A Visit to the Isle of Arran Distillery

As are most distilleries in Scotland, the Isle of Arran Distillery is located in a particularly picturesque part of the world. I guess it has something to do with the need for a good water source being nearby, and good water sources are usually located in stunning mountainous areas. Arran Distillery is no different - it is nestled in amongst the mountains and surrounded by beautiful greenery, bubbling streams, and local wildlife (wild haggis included).

Often described as Scotland in miniature, Arran has all of the things that make England’s northern (better) cousin great: beautiful rolling hills, good chat, peaceful glens, castles, and beautiful fresh air. Three of those things are required to make excellent whisky, and make excellent whisky Arran does.

Founded in 1994, the distillery was the result of a conversation between Harold Currie and his friend David Hutchinson. Currie, who had always dreamed of opening a distillery, had served as the managing director of the Chivas Regal brand for Seagrams (and later Pernod Ricard), and as a result was quite well equiped to do so. He discussed this dream with Hutchinson, a skilled architect, who suggested the Isle of Arran as a location. And so, on the 16th of December, 1994, construction started on Arran’s first (legal) distillery in 160 years.

Now managed under the careful eye of James MacTaggart, the team at Arran have been producing spirit since the 17th of August, 1995, and have recently bottled their 18 year old single malt. MacTaggart is another veteran of the whisky world, having lived and worked at Bowmore since 1975. He started with Arran in 2007, shortly after the first commercial bottling of their 10 year old malt, and has seen the small, independently owned distillery through a period of significant growth. Under his watch, the Arran Malt has tripled production in the last few years, currently operating 6 days a week and producing approximately 650-700 thousand litres of spirit annually.

This growth is not a surprise however - the whiskies that make up Arran's core range have all (excluding the 18 year old, which was released a month ago - it is excellent) won numerous awards, including a Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (their 14 year old release). Combine this with a variety of cask finishes, some single cask beauties, and an excellent peated whisky, it's no wonder the company is in talks to open a second distillery, focusing exclusively on (more heavily) peated malts.

I made my way over from Glasgow on a Sunday morning, eagerly awaiting the beautiful scenery and good dram or four. Suffice to say, things didn't go exactly to plan - but that was remedied quickly once I arrived.

The Visitor Centre

The Isle of Arran Distillery Visitors Centre is one of the best I have been to. Not being content with simple a gift shop selling bottles and glassware, the centre is home to a cafe, a gallery, and information about the Isle itself.

I started my distillery experience with a meal at the Casks Cafe, enjoying a burger a local beer brewed by the Arran Brewery. The food was lovely, using a variety of local ingredients, and the staff friendly and welcoming, as you would expect.

The cafe exhibits works from a variety of artists, rotating every few months. They are currently showing the work of husband and wife Don McNeil and Jean Bell in a collection titled "The Arran Collection", which will be on display until the end of May.

The ground floor of the centre, as well as housing the gift shop and tasting room, has an area dedicated to the production of malt whisky, explaining the importance of good water (which Arran has in plenty, sourced from Loch na Davie), and quality barley. It is here that the tour guides, who were all full of energy and passion for Arran and its whisky, commence their tour.

The Tour

I have been on many distillery tours. Many. After a while, it's not so much about the information they share (although it can be interesting to pick up little tidbits about the history of a distillery and its practices) as it is about the character and charm of the guide. It is up to the guide to impart the personality of the distillery onto the tour participants, to give them an idea on what life is like at distillery, and what makes its product unique. Not all guides achieve this goal, simply taking the group around the distillery, citing explosions and quoting from a script. Others, like young Campbell of Arran, succeed, educating the group on not only the process of making whisky, but on the culture and heritage of the distillery in question, all the while maintaining constant laughter from the participants.

Campbell started the tour with a short video explaining the history of the isle and the distillery, as well as the basics of producing whisky. It was here we were introduced to James MacTaggart, and what it was that made the Arran Malt unique.

The video was shown in a small room, designed to replicate the sort of building you would have found on Arran during the days of illegal whisky production, some 200 years ago. As we watched, we were treated to a pour of Arran's lovely 14 year old malt - but only after Campbell informed us that one does not drink malt whisky, one tastes it. He also took the time to educate the room on how best to taste whisky, from nosing to adding a drop or two of water to help soften the liquid and bring out more nuanced flavours. Judging by the reaction to those around me, his advice was well received.

We then made our way through the distillery, with Campbell explaining each step of the process in great detail, as well as the craftsmanship that goes into making the various pieces of equipment used. Despite being a Sunday, the distillery was in full swing - helpful for conducting a tour. I've been on a number of tours when the equipment was not in use, and, well, it's much more interesting to see a washback being kept under control by an fast spinning switcher then to see one empty.

Once the tour had finished, we were taken back to the tasting room to sample some more of the distilleries product. For the majority of the group, that came in the form of Arran Gold, a Cream Liqueur made from single malt. For myself and one other however, we were treated a little more of what they had to offer.

The Tasting

We sat down at the tasting room bar with four Glencairns in front of us. Campbell ran through the selection on offer, and told us that we were able to pick four whiskies to complete our afternoon. We had the entire range to choose from: the core releases, cask finishes, peated malts, as well as some single cask offerings only available at the distillery. All in all, around 13-15 whiskies, give or take.

As you could imagine, picking four was hard, as they were all quality malts. My choices were as follows:

Now I didn't sit and take proper tasting notes, as it was not that sort of occasion. That being said, I scribbled a few things down between drams, and will post my notes for the four whiskies above plus the 14 Year Old shortly.

I would highly recommend a trip to the Isle of Arran Distillery. Whether it is the sole purpose of your trip, as it was mine, or a stop amongst a larger itinerary, you will not be disappointed. Get in slightly before your tour starts and enjoy a lovely meal from the Casks Cafe, and then wander around the distillery grounds and soak up the fresh air. Enjoy a few drams and good chat with the friendly and genuine staff that call Arran home before you take a tour and learn about the unique nature of the Arran Malt, and the skill and craftsmanship that goes into making it. You will come away with an appreciation of the product that is Scotch Single Malt Whisky, and for those that make it.

What follows is the journey that I took to get to this distillery, written in a journal style format. I wrote this before the post above, and thought it may be enjoyable for some.

I caught the train from Hyndland through to Central, then out towards Ardrossan Harbour. It was a relatively uneventful train ride, I just sat and scrolled through Twitter or something, I don’t remember exactly what.

Once I got to Ardrossan, I caught the ferry over to Brodick, a small town (they’re all small, who are we kidding) on Arran. The ferry was a actually quite big, and really quite nice on the inside too. There was a restaurant, a cafe and a pub, and then multiple seating areas around the place, including some big leather recliners, which I sat in. I was really quite surprised - but I guess it’s a trip a lot of people probably make quite a bit.

