Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy Halloween...

Birthday Bonanza - Highland Park 1990

Mmm... cake...
As a kid, birthdays were about the amount and size of presents; the spread of crisps, cakes and cocktail sausages on the table; and the abundance of music based party games. I think finally I have grown out of this mentality. I say I have outgrown these childish pleasures but on my last birthday, despite beginning the day with smoked salmon and going to the pub I still found great delight in opening a present to find a brand spanking new Lego Creationary game. The game is essentially Pictionary with Lego, this (alongside the satirical War On Terror boardgame) is one of my favourite games of all time. Even after years of suppressing any desire to muck around with a Lego set, my natural talent for putting blocks together came back in a fantastical reawakening.

My Lego laser cannon
However, despite spending quite a long time playing with Lego, I did find some time to act my age. I went to the brilliant Bree Louise pub near London Euston to indulge in a proper portion (Definition: more than I could eat) of bangers and mash (my pub favourite), a selection of their exceptional beers and of course a glass of whisky. The whisky selection was fairly impressive with a good number of interesting malts scattered around the pub classics. I chose the Highland Park 1990. This is an export-market whisky that I hadn't yet seen, and knowing the accessible nature of Highland Park I was quick to buy a glass. Cap the day off with a large dinner, wine and the film Leon, the day retained some grown-up sensibility... Then I built a Lego laser.

Highland Park 1990
40% - 20 Years Old
Nose: Clover honey and fresh cut grass create a fresh nose with a touch of salt, smoke, nutmeg and citrus providing interest.
Palate: Lindisfarne mead struck me first with a slight herbal and lemony character coming through. The body was pleasantly light without being insubstantial. Perfect for after a pile of sausages and mash!
Finish: Clean and herbal with light peat smoke rounding off this supple whisky.
Overall: Very good at what it does, clean cut flavours, light and relaxing. It doesn't ask much from the drinker and is ideal for when you want to enjoy a malt without wading through intense flavour combinations. I'd certainly consider buying a bottle.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Lost Distilleries Chapter 4: Port Ellen 1978 and Port Ellen 1982

Ellen & I drinking an altogether
different beverage... bubble tea
There is one whisky above all that I would consider the Elysium of all whisky. I am not being at all original in saying this, but Port Ellen remains the whisky I hold in highest regard. I can only defend this pandering to the old and rare through how I was introduced to this finest of malts.

A little while back when I was still fairly new to whisky I was stood in my kitchen cooking a tasty treat. Then in walks my girlfriend Ellen (no prize for guessing the whisky she had bought) grinning, holding something behind her back. She then produced a miniature bottle of Port Ellen. Now at this point I should have dropped to my knees and kissed the ground she walked on, for this was my first ever Port Ellen. Perhaps not unfortunately, my whisky knowledge was fairly limited. I was aware that Port Ellen was an expensive and well-liked malt but I did not realise how rare and brilliant it is. So a little while later I poured myself a glass and happily enjoyed it. I loved it, its flavour profile and weight instantly appealed to me. Yum...

Of course now I realise how ignorantly I consumed this Port Ellen. However I think the fact that I loved this whisky so much without realising its value says a lot about the actual quality of this superb dram. Since then I have also tried the latest Diageo Special Release and was once again bowled over. This peated whisky is, for me, a fantastic expression of how smoke and body can harmonise perfectly with one another.

Port Ellen 1982
43% - 28 Years Old - Bottled in 2010 by Gordon & Macphail - Refill Sherry Butt
Nose: Linoleum struck me first with floral iodine notes complimented with a smoky, salty and seaweed scent combo.
Palate: Supple mouthfeel (light with some texture), the peat smoke swirls on a coastal grapey saltiness with a touch of sulphur (in no way a criticism).
Finish: Seabreeze with a burst of tropical fruits that hold on for a long time to come.
Overall: Light, saline and smoky; everything I want in a whisky. The peat doesn't overpower nor is it too light, excellent balance, why is this distillery closed?!

