Oct 282016

Port Charlotte Valinch 12 y.o. Cask #R15/358-00102-bru-00-img_3784

58.4% abv

Score:  88/100


Those of you who’ve made the pilgrimage to Bruichladdich distillery are likely well aware that the gift shop/visitor center is home to an ever-changing cask of Laddie single malt, spigoted and ready for pouring.  The idea being that the ultimate souvenir of your distillery visit has to be a hand-filled bottle of Bruichladdich, straight from the barrel.  And in actual fact there are now two barrels on offer to those so inclined.

When we visited in late September of this year the choices were 12 year old Bruichladdich – unpeated Laddie, that is – matured in a first fill sherry cask and 12 year old Port Charlotte matured entirely in ex-bourbon wood.  The former was not to my tastes, being slightly over-wined in my opinion.  The latter, however, was a rather special malt.  And I had to have one.  Or three.  Well…one for me and two for the club.

The Bruichladdich team have given these casks the appellation ‘Valinch’, named for the tool typically used in pulling samples from the barrel.  Not 100% sure of the rationale behind the choice of name, as there is no valinch involved in the process, but…such is.

Novelty aside though, I think what most appealed here for me was affirmation that the Port Charlotte line is one that ages gracefully.  Peated heavyweights are often at their best in youth, but we’ve seen Port Charlotte to be a bit of a hydra, showing multi-facets.  This particular barrel was further validation of my affections.

I think we all know the deal with Port Charlotte by now, aye?  Bruichladdich call this their ‘moderately peated’ line, but c’mon…40 ppm is hardly moderate, is it?  Not only that, but if you’ve tasted the PC series you’ll know just how big and rich these drams are in terms of smoke and peat reek.

This particular spirit went into wood in 2003 and only met glass circa late 2016.  Twelve years in a good naked bourbon barrel shows me just what I’d hoped to see: Port Charlotte softening and calling forth flavours from the wood to harmonize with the phenols.  At a dozen seasons we’re seeing a pretty damn decent balance.  Love it.

Bottling your own can be either a nifty souvenir or pretty gnarly way to get your hands on an extremely singular malt, but caution for those heading over to Islay…this little experience will set you back quite a few of your hard-earned ATM-dispensed food stamps.  I think these Valinch bottles, at 500 ml, used to run about £50, but are now £75.  A bit pricey for a 12 year old malt (and again…only 500 ml!), but man…how do you say no when faced with the prospect of corking up your own hand-filled?

Nose:  Rubber and smoke.  A hint of cherry.  A lot of spice and a lot of fruit.  Seems somewhat devoid of that butyric (read: buttery) note I associate with Port Charlotte.  12 years is obviously a good age for this one.  Chocolate and peat.  Obviously quite some smoke.

Palate:  Ok…a little more buttery here.  The smoke is more restrained than expected.  …at first.  Fennel.  More smoke now, with rubber, smoked oyster, salt water and burnt lemon.  The fruit suggested by the nose is absolutely crushed by the enormity of peat and earthy tones.  Tastes like a heavily charred bourbon barrel.

Thoughts:  More Port Charlotte on the nose than the palate (if that makes sense).  Neat as hell single cask outing.  Sadly, available only at the distillery.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:37 pm
Oct 092016

Laphroaig 10 y.o. Cask Strength Batch 00806-lap-00-img_3798

59.2% abv

Score:  91/100


Finally.  A long awaited return to a range I fell in love with years ago.  I wrote up Batch 001 and 002 here on the site in early days – and have a bottle of Batch 003 in the archive – but sadly I’ve not been near another one these releases since.  Wait…notes say I tried Batch 004 at some point too.  Unfortunately they are, for inexplicable reasons, not available in Canada no matter how much we plead.  And trust me…I have taken this to Beam Suntory on more than one occasion.

