available here for £34.95). The previous two releases we did, from Arran and BenRiach, were both single cask offerings and, it has to be said, choosing them was a much easier task than the time we spent in the blending room, learning from Master Blender Kirsteen Campbell.

Making up over 90% of the global Scotch whisky market, blends are works of art, skilfully constructed from a multitude of different whiskies. Single casks, however are almost a freak of nature, chosen as they are for the exceptional quality and bottled in naturally limited quantities, due to the very nature of the size of the cask (minus the Angels’ share, of course).

As such, single casks tend to be the domain of either the independent bottler who has stocks of whisky lying around, or as one-off special releases from the distillery owners themselves, often carrying a hefty price tag.

But there is one distillery that should be praised for releasing a consistent stream of single casks. Nestled away in the heart of Speyside, on the road out of Dufftown towards Craigellachie, sits The Balvenie.

Having recently enhanced both their core range (adding the 17 Year Old Double Wood which we reviewed here) and their offerings in Duty Free (which I saw last week in Edinburgh Airport on their first day of release- and very nice they look too, being ‘triple casks’, a marrage of three styles of cask), they’ve also turned their eyes to their single barrel offering, expanding the range from just one at 15 years old to two, adding a lower age version, at 12 years old.

The original 15 years old is taken from a refill ex-bourbon cask, where as this new 12 years old is given a lift by the use of whisky exclusively from first fill bourbon barrels. Numbered and labelled, there are due to be no more than 300 bottles drawn from any one cask. Unlike the 15 years old, it will not carry a date of distillation and bottling, which is a shame.

Now, a distillery releasing single casks is nothing new. But a distillery doing single casks as part of a core range is fairly unusual. Even more remarkably, a distillery offering these out at prices such as £57 for the 15 years old and £44 for the 12 years old really is madness.

The Balvenie – 12 Years Old – Single Barrel – First Fill American Oak – 47.8% abv

Note: this is a single cask, therefore the tasting notes will be for this specific bottling (300 only or less) but will provide an overall direction of where this whisky will sit in the core range from The Balvenie.

Nose: Over ripe bananas, runny honey, heather, malted milk biscuits and a hint of toasted pine nuts and basil. Vanilla and apricot are found, too with some pear drops. Very fruity and light.

Palate: The apricots really spring through at the front of the palate with some fantastic red and green apples, the pear drops again, then rich runny honey and all underpinned with a fantastic oily nature. Very delicious.

Finish: Fairly short, with some spices (cinnamon baked apple) and a big hit of vanilla.

Overall: This is a very good whisky. As per the note at the top, each batch will change and vary slightly. The 5cl we have was provided by the PR company and doesn’t carry the batch number on it, so we can’t tell you which one it was, which is a real shame as it means both you, dear reader, and I are unable to head out to buy this particular batch... boooo.

This is a fantastic new offering from The Balvenie. With a line up that now seems to run as a 1, 2, 3 (1- single barrels / 2- double wood releases with two wood style influences / 3- the ‘triple cask’ duty free offerings, giving three styles of cask influence), their range is really developing very nicely. 

Having released a younger edition of the single barrel from a first fill American oak cask, I only hope they look to do an older one, maybe from a barrel made closer to this small island. But who knows. For the time being, I just wish this 5cl sample was 14 times bigger...

Monday 8 April 2013

The Path to Gold: Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Gold Route

Like that regular visit to the doctor, every year, Scotch whisky gets a bit of a health check from the folks at the SWA: assessing its international performance, growth, uncharacteristic hotspots and areas of concern.

And like a thoroughbred race horse, (but not 'Seabass', judging by my crumpled betting slip from Saturday's Grand National) Scotch appears to be in an even ruder health than it was this time last year.  Exports are up once again with the 2012 figures showing the the Scotch whisky business worth a staggering £4.3 billion, an increase of 87% over the last decade.  New markets such as South America have seen increases as much as 14% since last year's figures and the USA sits at the top of the whisky fountain with imports breaking through the £700 million mark for the first time.

Despite this, the volume of Scotch whisky exports actually declined by 5%, demonstrating that consumers are looking more towards higher end, luxury and premium products amongst their blends and single malts.

