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Wednesday 25 September 2013

The Whisky From Breaking Bad - Dimple Pinch Scotch Whisky

Breaking Bad and Scotch whisky; two of the very items which seem to have consumed my life recently.

It must have been over a year ago when a chap called Olly Wehring, editor of drinks industry website Just-Drinks and erstwhile twitter addict (@ollywehring) 'lent' me a copy of the first season of Breaking Bad on DVD.

Now that the final season, five, has hit our screens in the UK via Netflix (already making the idea of having watched season one on DVD seem like a vintage concept) each Monday, it has become a 'must watch' in my house.

On that note: when did the word 'season' overtake the word 'series'? I'm not sure I like it.

But back to Breaking Bad... It took me a good nine months or so before I even looked at the DVD which had been lent to me.

I'm one of those people who, when someone says to me "I think you'll really like it...", revolts against the idea. It makes me want to really not like something. Just as when someone says "I think you two would really get on...". No. No, we won't.

Despite this unusually pessimistic stance (how can one be a pessimist when supporting Oxford United?!), it is always a joy to be proven wrong. And this is exactly what happened with Breaking Bad.

Two episodes in and I was hooked. A couple of weeks later and I was already on season four. What had become of me?

As the seasons develop, main character Walter White is seen imbibing various drinks, from "Churchill's favourite Champagne", Knob Creek whiskey, cheap Tequila and, of course, Scotch whisky.

But it was not until the penultimate episode (shown this week) where, at a bar (I won't say where, as I've not given a spoiler alert at the start), Walt orders a Scotch- a "Dimple Pinch. Neat."

Dimple Pinch is a blended Scotch whisky which comes in quite a unique 'pinched' bottle. If you're outside the US and looking to pick up a bottle of this (to watch alongside your two copies of Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium at your Breaking Bad finale party next week) then, unless you hit specialist retailers such as The Whisky Exchange or Master OfMalt, and pick up a vintage bottle, you won’t find Dimple Pinch here. But you will find exactly the same drink, in the same bottle, but carrying the title Haig’s Dimple.

A while back (in 2011) we did a post on Haig, the man (or men) and the influence the Haig family has had on both Scottish and Irish distilling, which you can read here.

A fascinating story, it is rightly deserved that Haig’s name remains on a bottle of Scotch whisky and quite sad that Dimple Pinch’s new found fame doesn’t reference the man himself; for had Breaking Bad been set in the UK... well, Walter White wouldn’t be in his predicament to start with (Go, NHS!), but his bar call would have been “Haig’s Dimple. Neat.

So here, once again, are our tasting notes from a vintage bottle of Haig’s Dimple:

Dimple Pinch / Haig's Dimple – Old Blended Scotch Whisky – NAS - 70pc Proof – 13 1/3 Fl Oz

Nose: The first impression is of spiced apricots. Almost Bombay Mix but with a tangy, fruity nature behind it. Over ripe banana notes then peek through, which grow over time. It seem to me that there is a decent slug of European Oak in here but there is also some energy from the grain whisky which certainly waves its flag from the medley of different aromas. As the nose dies off it leaves behind some fresh mint and a hint of strawberry travel sweet (the ones covered in dusty sugar).

Palate: Banana hits first with a range of different fruits, from pear drops to red cherry dancing about. But not real flavours, again the sort you find in boiled travel sweets. No bitterness, but a touch of sharp, zesty citrus notes which don’t sit brilliantly with the sweetie notes. However, it makes for a more developing and energetic palate, pulling it away from “too sweet, sickly” just at the right point.

Finish: Short, slightly spiced with the lime zest lingering and a hint of liquorice at the death.

Overall: It doesn’t matter when this blend was put together, it is still a No Age Statement Blended whisky and, without knowing how ‘exclusive’ it was when it came out, I didn’t hold much expectation. This more than delivered with a fantastic nose, a suitable palate which was well balanced if not a little unsubtle in moments and a finish that leaves you able to refill and go again pretty quickly. All-round, drinkable and enjoyable.

So if you’re stocking up on Dimple of any kind, in any country, for the finale of Breaking Bad, then have a go at seeing how close today’s offerings are from that in the tasting note above.


