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Introduction

A pour of Ben Nevis 13

A pour of Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis 13

Wild Scotsman single cask: 1992 Ben Nevis 13 year, 46%, Cask #693

I discovered Wild Scotsman whisky via Twitter, where the Wild Scotsman himself, Jeffrey Topping, is an active member. Following the Twitter profile link to his site, I discovered that this is an American who travelled to Scotland to learn about whisky making, somehow got in tight with Master Distiller John McDougall, and then started his own whisky company. How’s THAT for an exciting way to live the American dream? He offers a couple of his own vatted malt expressions, a number of single casks from different distilleries, and U.S. distribution of some John McDougall single cask selections.

Intrigued, I looked through the available Wild Scotsman bottlings online at Sam’s Wine and Spirits store, located in Chicago. I found this single bourbon cask Ben Nevis 13 year, a distillery from which I’ve been wanting to try an expression. There was no information about this bottling on the Wild Scotsman web site, so I dropped Mr. Topping a note asking for information on it, and he sent me the following:

The Ben Nevis was my first single Cask bottling after the release of my first signature Vatted malt. At the time I was in an apprenticeship with the only Master Distiller and Blender in the World, John McDougall of Scotland. On one of our tours we traveled up to the Ben Nevis Distillery to meet with his first apprentice, Collin Ross, who is the distillery manager at Ben Nevis even today. It was a bit surreal to have a behind the scenes tour of Ben Nevis with two men whose combined career in whisky spans over 70 years. They can forget more in a day than is written in most books about Scotch whisky.

After the tour we had a wonderful lunch in the reception. Lamb Broth Stew, sandwiches, and some good conversations about some of the history both of these men have lived and continue to live. We continued to the board room and we sampled some of the casks we owned. The samples were pre-arranged as there is an extensive amount of paperwork to withdraw samples and other matters which are all policies of both the government and Nikka which owns Ben Nevis. It was quite interesting to have cask samples of an Ex-Sherry, Ex-Port-Pipe, and Ex-Bourbon, which are all components of the single malt brand. One could almost pick out the role each component plays in making the brand. I was blown away about how subtle and sweet the Ex-bourbon cask of Ben Nevis I owned had matured and knew at 13 years this cask would be ready for bottling.

I reduced the proof down to 46%,with no added color, no chill filtration. It is a great dram for the heat.

Tasting notes

Straight out of the bottle, I notice a bit of a pungent smell, reminding me of furniture polish, and possibly something slightly sour. While it’s a bit sharp, I don’t find it particularly offensive. Others might have a different reaction. Of note, letting a glass of this Ben Nevis sit for 15-20 minutes (with a watch glass on it) seems to help this expression more than I’ve noticed with other whiskies I’ve tried. My notes are based on drinking it after it sat for 20 minutes in the glass.

On the nose, I get some alcohol, but not a lot. I don’t feel particularly inclined to water it down any further. The primary scents are lemon drops and yogurt, along with some hay or cut grass in the background. One of the three times I tried it, those traits combined to make me think of iced tea with lemons in it. Overall, it’s a “light” nose, even with that sharp initial attack.

On the palate, this Ben Nevis has a nice body to it. It’s reasonably think and oily. Most impressive, though, is the reaction on the tongue. I’ve got sweet and salty going, with a little sourness, and finally a slight dark chocolate bitterness. Lots of tingling going on all over the tongue! There’s a drying on the tongue that provides some additional tingling on the sides.

The finish doesn’t bring back much of the nose at all, which I found a little bit unexpected. However, there does seem to be a bit of a white pepper sensation, and a hint of malt. Perhaps a slightly stale malt. The pepper sticks around for a while, as does the drying sensation on the tongue.

Back Label

Back Label

Conclusion:

The bottom line is that I find this Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis quite enjoyable. Nothing earth-shattering, but a nice light summer dram, with a little extra bite on the tongue compared to something like Bunnahabhain 12. In fact, I’d say my overall enjoyment is similar to the Bunna 12, so I would rate this the same at 83/100 points. One point down for having to wait a bit for the initial furniture polish attack to ease up, but a point added back for the extra zip in the mouth. As for deciding between the Ben Nevis and the Bunna, it will come down to whether I’m in the mood for lemon drops or apples and cinnamon.

