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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Ledaig 6 year old 2005 Blackadder

Once upon a time (June 2013), I paid over $100 for a bottle of 6 year old whisky.  Twenty-four hours later the remorse set in.  Why had I excitedly but blindly purchased a bottle of infant whisky for three figures?  Firstly, I liked the distillery's peated malt.  Secondly, I'd always wanted one of the indie bottler's Raw Cask whiskys.  I'm a big sucker for the pile of char at the bottom of every bottle.

The whisky was Ledaig.  The bottler was Blackadder.  And my normally thrifty better angels were out taking a sh*t that particular afternoon.

Distillery: Tobermory
Brand: Ledaig
Independent Bottler: Blackadder
Age: September 14, 2005 - July 2012 (6 years)
Maturation: ex-sherry cask
Cask number9011
Bottle #:  118 of 166
Region: Isle of Mull
Alcohol by Volume: 64.0%
Chillfiltered: No
Colored: No

This bottle's usage:
24% - Swaps and shares
7% - Whisky experiments
24% - Graded tastings
45% - Casual drinking

First thing's first.  What it is not is a Raw Cask bottling, so there's no barrel char sprinkles at the bottom of the bottle.  What it is is a 64% ABV very young whisky from a famously difficult distillery.  Normally I save whiskies priced at that level for special occasions.  But I couldn't think of a single occasion that I wanted to celebrate with a face full of hot weird peat.

But an occasion presented itself.  In late August I was scheduled to have eye surgery, not corrective surgery but actual invasive cutting.  Unexpectedly (and sincerely surprising my doctor) my body healed itself.  Woo hoo!  Time to celebrate.  Here are the tweets that followed:

I immediately realized this one was going to need some air; as in, months of it.  This was not an issue because this past September, October, and much of November were hot as hell.  And a 64% ABV Ledaig is not easily consumed in a leisurely fashion during 90 degree heat.

The above tweets were my impressions of the very first glass.  Needless to say, the generally poisonous nature of the whisky receded with time.  I saved two samples from the top of the bottle then a pair from mid-bottle.  And now that I'm in the bottle's bottom third, there's plenty to taste.  The following tasting notes combine my experiences from three different comparisons I conducted this year:

Top of the bottle:

Nose - Rubber -- rubber bands and sneaker tread.  Burnt moss, gunpowder, and mezcal.  Oak pulp, elephant dung, and toffee. And something once bright and floral crushed by the aforementioned elephant crap
Palate - Heat, so much heat.  New sneakers and tennis ball fuzz.  Bushels of green mossy peat, melted plastic, and salt.  Bananas and a light sweetness in the far background
Finish - Extensive, like I just smoked a cheap cigar.  Also urine and gunpowder with growing sourness.

W/WATER (approx 43-46% ABV)
Nose - Horseradish, chlorine, and dirty hay.  Harshness mostly becalmed, but still some acetone / nail polish.
Palate - Synthetic burnt quality.  Soil, bitter chlorine, very green bitter peat, and a slight tartness.
Finish - Still large, all char and ash.


Nose - Big alcohol heat. Just a hint of the sherry oak, fresh fruits also possibly from the sherry cask (which is much appreciated at this point).  Peat is much clearer now, like rotting vegetation and seaweed.  Parmesan cheese, cap gun recently fired, dog manure, cinnamon-sugar combo, caramel, lemon zest, seawater, and new cheap shoes.
Palate - Very buttery.  Tire fire, torched veg, and plastic.  A little sweetness, but mostly sour.  Apples and a hint of very dark chocolate and prunes.
Finish - Burnt stuff from the palate, peat ashes, gunpowder, citrus tang, hints of prunes and chlorine.

Nose - Peated cream of wheat with mint.  Body odor, used socks, and severe sneaker peat that cannot be drowned.  Something between cocoa powder and gunpowder, nail polish, apples, chlorine, and a little generic citrus.
Palate - Getting more pleasant now. Hay, burnt toast, burnt peat.  Something sweet & creamy in the far background, but also a little sour and leathery at the same time.  Mild vanilla, ground black pepper, dirt, and more gunpowder.
Finish - Now it's cigarette throat.  Burnt peat, gunpowder, tart, but also a little sweet.

Final third of the bottle:

Nose - More fruit!  Bananas and out of season peaches.  Caramel and honey.  Brighter and with less manure.  Sneaker peat and gunpowder remain.  More immediately pleasant than before.
Palate - Less heat, with the peat becoming more tobacco-like.  Very strong bitter lettuces, along with horseradish.  It's very dry and fruit-free.
Finish - Peat gets mossier here, but still plenty of smoke.  A little vanilla.  Much less chlorine.

Nose - Still richer and fruitier than earlier points.  Mossy peat.  Farmy farts.  Vanilla.  Cinnamon and honey.
Palate - A little barley and sugar sweetness eking out, as does some sweet spice.  Peated oatmeal.
Finish - Smoked pencils, ashy, maybe some sweetness, but mostly smoky mezcal.