Saturday 14 September 2013

The Devil Is In The Detail - Bowmore The Devil's Casks Single Malt Scotch Whisky

A very short post, doubling up as a bit of a rant:

Please, please, please... if you run a distillery and have an 'innovation' department, can we please encourage you to do at least a basic review of other brand’s products in the marketplace before you craft your marketing for a new release.

Let’s say that maybe one island-based Scotch producer had twice used the devil in their releases. And maybe even a major American whiskey distiller had too... well, then maybe don’t use it for your newest release. Especially when the liquid inside is really quite good.

Bowmore – The Devil’s Casks – 10 Years Old – 6000 bottles – 56.9% abv - RRP £50.99

Note: matured in 100% sherry casks

Nose: A big hit of peat and salt at the start which develops into Battenburg cake, a hint of vintage engine oil and new leather (nubuck). There is certainly a tarry element to this, which isn’t a bad thing as it adds some real depth and body to the liquid.

Palate: This dram needs water to open and, quite frankly, take some of the aggression which it has at 56.9% away. Once watered, it gives plums, red apples, quince cheese, damson jelly, cigar box and some quite earthy tones of high quality dark chocolate, all wrapped up in smoked ham.

Finish: Again, a good slug of water is needed to bring the very best out of this dram. The finish lingers with brooding smoke and the plums hanging around, in a big, juicy capacity right to the end.

Overall: A very good whisky which is remincient of some of the single cask first fill sherry casks of Bowmore which have been released by the SMWS recently. The price point feels right for this whisky (after their seemingly ‘expensive’ offering of Auchentoshan which we reviewed last week) and the decision to bottle at such high strength is admirable, even though it really does need water to open up. Think of this as the sherry equivlient to Tempest, which itself has been consistently accepted as quality liquid, from batch-to-batch.

So, great liquid. The devil really is in the detail. It’s just a shame that he stayed in the blending room and didn’t make his way to the marketing department for this release.

Thursday 12 September 2013

The Riches Of Midleton - Barry Crockett - Irish Whiskey's Superstar

As anyone who has visited a distillery before will tell you whisk(e)y making, wherever it is produced, is not just about the liquid, the processes and the location but also the people behind it.  

Visit any of the picture postcard distilleries on Islay in Scotland and the above is very much on show:  from Iain McArthur at Lagavulin, the cheeky warehouseman, whose guiding influence on the selection of the whisky has been instrumental in making Lagavulin one of the best loved distilleries in Scotland.  Iain recently celebrated his 40th year working in whisky, many of them spent at Lagavulin, every year honing his knowledge and his ability to pick a winning cask.  The same story applies to the Bowmore distillery. Manager Eddie MacAffer began his tenure at the distillery back in July 1966 and is without doubt, the most learned person on the planet when it comes to the whisky produced by this hugely popular distillery.  

In Ireland the story remains the same and last week, we were lucky enough to be part of a very special double celebration at the Midleton distillery in Cork.  For those unfamiliar with the Midleton name, the distillery, which was re-developed on the old Midleton site back in 1975 produces, Jameson Irish whiskey- available in almost every bar in every town in every country around the globe.  Such is the popularity of the brand, alongside the recently revived excellence of Green Spot and Redbreast (the 12 year old sells around 30,000 cases a year), that Irish Distillers who own the vast complex of still rooms and warehouses (to give you some idea of the scale of the brand, we counted nearly 50 aircraft hanger sized facilities, full of maturing casks) have just completed an ambitious expansion plan, taking the capacity of the distillery to somewhere in the region of 60 million litres of whiskey a year.  

Yes, they're really this big...

The Midleton 'Housewarming' was a celebration of just why Irish whiskey is currently the fastest growing dark spirit category in the world and for two days, nearly 1000 writers, journalists, bartenders and whiskey enthusiasts desended on the small town, where the distillery had transformed itself into effectively an Irish whiskey theme park - not only to celebrate the huge expansion, but also to give a fond farewell to Barry Crockett, master distiller for Irish Distillers, who retired at the event, handing the reins over to Brian Nation

The Midleton distillery has received a substantial facelift and in addition to the impressive construction  of the Garden Still House (with quite easily the biggest pot stills we have ever seen, with an overall capacity of 80,000 litres, typically running at up to 40k)the distillery is now catering more for consumers, with the addition of a whiskey academy, complete with old school chairs and desks, blackboards and some seriously impressive working glass stills at the back of the room, that brilliantly highlight the potstill distillation process.  The academy is intended to be as detailed or as light on knowledge as needed, for instance catering for groups of bartenders, keen to know more about Irish whiskey and its DNA compared to other whiskies, or simply for visitors to the Midleton site to get a feel for what is to come when they visit the full sized stills on their tour. We like... A lot. 