Reading through the notes about Ben Nevis on Malt Madness (Johannes doesn’t seem to care much for the expressions distilled in the 1990s), I’m thinking Jeffrey Topping did a nice job with this Ben Nevis release. At $58, I think it’s a fair value for a non chill-filtered single cask. I’ll certainly be keeping Wild Scotsman on my radar, and will be trying more of their expressions. I’m curious about the vatted malts, but also quite intrigued by the John MacDougall Bladnoch single casks. In time, hopefully I’ll be able to report back on both.

Other Opinions

I was just about to write that I couldn’t find any other opinions on this rare single cask release. Then I found a review on Malt Advocate. I had looked in the review section under Wild Scotsman. It’s actually under Ben Nevis:

  • Malt Advocate – John Hansell was very impressed with this release, awarding it 87 points! I’m not ready to go that high yet, but maybe after I improve my ability to distinguish subtleties in a light bourbon-casked malt I’ll see things differently. John’s obviously got a lot more experience than I do.

Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis 13. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Wild Scotsman Ben Nevis 13

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Introduction

As I await the arrival of my purchased copy of Whisky & Jazz by Hans Offringa, I thought I’d go ahead and do my own Whisky & Jazz post. I was sitting with a couple of Lagavulins recently, going through my classic jazz collection, and I came across an amazing pairing: Lagavulin 1991 Distillers Edition and The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions, by Verve. This bottle of Lagavulin was bottled in 2007 at 43%.

Norman Granz and Lagavulin DE

Norman Granz and Lagavulin DE

I found out about The Complete Jam Sessions three years ago, reading about it in John Marks’ The Fifth Element article in Stereophile magazine. You can follow the link to read his article and learn all about this amazing compilation of recordings. Here are just some of the musicians Granz pulled together for these jams, recorded in 9 sessions during the early 1950s: Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Buddy Rich, Herb Ellis, Stan Getz, Count Basie, Charlie Shavers, and Johnny Hodges. Pretty crazy, huh?

Listening and tasting notes

I want to start with the same Ballad Medley from disc 1 that John Marks raved over, which I listened to last night while drinking the Lagavulin 1991 DE.  I started up the song on my stereo system and poured the Laga while Barney Kessel kicked things off on guitar…

On the nose, the Lagavulin DE has the classic Lagavulin peat smoke. Lost from the standard Lagavulin 16 bottling, at least to my nose, is the apples and vanilla. Instead, an extra sherry presence from the PX casks is presented, rising up seductively through the smoke in the form of dried fruit and ripe berries. Meanwhile, Charlie Parker comes in on alto sax, playing Dearly Beloved. He’s drawing me right in with a solid performance, but things only get better…

On the palate, Laga DE provides a nice strong body, tickling the sweet and salty taste buds and maintaining a strong peat presence. There seems to be a little richer, weightier mouth feel than on the 16 year. Next up on the Ballad Medley is Ben Webster on tenor sax with The Nearness of You. He builds on the foundation provided by Parker with increased dynamics in the intonation that brings out more emotion.

The finish on the Laga DE does not disappoint. It’s got the same explosion of smoke that is so great on the 16 year, and the sherry stays right there front and center in the mix. And the length? I could sit through the rest of the 17 minute Ballad Medley contemplating the finish. After Webster, Johnny Hodges steps in with his rendition of I’ll get by. I was already entranced by the mastery of Parker and elegance of Webster, but Hodges blew me away. I could swear he was feeling inspired by the previous solos, and his tenor sax just oozed emotion. Marks said he was “all gelatinous” by the time Flip Phillips came in 4 minutes later, but I melted about 20 seconds into Hodges’ solo.

Similarities of dram and jam:

Lagavulin 1991 DE brings the bold flavors of Islay peat and Pedro Ximenez sherry together in a way that totally works. You might expect a disjointed effort (especially since the sherry is just a “finish”), but there’s a great interplay and harmony of flavors. Similarly, the Norman Granz jam sessions bring together some of the best jazz players of the time. Sure, there is showmanship involved. On the ballads, however, it’s all about showing emotion, and the competition at that level draws you into the song and results in a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts.

