Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for June, 2009

Introduction

Following on the heels of my Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 post, I’m trying another 30 ml Laphroaig sample from whiskysamples.eu. This one was specially bottled for Feis Ile 2009 (5000 bottles total), with post-festival sales only through the Friends of Laphroaig online store for £40. I’m talking about the Laphroaig Cairdeas [car-chase] 12 year, bottled at 57.5% ABV. This “Cairdeas” bottling is not to be confused with the 2008 Cairdeas, also bottled specially for the Feis Ile festival, which was an 8 year expression.

John Campbell, distillery manager at Laphroaig, chose the bottling this year for the first time (last year, Robert Hicks, the master distiller, chose the Cairdeas casks). John chose a single vintage 12 year that has been matured in Maker’s Mark bourbon casks, bottled straight from the cask with simple barrier filtering. He states on the Laphroaig web site that to his tastes, this is “nearly a perfect expression of Laphroaig of this maturity.

Tasting

On the nose, this Laphroaig is kind of fruity, like the 15 year. However, the fruit is toned down a bit compared to the 15, and there seems to be citrus on this one, on top of apples and pears. There is a very noticeable fresh wood smell similar to what I noted on the  Laphroaig 10 CS. There’s also some peat smoke, but I’m not really getting the tar that comes with the 10 year Laphroaigs.

On the palate, it’s still got some fruit going, as well as more noticeable peat. There’s also a stronger pepper here than I noticed with even the 10 CS. At full strength, it’s prickly on the tongue, but it doesn’t hit you right away with “heat” like the 10 CS. Wow…this is a very enjoyable sensation. Adding a little water, it’s not quite as prickly, but the pepper remains, thankfully.

On the finish, it’s drying on the tongue, and then a nice strong peat smoke comes up through the nostrils. Here’s where it got really interesting. I could swear this is kind of a coal smoke similar to what I get with Caol Ila. Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. It lasts for quite some time. Quite nice.

Conclusion:

I’ve only had this one 30 ml sample, but I’m going to go ahead and rank this as my second favorite Laphroaig after the 30 year. I think it takes the best elements of the 10 CS and 15 year, and adds a new twist at the end. It’s great at full strength or watered down. Based on my Caol Ila comparison, where I did some theoretical ratings (Laph 15 = 90; Laph 30 = 93), I’d put this one at 91 points. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that this isn’t available in the United States. If you have a chance to purchase a bottle of Cairdeas 12, and you like Islay malts, I would highly recommend going for it.

Other opinions

It appears that I like this one a bit more than others who have reviewed it so far. Everybody below agrees that it’s good, but they seem to pull up short of calling it great.

  • WhiskyNotes – Ruben tastes the 2009 Cairdeas 12 and proclaims it to be a major improvement over last year’s 8 year festival bottling. He gives this one 88 points, vs 82 for last year’s Cairdeas. He still rates the 10 CS Batch 001 just ahead of this one, though.
  • WhiskyFun – Another by proxy report via the Lindores boys. They like the Cairdeas 12 slightly more than the 10 CS Batch 001, giving it an 89/100 rating, versus 88 for the 10 CS.
  • Caskstrength.net/TWE Blog – Co-report from the Feis Ile festival with notes on the Cairdeas 12. No rating, but more agreement that this is a big improvement from last year.
  • KingFisher Blog – 88 points for Cairdeas 12 vs. 92 points for 10 CS Batch 001. I wonder if, in these head-to-head comparisons, the Cairdeas 12 ends up feeling a little light at the end compared to the 10 CS, thus losing out. I tried them on consecutive nights, but not head-to-head in the same night.

Read Full Post »

Introduction

Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 in a nosing glass

Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 in a nosing glass

In his Christmas 2008 video blog [available on the Laphroaig web site], John Campbell (Laphroaig distillery manager) talked about a change in the Laphroaig 10 years Cask Strength offering, starting in 2009. Apparently, it’s been standard practice for Laphroaig to produce the 10 CS in two batches each year, but it’s been difficult to have each batch produced at the same strength. Starting with their first 2009 batch in February, they’ve decided to start distributing each batch as its own unique release, with the batch number on the label, and the strength varying per batch (between around 54% and 58%). The Feb ’09 release (# 001) is at 57.8%.

This batch approach seems to be gaining in popularity, as it entices whisky connoisseurs into buying multiple batches to compare (you can see this with Aberlour a’bunadh). Apparently, Laphroaig was showing off batch 001 at Feis Ile 2009, and Luc Timmermans was able to secure a bottle and make 30 ml samples available through whiskysamples.eu. This is how I got the sample I’m writing about now.

