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Sunday, 24 June 2018

Kilchoman Cask Strength 2016 Whisky Review!

Cask Strength Kilchoman always sounds promising. And this one has been fully matured in smaller quarter casks!


Kilchoman's 'Original Cask Strength' series first launched in 2014, with a limited release of 9,000 bottles of 4-5 year old ex-bourbon cask whisky, weighing in at a cask strength (duh) of 59.2% ABV. This is the second release in the series, with 12,000 bottles released in 2016, and it's a 6-year old ex-bourbon cask whisky, weighing in at 56.9% ABV. But the crucial difference here is the size of those ex-bourbon casks. Rather than being the usual 200-litre ex-bourbon barrels, this expression was fully matured in 125-litre 'quarter casks'. The name refers to them being a quarter of the size of a traditional 500-litre sherry butt. Made famous by Laphroaig's aptly named 'Quarter Cask' expression, what these 125-litre casks do is give the maturing spirit more wood contact, so there's more oak and cask influence imparted in a shorter amount of time than what you would get from full-sized casks. 

Note however that Laphroaig's Quarter Cask is only finished in the smaller casks for around 7 months after previous maturation in full-sized casks, whereas this Kilchoman has been fully-matured in the smaller casks, which is still quite an uncommon practice in Scotch whisky. The reason for this is that full-term maturation in the smaller casks can give a little too much oak influence, which is not always desirable, and it can also reduce the level of peaty intensity that is left in the finished whisky. But with Kilchoman generally bottling at a younger age than most, and since they've bottled this expression at cask strength, that shouldn't be much of an issue here. The barley in this release came from Port Ellen Maltings, not the distillery's own floor-maltings (only the 100% Islay bottlings are distilled from the in-house barley), so it was peated to an Ardbeg-spec 55 ppm, which should mean that there's plenty of peat left in this 6-year old whisky. 

Relatively tiny Kilchoman (more details here) aren't at all afraid of trying something different, and since becoming the "new kid on the block" on Islay in 2005 they've been kicking some serious goals. From bottling a 3-year old whisky that was fully-matured in Port casks (which was absolutely delicious), to full-term maturation in Sauternes and Madeira wine casks, the distillery is certainly open to new ideas. Of course being the young up-start on the island that is Scotland's whisky mecca probably necessitates doing things a little differently, rather than just sticking to the status quo. Which includes everything being bottled without chill filtration or added colouring, and often with both the year of distillation and the year of bottling printed on the labels. Great stuff Kilchoman!


Kilchoman Original Cask Strength 2016, 56.9%. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled 2010, bottled 2016. Fully matured in 125-litre ex-bourbon quarter casks. 12,000 bottles. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Medium gold.

Nose: Fresh & light, quite sweet and fruity, and a little spirit-y. Quite coastal as well, salty sea air and dry old driftwood. Lots of sweet citrus - sweet lemon drops and a little lime juice. Some vanilla bean too, and something a little vegetal, almost sweet potato chips. 

Texture: Medium-heavy weight, thick & voluptuous, but a little hot as well. 

Taste: Sweet caramel and earthy, dry peat. Some natural licorice and some warm sweet oak. A little alcohol heat here, but it's on the edges and isn't dominant. Vanilla icing with a hint of lemon. 

Finish: Medium length. A little more smoke here but it's still quite subtle compared to other Kilchoman expressions. More licorice, but it's turned bitter now, and the oak is leaning that way too. A little earthy peat and vanilla finishes things off. 

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: A nice drop that improves with more time in the glass, but it's a little hot, not particularly complex or different, and the peat is a little muted. I expected the latter from the smaller quarter cask maturation, but not so much the former. There's a great texture on this one though despite that surprising touch of spirit-y heat. 

I applaud Kilchoman for doing something different with this bottling, but I have to say I preferred the original cask strength bottling from 2014 that was matured in full-sized casks. It was a young beast as well, but somehow it seemed a little more tame and a little more engaging. Nonetheless, you can't really go wrong with any cask strength Kilchoman. They're such a great distillery that are producing vibrant young whiskies that easily compete with much older fellow Islays. 