Tasting conclusion:

When I first tried the Lagavulin DE, my feeling was that it was better than Lagavulin 16. However, I’ve compared them a number of times since then, and I’ve decided that it’s like trying to decide if a Cadbury chocolate bar with caramel is better than the original. To me, they’re equally good, just different. That’s how I now feel about the two Lagavulins. With the DE, you get the extra sherry influence, and perhaps a bit more body on the palate, but you lose the apples and vanilla that provide additional complexity on the Laga 16. Right now, I’m on a sherry kick, so I might give a half point extra to the DE, but I’m going to round down and give it a 91/100 to match my score for Lagavulin 16.

Listening conclusion:

When I first started listening to the Jam Sessions, I gravitated to the ballads, listening to them over and over. Since then, I’ve really gotten to where I get a kick out of listening to ALL of the songs in the box set. It’s amazing to hear these huge names in jazz belt out solo after solo. Right now, I’m really digging disc 3, with a couple of great trumpet players strutting their stuff…Roy Eldridge blowing great solos throughout, and Dizzy Gillespie joining him on Stompin’ at the Savoy. However, for the purposes of this post, it’s the ballads that go so beautifully with the Lagavulin DE in the evening after the kids have gone to bed.

Finally, I don’t know that I’d recommend either of these to beginners. On the whisky side, I’d recommend checking out the Lagavulin 16 before venturing into the Distillers Edition. Likewise, I’d check out some of the core body of work from people like Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Dizzie Gillespie before jumping into these extended jam sessions. Maybe next time I’ll write about a good introductory whisky & jazz combination. You can download the Jam Sessions set for $45 on Amazon, or $50 on iTunes, but I’d go for the CD version from Amazon for $59 so you can enjoy reading through the included booklet.

Other opinions

Lagavulin DE 1991

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – Serge seems conflicted between his desire to dislike “finished” whiskies, and the fact that the Laga DE is pretty awesome. He gave it 92 points blind, but does a seemingly tongue-in-cheek downgrade to 91.
  • Malt Advocate – 91 points here, also…and a better rating than Lagavulin 21 (which I agree with).
  • Whisky For Everyone – Some info about the Lagavulin distillery, along with some nice notes on the Laga DE.
  • YouTube – Peatluvr gives his video review of the Lagavulin 1991 DE

The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions

Of course, there’s the Stereophile review that I linked to in the introduction, and the Amazon reviews. Additionally:

  • AllAboutJazz.com – A write-up on this set by critic Norman Weinstein. His overall opinion of it seems to be positive, even though it seems like he doesn’t want to like it (he refers to the up-tempo songs as “noisy, competitive joustlings among hornmen”. Also, given my earlier comments about Ballad Medley on disc one, it’s probably not surprising that I disagree with his assessment that Johnny Hodges seems disinterested. I do agree with him, though, that the ballads are the “real deal.”

Lagavulin DE Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Lagavulin 1991/2007 DE. Scoring-wise, it’s almost identical to my Lagavulin 16 rating, with a little less on the nose and a little more on the body. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Lagavulin 1991 DE Quick Take

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Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Lagavulin 16. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Lagavulin 16 Quick Take

Introduction

[Update: I did a follow-up review of Laga 16 using a 2009 bottling in December, 2009]

I was going to do a write-up on a great whisky/jazz combination, involving Lagavulin 1991 DE. However, I decided I should post my impressions of the core Lagavulin 16 expression before delving into that special release, so I’ll put that one off a couple of days.

My introduction to Lagavulin 16 (bottled at 43%) came from a 20 cl bottle that I ordered from The Whisky Exchange. The bottle had a bad cork, got caught up in customs, and arrived with about half of the contents emptied into the packing box (kudos to TWE on their packing, as the smell was completely contained within the box). Upon opening the box, I was hit with a very strong medicinal smell, like band-aids and iodine. Taking in that strong odor from the spilled bottle, I was a bit skeptical of this Lagavulin stuff. This was to be my fourth Islay malt, and I was afraid I had finally met my match. However, as you can verify for yourself, the smell of a whisky spilled on paper is not indicative of the smell (nose) that you get out of the glass.

