Jul 292012
 

Bruichladdich Peat

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

The last few years have given rise to the Peat Wars (now here is a battle I can really get behind). Islay heavyweights, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich, have gone head-to-head, leaving other phenolic giants coughing in their wake. Undoubtedly Jim McEwan’s daring has been the weapon that has won most of the battles for the ‘Laddich squads. (I should further note…a none-too-subtle comment dropped at a recent ‘Laddie tasting suggests that McEwan still has an A-bomb or two tucked away as well.)

Under Jim’s guidance, Bruichladdich has produced spirit under three lines; Port Charlotte, Octomore and of course Bruichladdich itself. This expression we’re speaking to at the moment, “Peat”, is a polygamous marriage of all three. As these spirits were all distilled under the same roof, this ‘vatting’ is still a single malt. Imagine…the fruit-rich ‘Laddich base tempered by the creamy and buttery peated enormity of Port Charlotte before being goosed by the might of Octomore’s liquid fire.

If you’ve tried these three spirits individually, you’ll have some understanding as to how each is contributing, but can still stand on its own. When they come together…well…

Somehow the resulting spirit manages to find balance and harmony. Let this one breath a little upon opening. Decanting does wonders here, as this one drastically shifts gears after the first cork pop. For the better.

This is a thick, buttery and butterscotch-rich malt. Smoke and peat are obviously the most integral aspects here, but there is a nice round sweetness as well. This is met by sharp citrus and cola courtesy of the Octomore component. A little of the mildest almond and I keep thinking I’m snatching hints of vanilla but it repeatedly gets dashed to pieces on the sharp briny citrus.

The palate is oily and viscous (the hallmark of McEwan’s passion). Creamy and quite typical ‘Laddich delivery, but as one should expect…youthful and spirited. Cola with lime. A touch of oak…but only on the palate. Quite a heft to this one. The finish is long and drying. No surprises.

My only real criticism? Could have been bottled at cask-strength for even more oooomph.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:04 pm
Jul 292012
 

Octomore 2.1084

62.5% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

I read a review of Octomore, in which the reviewer ponders whether or not Bruichladdich (or more to the point, Master Distiller Jim McEwan) has ‘jumped the shark’ with this one.  Now…those of you ‘up’ on your pop culture references will no doubt be snickering, but for those who are unsure of this obscure reference, let me clarify…

Many years back – when the only bottle most of us were sucking back was full of formula or breast milk – as ‘Happy Days’ (yes…that ‘Happy Days’…y’know…Henry Winkler as the Fonz) was gasping its last breath, the writing team took an inexcusable leap of bravado at the viewers’ expense and put the Fonz in arguably TVs most ridiculous scripted moment…literally jumping a shark.  Time has not been kind to this blunder, and the term ‘jumping the shark’ has become a part of our lexicon.

So, where was said reviewer going with this twisted logic and odd analogy?  Well…with Bruichladdich’s tendency to saturate the whisky world with scores of snazzily-packaged young drams, it isn’t that much of a stretch to think of the Octomore as just another marketing gimmick to capture the anoraks’ attention as ‘the peatiest whisky in the world’.  Jumping the shark?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Gimmickry aside…how does this juggernaut hold up?

To be honest…this is like being slapped in the mouth with chain mail.  Holy hell, what a snarling beast this is.  Massive and earthshaking.  Full of complexity and balance, and ridiculously startling for just this reason.  I expected this to be somewhat of a novelty bottling.  A whisky meant to wear a title, sell a boatload, but not have the stones to back it up.  I was knocked on my ass for my insolence, and happily so.

Like watching a beautiful woman undress, this whisky gets better and better the more it reveals itself.  Pour…inhale…sit back for a few minutes…inhale…close your eyes and dream of far off Islay…inhale.  This slow sensual build becomes almost overwhelming by the time you take your first sip.

Not only is the peat level beyond ridiculous (a whopping 140ppm!!), the Octomore is bottled at 62.5% abv.  It ignites the mouth with its oily viscosity and thick mouthfeel.  The flavors roll on in wave after wave of peat bliss.  It permeates all senses and lingers beyond time.  Cockroaches, Cthulhu and Octomore are all that will remain when life ends.

Aside from the heavy peat and smoke, I find hints of green apple freshness, cola tang, citrus, young vegetal notes and earth.  Being so young (5 y.o.), the oak influence is minimal to non-existent.  I may have to re-visit this review in the future, as I must confess I am just completely overwhelmed with this one and having troubles picking it apart.  And y’know what?  I don’t want to right now.  It is so much more than the sum of its parts and I sort of prefer it that way.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:47 pm
Jul 292012
 

Smokehead

43% abv

Score: 86/100

 

There are some interesting mutants out there in the whisky spheres right now.  Some aren’t mutants per se, but they are just far enough out of whack with the rest of the industry that they stand in a league of their own.  Some…exceptional.  Others…not so much.

