Wednesday, 15 April 2015

An ode to Islay 3: Bruichladdich

bruichladdich-logoI’ve reviewed an enormous amount of Bruichladdich on the blog so far – a bunch of Octomores, some Black Arts, the Laddies, some randoms from the distillery, some independents, and a couple from the Micro-Provenance series.  It’s high time SMWS released another laddie and their first Octomore, but we’ve been doing good business with the distillery only Valinches for a while.  I’m really starting to fall back in love with the classic laddie though, the wonderful spirit at Bruichladdich, the attention to detail with cask management and grain really works.

Octomore Discovery A-

The FI bottle from last year was the Octomore Discovery, quadruple distilled and matured for seven years (rather than the usual five) in Oloroso sherry butts.  I was really looking forward to this, but it’s kind of where Octomore jumped the shark a little bit for me.  It just doesn’t really work.

octomore-discovery-feis-ile-2014Nose - Sweet, sweet wood and a briefly overpowering edge of sour butter.  Under this, the sherried Octomore is there with blackberries, toasted peat, vanilla and yes a hint of frazzles.  Extremely masculine, down to the urinal cake pine, fags and Saturday night perfume.  With water, some of the sherried sweetness is allowed to come out and the aggression is toned down, the black fruit comes through a bit more and it hangs together better.

Body - Apples, toast, sour wood, granulated sugar and cigarettes (lit and smoking this time, Silk Cut perhaps).  With water, more apples, unlit cigarette, and a bigger fruit hit.  Much better.

Finish - Long, numbing, a little offensive, with the return of the bacon.  Long bitterness catches in the back of the throat.  Unbalanced.

What’s not good about it - I guess this is more of a concept whisky, something to be collected rather than drunk, and certainly not on a daily basis.  I wouldn’t turn to this more than a couple of times a year.  Not something you should drink at the end of a night of dramming either, it’ll make your toothbrush reek of pine and peat.

What’s good about it - I’m all for sweet, peated intensity and this certainly has that.  I love the dark fruit, ashen night out edgy quality.  I just wish it hung together better.  Another decade in cask and maybe it would have been really special.

Bruichladdich That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Batch 1, 49.6% A⊕

94 bottles, and lots of money - £100 for 50cl = £140 a bottle.  I tried batch 2 (still available) at Whisky Live  London 2015 recently – it’s a lot cheaper and very good.

bruichladdich-batch-1-that-boutiquey-whisky-company-whiskyNose - When this first arrived (we went in on a bottle share with this one) I was mightily disappointed.  I had a few drams and put it to one side.  How things have changed with a bit of time in the bottle!  The nose now has aged blonde wood, toffee lemon malt, loads of wax, a good line in ozone and the ocean, and is bright, juicy and delicious.  Just a touch of cut green beans, dried strawberries, fresh cut red cherries and chillis and damp cardboard rounds things out.  Very Bruichladdich and just wonderful.  On the nose, this is now worth the money.  With water, more warming aged malt and wood, more fruit, and just screams Bruichladdich.  Quite a lot like the 16 and 22.

Body - Sweet, cardboard, tumeric, more chilli, wooded, strong cereal and a more challenging structure.  Intense toffee at the sides of the tongue.  With water, the cardboard becomes a fault immediately but declines after a few minutes.  An expensive, sulphurous drying note develops, which is worth the change.

Finish - Lingering sweet toffee, numbing tannins, black peppercorns and lots of carbs: potato, crisps, malt.  Ends surprisingly fruitily, with peach and almond.  Lovely.

What’s not good about it - Needs a month at least to open up once you’ve given it some air.  The chilli cardboard thing is still there in the delivery a bit, some water helps that along.  It’s expensive.

What’s good about it - Textbook “good” Bruichladdich nose, smells like a £140 Bruichladdich should.  A cracking, challenging, whisky nerd’s canonical laddie.  

Bruichladdich Valinch 07 - Andy Ritchie, 24 years old, 1989, 51.4% A⊕

Aug14-BruichladdichAndyRitchie-2These Valinches have been coming out almost monthly from the distillery, and you get to fill your bottle from the cask.  I’ve bought or tried most of these (Valinch 03 was reviewed here, and was a Port Charlottle), but the series has started, numerically, again now with the Cask Exploration series.  This one’s a Rioja Wine Cask Finish [whiskybase link]

bruichladdich-24-years-old-the-laddie-valinch-07-andy-ritchieNose - Sweet, toasty tobacco and wine musk.  Glorious old oak and old books.  Strawberry jam, baked apples and black jacks.  With water, gives up beautiful light wax and petrol, lightly coastal.  Like a long car journey to the sea with travel sweets, petrol, granary bread sandwiches and ozone.

Body - Candy sweet, a little spicy, more apple and wham bars.  Light sulphur at the back of the delivery.

Finish - Medium, numbing, lingering liquorice and red chilli.  Lovely.

What’s not good about it - A little restrained, but the bottle wasn’t opened long before the sample was drawn.  

What’s good about it - Challenging and structured, balanced and integrated, quite delicious.

Thanks to Stumbler for the sample!  This was a cracker, only just eclipsed by the 08 that followed it rapidly (and sold out even quicker).

Bruichladdich Valinch 08 – Chrissie Angus, 22 years old, 49.1% A⊕+

Bourbon and Spanish oak cask.  Out of all of them, this was “the one” for me.

bruichladdich-22-year-old-the-laddie-valinch-08-chrissie-angusNose - Oh man - bright, waxed wood, dark strawberry laces, musky toffee, black bread.  Extremely sweet and artfully, darkly sherried.  Some men’s deodorant, some travel sweets, some petrol - so the long car journey thing.  With water, glace cherries and pot pourri.  Rather epic.

Body - Surprisingly salty, and suddenly intensely sherried with a big dose of red wine.  Wonderful sulphur and nettles.  Dry, tannic and salty to balance the intense laddie sweetness.

Finish - Salt tang rides out throughout the finish, malt and cereal.  Fantastic stuff.

What’s not good about it - Quite a particular dram, I can see this foxing a few people.  Incredibly sweet and salty.

What’s good about it - But effortlessly good - perfect balance and integration.  Really interesting sherry and wine.  

Bruichladdich Valinch 09 – James McColl, 22 years old, 50.7% A⊕

PX sherry cask.  Almost as good as 08.

bruichladdich-laddie-valinch-22-year-old-09-james-mccollNose - More beautiful, sherried, salty integration.  Bannister (yes, seriously).  Sweet, rich and bright, fresh and clean.  Figs, tamarind pulp, chocolate malt and kitchen floor cleaner (waxy).  Quite sexy really.

Body - Fags.  Didn’t expect that.  Cherry tobacco, lots of balanced sulphur, intensely tannic, very chewy.

Finish - Long, numbing, bitter finish with a backing of cherry chocolates and fruit and nut bar.  Finally, celery!  Lovely, balanced finish, very tasty and returnable to.

What’s not good about it - Mainly, that it’s quite similar to the 8, and not quite as good.  Challenging again, but you don’t taste a long procession of valinches expecting everything to be smooth and easy.

What’s good about it - Challenging but fruity, great sherry integration and not overdone but very intense.  Rather good.

Bruichladdich 25 year old, 1989, direct from bourbon cask, 53.5% A⊕

Thanks to Matt for this generous sample from his precious stash from visiting the distillery, for my 40th birthday!  Here’s him filling it!

mattvNose - Shiny, red berry, sweetshop sweet.  Wet, icing sugar wood, glace cherries, travel sweets, lightly polished oak barrels and an unmistakable backnote of gunpowder.  Strong, confident and mature.

