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Monday, 28 December 2015

Bunnahabhain Ceobanach Whisky Review!

Finally, another peated Bunnahabhain! And with another challenging Gaelic name!

Bunnahabhain distillery's standard releases are basically un-peated, in contrast to most of it's fellow distilleries on Islay, but there have been a few limited release exceptions to the rule. The only peated expression I've tasted so far was the Toiteach, pronounced 'toe-chack' and meaning 'smoky' in English, which was brilliant, and my favourite Bunnahabhain whisky so far. So when another peated release appeared at a similar price point, I had to have it. 

This one is named Ceobanach, but it's pronounced 'ky-aw-bin-aach', which translates to 'smoky mist' in English. It's bottled at 46.3%, is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and doesn't carry an official age statement. So far, there isn't a lot of difference between the Toiteach and this newer release, but there were rumours that the Toiteach had been finished in ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, whereas this new expression is ex-bourbon cask only. It's also unofficially 'more than ten years' old, which I suspect is slightly older than the Toiteach. 

Bunnahabhain usually flies under my radar when it comes to Islay whiskies, partly thanks to their un-peated-ness, but also because there's no middle ground between their entry-level 12 yo, and the expensive 18 yo, as far as their standard releases go. And I find both of those to be a little lacking, personally. In fact even a 24 yo independent bottling I tried recently also left me wanting. I can't comment on the older OB releases, though, they're out of my price range. But thankfully these peated expressions seem to fall right in between the 12 & 18 yo, price-wise, and are also much more up my alley!
Bunnahabhain Ceobanach, NAS (but see below), 46.3%. Islay, Scotland.
'Intensely' peated, ex-bourbon cask, 'more than 10 years old'. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Batch 1, limited release. 

Colour: Very pale gold. 

Nose: Dirty smoke, but quite light. Grassy & herbal, some lemon zest and aniseed. Dry & pungent peat, salted caramel. Drying seaweed, hot sand, brine, salty sea air. Very beach-y. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, no heat at all and plenty of flavour.

Taste: Big peaty punch straight away! Dry, spicy and intense peat. Big pinch of black pepper, a little chilli, lemon oil, and warm salted butter. Strong brine and ashy smoke. 

Finish: Medium-long. Still lovely & peaty right to the end, becoming a little more earthy & herbal but still intensely peaty. A little salted liquorice, dry grass and some sweet malt behind. Lovely.   

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Not hugely complex or dynamic, but really very nice. Intensely peaty, pure and simple. A really enjoyable, straight-forward peated Bunnahabhain. In a similar vein to the Toiteach, but quite different as well. A worthy competitor to the Islay heavyweights, lined up against the likes of Ardbeg or Laphroaig, the Ceobanach will certainly hold it's own. 

While I did give the Toiteach the same score in my review, that was over 18 months ago, so I had to re-visit the older Bunnahabhain after tasting the Ceobanach, purely for research purposes! The Ceobanach wins the fight, and I think I'm right in saying the Toiteach is a little younger. There's more smoke and chilli, and less peat and salt when compared to the newer expression. They're both good, but the Ceobanach takes it for me. 

This one is a little scarce in Australia at the moment, but there is a second batch coming. For now, SM Whisky still has some stock available, and the excellent Nippy Sweetie Whiskies will have some Ceobanach (batch 2) and Toiteach available shortly. Both are well worth buying, and if you're a fan of peaty Islay's, the Ceobanach is definitely one to have on the shelf. And let's hope batch 2 is just as good! 


Monday, 21 December 2015

Heartwood Any Port In A Storm Whisky Review!

Another fantastic whisky from Heartwood! Can you guess which type of cask it's was aged in? There's a subtle hint in the title...

Prior to visiting mad scientist/alchemist/proprietor Tim Duckett earlier this year, I didn't know a great deal about Heartwood. I knew their whiskies had a good reputation, but weren't particularly widely known, and I had only tasted one of them once, years beforehand. It must have left an impression though, because Heartwood was at the top of my list of must-do's during our Tasmanian whisky adventure.

I've covered more of the details about our Heartwood experience, and about Heartwood in general, here. It was one of the highlights of the trip, and the write-up and review of 'Convict Resurrection' are well worth a read, in my humble opinion!

Mr. Duckett & his team have gained some more international attention since, with a few overseas companies trying to buy most of his whisky (don't do it Tim!). One of his malts, 'The Good Convict', recently won southern hemisphere whisky of the year in Jim Murray's notorious bible. Regardless of my opinion of 'the bible', that award is well deserved. That particular expression wouldn't be my number one pick of the range, but that's subject to personal tastes. It's still an excellent whisky.

But there have been a few new whiskies released since, so it's about time I reviewed another. As is often the case with Heartwood whiskies, this one has mostly sold out since it's release in September, but a couple of online stores do still have limited stock available. The sample I'm reviewing of Any Port In A Storm (which I purchased here) is from the winter release of just 172 bottles, with a summer release of the same 'recipe' currently in the works.

