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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.

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Introduction

Caol Ila Signatory 1992

Caol Ila Signatory 1992

I had to take my daughter’s viola to the music store today to get a string replaced. I knew of a liquor store nearby that is supposed to have a good selection, so I stopped in to take a look. They had some interesting stuff, including a pricey 29 year Cragganmore. Prices were generally a bit higher than I’m used to paying.  Caol Ila 12 was selling for $65, vs. $56 at Bevmo and $50 at Total Wines. Then I noticed a Signatory Vintage 1992 Caol Ila with the following specs for $57:

Age:  14 Years
Distilled:  13.05.1992
Bottled:  11.08.2006
Matured in:  Hogshead
Cask No:  06/588/3
Bottle No:  56 of 382
Natural Color
43% Alc/Vol.

I’ve heard good things about the Signatory Cask Strength series, and at basically the same price as a bottle of CI 12 (OB) at Bevmo, I decided to give this expression a shot. I was planning to buy a full size bottle of Caol Ila 12 soon, anyway. I just finished a Caol Ila 12 vs. 18 comparison a couple of days ago, but I couldn’t resist trying this bottle out right away.

Tasting Notes

On the nose, I get the lemony citrus right away that I expect from Caol Ila. This seems a little cleaner than the OB 12, but more subdued than the Port Askaig 17. Working through that, there’s a pleasant peat smoke, and I want to say a little bit of caramelized sugar.  Like the OB 12, I’m getting a mixture of saltiness and sweetness. Perhaps some kind of smoked meat for the salty scent?

On the palate, there’s peat, coal smoke and pepper, but the body seems a little lighter than CI 12. I think there’s a little less coal smoke in this expression, allowing the peat to come through a little more on the finish.  At first, it seems like a medium finish, but after dying down a little bit, the peat and some smoke continue to linger for quite some time.

Conclusion – If you just handed me a glass of this Signatory Caol Ila and told me that it was Caol Ila 12, I would believe you. I’m not getting any significant clues that this is an older expression from another bottler.  Even the color is virtually identical. Signatory did a great job of maintaining the distillery character that I like so much. This is a perfectly good value given the asking price, and definitely worth a shot if you’re a regular Caol Ila 12 purchaser. I can’t imagine anybody liking the 12 and disliking this one.

Compared to Caol Ila 12 – I have now proceeded to pour a glass of Caol Ila 12 from my 2006 Islay Collection gift pack.  I don’t recall having noticed this with my 2007 bottle, but side-by-side with the Signatory, I’m getting a slightly rubbery scent on the nose of the Caol Ila 12 (returning momentarily on the finish as well). Everything else is virtually identical between the two expressions, except the body on the 12 year seems slightly more oily. Given a choice, I think I would opt for the Signatory. I’m a little baffled by this based on my experience with the 2007 CI 12 bottling, and will compare again in the future after both bottles have been open for a while.

Other Opinions

I can’t find any!  In fact, I can’t find any evidence that this expression actually exists.  Well…except for that fact that there’s a bottle sitting in my cupboard.  If somebody out there with one of the other 381 bottles from this cask actually comes across this blog post, how about leaving a comment and sharing your experience?

So, given the unknown likelihood of finding another bottle of this particular expression, what is my takeaway from this tasting?  It’s that Signatory is capable of producing a solid Caol Ila release that is true to the original distillery profile.  I won’t hesitate to try another one of their expressions in the future.

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Introduction

Tonight I’m comparing 2007 OB versions of Caol Ila 12 and 18 year expressions. These are 200ml bottles that came in my Islay Collection gift pack.  Both are bottled at 43% ABV.  Locally (Arizona), the full size bottle of Caol Ila 12 can be found for around $50, while the 18 year goes for $75 to $80.  I’ll state right up front that I really like the Caol Ila profile.  I purchased the Islay Collection gift pack so that I could get my hands on the Port Ellen annual release, with Lagavulin 12 and 16 being a great bonus.  I was happy to get to try Caol Ila, but wasn’t expecting a whole lot, as I hadn’t seen a lot of buzz on the internet about this distillery.  I ended up being very pleasantly surprised, especially by the 12 year.

Sampling Caol Ila 12 and 18

Sampling Caol Ila 12 and 18

Tasting

Caol Ila 12

On the nose, there’s lemon citrus, sweet peat, and smoke.  The smoke isn’t all that strong, though.  This is a pleasant nose, and relatively “light” compared to Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin.  After working through the initial citrus, there seems to be something salty mixed in with the peat and smoke.  I’m not sure exactly what it is, though. [Update – I forgot to mention that the lemon scent reminds me a little bit of lemon Pledge furniture polish…not necessarily pure, unadulturated lemons.  It’s subtle, and I didn’t find it off-putting.]

On the palate, BANG…that peat and smoke come through much stronger. Then a wave of pepper takes hold.  The pepper lingers into the finish, and the smoke keeps building into a strong coal smoke chimney coming up through the nostrils.  Excellent.