Port Ellen 1978
53.9% - 32 Years Old - 2,988 Numbered Bottles
Nose: I get that maritime linoleum character again with peat intricately woven in. The nose is gentle and sweet with soft vanilla and toffee notes becoming almonds over time.
Palate: Light and fruity, like soft fruitcake with a touch of honey and a hint of salt.
Finish: Pepper and smoke cling on to begin with, followed by light pine.
Overall: A great distillery edition, the sweet fruitiness surprised me as I was expecting the more coastal quality of my previous contact with Port Ellen. However the balance of flavour and smoke remained with that light mouthfeel being retained. More please!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Lost Distilleries Chapter 1 Part 2: Brora 32 Year Old

There are two names that dominate discussion on old and rare whisky: Port Ellen and Brora. The former I will discuss tomorrow but it is Brora I want to address today. What is special about both of these whiskies is that they were closed not because they were producing bad whisky but because of the economic environment of the time. So what we are left with are two excellent whiskies, aged to perfection and with no more to ever be produced. This is a recipe for expensive whisky, and usually I am quite critical of expensive whisky. I believe for a whisky to push the £150 barrier, it has to be able to justify itself. However with Port Ellen and Brora I can't even pretend they are unnecessarily expensive, they are top notch whisky, they aren't lavishly packaged and they are old (i.e. Warehouse costs). Worst of all, with depleting stocks they are soon to be extinct and this is very sad indeed.

Brora, for me, is a connoisseur's whisky. It has layers of flavour, some may not be to everyone's taste, but for anyone who wants to sit and consider a dram - this is the one. When I found out I was going to get to try this intricate malt again I was of course excited. In fact that's an understatement, I was whipping myself into an ecstatic frenzy of excitement, frothing at the mouth like a cappuccino machine, hallucinating glencairn glasses on the Tube, etc. Of course through all this anticipation, I thought it was going to taste similar to last year's release... I was very wrong. Last year's release had a tobacco and chlorine dominated nose, a smoky and peppery palate and a sherry forward finish (see here for this review). This Brora was very different, and I have to say... better. I have a preference for coastal malts and as soon as I tried this year's release I was immediately taken back to sampling Clynelish and Springbanks - whiskies I rate very highly. This Brora is a dram for drinking, not analysing to death. It is what a whisky should be, and I hate that it's collectable.

Brora 32 Year Old
54.7% - 1,404 Individually Numbered Bottles
Nose: Coastal, reminds me of Clynelish and Springbank. Grape arrives first providing vitality and vibrancy. Next, smooth waves of oak smoke and a sprinkling of salt giving a mineral backdrop to this whisky. Finally sherbet lemon gives a sweeter character that mellows the nose into a cohesive whole.
Palate: I got a slight medicinal character (maritime?). The saltiness returns giving it a drying mouthfeel. The grape notes are still present but become more spicy and dense.
Finish: Infinitely long, mint holds the fort from here with smoke and a touch of pepper. Incredible.
Overall: Where last year's release may have had more complexity, this year's is carefully woven and satisfying, with the peat working more elegantly with the spirit. The aromas and flavours make me want to drink it and enjoy it. For me this is the mark of the best whiskies. Deserved of its high regard.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Diageo Special Releases 2011: Lagavulin 12 Year Old

It's always a pleasure when a younger whisky outstrides its older brothers. The Longrow C.V. jumps to mind as a whisky that outshines all but the glorious 18 year old Longrow. I think younger whiskies have a vibrancy about them that is as desirable in a whisky as the rounding of old age. Furthermore it is important that younger whisky is held in as deep regard as older whisky because it offers a more affordable and often more exciting product than highly aged whisky. The distilleries at Kilchoman and Kilkerran are setting benchmark for young whiskies that can do this. Both offer complexity in youth that many whiskies struggle to achieve in old age. This is why the Lagavulin 12 year old is one of my winners of the Diageo Special Release class of 2011. It has so much more going on than the 16 year old and has none of the failings of the Distiller's Edition. It is a perfectly balanced smoky dram.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old
57.5% - Refill American Oak Casks
Nose: There is a classic peatiness immediately present that promises a satisfying drink. Next there are hay fields, fresh citris notes and raspberry with a touch of mincemeat. There is also a leathery quality that gives this malt a robustness I enjoy in a whisky.
Palate: Raspberry cut with herbs and sweet meat smoked over a wood fire.
Finish: Those leathery notes return couples with olive oil and great length. Smoke stays until the end with a minerally character.
Overall: Such a drinkable dram (like the Caol Ila Unpeated 12 Year Old) I could drink this all night. There is excellent balance of smoke and other intrinsic flavours. Fantastic at cask strength, Lagavulin should be proud of this one!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Diageo Special Releases - Caol Ila Unpeated 1990