Body - Balanced but intense, and still slightly restrained.  Spicy pear and glace cherry, then light cereal peat and tannic wood.  With time, more peated.  

Finish - Long tannins, sweet peat, compelling.  Great grapefruit and pineapple burps.

What’s not good about it - Presumably unattainable, sorry about that.  A little strict.

What’s good about it - Lovely old but restrained Islay excellence.  22 years sat on the shore of Loch Indaal in a warehouse full of Islay whisky has perhaps imbued it with a lovely but slightly punishing peat edge.  Maybe it started off peated, I dunno, just another random cask!  Another one that was gone before I got to add water to it, always an excellent sign.

Port Charlotte Cask Exploration 01, Seolaid, Sauternes, 12 years old, 53.2% A+

Cask 1202.  This is the new Valinch (distillery only) series.  The second one is out already (“Gorag”, 11 years in Pessac-Leognan) but I’ve yet to score a sample or bottle of it.  Watch this space!

Jan15-PortCharlotteExplorationNose - Orchard wax and fags and bookcase and diesel fumes (not in a bad way, although quite arresting).  Very sweet and musky.  Toffee apples and love hearts.  Cardboard.  Some deep fried chilli.  On one hand quite brutally one dimensional, on the other, quite complex and feisty.  With water it’s all ozone, weirdly, with some apple and mango juice.

Body - Juicy, very spicy and woody - like chewing a pencil.  Including the graphite.  Musky peat and wet wood.  With water, toast and peat and metal come through.  Bitter.

Finish - Medium, very sweet indeed, some wood glue and a bite of chilli.  Lingering contentment supplied neat, a bit less balanced diluted, although it lengthens and the peat and sulphur structure comes through more at the end.

What’s not good about it - A bit blunt.  

What’s good about it - I love the nose - especially when you first come to it.  Later it gets a bit single trick, with the toffee and dirty wine wood, but it’s pretty compelling all the same.  It’s a jolly blockbuster overall.

Port Charlotte Islay Barley, 50% A+

A “standard release” NAS PC, and none the worse for that.  If you’re after a heavily peated drinker around £50, look no further.

pclob.non6Nose - I’ve tried this at three different (public) tastings now, and this is the dregs of the bottle I split with mates.  What always strikes me is that there’s something just right about the whole experience with this one, and it starts with the nose.  Sweet marmalade, ozone, granite, sweet Islay peat, intense “Islay Barley” cereal (which I’m becoming a real fan of), but also young and feisty.  Balanced.  This really works, and at a tasting, after the laddie 10, black arts and others, you really feel like this is where it starts to all make sense.

Body - Sweet, sharp and balanced.  Almost winey in its acidity, with an intense blast of sauvignon blanc.  Intensely tannic, with biting, sweet peat.

Finish - Medium, lots of ozone, slightly fetid.

What’s not good about it - While this wears its youth well, it is young and not the most complex.  And like most PCs it’s challenging.  Remember with PC, the perception of peat isn’t less in PC than Octomore, it’s just not so fetid (just because Octomore is “the most heavily peated”, doesn’t mean PC is bluffing when it says “heavily peated”).

What’s good about it - A great value PC, perfect balance and loads of integration and interest.

Port Charlotte PC12, Oileanach Furachail, 58.7% A

Travel Retail only.  I’m led to believe the name means “attentive student”, referencing Adam Hannett attempting to take over from Jim McEwan, who refuses to retire.

bruichladdich_pc12Nose - Sharply peated with vinegar and apple, sherried with granite and cereal.  Musky, like a good honey, Oregon pine washbacks and old woodworking tools.  Orange juice and zest - quite stern though.  With water, sweeter, with small sugary jelly sweets, grapefruit juice and key lime pie.

Body – Fierce peat, tobacco, highly acidic and very intense.  With water, peppery, toast and honey, chocolate tracker bar.  Still very sharp.

Finish - Long, well integrated, but lacking midrange.

What’s not good about it - A sharp, surprisingly unhappy whisky. It just doesn’t put me in the same mood that PC11 did.

What’s good about it - But complex and ripe, mature and interesting.  

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley, 64% A+

The Islay Barley release is the third expression of the sixth series (6.3) of the enigmatic single malt which occupies a category of its own in the world of Scotch whisky. Releases are numbered in accordance with provenance and style, those designated .1 being distilled using barley sourced from the Scottish mainland and maturing in ex-Bourbon casks, those designated .2 having additional cask enhancement, and those designated .3 being distilled from Islay-grown barley.  So this is barley from Islay, and let down with water from Octomore farm.


Nose - Sweet and serious, like the Comus.  Fags and coffee, like all Octomores.  It’s a cheap latte this time.  A brutal but compelling and oddly sexy nose, as usual.  Black cherry, dark cereal, bright minerals.  With water, more ordinarily sweet shoppy, but with a touch of wood glue.

Body - Deeply sweet, like foxes glacier fruit.  Then refreshers, pencil shavings, black pepper, spicy wood and chilli.  

Finish - After that journey, a pause, then lingering, spicy, Szechuan peat.  With water, easier on the palate, and massively young.

What’s not good about it - An awkward whisky.

What’s good about it - But a classic Octomore.  And the terroir driven Islay barley works every time (is it terroir, or is it just better barley farmed without cost consideration?).  

Octomore 7.2, 58% A-

Say what you like about bottle packaging, but it does have an effect on the enjoyment of having a drink.  I love the Octomore bottling and this one is particularly beautiful. 

A blend of “classic American oak” (assume bourbon casks?) and Syrah Rhone casks, full term, vatted.  There is zero red wine colour in this whisky.


Nose - Barley sugar, boiled sweets, crisps and slight sulphur.  Wine cask always works so well with Octomore, and it’s the same here - dirty but clean wine cask, washing up liquid, sour strawberries and of course massive cereal peat.  If this was bright pink I wouldn’t be surprised.  In fact, that would be very cool.

Body - Competent, classic but (relatively) uneventful Octomore.  It’s “just another Octomore” (I am officially a jaded whisky drinker) with fruit, white wine, bludgeoning, bitter peat and a mouthful of oak sawdust..  A touch more sulphur, perhaps a bit easier on the brain due to the wine.  Water softens it a bit too. It’s no Comus though.,

Finish - Very long, pepper, sulphur, rot.  Gunpowder, iron filings, lingering cabbage.  

What’s not good about it - Simultaneously average “for an Octomore” and a bit flawed by the sulphur.  Always an evening ender.

What’s good about it - Still an Octomore though, so head smashingly intense and great fun to drink.  Beautifully sweet and dirty nose, highly professional throughout, almost hop-brutal craft-beery in its intensity.  Similarly un-sessionable in its entirety.

Octomore 12 years old, Chateau d’Yquem cask, drawn from cask in the distillery, 56.4% A+

Not supposed to have these next two, don’t tell anyone…

Nose - Incredibly gentle.  I didn’t expect that.  Old, Islay, Laddie and Sauternes.  Sweet and herbal, with a little charcuterie - Italian ham, peppered salami.  Sweet, elegant but holding back some fire I suspect.  With water, better integrated with plywood, funky Octomore peat and dug turf.  A grown up Octomore, with a suit and tie.  I hope there are casks going down for a 26 year old at some point...

Body - Goodness me - such a gentle development into enormous fire!  At first, more of that restraint and cereal Laddie goodness, then through refreshers into peat spice and wood sap.  With water, more immediately juicy, but then faster into the pepper.  I definitely prefer it diluted.

Finish - Medium, very spicy, massive gunpowder and lingering aspirin.

What’s not good about it - Very young Octomore is too fetid, and this is the oldest Octomore I’ve heard of and it has that.  I think the point of Octomore lies in the five year olds.

