Last week’s reviews were all of peated whiskies that had spent at least some time in port casks. The week began with a Bunnahabhain that spent three of its eight years in a tawny port cask and ended with a Longrow that spent all of its 11 in a refill port pipe. In between was an 8 yo Kilchoman that was finished in a ruby port cask. This week’s whiskies do not involve port—not that I know of anyway—but they are all also heavily peated. First up is a Port Charlotte 14 bottled by Master of Malt’s That Boutiquey Whisky Co. label. I’m not too sure about how these TBWC batch releases work. This one apparently comprised 662 bottles but they were all 375 ml, which makes it not the largest batch. Indeed, the total volume would approximate 331 regulation 750 ml bottles—which is between a hogshead and a butt. So if a batch was put together from more than one cask (as you would expect) it might be the marriage of a bourbon hogshead and part of a sherry butt. This is all speculation, of course—but in the absence of detail from the bottlers it’s all I’ve got. My sample came to me from the redoubtable Michael Kravitz of Diving for Pearls (see here for his review). Continue reading
Port and peat week started at Bunnahabhain on Monday. That was an 8 yo that spent 5 years or so in ex-bourbon casks and the rest of the time in ex-tawny port casks. I’d call that a proper double maturation. That cask was bottled by Cadenhead and I rather liked it. Today I have for you another 8 yo and another whisky from an Islay distillery. It’s from Kilchoman and is an official release (are there any indie Kilchomans?). This one is billed as a ruby port finish. As to whether that means it spent just a few months in the port cask or quite a bit longer than that, I don’t know. It was released in the US as part of the “Cask Evolution” series by Impex, who are Kilchoman’s importers in the country. (And no, I have no idea what the other releases in this “Cask Evolution” series are or what the concept of the series is supposed to be.) Will this be as good as Monday’s Bunnahabhain or will my general fears of port cask whiskies and finishes—to say nothing of port cask finishes—be realized? Only one way to find out. Continue reading
After a week of wacky mezcals—which began with one distilled with Iberico ham and ended with one distilled with mole poblano—let’s do a week of wacky single malts. Well, not really that wacky. These are all whiskies that involved port cask maturation or finishes. They’re also, as it happens, all peated whiskies. I’m not generally a fan of port cask maturation but—as I believe I’ve noted before—I think it’s in a marriage with heavy peat that it shows to its best advantage. Bunnahabhain may not be what you think of when you read the words “heavy peat”…or maybe that isn’t true anymore given how much peated Bunnahabhain, indie and official, has hit the market in the last decade. At any rate this is peated Bunnahabhain. It is eight years old. It was distilled in 2013 and spent five years or so in a bourbon cask and then three years or so in a tawny port cask. That pretty much counts as double maturation in my book. And hopefully that means the usual problems of wine finishes will be held at bay. Let’s see. Continue reading
Today is the ninth anniversary of my blog’s launch. I had no particular thoughts then—that I can remember at any rate—of how long I’d keep it going but nine years seems quite long. When Sku signed off from his blog after it turned 10 I’d thought I might one-up him and end mine when it turned nine. But don’t get your hopes up: I’m not going to. I don’t know how many more years I’ll keep at it but for now I’m still enjoying blogging—especially with the dual food and whisky focus, and the occasional foray into other things. I know that I’ve lost many of my original whisky readers with the diluted focus on whisky after the first couple of years. I do very much appreciate those of you who’ve stuck with the blog no matter when you happened on it, whether whisky or food is your prime interest. I’ve never been a volume reviewer of whisky—in the first year or so I posted a whisky review every day but I couldn’t keep that up very long. It’s been three reviews a week for a long time now and it’ll stay that way. My practice of only reviewing what I choose to drink and not accepting commercial samples will also continue. And my reviews of restaurant meals—in the Twin Cities metro and beyond—will also continue to be independent and will doubtless continue to win me more friends online as my recent review of Owamni did on Facebook; I’m glad to have at least a few blog readers who find those reviews of value (whether you agree or disagree). To those who cook from the recipes I post I feel perhaps the greatest gratitude—for in a sense letting me into your kitchen and making some of what we eat part of your own and your family’s repertoires.
