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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Ardbeg day dramas!

So, after waiting a whole year for the new Ardbeg release, I have finally tried the stuff, but didn't walk away with a bottle, and am yet to do a proper tasting :-(
Visiting my local Ardbeg embassy, Cru bar, in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, at 2pm today, found at least 15-20 people hanging around waiting to try the new release. This is a good sign, as last year it was just me and my wife when we were there, so I get the impression both Ardbeg and peated whisky is still increasing in popularity. Although, last year it was a bit earlier in the day so it may have been coincidental.

Anyway, we were given our samples to try, but I overheard one of the Cru bar staff saying their stock had been held up at customs, and they only had 3 bottles! Two of which they had to open for the tasting, as the LVMH (owners of Ardbeg) rep had not arrived yet with their 3-litre embassy tasting bottle. So, while I pondered how many bottles to buy, the third was snapped up by a lucky collector. I ended up ordering one bottle, which to the credit of the Cru bar team will be delivered ASAP once they get their stock, and at no extra charge. Also scored some lovely Ardbeg shot glasses which was a great bonus, and helped a little with the disappointment, so thanks for that guys!

After this we headed to Cobbler, my favourite whisky bar in the world, in West End, with the hope of getting there at opening (3pm),and having some more time with the new addition to the Ardbeg family. Only to find they were not opening the new bottling until 4.30pm, so with the wife & I fading fast after a long day, we decided to give up and just wait for my bottle to be delivered. Boo!

As for the Auriverdes itself, we were first to try it from the freshly opened bottle at Cru bar, so it had had hardly any oxygen contact, our palettes were tainted by the iced coffees we had sipped while watching the clock, and we were a little rushed (our own fault, nothing to do with our hosts). My initial impression was mixed, it is definitely lower on peat and much lower on smoke than the usual Ardbeg offerings, although I had expected this from some online gossip. There was a nice salty maritime presence there though, some medicinal and light coffee notes, a lot of vanilla and a hint of spice.

I will not form a concrete opinion on this puppy until I've had more time with it, but at this stage I don't believe it's close to the level of the last two years' 'day' bottlings, 'Ardbog' (see previous post), and 'Ardbeg Day' respectively. It is much more gentle and less 'confronting' to the amateur palate, although still identifiable as Ardbeg. It has also increased in price by $10 over last years 'Ardbog' release, and to be honest I think it's starting to push the boundaries of reasonable value for money, with no increase in age, strength or quality. The previous releases have been quite different and special enough to justify the jump in price, but I'm not sure the Auriverdes fits that bill. Let's hope next year's release stays at this price or even comes down a bit. Or maybe the disappointment of walking away empty handed, however temporarily, is clouding my judgement!

More details to come though, I will do a proper tasting and review as soon as I get my hands on some more of the Auriverdes, and some more time to dedicate to it. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Ardbeg Ardbog Whisky Review

In anticipation of Ardbeg Day 2014 (May 31st), I'm reviewing last year's Ardbeg Day release, named Ardbog (as in peat bog).

Ardbeg Day is the annual celebration of all things Ardbeg, occuring the Islay festival (Feis Ile), when most distilleries have an open day of sorts, hosting various events at the distilleries, and also usually releasing a special bottling.

Ardbeg have taken this a step further, incorporating their worldwide 'Ardbeg embassies' by having them host tastings and special events, so you can get in to the celebration without flying to Scotland. You can also buy their festival bottling online, which is unusual for these special releases, normally being sold from the distillery only. Fantastic news for those of us who can't get to Islay each year!

While some see all of this activity as marketing hype and collector-baiting, I see it as a way of keeping excitement and freshness in the distillery, there can be no argument that each release is very different from the last, with the distillery trying something new & different basically every release.

Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1% cask strength, 'at least 10 years' aged, Islay.
Un-chill-filtered, a blend of various 'standard' Ardbeg whisky aged in Bourbon casks, and Ardbeg aged in Manzanilla (dry, salty) sherry casks, all aged for at least 10 years.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Beautiful deep, dark bronze. How the sword on the box (found in a peat bog) probably looked in it's heyday. I know colour shouldn't be a major factor, but this stuff looks fantastic.

Texture: Oily, buttery, nice legs with slow movement. 

Nose: Sea spray, dry sherry, smoky oak, peat, a bag of salted potato chips (crisps).

Taste: Extra salty sea spray, peat, hint of toffee, drying. Quite smooth for the ABV%, buttery & oily, salty dry sherry, smoke, hint of oak. Much less sweetness than other bottlings, more dry, but still well balanced and enjoyable, very more-ish. 

Finish: Sea spray and salt remain clear, warming and long finish. Smoky oak & peat. 

Score: 4.5 out of 5. 

