Laphroaig 18

Distillery: Laphroaig
Age:
18 years old
ABV: 
48%
More Info:
WhiskyBase

By far the most widespread Islay malt. You’re hard-pressed these days to go into a supermarket in the UK that doesn’t have the Laphroaig 10 in the Single Malt section of the spirits aisle.

This tends to be the Marmite of whiskies as well – known for its strong smoke and medicinal iodine flavour. When people think of peated whisky, I’d say Laphroaig is the one the majority of the general public would point to.

Laphroaig’s marketing department are well aware of this, hence their popular “Opinions Welcome” marketing campaign on YouTube.

So with all that to consider, what will an additional eight years in the cask do to the overall character of the whisky?

Nose: Very fruity and floral! Starts with ripe pear, cherry blossom, fruit pastilles, and beeswax. Beneath the bright fruity notes, I get a whiff of a fragrant peat bog, cedar wood and a soft, maritime breeze.

Palate: Cherry jam, barley fields, plums, dates, honeydew melon with a rising waft of peat smoke at the end.

Finish: Warm peat, black pepper, and a little bit of Earl Grey.

This is intensely fragrant and fruity. If Laphroaig usually conjures up images of fireplaces in Winter storms, this dram is one of those fleeting Summer days on Islay where the flowers are out and the breeze is warm and sweet.

That extra time in cask has let the phenols of the peated barley calm down and the oak has imparted a lot more sweet, fruity influence. The result is a lighter, sweeter whisky with a lot more going on than peat.

Available in limited quantities each year, you can find this online at all good whisky retailers. Master of Malt have samples at £6.21 and bottles at £73.96.

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Mango Chicken Vindaloo, SMWS 127.40

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 21.52.19Distillery: Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich)
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 2002
Age: 12 years old
Bottles: 159
ABV: 63%
Cask: Refill Bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

My gosh – it’s another peaty number from my favouritest distillery in the whole wide world. And to boot, it’s a bottling from those civilised folks up in Leith – the Single Malt Whisky Society.

I’m not a member of SMWS myself, but I’m a big fan of their bottlings and style of presentation. The language they use to discuss the whisky is very sensory and a world apart from the traditional means of discussing the malty-liquid-of-life.

Let’s dive in!

Nose: Icing sugar, play-doh, fried pineapple chutney, crusted salt, rubber boots, pear syrup, with a herby touch of sweet basil. May be the power of suggestion, but I can make out a spicy element – Sweet capsicum, cinnamon, and paprika. No chilli peppers, though.

Palate: Sweet, sour, and syrupy to start, with peat fire kicking in at the end and fading gently. Boiled sweets, barley sugar, kaffir lime juice, Caramac-esque notes of milky toffee, caramel, and chocolate, with a little bitter coffee. Peat smoke, oil, and tar on the tail. Yum – loads going on.

Finish: Slightly drying. Gentle warming spices. Ginger, clove, black pepper and a little more crusted salt.

Oooh, yes.

I love Port Charlotte at any age – it’s full of complexity at five years old, at twelve years old, and everywhere inbetween. And, consistently tasty with (or without) fancy finishes. Here it is shining in a refill barrel with a crowded-house of a flavour profile.

I didn’t try it with water, because it’s pretty spectacular at full cask strength, and it doesn’t burn or over-impose itself. This is something else I love about Bruichladdich – they can consistently release whisky with a high ABV and it feels soft and buttery in the mouth, brimming with delicate flavours.

Mmmmmm, yes. These SMWS members might just be onto something…

Thanks very much to Ben Cops for the sample.

Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster

Those folks at Douglas Laing sure can put together an interesting blend.

I’ve been a big fan of Big Peat for a few years now, especially the Xmas edition*. Their other regional blends, Timorous Beastie (for the Highlands), and Scallywag (for Speyside) are less to my taste, but very well put together all-the-same.

This one looks right up my street – the new blend, Rock Oyster, comprised purely of whisky from Scotland’s Islands region. I’m expecting maritime, salty, peaty goodness here. Let’s go!

Nose: Leathery, damp sand, mud, brine. Very mineral rich and salt-crusted, with a hint of icing sugar.

