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Wednesday 1 April 2015

That's Shallot...

Thank you. It's been Emotional.  

As posts go, this one will certainly go down as one of the most memorable ones that we have ever written on this humble website.  

As many readers know, we began back in January 2008. We were fresh faced, wide eyed, particularly thirsty and in possession of a drinks cabinet stocked mainly with ubiquitous Scotch brands. We took it upon ourselves to seek out the most interesting whiskies we could lay our hands on.

Once-upon-a-time we looked like this...
Hard to believe really. Here we are in 2015 and we're just perusing the sidebar and a few of our old posts, over 650 of them, reviewing over 1,000 different whiskies and occasionally other spirits. To click back and look at how our tastes have changed in that time is as fascinating for us as it is to witness just how much the whisky business has changed in a little under a decade. 

When we started, there was barely a handful of online blogs or webpages dedicated to the spirit. Our influences came from inspirational spaces like and DrWhisky, who began to deliver a voice loudly proclaiming that whisky wasn't just the domain of the over serious, wizened, ageing bore, but an accessible, engaging and, as we have seen in the passing years, spirit that offers something that almost everyone can enjoy in one way or another.  

As evolved, it became something much greater than either of us had ever imagined. It has taken us to different continents and allowed us to try some truly mind blowing, once-in-a-lifetime liquids. In short, it has helped to give us a career in spirits.  

But more importantly, it has been the conduit enabling us to forge some incredible friendships with people all over the world, many of them stemming from kind words and support from our readership.

in 2014, hit just under 900,000 views, around 70,000 a month, which is a figure that makes this post all the more important.

We now find ourselves in a totally different arena. Today, there are literally 100's of 'whisky blogs' and the landscape of writing about the spirit has changed in our opinion.  To use a crude car analogy for a second, this once gleaming, perky sports car has now hit a very high mileage indeed and is starting to cough a little on cold mornings.  

We could take it for a tune up at the garage, but in our minds, that's not the answer. In essence, we need to trade in for something brand new, fresh and with a much better, bigger, more efficient engine, capable of delivering not only the malt mileages we intend to travel, but also encompassing our huge passion for every spirit, which we realised when writing our recent book, Distilled.

So here is it then. as you are seeing it now will, after this post, be no more. Gone to the great retirement home in the sky for hard working drinks blogs.

Its replacement is going to be very exciting indeed. Over the coming weeks, we'll be introducing a brand new website: 

It will be an informative curated drinks website, with news and views about everything from Absinthe to Whisky. As always, it will be packed with plenty of the original Caskstrength character, commentary and up to date news on gin, brandy, Tequila, rum, Armagnac, mezcal, vodka and as much else as we can possibly cram in. The notion of simply 'blogging'- and indeed the phrase 'blog' is, in our opinion, something that now feels tired and quite saturated- and we like energy, not tiredness. 

What's more, will grow from simply the two of us penning articles into a dedicated team of international contributors from all over the world -  more on them later.

Writing this blog has been a pleasure. Moving up a gear to curate, choose and deliver to you the World's Best Spirits with the same verve and vigour we have approached will be an absolute pleasure. Hopefully we'll end up looking as young again as we did the photo on page one of this journey, minus the obvious wide-eyed naivety.

To celebrate the full stop on this story, we have each chosen to link to a couple of our favourite posts from the last seven-and-a-half years, and to review one final dram with which to toast our goodbye...

And so, in rather timely fashion, we reach the end of our very last post.  

Our last review on Caskstrength...   

We thought long and hard about what would be the whisky to sign of with and there it was, sitting on our desk staring us in the face. It's arrival was remarkably timely in fact...

So for the Last Post, we bring you.... The Last Drop.

This bottling project has now become the stuff of legend:  Thee industry stalwarts, led by James Espey OBE decided that rather than retiring, they would locate and bottle some of the oldest and best whisky - and other spirits- that they could lay their hands on. The concept of The Last Drop was born in 2008 and the previous releases including a blend from 1960,  a 50 year old blend and now, a 48 year old blended whisky have all been released to critical acclaim. The company is now in the hands of a younger generation of the founders, but the ethos remains the same.