Comments: While easily recognisable as Ardbeg, it does have less of the vanilla sweetness, and more salt & maritime flavours than most Ardbeg's I'm familiar with. Although it wouldn't be your first choice if you prefer your whisky sweet, it is very well balanced and thoroughly delicious. 

Having tried the 2012 Ardbeg Day whisky (named simply 'Ardbeg Day'), and being yet to try the upcoming release (Auriverdes), this is my pick of the two, and indeed my second favourite Ardbeg whisky tasted to date. As you can probably guess, I had to get two of these bottles, one for drinking, and one for keeping. And yes, I'm thinking the Auriverdes will warrant the same thing. 

Interesting how different it is to the Bunnahabhain Toiteach I reviewed recently, given that they are both aged in Manzanilla sherry casks. The Ardbog  is definitely more complex and balanced than the Bunna, with less smoke, and more dry, salty sherry influence. Fantastic stuff. 

Ardbog can still be found in online whisky specialist shops, and for a reasonable price, I don't think it will stay that way for long. For example, the 'Ardbeg Day' bottling from 2012 is now near-impossible to find, and is selling at ridiculous prices (think at least three or four times what it sold for on release), if you can find it. 

So, if you like this Ardbog bottling, or just have to have it, get it now! It's currently on special HERE at SM Whisky Australia, for around the same as the release price, and with free shipping as well. 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Laphroaig Triple Wood Whisky Review

My first review of one of the 'heavy hitters' of Islay, Laphroaig's Triple Wood is a relatively mild bottling from this distillery, known for it's heavy peat and love/hate medicinal / iodine notes. Non-age-statement, but rumoured to be the same age as the Quarter cask expression (approx. 8 years)

Laphroaig also have a 'friends of Laphroaig' program which is an excellent bonus, with your bottle purchase you receive the opportunity to claim a lifetime lease on one square foot of land on Islay, and when you visit the distillery you may collect your rent, a dram of Laphroaig! They also give you a nice certificate of ownership to hang on the wall.

Laphroaig Triple Wood, 48%, No Age Statement, Islay.
Un-chill-filtered, some colouring added (likely just for consistency between batches), aged in bourbon casks, then quarter casks (smaller casks, giving more wood contact), finished in Oloroso sherry casks.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Light gold

Texture: Surprisingly light and clean, average legs.

Nose: Salty sea air, sweet wood smoke & oak, light smoke, medicinal, slight iodine, musty / dusty note, like an old leather bound book.

Palate: Smoke, light medicinal/iodine (much less than 10yo), smooth with mild salted caramel, musty / dusty note from the nose, nutty oaky sweetness fades early leaving smoke and peat behind.

Finish: Surprisingly short and clean, drying peat, sea spray, slight oaky vanilla.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Comments: Honestly my least favourite Laphroaig bottling (up until recently, see below!), the sherry finish seems to take away from the experience rather than add to it. Still a decent drop and identifiable as Laphroaig, but loses the complexity and depth of the quarter cask (surprising since it shares the same ageing with an extra step), and the punch of the aggressive 10yo. In my opinion, not worth the extra cost over the quarter cask, which is the pick of the bunch, short of the fantastic PX cask, and wonderful but expensive 18yo.

On to a slightly sour note, as I am one of the Friends of Laphroaig, I received a marketing email recently from the distillery unveiling their new release, 'Select Cask' (possibly called 'Select' in other countries). It started off well, with a new ageing technique including white oak, and the email exclaimed they have not added any colouring as the friends requested, but then it is all ruined.

It is bottled at only 40% ABV! What a shame, I cannot understand why they would water this down lower than all their other expressions. Hardly a 'craft presentation', maybe they're trying to get to the non-peat-head customers? Having tried this at a recent whisky festival, I was truly disappointed with how thin & weak the mouth feel was, losing practically all of it's texture and punch, I imagine with any extra water it would not hold up at all. This might have been a winner at 48% in line with most of their bottlings, and it's priced above the standard 10yo expression, which is also bottled at 40%, but with no age statement. Won't be buying this one I'm afraid.

Click HERE for Laphroaig Triple wood at SM Whisky Australia, at a great price, and with free shipping!

-Coming next week is my review of Ardbeg Ardbog, last year's Ardbeg Day release, in time for Ardbeg Day on the 31st!-

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Whisky bar review! - Cobbler, West End, Brisbane

There are plenty of bar reviews on the web (yelp etc.) , but I thought I would add my two cents anyway, from a whisky enthusiasts perspective. When I come across a new (to me) whisky bar, I'll post a review of the venue, the staff and the whisky!

Cobbler, 7 Browning St, West End, Brisbane

Let me start off by saying, I love this place, and while I might be seeing it through rose-tinted glasses, If you are in Brisbane and haven't been here, you're definitely missing out.

