Posts tagged ‘Islay’

Phil’s Favorite Islay Whiskies

Nowadays, Islay whiskies are all the rage.  It seems every hipster in every bar is talking about how much they love Laphroaig.  Back off, youngsters, I was here first.  Without further ado, my favorite Islay whiskies.

Name: Ardbeg Uigeadail

Batch: N/A (circa. 2014)

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 108.4 (54.2% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This is Ardbeg aged between 7 and 12 years, with a portion of the bottling being aged in ex-Sherry casks.  The result is a whisky with rolling peat, mocha, dark chocolate, pound cake, and dried mango.  While I understand why people stay away from NAS bottlings, this whisky proves that a whisky can be complex and unique without a ton of years in the casks, or a divulging of that age.  Uigeadail is readily available and pretty damn affordable for the quality of the juice inside it.

Name: Bruichladdich Octomore

Batch: 06.1 Scottish Barley

Age: 5 Years

Proof: 114 (57% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: This is a massively peated whisky bottled very young at cask strength. It’s hard to believe it’s so brilliant.  I’ve liked most iterations of Octomore I have tried, but this was soundly my favorite.  It smelled of volcanic rock that had been dipped in honey and rolled in fresh sawdust.  The flavors are long and intense, but balanced and unique.  This is a hard whisky to find, and this batch is probably long gone, but the Octomore lineup is definitely worth seeking out.

Name: Duncan Taylor Dimensions – Bruichladdich

Batch: Cask #3673

Age: 19 Years

Proof: 102.6 (51.3% abv)

Price: $200-225/750ml

Notes: An independent bottling, this whisky came from a single refilled hogshead.  All the notes you would expect from the cask are present, such as orchard fruits and berries, but those notes are buffered well with notes of sea spray and cardamom.  This whisky is soft, long, and complex.  It is not a typical Islay pour, but that does not diminish the quality of this dram.  This particular bottling is probably not available anymore, but I have had a few other Bruichladdich independent bottlings aged in American Oak, and they have all been stellar.

Name: Laphroaig 10 Year-Old Cask Strength

Batch: 006

Age: 10 Years

Proof: 116 (58% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: Truth be told, there have been iterations of this stellar Laphroaig release that I could have chosen here, but this one is my favorite by a small margin.  What makes this whisky so special is that all the big medicinal, smoky, salty, peaty flavors of Laphroaig are present, but they are all counter-balanced with rich vanilla custard and toasted soda bread.  The depth and complexity of this whisky is most impressive for only 10 years of age.  This batch is hard to find now, but future batches are readily available in most higher end liquor stores, and this whisky won’t break the bank.

Name: Laphroaig 32 Year-Old

Batch: 200th Anniversary Edition

Age: 32 Years

Proof: 93.4 (46.7% abv)

Price: $900-1,000/750ml

Notes: For their 200th, Laphroaig bottled this 32 year-old gem from a refill Sherry butt.  If I tasted this one blind, I would never have thought this was Laphroaig.  This whisky is hard to describe.  The flavors are sherried, barbecued, peated, and ancient.  Think of eating the best dark chocolate while drinking rich Oloroso sherry by a bonfire with just a hint of peat burning.  That’s really the best description I can think of.  It’s not often a peated whisky comes out like this with such age.  Obviously, this is an extremely hard whisky to find, and it will cost a great deal if purchased.  But, for what it’s worth, it’s really, really good whisky.

Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Review

While I’m on the subject of peat, I’m going to give my thoughts on one of my new favorite winter drams – Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Cask Matured.  I haven’t written much on the blog about Bowmore, the oldest distillery on Islay, and that is mostly because I have never been a Bowmore lover.  That is not to say there aren’t Bowmore whiskies I like, but it’s hardly my favorite Islay distillery.  I enjoy Bowmore 18 year, I have tried some very good independently bottled Bowmore juice, and The Devil’s Casks releases have been some home run hitters.  However, all of the aforementioned whiskies are expensive and not always easy to come by.  Thus, I have not discussed Bowmore a lot.  Hopefully today’s review makes moves in an upward trend.

