Laphroaig ‘Quarter Cask’ (48%, OB, Circa 2006)

Well, it has been a while since The 2015 Laphroaig Week here on Master Quill, that a Laphroaig graced our pages. This is one of the earlier and better known examples of a NAS bottling that can still be had today. Laphroaig Quarter cask was introduced in 2004, so it almost celebrates its 15th birthday, how about that. Quarter Casks are casks of approximately 80 litres. The idea behind this bottling is that smaller casks make the Whisky age more quickly, since smaller casks have a higher surface to liquid ratio, than larger casks. And the higher the ratio the quicker the Whisky matures. However, this Laphroaig wasn’t entirely aged in Quarter casks, but is supposed to have a normal maturation in American oak bourbon barrels for 5 years (up to 11 years) and only then receive a 7 month finish in quarter casks, so essentially this Whisky is still only 5 years old, hence the price. It is very friendly priced and since it is almost 15 years available to us, this must be a recipe to success, and another way in showing the critical and discerning public that young whiskies can be very good. As I already showed in several of my previous recent reviews. Remember Bruichladdich, Cotswolds and the Kilkerran Work in Progress #2 and #3 bottlings? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, lets first find out if this Laphroaig Quarter Cask is any good. However, this won’t be a review of a more recent Quarter Cask, but an earlier example. As can be seen on the picture below, the design of the label has somewhat changed since the earlier bottlings…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice peat, clean, fruity and fresh, ozonic. Meaty, with hints of sweetness. Rural. Soft and hard at the same time. If you try hard, some spicy oak is detectable. Vanilla and gravy notes emerge at the same time. Ashes, paper and citrus. Wonderful combinations. Amazing how appetizing the peat is (mixed in with Vanilla notes from the American oak). The whole is utterly balanced and every bit of aroma, every note seems to belong to the next one. There is also a very sweet, fresh “other” note present, like a fruity-floral hybrid, an added layer to the darker peaty side. Like light in the darkness. Let it stand in your glass for a while and development starts. Based on the nose alone I definitely understand its broad appeal. Young, inexpensive but with very high quality. A present for Laphroaig aficionado mourning the loss of their beloved 10yo, which simply isn’t what it was. The 10yo suffers from Alzheimer’s, but this Quarter cask, yeah, úp, steps the new generation to take over the reigns. Oh, wait a minute, I have yet to taste it!

Taste: Sweet on entry (tea with lots of sugar), with citrus notes and wonderful peat. Simple and short, very short burst of pepper and quite some ashes. Add to that lemonade-like sweetness and fruitiness, and you have a young but wonderful Whisky on your hands. Add to that some “wrong” notes of (lemon) dishwater and fruity acidity (lemon) and you still have a wonderful Malt with added complexity. Lemon can be a very nice aroma to have. It is so good it can deal with these odd notes very well. Clay and more ashes. Pencil shavings. Paper is here too. Bugger, ’till now, I mentioned peat only once when tasting it. It is simply not upfront here, which is quite odd for a young Malt. (Peat breaks down a bit with age). Anyway, also not the longest of finishes around. Aftertaste, hardly there, tiny hint of peat maybe, and here it shows its youth I guess. Still, nice stuff this is.

Since the old 10yo is no more, I guess this is its true replacement. Its higher ABV. of 48%, its peaty profile and the fact it’s not chillfiltered make this the replacement of the 10yo for Whisky geeks like me (for writing stuff like this, and you (for even bothering reading this). Mind you the old 10yo was even much better than this, but compare this to the new 10yo and you know why this is so good. If you’re not a Whisky geek and are easily scared by the medicinal and peaty notes, and yet still like to start with the big Laphroaig, try the Select or the new 10yo. They are more suited for starters. Sweet, toned down peat etc. etc. This Quarter Cask is a wonderful early bottling. I have to buy me a more recent one, to see if they managed to keep the high standard. If so this is one of the best priced peated Whiskies around.