Cobbler itself could be easily missed, especially at night with the curtains drawn, there is no neon sign or gigantic murals on the outside, they keep it simple and understated. But for those in the know, it almost has it's own magnetic field! Directly opposite the Melbourne hotel, on Browning street, you can pick it by the music, the laughter and the inviting atmosphere permeating through the front door. 

Nicely styled, in a sort of 'steampunk' meets traditional bar way (have a look at the light bulbs!), there's plenty of whisky and cocktail paraphernalia and funky artwork on the walls, with a gorgeous wooden bar and tables, plus some 'chesterfield' (that's for you Hamish) furniture, and a relaxed lounge area upstairs. There is always some funky & retro music pumping as well, whether it's the live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights, or just the standard background music. It can get very busy and a bit cramped in here, but for good reason. 

Martin (owner) and the staff are all very knowledgeable, both on whisky and cocktails, and drinks in general. They know their customers, and have no trouble getting to everyone quickly, through a sea of outstretched arms and legs and heads, while still striving for the utmost quality and handing out sound advice. This is where you can tell the difference between a proper whisky bar, and your standard watering hole which may have found a bottle of Talisker once. Cobbler is also fast gaining a reputation for being one of the best cocktail bars in Brisbane, and while they are fantastic (with some very cool names), for whisky enthusiasts like you & I, we're really just here for the whisky! 

Cobbler has an incredible range, with a 5-6 page list of whiskies on their menu, sorted by region, and with tasting notes for reference, plus a sort of 'difficulty guide' for beginners/advanced etc. which is handy for the novice. Many of these whiskies are hard to find, and many I can honestly say I have never seen in a bar before. While some may be expensive, where else can you try a dram without needing to buy a bottle? And that's assuming you can even find a bottle to buy. I view this place as a tasting opportunity, like a permanent whisky festival. If something blows me away, I will begin search for my own bottle, or keep it on my highlight reel for next time. 

Ranging from Glenfiddich 40yo (check out the price on that one! and other old & rare whiskies, to Bruichladdich Octomore 10yo and Talisker 25yo, and gems like Laphroaig 10yo cask strength, Caol Ila cask strength, Lagavulin 12yo, all the Diageo distiller's editions, plus some unusal offerings like Bunnahabhain Toiteach (my inspiration for buying a bottle), Kilchoman Machir bay & Loch Gorm, and a great range of Japanese (Hakushu peated is next on my list), Australian and American whiskies. There really are too many to mention, and they'll have you going back on the next weekend for more. 

Cobbler does not sit on it's laurels either, they are constantly updating their offerings (follow them on twitter) and refining their menus. They are also one of the only bars in Australia to have a range of the SMWS (Single Malt Whisky Society) bottlings available by the dram, which is fantastic (try the 'flip flops up a chimney' Ardbeg if you're a peat-head).

There truly is more than enough here to please the die-hard enthusiast, and to keep his or her company happy, even those who are not into their whiskies (boo!). They'll even put up with your mates who are a bit simple, and like to play with the candles (that's also for you Hamish)!

Cobbler will also let you BYO food, and a couple of local eateries will deliver food to you, such as Little Greek Taverna, and Bird's Nest Yakitori, both nearby, and both offer fantastic food at a reasonable price. No excuses for not spending the entire evening (or the entire day) in the one place, then.  Plus they have weekly trivia on Mondays, and free cheese for groups of ladies on Saturdays (yes, I kid you not!) until 7pm, and the above-mentioned live jazz on Fridays and most Saturdays really adds to the vibe. 

So, if you're a local or are in Brisbane for more than a few hours, you definitely should head in to Cobbler, try something different, ask the staff for their advice or finally try that hard-to-find dram you've been coveting since you discovered the internet. See you there!

-thanks to google & various for the images-

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Bunnahabhain Toiteach Whisky Review

So, from a non-peated 22yo Bruichladdich in the last review, to a non-age-statement (not a popular thing in the whisky community, but not such a big deal to me, depending on the asking price of course) nicely peated whisky from Bunnahabhain.

Located on the north eastern coast of Islay, just north of Caol Ila distillery, Bunnahabhain is not widely known for it's peated expressions (the standard bottlings are unpeated) but it should be, in my opinion.

Bunnahabhain Toiteach, No Age Statement, 46%, Islay.

Un-chill-filtered, no added colourings. The label states "what if a touch of smoke was added in the distillation process", but I'll tell you now there is more than a touch there! 'Toiteach' is Scots Gaelic for 'smoky', after all. Apparently finished in Manzanilla sherry (dry, slightly salty) casks, but this is not stated on the bottle or the distillery's website. 

(tasted neat)
Colour: Light golden (not an indicator of anything, other than they obviously have not added colour!)

Texture: Oily despite being down from cask strength, excellent legs. Suggests excellent quality casks and spirit, and possibly good ageing, despite there being no age statement.