Technically this is a blended malt, although only just, consisting of 95% Sullivan's Cove / Tasmania Distillery 15 yo single malt, and 5% 7 yo single malt from Lark Distillery, the oldest operating distillery in Tasmania. Both component whiskies have been fully matured in ex-Port casks, before being rudely-awakened for bottling at a Brontosaurus-like cask strength of 69.9%. Like all Heartwood whiskies, it's also non-chill filtered and naturally (and beautifully) coloured.

Heartwood 'Any Port In A Storm', NAS (but see below), 69.9%. Tasmania, Australia.
95% 15 yo Sullivan's Cove single malt, 5% 7 yo Lark single malt. Fully matured in ex-Port casks. Natural colour, non-chill filtered, cask strength. Winter (first) release. 

Colour: Dark copper with red tinges.

Nose: Mega rich & fruity. Plum jam, juicy sultanas in rich syrup. Thick caramel sauce, a good pinch of pepper, a little warm oak. Apricots and candied orange, some coconut and a little cocoa. 

Texture: Huge, thick & syrupy. A little heat, but not what you'd expect for 70%. 

Taste: Dark fruit syrup, red grapes, milk chocolate, toasted oak. Warm spices as well, and some gunpowder / coal dust. 

Finish: Long. Chilli & white pepper initially, but they subside quickly. More fruits, flint (stone), drier now as well. More chocolate, and red berries - raspberry milk chocolate. 

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Huge amounts of flavour again in this one, plenty of life & complexity as well. I do prefer the Convict Resurrection bottling to the Any Port In A Storm, there's not much in it, it's still excellent. It could definitely handle a little water, and that's probably how beginners should approach it initially. But it's still very drinkable neat, especially in small sips. You'll still get mountains (or dinosaurs) of flavour! 

I'm yet to try a Heartwood I haven't enjoyed. There's just so much body and intensity in these bottles, but there's also plenty of complexity and loads of flavour. I still believe that as far as value for money goes, there's no going past these babies. Especially when Sullivan's Cove French Oak is selling at $350 from the distillery, at 47.5% (albeit in a 700ml bottle - for the time being). You're getting a similar age spirit here, and at full cask strength (usually well over 60%), but you're paying around 30% less. Bravo. 

Mr. Duckett and team aren't resting on their laurels either, there are plenty of very interesting releases coming, and one particularly crazy one in the works. Bring it on! Keep an eye on their website, and follow them on Facebook for regular updates. But leave a bottle or two for me!


Monday, 14 December 2015

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve Whisky Review!

This was always one Caol Ila expression I wasn't particularly interested in. Why? Because it's un-peated! But let's not judge this book by it's cover just yet.

There have been quite a few official releases of un-peated Caol Ila in the past, usually as part of Diageo's annual 'special releases' (along with Lagavulin 12 yo, and Port Ellen etc.) . Along with the Lagavulin, this is one of the more reasonably priced of the yearly releases. The 2013 release I'm reviewing here was named 'Stitchell Reserve' in honour of the impending retirement of Distillery Manager Billy Stitchell, after nearly 40 years at the distillery. 

I'm not sure why they chose this whisky to commemorate Stitchell's career, seeing as it's a departure from the 'house style', it's perhaps a little unusual and seems like a strange move to me. Would KFC name a beef burger the Colonel Sanders!?! But I could be being a little harsh, and I don't know the back story there.

It also seems to be quite young, or at least the majority of the contents seem to be. I'm only guessing here due to the lack of age statement, but there's quite a lot of alcohol and quite a bite in this one. It drinks far younger than even the youngest peated Caol Ila's I've had, including the brilliant Cask Strength, which is also NAS. This un-peated Islay probably could've used some added water, but I haven't done that in any of my more recent reviews, and didn't want to start now.

I basically knew before-hand that I wouldn't love this one as much as I do the 'normal' peated Caol Ila's, but I kept an open mind, and was interested to see how it would compare to other un-peated Islay's like Bunnahabhain 12 yo or one of Bruichladdich's brilliant 'Laddie' expressions. Although neither of those are bottled at cask strength, and both are non-chill filtered, while there's no mention of chill filtration on the Caol Ila, as is usually the case from Diageo. Regardless, let's have a crack at it!

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve, NAS, 59.6%. Islay, Scotland. 
Un-peated, cask strength. Matured in American & European oak (original contents unknown).

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Sweet & fruity, and a bit of bite (heat)! Honey, sweet malted barley, slightly under-ripe apples, some pineapple and under-ripe banana. A little spice and vanilla as well. 

Texture: Strong, hot & intense. Not quite rough, but certainly hot.

