Laphroaig 14 Years Douglas Laing Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 48.4% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

Review
As part of my trip to the Islay Whisky Festival a couple of weeks I tried to get into as many tastings as I could. One of them happened to be an interesting session with the guys over from Douglas Laing, the independent bottlers.

Douglas Laing are an accomplished whisky bottler claiming to stay as true to the original spirit as possible. The result is some fairly popular expressions.

Big Peat, Double Barrel, Provenance, Directors Cut and Old Particular are some of the names under which they market their wares. However, what I did not know was that they, too, release a festival bottling every year to mark Feis Ile and it is, of course, always something from Islay.

This year they chose to release a single cask Laphroaig aged for 14 years in a Refill Butt (Ref DL10694) under the Old Particular label. Distilled in February 2001 and bottled exactly 14 years later in February 2015 this is one of 636 bottles released.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 48.4%

Nose: Touch of peat. Lime. Lemon. Walnuts. Hint of oak. Hardboiled lemon sweets. Raisins. Ginger. Warm tangerines. Quite fruity too. Peaches. Then the signature Laphroaig flavors come rolling in. A little medicinal. Seaweed. Cherry licorice. This is a wonderful nose. Adds a bit of restrained fruitiness over the traditional house flavors.

Palate: Citrus. Smoke. Barbecue. Peat. White pepper. Spicy. Iodine. After the initial sting of Islay the spirit mellows out towards the sweeter side. Caramel. Milk chocolate. Raisins. Salt. You know this is a Laphroaig but this one has a gentler side to it.

Finish: Sea salt. Char. Citrus. Touch of oak.

Overall Comments: This is quite a fantastic little dram which I’m sure will simply fly under the radar amongst the masses. Also because there’s only 636 bottles floating around for consumption. Which is a pity because I feel amid all the distillery fanfare where some of the big names are content to churn out whiskies that are barely decent there are little gems thrown in the middle that don’t get the attention they deserve.

Well I hope my millions of followers are listening and pick this lovely little whisky if they have the chance.

Rating: 92

Ardbeg 15 Years Cadenhead 1994

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Distillery/Brand: Ardbeg | Region: Islay | ABV: 56% | Color: Chardonnay
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
There’s a certain old school way of making single malt whiskies that I really like. No frills. Just good old-fashioned traditional whisky making.

Distill some quality spirit. Stick it in a high quality bourbon cask. Let it sit and pull out all the flavors. Don’t mix it with any other liquid to balance out any flavors. Serve it at cask strength. Sit back and enjoy.

I miss those days. Of whisky making, that is. I’m not old enough to miss those actual days. But I sure as hell can appreciate them. Which brings me to my first ever Cadenhead whisky. It is also my first ever independent Ardbeg. And most importantly it is my first ever single cask Ardbeg.

So there’s a lot of special firsts here for me. And I tell you this is well worth the occasion.

There’s not a lot of literature for this particular bottling (most independents are notoriously difficult to get info on) and so the only thing I know is that this was distilled in 1994, bottled in February 2010, matured exclusively in a bourbon hogshead for 15 years, one of 268 bottles produced and served at a cask strength of 56%.

Nose: Peat. Grist. Lemon. Lime. Citrus. Fruits. Melon. It’s very sweet. Crystallised sugars. Cigar ash. Vanilla. Liquorice. Barley. Oak. Toast. Smoked oysters. Green apple. Reminds me of the Still Young when I first had it. Same controlled peaty elegance. Also very similar to the recent spate of young Kilchomans that I’ve been tasting. This is a beautiful nose. Something very old-fashioned about it.

Palate: Lemon. Spices. The delivery is quite sharp. Sponge cake. All spice. Mid-palate it starts to get a little burnt. Oak. Cigar leaf. Quite salty. But very crisp. Young green apple crisp.

Finish: Long. Oak. Spices. There’s something mildly bitter here.

I love whiskies like this. Straight up no nonsense. No maturing in ten different casks with ten different types of vatting. No marketing BS. Let the spirit speak, I say, if you’re brave enough.

Also makes me realize why Ardbeg is cult. All the stock from the 90s that I’ve tasted is insane. Why are they having such a hard time re-creating the magic? Why?