Nose: Slight smoke, some pale straw / dry grass, sweet lemon rind, white wine & green apple once opened up. No heat on the nose, good quality stuff. 

Palate: The star of the show in this whisky. Lots of beautiful, delicious, deep smoke. Some subtle dry sherry notes, but not sweet and well-balanced by the smoke and dry-ish peat. Also some over-cooked caramel (not overly sweet, but not bitter either), and the straw and crisp green apple from the nose. Amazingly smooth at an assumed young age, there is no burn whatsoever, even neat and at room temperature. The delicious deep smoke brings the taste buds to life, plenty of it too, and it's utterly delicious!

Finish: Long, smoky but clean, a hint of ash, and a slight rubbery/soapy note on the end, but not in a bad way. Some more straw and crisp green apple right at the end, plus a final puff of that gorgeous smoke. 

Comments: Awesome stuff, and did I mention the smoke? Not over-powering but well-balanced, and the whisky is so smooth and light on the tongue. Amazing depth of flavour and not overwhelming. In fact at cask strength it might have lost some of that flavour and balance. Also works well with some quality milk chocolate, believe it or not. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Very impressed with this one, it easily holds it's weight compared to Ardbeg & Laphroaig 10 year old, but is a different breed, lighter and less medicinal than laphroaig, less sweet than Ardbeg, but more (yes, more!) smoky. One of my go-to peated whiskies, not commonly seen on the shelves but worth the hunting! This is where I found it , at SM Whisky Australia, and at a decent price too. 

I would love to try Bunna's Cruach Mhona ('peat stack' in gaelic) as well, see here for that one , it's on my wish list! Slainte!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Bruichladdich Black Art 3 Whisky Review - My First!

An odd choice for my first review, I know, given the name of my blog, but it's what I'm drinking at the moment, and it is an excellent dram with not too many reviews out there. Also I'm going to trial an out-of-5 scoring system, rather than the usual 100 points.

It certainly is mysterious like it's name implies, it seems to change shape a little each time I try it! There seems to be some variation in the bottlings as well, perhaps different batches? Some have a more reddish tinge and more spicy christmas cake flavours, others, like mine, are more dark copper with more fruit and pepper notes. Both are totally unique and are a departure from the norm, which knowing Bruichladdich and Mr. McEwan was definitely by design! And it worked, I think.

Bruichladdich Black Art 3, 1989, 22 years old, 48.7% cask strength, Islay. 

Non-peated, aged in American Bourbon casks, then aged & finished in a mystery number of mystery casks (definitely some fortified or dessert wine in there though), named according to the 'black art' of the whisky distiller/blender. Jim McEwan's (Bruichladdich head distiller, pictured below) ode to his craft & profession. 

(tasted neat)
Colour: Deep, solid copper. (note some bottlings seem to be more red amber)

Texture: Medium oily, viscous, very slow movement in the glass, lovely long legs.

Nose: Big, Ripe, juicy tropical fruit. Pear, guava, paw paw/papaya, some candied berries, some oak, pepper spice, slightly burnt toffee sweetness. Intriguing, you could nose this whisky for an hour. 

Palate: Juicy tropical fruit like the nose, initial berry & fruit sweetness, then pepper, some wine/tea tannins, some fortified or dessert wine, but much less than when I last tasted it. Might be starting to oxygenate in the bottle. No trace of sherry unlike most un-peated Bruichladdich's. Very smooth with little alcohol heat. (note the redder-hued bottlings have more christmas cake & spice, less pepper and fruit)

Finish: Fruit fades, a trace of berry sweetness, toffee syrup, then drying, wood spice, medium to long finish. 

Comments: Definitely in my top 5 un-peated whiskies, truly intriguing stuff. So different from most others, not even readily identifiable as Bruichladdich. Each time I taste this it is like I'm seeing (but tasting...) it from another angle, with different notes becoming more or less prominent. Becoming harder to find, and expensive, but worth it for a whisky of this quality, and age. Definitely worth getting your hands on. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

I would love to try it with a little peat Jim, how about finishing in an ex-Port Charlotte cask for a few months next time? You know you want to!

-Score revised and lowered half of a point/star, after tasting (again) the other, redder batch the other day, that is the one to go for, if you can check the bottle before buying! The christmas cake & spices add an extra dimension which makes it even better. The redder version gets the 4 star score from me. 

Thursday, 8 May 2014

How to enjoy whisky - my tips

There are plenty of sites with a 'how to drink whisky' page or video, so I thought I would go in a different direction. I will give my recommendations for a few 'criteria', but at the end of the day, how YOU enjoy drinking whisky is how YOU should drink whisky. I will also make note of how following these criteria can enhance your whisky experience.

