Tomatin “Wood” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #1, French, American & Hungarian Oak Casks, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

I like my Tomatin’s. Good Whisky. Good people work there and represent it, with wit, honesty, intelligence and humor, no funny business. Lots of releases too. From 2017 onwards, they started with this five part series, showing what the five virtues of Whisky are. Wood (2017), Fire (2017), Earth (2017), Metal (2017) and last but not least, Water (2018). Although all five are NAS Whiskies, I was told, that no young Whiskies were used throughout the range, and all would have some proper numbers comprising of two digits if they would have been bottled with age statements. Thank God, because I feel Tomatin spirit really does need it’s time in oak. Young Tomatin’s can be milky, somewhat sour and heavy on new make characteristics.

When I visited the Tomatin stand at a show in 2018, I tried the “Metal” and “Water” expressions, which I liked very much. I bought both of them, and looking at the two bottles, yes, I’m human too, I just couldn’t resist to find the previous three releases of this series. I have this series complete, and will open them one after the other, in stead of opening them all at once, due to a lack of room for too many open bottles. Well, actually there is never really a lack of room, but I do have to restrict myself a bit, Whisky madness and all. “Wood” here, is the first of the Five Virtues, and this one was matured in a combination of different oak casks, French oak (70%) and American oak (20%) we know, but this time also some Hungarian oak (10%) found its way into the mix. Am I already expecting Tokay now? The spirit used for “Wood” was distilled between 1999 and 2006.

Color: Light Orange Gold

Nose: Barley sugar and lots of cereal notes with late woody notes. Sweet, soft and fresh. Deep and accessible. Appealing. there is a lot happening in a furthermore very balanced nose. Quiet and distinguished. A sort of Steely Dan Whisky. American oak vanilla. Creamy, with vanilla pudding, custard, that kind of thing. Sweet fruity (peach) yoghurt. Some nice slightly acidic White Wine notes, again well balanced. It all works well on the nose. I don’t care for young Tomatin’s and luckily there is non of that here, so even when this is a NAS, it also tastes like there is quite some age to this. Quiet creamy and slightly funky. Nutty as well. In the distance a nice edge of toasted, and again, creamy and sweetish oak. The toasted oak also brings a slightly smoky note, which works very well for this fragrant expression.

Taste: Less creamy, (but still enough), than the nose promised and definitely some more of the acidic White Wine notes mentioned above. Fresher and lighter. Still not overly woody, but enough wood notes to warrant the name and thank god, not young tasting as well. Warming. A little bit of creamy wood and quite unexpectedly, some cocktail cherries. Sweetened fruit yoghurt. Sweet and acidic at the same time. After a while the more sweet notes from the nose come to the front. The body of this Malt is not as big and thick as one might think by now. It has more toasted oak (and wee licorice) than the nose had. Overall somewhat simpler than the nose was and even that wasn’t nuclear science to be honest. Still a very nice, somewhat sweet easy drinker. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance, yet the balance suffers a bit towards the finish. The fruity acidity seems to unhinge from the main, creamy, body, to hover above it and some woody bitterness emerges (finally). Still, in this case, the fruity acidity still has a positive effect on the whole. For an expression which was called “Wood”, it may have been blended from the various mentioned woods. French, American and Hungarian Oak that is, but it is not really a wood driven Malt. Although on some occasions, when trying this, I do pick up on some woody bitterness. Today a lot of over-oaked, new or virgin oak, bottlings emerge, but this isn’t one of them, even when carrying the “Wood” name. This has a nice nutty and warming aftertaste. Tasty too, but not as big as the nose promised. Final thought: this maybe more of a wood-Malt than I initially thought, because, this Tomatin lacks the typical tropical Tomatin fruitiness, so maybe this really is a wood-expression after all…

For a lot of people Tomatin is not the most well known Malt, which is a shame really, because over time, I’ve come across many well made and well blended Tomatin Single Malts. When I tried “Wood” for the first time, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this expression. I’m a bit afraid I may have not given this malt the attention it deserves. This is an easy drinking Malt and I carelessly reached for it many times. Now when it’s almost gone, and I’m analysing it more carefully when writing this review, before its all gone, I do come across very nice balance and some nice aroma’s. Yes I do regret not giving this Malt enough attention, since, this really is one that deserves it. Its a great example of a malt that is nice to analyse and contemplate a bit about the woods used for this Malt. Very nice indeed.