Oops! Bad cork.

Oops! Bad cork.

The Lagavulin 16 I’m writing about tonight is from another 20 cl bottle. This one is from the Classic Islay Collection 2007 gift pack, although the code on the bottle, which starts with “L6”, appears to indicate that this one was bottled in 2006.

Tasting notes

On the nose, that medicinal iodine smell is there, but to me, it serves as a backdrop to the other scents, not really standing out on its own. I’m struck by a strong fruity smell, like a combination of berries and apples. I could swear there is a sherry cask influence here, but I haven’t read anything definitive about the casks used for this expression. Perhaps it’s a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks, as there is a nice, creamy vanilla note coming out (bourbon cask influence). Finally, mixed in with the fruit and sweets is an equally strong, earthy peat influence with some associated smoke.

If you’re new to Islay whiskies, the iodine/peat might stand out to you the first couple of times you take in the nose. Stick with it, and you’ll see all of the elements integrate together beautifully over time.

The palate is substantial, with some sweetness there, but you really start to notice the peat influence. Then it grips your tongue, and becomes very dry. If you like a drying sensation from your whiskies, this one has it in spades. There’s also some spiciness, but I wouldn’t say this is one of the more spicy drams I’ve tried.

On the finish, there is an explosion of camp fire peat smoke. Hello, Islay! The berries come back, too, mixing with the smoke in a very pleasing way. I’m also reminded of the medicinal notes, but it’s still in the background. This finish goes on for a long, long time.

Conclusion:

Lagavulin 16 really hits the spot for me. It’s got earthy peat, combined with just the right amount of berries and vanilla sweets, along with enough of a medicinal character to keep you on your toes. I guess I COULD imagine an improvement with a little more of a Talisker-like pepper on the palate and finish, and possibly even a little more body. I’m reaching, though. There is an amazing balance as it stands. With the enchanting nose and endless finish, I can sit in my favorite chair, listening to a long classic jazz jam session, completely satisfied and free of life’s worries. Surely that’s worth 91/100 points.

Other opinions

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – A very good, but not great score of 89/100 by Serge. Although, I don’t see much in the way of negatives in his notes. He also discusses this classic malt from the vantage point of having tried many other versions.
  • Whisky for Everyone – They call this “a true ‘try before you die’ single malt whisky.” I agree!
  • Whisky Magazine – Huge scores of 9.5 and 9.75 from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray respectively. This article is from about 10 years ago, however. I believe I’ve read some opinions that Lagavulin 16 isn’t quite the “beast” that it was back then. I’m not sure how Murray rates the latest version in the current Whisky Bible.
  • YouTubeIslayScotchWhisky provides a very positive review. He mentions that it tastes almost exactly like it smells. That’s a good point. With the exception of my getting a lot more smoke on the palate/finish, I was amazed at how much of the profile carried through from beginning to end. Next, peatluvr gives a great account of how he didn’t like Lagavulin when he first tried it (early in his scotch drinking days), but now loves it.

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Quick Take

Here’s my “quick take” graphic for Bunnahabhain 12. For more info about this format, and my rating system, see this post.

Bunna 12 Quick Take

Introduction

Bunnahabhain 12

Bunnahabhain 12

Bunnahabhain [boona-havn] is the only active Islay distillery that I had yet to sample. The distillery is owned by Burn Stewart, and my understanding is that this is the core single malt used in the Black Bottle blend. I guess I put them at the bottom of my Islay list because their standard, [virtually] unpeated offerings are not really in the Islay taste profile category. They do offer peated expressions. In fact, I have a sample of their “Moine” peated whisky from Feis Ile  2009 that I still need to try. I wanted to experience their standard product first, though. The Bunnahabhain 12 that I’m writing about here is the core expression for this distillery, and is bottled at 40%.

Tasting notes

On the nose, I get honey sweetness and apples (sometimes cinnamon apples), but then some red [dried] fruits start to come out. Is this partially matured in sherry casks? Sometimes I get a whiff of black licorice, while at other times it comes across as malty. Finally, a little fresh wood at the end. I’m not picking up any peat or smoke on the nose. It’s not super complex, but I’m really enjoying this…I could sit with this dram for a while, just enjoying the aromas.

