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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Whisky Price vs. Whisky Value - How much is too much?

The Search for 'bang-for-your-buck'!

While travelling abroad recently, I could not help but notice the overwhelming majority of whiskies available in duty free / travel retail, whether single malts or blends, and whether Scotch or world whiskies, were Non-Age Statement (NAS) bottlings. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these whiskies were very expensive, and simply overpriced.

This is not a 'Travel Retail Exclusive' (see what I did there) issue either, with many domestic shops demanding truly insane prices for some whisky. And with NAS whiskies in particular, it is quite difficult to determine what you're actually paying for, whether it's good whisky, or good marketing, or both.

Obviously how much we're willing to spend depends on our personal circumstances, but most of us would like to know we're getting reasonable value for our hard-earned dollars. So how do we find the balance between the cost, and value for money, or 'bang-for-your-buck', in the whisky world?

The key factors which dictate if a whisky is reasonable value, in my own order of importance, are:

  • The ABV % the whisky has been bottled at. If it has been bottled at (or watered down to) 40%, which the majority is, I would expect it to be relatively cheap, as you're getting less whisky/spirit, and more water, in the bottle. If not, I don't see that as being good 'bang-for-your-buck'. 
  • If the whisky has an age statement. This is very important in determining what you're getting in the bottle. If the whisky does not have a clear age statement, and this includes a single vintage statement such as 'distilled in 1985' or '1985 release', there is no way of knowing how long the spirit has been matured for prior to bottling, or what you're paying for.
  • If the whisky is 'craft presented', i.e. if it has not been chill filtered, and if it has not had colouring added. This is a good indicator of the natural quality of the whisky.
  • If there have been any unreasonable price increases in recent history, without obvious justification (e.g. increase in bottling strength), and:
  • How the whisky is priced compared to similar bottles from the same, or similar, distilleries. 
On that last point, for example, is an Ardbeg Supernova 2014, at 55% and NAS, worth $50-80 (AUD) more than a Bruichladdich Octomore, at 5+yo and higher ABV%? Likewise, is that same Supernova worth the price of two bottles of Ardbeg Uigeadail? Maybe, depending on your brand or flavour preferences and personal circumstances, but not necessarily!

It is important to note that I am referring to the retail consumer (in the literal sense) market here. The secondary / auction / collectors / investors market is different, as many collectors and investors will not drink their collection, and have plenty of money to spend on it. Leaving them looking a little more like this:

We cannot blame the producers, distributors and bottle shops for wanting to sell their product for as much as possible, but there is a line between normal business practices and pure greed. 

Some older whisky is also insanely expensive, for example Balvenie 50yo may be old whisky, but is it worth the $40,000-45,000 (AUD) asking price? Why is a Glenfiddich 50yo $15,000 cheaper at $30,000? And then why is a 40yo Glenfiddich then a relative bargain at only $3,300? Is that extra decade really worth another $27,000? No, it is not. 

These old whiskies can sometimes also include 'bespoke' packaging, and things like free distillery tours (or a free trip to Scotland in some cases), in an attempt to justify the price. But is a bottle of whisky, even a 50 year old one, worth the same as a brand new sports car? Or a size-able house deposit? Surely not, regardless of your personal net worth. I would love to know how many of these mega-expensive whiskies are actually sold, although I'm sure the answer will shock me. What this means is whisky drinkers are priced out of the 'ultra-premium' market, as the collectors and investors move in. 

So, enough ranting for now. To sum up, here are my bang-for-your-buck whisky buying guidelines. Look for at least 46% alcohol (looking at you Lagavulin 16!), look for an age statement, look for no chill filtration, and look at the prices of similar bottles. And, definitely shop around!

The actual prices you pay obviously depend on many factors, especially local taxes. Suffice to say, whisky drinkers in the EU and US are far better off than other parts of the world. But personally, my picks for the best value heavily-peated, single malt, Scotch whiskies are: Ardbeg 10, Lagavulin 16, and Laphroaig Quarter Cask. 

Happy hunting!

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Bunnahabhain 18 Whisky Review!

Having previously covered the basics of Bunnahabhain distillery here , I won't delve into the details, but as a refresher, the distillery mainly produces un-peated or very-lightly peated whisky, with the exception of a few limited releases (such as the 'toiteach' , which I like. Very much).

The 18 year old is one of their un-peated standard expressions, and was re-introduced in a 'craft presentation' a few year's back, meaning they upped the ABV to 46.3%, and dropped the chill filtration and added colouring. They have applied a similar treatment to all their whisky, which is an excellent move! I just wish other distilleries would follow suit.

Bunnahabhain 18, 18yo, 46.3%, Islay, Scotland.
Matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso casks, proportions unknown. No added colouring, non-chill filtered. 

(tasted neat)
Colour: Nice deep, dark bronze. This should definitely be bottled in clear glass, to show off that natural colour. Lose the brown bottle please! 

Nose: Honey sweetness, dried fruits and light salt. Toasted nuts and sherry, a little dusty.

Texture: Thick & Oily, very nice.

Taste: Tiny hint of smoke, and a little salt, fades quickly into juicy apples & pears, light oak and boozy raisins (sherry). Surprisingly spirited and assertive for it's age, and very different from the 12yo, much less salt and malt, and more sherry and fruit.

Finish: Sweet & lightly salted nuts, sherry comes through to the end. 

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: The mouth feel on this one is great, thick and viscous, thanks to the higher ABV% and lack of chill filtration. Big, bold flavours too, although I can't help but wish there was more substantial peat & smoke in there. Initially reminds me of Bruichladdich's black art 3 to some degree, but with much less complexity, balance and finesse, albeit at a much lower price. 

I may be a little biased, given the name of this blog, but I can't help but wish for more peat and smoke in the standard Bunnahabhain's I've tasted so far. They needn't follow their neighbours and go the heavily-peated route, but a little smoke and peat adds an extra element of complexity to any whisky, which I can't help but feel may be needed here. 

This is still a great malt though, and well worth trying if you care to visit the 'lighter side of Islay'. Check it out here at a very reasonable price. Cheers!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Kilchoman Small Batch Whisky Review!

Kilchoman is the youngest distillery on Islay (by around 120 years!), having started production in 2005, and it already has a huge cult following. They're currently producing young whiskies, for obvious reasons, but the whisky is of excellent quality regardless.

They grow and malt their own barley, used to produce around a third of their annual spirit production, with the remainder coming from Port Ellen Malting's on Islay. Their own malted barley is peated to around 20-25ppm, while the sourced barley is thought to be around 40-50ppm. Kilchoman also mature and bottle their whisky on site, at Rockside farm, on the western coast of Islay. They also do not chill filter or add colouring. Outstanding!