The trip was quite dull really, there wasn’t all that much to see as it was quite overcast and cloud, so you had around 20 meters visibility.

I got to Arran, and it wasn’t raining. Thank god. This whole thing would have been almost for nothing if it had! I found the nearest Co-Op and got some chocolate biscuits as sustenance, and set up. I had previously looked up the directions to the Arran Distillery, and they had advised me that it was about an hours walk from the ferry terminal.

That was most certainly not the case.

I started walking in the direction that Google had recommended (I had to use the offline maps, which is driving only, as there was no internet on the isle), and came to a for in the road. Google told me to go left, the signage right. The signs had a picture of a bike on it, so I just assumed that Google had told me the driving directions, but that wasn’t safe for pedestrians, and the signage was pointing out the pedestrian/cycling route.

So I started wandering down the path indicated by the signage. There was a fair few other people along this route, so I figured I must have been on the right track. There was bits and pieces without footpaths, but largely there was a nice path along the coast to walk along.

Some of the scenery was amazing - I was literally walking along the coast of the isle. I would love to do it on a properly sunny day, it would be incredible.

I had been walking for about an hour (the time that Google said it would take), when I realised I was very clearly not heading in the direction Maps had said. I seemed to be going further and further north, when the distillery was supposedly in the centre of the isle, or east of where I landed. Luckily, I had picked up a tourist brochure on the ferry which had a map in it, so I pulled that out and had a look where it thought the distillery was.

It was in the north most part of the isle. Yep.

By this point, I had flakey 2G reception, so instead of searching for Arran Distillery - which Google obviously had no idea about - I searched the town nearest to it, Lochranza. Google now kindly informed me that Lochranza was around 2.5 hours away. From where I was. After already having walked for 2 hours.

I was in Corrie at this point, and it was around 12.30. With my newly found internet, I looked up the bus service to Lochranza (which stops at the distillery), and of course, being a Sunday on a tiny island) found it ran every two hours.

So I had two options. I could wait in Corrie until the bus came about, or continue walking to to Sannox to kill time, and catch it from there. I had found a pub in Corrie (The Corrie Hotel, of course), so thought I would get some lunch (toasties and soup were the only things on the menu apparently), use their wifi, and wait for the bus.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. I went into the pub, which was very quaint and exactly what you would expect of a small costal town, and there was no one in there but a dog (dug, and named Lottie), and some typical bar music. I walked around a bit, trying to find someone, but it seemed to be empty. Empty to the point I probably could have poured myself a beer, grabbed a bottle of whisky off the shelf and walked out, no one being any the wiser. I’m not that kind of person, so I gave Lottie a pat, and headed back out on my way, figuring I would walk to Sannox instead, and wait it out there.

By this point, I had about an hour or so until the bus would coming through. The walk to Sannox would take around 20 minutes, and I thought that there might be a pub there I could get a pint in and wait it out.

I wandered along my dangerously windy road (there were still signs everywhere insisting that this the path for pedestrians - some of the cars that passed me thought otherwise), until I reached the town of Sannox. I thought Corrie was small - I reckon there was all of 3 houses, a church, a tea room, and - of course - a golf course. There was a lot of golf courses on Arran - they must hope American’s get Arran and St Andrews confused and head there for a round on the famous course instead.

(I joke, the courses all looked lovely - why wouldn’t you have a golf course when you’re on the waters edge like that?)

I avoided the tea rooms. Unlike pubs, which you can always assume a certain level of quality and know what you’re getting yourself into, tea rooms are a bit hit and miss. The coffee will likely not be great, the cakes you don’t know, and the food probably expensive. Apologies to the Sannox Golf Course Tea Rooms, your coffee and cakes may be amazing and well priced, but I was not willing to take that chance.

Instead, I walked around some side roads and the like waiting for my bus. There was a walking path that took you up towards Sannox point (I think that’s what it was called), which would have been beautiful. Might even be worth the trip back to make that walk. The mountain range it self was as all Scottish mountains are - grand and breathtaking.

I ended up just sitting at the bus stop and waiting. The isle must have felt sorry for me because some glorious 3G appeared on my phone, a single bar of it, but 3G nonetheless. I don’t know why that was so exciting in hindsight - it wasn’t fast enough to really do anything with, and by this point I had only 10 minutes or so until my bus.

Or so I thought.

I don’t really know how people managed to do public transport before real time updates. There are very few things more frustrating, especially when under time pressure, than waiting for a bus. Of course, I have been catching buses well before real time updates, but it’s one of those things you take for granted now. Bus cancelled? There’s an app for that. Train delayed? No worries, Google knew before the train did and will factor it into your travel time accordingly.

The Isle of Arran bus system obviously does not have real time updates (I wasn’t expecting to, especially given the spotty data coverage), and so I stood waiting at my bus stop for 15 minutes after it was scheduled to arrive. Normally, I wouldn’t mind, 15 minutes is nothing, and makes very little difference in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t make much difference to me at the time either, really, but after having waited for an hour to catch this bus - and you could argue 2 more hours before with walking - that 15 minutes felt like an eternity.

I quickly became that person who was sitting there checking my watch every 10 seconds, like time would move faster if I did, and looking around impatiently. An older gentleman came walking down from the path to Sannox point, walking stick and all, and was looking for a bus back to Brodick. A typical Scot, he stopped and had a chat, before setting on his way down the road, content with there being no buses. As he walked off, the clouds parted and the sun shone down, further enhancing the beauty of the mountain range.

He must have been a sign for me to relax and enjoy the scenery - or that my bus was about to arrive, because about a minute later, it did.

£2.30 later, I was on my way to the distillery, after 3.5 hours of walking, waiting, and podcast-listening.

SMWS April Outturn - "Spring Has Sprung"

"Spring Has Sprung". That's the tagline for this months outturn, and I would have to say it is quite apt. The outturn preview reads:

April Outturn brings a fragrant bouquet of fresh casks, blooming in flavour and aroma. But with such a blossoming bunch, picking may be puzzling.

Puzzling it is. It's hard to find a whisky in this release that isn't great, if not amazing, so you definitely want to get yourself to a Society venue and try some if you're struggling to decide. There's a good variety of whiskies here, including the second B4 release from Chicago based FEW Spirits, as well some cask finishes and flavours that don't quite line up with what you would expect from each respective distillery. Read on to see my thoughts on the 15 whiskies released this month.

7.129 - Heavenly Fragrance
Longmorn, 30 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 57.4%

This Longmorn is the second of it's kind (price and age wise), following on from last months 7.127, Nectar of the Gods. The two were distilled on consecutive days, interestingly enough. I never got the chance to try last months, but safe to say it was out of my price range regardless!

The nose immediately confirmed this whisky was old and important. Rich and complex, I initially got roses and and candied fruits, with some menthol like dryness towards the back.