On the palate, it’s still fruity, with an average body that almost seems a little peaty/earthy, even though I couldn’t pick it up on the nose. It’s very easy on the palate, but could use more oomph, kind of like the Dalmore 12 I tried recently. No alcohol harshness whatsoever, though.

For the finish, the fruit and light peat die off very quickly, leaving just a maltiness on the tongue that sticks around for a medium duration. Sometimes I think there’s a hint of smoke on the finish, but maybe that’s just in my head. This is not a “smoky” dram. Still nothing offensive going on here. This goes down VERY easily.

Conclusion:

Light and refreshing, this is yet another “dangerously drinkable” whisky. I quite enjoyed spending time with the nose, which was a nice surprise. Though the palate and finish are mild, the experience is very smooth and pleasant. I kept wanting to go back for more. You need the right mentality going in, though. If you’re in the mood for a classic, peaty Islay malt, this isn’t going to do it for you.

For me, I would rate this at 83/100, noting that it is very enjoyable and easy to drink, with an above average nose (for a light whisky). What a great whisky this is for a summer afternoon! If you value the palate/finish experience more than the nose, you’ll likely rate this a bit lower, and possibly even be disappointed. What can I say? I’m a “nose” man.

Other opinions

  • Whisky for Everyone – Great information about the distillery, as well as some nice tasting notes. [Update]
  • whisky-pages – A solid 3 out of 5 stars, they’re picking up a level of peat and smoke that I’m just not getting.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – You palate/finish aficionados might relate a little more closely to this review than mine.
  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – A generous 84 points in this review of a 2006 bottling, but I see he lowered his score to 82 for the 2007 bottling, with the average Malt Maniacs Matrix score being 80 points.
  • YouTube – Here’s a video from IslayScotchWhisky.

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Introduction

Black Bottle 10 Year

Black Bottle 10 Year

Tonight I’m trying Black Bottle 10 year blended scotch whisky, bottled at 43% alc./vol. On the bottle, it says “Finest Scotch Whisky with a Heart of Islay” When they say it has a heart of Islay, they mean it. This blended whisky apparently contains whisky from all 7 Islay distilleries (this is pre-Kilchoman). Black Bottle is owned by Burn Stewart Distillers, who also own Bunnahabhain [boon-a-havn], so you can expect for there to be a fair amount of that particular Islay single malt in this blend. Of course, as a blend it also contains grain whiskies. When I first bought this bottle, I tried it by itself and liked it. However, I immediately ran across postings in the Whisky Magazine forums that recommended mixing in a few drops of your favorite Islay single malt. Black Bottle does a great job of taking on the character of that malt, and I discovered that I really enjoy it with a few drops of Caol Ila or Ardbeg. Tonight, however, I’m focusing on Black Bottle 10 as a stand-alone whisky.

Tasting notes

On the nose, there seems to be a cereal grain scent that gives away the fact that this is a blend, perhaps even a hint of rubber. Leaving the glass sitting for a bit, this seems to go away almost completely. Now, getting down to business…I get fruit over sweet peat that reminds me of a combination of Bunnahabain and Caol Ila. There’s also some smoke there, but not a big camp fire smoke like Ardbeg or Lagavulin. Finally, there seems to be a fresh wood component, and maybe a hint of iodine that reminds me of Laphroaig QC or 10 CS.

The palate is very gentle and fruity. The feel reminds me of Bunnahabhain 12. This is such a warm, friendly spirit. No bite at all from the grain whiskies. It’s not a heavy body, but it’s not watery either. Thankfully, they bottled it at 43% and not 40%.

On the finish, there is a smoke that seems to separate from the spirit and rise up through the nostrils. Once again, I’m reminded of Caol Ila, more than the smoke from any of the other peaty Islays. It’s not as strong or as long lasting as a straight Caol Ila, though. The remaining liquid on the back of the tongue once again reminds me of Bunnahabhain 12. No…it IS Bunna 12. It’s a sweet, malty flavor that’s fairly light, but does stick around for a little while. It’s interesting how these components separate on the finish and co-exist as two completely different entities.