Caol Ila 18

On the nose, it’s very similar to the 12 at first, with citrus, sweet peat and some smoke.  But there’s something else as well…I think this one is a little more fruity, and there’s perhaps something a little floral there.  I guess you could say this makes it more “complex”, which is usually a good thing. However, I find these “extras” to be a bit of a distraction.

On the palate, there’s not quite the bang of the 12 year.  The peat, smoke and pepper are there, but more mellow.  On the finish, it continues to be more subdued, and I’m getting a little bit of “hot tea” like I was getting with the Bowmores.  At the very end, I get a subtle sense of something musty or stale.

Conclusion

I really enjoy the Caol Ila 12. At $50 locally, it will probably end up being my favorite value in Islay single malts, once stock of Laphroaig 15 disappears. I like the Caol Ila 18 as well, but I’d rate it a couple of points below the 12 year, so I don’t really see a scenario where I purchase a full bottle of that one in its current form. Having it as part of a gift pack is fine, though. I’ll certainly continue to drink it, and enjoy it.

I have exactly the opposite reaction to the Caol Ila 12/18 as to the Talisker 10/18 expressions. In both cases, the older one is mellower and has more going on. However, the Talisker 18 retains enough of the energy of the younger drink to stay interesting, and the additional complexity provides a significant increase in enjoyment/interest. With the Caol Ila 18, I feel like it loses a little of the pizazz that I like so much in the 12, and the additional scents and flavors distract me slightly from the primary profile that I enjoy so much.

Other opinions

  • Whisky Fun – Whisky Fun has notes specifically on the 2007 bottlings of both the 12 year and 18 year Caol Ila, along with a slew of IB expressions. They rate the 18 year a few points higher than the 12.  Funny, they also mention a “tea” flavor (earl grey) on the palate of the 18, but I think they found that to be a positive.
  • Whisky Magazine – Notes and ratings, along with links to related discussion forum threads.
    • Issue 25 (CI 12) – Review of Caol Ila 12 by Michael Jackson and Dave Broom
    • Issue 50 (CI 12) – Notes on Caol Ila 12 by Martine Nouet and Dave Broom.  The numbers are not ratings, but peat levels out of 5.
    • Issue 25 (CI 18) – Reviewing Caol Ila 18; Michael Jackson rates the 18 over the 12, while Dave Broom is less impressed with the 18.
    • Issue 50 (CI 18) – Like the 12 year issue 50 link above, these are peat level numbers, not overall ratings.
  • Whisky for Everyone – Review of the Caol Ila 12 year, along with interesting info about the distillery.  Matt also notes something salty on then nose like I did, and compares it to bacon crisps.  I’m not sure if I quite get bacon, but that analogy of salty meat being cooked is a pretty good one.
  • Scotch Chix – The Scotch Chix find Caol Ila 12 to be a good stepping stone to stronger Islay malts.
  • Whisky Party – “dodgydrammer” compares Caol Ila 18 to Talisker 18.  He rates the Talisker slightly higher, but it’s reasonably close.  He’s probably a little higher on the Caol Ila than I am, and not quite as impressed with the Talisker 18 (one of my absolute favorites).
  • YouTube – IslayScotchWhisky reviews Caol Ila 12 and has good things to say about it.  He gets tart apple on the front of the nose, as opposed to citrus.  He also takes the spiciness a different direction at the end.

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Introduction

A pour from a Bruichladdich 15 mini

A pour from a Bruichladdich 15 mini

I was at my local liquor store, and I mentioned to an employee that I had never tried Bruichladdich [brook-laddie].  He pointed me to the 15 year and talked about how it was finished in Sauternes wine casks.  Then he mentioned that they just got some 50 ml miniatures of it in stock.  Cool, a chance to try it without full commitment!  At home, I was reading the tiny print on the bottle and canister, looking for mention of the casks.  I couldn’t find any. The bottle did state that this whisky is bottled at 46%, and the canister points out that that it’s not chill-filtered or artificially colored. Sounds good so far.

Looking online, I discovered that the Bruichladdich 15 year “Second Edition” is the one that is finished in Sauternes casks.  What I had in my hand was a miniature of the first edition Bruichladdich 15.  This one is a vatting of 85% whisky from American Oak casks, and 15% from Spanish Oak casks.  I’m guessing they got a pretty good deal on these from the distributer.  I checked back at the store the next day, and it is indeed the Second Edition full size bottle that they have in stock (it says Second Edition on the bottle).  Oh well, it’s still a chance for me to get my first taste of a Bruichladdich.  Let’s take this outdated mini for a spin…

Tasting notes

On the nose, I’m getting some light winey notes (white wine, not sherry), and a lemon, floral mix.  Something else is there that I want to call a pine scent.  Not real pine, necessarily, but the artificial pine scent you might find in air fresheners or cleaners. If I leave my nose in the glass a while, I feel like there is some vanilla as well.

On the palate, it reminds me of semi-sweet melon, and then some peppery spice comes through.  It’s pretty light weight, though.  The finish?  Not much of one…the pepper lingers for a very short period, and it seems a little salty.  Then it all quickly disappears.

