Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Ledaig - A blast of Mull peat

Ledaig's a whisky I neglected for a long time. I'd heard mixed reports about the peated Isle of Mull spirit in the past and always passed it up while out shopping for a single malt. 
     But at this year's Edinburgh Stramash, I decided to try a dram of the standard 10 year old - and loved it. And, noticing it was bottled at 46.3% and non-chill filtered, I've snaffled two bottles since that capital encounter. 
     It's also lovely and pale, suggesting a lack of added colouring - although that's not mentioned on the label.
     I also went for a sherried version of the 10 year old – this one from independent bottlers Signatory. 
     It's bottled at a much higher strength - one of the highest ABV whiskies I've ever tried. 
     It's good, too, but doesn't quite match the bourbon cask beauty of the distillery 10. Here we go!

Ledaig 10 - 46.3%

Nose: Lovely dry, woody peat. Campfire smoke, green twigs and grapefruit rind. Olive oil and Brazil nuts.

Palate: Bonfire ash, liquorice. The sweetness is kept in check by the mineral peat. Peppercorns and some dried fruit.

Finish: Lots of peat smoke but there's also a fair whack of spice. A good length which carries some brown sugar sweetness and black coffee.

This has become my go-to peated dram this winter. I've managed to find it on offer for around £32 which is a bargain. It's not hugely complex but it hits the spot.

Signatory Ledaig 10 years old - 60.4%
Matured in a first-fill sherry butt.
Distilled: November 24, 2004. Bottled June 9, 2015.
Cask no. 900175, bottle 359/439

Nose: A whiff of sulphur straight off the bat - although it's not completely overpowering. All the sherry notes you'd expect, along with peaty toffee. Dark chocolate and raspberry yoghurt - seriously! Water reduces the sulphur and ramps up the fruit.

Palate: A powerful peaty sherry arrival, then lots of dark fruit notes and chocolate. Mouthwatering. Water rounds off the flavours and brings chocolate-covered cherries to the party.

Finish: Tobacco, mineral peat, liquorice and lots of black pepper. Water adds woody ash and pot pourri - yup, that's not a mistake!

Monday, 21 December 2015

A pair of Islay bruisers

It's been a while since I reviewed a bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, so let's do two! And since it's getting cold, what better way to keep the chills at bay than by slurping two crackers from Islay? 
     I've never been a big fan of Bowmore, but the single cask stuff from the SMWS has been consistently good in my opinion, and as for Caol Ila - it's one of my favourite distilleries.

SMWS 3.244 - 58.8%
Film Noir - 19-year-old Bowmore. Ex bourbon refill hogshead.
Distilled May 7, 1996 - 211 bottles - from the August 2015 outturn.

Nose: Sweet black liquorice, strawberry laces, baked plums, sloe gin, sherbet dib-dabs - and the hard-boiled strawberry lolly. Wet autumn leaves, earth, flat Irn-bru and Pepsi. Wait, there's more: Coffee beans and raspberry yoghurt. With water, more fruit, confectionary, vanilla sponge and cheap lemonade.

Palate: Lots of dried fruit, plums, blackberries and baked apples dusted with sugar. Strawberry laces, dry oak and blackcurrant Chewits. With water, added citrus and vanilla.

Finish: Sweet peat and more strawberries, burning twigs, peat smoke and smoky bacon crisps. Sugar-coated chipotle chillis and charcoal bricks. Water adds more smoke and white pepper.

SMWS 53.227 - 56.8%
Sweet, Salty & Smoky - 18-year-old Caol Ila. Ex bourbon refill hogshead.
Distilled March 3, 1997 - 248 bottles - from the September 2015 outturn.

Nose: Cardamom, slight curry powder, lemons, liquorice wheels, vanilla and salted white fish. Chilli flakes, American Cream Soda, white pepper and celery salt. Some dried fruit, too. Water brings out stronger vanilla and adds grapefruit rind.

Palate: A sweet and salty arrival (natch!). Lemons, vanilla, cinnamon. Spicy but mouthwatering. Lovely peat. Water tames the flavours and adds sour citrus. Even at cask strength, I prefer this one neat. Small sips, mind!

Finish: Oaky vanilla, cinnamon and paper (!). Chilli heat with green twigs, campfire smoke, Edinburgh rock and mint. Water increases the peat and adds more sour citrus.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star - 41.8%

When it comes to whisky from Sweden, the only ones I’d tried to this point had been from the Mackmyra distillery: the Brukswhisky and their First Edition - both top drams.
     So when this curiously named sample was hiding in this year’s Master of Malt advent calendar, I was excited to try it. And after spending some time with it, I’ll be ordering a full bottle in the new year.

Nose: Lots of rich honey and I get a definite whiff of peat. There’s also a real apple character, with apple skins and toffee apple aromas kicking about. The fruit character continues with pineapple juice and dried mango slices. After Eights, Crunchie bars and crystallised ginger.

