Paul John 2011/2015 (60%, Malts of Scotland, Bourbon Barrel MoS 15066, 210 bottles)

In the previous post I mentioned that I always have two Paul John Malts open, as well as two offerings from Amrut. I’ve grown quite a fondness for Single Malt Whiskies from India. I’m sure that when more room comes available for open bottles, India will be the first to get more room on my lectern. The previous post was about the peated official Paul John single cask #745 I currently have open, and it’s a stunner again, after #777, and now we’ll have a go at another unpeated one. This time I chose one, bottled by German independent outfit Malts of Scotland (and in this case: Malts of India, really, it says so on the label). This is not the first Malts of Scotland’s Paul John on these pages though, in 2018, I reviewed a different cask, MoS 15068, that matured longer and contained peated Whisky, and again yet another stunner. Both Malts of Scotland and Paul John need no further introduction, so lets move on to the tasting.

Color: Full gold.

Nose: Malty and biscuity. Cookie dough with fresh citrus notes, occasionally sweet mint, and quickly taken over by more woody and dusty notes. This one smells a bit younger and simpler than #745 and #777, lacking some age maybe and the added bonus of peat. This is a back to basics kind of a smell. Since the peat is not here, there is more room for this Malt, or the Paul John distillate in particular, to show its more floral side (borderline men’s cologne). The wood is, well woody and waxy, and somewhat spicy, but not your typical Indian or exotic spiciness though, but a kind of spiciness that can be had in a Scottish Malt as well. Let’s say spices coming from the wood. So, kind of heavy, but the rest is fresh, floral and friendly. The sun is shining in this one even though the “heavy” bit can dominate at times. This is definitely a less complex Paul John, but a Paul John nevertheless, very recognizable. At first I thought this was maybe a closed Malt and given time it would develop some more, but no this is more or less it. Not bad, but simpler.

Taste: Initially sweet and fruity. Wax and ear wax. The sweetness is quite quickly pushed aside. A little sting from wood, some woody acidity as well. This must have been quite an active cask and maybe it aged right under the roof in hot surroundings. Quite some woody bitterness now. Big and hidden sweetness now, with a lot of wood spices. Barley (sugar) and biscuity. Soapy feel on my tongue. But even for this quite young Paul John, this is still remarkably balanced and very tasty. Again dangerously easy to drink, even though it is wood driven and bottled at 60% ABV. Quite hot going down, this sure is a 60% Malt. The finish is more of the same, wood, wax and to a lesser extent, some fruit in the aftertaste. Quite some bitterness stays behind in the middle of my tongue. I’ve spent some time with this Malt, again thinking it might be somewhat closed, but no, again it is what it is and for me it is quite a simple expression dominated by a few big aroma’s mentioned above.

So there you have it, all in all a simpler take on a Paul John single cask, quite young and dominated by wood. The wood gave off quite some bitterness, that I believe they couldn’t even leave it ageing for longer even if they wanted to, before the bitterness would be taking over, and dominating this Malt. As it is now, the bitterness is still acceptable, but definitely present. Luckily there are some other dominating factors in the Malt as well, not to let the bitterness rule. So still, a good, rather young and simple Malt. I say young, but coming from India this has nothing to do with the aroma’s of new make spirit, so don’t you worry ’bout a thing! This is still a good Malt and I’ve spent many happy moments with it, especially when it’s sunny.

Points: 86

Bowmore 15yo 1996/2011 (57.3%, Wilson & Morgan, Barrel Selection, Sherry Finish, Butt # 960005)

I don’t know why, but every time I saw this bottle on a shelf, (when it was still readily available), I just wanted it. Which is quite strange. I’m not the world’s biggest Bowmore’s fan. Bowmores from yesteryear surely yes, but more modern Bowmore’s somewhat less so than other Islay distillates. Maybe this has something to do with Bowmore’s FWP*-problem from the eighties? Who knows. But why did I want this one? 15yo sounds nice, Bowmore, definitely not so bad, Sherry, yes, finished, what?… but why not? Wilson & Morgan and Sherried bottlings (Macallan, Mortlach, yes pretty damn good!) And last but for me certainly not least, I have always been a sucker for green glass bottles. Dark Whisky just looks fantastic to me through green glass. I even hosted a large Whisky tasting once, you guessed it, only with Whiskies bottled in green glass.