The 'small batch' releases are generally bottled at cask strength, and are matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks. They also state clearly when they were distilled, and when they were bottled. The 2008 release we're looking at here is no exception, having been bottled in 2013 at 5 years of age. 
Kilchoman Small Batch 2008, 5yo, 58.2% cask strength, Islay, Scotland. 
Distilled 2008, bottled 2013, matured in first fill bourbon casks, finished in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Salty, peaty, medicinal and coastal. Initially big, bold notes of medicinal peat, drying seaweed and sea spray, then some salted caramel, charcoal BBQ'd meats, lightly charred banana's add sweetness. Comparable to a big Ardbeg with a bit of a steroid problem! But distinctly different and complex.  

Texture: Oily, mouth-coating, viscous. 

Taste: Sweet, warming peat, some light smoke then builds to a crescendo. So drinkable for 58.2% and only 5 years old! Shows the quality of the spirit, and the quality of the casks. Hints of smoked raisins, salt and oak. Lovely.

Finish: Big smoke playing around with toasted nuts and sweetness. Drying and mouth-watering, herbaceous peat. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Kilchoman might be the 'new kid on the block' on Islay, but they really know how to handle themselves! I would line this up against Octomore's and Supernova's without hesitation. I missed out on a bottle of this while passing through Dubai thanks to the transiting / carry-on rules, now I'm kicking myself for not trying harder! It really is excellent. 

I've also tried Kilchoman's standard expression, 'Machir Bay', and it is also of excellent quality at such a young age. I'm looking forward to trying their 'Loch Gorm' bottling as well, which is fully matured in ex-Sherry casks at a higher peating level. With plans to release older expressions as stock becomes available, this distillery is certainly one to watch. If you haven't tried their whisky yet, get your hands on some, and do it quickly! Click here to see a few of their bottling's.


Saturday, 6 December 2014

Lagavulin Distillery Profile

Ah, Lagavulin. It's marketing activities are surprisingly quiet, despite being owned by Diageo, and even their packaging and presentation is quite subdued and understated. They don't have dozens of different expressions, they don't experiment with unusual cask maturation, and they don't have a particularly strong presence on-line. Ron Swanson is doing his best to change this though!

Despite all this, Lagavulin produces some extraordinary whisky. Their standard expression, the 16yo, is, in my opinion, one of the greatest value-for-money / bang-for-buck single malts available, and is increasing in popularity and reputation. Shop around though if you're looking to buy, some larger stores have jacked up prices over the last year or so, it can still be found for around $90 AUD. Despite being bottled at 43%, and likely using some chill-filtration and added colouring, it's balance, complexity and smoothness are fantastic. It is, in fact, the single malt that got this writer into whisky. I had dabbled with Glenfiddich's, Glenlivet's and Talisker's prior to this, but Lagavulin 16yo was the siren which lured me in to the depths.

They also regularly release a 12yo cask strength bottling (the 'youngest' whisky they produce), and a distiller's edition bottling with an extra maturation/finishing in PX sherry casks. There is significant variation in these releases though, so try before you buy if possible. 

There are also a few older (25+ years) bottlings, which of course are hugely expensive, and like most Islay distilleries they release a 'Feis Ile' (Islay festival) special bottling each year. I have tasted their 2013 Feis Ile bottling, and it was absolutely mind blowing. Near impossible to find now, without paying collector's prices, but it was definitely one of my all-time favourites. 

Distillery Location: Lagavulin bay, near Port Ellen, Islay, Scotland.

Owner: Diageo

Producing since: 1816

General Whisky Style: Smoky, peaty and fruity, balanced and complex.

My only wish with Lagavulin, like many other distilleries, is that they would release a bottling which is not chill filtered, and without added colouring, and then clearly state that on the label. I don't believe they excessively chill filter their whisky at the moment, but it would be nice to know for certain. Come on Diageo, let's do it!

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Glen Moray 25 yo Whisky Review!

Following a short hiatus, due to a holiday in Egypt and a nasty head cold, I thought I would 'get back in the saddle' by reviewing something new and unfamiliar, at least to me.

This whisky was part of a sample pack purchased from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies. Samples are a fantastic way to try multiple whiskies, without the cost of buying whole bottles. Nippy Sweetie have a huge range of samples available, so if there's something you've been wanting to try, but either can't find or can't afford, have a look at their website or send them an email.

Glen Moray is a Speyside distillery, located near the town of Elgin. Generally producing milder, sweeter, lighter whiskies, but their 25yo bottling is a little different in that it is finished in Port casks, following the traditional maturation in ex-bourbon casks. It is also bottled at 43% rather than the normal 40% of the range.

This practice is becoming more commonplace in the Scotch Whisky world, and aside from the added flavours, it can give the whisky a enticing red or pink hue. Still nowhere near as common as the ex-bourbon and sherry cask maturation, though.

This is not the case with the Glen Moray 25 though, which leads me to assume that either it was a short finish in the Port casks, or the casks employed may have been well-used (i.e. they had already held other whisky or other spirits), known as being fourth or fifth fill, for example, as opposed to first or second fill. Obviously, each time the cask is used, a lower level of the original contents remains, and therefore the cask has less influence on the whisky. This is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but is simply a decision made by the distillery in order to achieve the intended outcome.

Glen Moray 25 yo, 43%, Speyside, Scotland.
Distilled 1986, ex-Bourbon cask matured, Port cask finished. No mention of chill filtration or added colourant on the label, so we must assume both practices have been used.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Bronze, slightly orange. 

Nose: Sweet toffee, some Christmas cake & boozy raisins from the port finishing, then stone fruit and slightly spicy oak.

Texture: Clean and light.

Taste: Fruity, mild golden syrup/brown sugar sweetness which fades quickly, then oak and spices, and some red wine / grape tannins. 

Finish: Quite short and thin, some mouth-watering dryness, but then a very odd sulphur/mineral note which out lasts all other flavours, like nasty tap water. Off-putting for me, but some may enjoy, certainly unexpected.

Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Notes: Started off well, nicely balanced, but that mineral and sulphur on the finish spoiled the show, for me at least. Being from a small sample bottle, it is possible that the whisky oxidised faster than it would have if left in the bottle, but these sample bottles are all filled to the neck, and properly sealed, so I don't think this is the case. Might have to re-taste later on to see if that nasty note is still there at the end.  

Having said that, I still much prefer this 25yo bottling to the other expressions of Glen Moray I've tasted, the balance, depth of flavour and mouth-feel are much improved. But, this comes at a price- around AUD$250 a bottle, which I simply could not justify for this whisky. There is some major competition at that price point, even at a younger age, which has this whisky beat. By a long way. 

I'm having peat withdrawals now, so next up will be a rather special heavily peated whisky. See you then.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Knob Creek Bourbon & Rye Tasting & Review!