Hot off the back of such positivity comes the news from Diageo, that they are investing substantially in building a brand new (as yet un-named) distillery in Teaninich with the capacity to produce up to 13 million litres of spirit, alongside expansion of the existing Teaninich and Mortlach distilleries to practically double capacity. Heady days indeed. This is a clear indication that we are living in an era where Scotch (TM) is as industrious and as bankable a commodity as one is likely to find.

Of course, some people have a hard time with the fact that whisky has been taken out of the hands of the privileged few and pushed outwards to the masses, which is of course an absurd sentiment.  Yes, we're no longer going to find 1970's single cask Ardbegs for the price of KFC Bargain Bucket, but travel virtually anywhere around the globe and you'll find a decent whisky behind the bar.  To be a continued global success, whisky needs to keep looking forward, not reminiscing about the 'good old days', with wizened hands clawing onto a single cask Port Ellen, bottle number 1 of 12.  
As Oliver Klimek recently wrote on his excellent Dramming blog, the whisky business does not exist simply to provide whisky geeks with single cask bottlings. To be frank, without the likes of internationally renowned blends, it would simply cease to exist at all.  

So onto one of those blends.  Johnnie Walker is perhaps the most ubiquitous whisky, if not brand name in the world.  The recent activity in the Walker camp - from the introduction of Platinum, to the extra smoky Double Black, alongside the Director's Blends have demonstrated that the brand continues to walk at a particularly spritely pace.  Now more recently, the Striding Man has decided to take a sojourn abroad with the release of the Explorers' Club Collection; a trio of bottlings launched exclusively into Global Travel Retail, now a lucrative market all of its own right.  We reviewed the inaugural bottling, Spice Road, at Christmas and at a shade under £30 were hugely impressed by its balance of spice, seasoned oak, dried fruit and classic Walker smoke.   So when the next bottling, Gold Route hit the shelves we were intrigued.  Would the thread of Walker excellence remain? The price is approximately twice that of the Spice Route at around £60 or $95, so expectations are high, all things considered. 

Johnnie Walker - Gold Route - 40% - 1 Litre

Nose: Soft fudge, freshly sliced ginger, a lighter sooty note coupled with a touch of medicinal peat,  vanilla sponge cake and fondant icing.  With a little water, a more creamy coconut note emerges, alongside a welcoming gentle woodsmoke and some very subtle orchard fruit notes, tinned pineapple and condensed milk. Very good indeed. 

Palate:  Sooty and a little grainy at first, with some tingling liquorice notes, a malted cereal sweetness a vanilla fudge creaminess, some mint humbugs and zesty lemons.  In fact, the mouthfeel is quite sharp and zesty, the further in you travel.  Some lingering smoke on the death rounds out a feisty palate indeed. With water, the fruitiness starts to come to the fore, with icing sugar-dusted red apple, a touch of  Juicy Fruit chewing gum and an aniseed ball, thrown in for good measure.  

Finish: Lemon zest, a touch of anise and a lingering mintiness nestle alongside something slightly grainy. 

Overall:  Whilst this isn't lacking in stature, in my opinion it perhaps lacks some the more direct notes offered by the Spice Road.  It has some subtle spice of its own, which sits alongside the creaminess and definitely benefits from a few drops of water to really coax the beast of complexity from its cave.   The question is, would one buy a bottle of this, over two bottles of Spice Road?   I'm not sold yet, but one suspects that like life's more challenging constitutionals, there is more to this walk than first meets the eye...

Saturday 6 April 2013

May The Nose Be With You: Highland Park Loki, Duty Free and European Editions Single Malt Whisky

The Beatles: very much considered to be one of the greatest bands in musical history. Stop anyone in the street, anywhere in the world and chances are that they’ll know a tune or two by the Fab Four.

Correctly lauded for writing some of the best songs of the 20th Century, their legacy of hits will live on as long as we consume music which, given the example shown to us by the past, will be forever.

I studied business at university, with a focus on the music industry (involving interesting aspects such as copyright law.... *yawn*) and whenever I think of the Beatles, one decidedly ignorant chap from those days springs to mind.

He claimed that any band who can release 12 studio albums of original material, plus b-sides, in just a 10 year history, “would write something decent, if you put that many records out”.

This man was, of course, an idiot.

Keeping a flow of consistently high quality output and cementing your place in modern popular culture as a result, is not easy. The road to longevity is scattered with those who burnt brightly on their debut album, but were unable to keep up their quality and consistency.  Take a bow Kula Shaker.