Tasting notes

On the nose, I’m immediately hit with a medicinal scent that quickly turns to a woodiness and smoke. The wood smell is quite strong, which i also noticed with the Quarter Cask expression. I may be simplifying a combination of other smells, but it smells like cedar wood. There’s peat, but it’s coming out mainly in the form of iodine and some tar. It’s not an earthy peat like with Talisker. I get just a hint of sweetness, and maybe a little apple. It’s very muted compared to the Laphroaig 15 year, buried under the stronger scents. I do get an increasingly strong vanilla scent as I spend more time with it. I added a little water and the vanilla and honey sweetness became much more noticeable right up front.

On the palate, I can now tell that this is a cask strength bottling. Definitely some high ABV heat, but also continued strong wood and peat, with some sweetness. I suppose there’s some pepper there, but it’s not that strong. The finish lasts a while, and it’s a great combination of most of the flavors from the nose, but with a much more noticeable tar component, and a lot more smoke. With water, the alcohol heat goes away on the palate, and the pepper seems to come out more. This is a much more complex, satisfying palate and finish than on the standard 10 year bottling.

Conclusion:

Wow, this one caught me by surprise! I mean, I’ve read that this is different from the standard 10, but I didn’t expect it to be this much of an improvement. I wish I had a bottle of Quarter Cask on hand, as this reminds me quite a bit of that one based on memory…especially the enhanced woodiness. If I were rating these, and the Laphroaig 15 was a 90, with the standard 10 being an 83/84, I think I’d have to put this one right up around 89/90. I’d want to drink a little more than the 30 ml sample that I had to be more confident about it. One thing I can say with certainty…I’d like to have a bottle of Laphroaig 10 CS as a standard option in my whisky cupboard. Highly recommended if you like the Islay malts.

Other opinions

  • Batch 001
    • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – The Lindores guys report on the 10 CS Batch 001 from Feis Ile and recommend adding water. They give it an average rating of 88/100.
    • The Whisky Exchange Blog (co-written with caskstrength.net) – In their Day 7 Feis Ile festival report, the TWE/Caskstrength team reports on Batch 001 and says it’s sweeter on the nose and sootier on the palate than the original CS.
    • KingFisher Blog – A bunch of Laphroaigs tasted and rated, including 10 CS Batch 001.
  • Original CS
    • Malt Advocate – Use “Search by Brand Name” to bring up an archive of Laphroaig reviews. There’s an “Original Cask” bottling at the top of the list from 2002. Look further down to find the 2004 “Original Cask Strength” bottling, with a rating of 88 points.
    • WHISKYFUN.COM – A review of the Original Cask Strength, bottled in 2007, with a huge 92 rating…reminds him of the older “green stripe” version if you’re familiar with that.
    • WhiskyNotes – Ruben calls this a “must have for every Islay enthusiast. He has a sample of Batch 001…hopefully he’ll provide some comparison notes soon.
    • Whisky For Everyone – Discusses both the standard 10 year and the 10 CS.
    • Wine Library TV Ep. #509 (The Single Malt Scotch Episode) – Matt Mullenweg joins Gary Vaynerchuk, and they drink the 10 CS, along with Talisker 175th and The Balvenie 17.

Read Full Post »

Introduction

Lagavulin 21 sample

Lagavulin 21 sample

These tasting notes are based on a sample of Lagavulin 21 1985 vintage, bottled in 2007 at 56.5% ABV. It was matured exclusively in first-fill European oak sherry casks. Supposedly, this is to be the last “fully sherried” release from Lagavulin, and this was a limited bottling with 6600 numbered bottles. I’ve been very curious about this bottling, but it’s not available in Arizona, and costs a fortune these days by mail order or on eBay.

I was lucky enough to have recently traded a sample of my Laphroaig 30 for this Lagavulin 21 sample with a local whisky drinker (Sean), who I met through the Whisky Magazine forum. I got about 75ml of the Laga 21. This was quite generous of him considering there are still a couple of bottles of Laphroaig 30 here in town for $250, but Lagavulin is nowhere to be found (except on eBay for $500). The Laga 21 is also his all time favorite whisky. I had built Lagavulin 21 up as the likely “perfect dram” for me. It should have the great nose of the Laph 30, but provide more power on the palate and finish. The Lagavulin 16 and 1991 DE bottlings rank just below Laphroaig 30 on my list of favorites, so surely this one would rocket to the top. Let’s find out…

Tasting notes

On the nose (take 1): A couple of nights ago, I poured small drams of this Laga 21, Laphroaig 30, and Laga 1991 DE. I started out by nosing all of them, with the Laga 21 coming last. When I got to it, I prepared to be wowed, and took a good whiff. Woa! I was immediately hit with a huge dairy farm smell (It also reminds me of a smell I’ve noticed when shooting off fireworks…which reminded me of driving by a dairy farm 🙂 ). To be honest, I found it a little off-putting. Then I spent more time with it and found that once I started breaking it into smaller components, there was quite a bit there. One of the components was sherry. Usually, I’ll talk about sherry “influence” on a whisky, resulting in red berries, maybe some dried fruits. In this case, it’s literally sherry…not just a sherry influence. Interesting.

