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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Limeburners Peated Australian Whisky Review!

Time for something a little different!

Limeburners whisky is produced at the Great Southern Distillery, located in Albany, in the south-western end of the massive state of Western Australia (see map below). Named after a nearby creek & national park, Limeburners single malt Western Australian whisky, to use it's full name, was first released in late 2008, but flies a little under the radar. I've never sampled their wares, so it's about time I review one of their malts. Which one? A peated one, of course!
But first, let's have a look at Limeburners. They were the first to produce whisky in Western Australia, and use locally-produced barley, which is malted (and peated, in this case) in the state capital of Perth, before making it's way to the distillery. They release the finished product in single cask batches, and the range includes a 43% standard release, a cask strength, and a peated release, all matured in a variety of casks. They also do not add caramel colouring, and do not chill filter. Sounds promising...

The Limeburners I'm reviewing here is a sample of batch (cask) M209, which was bottled at 48%, and is described as 'medium peated'. Matured for an un-disclosed period of time (remember the hotter climate equals faster maturation rule, though) in a 200L ex-bourbon American oak cask. So, let's see if curiosity will kill this cat!
Limeburners Peated Single Malt, NAS, batch M209, 48%. Albany, Western Australia.
Matured in a 200L ex-bourbon cask, yield 294 bottles. Medium peated. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring.

(tasted neat & with a dash of water)
Colour: Very pale gold.

Nose: Cola, mixed spice, a hint of grape? Weird. Toasted oats, green apple, sweet malted barley. Fresh. Water brings out a little dough, slightly floral honey & baking spices.

Texture: (neat) Medium weight, slightly oily. Nice. 

Taste: A big hit of spices, a little oaky, light honey, some pastry dough, slightly buttery. Not getting any peat or smoke neat, but a little dry smoke comes in with water. 

Finish: Medium-long, juicy malted barley and dry cereals. A hint of spicy peat, but very subtle. 

Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very interesting! I'd like some more peat and smoke though, it's just too subtle for me. I would call this one lightly peated at most, like a Benromach or Springbank level perhaps. This could be partly down to the style of peat as well, as not all peat is created equal. Great quality spirit though, no heat or roughness, nothing has been rushed or pushed through. If you're curious, I found this sample here at Nippy Sweetie, and they've also got a few bottles still available. 

Limeburners have released a heavily peated bottling recently, I'd like to try that one, but it's already difficult to get your hands on. Likewise their cask strength bottlings, which have included some very interesting sherry, port and even brandy cask matured malt.

Australian whisky is certainly a world contender these days. While some Tasmanian whisky has been for quite some time, mainland distilleries are making serious inroads now as well. Starward, from Melbourne, for example, are doing fantastic work at very reasonable prices. I hear good things about Bakery Hill whisky as well, which is near Sydney, and Limeburners is flying the flag for Western Australia. Great stuff, and long may it continue.

On that note though, Australian whisky has one serious kink in it's armour. Tax. Which is to say, the Australian government. Australian distilleries pay a massive amount of tax, far more than the wine and beer industries. Somewhere around $70 AUD per litre of new make spirit, in fact. Which is just insane, and is holding the industry back, in my opinion. Australian distilleries, like all businesses, must cover their costs, pay their taxes, and if possible turn a profit, and to do this they have to charge quite a bit for their product. 

This Limeburners I've just reviewed, for example, retails for around the $210 mark here in it's home country. For an NAS, 48%, young whisky, albeit matured faster thanks to the climate. Let's compare this to, say, Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch, which is also NAS, uses quarter (smaller size) casks for quicker maturation, and is bottled at 48%, which retails at $100-110 a bottle. How is the Australian distillery supposed to compete and cover costs? And how do you justify that price difference to your average whisky drinking, and price / value discerning, punter? Not very easily, that's for sure. 

To be clear, I'm referring to the taxes / excise paid by the distillery in it's home country here, not import duty, which is paid by the importer / customer, and generally doesn't impact the exporting distillery itself. Obviously duty still impacts the price on the shelf, though. 

