Tamdhu Dalbeallie Dram No.3 (60.7%, OB, Sherry Oak Casks, 1.000 bottles, 2020)

Well, since I already have one of these lying around, why not make it two official Tamdhu’s in a row. After the (initially) slightly disappointing 15yo, I just expected more of a Sherry monster I guess, I gather this special release should have no trouble eclipsing the 15yo. First of all, it has more oomph (higher ABV), more color (A lot darker) and with a mere 1.000 bottles produced, they probably did something special, don’t you think? So I expect a proper Sherry monster again! I’m only human, and I don’t seem to really learn from my mistakes, or so it seems, nevertheless I still do expect a Sherry monster this time.

The first edition of Dalbeallie was released in 2018 at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and gets its name from the Dalbeallie station. Tamdhu itself opened in 1897 and the station just two years later in 1899. The railway played a key role in the supply of barley and Sherry casks for Tamdhu. The station closed in 1965, but has since been fully restored. Dalbeallie is an annual release, so editon II was released at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2019 and our number III was released this year (2020) on-line, due to Covid-19. Every edition up ’till now, counts only 1.000 bottles.

Color: Orange brown.

Nose: Thick Sherry, with licorice, lots of wonderful fresh oak, crushed dried autumn leaves, nuts and dust (and sometimes some cardboard). Very aromatic and fresh. Old, worn down leather and also meaty. However, like the 15yo, this has a rather large fresh ‘n’ fruity acidity to it. Citrus acidity, more of the lemon and lime kind than oranges, or is it… Floral perfume and some cloves (and some oranges now?). Sometimes whiffs of ozone (like you get from ozone cleaned pools). Initially a bit closed but this is quickly “resolved” with some breathing. Thick, slightly tarry, hints of petrol and brooding, yet not syrupy. Hints of paint and gravy. Seems odd, but odd combinations work well in Whisky. Cardboard and some candied red fruit sugar gello, (or jam for short), deep down below in the nose. Nice wood notes to balance it out, fresh wood and sawdust. The wood notes emerge more and more, the longer this stands in your glass and breathes. Cigar-box sandal wood is linked to the old style perfume. Extremely balanced and a truly wonderful nose. Yes it really does smell like a Sherry monster, 2.0-style.

Taste: Big Sherry. Hot and woody. Fresh dried wood, again remembering cigar boxes. Red fruits with a shadow of sweetness (as in, you know it’s there but you can’t touch it), and definitely some cigar aromas. Cigar box, cigar a cru (the smell of an unlit cigar) and cigar ashes. Powerful wood (bitter). Full of wonderful aroma’s and tastes, yet also lightly unforgiving. Starts out fresh, (new) wood and hot, but picks up caramel and some velvety softness whilst going down. For a millisecond, this is syrupy and sweet and then the dry wood kicks in, and it kicks in good. The wood sticks to the palate. Nice wood, powerful, yet not the overpowering (mouth drying) wood you get from very old Malts. It disperses eventually, making room for cookie dough and letting through a tiny bit of the sweetness I’m sure more is in here somewhere. Extremely tasty. Wow! Just like the 15yo, this is quite fresh and somewhat acidic on top. The aforementioned wood has some cloves and a sharpish edge to it. Freshly sawn oak. A truly wonderful Malt. This is essentially a Sherry monster, but with these fresh characteristics and these more than appropriate wood notes, works very well together. Big, yes, cloying, no. Hints of menthol also pop up. In a way it is almost Christmassy.

It also reminds me a bit of the high powered 2007 Glenlivet’s from Signatory Vintage. First fill Sherry, with extremely high ABV. These Glenlivets are flooding the market since 2017. I really have to open one of those soon, to see if I remember those well. This Dalbeallie seems a wee bit softer. However, it’s really not a soft Malt, the wood is too present for that. It is still a Sherry monster though, but as I said before, in a more modern 2.0-style. Even more wood in the finish than in the body. Not drying, but somewhat soapy. Through the soapy bit (which isn’t a problem by the way) comes the first sign of some real woody bitterness. This bitterness remains for the aftertaste as well as some, almost hidden before, red fruit hard candy. Nevertheless, this is a magnificent dram.

