...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Mathilda Malt: Tobermory 32 year old 1972, red label

And now back to selfish reviews of impossible-to-find scotch.

Part of what makes this 32yo Tobermory impossible-to-find is its actual scarcity. The other thing that labels it impossible-to-find is (SPOILER ALERT) its quality. It's a dark rich old whisky that hasn't lost all of the original spirit's character nor grown tannic. It's also sulphur-free, for those concerned about that.

A little bit of history:

Tobermory/Ledaig distillery has a habit of closing. It was open from 1798-1837, then closed until 1878. It ran until 1930, when it closed. It reopened in 1972, then closed in 1975. It reopened in 1979, then stopped production three years later. It started up again in 1989, running until 2017 when the doors shut for two years of repairs. It reopened this year.

The 1972 reboot marked a year or two of whisky that is beloved by older generations of single malt geeks. I have no real opinion about the 1972 Tobermory (known then as Ledaig) malts. I had one previous to today's '72. It was very good, but I've found Tobermory/Ledaig's output to be very good during more recent years as well, and cheaper and available. Still, when Cobo sent me a treasure box of samples a while back, I was very very excited to see this whisky.

Thank you, Cobo!
Distillery name now: Tobermory
Distillery name then: Ledaig
Ownership now: Distell International
Ownership then: Ledaig Distillery Ltd.
Region: Isle of Mull
Age: 32 years (1972 - 2005)
Maturation: "finished in oloroso sherry casks"
Outturn: 1,710 bottles
Bottle number: 443
Alcohol by Volume: 49.5%
There are a few official 1972 Tobermories. This is the one with the red label.

The nose is calm, almost patient, revealing aspects gradually. Pipe tobacco, moss, coal smoke and dunnage. Cocoa powder, dried cherries, Carpano Antica. A hint of dried cheese. Mild medicinal notes drift through the background. The palate moves more boldly. Tar, cigars and coal smoke. Dried cherries and golden raisins floating in Underberg. In-season plums and blackberries. The walls of a moldy dunnage (You mean you haven't licked them? He asks.). The finish holds that balance of cigars / coal smoke / dunnage + dried berries / fresh berries / fresh plums. And "no tannin tongue?!?"

Yeah, I don't know how long this was "finished" in sherry casks, but there ain't no other sherry "finish" like this. Mercy. This is beautiful whisky. The 1990 Littlemill, though very good, did not stand a chance against it. I think the Tobermory goes for $800-$1000 on the secondary market and, though I won't comment on that price, I do agree it is luxurious. It made me close my MacBook, lean back in my chair, watch the rain fall softly against the window and think of absolutely nothing. Upstairs, Mathilda was having her quiet time. Downstairs, Papa was having his.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - $800-$1000
Rating - 93

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Invitation to a Bourbon Taste Off!

***THE TASTE OFF HAS ITS 16 TASTERS!***
Damn, y'all are fast.


Mathilda is like her father in many ways. Like, too many ways. Moody? Check. Hypochondriac? Check. Obsessed with the potty? Check. One of the less terrifying similarities is the habit of collecting random things, and then forgetting about them. All her coat pockets are full of wood chips, twigs and smooth rocks.

Speaking of wood chips: Bourbon!

I have five versions of Elijah Craig Small Batch. Who knows why. Okay, there's a reason for the fifth bottle. This very occasion. And what occasion is this?

TASTE OFF!

And YOU are invited. Really.

Okay, up to 16 of yous.

Here are the ECs:


From left to right:
--12 year old, bottled ca. 2001, distilled at the old distillery, before the fire.
--12 year old Small Batch with the red 12 on the front label.
--12 year old Small Batch with the age statement moved to the back label.
--Small Batch, no age statement, previous bottle/label style
--Small Batch, no age statement, current bottle/label style

They're from all over the place: Shibuya, Tokyo; Buena Park; Long Beach; Newcastle, Indiana; and Westerville, Ohio.


Rather than blab about some showy bottle in honor of Mathilda's 5th birthday, I'd rather do something slightly more interactive this year. And I have these five bottles. I mean, I like Elijah Craig, but.

So, The Taste Off.

Email me at divingforpearlsblog at gmail dot com if you would like to partake. (For you, my friend, it's free.) Here are the important things:

--We're doing this blindly, including me.
--I will post the results in late June, with an engaging narrative that either springs forth organically from everyone's experience, or is awkwardly shoehorned in.
--Your name will not be used in the post, so no one has to enter a witness relocation program after he enjoys the current small batch more than the pre-fire 12yo. Except for me. (recycled joke!)

If you're among the first 16 confirmed for the experience, I'll email you additional information. So......are you in?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mathilda Malt: Littlemill 22 year old 1990 Berry Brothers & Rudd (round 3)

In honor of Mathilda's 5th birthday I hauled out ye olde Littlemill 22yo 1990 BBR. I've only opened up this bottle during her birthday week for each of the past three years. As a result it'll still be two-thirds full when it goes back into its hiding place this week.

When I first opened it, for Mathilda's third birthday, the whisky was okay (and oaky) and not much more than that, which was a letdown because I really like Littlemill with some age on it. When I reopened the bottle a year later, for Mathilda's fourth birthday, it was much better. The aggressive oak notes had faded away, leaving behind a much better balanced whisky. Plus it drank very well, which might be a relevant thing. One year has passed. My eldest is 25% older. As am I.

Distillery: Littlemill
Former Owner: Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd (proto-Loch Lomond Distillery Co.)
Independent Bottler: Berry Bros. & Rudd
Region: Lowlands (close to the Highlands border)
Age: 22 years (1990-2013)
Maturation: American oak?
Cask number17
Alcohol by Volume: 54.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Mmmmmmangoes on the nose. Then tapioca pudding, vanilla bean, lemon custard, cardamom, orange blossoms and honeydew. It's gentle for the ABV, without being weak. Apricots, loquats (I heart loquats), cantaloupe, lime juice and a fragrant vanilla bean note on the palate. It's a bit minty too, and its sweetness is balanced by tart and spicy notes. It finishes with apricots, lemon bars and mint leaves. It concludes with a spicy zing and moderate sweetness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1 tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose is mustier, maltier, and has picked up a metallic note. There's less vanilla, more almond butter. Orange peel and black licorice (Sambuca, anise, etc.). The palate gets sweeter, while also picking up a good herbal bitter note. There's brown sugar, apricots and grapefruit, as well as quiet notes of dried flowers and leaves. The finish has a bright tanginess and bitterness, along with brown sugar, tapioca pudding, limes and roses.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I was about to write that this Littlemill is trending close to well-aged Irish whiskey, thinking I was saying something new, but then I saw I'd referenced a similar thing last year. The whisky has changed less between year 2 and 3 than it had between year 1 and 2. It's still quite cuddly for its ABV, and remains very cohesive. And there's some overlap with last year's notes. It takes to water well now, adding some needed complexity to all that ripe fruit.

