Tasting Mat 3

Tasting Mat 3

Welcome to the latest round up of new releases. On the table today we have new whiskies from both Laphroaig and Ardbeg as well as the first cask strength release from BenRiach. Completing the set is one of my favourite drams of the year; the ICE release from Highland Park.

Laphroaig Lore [48%]
I applaud Laphroaig for this release – it is certainly very interesting – but I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like at full proof. Maybe an idea for a future release?
Nose: A dark version of the PX Travel Retail bottle from a few years ago. Lots of stewed fruits, glazed ham and the iodine notes that you would expect. Reminds me of peat sheds and dunnage warehouses topped of with some sea spray
Palate: Spicy to begin, before turning a touch floral and gaining some sweetness in the form of treacle and crème brule topping. Then the peat hits, like a peaty Christmas pudding with cocoa powder dusted over it.
Finish: The peat lingers, wrapped in a chocolate glove

Highland Park ICE [53.9%]
This is Highland Park magic. The nose is very good, but it just becomes alive in the mouth. One of the drams of the year to date. Superb whisky.
Nose: Grassy, dry peat. The aromas grip the back of your throat. Jammy and oaty with a touch of raspberry sweetness. Peppery heat.
Palate: Wow! Full of citrus, spice and butterscotch. It’s a big whisky. Notes of jasmine, smoked chilies and in the background is the most delightful subtle sweet peat. Stunning.
Finish: Massive, lemons and sherbet fountains.

BenRiach Batch One [57.2%]
This is a fine, uncomplicated whisky for those who fancy a good cask strength sherried whisky
Nose: A really interesting scent. Fruity, floral, rose petals and strawberries. This changes to mint leaves and tomato stems.
Palate: Reminds me of fruit salad sweets. Vanilla pods and dark chocolate arrive before it turns into rich fruit cake. Star anise and cardamom complete the spicing
Finish: Long, raisins. Sticky

Warehouse tasting

Ardbeg Dark Cove [46.5%]
This whisky may not be as powerful as some recent Ardbegs but it is another very good release. In my opinion, this is a dram for summer afternoons with the sun shining on you – it is what Islay is about. Enjoy with barbecues.
Nose: Unmistakably Ardbeg. Full of smoke [not peat] with a lovely sherry strata running through it. Notes of cocoa, fudge and brine complete the experience.
Palate: much bigger than the nose. Ashy, peaty and full of spice. There is lots going on and lemons and sweetness compete to come to the fore. Takes me to Ardbeg day last year and reminds me of Arbroath Smokies on the steps of the distillery. Caramelised meat fat.
Finish: Spices dance on the tongue. Long, peaty and sweet

Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin 8YO – 200th Anniversary Edition [48%]

It’s been a good couple of years for anniversaries along the Kildalton coast of Islay with two celebrated last year, while 2016 sees Lagavulin join the party.

Lagavulin, the word rolls off the tongue and just conjures this expectation, this anticipation that you’re about to sample something special. This distillery holds a soft spot in my heart; when I visited Islay in 2010 Lagavulin was the first distillery I went to, the first tour I did, and the first warehouse tasting I experienced. It was also the first Feis bottle I bought and drank with friends. Since then I’ve had many a good memory of the distillery, the whisky it produces and the people who work there. I guess that’s why I’m quite excited about this release! So without further ado, here’s our review. Enjoy.

Lagavulin Distillery

Lagavulin 8YO – 200th Anniversary Edition [48%]
I remember sitting in the Lagavulin warehouse in 2010 and enjoying a younger Lagavulin. It was either 7 or 8 years old and was one of the drams of the festival. We questioned at the time why Lagavulin don’t release younger whisky and we were told it was unlikely to ever happen. Well it seems like the 200th anniversary of the distillery was the excuse they needed. I’m delighted to say that this whisky doesn’t disappoint. To me it is a purer form of Lagavulin, I love this spirit without too much sherry influence and this 8 year old is like a dialled down Special Release. It is almost certainly the first of several releases to celebrate the bi-centenary, but it is well priced, has lots of flavour and would make a great addition to your drinking shelf
Nose: Bags of citrus peel up front. Becomes darker with hints of cocoa powder and burnt lemon. There is a good amount of soot and wood embers that adds a lovely depth to the dram. We also found homemade chocolate beetroot cake. Takes me right back to warehouse tastings with Pinkie.
Palate: Initially light with sherbet lemons. Spicy rather than the expected peat on the first taste, cinnamon and liquorice dominated. The smoke comes in later as a wisp moving through the liquid and brings with it some black pepper heat. Quite creamy and vegetative.
Finish: Build and builds, lemon juice

