Smokehead “Kippers & Bits”

This is an NAS single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery. This brand comes from Ian Macleod’s company, who’s portfolio includes, Isle of Skye, Glengoyne & Thamdu among others.

Like most of these type of releases there’s much speculation on the origin of the casks for this whisky. Many speculate that this is a vatting of young casks of Ardbeg that don’t quite meet the company’s standards. Let’s see.

Nose: Smoked herring, damp cellar, creosote, it leans towards Ardbeg or Laphroaig heavy smoke. Salt, a smidge of vanilla, a little mercurochrome nothing else…maybe salt ham.

Palate: Acrid, earthy, sharp, kelp, oysters, beach bonfire, latex, milky, peat reek.

Finish is all on ashes, saltpetre, brine.

Good uncompromising stuff, all oily fish, milky/latex and ashy smoke. It ticks off all the peat freak boxes, don’t look for subtleties. I like this it’s very honest.

Smokehead Islay Single Malt

43% ABV

83/100

Lagavulin 8, 200th Anniversary Edition “A Mezcaleria in Port Ellen” 

Lagavulin 8 “200th anniversary Editon”

48%/ABV

86/100

 

This whisky was released to much fanfare in the whiskysphere, with reason. There is so little lagavulin variety on the market, the masses are starved.

It provides things fans of the 12yr old love, little to no cask play (the color is like Sauvignon), it’s served at a decent proof (48%ABV) and lastly that resounding 8 yrs age statement all bold and brash youth instead of an NAS with a fairytale name.

We know from many other contemporaries that young Islays can be superb and explosive (if a bit narrow in profile at times).

LAg8

Nose: Mineral, green, diesel fumes, burnt hay, almond oil. Its very mezcal like, génépi, bakelite, ashy smoke. With time freshly shucked oysters, a smidge of powdered sugar and pears

Palate: Dark, sharp,oily, acrid smoke. Bitter plants and artichokes, toasted and salted marcona almonds and lovage.

Finish: Bitter, inky, wet wool and grapefruit pith, it’s medium in length very drying. The quality of the distillate is without reproach.

Somedays this is really superb, firing on all cylinders. Other days it’s kind of hangs on to one note and goes with it. I wasn’t crazy about this bottle at first. I didn’t gas it and I find the final half much better although I don’t think it’s changed dramatically. A good young uncompromising whisky. I’m not convinced this was only a cash grab.

That said, as many feared (or wanted) this has become part of the regular line-up. At prices like I’ve seen in some states (45-65$) I would buy this again. Locally it’s a 100$ at that price point it competes with many other whiskys and the 16yr old is 129$, I am unlikely to buy a replacement soon.

 

Franck

Kings County Distillery Peated Bourbon

KCD Peated Bourbon

45% ABV

74/100

I’ve been meaning to post my review of this whisky but never got around to it. The genesis of this recipe is that having run out of malted barley one day, they decided to use a batch of peated malt that was on hand for experiments.

The result was to their liking and original enough as few American distillers use peat, especially in a bourbon mashbill.

Nose: sweet caramel corn, the youth is reflected in the varnish notes, they do relent after some time. Fresh oak, faint smoke like the embers and ash of a campfire, then dusty spices and herbs.

Palate: Chewy and astringent, wood sugars, lemon pith, herbal cough drops (Ricola?), slight violets and soapyness. The smoke is faint and seems to integrate with the charred oak flavour.

Finish: short, mild astringence from the oak and there is a faint feeling of sandalwood or incense.

The intel I gathered from my distillery visit, is that their bourbon recipe is basically 75% corn, 25% malted barley (peated in this case) so there is no flavouring grain like wheat or rye.

Also the peated malt used doesn’t seem to be very heavy therefore don’t expect a smoke bomb. It’s more like a slight accent. It’s less prononced as the bottle airs out. I liked this but it’s more for passing around a campfire or the flask than for easy sipping.