Let's hope the issue get's some more attention, and some changes start to take place, so the industry can grow even stronger. 


Sunday, 21 June 2015

Lagavulin 12yo Whisky Review!

Ah, Lagavulin. Undoubtedly one of the greats. They seem to have been ramping up their marketing a bit lately, through owners Diageo, with multiple appearances on popular TV shows and movies, and advertising (see below).
And yet, the distillery only offers two bottling's as regular releases: the 16yo, which is loved all over the world, and the distiller's edition. Yep, just those two. But to be fair, those two are pretty good! 

The standard (and excellent) 16yo is matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and the distiller's edition is the same whisky finished in Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry casks for around six months. Lagavulin use malt sourced from Port Ellen Maltings, as you would expect. They unfortunately chill filter, and add some caramel colouring to, their standard releases,which are also bottled at just 43%. That might not sound very appealing, but both are still quality malts.

So is the title of this review a typo, then? No, no it isn't. You see, Lagavulin also produce a few 'special release' bottlings. There is the annual Feis Ile bottling, the 2013 release of which is among my all-time favourite whiskies (other releases may be as well, but I am yet to taste any of those). There is also a 'triple matured' (matured in three different casks) bottling, which you can only buy at the distillery itself. And, there is the one I'm reviewing today, the 12yo. Some whisky fans have never heard of it, and it keeps a ridiculously low profile compared to it's older brethren. Oh, and one more little detail, it's bottled at cask strength!!! 

Yes, that's right, cask strength Lagavulin, without going to Feis Ile and lining up at the distillery, or buying at auction at a hugely inflated price. Released annually as part of Diageo's 'special releases' range, it's also one of the most reasonably priced. Bottled at 12 years of age, without added colouring, and without any 'secondary maturation' or 'finishing'. Just Lagavulin's brilliant spirit, matured for 12 long years in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at natural cask strength. I also don't believe it to be chill filtered, but I can't find any offical word on this, so I can't be totally sure. The packaging is hardly any different from the 16yo, but you can't judge this book by that cover. Or the colour, for that matter.

The bottling I'm reviewing here is the latest 2014 release, which was bottled at 54.4%, and is selling for around $160 in Australia, at the moment. That may sound like a lot of money, and it is, but compared to the $200 asked for Lagavulin's distiller's edition, at 16-and-a-bit years of age and just 43% ABV, it's very good value. 
Lagavulin 12yo, 2014 release, 54.4% cask strength, Islay, Scotland.
Matured in ex-bourbon casks. No added colouring, possibly non-chill filtered, or at least very lightly.

(tasted neat)
Colour: Very pale gold. No caramel here! Excellent.

Nose: Sexy as hell. Warm peat and smoke, fresh hay, sea spray. Sweet fresh fruit. Red toffee apples, toasted grains. The peat is warm and medicinal and slightly sweet, the smoke dry and slightly ashen. Top stuff.

Texture: Rich and syrupy, near-permanent legs in the glass. 

Taste: Warming peat, sweet & spicy wood smoke, some ash. Sweet toffee apples, a little vanilla, Some dark chocolate. Almost no heat at all, great quality spirit. 

Finish: Medium length, spicy smoke and earthy peat. Sweet grains and brine, becoming quite subtle. Mouth-watering.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Great stuff. If you haven't tasted a 12yo cask strength Lagavulin yet, put it on your list. Somewhere near the top, particularly if you're a Lagavulin fan. But then, who isn't? The nose is just fantastic, the distillery character still shows, but it's so fresh and confident. That was the highlight of the show for me, I could nose this stuff for hours. 

A true Islay heavyweight, I would have no trouble putting this one up against the likes of Ardbeg Corryvreckan or Laphroaig 10yo cask strength. And that's high praise indeed. As with those two, adding water would probably give a little more complexity, but personally, I don't care. Heavyweights should pack a punch, after all.

There is some minor variation between releases / years with the Lagavulin 12, but there's not a lot in it. From (vague) memory I liked the 2013 release slightly better, but very slightly. My advice is to get what you can get without paying auction prices, and enjoy it. Speaking of which, the best price I've found for this 2014 release is here, and it's still quite a recent release. Enjoy...


