Mar 312015
 

Grab a spoon.  Let’s start stirring it up again.

There has been a marked increase in dissent against the ever-growing trend towards Non Age Stated whiskies.  We’ve been diligently speaking out against it here on ATW (here, here, here and here ad nauseum), but so have several others in their own capacity.  Dom Roskrow has recently written two pieces on this (here and here).  Serge, on Whiskyfun, has been taking shot after shot at NAS malts and blends in many of his recent reviews, and others such as The Malt Desk have spoken out in recent days as well.  Let’s not forget the plethora of brilliant commentary by readers here on the site and beneath many of the other articles posted about this subject on various other forms of social media.

I think things really came to a head last week when The Whisky Exchange blog posted an interview with Diageo’s Nick Morgan.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a condescending load of tripe from someone within the industry (Morgan, that is, not TWEB).  Morgan managed to offend nearly everyone out there that writes about and buys his spirits.  Perhaps we should thank him, come to think of it.  He probably singlehandedly turned more people to militant opposition by his offensive candor than others have been able to do with rational argument and pleas.  I was going to post a couple of his full quotes regarding our ‘hot-headed ignorance’ and ‘ill-informed’ stances, but I honestly think it needs to be read in its entirety.  Just follow the link above.

With the rising tide of discord I felt it was time to have a chat with one of the gents out there who has always seemed to fight the good fight for the best interests of Scotch Whisky.  Ralfy Mitchell – he of the down-home, candid video entries on Youtube he refers to as Vlogs – has been a supporter of much I’ve done over the years and immediately agreed to take part in a discussion on NAS whiskies.  I sent him a bunch of questions a few weeks back and his replies came back yesterday.

Without further ado, let’s turn the spotlight on Ralfy…

Ralfy

Ralfy Mitchell:  Hello Curt, and hello to all you ‘merry malt-momenters’ wherever you may be.  I hope you’re keeping it quality and not quantity with your malt-missions and remember to trust and enjoy your own whisky experiences without other people telling you what to like and not like.  Taste is a personal thing and should remain so.

So now to question time!

 

All Things Whisky:  In late December you posted a Vlog in which you addressed the issue of No Age Statement (NAS) whisky and the inherent issues that come with the industry having embraced this concept to the extent it has.  Can you discuss the trend as you see it, and share what you think are the central issues with NAS whiskies to which we should be taking exception?

Ralfy Mitchell:  It was my end-of-the-year Vlog, where I sit by the fire and just say what’s on my mind about the year that’s just past and, despite buying and enjoying a number of NAS malts over that year, I could see less-appealing, and importantly, costly under-matured malts appearing which a quick bit of detective work online allowed me to identify and avoid.  One of my strengths as an online reviewer is the fact that I buy my bottles from retail using the adsense google-ads revenue to fund the purchases.  It is therefore in my interests not to buy disappointing (and often expensive) malts.  Recently NAS malts have generally (there are some good exceptions) grown increasingly avoidable as ‘young’ superficial wood-influence flavour-blankets of clean anaemic barley spirit lacking character and quite simply a proper matured full flavour ‘event’. . . especially for the price charged.

NAS malts are happening because:

A – less maturation reduces production costs and improves profits.
B – the less time some distinctly mediocre casks spend ‘maturing’ malts the better in all honesty!
C – when demand grows, supply shrinks and NAS is a way of un-shrinking!
D – during the last whisky downturn in the 1980’s, costs were cut to maintain profit margins, especially production costs so now all these years later there’s simply not enough volume of  good wood in warehouses making the magic happen in line with current demand projections.
E – People buy them, these are very customer-tolerant times we are in with marketing over-influencing what sells.

As is always the case, if you want to know what’s going to happen next, follow the money!

 

ATW:  Was there a catalyst that made you finally say ‘enough is enough…we have to do something’?  A decline in quality or rising prices, as examples?