This 48 year old blend is limited to 592 bottles and is priced at an RRP of £2600. It even comes with a miniature of the whisky too and a leather bound box. But that doesn't really concern us.

Question is... will it be a truly fitting send off for Caskstrength?  No pressure.

The Last Drop -  48 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky -  48.6% - 592 Bottles

Nose: A hugely complex nose, the likes of which we've only recently found in a few old Armagnacs   and very old grain whiskies: Meaty, waxy foundations, lead into rich vanilla sponge cake, clean linen, raspberry jam, with polished wood surfaces and Manuka honey rounding out the top notes. It would be sad to lose such a complexity with water, but a small drop releases some more tannic notes, sweeter vanilla and creamy toffee.

Palate: Broad shouldered and oaky, with a backbone stave of tannic Orange Pekoe tea, leading into chopped Brazil nuts, hints of the sponge cake again and very old grain: that unusual bittersweet toasted note that tends to emerge with this type of aged blend. It certainly isn't a polite, unconfident blend: it's powerful and uncompromising on the palate, with some dark oaky notes, just tempered with enough sweetness to bring the whole thing together perfectly.  

Finish: Extremely warming, but with no overtones of spirit: just pure, rich dryness, the kind of tongue coating unctuousness that 'serious' whiskies bring. Put simply, this is as serious as Jeremy Paxman grilling a hopelessly out-of-their-depth, incompetent Cabinet Minister on Newsnight.

Overall: A remarkable whisky, that not only highlights the intricacies of blending at this age, but also the concept of longevity. Sometimes, new (old) whiskies pop up with a huge fanfare but are quickly revealed as being jaded, one-dimensional and just that little bit over-egged. One wonders the reasons why they weren't bottled sooner, but we'll put this down to simple economics. Here, we have a superb integration of old grain and malt. But alongside its experience, it brings a refreshing vibrancy to the party too.  

It's a whisky that we could probably all learn a lot from.  

And with that, there's nothing more for us to say than simply, adios, slante and see you all when the next phase in our plans is fully online. Thanks for making Caskstrength such a successful and fun place to work from and we very much hope you'll stick with us at

  So, charge your glasses and raise a toast: The Blog Is Dead! Long Live WorldsBestSpirits!

Neil & Joel - April 1st, 2015 x

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Monday 23 February 2015

Come Fly With Me: The Redbreast Mano a Lamh, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

As we speed away from Burn’s night and head towards St Patrick’s Day, it’s time to start cracking open some Irish whiskey.

Once long forgotten, the rise of Irish whiskey has seen a plethora of new distilleries opening up, with plenty more in the pipeline. In our recent visits to Ireland to see either brand-spanking new facilities or those out in the market drumming up support, one thing has made itself very clear: Ireland will become more serious about Pot Still than any other style of whiskey.

Scotland is a fairly simple place when it comes to whisky-making. You’ve got your single malts, with only one distillery fully triple distilling (nb: Springbank occasionally utilising their three still to triple distil, and Mortlach using bamboozing marketing terminology to say they distilled more than twice).

Then you’ve got your grain whisky, mainly matured in bourbon casks. Add them together and you’ve got your third type, blends. Simple, hey?!

Over in Ireland, it isn’t quite so simple. With a much smaller pool of distilleries, the fame of Irish whiskey grew up around their main ideal of triple distillation. But there is so much more to Irish whiskey than the third still, for across this tiny network of distilleries they make single malt twice distilled (peated and unpeated), single malt thrice distilled, grain whisky, pot still whiskey (from a malted and unmalted barley mix), and of course blends... but blends not just of grain and malt whiskeys, but blends of all of these. Jameson Black Barrel even takes some whiskey from a pot still and runs it through the column still before maturation... I mean, what kind of voodoo is that?!

Currently the fastest growing category of dark spirit in the world, Irish whiskey is on a roll (driven by the popularity of Jameson in markets such as the USA) and with each new release from across the countries different distilleries, clarity is beginning to fall on the various production styles and flavour profiles.