Barry & his newly named Stillhouse
And as to the whiskeys themselves.  Well, here at Caskstrength we'd heard quite few rumours concerning a brace of new Redbreast releases (steady on, not those sort of rumours) so were keen to see if there was any new liquid on offer during our trip. Alas not, but we hear there is to be some substance to the rumours shortly -  watch this space. What we did get to try again was the range of single potstill whiskeys, which Midleton have been steadily building into a strong category of its own (see our previous feature here for more information) 

Seeing as it was Barry Crockett's final day at the site, a healthy dram of his legacy whiskey seemed the most fitting send off -  and without a doubt, the Crockett, totally rocked it... 

Barry Crocket Legacy -  46% - 70cl

Nose: A sensational balancing act of fresh orchard fruit, vanilla, some tropical notes (mango and passion fruit) whipped cream with a drizzle of honey and del seasoned, spicy oak.  As Irish whiskeys go, this has everything -  depth of character, a spicy backbone, delicate notes and a very fruity personality -  much like the real life Barry Crockett.  Triumphant just about sums this up.

Palate: The tropical fruits of the nose develop further on the palate, with the seasoned oak starting to develop a presence. The taste is full on and zesty initially, but with a little water the calmer vanillas develop alongside soft ripe plums, some peppery notes and a creamy oakiness.  

Finish: Lingering notes of the soft fruit, with a little touch of spicier, dried fruits and a delicious creaminess which fades with time. 

Overall: Whilst it's sad to see Barry Crockett retire, he has passed the tasting glass on to a more than capable distiller in the shape of Brian Nation.  Not only that, but he has left a truly great legacy behind in this wonderful whiskey.  Alongside Redbreast 15 year old, this is easily our favourite Irish whiskey and that is saying something.  Enjoy your spare time, Barry -  and make sure you leave with a few cases of this in your car...

You can learn more about the Midleton distillery by visiting:

Wednesday 11 September 2013

A Thank You Plus Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review

We don’t keep count here at Caskstrength Towers. We couldn’t tell you how many posts we’ve written over the years, nor how many whiskies and other spirits we’ve reviewed, but needless to say, it has been a fair few.

A labour of love, running a blog can often fast become a way of life; like those lycra-clad folk (I belive called 'mamils') who manage to make going to the gym a regular part of their life. We’re not exercise-shy by any means (Ardbeg Half Marathon, anyone?!) but somehow sitting down at our laptops, with a dram in hand, seems unusually to take the place of the locker room and dumbbells. Goodness knows why...!

If you are signed up to our mailing list (and if you are a regular reader, why wouldn’t you be?) you’ll know that each time we post on here, at 8pm GMT that evening, our scribblings are sent out to your inbox, for you to read on the bus, in bed or on the loo. If you’re not signed up, just stick your email address is the little box on the right; all you’ll get is this blog. Honest.

Once the email goes out, we often receive replies to it, with comments, questions and general feedback. (A special mention here for Wim, with his regular replies) We really appreciate all your comments and kind words.

This week, we found out that we have made one of the five finalists for The IWSC Blogger of the Year award, along with wine blogs Matt Walls, Deby Berd and the Wine Folly and the Sherry Blog, all wonderful places to read about grape-based products.

It is lovely to be nominated for awards, especially one with such a great international reputation, but what really makes writing this worthwhile is your feedback, comments and questions. If a tree falls in a wood and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Similarly, if a blog is set up and posts written, yet no one visits the site to read it... you get the picture. So, before we start today’s post, we’d just like to say a huge thank you to those of you who keep this blog alive, by giving us a reason to write it.

Exception to the rule - Auchentoshan Virgin Oak

There are always rules in life. And there are always exceptions to those rules. “I before E, except after C” is probably the most famous of the lot and one which, to be frank, is a heinous rule which seems to have become sovereign in our teachings on grammar, confusing not only those foreign to our language but also our neighbours, too.  Unscientific and downright weird, this rule should neither be taught nor learnt.

Can you see what I’ve done there...? Answers on a postcard to Caskstrength Towers (or a simple reply to your email, if you’re on the mailing list, will do).