Points: 85

Thank you Alistair, Stan, Krish and Scott. This one’s for you!

Ardbeg “An Oa” (46.6%, OB, L69049, 2017)

I bought, reviewed and finished Corryvreckan and Uigeadail quite recently and was amazed by the quality you get for the price. Especially since these two are very, very good yet aren’t overpriced special releases. Ardbeg caters to that as well, but that’s another story entirely. No, these two are readily available core range bottlings. When An Oa came on offer, it was a no-brainer to get that one as well, it’s an Ardbeg after all! When freshly opened, whilst I was killing off both aforementioned Ardbeg’s, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s hard to come out of the shadows of both stronger ABV, NAS Whiskies. This doesn’t say much about An Oa though, but more about how good Corryvreckan and Uigeadail actually are.

An Oa is the latest, widely available, addition to the core range, together with the 10yo and the two I already mentioned several times already. So how did they blend An Oa together, what is its unique selling point, what makes it stand out? For An Oa, Pedro-Ximénez casks, heavily charred virgin oak casks and first-fill Bourbon barrels were used, married, and here comes the unique selling point, wait for it, married in a French oak vat in The gathering room at the distillery. Yes the gathering room. I’ll run that by you again, The gathering room. By the way, some suggest, other casks might have been used as well, maybe there even will be some batch variation over the years because of using different types of casks in the marrying process?

Color: Light sparkly gold.

Nose: Softly peaty and softly smoky. All very restrained and held back. Green. Hints of dried fish, ground coffee and tar, but also a fresher and fruitier note, almost citrussy. Dusty and soft. Good job again. Salty, cigarette smoke, powdered vanilla. Hmmm some chlorine even after it had some time to breathe. Spicy and cold, sweet vanilla pudding. Lots of typical Islay markers. Virgin oak yes, Vanilla notes from American oak yes, PX, on the nose, barely, not right now, the virgin oak is much stronger. PX? not so much when looking at the color of this Whisky. I really wonder about the PX though. What did or should it do for this Whisky? An Oa, again like the other NAS Ardbegs, doesn’t smell young or unfinished. It’s not very complex though. Nevertheless it does smell good.

Taste: Wood, paper and cardboard, mixed in with sweet licorice, tar and some ashes. Ashy toffee and almonds, does that make any sense? That right there is what this Whisky is all about. (Slightly bitter) wood, (sweet) licorice and (burnt toast) ashes. These three are omnipresent in this Whisky at any time. Again, very accessible, due to its sweeter side. More licorice even, oily, and a nice warm feeling going down. It tastes familiar. Even when this is a new expression is feels a bit like coming home. Warm and cozy. 46.6% ABV is nothing to worry about. It is enough, and works well for this expression. More wood notes emerge. Sappy fresh oak, not old dry planks. Does carry some woody bitterness towards the finish. Quite green and lively. Some raspberry and citrus notes. Some sort of brooding hidden fruitiness on the back of my tongue. This is from the PX. The finish is of medium length and there isn’t all that much happening in the aftertaste apart from some woody bitterness reminding me of…earwax. Here it shows its apparent youth. Its all in your face right from the start but it lacks in depth and experience older guys, I mean, Whiskies have. Very drinkable. I fear, this won’t last long on my ledger too. I sticked it in the back for a while, but that hardly helped…

What can I say, I’m a sucker for green glass bottles and I like the look as if it was made in the thirties. I love Ardbeg, even these modern ones. They are of high quality and very accessible. Just read back and see how good the Uigeadial and the Corryvreckan are. Laphroaig makes one expression especially for Whisky ‘fans’, the 10yo Cask Strength, made in annual batches. Ardbeg even makes two! Both are way less expensive and even more readily available than the Laphroaig is. Yes they don’t carry and age statement.