I love it! Definitely worth the price of admittance. I got half a bottle in a bottle share with Nico. I should have gone for the whole thing. Oh well…

Points: 89.

The wood influence is quite big and this takes away a bit from the underlying red fruits and if these fruits would have had a chance to exert themselves some more, this would have been a Dram scoring in the 90’s. Still a very good Whisky!

Talisker 57º North (57%, OB, L5054CM000, 2015)

I opened Talisker 57º North, not as a direct replacement of Amrut Cask Strength, because that was already done by Amrut Peated Cask Strength, but it does have the same “function”, in my collection of open bottles, similar to Amrut Cask Strength. All three fit the bill of NAS and high ABV Whiskies. All three are sold at a decent price point, and all three offer pretty high quality as well. Talisker, in general, is a wonderful Whisky, there are many wonderful bottlings to be had, and I’m sure that in my stock, Talisker might just be the distillery most represented. Official bottlings and independent bottlings. Old stuff and new stuff. However, the sign of the times is that many brands are hastily pushed forward by their owners, suddenly offer you many NAS bottlings, counting on you to want them all, or tailored for different markets, but there are many reasons.

Talisker may very well be Diageo’s most popular distillery, so with Talisker, we have “Skye”, “Storm”, “Dark Storm”, “Port Ruighe”, “Neist Point” and now even a “Game of Thrones” edition and today’s victim: “57º North”. This one is already around for quite a while, longer than the others I mentioned. This is the only one of those, sold at higher ABV. 57º North was first released in 2008, and the version I’m about to review was bottled in 2015. Like many offerings that are made regularly, there is some batch variation, and the sentiment you get with that is people believe the first, or earlier bottlings to be better than later or more recent bottlings. I’m not saying these people are wrong, because I know many first versions that are most definitely better than recent bottlings. Ardbeg Uigeadail and Hazelburn 12yo come to mind. However even recent bottlings of Uigeadial are very good, but different. I tried one of those earlier bottlings of “57º North” and it was stellar. Older readers can tell you how extremely good the Talisker 10yo was when it was released before it became part of the classic malts. So lets have a go with this litre bottle of 2015 “57º North”…

Color: Light orange gold

Nose: Dusty, soft oak, a little vanilla and unexpectedly quite vegetal as well. Initially sharp fresh air, but turning soft and staying soft, quite quickly. As a bonus some whiffs of milky new make. I don’t care for that. Hints of clay and at times, slightly meaty. Wood and some hidden sweetness. Fresh vanilla ice cream and coffee (with milk and a wee bit of smoke and caraway). Amazing how soft this is. At this ABV, I expected something closer to Thor’s hammer, but it’s more like Mario’s wrench. Next some white chocolate with enough wood influence to counter it. Warm vegetable oil. Sweet oil. Appetizing. Distant hint of peat and sometimes whiffs of cardboard and an old bar of soap. Musky, perfumy, more coffee and soft oak. More floral than spicy. Sometimes a breath of fresh air. No sign of this being 57% ABV though, so soft. When freshly opened, this was quite closed, but by now, with 80% of the bottle gone, it opened up nicely.

Taste: Powerful, sweet right from the start and slightly acidic. Immediate pepper attack. Well, lets call it a moderate attack. Next, definitely some oak influence. Sometimes fresh oak, and sometimes sweetish oak. When this starts to wash down, space opens up for a much more sweeter and definitely a nuttier note and quite some candied and dried yellow fruits as well. Toffee with a nice acidic note (again) and lots of nuttiness (again) in this one. Creamy and soft. Towards the end of the body a more bitter attack, toasted oak. Fruity and fresh. Next sip, mouth seems more coated. After the astringent bits, sweeter and more toffee and vanilla notes (re)appear. Luckily no sign of the new make the nose had. Both the nose and the taste show a lot of balance. Not a very long finish though, and I’m not sure about the balance as well at this point. I guess this is where it may show its youth. Vegetal aftertaste with hints of cardboard. Essentially turning “green”.