So, I always felt, more likely assumed, (the mother of all fuckups), but there is some educated guessing involved here, this would be a good one. Excuse me for this unnecessary complex sentence. Right after getting one of these Bowmores, I found another discounted one, so I snapped that one up as well, just in case. Better safe than sorry ‘eh? As most anoraks/aficionados/connoisseurs already know, Wilson & Morgan is an Italian private bottler, led by the über-Italian Fabio Rossi, who seems to prefer to focus more on bottling Rums lately, and doing a great job there as well. I already reviewed some Rums bottled by Fabio’s Rum brand; Rum Nation, as well as Whiskies from his Wilson & Morgan range. Ohhhh that Mortlach, nom, nom…

Color: Dark orange brown.

Nose: Perfect peat and smoke. Syrupy Sherry. Spicy chilli pepper powder. Vanilla and boiling vegetable water. Hot motor oil, licorice, tar and a faint whiff of plastic and latex paint, all adding to the complexity. Raspberry jam. What an amazing smelling Malt. The label states this as a Sherry Finish. Often Oloroso comes to mind, but in this case it reminds me more of PX, not claiming this really came from a PX cask though. Leafy, vegetal. Fresh air in between the peat and the smoke with some hidden vanilla underneath. Excellent wood spice, and fresh oak vanilla. Soft, creamy and lovely. Cigarette ashes from an ashtray. Licorice and some minty black and white powder. The Sherry finish brought a lot to this Malt without overpowering it. It is still an Islay Malt, with this added bonus to it. Wonderful work Fabio. I wonder how the original Malt was before it was finished to see what this finish exactly did. I guess we will never know. The smoky and ashy industrial feel wears off a bit over time, exposing some burnt newspaper, sinaspril and chlorine as well as the vanillin of American oak. Excellent balance throughout the nose. Dark cherries on syrup and a tiny whiff of the oil from orange skins and warm mineral oil as well. It’s just the orange skin oil, but it isn’t very orange-y. Some cigarette smoke as well as some more tar at this point. Black tea and leafy with hints of smoked kippers and some clay. Quite a complex Malt, changing directions several times, yet always well balanced. When Bowmore gets is right it can really hit it out of the ballpark.

Taste: Ahhh, wonderful, strong and prickly peated plastic and smoked rubber on entry. Gravy and lots of (tarry) red fruits. Black fruits and ripe strawberry. Sweetish at first, turning dry. Black coal, steam and tarry with rubbery cherry syrup. Bitter licorice. Laurel licorice. Unlit cigarette. It really does taste thick. Quite some wood but never really bitter, the wee bitter note here comes from the smoke. It’s dry and smoky throughout and quite fruity as well. Ashy. If this wasn’t peaty and smoky and spicy, it would have been a lemonade. I’m sure, part of the smoky notes come from the Sherry cask and not the Whisky alone. On the palate it may not be as wonderfully complex as the nose, but at this point, who cares, this is such an outstanding Malt. Wonderful. Quite a dry aftertaste, waxy and woody with the plastics and the peat, the medium waxy bitterness has the longest breath.

This one right after Tamdhu Dalbeally No. 3 is simply stunning, Dalbeally brings out the best out of this one, coal, machines etc. Man, when Bowmore is great it is truly stunning. Never thought a Bowmore from the nineties could be so great. If I had tasted this blind, I would have guessed this was an older Bowmore, probably from the seventies costing a lot more than this one did me.

Points: 92

*French Whore Perfume

Springbank 18yo (46%, OB, 11/14)

Whenever one walks in, there are always several Springbank’s on my lectern. I always have to be careful not to empty the bottle before the review has been written. Amazingly the last Springbank featured here is the 15yo bottled in 2018. The review was written in 2019, so no Springbank was reviewed in the whole shitty year that was 2020, how is that even possible? Never mind, here is the review of the Springbank 18yo bottled in 2011. One with the nice old black label that has already been replaced with the blingy and shiny purple label we still have at the time of writing. As said many times before, one of Springbank’s strong points is batch variation. No release of the 18yo is similar to any of the other releases, and this one is no exception. The 2011 never was considered to be one of the best, so let’s see why this one gets less love than other editions of this Malt.

