Kilkerran 12

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Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 8.4 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.4 | Overall Score: 8.4

Review
About five years ago at my clubs’ monthly mystery tasting I decided to take with me a relatively unknown whisky. Well, unknown to most of us, that is.

It was something I picked up on a whim without really knowing anything about it or the distillery. That whisky was the Kilkerran WIP 4. Met with many a raised eyebrow and unabashed lip smacking it became an instant hit at the gathering and ultimately my obsession.

For those who know me know two things about me.

Number 1 : I have a mild case of OCD. Which means if you give me something that is numbered and part of a series then I will move mountains to make sure I have the entire collection. It’s a sickness, I admit it.

Number 2 : I am irrationally fascinated by Campbeltown whiskies. No rhyme or reason. Just am.

Now imagine my state when you put both those things together. Even more so when the spirit in question is just so damned delicious. And, thus, began my quest to collect all the WIPs.

Glengyle Distillery, makers of Kilkerran, released the WIP 1, which was a five year old whisky, as a way of sharing the spirits’ journey until it’s final form as a 12 year old. Also no doubt as a crafty means of generating revenue which is fine by me. This was, you guessed it, followed by the WIP 2 and so on until last year they released their last and final WIP (the 7) which was a stunning bourbon cask bottled at cask strength.

And, finally, around two weeks ago they released their standard entry level – the 12 year old. I have been following this journey for a while now and was understandably excited when they announced the release. After making my pre-order I somehow managed to have it with me for a tasting I hosted a couple of nights ago.

Geeks that we are we didn’t try it straight and instead decided to do a vertical with the WIP 5,6 & 7 followed by the 12.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 46%

Nose: Immediate grill charcoal. Faint coal smoke. Almost industrial diesel. Not in an overpowering way but in a way that only Campbeltown can make appealing. Himalayan pink salt. Green olives in brine. Mexican lime. Vanilla. Very mild honey. Wild heather. Dry flowers. Love the nose. There’s an old-school oiliness to this that I love.

Palate: Touch bitter. But in a good way. Vanilla. Sweet lemon. Touch of oak. Consistent layer of smoke. Wet pebbles. That salt again. Get’s sweeter mid-palate. Butterscotch. And then black pepper pricks. Solid.

Finish: Medium to long. Oak. Lindt 90% cocoa. Ceylon black tea.

Overall Comments: I love it. I love the WIP 7 a bit more but this one is quite lovely. I love it because there is an element of old-fashioned whisky making that somehow comes through it’s oiliness and the fact that it’s more savoury than sweet. Something which I really like in a whisky. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it certainly is mine. What I appreciate even more is the highly affordable price tag. Under 40GBP in a world that has gone crazy is something to be lauded. So thank you Glengyle for not being greedy gits. And for producing this gem.

Overall Score: 8.4

Favourite of Feis by Douglas Laing

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Our time on Islay was filled primarily going up and down the nine distilleries (yes, I’m including Jura, smart ass) and sampling the various wares each had on offer.

But unbeknownst to few there are a host of other tastings that happen on the island during the Festival. One such tasting was the one organised by Douglas Laing called Favourite of the Feis.

Conducted by Jan Beckers, the affable Belgian, they put on a good show and it’s always a fun to try some non-Islay whiskies while on the island. You know, just to get some perspective.

Fine. It’s just an excuse to drink more whisky. But you already knew that.

We trudged up the road from our cottage in Bowmore to the Gaellic School where the tasting was happening and were greeted by Caroline, Douglas Laing’s event coordinator and all round great gal. After taking over an entire table we sat down to see what the fuss was all about.

DL Tasting 02

Big Peat / Feis Ile 2016 Limited Edition / 48%
Nose: Light. Quite delicate. Touch of peat. Hard boiled sweets. Hint of lime. Melon rind. Red berries. Touch of honey. Vanilla.
Palate: Quite oaky. Spicy. That melon again. Hint of smoke. Hint of peat. Some citrus. Vanilla. Green berries. Garam masala.
Finish: Long. Oily. Touch of spice.
Overall Score: 6.7

1999 Bowmore 16 / Old Particular / 48.3%
Nose: Quite fruity. Like an assorted fruit basket. In an orchard. An orange orchard. Cinnamon. Granny Smith apples. Freshly grated coconut. Young leather. Caramel. Feels like a solid bourbon cask in play here. Parma violets. Super nose.
Palate: Very creamy. Lovely mouthfeel. Hibiscus. Quite buttery. Hint of all-spice. Very mild peat. Clove. Really liking this little gem.
Finish: Long. Floral. Touch of spice.
Overall Score: 8.5