Bowmore’s new small batch bourbon cask release replaced their Legend bottling here in the United States.  Like the Legend, this is readily available and moderately priced.  However, although neither has an age statement, I suspect the new Small Batch release has a higher percentage of some older whisky in it, as well as a higher percentage of whisky from first-fill bourbon casks.  I have no facts on that, just a hunch.  Bowmore Small Batch is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The color is darker than I would expect from exclusively bourbon cask maturation leading me to believe that there is some caramel coloring in this bottle.  The nose here is not what I was expecting, it lacks the burning plastic note I get out of some young Bowmores.  Here, there is lime, honeysuckle, brine, sea spray, and damp earth.  It is really a delightful nose, although a bit thin.  The palate is light to medium in its body.  It enters with a big citrus note, salted oranges and lime zest.  It rolls into vanilla, lightly smoked earth, and salted caramel.  The finish is medium in length, with some barbeque, lime zest, and soft peat smoke.

Overall, this is a light whisky, but the flavors are in good balance, although they are not all that intense.  I probably would not pick this out as Bowmore juice were I to have tasted it blind; it lacked some typical Bowmore markers for me, which is a good thing for me because I have not always enjoyed Bowmore juice when I have tried it in the past.  This is a fine whisky, and I highly recommend it if you are someone looking for a lighter introduction into the magical island of Islay.  My grade: B-/B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Definitely a step-up for Bowmore’s base malt range, and a great value buy.

Lagavulin 16 year-old Scotch Review

Ever have one of those moments where you awake at night and realize you forgot something at work?  Such was this moment for me when I realized that I had never reviewed Lagavulin on my blog.  The truth is that Lagavulin needs no introduction, what with Diageo having Ron Swanson as a spokesperson and all,  but it is one of those whiskeys that it is crucial to have listed somewhere on your whiskey blog.  The reason for this is credibility – folks tend to take your opinions more seriously when they know your thoughts on Lagavulin.  Thus, without further ado, my thoughts on Lagavulin 16 year-old (bottled at 86 proof/43% abv.).

The nose is traditional Islay, peaty, with some iodine and salt mixed in, taking you right to the seashores of Scotland.  The palate opens up the full complexity of this whisky.  The peat is still there in full force, but it is backed by oak, barrel char, toffee, and some nuttiness.  The finish is rich and well-peated, but it is also smooth and complex, with undertones of vanilla and roasted nuts.

There is a reason that for many whisky-drinkers, this is the benchmark by which all other Islay base-malts are judged – it is a consistently excellent beacon in whiskymaking.  There is great balance in the smokiness and barrel flavors, and the whisky opens up to complex flavors as water is added.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  If you claim to know the truth of Islay and have not embarked upon Lagavulin’s journey, its high time.

Bruichladdich Laddie Ten Scotch Review

Scotchvember keeps on keepin’ on at Bargain Bourbon with a review of Bruichladdich Laddie Ten.  As this is the first review I have done on this “progressive Hebridean” distillery, I’ll provide a few brief facts about this Islay gem.  Bruichladdich is located on the western portion of Islay, almost directly across the Loch Indaal from Bowmore.  Bruichladdich is a unique distillery in that they play around with all sorts of different styles of whisky-making and casking.  I do not believe I have seen a Scottish distillery that has the variety of whiskies that come out of Bruichladdich.  I am posting a link to their website, but be careful, you can get lost in cyber Bruichladdich very quickly  http://www.bruichladdich.com/the-whisky/bruichladdich/the-laddie-ten-year-old.

The Laddie Ten is one of the most widely available whiskies from Bruichladdich.  It is an unpeated single malt, meaning the barley is not smoked over a peat fire.  However, the water the whisky is made from is still very peaty, which does lend a peated character to the finished product.  The Laddie Ten is aged in 90% ex-bourbon casks and 10% ex-sherry casks before being bottled in that bright turquoise without chill filtration at 92 proof (46% abv).

On the nose, The Laddie Ten is a wonderful balance of malt, brine, salt, and peat.  There is a lot of sweet malt, surrounded by familiar sweet notes of bourbon casks, with salty brine and earthy peat rolling all around.  The palate is a backbone of earthy peat, but there is orange zest, fresh baked bread, and sweet American oak rounding out the palate nicely.  The finish is medium-long, with peat mixing in well with sweet malt, oak, and the occasional whiff of chocolate wafer.

Overall, The Laddie Ten is a wonderful, lively whisky that combines all its flavor in great balance.  Nothing overwhelms the whisky, and nothing dominates the flavor profile.  It is drinkable and balanced the whole way through.  This is a great introduction to Islay whiskies, as it drastically tones down the peat, and lets all the great flavors of a single malt Scotch whisky shine through.  My only complaint is that it often hovers around $60 for a bottle here in Boston, which is a tad pricey for a 10 year-old malt in my opinion.  That said, this is some pretty damn good whisky.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $50-60/750ml. This is a balanced, elegant dram that is definitely very well made, and cared for while it’s in the oak.

