Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Kilchoman crazy!

Over the course of the last eight months, I've been buying lots and lots of Kilchoman. After my mate Yan send me up a sample of the Loch Gorm, I immediately ran out to snaffle a bottle for myself. After that, I picked up the 100% Islay.
    Since then, I've also bought the 2014 edition of the Machir Bay and the Cask Strength release which launched back in October. As if that wasn't enough, my whisky chum Ben Cops from Ben's Whisky Blog very kindly sent me a sample of the PX finish which was exclusive to Abbey Whisky.
    So with two reviews already in the bag , I thought it was about time to take a closer look at the Machir Bay, Cask Strength and PX finish.

Kilchoman Machir Bay - 2014 edition - 46%

The smell from the glass was fresh and initially reminded me of Caol Ila. Give it some time and grapefruit and lemon rind come to the fore, along with smoke, brine, seaweed, peat and a touch of chlorine. It's lovely and malty and there's a slight red fruit note trying to come through, together with sweet ash and that green, slight herbal note which Kilchomans seem to share.
    It also carries a mineral note with Thornton's special toffee and the inside of a well used wooden pencil case. A drop of water brings a lovely and mellow sweet pipe tobacco note.
    Take a sip and sweet and salty notes are unmistakable. There's also slight golden syrup,  dusty charcoal, sharp menthol, green twigs, damp embers and the merest hint of apple.
    The finish has prickly spices with sweet peat, dry burnt wood, spearmint, toasted liquorice, a hint of vanilla and a slight buttery note along with a wee bit of lemon.

Kilchoman Cask Strength - 59.2%

On the nose there's pungent, farmy peat! But its character is quite unlike other Islay malts. Despite the peat blast, there's a light freshness to the dram with a bundle of delightful golden barley and smouldering twigs in autumn. I also picked up baked lemon and grapefruit rind.
    There's also honey covered charcoal bricks and fresh bandages and a hint of liquorice and a whiff of cooked ham. Vanilla and toffee notes are also present along with a light presence of soap, sweet honey and mint. The addition of two teaspoons of water really opens this cask strength beauty right up and immediately, delicious toffee and tobacco leaf scents gentle rise from the glass.
    The flavour is dark and rich with treacle and sweet powerful peat smoke. Without water, this is tough to get a handle on. A few drops blow through the smoke to reveal sweet citrus and toffee with a twist of white pepper.
    Hints of golden syrup emerge to coat the tongue and orange oil appears after a few good swirls. The peat is always present adding a dark backdrop to the flavours. Magnificent stuff.
    The finish carries lots of pungent peat along with a touch of citrus and vanilla. A well-made espresso follows right at the end of the long finish. A herbal note also adds an added dimension and tobacco notes cling to the back of the tongue.

Kilchoman PX sherry cask - 58.3%. Abbey Whisky Exclusive
Distilled on June 11 2009, bottled on July 17 2014. Four and a half years in a fresh bourbon barrel with an extra four months in a Pedro Ximinez sherry cask

This is heaven to sniff! Seriously good. A mass of deep, dark fruits such as sticky dates, juicy prunes, blackberries, blood orange and baked apple rise but the PX cask has given this a glorious gloopy sweetness.
    As it settles down, I get a dried tobacco smell - specifically cigarette tobacco. Almost like a ripped open cigarette. The peat lurks in the background but nowhere near the intensity found in other Kilchomans - it's sweet and mellow. In Ben's tasting notes, he mentions travel sweets and I see exactly where he's coming from - those icing sugar dusted tinned sweets come straight through. A teaspoon of water brings even more sweet tobacco to the fore.
    The palate is thick, sweet and mouth coating with fruits of the forest jammy notes asserting themselves. It's slightly herbal with fruity toffee and dark runny caramel. There's also apple, liquorice, a slight nuttiness, baked peaches and soft brown sugar. Mouthwatering stuff.
    On the finish the tobacco smoke is really prominent but dark molasses and those jammy fruits soon come through. It's thick and chewy with a lovely bitter note. Black coffee and good quality bitter chocolate are also there. I don't smoke these days, but this would be stunning with a cigar.

