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

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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.

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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

 

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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

 

 

 

Hakushu 12

Suntory Hakushu 12

43% ABV

84/100

 

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Yes the craze is still on folks!

That aside there is a lot to love with Japanese whisky, while they follow a lot of the Scottish tradition in their production methods, it’s the little differences that the magic is created. The market is dominated by two big players, Nikka and Suntory, who follow a similar structure, both produce grain and malt whiskies and release them as single and blended malts under different labels.

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Love this old school photo of the distillery

Unlike Scotland where there is a network of exchange and brokerage of single malts between companies or distilleries for blending purposes, the Japanese do everything in house. They use various yeast strains, fermentation regimens and the still houses contain a variety of still shapes and sizes to create different profiles of whisky. In their warehouses they go beyond the bourbon and sherry barrels everyone uses, sources state that some producers also use, plum wine casks, mizunara oak and other wood types that might be verboten by the SWA. This process creates an unprecedented palate of flavor to work with when assembling their products.

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A clear photo of the different pot still shapes and sizes

Suntory’s Hakushu is the less hyped, less in demand younger brother to Yamazaki, it just doesn’t seem to get the love and recognition of that whisky. The 12 year old is still relatively affordable in most markets. I think the boom causes some backlash towards Japanese whiskies because with these elevated prices/come elevated expectations that probably cannot be met.

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Nose:  Pears and ripe peaches, fresh cut flowers, it’s almost like good mead (I know some will say there’s no such thing), pine needles, grassy and lightly vegetal, but fresh like walking in the forest in spring. The peat on the nose is present, light and very well integrated it’s got this sweetness like marshmallows.

Palate: Porridge, malty, round and nectar, the bitterness kicks and then it’s all grassy. The peat is present but it’s like smoking conifers and juniper. The influence of the bourbon casks is present, oak and some vanilla, good honey and citronella.

Finish is medium length and drying, the sweetness and citrus is almost like old school barbershop aftershave and that discreet peat is lurking there. Sadly the texture is a bit thin and affects the length of the finish a bit.

Beyond the big flavors that hit first, there are lots of secondary notes and delicate touches. Some might find these too “crafted” or precise that is a complaint heard of Japanese whisky, it requires pause to appreciate these nuances and the work to achieve this result. I like this kind of profile, it’s perhaps not completely unique but worth seeking out.

Franck 

Johnnie Walker Green Label

 

 

Johnnie Walker Green Label 

43% Alc./Vol.

84/100

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Johnnie Walker is ubiquitous to the point of being infamous, It’s probably the one Scotch whisky everyone knows by name. The walking man logo no matter how gussied up for the times is another instantly recognizable icon for the uninitiated. It is also the whisky brand most likely to get shit on by hardcore whisky lovers and don’t get me wrong sometimes it deserves it.

They are owned by the brand whisky connoisseurs love to hate. To make an analogy if whisky was Star Wars, Diageo could be an exact stand in for the empire. Yet we cannot ignore that Johnny Walker is the gateway for many people. Black label is one of the main reasons I fell back in love with Scotch whisky again after a long love affair with it’s Canadian brethren, I love that shit to pieces.

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Diageo’s Dr. Nick Morgan?

Of all the many whiskers under the JW moniker, green label was/is the anomaly in the range. It was first released at the tail end of the nineties, a blended malt (formerly called vatted malt) a blend of single malts it contains no grain whisky to pad it out. The price was reasonable 50$ to 70$, it had an age statement of 15 years. This should have given it sex appeal but I think it caused the opposite.

 

The very things that made it an asset also hampered it. The reasonable price should have made it a perfect stepping stone for red and black label drinkers but didn’t. It also didn’t have enough of a bling factor and panache to draw consumers of the gold and blue label. Vatted malts/pure malts did not have the hip factor they do now and many single malt drinkers didn’t see why you’d waste your time on this blend, this was also a time where a 15-18 yr single malt weren’t quite the bank busters they are now.

Despite all this it still green label gained a cult status of sorts, so when Diageo announced in 2012 that it would be pulling the green out of most of its markets while doing a little re-branding of the JW line-up it obviously upset quite a few people.

They claimed poor sales and other malarkey, the reality is probably an amalgam of different reasons. They we’re probably taxing their stocks of Caol Ila and Talisker pretty thin at one point, those two provide the smoky/peaty backbone for most JW blends. They could also sell the individual component malts for much more money to the growing “luxury” segment of the market. Lastly like many spirit producers they we’re looking towards the promise land that was supposed to be the growing Asian market…Shangri-La as you would. This market failed to boom and as a result in early 2015 we saw a limited amount of green label showing up on shelves, with a confirmed return at the beginning of 2016.

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Enough blabbing lets dive in.

Nose: the smoke is pretty prominent at first nosing , fresh cut apples and pears, barley sugar, nectar and blossoms. A slight feeling of cider, orange peels and a big malty backbone.

Palate: Rich and sweet, then the smoke hits, peppery at first but also that feeling of beach bonfire, not dirty peat but a slight iodine and ozone like feeling. Then orange oils and tobacco accents. There is fruits, the peated components are kept in check by the other flavors honey,  a roundess from the oak, then marmalade and a slight touch of milk chocolate.

The finish is long, sustaining the rich malty side, this pleasant sweetness and peppery smoke.

This is a different beast than the original but I prefer this new incarnation, it’s such s rich dram, the smoke is present but somehow is so well integrated into the other elements.

Franck