Just in case you need a bit of direction on the pronunciation of this wonderful distillery… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16hsejGKsNk

Bowmore Legend Scotch Whisky Review

Today, I am reviewing a whisky that I have been overdue in reviewing, Bowmore Legend.  This is one of the most reasonably priced single malt Scotches on the market today, especially from Islay.  At least up here in Boston, Islay malts have gone through the roof in popularity and price.  It is rare to find either Laphroaig or Ardbeg for under $55.  However, this no-age-statement Bowmore release is usually priced around $30, making it a quite reasonable purchase.

Legend is the first whisky that I’ve reviewed from Bowmore, a distillery located in the middle of the Isle of Islay, across Loch Indaal from Bruichladdich.  There is quite a rich history of distilling at Bowmore.  For starters, it is the oldest distillery on Islay (est. 1779), as well as being one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.  In the last 20 years or so, Bowmore has become famous for its Black Bowmore line, a series of vintage releases from Oloroso sherry casks.  Obviously, these old, sherried whiskies fall well beyond my price range, but I have yet to hear anyone say a marginally bad word about a Black Bowmore.  The general consensus among the “experts” is that Bowmore is a spirit best enjoyed with some age and some sherry influence.  Personally, I have always been a fan of the Bowmore 12 yr., but I have not had it in a while, and would need to refresh my memory in order to do a quality review.  I had hoped to grab a bottle of Bowmore 12 when I entered the store last month, but when I saw the Legend on sale, I grabbed this young whisky instead.  Legend is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv), and aged exclusively in ex-Bourbon barrels.

On the nose, Legend produces some lovely notes of smoked honey barbeque, earthy peat, salted pork, fresh barley, and cooked plastic.  Overall, it is a fairly acidic nose, which is a bit off putting.  The palate is rather light, but there is a nice blend of sweet honey and malt with smoked meat and peat.  The sensation is not all that far from a honey-glazed ham steak.  The finish is peaty, with some brine notes, some sweet barley, some salt, and a nice lingering vanilla.  In my opinion, water brings the peat to the fore, which dulls down the complexity of this one for me.  This is a whisky that pairs most beautifully with something sweet, like chocolate covered almonds or vanilla pudding.

I have to admit that it took me a while to warm up to Legend (or maybe the Legend took a while to warm to me).  When I first cracked the bottle, I thought the whisky was too acidic, with some raw phenolic, iodine flavors that came off rough, like nail-polish remover.  However, halfway through the bottle, the whisky has rounded out nicely into a very solid everyday Islay malt at a great price.  My Grade: B-.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  This is a good, young, medium-bodied Islay whisky that makes for a good pour day to day.  I suspect this one would work very well in an Islay-based cocktail as well.

 

Ardbeg 10 Year Scotch Review

Well, I have been debating about whether or not I wanted to review this one for a while now.  It is a cold night in Boston, and I poured myself a dram.  Honestly, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.  I wanted to rant and rave about this one, so that is what I decided to do.  Without further ado, my review of the Ardbeg 10 year-old single malt Scotch whisky.  It is non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof (46% abv).

Ardbeg 10Ardbeg Distillery has an intriguing history.  Distillation first began at Ardbeg on Islay in 1794 (only Bowmore is an older distillery on Islay), although the current site of the distillery began crafting whiskies in 1815.  Over the years, Ardbeg became known as one of the peatiest malts in Scotland.  However, due to problems with ownership and demand, Ardbeg closed between 1982 and 1989, and it was closed again in 1996.  Even still, Ardbeg remained a highly-sought whisky for many connoisseurs.  Just when it looked like the distillery would be closed forever, it was bought out in 1997 by Glenmorangie, and Ardbeg was revived.  In 2000, Ardbeg introduced the 10 year-old, which I am reviewing today.  Many other brilliant whiskies followed, and Ardbeg is now regarded as one of the finest distilleries in the world.

