Apr 302015
 

Laphroaig 18 (2014)047

48% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Time to revisit an old favorite.  Coming back to this one feels just as comforting and welcome as picking up the phone and talking to an old friend I haven’t seen in years.  Nothing but good memories, nostalgic reflections and the pleasure of returning to something well-loved.

I recently had a chat with a friend on Islay and mentioned I had had to postpone this year’s trip out to my Hebridean home away from home.  He struck a chord when he said “you just need to stick your nose in a glass and it will bring you to Islay.”  If you’ve ever visited the island you’ll feel the truth in this sentiment.  And more than likely feel the same sense of longing to be back that plagues me between trips over.

But enough of that romantic drivel for now.  Let’s just be grateful to check out the new(ish) Laphroaig 18.  This is the white-tinned one; no longer the dark green packaging.  The true question at heart is whether or not the whisky itself has changed in parallel with the aesthetic rebranding.  A collective (and cultivated) cynicism has us somewhat fearful of changes to these old favorites, of which we are fiercely protective.  This cynicism, unfortunately, is firmly rooted in historical precedent in this, the age of declining stocks (or so we’re told) and soaring prices.  But optimism has its place too, so let’s nae get bogged down in the dirges.  Fingers crossed.  Hoping for the best.  And…

…amply rewarded!  Whew.

Nose:  A squeeze of lime.  Smoke, but from a distance.  Peat, but faded.  A hint of anise.  Oysters on the shell.  Coastal air and seaspray.  A touch of vanilla.  Some orange oil.  Keylime pie, pastry and all.  A dusting of dry pepper.  And a sweet, overarching candy note.

Palate:  Orange again.  Or rather, orange rind.  Earthy peat.  Mild black licorice.  Flinty notes.  Smoke and ash.  Solid oaky backbone without being heavy-handed.  A little grapefruit pith.  Salt water.  A nice juicy, plummy note at the end.

Thoughts:  Just as lovely as I recall.  Still a whisky built on smoked fruit and subtleties.  The rebranding seems nothing more than aesthetic fiddling.  Relieved to find this is the same ol’ balancing act of peat and sweet.  Beautiful.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:53 am
Apr 282015
 

Springbank 21 (2013)074

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

A few years back (2005, to be precise), the good folks at Springbank released a very special 21 year old single malt.  That dram is still one of the 50 or so whiskies that make up my all time top 10 list.  😉  And while that early incarnation of the official 21 may not have initially arrived on the scene with trumpets and fanfare, it was soon heralded as the revelation it truly was.

Fast forward to the present day and we have finally been blessed with a few additional versions of this iconic expression.  Nowadays these 21s (and even a new 25!) have been hitting the market with annual regularity.  This is great news for whisky lovers, as for several years the ‘official’ story (unofficially) was that Springbank had simply exhausted their stores of older casks.  That we now have these sassy gold boxes in hand speaks volumes for Springbank’s careful cask management and current eye to maturing stocks.  Good recovery, folks.

For today’s purposes, though, we’re looking at the 2013 edition.  Let’s check in on what we have now compared to that glorious aforementioned old-enough-to-drink-itself expression.

Hmmm…immediately cause for reflection.  This is definitely not the SB21 I know and love.  It is still somewhat recognizable as a Springbank, but if poured for me blindly…I’m not sure I’d correctly identify it as coming from Campbeltown.  The only true hint is the DNA of farm and lower mid range peat.  It’s not that it veers far from the distillery character, but it definitely plays a little standoff-ish and restrained.  I like this one, but I certainly don’t love it.  Oh well.  Kinda shores up suspicions I had that the 2005 edition was likely built with some casks older than 21 years.

Nose:  Very soft right off.  Fruit flan.  Melon (honeydew and overripe cantaloupe).  Faint smoke, but it’s more like charred wood than peat smoke.  Some polish.  Hay and floral notes.  Oak.  Maybe a touch of creamy chocolate and faint whiffs of leather.  Turkish delight too perhaps?

Palate:  Quite juicy at first.  Slightly tannic as it develops, hinting at the depth of sherry influence.  Waxy and oaky.  Fruity still, but not as soft as the nose; leaning more to dried fruits.  A little bit of bitter almond.  Now we have a hint of peat.  Orange peel and licorice.  Oak is fairly forward.