Conclusion: I’ve read the distillery notes, and a couple of reviews now, and they mention a “fresh” scent/taste with the Bruichladdich 15.  I don’t know what “fresh” tastes or smells like, though.  Is it that pine scent I was picking up?  To me, this malt is very ordinary.  The nose is Ok, but doesn’t really pull me in.  It’s very easy on the palate; nothing offensive there, but then it’s quickly gone and forgotten.  It IS very drinkable.  I could move right through quite a few ml of this stuff without really thinking about it.  It’s just not something I want to sit with in the evening and savor. I find it very average.

At $40, I think this would be a great daily drinker, or perhaps something light and easy on a summer afternoon.  However, at the current price of $85 (if you can find it), I just don’t see it.  At that price, I’m going to turn to a number of other single malts before this one.  I’m not in any way turned off of Bruichladdich, and I’m curious about their peated offerings, I’m just not going to extend myself to get a bottle.

Other opinions (and distillery info)

I wasn’t able to find a whole lot of information on this first edition of the 15 year.  A number of the reviews I found were for the second edition. Here are a couple of links, though:

  • Whisky Magazine – Notes and ratings by Michael Jackson and Dave Broom.  There are also links to some forum threads on this expression further down the page.
  • Royal Mile Whiskies – Not for sale anymore, but there are some tasting notes.
  • Bruichladdich Product Sheet (PDF) – A link to the company product sheet for Bruichladdich 15.

Bruichladdich Distillery location

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Introduction

Margy McCoy (@MargyMcCoy), a Friends of Laphroaig employee, sent out a request on Twitter earlier today asking others to tweet about their first experience with Laphroaig.  She’s offering up a bottle of Feis Ile Cardais scotch to the best tweet.  I was immediately taken back to my first sip of Laphroaig 10 and responded with this tweet:  “My first @LaphroaigWhisky (10) shocked my system. Is that tar?! smoke? Palate intrigued, left brain wary. My palate won out.

Obviously, I’m not going to win that little contest.  However, that’s honestly how I felt.  I was totally confused by what I was experiencing on the palate, and my brain was telling me that I shouldn’t be liking what I was tasting.  Margy’s tweet made me want to look up my original notes, and I decided to go ahead and post them here for laughs.  I need to try Laphroaig 10 again, now that I’ve had quite a bit more experience with Islay malts (including Laph. 15 and QC, which I love).  I’m sure my notes will differ quite a bit.

How about you?  If you like drinking Islay single malts, was it love at first taste?  Did you “get it” the first time, or was it something you had to work your way into?

Original Tasting Notes

Here are the notes I jotted down after drinking Laphroaig 10 (my first Islay malt) for the first time.  This was on January 9th, 2009, and I had only tried a few whiskies prior to this.  I was familiar with light, earthy peat from Talisker, but this was a whole new ball game:

NOSE

  • Smell of some smoke, but not overwhelming
  • Sweet peat smell
  • A little bit of “tar”

TASTE

  • Holy crap!  This completely shocked my system.  If I were to imagine what it would taste like to run out and lick the street right after it’s been paved, this is it.
  • I taste nothing but tar.  My mouth is overwhelmed.
  • Not bitter, though.  I have no problem swishing it around in my mouth, and it goes down easily enough.
  • There’s a bit of a viscous, oily quality not present in the other scotches I’ve had.

AFTERTASTE

  • Still tar, tar, tar
  • Wait…finally something else.  Oily exhaust fumes, like sitting on a bumper boat, surrounded by other bumper boats in an enclosed area, with some oil burning off and dripping into the water.  Or maybe that’s just more tar.

CONCLUSION

Ok, so I wasn’t ready for this.  I don’t think I made any “bitter beer” faces, though, and I kept drinking it.  If there’s more to the taste, I never recovered from my first impressions of “I can’t believe I’m drinking tar” to discover it.  I enjoyed the nose, actually.  I still can’t believe how different the taste was from the nose.  My mind is saying that I shouldn’t enjoy this, and that it belongs in a blended or vatted scotch.  However, I remain curious about what I’m tasting.  I think i’ll try again sometime, being more prepared going in. Maybe I’ll have a different experience and pick out more flavors.

Flash Forward

Four and a half months later (5/29/09), I just had Laphroaig 10 again, at the same bar as the first time.  Since that first taste, I’ve had many other Islay expressions, including Laphroaig QC and 15, and Islay malts have become my whisky of choice (Lagavulin and Caol Ila at the top).  I went to the bar tonight with some friends from work, assuming that I would have a significantly different take on this scotch.  I was surprised to discover that my reaction hasn’t changed all that much.  It’s still an extremely tarry, medicinal dram, and not all that complex.  I can’t believe how different the 10 year is from the 15 year, or even the Quarter Cask.  The biggest differences this time around were that 1) it didn’t shock my system, and 2) I was comfortable with the fact that I like it.