I recently had the privilege of attending the Australian launch of Knob Creek Rye Whiskey (yes, the Americans spell it with an E), along with a 3-course meal, and tastings of the aforementioned Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey,  9yo Straight Bourbon, and Single Barrel Straight Bourbon. Something a little different for me, and it's no mean feat to get me out of my own suburb mid-week, so this is definitely something worth writing about!

Presented by Dan Woolley, brand ambassador for Beam Suntory, the launch event & tasting was hosted by Papa Jack's, a relatively new cocktail bar & restaurant in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley, serving New Orleans / Creole / Southern style food and original cocktails, accompanied by live blues acts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Completely new to me, this place won Queensland Bar of the Year in the Australian Bar Awards recently, so it is definitely popular, and I can see why. I'll be back! The relaxed, open, funky vibe, fantastic live blues act and delicious food (think Po Boy sandwiches, Gumbo, Slow roasted American BBQ, etc.)made for an excellent spot to sample some quality Straight Bourbon and Straight Rye American Whiskey.

Before we dive into the tastings, let's have a look at American Whiskey itself, as it's not a subject I've touched on before. While I've sampled other high-end bourbon previously, it has only been at Whisky shows, and when surrounded by so much Scotch Malt Whisky, I've found it hard to devote my full attention to anything else! So, time for a closer look.

Bourbon whiskey must be produced in the USA, must be distilled from grains with a minimum of 51% corn (the remainder usually being rye, wheat or barley), and must be aged in new white oak barrels (which are subsequently sold on, such as to a Scotch distillery), which must be charred inside (basically dunked over an open flame), although there is no minimum ageing period. Straight bourbon, on the other hand, must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, and cannot have anything added to it, such as colouring or flavouring, or neutral spirit. In a similar vein, straight rye whiskey must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, be distilled from grains with a minimum of 51% rye, and aged in new white oak barrels.

The Knob Creek range consists of the 9yo straight bourbon, the single barrel straight bourbon (also 9yo), the straight rye whiskey, and a smoked maple blended straight bourbon whiskey, termed blended because of the added flavouring (not sure about that one, although the smoked part sounds interesting). I haven't tasted the latter, and it likely has not been released in Australia, so we'll leave it out for the time being.

Produced at the Jim Beam distillery in Kentucky, USA, Knob Creek whiskey is part of Jim Beam's small batch range, distilled in a separate building to the more mainstream/mass-produced products. Bottled at higher than usual % ABV (50%, or 100 proof), aged for considerably longer than both (up to 9 years), and aged in heavily-charred barrels (the heaviest char used in whiskey production, termed a level 4 char), the brand is aimed at the high-end American Whiskey buyer. So, enough already, on with the review!

On arrival, guests were handed an original cocktail, crafted by the Papa Jack's crew, containing the Knob Creek Rye, Aperol, an Italian Aperitif, coconut falernum, a sweet syrup, and saline solution, essentially salt water. Although a little sweet for my tastes, this was a great precursor to the coming whiskey and creole food.
Next up was the Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey, which is bottled at 50%, and although it does not carry an age statement (the label only states it is aged 'patiently'), as we know from the above it must be aged to a minimum of 2 years.

Nose: Banana, wood, and considerable spice. A little youthful ethanol on the nose.
Taste: More spice and oak, not overly sweet, and easy drinking at 50%. Water brought out more wood and caramel, and dialled down the spicy notes a little.
Finish: Short and spicy, a little hot.
Score: 3 out of 5 (American whiskey score)

The Rye was matched with a smoked duck gumbo, essentially a creole-style savoury stew, with rice, smoked duck breast and sausage. The spicy flavours in the whiskey bought out more spice in the gumbo, and the sausage and duck were awesome in their own right.
Next we were presented with the Knob Creek 9yo Straight Bourbon, also bottled at 50%, and aged for 9 years in the heavily-charred oak barrels. This was considerably smoother and more complex than the rye, with a great texture and finish. The extra time in the barrel shows here. 

Nose: Caramel, spices, toasted nuts, a little fruity.
Taste: More toasted nuts, think walnut and hazelnut. Spiced caramel, sweet oak and grains.
Finish: The sweetness subsides early, leaving spicy wood and toffee. Long and mouth-watering.
Score: 4.5 out of 5 (American whiskey score)

This was paired with a lightly smoked beef brisket, with Knob Creek whiskey added to the brine, and corn served with a salted whiskey caramel. The brisket was truly delicious, with a nice light char around the outside, a delicate smoke flavour and was very tender. The corn with salted whiskey caramel was a little odd, perhaps a little too sweet with the sauce.
Our final tasting of the evening was the Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, bottled at 60%, and aged for 9 years in the same level-four charred barrels. This was a big beast of a bourbon, very strong and spirited. I was excited to try this one, as it is un-chill filtered, which is quite unusual for an American Whiskey, and indeed it did have a nice haze in the glass when watered down enough. 

Nose: Very closed initially, with considerable heat. Water brings out toasted nuts and marshmallow, some mild oak, and a wierd note of generic-flavoured bubblegum. 
Taste: Again needs water, brings out some stone fruit, more toasted nuts, and considerable heat.
Finish: Surprisingly short, a little woody caramel sweetness.  
Score: 2.5 out of 5

The Single Barrel was matched with a delectable, rich, sweet banoffee pie, with sticky caramel, whipped cream & marshmallow on a ginger biscuit base. The ginger and caramel worked well with the big strong bourbon, bringing out more complex flavours. 

As you can see, the standard 9yo was the star of the show for me, well balanced and complex, and easy drinking with a great texture. The new straight rye whiskey was the runner up, with nice wood and spice notes, although I feel it could benefit from a little longer in those heavily-charred barrels. The single barrel was just a little too hot and aggressive for me, perhaps held back by the higher ABV%, even with added water. Normally I would praise a higher-alcohol bottling, but in this case I preferred the standard version.
Our guide for the evening, Mr. Dan Woolley (who I've dubbed the Whisky Lord-aside from the obvious indicator above, he reportedly has one of the largest whisky collections in the country), was a great presenter, relaxed and approachable, preferring to give the thirsty hordes only the essential information, rather than rattling off scripted and rehearsed marketing verses, then opening the floor to keep the audience involved and engaged, while keeping the event moving at a comfortable pace. 

Overall the Knob Creek Rye launch & tasting was an excellent event, the venue and quality of meal were excellent, helping to keep the conversation, and the whiskey, free-flowing. It was a great opportunity to try some high-end American whiskey in an American-style environment, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, it certainly broadened my whisky horizons, which of course is the name of the game!

A quick thanks to Dan Woolley, Knob Creek American whiskey, and Papa Jack's, for putting it all together. I look forward to the next one! 


Monday, 10 November 2014

Johnnie Walker Green Label Blended Whisky Review!

