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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
*photo credits:Octomore farm l’oeil sur le vin blog, Rockside farm Bruichladdich website.
I have been looking forward to this whisky since the press release last year, I almost asked a friend to bring some back from USA but then found out the KGBO would get some in September.
The concept behind this second edition of the experimental series really piqued my curiosity. The twenty Glenfiddich brand ambassadors were locked in a Glenfiddich warehouse and were left to fight it out “Battle Royale” style with nothing but oatcakes and whisky as sustenance…
Err, actually each ambassador chose their favorite cask from said warehouse and then head blender Brian Kinsman and team went about wrestling them (the casks not the ambassadors) into a cohesive whole.
I’m stoked that Canadian brand Ambassador Beth Havers is the one who chose the port pipe. She knew that the combination of ‘Fiddich and port pipe was rare and bound to be interesting. I wish I could taste that straight from the cask, even one of those rich bourbon cask other reviewers have been swooning over. C’mon William Grant and sons! A single barrel, cask strength…doesn’t have to be that old, let’s say 12-14yrs…I’m daydreaming again.
I’ll save my NAS rants for later, proceed with your own set of rules. I wanted to taste what a junior TUN 1509 treatment would do for Glenfiddich.
Nose: Grape candies, the smell of brioche dough left to rise, a bushel of apples and pears, vanilla & oak. After some time the rich malt scents are met with a light cinnamon, allspice, then milk chocolate covered raisins and sugar pie.
Palate: Rhum baba, fresh pressed apple cider, vanilla extract and marshmallows. It’s got a pleasant sharpness, oak tannin are present with tons of good dried fruits, abricotine (apricot croissant). The mouth feel is full and pleasant.
Finish: Long, precise and the spices are still there. Baked apples, cake batter, plump raisins, a little leafy side and almond cream.
I could drink this endlessly, perfect dram for autumn, rich and dense, the sherry and port cask make their presence known against the round sustained sweetness of the ex-bourbon barrel. I am looking forward to seeing what other experiments are brewing at Glenfiddich, I know the third edition was released a version of their Gran Reserva 21 yr old whisky but finished in Canadian icewine casks, seems interesting thus far, I hope the series won’t be cask finished focused only.
That said it seems this release was a success as in a recent episode of “the whisky topic” Beth Havers mentioned that project XX would become a permanent addition to the line-up. It’s good news as this is really beautiful whisky. I think this kind of vatting would absolutely shine at full strength, especially since we’re gonna lose the distillery edition, wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
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.
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.
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.
*Distillery building photo and Ashok as 007 are credited to Amrut Distillery
Let’s return to part two of last Thursday’s SAQ tasting session. We move on to the big guns, the muscle if you will.
I will spare you a regurgitation of the Kavalan history or their press kit materials, I would rather give you food for thought.
Two points are of particular interest to me, the fact that Kavalan has been bombarding spirit competitions with their single cask releases and the massive expansion they’ve underdone. The former while not a concern for most malt geeks (maniacs, anoraks…no term is great) since they tend to put little weight in those type of awards is mostly about the kind of misleading marketing it can cause with the average consumer.
I’ll explain, all whisky is subject to variances, even with the best quality control lab and intentions. The Solist series are all single cask releases, therefore it allows Kavalan to cherry pick their best casks when sending them to competitions. Again, no one would be against the producer choosing their best product in order to enter a competition. The problem is unless the consumer is able to get the exact same barrel as the prize winning malt or the one you read that awesome review about, what you will end up buying is a veritable Russian roulette, a small matter but nonetheless a concern.
The latter is interesting because King Car Group (makers of Kavalan) is a family owned business, generally a good thing in this era of conglomerates, ostensibly it means a company with the right spirit (no pun intended) can focus on quality and not only the bottom line. They have just undergone a massive expansion bringing their output to somewhere in the vicinity of 9 million liters. That’s massive, Diageo huge, putting them in the big leagues, I don’t mean to say big is bad. What I’m concerned about is how are they going to get their hands on the volume of first fill ex-whatever casks required to cope with that without resorting to some sort of tomfoolery (see MAO’s Glendronach single casks issues for example). I wonder with that gigantic volume how much longer will they be able to resort to their scarcity/luxury pricing scheme, I know, they will do whatever the market will support and the whisky sphere certainly has a hard-on for Kavalan right now.
Nose: the nose is hot and pointy right from the gate. Apples, I get that weird copper note like on Glenfiddich. Pears, honey, sponge cake, creamy vanilla, a touch of bubblegum and gummy candies.
With water the sharpness of the nose becomes rounder, more honey and pastries.
Palate: Hot, creamy and sweet at once, the attack is pleasant. Coconut, beeswax, there are herbal touches floating in the middle, like fresh cut grass or plants then it extends into jujubes & grape gummies.
With water, sweet, kind of flat, honey, vanilla and more caramel, loads of waxyness
Grade: B+ This is pretty solid, I liked the Palate more than the nose
Nose: Coffee, dates, burnt chicory, Alpine bitters. Grape reduction, slight balsamic edge, all things umami and it’s sharp. This isn’t a Christmas spice type sherry, it’s a dirty big bodied sherry. After a while there is dry cured ham and pepper.
Water brings sulfur forward on the nose, more coffee, wet wool. Lots of meatyness, the nose is big and really pleasant.