This is the first of the Diageo special releases that swept me off my feet this year. I tried my first Rosebank that I rated highly, my first Port Dundas that opened up the gates of grain whisky and anyone who read yesterday's review would have seen my opinion on the unimpressive Knockando. However, it was the Caol Ila that was the first that truly impressed me this year. For a while now I have seen the range of unpeated Caol Ilas, however having never tried them I had no opinion on them. Recently I tried the incredible Ardbeg Blasda, a lightly peated Ardbeg that was a beautiful demonstration of the complexity behind the smoky veil of peat so I was very excited to try a Caol Ila that was entirely unpeated...

Caol Ila 1999
64% - 12 Years Old - Unpeated
Nose: So distinctly Islay without being peated. Chlorine without phenol, citrus fruits notably lime. Also with green apple extract and green grapes with a hint of nectarine.
Palate: Fresh green fruits with vanilla essence, creamy and mouth-wateringly drinkable.
Finish: Creamy with chocolate notes, becomes soft and elegant with water.
Overall: Despite no peating, this 'Highland' style malt is clearly Islay born. Drinkable with layers of earthy Islay flavour. A champion of this year's Special Releases.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Diageo Special Releases 2011 - Knockando 1985

Of all the Diageo Special Releases this year, only one failed to impress me as much as I had hoped. This was the Knockando 25 Year Old, this whisky was one of three special releases from existing rather than closed distilleries. The other two hit the mark like Robin Hood at an archery contest. This is not to say this whisky was bad in any way, but for a 25 year old sherry cask whisky I was a little underwhelmed, especially with such great sherried whiskies emerging from Scotland currently. Furthermore, with a recommended retail price of £135, I didn't think it offered the depth and complexity required for a whisky in that price bracket. Anyway, with no further ado...

Knockando 1985
43% - 25 Years Old - First Fill Sherry Casks
Nose: Lots of toffee to begin with Christmas cake and raisin notes following, beneath lies a dark anise character. Clear Oloroso presence.
Palate: Demerara sugar, stewed red fruits (predominately strawberry), smoother with water with slight chocolate notes.
Finish: Too short for my liking, espresso and a touch of salt, giving the finish a drying character.
Overall: The Knockando was not a bad whisky, but didn't offer what I would expect for its age or price. There was an intensity lacking that maybe could have been added with being bottled at cask strength.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Lost Distilleries Chapter 3: Port Dundas 20 Year Old

This is my second review of the Diageo Special Releases 2011 (see here for the floral Rosebank).

Grain whisky has been an important discovery for me. Alongside rye whiskey, grain has opened up a completely new style of whisky to my palate. For the uninitiated grain whisky is made from unmalted grain, whereas single malt whisky is made from malted barley. Grain whisky can be distilled in pot or coffey stills, and has a sweeter flavour to malt whiskies. My awakening to grain was at the hands of the sublime Compass Box Hedonism, a syrupy dram that is just fantastic. Grain whisky is often under-represented as the vast majority of the product is used for blended whiskies, and hence is much under-appreciated.

Tonight's review is of the first ever Diageo Special Release grain whisky from the closed distillery at Port Dundas, that like most Scottish grain distilleries, was in the Lowland region. It was closed in 2009 when Diageo grain whisky production shifted to Cameron Bridge and North British distilleries. This release is 100% grain whisky and the oldest official release, blended from three casks distilled in 1990 and matured in a combination of casks. This was to be a bit of a treat.