This definitely came around with lots of air. Word is, this might be axed, but word was also the 10yo was going to be axed after the emergence of all those NAS-bottlings like “Sky” and “Storm”, but the 10yo still around. I enjoyed this 57º North. No problem this being a litre bottle. Personally, I would have liked the youngest part of this blend to be matured a bit longer, and pay more for it. When this loses it’s new make whiff it sometimes has, it could be much better. Just sayin’.

Points: 85

Talisker Select Reserve – Game of Thrones – House Greyjoy (45.8%, OB, 2019)

Sooner or later, one of these Game of Thrones bottlings was bound to show up on theses pages now, wouldn’t it? Hard to miss them, especially since Diageo is throwing some serious money towards marketing them. But don’t you feel they missed the boat, since the series already came to a close some time ago? The question remained, which one of those bottlings would make it first. For a long time it looked like Lagavulin would be the first, but before I could open that one, I got my hands on the 10yo Lagavulin for travel retail and opened that in stead. Since the 8yo and in hindsight this 10yo weren’t very impressive, I really wasn’t in a hurry to open the 9yo Game of Thrones bottling fearing more of the same, so this is how Talisker beat Lagavulin to pole position.

Color: Orange gold, so pretty sure this was caramel colored.

Nose: Dry, dusty and malty but with a very nice funky note to it. Dirty toffee, in part, reminiscent of the smell of caramel colouring, cloying, fatty and creamy. Yes caramel colouring does have a smell, and it does have an effect on Whisky. Don’t let them tell you otherwise. Nevertheless, this Whisky is still very likeable. You have to work at it a bit to focus on the aroma’s underneath. Nutty with hints of second hand cigarette smoke and hints of toasted cask and virgin oak. Old cabinet and very aromatic. It has an “older” smell to it, as well as a heavily engineered and doctored feel to it. Spicy, almost Indian Whisky spicy. Lots of cinnamon and cookie dough. Some smoke and some fresh oak. Also it seems some virgin oak found its way into this. On top of that, a lemony fresh acidity which really helps the whole forward. Yet also this feel of uncomplexity, helped along by this cloak of added caramel. An instant gratification Malt. Toffee notes, but in this somewhat suspicious way. However, I really like the Indian spices and lemon combination. Much friendlier than the milky unfinished notes of those new Lagavulins I mentioned above. I really like this nose (to a degree). If you are into Amrut and Paul John, you may like the smell of this (or not).

Taste: Nice entry. Somewhat sweet. Big, sweet, spicy and nutty attack, but also in a way thin. The fatty and creamy start is washed away by the alcohol, leaving room for more peaty and slightly smoky notes, but also some spicy wood and yes, a tiny pepper attack. Hints of ripe red fruits on top of the toffee and cinnamon. Sometimes it is almost like a Christmas pudding. Next, some virgin American oak. A vanilla note intertwined with cinnamon. A little bit of “older” wood as well as a slightly burnt note, maybe some smoke even. Cookie dough, even more than the nose had. Don’t we all like cookie dough? Sure, this has plenty of added caramel roundness to it, which kills some bits of it. It’s beating down the complexity this must have had. Slightly hot going down, with pepper in the finish and especially in the aftertaste. Highly drinkable though. A bottle of this won’t last you long. Easy and without any off-notes. Easy and even more drinkable than “Neist Point”, and that already was a highly drinkable Malt that didn’t last me long.

Wait a minute. Greyjoy? Wasn’t that from the Iron Isles. Sure, Talisker is also known as the Lava of the Cuillins, but this expression of Talisker has nothing to do with lava, and it tastes more like it was made on the shores of Goa. So hardly rugged Cuillins. Do you remember the weather and atmosphere on the Iron Isles? Boy, this house really doesn’t match the Whisky. Maybe Diageo should have paired this with 50 Shades of Grey in stead of Game of Thrones, or maybe House Tyrell, the house of sweet Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). That would have been a far more convincing match imho.