RM:  The catalyst was simply that the increasing chances of aged malts being of better calibre than NAS malts (and often cheaper too) is now increasingly self evident as we browse the online retailer options, and options have never been greater.  Availability (depending where you live), especially of Independent aged bottlings, is at an all-time high.  The internet is increasingly useful for whisky buyers who buy intelligently rather than slavishly!  Online auctions can be a real boost for yesterday’s quality at today’s prices and I include blended whiskies in that bracket!

 

ATW:  The boycott is your way of taking up arms against this issue, but do you believe the industry can be beaten on this one?

RM:  I really don’t care.  I choose to boycott NAS malts this year as I have plenty of better options, not that I am being a malt-militant, and I share this situation in my Vlogs to help whisky fans feel more confident about being in control of their spending money.  The Industry will be beaten by effective global competition providing better options, combined with the Industry’s own inertia and increasingly detached leadership.

 

ATW:  If change does come about in relation to NAS whiskies, do you believe it will be one or two of the brands making the decision to take a stance for age statements again or will it be something more resounding, such as an amendment to the SWR (Scotch Whisky Regulations) of 2009 or a mandate by the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association)?  Are the latter simply pipe dreams?

RM:  It will be all about the money!  As the trend grows from passive consumer to proactive customer, where and on what the customer’s cash is spent will determine the future direction of Scotch (and everything else).  The biggest card in this game of poker is the customer’s decision to buy.  That’s why marketing budgets can often appear to be so extravagant!  Sponsoring polo teams and football personalities does not come cheap!  In my opinion the Scotch Whisky Association is not responsible for Scotch whisky, it is responsible to those who control the Industry.  Effective regulation on intrinsic quality long-term would need to come from National Government.

 

ATW:  In 2010 Chivas launched its ‘Age Matters’ campaign, in which they provided stats speaking to consumers interests and how they were branding their products in response.  One number they mentioned was that 89% of consumers who were polled look for an age statement when making purchases.  They’ve been decidedly silent about this concept in recent days.  One of the associated brands is, of course, Glenlivet.  The new Glenlivet Nadurra NAS and Founders Reserve speak volumes about the company’s current stance in respect to age statements.  This is just one example.  How are we, as educated consumers, to engage with these brands going forward?  It seems like a case of ‘either you lied to us before or you’re lying now, so which is it?’

RM:  We, as educated consumers, will continue to share and educate new and less-experienced drinkers as to what’s what with quality.  The quality of what we consume directly influences the quality of our lives and as and when quality goes down hill, we take responsibility in closing our purses and refusing to participate.  We then share this with others who care to show an interest online.    . . . So the whole wide world of tomorrow’s literate malt-fans can learn from our experiences.  Bless them, big Corporate Institutions can often lack the decisive, foresightful leadership and vision of a genuine entrepreneur, (think Steve Jobs and Apple) and thus decisions get blown around in the winds of fleeting expediency.

 

ATW:  There are some folks out there who are getting very passionate – even heated – about this issue, seeing it as the industry ‘duping’ the consumer in some respects.  Is that a fair assessment, or are the consumers at fault for ever thinking that Big Business had the same interests as they do?

RM:  Love&peace, malt-mates, love&peace!  No need for heated rants when a well focused non-sale is intimated!  ‘Boycott’ is always a frightening sound to businesses, especially when visible online.

 

ATW:  A lot of voices speaking on behalf of industry interests are saying that buyers should ‘let their taste buds be the judge, and not ignore good NAS releases’, but that negates the fact that NAS isn’t a type of whisky; it is a type of marketing.  While some releases like Uigeadail, a’bunadh, Valinch, etc are indeed great and may bolster their argument a bit in regards to there being good NAS releases out there, it does little to assuage our doubts about the pricing schemes.  How do you feel about a) their arguments in general and b) the current ideas as to fair market pricing which the brands are levying on this recent spate of NAS releases?

RM:  I agree with the Industry voices, let the customer decide, and if the cupboard is stocked with good or bad whisky, it’s all down to the customer’s motivation.  Simple market forces prevail.

 

ATW:  Who do you feel are the brands leading the charge in the right direction?  And at the risk of making enemies…who are the worst offenders?