What’s good about it - I love the grown up, winey, peppery nose, the restrained fire and the overall balance.  A 26 year old Octomore will be expensive, but it might be worth it.

Octomore 5 years old, Virgin Oak, drawn from cask in the distillery A-

An insanely dark, sherried, “I’m a bourbon” burnt marmalade colour to this one.

Nose - Elegant ozone and sherry - this isn’t a bourbon but it has that pastried intensity.  Bright, juicy and fresh (also unexpected), but with varnished wood and fountain pen ink.  It’s got a real pastry and creme patissiere thing going on, and again, gentle.  With water, some of that attractive fetid musk comes through in a classy way, with old wood and compost.

Body - Sweet, herbal, green peat.  A touch of petrol, wet morning grass and damp logs.  Wet oats.

Finish - The Octomore peat finally comes through in the finish, quite a lot like the Comus with the sweetness but with an added touch of wet cardboard.  Sour and bitter at the end, but not unpleasantly so - like a very old whisky with too much wood but balanced by other things.

What’s not good about it - It’s proper weird this one - funky, wet and dirty, while also sweetly pastried.  I don’t think it really works as anything but a curio.

What’s good about it - But it’s very interesting, and does just about hang together.  The nose works very well - rancio, wet wood, wine and vanilla. The delivery is like drinking perfume - overly intense, very bitter and stays with you for a long while.

Next time, a bit of a blind spot for me but one I’ll be addressing in detail in the coming year, Bunnahabhain.

Monday, 13 April 2015

An ode to Islay 2: Bowmore

bowmore-logoFollowing on in alphabetical order from Ardbeg, is one of the oldest distilleries on Islay and in Scotland, Bowmore.  I have a bit of a thing going for Bowmore at the moment, entirely due to IBs and single casks, as I find the OB expressions a little tired compared to the glory that’s coming out of of the independents.  I was going to put the OBs in here (Tempest, which I’ve always thought was excellent, and Devil’s casks, which I’ve always thought was overrated although correctly priced by Bowmore) but I’ll save them for another post.  There are just so many Bowmores to try, particularly with SMWS releasing at least one every month.  The ones in this vertical are just from the open bottles I have on the shelf, there’s plenty more waiting to open (and many already reviewed on this blog). 

I’ve found it really interesting to try these single casks side by side, and noting the effect of cask and age.  Mid teens Bowmore is a feisty, intense but balanced thing, and the sweetness takes over from about 22 onwards but sometimes nudges in earlier.  It’s a lovely progression too.  There’s little chance of me running out of SMWS Bowmore now (for life, I suspect), but let’s look at some other stuff first...

Bowmore - Feis Ile 2014, 56.1% A+

There were two FI bottlings released in 2014, this (£50) and the 1989 Vintage (£350).  Old Bowmore is so outrageously expensive from the distillery!  This, more reasonably priced NAS bottle is from first fill American oak bourbon barrels. 

bowmore-feis-ile-2014Nose - Lightly waxed peat, restrained, some dusty toffee and a little unripe pear.  Young and light on the nose, with a savoury, meaty backing, and very pleasant.

Body - Sweet citrus toffee and quite intense peat.  Caramel, some cardboard, quite sour, some yellow peppers and Szechuan peppercorn. With water, the pepper and pineapple starts to come through and it unlocks the higher quality Bowmore lurking inside.

Finish - Lingering toffee and a light numbing edge of peat.  Good citrus development with some furniture wax and Asian notes.  

What’s not good about it - Lacking the beauty and interest of the single cask Bowmore I’ve been drinking, but certainly makes up for it with a young, bitter Islay kick.  

What’s good about it - It’s got balance and restraint, this whisky isn’t awkward or improperly integrated, and there are older notes of pineapple and brine in here.  I like the numbing at the end and the Asian citrus notes on the nose.  

Bowmore 14: Mashmen’s Selection, 1999, 55.7% A⊕

Thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for the sample!

bowmoremashmenNose - Lovely, unexpectedly waxy and sweet with a pinch in the nose of salted lemons and jellied eels with white pepper.  Intensely Islay with a creamy edge. With water, more men’s deodorant comes through and some dried bananas - and loads of toffee pennies

Body - The retronasal thing is surprisingly intense - eyewatering citrus and cereal spice.  A light, sulphured balancing edge of fresh pine boards.  Water takes the edge off this and leaves you with more low spec Bowmore.  I prefer it neat.

Finish - Vanilla custard, pastry, almonds.  Where did they come from?  Long and creamy and starts the whole thing off again.  Textbook.  Water shows up the sulphur character and opens up some more numbing peat.

What’s not good about it - Quite crazy with the sharp notes in the nose and initial delivery, like someone dropped a bottle of smelling salts in the cask.  But I can forgive it as, like putting vinegar on your chips, it makes the whole experience lip smacking and even more tasty.

What’s good about it - What a characterful, different but very Bowmore-y Bowmore.  Loved this.

Bowmore Handfilled 1998 5th Edition, Bordeaux Wine Barrique, 57.1% A⊕+

bowmorehandfillNose - Ripe, beautifully rounded, gentle peat, freshly cut oak tree, toffee apples and wham bar.  Wax crayon, glace cherries, matchmakers.  Seriously delicious.  With water, apricots and frangipane, cumin and fig rolls.

Body - Sweeter and darker than Devils Casks, but with an unexpectedly savoury edge from the wine cask and none of the catching in the back of the throat.  The intense peat is apparent now in the delivery and balanced by the sweet wine notes and that top of mouth musk that’s also apparent in the Glenmorangie Companta.  If you’ve had that, this isn’t far off a Bowmore version.  With water, a little more wet cardboard and a little less of that red wine funk.  Still wonderful.

Finish - Long, very enjoyable with balanced sweetness and wood throughout, gentle peat and lots of oils.  Splendid stuff.

What’s not good about it - Red wine finishes are a divisive thing and if you don’t like them, you won’t appreciate the delivery on this.

What’s good about it - But everyone should love the nose on this.  Wonderful musky sweetness and bonfires, salty and musky, and great intensity, complexity and interest in the delivery.  Lovely.

Now some of the glut of amazing SMWS Bowmores I’ve been buying every month.  I now cover these with proper, monthly tasting notes (which I’ve recently made a lot more proper than the one liners I was using before), but these have been on my shelf for a little while.

SMWS 3.193, Bowmore, Baby-faced arsonist, 14 years old, 57.7% A⊕

Refill sherry, 601 bottles.  There was a lovely run of refill sherry teenage Bowmores last year, some of the best whiskies of the year.  Photo credit to Matt at Guildford Whisky for the photo below – I gave my bottle to the guy I split it with.

3.193Nose - Light cereal peat, very restrained with some green apple, beach BBQ, a touch of caramel and quite dusty.  Water opens up the sweetness a little, with more musky sweet oak.

Body - Sweet poached pears, and charred driftwood.  Lovely perfumed musk.  Seriously delicious.  With water, less elusive but less complex and elegant too.

Finish - Long but gentle, a beautiful delivery of gentle peat and toffee.

What’s not good about it - Not the biggest blockbuster from 2014s Bowmores - quite polite really.

What’s good about it - Fresh and young, elegant and complex, excellent integration and beautifully presented.  Cool name too, although doesn’t really match the profile of the whisky.

SMWS 3.194, Bowmore, Surf and Turf BBQ, 14 years old, 58.3% A⊕+

Refill sherry, thousands of 10cl bottles.  This is one of the bottles in the surf and turf BBQ might mini 4 packs they were selling with a Springbank, an Ardbeg and a Laphroaig.  At 60 quid for 40cl it’s a little pricey but look at the cast - and they’re all amazing.

