Sunday, 31 October 2010
Friday, 29 October 2010
There are few occasions when I can leave my house and end up in whisky heaven within 15 mins. I’m lucky enough (although I’m sure my bank manager would disagree) to live within walking distance of the Whisky Exchange shop at Vinopolis, with Milroys Of Soho and Vintage House on Old Compton Street a mere stone’s throw away too.
But today I get to visit somewhere new. An adventure which starts with a short walk to the bus stop and 15 mins on the number 133 bus. Trundling past Elephant and Castle, over London Bridge and into The City, my destination is The Whisky Show which this year is being held at The Brewery near The Barbican.
An ominously early start of midday, especially after the exploits of last night (Diageo Special Releases followed by far too long at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society) which concluded with a late, late blog writing mission... but seven hours kip later, I was up and ready to tackle the marathon that is The Whisky Show.
Arriving for the Press and Trade period, it was a welcome sight to see litre bottles of still water being handed out before a dram had even been poured. This was clearly an event run by people with experience. And an understatement that indeed is, for the Master behind the scenes is Whisky Exchange owner Sukhinder Singh.
Karuizawa – 1981 / 2010 – The Whisky Show 2010 bottling – 60.5%
Nose: Apricots, Bovril, old books, polished wood and leather shoes. Everything you would expect from a well sherried medium-old Karuizawa. The quality of wood that this closed distillery must have been using seems phenomenal and it gives so much colour and character to the whisky.
Palate: The deep and rich dark chocolate notes fight for space on the tongue from sherry, spice and drying oak. Old cigar notes up the ante and this feels like a very old whisky, despite being only a 1981.
Finish: The apricots re-appear along with heavy cigar notes and some vanilla.
Overall: A great example of a karuizawa and a cracking way to start the show.
Now set up and ready to explore, a short wander through the stalls revealed some gems. But we’ve got two days here and I want to ease myself in. Finishing a my fact finding mission, I settle for a chat with Doctor Andrew Forrester of The Balvenie. After a short discussion a bottle caught my eye. A bottle that I’ve heard a lot about: Tun 1401.
A marriage of 4 Bourbon casks and 2 Sherry butts and containing whisky from the 1960’s, this bottle is limited to 336 and is only available to visitors on the distillery tour at Balvenie.
Nose: rich coffee, fruit cake, plums, a hint of mint and loads of strawberry jam.
Palate: Very light, with oak, vanillas and a touch of rounded, spicy sherry.
Finish: Sweet tea, digestive biscuits, smooth and long.
Overall: An absolute cracker of a whisky. Not too bad at £150, but you have to be in Dufftown and you have to take the tour to qualify. That, or buy a bottle for silly money from eBay...
Don’t take my word for it, hear it from the horses mouth.
Onward we roam, conscience of the time restrains. Conversations are cruelly cut short as valuable drinking time was being eaten away catching up with friends and gather and sharing tips on the bottles in the room.
After much cogitation, I took a visit to Adelphi, an independent bottler who I’ve heard a lot about but never really tasted. And my! What a discovery I made! Along with a host of bottles, one shone out: Bunnahabhain 41 Year Old. A mix of two sherry butts coming in at 41.2% ABV and, for today at least, has been counted as my “Whisky of the Show 2010”.
Finally, it was time to try two last drams before heading home for the day (to do some real work!) and what better way to end the session that with two independent bottles of Port Ellen.
Nose: Smoke hits you with a big engine of toffee and raisins. Some salt carries the fruity elements of this single cask right to the back of the nose.
Palate: Very, very rich with dried fruit, jams and chutney. Spices from the wood give extra body to this tasty palate.
Finish: Warm and spicey with cardamom and cinnamon.
Overall: Better than the 31 YO official bottling from yesterday, this is really, really tasty!
Nose: Wow, a totally different whisky to the PE above. Very little smoke, lemon sherbet and green grass.
Palate: Light vanilla spices with some oak dryness and a hint of green apple.
Finish: Clean and fresh, this doesn’t coat your mouth with earthy notes, in the way other Port Ellens do.
Overall: Okay, but not as good as the show bottling, nor the Diageo Special Release 31 Year Old. And it’s only a 50cl bottle too.
Day Two of the Great London Whisky Weekend is over, but rest assured! We shall be back tomorrow with more notes from Whisky Heaven 2010.
*wide screen monitor advised
You may have guessed, but weheartwhisky.
This week is Christmas and Easter rolled in to one for the London based whisky blogger.
In the space of 24 short hours, we get to taste the Diageo Special Release AND get in to the Press and Trade Period of the Whisky Show 2010.
How does one prepare for such fare? With a week of abstinence, of course.