RM:  Independents tend to get malts right, corporations tend to get blends right.  If integrity is transparent in the bottle, that will do for me!  The worst offenders are gullible and lazy consumers.

 

ATW:  The industry has been decidedly evasive or silent when it comes to one particular question levied at them: ‘why is it that age doesn’t matter when it has to do with young whiskies or NAS vattings, but it becomes relevant again when they want to sell a 25, 30 or 40 year old’.  Thoughts?

RM:  I think that’s a great question, and the answer is ‘money today before profits tomorrow’!

 

ATW:  Where does the NAS issue stack up in respect to the arguments against caramel coloring or chill filtration?  In your opinion is one or the other more detrimental to whisky in both its current incarnation and in regards to what the future will bring?

RM:  These things all contribute collectively to a trend growing internationally relating to ‘consumer awareness sophistication’ and having (creating) the choice to buy intelligently.  The future will bring great challenges to Scotch whisky as the overall integrity of the commodity is successively reviewed by customers over time.

 

ATW:  This is an issue that has gained a lot of traction in the less professional media (i.e. blogs, vlogs and forums). But we’re still seeing a lack of overt discussion by professional writers and publications.  Do you think today’s professional whisky writers are balanced in talking about the industry?

RM:  The professionals do a professional job and I commend them for dealing with the challenges they face.  The ‘hobby’ media have added some real colour to the whole scene, something the industry will continue to tolerate!  And so the drama continues.  That’s alcohol.  Always has been, always will be, a vehicle of human drama, comedy and tragedy; a comedie del arte!

 

ATW:  Your own boycott is focused primarily on Scottish Single Malts.  Do you think Irish, American, Canadian and world whiskies should be held to the same standards, even without falling under the jurisdiction of the SWR and SWA?  If not, why?

RM:  No.  Scotch enjoys a top-ranking reputation, so standards should be maintained as top-ranking.  Other Countries have different spirits and different circumstances, so I stick to boycotting any reviews of NAS Single Malt Scotch Whiskies during 2015!  …Just to keep things simple and transparent!

. . .thanks everyone and may your malt-moments be malty and many!

 

Sincere thanks to Ralfy for the time and efforts.  And thanks to any out there challenging the status quo and letting the brands know we’re not behind this endeavour.  It’s about doing the right thing.  It’s about trying to protect the integrity of the drink we love, and if the industry would open their eyes, they’d see it is about protecting the very lifeblood that forms the foundations of their own lives and livelihoods.   

 

Until next…

 

- CurtVendetta

 

 

 Posted by at 8:50 am
Mar 302015
 

Glenglassaugh 35 y.o. Ronnie Routledge (The Chosen Few Series)bottles 002

49.6% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Glenglassaugh is an interesting malt to wrap your head around.  It’s either very old (and consequently very expensive) or very young and beleaguered with all of the inherent issues that generally follow suit in young whisky.  This all stems from a seemingly insurmountable gap in production.  The distillery was shuttered for 21 years between the late 80s and the late 2000s.

While the younger malts produced since 2009 are not much more than unrealized potential, the older ones can be subtle and rich in character.  I love some of the latter.  The former…well…let’s just say I’m rooting for ‘em, if not 100% enamoured yet.  It’s a long road ahead for this brand, but I think it will happen.  The right people are running the show.

This was the first release in The Chosen Few Series, in which each of the ten casks in the range were selected by a different employee.  This run of bottlings followed on the heels of the Manager’s Legacy Series, and this particular cask was chosen by Ronnie Routledge, Sales and Marketing Representative.  The cask in focus was a sherry butt that yielded a whopping 654 bottles at the advanced age of 35 years.  Impressive outturn.  Obviously the angel’s saked their thirst elsewhere and left the ‘Glassaugh alone.

Not sure about Ronnie’s qualifications when it comes to cask selection, but if he can pick ‘em like this…ok.  Think he may have a back-up plan if the sales thing doesn’t work out.