Kilchoman have recently announced some expansion plans as well, looking to double production by the end of 2018. There's a new larger malt floor and kiln that is due to be fired up soon, if it hasn't already, which will work in tandem with the existing malt floor and will double the amount of floor-malted barley that the distillery can produce. There'll also be a new still house, with a new pair of stills, a new mash tun and six new wooden washbacks, all to the same specifications of the existing equipment, and there'll be more warehouses constructed as well. Which can only be a good thing, and is a good sign of the distillery's success and their confidence in the future. 

Cheers!

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Benriach Single Cask 10 Year Old Whisky Review!

Benriach's single cask range doesn't make it to Australia very often, but every now & then we get lucky. They're much more affordably priced than sister distillery Glendronach's single cask bottlings, but how do they compare?


Obviously the distilleries are very different, and they're producing very different whiskies. While Glendronach has a massive cult following, Benriach is relatively quiet in comparison, despite re-opening its floor maltings in 2012, and despite regularly releasing a number of different limited cask finishes and new core expressions. Glendronach's single cask releases are constantly increasing in price and are becoming much more difficult to source, while Benriach's offerings are very reasonably priced and usually offer a very different experience to the core / regular bottlings from the distillery.

The most immediate major difference is that some of Benriach's single cask releases are peated (although I'm predicting that future Glendronach releases could follow suit), and rather than being predominantly either Oloroso or PX sherry casks with the occasional oddity, the Benriach releases vary massively in their cask types, with some Marsala, Madeira, red wine, dark rum and virgin oak casks, and some bottlings have even been triple distilled. So they may be a little more eccentric and a little more varied in general, probably because the distillery doesn't have as huge of an expectation as Glendronach to keep pumping out sherry bombs, so they can play around a little more. The bottlings also vary more widely in ages, probably because Benriach was only closed for two years (2001-2003), not six years (1996-2002) like its sister distillery and so doesn't have as large of a gap in its maturing stock.

Benriach is doing great work. I'm a big fan of their peated 10-year old Curiositas in particular, and I'm looking forward to tasting the future results of those revived floor maltings that were decommissioned back in 1998. That little fact makes them one of only two Speyside distilleries that are producing some of their own malted barley requirements (Balvenie being the other), and despite only being in use for one month of each year, I'm sure there'll be a floor-maltings-only bottling coming at some point in the future. Benriach's contemporary peated malts have (so far) been peated to 55 ppm prior to distillation, which is a substantial figure for a mainland whisky, and is only beaten by Benromach's Peat Smoke expression, but that may change when the floor-malted peated barley comes into play.

Australia recently received a small amount of Benriach single cask bottlings from Batch 14, available from one particular retailer who I suspect may have imported them directly from Europe, I can't be sure. Interestingly Batch 14 was the first to only include whisky that was distilled after the 2003 re-opening of the distillery, while previous batches have included older whiskies, some even 30-40 years old. This means that the oldest whiskies in this batch were just 12-years old, not that there's anything at all wrong with that. The bottling I'm looking at today, thanks to a generous fellow whisky nerd, is cask number 101, a 10-year old peated whisky that was fully matured in a single first-fill Oloroso sherry butt (500-litre cask). It was distilled in January 2007, and was bottled in June 2017 at the impressive cask strength of 61.9%, with a yield of 475 bottles. Naturally (pun intended) being a Benriach it's non-chill filtered and naturally (and beautifully) coloured. It retailed for $150 AUD, which is very reasonable for any cask strength whisky in Australia, but is a real bargain for a single cask whisky with an age statement. We can expect a real sherry bomb here, but the question we're going to need to answer is if any of that peat has survived, or if the cask has overshadowed it...