The palate brought along some toffee sweetness, dark chocolate and fruit. Then more fruit. Safe to say it was quite fruity, with again a bit of burn towards the end, I was reminded of isopropyl alcohol wipes. It was incredibly balanced, not too sweet but also not too sharp.

The finish was tangy and a little bit spicy. It was long and mouth coating, definitely a whisky to sit and sip on, just letting it linger there. It was a shame I wasn't sitting by the Vaults fireplace really. All in all, an amazing whisky. But at £319, it is probably outside of most budgets. But hey, why not treat yourself? 93/100

35.141 - A Christmas Wreath
Glen Moray, 21 years old, 1st fill toasted oak hogshead, 53%

I was looking forward to this one. I was curious to see just how much flavour the oak would impart to the liquid, and how similar to a bourbon it tasted. I wasn't disappointed, with there being a lot of caramel and vanilla throughout the whisky. As close as a single malt gets to being bourbon really - it was like hybrid.

The nose was sharp and fruity initially, and followed up by small whiffs of vanilla and caramel from the toasted oak. There was some spice in there too, cinnamon like, and orange.

The taste was quite complex, bringing with it some toasted nuts, spice, and more vanilla. Burnt oak and char, rounded out with more of that bourbon-like sweetness.

Medium finish, quite gentle and fruity. More charred oak and caramel comes through, with a twang of fruit on the end. I definitely enjoyed this whisky, the toasted oak gave it some body and character that held throughout the entire whisky, transforming it from what may have otherwise been quite dull lacklustre to something that stood out amongst a stellar line up. 90/100

73.74 - A Nippy Sweetie
Aultmore, 14 years old, 2nd fill ex-sherry butt, 55.7%

One of only two sherry casks in this months outturn, a change from previous months. This Aultmore brought the sherry in spades though, and 66.82 (further down) did similar. We couldn't miss out now, could we?

The nose was sherry immediately, with a deep kind of sweetness, like really sugary, but not necessarily sweet lollies. There was an edge to it as well, with pepper and and citrusy tartness. As if a caramel tart had been doused in lemon juice.

There was more sugar and spice on the palate, quite intense and chocolatey. Like Cadbury Fruit & Nut. There is always those hints of sherry looming in the background though, never letting you forget that spent a good bit of it's life in that butt.

The spice (mostly) gives into the sweetness throughout the finish, which is long and edgy. I didn't mind this one, but it wasn't quite what I was hoping it would be. Maybe the sherried sweetness was a little to overpowering for my tastes. I'll give it another go in the coming weeks and see if that has changed. 83/100

50.77 - Good Old Days
Bladnoch, 25 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 57%

Bested in age only by the Longmorn, this old Bladnoch is mature and grand, with some beautiful complexities to it.

The nose brought along toast, croissants and sweet, fruity jam. Light and fresh, with some creaminess slinking in towards the back.

The palate was and chocolates and light spices, while maintaining that refresh lightness. More ginger and cinnamon towards the end, balancing the chocolates.

Big, long finish. More spice, and hot chocolate powder. To me, this whisky reminded me of sitting with grandparents listening to stories of their childhood, and I think that would be where it would be best enjoyed. Being the second oldest bottle in the release, it's price is also second highest, but I definitely recommend this whisky. 90/100

B4.2 - Intense Woody Spice and Perfumed Sweetness
FEW Spirits, 3 years old, new charred oak, 61.3%

I didn't enjoy the last release from FEW. I don't think I was alone in that. So I came into this one not really knowing what to expect, other than some knowing smiles from the SMWS staff. (Side note - what's with the name? It's very un-SMWS like in its accuracy.)

The nose was everything you would expect of a bourbon: sweet, vanilla, caramel. An obvious place to start, but it goes on. There was a bit of florally perfume in there, as well as a strong note of grain. This gave it a good bit of complexity that the previous Society bourbons have been missing for me. Sweet cherries and sugar. It's like an old fashioned without any of the other ingredients.

This carries across the palate as well. There were more grains and cereal, along with the usual vanilla and caramel. Oak, sugar and more cherries. It was smooth and delicious, and reminded me quite a bit of Blantons Gold.

Sweet, smooth finish. Medium length, with more caramel and cherries. This was the first bourbon I've enjoyed in a while, and definitely a worthwhile buy. I would recommend trying this one if you haven't been sold on the Society bourbons (or bourbons in general) previously - you won't be disappointed. 90/100

37.74 - Fresh & Fluffy
Cragganmore, 18 years old, 2nd fill ex-Sauternes hogshead, 54.3%

Society Cragganmore's have been pretty damn good of late, and they're big enough releases that many are still available. This one was no different, with the Sauternes finish giving it that little bit of something extra to push it in to great territory.

You only need to get within a meter of this whisky to pick that it has been influenced by white wine. The nose is full of sweet fruits, like a good sweet white, and is smooth and summery, with a touch of citrus towards the back. It smells like sitting out looking over a vineyard in summer. Man I want a crisp white wine now.

The taste continues this, and is fruity and alive. It is crisp and light, with a bit of lime tang. Great stuff.

The finish is dry, sweet and long, with more crisp fruit and tang. Amazing how much of an influence the finish has had on this. A winner in my books, I would highly recommend this if you enjoy a sweet white wine from time to time. 91/100

55.35 - Warming and Delightful
Royal Brackla, 18 years old, 2nd fill ex-Sauternes hogshead, 55.3%

Another ex-Sauternes finish, of the same age. I tried this and the Cragganmore side by side - it was almost demanded of the two whiskies.

This one was much sharper on the nose, and no where near as sweet. The finishing cask had still left it's influence however, with some of the crisp fruitiness, but it was more peppery and full bodied than the 37. There's a few more woody notes here too, helping to round things out.

Did I mention this one was fuller bodied? More pepper on the palate, with more of that wood, and an almost thick, creamy feel. There's still a bit of sweetness there, but not quite as much.

Medium finish to this one. Drying, peppery and citrusy, it's like a white wine you would drink during autumn, as opposed the the Cragganmore owning the summer. Still a great whisky, but not quite at the level of the 37 for me (if you hadn't already worked that out). 84/100

46.38 - Fresh as a Winter Waterfall
Glenlossie, 23 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 53.5%

We're getting all of the seasons in this release! The name rings true for this one, it was quite refreshing and cooling.

The nose immediately brought menthols, quite cooling and dry. There was a bit of sweetness there too, along with some herbs and bouquets of flowers. There was quite a bit going on, definitely a complex scent.

The palate was sweet and cooling (more menthols), driven mostly by a lolly-like sweetness. There was some sweet fruits there too, with some savoury nuts to balance the sweetness out. Again, quite complex.