Nose:  Cinnamon bun dough.  Vanilla.  Orange, blueberry and dried cherry.  Sugar cookies.  Pear-heavy fruit cocktail.  Peach candy.  Mild cigar and old cask.  Fruit leather.  Very soft, faint spices.

Palate:  Rather sharp at delivery, and lacking a lot of the softer fruit notes the nose hints at.  Still some tart dried orange fruits though.  Some sort of stewed fruit.  Leather.  Somewhat tannic.  Moist tobacco.  Drying finish.

Thoughts:  Almost a great whisky, but certainly very, very good.  I’ll never turn one of these down, but a caution…comes complete with a pretty hefty price tag.  Possibly a justified expense?

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 

 Posted by at 8:33 am
Mar 262015
 

Brora 35 y.o. (2013)110

49.9% abv

Score:  94.5/100

 

I know the thing to do is to play it cool and pretend we’re not too excited about trying these rare old drams, but that’s just not me.  Whisky is fun.  It’s supposed to be something to get excited about.  Maybe it’s gauche, but I’m tickled pink to be able to sit down and sip away at this stunning old dram.

Brora is one of the grail malts; those few legendary whiskies that form an intrinsic part of the ‘cult whisky’ phenomenon.  It’s a distillery that has been closed for more than 30 years and seems to have a remaining back stock only a fraction of the size of its fellow shuttered legend, Port Ellen.  Brora releases of late seem to be limited to the annual Diageo expressions, and unfortunately, the days of independent bottling appear to be behind us.  This probably has something to do with Diageo making efforts to buy back any existing casks sitting in others’ warehouses.  Just a guess.  Either way, what I’m getting at here is that any opportunity to sample a Brora is an occasion.

This 2013 official bottling is composed entirely of 1977 stock.  Its fruity, mildly waxy and smoky profile is Brora through and through, but seems almost restrained compared to some of the other Diageo Broras I’ve tried.  This is no bad thing.  If anything it shows an elegance that lifts this one even higher.  Possibly (probably) my favorite Brora so far.

Is it really that good?  No.  It’s better.

Nose:  Oh…dear…gawd.  A waxy and earthy backdrop.  Almost mushroom-like at first, before an explosion of softer creamy fruits.  Clean hay.  Yes, faintly peaty.  Also faintly coastal.  Pineapple and a bit of lemon.  Sweet, soft baking notes.  Some more semi-tropical orange fruits.  Vanilla cream.

Palate:  A little more farmy now.  Flinty and hints of oyster on the shell with a squeeze of lemon.  Peat and a little bit of dry smoke.  Licorice.  Make that salt licorice.  Pineapple again.  Threads of vanilla and oak.  A light toasted note.  Grapefruit pith and peel (but not so much the fruit itself).  Long, loooooong sweet finish.  Utterly magic.

Thoughts:  Holy hell.  I had high expectations, but they were not only exceeded, but blown away.  A great malt.  Simply incredible.  Limited to 2,944 bottles.

* Thanks to Andrew Ferguson at KWM for the hookup on this one.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:46 am
Mar 182015
 

Dalmore 12 y.o.018

40% abv

Score:  77/100

 

This is Dalmore at pretty much its most generic and uninspired.  The exact sort of whisky that sends me running for other whiskies.  It’s identifiable enough, to be fair, but in an ‘it’s so nondescript it becomes descript’ sort of way.  If that makes any sense.  I guess what I’m saying here is pretty much what I’ve said before about Dalmore: It seems like a whisky that is built to be the ‘typification’ of what the neophyte would expect Scotch whisky to be.  The biggest problem is that it’s simply hollow.  It makes me think of those old spaghetti western film sets, where the streets are lined with all of the prescribed stereotypical building fronts, but the reality is that they are nothing more than a one dimensional facade propped up for superficial effect.

Though it’s not a ‘bad’ whisky, it’s definitely uninspiring enough that I think we’ll just cut it off here.  In short: I’ll pass, thanks.

Nose:  Malt and caramel.  Apple, pear and a touch of orange.  A very dull, almost salty sherry influence.  Leather.  A rather muted creamy caramel note.  Soft flintiness (ironic, I know).