*Side note, I had about 10% of this bottle left and it got lost in the shuffle, I finally got around to it and it does not take well to oxidation. The nose is all cardboard, and the palate fell apart and got violent. A case for drink em’ if you got em’

Franck

Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 Islay barley

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley

64% AB

88/100

Yet another Octomore review and I have been searching for the best way to introduce this review. This was the first .3 iteration of the series, the culmination of much of the terroir driven work at Bruichladdich, 100% Islay barley grown on the farm that gave this whisky it’s namesake, by a guy named James Brown no less and peated to the eye watering level of 258ppm, a process that apparently requires several days of careful monitoring.


I believe the work that the Laddie team has been doing is really unique and admirable. One could view it as just being their marketing “shtick” but somehow it resonates with me this idea of making a spirit that reflects the surroundings and climate. Their trials using less popular barley strains and growing grains in proximity to the distillery is in some ways a return to tradition.

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Let’s see if any of this is reflected in the final product.

Nose: Farmy and greasy at first, then a bit of melon, lime oil (like the aftershave), a feeling of dirty juicy fruit gum, dried cereal, hot cornbread. Then comes the Laddie split-milk notes, lamp oil, cold campfire. With time a growing minty/herbal side, salted licorice, a bit of cinnamon and vanilla. The smoke is always present wrapping everything together.

Palate: Sharp, sooty, sweet, almost fizzy, diesel fumes and cantaloupe. A handful of black earth and lemon lozenge and citrus peels. It turns more mineral and bitter in the center before returning to a fun mix of  sweet, creamy and herbal, vanilla, corn pudding and gentian.

Finish: acrid smoke, earth and grains and a bit of sweetness, the lactic note is present but not overpowering. I found it much less sweet than other versions, the body is huge, just really oily and viscous.


It is fairly close to the standard versions of Octomore but somehow more earth and grain shine through, the herbal\mineral integrated with the sweetness, very well balanced

Lastly, you know you’ve made a good friend when after an evening out eating and indulging in a couple of drams, they end slip you two quite generous samples of Octomore for no other reason than the pure pleasure of getting your impressions of the stuff. I want to thank fellow Connosr member Robert99 for providing me the opportunity to dig myself deeper into Octo-obsession.

Franck

*photo credits:Octomore farm l’oeil sur le vin blog, Rockside farm Bruichladdich website. 

Amrut Fusion

Amrut Fusion

50% ABV.

72/100

amrut distillery

I believe at this point we are long past the era where the belief that good single malt whisky is the exclusive domain of the Scottish, the passion and craft of distilling this type of whisky has spread worldwide.

That said, there are still only a small number of distilleries who are producing malt of the caliber experienced consumers are expecting, thankfully those numbers are also growing.

One of the brands that was a catalyst for this movement is Amrut, while the company has a rich history of distilling spirits for their home market in India since 1948. Their jump to releasing their single malt whisky as a separate category was only done in 2004.

While the provenance of their whisky might once have been a barrier, imagine trying to convince hardcore Scotch drinkers to try Indian single malt, eventually it became their biggest asset. Since they have no SWA or equivalent governing body to deal with, they have been unrelenting in their experimentation.

The special releases came flooding in, Intermediate sherry, the Frankenstein cask experiment that is Spectrum, vatting malts from two different climates, adding oranges to sherry casks before refilling them with whisky, the list goes on.

Ashok
C’mon you can’t say these folks aren’t having fun. Here’s the brand ambassador Ashok announcing a new batch of Spectrum

This is without mentioning the effect of aging spirits in such a punishing climate. I dislike repeating the overused mantra of making the whisky age faster, as time is a factor unaffected by weather. It does indeed create an environnement with very active cask interaction and evaporation, which leads to young spirits with a profile and seeming maturity unlike that of their equivalent aged Scottish counterparts. You can compare the similar effect with island aged rum versus those matured on the mainland.

Most of whiskys I have tried from Amrut have left an imprint on me (I have vivid memories of a particular peated cask strength that balanced overripe tropical fruits and heavy smoke) it is why this particular bottle of Fusion has left me perplexed.

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Is that the only photo of our bottle? You betcha

Fusion is the one Amrut whisky that seems easily available in most markets, it is a mix of whisky from unpeated Himalayan malted barley and peated Scottish barley, no info is available on the actual proportion or age.

