Ledaig 12yo 2008/2020 (45%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseurs Choice, Wood Finished, Refill Sherry Hogsheads, 3 year finish in Hermitage Casks, 4440 bottles, 20/074)

The previous reviews have shown that the industry is getting the hang of how to successfully incorporate Red Wine Casks into the production of decent Whisky. The three Longrow Red’s reviewed last, were all pretty good. So maybe it’s time to have a look at a different example of this practice. But first this: for one reason or another, the interest in Springbank (and, Hazelburn and Longrow, but to a lesser extent as well), has skyrocketed in the past year of two. Maybe the best example is the latest rendition of the Springbank Local Barley over which people really went ape-shit, and really, there is no other way to put it, ape-shit indeed! Why is that, one might wonder, the colour, more money to spend because of the pandemic? In many markets this latest Local Barley was near impossible to get, and just have a look what people are willing to pay today for one of these at auction. It’s a 10yo! Even when Springbank Society is releasing a bottle these days, you have to enter a ballot! Even though costs have risen considerably across the world, due to Brexit, people are going ape-shit after those as well. Not only aficionado’s and fan’s but many bottle flippers as well, since most of these releases are readily available, in great numbers, I might add, at the next action. A few years back, Springbank Society didn’t even sell everything and you could get a second bottle without any problem. Times are a-changing.

So now that Springbank is often impossible to get (in a normal way), I tried to figure out what would be a nice alternative to Springbank. Well, that is a rather personal question, and the answer might differ from person to person. However I did come to some sort of a conclusion for myself, and figured out it is the peated distillate of Tobermory, we all know better as Ledaig. There are probably more alternatives one can think of, but let’s stick with Ledaig for now. First of all, Ledaig is getting better by the year, (they used to have a rather wonky reputation), it’s readily available, especially through independent bottlers, and it’s damn tasty stuff, even at a young age. I have bought quite a few Ledaig’s in the past year, so I could have, and probably will have it permanently represented on my lectern. So, Ledaig it is for now, and after three Longrow Red’s, here is a Hermitage Wine finished Ledaig. Hermitage is a French Red Wine from the northern Rhône region, made with Syrah grapes. Let’s see if this is really a worthy alternative for the Longrow Red’s. A final remark before digging in, this Gordon & MacPhail offering has been reduced to 45%, where the Longrow Red’s are bottled at cask strength, we’ll see if that matters much.

Color: Vibrant orange brown, like a bourbon. No pink Red Wine hue.

Nose: The bottle I’m reviewing now is less than half full, and this really needed to breathe a lot to get where it is now. When freshly opened, I was really disappointed, asking myself, is this it? Quite unbalanced. Yet today, it is another story altogether. Bonfire smoke and the fur of a wet dog, or maybe an animal with a more coarse fur, lets say wet bear then. Dried out cow dung in the middle of summer. Ledaig always has these “animalesk” notes to it. Fresh air with a whiff of paper and chlorine, this is not a bad thing, because it fits the whole. Smoke, nutty, winey, funky and sweet smelling fatty peat. Also licorice is present in this peat. There is a lot going on in this peat-bit alone. Some wood, nice laid back oak. Hints of fireworks (sulphur). The whole is dark and brooding based around great peat and smoke. Motor oil, coffee flavoured candy, and some vanilla. Creamy. Smallest hint of red fruits only, so the influence of the Red Wine casks is somewhat different to other Red Wine finished Whiskies. Partly floral. Yes after the big aroma’s played their part, a more floral note comes popping up from below. There is definitely a lot happening here. Many entirely different aroma’s come together in harmony. Nevertheless, this seems to me to be dirtier than your average Islay Malt, however I’m not entirely sure right now, if this dirtiness hails from Mull or Southern France, my guess would be the former. Good Ledaig again. Smoke, floral, soap and fresh fruit notes now. I can get used to this. So let people get ape-shit some more on the output of Campbeltown, we’ll join in occasionally, and apart from that, we’ll have Mull as our (dirty) little secret. Amazing how this managed to get from this unbalanced state when freshly opened to this harmonious and balanced Whisky it is now.