Palate:  Very translateable from nose to palate.  Decent arrival, but almost immediately falls flat.  Orange again.  Salty leather.  Barley and wet woods.  Some winey sherry influence that is somewhat juicy, but also kinda overblown for this rather light drink.  Moderate baking spice.  Maybe a touch nutty.  Flat and watery.

Thoughts:  The sort of malt that makes me question the blender’s palate.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:16 pm
Mar 112015
 

Bladnoch 21 y.o. (Cadenhead)093

54.9% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Just as Bladnoch seemed to be gaining some real inroads with whisky fans and connoisseurs around the globe word trickled out that the distillery was in receivership.  The doors were shuttered and the stills fell silent.  This contemporary mothballing happened just over a year ago.  A year and a day, actually.  There have been rumblings of resurrection and even one deal that fell through earlier this year, but as of the time of writing, unfortunately, there is no good news to report.  Moving on to happier thoughts now…

This particular whisky is a lovely old cask strength bottling from Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, Cadenhead.  At 21 years and a bold 54.9% it’s a stunning display for this wee little distillery.  Shows the strength of character inherent in the spirit.

Though Bladnoch releases are a little thin on the ground, you can find them if you’re in the right places and looking hard enough.  I highly recommend going a little out of your way if need be.  It’s good stuff and well worth a little extra effort.  Granted, my sample set of Bladnoch has been decidedly skewed in favour of older malts (I’ve not had one younger than 20 years), but they’ve also been relatively affordable older whiskies.  Definitely a mark in favour of the small craft producer as the way of the future for quality whisky (or so we hope anyway).

With the fate of currently-shuttered and ownerless Bladnoch still up in the air, and the present being a poor time for any sort of distillery investment, it’s no sure bet we’ll see new whisky from Bladnoch anytime soon, but we’ll cling to optimism for now.

Would love to get my hands on more malts from this distillery.  Good stuff.

Nose:  Vanilla cake.  Cinnamon and a faint touch of clove.  White chocolate.  Custard pie.  Melon, key lime and kiwi.  Just the faintest touch of strawberry jam on spiced loaf.  Sweet, soft and creamy.  Very dessert-like.

Palate:  Great big arrival.  Gorgeous.  Apple and very clean oak.  Slightly grassy and herbal.  Vanilla ice cream eaten off a wooden spoon (remember those Dixie Cups of ice cream that came with the little wooden paddle spoon thing?).  The crispy caramelized sugar of crème brûlée.  Pudding.  Spicier toward the back end, then a long warming finish.

Thoughts:  A great example of Bladnoch served up nekkid and natural.

* Thanks to Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market for the sample.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:59 am
Mar 102015
 

Glenfiddich 21 y.o. Gran Reserva Rum Cask Finish237

40% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

I’ve never really loved a Glenfiddich. Nor have I ever fallen head over heels for a rum cask matured or finished whisky. I’ve liked some of each, but that’s about as committal as I’ve ever been willing to concede.  So far, at least.  I should also add that I have tried several malts that have been matured in this manner, including both Ardbeg and Port Ellen bottlings.  Just not really my thing.

‘Fiddich, in and of itself, boasts a rather generic profile that doesn’t really thrill me, and rum is a spirit that hasn’t won over these sweet-shy taste buds.  Put ‘em together, though, and I’m pleased to say we end up with something that equals a bit more than just the sum of its parts.  There actually is a bit of harmony here.

Rum can often carry burnt sugar or bitter, tarry molasses notes and over-the-top bucketloads of vanilla and spice.  My early fears were that these notes would steamroll the more delicate nuances of a 21 year old 40%’er.  Fortunately it was a short finishing period (four months, from what I understand), and it seems that these were very clean rum barrels that gave up a decent amount of influence without being overbearing.

To be completely honest, this is almost exactly what I expected it would be, albeit maybe slightly better integrated than I thought was possible. Glenfiddich’s robust orchard fruitiness works quite well with the sugars and spices from the rum barrels.

Still not in love, but definitely in ‘like’ with this one.