Nose: Dried ginger, spices (all spice, cardamom), dark fruits and the ethyl notes are very sharp. I’m not getting much on the nose, even with water and time it remains very closed.

Palate: Shellac, sandalwood, blood orange, a kind of dark bass note, tinned fruits and the oak is rather prominent. Water does it no favours, that dark peat thing becomes acrid and the sweet oak takes over.

I get the sensation that this weird dark note is perhaps the peat, like a feeling of burnt jam, also the alcohol is rather strong on the tail end.

Even after months being opened, the nose remains very shy, the palate hot and fussy, especially with water. If I had no experience with the excellent whiskys of Amrut I might have wondered what the fuss was all about. Batch variation is most likely to blame but without another reference sample I can’t say how much it accounts for. I recently shared a bottle of the standard issue Amrut Single malt at 46% abv with a friend and preferred it’s singular nose to this bottle of Fusion.

Franck

*Distillery  building photo and Ashok as 007 are credited to Amrut Distillery

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Ardbeg Uigeadail

54.2% abv. 

87/100

When one is fighting for access to the fundemental information about whisky (age) there are many arguments for the NAS camp, often one argument is “such and such a whisky is NAS and its great or I don’t mind when whisky is NAS as long as its good.”  There are a couple of whiskys that have become emblematic of this argument, Aberlour A’bunadh is one the other is Uigeadail.

The argument is moot because quality isn’t a function of age, yet it doesn’t make age any less irrelevant. Producers are talking out both sides of their mouths, age doesn’t matter except when it comes to luxury whisky.

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Both the SWA and producers are to blame. If the argument is that in vatting different ages you are punished by only being able to display the youngest age, then let producers display vatting composition details (a la roller-coaster or classic Laddie.) I suspect that hiding the age is convenient allowing them to charge more for young whisky, or change the composition without having to modify price point, packaging or even advising consumers of the change.

All of this is just food for thought, lets taste this icon and see.

Nose: Soy sauce, teriyaki, old leather jacket, latex paint, smoke, kelp, fresh cake batter, hot tarmac, almonds, burning coals.

palate: tires peeling on asphalt, motorcycle exhaust, dried black grapes, savoury, salty, dried shiitake mushrooms.

Finish: sweet, ginger, cake frosting, nut brittle, salted macadamia nuts all with a blanket of smoke and bbq sauce.

This is undeniably good whisky, a great meeting of peat and sweet which is tricky to do right. I don’t know what it is about the Ardbeg profile that takes so well to Sherry.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both these Iconic NAS whiskys are high strength either, a good way to ease a young whisky on the palate is ensuring that it’s provided in full on “its goes to eleven” intensity.

Aberlour have gone one further by doing batch numbers and created a real frenzy, I know Ardbeg has a bottle code but it’s not obvious packaging info.

Franck 

Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength 2013

Laguvulin 12 Cask Strength 2013

55.1% ABV.

90/100

image

Much like Ardbeg and Laphroaig, Lagavulin is one of those distilleries that has the ability to turn grown men into fanboys. Unlike the latter examples, it does so by releasing very few whiskys and with little fanfare.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t think Diageo has any trouble with their marketing budget, yet I have to admit that the austere range of Lagavulin resonates with my personal aesthetic. Yes there are the Jazz fest releases & Feis Ile editions, as well as the occasional 20+yr old OB that are beyond most people’s reaches.

Otherwise the distillery output is channeled into three main expressions. The 16’s reputation renders it almost ubiquitous, it’s the one you are likely to find behind the bar in most reputable restaurant and bars, which doesn’t distract from the fact that it is a solid product.

On the other end you have this 12 years cask strength offering, it has been released yearly since 2000, produced in fairly large numbers. It is a vatting of all ex-bourbon barrels and judging from the pale color probably a fair amount of refill barrels (thankfully free of the DiageoGold™…thanks for that one Micheal k.)

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When one runs out of labels, one comes up with a convoluted archiving system involving super-heroes. Lagavulin=Electro, easy, right?