But enough cloying sentiment! It’s been a tradition for every blog anniversary to be marked with a Bowmore review—as my first review happened to be of a lowly Bowmore—and so it will be this year as well. Continue reading
Monday’s Caol Ila was a bit disappointing. Today’s Laphroaig is a year older, also from a bourbon cask and bottled by the Laing outfit that owns the Old Malt Cask label. I was not very enthused by the last Laphroaig 12 from OMC that I reviewed—one of their 20th anniversary releases. I hope this one, distilled a couple of years earlier, will be a lot better.
Laphroaig 12, 2004 (50.5%; OMC; refill hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Bright carbolic peat off the top; quite a bit of Dettol and also a cereal sweetness. With the second sniff citrus begins to expand (lime) and then it begins to get increasingly coastal (brine, seashells). With more time there’s a hint of vanilla. A bit more of the vanilla with water but it melds well with the lime and the smoke and avoids becoming cloying. With time there’s some citronella as well. Continue reading
After a week of Ardmore in the eastern Highlands let’s swing over west and south to Islay. This time it won’t be a single distillery that occupies our time but three different ones. And the peat will be heavier. First up: one of younger bourbon cask Caol Ilas that are usually rather good indeed. This cask was bottled by Berry Bros. & Rudd, which theoretically should also be a good sign. But the proof is in the glass. Let’s see.
Caol Ila 11, 2007 (55%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; cask 319464; from a bottle split)
Nose: Bright carbolic peat mixed with lemon and ash and salt. The salt expands on the second sniff, picking up more coastal accents (shells, kelp). The salt expands with each sniff and there’s a mezcal note in there too that speaks of youth. With more time there’s some vanilla mixed in as well and the lemon turns to citronella. With water the mezcal recedes but the vanilla expands. It gets more phenolic too but I’m not sure that mix of vanilla and heavy phenols works so well. Continue reading
And Kilchoman week comes to a close. I started on Monday with a 13 yo—the oldest Kilchoman I’ve yet tasted and reviewed. On Wednesday I reviewed a 10 yo. Both of those were bourbon casks bottled for the Spec’s liquor chain in Texas. Today’s release—bottled for some outfit called the Southern California Whiskey Club—is both the youngest of the three, at 8 years of age, and also a little more unconventional. It too started out in a bourbon cask but received a finish in a ruby port quarter cask. As per Kilchomania, it spent more than 7 years in a Buffalo Trace cask before entering the port quarter cask—which presumably was a quarter cask treated with ruby port for this purpose; I don’t think port of any kind is typically matured in such small casks. Port casks work best for me when heavily peated whisky is involved and so that part should be fine. But there’s also quite a bit of oak contact here and I’m not generally big on oaky whiskies. Which way will this one go? Only one way to find out. Continue reading
A week of Kilchoman reviews started on Monday with a 13 yo bottled for Spec’s in Texas. I liked that one quite a bit on the nose but found it increasingly dull on the palate. Today I have for you a review of another cask bottled for Spec’s, also a bourbon cask but this time a 10 yo. I’m hoping I’ll like this one a bit better.
Kilchoman 10, 2010 (55.3%; for Spec’s; bourbon cask; from a bottle split)
Nose: Ah, I like this better than the 13 yo already: carbolic peat mixed with ash and lemon and salt. Cracked pepper on the second sniff and it gets quite coastal with briny-sweet aromas of kelp, sea shells and oyster liquor. After a bit some vanilla emerges as well. With more time and air the vanilla expands and is joined by a cereal note. Water renders it a bit anonymous. Continue reading
Last week’s review featured whiskies from three different Islay distilleries (Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Caol Ila). We’ll stay on Islay for another week but this week’s reviews will all be from a single distillery: Kilchoman. They’ll also all be of Kilchomans specially bottled for the American market—which sometimes seems like it might be the majority of Kilchoman’s bottlings. The first two were bottled for the gargantuan Texas chain, Spec’s, and the third for the Southern California Whiskey Club (who these people are, I’m not really sure). The two Spec’s releases—both from 2021—were from bourbon casks. Friday’s Southern California Whiskey Club is—as you will see—a little different. So, two classic casks and then a slight twist. We’ll also take the week in descending order of age. In fact, this 13 yo cask is not only the oldest of the three I’ll be reviewing this week, it’s the oldest Kilchoman I’ve yet reviewed, and probably ever tasted. It will have to be rather excellent indeed to come close to justifying the $190 currently being asked for it by Spec’s. I have to admit I find that price to be rather inexplicable—is it in line with what’s being charged for Kilchomans being bottled by other stores as well? Anyway, let’s see what the whisky is like. Continue reading
Let’s close out this week of reviews of whiskies from Islay distilleries with another young whisky released in 2021. As you have memorized and therefore don’t need me to remind you, my first review this week was of the new Ardbeg 8 and my second review was of the new Laphroaig 10 Sherry Oak. I am not sure what, if any, sherry cask involvement there is in the Ardbeg 8 but the Laphroaig has the sherry applied via an oloroso cask finish—a finish that melds very well with the spirit. This 12 yo Caol Ila takes the sherry further: it’s the result of a full-term maturation in a first-fill oloroso hogshead. The combination of “first-fill” and “hogshead” gives me a bit of pause: hopefully it’s not a recipe for raw, oaky sherry bomb. I am hopeful, however, as some of my very favourite sherried peated whiskies have been Caol Ilas—though I can’t recall if I have previously reviewed a specified oloroso cask. Let’s see where this one falls. Continue reading
