Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary Edition 2015

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This year’s limited edition Cairdeas bottling from Laphroaig commemorates the distillery’s 200th anniversary. This year, the distillery eschews avant garde wood finishes and goes with a decidedly traditional approach: “The 2015 is produced from our finest malting floor’s malt, distilled using only the smaller stills, and fully matured in our famous No. 1 warehouse, right by the sea. Cairdeas 2015 is John Campbell’s interpretation of how Laphroaig would have been produced at the distillery 200 years ago.”

That’s kind of a neat idea, but it turns out Laphroaig 200 years ago tastes a lot like Laphroaig today. (This makes sense, as consistency is often the avowed goal of any master distiller.)

Cairdeas 2015 offers a heady nose of gentle fruit and sweet peat, mixed together beautifully, with notes of lively wood fires and barbecued meats. The body drinks easy — though it’s bottled at over 100 proof — and is initially heavy with fruits — apples, clementines, and some banana. As the finish arrives, some notes of spiced nuts come along — almost offering a Christmas-like character. The denouement features drying notes of ash and tar — nothing surprising for Laphroaig, but perhaps a bit heavy on an otherwise fruit-heavy whisky.

Nice stuff on the whole, and totally in line with the house style. Laphroaig fans should grab it while they can.

103 proof.

A- / $75 / laphroaig.com

Review: Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 and This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Flaming Heart_pack shotCompass Box is probably the most exciting whisky blender in Scotland right now, and these two new limited releases, if nothing else, show just how avant garde the company can be.

Let’s take a dip into the blending pool, shall we?

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition – Flaming Heart is a semi-regular blend, released every few years, which takes predominantly Islay and Highland malts and mingles them together in a variety of wood types (including sherry casks). Last made in 2012, this edition really raises the bar. Sultry smoke, laden with iodine and salt spray, kicks things off — with a particularly old school, medicinal character on the nose. On the palate, gentle sweetness — think older Laphroaig — tempers the beast, pumping in a wild collection of flavors: orange candies, rose petals, nougat, marzipan, and some gingerbread/baking spice notes on the back end. There’s just a lovely balance of flavors here, that floral character the most enchanting (and enduring) part of the dram. Incredibly drinkable from start to finish, this is one that both peat freaks and fans of less smoky whiskies can thoroughly enjoy. 97.8 proof. A / $130

This is not a luxury Whisky_pack shotCompass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky – Compass Box CEO John Glaser actually got in trouble with the law when this whisky was first unveiled in Britain. An unorthodox gentleman through and through (you need only consider the name of the spirit, inspired by Magritte, to see that), Glaser published in explicit detail on the back of the bottle the full details of the four whiskies that make up this spirit: 79% Glen Ord (first fill sherry single malt) 19YO, 10.1% Strathclyde (grain) 40YO, 6.9% Girvan (grain) 40YO, and 4% Caol Ila (refill bourbon single malt) 30YO. The problem? Scottish law only lets you write about the youngest whisky, not anything older. Whoops. Labels are being redone, but meanwhile TINALW is getting out there, including this sample to us. Results are scattered. The nose has a deep graininess, with notes of light barbecue smoke, mushroom, and forest floor. On the palate, the spirit is incredibly complex, with initial notes of evergreen needles, mushroom, and tar — but also sweetened grains and soft heather. As it develops on the tongue, the sweetness becomes more intense, developing notes of coconut, banana, marzipan, and baked peaches. Following that comes more smoke — think wet wood trying to ignite, and a rather intense and funky canned vegetable character that really takes a wild departure and ultimately saps the life out of the spirit. At first, TINALW is an exotic but quirky little dram that’s fun to tinker with. By the end, I was ready for something else to liven up the party. 106.2 proof. B / $185

Both on sale November 12.

compassboxwhisky.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #9 – Deanston 1997, Ben Nevis 1996, Glen Keith 1996, Glen Garioch 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 1995, Cambus 1988

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It’s another outturn from indie bottlers The Exclusive Malts, with a series of eight single cask releases from a wide range of distilleries. Today we look at six of them. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the tasting!

