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Tuesday 25 February 2014

Scandimania: Glenmorangie 10 Year Old Original Single Malt Whisky

I do love modern technology. When you really sit back and think about some of the technological advances we have at our finger tips, it really does amaze. In fact, as I write this I am a living embodiment of how incredible technology is: I have a battery powered bluetooth keyboard which is connected to an iPad mini. The keyboard itself is sensitive to light and will only provide backlit keys when the light is low. I'm told by the manual that if the backlight isn't used, at two hours a day usage, the battery will last an entire year. Longer than most of my whiskies last me.

Add to this my current location: I'm sitting in an airline seat, on a giant hunk of metal currently hurtling through the sky at… let me check on the screen imbedded into the seat in front of me where I have a GPS readout of exactly where my plane is in the sky... yes, at 504 mph (ground speed).

The whole thing, this amazing mix of technology, is pretty mind blowing, really.

We live in an incredible time when we have technology like this at our fingertips and we eat and drink better than the most successful kings in history. We are very blessed people.

But as technology develops, some (which were hyper-exciting at the time) become obsolete. Take the entertainment centre in the seat in front of me: I remember my first ever long haul flight when I was about 12, flying to Canada for an extended family holiday. The sheer excitement of films, TV shows, games... all hidden behind a small screen to play with for hours was amazing. Nowadays, not so.

In fact, such is my distrust of the quality of the entertainment I'm likely to find in-flight, that I've taken to loading up my iPad with all the goodies that I might need. I'm hardly likely to find Alpha Papa: Alan Partridge The Movie, on a US carrier's servers, I feel.

In loading up my iPad with titbits of entertainment, I took to downloading the final episode of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Scandimania, a show which has aired in the UK on Channel 4. Known for his very British approach to cooking, HFW (as we shall refer to him) went on a mission to discover what it is that makes the people of Sweden, Denmark and Norway so darn happy. Over three shows he left his comfort zone and went in search of the stories about industry, history, culture and food.

I had previously managed to see his shows on Sweden and Denmark when they were broadcast, but missed the final show, all about Norway and so used C4's on demand service, 4OD, to download it onto my iPad for this flight across the Atlantic.

The show was of particular interest to me, as regular readers to will know that I am a Norwegian passport holder. Now, I would be the first to admit that I'm not the best when it comes to upholding simple national traditions, such as speaking the language. 

Shame on me. 

Nor do I own the national dress and I rarely celebrate 17th May (Norwegian Independence Day).

However, there is an undeniable affinity that I feel with Norway and in particular the city of Bergen. Seeing it feature on the show made my heart beat a little faster and a smile creep across my face for a place I spent most summers as a child but precious few days as an adult.

In his final episode of Scandimania, HFW singles out Norway for its understated success; now the fourth richest country in the world, you may well find Norwegians in the best shops in London, but you sure-as-$hit wont find them having their matt black Lamborghini clamped outside Harrods or buying Premiership football clubs. They leave that type of 'class' to other wealthy nations.

Watching the show led me to wonder: if Norway was a whisky, which would it be? The answer was pretty simple: Glenmorangie.

Always around and one of the biggest selling single malt Scotch whiskies in the world, Glenmorangie is, despite being owned by uber fashion house LVMH, I think pretty understated. Yes, they advertise and yes, they speak of their quality but they don't seem to shout about it; they just get on with it.

I was recently re-introduced to their entry level offering at the launch of their new annual limited edition Companta (which we review here), the 10 Years Old 'Original' and fabulous it was too. I probably hadn't had a dram of it in about two years and was pleased to find that it was as delicious as I'd hoped it would be. A rare find indeed.

Glenmorangie - Original - 10 Years Old - 40% abv - £29 here or £26 here

Nose: A sweet yet malty nose gives hints of real vanilla pods, banana bread and both green and red apple skins. It is a developed nose that is delicate yet full of flavour. A lot going on without being unbalanced.

Palate: Drinkable neat, it gives some peach, more malt and banana initially on the palate, which develops nicely into lemon meringue pie, mango and a touch of vanilla at the death.

Finish: Soft and smooth with some spice and the vanillas again.

Overall: One retailer above currently has this for £26 for a 75cl which comes with a mini of another of the Glenmorangie stable. A steal? I would think so. This whisky is one to not be forgotten about if you're looking for some change from £30 (here in the UK) for a classic Highland single malt whisky.

The rediscovery of this dram threw me a puzzle: why did I 'forget' about it in the first place? Especially when I have been happily ordering Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet's lower priced bottles rather freely at bars recently. The only answer that I can come up with, is that the Original is rather softly spoken. Rather understated. Rather, erm... Norwegian.  