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Benriach Solstice Whisky Review!

Benriach seem to be making some ground these days, along with their sister distillery Glendronach, and for good reason: they're producing excellent whisky. I am yet to taste any of Benriachs's un-peated expressions, but that's mostly because there are plenty of peated expressions, and peat's my thing!

Being a Speyside distillery, this makes them a little unusual, with only a few 'Speysiders' using noticeable amounts of peat in their production process. Speaking of which, they also malt their own barley, on-site, using traditional floor malting. I've previously reviewed their 'Heredotus Fumosus' PX-finished peated whisky here, and I was quite impressed. But this one is a little different...

There have been two releases of Benriach Solstice, one a 15yo, and one a 17yo. Both were matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished in Tawny Port pipes, which are massive Port casks/barrels, holding an average of 540 litres. I'm reviewing the second release / edition here, which was bottled at 17 years of age, at 50% ABV, and seems to still be reasonably easy to find, in Australia at least. Port casks are gaining popularity in the whisky world, and seem to work brilliantly with peated malt. Kilchoman's Port Cask and Longrow's Red Port Cask, for example, are both fully matured, rather than only being finished, in ex-Port casks. And both of those are fantastic whiskies. So let's have a quick look at Port, shall we?
Port is a fortified wine, and although it's produced in many different countries around the world, like Champagne, Sherry, and others, only wine produced in Portugal may be called 'Port'. It is produced in the same way as most fortified wines, with grape spirit being added to the wine, to stop fermentation (keeping a higher sugar content) and boost the alcohol content. There are quite a few different styles of Port, using different grape varieties and production methods, but the one we're interested in here is Tawny, which must be made from red grapes, and must be matured in wooden barrels. Usually served as a dessert wine or aperitif, it's typically sweet, spicy and rich in flavour.

Let's see how, or if, the port cask finish has worked with this Benriach...
Benriach Solstice, Second Edition, 17yo, 50%, Speyside, Scotland.
Heavily peated, matured in ex-bourbon casks for an unspecified amount of time, before finishing in ex-Port casks. Non-chill filtered, and natural colour.

Colour: Rust

Nose: Smoked strawberry jam, interesting! Sweet red berries, some rich malt. Stone fruit, currants, toffee. Earthy, dry peat.

Texture: Medium weight, oily.

Taste: Quite smoky & peaty. A dab of heat, sweet red fruits and spiced strawberry jam. The smoke and peat seem to overwhelm the fruit a little, but I don't mind!  

Finish: Short to medium, more spicy, earthy peat and wood smoke, light malt. 

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Enjoyable, nicely peaty, but not a great deal of complexity here. Definitely a decent example of a port cask finish, certainly different from your typical sherry finish, but doesn't have the wow factor of the aforementioned Kilchoman or Longrow. 

Great quality whisky though, and decent value. If we compare to Lagavulin distiller's edition (finished in PX sherry casks), for example, the Solstice is aged approximately one year longer, is not chill filtered or coloured, and is bottled at significantly higher strength (50% compared to 43%). And yet the Lagavulin DE sells for $30-50 more, in Australia, at least. With those points and that price difference, the Solstice is in with a serious chance!

The Solstice is still available from a few online specialists, but the cheapest I've found it is here, and it's well worth trying. In fact I'm very impressed with Benriach as a distillery, they're doing excellent work, and they seem eager to try new things, which is excellent. Long may it continue!


Monday, 8 June 2015

Ardbeg Perpetuum Whisky Review!

Yes, it's finally here!

Ardbeg's 'theme' for this year's Ardbeg day was 'past, present and future', and I'm going to follow a similar theme for this review. So before we get into the review of this year's Ardbeg day release, let's have a look at the past.

The first Ardbeg day release (back in 2012) was named, imaginiatively, Ardbeg 'day'. It was matured in refill sherry casks, which had previously held Uigeadail, and was bottled at the proper cask strength of 56.7%. In true Ardbeg fashion it's now insanely expensive on the auction / secondary market (around $600+ AUD), although I have had the honour of tasting it a couple of years ago. I was far less experienced back then, but I still remember it being a fantastic whisky.

