Laphroaig 25 – 2014 Edition

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 45.1% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94


I think I will always remember this day. It was my last day on Islay, having gone there for the Islay Festival, and I was just headed back after a fair amount of festivities at the Ardbeg open day.

As me and my friend headed back around 3PM we figured we’d stop by at Laphroaig for a quick tour or a tasting they might have on. In the car park we saw that there was a Premium Tasting scheduled in half an hour.

Quite excited at the prospect we walked into the visitors’ shop only to be told that the tasting was full and there were no more seats available. I almost pleaded and made the saddest face I possibly could. The gentleman behind the counter couldn’t do anything but maybe if we spoke to David, the Tasting Manager, he might be able to do something.

David, while apologetic, said there wasn’t much he could do since the tasting was limited to 11 people and it was all pre-paid and sold out. Once again I made the most pitiful face that I could.

Now let me tell you something about David. He has a heart of gold. It took me about four seconds of pulling that sad face to break him and so he said ‘Fine! I’ll let you two lads in on the tasting.’

And what a tasting it turned out to be! There were a couple of Cairdeas’, the new 15, a single cask from Warehouse No1 and a couple that David let us taste from behind a locked cupboard (though he made us promise not to tell anyone!). But I was extremely happy to see that this 25 year old, bottled in 2014, was also part of the lineup.

I’ve had the previous 2011 bottling which is quite beautiful so I was anxiously waiting to see how this one would taste.

My sample is from an open bottle and bottled at cask strength of 45.1% – it is a mix of Oloroso and ex-Bourbon casks.

Nose: TCP. Iodine. Seaweed. Hint of peat. Soft. Perfectly balanced. Soft lemon citrus. Lychees. Hint of cherries. Quite fruity. Quite dry. This is such a beautifully restrained nose. Has all the glory of Islay and the finesse of perfect ageing. 23/25

Palate: Hint of char. Sweet. Again beautifully balanced. Soft fruits. Lemon citrus. That oak is just perfect. Cinnamon. Touch of dark chocolate. The perfectly layered flavors work seamlessly and the extra years add to the complexity. Love it. 24/25

Finish: Nice and long. Quite drying. Ashy. Cinnamon rub. Could be a touch of something bitter but a pleasant bitter at that. 24/25

Overall Comments: This particular age statement from Laphroaig will always be a favorite of mine. I think the oak and the spirit really come together beautifully here. Of course near flawless cask selection is key. But more importantly I will remember this whisky for the unexpectedly brilliant tasting we had thanks to kindly David.

I owe you one.

Rating: 94


Kilkerran WIP 7 Bourbon Cask

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Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 54.1% | Colour: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 95

If you read my stuff you know I have had this fascination with Campbeltown whiskies for the longest time. And, as I’ve said a million times, there is literally no rationale for that.

However, it’s a good fascination to have I feel. Springbank keeps me quite suitably entertained thanks to Longrow and, of course, Springbank itself. Though, Hazelburn needs to try harder.

Glengyle, makers of Kilkerran, are the other reason why I’m still holding on to the Campbeltown fetish. I came across Kilkerran when they released WIP 4 and I remember introducing it to my whisky club here who had not yet heard of this distillery. The raised eyebrows and lip smacking that followed was testament to the spirit inside.

The WIP, or Work In Progress, is a good way of showing to the general consumer the journey of a whisky as it matures through the years until becoming standard. It is also a smart way of generating some much needed revenue as time goes by.

The very first Kilkerran was released as a five year old whisky under the WIP 1 label way back in 2009. Since then every year they have released a subsequently numbered release. Till WIP 4 there was only a bourbon maturation but WIP 5 onwards there has been a Sherry and Bourbon Oak split.

I think it’s a nice way of seeing how the whisky is coming along and especially nice to compare it alongside the different maturations. Alas, this year is the last of the WIPs since 2016 will see the spirit reach 12 years of age and be considered the ‘standard’ bottling of this awesome distillery.

I have pretty much tried them all, except for WIP 1, and have been keenly noticing how the whisky has been evolving while at the same time establishing it’s signature style.