When it comes to explaining whisky, there is one rule which is usually trotted out, that Scotch whisky is double distilled, whereas Irish whiskey is triple distilled.

Having just returned from a lovely trip to the new still house at Midleton distillery in Cork (home to Jameson, as well as Red Breast, Green and Yellow Spot and Midleton single pot still Irish whiskeys), it is great to see this powerhouse of triple-distilled whiskey production booming, but to say that this is the main difference between Scotch and Irish whiskey is simply untrue. In our next blog post, we’ll focus on what some of those differences are, but for the time being, let’s have a look at that most simple of rules: that Scotch whisky is always double distilled.

Aside from Springbank and their reflux-heavy stills which give not thrice, not twice but somewhere in between levels of distillation (famously their Hazelburn brand is triple distilled), there is one small single malt Scotch distillery which proves an exception to the rule.

Auchentoshan distillery, located just on the outskirts of Glasgow, produces triple distilled single malt Scotch whisky. As a result, the spirit taken for cask filling, from their third still, is at 81% abv, reputedly the highest in Scotland.

Their latest release sees Auchentoshan mature their whisky in virgin oak casks, untouched by any other spirit before use. In theory, this should show up the true DNA of the spirit, giving just a hint of North American oak to the whisky, but let’s find out:

Auchentoshan – Virgin Oak - NAS – 46% abv – RRP £69.99

Nose: Cinnamon dusted apple strudel, with hints of vanilla ice cream, Lily of the Valley and some lemon juice. Over time, the nose develops a more earthy quality which adds depth and complexity. Some tropical fruits after a while.

Palate: Big and fruity (tinned fruit salad), there are certainly elements of pineapple and ginger here, with peach melba, apricot and more pineapple. There are flourishes of lavender and sugary shortbread, but overall this is a very fruity dram and really quite lipsmacking.

Finish: The earthy notes from the nose give good ‘oomph’ to the passion fruit and pineapples found in the palate.

Overall: Right up there for me with some of the best releases this year. My only criticism is the price, which seems a little steep at nearly £70. All in, this is a solid release from the team at Auchentoshan.

Well worth a try (and well worth a visit if you’ve never been), let’s hope this sets a high standard for new releases from them and doesn’t prove to be an exception to the rule.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Whisky On The Rocks: Mumford & Sons Gentlemen of the Road Whisky

I don’t know if it is my age but I’m very much enjoying the brilliant BBC iplayer and some of the eclectic shows which can be found on BBC’s 6 Music radio station. I have written before about what delights can be uncovered on shows such as the excellent weekly offering from Don Letts and others.

We are in a time when a lot of us will own some form of digital device on which we can store music. When I was young, the storage of songs was on cassette tape. C30, C60, C90 and if you were really luck, a C120. That was it.

Not now- even on the cheapest of devices you’ll end up with hours of storage space for your tunes.

Hours. That’s a lot of music.

Ergo, this forces music consumers (that’s you and me) into a wider spectrum of genres in the listening experience. If you’ve only got a C60 tape to fill, you can only stick to one genre. If you’ve got hours, you’ll jump between hip hop, indie, rock, folk, acoustic... you name it, you can have it.

When I first started my whisky journey, it was all about one genre: single malt Scotch. However, as my palate as developed, as I have dedicated more time to understanding whisky, greater attention to details and production processes, I have expanded my spectrum of flavours to blends, world whiskies and grains. And better my life is for it, too.

Recently, we ran a backstage bar for our friends Mumford and Sons, when they played their biggest headline show to date (save for Glastonbury), selling out the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

We were offering a selection of different Scotch whiskies to try, as well as a cocktail, The Gentlemen of the Road whisky cooler, made using apple juice, homemade apple cordial, Cutty Sark blended Scotch whisky and chocolate bitters, which went down a storm with the bands and VIPs.

The real star of the show, the headline act at our original 1950’s bar, was a blended Scotch whisky which we crafted at Caskstrength Towers and held in a giant vintage demijohn. Made up from around 100 different whiskies, some dating back to 1954, it was the centre piece to our bar.

Alongside sampling this bespoke blend, we were letting attendees fill their own small complementary bottles (each featuring the gig poster as the label) which were then hand numbered and wax dipped. Only 120 of the little 60ml critters were available.