On the nose (take 2): Last night I poured a litle more of my Lagavulin 21 sample. This time, I was NOT hit by that big dairy farm smell. It was much more along the lines of what I originally expected. Strong sherry; still a full actual sherry scent. Also peat, but not a tarry peat…more like moss. There’s also something that reminds me of a leather-bound book, and a rich caramel sweetness. Of course there’s a nice smokiness to it. As I spent more time with it, I periodically got reminded of that dairy farm smell. Or is it spent matches?

On the nose (take 3): Ok, one more time with a comparison (Laga 21 and Laga DE). First a quick whiff right out of the sample bottle, and I was met with sweet (and smoky) berry pie. No cows. Then onto the comparison in nosing glasses. Again, nosing the DE first, then moving over to the 21, I get hit by that big farm/cow smell. Weird. Something about nosing one of the other whiskies first causes this reaction with the Laga 21. I can move back over to the DE and it smells “normal”. What’s going on here? [Update: Answer further down]

On the palate, I’m getting the full Lagavulin experience, but more intense than with the 16 or DE. Nice full body, with an amazingly thick coat on the tongue. Strong peat with some noticeable pepper. There is a little bit of alcohol hotness at first due to the ABV. A little water tones that down without really harming the rest of the expreience. Then onto that amazing smoky, medicinal, peaty finish that I love so much with the other Lagavulin expressions. It lasts and lasts…excellent.

Conclusion

In theory, this is the best scotch I’ve had. The palate and finish are everything you would want from a Lagavulin, and the nose adds significant complexity to the more standard bottlings. Perfect, right? In reality, I had to work too hard with the nose for my tastes. If I swirl it around and get the evaporation going, or if I nose it after another dram, I get hit by that dairy farm [sulphur?] smell and it throws me off. If I approach it gently, there is all kinds of great stuff going on there. At times, it was truly great, but the greatness came and went. I couldn’t keep it in focus.

When I’m in the mood to concentrate and work on appreciating my dram, this could be right up at the top of my list. The bottom line, though, is that I’m ALWAYS in the mood for Lagavulin 16, Lagavulin DE or Laphroaig 30. With those whiskies, the nose comes to me and pulls me in, and the rest of the experience is pure enjoyment. For me, that puts them a notch above this expression.

Update: Definitely some indicators in the comments below that I might just be sensitive to sulphur, as both TIm F (The Whisky Exchange) and Ruben (WhiskyNotes) comment on sulphur notes, and Ruben points out that one of the Malt Maniacs even gave a warning about the level of sulphur in this expression. Maybe I need to search out another known sulphuric whisky and see how I react.

[Update 2] I’ve tried a couple of other whiskies that are known to have a sulphur component, and I had the same “dairy farm”/fireworks reaction that I had with this Laga 21. I’m pretty sure now that this is just the way I interpret a sulphur influence. I’ve also read enough in forums and blog posts now to realize that some people are much more sensitive to sulphur than others, so your mileage will likely vary on this.

Other opinions

It would appear that I’m not giving this whisky its full due. Everybody seems to rave about it. Reading the Whisky Magazine forum, there are a number of people declaring Lagavulin 21 as their favorite whisky of all time. The Malt Maniacs gave it the “top single malt” award for 2008. Here are some reviews:

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – 95 points from Serge. Obviously, he loves it. Lots of good info and interesting notes in this review.
  • Malt Maniacs #111 – In E-pistle 2009/06, Luca provides his notes on Lagavulin 21. He even warns that if you’re sensitive to sulphur, you might consider this one “over the top”. [Updated 6/24 per Ruben’s comment below (WhiskyNotes)] BTW – Follow the WhiskyNotes link on one of his comments. He has a great whisky blog.
  • The Whisky Exchange – Check out Tim Forbes’ notes. He doesn’t say so explicitly, but I think he might like this whisky more than sex!
  • Malt Advocate – Search the review archives by brand name (Lagavulin). Ah…finally, somebody else (John Hansell) who likes Laga 21 but doesn’t think it’s the second coming. Maybe I’m not completely crazy!