Monday 17 February 2014

A Rant Of Sorts. Our Two Pet Hates: Lazy PR and Whisky Ageism

Right then. This might not be pretty. But sadly, we have two particular pet hates which have been irking us this past week:  

No. 1: Extremely Lazy PR companies:  

Over the course of at least three or four emails in the past week, we've received invites or product introductions that have either been addressed to someone completely unconnected to either Joel and I or this website.   

'Dear (insert incorrect random name), we love your blog (insert incorrect random blog title) and have been huge fans for a long time... We'd really like you to feature our product in some capacity, as we feel your readers would really appreciate it...' 

Mistakes happen it seems. Fine with us -  we make plenty of them. But frankly, laziness is more prevalent than ever and the alarming number of shocking 'cut-and-paste' jobs from newly appointed PR companies working on behalf of well known drinks brands is unacceptable. I'm not looking to build a Caskstrength-shaped ivory tower here. But having been privy to just how much money certain companies are paid in monthly retainers to present a brand portfolio to a range of journalists, bloggers and other media sources, to quickly bang out a freshly laundered press release, changing the names to suit (or not, as it would seem) does not represent good value for money or help build relationships for their paymasters.   

Those who are guilty, pull your bloody fingers out. Please do your research and your homework. Actually get to know those who are simply at the end of a telephone or an email. Good relationships cost nothing. Bad relationships are VERY expensive. 

No. 2: The Seemingly Misunderstood World of No Age Statement Whiskies:

A very topical subject this month. Thus far, a few other blogs have featured stand points on NAS whiskies, including observations from Edinburgh Whisky, Billy's Booze Blog, Dramming and Whisky Israel.  

We haven't really commented on this - until now.  

Unfortunately, it seems that there's a real disconnect between what companies produce, why they produce it, who they produce it for and who actually drinks it.  

Let's assess what NAS actually means for a second. At its very best, no age statement whiskies offer something which has sadly been lacking in the category for a long time... PERSONALITY -  see the list a few paragraphs below to understand why we have no problem with the concept. 

Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, it is not a new concept. Lest we forget, Usher's Old Vatted Glenlivet, unquestionably a game changing whisky product when it was first bottled over 160 years ago had no age statement. Johnnie Walker Red Label -  the biggest selling whisky brand in the world, carries no age statement as far as we can see. And recently, Macallan's M Decanter, the most expensive whisky ever to be sold at auction again carried no age statement.  So just to confirm then: The world's first commercial blended whisky, the biggest selling Scotch whisky in the world and the most expensive single malt Scotch in the world -  all no age statement. 

You may turn your nose up at these whiskies - but the fact is that millions of drinkers simply don't give a shit about an age statement - especially in markets other than the blinkered, over-privileged and frankly over-educated ones. The result is simple economics:  You can't just turn the tap on at a distillery and hey presto... a 10 year old appears. If demand keeps on rising, business will dictate that whisky with an age statement will become even more premium- and rightly so. In the UK, and to a large extent, most of western Europe, we have simply taken it for granted that the whisky business revolves around our palates which have been lavished by aged liquid. Sadly, those days are numbered.  But have we really reached the Whisky-poclypse? Of course not.  

A quick glance across at the shelf in our office reveals a number of whiskies:

Talisker Storm, Aberlour A'bunadh, Highland Park Harald (a Global Travel Retail exclusive) Ardbeg Ardbog, Auchentoshan Three Wood,  Balvenie Tun 1401, Kilchoman Machir Bay, an old White Horse blend (ok, not newly released, but newly acquired and without an age statement) Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Ardmore Traditional Cask, Caol Ila Moch, as well as bottle of the Cutty Sark whisky we had the privilege to release and 3D Whisky - ALL no age statement products.  

Of course there will be a couple of duffers out there - we've tried a few that we didn't much care for (Talisker Port Ruighe not being to our liking, but seemingly popular elsewhere) but to tar the whole NAS category as the death knell of the whisky business? Totally illogical.  

At the other end of the spectrum there are opportunities for companies to bottle liquid with a much quicker turn around. This opens up a distinct side issue: The murky world of GTR (Global Travel Retail); now in its own right a sales territory so dominant and lucrative that every distiller in Scotland has undoubtedly had sleepless nights over it. 

A distiller once told us that unless they came up with a new product to put on the shelves as an exclusive, the shelf space available to them would effectively cease to exist or rapidly evaporate. This resulted in a fairly hastily assembled NAS whisky, which whilst youthful, was still filled with personality. Clearly, no one in their right mind would wantonly bottle a whisky that they felt didn't do justice to their brand just to respond to financial blackmail, let's give them some credit. 