The finish is - you guessed it - once again, quite cooling. I'm not sure if it was just me with this one - the tasting panels notes didn't hint on that at all. At any rate, there were more lollies and citrus to balance that out. An intriguing whisky - there was so much going on at every turn. Recommended if you want to sit and contemplate something. 88/100

36.98 - Gaelic Coffee
Benrinnes, 18 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 58.5%

After reading this name, I sat and tried to work out what a Gaelic coffee would look like. Some form of coffee with whisky added in? Coffee beans that have been washed in whisky during the roasting process? I couldn't work it out.

The nose was subtle, with bits of chocolate and floral springtime goodness. There wasn't too much sweetness - it was definitely a savoury taste, like a good breakfast pastry. It brought memories of sitting outside in the sun, with a fresh filtered coffee and danish, as the flowers are all coming into bloom.

The palate continued this daydream, with chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat for those fancier than I), vanilla and fresh fruits. Much sweeter than the nose suggested, like some sugar had been added to the coffee. It was also quite astringent - my mouth dried out almost immediately. Also like coffee, I guess.

Again, the finish was quite drying. It was long with a bit of bitterness, but the sweetness returned soon after, but still with a bit of a bitter edge to it. The name rings true I guess, if you think of it as being a whisky that has the properties of a well made espresso. Luckily, I love coffee, so I quite enjoyed this whisky. 89/100

10.91 - A Well-Mannered Dram
Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 62.1%

The Society has been loving their 10 year old Bunnas of late. And that's not a bad thing, because they've all been great. This one surprised me - if you had tasted it blind, you would not have picked it for an Islay. Previous 10.x bottles have been big, bold and brash - this one, not so much.

The nose is sharp, as you would expect from a 10 year old refill, but also quite sweet. There's some citrus and fruity baked goods, like lemon zest muffins, and a bit of a beach like saltiness. Spring time by the ocean.

The body has more of what I was expecting - sharp, bold and drying. This fades away quite quickly however, leaving us with spices, salt and sweet citrusy baked goods again. Definitely well balanced for what it is.

The finish is short in length and not as sharp as the palate would suggest. It's quite floral, and well rounded. I enjoyed this one, but then I am always partial to these 10 year old Bunnahabhains. 88/100

30.89 - Deep, Dark and Pleasantly Attractive
Glenrothes, 24 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 58.3%

I do enjoy Glenrothes. Something about their whiskies just always appeals to me, and I've never quite been able to put my finger on it. This one was no different.

The nose was deep and rich, with brown sugar and fruits, like a stewed apple pie. It was almost liked a nice rich red wine, complex and fruity but with a good bit of balance to it.

The body too was quite rich and sweet, with a little bit of cinnamon-like spice to round things out. Again, like a nice rich red. This would be perfect whisky to sit and sip after a nice steak dinner.

The finish was medium length, with more cinnamon, but also liquorice. Definitely an after dinner dram, just thinking about it is making me want a nicely cooked steak! 90/100

66.82 - Gritty-Turned-Pretty
Ardmore, 17 years old, refill ex-sherry Gorda, 57.5

Society Ardmores seem to be quite polarising. I remember sampling last Novembers outturn, there was an Ardmore (66.76) that caused arguments around the table. This one was no different - there was no arguments this time, but it was a love or hate situation.

The nose brings sulphur and sherry with it immediately. Smokey and spicy, but with fruits, like a fruit cake that had been soaked in a sherry and then sat on top of a fire.

The palate is quite typical of the cask it lived in, dry sulphur, with fruits and spice. There was a good bit of smoke to it as well, but not Islay style peat, more like a wood fire, like eating a salty stir fry by an open fireplace.

A medium length finish, quite dry and fruity. Overall an enjoyable whisky, quite complex but balanced. Like I said above, it was polarising. Many hated it, not even finishing their glass, but others - myself included - were quite taken by it. 89/100

3.261 - Record Shop at the Races
Bowmore, 14 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 55.7%

Recent Bowmores from the Society have been a bit up and down. We'll get some real winners, like 3.257, but others will be a bit of a let down. Well, not a let down. That's too harsh. But not when you're necessarily looking for in a Bowmore.

There's a light smokey sweetness to the nose, with the usual Bowmore Parma violets and lavender. The outturn guide suggests "vinyl and plastic sleeves", I would have to agree.

The body is quite light and subtle. Not too much peat here, it's more rounding out the flavour than being the staple point. There's some smooth fruits and more lavender, too, with that peat once again just balancing it out.

The finish is quite short and dry, but still subtle - nothing really jump out. It's a little lacking character to my tastes, not quite like the Bowmores that we've had previously. 85/100

42.21 - Ploughman's on the Beach
Ledaig, 9 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 59.4%

The previous two Ledaigs released by the society (42.17 and 42.18), have been incredible, and have both earned themselves spots on my shelf. All nine years old, they have so much character and complexity to them, but are at the same time quite different.

The same can be said about this one. More peated than last months Purple Relaxation, it's got that sweetness and warmth that Ledaigs are making themselves known for. I was transported to a beach, eating ham cooked over a BBQ with sweet fruits.

Intense and edgy. A reminder this is still only nine years old. But still rounded and balanced, with more of that BBQ by the beach. This time it's seafood that's being barbecued though, and it's being smoked as much as it is cooked.

A short and dry finish, with smoke and sweet fruits. Great stuff. If you have enjoyed the previous Ledaigs, you will enjoy this one as well. Definitely recommended. 90/100

53.234 - Smoke Without Fire
Caol Ila, 16 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 64.1%

I do love a Caol Ila. But I love an Islay whisky full stop. I could smell this one the moment it was opened, it reminded me of the Ardbeg from last christmas, 33.132.

As suggested by 33.132, the nose was smokey BBQ and peat, immediately. Smoked bacon, specifically. There's some brown sugar and the burnt bits of the BBQ coming up towards the end, like the frying pan after I made Laphroaig bacon the the other night.

The body too rich and smokey, with more peat peat and BBQ'd bacon, along with a bit of spice, like you sprinkled paprika over the bacon while it was cooking.

A short and drying finish, with more smoke and spice. A definitive Caol Ila really. You can't really go wrong with this - if you like Caol Ila or just Islay whiskies in general, you will enjoy this. 90/100

A Smattering of Islay, Part 2

I posted earlier this week about my trip over to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's venue The Vaults, where they were running a special on all Islay based whiskies.

Much to my (and countless others) delight, the Society bottles a wide variety of Islay whiskies with good regularity, meaning there is a wide mix of things to try, taste and enjoy. So it was with this in mind I took myself over the the Society's other Edinburgh venue on Queens Street after work last night.

