Aug 212019
 

The Vintage Malt Whisky Company was founded in 1992, and has spent better than a quarter century now releasing independent bottlings, undisclosed malts and blended malt whiskies to the masses eager for a) better prices than the big brands can (or are willing to?) offer up and b) interesting alternatives to the mass market branded sector. And as with any such company, it’s inevitable that you’ll find a plethora of singular flavours and varying levels of quality. Such is the nature of it, especially as regards the single cask stuff.

The company is particularly big on undisclosed Islay whiskies, boasting no less than three unique Hebridean brands in their portfolio in addition to a blended malt that is composed largely of Islay malt as well. Sounds like a bunch of folks after my own heart, doesn’t it? Both The Ileach** and Finlaggan have, at times, been purported to be undisclosed toddling young expressions of Lagavulin, but we all know the nature of these whiskies, aye? With no declaration, and contractual obligations ensuring tight-lippedness, these whiskies could be from any distillery on the island. Not only that, they could be sourced from different distilleries from batch to batch. I guess with a price point as fair as we see here ($75-80 locally), we can’t get too worked up so long as the quality is high. I’ll weigh in with my own guesses on these two at the end of the tasting notes below.

Oh, and by the way…

Ileach is the name given to folks who live on Islay. Finlaggan is the seat of the Lord of the Isles.

**(pronounced somewhere between ee-leck and ee-lack, please! And with a proper throaty Scottish ‘ch’ at the end, if it do ya!)

Finlaggan Cask Strength

58% abv

Nose: Lime and licorice. Peat and smoke, as expected. Very youthful and ester-driven. Also very oceanic shoreline-esque. Minerally, and rich in seaside decay (actually a very pleasant aroma, despite what you might think). Marzipan. Brittle, crispy bacon. Eucalyptus. Prickly, with plenty of licorice. Not overly complex, but for a young’un, I like it just fine.

Palate: Very young. Some untamed new make notes, but no feintiness to be detected, so ultimately…we’re happy. Lemon. A lot of smoke. God…even more of those young citrus notes piling on. Anise. Charred scallop. Toothpicks. A mouthful of ocean surf (like when you bail off a wave and biff it into the deep; and yes…that is the voice of experience, though my surfing days are long behind me now). Burnt kale chips. 

Finish: Granny Smith apples. Oily vanilla pod. More of those charred scallop notes. Long, long, long.

Thoughts: A bit lighter in color; perhaps all ex-bourbon?

86/100

The Ileach Cask Strength

58% abv

Nose: A wee bit of a garbage-y, cabbage-y note at first (Sulphur compounds, but not of the struck match sort). This does sort of off-gas after a bit of time in the glass. Behind that, it’s a bit more syrupy than the Finlaggan. Ardbeggian, even. Or more like Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength, upon reflection. Maybe a sherry butt or two in here? Ashy and sooty. A few drops of orange juice.

Palate: Definitely into young heavily phenolic Laphroaig territory now. Like licking rubber bandages. Black and green wine gums. Green ju-jubes too. Soooo much smoke. Charred citrus peel (and yes…I have tried that), and again… a little bit of orange. Hate to say it, but that strange funk from the nose carries through here too, just milder. I kinda feel that the palate does help redeem the nose a bit.

Finish: Again, uber long. Fortunately that faint sulphuric tinge is MIA at the back end. Unripe Bartlett pears and tannic fruit skins. More lime. Some clean wood.

Thoughts: Meh. S’ok. Definitely an off note to be dealt with. I think (just my two cents) maybe the result of a bad butt in here. (Yes…I realize that sounds like Jim Murray windbag-ism). Previous batches have been better. I think I’ll stick with the Finlaggan.

81.5/100

If I had to guess blindly? Finlaggan = Caol Ila. The Ileach = Ardbeg. I’m sure that’s not the case, but such is the way it goes with super young Islay malts: they’ve often yet not grown into the face they’ll wear later.

 Posted by at 11:57 am
Nov 262017
 

Head To Head – Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release vs General Release

 

A bit later than I expected getting to this.  Such is.  I’ve learned to stop caring about any sort of schedule for this site, self-imposed or externally-nudged.  And you good folks have been infinitely patient and supportive.  Appreciate that.  More than you know.

As with any Ardbeg release that hits the shelves in both Committee and general release, the immediate question is one of quality comparison.  How does the more readily available (and affordable) standard version hold up to the higher strength, alternately-packaged and premium-priced ‘members only’ edition?

In this case?  Quite well, actually.  As you’d expect, the Committee bottling is a better dram.  In all respects.  It’s deeper, richer and brings to the fore some notes that are either muted or non-existent in the general release.  But that’s not to say the general release isn’t a great dram.  It is.  I think Dark Cove was meant to be an Uigeadail-esque Ardbeg, redolent of heavy sherry and deep peat, dark in tone and color.  It succeeds on all fronts, but I think more interesting than this comparison would be a proper H2H of Dark Cove vs Uigeadail.  Perhaps we’ll have to do that one too.  All in the name of science, right?