I am the person you come to for timely reviews of very recently released whiskies. On Monday I posted my review of the limited edition 8 yo released by Ardbeg last year. Today I have for you a review of the sherry finished 10 yo also released last year by one of Ardbeg’s neighbours to the slight southwest: Laphroaig. My understanding is that this is basically the regular 10 yo Laphroaig “finished” for a short period in oloroso sherry casks. Which would distinguish it from the previous Triple Wood and PX releases, both of which involved quarter cask maturation and also lacked any age statement. I suppose it’s also possible that the 10 years of maturation includes a longer period spent in sherry casks but nothing I’ve seen in my desultory googling substantiates this possibility. If you know definitively one way or the other, please do write in below. Apart from the sherry involvement this also differs from the regular 10 yo in being bottled at 48% abv and costing quite a bit more—though not as much more as you might expect: Wine-Searcher shows prices in the US as “low” as $65. I think this did come to Minnesota as well but in the pandemic I did not manage to rouse myself to look for a bottle. Will this sample make me regret my lack of energy? Let’s see. Continue reading
Okay, let’s do a week on Islay. First up, a new Ardbeg. I don’t really follow whisky marketing anymore. Actually, I haven’t followed it at all for some time now. So I don’t know too much about this Ardbeg 8, which I believe was released last year and only available online from the distillery shop. As to whether it was just a one-off or if it’s going to become a regular release, I don’t know. Nor do I know how it’s made. With that promising introduction, let’s get into it.
Ardbeg 8 “For Discussion” (50.8%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Mellow ashy peat mixed with lemon on the first sniff. More phenolic on the second sniff and also far more coastal (brine, kelp). Sweeter notes emerge quickly as well (a touch of vanilla) even as the salt expands. A few drops of water push the ash and the lemon back and emphasize the sweeter notes—some malt here now with the vanilla. Some wet cement too now. Continue reading
Islay week started out with a Bowmore released in 2019 and then took a jump back in time with an Ardbeg Uigeadail released in 2007. We’re now back to the present, indeed back in 2021 itself. Closing out the week is this year’s edition of the Cairdeas, Laphroaig’s annual Feis Ile release. I was not a fan of 2020’s Port & Wine casks release. The release a year before that was a cask strength version of the Triple Wood from the regular lineup. This year’s release is a cask strength version of the PX release (is that still in the core lineup?) which is basically the Triple Wood but with oloroso casks as the third type of cask involved in the maturation (after regular bourbon casks and quarter casks). Will it send the series back in the right direction? Even if it does, I do wish Laphroaig would go back to releasing good young bourbon cask whiskies in this series. All of the Cairdeas releases I’ve liked best have been from bourbon casks. Either that or just give us a straight forward sherry cask release (both 2018’s Fino and 2014’s Amontillado releases were finsihes/double maturations too). Anyway, let’s see what this one is like—maybe it’ll make me eat my words. Continue reading
Islay week continues. After starting at Bowmore on Monday we’ll now move down to the south coast for the remaining reviews of the week. And after a bourbon cask release to start the week we’ll head into deep, sherried territory. First up, a bottle from the 2007 release of the Ardbeg Uigeadail. In 2007 the Uigeadail was not new—the first release was in 2003—but it was certainly not the familiar name it has since become to fans of the distillery and of heavily peated whisky. The distillery itself was only in the early stages of its comeback. The release of the new 10 year old, distilled after the purchase and revitalization of the distillery in 1997 by Glenmorangie PLC, was still a year away. And the Uigeadail itself would not become a major sensation till 2009 when that sexist asshole in a Panama hat named it his pick for the best whisky in the world or whatever. Of course, in malt whisky lore, the golden age of the Ardbeg Uigeadail was already behind it then! It’s the releases from 2003 and 2004 that are famous for containing old sherried Ardbeg from1970s casks in them. But even if that time was gone by 2007, the Uigeadail of that era was rather excellent indeed. I want to say that this is the last of several bottles I’d purchased at the time but my usually trusty spreadsheet fails me. This is one of very few whiskies for which I have not recorded the place or date of purchase or a price. As I do have all that information recorded for my remaining bottles of the 2010 and 2013 releases I’m guessing this was not purchased alongside them. Anyway, what I have recorded is the score I gave the previous bottle—finished before I started the blog—and on that basis I am expecting to enjoy this very much. Let’s get to it. Continue reading
After a week of Talisker let’s keep the focus on peat but shift south to another island: Islay.
