Peating the Unpeated: Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

Music: Magneta Lane, “Broken Plates”

As a quite note on the hiatus, I have a couple of reviews to write up, but this year has been short on both money for whisky, and decent whisky to purchase. While the former has since passed, there state of new, decent whisky offerings is slim. I do have an Octomore 6.1 in my possession now, but I have yet to open it. Reviews on Bowmore Tempest 2 and 4 are coming (in a doubleheader review), but I’ve been underwhelmed by the 4, and as such, have not been motivated to write the review. Some critics relish the opportunity to slag a mediocre product; I simply become disinterested.

I’d always wondered what a peated Bunna would be like, if it would be peppery and coastal, citrus and rock, or smoky bacon and brine. I almost expected their peated offering to be sherried, much in the way of an Ardbeg: a dark bog, with hints of fruity sweetness. Instead, the Ceòbanach (at 10 years) comes out much like a Caol Ila, with the soot and citrus at the fore-front. A beauty dram, if different from their 12yo.

Nose: Sooty, fireplace-mantle-type ash and smoke. Vanilla and citrus. So unlike the Bunnahabhain 12yo, but not in a bad way.

Palate: The palate is very fresh, and bright. Not spirity, just bright with flavours of vanilla, citrus, and a silty ash. Smoke and peat are here, but more accents than anything. A beautiful dry, tart note that I’ve come to expect from Bunnahabhain. Nothing too complex, but what it does, it does very well.

Finish: The earthiness of the peat rests on your tongue, and the citrus turns into slightly salty notes to complement the smoke in your breath.

Grade: B+

A leg up on the standard Caol Ila 12, as it hits with some of that patented Bunna sourness. I’m a fan, and it makes for an excellent summer smoke dram, thanks to the brightness of the flavours.

“Everybody falls down darlin’, but I’ll stay the same for you.”

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Port Choco-lotte: Port Charlotte 10yo

Music: Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix) – Lana Del Rey

I’ve been rooting for Bruichladdich since their plan to resurrect the Port Charlotte distillery. Of course, the An Turas Mor was my first foray into PC, due to afforadability and availability. When the Laddie Ten came to Ontario at a reasonable price, I bought 2, and shared them liberally. A great dram at a great price. Now the PC 10 is coming to Ontario, and I’m equally excited. This review comes about from a scotch night with a good friend.

Nose: Very Laddie! Caramel, leather and rubber. Creamy.  Very lightly peated on the nose, despite being young and “heavily peated”. Some Fireworks sulphur, cool!

Palate: Medium viscosity. Spicy, peat, leather, milk chocolate.  A tad sour on the end of the palate, but not overwhemingly so.

Finish: Medium, milk chocolate and peat smoke.

Grade: B+

Like the Laddie Ten, it’s a B+ for it’s uniqueness. Bruichladdich has a knack for novelty, and this is no exception. A peated Islay that has characteristics unlike most Islays, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

“Honey, I’m on fire; I feel it everywhere. Nothing scares me anymore.”

A Youngen, But a Good’en: Highland Park 10

Music: Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath”

I’m so often loath to lend a liver to these releases; the younger, weaker, attempts to make one’s stock stretch amidst growing demand. I had always figured I’d patronize these bottlings when all that is good in the Scotch world had either run dry, or was so far out of my price range that I have no other reasonable choice. However, I had heard good things about the HP 10yo from fellow whisky lovers, and at $60, it seemed worth a try. Now, to be fair, the HP12 used to be $60. Sadly, it is now $70 (a price it reached within a year), and it seems that for HP, the prices are already starting to take off. In hopes of picking up a reliable “daily dram”, I decided to give the HP a go.

Nose: Wow. This is 40%? Really? Given the recent night with some high-end Chivas, the big boys should take notice. HP’s new stuff is big. Honey heather and sponge toffee (think Crunchie Bar) like crazy. American Oak on the forefront, fudge and salted caramels. Give it some time and you get oranges and green apples. Also a hint of smoked bacon with some corn syrup.

Palate: About as viscous as the HP12, but enough for a 40%-er at 10 years. Honey biscuits, sponge toffee. Sea salt. Peat smoke and tart green apples.

Finish: Medium finish, light smokiness, bready, sweet and a tad tart.