I have Laphroaig 10 cs Batch 1 (Feb 2009) and  Laphroaig 12 Cardais samples on the way.  Maybe I’ll get a 50ml of Laphroaig 10 as well, so that I can compare the range in a controlled environment and take better notes on the 10.  In the mean time, I’ll sum up my feelings on the 10 year by saying that I could drink Laphroaig 15 or QC every day, while the 10 year would be an every now and then change-up.  Relative to other core Islay expressions, I find both the Ardbeg 10 and the Caol Ila 12 more interesting and pleasing to my palate.

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Feis Ile 2009

Feis Ile the Islay Festival of Malt and Music – started this past weekend.  I’ve been following the action through Blogs and Tweets, and thought I’d post links to some of the more interesting sources I’ve found:

Feis Ile Web Site

Here’s a link to the Festival Events page on the official Feis Ile site.  You can see the main events taking place each day, giving you an idea of what people will be blogging/tweeting about and when.

The Islay Blog

The Islay Blog is posting detailed festival events at the beginning of each day, as well as additional information and videos.

  • Saturday event schedule, including a link to a PDF with an overview of the whole week.
  • Sunday event schedule, and diary of day one events
  • Monday event schedule
    • Monday Diary of Monday events (Caol Ila open day), with video. [Update]
  • Tuesday Diary – Laphroaig open day. [Update]
  • Wednesday Diary – Bowmore open day. [Update]
  • Kilchoman Auction – Info, video and links related to the auctioning off of the first bottle of Kilchoman scotch whisky for £5,400 on Thursday. [Update]
  • Friday event schedule [Update 5/29]
  • Saturday diary – Ardbeg and Port Ellen [Update 5/30]

Caskstrength.net and The Whisky Exchange Blog

The gang at Caskstrength.net has teamed up with Tim Forbes from The Whisky Exchange Blog to attend Feis Ile and provide a single report daily, posted on both sites.

  • Day One pre-festival report
  • Day Two report – Check out their Lagavulin tasting notes, including the Feis Ile bottling!
  • Day Three report – A bunch of Bruichladdich tasting notes in this one, including one bottled that day.
  • Day Four report – Oh, man…I really want to get my hands on that Festival Caol Ila sherry cask bottling. [Update]
  • Day Five report – Great tasting notes on a bunch of Ardbegs and Laphroaigs, including the Laph 30, which I’m going to open a bottle of in 10 days! [Update]
  • Day Six report – Bowmore, and inside access at Port Ellen maltings! [Update]
  • Day Seven report – The gang got to compare Laph 15 to 18, and original 10 CS to the new CS Batch 1 [Update 5/29]
  • Day Eight report – Notes on Kilchoman nearly 3 year, Octomore 2004 sherry cask, and a 31 year Bunnahabhain [Update 5/31]
  • Day Nine report – More Ardbeg goodness! [Update 6/1]
  • Day Ten report – “Aftermath”.  Recap of the festival, including “best of…” awards.  Good read. [Update 6/2]
Whisky Fun

The Whisky Fun crew is posting tasting notes and ratings by proxy from a Belgian team led by Luc Timmermans.  Luc is the one responsible for the whiskysamples web site (see “A taste of Feis Ile” below).

  • Tasting notes for the Lagavulin, Caol Ila and Bruichladdich special Feis Ile bottlings.  These are available only from the distillery during the festival. Will somebody like The Whisky Exchange get their hands on some bottles and make them available at a reasonable price?  I sure hope so.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for that Caol Ila cask strength.
  • Tasting notes for Laphroaig Cairdeas 12 and 10 CS Batch 1.
  • Tasting notes for the Bowmore Feis Ile 9 year, plus some bonus “Work In Progress” tasting notes. [Update 5/30]
  • Tasting notes, for Ardbeg Feis Ile plus Bunnahabhain “Moine”. [Update 5/30]

Edinburgh Whisky Blog [Added 5/31]

Chris and Lucas were unable to make it to Feis Ile, but they do have Paula Arthur, who did attend, providing guest blog posts. She kept a detailed travelogue of her adventure,including pictures and tasting notes.

IslayBlog.com

IslayBlog.com – Armin has some Feis Ile stuff in his Weekly Islay Blogging Roundup. Keep an eye out for his roundup next week, as it’s sure to have a lot more interesting Feis Ile updates.  Follow Armin on Twitter for additional, real-time updates:  @islayblog.

Laphroaig Direct

John Campbell, distillery manager at Laphroaig, and Margy McCoy from Friends of Laphroaig, are now on Twitter and posting updates during festival week: @Laphroigwhisky and @MargyMcCoy.