A recent trip to Islay was the perfect opportunity to finally scoop another bottle of this young bog beastie.  Actually, between the four of us that went over, we picked up four bottles of it.  Only one now remains intact (now secure in the archive a chez moi).  After sipping it in one of the island’s pubs, we immediately bought a bottle for evening dramming in Bowmore.  The other two bottles have been generously shared amongst 50 or so good people.  Just the way malts were meant to be treated.

I remember loving these releases, but I don’t recall such harmonious sweet and smoky balance.  Still retains the feist of young Laphroaig, redolent of smoke, peat, earth and medicine, while bringing syrupy sweet candy fruitiness.  Absolutely spot on whisky making.  Every peathead deserves the opportunity to try this one.  Find it…buy it…share it.

Nose:  Wow.  Medicinal AND fruity.  Much deeper threads of jammy fruit than I’d ever expect in a young Laphroaig.  Lemon and lime.  Mint Leaves candy or eucalyptus.  Dry smoke and earthy undertones.  Cocoa powder (dry and drier).  Maybe even chocolate.  This even SMELLS like a thick drink.  Ashy.  Iodine.

Palate:  Unreal delivery.  Sweet, syrupy, rich and fruity.  And a peated hammer to the teeth.  Lots of smoke.  And sooty, char notes.  Lovely.  Almost burnt fruit skins.  Jammy.  Like licking the ashtray at the end of a kitchen party.  Flinty and redolent of lapsang souchong tea.  A finish that seems endless.

Thoughts:  Love this dram.  Not for everyone, but those who love it will truly cherish it.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:37 pm
Oct 082016

Octomore 2005 10 y.o. Cask Sampleimg_2883

?% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Another review that means nothing to anyone, but maybe 5 or 6 people.  But, hey…it’s my online journal of notes, so it’s ok to be self-indulgent from time to time, right?

This wee jotting is kind of like the third part of a trilogy.  On my past three trips over to lslay I’ve been fortunate enough to drink some scorchingly enormous Octomore straight from the barrel in the warehouse.  Each time I’ve written about it.  Much like last time, a mate of mine, and Bruichladdich distillery manager, Allan Logan was kind enough to send me away with a wee take-away sample of this 2005 barrel from the Port Charlotte warehouses.  Serves as a neat looking glass into what the rawest of raw Octomore looks like.  And being a fan of the bottled expressions, I can unequivocally state that the sipping experience is nothing compared to the unfiltered bombast of the oily spirit straight from the cask.  Each barrel differs, of course, but the uncompromising oiliness and strength make it singular.  And drinking it in an old dunnage warehouse doesn’t hurt at all either.

And this one?  Well…it’s Octomore through and through.  I loved it, as you can imagine.  It’s a softer dram than most are used to, but that’s much to do with the additional five years of mellowing.  Octomore is typically a five year old dram.  If I’m being honest, I think I prefer the youthful nature of the standard releases, but not one of the bottled expressions will ever beat these warehouse drams in terms of pure experiential enjoyment.

Thanks again, Allan.

Nose:  Sharp citric bite immediately announces Octomore.  Yet somehow it’s also creamy.  Dark smoke.  White fudge.  Chewy candy (think jujubes, not gummies).  Lemon cake.  Rubber.  Phenols are huge here.  A touch of vanilla.  Key lime.  Rich, dark cigar leaf.

Palate:  Wow.  This is a big drink.  Bigger than big.  The nose is somehow subtle, but the palate…not so much.  Rubbery.  Big acrid phenolic notes (beautiful!).  As cheesy as this sounds…it tastes like fire-cooked seafood by the ocean.  A brief bit of bitter coffee and oversteeped tea.  Sweetness at the back end.  Almost fruity.