Alas, both have been finished already, but boy, do I miss them. When I’m on Islay time, I start out with Lagavulin 10yo which, compared to all the Ardbegs mentioned in this review, seems milky, and unfinished, young, new make-y. They must have used some pretty tired casks for that one I guess. The unusually low ABV of 43% (these days) doesn’t help either. Where the Ardbegs are accessible and just ‘right’, crash tested and approved, the newest young Lagavulins just are not. I’m definitely not a fan of the 10yo nor the 8yo, (but I am of the 12yo and the 16yo core range offerings). Oops, the 12yo is a special annual release. I do welcome the age statements on the 8yo and the 10yo (as well as on the Game of Thrones 9yo, and the Nick Offerman 11yo), but in this case I prefer the NAS Ardbegs and the trusty old Lagavulin 16yo and the 12yo Cask Strength over the 8yo and the 10yo. I have yet to try the 9yo and the 11yo.

Word always was that it’s hard to meet up with the demand for the 16yo, so are all these new and younger editions ways to lure some of us away from the 16yo, to keep it more visible? Wait a minute, is there really some sort of shortage of the 16yo? I see it everywhere, it’s never sold out, and I see them often on offer somewhere. Maybe another ploy to scare the consumer. Making him or she believe, it may sell out and not come back? A rumour always surrounding Talisker 10yo because of al the NAS offerings from Talisker released in the past few years.

This An Oa, because that is where this review is actually about, is a nice one. Its fun stuff. As said above, for me both the Uigeadial and Corryvreckan are just better and very hard to top. I just like higher ABV’s, but I also understand many of you don’t. Should it stand aside them? Nope, it shouldn’t. An Oa is made for different people than Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are, but I do feel it does have a place right by the side of the 10yo, to offer another take, with a different composition and being a NAS.

Points: 84

Laphroaig ‘Brodir’ (48%, OB, for Travel Retail, L8239, 2018)

We can now conclude our Laphroaig Travel Retail Trilogy with a rather recent batch of the Laphroaig ‘Brodir’. ‘Brodir’ looks more like a Laphroaig we know so well with its pristine white label and black lettering, but this time with a big fat bordeaux colored band on it. ‘Brodir’, not unlike other bottlings, starts its life in ex-Bourbon barrels and is finished in Port pipes made of European oak. Beforehand this seemed to me to be the one of the Travel retail Trilogy to be the safest bet buying a whole bottle of. The ‘Cairdeas’ from 2013 (also a Port finish), as well as previous batches of Brodir, gained a lot of fans.

If I’m not mistaken, the first ‘Brodir’ that saw the light of day was the one bottled for Viking Line in 2012. The next try was the 2013 ‘Cairdeas’ already mentioned, although ‘Brodir’ was not on the label since ‘Cairdeas’ already was. In 2014 ‘Brodir’ Batch 001 surfaced, Batch 002 in 2015 and since 2016, no batchnumbers were given. Odd, since, batchnumbers are pretty popular with the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ versions, but there probably is a reason for this.

Color: Orange gold with a reddish hue.

Nose: Some peat but way more smoky than it is peaty. Right from the start a bit harsh. Winey and industrial. Very smoky indeed yet also a breath of sharp and fresh sea air. Ever been under water too long? Remember the moment you sniffed up some water right before coming up a bit too late. Well, this smells like that to me. Like breathing in water. Metallic. Hints of licorice. Italian laurel licorice. Warm log fire. Smoked mackerel. A harbour with some motor oil floating on top. The Port seems well integrated and used with taste. After it had some time to breathe, this develops a more perfumy edge to it.

I can’t help but feel that even though the Port did it’s work, this shares some common ground with the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’.

Taste: Starts with smoke and almonds. Ash tray. A bit raw. Meaty maybe. Burnt paper, ashes, bitter licorice. Hints of vanilla way back. Coal and steam. Plastic and rubber. Not bad. Although a NAS bottling, in no way does it come across as too young. It has quite some complexity, and seems to be a nice version of Laphroaig. A sort of Industrial Revolution version of Laphroaig. The licorice turns sweet a bit. The sweetness, which doesn’t reach ‘Lore’ levels, adheres to the smoke and to a lesser intent, the peat. It doesn’t taste like Port sweetness. But then again, this doesn’t feel very “Porty” to me.