Three more excellent Kilchomans! My thank again to Ben for the PX sample which I really did appreciate as I want to try as many Kilchomans as possible. And it's a sure thing that throughout 2015, I'll be trying to pick up everything they release as they've fast become a favourite.
    If you've yet to sample a Kilchoman, go for the Machir Bay. It's a good price and is a great introduction to the range.

Friday, 9 January 2015

SMWS Caol Ila duo

Right then. I've been thoroughly enjoying a rather splendid Caol Ila from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society over the last few months. I've been rationing the 53.212 but thought it was about time to update the blog with this beauty. And, seeing as Mr Ben Cops from the excellent Ben's Whisky Blog had sent me a sample of a previous SMWS Caol Ila: the 53.210, it seemed like the perfect time to get some notes down. Off we go!

SMWS 53.212 Peat Smoke and Para Handy Puffers - 56.4%
A 22-year-old Caol Ila. 
Distilled: January 17, 1992 and one of 291 bottles. 
Cask: refill hogshead, ex-bourbon

On the nose, there's initially a huge blast of ash, but underneath that there's the beautiful scent of honey-glazed ham. Heavily salted smoky bacon crisps are also present. The refined peat is wonderfully sweet and helps to bring out a rich tobacco leaf note. This is ramped up considerably with the addition of a small drop of water and there's also crushed mint leaves and if you leave the whisky to settle for 15-20 minutes, a bag of salt and vinegar crisps rustles into view to join the snack party. A faint rubber note is also in the background but it's not unpleasant as it really is tucked away and doesn't overpower the malt - unlike that nasty Ardbog stuff.
    Take a sip and this Caol Ila has an incredibly sweet arrival which then turns to fresh burning embers and campfire smoke. The sweetness remains throughout and the peat gives it tremendous depth. Black liquorice laces are also in the mix along with black cherry cough sweets and fine sawdust.
    The finish is splendid, with tobacco leaf, sweet peat, a hint of spearmint, coffee beans, faint black pepper, cumin and undiluted blackcurrant cordial.

SMWS 53.210 Fantastic Stuff - 53.3%
A 24-year-old Caol Ila. 
Distilled: December 19, 1989 and one of 240 bottles. 
Cask: refill hogshead, ex-bourbon

Taking a sniff, the fist thing I got when sticking my beak in the Glencairn wasn't peat but pomegranate juice. Spend a few minutes with it and the peat becomes noticeable but it's not a phenolic blast - it's refined and restrained and gives dark depth to the dram. I also got an earthy farm note which I often find in Kilchomans but again, it's not in your face.
    Burning green twigs are also in the fire along with a delightful vanilla note along with a thick spoonful of banana and toffee yoghurt. The dram actually reminds me of a well matured Ardmore and I remember thinking the same during a blind tasting of another Caol Ila last year. Caught me completely off guard. A drop of water brings out dusty cinnamon and waves of vanilla. Lovely.
    On the palate, the whisky is refined and elegant, with a delightful brown sugar sweetness. Again, the peat is there but it plays around the edges and forces some wonderful dark fruit notes through such as ripe plums and blackberries. There's also charcoal, creamy vanilla, white pepper and dried tobacco leaf.
    The finish is sweet with slight wood and a kiss of vanilla, dark salted toffee, pipe smoke, blackcurrant notes and delightfully refined peat. Wonderful.

So there you have it - two absolute corkers from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It's safe to say I'll be buying more SMWS Caol Ila bottles in the future - in fact, I already have. I picked out a cheeky wee 14-year-old from this month's outturn. I just can't get enough of the stuff.

