Lagavulin Batch 1 (TBWC)

Screen Shot 2015-10-23 at 17.47.05Distillery: Lagavulin
Bottled: 2015
Age: ???
ABV: 54.5%
Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s a rarity! An indie bottling of Lagavulin.

Nose: Tequila in porridge (a great breakfast favourite of mine), salted oatcakes, sourdough and marzipan.

Palate: More tequila notes, perhaps with grappa. Dry smoke wafts through candied lemons and tart, tangy plums.

Finish: Oaky and buttery with more peat tang and sea salt.

I’m sorry to say, this is too young for the price. Those white spirit notes of tequila are classic signs of young/new make whisky. They’re not unpleasant per se, but you get better notes with age.

Lagavulin spirit is excellent, as far as new make goes. But it needs longer than this in cask before it’s ready for drinking. I’d guess this is around the 5 or 6 years old mark. That might work for more robust distillate like Kilchoman but Lagavulin needs more time.

Sorry chaps at Master of Malt, but this isn’t a winner for my money! 500ml for £100. I’d rather have 700ml of 12 year old and have cash to spare…

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Ardbeg Perpetuum Distillery Release

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 20.08.08Distillery: Ardbeg
Bottled: 2015
Age: NAS
ABV: 49.2%
Bottles: 12,000
Cask: Ex-bourbon and ex-sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Another year, another Ardbeg Day release!

Only this time it’s a special year for the distillery at the end of the Kildalton road – they’re celebrating their bicentenary. So just to confuse everybody, they released not one special bottling but two! I guess that’s one each for both centuries?

This one is the distillery-only version released for the Feis Ile. Oddly, they changed their mind and decided to put it on sale on their website, causing havoc as their servers went down under the heavy traffic.

They also did the anniversary edition, bottled at a slightly lower 47.4% ABV and to the tune of 72,000 bottles.

Both releases promise elements of classic Ardbegs throughout the ages, with old and young spirit and a nod to the future as well as the past.

But beyond all the marketing spiel, what’s it actually like…?

Nose: Big flakes of sea salt on pretzels with air-dried ham. Dusty sherry notes of ripe plums, backed by briny iodine. Thick, sticky molasses with Jamaican ginger cake and malt loaf. Chewed rubber-tipped pencils, with fireplace hints of dry wood ash and old coal dust.

Palate: Sweet iced coffee with lots of salt and pepper. Creamy sherry trifle. Glacé cherry, bananas, juicy sultanas with rich malt syrup. More briny iodine notes swirled into chocolate sauce.

Finish: Super long and dry with oily espresso foam, salty ashes and sticky liquorice. Creamy, buttery oak.

Absolutely delicious. It’s desserty but not over the top – a really excellent balance of salt, sweet and bitter. It definitely tastes old and dusty with classic elements of more mature Ardbegs, and vintages from days gone by. I love the sherry influence – not as knockout as Uigeadail, more restrained and subtle.

Top notch, this. Thanks so much to Ben Cops for the sample.

The distillery edition’s long sold out on the Ardbeg site, but you can still find it on other retail sites and in auctions. Just don’t pay £400 for it like some people have!

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Distillery: Ardbeg
Distilled: 2002, Bottled: 2014
ABV: 49.9%
Bottles: 6,660
Cask: American Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

Is 12 months enough time to let the hype of an Ardbeg Day release subside?

Hard to say, given the social media fever pitch (football pun intended) flying around whenever the distillery at the end of the Kildalton road sends forth a new shimmering green emissary into the foamy-mouthed, wild-eyed, peat-worshipping pandemonium.

With the spotlight firmly on the two slightly different Perpetuum releases, I felt it was time I really got to grips with last year’s Auriverdes, the world-cup bottling in honour of Brazil’s flag “Auriverdes”.

By all accounts, consensus from those who shout loudest is that this is a bit of a flop. Someone described it to me as being more a Schmeichel than a Gascoigne*. I’m not sure I’d agree there but it’s fair to say it’s atypical of Ardbeg bottlings, with the peat-junkies getting all rattly and agitated like Mark Renton after a disappointing miniature paper cup of methadone.

