Posts tagged ‘smoke’

Highland Park 12 Year Scotch Review

Well, if you’ve been watching the weather channel, you know that Boston is getting ready for a blizzard.  To me, that says, “Hey Phil, review some great bargain whiskey.”  So, today I am reviewing one of my favorite value Scotches – Highland Park 12 year.  It also gives me a great chance to illustrate one of my classic teaching points about whisk(e)y.  Highland Park 12yr

The other day, Mary Kate Long (self-proclaimed coolest person in the world), was trying some Highland Park at my house.  I had said that I usually catch a citrus note that I usually describe as mango, pineapple, or apricot.  However, when MK tastes the Highland Park, she said she didn’t taste any pineapple at all.  In fact, she was very angry that Highland Park did not taste like pineapple to her.  My point in the story is that everybody’s taste buds are different.  When you taste a whisk(e)y, the flavors are general, not as specific as I describe them in my reviews.  However, I like to be eclectic, so I like to point out the specific things that the flavors remind me of.  So, everybody will get different memories out of whiskey.  That’s the fun of it!

So, without further ado, here are my thoughts on Highland Park 12 yr (it is aged in ex-Sherry casks and bottled at 86 proof).  The nose on this whisky is pretty sweet.  I sniff dense notes of heather, honey, pineapple, citrus vanilla, and a light whiff of smoke.  The palate is medium-bodied with a rich, sherried backbone.  Dried mangoes, apricots, apples, and pears all roll across the front of the palate.  This is seductive stuff.  The finish is medium-long with a healthy dose of smoke, and a warming fruitiness.  The citrus sweetness works through the smoke a little bit after a few minutes.

Overall, this is a fantastic single malt Scotch.  It is deliciously drinkable, soft, and seductive.  It appeals to the Scotch beginner and the Scotch connoisseur.  If you ever want to make a Scotch drinker happy without breaking the bank, snag a bottle of Highland Park 12 yr.  My grade: B+.  Price: $40-45/750ml.  This one is a great place to start if you are looking into a Scotch that balances sweetness with some subtle smokiness, not to mention the awesome price point.

Advertisements

Laphroaig 10 yr. Cask Strength (Batch 004) Scotch Review

Well, I got done my work earlier than expected this evening, so I am rewarding myself with a whisky review of one of my favorites.  I’ve had tried several bottles of this batch at my local watering hole, and I think I have done enough reviewing to preach the goodness of batch 004 of Laphroaig 10 yr. Cask Strength.  This batch was distilled in 2002, bottled in January 2012, and it is non-chill filtered at 116.6 proof (58.3% abv).

Laphroaig 10 yr Cask StrengthThis Scotch whisky carries an interesting story with it.  During Prohibition in the United States, Laphroaig was still allowed to import their whisky at its cask strength as cough medicine because the United States government deemed the whisky too strong and medicinal to be consumed recreationally.  However, in the new whisky market, the consumer’s palate has shifted to stronger, powerfully flavored whiskies, and Laphroaig fits that bill perfectly.  (Note: This stuff is plenty strong enough to be used as cough medicine, even today.)

On the nose, this whisky is classic Laphroaig – salty, peaty, and smoky.  With a few drops of water, the nose turns to a delightful, sweet smoke, like sweet Italian sausage cooked over an open bonfire.  However, the palate is where this whisky is brilliant.  Drank neat, the whisky is peat and smoke, with some malty undertones all in perfect balance.  There is a wonderful peaches n’ cream note that works through the palate of this whisky that makes me unbelievably happy.  The finish is very long, with hints of oak shavings around a warming layer of sweet, wet peat.  Water brings the palate into a more drinkable balance, but I tend to lose that lovely sweetness on the palate at lower proof points, so I usually drink this one straight up.

Overall, this is brilliant whisky if you love peated Islay single malts.  Compared to other Islay bottlings at cask strength, this one is a great deal, and phenomenal value.  That said, if you are a Speyside drinker (light, fruity, floral), this one probably isn’t up your alley.  My grade: APrice: $60-70/750ml.  This one could also be an A/A-, but I am in a generous mood this evening.  Make no mistake, though.  This is one hell of a Scotch whisky.

For a review of the 2007 bottling, here is a link to William’s review at A Dram Good Time.

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!

 

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.