20150408_113823Nose - Intense.  Silky sulphur, spiky sherry and fruits - peach, overripe apple, pips. And granite, with lemon peat and long pickled Turkish chillies.  It’s an epic nose, and I can see why they picked it for a 10cl bottle.  I’d be tempted to buy 7 mini sets for 420 quid if they hadn’t all sold ages ago - hmm... Lots of toffee, lots of bright granite, wet rope and such beautiful sherry.  Surely I can pick up another pack at auction!

Body - Intense.  This is what the Devil’s Casks should have been and no doubt some of them were.  Immediate bright, retronasal sulphur, matchsticks and chewed aspirin.  Perfect sulphur and fruit, slightly fizzing, musky and complex.  And so balanced, well integrated and juicy.

Finish - Long, sweet sulphur, insistent malted barley, and structured sherry.  Balanced and epic.

What’s not good about it - Doesn’t come in 70cl bottles - or 1.5L magnums for that matter.

What’s good about it - A perfect sherried Bowmore.  Just the right age to be bold, feisty and insistent.  An excellent sherry cask providing the perfect balance of wood, sherry and structure.  Sign me up for another mighty mini pack!

SMWS 3.221, Bowmore, Starry, starry night, 19 years old, 54.2% A⊕

Refill sherry, 538 bottles.

3.221Nose - Just on the turn from teenager to mid-twenties lavender bomb.  That intense dusty sweetness is starting to develop, alongside some fresh pine planks, rope and smouldering oak chunks.  With water, an interesting and refreshing note of green apple.

Body - Intensely sweet, spicy and musky peat.  Light parmas and red laces.  Perfectly balanced between fizzing, bright peat, aged refreshers and intense Islay sweetness.  Water develops the dusty parmas a little more.  With time, just the most intense vanilla cream and pastry thing going on, particularly smelled side by side with the bourbon Bowmore below (3.232).

Finish - Very long, musky, quite spicy, wooded and coastal.  It’s a  little cloying actually, a single duff note in what is otherwise a total blockbuster.  What saves it though, is a single note of elegant sulphur.  Eventually, and particularly with water, you’re left with the echo of intense parma violets, and you can see exactly where this would go if you gave it another 7 years in cask...

What’s not good about it - That the sweetness is cloying in the finish, a bit.  More age would integrate that better.  Not enormously complex.

What’s good about it - Intense and delicious, well balanced and very drinkable.  Also a fascinating look at the development of a Bowmore, particularly compared to the 14 year old 3.193 above.

SMWS 3.217, Bowmore, A delicatessen shopping basket, 16 years old, 55.6% A⊕

Refill sherry, 609 bottles.  There was gallons of this sloshing around at one point last year and it was given away as a sweetener on joining.  I’ve had a few bottles of this go through the books here and these are the last drams of this particular bottle.

3.217Nose - Elegant, mineral, sweet fried tomatoes, tomato leaf, BBQ pork, driftwood, Marlboro lights and yesterday’s charcoal.  It’s the balance between sweet vegetal notes, mineral peat and coastal that makes this so compelling.  There’s a lovely light dose of the intensity that makes Devil’s Casks good in here too. With water, fresher ozone and sweeter.

Body - No mistaking this bottle’s provenance.  Intensely spicy Islay, loads of toffee, mussels on the rope and burnt wood.  A note of dusty parmas and sulphur.  But then that long, uniquely Bowmore delivery (you know what I mean).

Finish - Long, juicy, tannic toffee and drying.  Quite a lot of (good) sulphur in here, lurking, which develops over time. 

What’s not good about it - If I’m being strict, it’s a little obvious\brash compared to some here.  

What’s good about it - A very good, representative, refill sherry Bowmore.  Young (comparatively) but balanced, and delicious.  

Comparing this to the 19 year old 3.221, this is obviously younger but less complex.  Still delicious though.  That much sweeter, fizzing parma note on the 3.221 puts it into a different league though.

SMWS 3.225, Bowmore, Galleon attacked by pirates, 16 years old, 57.2% A⊕+

Refill butt, 617 bottles.  This one really cemented my love for teenage sherry Bowmore.  This is actually the first whisky I’ve reviewed three times - the first was in the “micro notes” for it’s outturn, and the second time was at the SMWS game and whisky event.  Neither set of notes is complete enough!  I’ve had two bottles of this, the first got split up and my remnant is almost gone.  The second is sitting in the archive for deep-future-use.  Kind of wish I had another...

3.225Nose - Dark-spicy-sweet-vinegar on the nose immediately, quite arresting and very bright Bowmore.  Intensely, insistently Bowmore in fact - like distilled Bowmore.  Peated travel sweets on an old, wet, oak floorboard.  Bright, balanced, rich cereal and salt and vinegar crisps (Pret a Manger salt and cider vinegar to be precise).  Toe curlingly intense and exciting.  With water, cleaner and sweeter, with floral hops, musky wax, cap gun ammo and just a hint of fizzers.

Body - Massive.  Spicy oak and fresh peated cereal, bright fruit (ripe pear) and toffee right at the front of the tongue - tastes completely right.  

Finish - Long, numbing, Szechuan peppercorns (which did go well with the Asian ribs at the game event), and lingering peat and fermenting wash. 

What’s not good about it - This isn’t luxurious.  You don’t pick up a 16 year old Bowmore asking for luxury though.

What’s good about it - Everything that’s wonderful about Bowmore. Fresh, rich, intense, sweet and has a right-ness that I think proves that sometimes, you just get very lucky with a cask of whisky and it comes together perfectly.  You couldn’t plan this.

SMWS 3.232, Bowmore, An Outdoor Life for Me, 18 years old, 57.2% A+

Refill bourbon, 197 bottles.  Fancy label (“to celebrate the whisky and game season”) – this was released shortly before SMWS changed their design agency and now have significantly simpler styling (which I like more, personally).  Briefly mentioned here on this blog before.

3.232Nose - Sweet air and countryside - maybe it’s the suggestive label!  Refreshers, light peat, really quite sweet but no lavender on the nose (maybe the sherry brings that out?), just the fizzing sweets.  Some men’s deodorant, a bit of public toilet (not in a bad way, more of a cold way - cold air blowing through a pine cleaned loo), freshly sanded oak, grass and earth.

Body - Intense: sweet, earthy, fiery peat and now the parmas.  Juicy, dusty and very, very sweet.  With water, much less robust and more politely presented.  

Finish - Medium, intensity drops down a little, some sulphur.  Bitter tannins (but not unwelcome) with water.

What’s not good about it - Just not as interesting as other SMWS Bowmores of late.  Less complexity and not so well presented.  Stiff competition amongst its peers though.

What’s good about it - Still a very competent Bowmore, zesty, very Islay and fun to drink.  I’d happily settle down with a bottle of this in front of a good film.

Next time (if I can ever stop adding to it), the kings of expression degeneracy, Bruichladdich.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

An ode to Islay 1: Ardbeg

What follows is a series of blog posts picking up a bunch Islay whiskies, starting with last year’s Feis Ile.  If anyone still thinks that terroir doesn’t work for whisky, they only have to look to Islay to see it in action, and my whisky shelves to see how much square footage is dedicated to whiskies from this tiny island.  Maybe it’s the history and attitude, maybe it’s the climate and air, maybe it’s the (mostly) shared maltings, presumably it’s a bit of all of those things (but mostly, I suspect, the climate, weather, air and proximity to the sea). 

