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Sunday, 31 March 2019

Longrow 14 Sherry Cask Whisky Review!

A properly dirty, earthy and funky Longrow from the hallowed grounds of Campbeltown's Springbank. Yes please.


Longrow is Springbank Distillery's double-distilled and heavily peated whisky, which only accounts for around 10% of their annual production. The distillery's namesake lightly peated & 2.5-times distilled Springbank whisky makes up 80% of their output, while the un-peated and triple-distilled Hazelburn takes up the remaining 10%. The double-distillation used in the Longrow spirit means that this whisky has skipped Springbank's third still altogether, and is only run through the distillery's direct-fired wash still and the worm tub condenser-equipped first spirit still, which normally operates as the intermediate low wines still. The spirit cuts for Longrow are taken considerably later in the run than those of the other styles, resulting in a dirtier and often lightly sulphurous whisky - which is no bad thing! Depending on conditions the floor-malted barley used for Longrow is dried for up to 48 hours over peat fires, resulting in roughly 50-55 ppm phenols in the barley. But despite that figure it doesn't usually show itself in the typical heavily peated fashion, it tends to present as more of a deep earthy note with gentle peat smoke around the edges. So Islay fans who're looking for a massive peat blast could be disappointed when they first try a Longrow, but it's not all about the peat in this whisky, and as always it's not all about the numbers. As with everything Springbank produce the volume of flavour, complexity and character on offer here is outstanding, particularly when served at cask strength as is the case with this bottling. 

Before we get into this whisky, let's take a quick look at sulphur. Sulphur gets a bad rap from quite a few whisky lovers (and some famous reviewers) who seem to be particularly sensitive to it, while on the other hand there are plenty who may not detect it at all, which results in it being a controversial subject. Personally I seem to be somewhere on the mid-to-lower side, and I have only come across a handful of whiskies where I found the type and level of sulphur notes to be wholly unpleasant, and in only one case actually intolerable. In some whiskies it adds character and depth, while in some it can ruin the entire experience. Sulphur in whisky tends to come from two sources, either during production as a by-product of  fermentation, and during cask maturation, particularly when looking at sherry and wine casks. The former is a natural result of the fermentation process and depends on a number of different factors such as barley variety, yeast type, and fermentation times and temperatures. It can either be stripped from the spirit through reactions with the copper during distillation, whether by reflux in the stills themselves (depending on their design and fill level) and also lower distillation temperatures and slower distillation, and/or through the use of shell & tube condensers. It is possible for a spirit run to be sulphur tainted in error through a too-fast distillation run or tired equipment, but if sulphur does remain in the spirit itself after distillation that is usually intentional and/or traditional for that distillery, and in most cases will 'only' result in a meaty, pungent or vegetal note in that distillery's whisky. A good example of that would be Craigellachie, where the remaining low levels of sulphur notes add to the whisky's character and become the distillery's calling card. That type of sulphur will progressively decrease during maturation, particularly when using first-fill or charred casks, through the natural extractive part of that process, and also the angel's share. Small amounts of sulphur is sometimes also mixed in with peat when kilning malted barley, particularly with heavily peated barley, to prevent the formation of nitrosamines in the malt, but this is generally treated or at least reduced by resting the kilned barley for a week or two prior to milling.

Where properly nasty sulphur issues and complete contamination will usually occur is in sherry and wine casks themselves. The main source was the burning of sulphur candles in empty casks to treat or prevent cask spoilage during storage or transport through bacterial contamination, which usually took place shortly before re-filling. When treated to excess the cask would become contaminated with sulphur, resulting in burnt rubber or vulcanised rubber notes, strong rotting vegetable notes or in the worst case scenario, actual rotten egg notes in the whisky (or other liquid, including wine) that went into that cask. If left unchecked that contamination would then carry through to subsequent fillings of the same cask, potentially affecting a large amount of liquid over a long time. This practice has drastically reduced in modern times, partly due to the requirement that sherry be bottled in Spain that was introduced in the 1980s which resulted in fewer casks being shipped overseas. Tainted or spoiled casks are usually identified and removed by the winery, cask broker, cooperage or distillery before they're filled, but occasionally a small number can slip through the cracks and potentially go on to ruin an entire batch of whisky, years or even decades later. In my opinion that is most definitely not the case with this Longrow, the meaty, rubbery and funky notes are meant to be there, adding to the whisky's character and certainly not ruining anything. 