I first tasted this as the second to last whisky in a line-up of heavy hitters (Bunnahabhain Toiteach, Ardbeg Corry, Bowmore Tempest, Amrut peated CS) so singular was it’s delivery, I instantly knew I needed some of this in my life. Thank you again to fellow Connosr member Robert99 for sharing this with me.

Nose: Smoked fudge (this should totally be a thing), burnt chaff, butter, hot tarmac, a slight touch of vanilla. A feeling of Vicks vaporub and alpine liqueurs/bitters, earthy and mineral.

Palate: Sooty, a coal fire, bitter herbs and plants (cardoons?) there is also  little sweetness, It reminds me of mezcal in some ways, fresh almonds and grapefruit pith, salty and a slight creaminess.

Finish is long, all on puer eh tea (that earthy, vegetal side), blond tobacco smoke, fading sweetness and lingering oiliness. It’s so balanced and most quaffable undiluted.

A good reference when one wants to talk about distillery character or quality of distillate, there are similarities with other Islay whisky but there is this elemental qualities in this whisky that are hard to find elsewhere and there doesn’t seem to be so much wood doing the heavy lifting.

Ok yes the price, the Diagopremium™ is in effect, there has been a steady increase of the price of this over the years attaining some new heights with the 2016 edition. In our neck of the woods the 2013 retailed  for 116$ and the 2016 is now 160$…pretty steep price of entry.

 

Franck

 

 

 

 

Octomore 7.1 “Fernet Branca, benzene & charred Lemons”

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Octomore 7.1

59.5% abv

81/100

What can one say about Octomore that hasn’t been said before? Is this whisky all about muscular posturing (my peat’s bigger than yours)? Is it for peat nerds who must own every single edition (like Pokemon), overrated, one-dimensional, as close to a religious experience as possible, utter shite, delicious, overpriced swill?

As much as I love this whisky it’s retail price, especially in Quebec is hard to stomach, the standard .1 iterations sell for 230$ and the special editions (if we ever get any) go for upwards of 300$. It’s still only a 5 yr old whisky, chalk it up in part to the peat premium we see nowadays (anything with peat commands a higher price, add another premium if it’s Islay), we often get the argument of limited production but I mean really!

By now the standard bourbon barrel aged Octomore is in high demand, enough to have become something they can produce in sufficient numbers. It’s released at 5 years, it’s almost been that long since the Remy Cointreau buyout, they would have had enough time to adjust production volume for this. How much extra does it cost to overpeat the barley? I know it’s a long 3+day process but still, enough to warrant a 4 fold increase over the Classic Laddie edition, it hurts mommy!

Despite all this, it’s a very singular whisky, one I believe any whisky drinker must try at least once. The use of peat from the mainland (Bruichladdich doesn’t get it’s peated barley from Port Ellen malting unlike many of it’s Islay siblings) also helps inform some of the character of this whisky, lending to it perhaps less of that maritime, band-aidy funk…yes that’s an adjective. There’s also the tall Bruichladdich stills that probably come into effect.

I first tasted this whisky back to back with Octomore 6.1 so I will compare to it at times.

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Nose: Smoked buttermilk, acetone, tons of fermentation/baby-sick notes, more than the 6.1, dirty smoke with a slight rubbery edge. Fennel, oregano, peameal bacon, freshly stained pinewood, vanilla, charred lemons and burned corn husks.

Palate: Cola and Fernet Branca, sappy branches, really sweet marzipan and milk chocolate. Then it turns ashy and out comes the umami squad, cooked celery, lovage, black cardamom and aniseed, like danish licorice candies.

Finish is salty and sweet, ashy petrol smoke and tarred wet oak, hot cornbread, it lingers and sticks to your palate long after it is done.

If this is your first Octomore then, it gives you a good idea of the general profile of this series. In contrast to 6.1 or 5.1 I found it to be a bit too acrid and the butyric/lactic thing is too forward.