The next (2013) Ardbeg day release is my favourite so far, Ardbog. which was a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, matured for 'at least' 10 years, and bottled at a decent 52.1%. This one was drier and saltier than usual, and I dug it. Ardbog can still be found if you look around, and for quite a reasonable price. Still my pick of all the Ardbeg day releases, to date.

The next (2014) release, was not so good. Named Auriverdes (something to do with soccer, apparently), it was matured in ex-bourbon casks with toasted cask ends/lids, and was down in strength to 49.9%. Much lighter on peat and smoke than any real Ardbeg should be (ahem, Blasda!), too light and subtle, and a little rough around the edges to boot. It was also more expensive than the Ardbog, which hurt a little. There's still plenty of Auriverdes around, but I recommend you taste it before buying...

That brings us to present day, to Ardbeg's 200th anniversary, and to this year's bottling, Perpetuum. Unfortunately it's down in strength again, to 47.4%, but there is basically no other information about it's background. The only official line is that it's a mix of old and young whisky, matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. After tasting it a few times now, I believe it to be mostly young whisky, and I can't see, smell or taste any evidence of a sherry-cask matured component. However, it's a big step up from Auriverdes, and thankfully it's also selling at a lower price.

Also, something else to be aware of, there are two versions of Ardbeg Perpetuum. One is only available directly from the distillery, has 'distillery release' on the label, doesn't come in a box, and was bottled at 49.2%. The other is the Ardbeg Day release I'm reviewing here, and is much more widely available.

Ardbeg Perpetuum, NAS, 47.4%, Islay, Scotland.
Unknown contents or age, supposedly a mix of old and young, and ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask, whisky. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Very pale straw.

Nose: Salty sea spray, very fresh. Earthy, slightly medicinal peat. Milk chocolate, fresh hay. A whiff of smoke in a pine forest.

Texture: Light, soft, very drinkable.

Taste: More peat and smoke than on the nose, earthy peat and dry smoke. Salty smoked bacon / cured meat, milk chocolate, a little vanilla. Definitely mostly young ex-bourbon whisky in this, but it's not rough or hot, very easy drinking. Sherry cask influence barely detectable though. 

Finish: Quite long and peaty, switches from savoury to sweet and back again. Some smoke and light spice. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. Would've been a 4 at a higher strength. 

Notes: Very 'Ardbeggian', almost like essence of Ardbeg. Very enjoyable and easy drinking. Compared to the regular / core line-up, Perpetuum would be a competitor for Ardbeg 10, but it's not quite on the level of Uigeadail or Corryvreckan. Massively superior to the Auriverdes release though, no question.

I really wish they had done something more different / interesting for their 200th anniversary. The 'day' release used ex-Uigeadail casks, Ardbog used Manzanilla sherry casks, and Auriverdes used toasted cask ends. So why not try something different again, rather than playing it safe? After all, how often does one turn 200! 

I don't see why they make a big deal out of the 'sherry cask' component either, when it's barely detectable. They did the same with the 2014 Supernova, and it was barely detectable there as well. If putting 'sherry casks' on the label is a selling point, use more of them in the whisky! I applaud Ardbeg for not adding colouring (and not chill filtering) and keeping it honest, but I'd like more sherry influence too.

Unfortunately the Perpetuum is priced around the same as Corryvreckan, and considerably more than Uigeadail, and without the 'cool factor' of the 200th anniversary thing, I'd still recommend those first, if you had to choose between the three. Regardless, the Perpetuum is a big step up after last year's disappointing release, I'm enjoying it, and it is worth buying. 

We've looked at the past and the present, but what about the future? Well, although we're all just along for the ride, I'm hoping Ardbeg will step up the peat smoke and punch factors in the future. The special releases seem to be going down in strength and smoke lately, and that's not what I, and probably most of you, want! I've also heard a rumour, from a reliable source, that there will likely be another Supernova release towards the end of this year. Please, Ardbeg, if this is true, make it a monster!