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Archive for May, 2009

Introduction

A pour of Ledaig 10

A pour of Ledaig 10

Last night I spent some time with the Ledaig 10 years scotch.  Ledaig [led-chig] scotch whisky is distilled on the Island of Mull at the Tobermory distillery.  Ledaig uses a peated malt (peated to 35-40 ppm?), while Tobermory whisky uses unpeated malt (although there is apparently peat in the water source).  I purchased this bottle locally for $43, which puts it in the same range as whiskies like Laphroaig 10, Bunnahabhain 12, Clynelish 14, Glenfarclass 12, and Macallan Cask Strength.  The Ledaig wasn’t really on my radar, but I saw the video review of this from PeatLuvr on YouTube (link below) and decided I wanted to try it.  [Weird – The small image to the right looks much greener on my screen than the full size image when you click on it]

Tasting notes

My first impression upon putting the glass to my nose is of rubber (sulphur?), like when you’re standing in a tire store.  It’s a pungent smell that makes me want to pull away immediately.  Now, if I go back four or five times for additional sniffs, I seem to be able to get past that first impression.  The rubber starts turning to egg, and there’s a sweetness with it, along with lemon zest.  There’s also definitely a very present peat component.  However, if I put the glass down for a little bit and come back to it…Boom, there’s that pungent rubber again.  I’ve had this a few times and it takes me a while to get used to the nose each time.

On the palate, things pick up for me.  Strong peat (this is what I bought it for), along with a peppery heat.  That’s better.  On the finish, that pepper sticks on the tongue a bit, but there’s also some alcohol burn.  This one really seems young and temperamental both on the nose and finish.  I also get a little bit of that rubber again coming up through the nostrils with the peat at the end.

Conclusion – I’m a little mixed on this one.  I think there’s something about the output from the Tobermory distillery that doesn’t quite sit right with me.  I’ve tried a Tobermory before as well, and thought there was something slightly “off”, maybe a bit sulphury again.  It’s not a total loss, as I do enjoy the peat/pepper explosion on the palate.  For general drinking of this bottle, I think I’m going to relegate it to tumblers and not spend much time nosing it.  I also need to try adding a little water to see how that changes it.  I’ll drink this bottle, but don’t have any plans to purchase another any time soon.  There are a lot of other peaty malts out there that I enjoy more.

Other opinions

  • Whisky Magazine – Dave Broom and Arthur Motley provide their impressions and scores.  Neither one of them mentions rubber or sulphur, although Arthur does talk about the sweet egg smell.
  • Whisky Pages – Some info on the distillery, as well as tasting notes and rating.  These guys seem pretty positive on the Ledaig 10, not mentioning any particular negatives.  They give it a fairly average score, though.
  • YouTube (PeatLuver) – Tom really likes it, and doesn’t seem to take any offense to the pungent nose.  Where I get rubber/sulphur, then sweet egg product, he gets “fruity”.  Maybe I just have a mental block based on my first impression (tire store).

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Birth announcement package from Maker's Mark

Birth announcement package from Maker's Mark

I signed up to be a Maker’s Mark ambassador back in September.  This is similar to being a “Friend of Laphroaig” or an Ardbeg Committee member.  In other words, it’s a marketing gimmick.  Is it geeky?  Sure.  Is it lame?  I suppose some would say that (I like it so far, though).  Is it worth doing?  Yeah, why not?  It’s not like it costs anything.  Anyway, on to the purpose of today’s post:  my wife sent me an email yesterday with a picture attached showing a package that had arrived, stamped with “Historic Birth Announcement Enclosed” on the front.

One of the benefits of being a Maker’s Mark Ambassador is that you can submit your name (or some arbitrary text) to be included along with 29 others on a barrel of new spirit (names inscribed on a plaque).  In 6 or 7 years, when the barrel is mature, you’re then invited to come to the distillery in Kentucky and purchase a couple of 1 liter bottles from your batch.  You’re given your own special label to go on the back of the bottle, and you get to do the wax dipping and stamp a special seal on the wax.  [Note:  My wife actually said to me “You should go do that when your barrel is done”.  Cool!  Note that she said you, though…not “we”.]  I submitted “Arizona Hershauers” (as opposed to the Indiana or Michigan Hershauers from my extended family) in September, and received the following letter in this package:

Letter from Maker's Mark about "my" barrel

Letter from Maker's Mark about "my" barrel

Also included was a “Barrel Dedication Certificate” and a bunch of Ambassador business cards.  I attempted to earn some awe and respect from my wife by presenting one to her (like it says in the letter).  Fail.

