Hazelburn 9 Year Old Barolo Cask / Bot.2016 Sweet Bitter

The Hazelburn marquee doesn’t get the same amount of love as it’s other two siblings, it is definitely a different style not as immediate as the heavily peated Longrow or the industrial wonder Springbank. It certainly doesn’t match up with most people’s ideas of triple distilled whisky, it’s got the depth that you don’t get from something like Auchentoshan and sometimes seems to retain a slight peaty funk despite not being made from peated barley.

The most recent releases have had some sort of double maturation or cask finishing much like this one here, six years in first fill bourbon & then three years in refill barolo Hogsheads, I pitted this one against a cask strength SMWS Cooley from my previous review.

I was the gracious recipient of a heel of this bottle care of @Astroke

Nose: Sweet, cotton candy, definitely alcohol on the nose, soaked cake with sherry, fruits in syrup, cider vinegar, crystallized fruit & juicy fruit gum. Orgeat syrup, loads of vanilla & powdered sugar & cooked banana. It’s pretty sharp and sweet to start off then it diverges slightly with a green note, bay leaf, thyme, salt-cured lemons.

Palate: Full, slight sulfur, browned butter, candied papaya & pineapple. There’s a dark note, sharp almost ozone like, toasted almonds, it’s quite bitter on the back end with a woody/spicy note like cassia bark.

Finish: Lemon pith, sage, granny smith apples, paraffin, celery root, icing sugar, a trace of old leather and & mesquite smoke, peppery chili heat.

The Blab: The nose is shy at first but pleasant, the palate is oily, rich, with this dark note that eventually becomes this bitter/pithy thing that then takes over. The alcohol sharpness lingers until the end with that green chili, black pepper note.

Water helps reduce the bite but it heightens the pepper & lemons.

This one takes a while to tease out its charms, the nose leans heavily on sweet things, it’s the palate that has more oddness.

Hazelburn 9 Barolo Cask

57.9% ABV

85/100

Bushmills SMWS 51.12 – Pastries and sweet treats “A dram in hand is worth two in the Bushmills”

SMWS 51.12 “Pastries & Sweet Treats” Bushmills Distillery 15yrs old Distilled 22nd May 2002 58.9% ABV

I’ve doubled down on tackling my sample box of late, I’ve had success by putting my sessions together around contrast/compare, rather than honing in on a specific expression. With that in mind, when I went in search of a whisky to pit against a 9 yr Hazelburn Barolo cask, I remembered this sample that @talexander graciously provided.

This is a 15 yrs. old Bushmills triple distilled single malt from a first fill ex-bourbon barrel. It was bottled exclusively for the Canadian arm of the SMWS.

Nose: Starts off big all on fruits & jujubes, pineapple, pears, Muscat grapes a touch of talcum. Fresh oak, a slight dusty feeling, with time we get a lot of grain almost a beery lager smell. Finally it gets a bit herbal, lemon zest & thyme.

Palate: Sharp, astringent & mouth drying. Brown sugar, porridge, a touch of beeswax. There’s a green almost grassy feeling, lemon lozenges, and a touch of milk chocolate.

Finish: Creamy yogurt, more porridge, coconut oil & Brazil nuts, chili pepper heat & then finishes on astringent lemon pith and eucalyptus.

Notes: Interesting quite the difference between the nose & palate. It’s a big & bold version of Bushmills, that crazy astringency is a bit distracting, I had a similar experience with another Irish single cask from Eilin Lim and it just sucked the moisture right out of your mouth.

I am happy to have the opportunity to try this release as we rarely get access to Bushmills at cask strength or as single casks, it certainly would put an end to all this talk of Irish whisky being “light”.

Bushmills SMWS 51.12 – Pastries and sweet treats

58.9%ABV

83/100

Nikka – From the Barrel “From the Barrel Came Forth The Sweet”

One of the few Japanese Whiskys one can still obtain easily and that seems to be hitting US shores as of recently. Nikka must have caved in and had it bottled in 750ml rather than the customary 500ml bottles.

This is said to be a blend of malt & grain whisky, I won’t even entertain the speculation that it’s only from Japanese made spirits as the similarly packaged pure malt range contains Scottish whisky.

The whisky gets it’s name from the method of putting the finished blend into refill casks to mellow out and marry before being bottled rather than a large stainless steel vat or tun. A practice I’ve heard other distillers mention, Bruichladdich comes to mind. It is bottled in a distinct square blocky vessel, almost like medicine or a lab bottle, there are large 3L versions that come with a wooden stand and a glass pipette to dole out a measure of the whisky as well.

This is from a bottle circa 2017 from a sample graciously provided by Robert

Nose: Caramel, Sweet oak, coconut. There’s a sharp, slightly acetone like note but it’s not unpleasant and doesn’t mar the proceedings. Dried apricots, a prominent corn note like in bourbon. With time it develops on apple blossoms,creamed honey and apple skins.

