About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

PORT ELLEN 1982 24YO - BLADNOCH FORUM

I've often, at least in some circles, hinted at Port Ellen being nothing but a mediocre Islay malt, this of course to provoke a response from the die hard fans out there, totally infatuated with Port Ellen for one reason only...  it's a closed distillery. Granted, it down not make much of a malt at a young age (early teens) and the distillery was also originally built to produce malt for blends.

Then owners 'United Distillers' (now Diageo) decided to focus on Caol Ila as their workhorse, producing at the time around x4 times as much spirit as Port Ellen, making that the final blow that would close down the plant... only they did not know how well Port Ellen, or at least the ones (mostly single casks) we see, would mature. Some are stunning - some are, honestly, not very good and certainly not worth whats charged for a bottle of Port Ellen these days. If you want to try something similar to a well aged Port Ellen, go buy a bottle of Caol Ila in its late 20's at a fraction of the price of a Port Ellen...

But like I said, there has also been some cracking single casks bottlings out there and I've been fortunate enough to taste a good deal on my whisky journey so far. There have been some duds along the way as well, but the ones that have made their way onto this measly little blog have all been from good to great! and this next one is great too...

Port Ellen seafront warehouse, October 9th 2008 © The Malt Desk
Port Ellen 1982 (13.10.1982/xx.11.2006) 24yo, 60,4%, Sherry butt#2461, 644 bottles, Bladnoch Forum

Colour is pale amber


Nose:
Initially very little peat or sherry, but instead a very mashy/malty theme along with some vanillas and a baked apple note, hint of cookie dough and something herbal. Feels very fresh, in fact - like a windy day the beach.

Taste:
Drying (alcohol), very delicate spirit here, much more seafront appears - salt, seaweedy, tackle box, some white fruit and a lovely balanced peat followed by a sherried sweetness that gives away to a huge malt surge. Also a citrus burst in there and the whole thing finishes off with medium spicy/peppery finish.

Personally, I love this style of whisky, especially its malt surge is huge!...which is why this one goes all the way up to:

91/100! ... and no extra point for being a PE ;-)

Sunday, 26 January 2014

SCAPA 1992 14YO BATCH SC14 001 - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

You don't see much whisky from this distillery. Its pretty much the shy brother of the high profile Highland Park Distillery, located across the Scapa flow (bay) on Orkney Mainland... So when Highland Park attracts all the attention, I found out, when visiting in 2009, that Scapa is what the Orcadians themselves enjoy as their favourite tipple.

Scapa is a distillery high on my visit list, but its not open to the public, so if anyone reading this and have contacts (Pernod Ricard People, hint hint! ;-) ) and I can get my schedule to fit, I'd love to make my way to Orkney again to visit Scapa.

On a more sad note, I feel that the current 16yo version is a bit dull and that the owners should take a long hard look at what potential this distillery really has instead of pouring the majority of its production into the Ballantine's blend. I'm sure a substitute malt can be found somewhere in their portfolio?

On a brighter note, the bottling I'm about to review was released back in 2006 as a part of the Chivas Cask Strength Collection - its a 50cl bottle set with whiskies from a range of Pernod Ricard Distilleries and sold at very favourable prices and worth picking up as you get cask strength version of whiskies you normally would only get at 40%/43%. Sadly this current versions is long gone, but its worth picking up at auction, IMO...

Scapa Distillery seen from across the Scapa Flow, August 5th 2009 © The Malt Desk
Scapa 1992/2006 14yo 60,6% Batch SC14 001, Chivas Cask Strength Edition-series, Distillery bottling

Colour is pale amber

Nose:
Sweet barley sugar, vanilla and soft fruit. A bit of apple, wet planks of wood, sugared licorice (Haribo Dominos), an touch of mint and ozone.

Taste:
Alcohol nip, but thats to be expected with a 60%+ abv. A splash of water releases apple, raspberry, lemon, black pepper and a bit of mentholated mouthfeel. On the finish, more fruit (salad), vanilla and a spicy and barley finish.

A very good dram, this one - wish I had a full bottle of this...

Thanks to Kalle for the sample

88/100!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

TASTING LAPHROAIG CÀIRDEAS 2008-2013

Saturday the 11th January 2014 saw 32 people enjoying 6x2cls of different Laphroaigs - specifically, the 6 Càirdeas bottlings released so far for the Feis Ile from 2008-2013...
32 people also gave the opportunity to take home some dregs for later tasting and re-evaluation. Oh, we also had an extra, but more on that later... ;-)

The venue was The Irish House in my home town of Aalborg, an old merchant's house from 1616 with a nice cosy basement perfect for tastings this size. The same place as the local whisky club, in which I'm deeply involved, does most tastings as well. This day, though, it's bottles from my private collection we'll be tasting.