Ambassador barrel certificate and business cards

Ambassador barrel certificate and business cards

Finally, here is a picture of the actual plaque that’s mounted on the barrel with the 30 Ambassador names.  Note that you can also order a replica plaque for $40 to mount proudly in your man cave.  You’re also allowed to customize the replica, opting whether or not to show the other names, and you can also change your own text (just in case you put something lame on the original like “ARIZONA HERSHAUERS”.

Maker's Mark barrel plaque

Maker's Mark barrel plaque

So, there you have it.  If you’re feeling alone and insignificant in the world, go become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador and be a part of whisky-making history.  Say what you will about marketing schemes like this, the crew at Maker’s Mark really goes all out to make you feel like a special part of their team.  The materials used for promotional kits like this are high quality, they maintain regular communication via email throughout the year, and from comments on their Facebook page, it sounds like they make you feel very welcome and special when you visit the distillery to collect your batch bottles.

Additional Info

  • Maker’s Mark Embassy:  The Maker’s Mark Ambassador web site link.  You can sign up to become a new ambassador from here.
  • Facebook:  The official Maker’s Mark facebook page.  5,925 members and counting.
  • Other goodies: Maker’s Mark sends out other goodies to Ambassadors at times.  I got a well packaged tube of wrapping paper, along with Maker’s Mark bottle-shaped gift tags before Christmas 2008 (note the MM Bottle snowflakes on the paper):
Note the Maker's Mark bottle snowflakes

Note the Maker's Mark bottle snowflakes

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Introduction

A pour of Laphroaig 15

A pour of Laphroaig 15

43% ABV?  Bzzzt…wrong answer!  Non-chill filtering? Bzzzt…not here. This Laphroaig 15 year is obviously not with it, as all of the cool kids these days are bottled at 46% abv or higher, and non-chill filtering is all the rage.  It’s only fitting that the Laphroaig [la-froyg] 15 is being replaced by a non-chill filtered 18 year old at 48% abv.  Good riddance, right?  Not so fast…this expression still has a few tricks up its sleeve.  Last night I spent considerable time with a large dram of the Laphroaig 15, and will share my experience here, as well as link to some other resources on the internet.

A note on price: Laphroaig 15 is very reasonably priced here in Arizona. The two main big box liquor stores here are charging $55 and $64 for a 750ml bottle. I understand that the 18 is going to be priced somewhere closer to $100. Certainly something to consider if you run into a bottle of the 15 and are debating whether to pick one up.

Tasting

On the nose, the first impression is tarry peat smoke sweet fruit (cinammon apples [and pears]).  A little longer on the nose and I’m getting vanilla. The peat is there, but it’s not a strong tar and phenol experience like I got when I tried the 10 year (which I need to revisit now that I have more Islay experience). The peat is also very integrated with the other scents. [Update] Bananas! I hadn’t noticed it before, but having just done comparisons between Laph 15 and the 10 CS and 2009 Cairdeas, I’m definitely getting bananas on the 15 year.

On the palate, the sweetness fades quickly, replaced by spices and peat. It’s fairly oily and full bodied as well. I don’t think the 43% abv is a problem here. It’s not until the finish that the tar smoke comes through, rising up through the nostrils with some oak. There is also a drying sensation on the tongue. There is lots of stuff going on here, providing a rich sensory experience.

Conclusion: I mentioned in the Whisky Mag. forums that I like this scotch better each time I try it. This continues to be true, and I now rank it right up there close to Lagavulin 16 (I said “close”, not equal) in terms of the full cycle of nose to palate to finish. I can nose it all night long and it doesn’t get old. There’s also no alcohol roughness getting in the way at any stage of the experience. To maximize your enjoyment of this particular expression, I recommend leaving your preconceptions of a “proper Laphroaig” at the door, and considering the 15 on its own merits. Don’t compare it to the Laph. 10 CS on the same evening (well, not every time, anyway), as I’m sure this one will suddenly seem too light-bodied, or lacking in phenols.

