Thursday, 21 June 2007

First Cask: A new brand?

Until one week ago, I never had heard about "First Cask". Perchance, I could get two samples of this brand, and I was immediately convinced.
So, here are the results of my investigations about this new series.
The brand seems to belong to a Dutch importer, called Whisky Import Nederland . The founders of this company are above all whisky lovers. Both of them (Jan Kok and Marcel Bol) are Keepers of the Quaich. The origin of their business comes from a request by Charles Mac Lean (famous whisky writer, Malt Maniac and in charge of the selection of the casks at Adelphi) to import Adelphi bottles in Holland. They accepted the deal.
Besides Adelphi, they also represent Berry Bros & Rudd and James Mac Arthur amongst others.
And they decided to market some whisky directly selected by themselves. So the collection "First Cask" was born...
Long life to First Cask! The two first bottles in the range are really amazing. Here are my first comments about them:

Caperdonich 26 yo 1980-2007, Cask 741, 56.8%
  • A very nice clear nose, with very nice malty notes merged with all the freshness of mint and cut grass. A touch of yeast behind the spring fragrances. At first nosing, this whisky seems to have a very strong character.
  • In the palate an amazing mix of sweetness and bitterness. A real firework of tastes. Papilla's have a great job... Somewhere between walnut and wood on the one hand and between malt and aromatic herbs on the other hand> Very complex, very wide taste palette. Really excellent.
  • The finish is very pleasant as well. A woody domination well tempered by malty notes. This finish is specially lingering. Really a very good bottle.

It deserves a 19/20... I'd say even a bit more !
Caol Ila 25 yo 1982-2007, Cask 741 60.8%

  • The nose is very clear and direct. Peat and smoke. A nice kind of oily peat which does not really filter out the nice fruity smells champing at the bit behind an impressive veil of smoke. Even a kind of freshness is guessed even if it is rather difficult to qualify behind all this peat smoke.
  • The palate is really creamy, with no hinder at all from the high percentage of alcohol. A trip between peat and smoke through nice fruity, and others close to chocolate notes. Discrete citrus fruit hints are detected too.
  • The finish is lingering and warm. Peat is still dominating, merged with a nice smoke and some hints of too ripe fruits. Wonderful finish, just lingering and full of nuances.
This bottle deserves probably more than the 18 points I grant to it.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Will the independent's humour save the single malt?

We all know Ardbeg produces high quality whisky since ages. And their marketing is more than performant too... A shortage on the popular 10 years old whisky? No problem! Let's have the lovers to wait with younger versions, and let's create a must have for the collectors.
Which collector could miss a bottle in the series announcing the new 10 years old version with great pomp?

...Very Young,
Still Young,
Almost There...

In the meanwhile, prices just increase merrily. And the accession of the luxury world leader in the managing spheres of the distillery will not improve the situation. In the world of luxury, the most expensive it is, the better it is. I know from some indiscretions at the marketing level of LVMH that the group would like to sell the 10 years old Ardbeg for 70 euros. This is a very important inflation.

So I just cannot keep from commending warmly the excellent sense of humour of the Belgian "The Nectar" and the Dutch Bresser & Timmer when they market at a more than reasonable price a cask strength version (62.6%!!) of a young Ardbeg, called Still Very Young Islay Single Malt... Well done! this is what I consider as being great art.
The selection was done for Daily Dram and The Whisky Fair.
The next question is to know if the content of the bottle is as good as it's marketing...

Here are my first impressions:

  • Quite an "Ardbeg nose"... Nice oily peat, smoke, mice farm smells, warmth of hay mixed with cattle smells, iodine, a touch of citrus fruit hidden behind all this; the whole is nicely balanced and announces an excellent whisky.
  • In the palate, it does not try to dissimulate its power. Whaou. 62% of alcohol cannot be discrete in the mouth of a whisky drinker. However, if your palate is used to cask strengths, it could survive without to much irreversible damage... Nice complexity, with nutty notes (hazelnut) merged with fruity hints, impressions of coffee, moka. Adding some water is quite a good idea for this dram and also for your papilla's. Water addition reveals fully the smoke notes and the complexity in the mouth is enhanced. This whisky gets suddenly very smooth and the nutty notes develop on fine wood by slow increase of the bitterness impression.
  • The finish is long and the nice memory of the warm cowshed near the sea prolongs the pleasure for long minutes.

Saturday, 2 June 2007

Does the future of Islay whisky depend on 3 centimeters...?

Following the catastrophic consequences of major ecologic accidents like the one of the Erica a few years ago and so many other tankers which seem to break just like an eggshell in the middle of the ocean, the European Commission has taken some decisions. One of those is the adoption of a rule obliging the tankers to be double skinned by 2008. This will make them much less vulnerable. Another advantage of mandatory use of this recent technology is that old rotten vessels owned by some unscrupulous shipowners will not be authorized to sail anymore. As long as it floats...

But this European rule has some unexpected consequences in domains which seem to have no link with the world of oil.
Anticipating this new security rules, the Argyll and Bute council decided to make some important alterations to the pier at Bruichladdich where the tankers use to berth alongside. The double skin makes the vessels bigger and heavier and they draw 4.97 meter where the sea depth is 5 meter. A clearance of 3 cm... Very dangerous and the tanker ran aground several times already.
So in fact the tanker only can work securely by fine weather and calm sea, which is not so often the case in this part of the Atlantic ocean. Further, the tanker cannot be full loaded. As a consequence, the oil supply has run out three times already this year.
Distilleries are important users of oil and depend on it to heat their stills. No oil, no distillation. No distillation, no whisky.
Another consequence could be a substantial increase of the price of Islay whisky. It did not need this 3 centimeter argument to increase anyway... Whisky prices demonstrate easily this last few months they are able to increase without any artificial boost.
This pier affair will not arrange things. Anyway this pier will have to be checked and modified soon or late. And cost additional money. Somebody will have to pay for this.
Let's hope some distillers will not use this excuse for another price increase, arguing that this pier problems make it more difficult to export their whisky...
I hope this few lines will not give them a new idea...