Nose:  Very sweet.  Cinnamon candy apples.  A touch of orange.  Caramel.  Decent sprinkling of spice.  Honey and syrup.  A soft light fudgy note and yeah, a little bit of rum’s spicy sweetness.  Something like a Caramel Macchiato.

Palate:  A bit of a letdown after the promise of the nose.  A touch oakier than I’d expect.  Caramel apple.  Cinnamon, coffee bean, a little ginger and a bitterness that could be a sort of molasses note.  Or maybe that’s just the power of suggestion.

Thoughts:  Not spectacular, but at least quite good.  The mouthfeel is a little lacking, and the finish is short, but overall a fairly successful malt-meets-rum experiment.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:02 am
Mar 042015
 

Dalmore 18 y.o.005

43% abv

Score:  86/100

 

I’m gonna play this review a little differently. The whisky practically forces my hand. Bear with me.

While Dalmore and Macallan continue play the ‘two fat guys wedged in a door’ game, each trying to come out ahead as the ultra-super-premium brand out there, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to simply pretend that this ludicrous display of idiocy is not a going concern and just focus on tasting a dram from Master Blender Richard Paterson’s stable of over-manufactured goodies. We’ll give it a go, though. This one here is the iconic Dalmore 18. I’ve had a few requests to tackle this one, so let’s shed a little light on one of the industry’s big guns.

Dalmore has for a while now been positioning itself as a leader – if not the leader – in the luxury spirits category. The whiskies look great (nice colour, nice branding), but as we all know aesthetic appeal is a tertiary consideration compared to the primary importance of the malt’s inherent qualities of aroma and flavour.   And, of course, its secondary considerations of value for outlay. Unfortunately I find Dalmore usually falls short on both of these latter differentiators. In talking to my mates, I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. Dalmore is good, but usually not much more than just ‘good’, at least until you start hitting the four figure price tag releases.

At about $160 locally, however, the Dalmore 18 hasn’t quite priced itself out of the equation relative to similarly aged malts out there.  Yes, it is at the higher end of the spectrum, but there are more expensive examples in the same league.  In terms of overall quality to price point considerations though…yeah, this one is simply a no-go for this guy. It’s just not good enough to justify its pole position. Paterson has always been guilty (in my mind, anyway) of producing whiskies that are far too hopped up on orange-y caramel notes and redolent of far too much wine influence (be it some sort of sherry, port or just wine cask play itself). They almost universally seem to lack balance, in favour of a seeming desire to create what is tantamount to a generic sherried Scotch profile. I’d bet dimes to dollars that when most non-Scotch drinkers think about what Scotch tastes like…they think of malts like Dalmore.

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that in my mind an 18 year old $160 bottle should score higher than 86 points.  Big outlay required for a mid-sized malt.

Nose:  Orange marmalade.  Tobacco.  Vanilla.  Dried spice.  A winey/sherry note.  Some chocolate.  Creamy melted caramel and maraschino.  Cinnamon bread dough.  Stewed fruits.

Palate:  More tang and excitement here than its younger siblings.  The sherry is vibrant and emphasizes the spirit, as opposed to overwhelming it.  Ginger snaps with orange zest.  Creme brulee crust.  Leather.  Plum skins.  Caramel chocolates.  Slightly drying.

Thoughts:  Dalmore with some age can be sexy.  This is merely ‘somewhat attractive’.  A few years down the line and maybe we’ll hit ‘sexy’.  But then, of course, we won’t be able to afford it.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt 

 Posted by at 12:06 pm
Mar 032015
 

Bowmore 18 y.o.034

43% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Well, well, well. This was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. The past few bottles of Bowmore 18 I’ve bumped heads with have been grossly underwhelming. And no, sorry…I’ve not kept track of bottle codes, batches or years of those particular incarnations. Suffice it to say that this bottle is definitely much more in my wheelhouse. Much more harmonious and multi-dimensional.