Let’s see if I can manage to be objective:

Nose: Very medical. Savlon cream and bandages. Lemon juice with cracked black pepper. Crispy smoked bacon fat. Vanilla pods in dark honey with a synthetic peach aroma. Thick black liquorice sticks.

Palate: Briny, but fruity. Smoky pineapple and grapefruit juice with peaty vanilla ice cream, cinnamon wafers, and a thick, oily espresso foam. Thinner and lighter than expected but still mouth-coating.

Finish: Long and dry, quite woody with ashy smoke. At the very end, a waxy/fruity/jelly sweet residue coats a medicinal, iodine-rich aftertaste.

Very interesting, this one. And very comforting to drink. I’d describe it as lightly peated (by Ardbeg standards). It has a lot in common with Caol Ila, though it retains an oily, tarry Ardbeg signature rather than the light and delicate Caol Ila zing.

In all honesty, I really like it. I’ve had a bottle open a few days now, and wasn’t sure at first, but it’s growing on me more every time I take a sip. The lack of punchy peat smoke really lets out the fruity side.

All in all, then, this is a winner. Maybe not what the peat-freaks wanted, but it’s a very drinkable and interesting dram all the same. I can see this going down well with a big salty slab of Brazilian beef steak.

After selling out last year, Ardbeg have made some more of this available on the Ardbeg shop for £79.99.

* That’s to say, a keeper not a drinker.

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley “The Classic Laddie”

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2013
Age: NAS
ABV: 50%
Cask: American oak ex bourbon casks, and European oak ex fino sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

First and foremost in the Laddie core range, the vibrant aquamarine bottle of Bruichladdich Scottish Barley, “The Classic Laddie”.

The story goes that, when Mark Reynier (one of the band of independent investors who rebooted Bruichladdich) first visited the distillery this is what colour the sea water was in Loch Indaal.

This is a multi-vintage whisky (a.k.a. No Age Statement, or NAS) but I have it on good authority that it’s around 5/6 years old. When it comes to their whisky, Bruichladdich don’t keep many secrets.

Produced in a mixture of American oak ex bourbon casks, and European oak ex fino sherry casks, the whisky is unpeated and bottled at 50% ABV. As always, all the distillery’s bottlings are non chill filtered and free from colouring.

Nose: Salty, earthy and grassy with limes and bananas. Slightly rubbery with a strong mineral smell.

Palate: Salty custard with limes and cinnamon. After sitting in the glass a while, vanilla sponge cake.

Finish: Oily walnuts, sultanas.

Deceptively simple at first but reveals more character with each sip. Very approachable and smooth at 50%. A solid introduction to the core range of Bruichladdich whiskies.

Ardbeg Kildalton 2014

Distillery: Ardbeg
ABV: 46%
Cask: Bourbon and refill sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Back to Islay for my next dram, and that ever-popular of the Kildalton three: Ardbeg.

The Kildalton Cross is a special release bottling that’s got the collectors in fever pitch and the auction sites buzzing. Given the prices on the secondary market, and the huge furore surrounding purchase from primary sources, I usually give the Ardbeg special editions a miss (though I’m always ready to taste a sample, of course).

Popular opinion of the quality of Ardbeg special editions varies greatly, particularly with the tendency to release NAS whisky of late. The Feis Ile release this year, Auriverdes, had a lot of negative reactions (I think it was the only NAS whisky on offer during the festival, besides Laphroaig’s Cairdeas).

I can understand the disappointment when special editions don’t have age statements, though I have to say right now that I love the distillery’s standard NAS releases Uigeadail and Corryvreckan. I usually have a bottle of the former open on my whisky shelf and it makes me smile every time I pour a glass. For the price, it may actually get you the best value for money when it comes to Islay drams.

So in my eyes, when it comes to Ardbeg, it needn’t be an old specimen to be balanced, interesting, and tasty.

The 1980 and 1981 Kildalton releases at cask strength have great reputations among Ardbeg fans of old. But will this non-cask strength NAS release of the same name fire up a new generation and keep the die-hards from pining for the good old days…?

