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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Laphroaig 32 yo Whisky Review!!!

Yes, this one deserves extra exclamation marks! I've been lucky enough to get my hands on a sample of this incredible nectar, and what better way to celebrate my own birthday!

This thing of beauty is one of the oldest whiskies ever released by Laphroaig, which is fantastic enough, but it get's even better! This super-sexy liquid spent all 32 of those years in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Yes, that's right, 32 year old (minimum!), sherry cask Laphroaig, bottled at cask strength. Oh, stop it...

I would say this would be one of the oldest (by age) Islay original bottling's from you can buy today, without having to go to auction or the secondary market. There's a 40yo bottling from Bunnahabhain, which is considerably more expensive than the Laphroaig, and is only 41.7%. And Diageo have no choice when it comes to the age of their annual Port Ellen releases, since the distillery closed in 1983, and of course those are very expensive and very collectible.

While the Laphroaig is a limited release, I understand there was around 6000 bottles produced, which has helped keep the pricing relatively reasonable. Not exactly cheap of course, with an RRP of $1500 AUD, but that's really quite reasonable for what you're getting. And it's selling for considerably higher overseas, which is the opposite of the usual situation here in Australia. Bravo! If I had the sort of disposable income required to sit at this table, I can tell you I'd definitely have a full bottle on the shelf, rather than a sample.

Laphroaig is celebrating their 200th anniversary this year, and this very special bottling is one of the last commemorative releases, along with the 15yo, the 21yo Friends of Laphroaig bottling, the super-rare 2015 Cairdeas, and the travel-exclusive 16yo. What a way to celebrate! Australia was also lucky enough to host legendary distillery manager John Campbell this year, who conducted a number of tastings during his tour, and was even subjected to an interview by yours truly! So to wet your Laphroaig whistle with a little insight into the distillery, and a review of one very special Cairdeas bottling, check this out!

Just to add a little extra anticipation, let's remember that sherry-matured Laphroaig is quite a rare thing on it's own. I'm a big fan of the 25 yo, and the Triple Wood has grown on me considerably since this early review, both of which contain a portion of Oloroso-matured whisky, but this Oloroso-only 32yo bottling is going to be a very different beast. Age may not be everything, but I'm thinking this is going to be one to remember...

Laphroaig 32 yo, 46.6% cask strength. Islay, Scotland. 
Fully matured in ex-Oloroso sherry hogshead casks, mix of first & second-fill. Assuming non-chill filtered and natural colour.  

Colour: Copper. Lighter than it looks in the official photos, probably down to lighting.

Nose: Wow - so fruity, and quite sweet as well! Is this fruit juice? Salty and sweet stone fruit, drying raisins & currants, wet brass / copper, toffee sauce & salted mild nuts (walnut, and maybe almond). More sherry influence develops later on, as does a hint of soft smoke & sweet dates.

Texture: Lovely. Nice and oily, and no sign whatsoever of any alcohol. Again, this could be fruit juice!

Taste: Interesting! Lots of spice - wood spice especially. Cologne, spicy and rich, dry peat, and a little chilli. Dried and slightly waxy fruit, more tropical now, a little soap, and a hint of coastal breeze. A good amount of peat influence for the age as well, very nice.

Finish: Long, with chilli, dry oak and more wood spices. Crumbly peat, a little soapy leather, creamy milk chocolate (but not so sweet). Gets quite soft, but then hangs around for ages, with powdered peat and bitter-sweet dark chocolate.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very interesting, and very special! Totally different to the 'standard' 25 yo of course, and worth the extra dollars in my opinion. Very complex and engaging, while also being quite inviting and encouraging. If I'm honest though, I didn't particularly like that cologne note I got on the palate, and I can't recall experiencing that before, but that could be a fluke. Apart from that small chink in it's armour, this is a brilliant whisky, and as is everything Laphroaig touches, it's excellent quality.

They could've easily charged considerably more for this whisky (and put it in some fancy decanter), and it still would've sold like hotcakes, so I commend everyone involved for keeping it within reach of a larger audience. It seems a little understated and straight-forward in it's presentation and marketing, which is refreshing to see. Perhaps that's even a little Islay-like in a way? Like it has nothing to prove. Which it doesn't. I must get my hands on more of this!

If you have the sort of dollars required for entry, find yourself a bottle and buy it. Right now. Or, feel free to send it to me. I'll even call it a combined birthday & Christmas present, so I'm really not asking for much...

A big thanks to champion brand ambassador Dan Woolley for the sample, and a big thanks to Laphroaig, Beam Suntory and CCA for bringing this beautiful whisky into Australia. It's definitely a winner, and I must have more...


Sunday, 22 November 2015

New World Distillery (Starward) Ginger Beer Cask Whisky Review!

One of the most unusual cask finishings you'll find, and also a great Australian single malt!

