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Sunday, 21 July 2019

Hazelburn Rundlets & Kilderkins Whisky Review!

A cask strength, 10-year old, small cask-aged Hazelburn, and the third & final instalment in the Rundlets & Kilderkins releases. Bring on the (sexy) funk...

Hazelburn is the triple-distilled and un-peated spirit produced by Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, named after the Hazelburn Distillery which closed in 1925. A few of the original distillery's buildings still stand, the majority of which now form a business park 300 metres down the road from Springbank. Hazelburn only makes up 10% of Springbank's annual production, while 80% goes to the namesake Springbank spirit which is lightly-peated and 2.5-times distilled, and the heavily-peated and double-distilled Longrow takes up the remaining 10%. Bear in mind that Springbank have a maximum annual production capacity of around 750,000-litres of spirit, a positively tiny amount compared to most operating Scottish distilleries, so there really isn't a lot of Hazelburn produced. There's also less spirit produced thanks to that triple distillation, where the un-peated wash is run through each of Springbank's three stills (pictured above) in series, starting with the direct-fired wash still, then the worm tub condenser-equipped first low wines still, and the shell & tube condenser-equipped second low wines still. Which means it's a lighter and more refined spirit, at a higher alcohol level with a spirit / heart cut average of 75% ABV when it leaves that third still. Triple distillation is associated more with Irish whiskeys these days, and only a few Scottish malt distilleries have dabbled in the practice, with Auchentoshan in the Lowlands being the only Scottish distillery to triple-distill the entirety of their production.

As a result of triple distillation and also the lack of peat used in the kilning of the applicable malted barley, Hazelburn tends to be a lighter, cleaner and more refined whisky than the Springbank and Longrow malts. So there's generally less Campbeltown "funk" to be found in these bottles, but if you play your cards right (cask strength required, in my experience) you'll still find it. Personally, and like many Springbank fans I suspect, I do tend to prefer Springbank & Longrow, so my experience with Hazelburn isn't on the same level, but I have had a couple of excellent expressions in the past. The winner so far was a refill Sauternes cask-matured Springbank Society bottling, which I'm not likely to ever come across again, unfortunately. It's hard to argue with the statement that the finished product tends to be less "Campbeltown-y" than the other Campbeltown malts (Kilkerran and Glen Scotia included), but it's still a Springbank, which means that everything other than growing the actual barley itself is done on-site. From malting, milling, fermenting, distilling, maturing and bottling, it all happens at the distillery. And for 100% of the distillery's production. Which is certainly not something you see everyday!

This particular Hazelburn is the third and final instalment in Springbank's Rundlet's & Kilderkins releases, following on from 2012's 10-year old Springbank release, and 2013's 11-year old Longrow release (reviewed here). A rundlet is a 68-litre (approx.) cask, and a kilderkin is an 82-litre cask, compared to the 200-, 250- and 500-litre casks commonly used for Scotch whisky maturation. Smaller casks equals more surface area contact equals more cask influence, so these whiskies tend to drink well beyond their modest age statements. This 10-year old Hazelburn (not to be confused with the regular 10-year old expression) was bottled at a cask strength of 50.1% ABV, and of course is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured like everything that comes out of Springbank's narrow driveways. While both the Springbank and Longrow releases consisted of 9,000 bottles apiece, there were 12,000 units of the Hazelburn released, which is a significant number, but I was nevertheless surprised to see this whisky still available in Australia here in mid-2019. Why? Because it was bottled over five years ago, way back in early 2014! It's still quite reasonably priced as well at around $165 AUD, and while Hazelburn doesn't quite have the cult following of the distillery's other two products, I can tell you now that it is a serious bargain. Get in quick folks, and tell them Peated Perfection sent you!

Hazelburn Rundlets & Kilderkins, 10-years old, 50.1%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Un-peated triple-distilled single malt from Springbank Distillery. Fully matured in re-coopered 68-litre rundlet and 82-litre kilderkin casks. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour. 12,000 bottles, released 2014.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Oily, lightly cheesy, slightly herbal & earthy. Olive oil, baked red apples, semi-sweet herbal honey. Some brine, damp earth (dunnage) and white pepper. Lemon oil, and some light fresh oak - reminds me of balsa wood. Some damp malt and a little marzipan with more breathing time.

Texture: Medium weight, oily & surprisingly savoury. A little peppery, but not in a harsh or overly spirit-y way.