Thoughts:  A far cry from the glorious older edition of Springbank 21 (2005), but still good.  The sweet and lowdown though…no way in hell is this worth the ~$350ca it will set you back.  Oh yeah…almost forgot…the Golden Girls called…they want their gold lamé back.  This is some gaudy awful packaging.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Apr 222015
 

BenRiach Curiositas204

46% abv

Score:  79/100

 

Pretty sure this will be no less than my third go at reviewing this expression. I’ve literally seen a ten point swing in the scores I’ve levied at this one over the past six or seven years. Some of that can be laid at the feet of batch variance, no doubt, but some of it has to come back to the fact that I simply can’t wrap my head around this whisky. A circle I can’t square, if you will.

Curiositas is another peated Speyside malt from BenRiach.  This time served up at a young and rambunctious decade of maturity.  I’ve said many times before that peated Islay malts work well in youth, but it seems to be somewhat up-in-the-air as to whether or not mainland whiskies can carry off the toddler chic that the big guns from the Hebrides do so well.

I’ve invested in three or four bottles of Curiositas over the years, driven back time and again to suss out whether or not I’ll appreciate the malt more with the passage of time.  Occasionally I’ll come ‘round a little to it and think ‘hmmm…not so bad’, but the next time I pour it I shut right down and lean towards something else, much as I do with the Ardmore Traditional Cask (now relegated to history, in favour of yet another NAS fleecing).  I think this much time and effort (and money!) invested in Curiositas will finally afford me the will to simply state that this one is not for me.  I’m finding too many off notes and an overall lack of charm and cohesion.  We’ll stick with others in the BenRiach family, as they have incredible volumes of great whisky and generally at really good prices too.

Nose:  A decent amount of smoke.  Some farmy, grainy barnyard notes.  Iodine.  Tar and rubber (grows stronger as it opens).  Musty and dusty. Grape juice.  Leather, old wood and dunnage warehouses.  Might be a hint of sunflower seeds.  Not a lot of fruit to speak of.  …And just a touch feinty, I find.

Palate:  Quite aggressive.  Big, bold youthful peat.  Smoke.  A little nutty (wal-nut?)…a little bitter.  Licorice.  Rubber.  There are some sweet notes, but not sure I’d suggest they were ‘fruity’ sweet.

Thoughts:  Meh.  Just ok.  A decent alternative, I suppose, but if you’re looking for quality peat, maybe go Islay instead.  Or spend a little more and reach for one of the older peated BenRiachs.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:12 am
Apr 222015
 

BenRiach Authenticus 25 y.o.108

46% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Over the next couple of days I think we’ll hit up a couple of peated Speysiders from one of my favorite distilleries: BenRiach.  We’ll start with the 25 year old Authenticus, before moving into something a little younger.  Authenticus was previously marketed as a 21 year old, which I notched at a respectable 88.5 a couple years back.  They’ve bumped the age (and the price) a bit and nixed the old expression in favour of this 25 year variant.  Trading up, it would seem.

Before getting into tasting notes, let me just say this is a helluva variant on peated whisky.  I typically tend to reach for the wee Hebridean island malts when I want my fix of bog juice, but it’s neat to see what happens to the whisky when the smoky organic influence is composed of more landlocked decay as opposed to the oceanic saltwater-doused island peat.  Less briny and medicinal, as a rule, and often more farmy and floral.

After spending ample time with both of these expressions – the 21 and 25 – I’ll unequivocally state that they’re both special whiskies.  Variations on a theme well worth exploring.  Almost like good modal jazz.  It’s the subtleties and nuance that make the malt rewarding.  Enough pretentious natter.  Notes…

Nose:  Immediately appealing.  Sweet old peat, turning to fruits.  A beautiful restrained smokiness.  A slightly sweet and salty dough note…almost like marzipan actually.  Red Dino-saur candies and almost a bubblegum sweetness.  Berry scones.  Peach, poached pear and soft melon.  Faintly floral.  A touch of fennel.

Palate:  Nice, big delivery.  Slightly bittering.  Not as soft on the fruits right off, as I’d imagine, but a nice heft of bolder, darker fruit juice instead.  Smoke.  Tart candy.  Maybe cinnamon stick and just really dry wood.  A little less than I hoped for, but good.

Thoughts:  Better nose than palate, but a treat nevertheless.  Would have scored higher if the palate could live up to the olfactory promise.  Either way…delightful.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:38 am
Apr 152015
 

Bowmore 25 y.o. Small Batch Release044

43% abv

Score:  83/100

 

It’s disheartening to find a 25 year old with so little character and soul.  A quarter century malt from an iconic distillery should be teeming with personality and have a niche all its own.  Sadly that’s not really the case here.  This is Bowmore without really being Bowmore.  Hard to believe an Islay distillery can be so utterly tame (without being named Bunnahabhain, that is).

Let’s pause a sec, though, and talk about expectations.  While I try to score a whisky based solely on an ‘as objective as possible’ basis, I can’t help but assess a whisky by holding it up against other expressions produced by the distillery.  This is where experience comes into play.  At the time of writing I have tried just shy of 50 different Bowmores that I know of (probably even more that I haven’t kept track of).  These run the gambit from new make spirit through the stunning old ’60s releases.  I’ve tried it straight from the cask and drunk it right at the source.  I like to think I know Bowmore from the earlier fruit bombs to the later perfumes.  Interesting enough…this whisky is not only neither of those; it’s almost unrecognizable as Bowmore.

Ok…so long as the whisky is good.  And good enough to justify that multi-hundred dollar price tag.  But here’s the rub; it’s not, really.  This is merely an ok outing for Bowmore.  Seems like it was matured in maybe third fill barrels (though I’m sure that wouldn’t really be the case).  Very little real distillery character.  And as for living up to the cost?  No way.

Hit up the 18.  I think at this point it’s a bit more of a safe bet.  Or better yet…the 15 year old Laimrig.  Now there’s a stunner.

Nose:  Flinty nip of wet rock.  Wine gums.  Smoke and peat.  Seawater.  Grape and a touch of grapefruit.  A tangy green note.  Some caramel.  Grains are still pretty prevalent.  A faint whiff of that lavendar aroma we’ve sorta come to (unfortunately) expect.  Slightly disappointing, to be honest.

Palate:  Dry smoke.  Wine-y.  Citrus pith.  Grains.  Wow…where is all of the fruitiness that should be bursting out of a 25 year old peat-er?  Dry.  Almost industrial.  A faint seafood note too.

Thoughts:  No bad whisky. No FWP.  No overwhelming lavendar.  But also none of what made older Bowmore so special.  Just a so-so malt.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:24 am
Apr 072015
 

Springbank 32 y.o.barry's place pics 014

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

One from days long gone.  A 32 year old distillery bottling from Campbeltown’s mecca of tradition and heritage.  This is the type of malt that Springbank built its name and reputation on.  A mate of mine contends they are nowhere near this sort of punching power now (and he may be right), but they are still certainly one the best out there.

Rumours suggest Springbank exhausted most of their stocks of mature spirit a few years back and have been playing catch-up ever since.  Seems plausible, as for a while the oldest age-stated release we were seeing from this brand was the 18.  A couple years later the 21 returned with a gold-embossed flourish.  And in recent days the 25 has sprung up with a bit of its own fanfare.  The 21…was just ok.  Nothing like the 21 from years back.  And the 25, though I’ve yet to try, recently got lambasted by our friend Serge at Whiskyfun.  I’ll be tasting that one in just a few weeks time.  Hope to be able to let you know.

But this old 32…this is pretty much everything I could possibly ask for in a wizened old dram from the Mull of Kintyre.  It’s bold and balanced; strong and natural; unique and absolutely spot on in terms of distillery character.

Nose:  Smoke and wax.  The smell of old wood and dunnage warehouses.  Coconut milk and soft pineapple juice.  Soft fruits in syrup.  Orange, both flesh and zest.  Vanilla and oak.  Some tame baking spices.  Becomes fruitier and fruitier over time.

Palate:  There’s the maturity.  Waxy…smoky and oaky.  Definitely speaks of great barrel aging.  Dried fruit…apricot maybe.  A hint of creosote.  Gorgeous, gorgeous oak notes.

Thoughts:  One of my favorite Springbank releases to date.  Sadly, malts from this distillery and at this age are both few and far between and extremely cost prohibitive.  Oh, well.  At least we can say we had it.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:56 am