Good malt, this.  Happy to have a few of each put away for future sessions.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove (2016)

46.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Deep and rich.  Dark fruits.  Pepper.  Fisherman’s friend.  Moist tobacco.  Fruit leather.  Wet ashy notes.
A touch of raspberry.  Fennel.  Smoked ham.  Clay-like and minerally.  Warm, melty caramel aromas.

Palate:  Horse blankets (no, I’ve never licked horse blankets, but the smell of ’em is the taste here).  Peat and smoke.
Gooey, jammy notes.  A tobacco linger.  Hot ginger.  Pepper.  Brine.  Seared scallops.  Dark chocolate.  Medicinal / Band-Aid notes.

Thoughts:  Not as good as Uigeadail, the other big sherried Ardbeg to which this is often compared.  But…still good, of course.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release (2016)

55% abv

Score:  90/100

Nose:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Peat.  Licorice.  Iodine.  A new pouch of loose tobacco.  Damp earth, wood and moist dunnage.  Wet ash.  Very savoury.  Smoked ham and all sorts of BBQ notes.  Dark, dark oily vanilla here.  A mash-up of red, green and black Ju-jubes.  Big dark caramel notes.  Hoisin.

Palate:  Gooey, sticky malt.  Smoky and peppery.  Burnt shellfish.  So much bigger of a delivery here than the standard release.  The oiliness is heavenly.  Rich fruity notes.  More vanilla.  Smoked fruits.  A fresh bag of dried fruits.  Licorice.  So thick and tarry.  Wow.

Thoughts:  Flawless?  Nope.  But exactly what I wanted it to be.  Really like this one.  So much more than just the regular release at a higher strength.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:29 am
May 162017
 

Head To Head – Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 vs Valinch 2012

 

I quite fell in love with Valinch when it landed here.  The 2011 edition, that is.  It sold out before I managed to scoop a couple for future sipping sessions, but such is.  These aren’t the sort of whiskies I generally squirrel away for any other reason than value and price point.  Let’s face it…there’s always something new coming, as a mate of mine says.  I did pick up the 2012 when it arrived, but found it…well…less exciting than its predecessor.  Still quite a good dram, but it didn’t light my fire in the same way.

A few weeks back a mate of mine came by with a heel of the 2011.  Lo and behold I still had a heel of the 2012.  Neither were opened in the year of release, so rest assured these bottles are not on life support.  Both have been open for a fair while, however, but I’m happy to report that they are still lively and bright.  Perfect opportunity for the H2H I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.  So let’s do it.

Right off…the 2011 is lighter in color than the 2012.  While color means less than nothing in this reviewer’s eyes, it does speak to batch variation.  In and of itself, no bad thing, so long as the quality stays uniformly high.  The ’12 has a richer golden hue.  The latter is just a hair shy in terms of abv.

Initial nosing…hmm…fairly consistent across, but the ’11 is definitely softer.  Let’s dive in a little deeper.

 

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011

57.5% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Great wide appeal, I imagine.  Fruity, sweet and infinitely approachable.  May not be overly complex, but in a case like this – where everything is clean and rich – there’s no need to overcomplicate things.

Pretty sure this is exactly what I recall from a couple years back.  And yes…I did go through my old tasting notes.  a few new ones here, but mostly the same.

Nose:  Yep.  As expected.  Soft vanillas and rich orange notes.  Zest and all.  Some tangerine or tangelo.  Soft oak notes.  Seems like lively bourbon barrels.  Maybe even some first fill or virgin oak in there?  Notes of almond and toasted marshmallow.  Maybe even some very sweet, soft chocolate.  Some fairly substantial spice notes that hint at just how active those American Oak barrels were.

Palate:  Big bombastic arrival.  Orange zest.  Strong thread of dark vanilla.  Yep…syrupy, with a lot of fruit.  Some eucalyptus (again…those free-spirited American Oak barrels).  Slight herbaceousness (am I spelling that right?).  Even a touch of licorice.  Lovely.  Oaky linger.

Thoughts:  Sticking with initial assessments.  This is like a creamsicle.  Originally scored an 88.  No need to change it up.

 

Auchentoshan Valinch 2012

57.2% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

Hmmm.  The balance so effortlessly achieved in the 2011 is sadly MIA here.  Still decent enough, but the palate can’t deliver what the nose hints at.  Definitely not in the same league as the first edition.