So, my final review in the blended scotch mini-series is here, and I have saved the best until last! Unfortunately it has been discontinued for quite some time now, and is selling at around $400 Australian (and up) on Ebay, which is insane! From memory I paid around $60-70 for the bottle a few years ago, which was great value at the time. This blend really could compete with, and trounce, similarly priced single malts.

The Green Label Johnnie Walker is a 'blended malt' or 'vatted malt' scotch whisky, which means it only contains single malt whisky, from different distilleries, and does not contain any grain whisky. There is no other blended malt in the Johnnie Walker line-up, their entire standard range now contains a varying proportion of grain whisky.

It is also unique in that it states clearly on the box where the 'key component' malts originate from. To my knowledge, it is the only Johnnie Walker whisky to do so, and not many blended malts can claim this either. These key components are listed as Caol Ila (from Islay), Talisker (The Isle of Skye), Cragganmore (Speyside) and Linkwood (Speyside).

It is also quite unique in that it is (was) bottled at 43%, rather than the standard 40% of the other standard Johnnie Walker expressions. It also carries an age statement, with each malt being at least 15 years old. This really is a well presented malt for the whisky enthusiast, and it's a shame it has now all but disappeared. But, for the sake of reminiscing, let's have a closer look at Green Label.
Johnnie Walker Green Label, blended malt whisky, 43%, 15yo, Scotland.
Chill filtered and Artificially coloured, containing Caol Ila, Talisker, Cragganmore, and Linkwood malts.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Yellow gold

Nose: Sweet honeyed malt, a little smoke and some floral notes. Some oaky sweetness, pepper and a veil of smoke. 

Texture: Silky and clean, easy drinking.

Taste: More malt & honey from the nose, a little floral sweetness, some nice woody smoke and black pepper (Caol Ila and Talisker saying "hi"). Well balanced with very little heat. 

Finish: Honey and pepper, lovely and malty. Could be longer, but not bad!

Score: 4 out of 5 (blend score)

Notes: Definitely my favourite Johnnie Walker whisky, it was great value and very enjoyable. My bottle of Green Label is nearly empty now, but I won't be paying $400+ to replace it! It has become a collector's special at those prices. It was replaced by the 'platinum' 18yo and 'gold label reserve' NAS blended scotches, and while the platinum is quite enjoyable, at a significant jump in price, even it cannot match the complexity and balance of the dearly departed Green Label. 

If you do happen across a bottle of this, and it's at a reasonable price, grab it. You can always sell it on for a massive profit, to someone who will likely never open it. 


P.S. Stay tuned in the next couple of days, I have something very different and very interesting in the pipeline! Watch this space... 

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Black Bottle Blended Whisky Review!

For part 2 of my (short) 3-part series of blended whisky reviews, I chose something a little less well-known, and certainly less-marketed. Black Bottle blended Scotch whisky has been around since the late 1800's, but has existed in many different styles, and with different components. The version I'm reviewing here has recently been replaced as well, from all reports with an inferior blend (refer to the below photo for clarification).
OLD (reviewed here)
Produced by Burn Stewart distillers, who own Bunnahabhain distillery, among others, this version of Black Bottle (so named because older versions were in black glass, or black plastic-coated glass) contains, as stated on the bottle, "A blend of Islay single malts with highland, lowland, and speyside malt and grain whisky". It certainly contains a good amount of Bunnahabhain single malt, but the specifics of the other components are a bit of a mystery. While it is a Non-Age Statement bottling, it is believed to contain 7 year old whisky. There have, in the past been, 10 and 15 year old versions, but these are now discontinued.

As we discussed in the previous review, Black Bottle is a blended scotch whisky, as it contains a portion of single malt whisky blended with grain whisky. On to the review!
Black Bottle blended whisky, 40%, NAS, Scotland.
Believed 7 years old, added caramel colouring, chill filtered. Unknown components.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Pale gold. Some added caramel though.

Nose: Salty, very maritime-y and briny. Medicinal peat and a little iodine.

Texture: A little thin, but clean and warming. Not bad for a 40% blended scotch.

Taste: Peaty and medicinal, tar, a little smoke, a little bitterness. 

Finish: Short and peaty, a hint of ash, then mild honey sweetness. 

Score: 3 out of 5 (blend score)

Notes: A decent blend, certainly one of the best peated blended scotch whiskies (containing grain whisky) I've tried. It would be a good introduction to peaty, medicinal, 'Islay-style' whisky, and at a good price (around $50 here in Australia). As with most blends though, it would be massively improved by increasing the percentage of malt whisky content, higher ABV %, and losing the chill filtration. I haven't tasted the new version personally, but I hear it has gone backwards and lost some peat, which is unfortunate. If you come across this version (first choice and vintage cellars usually have it in Australia, but probably not for long), and are after a cheap and cheerful peat fix, grab it. 


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Johnnie Walker Double Black Whisky Review, and Blended Scotch Whisky Explained!

This being my first review of a blended whisky, with a couple more coming soon, let's go over some details about blended scotch before we get into the review of the Johnnie Walker Double Black.

The two types of what are considered to be blends, in the whisky world, are a) blended malt scotch, a.k.a. vatted malt, and b) blended scotch. These terms and their definitions are set by the Scotch Whisky Association in Scotland. 

A blended, or vatted, malt is a blend of multiple single malt whiskies from different distilleries, such as 'Big Peat', which is very good, produced by Douglas Llaing (an independent bottler). For example, if a bottler was to sell a whisky which contained 50% Ardbeg single malt, and 50% Glenfiddich single malt, it would be considered a blended, or vatted, malt scotch. These vatted malts can be great value, and are usually of good quality. 

A blended scotch whisky, on the other hand, contains both single malt whisky, and single grain whisky. For example, a bottle of Johnnie Walker red label (yuck!) contains a set amount of malt whisky (from different sources), and the remainder is grain whisky. For obvious reasons this type is, generally, considerably cheaper than a blended malt whisky. These whiskies are generally not as complex or 'interesting' as a single malt, and are usually chill-filtered and artificially-coloured. 
For the moment, we will focus on blended scotch whisky, as this is what I'm review today, with the Johnnie Walker Double Black. Interestingly, all currently available Johnnie Walker whiskies are blended scotch, containing grain whisky. Yes, even the ridiculously over-priced and over-hyped 'blue label' contains some (cheaper) grain whisky, although the exact proportions and sources are a closely guarded secret. There was a vatted malt Johnnie Walker, the Green Label, which sadly is now discontinued. It was, and still is, the best Johnnie Walker I've tasted. It even has/had the whisky sources listed on the box! If you come across a bottle of the green label, grab it. 

The JW double black is, as you can guess, based on the standard black label, which is good value for it's price, with surprising complexity. The double black is marketed as having "a rich, intense, smokier flavour". It certainly is smokier than the black label, probably due to some extra Caol Ila and/or Talisker being added to the blend. 
Johnnie Walker 'Double Black' blended whisky, 40%, Scotland.
NAS, chill filtered, artificial colouring added. Number or source of component spirits not stated. 