While this continues to be a very good whisky, nothing lifts it to the next level. I'd thought this was chasing a 90 score, but when I tried it head-to-head with this Friday's whisky its quality was put into perspective. Unless it shows some real change, next year might mark its last review. After that I'm going to drink it for fun. Imagine that!

Availability - Sold out
Pricing - $140 back in January 2015
Rating - 87

Friday, May 10, 2019

Killing Whisky History, Episode 24: Ballantine's 12 year old, bottled in the 1970s (w/guest whiskies!)

It's here (albeit a week late)! Episode 24!

(What is this look on my face? Is it pleasure? Is it pain? Is it gas? It's probably gas.)

In this episode, I pop/peel/screw open my bottle of Ballantine's 12 year old from the 1970s and try it alongside two guest whiskies. The starring Speyside-heavy blend, from its Hiram Walker-era, is given a nice boost from some sherry casks and high (possibly older than 12yo) malt content. It's good stuff, especially compared to the guest whiskies.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Constellation Brands blows up High West Rendezvous Rye, so let's try the original stuff: 2012 versus 2016

High West Rendezvous Rye was a long time favorite in this house. If we couldn't get MGP Willett or MGP Smooth Ambler rye then I would buy a bottle of Rendezvous.


Note the past tense in that paragraph. The Rendezvous recipe has changed. What was once 16 year old 80/10/10 (Barton) + 6 year old 95/5 (MGP) rye, is (as of 2018) "A blend of older Straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 4 to 7 years", 95/5 from MGP and 80/20 rye/malted rye from High West itself. Now MGP is the older sibling. It is much much younger than the Barton rye was, and, yes, the oldest whiskies in the current batches are almost the same age as the youngest whiskies in the original batches. And per Winesearcher, Rendezvous 20% more expensive than it was in 2015.

Let's all chillfilter the bitterness out of our feelings about those facts for a moment. Inflation has gone up 7-8% since 2015, so the price was going to rise at least a little bit over the past four years. Though the ingredients changed, it was infeasible for High West to use 16 year old rye indefinitely. And at some point actual High West rye was going to have make an appearance in a bottle somewhere in the range.

Okay, now bring the bitter back. It takes some serious chutzpah to blow up a recipe so drastically while keeping the same name on the bottle. What do they think this is, Johnnie Walker Black? Why no "Son of Rendezvous"? Why no limited release "Last Rendezvous in Park City" to fluff the secondary marketeers? David Perkins was a stellar blender who created a successful brand via quality products. But I'm not motivated to drop $65 on 4 year old rye, especially when it's produced by the $40B market cap Constellation Brands rather than a family business.

In honor of the OG Rendezvous Rye, I'm going to compare my first saved Rendezvous sample with my last. 2012 versus 2016. One may imagine the recipe was already shifting far away from the Barton by 2016. None the less, I commence.


Product: Rendezvous Rye
Distillery: Barton and MGP distilleries
Producer: High West
Type: Blended Straight Rye Whiskeys
Region: Kentucky and Indiana
Age / Mashbill: 16 years, 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 6 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (MGP)
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Batches: 12E03 (from 2012) and 16K29 (from 2016)


Noses:
Batch 12E03 - Pickles! Dried cherries, lemon peel and brown sugar. Not much vanilla. More of a toasted oak feel than charred oak. Cloves and dried grass. Okay, I'll say it: pickles in toffee pudding.
Batch 16K29 - Slightly flatter at first. Less fruit. The pickles have been replaced with mint leaves and earth. More toasted grains and toasted nuts. Cinnamon bread and halvah. Hints of rye bread, cherries and salty pork.

Palates:
Batch 12E03 - I'm happy to report one well-sealed sample bottle because this stuff is still brisk as hell after more than six years. Heat, mint and tart citrus at the start. Then apricots and cayenne pepper. Bit O' Pickle. Mild sweetness and vanilla. It gets increasingly spicy and fruity, then picks up a brothy salt note.
Batch 16K29 - Calmer and sweeter than the 2012, with a slight medicinal note. Luxardo cherries, mint and milk chocolate. Dustings of clove and cayenne. A mix of tart lemons and orange candy arise after a while.

Finishes:
Batch 12E03 - A straightforward mix of stone fruits, rye seeds, salt and pepper. Very long. It gets sweeter with time.
Batch 16K29 - Cherries, cloves, rye seeds and mint. Good 'n simple 'n sweet. Also has some length to it.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Do I have to choose which one I like better? Even worse, do I have to assign them grades? This is my fault.

There's a definite through line from Willett to Smooth Ambler to the 2012 Rendezvous. Pickles, spices and fruits; that LDI spirit distilled in the mid-aughts. Great rye, all around. This old sample reminds me how much I enjoyed that bottle.

The 2016 batch held up better than I'd expected. It's sweeter and more immediate than the 2012, and finishes very well, which makes it a pleasure to drink. It's short on fruit which keeps it from meeting its elder head-to-head. It does make a great manhattan, when required, though.

I've had to bury Willett's and Smooth Ambler's single barrel MGP ryes on this blog. Now I bury the original batches of Rendezvous Rye.

Good night, sweet pickles. May flights of cowboy angels sing thee to thy sleep.

Batch 12E03
Rating - 88

Batch 16K29
Rating - 86

Monday, May 6, 2019

1792 Full Proof bourbon (2016 bottling)

Rarely do I get a thrill from obtaining a bottle of bourbon, but I'll admit there was some excitement when I got today's whiskey. It had gotten boisterous reviews from industry and independent reviewers, and as a result was difficult to find. It took some hijinks on my part to get this 1792 Full Proof bourbon, which (I think) is from its rookie year of 2016.

I opened the bottled exactly two months ago. And HATED it. Yes, hate is a strong word. Even stronger when it's in ALL CAPS. But all I could taste was burning bitter ash. I fought with the stuff and brought it to two events to see if anyone else liked it, yet two months later it was still two-thirds full and had caused no one to say "Wow!", or even "Mmmmm".

Before this tasting, I hadn't touched this bottle in a month. But I knew the bourbon was going to require a multistep tasting procedure.


