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Sunday, 27 July 2014

Laphroaig 18 VS. Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Reviewed & Compared! Whisky Fight!

So, I had a bit of a conundrum recently. Having an opportunity to purchase a whisky duty free with a family member coming over from New Zealand, there was a difficult question to answer: Which one do I get? I had a few criteria to meet, mainly that it was from Islay, that it was heavily peated, and preferably that it was something I didn't already have in the working collection.

After a quick browse of what the duty free store in question had available, I settled on a couple of bottles which I had not tasted in a long time, and had never owned myself. Laphroaig 18 year old, and Ardbeg Corryvreckan. But how was I going to choose between them? That's easy, I just went to Cobbler and had them fight each other!


            Laphroaig 18 year old                             VS.                           Ardbeg Corryvreckan
These are two rather different whiskies, with the Laphroaig being 18 years old, watered down to 48% and a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, and the Ardbeg being Non-Age Statement (NAS), and bourbon cask only. They are both non-chill filtered, but the Laphroaig has a little caramel colouring added, and the Ardbeg does not. But, being from perhaps the two most well-known and well-respected distilleries on Islay, being heavily-peated, and selling at a similar price, I thought they made for a good match-up for this heavy weight bout. ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE!?!

Fighter's Stats!
Laphroaig 18yo: 48%, 18 years old, first fill bourbon, non-chill filtered, no colouring. The ageing veteran.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan: 57.1%, NAS, bourbon casks, non-chill filtered, no colouring added. The big, scary-looking 'young up & comer'. 

(both tasted neat)
Colour: Laphroaig 18: Medium gold.  Corryvreckan: Polished bronze.

Texture: Laphroaig: Thick & creamy, buttery.  Corryvreckan: Light & clean, deceptive! 

Round 1: Nose:
Laphroaig: Inviting, but surprising heat. Laphroaig medicinal peat and iodine/disinfectant, salty, a little smoky, and some sweetness. Instantly recognisable, but nothing stands apart from the 'house style'.
Ardbeg: Wow! Big and bold, but little heat for high ABV%. Salty maritime aromas, sea spray, tarred rope, supple, worn leather. Some sour fruit, and vanilla-soaked bananas. 

Round 2: Taste:
Laphroaig: Signature Laphroaig, sweet medicinal peat, substantial smoke & salt, iodine and disinfectant. A little heat, giving way to buttered peat and some sweet smoke, very light sherry sweetness.
Ardbeg: Big peat and smoke, a little heat and 'prickle' but not much considering the ABV%. Could probably take some water, but still awesome without. Some vanilla sweetness, but fantastic salt and maritime flavours. Keeps with the Ardbeg style but ramps up the intensity and depth. Very, very good. 

Round 3: Finish:
Laphroaig: Buttery & oily, a bit of nutty sweetness, smoky. Long and warming. 
Ardbeg: Peat, tarred ropes, pepper and leather. Some oak sweetness but mostly dry and mouth-watering. Clean, medium-length finish, very more-ish.

The Judge's Scorecards!
Round 1 (nose): Ardbeg. Round 2 (taste): Ardbeg. Round 3 (finish): Laphroaig. Total Scores:
Laphroaig: 3 out of 5.
Ardbeg: 4 out of 5.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan takes the win by split decision! 

Notes: The younger, bolder Corryvreckan simply out-classed the veteran Laphroaig 18 year old early on, but the veteran came back late in the third round, regaining some dignity. 

The 18 year old Laphroaig is certainly a good whisky, but I don't feel the value for money, or quality for age, is there. It strikes me as a more mature Quarter Cask, but the maturity does not make it better or worse, but rather more reserved. Perhaps with some sherry cask influence it would have gained more complexity, although the finish is very good, the star of the show in this bottling. As a whole, not very close to my favourite 'phroaig, the PX. 

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, meanwhile, is still expensive, and lacking an age statement, but the quality is there in spades! Deep, mysterious aromas & flavours, much like those of the Scottish whirlpool it is named after! Intense and powerful, but manageable and very, very pleasant. As the distillery says, not for the faint hearted! The clear winner in this fight. But is it better than my lovely mistress the Ardbeg Uigedail? Not for me, no. Look for a review of that one in the future, it's worth the wait!

