Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 Year old – Batch 003

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
ABV: 55.3%
Colour: Young Sauternes

Nose: 24
Taste: 23
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

Review
This one is awesome!

No preamble, no build up. Straight up this Batch 3 of the Laphroaig Cask Strength series is a gem!

For those who know me know that I’m a little OCD so when I first bought the Batch 004 I instantly knew I had to collect the entire series. Good thing we were only up to Batch 005 up until that point. Of the lot the one I’m most glad to have acquired is this one.

Nose: That same elegant and poised peat that I’ve come to love from this series. But this time with a nutty almond surprise that blends in beautifully with a drop of cherries and red apple licorice. Give it time and it turns beautifully green. First some olives in brine, then green peas and edemame all against the backdrop of fresh oaky grass. Brilliant.

Palate: What a robust and creamy delivery! A lovely discourse of minty maple syrup and chocolate sprinkled artfully with black peppers and a touch of dusty red berries. I almost feel there is a cheeky sherry cask in here some where. I could be wrong but I would love to be right!

Finish: Lingers long and true with just the right amount of oak.

This is truly a masterclass in balance and elegance.

Rating: 93

Ardbeg Day Feis Ile 2012

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
ABV: 56.7%
Colour: Young Sauternes

Nose: 21
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 22

Review
This particular review is about two years in the making. When this 2012 Fies Ile came out there was a mad rush by Ardbeggians (ArdbegHeads / BegHeads – take your pick) around the world to snag a bottle or two.

Luckily I was able to procure a couple for my self. I had a taste of it soon after and remembered not liking it much. Far too flinty for me, if you know what I mean. Had another taste a year later (from the same bottle) and the flintiness had mellowed a touch. And then finally another sample (same bottle) one more year later and it began to work.

Now I honestly don’t know whether the changing spirit was just me or some sort of chemical trickery. Unfortunately I didn’t keep notes for the first two times (I wish I had) because they would have made for some interesting comparisons.

Regardless, here’s what I think about it the third time around.

The spirit is a mix of eight, nine and twelve year old bourbon casks married in a sherry butt and left to develop.

Nose: There is that initial spent match / flint spark I had been getting the first two times but now with less intensity. I think letting this one breathe is best because that smell dissipates letting the others come through. Quite oily with a thick brine on peat. Brushed with a coastal sea salt. The sweeter notes come through next with an acrid green apple and young grapefruit sharpness. Still not my favorite nose.

Palate: Quite peaty with an earthy bonfire ash quality to it. Not entirely terrible, mind you. I like the citrus on this one; it’s like a dark orange covered in melon rind. The coastal sea salt is back and with it some white peppers. If the spirit was weaker these flavors may not have worked but the full bodied mouthfeel lends support.

Finish: Dark chocolates and spicy licorice. I would have liked it to have been longer but if medium is what Ardbeg wants then medium is what I will have to live with.

Is this my favorite Ardbeg? No. Is it worth the mad rush in June every year. I don’t think so. Do I want it on my bar, regardless? Yes.

Such is the allure of this distillery.

Rating: 87

Glenmorangie Companta

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Distillery/Brand: Glenmorangie
Region: Highland
ABV: 46%
Colour: Old Sauternes

Nose: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 22

Review
Glenmorangie’s been getting a bit of airtime recently thanks to a certain Mr Jim Murray for naming their Ealanta his whisky of the year. Now let me tell you something. I don’t mind Jims’ choices but this one was way off the mark.

Then I heard about the Companta doing the rounds and getting some rave reviews. So I was excited when one of the members of my whisky club decided to serve this at one of our tastings.

Inspired by Dr Bill’s travels across France’s greatest vineyards The Companta is a result of a mix of spirit extra matured in Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart and those of a sweet fortified wine from Côtes du Rhône.

Nose: It’s quite interesting. Carries a lot of tannins to begin with. And with it a bunch of cherries served atop a sponge cake and drizzled with rose water infused with crushed black peppers. Initially there is a dry yeasty aroma which dissipates with time and oxygen.

Palate: Could have been sensational but it chose not to. Lots of red fruits, dark berries and fortified cherry liquor. This is accompanied by woody black pepper and clove spices.

Finish: Decently long and lingering with a woody chocolate tannin quality.