Spirit of Islay

Spirit of Islay – I’m not sure how I missed this before now, but Gordon from the great Spirit of Islay web site has been posting updates from Feis Ile as well.  Great stuff. [Update 5/29]

A taste of Feis Ile – Check out the Whisky Samples web site, where you can order 30ml samples of the special Feis Ile bottlings.  As of this writing, the Lagavulin and Caol Ila are sold out (I just missed them…argh!), but you can still get Laphroaig, Bruichladdich, Ardbeg, Bowmore and Bunnahabhain. [Update 5/29]

Jura Bonus – Ok, they’re not at Feis Ile, but check out the Dubber and Clutch blog as they take a special trip to Jura with their Flip video camera, sampling new Jura expressions, and taking video shots during their inside tour of the distillery.  You can also follow along with them on Twitter:  @twhisky.  [Update] It looks like Dubber and Clutch did manage to sneak over to Feis Ile.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

A pour of Port Askaig 17

A pour of Port Askaig 17

Tonight, we have the Port Askaig Islay 17 year single malt scotch, bottled at 45.8% ABV, non-chill filtered, and no added coloring.  Port Askaig is a new range of single malts from Specialty Drinks Ltd (SDL), a sister company of The Whisky Exchange (TWE). Along with the 17 year, they offer a No Age Statement (NAS) cask strength, and a 25 year. Apparently, they’re also going to introduce a limited release 30 year expression later this year. This range was just introduced in late April, 2009, but is already getting a lot of buzz around the online whisky community. I think I have more links in my “Other Opinions” section on this post than for any other scotch I’ve blogged about.

One of the things that’s interesting about this range is that they haven’t disclosed which distillery the whisky actually comes from. Current consensus on the internet seems to be Caol Ila. More about this later in my post. Port Askaig 17 is available from TWE for 50 GBP (current equivalent: $75). I believe it’s also available through select importers in other European countries, but it’s not currently exported to the United States.

Tasting Notes

Port Askaig 17 Back Label

Tasting notes on the bottle

On the nose, the Port Askaig 17 immediately reminds of Caol Ila. That honey-sweet citrus right up front, with peat that isn’t quite as tarry as Ardbeg or Laphroaig, or as medicinal as Lagavulin. However, as I spent some more time taking in the aroma, I noticed that the citrus seemed different than the Caol Ila 12 or 18 original bottlings (OBs).  With CI, I get a very strong citrus zest. The PA seems to take a little of that zesty edge off, like you’re just getting the inner fruit. With even a little more time and imagination, the citrus started to turn to apple, like I get with Ardbeg. Perhaps, also, that honey sweetness is a little deeper than CI, again more along the lines of Ardbeg. The last bit of “Ardbeg” that I’m picking up is a hint of “art store”…the aisle where they have the ink and pencils. Very interesting. I like this nose a little better than the CI 12 or 18.

On the palate, I’m again immediately reminded of Caol Ila. The citrus and sweet peat are still there from the nose. It’s a tiny bit “hot” on the tongue, but in a good way, not a rough/cheap way. As it works its way towards the back of my tongue, some pepper starts to come on, building into the finish and slowly dying down. Also coming on with the finish is the Caol Ila coal smoke, and the earthy peat continues to linger. There are no bad after-tastes, and it goes down with a pleasant warming. My glass is emptying rather quickly.

Conclusion: This is a very enjoyable dram. I think it’s a step up from the Caol Ila 12, Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 10 standard bottlings. Then again, so is the price. Port Askaig 17 strikes me very much as a bridge between Caol Ila and Ardbeg, which I think is a positive thing. It makes me want to try experimenting with my own vatting of CI 12 and Ardbeg 10. I’m going to put this close to (but after a head-to-head comparison, a little below) the Laphroaig 15 as one of my favorite whiskies so far, with Talisker 18 and Lagavulin 16/DE above that.  If you’re an Islay scotch lover, you really should try to get your hands on this. If you’re a big Ardbeg fan, but Caol Ila not so much, I think you should still try this out. You might be surprised. If you’re in the U.S., the shipping cost makes it a little less cut-and-dry, as the Caol Ila 12 (Edit: or the Signatory 14 I’ve now tried) gets you pretty close to PA 17 for a lot less money.

Update (head-to-head): The above notes were done without directly comparing the PA 17 with Caol Ila and Ardbeg. It’s a couple of nights later, and I decided to pour small drams of Caol Ila 12, Port Askaig 17, Ardbeg 10, and Ardbeg Uigeadail. So, any change of heart from what I stated above? A little bit. I said that I felt the citrus “zest” from Caol Ila was rounded off a little on the PA, but I’m not so sure about that. I’m getting that lemon zest this time. I also felt that the PA was much more clearly in the Caol Ila camp with this hands-on comparison.  My bottom line here is that Port Askaig 17 is what I think Caol Ila 18 should be. I would gladly pay the additional $7.50 at TWE for this over the CI 18.

Update 2 [6/4/09]: I’ve got samples of the PA 25 and Cask Strength on the way, so I’ll be able to compare the whole range. Woo hoo!