Points: 86

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Kilkerran 12yo (46%, OB, 70% Bourbon Casks, 30% Sherry Casks, 16/468)

After many WIP’s, Works in Progress, 2016 finally saw the release of the official 12yo. As far as I know there were four, 700 ml batches released in 2016 (16/316, 16/326, 16/363 and 16/468), and one 750 ml batch. The one I’ll be reviewing here should be the fourth, and last, 700 ml batch released in 2016. Earlier I reviewed two WIP’s. First the grey WIP #2 from 2010 (6yo) and the green WIP #3 from 2011 (7yo). Thus fast forward to this 12yo. Both WIP’s were amazing and just like the Bruichladdich 2007 Islay Barley, I reviewed last, perfect examples that good Whisky doesn’t need to have to have heaps of age. Amazing young stuff is coming out these days. The future still looks bright if you can accept the change…

Color: Straw pale gold.

Nose: Definitely some autumn-like-peat happening here. Fatty, floral, green and lots of summery and fresh yellow fruits. Sweet and acidic. Nice waxy, slightly smoky, edge accompanied with nice wet and dry oaky aroma’s. All well-integrated (now). Kilkerran, just like most other Whiskies from the people of  Springbank, needs to breathe a lot. Freshly opened, I was quite disappointed with this one, lacking depth concentrating on all the wrong flavours and overall not very nice to drink, and that’s saying something, since I love the output from Campbeltown. At the time of writing my bottle is half-full (or half empty if you are a pessimist), and the change is remarkable. Coal and some tarry bits, unbelievable it got this well-balanced and downright delicious, after the more than poor start. Peaches and smoked pepper. Excellent stuff.

Taste: Sweet entry with yellow fruits in sweet yoghurt. White Peaches and old dried apricots. Smoke in the back of my mouth and again after extensive breathing so remarkably tight, big and balanced. All fits together quite well. A bit less complex than the nose was, but it makes up for this “simplicity” with big and luscious aroma’s. Green, and nutty (from the 30% matured in Sherry casks). Again a typical example of a bottle that won’t be around for long on my lectern. It’s not without its flaws, mind you. It hasn’t got the strongest finish. The finish is a bit thin, or seems thin after the big body, and falls apart a bit. Aftertaste reprises the big body with a creamy, vanilla feel to it.

So give it lots of time to breathe. Big from the start, big body, complex nose, a somewhat simpler taste with a medium to weak finish. Still nice and recommendable. I will most definitely pick up another 12yo after a few years to see what they’ve done with it, as well as other Kilkerran releases.

Points: 86

Bruichladdich 6yo 2007/2013 (50%, OB, Islay Barley, Rockside Farm, 13/126)

If you click on Bruichladdich in the right column, you’ll find that the last few reviews of “Bruichladdich” were written about an Islay Gin and two Rums. Yes, Bruichladdich is quite a progressive and busy operation, not only distilling three different kinds of Whiskies (The unpeated Bruichladdich, the heavily peated Port Charlotte and the insanely peated Octomore). They also bottle a range of Rums under the moniker of the Renegade Rum Company, mostly if not all finished in a wine casks. Yes, before I forget, they make a Gin as well, and not any Gin, it’s Gin made with botanicals from the Island of Islay. So a local Gin, and as Bruichladdich say themselves, Terroir matters. A now I have a chance for a bridge, al be it a terribly un-smooth one. Since we are on the subject of terroir…

Where Springbank lead the way with Whisky made from “Local Barley” Bruichladdich takes it one step further. Whisky-nerds always want a lot of information about their dram and Bruichladdich is sure one of those who are happy to provide, combine this with the “terroir” philosophy here we have a Whisky of which we now know it’s not only made from local Barley, but we also know how local. The barley used, Optic, was grown on Mark & Rohaise French’s Rockside farm, and not on the whole 2,500 acre farm, no, it was grown exclusively on one particular field called ‘Minister’s Field’. Two years after this 2007 Islay Barley was released, the French’s decided to sell their farm to Kilchoman, which is built on Rockside Farm land, and leave the Island…

Color: Light Gold.