Personally ‘Lore’ is an all-right yet a-typical Laphroaig. The ‘1815 Legacy Edition’ turned out to be quite a surprise, after all the on-line negativity. Since I liked ‘An Cuan Mor’, I expected a weakened or ruined version of the ‘An Cuan More’, but au contriare. So very nice it is, and worth the reduced price it is sold for today. The original price, which most markets still have, is a bit too much compared to the competition. Finally here we have this ‘Brodir’. A Laphroaig that feels like having some proper Laphroaig under the bonnet, just differs on the outside. ‘Brodir’ is nothing to scoff about even though the first batches are said to be better. There are many aspects I like, so I’ll remember this one fondly. In the end I guess I may have liked the ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’ best, but this one is hot on it’s heels, and sometimes I feel it might be even better. If you try these Whiskies in the order published, all goes well, however for me the ‘1815’ is lost when tasted after ‘Brodir’ making the ‘Brodir’ the bigger Whisky. I’m not even trying the ‘Lore’ after ‘Brodir’.

Points: 86

Laphroaig ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’ (48%, OB, for Travel Retail, L7345VB1, 2017)

Here is number two in Laphroaig’s travel retail trilogy. We started the trilogy with the smooth and soft ‘Lore’ made for manbuns and suits, where the classical feel of Laphroaig is of weather worn fishermen, storms and salt. Today we are going to have a look at a different, but similar looking travel retail bottling, ‘The 1815 Legacy Edition’. Both bottles have dark green labels on green glass, and in my opinion look very smart and sets them apart from the white labels we know. Just like the ‘Lore’, the copywriting on the packaging is something to forget rather quickly, and luckily Whisky can help you do that.

This ‘1815’ (for short), is made up with first-fill bourbon barrels and new European oak hogsheads which sounds similar to the make-up of the ‘An Cuan Mor’ and Ardbeg’s ‘Corryvreckan’. The ‘An Cuan Mor’ has spent around 8 years in first-fill Maker’s Mark barrels, after which they were finished for a further two years in virgin European oak casks. Laphroaig have more bottlings using virgin oak, like the ‘Select’ and ‘QA Cask’ (Quercus Alba), but both bottlings use American Virgin oak, giving off more vanillin than European oak, which is more about tannins. I’m guessing they changed the name of the ‘An Cuan Mor’, as well as the packaging, because (some of the) timings for the ‘1815’ are different. Nevertheless, knowing I rather liked the ‘An Cuan Mor’, I guess this should be a very nice Laphroaig as well, contrary to popular belief.

Color: Dark Orange Gold

Nose: Soft, fruity and ashy. Definitely starts with the same Christmas spices as the Lore. After a while these spices just disappear, or are overpowered by other aroma’s. Soot. Creosote. Quite a big nose this Laphroaig. Dirty. Love it. Along for the ride comes this fruity fresh citrus note and it retains a bit of its sweetness. All in good balance. This one shows some earthier notes as well. Maybe more restrained, but also somewhat more promising. A hint of peat I know from the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ bottlings. After some breathing more of the restrained beauty emerges. I’m liking where this is going. Only just now more woody notes come along. Yes fresh, virgin oak, but different from the omnipresent virgin American oak. After a while a metallic breath of fresh air whiffs by. After drinking this, the nose takes it up a notch. Getting better and better over time. Fresh oak and a lot of depth. In this sooty, tarry nose lies a nice and white floral heart (and some yellow fruits as well). You have to inhale as if your life depends on it, but it is there ready for you to behold.

