After Tuesday’s review of the ever-excellent Lagavulin 16 year old, it seemed like a fair idea to stay with the Islay whiskies for one more dram and head just a mile up the road to Laphroaig distillery, the Island’s best-selling single malt. Laphroaig is often said to polarise opinion with its profoundly medicinal, phenolic spirit frequently confounding Whisky newcomers, while cultivating a loyal following of initiated devotees. There are some of us though that have less overtly partisan feelings about the distillery, enjoying a number of bottlings and certainly not being adverse the spirit’s brazen, intense character, whilst also not being so enamoured as to view it as the undisputed king of peated whiskies.
Laphroaig’s core range has developed a reputation for its consistency over the last few years, with the Laphroag 10 year old and Quarter Cask expressions being very reliable and well worth exploring. However, the consistency of quality also means that cask strength expressions from the independent bottlers have been a pretty safe bet for some time. For fans of the distillery wishing to experience a less “branded” or even “tamed” (40%abv and/or chill-filtered) version of Laphroaig there are a plethora of credible options on the market. This bottling from the recently introduced Archives series is one such option, and if the other new releases in their range are anything to go by this should be a good example.
For many malt fans (myself firmly included) Lagavulin is both a special and deeply significant distillery. By virtue of this 16 year old expression’s position in Diageo’s Classic Malts series, the whisky is many people’s first experience of the Islay heavyweights, and you could hardly wish for a better or more engaging introduction. Lagavulin distillery sits on the drier side of the proverbial “smokey spectrum”, less medicinal than Laphroaig whisky and more rounded and approachable than many Ardbegs.
If you are lucky enough to visit Islay and find yourself at the doors of this historic distillery, the importance of the place and its spirit only intensifies further. From the old larch washbacks and distinctly squat, short-necked stills to their long still runs of over 10 hours and lovely old-school warehouses, there’s much to love. It’s true that all of this is lent a bittersweet edge by the lack of staff per shift and the inescapable presence of computer-led automation, however when you’re stood on Lagavulin Bay, gazing across to Dunyvaig Castle with a dram straight from the cask in hand, it’s hard to avoid falling more deeply in love with this classic distillery.
Longmorn distillery has a sustained and excellent reputation amongst blenders and whisky lovers alike. The rich, well flavoured make serves as a good top-dresser for blends and, happily for us, delivers some exceptional casks when the independent bottlers get involved. Sadly the distillery remains quite under-represented as a single malt in its official form, with its current owners (Chivas Brothers) restricting its range to a fairly underwhelming Longmorn 16 year old and Cask Strength 1997 Limited Edition. It would be a great pleasure to see this expanded as these few official releases often leave Longmorn overlooked and under appreciated by newcomers.
This 1976 bottling was released under The Whisky Agency’s frequently outstanding “Perfect Dram” label last year and, predictably, sold out almost instantly. Along with several other fairly new bottlers like Malts of Scotland, Thosop, Asta Morris, The Nectar/Daily Drams, The Whisky Man etc, The Whisky Agency has built a remarkable reputation due to the quality and consistency of its selections. While many of these bottlers have released high quality Longmorn’s from the 70’s, it is this bourbon cask from 76 and the incredible 1972 Perfect Dram/Three Rivers Tokyo Sherry Cask released in 2010, which seem to shine about the others.
By now you probably know Compass Box whiskies well; indeed since its inception in 2000 John Glaser’s self-styled boutique blending company has made quite a reputation for itself. Part of this must be down to their willingness to experiment and push at the boundaries of an often conservative industry, but its undeniable that quality of flavour lies at the heart of the company’s continued success. Blends such a Spice Tree, Oak Cross and the ever-popular blended grain Compass Box Hedonism display what the company is perhaps best known for; big, oak-forward whisky full of heady vanilla, spice and a leaning towards rich sweetness.
The Compass Box Great Kings Street series was introduced last year, in part to celebrate their first decade of business, with the debut bottling being this; the Artist’s blend. With this release Compass Box are sticking to their ever-present standards and avoiding chill-filtration and colouring (props for this as always), while attempting to produce an accessible, high malt content blend that will suit both those wishing to savour it on its own, or use it as a mixer.
After last week’s excellent 1989 Clynelish whisky from The Malts of Scotland it seemed like a good idea to try a new and younger example from Dominiek Bouckaert’s The Whiskyman classic label series. Dominiek also released a 1997 in his first batch of Whiskyman bottlings, and along with various releases from Berry Bros & Rudd, Archives and a number of others, it has been a well-represented vintage for some time.