Seemingly as busy as the Beatles, those chaps up at the Highland Park distillery in Orkney have been hunkering down to release not just one, nor two, not even three new products, but a whopping nine new whiskies this year, thrusting them into the world in support of their ever-present core range.

Hidden away in two European markets, two new little releases were quietly being consumed by the Swedes (who get a cask strength, 56% abv, no age statement offering, pictured above left) and the Dutch, who get a tasty new 10 year old. Both these releases come in a nifty little 35cl bottle.

Highland Park – 10 Years Old – Holland only – 35cl - 40% ABV

Nose: This is certainly on the peater side of the Highland Park spectrum. In fact it is on the coastal side, too with peat, sea salt, chamois leather, some grapefruit and a hint of tinned peach coming through on the nose.

Palate: Sweet and almost heathery, with some peat (not as much as the nose) which gives a good basis to some notes of lemon meringue pie, tinned pineapple chunks and salted caramel milk chocolate.

Finish: short with a punch of peat and salt, lingering elements of the lemon meringue pie and then some light toffee tones.

Overall: At under 20, I wish we had an offering like this in the UK (but I’m sure the Taxman would have something to say about this). 35cl bottles would be a great way to get malt-ready drinkers into the category. For the money, a fantastic offering which showcases the lighter end of Highland Park very well indeed. I wonder if they’ll do one for Norway, matured in ‘Norwegian Wood’...

Next up for Highland Park is a complete overhaul of their travel retail range. Duty Free is a major area for whisky and Highland Park has taken the bold move to release six new products over the year, under the banner “The Warrior Series”.

The six bottles are all named after famed Viking warriors, with the first three of Svein, Einar and Harald all hitting the shelves soon in your local airport, priced at €40, €53 and €70 and increasing in European oak influence as you move up through the range. A further three will be released later this year.

Highland Park – Harald – 40% abv - 70cl

Note: A mix of around 50% European oak and 50% American oak

Nose: A hit of peat at first, backed with soft vanilla ice cream, some fresh ginger and then spices of cinnamon, cardamom and fresh pine.

Palate:  There is a lightness about the palate without it being thin, shown again the vanilla but also underpinned with the peat smoke, spices and some figs and toffee.

Finish: Smoke and spice give way to dried figs and cloves.

Overall: Again, a smokier whiskies than I would normally give Highland Park credit for, but this does not unbalance a palate which gives good flavours and a nose which packs a punch.

Finally, Highland Park have added the second release to their Valhalla Collection in the form of the shape-shifter Loki.

Hot on the heels of Thor, last year’s sell-out first release from this innovative collection, Loki has been developed to mirror the characteristics of this Norse spirit. A dark and mysterious character, Loki was known for his mischievous tricks which he would play on the other gods, often getting himself into much trouble with the other residents of Asgard.

The whisky itself shows off an age statement of 15 years, comes at the higher-than-normal strength of 47.8% abv and is limited to 21,000 bottles around the world, weighing in at £120.

Highland Park – Loki – 15 Years Old – 47.8% abv – 70cl – £120 here

Nose:  Hummm… there is some peat smoke in there, but it’s really hidden behind some toffee apple, a hint of mango and passion fruit and some boiled sweets. I’d be hard pressed to pin this down as a Highland Park from the nose.

Palate: Ah! There we go. A hit of peat and the tropical fruits come rushing through, leaving a peppery and leathery finish of cloves and antique furniture. This is an odd one, with the palate almost flipping the nose on its head.

Finish:  A sweeter finish, with the smoke right on the pack of the palate and a cinnamon spice ending.

Overall: A very strange sensation, this whisky is almost like three different Highland Parks, from the nose, the palate and the finish. Very drinkable, this is a different whisky to the earlier Thor release (which was bigger and more powerful on the palate) as this dances around, being hard to pin down but in a good. If you buy a bottle, open it and drink it.

So a busy start to 2013 for the most northerly distillery in Scotland. I’m sure tasting all these whiskies before they were bottled proved to be a Hard Day’s Night in Kirkwall, but it all really seems to have Come Together  for a Helter Skelter ride of flavours and stories.

Friday 5 April 2013

Family Values: Newly Released Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

Take a second to think... when was the last time you did something really meaningful with your old man?  I'm not talking about having a conversation about football, cars, golf, politics or whisky, but actually took the time out to cook a perfect steak, carve something out of wood together, catch a fish, build a wardrobe or jam for a while on your guitars. 