This limited release 14-year old Longrow promises to be very characterful and extra funky, even for a Campbeltown whisky, because it has been fully matured in refill (likely second-fill) Oloroso sherry casks. It's all too easy to get caught up in the allure of first-fill casks as a whisky nerd, but second-fill or refill casks can also be outstanding, since without the full power of the cask's previous contents to resist the spirit itself can still assert itself, generally resulting in more distillery character showing through. Being a Longrow fan I was very excited about this release when it was first released in Britain back in mid-2018, and despite a reasonable release size of 9,000 bottles world-wide it sold out very quickly, to the point where it was impossible to find a bottle on my second pilgrimage to Scotland, which included a visit to Campbeltown itself, only two months later. Although it took more than six months to get here a small quantity has finally arrived on Australian shores, and it is still readily available at the time of writing at around $200 AUD. I was lucky enough to procure a sample from a generous fellow whisky geek, so I can share the love with yourselves. Longrow 14-year old Sherry Cask Matured was distilled in September 2003, matured in refill Oloroso sherry casks and bottled in July 2018 at a cask strength of 57.8% ABV, with 9,000 bottles released. And being a Springbank it is of course non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Bring on the funk!      

Longrow 14-year old Sherry Cask Matured, 57.8%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Heavily peated & double-distilled at Springbank Distillery. Distilled September 2003, matured in refill Oloroso sherry casks, bottled July 2018 at cask strength. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 9,000 bottles. 

Colour: Bronze. 

Nose: Earthy, dank and meaty. Loads of dark chocolate, some dates, a little rubber, salted buttery biscuits (shortbread?). Very musty dark red grapes, old cooking grease, and rancio notes - beef stock cubes, cured pork (salami) and fresh mushrooms, and a little nutty warm oak. A little spearmint and red apple around the edges as it breathes. 

Texture: Warm, rich & earthy. Medium weight with a tiny flash of heat, notably little for the ABV. 

Taste: Richly sherried, earthy and funky. More dark chocolate but in mousse form now, plus cola lollies, salted roasted nuts (chestnuts?), a little rubber and more nutty & rancio dry sherry notes. Cured pork, a few under-ripe cherries and buttered brown mushrooms. 

Finish: Long length. More cola lollies and salted roasted nuts, a touch of fizzy earthy peat, dark chocolate mousse again and those musty red grapes. Plus a little smoked paprika, more cured pork, a splash of lemonade soft drink that has gone flat, and salted butter. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: Well this Longrow is definitely not a beginner's whisky by any means. And as you can probably tell from those tasting notes it's certainly not going to be for everyone. But the sheer volume & complexity of flavour on offer here is fantastic! There's a lovely deep, dark, dank feel to it that is very different, but very enjoyable for fans of the style. It's not quite funky in the typical oily, dirty, farmyard-y Springbank fashion, but it's funky in a meaty, rancio way that does remind me of a very dark, musty, dry Oloroso sherry which has oxidised slightly. But there's also so much more to it, you couldn't really lump this Longrow in with any of the regular sherry bombs. It's just a funky beast of a whisky! 

If you're a fan of sherried Mortlach, Edradour, or Ben Nevis you'll probably find this to your liking, but with some extra-dirty funk thrown in. Despite being a peathead I must admit I would normally reach for a Springbank whisky over a Longrow, but presented with a Longrow like this there would be a far more difficult decision to make. In fact I would say this is my favourite Longrow single malt to date, narrowly beating the old Rundlets & Kilderkins bottling. Great stuff!

Cheers!