Read Full Post »

Introduction

Port Askaig Samples

Port Askaig Samples

I think my wife was worried about me last night as I sat surrounded by four whisky nosing glasses (Port Askaig Cask Strength (57.1%), 17 year (45.8%), and 25 year (45.8%) expressions, as well as Signatory Caol Ila 14 year). I wanted to do a head-to-head and really get a feel for how these different Caol Ila expressions stack up based on my own preferences.  If you’re unfamiliar with Port Askaig (and why I’m referring to them as Caol Ilas), check out my full PA 17 review and/or this introductory post on The Whisky Exchange Blog.  In order to do the comparison, I ordered 30 ml samples of the whole Port Askaig range from whiskysamples.eu (my review of their service here). The Signatory was part of the mix just to provide a Caol Ila baseline for comparison. You can read my post on that one here.

Tasting Notes

I’ll start with a recap of the tasting notes from my full Port Askaig 17 post, using that as a baseline for the two other Port Askaig expressions. I did a full comparison on one night, then tried the CS and 25 by themselves the next two nights.  The first night, I nosed the full 30 ml samples, but then set 15 ml aside for the second tastings. I’ll describe the tastes, then editorialize more in the conclusion.

Port Askaig 17

On the nose, I get a strong citrus scent up front (lemon zest), followed by sweet peat and some smoke. Digging deeper, honey sweetness starts to turn a little richer, and there are possibly some apple notes in there.

On the palate, some citrus remains with the sweet peat, and then a bit of a pepper kick comes in and then dies off.

On the finish, as the pepper dies down, nice coal smoke builds up and joins the peat, coming up through the back of the nostrils.

Port Askaig CS

On the nose, you can tell this is a higher strength, with the alcohol hitting first. Then you get sweet peat and smoke. There’s something else there as well, which I interpreted as dry dog food (Nutro). Sorry, I don’t have a good human food equivalent to translate to at the moment. I felt it detracted slightly from the overall experience. The Caol Ila citrus is almost non-existent, but does come on a little with a couple of drops of water. Overall, this nose says “hello, I’m a peaty single malt, with more peat coming your way on the palate.”

On the palate, it’s not really that hot considering the alcohol volume. It seems a bit one-dimensional, with sweet peat being the primary taste. No surprises here.

On the finish, I’m getting that strong peat and coal smoke that I like with Caol Ila. Then it seems like a little of that dog food (or is it hay now?) comes back towards the end.

Port Askaig 25

On the nose, the citrus is toned way down from the 17, and what’s there is more of a candied orange than a zesty lemon. There’s a pretty strong caramelized sugar sweetness on this one, and the peat really takes a back seat to the other aromas. Overall, it’s quite mellow.

On the palate, the sweet, mild peat is there, and a light pepper comes on. It remains pretty mellow, though.

The finish is where I was most disappointed in this expression. The coal smoke that I like so much in Caol Ilas is all but gone. There’s an earthy peat and regular camp fire smoke that’s nice, but it’s not strong. Finally, I’m getting a tea flavor that reminds me of Bowmore 12. I don’t want tea on the finish. I want a solid peat/smoke combination.

Conclusion

I’m really glad I purchased the Port Askaig 17 full size bottle over the other two expressions. It’s definitely my favorite. I wanted to be wowed by the 25 year. It did have an enjoyable nose, but it was also quite tame. If it had come on strong on the finish with coal smoke, strong peat, and maybe a pepper kick, I probably would have been more than happy with it. However, with it staying mellow throughout, and adding that tea flavor on the finish, the 25 just didn’t quite do it for me. It’s nice, but not £75 nice. Finally, the CS was more of a pure peat play. I could drink this on a fairly regular basis when I need a peat fix, but it didn’t offer me much more than that.

The 17 year takes me back to the first time I tried Caol Ila 12 year. I took in that strong citrus scent that mixed in with the peat and sweetness, and proceeded to expect a relatively calm finish with muted peat and smoke.  Then bang! That build up of peat and coal smoke came on, along with some pepper, and it made for a great experience from start to finish. The PA 17 gives me that experience, but with a little more class.

Attempting to rate them

Ok…I’ve been avoiding providing ratings, as I’m still working my way through a lot of distilleries for the first time, and continuing to discover my own preferences. I’m also only picking up a few scents and flavors, where more experienced whisky aficionados can coax out much more. However, I’ll try to convey my feeling on these Port Askaigs by assigning ratings to a couple of other scotches that I’ve written about and feel comfortable with, and then providing relative scores for these three expressions.

Let’s say, just to provide context, that I were to assign the following ratings to other expressions: Laphroaig 30 (93 pts), Lagavulin 16 (91 pts), Laphroaig 15 (90 pts), and Caol Ila 12 (87 pts). Based on this, I would slot the PA 17 in at 89 pts, right up with my favorites. The PA CS and PA 25 would drop down to around 81/83 respectively; still very enjoyable drinks depending on my mood, but neither offering anything outstanding, and both having one thing that detracts from the experience (for my tastes).