Palate: Very full, old oak, a kind of rubber note, dark fruits and a touch of sulphur. Musky dried fruit like persimmons or longans, a light char/clean smoke and a mineral note.

Finish: Herbal, a touch of oregano/sage, bitter, dry and fairly boozy, honey and dry wood shavings.

The Blab: This is pretty decent and punchy I can see why some folks would love this, especially those for whom it’s cask strength or bust. It loses steam because of that dry/bitter oak finish coupled with the sharpness at the tail end. I was often reminded of a Canadian whisky when drinking this. The char/smoke note is very faint when drinking the whisky but the empty glass after a few hours had a scent that reminded me of mesquite.

I’m glad I tasted this and if I could get the 500ml bottles at a good price I might consider keeping a bottle of this around.

Nikka – From the Barrel

51.4%ABV

84/100

Ardbeg Drum “From Renaissance to Carnivalesque”

It is difficult to be critical of Ardbeg without attracting a fair amount of shade from its hardcore fan base, you know the kind of folks who will respond to every lacklustre review of a special release with “Yeah but have you tasted the Committee Release bro? Bro… If that committee release is that good, why wouldn’t they just bottle it “as is” and show the world how good their whisky is?

There are others who will say Ardbeg is one of the whipping boys of the whisky world, yes it can be all too easy to throw jabs their way since the marketing arm of the company seems to think so highly of itself. Yes even when they’re trying to be whimsical & “groovy” man.

At this point you’re probably wondering what makes me qualified to talk such, nothing other than I am coming from a place of love and respect for this distillery’s products. In a recent review of Ardbeg An Oa, I wondered what the point of that expression was, it was enjoyable and technically well-made but felt it was vatting the character out of Ardbeg. Shouldn’t it be time that LVMH/Glenmobeg start releasing other age stated versions in their line-up besides 23+year old casks they have purchased back from Indie bottlers to then release as ultra premium?

A return of the 17 or even a 15 yr old Ardbeg showcasing what happens to the spirit as it “naturally” softens up rather than blunting it with oak and PX? How about a cask strength version of the 10, I know I can’t be the only one who wonders what that could be like? Why would they do that when they can continue to serve young NAS malts at inflated prices and they still make a killing doing that, all the while perpetuating tired borderline racist tropes of a fun “Caribbean” theme? Yet I still always approach any whisky on the merits/faults of the products at hand not the hype.

Nose: Diesel fuel, nutmeg,It’s sprightly, a kind of fusel note, a very sweet nose that turns to a mineral/coconut oil vibe. A bit of ash and anise and a slight artificial banana note.

Palate: Sweet, ashy, licorice and vanilla. Pears, gum drops and then it gets bitter and earthy. Rough, leaves you with vinyl, new plastics, a creamy eggy feeling, a bit like an overcooked custard. Banana leaves, glycerin, anise, rotting grass.

Finish: Cashews, more of that plastic character, brown sugar. An unpleasant astringency, charred oak and camphor but everything starts to fade out not leaving any lasting impressions. The empty glass has a lot of petit grain, rice pudding and coconut tanning lotion.

Notes: Not great, but that’s just my opinion, there are notes I would find pleasant if they were meshed well with the more austere side of Arbdeg but this just flies in all directions. Stick with the superb standard line-up, at least they haven’t messed with those too much.

Ardbeg Drum

46%ABV

77/100

Caol Ila 18 Unpeated Style, Special releases 2017 – “Port Askaig by way of Campbeltown”

Introduced as part of the Special releases in 2006 with an 8 year old unpeated style Caol Ila, we’ve progressively seen older expressions appearing every year. Rumour has it the unpeated Caol Ila was created as a blending tool for the Diageo stable, it would not be surprising considering how much of the output of this distillery is used for blends and sold to brokers.

I would love to be able to try unpeated whisky from some of the other Islay set. I remember seeing a photo of the control room at Lagavulin and the board used to label the malt bins had one marked as unpeated?! Do they use it to do a few runs at the end before cleaning the systems or do they vat it together with the more heavily peated barrels to use in blends?

Either way it’s been interesting to see this style evolve over the years but take note there will be no unpeated style Caol Ila in 2019!

Nose: Fresh fruit, apples, apricots, rich and a phenolic touch like the embers on a campfire. Very mineral, oyster juices and lemon with a green fruit and grass and a touch of engine grease.

Palate: Sweet, oily, juicy fruit chewing gum, stone fruit, some spicy oak & salted lemons. A bit of earthiness, tapioca/white chocolate, then settles on a slight fuel or kerosene note, salt & a bit of camphor or carbolic soap.

Finish: A touch of something like machine oil, super fruity, you can barely feel the heat, doesn’t feel like 59%. Sweet and chewy oak a slight green feeling. Like tree sap. The feeling of something dirty and sweet.