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Fatty, yet fresh. Citrussy and fruity, but also waxy and some (wet) hay and dry coconut. Sometimes a bit farmy. Smoked sweet toffee, latex paint and soft wet wood. Wood that has been under water for quite some time. Burnt wet paper. Old matches (lit a long time ago). Very aromatic as a whole. In part a men’s perfume and otherwise quite fruity. Warm motor oil. Fatty. Easily recognizable as a Springbank. Smells balanced and really appetizing. This has a very good nose. Yellow fruits like white peach and tropical fruits like passion fruit and maracuja with a wee edge of smoke. Sweet and ripe smelling. Lime, candied pineapple and some almonds. Hints of sweat combined with the men’s perfume. The whole Whisky smells like a Whisky from yesteryear, you know, one of those Malts, people say, “they don’t make them like that any more”. Smells extremely well made and thus a wee bit old fashioned maybe, but then again, Springbank never smelled anything like anything else out there. Some more caramel and toffee, and some alcohol as well. Alcohol like you get from a cherry liqueur with a wee snuff of old white pepper, so not fully aromatic white pepper. Faded white pepper and add to that some warm anise (milk). Maybe this is a bed-time dram? Not woody at all, but there is this sense of toasted wood, although not much.

Taste: The taste is less big than the nose is. Well, initially it is, but the big fatty, nutty and fruity start dissipates rather quickly (making room for some wood and its bitterness). Still fruity, but also a bit thinner, maybe a tad more watery. Still quite warming going down. Here the age exerts itself through more wood and loads of almonds. With the second sip, the more waxy and nutty notes come to the front. Toffee and paper. Wax with citrus aroma’s blended in. Lemon and lime notes, not your orange or tangerine aroma’s. Although the woody bitterness does resemble the oils from orange peel a bit. Nice soft wood with (just) enough bitterness to let you know this is a well aged Whisky, and yes it aged in a wooden cask alright. Upfront are the waxy and toffee bits with the citrus and tropical fruits, the start of the body is the best. The more time you spend with this sip, brings out the more astringent woody bits and especially the bitterness of which there were no early warning signs of its arrival. The nose seemed so sunny and friendly and now this somewhat gloomy bitterness shows itself. It’s not bad, but it does come a little bit unexpected considering the nose. The finish is of medium length at best, and the aftertaste is somewhat dominated by the wood and its bitter friend. However, when this bottle was freshly opened, I don’t remember this bitterness at all. I guess this is what the breathing accomplishes. I have to admit, not every day is the same and personally it depends on the day how I get on with bitterness. Springbank almost always needs a lot of breathing, here with this one that is not the case. Strange, and again unexpected.

Yes, this is still a classic Springbank offering, yet not a big and bold one. As happens with a lot of offerings from this distillery, it only gets better over time. These Whiskies need to breathe to develop even beyond a point you couldn’t imagine when freshly opened, and this one was a good one right from the start, and as said above, quite different from Springbank 18yo bottlings form other years. We just love batch variation here! This one did develop to a high quite soon, but also managed to get past its top, and found its way down again. I don’t get that a lot with Springbank. As said earlier, this is not a Big Springbank, hence its reputation, so in this particular case the Whisky probably would have been even better at a slightly higher ABV. Around 50% I would say. This one is still a good one, hence the score.

Points: 87

Warre Late Bottled Vintage 2011

Sometimes you have to strike the iron while hot, so after an absence of Port on these pages for an amazing five years, here is number two within this week. After Auke’s Kopke I reviewed last, lets turn to a different style of Port, with my own Warre’s Late Bottled Vintage 2011. 2011? Is that a typo? No it isn’t, 2011 turned out to be a truly amazing, quintessential Vintage Port year! I ask myself, why didn’t they turn this into a LBV then? B-choice?

So what is a Late Bottled Vintage Port, I hear you ask?

Well, traditionally a Late Bottled Vintage (or LBV for short), is a Ruby Port from a single harvest/year, bottled after ageing for four to six years in wood, tonnels to be precise, which are very large casks. It should be a Vintage Port in style which is to retain some of the character of fruit and the tannins from the wood influence and the aroma’s to be had from the depot of the unfiltered Port (some more tannins for ya). Back in the day, there were many unfiltered LBV’s around, more akin to Vintage Ports. Apart from filtering, I’d like to point out that the time frame of four to six years is quite large. A 4yo Port does taste different from a 6yo Port (when aged in wood).