Distillery: Barton 1792 Distillery
Ownership: Sazerac Company
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Type: Straight Bourbon
Age: minimum 2 years (no matter what the company says, there's no age statement on the bottle)
Mashbill: I've seen 75/10/15 and 75/15/10 Corn/Rye/Barley. Could be either, could be neither.
Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Bottle code: K16 123
Alcohol by Volume: 62.5%

BIG NOTE HERE. I let this whiskey sit in the glass 30 minutes before approaching. I also let the dilution mingle for over an hour.

NEAT
Nose - Burning. Then Barbasol shaving cream, dried apricots, lemons, generic vanilla, cinnamon and Bit o' Honey candy. Yet it's all very quiet. After 45 minutes some louder orange candy and citronella notes appear.
Palate - Yes, burning, though not as violent as it was at the top of the bottle. Black pepper, barrel char, Red Hot candies, sweetened hot sauce and simple syrup. After 45 minutes that orange candy note shows up here too.
Finish - Heat, sugar, bitter oak and orange peel.

DILUTED to 46.8%abv (1792 Small Batch strength)
Nose - Louder and more expressive than the neat nose. There's sawdust, ash, raisins, dried cranberries, cherry jam, clementines and a richer vanilla note.
Palate - Hot barrel char, even at this strength. Very sweet. Cherry syrup, dried cherries, brown roasted corn and cracked black peppercorns. Even though there's a subtle orange juice note, the tanginess reads more like vinegar than citrus.
Finish - Hot sweet tangy barrel char. Ash-infused cherry syrup.

OLD FASHIONED
Almost like mulled wine, loaded with baking spices and fruit.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
While it's better at full strength than I'd remembered, it had a long time to open up, longer than any casual drinker would give it. And it's still not far from mediocre even then. Improvements materialize once the whiskey is diluted to Small Batch strength. It's not great bourbon, but it has texture, character and the occasional pleasant fruit note. The relentless generic barrel char note is reminiscent of present-day Ancient Age. Which is bad. Once the whisky mingles with Angostura bitters, a slice of cara cara orange and a Luxardo cherry, everything looks brighter.

I can tell you from experience, this stuff will get you tipsy, but so will plastic bottle vodka (also from experience). This is better than plastic bottle vodka, and its kissing cousin, Ancient Age. But 1792 Full Proof was not worth the hunt.

Availability - well, NOW it's everywhere
Pricing - $40-$80
Rating - 76 (and it takes a lot to get there)

Friday, May 3, 2019

BenRiach Authenticus 25 year old

Killing Whisky History will return next week, probably. In its place is a review of......a whisky!



Last week I wrote about my desire to drink something remarkable, as well as the reasonable realization that I didn't need to buy another beautiful whisky because of the unopened gems in my whisky cabinet.

Then I bought a whisky. As much as I critique how deeply this spirits community has become addicted to consumption, I am often bitten by the bug as well. Usually, I don't follow through with the desire. This time I did.

I fully trust Billy Walker's work with peated BenRiach. Not only did he have high quality stock on hand, but he did a great job putting a unique (and tasty) range together via blending, finishing or both. Those great single malts with the silly names also feed my disappointment over his later Glendronach choices and the new Glenallachie range. But I already wrote about what doesn't work.

This whisky works.


NOTE: This review is from a purchased sample. The above bottle just came in yesterday.

Distillery: BenRiach
Ownership at time of distillation: Seagrams Distillers
Ownership at time of bottling: The Benriach Distillery Company
Ownership at time of review: Brown-Forman
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Age: at least 25 years
Maturation: bourbon casks and oloroso casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

Lovely notes of mango, orange creamsicle, honeydew, brown sugar, toffee pudding and new blossoms harmonize with smoked meats, pipe tobacco, fresh hay and baking spices in the nose. The palate is bolder, smokier. A joint at the beach. Green peppercorns, herbal bitter liqueur, cocoa powder and piles of earth. Delicate notes of kiwi and citrons survive throughout. The smoked meat note returns in the finish, mingling with bitters and dried herbs. It's also radiantly tangy, with moments of pineapple, lemon peel and roses.

Adverbs and asides threaten to swallow my handwritten notes: "Can a smell be luminous?", "Kilkerran @ 25?", etc. That tends to happen when a whisky leaves me giddy. This is the best noser I've come across in a long time. The palate flexes a graceful power reminiscent of earlier versions of Laphroaig 25yo CS, though much different in style. "Age with vigor." ← another note.

Quality is what makes BenRiach Authenticus 25 year old luxurious, not its age nor price. (It would clobber the unpeated BenRiach 35.) I thought Authenticus 21 was great. This is a step above.

Availability - A few American retailers, dozens of European retailers
Pricing - Europe: $200-$300; USA: $500
Rating - 92

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Island of Orkney 12 year old 2006 Exclusive Malts, cask 342

Hey, how about it: A review of a bottle, and not a sample. Yay!

Firstly, I'm just going to call this a Highland Park because The Creative Whisky Company was likely contractually forced to jump through hoops and I'm not. It's Highland Park in French Oak. Sounds cool, right? It did (and still kinda does) to me, which is why I bought it blindly.

And now I'm going to give you my conclusions up front. I've struggled to get my brain around this whisky. There are times when I just don't like it. There are times when I just nose it for an hour, finding all new odd facets. For instance, sometimes this HP just smells like danishes and nothing else. Heavily-glazed cheese danishes. I shared the whisky with the Columbus Scotch Night crew and they all seemed to like it a lot. Now I'm past the bottle's midpoint and I just don't know.


Distillery: Highland Park
Ownership: The Edrington Group
Region: Isle of Orkney
Independent Bottler: The Creative Whisky Company
Range: Exclusive Malts
Age: 12 years (21 June 2006 - 2018?)
Maturation: French oak (maybe a hoggie)
Cask #: 342
Alcohol by Volume: 56.3%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No

NEAT
Its nose starts with an almost-Clynelish is-it/isn't-it-peated phenolic note, which floats away within 20 minutes. That scent is coated in a sugary orange peel / madeira candy shell. Drifting around that is salty ocean air, honeydew, toffee and — stay with me here — Slim Jims. Though I'm not getting the entire danish note this time, there's a lot of pastry glaze and buttery sour cream. A hint of maple syrup, too.