As discussed by chairman MAO in one of his reviews, it’s hard to see what each new .1 iteration brings to the table, other than a batch number and a slight tweak of ABV and/or PPM, I would love to see a priced controlled stable vatting or recipe released (yes wishful thinking I know). That being said, I think in the last few years we have a seen an effort to increase the offerings in the series. The 6.3 and 7.3 Islay barley variants are superb whiskys with depth and sharp definition.

On the experimental side of things there was Adam Hannet’s virgin oak obsession which played out in the 7.4  which despite the convoluted vatting, also bumped the age up to 7+years. Lastly there was the Laddie MP 6 session that was all Octomore single casks and the OBA web release which broke the laddie site temporarily, which is a black arts type vatting of different aged Octomore casks.

OBA

Franck

 

Rapid Fire Session October 2016, Benriness, Glendullan & Kilchoman

 

I forgot to post my notes from a couple of in-store tastings so I’m catching up.

This night was an interesting one with 2 bottle of independent bottlers Hart Brothers and the most recent turnouts from Kilchoman’s standard offerings.

I don’t have much information about Hart Brothers, it seems to be a family owned grocer/licensed retailer who turned to bottling at some time in the 60’s, they don’t seem to have the same presence as some of the bigger players in the game and I’m not sure how consistent their products are.

bretowen
Hart brothers??

The SAQ received a batch of their outturn in the fall, there wasn’t much to get excited about a couple of unnamed region specific blended malts, the most interesting are a 14 yr old Mortlach and a 17 yr old cask strength Glenrothes (a whopping 272$) both of which received lukewarm reviews from the refined noses at Quebec Whisky.

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1st up Hart Brothers Benrinnes 14 yrs old, 46% abv: It looks to have been from a refill bourbon cask, it ‘s very pale.

Benrinnes or “the Ben” to his friends is another blend-fodder distillery from Diageo’s stable, there are only sporadic OB’s, the last ones from the famed “Flaura & Fauna” series. From 1974 until 2007 they used a type of bastardized triple distillation, similar to how Mortlach (another Diageo ugly stepchild distillery which recently had it’s Cinderella moment) distills and they also still use worm tubs, these features are to provide an old school beefy, heavy malt style.

Nose: Honey, grassy, rich and full malt, there is a slight acetone edge from the alcohol, cellulose, developing film and a bit of vanilla.

Palate: Sour fruit arrival, honeyed apples, cooked barley and then some sweetness from the oak, the whole thing takes a sharp turn into of “dark” flavors earthy, sulphur, a feeling of burnt wood and sharp astringency…like burned spices or burned pine cones. It became thoroughly unpleasant by the end.

 

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Hart Brothers Glendullan 13 yrs old 55.5% abv: One of the bigger volume Diageo distilleries (before their new abomination Roseisle), yet more blend fodder. It’s available in that Singleton range that oddly is composed of three different whiskys bearing the same name? Anyhow

Nose: Hot, malted banana, varnish, I can’t get much on this nose, sweet and green.

Palate: Rich and round, honeyed, the alcohol is present and the oak too, like a vanilla flavored oak plank., spicy and a feeling of nutmeg lingers on the finish.

I wasn’t bowled over, the finish was nice but I feel like if this was released at 46% it would have lost most of it’s flavor to the wood.  I would be interesting to try another IB of this as this one is also flawed.

Next is Islay’s little distillery that could, the consistency of their releases keeps getting better so I’m excited to try the current version of their standard line-up.

Sanaig & Machir Bay 200ml Label AW (2017)

Kilchoman Machir Bay 46% abv:  The skinny is that this is a vatting of young bourbon casks (4-5 years old) finished briefly (8 weeks?) in Oloroso casks.

Nose: Sour milk, ashy, rubbery inner tube and then some powdered sugar. Then hay, a feeling of hot tarmac and eucalyptus cough drops.

Palate: Burned corn husks, ashy, salted lemons, soft smoked caramel (that should so be a thing), pea-meal bacon, bongwater (don’t ask), barley and pretzels.

It finishes kind of sweet and at times it reminded me of a cross between Laphroaig and Port Charlotte.

 

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Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016 46% abv: Shake that Sherry butt!

Nose: I am finding it surprisingly closed, earthy, medicinal, smoked raisins (should become a pantry staple), there are some similar ashy and lactic touches to the Machir bay.

