Posts tagged ‘Islay’

Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch Review

Well, Sandy is blowing pretty hard outside, which means it is the perfect time to drink some big whisky.  In my idea of a perfect autumn liquor cabinet (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/10/03/the-ideal-value-liquor-cabinet-autumn-edition/), I said that when the money hit me, I would usually try to keep a bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask around.  I am reviewing today because it is a great whisky for a rainy day and a great whisky period.  However, it is also a very good deal compared with other single malt Scotches.  It isn’t a great price point compared with most American whiskeys, but it is still a great buy around $60 a bottle.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask takes its name from the maturing process shown on the front of the bottle.  The whisky is aged in a traditional (500 liter) American oak barrel for most of its maturing process, but it is finished in small (125 liter) casks.  The smaller cask creates more interaction with the wood, helping the whisky to “mature” quicker.  So, the Quarter Cask is only about 8-10 years old, but it drinks like a 12-14 year-old whisky.

Originally, quarter casks were created for two reasons.  First, they were smaller, which made them a lot easier to transport, especially on horseback.  Second, a quarter casked whisky allows a distillery to age whiskies faster, helping a distillery produce better products more quickly.

In the case of Laphroaig, the quarter cask is used as a finishing technique, and it comes off brilliantly.  I have reviewed Laphroaig base offering, the 10 year (https://bargainbourbon.com/2012/08/25/laphroaig-10-year-review/) .  It is a good whisky, but it is really a one-tricked pony.  It is smoke and peat, peat and smoke throughout.  Laphroaig Quarter Cask takes that formula, and rounds it out beautifully.  It is bottled at 96 proof and non-chill filtered.

On the nose, it is clear you are drinking Laphroaig whisky.  Peat and smoke explode out of the glass, but upon further nasal exploration, there are notes of nutmeg, black pepper, vanilla, almond butter, and the heartwarming smell of the sea.  The palate is full-bodied and brilliant.  It opens with a heavy sweetness of honey, vanilla, sherry, and fresh berries.  The back of the palate reveals the peat and smoke you would expect, but it is complimented with dense, sweet oak and roasted nuts.  The finish is long and delicious, with a wonderful balance of peat, smoke, sea spray, sherry, and oak.

Overall, Laphroaig Quarter Cask is a fantastic whisky.  It is full-bodied, everything you would want from an Islay, but it is also complex and rich.  In my opinion, it is the best whisky in Laphroaig’s range, even better than the 18 yr. expression and the Cairdeas bottling.  The only Laphroaig whisky that comes close to the beauty of the Quarter Cask is the 10 yr. Cask Strength.  At the price point, Laphroaig Quarter Cask is my favorite Islay whisky, perfect for waiting out a hurricane.  My grade: A-.  Price: $60-70/750ml.  This is a great special occasion whisky, but it is not cheap.  

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The Black Grouse Blended Scotch Review

Today, I am reviewing The Black Grouse blended Scotch Whisky.  Up to this point on the website, the only Scotches that I have reviewed have been single malts.  The difference between a single malt Scotch and a Blended Scotch is that the former is comprised of whisky made from a single mash bill, whereas blended scotches are made up of multiple whiskies blended into one.  Typically, a bottler like The Famous Grouse (creators of the Black Grouse) gets its whisky from other distilleries, but occasionally one of the whiskies will be self-distilled.  Generally speaking, blended Scotches are cheaper than single malts, mostly because single malts receive better ratings at whisky tastings.  However, that is not to say that all single malts are better than all blended Scotches.  In an effort to showcase a fine blended Scotch, I present my review of The Black Grouse.

The Black Grouse is made by blending The Famous Grouse (another fine blended whisky) with peated single malts from Islay.  It creates a very nice balance between the smoke of an Islay whisky and the fruits and florals of a Speyside.

On the nose, The Black Grouse is spicy and smoky, with good notes of peat, but also balanced with dried fruits and light sherry.  The palate is light-bodied, but very enjoyable.  It is mostly peaty, but there are some subtle notes of dried apricots and orange peels that whisper in the background.  The finish is medium-long, and it moves from smoke and peat to sweet oak and some cereal sweetness.

