Bruichladdich Black Art 1992 05.1 Edition 24 Year
Single Malt — Islay, ScotlandTastedThis Black Art 5.1 sample was sent to me a couple years ago by my friend and whisky guru @LeeEvolved. I had actually sampled the 4.1 version a bit earlier at Norfolk Wine & Spirits. My first blush reaction at that time was a whisky easily in the 4-star category, but Octomore wowed me more that day and was my eventual purchase. This expensive 24yo expression is made with lightly peated barley and much different than the heavily peated malt used for its Port Charlotte and Octomore brethren. My fascination with Bruichladdich is their ability to create this diverse range of whiskies using the same stills, two of which (wash) date back to 1881 when the distillery first opened. Their Octomore 8.3 release boasts the highest ppm count (smokiness) of any single malt on the market at 309 ppm, yet most agree it seems less smoky than their Port Charlotte expressions that average just 40-50 ppm. How can this be? Well, Andrew Jefford, and his book, Whisky Island: A Portrait of Islay and its Whiskies, gives us some insight into this mystery. We know that phenols are measured and advertised prior to distillation, but Jefford also learned their counts after distillation. He quotes these numbers at 20-25 ppm (estimated) for Port Charlotte and 46.4 ppm for Octomore during the 2003 season. Obviously, this is a closer comparison, but how does distillation alone take Octomore’s triple digit number down by this goodly amount. Let’s have a look. The distillery uses very tall plain-pot stills (6 meters) with long thin necks. This promotes refluxing or the capturing and returning of alcoholic toxins/volatiles back into the wash or spirit. A still’s lyne arm design can also be a factor. A rising arm (Ardbeg, Bowmore, & Laphroaig) also promotes refluxing. Bruichladdich’s stills utilizes a lyne arm that descends gently. Also, the size of the charge into the still is important. A smaller charge or fill amount means more copper contact for toxin elimination if the desire is to create a lighter, more elegant spirit. Coal Ila, for example, uses the smallest charge on Islay at 37 to 41% of fill capacity. Foreshots (heads) and aftershots (feints) contain the most undesirable components (congeners), where the middle cut contains the most desirable or good congeners. The amount of time spent at these cut points varies widely and can dictate a lighter, elegant versus a rich, oily, and more pungent style of spirit. In addition to all of this, Bruichladdich’s condensers are supposedly the biggest on Islay (2 tons each) and this could be their magic bullet. They each contain 210 one inch tubes, which means lots of copper contact. Also, the recovery temperature inside the condenser can be regulated. A higher temperature means slower condensation time and more copper contact for volatile extraction. Bruichladdich’s distillation configuration gives them a lot of flexibility as evidenced by the variety of distinct whisky styles they produce. This 24yo Black Art 5.1 comes rolling in at 48.4% ABV. Little is known about the cask types, but most guess at a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-wine. This seems confirmed by a fruity and robust nose, accompanied by vanilla toffee, toasted almonds and malt. The palate is sweet, rich and peppery. It then turns vermouth-like, drying into a resinous oak, malt and spicy finish. A very complex and delightful dram, indeed. A solid 4.25 stars. Thanks Lee!400.0 USD per Bottle
Single Malt — Islay, ScotlandTastedThis Laphroaig 15 was purchased from a whisky collector on Cape Cod. He quit collecting and sold his stockpile of 650 bottles through Skinner, Inc., a New England auction company. After the sale, he found another half dozen whiskies hiding in some wine bins just prior to my visit. The bottles had faded labels and were dinged up, so not purchasable as collectables. They included two Laphroaig 15s and an 18 all bottled in the late 90’s based on the labels. Also a Lagavulin 16 White Horse of the same vintage, a Lagavulin 12 Special Release 2002 (1st year), and an Ardbeg 17. I reviewed the Lagavulin 16 White Horse previously and it was spectacular; however, the smokiness seemed diminished in comparison to the current generation. The same was true of this Laphroaig 15, bottled two decades ago, but even more so. The phenols related to smokiness had dissipated completely leaving a spirit totally devoid of this attribute. This surprised me. It is common knowledge the phenol ppm count will diminish with aging in the barrel, but I didn’t think the same would hold true of aging in the bottle. Apparently, so. The nose was an elegant bourbon barrel Islay, but not encumbered by a layer of peat smoke. This accentuated the remaining phenolic components making for a pleasant deviation from the norm. Briny medicinal notes of Band-Aids and iodine were accompanied with newly laid asphalt. The palette added a tad of sweet vanilla, malt, citrus, and spice that transitioned nicely into a finish highlighted by oaken tannins and white pepper. A hell of a buy at 50 bucks but I did overpay for most of the others. I had a hard time hiding my Islay bias smile. :)
