Category Archives: Reviews

Ardbog [Ardbeg]

Ardbog [Ardbeg]

Ardbeg has a real knack for releasing some fabulous whisky, and some fabulous no aged statement whisky at that! The Uigeadail is one of my favourite whiskies of all time, and the Corryvreckan is also a masterpiece. And then you have the recent releases; most notably the Ardbeg Galileo which won World’s Best Single Malt Whisky 2013 at The Whisky Magazine Awards earlier this year. People are desperate to try and buy the latest release as soon as it hits the shelves – and why not, the pedigree is there and if you don’t buy one initially the secondary market is an expensive place to make a purchase.

Ardbeg’s latest release is the somewhat bizarrely, yet appropriately named Ardbog. It is named to bring attention to the distillery’s home on Islay, and the peat bogs that make up a large part of the landscape. The whisky itself is ten years old and has spent its life maturing in American Oak and Spanish Manzanilla casks. This release, like the others is non-chill filtered, and is bottled at 52.1%. Ardbog was launched on Saturday 1 June and as luck would have it we were at the distillery to take part in all of the festivities while enjoying a dram or two of the spirit.

We were lucky enough to try the Ardbog on the actual Ardbeg peat walk which you can read about here, but in order to do justice to this whisky we had a dram under ‘test conditions’ back at home.

Ardbog in the Ardbeg Bog

Ardbog in the Ardbeg Bog

Ardbog has a fabulous nose. There is a an initial wave of dry smoke that is tempered slightly with some saltiness and meatiness from the Manzanilla. This becomes sweeter with time in the glass offering up toffees and butterscotch wrapped in sweet milk chocolate. It is distinctively Ardbeg but with a twist, and a twist that I like!

The palate is very full on and almost medicinal in nature. TCP, plasters and antiseptic hit first but are quelled by the spiciness of cloves and aniseed. The whisky is oily and leathery, raw yet refined. It is a real mix of sensations moving from sweet to savoury and is a pleasure to drink. The finish continues in the same vein; it is very dry and bitter before the sweetness from the sherry arrives leaving the palate wanting another sip. It lingers long in the throat, and memories of a sunny week on Islay come flooding back.

Ardbeg have done it again – an interesting cask selection that shows off the delight of the spirit. It is a fine whisky and in my view more interesting and enjoyable than last years Ardbeg Day (which was still a fine spirit). We just can’t wait to see what is released next year… Ardbug, or Ardbig… you (may have) read it here first!

Feis Ile 2013 Day Seven

Feis Ile 2013 Day Seven

I suppose that we must apologise in advance for this post. It isn’t everyday that you get to sample some fabulous drams of Ardbeg on the peat bog. Oh… and try six Port Ellen’s at Port Ellen… in the actual kiln. But more of that later.

Feis Ile 2013 Day Three

Feis Ile 2013 Day Three

So how do you follow a fantastic Bruichladdich day?! Well, day three of the Feis belongs to Caol Ila, and it was with a increased sense of expectation that we headed down to Port Askaig. We were met by the friendly shuttle bus drivers taking the Feis folk down to the Caol Ila distillery itself. The day was bright and calm, another perfect Islay day!

We were booked on to the Maturation Tasting with some Lagavulin royalty; Georgie Crawford, Lagavulin manager and Iain McArthur, a warehouseman with 40 years of experience. We were taken into the old cooperage with stunning views over to the Paps of Jura. The room was atmospheric of times and workers past, with rusting equipment and dusty log books lying around.

The first dram of the morning was the Caol Ila new make spirit, with no colour at all it comes off the stills somewhere between 70 and 75% ABV. The nose is sweet and buttery, with wisps of smoke, pine resin, orchard fruits and some big peat notes. The palate fades instantly, but is strong, peaty and oily. Some of the Swedes in the group were happy to take it as it was, but we were to experience the effect the casks have on the spirit!

Caol Ila

Caol Ila

The first whisky on the menu was drawn from the cask right where we were seated by Iain. The whisky is 7 years old and has been happily maturing in a refill bourbon cask. At 61.5%, this is young and fresh with a classic Caol Ila profile. A pale amber hue, there was campfire smoke, lemon and some earthy peatiness on this chewy and moreish palate.