Today an LBV can taste young and fruity by, (in part), maturation in a tank, to retain that youthful, zesty, vibrant fruitiness, or a LBV can taste mature with noticeable wood ageing. Most of today’s LBV’s are filtered (and fined) and don’t need further ageing in the bottle, which is convenient. Luckily, some however, do have (some) depot and can be aged for a while longer. My Warre is such and example, going against the grain of the modern consumer who wants young and fruity LBV’s which are ready to drink. Although this Warre is not a true Traditional completely unfiltered, LBV, at least it doesn’t say so on the label, it does have some depot. Also, drinking this I do not feel the need to decant it. Sure you sometimes don’t know what you are getting when buying any bottle of LBV from the shelf, if only the labels were more clear, but I do welcome the choice.

To finish this introduction off, a household remark: The picture below is of the 2013 version, My bottle is already open, therefore not very photo genetic, and I couldn’t find a decent picture of the 2011 on ye olde interweb, so I used a decent picture of the next L.B.V. bottled by Warre, the 2013. Don’t be confused though, it looks exactly the same (apart from the year stated obviously).

Color: Extremely dark ruby red. Slightly cloudy and there is some depot in the bottle. Don’t spill this on your white shirt (I did that once at a Port Tasting, awkward).

Nose: Red Wine and fruits. Fresh and slightly sweet smelling, sometimes sugared fruits. Warming and fresh, almost like the warmth of the sun was captured in here. I get this every time I try it. Thick and yet not the promise of a lot of sweetness. Slightly dusty and closed. Warm berry juice over pudding. A tiny hint of vanilla, so American oak? Accessible and promising.

Taste: Sweet on entry with good acidity. Fruitier than the nose, otherwise it tastes like it smells.  Excellent acidity actually, matching the medium sweetness. Good balance. Again accessible just like it smells. 20% ABV, and it shows an alcoholic note, that seems to be disconnected from the Port itself. Tannic (Red Wine) mouthfeel, not much, but enough for the specific feel you get between your tongue and roof of mouth. Sweetish and fruity. Fruit juice for semolina pudding. Medium finish with (luckily) some tannins and woody bitter notes, all well in check, just adding to the complexity and giving it a more “Vintage” style. The Port is good and moderately complex. An easy daily drinker and definitely not a true Vintage Port which is something else entirely, but it is family. After multiple sips, the tannins dry out your lips and stay behind on your tongue. I like this style of LBV, it puts the V in the LBV, so to speak.

Just like the Colheita before, this Late Bottled Vintage is a style made for comfort, for all us full-time, over-time, busy office people. Tasty, without a lot of fuss. Just open it and drink. No decanting, no ages of ageing after buying, not a lot depot that gets between your teeth. Easy stuff. This is a very accessible and nice Port with some Vintage Port-style without the Vintage Port price tag, even less hard earned cash has to change hands than when buying a good Colheita. Nevertheless, a Colheita is something different, so you need both in your life. Frankie says: go for it!

Points: 83

After doing this review I feel that the Kopke Colheita 2003 I just reviewed, seems to be more modern in style (as mentioned above for modern LBV’s. It youthful and very fruity, which is a bit odd considering Colheita’s are about long ageing… Food for thought.

Thanks go out to Auke for bringing up Port again! Now de-cork the old White please 😉

Highland Park Week – Day 1: Highland Park “Leif Eriksson” (40%, OB, Travel Retail Exclusive, 2011)

Time for another of Master Quill’s weeks. This time around we’ll focus on Highland Park. When rummaging through my stash of samples or bottles I sometimes come across a few which have some sort of common link, usually being made at the same distillery, but there can be many others. In no way should it be a true cross-section of the standard range or should it be all official or recent bottlings. Nope, the aim is to have fun with seven Whiskies, more or less picked at random. In this case Highland Park gets the honor. I have picked seven Highland Park Whiskies to have fun with and put them in some sort of logical order. We’ll start off with Leif Eriksson, one of many travel retail offerings. Usually reduced to 40% and usually bottled in a convenient litre bottle. This time however it is the standard 700ml bottle that can be easily picked up outside of an airport…

I may have mentioned this before, but Highland Park is owned by the Edrington Group. A company that also owns The Macallan. With both these distilleries, or brands, Edrington do a lot of marketing. There is an obvious core range made up of Whiskies with age statements, and some of them have already featured on these pages as well. Besides that Highland Park, as many others, loves travel retail outlets and are keen on issuing special series (aiming at collectors).

