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Friday, February 28, 2014

Single Malt Report: "Island Distillery" 7 year old 2005 Exclusive Malts (K&L exclusive)

In December, I reviewed K&L's exclusive Bowmore 2002 from the Exclusive Malts series.
In January, I reviewed K&L's exclusive Aberlour 2000 from the Exclusive Malts series.

The Bowmore report came from my own personal bottle.  The whisky did not show well at the top of the bottle, but improved a measure or two with oxidation.  Due to my very positive experience with independently released ex-bourbon cask Bowmores, I had high expectations for the whisky.  It did not meet those expectations.  Ultimately, I wasn't that crazy about it, though it wasn't terrible.  I'd hoped for a B+/A- whisky but got a B- one instead.  Meanwhile the Aberlour report came from a 2oz sample received in a swap.  Though it was slightly better, it was just as aggressively oaky and unbalanced as the Bowmore.

That last point made me (and some others) wonder if this was a problem with all of K&L's exclusive Exclusive Malts from this round.  I've had a number of other single casks bottled by David Stirk's company and had never experienced this weird oak element in them.

Today, thanks again to Florin, I'll be taking a few extended sips and sniffs of the "Island Distillery" single cask.  I had heard unofficially that the mystery whisky was Ledaig, Tobermory's peated malt.  Having now consumed it on multiple occasions, I can confirm this "Island" whisky must be Ledaig.

Distillery: "Island" (probably Tobermory's peated Ledaig)
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Co. Ltd.
Series: The Exclusive Malts
Retailer: K&L only
Age: November 2005 - 2013 (7 years)
Maturation: "Oak Casks" (no way!)
Cask number: 8
Bottle #:  ??? of 274
Region: Island, likely Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 57.2%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

It has my favorite whisky color: five-beer piss.  The nose starts with hearty dank peat, lead, seaweed, and hot city concrete.  Aw yeah, Ledaig weirdness.  There's some grassy Tobermory notes underneath the peat.  Then whole spices like nutmeg and cardamom, sharp salty cheddar, and anise.  Vanilla, white vinegar, along with a hint of tennis ball fuzz.  There's a moment of new oakiness, but it's smothered by the big spirit.  The palate is full of burnt hair, burnt paper, and charcoal.  Balancing that out is some brown sugar, hard tack candy, caramel sauce, and the spices from the nose.  There's also a subtle salty seaweed and smoked white fish thing going on.  The finish is tart and briny, sweet and ashy, all rolling along in one solid package.  Maybe some fish grilled over charcoals.

The complexity is reduced in the nose, but so are the rough spots.  Vanilla, brine, salty cheese, sugars, and maybe some swimming pool notes remain.  The palate is barley-er, salty, and yeasty.  There's tart peat, beef jerky, and mild caramel sweetness.  Vanilla emerges over time.  The finish is yeasty as well, along with wood smoke, caramel, and more vanilla.

In case anyone thought that I am out to crap all over K&L's picks, may this be Exhibit B to disprove such nonsense.  (I also loved their Caperdonich single cask from last year, yummy.)  This is my kind of Ledaig.  I like it much better than the 2x-priced 2005 Blackadder Ledaig bottle I struggled through last year.  While I appreciated the Blackadder's scorched-earth approach, it was a mite too-poisonous at times.  This Exclusive Malts "Island Distillery" version doesn't hold anything back either but is deeper and much more balanced.

But it's still an infant whisky.  And it's Ledaig (er, "Island").  You read those notes in the neat section.......do those sorts of things gross you out?  If yes, then this ain't your game.  Water doesn't kill it, but does tame it a little.  This isn't an anytime malt, unless you're an ice fisher in the arctic.  It's a whisky you bust out when your loved ones have gone to bed because no one's going to want to kiss you after you drink it.  Well, maybe a sea lion would.  A cigar smoking sea lion.

"Darling, you've gotten into the Ledaig stash again, haven't you?"
Availability - K&L Wines
Pricing - $59.99
Rating - 87


  1. The newsletter that got sent out when they were first announcing this round of whiskies (Aug 2013) specifically said that it was from Mull, so no question about the provenance.

    I guess the real question is whether it's good enough that you want a full bottle.

    1. Uh oh, I actually bought a full bottle. Looks like this is going to be interesting.

    2. @Eric, if you like Ledaig, there isn't another cask strength bottle of it available at this price in this hemisphere. More good news is that I tried it right from the top of the bottle and it was just as entertaining at that point. Only, as Florin notes below, it's difficult to blend out if you're not a fan.

    3. @Jordan, I hope you get a chance to try it before you buy it. I don't like to yell "Buy! Buy! Buy!" because in the end, it's just whisky. Plus, bottle buying addiction can creep me out.

      My best pitch to you
      Is that the whisky is Ledaig,
      Through and through.

    4. I'm not sure if it's because it's cold here in the Bay Area but I see some interesting sediment at the bottom of this bottle. I went to check my other Exclusive Malts which includes the Fettercairn that I already noticed barrel char on the bottom and spotted more sediment at the bottom of the Aberlour and North Highland (Glenmorangie). I'm just going to say it's barrel char or wood sediment because it can't be from the artificial cork.

    5. That's interesting. I didn't see any sediment in the bottles I've had or seen. If it weirds you out, you could always drop one of the Davids an email, as they're usually quick to respond.

      I know this is heresy, but that artificial cork is pretty solid. The fit is tight and secure and won't f**king break after a couple years.

  2. Very nice notes Michael, Ledaig really brings out your lyrical side!
    I haven't had this whisky since we opened the bottle three weeks ago, but I did enjoy it as much as you did.

    Jordan, the bottom line is, if you are willing to pay for the 10yo Ledaig or Tobermory (and I know you do), then this one is definitely worth the admission price. The caveat as Michael clearly stated is that Ledaig in general, this Marmite of whisky, is definitely not for everyone's tastes. I can't think of a whisky that's more of the opposite of a crowd pleaser - not even Laphroaig. Michael's zoological analogies are very adequate. He and I were wondering how can this distillery sell any whisky for blending - I'd bet its flavor sticks out in a blend like a stinky sock on the dinner table.

    1. I'll post my own review of the Blackadder Ledaig 6 Year soon. I actually think it's one of the best peated whiskies I've ever had, so I guess this one would be up my alley. The upside to liking Ledaig is that the bottles don't exactly fly off the shelves, so I can probably wait a little while to jump on this one.

    2. @Florin, yes a little Ledaig after a long week can inspire a different tone in a review. I wonder what would happen if one were to sneak a little sherried malt onto the "Island"?

      @Jordan, I'm glad I saved you that last bit o'Blackadder! You're right about the lack of scarcity fear over Ledaig (and Tobermory) bottlings. Thank goodness.