Overall, this whisky is not as bold or as complex as a single malt Speyside (like The MaCallan) or a single malt Islay (like Bunnahabhain).  However, it blends the two Scotch regions together wonderfully, making it a great introduction to peated Scotch.   My grade: C+.  Price: $25-30/750ml.  This is a nice blended whisky, worthy of having in the cabinet.

Laphroaig 10 Year Review

A few days ago, I reviewed Bunnahabhain 12 year Scotch whisky.  The strong Sherry influence and delicate smoke of Bunnahabhain is not what most people associate with Islay Scotch.  I would be remiss in my exploration of Scotch regions if I did not provide a review of Laphroaig 10 year, a whisky that gives a lot of bang for your buck.

Laphroaig is one of the distilleries known for creating “peat monsters.”  The smoky, peaty flavors in these whiskies are achieved by drying the malt over a peat fire.  There are many distilleries that do this, but Laphroaig uses fresh peat (and a lot of it) to create a pretty intense flavor profile.  The 10 year expression is the standard Laphroaig, bottled at 80 proof.  Many of Laphroaig’s other whiskies are bottled at higher percentages (and they are brilliant whiskies), but they are also usually outside my price range.  The 10 year is usually around $45 a bottle, making it the most affordable of the “peat monsters” Islay Scotches.

On the nose, Laphroaig is full-bodied.  Seriously, it extends beyond the glass and fills the room.  It is primarily a nose of peat smoke, but some salty flavors sneak through, like seaweed and iodine.  On the palate, Laphroaig is mostly earthy.  The primary notes are (sweet) soil, seaweed, peat smoke, sea salt, and smoked fish.  The finish lasts quite a while (several hours or so), and it is a resurgence of the nose.  The smoke comes in and out with big bursts.  There are also some whispering notes of heather and soil.  However, the peat and smoke are the biggest flavors after a few minutes, and they will stay for a long time.

Overall, Laphroaig 10 year is a bit one-tricked.  It doesn’t have the incredible depth and complexity that some of its older siblings have.  However, there is a ton of power and strength in this flavor profile.  If you love a strong, peated whisky, look no further than Laphroaig.  If you don’t like the way a bonfire smells when you have it in a peat bog, then I would not recommend Laphroaig; it probably isn’t the best whisky for you.  If you would like to try an authentic, peated Islay single malt, then Laphroaig is probably up your street.  My grade: B-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  This is a nice introduction to Islay Scotch, and it would make a nice daily dram for rainy days.  However, I usually pay a little more and something for my top shelf from Laphroaig.

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Review

Well, today is my birthday, so I am going for pure pleasure.  Today, I am doing a review of one of the finest whiskies on the planet, Bunnahabhain 12 year-old single malt Islay Scotch.  If you would like to know how to pronounce Bunnahabhain, let Brian Cox help you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=JanRqMtGtOI

I have talked a little about Scotch regions in the past, yet I have not yet talked about Islay.  Islay is my favorite Scotch region; it is known for massive, powerful whiskies that take your taste buds for one hell of a ride.  “Peat Monsters” like Laphroaig, Ardbeg, and Lagavulin all come from Islay.  However, there is a lighter side of Islay as well, with distilleries like Bowmore, Bruichladdich, and Bunnahabhain.

Bunnahabhain is a non-chill filtered whisky, aged in Sherry casks, bottled at 92.6 proof.  It has a rich, amber color, a much darker color than most Islay Scotches.  On the nose, it is sweet and salty.  The sweetness comes primarily from the Sherry influence, giving way to almonds, dark fruits, berries, and sweet oak.  The saltiness comes primarily from the peat, offering a soft whiff of smoke every soft often in the nose.  The palate has the traditional fullness of an Islay Scotch, yet the flavor profile is much different.  The front of the palate picks up a full array of sweetness, with notes of hazelnuts, almonds, some light cinnamon sugar spiciness, blackberries, boysenberries, and dried apricots.  As the whisky moves towards its finish, it begins to show its Islay roots.  The back of the palate begins to get smokier, until the smoke finally releases its power in the finish.  The finish is long (another Islay trademark).  It starts off with a big puff of peat smoke, yet it becomes deliciously sweet over time, echoing the sweet and salty balance of the nose.  The finish seems to take you right to the sea, where a cool autumn breeze is blowing salt into your nostrils as you eat freshly picked raspberries.

