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Tuesday 28 May 2013

More Heavy Weather: Bowmore Tempest Batch IV Single Malt Whisky

Save the whiskies Harrison, not yourself!! 

What is it about whisky and weather? Yes, we understand that today's rain is tomorrow's whisky, but it seems that of late there's a few companies paying homage to the tumultuous weather. Both Talisker and Cutty Sark laid claim to the Storm moniker and this month see's the return of Bowmore's feisty Tempest, with batch IV hitting the shelves as we type.  

Tempest has always occupied a special place on the shelf for Caskstrength. Since the inaugural batch was released in 2010, we've been big fans of its bracing, visceral quality. Never compromising (well, Batch III was a little lighter in intensity) peat fans and whisky sessioners the world over have reached for a bottle of Tempest when they want to deliver the goods in front of their mates at a reasonable price.  

Continuing with the small batch outturn (still a phrase that vexes us a little, as there is no indication of what the batch size actually is) the whisky is again released as a 10 year old with a strength of 55.1%.  One thing of immediate note is the absolutely sumptuous new packaging: the blue box is terrific looking and demonstrates that Bowmore is really ratcheting up the contemporary feel for their bottlings, which has perhaps been lacking before.   

But box and bottle design aside, this has been one of those eager awaited whiskies that we're finally pleased to bring you an update on... and the good news is that it totally delivers. Tempest has always made a play on using first fill bourbon barrels in its construction and this time around, the sweetness is really in evidence, alongside that unmistakable smoke...

Bowmore Tempest - Batch IV - 10 Years Old - 55.1% 

Nose: Spirity at first, then swathes of rich toffee hit, alongside some hickory woodsmoke, menthol notes, orange zest, chocolate covered gingers, homemade vanilla ice cream, toasted pecans and butterscotch sauce. Given time (and a little water to calm down its intensity) a familiar vanilla pipe tobacco develops and a faint waft of something perfumed (parma violets perhaps?) 

Palate: A superb mouthfeel helps to prepare you for the onslaught of hot, sooty peat, a sour cherry note, then a wonderfully spicy richness, leading to an ultimate sweetness.  It has a bourbon'y vanilla note ringing clear right the way through, but a pleasant peppery bite on the side. Given a little time to unwind and the more perfumed elements that Bowmore possesses come to the fore: parma violets, freshly cut lemons, a toasted nutty note and more creamy vanilla pipe tobacco. Superb stuff. 

Finish: The sweetness lingers on the palate, with a slight sooty note claiming the bragging rights to your tongue.  

Overall: Bang- totally back on form, the current batch of Tempest is right up there with the first in terms of sheer peaty indulgence, sitting alongside a moreishness that screams late night session with your friends.

Sometimes peaty whiskies can just smash you into submission- even when you're not ready for them. Consider them the equivalent of dating a bodybuilder, all bronzed and rippling from cheek to cheek (even the ladies.) All well and good, but after you get past the fun, ever-so-sightly terrifying aspect, don't expect the conversation to get too deep over breakfast. Bowmore Tempest has its muscles flexing in all the right places, but has enough intelligence to stimulate the parts that strength alone will fail to grapple with...Sterling work folks.

Bowmore Tempest is available here for £47.95 

Thursday 23 May 2013

Jubileeeeehah! A Brace of Brand New Macallans To Celebrate The Coronation

The world of collectible whiskies is an extraordinary place - and it has undoubtedly travelled a very long way since we've been actively writing about whisky. I distinctly remember the moment when it dawned on me that people actually 'covet' whisky; not just for its simple unctuous enjoyment, but to hold, to gaze upon and to store behind glass, like precious possessions.  

The Macallan 'Peter Blake At 80' set
Fast forward to 2013 and the world of the collectible whisky is of course still dividing opinion and sparking mass hysteria within the whisky drinking community. A quick glance at Scotch Whisky Auctions will tell you that the likes of The Macallan, The Balvenie and Port Ellen are the barometers for how profitable whisky has become.  The Macallan in particular has, like no other brand, managed to create not only objects of desire (consider last year's Diamond Jubilee bottling,  or the Sir Peter Blake box of curiosities) from their special limited edition releases, but couple them with outstanding liquids.  It creates quite a conundrum really:  To drink, or to covet?  