The next whisky was a very different monster… A rich and sherried 25 year old! This dram had been kept in the depths of the Royal Lochnagar warehouses since 1988 for the training of new Diageo ambassadors. Finally, and luckily for us, it has been given a new lease of life entertaining the masses at the Feis Ile! The nose was deeply sherried, full of dark chocolate, treacle and red grape. It had lost some of the smoky undertone with the intensity of the sherry but was still deeply satisfying. The palate was spicy with some rich fruit. The finish was long and dry with some red grape skins and gentle smoke raising its head at the last. It came out of the casks at 54.6%.

Then we were introduced to the Feis Ile 2013 bottling. Beginning it's life in 1998, this delightful Caol Ila has been triple matured in a combination of refill butts, hogsheads and barrels for 12 years. The vatted whisky was then allowed to mature in active hogshead casks for about two and a half years imparting spicy and oaky notes. The last six months of the maturation period was in European oak. It was personally selected by the distillery manager Billy Stitchell and was very impressive. This is another classic Caol Ila, smokey and complex with vanilla, chewy toffee and red wine. Deliciously balanced. In a word – wonderful. We're taking one of the 3000 bottles home with us!

It was a super masterclass with Georgie and Iain on great form, clearly enjoying their work and each others company. It was relaxed, fun and informative. It was great to see the whisky we were tasting coming straight from the casks and into our glasses with some charred flotsam and jetsam for free!

We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine on the water front at Caol Ila. Apart from scallops fried in butter and Caol Ila 12 for Jon and a sausage sandwich for Mike, highlights included a cocktails class with Diageo whisky ambassadors Colin Dunn and David Sinclair, former bar manager of the Gleneagles Hotel. The cocktails were delicious and should be easy(ish) to replicate at home. We're already planning to start a bitters stash! David's Old Fashioned went down very well with our party.

The afternoon culminated with a brilliant session of music and whisky introduced by Diageo's very own Jools Holland, Colin Dunn. The band, The Blueswater, delivered a blues and whisky inspired set which complemented the Coal Ila beautifully. It was a time to put the notebook down and just enjoy the music, the company, the setting and the drams.

The day ended with the news that Caol Ila distillery manager Billy Stitchell would be retiring this year and that the 2013 Feis Ile would be his last. There will certainly be some emotional goodbyes in the course of this year for Billy, but it was wonderful to be able to show some of appreciation for his dedication and hard work.

We had a great day at Caol Ila, relaxed our way through the afternoon and enjoyed some classic single malt. A perfect Feis experience.


Speyburn Clan Cask

Speyburn Clan Cask [Speyburn]

The Speyburn Clan Cask is a bit of an exclusive really! The spirit hails from 1975 and has spent 37 years maturing in a Pedro Ximnez barrel from Jerez in Spain. It is a single cask and is bottled at natural cask strength 55.4%. It is only available to members of Clan Speyburn and is ridiculously fine value at £230. Now I know £230 is a lot of money but there is only one cask of this whisky, it was distilled in the 1970’s and to be honest it is stunning!

Fortunately it is also remarkably easy to join Clan Speyburn, and best of all joining the club is free. Simply head over to the Speyburn website here and click the link at the bottom of the page; you will even receive a nice welcome pack in the post!  The good folk at the distillery have also restricted purchases to one bottle per customer so there is no risk of spending a fortune and buying a case – which you will want to do after trying it!

Enjoy our notes, then join the Clan and savour the whisky!

Speyburn Clan Cask [55.4%]
An incredible dram. This spirit spent 37 years in a Pedro Ximinez cask and is sublime. If you like a big dose of sherried whisky you will love this whisky – it is sensational stuff!
Nose: Initially the alcohol hits quite strong but this quickly dissapates as a massive burst of fruit hits the senses (peaches and sherry soaked raisens). There is a strong scent of coffee grounds and rich homemade Christmas cake. The Pedro Ximenez is not overpowering – this cask has aged gracefully and the nose is incredibly well balanced.
Palate: Very spicy and hot – think chilli and tobacco leaf, with a thick mouthfeel. There are notes of burnt toffee (not in an unpleasant way) and 100% dark chocolate (Single Estate from Hotel Chocolat). This whisky in incredibly complex and serves up espresso coffee, Christmas fruit and sticky cherries, all wrapped in a luxurious sherry blanket.
Finish: Very long and spicy. There is a little bitterness right at the very end. Wow – it just goes on and on. Magic.

