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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Competition Time: Win a chance to Choose the Next Overeem Release!

As our regular readers well know, we like to cheer people up on gloomy days -  especially ones following a particularly tasty bank holiday break (despite the incessant rain here in South London)
This time round, we have a corking opportunity for you:  Ever fancied actually having a say in the next release that a distillery puts out?  Well, short of sending in a boring questionnaire to a brand, citing what you like or dislike, or making a ranting phone call, telling a distiller to stop making NAS whisky (true apparently) , we're giving you just that opportunity!

Casey and Jane really needs your help in choosing
the next single cask bottling 

The marvellous folk at the Old Hobart distillery in Tasmania are wonderful whisky makers, but are sometimes a little indecisive. Alongside his truly excellent sherry and port cask releases, Head Distiller and distillery owner Casey Overeem has - for the first time - filled a small number of specially re-sized bourbon casks with his wonderful single malt. The trouble is they all taste superb, so he's having a little trouble to decide which one to release first in the UK... that's where you come in.
WHAT CAN I WIN? Well... here you go.
Casey and co are offering one lucky winner a unique opportunity to join a select panel of whisky experts at a Central London location (travel within the UK will be covered) in late September to decide which is the very best from three different single casks. The selected cask will then be bottled and released exclusively in the UK later in 2015. Just 50 bottles of the 60% ABV bourbon cask release will be available and in addition to having your say as to which cask is finally bottled, you'll also receive a special personalised bottle of whisky taken from the chosen cask.
2 runners-up will also each win a bottle of Overeem Sherry Cask 43% for their efforts.

Hello... Tell me more...

HOW DO I ENTER? All you have to do is write a Tasting Note that Casey himself would be proud of...
The person with the best tasting note, as chosen by Casey, will win. The whisky they want you to document is the Overeem Sherry Cask 43%. Its huge rich, fruity and spicy notes have proved a hit with single malt fans all over the globe. All you need to do is take inspiration from the whisky itself and tell the guys what you think it tastes like by 10pm on Thursday 18th September (winner to be announced on Friday 19th September).
If you don't happen to have this expression to hand and don't fancy purchasing a whole bottle (you really should though, it's superb) you can of course grab yourself a 3cl sample dram from the product page on the Master of Malt website:  Here's our review for reference... no cheating please... ;-)

Overeem Single Malt Whisky -  Old Hobart Distillery -  Sherry Cask Matured - 43%

Nose: Immediately, this is very inviting and open, with notes of spiced apple pie, vanilla ice cream some perfumed notes and a slight vegetative note (boiled sweet potato.) Given time some sweet, plump raisins come to the fore, alongside a little dustiness and some cracked black pepper. Extremely rich and complex, all said and done.  

Palate: Wonderfully spicy and sweet, with star anise, clove and cinnamon dusted apples coating the palate, alongside some dried fruits (apricot and date), soft caramel and some vibrant blood orange notes.  Balanced and very impressive indeed for a youthful whisky. 

Finish: Lingering notes of dark chocolate, orange zest and toasted malt give this a luxurious and very lengthy finish.

Overall:  What a flying start.  Make no mistake, this is high quality whisky making and what's clear is the care and attention that has gone into pulling this expression together.  Highly recommended if you're a fan of big, bold sherry monsters. 


WAYS TO ENTER... 
1. Enter your tasting note in the User Review section of the Product Page, at Master Of Malt (link here) including a twitter handle so they can get in touch with you if you win.
2. Enter your tasting note in the blog comments section at Master Of Malt, ensuring that you enter an email address in the field provided.
3. Enter your tasting note in a Comment on our Caskstrength Facebook page or the Master Of Malt Facebook page.
4. If social media isn't your sort of thing, then simply just send us your tasting note at info(at)Caskstrength(dot)Net

Usual T's & C's apply:  You must be able to attend the tasting panel in late September (date TBC very soon) and if travelling from outside of the UK, make your own way here.  Oh- and be over the legal drinking age in your country of residence.  