A Caol Ila by any other name…

Nobody from Specialty Drinks Ltd and/or The Whisky Exchange has come right out and stated that Port Askaig whisky is distilled by Caol Ila, and industry insiders that have probably been clued in seem to be playing along, just offering clues. Not convinced that Port Askaig is really Caol Ila?  Let’s take a look at the evidence:

  1. The name: Port Askaig is located on the East side of Islay, a short ferry ride from Jura.  If you look at a distillery map of Islay, you’ll see that Caol Ila is located right in Port Askaig, with Bunnahabhain just a little bit north of the Caol Ila location.  The rest of the distilleries are much further to the South or West.
  2. The ages of the expressions: The NAS Cask Strength, 17 year, and 25 year expressions sure line up nicely against other common bottlings of Caol Ila, both by the original distiller (OB) and independent bottlers (IB). I mean really, how easy would it be for Specialty Drinks to come up with a bunch of 17 and 25 year (and don’t forget the 30 year later on) casks of Ardbeg?  Ardbeg can’t even seem to get 17 and 25 year casks of Ardbeg.
  3. Port Askaig 17 Bottle Seal

    Port Askaig 17 Bottle Seal

    Geographic Coordinates on Bottle: Printed on the seal of the bottle is the following coordinates:  N. 55:50:41 W. 06:06:10, which converts to Lat. 55.8447, Lon. -6.1028 in decimal. I saw this and thought perhaps this would be a clue. If it’s from another distillery, would they potentially provide a Latitude/Longitude that doesn’t match the actual Port Askaig location? However, punching in the  numbers in Google Maps puts you right in Port Askaig, just a bit south of the Caol Ila distillery.

  4. Taste profile: While I could potentially be fooled in a blind test into believing PA 17 is an Ardbeg, the overall profile is certainly in line with the OB Caol Ilas I’ve tasted. Don’t take my word for it, though. The many tasting notes in the “Other Opinions” section below (by people with much more tasting experience than me) show a strong similarity to the Caol Ila profile.
  5. Clues from industry insiders: Check out the Malt Advocate blog post and comments, linked in the “Other Opinions…” section below.
  6. I know somebody who knows somebody…: I got a tweet (Twitter post) from @whiskyfan who says that  “according to @hansemalt the German importer verified that Port Askaig is Caol Ila.”  So there you go…I know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody with inside information.

Other Opinions

  • The Whisky Exchange Blog – Tim F. writes about the new Port Askaig releases, and provides his own tasting notes for the 17 year.
  • Malt Advocate Blog (What does John know?) – John Hansell provides notes and ratings for both the 17 and 25 year expressions.  He really likes the 17 year.
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog – Notes and ratings personifications by Lucas of both the 17 and 25 year expressions.  More extremely positive feedback.
  • Caskstrength.net – More notes and discussion about the 17 and 25 year expressions, and more of a “statement” than a guess that this is from the Caol Ila distillery.
  • Spirit of Islay (once it’s archived, this will be the link) – In the May “A Whiff of Peat Smoke…” newsletter, Gordon shares his notes on the 17 and 25 year expressions. There is also a discussion in Gordon’s Warehouse No. 4 forums.
  • Whisky, Whisky, Whisky – Tasting notes on the Port Askaig 17 year. Making me feel much better about myself, Mark also noted a similarity to the Ardbeg profile. There’s also some additional discussion in the WhiskyWhiskyWhisky forums, kicked off by none other than Tim F. from TWE.
  • YouTube – Ralfy (from ralfy.com) has now reviewed the PA 17 on his video blog. Quite entertaining…check it out: [Added July 10, ’09]

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Rosebank 1991, 17 yr. (Single Malts of Scotland)

Rosebank 1991, 17 year (SMS)

Introduction

Of the closed distilleries in Scotland, Rosebank, a lowland distillery, doesn’t have quite the buzz of a Brora or Port Ellen.  There does, however, seem to be a fairly widespread opinion in the whisky community that it’s a shame Rosebank isn’t still in operation.  Fortunately for us, they appear to have had a pretty good stock on hand when they closed.  A “Rosebank” search on The Whisky Exchange web site currently turns up 18 results, with 10 expressions from various bottlers available for under $100.  The focus of this post is a 50 ml sample of Rosebank 17 year, 1991 vintage, bottled at 55.1% ABV from The Single Malts of Scotland (Specialty Drinks Ltd.), a sister company of The Whisky Exchange.  This particular expression is non-chill filtered and has no additional coloring added, and it’s bottled from a single cask.

Tasting

On the nose, this Rosebank is light and very fruity (citrus). There is some light honey sweetness as well. The nose is actually kind of muted, even compared to other “light” drams I’ve had recently such as the Yamazaki 12.  On the other hand, you can stick your nose right in there and the alcohol doesn’t really get in the way, which surprised me given that this is cask strength.

On the palate, the strong citrus continues, as does the sweetness. However, the sweetness evolves from honey to, I want to say, butterscotch. There is a bit of alcohol “hotness”, due to the ABV, but it’s not harsh at all. I rather liked it…just a gentle kick in the pants to make sure you’re awake. Then, out of nowhere, pepper becomes very noticeable on the palate, and continues to linger through the medium to long finish. I didn’t see this coming, as I wasn’t really picking up much in the way of spices on the nose. Also surprising to me was the body, which seemed pretty oily and full. I really liked this combination of light flavors and full body.