Conclusion:

This really is a wonderful blend, and a fantastic introduction to the world of Islay malts. It tastes great by itself, and it can transform into your favorite Islay single malt (especially Caol Ila) just by adding a few drops. Unfortunately, Black Bottle is no longer producing this 10 year expression. I believe their younger NAS (No Age Statement) bottling is the only one currently in production. Here in AZ, however, I can still find the 10 year in a number of stores for $35-$40, but have yet to see the NAS. I’ve read that the NAS expression is very good as well, but if you have a chance to pick up this 10 year, I strongly recommend doing so while you can.

You’ll see really high scores in the Other Opinions below, but I’m thinking those are relative scores, taking into account that this is a blend. I feel like a score of around 84/100 is appropriate for this very enjoyable whisky, relative to the other whiskies I’ve tried. The price makes it an incredible value. As a blend, this is an amazing whisky, and one you should try to get into your cupboard.

Other Opinions

  • Malt Advocate – 93 points…wow! In their ratings scheme, it does say that this means it’s “one of the best for its style.”
  • whisky-pages – Another postive review, I think they found it to be a bit more peaty and phenolic than I did.
    • Also on the whisky-pages web site, a great overview of Black Bottle, discussing the heritage, character, and the blend itself.
  • Whisky Magazine – Scores and notes from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray, with both giving it a 9/10 score.
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge (Scroll down to “Five Islander Blends”)- A review of BB NAS and 10 year. Note the 10 year is from 2003 and bottled at 40%, so maybe a little weaker than the one I tried.

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Introduction

The Dalmore 12

The Dalmore 12

This post is about The Dalmore 12 (OB), 40% ABV. It’s matured in 50% American white oak ex-bourbon and 50% oloroso sherry wood casks. The Dalmore line has been recently updated, with changes made to the whisky as well as the packaging. The “old” 12 year was matured in 70% bourbon and 30% sherry casks. I’ve had Dalmore on my list of distilleries to try, but hadn’t really sought any of the expressions out. I guess that’s fine, as there was apparently a bit of a delay getting these new releases onto the shelves in the United States. My local specialty shop just got a few of these 12 year bottles in within the last month.

Tasting notes

Here’s what it says about the taste on the box:

Orange marmelade and rich spice, elegant and refined with concentrated citrus and oloroso sherry, an aftertaste of great abundance.

It’s been AGES since I tasted “great abundance”. I can’t wait!

On the nose, I get a Terry’s dark chocolate orange ball with some cinnamon potpourri spices. Also, I’m reminded of a wood-paneled library with leather bound books. I then work through to some fruity sweetness – I want to say peaches in brown sugar syrup. At the end, I get a hint of tea leaves (it comes and goes, though). I felt the overall presentation of the nose was a bit laid back.

On the palate, it’s sweet and somewhat watery. It reminds me a bit of Coca-Cola, which is something I get with bourbons as well. Heading into the finish I get another hint of spice, and some drying on the tongue. Finally, a reminder of the sherry component before it all fades away fairly quickly (maybe a hint of smoke in the nostrils at the end).

Conclusion:

This was my first Dalmore. I’m very satisfied with the flavor profile, and look forward to trying other Dalmore expressions. My only gripe with this one is that you have to really go after the laid back nose, and the palate and finish are too gentle. It goes down extremely easy, but I want more oomph. You’ve got a great profile Dalmore…give me more of it! That being said, I’ll very much enjoy working my way through this bottle. I see no reason to disagree with the 83/84 point scores by Serge Valentin and John Hansell (links below).

The unboxing

This may be a bit over the top, but I took a video of the unboxing of my Dalmore 12, much like you would see somebody do with the release of a new Apple product:

Other opinions

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – He likes this one, and rates it 3 points higher than the previous version of the 12 year.
  • What does John know? (Malt Advocate) – John mentions pineapple upside down cake on the nose. I can certainly see that in place of my peaches in syrup notes.
  • whisky-pages – Some great notes by Gavin and Tom. I can totally identify with their descriptions. They say the finish is longer than the old Dalmore 12. Wow…that one must have been crazy short!

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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.

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