Taste: On entry, somewhat sweet (red fruit syrup, in part artificial), toffee, animalesk-peat, crushed beetle, ginger bread, caramel and nutty. With a slightly soapy slippery feel to it and woody bitterness for good measure. Amazingly this also has a little red pepper sting to it. Here, it is all slightly less big and powerful and it tastes somewhat diluted compared to the Red’s. I know there are a lot, and I really mean a lot, of cask strength Ledaig’s out there, but this one would benefit from some more ooomph as well. Still, it is what it is and it is a good Ledaig again. Way less complex here than it was on the nose. Hence less words are needed to describe the taste than the nose. Warming bonfire and cigarette ashtray in the finish and warming meaty aftertaste with coffee candy and surprisingly some mint. Very warming indeed.

First of all, this one definitely needs a long time to breathe and if you allow it to, you’ll be rewarded. Just leave the cork off for a day or two after opening, and repeat this process if necessary. Second, just like the Red’s, here we have another successful Red Wine cask finish. By the way, remember this Deanston? The reputation of Mull is growing and before you know it, (it might take a few years), it just might catch up with Campbeltown altogether. It’s a worthy alternative, and it is not more of the same. Luckily, even though the output of Springbank Distillery is very, very good. But we aficionado’s do like the differences that can be had. One minor gripe. Even though this is yet another good Whisky, the reduction to 45% ABV is very well noticeable. Historically these finishes were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail @ 45% ABV, but with the revamp of the different series they had, towards the “new” Connoisseurs Choice, maybe there should be some Cask Strength Wood Finishes as well?

Points: 86

This one is for Luke Todd-Wood, who recommended it to me, without even knowing. Cheers Luke, I guess you already finished your bottle by now!

Ledaig 18yo (46.3%, OB, Spanish Sherry Wood Finish, Limited Release Batch No. 03, 2016)

Ledaig, a very, very, interesting Malt. Ledaig is the peated version and the self-titled Tobermory is the unpeated Malt from the Tobermory Distillery. Both Malts can do really well in Sherry Casks, often mere finishes already do the trick. Remember the 1972’s? But also check out both sister casks bottled by G&M, #464 and #465, we reviewed earlier. Two malts I really love! But beware, Tobermory, the distillery, had a reputation for being really good, but at times also really bad, or mediocre like the two Independently bottled expressions I reviewed earlier: this young Kintra bottling and this even younger Murray McDavid bottling. So Tobermory/Ledaig used to be a you’d-better-just-try-it-first Malt. Lets be honest, it once had a bad rep altogether. I learned way back, that this was actually one to avoid. Especially the unpeated Tobermory could be really Wonkymory. When buying blind, just buy something 12 years or younger, since quality has really gone up in more recent times. I haven’t tried a lot of official releases of this distillery yet, some are quite expensive, but hurray, when this 18yo (third batch) went on sale, the price drop was amazing for this Malt, I went for it. They even threw in a good lookin’ coffin for ya hamster! So time to try this 18yo Oloroso finished Ledaig. This Malt is released in batches, so an investigation in batch variation could be nice and I will do that when given the chance. This time however we’ll only have a look at the latest batch, which at the time of writing, is No. 3.

When my friend Nico tried the freshly opened bottle, the only words that came out before going into toxic shock was “rubber”, oh dear! Thankfully he recovered and dared to try it again, on another occasion, after some breathing. It seems the Ledaig needed some breathing, and probably Nico did too. Nico thought it improved with breathing. Now, lets try for ourselves, and yes we did let it breathe for quite some time (it was a shared bottle and I got the second half), so essentially I got a pre-breathed bottle!

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Extremely funky, but not Jamaican Rum funky, that’s something different altogether. Wonderful fatty peat and fresh sea spray. Fireplace at Christmas. Warming and animalesk. Crushed insects. Very ashy and dusty. Wonderful perfumy wood. Yes, several different kinds of rubber as well; tires, and orange rubber hose come to mind. Warm motor oil. Quite steam punkish and extremely aromatic. More sweet peat and soft smoke. Fatty and broad. Already a very, very pleasant fruity Sherry note comes through. Good Oloroso, good boy! Whilst falling in love with the fine red fruity notes of black berries, and red forest fruit, I get hit over the head with ashy and fatty peat. What a nice interaction, what a nice effect. Never a dull moment with Ledaig. Cigarette smoke and some toffee, showing a slightly more sweeter side. Cookie dough. Steam, salty almonds and seaside tar. Dried or smoked fish. Licorice, salty and smoky now. The peat came first, now the smoke. Fish soup. This is a good smelling Malt for “men”. Bearded, rugged fisherman type of men. With an anchor tattooed on an oversized biceps. Not bearded metro-men, always dressed in a white tee, shopping online for moisturisers and contemplating a meaningless tattoo which will be out of fashion in a years’ time. This Whisky is rugged and boasts big aroma’s. Nakatomi tower style, be warned. Excellent. As often, this does need to break in. It really needs a lot of air to show all it’s got (and to lose the wee smells of sulphur and rubber), and when it does show all it’s got, boy, what wonderful balance! The emptier the bottle the better this is. The nose alone is already worth a 90+ score. Amazing how this brings back the wonderful Whiskies from the days before cars had seat belts and in a way, this also smells like an old car that originally never had seat belts.