Nose: Barley, bread and cereal. Warm and sweet-smelling. Vanilla, custard and pudding. Although supposedly unpeated, this still has some peat, paper and smoke. Fresh and fruity, and quite honest. A lot happening already after 6 years. Develops in my glass. Hay, citrus and fresh ripe Cherries. Appealing and appetizing. Depending on the moment, sometimes, and it’s not often, I pick up some petrol. Brings back moments of a warm silent summer in the countryside. No wind and being alone. On top of the fresh and fruity notes lies this sharper smoky note. The whole experience is less broad than the 2006 Bere Barley offered by Bruichladdich as well. Sure this is 6 years old and I guess this makes lots of people thinking it is probably simple or doesn’t offer a lot of complexity. Bollocks. I feel, this offers an amazing complexity. Yes it’s 6yo and it has youthful elements to it, but not typical youth, as in hints of new make. A nice drinker, but this time an even better one for comparison to others like it from Bruichladdich (different vintages of Islay Barley and Bere Barley), Kilchoman 100% Islay, or even the likes of the aforementioned new Springbank Local Barley’s. Yes you need more of these open at the same time. a terrible thought indeed!

Taste: Sweet, with cookies, cereal, and very fruity right out of the gate. Tiny hint of soap and wax. Nothing to worry about. Big, dirt, soil, oil and rural notes, but also creamy with vanilla powder and old dried out toffee bits. Sweet. Hard to imagine now that the Bere Barley was even more aromatic than this one. Just like Springbank, this needs some breathing before showing its true potential, but when it does, it delivers nicely. Nice presentation too by the slightly higher ABV. 50% instead of the new standard which seems to be 46% ABV. Both are great improvements over “old” 40% ABV. Yes, the alcohol is noticeable people. Mocha and milk-chocolate come next. Vegetal, grassy, linseed oil and butter. A healthy sensation gets over me now. The finish could have been better balanced and longer. First of all the Alcohol (sometimes) slightly anasthetizes my tongue and the roof of my mouth. Secondly it gives off a slightly acidic aftertaste which somehow doesn’t really fit the profile. It’s not an off-note but it just doesn’t fit in this picture. It gives too much separation (of tastes and balance) and leaves the finish in a bit of confusion. (gets better with more air). Hardly any aftertaste, which means youth I guess… This luckily doesn’t spoil the fun though, and I still love this dram. Not as complex as the nose but more than enough, especially considering, again, that this is a mere 6yo. It’s a way to go with modern Whiskies. I love this series as well as I do the Bere Barley series. Well done Bruichladdich.

It is quite nice to try several different releases from the Islay Barley series side-by-side. The differences are bigger than one would expect beforehand. In my Whisky Club we also compared this 2007 Islay Barley to the 2006 Bere Barley 2nd Edition. Both are in their own right quite good Whiskies (can we get some older examples too please?), but trying the one right after the other was for me te true way to try these, hence I feel you need several of these open at the same time. They complement each other quite well. The differences are big enough to warrant this…

Points: 86

Bowmore 17yo “White Sands” (43%, OB, for Travel Retail, Bourbon Casks, 2014)

As announced in the previous post about the Bowmore “Deep & Complex”, here is the review for the Bowmore “White Sands”, the top offering from the previous travel retail trio. Where “Deep & Complex” has something to do with Sherry casks, this one is said to have been matured only in Bourbon casks. This 2014 travel retail release is somewhat odd though. Of the three, it is the only one not in a litre bottle, the only one bottled at the higher strength of 43% ABV, and the only one with an age statement. 17yo is also an unusual age, although there used to be a oficial 17yo that was replaced by the 18yo.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Sweet, syrupy and some very nice, medium strength, smoke. Slightly vegetal, but mostly fruity with sweet orange oil mixed in with sweet, soft peat. Papaya and mango are noticeable too. Hints of cardboard and earwax. Cold black tea. Very accessible. Creamy vanilla and hints of soft oak. It’s almost like sugar-coated oak. I fear caramel coloring is at work here. I’m already getting slightly annoyed, and I haven’t even tasted it yet. I have tasted this bottling before, and on that occasion I found the smoke to be more up-front. That’s important for this bottling since the smoke-bit is really delicious and defining this Whisky (for me). That bottle was half full, by the way, so I’m hoping this only needs some more breathing. (I just opened this bottle). It may very well be from a different batch as well. Letting it breathe right now, already brings out some more wonderful notes from the smoke-department, so I’m confident that if you work this a bit, all will be fine in the end. This will turn out to be a hidden gem, I’m sure. Just let it breathe. Leave the stopper off for a while.