While New World Distillery may not be a very traditional or romantic one, being based in a vast airport hanger in Essendon, Melbourne, and using modern equipment and techniques. But there's no denying they're producing a great value & affordable Australian single malt. Their Starward brand is one of the most affordable on the market, actually, and is unquestionably of better quality than it's nearest domestic competition.
I've covered a few details about Starward / New World Distillery whisky here, after a presentation/tasting with proprietor David Vitale at Whisky Live this year. But I didn't go into detail about another aspect of this distillery, which is quite exciting, and a little mysterious: New World Projects. The concept behind this brand is quite innovative as well, the distillery's production team is basically allowed to experiment with some whisky, and if the project is deemed successful, it goes to market as a single cask bottling. 

Some very different whiskies have carried the 'Projects' label over the last few years, including the mysterious 'Project X', which is a 3 year old colour-less malt whisky. But the project that caught my attention was the Ginger Beer Cask release. Basically, the distillery brewed a barrel-fermented alcoholic ginger beer, in a virgin oak cask. And once said cask had been emptied, it was filled with 3 year old Starward whisky, taken straight from the distillery's Solera vat (so some of the contents could be significantly older) at 50% alcohol. After a 3 month finishing in the ginger beer cask, it was bottled at 47.7%.

The sample I'm reviewing is from the second batch released, although both used the same production techniques and were bottled at very nearly the same strength. Unfortunately both are also totally sold out, thanks to small batch sizes, and very reasonable pricing at the time of release. Sorry!

(photo no longer available)

New World Projects Ginger Beer Cask, NAS, 47.7%. Melbourne, Australia.
Matured for minimum 3 years (Solera) in Apera (Australian sherry) casks, then finished for 3 months in ex. alcoholic ginger-beer cask. Non-chill filtered. Sample reviewed is from batch 2.

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Caramelised bananas, warm spices (cinnamon, mild clove, nutmeg), rich caramel sauce. Stone fruit & toasted mild nuts - maybe pine-nuts. With more time, toffee apples and some soft malt.

Texture: Quite light, but with plenty of spice (as in flavour, not alcohol heat). 

Taste: There's the ginger! A mix of crystallised (sugared) and dried natural ginger. With that proper ginger warmth/heat as well, it's quite dominant actually. More baking spices, wooded white wine and the standard Starward sweet bananas in the background. And that wooded wine is getting more prominent with time. 

Finish: Short-medium, and the ginger warmth and spices are still there! And when it does fade, it takes basically everything else with it. Slight hint of an apple orchard in summer, right at the end. 

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: That ginger beer must have been brilliant! The cask has certainly had a big influence on this one, and it's very enjoyable, but I'm not loving that white wine note I'm getting on the palate. Similar to an overly-wooded Chardonnay perhaps, which isn't really my thing. Love the ginger & spices though, it's weird, but it works. In fact I think this would make for a very enjoyable summer's day dram. Or dare I say it, to add a bit more punch to a ginger beer over ice! It's hot in Australia at the moment though, so that could just be the weather talking!

I've been impressed with everything I've tasted from Starward / New World Distillery so far, they're doing great work at very reasonable prices, and are putting quality Australian whisky within the reach of the more budget-conscious consumer. Which is exactly what needs to happen for Aussie whisky's domestic success to improve, in my opinion. Long may it continue

But who knows what this distillery will try next! Another weird (or weirder) cask-finished release, perhaps? Or more experimentation and messing with people's expectations? Regardless, I'll be keeping an eye out for it, and I suggest you do too! 


P.S. A quick teaser for next weeks' review, as I think it's going to be one to remember. I'll give you a hint: I'm turning 31 next week, but this whisky is a year older. And it's from Islay. Enough said! I Can't wait...     

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Arran Machrie Moor Cask Strength Whisky Review!

Another new distillery for me, but one that's perhaps a little closer to home, figuratively speaking.

The Arran Distillery is located in Lochranza, on the beautiful Isle of Arran, off the West coast of Scotland. The island is actually separated from the Hebrides (Isles of Islay, Jura etc.) by a finger of the Scottish mainland, so it doesn't enjoy the same cult status. Arran is the only legal distillery on it's namesake isle, in fact it's the first to operate on the island since 1837!

Arran is a young, privately-owned distillery, which only recently celebrated it's 20th birthday, having started production in August of 1995. The distillery is relatively small, having only a single pair of stills, and a maximum production capacity of around 750,000 litres per year, although their actual output is significantly less than that. Their whiskies do enjoy a small cult following, particularly the now-ended 'devil's punchbowl' series, which have become seriously collectable, and therefore seriously expensive.

Arran are producing mainly un-peated malt, but in a rather traditional way, using wooden wash-backs, with no adding colouring, and mostly without chill filtration. However, on the Western side of the island, you'll find the ancient peat bog named Machrie Moor, which is the stuff of local legend, largely thanks to a number of stone circles, which date back thousands of years. Quite a fitting name for a peated Arran whisky, then!