Benriach Single Cask #101, 10-years old, 61.9%. Speyside, Scotland.
Single cask batch 14. Peated, distilled Jan 2007, bottled June 2017. Matured in a first-fill Oloroso sherry butt, 475 bottles. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Very dark amber, with red tinges. Some serious colour for a 10-year old, this was one active cask!

Nose: Huge sherry bomb, and quite a busy & fantastic nose! Dark rich sherry, with sweet red fruits, oily tanned leather, cigar smoke, raisins soaked in sherry, and some scorched herbs. A touch of spicy wood smoke on the edges, and loads of creamy dark chocolate dessert (mousse?) and dark loose-leaf tea.

Texture: Medium weight, and a little heat (10-years and nearly 62% ABV will do that!), but it's packed full of big intense flavour.

Taste: Big spicy sherry with a big pepper spice hit, and some ethanol / alcohol nip too. Calms down with more breathing time, with lots of dark, oily old leather and some intense sweet red fruit. More strong, dark loose-leaf tea, and a light touch of red toffee apples. More spicy wood smoke, but it's still in the background.

Finish: Very long, and very sherried. Sweet and fruity initially, then a building bitterness with dark coffee syrup, dark chocolate mousse, some treacle, and spicy oak. Then some juicy raisins, which turn into currants, more leather, and more dark chocolate.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: A great winter warmer here, and it's massively, massively sherried. That first-fill cask completely dominates the whole show without much of a fight, but if you like your dark, intense sherry bombs then this'll be right up your alley. In fact I'd say it's got a little more going on that some of the NAS sherry monster whiskies out there at the moment. Think a good Aberlour A'Bunadh, with the volume turned way up, and also the complexity and intensity turned up even further.

While there's not a lot of peat or smoke to be found in this Benriach (thanks to that dominant cask), I'm sure that it's added some extra depth and staying power to the overall package. And what a nose on this dram! It's very busy and quite intense, and again dominated by the sherry cask, but if you like that sort of thing you could easily spend a very long time with your nose stuck in your glass. And I should know, because that's exactly what I did. Really quite delicious, and a great buy at the original retail price, which is not something you can say very often about a peated, single cask sherry monster at high strength. Bravo Benriach, bravo.

Cheers!

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Bruichladdich Laddie Eight Whisky Review!

Well this is quite a rare thing, a young travel exclusive whisky with an age statement! No surprise really that it comes from Bruichladdich, those progressive Hebridean distillers. And no surprise really that it's delicious!


Even in the current & ongoing climate of NAS (non-age statement) hate among a large portion of the whisky community, it still takes considerable "stones" to bring a young whisky to market with a single-digit age statement. A large portion of that large portion of the community will also snub young whiskies, as will the perhaps less-educated and perhaps some of the "old guard" who still believe that older whiskies are the only ones that are worthy of your attention, and your money. All of the above are wrong, of course, and that sort of attitude is part of the reason that non-age statement whiskies exist. Ignorance is bliss for some, I suppose. There are plenty of fantastic young whiskies around, and let's not forget that age and maturity are two very different things. Quality ingredients, careful slow production and very careful cask management mean that young whiskies can punch far above their weight. One only needs to take a quick look at the vast majority of Kilchoman bottlings, or perhaps Lagavulin's 8-year old or Laphroaig's Quarter Cask, for proof of that. But those are all heavily-peated whiskies, which can help hide any spirit-y youthfulness, whereas this Bruichladdich is un-peated, so there's no smoke to hide behind, it's all out in the open.

Unfortunately The Laddie Eight is another "travel exclusive" bottling that is only sold in duty free stores, where you'll usually find plenty of non-age statement whiskies from many brands, often with very little to differentiate them from their regular retail cousins, other than a fancy box or marketing spiel. This Bruichladdich was initially released in 2015-2016 at the same time as the excellent Cognac cask-matured Port Charlotte CC01, which is also eight years old and travel exclusive. Port Charlotte is the heavily peated whisky produced by Bruichladdich, along with the super-heavily-peated Octomore, while the whisky released under the distillery name is un-peated. There have of course been older bottlings under the Laddie label in the past, including a couple of releases of 10-year old, a 16-year old (my personal favourite of the bunch) and a 22-year old, all in the trademark light blue & white packaging that certainly helped put Bruichladdich on the map.