A new paragraph for the rest. The palate has some of the nose's notes, specifically oranges and salt. A burnt hay-like peat note. There's lots of dried oregano and ginger beer. Even more vanilla and whipped cream. It's remains hot even after a half hour in the glass. It finishes with a ginger beer, cream soda, carob and oak spice.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Brought into slightly sharper focus, the nose leads with orange peel and pine sap. Hay, cinnamon and nutmeg. Kinda of a Dead Sea-like salty mud bath. And something milky. The whisky is at its most familiar in the diluted palate. Sweet, with gentle citrus and fresh cherry notes. Hints of dried herbs. Lots of vanilla and oak spice. It finishes very sweet and tannic. Vanilla and butterscotch are the main notes.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Hopefully my scattered notes give you an idea of my scrambled thoughts on this thing. I like French oak much more than American oak — Randy Brandy is going to give me hell for that — but I have that preference because I like toasted French oak. This cask almost seems like newly charred French oak. There's genuine aggression here. The Gaspar Noé of casks, perhaps?

It's certainly not boring. Nor can I call it flawed. I don't have an existential struggle with it, unlike my bottle of rum cask Ardmore 1991, but I'm never in a hurry to pour a glass for a casual sip. I'm going to give it the same rating as that Ardmore, just to assign a number to it. I'm pretty sure the whisky is laughing at me.

Availability - may still be available at some European retailers
Pricing - obtained it for ~$80 (w/shipping, w/o VAT) in a moderate order last October
Rating - 84 (but who knows, really)

Monday, April 29, 2019

Three high strength official Isle of Arran single malts

I woke up at 4:45am this morning in order to nab my flight home and have now just completed bedtime for two little girls. My exhaustion is complete, and will spare you from longer introductions. If I rate one of these whiskies a 347 or Ol' Dirty Bastard you'll have to pardon me.

Here are three Arrans from a recent Taste Off:




Arran 8 year old 100º Proof, 57%abv, bottled in 2006
(from a purchased mini)

Though I'm an Arran enthusiast, I've never been able to keep up with their zillions of early releases. When I'd bid on this mini at an auction, I hadn't previously heard of the 100º Proof bottling. Apparently no one else did either. I wound up paying an embarrassingly tiny sum for it, something I can't say for any other auction win ever. From the notes below, my guess is this whisky was all from refill bourbon casks.

NEAT
The nose starts with malt, apples, oranges, earth and umeboshi. Small notes of clay and oats drift underneath. With time it gets prettier, more floral. The palate is loaded with white fruits: apples, pears and green grapes. Then there's barley, citrus candy and a curious mustiness. The finish has as a good length considering the whisky's age. There's citrus candy, barley and a slight pepperiness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tbl of water per 30mL whisky
The nose of a good floral, fruity newmake. No heat, lots of lemon peel. The palate gets very tart, and picks up the neat nose's musty note. It gradually gets viciously sweet while a wonky bitterness comes crashing in from a different direction. A tooth-rottingly sweet finish with hints of cayenne pepper and tart lemons.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
This feels very close to newmake, and I sort of wish Arran still bottled this because it's BS-free. They'd sell like 5 bottles of the thing, but I'd get one if the price was right. I do not recommend adding water to it, though, which is fine because the neat version does not burn the mouth. Here are the usual disclaimers: it's not complex, there's little depth, etc. But — the usual claimer — it's very educational and barley-forward.

Availability - Auctions / secondary market
Pricing - ???, though the minis can be had for single digits
Rating - 86 (neat only)




Arran 12 year old Cask Strength batch 3, 53.9%abv, bottled in 2013
(thank you to Florin for the sample!)

Several years after the short-lived 100º Proof experiment, Arran started its Cask Strength series. Batch 3 is made up of 5 first-fill sherry butts, 13 second-fill sherry hogsheads and 31 bourbon barrels resulting in an outturn of 15,000 bottles.

NEAT
The nose seems very closed when neat. There are grains, yeast, flowers and (again) umeboshi. Quiet sherry cask-ish notes of roasted meat and nuts show up occasionally. It picks up more sugary notes with time. A mix of stone and citrus fruits highlight the more expressive palate. The malt note rings louder the toasted oak note. There's a good sweetness to it. There's a surprising amount of heat to it, which continues on into the finish. Otherwise it's sugar, barley, nuts and black pepper.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Yeast, cocoa powder, almond cookies and a lighter floral note on the nose. The palate is very simple but approachable and drinkable. There's more oak and less spirit, yet notes of lemons, limes and red plums remain. The shorter finish is less sweet, and much more tart.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Another simple but decent Arran malt. I was surprised by the lack of sherry cask notes, as well as the considerable burn which registers much hotter than one anticipates from the ABV. The high quality Arran spirit ensures a good drink, even if better casks were saved for single cask releases. Still, I like the 10yo and 14yo better.

Availability - Auctions / secondary market (for this batch)
Pricing - ???
Rating - 85



Arran 12 year old Cask Strength batch 6, 52.4%abv, bottled in 2016
(from a purchased sample)

From what I've seen online, this was the last batch of the 12 year old Cask Strength series. If anyone knows more info or why they ended these batches, please share in the comment section. Batch 6, fashioned from first fill sherry butts, refill sherry hoggies and first fill bourbon barrels, had an outturn of 13,800 bottles and is still being sold by some European and American retailers.

NOSE
Another closed nose. I'm getting grapefruit, brine, yeast and lemon. A hint of plum wine. With time, there are notes of apples, cocoa powder and watermelon candy. The palate has a hell of a citric bite, and is very very sweet. A little bit of grapefruit. A little bit of barley. A big bit of toasted oak. Oranges, grapefruit and toasted oak in rush of sweetness in the finish.


DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Flowers, earth and grass on the nose. Some more grapefruit. Not much oak. But the palate does have plenty of oak spice to go with the grapefruit and lemons. A little bit of grassiness here too. Lots of caramel sweetness. It's very drinkable, but feels hotter than the neat version. The finish has an easier sweetness than the neat version. More fruit essences, and just a whiff of oak spice.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I enjoyed the palate better than then nose, which a rare thing. And to cloud things further, I liked the palate better when diluted, and the nose better when neat. Perhaps it requires more experimentation with water? This seems to have even less sherry cask influence than batch 3, and it could have used a honey butt or two to give it more dimension(s). But for a 12 year old cask strength whisky, it's priced pretty well in the current market conditions. Still the 10 and the 14...