The biggest criticisms I’ve levied at Bowmore have been reserved for the period of production that encapsulated most of the 1980s and 90s and which seemed to carry an overwhelming floral edge to it. I’ve heard it referred to as a hint of lavender or lilac, but either way…it was a departure from the smoked fruits that once made Bowmore so magical in the eyes of many of my mates and I. Fortunately, recent iterations seem to be veering back towards those less perfumed profiles that balance a sweet tang and deep, smoky complexity.

I think it might actually be worth digging a little deeper into this Bowmore phenomenon of fruit versus floral, but that’s a piece for another day. For now let’s be content just curling up with a seductive and smoky whisky from Islay’s oldest distillery.

Bowmore sits pretty much middle of the pack in terms of peating levels of the island’s malts; much bolder than Bunna or Laddie (standard releases at least), but lacking the bombast of others such as Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin. I believe the oft-quoted phenol levels for Bowmore are around 25 ppm. It should be noted that when we talk about peaty ppm, we’re almost always referring to the phenolic levels in the malted barley prior to distillation. Phenols are rarely measured in the glass after distillation and maturation.

Bowmore 18 boasts pretty much what I’d expect in terms of profile for a mature Islay malt (well…this bottling does anyway). And by that I mean a receding – yet omnipresent and held-in-check – smokiness and an abundance of emerging sweet fruity notes. This is oceanside campfires, seaspray and grape juice. I’m guessing this is a marriage of bourbon and sherry barrels. Nice blending here. If only it were stronger in terms of bottling strength.

Overall, a much improved Bowmore 18, and more in line with the jammy fruits that characterize recent sherried Bowmore releases like Laimrig and the Maltman’s Selection. And to say it again…thankfully a departure from the florals. Nice to see this one coming back to something like its former glory. A ‘most improved’ candidate, to be sure.

Nose:  Smoky grape juice.  A sweet citrus note.  The tiniest hint of sweet BBQ sauce.  A hint of licorice and coffee.  Somewhat jammy (raspberry-ish?).  A nice rising fruitiness and ebbing peat.  Good balance, and better than I remember this one being.  How ’bout a concoction of cola with a drop or two of both cherry and vanilla and a light dusting of pepper.  Yep.

Palate:  A great smoky, jammy note right up front.  A hefty dollop of peat (more than expected and more than the nose belies).  Some orange.  Anise.  Slightly medicinal.  Leaves a drying, wet rock feeling.  Nice mix of fruit and smoke.

Thoughts:  A little closer to the Bowmore of old, and I like that.  A LOT.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:12 pm
Feb 252015
 

Bruichladdich The Laddie Twenty TwoIMG_6349

46% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Here’s another older Laddie. This time a little more naked than many of Bruichladdich’s previously offered mature expressions.

In 2012 the distillery launched a revitalized age-stated range consisting of the Laddie Ten (composed entirely of stocks produced by the current team!), the Laddie Sixteen (from distillate produced under the former owners) and the Laddie Twenty Two (also made by the forebears). I remember reading that this was to be the distillery’s core offerings going forward. There were immediate questions, of course, primarily regarding how a core range could be built around finite mature stocks, when there was a substantial gap in production between the old owners and the new. But…we drank and were happy for a while.

Sadly, not long following, the news leaked that this trifecta was being pulled from the range due to supply issues. No surprise (well, the removal of the Laddie Ten was a surprise), but infinitely disappointing nevertheless. Was this all a matter of Bruichladdich’s having underestimated demand or was this trio merely the ‘next-man-up’ iteration of the Laddie DNA, and an affirmation that previous mutterings about this being the core range were nonsense? I dunno. Either way, if you didn’t stock up at the time, chances are good that you’re most likely out of luck now.

While this 22 year old raises all sorts of questions about the distillery’s mature stock, concepts of core range and plans for future mature releases, it shows what Bruichladdich can be (and should aspire to!) when just left alone to mellow in a clean oak barrel. Nice whisky, this, very nice.

The Laddie Twenty Two is what I dream Bruichladdich will be once again in a few years. Mature, soft, unpeated (or at least only mildly so) and as sweet and tasty as salt water taffy. Here’s hoping production grows to where it outstrips demand for a while and some of this malt is left to mellow for a couple decades.

