The Last of its Kind: Bruichladdich 12 (2nd Edition)

Music: Teddie Films, “Dream and Shout” (“Scream and Shout” Les Miserables parody)

As I get ready to “get hitched”, I find myself looking back on the past, and wondering how much things will change after the papers are signed. It has led me to look back at some sample bottles I’ve stored from bottles long depleted to finally put pen to paper on them and write up reviews.

Nose: Gentle coastal salt and vanilla. The bourbon cask is very noticeable here. Vegetal notes. Apricot and pear. Similar to an Arran Malt. Still a bit young so as to be a bit prickly, but it’s still really good.

Palate: Sweet, barely sugar. Lemon and pear. Slight bit of varnish. Somewhat peated at the end.

Finish: Medium length, warming and tart. Lemon cough sweets.

Grade: B

This one is bittersweet, both in profile and in sentiment. There is something glorious about enjoying a piece of a distillery’s past (which, I guess, any dram is), but somewhat saddening to know that this is the last dram you’ll ever have of this chapter in the distillery’s history.  Mixed feelings, but a damn good dram. If you see a bottle sitting on a shelf this summer for a reasonable price, do pick it up, as it’s a perfect summer dram: light, fruity and sweet.

“Here we go, goin’ take this town, because everywhere we go is revolution.

Scotch Party VII

This year, I was invited by an old friend to take part in a Scotch party (of which this was the 7th edition). Great drams, and great people. Nothing better than sharing whisky thoughts with those who really, truly, love whisky.

Glenrothes 1995 – B

“The Scotchiest Scotch that Ever Scotched”

This is your sweet, biscuity, desserty dram. It is complex enough to be interesting, but isn’t show-stoppingly enthralling. A solid B that may be something great at 46% or higher. Still reasonably viscous at 43%.

Glenrothes Robur Reserve – B

“A nice, light snack”

In the lineup this evening, this one comes across as the 1995’s little brother. Much of the same, but a little bit more sugary without much more flavour.

Glenlivet XXV – B+

“Aged cherry cough sweets”

Plenty rich, strong cherry and other berries, thick and present, and then it’s gone. Really no finish to speak of, but the rest is really quite pleasant. A plenty good whisky, but at 25 years old, you’d expect much more.

Talisker 57 North – A-

“Warm leather arm-chair”

I began the night with this one, and it was most of what I’d expected. Everything the Talisker 10 should be (and maybe used to be,) but isn’t. Strong peppery leather, coastal salt, and your typical Talisker flavours. Warming like nothing else I’ve ever tried. It’s an excellent whisky for what it does, but it is missing that either solid second gear, or a neat 3rd to get it into the A range.

Tomatin 12 – B-

“A good aperatif”

Sweet, somewhat thin, just all around inoffensive, if not overly interesting.

Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask – B+

“Banana marshmallows”

This one has those banana marshmallows all over it. Sure there is malt, and typical baked speyside goodness, but the note that hits you over the head first and foremost is the banana. It’s quite a delicious Balvenie, that makes me forget about their disaster of a triple cask.

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve – D+

“Cinnamon Farts”

Just something awful. It’s like the Valinch gone wrong. Nothing but farm.

Bruichladdich Black Art 3.1 (48.7%) – A

“Pungent, sweet, leathery goodness”

The black art is tart, leathery, subtle, but complex. Berries, sherry, sour with light peat all around, and this nice leathery finish. Truly the star of the night.

Longrow CV – B

“Lightly peated, candied citrus.”

I was surprised by this in two ways: it wasn’t all that peated, more of a speysider than a wannabe Islay. It was also sort of disappointing, as I was expecting a show-stopper in this one, on the back of all the hype.

Bowmore 15 Darkest – B+

“Dark, rich, sherry almost-monster”

A bit of a dark horse for me. I was expecting something weak and mildly inoffensive. It’s sherry, raisins and chocolate. A bit medicinal on the palate, which makes it kind of a one-two punch of dark sherry sweet, and Islay smoky. They’ve done a nice job with this one, and might be worth about $80. The almost $100 that it comes in at here in Toronto is way too much to ask, however.

BenRiach Bernie Moss – C+

“Lightly peated, slightly sweetened new-make

A poor man’s Longrow CV. The peat isn’t very strong, and neither is much of the flavour.

All in all, a successful night with the lads. Looking forward to next year, when we raid the LCBO stocks again.

Hot Young Thing: Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)

I concur with the sentiment that Jim McEwan is the Willy Wonka of Scotch. Whenever I venture off the standard bottlings, I find that Bruichladdich is always walking the line between innovative and gimmicky, and this one is no exception. This one is more gimmicky than innovative, though.