Taste: Licorice comes first. Sweet licorice, nutty licorice, fruity licorice. The peat separates from the roof of my mouth into my nose. Nice! Definitely a sweet fruity note right from the start. Short burst of almond liqueur, without the lingering sweet finish. Less bitter than I thought it would be, but it does carry enough wood notes. Hints of steam locomotive and cola. Tastes very first half 20th century. Industrial and old. Stings a bit on my tongue, but not much. Less big as well and the liquid is not syrupy. It starts out promising, and shows a beer-like medium finish, which again some wood (and hops). I guess the reduction to 46.3% did it some harm. Slightly woody bitterness with mocha and milk chocolate. Not a huge aftertaste, nope, note even big, but again licorice (from Bassett’s Allsorts, the anise from this is present as well). Yup, special slightly bitter Belgian Beer. Westmalle Triple. Hops. Haagsche Hopjes as well, a coffee flavoured hard candy from the Netherlands. Where is this going I ask myself, nice complexity. The palate is slightly less magnificent than the nose was. From an almost empty bottle, the nose is stellar. The palate is slightly thin and also less balanced. I guess due to reduction. Medium finish at best (again, the reduction). The aftertaste is soft and lingering.

Do yourself an huge favour. When you buy this, open it a few days earlier and dare to put it away without a cork. If the ABV. would have been (much) higher, I would say, put it away for a few weeks without a cork. This Whisky needs a humongous amount of air to shine. The difference is really big. The harsh rubber notes, Nico was telling me about, are gone now, since my half of the bottle got a lot of air over time. When writing this review the bottle is 80% empty. Even when you do pour it, leave it in your glass for a while. Let it roll around. Keep it moving, warm it up in the palm of your hand. Be nice and gentle to this rugged Malt, and like a good boy it will jump up to you and lick your face.

Points: 90

Ledaig 15yo 1997/2013 (59.3%, Gordon & MacPhail, Reserve, for Van Wees, Refill Sherry Hogshead #464, 262 bottles, AC/JICD)

Well, this should be interesting! Fall 2015 saw me doing a review of a sistercask (#465) of this Whisky. The cask next door, so to speak. It was filled the same day with exactly the same distillate, in just another refill Sherry hogshead, but with, probably, a different result, since no two casks are really alike. Both were distilled on 23/10/1997, #464 was bottled 01/08/2013, and #465 was bottled on 30/10/2013. Bottled only three months later but making one a 15yo old and the other a 16yo. #465 is also the darker of the two, but the difference looks bigger than the aforementioned 3 months. Maybe the two casks contained different Sherries. Maybe one cask was more active, or had a deeper char. All can be true.

#465 was bottled for The Whisky Exchange (of London), and #464 was bottled for Van Wees (of Amersfoort). Both casks were refill Sherry hogsheads. I’m opening this #464 now, since #465 is almost empty and it’s time to “kill” it. Don’t believe for a second, since it lasted me this long, it wasn’t any good. It is actually so good, I didn’t want it to be empty soon, second it isn’t really a daily drinker type Whisky to boot. It’s a big, big Whisky. So today I still have a chance to compare the two. Just bear in kind, one has had plenty of time to breathe and the other is almost freshly opened.

Color: Full gold, with some orange.

Nose: Funky, dusty and meaty. Big and sweet-smelling. Fatty, dirty, meaty peat. Almost like an animal was turned into peat along with the plants. Nothing bad here, just very animalesk. Crushed beetle and gasses bubbling up from a pond. Expect no clean earthy peat, or just bursts of sharp smoke. Yes, smoke is here, as well as peat. Smoke from wet wood. Marshland wood. Earthy. Wet and dirty peat. Earthy sweet peat. The smoke is soft. Spicy, vegetal and highly aromatic. Hints of liquorice and dust, mixed in with toasted oak. Vanilla, mocha and more drier wood and sharper smoke. Hints of Rhum Agricole if you ask me. Hints of peppermint immersed in mud. Very organic mud. Do I detect some sulphurous compounds in the back? Wonderful balance though.