Taste: More olive oil, more white pepper, and more light fresh oak. A lighter version of the classic Campbeltown "funk"as well, that damp earthy dunnage warehouse & old dusty farmyard / barn note. Dryer than the nose, not a sweet whisky by any means. Still has that lemon oil note in the background.
  Finish: Medium length. Getting quite dry here with more pepper and light oak, before that olive oil, lemon, baked apple and dunnage earthy-ness come through. Those apples are powdery now though. More clean olive oil and light brine to finish.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: A very tasty dram, and probably the richest and most 'Campbeltown-y' Hazelburn that I've tasted to date. And also one of the best. It's definitely miles above the standard 10-year old, although at cask strength and with small casks involved that could be expected. Considering the relatively small jump in price over that entry-level bottling, and considering that this one was bottled over five years ago, it's a bit of a hidden gem. If you find Springbanks too funky and a little too wild for your tastes, give Hazelburn a try. And if you prefer a dryer, oily, richer style of malt then this Rundlets & Kilderkins is the one to go for. Personally it's not on the same level as the Longrow version, but since the base malts are so different that's probably just down to personal preference rather than overall quality.

Yet another tasty single malt from Campbeltown's finest, and a real bargain at the still-current pricing here in Australia. Just don't expect the remaining stocks to last long. It's still a hidden gem at the moment, but people are catching on to that sort of thing very quickly these days!


Sunday, 7 July 2019

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2019 Whisky Review!

A new Cairdeas release is always exciting, but this year's just happens to be even more so. This is a cask strength version of Laphroaig Triple Wood!

But before we get into the details and the review, I have a point to address. If you go searching online for information about this particular Laphroaig, 90% of the regurgitated press releases listed in Google have stated an incorrect bottling strength in their articles. This cask strength whisky was not bottled at 51.4% as you'll read on most of those sites. I actually fell for this myself when this bottling was first officially announced and social media quickly became flooded with dozens of slightly-altered versions of the same short article, and thought that strength was unexpectedly - and disappointingly - low for what is a relatively young whisky. But all is not lost, because they got it wrong: the actual strength of this little beauty is a substantial 59.5% ABV. Which puts it among the highest strength official bottlings of Laphroaig in recent history! If memory serves it's only been beaten by the US bottling of the 10-year old Cask Strength Batch 008 (reviewed here), which hit 59.9%. So there's definitely nothing to be concerned about here when it comes to bottling strength, and this promises to be a rather intense whisky!

Now, onto the juicy bits. Like 2017's release from the home of some of Islay's peatiest whiskies, this year's Cairdeas (Gaelic for "Friendship") bottling, which is released annually to coincide with the Islay festival a.k.a. Feis Ile, is a cask strength version of a core range / regular expression of Laphroaig. Some may find this a little less thrilling than an exotic cask finishing like the majority of recent Cairdeas', but for Laphroaig fans - myself included - the opportunity to try an old favourite at it's natural cask strength is extremely exciting. It also means that both pricing and availability are kept at reasonable levels, which is no bad thing for those who can't spend a week on Islay in June each year because they just happen to reside on the other side of the planet. The 2017 Cairdeas was a cask strength version of Laphroaig's Quarter Cask, at 57.2% ABV rather than the usual 48%, with 32,000 bottles released. This year's bottling is a cask strength version of Triple Wood, which is also normally bottled at 48%, and shares most of it's maturation method with the aforementioned Quarter Cask expression. Both are a vatting of 5-11 year old first-fill ex-bourbon casks, and are then finished for around 7-months in re-coopered 125-litre quarter casks which are also first-fill ex-bourbon. That's where the journey ends for the Quarter Cask expression, but as you can probably guess by the name, Triple Wood takes a third step before it can hit the road: a second cask finishing, or triple maturation if you prefer, in ex-Oloroso sherry European oak butts (500-litre casks) for around two years. Both of these core bottlings are non-chill filtered and reportedly naturally coloured, as is the delicious travel-exclusive PX Cask expression which swaps out the Oloroso casks in the Triple Wood for sweet Pedro Ximinez sherry casks.

This cask strength version of Triple Wood follows exactly the same cask recipe as the standard release, right up to the bottling stage, including the lack of chill filtration & artificial colouring. 36,000 bottles have been released at a price of 63 Euros, or approximately $104 AUD at today's rate. But due to our unfortunate geography Australians are then looking at another $73 AUD in shipping on a single bottle order. You could of course buy two bottles to spread the shipping cost a little further, but you'll then be up for $108 in shipping. And of course either way you'll most likely be hit with our ridiculous duty, tax and GST charges from Australian Customs, because how dare you bring spirits into this country you peasant, plus the extra charges from the usual freight company just because they can. By my calculations those charges would come to around $83 on a single bottle order (around $63 to customs and $20 to the courier), which makes this a $250 bottle once landed in Australia. All of which of course has nothing to do with Laphroaig or the people that made this whisky, but doesn't make for a cheap proposition. Especially considering that the regular version of Triple Wood retails for around $120 AUD on our shelves. But like the annual bottlings of Cask Strength 10-year old these Cairdeas bottlings are not officially imported to Australia by the national distributor, and they haven't been since at least 2015, so importing it yourself is essentially the only option. It's very tough for a Laphroaig fan to say no to something like this and then watch the bottling slip through your fingers, thanks to the fear of missing out and all that. For you peat-heads not in Australia that are not lumped with our truly horrible duty & excise rates, particularly for those in the United States which are usually - maybe even unfairly - treated to obscenely low pricing on high strength Laphroaigs, I hope you realise how lucky you are!