Rating: 93

Glenugie 1977 Part Des Anges 29 Years Old

Glenugie 1977 part des anges
Distillery/Brand: Glenugie | Region: Highland | ABV: 49.6% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
This is part 3 of three Closed Distillery whiskies that I tasted recently. After tasting the 1979 Glen Albyn and the 1977 Inverleven the third one in this lineup from Part Des Anges was this Glenugie.

Distilled in 1977 this single cask, cask strength is 29 years old. After almost three decades in a barrel it barely squeaked through being an actual whisky. Barely 50% ABV at the time of bottling. Another few years and the ABV would have definitely dropped below 40%

Established in 1831 Glenugie was quite a prolific little single malt distillery and in the late thirties even managed a total overhaul to it’s equipment with oil replacing the coal fires used to operate the stills.

Silent during World War I it resumed distilling soon after but 1983 saw it (and a dozen other distilleries) being mothballed due to extremely high competition and a drop in global demand for single malts.

The distillery has since been demolished.

My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at a cask strength of 49.6%

Nose: Chocolate. Honey. Toffee. Tobacco. Coffee. Oak. Seems like there’s some old school sherry involved here. But given that it’s a single cask may seem unlikely. Though there’s every possibility this may have been re-racked earlier on in it’s maturation. Let it breathe and it mellows out. Lemon. Rock salt. Cherries. Sherry.

Palate: Dark honey. Sherry. Chocolate. Coffee beans. Mint. Lack of literature on this particular expression leaves a lot of room open for interpretation. I’m guessing some Oloroso influence early on in life and then a re-rack into second-fill bourbons. I could be wrong or dead right!

Finish: Oak. Eucalyptus.

I’d say this is another fine whisky from Part Des Anges. The general consensus, when we tasted the three that night, was that all were at par with each other and generally of a high standard.

What was truly amazing was how all three morphed into completely different animals the longer you spent with them.

This will need your undivided attention.

Rating: 89

Balvenie 15 Years Single Barrel

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Distillery/Brand: Balvenie | Region: Speyside | ABV: 47.8% | Color: Full Gold
Nose: 20 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 84

Review
Early on in my career as a whisky enthusiast I made the wise decision of picking up a bottle of the Balvenie 21 year old Portwood and the 17 year old Sherry Oak.

What an amazing stroke of luck on both bottles because back then I didn’t know my peat from my tun. Luckily for me I ran into a well informed sales person who decided to hit me with these two. I have been a fan ever since.

I think they have a solid range which covers a nice spectrum of flavors. The 12 Double Wood and the 12 Triple Cask are nice for easy drinking. As are the 14 Golden Cask and the Caribbean Rum Cask. The 17 has both a Sherry Oak and Peated Cask version which I find very interesting. Then there’s the gorgeous 21 year old Portwood.

This is without mentioning the cult classic Tun 1401 and the new Tun 1509. And also a smattering of travel retail exclusives that keep popping up frequently.

One of the newer releases from this Speyside standard is the single cask 15 year old matured exclusively in European Sherry. I notice they don’t say cask but choose to use barrel instead. Don’t know why.

My sample is from bottle #84 from cask 610 and served at an alcohol strength of 47.8%

Nose: Sour tamarind. Really sour. Rum. Bananas. Tobacco. Sweet cigar leaf. Toffee. Butterscotch. Cinnamon. Black pepper. Chocolate. Dry fruits. Nuts. Dried raisins. Prunes. Cold cuts. Stale oak. I don’t the like the nose. It’s far too sour for me. The oak seems stale too. A case of Oloroso overpower.

Palate: Surprisingly better than the nose. Chocolate. Black pepper. Oloroso sherry. Dry fruits. Cinnamon. Fudge cake. Tobacco leaf. Dark toffee. The palate works better for me. Not so sour as I was expecting. Quite thick and syrupy.

Finish: Licorice. Oak. Chocolate. Brownies. Lingers.

This is, in my opinion, not up to Balvenie’s usual high standards. There might be other casks that have fared better but this one doesn’t really cut it for me. Especially the nose.

