Lagavulin 12 (2012) vs Laphroaig CS 005

Laphroaig 10 Lagavulin 12

Review
I had been meaning to put two hard hitters against each other for a while now but never got around to doing it. But tonight I had the house all to my self and figured I had no excuses.

For this epic heads up battle I chose two of my favorite cask strength whiskies from Islay: The Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005 and the Lagavulin 12 – 2012.

Individually they both score very high on my scale but I had never had them side to side so I never really knew which one I liked better.

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Lagavulin 12 . 2012 / 56.1%

Nose: Peat butter. Smoke. Red apples. Sour (like tamarind). Lots of greens. Sharp acid like lemon citrus. Ash
Palate: Fiery peppers. Apricot. Pineapple sponge cake. Peat. Smoke. Fresh greens. Cucumber.
Finish: Long. Mint. Spice.

Nose: 22 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

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Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005 / 57.2%

Nose: Sweet. Honey. Jam. Maple. Cardboard. Red sweets. Coca Cola. Cherry licorice. Caramel. Hint of peat. Iodine.
Palate: Cherries. Black pepper. Bitter chocolate. Peat. All spice. Burnt jam. Oak.
Finish: Long. Spicy. Dark chocolate. Iodine.

Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

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So here’s the verdict.

While the Lagavulin 12 is a quality dram the Laphroaig just manages to edge past in the nose and the overall balance of the dram. It is just that much more flavorful with hints of exotic.

The Lagavulin is raw power while the Laphroaig much easier to drink even though it’s at a higher ABV. And for me that tips the scales in it’s balance.

Definitely a very enjoyable match up!

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Ardbeg SMWS 33.125 Salted Caramel Lollipop

Ardbeg SMWS Alligator

Distillery/Brand: SMWS | Region: Islay | ABV: 64.2% | Color: Pale Straw

Nose: 24 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94

Review
I was at an Ardbeg tasting recently and after sampling the Auriverdes (which left a lot to be desired) we were told there was a surprise waiting for us right at the end.

The surprise happened to be an absolutely wonderful bottling of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This one was bottle 33.125 aptly named the Salted Caramel Lollipop. This single cask Ardbeg was seven years old and served up at a delicious 64.2%.

Our host for the evening, an ex-SMWS chap, claimed that the spirit inside was actually a seven year old Ardbeg Alligator which, if true, completely blows my mind!

We’ve been having debates on how hard it is for distilleries to bring out flavors in younger whiskies given the state of high demand and here you have a fledgling powerhouse that delivers a slap in the face of all these claims.

If this really is the Alligator then I’m definitely in love with the younger sister.

Nose: The smoke is upfront and unapologetic. Salty barbecue sausages with a fresh fennel and cucumber salad on the side. For dessert there is a toffee pudding served with a side of citrus orange and pineapple. Sublime.

Palate: Firing on all cylinders! Sweet apricots soaked in sugarcane juice with a garnish of fresh mint. But it’s the spices that are king. They come at you with a thousand prickles of pleasure. You want to savor it for a long time but instinct forces you to swallow.

Finish: Gorgeously long and with all the spices in all their glory.

This is truly a sublime single cask whisky and forces me to ask this question. Is getting young spirit to taste awesome so hard?

Rating: 94

Ardbeg Auriverdes

Ardbeg AuriVerdes
Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 49.9% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review

It’s that time of the year again, folks! When emotions trump logic. When clear thinking is clouded. When, like crack addicts, we go insane for that one hit we have been waiting for since June 1 of last year.

I am, of course, talking about Ardbeg’s yearly Festival Release. This years’ must-have bottling is called the AuriVerdes.

‘Auri’ means gold and ‘Verdes’ means green. Which is basically to say there is gold liquid inside this green bottle. In Portugese. Not terribly creative I admit. It’s also the name of the Brazilian football team and, with the World Cup just around the corner, this is quite possibly a lawsuit in the making.

Let’s hope FIFA doesn’t bankrupt Ardbeg. How would we spend our hard earned cash on mediocre whiskies, otherwise?

This one has seen quite a different maturation process compared to other Ardbegs. The casks are American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels with normal Bourbon specification charring. Once in Scotland the heads were replaced with new American oak heads treated to a particular (and secret) toasting regime.

These re-worked barrels were then filled with spirit and ultimately blended together with Ardbeg from 1st and 2nd fill Bourbon barrels.

The idea was that the different wood elements would each lend their unique flavor profiles and create an entirely new flavor profile.

Did they succeed in a creating a unique flavored Ardbeg? Yes. Is it fantastic? Nope.

Nose: Very herbacious and heathery. Looking at the pale olive liquid in the glass one need not be surprised. The peat is subdued amid the vanilla butterscotch and stewed fruit. Some garam masala finds it’s way towards the end as well. The aromas are there but just not confident enough to create a lasting impression.

Palate: Quite thin and weak in my opinion. Very unlike an Ardbeg should be. Maybe they’re going for a newer audience that likes their whiskies unchallenging. Spicy spearmint with the same ashy greens as the nose. Maybe a chocolate pear in there too.

Finish: Medium with a touch of spice.