Taste: Fresh sweet malt, a big whack of hot chilli, plus some black pepper & hot cinnamon. Some vanilla and a little oak, more crisp apple and sweet under-ripe bananas. Hint of something coastal as well, a little salty air or brine.

Finish: Short. The chilli and bite are still there, and they wipe almost everything else out. A little fruit & malt are left behind, but not for long. 

Score: 2 out of 5.

Notes: It's semi-decent, but I think Caol Ila minus peat, equals not for me! When their peated whisky is so good, why mess with it? It's just too hot as well, probably because of that lack of calming & compensating peaty-ness. Nonetheless, it was an interesting experience to try it, although I'm glad it was only a sample rather than a bottle. 

If there had been more older stock in the mix, I suspect it would've been a slightly different story. This may not be grounds to judge the other un-peated Caol Ila releases though, there are eight other versions, and I can't say I've tried any of them. The other versions have all had age statements as well, so chances are they'll be quite different to this one. 

Again, I'm puzzled as to why they would choose to commemorate their long-serving distillery manager with a complete departure from the successful house style, not only by cutting out the peat, but also by dropping the age statement. Every peated cask strength Caol Ila I've tried, both from the distillery and from independent bottler's, has been truly brilliant. But like I said above, I don't know the full story there. 

One strong indicator that this one wasn't a great success, would be the fact that it's still quite readily available, at least in Australia, and that the pricing hasn't changed significantly after two years on the shelves. A quick google search gives three Australian stores with it available, with this one being the cheapest by far, and well under the original RRP. But as always, this is only my opinion on this particular whisky, so others may feel differently. The only way to be 100% sure, is to find out for yourself! 


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Springbank 12 yo Cask Strength Whisky Review!

We're back to Campbeltown, for another cracking whisky from Springbank!

I've reviewed Springbank's entry level 10 yo whisky before, so why am I now reviewing a 12yo Springbank? Surely there wouldn't be that much difference between that 10 yo and this 12 yo, right? Wrong! Why? Well mainly because of those two little words: cask strength.

The 46% offerings from Springbank distillery are good whiskies, but in my experience so far, the cask strength offerings are great whiskies. The 12 yo Springbank is produced in regular batch releases, with the resulting variations in both strength and level of greatness, but I am yet to taste one I haven't enjoyed.

The fact that this bottling is generally available for around $130-140 AUD (for some perspective, the 10 yo 46% bottling is around $100) is an added bonus. There aren't many cask strength single malts around for that sort of money, and even less that are (lightly) peated, non-chill filtered, naturally coloured and, perhaps most significantly, that carry an age statement. What about any made from floor-malted local barley, made using a direct-fired wash still, and matured and bottled on-site? I'd say this is just about your only option!

The sample I'm reviewing here is from an older release, batch 5, which was first released in early 2012, and matured in a combination of first-fill and re-fill sherry casks. But the batches are more easily identified by the strength, which in this case is a nice meaty 55.1%.

The more recent batch that seems to be most available in Australia was bottled at 50.3%, which is obviously a significant difference in strength. I have tasted that one previously though, and don't recall anything particularly negative about it. But a 5% difference in strength, is a 5% difference in strength!

(more recent batch pictured)
Springbank 12 yo, Cask Strength, 55.1%. Campbeltown, Scotland. 
Batch 5, released 2012. Matured in combination of first-fill & refill sherry casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, rich & dry sherry, a little salty and nutty as well. Stewed stone & tropical fruits, a little dry white wine? Could be a lighter style of sherry though, hard to say. Hint of orange oil, and earthy soft peat. 

Texture: Lovely. Big & meaty, but not aggressive. Very nice. 

Taste: Dry & crumbly peat, more prominent now than on the nose. Lighter sherry, and a caramel sweetness. Wet stone, a little chilli, a little orange-heavy marmalade. A hint of ashy smoke in the background. 

Finish: Long & warming. Mild dark chocolate, perhaps cooking chocolate. More chilli, a little fruit syrup. Peat embers & juicy malted barley go the distance.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Surprisingly peaty, at least compared to my expectations, especially after a little extra time in the glass. Excellent quality and great texture, with plenty of flavour as well. Not a sherry monster of course, and it's not meant to be, but the influence is there, and I suspect it's not all down to the usual suspect Mr. Oloroso. 

A fantastic malt, which all whisky fans should try, and a must-have for the cask strength and / or Springbank fans. The fact that it's great value for money is just icing on the cake. I will say that from what I remember, I do prefer this batch to the later 50.3% version, and I don't remember there being this level of peat influence in that newer release. Nonetheless, that's certainly not a reason not to try or buy it

Springbank distillery isn't cutting any corners, in production or otherwise, and I think it really shows in their whiskies. I'm yet to try any Hazelburn (triple distilled, un-peated Springbank), but all the Springbank and Longrow malts I've tasted have been very good. And this one definitely continues that trend.