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker Port Ruighe [Talisker]

Talisker is one distillery that I would love to visit. I adore the standard 10 year old, the 18 year old is spectacular and alongside Lagavulin, its Distiller’s Edition is one that just seems to work exceptionally well. I’ve also been fortunate enough to taste the Storm (a no-aged-statement whisky that was recently released) and the rather good Talisker Manager’s Choice at the recent Midlands Whisky Festival. I now just need to taste the 35 year old Special Release from 2012 to complete the recent set if anyone has any to spare?

Talisker has also been in the news as Diageo, its parent, has just completed a £1 million revamp of the visitor experience at the distillery on Skye, and from the images I have seen and the reviews I’ve read it looks wonderful – it is very modern, makes fantastic use of material and space and is set to treat the many thousands of visitors who flock annually to the western side of the island.

Today though, we’re interested in the latest (this is the very latest) offering from Talisker – the Port Ruighe. It has been double matured (the second maturation being in Port casks) and bottled at the typical Talisker ABV of 45.8%. We tried this over the summer of 2013 (that’s right – those 3 days over the early May bank holiday – that was summer) and it certainly went down well on a relatively warm evening before enjoying some food.

Here is what we thought:

Talisker Port Ruighe [45.8%]
Talisker with a summer twist. The port finishing adds a delicious sweet element to the whisky. Definitely one for the beach, or as a different introduction to this great distillery from the Isle of Skye
Nose: Initial blast of what you want from a classic Talisker with good notes of pepper and smoke. This fades to show off some sweet fairground candyfloss and a golden syrup sweetness. Chocolate and toasted peanuts complete the experience
Palate: Lovely rich and sweet. It is a little subdued when compared to the nose, with the port flavours somewhat overpowering the more familiar Talisker experience. The pepper is still present and lifts the spirit. Very summery.
Finish: Long and smokey with a good mix of spice and black pepper.

Fettercairn Fior

Fettercairn Fior Limited Release [Fettercairn]

At the Midlands Whisky Festival I had they pleasure of spending some time with Scott Curruthers, Whyte and Mackay ambassador for the northeast of England.

I was keen to try the Fettercairn Fior.  Released in 2010, the Fior is part of an exciting revolution of the Fettercairn range.  It is the distillery’s first non-age statemented offering.

The colour of sweeping auburn hair; the Fior plays alluringly with the light in this handsome bottling.  Labeling is kept to a minimum.  Very classy.

The nose is classy too, rich and luxurious with initial hits of sticky chocolate fudge and a delicious marzipan sweetness.  Then there’s a fresh and clean element too; apples, crunchy pear and orange peel.  This whisky asks not to be rushed,  time spent to nose is amply rewarded.  I caught wisps of smoke before waves of richness were back again, Christmas cake, cherries and raisin complemented by an earthy oak thread.  Absolutely Delicious.  Beautifully Balanced.

The palate is creamy and smooth, melting rich chocolate, hazelnut praline.  A decadent start.  Then puffs of smoke gently creep in before a citric freshness makes itself known.  The finish is surprisingly light with a lovely bitter sweet of black coffee and dark chocolate.

This is  a classy dram, and one that inspires me to seek out some more from the Fettercairn range! Many thanks to Scott for introducing me to a lovely whisky!

Big Peat

Big Peat Small Batch [Big Peat]

Big Peat is a cult release from the folks at Douglas Laing comprising of a range of Islay malts including Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and the now legendary Port Ellen. Following the huge success of this Islay blended malt a new small batch released has been unveiled. It is only available online, comes in a 50cl bottle and is bottled at the slightly punchier strength of 50%. With just under one month until we’re on Islay I was excited about tasting this whisky. So how does it stand up?