Conclusion – This is a very accessible drink, even at the full 55.1% ABV. Not only that, I tried adding some water and it retained all of the primary characteristics, just losing that initial hotness on the palate.  I’ve only tried one other lowland expression, and that was Auchentoshan Three Wood.  I consider this a significant step up from that dram. I also consider this a good jump from some other light profile Speyside scotches such as Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve.  The only thing keeping it from my top tier of scotches is the muted nose, and I suppose there’s room for additional complexity, but I still rate this highly just for the pure enjoyment factor.

I currently have a bit of an Islay bias, and while I feel inclined to collect just about every peaty whisky I can find, I feel a bit differently about other types of whisky. I’m content (at the moment) to just have one or two solid examples of each profile on hand. For example, Aberlour a’bunadh can satisfy me when I get the itch for a “sherry bomb” Speyside. Likewise, I think this Rosebank is great for when I get the urge for a lighter, non-sherried Speyside or Lowland scotch.

Is it worth nearly $100? That’s a personal choice, of course.  I think it probably is, given that 1) it’s a single-cask expression at full strength, 2) it’s from a closed distillery that’s well thought of, and 3) it tastes really, really good. I am, however, curious about the Gordon & MacPhail 1991 Rosebank that goes for 2/3 the price of this SMS expression (although it is bottled at 43% ABV). Could that give me 95% of the enjoyment of this SMS bottling at 65% of the price? Too bad they don’t offer a 50 ml mini of that one (that I’ve seen) for comparison.

Update: After doing a post on Port Askaig 17 and experiencing the strong lemon citrus there, I wanted to revisit the Rosebank 17. The citrus I get here is definitely NOT a strong zesty lemon like I get with Caol Ila and Port Askaig. It’s more of a candied orange. The other thing I noticed upon revisiting the Rosebank is that there is something floral going on here, and I’m surprised i didn’t mention that the first time around. Still a very enjoyable light profile dram, with a cask-strength kick.

Other opinions (and Rosebank info)

  • Whisky Fun – Here’s a link to their Rosebank summary page, with links to all of the expressions they’ve tried.  They don’t have notes on this specific expression, but they do have notes on other SMS 1991 vintage Rosebanks, with a particularly good review of the 16 year that was bottled 6 months before this 17 year.
  • The Whisky Exchange – A link to their page for the full size bottle of this expression.  It includes tasting notes from Tim F, who does their blog. [Note – Is it Ok for me to include a link directly to an online alcohol retailer?]
  • Malt Madness – Rosebank distillery profile, trivia, and review summaries.
  • Whisky Party – Ok, one of the guys over at Whisky Party has now had the opportunity to try the same miniature from TWE, and provides a different view point (he’s not particularly thrilled with this bottling).  I don’t expect everybody to react the same to every expression, and my experience with lowland scotch is pretty limited, so I’d encourage you to check out his review.  Then go buy yourself a miniature of this Rosebank and let us know what you think! [Added 6/3/09]

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Yamazaki 12 Single Malt Whisky

Yamazaki 12 Single Malt Whisky

Introduction

apples and pears
followed by vanilla oak
smooth

Ok, if it’s not clear from the name that this Yamazaki 12 Single Malt Whisky isn’t technically scotch whisky, then perhaps my bad Haiku above gave it away.  Tonight I’m drinking from a 50 ml miniature of this popular Japanese whisky, bottled at 43%.  The Yamazaki distillery is owned by Suntory Limited, which has been around for a long time, but a lot of us Americans probably just became aware of this company via Lost in Translation with Bill Murray (YouTube video below).  Interestingly, Morrison Bowmore (Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch) is a subsidiary of Suntory.  Here in Arizona, this 12 year expression can be had for $40, vs. a large jump to $115 for their 18 year.

Tasting notes

On the nose, my first impression was that this is light and fruity (apples).  Then I spent some more time with it, and it seemed to gain a little richness (not a lot), with some vanilla that is probably coming out from the oak, and a hint of spiciness.

On the palate, I’m back to apple juice, but some undetermined spices are coming on.  Heading into the finish, the spice clarifies a bit, turning into light pepper.  This is fairly light on the palate, but it’s not watery.  I’m glad it’s at 43%, not 40%.  The finish is medium, with the fruity sweetness tapering off quickly, and the pepper lingering a little bit.  I’m not getting any strange aftertastes or alcohol burn.

If you presented this to me in a blind tasting and said it was a “scotch”, I would have no doubt that it was from Speyside.  Going from memory of the whiskies I’ve tried, the profile of this Yamazaki seems like a mix between The Glenlivet, and either Linkwood or Glenfiddich.  I think I need to do a head-to-head with these sometime.

Conclusion – You’ve heard people refer to some whiskies as being “dangerously drinkable”?  To me, this is one of those.  Usually I make the most out of these 50 ml miniatures.  I’ll go through them in a couple of 25 ml sessions…maybe even 3 servings if they’re cask strength.  I plowed right through this one tonight.  No, it’s not super complex, but I enjoyed sitting and nosing it (always a big plus), and it was sooo smooth and drinkable.  Maybe it won’t impress your scotch aficionado buddies, but I say pick up a bottle and call it a guilty pleasure.  I would also recommend serving this as an introductory single malt to friends who are nervous to get started with whisky.  At $40, I’m going to be keeping a bottle of this in my cupboard, as I think this is a great value.  Other Yamazaki expressions will also be on my radar now…I’m VERY interested in their peated expressions.

