This week, we'll be talking about whisky and education. Not teaching people how to drink whisky, but how to make it! There aren't many university-level programs in distilling, but the University of Kentucky has now started offering a certificate in Distillation, Wine, and Brewing to undergraduate students who complete a series of courses in chemistry, engineering, and other subjects. Dr. Seth DeBolt is one of the program's founders, and joins us to discuss it on this week's WhiskyCast In-Depth. In the news, we'll look at the progress of two proposed distilleries in Scotland, along with plans for next June's Kentucky Bourbon Affair in Louisville - complete with Kentucky's first major whisky festival including whiskies from all over the world. There are also new whiskies coming out of Scotland, along with Italy's first single malt and we'll kick off the holiday season by sampling a whisky-filled Advent calendar!
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The first thing we noticed about this was that it clocked in at 58% after thirteen years. “Boy, that Sherry butt is a tight drum!” was one initial comment, which I shall graciously leave unattributed. We found tons of banana on the nose, but not just any banana: rather, it’s a plastic banana designed to be heavily bruised with a squeak toy built into one end. That was not what Capt. Picard was expecting when he asked the computer to produce a snack. There were also notes of mango, a little cherry, fresh linens, and kiwi slices strewn about everywhere. As we nosed it, John got a happy, faraway look in his eye as he imagined this dram as a boozed up, all natural juice for an ecumenical vegan office party to which he’d been invited at the last minute.
The mouth does not clearly present as Oloroso, but rather as spicy, hot, big, (please do not Google those latter descriptors, especially not together in that order) and generally funkless. With that description, you might think it’s Joe Manganiello, but it’s much better than that. It’s also drying, though, inducing a hydrophobia in each of us. And of course, for each of us, it took a different form. John left the table and started to sidle up to his industrial-strength, whole-house dehumidifier. Bill’s led him to sip from his water glass, as opposed to his usual glorping (his was an especially mild case). For me, it took the form of a momentary and fleeting rabidity. Despite our differences, we all loved it.
The finish is long and fires especially on the back of the palate, where bitterness lies, but which is now replaced, now clear as if it had undergone a rigorous course of Scientology auditing. Now I can finally throw out that old E-Meter–thank the stars! What’s left in its place is all the richness of Penuche fudge, but without the fatness of the butter therein.
On the scale of disparate descriptors that come together to paint a portrait of a thing of beauty—
The Single Cask Nation Cooley 13 Year Old Irish Whiskey, Refill Oloroso Butt is Refill Oloroso Butt Irish Whiskey–Clearly better than runny, smelly cheese (even for those who like the food to which that set of descriptors refers), but probably just short of Butthole Surfers. The latter point might sound like a diminution, but it’s actually high praise indeed.
–Our thanks to Single Cask Nation for the sample!
Welcome to this week's Inbox. For those that have recently discovered us, Inbox is our weekly round up of whisky news and PR material that has found its way in to our email inbox. It was created as we cannot write full articles or do justice to every piece received. It features items from around the world of whisky and is published by us each Friday.
Within Inbox we aim to write a few lines detailing each press release/piece of news/PR event that we have received and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information. Here is what has caught our attention this week ...
Aberfeldy - Sweet 16
John Dewar & Sons, the owners of the Highland distillery of Aberfeldy, have announced a new expression that will sit in their core single malt range. The Aberfeldy 16 years old has been matured entirely in ex-Oloroso sherry casks and will sit between the 12 and 21 years old expressions in the range. There is also an 18 years old, which is exclusive to the travel retail sector. The 16 years old has been bottled at 40% ABV and will be available in eleven world markets - Belgium, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Lebanon, Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK. No indication of price was given in the press release.
Puni - Italy joins whisky world
The first ever Italian single malt whisky is about to hit the market. The Puni distillery, which is located in the southern Tyrol in the foothills of the Alps, began production in February 2012. They have announced the release of their first two limited edition whiskies - Alba (pictured, left) and Nova (pictured, below). Both will be available in two batches, the first at 54% ABV and a later one to follow at 43% ABV. Alba ('dawn' in Italian) has been matured in ex-Marsala wine casks for two years and then transferred for a further years to casks that have previously held smoky Islay whisky.