Well, the conundrum is likely to get even more tricky from today, as The Macallan are back with another limited edition bottling, this time to celebrate the Queen's Coronation 60 years ago. However, this time, unlike the Royal wedding bottling, or the aforementioned Diamond Jubilee release, the distiller has decided to release a brace of 350ml bottles that form a set to commemorate the celebration.  

The Macallan Diamond Jubilee bottling
Designed by long time The Macallan collaborator, Art Director David Holmes, each bottle will feature a different image of the Queen, one taken in the year of the coronation by Cecil Beaton and another taken in 2004 by portrait photographer Julian Caulder.  Two sides to mark the remarkable life the Queen has undoubtedly lived.  

The liquid types could not be more different. Neither carries an age statement, but the hallmarks of both vibrant American oak and intense sherry cask maturation are on display. 

Both the Royal Wedding and Jubilee bottlings were superb expressions.  Quite how many are actually open is anyone's guess (not that many, by the looks of SWA) so will this new release only serve to bolster the collectors market for The Macallan?  Without even trying either whisky, only a fool would bet on them not selling out, but what we're really here to discuss are the different liquids themselves and fortunately, our two slightly-less-beautifully-packaged sample bottles will do more than enough justice.  

The Macallan -  Coronation Bottling - Cecil Beaton - 58.1% - 35cl

Nose: Initially, a lively zesty affair, but given a few minutes in the glass, this really is a breathtakingly sweet affair: vanilla bean-rich white chocolate, golden syrup, tonka bean, Victoria sponge cake and vanilla pipe tobacco notes swirl elegantly with a light orange blossom. Superbly light weight, perfumed and rich.

Palate: The strength gives this a punchy mouthfeel, but after a burst of spice (liquorice and ginger) the vanilla rich aromas are transported to the palate, with a buttery richness developing. Water calms down the spice and brings out more of the vanilla, with some sweet cereal notes helping to deliver a very pleasing and fatty mouthfeel.  

Finish: Lingering oakiness gives way to a return of the vanilla/golden syrup and a touch of menthol right on the very death.  

Overall: The Macallan, but wearing a plush velvet suit with a soft ermine collar. It's the sort of whisky that drapes itself over you - a comforting blanket of sweet treats and satin textures.  Superb stuff. 

Next up, a more mature and complex side to the Queen... The Macallan style...

The Macallan -  Coronation Bottling -  Julian Caulder - 55.7% - 35cl

Nose: If the Beaton bottling was white chocolate personified, this is its nemesis.  Layers of cocoa and fattened rum-soaked raisins and figs mix with an overly woody spice note of cinnamon and nutmeg.  The vanilla of the other bottling hasn't diminished completely, more pushed into the background to be discovered.  But when you do dig deeper, there are plenty of surprises.  Kirsch soaked cherries, toasted Brazil nuts, a touch of walnut and masses of dried fruit, all with a swish of creamy custard.  Hugely complex and very Macallan, but with such finesse.  

Palate: Like the Beaton bottling, it gets off to a hot start, but the spices drive through, with a warming cinnamon, liquorice and cola note leading into diced dates, raisins molasses, dark leaf tobacco and dark chocolate. Water simply adds to the complexity and helps develop the spicy notes and the length of the dark chocolate.  

Finish: Lingering raisins, sour cherries and cocoa help to emphasise the richness of the sherry influence. 

Overall: A Macallan through and through, this is a whisky that takes time to fully uncover, but rewards the drinker with complexity, spice and a darker, more robust side.  If the Beaton bottling was the Queen pottering round Sandringham tending to her roses in the summer, this is Her Majesty polling around the grounds of Balmoral on a cold autumn day in her Harris tweeds.  

All in all, both bottlings are so different to the other, but each definitively a Macallan and proud.  Another triumphant release - and one which we hope will not just sit on display in a collector's cabinet. For to simply gaze on these whiskies from afar is to do the whisky's creator, Bob Dalgarno a distinct disservice and possibly a Tower'able offence.  