Didn't like it? Fine, try another whisky. That is unfortunately the nature of the market place and everything needs to be taken on its own merits.  If it stops you from ever trying another whisky by distillery X, then so be it -  but we think people are probably a little bit smarter than that. Put it this way - I love pies. A lot. I buy a lot of them. If one day I saw that Pieminister were trialling their Wildshroom variety (contains many mushrooms) as a new exclusive flavour and I didn't like it, i'm unlikely to stop buying the Matador (which contains yummy steak and chorizo. (You really need to check these out, by the way)

The bottom line is that most distillers HAVE to have something exclusive (usually an NAS whisky) in GTR for simple economic reasons. But in many cases, the increases in sales have been very healthy, extending the halo effect to the other (age statement) products in their range- proof maybe that smart concepts, coupled with good liquid (a highly subjective concept in itself) a perception of exclusivity, good value for money and a strong brand identity are the key to success, making everyone happy.  There are numerous examples of NAS whiskies which are worth visiting an airport for: Highland Park Warrior Series, The Glenlivet Master Distillers Reserve, Laphroaig PX Cask and Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary (actually now available elsewhere, but we'll forget that) to name but a few. 

The other night, I took an old, age statement whisky and made a cocktail with it. It was delicious. Tonight, i'll probably do the same. This simple act might be viewed as vandalism by some, but to me, it's using something as an exceptional flavour component - in a different way. In the same session, i'll be drinking a particularly young tasting NAS whisky neat, or perhaps with a touch of water -  again an exceptional component of flavour in my glass. I know because I did this last night and absolutely loved it. If whisky can hold a compelling conversation with you, then its age really becomes irrelevant.   

Want to comment on this?  Please hit us up on our Facebook page: or Twitter.  We're always open...

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Lovejoy: Mortlach First Cask 1991 21 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review

I love a bargain. More so, I love hunting around in charity shops, thrift shops and flea markets. In fact, before Christmas I even went on a special trip, driving to Brussels from London to look for interest artefacts in their legendary flea markets.

Taking a car was essential and proved to be a good decision when a real find was made: a lovely, but seriously heavy, antique wall mounted cabinet for just 30 Euro, the sort of thing that would be sourced by a dealer, cleaned up and put on sale in a North London ‘vintage’ shop for £300.  It now takes pride of place in my living room; I’m sure it has a wonderful back story, but I don’t know it. However, as with so many drams, this now has an immediate and very real narrative and hangs proudly in my home as a 3D postcard to a wonderful European weekend break.

It is these discoveries, and my house is full of them (from Ercol chairs to G Plan sideboards) which have popped up in a backwater shop somewhere, discarded and unloved, until they find a home which re-loves, re-uses and re-appreciates, that make me smile so.

However, these items are hard to find; they don’t come around every day and persistence is the key to digging out real gold. It really isn’t a case of wandering into a charity shop and walking out, Lovejoy-style, every time with something amazing. Nope, the gold-digging is the key and the moment, that wonderful moment, of finding something special is oh, so rare. As Arcade Fire sing, it is the place between the ‘click of the light and the start of the dream’; a place so rare, you often forget it exists.

In this day-and-age of extreme whisky prices, the click of the light is often when you hear about a product for sale that seems to have retained its price from a previous era when Scotch particularly, was much more innocent. The start of the dream is exactly that; realising if you’d been quicker, you could have picked it up at an amazing price, but now it is merely a dream.

However, every-so-often something comes along where you find yourself in exactly in the right place at the right time, something which happened to me recently in my local Laithwaites wine merchants... while browsing for a nice bottle of wine for dinner, my gaze was interrupted by some non-standard bottles of whisky. Investigating further, I found that one was a single sherry cask offering; a 21 year old Mortlach by Signatory (under their First Cask banner) for just £50.

Mortlach was the first distillery to be built in Dufftown, the beacon of whisky distilling in the Speyside region. Now owned by drinks giant Diageo, they have recently revealed plans to... well... ‘invest’ quite heavily in the brand, actually having a go at the premium market which brands such as The Macallan currently occupy. Having already announced that the current 16 year old Flora & Fauna bottling will slowly disappear from the shelves to make way for a new range of aged whiskies, as well as an expansion and rejuvenation of the distillery itself, the future for Mortlach is bright.

Any single cask for £50 these days is going to be a bargain, but a Mortlach (even before Diageo’s announcement) is a real bargain.