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Ardbeg Drum Committee Release Whisky Review!

Ardbeg's first rum cask finish? And at 52%? Take my money!


Ardbeg Drum is 2019's special bottling for Ardbeg Day, the annual world-wide event marking Ardbeg's Feis Ile celebrations on Islay, which in 2019 won't take place until the first of June. But as has been the case for the last few years, members of the Ardbeg Committee are treated to an special version of these whiskies a few months prior to the general release. The Committee Release bottlings are presented with more understated labelling, are not packaged in outer boxes, and are bottled at higher strength than the general release versions (which have been getting consistently lower in strength each year, before settling at 46%). I would say these are the purist's versions, since along with the higher ABV the packaging isn't anywhere near as glitzy as that of the regular versions. Each year Ardbeg give their fans something different, and these whiskies are often either a first for Ardbeg or a first for Islay whisky in general, from last year's Grooves that was partly-matured in heavily charred red wine casks, to 2017's Kelpie that was partly-matured in virgin Russian oak casks, among others. Of the seven 'Ardbeg Day' whiskies we've seen so far, 2013's Ardbog is still my pick of the lot, followed by the 2012 Ardbeg Day bottling, 2018's Grooves Committee Release and 2016's Dark Cove Committee Release. But this year's bottling promises to be very different from its predecessors, thanks to one fact in particular...

This year's release is Ardbeg's first official bottling that has been finished in rum casks. Actually it's even more unusual because Ardbeg do not typically use cask finishes at all. Cask finishing, also known as secondary maturation, extra maturation, double maturation or additional cask enhancement is the practice of taking a maturing cask of whisky and re-filling it into a different type of cask for a relatively short period of time before bottling. Ardbeg tend to follow the full-term maturation route, where casks are filled and matured separately (usually for different lengths of time) before marrying (combining) them together for bottling. If we take 2013's Ardbog as an example, it was a marriage / vatting of ex-bourbon casks and ex-Manzanilla sherry casks, all aged for at least 10 years. The vast majority of Ardbeg's releases, including their core range of An Oa, 10-year old, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, are matured in this way. It's a different approach that is far less common than the typical 6-12 month cask finish that we've seen from almost every distillery at some point. But for whatever reason Ardbeg went with a cask finish for this release. In their words, the whisky was "rested a while" in the ex-rum casks, which unfortunately is typically vague, so I would assume the finishing period was relatively short. Regardless, it's definitely had a pronounced effect.

That aside, the main point of difference here is of course those rum casks. Unfortunately we don't know a lot about them, only that they came from the Americas. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a rum expert by any means, but based purely on taste and appearance I'd say they held a fairly light rum, sweet & tropical, or at least certainly not a dark rum. This sort of ambiguity is commonplace when it comes to rum casks in the whisky world, and it's still a rare thing to find a whisky that has spent time in rum casks. A few more details would be nice, and we may see that happen as rum casks become more widely used. As sherry casks become more expensive and demand continues to outstrip supply, to a much greater extent than the wine itself could hope for, we're already seeing more unusual cask types find their way into the mix along with other unusual and less "traditional" cask types. Rum casks can work very well with whisky, particularly peated whisky in my experience to date, and I've thoroughly enjoyed the rum cask-finished Kilchoman and refill-rum cask-matured Springbank that I've tasted previously. So there's absolutely no reason to think they won't work very well with Ardbeg's peaty & sweet Islay spirit. It's also nice to see the late former Ardbeg distillery manager Hamish Scott get a mention in the marketing materials for this release, ostensibly because he also worked at a Guyanan rum distillery before coming to Ardbeg, but whatever the reason it's nice to see him getting credit where it's due. During his tenure Scott was almost solely responsible for the debut appearance of Ardbeg as a single malt, and his wife Rhona now runs a fantastic B&B in Port Ellen, right on the harbour.