Once again I am a victim of over hype. I had convinced my self that this spirit was going to be sublime. Instead it was quite good, at best.

Rating: 88

Chichibu Chibidaru 2009

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Distillery/Brand: Chichibu
Region: Japan
ABV: 53.5%
Colour: Young Sauternes

Nose: 22
Taste: 20
Finish: 21
Balance: 21

Review
I must be honest. I have a soft spot for anything that comes out of the Land of the Rising Sun. I love the assertive flavors but more than that I simply love the way they package their spirits. There is a graphic design case study in each bottle.

This particular Chichibu is a 2009 vintage bottled in 2013 making it barely legal (sorry, couldn’t resist!). It’s been nurtured in the Japanese version of the Quarter Cask to accelerate the maturation process. This quarter cask is known as the Chibidaru. Unlike the Scottish QC which has less staves this one actually has the staves shortened and re-purposed.

Brought out at a tasting for my whisky club it was a hit or miss expression with some of the members loving it and some not overly impressed. I was not overly impressed.

Nose: Lots of tropical fruits. Papaya. Mango. Overripe papaya. Overripe mango. Like taking all the fruits together and mulching them in a wooden bowl. And then sprayed with a buttery biscuit maltiness to create an almost humid environment. It’s not bad, mind you.

(A glass was left for over an hour to breathe and these are the collective nosing notes of the society members for that experiment: jaggery, Christmas cake, nutmeg, almonds, butterscotch, cinnamon, cardamom, peach and star anise. It actually became quite intense.)

Palate: I found it a little weird. Something not quite right about it. Very overripe papaya which I don’t mind terribly but I draw the line at stale coconut oil. It is my least favorite flavor and it came through quite strongly. There are also dark red fruits with a black pepper sprinkle but the oily coconut is too distracting for me.

Finish: Medium with a black pepper spiciness.

With so many members liking this expression I think I will re-visit it and try and eke out the positives. Till then I will choose to remain unimpressed.

Rating: 84

Caol ila 18 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Caol Ila
Region: Islay
ABV: 43%
Colour: Pale Straw

Nose: 23
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 22

Review
I consider Caol Ila the anonymous support system that keeps the whisky industry flourishing. Founded in 1846 the distillery changed many hands until, like most distilleries, it landed in the hands of drink giants Diageo.

Every single whisky drinker in the world, without fail, has had a Caol Ila pass through his lips thanks to Diageo using it as the main malt for it’s Johnnie Walker blended range. What’s a little sad is that 99% of them have no idea the distillery even exists.

They have three core expressions (12, 18 & 25) with a smattering of special releases. Generally quite tame they are one of the lighter Islay whiskies.

Nose: It’s quite a sweet nose with a vanilla cedar quality to it. Fresh ream of paper with a hint of lemony peat. Finally butterscotch on top of smoky cold cuts. Quite lovely actually.

Palate: Understated and restrained. It could be mistaken for being one dimensional but I don’t think it is. The lemony peppers work well with the apricot slices while the woody limestone gives your palate a nice coating.

Finish: The understated peat is back with a touch of spice.

I like this whisky. I think it goes about it’s business without becoming over bearing.

Rating: 89

Berry’s Islay Reserve

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Distillery/Brand: Berry’s
Region: Islay
ABV: 46%
Colour: Sunlight

Nose: 22
Taste: 21
Finish: 21
Balance: 21

Review
Berry’s (or Berry Bros & Rudd if you like) are a dependable independent bottler responsible for a string of award winning experiments. Including winning Independent Bottler of the Year on multiple occasions.

Which means that this Islay blend was under tremendous pressure to perform. And it looks like it suffered from a case of performance anxiety.

Nose: Hhmmmm is there a Laphroaig in here some where? The mild iodine certainly thinks so. The hardboiled sweets and sea salt come next with a side of cardboard peat. But I feel there is something missing.

Palate: A touch one-dimensional in my opinion. A spicy lemon tartness with a touch of honey and chalky limestone. Is this a Caol Ila mixed in with the Laph? Could very well be.

Finish: Quite spicy though too short for my liking.

It’s half decent. But don’t expect it to blow your socks off.

