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

Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky “Inaugural Release” 2014/2017 (46%, OB, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, 4000 bottles)

Every year our team attends the Whisky Show in London, and every year we come across something that surprises us. Usually it is a particular distiller. One time it was the range of Tomatin, and more recently we really liked the stuff of Indian Distiller Paul John. For example, last year, the only bottle I bought was a single cask Paul John. This year we found that the crux of the festival seemed not to be a particular distiller or brand, rather than the high quality of young Whiskies and/or new distilleries. Sure, there was a plethora of amazing old Whiskies on the Gordon & MacPhail stand and there is always nice super-premium stuff at the Diageo stand, but for us this year was about very nice young Whiskies. And guess what, they all came with age statements! Yes, it can be done! Funny enough, also young Whiskies coming from distilleries, people, (including me), tend to ignore. So, this year, I returned home with an 8 year old Tamnavulin, an 8 year old Glen Moray, a 10 year old Glenlivet and finally a 12 year old Tormore. All young, age stated, single casks and all from independent bottlers. Highly affordable as well. Before I forget, equally amazing was the Ailsa Bay and the man behind it. Today we are going to look at another young Whisky. The first release of an English Single Malt Whisky from the Cotswolds.

In my mind when a new distillery opens, it’s the brain child of two blokes who think they can do things better and try to conquer the world. Yes, I’m a romantic. Not true here, the two blokes thing, that is. This Whisky isn’t made in a shed in the Cotswolds. No, the Cotswolds distillery is the brain-child of Daniel Szor. A New York banker from Polish descent. Unfortunately his parents never learned him the language. Believe me, I tried, nope, Cotswolds is definitely not a shed. It’s a full fled distillery with tours and everything and a lot of staff, a lot, so I guess mr. Szor has some big plans, and is here to stay!

Color: Gold.

Nose: Floral, zesty, young and very perfumy. Big aroma. Cinnamon, cinnamon (again), more cinnamon and bread, cereal, sawdust and lots of notes from first fill Bourbon casks. Vanilla pods and Sinaspril pills. So yes, a nice acidic note as well. Insence sticks. No off-notes whatsoever and hardly any trace of new-made spirit. Nice wood, beautiful wood actually. Dry leaves and toasted toffee. Hints of candied yellow fruits in the distance. Spicy like an Indian Malt. Not sure this comes from the wood or are they using indian six-row barley at Cotswolds? The florality reminds me of Indian Whisky as well. Very appetizing. Well balanced and again a very big nose. Wonderful aroma’s coming together nicely. Still young and it already shows a lot of potential, which doesn’t mean this inaugural release isn’t worth it, because it is! Well done team!

Taste: On entry a wee bit thinner than expected and after that, an elegant and mouth coating young Malt emerges. Slightly sweet, slightly bitter, with toffee and caramel notes, and a lot of aromas coming from the first fill Bourbon casks. Making the body “bigger” than the entry was. Not as sweet as the nose promised. Already some nice yellow fruits though, as well as a hint of latex paint and machine oil? Wow. A desert in itself. Sweetish. Vanilla with a spicy note added to it. Just like the nose, quite Indian in style. Very appetizing stuff. The wood is almost virgin now, with a sharp spicy edge to it. Oats and crackers. Cigarette ash and toasted oak mixed with light fruity acidity. Again, lots of balance for such a young malt from a new distillery. Nice aftertaste.

Amazing inaugural release of Cotswolds. I’m told this is three years old plus one day, (some mentioned four days, but who is counting days in Whisky?). Amazing Indian style nose reminding me of some Paul John releases but foremost of this Amrut.

As mentioned in the introduction. Distilleries these days, are able to put out some very nice young Whiskies, even the ugly ducklings of yesteryear, you know, those anonimous distilleries distilling for blends only, like the aforementioned Tamnavulin. Amazing stuff, but on the other hand, we the consumer, we also had some time, by way of NAS-Whiskies, to get used to the taste of younger Whiskies. Maybe we just needed some time to adjust, and accept the times they are a-changing? Really old Whiskies these days cost the same amount of money as a new car, and something a bit younger still costs about the same as a nice vacation. So yes, we did get used to the taste of younger Whiskies, but nevertheless, there is much good stuff going around, just different from the stuff we bought 10 or 20 years ago…

Points: 84

The Balvenie 15yo 1989/2004 ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8%, OB, Bourbon Barrel #7581)

