Laphroaig – Triple Wood “Fewer calories, thrice the oak”

This is basically the quarter cask with an additional rest time in refill sherry casks. I know many reviews panned this for being less brash and in your face than other Laphroaigs, now that it’s discontinued, it might get more love?

Nose: Cough lozenges, black licorice, antiseptic, that note of germinating grain, vanilla, loads of sweet oak, salty, the nose feels a bit closed.

Palate: Oily, astringent grain, smoked fish, and carbolic give way to sweetness, currants, dried fruit & spices. The palate is soft, all in vanilla, menthol and earth.

Finish: Rich, oily, grassy, licorice & strawberry candy with sweet smoke.

The Blab: The medicinal elements seem to sit tight amidst the successive oak treatments, the ashy smoke is what is replaced by the sweeter elements. Not the one for those looking for that Laphroaig slap in the face but if you like the the distillers editions of Lagavulin and Talisker this is a winner.

Laphroaig Triple Wood

48%ABV

84/100

Ardbeg – An Oa “The baker’s eating Kippers”

This expression is the first to be added to Ardbeg’s regular line-up in many years. A vatting of different cask types (ex-bourbon, virgin oak, px), all finished in Ardbeg’s new European oak marrying tun.

It’s received a fair bit of flack, let’s see what the fuss is all about.

Nose: A hint of Ardbeg’s coal and diesel smoke, then sweeter, cookie dough?Jordan almonds, vanilla, candied fennel seeds, menthol a bit of ginger. It’s nice if a bit subdued.

Palate: Ashy right out of the gate,vanilla. prune sauce some cinnamon. It has some bite, soot, sweet dough, a tin of smoked herring being opened in a bakery. It’s got many of the hallmarks of what makes Ardbeg good but pushed down by the oak.

Finish: Green branches, the astringent lemons show up late to the party. lots of oak, char, vanilla, loads of ginger, a tiny bit or earth.

It’s not neutered like Laphroaig select but it is a more rounded version of the kildalton crusher. They’ve tamed the feisty young Ardbeg spirit, making it sweeter and smoothing over the mineral and maritime edge.

I don’t hate this, it’s well made and enjoyable but at a time when so much Scotch is being homogenized. I would prefer they embrace the challenging nature of their whisky rather than blunt it.

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% ABV

84/100

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).

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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