Good luck and get those thinking/drinking trilbies on.


Friday, 15 August 2014

Merry Christmas from Springbank. In August! : Spirit Of Freedom 30 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky



It is yet another Friday on the global procession towards Christmas. For those of you who work in or around retail, you’ll be aware that around this time business start to propose their Xmas line ups to the world, in preparation for those magazines who need a good long run up at events such as this.

Thankfully, running a website means that we don’t have to write about anything until the very last moment it is required- but our other print outlets in the media, such as magazines and books, do require a fair amount of notice, so it is nice to see the odd email popping into our inbox with a nod in the direction to how we can help you spend your gifting pounds in December and I’m sure you’ll hear more about those from us, on here (and other places) when the chill reality sets in and the snow begins to fall.

However, in with some of the more Christmas-facing press releases and emails, there are often ones about products which have suddenly, without warning, appeared on a shelf somewhere. Traditionally a silly season for news (of all kinds- John Lennon 40 Year Old Scotch whisky anyone?!) it can often be hard to pick out the good from the bad, or the good from the mad.

Here at Caskstrength.net we do receive press samples for review, sometimes for this site, sometime for books we are writing, or contributing to, and sometimes for articles we may be writing elsewhere or discussions we might be involve in. And of course we also buy booze- lots of it. A fair amount of brandy, gin, absinthe, rum, aquavit and other great potables were purchased as research (yes, research...) for our forthcoming book, but nothing gets us more excited, our wallets out faster, than an exciting new whisky purchase.

And last week that is exactly what happened, when I heard about a new release from J & A Mitchell, the chaps behind Springbank Distillery and Wm Cadenheads, when they announced a very limited edition (2014 bottles) 30 Year Old blended Scotch whisky.

All apparently exactly 30 years old (so all from 1984) and constructed from 75% malt and 25% grain, the chaps down in Campbeltown are known for having some exceptional old casks hidden away. So, what price on this 30 year old Scotch... just £75. Yeah, £75.


Spirit of Freedom – 30 Years Old - Blended Scotch Whisky – 2014 bottles only - 46% abv – 70cl - £72.95 here and £74.20 here

Nose: A strong vanilla and fennel note rises with a butter back bone and just a delicate hint of smoke. Walnuts and honey mix well, to give some sandlewood. Peaches and green apple too and a hint of pine. Sea salt. This smells like a blend of old- those great value ones from the 1970’s and 1980’s you can pick up for such great value at auction sites nowadays.

Palate:  Very, very drinkable at its bottled strength, it sits on the palate with a good dollop of oil and pineapple juice. A hint of coal dust in the background, gives a great foundation to tropical fruits and big butterscotch from the grain. A classic blend.

Finish: Oddly, probably the best bit (quite a feat given the nose and palate) with juicy fruit tropical chewing gum, more pineapple, honey, syrup and cinnamon spices with just a hint of that coal dust again.

Overall: For £75 you just can’t go wrong. Not at all.

At this price, you can drink this neat by the fireside, in preparation for Christmas, or you can run headlong in the opposite direction and, while there is still some sunshine left in the sky, dodge the gathering clouds, head out to your garden and drink this in a simply stunning highball.

What, with a 30 year old blended Scotch whisky?” I hear you cry?!

Yup. With a 30 year old blended Scotch whisky. Happy Christmas!

Friday, 1 August 2014

I Can See Clearly Now: Kininvie 23 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky



It was exactly one year ago today that I found myself hopping up to Scotland to take part in the Ardbeg Islay Half Marathon.

As you would expect from an event held on an island in the Inner Hebrides, in the 140 minutes it took me to complete the course I experienced pretty much every type of element known to man, save for a snow storm. From hail to bright sunshine, I have never seen such a variety of weather in just one morning.