The Macallan Coronation set will be priced at £350 and is limited to 1953 bottles, available from the Macallan Visitors Centre and online (UK customers only) 

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Makers Moe: The Simpsons, Makers Mark and Balcones Straight Texan Bourbon Whiskies

I've always been a huge fan of cartoons and from my uncle who learnt his English by reading Donald Duck comics first in Norwegian and then again in English, through to my older brothers who always had copies of The Beano lying around, it's been a consistent family trait.

Starting with the aforementioned Dundee-based comic (which has been the subject of a post before) I graduated to the excellent Tintin series of works, but that's where my interest waned in favour of books with less illustrations and more words.

However, I've still maintained a love for graphic art and, of course the odd relaxing cartoon on the telly from time-to-time.

One of my guilty pleasures in life is to set the Sky+ box to series link for The Simpsons and, once the working day is over, to sit back with a nice dram and an episode or two of this now iconic American show. So, imagine my surprise when I heard that in the latest season (season 24) one episode, called Whiskey Business, was to feature the down-at-heel local bar owner, Moe Sizlack landing venture capital investment to sell his own bourbon, Maker's Moe.

Amid the growing craft distillation movement in the US, we shouldn’t forget those staple bourbons which populate our backbars and supermarket shelves, so this gives us a nice chance to have another look at Maker's Mark whisky.

Maker's Mark – Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky – 45% abv – 70cl £22.95 here

Nose: a bourbon which doesn’t shout but gets its point across well with few words. Vanilla pods and oak spices are backed with some subtle honey and red apple, all wrapped in parma ham.

Palate: soft brown sugars are mixed again with vanilla pods and some red cherries. There is a hint of ginger and a mixed dried fruits. Oaky drieness kicks in, but this is, overall, soft and subtle on the palate.

Finish: Some spices, but not over powering. Softness again.

Overall: A really great whisky for mixing or pouring, this is a classic example of a great American bourbon which has established itself as a go-to brand for all the right reasons.

It's no secret that craft distilling is in a boom-time in the US and it has reached such a height that even The Simpsons is featuring it. Quite the accolade for those already set-up and distilling.

Of those making interesting spirits, Chip Tate at Blacones in Texas has to be right at the top of the tree. From his crazy creations such as Rumble (a distillation of figs, honey and sugar) through to his Baby Blue and the 2012 Best In Glass award-winning Texan Single Malt, Chip has now delved into the world of bourbon, making something which we would describe simply as ‘extraordinary’. We tried a sample at this year’s Whisky Live...

Blacones – Straight Bourbon Whisky – Single Cask – 64.2% abv - 100 bottles approx. worldwide

Nose: A classic “yee-haa” of a bourbon nose with rich toffee apple, light wood varnish (Pledge?), rich vanilla pods, some freshly laid garden wood chippings and that wonderful delicate drying note provided by the corn.

Palate: As is becoming traditional with Chip’s offerings, this is stout, strong and robust, with elements of charred meats, heavy oak and red cherries, yet there is a complexity on the back of the palate where spices dance around hand-in-hand with those vanilla pods from the nose, with hearty red berries and cinnamon spices providing a velvety backdrop.

Finish: Cigar box and leather with those red berries finishing off and a drying tone of menthol to end the experience.

Overall: Another great whisky from Chip Tate. I hope, unlike Moe Sizlack, that Chip maintains his independence and can play around with ideas and flavours at will. It’s a great bedrock on which to build a business.

How unusual be reviewing two American offerings and not have to put an ‘e’ in my whisky. However, when you pour yourself a dram of the Balcones Straight Bourbon, you’ll certainly be putting the ‘you’ into flavour...