Australian Ardbeg fans have been very lucky over the last few years, with the local distributor selling limited quantities of the Committee Release bottlings directly to the waiting hordes, and at very reasonable prices. Each year the prices rise a little (like they do with almost everything) but it's important to remember that despite being such a small market and being so isolated we're getting access to Ardbeg bottlings that many countries do not. And they're actually always priced lower than the general release versions that follow them, when they could be priced significantly higher and would still sell out. Ardbeg Drum Committee Release's Australian allocation sold out in around six hours, despite being limited to two bottles per person, and those lucky (and organised) enough to get their hands on a bottle or two received their prize around a week later. It was priced at a reasonable $155 AUD plus shipping, and as always it'll now be on various reseller websites for at least double that. Based on that I'd expect the regular version of Drum to be priced at around $190-200 when it finally hits the shelves in June. This review is from my personal bottle, which was cracked on the day it arrived and has been open for around two weeks now. As with almost every year details are very scarce, all we know about Ardbeg Drum Committee Release is that is has been mostly matured in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in some sort of rum casks, bottled at 52% ABV, is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Time for a dram of Drum!

Ardbeg Drum Committee Release, NAS, 52%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in ex-bourbon casks, matured in un-named rum casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. 

Colour: Pale-ish gold. A shade darker than the 10-year old. 

Nose: Sweet & very tarry straight away, plus some pine resin around the edges. Loads of ripe bananas, sweet herbs, sea salt & freshly shucked oyster shells. Tarry ropes, a little smoked chocolate, spiced & caramelised pineapple, some sweet herbs and vanilla cake batter. Fresh but under-baked banana muffins & some white pepper further in.  

Texture: Light-medium weight, syrupy sweet and peppery. Very slight touch of heat, in a pleasant way. 

Taste: Sweet and syrupy, with more caramelised pineapple, and a lovely dry, earthy, ashy peat with some black pepper following behind. Slightly astringent with that pepper and some pine resin, then more sweet herbs and a little simple (sugar) syrup (rum funk, if you will). Vanilla cake batter again. 

Finish: Medium length, but surprisingly light. Some chilli salt, more tar and more black pepper. A touch of licorice straps, dark loose leaf tea, more banana muffins, milk chocolate and wood spices. Sugar syrup, vanilla essence and black pepper wind things up.

Score: 3.5 out of 5. Not far off a 4, though. 

Notes: A tough one to score, this. It's noticeably lighter in the peat department compared to regular Ardbeg, and the sweetness has really been amped up, but there's a good volume of flavour on offer. Maybe that's why they decided on a cask finish? Regardless the rum influence is obvious, giving this Ardbeg a tropical, syrupy & herbal character that is admittedly unusual, but very enjoyable. Like most Ardbeg Day releases Drum is a departure from the norm, but it's a very pleasant dram that is easy drinking and fun, and it would go down well on a summers day even at 52% ABV. Which is not something that many Ardbegs could claim. 

I would rank Ardbeg Drum Committee Release behind Ardbog, and roughly on-par with the Committee Releases of Grooves and Dark Cove. You'll have to be a fan of sweet and tropical flavours and slightly lighter peat influence though, like quite a few of the previous "Day" releases if you go in expecting a typically Ardbeg experience you probably won't find what you're looking for. 

No doubt Ardbeg Drum will get the usual negative reaction from the anti-NAS and seemingly anti-Ardbeg "old guard", amongst the usual cries of it being overpriced. Granted this is not a traditional Ardbeg, but what would be the point of releasing the same whisky every year? Ardbeg, like Laphroaig to a lesser extent, go for a more accessible and unexpected release to commemorate their Feis Ile celebrations than the majority of distilleries, which means their international fans can enjoy the special bottlings just as much as the lucky few on Islay can. And more power to them. As for us Ardbeg fans on the other side of the planet, we need to be keep some perspective of what we're getting here. Special treatment like this is normally only seen in the United States with their massive population, ridiculous buying power and far lower duty and tax levels. We don't get looked after like this by any other Islay distillery, and very few distilleries at all, so let's be appreciative that Ardbeg continue to value their small but loyal Australian following. May it never end!