One of the most sought-after releases, and a real favourite of ours here at Caskstrength HQ, is Redbreast. A wonderfully well matured whiskey, we have always been a fan of the 12 Year Old. When the 15 Years Old appeared, fleetingly, at the start of the last decade, we got very excited indeed (in fact I seem to remember nearly an entire bottle being consumed at one of the Toucan pubs in London with a group of writers and employees of some of London’s finest whisky shops) and even more so when it came back as part of the permanent range. 

With the addition of a Cask Strength 12 Year Old and then the fantastic 21 Year Old, the range seemed to be taking shape with a real personality and DNA of its own. And now the folk at Irish Distillers, producers of Redbreast, have just launched a limited edition version. A No Age Statement, although in answering questions on their social media outlets had it pegged at carrying an age statement of 13 years old, if it were to have one) the whiskey has been solely matured in ex-Oloroso sherry butts. This one sounds right up my street.

When I heard that this whiskey was available, but only 2000 bottles were being released, I headed over to the Redbreast website to buy a bottle. And the verdict?

Redbreast – Mano a Lamh – Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – All Sherry Limited Edition – 2000 bottles only – 46% abv – 65 euro here

Nose: Marzipan and Battenburg Cake rise from the glass with a surprisingly large amount of vanilla for an ‘all-oloroso’ offering. This has some spirituous notes but this is one of those occasions where this is a positive as it provides a platform for the lovely, sweet flavours to play. Light and airy but with hidden depth.

Palate: This is a smooth whiskey with a sweet back palate, some frozen red berries and hot vanilla sauce on top. It is terribly easy to drink, as you would expect from a Redbreast, but a block of ice really takes this up a level to a longer, more sipping whiskey. The flavours from the nose deliver on the palate too.

Finish: Sweetened vanilla custard, almonds and some milk chocolate praline.

Overall: Well, there we have it folk... the rise of Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey doesn’t seem fleeting, or limited to core expressions. It seems to be strong, and rising.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Great Odin's Ravin'

The history of 'Truly Great Limited Edition Whiskies' is few and far between really. 

Odd ones pop up getting consumers frothy and excited, then every other brand decides to follow suit in some way, before we all end up gazing forlornly at an overpriced Whisky Auction Site: either regretting missing out on a sold-out purchase, or regretting drinking and finishing a matured investment. Sad really.  

It's like the words 'Landfill Indie', a phrase that we bring with us from our time in the music business. One band would spring out of nowhere, redefining a stagnant music scene.

Then every company would rush out something that sounded similar and looked vaguely the same.  Arctic Monkeys?  True Game Changers.  Milburn... Hmmm maybe not so much.  

But when it comes to a limited edition series, the search for excellence becomes even more difficult.  

The difficulty faced by whisky companies is keeping the attention of the whisky consumer.  Balvenie and the Tun 1401 series started off rather splendidly, before a few fans and collectors began to trail away, disappointed they either couldn't afford or find the editions they wanted, as they were spread across the global network of off-trade and Global Travel retailers.   

Magnus Series. Pic courtesy of The Whisky Exchange
Conversely, when Highland Park released the Magnus Trilogy, they got everything right:  The liquid was excellent, the price points spot on and the outturn, not too outlandish to make fans feel like they were being taken for a limited edition ride.  

Then came the Valhalla Collection: Four whiskies, over four years, each one representing a different norse god -  the liquid being tailored to the supposed personality and character of the god or goddess.  

The initial release, Thor, was quite a stunner. Bold, powerful, smoky and muscular, it was a whisky that had everything you could want in a bottle of HP. 

Next up was Loki: the trickster, the shapeshifter. Unusually fruity and fragrant upfront, with a totally different profile on the palate, which lived up to the unhinged genius of its namesake.

The fairer, more gentle side of the brand was explored with Freya:  Etherial, light and floral. It perhaps didn't have the same impact as the first two releases from a liquid perspective and in our opinion, was the least likely Highland Park to be recognised as a true HP.  Still, it adhered perfectly to the character profile.