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Tie A Yellow Ribbon, It's The Merry Month Of May: The Glenlivet Distillery Only SIngle Malt And Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Whisky Reviews

Before I kick off this post, we need to make a small announcement. Since we started writing this blog at the beginning of 2008, we’ve been on an amazing journey, met a lot of fantastic people and had some incredible experience in the world of whisky. There weren’t many whisky blogs around at that time (Dr Whisky and Whiskyfun take a bow for probably being the only other two – sorry if we’ve missed anyone out), with score-free whisky reviews seemingly like an idea from Mars.

Now in our sixth year, we’ve been extra busy with everything from writing work with the likes of Whisky Magazine, Imbibe, The Wall Street Journal in India and many more around the world, through to books (Neil and Gavin D. Smith’s excellent Let Me Tell You About Whisky), media work, our bottlings, hosting tasting far-and-wide, as well running our creative agency, Caskstrength Creative. This year we were even made Keepers of the Quaich and we were incredibly proud to receive such an honour from our peers.

As a result of our growing number of outlets for our writing (including a new book we have just been commissioned to write- more on that soon) we will be tightening up our posting schedule, condensing our blog to two articles a week, on a Tuesday and a Thursday, with any ‘special features’ (such as trips to Islay’s Feis Ile or anything else that needs more in-depth coverage or special attention) going out in between.

If you don’t want to miss out on our now bi-weekly posts as well as any other special features we do, you can subscribe to our mailing list (you won’t get any other rubbish, just our articles from here) on the right of the page.

So that’s it. Expect fresh and new content every Tuesday and every Thursday here on or mailed directly to your inbox if you subscribe.


May is a big month. 

Usually it is the time when relegation and promotion in the British football leagues are resolved (and as an Oxford United fan, that often induces ‘squeaky bum time’, as Sir Alex once called it), the FA Cup and Champions League finals are played and it is a month when you (if you’re me) start to think about booking a holiday, but realise it might be prudent to do a tax return first. But over-and-above all of these, it is also the season of the regional whisky festival in Scotland.

First up, for those of you who like a good Glen or two, the Spirit of Speyside festival kicks off. This year it was held between Thursday 2nd and Monday 6th May, with various events taking place across the region and some superb drams tasted, such as The Glenlivet’s first ever distillery-only bottling. Inspired by sister distillery Aberlour, they have added a fill-you-own cask in their new mini-tour section and, as you would expect, is labelled as ‘cask number 1’. So, for the second post in a row, let's try a new bottling from The Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet – Hand Filled At The Distillery – 18 Years Old - Cask No. 1 – Bourbon Cask – Number of bottles unknown – 56.8% ABV (£70.00)    

Nose: White peaches, rich maple syrup and vanilla. Some soft ginger loaf, highly polished oak furniture and over-ripe banana, apricots, nutmeg and cinnamon. There is fantastic age to this dram with a really rounded nose. A very active cask caught at just the right time, with a big in aroma. A really big aroma.  With water: the vanilla and banana come to the fore and red cherries appear.

Palate: At full strength, it is sweet on the palate (muscavardo sugars), with a hint of green tea, rancio and bitter orange, all wrapped up in very dark chocolate. With water, the whisky really comes alive, giving a boost to the previous flavours but with an added bonus of golden syrup and heather honey.

Finish: Soft and long with a rich treacle tart notes.

Overall: If you’re going to do something, do it well and that is exactly what The Glenlivet have done with first attempt at a distillery only bottling. A single cask, cask strength 18 year old for £70 is not bad value at all in my book.

The excellent, limited ed Aberlour
There were a few ‘special’ bottling flying around in Speyside, such as Glenfiddich's 200-only festival bottle (a light and floral bourbon cask from 1997 and bottled, hand bottled with an abv of 55.4%), an excellent Aberlour of just 1,812 bottles, designed for local sale only (a richer, stonger version of the a'bunadh with an age statement of 12 Years Old, 56.8% abv, 100% oloroso sherry) and a Mortlach named simply ‘48’ (3,000 bottles ‘only’) and bottled at the respective abv.