Other opinions and additional information

I haven’t yet taken to assigning “ratings” to the whiskies I write about in these posts.  I mean, who the hell do I think I am, anyway? However, if I did give a review rating to Yamazaki 12, I think I would place it a few points above where a lot of these other folks put it.  The common consensus seems to be that this is a perfectly “ok” whisky worth a very average rating.  I can totally see that, but I’m awarding it a couple of “guilty pleasure” bonus points for sheer drinkability and the pleasant nose, moving it to slightly above average.

  • Whisky Magazine (Issue 13) – Old ratings and notes from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray.
  • Whisky Magazine (Issue 26) – Ratings and notes from Michael Jackson and Dave Broom from a few years ago.
  • Whisky Magazine (Issue 56) – More recent ratings and notes from Martine Nouete and Dave Broom.  Also some links to forum threads on this whisky…one of them particularly less positive than my view.
  • Whisky Fun – Notes and rating (79) on a 2006 Japanese bottling.
  • Nonjatta – Here is some information about the Yamazaki distillery from Nonjatta, a great web site dedicated to Japanese whiskies.  Check out the Japanese distillery map link on the right side of the page…pretty cool.
  • YouTube – Here’s Bill Murray’s Suntory commercial from Lost in Translation:

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Lagavulin 12 Natural Cask Strength 2007

Lagavulin 12 Natural Cask Strength 2007

Introduction

Tonight [well, last night by the time I post this] I’m drinking from a 20 cl bottle of Lagavulin 12 ‘Special Release’, another sample from my 2007 Classic Islay Collection gift pack.  I posted yesterday about the value of these gift packs because of the inclusion of the Port Ellen Annual Release.  However, this Lagavulin makes for another very compelling case, as it appears to be hard to find in full size bottle form.  At this time, both Royal Mile Whiskies and The Whisky Exchange are sold out of the 2006 and 2007 releases of Lagavulin 12.  This particular expression is bottled at a natural cask strength of 57.1%.  Like the Port Ellen, this 20 cl bottling is at a different strength than the full size Lagavulin 12, which is bottled at 56.4%.  I’d still like to hear from somebody who might know the reason for this difference in bottling strength. [Update – Tim F from The Whisky Exchange kindly shared a response directly from Diageo in the comments.  Thanks Tim!]

Tasting notes

On the nose, neat, the Laga 12 is all Islay, with peat, coal smoke, something medicinal in nature, and just a hint of the fruity sweetness found in the 16 year old.  On the palate, there’s an in-your-face brashness (not to be confused with harshness).  This is an energetic drink, exploding in the mouth with that 57.1% ABV heat and tons of peat, along with some pepper spiciness and then drying on the tongue.  Heading into the finish, it’s very drying on the tongue.  There’s more of that peaty coal smoke, and it lasts for quite a while.  Adding a little water, the nose now hints at more of the sweetness you expect from the Lagavulin 16 year, but it is still much more muted.  The alcohol heat is gone, the pepper is subdued, but the peat remains.  A little of the sweetness now makes its way into the palate in the form of light citrus.  The finish remains very similar to the way it was neat.

Conclusion – Tomorrow I might pull out the Laga 16, put on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and contemplate life. Tonight, I’m just going to crank up some Metallica Master of Puppets and enjoy the rest of this Lagavulin 12 ‘Special Release’.  It’s what I have imagined a Caol Ila cask strength would taste like.  The first time I tried the Lagavulin 12, I drank it along with the 16 year and found myself comparing them.  I think the additional richness of the 16 masked the strengths of the 12.  That’s not really a fair thing for me to do, as I’m prone to perhaps an unjustified glorification of  Lagavulin 16 and Talisker 18 single malts.  I consider them nectars of the gods, categorized separately from beverages intended for mere mortals.  Of the earth-bound whiskies, I put this cask strength 12 year right up there at the top.  It’s a take no prisoners peat train crossing the island of Islay, with smoke from the coal-stoked engine hitting you in the face.  It’s not hugely complex, but it’s not one-dimensional either, and what it has to offer is all good.  There’s nothing offensive going on here at all.  I highly recommend trying Lagavulin 12 if you like Islay scotch, even if you find Lagavulin 16 slightly overbearing.

Other opinions

  • WhiskyFun.com – Tasting 5 young Lagavulins.  Here’s a comparison of 4 Lagavulin 12 special releases, along with an independent bottling.  They felt the 2007 bottling was a big improvement over the 2005 and earlier bottlings.
  • Whisky Magazine – The tasting notes and scoring are for an earlier release, but you will also find links to a number of forum threads about Lagavulin 12, and discussions comparing the 12 and 16 profiles.

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