Palate: Quite savoury. Lemon, bitter grapefruit, thyme, cloves, olives and a crisp, tangy smoke. There’s a biscuity element in there too, among the tangier notes, which comes through later. A little bit of honey, vanilla and flowers once the smoke’s died down but only a bit.

Finish: It starts off oily in the mouth and progresses to a drying, lip-smacking finish of salt, cured meat, and white pepper.

I think the name here is bang on – it’s like sitting in a rock pool while you smoke seafood over a beach-fire.

It’s certainly one of the most savoury whiskies I’ve had in a while – not much in the way of fruity, malty notes. Thick bodied, too, with wide legs ending in big beads. Looks like a higher strength dram than 46.8%.

Sleuthing out the Components

The distilleries aren’t listed like they are with the Big Peat but it’s worth a bash all the same…

I’m thinking there’s a good dose of Highland Park in here – the way they peat their own barley on the island imparts that savoury smoke and the distinctive drying, grainy quality on the finish.

Since Jura and Arran only have a single distillery each, those are easy conclusions to come to! Though I don’t get any of the toffee or tangerine that I usually get from those whiskies (respectively), so that’s unexpected. I suspect their contribution to the whisky is relatively small compared to the others.

Which leaves the Islay component…

It’s a very maritime whisky, rather than an out-and-out peaty profile. Ardbeg is earthier, Laphroaig more medicinal, and I can’t see Lagavulin or Kilchoman being easily available.

The texture isn’t right for Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain is usually very sweet so the overall palate wouldn’t be this savoury…

Add the salty, lemony, olive-oil characteristics into the mix and… I’d have to say it’s a Caol Ila.

And Finally…

I like this one a lot. It doesn’t blow your head off like Big Peat (although that experience is not unpleasant) so it’s a bit more accessible – a weeknight dram for the coastal whisky fan, rather than a late-night mood whisky for a smoke-headed lunatic.

I’m not a huge advocate of food-pairing with spirits usually, but I can totally see this being nice with seafood. Maybe a bowl of prawns or mussels… I must buy a bottle and do some more research!

The important question now is, when will Master of Malt’s Sam add the Rock Oyster to the Douglas Laing Crimefighting Force…?

* In fact, one of the highlights of the London Whisky Show for me was being given a Big-Peat pen projector that casts the face of the windswept hero into the distance like Batman’s Bat Light.

You can pick up a sample or a bottle of Rock Oyster over at Master of Malt for £37.82.

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC5

This, I’m very proud to say, is one of those bottles that has pride of place on my whisky shelf. This is genesis. The first in the Port Charlotte “PC” series – the PC5.*

A monster of peat, matured in sherry, with the expertise, craft, and love of Mr. Jim McEwan. Let’s taste this little beauty.

Nose: Very herbaceous. Thyme and rosemary with a sea-salt edge. Distinct from the herbs is a candied fruit note, presumably from the sherry cask – I get grapes, tart raspberries, and apples with maybe a whiff of pear skin. There’s something very desserty about it.

Palate: Peated chocolate. An explosion of fruity syrup, wrapped in herbaceous peat smoke. Lemon, tangerine, sherbet dips, rounding off into peaches, marmalade, plums and dates.

Finish: Sea salt, bitter dark chocolate, black pepper.

Overall….. phwoar. This is the unbridled power of Islay vegetation, crystallised inside a sweet, candied amber resin of fruit. Tonight I’m enjoying this with a slab of orange dark chocolate and this is ludicrously good – a full body experience, rattling the senses.

No water needed here, in spite of the 63.5% ABV. This is the West Coast Scotch Malt experience as it was meant to be. Raw, riotous, powerful, and exquisitely wrapped in urbane, sensuous sherry notes.

My word. This is primal, pure, unrestrained whisky paradise.

*Though I will say, I didn’t crack the bottle open. The sample came from those lovely folks at WhiskySample.nl

Caol Ila 30 (2014 Special Release)

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1983
Age: 30 years old
ABV: 55.1%
Cask: Refill American and European Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

I’ve been looking forward to this one! In 2014, I tried Cadenhead’s Small Batch release of Caol Ila 29 and it totally blew me away.

