Ardbeg 21

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 46% | Colour: Wheat
Nose: 8.6 | Palate: 8.8 | Finish: 8.7 | Overall Score: 8.7

Review
It’s seven in the morning here in Islay. The sun refuses to rise. It’s been spitting for the last 24 hours. The wind is auditioning to be in an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. And I still can’t get the taste of the Ardbeg 21 out of my mouth.

It took me three flight connections, an overnighter in Glasgow and a bumpy plane to Islay to make this impromptu trip. I’m normally not spontaneous but when my buddy from Canada said he was going to be there, along with three other friends, I began thinking. And when Ardbeg sent me a mail inviting me over to try the new Ardbeg 21 I knew there was no way I was going to be able to refuse.

I was at Ardbeg twenty minutes after my plane touched down in the morning and the sign on the bench, as you turn into the distillery, couldn’t have rung any truer for me. Rest and be thankful for you have arrived.

I love that saying.

As we milled around the visitors centre we were greeted by the supremely kind and generous Jackie who poured for us, among other absolutely magnificent old-school Ardbegs, this hugely anticipated release. We sat in the Old Kiln Cafe and took our first sip of the 21 year old.

Matured exclusively in bourbon my sample is from an open bottle and served at 46%

Nose: There’s first the unmistakeable smoke and peat bacon that you can only attribute to Ardbeg. A sweetness but it’s not entirely from fruits. More from a sugared barley. Quite salty. Mussels. Fishnets. Let it relax and it starts to curl open. Green lime. Now there’s some green apples. Melon rind. Red liquorice. And a hint of purple flowers. I love it. Solid. And on point. 8.6

Palate: Still savoury as the nose suggests. But with more citrus this time. The green lime is bigger. As is the lemon. But it all comes on the back of a sooty, charry coal smoke which completely puckers up your taste bud. It’s a warm arrival that coats your mouth and forces you to chew. Dries mid-palate with just the slightest hint of pineapples. This is really working for me. 8.8

Finish: Medium to long. Drying again. Touch of green chillies. 8.7

Overall Comments: I had been constantly second-guessing my self all along my journey here. Was the whisky going to be worth it? Was this trip a good idea? But the allure of Islay and the opportunity to meet friends was strong. Besides Ardbeg had somewhat redeemed themselves with the Committee bottling of the Dark Cove so it was their game to lose. And guess what. I think they’ve hit it out of the park.

Overall Score: 8.7

Balvenie 25 Triple Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 40% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 7.6 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 5.9 | Overall Score: 6.8

Review
This is the part where I write about how Balvenie is a super solid distillery and how David Stewart is arguably one of the best whisky makers the industry has ever seen. And that I have yet to meet a Balvenie that I didn’t like. I mean, I may like some less than others but never truly disliked one, per se.

Until now.

OK, maybe dislike is a strong word. How about meh? Yup, I like meh.

But wait! What if the whisky costs upwards of US$500? Is it then justified to convert the meh into boo? Yup, I think it is. Definitely is.

So boo, you 25 year old lacklustre whisky. Hiding behind dollar signs and that smooth talking salesman at the Duty Free. Shame on you for making a fool of my friend who thought he was going to surprise all of us at his tasting but instead had to graciously agree with us snobs that he had been well and truly hoodwinked.

*exhales slowly* OK I’m done now.

The Triple Cask is the latest of the Balvenies to hit travel retail with an entry level 12 followed by the 16 and this 25 year old. Neither one is cheap for it’s relative age, mind you. Three casks in play here as the name suggests. Sherry, first-fill bourbon and something called traditional whisky cask (which I can only assume means second-fill bourbon). If that is really the case then why they wouldn’t just say that? If it’s something else then please enlighten me.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 40% – WAIT! 40%? Are you kidding me? Who drinks whisky at 40% anymore? Maybe Glaswegian middle-schoolers but certainly not me. This whisky is getting on my nerves now.

Nose: Soft. Weak or understated I can’t tell. Honey-comb. Wild flowers. Heather. I feel the sherry is the more dominant of the three casks. Possibly has a higher percentage in the vatting. That brings out more raisins. OK after all that it’s not so bad. It’s not wooing me like a sultry older woman like it should but it’s certainly trying to flirt. 7.6

Palate: Is this the 12 year old? If I hadn’t slit open the seal my self I would have been convinced that my friend was trying to pull a fast one. But he’s an honest chap and I did, after all, open the bottle my self. Which makes it a rather sad state of affairs don’t you think? Pay five times as much for something which tastes the same if not a tad worse. Oh, well. Oranges. Lindt chocolate. Not dark. Milk. You can feel the sherry again. The 40% is being really tested to it’s limits here because I’m struggling with the mouth. It’s a decent start but peters out mid-palate. I don’t hate it. I’m just irritated.7.0

Finish: You piece of shit. 5.9

Overall Comments: I hate it when this happens. Buy something expensive only for it to taste exactly like something half it’s age and a quarter of it’s price. Like buying a Business Class ticket only to find out you’re in row 54 stuck between a colic baby and a fat sweaty man who has no respect for other peoples’ personal space. Just get me off already.