Whether you have it straight, with water, or even with soda water (using any other mixer is, in my opinion, a waste of good whisky), whether you have it on the rocks (with ice), in a chilled tumbler or in a room temperature 'tulip' shaped whisky glass is all up to you. The main thing is to experiment and see what gives the best results and most enjoyment, for you.

Storing your whisky

Your average shelf, cupboard or cabinet is fine of course, but it should be away from direct sunlight, and preferably in a cooler area of the room or a cooler room of the house (the side of your house which gets the least sunlight, for example). And keep it secure if you're concerned about children/room mates/visitors getting in there when they shouldn't. 


The ideal glass, if you are going to be nosing your whisky and spending some quality time with it, is a tulip-shaped whisky glass, such as the Glencairn pictured below, which was specifically designed for whisky drinking. Otherwise a wine glass or even a tumbler will do fine, but they will let more of the aromas escape than a Glencairn or similar glass. For me it helps that the Glencairn glasses are genuine Scottish crystal as well, both for an uninterrupted view of the contents, and because it adds to the romance of the occasion! 

The idea(s) of the tulip shape is to funnel the aromas towards the opening and channel them into the nose, and also the 'bulb' at the bottom allows a good swirling without fear of spilling any precious whisky. They also slow the oxygenation of the liquid by allowing less air in than a traditional glass or tumbler. Also the heavy, solid base makes them very stable, and less likely to shatter (apparently, I haven't tested this bit!).


As you may be able to see from the images above, the genuine Glencairn glasses also have an etched 'The Glencairn Glass' branding on the base, so you can pick an imitation from the real deal. Have a look here for the real thing. 

You can also, if so inclined, get a glass lid for these glasses as well, however a glass coaster or small plate would be just as good. The idea here is that the aromas and vapours are trapped in the glass, and no extra air can get in, slowing the oxygenation of the whisky, and allowing the full nose of the whisky to be as unaffected as possible while in the glass. You only remove the lid when ready to nose and/or sip, then replace the lid immediately. 


This is a tough one, and really if we're honest, as long as you follow the basics, you can't go wrong. Essentially we should try and be isolated from other smells and aromas, particularly strong ones like cooking smells, perfumes, deodorants, cigarettes etc. to avoid those smells contaminating the aromas in our whisky.

However there are some aromas which can enhance your experience, such as (particularly antique) leather, mild cigar smoke, or a wood fire (from a distance), can boost certain aromas in the whisky, whether this is a good thing or not is up to yourselves. Aside from this, if you're doing a serious tasting, try and limit distractions, to allow you to concentrate on your individual senses. Music can help set the mood as well, and watching Braveheart, Rob Roy, or James Bond (preferably Connery, or Craig) on dvd or bluray can have the same effect! Kilt and/or longsword optional.

This is all well and good, but the main things are to make yourself comfortable, relax, and take your time! If you rush through a good whisky you are essentially wasting it, in my opinion. 

Ice, or water, or neat, or soda water, or what?

This is an interesting one, and probably one of the more controversial issues. Personally, I would suggest, to get the most from your whisky experience, first try it neat (no ice or water etc.), if it is too hot (alcohol burn/vapour) then add a small amount of water, using a teaspoon or a straw to carefully regulate the amount you are adding, as once your whisky is over-watered or drowned, every part of the experience is essentially lost. Too much water will hide the aromas, ruin the mouth feel and nearly cancel the finish of the whisky.

Too much ice above. Other than closing off the flavours and aromas as the ice chills the whisky, and once it has melted you are left with mostly water!
With a little water added, and at ambient temperature, if your whisky is un-chill-filtered (more on that later), you will get some 'scotch mist' where the natural particles left in the spirit react with the water, giving a slightly cloudy appearance. This is perfectly natural, and is an indicator of a well-made whisky. 

Adding the right amount of water (to taste) will usually also enhance certain flavours and aromas in the whisky, and reduce others. As an experiment try pouring two same-sized drams of the same whisky, add a small amount of water to one, allow them both to rest, then taste alongside one another. There will be a slight difference, and this is also a good way to train your palate to pick out aromas in the whisky. 

In hot environments (such as Australia!) it does become difficult to drink high ABV% spirits at ambient temperature, so I do often add a small piece of ice (around the size of a small coin, like a quarter or a 5c piece for example) to bring the temperature down slightly, which when melted has the same effect as a very small drop of water. It also looks awesome as the ice melts through the whisky! As an alternative, to really chill the whisky (not recommended, as it 'closes' the whisky, hiding the flavours and aromas), use a large, round ice cube like these below, which will melt more slowly than a traditional ice cube.

If you are drinking a cheaper whisky, such as a low-end blended whisky, adding a moderate amount of soda water makes for a refreshing drink, without nearly cancelling out the flavour of the whisky completely like cola or lemonade does. The only sweetness you get here comes from the whisky, not the mixer. Personally I am partial to a Jameson (Irish blended whisky) and soda water, particularly when 'out on the town' where drinking the good stuff can get very expensive, if the bars/pubs even have any. 