Port Dundas 1990
57.4% - 20 Years Old - 1,920 Numbered Bottles Worldwide
Nose: Cherry leaps out of the glass with dark chocolate chasing behind in a combination much like the Green & Black's Cherry Chocolate. There is a real leatheryness to the nose with a grassy freshness mingling in. On a second take sawdust announces itself ever so politely.
Palate: Pepper and tobacco swirl around in a spicy waltz on a vanilla dance floor. Syrupy if a little too hot on the alcohol, water improves this dram.
Finish: Light yet vast, chocolate eclairs galore with a touch of aniseed.
Overall: Very good, a lot of complexity and depth here. I felt this whisky didn't need to be cask strength though, still with water, amazing.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lost Distilleries Chapter 2: Rosebank 21 Year Old

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend the Diageo Special Releases 2011 launch, giving me the chance to sample whiskies way beyond the limits of what I can afford. Over the next week I am going to release my notes culminating with the almighty Port Ellen (this seems suitably dramatic to me). What is most exciting about the Diageo Special Releases is the chance to try those increasingly rare whiskies from the lost distilleries of the eighties and early nineties combined with some different takes on existing whiskies. All I can say is that I was not disappointed. From Caol Ila to Port Dundas, there were a lot of great drams to be had, all at cask strength, all different. So today I start with my first experience of that Lowland classic - Rosebank.

One malt I was particularly looking forward to was the Rosebank. Despite having heard lots about this closed distillery I've never got to try it. Rosebank like most Lowland distilleries, triple distils its spirit. What is particularly sad about Rosebank is that it was closed in favour of the more picturesque and higher capacity distillery at Glenkinchie. A triumph for marketing was a tragedy for whisky. I had heard many good things about Rosebank and after a while I assumed it was just hype, I felt people just wanted another Port Ellen or Brora. So I tasted the Rosebank with suspicions that it would offer less than was anticipated. Naturally I was wrong...

Rosebank 1990
53.8% - 21 Years Old - 5,604 Numbered Bottles Worldwide
Nose: Roses as the name suggests with parma violet aromas woven in to this intensely floral dram. This flowery aroma was followed by a scent I can only describe as citrus fruit petals or lemon grass perhaps. There was also a vinous quality that I found hard to place, I heard Viognier mentioned a couple of times, so maybe that?
Palate: Peaches and stone fruit dominate this silky dram, with lemon and sugar skipping behind.
Finish: Soft and short, with that floral quality returning with a flash of milk chocolate.
Overall: Fantastic, a lot going on without it seeming clumsy. Most surprisingly was that this whisky worked well at cask-strength and I didn't feel it required water. The Rosebank has given me a new appreciation of the potential of Lowland whiskies. Next I'd like to try a independent bottling for comparison so as to see the scope that this closed distillery once offered... Watch this space for more special release reviews!

Monday, 17 October 2011

To The Seaside! Clynelish 14 Year Old

I have found that I have a penchant for coastal whiskies. From the salty Campbeltown malts to the briny Pulteney, I am a fan. I find it intriguing that a whisky can (arguably) take on the character of the environment in which it is aged. I don't know how much this is true or how much is romantic terroir-driven musings, but coastal whiskies do have a saltiness to them. Recently I was fortunate enough to try one that I cannot remember having tried before. This whisky is the Clynelish from the legendary distilling town of Brora.

Clynelish 14 Years Old
46% - Distillery Bottled
Nose: Briny - reminiscent of fresh sea air, underneath there is honeyed vinigarette, grape and hovering smoke with a biscuity quality that adds substance to a full nose.
Palate: Sea salt and digestives (ship's biscuits?) with underlying fruit notes.
Finish: Grapes and stewed apples with a crisp acidity.
Overall: Fresh, clean and enticing. The Clynelish 14 reminds me of Springbank, if a little more savoury. Great standard release whisky for coastal fans.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

An Exception To The Rule... BenRiach Arumaticus Fumosus

The world is full of exceptions to rules. The English language is positively riddled with them, "'I' before 'E' except after 'C'" being a flawed classic. Laws, especially when applied to those who make them, are diseased with exceptions and I am sure any game ever invented has a few thrown in for good measure (except perhaps connect four). Although exceptions make the world a more interesting and intriguing place they are also a major annoyance. For example: explaining a relatively simple concept to someone and, just when you think they've finally understood it, having to say "however there is an exception...". The whisky world is rife with exceptions. Quite often through my work I have to teach people the ins and outs of whisky. To keep it simple I work around the whisky regions of Scotland but of course every region has its exceptions. Islay has Bunnahabhain, the Islands have Arran, and Speyside has BenRiach. I usually skip over exceptions to keep things simple however it also means I forget about them. So recently I thought I'd pay more attention to these anomalies. The distillery I chose to explore was BenRiach, the peated Speyside. It was a distillery that I was dubious of, partly because I hadn't heard much about it but also because I had my doubts that Speyside could match the peaty passion of Islay - having previously tried the Benromach Peat Smoke I should have known better...