Taste: Sweet yellow fruits in sweet yoghurt and Greek style yoghurt. Even more liquorice than ‘Lore’ had, and the whole starts out much harsher, but also more honest and more powerful, although that term should be used lightly here. Dirty is a better word, ashtray. On entry this reminds me a bit of some Rhum Agricoles. Ginger notes combined with some nice sooty notes. Sharp, dry fresh oak. Yes lots of wood influence, especially the acidic oak could be a wee bit less. Definitely some virgin oak, but less vanilla and butter-like so the more tannic European oak influence makes sense. Compared to this, ‘Lore’ was sweeter, easier, more polished and seemingly more refined. Definitely a lot of wood now and the ashes and soot remain. Spicy and bitter. Warming going down. It still doesn’t resemble a proper Laphroaig like the 10yo ‘Cask Strength’ version, but closer to it than the ‘Lore’. Nope, the difference is much greater than the difference in ABV alone. Way longer finish than the ‘Lore’, with wood, and a slight bitterness. Tannins and even a soapy element. Tarry and bitter. Warm asphalt. Dirty for sure. Maybe a bit less balanced than usual, but no problem in this. Still don’t discard this Laphroaig’s sweetness, it might be big and dirty but it also has plenty of sweetness underneath. Winey a bit… no they didn’t, didn’t they? PX, in this? (They did with Ardbeg ‘An Oa’).

As said above, this one doesn’t get a lot of love from other people, but considering this is a NAS and the virgin oak doesn’t overpower the whole, I’m actually pretty amazed with what was achieved here. I found it a Laphroaig and even a tasty one. I’m not against the usage of virgin oak, as long as it is done sparsely and done with taste. It works for me in this and it works for me in Ardbeg’s ‘Corryvreckan’. Even though this is more raw and unrefined, less balanced even, I still would prefer this over the Lore. However, if you prefer Lore over this, I can definitely understand that as well. Having said all that I actually prefer ‘Corryvreckan’ over the ‘1815’. Its just better and has a higher ABV (which I like) to boot and costs less. Easy.

Points: 86

‘The 1815’ H2H ‘An Cuan Mòr’ The ‘1815’ is slightly darker in color. Nosing them, I would say that they seem very similar, with some slight differences. The ‘An Cuan Mòr’ seems more mature and slightly better balanced, with a nice, warming bonfire note. ‘1815’ seems somewhat simpler, yet also more rough (in a good way as described above). ‘1815’ is waxier and has these wonderful whiffs of Christmas spice. Given more time they both come closer to each other. The differences in taste are a bit similar to the differences in the nose, where the ‘1815’ seems a bit rougher and more oaky, shorter in barrels, longer in the European oak? Both are essentially the same Whisky and the differences described may be accountable to batch variation, and not because they are blended differently. Both are good, and almost like twins, but the beauty lies in the details. And trying them both together, there is one that starts to shine a bit more, let it breathe a bit and the ‘An Cuan Mòr’ is the (slightly) better one, especially when tasting it, it is better balanced, more complex, just better. Still, I prefer both over the Lore, which for a Laphroaig is too easy, too soft, maybe even a bit weak. But that’s just my opinion. For me it also lacks complexity considering older cask(s) were used. It just doesn’t impress, but bad it is not.

Review #750.

Laphroaig ‘Lore’ (48%, OB, for Travel Retail, L8297, 2018)

When surfing, reading the odd review or two, I find that NAS and/or travel retail Laphroaigs don’t get much love and sure enough, are even hated by many. For instance, Lore and the 1815 Legacy Edition are the replacements for previous travel retail bottlings like the PX cask, QA cask and An Cuan Mòr, to name but a few. So, why this dislike? First of all, do they taste bad, or are they badly made, do they taste super young, unfinished?

Laphroaig has been taken over by Beam-Suntory, and since then, a plethora of NAS travel retail offerings have emerged. Big Bad company trying to make a lot of money with supposedly immature Whisky over your back, coaxing you out of your hard earned cash. Maybe that is the reason these bottling do not recieve a lot of love? Or is it the travel retail channel, making them a little bit harder to get, although I see all of these bottling in lots of shops. Also, travel retail also has some sort of stigma of offering mediocre, highly reduced (often to 40% ABV), litre bottles. And last but certainly not least; NAS, which often means lots of three year old Whisky mixed in, or so we, the consumer, like to believe. By now we don’t trust anyone, or any company, anymore. They are just in it for the money and not for the art of making Whisky, made for us the discerning drinker, and lover of malts.

In Laphroaig’s case, the bottles which are to be replaced, seem far from sold out as well, even when marked down. So shops are stocked up with many Laphroaig NAS bottlings. Being a big fan of the older/other bottlings, the 10yo (Green Stripe) Cask Strength comes to mind, or even the 10yo at export strength (43% ABV), the 15yo, I somehow lost interest with all these new NAS bottlings.