Nova ('new' in Italian) has been matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being finished in European oak casks. The Puni distillery is the epitomy of Italian style and is a 13 metre high red brick cube from the outside. Inside is one of the most highly advanced distilleries in Europe. This contemporary style is reflected in the bottle design for the single malts. The first batch of both will only be available via the online shop at www.puni.com or at the distillery shop. The same applies for the second batches, but these will also be available through selected specialist and luxury retailers in France, Germany and Italy.
Prices are - Alba Batch 1 €154 per bottle and Batch 2 €74. Nova Batch 1 €126 per bottle and Batch 2 €59.
Demand for Maker’s Mark continues to grow strongly, and the distillery has been trying to catch up with it. A second set of stills, a new artificial lake for secure water supply, new warehouses: it’s been busy outside of Loretto for the past ten years.
It’s not slowing down. Last week, spirit started flowing from a third set of stills at Maker’s. Like the previous expansion, this set is, as much as possible, identical to the originals, a mirror image. The three stills sit side-by-side-by-side to minimize any differences from siting.
You have to wonder how much room there is for this kind of thing to go on, because Maker’s Mark, like bourbon in general, shows no sign at all of slacking off. We promise: if you keep making it, we’ll keep drinking it.
Parker’s Heritage Collection Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey Aged 8 Years 54% ABV $99.99 Website What the Distillery Says: Not much really. We know that it has a mashbill of 65% malted barley and 35% corn and was distilled at the company’s Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. Then it matured for eight years on the 5th and … Continue reading Parker’s Heritage Malt →
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 Caskstrength.net 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 Caskstrength.net, there was barely a handful of online blogs or webpages dedicated to the spirit. Our influences came from inspirational spaces like Whiskyfun.com 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 Caskstrength.net 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, Caskstrength.net 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 Caskstrength.net 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. Caskstrength.net 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: WorldsBestSpirits.com
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, WorldsBestSpirits.com 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 Caskstrength.net 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...
Joel's Top Post: Springbank Rundlets & Kilderkins
Neil's Top Post: The Glenlivet Alpha
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 WorldsBestSpirits.com
So, charge your glasses and raise a toast: The Blog Is Dead! Long Live WorldsBestSpirits!
Neil & Joel - April 1st, 2015 x
Keep Following Us OnTwitter @WorldOfSpirits
There is always a good deal of chatter when Jim Murray releases his awards list ahead of the release of a new edition of his bible, surely the sometimes controversial choices he makes are no promotional accident...
Some of the best whiskies I was fortunate enough to taste in 2014 were from Japan, and I would agree that the Yamazaki Sherry Cask is a stunning whisky from one of the world’s greatest malt whisky-producing countries, but the Daily Mail’s (expected) sensational headline and Mr. Murray’s statements strike me as remarkably unfounded. That Scotch whisky has something to be “humiliated” about, that a perceived lack of innovation has hindered Scotch producers is near nonsense.
Scotch whisky is celebrated and esteemed as much for its diversity of flavour as for its adherence to traditional craftsmanship over its lengthy history but recent years have seen these traditions used in new ways, with innovation from barley to barrel to bottle across the industry, albeit within parameters. Interestingly, many of these innovations have been in turn praised and criticised by Mr. Murray over the past two decades, from 1994s praise of finishing to his 2008 critique of the practice.
Japanese whisky was founded on the traditions of Scotch whisky making over 90 years ago, and it could possibly be argued that Japan adheres even more to the traditional methods (wooden washbacks, direct firing stills, etc) than the average malt distillery in Scotland so I do question Murray’s implied praise of generalised Japanese “innovation” over just making really good whisky that he liked.
Since the mid-1980s, when the world saw its first Single Malt from Japan, Japanese whiskies have attracted acclaim. Since 2008, Japanese blends and malts have won major titles, most notably from the World Whisky Awards. This is not to say that Scotch has stoppedwinning these awards or top acclaim from writers, including Murray. Although Scotch has, until now, won his highest accolade in all but one edition of his bible, Murray has awarded more American whiskies in recent years than Japanese. It is no news that America and Japan make excellent whiskies. Not a great headline, though, and tough to sell newspapers or magazines with a headline like that, "Whiskies Being Made to High Standard Outside Scotland"
The assumption from Murray’s statements is that Japanese whisky has an edge on Scotch because of a stronger vision or wilder innovation; innovations like the highball campaign? No Age Statements? Local barley or local oak? There are precedents in Scotch in every case. So in what way is Japanese whisky’s success due to innovations that Scotch lacks? Zero. It is due to releasing top quality malt whiskies. To infer that this precludes the ongoing (and much longer-running) success of Scotch whisky is balderdash, but a great reminder that Jim Murray’s latest book is about to be released!