Availability - Many European whisky specialist retailers, fewer retailers in the US
Pricing - $70ish in the USA; €45-€65 in Europe (w/VAT)
Rating - 83



The discontinued — well, these are all discontinued — 100º Proof wins the day, though they're very close in quality, enough so that their ratings could switch around depending on the setting and/or further dilution. I'm glad I was able to try them all, but I'm in no rush to buy a full 700/750mL bottle of any of them.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Bunnahabhain 20 year old 1997 Palo Cortado Finish

I'm a fan of the Bunnahabhain's 1997 experimental peated distillations. It's big and dirty whisky. Or at least it was when it was younger. I'm more used to the 13-15 year old range of the stuff. But suddenly...it's over 20 years old?! That's terrifying. What happened? What are all these gray hairs in my beard?
above the boat captain...in the reflection...there's a crooked old man...
I had thought all that spirit was sold off to blenders and independent companies. Or maybe it had and now the distillery has bought some back? I think this is the first official release of that distillate. There was a 2017 Feis Ile bottling (finished in virgin oak, WTF) but the tasting notes I've read show no peat.

The distillery opted to give this small batch a finish, or secondary maturation, of "almost" two years in Palo Cortado casks. Palo Cortado is an unusual and interesting sort of sherry, and I'm going to direct you to SherryNotes for a deeper dive. Style-wise it sits between Amontillado and Oloroso, and should not be very sweet.


Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Distilled by: Highland Distilleries Company Ltd.
Current Ownership: Distell Group Ltd.
Region: Islay, but not the Sexy South





Age: 20 years (22 Nov 1997 - 26 Apr 2018)
Maturation: 19 years in "traditional oak whisky casks", then less than two years in Palo Cortado casks (size not specified)
Alcohol by Volume: 54.9%
Outturn: 1620 bottles
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(Thank you to Matt W for the sample! Additional note: after being a bit quirky upon opening, this bottle was left to sit for three months before this sample was poured)

NEAT
No smoke on the nose, instead it's more organic, like moss and seaweed. Delicate sherry notes. Walnuts, brine and a hint of prunes. Orange blossoms. The expressive palate starts with smoked meats and little bit of red curry. Then lime juice and very dry cheese. Marijuana and marzipan in the background. Dried berries show up later on. Smoked meat and smoked nuts in the finish. Ginger, chile oil and limes.

Going to take this down to regular Bunny strength.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or about 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose starts with moss, earth and flowers. Then sticky candy and ground mustard seed. Hints of wood smoke and gunpowder. The palate has become much sweeter with a hint savoriness. Think brown sugar and bacon. Lemon candy, salt and a little bit of moss. The finish is sweeter too. A little tangy and salty and mossy.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
It's almost two whiskies for the YOOOOGE price of one. The diluted version is simpler but a real joy to drink. The neat version would be a thinker more than a drinker were it not so thunderous. But it's not really peat that causes the (entertaining) ruckus. Instead it's the bold spirit and a reserved parcel of casks causing mischief. In fact my notes have me doubting how many of these casks held the 50ppm-peated-malt spirit. (Or 30ppm, as per Jordan, who is probably right.) This reads less phenolic than many similarly aged Springbanks and Ardmores. Could they have blended a couple unpeated casks into the vatting? No matter what's in the mix, this is another great official Bunnahabhain. If it were one-third the price, I'd buy a bottle!

Availability - A couple dozen retailers worldwide
Pricing - Europe: €350-€550 w/VAT; USA: $500-$600
Rating - 89

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Arran 22 year old 1996 Old and Wise

On March 1st, after my regrettable full February of Glenfiddich 12, I wanted to drink something remarkable. As I window-shopped my favored online whisky shops, I began to wonder if I could afford "remarkable". Gradually a conclusion was formed. While I may be able to afford "remarkable", blindly buying countless three-figure-priced whiskies in the search for "remarkable" was a poor idea.

Even better, I have a heavily curated, but expansive, whisky stash that has a respectable remarkable-to-acceptable ratio. And that made me happy.

But I did buy a few samples of whiskies that looked mighty fine, in the hopes of finding a real gem. This twenty-two year-old Arran is one of those samples. I put my feet up on a lovely evening and tried the first half of the sample without notes. The second ounce of the sample was saved for today's review.


Distillery: Isle of Arran
Ownership: Isle of Arran Distillers
Age: 22 years (7 Feb 1996 - 5 July 2018)
Maturation: sherry hogshead
Cask number: 055
Outturn: 305
Alcohol by Volume: 50.9%
Chillfiltered? No
Caramel Colorant? No
(from a purchased sample)

The very pretty but very quiet nose leads with nutty sherry, apricots, plums and orange peels. Then Sprite, creamsicles, citronella and a candy shop note. It's lightly floral, with a slight oakiness. The palate is also fruity and soft, without ever being too sweet. Fresh stone and citrus fruits (more citrus with time). A bite of mango, hints of vanilla and flower kiss candy. A dose of oak spice and toasty notes, like nuts and coconut. The finish is the least woody part. No drying tannins, plenty of the palate's fruit notes (citrus, stone and mango) and a gently floral+sweet note reminiscent of Junmai Ginjo sake.

"Old and Wise"? I don't know. "Fruity and Fragile"? Yeah. And that's not a bad thing. Not every whisky has to be "Sturm und Drang". This is a pretty whisky, and possibly as light as 51% alcohol can be, which is why I didn't add water. One can appreciate its restrained measures of sherry and oak. I'm not prepared to part with $150+ to bring a whole bottle home, but it was a quiet pleasure and now it's time to move on.

Availability - A couple dozen European retailers
Pricing - Europe: €140-€160 w/VAT
Rating - 88

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

GlenAllachie 18 year old

On Monday I found Glenallachie's cask strength 10 year old to be problematic. On Tuesday, the 12 year old was just fine. Today, I'm reviewing the last of the trio of GlenAs, the 18 year old.

This Taste Off did not go as planned. Despite my commentary about Walker & Co's past doings and the weird branding choices, I do (or did) appreciate the good stuff Walker brought out of Allied's warehouses at Glendronach and Benriach. So I was hoping for, or even expecting, something fun from at least one of these whiskies. SPOILER ALERT: It wasn't to be.


Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Age: minimum 18 years old
Maturation: Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and virgin oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
All kinds of wood going on in the nose. At first there's pine sap, butter, caramel and eucalyptus. Then there are flowers, grapefruits and vanilla. And lumber. After 30+ minutes, it's roses, apricots and charred oak. The palate goes the opposite direction. It's loud and raw, feeling younger than the 12yo. It's herbal and grassy, loaded with white peppercorns and heat. Vanilla and marshmallows in the background. Pepper, vanilla, oranges and dried herbs in the hot finish.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or < ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose calms down a little. Apple peels and cider, lemons and lumber. The palate becomes aggressively sweet. It also remains sharp and pepper and tart. The finish is sweet and herbal with a hint of pine sap.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I agree with Serge and Ruben, the 12 beats the 18. What's worse is that the 12 is "just fine". And the 18 is $125+. Regarding the whisky itself, the 18 year old has Craft Whisky written all over it. Loads of oak, rough spirit, nothing in balance. I'm having a hard time finding the inspiration to finish my sample. (Editor's note: Into a highball it went!)