If you can find a shop with any of the remaining bottles, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Highly recommended.

Nose:  Quite soft.  Lemon meringue and banana cream pie.  Herbal with some pepper and ginger.  Very soft fruits in the vein of faint peach and melon.  Vanilla ice cream.  Soft grains and sugar cookies.  Slightly briny.  Soft and impressive.

Palate:  Like toothpicks soaked in lemon juice.  Soft dessert notes.  Candied ginger.  A touch of orange and more herbal notes…almost Sauvignon Blanc-ish.  A little more fruit, but not sure what exactly.  A little wine-ish at the back end, but not overpowering.

Thoughts:  Great (and far too drinkable) example of older Bruichladdich.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:21 am
Feb 242015
 

Bruichladdich 18 y.o.028

46% abv

88/100

 

Here’s one from the ‘long gone and sorely missed’ category.  Not just because it’s obsolete (which it is) or because it’s really good (it is that too), but because it was from the era when Bruichladdich was operating with seeming impunity; untouchable in their blitzkrieg of never-ending new releases.  Old, young, finished, natural, peated, unpeated, multi-casked, you-name-it.  They did it all.  This slew of releases pissed some off (read: collectors and completists), but delighted others (like yours truly).  Nowadays Bruichladdich is still a bit of a maverick, but there’s no denying it…times have changed.

The whisky we’re looking at here was not born under the tenure of the current Laddie team, but was distilled in the very late 80s or early 90s, prior to the distillery’s closure and subsequent reopening in 2001.  From then on, its adoptive ‘parents’ had different ideas for raising this one to maturity than did its birth ‘parents’ and did an about face with regard to bringing it into its teen years.  Let me explain…

When the ownership/management team of Reynier/Coughlin/McEwan and the gang of 30 or so other new owners took over the distillery in 2000 there were apparently some concerns about cask quality of the existing stock.  Master Distiller Jim McEwan (hopefully no further introduction needed by this point) worked his way through the warehouses and came to the conclusion that some of the whisky was indeed maturing away in substandard barrels.  The story goes that much of the distillery’s existing stock was subsequently re-racked into higher quality barrels.  Many of these whiskies found their way into former wine vessels, courtesy of Reynier’s connections in the wine trade from his former life in said industry.  I mention this here as I can only assume that this was some of that re-racked spirit.

It’s this latter notion that plays a fairly large part in what constitutes the profile of this 18 year old Bruichladdich.  A quirky malt with a very multi-faceted personality.  The wine influence is substantial, but in all fairness somehow never seems to really get to the point of ‘in-your-face’ upfrontery.  Instead, it sweetens things up a bit and brings some of the darker notes to the fore in what was most likely a fairly mild whisky to begin with.  I’d be willing to bet this spirit was formerly mellowing in a rather inactive second or third fill bourbon barrel.  Much speculation on my part here, but it’s sort of rational deductive reasoning and based on some relative knowledge of what was happening at Bruichladdich through the past couple of decades.

I think I might have liked this one a tick more if the wine influence was dialed down a bit (i.e. a shorter finishing period).  As it stands, this is still a good – almost great – whisky, and I’m one of those who is just glad to have been around through the glory years of Islay’s renegade distillery prior to the Remy buyout.  We may never see that sort of freedom and ‘fuck you’ salvo in the industry again.

Nose:  Slightly floral.  Sugary.  Poached pear, a touch of stewed peach and then deeper plummy notes.  Honey and sweet wine.  A salty, flinty and savoury backbone.  Mince pie.  Just a touxh of salt licorice.

Palate:  A hefty chunk of wine influence here, I’d think.  Immediately tannic and redolent of yeast and grape.  Fairly deep threads of spice and tangy fruit notes.  Plenty of wood singing too.  Not the best of finishes, but the arrival is almost entirely high notes.

Thoughts:  This is an evening dram.  Rich and bold.  Not perfectly balanced, but its quirkiness more than makes up for it.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:39 am