Cheers!

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Port Charlotte MRC01 Whisky Review!

A new Port Charlotte release that is very exciting! And it's cask strength Port Charlotte, so it's already following a winning recipe...


Port Charlotte is Bruichladdich's heavily peated whisky, named after the village of Port Charlotte down the road from Bruichladdich, as a homage to the Loch Indaal Distillery that closed in 1929. Weighing in at 40 ppm on the malt, Port Charlotte sits between the distillery's unpeated Bruichladdich whisky and the super-heavily peated Octomore whiskies. But don't panic, there's still plenty of smoke to be found here. The Port Charlotte "brand" has undergone something of a refresh in the last year or so, re-launching during the 2018 Feis Ile celebrations with new expressions, a new bottle and label design, and a renewed spotlight on this often (wrongly) overlooked whisky. Since then we have seen a new permanent addition to the Port Charlotte range, the 10-year old, and a new 2011-vintage Islay Barley expression (both reviewed here) in the new packaging. Both of those great whiskies now include wine casks in their recipes / vattings, and are very reasonably priced, and although I preferred the Islay Barley expression when first introduced to them, I now have trouble picking a winner between the two. And now we have a brand new and very exciting addition to the range, a cask strength expression that has spent time in French red wine casks!

My level of anticipation is very high for this one. Even higher than it always is for each whisky that Bruichladdich release, in fact, because the seed had already been planted by a very special cask that was sitting in that cold, damp warehouse at Bruichladdich during my first pilgrimage to the Hebridean paradise of Islay. The entire experience at that warehouse tasting was phenomenal, but despite being a huge Octomore fan, on that occasion it was the Port Charlotte cask that really blew me away. It was a fully-matured Bordeaux red wine cask, at 12-years of age and 57% ABV, and it was one of the whisky highlights of that entire pilgrimage to Scotland. This whisky is a little different, and of course it's not really fair to compare it to a single cask that was specially selected for the warehouse tastings at the distillery, but (spoiler alert) it's a fantastic dram. Port Charlotte MRC01 is a 7-year old whisky that was distilled in 2010 from Scottish barley peated to 40 ppm at Bairds Maltings in Inverness, and was matured in 50% first-fill bourbon casks and 50% second-fill French wine casks for six years, before being married together and finished (or additional cask enhanced - ACEd -  in 'laddie speak) for a further year in first-fill red wine casks from the Bordeaux region of southern France. It was bottled at a strength of 59.2% ABV, and of course is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured.

Given the name (or codename) of this bottling, the astute wine buffs have probably already guessed where those finishing casks came from. Unfortunately Bruichladdich aren't allowed to say anything more than "the left bank of the Bordeaux region", which is home to over 200 producers of many different types of wine. These acronyms are going to be the standard for Port Charlotte going forward, and they've already been used to great success in bottlings like the travel-exclusive CC01 (cognac cask), and the more recent of the distillery exclusive Valinch bottlings. In this case we can reasonably deduce that those casks came from a particularly famous producer in the Paulliac appellation that can be traced back to the 18th century. These casks would certainly not have come cheap!

This is the first general release (i.e. not travel- or distillery- exclusive) high strength bottling of Port Charlotte in quite a while. At least it is if you don't consider Bruichladdich's current standard bottling strength of 50% ABV to be high enough! If memory serves the last was the extremely limited (6,000 bottles) PC10 cask strength bottling from 2011, which I don't believe ever made it to Australia, and which is not to be confused with the 'regular' bottlings of 10-year old Port Charlotte - of which there have now been three different versions. MRC01 is not yet available in Australia, but it's on the way, and at a series of recent tastings hosted by the magnificent Chloe Wood, Bruichladdich's Asia Pacific Brand Ambassador, and Mark Hickey of Australian distributor Spirits Platform, a lucky few were given the chance to pre-order a bottle or two before they arrive in April. And yes, I'm already on the list! There's no official figure on the number of bottles in this release, but sadly only a very small quantity are going to make the lengthy voyage to Australia. After a fantastic tasting in Brisbane at the end of Chloe's extremely busy tour, where the MRC01 was the stand-out whisky of an already excellent line-up, I was lucky enough to secure a little extra sample for this review. So let's get to it!

