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.”

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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.

Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin 16 is another one of those benchmark whiskies that introduces many people to single malt Scotch, as it is available at most bars who stock more than just your usual Johnny Walker Red/Black.  Given its availability, and the fact that it’s bloody delicious, you’ve got yourself a cabinet staple. Well, that’s of course, save for one thing: it’s $100+ a bottle in Canada. Perhaps the cruelest trick someone can play on you is to introduce you to Islay via a glass of Lagavulin 16. To be introduced to Alaskan King before you’ve even had imitation crab is a hell of a summit to come down from, if your budget so forces you.

Nose: Peat, iodine, medicinal notes. Some leather. I always get a big whiff of something that’s a cross between lapsang souchong and hickory wood chips smoking from a BBQ.

Palate: Medium-viscosity. Smoky, peaty, iodine and medicinal. Smooth as all hell, save for that ever-so-slight bar-alcohol tinge. Perhaps this is what is happening to new Lagavulin 16, as it wasn’t like this when I first tried it almost 10 years ago.

Finish: Smoky, delicious, and long.

Grade: B+

This whisky is wonderous, but I fear that world demand has caused some declines in quality at Lagavulin (preventing it from getting the A-). It’s a great whisky, still, and everyone should own a bottle at least once for the experience. In the US, it’s generally cheap enough to be a staple whisky. In Ontario, not so much.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Now this is a review through which I won’t be able to help being all gushy. The Ardbeg Uigeadail is just that good. It is the bar that my nose and my palate have set for all other whiskies to attempt to vault; many have tried, all have failed.

I don’t know what they’re doing there at Ardbeg, but this No Age Statement Scotch epitomizes my belief (as shared by Jim Murray, among others) that age doesn’t make a good whisky. Careful thought and expert craftsmanship make a good whisky. Laphroaig has done it with the Quarter Cask. Aberlour has done it with the a’Bunadh. Especially when peat is involved, there are merits to blending the youthful and the matured.

On to the review.

Nose: This has everything. Peat. sherry, whiffs of choclatey sweetness. Swirl the glass and get hickory BBQ sauce. There is so much depth here, and even at its full 54.2% ABV, it’s still pleasant to nose. That said, add a teaspoon of water. It opens everything up just that much more.

Palate: Peat, baby. Lots of it. Deliciously viscous, mouth-coating, and not too hot at all. Smooth, velvety and wonderful on the tongue. It delivers much of what the nose promises, but that’s what I like about it. It delivers them in a no-nonsense kind of way: the flavours are bold, but balanced. The best way I’ve been able to describe the Uigeadail is this:

“Start with a dark chocolate Aero bar, where the cocoa beans were roasted by peat fires. Then, fill the bubbles with peat-infused sherry. Take your peat-infused sherry-filled Aero and wrap it with peat-smoked bacon.”

Finish: Warming. Lasts for an eternity.

Grade: A

While this review doesn’t seem to be as complex as the Auchentoshan 18, I assure you that it is so much more. In that review, I proclaimed that a whisky, to get an A- or higher, should give me two experiences. That is still true, but it’s not an absolute. Sometimes a whisky does a handful of things so spectacularly that adding anything else would only muddy up the waters.

Now, in Ontario, the Ardbeg Uigeadail is a scam. $167 for 70cl. In Calgary, it is $101 for 75cl. Totally worth it. Also, in the U.S (Chicago) it is $70. I had my two bottles brought for me from Chicago, and this whisky is an absolute steal at that price. It’s very likely that I will never find another whisky under $100 anywhere that can compare to this Ardbeg. It’s also possible that, with the stores of Port Ellen around the world vanishing, I will never find another whisky that betters it, period. Of course, I hope that I’m wrong here, because it would be a short journey if this indeed was the summit.

Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

Looking at the reviews posted so far, you’d think I’m the type who is easy to please—I mean, most whiskies are B+ or higher! Well, there is a selection problem there, of course. Because I’m a grad student (in Ontario, no less,) the whisky budget is small, and the prices are high. Thus, I usually research every potential purchase heavily, and as such, there is a high probability that I will enjoy what I buy. Perhaps that’s what makes my bar tastings the most honest, as I usually just jump into what they’ve got, and don’t have time to look up what the bloggers are saying.

Well, after such a preface, this is a review of a whisky I did not research. It is also, coincidentally, a review of whisky I did not particularly like. However, research may not have helped, as a post-purchase perusal of the notes by the folks at LAWS found that they rated this one a B-, far kinder than I. (Despite their being so harsh on so many whiskies I love so dearly.) I purchased this whisky on a whim, as I was at the LCBO and decided I’d like to have a bottle at the office to be classy like Jack McCoy. It must look very classy, sitting there on my shelf, so amber… and so full.