Preparing for such an onslaught of elements required some pretty decent kit and I’d purchased some good trainers, comfortable running kit and a pair of Oakley sunglasses. My saving grace, the sunspecs were vital to keeping me going, as post-shower when the sun burst violently from behind the clouds, the glare from the roads would have been unbearable without the aid of the dark glasses.

On returning home and having invested not only in the running kit, but in the training time as well, I decided that it would be wise, what with all this professional drinking and suchlike, to maintain a healthy balance of drams and training: the odd half marathon to balance out the regular half measure of whisky. The ultimate ‘half and half’, if you will.

However, there was one improvement which needed to be made to my kit, correcting a error I had made in the lead-up to the Islay Half.

Being a proud spectacle wearer, when I took ownership of my Oakley sunglasses I didn’t have the lenses replaced with prescription ones. This meant that, as wonderful as the scenery of Islay is, I was unable to take in much of it and to really enjoy it. It literally passed me by in a blur. If I was going to do more running, I at least wanted to see where I was going!

And so I spent some of my 'hard-earned' on having the lenses replaced in my running glasses and it has improved my exercise experience immeasurably as I’m now able to enjoy the varying vistas of my weekly runs.

My vision has been enhanced by greater clarity and added perspective and it certainly helps to be able to see something in clear relation to something else.

When judging or critiquing single malt whisky, it also helps to have comparisons. Each distillery has a unique flavour profile which is carried through the core expressions and should be evident in the new make through to the mature product. Doing a range tasting, especially with a distillery’s ‘entry level’ products, is important as it can put into perspective both the flavour development of whisky in older (or in this day and age of No Age Statements- more expensive) expressions and also highlight how different cask-types work with the new make spirit to develop certain flavour elements.

So it is always slightly confusing when you encounter whisky from a distillery for the first time, and even more confusing when you have nothing to compare it to.

And this is where I find myself today, faced with a sample of Kininvie 23 Year Old. I have, once, had some Kininvie. It was supplied to me in form an ‘under-the-table’ sample at a whisky event. But it was one of those ‘drink and enjoy’ moments, not one for notes or scribblings, so (as whisky is designed to be) it was lost to the memory of time.

But not to worry, for the chance to try something new is always exciting and the parameters by which one should measure the quality of a dram, unaware of the distillery’s character, profile or range, remain unchanged: is there balance, complexity and an overall ability to hold itself in the crowded marketplace that is single malt Scotch whisky at the moment. 

Let’s find out:




Kininvie 23 Years Old – Batch 2 – 42.6% abv

Note: I have a small sample but this will come in a 35cl bottle when released in the UK. The bottle pictured is Batch 1.

Nose: Initial hit of banana (mid-ripeness), jute bag and rum cake. The sweetness develops in to fresh orange juice and pear drops with a backdrop of fresh leather. It’s quite a complex nose and really quite unique: if you gave me this blind it would be hard to guess what it was, other than being a Speyside dram.  Going back to the nose after a while it shows apple and blackberry pie with custard, plus a fair whack of vanilla.

Palate: Sweet tea at first, then a hit of dried apricot and raisins followed by red apple slices and some leather notes. Creme brulee with a summer fruit coulis then appear. The balance of red fruits and vanilla is excellent, with just a hint of spice to counterbalance the sweetness.  

Finish: Oak, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg on the death with a lasting zest of lime, thyme and some fresh mint.

Overall: This is quite an unusual dram, bouncing between vanilla sweetness and rich red fruits... but the balance works. It isn’t out of kilter but neither is this a sherry bomb nor a delicate bourbon barrel baby. I think I’d like to see how this would take in just the latter, with bigger vanillin and charred oak spice.