Taste: On entry; sweet (Rum) and waxy. Oak and fruit. Definitely a tad simpler than the nose and most definitely lacking some oomph. This needs at least 46% ABV. Please Bowmore, please. Cereals, soft wood and caramel. Almonds and mango chutney. Milk-chocolate powder. Nesquick. Hints of smoke and some sweet peat. A tiny hint of bitterness from the peat and oak, but not much, not much of that at all. Vanilla, vanilla ice-cream. Soft and creamy. Custard and pudding. You get the picture don’t you? It isn’t hard to taste, this suffers a bit from caramel coloring. Its aromas are glued together, a property of caramel coloring. I wonder what the chill filtration did to this expression? Is the complexity of the nose over the taste a sign of this?

Dangerously drinkable. Talisker Neist Point (a NAS bottling), is another of those peated, dangerously drinkable, travel retail Whiskies. I would love to hate both, since they are obviously flawed, but somehow they turn out better than expected. Never stellar, but good and likeable.

Although this is a good one, it still is one, I feel, has been tampered with. Chill filtered and colored, and as with the other Bowmore, reduced too much. Again a potentially stellar Whisky ruined, (at least in part it is), for the sake of how it looks on the shelves, and how money can be made, at airports. What kind of heartless, soulless people make these kinds of decisions? Do marketeers have so much to say, or are people, like us, who truly like their Whiskies, actually the odd ones out, complaining when we shouldn’t?

I can confidently recommend this Bowmore, I will give you another recommendation as well. Seek out an independent bottling of Bowmore, to find out how Bowmore actually tastes like without the tampering I mentioned.

Points: 86

Port Charlotte 10yo (46%, OB, 13/153)

Many people like Springbank very much and some of those people, the likes of bloggers and vloggers and die-hard aficionados, call out to other distilleries to look more at Springbank as an example how they feel things have to be done. In that respect, hiding in plain sight is Bruichladdich, who are doing things like Springbank but in their own way. For one they have multiple brands: Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore and more interestingly they are doing the “Local Barley” thing as well (f.i  the Bere Barley and Islay Barley bottlings). Both series contain rather young Whiskies, which are surprisingly good. Personally, even more exiting is the batch variation, which I find, adds to the adventure in Whisky, although I don’t think they change the composition as much as Springbank between batches. They even code like Springbank (here: 13/153). The first official Port Charlotte 10yo was bottled in 2012, so this is not the first batch of the first release, but it is still the first release, since in 2016 an official second release came out bottled at 50% ABV.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice fresh peat, and dare I say it has a Sherried note? Honest and slightly sweet. Full-on aroma. Slightly sweaty and floral at the same time. Soft as well. Dusty. Clay and finger paint. Pencil eraser. Medicinal. Cold gravy. For me, very special stuff with quite some unusual markers. This big synergetic aroma easily overpowers the soft peat. Maybe not overpowers, but it sure works well in tandem with it. Nice development and evolution of the nose. Every sniff seems different from the last, unless you are sniffing continuously. Appetizing stuff.

Taste: Peat, wood and some fruit in the background. The fruit shows quite some acidity. Starts out sweet, caramel, toffee, but that isn’t here to stay. Well, the aromas stay but the sweetness retreats a bit. Licorice wood. More (different kinds of) licorice combined with milk chocolate mousse. Some soap in my toffee now, as well as some mints (mint candy). Is this the taste of the floral part? Where the nose had a big aromatic presence, the body of this Whisky isn’t as big. Alas the taste cannot keep up with the nose, but the potential is there. If the quality of any of the younger distillates is anything to go by I’m predicting the future of the 10yo to be a bright one. Just compare it to, the sweeter by the batch, offerings of Laphroaig and Ardbeg 10yo’s.