However, time has come for me to have a go at some of them. The An Cuan Mòr I have reviewed earlier, and I liked it, where lots of fellow drinkers didn’t. I will be the first to admit that it isn’t a daily drinker type of Whisky, but still the quality is there (for me), and I did like it. So which one of the “new” Laphroaigs to pick then? And what if they aren’t any good, as many people are so passionately claiming? In comes plan B. Bottleshares! Always a good way of getting to try expensive bottles without losing a lifetime’s worth of savings, or for spreading the risk in case of imminent anticipated disappointment. Is the risk low, share it/buy it with one friend. This time however the risk seemed pretty high, (I so believe everything I read), so time for a bottle share with three friends, which was a first for me. I still have to give the parties involved (parts of) their share, due to low stock of empty sample bottles. Through this four-way bottle share, I got the “Lore” and “The 1815 Legacy Edition”, and I bought a whole bottle of Brodir, which seemed a somewhat safer bet.

Lets start with Lore. On Tweet-ter John Campbell mentioned that Lore contains: “7 to 21 year old liquids with 3 more ages in between” so if it was stated on the label it would have been officially a 7yo Whisky, so no 3yo NAS people, even though older components were used to make this expression, so let’s call it by its name and not its unstated age, I give you: Lore…

Color: Dark Gold

Nose: Very aromatic thick smell. Sweet, syrupy, but not sugary, no, more like condensed sweet smoke. Perfumed smoke, Christmassy smoke. Cigarette smoke infused car interior. Licorice and an amazing freshness hovering over it as well. Quite promising right from the start. Very fragrant and spicy. Smells wonderful and different from most other Laphroaigs I know (mostly those bottled a while back). Paper announces the turn towards the softer side of Laphroaig, since it becomes very medium and soft, still meaty and smoky though. Velvety, almost, and still a bit sweet smelling. Some fruity notes and when smelling/drinking these, whiffs of black fruits are sometimes noticeable. Very soft peat, mostly from the well aged kind. So the older casks are definitely recognizable. No wood, not even soft wooden notes, no, its fresh and thick (almost impossible together), and very fruity. Sweet and accessible. To me this doesn’t smell like a travel retail exclusive but more as a holiday season exclusive. Softer than usual. Warming fire place and hardly any peat. This one is about aromatic smoke. Well done thus far, now let’s taste it, since something’s gotta be wrong with this, it just has to.

Taste: Black and white powder, liquorice and quite sweet. Bassetts Liquorice Allsorts. Sweet, also on the lips. Even though this has 7yo Laphroaig in it, it still isn’t heavy on the peat. Reminds me a bit of An Cuan Mòr, even though this is not its direct successor. Again more a smoky one. More of the softer stuff comes forth. The whole of the Whisky is sweet, dominated by it in fact and the lack of upfront peat makes it also very drinkable. Not sure about the sweetness in the long run though. Makes it a bit flatter, smoother. I hate that word when describing a Whisky. Smoky yes, peat, no, not so much. Starts out quite sweet and going through the body of the Whisky, the drier smoky notes take over. Salty lips, which is a nice effect after the initial sweetness. Somewhat simple in its approach. The finish is somewhere between short, shortish, cloying sweetness and of medium strength/length at best. The aftertaste; only some sweet liquorice again (and some smoke). Quickly gone. Quite a simple Whisky actually and definitely from Laphroaigs love-it-or-hate-it series. Nope for this one, Laphroaigh came down from it’s big rock in a storm, to club level on Ibiza. Miami Vive attire. Don’t I like it then? It’s nice, its different, still made up of good casks. A bit to sweet, for my taste, and therefore a bit too flat, and definitely too short. Laphroaig is always a bit sweet, but in the old days, most of it was well hidden by all those sea and peat aroma’s for which we love Laphroaig. The taste is ok, but it is the nose that presents all those awesome aroma’s. The original price is too high for what it is, but I paid half price for it (even before the bottle share), and then it is one you shouldn’t pass by, or maybe you should, because maybe one of the others mentioned above, might be better…

Knowing now what kind of Whisky this is and how it tastes, the copywriting on the packaging is a load of BS. “The richest of the Rich”, or, “…is our richest expression ever”? WTF? (I just stopped believing everything I read). Some Laphroaigs definitely are, but this Lore, nope, sorry, metro man territory, yes, manbun, yes, tailored suit, yes, this is for the travelling business class metro man, with coiffured beard. Doesn’t even come close to how a proper Laphroaig can be and should be. Darling can you pass the green stripe please?