(tasted neat and with a tiny drop of water)
Colour: Copper (thanks to the added caramel colouring, no doubt)

Nose: Honey and caramel, some malted cereals, something a little acidic, like under-ripe grapes. A hint of smoke, but certainly not intense. 

Texture: Thin, clean. 

Taste: Big honey sweetness, some (talisker/caol ila) smoke but it fades quickly. Reminds me of a thinner Highland Park 12yo with a bit of extra smoke. Only a tiny bit of peat detectable, sadly. Found a strange bitter 'off' note in the middle which I found a bit off-putting. 

Finish: Short, that weird bitter note is still there, and a bit of heat on the tongue (surprising for only 40%), fades to a honey sweetness. 

Score: 2 out of 5 (blend score).

Notes: I had high hopes for this one, being based on the standard black label, but it has let me down. It's not overly unpleasant, especially for the relatively low price, but it just doesn't do anything for me. The complexity of the black label has been lost, I wonder if the double uses younger stock? A little disappointing, and not worth the extra over the standard black, which I prefer to this. It would make for some interesting mixed drinks or cocktails though, with that added smoke. If you'd like to try it, I'd suggest looking for it in a bar first rather than buying a bottle. 

I don't want to seem anti-blend, there are a massive amount of blends on the market, and I'm sure at least some are quite good! For a decent (and cheap) peaty/smoky blended whisky, head for 'Black Bottle', produced by Burn Stewart, but preferably in the older style pictured below. Look for a review shortly! 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Bruichladdich / Port Charlotte PC7 Whisky Review!

Until recently, I have looked at Bruichladdich's Port Charlotte range as a bit of an ugly duckling, compared to similar offerings from other distilleries, and especially compared to Bruichladdich's own Octomore range.

This was based on my tastings of 'The Peat Project', and it's replacement, 'Scottish Barley', the former is one of my least favourite peated single malts, and while the latter is a huge improvement, it still did not wow me like I had hoped it would. However, after tasting the Port Charlotte 10 year old (46% version), my opinion of the 'label' began to change. Clearly the NAS bottling's are not the best of the range, so I decided to dig into my own collection and pull out something special, to settle the matter once and for all. 
The Town of Port Charlotte, Islay, Scotland.

I have covered the basic history of the 'Port Charlotte' label here previously, so for this review I will focus on the 'PC_' cask strength bottling's, before reviewing what is still the only bottle of the 'PC_' range I have ever seen in the flesh, so to speak, the (spoiler alert!) wonderful PC7. I came across it by chance in a local bottle shop, a couple of years ago, having read about it in Jim Murray's 'Whisky Bible', piquing my curiosity. I spotted another (last) bottle of it in the same store a couple of weeks ago, and decided to open, taste and review my bottle that night. I then (another spoiler alert!) went back early the next day and bought that last bottle. 

The Port Charlotte cask strength range started with PC5, which was 5 years old, and like the rest of the range, peated to 40ppm, a level similar to standard bottlings from Lagavulin / Laphroaig / Ardbeg etc. Then came PC6, PC7 and so on, and the distillery is currently up to PC11. These are all rather rare whiskies, or at least they're not easily found outside of internet auctions. As stated above, the PC7's I have in my collection are the only bottles of the 'PC_' range I personally have ever actually seen. There were typically around 5000 bottles of each release sold, which may sound like a lot, but really is not considering the size of the market around the world, and the number of hardcore collectors out there, who quickly snap up these limited release bottles. 

The packaging on these bottles is quite interesting, as the outer tin's feature photos of selected people, either distillery staff, suppliers or other Islay locals, as Bruichladdich feel very strongly that 'whisky should be about people'. The bottling's also have Gaelic names, with the exception of PC5. The PC7 is named 'Sin An Doigh Ileach', which translates to 'It's the Islay way', referring to the relaxed attitudes of Bruichladdich's suppliers and contractors. Let's try some!

Port Charlotte 'PC7' (Bruichladdich), 61% cask strength, Islay, Scotland.
7 years old, mix of bourbon and sherry casks, 40ppm, non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 

(tasted neat and with a drop of water)
Colour: Gorgeous deep copper. Seductive!

Nose: Smokey, medicinal peat, salty and smoky, fruity sweetness, a little grassy / herbal. A bit of alcohol, but not bad for 61%! 

Texture: Clean & light, warming.

Taste: Pow! Fantastic. Big peat and smoke, slightly salty and a little medicinal (unusual for bruichladdich / port charlotte), balanced by dark caramel / molasses sweetness, and stone fruit. Water brings out extra fruit and smoke, and a little mild honey and malt. Very well balanced and beguiling.

Finish: Long and smoky, fading into malty, fruity sweetness, fading again into lovely warm, malty peat, which goes on for days...

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Excellent quality, really enjoyable and surprisingly easy drinking, even neat. Identifiable as port charlotte peat, but turned up to maximum. This bottle actually had sediment in the bottom when first opened, and you can't get less chill-filtered than that, I love it! Between this and the 10 year old I reviewed recently, my opinion of the port charlotte 'label' has changed for the better. I'm going to have to try and find some other versions of the 'PC_' cask strength range. If you do come across any of these, in a bar or at an auction, just do it. Despite the inevitably high price. It'll be worth it!


Monday, 6 October 2014

Jim McEwan Whisky Tasting, & Port Charlotte 10yo Whisky Review!

Bruichladdich Master Distiller, Jim McEwan, is currently touring Australia, presenting whisky tasting events around the country, and I had the privilege of attending one of the events last weekend, at the United Services Club, in Spring Hill, Brisbane.

Our MC on the night, who I believe 'borrowed' his introduction from Andrew from the Australian SMWS, put it very well: "There are three people in the whisky industry you should move heaven & earth to see: Dr. Bill Lumsden, (Distiller for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg), Richard Patterson (Whyte & Mackay, master blender), and both of them would move heaven & earth to see this man: Jim McEwan!"

Having worked in the industry for over 50 years, in multiple roles with multiple distilleries, Jim is very well qualified to explain every facet of the whisky world, and being a native of Islay (the town of Bowmore, specifically), his incredible passion both for the island, and his distillery, Bruichladdich, is truly infectious. Islay itself is, in my opinion, the whisky Mecca of the world, with eight working distilleries on a relatively small island, all producing excellent whisky, to be shipped and sold around the world.

I had previously seen Bruichladdich's people-focused marketing strategy as just that, a marketing strategy, but after listening to Jim talk about his home, his people and his distillery, with such passion and reverence, this is definitely not the case. When they say their whisky is about people, they really mean it.