So, there we have some of my recommendations for drinking, and enjoying whisky. As I said above though, the main thing is that you enjoy it. Relax, take your time, savour the moment, and enjoy your whisky! I'll leave you with these inspirational words from Mr. Ron Burgundy...

Check back for my first whisky review, coming soon!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Bunnahabhain Distillery Profile

Although considerably less well-known than Ardbeg, Bunnahabhain distillery is, in my opinion, one of the least appreciated Islay whiskies. They produce excellent whisky, which is uniquely different from the other distilleries on the island. They primarily produce (almost) unpeated whisky in their core range, but there have been a couple of peated expressions (such as 'toiteach' and 'cruach mhona'). The Toiteach in particular is one of my favourite Islay whiskies, nicely peated but also well balanced, and uniquely different from it's competitors. Bunnahabhain whisky is also a primary ingredient of Black Bottle blended whisky. But more to come on those points at a later date.

Distillery Location: North Eastern coast, Islay, Scotland

Owner: Highland Distillers

Producing since: 1881

General Whisky Style: Unpeated, maritime/coastal flavours, un-chill-filtered, no added colouring.

I for one would like to see Bunnahabhain distillery gain some more popularity, and would truly love to see more peated expressions of 'Bunna' on the shelves!

See here for some of Bunnahabhain's bottlings.

-Thanks to WhiskyRob for the image-

Sunday, 4 May 2014

What is this peat stuff anyway?

So what is peat, and why is it so awesome?

In simple terms, peat is basically thousands of years worth of build-up of dead or dying plant life. In a wetland-type environment, the water saturation on the surface slows the decay of decomposing plant matter, causing it to accumulate and over time form peat bogs. In fact, the majority of the wetland areas in the world are peat bogs.

More importantly for us though, dried peat can be used as a fuel, and was a major source of fuel in many areas of the world, before being replaced by coal. This means peat was used for fires, and those fires were used to dry the malted barley that was to become whisky. When dried peat is burned, the smoke gives off a uniquely smoky, vegetal aroma, which permeates the malted barley, and these aromas and flavours are present in the finished whisky. Peated perfection!

So, peat is so awesome because it gives our whisky the smoky, earthy, vegetal flavours many people love. Some don't, but in my opinion they are missing out. While these flavours can be surprising if they're not expected, particularly if one's Scotch whisky experience is limited to Johnnie Walker & coke (for example), the amazing depth they add to a whisky should be reason enough to try one. Most people prefer their spirits to be sweet, but if you add some peat smoke to balance out that sweetness, the effect is truly awesome. 

There are many different levels of 'peatiness' used in whisky production, which is usually governed by how long the malted barley is dried using peat smoke, and/or the portion of the malted barley used that is dried using peat smoke. For example, Springbank distillery in Campbelltown, Scotland, produces three different whiskies: the standard Springbank, which is lightly peated, Longrow, which is heavily peated, and Hazelburn, which is un-peated. For the Springbank whisky, the malted barley is partly dried using peat smoke for a relatively short amount of time, for the Longrow whisky, all the malted barley used is dried using peat smoke, and it is smoked for a longer amount of time, and for the Hazelburn whisky, no peated barley is used at all. 

The level of 'peatiness' can sometimes be researched by looking for a 'ppm' level, which is the phenolic content (peat smoke is a phenolic compound) measured in parts per million in the malted barley. Some distilleries utilise these measurements as a marketing tool as well, Bruichladdich distillery for example is not shy with telling you their 'Port Charlotte' range is peated to 40 ppm, and their 'Octomore' range is much higher, up to 258 ppm. To my knowledge, this is the highest in the world. However, this ppm measurement is not always a good indicator of the finished product, as it is measured before the brewing, distilling and ageing process takes place. The finished product is also heavily influenced by the shape and size of the stills and condensers, and the peaty flavours also diminish over time during maturation. This is why many heavily peated whiskies are bottled and sold at a relatively young age, for example the Bruichladdich Octomore range is aged for only 5 years, retaining its maximum peatiness. As a general rule of thumb, a peated whisky will lose around 60% of it's phenolic compounds before it is bottled. So, if you're looking for a heavily peated whisky, do not take the age statement as the main factor in your purchasing decision, in fact be wary of an older (18 years or older) whisky claiming to be heavily peated, as you may not get what you wished for. Enjoy! 

Ardbeg Distillery Profile

So, I've chosen Ardbeg distillery for my first distillery profile, for two reasons. One, because it starts with 'A', which seems logical, and two, because it is one of my favourites. 