As always, I encourage you to read other reviews by writers whose palates are similar to your own. Perhaps you may find better luck with these Glenallachies. I have zero interest in trying another of their standard range again.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €90-€110 (w/VAT); USA $125-$150
Rating - 77 (neat only)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

GlenAllachie 12 year old

I'm reviewing three of the new GlenAllachie single malts this week. Yesterday, there was the 10yo CS batch 1 review. Today, it's the 12 year old. There was one BIG issue with that 10 year old. Let's see if it reoccurs with the 12.

I won't expand upon yesterday's Billy Walker riff. I do wish him and his company well because the scotch industry can always use some good new products. They have brought along the quirky capitalization practice as they had with GlenDronach and BenRiach, highlighting the Glens and the Bens. The "The" they've added to Glenallachie seems silly and way-1990s. But really, what's up with the Harry Potter font?

Onto the whisky:


Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Maturation: Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and virgin oak casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose's top layer is a mix of malt, vanilla and wasabi. Beneath that are hints of honey, clementines, jellybeans, burlap and nutritional yeast. It picks up a slight dirty hay note with time. While there are malt, herbs and peppercorns in the palate, the biggest note, by far, is marshmallow. Hints of frosted shredded wheat, limes and fresh ginger show up now and then. The marshmallow note fades out before the finish, pushing the frosted shredded wheat, limes and fresh ginger notes to the fore.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or < ½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Even with just this little bit of water, the nose has changed. It's all apples, lemons, Riesling and sharp cheddar. The palate is a jumble of wood and grain. Barley and raw spirit. Toasted oak and bitter green oak. Moments of tart limes and hay. The finish matches the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
The virgin oak issue is much less pronounced in the 12yo when compared to the 10yo CS, until one adds water. To stay positive-ish in this paragraph, I'll focus on the neat edition. The marshmallow note is curious, but there's a lot of barley, herbs and lime present, and the sweetness never spills over the top. It's simple, but very drinkable.

Yet again, the sherry casks are nearly invisible, which really isn't a problem until a few drops of water are added. And is "simple, but very drinkable" worth $50-$60? Not only does Glendronach's and Benriach's 12 year olds beat this whisky, but it loses to the new Loch Lomond 12 year old (I tried 'em side-by-side) as well. Still, I'd take GlenAllachie 12 over its more expensive, but younger, cask strength sibling.

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €40-€55 (w/VAT); USA $50-$60
Rating - 81 (neat only)

Monday, April 22, 2019

GlenAllachie 10 year old Cask Strength, batch 1

I have mixed feelings about Billy Walker's whisky work.

On one hand he did a masterful job building his GlenDronach brand by bottling high quality whisky made by a different owner (Allied). His team also bottled a modern classic, GlenDronach 15 year old Revival, until the old whisky ran out. He also created my favorite range of alternative cask finished peated whiskies over at Benriach. As far as the whisky actually made under his command, the GlenDronach Hielan is pretty good.

On the other hand, once the Glendronach honey casks started running low, lower quality casks were re-racked (or finished) in fresh sherry casks and that was never disclosed to consumers. The cask strength Benriach whiskies distilled by his team, and his peated Glendronach are multiple levels below the quality of the whiskies distilled by previous owners.

Also note this timeframe:
2014 - Glendronach's re-racking and unreliable labelling became widely known thanks to great work by My Annoying Opinions and Ralfy.
2015 - Glendronach 15 year old Revival is removed from the range. Whiskies distilled by Billy Walker's team see their first release.
2016 - Glendronach and Benriach are sold to Brown-Forman.

This was a wise business move, selling high before risking any further damage to the brands. At the same, it would be understandable of current or former Glendronach and Benriach enthusiasts are less enthusiastic about this series of events.

A year after the big sale, a consortium that included Billy Walker purchased Glenallachie distillery (and a whole lotta stock) from Pernod Ricard. In 2018, Walker-era single malts, branded as The GlenAllachie, appeared on the market. I will be reviewing three of these standard range whiskies this week. Let's see what been done with Pernod's Glenallachie casks.


Distillery: Glenallachie
Ownership: The Glenallachie Consortium (seriously?)
Region: Speyside (Aberlour)
Age: minimum 10 years old
Maturation: Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez and virgin oak casks
Outturn: 12,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chillfiltered: No
Colorant added: No
(from a purchased sample)

NEAT
The nose is a virgin oak candyland, all taffy, vanilla, caramel and coconut. There's also grapefruit, eucalyptus, orange popsicles and gummy bears. The palate starts out hot and tangy. Beneath the heat is A LOT of sugar with bits of bitterness and barley. Plenty of vanilla, specifically vanilla marshmallows. It finishes sweet and hot. Vanilla and barley with hints of limes and bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or ½ tbl of water per 30mL whiskey
The nose becomes simpler and more focused. It's just vanilla, flowers and tropical fruit candy. The palate is still very sweet. There's also tart citrus, toasty oak and a hint of woody bitterness in the mix. The tart, peppery finish has more woody bitterness and vanilla than the palate.

WORDS WORDS WORDS
I could tell you that the nose was so-so and the palate never really worked, but I'd rather focus on the cask issues here. The PX casks are nowhere to be found and the Oloroso casks are smothered. There's just so much new or recharred American oak in the glass that I'm left wondering, "How crummy were the Pernod casks?" Mark Reynier & Co went with wine casks when they inherited questionable Bruichladdich stock. Walker & Co are going with new oak? I hope this is not seen as a permanent solution. Will the other two GlenAllachies fare better?

Availability - Many specialty whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €55-€70 (w/VAT); USA $60-$80
Rating - 76

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Rum Dummy drinks 2 Foursquare rums

Randy Brandy isn't the only funny writer on this site. The Rum Dummy has jokes!

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Sixteen?

No wait, there's two. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Thirty-two?

But what if it's two times four to the second power. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Sixty-four?

Wait wait that doesn't work because it's Foursquares not Foursquared. I'll start again.

Hey look, I am drinking two Foursquares, or should I say......Eightsquares?

So?

Pretty good, huh?

Yeah, just wait until I review some Uitvlugt. Uitvlugt. Hilarious, right?