Points: 84

Glen Garioch ‘Virgin Oak’ (48%, OB, 2013, L132293)

Whisky is already around for quite a long while. Just pick up any general Whisky book, have a look at chapter one and the first year mentioned is definitely a long long time ago. In all that time, Single Malt Whisky was always about ageing in previously used casks. Oloroso Sherry casks turn out to give nice results, but also the abundance of Bourbon casks showed us, that wonderful Whisky could be made with those as well. So, Single Malt Whisky is to used casks what Bourbon is to new casks. For centuries and centuries this situation stayed like that. It was traditional and just the way it worked, why change it? Many variants were tried before and these two were the ones that worked best. However, the world is ever changing, and the demand for Sherry casks has risen considerably, since Whisky isn’t the only distilled spirits industry interested in these kinds of casks. Also, I guess, the consumption of Sherry is lower than it used to be in the 60’s and 70’s. In comes the adventurous modern Whisky drinker and the modern Whisky industry, both with modern ideas (and facing shortages and steep prices for Sherry casks). Modern marketing is all about product diversification, catering to the adventurous or novice Whisky drinker. In time there just had to be someone, sooner or later, who would come up with the novel and outlandish idea of putting Scottish new make into a virgin oak cask. How bold!

The use of virgin oak is one of the steps taken by the industry alongside f.i. the explosion of NAS bottlings. Some virgin oak casks were blended in to the final Single Malt Whisky expression to add an element to the Whisky, or used merely as a finish. Laphroaig ‘1815’ and Ardbeg ‘Corryvreckan’, to name but two (again), are known for using, in part, virgin oak. Sometimes with European and sometimes with American Oak. Maturing full-term though, was initially unheard of! Nevertheless today there are several full-term matured virgin oak bottlings, and this Glen Garioch from 2013 is one of them, fully matured in North-American white oak. Deanston has another. Glen Garioch calls this an artisanal small batch release. The public calls this a “Bourbon”…

Color: Copper orange gold.

Nose: Grassy and sappy oak. Green. Sweet and fresh. No signs of new make or under-matured Whisky, but there is some resemblance to the honeyed nose of a Bourbon. Lots of fresh woody notes. Sawdust, caramel. Sweet ginger and some more wood spices. Milk chocolate and oak sap. Green leaves. After these expected suspects, come in the more fruity notes, well one actually. Dried orange skins, quickly to be overtaken by more wood and paper notes. So yes, lots of woody notes, but nothing too spicy or too overpowering. Its fresh, green, sweet and fairly simple.

Taste: Sweet, creamy and slightly bitter, (fresh tree sap). Spicy right from the start. Sweet at first and wood-spice next. Warming going down, giving dried ginger, sugared nutmeg, spicy cinnamon and half-dark chocolate notes in return. The nose wasn’t all that complex and the taste is even less so. It shows you all its got right from the start. No development over time. Quite green and vegetal tasting as well. Like eating the cuttings from your early summer garden. Have you ever cut off a small branch from a shrub or small fruit tree? Remember the smell of the fresh wood, the sappy bit? Well, this tastes a bit like that smells. Towards the finish, still warming and with even more length to it than I expected. Quite spicy, again on cinnamon and the medium bitterness has a lot of staying-power as well. A shame really that the sweetness in the finish is gone. Also it seems to lose a bit of balance towards the end. The finish is not the best part of this Whisky.

So there you have it. A fully virgin oak matured Whisky. Now you know which element this brings to other Whiskies that only use partial maturation in virgin oak. Interesting, yes, there is this dreaded I-word. Full maturation virgin oak is an education. It is something you should fathom, when you want to know stuff about Whisky. To be short, it gives us a rather un-complex Whisky. Wood, spices, and some nice sweetness to balance it out, just lacking in the finish. Slightly fruity but not much.