Unusually for Bruichladdich there's not a huge amount of information out there on the Laddie Eight, other than it being matured in both American oak and European oak casks. That could mean pretty much anything, but I'd assume that it's mostly ex-bourbon casks with a few ex-sherry casks thrown in for good measure. Like most Bruichladdich core bottlings these days it was bottled at 50% ABV, and of course there's no chill filtration or added colouring shenanigans here, which is always great to see. It's quite reasonably priced as well, particularly at that high bottling strength, coming in at around $100 AUD from duty free stores in a 700ml bottle, or around $35 AUD for a handy 200ml bottle, which is the one I went for (spoiler alert: should have brought a 700ml). One might expect a young, un-peated whisky at 50% ABV to be a little hot, but something tells me we needn't worry about that in this case.

Bruichladdich The Laddie Eight, 8 years old, 50%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in American oak & European oak casks, travel exclusive. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Sweet, bright & fresh. Floral honey and sweet mint, and some green fruit - unripe papaya, stewed green apples and a hint of honeydew melon. Loads of lovely sweet, honeyed malted barley, almost porridge-like. Some yeasty dough and a very slight hint of lemon oil. And there's a lovely icing sugar (powdered sugar) sweetness throughout with a little baking spice underneath.

Texture: Fantastic. Medium weight, oily & warming, and no heat at all.

Taste: Even more barley-forward here, a dusty, gristy malted barley with a little vanilla, more floral honey and more warm baking spices, and a few sweet peppercorns. A little minty and sugar-sweet again, but much less than the nose suggested. Some sweet lemon juice, papaya again and more buttery bread dough.

Finish: Medium length, becoming quite light, but very tasty. The green apple and melon come back but with a sweet syrup now, more sweetened lemon juice and grassy malted barley. A little sea salt & light oak to round it out.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: Very, very tasty. A fantastic example of how enjoyable a young unpeated whisky can be when it's carefully made and well matured. There's no immediately obvious cask influence either, it's not loaded with vanilla or dominated by honey, it's all very well balanced with the spirit itself having plenty of time in the spotlight. The nose is brilliant, but there are no disappointing aspects to this dram. A lovely summer's day whisky I'd say, and there's almost no sign at all of the alcohol despite the young age and 50% ABV.

So yes, I definitely should have bought a full-size bottle, and I'll be keeping that in mind next time a relative travels overseas. Oh, the pain of 'travel retail'. A delicious young Bruichladdich with plenty of character that easily belies its young age, and also its strength. Rich, sweet and bright. If only it was easier to get ones hands on a bottle without leaving the country...

Cheers!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Octomore 7.3 Whisky Review!

Another Islay barley Octomore! This one isn't sporting the massive ppm numbers of the epic 6.3 and the 8.3 that has finally started appearing in Australia. But it does have a different maturation regimen going for it, and let's be honest, an Octomore is never going to be a dull thing!


If my semi-educated guesswork is correct then this was actually the first Octomore, the super-heavily peated whisky from Bruichladdich Distillery, that was released under the reign of current master distiller Adam Hannett after he took the reigns from the legendary Jim McEwan. Adam's doing a cracking job from where I'm sitting, and let's not forget that he has been responsible for the magnificent Octomore OBA and the aforementioned Octomore 8.3, and plenty of other magnificent 'laddies and Port Charlottes. Loving your work Adam!