Distillery Location: South Coast, Islay, Scotland

Owner: LVMH

Producing since: 1815 (commercially)

General Whisky Style: Heavily peated, un-chill-filtered, 46% abv.

As you can see from the map, Islay is well-endowed with whisky distilleries, yet they all manage to be distinctly different, even those right next to each other are easily distinguished by the whisky enthusiast. Ardbeg is a very popular one, with the 'Ardbeg Committee' membership program, and an annual 'Ardbeg Day' in May each year, supported by events worldwide, and the release of a special bottling, usually with a different distilling or ageing technique to the 'standard' offerings. While Ardbeg generally produces a heavily peated whisky, there is usually a vanilla sweetness complimenting the peat and smoke, which is delightful.

See here for some of Ardbeg's bottlings

-Thanks to wikipedia for the images-

What's on my shelves (in my 'working whisky collection')

Well, let me start by saying that yes, I do have a whisky collection, but it is more of a 'working whisky' collection, as I like to call it. Those bottles which are not open, are essentially being saved for a special (or sometimes VERY special) occasion. I do not consider myself a collector in the anal-retentive sense, where I have hundreds of bottles squirrelled away just for the sake of owning them, never to be opened or even looked at, and probably forgotten.

So, here's what I have at the moment, listed by region, with a map for quick reference (thanks to Lonely Planet for the image):

Scotch Whisky, Single Malt:

Ardbeg 10yo
Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist
Ardbeg Almost There
Ardbeg Ardbog
Ardbeg Supernova 2010
Ardbeg Supernova 2014
Ardbeg Uigeadail+
Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Ardbeg Renaissance "We've Arrived"
Ardbeg Auriverdes
Ardbeg Perpetuum (general release)+
Ardbeg Dark Cove (committee release)+
Ardbeg Dark Cove (general release)
Ardbeg Kelpie (committee release)+
Ardbeg Grooves (committee release)+
Bowmore Devil's Cask, batch 2
Bowmore Tempest, batch 5
Bruichladdich Black Art 3
Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008
Bruichladdich Laddie 8 200ml
Bruichladdich Laddie 10 200ml
Bruichladdich Laddie 10 Second Edition
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1
Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1
Bruichladdich Octomore 6.2
Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3
Bruichladdich Octomore 7.1
Bruichladdich Octomore 7.2+
Bruichladdich Octomore 7.3
Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4
Bruichladdich Octomore 8.3
Bruichladdich Octomore 10, 2nd Edition
Bruichladdich Octomore OBA+
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Peat Project
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10yo 46%
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte CC01 2007
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC6
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC7
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC8
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC11
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte PC12
Bruichladdich Valinch Syrah cask - Roddy MacEachern
Bunnahabhain Toiteach
Bunnahabhain Ceobanach+
Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona
Caol Ila 12yo
Caol Ila 29yo, 1983 (Duncan Taylor bottling)
Caol Ila Distillers Edition, 1993
Caol Ila Distillers Edition, 2001
Caol Ila Distillers Edition, 2003
Caol Ila Distillery Exclusive, 2017
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Kilchoman 2008 vintage
Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2014
Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014
Kilchoman Quarter Cask Cask Strength 2016
Kilchoman Sanaig
Kilchoman Single Cask #559, Oloroso cask, 58.2%
Kilchoman Distillery shop exclusive, Rum cask finish, 2017.
Lagavulin 8yo+
Lagavulin 16yo
Lagavulin 12yo 2013
Lagavulin 12yo 2014+
Lagavulin 12yo 2015
Lagavulin 12yo 2016
Lagavulin 12yo 2017
Lagavulin Distillers Edition 1995 (distilled)
Lagavulin Distillers Edition 2013 (bottled)
Lagavulin Feis Ile 2017
Lagavulin Jazz Festival 2017+
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Laphroaig PX Cask+
Laphroaig Triple Wood
Laphroaig An Cuan Mor+
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014+
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015+
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2017
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2018
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 5
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 6
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 7+
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 8
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 9+
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength, batch 10+
Port Askaig 100 proof (Caol Ila)
Port Askaig 19yo cask strength

Ledaig 10yo
Ledaig 18yo
Ledaig 10yo sherry cask (Signatory Cask Strength)
Talisker 10
Talisker 18yo
Talisker 57 North
Talisker Distillers Edition 1996
Talisker Distillers Edition 2000
Tobermory 15yo

