Sunday, 29 April 2012
Monday, 23 April 2012
Palate: The mouthfeel is nice and oily, showing off its gap year travelling in European sherry oak. The peat is present right at the front, with all the rich black cherry tones from the nose transferring to the palate, but this time with the addition of stewed prunes, raisins and very ripe figs. Slightly bitter towards the back.
Finish: Bruised red fruits give way to bitter lime peel.
Overall: A really great example of a well sherried Laphroaig. Is better than the one in the last review? It is much more drinkable which is a good thing, but I don’t think it has the powerful complexity that the SMWS single cask has. However, that means that by its very nature the SMWS bottling is extremely limited. This is two-thirds of the price and much more available meaning that, especially at this price, it’ll become a must-have in my cabinet.
Nose: A totally different beast from the PX Cask, this is peat smoke, honey, heather, tinned pineapples and dried apple slices. Juicy Fruit chewing gum pops up at the end but aside from that, this is pure tinned fruit salad and peat smoke.
Palate: At this big strength, the pineapple sits on the tongue well, but this is less the fruit and more the juice. Then the peat smoke wafts in soon followed by icing sugar dusted vanilla doughnuts. With Water, the cream soda elements are enhanced, the smoke reduced and overall it become much more drinkable.
Finish: Peat, honey and mangos and a hint of ‘swimming pool’. Very nice.
Overall: A really lovely Laphroaig which shows off the more ‘traditional’ elements of the brand: higher in medicinal notes and that tinned fruit salad element you get in a good whisky from Islay.
Thursday, 19 April 2012
Living in London can be testing. Coming up we’ve got various events from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee through to the much anticipated Olympic Games, which seems to have divided opinion of Londoners right down the middle.
On the one side are the ‘glass half full’ folk who dream of London being the cultural melting-pot of the world for two weeks where, somehow, the decrepit and failing public transport system won’t buckle under the pressure of an extra million people trying to use it... and then there are the realists.
People like me.
People who think that London is a great city, a wonderful place to live but we know the fault-lines. And many there are.
But, however negative your view of the upcoming Games may be, one should rightly focus on what makes London such a great city and so it was that yesterday afternoon gave me a key example of the brilliance of living life in a city rich in culture, history and heritage.
I was to catch up with an old school friend of mine. A chap of good Scottish lineage who ended up spending a long time living in Edinburgh but has now moved back South to live and work in-and-around London. Having known Simon for somewhere in the region of 25 years, but not having seen him for around 12 months, a catch-up in some of London’s more delightful haunts was required and having grown up together, there is bond that only well matured relationships have so where better to open our afternoon of gossip than at JJ Fox’s Cigar Merchants in Mayfair.
The area around St James’ Street, Mayfair is such a wonderful example of London and its history (as seen in our recent piece about Berry Bros) and, despite the best efforts of the local shop owners, you do not have to be wealthy to enjoy the refinements this part of town has to offer. In JJ Fox you can sit back in a leather Chesterfield, light up a very high quality cigar and enjoy a cup of coffee all for the princely sum of... well, whatever you can afford. Personally, I like a Honduran cigar called La Invicta and you can pick up their Corona No.1’s for a mere £4.75. Not a bad way to spend an hour, if you ask me.
Nestled behind JJ Fox on Crown Passage is a brilliant little pub called The Red Lion which provides exactly what one requires post-cigar; a nice pint of real ale. Apparently the second-oldest continually used pub in London with a licence to serve beer, this is London... not some new Westfield shopping ‘mall’ on the edge of the Olympic Park. Note to any rioters reading this: it’s full of trainers, flat screen TV’s and glass. #JustSayin’
JJ Fox and the Red Lion, two of the most idyllic places possible to catch up with an old friend. But an evening of cigars and real ale is only really complete with a wee dram so, via Randall & Aubin in Soho for some much needed belly-padding, we made our way over the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a night-cap.
SMWS 29.109 – ‘Oak and Smoke Intensity’ - Laphroaig – 20 Years Old – Refill Ex Sherry – 619 bottles – Distilled 12th Oct 1990 – 59.2% abv
Nose: A hint of brine, a huge waft of smoke and then it settles down in to red berries, carnations and old leather sofa. Some wood polish and general ‘musk’ whips up all wrapped in a wet peat smoke which gives a lovely warming feeling to the dram.