This cask was split between this new label and the Dutch festival Whisky in Leiden and is a refill sherry hogshead, though it should be said that the colour suggests that any sherry influence will be minimal. I probably waxed lyrical about the joys of Clynelish enough in our post on the Clynelish 1989 Malts of Scotland, I doubt it will be the last, so let’s simply say that these younger examples after frequently worth keeping on your shelf.
Staff Picks time again at Whisky Maketplace and, as ever, we have tried to come up with a few particularly delicious bottles for your delectation. It’s never easy to choose these recommendations, and with so many high quality releases reaching the market these days, it’s unlikely to get any easier. Not that we are complaining of course, the research involved could hardly be considered a chore.
After last month’s rather scotch-centric selection, we are being a touch more eclectic this time around, featuring an excellent small batch American whiskey and a special release from the good people at England’s first whisky distillery in over 120 years. Scotland is anything but absent though, being represented by a cracking single cask Ardmore and a reliable favourite from the AnCnoc range.
The name Highland Park is preceded by a reputation for considerable consistency and the general quality of its ever-expanding range. The distillate is well known as one of the most balanced and multifaceted of any produced in Scotland, bringing together a sweet fruity elegance, dry coastal character and threads of aromatic, delicately floral smoke. That said, in recent times the brand’s focus seems to have shifted somewhat from subtle, flavour-led marketing to premium packaging and a greater emphasis on limited editions and themed releases.
The ultra-premium “Orcadian Vintage” bottlings aside, I can’t say that this new area of Highland Park whiskies has been entirely convincing. Several bottlings have come across as having rather more style than substance and, depending on your point of view, you may wish to see less of the RRP being directed toward packaging. So, on to the old favourites then and they don’t come much more classic, reliable or respected than the standard 18 year old. It’s a release that has earned awards all over the world and a following that makes it a permanent fixture on many a whisky lover’s shelf.
Well, it was never going to take long for a Clynelish whisky to feature on this blog, as for fans of this distinctly individual whisky little else inspires greater anticipation than its complex, fruity and typically waxy character. Clynelish excels at a variety of ages and in a number of different cask-types, often showing a wonderfully mineral, austere profile when young and developing rich beeswax and a varied array of fruit notes as it matures. It’s not always the most approachable spirit but without doubt one of the most characterful being produced anywhere in the world.
While the official 14 year old Clynelish (review coming soon) is a good introduction to the distillery’s style, the independent bottlers are perhaps the best place to find exceptional examples. In recent years we have seen a number of mouth-watering releases that include the classic 1972, extremely consistent 1982 vintages and, most recently, several very good 89s such as this example from the ever excellent Malts of Scotland from Germany. Like the equally outstanding bottlings from The Whisky Agency, The Nectar, Thosop and several others, Malts of Scotland has little distribution in the U.K. Hopefully this will change in time as the quality and consistency of the cask selections are remarkable and would certainly be a welcome addition to the UK market.
There is a great deal of buzz surrounding Single Pot Still Whiskey at present and many would say it’s been too long in coming. For those uninitiated into the fold, it’s worth mentioning just what defines this quintessentially Irish style of whiskey and what it is about the flavours produced that sets it apart from others. It is indeed produced in pot stills, but more importantly the mash mill is made up of both malted and un-malted barley, leading to an oily, richly characterful make that can offer considerable complexity and depth.
The Midleton Pot Still range has recently seen the addition of several new bottlings, all of which have drawn widespread praise. The Powers John Lane 12 year old is well worth a look (check out February’s Whisky Marketplace staff picks), while the Barry Crockett Legacy offers a rare chance to taste the style with some extra age and oak influence. This new Cask Strength version of Redbreast joins the reliably excellent 12 year old at 40% and 15 year old at 46%, and has already received the Whisky Advocate Award for Best Irish Whiskey of the Year 2012.
Few distilleries closed or otherwise have a more ardent following than Port Ellen. Drinkers, collectors and speculators scramble to buy the best bottlings, meaning few of the more revered releases remain on shelves for long. The official bottlings in Diageo’s annual “Special Releases” collection are particularly good examples, with last year’s 11th release disappearing as soon as it was listed on websites or stocked on specialist’s shelves. This caused much irritation among retailers who failed to get the allocation they had hoped for and, as you might expect, that particular bottling is now being sold for considerable profits on the auction market.
Between the notable retail prices, feverish purchasing and speculating, the official releases are less than accessible for the majority of whisky fans. This, happily, leads us to the independent bottlers as even with such a following Port Ellen remain one of the best represented of all closed distilleries. It’s true that things seem to be slowing and the stock is obviously finite but, for now at least, retailers have a whole range of single cask bottlings on offer and with Port Ellen whiskies being particularly consistent, there are many excellent casks amongst them.