As the tour is still in progress as I write this, I won't go into minute detail, but I will say that Jim is a fantastic presenter, well-grounded and passionate, honest and relate-able. He had us in stitches throughout the evening, while also touching on subjects like chill filtration , artificial colouring, the production process (including whisky and gin), and the rebirth of Bruichladdich distillery, a fascinating story in itself. Both myself, and my less-whisky-obsessed friend, found the evening very enjoyable, educational, and inspiring. Jim, despite it being his life's work, does not take whisky too seriously, and has a typically Scottish approach to the marketing aspect of the whisky world. We also had the opportunity to buy a bottle of the whiskies we tasted, and have it signed by Jim himself. I also snuck in one of the tins from my whisky collection for him to sign, wasn't going to miss that opportunity!

I was not able to comprehensively analyse the whiskies we tasted, so again I won't go into minute detail, but the six whiskies we tasted on the night (and one gin!) were as follows:

-The Botanist gin, produced by Bruichladdich, was served with tonic on arrival, although we did not find this out until the presentation had begun. I have tried this before, neat, and it is the only gin I will drink (and only neat, or with soda). A very successful product, and Jim was very honest about it, explaining that it was done purely as a source of income, as it can be bottled and sold straight after distillation, rather than having to wait years for a whisky to mature, before seeing any return. In true McEwan / Bruichladdich style though, it is unique, and of fantastic quality. I recommend you try it if you haven't already, even if, like myself, you're not a fan of gin.

-Bruichladdich 'Laddie Classic', NAS, 46%. Explained by Jim to be bottled at around 7 years of age. Very light, honey sweet and tropical fruits, unpeated, but very easy-drinking, and great value for money.

-Bruichladdich 'Islay Barley', 2006, 50%. Again explained to be around 7 years of age, and distilled only from barley which was grown on Islay. More weight and complexity, an excellent mouth-feel, and with more cereal and fruit notes. Again, very easy drinking and enjoyable.

-Bruichladdich Black Art 3, 1989, 48.7% cask strength, which I have reviewed previously here . I was hoping to taste the fourth release of the Black Art range, but the third is still a very good whisky.

-Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, NAS, 46%, 40ppm. Used for the 'highland toast' at the end of the evening (while standing on top of the chairs and tables!), so no time for details, but nicely peaty with some cereal notes and nice texture. This replaced their 'The Peat Project' NAS bottling, which I was not particularly impressed with, reviewed here , and this is a massive improvement.

-Port Charlotte 10yo, 46%, 40ppm. Lovely complexity, warming and peaty, with some sherry sweetness and depth. Jim explained this 10yo bottling to be around 60% bourbon cask, and 40% oloroso sherry cask. Hadn't tried this one before, and was impressed, so had to buy one. See the review below! .

-Octomore 6.1, 5 years old, 'scottish barley', 57%, 167ppm. I'm still amazed by the complexity and balance of these very heavily peated Octomore bottlings, and this one was no exception. It is of course a very powerful spirit (especially when consumed in two gulps, and held in the mouth to feel the power, thanks to Jim's encouragement!), and there are some similar cereal flavours in both it and the Port Charlotte Scottish Barley. This Octomore was my other purchase on the night, to be reviewed at a later date.

So, if you ever have the opportunity to meet Jim, or attend one of his tasting events, definitely do it, don't hesitate! There are still some tickets available for the current tour in Australia, and I believe he is visiting Japan and Korea on this tour as well. To borrow Andrew's line again, you should move heaven & earth to attend! Thanks to Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich, and Southtrade for putting this tour together, we need more of these events in Australia, please keep 'em coming!

Now, let's review some whisky!
Port Charlotte 10yo, Bruichladdich distillery, 46%, Islay, Scotland.
10 years old, 60% ex-bourbon cask, 40% ex-oloroso sherry cask, 40ppm. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Light bronze

Texture: Oily yet clean, Rich let light. Lovely.

Nose: Salty, a little smoke, sweet cereals, sweet sherry and raisins, smoked malted barley. Well balanced.

Taste: Salty sea air, over lovely warming peat. Not medicinal peat, slightly herbaceous. Sweet smoke, cereals and raisin / sherry sweetness. Easily identified as Bruichladdich, with the sweet malt and slightly salted cereals standing out. Delicious.

Finish: Very long finish despite being 46%. Lovely warming peat, smoky malt and cereals. Very, very long.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Excellent mouth-feel and texture, fantastic long finish. Love the sherry influences. Having tried the 'peat project' and 'scottish barley' offerings, I do prefer my port charlotte with a little sherry cask. Good value for money too, and so light, relaxed and easy drinking. I sometimes find it challenging to find a decent trace of the malted barley in heavily peated whisky, but this is not the case here.

Certainly holds it's own amongst Laphroaig quarter cask and triple wood, probably it's closest competition in my book. Would also make a good introduction into heavily peated whisky for the uninitiated. It was a bit hard to open a bottle signed by the master distiller himself, but it was worth it!

This expression is not as easily found as the NAS 'scottish barley', but it is worth searching for, with the extra warmth, complexity and balance. There is also a cask-strength version, released as part of Bruichladdich's 'PC_' range, known simply as PC10. Would absolutely love to get my hands on some of that stuff! But it is very hard to find, and very expensive as well. Maybe one day...


Friday, 26 September 2014

Caol Ila 29yo Duncan Taylor 1983 Whisky Review & Independent Bottling's Explained!

My first review of an independent bottling, and a very special one, this bottle of glorious whisky was my 29th birthday present last year, from my parents no less, albeit with a few subtle pointers from myself! At 29 years of age, like I was at the time, this just felt so right! This is still the oldest whisky I've tasted to date, and one of the more expensive as well. 

Distilled in 1983 at Caol Ila distillery, and bottled in 2012 at 29 years of age, this whisky is part of Duncan Taylor's 'Dimensions' range, and is non-chill filtered, bottled at cask strength and has no added colouring. For the serious whisky obsessives this is cask 3624, and bottle 191 of 362 from that cask. 

But before we dive into the review, let's have a quick look into the what, why and how of independent bottling's of Scotch whisky. 

For the what, essentially an independent bottling company, such as Signatory, Gordon & MacPhail, or Duncan Taylor, is an independent company (duh) which buys casks of whisky from distilleries, to market & sell themselves, usually as a single malt or single cask bottling. 

For the why, they do this for a number of reasons, but the main one is to offer something which one cannot buy from the distillery. For example, if a distillery always chill filters their whisky before bottling, an independent bottler may buy a cask from the distillery and bottle it without chill filtration, to off the consumer something they can't get in an original bottling from the distillery. The same goes for things like adding colouring/caramel, bottling at below cask strength, different ages of whisky, and different casks used for maturation. Another reason why, is because they can usually sell their bottling at a lower cost than the distillery would charge for an equivalent whisky. It doesn't always work this way, but the 29yo Caol Ila I'm reviewing here cost around $100 less than a 25yo distillery bottling, which would have been watered down to 43%, and with some chill filtration. 