Nose: This is where it wins. Creamy, banana, and at times, almost a pina colada. Sweet, vanilla and custard, cinnamon and nutmeg. A real dessert dram. The nose is surprisingly clear and not at all prickly for something so young in the 50% ABV range. It has a scent that I can only say reminds me of “London”. Not in a bad way, either.

Palate: It’s a bit hot, but much less so with a good helping of water. It swims well. The hot nature of it is something you’d expect from a whisky about 6 years old, so it doesn’t surprise me. Barley, sweet vanilla, medium-oily with the cinnamon. Some lemon curd on toast.  Oak notes, too.

Finish: Initially, some raw alcohol, but then it returns to the vanilla, lemon custard, and barley.

Grade: B-

This one is rather straightforward. Tasty, but straightforward. The nose promises a lot more flavour and smoothness than the palate delivers. This one can surely deal with a lot of water, though, and that really tames the hot palate. Serving suggestion for this one: a tablespoon of water. It goes a long way.

A Year In Review

Updated January 7th, more in-depth.

It feels about that time of year, where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2012 journeys, and being my first real serious year as a whisky blogger, I’d like to do the same. The whiskies that I’ve tried this year for the first time, and thus, all those eligible for consideration, were:

Bowmore “Tempest” 10yr (Batch 3)
’93 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory, UCC)
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)
Springbank 12 Claret Wood
The Glenlivet 16 “Nadurra” (0911P)
Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
Auchentoshan Valinch
’91 Mortlach 19yr (Signatory, UCC)
92 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory, UCC)
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor
Highland Park 12
Glenmorangie 12 ‘Lasanta’
Cragganmore 12
Aberlour 10
The Glenlivet 12
Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2012, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a number of great whiskies this year, and when I look back on the one’s I’ve tried, the ones with the highest price-to-quality ratio, in a few different categories, were:

Best Nose
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Palate
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Finish
Runner-Up: Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’
Winner: Springbank 12 Claret Wood

Favourite Peated
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: 
Bowmore Tempest III

Favourite Unpeated
Runner-Up: Springbank 12 Claret Wood
Winner: ‘93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC

Favourite No Age Statement
Runner-Up: Auchentoshan Valinch
Winner: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength

Favourite Overall
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Bowmore really took me by surprise this year. If you would have asked me last January what distillery I would expect to try something truly great from this year, I probably would have said Ardbeg, maybe Auchentoshan or Laphroaig, but never Bowmore. My initial taste of the 12yo had really ruined Bowmore for me, and I’m lucky to have been not-so-stubborn so as to give the tempest a chance. I eagerly await Batch 4.

The Springbank 12yo Claret Wood was also an excellent pick from earlier in 2012, as was the “carnival-in-a-glass” pick from Ben Nevis. My hopes are still to get a hold of the 17yo Cask strength version from ’93 (or ’92) before supply vanishes. Lastly, the Auchentoshan Valinch was a huge surprise in the NAS category, especially for the price it came in at. It was also the best whisky under $65 this year. I would love to say under $70, but then it would have to contend with Laphroiag’s QC, and I don’t think it was that good. Caol Ila’s win in the NAS category wasn’t as much of a surprise, as serving their younger stuff at cask-strength seems like it would be naturally good, given the rave reviews that the 12yo gets. The Auchentoshan, though it wasn’t the best NAS whisky of the year, sure took me by surprise. The Auchentoshan Classic/Select gets mediocre reviews—average at best—for an entry-level NAS malt at standard ABV. I was initially skeptical as to the merits of amping up something so banal to cask-strength, but was easily swayed when I opened the bottle. You go, Auchentoshan.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #50, (at least!) a special Signatory bottle from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up for Christmas. Expect that review around Valentine’s Day.

West, and back again: Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’

For my travels out west (Calgary), the spoils come in the form of new Scotch. I purchased two bottles of Bruichladdich 10 yr on the hype from fellow bloggers, and the fact that they don’t sell it here in Ontario. Let’s just say I’m glad I did.

Nose: A little young without water, so I took this with 1 teaspoon. Well worth it. Immediate sweet, creamy speyside butterscotchy notes, side-by-side with the lowlander (Auchentoshan) fresh cereal notes. Unpeated, yes, but it seems to be missing all the Islay characteristics… But, let’s let this glass sit for about 15 minutes…

…And, there we go. Wow. A nose full of leather, brine, and a real coastal saltiness (like crushed rock salt). It’s like we’re on the Isle of Skye, nosing a particularly mature Talisker. Hints of licorice. Speyside notes now play backup, with some vegetal notes in there. It also seems like there might be peat, but then again, maybe not. It feels like there is a slight smoky overtone. When the glass is almost empty, we get some of those Auchentoshan Valinch baked notes, with cinnamon hearts. A complex nose, to be sure.