BenRiach Arumaticus Fumosus
46% - 12 Year Old - Dark Rum Finish
Nose: This whisky is meaty; smoke infusing itself in a hog roast lathered with sweet barbecue sauce.
Palate: Reminds me of punch, a rum kick from the cask finish with barley sweet flavours and some peat to boot.
Finish: Heathery and floral at first but then spicy and smoky with coffee following.
Overall: Arumaticus Fumosus is apparently Latin for 'smoky rum', for all that rum that was drunk in Roman times. That aside, I was impressed with this dram. It had layers of flavour that complimented its peating. BenRiach do a lot of different finishes so I couldn't say if this was comparatively under par or high quality, but it has intrigued me to find out. It is an exception to the rule I can live with, and I am curious to try more!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fall Into Autumn with the Longrow 18 Year Old

After a brief dalliance with an Indian Summer, where ice cream and shorts became the rage for a week, finally autumn is upon us. Autumn is my favourite season. This is because the mixture of low light and cooler temperatures make autumn a great pub season, scratch that, drinking season. Cider is well suited to the heady browns and oranges that surround us, dark ales are ideal for the falling temperatures and gin is perfect for relaxing on long Sunday afternoons in front of the telly. What I am struggling to find this year is a whisky that best compliments the season. It can't be too heavy as it isn't winter yet, when a powerful dram is needed to warm the belly. It can't be too light as we are no longer in the glorious heights of summer. It shouldn't be a smoky fireside dram or a heavily sherried malt for after a Christmas dinner. What it needs is a careful balance of everything. It has taken me some time but I think I have found it...

Longrow 18 Year Old
46% - Bottled by Springbank
Nose: Oak smoke is immediately identifiable but not so heavy as previous Longrows, ideal for balmy evenings. Next comes the rhubarb I always get from Longrow and Springbank followed by refreshing mint and mild herbs, finished with a sprinkling of sea salt.
Palate: I can only describe this as musky grape, there is an evident fruitiness coupled with light wood smoke that creates a pleasant soothing muskiness.
Finish: A mixture of tropical and berry fruits floating on a layer of earthy smoke. Strong, long and salty.
Overall: Utterly top notch, the fruit gives this dram a vibrancy, the light peatiness gives it structure and its age gives it a long crisp finish. I am a huge fan of Longrow, and I think this is the first to match the incredible C.V. expression. Perfect autumn drinking, a winner!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Welcome to Speyside - Strathisla 12 & 30 Year Olds

The location of my favourite
distillery tour (to date).
Of the limited number of distillery tours I have had the pleasure of joining, one has stood out as a favourite. Not because it was the most in-depth or the most wide-ranging but because it was the most charming. This tour was at the much-underated Speyside distillery of Strathisla, whose product principally goes into Chivas Regal and the excellent Royal Salute. The distillery is located to the east of Speyside and claims to be one of the oldest Highland Distilleries. It is certainly picturesque enough with cobbled pathways cherry trees, pogoda roofs and a waterwheel, but it was the tour that made it. The chap leading us around had worked in various roles at the distillery and had taken on the tour in retirement. He gave us a brilliant impression of what a working distillery was really like. Furthermore he let us try the malt that would open my eyes to the potential of Speyside. Strathisla is ever so lightly peated and it was this trace of smoke that appealed to my then peat-obsessed taste buds. So here's to Strathisla!

Strathisla 12 Year Old
43% - Distillery Bottled
Nose: Raisins, stewed pears, malt and fresh-cut grass play with a subtle smokiness, like burning hay with a phenolic chlorine edge giving another dimension to this dram.
Palate: Viscous malty aniseed with a touch of spicy smoke.
Finish: Full and wonderful; licquorish and burnt raisins with medium length.
Overall: A dram I link to a place and time so I am a little biased, but for me it is a great whisky to sit and relax with. Happy days!