Grade: B

At the (North American) Highland Park Standard of 43%, this would probably kick. I hear the cask strength is amazing (the whisky live bottling was 59.3%). This is one of those guaranteed daily drams. Fits the profile and the pocketbook. Of course, I really love HP, and to boot, I love a good clean American Oak whisky. If I want my thick sherried whiskies and my dark peat monsters, I know where to look. A good clean American Oak whisky isn’t so easy to find in these parts, at these prices. In that role, the HP 10 will have a spot in my cabinet for a while…

“Old Charlie stole the handle, and the train it won’t stop going–no way to slow down.”

Grass is Always Greener: Tobermory 10

I bought this bottle before a recent family camping trip. I had hoped to pick up the new Glenfiddich 14yo Rich Oak, as it was likely to go well with the cigars we brought, but this was all the nearby store had. It just so happened to be pouring rain at the time, and I was pressed enough for time that I couldn’t go anywhere else.

Nose: Light, fresh and buttery. Vegetal notes and fresh mown grass all over this one. You’d almost think it was a lowland. Pear, oak and pepper. No mistaking the youth on this one.

Palate: Very fresh. Buttery and sweet with grassy notes. Its like a better Glendullan, but nothing to write home about.

Finish: Barley, light pepper, medium finish.

Grade: B-

This is one of those simple reviews that can be summed up with few words: a fine sipper, but a bit plain and a bit young.

Laphroaig 10yo

I recently had two drams of this at a pub in England while I celebrated my birthday. In the Laphroaig 10 vs. QC debate, I’m QC all the way. Incidentally, my birthday whisky post marks review #50. These reviews are really starting to pile up!

Nose: Fresh rubber. Like a tire. This note is the overarching experience. There is that smoky, peaty, iodine-soaked beauty to the rubber, but it’s mostly rubber. Not unpleasant, though!

Palate: This is where the smoke, peat and medicinal notes come in full-force. There is a very faint rubber taste in the background, but it only serves as a complimentary note.

Finish: Medium at best, unlike its peat monster QC brethren.

Grade: B

This one is not as multidimensional as the QC, at least not to me. It’s good, boy is it good, but it’s just not that good. Given that the QC is cheaper in Toronto, I’d definitely take it every time over this.

Update: I have since been gifted a bottle, and the review still stands. A tasty daily dram, but the QC is still my favourite.

Review Stub: Ledaig 10

I have heard mixed things about the Ledaig 10, though the darts have mainly been directed at the older 43% ABV version. I had the pleasure of trying the 46.03% ABV (yes, 0.03% above 46%) just a couple nights ago with the strapping young lad who introduced me to the Laphroaig QC, and I have to say that there aren’t too many darts I’d direct at this version.

Nose: Light coal smoke, a waxy honey with some salt and pepper (in the vein of the Laddie 10, but with a little Caol Ila).

Palate: Briny, medicinal peat (something like you’d imagine a lemon oil polish might taste like), sweet honey and icing sugar, vanilla.

Finish: Medium. White pepper and sweet vanilla.

Grade: B

I liked this one. Though the polish note is slightly off, it adds an interesting complexity that makes me come back for more. In many ways, it’s like the Bowmore 10 Tempest lite; a bit more straightforward, less complex, but tasty.

Note: I do tend to refer to other drams when reviewing whiskies, but that’s not without good purpose. My hope is that it helps fellow enthusiasts pair future purchases to profiles that they may have previously enjoyed. It also helps me properly rank drams into their grade bins.

Aberlour 10

Aberlour 10 is an Aberlour a’Bunadh light. A very similar sherried, Christmas-cake whisky, but not as bold, not as cool, and just not as complex. But is it only half as good as the price discrepency would suggest? No. It’s a bit better than that.

Nose: Smooth, buttery sherry is the name of the game here. Christmas cake. Fruity, baked notes. Vanilla. A platter of desserts in a glass.

Palate: Some level of coolness, like the a’Bunadh. Syrupy sweet and fruity, but not as chewy as the a’Bunadh.

Finish: Dry, medium long, sweet sherry, with vanilla and tobacco notes.

Grade: B-

Of course, I didn’t initially intend this review to be a direct comparison to the a’Bunadh, but these whiskies are close enough that it just makes sense.  If you want a complex, rich, cask-strength sherry-bomb, the a’Bunadh is your dram. If you’re on a budget, and/or you’re looking for an  everyday sherried dram that doesn’t pack the same contemplative punch, then the 10 year will do you just fine. (To be entirely fair to the a’Bunadh, the water you would add makes the bottle go a heck of a lot further…)