The first rum today is:

Foursquare 10 year old Criterion (bourbon & Madeira casks) blended rum 56%abv

Richard Seale of Foursquare distillery uses big words like "Criterion" and "Exceptional" on the bottle label, which are weird words to see on a rum label. But I also see "Blended" and "Rum", and I know what those words mean. People who sold these bottles said the rum was aged in bourbon casks for 3 years, then Madeira casks for seven years. They could be right, I don't know.

Nose - Bourbon, dusty old shoes, cocoa, caramel, cloves, pinot noir, honey mustard and vanilla. Putting water in the rum makes the rum smell spicier.
Palate - It's hot on my palate and also tannic. Also lemons, sweet oranges, cinnamon and little bit of almost-Jamaican funk. Putting water in the rum makes the rum taste mostly the same, maybe sweeter.
Finish - Long, hot, tangy, sweet, bitter oak and baking spices. Putting water in the rum cools down the finish, leaving it very tannic.

It smells very very good. Tastes mostly good. Lots and lots of woodiness though. I don't know how much this matters because no one's selling this rum anymore.

NOT WHISKY RATING: B-

Hey, I also know some funny limericks!

Oh, yeah, there's another rum here. Stick around for my funny limericks after the second rum.

The second rum is:

Foursquare 12 year old 2005 (bourbon casks) blended rum, 59%abv

This is kinda like a sequel to the 11 year old I reviewed last year. Just bourbon casks. The 12 year old rum's label says "full proof" just like 11 year old's and is the same exact ABV as the 11 year old. Is that magic? I'm so confused.

Nose - It smells medicinal. And there's caramel, vanilla, milk chocolate, plastic toys, citrus and root beer. Putting water in the rum doesn't change it much.
Palate - Softer than the nose. Smaller medicinal note. Toasted almonds, caramel sauce, bourbon and bourbony cherry note. Putting water in the rum makes it tannic and sweet.
Finish - Sugar, hotness, vanilla, caramel, a little bit of funk. Very long. Putting water in the rum makes it tannic and sweet.

This is like a bourbon from an ex-Islay cask. Sort of. Better wood notes than the Criterion. Better finish too. I like it better.

NOT WHISKY RATING: B

Okay, so here's my first funny limerick.

There once was a girl from Enmore
Who dressed like--

THOSE RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS POST HAVE BEEN SACKED

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Loch Lomond Loch Lomond Loch Lomond (or Loch Lomond Inchmoan Croftengea)

Loch Lomond has released A LOT of grim whisky over the years. But then suddenly, their official bottlings are no longer mocked. And they're putting out single casks. Has the punk rocker gone full Green Day?

Count me intrigued. I've always enjoyed their rejection of the Scotch Whisky Association (or was it the other way around?) and their unorthodox distillation processes (which led to SWA issue), even though I haven't always enjoyed their whiskies.

Here are three official Loch Lomond whiskies bottled within the past year or so.


Loch Lomond 12 year old single malt, official bottling, 46%abv

I'm sure there were many in Scotland who were worried when a private equity group bought the Loch Lomond Distilling Company, but occasionally, occasionally, a PE firm can sort out a company's issues and gradually redirect the ship. I have more confidence in Loch Lomond's future than Bladnoch's at this point, FWIW. Anyway, I listed "single malt" up there because there's a Loch Lomond single grain on the market, and I will not be reviewing that today or ever. Thanks to MAO for this sample!

NOTES

NEAT
The nose is......shockingly clean and fruity. I'm thinkin' pears, apple, apricots and oranges. Then there's ginger powder, barley and black pepper. Gradually, vanilla and sticky candy notes develop with time. Barley, pears and marshmallows lead in the palate. Then black pepper, eau de vie, limes, guava and canned fruit cocktail juice. It grows more floral with time. The finish has the palate's fruits, but with a spicy zing. Hints of vanilla and flowers float in the background.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose becomes much simpler, basically barley, coconut cream and vanilla. Similarly the palate narrows. Peaches in tomatillo sauce, vanilla bean and a little bit of sugar. It finishes tart, peppery and mildly sweet.

So this is what Loch Lomond has been blending out or selling to blenders all these years?! Leave Loch Lomond neat and it will kick Glenfiddich 12's and Glenlivet 12's asses all around the block. Bottled at a good strength, Loch Lomond 12 has a successful balance of oak and spirt, not to mention all those fruits. I'm more stunned by this one than the 12yo G&M Ledaig. And the price.

Availability - Many whisky retailers in Europe and North America (including Ohio)
Pricing - USA $28-$38; Europe: €40-€55 (w/VAT)
Rating - 86 (neat only)



Inchmoan 12 year old single malt, official bottling, 46%abv

The most, um, intimately named of Loch Lomond's whiskies, Inchmoan is a mix of distillate from the distillery's pot still and trouble-making hybrid still. It's also heavily (40-50ppm) peated. The only other Inchmoan I've consumed was one of the five most gruesome whiskies ever. I still have sense memories of that one, so I'm approaching this one with caution.

NOTES

NEAT
The nose does have its weird side: wet dogs and plastics factory exhaust. Then there's the candy corner: cotton candy, marshmallows, rock candy and cherry lollipops. Also cinnamon and flowers. It doesn't come together at any point. The palate is less odd. It's ashy, earthy and tart. Vanilla, fresh ginger and a mild herbal bitterness. Toasted oak and toasted barley with honey. Vanilla, honey and tart fruit in the finish. Pepper and smoke in the aftertaste.

DILUTED TO ~43%abv, or ⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
The nose is still kooky. Burnt hair, burnt plastic, rocks and cracked pepper. The palate has a heavily ashy, almost woody, peat smoke. Salt, pepper and sourness. The finish matches the palate.

Though the neat palate was drinkable, I couldn't finish the sample. While it certainly isn't boring, nor flat out disgusting like the other Inchmoan I had, Inchmoan 12 is a strange mess. It's as if someone closed his eyes and mixed a bunch of random fluids together. Perhaps this stems from the fact that they took a difficult spirit from two different stills and stuck it in recharred barrels. I do recognize there's a significant portion of the scotch community who think peaty = good, always. Perhaps this is for them. It's not for me.

Availability - Some whisky retailers in Europe
Pricing - Europe: €45-€75 (w/VAT)
Rating - 71



Croftengea 9 year old 2008, cask 272 for The Whisky Exchange, 54.8%abv

Croftengea's malt is also peated at 40-50ppm, but I believe it's all hybrid straight-neck still spirit. Yet I like Croftengea, a lot. It's Fun Weird, which is my favorite whisky genre. And yes, I did actually buy a bottle of the Croftengea I raved about last autumn. I was also looking forward to today's sample because its supplier, MAO (thank you!), already gave it a 💖.