These muties I speak of are often of the peat/smoke variety (though there are many others out there).  Think Big Peat, Finlaggen, Peat Monster, the Double Barrel expressions, MacLellands, and of course this… ‘Smokehead’.

The reasons these don’t quite fit the mold are as varied as the expressions themselves.  In some cases they are vattings, in which the component malts are kept secret.  In others they are single malts from unnamed distilleries.  In yet others, the exact proportions of the components are being guarded like the Caramilk secret.  Finally…a few are just…odd.

Smokehead falls into the ‘this is a single malt, but we won’t tell you which distillery it comes from’ camp.  Fun.  To a point.  Then, if you’re anything like me, that mosquito bite-like itch just won’t go away and you simply want confirmation of whether or not your surmises are correct.  Yes…Christmas was rough when I was a kid.  ‘Let’s see…can I peel back this wrapping just a bit without anyone knowing I was peeking?’

Funnily enough…for once I side with the masses.  I too believe in my heart of hearts that this is a young Ardbeg (but wouldn’t be surprised if it was Lagavulin).  There are hints of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Caol Ila, but the overwhelming character is Ardbeg.  Young Ardbeg.  Experience suggests this one wouldn’t necessarily be out of step within that camp.

Anyway…speculation aside…this is a surprisingly decent dram.  My initial skepticism led to yet another humbling experience in the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ ethos.  Uber contemporary packaging and marketing (not necessarily embraced in an industry lorded over by the heavy hand of tradition) led me to initial dismissal.  Not to mention the suggestion that this should be used to create a drink called a ‘Smoke & Coke’.  I’ll say this one more time…don’t f*ck with my malts, people.  Good Scotch is not made to be mixed, contrary to what certain individuals think.  I can almost promise you 99.9% of Scotland’s distillers would happily explain how their malts were meant to be consumed.  Betcha paycheques this would not include ice or mix.

Forgive me my soapbox oration.  Back to ‘Smokehead’.

Medicinal and Band-aid like on the nose.  Powdered cocoa…dry ashy smoke and fresh squeezed grapefruit.  To be honest…nothing really unique, but it is surprisingly well-constructed.  Slightly sharp, but not unpleasantly so (you know I like my peat young).  Very pleasant nose for those that like a little Islay terroir in the glass.

The palate is dry peppery malt that develops into buttered biscuits or scones and green grapes.  That selfsame Band-aid iodine from the nose crops up again and does battle with the licorice notes.  Quite Lagavulin-esque on the palate.

Solid outing here in this NAS expression.  There is an 18 year old out there. Anyone who can get that particular nectar into my hands would sit in eternal esteem.

 

– Review by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:34 pm
Jul 292012
 

Bruichladdich Brunello Cask

49% abv

Score:  88/100

This whisky lit a fire under a friend of mine.  On a whim he nabbed this bottle for a steal of a deal (~$60), and still waxes poetic, though the bottle has sadly…uh…evaporated.  Being a limited run (quite typical for Bruichladdich) in their Single Cask range, stocks of this are now quite low.  Just recently I managed to find one last lonely bottle of this locked behind glass in a local shop.  The canister is dusty and dented, but that won’t stop the friend I mentioned from taking it to a good home.

Well…you certainly can’t fault the lads and lasses at Bruichladdich when it comes to creativity and craft presentation.  The expressions are unique…the abv is always right up there (49% here on this one…bloody well done!)…the packaging is exceptional…and the taste?  More often than not…delicious.

The Brunello Finish in the Single Cask series absolutely fits the Bruichladdich mold.  Thinking outside the box has rewarded Bruichladdich once again.  This is a great malt.  You could probably tack on an extra point or two for value when you add price and abv into the equation.

The nose on this whisky is thick and lovely.  Here you’ll find big smoked caramel or toffee and hints of fresh orange.  It is buttery, as Bruichladdich generally is, and citric as well.  There is a bit of soft and mild cacao peeking around corners and an entirely smooth and pleasant nuttiness, most likely carried by the woods.  The arrival on the tongue is big and arresting, as one would expect at 49%, but the the flavor of the alcohol itself is buried.  That feared alchoholic nip is somehow held in check through the density of taste.  Exceptional for something this strong to be so smoothly drinkable without the burn.

Brunello is an Italian red wine, and some of those characteristics levied by the cask do shine through here.  Most notably in the development.  There are few whiskies out there that have this nifty rollercoaster of sweet notes of creamy caramel to mouth-drying tannins and soft woods.  This phenomenon is not as pronounced as in the oft-noted Highland Park development, but it is present and admirable nevertheless.

This is a whisky for a cool evening and warm conversation.