Tasting Mat 2

Tasting Mat 2

It is time to review the latest round of whisky releases so welcome to our second tasting mat. On the table today we have a diverse selection of drams. We start with a new release from Speciality Drinks – an Islay blend called ‘Peat’ before we move on to a dark brooding SMWS Ardbeg. Finally we encounter two spirits from Gordon & MacPhail, a 1991 Speyburn and a majestic 1954 Glen Grant. Enjoy.

Peat [Speciality Drinks] 59.3%
Trying to decipher this whisky is like trying to win the annual Feis Isle nosing completion [my best is a third place finish!] If only they’d stuck to convention and called it, for example, CI2BR1Ar4 – that would have been geeky! Still, this is a fantastic dram, and when you factor in the price its an absolute steal. This is a must buy for 2016.
Nose: This is [literally] Islay in a glass. Lovely phenols and tar mixed in with old boat ropes. Takes me back to Islay and fond memories of holidays. Gorgeous lemon and herbal notes
Palate: Sweet peat that pack a real punch. As it rolls around the mouth it becomes spicy and hot. There are touches of iodine and fishermen’s friends. Finally I get hints of scallops and oysters, and a beautiful aniseed note.
Finish: Long and mouth filling, cheek warming. Liquorice. Cracking!

Jon cutting the peat

Cutting Peat on Islay

SMWS 33.132 [Ardbeg] 60.9% [8YO 2nd fill sherry]
Ardbeg. Little more needs to be said really. I love Ardbeg, and it’s great to come across another single cask example that really lives up to the name of this Kildalton distillery. This is a limited and wonderful whisky.
Nose: Dirty, charred steak and meat fat. A decadent nose with peat and smoke entwined. Notes of barbeques, this is SO Ardbeg – mind-blowing.
Palate: A full on assault that builds and builds. There is a lot of intensity in the glass. Reminds me of Hawksmoor with all the meaty notes. The dram is sherry and peat in harmony. After a while it becomes more restrained, smoky Christmas cake? Single cask whisky at its best.
Finish: Long, brooding, emotional – this is a dram for meat lovers.


Glen Grant 1954 [40%]
This spirit is ancient and it is a real treat to be able to try it. Despite its age it is very alive, very vibrant and a wonderful example of how aging can tame and transform a whisky.
Nose: Initially quite closed, but then it opens beautifully to become very rich and plummy. Lots of red fruit and mahogany notes. A very decadent dram.
Palate: Velvety. Black pepper, Christmas cake and black treacle. As expected there is some wood influence but its in perfect balance. Hints of violets and tarragon.
Finish: Long and peppery. Elements of treacle toffee. Beautiful.

Speyburn 1991 [46%]
A younger release in the ‘Wood makes the whisky’ and it’s a lovely example of a Speyburn. I particularly enjoy the sweet and citrus notes. A sipper.
Nose: Vanilla, lemon peel and bubble-gum. The sweetness is tempered by notes of cloves before it becomes more citrusy with hints of orange.
Palate: Soft and delicate. A big hit of vanilla pods and milk chocolate. Touches of cinnamon and spices, and the citrus notes from the nosing make a strong reappearance.
Finish: Soft, refresher sweets and sherbets. Lingers well.

Octomore 07.4 Virgin Oak [61.2%]

Octomore 07.4 Virgin Oak [61.2%]

A quick count up reveals that I’ve now been fortunate enough to try 4 different versions of Octomore Virgin Oak. It is a thrill though to now finally try the official distillery release; a seven year old spirit bottled at an almighty 61.2%.

I first tasted Octomore Virgin Oak with Jim in his office. He offered Mike and myself a taste of a spirit, and commented that he could guess what our response would be upon sampling. Well, he was right. Mike and I both tasted it and our response was simply ‘wow’. It blew us away – there was so much intensity, so much power, so much flavour, and the peat.. oh the peat… Jim then told us about the experiment that this whisky was, and from that moment we were desperate to see an official release purely so that we had the opportunity to buy such an outstanding whisky.


