As an aside, I really think the world is going a bit ABV mad. Take nothing away from the releases which I’ve got lined up to taste right now – skip to the bottom, you can both know they’re good and that the chaps at Nickolls & Perks have made a fine selection.
But no really, honestly, the world is ABV mad. The two whiskies today are over 60% ABV. Take a look at most whisky shelves today and you’ll probably find an impressive number released at cask strength – mostly through independent bottlers. Now without getting into the World Health Organisation malarkey, worrying that we’re drinking far too much, that we ought to drink less whisky, but better whisky, I think there’s a couple of points to be raised.
The first is, we’re seeing an incredible number of cask strength offerings. This was fine in the day when whisky was generally a bit older, a bit mellower, where the angels had already had a good few Christmas parties, and cask strength was clocking in closer to 50% ABV. And indeed, there never used to be all that many cask strength whiskies as there are on the market today; it used to be single malts brought down to 46% ABV.
Today’s cask strength whiskies are younger, a touch more vibrant, and clocking in more commonly around 60% ABV. And there’s a heck of a lot of it about. So I reckon that this means we whisky drinkers are guzzling back more alcohol than we probably think we are.
Of course yes, I could add water. Of course, I could. But I don’t tend to; maybe a couple of drops at best. And I’m almost certain that many of you won’t be adding much water either. No, you’ll be pouring yourself what you think is a standard measure (I use a 25ml copper measuring device to keep me on the straight and narrow), and thinking meh, 40% or 60%, it’s all about the same. And you’ll be there at the whisky shows, reaching for those cask strength beauties – and we reach for them because a lot of whiskies have been put out there in tired casks, with poorly made spirit, so we take comfort in a high ABV in exchange for the flavour that’s evaporated from the industry over decades. (I generalise, to make a point, because I’m like that.)
Meanwhile, our livers are being eroded, our friends are looking a bit worse for wear, our doctors are looking at us with a raised eyebrow, and we begin to consider that the World Health Organisation might have a point. So perhaps all I can say, as I wade into a review of another two eye-wateringly strong whiskies, is: take it easy. Drink less, drink better. You know this all, of course; I’m just saying.
WhistlePig 10 Year Old Single Barrel (Barrel 2434) – Nickolls & Perks Exclusive 61.2%
On the nose: all kinds of shades of sweetness: from molasses at first, then drifting down to lighter treacles, syrups, brown sugar; vanilla, naturally. But it fades at a pleasant pace to reveal fennel and mint. Perhaps some sage in the distance. Stem ginger. Cherries. Chocolate. HP Sauce.
In the mouth: huge, naturally, so needs some water to bring this back to earth. And it pretty much echoes the nose with the layers of initial sweetness. Spicy, but it’s not too woody: here it’s more of chilli heat, mild, with coriander. Mediumweight texture, with a pleasant chewiness to it. Touches of toasted sourdough, but with lashings of damson jam. Tiramisu and chocolate sauce. It’s £105 for this, which feels perhaps a shade too much for the flavour, but there’s a lot to enjoy.
The GlenDronach 11 Year Old 2007 (Cask 7675) – Nickolls & Perks Exclusive 60.1%
On the nose: sherry bomb ahoy? Blackberries, raspberry jam. Raisins, sultanas, drifting towards stickier dried figs. Now and then something more perfumed, in the distance. Sandalwood with ginger and nutmeg. Maple syrup.
In the mouth: pretty approachable for the ABV, but an intense burst of all of the above: though it is a wonderful expression of dried fruits, raisins especially, with a hint of Turkish Delight, cinnamon, very warming, just on the fringes of being woody. Raspberry jam. Golden syrup drizzled over a sponge cake. Very bold interaction with the cask.
Now it may be simple stuff, and I have not described anything particularly outrageous (hence the limitations of tasting notes in that they don’t really express the emotional value); but the amalgamation, the expression of the flavours, whatever; it’s just a dreamy cask. Something every sherry bomb addict should use to get them through to their next hit – especially at £75.
The beauty of comparing drams like this is that, though one is from a different part of the world to the other, made from different ingredients and to a different style, there’s a lot in common. But good drams, good bottles from Nickolls & Perks. I’d very much recommend that GlenDronach though…