Other Opinions

  • The Whisky Exchange Blog – Tim F provides his notes on the 17, and also states that this is his favorite of the three.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben provides great notes on the PA CS and the PA 25. He definitely likes the 25 more than I do, rating it at 88 pts vs. 82 for the CS. I’m looking forward to seeing what he thinks of the 17 year.
  • Malt Advocate Blog – John Hansell also prefers the 17 year (91 pts) to the 25 (85 pts). His review is the one that compelled me to purchase my bottle of the 17 year.
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog – 17 and 25 year notes from Lucas.
  • Caskstrength.net – Another comparison of the 17 and 25 year expressions, with both rated very close together.
  • Spirit of Islay – Scroll down a bit for the 17/25 notes. He seems to really enjoy the 25 year.
  • Dr. Whisky – [Aug 12, ’09 Update] The good doctor just did his own comparison of the 17 and 25 year. It doesn’t sound like he’s quite as crazy about the PA 17 as I am, but he does like both, and seems to also prefer the 17 to the 25.

Read Full Post »

Introduction

Having gotten into whisky in July 2008 on a trip to Scotland, I’m still in a “discovery” phase, trying to get a feel for as many different scotch whisky profiles as possible. This can be a somewhat expensive proposition if your approach is to collect full size bottles representing a significant portion of the distilleries (open and closed). Storage can also be an issue if you don’t have a large cellar at your disposal.

One way to deal with the cost and storage problem is to sample whiskies before deciding which ones you want a full bottle of.  You might know others with an interest in whisky, and be able to exchange samples with them. You can also buy miniatures at your local whisky store or online. Another option that I recently discovered is to order 3 cl samples from www.whiskysamples.eu.

About whiskysamples (and Luc Timmermans)

The whiskysamples web site, apparently masterminded by Luc Timmermans of Belgium, offers up for sale 3 cl samples of rare malts from his collection of 2,000+ whiskies. I found this YouTube video (embedded later in this post) from October 31, 2008 where Luc explained that they would start with 4 bottles, and open up a new bottle each month, from which you can order samples. Seven months later, with 148 available bottles to sample from, they’ve apparently decided to release them at a faster pace. Prices range from 2.50 Euros for a 7 year Berry Bros Bowmore to 66 Euros for a Glen Garioch 46 year.  They ship worldwide.

Looking on the whiskysamples About page, we can see that Luc is the Belgian representative of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and one of the 26 Malt Maniacs. You may have seen his name mentioned on the whiskyfun web site, as he and a few Lindores provided notes and scores for whiskyfun from the special bottlings introduced at the Feis Ile festival. Luc proceeded to make these bottlings available as samples through the whiskysamples web site. Obviously, he’s a well respected member of the scotch whisky community, which made me feel much more comfortable about ordering from his web site.

The whiskysamples.eu web site

On the main page of the whiskysamples web site, you will see the latest news and most recently added samples posted at the top. You can scroll down for additional news, links to whiskysamples on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and finally a list of “Featured Items”. I’m not sure exactly what the criteria is for a sample to be in this category.

On the top left side of any page on the site, there is a search box so you can search for particular samples (by Distillery, for example). There are also links to “departments”, or groupings of samples. For example, as of this writing, there is a link to all of the Feis Ile 2009 samples that are available. This is what first brought me to this web site.

It’s reasonably easy to navigate the site and browse the available samples by department, or via search.  My only real complaint is that there isn’t (or I haven’t found it) a “view all” option. As of this writing, the front page says there are 148 samples available. I’m still not 100% sure I’ve viewed every single sample available. I did notice that if you search for “whisky”, you’ll get back a list of 117 samples, but I couldn’t figure out a search term to get all 148.

Ordering

Browse the site and add samples to your cart. If you want more than 3 cl, you can adjust the quantity from the cart. If you continue shopping, then want to get back to your cart, there’s a link in the upper right. Pressing the Proceed to Checkout button in the cart simply expands the page at the bottom and allows you to select your shipping destination. Select your destination and click the Calculate button to see your total cost including shipment. You might need to scroll down a little to see the totals, along with a Submit button that takes you through the payment process.

Tip: I found that for shipments to the United States, it was the same cost to ship anywhere from 2 to 7 samples, so you might want to find at least 6 or 7 samples to defray the shipping costs and get as much as possible for your money. I’m not sure if this is the same for all countries. You can always add one sample to your cart, play with the quantity, and check the shipping cost.

The web site is set up to take advantage of PayPal, which I really like, because 1) I didn’t have to go find my credit card and type in the number and expiration, and 2) they can just use your verified PayPal shipping address.  Easy!  One quirk…after your order has been placed, your items still remain in your cart.  I guess there’s a bit of a disconnect between the site and the payment system.