Having never been lucky enough to try those older vintages, I should be safe from pie-eyed nostalgia at least. Time to taste!

Nose: Surprisingly calm, with a clinical character. Gentle medicinal peat smoke, bandages, sea water and soft leather. Not a hint of fruit.

Palate: Vanilla toffee with ginger and almonds. A little cough mixture. The trademark Ardbeg peat is in there, but it’s not as robust as core expressions. Instead of starting on full-blast phenols and tailing off, the smoke builds in the mouth. Touch of seaweed in there.

Finish: A smidgeon of dried fruit, but quite tart – more like apricots than raisins. Some drying, nutty, oaky notes linger.

Frankly, this is a very bland expression for Ardbeg. I can see the attraction for them to produce a thought-provoking, subtle, refined whisky to contrast with the loud, intense, party-in-your-mouth profiles we know and love. But, this isn’t it.

It took quite a long time to open up and for distinct notes to present themselves. I daren’t add water at all, lest all flavour disappear entirely.

To be honest, it’s not unpleasant. It’s not a bad whisky. But my mouth misses the party. It’s like sipping a flat cola, the flavour is familiar but it doesn’t hit the spot like you’d hoped. Like going round to an old school friend’s place after years and finding they’ve become a bit… well… boring.

I could let them off given that this was a release to raise money for charity, and so much of it will sit unopened in a cabinet to be admired. But this isn’t what I love about whisky – I need flavour. If there’s poetry on the palate then you could serve me the liquid in a shoe – the bottle, box, and marketing-bollocks is all a discardable vessel to get the whisky to my face.

I wanted to like this, I really did. I tried 2014’s Supernova release and it was absolutely thrilling. A rocketship on the marketing material and a cosmic explosion on the palate. If that whisky was a spaceman then I think this one is an accountant – not an unpleasant person to be with, per se, but he’s no Buzz Lightyear.

Stick to what you’re good at, lads. Loud, mad, boisterous whisky at cask strength. It’s not the lack of age statement here that’s let you down – it’s more a lack of character and a lost sense of adventure.

There’s samples of this on Master of Malt for £10.57 if you fancy a go.

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Bottled: 2014
ABV: 46.3%
Cask: Bourbon
Age: Limited Edition NAS
More Info: WhiskyBase

I’m a massive fan of Islay whisky.

For me, the style puts all other whiskies quietly in the corner – you get such strong characterful expressions out of distilleries on the island, the kind of whisky that makes you sit up and pay attention – a provoker, challenging you to react.

For this reason, I’ve always found Bunnahabhain to be something of an odd-one-out with its softly-spoken, mellow, and (largely) unpeated style.

It’s not often I try their releases, as I rarely see them in the shops. We stopped by the distillery when we were on Islay but their gates were closed, no signs of life. All-in-all, this leaves it the least explored of the region’s distilleries for me.

Ever eager for the new experience, I was lucky enough to win their competition for a sample of their latest limited edition, the Ceòbanach (Scots-Gaelic for ‘smoky mist’). I was a big fan of the last peated Bunnahabhain I tried, the very smoky ‘Toiteach’, so I’m looking forward to trying this more lightly-peated expression.

Let’s see what this dark-horse of the Hebrides can do to provoke a reaction…

Nose: No peat reek here! I get straw and sweet cedar wood, play-doh, muscovadao sugar, dessert wine, apple strudel and nutmeg.

Palate: Crème brûlée, lemon-curd, pear drops, black pepper, and green apple skin. The peat is in-evidence, giving the fruit flavours more zest and tingle.

Finish: More spices, earthy peat and antique wood flavours, with a touch of chestnut at the end.

There is definitely a flavour at the core of all Bunnahabhain whisky that reminds me of crème brûlée. It really has something very desserty and sweet-shoppy about it.

The Ceòbanach is sweet, light, and zesty with a quiver of peat-tang and a lot of fragrant, fruity, woody notes. It’s got subtlety and complexity to it, building a lot of aroma around a lightly-smoked core.

Good work, chaps. Get some more expressions like this in your regular line-up and I’m sure they’ll go down an absolute storm.