DL Tasting 03

Rock Oyster / Cask Strength / 57.4%
Nose: Very spirity. Almost raw. Lots of lime. Wet wood. Buttery. Green leaves. But overwhelmingly spirity. Don’t like it.
Palate: Oaky. Cookie dough. Citrus. Touch of nuts. But that spirit feels far too turpentine-ish for me to take it seriously.
Finish: Longs. Spicy. Longer with a touch of water. Sweeter too.
Overall Score: 6.2

Aultmore 7 Years / Provenance / 46%
Nose: Sherry. Cigar leaf. Wet wood. Or wool. Take your pick. Blood oranges. Afternoon grass. Green tea. Milk chocolate. Wet clay. And now a sniff of some decay. Can’t put my finger on it. Cask about to go bad?
Palate: Very sweet. Milk chocolate. Nuts. Cinnamon. Oak. Quite oily. Soft delivery. But that nagging cask…
Finish: Medium. Roasted coffee beans. Touch of spice. Tobacco.
Overall Score: 6.7

Dl Tasting 04

Strathclyde 10 Years / Old Particular / 50.9%
Nose: Burnt caramel. Woody. Oranges. Rose water. Burnt toast. Fudge. Toffee. Butterscotch. Cream coffee liqueur. Like Baileys. I like it. Maybe because I like Baileys.
Palate: Soft. Well rounded. Nice delivery. Butterscotch. Quality Street toffee. Cinnamon. Touch of oak. Creamy caramel. Cadbury plain. Lovely!
Finish: Long. Oily. Touch of spice. Really like this one!
Overall Score: 7.9

Bruichladdich 26 Years / XOP / 52.1%
Nose: Lemon. Lime. All kinds of citrus. Sweet sugarcane. Assorted dinner greens. Quite herbaceous. Morning dew on freshly cut grass. Gets sweeter over time. Toffee. Canadian maple syrup. Brittle sugar candy. Soft fruits. Touch floral. Looks like they saved the best for the last.
Palate: Drying. Touch of oak. Milk chocolate. Garden greens. Melon rind. But now with just a hint of something bitter. Not in a bad way. This is quality stuff.
Finish: Beautiful. Long. Touch of spice.
Overall Score: 8.6

Seems like they saved the best for the last. Good call. Great evening overall with a surprise thrown in the end which I’ll talk about later. The Douglas Laing gang is a good bunch to have a tasting with. Lots of individual attention and care for everyone. Makes for a fun evening. Throw in a couple of stunners and you’re set.

Bunnahabhain 16 Amontillado / Feis 2016 Release

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Distillery/Brand: Bunnahabhain | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.1% | Colour: Yellow Gold
Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.0 | Overall Score: 8.2

Review
I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus of late. Brought on by writing too much about whisky and not enjoying it as much as I should. So I decided to take a little breather just to re-charge the old batteries a bit.

Sometimes it’s nice to just sit and relax with your drink without a paper & pen nearby. But I realised I missed doing this too so I decided to open the vault and bring out a Bunnahabhain to share with you guys.

My experience at Bunnahabhain was quite an amazing one. We were booked for a Managers’ Tasting which we had pre-paid and, unfortunately, could not attend due to unforeseen circumstances. Now those who’ve been to Islay will tell you that everyone you encounter goes out of their way to help you in some way or the other.

In our case it was the tasting manager, James. He was so understanding about our no-show that he not only let us and three other friends in on a single cask tasting at a later date he also shared with us samples of this years’ Festival bottles including this interesting 16 year old.

Matured for the first ten years in bourbon and then it’s remaining time in Amontillado sherry this is a rather pricey 16 year old (£250 at the distillery) with a total outrun of, yes you guessed it, 250 bottles. My sample is from an open bottle and served at 54.1% ABV

Nose: It’s quite perfumy. In a nice way. With an earthy spice. Cardamom. Quite delicate. Aniseed. Liquorice. Cranberries. Marzipan. Mild ground coffee. All-spice. Ginger. Dash of water gives it a slight cinnamon touch. I like this nose. It’s quite unusual. Has a really strong aniseed touch to it. Under normal circumstances I would have been quite critical but I like the fact that it’s so unusual. 8.2

Palate: Quite oily. Very chewy. Full bodied. My kind of delivery. Milk chocolate. Think Cadbury plain. Hint of rose water. Candied ginger. Honeycomb. A betel leaf crispiness. Hint of lime. White wine chardonnay. And that aniseed again. I like it. Beautiful texture. Again quite unusual on the palate. 8.4

Finish: Quite spicy. Chewy. Yes, aniseed. Nutty. Coats your mouth in a warm embrace. 8.0

Overall Comments: I like it. The only other Amontillado influenced whisky I’ve tried is the Laphroaig 2014 Festival Release. Quite to my liking as is this one. If you don’t like it immediately then allow it to grow on you. Because, believe me, it does.