I am a big fan of the Highland Park distillate and when we look at Highland Park, pré marketing, you would have a hard time finding even a mediocre bottling. Just have a go at an older wide neck bottling and you’ll know what I mean, or even ask Olivier Humbrecht about Highland Park and you are set for the day.

The beginning of the special series craze, I mentioned above, started with the release of Earl Magnus in 2009 (5.976 bottles). It is part of a trilogy called the Inga Saga. Earl Magnus is a 15yo Highland Park of impeccable quality, and back then was released at a more than reasonable price. It was followed up in 2010 with a 12yo called Saint Magnus (11.994 bottles), which was a bit less interesting and the series was concluded in 2011 with an 18yo called Earl Haakon (3.000 bottles). It was a hybrid of the standard ages of 12yo, 15yo and 18yo, but also bore names of mythical figures from the history of Orkney. Today its hard to imagine a company releasing only one special bottling a year! By the way, this 18yo was top-notch again. Many series like this were created since.

However Leif Eriksson is not part of any series I know of. It’s a bottling commemorating the Viking Eriksson who was the first European to set foot in North America. So it shall be no surprise this Highland Park was matured wholly in American Oak casks (probably all ex-Bourbon).

highland-park-leif-erikssonColor: Gold.

Nose: Starts with a hint of smoke and heather, and a nice funkiness I know from older Highland Parks. Initially also quite sweet. Nice sweet barley notes, honey and also quite fruity. Cold butter. A very appealing, and slightly dirty, nose. Lots of vanilla and creamy latex paint, as could be expected. Less expected was the coal dust and Aspirin powder I got next. Highland Park is a distillate that does well in any cask. Excellent nose.

Taste: Oh no. Aiii, sweet honey and sugar-water. What a shame. This one is definitely ruined by reduction. Maybe they felt it was too hot at cask strength and since it had to be bottled for travel retail they automatically reduced it to the lowest strength possible, 40% ABV. Sweet, creamy vanilla again. Hints of almonds. Lots of creamy notes as well as lots of vanilla. That’s the main marker of the taste. Not a lot of wood though, although there is a nice toasted cask edge to it. The palate matches the nose very well. This should have been a litre bottle, since to get the max out of this you need to drink this in big gulps and roll it around a lot in your mouth (needs a lot of air as well). Funny enough a slightly bitter oak note emerges in the aftertaste…

You can still taste the potential of this. It is almost as if has to be suitable for pilots who still have to fly. I hope not. The nose is wonderful and the taste does show the potential. It is not a bad Whisky. It could have been a very good Bourbon expression of Highland Park, but it was ruined by one bad decision. The amount of reduction. Still, it sometimes can hit a soft spot, and is still an example how Highland Park can be without the (big) Sherry.

Points: 81

Cognac Week – Day 4: Château Montifaud XO (40%, OB, 1981/2011)

Cognac Week LogoJust like I promised yesterday, Today we’ll return to Château Montifaud, and this time we will have a look at their XO expression. (Extra Old). By law an XO should be at least 6yo, but again we see that Montifaud age their Cognacs longer than necessary. This XO is 30yo! In 2016 however law will be changed, and an XO should be 10yo, but I don’t think Montifaud will age their 30yo XO Cognac even longer, now the law will change. Just like the VS, this is made with grapes from the Petite Champagne region. It maybe a “lesser” region than the Grande Champagne Region, but Montifaud will know what to do with these “inferior” grapes, if the VS is anything to go by.

Chateau Montifaud XOColor: Orange copper gold (ever so slightly lighter than the VS.)

Nose: Winey and with some added acidity, which smells as “age”. Deeper and more brooding. Old bottle effect and powdery. It’s different from the VS which already had a beautiful nose. This XO is really a fantastic Spirit to smell. It’s so nice, that I completely forgot to take notes when I was nosing this!

Taste: Winey and sweet. It’s even more winey than the VS and lacks the licorice, its younger brother has. Honey and green apple skins. Fragile old age. This one has more depth, (but not as much as I’ve come to expect from a 30yo Cognac). It does have much more staying power compared to the VS The finish has a well hidden burnt wood note that’s hardly there. When that dissipates it shows a slightly translucent acidic note that also quickly dissipates. The sweetness is less of a honey quality and more of plain sugar, and it’s always present. If the sweetness would be more refined, it would have been an even better Cognac.