However, the one that I was most interested in was this years’ Bourbon Cask release because it was the first Cask Strength of the series. And if you know me you know that saying ‘Cask Strength’ in front of me is like saying ‘Injured Atlantic Fur seal’ in front of a Great White Shark. Me being the shark, of course.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at cask strength of 54.1%

Nose: Wet pebbles. Limestone. Sand. Crisp barley. Hint of warm milk. Vanilla. Mild herbs. Touch of cardboard. Drying for some reason even though there’s no wine here. Almonds. Baby ginger. Quite like this nose. There’s some quality wood and distillate at work here. 23/25

Palate: Citrus. Orange blossom. Cointreau. Cardamom. White peppers. Coffee. Vanilla. Chocolate. What perfect weight here. Get those wet pebbles again. Starts of savory and then takes on a nice sweetness. 24/25

Finish: Very long. Quite dry. Oak. Fresh grass. Coats your mouth with honey. Very pleasing sweetness. 24/25

Overall Comments: This is a beautifully constructed whisky. I’m a sucker for good old fashioned whisky making. Good distillate cut right. Good quality wood. Optimum storage conditions. Everything just working towards making this one of the greats of the coming few years. Let’s just hope they continue doing what they are doing and not one day plan on sending their whisky to space as a distraction.

Yes, you Ardbeg. You!

Rating: 95

Lagavulin 12 – 2014

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.4% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

I remember my first Lagavulin and, yes, it was the 16; just like everyone else. Unlike most first-timers who can get dissuaded by the ashy peat and smoke my palate actually cut through that and went to the delicate sweetness that nestled underneath.

It was one of the first whiskies that I had reviewed (quite a cringe-worthy review if you ask me) but at least I knew a good whisky when I saw one. Even back then.

Since then, I am quite happy to report, that I have yet to be disappointed by a Lagavulin. They don’t release a million expressions a year, instead, choosing to focus on what they do best.

One of the standard expressions they churn out now is the 12 year old cask strength which they’ve been releasing every year for the last 13 years. Each edition is a different strength and with minor variances in taste.

What I’ve done for this particular tasting is, for the very first time, pair a dark chocolate with the whisky and report on the how the palate is influenced.

The 2014 bottling has been vatted from re-fill American Oak from spirit distilled in 2001 and 2002. My sample is from a previously opened bottle (almost full) and served at a cask strength of 54.4%

Nose: Oysters. Sharp lime. Understated ash. Apples. Apricot. Jute bag. Melon rind. White pepper. Gets sootier as you let it breathe. Touch of water will open it up a bit. Becomes slightly sweeter, though, not by much. Becomes drier. Almost cardboard dry. Good nose. And I didn’t expect anything less. 23/25

Palate: Chocolate. Lime. Lemon. Pineapple. Salt. White pepper. Very intense. Ash. Smoked barbeque. Quite savory. Touch bitter. With water it’s a gentler dram. Less spice. Quite chewy. 22/25

Finish: Long. Oily. Touch of oak. Grass. Almost mentholated. Leaves the mouth numb, though. With water is much nicer with more accentuated flavors. 23/25

For my chocolate pairing experiment I decided to go with 70% Lindt. A small piece to coat my mouth before tasting the spirit.

Tasting notes with chocolate:

Palate: Very interesting. Creatives a protective coating and cuts the spice. Brings out more fruit. Makes it seem full-bodied. I definitely prefer it after a small piece of dark chocolate.

Finish: The finish sees the most dramatic difference after the introduction of chocolate. Lots of mocha. Java. Espresso. Cocoa beans. Cinnamon. Lovely.

Overall Comments: True to it’s range it is a big and bold whisky. It doesn’t promise layer upon layer of complex flavors but what it has are on point. Very tasty dram. Made even more tasty with a bit of bitter dark chocolate.

Rating: 90

Yamazaki 25

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Distillery/Brand: Suntory Yamazaki | Region: Japan | ABV: 43% | Colour: Old Gold
Nose: 25 | Taste: 25 | Finish: 25 | Balance: 25

This is not a review. This is a declaration.

I finally landed my Moby Dick. Ever since I first laid eyes on that pristine label, the minimalist bottle design and the fiery red liquid inside I knew I just had to have it. It cost me an arm and a leg to get hold of a bottle a few years ago but I just couldn’t muster up the courage to open it and realize my dreams.

But then last night my good friend Nitin decided that gifting me a 50ml sample of this would be the perfect birthday present! And it was.

I even took notes but somehow my phone decided that judging this whisky would be a travesty and so promptly lost the memo.