Given that the indy bottling was £100 and Diageo’s official Caol Ila 30 year old goes for over £400, I think my mind’s already made up as to what the best deal is.

But what about the whisky itself?

Nose: Sweet clementines, but also that cloudy apple juice note, tangy sherbet, some milk chocolate.

Palate: Very oily, with more orange citrus notes, and some tropical fruits bordering on melon and pineapple. Woody notes, with soft peat smoke and a peppery tang. Some leathery, savoury flavours in there.

Finish: Quite peppery, with lingering smoke.

It has a lot of the same characteristics that the Cadenhead’s bottling has. Gentle smoke and citrus notes with some interesting fruit coming through as well as an oily, savoury influence from the wood that gives it that dusty, leathery quality.

It’s an interesting whisky, for sure. But it is quite peppery and woody on the finish and the flavour in comparison to the 29 seems quite subdued. Still good, of course; but, I didn’t enjoy it as much. There’s a difference between being subtle, and being faint.

The Caol Ila 30 is a vatting of 30-year-old whisky aged in American and European refill casks. I’d imagine Diageo have tried to engineer it to have similar qualities to a 30 year old Port Ellen – leather, soft smoke, maritime savoury notes etc. They have a lot more Caol Ila stock to play with, and the golden goose of Port Ellen will stop laying eggs eventually.

Sadly, I think the refill casks they used here were a little too tired to carry the spirit for 30 years and the vatting process between American and European oak has lost something in translation.

If I hadn’t tried such a sensational Caol Ila from Cadenhead beforehand then I may have been more impressed, but it’s not the way it panned out. Sorry, Diageo, this time you lose.

Love the packaging, though. It’ll look lovely in display cabinets across the world.

Samples and bottles available from the Chaps at Master of Malt for £32.34 and £425 respectively.

Caol Ila Moch

Distillery: Caol Ila
Age: No Age Statement
ABV: 43%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Moch is a no-age-statement release where the barley isn’t as heavily peated as the standard 12-year-old. It’s a very similar price to the standard bottling, and the cut-back on PPM reveals some very appealing flavours.

Nose: Sea air, brine, soft smoke, sea-shells and sand. This is a walk on the Atlantic coast.

Palate: Oily but delicate coastal notes allow some soft fruit to come through with a hint of that lemon candy and sherbet. Very soft in the mouth.

Finish: Salt and pepper.

I actually like this more than the standard release. And that’s saying something because I really like the standard release. If you’re looking for an easy-sipping, interesting, and affordable Islay malt then look no further.

No doubt, it was intentionally engineered to be all of those things – but in their objectives, I think Diageo have done well with this one.

Available on Master of Malt for £42.75.

Caol Ila 1998 Unpeated (2014 special release)

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1998
Age: 15 years old
ABV: 60.3%
Cask: First-fill bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s a curve ball – a Caol Ila without even a trace of peat. Will it be recognisable as the gentle, smoky, maritime malt that we know and love? Let’s see……

Nose: Milk, pear syrup, honeysuckle, acetone, vanilla, citrus and sherbet.

Palate: Lemon candy, and more sherbet. Herby, floral notes – lavender and thyme. Sweet malt and cereal, with a little more milk – whole milk, too, quite creamy. Viscous mouthfeel, but not actually creamy.

Finish: Some citrus tang remains, a touch of salt and toasted oak at the very end.

I never would have guessed the ABV is so high. There’s no burn at all, the spirit feels very soft in the mouth with delicate notes to the flavour.

Caol Ila usually gets lemon candy and salt in the tasting notes, and those are most definitely still in evidence. Even the sherbet quality on the nose, which I always assumed to be the peat talking.

I tried the Stitchell’s Reserve unpeated Caol Ila last year and wasn’t especially impressed. This bottling’s head and shoulders above it and maintains what we knew all along – the Caol Ila distillery produces some fantastic distillate, which can clearly stand on its feet without peated barley to zest it up.

No samples currently, but the chaps at Master of Malt have bottles available for £73.96. That’s pretty good for a 15-year-old spirit at such a high cask strength – throw in the intrigue of an unpeated Caol Ila and the limited bottling run of 10,668 and you have a real bargain.