This week saw the release of Odin, the conclusion of the series. As the leader of the gods, Odin demands respect -  especially given that he supposedly fathered the mighty Thor. Will this be a reflection of his namesake whisky?  

Highland Park - Odin -  16 Year Old - 55.8% - £180

Nose: Initially a little closed and quite one sided, but given a few minutes in the glass, you're immediately in HP territory:  Fragrant fruity smoke, honeyed malt, some citrus notes and a little waft of dry sherry wood.  So far, so good.  It's powerful and the you can definitely tell that the palate will be quite a challenging experience.  

Palate: Super lively and spirity -  in fact as fiery as they get at this strength.  But then it dies down and you're into lemon and lime zest, a wonderful malty backbone, a little rubber note (not that off-putting though) and a huge swathe of smoke.  Not perhaps as smoky as the last Hp release, Dark Origins, but certainly bolder than any of the regular expressions.  

Finish:  The finish sees lingering notes of sherry, some very dry sherry cask wood and a little sweet honey, but a surprising absence of the smoke... as if the great god himself has disappeared in a majestical puff of the stuff.  

Overall: A solid conclusion to the series.  In our opinion, the bar was set stupendously high with Thor and as a result, it's hard to outshine that particular expression purely from a liquid perspective, but what this proves is that once again, Highland Park are the real thought leaders in presenting innovative, creative bottlings. A fond hurrah to a great, consistent series.  

Mere mortal companies would have fallen hard and fast after the first two, but HP?  Well, they must have Valhalla on speed dial, with Gerry Tosh and whisky maker Max McFarlane sitting in a car with the engine running, waiting to kidnap another unsuspecting member of the Underworld. We look forward with excitement to the next series.  

Monday 26 January 2015

The First of The Last Great Malts: Craigellachie Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The relationship between beauty and functionality is one I struggle with. I'm Scandinavian and subscribe to the ideal that, as far as you can make it, everything should be "both beautiful and functional".

There are plenty of excellent examples of this, from coffee makers through to oyster shucking kits, but every so often in life there is an example of extreme functionality without beauty, and the embodiment of this has to be a certain Mr Dean Windass.

A builder by trade, Dean Windass is what we humble chaps in the pub would call 'an ugly f*cker'. Dean signed as a professional footballer for Hull City (a place itself of questionable beauty...) before moving to Aberdeen where he became somewhat of a legend.

Moving back south to English football, Windass signed in 1998 for Oxford United at a sum that is still counted a club record fee for the University city team, and when he arrived in the City of Dreaming Spires he came with a warning- for Deano, as he was known, had been much loved by the supporters of the football clubs he had played for previously. But a genius on the pitch, he was also dogged by a fierce temper and Oxford United fans received warning of this via our weekly football fanzine (kids- this was like a blog but in paper form, before the Internet existed).

The story goes that Dean, the man with the face of a boxer but the feet of an angel, had once been sent off THREE TIMES in one game, whilst playing for Aberdeen: firstly for some on the pitch footballing offence; secondly for verbally abusing the ref who sent him off and thirdly (and brilliantly in my eyes) for "using the corner flag as a weapon".

Wow. Just wow.

In what would be considered a long career on the pitch, Windass’ final act was a simply amazing goal, which you can watch here, while back at his home town club of Hull City in a match which is still the biggest financial prize in sport- scoring the winning goal to take Hull into the Premier League. At Wembley. It must be noted that Dean Windass was nearly 40 when he performed this piece of utter magic.

As you can see from the footage (if you've bothered to watch it) Dean Windass has cropped bleach/blond hair, looking like a washed up D.J. in a local nightclub, trying to relive his days as a headline act in Ibiza.

But whatever his look, his ability shined through.

Speyside (local club: Aberdeen) is a forest of beauty and functionality. Distilleries such as Aberlour, The Balvenie, and Benromach stand as stunning examples of architecture, churning out some of the best single malt on the market. Top this off with The Macallan, which is about to go under the surgeon’s knife with a £120m new distillery, this should make their site as beautiful as the liquid in its bottles.