The nose is raw and dirty to begin with – my mind wanders to the peat bogs high above Ardbeg and I’m hit with tar and smoke before some lighter notes of jasmine appear. My mind flashes to a tasting in the dark in the Laphroaig warehouse before I see storm waves at Machir Bay near Kilchoman. Sunlight shines through and notes of beachside barbeques arrive strongly before the medicinal accident and emergency room assaults the senses. This is an evocative nose and it delivers exactly what I require from an Islay dram.

Waves at Machir Bay

Waves at Machir Bay

The palate is initially light before it builds to thick peaty smoke – almost industrial in nature with chimneys pushing out plumes of black ash into the air. I’m reminded of charred steak, with caramelised fat providing some sweetness. Once the peat creeps up it doesn’t leave; it is tempered by a slightly springlike grassy taste – but the peat is still there in spades. The finish is long and peaty, with antiseptic wipes and smoke – a massive whisky.

This new incarnation of Big Peat does not dissapoint. It is my kind of whisky delivering what I like in an Islay spirit. I’d like to think I can spot the individual components but regardless of whether I can or not, the combination of whiskies works exceptionally well here. I think Calmac should buy up some stocks and give everyone a dram at Kennacraig – it would build the anticipation for landing on the Queen of the Hebrides.

Springbank Burns Malt 14 Year Old

Springbank 14 [The Whisky Barrel]

The Whisky Barrel have just released another great looking set of whiskies under their own ‘Burns’ label. We’re excited to have been sent the range to review as their is some fabulous looking spirits in the selection. In this post we take a look at one which caught my eye in particular – The Springbank 14 Year Old Burns Malt. This whisky is taken from barrel #448 (first fill bourbon) and is bottled at cask strength which is 54.3%. It hails from 1998.

On the nose I detected big notes of Madagascan vanilla combined with an almost almond shortbread note. The nose seemed quite spirity for its 14 years of age and despite the cask selection I found some fruity notes of red berries and damsons, as well as some chocolate and fudge. The overriding theme was the vanilla shortbread though and this was very enjoyable.

The palate continued in the same vein; it was initially quite sweet and mouth coating with the alcohol fighting its way through and leaving a very distinctive taste of strawberry sauce in the month. The finish was long and sweet with traces of rhubarb and custard sweets (the yellow and pink ones).

This dram reminds me of afternoon tea in Cornwall. The shortbread and strawberry sauce are the dominant flavours in this whisky and they balance it out beautifully. If you are looking for a Springbank that is a bit different and has some exclusivity about it then you will enjoy this whisky. It is only available from The Whisky Barrel and is great value for its price of £61.30.

Arran 16

Arran 16 [Isle of Arran]

The Isle of Arran Distillers have recently released their oldest official bottling to date. Limited to 9000 bottles the Arran 16 is produced from a combination of bourbon and sherry casks and crafted from un-peated spirit. It is bottled at 46% and is a precursor to a 17 year old ( to be released in 2014) and the distillery’s first 18 year old which is due in 2015.

We were thrilled to be given the opportunity to try this whisky, especially after enjoying whiskies from Arran in the recent past. Here then are our thoughts on the Arran 16.

The nose is extremely creamy and full of fresh vanilla that seems to be encapsulated in a mixture of fresh coffee grounds and dark cocoa powder. There are notes of fresh wood bark chippings (damp) and there is a lovely citrus streak that runs through the spirit that is a combination of fresh lemon zest and orange pith. Finally is that the merest whiff of smoke that we can detect?

The palate is again a creamy explosion, bursting with vanilla pods and tinged with more than a hint of chili heat. The whisky sticks to the gums and offers up whole black peppercorns and some maritime air before revealing a slightly hidden darker side. The finish is smooth and long, much like the heat from a well constructed Jalfrezi. It lingers before offering a final flourish of creaminess.

Overall this is a lovely whisky – well made and very interesting. The creamy vanilla notes are delicious, and when combined with the spicy heat it makes for a winning combination.