Palate: Neat, this gives off plum jam, icing sugar, smoke, tar and cherries. But with water is when it really comes to life. This can take a large slug of H2O and with it come toasted brown bread with lashings of butter and strawberry jam, fresh cherry pie and honey all backed with a fantastic smokiness.
Finish: Without water, this is hot and aggressive. With, you get ginger, spices and oak.
Overall: Nowhere near the complete article when sampled neat, but with water this bottling comes to life in a big way. So good, I bought a bottle. A touch more expensive than a £4 cigar, at just over £70, but well worth it. One of the best heavy sherry matured Laphroaig’s I’ve had in a while.
Whatever we may think of the impending invasion of the world to our city (and to be fair, that's what we spent most of our history doing to other countries), there are many, many places 'off the beaten track' in London where you can nestle yourself away with a good friend, a good drink and some good food for a perfectly lovely afternoon / evening.
Our cracking evening ended with a suburb dram, but look out for our next post, pitting two new limited edition Laphroaig head-to-head: the new Duty Free-only PX vs. The 2000 bottles only Laphroaig ‘Brodir’... let battle commence!
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
Friday, 13 April 2012
As I write this, i'm trying to vaguely remember a phrase that goes something along the lines of 'when all around you is falling apart, try to keep your head intact' or something like that. The reason for this is that Caskstrength Towers is crumbling and in need of some serious repairs.
Tuesday, 10 April 2012
Whisky is often used to commemorate great achievements, memorable dates and times of celebration. Take, for instance, The Macallan Royal Wedding bottling from last year. Or the John Walker & Sons £100,000 offering to celebrate the Queens Diamond Jubilee (of which I'm sure there will be other bottlings). Even the most mundane of occasions, Queen Of The South FC's 75th Anniversary for example, got its own bottling.
But what do all these events have in common? What is the theme, the thread that holds them all together? Well, all of the events are times of joyous celebration. A time when people gather together to hold street parties, hang bunting and turn their traditional half-and-half from a beer and a dram of Black Label to a glass of champers and single malt. Except for those celebrating QOTS's 75th Anniversary; I hear a deep fried Mars bar and an bottle of Buckfast did the job in Dumfries, that day...
Today is the 100th anniversary of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. I'm sure this fact hasn't escaped any of you, what with the insane amount of TV programmes made about it, as well as the over-hyped, over-advertised new 3D release of Titanic The Movie.
You'd think that the sinking of a ship only four days in to its maiden voyage killing 1,517 and leaving 710 survivors wouldn't be a reason to celebrate. And you'd be correct. However, as with every tragic event such as this, heart-warming stories of courage and bravery spring up like wild flowers in a forgotten weed-ridden garden.
One such story is that of the Countess of Rothes. A passenger on the ship when it stuck the fateful iceberg, she was one of the lucky few to make it into a lifeboat. However, the seamen who were charged with rowing the occupants to safety were weak and unskilled, so the Countess took charge over the vessel, rowing herself and organising the team of women onboard into shifts to keep the boat moving.
A contemporary account at the time from a Dr. Leader says: "The Countess is an expert oarswoman. She practically took command of our boat when it was found that the seamen who had been placed at the oars could not row skilfully. Several of the women took their place with the Countess at the oars and rowed in turns while the weak and unskilled stewards sat quietly in one end of the boat." This action earned the Countess the nickname "Plucky Little Countess".
A grand old lady of the sea, the Titanic was fitted out like a luxury hotel of the time and part of the high standards of this ship would have been the food, wine and spirits served onboard, but part of the ship's job was to transport goods to New York, the final destination for the passengers, crew and cargo. As London's premier supplier of high-end wines and spirits, Berry Bros & Rudd had several cases of wine and whisky purchased from them by wealthy New Yorkers, all of which was lost in the terrible tragedy.
As a result, the owners of the Titanic, White Star Lines, sent a letter to Berry Bros & Rudd detailing the loss of 69 cases of their wines and whiskies (Berry's Best, Berry Bros & Rudd Vatted Malt and Berry Bros & Rudd All Malt were the titles of the whiskies being carried) for insurance purposes which were aboard the liner. The letter, dated April 16th 1912 was sent just 2 days after the disaster.
Since then, something quite remarkable has happened. Due to a series of acquisitions, Berry Bros & Rudd today owns the rights to the single malt whisky Glenrothes, produced in the small Speyside town from where 'The Plucky Little Countess' hailed.
As a tribute to the memory of those onboard the Titanic on that fatefull evening and to remember the heroic efforts by the Countess in Lifeboat No. 8, Berry Bros & Rudd have a released a single cask Glenrothes, limited to 100 bottles only.