Dingle Single Malt Batch No. 4
Single Malt — IrelandTastedDingle’s artisan distillery is situated in the picturesque township for which it is named in southwest Ireland. Located on the Dingle Peninsula and its mesmerizing coastline, the area is abounding in natural beauty making it a popular tourist destination. We passed the distillery on our way to Ceann Sibéal (Dingle Golf Links) last September with a plan to stop there on our return. Unfortunately, a humble facility, described by their website as a “tin shed,” left us somewhat uninspired. This, coupled with bad timing, prompted a pass on an opportunity, which I now regret after tasting this superb creation. The distillery filled their first whiskey casks in December of 2012, and later bottled at the required 3 years and a day. This taste was their Small Batch No.4 Release, provided at a lofty 46.5% ABV. The single malt was triple distilled in “distinctively designed” stills incorporating a boil ball that promotes spirit refluxing. The company asserts this results in a spirit with “remarkable smoothness and purity.” This was found to be 100% true. The whiskey was matured in a multitude of cask types to include ex-bourbon, ex-sherry (Oloroso & PX), and ex-port. Appearing sherry-tinted amber, the whiskey noses slightly muted with hints of Oloroso. An extraordinarily smooth palate is rich in flavor and viscosity. Vanilla and malt are accompanied with sweet sherry components of dried fruits and nuts, then transitions into a delightful dry port finish. The collaboration of winey elements work tremendously well together resulting in a well crafted, high quality potable that I would rate at 4.5 stars.
Ardbeg Supernova 2019
Peated Single Malt — Islay, ScotlandTastedIt’s snowing out. Not sure where we are, but it’s somewhere near the ocean because the air is crisp and clean with a hint of brine. Approaching a friendly campfire, we’re greeted with a wave of burning oak. It can almost be tasted in the snowflakes crashing down. Moving on toward a large barn the first hints of livestock arrive, but these are not your ordinary scents. No, they are far more exquisite….noble in fact. We have somehow stumbled on the king’s stable of thoroughbreds. Struck by the splendor of it all, their elegance fills the air and combine with the sweet savor of rare leather. Awakening…….wow, a dream so lifelike the taste of oily smoke still covers my tongue. Oak tannins tingle as they dry up the oils leaving lemon citrus and bourbon spiciness. Ardbeg heritage is unmistakable and wrapped in the conundrum of a never ending finest hour. 5 stars. #yfy (attribution @brent )180.0 USD per Bottle
Midleton Very Rare 2018
Blended — IrelandTastedReader Beware; whiskey review starts at paragraph two. The following is a golfing blueprint of southwestern Ireland for the benefit of my buddy and whisky guru, @LeeEvolved, who might someday make this trip. Where the odds of dying in a plane crash are 1 in 11 million, I can assure you they drop to 1 in 11 when driving the back roads of southern Ireland. Lee should keep these figures in mind when calculating his odds of venue survival. After spending 3 nights in Ennis and golfing 3 courses (Dromoland Castle, Lahinch, & Trump’s Doonbeg) we moved on to the lively village of Tralee, county town of County Kerry. From here we would cover another 5 links courses in 5 days (Ballybunnion’s Old Course & Cashen Course, Dooks GC, Dingle GC, and Tralee GC). The most impressive tracks from these groupings were the 2 courses of Ballybunnion with several others not far behind. The trip culminated with another move to the spirited town of Killarney. From this location we tackled the most picturesque leg of our journey with rounds at Waterville Golf Links on the Ring of Kerry and Old Head Golf Links of Kinsale. The course at Old Head was sculpted only 20 years ago on its cliffy headland that stretches 2 miles into the Atlantic, but it also hosts ruins dating back many centuries. A golfing