...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, batch 011

The plot escaped me somewhere along the way. I was going to review each batch of Laphroaig's cask strength expression each year.

005 was the weakest batch to date.
006 was better but not quite there.
007 was very good.
I had 008 when I visited the distillery.
I bought 009, then gifted it to a friend.

Thank the whisky gods (who are otherwise still on their lunch break) that MAO sent me a sample of this year's batch 011. And yes, MAO and I are doing simul-review of this one too! Yay! Here’s his review!

It’s been a very MAO-y week, has it not? You're welcome.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Batch: 011, Feb 2019
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably
Alcohol by Volume: 58.6%

There's a low lemon/citron/citronella rumble in the nose and a bonfire at the beach (like an Ardmore but three times the volume). Eucalyptus smoke and pine needles in the salty air. Charred beef and mustard seed. Brown sugar and Beam-like peanuts arise after a lot of time in the glass. Big smoldering smoky kiln notes in the palate. Then some brine, seaweed, menthol and a hint of bitterness. It's moderately sweet with some cinnamon candy notes. It finishes with smoke, cinnamon, smoke, limoncello, smoke, bitterness, smoke.

DILUTED TO ~48%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The peat reads greener on the nose, less smoky. A brief farmy whiff. Eucalyptus, mint leaf, lemon and hot sand. The palate becomes sweeter but not as sugary as batches 005 and 006. It also gets brinier and tangier, while staying smoky and lightly bitter. The finish stays a good length with mild smoke, salt, bitterness and tanginess.

There's nothing technically wrong with this batch. It's neither oaky nor too sweet. There's plenty of salty seaweed things and heavy smoke. But I can't seem to find anything to rave about. The nose is right on, but the palate is, well, fine. Simple and reserved. No "Oh goddamn this Laphroaig Glory" going on.

Per the picture above, this whisky had two sparring partners: the first batch of Ben Nevis Traditional (which it bested) and Westland's Peated single malt. It did not best the Westland, which says something about either Westland or Laphroaig. Or both.

Have I built up my expectations too high for these Laphroaig CS batches? Or is it Lagavulin 12yo CS's fault for being so damned good year after year? I don't know. Batch 011 is good and so is its (pre-tariff) price. But though there is goodness there is no glory.

Availability - Available in many of these American states
Pricing - $60 to $90 as of this post's date
Rating - 86

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Ledaig 6 year old 2004 Murray McDavid

Gonna keep this intro brief:

I'm not a fan of this decade's rash of single cask baby whiskies, and I doubt you'll find anyone who has complained about Murray McDavid's whiskies as much as I. So, I'm setting my expectations low low low low.

My Annoying Opinions is also reviewing this whisky today. I'm curious to see what he thinks of it. I'll link to his post in the morning. And here it is!

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Independent Bottler: Murray McDavid
Age: 6 years (2004-2010)
Maturation: sherry casks
Outturn: 1100 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? probably not
Color added? probably not
(Thank you, Florin!)

Whoa, I like the nose. It's very autumnal, with moss and wet leaves. There's also a big figgy note from the sherry cask. Hints of smoked salmon and tennis ball as well. After 30 minutes, these elements all come together creating one solid unit. Similar to the nose, the palate has the autumnal notes and a sherry influence that reads mildly sweet but not jammy. Dark industrial smoke drifts around notes of honey, toffee, citrus and bitter herbs. The smoke registers the loudest on the palate. Minor notes include tart grapes, citrus and a little bit of sweetness.

A bit stunned by how much I enjoy this, I'm digging into the archive to withdraw a sample of a very difficult 6 year old 2005 Ledaig sherry cask by Blackadder for comparison purposes.

Lowering that one's ABV to 46%. Waiting a bit...

Ledaig 6 year old 2004 Murray McDavid, 46%abv
Hey here's some elephant dung in the nose. Cheers! Also burning leaves. Then dried stone fruits, tennis ball fuzz and moss. The dark industrial smoke still leads the palate. That's followed by lemon candy, honey and cayenne pepper. The finish feels longer this time. It's all dark chocolate with a mix of sweet and bitter smokes.