Is this the best whisky I’ve ever tasted? Probably not. But is it any good? You bet your Bonsai Tree it is! It’s, to put it mildly, one of the most fabulously crafted spirits I’ve ever had.

But more than that it’s the fulfilment of a five year old dream.

Now I don’t want to sound like I’m gushing so I’ll go straight to my notes.

Nose: Pretty awesome.

Palate: Love it!

Finish: Beautiful.

Balance: Out of this world.

Overall Comments: I’m going to give this a perfect score because it didn’t let me down even though I had built it up so much in my head.

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix

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Distillery/Brand: Glenfiddich | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.6% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 91

If you’re a whisky drinker chances are you’ve heard of the legend behind the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix. If you haven’t I suggest you nerd up real quick.

In 2010 Scotland experienced some insanely heavy snowfall. In fact there was twice as much snow to fall than previously ever recorded. Now living here in Dubai that might sound like a dream vacation but for the Glenfiddich warehouses it was a disaster (or opportunity – depends how you see it).

For so much snow fell on those tin roofs that five of them collapsed in a massive heap on top of more than 250,000 casks maturing below. How they managed to save all but three casks from instantly getting ‘chill-filtered’ is beyond me. But they did. And when summer rolled around they set about repairing the damage.

Now there’s no point in experiencing a disaster and not being able to commemorate it, right? Well, that’s exactly what the marketing department felt and thought it would be a good idea to release a one-off special bottling to mark the occasion Mother Nature decided to give you a snowy hiding.

The presentation tin box is adorned with the image of the aftermath and, hence, the name. For within the fallen beams and the bright Scotland winter sky is the silhouette of a phoenix rising up to the heavens. I must admit I would never have been able to see it my self but you’ll be surprised what a marketing degree and a tab of LSD can do.

You might be forgiven for thinking I’m being sarcastic but that’s how I show gratitude. Marketing gimmicks aside this is one fine whisky. Because to commemorate the event 12000 bottles of the exposed spirit was released in a beautiful black bottle and presentation case.

Whiskies between 13 and 30 years of age in the bottle represent 50% first-fill bourbon barrels, 30% second-fill bourbon barrels, and 20% sherry barrels. The result is a beautifully delicate spirit served at a cask strength of 47.6%

Nose: Sharp vanilla. Creamy. Custard. Quite nutty. Very floral. Heather. White flowers. Sponge cake. Danish biscuits. Hardboiled sweets. Butterscotch. Very pleasant to bring to your nose. Might be the product of a winter time disaster but screams summer time. 23/25

Palate: Super sweet. Honey. Vanilla. Very mild spices. White roses. Wild flowers. Heather. Shortbread. Touch of ginger. Such a floral palate. It’s literally like a eating a honey drizzled bouquet. I like it! 23/25

Finish: Extremely long. Creamy. Vanilla. And, of course, floral. 23/25

Overall Comments: I had this at a tasting with a close friend who insisted it didn’t taste as good as when he had it at his place and insisted I try it at his place before forming an opinion. I’m still waiting for my invite. In the mean time I will go ahead and post this. If you stay tuned you might see me post a modified review soon!

Rating: 91

Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2015 Hand Filled 7 Year Old

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Distillery/Brand: Bunnahabhain | Region: Islay | ABV: 58.6% | Colour: Oloroso
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

As I’m sure many of you know of my Islay escapades in May when I went there for the 2015 Festival shenanigans. Since it was my first time on Islay I pretty much went everywhere wide-eyed and mouth agape in excitement.

While my entire trip was something of a gorgeous fairy-tale it was the visit to Bunnahabhain, on their open day, that really set itself apart for me. My friend and I started with dropping our car off in a field and then proceeded to wait almost 45 minutes for the distillery bus to come pick us up.

So fierce was the wind that we almost gave up half way through and were actually entertaining thoughts of heading back. Good thing we didn’t.

We entered the distillery to live music, games and quite possibly the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life. Already feeling quite happy we went up to the distillery shop to pick up some bottles.

Now I’m not a huge fan of the Bunna, the 18 and 25 are very good, mind you, but the other stuff I’m not a big fan of. However, when I was told we had the option of hand-filling our bottles straight from Oloroso casks there was no way I was going to pass up that opportunity.