Thoughts:  Octomore doesn’t come in any size but XXL, and this is certainly that, even with a decade of mellowing.  Exactly as we’d expect.  And want.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:12 am
Oct 052016

Ardbeg Twenty Oneimg_3773

46% abv

Score:  92/100


We weren’t in the distillery doors 5 minutes before Ardbeg’s most amazing asset (yes, even moreso than the whiskies), the one and only Jackie Thomson, had poured our little crew of gents a round of the new Ardbeg Twenty One.  Generosity, of course, but also a telling amount of pride, I think.  It simply has to be a genuine pleasure coming in to work each day with the ability to share so much magic with so many.

I have more to say about Jackie, but that will be for another post.  I also have more to say about this particular distillery day, but again…let’s save it.  For now…the Twenty One.

For those that know their Ardbeg, I’m sure just the age declaration is enough to get the saliva flowing.  Not only is it the most mature standard(ish) release since Airigh Nam Beist, but being 21 years old would mean this was pre-Glenmorangie distillate.  Mid-1990s, if you do the math.  Just prior to Allied shutting ‘er down, selling the farm and the new owners pouring buckets of paint, capital and love into getting it all back up and running.  In simplest terms, this is malt of another age.  A time before the boom.  I have my own theories about why whisky from this age (and earlier) was better, but that is discussion for another day, ere this post ends up in essay territory.  Suffice to say, whisky today is different from those bygone barrels.

Now…2016 and finally a new age-stated Ardbeg.  I wish I could say that the sky high price tag was unwarranted or that the hype and hyperbole surrounding this one were unjustified, but the simple fact of the matter is I’d be lying.  This is Ardbeg at the top of its game.  The peat knuckles under in favour of softer, fruitier notes.  The smoke is omnipresent, but never overwhelming.  The subtleties and nuances will have your nose dipping to the glass time and again.  And the unbelievable sweetness will likely make any Ardbeg aficionado mourn a lost age.  To be honest, I adore this dram.  I’ve drunk it on three occasions now and liked it more each time.

Allocation is small and price is high, but don’t miss your chance to try if opportunity arises.  Liquid history.

Nose:  Very Ardbeg, right off.  Orange and melon.  Maybe even a touch of tangerine.  The fruitiest Ardbeg in a loooooong time.  Almost tropical.  A faint touch of leather.  Soft vanillins.  A few minutes in the glass allows a plethora of estery notes to rise; huge sweet fruits and candies.  A slight doughiness (or glue-iness?).  Smells of soft oils and a beautiful balance of freshness and old mature malt.  Love it.

Palate:  Some smoke leads, but it tangs up with some great orange-y fruit notes almost immediately.  Citrus pith.  Lemon and lime.  Green apple.  Rubber and ash and all that Ardbeggian stuff.  Tastes of char.  And some of that pastry/dough-ness about it.  Some licorice and dry tea at the back end.

Thoughts:  Gorgeous nose.  The palate is not quite as spectacular, but still a magic dram.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:52 pm
Oct 052016

Alright, you patient and faithful motherfuckers.  I’m back.  Apologies for the long absence and the sporadic postings up ’til then.  I landed back home a week ago today.  It’s been an awful lot of recovering and quality time with the family ever since.  The recovering was not of the post-hangover sort, but of the…errrr…’immediate repairs required’ kind.  While away I caught a hell of a cold, sprained a wrist, broke my phone, lost some luggage, broke up a heavyweight dual and solved world hunger.  Well…all but the last one, anyway.

I’ll be diving in headlong in the coming days.  Starting almost immediately after I hit ‘publish’ on this post.

And, yeah…I think it was Skeptic who called it correctly.  My hopes were not for nil.  That little surprise I was hoping for did indeed come to fruition.  A mate of mine from around the globe managed to extricate himself from all pressures domestic and work-related in order to join us for the middle leg of our journey.  Tabarek, who many of you may know as the Malt Activist, met us on Islay and ran headlong into some unforgettable experiences with us.  We’ll be doing some shared blogging and such in the very near future.  Including notes on one surreal dramming experience.  This guy truly is the yin to my yang.

More to come, friends.  Thanks for sticking ’round.


 – Curt

 Posted by at 8:27 pm