Review: 85

Parkers Heritage 6th Edition

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Parkers Heritage Collection
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 68.95%
Colour: Old Sauternes

Nose: 23
Taste: 24
Finish: 24
Balance: 23

Review
Ok so here’s the deal. I love Parkers Heritage. And I’ve managed to put Editions 3,4 & 5 safely on my shelf for all to admire. I remember first purchasing the 3rd Edition wondering what I was getting into and then proceeding to get blown away.

This 2012 Sixth Edition features select barrels of 11 year old Heaven Hill rye-based Bourbons mingled with select barrels of the wheated mashbill Heaven Hill uses for the Old Fitzgerald line, also aged for 11 years.

The rye-based Bourbon was pulled from the 4th floor of Rickhouse “R” in Bardstown, while the wheated Bourbon aged on the topmost 7th floor of nearby Rickhouse “T”.

I’ve always felt mixing rye with wheat is a tricky exercise because they tend to fight or cancel each other out. But not here.

Nose: BIG. Lots and lots of vanilla and sticky sugar. The sweetness then mellows out and gives way to chocolate almonds and coffee beans which is quite delicately enveloped in a fine mist of rose water.

Palate: The experiment seems to have worked! The rye and wheat manage to stand out independently from each other. There is big oak smeared with dark berries and cocoa dust rubbed with an equally dusty cinnamon clove. The delivery belies the alcohol strength though adding a drop of water gives it a drop of caramel. Quite fantastic actually.

Finish: Very long. Very oaky. Lingering spices.

This is such a class act of balancing high strength alcohol with flavors that truly work. And for me the real joy is seeing those two grains work so well together.

Rating: 94

Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 50%
Colour: Gold

Nose: 21
Taste: 22
Finish: 21
Balance: 22

Review
I’ve always had a hard time telling one bourbon apart from another. I mean they are essentially the same flavor profiles so it can be a bit tough. But this Rittenhouse Rye is possibly one of the strangest and most unique.

I just don’t know why.

Nose: Unusually fragrant with a pulpy tropical fruit quality. Over ripe jack fruit and soft dates. All on a bed of underlying molasses. Very strange. Not sure if I like it.

Palate: The strangeness continues. Burnt sugar on pudding layered with spicy banana slices. There is that over ripe jack fruit again but this time with a touch of aniseed. Not sure if a bourbon should be tasting like this. I’m still a little confused.

Finish: Oaky dry with a date and rice pudding mix.

Now this is not terrible but it certainly does take you by surprise. Do I want my bourbons tasting like this? I don’t know. I really don’t.

Rating: 86

Evan Williams 23 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Evan Williams 23 Year old
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 53.5%
Colour: Old Gold

Nose: 24
Taste: 24
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

Review
I’ve realized I managed to get quite lucky during my initial purchase period as a whisky drinker. I don’t know why I chose to invest in this 23 year old class act but so glad that I did.

Nose: A lovely clove marmalade on burnt toast with a side of caramel marchiato dusted with sweet cocoa powder. One of the finest noses I have ever come across.

Palate: Strong and creamy hot. Lots of dark chocolate, raisins and plums with a hint of cherries. I remember the first time I ever tried this bourbon – it literally evaporated off my tongue onto my palate. One of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had.

Finish: Seductively long with a woody cinnamon sprinkle.

This is an absolute beaut of a drink and re-affirms my faith in this world class distillery.

Rating: 94

Elijah Craig 18 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Bottling: Elijah Craig 18 Year old
Region: Kentucky, USA
ABV: 45%
Colour: Burgundy

Nose: 23
Taste: 24
Finish: 23
Balance: 23

Review
This exceptional bourbon from Heaven Hill Distilleries is from a single barrel (the Scotch equivalent of single cask) and has spent 18 years in one place becoming sexy. This was one of the first bourbons I had ever tasted and I was hooked!

Nose: Beautifully creamy and elegant. There’s french toast and toffee apples dipped in dark honey with a side of gorgeous vanilla infused roasted carrots.

Palate: The creaminess continues with a chocolate waffle and cherries mixture. But the balanced spices are what makes this special. Black pepper, cloves and cumin all come wonderfully together in tiny pinpricks.

Finish: Long with an oily oakiness and mild spices.

This is truly an exceptional bourbon and one of the oldest I’ve drunk. And let me tell you something. There was a fire 18 years ago at the distillery which wiped out most of the stock so don’t expect a new batch of 18 year olds coming out any time soon.

Rating: 93