      

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:00 pm
Jul 292012
 

Glenrothes 1988

43% abv

Score:  80/100

 

I don’t think I’m being an age elitist or anything here (hopefully faithful readers will know by now how much I enjoy some of my spirits quite young), but I truly haven’t found a Glenrothes I’ve enjoyed that came from anything later than the ’70s.  Honestly.  Age does not equal greatness, it’s true, but there is simply no denying that there were a lot of great malts casked in the 70s, and time has been kind to more than a few of them.  Glenrothes falls nicely into this band.

The flipside, unfortunately, is as I stated.  I have not found much to celebrate in the distillery’s more recent output.  Wood policy?  Cask selection?  Vatting inconsistencies?  Who knows.  I would be speculating, and I’d rather not do so.  Suffice it to say that more often than not Aberlour, Glenfarclas and Glendronach get my dollars when it comes to this region/profile.

The nose here is quite unforgiving.  Sharp, floral and slightly bitter.  For this age I would expect a little more subtlety and grace.  The oak is heavy and plodding, while the sherry is aggressive, and not altogether charming, in a rum-soaked Christmas cake way.  Notes of spiced apple and orange tucked way in the back are pleasant, but there is a yeasty bread dough character that works to muffle these.

Barley cuts through the sherry on the palate.  Spiced fruit, apple and notes of damp wood are loud and seemingly in charge immediately on delivery.  Again…slightly yeasty as well.  As expected, it is warming and the finish is moderate and meh…unoffensive.

A disappointing expression, to be sure.  Especially at 20 years on.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:48 pm
Jul 292012
 

Highland Park 40 y.o.

48.3% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Though a mere decade has lapsed between Highland Park’s 30 year old and 40 year old expressions, the price point has soared by more than 400%. Now…anyone familiar with aged drams knows that it is not necessarily a directly proportional ratio between age and price. More importantly, it is also not a directly proportional ration between age and quality.

While I won’t speak too much to the first point (as I believe both are expressions are actually quite fairly priced), I do want to address the second.

Odds are a distillery of renown and repute is not going to deliver a sub-par expression when it reaches the point of multiple decades in the cask. It simply compromises reputation to a degree that far outweighs any possible profit.

This Highland Park is no exception. Though by no means a ‘young 40’, this one is still able to toss a ball with the kids, but just ain’t likely to be knockin’ ‘em into the upper deck anymore. In simplest terms…this could have been pulled from the cask a little earlier, I think, but only by a hair. Unfortunately (or some might say fortunately) I have only ever tasted this alongside the more vibrant and robust 30 year old expression, where it simply falls short.

The hallmarks of maturity are all present and accounted for. The nose is deep and changing. Full of burnt rubber and spent candle. Dry wood smoke. Woody and waxy notes. Sharp clove and burnt sugar meet sweet plum and echoes of a very old rum.

Those wax and oak notes tag along to the palate as well. Delivery is somewhat salty and characterized by tannic fruit skin tartness and dried fruit flavors. Tendrils of smoke swirl around the mouth.

Maybe my expectations were just a little too high here. Great drink though. I simply expected a little more.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:38 pm
Jul 292012
 

Glenlivet Nadurra (Batch 1109I)

54.2% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Now this is a Glenlivet I can sink my teeth into.  And have.  Here you are seeing a more fully realized vision of just what this distillery is capable of.  Though I know all of the reasons why a distillery would choose to go the safe route of chill-filtered watered down whisky, it doesn’t mean I have to like it or agree with it.

The Nadurra is the muscle in the Glenlivet family.  In fact it almost seems like an in-law, so out of character is it from the other Glenlivet expressions I’ve tried.  Gaelic for ‘natural’, ‘Nadurra’ is a non-chill-filtered cask strength bruiser that somehow still manages to carry the delicacy of the Speyside charm in its monstrous hands.  A true Jeckyll and Hyde story here.

All notes are amped up here and the whisky benefits enormously from this strength.  Sweet toffee or caramel is made smooth and soft with dollops of vanilla.  Rich chocolate and cinnamon notes get a dusting of cracked pepper and maybe a little ginger.  All of the Spey fruits you’d imagine in a Glenlivet are here hanging out too.

The palate delivers that sweetness with a blast of heat.  Those toffeed fruit notes coat the tongue and carry the chocolate and ginger along for the ride.  Gorgeous.  Not quite as rich and rewarding as the nose, but absolutely satisfying nonetheless.  No worries about a fading finish.  This one will hang about for a bit.

Well worth it.  A great version of Glenlivet.

I should note here:  No review on this site gets as much attention as this one.  Why is it so many out there are looking for details on the Nadurra?  Please, folks…enlighten me.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Jul 292012
 

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 28)

59.7% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Presentation is so much of the product nowadays.  I admit it, though I may preach otherwise, in the end I’m no better than anyone else.  I still occasionally get suckered in by flashy packaging.  In this case?  A beautiful deep red amber liquid in a wide stubby bottle with a badass old school wax seal.  Absolutely awesome.