Overall Score: 8.2

Bowmore 17 PX Cask / Feis Ile 2016 Hand-fill

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Distillery/Brand: Bowmore | Region: Islay | ABV: 56.1% | Colour: Burgundy
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.4 | Finish: 7.8 | Overall Score: 7.5

Review
Another day. Another Islay whisky reviewed. This time it’s the 2016 Feis Ile hand-fill from Bowmore.

Matured for 17 years in a single Pedro Ximenez cask this was scooped out of the barrel and served to us straight as we sat in the distillery’s tasting room at 10.30 in the morning.

The sunny weather was showing no signs of letting up as we sauntered down to the distillery which was but a few minutes stroll from our self-catering cottage on High Street. As we made our way through the gates we were greeted by a hundred strong line of eager shoppers as they snaked their way into the distillery shop and to the ever depleting supply of Feis bottles.

After picking up our tickets at the gate we milled around with the crowd until we were ushered inside to the tasting room.

Joining 20 odd people we took our seats and came face to face with four drams sitting right in front of us.

1. A 15 year old first-fill bourbon hogshead bottled at 53%
2. A 13 year old first-fill Oloroso sherry oak bottled at 54%
3. The Fesi Ile 2016 vintage 25 year old finished off in Claret Wine and bottled at 55.7%

And finally number 4 : This years’ festival hand-fill. The 17 year old matured exclusively in a Pedro Ximenez butt and bottled at 56.1%

Now there was a serious debate between which of the two festival bottles was a better one. Some preferring the hand-fill (majority) while some preferring the 25 year old (me). Though, I have to admit it was a mighty close race. Even after I went back and re-tasted the two side by side. Regardless of what the critics say I still prefer the 25 year old. But that doesn’t mean the hand-fill is a sub-standard dram.

Far from it.

My sample is straight from the cask and served at 56.1%

Nose: The PX is up in your face. Very strong and dominant. The smoke is soft and nice. Quite densely packed with flavour. Seems heavy if you know what I mean. Some tannins. Earthy red rum. Like a savoury Old Monk. Molasses. Blackberry. South American chocolates. Grassy overtones. Like the dying embers of a spent forest fire. Opens up a touch with water. A little sweeter. 7.4

Palate: Damn. A lot of spice. Very drying. Full. Cinnamon. Liquorice. Juicy raisins. Bold oak. Black peppercorns. Mocha. That same South American twang. Peruvian coffee beans. Lindt 85%. With water a touch spicier. A touch drier. 7.4

Finish: Long. Again extremely drying. Oak. Cinnamon. Fills your mouth. With water it’s a little shorter. So don’t. My favourite part of the journey. 7.8

Overall Comments: I really like this style of whisky. Unadulterated. Untouched by human hands. Totally unique in it’s own form. I like that. Whether or not I like how it actually tastes is a simply a point of view. But I like this whisky. It’s bold. It’s flavourful. It’s just not spectacular, that’s all. And I have nothing against that.

Overall Score: 7.5

Ardbeg 1975 OB 2000

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Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 9.2 | Overall Score: 8.6

Review
I think by now everyone’s read about my trip to Islay for the Feis Ile so I won’t bore you with the details.

What is pertinent, though, is our annual pilgrimage to the Kildalton Cross, a few miles ahead of Ardbeg, with the aim of toasting something special. This year there were seven of us. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing.

Good because more the merrier.

Bad because we decided to drive down to the cross in a single Volkswagen Passat. Let’s just say everyone had their privates mashed against someone’s rear at all times. There were violent complaints followed by uncontrollable bouts of laughter as we made the agonising 20 minute drive from Lagavulin.

The only person unaffected was my self. As the designated driver for the day I had the enviable position of sitting comfortably in the drivers’ seat and laughing at my friends’ discomfort.

I had procured this bottle in Dubai and gingerly carried it in my luggage all the while hoping and praying nothing would happen to it. Luckily the whisky Gods were on our side. The bottle was unscathed. The day was beautiful. Everything was perfect in that moment.