The Exclusive Malts Deanston 1997 17 Years Old – A “midlands” distillery near Glasgow, Deanston doesn’t often get much notice, but this vanilla-heavy number is a solid sipper. It’s a low-key malt with ample roasted grain notes, a touch of citrus peel, and some oily leather/furniture polish notes on the back end — but the sweet vanilla character, tempered with some walnut notes, tends to take over the whole affair from beginning to end. 104.6 proof. B+ / $140

The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old – Highland malt, matured completely in a refill sherry cask. Here you’ll find more red fruits than citrus on the nose — almost strawberry at times, which is an exotic surprise, with a touch of lemon mixed in. There’s lots going on on the body — fresh mixed fruits, cinnamon, toffee notes, a bit of well toasted bread. Some coconut emerges on the finish, giving this a tropical touch. Lots of fun and highly worthwhile. 102.4 proof. A / $140

The Exclusive Malts Glen Keith 1996 19 Years Old – Speyside’s Glen Keith was shuttered from the late ’90s to 2013, when it reopened to make malt exclusively for blending. This is some of the last stock from that prior production run and a final chance to try Glen Keith as a single malt. It’s fairly traditional on the nose, with sizable cereal, some apple, and moderate wood influence. On the palate, it drinks on the hot side, with sweetened grains — think breakfast cereal — heavy on the tongue. Ultimately it’s a bit simplistic, particularly for a whisky of this age, though it’s completely serviceable. 100.2 proof. B / $155

The Exclusive Malts Glen Garioch 1995 19 Years Old – This is Highland malt aged in a rum cask from Guyana, a rarity you don’t often see in Scotch. Racy and spicy on the nose, the initial impression is one of a heavily sherried whisky, loaded with citrus and laced with cloves. The body is highly spiced, almost fiery at times, with tropical notes, rounded malt, and a bit of chocolate. Straightforward, a little hot thanks to the higher-than-expected proof, but a joy from start to finish. Wish I had more to tinker with. 112.6 proof. A- / $150

The Exclusive Malts Allt-A-Bhainne 1993 22 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is primarily used to make malts for Chivas blends, and it almost never shows up as a single malt. This well-aged number is the lightest shade of gold, with floral and grain-heavy notes up front, plus hints of baking spice and burnt sugar. Touches of petrol emerge with time. On the palate the whisky is initially sweet and innocuous, but some less savory components quickly come around — notes of coal, burnt paper, gravel, and ash. The finish is a bit rubbery, and short. Ultimately lackluster. 101.4 proof. B- / $160

The Exclusive Malts Cambus Single Grain 1988 26 Years Old – Cambus was a Lowlands grain whisky distillery that was shuttered in 1993. This is a darkish whisky, exotic on the nose with tropical fruits, irises, ripe banana, and coconut notes. On the palate, it’s intensely sweet — with amaretto notes and more ripe banana before venturing toward notes of watermelon, cherry, and rhubarb all mixed together. The finish is exceptionally sweet, almost cloying. All in all, this is a somewhat bizarre whisky that nonetheless merits consideration because it is so very unique. Not sure it’s a daily dram, however. 96.2 proof. B / $180

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Review: The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (2015)

TGL_Founders Reserve Bottle & PackBack in 2010, Glenlivet released its Founder’s Reserve expression — an extremely rare, wooden-crated, nearly $400 bottle of some of the best malt whisky I’ve ever had.

In 2015, Glenlivet is also releasing Founder’s Reserve. Which is a completely different thing. Completely.

The new Founder’s Reserve is an entry-level whisky, a no-age-statement expression of this single malt that will be far more accessible than the 1800 bottles of the 2010 bottling were. Barreled in first-fill and refill bourbon casks, it is a well-crafted but inoffensive single malt.

The nose here offers fresh-cut grains, some vanilla, a bit of citrus fruit, and a touch of ground white pepper. It’s a nice little mix… a kind of EveryMalt to get things going as your first dram after work. The body is extremely soft. Its got a very light wood influence, some nuttiness, a touch of that pepper, and lots and lots of roasted grains. Just a hint of brown sugar and a dash of banana and apple fruit give it some nuance, but on the whole the barley is what shines through the brightest. Watch for some cocoa powder notes on the very back end.