Yes even by today’s standard, 40 ppm phenols is heavily peated, even though by now we are used to the insane peating levels of Octomore, where 167 ppm is just the start.

Bruichladdich might not be the most original distillery around, although Octomore sure is as original as it gets, but it might very well be the most progressive of the bunch today. Springbank is a main stay for me and I guess Bruichladdich can be added to that list now as well. Don’t worry, these two aren’t the only ones on that list. Not by a long shot.

Points: 86

The Glenlivet 13yo “Zenith” (57.9%, OB, Single Cask Edition, Cask #8024, 2013)

It was that other well-known Speyside distillery which between 1999 and 2004 released a few Exceptional Single Cask bottlings. Some of which I tasted and were very…exceptional indeed. Alas the bottles were a mere 500ml. The Glenlivet liked that idea and somewhere around 2005, started bottling their own exceptional single cask bottlings. For the first decade, releases were kind of sparce, but more recently, many more bottlings have seen the light of day. I’ve tasted quite a few by now, and some are really exceptional and some are less so. Still good, but nevertheless, not all that exceptional in my book. Proceed with caution I would say, especially when most of them are pretty costly even the young ones.

Another remark. Although it seems quite some information is put on the label I still miss a lot. Although the label does show a cask number (here: #8024), not stated is what kind of cask it came from. And what a about distillation year? pretty basic information most other single cask bottlings show. By the way, since most of these bottlings are quite expensive to boot, where is the wooden coffin? Even the Glenlivet 21yo has that and costs less than half. Sure you can’t drink the wooden box, but it would look nice wouldn’t it. Just look at the picture below. The bottle looks great, but the cardboard box next to it… not so much (at this price point).

Color: Gold.

Nose: Fresh with nice citrus notes countered by some smooth vanilla and soft oak. Very pleasant right from the start. Some distant fruit. Dusty mocha, aspirin powder and spicy oak. Yes the oak definitely asserts itself. Typical notes for a Whisky from a refill hogshead made from American oak, and as such, reminds of many fairly young Cadenheads bottlings from ex-Bourbon casks (remember those tall green bottles?). However, this one is not that hot. Again, there is some dried yellow fruit in the back. Well hidden but definitely noticeable. Hints of salt and pepper. By now the citrus notes have gone.

Taste: Here the fruit is more upfront, but the oak is as well. Not an instant-pleasure fruit-bomb you’ll like right away. After the initial fruity aroma, it has a sharp and slightly bitter attack of oak. Slightly soapy as well. Floral without ruining it. Just like the Glen Elgin I just reviewed, this seems to be one of those Whiskies you’ll have to work with. Definitely not a casual Whisky. It needs your full attention. So don’t distract yourself with loud music or some reading, since you would miss the essence of this Whisky. Spicy and bitter wood definitely take over from the initial aroma. Nutty as well. Fresh soft almonds. If you are patient and let the Whisky breath a while in your glass, the spicy oak, and especially the bitterness get softer, leaving more fruit to develop and reach a better balance. Still, the more this breathes the better it gets. Surprisingly it only has a medium finish, with a tad of  bitterness. Peanut butter and walnut skins in the aftertaste.

If you have a collection of these Single Cask bottlings, this one can serve as a contrast to some others, but if you buy just the one, I don’t think this is exceptional enough. What might be exceptional is that this is a non-Sherried, cask strength Whisky, which stays soft almost all the way through.

This one was bottled in 2013 and resurfaced in The Netherlands in 2016 with quite a discount. No wonder it sold out rather quickly. I guess it might be worth the price I paid (less than a 100 euro’s), but I would be very unhappy if I bought this, without tasting it first, for the initial price. Recent single casks, age notwithstanding, cost more than the very good XXV bottling. Something worth to consider.