Conclusion #1:  I have no idea why Blackadder was in such a hurry to bottle this whisky so soon.  With fuller maturation, this could have been a thunderous beauty.
Conclusion #2:  There is no reason why this should be $100, even in this market.
Conclusion #3:  I'm a f***ing idiot for paying so much for this whisky.
Conclusion #4:  But it is not terrible.  In fact, as it exists right now with oxidation, the whisky is a bracing winter chimney.  At mid-bottle it was a rumbling volcano on a stinky peat farm.  At the top of the bottle, it could be weaponized.
Conclusion #5:  Because so few bottles came from a sherry cask, I'm sort of wondering if Blackadder split the cask into two releases, with this one (reviewed by Serge) being its mate.  In fact, I'm convinced it is.  It has the same cask number......  If so, it definitely seems like Serge got the top of the bottle and it almost took the man down.  Impressive, in a way.
Conclusion #6:  Can I recommend this?  Only to those not sulphur sensitive...... Who wants to send a sample to Jim Murray?!  One would also need to really enjoy intensely farmy whisky, and thus not be afraid of finding some poop (notes) in one's drink.  One would need to live in a colder climate than I.  One would also need no qualms about paying $100 for a non-Kilchoman non-BTAC baby whisk(e)y.  Also it will burn one's mouth.  Are those enough qualifiers?
Conclusion #7:  I swear this is 128 proof mezcal.

Availability - Sparse. Maybe a handful of US specialty retailers
Pricing - $90-$110
Rating - 79


  1. Hah... i know how you feel as this happend to me before as well. Young malt can be delicous as well and i just received a sample of a wonderful 6yo Glenrothes with 64% ABV. This malt from a Sherry Cask was so sweet and full of flavor that it would have given it at least 12yrs blindly. I really don't understand why they sell it for around 74$ ... for me no malt with only 6yrs is worth that amount of money.

    1. I agree, though I've considered an occasional Kilchoman single cask (always priced at $80 and up) but have never followed through on it. Also, we should probably get used to seeing cask strength young whiskies going for prices like that. I'm not saying one should encourage that pricing by buying those bottles, but I have a feeling that situation is going to become more common.

    2. Well... as i bottle casks from time to time myself I do know what you pay for casks with that age if you buy it at a broker or the distillery directly. A 6yo malt would usually cost you 12 bucks and you would probably sell it for like 25 too make some money out of it. But 70 or 80$ are just insane from my point of view. So i enjoy a nice Sample of those bottlings from time to time, but i would not buy a whole bottle. Tho i really liked that Glenrothes... maybe i should... :D

    3. That's cool. Are you bottling from casks you own? Sadly, I didn't start looking into cask purchases until their prices went sky high!

      Who bottled the young Glenrothes you like?

  2. "And something once bright and floral crushed by the aforementioned elephant crap"

    That was just laugh out loud funny!!! I'm still chuckling!

    1. Thanks. :) Sometimes a whisky can lend itself to a lyrical note or two.

  3. I just can't take Blackadder seriously as a bottler. Sure, they get some good reviews, but only Samaroli has more LOL-inducing prices around here.

    With that said, I'm definitely curious to try the sample you sent me. It'll be interesting, if nothing else.

    1. Chieftain's and Hart Bros often have strangely high prices on their 43-46% ABV whiskies in CA. In Europe, Silver Seal has very bloated pricing, though I've had two good whiskies of theirs. Sometimes one can find a Blackadder at an almost competitive price, but most of the time there seems to be a 20-40% premium, which is for what? Barrel char and high ABVs? Overseas their prices aren't as bad, so maybe it has something to do with their distributor here.

    2. I once bought a Chieftan's Dalmore 14 years old that had been finished in rum casks for $65 even though it was bottled at 43%. And I still found it a better price than the standard Dalmore 12 which was about ten dollars less. But I do see some rather crazy prices for their cask strength offering too.

      I recall we both agreed that K&L's Island 7 year old might be another young Ledaig but it's interesting that that bottling wasn't allowed to print the distillery name on it. Now it will be interesting to compare the two to see how similar they are.

    3. For Chieftain's that's a pretty good deal you'd gotten. Right, surveying what's around California, I'm seeing that all of the Cheiftain's releases are 10-25 dollars more than the closest comparable OB. There was a Chieftain's Ben Nevis I tried last year and I really liked it, but it was $80-90 for a 13-14 year old 46% ABV. Wasn't worth that much.

      If I get a sample of the K&L Island, I'll definitely match it up to whatever I have left of this Ledaig. Interestingly, there are a number of indie bottlers in Europe who have released baby Ledaigs this year. I say "interestingly" because Tobermory/Ledaig ain't the easiest pleasiest malt out there.

  4. Yes, this whisky was a trip, thanks for the sample Michael! Here are my notes, sent to you at the time:

    < I recognized at once the Ledaig "farmy" nose. However, this was the most extreme farminess that I've ever encountered! It went beyond "ploughed earth" and "baby vomit", and way into the range of "chicken shit" and "the outhouse in the train station of my grandmother's village, cca 1975". My wife could not take it; I'm made of stronger mettle. The palate, on the other hand, was quite different. None of the scatological notes, great earthy peat, and a very liqueur-like texture. The sweetness was just right, not overpowering or even obvious, I was surprised when I read that this was an ex-sherry barrel - most likely not first fill. A bit hot, which makes me think it could have spent another year or two in the barrel. On the other hand, it was great to have it at cask strength. All in all, a very unique whisky, that I'm happy to have tried! >

    All in all I'm happy with Blackadder, based on my limited experience - they were all "different", and then there's nothing like ashes in your glass of full-strength whisky! There are still some bottles around for under $100.

    1. Thanks for your notes! I was trying to figure out where to fit them in my post but then my writings got much too long. My favorite is "the outhouse in the train station of my grandmother's village, cca 1975"! The sherry notes which were missing in the first third of the bottle (which was where your sample came from) shyly peeked around in the second third, then finally came out of the closet in the final act.

      I'm very happy to have tried this malt as well. But a whole bottle? What it did provide is more experience with the effects of oxidation on whisky in the bottle. And I am enjoying hearing about others' experience with this fiery tot.