However, the home of the special bottling has to be Islay, which has consistently offered up interesting single cask releases such as the Lagavulins and Caol Ilas done by Diageo (not to mention their legendary Port Ellen), many interesting Bruichladdichs, Bunnahbhains and Bowmores and always something from Ardbeg and Laphroaig, who are now using the occasion to launch wide limited releases across the world. Add to this Kilchoman and Jura and the aforementioned holiday / tax bill seems to slip even further down the priority list when it comes to money!

As usual, we shall be heading out to Islay for the majority of the festival (a wedding precludes turning up for the first few days) but once we arrive we’re expecting the same fun-filled time as usual (although I’m not sure anything can top 2009 with @TWEBlog, Faceman and the Immortal Cowjetski). Having warmed up in April with a trip to Skye, tasting a couple of Port Askaigs and refreshed our palate with some excellent grain and Speyside offerings, it’s time to start warming up again for peat and what could be more apt than a new offering from the new arm of Douglas Laing, than their small batch Big Peat.

A brand which has been around since 2009 and has traditionally used whisky only from Islay, also at times using Port Ellen in their mix. The new release, available only at this edition, bottled at 50% contains whisky from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. A 50cl offering is only £29.99 and only 250 bottles have been made.

Big Peat – 'Private Edition' - Blended Islay Malt – NAS - 50cl - 50% abv £29.99 here

Nose: vanilla, spiced green apple, peat smoke (obvs), white and green wine gums, some watermelon, pear drops, chamois leather and grapefruit, some coal dust.

Palate: Lovely and smooth, soft vanilla and those pear drops take centre stage. The back of the palate is where the smoke sits. Some dusty old tones and a little copper fill the mouth. Zinc and calcium notes round out a sweet, peaty and slightly chalky palate. With water, the vanilla develops and the chalky nature falls a little, leaving an oiler whisky.

Finish: Bitter lemon, marmalade and smoke.

Overall: For a penny short of £30, this is a solid peaty offering, if not a little leathery in places. The perfect ready-made hipflask for that CalMac ferry over to Port Ellen, this will warm your heart and your tummy with a fist of great peatiness, before you disembark to savour some of the whiskies which originally went into this mix.

Well, this has certainly warmed me up and the smell of peat smoke fills my soul. Speyside seems to be a regular on our travels at the moment and it has been a while since I’ve visited Islay, but this has given me a dreamy vision of arriving once more to see old friends, stay in old buildings and drink old drams.

Here’s to May- a month of many delights!

Wednesday 8 May 2013

None More Black. The Glenlivet Alpha Arrives.

There's a line that sums up what is undoubtedly one of the finest films in cinematic history.  Simple, effective and descriptive, the line, 'there's none more black' characterises the degenerating relationship between the members of seminal (fictional) heavy metal band Spinal Tap.  If you're not familiar with the line, or the film, we urge you to buy it immediately and have a peak at the video below.

Why are we telling you this?  Well, frankly, there's a lot of crossover between the whisky and music businesses respectively, especially in the last 5 years.  Both of us Caskstrengthers came from careers in music, both Island and Warner Brothers and it was amongst our responsibilities to develop release campaigns around the artists we'd signed and looked after-  sometimes creating an aura of mystery, intrigue and excitement.  

Consider the band My Chemical Romance.  Not a band either of us worked with directly but great props to our friend and former colleague Danny Watson for engineering something truly inspiring at the time.  On their breakthrough album, The Black Parade,  a huddled horde of 30 shadowy figures, dressed in long black hooked cloaks prowled the streets of Hammersmith, carrying banners emblazoned with 'The Black Parade', bringing the roads to a standstill.  Fans went crazy, local residents went crazy, the police probably went crazy, but the album, alongside its award winning TV campaign went on to sell truckloads in the UK.  Another of Danny's standout ideas was utilising the restaurant Dans Le Noir, for an album launch. The restaurant is famous for being totally blacked out, wrong footing the diner's senses, but leading to a taste sensation as a result. 

As you can see, there's a theme running here.  The dark.  Mystery. Uncovering the truth within.  
Whisky companies are seemingly adopting the idea of looking at their whisky releases in the same way a record company marketing manager would when creating a promotional campaign for an album. This neatly brings us on to Alpha by The Glenlivet; a whisky which no one really knows anything substantial about, which has baffled the online community with its unconventional launch -  seemingly parachuting in from no where, with little fanfare.  

