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The first question that yoo must ask as regards this opinion is “Why go for cask strength Malt whisky ?”. To start from first principles, generally the only sensible way to buy cask strength whisky is when you can buy it duty free, in other words, when visiting the proper duty free shops when countries outside of the EC. However (see below) there are occasions when it can be 'more affordable'. Being higher in alcohol content, the duty is higher than normal whisky, and since relatively little is sold by retail in the UK, then you generally have to pay ‘full list price’, with no ‘special offers’ at the likes of Safeways/Sainsbury’s/Tesco/Co-op. Admittedly, some of the wine stores and even the distillery shops may have selected brands on offer on occasions, but it is still usually an expensive way of buying duty-paid alcohol. However, Makro seem to have bought a good cheap line from the Bowmore distillery, and I have recently bought 2 bottles at £19.95 + VAT - and they also had really good offers on the 'Legend' Now, if you are a ‘whisky virgin’, then ‘cask strength’ is not really for you. As suggested elsewhere, you should start off with 'Glenkinchie', which is my tip. OK, you could add water to cask strength (as many might doo), but why spoil it ? The whole point about buying ‘cask strength’ is for you to be able to enjoy it in its "Full Natural Organoleptic Glory!". Now, when you can talk like that, your friends tend to sit up and take notice ! Not all distilleries market their cask strength product to the retail trade, but there are a number of Scotch Whisky enthusiast ‘clubs’ who will feature specific ‘brews’ at cask strength. However, as I may have mentioned previously in other whisky opinions, some of these ‘club specials’ are fit only for engine de
-greasing. Going back to my days as Public Analyst, there was an occasion when one of our distillery clients had to ‘dispose of’ several barrels of 25 years old malt whisky. Now, many of you will all be smiling to yourselves thinking. “Huh, that Sidney fella would have sure enjoyed hisself helping that company, to dispose of this material, and all out of the goodness of his heart, Bless him ! Ha Hah ! ”. But, unfortunately, there you are wrong. This consignment was ‘tainted’ by the barrels, had a dark green ‘tinge’, and a flavour not unlike 'liquorice'. The blenders had tried to mask it by blending (in a 21 years old de-luxe blend) but all to no avail (I tasted it and had to agree. Now, how do you dispose of several hundred gallons of 'cask strength plus' whisky (78% alcohol by volume) ? The answer is “with great difficulty”. The Customs & Excise were obviously very ‘nervous’ about this material, and it was necessary for it to be given a certificate of analysis by me defining it as either ‘not of merchantable quality’ or (preferably) ‘unfit for human consumption’, so that it could be disposed of free of duty (for incineration ! Now, I really must go and have a lie down - I have a headache whenever I think of this 'incident'). As you all know, I took my responsibilities as Public Analyst very seriously, and I required several litres of this ‘whisky’ to satisfy myself as to its true (poor)character. Now admittedly, you really could not drink it neat or diluted with water (or even, shamefully-mixed with dry ginger), the flavour was so strong. I did find, however that it went remarkably well, mixed with strong black coffee (at a tasting session I organised in the Laboratory to establish if there was a possible use of the precious fluid) – remember, this fluid was o
lder than many of you reading this, and deserved some ‘respect’. And if it did require cremation ultimately, then I was making sure that it would be suitably 'mourned'). Unfortunately, all my efforts were in vain, and finally I had to declare it as not of ‘merchantable quality', the 'last rires' were said and it was incinerated as directed by my ‘friends’ in the Customs & Excise. Talking about the possibility of a whisky being ‘unfit for human consumption’, there was indeed one occasion when (to the great consternation of the whisky company client), I did issue a certificate declaring a whisky as just that. This was a cask strength product that was for export to South America. The general results of analysis were satisfactory, but when I tasted it (as I always had to), there was a very distinct 'mould' taint, and examination of the bottle cork confirmed the presence of mould growth on the cork. So why would this make the whisky ‘unfit for human consumption ? A piece of instruction in food contamination here. When a mould grows it does not just ‘eat into’ the foodstuff that it is growing on, it produces a range of characteristic substances. For example, most of you will be aware that the penicillium mould produces the antibiotic Penicillin. Unfortunately and not infrequently a mould will produce a 'Mycotoxin', that is a substance which is toxic to animals, including man. The most infamous of these is 'Aflatoxin', and in 1968, there was shortage of turkeys at Christmas, because most turkey feed contained peanuts infected by the mould aspergillus, that produced Aflatoxins which then killed the young turkeys. There are now strict laws controlling the presence of known myctoxins in foods, and there may be others currently 'not known'. Thus, it was not possible to take any risk wit