This vintage Ardbeg was released soon after the new ownership had taken over the distillery. Released in 2000 my sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 43%

Nose: A fading peat. Soft and in the background. Not as earthy as I thought but more coal smoke. Old leather shoes. Almonds. Walnuts. Organic kale chips. Salty kale chips. Yemeni honey. After a while becomes quite malty. Cereals. The tender oak is next. Becomes a touch floral over time. Dried lavender petals. Like potpourri. Heather. Such a distinctive old school style of spirit. No sharp edges. Everything married as one well rounded robust offering. 8.2

Palate: Feels better on the palate. So full. Extremely oily. Mouth filling. Lovely soft delivery. Faded peat. Cocoa powder. The oak here is supreme. Beautifully balanced. Same nuttiness as on the nose. Banana cake and almonds. Four cumin seeds. Not five. Not three. Four. 8.4

Finish: Bloody hell. This just keeps getting better and better. One of the more magnificent finishes I’ve encountered in a long time. Just stays in your mouth and refuses to dissipate. Hints of vanilla. The soft peat. And, of course, the divine oak. Love it. 9.2

Overall Comments: A truly world class whisky that harks back to a bygone era of whisky making. There’s an aged softness to these old school spirits that I’ve noticed that might never be replicated. There’s just too much time and care taken to produce these kinds of gems to make them successful in the modern world where everyone is impatient and has the attention span of a Jack Terrier on cocaine. And, frankly, even if they do I doubt us lesser mortals will be able to get our hands on it anyway. Such is the world we live in.

Overall Score: 8.6

Berry Brothers & Rudd Tasting

The following is an honest account of my experience at a recent Berry Brothers & Rudd tasting.

We were greeted with a sweet cherry cocktail as we walked into the clubhouse of the Jumeirah Golf Estates, one of the many developments that have sprung up around the outskirts of Dubai. They call it secluded but the phrase that came to my mind was more along the lines of out in the boonies.

Since I was early I perched at the bar and kept my self busy watching, you guessed it, golf on the many HD screens hanging from the walls. Once there were sufficient numbers crowding the waiting area we were ushered into the restaurant and shown to our numbered tables.

The head-chef came out first and explained the menu to us in great detail. Food wise things were looking promising. The chocolate mousse and pistachio dessert was what I was really waiting for. As it turned out the entire meal was absolutely fantastic.

The fresh salmon ceviche was followed by a baked sea bass. Braised beef in a whisky reduction was next and a lovely chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream was pretty much spot on. Really happy with what I ate that night.

Unfortunately I wish I could say the same for the whiskies that we encountered.

Having been in the business since 1698 Berry Brothers & Rudd are one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the UK. They also bottle a hefty number of whiskies which they sell under their BBR label. Counting the four that I had that evening it would bring the total number of BBR whiskies I had tasted up to a whopping 11.

I think that’s enough whiskies to form a general opinion on the overall quality and style of a particular independent. Sure there are some hits and some misses. But when the misses are overwhelming then one has no choice but to cast judgement.

And so I have cast. You, sir, are not to my liking.

Berrys SpeysideReserve

The first whisky of the evening was the blended Speyside Reserve. I’d love to know what reserve really means. So many distilleries use it to denote spirit kept aside for a special purpose. What I think it really means is I have no idea what this whisky stands for. Let’s put Reserve in the name and hope for the best.

The young whisky was quite bland and boring as was the speech by Doug McIvor, their Spirits Manager, who read off the cue cards at the beginning of the evening. After which he settled down for his meal and that was the last we heard of him.

Left to our own devices we decided to take the evening seriously and settled down to making some notes.

Note: All whiskies reviewed under were bottled at 46%

Nose: Hello rotting wet wood. Looks like a sulphured cask in here somewhere. Can’t be anything else. Quite overpowering if you ask me. Processed honey. Sugarcane juice. Sweet heather. Love hearts. They all try but the sulphur is a bit much.

Palate: Very light. Uninteresting. Bitter. That sulphur again. Quite spirity and raw. Tries to be sweet. Can’t. What a waste of time.

Finish: Let’s just leave this field blank.

Overall Score: 5.0


Berrys Girvan

The second whisky to be brought out was an 8 year old single grain Girvan. One of the comments left on my Twitter feed after I posted this picture was @WhiskyCliff saying the only reason Girvan existed was to remind us how good single malt really is.

I must admit I laughed a little at that.

Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 (see I told you it was 8 years old) it’s not as bad as the comment that was made but let’s just say I’m not rushing out to get t-shirts with I [heart] Girvan printed on them.

Nose: ex-Bourbon barrels have given this a sweet vanilla essence. Faint nectarines. Neutral greens. Jolly Green Giant peas. Mild fennel. It’s not as bad as the previous one. Still no sparks, though.

Palate: Right then. Back into previous territory. Bitter. Quite savoury. Coconut. Vanilla. Hint of oak. Nope. No thank you.

Finish: Still bitter. Still not good.

Overall Score: 5.5


Berrys Caperdonich

Ah, what do we have here? A closed distillery. And my first Caperdonich.

Striking color on this one. The sherry seems to have done it’s job. And twenty years old on top of that. Here’s hoping.

Nose: Now that’s what I’m talking about. Nice. Very nice. Ripe bananas. Stewed red fruits. Stewed cherries that you ladle on a cheesecake. Cherry Cola. Dry arm chair leather. Pomegranate peel. Mint leaves. Seems like an Oloroso butt here. I really like this.

Palate: Nice oak. Maybe a tad tired but this is not the time to start being cynical. Lindt 70%. Cinnamon. Burnt caramel on creme brûlée. Not as good as the nose (thanks to the oak) but quite drinkable. Let’s order another dram.

Finish: Medium. Nice. Lindt with red chilis.

Overall Score: 7.5

Berrys Arran

I’m a fan of Arran. Not it’s number #1 fan, mind you. More a there’s nothing wrong with this whisky fan. So I was quite happy to finish off the evening with something that I kind of trusted.

But as Mufasa will tell you trust is a dangerous thing.

A seventeen year old bottled in 2014, matured in ex-Marsala casks and paired with my chocolate pistachio dessert. Bad idea.

Nose: Burnt caramel. Cabernet Sauvignon. Black grapes. Wait, what’s that? Is it sulphur? Maybe. There’s certainly something dodgy going on here. Black salt. Dry all spice.

Palate: Something is definitely off here. Not Defcon 4 off but off. I don’t like it. Caramel. Black peppercorns. Slightly spent oak. Not working for me.

Finish: Medium to long. Oaky.

Overall Score: 6.2

Bit of a disastrous evening if you ask me. The food made up for it, though.

My favourite part of the evening was when one of the serving staff insisted that Caperdonich was an Islay whisky. I merely nodded and smiled. Because, like most of the whiskies tasted that evening, what was the point?

Kilchoman Madeira Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Kilchoman | Region: Islay | ABV: 50%
Nose: 5.8 | Palate: 5.8 | Finish: 5.8 | Overall Score: 5.8

Review
I seem to writing only about Islay whiskies of late. Thing is I have a pocket book full of tasting notes after my trip to the Feis Ile that I have to commit to the site. So you’re going to have to bear with me for a while.

We managed to spend a fun few hours at the distillery indulging in, not only some whiskies but, chocolate desserts too. The Machir Bay brownie, I must admit, is better than any whisky produced there. Sure, that might be a slight exaggeration but every time I think of Kilchoman I think of that brownie. So draw your own conclusion.

Kilchoman have been quite busy of late adding experimental expressions to both their core and special range and the one I was most excited about getting my hands on was the young ‘un matured fully in Madeira Casks.

Back in 2011 the distillery filled 17 casks which had previously held Madeira wine and set them to rest. Then in 2015 they managed to extract 6,100 bottles from those casks and put together what is, in my opinion, one of the more average Kilchomans’ I have ever tasted.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 50% ABV

Nose: Nope. Don’t like it. Really spirity. Feinty spirits. Quite sharp. I’m missing the delicate robustness that I’m accustomed to with Kilchomans. Quite woody. There is some vanilla and toffee sweetness. Touch of garam masala. For some reason this one screams young. And it really shouldn’t given how pristine Kilchoman are with their spirit and casks. 5.8

Palate: Equally spirity. Equally upsetting. Muddle of sharp pin pricks with an almost apologetic fruitiness. Sorry, nothing to see here. 5.8

Finish: Medium to who care anymore? 5.8

Overall Comments: Well, what can I say? I’ve decided I don’t like these wine maturations. Especially Madeira. Laphroaig struggled with it with 2016’s Cairdeas. It was not a total disaster like this but still nothing spectacular. I don’t know if a few more years will do the trick or only make it worse. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s any stock left over to even know. And, frankly, I couldn’t care less.

Overall Score: 5.8