Delivery

My initial order was comprised of three special Feis Ile bottlings, and each of the expressions in the Port Askaig range. I already have PA 17, but they only offered these as a set.  It only took 5 days for the samples to arrive via air mail. Looking at the postage, I noticed the rate was exactly what they charged me, so no extra padding on the shipping cost. Here are a couple of pictures of the package and contents (click thumbnail for full size image):

whiskysamples box whiskysamples packaging

The bottles were protected from banging against each other, but there’s not any extra padding between the bottles and the box. The sample bottles are small and sturdy, though, and it doesn’t sound like they’ve had any real problems with shipping.

Taking the bottles out of the box, I noticed that they are labeled, but just with numbers. It turns out they print your invoice and mark the corresponding numbers next to each item listed in your order. Ok, that works I suppose.  I think I’d prefer more explicit labeling, though.

30ml bottles from whiskysamples

30 ml bottles from whiskysamples

Invoice with sample "number key"

Invoice with sample "number key"

The Port Askaig samples had additional markings to distinguish them, since they all corresponded to order item #1. I went ahead and put my own labels on the other bottles so I don’t have to worry about keeping the invoice around.

Sample labeling

Port Askaig samples in sealed 30ml bottles.

Testing the samples

Since I already have a bottle of Port Askaig 17 on hand, I decided to compare that with my PA 17 sample.  I’m happy to report that the product delivered does indeed appear to match the original.  Not that I was expecting any different, but since I’m writing up my experience, I might as well do the full investigative reporting thing.

Verifying sample size.  30 ml?  Check.

Verifying sample size. 30 ml? Check.

Sample Size

[Update 6/16/09] [I commented on this in response to a question, but I thought I’d add it into the post, as I meant to say something about it originally.]

I don’t have a problem with them selling 30 ml samples, but my personal preference would be for a 50 ml sample, as I can easily split that into two 25 ml drams for sampling on separate days. This gives me a better feel for the whisky. I understand that the 50 ml sample would be priced higher than the 30 ml, but it should be less expensive than ordering two 30 ml samples. Perhaps at least a 50 ml option where more than one source bottle is available, but limiting to 30 ml for very rare single bottles?

Conclusion

I was very impressed with the service provided by whiskysamples, and will not hesitate to order from them again. At this point, the selection feels somewhat limited compared to shopping at a big online store. However, what they do offer at whiskysamples is some very rare bottles that would be very hard to find, and extremely expensive to buy. Plus, there’s the new, limited release bottlings that they make available in a very timely manner (like the Feis Ile bottles, or the Paps of Jura collection). Finally, there are some samples of more easily attainable expressions like Lagavulin 1991 DE and Springbank 18.  With whiskysamples, you can try expressions like these out before paying what is still a pretty high cost for the full bottles.  [On the other hand…just go ahead and buy the Laga DE.  It’s awesome.]

Additionally, Luc’s customer service is amazing! Moments after placing my order, another Feis Ile bottling was posted on the site.  Luc told me how to place another order with no shipping charge, and he added it in with my original order. He responds quickly to email questions, and is very gracious and polite in the way he deals with you. He was very patient as I asked him a bunch of questions (see Q&A below), and maintained the same level of promptness and pleasant demeanor throughout. He seems like a real class act.

Tip: If you’re interested in ordering from whiskysamples, make sure you follow them on Twitter.  They tweet new arrivals as soon as they’re available.

Q & A with Luc Timmermans

Me: Has anybody ever had a sample arrive broken, and do you have a policy to cover damaged shipments?

Luc: So far, only one customer had a broken sample. Yes, we have a policy for replacements. If one or more samples are broken, we will replace them free of charge. This includes free shipping. We do ask for a proof photo showing the broken sample and parcel.

Me: What if a sample is sold out by the time the damage is discovered?

Luc: We replace it with another sample of equal or lesser value, which the customer can choose from the site.

Note: Luc has now posted a link to their replacement policy at the top of their web site.

Me: Didn’t you originally offer both 3 cl and 10 cl samples?  I don’t see any options for 10 cl bottles.

Luc: Nobody was ordering the 10 cl option, so we decided to go with just the 3 cl samples.  This makes the shipment and parcel choices much easier too.

Me: Some samples are available for pre-order.  How is shipping handled if I place an order with a combination of pre-order and in-stock samples?

Luc: The entire order will ship together once the pre-order samples arrive. All samples are secured [they won’t sell out a sample that you have reserved] once the order is placed. If you want to get the in-stock samples right away, you can place separate orders.

Me: Where do you store all of these bottles?

Luc: In a BIG whisky cellar.

Luc's whisky cellar

Luc's whisky cellar

I want to be there

I want to be there

Videos

Check out these YouTube videos to see Luc introduce whiskysamples, and describe a few of the bottles. It looks like these were filmed in Luc’s amazing whisky cellar as well:

Introduction:

Opening Bowmore 1965:

December 2008 bottles:

The End

Yikes.  1640 words?  No time to proof read this post.