As for the how, these companies will either approach a distillery to buy any casks they don't want, and that may be because the whisky hasn't matured as the distiller expected, or the flavour profile is too far from the norm to be blended into their standard offerings, or because they need/want a bit of extra income. The independent bottler may mature this whisky further themselves, or bottle it straight away. It is important to note here that independent bottling's vary wildly in terms of quality and flavour, and can be quite a risk come buying time. For this reason, I recommend sticking with the major companies, and if possible try before you buy. Failing that, research the bottling as much as you can before taking the plunge. 

There are also a few independent bottlers which do not name the distillery their whisky came from, usually because they have an agreement with that distillery that they will not disclose that information. There are also many, many independent bottlers out there selling blended whisky, and also do not state which distilleries their whisky came from, but I'm focusing more on the single malt and single cask bottler's here. Now, on to the review!

Caol Ila 29yo, by Duncan Taylor, 'Dimensions' Independent Bottling.
Distilled 1983, bottled 2012, 53.8% cask strength, non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 

(tasted neat and with a drop of water)
Colour: Dark bronze

Texture: Clean and refined, lightly oily.

Nose: Salty, fruity and peaty. A little reminiscent of Lagavulin initially, with less peat and smoke. A little ethanol and soap, furniture polish, not a lot of smoke at all. Sweet grapes, dry grass and herbs. Water brings out more grassy, herbal notes and fruit.

Taste: Sweet peat and smoke, dark fruits. A little heat, and salted, stewed stone fruit in the background. Water brings out a nice malty sweetness and caramel/toffee.  

Finish: Long and peaty, smoky, slightly burnt caramel, warming and drying. Even longer with water and a little more burnt caramel. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: As expected, quite different from distillery versions of Caol Ila. Maybe a slight nod in the direction of their distiller's edition, but with more malt, less sweetness and more depth & body. A very interesting whisky, and pretty good value, compared to original bottling's. A little hard to find now, but SM Whisky still has a few samples, along with other independent bottling's, and there are a few bottles around in other online whisky shops. Happy hunting! Cheers.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

What is chill filtering / chill filtration? And why should you care?

As a whisky drinker, you have probably heard the term 'chill filtered' or 'non-chill filtered' before (you certainly have if you've read any of my reviews!). But what does it mean exactly, and why should you care?

Well, this term refers to the type of filtration used to prepare a whisky for bottling where, as the name states, the whisky is chilled to a low temperature, usually around 0 degrees C, or lower, and forced through multiple micro filters under pressure. What this process does is remove naturally occurring particles from the whisky, namely fatty acids, proteins and esters, oils and sediment. But why? So the whisky does not go cloudy/hazy when it is chilled, and/or diluted to below 46% alcohol by volume (ABV), and this is seen as undesirable by some whisky drinkers (especially when they add a handful of ice cubes to their Johnnie Walker), so many distilleries take this extra step during the production of their whisky to prevent this happening. Yes, that's it. That's all it does. Shocking, I know.

In fact, you may have noticed, many non-chill filtered whiskies have a statement on the bottle to explain themselves and hopefully prevent complaints from the less discerning drinker. Generally something along the lines of  "this whisky is non-chill filtered, and may go cloudy with the addition of water or ice. This is normal and it is safe to consume". Regardless, some casual consumers will still find this weird or concerning, and it puts them off buying and drinking that particular whisky. Obviously, distilleries and their owners do not want that to happen.

Also known as 'scotch mist', this cloudiness occurs when the above mentioned particles bind themselves together (coming out of solution, technically) as a result of a temperature drop. This does not occur in spirits at above 46% ABV because the higher alcohol level stops the particles binding together (keeping them in solution), but if you add enough water to your cask-strength whisky to reduce the amount of alcohol in the glass to below 46%, it can and generally does still go cloudy. Another purpose of chill filtration is to remove any sediment from the whisky before bottling, which occurs during distillation, and also during maturation (coming from the cask). But this can be removed from the whisky using simple barrier filtration, without altering the temperature of the liquid, which retains most of the natural oils and compounds in the bottled whisky.

The chill filtering process is pretty interesting scientifically, at least to this layman, as the (apparently) unwelcome particles are filtered out using adsorption, rather than absorption. Basically this means the particles are collected as solids on the surface of the filter medium, rather than being absorbed or dissolved by it. Another interesting fact is this process actually adds to the production costs of the whisky! So come on Scotch (and other) whisky industries, why not save some money and stop this madness?

So how does all of this affect your whisky (or other spirit, for that matter)? This is bit of a contentious topic, as some parties (let's call them the 'yes' camp for added drama), both distilleries and consumers, claim chill filtration has no effect on the finished product, other than preventing the 'scotch mist' from occurring. On the other hand, those opposed to chill filtration in whisky (the 'no' camp), which I belong to, believe that the removal of these particles dampens, or more accurately strips out the natural mouth-feel and texture, and also even the flavour & body of the whisky. There have even been blind tastings where some experts cannot tell the difference between all tasted samples of whisky which has been chill filtered, and all samples of whisky which has not. But in this whisky enthusiast's opinion, chill filtration is evil!

Thanks to for the image. Guess which sample has been chill filtered!

It is important to note that chill filtered whiskies do not advertise this fact on the label, or even on the distillery website. You won't find it mentioned anywhere. Likewise if a whisky does not state on the label that is has not been chill filtered, it's usually safe to assume it has been chill filtered to some extent. Not always though, since there are plenty of distilleries & companies that use generic labelling across their ranges, so a cask strength whisky that is non-chill filtered may not necessarily say so. It's also important to note that not all chill filtration is the same, there are lesser- and more evil versions, which are dictated by the temperature that the whisky is chilled to prior to filtering, plus the grade of filters that are used, how often they are changed, and how many times the whisky is forced through those filters prior to bottling.

There are not many examples of the same whisky being offered in both non-chill filtered and chill filtered forms, but one way where this is possible is to look for an independent bottling (such as those from Duncan Taylor, Gordon & MacPhail, etc.) of a normally chill-filtered whisky, which states clearly that it is non-chill filtered. You can also run your own experiment, by simply leaving out two glasses of whisky that are otherwise similar, but one is non-chill filtered and one that is chill filtered, and you'll clearly see the difference once the alcohol (ethanol) has begun to evaporate.

Lastly, I should point out that a whisky being chill filtered is not necessarily grounds to avoid it, it may still be a great whisky of excellent quality (looking at you, Lagavulin). The point is though, if it were non-chill filtered, it could be just that much better!