We were thrilled with the reaction to our whisky and hope that it in some way it highlighted exactly what an art it is to compose those famous blends which have existed for generations and are often sadly maligned in the UK, often for their ubiquity. There is a reason so many blends are seen on shop shelves: because they’re pretty darn good.

We are in no way Master Blenders, but we hope this small exercise went some way to entertain as well as educate those who came to the bar to explore whisky. Blended whisky is not something to be scared of and we hope that, in trying some and understand the art of blending, that it will do what the MP3 has done for popular music: your love of whisky shouldn’t fit on a C90 cassette, but should be broad enough to fill a whole ipod and for some, hopefully this was the start of that journey.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

A Dram With A View... London's Best New Bars

Every so often, from Berlin to New York, a bar will suddenly arrive without fanfare or expectation and completely change the landscape of drinking that the city has to offer.  From the gloriously speakeasy themed PDT (Please Don't Tell) in the aforementioned NY, to London's Purl and sister bar The Whistling Shop, both subterranean Dickensian palaces of science and flavour, the art of the bartender has perhaps never had a safer pair of hands over the last 3 years.

Recently, Caskstrength has been tasked with undertaking some bartender training on the mixability and vitality of the blended Scotch whisky category and speaking to the groups of bartenders from across the globe what's clear in particular is that right now, London appears to have the edge when it comes to the variety of great bars offering exemplary service and a wide variety of innovative drinks.  Last week we had the pleasure to visit arguably one of London's most exciting new bars, NOLA (named after the abbreviation of New Orleans, Louisiana) run by the wonderful Dan Priseman, a man who has never looked more at home serving simple classics given a subtle sprinkling of the Deep South.
A wonderful Hurricane-inspired drink from NOLA

NOLA isn't a huge bar -  probably with a capacity for 30 guests or so, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in panache and for those in search of a perfect Ramos Gin Fizz (which comes with the proviso that the bartender must be on the verge of passing out before the drink is properly shaken) there really isn't anywhere else to consider.  They even have a fabulous cigar terrace and a frighteningly  well-put-together collection of sticks to enjoy.  Hola, NOLA, we salute you!  

But for the sheer scale of what makes London one level ahead of the pack in the bar stakes, one only needs to look up to the skies and to The Shard, London Bridge's newest and most captivating landmark- in particular the 31st floor.  For those of you who know little of London's latest swathe of tall buildings to divide opinion like no other, The Shard is the daddy of them all, and currently carries the lofty title of Western Europe's tallest building.  From the underneath, the scores of tourists eager to travel to its summit seem more than happy to part with the £25 per person it costs to take an elevator to the very top.  But amazingly, about 99% of them fail to spot the obvious goldmine of a drinking opportunity. Venture around the corner from all the queues and you'll find another entrance with a single lift containing just one button for the 31st floor.  Now given that The Shard has 72 floors, you'd think that being less than half way up was a little like popping to watch the latest blockbuster film and deliberately missing the action packed cliff-hanger of an ending. But after stepping out of the lift and strolling into the Aqua Shard bar, you'll reconsider the meaning of the phrase 'no half measures'.  Because here, half way is definitely the right way.

The smile on your partner's face as they see the location they'll be enjoying several cocktails for the next few hours is absolutely priceless, for in our opinion, Aqua Shard outshines any other high rise bar in the world, without question.  Don't believe us, then see below...

Hello London...
But of course, location isn't everything. But when you have a view this good, you'd be gloriously happy just drinking tap water.  A quick perusal of the menu reveals that Aqua Shard specialises in a small range of classic inspired cocktails, with Harry's Cocktail (featuring Monkey 47 gin, Antica Formula, absinthe and garnished with an olive and fresh mint) - about as perfect a drink as one can imagine when presented with such an impressive vista of London's skyline.  Aqua have an entire menu based around gin-based cocktails and also one dedicated to tea-infused creations, with the Persephone's Cup comprising of Buffalo Trace bourbon, Moscato, hibiscus tea syrup, some bergamot and lavender bitters all aged in a small white oak barrel.  It's gloriously floral, yet mouth-wateringly rich and just goes to show how manager Manuel Soro has risen (at least 31 floors...!) to the sky high challenge of making Aqua Shard London's most exciting place to drink.  Just make sure your guests have a head for heights...

For more information on both bars visit: and