I always liked Glen Garioch. It is one of those Malts that suit me. Glen Garioch is somehow a powerful Malt, with many possibilities. So if any distillate could handle Virgin Oak, Glen Garioch should be one of those. This is a nice experiment of which recently a second attempt was released.

Points: 81

Even though this score might be somewhat low, I have to admit that I’m amazed this bottle is already empty. No, it isn’t one of those malts you are drinking to get out of the way and replace by something new (and better). I do have fond memories, already, of this one. As I said before, an interesting Malt and and most definitely an education. Goodbye sweet Geery. See ya around.

Amrut Peated Cask Strength (62.8%, OB, Batch 38, 2017)

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Amrut Unpeated Cask Strength, which turned out to be quite an excellent Whisky. I wasn’t really surprised, since I’ve come across many nice Amruts. many, but not all of them, because the one I reviewed last was nice, but also a bit unbalanced. A single cask for Europe, matured in virgin oak and finished in a PX-Sherry butt. Nevertheless, it still managed to get 84 points so it wasn’t all bad now was it? The Unpeated Cask Strength batch #87 was definitely better. It might have been a (big) batch, but it still blew the, far more costly, Single Cask out of the loch…ehhh, water. I love my peats as well, so the time has come to review The Unpeated Cask Strength’s supposedly darker brother. Again, I have high expectations for this Peated Cask Strength…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Just opened the bottle and the soft peat welcomes you already. The first aromas already enter your nostrils even before you pour your first dram. From the glass now: youthful, lively and playful. Nice fresh and fatty peat with hints of clay (Das Pronto) and a greenish edge to it. Fresh and fruity. Wine gums and hints of sweet cherries. Sunny and summery, so definitely not a darker brother, ab-so-lutely-not. Nope, peat is not always about winter storms, twilight or salty sea spray. By the way, this Amrut has another trick up its sleeve. With this one it is possible to momentarily “forget” about the peat and smell what it would be like without the peat, as if you can turn it off. Underneath it is a very fruity, light and bright Whisky. Flip the switch and the peat comes on like a light. Next, more freshness and some smoke, way more balanced than the virgin/PX Amrut. Somewhat late hints of fragrant cedarwood and more meaty components emerge as well. Some floral notes and some Christmassy perfume. Well what a surprise it is, giving this dram some time to breathe. Dusty notes emerge next, as well as some sweeter notes. This one is more complex than its unpeated brother but also less bold, who would have thought comparing a peated version with an unpeated one.

Taste: Spicy, peaty, hot and slightly bitter at first. Slightly sweet, but not much. A lot of wood, with matching medium bitterness. Hmmm, some virgin oak again guys? Caramel with almonds and dead cigarettes in an ashtray. Much simpler than the nose, quite some bitterness as well. I get the feeling this isn’t finished yet, bottled too young, bottled too soon, but on the other hand, ageing this longer on these active casks would have extracted even more wood and bitterness, so no, not bottled too soon after all… The finish is bitter. The aftertaste is, luckily, less bitter and warming. In fact the aftertaste is better than the finish. I suspect virgin oak, too much of it. The taste is a bit of a disappointment after the nice and complex nose, and especially disappointing after the great unpeated cask strength version. It is also a bitt dissapointing aftre the virgin/PX. Its just too woody and bitter.

First of all, the color of this batch was lighter than that of its brother, so please don’t take my remark to literal. After nosing, the peated one is definitely not the darker brother, the contrary actually. Yes these two Whiskies are brothers, but the unpeated version seems to me to be more mature, maybe it’s the older brother? In this one the wood and bitterness are too much, but the peat is lovely, and much more complex than you might think, and makes this Amrut remind me a bit of a peated Paul John, something that has never happened to me before. Yes, Amrut and Paul John are both Indian, but like the place they come from, they are entirely different. Mind you, India is a big place!

Points: 82

I spoke too soon with the virgin/PX version, because now this peated cask strength version is the worst Amrut I ever had, yet still 82 points. If only the taste would match up with the wonderful nose.