A hour or so later Jim took us up to warehouse 12 – the scene of his legendary Feis Ile tastings. He took us on a warehouse tour like no other and during that we helped to roll some casks. It just so happened that the casks were Octomore Virgin Oak so we received a second tasting. There is no better place to taste a whisky than straight from the cask in the warehouse. It is memories like this that remain forever.

The Line Up

Fast forward 9 months and I was again in warehouse 12 with Jim. As were several hundred other people. It was his last ever Feis masterclass [again!] The 5th dram caught my eye: a 2008 Octomore Virgin Oak at 64.4%. I excitedly informed our party and we waited with anticipation. The Octomore did not dissapoint. In fact it stood up well in what was a phenominal line up that included some beautiful spirits, and some equally pokey Port Charlotte. Here’s my brief notes on the Octomore.

Octomore Virgin Oak 2008 [64.4%]
Superb. Very different, but the virgin oak suits the Octomore spirit wonderfully.
Nose: Sweet, smoky, cinnamon and aniseed
Palate: Wow! Intense with lots of menthol
Finish: Huge
So, now you have the story and the history. It was with some excitement then that I tried the new distillery release. Would it live up to what has gone before. Would it be as special as I remembered?

Octomore Virgin Oak 2008 [61.2%]
Incredible, full on spirit, depth beyond its years, well rounded with bags of peat, a lovely dirty quality in a refined whisky.
Nose: Rich, warming, feel it in the roof of the mouth, great intermingling of smoke and wood, peat sheds, meaty barbecues, summer days on Islay, memories of that first taste in warehouse 12 with Jim come flooding back, moorish, heart singing
Palate: big peat hit, full on char, wood strong but adds a beautiful sweetness, charcoal, chewy, smoked paprika, cloves and oranges,
Finish: huge, mouth fillings, lingers forever, smoke remains

So there you have it. What else can be said about the Octomore Virgin Oak? It is a beautiful whisky; one that is full of adventure and experimentation, and one that you will treasure for years to come. Another outstanding spirit from the masterful Bruichladdich.

Nepal. April 25.

Nepal. April 25.

This may be my whisky blog, but the events of April 25 are so memorable that I needed an outlet to post my thoughts. So, in an unusual post here’s what happened while I was in Kathmandu in the days following a magnificent trip to Everest Base Camp.

Checkout was midday, so just about on time the three of us made our way down to reception to pay and to sort out leaving our bags at the hotel while we went for lunch and killed some time before our car picked us up to go to the airport. The bill wasn’t quite ready so we waited while the guy behind the counter nipped to the office to sort it out for us. As he returned I suddenly went a queasy and knelt to the ground. I didn’t feel quite right. That’s when it hit.

Special Releases 2015

Diageo Special Releases 2015

The Diageo Special Releases launch is always the best event in the calendar. It presents a fabulous opportunity to try some unique, and frankly, very special whiskies from the Diageo stocks. The class of 2015 is superb. It contains all of the usual suspects and mixes in some of the lesser know distilleries in the portfolio. Read on and enjoy some of the finest whiskies of 2015.

Hogan’s Oak Aged Apple Spirit

Hogan’s Oak Aged Apple Spirit

It may not be whisky, but it is local and it tastes great so we don’t need any other excuse to post about this spirit! It is created from apples pressed in the Malvern Hills which make Hogan’s cider (delicious by the way!) and following maturation and fermentation the cider is distilled by Adnams in their small batch copper still. The magic doesn’t end there though as the resultant spirit is matured for three years in European oak producing a lovely spicy apple based spirit drink. If we continue to get some warm evenings this will be great around the bbq! Enjoy!

Caol Ila from the sea

Feis Ile 2015 Day Three

Day three of the Feis is always a highlight. Caol Ila is the destination of choice and this year they put on a fabulous show – and even managed to steal the sun from Bruichladdich. We arrived at the sea front mid-morning and reacquainted ourselves with old friends; David, the manager and some of the tour guides at the distillery. We also bumped into the legendary Colin Dunn who was on fine form and looked after us well throughout the day.

The Line Up

Feis Ile 2015 Day Two

The second day of Islay is all about Bruichladdich. This year was Jim’s final tasting and what a selection of whiskies we sampled. When you start the morning with a 30 year old single cask you know you’re in for a cracking session. Many thanks to Bruichladdich and Jim et al for the event, it was simply wonderful. Here are some brief notes on a fabulous morning of superb whisky.