So, in alphabetical order:

  1. Ardbeg
  2. Bowmore
  3. Bruichladdich
  4. Bunnahabhain
  5. Caol Ila
  6. Kilchoman
  7. Lagavulin
  8. Laphroaig
  9. Maybe I can find a Port Ellen in to go in at the end?
  10. Some kind of finale.  We’ll see how it goes

So this set is running up to 2015’s Feis Ile, which runs from May 22-30, and just goes to show how long it can take a man to get round to publishing his tasting notes from last year if he keeps adding to his horizontals.

logoOnto Ardbeg. This horizontal has been really educational and I now see why Ardbeg is so popular.  Such quality in most expressions although there is a fear that quality is declining.  We’ll see what comes out of Feis Ile this year!

I already published my reviews of Auriverdes (last year’s FI) and SN2014, both of which I really enjoyed.

Ardbeg New Make

Thanks to Matt for a sample of this from his trip to Islay!

Ardbeg_by_typ0Nose - Weirdly (or perhaps not), this is unmistakably Ardbeg, and on the nose, very gently so.  Weirdly, also a lot like the Kidalton on the nose too (below)! How young is the Kidalton 2014?  Warm, comforting, freshly inhaled Marlboro light smoke, cake and fried parsley and potatoes.  Fennel.  More fetid with water.

Body - Eeek....  eye wateringly intense.  Sour, intense, malted barley and bitter, palate destroying tannins.  Rotten crayons.  Carrots.

Finish - Sour and oily, very long. 

It takes a brave or experienced distiller to taste that, stick it in cask for a decade or more and come out with such great whisky at the other end.  Mind you, the Octomore new make I had at that whisky squad tasting was a lot worse.  Memorable tasting notes included infected wounds, rotten wood, old bandages… this isn’t that bad. 

Ardbeg Kidalton, 2014 release, 46% A-

I’d love to try the original Kidalton one day, seems unlikely now that I will, although I sometimes sail close to scoring that pack of miniatures with it in at auction.  This 2014 expression was only available at the distillery last year.  Thanks to Stumbler for the sample!

Aug14-ArdbegKildalton2014Nose - Warming, comforting, lemon and roasting chicken.  I’m strangely reminded of the reed from a saxophone.  Light burning pine, lemon toffee, has the feel of an old Ardbeg that’s a bit over the hill, however some juicy wood toast and welcome warm wax brings it back from the brink.  Water brings out a slightly fetid, musky tone which I don’t really appreciate.

Body - Dark sweetness, bright peat, lemon toffee.  

Finish - Quite long but lacking intensity.  The peat finally makes itself felt properly, with some numbing effervescent lemon and more pine.  Quite oily.  With water, the body loses integrity and the finish disintegrates.

What’s not good about it - Lacks intensity.  I’m fairly underwhelmed especially considering the cost.

What’s good about it - Warm, comfortable, restrained. It’s rather drinkable and rewarding, like a sit down and a drink after a rainy, cold walk home in the dark.

Compared to the Auriverdes: Nose - The Auriverdes has more wax and fruit, more vigour (and I consider it to be a mild Ardbeg itself).  The Kidalton has more toasty musk - perhaps their intensity is just in different directions rather than one being more intense than the other.  Both have integrity but the Auriverdes is more balanced on the nose.  Delivery - The Kidalton is sharp and sour, but a little unremarkable, when the Auriverdes is pleasingly bizarre with petrol and coffee notes.  They are seriously different although both clearly Ardbeg. I could happily drink both but prefer the Auriverdes by some margin.  Then again, this next one blows them both out of the water…

Elements of Islay, Ar4, 58.1% A⊕+

elem_ar4Nose - The epitome of Ardbeg (which is I guess, the point of this series - but whoever put this one together knew what they were doing), and completely balanced.  Light, sweet sherried peat, followed by austere, dusty Islay with refreshers and ground stone.  Some cereal, some beautiful wood (planed, seasoned oak), and great depth with musky, sexy wax, cherry and penny toffees.  Spectacularly delicious.  With water, loses some of the complexity and intensity but brings in more juicy fruit, musk and sherry.

Body - Enormous depth.  Massive peat.  Sweet and sulphurous, with a little spice.  Has that juicy sherry sweetness that Uigeadail has but loads more fizzing brightness and totally balanced.  With water the sweet shop notes come out more, with refreshers, cough candy and foxes glacier fruits.

Finish - Long, juicy, tannic and intense.  Spicy peat lingers, balanced by sweet toffee and lots of wood.  With water, more fizzing and fruit again. 

What’s not good about it - Nothing.

What’s good about it - Intense, complex, balanced and ever changing.  Just wonderful - a dram to take time over and explore.

SMWS 33.127, Ardbeg, It’s a knockout, 7 years old, 64% A⊕

This ones a 10cl dram from an SMWS welcome pack.  These are usually annoyingly good (annoying because they won’t sell me a whole bottle of it).  Thanks Stu for letting me have a dram of this!

smwsNose - Young, but ripe and musky.  Sandalwood joss sticks sniffed cold, in a brisk, ocean wind.  Clean, honest cereal (crushed malted barley), granite, freshly washed steel and deodorant.  Very dry but with some lemon boiled sweets.  More ordinary with water.

Body - A retronasal knockout, certainly.  Massive peat up the nose, intensely sweet and rich on the palate, with Sussex pond pudding (slow cooked lemon in butter and sugar steamed in suet pastry) and oak shavings.  With water, intensely sweet, cloying almost, but seriously delicious with medicinal notes of bandage and germolene.  

Finish - Long, citrus peat and spice.  Lots of black pepper.  With water, even longer, spicier, more coherent and even longer and oilier.  A rather epic, young Ardbeg.

What’s not good about it - Angular and unreasonable.

What’s good about it - Long, complex, competent, spicy and delicious.  Mouth puckering peat and tannins, balancing complex sweetness. I’d love to be able to buy young bottles of complex single cask Ardbeg from SMWS right now, and have them be like this.

SMWS 33.106, Ardbeg, A Tale of Two Drams, 13 years old, 54% A⊕

From the Beach BBQ mighty mini set.  Refill bourbon.

20150408_110341Nose - Restrained but powerful.  Burnt newspaper, ozone and toffee pennies.  So much granite - wet and cold.  Unripe pear and gunpowder.  It’s a lot more compelling than I’m making it sound actually, I can’t stop returning to the nose.  Water brings out a big sweet nose, juicy and quite fruity with peach and dried figs.

Body - Again restrained, with shy fruit and then a big fizzing belt of metal filings and gunpowder.  Water opens it up again, with an almost kebab shop thing going on with pickled chillies, sweet onion and yoghurt.  Fruity still - it still hangs together.  What a weird whisky.

Finish - Long, juicy peat and toffee apple at a bonfire.  Strangely vanilla and mango juice in the end.  Very sweet!  Very long and satisfying.  New plastic and a bit of play doh.

What’s not good about it - Seriously intense, quite challenging and quite odd.  I get the two drams thing.

What’s good about it - Same as above.  Love the fruit too.  An intense and complicated dram.  

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Committee release 2008, 57.1% A⊕+

Thanks to Sjoerd at Maltfascination for a taste of his bottle of this fantastic committee release.  

corryvreckanNose - Dark.  At first, then a bit brighter, sweeter, and gentler than you’re expecting but the brooding Ardbeg excellence is just hiding.  Sharp granite, dark (aged) cereal, dusty mango juice and bright plastic book covers.  Waxy and musky.  This is an enticing, dirty, yet elegant nose.

Body - Intense and pure, sweet Ardbeg.  Brightly spicy and bitter.  Musky sulphur and really quite sexy.  I didn’t add water, it was too perfect already.