If you like Islay malts, and you haven’t tried this yet, I’m begging you to grab a bottle if you can find one. Even if it turns out to be your least favorite Laphroaig, I can’t imagine that you’ll actually dislike it, and you might love it. Get it while you still can…

Other opinions

Here are some links to other reviews and notes on Laphroaig 15:

  • Whisky Magazine:  Tasting notes and ratings from none other than Michael Jackson and Jim Murray.  MJ rated it very highly, while JM found some faults.  Scroll down for links to a number of discussions on Laphroaig 15, including comparisons to other Laphroaig expressions.
  • WhiskyFun.com:  Notes and ratings on a number of Laphroaigs circa 2006.  The 15 did very well here as well, scoring 90 along with the 30 year expression.
  • Whisky For Everyone:  Another whisky blog that I enjoy reading…some good information about Laphroaig in general, plus notes on the 15 year.
  • Whisky Party:  A comparison of the 15 year to Quarter Cask.  They also recommend grabbing some 15 year while you can, finding it a bit more complex than the QC. [Update 6/5/09]
  • Laphroaig 15 on YouTube:  Check out the PeatLuvr and IslayScotchWhisky reviews, then watch Ralphy partake of some Laph. 15 from the top of Merrick Summit in Scotland.

Distillery location:

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I’ve been sitting on a 50ml miniature of Bowmore 18 for a while.  This past week, I finally purchased a bottle of Bowmore 12, so I decided to go ahead and compare these two expressions for my “nightly dram” last night.  The 12 is bottled at 40% ABV, while the 18 is bottled at 43%.  Interestingly, the 12 years miniature is bottled at 43%.  [What’s up with that?  It seems like false advertising.]  Anyway, I’m going to compare the 40% and 43% 12 year at a later time.  For this sitting, I wanted to get a feel for how the 12 and 18 compare in their regular bottling expressions.

Bowmore 12 and 18 comparison

Bowmore 12 and 18 comparison

Availability and pricing here in AZ

There is quite a jump in price here in AZ from the lower Bowmore expressions to the higher ones.  Here’s the progression:  Legend = $22-$28; Bowmore 12 = $38-$46; Bowmore 15 Darkest = $70; Bowmore 18 = $95.  I picked up the 12 hoping that, at $38, it would become my go-to low to mid-priced Islay dram.  I suppose I should have started with the Legend, but I’m looking for something with enough maturity to compete with Caol Ila 12 (which costs $50-$60 locally).

Tasting

Bowmore 12

On the nose, there’s really nice earthy peat and light smoke right up front.  It’s also a little sweet, but more fruity than toffee.  As I persist, something else pops in there…it reminds me of a flavored hot tea.  [Update 5/25/09: Upon revisiting Bowmore 12, I think the “flavored tea” is actually more of an interplay between the smoke and a passion fruit scent.  The first time around, when I couldn’t place it, it kind of turned me off.  Now I don’t mind it so much.]

On the palate and finish, I get the earthy peat coming through loud and clear, which I really like.  There’s a little sweetness on the palate, but not much at all.  The body seems a little light, almost watery.  I’m going to have to compare this to the 43% mini I have.  On the finish, I really like the continued peat and smoke, but it’s slightly masked by kind of a dusty sensation.  That “hot tea” thing is coming back as well, in the form of a slight bitterness that sticks around after the peat and smoke dies off.  To be honest, this is a slight turn off to me.

Bowmore 18

On the nose, I think the 18 offers pretty much the same profile, but it’s stronger, with quite a bit more fruit.  I’m not getting that “hot tea” thing as much with this one.  Just peat, smoke and mixed fruit.

On the palate, again you can tell this is in the same family as the 12.  However, there’s more body.  Additionally, there’s some spice in the form of a peppery grip on the tongue.  It’s not as strong as a talisker, but it’s there, and I like it.