Port Charlotte MRC01 2010, 59.2% cask strength. Islay, Scotland.
Distilled in 2010 from Scottish barley peated to 40 ppm, matured in 50% first-fill ex-bourbon & 50% second-fill ex-French wine casks for 6 years, married & finished for 1 year in Bordeaux wine casks. Natural colour, non-chill filtered.

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Lovely. Fruity, softly spicy & smoky. Charred BBQ smoked meats, warm charcoal briquettes, a flash of salted lemon, drying kelp and warm asphalt. Dried cherries and grilled peaches, and a little brown sugar. Time brings out more spicy wood smoke (mesquite?) and hints of gristy malt in the background.

Texture: Lovely again. Medium-heavy weight, lightly oily. Remarkably mellow for 7 years of age and over 59% ABV.

Taste: Sweet fruity entry, with more cherry and peach, plus some plum and a little nectarine now. And they're all caramelised & lightly charred from the grill. Then a gorgeous wave of that thick sweet & spicy BBQ wood smoke, with a little drying wood ash. Some thick butter & brown sugar caramel underneath.

Finish: Medium-long length. That sweet & spicy wood smoke carries through, with some grilled salted lemon, and all of that grilled stone fruit again, but with the brown sugar caramel served alongside for dessert. There's a little medicinal edge coming through the smoke to finish, like a freshly unsealed but older bandage.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Notes: Picture a wood-fired BBQ full of charred smoked meat and caramelised stone fruit with a few squirts of lemon over the top, and let that soak in. That's where this whisky takes you. And it's absolutely fantastic! This is no massive Islay peat bomb, but the volume, complexity and balance of flavour on offer here is really remarkable. Especially considering the age and ABV. But rest assured, there's still plenty of smoke to be found in this Port Charlotte, and it's a delicious sweet and spicy wood smoke that has worked perfectly with those French wine casks. This is a great example of what Port Charlotte is all about. It stands apart from all of the other Islays, it's approachable and enticing, and it's capable of absolute magic!

It's looking like MRC01 will be quite reasonably priced as well, so if you get the chance to grab one of these, I suggest you do so immediately. This is an excellent example of what this versatile and yes, progressive, Islay distillery does. Hats off to Bruichladdich, you've nailed it again!

Cheers!

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Bruichladdich Rocks Whisky Review!

Yes, Bruichladdich does rock! But this is actually a long-discontinued expression that was distilled not long after the distillery's resurrection, and was available from 2007-2013. Exciting stuff!


Much has been said of Bruichladdich's rescue at the hands of Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and Jim McEwan (and others) back in 2001, who resuscitated the distillery after a six-year sleep. Plenty of equipment & building repairs were required following the neglect that the site had suffered at the hands of it's previous owners over that time, but there's now no doubt that it was all worth it. The distillery is unquestionably a powerhouse these days, and thanks to the recent purchase by Remy Cointreau there's no sign of that changing in the future. In fact the new owners are investing in expansion, and I get the feeling that the new backing will allow the distillery to move forward on plenty of projects that have been in the pipeline or on the sideline for a long time. Case in point is the recent announcement that Bruichladdich now has its own farm set aside for growing their own barley on Islay, meaning that once the planned floor maltings are built they'll be the second Islay distillery to grow, malt and mill their own barley, and then mash, ferment, distill, mature and bottle their spirit on-site. Very exciting times ahead!