On a very young spirit, those granary notes can be overwhelming and brutish, but here Glenlivet tempers the entire experience to the point where the cereal notes fold themselves into a rounded and pleasing whole that would be at home alongside any well-made blend. Take that as you like.

80 proof.

B+ / $45 / theglenlivet.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Glenfiddich 14 Years Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve

glenfiddich 14Welcome to the latest addition to the Glenfiddich permanent lineup. Matured exclusively in bourbon casks for 14 years, it is finished in heavy charred new American oak barrels (finishing time unstated).

No question, this is classic, unsherried Glenfiddich through and through. Glen-fiddie loves to play with new oak here and there, and it does quite a number on this whisky, imbuing the nose with notes of ripe cherries, big vanilla caramels, and lots of scorched-wood barrel char influence.

Fans of American whiskey styles will find plenty to like here, as the Western flavors play nicely with the heady notes of malty grains, some toffee, and a bit more candied fruit. The finish has a touch of an incense character to it, with touches of twine.

All told: A classic, bourbon-barrel-heavy rendition of one of Speyside’s most classic single malts.

86 proof.

B+ / $50 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Royal Salute The Eternal Reserve Blended Whisky

Royal Salute_TER_BottleCartonWhite

Royal Salute is one of those curious blended whiskies that everyone seems to know about, but no one ever seems to drink. I’ve oddly never sampled a dram from the porcelain (not glass!) flagon, which calls the Strathisla distillery its home.

Beyond the decanter, all expressions of Royal Salute have a gimmick, and a pretty good one: Even though most Royal Salute expressions don’t carry an age statement, no spirit in any Royal Salute bottling is less than 21 years of age. That’s right: Royal Salute 21 is the entry level whisky.

This new release, Royal Salute The Eternal Reserve, is actually the second whisky up the ladder. Here’s what’s inside:

Royal Salute has selected rare and precious whiskies with an exceptionally long finish to blend and marry together in 88 casks to form the inaugural batch. Using a unique process called Circular Blending, Royal Salute has committed to including this original blend in each subsequent The Eternal Reserve release for decades to come.

Each time a new batch is unveiled, half of the blend will be re-casked in the Royal Salute Vault to conserve the precious liquid created in 2015. Thus, the original blend is forever preserved by this perpetual re-circulation – creating a smooth, voluptuous whisky that justifies its original name: uisge beatha (the water of life).

So, for those doing the math, this is going to be a solera release, and this is the first edition. From here on out, every Eternal Reserve bottling (which the company says should be an annual release) will have a little bit of this 2015 release in it… just less and less each year.

So, let’s give the inaugural bottling of The Eternal Reserve a spin, shall we?

Malty, classic blended Scotch notes feature on the nose, plus notes of roasted nuts, a bit of citrus, some mushroom, and some wood influence. On the tongue, more of the same, backed up with a bit of coconut, some graham cracker, and notes of canned pears and baked apples. The finish echoes a bit of that mushroom, impressively lingering with an almost musky, slightly smoky character. All in all, it adds a little nuance to an otherwise well-crafted and enjoyable spirit.

80 proof.

A- / $180 / royalsalute.com

Review: Abhainn Dearg Single Malt Scotch Whisky

abhainn_dearg_70clAbhainn Dearg (pronounded: Aveen Jarræk) is located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It’s the only distillery located out here, and the malt whisky it produces is young and pungent. A brand new operation, the first whisky (new make) was released in 2010. Reviewed here is a limited release of a 2011 single malt, bottled after just three years and now quite difficult to find (and quite expensive).

The nose features moderate smoke, heavily charred grains, and some hospital character — all hallmarks of young malt. On the palate, there’s plenty of youth, with ample astringency, Band-Aid notes, simplistic smoke elements (no underlying sweetness or unusual overtones), and a short finish that resonates with notes of furniture oil. On the whole, there’s just not much going on here yet — not enough to warrant much more than a passing glance, anyway.

As an example of a work in progress, it’s a mildly interesting experiment, but on its own it doesn’t have the interest or excitement, say, of an early Kilchoman release.