h allowing the whisky to come into contact with mouldy corks. So even if the ‘cactus juice’ that they may well have consumed with impunity in South America was likely to be even more suspect, there was no way that I could jeopardise the reputation of the Scotch distillers to have been undermined by allowing that sub-standard Malt to have left the UK ! Now, to get back to Bowmore Malt Whisky, Cask Strength.. ‘Cask strength’ as such does vary a little in alcohol content, from brand to brand, with those that I currently have in my stock, being : Bowmore (no age) at 56% Vol; The Glenturret (1976) at 58.7% Vol; Laphroaig 10 years old at 58% Vol; and Glenfarclas (no age) 60% Vol. Linkwood 1983 (bottled 1997) 59.8%Vol . This variation is to be expected, since different distilleries will have different systems, but the organoleptic effect is all quite different from drinking the normal (40/43% Vol strength spirit). Each of these cask strength whiskys are different in character but it is the Bowmore which is my favourite of those cask strengths. The Laphroaig is just a mite too powerful on the palate, and the others just lack that certain extra 'something' in their flavour. Bowmore have achieved just the right ‘balance’ in their cask strength. It has a distinct acid/wood sting, but with a full citricoil waming after-taste with characteristic (but in this case not over-whelming) Islay tang. As one of my friends commented recently "Sidney, I have tasted many many good malts in your company, but this one is THE ACE !What is it and where did you get it ?" .... "B-but, I don't like Islay Malts ! And Makro ! I don't believe it !" (rofl by all) The bottle is basically the same as that used for bottling ‘Bowmore Legend’, but with gold lettering and designs printed d
irectly on the glass, rather than a paper label, to signify the 'special nature'. I bought it at Gatwick airport before leaving on my last trip to Argentina. It was ‘on offer, and cost about £15. I took it and some other items as presents, but could not bring myself to part with this bottle, so it made the 14,000 mile round trip. It lay 'fallow' in my cabinet until about 2 months ago, when the curiosity finally overcame my reticence to break into it. As the label says: “ Bowmore cask strength allows you to sample this classic malt as nature intended it at the cask strength of 56% alcohol.... A malt whisky of outstanding power and pedigree.” Cask strength whisky should be served in a good whisky glass (cut crystal). It should be at room temperature and sipped very sparingly. Each sip should be allowed to permeate the mouth and fill it with the full flavour. When you have done this, then is the time to breathe in the aroma from the glass. The extra strength is somewhat astringent to the membranes of the lips and mouth. Indeed if you ever have the opportunity to taste the still-strength (90+%) whisky, then this does not feel like actual liquid entering the bucal cavity – it is just a flavour sensation that seems to pass straight through the skin inside the mouth. No liquid ever seems to get into you gullet, it just has that effect. Oh yes, the flavour of Bowmore Cask Strength... It is ‘full, different from Bowmore legend, what I can only describe as a dry-sweetness - a unique and beguiling flavour - almost honey-like, with that faint ‘almost-iodine flash’ so recognisable as an Islay malt. Never fails to bring gasps of amazement and wonder from those connaiseurs of whisky who first taste it. The high alcoholic strength then leaves the mouth a’tingling and so, yes, it is permitted to have a wee glass of Highland mineral water to ‘clear the palate’
; before the next sip. And so it goes on .. sip, contemplate, tell a wee story, sip of water, whilst listening to your friends.. sip again listen, contemplate life, tell another wee story “Now these lassies from DooYoo, for example, ‘yesidoo’, ‘jillmurphy’, ‘themoomin’, ‘1maryanne’, ‘Maury’, ‘Sexy Kay’ (“Yes tha’s what I said!”)... and as for Scotgirl and lily7star ....... and what about the 'genderless' Plumptious......" This info ALWAYS gets them interested .... If you get the chance, doo try the cask-strength experience....treat yourself and your friends. BTW, anyone fancy buying me a dram or twa of the 19th century bottle of Bowmore just sold by auction for £14,300 a bottle ? (The highest price for a bottle of Whisky). Works out at about £570 a dram. WOW, and all to be wasted on the Yankee Merchant Banker Purchaser !! There just ain't no justice in this world !! © Sidneygee 2001
ABV:56. Yellow colour with a nutty nose and extremley dry taste with a citric finish.