Strathisla 30 Year Old
43% - Bottle by Gordon & MacPhail
Nose: Raisins and drifting wood smoke leading to pear and rum. Beyond this rich fruity nose there is chocolate and coffee cake with echoes of cumin and anise.
Palate: Sweet oily pear, smoke, malt and mocha in a lip-smackingly delicious combination.
Finish: Raisiny wood notes with a burst of pear drops with superb duration.
Overall: Fantastic: Complex, long, balanced, where can I buy more of this old bastard?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Of Whirlpools and Vikings - Ardbeg Corryvreckan

The whirlpool at Corryvreckan
Well once again it seems the economy is turning its back on us. Having gorged itself on sub-prime mortgages it fancies a more continental treat and is pulling its emaciated frame towards the Eurozone like a thirsty man towards a mirage in the desert. It smacks its lips, revealing teeth as jagged as the peaks and troughs in a chart in the FT. It bears more claws than all the backbenchers in parliament and its sight is as blurred as any fiscal strategy seen this quarter. What treat will this monster fancy? A Bassatt's Double Dip or a QE Gobstopper? Who knows? But I can tell you that you could be worse off, you could be a viking called Breacan.

Techno Viking
Breacan was the kind of chap that would do stupid, life endangering things to impress the fairer, and let's face it - compared to Breacan, more intelligent sex. Breacan being a hopeless romantic fell in love with the beautiful daughter of the Lord of the Isles but he knew like any boy in a teen flick that she could never love him. So he decided to show off his bravery and sailing prowess in one foul stroke. So one day he sailed out to the mighty, churning whirlpool ominously named the Corryvreckan. He pledged to stay three whole days within its surf. So in he went and in he tossed the first of three anchors to hold him in place. An entire day passed until the rope could no longer take the strain and snapped. With not a moment to lose Breacan threw in the second anchor and another day passed before it too gave in and the third and final anchor was deployed. Then as this foolhardy viking approached his deadline with the wind ruffling his mane of hair, the final anchor broke free and Breacan was swept down into the eye of the whirlpool never to be seen again.

So although the economy may be tumbling down to a watery demise like Breacan at least you're not the one swallowing water like there's no tomorrow. There is however a whisky from the guys at Ardbeg, aptly named the Corryvreckan, that could make financially hard times more bearable. This whisky is a tidal force of smoke and flavour surfing down the gullet on some cask staves lashed together. Definitely a dram for stormy times.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan
57.1% - No Age Statement
Nose: Peat and pepper battle this one out using sugar and vanilla as shields.
Palate: Masses of smoke rising from a fiery bed of red peppers and chilis with peaty water lapping the edges.
Finish: A charcoal pit in a peat bog. One to make you cough.
Overall: Very peaty, a stormy malt that would appeal to peat-lovers out there. I'd argue the Uigeadail or the Supernova have more structure. However this dram has more teeth. Here's to Breacan, slainte!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Vertical Limit - Bruichladdich X4+3 and Octomore Release 4

Mankind has an inbuilt urge built into our psyche to test and push the limits. From a mischievous four year old prodding the house cat repeatedly with a screwdriver to NASA putting a man on the moon. Humans have an inclination to see how far they can go. Events such as the Olympics demonstrate how far the body can be pushed in activities extraneous to everyday living. Games like Jenga emphasise how far we can push the laws of physics; and TV shows like Geordie Shore push the boundaries of bad taste. So why do we have this inherent desire to go where no man or woman has gone before? My theory is that we are naturally competitive and territorial so claiming any ground, no matter how abstract, is seen as a primal gain.

This of course leads me to whisky. The whisky world is rife with pushing the limits of what is possible. One distillery in particular is renowned for doing this, and that is those progressive Hebridean distillers over at Bruichladdich. Jim McEwan and friends are not afraid to attempt things that few others would dare to do, and of all of their experiments, two jump to mind that highlight how far they are prepared to go to lay new ground. These two whiskies are the Bruichladdich X4+3 and the ferocious Octomore Release 4.

The X4+3 is a not twice, not thrice, but quadruple distilled whisky. With each distillation the ABV of the new make spirit rises and with each distillation the risk of an explosion also increases. What is left is new make that clocks in an ABV in the early nineties. The X4+3 is the first release that can legally be called whisky and is an intense dram. The hope is that in seventy plus years it will still be strong enough to be labelled whisky even after the angels have had their greedy share.