But there are some distilleries where function takes over from form. We recently visited a 'new to market' distillery, which has been churning out malt whisky for a long time, but due to its long history is now somewhat of an ugly child of mid-1960’s architecture, but with a result that would grace the grass at Wembley stadium.

Craigallachie Distillery sits in a wonderful location, just down the hill from Dufftown before the banks of the Spey river rise to meet the Macallan, Knockando and Cardhu distilleries. The spawn of mid-century architecture, aside from a quite stunning walk along the top of their worm tub cooling vessels, is a functional production facility, part of the team of distilleries producing whisky for the Dewar’s blend.

The team behind the malt distilleries (owned by Barcadi) have decided to have a go at replicating the umbrella group of malts that Diageo successfully launched under their 'Classic Malts' banner in the 1990s.

Using the term ‘The Last Great Malts’ it covers Craigellachie, GlenDevron (the distillery known as MacDuff), Aberfeldy, Royal Bracklar and Aultmore - all well regarded juice  in their own right.

The Last Great Malts; an odd name. It comes across as something of a final sigh from a collection of excellent distilleries, not a new collection of vibrant malts. It seems almost like an acknowledgement that there is a wave of newer distilleries to take their place, steal their crown and melt it down into cooler jewellery for a new generation- like the Rolling Stones doing a 'last great tour' before giving way to Jack White or the Arctic Monkeys. But instead of £450 a ticket, it is £330.00 for a 23 year old whisky...

But enough about the marketing, let’s look at the distillery itself. A wonderful still room, housing four large pot stills, despite its utilitarian feel has one very unusual aspect: a large window which can be opened to let in the natural Speyside air. If you’ve been to Caol Ila, you would feel very much at home in this still room, save for the view which isn’t of the mist covered Paps of Jura but of the A941.

In terms of production, Craigellachie is one of the few distilleries left in Scotland to use Worm Tubs as their method of condensing, something to applaud. And it makes for a wonderful spirit (show me a distillery using worm tubs, that doesn’t...).

Their new range encompasses Craigellachie bottled at 13, 17, (a sneaky 19 year old for Duty Free) and 23 years old the maths geeks among you will notice that these are all prime numbers. Aside from that one fact, all these releases are quite excellent, with the real stand out being the 23 year old.

Craigellachie - 23 Year Old – Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 46% abv –  £330.00 here

Nose: A real depth of complexity with large dose of oak spiciness, some candied orange zest and just a hint of blood orange. There are red apples and pear drops too. Very inviting. Not over oaked but a wonderful balance of spice and meaty, oily tones.

Taste: Blood orange develops on the palate with an addition of toasted marshmallows and a hint of lime pickle. Big and unctuous, this has the age to give it good body, but still maintain as vibrant and energetic flavour profile.

Finish: Long and oaky, but without being too dry, this has a great balance of wood in it.

Overall: An excellent dram which has seemingly lasted well in cask given the meaty nature of the spirit. It’s a shame it can’t all be at this age, but with a lower price point...!

All round, this is a great start to The Last Great Malts which, I think, should be given a far more positive name if they are all this good...

Thursday 1 January 2015

Party Like It's 1985

An Orville PiƱata, shortly before his celebratory new year thrashing 

Hello one and all. We're back from our relaxed Christmas breaks now, heading into all manner of excitement in the new year. 

We look back fondly on 2014. It was a year that bought some truly exceptional spirits, many many journeys and friendships:  From Baijiu in China, Cachaca in Brazil, Armagnac in France and some wondrous drinks in-between, both of us can definitely say it was an enlightening year.  

2014 also saw us bring out Distilled, our first book together which is shaping up really nicely for 2015. Expect to see us popping up in a few unusual locations next year, as we travel around, hopefully continuing our spirits exploration around the globe. 