I sure can understand when people don’t like this. Because it may lack a bit in the complexity department, and has definitely been tampered with added caramel big time. Still, I had plenty of fun with this one. Sure, no high flying Malt, but since this is often sold for “not a lot”, it sure surpasses many other entry-level Malts. A bit of a guilty pleasure maybe?

Points: 84

Thanks to Auke for the sample!

Cardhu Special Cask Reserve (40%, OB, Batch Cs/cR.10.09, 2010)

Wow, here we have a Diageo NAS bottling “selected from very old casks”. Really? So instead of just putting the number up, lets say 30yo or maybe 40yo, and ask a hefty sum, they let you have this for a song, just by replacing the very old age statement by “Special Cask Reserve”. Lets not tell anybody, and let this be our little secret! Sush. What a wonderful idea! Who said Diageo isn’t thinking of their consumers! Well if this is a very old Cardhu. I’m expecting quite a lot now! A few years back I reviewed a Diageo Cardhu 22yo, that did have an age statement, and at only 22yo, this was truly very, very good! And as this must be older… But hey, wait a minute, reading that post I mention that I didn’t like the Special Cask Reserve. Did I already try this particular Cs/cR.10.09 earlier (which was already out at the time) or was it from another batch? Thud! That was the sound made by my expectations lowering…

Color: Light gold, with a slight pink hue

Nose: Fresh and fruity. Lively. Malty with hints of toffee. Summery with an unexpected meaty note, maybe even some sushi. Some funky notes, I have a hard time putting a finger on. It is a meaty, slightly salty smell, somewhere in between bacon and cold gravy, combined with lavas maybe? lavas I’m getting for sure. On top a slightly fruity note and on top of that a slightly meatier floral note. (This bit I like). I have to breathe as if my life depends on it, because the whole is pretty weak. It already smells pretty reduced. I’m guessing I know, by experience, what was there, but somehow got washed away by reduction. Still, no off notes, so nothing obtrusive to report here. I really feel I have to hurry smelling this before all the smell is gone, and I have to poor it again, to smell something. This really suffered a lot from reduction, because the nose, when you work on it hard, does show some interesting sides of itself. I wonder how this would be at cask strength.

Taste: Some sweetness, like a very weak Rhum Agricole, with quite some added sugar, paper and cardboard. Hints of cigarette, and some toasted wood notes, with added bitter notes shortly thereafter. Sweaty notes next, like the isolated sweaty notes of Sauvignon Blanc with added sweetness to the sweat. It’s not me, I have just showered. Hints of sweet fruits, but so diluted, that I can’t even tell witch fruit that can be, apart from the color, yellow. Papaya and peach, some banana in sweet yoghurt? Definitely some fresh butter in here as well. Super-short finish and a non existent aftertaste. Still slightly warming going down and even when this has no aftertaste, the meaty lavas bit of the smell (rancio?) does have some staying power.

Well…well, what can I say about this? I have to admit, it has been a long time I have tasted something as weak as this. It is so weak I would have difficulty, when tasted blind, telling if this is a Whisky to boot. I have never had a Whisky before which after you swallow it is immediately gone. Amazing, this isn’t worth your money, nor is it worth your time. Since this was brought to you by Diageo, and they do things on purpose, they must have an market in mind. I’m so curious how they would describe the consumer wanting stuff like this. Maybe its meant for mixing? having said all that, and I am rightfully so, pretty negative about this malt, I have to say the nose does bring a smile on my face. From an anoraks point of view, this is even an interesting Malt. Who would have thought…

Points: 76

Tomatin “Fire” (46%, OB, Five Virtues #2, Heavily Charred Oak, 6.000 bottles, 2017)

Where “Wood” is #1 in the Five Virtues series, here is #2, which is called “Fire”. It is called “Fire” because of the char and toast of the wood, and char and toast come about through the ways of fire. Tomatin “Fire” comes solely from a batch of stripped and (heavily) recharred oak casks. It is said that the distillate is from 2005, one year only this time, making this a Single Malt which is 11yo or 12yo, which these days is quite old for a NAS. “Wood” was blended from distillates between 1999 and 2006, and since 2006 is more recent than 2005, “Fire” is officially an older Malt than “Wood”  even though much older Malts were used for it.