Palate: Oh! Sweetened coffee left out on counter overnight, date purée, ginger, gunpowder, an almost metallic, plastic note. It’s very much on tannic, oversteeped tea, stewed prunes. There is more traditional spices in the mouth, nutmeg and allspice. Very dark and extractive.
Palate with water is very thin, dates, plasticine, light roast coffees. Really all on chewy dates, spices and cake batter, you get more or that oxydized sherry nuttyness
The sherry lingers a long time. It’s big stuff, maybe even a little tiring in a way.
Grade: A The cask strength along with the extractive nature of high temperature maturing certainly creates a potent delivery
The Blab: Clearly the Solist editions are the ones to look out for. While that sherry cask haunted me for a couple of days, I’m not sure what I think about these whiskies, it seems that the casks (or the previous contents) are perhaps doing most of the heavy lifting. Oh and yes the price…just saying.
SAQ Tasting session are back! I missed these Thursday rendez-vous. They were on summer hiatus and I’m not sure when they resumed. Our monopoly received a lot of interesting whiskys lately among them some good single cask shit, Kilchoman, Benromach, Edradour and then it appeared Kavalan…the first mention of it (that I’m aware of) in our stores. The line-up is somewhat limited considering the range of cask types the distillery offers. The options are Podium, Ex-Bourbon oak and two Solist CS releases, a bourbon and sherry cask respectively.
I have no experience trying any kavalan and I was mentally preparing to cajole a store clerk in order to get a small taste of whatever bottle they must have open in the back when low and behold this week’s in store tasting was all of them!
I’ll break up the reviews over two posts to avoid dragging it out. We’ll cover the standard line-up fist.
Kavalan Podium: NAS 46% abv. virgin American oak and in-house refill casks
Nose: Sweet, bubble-gummy, definitely wine cask influences, you feel the dark berries, tree buds and the oak. The alcohol is a bit sharp at first, it opens up after time, floral, slight sulfur, a bit of ripe creamy tropical fruits, apple skins, milk chocolate and nuts, plum wine.
Palate: It is indeed sweet, ginger, the oak is present and there is a touch of worn leather, the texture is nice & viscous. Vanilla, cocoa powder a kind of sweet oak and green fruits, none of the jujube/tropical fruits from the nose.
The finish is mid length very drying with a fair amount of pepper, ginger and bitterness
It’s good but not earth shattering, the nose is beautiful just not very malt whisky like. In hindsight the cask play is an interesting way to provide some of what makes the Solist series so intriguing. At a fair price I would be tempted to have some of this around the house at 200$ no way.
Kavalan Ex-Bourbon Oak: NAS 46% abv. The name says it all.
Nose: It is kind of mute at first, coconut, a fair amount of varnish. jujubes, carnuba wax. I have to stick my nose in it to get something, creamy, rising pastries…not much else.
Palate: Bitter sweet, all on oaky vanilla, coconut & toffee. Sharp on the attack, it has a bit of charred wood, it’s that pleasant bourbon barrel thing, sweet and woody, liquid toffee.
The finish is light, more jujubes, wine gums a bit of creamy butter and coconut oils.
The nose was practically non existant and rather uninspiring, the palate had a sharpness that was off-putting and then it was all like T&A with not much content.
The boring opinions bit
In a quick browse of reviews of the lower strength offerings of Kavalan, they generally get pretty lukewarm reviews, the bourbon vatting is extremely disappointing. I would be tempted to say it shows the limitations of the hot climate/young whisky scheme but I am really smitten with the basic Amrut single malt which functions on similar principals but is in every way superior to this.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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$can).
An interesting session, it’s interesting to taste those lesser known distilleries. Those Kilchoman’s are cracking stuff, they punch well above their weight, I’m going to have to take the plunge on a single cask soon.
Other than the cask strength heavy hitter that is A’bunadh, the regular stable of releases from Aberlour tend to get shortchanged. It’s not a heavily marketed whisky but I know that it is a very lucrative operation for owners Pernod-Ricard
What is interesting about Aberlour is that along with Glenfarclas it is one of the distilleries that defines itself by it’s Sherry driven profile, some say this was done to appeal to the French Market. Nonetheless you would be hard pressed to find a fully bourbon matured Aberlour, they do exist, mostly from independent bottlers or as distillery exclusives. The house style if you will always includes a focus on sherry, whether that be in the form of a finish, fully matured whisky or as a flavour component in the vatting.
Despite the lack of sex-appeal and glamour the standard range of Aberlour is one of the remaining good values in Scotch, their prices and quality have remained stable over the years. The 10 year old offers great value and has been steadily about 50-55$ I have consumed many bottles of that over the years. Yes they sadly chill-filter and keep the ABV lower than I would like but there is a nice old school charm to their profile that can be appreciated if one takes the time to.
Nose: Apples fresh and cooked in a copper jam basin, slight sulfur but it is restrained. Brown sugar, dusty oak, soaked dried fruits, white flower blossoms. There is a spirit kick to the nose despite being only 40%.
Palate: Over steeped tea, sweet, rich, creamy sherry depth, sticky toffee pudding, malt biscuits and vanilla. There are also bitter oak tannins, cooked apples, baking spices, dried fruits and bay leaves.
The finish is medium in length and is mostly on the sweet and tannic notes. A bit of water or ice loosens it up but it gets very sweet and muted if you add too much.
It’s well put together, a good malt to remember that there is still quality affordable spirit around and that the grass isn’t always greener on the next, new, rare release. A good choice to ease someone into Scotch, it’s very much in the line of Armagnac/Cognac.