Here is another Ledaig from a sherry cask that was released in the middle of the decade. This is almost twice the age of Friday’s cask and was bottled by A.D. Rattray, not Signatory. It’s also a ludicrously high strength. 65.8% after 17 years? Just where was this cask stored? I have to say I am not a big fan of whiskies being bottled at these crazy strengths (or any other kind of spirit for that matter). Its hard for me to enjoy most drinks fully very much above 55%—and I usually tend to like things closer to 50%. Sure I can—and do—dilute things down to where I like them but it’s an unnecessary level of futzing with your drink, in my view. I realize there’s a layer of authenticity that comes with the “cask strength” tag and that it gets some extra sheen of machismo probably when that cask strength is eye-wateringly high. Add to all of those prejudices that this is a Ledaig—a spirit that can be challenging even at a much lower strength—and I have some trepidation entering this pour. Let’s see how it pans out.
Ledaig 17, 1998 (65.8%; A.D. Rattray; sherry butt 800036; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Big phenolic peat mixed in with a fair bit of salt. Not as rubbery off the top as some of the younger sherry bombs can be. Not as bready/yeasty either—instead there’s some sweet malt and expanding coastal notes of kelp and oysters and brine. A custardy sweetness develops as it sits—some uni in there too now. With more time some cereals make it through the salt and smoke as well. A few drops of water and there’s more of the custard/cream and some preserved lemon peel; the smoke is less phenolic now. A few more drops and the cream expands picking up some roasted malt.
Palate: Comes in sweet and then the salt and smoke hit in quick succession. Big salt, big smoke, not as big an alcohol bite as feared. The salt pops faster on the second sip and sort of dominates proceedings—which is not to say that the smoke is shy. Very mild rubberiness here too. Okay, let’s see what air/time do for this before I add water. Well, some citrus begins to peep through (lime) but it’s still pretty tight. With water the citrus emerges fully—the preserved lemon that showed up on the nose—and the sweeter coastal notes from earlier in the nose emerge as well. All of that is in good balance with the smoke and the salt. A little more water and the cream from the nose emerges as well and the preserved lemon turns to citronella.
Finish: Medium-long. At first anyway—I expect water will make it expand. Salt and smoke here as well. The smoke gets ashier with time. As on the palate with water and yes, much longer: citrus, salt and smoke, going on forever.
Comments: I liked the nose a lot; neat, this was a bit of a blunt instrument on the palate; albeit a blunt instrument I wouldn’t mind being hit around the mouth with more. Oh, that sounds kinky. Anyway, this was surprisingly approachable at full strength though diluting it down to probably the low-mid-50% range softened/opened it up nicely. The second addition of water took it down to 50% or lower I’d guess and it was even better there.
(I checked with Michael K.—the source of my sample—and he confirms that the sample was poured from the top of the bottle and that he too was surprised at how approachable this is at full strength.)
Rating: 88 points.
Thanks to Michael for the sample.