Ledaig 6 year old 2005 Blackadder, reduced to 46%abv
Dark chocolate and gasoline on the nose. Gigantic peatin'. Ocean air and ham. Old rubber ball. A whiff of rotten eggs. Cleaner than the nose, the palate has some good vegetal peat, a nutty note from the sherry cask and herbal bitter liqueur. Its finish is shorter than the 2004's, though it's devoid of sweetness. It's mostly big salty smoke with subtle nutty notes.

Yes, this is good. And I enjoyed it more than the 2005 in the head-to-head. Murray McDavid eschewed its usual awkward cask work which may have been the key to this whisky's success. In fact, kudos to MMcD for pulling this cask before it got all wonky, woody and winey. As it stands (or sits), the whisky is young but it avoids the Mega Mezcal notes baby peaters usually haul out. I wish I'd gotten in on this bottle back in the day (2010!) rather than the 6yo Ledaig I did buy. In any case, thank you, Florin, for sharing your bottle with us!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - ???
Rating - 87

Monday, November 4, 2019

Lagavulin 11 year old Offerman Edition

For a few years there was a lot of Parks & Recreation playing in loops on the television  in my living room. Often there was a beautiful pregnant woman sitting across from the television, with interior design magazines and her one cup of tea in hand. Every scene with Ron Swanson was my favorite scene in each episode with my favorite Parks & Rec moment being Ben Wyatt's first sip of Lagavulin (NBC removed the YouTube vid, damn them).

Nick Offerman, the now-bearded gent who played the mustachioed Swanson, loves Lagavulin. The character visited the distillery on the show and the actor stars in YouTube videos for the brand. So successful was this pairing that Diageo gave Offerman the opportunity to create his own Lagavulin expression. Offerman, who seems a more sensitive soul than his character always comes across as humble in interviews, especially during this product's media blitz.

A certain Man With Opinions purchased a bottle of this whisky and sent me a generous sample. (Thank you, MAO!) So today we are doing one of our highly-fêted simul-reviews! Here's MAO's review also posted this morning.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Southern Islay
Age: minimum 11 years
Maturation: ????
Outturn: ???
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? ???
Color added? ???

Since Offerman says he doesn't add water to his whisky, neither shall I.

The nose is fruitier than expected, think orange peel and canned peaches. The peat is much gentler than that of its 12-year-old CS sibling, like a soft band-aid smoke floating atop seaside notes. With time in the glass the nose transitions into a bowl of sugary candy and smoked hard caramels. The palate is similar to the nose, walking right up to the border of Too Sweet before some herbal bitterness pulls it back. The peat reads toasty and tangy here. There's also a mix of zippy pepper notes, apricots and vanilla. Tangy woody smoke leads the finish. As with the palate, there's more sugar than salt. Hints of vanilla and dried apricot stay in the background.

This is the kindest, cuddliest Lagavulin I've ever tried. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on one's palate preferences. I appreciated the nose's fruit notes and sincerely wished they came though louder in the palate. The sweetness was a bit of a surprise and required a few sips before I could adjust to it. One wonders if Nick Offerman's love of carpentry had an influence on the casks he chose, as active American oak influence can be found throughout the whisky. Personally, I'll take the 12yo CS's assault and the 16yo's balance over this whisky's sugar. Still, it's a very pleasant drink and bound to appeal to those who don't normally enjoy Lagavulin.

Availability - Mostly in the US, though a few retailers carry it as well
Pricing - $70-$100 in the US, over $250 in Europe (why?)
Rating - 83

Friday, November 1, 2019

Ledaig 19 year old 1998 Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish

Monday: Ledaig 19 year old Oloroso Cask Finish, 46%abv
Wednesday: Ledaig 19 year old Madeira Cask Finish, 51%abv
Today: Ledaig 19 year old Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish, 55.7%abv

Each of these had different "finish" periods. The Oloroso expression spent 13 years in sherry casks, while Wednesday's bottling spent less than a year in Madeira casks. This whisky's PX cask finish lasted two years, so it was neither a quickie nor an extended second maturation.

I'm usually not a fan of PX finishes, but I'm willing to give this a chance because it's a 19 year old Ledaig. Expectations set to: Moderate.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 19+ years (9 July 1998 - 2018)
Maturation: bourbon casks for 17+ years, then either "almost" or "more than" two years in Pedro Ximénez casks
Outturn: 1650 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 55.7%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

The nose begins with fudge and red wine. Salty seaweedy peat. Calvados, damp moss and a hint of gunpowder. Some raw peated spirit in there too. The palate is more metallic and sweet than peaty. It gets tangier by the minute, like a lemony vinaigrette. Sooty peat and mixed berry jam notes build with time. The finish is puckeringly sweet and tangy. Bits of bitter smoke and berry jam linger behind.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Peated raspberry jam and roses on the nose, with hints of marizpan and the beach. Peaty berry jam again on the palate. It's still tangy and sweet. It's less metallic now and a little bitterer. The finish matches the palate.