I've only tried a couple of the un-peated Bruichladdich bottlings from this earlier era (not including the peated Port Charlotte and super-heavily peated Octomore), and they are few and far between these days. The older bottlings that are currently available such as the Black Art series were all distilled prior to the 1995 closure, and are understandably getting very expensive now. On the other hand the contemporary young Bruichladdich whiskies are of consistently excellent quality, and are essentially what the distillery is now known for. Bright, fresh, and delicious un-peated malt-forward drams with loads of character and loads of maturity for their age. The earlier young bottlings were a little different in style, and were arguably less focused on barley and - in 'laddie speak - "uber-provenance" than they currently are, and in my admittedly limited experience they were also less consistent. But the living legend Jim McEwan of course was - and still is - a master of his craft, and without his input Bruichladdich would have been very different to what it is today. So getting the chance to try any of his early work at Bruichladdich is always very special!

The expression that we're looking at today, 'Rocks', was part of a series of three bottlings that were inspired by the distillery's surroundings. The other two in the series were 'Waves', referring to Loch Indaal over the road from the distillery and the Atlantic Ocean that feeds it, and 'Peat', which shouldn't need any further explanation! What's more interesting here is that all three of these releases were peated, and peated to different levels, and as you'd expect Waves and Rocks were only very lightly peated. Waves was finished (ACE'd, in 'laddie speak) in Madeira casks, Peat was fully-matured in bourbon casks but was a mix of Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore spirit, and Rocks was finished in French Syrah red wine casks. Rocks was the least peated of the three, and was also the last to be discontinued back in 2013. The name of this expression refers to the Rhinns of Islay, the rocky area on the western side of the island that is home to the distillery and it's water source. Rocks is an NAS vatting of 6-9 year old casks, married together and finished in those Syrah casks for around 9 months, and is bottled at 46% ABV which was then the standard bottling strength (it's now 50%). Since it's a Bruichladdich it is of course non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. There are a few murmurings on the 'net that this single malt was designed to be served on the rocks (with ice), but I can't find anything official on that anywhere, nor on the packaging, so I don't think that's the case. Either way, just neat for me thanks!

Bruichladdich Rocks, NAS, 46%. Islay, Scotland.
Very lightly peated, vatting of 6-9 year old ex-bourbon casks finished in Syrah red wine casks for around 9 months. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Fresh, fruity & peppery, not as bright, sweet or clean as more modern Bruichladdichs, but that could be down to those wine casks doing their thing. It has a little yeasty funk to it as well, not the usual 'laddie lactic note. Light wine tannins, acidic pear drops, and a mild red grape must. A nice sweet vanilla bean paste and some fresh lemon juice coming through with more time.

Texture: Medium weight, lightly astringent & drying, a touch of peppery heat on entry but pleasant.

Taste: Peppery wine tannins, a little semi-sweet honey & citrus, dry mild chilli spice, like Szechuan peppercorns. More of that yeasty funk which is different but enjoyable. Light salty tang as well, reminds me of iodised table salt.

Finish: Medium length. Those spicy dry peppercorns follow through but the fruit then takes over, a nice mix of green / under-ripe tropical fruit, those acidic pear drops and that red grape must. The salt comes through again too but with more power, like a salt lick, which turns to a drying & lightly astringent minerality as it tapers off.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Interesting stuff! An enjoyable dram that reminds me a little of the old WMD II 'yellow submarine' bottling that I first tried a while ago. It's more musty and funky than we now think of with Bruichladdich, but that wine cask finish, or ACE for Additional Cask Enhancement in 'laddie speak, is probably responsible for some of that difference. That's not a criticism by any means mind you, it's just different, which is never a bad thing!

Those wine casks have definitely had an effect, perhaps adding more complexity, but they haven't overtaken the spirit and it all works quite well together. That saltiness is very enjoyable too, in fact this is probably the saltiest Bruichladdich bottling that I've come across to date, and I like how it turns into an ozone-y minerality on the finish - definitely evoking the rocks & the Rhinns that the whisky was named after! If you're a 'laddie fan and you stumble across a bottle of this long-discontinued expression, it's definitely worth picking up for near its original price. But I wouldn't spend up big on a bottle of Rocks when the current range of young Bruichladdichs is just so damn good...

Cheers!