Neil has been away with Mrs Neil, making sure that he doesn't become The Singleton Of Penge while I’ve been left to cleanse my liver, making sure each and every sample that arrives at CaskStrength.net HQ is filed away for the “quiet period”... goodness know when that is.
An absence of booze for a week, and therefore the absence of postings, highlights the madness to come.
So tonight we start with the Diageo Special Releases and this year we see some familiar faces: Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Port Ellen and Brora. But, like watching Manchester United introducing young talent around a spine of great players, these mainstays are joined by some unique and interesting individuals: Glen Spey, Auchroisk and Cragganmore.
In total nine single malts grace the “special” release for this year and a wide variety of prices, ages and finishes are available.
The list runs thus:
Caol Ila 12 unpeated
Glen Spey 21
Port Ellen 31
It would be difficult to run through each and give detailed tasting notes, so I’m going to highlight what, in our opinion , are the best.
As usual you can't just scroll to the end and read the two digit figure score, because we don’t believe in any of that bollocks. What does a score mean, anyway? Nothing to you to, because you’ve not had the same experiences as we’ve had in drinking whisky. So, read the notes and if you think you like the “broad-brush” tasting notes we give, then go and try / buy the whisky.
If you don’t, then stay the hell away from it. We’re not here to tell you what’s good and bad; we’re here to advise you and inform you if you wish to make a purchase. At the end of the day, when you pull a cork out of a bottle, we want you to love and to cherish the whisky inside. Not to have a bad reaction to it, to then have to fob it off on your Brother, your Uncle or your Dad. On that note, here are our picks of the DSR 2010:
£59 a bottle. Yes please! This is a whisky that gives and gives and gives and gives.
Nose: A complex vanilla butter toffee mixed with heavy peat smoke and rich, runny honey. Classic Lagavulin Creme Brulee and creamy vanilla ice cream burst through giving a sharp, clean and fresh, salty nose.
Palate: Sweet and smokey with notes of citrus and pine and charred wood, toffee apple and lime.
Finish: Long and smoky with medicinal backdrop.
Overall: Just delicious. The Lagavulin 12 has yet to let me down.
Who? Auchroisk is not a name famillar to many. But this Single Malt delivers and delivers well.
Nose: Very rich and extremely nutty with vanilla toffee and rich sherry notes.
Palate: That nutty-ness keeps coming, with hazelnuts and walnuts but there is also some dust and dryness. Toffee and caramel and rum and raisin fudge with dry biscuit and pastry come to the fore.
Finish: Earthy notes with dark chocolate and hints of tropical fruit. Like and old Bowmore without the smoke.
Overall: At this price point (sub £120), get it while you can!
Glen Spey - 21 Years Old - 50.4%
Nose: Wow! Rich, very rich! This whisky has one of the most complex noses I’ve had in a long time. I could sit with this for hours. After the stewed fruit comes leather and polished wood. Antique wood and polish makes its way to the front, but with an energy, a zest. Energy, but complexity. All good.
Palate: Simple palate notes for this: Pear, almond and apricot tart with vanilla ice cream.
Finish: Long and complex with the pear lingering and lime adding zest to the overall character.
Overall: A real surprise. Well worth the money.
And a special mention for a cracking Cragganmore. More on that tomorrow. We're Craggenmore fans anayway, but this years Special Release really is worth trying.
All in, this is a good haul of releases, despite a rather dull Talisker 30 and Caol Ila that misses the point (it is like Nirvana Unplugged: does a good job, but you’d rather have the rawk guitars and riffs, over the emo vocals and overacting).
And the Port Ellen? It’s fantastic. A fantastic effort for a whisky destined for blending 28 years ago. Honestly, how no one ever saw the Single Malt potential in this distillery is beyond me. But there you go. The wonderful world of whisky!
Epic Day One of our London Whisky Adventure is over. More to tell tomorrow, but for now: bed.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
Tuesday, 19 October 2010
Friday, 15 October 2010
Wednesday, 13 October 2010
Monday, 11 October 2010
We're barely out of the golden glow of summer (time to pack away those Lowland drams, folks) and already, a tranche of whiskies, aimed at the Christmas markets has begun to flow into our awaiting Glencairns.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
firstname.lastname@example.org and quote CASKSTRENGTH... it's as simple as that.
Tuesday, 5 October 2010
Now, I know what you’re thinking:
“If you’ve seen one distillery, you've seen ‘em all”.
Well, you’d be bang wrong.
Yes, most distilleries have the same basic 4 stage set up: milling, washing, brewing and distillation using just the three ingredients: barley, water and yeast. But every distillery we visit teaches us something new about the process, how the distillery achieves its unique New Make characteristics and which variables they choose to manipulate.