Monday, 15 September 2014

Glenlivet Nadurra 16YO Whisky Review

A slightly unusual whisky to review on a blog named 'Peated Perfection', being unpeated, but bear with me! I first tasted this whisky at Whisky Live a couple of months ago, and was very impressed. But, it's hard to judge a whisky when you've already had 'a few' others, so I thought I had better buy a bottle and do a proper review. Just for integrity's sake of course!

Before we delve into the details, let me drop a hint: 'Nadurra' means 'Natural' in Scots Gaelic. Which means, this whisky is bottled just as it comes out of the cask, in it's natural state. No added colouring, no evil chill filtration (a deeper explanation of this dastardly act is coming), and bottled at cask strength, not watered down. There is some variation between batches, mainly in the alcohol levels (ABV%), and a slight variation in the flavour as well. There are three variants in Glenlivet's Nadurra range, being Nadurra Oloroso, matured only in ex-sherry butts, Nadurra 48%, watered down from cask strength (don't know why they bothered with that one), and the Nadurra 16 year old cask strength, matured in ex-bourbon casks, which I'm reviewing here.

Glenlivet (or 'The' Glenlivet, to give it the full title) is one of the largest distilleries, in production terms, in the world, bottling over 6,000,000 bottles annually. It is the second highest selling single malt whisky, as a brand, in the world, and one of the oldest distilleries, working since 1824 with only a short break taken for world war II. You would think this would mean a lot of their whisky goes into blends (such as chivas regal, owned by the same company as Glenlivet), but no, the majority is sold as Glenlivet single malt. But the majority is unfortunately also chill filtered, bottled with colouring, and with added water.
Glenlivet Nadurra (Natural) 16YO, 54.8% cask strength, Speyside, Scotland. 
Ex-bourbon cask matured, bottled 03/2013, non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 

(tasted neat and with a drop of water)
Colour: Yellow gold

Texture: Beautiful, mouth-coating, creamy, slightly thick. Excellent mouth-feel. 

Nose: Honeyed pears and pear nectar, juicy grapes and sweet melon, just-ripe banana, a hint of oak and sweet wine, a tiny hint of spice. Water brings out more sweetness and oak.  

Taste: A lot of ripe pears, melon, honey, oak, clean and bright. A little mild heat from the high ABV%, but goes away quickly, and doesn't hurt anything. Water brings the sweetness to the front, and enhances the oak a little more.

Finish: Long, sweet and bright, more fruit, and sorry but I have to mention pears again! Water doesn't shorten the finish at all.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: There isn't a great deal of complexity in this whisky, and I would like a little less sweetness and a little more spice. But the texture, body and mouth-feel (all terms for the same thing, really) are outstanding, and are the stars of the show for me. I honestly wish chill-filtering was banned by the Scotch Whisky Association, it just ruins the natural feel and flavour of our beloved spirit. But that is extremely unlikely to ever happen, simply because casual whisky drinkers panic when their drink goes cloudy after they add water (again, more details to follow shortly).

I congratulate Glenlivet distillery on this Nadurra range, it really is a huge step in the right direction for them, and is a massive improvement over the 12 and 18yo offerings. If I had my way it would be the only style of whisky they produced. They do not make any peated whisky either, unfortunately, but guys if you're reading, you should do it. And naturally, please keep it natural!

If you're interested, the Nadurra 16yo is fairly easy to find, Dan Murphy's have it here in Australia, but most whisky shops and major bottle shops should also. It's definitely worth trying.


Friday, 5 September 2014

Ardbeg Supernova 2010 Whisky Review

There is a lot of anticipative energy in the Ardbeg 'community' at the moment, and with good reason: a new Supernova is coming! To mark the occasion, I thought I would review the last version released, SN2010.

For those of you not familiar with this Ardbeg expression, the first version of Supernova was released back in 2009, and was back then the world's peatiest whisky, at "well over 100ppm". It has since been dethroned by multiple versions of Bruichladdich's Octomore . Very peaty indeed, and it won Jim Murray's 'Scotch whisky of the year' back then as well.

The 2010 release I'm reviewing here didn't win Jim's award, but is still a big peaty beast of an Ardbeg. It was actually my second major whisky purchase, after the always-excellent Lagavulin 16yo. My bottle of SN2010 is getting a bit low now, but I won't be replacing it, as it is now selling for well over double what I paid, just those few years ago!

An NAS bottling, this young peat monster, it is thought to be 7-9 of age, to retain the maximum peatiness. As we know, peat levels recede with time during maturation. It is also bottled at a high 60.1%, and is very aggressive and eye-watering without water to calm it (very slightly).

Ardbeg Supernova 2010, NAS, 60.1%, Islay, Scotland. 
'Well over 100ppm', thought to be aged 7-9 years in ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring.

(tasted with a few drops of water)
Colour: Light gold. 

Texture: Creamy, Oily.

Nose: Masses of peat & salt, some herbal, oaky sweetness. A little heat, even with water. More vanilla sweetness comes through with time in the glass. Not the most complex ardbeg nose, but makes a big impression.

Taste: Huge, creamy, herbal peat. Definitely a peaty Supernova explosion! Salty, sea air, some hot smoked fish, tarred ropes and old grease. Some herbal and vanilla sweetness from the oak towards the end, and a little heat reminding you how young & strong this stuff is. 

Finish: Goes on for miles! Miles of never-ending peat, that is. Some more herbs and vanilla, and a hint of thin honey right at the end. One of the peatiest, and longest, finishes I've experienced. Not for the faint of heart!

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: A little too young and aggressive, and while I haven't tried the 2009 version, I have heard it was quite different in this regard. Definitely a peat monster, and a very good quality whisky, but not on the same level as Ardbegs' Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, in terms of complexity and enjoyment. Certainly much more aggressive than Bruichladdich's Octomore releases that I've tasted, despite the extra couple of years' maturation time, but that's probably down to the different shaped stills. 

The new Supernova release, however, promises to be a show-stopper! Down to 55%, which either points to extra water, or extra maturation, or both. But -wait for it- some sherry cask maturation has been used! Could this be a peatier, meatier version of my all-time favourite Uigeadail? Time will tell, but I'm counting the days until it's release next week!

Also worthy of a mention is Ardbeg's space experiment, which is what the new Supernova release is commemorating. Back in 2011, they sent vials of compounds, called Terpenes (basically flavour compounds), and some charred oak, up to the International Space Station, for an experiment. The purpose was to study the differences between oak maturation on earth, and in space (a 'control' set of compounds & oak was kept at their warehouse on Islay). An interesting mission, although the benefits of this are beyond my understanding. This space-travelling Ardbeg experiment returns to earth next Friday, the 12th of September 2014, and the occasion will be marked by the release of this promising new Supernova. 

I can't wait to try it, and I'm told my favourite whisky bar, Cobbler, will have it available for purchase by the glass. So if you're in Brisbane and you're not sure about buying a bottle of this stuff, head to Cobbler to check it out!