There have been a few releases of Machrie Moor peated Arran, all peated to around 20ppm, but only one release so far has been bottled at cask strength. It doesn't carry an age statement, but it's non-chill filtered, naturally coloured, and bottled at a natural 58.4%. It's also very well priced, at $125 AUD from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies, who generously supplied the sample I'm reviewing tonight. Considering it was released back in October 2014, and only 6000 bottles left the warehouse, it's not very easy to find. But somehow, Craig & team still have some in stock!
Arran Machrie Moor Cask Strength, NAS, 58.4%. Isle of Arran, Scotland.
Peated to 20ppm, non-chill filtered, natural colour. Batch 1, released 10/2014, 6,000 bottles.

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Lemon & herb oil, soft peat in the background. Scorched/burnt pineapple, floral soap, hint of dry dirt. Dried chilli flakes, and a little oak. Quite soft on the nose actually, but also a little spirit-y. 

Texture: Juicy, rich & powerful. Very nice.

Taste: Sharp earthy peat, more lemon oil but with chilli this time, and it's in the background now with the peat coming to the fore. More scorched pineapple, lime-flavoured boiled sweets/lollies, some wood ash and a little sharp/acrid smoke.

Finish: Medium. Chilli milk chocolate, with extra chilli! Then creamy peat, and some smoked fruit syrup.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very impressive! The peat is quite dominant on the palate, but very soft on the nose, so it's walking softly while carrying a big stick. It's young, powerful, simplistic and spirit-driven, but I like it. It's not harsh or rough, but it is quite bite-y, and doesn't make any apologies. And for those of us who appreciate this style of whisky, it doesn't have to! 

With a little more age or cask influence I think I may have scored it slightly higher, but then again it could have lost some of that peaty power if that was the case, so perhaps not. I don't think I'd pick it as an island whisky in a blind tasting either, but not having tried any other Arran's whiskies, I can't say if that's just the way they are. So don't go into this one expecting a Ledaig or Islay-type experience, it has more of a peated mainland character, I think.  

For the price, and remembering that it's bottled at cask strength, it's really quite good value, and certainly well worth a buy. There's not a lot of similar competition at this price point either. I'd be interested to try the 46% versions, although I suspect I would still prefer this one. It looks like there's a second batch of the cask strength Machrie Moor being released shortly, so the popularity could be on the rise. Until that one arrives, Nippy Sweetie are the only Australian source for this first batch, at least that I could find. So get it while it's hot!


Sunday, 8 November 2015

Tomintoul Peaty Tang Whisky Review!

A completely new distillery for me, and quite an uncommon whisky in these parts. Tally-ho!

Located in Speyside, near it's namesake village, Tomintoul (pronounced 'tom-in-towl') is a relatively young distillery, having opened in 1964. With a production capacity of around 3,000,000 litres, it's a little smaller than it's closest neighbour, Glenlivet, although the majority of it's production goes into blends. There are also quite a few different single malt expressions available, ranging from a 10yo to a 23yo, along with a couple of cask finished expressions. Of particular interest to me, though, is their peated whisky!

Tomintoul 'Peaty Tang' is the only peated malt officially bottled by the distillery (they do produce another, sold under the name 'Old Ballantruan'), and doesn't have much competition from it's close neighbours in that regard. For now, at least. This bottling has actually done quite well for itself, having picked up a few awards & medals, including receiving a pretty good score from everyone's favourite hat-wearing reviewer (yes, that was sarcasm.) a few years ago.

It's a reasonably priced peated single malt, but unfortunately there's very little other information available. The distillery's own website and the label and packaging tell us basically nothing, other than the fact that it was made from peated malted barley. Very helpful!

Interestingly, the other peated whisky produced by the distillery, Old Ballantruan, is bottled at 50%, and is non-chill filtered. So I have to wonder why Tomintoul chose to deviate from that for their official bottling, and go for the lower 40% strength and chill filtration? Perhaps they're just trying to keep the price down, but I have no doubt it would be more successful at 46% and non chill-filtered, ala Benromach Peat Smoke. But enough of all that, let's taste it!
Tomintoul Peaty Tang, NAS, 40%. Speyside, Scotland.
Very little information available. Assuming it's ex-bourbon cask (probably re-fill) matured, and chill filtered

Colour: Light gold

Nose: Interesting! Old copper coins, wet grass, rotting root vegetables. Salted potato chips, something a little floral as well. Mild vanilla bean, and drying malt sweetness in the background.

Texture: Thin, and a little watery, but I've had worse at this strength. Should have been 46% though!

Taste: Vegetal peat, a little pepper, and a little dry, ashy smoke as well. Some more vanilla bean, a little green fruit, and more of those rotting root vegetables. Tastes better than that sounds, though!