But that's enough aimless whingeing / yelling at clouds for this post. We have a cask strength Laphroaig to review! I was lucky enough to get a sample of this tasty number from Dan Woolley, Beam Suntory's National Whisky Ambassador for Australia, who recently just happened to get married among the casks in the famous No. 1 Warehouse at Laphroaig, a few days prior to working at the distillery during Feis Ile week. As you do!?! Congratulations to Dan & his lovely wife Billie, and many thanks for the sample. Let's get to it!

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2019, Triple Wood Cask Strength. NAS, 59.5%. Islay, Scotland.
Vatting of 5-11 year old ex-bourbon casks, finished in 125-litre ex-bourbon quarter casks for approx. 7 months, then finished in 500-litre ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 36,000 bottles.

Colour: Dark amber.

Nose: Rich, sweet like a dark toffee, and lightly salty. Toffee almonds, drying seaweed, baking spices and a nice dry minerality, like wave-washed volcanic rock. Warm brown sugar, maybe even treacle, and a little orange peel with a light, dry vegetal peat in the background. Extra breathing time brings out more orange and some sugary vanilla paste.

Texture: Medium-heavy weight, rich & syrupy. Warming but not harsh or hot, even at nearly 60%.

Taste: Dried fruits macerating in syrup, and there's lots of orange peel now. Some dry, ashy smoke, more drying seaweed, and some more dry spices - cinnamon and clove in particular, and a bit of aniseed behind. That treacle note is there, as is some dark chocolate.

Finish: Medium-long length. Warming with those spices, and that orange peel is even more evident here, in fact it's more of an orange zest now. There's more dark chocolate, but it's fruit & nut chocolate here with a few raisins & almonds mixed in. That dry mineral saltiness returns, with more aniseed and a puff of that dry vegetal peat.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: A very rich & condensed whisky this, no question. There's plenty of flavour, but there's not a huge amount of Laphroaig's peaty or medicinal DNA showing itself. Very little, in fact. There is loads of orange and chocolate though, particularly on the palate and finish, and it's very drinkable for the (substantial) strength. It is recognisable as Triple Wood, but with almost everything dialled up to 10, particularly in the texture and richness departments. But I did say "almost everything", because the peat and smoke have been subdued and kept in the background. Which only goes to show the power of those sherry casks!

So despite being "only" a cask strength version of a regular expression, once again Laphroaig have brought a different whisky to the table for this year's Cairdeas. Which is entirely the point after all, and as we could've safely expected it's a very tasty one. Definitely one that fans of the distillery, and of richly flavoured whisky in general, will want to get their hands on. Despite the difficulty and expense required to do so in many parts of the world. Given the choice between this and 2017's cask strength Quarter Cask, personally I would probably go for the latter, but then I tend to prefer the regular Quarter Cask to the regular Triple Wood anyway, so that's not really a surprise and should be taken with a grain of salt.

As a bit of a footnote, some may want to know how it compares to the regular 48% ABV version of Triple Wood. Well, at least I did! Given the substantial difference in strength you'd expect the standard version to be relatively mild in comparison, and it definitely is. In fact when poured immediately after it's big brother it's actually very light and almost watery, which is not something that I'd normally say about almost any Laphroaig, and demonstrates just how rich and flavoursome this new Cairdeas release is. Now if they'd just hurry up and release this year's 10-year old Cask Strength, I could finally place my order...


Sunday, 30 June 2019

Signatory Vintage Clynelish 21 Year Old Whisky Review!

Back after a few week's hiatus, with a cask strength Clynelish from Signatory's "Un-Chillfiltered Collection", bottled for The Whisky Exchange, fully-matured in a refill sherry cask!