Taste: Starts sharp and quickly turns to sweet, with a peppery attack, quickly followed by peat and sharp smoke. Its like the initial sweetness coats the mouth and when that recedes, the sharper element comes to the front of the stage. Maybe fruity even, I’m sure of it actually, but that part is overwhelmed by the rest of the big aroma’s this Whisky has. Licorice power, sweet licorice wood. Ashes, even cigarette ashes. Extremely warming, I can feel it going all the way down. Never get that a lot, not even from cask #465. Sweet, lots and lots of almonds and even hints of anise, barely noticeable: acetone based nail polish remover, and the crushed beetle is here too. This may seem strange and quite off, but let me assure you, this is all positive for the whole of this Whisky. Give it some time and more fruity notes start to develop. Red and yellow fruits. Sweetish, but also slightly acidic. Nutty and waxy. Hints of burnt plastic. Lots of smoke in the taste, along with some cow dung in the finish. Very rural and farmy. Salty lips. What a wonderful Whisky again, utterly complex. There is so much happening. It’s only slightly less balanced than the nose, and cask #465 for that matter. This imperfection is best noticeable in the aftertaste.

In a direct comparison, it is obvious to me that #465 is the more civilized of the two. The same notes appear, but turned down quite a bit. It’s not as “loud” as #464. It’s fruitier, with apple notes and some more red fruits emerge as well. More elegant and less broad, less sweet. Slightly sharper and more acidic. Better balance in the taste and definitely more elegant and less dirty. So not identical twins. #464 is bigger, bolder and has a longer finish. The sulphurous bits of #464 are easier to detect in a direct comparison, since #465 seems to have much less of it, or lacks it altogether.

I love both these Ledaigs, and if you have a preference, it’s because one of the two better suits your profile )of the moment). More elegant or more rough, cases can be made for both. Personally today, I might prefer #465 (it shows coal and black fruit, which I love), however tomorrow I might prefer #464 (big and bold). It just depends. #465 will score higher because it does show a bit more quality and balance, with more of the aroma’s I like, but, who knows, maybe some more breathing will bring out even more in #464. I’m in for a treat the next months/years…

Points: 89

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465, AC/AEHI)

Third of October and right now the doors are opening for the 2015 Whisky Show in London, England. As many years before I’m attending this wonderful Whisky fest, the best few days of the year. Maybe not even the Whisky, but the people. I really can’t wait for it to begin. For those of you that are not there I’ll have a go here at a Ledaig (a.k.a. peated Tobermory) that was picked by The Whisky Exchange. This was a Whisky that was bottled a few weeks after the Whisky Show 2013, but luckily I got a chance to try from Gordon & MacPhail, before it was bottled. People from the Netherlands will know its sister cask #464 which was also excellent but much lighter in color.

Ledaig 16yo 1997/2013 (56.8%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask Strength, for The Whisky Exchange, Refill Sherry Hogshead #465)Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Fatty peat and candy sweetness. Animalesk and organic. Wild stuff. Hints of burnt cable. Unlit tobacco and dark chocolate powder. Very vegetal. Thick and full of itself. Big. Hints of vanilla and cream. Some dried grass and yes some wet grass from a muddy field in October as well. Funky fresh fungi. This never stops giving. Great peat that is balanced out nicely by the Sherry, but the former is the more dominant in this bottling.

Taste: Excellent entry. Sweet, mixed perfectly with licorice and lots of almonds. Even the wood is almondy. Utter and perfect balance. What a great integration of flavours. Red fruits and berries and hints of Gin. Fresh at times. Sea spray and hints of blobs of fresh fatty tar. Remember Lightning McQueen? Hints of stable (cow) and a bit of wood, but not much. Strange enough, with this amount of aroma and at almost 57% ABV., this only  has a medium finish, it gone sooner that you would want. Great aftertaste though. Almonds and red fruit. Salty lips!

If this would be older (tasting), had a longer finish and had even more added depth it would score well into the nineties. If it had more notes of curry and red peppers you could eat this dram. What a near-perfect modern dram this is. Excellent stuff can still be made. I’m happy I had some prior knowledge to snap this up when it was released.