Mortlach – First Cask – 21 Years Old – 1991 / 2012 – 1st October 1991 - #7715 – bottle no 209 – 46% abv - £50.00

Nose: Rich velvety honey, crunchie bar, milk chocolate and suede jackets combine to give a nose that really is older than the sum of its parts. This is a meaty nose that reacts well to sherry, without a hint of sulphur, but with real body and structure.

Palate: Sweet, oak spices with pulled pork, rich cherry cordial, a surprising amount of buttery vanilla, some banana pancakes and bags of maple syrup.  A heady mix of hazelnut praline and strawberry jam finish off a deep and well rounded palate.

Finish: Fruits come to the fore, before oak spices, patchouli and cardamom finish off the dram.

Overall: A well balanced single sherry cask with excellent tones of oak, fruits and vanilla.

As the world goes mad for whisky and the residual market pushes prices up and up, it is refreshing to know that there are still bargains out there if you look hard.

And if you find them... drop us a line!  

Thursday 6 February 2014

Northern Lights: Highland Park Freya 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

When I'm king, there will be certain things that I shall outlaw. Of the ever growing list, here are just four:

Separate hot and cold taps.

I can understand the idea of a tap solely for the use of cold water, but whoever wants tap to produce simply scalding water? Not me. Neither do I want to keep adjusting two taps when filling a bath or a basin with water. Nope, I want a mixer tap.

I remember reading once that the wonderfully talented artist Jack White was asked why he didn't choose to live in the UK, after marrying his English wife. His response: "why would I want to live in a country with separate hot and cold taps?".

Yup, good point.

The pretence of two single beds pushed together in a hotel, being sold as a 'double bed'.

No it isn't. It is two single beds pushed together, where you always end up sleeping on the uncomfortable ridge that develops between the two. #MiddleClassWoe

Middle Class Dreadlocks.

If I raise kids and they've got dreadlocks, I will consider myself a failed parent.

Centre Lights.

Hideous things, the centre light is the thug of the lighting world, illuminating a room in an overly aggressive way, creating a harsh and unforgiving atmosphere and using brightness to swear directly into your eyeballs. Not even the humble dimmer switch can save it.

Urgh. Give me 3 well-placed lamps over one bright centre light any day.

Mother Nature's interior design has the sun as her centre light. Being a Scando, I tend to melt in the searing midday heat and much prefer the mood lighting which she throws,  courtesy of the aurora borealis or the 'Northern Lights' as they are more commonly known.

Cast into the night sky as a result of “the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere” (thanks Wiki!), in the days of the Vikings the phenomenon was attributed, as most things were, to one of their gods. Or more accurately, goddesses, Freya.

Whisky is no stranger to flirting with one of Mother Nature’s most beautiful accidents (see The Dalmore ‘Aurora’) and here we find Highland Park linking their new limited edition bottling from their Valhalla series with the ethereal beauty of Freya.

Pioneering in their development of liquid to match personalities, this Highland Park series started with the muscle-man Thor (a big flavour of a whisky), moved on to shape-shifter and trickster Loki (a crazy beast different on the nose, palate and finish) before embracing the female side of Norse folklore, with Freya a whisky matured, unusally for HP, in first fill ex-bourbon American Oak casks.

Highland Park – Freya – 15 Years Old – Limited to 19,000 - 51.2% abv - £140.00 RRP

Nose: A delicate smoke lifts up lemon meringue pie, heather honey, a big whack of vanilla and some candy floss. On the back of the nose, custard cream biscuits and a touch of menthol.

Palate: A delicate smoke creates a bed of flavour that gives more of the lemon meringue pie, some critical, a hint of chamois leather and... a big hit of fresh pine and vanilla. With water, the vanilla develops more body and flavour, giving a sweeter palate all round.

Finish: The peat comes through big time on the finish. One of the more peated Highland Park I’ve ever had. If I was given this blind, I’d have begged it much more as an Islay than an Orkney. Maybe a young Caol Ila. With water, plenty more vanilla and some lemon drizzle cake along with water melon at the death.

Overall: Freya does indeed deliver all that she reflects in her recorded character: it is a light whisky which comes across as young for its age (I would have Freya down as having a little more guile, a little more wisdom, underpinning her beauty) but with a wisp of smoke to remind us that this isn't a Lowland whisky, but from an island. Big on the peat, this is more Islay than Orkney, but that’s a nice turn for Highland Park and shows they can play in a more peaty arena.

Certainly drinkable, Freya wouldn't be our first name on the team sheet when it comes to recent Highland Park Valhalla releases (Thor still stands out as the exceptional one), but it certainly won't disappoint those looking for a lighter HP with a bigger focus on smoke, a counterbalance to the richness of the 18yo+ releases and the higher end GTR releases.