The Càirdeas tasting lineup, left to right 2008-2013 Editions - a fantastic afternoon out, January 11th 2014 © The Malt Desk
I decided to do the tasting in 2 flights... and chronologically too of course, first 2008 - 2010 and a break and then on to 2011 - 2013.

Let's break them down in detail:

  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2008, 55%
  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2009 12yo, 57,5%
  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2010, 57,3 Master Edition
  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2011, 50,5% Ileach Edition
  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2012, 51,2% Origin
  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2013, 51,3% Port Wood Edition
Right, now that we got the bottlings sorted, let's have a look at a few personal observations of mine and also how they rated on the day through the eyes of the rest of the participants. More detailed personal tasting notes will feature on the blog at a later time.

  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2008, 55%
This one is really close to the 10yo Cask Strength, IMO - great stuff, especially if left for a while to breathe. Somehow I feel the 2 older casks tipped into this vatting provides a significant part of the backbone of this dram.

  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2009 12yo, 57,5%
A much more mellow and sweet experience, this one. Lots of vanilla and burning twigs as opposed to the traditional heavier peat style. Certainly a clear influence from more time in the cask as well as influence from the 1st fill ex-bourbon casks used in this vatting.

  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2010, 57,3 Master Edition
This one takes us, IMO, more back towards the traditional expression of Laphroaig. It gives carries a lot of vanilla and peat sweetness and lemon, but still closer in style to the 2009 expression than the 2008.

The verdict of flight no. 1?

Many really liked the 2009 12yo and asking around 2/3's of those asked favoured that expression, incl. myself. - the rest was split between the 2008 and 2010. Retasted a few days later, the my own verdict changed to have the 2008 come out on top!


Comparing the first 3 of the Càirdeas expressions, January 11th 2014 © The Malt Desk

  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2011, 50,5% Ileach Edition
A fresh and vibrant expression, this one. Lots of cigar ash on the nose along with delicate vanilla and an almost floral peat. This was probably the expression that on the day got least likes, but this has also opened up quite a bit. Supposedly all 1st fill ex-bourbon casks from Makers Mark distillery went into this vatting.

  •  Càirdeas Feis Ile 2012, 51,2% Origin
An expression that carries a destinct mark of the quarter cask, IMO, with noticeably more powerful wood infused notes. Of course it also gives you the sweet peat and some seashore notes, but although its good, it'll never be my favourite of the lot.

  • Càirdeas Feis Ile 2013, 51,3% Port Wood Edition
Personal impression runs with another very vibrant expression, not at all dulled by the port maturation. Loads of farmyard notes of both the bio dynamic and organic kind (dung, barley and hay). The wine showing it self as a sweet layer on top of the peat, but in no way overpowering. This expression has on online fora really divided people into lovers and haters. Personally I'm in the first group.

The verdict of flight no. 2?

This was about a split hair descision between the 2012 Origin and the 2013 Port Wood Edition. At the time, I really liked the 2013 Port Wood, but later, after revisiting the 2011, I've come to really like its ashy side alot. So for me its now a split between the 2011 and 2013.

Laphroaig Spirit Stills, May 5th 2011 © The Malt Desk

All in all a very nice experience to taste all -at the moment- released versions of the Feis Ile Laphroaig Càirdeas. I'm already wondering what 2014 has in store for us...

Looking at this range it goes fits the current trend of No Age Statement whiskies, except for the 2009 release, but these pack the extra punch for 2 reasons:

1. They're peated
2. (and most important) - they're cask strength!

Imagine other high profile distilleries releasing their NAS whiskies at cask strength?
Will we be bashing them as hard if they did?

So a big pad on the back to Laphroaig for making these bottlings available at cask strength.

Rounding the day off I put on an extra - a more mature Laphroaig at 21yo...


Laphroaig 1987 (xx.11.1987/xx.01.2009) 21yo 50%, refill cask#4855, Old Malt Cask © The Malt Desk

A more laid back version from Laphroaig, age showing itself clearly by producing a very mellow dram but still carries a more than moderate peating level and a very dark style of peat it is too, more burnt and sooty. An Islay giant this one... Again -as with the others- it went down very well with the audience, this was not rated on the day by the audience.

After about 2½ hours of tasting and enjoy 7 Laphroaigs, people went on their merry ways with a smile on their faces and leaving me with dregs for a private session...