What we have here is a 5-year old Octomore, distilled from barley that was grown on James Brown's Octomore farm (where Octomore distillery once stood), down the road from the distillery on Islay. That Islay barley was then sent to Baird's Maltings in Inverness, where it was peated to a very high (by normal standards, but not by Octomore standards!) 169 ppm phenols. Once back on Islay the malt was slowly mashed, fermented and double-distilled, and the resulting new make spirit was then filled into both ex-bourbon casks and ex-Ribera del Duero Spanish red wine casks.

Ribera del Duero is a wine-producing region of Northern Spain, and as is the usual modus operandi with wine-matured Bruichladdich we don't know the exact wine or grape variety that the casks previously held, or the exact vineyard, but since it's the most commonly produced "varietal" in the region we can safely assume that it was Tempranillo. Bruichladdich love their wine casks and they certainly also know how to use them, and those wine casks do seem to be finding their way into more and more 'laddie releases. I did spot some Rivesaltes (red wine from the south of France) casks during my visit that were playing house with some Islay barley Octomore, so I think we can expect to see more deliciousness in the near future!

While 169 ppm doesn't sound like a huge number compared to 208 (in 7.1 & 7.2), 258 (in 6.3) or now 309 (in 8.3, the new king), it's important to remember that the numbers don't tell the full story. There are so many variables and other factors involved that determine the level of peat and/or smoke that we detect in a whisky that the ppm measurement of the malted barley (prior to mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation) doesn't directly correlate. But even if it did, that's over three times the ppm level found in the closest rival Ileachs, so rest assured that there's plenty of peat in them thar bottles! Octomore 7.3 was bottled at 63%, which is slightly reduced from cask strength, and of course is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Let's get to it!


Octomore 7.3 Islay Barley, 5 years old, 63%. Bruichladdich Distillery, Islay, Scotland.
Distilled from Islay barley peated to 169 ppm, matured full-term in both ex-bourbon and ex-Ribera del Duero Spanish red wine casks (possibly Tempranillo). Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Full gold.

Nose: Dusty farmyards, sweet smoked fatty bacon (sugar-glazed), iodine, dried sweet strawberries, a little seaweed. Salted butter and sandy beaches. A little nippy as well (alcohol nip), tickles the nose hairs, but it's a fantastic nose on this dram.

Texture: Medium weight, oily & warming. A little hot though.

Taste: Big, hot and richly flavoured. Almost like a cordial concentrate. A surprisingly subtle / integrated earthy peat, chilli flakes, cinnamon sugar, and more sweet glazed smoked bacon. There's a little heat here too, but it's not unpleasant by any means.

Finish: Medium length. Hot & spicy, then more strawberries in icing sugar, some herbal wood smoke, more hot chilli flakes and a little iodine. A few dusty apples show up for a second, then hot chilli chocolate, and a little burnt American BBQ pork. Some band-aids show up right at the end.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Notes: It's quite a hot one, but the sheer concentration of flavour does make up for it. Loving those flavours too, although there's not a lot of peat to be found which is surprising. It's probably the most medicinal Octomore I've had as well, especially on the nose, which is interesting. In fact the nose is definitely the highlight of the dram for me, although the palate follows suit. The finish does fall over a little bit though, mostly because of the alcohol heat which does overstay its welcome a little, and I suspect also kills off a lot of the flavour that would've shown up in the finish otherwise. That heat is more present here than I've found in any Octomore previously, even those bottled at (slightly) higher strength and the same age. While unexpected, and probably a challenge for those not used to it, it's not unpleasant to my palate by any means.

So 7.3 doesn't quite have the magic of the other Islay barley Octomores, the magnificent 6.3 and the new peaty beast that is 8.3, but it does offer a different experience, and it's still a very enjoyable Octomore. Like they all are of course! If you're a fan of these drams, you'll want to have this one on the shelf. It's still quite easy to find, at least in Australia, and it's definitely lasted a lot longer than its predecessor did. What's left of the 7.3 is likely to be left in the shadows when the 8.3 finally lands with those massive figures printed on it, but if you're an Octo-head you'll of course want to have both. But hey, you can never have enough Octomore!

Cheers!