Cheers,
Jeff

Read Full Post »

Introduction

A pour of Laphroaig 30

A pour of Laphroaig 30

My wife was kind enough to let me buy my own main present for my 40th birthday a couple of weeks ahead of time; A Laphroaig 30 year, bottled in 2007 at 43% abv. I was at a Glenmorangie/Ardbeg scotch tasting, and one of the attendees pointed out that the store had a bottle of Laphroaig 30 in stock for retail price ($250). I knew it had pretty much disappeared from European stores after being discontinued [replaced by a 25 year Cask Strength at $500], and was going for quite a bit more money there. If you can find it in the U.S., you might be able to get it at original retail price like I did, but I’ve read that the price should be going up, and may have already done so in other states. I wanted to buy it right on the spot, but $250 for a bottle of scotch isn’t in my budget, and I resisted temptation.

By the time I got home, it hit me that I could use my birthday (and something of a “milestone” birthday at that) as an excuse to get my hands on this rare and highly regarded scotch.  Brilliant!  I still can’t afford it, but somehow, it’s okay now.  I called the store, had them hold it for me, and picked it up the next day. I then put it out of site until I could arrange a scotch party with some friends, with this bottle being the finale of a multi-region scotch tasting. I was planning to be blown away by this whisky, and somehow, opening it up at home on my own just didn’t seem fitting. I know…I’m really setting myself up for a letdown by building it up so much…or am I?  It’s now the night after the party, and I’m revisiting the Laphroaig 30, giving it the dedicated attention it deserves.

Tasting

On the nose…oh, that nose!  All of those years in sherry casks results in a huge, rich aroma of mixed fruits.  Lots of red berries, maybe some apple, and is that pineapple? It seems like it (just a little bit), although admittedly, I have already read others talk of “tropical” fruits in this expression. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion. Regardless, this amazing fruity bouquet is served up on an oak platter coated with peat, resting atop a gently smoking fire. Just the right amount of smoky, earthy peat (and some sweet caramel/vanilla from the oak) rises up and mixes with the fruit.  This is one heavenly aroma that I could take in forever.

On the palate, I deliberately coated my entire tongue, and chewed on the scotch for a bit before swallowing it.  The previous night, when drinking it at my scotch party, I let my first sip go right down, not stopping to really enjoy it.  This extremely smooth scotch can also seem a little light on the palate if you’re not careful. Tonight, taking my time with it, there is definitely a well rounded, reasonably full body available to be discovered. You just have to work at it a little bit. With a full coat on all parts of the tongue, I get some spices joining the fruit and peat, but nothing like the pepper kick that comes on with something like Talisker.

Moving to the finish, it’s a bit drying on the tongue. I like it, but I know preferences vary quite a bit on this. I get a very pleasant, but mild peat smoke coming up through the back of the nostrils at the end. It’s medium to long, but remains somewhat mild compared to other Islay malts I’ve had.

Conclusion

I find the nose on this scotch to be out-of-this-world, mind-blowingly satisfying. It’s in a new category from anything I’ve previously tried.  The palate and finish are flawless, with a nice feel when coating the tongue, and hitting all of the right taste buds. Actually, it goes down more easily than I want for such an expensive drink. I want the whisky itself to give me pause, forcing me to reflect, before pursuing another drink. Fortunately, I’m once again given pause by that nose.

I can understand why this is knocked for a couple of points (still retaining a 90+ rating, though) on WhiskyFun for lacking power on the palate. This certainly is an “aristocratic” drink, and lacks the pepper kick that you get from something like a Talisker 18. That being said, I would still rate this one at the top of the list of scotches I’ve tasted. I don’t feel like I have enough experience to offer a meaningful numeric score yet, but if I did, I think this would be a couple of points above Talisker 18 and Lagavulin 16/DE, my previously reigning favorites. I would give the nose a little more weight in the scoring, and because the rest of the experience is flawless in profile, if perhaps a little polite, I wouldn’t deduct much there.

Laphroaig 30 is totally worth the cost of admission. If you can find it at list price or below and can afford it, get it. Even if you can’t quite afford it, but you’re close, I’d seriously consider using a little credit. Don’t tell your wife (or mine) I said that, though.  [Strike that, however, if you’re not a big fan of sherry-influenced whiskies.]

Compared to…Lagavulin?

I can’t compare Laphroaig 30 to any other Laphroaig I’ve had before. They’re completely different animals. However, as I was drinking this, I kept thinking of the Lagavulin 1991/2007 DE. That one is finished in PX sherry casks, and strikes some of the same notes. I was wondering how similar they might actually be side-by-side. Is the Laga DE nearly as good or better for 1/3 the price? Was I just building up the nose of the Laphroaig 30 in my mind? I pulled out my bottle of Lagavulin to find out.