92 proof.

C / $NA / abhainndearg.co.uk

Review: Deanston Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old Bourbon Cask Finish

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New to the distillery’s permanent lineup in 2015, Deanston’s 18 year old expression has more going on than the relatively light and straightforward 12 year old. Note that this is the bourbon cask finished expression — which is finished in first-fill bourbon barrels — and not the more expensive/exotic Cognac cask finished expression.

Here, we find a nose a nose that loads up light smoke elements, a bit of burnt rubber, and ample charred wood influence. Underneath, a bit of mothball and some honey notes don’t give away too many secrets, but stick with it for a few sips… On the palate, Deanston 18 nearly explodes with a melange of flavors, a veritable shotgun blow across the tongue. First, simple grains and some gentle honey notes, then fruit — banana at first, then some citrus. Nutty notes come along to provide a tertiary smattering of flavors, along with a touch of tar as the finish builds.

Deanston doesn’t have a reputation for offering a nuanced drinking experience — if you’ve heard of Deanston at all — but here’s proof of what a difference a few years can make to an otherwise standard and unchallenging malt, eh?

92.6 proof.

A- / $79 / deanstonmalt.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

Review: The Glenlivet Nadurra Peated Whisky Cask Finish

glenlivet Nadurra Peated High ResGlenlivet’s third Nadurra (Gaelic for “natural”) expression is here (released yesterday) — and it’s Glenlivet’s first peated whisky in over 100 years.

For those unfamiliar with this line — which now includes three Nadurra bottlings, all permanent extensions to the Glenlivet stable — the goal is to bring whisky back to its roots, through cask strength releases with no additives or chill filtration.

Note that Nadurra #3 is not peated whisky but rather standard Glenlivet whisky that is aged in bourbon casks (no age is stated), then finished in casks that formerly held heavily peated whisky (again, no time is stated). So, bourbon barrel-aged malt, finished in used, peated malt casks. If you recall, Balvenie did this same thing a few years ago, to much acclaim.

Intense peat on the nose, with ample salt water and iodine character. Some fruit up front — banana and apples — plays nicely with nougat and almond notes. The body pumps up banana and apple, more nuts — walnut and almond — with a finish that plays to light chocolate character, coconut, some spearmint, and nuts. What’s not overdone here is the peat — which is incredibly present on the nose, but which doesn’t come across as strenuously on the body.

With some water — this is cask strength remember —  the fruitier elements come more to the forefront, giving the smoke a sweeter character to it. There’s more chocolate and more citrus here — two flavors that work well together — while the peat takes a nice position in the back seat. The finish is quite drying, though, leaving behind notes of ash rather than fruit.

Overall, it’s a nice extension for Glenlivet, taking it squarely out of its comfort zone and into some new and interesting territory.

123 proof. Reviewed: First production run, Batch PW0715.

B+ / $85 / theglenlivet.com

Review: Ledaig 18 Years Old

ledaig 18Ledaig — pronounced, seemingly impossibly, as “letch-igg” — is produced at Tobermory, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull, which is a bit north of Islay on the western Scottish coast.

Ledaig has a lot in common with Islay, namely the use of peated malt, but it cuts a much different figure than your typical Islay peat bombs. Primarily that is because this 18 year old malt is finished with sherry casks, a practice that is not unknown in Islay but which isn’t all that common.

From the color of Ledaig 18 alone, it appears the finish is much deeper and longer than most sherry-finished Islay whiskies, as well, and here we really see the best of both worlds — smoky peat meeting sweet sherry.

The nose starts off a bit rocky and rustic — smoky, but almost brutish at times with rubbery notes. The sherry influence is much more present on the palate, which hits hard with an intense bittersweet orange flavor before diving into anise, cloves, gravel, and forest floor notes. The smokiness returns with a vengeance for the lengthy, hot, and smoldering finish — with more of that rubbery character, plus notes of iodine and kippers.

Peat freaks will get a kick out of this whisky, though it really tires you out as it runs you from smoke to sweet and back again.

92.6 proof.

B / $98 / tobermorydistillery.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]