10.87 - Sea Breezes Over the Vernal Machair Bunnahabhain, 10 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 61.9%

Firstly, what a name. The tasting panel have outdone themselves with that one. Bunnahabhain is another distillery I've not written about on here yet, despite having owned three bottles from the Society. My introduction to the lovely whisky of Bunnahabhain was perhaps not the best to start with: it was an evening just before I moved to Scotland, I sat down with two good friends and we sampled some of our finest whiskies. One of those was a bottle of Bunnahabhain 25 year old, given from one friend to another as congratulatory present. Safe to say, it was amazing, and I've yet to try a bottle from the northern Islay distillery that hasn't been.

Straight away, you can pick that this is a younger whisky. The nose initially is young and sweet, with honey and fruit. I had in my notes that there a slightly new make scent to it also, on which your thoughts may vary depending on your experience with new make! Interestingly, no peat - or smoke of any kind for that matter.

The palate resembles the nose. Strong, sharp and clean. There's some light smoke here, but only a little, and is followed up by huge amounts of citrus, mainly lemon and orange, making your tongue tingle slightly.

The finish is sweet, with the citrus continuing from the body, but in a much more subtle way. There's a bit more smoke here too, just rounding out the flavour. All in all, not bad! Not my favourite Bunna (that still goes to the 25, of course, or the 10.85 from the SMWS), but good nonetheless. I think there's still a few of these both online and in the venues should it take your fancy. 86/100

3.250 - Sweet and Salty Perfumed Smoke Bowmore, 20 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 54.3%

This one was interesting. I couldn't find anything to do with it on the Society website, and after further Googling, I found it was a release from the Society's Japanese arm! I wasn't going to argue with that, as anything from Japan or intended for Japan is usually amazing.

The nose brought some sweet peat smoke, along with the other Islay staples: salty brine and medicinal notes. It was quite smooth, with bits of lavender coming through up the back. I can see where this one got it's name from.

The floral hints continue on the palate, with more lavender and daisies. The brine is also still there, along with the peat, although a little reduced from the nose. It's light and quite thin, with lime and seafood coming through towards the end.

Peat and brine remain through the finish. It doesn't linger too long - just long enough to remind you where it's from. I wrote in my previous post that Bowmore - to me, at least - produces what are usually more refined and balanced whiskies, offsetting some of the peat monsters the Islay is known for. This whisky challenged that a little bit, with a slightly rough, halfway between sweet and sour overall personality. I feel like finishing it in a sherry butt would of given us a slightly more balanced whisky, but then I'm not Rachel Barrie. 85/100

29.176 - Splashing About in Rockpools Laphroaig, 16 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 58.5%

This one sold out quick. Ben Cops noted in his review of this month's outturn that is was formerly a Danish release, so there wasn't all that many bottles to begin with (luckily I got a bottle at the start of the month!), but still, if I remember correctly it went within the day. If previous bottles shown any indication, this one would be another stunner. Laphroaig seems to be doing no wrong recently.

The nose would say no different. Sweet and complex, the peat doesn't show itself immediately, only appearing up the back back. It has quite a light nose - I was reminded of my trip the Yamazaki Distillery in Japan, and thought that this would go well with their drink of choice, the highball. Not that I would ever do that with this whisky. Or any Society bottle.

The peat shines through in the body. It's rich and smoky, and has quite a lot of depth. The sweetness comes appears after the peat had backed off, being a little more subtle, like their roles had switched from the nose. There was fruit lingering about as well, a little citrusy, and then some charred oak.

Beautiful finish. The smoke is strong here, but is a little more like smoked wood, rather than peat. The complexity continues, and is rich with fruits and sweetness until the end. I finished my notes of this one simply with "yum", and I think about says it all. If you make it to a venue and they have a bottle still, try it. You won't regret it. 91/100

I'm hoping to get one more post in before the month is out, so keep your eyes peeled!

A Smattering of Islay, Part 1

I got an email from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society last week, informing me of not only some new bottles (including another £299 package of Islay offerings), but that until the end of the month the Edinburgh venues would be offering all Islay bottlings at a reduced cost behind the bar. This excited me for two reasons: it's a simple 50 minute train for me to get to Edinburgh, and I love Islay whiskies. Well, three reasons. The Vaults is also a beautiful place to spend an afternoon! I sat by the fire reading The Shining (I'm late to the game by decades, I know), and enjoyed three beautiful Islay drams.

(This will be the first of most likely three posts...there's more there than I could do in a single sitting!)

3.257 - Jacobite Trip to the Kitchen Bowmore, 14 years old, refill ex-bourbon hogshead, 56%

I've only written about Bowmore once on here before (could be because I've not really published anything...oops), but, perhaps like many, they're a distillery I just want to love so much, but it's usually on bottles from the likes of the Society I find myself enjoying. As I have said before, I do quite like their 15 year old release, titled Darkest, but other than that find it kind of lacking. Society releases, however (and perhaps other independent bottlings, I've not tried any), don't share this. They're usually well rounded, complex whiskies that show off the character of their respective casks.

This whisky carried on that tradition. The outturn listing hits the notes on the nose (see what I did there?), with crumpets and other breakfasty notes. I don't even like crumpets all that much, but this is excellent. There's a little bit of peat, of course, but it's very far from overpowering - it mostly compliments things. There's a bit of sweetness towards the end, with a hint of lemon to round things out.

The palate works in the all the right ways for me. Berries, sweetness, a little bit of salt. You could almost say it's like taking a berry ice cream and mixing it with salted caramel (yum, I know). The peat still isn't too strong, just sitting up the back with little reminders that it's a product of Islay. It coats the mouth pleasantly, although isn't overly heavy.

We finish with more lemon, and a bit of ginger tea. The peat stands up a little more strongly now, still not overpowering, but there nonetheless. I really enjoyed this whisky, and might end up getting a bottle in one of my trips back toh The Vaults this week (it's sadly, but understandably sold out online). It's what Bowmore does best in my mind - rounds out the peat monsters of Islay with something a little more subtle and refined. 90/100

29.178 - Bee-Smoker on a Pebble Beach Laphroaig, 20 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 55%

I love Laphroaig. Well, love may be strong, but safe to say I can usually default to any bottle of Laphroaig when in doubt and enjoy it. The same can be said to Society Laphroaigs - I'm yet to try one that I thought could have been better, or that was lacking.

This one was, of course, no different. Straight away there was those notes we all know Laphroaig for: sea salt, brine, peat. Then came some caramel, as well as hard candy, giving the big Laphroaig nose some balance.

Smoky. That is the first word I had in my notes from tasting this whisky. The smokiness is there immediately, coating your mouth and assaulting your palate (in a good way, of course). It's rich and full bodied, with the brine carrying through, but also met and balanced with a sweet floral note. Towards the end there was some earthy notes, like soil, however this was only subtle and fleeting.