Dregs for a small private session later on, January 11th 2014 © The Malt Desk

This concludes the short report from the tasting. Hope you enjoyed the it.

Thanks for reading...

/claus

Monday, 13 January 2014

ARDBEG 1992 - SCOTT'S SELECTION

Lets just do a quick'n'dirty review of this Ardbeg. I won't rant on the marketing, pricing or anything this time... but only leave you with a word of advice - that is to think twice - or even more before joining the hype around this distillery that attracted so many followers over the years - many from reading that heathen book by that English whisky writer that likes bourbon better than scotch this year and by the whisky gods who knows next year...

I'd better get started on my review before I get myself too caught up in a rant anyway....

Ardbeg Uigeadail served in the Ardbeg Visitors Centre, October 8th 2008 © The Malt Desk
Ardbeg 1992/2007 15yo, 51,6%, Scott's Selection

Colour is white wine

Nose:
Suprisingly medicinal - one would maybe expect this one to come from the distillery closest to the village of Port Ellen (Laphroaig). After a short while, crispy light peat, lemon and grass and soot appear. Kinda like a mix between a smoke house and a chimney.

Taste:
Again very light, lemon oil this time and the peat now gets very up front, though still very delicate and crisp, almost floral. Leaving this one in the glass makes it go very gristy/mashy direction - almost like sticking your nose in the Ardbeg mashtuns. The finish is on smoke fish, spices (mainly the peppery kind) and sweet peat.

Not the greatest of Ardbegs, but not bad either

85/100!

Friday, 10 January 2014

LAPHROAIG 1990 - THE PERFECT DRAM

As a warm up for a tasting I'm doing this coming Saturday, January 11th, I'll be reviewing a Laphroaig... and the upcoming tasting, you ask?

Laphroaig Càirdeas 2008-2013.... A report will, of course, be on this website a little later.

Laphroaig is one the distilleries that uses stainless steel washback for fermentation. There are of course more out there, on Islay there's Kilchoman and elsewhere Glenfarclas and BenRiach distilleries, but also Pulteney and Scapa also springs to mind, both having corten and stainless steel washbacks.

So does fermentation on stainless or corten steel washbacks produce a different wash than wooden washbacks? More and more goes towards it being inconclusive. Some would argue wooden washbacks holds natural bacteria that adds more flavour during the fermentation process and some argue that wooden washbacks are only in use as they are the traditional vessel used for fermentation. Other arguments against wood is that they're difficult to clean and likely to leak/crack if not maintained properly. The only 'proper' argument against stainless steel washbacks is the one of the natural bacteria, but its never AFAIK been proved.... but still we all like those wooden ones, right? Looks more pretty when you visit ;-) (some argument, LOL ;-) )

You just have to make up your own mind :-)

Now onto the review... this time a mature Laphroaig, bottled by German cult bottler 'The Whisky Agency'. This one is done in their sub-series 'The Perfect Dram'.

Stainless steel washback at Laphroaig, behind that the stainless steel mashtun, May 5th 2011 © The Malt Desk
Laphroaig 1990 20yo, 56,3%, ex-bourbon cask, 237 bottles, The Perfect Dram with Bresser & Timmer

Colour is full straw

Nose:
Very sweet on vanilla, sweet peat too with a very mellow edge of seaweed and all things seashore... even hints of warm apple and cold smoky danish charcuterie. Not very expressive, but the things that are there are nice...

Taste:
Hello! :-O What this one lacked on the nose it makes up for on the palate. Very smoky! and a malt creamy edge -  almost honey creamy. more vanilla, citrus, peat bog and burned leaves, salty and seaweedy. I can imagine this would be what a cigarette rolled with dry seaweed, seaside moss and peat would taste like!

This is very nice - and the complete opposite of the sometime young brutish Laphroaigs we see out there...  but we love those too, don't we? ;-)

88/100!

Monday, 6 January 2014

ISLE OF ARRAN 1998 - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

Its review time again - this time we head for the Isle of Arran and I'll be review a distillery bottling that (again) goes to show that this distillery has potential.

If you have a look at a place like whiskybase.com (probably the most comprehensive online whisky database) you'll get a rather huge list of Arran bottlings, many of them single casks like the one I'll be reviewing today. They've done almost as many cask finishes as Bruichladdich Distillery on Islay (sorry, thats just joke - no one has done as many as Bruichladdich, but Arran sure is a contender for the title).