Ok…I was NOT exaggerating about the Laphroaig 30 nose. Taking in the Lagavulin DE now, I get a different presentation than the Laphroaig. I talked about the fruits in the Laph. 30 being served up on a platter with the peat and smoke rising up from underneath. In the case of the Lagavulin, the smoke is above the berries, creating a bit of a veil that I have to work through, and toning down the richness of the fruit. Before trying the Laphroaig 30, I wouldn’t have thought of it as veiled.  It’s still all very enjoyable, but I’m standing by my high praise for the Laphroaig 30 nose. The Lagavulin is a bit stronger on the finish, but it doesn’t make up the difference.

I’ve kindly been offered a sample of Lagavulin 21 in return for a sample of my Laphroaig 30. Is the Laga. 21 going to be the Holy Grail? The heavenly nose of the Laphroaig 30, an equally satisfying palate profile, but with more oomph on the palate and finish? I can’t wait to find out, and will report my experience.

Other opinions…

  • Whiskyfun.com by Serge – Here’s a review of the 2006 Laphroaig 30, as well as the 15 year. They rated the two of them the same (90 points), and it sounds like it comes back to the boldness (or lack thereof) of the palate. They don’t appear to give the same extra weighting to the nose that I am. I love the 15, but take price out of the equation and I take the 30 in a heartbeat.
  • The Whisky Exchange Blog (co-authored with the caskstrength.net crew) – Reporting from the Feis Ile Festival, we get notes on a number of Laphroaigs, including the 30 year.  No ratings, but they really seem to have enjoyed it (I’d hope so).
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog – Guest blogger Paula Arthur, also reporting from Feis Ile, shares her notes on the same set of Laphroaigs.  She’s equally impressed by this expression.
  • Malt Advocate – An archive of Laphroaig reviews.  The 30 year scores 91 points.  Tied with the Quarter Cask, and a point below the 10 CS.  I love the QC, but hmm…I wonder if he takes price into account as part of the score.
  • Whisky Magazine – Notes from Dave Broom and Martine Nouet from a 2005 or earlier bottling.  The numbers listed on the web page are their “peat level” ratings on a 1-5 scale, not the actual whisky rating.

Read Full Post »

It’s 2:30 am and I’m still wide awake, so I thought I’d blog about the scotch party I had tonight.  I’ve been using my 40th birthday as an excuse to buy a number of great scotches that were new to me, even though I’ve pretty much used up my scotch budget for the whole year already.  I invited some friends over to share the uncorking with.  I initially planned to seek out 4-5 people that I knew really appreciated scotch, but ended up with 13 people, some of them completely new to scotch.

Scotch Party

Toasting with Laphroaig 30

I decided to do five scotches, all from different regions.  Here’s the lineup:

  • Lowland: Rosebank Signatory CS 1990 15 year
  • Highland (Speyside): The Glenrothes 1991 17 year
  • Orkney: Highland Park 18 year
  • Island (Skye): Talisker 175th Anniversary
  • Islay: Laphroaig 30 year

[Edit] I forgot to mention that I started everybody out with a Smoky Peach.  There were mixed reactions to the strong Ardbeg smoke, but the overall response was very positive.

For food, we had crackers and cheese (cheddar, monterey jack, dubliner and brie), fruit (grapes, cherries and strawberries), and dark chocolate. One of the guests also brought some really good artichoke dip that I need to get the recipe for, along with some flatbread.

If you’re trying to get more of your friends into scotch, a multi-region tasting like this is a good way to go.  In addition to exposing people to a range of flavor profiles, you can work them up to the more smoky/peaty ones.  You might choose to take more of a “core expression” approach.  Certainly, Laphroaig 30 is not representative of your typical Islay flavor, and Talisker 175th doesn’t really show off the pepper kick that Talisker is known for.  This was just the set that I really wanted to try/buy.

It was pretty interesting seeing the different reactions.  The two people with the least whisky experience picked HP 18 as their favorite.  This certainly is an excellent scotch, with seemingly a little bit of everything in it (hint of peat, some smoke, sweetness, spices).  I’m looking forward to spending some more time with it.  Two people gravitated towards the Rosebank, one the Talisker, and I think the rest (including me) were enamored with the Laphroaig 30.  Oh, the nose on that one…amazing!

The Glenrothes didn’t seem to get much love.  I liked it in theory because it uses a combination of bourbon and sherry casks, and I didn’t want to go full sherry bomb for my Speyside representative.  I think it’s a solid drink, but perhaps a little out of its league with tonight’s lineup.

Tasting notes for the Laphroaig 30 coming soon…

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »