Mar 112012
 

Maker’s Mark

45% abv

 Score:  85.5/100

 

Bourbon is a different beast entirely. For those that read my jottings and ramblings, you will no doubt notice that bourbon is far from my mainstay. I appreciate it. I drink it. I occasionally even crave it (is that the sign of a problem?). Nine times out of ten however, I’m probably going to reach for that scotch bottle instead.

Perhaps this is driven by an appreciation for what age can do to whisky (what with most bourbon being younger than most scotch), or perhaps it is simply a bias to pure grains over corn and rye in my glass. Who knows.

Irrespective…it is hard for one, no matter personal bias, to not respect what Maker’s have crafted.

On to the drink at hand: Maker’s Mark. Standard red seal. Age: Anywhere from 6 to 7 ½ years. This age variation will depend upon how climate has stunted or accelerated growth in the warm Southern state of Kentucky. Casks are rotated in the warehouses, periodically checked and bottled according to ‘ripeness’. We, the lucky shopper shelling out our dollars, are then presented with a bourbon in all its youthful charming glory. Bold and fruity. Sweet and spicy.

The nose is dominated by honeyed fruit, corn and oak. Rich cherry spice and creamy dessert notes are carried with a hint of toffee and vanilla. Mild cacao and wax (think Cherry lip balm) as well. Just a hint, fleeting, of something sharp and green.

The palate is defined by lively oak carrying vanilla and spices. A hint of mint and honeyed grains and cherry round it out, while the finish is corn/grain and oaked cherry.

Maker’s is charming as hell. A Southern Belle that is at once unique and comfortably rooted in the tradition of bourbon. Love the big fruit. Love the integration of spice and wood and how the vanilla tempers everything so beautifully. Deserves a spot in any whisky cabinet, methinks.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat at www.standstillphotography.ca

 Posted by at 5:23 pm
Mar 112012
 

Laphroaig 30 y.o.30

43% abv

Score:  93.5/100

 

Wow. What a marriage. Simply brilliant interaction between oak and spirit. Here we have a whisky showing young and vibrant notes of every fruit under the rainbow, while at the same time purposefully striding with elegance and grace though the decades.

Tasted twice now in Laphroaig vertical tastings, my initial impressions have been cemented into bona fide opinion (not worth much, I know). Even after a few younger cask-strength expressions in those line-ups, this one wowed the socks off all present.

Picking fruits off the nose here is like shooting fish in a barrel. It is simply too easy. I believe one of The Collective even said something along the lines of ‘everything but mango’. Interestingly enough, blueberries dominate. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered that before. Other big ‘uns…peach, melon and typically peaty citrus.

Wood influence is forefront. Mature and dusty, waxy and smoky. This is mellow and fruit-rich. Hints of tar and rubber are held at bay by the myriad of fruit. I kid you not…this is like a lightly smoked and salted fruit basket. Someone also mentioned maple, and yeah…kinda. The funny thing is though, the nose keeps changing. Somewhat like a reverberating beat that lets one note take the forefront for a moment or two before receding to allow the next to step forward.

The delivery is fresh home baked breads, caramelized fruit and soft creamy smoke. Clinging and utterly heartbreaking when it fades. One could get lost in this whisky. I only ask for the opportunity to try.

43%. Sigh. Oh…to have this at cask strength…

There are countless gems in the Laphroaig range, but here is the Hope Diamond. Sans curse, of course.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:29 pm
Mar 112012
 

Laphroaig 25 y.o. Cask Strength (2009 Edition)125

51% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

By no means can Laphroaig be considered a subtle dram. Its reputation as one of the most defining and polarizing single malts in existence is not without merit. Even the more readily available expressions in the Laphroaig line-up (Quarter Cask and 10 year old) are enough to have some swooning and some bolting. Taking this self-same malt from the isle of Islay up to cask strength (51% abv) only helps to reinforce this characteristic might.

But then again…who needs subtlety? There are enough bland and homogenized whiskies bending the shelves worldwide. Whiskies such as this, with its profoundly jagged and flavor-filled profile, should be embraced and, when the occasion calls for it, revered. There is just no way around it. This is an enormously aggressive whisky.

Nose:  Smoke, licorice and peppered greens. Some lime, mild chocolate and fresh tropical fruit. Sweet unidentifiable fruits carried over, I’m sure, from the Oloroso cask. Dry grainy/cereal notes come through as it opens up and the initial bite retreats a little. There is also a wee bit of caramel adding some smooth sweetness. Tack on the typical Islay profile notes of peat, fishiness and iodine and you pretty much have what I’m getting on this one. Quite a busy one.

Palate:  There is a peppery bite on first sips. An odd and fleeting hint of red licorice as it first crosses the palate. The caramel notes absolutely do not carry over to the palate, however the chocolate does, and carries a hint of honey. A great delicious briny tang puts down roots as well.

Thoughts:  Not a lot one could drink after this in a sitting. Most likely a malt you want to close your evening with.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:23 pm
Mar 112012
 

Port Charlotte PC5

63.5 % abv

Score: 92/100

 

Here it is.  This is where the legacy begins.  Though the Port Charlotte distillery is still (at the time of writing) a far off dream, Bruichladdich has been distilling an enormous, heavily-peated dram under the name of Port Charlotte for a few years now.  The first release, at five years old, is quite logically called PC5.  In this, its youngest incarnation, it shows a little more of the naked new-make spirit than in its successors.  This is quite enlightening for the Port Charlotte enthusiast, as even by the following 6 year old release (yep…PC6), it has moved a decent way along the path to maturity.

I won’t delve too deeply into the history of the Port Charlotte distillery here, so hopefully a few quick details will suffice.   It was originally in operation under the name Lochindaal Distillery, so titled for the loch on whose rocky shores is nestled the wonderful homey little village of Port Charlotte.  Sadly, in 1929, during the zealous age of prohibition, the distillery was closed.  Now…more than 80 years on, plans are on the backburner for the fine folk at Bruichladdich to pull a Willy Wonka and re-open this magic factory.

The logical first question would be, “well…will this be the same whisky as that produced on this site generations ago?”  The answer is a resounding…”we don’t really know”.  The last known bottle of malt from the Lochindaal Distillery became memory almost 50 years ago.

Regardless…where that questions remains unanswered, the follow-up, “is this new Port Charlotte any good?” is an easy one to address.

The answer is yes.  Quite simply, this is bloody brilliant whisky.  Unlike any other and certainly not soon to be forgotten.  Reviews of PC5 through PC8 will all be posted in the coming days, so do have a read to follow this whisky through maturation, but in the meantime let’s get back to the bottle at hand.

Make no mistake, this is a young whisky.  It is sharp and jagged, rough and tough.  It bears a little more fruit and seems slightly less buttery than its elder siblings, but certainly still carries the Bruichladdich signature.

The nose is explosive and overstuffed to near-bursting.  Don’t get too close here…you’ll burn out your senses with too deep a first sniff.  Its heavy handed billows of peat and smoke are met with the aggression of black licorice and a green thistle bite.  As I said, you’ll likely still be able to pick up traces of the new-make character (if you’ve ever sampled new-make) and a vibrant fruitiness, both of which mellow in subsequent releases.  Light dollops of chocolate and a bit of apple round this out in a smoother manor.

The palate is prickly as hell.  Baby steps…small sips encouraged.  Here you’ll get (or I did anyway) some tarry notes, sharp greens and a bit of buttery caramel.  Wow, is this big!  The lingering notes that finish this one are typical of the big bold peated Islay malts…tart green apple skins.  Smoked apple skins, that is.

Surprisingly I find this one has some similarity to cask strength Caol Ila, moreso than its Bruichladdich brethren.  Odd.  Finally, in terms of balance, this isn’t quite as stable as PC6, PC7 or PC8, but please do NOT take that as a criticism.  Balance is not the be all, end all.  This one is probably second only to the PC6 in my books.

Can hardly wait to try this at older vintages.  If you can still find it…BUY IT.

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:19 pm
Mar 112012
 

Compass Box Spice Tree

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

An interesting tale, this one.  Compass Box originally released “The Spice Tree” back in 2005, to what I understand was considerable critical acclaim.  A messy little ado rose with the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) over the method of maturation, and in turn ended in “The Spice Tree” being deemed ‘illegal’ by SWA standards.  Fast forward a couple of years, technical snafu worked out satisfactorily to all parties, and voila…the re-emergence of a truly enjoyable vatted malt.

Damn.  What a neat little product Compass Box has put together.  A celebration of true whisky production evident in the lack of chill-filtration or artificial coloring.  Brilliantly bottled at a healthy 46% as well.  The whisky itself is a lovely rich golden amber color with thick legs if you give it a gentle swirl in the glass.  Oily and rich to the eye as well as the palate.

First thing to hit the nose is a big spicy sweetness.  Something sort of zesty…perhaps orange rind…a little more tart than the fruit itself.  This is tempered by a bit of vanilla and smoke.  A swish over the palate brings that sweetness right up front and compliments it with some spice and malt.  You’ll find a big oak nuttiness to it, soft vanilla edges and a charred roasted marshmallow flavor.  A little peat smoke rounds out the back.  The finish is long and warming.  “The Spice Tree” is a bit heavier than the other Compass Box products I’ve tried thus far.  This is a good thing.

This whisky, like most in the Compass Box line, sports such a unique profile that it is quite difficult to predict the extent of its appeal, as it is somewhat challenging to draw parallels to other whiskies.  If the opportunity presents itself, do try, and let me know what you think.

Though “The Spice Tree” likely won’t hit the Canadian market for several months, we were fortunate enough to sample it at a recent tasting hosted by Compass Box’s John Glaser.  I fear the price point on this one will put it out of reach for many (just a speculation), but I personally will anxiously be awaiting word on a Canadian release date.

Nice work, Compass Box.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat at www.standstillphotography.ca

 Posted by at 3:10 pm
Mar 112012
 

Port Ellen 1979 (OMC) Cask # 3081

50% abv

Score:  83/100

 

Hm.  What to make of this one.

First things first…I want to know who the hell thought it was a good idea to put Port Ellen in a rum cask.  Seriously.  One of my favorite distilleries (albeit no longer with us) meets one of my least favorites spirits.  As a relative scotch purist, this is one of the most overt blasphemies and bastardizations of a damn near sainted malt I have ever encountered.

Thankfully the rum notes that dominate the nose are nearly invisible across the palate.  (Remember…as we’ve said before…the nose picks up much more than the taste buds ever will).  So, the question is…does the odd nose profile, courtesy of the rum influence, manage to kill this whisky?  Fortunately…no.  I think though, it may have been a battle to the death, with the Islay contender eking a victory out at heavy cost to personal well-being.

What this Old Malt Cask offering gives us is a nose full of wet rubber bands and glue.  Characteristics I find in most aged rums I’ve tried.  The slightly uncorfortable icing on this sweet desert is a fishy and oily tinged layer of briny Islay familiarity.  The smoke and peat has mellowed gracefully by this age, but the fruits that would normally start to assert themselves are being held back by the other, odder notes.  To be honest, this borders on unpleasant, but there are some pleasant notes that work as a saving grace.

As mentioned a couple paragraphs back, the palate is surprisingly bereft of this synthetic olfactory experience.  Here we can see the Port Ellen we love.  It is tarry and rubbery.  Salted cooked greens and lemon pepper at the fore.  A lovely lingering affair that shows little to non of the rum influence.

The maltmonster hooked me up with this one (though he hates these mentions…there is a reason here).  Being as averse to the cane juice as I am, he actually apologized for passing this over.  Though half in jest, I couldn’t help but think he feels as I do.  Keep that sugary distillate away from the nectar of Islay.

Interestingly enough…a while back I tasted a rum that had been matured (or at least finished) in a former Laphroaig cask.  The results were an abomination.  Here we see the effects of reversing the process, and maturing a whisky in a rum cask.  While not an offence to the senses as the rum was, this is not quite the success that may have been hoped for.  Neat to note that both developed a somewhat artificial note to them.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

 Posted by at 3:06 pm
Mar 112012
 

Port Charlotte PC6

61.6% abv

Score:  93/100

Bruichladdich’s rebirth under the guiding hands of Jim McEwan has been the thing of whisky legend.  This renaissance will be looked back on in years to come as a thing of magnificence.  The old Bruichladdich distillery, originally founded in 1881 and oft moth-balled, was reopened under the watchful gaze of Murray McDavid in 2000.  After a lengthy career at neighboring Bowmore, Jim McEwan was hired on as Master Distiller, and has taken this distillery to new heights.

Port Charlotte PC6 is a heavily-peated whisky at 40ppm (most reliable number I have read), though it seems even bigger.  At one of our unofficial ‘tastings’, three Bruichladdich bottles were lined up in a vertical tasting.  These three were PC6, Brunello Cask and the second edition of Octomore.  The Brunello, though a respectable 49%, couldn’t hold a candle to the other two, of course.  Though the Octomore is the world’s most heavily-peated whisky at 140ppm, the PC6 was not overwhelmed at all.  Impressive in and of itself.

PC6 is another of Bruichladdich’s young gems.  Matured in American bourbon and French Madeira casks it has been bottled at a mere 6 years old.  As I have mentioned before, I believe the big peats benefit from younger bottling.  The peat is still raw and edgy and has not had time to mellow in the cask.  Those of us who like to punish our tastebuds (why not?  We’re already kicking the hell out of our livers) with huge flavors should love this.

On top of the bog influence, I must note that this is an absolute monster at 61.1%.  You will be more than safe adding water if that is your preference.  I would suggest, as with all whiskies, pour a glass and let it rest.  This one needs time to open up.  The delivery is well worth it.

Wave after wave of peat and smoke assail the senses.  Surprisingly, these are equally met with that typical Bruichladdich buttery character.  Rich and caramel sweet married to a huge blast of Islay magic.  This is mind-blowingly unique and wonderful.  Salty and medicinal, it has that tangy citric note that accompanies most of the peated whiskies as well.  There is a deep dark éclair flavor to it.  Also hints of bacon and maple.

A whisky this massive can be nothing less than a monster in the mouth as well.  It ladles out all of the notes above, with emphasis on butterscotch, citrus and smoke, in a thick mouth coating heat.  The burn is welcomed with open arms, and the finish is a smoldering hug that never lets go.  You will be tasting this for hours.

I can not wait to sample the PC7 and PC8 now.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:37 pm
Mar 112012
 

Ardbeg UigeadailMar102012 070

54.2% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

Can you hear the distant rumblings?  Imagine the sky turning the color of bruises and black eyes?

This…this is the fearsome dark storm of Islay.  Its enormity is almost intimidating.  Its might and majesty so beyond the scope we’re used to seeing in such a young and core range bottling.  This is like standing on the shores of Islay while the skies tear open above.  Like being lambasted by gusts of rain and hurricane winds.  And also like feeling grateful simply for having stood so close to the vortex and lived to tell.  This is nature’s fiercest, distilled and decanted.  This is one of the most blindingly original whiskies I have ever tried.

At once sweet, salty and smoky.  A deep sherry influence, while not overburdening, is held in check by dense layers of smoke.  There are notes of chocolate and warm leather carried, no doubt, by the sherried casks.  Tendrils of salted meat and roasting…well…just roasting something.

The smoke, brine and seasoned meat carry to the palate as well, here gaining a sharp little prickle from a thread of anise.  The chariot that delivers this complex amalgamation of all that is Islay (and so much more) is the perfect vehicle at a respectable 54.2% (When will all of the others learn?).

This is a sublimely heavy and brooding dram.  A ‘noir’ whisky, if ever one was made.  Deeper and darker than a Lynch movie, this is a whisky for the most introspective and dark-hearted to mull over in the most forbidding depths of the darkest lounge.

There is simply no doubt about it…this is one of the best whiskies I’ve yet to find.  Spectacular.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Mar 112012
 

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist (2008)019

46% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Airigh Nam Beist, the ‘shelter of the beast’. Named for a legend that suggests something primeval and threatening lies in wait in this dark place (Loch Airigh) high above Ardbeg. This is a whisky that, while still 100% Ardbeg, is miles away from any of the other core expressions. Its delicate creamy complexity has made it the subject of adoration for many. This is closer to the ‘17’ (sadly gone now), though with a wee bit more heft in ABV.

Typical of this distillery’s philosophy, we’re given a whisky in its natural and beautiful naked state. Un-chill-filtered and bottled at a respectable 46% (though I ache inside to think what this could have been if left at cask strength). I suppose however, stocks would have been even more limited in such a case. Sigh.

The Airigh Nam Beist is a delicate and complex Ardbeg. Soft and creamy and rich in fruit. Grapefruit…pear…a touch of orange…keylime pie and firm fresh lemon. Smoke and creamy vanilla dance perfectly in step. A sprinkling of salt and maybe the finest dusting of dill. A drop or two of sherry as well. Restrained for an Ardbeg though of course peat and smoke, no matter how subtly woven throughout, are omnipresent.

Creamy, malty delivery. Smoke and toasted marshmallow. Unassuming brine and the barest hint of chocolate.

Three mentions of the word ‘creamy’ in one review…and an Ardbeg at that…what gives? Utterly true and completely at odds with what logic tells me to expect on this one. A perfect analogy I read (can’t remember where, and certainly can’t take credit) was eating ice cream on the beach. Exactly so!

Sadly, one more for the vaults. This is the latest Ardbeg expression to have its jersey hoisted to the rafters in retirement when it was succeeded (though not replaced) by the Corryvreckan. Though I realize stocks only stretch so far, the irrational sentimentalist in me mourns the loss of this one. The cautions were given early on to stock up, and I, like many others, neglected to heed the word. For the last two years I’ve been on the hunt. Fortunately a couple have fallen into my eager palms (but, man…I’ve paid dearly).

 

A couple of important notes:

First…this is the only Ardbeg expression to boast an age statement of greater than ten years in the recent range.

And second…distilled in 1990, and bottled from 2006 through 2008, you may run into 16, 17 or 18 year old vintages.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:54 am
Mar 112012
 

Ardbeg Blasda056

40% abv

Score:  88/100

 

It’s hard to imagine that anything made by Ardbeg could be considered an underdog.  Interestingly enough however, that is precisely the case with Blasda.  Aggressively marketed as an unpeated Ardbeg (in hopes of broadening the appeal of Islay’s smokiest malt, I imagine), Blasda is Gaelic for ‘sweet and delicious’, so they say.   Okay…can’t disagree so far.  And what do I say?  Well…I think launching a whisky like this took balls (with all due respect Ms. Barrie, I use this term metaphorically).  Legions of adoring peatheads look to Ardbeg as the pinnacle of Islay malts, and rightfully so.  The distillery rarely missteps.

So what happens when a distillery lauded for its bruising heavyweights (often at cask-strength, rarely below 46% abv and never chill-filtered) elects to release a 40%’er?  And…uh…chill-filtered to boot?

Well…backlash.  Lots of it.  Derogatory names such as ‘Ardbeg Light’ were tossed around in the forums and unfair comparisons were made against its elder siblings.  Of course when held up against the others in the core range this one comes up a little short in some of the categories you’d expect an Ardbeg to dominate.  However…stop and listen please…however…this is a damn good whisky.  Make no mistake about it.

The nose…

Unpeated Ardbeg, huh?  Not likely.  Lighter peating…sure…that I’ll buy.  Apparently this is still peated to about 8ppm (higher than Bunna and some ‘Laddie).  First thing to hit the beak is a waft of peat and smoke.  Fairly typical of an Islay dram.  This is much more like a spritely young Caol Ila though, than an Ardbeg.  The citrus here is more lime than lemon.  Keylime pie…crust and all.  This ‘lime-iness’ brings a little extra tartness and some rich green sweet notes.  It is salty (of course) and its youthful ebullience carries a gentle prickle amid creamy waves.  Neat.  Refreshing.

Touches of oak sally forth on the delivery.  I didn’t pick this up on the nose, but it is certainly a prevalent characteristic on the palate.  In logical succession the oak brings some mild vanillins.  Ebbing notes are soft fruit and wood.  The finish is short, but not abrupt.  Pleasant and charming.

I really like this whisky.

Now…I refuse to keep mum on this one…

Dear Ardbeg,

As you know (or should by now) I am adoring fan.  I count myself among the legions hopelessly devoted to you and yours.  As such I feel I am in a position to say this (cause we only hurt the ones we love)…

I will accept an Ardbeg at 40%.  I will also accept an Ardbeg which has been (shudder) chill-filtered.  I will further accept that I have to pay handsomely for that green bottle I so adore.

…but…

I do NOT accept that the price point of a whisky such as this has to be as high as it is.  Sadly I admit…it said Ardbeg on the bottle and I had to have it.

In the future please take this to heart.

Yours forever…

One last thing…regarding that ‘underdog status…never forget…

“Little Davids strike hard and deep.”

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:52 am