Finish: Soft and quite short, as expected, but pleasant enough. Dry smoke, more vegetal peat, some dry white wine, and some grist-y malt.

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: Certainly something different, and a little challenging! Not what I expected, especially considering it's Speyside origins! Some very interesting flavours there, which may not be for everyone, but that's probably the idea! 

Certainly good quality as well, but I can't help but wish it was bottled at 46%, and was non-chill filtered. I have no doubt it would've scored higher if that was the case. Which makes me want to try the other peated malt made by Tomintoul distillery, Old Ballantruan, which is 10 years old, bottled at 50% and is non-chill filtered.

But then, that bottling is nearly double the price of the Peaty Tang, so perhaps that's not a fair comparison. That said, even at this low price point (around $80 here), the Peaty Tang has some serious competition from some big players, namely the 10yo bottling's from Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Ledaig. But if you've had your fill of those, or if they don't push your buttons, and you're after something different, this peated Tomintoul definitely fits that bill. 

A big thanks to Craig from Nippy Sweetie Whiskies for the sample of this one, I'm very glad to have tried this very interesting malt! Craig & team are doing excellent work, constantly coming up with more hard-to-find bottling's, many of which are shipped direct from Scotland. Including some very interesting-looking independent bottling's from Cadenhead's, among many others (Laphroaig 21yo, anyone?). I highly recommend keeping tabs on their website. 


Sunday, 1 November 2015

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask Whisky Review!

Something sweet this way comes... Or does it?

Taiwanese distillery Kavalan was thrust into the spotlight earlier this year, when their 'Vinho barrique' wine cask-matured version of their 'Solist' range won best single malt at the World Whisky Awards. I've reviewed that one previously, and found it to be decent, but it would not have been my choice for best single malt in the world. 

This (Oloroso) sherry cask version of the single cask Kavalan 'Solist' has won a few awards as well, but doesn't quite enjoy the massive prestige (and price tag) of the Vinho. These being single cask bottling's though, chances are what you're tasting isn't from the cask which was awarded anyway. I also touched on the effects of these awards in that previous review, so I won't go into that again. 

None of Kavalan's whiskies carry an age statement, and are doubtlessly young by Scotch standards, but thanks to the hot & humid Taiwanese climate, their whisky generally matures much faster than it's Scottish counterpart. The entire Solist series is bottled at cask strength, without chill filtration or added colouring, and is quite nicely presented. They're also quite expensive, which is why I'm reviewing from a sample! But unfortunately this is also why I don't have a cask number to refer to. 

The nice (very) dark red colour of this whisky is quite remarkable, and seeing as it's not artificial, is impressive, but also a little foreboding. There's obviously been a massive sherry influence here, and it may have overwhelmed the whisky. But Kavalan shave, toast and heavily char their casks before filling, which may have helped in that regard. I have heard rumours that these casks have been rinsed with sherry before use, just to coax some more colour out of the cask (and residual contents), but I can't say if this is true or not. While that wouldn't technically make it natural colour, they still haven't added any E150a colouring.
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask, NAS, 57.8% cask strength, Taiwan. 
Single Oloroso sherry cask, of unknown type/size. Non-chill filtered, no added colouring. 

Colour: Very, very dark reddy-brown.

Nose: Big hit of sherry. I would've guessed a mix of PX and Oloroso though. Rich and syrupy. Raisins, treacle, marmite, berries & cherries soaking in booze. A little spice, and a little nip of heat. Not particularly sweet either, reasonably well balanced in that regard, even leaning towards dry.

Texture: Big & punchy. Drying, and a little heat.

Taste: Medium-dry sherry mostly. Raisins again, some alcohol-soaked boiled pudding, with skin. A little rubbing alcohol, spiced cola, and cherry-flavoured cough syrup.  

Finish: Chilli heat, then rich & dry sherry. A hint of malt at the end behind the sherry. Doesn't hang around too long, and get's soft and fruity quite quickly. I'd call it a medium finish. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: A decent showing, and as I expected, I prefer this one to the Vinho Barrique (wine cask) bottling. Although I did give it the same score! The sherry cask version doesn't have that bitter note that I didn't particularly like in the Vinho, and it's definitely a sherry monster. This was certainly one very active cask, perhaps even a little too active, even over the short maturation period. While that could have been a good thing, it doesn't leave a lot of room for the malt itself to shine through. 

But if you're after a slightly different sherried malt, from a slightly different part of the world, I'd be going for Amrut's Intermediate Sherry, previously reviewed here. While I do prefer it to the Kavalan, and did score it higher, my main reasoning here is that it's around $50 AUD cheaper, and is considerably easier to find. It's also bottled at a similar strength, and also without chill filtration or added colouring. So it's a bit of a no-brainer, really...