As you might have guessed, I love this whisky.  My only wish is that the Sherry would not be quite so strong on the front of the palate.  Occasionally, you can find this whisky for under $50, which makes it a pretty good deal.  Honestly, I have seen other Scotches with this depth and complexity cost twice that much.  My grade: A-.  Price: $45-50/750ml.  This is a whisky for special occasions, and it comes through beautifully.  It tastes well beyond its price point.

Comparison Review: Scotch Styles, McClelland’s Speyside vs. McClelland’s Lowland

I have been asked by several people to begin posting reviews of non-bourbon whiskeys that also fit the mission of bargainbourbon.com.  In that vein, I am doing a comparison review of two great value Scotches that I am fond of.  But first, a few brief words about Scotch Whisky.

Like bourbon to America, Scotch Whisky is made in Scotland.  Unlike bourbon, Scotch is made primarily from barley, although some other cereal grains are occasionally added.  In addition, Scotch varies significantly depending on the region of Scotland that the whisky comes from.  Obviously, each distillery is a little different, but most regions have a distinct flavor profile embodied by the distilleries in that region.

McClelland’s is a Scotch distributor that sources and bottles whisky from different regions of Scotland.  As such, McClelland’s whisky is usually pretty cheap (between $20-$30), and it gives a good introduction to a region’s flavor profile before diving headlong into a Scotch that costs $50 a bottle.  McClelland’s makes single malt Scotches, which means that all of the whisky in the bottle is made from the same mash.  Blended Scotches like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, and Dewar’s are made from blending different Scotches from different distilleries in order to get the desired product.  Generally speaking, single malts are crisper with a more distinct flavor profile, hence their appeal to whisky drinkers.  Now, on to the whisky…

The Speyside region of Scotland is the most well-known Scotch region, home to about half the distilleries in Scotland.  It is a relatively small region located in the Northeast of Scotland, where the Spey River enters the North Sea.  Distilleries such as The Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Glenrothes, The MaCallan, Aberlour, Glenfiddich, and The Balvenie are all found in the Speyside region.  As a general flavor profile, most Speyside whiskies strike a balance between fruity and floral notes and richer flavors of vanilla and oak.

On the nose, McClelland’s Speyside reminds me of Andes Mint candy.  It is fresh and minty, with some whispers of dark chocolate and fresh cut pine evergreens.  On the palate, the whisky is sweet and nutty, with the most prominent notes being almonds and hazelnuts.  The finish is moderately long, starting with light, piney flavors, and moving towards smoky pine and smoked peat at the end.  Like most of McClelland’s products, the Speyside is not very complex, but it gives a crisp, clear introduction to Speyside whisky.  My grade: B-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a great daily whisky.  It is a great anchor for any cabinet.

The Lowland region of Scotland is located in the south, and it is only home to a few active distilleries nowadays.  As a flavor profile, the Lowland Scotches are known for being very delicate and subtle.  They tend to be fresh and floral, with an almost silky or buttery texture.  Their popularity has died out a little bit in the past few decades as the whisky market has tended towards the massive flavor profiles of Islay Scotches and the Highland and Speyside regions.  However, Lowland Scotches are unique and fantastic whiskies.

On the nose, McClelland’s Lowland is mostly floral and citrusy.  There are notes of lemons and tangerines, coupled with dense floral notes of roses and lilacs.  This whisky is a pure joy to smell.  The palate is earthy and sweet, almost as if chewing on an orange or lemon peel.  The whisky is oily on the palate, feeling like melted butter in the mouth.  The finish is short and fairly weak.  It leaves a perfume-ish taste in the back of the mouth, but it is not very complex or powerful.  My grade: B-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is great daily whisky, not as complex as the Speyside, but it anchors a cabinet just as well.

Overall, I prefer McClelland’s Speyside to McClelland’s Lowland.  However, if you are looking for a gateway whisky, a Lowland Scotch is a great place to start because of how easy the whisky is to drink neat.  These are both great introductions to Scotch, so give them a try and let it ride!