Bunnahabhain 8yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, The MacPhail’s Collection, Refill Sherry Butts, Heavily Peated)

Let’s continue with a Margadale. You might have never heard of Margadale, but that is how the heavily peated Bunnahabhain spirit is actually called. Margadale has a peating level between 35 and 40 ppm. Bunnahabhain means “mouth of the river”, now guess the name of the river itself… I would have liked it if they really would have called it Margadale, just like Tobermory and Ledaig. Now, the peated spirit Bunnahabhain produces is called Margadale, but when the spirit becomes Whisky, the bottled peated Bunnahabhain is called Moine. That’s probably a name you have encountered before. Only Berry Brothers & Rudd have once bottled a peated Bunnahabhain with a mention of Margadale. Bunnahabhain used to be an (almost) unpeated Islay Whisky, even the water used didn’t ever flow over peated land, but when the going got tough, aided by some changes in ownership, they started to make peated Whisky as well…

Bunnahabhain 8yo The MacPhails CollectionColor: Straw, light gold.

Nose: Fatty and buttery. Nice Islay peat. Sea breeze, salty and warming, but also with a soft quality to it. Peat, smoke, crushed beetle and tar. Burning newspaper. Hidden sweetness and florality. Effective and typical. Everything is there, but nothing is overpowering the rest. I would say elegant, as far as heavily peated Whiskies can be called elegant. Nice citrussy note, giving some freshness on top of the peat, smoke, tar and saltness. The floral and fruity notes are deeper and heavier and lie more on the bottom, or in the depth of the nose. Balanced and fine. With some more air it dumbs down a bit. Hints of (burning) paper (again), and the fruits come more to the fore. Dried apricots and white grape. Here you can see how the Sherry casks worked. It adds fruit and a nice woody spiciness. It somehow lacks the obvious vanilla you get from American oak Bourbon casks, although most Sherry casks these days are made with American oak as well. Sometimes you could guess its relative youth, but on the other hand, this shows enough complexity to be considered and older Whisky. Good ‘un. Nice distillate.

Taste: Right from the start we get some separation. The aroma’s aren’t very well-integrated. Interesting. Starts off with smoked salt and creamy butter and a nice White Wine acidity. Fatty peat, very fatty and buttery indeed. Licorice, sweet wood and honey sweetness. Sweetness there is, but not your regular white sugar sweetness. Yes runny thin honey it is. All the way through it keeps not integrating well. The acidity is displaced and hangs around too long in the back of my mouth, and the sweetness is trying to get too much to say underneath. Not sure this Sherry is a perfect match for the peated spirit. The more it breathes, the more it actually develops in the wrong way.

Nice stuff at 43% ABV. Sure, in times it is a bit thin, but I have no problem with the reduction. It makes this Islay Whisky very accessible. Don’t let it breathe though. It allows the acidity to develop and hold it hostage. The wood makes the Whisky, but in this case the wood broke the Whisky. It’s not terrible, but especially in the details this Whisky fails a bit.

Points: 80

Glen Scotia 6yo 1999/2006 (52.7%, The Whisky Fair, Heavily Peated, Bourbon Barrels #541 & #542, 464 bottles)

How ’bout another Glen Scotia then. One in its youth. This heavily peated Glen Scotia has a mere 6 years under its belt. Yes you read it right, a heavily peated Glen Scotia, move over Longrow? This is a Glen Scotia that was bottled for the 2006 Whisky Fair in Limburg, Germany. Most definitely a festival you shouldn’t miss. I like the label of this Whisky Fair bottling, since it looks similar to other Glen Scotia’s from that time. Lets have some peat then…

Glen Scotia 6yo 1999/2006 (52.7%, The Whisky Fair, Heavily Peated, Bourbon Barrels #541 & #542, 464 bottles)Color: White wine.

Nose: Soft elegant peat alright, but also very grassy. Lots of grass, dry grass, and hay. A confectionary sweetness, like warm icing sugar, but mixed with a little milk chocolate and the grass, peat and sweet ashes. Cocos macaroon with more than a hint of almond. This is already wonderful smelling after the mere 6 years in cask. Although this is from Bourbon barrels, I do encounter some sulfury compounds. Still grassy and some typical vanilla, with lemon freshness. Typical for Bourbon Barrels. Barrels are 20% smaller than (remade) hogsheads, so in theory the spirit ages more quickly, but not twice as quick, since nobody wold argue with you if you claimed this to be 12yo. Quite some active barrels. Nice.

Taste: Sweet barley, yup sweet barley. Diluted lemon curd. Altogether quite lemony. Where the nose was quite complex and didn’t show its age, the taste is much simpler and seems young, but not alcoholic. A sweet and creamy rounded off taste. Some prickly peat but not a lot. I wouldn’t call this heavily peated, at least it doesn’t seem heavily peated. Sweet barley and sweet yellow fruits, but none in particular. I guess dried apricots are the closest. Sweet Earl Grey tea with a hint of honey and a lot of lime. Medium to short finish and the same goes for the aftertaste. Which is about young soft peat added to warm diluted lemon curd.

Even though this tastes quite nice, I’m a bit disappointed that the taste didn’t live up to the promise of the nose. I was quite surprised at first in what the nose achieved in 6 years. Still an experience and a nice surprise. I wonder how this would have turned out with some more age to it.

Points: 84

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

Hakushu “Heavily Peated” (48%, OB, Suntory)

I’m writing this review just after finishing The Irish Whisky Week, so in my mind I will be comparing this Hakushu to the peated Irish Connemara’s. I see that this is the first review I write about a Japanese Whisky outside of the Japanese Whisky Week, so it has been a while! Japan reminds me a bit of Ireland. Not a lot of distilleries, but bottles abundant. More exotic to the western world. Yet there is a big difference. You hardly encounter a very expensive Irish Whiskey, or it is from a bottle that was bottled B.C. Yes the occasional Bow Street bottle can cost you a pretty penny. Japanese Whisky, however do cost you an arm and a leg. Just look at the craze with Karuizawa and Hanyu for instance. Here we have a widely available NAS Japanese peated Single Malt Whisky. It’s Suntory Time!

Hakushu Heavily PeatedColor: Light gold.

Nose: Oily and fatty peat, but not really upfront. Perfumy, elegant and floral. Sweet edible flowers. Vegetal. Hai, it seems to be more about flora than peata and smoka if you ask me. When it breathes for a while it gets less oily, and more sweeter and fruity (and thinner). When you let it breathe for a while, it develops into a more smoky type of Whisky, again showing it needs air (or some drops of water). Besides this all it also gives off some greenish and vanilla like notes. Young Whisky matured in American oak. The fruitiness develops into yellow fruits, that are becoming more and more “smellable”. Smoke, check.

Taste: Sweet, very tasty, fatty and young. Distant bonfire and again warming. Nice stuff. Hai, fruity, and nice slightly bitter peat. This couldn’t have come from Scotland. Scottish Whiskies are usually peatier and combined with an underlying sweetness and ashy smoke. This Hakushu is sweet all right but it isn’t hidden, the sweetness is there from the start. What’s very nice it the combination of upfront sweetness, very light peat, nice smoke is also its floral bit. Complex in the nose, and highly drinkable. Excellent. Heavily Peated? Maybe in a Japanese kind of way.

Very drinkable, I like it, but to my amazement, again a Whisky that is hardly available, and it wasn’t cheap to boot. Absolutely a young and very good Whisky of high quality, that again seems to be unobtainable. Bugger!

Points: 87