Berry's Own Selection / The Glenrothes - Single Cask No. 015190 - 13 Years Old (1998) - 45% abv
"Well matured In Sherry Wood" - this has been in 1st fill Oloroso sherry barrels
Nose: The first thing that comes to the nose is dark chocolate coco powder, followed by leather, apricots and stem ginger. Some toasted oak notes is backed up by freshly Bergamot peel, figs and runny honey.
Palate: A lovely soft sherry influence, with more of the Bergamot, some unsalted, hand churned butter on toasted hot cross buns (mixed dried fruits, baked white bread dough). Burnt sugar and figs (again). Orange creams and Pontefract cake.
Finish: Candied orange rolled in white sugar, some spices, gee and toasted pine nuts.
Overall: A really lovely whisky and a very good example of a Glenrothes. The sherry is not too dominant, leaving enough room for good distillery character to come through.
A fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives on the Titanic, yet a great way to celebrate the small, heroic moments which saved so many lives. This story shows that the Countess of Rothes really was one of the Premier Cru aboard the Titanic.
Friday, 6 April 2012
Damn it. The sun is shining outside, it's Good Friday, I've already consigned a wheelbarrow full or junk from the house to the garage and it's not even lunchtime yet.
Thursday, 5 April 2012
Well, it's been a few weeks since we were there, but our thoughts are still very much on the fun we had in Dublin just before St Patrick's Day. As with last years festivities, we were both on hand during the Jameson Global Broadcast to offer a vaguely English take on Irish whiskey for the assembled DJ's who travelled from across America, Scandinavia, South America and for the first time, India!
Monday, 2 April 2012
What do the island of Jura and the Suffolk town of Southwold have in common? One correct answer would be that they were both home at one stage to George Orwell. But that's not the answer I'm looking for.
We all know that the isle of Jura is home to a single malt distillery producing whisky bearing the island's name. But did you know that sleepy Southwold now has its very own distillery, too?
Located in a beautiful part of England right on the far eastern shore, Southwold could not lie further across the British Isles from Jura, yet here you are to find one the newest distilleries in the UK. With a brewing history going back as far as 1345, Southwold is home to the Adnams brewery which has been churning out fine ales since the early 1800's.
Yet in 2010, the clever chaps at the brewery decided that not only should they spend their lives making some of the best real ales around, but that they should knock a huge hole in the end of the brewery and build... yes, you've guessed it, a distillery. And why not. If you're gonna brew, you might as well distil, too.
And so it was that the Copper House Distillery was opened producing gin, vodka and whisky. The current set up at Adnams consists of a 'beer stripping' column, a copper pot still and rectifying columns all made by the same German company who produced the stills for Tuthilltown.
One of the huge advantages of having brewing and distilling on the same site, is the idea of 'grain to glass' and the chaps at Adnams claim to the be the only small batch distillery in the UK to make vodka in this fashion.
But vodka is not what we're after here. No, sir! For beneath the distillery in the old vaults, barrels of whisky are maturing away. Not yet ready for the public, it is certainly going to be exciting when they do release something which they feel comfortable calling English Whisky.
In the mean time however, the Copper House Distillery has released a range of products, from their gin 'First Rate' through to two styles of vodka: 'Longshore', pure vodka and 'North Cove', oak aged vodka (or young whisky, perhaps?!).
Their newest offering is something quite different. One of the brewery's most successful products is an ale called Broadside. Named after the battle to stave off an attack from the Dutch navy in 1672, this beer has become a staple in the nations pubs for a good reason: it's bloody tasty.
Putting two-and-two together and getting 22, the obvious thing to do if you make beer and own a distillery is to stick your beer through the stills... so this is exactly what Adnams have done with a batch of their Broadside ale, distilling it and then aging it in new French oak casks for around a year. The end product? Eau De Vie De Bier, The Spirit Of Broadside.
Genius! If it tastes any good, that is. So let's find out:
Adnams Copper House Distillery - Eau De Vie De Bier - The Spirit of Broadside - 1 Year Old - New European Oak - 43% abv
Nose: The new oak casks give off big whiffs of freshly cut wood, garden chippings after the rain, potting shed and damp felt. Toasted pine nuts backed with vanilla finish off this unusual nose.