“a’bunadh” – Gaelic for “original” or “origin”.

This massive Speysider is Aberlour’s take at replicating the style of whisky predominant in times of yore.  Un-chill-filtered…no age statement…straight outta the cask (59.7%!!).  Hence…’the origin’.

This particular bottle (which I am sipping from and reviewing) is from Batch 28.  Yes…indeed there were 27 previous batches (and another double fistful since), each exhibiting a slightly different character.  Though not single cask, these are single batch.  Aberlour selects a handful of casks to marry which they believe will most closely retain the character set forth in the a’bunadh tradition.

This whisky is so much more than simply a young  Aberlour on steroids.  It is huge and almost overwhelming.  Full of character and aggression.  It is heavy, complex and absolutely magnificent.  On the nose…big and bold rich caramel and sweet (Oloroso?) sherry notes.  Maybe even suggestions of cognac.  Creamy vanilla, cocoa and burnt sugar (not a bad thing) right out front with black cherry, raisin, sweet orange, and spice making up the body of this whisky.  On both the nose and palate there is a very definite rum characteristic.

The huge warmth that blankets the mouth is viscous and syrupy.  There is something dark and earthy sweet here as well.  All of those fruity/rummy/sherry and fruitcake notes open right up.  As it slowly expands and colonizes the far corners of the palate, that earthiness takes a bit of a back seat to raisin, demerara and dried fruit.  The finish is long and warm (to be expected), with a nice thick coating that lingers on and on.  There is a deep dark complexity that will leave you pondering this one well after the glass is empty.

This particular batch is, quite frankly, astounding.  I’ve had many of the others, but none approached the flawless sherry casking here.  Thankfully I managed to find a couple of dusty bottles in some local ma-and-pa shops.  Two more bottles for future years.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:03 pm
Jul 292012
 

Talisker 18

45.8% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Oh boy.  This is it.  This is what Talisker is meant to be.  The 10 y.o is good.  The Distiller’s Edition, not bad.  The 30 y.o., brilliant, but out of most of our ranges.  But here, at 18 years, we have Talisker in its prime.  This is not just a great example of what Talisker can be, but a great example of what whisky can be.

I recently nabbed a couple bottles of this in San Francisco for a steal of a deal, but I think this bottle I’m reviewing now may be from an older batch.  I am desperately hoping there is not much batch variation, because this is a stunner.  If it just so happens to turn out that there are two bottles of this exact batch on my shelves downstairs…my mates and I are gonna be very happy lads in coming days.

Phenomenal complexity and composition here.  Beautiful mature peat runs headlong into an array of fruits already growing and coming forward as they tend to do with age.  Smoke and pepper, as you’d expect with Talisker, but with far less bite than the 10 y.o. most are familiar with.  There is a knowing waxy and latex maturity here, and a tightrope balance that would almost have me guessing this was a Port Ellen if I didn’t know better.  Mature beyond its years.  In a good way

The palate?  Again…Port Ellen-ish.  Waxy fruits, a bit of smoke and a quick twist of pepper.  45.8% abv is a perfect bottling strength for this one.  Flavors are rich and finish is long.

Outstanding.  I adore this whisky.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:30 pm
Jul 292012
 

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011

57.5% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Whisky…meet creamsicle.  Creamsicle…whisky.  Now that introductions are out of the way, I know you will two will get on fabulously.

I love it when I come into something with high expectations and am not let down.  Early indicators were that this was quite a showstopper of a young Lowland, and I am pleased to say that we were not mislead.

Industry folk…take heed.  This expression is the direct result of Auchentoshan responding to the consumer cry for unadulterated purity in whisky.  The distillery listened and gave us what we wanted.  The good publicity they are reaping, I hope, more than offsets any concerns that may have had them hedging.  Not only are we happy to be ackowledged, but we’re tickled f*cking pink to have been delivered a dram of this quality.

The nose…

Creamy vanilla ice cream, orange and tangerine.  Think creamsicle, as I alluded to in the first lines above.  This is like a creamy dessert malt if ever I met one.  Very, very fresh mouthwatering fruit.  Smooth, sweet almond notes provide a subtle icing over the oak base.  Man…I would never…ever…peg this as an Auchentoshan.  Beautiful composition and obviously stellar cask policy.  I think all reviews I’ve read referred to that orange/tangerine combo, and sure ‘nough…both I and the Maltmonster found those notes screaming from the rooftops on first meet as well.

The palate brings sweet orange fruit candy and pears in syrup.  Vanilla is right up front, but in a subtle sashaying way…none too in your face.  It is slightly jammy as well.  Still young and lovely for it.

I’m a fan.  And the most pleasant surprise of all?  The wee l’il price tag attached.  Brilliant.  Thanks, Auchentoshan…you’ve made a believer.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:36 am