...where distraction is the main attraction.

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:

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.

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.


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