Palate: The initial hit is of cardboard, but not in an unpleasent way. This develops in to thyme, some rare roast lamb and mint jelly with an underlying farmyard note... in fact right back to the potting shed / allotment again. It's very strange. The flavours are not easy targets, moving around in a psychedelic manner on the palate.
Finish: BBQ crisps, slight hints of salt and smoke. Rich vanillas at the death.
Overall: Well, if the Speaker of the House can call Queen Elizabeth the 'Kaleidoscope Queen', then this is 'Kaleidoscope Spirit'. Very unusual. Not measurable by the normal proceedures, I can ask only one question: would I drink this at home? The answer: yes, but not on a regular basis. It's a real oddity, but a joy at the same time. If 'normal' whisky is the Beach Boys, this is Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band...
So there we have it. Another wee distillery making whatever the hell they like. And more power to them.
¡Viva la Revolución!
Sunday, 1 April 2012
Continuing on from where we left off with the wonderful Hudson craft whiskey, our next virtual visit takes us to Texas and the equally wonderful Balcones. We were fortunate enough to meet up with Balcones founder and chief wizard, Chip Tate at this year's Whisky Live London. Chip was in fine form and in possession of some highly unusual new bottlings, as well as perhaps the most impressive beard in the western hemisphere.
Nose: Sweet nutty notes, milk chocolate covered peanuts, burnt caramel and a hint of coffee beans.
Palate: Rich in the mouth, with very sweet - then spicy liquorice notes, milky coffee and salted caramel.
Finish: Lingering sweetness with a touch of poached pear on the death.
Overall: Still unmistakably a corn whisk(e)y, but oozing character, flavour and - emotion. If you have tried corn whisk(e)y before and not really 'got it', give this a whirl and be prepare to have your opinion changed.
Chip was also over to showcase two other particularly unusual whiskies, one of which rather controversially is probably not even a whisky at all, but will give most new craft whiskies a proper run for their money.
Rumble, has been developed by Chip from a localised recipe of Texas wildflower honey, turbinado sugar and mission figs - so you could probably say it is nearer a distilled mead/rum and an Arak than an actual whisky! But pour yourself a glass and wait to be stunned - the complexity of fruit notes, sweet vanilla tones and oak is hard to fathom.
Balcones - Rumble - Cask Reserve bottling - 59%
Nose: A melange of dried fruits: apricot, dates, prunes and rum soaked raisins, mix effortlessly with fresh vanilla pods, muscovado sugar, and some floral, honeyed notes.
Palate: Powerful and dominant to begin with. Needs some water to calm down the fire. Then the fun begins. Almost sherried Speyside in its first approach to the palate- woody spice, masses of dried fruit and then a layer of delicious sweet vanilla. Put this side-by-side with a bunch of aged sherry cask whiskies and it will undoubtedly hold its own... and more. Superb.
Finish: Lingering spice (clove and cinnamon) and more dried fruit.
Overall: A total revelation. Hopefully this will be coming to the UK soon and the rest of Europe. If you happen to be reading this in the US... lucky bastards.
The final dram Chip poured for us is perhaps his most innovative. As smoky whiskies go, the US isn't that well known for producing anything to trouble the likes of Islay and Brimstone certainly doesn't go after that crown. What it does do is redefine how we perhaps think about how to make a whisky smoky. Trade secrets aside, Brimstone is actually a whisky smoked not from the malting stage, but actually in the final stages of its life, using a process of infusion and a pile of Texas scrub oak. The result is unlike any smoky whisky we've ever tried that's for sure - brooding, powerful and unashamedly nuts!
Balcones - Brimstone - 53%
Nose: From the first uncorking of the bottle, your room, clothes, hair and probably eyeballs will be enveloped by smoke - not just any ordinary smoke, but the sort that you find at a barbecue. Braised hickory steaks, charcoal smoke, charred barrels and pepper corns dry frying in a hot pan. Alongside, some sweet corn whisky notes, vanilla and a hint of oaky spice.
Palate: The smoke continues and dominates the whole of the mouth. Don't think medicinal peat smoke, think freshly sawn pine logs, thrown into a roaring fire. Big, bold and terrifyingly SMOKY! The corn notes bring up the rear, but give enough mouthfeel and sweetness to take this away from being one dimensional.
Finish: Have a guess...
Overall: Probably the smokiest spirit in the world. Bang.
Like Tuthilltown and Corsair, Balcones represents the beating heart of the US craft distilling movement and with over 300 working micro distilleries in America and Canada, the future of innovative distillation is in capable (if slightly wacky) hands indeed.