Finish - Long, very sweet and juicy.  Crisply fried bacon.  Final notes are of elegant oak.

What’s not good about it - Nothing.

What’s good about it - Sweet, elegant, intense, frisky, sexy and just beautiful.  I love it.  This is nudging an A⊕⊕.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, General release, some batch in 2013, 57.1% A

Just the bottle off my shelf, I didn’t get round to writing notes before!

ardbeg corryvreckannNose - Sour.  Compared to the committee release the nose on this is sour.  Underneath, the same granite peat is there, quite harsh and full of ozone. Some cashews, particularly on exhale.  Ketchup.  It’s brutal but competent compared to the committee release.  With water, gentler, and a much waxier sweetness, much improved. The muskiness I enjoy in both is still there, presumably the French oak.  

Body - Icing sugar sweet, plum, hot dogs and ashes.  A world away from the elegance of the CR.  I can see the lineage when I compare them side by side, but the drop in quality is marked.  This is my own bottle, 2/3 through, and I liked it more before!  With water, it drops the intensity but doesn’t improve much.

Finish - Long, intensely peated, spicy and fizzing.  More hot dogs at the end.  I’m not sure I like hot dogs in whisky.  Water gives a sweet shop element, maybe parmas, maybe a bit of midget gems.  I’m a fan of those things.

What’s not good about it - Definitely doesn’t hold a candle to the CR.  I might have to re-review it when my palate’s fresh.  It’s very harsh (compared) though - I bought this after tasting it because I found it to be remarkable, but now it seems blunt.

What’s good about it - There’s only so bad Ardbeg gets though.  This is still “very good” whisky and is being compared to it’s more serious brothers.  The musky notes I loved in the CR is there, the complexity is there.  It’s just not as refined.

Ardbeg 10 year old, 46% A⊕

Strangely, I’ve never owned a bottle of this and never really sat down with it before.  Thanks to Stu for a sample of his duty free purchase.

Ardbeg-10-Year-Old1Nose - Icing sugar sweet, gentle, light raspberry peat.  Some metal filings.  Light lemon and pear.  Definitely youthful, bright and finely ground, and very polite and balanced.

Body - Very sweet - echoes the nose pretty perfectly.  Some gentle ashes.

Finish - Quite long, lovely cereal peat and wood.  Lingering toasty wood and ashes, and what I’d basically call Ardbeggyness.

What’s not good about it - Nothing at the price, lacks a little complexity.

What’s good about it - Beautifully rounded, gentle and a great all round Ardbeg expression.

Ardbeg Uigeadail, some batch in 2013, 54.2% A+

From my (nearly finished) bottle.  About time I wrote down something about this one too.

1011309xNose - Lovely dark, sherry notes, quite restrained.  A little black cherry, freshly planed expensive oak, top notes of granite peat, a little lemon curd.  With water, the superior casks are apparent - more musky, fruity and spicy, and a little fag ash.

Body - Rich, sweet, dark fruit - all lovely but with an obvious and unwelcome young twang to it.  Quite spicy actually.  The sherry is balanced and wonderful in here, as is the Ardbeggyness, but I wish this was more mature.  Water takes the edge off that issue.

Finish - Medium, rich and slightly cloying neat.  The most ashen of the Ardbegs in this set I’d say.  Diluted, the finish draws out and is very concentrated in the side of the tongue, giving lovely, balanced tannins and toffee.

What’s not good about it - too young.

What’s good about it - Lovely nose, excellent casks, good complexity throughout.

Ardbeg Renaissance, 55.9% A⊕

Thanks again Sjoerd for the sample.

ardbeg-renaissance-10-year-old-whiskyNose - Light, bright, perfumed and juicy.  Such gentle, rich sweetness.  I didn’t realise before lining this lot up how gentle and sweet Ardbeg can be if you look at it the right way.  Blackcurrants, barley, heather.  Beautiful.

Body - Rich, light, lemon sweet, like an old Bowmore with fizzing parmas.  Is this really 10 years old?  So gentle, round, beautifully wooded and full of lemon cake.  Some serious casks have gone into this whisky.  However, some youth is apparent here with a cloying sweetness neat.

Finish - The bright fizzing tannins of the peat are here now - long, balanced and complex finish, lemon boiled sweets.

What’s not good about it - Frankly, this is still young.  That’s it though.

What’s good about it - The work that’s gone into this whisky is obvious.  Balance, elegance, intensity and complexity.  Very good.

Bowmore next time!

Thursday, 2 April 2015

SMWS April 2015 Outturn

Quite a gentle one on paper, but a lot of good stuff in here nonetheless, particularly in the 40-50 quid range.  Also, a surprisingly large amount of white wine cask matured whisky, including a fabulous 9 year old Miltonduff (the sister cask of 72.41, which was in the enormous November outturn).  And how about a (relatively mature) new Kilchoman?

Often I find with these flights that there’s a taste that reoccurs.  It might be lingering on the palate, or it might be in the air.  Maybe it’s just my brain or nose that day or maybe it’s autosuggestive.  This month it’s mezcal.  I try and filter it out once I identify it!

I don’t have notes for them, but the new Glen Grant (9.100, Coffee and cigarettes) and the Balmenach (48.54, Milkshakes and Medicine) are very good, they’re BUYs, particularly the 9 – both are in the low 40s price-wise.

SMWS 41.64, Sharing, caring loving dram, Dailuaine, 30 years old, 53.5% A+

25th Sep 1984, refill hogshead, 210 bottles

20150331_162414Nose - Deep, dark, magic balloons, marker pens and a backing of new make cereal and caramelised meat and sugar. Sweet, intense, juicy red fruit, pineapple - so complex and intense, but a bit obvious. With water, juicier, shiny toffee and a touch more savoury.

Body - Intensely wooded, spicy, catches the back of the throat with wet oak. With water, a little gentler on the oak but still challengingly bitter.

Finish - Quite short, a little flat.

SMWS 35.128, A tropical tango of taste, Glen Moray, 11 years old, 60.5% A

10th Dec 2002, first fill barrel, 239 bottles

20150331_163859Nose - Fresh candy floss, coconut, sherbet - an intensely fruity sweetshop nose, with original fairy liquid, dusty oak and toast with honey.  A lovely nose.

Body - Intensely toffeed, spicy honey glaze. With water, more spice, a bit more herbal.

Finish - Medium, oily, a little musk. Water - a little bitter.  Meh.

SMWS 84.17, Fluffernutter, Glendullan, 13 years old, 56.2% A+

4th Oct 2001, refill barrel, 207 bottles

20150331_174913Nose - Light, sweet and delicate, with lemon tart, marzipan, ozone and citrus flash. Lovely, fresh and summery.  These citrusy SMWS whiskies are always a season too early!

Body - Sweet, oily and intensely spicy. Mouthfilling and intense, almost peated but with a real orange zest zing. Intensely summery.

Finish - Agave. Long and intense, like a mezcal.

Very good, summery and zesty but a little challenging in terms of intensity.


SMWS 85.29, Glen Elgin, Best of the Med, 15 years old, 54.2% A+

6th Oct 1999, refill hogshead, 290 bottles

20150331_170211Nose - Sweet orange juice and strawberry tart glaze. A touch of wood polish and more mezcal. Intensely fruity and delicious. With water, a touch of menthol.

Body - Deep, waxy and spicy at the back of the throat. Musky like Seville orange and lime - plus a hint of rosemary. More menthol with water and a bit of E45 cream.

Finish - Medium, oily, musky like a HP. Good stuff, not mind blowing but interesting, complex and well balanced.  You won’t be disappointed with this but it falls just short of a buy for me.