NOTES

NEAT
The nose begins with a luminous creamy dessert note, like toffee pudding with toasted coconut and orange zest. Orange-cranberry scones. Peaches and flowers. A gentle but rich peat of a much older whisky. That same peat note shows up in the palate, along with pear and peach nectars, lime juice and cayenne pepper. Also some tart berries and a slight Campari-like bitterness.

DILUTED TO ~46%abv, or >1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Mangoes, oranges and toasted coconut in the nose. Hints of herbal peat and ocean in the background. Same peat and pepper in the palate, but now there are tart lemons, limes and grapefruit. The finish has the same tart fruit notes, as well as a light sweetness and bitterness.

Well, damn. Another great Croftengea. I'm not sure if I'm more surprised by its fruitiness or the peat style. It feels older than its 9 years. I was waffling about giving it the Big 90, but because it was one of the most delightful drinks I've had this year boosted the number to that magical spot. Sorry that it's out of stock, you should have read MAO's review last summer and bought four bottles then. I did the former but not the latter. I learn nothing, folks.

Availability - Loch Lomond sells out!
Pricing - ???
Rating - 90

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ledaig Ledaig Ledaig

Though Ledaig is one of my favorite single malts, I haven't reviewed many bottlings since the brand became hip. Its popularity blossomed right about the time, around five years ago, when a certain influential whisky blogger declared that Ledaig was the new old Ardbeg (which really makes about as much sense as when I declared Mike Trout to be the new young Willie Mays, seven years ago; it's enthusiasm-powered goofy shorthand by both of us).

If you're looking for reviews of Ledaig's lovely sherry casks, sorry, you may abandon ship here. I'm digging into three relatively current Ledaigs, all of which come from former bourbon casks. I tasted these three together in order of ABV, which was also in order of oldest to youngest.


Ledaig 12 year old Gordon & MacPhail, Discovery range, 43%abv

I had minimal expectations for this whisky, a first for Ledaig and I. Other than the Highland Park 8yo, low abv G&Ms are thin and bland on my palate. A boring Ledaig would be a waste of Tobermory's peated distillate and a darned shame. So here goes the oldest and lightest of the trio:

NOTES
Cardamom, cinnamon and chives season a bright vegetal peat in the nose. The peat gets feistier with time, bringing in a whiff of elephant manure and lemon peels. It reads much bigger than 43%abv. The palate is gently peppery and sweet, but has a peatier smoke (or smokier peat) than the nose. Lime juice, apricots, sweet bell peppers, fresh herbs and arugula. A smoky hot pepper sauce stays the longest in the finish, followed by notes of arugula and sweet oranges. Good length to it all.

Surprise! Thanks to low oak levels and no bludgeoning peat, this makes for a good whisky. The nose is great, and though the finish is simple I enjoyed it. If one could design a casual sippin' Ledaig, this would be it. Would it have been better bottled at the OB's 46.3% strength? Probably, though it would also likely be a different experience at that strength. If only G&M would bring this to The States and price it at $49.99 then perhaps I'd buy this for the autumn.

Availability - A few dozen European whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 84




Ledaig 10 year old, Official Bottling, 46.3%abv


This baby was the real motivation behind today's tasting. I reviewed it 6½ years ago (holy crap!) and was less enthused by it than most folks whose palates I respect. Since life and whisky batches (no matter the size) change despite all resistance, it is time to take in a larger sample of the official Ledaig 10.

NOTES
The nose is somehow even greener than the G&M 12yo, with bundles of fresh herbs. Yes, there's peat, but also a steady waft of ocean air, met with cheerful(!?) lemon peels and citronella, then hints of eucalyptus and toasted marshmallows. A peat richer and more complex than the 12's radiates across the palate, with salty ocean notes, charred meat and veg. Lemons and limes that start tart then turn sweet. Hints of herbal bitterness and vanilla pudding actually work together. Honey, limes, smoke, chili oil and dried herbs load up the enormous finish.

Yeah, I like this a lot. In fact, this would knock something off "My 25 favorite single malts under $80" list. It's great, complex, delicious whisky at just 10 years old. In fact, with Ledaig, Springbank, Benromach, Ardmore and peated Benriach on the market, official Islays aren't faring so well in the OB peated whisky world anymore. Back to this whisky. Ledaig 10 year old is so much better than I'd remembered, and cheaper than the 12yo G&M.

Availability - Most whisky retailers
Pricing - Europe: €35-€55 (w/VAT), USA $50-$70
Rating - 88




Ledaig 7 year old 2010 van Wees The Ultimate, cask 700411, 59.7%abv


I had to have one full-powered humdinger in the group. And though I frequently criticize the indie bottlers who pile <8yo single casks upon European whisky retailers, I did like a 6yo Caol Ila last December, so I was willing to risk annihilating my senses for the possibility of a good baby Ledaig.

NOTES

NEAT
The nose begins with salty grilled shellfish, hot tar and scallions.  toasted barley note arises miraculously from the peat fog. It's also not nearly as hot as the ABV would lead one to expect. Hints of vanilla and melon rind mix with all the kiln notes. Manure and lemon peel show up after 20+ minutes of air. The peat is more green than smoky on the palate. Ocean water, limes, fresh herbs and cinnamon candy. It gets sweeter with time, almost minty actually. The warm, but not hot, finish is herbal and peppery, with just a little bit of sweetness and a lot of ocean water.

DILUTED TO ~46.3%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky
Massively farmy, the nose holds onto its ocean notes, but is otherwise much different than when neat. There's cocoa powder, rock candy, yeast and onions. Yep. The palate is loaded with green herbs and wood smoke, as well as very tart limes and salt. It finishes with peppery smoke, herbal bitterness and a little bit of brown sugar.

This is neither crap nor a palate wrecker. Success! It's more aggressive than the previous two, but that was to be expected. Youthful but not punishing. I like the quirky (Ledaig!) nose and find the palate very approachable. Still didn't van Wees give it another 3-5 years in the cask. The race isn't fully run, the cake ain't baking, the bread is par baked, the whisky has barely matured past new make. Not only that, but at 10-12 years old van Wees could've charged 50-100% more. I dunno. Good whisky, but what might have been...

Availability - A few European retailers
Pricing - Europe: €50-€65 (w/VAT)
Rating - 82