Bruichladdich X4+3
63.5% - 3 Years Old
Nose: Candy sticks and sugar syrup arrive first with a jammy scent swiftly following. Then comes the spirit with a slight methynated spirityness and notes of sweet potato.
Palate: Very spirit forward like poteen with a nuttiness that becomes more jammy with water.
Finish: Very hot, spirity and clean with a longer finish than I expected.
Overall: An accomplishment in what can be done with a pot still but not something I would quaff regularly. It did have a warming quality that wasn't unpleasant.

The Octomore Release 4 builds on the already impressive work of its predecessors and can claim to be the peatiest whisky to date with a scorching ppm of a meagre 167 (compare this to ppm's in the mid-40s from other highly peated malts). This whisky is pure ash and frightfully huge.

Octomore Release 4
62.5% - 5 Years Old - ppm 167 - Distilled and Bottled by Bruichladdich
Nose: Muddy wellies sinking into a peat bog of eternal stench (forgive the labyrinth reference) that increases the longer it sits in the glass. Under this smoky shell there is a brine and vanilla that added a depth I foolishly doubted would be there.
Palate: Well my notes simply say: "F***ing smoky!" More eloquently put there is every layer of smoke imaginable: peat, ash, soot, oak smoke, more peat. An orchestra of peat smoke. A peat troll lighting a cigar in a burning building. Smoky.
Finish: Powerful, a touch of vanilla before steam erupts from your ears. Massive, like the Ardbeg Alligator, taints your palate and sinuses for some time to come!
Overall: This is a whisky like no other, it is a record-breaker that rises out of the glass, forces its way up your nose and roars down your throat. Huge, peat-ridden and powerful.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Glendronach Single Casks - 1990

As you may have gathered if you have perused my blog before, I am a huge fan of the Glendronach Single Casks. My first encounter was with last year's 1989 offering, then recently I reviewed last year's and this year's 1994 bottlings. Unfortunately this only heightened my desire to try them all so when I was offered a glass of the 1990 I couldn't refuse.

Glendronach 1990
50.1% - 20 Years Old - PX Puncheon - Bottled 2011
Nose: Lots of chocolate with candied orange peel and nutmeg leading to roasted nuts and raisins. With water milk chocolate ganache becomes dominant and makes this dram simply mouth-watering.
Palate: A soft mouth-feel with those PX raisins and sultanas merging with cocoa and spice for a Christmas feast.
Finish: Hazelnuts floating on a glass of Sherry, rich and rewarding.
Overall: For me this was a softer expression of the whisky than this years 1994. It had a nutty lightness about it that added another dimension to those classic chocolate orange notes. With water this became even more silky and I reckon could well match many a chocolate dessert.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

New Directions... Laphroaig Triple Wood

Not long ago I visited the whisky shop at Gatwick Airport on a trip out to the island of Guernsey in the English Channel. This was the first time I had visited a duty-free and paid close attention to the whisky sold. Of the various export-only whiskies one alone caught my eye, the Laphroaig Triple Wood. At the time I wrote it off as one to buy in the future when I didn't have a holiday budget to cling to. Little did I know that shortly afterwards the Laphroaig Triple Wood would be made available to the UK market and this was an opportunity I couldn't miss.

This dram is another triumph for this Islay distillery. It builds on the fantastic groundwork laid by the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Like the Quarter Cask it undergoes aging in both Bourbon and nineteenth-century style quarter casks but then it benefits from additional ageing in sherry casks. The result is profound, what you get is a whisky undeniably Laphroaig but with an uncharacteristic fruitiness that lends this whisky a new direction that fails to disappoint. I may have to get another bottle of this bizarre malt.

Laphroaig Triple Wood
48% - No Age Statement
Nose: There is that clear Laphroaig medicinality that reminds me in this case of Karvol, the decongestant. This is followed by tropical fruits and a touch of cinnamon that I was not suspecting.
Palate: The palate was more remarkably Laphroaig although softer and more rounded with medium-body and that fruit presence recurring again.
Finish: Peaty, maritime and strong. Everything I could want from a Laphroaig.
Overall: Very impressive, this builds on the already fantastic Quarter Cask, the use of sherry casks just adds another dimension of complexity. Oh and I forgot to mention, great value too!