It comes to an end with long, lingering, briny goodness, coating the mouth with flavour. Quoting from my notes again: "Damn. This is another top notch Laphroaig!". And that it is. The Society definitely seem to be on a roll with the casks they're picking up here! This one was only available as part of a (now sold out) trio, but as far as I know both Edinburgh venues still have it at the bar. Give it a go if you can! 93/100

33.132 - Beauty and the Beast Ardbeg, 8 years old, second fill ex-sherry butt, 60.9%

I've not written about Ardbeg at all on here yet, which is a shame. The reason being, the Society hasn't released much from the now 201 year old distillery, and I have most of their distillery releases sitting on my shelf back in Australia (including a yet to be opened bottle of the committee release 2015 Supernova - I contemplated paying import fees to get it here!), so have nothing to draw upon to get some reviews up. This bottle has been the source of much discussion, ranging simply from how amazing it is, to how did Ardbeg get this colour and complexity out of an 8 year old whisky. Safe to say, it's pretty damn good.

(I've had this bottle sitting in my desk since it's release - it's half full - and haven't posted the review, but thought in the spirit of the week would have it side by side with two of the other Islay greats.)

The nose is smokey and thick. Along with it's deep amber colour, it's truly amazing that is only 8 years old. There's a salty bacon that is most apparent here, it's like a good BLT in a glass. There's smoked wood chips as well, and then a little bit of salted caramel. Incredible.

It's again thick and smokey, typically Ardbeg. Rich and tingling, it coats the mouth. If you could take the essence of a BBQ and distill it to a liquid, this may well what you end up with. There's more smoked bacon, and a little more sweetness here then on the nose.

The finish is short, with the beautiful sweet notes from the palate carrying through, and just a touch of the smoke. Again, how Ardbeg did this in 8 eight years is a mystery, but I'm glad they have. It's an incredible whisky, and one I'm very happy to have got a bottle of. If for some reason you like Islay whiskies (hell, even if you don't) and haven't tried this, get on to it before the Society venues run out behind the bar. You won't regret it. 95/100

Like I said earlier, I will be heading back to The Vaults hopefully twice more before the end of the month, so stay tuned for more Islay goodness!

A Drink With Friends

Every two weeks, myself and some friends get together for an informal whisky tasting. Basically, we all put in to get three bottles that we haven't tried before, as well as a few more expensive bottles from time to time. I'm sure this is not too uncommon of a thing for a lot of you.

This week, we had five whiskies to taste, as well as a 20 year old Tobermory.

Glen Scotia Double Cask No Age Statement, ex-bourbon and Pedro Ximenez cask, 46%

I'd not had anything from Glen Scotia before, so this was a completely new experience for me. The label read well - sherry, check, slightly higher than average ABV for price point, check - so I was quite excited.

The nose came in with sherry immediately, with a little bit pepper also. Sweet fruit lollies and apples next, before finishing off with some vanilla and lightly charred oak. I guess that bourbon cask didn't go down to the PX without a fight.

The vanilla and oak continues, before quickly giving way to strong oily citrus and more sweet fruit. The PX brings up the rear, with it's distinctive sweetness, and finally a bit of gingery spice.

The sweetness lingers, although not for too long. That ginger twist sticks around too, tingling the tip of the tongue. All in all, quite a pleasant first experience. It's reasonably priced too, so I can recommend it if you like sherried whisky that isn't over powering with it's sweetness. 86/100

Aberfeldy 12 Year Old 12 years old, ex-bourbon cask, 40%

Another distillery I'd not had much to do with (are you sensing a pattern here?), Aberfeldy is mostly known for it's contribution towards the Dewars blended whiskies, and up until now, a cute red squirrel taking prime position on their labelling. However, with a growing number of awards for it's single malts under it's belt, that may be changing.

Things were all around quite fruity on the nose. Slightly tart melons, with a bit of creaminess in there also. A puff of smoke was there in the background, just balancing things out.

Surprisingly, that fruit didn't carry over to the palate. The taste was clean and creamy, with a bit of honey and malt. It tasted like the sort of whisky that would be great if you had a sore throat - although everyone know's that Laphroaig's job. Lingering up the back is that smoke, just making sure you don't forget it.

The fruit returns for the finish, with a light bit of citrus combining with that malt. It's quite short, and not overly powerful. I can see why this has won awards - it's relatively complex, well balanced, and easy drinking - but it's not overly to my taste. That being said, it's not a bad whisky, and you can't really fault it for the price. 82/100

Clynelish 14 Year Old 14 years old, ex-bourbon cask, 46%

I have fond memories of Clynelish. My first sampling of this distillery was in the form of a beautiful 29 year old, titled 'Say It With Flowers', which was given to me by one of the lovely Scotch Malt Whisky Society ambassadors when visiting their venue down in Leith. Obviously, this wasn't going to be the same, but nevertheless it gave me high hopes.

The nose slightly diminished those hopes. There was mandarins and orange zest, and otherwise citrusy flavours, but that was about it. It was quite subdued and almost bland - quite surprising given my previous encounter with this whisky.

Perhaps even more surprising then, was the palate. Here there was much more going on. That citrus continued, and was complimented by a little bit of smoke and dried oak. A little bit of vanilla came through also, with a touch more smoke just rounding out the end.

This all came together at the end with oak, along with a touch of spice, and finishing with a hint of bitterness on the tip of the tongue. I'm not sure what was going on with the nose - it was like it had gone flat, like it had been sitting there for hours and simply had no more scent to give off. Thankfully it redeemed itself, and it's possible that our bottle hadn't been corked quite right. All in all, I quite enjoyed this whisky, and given its price would recommend. 85/100

Glenmorangie A Midwinter Nights Dram No Age Statement, ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry cask, 43%

I've had a few Glenmorangie whiskies previously. They have all been fine, however none have stood out as exceptional. A Midwinter Nights Dram, along with the Milsean (meaning "sweet thing" in Scottish Gaelic), were two limited edition releases earlier this year. Both have subsequently sold out, with only a few bottles seeming to pop up from time to time. This whisky gets its name from the Glenmorangie tradition carried out by the Master Distiller, in which the employees of the distillery would receive a special whisky from the distiller as a thank you for their hard work over the festive season.

The Oloroso cask makes itself known straight away, with sweet and rich fruits surfacing, but not in an overpowering way. There's a little bit cinnamon like spice along with a bit of nuttiness, again quite subtle.

The sweetness from the nose continues, but only after a piece of slightly bitter chocolate. Then the sweet fruits find their way back, mostly apples and small bit of orange. A slight tartness comes along with the fruit, which rounds out the sweetness nicely. Overall it's quite light and smooth, with not too much taking dominance in the taste.

As you could probably guess, the sweetness continues through the finish. It doesn't stick around long, and leaves a very faint spice in the mouth. This was quite a nice whisky - light, sweet and easy to drink - but for me was a little too subdued. It had an idea of what it wanted to be, but just didn't quite make it there. But that's just me, I like my whiskies to be bold and brash, and if they're sherried, I want to really know it. However it would definitely appeal to a mass audience, so if you like the sound of it, try and get your hands on some. 84/100

Knockando 12 Year Old 12 years old, ex-bourbon cask, 43%

During the evening, one of the guys was looking for any opportunity to use the play on the distillery name "no-can-do". Sadly, I think that is probably the most memorable part of this whisky. I had not had anything from Knockando before, and this did not convince me I had been missing out.