Palate: Incredibly viscous. Thick, like you’d expect from an Islay. Deliciously bittersweet, a sort of salted fudge with butterscotch. Some of those speyside notes come through. Warming, leathery, and everything I wish the Talisker 10 was, and more. Alittle of that Mortlach olive-oil.

Finish: Medium-long, but long without water. Mouth-watering. Increasingly warming. Leathery Talisker notes. Salted fudge once again. A little bit of aniseed.

Grade: B+

Bruichladdich has hit another home-run with the Laddie Ten. This cosmopolitan whisky makes me feel as if, along side their Port Charlotte, you could just about journey all the regions of Scotland, without ever leaving Bruichladdich. Of course, I’m terribly oversimplifying,  but this whisky makes you feel as if you could. Bruichladdich has managed a whisky that noses (coarsely) of Glenlivet, Talisker, Laphroaig (for the licorice and brine) and Auchentoshan, while tasting of Highland Park, Auchentoshan, Mortlach and Talisker. With so many experiences in one glass, the Laddie Ten surpasses even my over-hyped expectations (courtesy of Whiskybitch and Ralfy @ralfy.com).

Currently, this whisky is $60 in Calgary (where I purchased two bottles!). So, as an added bonus, it’s also a superior bang-for-your-buck whisky. I wager if they bring it to Ontario, we’ll probably see it at around $75, but that would still be worth it.

Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor

The Port Charlotte An Turas Mor (ATM) is one whisky where the rule, “follow the tasting notes first, and the marks second” is important. If you follow the marks of the ATM given around the net, you may pass up on this gem—this extremely affordable gem. Too many of those who are lucky enough, wealthy enough, or are willing to sacrifice enough to get their hands on any of the PC5-PC8, have scoffed at the ATM for its multi-vintage, standard strength bottling. Too many folks have compared the ATM to its cask-strength siblings, and I think that is an unfair thing to do.

For my palate, the ATM is everything I love (except the cask-strength): oily, peaty, smoky, slightly sweet (with chocolate, not fruit) and spicy—not hot, Indian curry spicy. Before I get too gushy, I’ll get to the tasting notes.

Nose: Apparent at a distance. Coastal sea salt. Peat and lapsang souchong smoke. Indian masala spices: cardamom, coriander seed, cumin. Chocolate. Honey sweetness. If I nose while swirling the glass, I get Hickory BBQ Sauce! I would pay to have this whole bouquet in an incense stick.

Palate: Confirms the nose (Good thing too, as I wanted it to, so badly.) Reasonably oily.  A sea-salty peat. Indian spices: cardamom, coriander, light on the cumin. Then BBQ smoke (hickory wood chips), ending in a nice, dry, high-cocoa dark chocolate.

Finish: Long, peat and smoke clinging to dark, dark chocolate.

Grade: B

***WARNING: On my first dram, I found that any more than a few drops of water turns the finish from long, to medium-short. Careful here.***

Bruichladdich has done something pretty special here. They have managed to marry my favourite things: mouth-coating oiliness, peat, smoke, a spicy masala, and insanely dark chocolate. I do chastise the ATM for two things: I would love it at cask-strength. That may improve its ability to handle water. While water isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, it is missing that extra layer that my top whiskies have.  A great whisky (to me) evolves when you add water, either by showing the depth of the whisky to show more subtle notes in the nose and the palate, or, it transforms the experience entirely, so that you’re almost getting two whiskies in one. This is where the ATM falls short. The Nose is enhanced with some water, but the palate and finish die. Even the Auchie 18 at 43% ABV can handle a little water, and it’s often all the better for it (details in a future review).

Update: For those of you that have checked my rankings since this post was originally made, you may have noticed that the Port Charlotte took a tumble in the rankings. Perhaps I was a bit too over-zealous with my original tastings of this whisky. By the end of the bottle, the An Turas Mor is still all the things I’ve said it to be (at least to me), but it doesn’t do it so spectacularly as I had first thought. Since discovering the Bowmore Tempest III for $5 less (and 50cl more, and at cask strength…) I have found other peated Islays that are a better bang for your buck. That said, I will definitely give Bruichladdich’s new flagship peated malt, the Port Charlotte 10yo, it’s fair shake when it hits the LCBO. Perhaps the inconsistencies of the An Turas Mor will be sorted out by then.