Full disclosure: In the interests of blogger-integrity, I must disclose that neither of these whiskies was chosen as my order for the duty free shopping opportunity. Rather, after much consideration, I went for a second bottle of Laphroaig PX. Why? Because it can only be bought from duty free stores, and is great value for money ($40-60AUD less than the two in this fight), so I could not pass up the chance to grab another bottle. Both the Laphroaig 18 and Corryvreckan are readily available, and are not likely to go away soon, so the sense of urgency was not there for me. But rest assured they are both worthy of your consideration, though the Ardbeg has won itself a decisive victory tonight. Cheers!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Caol Ila Distillery Profile


Another of the lesser-known Distilleries on Islay, Caol Ila (Gaelic for 'Sound of Islay', and pronounced 'cull-eel-a) distillery is also one of the largest whisky producers by volume. They produce in a week what some smaller distilleries produce in a year, but around 90% of their whisky goes into blends, such as Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker. Their single-malt whiskies are well balanced, usually lightly peated, but they have also produced some unpeated bottlings, but we're not too interested in those! They primarily bottle at 43% ABV, although there is a cask-strength bottling out there if you can find it, and it is fantastic! Likewise their Distiller's Edition is very good, finished in Moscatel casks, but their mainstay is the standard Caol Ila 12 year old.

Distillery location: Eastern Islay, near Port Askaig, Scotland 

Owner: Diageo 

Producing since: 1846

General Whisky Style: Lightly peated, smoky, medicinal and maritime flavours. 

I would like to see more Caol Ila bottled as a single-malt, by the distillery, and I say that because there are many, many different independent bottlings of single-cask Caol Ila available, where an independent bottler has purchased the cask from Caol Ila, then matured and bottled it themselves, usually at cask strength. If only the distillery would do more of that! They do produce great whisky, and although considered one of the 'lighter' Islay whiskies, Caol Ila hold their own in a big way, get out there and try it!


Port Charlotte 'The Peat Project' (Bruichladdich) Whisky Review

Port Charlotte is a small coastal town on Islay, south of Bruichladdich distillery, on the western shore of Loch Indaal. The town was once home to Lochindaal distillery, which closed in 1929 after over 100 years of production of heavily-peated whisky. This served as inspiration for Bruichladdich distillery to produce a heavily peated whisky, which they named 'Port Charlotte'.

Bruichladdich produce three styles of whisky (plus 'The Botanist' gin, which is actually very good-might have to review it!), Bruichladdich, which is essentially un-peated, Port Charlotte, which is heavily peated to around 40ppm, and Octomore, which is very / super heavily peated, at up to 169ppm phenols (see here for ppm explanation).

Their Port Charlotte bottlings were initially released periodically, starting at five years of age with PC5, then PC6, and so on, up to PC11. These were all bottled at cask strength and are highly collectible (and thus expensive and hard to find), with the exception of 'Port Charlotte 10 Year Old', which was bottled at 46% as an addition to Bruichladdich's 'core' range. Confusingly, there was also a PC10 cask strength bottling released around the same time. There have also been non-age statement (NAS) bottlings of the Port Charlotte whisky, named An Turas Mor, The Peat Project, Scottish Barley, and Islay Barley.


Port Charlotte 'The Peat Project' (Bruichladdich), NAS, 46%, Islay, Scotland.
Non-chill filtered, no added colouring (definitely). A mix of multiple vintages. No details on maturation time, techniques or casks stated, but I suspect only bourbon cask maturation, and mostly young spirit in the mix. 

(tasted neat and with water)
Colour: Very pale gold, think champagne.

Texture: Long, slow-moving legs. 

Nose: Medicinal peat, salt, a little smoke. Sour sherbet, and some musty, under-ripe banana. With water, some more smoke, pepper, and more tropical fruit in the background.

Taste: A big peaty wallop! Some dark, thick smoke, and some sour sherbet, but also quite hot for the relatively low ABV (46%). Not much going on really, even with water added there is very little complexity. The peat and smoke are there in force, but while fighting each other for the win, they end up cancelling each other out in a very short, but brutal, fight. 

Finish: Surprisingly short, some peat, but also still some heat! Water helps to calm it down, but there is not much happening here to keep me interested. I have had this bottle open for almost a year, and have tasted it repeatedly over that time, and not a lot has changed. Still hot, aggressive and one-dimensional. 