The nose had some creaminess and a bit of malt, followed by a touch of smoke towards the end. There wasn't a great deal else - and the bits that were there didn't last long.

The palate had a little more going for it. There was the malt again, and then a bit of nuttiness, like a cereal. There was again a light whiff of smoke, just enough to be complimentary to the malt. It was quite smooth and inoffensive - but also lacking in character and complexity.

There was sweetness and more malt for the finish, as well as a bit of pepper. If you couldn't already tell, this wasn't my favourite. Not that it was bad - it was a perfectly fine whisky - it just had no personality and no individually identifiable trait. If the Clynelish had a seemingly flat nose, this seemed to be flat all around. But for someone new to whisky, or even possibly as an between between different, more robust whiskies, it is a well priced bottle, so to each their own. 79/100

Tobermory 20 Year Old 20 years old, Oloroso sherry cask, 58.2%

This was the beauty we ended the night with, and we were lucky that one of the tasters had been to the Isle of Mull recently, because it seems the only place to get this bottle is at the distillery. I'd - you guessed it - not had anything from Tobermory before, so there were no preconceptions of what I was going in to. This whisky had all the traits of one that I would enjoy: well aged, cask strength, and Oloroso sherry. And enjoy it I did.

The nose brought that sherry on in full, with sweet fruits, as well as chocolate and coffee, creating a sweet mocha aroma.

The palate continued this, with a spicy sweetness initially. The higher ABV reared it's head here, giving that high proof burn that we all know and (most) love. There's dried fruits, and then smooth milk chocolate - it reminded me of Cadbury Fruit & Nut, of all things.

The finish was strong, and remained for some time. The sweet chocolate was the prominent player here, really standing out, and then a light bit of bitterness to keep the tongue intrigued until the end. I definitely enjoyed this whisky - chocolate, coffee and dried fruits are some of my favourite things, and I appreciate them just as much in a cask strength whisky. If you're planning a trip to mull, or can manage to find a bottle, I would highly recommend it. 90/100

All up, a well rounded tasting. Hopefully we can find some equally interesting stuff in a couple of weeks time!

(Apologies for the length...I may get lost in the narrative sometimes.)

A Few Words on Octomore

A Few Words on Octomore

Last night I went on the hunt for the recently released Bruichladdich Octomore 7.4. After reading such good things about the super heavily peated monster, I wanted to try it for myself. The Octomore series thus far had come in three varieties: x.1 being Scottish barley, matured in American oak casks; x.2 being partly matured in ex-wine cask; and x.3 being made from Islay barley - the farm being the inspiration for the series in fact, James Brown's Octomore farm.

They are all known for their ludicrously high peat level (measured in parts per million, or ppm), with the lowest being 167ppm (6.1, 6.2, and 7.4), and the highest being an insane 258ppm (6.3). For comparisons sake, two of the whiskies most commonly thought of as being peaty, Laphroaig and Ardbeg1, come in at approximately 40ppm and 55ppm respectively. Or in other words, a different league all together.

Sadly, I hadn't realised that it's not made it's way to bars/retail yet - it only seems to be available from Bruichladdich's site. I didn't let that deter me, however, and had a pour of the 7.1 instead - I had only tried the 6.x releases previously.

Bruichladdich Octomore 7.1 Scottish Barley, 5 years old, American oak, 59.5%, 208ppm

One would expect to nose this whisky and be hit by peat smoke immediately. And at 208ppm, that would make sense. However, the first thing I got from the glass was vanilla, and lots of it. Caramel came next, combining with the vanilla to create an almost sweet fudge scent. Bringing up the rear was that peat smoke I was waiting for, with some of that salty brine that the Islay is known to balance things out.

Given the ABV and peat levels, I was once again (perhaps surprisingly) surprised when on the first sip I wasn't immediately hit by peat. A smooth sweetness was first, vanilla and caramel, followed up by the peat and saltiness. I was left with a slight bitter tinge on the tip of my tongue, but ultimately the sweet smokiness carried through the whole way. Amazing.

The sweetness sits at the back of your mouth, while the peat just resonates gently. I think Ben Cops said it best by calling this balanced on a very fine line. It truly shows the skill of the master blender (and this was the last bottling by industry legend Jim McEwan before his retirement) to create such a smooth whisky with the characteristics this does. Well done Bruichladdich. 93/100

Some Untimely Thoughts on the SMWS January Outturn

Just in time for February's outturn, I thought it would be about time to post my thoughts on the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's outturn of month. Titled January Summer Daydreaming, the release hopes to inspire glowing, golden memories of warmer times (something not too difficult for us Southern Hemisphere born), with a good combination of young, spritely drams to an absolutely stunning 28 year old Mortlach.

I was only able to try a handful of the outturn sadly, but I tried to make it as broad a selection as possible.

5.48 - Stave New World Auchentoshan, 14 years old, second fill sherry-butt. 59.6%

An unusual release for Auchentoshan, being sherried, although something that the distillery seems to be experimenting with more. Auchentoshan was one of the first distilleries I visited after arriving in Scotland, and at the time I absolutely loved it. The tour there was one of the most comprehensive and enjoyable tours I've been on, and I tired some truly amazing whiskies. Fast forwarding to now, I find their standard line to be a little lacking, with the triple distillation process seemingly removing a little body from the spirit. That said, I had previously had a beautiful distillery release (8 year old, bordeaux finished single cask), which was quite something. So, I came into this whisky not entirely knowing where I would stand.

The result was somewhere in between. The nose was very woody (my notes from the evening say "wood workshop"), and quite sharp initially, with a bit of sugary sweetness mixing around in there too. The palate was a mix of over brewed tea, fruity (although not quite christmasy) cake, and a few more of those wood shavings. It didn't stick around long - it was quite thin and tight on the finish.

For the money, this is not a bad buy. At £53.70, it was a reasonable complex, solid whisky that makes sure you're aware you're drinking it. 87/100

76.124 - A Symphony of Oak Mortlach, 28 years old, refill ex-bourbon hog. 55.9%

My only experience with Mortlach (that I remember at least), is the bottle that all of the Diageo owned distilleries were pedalling for a while last year. It was always on sale (down to £80 or there about), and was a no age statement release for the 2013 Spirit of Speyside festival. From what I recall, it was pleasant, but not so memorable that I needed to take a bottle home. I am very happy to say that that was not the case for this bottling.