On the nose, the 10 yr. takes you right to Islay.  There is a salty, peaty backbone to the nose, but there is a lot of depth.  There are notes of potpourri, black pepper, citrus fruits (limes), evergreens, gin botanicals, and pears.  The palate is medium-bodied, but full-flavored.  The backbone is the earthy, wet, salty peat, but there is a ton of depth in this one.  There are salty hearty notes, like bacon and prosciutto, followed by sweet notes of cocoa powder, milk chocolate, burnt chocolate, citrus peels, and some floral arrangements.  The finish is long and complex, with fresh bell peppers, crackling black pepper, sauteed peppers, leather, tobacco,  all backed by that wonderful Islay peat.  As the finish lingers, it moves back and forth from sweet chocolate to spicy smoke and wet peat.

Overall, this is a brilliant whisky that has layers of depth.  It is an Islay malt that will get you through a fall day, but it won’t bulldoze your palate.  There is good reason that this whisky is sought after; it drinks beautifully anytime.  It can take water beautifully, but I prefer it neat.  My only complaint about this one is that it is expensive given its age.  It is only ten years old, yet it is rarely priced under $55-60 here in Boston.  On the other side of that coin, it is a brilliant single malt for only $55, regardless of its age.  Age is just a number, but in the case of Ardbeg, 10 years age is damn near perfect.  My grade: A-.  Price: $50-60/750ml.  This is my favorite base malt to date, and it is a special occasion after dinner dram worth every penny.  If this one is on sale, I usually grab a bottle (or three).

To compare tasting notes, check out my friend William’s review here.

Holiday Whiskey Comparison Review: Part 2 – 18 yr. Scotch Whisky

For part 2 of my comparison of 18 year-old whiskies, I am reviewing an 18 year-old Islay and an 18 year-old Speyside.  In my opinion, Islay whisky is bottled best at younger ages because the peat smoke stays lively and fresh.  On the contrary, Speyside whisky is bottled best at older ages because the light, floral, fruity new make benefits from the extra years in the oak to bring the complexity out in the whisky.  Of course, like my first comparison review, whenever you are buying an old and rare Scotch, do your research.  Not all whiskies are created the same, and not all whiskies age well.

Before getting to the reviews, I have to set forth a disclaimer.  I have not bought a bottle of either of these Scotches.  I have drank the Laphroaig 18 yr. on several occasions, but I have only tried The Glenlivet 18 yr. on one occasion.  Therefore, take my tasting notes with a bit more salt than usual.

Laphroaig 18 yr. is bottled at 96 proof, giving it a little more body.  On the nose, Laphroaig 18 yr. is classic Laphroaig.  There are notes of salted pork, peat, smoke, fresh barley, seaweed, and soft honey.  The palate has a solid backbone of toasted nuts, but the salt and peat of Laphroaig never leaves.  There are also notes of dark vanilla, honey, salted caramel, and some oak.  The palate lacks structure, but it is still big, full, and complex.  The finish is a wonderful, long Laphroaig finish, with some lingering sweet oak surrounded by the peat and smoke of a Laphroaig whisky.

Overall, this is fantastic whisky that intensifies a lot of the subtle flavors in other Laphroaig expressions.  However, it lacks structure, and it seems to wander as a whisky.  That is not a bad thing; it is just a difference between the 18 year and other expressions of Laphroaig.  My grade: B+/A-.  Price: $90-100/750ml.  This is a very good whisky, but there are better expressions from Laphroaig that are available at better prices.

 

 The Glenlivet 18 year-old is a much different whisky.  It is bottled at 86 proof, slightly higher than the 12 and the 15 year-old expressions.  On the nose, there is some oloroso sherry, but is not overpowering.  There are notes of hazelnuts, walnuts, cereal grains, and agave nectar.  The palate is sheer brilliance.  It opens with sherried nuts, but it moves to a complex sweetness of cinnamon apples and spiced dark honey.  The finish is long, with a lot of oloroso sherry.  It is warming, with some drying oak and sweet vanilla.

Overall, this is an awesome whisky.  The palate is one of the best I have tried.  It takes the fruitiness of The Glenlivet spirit, and transforms it into a complex, warming dram perfect for all seasons.  My grade: A.  Price: $80-90/750ml.  This is an incredible dram, worth the money for the most special of occasions.

Between the two whiskies, I clearly prefer The Glenlivet 18.  However, they are both whiskies to be savored, and they should both be on your holiday gift list if such things are your flavor.  I believe The Glenlivet 18 is the best of the range, whereas I believe there are at least two Laphroaig whiskies (Quarter Cask and 10 year-old Cask Strength) that are much better value than the 18.  Of course, what you like is all up to you.  Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and let it ride!