Not a bad start to the Kininvie journey and I’m looking forward to seeing how this might compare to other styles of whisky coming from the same distillery as well as to see how Kininvie’s core DNA differs from that of the other single malts (Glenfiddich, Balvenie) produced on the same site in Dufftown. Until such time, I’m running blind, but (as I was on Islay) running happy.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

I Come From The Land Of The Ice And Snow: Benromach Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Snow Joke: My Trip To Benromach
One of the scariest drives I have ever done in my life was early one March morning from Perth to Forres, a small town near Inverness. It was a Monday and I was up around 4am with the aim of arriving at the Benromach distillery at 8am, to start a day working at the distillery to learn about how the distillery works and document it for an article in Whisky Magazine.

Benromach in the Snow
However, just after waking I threw back the curtains to see somewhere in the region of 36 inches of snow clogging up the path below. Scurrying outside, I quickly dug a path for my car to exit on to the well-salted main road and began the slow drive up the A9. As I passed Dalwhinnie distillery the thermometer in my car showed -15 degrees centigrade. To say it was cold would be an understatement.

After slipping and sliding all the way north from Perth, I arrived at Benromach just in time for a pre-work cup of tea to warm my frozen bones. The sky had tuned from granite to deep blue, and the white washed walls of the distillery shone like platinum, a chimney in the yard reaching high into the sky, providing a beacon for the angels to pop in and grab their share. I was glad to have risked the icy roads and the deep snow to make it for the start of the day.

The history of Benromach follows that of many other Scotch distilleries, closed by the previous owners, United Distillers (now Diageo), in 1983 after the first production started in 1898.

Ten years later, the local family business of Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) were looking to expand from bottling and blending into distilling and the opportunity to purchase the site came up. Sadly, the distillery was little more than buildings, as the equipment (including the stills) had all been removed.

Seeing this as an opportunity, G&M embarked on an ambitious programme of installing an entirely new operation inside, developing a new still shape and keeping all the production in a single, linear line.

The aim was to make Speyside whisky as it had been produced pre-1960’s- with a hint of smoke and this is what they have achieved in the newly repackaged 10 Year Old:


Benromach – 10 Years Old – 43% abv - £29.28 here

Nose: There is certainly a hint of smoke on the nose of this wee beastie. It is sweet, with a hint of orange citrus fruit (blood orange), some icing sugar and raspberry. A touch of sandlewood. Very well balanced and extremely inviting.

Palate: Banana bread, apricots in syrup and fig jam. The smoke is not as prominent on the palate, but tingles away under some tinned peaches, runny honey and vintage vanilla.

Finish: Rich rum cake and upside down pudding with a waft of smoke.

Overall: This is a fantastic whisky, it really it is. The hint of smoke gives this more of an island element, but really only on the nose and the finish; the palate is much more classic Speyside. How they can knock this out at under £30 is beyond me. A must for anyone looking for a quality single malt on a tight budget.


With production of the new style spirit starting in 1998, it would be a while before any new mature stocks were ready for the market. G&M were in luck however, as stocks of whisky from before the closure already existed, enabling them to create a range of vintage Benromach releases.



Benromach – 1976 Vintage – 46% abv - £415.80 here

Note: constructed from 1st Fill and Refill Sherry Casks

Nose: There is the Benromach DNA of orange blossom and red fruits, but age has given this a freshness of green fruits (star fruit, gooseberry) and cooking apple, dusted with cinnamon.

Palate: The orange blossom really flourishes here, with other red fruits (red boiled sweets) and a slight hint of chilli jam. Milk chocolate dusted with cocoa powder and praline coat the mouth as tropical fruits develop.

Finish: Sweet, with an abundance of red fruits.

Overall: A classic ‘old’ whisky, this gives you everything you’d expect from a 1970’s sherried Speyside whisky.


If you haven’t experienced Benromach before, you don’t need to get up at 4am and drive through thick snow, risking life and limb to see the distillery. Save yourself the petrol money and order a bottle of the 10 year old. I’m not sure that you’ll find a bottle of single malt Scotch for much better value. And once you’ve fallen in love, start saving for the 1974.