Some finishes has of course been more successful than others - whiskybase is also a good base of information on this and my personal recommendation is for you to stay clear of the champagne finish and instead go and stry some of the Amarone cask versions - especially the first one(s).

Next year -in 2015- the distillery reaches its 20th year, so we're still dealing with a, in whisky terms, a newer distillery but they are sure on the right track and are still releasing whisky with age statements on the labels (hint, hint!)

Other great ones to look out for are these two:
http://goo.gl/j26cO1 and http://goo.gl/kCasfS

Today, however, its back to basics with an Arran from a ex-bourbon cask.

The gleaming brass spirit safe at the Isle of Arran Distillery, August 19th 2012 © The Malt Desk
Isle of Arran 1998 11yo (11.06.1998/16.02.2010) 57,8%, ex-bourbon cask#713, 214 bottles, Distillery bottling

Colour is full gold


Nose:
Full on creamy vanilla, apple and fresh danish pastry. After some time, distant notes of nutmeg, a nip of warming oak and fresh smell of a field after a rain shower. Also just a hint of scented (floral) hand soap (in a good way)

Taste:
Mouth watering and lip smacking, delicious trademark good quality bourbon cask matured whisky. Of course, its also heavy on the oils as Arrans usually are. Thick malt, a veriety of garden fruits, honey and ginger too. Finishes on a more peppery spice note - especially if a little water is added. Very mouth filling and satisfying, this one!

A very good malt from one of Scotland's younger distilleries.

Finally, thanks to Kalle for the sample!

88/100!

Friday, 3 January 2014

HAPPY NEW YEAR + LAGAVULIN 1985 21YO - DISTILLERY BOTTLING

It's been a week long break for me - something I really didn't intend for to happen this year, but it did... The period around Xmas and New Years this year has -more than other years- set some thoughts for the future on a more personal level in motion, and this is the reason why I haven't updated for 1 week now.

As many others have done, I've also looked back at the whisky year and realised that tasting wise it has been another great year - as has it with an excellent Spirit of Speyside Festival in May 2013 - an event where I also had some of the whiskies that stood out for me in 2013... and 3 of these were from the same bottler and the same new series - well done!

These were (in no particular order):

  • Highland Park 1988 25yo, Cadenhead Small Batch
  • Glenlivet 1970 43yo, Cadenhead Small Batch
  • Glenfarclas 1973 Family Cask Release VIII, Distillery bottling
  • Bunnahabhain 1973 40yo, Archives
  • Caperdonich 1977 35yo, Cadenhead Small Batch
  • Glendronach 1972 cask sample at the distillery
The above is certainly owed to Mark Watt, now at Cadenheads!

Best distillery tour/tasting at the Spirit of Speyside Festival 2013 is a tie, I'm afraid...
  • Glendronach Connoisseurs Tour - available all year, btw...
  • Glenfarclas Family Cask Tasting (Every decade starting 1953, 63, 73, etc.)
Sadly, 2013 has also been the year where prices have really taken off, skyrocketed, one might even argue. Now I can start a huge rant on pricing, but I won't (I'll just make it short, haha).

Instead, I'll post a plea to the producers - let the prices match what you put in the bottles and don't expect us to pay a premium for whiskies with no age on, when you've always 'tought' us that 'older is better'...

That said, new whisky drinkers won't mind, 'cause they don't know better, but if you also want continued support from more discerning whisky drinkers, do not overdo this, please... I acknowledge that we're not you main target group for your product, but we're the reason you're still here - carrying you through the years when whisky wasn't the favourite tipple.

I'll now do a review of a proper New Years Dram ;-)


Lagavulin Distillery, an Islay icon, May 6th 2011 © The Malt Desk

Lagavulin 1985/2007 21yo 56,5%, Ex-European oak sherry casks, Distillery bottling

Colour is dark amber

Nose:
Farmyard and medium strength peat meets your nose. Then oils, heavy stuff, burnt engine oil comes to mind, burnt oranges, a hint of matches in the background, getting minty and salty. This one is changing all the time... amazing stuff! The sherry oak shows itself even more with quite a vinous side after a while, but settling down again only  to produce a sweet nutty side along with hints of herbs and cold meats

Taste:
Heavy Lagavulin oil, like the 16yo on steroids, peat and lovely sherry in measures just tipping to the vinous side. Also a hint of matches here, but adding to the whole very powerful experience. Also huge amounts of peppery spices in there, reduced vinegar, that dirty engine oil again, the peat is much more present that one would expect - excellent cask influence giving tobacco, a dash of oak, salty meats. Orange marmalade on burned toast. A winter warmer for sure!

91/100!