Since I did it for the other two:

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 2⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes peatier and brighter. Subtler berry and rose notes. A hint of cold kiln. The palate feels very thin. Mild sweetness and bitterness. Mild peat and dried herbs. It's back to the tangy and sweet thing in the finish. A puff of bitter smoke.

This was better than I'd expected, in fact the nose was great throughout. I'm not sure how I feel about the metal and vinegar combo in the palate. At least it wasn't winey. Unlike the other two, this one fares best at full strength, even though it has the highest ABV. Overall, it's probably a near tie with the Oloroso expression.

All three of these Ledaigs were of moderate quality. The wood rarely intruded and the grapes mostly stayed out of the palates. While that is more than one can say for the majority of finished whiskies, I'm glad to have split a bottle rather than shilled out $$$ for an entire bottle, especially at the asking price.

Availability - A few dozen retailers in the US and Europe
Pricing - $170-$200 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 84

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ledaig 19 year old Marsala Cask Finish

Though missing a standard official 18 year old, Ledaig has rolled out twelve small batch releases in four years in the 18-21 year old age range. I took part in a bottle split of three of the 19 year old releases. On Monday I reviewed the Oloroso cask finish, and on Friday I'll review the Pedro Ximenez cask finish. I bring thee the Marsala cask finish today.

That "Marsala" part does not inspire optimism. In my humble opinion, Ardbeg shit the bed with their Marsala cask Galileo release in 2012 and haven't successfully washed the stain out since. While I don't have an issue with wine casks in general, the combination of sweet wine and peat and a brief finish indeed leaves me with a weird taste in my mouth. From what I've read today's whisky spent less than a year in these casks. How will that work with Ledaig's fierce spirit?

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: minimum 19 years
Maturation: bourbon casks for 19 years, Marsala casks for ? months
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 51%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

The nose has more classic peat than that of the Oloroso cask release. Salty seaweed. A boat dock in the summer heat. Hint of apple. But that's it. This is the flattest of the three neat noses. The palate leads with a baking spice note that ramps up with time. Make that a pumpkin spice note. It's hot and salty, though palatable. Tangy and sweet peat. Hint of metal. It gets much sweeter with time. It finishes warm, tangy and peppery, with some cigarettes and metal.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
A messy nose. Butter, butterscotch, brine, wood smoke and flat peat. The palate's also out of whack. Metal, cinnamon candy, mixed nuts. Very burnt and bitter. The woody burnt bitterness takes over the finish.

40%abv worked for the Oloroso expression so...

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or 1⅔ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Citrus peel, brown sugar and pickle brine(!) enter the nose, and somehow work together. The palate softens up. It's less bitter, burnt and metallic. There's a neatness to the peatness, sweetness, tanginess and nuttiness. The finish matches the palate.

Huh, 40%abv works best for the nose. The palate is fine at 51%abv and 40%abv, but not fine at 46%abv. It's not winey, but there does seem to be something quirky going on with the casks. It's also not really Ledaig-ish.

Since this seems to be a face-off at 40%abv, I'd take the Oloroso version over this one. But this Marsala cask finish is no FAIL. It's more of a WHY? Why the Marsala finish? Why not an 18 year old bourbon cask Ledaig at cask strength? Why do I bother to ask?

Availability - A couple dozen retailers on the Western Hemisphere
Pricing - $150-$190 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 81 (diluted only, but careful with the water!)

Monday, October 28, 2019

Ledaig 19 year old 1998 Oloroso Cask Finish

Tobermory distillery has rolled out a slew of 18+ year old versions of their peated, Ledaig, single malt over the past four years:
  • 18 year old small batches, 1 through 3
  • 19 year old finished in Oloroso casks
  • 19 year old finished in Marsala casks
  • 19 year old finished in PX casks
  • 21 year old finished in Manzanilla casks
  • 21 year old finished in Ruby Port pipes
  • 1996 Vintage
  • 18 year old finished in "Spanish Sherry" casks, distillery only
  • 19 year old finished in Oloroso casks, distillery only
  • 20 year old finished in Moscatel casks, distillery only
It's curious that they haven't just rolled out a regular official 18 and/or 21 year old. Is the above approach more fun? Or is it a path to charge more for their whisky? Or were/are there cask issues? Or someone was inspired by the Bills Lumsden and Walker?

