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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 essentially 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 one or multiple metal or paper filters, under pressure. What this process does is remove naturally occurring particles from the whisky, namely fatty acids, proteins and esters, 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 some 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. 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 as a result of a temperature drop. This does not generally occur in spirits consumed above 46% ABV because the higher alcohol level stops the particles binding together, 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 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 particles in the finished 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?

So how does all this affect your whisky (or other spirit, for that matter)? This is bit of 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, the natural mouth-feel and texture, and even the flavour & finish 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 most chill filtered whiskies do not advertise this fact on the label, or even on the distillery website, especially in the case of a blended whisky. 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, but usually. It's also important to note that not all chill filtration is the same, there are lesser and more evil versions, dictated by the temperature that the whisky is chilled to prior to filtering, and the filters that are used, how often they are changed, and how many times the whisky is filtered 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.

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!


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Talisker Distillery Profile

Probably one of the most widely known Island distilleries, Talisker is the only distillery on the rugged and beautiful Isle of Skye, a much larger northern cousin to our beloved Islay, it is even connected to mainland Scotland by road. Talisker distillery is located in Carbost, on the western side of the Island. 

Considered lightly peated, generally to approximately 20ppm, Talisker whisky is widely renowned for it's salty, maritime character, although this is very hard to find in some versions. Unfortunately, they use chill filtration, in (at least to my knowledge) all their bottlings, and only bottle at 45.8%, with the exception of their '57 degrees north' NAS version, which is 57% ABV. Speaking of which, although their core offering is still the 10 year old, they are now leaning towards mainly NAS (Non-Age Statement) bottlings as their core range, with a number of these bottlings being released recently, and none have been very good, in my opinion. 

My pick of their bottlings would be either the '57 degrees north' or the 18 year old, although the older releases of their sherry-finished 'Distiller's Edition' is very good as well, if not a little too gentle compared to the standard releases. 

Distillery location: Carbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Owner: Diageo, operated by United Distillers

Producing since: 1830

General whisky style: Lightly peated, salty & maritime (most bottlings)

I wish Talisker (and Diageo) would allow their whisky to shine through in it's natural state, by stopping chill filtration, and releasing some cask strength bottlings. A 12-16 year old, cask strength, non-chill filtered Talisker (without any fancy cask finishing) could be a truly fantastic whisky, and would put the distillery back on the radar of the whisky enthusiast. At the moment, one must search for an independent bottling to find such an animal, and even then they're quite rare. If they were to follow in the footsteps of Glenlivet, for example, and release a Nadurra (natural) bottling, it could be a stunner. Come on Diageo, make it happen!

Nevertheless, Talisker do produce some fine whisky, and their 10 year old is a great introduction to peated / maritime whiskies. Cheers.