nirvana, this was the highlight of the trip. Our tasting of Midleton Very Rare took place at the Pikeman Bar in Tralee‘s Grand Hotel. Unfortunately, this venerable setting wasn’t sufficient enough in raising the grade of this 2018 vintage. First released in 1984, this was the 35th iteration of a blend consisting of single pot still and single grain whiskies aged in ex-bourbon casks for 12 to 28 years. Each year the vintage can vary with 2019 an ex-bourbon aged from 13 to 34 years. Jim Murray has rated 32 of these releases with an average rating of only 84.6. Of this lot, he graded 8 in the lowly 70’s and only 6 in the lofty 90’s, with 95 being the highest grade. All of the offerings have been delivered at a consistent 40% ABV, and Murray’s meager reporting has done little to induce Midleton to up the ante. A pleasant and subtle nose brought hints of sweet vanilla, oak and spices, but lacked the ethanol punch capable of coining a description higher than “adequate.” Incredibly smooth on the palate, this was the whiskey’s signature attribute, but not uncommon amongst Irish blends and single pot stills. Drinkability is certainly a noble quality, but for 22 Euro a proper measure pour (35.5ml), we were expecting something more. On the palate, add pepper and citrus to the above formula and there you have it. An excellent whiskey; this one barely rings the bell at 4 stars.
Red Spot 15 Year Single Pot Still
Single Pot Still — IrelandTastedThe first stop on our recent golf trip to Ireland was Hotel Woodstock in Ennis. It was here at the Woodstock bar that I had my first taste of Mitchell & Son’s Red Spot, 15yo single pot still Irish whiskey. Established in 1805 as a confectionary and wine purveyor, they expanded into whiskey bonding in 1887 with distillate provided by Jameson’s historic Bow Street distillery in Dublin. The company is still managed by 6th and 7th generation Mitchell family members and their line of whiskies are now produced for their exclusive use in Ireland by Irish Distillers at Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork. Irish Distillers was formed in 1966 by a merger of Cork Distilleries Company, John Jameson & Son, and John Power & Son, and was then acquired in 1988 by wine and spirits giant, Pernod Ricard. The new Midleton Distillery was built next to the old (now museum) in 1975 and currently produces whiskey brands Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, Midleton Very Rare, Green Spot, Yellow Spot, Red Spot, and Tullamore Dew (William Grant & Sons). Red Spot went out of production over 50 years ago with the recipe resurrected more recently when 5yo bourbon aged whiskey was placed in Marsala casks acquired in Sicily in 2004, then later vatted with Oloroso sherry aged whiskey and released in November 2018. Just as Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale was the golfing gem of our trip, Red Spot was the whiskey tasting highlight, prompting an immediate purchase upon our return of this now hard-to-find treasure. Bottled reddish amber at 46% ABV, the nose is an incredibly robust mixture of cooked fruits, nuts, caramel, and baking spices all swirling in a lively whirlpool of ethanol. Striking the tongue oily and smooth, the addition water would be a travesty. This rich concoction validates the nose, adding a touch of sweetness that fades into a dry winey finish sprinkled lightly in black pepper. A warm, lengthy aftereffect seems to emanate from everywhere, making for a superb encounter from start to finish. Islay bias and pricing has me pressing slightly against the door at 4.5 stars. This may change after a few more sittings. :)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest
Single Pot Still — IrelandTastedWow, this whisky is special. It consists of single pot still spirits aged from 12 to 23 years in ex-bourbon casks then finished in virgin Irish oak (19 months) felled in the Bluebell forest of County Kilkenny at 130 years of age (Tree No. 4). The wood is dried and coopered in Jerez, Spain then sent back to Ireland for filling. It’s bottled at a cask strength ABV of 56.2% and comes at you headfirst like a fire breathing dragon. It’s rich amber in color suggesting sherry aging, and guess what? It also smells and tastes a bit like sherry aged whisky. I had to scour the literature to assure there were no sherry components mentioned. An exceedingly splendid nose is dominated by unique Irish oak swirling in a rich cloud of ethanol, and accompanied by sweet vanilla, nutty chocolate, and a measure of spice. Tasting is initially smooth and succulent, but if drank too quickly