SMWS 50.63, Bladnoch, Boozy buccaneers!, 24 years old 58.3% A⊕

15th May 1990, refill bourbon barrel, 126 bottles

20150331_171755Nose - Deeply sweet, tropical and lacquered. Old polished oak, guitar case, hand soap and tobacco. Delicious.

Body - Sweet, zesty and darkly sexy. Refreshers. Spicy and Chinese - rice, ginger and chilli.

Finish - Intensely spicy, bitter but balanced. Long and winey - green wine gums (thanks Sam). This is a big bruiser, complex and intense Bladnoch. Takes no prisoners and totally confident, good stuff (as expected).


SMWS 73.69, Aultmore, Dark side eclipsed by sweet joys, 22 years old 52.9% A⊕+

27th Oct 1992, refill sherry butt, 620 bottles.  The good news is that this fabulous whisky is plentiful and in the pair.  The bad news is that it’s there with the Bowmore, which is uncharacteristically disappointing this month.  Oh just buy it.

20150331_172731Nose - Dark and dirty. Deeply winey, vegetal, foresty - big old wood and sulphur. But lovely with coconut, toffee apple and smells almost lightly peated. Really reminds me of the leather from a horses tack. Really musky, meaty, earthy and delicious.

Body - Massive - peppery and deeply winey. Bright, but intensely tannic, complex and balanced. Beautiful. Even better with water, more red wine and balanced sulphur and sweetness. A massive whisky.

Finish - Medium, almost oversweet with dusty refreshers and long, perfectly balanced sulphur.


SMWS 72.43, Miltonduff, Bunsen burner and burnt capacitors, 10 years old, 59.8% A⊕

23rd Sep 2004, 1st fill white wine hogshead, 262 bottles

20150331_174817Nose - Fresh with ozone, but fruity and a little floral. Heavily oaked chilled chardonnay, corn and undergrowth. Minted potatoes, flint, lemon and copper. It's a bright, intense, metallic and well-judged nose.

Body - Wow - rich, waxed, warm and winey. Toffee and sulphur, deep and balanced. Epic. With water, even more intense, perfect sulphur.

Finish - Long, toffeed and ripe.


So as I said, this was the sister cask of 72.41, which was filled on the same day and turned out the same ABV (so I’m assuming from the same run of the still), into the same cask type.  Although there’s another (part of, at least) year on the clock, it’s amazing how different these whiskies are.  Let’s see….

SMWS 72.41, Miltonduff, Girlie holiday breakfast dram, 9 years old, 59.8% A+

23rd Sep 2004, 1st fill white wine hogshead, 273 bottles (did 11 bottles evaporate in a year or is it just the cask being different!)

20150331_175429Nose - Dark, fruitier, more muscular with more wood and wax. Fresh fruit juice and polish, sandalwood and pot pourri. Lovely and old way beyond its years.

Body - Sweet, zesty, ripe and fizzing. Intensely wood and citrus. Spicier citrus with water.

Finish - Long, bright lemon toffee, balanced and intense.

BUY (still available in the bar, but not online)

Comparing the two - 43 has more sulphur, sweeter with more wax on the nose. 41 is spicier, brighter and more citrus.

On the palate, 43 again more sulphured and sherried, big tannins. 41 is sweeter, waxier and feels older. Overall the 41 is spicier and more challenging, the 43 is much more rounded and "sherry". Both very good.

SMWS 66.65, Ardmore, 'Holy smoke!', 10 years old, 62.7% A+

5th Oct 2004, 1st fill white wine hogshead, 270 bottles

20150331_181256Nose - Wine and peat (and sulphur) really work together, they fill each other out. Medicinal - bandagey, with frazzles, but very fruity too - apple and peach. A bright, but ripe peat and fruit experience.

Body - Sweet and sour, seashells and blue cornmeal. Ripe cereal.

Finish - Long, sweet raisins, burnt tart tatin.

A complex and interesting, but ultimately young Ardmore. Good stuff though.

If you're an Ardmore fan, BUY

SMWS 3.206, Bowmore, Dark and mysterious, 15 years old, 56.9% A-

25th Sep 1997, refill sherry butt, 445 bottles. 

A surprise duff note from this month's Bowmore, and it's a mid-teens refill sherry too!  Those are the money numbers… This was a Canadian release from a year ago (according Google).

20150331_184214Nose - Sweet, dark and winey. Overripe fruit, chocolate covered fudge and a backnote of new leather belt. Opal fruits, peppered smoked mackerel, and just a hint of fried onions (not in a bad way). With water, gentler and sweeter, spicy with red wine oak. Very nice.

Body - Big, spicy and peppery. Dusty cereal and very sweet at the side of the tongue. Sulphur tannins and mouthwash. With water, more generic Bowmore and more ordinary.

Finish - Long and numbing, intensely medicinal. With water, classical Bowmore but with too much bitterness.

A challenging Bowmore neat, and better with water on the nose, but doesn't work (too bitter, too one dimensional).

SMWS 129.6, Kilchoman, Peated Candy, 6yo, 58.9%

6th Nov 2008, first fill bourbon, 243 bottles.

20150303_184032Nose - Warmer, quite closed... but hang on…. apple skin, hard malted barley, dried earth, gravel, 80s swimming pool… The peat is soft and earthy, a bit dungy, and a museum - the bit where no-one goes, the evolution section of the natural history museum. More flash floor cleaner and strawberry laces. As this opens up it's getting better and better. With water, massively sweet like grilled bananas? And that deep, competent wood that Kilchoman effortlessly offers up at tiny ages. Happy days…

Body - Massive delivery of sweet, floral peat. Eating flower petals - something you smell as sweet but is massively bitter. With water, caramelised - floral and chilli peanuts and tomato juice?

Finish - Quite short but really floral. Beautiful grapefruit. With water, more wood, and mint toffee.

Another fascinating whisky. Highly recommended. And people wonder if they should join…!


As if that’s not enough, there’s this on the bar, not in the outturn – a 24 year old full term in a refill port barrique?  And only 147 bottles?  Esoteric.  Pop along to Greville street and pick one up if you’re so inclined!

SMWS 7.113, Longmorn, 'Takes you to another place', 24 years old, 51.7% A⊕

11th Dec 1989, 2nd fill port barrique, 147 bottles

20150331_173640Nose - Bright, rich and astringent, grapefruit and almost buttery. No way would you call port on the nose, but it's delicious. Water brings more grapefruit, but now warm wood, sherbet fountain, more butter, and a light sherry note.

Body - Spicy and winey, sharp but rich. Very satisfying, and almost roast pork with water. Fabulous stuff.

Finish - Lingering grapefruit. Spicy and numbing. Very compelling.

BUY (£94)

Here’s one more!  On the off chance that anyone’s still reading… This one’s also lost it’s outturn, and available at the bar.

SMWS 48.49, Balmenach, Herbal enough to please a gerbil, 26yo, 49.2% A+

30th Mar 1988, refill bourbon hogshead, 241 bottles

20150303_163958Nose - Elegant, restrained but luxurious, like an old Glenfiddich - a deep, malty balance in there. Toffee and turmeric, privet hedge, lemon bon bons and overripe apple. Good but restrained (but quite lovely on the nose).

Body - Deeply sweet, loads of malt immediately, juicy and balanced. Very drinkable - gluggable even. With water, no difference but then develops quite a lot of intensity and some interesting spice. Like popping candy.

Finish - Long, lemon and sweet. Quite juicy, a balancing touch of tannins. I really like this but it doesn't do much for 26 years in barrel and you can get the juicy delivery from a 10 year old. But with water, very interesting and quite complex. A confusing but very interesting and reasonably compelling whisky.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Rock Oyster TT–Douglas Laing

Quite honestly I held this review back because I wanted to buy the 17 year old bunna and couldn’t find it anywhere, but I’ve given up now (as I recall I loved the 16yo from the whisky show last year, and had to locate that too).  Someone sort find me a bottle!