Finally, in case it has not been mentioned, Jim has a new book coming out next week.
Unfortunately I let the URL www.thescotchblog.com go…
Worse someone registered it – and worse yet – his name is (or he calls himself ) “Kevin”.
I hope that no one thinks that Kevin is me – or that The Scotch Blog is related in anyway to this The Scotch Blog.
Big thanks to the folks at Deep Focus, a social media agency working with The Glenlivet, for sending me a free sample of the new Glenlivet Alpha expression that has only 3350 bottles shipping worldwide (not sure how many are coming to the U.S.). Especially since I’ve been flying under the whisky radar this past year (I’ll post more on that later). I haven’t checked out all of the marketing details, but apparently there is going to be a big “reveal” for Alpha in a few days, so I thought I’d go ahead and post some thoughts on the whisky while it is still something of a mystery (the box only states that it is a Single Malt bottled at 50% abv). The U.S. retail price is $120.
On the nose, my first impression is of cinnamon apples. Then vanilla custard, and finally some fresh wood shavings. Then back to the fruit, of the apples and pears variety. Looking online now at other reviews, I see people talking about lots of tropical fruits. Personally, that’s not the way I respond to this. It doesn’t strike me as tropical in the same way as something like Glenmorangie 18 year. But of course, this is all subjective.
On the palette, it starts out mouth-watering and juicy, sweet, then very slightly prickly on the tongue. There is a point where it becomes slightly nutty, and just as I start to expect a slight walnut bitterness, it pulls back. Very nice. It’s smooth as silk…almost buttery going down. It then becomes drying on the finish, before my mouth waters up again. A very enjoyable, if not particularly long, experience.
The Glenlivet Alpha is an extremely drinkable expression that would be great for sharing with all levels of whisky drinkers. It strikes me as a Special Edition release of their Nadurra expression. The overall flavor profile (especially on the nose) is quite similar. However, the Alpha has an extra silky smoothness to it relative to Nadurra, in the same way the 17 year finished Balvenie expressions relate to the 15 year single barrel. Though, I don’t detect anything resembling the typical “finishing” casks of sherry or wine in Alpha.
So what is it?
If this is a game, and we’re supposed to guess what the heck is in this black Alpha bottle, I’d have to guess a combination of first-fill and second-fill American White Oak bourbon barrels were used to mature the spirit. There is no sign of coloring or chill filtration (like Nadurra). Age? That’s a hard one. Is the extra buttery smoothness in the mouth over the Nadurra due to age, or is it related to the type of casks used? Not sure. I could believe a number of scenarios: 1) It’s a year or two older than the 16 year Nadurra. 2) They use a combination of refill casks and smaller quarter casks to give the impression of extra maturity, while keeping the oak in check, or 3) this is just the result of very carefully selected casks by the master distiller.
Did I really enjoy this whisky? Yes. Am I going to seek out a bottle? No. Do I think you’re an idiot if you do? No.
I really like this whisky, but for me, the 16 year Nadurra (at $50/bottle locally) is close enough in profile to keep me satisfied. On the other hand, I have no immediate issues with the price of Alpha. They are saying that it was “carefully crafted” by the master distiller, and it is a limited release of 3,350 bottles. It’s not going to be for everybody, but then, the limited run kind of takes care of that.
I’ve seen much higher prices asked for “carefully selected” expressions…how about the Diageo Manager’s Choice a few years ago? Talk about crazy pricing. These things work themselves out, though. A bunch of those Manager’s Choice bottles can still be had at 40% discounts online. So far, The Glenlivet Alpha is selling out quickly. The UK allocation disappeared immediately. If, upon commencing with their “reveal” on Facebook later this week, people are outraged by what they hear, then I’d expect that feedback to influence future releases.