Summary

Overall, I thought these were perfectly nice single malts, and worth a try.  I used to think of Talisker as a “gateway” to Islay, but now I’m thinking you don’t need a gateway.  If you want to get an idea of what peat and smoke are like, but don’t want to get overpowered, go right for the Bowmore 12, and it won’t cost a lot.  It’s actually tamer than the Talisker 10 and 18, as it doesn’t have the strong pepper finish that those offer.  The peat and smoke in the Bowmore is also very Talisker-like…there’s none of the tar and coal like you get from Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Caol Ila.  I like the Bowmore 18 better than the 12, with the extra body and spiciness on the palate.  However, at $38 vs. $95, I’m having a difficult time with the Bowmore 18 price point.  For now, I’ll be happy to finish the Bowmore 12, but I’ll stick with Caol Ila 12 and Ardbeg 10 as my main, mid-priced Islay malts.  I am, however, curious about the Legend at $22 as an entry-level Islay scotch.

Related links

  • Whisky Magazine – Bowmore 12 review:  tasting notes and scores from Michael Jackson and Dave Broom (they really like it).  Dave Broom mentions a “lavender-tinged smoke”.  I wonder if that’s the “hot tea” flavor I’m talking about.  Scroll down for links to Whisky Mag. forum posts about this expression.
  • WhiskyFun.com – Check out this comparison of all four of the latest Bowmore OB expressions.  They kind of panned the 18 year old, which surprised me.  This is a great site, btw…scroll to the top of their page and check out the side bar on the left to get links to the various distilleries, then browse all of their articles/ratings for that distillery’s expressions (OB and IB).
  • Whisky For Everyone – Another whisky blog that I follow.  Here is some general information about Bowmore, followed by notes on the 12 year.
  • YouTube Videos – Both PeatLuvr and IslayScotchWhisky have done videos on Bowmore 12.  You might want to also check out the IslayScotchWhisky review of the Bowmore Legend for comparison with the 12.

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Overview

On Wednesday, I received my Kilchoman Connoisseurs Pack, containing three 50ml samples of new spirit from the Kilchoman [Kil-HOH-man] distillery, established in 2005 on the island of Islay.  Their first official whisky, a 3 year expression, will be out later this year, but this sample pack should give a good idea of the Kilchoman profile.  In my Wednesday Nightly dram post, I shared some pictures and provided an initial reaction to my small taste of the 2 year old.  Tonight, I’m comparing all three samples of Kilchoman new spirit, and sharing some additional information I’ve learned about the Kilchoman distillery and their approach to single malts.

Back of Connoisseurs Pack box

Back of Connoisseurs Pack box

The Connoisseurs Pack contains the following samples:

  • One Month New Spirit – 63.5% ABV
  • One Year New Spirit – 63% ABV
  • Two Years New Spirit – 62% ABV

All three of them are matured in fresh bourbon casks, and are made from Optic barley peated to 50ppm.  While Kilchoman does have their own malting floor, they also use malt from Port Ellen.  I believe these samples are of the Port Ellen variety, based on the 50ppm peating (more on that below).

Tasting Notes

On Wednesday, when I tried a very small sample of the 2 years, I tasted it at full proof.  Tonight, I’m going to try each of them with water added so as not to kill my taste buds with the first dram.  I’m starting by nosing them neat, then adding 1 teaspoon of water to 1/2 oz of whisky.

Kilchoman Tasting

Kilchoman Tasting (pre-water)

  • One Month: Medicinal, something plasticy or rubbery, and ashy peat on the nose.  There’s a little sweetness, but I have to hunt for it.  More ashy peat on the palate and finish, with a hot tingly sensation on the tongue.  At the end…take a deep breath in and out and enjoy the lingering peat coming up through the nostrils.  Very nice!
  • One Year: Medicinal and ashy peat, but also some noticeable vanilla.  The plastic/rubber scent has subsided, but is still there a little.  Very similar on the palate and finish to the one month, including the tingling.  I expected it to mellow out a bit, but still very “hot”.
  • Two Years: The peat is coming out more over some of the medicinal notes, and there’s a woodiness with the smoke.  The vanilla is there, but I have to hunt for it.  It’s more prominent on the 1 year [what’s up with that?]. Really not getting that rubbery scent at all now.  That bodes well for future releases.  Similar taste profile on the palate as the others, but not as tingly on the tongue, and I get more sweetness.  It’s starting to mellow a bit.  That lasting peat in the back of the nose is still there.  I love that! [Update Second time around, I’m getting a distinct lemon scent on the nose along withthe smoky peat and vanilla.]