Anyway, this was another fantastic DLaing tweet tasting…. the new “Big Peat”, Rock Oyster, plus OP’s from the constituent whiskies of this vatted malt.

Rock Oyster, 46.8% A+

rock-oyster-whiskyNose - Sweet red berries, waxed wood, ozone and samphire. A hint of structural peat. Light, slightly feminine and well balanced. A seafood platter by the seaside, lemon juice, crisp white wine and a passing smoker.

Body - Delicious peat carries through spicy wood, toasted cereal and intense sweetness with a little aniseed. More fags - Malboro lights, tasted on the lips after it's been put out.

Finish - Oily, medium, bright red fruit, a lingering wood sour and a touch of spice.

While I was nonplussed with Timorous Beastie and Scallywag, Big Peat and Rock Oyster are firm favourites.  I’m usually pretty plussed with the Old Particular stuff though, and the packaging/design is so lovely….

Old Particular Arran 18 year old, 48.4% A+

(17yo OP review here)

arran-18-year-old-1996-cask-10529-old-particular-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - Arran beauty. Bright, shiny, juicy and very fruity. Ripe pears, juicy red apple, marzipan and toffee pennies. Intense, lush and musky and fecund. A touch of bubblegum and scented candle. Lovely and lewd.

Body - Intensely sweet; cough candy and more bubblegum. Some balancing wood and spirit sulphur, varnished plywood and black pepper.

Finish - Long, intense, spicy, sweet tannins and Edinburgh rock. Peppery. A wonderful nose, perhaps a touch too sweet on the delivery.

Old Particular Bunnahabhain 17 years old, 48.4% A⊕+

bunnahabhain-17-year-old-1997-cask-10584-old-particular-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - Very different, significantly more masculine for a start. A big hit of flash floor cleaner, waxy and sweetly peated, wet wood and citronella candle, and some ozone. Very interesting, very bunna, lots to live up to.

Body - Woody and peppery, pencil shavings and charred toast. Loads of sulphur, almost but not quite fried onions, sudden bursts of fruit and grilled lemon juice. Granite, lemon toffee, and menthol fags.

Finish - Long, balanced and dirty, with hand soap and chewed pencils. Lingering seawater.

Sold out but a sample still available from DBTD here.

Old Particular Highland Park, 18 years old, 48.4% A⊕

highland-park-18-year-old-1995-cask-10161-old-particular-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - Subtle, waxed wood and sweet, floral air freshener. Dusty like an unlit joss stick. Floral like roses and makeup. Butter on the tongue just from nosing this.

Body - Bright, sour and intensely wooded. A surprise belt of dusty peat and confectionary sweetness.

Finish - Lingering coastal notes of rope, sea shells and sand, sulphur brings the fishery - the restaurant by the sea is in here too. Toffee, wood and shells.

Provenance Talisker, Young and Feisty, 46% A

Nov14-TaliskerFeistyNose - Sweet, strikingly bright, roast pork fat and pine cooked mussels. Lit joss sticks, plenty of rope and tar from the end of the cigarette. Some hot road tar too, but mainly lots of sweet, melting pork fat.

Body - Sweet, balanced, easy drinking but extremely peated. Bitter sour like grapefruit, unlit tobacco, and tequila.

Finish - Tasty. Tasty, bright and gripping, citrus sour. Then falls apart a bit at the end. Jolly good fun.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Glenallachie Old Particular, 22 years old

Glenallachie is an obscure malt distilllery which produces large quantities of liquid for Chivas blends.

This distillery was a new one on me. Douglas Laing have an in stock, Old Particular of a weird distillery, so I thought I'd give it a pop.  Question is with these "for mass blending" malts, how much do they care?

Glenallachie Old Particular, 22 years old, 51.1% B⊕

February 1992, Cask #10422, Refill barrel, 181 bottles.

glenallachie-22-year-old-1992-cask-10422-old-particular-douglas-laing-whisky (1)Nose - Roses. Posh hand soap, strawberry laces, fried, icing sugar dipped batter and love hearts. Really girly, and very attractive, with shiny red fruit and blonde wood.

Body - Much spicier than anticipated and much more masculine. Spritely, sappy and slightly bitter, but malty and competent. With water, weaker but better integrated.

Finish - Kind of short and uneventful. No flaws, just short.

What's not good about it - Unexciting delivery. Extremely restrained, almost like white wine.

What's good about it - Delicate, feminine and enticing nose.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Wemyss March 2015 outturn

I do enjoy the single cask outturns from Wemyss - it's relaxing to get some single cask gear at 46% sometimes (what's the average at SMWS? 55%?) and some of them are dangerously, unstoppably drinkable.

The March outturn for Wemyss is out, but you need to be quick as they have about 10 bottles of each for the UK it seems. I tried the new Bowmore ("The Rockpool") at Whisky Live London and very much enjoyed it.

Thanks to Wemyss for some samples of the others from this outturn!

Wemyss Aberfeldy 1999-2014, Toffee Tuile, 46% A+

abfwem1999Nose - Old floral toffee, menthol, herbal mint and rosemary. Some pine, foxes glacier fruit and privet hedge. It's a very compelling, sweetly toffeed, floral and balanced nose.

Body - Oddly dry and tannic with lots of tobacco. Slightly peated, perfectly (delicately) so. Perfectly balanced and incredibly drinkable.

Finish - Medium, balanced, dry and oily. Fantastic stuff.

What's not good about it - Very little.

What's good about it - A compellingly sweet, but balanced nose, followed by a very grown up, complex and masculine delivery. I could drink this all night. Buy now!

Wemyss Glenrothes 1993-2014, Kumquat Cluster, 46% A⊕

This is from a sherry butt which produced 730 bottles so should hang around a little longer than the others. I've never met a whisky that shouted Chinese Supermarket as loudly as this!

grswem1993Nose - Absolutely filthy. Hoisin sauce, Asian fruit (presumably kumquat, I need to study these fruits a bit harder), sweetly sour and overripe, almost rotten with a top note of white flowers. And I say all that in the best possible way - this is dirty, sexy whisky, and very challenging.. And very good.

Body - Massive fruit, sulphur and more hoisin - a full Chinese supermarket. Ground black pepper.

Finish - Medium, oily with a touch of spice. Dry but fruity and still naughty. Good stuff.

What's not good about it - Challenging and almost unbearably dirty. What happened with this cask? Something early on which came good after a couple of decades in wood perhaps.

What's good about it - Very complex, fruity, sexy and drinkable. It reminds me of the Lady of the Glen Ben Nevis with the weirdness but has all the DNA of Glenrothes behind it. A remarkable whisky.

Wemyss Mortlach 1995-2014, Stem Ginger Preserve, 46% A⊕+

mtlwem1995Nose - Sweet and dark, polished glass and Drambuie. Much easier going than the last two, with toffee pennies, copper pennies and toasted coconut. Almonds, waxed wood and black cherry. The longer you spend with it the deeper, warmer and more introspective it becomes.

Body - Warm and gentle, waxy and deep, very oily with grapes and sulphur, and a little top note of menthol and mineral. Impressive balance and a really considered delivery.

Finish - Medium, incredibly poised with lemon toffee and a touch of grapefruit juice at the end. Lingering, balancing sulphur and tannins against the warm sugar. Where's the ginger though?

What's not good about it - I can't think of anything.

What's good about it - Complex and warm, changeable and delicious. Fabulous.

Three crackers!