If they keep their main line whiskies priced reasonably, and of high quality, what’s the harm in experimenting with various boutique releases aimed at smaller segments of the market? I look forward to learning more about the story behind The Glenlivet Alpha.
Things are changing here at Whisky Party! We’re about to roll out a new design and switch to a new blog platform.
This is all happening on Monday February 20th!
If you’d like to continue reading Whisky Party in your RSS reader, you’ll have to update to the feed URL in your feed reader:
For a sneak peak at the new sight, you can check out our staging version here.
The Ca Scotch Couple firmly believe in living below their means. They shop at consignment stores, sock away the max for retirement, and adhere to a strict 25% debt to equity ratio. Consequently, the CA Scotch Couple's move to paradise in 2004 couldn't have come at a worse time. It was at the height of the real estate boom; the only houses even remotely within the CA Scotch Couple's price range were shacks, and even those shacks had multiple bidders.
So, it is no surprise that the beloved Little Beach House was one such shack: a circa 1913, 700 square foot single wall construction edifice with outdated wiring, inadequate plumbing, precipitously sloping floors, and a hole in its roof. The CA Scotch Couple spent many (many many many) years making the Little Beach House habitable. Unfortunately, no matter what they did, there was no escaping the reality that even with its new wiring, plumbing, and roof, the Little Beach House was a shack.
So, when the real estate bust hit San Diego hard, the CA Scotch Couple decided to see if they could trade their shack for something a little more spacious. They took a financial bath on the Little Beach House, and set out on their house hunting adventures with three goals for the new home: it needed to have lost at least as much value as the Little Beach House had, it needed to be more spacious than the Little Beach House; and it couldn't be a project.
One of the first properties the CA Scotch Couple viewed was a lovely old mixed use loft conversion in a slightly dodgy area. This 1933 grand dame had started its life as an old fashioned car dealership/garage and had then become an artist's studio and residence. It had magnificent arching barrel ceilings, open architecture, exposed terra cotta masonry, and concrete floors. It also wasn't up to earthquake code, had a leaking roof, had been stripped of plumbing, appliances and countertops, and, worst of all, had birds nesting in it. It was a whopping 2700 square feet, but man, oh man, it was project. CA Scotch Chick dubbed it "the Bird Sanctuary," and the CA Scotch Couple swiftly walked the other way.
But the CA Scotch Couple kept their miserly eyes on the Bird Sanctuary, and within a few months, market forces had driven it down to the price that the CA Scotch Couple had paid for the Little Beach House in 2004. Project or not, the CA Scotch Couple simply couldn't resist. It was a remarkable space, and it was worth the pain to make it beautiful again. They made an offer.
For seven months, long before the accident and throughout the CA Scotch Couple's recovery, they fought their way through the tortuous short sale and then foreclosure process. They managed to buy the Bird Sanctuary from the bank on the final day of 2009, immediately moved in, and endured endless months of living under plastic sheets with construction chaos ringing around them.
On the day they finally closed on the Bird Sanctuary, CA Scotch Gent sat CA Scotch Chick down and asked for two favors. First, could they please, please, please, set a goal of having the renovations done by the end of summer? No more projects stretching for years. Secondly, could they please, please, please, stop calling it the Bird Sanctuary?
They set a goal of August 31st as the drop dead date for finishing the renovation, and they scheduled a party to make sure they met that goal. Then they cast around for a more suitable name — finally deciding on "Studio A" in honor of the sign over its door.
It was a long hard nine months, complicated by the CA Scotch Couple's recovery from their injuries and those all encompassing work schedules. However, on August 31st, a mere three hours before their party, the CA Scotch Couple finally removed the last of the plastic, pushed the furniture into place, and claimed Studio A as their own.
It was well worth the effort. Studio A is now up to code; the birds have been evicted; it has been scrubbed from top to bottom; and it is now equipped with new bathrooms, appliances, countertops, skylights, and roof. Gentle light filters into its spacious and gracious interior giving the CA Scotch Couple the impression that they are stepping into a magnificent cavern whenever they return at the end of the day — the perfect refuge for a pair of recluses. It has been an extremely long tough year, but the CA Scotch Couple are finally home.