the virgin oak tannins will strip away whatever protective coating your taste buds can muster and introduce you to a good dose of astringency and alcoholic burn. Taking your time or adding water will tame the dragon and make for a most pleasant experience. The palate is very much like the nose adding stone fruits and peppery effervescence that fade into the finish. Here the signature oaken tannins proclaim their heritage, and leave you huddled in a warm, lengthy afterglow. The laser etched oak packaging features craftsmanship comparable to the Macallan Lalique series and makes for a handsome keepsake. This whisky checks all the boxes and I rate it at 5 stars. Please keep in mind, I may be slightly biased by a beautiful country, friendly people, and incredible golf courses we will soon be visiting. :)300.0 USD per Bottle
Ledaig 18 Year
Peated Single Malt — Islands, ScotlandTastedTasted from a Tobermory Wee Dram sample pack purchased on the helpful advice of @Richard-ModernDrinking. It’s a great way to explore the range with 5 samples aged from 10 to 19 years and matured in various cask types. Tobermory/Ledaig, Deanston, and Bunnahabhain are three Scottish distilleries that fall under the umbrella of Distell Group Ltd., a South African wine & spirits conglomerate with sales exceeding one billion (US). This particular offering has been polarizing here with ratings from 2 to 5 stars by the Distiller site regulars. Typically released in limited batches, I’ve only been able to track down one remaining bottle of their last batch (#3) in the Boston area. The company only advertises this product as a “Small Batch Spanish Sherry Wood Finish” spirit, but the bourbon/rye influence is very evident, and probably good indication of ex-bourbon barrel maturation. Take your pick of baking spices, but they team up nicely with sherry and leather to predominate the nose and quell any peat smoke rebellion that may be stirring. The nose is also muted in comparison to the Ledaig 10, despite both weighing in at a healthy 46.3% ABV. This is probably attributed to an Oloroso sherry cask finish that can sometimes flatten a nose as well as any prizefighter worth his salt. A viscous palate is greeted with a delightful combination of fruits and spices, and interweaved with enough smoke and sea spray to make for a respectable islander. I would probably rate the Ledaig 10 slightly higher, but I really enjoyed the uniqueness of this whisky and will give it a well-deserved 4.0 stars for overall quality.
Redbreast Family Collection
Single Pot Still — IrelandTastedThere’s something about the texture of a single pot still Irish whiskey that satiates the palate. Irish blends offer a similar feel in that they are all dangerously pleasant to drink neat. Maybe it has its basis in the inclusion of raw barley into the mash, or possibly the triple distillation, but I always seem to get myself in trouble whenever I partake of these forbidden fruits. It doesn’t help when you have a friend (claiming dubious Irish descent) that insists we coax down a casual beer with a glass of Jameson in the other hand. Our last get-together was followed by a mild silent treatment of a month or so from the wife. My favorite Irish whiskey experience; however, was a dram of Midleton Very Rare (peachy, 5 stars) enjoyed during a match of that fiendish game called Snooker. We played somewhere in Dublin years ago. British Army officers invented the sport, most believe, to drive the Irish crazy, and by all accounts, they’ve succeeded. For those unfamiliar, you take a regulation pool table and increase the size by 50%, then shrink the pockets by half. It requires a yoga pants type fit to sink a ball, and will produce a similar level of elation as the pants, when administered properly by the fairer sex. In any event, I purchased this 3-pack to get acquainted with single pot stills for our upcoming golf trip to Southern Ireland in September. The nose and palate on these whiskies were superb. For under $20, they were one hell of a buy to get exposure to this delightful category of whiskey. Check with Distiller’s experts for the flavor profiles, but I would rate all three with 4 stars.20.0 USD per Bottle
Compass Box Tobias & The Angel
Peated Blended Malt — ScotlandTastedAsked a couple of retailers to check with their distributors on this expensive limited edition. Happy to report #376 of 2,634 is mine. These will be hard to find and retailers in NY and CA are already gouging with a price of $800 a pop. I was very happy to get this for $425, so if you’re a CB fan, you need to be proactive to score one.