A huge thank you to Ben for the sample of the 53.210 and for giving me the opportunity to try it. It really was Fantastic - the label didn't lie!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Benromach Organic - 43%

I had a small glass of the Benromach Organic at the Glasgow Whisky Festival back in November and declared it one of my drams of the day. So when I saw a bottle out in the wild, I promptly scooped it up and brought it back home. Seems like I'm not the only one, as it's disappearing from the shelves rather quickly.
    I've spent a bit of time with it now and the bottle is about half full, so it's time for some tasting notes.
    On the nose, there's a copious amount of fresh wood - no real surprise as this six-year-old Benromach was matured in virgin American oak casks. Give it a bit of time and the spirit begins to settle down. I even found that a drop of water helped release some of the aromas which were initially hidden behind the fresh sawdust notes. Cranberry and sharp raspberry became immediately apparent, along with dark toffee and hints of vanilla latte. There's also citrus rind in there, too, in the shape of orange and lemon, while a rich maltiness attacks the senses. This is definitely a whisky which improves the more time you spend with your nose wedged in the glass. I also picked up white sugar, a little candied mixed peel and that delicious porridge and honey smell which also appears in the 10 year old.
    Take a sip, and the delivery is hugely sweet, which gives way to fruity wood after a few seconds. Vanilla, warming winter spices and a little citrus then take over. But the fresh oak is never far away and it lingers in the background as you swirl it around. I also got a slight green note (fresh twigs) which was quite pleasant.
    The finish was packed with vanilla and baked lemon, while some white pepper notes danced around the back of my tongue, along with a sweet coffee note.
    I have to say that while I've been enjoying this bottle over the last few months, it's not the most complex whisky in the world. But then, sometimes it's good to just kick back and enjoy something without trying to analyse it too much.
    Benromach also go to great lengths on the bottle to let us know that the Organic has been created with Scottish organic barley and it also carries the British Agriculture logo and the Organic Soil Association badge. That's all well and good, but I'm confused why the distillery has chosen to add colouring to this malt and chill-filter it. I am assuming this is the case as there's nothing on the bottle to say otherwise. By presenting a product as organic, why not go for full craft presentation and bottle it at a little higher percentage? It's also on the pricey side for a young whisky.
    Still, these grumbles aside, this is a very decent dram - although I'd probably plump for the 10 over this in the future.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Clynelish 14 - 46%

My introduction to Clynelish was at last month's Glasgow Whisky Festival - and I was rather spoiled considering the fact I was swirling a 29-year-old cask strength humdinger. 
    While I knew this 14 would struggle to match that SMWS behemoth, I happily took the plunge to better appreciate the Clynelish character. The bottle hasn't lasted long - a sure sign I've enjoyed it - while a hip flask brimming with this fine single malt accompanied me on a trip to London a few weeks ago. It certainly improved the four and a half hour train journey!
    On the nose, the first thing I encountered was glue and corned beef! Honey, dried mixed fruit and salted lemon followed and there's a smokiness to the malt but not peat - more like a whiff of campfire smoke from a mile or so away. I also found marzipan, icing sugar-covered bonbons, a slight yeasty note, musty tangerine, a hint of petrol, butter icing, honeydew melon, orange oil, Lee's macaroon bars and a herbal note which reminded me of sage. Sweet and savoury in perfect balance. Left for 30 minutes I got a smell which reminded me of walking into a Mexican deli - chipotle chillies and all! With a dribble of water, the savoury scents took a step back and the orange citrus notes moved forward. In some ways it reminded me of Old Pulteney 12
    The palate had a slight alcoholic nip at first which then gave way to orange oil, golden syrup, vanilla, milky coffee, a fair bit of chilli flake heat along with chicory leaves and peppery rocket. The finish was spicy with more vanilla, a light caramel sauce, dried fruit and was slightly bitter.
    I really enjoyed this one and found it a bit of a challenge at times due to its sweet and savoury character. Some days it would be fruity and sweet, while on others, those savoury, meaty notes seemed to be more pronounced. It's really made me want to taste more from the distillery and since quaffing this bottle, I've bought a 16-year-old independent bottling of Clynelish. I'll be opening that one in the near future - perhaps for my birthday later this month. We'll see!