Up first is a Bowmore 15, released for Feis Ile 2019 and put together from spirit matured in first-fill bourbon casks. In this it differs from the other Bowmores I’ve reviewed this year, which include one from refill sherry casks, a port finish, one from a mix of oloroso and PX casks, and another single refill sherry cask. Well, bourbon cask Bowmore is a particular favourite of mine and so I hope this is a good instance of that style. Let’s see.
Bowmore 15, Feis Ile 2019 (51.7%; first-fill bourbon casks; from a bottle split)
Nose: Takes a few beats to open up and then there’s the sweet Bowmore florals along with some passionfruit, some vanilla; mineral peat runs through it all. Brinier with each sniff. Not too much change after that. A few drops of water pull out some cream and turn the fruit more acidic. Continue reading
I started the week with a review of a young bourbon cask Caol Ila. Wednesday brought the recent Guinness cask finish release of Lagavulin’s Offerman Edition. Let’s close the week at one of Lagavulin’s south coast neighbours: Laphroaig. Like the Caol Ila this is from a refill bourbon hogshead but it is eight years older; it was also bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Okay, let’s get to it.
Laphroaig 18, 1998 (58.1%; SMWS 29.218; refill bourbon hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: All the classic stuff: carbolic, phenolic peat out the wazoo, laced with lemon, brine and oyster liquor; sweeter cereals underneath. After a while there’s a hit of damp smouldering leaves and also some cracked black pepper. With more time and air still the cereals come to the fore. A few drops of water and the phenols recede just a bit as the lemon turns to citronella and some muskier tart fruit emerges (pineapple, unripe mango). Continue reading
The first Lagavulin Offerman Edition was released in 2019—you probably know the story: Nick Offerman is a big Lagavulin fan (as was his Parks and Recreation character, Ron Swanson). I reviewed it then (just over two years ago). At the time I assumed that was a one-off but now here’s a second. Like the first, this is 11 years old; unlike the first, it has received a finish of a few months in Guinness casks. As to whether the base spirit was matured and vatted in exactly the same way as the previous 11 yo, I do not know. If you know more about any of this please write in below. I do know that I liked the first Offerman edition—more than some others did, I think. I did not find it to be gimmicky at all. I have to say I’m far more dubious about this one. Even if I were more positively disposed towards “finished” whiskies the thought of a beer finish causes my eyebrows to twitch. Though I suppose there is some bass note crossovers between stout/porter and the dark pleasures of Lagavulin. Anyway, let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
After a week of heavily sherried Macallans (here, here and here), let’s do a week of heavily peated Islays. All of these are, I think, from bourbon casks. First up, a young Caol Ila distilled in 2008 and also bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I quite liked the last SMWS Caol Ila 2008 I reviewed and if this is close I will be happy. The SMWS tasting panel gave this the name “Totally tropical smoke”. Sounds promising; let’s hope it’s an accurate description.
Caol Ila 10, 2008 (59.8%; SMWS 53.305; refill bourbon hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Ah, quite lovely with bright, carbolic peat mixed with some char, some brine and then quite a bit of the advertised musky fruit (charred lemon and pineapple). Gets saltier with each sniff, seemingly. As it sits the fruit recedes a bit and meatier notes come to the fore (charred pork). With more time still there’s a bit of cream but it melds nicely with the citrus and the smoke (smoked lime curd?). Water first emphasizes the coastal notes, bringing out more brine and some shells to go with it, and then the fruit pops out again. Continue reading