What can we tell you about it.  Well, it comes in a fairly striking black bottle, with virtually no information on it, save for the legal requirements of ABV, bottle size and that it is a product of Scotland.  As to the whisky inside... well, here in lies the intrigue.  

Anyone who writes reviews of a whisky is rightly or wrongly guilty of informing a flavour profile in some capacity. Since we started this site back in 2008, we made a decision to never score whiskies, a system which is now much imitated - and rightly so. Rather like in an NME album review, readers tend to gravitate towards very high or indeed, very low scores.  Anything in-between tends to fall into the 'grey' area.  I remember one artist we worked with receiving a 6/10 for their album in the NME.  We'd have preferred a 2/10, simply because poor reviews tend to be better written and, in many cases, actually inspire listeners to seek out the record for themselves.  

According to the little press available, Alpha aims to offer a 'blank canvas' to the consumer allowing themselves to make a judgement on their own interpretation of the whiskies flavour and aroma profile.  To this end, The Glenlivet will be unveiling a series of sensory videos as guidelines to help the consumer to discover their own interpretation of the whisky.  A neat idea really.  

So what does it actually taste like?

Well, here's the problem. Although an open bottle is sitting in front of us, it would be quite boring to simply review this in a conventional fashion and give the game away.  So we've decided to have a little fun with you.  

Glenlivet Alpha -  50%

01110110 01100001 01101110 01101001 01101100 01101100 01100001 00101100 00100000 01101001 01100011 01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110011 01110101 01100111 01100001 01110010 00101100 00100000 01110011 01101100 01101001 01100011 01100101 01100100 00100000 01100001 01110000 01110000 01101100 01100101 01110011 00101100 00100000 01100011 01101111 01100011 01101111 01101110 01110101 01110100 00101100 00100000 01100110 01110010 01100101 01101110 01100011 01101000 00100000 01110000 01101111 01101100 01101001 01110011 01101000 00101100 00100000 01101100 01100101 01101101 01101111 01101110 00100000 01101101 01100101 01110010 01101001 01101110 01100111 01110101 01100101 00100000 01110000 01101001 01100101

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Overall: Well. That's up to you to find out.  Suffice to say, we thought it was a solid expression and very 'Glenlivet' in style. Over to you. Let us know your thoughts.

If you're having trouble working out our tasting notes, fret not.  We urge you to try this whisky and make your own mind up.  If you're still needing our tasting notes, somewhere on this page is a link to them.  Have fun...

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Competition Time: Win A Pair Of Tickets to Jam & Dram 19th May

With a wonderful weekend of relaxing in the garden under our belts (with lashings of Bains Cape Mountain Whisky and ice) the weather shows no sign of abating today either, so whilst we're in a good mood, we've decided to give away TWO pairs of tickets (that's two lucky winners, innit) for the splendid whisky event Jam & Dram on Sunday 19th May run by our friends at The Whisky Lounge. Caskstrength will be compering the day, alongside hosting a series of blending workshops.  

On top of this, you'll also get chance to see Neil's brand new band, Prince Adewale & The Endeavours rockin' the Casbah with their debut gig, The Whisky Lounge Blues Band (featuring none other than The Whisky Lounge's Eddie Ludlow) and an unmissable, all-star performance from a beat combo, The Copper Dogs featuring our good friends and whisky cohorts: Sam Simmons (aka Dr Whisky), Cat Spencer from Master Of Malt, Whisky Magazine's Editor, Rob Allanson and Simon Roser from Simply Whisky. What's not to like about that!

To win a pair of tickets worth £50, all you need to do is email us at with your name, location, contact details and age. Entry for the competition closes at 12pm on the 13th May.  Please note that you'll need to make your own way to the event at London's Village Underground in Shoreditch, so if you're planning to enter from overseas, don't expect a pair of complimentary airline tickets too... ;-)

We'll be choosing the winning two entries at random on the 15th May.  

Good luck!