Palate: Oh it’s big!, burned wheat, ashes, barley porridge, orange zest with lots of pith on it, pipe tobacco, Tonka beans, sweet sherry influence.

I wish I could have spent more time with this, to let it open up as it seemed to get better with time. Cracking stuff but  you pay the peated Islay premium (147$can).

An interesting session, it’s interesting to taste those lesser known distilleries. Those Kilchoman’s are cracking stuff, they punch well above their weight, I’m going to have to take the plunge on a single cask soon.

Franck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bowmore Tempest V and Tempest VI Showdown.

Bowmore Tempest V

55.9% abv.

84/100

VS.

Bowmore Tempest VI

54.9% abv.

88/100

 

Bowmore-vault14.jpg

 

This blog has been running for a little over a year now. It’s a log of tasting notes and also to assemble them in a way that makes sense. It’s also a good practice for my writing, not that I fancy myself anything more than middling in that field.

Looking back at the moderate amount I have posted so far I would have never guessed the most viewed entry would be the one for Bowmore Tempest VI. It seems to attract a lot of queries and if I had a dollar for every view I could keep the blog afloat in premium land for a couple of years (not tooting my horn, this blog attracts very little views in general which I’m fine with). That was one of my first reviews and it still causes me to cringe at times when I read it, yet I meant every word in my love for that whisky. It’s still consistently a joy to have a dram of it and I am happy to have squirreled away a couple of bottles (not as many as Nozinan I am certain).

I had the opportunity last year to trade a bottle of batch VI for V with Connosr member Nozinan through the kindest of whisky mules (fellow Connosr member Robert99). It was smartly suggested we trade a sample of each whisky along with it in order to taste the batch variances without opening our bottles. I am much overdue on my review of this but not like anyone was holding their breath for my opinion on this hot topic.

IMG_0451Bowmore Tempest V:

Nose: Bags of tropical fruits, sea spray, waxed meyer lemons, there’s a bit of malty side, the smoke is in the distance and it feels a bit closed at first. After some time the vanilla and oak become more prominent, along with a mineral and earthy peat, the sweetness is like flower nectar.

Palate: Earthy, sweet, creamy and yet there’s a good amount of  lingering bitterness to keep it in check. Lemons and a kind of dirty spices (camphor, black cardamom, grains of paradise, long peppercorn) yet there is also an underlying soapy, floral, lavender tang that is slight but persistent even with water.

The strength is magnificent, it’s easy to drink undiluted and powerfully conveys the flavours, the finish is long and all on sweet oak and gripping bitterness.

IMG_0450Bowmore Tempest VI:

Nose: Starts off on ripe pineapple, mango, sweet and musky melon, distant smoke and vinyl upholstery. It morphs into vanilla and damp oak and flint, the peaty side is more like a campfire the morning after.

Palate: Earthy, malted barley syrup, bergamot, a bit of ashyness and coconut. Lemon pith, malty, orange flower water or petit-grain. Paraffin and with time a little antiseptic and oysters show up.

The finish is long and lingering, with water you get more oak, the bitter ashy side is reduced but still plenty of mineral and sea spray and lemon.

Impressions: While Stylistically both batches are very close, there are some slight differences, the nose on batch V really pushes the fruits forward but sadly I’m really sensitive to that soapy, bitter violet note on the palate. Batch VI feels well rounded if a bit oak forward. It’s must try for those who haven’t been moved much by the standard OB line-up of Bowmore.

 

 

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The rant: Ah we can’t get away from me complaining but I mean c’mon Suntory! The small batch experiments disappeared and all we are left with is this new NAS vault series shite. The first one landed on these shores recently at a whopping 199$ (Canadian), I know that never ending price argument but this release has no pretension to having any special or rare parcels of whisky, not that this would necessarily change much. When one could buy a 10 yr old cask strength, first fill bourbon cask whisky at 75$ less than a year prior, it’s hard not to feel like they are taking the piss. We thought Devil’s cask III at 100$+ was pushing it…we didn’t know what was coming.

Franck