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Archive for August, 2010

Introduction

Last year, after following Feis Ile vicariously through other blog posts, I ordered some festival samples, including the Laphroaig Cairdeas [car-chase] 2009 release, which I did a post on here . I went to do the same this year for the 2010 release, and discovered that whiskysamples.eu had a few extra samples of the 2009 Cairdeas in stock as well, so I ordered both. I decided to compare both of the Cairdeas cask strength releases with the standard Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 release to see how they stacked up.

The 2009 Cairdeas release was a 12 year, specially selected by John Campbell, distillery manager for Laphroaig. The 2010 release was created by Master Distiller Robert Hicks, and is a vatting of first-fill and refill bourbon casks ranging from 11 to 19 years old. All three of the sampled cask strength Laphroaigs fall between 57% and 58% ABV.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2009 and 2010

Tasting Notes

10 year CS Batch 001 (57.8%) – A phenol-lover’s delight. Iodine, campfire smoke, tar, and cedar wood stand out on the nose, contrasted against a sweet background with a little bit of fruit (apples?). Plenty of tar on the palate, with a good pepper and alcohol kick. The finish is long and smoky, with the tar and cedar wood coming through loud and clear. 88 Points.

Cairdeas 2009 12 year (57.5%) – Start with the traits of the 10 CS, but add more wood influence, with an especially striking helping of vanilla on the nose. It also seems to have slightly less smoke/tar. The palate and finish are again similar to 10 CS, but with more pepper. Just the right amount of pepper, in fact. My mouth is tingling just thinking about how this one went down, and how alive it made my tongue feel. Great balance! 90 Points.

Cairdeas Master Edition 2010 (57.3%) – Surprisingly close to the 10 CS again, considering this one was made from a vatting of different aged and types of casks. The main difference being that this Feis Ile release is more fruity. Citrus and/or apples are present, taking a bit of the edge off of the phenol attack. Not as much vanilla as the 2009 Feis Ile bottling, and not as much pepper, either. 88 Points.

Bottom Line

The Feis Ile cask strength Lapharoaigs are excellent, and totally worth the festival asking prices of around $60-$70. I especially like the 2009 bottling, and kind of wish I had bought a bottle for $100 when I had the chance last year. The extra vanilla and the brilliant mouth feel, combined with the fact that it’s a limited release, make it worth seeking out. The 2010 version, while a bit more fruity than the standard 10 CS, didn’t strike me as necessarily “better.”

While I think the 2009 Cairdeas is worth a little bit of a premium, I would not consider paying high eBay prices for either of the Feis Ile releases. The standard 10 CS is more than good enough to satisfy my cravings for a cask strength Laphroaig experience. I also find that I can get a little bit of additional complexity (vanilla/fruit) by vatting 2 parts 10 CS and 1 part Laphroaig 18 year. It’s not quite on par with the 2009 Feis Ile experience, but still very good. Not sure if I’m venturing into heretic territory by suggesting such a home vatting, though…

Other Opinions

Check out these great reviews of the same expressions on two of my favorite whisky review sites:

Whisky Fun10 CS Batch 001 (Great point about the medicinal notes being “whiffs” rather than in your face); Cairdeas 12 2009 (and 10 CS Batch 001)

WhiskyNotes.be10 CS Batch 001 (87 pts); Cairdeas 12 2009 (88 pts); Cairdeas master Edition 2010 (86 pts & comparison with ’08/’09)

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

I bought a 200ml bottle of JW Gold a while back to see what all of the fuss was about (people seem to rave over this particular expression relative to the more expensive JW Blue). I also have a 200ml bottle of JW Blue that I got from, of all people, a marketing firm representing Chivas Regal. I got it along with a 200ml Chivas 18 bottle just before Christmas, as did a bunch of other online bloggers and spirits writers. I find the Gold/Blue comparison much more interesting than Chivas 18/JW Blue, so that’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

Johnnie Walker's Gold and Blue

Taste Comparison

Nose:

  • JW Gold – Slightly medicinal, earthy peat, and some smoke. There is also some toffee sweetness and wood of the cedar block variety. There really seems to be a strong Talisker presence.
  • JW Blue – There is peat and smoke, but it’s more subdued than with Gold. Then a really rich vanilla and dried red fruits. You really have to stick your nose in there and take a big whiff to get the most of it. There is also a really nice cinnamon/nutmeg presence.
  • Comments – On first sniff, the Gold stands out, and would probably appeal more to the single malt aficionado. Though more subtle, the Blue is overall darker, richer and more complex. More luxurious, if you will.

Palate:

  • JW Gold – Ugh…what happened? It’s totally flat, like a Talisker watered down to 15% abv. Nothing offensive, but pretty forgettable.
  • JW Blue – Much thicker palate than the Gold, with a nice sweet peat flavor. There’s some white pepper that adds life to the party, but doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Comments – Big win for J.W. Blue.

Finish:

  • JW Gold – A nice burst of peaty smoke rushes up the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, however, it continues to be flat, leaving a grainy taste on the tongue that reminds me of a younger blend.
  • JW Blue – More subtle hints of smoke in the nostrils, with hints of peat and toffee sticking to the tongue for a while. No graininess or anything off-putting.
  • Comments – The Gold was off to a great start, but screamed blend on the tongue. Neither one of these stands out on the finish relative to a good single malt, but your occasional drinker friends will delight in proclaiming how smooth the JW Blue is.

Conclusion

The bottling code on my 200ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold starts with L4, which I understand to mean it was bottled in 2004. When I read  reviews of J.W. Gold by Jim Murray, Paul Pacult, and by numerous single malt aficionados on message boards, I can’t help but wonder if something less than ideal happened to my bottle between the time it was produced and the time I bought it. I mean, it’s got a great nose, and the finish has its moments, but it’s otherwise so flat, I find it hard to believe it would get such raves. I like it just fine, and would probably give it a solid 84 points on my scale. It would need a much more memorable palate and finish to rate more highly.

Johnnie Walker Blue provides a thoroughly enjoyable blended whisky experience. Where as the Gold had me imagining I could taste specific distilleries…Talisker, Oban or Clynelish, etc., the Blue had me thinking of the actual flavors…smoke, berries, spices. It has been blended into its own flavor profile that hits on a lot of notes that I tend to favor. The nose is a bit reserved, but it rewards time and effort. There’s enough complexity to keep you interested for a while, and it’s super smooth. Just right for the occasional scotch drinker who wants to experience a luxury spirit. I’m going to rate it 88 points.

Is the J.W. Blue worth the $175 – $225 price that it typically commands? On taste alone, of course not. But that’s not the point. As a gift to impress somebody, the Blue Label should satisfy, with its distinctive packaging and prominent recognition (due to great marketing). I’d much rather drink Laphroaig 30 year, which was going for $200 to $250 a couple of years back, but will the occasional drinker appreciate that one as much? What about the fact that you’re going to have to sit there and explain to them why it’s a “special” whisky, and why it’s about the spirit inside, not the bottle/box it comes in? I don’t have any immediate plans to purchase a 750ml bottle of J.W. Blue, but I don’t have any issue with others doing so, and if I were to get this as a gift, I’d be very appreciative and enjoy drinking it. There’s definitely a place for a whisky like this, and I think it hits the mark for what they’re trying to accomplish.

Cheers,
Jeff

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