Most distilleries have perfected their choice of flavour profile from years and years of practice. (As I write, there is a miniature of Highland Park 18 Year Old sat on my desk. The date on this: 1798. That’s a long time to work out what type of spirit you want to produce) But what happens if you want to build a brand new distillery?
A few months ago we visited Arran, one of the newest in Scotland. Founded in 1995, it has a tiny production run of just 750,000 litres per annum. When designing the still and building the distillery, the folk at Arran chose (and yes, it is a choice) “light, sweet, fruity and grassy” as the profile for their spirit.
This, roughly, seems to be the answer whenever we ask a distiller “if you were to set up a new distillery, what style of New Make would you produce?”. I guess Light and Grassy leads to a spirit which is easier to mature, more reactive to cask enhancement, but also provides good fodder for blends, as most distilleries will be trading casks either for their own blends or for other blends. The Scotch whisky business worldwide is made up of around 93% blended whisky sales, leaving 7% for our beloved Single Malts.
That’s not very much, really.
With demand predicted to grow globally for all types of whisky, we have seen expansions of existing premises, such as the opening of a new still house at Glenlivet, designed to meet this forecasted hike in whisky consumption.
And so we find ourselves at Aberdeen airport en route, as a group of around 10 journalists and bloggers, to Diageo's new malt distillery Roseisle.
Located in Speyside, much has been made of this new facility and it is certainly less cosy than Lagavulin, Royal Lochnagar or Glen Kinchie. But Mos Eisley it isn't.
"So what?", I hear you cry.
Well, sit down for today's lesson in distillation: the style and type of condenser has an enormous effect on the weight of the spirit produced.
Traditionally, there have been two main types of condensers used: Shell & Tube and Worm Tub. Shell & Tube condensers means the spirit spends longer in contact with copper and therefore the new make appears light, clean and grassy. With a worm tub, the spirit spends less time in contact with the copper and as such the spirit appears heavier and sulphury. Mortlach and Craggenmore are examples of distilleries with worm tubs.
Attaching both types of condensers to some of the spirit stills means Roseisle has the ability to produce two different styles of New Make. Diageo have been honest in saying that the building of Roseisle increases their volume of Speyside-style malt, vital for blends. And Speyside malt traditionally comes in two styles; light and grassy and heavy and grassy so the ability to produce the two styles of new make, heavy and light, allows Diageo to be more reactive to predicted shifts in the market and consumer flavour profile tendencies.
We were told that what Roseisle is not designed to do is replace any of the current 27 malt distilleries which Diageo owns; each distillery produces an individual style malt which cannot be replicated elsewhere. With the predicted demand worldwide for Scotch, this means all the major companies will need to increase production somewhere, somehow and building a distillery which can add two different styles of Speyside whisky to their blending ability, under one roof, seems like a smart move.
But what of Roseisle as a Single Malt? Well, we'll have to wait a good 10 years plus to find out how that is going to pan out, but the folk at Diageo tell us that, in keeping with their structure of releasing a Single Malt from each of their Malt Distilleries, Roseisle will be no different. What the ultimate house style turns out to be is unknown as yet. Let's have a quick try of their New Make, then:
Nose: Once watered down, the nose is clean with some mint, lemon sherbert and a big hit of copper.
Palate: Juicy fruit chewing gum, parma violets and some mint, with delicate limes on the back palate.
Finish: It’s new make, so it’s gone in an instant.
Overall: It's solid new make. We'll have to wait a good deal of time to tell you what it'll be like as a single malt!
Roseisle has a lot of progressive environmental design features, with sustainability the key behind the building and we were talked through all of these complicated energy conservation technologies by Sean Pritchard, the most articulate Swindon Town fan we've ever met and, whisper it, a thoroughly nice bloke. They do exist...
Roseisle is progressive distilling with a commercial hat on, not with an artisinal (straw)hat on. In a way, it is the first post-modern distillery. If you see an old farm distillery, making erratic spirit in the 1800’s as the first wave of distillation. The highly controlled, consistent approach from distilleries in the present day should be classed as modern. Take this control and consistency and adapt it to be able to manipulate the spirit within your own set boundaries and surely you have a step beyond: post-modern.
Building this work-horse of a distillery has cost Diageo somewhere in the region of forty million quid (or 666 cases of Highland Park 50 Year Old) and it won't return this in Single Malt sales.
But, if their accountants are believed to be correct, it will do in sales of Johnnie Walker Red label, Black label, Gold label...
If, God forbid, the accounts have it wrong, I'd recommend to reinvest in shares in Beefeater Restaurants...