Palate: A sweet and fruity arrival which is full-flavoured and rich. Red berry fruits, cranberries, sharp raspberries, baked lemon, brown sugar and milky coffee.

Finish: Cinnamon and honey, caramel, dry wood, vanilla, black pepper, malty cereals and that ginger note is back. Slowly fades with a spicy nutmeg. Mint leaves with crushed brown sugar, and a splash of Dr Pepper.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Bank Note 5-year-old blend - 43%

After demolishing two bottles of this cracking blend by the team at A.D Rattray throughout 2015, I figured it was about time to get some notes down.
     It's a step above a lot of blends currently on the market as 40% of the content is made up from single malts from the Highlands and Speyside.
     Refreshingly, it's also bottled at a thoroughly respectable 43%, carries an age statement and costs around the £20 mark. Superb stuff all round.

Nose: Rich honey cereals and grain. Cadbury's Caramel chocolate bar, golden syrup, lots of nutmeg and cinnamon. A slightly sour grapefruit note kicks around on the back end and I also get a whiff of Tunnock's Caramel Logs.

Palate: A sweet and sour arrival which feels rich in the mouth. Toffee and caramel, lots of spice and vanilla. Icing sugar and buttery fudge.

Finish: Vanilla toffee and cinnamon spice. A decent length and that spice continues to fizzle and spark the tastebuds.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Ben Bracken 28 & 22 year old

With Christmas just around the corner, supermarket Lidl recently released their festive batch of whisky in the shape of a 28-year-old Speysider and a 22-year-old Islay malt - and launched them for £49.99 and £44.99 respectively. 
     Obviously that’s cheap for whiskies of this age, and although bottled at 40%, chill-filtered and with added colouring, both bottles represent great value. They’re not spectacular, but both are easy-going drams with a lot to say about themselves. 
     Incidentally, at a time when I’m usually on the lookout for whiskies with craft presentation, the boast on the labels that they're chill-filtered made me smile. 
     Special thanks to WhiskyApocalypse who let me know the bottles were out - I rescued the last of them from a local branch of the supermarket.

Ben Bracken 28 year old (Speyside) - 40%

Nose: A trip down the biscuit aisle of the local supermarket: Custard Creams, Party Rings and lemon shortbread. Vanilla, green apple slices, golden syrup, cereal, bright barley, white pepper, slight spearmint, earthy with white sugar. Oak is there but it's quite restrained.

Palate: A sweet, honied arrival with a lovely malty flavour. A twist of pepper, rich honey, a light citrus. A touch of grapefruit rind and buttery shortbread.

Finish: Sweet and rounded. Lovely honey, slightly bitter citrus on the tail end. Malty, vanilla, burnt sugar, hard caramel sweets and milky coffee.

Obviously, there's no way to accurately tell what distillery this whisky is from. The general consensus is that it's Tamnavulin - which I've yet to try - but to my senses, this smells and tastes like a Longmorn. It has that same biscuity, vanilla stuff going on. I like it. 

Ben Bracken 22 (Islay) - 40%

Nose: Sherried with dried fruit, dates, walnuts, carbolic soap, flat Irn-Bru, green herbal notes, cinnamon, burnt toffee and orange oil. Peat is certainly there but it's not slapping me about the chops. Some damp earth and wet cardboard.

Palate: Slightly sour arrival with lots of orange, black coffee, caramel, brown sugar, mellow smoke and green twigs.

Finish: Smoke with burnt orange rind, dark honey, black tea tannins, dried fruit and the flat Irn-Bru note returns.

If I were to take a punt on a distillery, I'd go for Bowmore - simply because I’ve only ever experienced that flat Irn-Bru smell and taste in Bowmores in the past. A good session Islay.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Rittenhouse Rye 100 proof - 50%

I picked up this bottle in early 2014 as I was looking for something to tickle the tastebuds after finishing my bottle of High West Double Rye.
     I gave some consideration to grabbing another bottle but as the Rittenhouse - from the Heaven Hill distillery - was going for a good price, I took the plunge.
     Here's what I thought.

Nose: Mint, grass, caramel and vanilla ice cream with a dusting of ground cinnamon. There's also toasted rye bread, honey, orange peel, a twist of lemon and some distinct juniper scents. With water, stewed tea and floral aromatics.

Palate: A sweet, woody arrival that swiftly transforms into vanilla caramel. The spicy oak surrounds the flavours at every step. Lots of bitter honey, coffee, pepper and dark chocolate. Waters adds liquorice and chocolate covered cherries.

Finish: Incredibly spicy with brown sugar, mint, cinnamon, sour cherries, fresh ginger and a load of vanilla. Goes on for ages. Water softens the sharper tastes, although the grip of the spicy rye is never far away.