However, there is a new year and a new dawn coming (keep your eyes peeled here folks...) so let’s kick off with our predictions for 2015: 


The Continued Growth of Grain 

We already tipped grain as a new category in its own right back in 2012 and 2014 saw the launch of Haig Club, a single grain Scotch whisky developed in partnership with major drinks producer Diageo and megastar ex-footballer David Beckham. There aren’t many other single grain whiskies on the market, with just one other official global release, three expressions from the Girvan distillery in the Lowlands of Scotland. However, grain whisky has always been highly sought after by connoisseurs and experts, who know that the lightness of the spirit gives excellent flavours of vanilla and lemongrass, making it ideal for mixing or sipping with acouple of blocks of ice. With only Haig Club and Girvan available around the world at the moment, and the considerable weight that a celebrity such as David Beckham adds to this category, expect to see others jumping in and wanting to be part of the grain whisky party. 

High Value Brands Offering Experiences:
As we see more and more highly valued single malts and blends, such as The Macallan and Johnnie Walker pushing their prices up with rarer, older and more extravagantly packaged items, the focus will shift onto 'experiences'. They could be high-end, exclusive trips to the distilleries, more branded ‘houses’ (like The House of Johnnie Walker) or shops. Either way, we think the immersive experience of taking consumers on a literal journey will become more of a focus in 2015. Look out for more bespoke blends from big whisky companies too, for those who can afford it. 

My Top Tipple From 2014: The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso

We haven’t got around to reviewing this one, yet but the new Nadurra Oloroso offering from The Glenlivet at 60.7% is stunning and priced at a bonkers £45. Take Aberlour’s A'bunadh and soften it slightly and you’ve got this. It packs a punch and is worth every penny.  


Craft: This Party Is Getting A Little Crowded... 

The term ‘craft’ has taken over in the world of spirits, particularly in whisky. In the USA, ‘craft’ distilling is a huge movement with small producers making tiny amounts of their own rye, bourbon and single malt. As these distillers gain more sales, they’ll be able to afford to export their products and see them (if they are good) take hold in markets far from where they are made. 

But there won't be room for everyone. It feels like 'Craft' is a term that is thrown around without prejudice now, with some distillers -  be it big or small, exhibiting little or no craft. There are some genuinely brilliant well-crafted products out there: be it well-known Scotch blends (hey -  blending is the original craft, when you really start to think about it) or tiny distillers with equally small spirit batches. But when corporate boardroom decisions interfere with the distillation process (i'm looking at you, Balcones) you kind of get the feeling that the money-making-machine and the sound of the cash registers are the predominant sounds echoing around a few distilleries, whose reputations are now damaged as a result.  In 2015 and beyond, we think craft will become less about being handmade, more about using technology in new and innovative ways to create or 'craft' new products.  Think less wicker chair, more MacLaren F1.  

Other Spirits Stealing Whisky Drinkers:

The idea of ‘occasion’ is going to be focused on more and more in 2015. Why drink a fairly boring vodka, when you can enjoy a grain whisky before the party really kicks off?  Similarly, do you really need to be paying  through the nose for super premium aged single malts, when you could be getting the same after dinner experience with an extraordinary Armagnac, vintage Tequila or rum for a fraction of the price? Whisky still has an enormous cache internationally, but there are signs that other spirits -  particularly Armagnac and Mezcal are beginning to draw a few connoisseurs away from whisky.  

My Top Tipple from 2014:  Chateau Laubade 1983 Vintage Armagnac

As I mentioned above, Armagnac is perhaps the most underrated and unexplored spirits category in the world at the moment, (aside to that of Cachaca and mezcal) with some exceptional expressions available for a fraction of their equivalent Scotch vintages. Having explored the Gers region in November during La Flamme De l'Armagnac (an amazing experience when all the distillers light their stills to mark the start of the distillation season) it reminded me of the Feis Ile experience on Islay, before it became a too overcrowded and commercialised. It was here at the Laubade estate where I discovered their 1983 bottling: a rich, resinous and spicy beast-of-an-Armagnac, full of tannic oak, liquorice and anise, alongside some sweeter vanilla notes and juicy citrus fruit.  All this complexity for around £75.  

We're very much looking forward to tackling 2015 and all the intriguing spirits on offer.  Expect to see a fair few changes here over the coming months-  we'll be focusing on a much broader scale of drinks, rather than just whisky, so here's to a cracking vintage year! 

Don't forget to follow us at @WorldOfSpirits on Twitter.

Neil & Joel