Coming from a Whisk(e)y background, I find these Cognacs to be very…lovely and light. Even these old blended stuff of 25yo like the Jean Fillioux, and this 30yo Montifaud come across as a bit too simple in the taste, and I do believe the lowest possible ABV. for a Cognac is hurting the wealth of aroma’s these kinds of Cognac should have. So age isn’t everything when you start adding a lot of water. In fact I don’t want to write about this again. With this one I want to sit back and enjoy.

Points: 86

Rum Nation Barbados 10yo 2001/2011 (40%, Single Domaine Rum, Barbados)

After the peated Benriach and the chilly foreplay to winter, lets head back to a nicer climate and head towards Barbados. Although Scotland is a beautiful county, I’d rather be in Barbados right now. Edinburgh, not even 10° C. Barbados more than 30° C. What would you do? Remember my review of the Cockspur 12? Well the Barbados Rum I’m about to taste, actually comes from the same place. Both Cockspur 12 (not 12 years old though) and this Bajan Rum come from the same distillery: The West Indies Rum Distillery. You always hear about, location, location, location don’t you? Well, this distillery is located right at the beach, just like some of the best Scottish distilleries, with the one distinct difference I already mentioned above. I just image lying my tired bones on the beach, enjoying the sun, and then bubble up de gap to the distillery for some “refreshments” safe! This Rum was bottled by Italian bottler Fabio Rossi under his Rum Nation brand he founded in 1999. We maltheads already know Fabio as the man behind indy Whisky bottler Wilson & Morgan.

Barbados Rum 10yo 2001-2011 (40%, Rum Nation, Barbados)Color: Orange gold, amber.

Nose: Wonderfully complex smell. Oak and vanilla, short whiff of acetone with fresh air and clean alcohol. Most definitely not too to sweet. This is quite a breath of fresh air after all those sweet and sweeter Rums. Sure toffee and caramel, but this time with spicy wood, slightly burnt wood and without the sugary type of sweetness, although it does smell a bit like brown sugar. Hints of dark chocolate, bacon and even a pinch of cherry liqueur, salt and cola. It almost smells like an overly toffeed Bourbon, and I have to say the fresh and nutty smell of oak is just about right in this one. Maybe this is a Whisky drinker’s Rum. Well done!

Taste: Yes, this is no dud, in fact this is very good! Wonderful entry of sweet almonds and again wonderful oak. Long and warm caramel. The nuttiness, oak and caramel are aided by hints of licorice and orange rubber (lab rats will recognize it), to form the body of this Rum. It’s warming without ever being heavy. Great balance and quite a nice finish, with hardly any bitterness to it. Wonderful vegetal aftertaste too. It’s chewy and you just want another caramel from the bag, and another, and another. I love it and I will be sorry when it’s gone.

Well, dear readers, for me this is a hidden gem. I already thought Cockspur was nice, but this also is really something. Exceptional balance, all flavours are well-integrated and match up quite nicely. I even prefer this one over the Cockspur 12. Get it as long as its available. Today Rum Nation still bottles a 10yo Bajan Rum, but they have changed the bottle into a dumpy one. I haven’t tried that one yet, but I am sure it will be just as good as this one.

Points: 85

Grappa Week – Day 6: Sibona La Grappa Di Barbera (42%, 50 cl, 2011)

Grappa Week LogoToday we’ll have a Grappa made by Sibona. Looking at the picture below you might think it doesn’t look like much, but holding the adorable half litre bottle in your hand, makes you want to have a whole row of bottles like this, with Grappa’s made from every single grape variety that grows in the Piedmont region of Italy. The bottle itself has markings, warning you when another 10 cl has gone, and has a little extension preventing you from dripping the precious liquid, so not a drop gets lost. For this “Linea Graduata”, the label looks like someone typed it in his shed. Looks fantastic though. Even without tasting, I would like to have them all!

Barbera is a red grape variety that has grown very common to Italy. It is the most planted grape variety just after Sangiovese and Montepulciano. Sibona hails from the Piedmont region, and over there, Barbera is the most used grape variety. Both Sangiovese and Montepulciano are not (really) planted in the Piedmont at all.

Sibona La Grappa Di BarberaColor: Light citrus yellow, straw.