I'm a fan of Clynelish's standard 14-year old bottling (reviewed here), and of the distillery's waxy & fruity character. It's not often seen in sherry casks though, so this independent bottling from Signatory Vintage promises to be very interesting. Signatory is based in Pitlochry, around 90 minutes' drive north of Edinburgh, on the same site as Edradour Distillery. Both are owned by Andrew Symington and his brother Brian, who started Signatory in 1988, and purchased Edradour from Pernod Ricard in 2002 before consolidating everything on the one site. Signatory celebrated their 30th anniversary last year with the release of a number of very old single cask bottlings, such as a 35-year old Port Ellen and a 50-year old Bunnahabhain, which although extremely expensive are beautifully presented and highly desirable.

Highland distillery Clynelish isn't often seen in official bottlings, like many of Diageo's large workhorse distilleries there are only two regularly available expressions, a 14-year old (reviewed here) and the Oloroso sherry-finished and surprisingly scarce Distiller's Edition. Both are bottled at 46% ABV, which Diageo should be commended for, but if you're chasing a higher strength version you'll either need to find one of the bottlings from Diageo's annual Special Releases, which in Clynelish's case tend to be non-age statement bottlings at substantial prices, or you'll need to look to the independent bottlers. Companies such as Gordon & MacPhail, Cadenheads and of course Signatory Vintage will often have cask strength Clynelish bottlings available, since the goal of any independent bottler should be to either showcase distilleries that don't often get the chance to shine on their own, or to showcase more common distilleries in different styles, whether by age, cask type or more natural presentation, or ideally a combination of the three. There are quite a few (relatively) new independent bottlers coming onto the market as well, but for various reasons some of their prices can border on the ridiculous, while the long-established companies mentioned above, among a few others, tend to keep things at a more reasonable level.

This bottling of Clynelish is a 21-year old single cask, exclusive to London's The Whisky Exchange, one of the largest physical and online specialist whisky stores in the world. Between their two locations in central London and their huge website they have a huge range of whisky, including a huge number of old & rare bottlings, and often a large range of exclusive bottlings, often of the single cask and cask strength variety. They tend to be of very good quality and generally sell at reasonable prices as well, but of course it's luck of the draw as to what will be available from the stores at any given time, and some bottlings sell out very quickly, although stock does tend to last longer in the physical stores than it does on the website. This Signatory bottling of Clynelish was hand-picked to mark the 2018 10th anniversary of The Whisky Show, an annual London whisky expo put on by The Whisky Exchange and parent company Speciality Drinks, who are also behind the Elements of Islay, Port Askaig and Single Malts of Scotland independent bottling labels. It was distilled in December 1996, matured in a single refill (presumably Oloroso) sherry cask, number #11390, and bottled in August 2018 at a cask strength of 52% ABV. Naturally (pun intended) it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and 517 bottles were released, now completely sold out. The sample for this review came from a private swap with a generous fellow whisky geek. Tasting time!

Clynelish 21-year old, Signatory Vintage, 52%. Brora, Scotland.
Bottled for The Whisky Exchange / 10th Anniversary of The Whisky Show. Distilled 12/1996, bottled 8/2018, matured in refill sherry butt, cask #11390. 517 bottles. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Amber.

Nose: It does have that Clynelish waxy and floral fruit note, but there's also quite a lot of dry Eastern spices, a lot of orange peel and some woody cologne (aftershave). There's also some dried apricot and nectarine, plus a bit of peach, a little salt, and an interesting meaty fatty-ness, like some cold grease on last night's roast, or even lard. Very interesting!

Texture: Medium weight, oily, warming and spicy but not hot or harsh.

Taste: Spicy and quite mineral to start, warm wood spices with dark chocolate syrup / dessert sauce, more orange peel, and more dried apricot & peach. That waxy note that we all expect from Clynelish is there but it's surprisingly subtle, it's only in the background here. Some white pepper too behind that dried fruit & citrus.

Finish: Medium length. The white pepper continues, as does the stone fruit, and that greasy fatty-ness from the nose comes out in force here. That turns into a clean vegetable oil, plus some marzipan (sweetened almond paste) and a mouth-watering mineral salinity.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: A very interesting, maybe even challenging, dram here! It's not what I expected really, there's more wood spice, more orange and certainly more fatty-ness, but it definitely works. There's quite a lot going on in this whisky, especially on the palate & finish, and it does take extra concentration to decipher. That greasy fatty note is particularly interesting, although it could well be an evolution of the Clynelish waxy character, since this is the oldest Clynelish that I've tasted to date. So, a tasty and interesting whisky as we can expect from The Whisky Exchange, and also Signatory Vintage, of course!

I still think Clynelish is one of the best examples of a Northern Highland malt, particularly when sampled at cask strength like this bottling, although I can't help but wonder if an ex-bourbon cask at this age and strength may have shown off that character a little better. Which means I now need to hunt down one of those! Although comparing a single cask whisky to another doesn't always work, they're totally unique, which is all part of the fun.