Neil & Joel x

Friday 3 May 2013

The Caped Crusader. Bains Cape Mountain Whisky

AGGGHHHH! My lower lumbar region!!

Ain't life a funny one. A little while back, I was lifting a rather heavy speaker cabinet up several flights of stairs, without paying any attention to the proper way to carry things, as sported here in this instructional video. Of course, I ended up buggering up my back, which took a few months to get better.  I was told by a back specialist that it would probably never be 100% again and only this week the swine decided to give way again. Alas, it meant that agonisingly, I had to cancel my attendance at the Spirit of Speyside festival this weekend, which was deeply upsetting.  

But despite not being able to move about without the use of a sturdy malacca cane, today I am smiling. Why? Not because of the codeine tablets (which I must wholeheartedly advise NEVER to mix with alcohol) but because here in London, it is the sunniest weather I have seen all year.  

Blissful azure blue skies are predicted all weekend and that can only mean one thing.  

Outdoor sunshine drinking.  

My usual exploits would be with an array of different gins, a highball made from Japanese whisky or perhaps even a few glasses of little light and floral Scapa/Rosebank with a barbecue.  But this year, such is our enthusiasm for world whiskies, I've plumped for what is turning out to be one of the standout spirits of the year round here: Bains Cape Mountain Whisky.  

Bains Cape is one of the many high flying masterpieces from South African distiller James Sedgwick.  Under the watchful eye of distillery master Andy Watts, James Sedgwick have crept up on the whisky world, tapped it on the shoulder and whilst it looks the other way, snuck past, poured a dram of something sensational and left everyone in absolute wonderment.  

For several years running their Three Ships brand has won aplenty at the World Whisky Awards (where Joel and I are judges) and recently, Bains Cape has picked up the coveted Best Grain Whisky in the World award.  

As we suggested back at the turn of the new year in our predictions, the rise of South African whisky is rather timely. Not only is the nation one of the largest and most hearty consumers of whisky in the world, but James Sedgwick is now ripe for export and their range of whiskies represents the changing ways in which the consumer enjoys the spirit.  

Bains Cape Mountain Whisky (named after Andrew Geddes Bain, who pioneered the awe-inspiring Bainskloof Pass) is a grain whisky with all the zest-filled glory you would expect it to be. Column distilled, then matured in first fill American Oak, the whisky is ultimately bottled at five years old.  It's young, vibrant and fresh, leading me to seek out its very own serve. 

With something as robust in flavour as a Yamazaki or Nikka From The Barrel perfectly suiting a highball, I wanted to find a serve that flatters the sweet grain note in Bains Cape and extenuates the delicate vanilla custard note.   

A white wine glass full of ice is my first port of call.  Next up, 40ml of Bains Cape and then a thin slice of expressed lemon zest.  Look for the most chubby lemon you can find (ok, I did splash out here on a nice Amalfi one from foodie mecca, Borough Market) give the whole thing a stir and you have quite frankly THE drink of the summer.  As the Bains Cape dilutes, it sweetens, mixing effortlessly with the zest.  It's simple, but gloriously refreshing.  There's still enough of a bite to give you a thrill along the way and anyone who enjoys a gin and tonic will be falling over themselves to thank you for introducing this to them.  Couple this with one of Theo Randall's Amalfi lemon tarts and you have a perfect appetiser for an impending sun-drenched weekend.  

Bains Cape Mountain Whisky -  43% - 75cl

Nose: Classic grain freshness, with an explosion of citrus zest, vanilla pods, burnt caramel and marzipan/sugar coated almonds. With water, it becomes sweeter, with some white flower notes and a touch of fresh nectarine. Stunningly sunny. 

Palate: A hint of bite and then we're into a mouth coating wash of sweet vanilla, coconut milk, candied fruit and lemon zest.  It's surprisingly rich and has a huge bourbon influence. 

Finish: Short, with sweetened tea notes, vanilla shortbread and marzipan. 

Overall: I'm going to stake a big claim on this one... This could well prove to be the whisky of the year in our eyes, at least the summer. That much is a given.