We made our way into the damp warehouse where sat three huge Oloroso barrels. The sweet smell of sherry and whisky was in the air.

We drew from three casks that day. There was a 12 year old first-fill (Cask1490), an eight year old peated second-fill (Cask 3660) and the one that I’m holding in my hand right now, the seven year old matured in second-fill Oloroso Gonzalez Byass sherry, drawn from Cask 4903.

Bunna collage

I could see the gunk and the sediments from the cask as I held the glass up to the island light. I have never seen a whisky nor felt joy that pure. Quite possibly one of my finest moments as a whisky enthusiast.

My sample is from a personally sealed and signed bottle, distilled on 22.10.08 and bottled on 29.05.15 (by my self, I might add!) and served at a cask strength of 58.6%

Nose: Super sweet. So much Oloroso. Dry dates. Dry oak. Chocolate. Black pepper. Cinnamon. Brownies. Dry leaves. Cigar leaf. Almonds. Vanilla. Toffee apples. Mellows out a touch with a drop of water. Slightly more butterscotch. More caramel. Less oak. Beautiful. Sweet as! 23/25

Palate: Very creamy. Digestive biscuits. Quite spicy. Oak. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Chocolate fudge. Dates. Gets even more creamy with water. Becomes less spicy. Slightly more savory. Such a smooth and creamy palate. 23/25

Finish: Very long. Oaky. Hint of spice. Maybe a touch bitter. But more of a bitter chocolate. 23/25

Overall Comments: This is a gorgeous sherry monster. I love the fact that I’ve drawn this out of the cask full of all the grime and the sediments that come with a whisky this pure. It is quite wonderfully balanced between sweet and savory. The cask strength really brings out the flavors. I prefer it without water, too. Regardless of how they taste these whiskies will always remind me of my best day on Islay.

Review 92

GlenDronach 2002 Single Cask 10yrs

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Distillery/Brand: GlenDronach | Region: Speyside | ABV: 55.6% | Colour: Copper
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

I’m not a huge fan of the Glendronach’s standard bottles. I’ve had the opportunity to taste the 12, 15 Revival, the 18 Allardice and the 21 Parliament. I feel that the sherry is far too big in them. All four of these have seen a lot of Oloroso along their way with the 12 and 21 seeing some PX too.

For those who read my reviews know that I’m not a huge fan of sherry overkill, especially Oloroso.

Though, I must admit, one fine evening at Baxters, in Sydney, I had the great fortune of tasting the 31 Year old Grandeur Batch 001 which is truly a masterclass of a whisky. When sherry is done right it is the most gorgeous thing in the world. Else, a nagging annoyance.

Which brings me to the Glendronachs where sherry has been done right. Their Cask Strength series, up to Batch 4 now, is quite a revelation. And, I now realize, so might be there Single Cask (Cask Strength) offerings.

The one in my glass is 10 years old and matured exclusively in a PX Puncheon (though, I couldn’t find any information on whether the cask was first-fill or second). If I was to hazard a guess I would go with second.

My sample is from a brand new bottle, distilled on July 3, 2002 and bottled in May 2013 from Cask #1988 and served at a cask strength of 55.6% (by the way if they had waited a couple of months they could have bottled it as an eleven year old but I guess they didn’t feel like making the extra 20 quid).

Nose: Milk chocolate. Dark chocolate. Quite dry. Fresh leather. Pine combs. Raisins. Figs. Liquorice. Digestives. Dark jam. Vanilla. Add a touch of water and it opens to a more fortified wine. Demerara sugar. Daiquiri. I really like the nose. Big. Bold. Beautiful. No relation to the American soap of the same name. 23/25

Palate: Super creamy. Dry spice rub. Ground red chili chocolate. Dates. Cinnamon. Oak. Cigar smoke. Figs. Raisins. Hint of chalk. Adding water makes it sweeter. Less oaky. Now more purple fruits than before. Now with clove. Cumin. I find this one equally good with or without water. 23/25

Finish: Long. Leather. Oak. Cinnamon. Quite dry. A touch rough perhaps. Not much change with the addition of water. 23/25

Overall Comments: I’ve realized why I prefer some sherry bombs compared to others. It’s the alcohol strength. Anything less than 52% shifts the balance in favor of the sherry whereas the higher strength brings the original spirit and the sherry influence closer to a more harmonious offering.

Rating: 92