Straight away you can tell this is an old whisky. Beautiful and deep, the scent of oak is there right off the bat. It smelt like being in an old established building - all that was needed was a fireplace and a big leather chair. It was thick, coating your mouth, a perfectly balanced ratio of rich oak, fruit zest, and a light bit of spice. That spice lingers in your mouth for some time afterwards, a beautiful reminder of what you just enjoyed. I conclude my notes on this one with "Stunning." - I think that sums it up nicely.

Admittedly, it is not a cheap dram. At £155, you're certainly paying for the time it's spent in oak, but if you have the means it's certainly money well spent. Even if you don't have the means, I would consider finding them to get a bottle of this. 96/100

31.32 - Piri-Piri and Teriyaki Chicken Jura, 26 years old, refill ex-bourbon hog. 52.7%

I've not really ever had much to do with Jura. Short of their standard releases (Origin and Superstition), there's not be an occasion to try the product of everyones favourite close-to-Islay island.

Another oldie, this Jura seemed to take on a lot of character from the bourbon that previously graced to the barrel staves. The nose held lots of sweet vanilla, with a bit of sugar, like a good solid bourbon would. The taste was quite the departure, with a thin oily texture and almost spicy initial tasting. The sweetness came through once that initial spice had passed, but was a sweetness reminiscent of a sweet curry. I guess they hit the nail on the head with the name on this one. It finished off quite dry, with that sweetness continuing on through the whole way.

All in all, a surprising and tasty whisky. At £116.90, it isn't quite an impulse buy, but if sweet curries are you thing then you're on to a winner. 85/100

3.255 - Genie in a Bottle Bowmore, 21 years old, refill ex-sherry butt, 56.6%

This bottling is what I was most looking forward to going in. With some of my favourite Society releases being from Bowmore previously (3.251 being a stunner in my eyes, also ex-sherry, but slightly younger), I had high hopes. Bowmore is also responsible for some of my favourite distillery releases - for my money the 15 year old is a great whisky.

This whisky had all the promise of being amazing. Sweet peat smoke on the nose, with a light bit of ginger as well. Tasting it continued these traits, with more smoke and light spice, with a bit of my all time favourite flavour (salted caramel) bringing up the rear. But there was something missing. I can't quite put my finger on it...it had all the right qualities of a whisky I would love - peat, sherried-sweetness, age - but it just seems to have not quite spent enough time in the cask. Or something. I don't know. I was quite confused about it as you may be able to tell! It just didn't carry itself like previously Bowmore's have for me.

That all being said, it wasn't a bad whisky. Just not a great whisky, as I was expecting it to be. Priced at £107.20 a bottle, I would sooner be going for two of the 5.48 bottling, but that's just me. 86/100

29.177 - Mind-Wandering Laphroig, 16 years old, refill ex-bourbon barrel, 57.8%

Laphroaig has had the marketing campaign "#opinionswelcome" running for some time now. I even have a jumper with that written on it (it was a branded christmas jumper, little did I know I would become a walking advert). It's quite easy to see why - very few whiskies attract such extreme, iOS vs Android level reactions from people. Personally, I love Laphroaig, although that love does not extend to the 10 year old, which is what I think most people base their opinion on.

This whisky is not Laphroaig 10 year old. The nose brings that traditional Islay peat, big strong and bold, holding no punches. But this whisky combines that with a creaminess, making it smell quite a like a well smoked cheddar cheese. Personally, smoked cheddar is one my all time favourites, so that won points with me immediately. This continued into the palate, with that typical peat smoke mixing with creamy sweetness. It was well rounded, mouth coating, and, well, Laphroaig. What more can we ask, really?

Sadly, it was only available as part of a parcel, otherwise I would have picked up a bottle. Even so, £119 will get you this and 77.40 (Glen Ord, 12 years old, refill ex-bourbon, 61.9%), which isn't a bad deal at all. 91/100

Quite a solid release, really. Not the biggest I've seen, but quite balanced and catering to every palate. Hopefully next month continues the strong start to the year for the Society!

A First Love

A recent tweet from Dave Worthington reminded me of my first (proper) experience with whisky, an almost identical story to Dave's.

Almost two years ago to the day (it was sometime the week before Christmas, that's all I really remember), I decided to buy a bottle of Laphroaig 10 year old, for no particular reason other than a few colleagues were singing it's praises.

Prior to then, my experience with whisk(e)y of any form had been the usual: Johnny Walker (Red and Black only, of course), usually mixed with Coke, and maybe some equally cheap bourbon mixed similarly. It was only ever as a tool - something to drink in a social situation, or a less filling alternative to beer. Drunk straight was only ever as shots. "Burniness", "petrol", "ugh" were all common adjectives. The taste just hadn't ever sat well with me.

With that in mind, I don't know that a 10 YO Laphroaig was the best first purchase. I wouldn't say that it holds a reputation for being easy to drink or even remotely smooth. But nonetheless, a bottle of this iconic, peated, slightly medicinal liquid found its way into my possession.

I opened it on Christmas Day as my family and I sat around the table outside after lunch. I'm not entirely sure if I actually liked it, or just told myself that I did, because even now, I wouldn't exactly say I'm a huge fan of that bottling. But regardless, it was the beginning of what has grown into a long lasting...well, obsession. One that has not only remained, but grown exponentially.

It continued to bourbon not long after that holiday season, which was largely inspired by a new found love of an old fashioned. That and that I think bourbon - at least, "normal" bourbon, i.e. not barrel proof - is a little more approachable that Scotch whisky. I made my way through most bourbon that was available in Australia, even ordering in some Antique Collection (believe it or not it isn't a standard order in most bottle shops) at an obscene price. I couldn't get enough.

After a while of this, I started to get a little...bored, with bourbon. So back to Scotch my obsession went.

Fast forward a year or so. Here I am, sitting in Glasgow, Scotland. For Christmas this year, I opened a bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, bottling 29.171, which is a 20 year old single cask from Laphroaig. As you could expect, it was absolutely beautiful (proper review to follow - Christmas day wasn't the ideal time to sit and take notes!).

I can only imagine where the future will take me. Luckily, there is an ever growing amount of whisky out there, so we needn't worry about running out of things to try. Slàinte!

A New, New Beginning

So at the beginning of this year, I had the brilliant idea to reinvigorate this site. It clearly went well, with a grand total of zero posts to it since.

However, during that time, I've moved to the beautiful country of Scotland, and that has afforded me to further pursue another hobby of mine: whisky. This hobby has taken me down many avenues. Whisky bars, distilleries, special Societies, and like any good hobby, cost its fair share. I've learnt plenty, met some amazing people, and had a damn good time.

This sites new purpose will be to document this adventure: to keep track of things I've tried, places I visit. I might not be able to come up with notes like this guy, but who really needs that - I'll try to be light hearted and honest.

There will still be a few things about tech from time to time, because well, that's that I do. But for now, here's to a new beginning.