Aberlour A'Bunadh, batch 52
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Balvenie 12yo
Benriach 10yo 'Curiositas'
Benriach 17yo 'Septendecim'
Benromach 10yo 57% / 100 proof
Cardhu 12yo
Craigellachie 13yo
Edradour Ballechin 10 year old
Edradour Chardonnay cask SFTC 12 year old
Glendronach 12yo 'The Original'
Glendronach 15yo 'Revival'
Glendronach 18yo 'Allardice'+
Glendronach 21yo 'Parliament'
Glendronach Cask Strength, batch 3
Glendronach Cask Strength, batch 4
Glendronach Cask Strength, batch 5
Glendronach Hand-filled, single cask #1446 PX matured.
Glendronach Single Cask #5524 11yo PX finish.
Glendronach Single Cask #3492 12yo Oloroso, Oak Barrel exclusive.
Glendronach Single Cask #98, 18yo Oloroso matured. 
Glenfiddich 15yo
Glenfiddich 125th Anniversary (peated)
Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo cask strength, 2006 bottling
Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo cask strength, 2013 bottling
Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso 48%
Glenrothes Alba Reserve
Glen Scotia 15yo+
Kilkerran 12yo
Longrow 11yo 'Red' Port cask
Longrow 11yo Rundlets & Kilderkins
Macallan 12 Double Cask
Mortlach 2002 14yo 43% (Signatory Vintage)
Springbank 10yo
Springbank 10yo Local Barley cask strength
Springbank 12yo Burgundy cask strength
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength, batch 9
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength, batch 14
Springbank 14yo Bourbon Wood cask strength
Springbank 16yo Local Barley cask strength

Other parts of the world:

Hakushu 10yo, Japan
Connemara Turf Mor, Ireland
The Irishman 12yo, Ireland
Paul John Bold, India
Paul John Classic, India
Paul John Peated, India
Bellwether Batch 4, Australia
Bellwether Batch 5, Australia
Bellwether Cask Strength, Australia
Hellyer's Rd "Distiller's Choice" (hand fill) peated, Australia
Heartwood 1 of 3, Australia
Heartwood Beagle 3, Australia
Heartwood Calm Before the Storm, Australia
Heartwood Chaos & Intrigue, Australia
Heartwood Convict Resurrection, Australia
Heartwood Dare to be Different, Australia
Heartwood Darkest Before Dawn, Australia
Heartwood Dregs, Australia
Heartwood Heart of Darkness, Australia
Heartwood Epiphany at the Lakes, Australia
Heartwood Mediocrity Be Damned, Australia
Heartwood The Revelation, Australia
Heartwood We Are Brothers, Australia
Heartwood We Are Cousins, Australia
Bakery Hill Peated Cask Strength, Australia
Starward Solera, Australia
Starward Wine Cask, Australia
Starward Tenth Anniversary, Australia+
Cotswolds Single Malt, England

Blended Whisky:

Black Bottle, old style
Compass Box Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary
Compass Box No Name
Compass Box Peat Monster
Johnnie Walker Double Black
Johnnie Walker Green Label

There are multiples of some of these as well, where possible and affordable I like to grab two bottles of the good ones, one to keep and one to drink!

Welcome to Peated Perfection!

I've listed some FAQ's to help us get acquainted. 

Who are you?
I'm a whisky enthusiast, based in Queensland (QLD), Australia. I'm in my 30's, I'm married (Hi Liz!), and I like long walks on the beach.  

Do you like stuff?
Absolutely! Aside from whisky and cars, I also enjoy the occasional bit of Call of Duty, and I dabble in bass guitar. I do have varied taste in music, mainly of the 'heavier' variety. Favourite bands would be Metallica, Disturbed, Machine Head and System of a Down, but also Powderfinger and Cypress Hill. I also enjoy Ska (google it if you don't know, it's pretty awesome), some Bob Marley, and even little Opera. Yes, really. 

What will you be posting about?
I'll mainly be posting whisky reviews, because it gives me an excuse to drink whisky, and because I enjoy it. I am not a whisky professional, I am not involved in the whisky or beverage industry in any way. Other than a customer and supporter, I suppose. My reviews will be my opinions, and I will try and be unbiased where possible (some times you just love something and see it through rose-tinted glasses!). I will also be posting general whisky articles for discussion, mainly on happenings in the industry, or happenings on the local whisky scene. 

Why should I care?
Good question! Well, the whisky reviews are designed to help you make informed decisions, when you're standing in the bottle shop, or browsing that on-line store, or doing your research beforehand. If you come across a whisky I have reviewed, you will at least have my opinion on what it is like, whether it is worth your money, and whether you might enjoy it. So, my posts may (and I hope they do) save you from a negative whisky experience. The general discussions are there to keep you informed, and sometimes for me to get something off my chest, in which case you hopefully will find them entertaining and/or informative as well. 

But I'm not in Australia :-(
Well, we can't all be perfect can we!?! If my post is 'location-sensitive', I hope it will give you an insight into my local world, from wherever you may be, and it may give you a new perspective on your own. Rest assured that, generally, the whisky I get here is identical to what you can get wherever you are. Pricing is another story, but let's get to that later.

So, that's it at this stage, if you have any other questions, comment below and I'll see if I can come up with something!