Nose:  Orange and vanilla.  But sharper on the zest, and a little less on the sweet, pulp notes.  Some chocolate, both white and milk.  Definitely more chocolate than on the 2011 edition.  Some syrupy fruits, bordering on jammy.  Softer than expected, considering the wallop the palate delivers.

Palate:  More aggressive here, with a fair bit more oak.  Oily arrival.  Drier and more harsh on those wet wooden notes.  Citrus pith and oily orange skins.  Dark chocolate.  And again…some licorice.

Thoughts:  I like the nose more than palate, but even the palate is decent.  Seems younger than the previous batch though.  Kinda reinforces the fears we have about both NAS and slippage.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:13 am
Nov 302015
 

Head To Head – Bruichladdich Scottish Barley vs The Laddie Ten

 

I think I promised this one a long while back.  With the moratorium on NAS reviews I had to shelve the concept, but we’ve yanked the gag now and are moving forward unimpeded, right?  So…let’s have a go at two Laddies that absolutely merit comparison.  For obvious reasons.

Here’s the thing…some distilleries historically have had a more sound rationale than others for avoiding age statements at certain points in time.  This is by no means an endorsement of the concept, but merely an acknowledgment that I see why it was done when it was.  However…this was all prior to the current spate of endless NAS expressions driving consumer trust into the ground.

Gaps in production and new start-ups are the most obvious reasons for wanting to use NAS as a Band-Aid solution, whereby a mix of old and young stock may have been necessary, or because there simply wasn’t any older stock in existence.  I am a little more forgiving of this in retrospect for distilleries such as Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Glenglassaugh, etc.  Nowadays, however, I don’t think we need to be quite so lenient.

Could these brands now give us expressions with a label that reads something like ‘aged 7 years’?  Sure.  And for some of them it would be a maverick sort of move that would play right into their buck-the-trends rebellious mystique.  Bruichladdich would be a prime candidate.  I like to think it’s a more mature market out there now.  People are willing to accept young whisky, so long as the price is fair.

By now we’re probably all familiar with the story of the grand launch of the Laddie Ten, Sixteen and Twenty Two a couple years back.  These were to be the bright, bold (turquoise!) future of the brand.  Unfortunately it was only a blink of an eye before demand outstripped supply and these malts were pulled from general release and replaced with an NAS offering under the banner of ‘Scottish Barley’.  The alcohol by volume was tweaked upwards a tick (from 46% to 50%, which we appreciated), but the profile took a rather drastic change.  In some ways this was a lateral move, but in others it was definitely a step backwards.

The point of this post is not to say AS or NAS is better (because, of course, that argument has never been about quality), it’s merely to stack up an age-stated expression against its NAS replacement, as we discussed doing long ago.  The conclusion you draw from there is up to you.

I reviewed these both individually a while back, but stacking them side-by-side helps shine a light on some highs and lows in both.  Additionally, this is almost certainly a more contemporary batch of the Scottish Barley than that I reviewed back then.  Tellingly, perhaps, the scores are slightly different than when originally posted.  Here ya go…

120
Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten

46% abv

Score:  88/100

Nose:  Some farmy notes and some big familiar buttery Laddie-ness.  Definitely some peat in there in spite of the label stating ‘unpeated’.  And an earthiness.  Mild hints of Springbank, to be honest.  A touch of leather.  Creamy and rich.  Hay fields and far off prairie fire.  Creme brulee.

Palate:  Still farmy here.  Some polished wood.  Citric and salty.  Savoury pastry.  Leaves some over-toasted marshmallow notes and an almost winey tang.  Or maybe that’s tea.  Lemon and orange attack.

Thoughts:  Much more complex than the Scottish Barley.  And the old school charm has won me over much more with this visit than I recall in previous tastings (and there were a LOT of them).

 

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley

50% abv

Score:  85.5/100

Nose:  Less on the familiar Laddie, with louder grains and a more biting edge.  I think I’d guess Arran blindly.  Maybe that’s just ’cause I’m tasting it alongside the heftier Laddie Ten.  Fruitier than the that malt, incidentally, but faux fruits…like candy or something.  Lemon and orange.  A slightly sharp, underdeveloped edge.  Raw pastry dough.  A little bit floral and a little herbaceousness too.

Palate:  Same pastry notes here.  Definitely a more biting (read: youthful) attack here than the Laddie Ten.  Scones with fruit jam.  Lemon and freshly milled grain (or maybe just flour).  Grassy and apple-y.  Not bad, but…well…youngish.  Not too young, mind.  We like young malts when they’re this well composed.

Thoughts:  This IS a downgrade from the Laddie Ten, no two ways about it.  Not a bad whisky, but how ’bout just a ‘here’s a younger version (sans sherry this time, I think) for ya since we don’t have enough ten year old stock’.  I’d buy that.  Especially for the honesty.

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:21 pm