Reason I ask, is that last Saturday, whilst my wife, mother and daughter were out shopping,  my father and I decided to bang out a few old Stones riffs, reminisce about some classic albums and enjoy a couple of decent drams before lunch.  It was a real spare of the moment thing, but something which reminded me how much I missed spending time with my dad -  now we live nearly 150 miles apart.

Papa Ridley is an extremely creative and practical man.  Not only has he been performing in bands for over 50 years but has always been my go-to guy for repairing my collection of old guitars, amplifiers and anything electronic, despite how knackered it may appear. I realised just how great and supremely practical a dad he was on Saturday April 5th, 1994 - amazingly 19 years ago today when, together, we built a speaker cabinet in his garage from some old plywood and some throw away speakers he had lying around.  

Reason I specifically remember this date is that a little after 1pm, a BBC news report came through on the radio we had on in the background that Kurt Cobain had just topped himself, leaving me as a teenage fan in a state of utter disbelief. That speaker cabinet has subsequently been used for nearly the past two decades and whilst I could never quite conjure up the screaming guitar tones that Kurt used to, it still reminds me of a symbolic moment bonding with my father over music.  To be honest, my dad never much cared for Nirvana, but felt compelled to help me as best he could in educating me with his own superb record collection.  

Now where am I going with all this?  Well, yesterday a rather interesting bottle of bourbon arrived at our office, fresh from Messrs. Russell & Russell.   I am of course talking about Wild Turkey's Jimmy and Eddie, the remarkable father and son combo, who have between them a collective 90 years of experience making bourbon. Now, if there's anyone who can probably talk about creating something meaningful with their father, it's Eddie Russell.   And I'd be willing to bet that pretty high up on that list would be Russell's Reserve, the duo's brand new small batch, single barrel bourbon.  

Created using a selection of alligator charred casks, (the heaviest level of char available) the Russells earmark a number of these casks for their Reserve selection, this being the latest in the line.  The result is a whiskey that is bottled at 110 proof.  Despite there being no indications as to the age of the spirit (a six year old RR rye and a ten year old RR bourbon have also been released prior to this) doing some research shows up that there are around 800 bottles of this new Russell's Reserve. Unfortunately, for those outside of the US, you may have to wait a little while to source one -  there are no plans to release in Europe, but the odd bottle might float its way via the usual channels (ala Whisky Exchange or Master Of Malt etc) 

So have the Russell's joint endeavours been in vain?  More's the point, like my father and I -  have they hit a few bum notes during their jam together?  Let's find out...

Russell's Reserve - Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon - 110 Proof -  750ml - $49.99

Nose: A wonderful spicy, peppery rye note greets you initially, with fat vanilla pods, golden syrup, a hint of cedar wood, toasted orange peel and a little liquorice/anise note.  At 55%/110 proof you'd expect there to be some prickly notes, but everything is refined, soft and velvety.  Given time in the glass, some plump raisin notes emerge alongside some vanilla pipe tobacco and a hint of flat cola.  It has an effortless about it often seen in single barrel bourbons that will really appeal to the single malt drinker in spades. 

Palate:  Oily and very spicy, with lots of liquorice, clove, white pepper, sweet vanilla, a touch of brazil nut and marzipan.  This really doesn't need any water, but if you're planning to add some, be gentle: too much will ruin the oily/spicy balance completely.  

Finish:  Long lingering notes of drying aromatic wood, liquorice and a wonderful creaminess.   A second finish with some darker earthiness emerges too, with tobacco leaf notes and dark chocolate nestling on the back palate. 

Overall:  This is a stupendous bourbon, make no mistake.  It's refined, controlled and supremely complex.  Lord knows what age it is, but age really doesn't matter in this instance.  What the Russell clan have done here is triumphant.  One thing's for sure, it's certainly inspired me to spend more time with my old man... 

Monday 1 April 2013

Escape To Victory... An Incredible Death Defying Attempt

We're big fans of death-defying and cunning stunts at Caskstrength. But sadly, as our recent trip to Talisker Distillery (more on this later this week) confirmed, we're pretty rubbish at anything that remotely resembles the merest hint of danger.  Just sitting in a rubber dinghy on route to the jetty in front of the distillery was about as pant-wettingly terrifying as it gets for us, especially when you watch helplessly as a man hauls your laptop case with a dodgy catch up the 30-foot ladder on a precariously tied rope.