Had it at a tasting recently and a majority of Ardbeg fans in the room turned their noses up. As an avid anti-marketing whisky fan it pains me to see my favorite distillery riding on the back of it’s cult status and cool gimmicks instead of really focusing their blood and guts into making their whiskies the best in the world.

Which they were. And can still be.

Rating: 85

Macallan Select Oak

Macllan SelectOak

Distillery/Brand: Macallan | Region: Highland | ABV: 40% | Color: Pale Straw
Nose: 21 | Taste: 20 | Finish: 20 | Balance: 20 | Rating: 81

Review
I have had the pleasure of meeting Bob Dalgarno, the man responsible for crafting these Macallan whiskies and I have to tell you he knows his stuff.

The painstaking procedure he goes to ensure consistency of color, flavor and taste is mind boggling. Macallan whiskies have no added color which makes it even more impressive. But what I like most about Bob is that he’s an honest guy and calls a spade a spade.

Which makes me want to believe even he realizes that this is not one of his finest creations.

The spirit has been matured in three different casks – Spanish Sherry, American Oak that held sherry and ex-Bourbon. That is a lot of work for an entry level single malt but, unfortunately, it doesn’t translate into greatness.

Nose: Very vanilla sweet. Sherry raisins on oaky cinnamon and clove peppers. Lots of warm toffee and raisin butterscotch. Hints of chocolate and black salted apples. It’s not a bad nose mind you.

Palate: Tragically weak. Simply fails to excite. The chocolate and dark honey are shadows as are the cinnamon and pepper spices.

Finish: What finish?

Now let me tell you something. I am notoriously against food pairings because it doesn’t let me enjoy my whisky properly but with this one I am willing to make an exception. If you want this whisky to taste brilliant pair it with a tiramisu cake. It will knock your socks off.

To get your socks back on go back to drinking it neat.

Rating: 81

Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years

Nikka Taketsuru 17
Distillery/Brand: Nikka Taketsuru | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
Taketsuru San is a legend. He worked in Scotland during the early part of the 20th century at Longmorn and then at Hazelburn all the while carefully plotting a plan that would take the whisky world by storm.

He went back to Japan armed with whisky making knowledge and a Scottish wife (of no relevance to this review by the way) and began work at Kotobukiya (which would later become Suntory). Then in 1934 he decided to open up his own distillery and chose Yoichi on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaid. He believed that this part of the country most resembled Scotland.

This distillery would be named Nikka.

This pure 2013 pure malt is a homage to the great man who is responsible for some of my finest moments in whisky drinking. This blend also has the distinction of winning the 2014 World Whiskies Award for Best Blend. Not that I give a toss about whisky awards.

Nose: The sherry influence is is obvious. Dark honey and marmalade fig jam on slightly burnt toast. There is a touch of fresh mint and almonds too. It gets fruitier over time with pears and red berries. All this against a backdrop of decadent oaky chocolate cake.

Palate: Rich. Robust. Creamy. Unmistakable sherry raisins and chocolate maple. The black coffee peppers bring the spice while the ripe sultanas add a touch of fruit.

Finish: Spicy date on autumn leaves.

This is quite a bold whisky and unashamed of it’s flavors. I’d love to see a cask strength version of this.

Nikka, are you reading this?

Rating: 92

Teeling Single Grain

Teeling SingleGrain 46

Distillery/Brand: Teeling | Region: Ireland | ABV: 46% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94

Review
I don’t know a hell of a lot of about Teeling Irish Whiskey. Actually I don’t know a hell of a lot about Irish Whiskey either. And I sure as hell do not know much about grain whiskey let alone single grain whiskey.

So I was very intrigued when I found out that an Irish Single Grain had been making quite a bit of noise of late by winning the World Whisky Awards Best Grain Whiskey.

What’s interesting is that most grain whiskies are blended but this one is a single grain – meaning it’s from the same distillery. What is even more interesting is that it’s spent pretty much all it’s life in Californian Cabernet Sauvignon casks (which would explain the reddish hue when you hold it up to the light).

Teeling refuse to tell me how old it is and, frankly, I don’t think you need to care. And what I really like is the $65USD price tag on this whiskey which is a pleasant contrast to exorbitant NAS expressions of late. And for that I will give it an extra point (not that it needs it!).

Nose: This one makes you wait. Almost teasing you because you can feel there’s something special hidden down there but it’s not ready to present itself yet. Twenty minutes later it’s resolve weakens and it starts to open up. Very sweet vanilla and black pepper with hints of fresh coconut shavings. Followed by butterscotch on brown cereal and finely chopped almonds. Wait a bit longer for red grapes, apples and creme brulee with a hint of cigar leaf. The aromas are delicately layered on top of one another in near perfect harmony.

Palate: One of the great deliveries of late. Unlike the nose the spirit pounces on your palate in a dizzying tumble of flavors. First the apples and walnuts layered in expertly between soft slices of banana bread drizzled with a winey nectar. Almost sherry like. The grapes are back (both red and green) accompanied by a strong dark cinnamon & licorice dusted with cocoa powder.

Finish: Restrained at first but boisterous after a bit. Pinging the mouth with chocolate and mocha prickles.

This expression has such an exotic flavor I’m not sure how to describe it. It takes you totally by surprise. What ever these guys are doing with those Californian Cabernet Sauvignon casks they’re on to something.

Rating: 94