What this bottling also might want to prove is: should you buy a new (or used) American oak cask, when you can also scrape out the insides, hopefully without losing the soul, of your old, dead tired and worn out cask and set it on fire to rejuvenate it? Boys do like to set things on fire don’t they? After this, one might have a reusable cask again. Recycled and good for the environment, maybe apart from the burning that is. Maybe very responsible and certainly sustainable. One less tree to cut down. This should be certified green!

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Again, a woody Whisky, but this time a more vanilla driven Malt. American oak alright. Sweet, fragrant, slightly floral and right from the start this slightly acidic and creamy strawberry aroma. Sometimes a bit dusty even. Not as much char as I expected from something called “Fire” or “heavily charred”. Hardly any char really. Quite fresh, fruity and milky. The milky notes scared me for a while, but dissipate after a while in my glass and these milky notes disappear completely when the bottle cbecomes emptier. Paper and woody notes and initially not all that different from “Wood”, but after enough time to breathe the difference is bigger than I imagined possible. The “Fire” I do get from this Malt is the aroma of a burning wood fire in winter, minus the sharp smoke. Just like “Wood” this essentially is again about (recharred) Wood, and the woods in “Wood” are charred as well. To me it is more like a sequel to “Wood” so they might have called it “Wood II” just the same, but this probably would not have worked inside the Five Virtues framework.

Where “Wood” was about the blend of different kinds of wood, this is a little bit closer to a virgin oak type of bottling, just a bit more refined, especially after some breathing. This really needs to open up, because it really was disappointing when freshly opened. Where “Wood” was creamy, this is even more creamy. Again no new make aromas, but it is slightly closer to new make than “Wood”. Lots of fresh oak notes, creamy and yes, lets call it green. Fresh plants and garden notes. Breaths of fresh air and some burned toast notes, but not a lot. Initially quite simple, it seems much simpler than the “Wood”. Reminds me sometimes of Bruichladdich Islay Barley. That sort of simple, yet lovely, stuff. Only, Bruichladdich reaches that already after 5 to 6 years, Tomatin takes twice the time. Maybe simple, but especially after a while in the glass, it becomes quite nice. In the end a nice example of an honest Malt matured in American oak. Good smelling stuff, just not right from the very start, be warned.

Taste: Again, it starts fairly simple. Tea with a dash of sugar. Latex wall paint, sweet custard and definitely sweet malt. Mid-palate a cloying burnt note. Sometimes a slight hint of cigarettes being smoked in the distance, an aroma blown over by cold wind. I also pick up on some minty notes and some tasty ripe red fruits. Quite a short finish at first and a fairly non-existent and unexciting aftertaste. But buyer beware, don’t get fooled, this Malt also has a trick upon it sleeve. Yes it is more than a bit unbalanced when poured from a freshly opened bottle, but responds extremely well to some air, gaining lots of depth and some very nice black fruits suddenly emerge from nowhere. Wow, first we had the ripe red fruits and now these black ones. The return of fruity Tomatin, something absent from “Wood”. See how some Malts need to breathe? Quite some evolution. However, even after some breathing, the finish is still quite short and malty again and dare I say it, it remains a bit unbalanced.

It started out a bit really disappointing (not more than 82 points), but by now it is definitely on par with “Wood”, but I have to admit, you have to work at it a bit, and maybe have some experience (and patience) as a Whisky drinker, to see the beauty in this one. So “Fire”, in the end, turns out to have a nice, fragrant start and beautiful body, better than “Wood”, but it keeps struggling towards the end, the finish stays short, with hints of Beer, strange enough, and a thin, slightly woody and bitter aftertaste, and some creamy notes as well, which by now aren’t creamy. fatty or big enough to make the finish better. The second half of the experience therefore is definitely won by “Wood”. This is surely a flawed Malt on the outside, but with hidden beauty inside. Personally I find it very tasty right from the start with an additional fruity and appetizing body, just be very careful with it when freshly opened. I kept the cork off for at least a day after the initial disappointment. Did it lots of good. Interesting stuff and certainly an education.

Points: 85

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: 85

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