2003 will for ever be the year when The Balvenie 15yo aka ‘The Single Barrel’ from the masters of reduction, was even further reduced. Where this bottling, which often was older than the stated 15yo, used to be reduced to a nice 50.4% ABV, from 2003 on, was further reduced to 47.8%. Bugger, less tax, mo’ money? Never mind. Balvenie is always a nice distillery to review. The company usually puts much effort in reaching consistency between batches, but fails miserably, when comparing this 12yo ‘Doublewood’ to this one and this one. The 15yo however, was intended to have (some) batch variation, since they were the results of one Bourbon cask (I’m not sure if all are Barrels though). Funny enough subsequent releases, and there are many, were pretty similar, when you expected some more emphasis on the difference between casks. I guess, there is more difference when comparing two from (quite) different distilling dates. Well how convenient. Five years back I wrote a review of a 15yo ‘Single Barrel’ that was distilled in 1983, and released in 1999 @ 50.4% ABV, and now we are going to have a look at a “newer” example distilled in 1989, and released in 2004 @ 47.8% ABV. (The picture is of a similar bottling from cask #7633).

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Initially fruity and fresh. Very accessible. Vibrant and happy I would say, Summer, it’s like sunshine in a glass. Barley, some butter and brown sugar. Vanilla powder and white oak. Dusty mocha. Hint of gun powder and soap. Next a more vegetal note emerges. Half dried weeds lying around in the sun and some fresh almonds in the background. Soft rhubarb. The more it breathes the weaker it gets. Simpler as well. Pretty easy Whisky, typical of the cask it came from.

Taste: Sweeter than expected, and bigger as well. Lots of fruit, dried apricots, peach in sweet yoghurt, but also vanilla and coffee creamer notes. Pudding and custard. Milk chocolate. Chocolate mousse. This cask gave off lots of vanillin. Very green and vegetal. Nutty, almonds again. A hint of christmas spices. Cloves, that kind of thing. Apart from this, a strange cold dishwater note and add to that a burnt note as well as a slightly floral note. Green. The nose definitely was cleaner. Ice-cream and fruity liqueur (alcohol).

It is strange and typical at the same time. Typical in the way that it is where it came from (Bourbon Barrel), but some strange notes appear as well. The sweetness and the notes mentioned above make this not really a daily drinker. With this one you need some down-time or follow it up with something else. One at a time is enough, and yes this makes it different from other examples of the 15yo I have tasted, so a succesful exercise in getting some batch variation. Not my favourite of the 15’s though.

Points: 84

Benrinnes 15yo “Flora & Fauna” (43%, OB, L15P00535367, Circa 2001)

Long time no see! I took a month off, since a lot happened lately. First of all, a new job, which is nice, takes up a lot of time though, and the moments I did have left for writing reviews, were also spent differently than I initially expected. Apart from that, also The Whisky Show in London happened. Today, instead of reviewing something new from that show, I chose an oldie from my lectern.

Just like the Flora & Fauna Mortlach bottling I reviewed earlier, this is a bottle I brought with me to a gathering of my Whisky club, and as can happen when opening old bottles, the cork broke quite easily, crumbled to a pulp. You gotta love those corks now don’t you? Of all the Flora & Fauna bottlings, Mortlach, Dailuaine and this Benrinnes are the really Sherried ones (but there are more). Experience also shows us there is definitely some batch variation going on in the Flora & Fauna series. Here we have an oldie, supposedly bottled in 2001 (or 2002), so not a recent one, which might be entirely different.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Heavy on the Sherry. Nice and earthy. Meaty, cold gravy. Thick aroma. Coal and steam. Is it already a sherried bottling from a different time than ours? How would a more recent example compare? This was distilled in the eighties, which was a different era compared to a Gordon & MacPhail Longmorn from 1971. So heavy on the Sherry. Thick and astringent. Dry and not as fruity as Longmorn. If you ask me, this compares more to the style of Glenfarclas, drier and not-so-fruity. Funky, tarry, musk, brown sugar, coffee creamer and definitely Vanilla. American oak. Still not a lot of fruit though. Hints of very ripe cherries mixed in with oak. Dry, dusty and quite spicy. Hints of cask toast including the smell of molten plastic. Meaty, cooked vegetables with more oak and spices. Hard to tell which spices though, although anise and cloves come to mind, as well as some crushed beetle (that’s not a spice isn’t it?). I can’t help but feel there are some older casks used for this particular expression. Good and interesting, but also a bit “strange”. A hint of soap (not of the perfumy kind) and mocha.