Rating: 84

Sullivans Cove French Oak Cask #537

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Distillery/Brand: Sullivans Cove | Region: Australia | ABV: 47.5% | Color: Deep Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 87

Review
I read about Sullivan Cove’s award winning single cask whisky only quite recently after it won some of the top accolades at the World Whisky Awards this year.

I don’t really care much for awards, mind you, but this one truly deserved all the praise it was getting. It was cask #525 which was responsible for taking the whisky world by storm.

I was lucky enough to sample that and was suitably impressed. OK extremely impressed. Here’s a link to that review if you don’t believe me.

Now I was quite curious to see how the other casks would play out. After a bit of hunting I managed to get my hands on Cask 537.

While quite competent it does not hold a candle to the award-winning Cask 525 which, in my opinion, is asking for a lot. And it is precisely the reason why whisky fascinates me so much. The same spirit matured in exactly the same way can yield such contrasting results.

Nose: Clove. Cinnamon. Chocolate. Red plums. Lots of berries. Black peppers. Mocha. Caramel Marchiato. Red grapes. Overwhelming red apple. Sandalwood. It’s a nice unusual offering with the French Oak imparting a lot of spices.

Palate: Not a lot on offer here. Oak. Apples. Brown dates. Chocolate mocha. Cinnamon. And did I mention oak? Doesn’t deliver the same level balance and intensity as 525.

Finish: Medium. Cinnamon. Oak.

While this sample may not have lived up to it’s brothers’ stellar reputation I respect the art of the single cask process. Spirit the way it’s supposed to be.

Rating: 87

Sullivans Cove French Oak

Sullivans Cove French Oak
Distillery/Brand: Sullivans Cove | Region: Australia | ABV: 47.5% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 24 | Taste: 25 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 97

Review
Can someone please tell me what the hell is going on in Tasmania?

I can swear the whisky distillers Down Under have made a pact with the Devil. In exchange for their souls, and the souls of their loved ones, they are being given magical powers to create the most delicious whisky ever made.

I thought after tasting the Overeem Port Matured Cask Strength, another Australian Devil spawn, I would not taste a better whisky this year.

I am so elated to be wrong.

Winner of the World Whisky Awards 2014 this spirit is any where between 11 to 13 years old. Matured in French Oak Port casks my particular sample is one of 516 bottles to emerge from winning cask No. 525.

Founded in 1995 in, you guessed it, Sullivans Cove this distillery is now home to one of my favorite whiskies.

Nose: Dark chocolate. Black peppers with a touch of cinnamon. Scented tobacco. Warm hazelnut toffee covered in praline sauce. Dark fig jam and natural caramel. Very high quality leather. This is such a beautifully intense nose. It’s like nosing a 60% whisky only to realize it’s not even 48%.

Palate: Crisp maple syrup. Black pepper. Dark jam. Mild tobacco leaf. Roasted nuts and dry figs. Dark raisins covered in chocolate. The creamy, perfectly balanced delivery will make you salivate. While the whisky’s in your mouth.

Finish: Gloriously long with a mocha caramel swirl.

Truly one of the great whiskies of the year and, for once, I whole heartedly agree with the truckload of accolades this wee dram has won.

I am so moving to Tasmania….

Rating: 97

Benrinnes 14 Year Single Cask 1998 Master of Malt

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Distillery/Brand: Benrinnes
Region: Speyside
ABV: 55%
Color: Deep Gold

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

Review
The guys over at Master of Malt are quite accomplished independent bottlers and their range of self-titled single cask releases are supposed to be quite delightful.

So I was glad to finally make acquaintance with this 14 year old sherried Speysider from Benrinnes.

Distilled in 1998 it spent 14 years in a sherry butt before being bottled at 55% as one of 570 bottles. And I tell you this is a damn fine whisky.

Nose: Lemony sweet and sharp watermelon at first. Allow it to breathe for a dollop of warm toffee, cloves and cinnamon. There are rum soaked bananas sprinkled with salt and lovely drying Vermouth.

Palate: Citrus first and then a chocolate spice rack on the heels of stewed peaches and red grapes. The flavors are on point and made that much more intense with the high alcohol strength and that much more delicious with the creamy mouthfeel.

Finish: Gorgeously long with lip smacking spices.

This is quite a fantastic drop and just goes to show how good the guys over at Master of Malt really are.

Rating: 90