Score: 2 out of 5. 

Notes: Very disappointing. No question I think that young spirit has predominantly been used here, and there has been hardly any detectable cask influence. Very young and aggressive, at cask strength I imagine this would have been unpleasant. There is little to no development, and considerable heat, and water does not calm it as much as it should. Bruichladdich's tall stills usually add complexity and 'gentleness' to heavily peated spirit, but they have not had much effect here. 

From my favourite Laphroaig in the last review, to my least favourite Bruichladdich in this one! I have tried the Port Charlotte 'Scottish Barley' bottling, which is also NAS and 46%, since, and it is far, far better. Likewise the An Turas Mor, although I have not tried it myself, received positive reviews before being replaced by The Peat Project. I suspect both of these had more older spirit, and more cask influence.

This Peat Project bottling is priced, at least in Australia, at a similar point to Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 10, and even the unpeated Bruichladdich 'Laddie Classic', and it just does not hold a candle to them, it's not in the same league. If you see it on the shelf, look past it towards the Port Charlotte 'Scottish Barley', which far as I can tell has replaced 'The Peat Project' anyway, and for good reason.

Cheers!

Friday, 11 July 2014

Laphroaig PX Whisky Review

My last review of a Laphroaig Single Malt, the Triple Wood, was a little disappointing, so I thought I would make up for it with a review of my current favourite Laphroaig. OK, I admit it, it has been my favourite for quite a while.

One of a range of three 'travel-retail exclusive' (can only be purchased from duty free stores) whiskies, all of which are non-age statement (NAS) bottlings, it may have started as a bit of an experiment, and the other versions (QA, for Quercus Alba, or American oak, and An Cuan Mor, or 'big ocean') are not as popular, although I haven't yet tried them myself. The travel-retail thing also means they come in 1-litre bottles (bonus!), and they can now be found in some online whisky shops as well as duty free stores.

Believe me though, age statement or no, if it was an experiment, it was very, very successful. 
Laphroaig PX Cask, NAS, 48%, Islay, Scotland.
'Third maturation' in PX (Pedro Ximenez sherry) casks. The first two being Bourbon cask and Quarter cask respectively. Unfortunately the label & tin do not mention whether it is chill filtered or not, or whether or not it has had caramel colouring added. I don't believe it to be chill filtered, based on the mouth feel and finish, and if there has been caramel added, I would say it was more for consistency rather than intentional modification.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Deep gold.

Texture: Oily in the glass, but surprisingly clean in the mouth.

Nose: Lovely! Instantly recognisable as Laphroaig whisky, with medicinal peat, some Iodine, and lovely salty sea spray. Very little smoke on the nose, perhaps lightly smoked straw. Significant sweetness, and a hint of mature, rich sherry. 

Taste: Even more lovely! The oaky sweetness and medicinal peat balance each other quite nicely, then a hint of rich sherry and wood spice, some salt and sea spray, and a very nice handful of ash, (even cigarette ash), which beats back the sweetness, and dries the mouth. Well balanced but the sweetness wins the fight, but only by split decision! The ash may not sound very appealing, but it is not overpowering, and believe me, it is awesome. It helps this whisky really stand out in the crowd. 

Finish: Long, sweet, peaty and salty. Delicious. Again the sweet oak and sherry is balanced by the peat, salt and ash. There is some smokey vanilla and marzipan right at the end, after the ash has cleared and left you longing for more.  

Score: 4.5 out of 5. 

Comments: As you may have guessed, this whisky (and all Laphroaig whiskies which undergo a 'third maturation' start this way) is essentially Laphroaig quarter cask, which has then been finished in PX sherry casks. The Triple Wood is matured the same way, but is finished in Oloroso sherry casks, and has not worked anywhere near as well as the PX cask whisky. 

This truly is excellent stuff, that sweet Pedro Ximenez sherry finish has added just enough fruit & spice to balance the oak and smoke. If the sweetness was just a tad more subdued, and it stated on the label if it was chill filtered, it likely would have scored even higher! Definitely my favourite Laphroaig so far, followed closely by Quarter Cask and 18 year old.

I strongly recommend doing your utmost to get a hold of this stuff, so if you know anybody who is travelling soon, see if they'll get you a bottle, or, what better reason is there to take a holiday? 

Cheers!