Taste: On entry, a brief light moment, almost like a underproof Whisky (which it is not). Soft, but luckily not “smooth”. It has wonderful raw edges and does show some bitter (and soapy) notes as well, which do work well. Fruitier than the nose, and already one that needs to breathe. Somewhat sweeter than expected, caramel but also the brown sugar I got from the nose, all in good measure though. Tar and plastic yes, cherries? yes as well, but that’s about it. Does it matter? No, since it is a different kind of Sherried Whisky. Lots of (sweet) licorice (and toffee) in stead, it almost tastes salty. Again, a very interesting and tasty experience. Wonderful body, but it sometimes falls apart a bit in the finish (depending on the moment). Finish isn’t as long as one would think, but still has enough length. Well, if it’s a problem, take another sip then. Tar and coal make up the aftertaste, and Sherry of course.

For me, another gem in the Flora & Fauna range. Especially looking at those earlier bottlings, there were quite a few more than wonderful examples there. Mortlach, Blair Athol, Rosebank, all excellent. Worth looking for. I really need to have a look at more recent bottlings in this range to compare them to the older ones…

People start to pay silly money for the Flora & Fauna Mortlach, and it doesn’t even seem to matter if it’s an older one or one of the last. Granted, they are very good, but really, this 2001 bottling of Benrinnes is equally as good!

Points: 88

Elements Eight Gold (40%, St. Lucia)

Elements Eight. Named after the eight elements needed for the production of (this) Rum: Terroir, Cane, Water, Fermentation, Distillation, Tropical Ageing, Filtration and Blending. Funny, since the base of this Rum are molasses from Guyana, which paints a somewhat different picture than the handpicked cane mentioned on the bottle. The Rum is marketed, no, Marketed with a capital M, by The Elements Eight Rum Company based in London, England which was founded in 2005 by Carl Stephenson and Andreas Redlefsen. Earlier, both have worked at J. Wray & Nephew. Remember Appleton from Jamaica? Right!

The Rum itself is produced at the St. Lucia Distillery, we know from Admiral Rodney, Chairman’s Reserve, 1931 or even the Plantation St. Lucia I reviewed earlier. Besides this Gold, there were three other Rums offered in the original line-up from 2006: Platinum, Spiced and Criollo Cacao. In 2016, after ten years the brand was completely revamped with four “new” expressions: Exotic Spices (aka Spiced), Vendôme (aka Gold), Platinum (aka Platinum, dûh) and Republica (new). The latter one a 5yo blend of one Rum from Cuba and one from Panama, so the Criollo Cacao got dropped, but might return at a later date. Apart from the Republica, the Rums are blended together from eight (although ten was the number mentioned on the old bottles) different Rums produced at the St. Lucia distillery, which has a John Dore double retort copper pot still for the heavy, flavourful components, depth and finish; a Vendome Kentucky Bourbon copper pot still, which gives the rather unique flavour profile and a steel columnar still for the lighter components (sentence stolen from Lance), apart from that, three different yeast strains were used for the production of these eight Rums. By the way, the oldest Rum used in this blend is 6yo, although marketing states that the whole was aged for 6 years. Luckily no sugar was added during production of this Rum, for a unadulturated experience.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Sugar cane. Fresh and clean. Mocha, milk chocolate with a nice wooden edge. Dusty. Vanilla powder and coffee creamer. With some air, more spicy, with notes of lavas (Maggi), black pepper and lots of dry grass. Cold tea. Tiny hint of fresh (unlit) cannabis and licorice. In a way, meaty. Pancake syrup and powdered sugar. Excellent nose. Dry, complex and with good balance. The nose develops nicely with air and time, and it develops over a long period of time. Warming with hints of sea breeze. Not a middle of Summer nose, but one for autumn, with wind and rain, the moment you understand summer is over…

Taste: Aiii, rather thin and definitely suffers from too much reduction. What a disappointment after the wonderful nose. Hints of toasted cask. A good bitter woody edge, with enormous staying power. Some caramel and toffee, but still not sweet. Almonds! The spices from the nose, finally show themselves, trying to save what can be saved. Well, when I let this stand for a while it definitely gets better than the initial disappointing sip. It really needs to stand around for a while. More complexity and definitely a bit industrial. Water based paint. Nice finish, with the bitterness forming tha mainstay of the aftertaste.

I do like St. Lucia Rums but this might not be on top of my list. If you let this breathe for a while it is able to show its heritage and the quality it must have had at a higher strength. Excellent example of a Rum that was reduced too much. Although this comes from the same distillery as the aforementioned Plantation, both couldn’t differ more. Having said that, there are some similarities too, and it is not hard to tell, when tasted blind, this is an offering from the island of Saint Lucia. This has a wonderful nose and taste-wise it starts weak but will grow on you,  if you let it. If you’re really patient with it, it will redeem itself. Interesting stuff and nice to see another example of this distillery. One that definitely grew on me.

Points: 85