The Blab: This is pretty amazing, loads of porridge and fruits. A great texture, that slight peat, earthy, spice and sea shells. The oak is present, it makes it chewy. Smooth and full. A great dram. I kept thinking of Springbank while drinking this.

Caol Ila “Unpeated Style” 18 yr old

59.8% ABV

89/100

Bruichladdich Organic 2009 – “Barley Exploration Part III”

I scrapped my original intro to this review, I should have called this series “against the grain” or “down with big Ag!” all kidding aside, I don’t mean to come off as preachy, I am just trying to gather my thoughts coherently about these questions that are often on my mind when this type of subject comes up.

Suffice to say that it is easy to become too focused on the big picture and lose sight of all the little steps that contribute to the whole, you can remove some of these and cut corner and “innovate” and still arrive at a result that is similar but upon close inspection isn’t. The taste of whisky is more than just anonymous grain spirit + barrel finishes. Caring about the little steps requires more than good marketing and fancy tales.

2008 harvest distilled in 2009 Organic unpeated barley, 9 years old, matured in ex-bourbon casks.

Nose: Creamy digestive biscuits, cooked barley, lemon curd, whipped cream, cantaloupe, Satsumas. Lime oil, some vanilla and sweetness there is definitely some active first-fill casks at work.

With time a a few drops water a feeling of caraway, yeasty fermenting beer and a bit of ginseng, IPA??

Palate: Oily AF, lemon zest, salty, creamy vanilla and a good dose of oak and something a little charred. Whole whet bread and honey, with a spicy, peppery & “grippy” oak.

you have to take your time with this one, it needs air to reveal the interplay between the spicy, floral, sweet and oily.

Finish: Medium length, still that feeling of heavy cream a bit of juniper/pepper and lime pith & honey, even a slightly earthy side.

The Blab: This is a pretty round and characterful whisky, it has a hint of sharpness (but not harsh) and this young beer like, yeasty, floral hoppy aspect. It’s crazy to think this thing is only 8yrs old, real character not just weirdness, good to drink now but would love to see what it tastes like when it hits 12-14 yrs.

Bruichladdich The Organic 2009

50% ABV

86/100

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010 – “Barley Exploration Part II”

It would not have been that long ago that most distilleries would have sourced their barley from within their locality or at the very least their own country to meet their needs. As production of most distilleries grew and consolidation took hold of the industry, efficiency and cost have become the leading factor in the production of spirits for most distilleries.

They will bandy about the origins, history and lore of their locality but very little of that applies anymore. If your barley is grown in France, is malted in Scotland and then trucked to the Isle of Skye to be distilled. The then resulting new make is put in a tanker and shipped to Fife to be aged, can it still truly be called a maritime malt?

There are many in the Scotch whisky industry that will tell you that the barley variety and provenance add little to nothing to the flavour of the whisky. Yet in most other spirit and beverage categories they have doubled down on the importance of terroir (yes an overused word), variety and climate, it is intrinsic to the creation of the DNA of their product.

The truth for these conglomerates is that it just doesn’t fit their mode of operation, it is contrary to the way their businesses are run. Dealing with the minutiae of sourcing, the variability of crop outcome and of production that come with this model is contrary to their structure. They could charge more for the result, certainly that is appealing but it would invariably cost more to produce and require more hands on deck and that they can’t live with. Besides in their mind the average client cares little and if you use the right smoke and mirrors that are lore, legend and scarcity you keep them from looking too closely.

Just food for thought, I’m not saying local is best nor the only way to do things, I am just weary of many talking from both sides of their mouth at once, locality and history is only important when they say it is, much like age.

2009 crop from eight Islay farms from Uxbridge & Optic unpeated barley distilled 2010, 7 years old, majority first-fill Bourbon with some Rivesaltes, Jurançon & Banyuls casks vatted in.

Nose: Waxy lemons, a little struck match, melons, wet hay, loads of barley a little bit of vermouth. There’s a touch of cured ham, an oily almost shoe polish feel but nonetheless that air of freshness.

With time I feel like there’s a kind of slight wine cask type of influence earthy, blackberries, slight touch of olive and aniseed.

Palate: Peppery, oily & spicy. Sweet frosting, loads of musky fruit, salty ham, green coriander seeds a bit of green bell pepper. It really pulls your taste buds in many directions.

Finish: It finishes dry, a bit of cardboard and astringent fruit, cooked barley, caraway and spicy oak.

Blab: A nice whisky, the palate starts off the same as the nose but then it feels as if the wine casks take over. A bit of funk. Astringency and that earthy fruit thing, more a summery kind of whisky. I have preferred others in the series especially the 2007 Rockside farm release.

As with many of these Islay Barley whiskys it is hard to know if what you are tasting is due in part to the locality of the crop or not, it would be great to have comparison whisky of the same age and vatting but from a mainland crop to see the difference. That’s the whisky nerd in me talking.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010

50%/ABV

84/100