I recently got in on bottle splits of the 19 year old Oloroso, Marsala and PX finishes because I was very curious about the results.

The Oloroso cask bottling is not a "finish" in the current sense. The whisky spent its first six years in bourbon casks, then the next 13 years in Oloroso casks. So it's a secondary maturation, not a quickie fix, but the producer's honesty is appreciated.

The other two 19s this week have briefer finishes than this. And unlike the other two 19s, this whisky was reduced to the Tobermory/Ledaig standard level of 46.3%abv.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Owner: Distell International Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 19+ years (Summer 1998 - 2018)
Maturation: bourbon casks (1998-2004), then Oloroso casks (2004-2018)
Outturn: ????
Alcohol by Volume: 46.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Colorant Added? No

The nose is very oceanic; by that I mean actual ocean water. Joining the ocean are notes of smoked salmon & chives, and locker room mustiness. Smaller notes of dark chocolate, lemon zest and charred grill crust linger in the background. The monolithic palate is charry and sooty, loaded with bitter dark chocolate, sea salt and smoked nuts. It gets bitterer and saltier with time. The bitter chocolate transitions to dark chocolate (74% if I'm being an a-hole) in the finish. An apple cider note gets pushed down by salt, soot and bitterness.

This is a near palate-killer at a mere 46.3%abv. I'm going to dilute it...

DILUTED TO ~40%abv, or ~1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Though the ocean note takes over the nose, moments of grill smoke, moss and blackberries mingle well. The palate's bitterness improves greatly. Meanwhile there's an added tanginess, a vegetal peat and a slight nuttiness. The finish matches the palate.

As entertaining as the nose is at bottling strength, the palate was ugly. And not good ugly, more like stunted and unpalatable. The whisky becomes a much better balanced and more approachable drink at 40%abv. So, I certainly recommend dilution.

Still, I expected better. The official 10 year old has good balance, clearer unique characteristics and possibly more complexity than this whisky, and at ⅓ the price. I'm hoping this isn't a hint as to why there isn't a standard 18 year old in the range. How will the other two 19 year olds fare?

Availability - A few European/UK retailers
Pricing - $140-$160 (ex-VAT)
Rating - 84 (diluted only; nearly 5-8 points lower when neat)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Ben Nevis 13 year old 1999 Chieftain's, cask 240

Here's some recycled content!

It's been seven months ago since that post, and this bottle has been a joy throughout. Knowing I wasn't totally delusional in 2012 has proven comforting.

Distillery: Ben Nevis
Region: Highlands (Western)
Independent Bottler: Chieftain's
Age: 13 years old (May 1999 - August 2012)
Maturation: hogshead
Cask: 240
Outturn: 354
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Added colorant? No

I remember the first third of this sentimental bottle being very clean and fruity (see above) but a touch hot on the palate. Today's tasting pour is from the bottom third...

In-season nectarines, pears and mango position themselves in the front of the nose. Ooh, but now some dunnage funk, dirty hay and aged hard cheese drift through the background. Belgian saison, limes and a hint of toffee pudding appear after the whisky has had plenty of time in the glass.

Limes, lemons, guava and tart berries start the palate. A super tart crisp mineral white (adjectives!) wine. Mild sweetness and a silky maltiness. It has shed all of the edgy heat from earlier in the bottle.

The lonnnnng finish holds limes, nectarines, barley and the aforementioned adjectivey white wine.

The whisky has found its peak, here at the bottom of the bottle. Over these seven months the nose has taken on additional characteristics and the palate has softened up.

This whisky makes me wonder if yeast is one of the keys to Ben Nevis's quality. They're one of the last, if not the last, Scottish distillery to use brewer's yeast. Perhaps those dazzling little microorganisms toot out the precious fruit and funk notes. Cheers to those little farts. I'm going to have to open another Ben Nevis soon.

Availability - Probably sold out four or five years ago
Pricing - it was $70-$75
Rating - 89