So when we heard the news that an actual-proper-death-defying-cunning-stunt was to happen at another distillery next week, we felt compelled to write about it, from the safety of our front room.

The popularity of TV escapologists has increased tenfold over the past few years thanks to the sterling work of the likes of David Blaine, The Incredible Mr Goodwin and El Fatisimo, the larger than life Mexican escapologist, who blazed a trail by eating his way out of a massive fruit loaf, whilst actually being baked alive on Mexican TV.  He survived, but not without suffering severe indigestion and a slightly singed cape. What is it that compels these modern day icons to risk everything in such incredibly treacherous circumstances?  Money, fame, girls and of course, the product endorsements.

El Fatisimo was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for his audacious eating stunt and also claimed the bragging rights to literally hundreds of scantily clad groupies.  But according to the escapologist's management, the real reason was the truckloads of Soreen fruit loaves delivered on a daily basis to his waterfront apartment.

This was the very motivation that Jean Rholoris needed when planning his next escapology assignment. And next wednesday, the world will be watching one particular distillery in Speyside very closely - waiting, wondering, hoping and praying that his unprecedented stunt will bloody well come off.

Rholoris is well known on the escapologist scene, but not because of his success rate.  On the contrary, he is perhaps more well known for being one of the worst escapologists in the history of the profession.  David Braine is well documented in his criticism of Rholoris, saying recently that '(he) couldn't eat his way out of a chocolate straitjacket', evening going as far to condemn his failed attempts as 'nothing more than internet sensationalism.'

Many would crumble under such criticism, but Jean Rholoris is clearly made of tougher stuff- (indeed, more than a chocolate straitjacket.)

His latest attempt will see him decamp to the ever publicity-hungry GlenBridge Distillery for a feat so death-defying, (and some would say foolish) that even his knockers have pricked up their ears.

As a lifelong lover of single malt whisky, Rholoris was drawn to the idea of the synergy between the spirit and the oak casks used in its production.  'To the untrained eye, each cask could be seen as a dank, depressing, woody prison for this free-wheeling spirit,' said Rholoris, 'but I see them as a challenge.  Each year, like in my favourite film 'The Great Escape', a small amount of spirit successfully escapes its oaky confines and this has inspired me to have a go too.'  

After making the necessary arrangements with Malcolm MacMichaels, distillery manager at GlenBridge, a special 650 litre cask has been commissioned for the escape attempt.  Rholoris has insisted that the cask be seasoned with the finest Canadian Ginger Ale first, as any dryness in the staves could prove fatal.  Once Rholoris is securely manacled inside, the cask will be filled with 65.3% ABV new make spirit distilled in the traditional column stills used at the GlenBridge distillery and the cask hoisted to the regulation 16.3 ft in the distillery's traditional dunnage warehouse - the optimum height for maturation/escapism.

Adjudicating body for the Scotch whisky business the SWA have stipulated that without breathing apparatus, Rholoris will have no more than three minutes and one second to make his escape, to legitimately be recognised as victorious.

An artist's impression of Jean Rholoris
before his death-defying stunt
Even David Braine has given Rholoris his support, despite his reservations.  'Yes, he's a rubbish escapologist, but you can't fault the man for trying something fresh, vibrant and crowd pleasing,' he pointed out.  But he also revealed  'I had several conversations with him last week, pleading with him to abandon the idea of having the cask set on fire during the attempt, which is just downright stupid.'

As Jean Rholoris goes through the final preparation stages (immersing himself in his bath at home, full of whisky) one can't help but feel a sense of camaraderie for this brave individual. If he succeeds, his name will no doubt become legendary - not only just in the whisky business.  But controversially, if he fails, succumbing to his spirity confines, all is not lost. GlenBridge have said they plan to release a limited edition bottling from the contents of the single cask, regardless of the success of the stunt or not, thus sealing the escapologist's fate either way and securing his place on the many lucrative whisky auction sites around the globe.

So wherever you happen to be next Wednesday at 2pm, stop for a second and give Jean Rholoris your thoughts and prayers and perhaps raise a glass of something special to the sporting endeavours of this remarkable (if slightly mad) character.