Nose: Lots of hay, warm, basking in the sun. In the distance crickets are chirping and you are living the live of a God with an Italian beauty by your side. At least you are enjoying yourself very much. Hay, dry grass, dust, cereal, honey and some deep fruity notes and some nice citrussy notes as well. With some time, creamy notes develop with hints of vanilla coming from the oak ageing. Black tea, with a flowery note to it as well as some black fruits. Dry and very well-balanced. Hints of rural organics. Maybe not at first, but this has become a dream to nose.

Taste: The hay and dry grass return big time in the taste as well as some virgin oak. A sappy and tannic bitterness with grape skin aroma. It would be funny now, to say this isn’t sweet enough, but yes, it is on the dry side, which won’t make it your daily drinker, nor will it be a Grappa for everyone (starting to drink Grappa). Nevertheless, I’m glad this hasn’t been ruined by sugar. Having said that, apart from the honey, there is some hidden sweetness to this Grappa, and it is sugary in quality, not saying that this is sweet at all. So slightly sweetened black tea it is. The more it breathes the more black (and red) fruits emerge. very appetizing. A connoisseurs aperitif I would say. It’s far to elegant or subtle to function as a digestif even though Grappa is really a digestif, and this particular example is quite powerful. With extended breathing the naturally occurring sweetness becomes more and more noticeable.

I remember when I opened the bottle I didn’t like it very much, because all of the hay and it seemed not to be pleasant to smell as well. But even then, I had the feeling I would grow into it. At this point in time I really don’t know for sure which of us has changed, me or the Grappa, which got some air into the bottle to breathe and develop. This is a high quality Grappa showing off a single grape variety from the Piedmont. Not an easy Grappa, and something to savour once in a while. But when you need it, it’s great. The role the wood played is easily discernible. The Barbera has been aided by some ageing in oak, in fact, this is the darkest of all the Grappa’s from the “Linea Graduata”.

Points: 81

Laphroaig Week – Day 4: Laphroaig 13yo 1998/2011 (53.4%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #700047, 96 bottles)

Laphroaig SignDay four, a.k.a. the middle, or the pivotal point in a week. We’re halfway through. We started out with three distillery bottlings of Laphroaig. An older 15yo, it’s replacement the 18yo, although not in its latest guise, and yesterday we had a look at a travel retail only bottling from last year: An Cuan Mòr. Up untill now Laphroaig hasn’t failed me yet. Today we’ll venture into more unknown territory. The territory of the independent bottler. Today we’ll have a look at a Laphroaig, Erik Molenaar got into his hands a while back. The market is rapidly changing. In 2011 Erik could get (part of a Sherry Butt) for a reasonable price. Today he probably would still be able to source such a Whisky, but unfortunately only at an unreasonable price. So even when this is from 2011, it can still be considered…well you catch my drift. So without further ado…

Laphroaig 13yo 1998/2011 (53.4%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #700047, 96 bottles)Color: Gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry. Has someone just farted over here? My word, lots of the S-element is filling the room. Sulphur that is, and it comes from my glass into which I have not farted, nor has anyone else. Fruity and half sweet underneath “the fart”. Enough with the fart already, will ya? Ok, lets move the Sulphur into the realm of fireworks then. Toasted wood, but also toasted bread. Meaty big aroma.

Taste: Sweet and Sherried. Fruity with loads of ashes. Short shock of fruity acidity. Creamy but with a wave of a bitter sulphury edge. The bitterness also could come from the oak. Nevertheless, the bitterness is also kept in check, so it doesn’t hurt the overall taste. The ashes transform into a sweeter form with and acidic edge, and both do not overpower the palate. The sweetness and acidity show themselves and go under again, like the Loch Ness monster. Warming and full body. Cozy. Nice mix of peat and funky Sherry. Sure, it may be flawed but the whole still (fire)works for me. Hints of black fruits and some smoke late in the finish.

Lots of my Whisky-loving friends don’t like sulphury notes too much. Some seem to be even overly sensitive to the stuff, if not allergic. They can go on and on about it and I sure do understand why. We know from the olden days how Sherried malts should taste like. Some of you know the golden days of The Macallan, old heavily Sherried Longmorns from the sixties and seventies, Glen Grants and Strathisla from the sixties. Fruity, full of aroma’s, with steam and coal, the lot! Today that quality can’t be reached anymore, and I don’t have the room here to discuss why. More modern Sherried malts are prone to have sulphury notes, and it’s up to you, if you can stand that or not. If you can (like I do), this is a big and nice, yet sulphury, Laphroaig.

Points:87

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