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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)

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