Overall Score: 6.8

Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 008

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 59.2% | Colour: Deep Gold
Nose: 8.8 | Palate: 8.8 | Finish: 8.8 | Overall Score: 8.8

Review
Is this one of the greatest Islay whisky series ever? I’m inclined to think so.

I first came across this series when the Batch 003 caught my eye. I didn’t know much about whiskies back then but I knew I liked cask strength whiskies and I liked Islay whiskies. And at 35GBP this one was a no-brainer.

Of course, once I opened the bottle and had my first sip I knew that I would have to own every single release from this series – past and future. Given the fact that I have mild OCD anything with a numbered batch meant I had to have the entire set.

Thus, began my journey of securing earlier releases and, like a hound, finding new ones and adding them to my collection. I was fortunate enough to grab the last few straight from the distillery. Believe me there’s nothing like drinking this whisky straight from the bottle while sitting on the stone pier in front of Warehouse No. 1

Ah, nostalgia.

The CS series is matured in first-fill bourbon casks and bottled at natural strength. My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a whopping 59.2%

Nose: Iodine. Lots of it. Red fruits. Moschino cherries. Red grapes. Liquorice. Fishnets. Sea salt flakes. Green tobacco leaf. Mint leaf. Dark cherry chocolate. Cardamom. Betel leaf. Toasted oak. Hint of spice. Very sweet nose which mellows out to a touch of savoury. Fantastic. 8.8

Palate: Boom! Big. Strong. Lots of bite. Strong oak. Jolts the taste buds. Lindt red chilli chocolate. The red grapes again. Fennel. Dries mid-palate. Sea salt. Ceylon black tea. With some water the iodine increases. Becomes even more dry. Prefer it without water, for sure. 8.8

Finish: Long. Oak. Cardamom. Spices. Green tea. 8.8

Overall Comments: Well, what can I say. This one is an absolute corker. Love everything about it. Love it all the more for bringing back memories of Islay.

Overall Score: 8.8

Bruichladdich Feis Ile 2016 PHD

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Distillery/Brand: Bruichladdich | Region: Islay | ABV: 50% | Colour: Gold
Nose: 7.4 | Palate: 7.0 | Finish: 6.8 | Overall Score: 7.1

Review
If you’re into dancing and drinking whisky at the same time then I highly recommend visiting Bruichladdich’s open day during the Islay Whisky Festival.

Food trucks. Multiple bars. Live band. And over 300 dancing people at any given time. It’s an atmosphere hard to beat. Everyone’s having the time of their life.

Including us as we strolled in after a tasting at Ardbeg. After grabbing some much needed pizza we manhandled our way to the back of the distillery premises where the makeshift bars had been set up.

Along with this years’ official Feis bottle there were two more Laddies on the menu. The 2006 and 2008 Islay Grown both terroir whiskies from local processes. Both quite decent. However, the highlight of the day was the auction of two bottles of the 25 year old Yellow Submarine. Because once the auction was over they brought two more 30 litre bottles and proceeded to freely pour it out to an eager crowd. Mighty generous if you ask me.

After shamelessly going back for seconds (and it might have been thirds, too) I settled down at one of the picnic tables to sample this particular offering. This is a fifteen year old vatting of bourbon and wine casks with a virgin oak finish. It proudly states Progressive Hebridean Distillers – PHD – on it’s side followed by the age of the distillery : 135 (years). Hence, known as the Bruichladdich _PHD 135

My sample is from an open bottle (one of 1881) and served at 50% ABV

Nose: Quite sweet. Tangerines. Sweet melon. Vanilla. Cookie dough. It’s a touch floral. Some light honey. Poached red apples. At first there’s a hint of oak but which then starts to become quite prominent. White raisins. Lemon custard. Coffee cake. Not bad. 7.4

Palate: Ooooh. Oak. Maybe too much. Cinnamon. Very drying. Over brewed green tea. I’m not a huge fan of that taste profile, if I am to be completely honest. Ginger. Spice of an uncertain nature. Now more sweeter mid-palate. Dry honey. Melon. Kinder Eggs. Small oranges. Maybe some papaya. The over-oak prevents it from being very good. 7.0

Finish: Medium long. Quite drying. That oak again. That strong green tea. Again. My least favourite part. 6.8

Overall Comments: What can I say? It’s not an entirely bad whisky. I mean I wouldn’t call it lacklustre but it certainly doesn’t have the oooomph to send your tastebuds into overdrive. And I think it has to do with that damned oak. Not sure if the virgin oak is the culprit or it’s a few extra years too old. I guess we’ll never know.

Overall Score: 7.1

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