Nose: Peat x 3. This is pretty much what you’d expect, yes? Medicinal notes. Earthy, smoky, but it isn’t as ‘organic’. It’s as if they had a shaker of peat that they sprinkled into it. Not an astonishing nose, but nothing to suggest anything terribly unpleasant.

Peat: Medium oily. Peat, smoky–but burnt sticks… not really a favourite smoke. Concurring with Adam@LAWS. Some cinnamon.  Mildly sweet. It’s somewhat ashy, but in an unpleasant way. Come to think of it, it reminds me of the McClelland 5yr.

Finish: Peat, slightly sweet, some more unpleasant ashes. Medium-long (though, this is one I wish wasn’t…)

Grade:  D+

Perhaps I’m harsh on this one, but being as this dram received my ‘love of peat’ bonus, and still underperformed comparable price-point drams like The Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12, I think a grade in the D+ range is warranted. Moreover, it falls dangerously close to the D classification because there are a few occasions where I pour a sliver, and after a few sips wish I could pour it back in the bottle. As always, YMMV. In fact, Chris and Adam of LAWS have found this dram to be a B- with their rather critical (or perhaps, more normally distributed) palates. That said, their batch was bottled in 2008, whereas mine was bottled in 2010. A lot can happen in two years.

Ardbeg Ten

When I recently took a trip to Germany, I figured that it would be a terrible waste not too pick something up at the duty-free on the way home. Since Ardbeg in general is very expensive in Canada, I decided to journey into Ardbeg with my (roughly) 1L liquor import allowance. The Ardbeg Ten was really cheap at €46 for 1L compared to $100CAD for 75cl here. It was nice to have a whole litre to get to know this dram. Ardbeg is so different from Laphroaig that it seems a shame to force a head-to-head comparison. All in all, the Ardbeg Ten made me really love this distillery, and I thank the good folks at Glenmorangie for un-mothballing the old Ardbeg and getting her going again. The notes didn’t change much, with or without water, but a couple drops makes it more accessible.

Nose: Peat, smoke, peppery spices. Briny, salty, and a little bit of campfire. A sweetness I can’t pin-point.

Palate: Oily, Smoke, peat, with slighty sweet creamy vanilla, and peppery spices all over the palate.

Finish: Long, dense, sweet and smoky finish.

Grade: B+

A really complete peat & smoke dram. At a Laphroaig QC price, or even the Laphroaig 10 price, it’s a definite buy. Sadly, the Ardbeg Ten, in Ontario, is not enough for the price they’re charging now, when you can get great drams like the Laphroaig QC for $30 less.

Much of me wishes I hadn’t shared this one so freely so that I still had some left, but when you have a liter, it always seems like there is so much to share.

The Beginning, Part II – Laphroaig Quarter Cask

I solemnly promise that reviews on this blog won’t be consistently long-winded, but these first two reviews mark the two initial stages of my foray into Scotch whisky. While the McClelland was technically my first step into Scotch, the Laphroaig Quarter Cask was my first true Scotch experience. Incidentally, the QC is a stop in my journey that I keep returning to. It’s probably so rare that one of your earliest whiskies is one of your top 3, but Laphroaig managed to do that for me. It was with the QC that I first truly noticed a nose with true depth of character, and a palate that was rich and smooth, despite being 8% higher in ABV than the McClelland. Consequently, another pearl of wisdom I began to learn at this stage: low ABV doesn’t imply a smoother whisky, with less alcohol burn.

I first tried the Laphroaig QC in my third year of college, thanks to my whisky soulmate who swears by the QC. After a quick dram at his place one evening, I had to buy a bottle for myself. It has been in my cabinet ever since. Note: I’ll try not to be too gushing in my review of this whisky, but holds such a special place in my heart that I can’t help it sometimes.

Nose: Peat, iodine and smoky bacon, hints of vanilla. Anise, yes, but the thing that plants itself in my brain is dill pickles. Not just brine, but distinctly dill pickles.

Palate: What the nose promises, and more. It’s oily, and mouth-coating, but it isn’t as dense as, say, the Ardbeg Uigeadail. Smoky bacon, smooth earthy peat, anise, and that hint of dill pickles. The dill is more of a background here compared to the nose.

Finish: Warm, dry, smoke and peat, incredibly long. Sometimes I detect some oak in the finish.

Grade: A-

A great whisky that will always hold a special place in my heart. Sometimes I dream of what it would be like at cask-strength. I think it’d join it’s peaty NAS brother, the Ardbeg Uigeadail at an if it was. That’s about it, I think. That’s about all it would take.

Side note: I had a sliver of the QC while typing up this review, and just to show you how much this whisky changes the more you try it, I went back to the empty glass a few minutes ago and all I could smell was an old-fashioned, wood-burning stove. Very lapsang souchong. Pure brilliance.