Summary:

If you like peat, especially dry ashy peat, you should like this.  The distillery notes talk about fruitiness, but I’m not really getting that yet, and the sweetness and vanilla is very subdued [Update As noted above, I’m definitely getting citrus/lemon on the 2 year nose now].  In fact, at the end of my tasting session I poured a wee dram of Ardbeg 10, and the nose was like caramel apples relative to the Kilchomans.  Much more so than I’ve ever noticed when just drinking Ardbeg on its own.  An interesting note about my samples…the 1 year was slightly darker in color than the 2 year.  I wonder if this is related to my noticing more vanilla on the 1 year.  At this time, while there is lots of peat, I’m not getting any of the tar/oil notes that I recognize somewhat with Ardbeg, and significantly in Laphroaig.

My enthusiasm for this young Kilchoman spirit is a little lower today than it was on Wednesday, but I still really like the peat, and feel that the future is very promising.  I’m not expecting to favor this over Ardbeg or Lagavulin any time soon, as this is much more one-dimensional [for now].  However, as a complimentary whisky in my collection, I’ll have no problem buying a bottle of the young Kilchoman each year and following their progress.  I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an aha! moment a few years from now where the Kilchoman suddenly seems crazy good.

I’m glad I tried this spirit, and I’ve ordered another Connoisseurs Pack to store away for future use (or just to collect for when Kilchoman is hugely popular).  I’ll definitely try to get my hands on a full size bottle of the 3 year Kilchoman whisky when it’s released later this year.

Distillery Info

Here are some interesting notes about the Kilchoman distillery from the SingleMalt.tv interview with Anthony Wills, Managing Director at the distillery [Interview video links –  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3]:

  • While they have their own peating floors at Kilchoman distillery, a significant percentage of their malt comes from Port Ellen:
    • The Port Ellen malt is peated to 50 ppm, and uses the same spec as Ardbeg.
    • The Kilchoman malt is peated to 20-30 ppm.
    • They’re keeping the malts separate, and will market the home-malted expression as “100% Islay”.
    • Based on this peating info, it appears that the samples I tried are using the Port Ellen malt.
  • The stills have a tall, narrow neck in an effort to get a light, floral, fruity spirit that matures quickly.
    • They also use a ball neck base in case you’re interested.
    • Contrast this still shape to the short, stumpy stills at Ardbeg.
  • Cask types
    • They’re using a 1:1 ratio of fresh and refill bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace.
    • They’re maturing a small quantity of spirit in oloroso sherry butts, but have not yet determined what they will do with this.
  • As of this 2006 interview, they were planning to bottle their first whisky at 4-5 years.
    • This has obviously changed, with their 3 year expression coming out this year.
    • They must have been encouraged by the positive early reviews of their spirit, combined with the industry acceptance of younger single malts these days (especially from Islay).  It looks like people will pay for a 3 year from Kilchoman, so why not put it out there.

Notes from the distillery web site:

  • The in-house floor maltings use barley grown right on the distillery land, and will be bottled on the island for their “100% Islay” expression.
  • Annual production of 630 bourbon barrels and 40 sherry butts
  • 30% of annual production to use home-grown and floor malted barley
  • Link to Tasting Notes by Jim Murray (of their New Spirit)

[Update] Additional links

  • Additional Kilchoman-related links have been posted by some helpful members of the Whisky Magazine forums in this thread.
  • Tasting notes in the Spirit of Islay Forums (Warehouse No.4). [Thanks Mr. Fox!]
  • Distillery page on the Spirit of Islay web site.  Check out the Spirit of Islay site in general for great info on Islay whisky!
  • Here’s a blog post on the Islay Weblog [another great resource!] with a link to a video showing the preparation of the first bottle of Kilchoman Single Malt, which is being auctioned off for charity.
  • Auction press release:  Here is a press release with more details about the auction, taking place May 28th, the distillery’s “open day” during the Feis Ile festival.
  • Here’s a direct embed of the video mentioned above.  Thanks for the Tweet, @hansemalt!

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