When comparing similar bottlings I have open, sure the Lochside and the Caperdonich are better but also older and more rare. Compared to readily available Malts with a similar profile that I have, I would rather go for the Glen Keith, but this Glenlivet is nothing to scoff at though.

Points: 85 (original score)

Added note (September 10, 2018): I’m now drinking the last drops from this bottle, and man did it come around. This needed a lot of air, and time to open up, but it did come up trumps. The nose is utterly wonderful, on the palate it didn’t change as much. Sweeter, more malty, very well balanced. Comes close to the Glen Keith mentioned above, which i still prefer.

Points: 86 (new score)

Highland Park Week – Day 3: Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)

Day three of Master Quills Highland Park Week and after two OB’s, its time to see what the IB’s are up to with Highland Park. Here we have a special one since it is one independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, bottling a Highland Park for another independent bottler, The Whisky Mercenary. This may very well be the best of three worlds, first Highland Park make a great distillate. Second I love how G&M work, where they try to have as much in their own hands as possible, The wood, the maturation, the selection and the bottling to mention but a few. Third, Mercenary Jurgen has a good nose, and is able to pick some nice stuff, and believe me it’s hard to get what you really want as an independent bottler. So here we have a 20yo Highland Park from a refill hogshead. When looking at the colour it seems to be at least a third refill remade hogshead from staves taken out of Bourbon barrels. Now forget what I said, because looks can often be deceiving and it is actually very dangerous to do so. My bad, and I hope you won’t make the same mistake like me.

Highland Park 20yo 1995/2015 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Exclusive, for The Whisky Mercenary, Refill Hogshead #1485, 325 bottles)Color: Light gold, almost White wine.

Nose: Right from the start, not even smelling from the glass, but whilst pouring, a nice creamy vanilla smell passes by. On top some Calvados. Quite some aromas that have to do with apples. Fatty red apple skin, but mostly warm apple sauce. In the background it has some more scarce notes of other distillates, other than Whisky. Can’t put my finger on it yet. Nutty chocolate paste with a trace of red fruit acidity. Warm soft wood with hints of semi-sweet yellow fruit and some dust. Underneath this has some smoke combined with soft woody spices and cold butter. American oak alright, and definitely not first fill or the next fill. So I guess my dangerous assumption plays out all right this time. So overall quite nice, good balance, but not very complex though. Adding to my feeling the cask may have been a bit tired already. I don’t think it was filled yet again.

Taste: The first note is that of wood. Soft wood. Next some sweetness. Honey, smoky toffee and caramel at first but the wood takes over again adding some dryness. Vegetal. Same as the nose. Good balance but not very complex. Tired cask again, even though the biggest influence seems to be that of wood. Medium finish and hardly any aftertaste. When its gone, its gone. No honey or wood stays behind. After some breathing and taking sips again, the Calvados notes emerge on the taste as well. The diluted toffee notes seem to grow not bigger, but wider, like butter candy with hints of lemon skin shavings or lemon curd, since that is sweeter. Also distinct notes of almonds. The smoky notes present themselves here as well now. So with extensive breathing there seems to be more (complexity) to this Whisky than I initially thought. See, how you have to be patient? Don’t fill up your glass too much, give it room for air, and be patient if you want to enjoy its full potential.

Connoisseurs, there is that dreadful word again, dislike tumblers or any other “wrong” glass. They are adamant about it. They don’t allow for flavour development, of which this Highland Park is an excellent example. This Highland Park needs a good glass. Personally I equally dislike it when one buys the “right” glass but then fill it up too much (and then post  a half full Glencairn glass on social media). This again doesn’t allow the Whisky to develop in the glass. You need a lot of room for air. Try it. Be patient, be smart!

The hint of smoke is actually very nice and makes it resemble Talisker and, to a lesser extent, Springbank a bit. So if I had to taste this blind I would have gone for Talisker, without the pepper though. Good distillate, reasonable cask and a nice profile. Needs some time, so don’t be hasty. Good Highland Park and just like the Leif Eriksson, again one without Sherry, and another thing becomes clear, 50% ABV > 40% ABV.

Points: 86