Points: 90

Ledaig 6yo 2004/2011 (46%, Murray McDavid, Heavily Peated, Sherry Cask, 1.500 bottles)

Today we’ll have a look at another Ledaig, The peated Whisky made at Tobermory on the Island of Mull. Tobermory and/or Ledaig once had a bit of a shabby reputation for not being very consistent in quality, but the tide seems to be turned. Lots of very nice Ledaigs are turning up left and right, although the other young one I reviewed earlier wasn’t the best one around. However, quality today is good and even at a young age. This Sherried Ledaig is only 6 years old and looking good. The mere fact that Murray McDavid didn’t turn this into a Whisky with some kind of finish is saying something doesn’t it?

Ledaig 6yo 2004/2011 (46%, Murray McDavid, Heavily Peated, Sherry Cask, 1.500 bottles)Color: Full gold, almost orange.

Nose: Fatty peat and ashes. Nice note of cask toast and dirty Sherry. Smoked kippers. Tarry with hints of black fruit. Smoky and even a bit salty. Reminds me of good peated stuff from a while back, and in those days the peated Whiskies weren’t that old too. If I had smelled this blind I would have thought this was from Longrow, Laphroaig or Kilchoman (Isn’t that a kind of big spectrum?). Vanilla pudding, with a tiny hint of citrus freshness. Lemon, but also a hint of the aroma of sweet strawberries. Excellent nose.

Taste: Toast again, ashes again, but different from what I expected. First of all it is immediately clear that this isn’t in the taste a “heavy” as the nose was. The ghost of reduction? More wood here and much simpler than the nose. The wood gave off a bitter edge which helps the character of the Whisky along, but makes it a Whisky you’ll have to work with. In the finish, the Whisky falls apart. Thin, watery and especially the acidity stays, with the ashes, some almond and yes, the fatty peat, earthy clay and smoky bite.

Not bad, but something isn’t quite right here. Hard to tell, but maybe these weren’t the best Sherry casks around. The peated spirit itself tasted good, but not everything went well with the interaction with the wood. Maybe the Whisky also suffered here by the reduction to 46% ABV. We’ll never know, but I’m guessing this was a bit better at cask strength. Not bad, but could have been better is my obvious conclusion.

Points: 83

Ledaig 8yo 2001/2010 (50%, Kintra, Single Cask Collection, Bourbon Hogshead #800124, 36 bottles)

We took the peat road last time and when I look outside I can understand why. let’s get off that beaten path and tread not to Islay, but this time to the Isle of Mull. Being Dutch myself, let’s have a look at another indie Dutch bottler Kintra. Erik Molenaar is the boss of this outfit. Did Erik source a tiny Hogshead of Ledaig? “Honey. I shrunk the Hogshead” maybe? Nope, Erik shared a cask with a shop in Maastricht. Slijterij Bams. The share of the shop was 218 bottles, Erik’s share was only 36. Funny enough the label of ‘the other’ bottle states 50.6%. The humor doesn’t stop here. Bams don’t have it on their list anymore. Sold out? But The Kintra version is still available! So I can’t wait to try this. I hear that modern Ledaigs can be pretty good…

Color: White wine.

Nose: Warming. Light peat and grassy. Citrussy (fresh) and muddy. Great combination. Non-offensive. Cold wet black tea leaves. Oily old machine. Very nice nose. Perfumy, smoky and quite elegant for a heavily peated whisky. Almost burnt out fireplace on a freezing cold day or evening. Beauty and beast in one. Sour sweat and I do smell a stew in here.

Taste: Sweet with licorice. Soap. Black and white powder. Succulent grass, but also some hay. Burnt cables and lemon. Alas this isn’t as balanced as the nose, nor is it as likeable. It’s sweet at first with a sort of acidic licorice attack. Lot’s of ash in the finish. The lack of balance is a bit disturbing. There is also a bitterness like earwax and a hint of crushed bugs.

It seems simple, but especially the nose shows great balance. The youth shines through on the palate and seems to me to be less balanced. Here the sweetness and the laid back acidity do not match. The more air the whisky gets, the more the balance loses out on both the nose and the palate. Very strange to get this from, what should be a powerful heavily peated Whisky, at this age. What can I say. Maybe Erik made a wise decision to have such a small cask share? Well, totally bad this is not, it just deteriorates rather quickly with air (I used no water to achieve this).

Points: 82